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December 31, 2008

10 Predictions for 2009 In the World of Tech

Following on to last year's 10 Predictions for 2008 In the World of Tech and the recent results: My 2008 Tech Predictions Look Bad As Year Nears a Close.

1) The Real-Time Web Will Become Critical for News and Information Discovery

Delayed news will no longer be acceptable for early adopters, who will gravitate to the quickest sources of news, wherever they may be. As tools like Twitter Search and FriendFeed real-time offer people to rapidly broadcast their updates, reactions and news with true immediacy, a segment of the population will adopt these real-time sources and favor them ahead of delayed or filtered engines, including RSS, and of course, edited mass media. At the same time, while many of us early adopters may be fairly noisy about this development, we will remain in the significant minority, even as the mainstream becomes more aware of these options.

2) Businesses Will Be Expected to Be On Social Media If They Have Web Sites

In the mid and late 1990s, there was a land rush for domain names, as every company jumped in and procured Web addresses and built out Web sites to establish their electronic home. Although many of these sites were rudimentary at best, they knew they needed to be there to participate. In 2009, it will be expected that brands and businesses will be similarly established on social media, using tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed and YouTube.

3) Apple Will Introduce A Succession Plan for Steve Jobs as CEO

While Steve Jobs is not likely in imminent danger, the continued unsettled rumors, as well as a good level of common sense will push Apple to present a succession plan for Jobs, which will not take place immediately, but over the space of a few years. One to three names of potential in-house replacements will be named, as well as a timeline, as Steve fades to the background, but continues to wield tremendous power over Apple's vision and deliverables.

4) TechCrunch Will Acquire VentureBeat or Silicon Alley Insider

Mike Arrington's tech blog continues to be the influence leader in its space. Both VentureBeat and Silicon Alley Insider have forged strong brands with a financial bent which would be good additions for the TechCrunch brand as Arrington and team look to extend their umbrella and wrap up what he considers to be the best blogs. SAI in particular would offer an East Coast/financial bent that the Silicon Valley-based TechCrunch is currently not known for.

5) Android Will Have Less than 20% the Sales of iPhone in 2009

While commoditized PCs managed to put pressure on Macintosh and relegate Apple to a small market share percentage the Cupertino company is still trying to recover from back in the 1980s, history will not repeat itself, as Google's Android partners will be unable to knock the iPhone off its perch as the must-have smart phone for power Web consumers. BlackBerry will continue having a significant share in the enterprise, but it will continue to be iPhone eroding its share, not the Android, especially given the unmatched array of applications available for the iPhone which Android will not be able to match.

6) A Major Alternative to FeedBurner Will Emerge As the Service Stagnates

Google's mismanagement of FeedBurner has many people frustrated with how the feed service has been run since its acquisition last year, as the service continues to see slowness, outages, and recently went dark, shutting down their blog and being gobbled up by the AdSense team. Competitors will emerge, enabling bloggers to move their FeedBurner subscriber base and historical statistics to their new platform.

7) FriendFeed and Twitter Will Both Be Independent Through 2009

Despite Twitter's recent dance with Facebook, it will rely on its existing venture capital funding and find revenue that enables the company to stay afloat at least through the end of the year. FriendFeed, similarly, will not be acquired or merge with any other service prior to the end of 2009. The company, if necessary, will instead do a second round of funding, with its own internal sources providing much of the capital.

8) Companies Will Continue Budget and Staff Cuts Through the Third Quarter of 2009

The layoff parade in 2009 will not be limited to unprofitable companies, small companies or practically any category of companies. The doom and gloom that have hit the financial markets, advertising, real estate and almost every sector will continue through the first half of the year, before starting to see a rebound in the third quarter. You will see strong companies like Microsoft lay off thousands, and practically everyone will not be renewing contract positions that have concluded - even Google and Apple.

9) An Extremist Group Will Manage to Take Down or Deface the White House Web Site

America's political climate is extremely polarized, following the conclusion of two extremely divisive terms. As Barack Obama moves into the White House, the very features that make him a "first" will also make him and his administration the chief target for some incredibly angry and hate-filled groups. One will somehow manage to access the WhiteHouse.gov site and manipulate it this year.

10) eTrade, Digg, StumbleUpon, Skype and Yahoo! Will All Be Sold.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. eBay will want to ditch its non-core assets like StumbleUpon and Skype (I made the sale of StumbleUpon a prediction last year too). Digg, losing momentum, will sell cheap. Yahoo! will eventually be purchased by News Corporation, AOL, or even Google, assuming it passes regulatory approval, by the end of the year. Microsoft, still insulted, won't be back to the table.

RSS Has Practically Eliminated My Need for Browser Bookmarks

People use Web browser bookmarks in vastly different ways. All of us have no doubt encountered people who bookmark just about everything, and don't organize them into folders, leaving the poor user to scroll through page after page to find the bookmark they are trying to find. Others don't bookmark anything and rely on Google to find the desired page, through the search engine. On the opposite spectrum, others have tidy folders, while a small percentage of them are so focused as to have their bookmarks sorted alphabetically in nested folders.

That last example would be me. Not only do I have all of my bookmarks sorted in folders, but each of the folders is alphabetically ordered in my Bookmarks toolbar in Safari. Many of the folders have subfolders, and believe it or not, the bookmarks are alphabetized in each of those folders. If only I were this organized everywhere else!


My Safari Bookmark List Just Got a Lot Smaller...

Best of all, these bookmarks are synchronized to my iPhone, meaning I have them with me on the go, practically anywhere.

But these days, it really doesn't matter how organized I am, because I so rarely encounter my bookmarks - and many have not been clicked in a very long time. In fact, this afternoon, I went and cleaned up my bookmarks for the first time in a while, going on a deletion spree.

Why the change? Because practically all the important sites I used to visit on a regular basis have transitioned to my Google Reader, thanks to RSS. There's no need to have TechCrunch and Scobleizer bookmarked. There's no need to check in on MacRumors and AppleInsider every day. Instead, they come to me. Even the dozens of saved search strings I had for work to scour Google and all the industry trade rags are no longer necessary because each of those can spit off an RSS feed into my reader.

At this point, practically the only bookmarks I need are the portals, such as iGoogle and My Yahoo!, which are themselves RSS-powered, sites where my own action is required to make them useful, from retail sites like Amazon.com, or transactional sites, such as Wells Fargo and eTrade, and the occasional sports-related site that has instant scores, like ESPN.com or Yahoo! Sports.

The old ways of visiting each site one by one, or even to open every bookmark in a folder at once, as Safari lets you do, are no longer necessary. With the inclusion of auto-complete features in practically every browser, the rapid growth of RSS and precision of Google search, browser bookmarks are an archaic breed. There even may come a time when I go back into my bookmarks and start removing entire folders.

What about you? You've likely got a start page. It's no secret mine is FriendFeed, as it has been all year. I am also a regular visitor to Google Reader and Twitter to round out my news gathering, but what next? Are there still sites that are so necessary to visit frequently that they warrant bookmarking?

I Didn't Hold an End of Year Stock Sale in 2008

In January, amid some scorn, I admitted one of my yearly traditions has been to zero out my stock holdings in eTrade at the end of the calendar year, primarily to simplify that April's tax returns. Not having to span investment holdings over multiple years makes tabulating my profits or loss the following year that much easier, and also gives me a chance come January to start over with stocks I believe are primed for a big year. (See: My Empty Stock Drawer)

But as has been mentioned here several times, and in every media you prefer to consume, 2008 has been very, very different, and I just couldn't stomach the idea of selling some of the stocks I own at their near-historic lows this time around. While I certainly could use the write-off, instead of clearing the deck as 2008 comes to a close, I am standing pat. Part of me says it's because I'm sure these stocks will eventually rebound, and another part admits it is pure numbness and potentially the equivalent of being in shock. Maybe instead it's post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Of course, holding on to stocks this low doesn't guarantee they won't go even lower. If you had asked me 30, 60 or 90 days ago about some stocks, I'd have remarked they couldn't possibly dip further. But nobody is an expert when it comes to what we are seeing in the financial markets today, and I don't claim to be one at all. I am even lowering my own expectations.

2008 broke a tradition of the financial markets practically making sense, and we're breaking our own tradition as well. We're either going to have a nice bounce in 2009, or we're going down with the ship.

I've Taken a New Advisory Role With SocialToo

One of the most fun and rewarding byproducts of operating this blog has been to connect with entrepreneurs looking to improve their product and gain early feedback. Sometimes, I can help by doing more than just spreading the word about services I like, but get the opportunity to take time to suggest new product features, point out what I consider to be flaws, and suggest how they can better adjust to address competitors. In the majority of cases, this takes place ad hoc via e-mail or phone. In rarer cases still, I find a working relationship with an individual and the product such that we both find our cooperation mutually beneficial and have taken the next step to make it formal.

As I discussed and disclosed back In August, one of those roles was when I became an advisor to ReadBurner. Tonight, I wanted to update you and let you know I have also taken a similar role with SocialToo, which Jesse Stay, a contributor to this site, and the service's CEO, calls "your companion to the Social Web."

Since first learning of SocialToo this summer, and using it for several months, I have become very interested not just in what the product does today - primarily helping to quietly manage your Twitter account in the background, and to deliver social surveys to friends on multiple social networks, but also in a few potential directions I saw as next steps for the product.

Without Jesse's prompting, in November, I sent him a detailed outline of a new product derivative of SocialToo, which I would believe will fulfill a still-unanswered gap in the social networking space. Jesse, having significant experience coding programs for not just Twitter, but Identica and Facebook as well, seemed like the logical partner for some of my ideas. Jesse and I have since talked many times in regards to how I think his service can take the leap from obscurity to being more robust and visible, as it grows in capability and users.

As with the ReadBurner relationship, I aim to continue being transparent with you and other developers who believe they might be competitors to or partners with SocialToo in some way. And while I may be more closely tied with Jesse and the service going forward, helping to impact and review the product's roadmap, I expect to be even more critical than before, sometimes behind the scenes, and sometimes publicly, as I have with ReadBurner. I will also update my about page to reflect the relationship.

As a side note, do I expect to quit my day job and fill my LinkedIn profile with scads of advisory roles, although some of you noted the addition of SocialToo to the list over the weekend? No. But when opportunities arise to help build new companies and services that will help the Web and sound like something I want in a big way, I am more than eager to make my time available. Additionally, the relationship with SocialToo should not have any impact on Jesse's postings here. Jesse for the better part of four months has covered those topics he finds interesting, and will continue to do so. And when it makes sense that he disclose his SocialToo position, he will do so.

To learn more about SocialToo as it stands today, go to www.socialtoo.com. Jesse Stay's personal blog can be found at: www.staynalive.com.

December 30, 2008

LinkedIn Recommendations Are Feel Good Business for a Recession!

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Nothing feels better than a pat on the back, and LinkedIn makes no exception to this rule!For those not familiar with LinkedIn, it is a professional social platform to share opportunities, ideas and information. According to LinkedIn, over 30 million professionals subscribe, and some might coin the service as Facebook for business professionals.

While I don’t know whether anyone has actually landed a job from using LinkedIn, it is a great way to stay connected with clients and business colleagues alike. In this fast-moving world, keeping up with changing e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and the who-knows-who game can be daunting. LinkedIn seeks to make that easier.While most everyone knows LinkedIn for its Bacon-esque Connections feature and it’s recent launch of groups and applications, I was surprised that many I talk with know very little about the recommendation feature – or worse – are intimidated to ask for a recommendation.

Recommetiquette:

Let’s look at some LinkedIn recommendation etiquette. Quite simply put, if you feel you are worth a recommendation, ask for it. Don’t wait for someone to think of it for you. Trust me, they are thinking about a million other things than you.

This doesn’t mean that a warm and friendly request by you won’t get read. Generally, people you are connected with respect you. So ask.The worst case is that you won’t get the recommendation, and the best case is you get a glowing review from a respecting colleague or client. Lastly, always change the generic message to something more personal (but not too familiar, mind you). More on this later.

Recommendations in a nutshell:

LinkedIn makes recommendations extremely simple once you make a connection. By simply clicking on Recommendations under the Profile heading, you are presented with the option to choose which job title for which you would like to seek recommendations.
As you can see in the example above, I have a few recommendations for two of my positions. The “thumbs-up” icon to the left indicates I have at least one recommendation, and I can choose to manage or ask to be endorsed.When asking to be endorsed, it is a simple 3 step process (see below).
  1. Step 1 is confirming the position you wish to be recommended for.

  2. In step 2, you must decide who you’ll ask.

  3. To complete the process, simply create your message. You can choose to leave the default subject and body of the message intact, but I strongly recommend you make this more personal. (Tip: It’s always great to include something personal, e.g. “It was great to see you at the last lunch n’ learn.”).

  4. (Optional): Wring your hands as you wait by your computer for a response.
What goes around comes around:

Once your colleague or client completes the recommendation, you will receive a message in your inbox inviting you to approve or decline the recommendation. This is a great way to ensure the recommendation meets with your high standards, right?Perhaps the best feature about this recommendation process, in my humble opinion, is the fact that LinkedIn really believes in returning the favor. As such, you are immediately taken to a screen that asks you to write up a recommendation, in kind.

For those of you who understand recruiting practices, this is genuinely the best opportunity you will ever have to ask for a flattering recommendation. So, if you receive a request for a recommendation – make sure you take a little time and pay it forward. You never know, the very next e-mail in your inbox might just be that recommendation you have been waiting for coming right back to you…… and there’s no better time than a recession to get that feel-good you get from a LinkedIn recommendation!


Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. To learn more about Ken, visit his about page. You may also find Ken on FriendFeed, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Well, There Goes My 'Perfect' Driving Record!


One of the bullets in my theoretical real-world resume for the better part of the last two decades has been that my driving record is spotless. No tickets. No accidents. I've never hit anyone and they've never hit me. I'd practically felt invincible. For whatever reason, through 15 years of being a licensed motorist, I've never had any points added to my record. I've never had a moving violation, or attracted much more than a warning from a police officer.

That line is going to have to change, because last night, I got pulled over for speeding, and sure enough, I got a real citation which I doubt I'll be able to contest and get out of.

The incident put an ugly exclamation point on what otherwise was a solid and enjoyable week and a half off from the office, punctuated by visits with extended family, many of whom I hadn't seen for years. But lingering behind late yesterday, while needing to get into work early today, likely put extra pressure to get home quickly. Starting the two-hour drive back to the Bay Area last night around 10:30 at night, we had open freeway for the most part, and were soon cruising around 80 miles an hour, with traffic, occasionally going a bit higher.

It's that "a bit higher" which no doubt attracted the attention of the highway patrol. As has happened hundreds of times before, I saw the patrol car alongside the freeway, lights off, waiting for its next victim. But I probably saw it too late, or didn't slow enough to make the officer happy. As the patrol car fell into my rear view mirror, his lights came on, and though I changed lanes to let him go by (hopefully), he chose instead to follow me, and ask me to pull over. Matthew and Sarah, asleep in their car seats, didn't notice.

So after 11 p.m., when most people are in bed, or at least thinking about it, I was left telling this officer that yes, I had seen his car, and yes, I understood I had been going faster than the marked limit of 65. I said I had been doing 80, and he countered with 89. What can you do? He probably was right, at that moment in time. On a clear night with little traffic, the car is certainly capable. That I was driving the Toyota Rav-4, which doesn't look like an old clunker, like practically every other car I've ever owned, probably had something to do with my not sliding by this time as well.

So he wrote me up and I'm getting a citation. All my "Yes sir"s and "No sir"s in the world, and the lack of alcohol or anything else exciting weren't enough to get me out of it. So now, I have to live with the fact not that I'm a law-breaker... but that I finally got caught. Dang.

See Also:
louisgray.com:
California's New Sport: Balancing the Cell Phone Below the Dashboard
Web Robin:
Police: Was Louis Driving Drunk Friday?

December 29, 2008

Goodbye 2008, Hello 2009 On the Social Web

By Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist (FriendFeed/Twitter)

I spent the weekend recovering from holiday activities. I did manage to do some housework, watched The Sopranos Season Five (a key component of the holiday loot), and consumed a deluge of "end of year" blog posts from around the Interwebs.

I love this kind of thing, and it was fun to try to get a Big Picture take on what some of my favorite writers and thinkers are writing and thinking on the eve of the new year.

Plans for 2009
Many one-person blogger operations did an end-of-year assessment of how things went in 2008 and looked at changes and upgrades for the year ahead. It was a chance too for personal writing styles to shine, such as was the case with the curmudgeonly yet loveable Steven Hodson:
While not the most important (that one will come in a minute or two) I want to thank Duncan Riley at The Inquisitr for being willing to hire a cranky old fart. While much of the tech blogosphere is centered around the warm and fuzzy goodness of things like Web 2.0 and social media Duncan gives me the freedom; and the rapidly growing platform, to poke as many holes in that hot air balloon as I like. Thanks Duncan.
Rob Diana reported that he plans on "bringing the geek back," or focusing more on technologies and APIs that drive the social web, while also committing to shorter posts. Jason Kaneshiro of webomatica, a blogger who writes about tech and pop culture, discusses how he will look to balance posts out between tech (Apple, iPhone apps, digital video), movies, and television (more Mad Men reviews, yes!) in '09.

Louis Gray brought his own unique perspective on this kind of post, turning in 10 Things I Wish I Would Do Better On the Web Come 2009. These include commenting more on his own site as well as others, becoming more active on Twitter, and spreading the love (read = attention and coverage) to more sites in the coming year.

And I turned in my own State of the Blog report, in which I talk about my desire to "chase quality" and "follow passion."

Predictions
Predictions were big, both reviewing how those made for 2008 panned out as well as prognosticating out on 2009. MG Siegler of ParisLemon graded himself highly on correctly predicting the rise of social network aggregation and that NBC would return to iTunes, but not so much on Digg getting acquired or Apple releasing "a new kind of mouse with multi-touch capabilities."

Meanwhile, Adam Ostrow of Mashable reports that his 2008 predictions both "rocked" and were "highly accurate," noting the growth in Hulu's popularity, Facebook's now mainstream status, and blogs becoming "hot acquisition targets" (Ars Technica, PaidContent). For 2009, Ostrow sees Google Chrome's market share increasing, a "big newspaper" going all digital, and Facebook and MySpace ramping up their own acquisition efforts:
As startup consolidation continues, look for the two biggest social networks to become aggressive acquirers. The reason? Both have ambitions as not only media companies (side bet: look for Facebook to buy or take a stake in a big music app), but as identity providers. One sure-fire way to gain market share as an identity provider is to buy up popular but profitless sites and make their own identity system the standard. This is exactly what Google and Yahoo have done with properties they’ve acquired through the years (see: Flickr, Del.icio.us, Blogger, FeedBurner, etc.).
Steve Rubel predicts that The Web 2.0 Blogs Will Be Fine in 09, pointing out that "these sites [will] diversify their revenue streams beyond advertising and events. Research is a good area and one that probably leaves other, older companies exposed on price." (Do any sites refer to themselves as "web 2.0 blogs" these days though?)

And Duncan Riley at The Inquisitr believes that 2009 Will Be The Year of the Uber Blog, noting that large web publications such as ReadWriteWeb, Silicon Alley Insider, and Gawker Media are moving toward an "uber blog model":
The reasoning behind the move is remarkably simple: it’s easy to sell ads on one blog vs many blogs, for a couple of reasons. The biggest is simply traffic: having one big blog means increased traffic to the core blog making the sales pitch more appealing. Second, advertisers will often want to target the one blog and not buy the subsidiary blogs; maybe not always, but none the less common in my experience. If you have one big blog with various streams you’ve got better odds of getting high value advertising against all the content.
ReadWriteWeb, for its part, takes the temperature on 2009's social media outlook from a number of well known figures, such as Chris Brogran, Dave Kellog, and Om Malik. Interesting tip from Malik (pulled from GigaOM) is on financial web community Tip'd: "If it can get itself embedded into the financial blog ecosystem the way Digg has plugged in the tech world, Tip'd could become a daily destination."

Staying with RWW, Richard MacManus clued me into a fun slideshow from TrendsSpotting highlighting social media influencers predictions for 2009 (embed not working unfortunately but check it out here).

The great debates ahead
Whatever happens, we know there's going to be no shortage of things to talk about, hash over, debate, and bitchmeme about in the year ahead. One of the most interesting topics I came across that in some ways combines all of the above involves Robert Scoble's post, called Did I harm my blog by FriendFeeding this year? Not only did it open up a flood of discussion on FriendFeed and elsewhere, but in my view is intriguing because it touches on a bunch of themes that bloggers, microbloggers, and social media superfans will be thinking about for some time, including:
  • Social media balance – Which social media destinations will bring back the most value on time spent?
  • Influence – Is it better to be a big fish on FriendFeed, a "think piecing" blogger competing against the bigs, or something in between?
  • Monetization and ownership – Does it "pay" in all senses of the word to spend a great deal of time and passion on sites that you don't own?
  • Distributed conversations – How do you best harness ideas and conversations in this new distributed age?
Just some food for thought as we enter the final bend on 2008.

And happy new year everyone!

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist

2008 Internal Year In Review (Month by Month)

At the end of the year, it's a tradition for many sites and blogs to pick "best of" lists, offer predictions, show their best posts and the like. At louisgray.com, we're no different. In fact, we're probably worse than most when it comes to liking to sort, use statistics, find trends and display highlights. I thought it'd be fun (at least for me) to do a quick run through the year soon to be completed, looking at how things progressed - the good, bad, interesting, and not so much. Below is a quick summary, somewhat, of how each month went, including the top stories and new companies and people we encountered along the way.

Question is... what's the most common word in this wrap-up? My guess? The word "debuted." See why below.

January

In January, I said I didn't care much for the year's MacWorld Expo, discovered ReadBurner in stealth mode, which led to the introduction of Shared Reader... considered joining Twitter... got in a quick tiff with Mashable... actually joined Twitter... hit the Techmeme leaderboard for the first time (which was short lived)... noted the passing of church president Gordon B. Hinckley... saw the launch of AssetBar, and became part of the Elite Tech News Reddit. And at the end of the month, Rating Burner debuted.

February

February saw Microsoft and Yahoo! start their mating dance, as I admitted rooting for the underdog, but voted for Hillary anyway... saw RSSmeme debut to compete with ReadBurner, the introduction of LinkRiver... I introduced the LouisGray.com logo and revamped the site... and revealed my wife and I were expecting twins. I noted issues with FeedBurner, and saw FriendFeed open up to the public with Series A funding. At the end of the month, I met Chris Brogan, and wasn't so impressed with MyBlogLog's lifestream.

March

In March, we discovered Yokway! incubating in alpha before launch, saw the debut of Mergelab and Shyftr, but in the bad news camp, ReadBurner shut down (temporarily). To welcome new readers, I gave a history of the site... and started highlighting new blogs for the first time. Meanwhile FriendFeed started to take off, even if I said Duncan Riley didn't get it right away. I also managed to smash my laptop at Spring Training. Later in the month, Toluu debuted.

April

In April, we looked at changes on the Techmeme leaderboard... I was not impressed with Favorit... Yuvi put me under the microscope... BlogRize and Socialmedian debuted on back to back days... and we first discussed fractured conversations. Alphatwitter debuted... ReadBurner relaunched... and I made no friends in the blogosphere by ranting against ads. FriendFeedMachine was introduced... I went to Web 2.0 Expo... where I learned about the Profy platform... and then ticked everyone off on Twitter by making up a "Noise Ratio". I later added Disqus comments and discussed my social media consumption workflow.

May

In May, the StatBot launched, but Mergelab closed down while still in beta. I noted Socialmedian's early growth... and Duncan Riley's first week at the Inquisitr.... started the weekly FriendFeed Friday tip series... saw LetsProve start up... and the introduction of FFToGo, which took FriendFeed mobile. I also added Lijit to my blog... and noted who first brought stories to Techmeme. The end of the month saw TweetSmart launch.

June

In June, we talked a lot about comments. Were they conversations or replies... and was FriendFeed stealing them away... I slammed TiVo for having no social media presence... saw FriendBinder debut... our 18 year old beagle passed away... we discussed five stages of early adopter behavior... I praised Disqus... and saw the debuts of Feedly, OneSpot and Loud3r... Sarah and Matthew were born... and I told you my expectations... Browzmi launched... as did NoiseRiver and MioNews, as new interfaces to FriendFeed.

July

By July 1, Sarah came home from the hospital... TweetDeck was introduced... and AssetBar relaunched with FanFlows... we encountered blatant racism online... Ballhype was purchased... and I mocked the title of social media expert. Twitter started limiting API requests... as Gnip went live... Socialmedian gave me an iPhone... Identica rose as an alternative to Twitter as the site found new ways to fail... Cuil was a dud... I joined SmugMug... and Matthew lost his job at CenterNetworks.

August

In August, I told you about a creepy would-be online stalker... California banned driving without a hands-free cell phone... the twins started slowing me down online... Feedheads launched on the Web... I joined ReadBurner as an advisor... YooPlace launched... we discussed why the embargo process was broken... rumors flew the church would buy Facebook... Strands debuted, as did BackType.

September

September saw the introduction of Google Chrome... FriendFeed rolled out lists... i.TV came to the iPhone... the falling stock market started to hit my wallet... Sitemeter laid an egg... I went to BlogWorld Expo... and I thought Chi.mp was a waste of time...

October

In October, I noted Obama's widespread support at tech companies... saw Spokeo give up on Web 2.0... started e-mailing RSS items... forecast the future of social media... and saw FriendFeed launch real-time updates. Guest posts gained momentum... and my kids got embedded in social media early... Twine launched... we discussed Prop 8... as Socialmedian made an election news hub.

November

November brought us instant streaming films via Netflix... Strands went mobile... I started using Wakoopa... Twitter promised (and failed) to open the firehose by Thanksgiving... I said to be a "real friend" to social networking friends... saw the Twitterank controversy... participated in an emerging media panel... watched Glue launch... saw the MotrinMoms issue explode... SocialToo added surveys... I kept losing money... slept next to the iPhone for comfort... and enjoyed new apps for the device.

December

I started off December annoyed at TiVo and Amazon... but still loved the iPhone... talked about Secret Santas and Amazon Wish Lists... PeopleBrowsr debuted... as did Kallow... ESPN.com introduced a beta version... and my wife started a family-oriented blog... Netflix came to my TiVo... BlogRize returned... I picked my top ten 2008 debuts... Twitter kept growing like mad... but last year's predictions sucked... TwitOrFit launched... Steve Jobs bailed from MacWorld... Gawkk opened up... Embargoes flared up again... Socialmedian was acquired... I got a new TiVo XL... promised to get better... Scrapplet debuted as did TechFuga... I even retold the Christmas Story through Twitter...

And... that just about catches you up. So if you're just visiting the site for the first time, started late, or missed a few months, you probably have a pretty good idea of how the year went, what we wrote about, and where we went. All in all, it reminds me of a lot of stories of months past, and services that need a revisit. It also tells me we had a pretty busy year. Should be interesting to see if 2009 is more crazy, or if I burn out. My money is on... "more crazy" - the exception being I don't plan on having two more kids next year. So... did I leave anything out?

December 28, 2008

Bias, Bias and More Bias. I Haz It. So Do You.

A few weeks ago, the blogosphere's flareup of choice was around a handful of bloggers who had opted into a commercial program from KMart, where they wrote posts in exchange for gift cards to the retail chain. (See Chris Brogan's original post and the follow-up for a recap.) The controversy lay in whether participating in the campaign eroded the participants' credibility. Could their allegiance be bought for a few bucks? Would other posts be not so clearly labeled, but also paid for?

As somebody who has never posted a sponsored post, or been paid to say anything on this site, ever, I'm somewhat on the outside looking in for that specific discussion. But if you extend the idea of bias and influence a tad further, it's everywhere you look.

Longtime readers of the site know I play favorites. In February, I said I "don't play fair", favoring small companies over large ones. I promote services, people, blogs and ideas I like. I ignore conversations I don't care about. I choose products to not buy. I don't write about topics I don't find interesting. That's because the blog is personal, and I'm not an automaton.

My biases come from ten years of working in Silicon Valley, touching roles from product requirements to product deployment and evangelism, customer interaction and highlighting, public relations, business development, Web development, sales and advertising. My biases come from a decade and a half of being a near full-time Web consumer, finding services I've had good experiences with and those I've had bad ones, making and enforcing preferences.

If KMart came to me, offering $500 to do a giveaway, I'd almost certainly ignore it. Not because $500 is pocket change (it's not), but because I don't care for the KMart brand and going that direction isn't interesting to me. It sets a precedent and I would expect my readers to have the same questions they did for the others involved. But there are dozens of services who I have highlighted on the blog over the last three years, for whom I would be happy to highlight their latest updates, for free, because I find them interesting and I hope you do as well. I delight in finding new services and acting as an early adopter to find the good through the raw, and see potential.

I am biased. I am biased in favor of Apple and its products, as a long-time user. I am biased in favor of products I use and understand well, like FriendFeed, Socialmedian, Strands, Twitter, SocialToo, LinkedIn, Disqus, Lijit, Google Reader, SmugMug, BackType and many more you've heard me talk about. I am biased in favor of the entrepreneurs whom I have had early relationships with through e-mail, by phone, or in person. I am biased in favor of bloggers and other content producers who I believe write well on subjects that have my interest.

In August, I talked about this issue a bit, saying, "If You Look Hard Enough, Conflicts of Interest Are Everywhere". And in the case anything got official, as it did with ReadBurner, I told you all about it.

Even though I like these products, these people, and their ideas, the idea is to continue to be trusted. What liking a product doesn't do is force me to make up things that they don't do, or gloss over clear issues. If I were to say issues weren't there, you wouldn't trust a review. If I were to say a product did something it didn't, my credibility would disappear. But I'm not swayed to like a product because I've gotten paid, because I haven't been. Practically the only items I've ever received from these companies are T-shirts, and while I love logo'd T-shirts like any other Valley geek, it's not enough to flip me to the dark side.

I'm biased, but I'm transparent. I bet you're biased as well. We all are. You can see it everywhere.

8 Ways to Start a Conversation: Social Media Style!

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

The purpose of social media is to be social of course, right?

It helps social butterflies among us stretch across continents with the strokes of a few keys and allows the geeky introvert to have a voice. Starting a conversation has never been easier, has it? A friend of mine, Ken Allan, and I were having a conversation across blogs over the last few weeks. Both of us started our blogs for varying reasons, but primarily it is to reach others and extend the conversation.

But how do you extend the conversation if no one on the other end reciprocates? Blogging, Twitter, FriendFeed, and Facebook all share one thing: You have to have followers to talk to in order to even have a chance of starting a conversation. This is often hard work, but to some it comes naturally – some few names have risen to the top as conversation starters. Whether by wit or will, these individuals stand out in my mind – exemplifying how you start a conversation, and even keep it going:

Mona Nomura (Pixel Bits / FriendFeed / Twitter)
- A picture is worth a thousand words!

Mona consistently posts interesting material on Friendfeed and Twitter. What sets Mona apart, though, is her avid use of images in her FriendFeed posts. This quickly draws your attention, and the images she chooses really make you want to laugh, cry, and most of all - comment.

Leo Babauta (ZenHabits / Twitter)
- The guy that you can relate to.

Leo comes in with almost 80,000 subscribers to his blog ZenHabits.net, and coins himself as just a regular guy. With over 250,000 estimated uniques, Leo offers advice and observations on things from productivity and frugality to parenting and happiness.
People love to read his blog because it makes sense in a hectic world.

Louis Gray (LouisGray.com / FriendFeed / Twitter)
-
Let me show you this new … !

Interested in new discoveries, including new technology, services, and content, Louis Gray is an animal – devouring content at more than a healthy rate. The name sake of this very post you are reading has been blogging for over 3 years. He has recently hit a dramatic upswing in popularity, and his blog has become the host for many up and coming bloggers. Chances are if you are a new technology or service, Louis will be using you, and chances are if you are new blogger, he will hunt you down.

Darren Rowse (ProBlogger / FriendFeed / Twitter)
- Do what I say, and what I do. I even wrote a book about it!

We all know and love Darren as the founder and chief blogger at ProBlogger.net, Digital Photography School, and the new TwiTip. Nearing 70,000 RSS subscribers and an estimated 450,000 uniques on ProBlogger, Darren has carved out a niche as a blogger who makes money blogging, and even wrote a book on how you can too. Darren uses social media to actively engage his readership, and is a genuinely nice guy.

Jason Calacanis (Mahalo / FriendFeed / Twitter)
I is what I is, and that’s what I is.

Founder of Mahalo, Calacanis officially gave up blogging back in July of this year, citing that e-mail was a more personal way to interact with 5 or 10 - thousand - of his friends. (He never replied back to me, I wonder why?). Many saw this as a media stunt, since Jason has quietly resumed his blogging after this announcement. Calling him a blogger or not seems irrelevant at this point. Maybe that’s a sign of arriving in itself?
Whether you are upset with Jason for pulling a fast one on his loyal readers or think of him as being a true trail blazer, none can deny he understands how to start a conversation.

Chris Brogan (ChrisBrogan.com / FriendFeed / Twitter)
- Community and Social Media.

His tagline says it all. Chris is famous for being able to stir people into movement, and often showcases others as the hero. For instance, his Rockstars page showcases blogs of all shapes and sizes.
Chris understands that by scratching others' backs, they will return the favor - or at least pay it forward.

Mike Arrington (TechCrunch / FriendFeed / Twitter)
- Evil Genius or Shrewd Entrepreneur.

Mike has been called an evil genius by some, but his website, techcrunch.com, has seen an estimated 1.4 million uniques. Obviously, Mike knows how to get eyeballs on the page regardless of where you stand.

Robert Scoble (Scobleizer / FriendFeed / Twitter)
- Is there a difference between conversation and controversy?

Robert has been doing this for a long time. Now part of the talent at FastCompany.tv, the Scobleizer has a knack for starting both conversations and controversies. Robert is the kind of guy that loves to be in a noisy room of 30,000 geeks, and even tries to listen to all of them at once. Robert took time off from his blog this past year to jump feet first into Twitter and FriendFeed. He now has over 23,000 followers on FriendFeed and over 44,000 on Twitter, logging an estimated 2000 hours on these services alone in the last year. Between interviewing up and coming tech-execs, blogging, and participating heavily in social media, Robert’s name always comes to mind when thinking about social media conversations – and is perhaps THE name when thinking TECH in general.

Final Thoughts

So it has been a banner year for social media, and this list comprises some of the heavy hitters that you might look to when thinking about how you want to start – and continue –your conversations on the web. With conversations happening in more places than just your comment queue, seriously consider not only your message, but how you are going to broadcast it. By the way, this list is not exhaustive, and is solely my opinion.

I would love to hear from you! Who knows how to do it right – and why?


Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. To learn more about Ken, visit his about page. You may also find Ken on FriendFeed, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Arrington? Le Meur? Scoble? Everybody's Right About "Authority".

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

This weekend's blog flareup on whether Twitter should track the "authority" of a user, based primarily on the number of followers, has a number of people up in arms. One side says it makes sense. After all, Technorati and Google have always tracked influence. Others say the following number can be easily manipulated, and has no weight. First of all, before we address the issues, why am I writing this on LouisGray.com and not my own blog, StayNAlive.com?  It largely comes down to numbers.  LouisGray.com has near 4,000 RSS subscribers, while my blog only has 500.  Aside from the fact that I enjoy the team of great writers I work with on this blog, I have a much louder, and because of that, more authoritative, voice here.  More people listen with a larger audience than those with a small audience.  And like it or not, all bloggers trying to compete play the numbers game - that's simple marketing.

Background

Recently Loic Le Meur wrote a post, suggesting that Twitter Search sort their results by most popular on Twitter.  So, for example, if Robert Scoble has more followers than Michael Arrington, Scoble's posts will appear higher than Arrington's in the search results.  Scoble responded with a blog post suggesting Lemeur was wrong, saying that the number of people you follow is more important than those who follow you.  Today, Arrington reignited the flames with another follow-on post, supporting Le Meur, effectively saying the controversy was much ado about little, that it wasn't a separation from the haves and have nots, but instead, a simple recommendation to add to Twitter search.

So we have two business men, trying to find more readers and users to build revenue for their businesses (Arrington runs a content business, TechCrunch.com, while Le Meur runs a Video publishing service, Seesmic).  At the same time we have a video blogger, Robert Scoble, trying to find new content, which in turn generates revenue for the business he works for by building unique content.  He's very good at that, but They're both right.

Of course Arrington and Le Meur want more followers, and preference placed on followers - they benefit by doing so.  Their experience, as businessmen trying to generate revenue for their business, shows that more followers can both directly and indirectly translate into revenue for the businesses they own and run.  Arrington, after today's article, will generate even more readers of his blog because of the discussion going on about this on Twitter and FriendFeed.  That converts to more followers, which in turn sends them back to TechCrunch.com.

If I launch a new feature for SocialToo.com (Disclosure - I am CEO and co-founder of SocialToo.com, a service that, among many other features, enables you to auto-follow those that follow you on Twitter and other networks.), I have 4,000 followers I can now announce that to.  A year ago, when I was only at a few hundred, that announcement would not have made anywhere near an impact.  Now, with a sound business model, I have the potential to convert many more users to drive both traffic and revenue to the service.  The same goes with Arrington and TechCrunch, and Le Meur and Seesmic.  They're smart businessmen.  Notice Guy Kawasaki, another smart businessman said the same thing.

At the same time, it makes complete sense that Scoble places his value on the people he follows. Scoble's value is in the information he learns.  It's a sound strategy for a journalist, a PR professional, or a blogger.  After all, I met Scoble through following him on Twitter and FriendFeed (in person even!).  I also met Guy Kawasaki by following him on Twitter, as did I Chris Pirillo, and following the Tweets of the two of them was the premise behind me starting SocialToo.com.  There is value in that as well.  Scoble, and others can be experts, because of the people they follow - that is powerful.  It should also be noted that Scoble has a lot of followers because of this strategy.  This really is a "Chicken or the Egg" argument!

Social Networking is About the Experience for the Individual

The power of Social Networking is that it allows each individual to develop their own personalized experience on the web.  By the people they follow, they get the content they want.  By the people that follow them, they are given a voice outside of that personal world.  Scoble is right - you are defined by the people you follow.  I've talked about that here before - relationships define the individual.

However, a relationship is a two-way connection.  In the end it's those that follow you that can vouch for who you are, and what type of person they perceive you as.  If anyone were to steal my identity, I now have 4,000 people that can vouch it's the real me.  Of course there are ways around this, but it's still a form of identity, and will solidify even more as technology evolves.

I am a smarter person because of the people I follow - I've mentioned before that I separate those I pay attention to from those I follow.  That's how I follow smart people.  At the same time, I can ask any question now, and get multiple answers to that question from my 4,000+ followers.  I couldn't do that when I had only a few hundred.  I'm also smarter because of the people the follow me!  The people that follow me are very valuable, and make me a more authoritative source, just as the people I follow do.

I really don't think there is any right or wrong answer here.  I think Scoble, Arrington, and Lemeur are all right - it's important to follow smart people, yet at the same time your followers are just as important.  I don't think either one is any more valuable than the other on a general level - it varies on a person-to-person experience, and that is why you see them arguing over it.  That's the amazing thing behind Social Networking - there is no right or wrong answer because each individual can define their own!

In a perfect world, Twitter Search would provide multiple filters, some based on followers, some based on people you follow, some based on the number of people you converse with directly in your network of friends and followers.  The more personalized that search becomes, the more valuable it becomes to the individual.  "Authority" is determined by the individual.  Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.

December 26, 2008

Quantcast Shows Which Services Rely Most on Their "Addicts"

If you're like me, you have a list of sites you visit just about every day, without fail, and some may even be visited multiple times a day. Whether you're a frequent visitor of Google News, CNN.com, Facebook or Twitter, site and service owners know they can count on some consistent traffic from their regular visitors, in addition to natural traffic from external links or search engines. Web traffic measurement company Quantcast tracks much of this data, and has even gone so far as to categorize the most frequent visitors to some sites as "addicts", defined as those who visit a site more than 30 times in a single month - the "hardcore segment of a site's audience". As it turns out, some popular Web services rely on these so-called "addicts" for more than a third of their total traffic, and at major social networks, that number is as high as two-thirds of all visits.


Quantcast Defines Addicts as 30 or More Visits a Month

While Quantcast isn't as well-known as its competitors, including Compete.com and Alexa, it is making an attempt to track site and service's traffic, giving significant demographic information for sites, and helping advertisers try and find a perfect match. While the service doesn't claim to have sufficient visitor detail for all sites, many of the largest are now being directly tracked, meaning the data is extremely accurate.

This means that Quantcast isn't simply returning a site's total visits in a given timeframe, as well as whether traffic is increasing or decreasing, but what its users look like, and if they're addicts, regulars, or just passing through.

Some notable data shows:


FriendFeed Trails Twitter In Less-Addicted Regular Users

Twitter.com: 1% of all users are addicts, who drive upwards of 34% of total site traffic. An additional 25% of users are regulars, who deliver 40% of site traffic, meaning that the remaining 26% of traffic comes from the 74% of users who are merely passing by.

FriendFeed.com: Less than 1% of all users are addicts, who deliver 25% of all total site traffic. An additional 4% of users are regulars, who deliver 8% of site traffic. Fully 96% of users are seen as just passing by, accounting for 67% of visits.

This data tells me that FriendFeed has a real problem in converting casual visitors and making them regulars. You are either one of the "addicted", or you're probably not using the site at all. There's practically no middle ground. Twitter also clearly has its addicts, but it also has a healthy middle base of users who check in less regularly.


Facebook and MySpace Primarily Cater to Their Addicted Base

Facebook.com: 11% of all users are addicts, who drive 62% of all site traffic. A robust 53% of users are regular visitors, who give 34% of visits, and the remaining 36% of passers-by only deliver 4% of traffic.

MySpace.com: 20% of the users are addicts, providing 74% of all site traffic. Another 58% are regulars, giving 24% of visits, while the 22% of passers-by are only giving 2% of traffic.

That "addicted" users of Facebook and MySpace provide greater than two-thirds of page views is no surprise. Instead of being engaged on the "real Internet", many users log in to their walled gardens and stay there for some time. And there's not much benefit to being a passer-by for either service, so that doesn't deliver much traffic at all.

Outside of the social networking and lifestreaming spaces, you can look up virtually any Web site and see how much they rely on addicts, provided Quantcast has the data. Quantcast says only 9% of eBay users are addicted, giving 61% of visits. 16% of DrudgeReport visitors are addicted, providing 78% of visits. 2% of LinkedIn users are addicted, giving 36% of visits.

There's practically a catch-22 in business when it comes to appeasing your addicts. Lose your most ardent users, and you could find them to be your most vocal detractors, as they feel looked over and spurned. But if you appeal too much to your most addicted users, you could overlook some major gaps in your product that prevent it crossing over to the mainstream. How can you convert those casual passers-by into regular users or even addicts? Therein lies the struggle of growth. Quantcast gives us a glimpse into how many sites are faring in this battle. The question is, can the data change behavior?

Never Say Never Online. We're Keeping Records, You Know.

Two integral characteristics to the Web are that it is first, constantly changing, and second, practically everything is saved. So if you, like me, and many others, have ever said you will "never" do something, or will "quit" doing something never to return, you're just setting yourself up to be wrong. And once you undo that promise, you can look pretty silly in the process. So, if you are wavering in whether or not you will use a product, or if you're thinking of walking away from one you have already tried, it probably makes sense to keep the dialog internal, instead of sharing with the masses.

First, let me point out how dumb I was for trying this.

In January of 2007, I said, Why I Stopped Using IM and Won't Use Twitter. I wrote:
"What is said over IM is very rarely business, and prevents people from getting work done. It's a significant time-waster, and a technology whose time has come and gone. The idea that I would take it up a notch and tell Twitter my every step is yet another task that would get in the way of my actually working, so we're not interested."
So... yeah, how did that go? Well, a full year later (a long time hold out for me), I announced I "jumped the shark" on Twitter, and started using it. Almost a year later, I've now updated my Twitter account more than 1,400 times, and am following or being followed by about 4,000 people each direction.

In March of 2007, I took things a step further, and thought I'd be smart about saying not just one but TEN services I would "never" use. In a post titled, "Ten Geeky Technologies Not Coming to Our House", I listed Skype, Twitter, Linux, Plaxo, MySpace, BeBo, Piczo, XBox, PS3, the Wii, AIM, ICQ, Jabber, Yahoo! IM, GTalk, Delicous, Flickr and EV-DO as things that would never make it in our home. In case you were counting, yes, that's more than 10 items, but I had grouped the game consoles, IM clients and social networks, for example.

So where do we stand? I have a Skype account, which I've used maybe three times in total. I have a Plaxo Pulse account. I signed up with a MySpace account, just to search for times my content was being used or linked to, we are big fans of the Nintendo Wii in our home, I've used Google Talk several times from within GMail, and I bookmarked almost 2,000 different Web sites on my Delicious account this year alone. Add onto that the fact I use my Flickr account for some photos of the twins, though I prefer SmugMug, and I look like a complete fool. Clearly, the mistake was mine to even say I was going to ignore these products, because in the interim, not only did those products get better, but I found more than an edge case to use them.

The same rule applies for those who might be using a service, and then loudly say they are quitting, never to return. Why do that, unless you're either looking for attention, or hoping others will join your cause?

For example, Mark Hopkins (formerly of Mashable) quit FriendFeed back in October, during a very political time for the site. He is back, of course, after a two-month hiatus. Similarly, when directeur, the creator of NoiseRiver, said he was going to leave FriendFeed (which we covered in October as well), the vacation didn't last all that long. He was back and active on the site within days.

More visibly, Jason Calacanis claimed in November that he was retiring from blogging, preferring to use an e-mail list to get his word out. While the e-mail list is alive and kicking, and growing, he has started posting to his blog again, practically every day, even if just to post pictures, or add a copy of his newsletter. It happens.

In May of 2007, we covered a topic I called "blog fatigue", specifically pointing to a few folks who were taking a breather from their sites. Truth is, we could all use a breather sometimes, be it from the blogging, or any services, but rather than say we're never going back, or never going to use something, it makes more sense to both keep an open mind, and probably, a closed mouth. I've proven I can be a leading indicator of nonsense, so don't expect me to tell you what I'll never use. I just might change my mind later.

December 25, 2008

You Can Never Have Enough Bandwidth. Ever.

On most days, I don't consider myself a real bandwidth hog. Most of my online activity consists of e-mail, Web browsing and the occasional YouTube video. I'll use FTP to upload and download files to my Web site or the server at the office, but nothing too intensive. Practically the most-intense things I'll do would be uploading videos to YouTube or sending photos to SmugMug or Flickr. I can practically guarantee that Comcast doesn't blink an eye at my activity. But on the rare occasion I hit a wall on bandwidth, and see slowdowns, it reminds me I don't have infinite throughput - just like I don't have infinite storage capacity. (See: Terabytes and Terabytes of Data At Home. Petabytes Next.)

Tonight, as we were winding down from Christmas and putting the twins to bed, my wife and I realized we finally had some time to relax. After a holiday rush and full days, we surprisingly haven't had too many hours to take in entertainment. So I checked in on the TiVo, and headed back to Amazon Unbox to give the service another chance. We found one movie and set it up for download.

Not done, I hit "Input" on the TV, and checked the Apple TV, finding two films to download. One started to download immediately, and the other was queued up.

Meanwhile, the TiVo light glowed red to record a program at 8. The blue light signalling a download from Amazon stayed lit. As no program was done, I checked and found a Law and Order episode on one TiVo which I could transfer from the bedroom unit to the living room unit. We're watching that now as the films download.

If that wasn't enough, I opened up my laptop and... shock and surprise... none of my Web sites are loading. But that won't stop Apple's Time Machine from doing its regular backup to my Time Capsule in the other room.

So, in tally, my bandwidth is being hogged by:
  • 1 movie download from TiVo/Amazon
  • 1 standard definition television show download via TiVo
  • 1 high definition movie download on Apple TV
  • 1 standard definition TV show transfer between TiVos
  • Backup from my laptop to Apple's Time Capsule
Even if I have top of the line broadband access here at home, it's no surprise we saw failures on the Web and inaccessible e-mail, as I had flooded my available pipe. Even though I'm not a P2P or BitTorrent junkie, I can still find a ceiling.

So, is the fault mine for hitting the "order" button too many times on the TV? Should I buy once at a time, in order, to do a favor to the cable company, or should I push the limits and always expect more?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Gray Family


Happy Holidays! Download the 2008 Letter in PDF

It has been an incredible 2008 to say the least for our family. It's clear the #1 event for us was the arrival of Matthew and Sarah on June 20th. We had finally told the world the twins were coming, back in February, once we thought it was 'safe'.

And to be honest, while we were so excited and wanted to tell the world about our twins last year at this time, we were being quiet on the matter. That's why there was absolutely no Christmas letter in 2007! How to feign ignorance? So, retroactively, our apologies.

On top of the twins' arrival, we did manage to have some fun this year. Clearly, the blog gained a bit of visibility in 2008, its third full year, and we enjoyed meeting some amazing people and entrepreneurs as a result. In March, we also attended Oakland A's spring training in Arizona, for our third consecutive year, and hope to keep the tradition up, with twins in tow, in 2009.

And as with prior years, many other items stayed the same. Same home, same cars, same job. Kristine took a year off from teaching, and may take another, if we're lucky. We want Matthew and Sarah to get as much mom time as possible.

So, without further ado, download our 2008 holiday letter in PDF here. Also available? Our 2006 and 2005 letters of Christmas past.

Happy Holidays!

The Christmas Story, As Told Through Twitter

    JosephOfGalilee: AFK for a bit w/@MaryofNazareth. Headed to Bethlehem. #caesartax

    JosephOfGalilee: @MaryofNazareth says no baby tonight. But can't be long now.

    MaryofNazareth: Off to Bethlehem! Hope we find a good inn. @JosephOfGalilee waited until last minute. #caesartax

    MaryofNazareth: Bethlehem is a zoo. @JosephOfGalilee says @InnKeeper1 claimed "no room". Uh-oh.

    JosephOfGalilee: No room at the inn. @InnKeeper1 and @InnKeeper2 both. Kill me now. @MaryofNazareth not looking happy.

    MaryofNazareth: RT: @JosephOfGalilee No room at the inn. @InnKeeper1 and @InnKeeper2 both. Kill me now. **Anyone???** #caesartax

    JosephOfGalilee: @InnKeeper3 says 'no room', but to go to a stable. Like animals. @MaryofNazareth beside herself.

    MaryofNazareth: Now at a stable. Surrounded by animals. Baby is coming. If not for baby, I wouldn't even talk to @JosephOfGalilee right now.

    JosephOfGalilee: Baby on its way!

    JosephOfGalilee: Baby has arrived! @MaryofNazareth says its name is Jesus!

    JosephOfGalilee: Jesus now wrapped in cloth, placed in manger. @MaryofNazareth very tired.

    Sheepmaster: WHOA. Just got visit by an angel. Said baby was born in Bethlehem. Going to check this out with @ShepherdDude and @Flockof240.

    Flockof240: RT: @Sheepmaster: WHOA. Just got visit by an angel. Said baby was born in Bethlehem. Going to check this out.

    ShepherdDude: @Sheepmaster @Flock240 that was wild. And sheep slept right through it!!! LOL

    WiseOne: Big star looks to have arrived. @WiseTwo and @WiseThree, the night we were waiting for is here! A new king! #bigstar

    WiseThree: RT: @WiseOne: Big star looks to have arrived. The night we were waiting for! #bigstar

    WiseTwo: On my way to meet up with @WiseOne and @WiseThree. Bringing myrrh. #bigstar

    MaryofNazareth: Jesus has arrived! Tired.

    MaryofNazareth: Shepherds coming to the stable? What now? @JosephOfGalilee going to see.

    ShepherdDude: With @Flockof240 @Sheepmaster. On way to stable in Bethlehem after visit from an angel. Crazy!

    Sheepmaster: Stable is in sight. Nervous.

    JosephOfGalilee: Shepherds say they saw an angel and came to see baby Jesus. @Flockof240 seems nice.

    WiseThree: Looking to meet new king. First will see @KingHerod with @WiseTwo and @WiseOne to see if star prophecy was right. #bigstar

    WiseTwo: @WiseThree and @WiseOne are here. @WiseOne brought gold and @WiseThree has frankincense. Hope my myrrh is ok. #bigstar

    WiseOne: Meeting with @KingHerod went okay. Doesn't know of new king but asked us to report back. Back on the trail with @WiseTwo and @WiseThree. #bigstar

    WiseTwo: Star in the East is bigger than I have ever seen. @WiseOne @WiseThree #bigstar

    JosephOfGalilee: More visitors on their way. Three this time. @Flockof240 @ShepherdDude and @Sheepmaster with @MaryofNazareth and Jesus.

    JosephOfGalilee: This night is nuts. #caesartax

    WiseThree: Met @JosephOfGalilee and @MaryofNazareth. Gave gifts to the baby king at stable. Leaving now.

    Flockof240: Just saw three magi and the child who would be king. Long night. Headed back to pasture.

    JosephOfGalilee: The visitors said they were magi. Brought incredible gifts. @MaryofNazareth and I finally calling it a day. What a day.

    MaryofNazareth: @JosephOfGalilee says we have to go. Can't tell you more now. @FatherOfJoseph @MotherofMary