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August 30, 2008

Social Median Integrates With Google Reader for News Discovery

Social Median, over the last few months, has taken a growing role in my tech news discovery process, falling in line alongside FriendFeed and Google Reader, offering up news submitted by other Social Median users on topics I've asked to follow, such as Apple, Blogging and Lifestreaming. Starting this last week, Social Median made it even easier for me to share news items with fellow site users, by integrating Google Reader shared links into the site, making me appear more active, and dramatically increasing the available news to followers.

Social Median's news sources have, to date, come through "Snips", which are user generated notes, a lot like Tweets on Twitter, and "Clips", which can be done from any page on the Web, through the bookmarklet, or through submitting news directly on the site. As with other social sites, you can "Clip" other users news items, essentially adding your vote and sharing it to those who follow you, or make comments on the story excerpts. Integrating with Google Reader's shared items reduces the effort needed to add news, and Social Median parses the shared content to determine if it is relevant to specific networks, based on keywords, automatically making the shared news available to those following individual topics.


A recent item shared via Google Reader to Social Median

Unlike sites dedicated to showing the most frequently shared items, including Feedheads, RSSMeme and ReadBurner (See Disclosure), SocialMedian doesn't display a leaderboard for stories, focusing instead on offering personalized news and information on the topics you have selected.

Integrating with Google Reader's shared links removes the need to proactively share news to Social Median, cutting out the middleman, and undoubtedly increasing the volume of stories that are on the site. I expect the move to be good in terms of making the site more of a go-to for topical news, but also that it may result in fewer comments and clips per story.

You can see what I've shared to Social Median here: http://www.socialmedian.com/louisgray. Those from Google Reader are said as "Submitted by louisgray from Google Reader". My Google Reader shared links blog is here.

August 29, 2008

The Even Geekier Approach to Fantasy Football

You would think with trying to keep the blog regular, working a full-time job, keeping active on all kinds of social networks, and raising two month old twins, I wouldn't need yet another time sink. But, clearly not knowing my own limits, I agreed to return to the world of Fantasy Football after taking a two-year hiatus, re-joining the league where I was active from 2001-2005, even though I haven't been paying attention to the NFL at all, and couldn't tell you the starters on just about any squad. So, why do I think I have a chance taking on a group of couch potatoes who have bye weeks and depth charts memorized? The answer: Because I'll be the biggest nerd in the room.

Here's what I do to keep myself challenging for the league title each year:
(I've won the 12-team league twice in five years and finished second once):

1. I don't pick favorite teams or favorite players.

When I was growing up, the San Francisco 49ers were the team of the decade. They won four Super Bowls, and Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig were superstars. But in the last decade or so, the team might as well have fallen into the Bay, and I don't really care. As a result, I'm not drafting them too highly or unfairly promoting my hatred of their rival.

2. I only bring a laptop to draft day, not a pile of magazines and highlighters.

While some guys show up with their dog-eared copies of ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated or Football Weekly, and six colored markers, as well as the year's bye week schedule and an up to the minute injury report, I just bring my laptop and have Microsoft Excel ready to go. While they shuffle papers around and debate how their home mock drafts differ from the real deal, I'm ready to sort and click between tabs to find my data.

3. I believe past performance is the best indicator of future performance.

I don't need to see teams play or practice to believe a quarterback and a wide receiver have "chemistry", or need to see if a guy has had a good off-season regimen. Instead, the most important data is how well they performed relative to their peers at the position in previous years, according to the rules of the league you are playing.


My 2004 Data Set With 2003 Results

That said, I use the tools that are available to get the data I want, and it all goes into Excel, including:
  • A worksheet that shows the previous years' league results, sortable by position, name, team, total points, overall points ranking, and average points per week.
  • A worksheet that shows the bye weeks
  • A worksheet that shows the most recent injury report, by team
  • One or more worksheet with the proposed draft order from ESPN or USA Today
I then create two net new tabs, including:
  • A worksheet that will display the team I have drafted.
  • A worksheet that tracks the entire league's draft for the season
Once all the data is in there, I'm ready to go to work, as soon as the draft starts. As picks are made by each other team, I quickly highlight those who are off the board in multiple places - on the tab showing last year's statistics, and on the mock draft boards from ESPN and USA Today. At this point, the draft isn't that much different in Excel as it is on paper, but as time progresses, and the all too typical first few rounds get chewed up by running backs, quarterbacks and the occasional wide receiver, my preparedness has an advantage.

If your fantasy football league was online last year, all you usually have to do is go to last season's end of year report, and do a copy/paste into Excel, which will recognize all the columns and set you up for sorting nirvana. If at first you don't succeed... keep trying until you do. Worst case, save the pages as HTML and you can bring them to the draft day on the laptop.


The 2004 Draft, A Down Year for Me

Where others are deciding whether to take a team defense or their third running back, I can go and use Excel's Sort option to its fullest. I can take the highest players available based on their points per game average from the previous season, or do the same to fill a position I need. I can know whether taking a good quarterback will mean all that much relative to the next highly rated option, or if I should keep filling the backfield.


My 2004 Roster, For Example

And the latest rounds are where I make a killing. At this point, especially as most drafts are on Saturday mornings, and guys are joking around about taking players who are injured, or complaining about how the guy just before them snaked Fred Taylor or Torry Holt, I can sneak in and find players that were rated highly last year or by the major sports publications, yet haven't been drafted.

In 2004, my 10th round pick ended up being Willis McGahee of the Bills. In 2005, I got Larry Johnson of the Chiefs in round 12, who ended up being excellent injury protection for Priest Holmes, scoring 17 touchdowns on 1,549 yards rushing. As the rest of the teams use all the allotted time, often accidentally drafting players that have already been taken, my turn comes around every 12th pick, and I look to my Excel sheets for the answer. Yes, they overlooked my secret weapon, and I'll be setting myself up for the win, again.

This year's draft time is 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, and I've made it a little more fun by getting Drew Olanoff of ReadBurner and Strands to be part of the festivities, as well as two friends from work, all of whom are joining the league for the first time. We'll see who wins the battle of Fantasy Football geeks.

August 28, 2008

MacBlips and GadgetBlips Launch to Capture Leading Tech Stories

When I met with Jason and Erin Gurney of Ballhype and Showhype fame earlier this year, I practically sold them on the idea of launching an Apple Macintosh-focused site, which would distill the many Apple related stories from around the Web and provide a centralized site where Mac fans could discuss news, rumors and find a community with other Mac fans. Today, with the launch of MacBlips, they made good on that idea. And as if that weren't enough, in parallel, they launched a site called GadgetBlips, which gathers the top stories from sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, and provides gadget lovers a place to talk up their cell phones, TVs, laptops, or video game consoles, to name a few.


Both sites share a common foundation. MacBlips and GadgetBlips are constantly scouring the blogosphere to find those stories most-frequently referenced in articles, and bringing them to the site's front page, where users can vote them up or down, or make comments, like Digg, and of course, like BallHype and ShowHype.


MacBlips and GadgetBlips users can also submit stories they find from around the Web, and blog owners who write about Mac, Apple and gadgets can register their sites and track activity, to see which of their articles were found the most interesting to the community.

Speaking of community, any user can create or participate in subgroups on either site, focused on specific topics, be it iPods, iPhones, Mac Rumors, the BlackBerry or Nintendo Wii, for example. And as with most social networking sites, you can befriend other users, and be alerted when they have activity on the site.

The idea behind MacBlips and GadgetBlips is essentially to provide a single site that finds the very best Mac news and Gadget news, without forcing you to read all the related RSS feeds, and to help you find other Mac-heads and gadget freaks like yourself who like to debate wireless plans, discuss how to switch from Windows to Mac, or just when Apple might release the iPhone Nano.

As somebody who in the past has scrolled through screen after screen on MacSurfer.com to find the best articles, or gone one by one from MacWorld to AppleInsider, MacRumors and MacInTouch to be on top of the latest Apple news, the arrival of MacBlips is a welcome sight. But with so many other Mac-related sites out there, it should be interesting to see if the new addition will have folks changing where they choose to engage. And given the Gurneys' efforts on BallHype, which included game picks for sporting events and tournaments around March Madness and the NBA playoffs, for example, I'm very interested to see what kind of predictive behaviors they can do for the next MacWorld Expo Keynote.

You can find MacBlips at http://www.macblips.com/
You can find GadgetBlips at http://www.gadgetblips.com/

On both sites, you can find my ID as "louismg". (MacBlips | GadgetBlips)

August 27, 2008

BackType Goes Forward With Comment Tracker and Search

A little over two weeks ago, I reported on Disqus' platform updates, which brought new features, including the ability to show a "comment blog" that displays all your comments on the platform from around the Web. Today, a new service called BackType has opened up to go beyond Disqus, finding my comments (and yours) from many different commenting platforms and assigning them to a single stream. The service also lets you follow other BackType users, and search across the BackType community to find popular topics of discussion, no matter which blog, or which commenting engine, they take place on.


BackType Shows Comments from Those You Follow Around the Web

At times, reader comments can be just as thought provoking, if not more so, than the original author's blog post. Disqus made some noise this week with the introduction of the ability to "reblog" comments as individual posts, and last month, Fred Wilson of A VC openly wondered if there would come a time when comments were treated equally with posts on popular news aggregators, like Techmeme.


You Can Search BackType for Comments that Contain Keywords

With comments carrying so much weight, it's no wonder some bloggers are up in arms when they've seen their comments move to RSS feed readers or social media sites. But to date, no single service has given comments equal weight, until the arrival of BackType.


You Can Select People to Follow on BackType

When you register for BackType, you can add your blog, or your page on popular comment engines, like Disqus. You can also click on the "People" tab to see the most followed users of BackType, see their commenting frequency, and click through to see their activity. A few BackType users of note, at launch, include Andrew Weissman, Chris Brogan and the aforementioned Fred Wilson. On each person's page, you not only see their most recent comments, but you can also click on the blog icons on the right side of the page to see their comments on specific sites.

Like on Twitter, FriendFeed or other social sites, you can both follow BackType users, or be followed, and you can see the statistics on each user page. Given the site's new status, the most popular people barely break a dozen followers, but I can see how following someone's comment stream could be a lot more rich than their 140-character updates on Twitter.

If you like the idea of a comment blog, you'll really like BackType. If you like seeing what your friends and peers are doing around the Web, in full sentences and paragraphs, not just microupdates, then BackType makes sense as well. You can follow me at http://www.backtype.com/louisgray.

10 Suggestions To Improve FriendFeed's Beta

On Monday, FriendFeed previewed a new user interface, in beta, aimed to make the site easier to read, and also, to help people get updates from their "favorite" friends, through the deployment of lists that show a subset of your friends' updates, or through a new ability to remove individuals' updates from your home feed. The update also included a few new features, including photo posting from the main feed, a new UI that shows rooms and service details on all pages, and the ability to browse FriendFeed through the eyes of another user by seeing their home feed.

While the updates were welcome, and visible at beta.friendfeed.com, I feel the team missed an opportunity to make some critical updates which I hope are on the near-term roadmap. Here are some of the big ones.

1. There Are Still No User Profiles

In December, when I posted 10 Suggestions for FriendFeed, my number one request was for an option to add a small biography or profile to each user's page. While it's true that a person's collective Tweets or blog posts or bookmarks give a good indication to who they are, it would still be good to have more details around a fellow user, as well as the option to search and find new users based on details in their profile, for example, by company, by geography or university.

2. The Issue of Duplicates and Original Items Has Not Been Addressed

I might take multiple actions on single item. For example, I could post this blog post, tweet about it, add it to my Google Reader shared items list, bookmark it on Delicious, submit it to Digg and add it to StumbleUpon. In theory, as FriendFeed knows I did all this, it could show my multiple actions on one item. It would also be good to click on an item and see "Other Conversations Around this Item" or "Find the Original Item" to reduce parallel comment threads and reduce the number of times that a share by a popular user trumps an original piece by a less-known user.

3. There Is No Ability to Message Other Users

As the service has become a foundation for communication and sharing, it makes sense that you could send notes within FriendFeed to other users. While some have grown tired of DMs (Direct Messages) on Twitter, they are very useful for short one-to-one notes. On FriendFeed, you either need to publicly message somebody, or dig around their personal blog, assuming they have one, to track down an e-mail address.

4. The Controversial Default Users Are Still There

One of the most universally disliked issues with FriendFeed was that new users were guided to follow nine of the most visible users, reinforcing some people's concern that the so-called A-list had transitioned from the blogosphere to FriendFeed as well. Among the most notable critics were Allen Stern of CenterNetworks (See: FriendFeed Follower Patterns Exposed) and Om Malik of GigaOM (See: FriendFeed. More Like (Fake)FriendFeed) While co-founder Paul Buchheit called the issue "a growing misunderstanding", and that the recommendations were made from the "entire set of FriendFeed users", not "hand selected", the fact remained that the popular users were getting more popular.

Now, instead of the default nine users who were presented to all new FriendFeed subscribers, the new beta interface instead shows 24 default users in a three by eight grid. I signed up to an account with a new e-mail address and was presented with two dozen users. (Click the left image to see all 24) 22 of those users were men, 22 were white and there were two Asian (one male, one female). Of the 24, almost all are popular faces in the tech blogosphere, reflecting the true lack of diversity in this list. My real FriendFeed friends list has a very healthy mixture of black, white, Asian, male and female, tech and non-tech, which you couldn't gather from these defaults, myself included.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I was flattered to be part of the default list, drawn from popular FriendFeed users, but if it were up to me, I'd have the ability to remove people from this list or refresh to get more options (like Facebook does it), or to enter keywords to show what I'm most interested in, which would give me some suggested friends to start.


5. There Is No Way to Share Items With a Subset of People

Through the addition of rooms with specific topics, and the new addition of lists, you can share items to locations outside your public feed, or see a feed from a subset of users. But what you can't do is make a custom list, and then share an item to only those people, effectively "blocking" all other users for that item, or making part of your feed private. If for instance, I wanted to share pictures of my twins to a subset called "recent parents", but didn't want to share it with the techie crowd, I don't have that option.

6. You Cannot Granularly Use the Power of FriendFeed's Database

As there is a river of noise rushing into FriendFeed, mastering the "hide" option is essential. In addition to hiding all items from a service or a person, you can also display only those items that have comments or likes. But you can't say you only want to see items with multiple comments, and you can't view the site to see all items with five or more likes, or search for items with multiple comments that contain a keyword, for instance.

7. Hiding People from the Main Feed is a Bad Idea

Not everybody is one of the 24 most-followed users. For those people who are new to the service, or those who are less visible, it's not uncommon that they are starving for interaction, in the form of likes and comments. If people are adding friends and tucking them away without having to see their updates, this will further increase the gap between the haves and have nots.

This "fake follow", as it has been termed, also opens the door a bit more for unscrupulous folks who will aggressively follow and hide you from the main feed, and hope to gain followers and attention through social reciprocity. The Friends feed should show all friends, and users should instead rely on the new Lists feature to drill down to a smaller group.

8. The Advanced Search Functionality Still Needs Exceptions

It's not uncommon for people to search for their own name on popular social networks. On FriendFeed, this practice is essentially useless, as searching for your own name shows all your own activity. You should be able to search FriendFeed for keywords that exclude your own activity, or specific users.

9. Aggressive Hiders of Content Are Short-Changed Per Page

The default number of items on FriendFeed is 30 per page. But if you are an aggressive hider of specific services, of Friend of a Friend, etc., it's not uncommon for more than half of your 30 items to actually be hidden, giving you half the content, with a link at the bottom saying "Show XX hidden entries", with XX being the number of hidden items. For me, this means at times, especially during peak Twittering hours, I may only get 10 items on the front page, and clicking to page 2 is useless, as by the time I've scanned those 10, they would represent items 31-60, and be shown again.

What should happen, in my opinion, is that you should always see 30 items, after the hiding has taken place.

10. The "Share Something" Box Should Add Video, Documents, etc.

With the latest update, in beta, FriendFeed added the ability to share photos directly to the site with the "Share Something" box. I believe the direct sharing to FriendFeed of URLs and comments has been an ever-growing section of the site, and it could be taken up quite a bit by allowing the direct sharing of small videos, audio, Word or PDF documents, and even polling. There are many simple HTML based polling solutions out there, and FriendFeed would be a great platform for polling followers easily.

There would no doubt be issues with file size, copyright, etc., as we have seen with YouTube and other content repositories, but the community could be counted on to police itself.

Now, it would be easy and see the above and get the impression I found the update unimpressive, or that I'm souring on the service, but I'm not. As with any power user of a service, I am exposed to common complaints and suggestions that so far, haven't been addressed, and I can find them useful myself. The new UI is an improvement over the old, and I have found some positive ways to use lists to gain smaller feeds, but I hope we can start to hear about some of the above features soon.

August 26, 2008

My Google Reader Leaderboard: August 2008

Last month, I shared with you the top 40 sources for my Google Reader shared items link blog. See: Roll Your Own Blog Leaderboard With Google Reader Trends. As a month has passed and it's the 26th of the month, as promised, here is the list updated for the last 30 days of activity.


First, the dataset:

According to Google Reader, from my 368 subscriptions, over the last 30 days I read 15,566 items and shared 765 items. Month over month, despite adding 32 new subscriptions, they contributed 820 fewer items, and I shared 154 fewer items than in July.

Second: The leaders for August of 2008:

Unlike last month, where items from my own blog held the #2 position, this month, thanks to some strong content from guest bloggers, it held the #1 position with 45 total shares. As mentioned last month, I don't want to manipulate the statistics, so I'm leaving the data here. Close behind in the #2 position for August was Duncan Riley's The Inquisitr, up from #3, and Robert Scoble's Shared Link Blog, which rose from the #14 position. TechCrunch, last month's leader fell to #4, followed by Read/Write Web, which was #4 overall in July. All percentages shown are the result of taking the number of shares in the month per source, divided by the total number of shares. (In this case N/763)

PositionBlog% of Shares
1.louisgray.com6.28%
2.The Inquisitr5.58%
3.Robert Scoble's Shared Link Blog5.16%
4.TechCrunch4.60%
5.Read/Write Web4.18%
6.Profy.com2.93%
7.Webware.com2.65%
8.CenterNetworks2.37%
9.9 to 5 Mac1.81%
10.GigaOM1.67%
11.Scripting News1.53%
12.Scobleizer1.39%
13.Andy DeSoto1.26%
14.Kyle Lacy1.26%
15.WinExtra1.26%
16.SEO and Tech Daily1.26%
17.I'm Not Actually a Geek1.26%
18.Alexander van Elsas1.12%
19.Stay N' Alive1.12%
20.Twitter Blog0.98%
21.Chris Brogan0.98%
22.Google Blogoscoped0.98%
23.Fred Wilson0.98%
24.Mark Evans0.98%
25.Michael Fruchter0.98%
26.David Risley0.98%
27.Silicon Alley Insider0.98%
28.Technologizer0.98%
29.Rex Hammock0.84%
30.Pixel Bits0.84%
31.Mathew Ingram0.84%
32.TechWag0.84%
33.Webomatica0.84%
34.Regular Geek0.70%
35.Epicenter0.70%
36.The Boy Genius Report0.70%
37.Sarah In Tampa0.70%
38.Venture Chronicles0.70%
39.Daring Fireball0.70%
40.Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat0.70%


All told, these top 40 sources accounted for 477 of the 765 shares over the last 30 days, or 62.4% of the total, meaning the other 328 sources accounted for 288 total shares, or 37.6% of the total, showing there are a number of sites I consume, but never share, which could include pre-determined searches and the many sports or work-oriented sites I don't share to the public feed. If your feed isn't in the top 40 here, or you think I'm not subscribed at all, but should be, feel free to drop in your site in the comments. And if you're an avid Google Reader shared links blogger, be sure to add your feed to ReadBurner, where I'm an advisor, so it can be counted.

You can find my Google Reader shared items link blog here, or see them included in my FriendFeed.

Netvouz – A Quality One Man Bookmarking Show

By Mark Dykeman of Broadcasting Brain (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Despite recent predictions of the death of social bookmarking, the fact remains that there are still a number of excellent Web based tools out there that allow you to save and tag links to webpages in a public forum. Delicious and Magnolia are often regarded as the market leaders in this space, with funding and bodies to get the job done.

However, as the two leaders deal with interface and development model changes, there’s a pretty powerful bookmarking tool that’s been building up its own fanbase for a number of years. It’s practically a one man show and a labor of love. Let’s give Netvouz some of the attention that it deserves.


Click for Larger Image


Henrik Sjostrand has been pursuing his bookmarking dream for almost a decade. Netvouz (the name is a melange of the words "Net" and "Rendezvouz") has been in the public eye since 2005, but the concept emerged much earlier. Put simply, Sjostrand wanted a good Web-based bookmarking tool and so he built it. And tinkered with it. And improved it. And maintained it. With relatively little help from anyone else. The result is a quick and clean user interface and underlying application. Netvouz is a free service with virtually no monetization and no marketing except for word of mouth. Sjostrand says that his user base is "at 6 digits right now" although he plans to cull about 100,000 spammers from the user base. In terms of marketing and promotion, Sjostrand says:
"…Netvouz has grown very well by itself, and I actually prefer a bit slower growth so I can keep the site running well without suffering from poor performance, security problems, spammers etc."
He is focused on making Netvouz a strong product and doesn't spend time marketing the product.


Click for Larger Image


Sjostrand feels that his product has several advantages over other popular social bookmarking tools, including:
  • The ability to use both folders and tags for organizing bookmarks (he prefers folders for his own use, but recognizes the power of tags)
  • Performance (hence his emphasis on a clean user interface)
  • Link Checker and Broken Links Manager continually check to ensure that your bookmarks are still valid (I personally haven’t seen this function anywhere else)
Netvouz also uses a ranking system for bookmarks, allows notes, and allows bookmarks to be made either public or private. Potential future projects to enhance Netvouz include:
  • Better integration with Firefox and Internet Explorer
    (note that there is a Firefox add-on for Netvouz).
  • Further technical improvements for speed and ease of use
  • Possible creation of an API
    (I suggested that he should provide the ability to track Netvouz entries in FriendFeed)
Netvouz is strong in bookmarking functionality, but it does not have the same social or community functions that Delicious and Magnolia use. However, you can still share your bookmarks with other people. And, if nothing else, Netvouz is a good way to maintain bookmarks for yourself. Why not give Netvouz a try? Maybe it’s too much bookmarking functionality, maybe it’s just right. It’s definitely not too little. If nothing else, by supporting Netvouz, you get to support the "one man band" concept and recognize the work of a guy who loves his hobby.

Read more by Mark Dykeman at Broadcasting-Brain.com.

The Following/Listening Ratio - Are Your Followers Actually Listening?

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Identi.ca/FriendFeed)



Let's face it. One of the main reasons you and I, and almost anyone, are on social services is that you want to interact with new people and expand your current network of connections. There's no doubt about it that there's power in this concept - as you grow your network with quality people, you will meet others that could potentially help grow your brand, share your product, or build your audience. A large audience is valuable.

In the early days of Social Networking (hmm...that would be what, 1 year ago?), growing your network and having the majority of those following you also listening to you was very easy to achieve. It was simple - if you followed someone, you were making a commitment to also listen to their updates. I'm seeing a trend amongst my followers, however, which I think is changing the effectiveness of this technique. Where just one year ago, I was usually one of among 20 or 30 people my followers were following, quite a large part of my followers today are following 200 people or more.

I'm noticing on the larger networks like Twitter that the conversation is starting to fizzle. I may post something, but I don't always get the responses I used to. My followers are simply following more people now and I'm one of hundreds they have to pay attention to. I don't take offense to this - on Twitter I too follow over 1,200 people. I have my own strategy for listening to the most important posts using track and RSS and other techniques, but I'll be first to admit I don't catch every single update like I used to. Twitter has now become an aggregation and information tool for me for learning about people and events - it has lost much of its "conversation" nature that it used to have. This is the case for many other people, and not just the big bloggers and early-adopters any more.

The Follower/Listening Ratio

This begs the question, at what time does a social service lose its effectiveness in building relationships through communication, and at what time does it become purely a "data gathering and sharing" tool? Ideally, if all your social services, networks, and tools had the perfect ratio enabling all who follow you actually listen to you, your potential for a successful network of followers/following would be much more effective. This is the problem when social services like Twitter get too big - they foster the lack of good relationships the bigger they get, especially if they don't build the tools to foster this. Limiting the number of people you can follow doesn't necessary solve the issue though, as there is still power in also being able to aggregate and track information about lots of people.

I'm currently posting most of my updates via Identi.ca. They will have this problem as well if they grow too big, but one solution for me is to ensure I'm always on the new, upcoming networks so that the number of those people listening to me are following remains small, and more people are paying attention to my updates that way. Not everyone can do this though, and I'll admit this isn't the ideal situation and will not last for long.

Sites That Do it Right

There are a few sites that seem to be doing this right (to an extent), and frankly, I'm seeing much better communication and relationships fostered via those services vs. the other services like Twitter that seem to be getting bigger without the proper tools to foster such relationships. Two of those stand out with some great features to foster this ratio and keep it strong that I'd like to share.

Facebook

Facebook, the big monolith that hit 100,000,000 users today, seems to have grown well with tools to enable users to foster their relationships. Facebook is supposed to be about people, after all. First of all, Facebook allows categorization of friends into "lists" which you can arrange privacy settings around and allows for easy sending of mail to groups of people. Setting privacy settings allows each user to ensure only certain groups can see certain pieces of information about them. This helps reduce the unneeded information your followers see, and ensures they only see the most important information that they would be interested in about you.

In addition to that, with the new Facebook design, you can now filter out what you want to see about people. So, if I no longer want to see information about Joe I can hide that in my news feed and his updates will never appear again. I'm still friends with Joe, I can still contact him and interact with him, but this way I'm truly paying attention to those I'm truly interested in. In addition to that I can do things such as filter so I only see photos, or only updates from a certain application. My capability to listen is better on Facebook, and the ratio I mention is much better. The discussions are better and happen more often on Facebook because of this.

FriendFeed

FriendFeed has some similar filtering functions to Facebook. Let's start with the current features, and the ability the FriendFeed gives you to "hide" updates by a particular individual. If you don't want to see updates by someone, just "hide" their updates and only the updates from those you're interested in will show.

Yesterday, FriendFeed also announced some brand new features that make building and fostering relationships and discussion much better. For instance, I can add particular individuals to a "favorites" list. This means I can now follow all the updates of my favorite "followees" and just skim the rest. This ensures that more people are listening to what they want, and not ignoring the things they might not want to ignore.

With these tools, Facebook and FriendFeed become much more effective tools for growing and fostering your network. It's important that as you grow your network that you ensure that not only are you building the network, but that those following you are actually listening to you. Choosing the right network and strategy to do this is important. Having 1,000 followers on Twitter may not be the best thing for you if not all of them have a way to pay attention to your updates. Pick the networks (and the two I mention aren't the only ones - they are just the two I use) that work best for you at fostering conversation and relationships, and it may just be okay to ignore the others, or at least focus a little less on them as you build your relationships through the more effective methods.

What are some better ways you would recommend to strengthen the followers/listeners ratio of your network?

August 25, 2008

If You Look Hard Enough, Conflicts of Interest Are Everywhere

Cyndy Aleo-Carreira, contributing editor at The Industry Standard and professional guest poster in a number of Web sites, including this blog and Duncan Riley's The Inquisitr, has a great discussion starter this evening on bloggers and their conflicts of interest. The piece, titled Out of the Navels and Into the Mirrors, asks specifically if bloggers should talk about companies where they have a financial investment, any kind of part-time or full-time role, or if they should become friends with those they cover. Though broad, her questions likely resonate with many of us involved in blogging and reporting in general, and it's very likely you'll find a wide array of answers, depending who is polled. But each of us comes in with specific likes and dislikes, or personal history, which impacts everything we do, and displays our underlying bias, financial or not.

First, she asks, "Should bloggers cover companies they invest in?"

I almost immediately want to say no. But in actuality, investors in a company usually know it very well, especially if it's an early-stage situation, where they will know it better than the general public. It's no secret they'll likely be more positive on the company, but if they're fair and disclose the relationship, you may learn a great deal.

Good examples of people who talk about companies they are invested in include Fred Wilson of AVC, and Mark Cuban of Blog Maverick.

Second, she asks, "Should bloggers continue blogging once they join boards, take day-job positions with a company, or start/buy a company?"

Again, disclosure is needed. There are many official company blogs that are written by employees, openly. There are other blogs, like Mini-Microsoft, written anonymously, by an employee who is not an approved representative of the company who has unique insight as a full-time employee.

In a more close to home case, Adam Ostrow, CEO of ReadBurner, stopped blogging about ReadBurner on Mashable when he helped acquired the site. (See also: Did ReadBurner Acquisition Cause Conflict of Interest for Mashable?) When I joined the team to help as an advisor, I spelled out my hope to be transparent, and will disclose the role any time I get close to talking about the space.

Finally, she asks, "Should bloggers make friends with people from the companies they cover?"

I think this is absolutely human nature. I have a tendency to be positive on this blog. I talk about companies I like, services I use, and others I have big hopes for. In the process of investigating these services, often I trade a lot e-mails and phone calls with entrepreneurs, which can get to knowing them well or considering them friends. Most of the time, it's not the same kind of friend you can watch a baseball game with or catch a movie, but you do end up rooting for them and may at times gloss over some bugs in hopes they'll suceeed. (See also: My Double Standard for Web Services and Does Negativity Deliver Credibility? If So, That's Nuts.)

Being friendly can lead to a more collaborative environment, where you can both get information early, but also lend a helping hand to those who need it. I've never shied away from playing an informal QA role for services that need aid, and I want to instill a level of trust with those I do engage so they know they can trust me with confidential data.

Beyond these questions, my biases are everywhere, and they impact how I write and my opinions, which do show up. I happen to prefer Apple Mac OS X to Windows, even with the occasional glitch that impacts my Apple experience. I happen to be LDS and wasn't too excited about the rumors spread last week. I like sports, I tend to think Cal is better than Stanford at just about everything, even when it's clear I'm wrong, and I do have friends in the blogosphere - some of whom I've done podcasts with or traded e-mails with or phone calls. I will link to them more often, I will interact with them on social sites more often, and I will comment on their posts more often. (Cyndy and Duncan included)

On rare occasions, interactions with people behind services also results in free stuff, which for some, could lead to bias. I have free t-shirts from Disqus, FriendFeed, and Browzmi, for instance, all which came after I wrote about them a few times. I have a world-famous CenterNetworks sticker, and my babies have schwag from ReadBurner, Shyftr, NewsCred and other places (largely because I asked for it). I also represent standard demographics. I'm male in my early 30s. I live in California, in the Bay Area specifically. I work in the tech sector for a private company, and have since 1998. I have two young kids. Each of these things impacts my view of the world and what I like or don't like.

Rather than setting hard and fast rules about bloggers going out of their way to avoid topics they likely know well, or asking them to be friendless automatons, we should ask them to be more transparent and clear if they are acting with real bias. It's that which will make the difference between trusted and untrustworthy - and enable bloggers to look in the mirrors comfortably again.

August 24, 2008

There is No Social Media Overload

Every day, there are more and more great services to investigate in the world of social media. Each one breaks new ground in terms of features, focus or user interface. There are many different sites that target general social networking, some are for business, some are for dating, some are for microblogging, and others for service aggregation. And there will be many more. While some are calling for a pause in the innovation, somewhat fatigued by the implied redundancy or overwhelmed by chasing down comments and conversations in new places, it's worth noting there's time in the day to manage a good number of sites, and not all the winners have yet been crowned.

To have a full deck of social media tools, you essentially need the following:
  • 1 or more blogs that you manage.
  • 1 or more accounts on an RSS feed reader.
  • 1 or more microblogging identities.
  • 1 or more accounts on a business networking tool.
  • 1 or more accounts on a social network.
  • 1 or more accounts on a service aggregator or lifestream.
(Also helpful: A social bookmarking site, online photo site, music recommendation service, etc.)

For me, this means I blog here, use Google Reader, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and FriendFeed as my core applications for each category. But below these headliners are others.

For RSS, I also use Shyftr and liked AssetBar before it went away. I've tried Bloglines, FeedEachOther and NewsGator as well. There are also tools that interact with RSS, like Toluu, which helps you find feeds your friends like and integrates with Google Reader, and the sites dedicated to finding the most shared items in Google Reader, like ReadBurner, RSSMeme and Feedheads. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to ReadBurner)

For microblogging, beyond Twitter, you have Identi.ca, Plurk, and now, Rejaw. I'm signed up at each, but use Twitter primarily, copying posts to Identi.ca, via Posty. I need to check out Rejaw more, but am no expert.

For business networking, there's also Plaxo, which has morphed into a lifestreaming application.

For social networking, many still use MySpace, or Friendster, but Facebook has the momentum and the development on its side. Orkut never got the traction expected.

As for lifestreaming and aggregation, I am absolutely overweighted here, and I enjoy it. Justin Korn referred to it as "Super Kickass Social Network Following Power", but if you're interested, it's fairly easy to be engaged on sites like FriendFeed, Social Median and Strands all at once, like I'm trying to do.

I like FriendFeed because it easily pulls in my activity from around the Web and has a sharp community with good conversations and hiding. I like Social Median because it lets me just see news and posts on topics I pick or from people I follow. I like Strands because it has similar elements to FriendFeed, but more filtering and some good potential. I also know it can continue to improve because it’s early. Just in the last 36 hours, I've gone from being a nothing on Strands to having more than 100 people whom I can interact with.

Below this crust of leaders, you also have smaller sites like Yokway and LetsProve, where I'm registered, but haven't done much of late. FriendBinder doesn't seem to have taken off either, and BlogRize, though interesting, got quiet fast, and seems to have gone away, as did Mergelab. The truth is that we don't know which sites are going to win, and it makes sense to be registered everywhere and active on those places where you find the best community and the best content.

Of course, just because I sign up for something, or find something, doesn't mean that you're obligated to try it out. Not all sites are for everyone. But I'm far from being overloaded with Social Media. You just have to find balance, time, and keep remembering there is no quota and you don't have to read everything. Contrary to some belief, I'm not constantly on each site. I just read quickly, decide quickly and respond quickly. None of these sites is a real big time sink, unless you force yourself to read everything. It's easier to let your friends decide the best pieces, and for you to rely on search tools to get the rest, whether it be through Twitter Search, or pre-determined Google blog searches.

The only way you get social media overload is if you don't manage it well, just like you can get RSS overload or e-mail overload, or so I've heard. Even as there are more services to engage with, the number of hours you have to work with them is still the same. So do check out as many as you think have potential, and stick with the ones that offer you the community you're looking for, the engagement you need, and the best feature set. You'll find your niche.

See Also:

August 23, 2008

Strands Lifestreaming Beta High On Potential and Filters

There's no question the lifestreaming space has just exploded over the last year, with services like Plaxo Pulse and FriendFeed leading the way, accompanied by MyBlogLog, SocialThing, Profilactic and others. Practically all services aggregate your social activity across networks and let you display it in one area, with the option to follow friends and interact with their activity. One of the newest in this space is Strands, which bills itself as a destination site for people to discover new recommended items around the Web from friends. The service, currently in private beta, has some very interesting features, but also has a lot of room to go to supplant one of the bigger names.


As with the many other alternatives out there, you start your activity on Strands by adding your many services around the Web, starting with the most well-known services, like Twitter, Google Reader and Delicious, but the service also supports several other sites not commonly found elsewhere, including Webshots, BlockBuster, Hype Machine and Meneame.


When you add these services, as with other competitors, Strands creates a feed for you, which can then be subscribed to by other users.

As you currently can only get into Strands by being invited, you will start out with at least one friend, but you can find more users by seeing who your friends follow, or by clicking the people button at the top of the page. Strands, as far as I know, has the best array of ways to discover new followers, showing you who is the most followed, who's new to the site, or who is the top by a specific category, like Blogs, Images, Music or Bookmarks. Each person's profile is displayed with their avatar, gender, age and location. You can also search by name or e-mail.

Once you have subscribed to a few people, you can see their activity on Strands' Home screen, which displays, chronologically, the item posted, who added it, the service it originated from. You can then take action on those items with a simple Like or Dislike, indicated by thumbs up or thumbs down, you can comment on the item, click a pushpin to indicate an item is saved, or click an arrow to forward the item to those who follow you. (The equivalent of resharing on FriendFeed)

The interface for Strands if both cluttered and spartan at the same time, if that makes any sense.

Unlike FriendFeed, which offers a clean white background, soft gray text for comments, but little else, except a top navigation bar, Strands offers a wide array of ways to sift through the noise and find specific items. You can filter your feed by people who just follow you, you can show your own feed, or show subgroups of your friends. For example, I started a group called "Digerati", that includes Chris Brogan, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Corvida and others on the site.

You can also filter by category, including Blogs & Notes, Images, Music, Movies & TV, Bookmarks and others. FriendFeed offers this functionality by service by clicking on the service icon, but it's not spelled out, nor does it group similar services (like Delicious and Magnolia for instance). On top of filters, you also have "Hot Posts" which show items popular with your friends, marked by likes and comments, and the ability to have granularity, so you don't share all services with all people. For example, you may want to share some items with friends, but not family or coworkers.

The many different options on Strands make it useful to find things fast, but it also shoehorns the Home feed into a small center position. Arguably, this is the most important part of the site, so its power is greatly diminished. Strands also doesn't auto-refresh, asking you to click a refresh icon on the page, or in your browser. This gives the site more of a static feeling than other sites which do autorefresh, where it seems new data is constantly coming in.

Also, like most good services today, Strands offers a desktop alternative to the Web site with an Adobe AIR application, which keeps you updated on your friends' activity and watches your iTunes to capture what you're listening to, as well as a bookmarklet.

Does the world need another lifestreaming service? With so many on the market, it's interesting to see what aspects one site will get right or what they'll miss. Strands doesn't have the feeling of community today that FriendFeed does, given its newness and obscurity. And like many engineering-driven services, it can be seen at times to have sacrificed the user experience for more features. I've said previously that "the feature war is the wrong war" for social media, which needs to find new ways to connect people, their likes and their activity. Strands does a good job letting me drill down into specific areas, or in helping find new folks, but I'm hoping they can reduce some of the site clutter, and make the site really come to life.

As the service is in private beta, I have a very small number of invites, so leave your e-mail in the comments if you are interested, and I'll see what I can do.
DISCLOSURE: I was introduced to Strands by Drew Olanoff, the Community Manager at Strands, who started there in July. Drew is also the CTO of ReadBurner, where I am an advisor, and hold a small equity position. While Drew gave me an account to test Strands, he did not request an article, nor review this in any way.

August 22, 2008

Apple's "Ease of Use" Fails Me Again, Time Capsule the Culprit

Two of the major reasons I've been an Apple Macintosh fan from just about my first introduction to computers have been the systems' ease of use, and product quality. There was a time when I would be happier using a decade-old Mac than the latest-generation Dell or HP, and that I felt absolutely sure buying AppleCare would be a waste of money. But over the years, it seems product quality has slipped, and I'm almost as likely to get a bum product as one I can expect to be perfect.

This most recent Saturday, I was delighted to pick up the long-awaited iPhone 3G, and also, a 500 Gigabyte Time Capsule, for backup. Now that the twins are here, I've been thinking to back up all their photos and videos would be a good idea.

So far, the iPhone 3G experience has been outstanding. I returned my Blackberry to IT today after transferring my phone number yesterday evening. Now that a friend of mine passed along a Bluetooth-enabled Jawbone headset, I can even make all those calls in the car without violating California's hands free law and being one of the thousands ducking below the dashboard to dial.


But the Capsule is an entirely different story. I unpacked it yesterday evening, installed the necessary software on my laptop, and plugged in the Capsule to my cable modem, as expected. Then I told Time Machine to find it, and start my first backup to the device.

It failed, saying, "the backup disk image could not be created".


So I checked out the settings and tried different things. I had the Capsule run the wireless network. I even tried plugging into the device directly, using Ethernet. No dice. And if I tried to drag and drop any files to the Capsule from my laptop over the network, they failed too. So, I took a paper clip, reset it to factory settings and started over. More shades of fail.

Try after try... failed.

Today, a friend on FriendFeed suggested that maybe the Time Capsule wasn't to blame, but instead, that my hard drive might have some permission issues. So, I tried that too. Why not?


Trying again this evening, I thought I had more luck, as the backup was "Preparing" for some time. But it too failed, saying "An error occurred while creating the backup directory."

Wandering through Apple's support forums shows I'm not the only person who has had issues like this, but after years of expecting Apple's product quality and simplicity to be a cut above the rest, I'm, like others, growing a little fatigued by products that don't just work right away, or making one of many trips to the Genius Bar to replace batteries, frayed power adapters, or laptop hinges.

I haven't yet decided how long I'm going to keep pushing to try and make this product work, but if it doesn't end up working out, and I end up returning it to the Apple Store, I'm not so sure I'm getting another one. I'm on Apple products all day long, so getting the entire experience down right is a must. I'm geeky enough that just getting an Apple product to work for me shouldn't be this hard.

August 20, 2008

The LDS/Facebook Rumor Didn't Pass the Common Sense Test

In the absence of news, there's nothing the blogosphere loves more than an unfounded, nonsensical rumor, especially if two visible, but often misunderstood, parties are involved. I was amusingly dumbfounded this afternoon to find that today's rumor du jour settled on the idea that the LDS (or Mormon) Church had made an offer to acquire the hot social networking site, Facebook. While some, knowing only a mote of data about the church, suggested Facebook's strong database of familial interconnects would fall in line with the Mormon's well-known efforts in family history, the rumor was laughable on its face, which had me going from blog to blog saying it was complete bunk - which it of course, turned out to be.

See the nonsense here:As a life-long Mormon, I've grown used to people coming to conclusions about what the church does, stands for, or how its members behave. And despite the church being more open and active on the Web than almost any other faith out there, that I can think of, there are still pieces that remain mysterious, leading people to speculate well beyond reality. And today's rumor was just too juicy for people to pass up - and was more reminiscent of the Twitter-fed rumor that Subway's Jared had died than anything smacking of real journalism.

Whether it's a religious group, a person's country of origin, their race, their age or their gender, people have a tendency to make generalizations based on what they've seen through interacting with others, through what they've learned through the media and books, or been told about from friends or family.

When I tell people I'm Mormon, I'm often assumed to have a short haircut, wear a white shirt and tie, avoid cigarettes, coffee, tea, alcohol, drugs, and caffeine. Taking it a step further, people guess I probably spent good time in Utah, that I probably have 8 to 12 brothers and sisters, that I served a two year mission, that I likely graduated from BYU, married early and would have more than one wife if the laws were just a little more flexible.

At other times, I'll get the "You're Mormon? Really? But you're so normal!", which both gives me a sense of relief, but makes me feel somewhat guilty that I wasn't so exemplary a church member that it would have been obvious.

But while I can take the one by one issues with people who are ignorant, or just curious, today's rumor that the church would use a good portion of its estimated $30 billion cash horde to acquire a social networking site best known for poking and sending zombies to bite you was completely off the wall, and anybody who had any real knowledge about the church's mission had to have been giggling, knowing it had no basis whatsoever.

As a tithe-paying member, 10% of my total take-home income is donated to the church. While I don't dictate how the church uses my money, any more than I tell the government how to spend my tax dollars, I know that the funds are used to build new chapels and temples worldwide, to support the church's extensive welfare program that helps families in need, and to provide service in times of disaster. The church was extremely visible in aiding victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, in responding to the South Pacific tsunami, and was instrumental in responding to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, the church's well-orchestrated service arm is so strong, that other faiths will often work with the LDS church while encouraging their own members to provide donations in times of strife.

And this has nothing to do with buying any social network.

In regards to the intimations by some that this was some scheme to lop a massive database into the church's genealogical archives, that too made no sense. As members, we are encouraged to pursue our family history and look backward to our ancestors, but we can only submit names of those with whom we are relatives. We don't submit friends' or celebrities' data, and we're certainly not out there buying lists to do a mass import.

But, clearly, not everybody knows this, and that can only be due to a lack of trying to understand.

The LDS church, whether you believe their doctrine or not, has done an amazing job at providing materials for visitors to understand their goals, their current events and their curriculum. Not only do they provide every word of their scriptures, including Book of Mormon, the Bible and all cross-references and footnotes online, and make them searchable, but they stream their semi-annual meetings online, they provide all church magazines going back to 1971, in full text, online, and all curriculum materials. This means any Web surfer can know this week's Sunday School lessons or see the church leadership's comments on world events. And all texts available to rank and file church members are visible to any site visitor.

Yet somehow, the church is seen as mysterious. Even though the church is among the fastest growing worldwide, and all these resources are available, the fact there are denominational differences and behavioral differences between the church and its members, makes people wonder if there's more to the story. That's partly why today's rumor took off like it did. Eric Eldon of VentureBeat wrote, "It got legs because it was so ridiculous, yet intriguing."

It was at least ridiculous. The good news is that, as church members, we've seen this kind of annoying misunderstanding before. It's the same kind of herd mentality that associates the church with the HBO series "Big Love", the same ignorance that linked the church with the odd polygamist sect in Texas earlier this year, or those who forced Mitt Romney's hand, making him do a pronouncement on religion earlier this year. It seems that no matter how many questions we answer, or how open we are, people would prefer not to understand and recognize that the church and its members are not secretly plotting to buy out the Web, and we aren't trying to take over the world. While Duncan Riley of the Inquisitr was good enough to have a little fun with it, many of his sources were of course from anti-Mormon sites or incorrect material, which he's not faulted for finding. And others didn't even do the basics of a simple Web search to understand how to contact church authorities and find the truth.

As one fellow member wrote me on e-mail today, "These guys are not drunk, they are smoking something really strong. It may be a slow day, but that does not mean they need to break the word of wisdom. If they are not smoking it they should at least not inhale."

See Also:
Being Mac. Being Mormon. It's Quite Similar.
Mormon. Liberal. Not Conflicted.

Why the Embargo Process Is Broken and Why We Still Need It

In the world of public relations, press management and blogging, an embargo sets a date and time by which a story can be written. Often, the embargo date and time coincides with a press release from the company, a Web site refresh, or the product's availability. Assuming all goes well, an embargo restricts all outlets from publishing a story until all is ready, and assuming multiple parties have been briefed, you can expect a waterfall of stories and press coverage to flow in a short period of time.


But, as you know, any time humans are involved, things can go awry, especially, as you see often in the blogosphere, you have a large number of media outlets that cover similar spaces, and a scarcity of topics. The resulting clamor to be heard amongst the noise, when so many different people are writing very similar stories, makes for an environment where the slightest bit of mistrust can turn into a simmering feud, or outright frustrating and finger-pointing, be it at a competitive blog, or the people behind the service being launched. Add in to the mix a rising number of inexperienced writers, prone to mistakes, with high levels of visibility, and this can happen with some regularity.

To start, why would a company ask for an embargo?
    1. To be sure a product would not be pre-announced before it was ready.
    2. To prepare and have enough time to brief all interested parties.
    3. To ensure no favoritism was shown to any media outlet.
Why would media/press/bloggers agree to an embargo?
    1. If they wouldn't agree, the company might not give them the story.
    2. Because an embargo often comes with news ahead of time, allowing time for writing.
    3. The service might have given them an interesting non-standard angle.
At an enterprise company, a media and analyst tour typically consists of a series of face to face meetings, plus conference calls, with an agreed upon date for a press release that coincides with the product's launch. Reporters often are looking for customer references and analyst references to validate the company's claims or add a wrinkle to the story.

For more bare-bones operations, including startups focused in the Web space, face to face meetings are less necessary. Sometimes, a series of e-mails, with potential for a phone call, is all that's needed. That's why you, on most blogs, rarely see quotes from a company's executives or customers, even if they had an extensive beta. Most bloggers, even if they have tested a product themselves, are echoing a press release or e-mail introduction from the service's founder. Again, a date is usually referenced in the e-mail to "go live".

Sounds good. Right? So why do these nicely laid plans fall apart?

On the company side:
    1. Sometimes an embargo is for "everybody except one or two publications", who are allowed to break it.
    2. Sometimes the Web site or company blog can go live before the embargo, in effect, scooping themselves.
    3. Sometimes a story isn't all that much of a secret, and things leak to the point there's no reason for an embargo.
On the media/blog side:
    1. Going first is seen as being "special", even if it's a matter of minutes.
    2. Being first can make the originating blog get more attention and linkage, or prominence on sites like Techmeme.
    3. Some blog management systems aren't fool-proof, enabling stories to go "before their time".

Clearly, you have some juxtaposed issues. The company launching an announcement would benefit from being covered by the most publications as possible, seen by the highest number of people. This is augmented by a need to be seen by publications with a high level of prestige. (Think Wall Street Journal, News.com, eWeek, TechCrunch, etc.) But there's something of a magnetic pull on press or blogs to go early, whether that's at midnight on the day of launch, or by posting five minutes before an embargo is lifted, and simply moving the timestamp, as has been known to happen. Blogs and press publications get a lot of visibility through gaining exclusives, and even if the same announcement has been sent to a wide audience, to hit the "post" button a little early, getting the word out first makes you appear more "in the know".

Whether intentional or not, blogs are rewarded for breaking embargoes, even if it hurts the launching service. And there's rarely any level of repercussion, as competing blogs in the know of the embargo are not naming names.

Of late, I've seen a healthy dose of complaining by some bloggers that other blogs have willingly or unwillingly violated an agreed-upon embargo. Yet, interestingly, it's a rare person who will name the offending party, even after their activity has clearly irked them.

See for instance:
    Svetlana Gladkova of Profy:
    "Very-very angry. Is it impossible to run a blog without breaking embargoes these days???"
    08:23 PM August 18, 2008

    Allen Stern of CenterNetworks:

    "wtf is up with the broken embargoes this past week - 3 today, 5 in the last week - im feeling like busting out a video tonight"
    06:32 PM August 18, 2008

    Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb:
    "PR just called to say that mainstream media guy broke embargo, lol. you can't trust those mainstream media types with embargoes!"
    02:18 PM August 15, 2008
Notice how even though they claim frustration and anger, nobody says who the offending parties are...

Embargoes serve a real purpose for the company making the announcement. They are there to build time to polish the product, to enable true beta testing, to set up press activity with multiple targets, and to get one's message distributed. Embargoes serve a purpose for the blogging community, for those who choose to follow them, to help guide an editorial calendar, or to be sure you're also talking about a story on the day of its debut. And while some people might wish they disappear, it's not going to happen, so long as companies look to synchronize their internal and external activity.

As we see a rise in the total number of bloggers writing on the same topics, the issue of some sites trying to get out a step ahead of others isn't going to go away. Those that play by the rules and follow the agreed-upon embargoes, are on occasion, going to get burned. But what doesn't help the situation is that nobody is making a list and checking it twice. Why complain if nobody is going to name names? If there are one, two, three or ten blogs that regularly break an embargo, and it's clear there is a pattern, it should be visible, and these sites should be avoided by companies like the plague.

I believe in and honor embargoes. I also love exclusives, and think that there is more than one way to launch a product. But this practice is tried and true, so long as we have more transparency. What disincentive is there for bloggers who break embargoes if nobody steps up?

August 19, 2008

NewsCred Launches With Two Critical Supporters

NewsCred, a site aimed to bring "all the world's credible news in one place", went live today, offering news junkies the ability to not only catch up with the day's events, but also to select their sources of information, and rate their credibility. In theory, one could grade a media outlet up or down, and the crowd's input could highlight whether a source for news was trustworthy or not.

The service has already gained substantial coverage, including from TechCrunch, Profy and Mathew Ingram, for starters, but more importantly, the service clearly values not only the community's opinion, but the community at large.

Witness their outreach to two of the world's future newsmakers, Matthew and Sarah Gray:



As Shafqat of NewsCred wrote me earlier today, "WOW. That is possibly the best thing to happen to us all day. Thank you for putting everything in perspective - they are adorable and we're thrilled to be able to share our launch with your kids!"

So it is possible to launch new products and make friends with the community at the same time, by having fun and stay credible too. Now go check out NewsCred or one of these babies will have a tantrum!

Specialized Perceived Value Trumps Real World Value

If you've attended college, or at least know somebody who has, you know that students are willing to pay hundreds of dollars a term for some of the most mind-numbing texts alive. Students will wait in line for hours, or go store to store to acquire these textbooks, which might only be available in one location, knowing that to not pay these exorbitant prices and, therefore, miss out on the texts, could lead to lower marks, and potentially, decreased success in school and just maybe post-school, could be disastrous.

But these same books, worth hundreds of dollars to an individual, are worth absolutely nothing to me. You couldn't get me to take those blasted tomes for free - because to me, they have no value. They would clutter up my house, and I'd probably never open them up. (Of course, I didn't open most of them in college, and that's a different story.)

Outside of the world of publicly traded companies and market caps, the value of a service is very much like these same textbooks. What might have ultimate value to one person may have no value to another.

Just imagine dropping off iPhones in the Amazonian jungle or Sub-Saharan Africa, where 3G is a lot less important than three meals a day. Think about the plans of the last few decades of delivering one computer per classroom, when class capacities were ballooning to nearly forty students. After a while, it's clear, there's a gap between one person's perceived value, and that item's actual value. The same, is of course true with online services.

Ever try to explain social media or social networking services to people who don't rapidly take to putting their lives online? It's a tough road, especially if they don't have friends who use those services, and see keeping their online life updated as a significant time sink. But to someone who is fully engaged and has thousands of followers or friends at some of the popular services, even minutes of downtime are alarming.

Students who buy these overpriced, one time use only textbooks, and actually read them, are doing so with the expectation that their future lives will be bettered through investment today.

Similarly, I believe that taking the time to blog, or read RSS feeds, and engage with peers on Twitter or FriendFeed or SocialMedian can improve my experience today and tomorrow. Through these services, I've learned new things, I've shared ideas, and helped others. I've found new friends and peers.

It's not always clear how investment of time and energy in social media will benefit you in the long run. As Robert Seidman mentioned in a post here over the weekend, activity on social media landed friend Hutch Carpenter a new job. And since engaging on this blog, I've started receiving a good number of opportunities to meet interesting people, to speak at or attend conferences, and to help contribute to some cutting-edge services.

This weekend, I walked my mother through some of the services I use, and while there was some interest, most of the response was "why would I do that?" or "how would I find other friends who use these things?" Not every service is built for every individual. It's likely the Facebook application developers who are finding themselves snapped up for nine-figure sums would never have gained traction with a significant portion of the market, who saw their products had no value. It's likely many of the services I use every day won't be seen as having value to others. But the important thing is that to some portion of the population, they are crucial. The game is finding out which part of the population it is, and working to make that target larger.

August 18, 2008

The iPhone Cannot Be The End. So What's Next?


My Mobile Phone Progression: What's Coming?

When I go into work on Tuesday, one of the first things I plan to do is turn in my Blackberry, and begin the process of porting my cell phone number over to the iPhone. Within days, I expect I'll be Blackberry free for the first time in about five years. But this isn't the first cell phone product transition, and it certainly won't be the last, for me. While the iPhone, for many today, represents the "ultimate" in cell phones, something will take its place, just as has been played out time and again as technology evolves.

As users, we tend to gravitate to a specific platform and declare it the "best" or the "winner", supporting it fanatically, buying proprietary applications, and demanding everything we use synchronize with it. It's what we're doing today with the iPhone, it's what we did with the Blackberry before it, and previously, the Palm OS. Even today, I could probably write out the alphabet in Graffiti if handed a stylus.

But to pick up a Blackberry today already seems antiquated, and, with luck, even though it's been a great platform, I may not ever have one again. If I were to bring out a Handspring Visor or a Palm III or Palm V, I'd be hearkening back to the days of tech's yesteryear. And God bless those poor souls who would love to show you the capabilities of their Apple Newton. There's just no saving them.

In the fun of going through the iTunes App Store and getting new applications and games with basic features, including a bowling application, Tetris, and Bejewled, it struck me as having something of deja vu to it - as I had downloaded similar games and apps for Blackberry, and for Palm before, and maybe for a Sony Ericsson I owned for a short time. Yes, the applications are getting better, and taking advantage of new technology like multi-touch and GPS or WiFi, but once again, I'm buying apps for a single platform that I think is the best at the time.

So, in three or five years time, as the iPhone has evolved, or been replaced, by Apple or others, will I still be using those applications? Probably not. Will I again be buying the same applications but on a new platform? Probably.

The fact is that there are a finite number of developers and an increasing number of places to deploy these applications. We've heard stories of what Google's Android platform will or won't be, and we've heard how developers are happy, or aren't, or how they're switching instead to write for the iPhone. Where those applications may at one time have been debated to write for Macintosh or Windows, you now also have the option to write for Windows Mobile, for Blackberry, for Android, for the iPhone, for Facebook, for Flash or for Java, to deploy on the Web, or any of the game consoles - the Playstation, the Wii, the XBox, and their portable derivatives.

Evolution always pushes forward, on the desktop, on the Web, or, in this case, in the world of mobile handhelds. And it's very rare for a single company to be the leader for more than three to five years. The Microsoft desktop monopoly has been protected for parts of three decades now, legally and illegally, and they've never achieved the same level of success in the world of handsets, as much as they wish they could. Should we expect that Apple will coddle their lead on the iPhone, as they carefully massaged their leadership with the iPod, or will they rise to this pinnacle, only to see it eroded away by one of the current players, or someone new? It takes more than developing the world's best mobile phone experience. It also takes coddling and rewarding of a vast development community to pick you ahead of all others.

As a consumer, I've won with each move. I won by going from land line to mobile phone. I won by going from a pager to my Hanspring Visor with the VisorPhone. I won by going from the VisorPhone to a Blackberry. And so far, I'm sure moving from the Blackberry to the iPhone. The question is, will my next move, in a few years, be off the iPhone, or simply to a newer model?