Site Meter

May 31, 2008

Dealing With Capacity Overload and "Laying Off" Features

If you take a step back and think about popular Web services, be they RSS feed readers, communications tools, social networks, link aggregators or lifestreams, their core deliverable is data. The way they are differentiating is through enabling that data to be accessed by more people, and manipulated in new ways. But as their popularity grows, with more users, more features, and richer media, be it photographs, music, or video, the data can spiral out of control, demanding larger databases, more servers, faster networks, better caching... you name it. And if they don't deal with it? Death. The services can slow down or crash, and users will move on.

Not every Web service has had the structure, the planning or the money of Google, so not every site can keep going with all features, saving all data, forever and ever.

Twitter's recent struggles keeping up with user growth and resulting issues have been extremely visible. To cope with the load, the microblogging service started whacking features one by one. At various points, Twitter turned off the @Replies tab, removed pagination, reduced the number of times that external services could access its API, and eliminated the use of instant messaging services. Limping along, Twitter has slowly returned to speed, as one by one, most of the pieces have been turned back on, but not everybody is happy about it.

But don't think Twitter's alone. Just yesterday, I logged into SocialThing, a lifestreaming service thought by many to have a better GUI for FriendFeed, and found that it had been forced to scale back its offering as users grew.

Rather than supporting many different services, SocialThing only lets me include Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, with LiveJournal, Pownce and Vimeo also being options. But the many other sites I use? Blocked. They write, "We have had to temporarily disable a few of our services, due to user growth. We hope to have them back up soon!"


At a time when FriendFeed is gaining notoriety for supporting rapid access to the streaming of 35 different services without slowdown, that kind of scaling down can't be good.

For Shyftr, a new RSS reader I've covered quite a bit here, they too are seeing the challenge of user growth. As we saw with Mergelab's closure, the act of tracking thousands of feeds and storing their data for an infinite amount of time can be very challenging. I've already seen Toluu upgrade their server farm, and Shyftr has done the same recently. But more changes are coming to handle the rising user base.

As founder Dave Stanley wrote in a blog post, Notice: System Changes and New Implementations, Shyftr will be removing "a substantial portion of backdated data" which should reduce recent issues with database performance, and let them turn on services that had been disabled thanks to site slow-downs, including search. As he said, "It's time we trim some fat while making the system leaner, more efficient, and better prepared for future growth."

If you have a Shyftr login, see the full post:
Notice: System Changes and New Implementations

I expect that the rules for small companies are different than the rules for big companies. Twitter has gotten such a bad response for its issues in part due to its popularity, and in part due to its criticality for some communications. For smaller sites like Shyftr and SocialThing, users are more likely to be accepting of temporary scale-backs or data removal. But if the big guys like Yahoo!, Google, Apple or Microsoft, took the route of deleting data and reducing features, it'd be likely that we'd see an uproar.

So how should they handle it? Do you, as a user, have an absolute right to all your archives, ever? Do you have the right to demand that once features are added, they never be removed? And do services have an obligation to scale up their hardware and infrastructure to keep you happy? Would you help fund their upgrades? Handling growth is critical, in my opinion, and those best prepared for scaling will leapfrog those who are forced to "lay off" their data. We're wishing Twitter luck, but there are a lot of smaller services struggling with similar issues.

Saturday Night News Briefs: May 31, 2008

More and more often, I'm running into items I want to share, but might not be detailed enough to generate a full post. So here are a few things that caught my eye over the last few days. If it makes sense, maybe I'll make this a recurring feature.

FF To Go Adds Rooms Support

About 10 days ago, Benjamin Golub offered the first bona fide mobile FriendFeed solution, delivering FF To Go. The next day, the FriendFeed team threw him for a loop with the addition of rooms, letting users break out into smaller groups to talk about specific items. Golub wasn't all that far behind, and has now enabled support for the new rooms, which you can see both when using the mobile interface and via the Web browser.

Some good ones to try:

Elite Tech News: http://friendfeed.com/rooms/l33t
LouisGrayish: http://www.fftogo.com/room/louisgrayish/
* Not my creation... but we'll use it. Why not?
Social Media: http://www.fftogo.com/room/social-media/

Daniel Ha of Disqus Proposes A Commenter's Rights

Although I thought we'd discussed this issue to death back in April, the last two weeks have seen flare-ups around who owns a comment, whether comments should be placed on the original blog or other aggregation services, and whether a publisher has the right to delete comments for any reason. Daniel, whose service is now gaining a great deal of prominence in the tech blogging community, suggests that commenters should have the ability to edit or delete comments and retain access, even if they've been deleted from the source blog. He also recommends portability of those comments to other blogs, including their own.

The post, in its entirety, can be found here:
Disqus Blog: A Commenter's Rights

SocialMedian Undergoes Redesign

Still flying somewhat under the radar, Jason Goldberg's news-focused social media and aggregation site, SocialMedian, got a serious make-over yesterday, enabling mini-profile pop-ups for other members (as FriendFeed recently did as well), offering a site toolbar with drop-downs for news networks, topics and people, and simplified ways to both "clip" and "snip". The service continues to expand its member base and grow increasingly interesting. The updated design is very clean and useful as well.

See: socialmedian Re-Design!


Click for larger version

In those times when I'm not getting to the blog as quick as possible, feel free to check out my Google Reader Shared Items feed or watch my FriendFeed profile, where everything is flowing these days.

May 30, 2008

FriendFeed Friday Tips #3: Take Advantage of Advanced Search

By popular demand, I've been asked by other FriendFeed users to highlight how I use the popular social lifestreaming site. So far the series has covered the "Hide" function, and the bookmarklet. Today, I thought I'd take a look at how to maximize the site's advanced search capabilities.
Considering almost ninety percent of the FriendFeed team has a Google pedigree, it's no surprise they made aspects most associated with Google, such as scalability and simplicity a priority. Also a big thing at Google? Search. FriendFeed's search function indexes in real-time, and can be diced every which way, including by service.

1. Where is Basic Search and What Does It Do?

Every FriendFeed page features the default search box in the top right corner of the page. By default, FriendFeed's search button searches through your activity and that of your friends. Searching a keyword will look not only at shared items, but also their comments, nicknames, and user names.

The upside of this activity is that you can find results extremely fast. But one downside is that if you try to search for any time you might be mentioned (called ego-searching), you still have to wade through all your own activity. So far, FriendFeed doesn't let you exclude a specific user's items, including yours.

2. Where is Advanced Search?

FriendFeed's advanced search is only available from the search results page itself, but you can find it at http://friendfeed.com/search/advanced.


The advanced search option, waiting for queries.

3. Advanced Search > By Service

The advanced search capability essentially lets you limit your search results, either by service, by person, or by group. For example, you can limit search results to be from Del.icio.us bookmarks, or from within Disqus comments, by using the pull-down option. Again, by default, you are searching your own friends, but can branch out to choose a specific user or show everyone.

4. Advanced Search > By User

Searching by user is especially good if you want to see everything on a specific topic that one user has done. Want to see how often Drew Olanoff mentions ReadBurner nowadays? Search for ReadBurner and where it says "one person", enter his nickname, drewolanoff. FriendFeed has amusingly given the nickname "scobleizer" as the example, as you can see in the above screenshot, but any name will do.


Searching "drewolanoff" for ReadBurner mentions.



"drewolanoff"'s ReadBurner content is displayed.

One downside to this search is that it can also returns comments from friends that mention the search term on their shared items, even if the specific person you're searching on didn't say it.

5. Advanced Search > By User > By Service

Now, combining #3 and #4, you can search a specific service by user for a keyword. Going back to "drewolanoff" and ReadBurner, I can select Twitter as a service, and only show the times that Drew mentioned ReadBurner on Twitter.


Searching "drewolanoff"'s Twitter entries for ReadBurner mentions.



"drewolanoff"'s Tweets on ReadBurner.

6. Some Fun Ways to Use Advanced Search

The most fun with advanced search is probably when using it to search FriendFeed's public feed, or "everyone". While FriendFeed is well known for its noise, you can cut through the noise of even the public feed with advanced search.

Want to find out how many other electronica fans like the music of Underworld? Search for the term "Underworld", select Last.fm or Pandora as services, make sure the "Everyone" option is checked, and hit search.


Looking for future concert buds...



Wow! Fellow Underworld listeners!

Want to see how many people are sharing YouTube videos of Bill O'Reilly? Search for Bill O'Reilly, select YouTube as a service, and again, choose everyone.


A popular topic on YouTube these days...



Once a clown, always a clown.

Like pictures of sunsets? Search for sunset on Flickr or SmugMug.


The world's best sunsets, one query away.

For many people just getting started with FriendFeed, using the advanced search tool could be a fast way to find peers.

7. Using Boolean Searches With Advanced Search

Given our expectations that all searches act like Google searches, I expected boolean searches to work. Searching for "Cat OR Dog" highlighted comments and shares with cats or dogs, while searching for "Cat AND Dog" only showed items where both appeared in the thread. Oddly, the words "and" and "or" were bolded in the results, which Google would ignore.

Searching for text in quotes also limits results to the specific phrase. Searching for "Monkey's uncle" with quotes would get one set of results, while searching for "Monkey's uncle" without quotes also returns a tweet, "At Uncle Billy's with monkey woman". Not very nice. :-)

Summary

Although FriendFeed's user base is still well behind that of the more widely-known services, the team has already gained a good reputation for indexing data quickly, and the search function is sharp, especially when you consider that the database has to index not only the many millions of updates across three dozen services, but also all the comments being left, in real time. The advanced search functionality can let you hone in on just what you're looking for, and cut through the noise.

May 29, 2008

Developers Are People Too, Don't Forget

Sometimes, in the race to declare one service better than another, to be among the first to say one product won't scale, or that one product will be killed or eclipsed by another, the rush of feeling declarative overlooks the fact that underneath every single one of these services we interact with each day lies people. In almost every case, especially when it comes to the nascent Web 2.0 market, the services are understaffed or sole-sourced by well-meaning developers with little more than hope, an idea, and reams of code.

One thing I have tried to do when writing about the many services I've grown to like or otherwise launch here is to mention the names behind the services. I will let you know that it's been Benjamin Golub behind FFToGo, Tweet2Tweet and RSSMeme. It was Alexander Marktl with ReadBurner, Caleb Elston with Toluu, Mario Romero with Feedheads, Yuvi Panda with TheStatBot and Dave Stanley and Matt Shaulis teaming up on Shyftr.

I say these names not because they'll eclipse their "brands", but because in almost all cases, I've forged a relationship with these entrepreneurs, even if it's just been e-mail, phone calls, late-night Google Chats, or Facebook messages. And while it's easy to crow that Twitter's down (again) or say one service is going the way of the dodo, you can be sure that the best, most aware, entrepreneurs are watching what you say. They've got their Google Searches, Technorati queries and Summize feeds set to alert them when their companies are mentioned, and the last thing they want to see is you getting a rush from being the first to say "Deadpool", a term popularized by tech blog giant TechCrunch, who has made something of a side business declaring startups dust.

On Tuesday, in a FriendFeed comment thread, I was reminded of this by a somewhat snarky note by Robert Seidman, who in response to an amusing piece that highlighted both me and Robert Scoble as finding new services in our own way, said a few sites I've covered here might as well close up shop now.
    "The sad thing is, other than FriendFeed almost ALL of the services Louis touts will 'sleep with the fishes'. You could call deadpool on stuff like Social Median and Toluu right now. Functionality will be absorbed into other Google products."
    -- Robert Seidman (Link)
This bothered me, not because he was suggesting I have a tendency to pick losers, but instead, because the eagerness to call "deadpool" didn't take into account the people behind the service, nor their goals. Not every Web service is expected to grow into a real company, and be sold off or enter the public markets through IPO. Many of these are hobbies. Others should be seen with the same light as shareware, in that most content is for free, and if they make a few bucks, that's just fine. Sometimes, a Web service will launch and help a developer pad the resume, or use it as a springboard to the next job. And whether it's one person behind a product or a hundred, there's no value in prematurely suggesting they wave the white flag.

Beyond this issue, I was also surprised to see the occasional visitor to my blog from searches done on Techmeme for its creator, Gabe Rivera. (See the search results) After a few of these searches had hit my referral log, I thought I'd check what was going on. Interestingly, despite the fact Techmeme is spoken of constantly, and the site comes up often in blogging circles, the last three stories to reach Techmeme that mentioned Gabe Rivera were mine, including a piece from each month in March, April and May. This tells me that people, when writing about Techmeme, don't mention Gabe, and have divorced the service from the individual.

As I wrote in April, when I asked "Does Negativity Deliver Credibility? If So, That's Nuts.", I have a tendency to shun negativity and be excited about new services. In parallel, I am supporting the developers who are taking a risk by shipping. I am supporting the people behind the services who are looking to help us consume more information, helping us build new social networks, or improve our communications. When I write about a service, I'll continue to do what I can to remember the developers and hopefully, let you get a glimpse into their world as well.

TweetSmart Offers Real-Time Twitter-Powered Group Link Blog

When Twitter users aren't sending 140-character updates for miniature conversations, or when they're not complaining about the service's lack of uptime, very often they're sharing links, be it items they've found interesting, or hyping their own blog posts.

A new service called TweetSmart is looking to harness these links, not in aggregate, in an attempt to rank popular items as ReadBurner, RSSMeme, AlphaTwitter, Feedheads and LinkRiver do, but instead, to act as a real-time link blog aimed to get an instant snapshot of the best content the Web has to offer.

TweetSmart is essentially an extension of Twitter's direct message service, or DMs, with some interesting wrinkles thrown in. TweetSmart users are encouraged to send links to the TweetSmart Twitter account, and to use one of 11 categories provided by the site, ranging from mortgage and real estate to Web, technology and social media. Depending on the category you choose, your link will be properly tagged, featuring the icon of the category you selected.

To use the service, all you need to do is follow the user "twsm" via Twitter, and alert the TweetSmart crew you want to participate. If they follow you back, you're given access to the site.


The TweetSmart Link Blog in Action

To send links to the shared TweetSmart feed, use the format:
    "d twsm category type your message here"
If I were to share a link from ReadWriteWeb, I might type into my Twitter box:
So long as I stay in the 140-character window, and appropriately select one of the TweetSmart categories, my item will be included.

Unlike my Google Reader shared items link blog, which only displays those items I've personally liked, TweetSmart aggregates all links pushed through, in chronological order, from newest to oldest. Unsurprisingly, so far, the site has been overweighted with Social Media links, but that can change depending on the active users, of course.

There are three developers behind TweetSmart (See: About Us - TweetSmart), including Morgan Brown, Paulo and Steve. As with other social link sharing sites, I can see this being valuable for smaller communities, and less valuable as the service gets overcrowded. If TweetSmart wants to graduate from interesting novelty to actual service, it'd be best to create something of a friends feature, where you can follow specific users, or filters to only show specific categories. Without having their product roadmap in front of me, I can't tell you what they will or won't do, but it looks clear to me that those would be some first steps.

To check out TweetSmart, head to www.tweetsmart.com, and don't forget to add "twsm" on Twitter. The team's official blog can be found here.

May 28, 2008

Disqus' Partner Strategy: Is FriendFeed Integration Up Next?

Today's news on SezWho's acquisition of Tejit stirred up, appropriately, a number of conversations around the Web regarding blog commenting platforms, and comparisons between SezWho and Disqus were common. But while some tried to paint the two products as competition, Disqus founder Daniel Ha publicly looked to open talks with SezWho, while, elsewhere, FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit confirmed that he's reached out to the Disqus team to make conversations on the popular social aggregation site two-way, which could mark yet another important name on Disqus' growing list of successful partnerships.

In fact, I didn't have to look far to spot Daniel's conversation with Jitendra Gupta, the CEO of SezWho, for it happened in the comments section of my coverage this morning.

See: SezWho CEO Jitendra Gupta Speaks on Tejit Buy: Comments

Although in coverage of the announcement both here and elsewhere, Gupta had made comments about Disqus' removing blog comments from the original site, and centralizing them on their own, rather than declare war against SezWho, Daniel instead played peacemaker, writing, "Congrats on the acquisition. Sounds like you guys are doing something a bit different than us. We should talk about doing something about this fragmentation. Game?"

This led to Jitendra's offering to grab drinks with Daniel, and the two now look like they're indeed game to set up a conversation which could lead to a great deal of collaboration between the two players.

Meanwhile, as FriendFeed continues its rapid growth, gaining significant mindshare, in part due to excitement displayed by top bloggers like Robert Scoble, Jeremiah Owyang, Fred Wilson, Loic LeMeur, Thomas Hawk and Steve Rubel, the fact that comments on FriendFeed aren't also migrating to the author's blog posts hasn't sat well with everyone. It's uncommon that a few days can go by without one blogger or another begging to have the comments on FriendFeed come back to their site, whether through a blog plug-in or some other way. While I believe a community should be able to hold parallel conversations, not all agree.

Buchheit, in response to a post from Wilson titled Web Discussions: Leaving The Instigator Out, said that he had reached out to Disqus to solve this commenting silo.

"I've been in contact with the Disqus team, and I hope to add the option to copy comments though to Disqus in the not too distant future," Buchheit wrote, also adding, as I believe, "Many of my (FriendFeed) comments aren't relevant in the original context... In many cases, (FriendFeed) is enabling new types of comments that would not (or should not) have occurred in the past."

By forging a partnership with Disqus, FriendFeed users could comment on FriendFeed items, and have comments also post to the originating blog, just as other services, including Fav.or.it and Plaxo have implemented. Combined with the recent introduction of video comments from Seesmic, and the above conversation with SezWho, you can see Disqus' strategy develop, to be open to partnerships of all kinds, establishing their service as one of the most versatile, almost default, in the nascent comment replacement market. It's very smart, and one that will get them a lot of good will in a blogosphere ready to accept new, innovative, approaches to communication.

SezWho CEO Jitendra Gupta Speaks on Tejit Buy

This morning, SezWho, a content rating and reputation management service, announced the acquisition of Tejit, a small company providing semantic analysis of user generated content through its discovery engine. The purchase is intended for SezWho to deliver even more precise reputation scores for contributors in an online conversation, honed by analysis of their activity throughout the Web, be it through blogs, forums or other social media.

In advance of the announcement, I had the opportunity to talk with SezWho's CEO, Jitendra Gupta, in a call Monday night, outlining the goals of the service, and how the combined offering will differentiate itself from services like Disqus. In our conversation, Gupta touched on many of the hot elements of the Web today, including distributed conversations, search engine optimization, and FriendFeed.

"Conversations are getting distributed, and the user organization is key," Gupta said. "Not even the New York Times controls the conversation across different sites and different people. Because of the democratization of Web 2.0 from blogs to Wikis, there is no one platform that will be the single platform because of the variety of tools that is available."

SezWho's goal, made stronger with the Tejit purchase, is to find out where these conversations are happening, no matter where they are, and build a reputation score for those engaged in discussion, to help others get a good idea for who they're dealing with.

"What we have to do is offer user-centric organization to where all these conversations are happening," Gupta said. "We say conversations are happening everywhere, but how can we make those better? Everybody is creating content. Who is credible and who's not? What is good and what is not good?"

Some of the core tenets of SezWho's offering are centered around keeping the power, including search engine optimization (SEO), with the blogger. While Disqus is a strong commenting platform and offers its own rating systems, the service has at times been criticized for hosting the comment activity off the blog itself, and instead, on Disqus' servers. For those who care about such things, they don't necessarily get the SEO benefit of the comments, which they might if they used Blogger, TypePad or WordPress' native commenting systems, each of which is supported by SezWho.

"We think there should not be one central repository, but we can instead be a useful benefit to the other sites," Gupta said. "From a Google point of view or Techmeme point of view, it's not clear that the content is fresh, or being updated. You're not benefiting from the SEO value."

The combined offering hopes to help you find out more about the person you're conversing with online, thanks to SezWho's tracking their activity and building a reputation and profile, based on their interactions on the many different sites throughout the Web. Tejit's offering will greatly increase the ability to get context around the data, and show how the reputaiton of one piece of content relates to another.

"We show these profiles around the people participating to show what else has this person done," Gupta said. "You don't want just connections, but credible connections. Who is this guy, and what is his credibility? We have the best reputation engine for establishing who is credible and who is not, and we take into account all the interactions on all these sites. We can interact and provide feedback, which leads to credible content discovery."

SezWho, prior to today's news, had 11 people, including 9 full-time employees, 2 part-time staffers, and a team of 4 engineers in India, and has raised just over $1 million in funding. Tejit is a 3-person company, and in the short time since its discovery engine was in service, it has already crawled more than 5 million blogs for analysis.

TheStatBot Analyzes Top Tweeters, TechCrunch, Makes Techmeme

It's only Wednesday, but it's already been a very big week for Yuvi Panda of TheStatBot. After launching on May 1st with an analysis of Robert Scoble's Twitter activity, Yuvi has followed on with the most detailed analysis of Techmeme ever done (well beyond my surface attempts), and has now branched out to cover other large social media sites and blogs.

Yesterday, Yuvi published the definitive analysis of Michael Arrington's TechCrunch, picking apart the popular site's 7,000+ posts and nearly 2 million words. See: TechCrunch Statistics A-W. In the analysis, Yuvi discovered the site's posts per day has accelerated dramatically from less than 5 a day three years ago, to nearly 25 a day now, as TechCrunch has gone professional, with a stable of talented writers.


TechCrunch's Posting Frequency is Up and to the Right

That post, as with nearly every analytical post from TheStatBot, made Techmeme. This rate of achieving the popular tech news site has meant that TheStatBot has now achieved a ranking on the Techmeme Leaderboard, down at #99 overall, from the last 30 days. Given my downward trajectory, I'll likely fall of the board as he rises at this pace. (See his excitement here)

Today, Yuvi follows on with a detailed review of the Twitter Clients used by Twitter Power Users, finding that among the top 100 users of Twitter, the Web interface dominates, as it does with the rank and file, but that SMS text messages, Mobile Twitter and Twitterific are much more popular clients, while Twhirl is more popular among the common users. The Web interface, in fact, encapsulates almost 60% of all activity (and more than 90% of my own activity, though I'm not in the top 100 by a long shot).


A Breakdown of the Clients Used by the Twitter 100

As mentioned a few times here, I'm a big supporter of Yuvi's work on TheStatBot. I've informally helped him discuss topics, timing, and given the occasional tip on graphics or grammar, but the work is absolutely all his own, and he's doing great. Now, the 17-year-old is looking into college admissions, and hopes his work on TheStatBot as an extra-curricular activity will help him get further along in the education process. You can help either by linking his way, or ordering up a custom analysis of your site or any service. He would be more than happy to put his analysis to work for you, and obviously does an excellent job.

May 27, 2008

Toluu Expands Activity Threads, Rolls Out New RSS Options

Not eager to sit still, Toluu developer Caleb Elston is rolling out yet new features, just a week after making headlines with Twitter integration. This week, after seeing a great deal of usage of the newly redesigned activity page, Elston is expanding options to see new activity, now splicing the stream to show feed changes, contact updates, and favorites.

The increasingly popular OPML sharing and RSS feed matching site is still invite only (and I have many if you are interested), but in the two months since its debut, Toluu has become a flexible gateway to add new feeds, discover new content from friends, and find new peers.


Toluu's new Activity stream, showing changes to Feeds.

Also new today, Toluu is dramatically expanding the number of RSS feeds available on the site. It's not just a one-way street for RSS for Toluu. Now, each filtering view (feeds, contacts and favorites) can generate a feed, just for you, for all your friends, or for the daring, for all Toluu users worldwide. Filling out that simple 3 by 3 grid means you have 9 new RSS options in aggregate.


Toluu's new Activity stream, showing contact changes.

As Caleb wrote in an e-mail yesterday, the growing user base of Toluu means that if you're not constantly watching the site's activity stream, you could miss something. Hence, the need for splicing the feed.

"We wanted to make it easier to see a particular kind of activity," he wrote. "It is super interesting being able to see what feeds Toluu users have recently marked as favorites or see who your contacts are adding to their list of contacts."

Caleb has also made himself very much available to feedback from site users. There's even a new FriendFeed room for Toluu, where he has been quite active, taking comments and requests, as well as passing out the much-desired invites: http://friendfeed.com/rooms/toluu.

And don't expect Toluu development to slow any time soon, as Caleb's got even more plans in the works, especially when it comes to better honing in on the date you need quickly.

"Filtering, either explicit or implicit, will continue to gain importance as we live with more data than can be consumed comfortably," he said. "This is just one step towards helping Toluu users get more from their activity stream."

Still don't have access to Toluu? Leave me a note in the comments and I'll send you one via e-mail. You can find me on Toluu at http://www.toluu.com/louisgray.

May 26, 2008

FriendFeed and Google Reader Are One. Sort Of.

Not too long ago, ReadBurner upgraded, including a new tab that essentially added Google Reader in an iFrame, letting you check your RSS feeds without leaving the site. At the time, I openly speculated that I would love it if FriendFeed would do the same thing.

In my fevered brain, FriendFeed could tie in with Google Reader, and let me see if other friends of mine have already "liked" or shared an item. Imagine seeing a feed from TechCrunch, and a little icon on the right saying 5 friends "liked" the item and 6 had "shared" it and there were 3 comments in FriendFeed. So far, the closest solution to this had been Assetbar, but that data, so far is siloed, and the service didn't gain the traction I had hoped.

So... to my rescue came Matt Shaulis (FriendFeed page), who you know from his work on one of my favorite Google Reader alternatives, Shyftr. Matt spun up a quick bookmarklet, which, if you add it to your toolbar, lets you log in to Google Reader while logged into FriendFeed, defaulting to your friends' shared items. See the below screenshot:


(Click for the full screenshot)


Use FriendFeed? Use Google Reader? Want to make sure, unlike Loic Le Meur speculates, that both are here to stay? Use the below bookmarklet:

Drag Bookmarklet to Toolbar: FriendFeedReader

Scooped: Who Brought the Story to Techmeme First?

When Gabe Rivera opened up search on Techmeme recently, the three-year-old site's archives became an extremely interesting playground to see trends, strong sources for news, simple ego-searching, tracking how companies have been viewed over time, and even to see which blogs are the first to bring the news to the big stage. I did some quick searches on a number of company names, products and other terms to see which sites were the first to have the terms included either in the title or summary of the piece.

Techmeme search only searches main items that reached the front page of the tech news aggregator, and does not include the "Discussion" links. Of the terms I searched for, none debuted on Techmeme prior to September of 2005, so if a service was already well established (See: Yahoo!, Google, Digg, etc.), saying who mentioned it first and made Techmeme after the site debuted doesn't add a ton of value. In the terms I looked for, it was interesting to see such a wide variety of original sources.

Also of note: Popular items that had more than 1,000 total results, including iPhone, made it impossible to find out who got on Techmeme first, as results only go to 1,000, similar to Google and Yahoo!'s limitations.

To try out your own terms, head to http://www.techmeme.com/search/, put in your term of choice, and report the results here. This is merely the tip of the iceberg for sure.

Term: Alert Thingy
Source: TechCrunch
Date: April 16, 2008
Link: http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/04/16/look-out-twhirl-alert-thingy-adds-twitter-support/

Term: Apple TV
Source: MacDigest
Date: January 9, 2007
Link: http://techdigest.tv/2007/01/macworld_2007_l.html

(Note: Engadget first covered it when it was called "iTV", on Sept. 12, 2006, here: http://www.engadget.com/2006/09/12/apple-to-release-itv-video-streaming-box-in-2007/)

Term: Assetbar
Source: louisgray.com
Date: February 8, 2008
Link: http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/02/assetbar-proposes-solution-to-twitter.html

Term: Disqus
Source: VentureBeat
Date: August 8, 2007
Link: http://venturebeat.com/2007/08/08/disqus-to-launch-new-features/

Term: Drobo
Source: Michael Gartenberg
Date: June 5, 2007
Link: http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/gartenberg/archives/2007/06/drobo_changes_t.html

Term: FriendFeed
Source: New York Times
Date: October 1, 2007
Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/01/technology/01feed.html

Term: Google Reader
Source: Official Google Blog
Date: October 7, 2005
Link: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2005/10/feed-world.html

Term: Hillary Clinton
Source: CNET News.com
Date: November 1, 2005
Link: http://news.com.com/2100-1025_3-5924424.html

Term: iPhone
Issue: More than 1,000 results

Term: iPod Touch
Source: Engadget
Date: September 5, 2007
Link: http://www.engadget.com/2007/09/05/ipod-touch-gets-official/

Term: Jaiku
Source: Scobleizer
Date: April 8, 2007
Link: http://scobleizer.com/2007/04/06/leo-laporte-leaves-twitter-for-jaiku/

Term: LinkRiver
Source: louisgray.com
Date: Feb. 13, 2008
Link: http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/02/linkriver-enters-life-streaming-fray.html

Term: Megite
Source: TechCrunch
Date: Feb. 4, 2006
Link: http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/02/04/a-look-at-the-memeorandum-killers/

Term: Newsvine
Source: GigaOm (Formerly Om Malik's Broadband Blog)
Date: November 9, 2005
Link: http://gigaom.com/2005/11/09/introducing-newsvine/

Term: Obama
Source: Valleywag
Date: Dec. 28, 2006
Link: http://www.valleywag.com/tech/tail-wagging-dog/lagging-presidential-candidate-turns-to-robert-scoble-224623.php

Term: Porn
Source: Wired
Date: September 22, 2005
Link: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,68934,00.html

Term: Profilactic
Source: Mashable
Date: April 23, 2008
Link: http://mashable.com/2008/04/23/onaswarm-lifestreaming/

Term: PSP
Source: Pro-G.Co.UK
Date: Sept. 16, 2005
Link: http://www.pro-g.co.uk/news/nid/1220/1474/

Term: ReadBurner
Source: louisgray.com
Date: Jan. 8, 2008
Link: http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/01/readburner-in-stealth-mode-looking-to.html

Term: RSSmeme
Source: louisgray.com
Date: Mar. 17, 2008
Link: http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/03/did-readburner-acquisition-cause.html

Term: Seesmic
Source: TechCrunch
Date: October 8, 2007
Link: http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/10/08/loic-le-meurs-new-startup-launches-seesmic/

Term: SocialThing
Source: TechCrunch
Date: March 10, 2008
Link: http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/03/10/watch-out-friendfeed-socialthing-is-even-easier-to-use/

Term: Summize
Source: ReadWriteWeb
Date: March 16, 2007
Link: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/summize_search_heatmaps.php

(Note: Summize pulled a 180 following this post. The first time they reached Techmeme in their new incarnation was when Paul Stamatiou covered them on May 10, 2008, here: http://paulstamatiou.com/2008/05/09/review-summize-twitter-search)

Term: Techmeme
Source: TechCrunch
Date: May 8, 2006
Link: http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/05/08/techmemeorandum-is-now-techmeme/

Term: Technorati
Source: The Blog Herald
Date: Sept. 14, 2005
Link: http://www.blogherald.com/2005/09/14/google-blog-search-reviewed/

Term: Tesla
Source: Gizmodo
Date: Aug. 26, 2006
Link: http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/clips/lexus-self-parking-car-video-and-review-196551.php

Term: TiVo
Source: PVRblog
Date: Sept. 13, 2005
Link: http://www.pvrblog.com/pvr/2005/09/tivo_72_os_adds.html

Term: Toluu
Source: louisgray.com
Date: Mar. 24, 2008
Link: http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/03/toluu-offers-gateway-to-friends-rss.html

Term: Twitter
Source: Ben Metcalfe Blog
Date: Oct. 26, 2006
Link: http://benmetcalfe.com/blog/index.php/2006/10/26/ev-williams-buys-back-odeo-and-twitter/

(Note: As Gabe Rivera notes in the comments, Twitter was originally called Twttr, and Biz Stone's announcement in July of 2006 brought the service to Techmeme.)

Term: Wii
Source: MTV.com
Date: Apr. 27, 2006
Link: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1529658/20060427/index.jhtml

Term: Yahoo! Buzz
Source: Valleywag
Date: February 15, 2008
Link: http://valleywag.com/357006/screenshots-of-yahoo-buzz-a-digg-competitor

Just a start. But Techmeme search gives a good glimpse into who's breaking the news in Tech, or who's got enough juice to be the first to reach the popular site with a new story. Can you find some more good examples? Does this data teach us anything at all?

May 25, 2008

Making My Blog Search Legit With Lijit

Blog widgets are seemingly a dime a dozen these days, but offering a strong search function on your Web site is a must, regardless of how cleanly you've laid out your archive pages, or how well you've implemented tags or labels. A little over a week ago, after seeing Lijit growing its presence on many other blogs I follow, I integrated the service into my site, letting users find older stories I've written on topics they find interesting, and opening up yet another box of stats for me to play with, including most frequently used search terms.


Looking back in my e-mail archives, it looks like I first signed up for Lijit back in June of 2007. If I remember correctly, I think I implemented it, but later, it got pulled in some blog redesign. This time, it's likely here to stay. On May 16, I undoubtedly polluted the Lijit user database, signing up again and getting a second account. Oops.

Acting as a front-end for Google Blog Search, Lijit places a simple search box on your blog, letting visitors search your archives, but also, it pre-populates if somebody arrives on your site from having completed a search elsewhere. For example, if I do a Google search for "FriendFeed Tips", and click on FriendFeed Friday Tips #1: Five Ways To Use the Hide Function, Lijit helpfully asks, "Looking for more about friendfeed tips?" and gives what it would provide as the best links in my blog, as well as through content delivered from other services I use around the Web, such as MyBlogLog and Del.ico.us.

Search results from Lijit are displayed as a pop-in window in the Web browser, not asking you to leave the site, but instead, showing you the results, surrounded by Google AdSense. Of interest, Duncan Riley said on FriendFeed yesterday that not sharing the revenue with the bloggers themselves was "not cool", but I hadn't given that much thought before implementing.

The most visible benefit of using Lijit is showing site visitors what the most popular searches are, either on my blog, or used to find the blog. As of today, the top ten terms are: FriendFeed, Twitter, Blogger, Lijit, Techmeme, BlogRize, MyBlogLog, ReadBurner, FriendFeed to Watch and Duncan Riley.


Also very helpful is the ability to filter what is displayed. I've mentioned before that there's a core element of Web perverts who like some pages in my archives, so I get all sorts of odd traffic from dirty keywords, which I don't want shown, so I can hop into my Lijit page and add these unwanted terms to the filter.


Meanwhile, as Lijit is watching my site traffic for search activity, it's also monitoring standard blog tracking tools, including page views, how many visitors are coming, and where they are coming from. Combining the two facets of the service, from search to statistics, Lijit can tell me which countries search for what most frequently, what is the city that offers me the most visits (Mountain View, CA), and from what country did my most recent search terms originate. I can also see which pages proved most popular after search terms were entered.

So it works. Good stuff. And while I underplayed Lijit's integration with other services like MyBlogLog, Del.ico.us, Flickr, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Disqus, Digg, YouTube, etc., this element may become more important in the future, as site visitors can do more than search just my blog, but they can search all across my network, essentially acting like FriendFeed in reverse, not looking for one site to track my activity, but instead a search point to analyze all my activity around the Web. I'll be watching this to grow over time, and hope to report back and say if site visitors are doing more than searching my blog, but searching my content as well. I've enabled a dozen different sites to pull from, so have at it.

May 23, 2008

FriendFeed Friday Tips #2: Using the Bookmarklet

By popular demand, I've been asked by other FriendFeed users to highlight how I use the popular social lifestreaming site. The first topic, covered how to best use the "Hide" function. Today, I wanted to introduce the underutilized, but quite versatile, bookmarklet.
In addition to supporting the import of several dozen services into your feed, FriendFeed lets you post directly to the site in two ways. The first is the straight-forward "Share Something" link at the top of the page, begging for a quick message and corresponding link. The second, and much more fun way, to share something is to use their bookmarklet, which lets you share any page you find interesting on the Web, including photos and even an excerpt, should you choose.

1. Where Can You Find the Bookmarklet?

FriendFeed hasn't yet made finding the Bookmarklet easy. A page describing its use, including a tutorial video, can be found here. The bookmarklet is essentially a smart snippet of JavaScript code that lives as a bookmark in your browser. To get started, drag the phrase "Share on FriendFeed" to your bookmark bar, as shown in the graphic below.


As I use a number of social media services, and several offer the ability to share directly to their site, I've even made a folder in my Safari bookmarks called "Sharing", with "add to FriendFeed" as one option. (See screenshot)

2. How Can You Use the Bookmarklet?

Once the FriendFeed Bookmarklet is saved in your browser, you can use it on just about any page on the Web. If you find an interesting article, click "Share on FriendFeed".


By clicking "Share on FriendFeed", the Bookmarklet will autopopulate with the title of the article, usually also containing the source. In this example, I have shared "When Good AdWords Ads Go Bad" from CenterNetworks.

Next to the "thought bubble", you can add any comments you wish to the article, and they, along with the title, will be added to your feed when you hit the "Share on FriendFeed" button.

The default location is "My feed", but now, with the addition of FriendFeed Rooms, you can even click the pull-down menu next to "Share to" and send it to just one of your rooms and not the main feed.

3. How Can You Quote Text in the Bookmarklet?

A common use of the Bookmarklet is to share a key piece from the story. This can be done by first, highlighting the text to share, and then clicking "Share on FriendFeed". In this case, again you see the title and source are provided, but now, the text you selected populates the comment area.


Again, you can send this to your feed by clicking "Share on FriendFeed".


4. What About Pictures?

One of the cooler things about the Bookmarklet is the ability to select pictures from the shared story, and add them as well. Once you have hit the "Share on FriendFeed" Bookmarklet, hover your mouse over any image on the page, and you will see a little rectangle pop up, saying "Share image on FriendFeed". Click once to get the picture added to your Bookmarklet in progress. Adding an image, or multiple images, if you choose, does not change the title or the comments being shared.


In this example, I picked one of the AdWords graphics Allen Stern of CenterNetworks used in his article.

5. How Do I Know It Worked?


When you've added a link by way of the Bookmarklet, and you're happy with its title, the comment and any graphics, you hit "Share on FriendFeed". To see it in action, just go back to FriendFeed.com and it'll likely be at the top of the feed, as the most recent item. If you don't check right away, just head back to your own personal feed, and you can find it there.


Just like with any other shared item in FriendFeed, you can click the "More" option, to link directly to it, reshare it somewhere else on FriendFeed, or delete it entirely.

6. What Can't I Do With the Bookmarklet?

One thing you can't do with a Bookmarklet is change its title, URL or graphics after something has been posted. You can edit your comment, or delete it, but the title can't be changed, so be sure it's solid before publishing. Also, it is possible to find sites where graphics that look shareable on the Bookmarklet actually aren't, either by being used in a non-standard way by the Web site author, or, in other cases, they are dynamically built and not actual graphics at all. I've also, at times, found that clicking on an image to share it may instead see me off to another site as the image is linked elsewhere. But that's more an issue with the shared site, and not the Bookmarklet itself.

With all the rage of late saying whether FriendFeed can replace Twitter or serve as a substitute, it's worth noting that you can do more than just post text and links to your feed, but graphics as well, and conversations that last more than 140 characters.

To see a long list of items I've shared on FriendFeed using the Bookmarklet, check here:
http://friendfeed.com/louisgray?service=internal. And don't forget to add the Bookmarklet yourself.

Next week's FriendFeed Friday Tip may or may not involve the new Rooms. You let me know what's needed.

Silicon Valley Is Smoking Right Now

That Northern California has the occasional blaze is not new. But a wildfire in Santa Cruz County has burned more than 3,000 acres, destroying 10 homes (as of this posting), and filled the entire Silicon Valley in a gloomy gray haze. (See Google News or KRON 4's coverage) While my Sunnyvale home is well away from the fire, it is definitely disconcerting to have our condo and all of the outdoors smell like a Memorial Day barbeque gone wrong.

While I'd heard the occasional news update yesterday about the Summit Fire, hearing it was a little over 10% contained by yesterday evening, it wasn't until late night when I started to feel the effects. The son of an asthma sufferer, I was lucky enough to be born with my lungs as an Achilles' Heel, as I dealt with my share of bouts with bronchitis as a kid, and can still wheeze after any good exercise. As my wife and I moved furniture around and cleaned out closets in preparation for the twins' near-term arrival, I found myself gasping for breath and coughing, as if I'd just completed a 5 kilometer run, and gotten winded. After weeks of seeing my wife, now nearly 32 weeks pregnant, put her arms akimbo and gasp for breath, the scene was comical, as we both were near images of each other. Given how out of shape I am, I swear we could even have done a belly bump.

This morning, I left our condo only to find the hallway wreaked of smoke. Taking the elevator down to the first floor, I encountered a woman leaving the front door ajar in hopes the first floor's smoke alarm would stop beeping, alerting us to non-existent danger.

And I wasn't the only one noticing the effects. Patrick Barry reported smoke filling downtown Mountain View, while others similarly said Stanford, Atherton and Los Altos were blanketed in the haze. The situation near work, on the border of San Jose and Milpitas, also smelled like a forest campout, only without marshmallows, S'mores and mosquitos.

This minor inconvenience to us is no doubt tiny compared to those directly impacted or fighting the fire. My younger sister, a police dispatcher for Scotts Valley PD, near Santa Cruz, put in a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift last night, helping direct officers who were engaged in the area. A state of emergency was declared and according to the Governator, the best people are on it.

Looking backward 15 years ago, to my sophomore year in high school in Chico, our family was more directly impacted by area fires. The seven of us (My parents, myself, 2 brothers and 2 sisters) had to pack up and evacuate our home two or three times in the space of week, as fires threatened to scale the nearby canyon walls, and take on the town of Paradise, which despite its name, is ridiculously positioned on a ridge between two fire-prone canyons with not much more than two ways downhill and out of town.

(See: Google News archive: "Arsonists who were "inspired" by the spectacular Old Gulch and Fountain fires in August have set dozens of fires, including 35 in Butte County alone" -- San Jose Mercury News)

With an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 senior citizens who drive just like you would expect, the prospect of getting in some massive conga line downhill was not all that inviting. But that didn't stop a firebug or two gaining inspiration from fires that were already burning, and starting more, one of which was set just outside the town limits, raining big flakes of ash on our home, our yard and our car, with CDF helicopters flying over our home, grabbing water from nearby ponds or lakes and dumping it on the flames in an attempt to save the city.

Already having our perceived valuables in the car from the last time we had evacuated, my mom put the rest of us kids in the station wagon, and we headed down to the Valley, not knowing if we would come back to a house or scorched earth. Luckily, the firefighters had done an amazing job, stopping the fire a mere 100 feet from where homes started, and from which there likely would have been no stopping the flames.

Weeks after the fires had died down, we headed to a point looking over the canyon and saw blackened trees in every direction. At my foot, I plucked a blackened rock from the dirt, seeing it divided in two, the top half, permanently charred by fire, and the lower half, protected underground. More than a souvenir, it served to remind us how close the fires had come. Hopefully, when the smoke clears from this week's blaze, we'll learn more stories of near-misses than of tragedy. It'll make all of us breathe a lot easier.

May 22, 2008

Continuous Parallel Attention: My New Reality

When you really want to concentrate, do you need a quiet room with no distractions, or does playing loud music help you focus? Can you hold a conversation while typing? Can you read blogs and write e-mail while watching TV? I do. And I must. For with all the information available these days, and my personal unwillingness to miss out on conversations or media consumption, I've done more than embrace what many call "continuous partial attention". Instead, I believe I have a goal of achieving "continuous parallel attention", whereby no single task is given primary focus, but instead, multiple tasks gain the same focus.

The common definition of continuous partial attention can be simplified to a person being focused on a single primary task but monitoring background tasks. This can be driving with the radio on, reading a book with a baby sleeping in the next room, or writing a proposal with Twitter on in the background.

Some do this well. Others don't.

Nearly 100% of the time I'm watching TV, I've got my laptop in my lap, with the TV screen's lower half ending just above the top of MacBook Pro screen. In contrast, if I try and talk to my wife when she's writing an e-mail, she probably won't hear me, and once I interrupt, she stops typing.

Last month, I talked about my social media consumption workflow, explaining how I started off my day, working essentially left to right to be sure I processed the information flow in the right way. This issue came up again this morning, when Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester revealed his own morning habits. In the ensuing FriendFeed discussion, I said I too try to knock out much of the activity at the beginning and end of the day, but also keep up what I call "continuous parallel attention" in between.

With continuous parallel attention, essentially multi-tasking, no single activity is getting priority over the other. I am writing e-mails at the same time I am listening to music, at the same time I am getting RSS feeds and seeing Twitter updates or seeing the FriendFeed page reload. Ask me the lyrics of the song, and I can tell you. Ask me what was said on Twitter, and I can probably tell you. Through continuous parallel attention, you're not giving one activity the short shrift due to time or priority, but instead, making sure every activity gets the right focus.

If you drive into the office, but you are thinking about the next blog post, or the next meeting, or even where to go for lunch, that's not mind wandering or being distracted. That's parallel attention. Your radio might be on and you're singing along. If a squirrel darts out in front of your car, you'll still hit the brakes. If a commercial comes on the radio, you still change the station. All in parallel. Your driving doesn't get worse. I'd argue I even drive better with loud music I know, where I'm pounding the steering wheel with every bass drum beat. I work better when I've got multiple things at once, in parallel.

The same is true for engaging with social media. Have you seen Robert Scoble's video from Media Bistro earlier this week? (See: Center Networks: Video: Robert Scoble on the "Worldwide Talk Show")

Robert doesn't linearly go one by one to consume his social media. He is running his RSS feeds, his Twitter feeds, and his video, all in parallel. The human brain is an amazing sponge, ready to take in new information, and if you practice, practice, practice, you can train it, like a muscle, to be ready for exercise. Achieving continuous parallel attention in social media means you don't have to stop one task to pick up the next. You just keep going. Yes, I saw that RSS feed. Yes, I read that e-mail. Yes, I saw your tweet and your FriendFeed post. But I also got all my work done, caught up on our TiVo shows, and picked up the groceries. It's not because I go without sleep (though I need less than most)... it's because of this parallel focus. You should try it.

Take FriendFeed Mobile With FF To Go

Just about every wish list for FriendFeed contains a request that the company's development team make a customized version for mobile phones. I know mine from December sure did. While FriendFeed plays nicely with the iPhone and iPod Touch's built-in Safari browser and others are turning to MojiPage to get their FriendFeed activity on the go, there hasn't yet been a focused effort to bring a mobile version of FriendFeed to cell phones, until now.

Fresh off his launch of Tweet2Tweet just this last Saturday, Benjamin Golub, also the author of RSSMeme, and formerly, a project called DearLazyWeb, has developed a site aimed to get FriendFeed out of the browser, and into your cell phone, letting you comment and like as you would at home. The site is called "FF to Go" and can be found at www.fftogo.com.


Over the last few days, I've been testing FF To Go, not just on my iPod Touch, but also, my BlackBerry, and at first blush, FF To Go enables all the core functionality offered by FriendFeed's standard interface, including making likes and comments, and importantly, honoring the "hide" options you've already selected over time. You can even post directly to FriendFeed by using the embedded "Share" feature, or undo likes and comments.


Making a comment in FF To Go

As the FriendFeed interface is spartan, so is FF To Go. But for most mobile phone users, this is expected. FF To Go shows three main tabs upon login, including "Friends", "Me" and "Everyone", and each option mirrors the same tabs on FriendFeed. Users can even navigate between each tabs by hitting 0, 1 or 2 on their cell phone after having logged in.

The FF To Go main screen displays the most recent 10 entries from FriendFeed, and you can take action on any of the items. Commenting on an item takes you to a quick interstitial screen with a comment box, where you make your comment, and then post to the site. It's not as smooth or Ajaxy as the real thing, but it certainly works.

Given the 10 entry limit per mobile phone screen, navigating between pages on FF To Go is also a must, using your phone's keypad. And Benjamin has made this quite simple as well, with 6 going forward a page, and 4 going back a page. Lacking the touch screen capability on the iPhone, keypad navigation is the only option, and in my experience, it works as anticipated.

Rapid development of FF To Go was made possible by the FriendFeed team's API program, enabling developers to harness data from the service to create new and interesting applications. Benjamin also explained the application was written in Django and using the Google App Engine. So why build FF To Go, instead of waiting for movement on FriendFeed's end to develop their own mobile version of the site? Benjamin says there were two major reasons:

1) There wasn't a good, existing solution that enabled active participation for most phones, instead of a static, passive view.
2) Seemingly everyone was begging for it.

As with other services that require the FriendFeed API, in order to get started, you will need to log in with your FriendFeed user name, and your remote key. Once you've logged in to the service, you've got FriendFeed, in your pocket, to go.