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December 31, 2009

The Top 15 Stories on LouisGray.com in 2009


Ever since I stopped doing my monthly summaries on blog statistics, as some had judged them as internal navel gazing and self-gratification, I haven't talked much about statistics and numbers, hits, page views or visitors. But in the interest of sharing, and wrapping up the year 2009, I thought I would expand on my yearly summary post from last week and show just what visitors were looking for that drove traffic. In aggregate, I should mention that total traffic in the year was not dramatically higher than 2008, which I take to mean more people read the content via RSS or in aggregators. In addition, there were fewer posts on the site in 2009 than in 2008, thanks to reduced guest posts.

The Top 15 stories authored in 2009, in order of highest traffic to least:

1. Google Wave Hits Shore. Flash Flood Warning In Effect.
October 1, 2009

The summary of my initial reactions to Google Wave was surprisingly visible. Although I felt as if my thoughts were actually late to the game, the post ended up being far and away the highest trafficked article of the year. The spike was led by Robert Scoble posting how much he thought Wave was overhyped. Subsequently, someone posted our pair of posts to Slashdot, and Der Spiegel of Germany also highlighted the summary. Although I was not overly negative of Wave, I did say it was very busy, and my reaction often got lumped in with Robert's much more critical response.

2. 40 Key Elements to Getting Started In Social Media
January 5, 2009

At the beginning of the year, Mike Fruchter wrote an extremely detailed guide on the necessary tools required to be engaged in social media. His effort was rewarded through the post being among the most bookmarked on Delicious, and being highlighted by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Mike is one of those talents that I hope to be working alongside someday, should I ever get the chance.

3. The Story of Google's Closure: Advanced JavaScript Tools
November 8, 2009

When Google released Closure tools to the Web, response to this was fairly neutral. Most folks tended to just repeat the news. But I thought it made more sense to ask Google developers how they had benefited from the tool while in house. Mihai Parparita of Google Reader gave a wonderful first person account of his use, and other geeks appreciated it. It was featured on Hacker News.

4. FTC Disclosures Made Simple For Bloggers With Conflicts
December 4, 2009

Among my most fun posts of the year was a collaboration with Jeannine Schaeffer earlier this month on some icons to help bloggers disclose relationships to the FTC. It was a fun idea, and Jeannine came through in a big way. Mashable and others highlighted the story, and I've enjoyed seeing the humorous icons make their way around the Web in the weeks since.

5. Facebook Drops the Walled Garden, Opens Up Possibility for Track
March 16, 2009

Jesse Stay, a preeminent expert on both Twitter and Facebook, highlighted Facebook's increased openness and the ability to let updates leak into Google and the wider Web at large. He is the author of multiple books on Facebook worth checking out if you ever want to write Facebook apps or just learn more about the largest social network in the world.

6. Twitter's Search Engine Is Very, Very, Broken
May 21, 2009

As Twitter has grown well beyond initial expectations, the service's fragility has shown in a number of ways. Among the most visible has been the disappointing index from the company's search engine. It's now widely known that the engine only goes back a few days, and it doesn't index some of the most visible accounts, making data discovery and retention difficult. It would be wonderful if this were to be solved in 2010.

7. Could A Real Apple Fan Completely "Go Google"?
October 29, 2009

At risk of having to throw away my Apple fanboy card, I became more entranced by Google in 2009, thanks to the company releasing solid product after solid product, many of which competed head to head for my attention with Apple's well-known suite of offerings, including iLife and the iPhone. The more I thought about it, the more realistic I thought about switching, and I am definitely watching this space closely.

8. What FriendFeed Needs to Do To Grow and Keep New Users
January 2, 2009

At the beginning of the year, seeing a lack of growth on FriendFeed's part that met my own aggressive expectations, I gave some unsolicited feedback as to how I thought the company could improve. They had other ideas, and launched many great tools, but didn't go the way I had thought. Months later, they were absorbed into Facebook.

9. The Newest Annoyance on Twitter: Follow and Refollow Spam
March 7, 2009

Twitter's problems weren't limited to their own back-end infrastructure. Users often got tired of being bombarded by different types of spam, either on the service itself, through direct messages, or through what I found as refollow spam. Some automated accounts were following my account every few hours to get in front of me and my connections. This annoyance was thwarted in time.

10. iPhone Call Recording: It Makes Too Much Sense Not to Do
August 9, 2009

While BlogTalkRadio's CinchCast product has largely filled this need, it seems to me that Apple could easily enable us to record phone call conversations for interviews and podcasts. So far, my understanding is that applications posted to the iTunes Store that accomplish this very thing have been slowed or stopped outright.

11. How To Cleanly Separate Personal and Work Social Media Personalities
March 22, 2009

Many people are looking for a way to act in social media on behalf of their company, while maintaining their own personality. Having accomplished this myself, I thought I would share how. It seems many others were curious and this post remained popular and shared through the second half of the year.

12. Blogger Quietly Turns Ten, Plans Slew of Feature Upgrades
August 23, 2009

As one Blogger holdout who hasn't moved to WordPress, I watch the platform closely, and Blogger turned ten years old this fall, without fanfare. Following my quick summary, this surprisingly hit the front page of Digg (only my second time ever), which was appreciated, but befuddling, as it was not a huge story, in my opinion.

13. Hi Facebook, It's Me, FriendFeed. This Relationship? It's Complicated.
August 10, 2009

The announcement that Facebook acquired FriendFeed struck the many people who like FriendFeed in a very personal way. I have talked to many top users of the site who felt as if the announcement had hit them emotionally, as no other simple merger or acquisition had before. Much of the concern lies in the fact that Facebook has a reputation that runs contrary to what some hoped FriendFeed would become. My amusing tongue in cheek response tried to explain just how we were feeling, rather than encapsulating the news like many other sites already had.

14. Feedly Explore Highlights Recommended Blogs, Reader Activity
September 26, 2009

Feedly, a 2008 debut here, has been among the most popular ways to get RSS updates. The service's Explore feature enhanced feed discovery. After posting this piece it was highlighted within Feedly and many users came to the blog to see what was new.

15. Twitter Caps Following Limits, Denting Auto-Follow Services
April 20, 2009

In a year I wrote many good things about Twitter, it's no surprise the more negative stories gained traction. Among them was a move that blocked some Twitter developers from using advanced auto-follow tools, reducing the option for some accounts to be automated.

In a year with more than 500 posts (the fourth straight above 500), these 15 top ones showed me that people are always eager to learn more about Google and Twitter, and how to best use these social media tools. While I don't let traffic define what I intend to cover, it's always worth making sure I keep on topic for what the readers want to see.

10 Predictions for 2010 In the World of Tech

Following on to predictions for 2009 and for 2008, as well as their results. (2009 | 2008)

Keep in mind I would rather not predict the obvious.


1. Twitter Manages to Complete 2010 With No Major Hacking or Security Incidents

Despite a strong 2009 that saw the microblogging service graduate from the geeks to more mainstream appeal, Twitter remained plagued by a number of uptime issues and some extremely visible hacking and security incidents that led to slowness and downtime. As part of the company's maturation process, Twitter will build the personnel and infrastructure necessary to withstand such future attacks, and 2010 will go major incident free. There may be some slowness, but no outages via the dark corners of the Web.

2. Seeing Android and iPhone, Windows Mobile Will Aim for Parity, and Fail

Microsoft, jealous at all the consumer and media attention around the iPhone, and now Android, will try to remain relevant, launching a new version of Windows Mobile, and hyping its own apps, just like they did when they launched the Palm PC line (later Pocket PC) following the PDA's rise to power. Their approach will not be seen as comparable to Android or iPhone and will not change their market share in a positive way.

3. Apple Will End Exclusivity With AT&T, Adding T-Mobile and Verizon

With AT&T being a massive black eye for Apple's iPhone in the US, the company will finally end exclusivity with the telecommunications carrier, and strike deals with both T-Mobile and Verizon. Consumers will be able to switch carriers and keep their numbers. Unsurprisingly, users may find that those networks aren't perfect either.

4. Facebook Will Announce a Migration Plan for FriendFeed Users

The mystery around Facebook's plan for FriendFeed will become clear in the first half of 2009, as not only does the company improve its network with FriendFeed-like elements, but existing users of FriendFeed will be given guidance on how the two networks can converge, while protecting their existing content and contacts.

5. Google Wave Will Exit 2010 Still In Beta

While Google Wave will continue to improve and may open up to all visitors, without requiring invites, the product will still be seen as experimental, and will not shed its beta tag, keeping it through the end of the year, much like GMail and other products from Mountain View before it.

6. Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn Will All Go Public

After a dearth of IPO activity in the last two years, 2010 will see a resurgence, especially from Silicon Valley VCs, who are eager to make profits to help assuage the wounds of losses from the last few years. Facebook and LinkedIn will be among the larger IPOs, with Zynga also filing, and other smaller companies following suit.

Twitter may file, but will not be public by the end of 2010.

7. Chrome OS Netbooks Will Be Available from Major Retailers

Google's Chrome OS will reach a maturity level that it will be sold on netbooks alongside more traditional offerings from major retailers including Best Buy.

8. Many Social Media Experts Will Launch Mediocre Agencies

Many of the self-proclaimed social media experts will leave their corporate day jobs and strike it out on their own, looking to convert the world to Twitter and Facebook fan pages. A good number of them will find that the world of business relies a lot more on revenue than it does on retweets and @replies, and may walk away disappointed.

9. Google, Facebook and Apple Will All Make $1B+ Acquisitions

In addition to the new public market activity, acquisitions will again become trendy. Google and Apple will make full use of their growing cash hordes, and will make at least one ten-figure transaction in the year. Facebook, fresh off its cash raised from the IPO, will do the same, largely in stock.

10. The Real-Time Search Market Will Consolidate

One or more of the active dedicated real-time search companies will find differentiation difficult, especially with Google, Bing, Twitter Search and others participating. The trailing market share participant will either merge with an existing site, will close down, or look for a low-budget buyer.

December 30, 2009

Like Convergence, Aggregation Is Better In Theory

There always seems to be a tug of war in technology between those who want a converged, multi-purpose device that does everything, or those who want a dedicated device that does one thing (or just a few things) extremely well. For every successful hulking converged printer/copier/scanner/fax machine device, there are utilities like toasters or microwaves that just do one specific function. The truth is that when differing technologies converge, it usually leads to a single unsatisfying experience where none of the functions are high quality. More common is the practice of product diversification, where one device turns into a family of devices, with differing features for differing price points.

On the Internet, many of us are creating a ton of content in a ton of different places, and in most cases, this content differs by the site. I may use Flickr or Smugmug for photos, and use Twitter or Identica for microupdates. I may use last.fm or Pandora for music streaming, and Blogger or Wordpress for more lengthy pieces. The solution, which I've long championed, has been the development of an aggregator, which takes all this disparate activity and presents it in a single place. This aggregation is what is at the heart of sites like FriendFeed, and more recently, Cliqset, Arktan and, increasingly, Facebook. In parallel, there has been this development of personal lifestreams, which can capture all our content in one place, and be hosted on our site or on a third party URL.

It sounds great. But despite my excitement and evangelism around such tools, for the most part, they have not flourished. It seems that, instead, people want to enjoy the content in its native environment, or keep things simple. I look at the developments behind Arktan and Cliqset, and wonder, does the world need to develop a perfect aggregator, again?

It's possible that the disappointing answer is no. It's possible that while an aggregator is among the fastest ways to get caught up on individuals' activity from around the Web in once place, that getting the downstream data at the aggregator instead of at the source somehow reduces the quality or impact of that message, in the same way that the iPhone isn't the best cell phone on the planet, or the best Web browser, thanks to it being a converged device and not a specialized device.

Hardware specialization enables products to be refined and refined until they cannot be completely virtualized or emulated by software. A good example of this is the DVD player. The DVD player on your computer, and its associated software, is good, but it's not as good as the dedicated device in your entertainment center. And that convergence of your media player and your TV hasn't really been a success either. The VCR/TV combos were never a good idea, and WebTV wasn't exactly considered the quality leader. Convergence always sounds wonderful, but ends up coming up short.

For the past two years plus, I have been among the loudest proponents of aggregation. For me, an odd person at one end of a data consumption curve, it solves a need that I have to concentrate my activity and discover my friends' updates from around the Web. But for the more common user, they just want a few things to work well. They have chosen Facebook as their social network. They have chosen Twitter as their micromessaging platform. They have chosen LinkedIn for their business platform. Even those who have chosen all three aren't crawling the Web looking for a single site solution the way some of us early adopters have.

In his 2009 wrap-up post, Lifestreaming advocate Mark Krynsky confirmed that he "didn’t see many things this year that took Lifestreaming to the next level," adding "Lifestreaming was pretty stagnant." 2007 and 2008 saw a lot of new services come to the fore, and 2008 was the year that FriendFeed looked like it could change the game, threatening sites like Twitter and Facebook. But as polished and professional as the site was, it just wasn't capable of converting those away from the original, refined, source of the data.

I have to believe that aggregation tools are interesting, and useful to a small minority of people. Lifestreaming tools are fun for individuals to highlight their activity. Sites are out there that do a good job, and more are coming, but I am thinking that "aggregation" is the new "convergence". It looks great on paper, and some people will carry a Swiss Army Knife with them everywhere, but most won't.

December 29, 2009

Collecta Delivers Real-Time Search for MySpace

Any time I hear the word MySpace, my inner geek coughs and the eyes tend to roll a little. But to other geeks, who recognize the social network's 75 million users are posting a significant amount of increasingly rich media every day, the ability to harness this flow of updates and find information sounds like a true tech challenge worth pursuing. Collecta, a real-time search engine best known for indexing Twitter search, blog posts, photos and videos, this morning has introduced a site-specific search engine just for MySpace, pushing their discovery engine toward what CEO Gerry Campbell called "a different vibe and message than any other service."

MySpace, part of News Corp., while languishing in comparison to the juggernaut of Facebook and the geek hipness of Twitter and others, has become something of a hangout for creative artists and consumers, giving the site a tremendous amount of images, videos and text flowing through the network. In addition to this data, one of MySpace's hallmarks (or quirks) has been its mood features, and a highly entertaining way of language, with all sorts of misplaced capital letters, caps lock and exclamation points. The result is a flow that Campbell called "monstrous" and "rich".

In 2009, as mentioned in the wrapup of my predictions post entered at the beginning of the year, real-time became legitimized. In a conversation I had with Campbell yesterday in advance of this announcement, he said that "people are beginning to expect data is fresh and hot," adding "We see this as the fabric of the Web." Collecta's mission is to not only grow traffic on their main site, at Collecta.com, but to enable site-specific searches for other brands to bring real-time search to their content. The first trial was with branded identi.ca search, and the second is with MySpace, which you can find at http://myspace.collecta.com/.


MySpace Search, Powered by Collecta

"We have, since the inception of Collecta, said our destination site is important to us, but equally as important to our strategy is to make sure others who can take advantage of the real time platform can feed into us, or in other cases, they can start with a finite set of data, and we can turn on a full, streaming, bells and whistles site, to tap into the vibrancy and excitement of the community," Campbell said yesterday.

Differentiating in a world of multiple real-time search engines can seem difficult to the typical visitor. Lumped in with OneRiot, Twitter Search, Topsy and others, Collecta is trying to present more than just the newest results, with Twitter dominating, but to also present hot topics in context. The site's front page, echoed on their MySpace specific search, highlights a photo, a story, an update, and a comment, from the real-time Web.

The hot topics on MySpace become especially interesting when mood is involved - giving the results a very emotional feel. In response to the failed airplane bombing on Christmas, the response on MySpace was very guttural, as moods displayed just how MySpace's members were taking the news. In more positive news, you can see reactions to movies or music, such as "Avatar" (See MySpace search for Avatar Movie) and get moods displayed alongside the messages, ranging from shocked, to inspired, rejuvenated and impressed.


MySpace Moods and Updates Around the Avatar Movie

Lest we get too caught up in the frequent hype around Twitter, the site's messaging traffic is still measured in the tens of millions per day, and Campbell reported that MySpace's flow is at a much higher volume. The difference is even more dramatic when you consider how many retweets are counted in that number.


MySpace Updates and Moods on the iPhone

To separate the signal from the noise on sites like MySpace and Twitter, Collecta is working hard to also include concentrated content from traditional news sources and blogs - working to maintain the integrity of a single blog post that may have dozens of retweets. One approach the company has taken is to have a human editor work to curate the data, and then try to match that activity through algorithms.

While many of us may not have ever registered MySpace accounts, or logged into our long-since dormant accounts, the information and moods flowing through the new Collecta-powered MySpace search is very interesting, and a good proofpoint for the real-time search engine pointing to a new data set. Check it out here: http://myspace.collecta.com/

December 28, 2009

You Would Have to Be Insane to Get a New iPhone Now

By my own conventional standards, this Christmas should have seen the arrival of two new iPhones in the Gray household. My iPhone 3G is somewhat long in the tooth, and has clear cracking in the bottom right corner, where Sarah clunked it on the kitchen tile. My wife's cell phone, inexplicably, is missing, and has been for weeks. While mentally, I'm all set to close out her old account, and sign us both up with new iPhone 3GS units, every single time I start the process, I just start getting ticked off at AT&T, and the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems that I would sign on the dotted line to any kind of long-term contract with Apple right now.

The number 3 has been bandied about a lot of late, with Verizon and AT&T having a proverbial pissing match over maps in the last few months. But the number 3 also frames the major sticking points that have stopped me from heading to the mall and forking over a few hundred bucks to get us both on the near cutting edge.

Apple Says I'm THIS CLOSE to Upgrading...

Those three reasons all begin with the letter A:

1) AT&T
2) Android
3) Apple

AT&T

Forget about Verizon's stupid map for a second. The entire battle around 3G is a complete farce if the iPhone can't even maintain consistent call quality or avoid dropping calls, the most basic of requirements. Just today, I have had only two phone calls with my iPhone, and both dropped. The first was with a new client, who I hung up on in the middle of discussing success criteria, and the second was with a PR rep talking about a new announcement set for tomorrow. I joked that the iPhone hung up when it heard the word MySpace, but we both knew AT&T had choked.

The iPhone drops calls whether I have one bar or five bars. And where it should have five bars, I find myself doing a contortionist's dance to edge toward a window or a safe spot in the house where it doesn't sound like static or the person on the other line is underwater. Many other times, I get voicemail notifications when the phone itself never rang. Ridiculous.

So every time I log into the Apple Web site to test buying the iPhone 3GS, I am reminded of a two-year contract with AT&T, for me, and for my wife. Why would I ever agree to be hooked to this ball and chain when there is any chance that Apple could open up to new, better, providers in that time period, especially in the first year?

Android

Android does not have the most applications today. Switching to Android would not magically port over the applications and iTunes I have purchased, making those major roadblocks in switching platforms. But in a year when it seems all that Apple did was speed up the iPhone and add rudimentary video recording, Android went from being a niche player to a real competitor. If Google's pace of innovation continues on the platform, the iPhone's once thought to be insurmountable feature lead could be vastly eroded.


It Wouldn't be THAT Hard to Upgrade

Apple

I saw the iPhone 3GS announcement as a ho-hum improvement. Albeit the third version of the platform, following the initial iPhone and the 3G model I have, the 3GS didn't alter the landscape. That said, it's expected Apple will come out with the next generation iPhone in the middle of 2010, following WWDC. Combined with all the current buzz around the tablet, one wonders what would be missed by buying the 3GS today, if one could instead hold out for generation four.

Walking through the terms and conditions for AT&T just made me a bit sick to my stomach. I recognize that I have a lot invested in the iPhone platform. I've always been a good iPhone fanboy. I know my wife needs a new phone, and it does make some sense that we're both on the same carrier and plan, but I do feel like if I do what my natural tendency is and wander over to the Apple Store with credit card in hand, that I would be a big sucker, chained to AT&T's sub-standard service for another two years. And at the end of those two years, where will Android be? What other carriers will Apple have opened up to?

In the world of gadgetry, two years is an incredible amount of time. Maybe I should just buy these units now and plan on facing a hill of early termination charges later. But that just makes me more of a victim to the entire system. I know I'm considered crazy by some, but to do this, I would have to be certifiably insane.

2009 Internal Year In Review (Month by Month)

At the end of 2008, I posted an internal year in review, month by month, which wasn't just a look at the world through louisgray.com lenses, but also at the Web at large, seeing companies debut and change through the year. As you can imagine, what seemed important at the end of the year varied a great deal from that catching my eye at the beginning of the year. Similarly, the issue is no doubt true for 2009 - year that saw a lot less, at least for me, in terms of new startups, and instead, a lot more concern and issues with the economy. As mentioned in last week's roundup of new Web services that debuted in the year, many new products were extensions to others, or leveraged existing platforms.

That's a message you can see through the site's activity... below. Last year's big word was "launched". I dare say this year's word was "Twitter".

January

In what proved to be a prophetic (or ironic) post, I advised FriendFeed on what they should do to gain market share... and said why I talk to companies via the blog... Twitter OAuth slipped... Mike Fruchter penned an epic post on getting started in social media... non real-time Web got me down... Steve Jobs took sick leave... the recession started impacting ads... TweetDeck got funded... but Twitter kept screwing up... scammers joined Facebook... Twitter was funded... and BuzzGain launched.

February

FriendFeed tapped their database with advanced search capabilities... and I visited Lijit in Boulder, Colorado... seeing Gnip as well... Sirius Radio tried to die... and Outbrain was funded... Facebook ads remained off-topic... while I started playing iShoot on the iPhone... while wondering what companies would get us out of the recession... Trendrr launched... we debated Twitter's utility for following people... embraced Google Translate... talked about the cloud and SocialToo blocked automated direct messages.

March

I attended SXSW in Austin, and future Twitter screenshots were leaked... Likaholix launched... I said you should stand for something... while Twitter spammers got creative... Kosmix launched MeeHive... Google Reader added comments... the iPhone gained Facebook Connect... I talked about how to blog live events... CloudContacts launched... as did DoodleJump and FeedBlitz RSS... the recession highlighted a downward spiral and Britney Spears passed President Obama on Twitter. Although mocked at the time for the post, it was a key "tell" in the trend that saw Ashton Kutcher, Ellen and Oprah become top names over the geeks.

April

Twitter ticked me off again... ReadBurner launched BurnURL... while FriendFeed went real-time... Shyftr filtered RSS feeds... I rode a Segway at TechCrunch... Twazzup challenged Twitter Search... Tweetie for Mac was released... I said to stretch me thinner as trade show attendance cratered... Lunch.com debuted... and more Twitter screenshots were leaked.

May

Adobe didn't want me as a customer... saying they were expensive... Microsoft said search could be improved... I debated the intersection of skill and luck for job hunters... Socialmedian integrated into XING... the mob yelled at Twitter... I gave up on Apple rumors... discussed social media data flow and being an early adopter... Twitter's search engine broke down... Flickchart launched... as did Qajack, Topsy, and PeopleBrowsr... and blogging and RSS "seemed slow"...

June

Google introduced an improved blog search... Drew Olanoff got cancer... I bought Robert Scoble's BMW... Palm and Bing managed not to suck... I was on SocialWeb TV... BackType launched BackTweets... FriendFeed spiked my RSS stats... I subscribed to Sirius Radio... Matthew and Sarah turned one year old... as I visited TiVo and highlighted the importance of blogging.

July

FriendFeed added real-time search... retweeting started to trump linking... TweetDeck turned one... Google announced Chrome OS... Lazyfeed launched... as did Echo and Seesmic Web... I discussed beta processes and being a VC in text form... Pubsubhubbub launched... I drooled over the potential of the CrunchPad... and my6sense debuted.

August

I was curious about Apple's plans beyond Mac OS X... noted RSS Feed readers giving way to Google Reader... suggested not to unfollow everyone on Twitter... held a Lunch 2.0 panel with Kosmix, Mozilla and FriendFeed... tried Spotify for the first time... as Favorit shut down and FriendFeed sold out to Facebook... while that was debated... Twitter was under attack... conversations on Google Reader skyrocketed... Blogger turned 10... and Lazyfeed and my6sense opened for everyone.

September

Following an SFAMA panel, I said social media was infrastructure... as Brizzly debuted... I was on a panel with Ev and Biz to discuss Blogger... Steve Jobs showed his face... Reader2Twitter sent updates from Google Reader to Twitter... Ecademy went real-time... as I flew to London to speak on social media for business... I told you my 10 favorite Google products... MaxiScale debuted... as did Simler... and I got tired of the distributed conversations battle... and talked about why companies raise money and the pressures that result from VC funding... and Twitter readied lists.

October

Google Wave proved to be cool, but very busy... as Twitter took over the world... I yawned at the FTC... and was curmudgeonly about social media... explained why I share what and where I do... lauded corporate openness... and said there was no perfect Twitter client... I went back to BlogWorld... and said blogging wasn't dead yet... the Salmon protocol was spec'd... FriendFeed started to crumble at Facebook... I said Twitter couldn't replace RSS... Google Reader launched Magic... BlogTalkRadio launched Cinch podcasts... I debated going completely Google... and discussed the issue of open APIs.

November

The Motorola Droid looked pretty cool... Stalqer was interesting... every Twitter client added lists... Cadmus launched... and Google released Closure... I went to Defrag and discussed the social Web and the flow... introduced Paladin Advisors Group... Facebook filtered out my sister having a baby... I discussed the pillars of successful social networks... and the Chrome OS release... Twitter promised ads... I found issues with FTC's disclosure rules... and the CrunchPad was dead, unfortunately.

December

I said Google wasn't going to go evil... Lazyfeed revamped into square mode... we released FTC disclosure icons... SocialToo did the dirty work on Twitter for me... as the microblogging service matured... my6sense introduced mytweetsense at LeWeb... where I was hosting a Twitter apps panel... Google expanded Web Elements... I fell in love with Icerocket search and Spotify for the iPhone... I said companies that set the agenda win... highlighted how tech news writers are incentivized... and showed how RSS readers continue to grow. More recently, I recapped ten top applications from the year, recapped my yearly predictions and whether I met the year's goals.

And that, barring dramatic news in the next few days, encapsulates much of 2009, as captured by the site. Now you can see how the year's developments took place, get an idea for the events I attended, where I spoke, and what companies were making news. A busy year, as every year seems to be. The year was marked by some slowness in terms of new company debuts, but plenty of movement at the big ones. 2010, as the economy improves somewhat, should see some new names again, and I'll be looking forward to recapping those in a year.

Disclosures: I am an advisor for SocialToo, ReadBurner and BuzzGain. In addition, my6sense, Kosmix, Ecademy, and Simler have all been clients of Paladin Advisors Group in 2009.

December 25, 2009

How I Aimed to Do Better On the Web in 2009

As 2009 loomed, near the end of 2008, I took a look back at how I was utilizing the Web and set for myself some direct goals, not necessarily number-oriented, but measurable nonetheless. As I illustrated in 10 Things I Wish I Would Do Better On the Web Come 2009, I wanted to make a concerted effort to interact with readers on the site (and on other blogs), and be more active away from home, participating in events, panels, podcasts, and the like. (Note Steven Hodson's reaction to this list as well)

With the goal of keeping myself accountable, here's the year's goals revisited, and summarily rated with a success or failure.

1) Make More Comments on Original Blog Posts

Success: Although a great number of comments continue to remain on FriendFeed and Facebook, or Google Reader, I made a concerted effort to leave comments in reaction to posts for blogs big and small this year, be it the individual Posterous or Tumblr account, or a large blog network, such as TechCrunch or GigaOM. I don't think I will ever fully do as good a job here as I would like, but I was certainly aware of my activity in 2009.

2) Respond to More Comments on louisgray.com

Success: Disqus makes this process extremely easy, letting me respond to comments that come to the blog via e-mail, or in rapid fire with their simple user interface. On "hot" blog topics, I made sure to respond to a good number of thought-provoking readers, and "walk down the line" to add my views. As with the above, this too could be improved, but I believe I was better at this in 2009 than in 2008.

3) Be More Interactive On Twitter

Success: I am still not as huge a Twitter fan as many people. I continue to use Twitter more for links than conversation. But I also wanted to use the service to help promote the #BlameDrewsCancer phenomenon, and have been very active in responding to @Replies. I try not to use the site as a status update service all too often, but this became more than just a repository for "New Blog Post" in 2009.

4) Spend Less Time on a Few Sites, and More Time on Many Sites

Failure: I believe I merely exchanged some sites for others here. I continue to spend a lot of time on Google Reader and FriendFeed (no surprise to most of you). While in 2008 I spent a bit of time on Socialmedian and Strands, I removed myself from those sites for the most part in 2009, and replaced them with more use of Facebook, plus the addition of Ecademy and Simler. (which have some FriendFeed-like elements)

The leverage of RSS continues to keep me on Reader more than in visiting many different downstream sites, and I still am visiting non-tech at a bare minimum.

5) Have More Time for In-Depth Reviews

Success: In addition to a great number of in depth reviews of new iPhone applications, I also started using YouTube to help describe some services, including Lazyfeed and my6sense. In terms of other Web services, I have tried to make sure when covering a site that I have walked through it and included a good number of screenshots or explanatory items to provide more background, even if it means I am not first to publish.

6) Follow Up On Sites and Services After Their Launch

Partial Success: Following up on all sites and giving equal time is practically impossible. But for every site I discussed only once, there were many more, such as Brizzly, Lazyfeed, Simler and others that saw multiple pieces of coverage that included updates on the product and company.

7) Attend More Industry Conferences and Panels

Success: 2009 saw me attend BlogWorld Expo for the second straight year. In addition, I attended SXSW in Austin, LeWeb, multiple TechCrunch CrunchUps, and had other speaking opportunities.

8) Participate More Visiblity on Conferences and Panels

Success: Adding on to the above, I gained the opportunity in 2009 to branch out a bit, leading a panel on Twitter applications at LeWeb, speaking on content aggregation at SXSW, speaking on realtime at BlogWorld, on information overload at the Inbound Marketing Summit, the death of advertising with the SFAMA, and other opportunities. I aimed to say yes to as many as I could, travel and expenses willing. 2010 should continue the trend.

9) Be More Active on Podcasts, Videoconferencing

Partial Success: 2009 did not feature the regular podcasts that were attempted in 2008 with the ReadBurner Weekly and Elite Tech News podcasts being shuttered. I did participate in FFundercats a few times, joined Leo Laporte for a holiday This Week In Tech, and Steven Hodson for another, but this was less than I had anticipated.

However, in addition to the group podcasts, I started using Cinch a lot, letting me send off single person podcasts from the iPhone, or 1-1 interviews, as were done at LeWeb.

10) Highlight More Bloggers and Entrepreneurs

Failure: As in 2008, I continued the highlighting of five new bloggers and ten new Friendfeeders each month through the first half of the year. But the purchasing of FriendFeed by Facebook in August pushed this plan askew, making me openly wonder if it made sense to continue that practice. I continue to seek out new content and highlight it through Google Reader shared items and other places, but could improve.

By setting these goals at the end of last year, they were somewhat in the back of my head as I made plans and actions through 2009. I tried not to set an arbitrary number-based goal that would make things seem like a chore, but did want to do the right thing. As you can see, many of these goals, especially in regards to events, were much stronger in 2009 than 2008. I just thought it made sense to report back to you.

December 24, 2009

My 2009 Tech Predictions: Mixed, But Nailed Real-Time

Another yearly tradition here on louisgray.com. Following on to last year's 10 Predictions for 2009 In the World of Tech (and its 2008 predecessor), it makes sense to review how we fared. Recall my 2008 predictions were a complete mess. Unlike some other bloggers, who opt to pick non-controversial items and guess at obvious developments, I like to have fun each year and stretch. That's why I'll never go ten for ten. Besides, that's no fun.

As of Christmas Day 2009, here are how those ten predictions in the world of tech stand:

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

Right. Critical is a subjective word, but real-time ended up being the word of the year in 2009. It was in real-time that the world shared their reactions to the Obama inauguration, and shared feedback to the Iranian elections. It was in real-time that we saw the aircraft land in the Hudson River, with a picture posted to TwitPic alongside. While it is true that Twitter and other real-time mechanisms lack the fact-checking and robustness of more traditional media, there were many many cases that had CNN and others following real-time's lead. Real-time later became such a big deal it was integrated into Google Search and Bing, so this was a clear win.

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

Right. In 2009, the majority of businesses woke up to social media. While there are no doubt many holdouts, and even a bigger number doing a poor job, 2009 was the year that companies realized you could get business done on Facebook, Twitter and other networks. There is still much work to be done, but with tens of thousands of self-proclaimed social media experts out there, and some real help, others will make the leap.

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

Wrong. And it's too bad! While Steve Jobs was out due to liver surgery, his position was well covered by Tim Cook, Apple's COO. Cook did such a great job running the company during his absence, the company's stock is at all-time highs, and its cash hoard is multiples greater than it was at the beginning of the year, even during a global recession. It could be assumed that had Steve Jobs passed away in 2009, Cook would have maintained control - and it would make sense that Apple have an internal plan for how Steve would fade to the limelight.

That said, I would still love it even more if Steve Jobs were proven immortal.

4) TechCrunch Will Acquire VentureBeat or Silicon Alley Insider

Wrong. In 2009, TechCrunch instead acquired only one writer, MG Siegler, from VentureBeat, and MG has gone on to be one of the most recognizable faces for the site. In parallel, Silicon Alley Insider went to more of a copy and paste model, and carries many of TechCrunch's articles in excerpt form, making the whole thing more confusing. But TechCrunch didn't find any need to acquire either site and continues in its highly visible position.

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

Right. (Unless somebody can prove differently) Despite a surge in Android news and new handset introductions in the latter half of the year, including new models from HTC and Motorola, Apple's iPhone still outsold Android in a big way through the year. Though figures are difficult to get for the newest models, and the trend shows Android gaining in market share, it does not appear that their combination managed to pass 20% of the volume of iPhones in the year. 2010 will no doubt be a different story.

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

Right and Wrong. FeedBurner finally got its act together with Google this year, adopting Pubsubhubbub, and rebranding under the corporate name. In parallel, FeedBlitz launched a serious competitor to FeedBurner which could replace the service outright. It hasn't been a "major" alternative, but absolutely works if you prefer it.

7) FriendFeed and Twitter Will Both Be Independent Through 2009

Wrong. FriendFeed's sale to Facebook took many of its hard-core users by surprise, and its no doubt that many are still reeling, unsure what will happen to the popular aggregator and social network. That I linked FriendFeed and Twitter together in my prediction is unfortunate, as Twitter not only remained independent, but flourished, raising more than $100 million, and ensuring profitability, by some reports, thanks to deals with Google and Microsoft. The company's $1 billion valuation makes it a difficult target for acquisition indeed by any potential suitors.

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

Right. While recent months have seen isolated good news, especially in some parts of Silicon Valley, for the most part, companies have kept their belts tight, and unemployment remains high. While the dramatic job cutting that took place from late 2008 to mid 2009 has slowed, the recovery is not yet in perfect view.

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

Wrong. Luckily, I was wrong about this. I don't believe that some groups out there would like to make this happen, but thus far, the White House Web Site has made it through the year unscathed. Of course, that's more than we can say for our good friends at Twitter, who just a week ago were defaced by an Iranian Cyber group.

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

Wrong. (But A Little Right) Again, I failed by linking all these companies at once. eTrade and Digg stayed independent, and Yahoo! managed to keep its name despite giving up on search to Microsoft. Skype was sold, and StumbleUpon similarly was sold, back to its private investors. In my prediction last year, I said, "eBay will want to ditch its non-core assets like StumbleUpon and Skype" and yes, that happened, but we did not see the list of companies change hands as I had expected.

My 2008 predictions, made in late 2007, saw a massive 1 1/2 answers correct out of 10. Contrasted with that year, I did a little better in this calendar year, especially when it came to the expectations around the economy, real-time, and social media. But I still scored below 50%, with 4 1/2 right. We'll see how I do for 2010 when that post rolls around.

10 Top New Web Services of 2009 (From My Perspective)

Last year, I highlighted ten top Web services that debuted in the year, from Socialmedian to BackType and Feedly. Not an all-encompassing list, blogging colleague Robert Scoble asked if "I was right", adding on a few of his own.

With 2009 coming to a close, I thought it made sense to highlight some of my own personal favorites which are gaining traction. Keep in mind that I am not ranking these services necessarily in a most important to least important order, and I am ignoring some other top services (for example, Foursquare, which launched in March, or some Zynga properties), due to my own non-use.

As with 2008, many services debuted in 2009 that were not stand-alone services, but instead, hooked into existing environments, like Twitter and Facebook, or the iPhone.

1) Pubsubhubbub

2009 was all about real-time and moving data more quickly from place to place. No technology or service better epitomized that than Pubsubhubbub, an open protocol engineered from a team of Googlers who were looking to accelerate the delivery of updates between services with near-zero latency. Pubsubhubbub's simplicity and clear benefits resulted in many major services adopting it and virtually eliminating the expected wait times for aggregators and readers to get updates, while also reducing the need for said aggregators to repeatedly poll content sources.

Pubsubhubbub, adopted by Blogger, FeedBurner, Cliqset, FriendFeed and many others, also spurred into action the launch of Dave Winer's RSSCloud, adopted by Wordpress for similar purposes. The launch of Pubsubhubbub also fed the growth of Superfeedr, an increasingly popular utility that aims to deliver real-time notifications via the cloud.

2) Google Wave

Google Wave made a huge splash in 2009. (Review) If you weren't trying it out and aiming to find out what value it actually brought, it was probably because you were begging for an invite and hadn't found one yet. The real-time collaboration tool was mischaracterized by many who thought it could replace e-mail, or different social networks' activity, and it hasn't found too many people relying on it as a core service yet, but its innovation has many looking to see what the end game looks like.

3) Square

Although extremely new, Jack Dorsey's follow-up to Twitter, Square, is very alluring. A simple hardware add-on to the iPhone (and in the future, other mobile devices), Square lets any individual accept credit card transactions, verifies the purchaser, and provides the purchaser with an electronic record of the activity via their Web site.

Dorsey and team skillfully looked at a daunting world of differing devices and managed to find the commonalities between them (an audio port to be specific) and delivered something that could potentially change the game for small merchants and individuals, providing true mobile commerce that doesn't require cash.

4) Echo

The launch of JS-Kit's Echo product was such a big move for the company that they changed their name to reflect it. Echo, recognizing the sea change evident in social media that has moved much of the discussion of content away from core blogs, aggregated downstream activity at the host blog, including retweets and other social network reactions.

In addition, Echo brought real-time to everyone's comment stream, turning a once static entity into a live chat room. You can see Echo in action on popular sites including those from Brian Solis and 1938media.

5) my6sense

With more data coming in from more sources than ever, it is unlikely that most people are following fewer people or feeds at the end of 2009 than they were at the beginning of the year. Combined with a rise in mobile Web access, and you can see how my6sense's digital intuition for RSS feeds, Twitter and Facebook makes sense, surfacing relevant data that is customized just for you.

The company has an iPhone app available, free, now, and has publicly promised that Android development is planned in the short term. Keep in mind that I am helping to advise the service, but I have been impressed with their offering, and see the issue of curation as one that many services will tackle in 2010.

6) Brizzly

Brizzly, a product from Thing Labs, is one of the more novel approaches to consuming one's Twitter and Facebook streams. The first to enable in-line viewing of images and video, the addition of customized trend definitions and novel approaches to direct messages and multiple account support, Brizzly is a compelling Web-based alternative to the standard interface from Twitter and competing clients, such as Seesmic.

Earlier in the year, Thing Labs also introduced Plinky, which while cute, doesn't look to be setting the world on fire.

7) Lazyfeed

For a technology supposedly on its last legs, RSS sure had a lot of very interesting innovation in 2009 (See also: Pubsubhubbub and my6sense). Lazyfeed came on the scene this summer with a real-time approach to feed discovery and the ability to follow several topics at once. A live interface and rapidly displayed content has made the product easily among the most fun ways to take in a lot of information, while keeping things "lazy".

With the slowing of central directories like Technorati, Lazyfeed became one of the best sites for me to use to find new sources who were discussing topics I was interested in, letting me add them to my reading list.

8) Flickchart

In May, Flickchart introduced a site for comparing your favorite movies, across time, genres, or even against your previous picks. Although simple, the "pick your favorite" approach became very addicting, and the site now sports more than 40,000 registered users, who have contributed more than 60 million rankings. (See blog post)

One of the unexpected side benefits of Flickchart for me was finding top movies rated by friends which I had never seen, which spurred me to finally add them to my iTunes or NetFlix.

9) Lunch.com and Simler

I am combining both Lunch.com and Simler, as both sites seem to be in their growth stages, and have similar goals - helping you to find interesting people who share the same interests. Lunch.com asks you for your spheres of interests, and to rank specific items on a -5 to +5 scale. In contrast, Simler asks you to add tags that describe your interests, and links you with those others who have also added the same tags.

Both Lunch.com and Simler suggest that you post new items to topic-oriented pages, and engage in discussion with others in your network. Lunch.com seems to be more product-oriented, while Simler is more focused on more abstract things, such as television, music and technology. Simler, like my6sense, is a client of Paladin.

10) Tweetie

If Brizzly was included, it also makes sense that Tweetie makes the list, even if it has no specific Web-only interface. Tweetie has become the gold standard for Twitter clients on the iPhone, and was among the first to incorporate many of the advanced capabilities introduced by Twitter, including Lists, geolocation, and retweets. Tweetie also has a solid Macintosh version, which I use often.

Also on this year's list but outside of the top 10:
Blippy, Cadmus, Cliqset, Gowalla, Salmon, Twazzup

What did I miss, overlook or understimate in 2009? Let me know. I am sure you have some better ideas.

December 23, 2009

Mozzler Filters Your Social Stream for Links, Displays Media

For many, Facebook and Twitter have evolved to be much more than just social networks for connecting to people and their status updates. The services have also become top discovery centers for links, including images and videos. But these images, links and videos are floating in the stream alongside status updates, location service check-ins, and replies. If you are looking for links, the other content can be seen as noise, and if you are looking for status updates, it could be a preponderance of links get you annoyed. The advent of Twitter lists, and some early adopters' creation of technology news brands has helped hone in on the "signal" over noise, but a new service from Mozzler, currently in private beta, makes finding links, and displaying rich media, very simple.

Mozzler, like a number of other services, including Brizzly, TweetDeck and Seesmic, lets you combine your Facebook and Twitter streams into a single feed, utilizing Facebook Connect and Twitter OAuth.


Mozzler Filtering My TechBloggers List for Links
(Click for Full Image)

Upon logging in, Mozzler displays the Twitter lists you have created, those you are following, and also suggests popular streams, highlighting a number of Twitter lists that have crested beyond 500 followers.


Twitter Filtered for Updates With Links Only

Click on your Twitter ID, and you can see all friends' updates, as with other Twitter clients, and rich media, including photos and video, is displayed in the stream, as it does in Brizzly. But to me, the most interesting wrinkle with Mozzler is the option to "only show links". This eliminates all status updates without links, and all @replies that don't contain a URL.


Rich Media Flows In With Mozzler

Combine a high quality Twitter list with the option to only show updates that contain links, and you have a highly relevant social stream, sorted by time - much like I've highlighted previously with the mytweetsense product by my6sense.


Top Brands on Twitter With Links

Chris Were, founder of Mozzler, sent me an e-mail, saying the service "aims to aggregate all the news from your social network into one place", while "At the same time, it aims to help find new sources of news (whether they be twitter/facebook users/fan pages/lists)."

Chris also said the product has much more to do to improve prior to being opened to the public, but expectations are that it will open up mid-January 2010.


Matt Cutts, Filtered by Mozzler for High Quality

Without jumping back into the fray (again) around what is more relevant to find the best news, RSS or Twitter, Mozzler's ability to showcase tweets with links, combined with the most popular Twitter lists, many of whom feature top news brands, such as my "Top Tech Bloggers" list, makes it a very interesting service. You can even drill down on individual accounts to show link-based tweets or Facebook updates, without everything else.

You can find Mozzler at http://beta.mozzler.com and on Twitter at @mozzler_news. The service is in private beta, and I've been told you can get in to the service if you retweet this post and use the hashtag of #mozzlerbeta.

December 22, 2009

For All the Gloom Around RSS, Readers Continue to Climb

Skimming many of the leading technology outlets, you would think RSS had given up its ghost, making way for new services, like Twitter. Just this week, ReadWriteWeb claimed the RSS reader market was in "disarray" and continued a "decline". This came after a summer in which TechCrunch IT's Steve Gillmor declared RSS dead and suggested that it "rest in peace" and others ditched RSS for microblogging lists. With the world watching Twitter's top names and their Suggested User List-boosted following counts cross well into seven digits, data from FeedBurner and other sources shows RSS counts climbing - in some cases dramatically - for nearly all blogs, and a number of them also sport reader counts in the millions. While the independent market for RSS readers may be in bad shape, having ceded ground to Google Reader, RSS as a utility is actually growing. It's not going down, not by a long shot.

Prior to ReadWriteWeb's alarmist article, back in August, I arrived at similar conclusions, when I said "stand-alone feed readers are collapsing", highlighting the fact that Google Reader, and followers on FriendFeed, dominated my personal statistics.

That Google Reader and iGoogle have reached a dominant position in the market does by no means indicate the technology's death, but instead its maturity - something that, beyond aggregate reader counts, does not take in to account the fact that RSS is the mechanism for getting data between sites practically everywhere, even if it is not called out as such.

In January of 2008, I highlighted the debut of a new service called Rating Burner, which aims to display the most subscribed to blogs that utilize FeedBurner. The site shows not only a leaderboard, but also the change in subscriber data from day to day.

Data from Rating Burner shows green, positive growth across the board for feeds. And while total counts can always be debated as to their accuracy, sites including TechCrunch (with 4 million subscribers), the YouTube blog (with 2.4 million), Smashing Apps (with 1.5 million) and Simply Recipes (1.5 million) are into seven digits. This parallels the top Twitter accounts, who crest in the 4 million range, crowned by screen celebs Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Ellen Degeneres.

Yes, statistics are statistics. The high numbers for these well-known personalities is suspect, thanks to their inclusion on Twitter's Suggested User List, and it is also expected that some top blogs here are bundled and not read every day - adding to their counts. Also true is the fact that not every blog uses FeedBurner, and thus cannot be tracked as well. Many sites point instead to a raw XML file, keeping control. That said, regardless of the data's perfection, the growth in 2009 for RSS subscribers cannot be questioned.

Using BlogPerfume's Feed Analysis tool, I took many top blogs and plugged in their statistics, to see how they grew in 2009. Running their query for the last 12 months provided 11 months worth of data. (Not perfect, but good enough)

For the charts below, I used three data points to show blogs' subscriber trends:
  • January 22, 2009
  • June 22, 2009
  • December 22, 2009
(Yes, the gap between January and June is 5 months, and the gap between June and December is 6, but you get the idea.)

To run the numbers yourself, simply plug in any FeedBurner enabled feed. (Examples: TechCrunch, Mashable, louisgray.com and I Can Has Cheezburger)


ProBlogger Nearly Double Subscribers in 2009 to ~140k




LOLCats Added 100,000 Readers to 200k+




TechCrunch Doubled from 2 million to 4 million




My Own Stats, Aided by FriendFeed, Quintupled




ReadWriteWeb added 40k from June (Jan. data flawed)




Google's Mac Blog Added 30k Subs to Top 70k.




Mashable Added Almost 150k Subs to Near 350k.


Also - keep in mind that my own personal numbers are inflated thanks to FriendFeed, but most non-personal blogs are not.

So what is the point? The point is that while some services (read: Twitter and Facebook) may be getting many people's attention, and while it is also true that Google Reader has the lion's share of the RSS reader market, the current discussion around RSS being less useful, or less important, than in years past, is flawed, period.

Lest this early adopter sound too much like a curmudgeon, just because something is newer does not automatically make it better, nor does it mean that there will be a rapid mass exodus from the previous technology. Just like Twitter can drive good traffic to a Web site, so too can RSS. Just like Twitter can pass along top content, so too can RSS. Just like top followed accounts can get million-plus audiences, so too can RSS. And both are growing in terms of connections, with no reversal in sight. Both are tools to be used well, and both are being used more than ever. The only "disarray" is in the current thinking.

December 19, 2009

Growing Grumblings on Tech News Don't Address Incentives

If you are the subject of the news, people will judge your actions and how you react to being in the spotlight. If you are the distributor of the news, how you message that news, and how accurately you report that news, will also be dissected. On the Web, especially in our sliver of Silicon Valley, where real time is becoming the standard, analysis of said news is itself happening in real time. From many corners, often from the more technically-oriented folks on the Web, I am seeing discussion around the tech news industry's alleged failings, inaccuracies, and usefulness (or lack thereof). While some of the feedback no doubt has merit, it too comes in simplified form, without offering potential solutions, taking into account how the creators and publishers of this tech news blogosphere are incentivized and rewarded.

On Sunday, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, as he often does, started a discussion around what he termed "fast food content", saying that "hand crafted content is dead", summarizing a piece that lamented sites which steal content without attribution, and more darkly, sites that employ people to rewrite others' content, without adding anything new or doing "real reporting", the kind one learns in journalism class, or is required to do when working for a "dead tree" newspaper or magazine.

Given Mike's focus, running one of the more widely read tech news sites on the Web, his concerns lie around those who borrow much of his and his writers' content and publish it as their own. But I have also given a lot of thought, especially of late, to the vast number of tech news sites and blogs that are out there covering the same stories, and are jostling amongst each other to beat their competition by a few minutes - opting not to win on quality, but instead, on time. In this case, it's often not another tech blog's news that is being borrowed, but official announcements from companies.

One of the easiest things for tech blogs to do is repeat updates from the official blogs of interesting companies, add a few internal links to previous coverage they have done on that topic, add a paragraph or two of analysis, and hit the post button. I've no doubt done it myself over the last few years, even with this self-awareness, but you can see the process unfold practically every day. Watch for phrases like "According to a post on the official Twitter blog..." or "In an update on Google's blog this morning"... as many of the better-known sites all post their own interpretations of the news that came from the top.

This, in my opinion, is the very definition of the "fast food news" Mike is talking about, and time spent both producing it and consuming it could be put to better use - as in these cases, links could serve just as well as full articles.

I am by no means an ombudsman for tech media and the tech news consumer. I am but one person who takes in a lot of content, and produces a little on my own. But I see a few other areas where the tech news engine is falling short for news consumers, news makers and the news authors themselves.

I believe "fast food news" also can refer to the mass hysteria over making sure every site posts the news that a major browser or a major operating system has issued a point release, or when a popular site has an outage, that the incident becomes front page news for every blog. At some point, given the vast multitude of interesting tech stories, individuals and companies out there, one must take a deep breath and realize that being the 10th site to report that Twitter got hacked last night didn't really add a lot of value to readers.

In fact, when Twitter did get hacked Thursday night, Mike (again) had a solid post that added information, and, as he gained more knowledge of the incident, he updated the same post multiple times throughout the night. Because he was the first to the scene, with real data, his post had meat, while many, many others that followed were just echoes of the obvious.

So why is this happening? There are a few reasons:

First, the advertising model that forces many sites to drive page views and social interactions, through Digg, StumbleUpon, and Twitter retweets, is turning many tech news sites into post mills, staffed largely by inexpensive writers and freelancers. Instead of deep analysis posts that require interviews, backgrounds, and research, these sites are instead home to excerpts from YouTube, polls, user surveys, and whatever happens to be trending on Twitter that day. Quality is exchanged for quantity.

Second, many of these sites operate under the guise that they are the only site their readers see. Just because one major tech site covered a story 30 minutes before doesn't mean they should assume their readers already know. That is why if you do subscribe to many technology blogs, as I do, you can expect the vast majority of them to report the same story around the same time - instead of choosing a specific focus that can set them apart from the competition.

Third, thanks to competition and personal interactions, not every site likes the others. Years of infighting and annoyances, thanks to individual posts, personalities, or business priorities means that some sites really dislike each other. They won't link to one another. They will ban the competition from their user conferences, and when they aren't taking potshots, they will act like the other doesn't exist. Thus, if the competition "breaks" a story, the other will post it anyway, or try to find a wrinkle that makes their own version of events "improved" or invalidating the other.

Fourth, the rise of aggregation sites makes piling on to the news something that is rewarded. If all competitive blogs have covered a major story, many others will follow suit, be it to get into "discussion" on Techmeme, to see TrackBacks on the originating posts, or to come up when the popular terms are searched for on Twitter, Google and other engines.

In essence, the incentives, for the most part, do not tilt in favor of writing unique stories or doing the required research necessary to get a full story, to get quotes from a source, or find data points that back up analysis.

That's why you see people like Alex Payne (of Twitter) complain, saying "Rarely does technology journalism produce informed, correct, relevant, and readable content. This is a sorry and damaging state of affairs." in his rant from March (Towards Better Technology Journalism), and why Marco Ament, the lead developer of Tumblr and Instapaper creator, this week, wrote: "Over the last few years, I have unsubscribed from nearly every tech-news feed. I have never regretted the decision afterward, and I haven’t missed anything important. Tech news needs help. Badly. It’s truly terrible."

Keep in mind that it's not unexpected for the more technical among us to dislike the way their works are interpreted. Engineering distrusting marketing is practically a requirement and a religion. But we know they are somewhat right. As much as we can complain about the public relations industry as a whole, many flaks often find that their offers for reporters to speak with the CEO or an official representative of the company go without interest, either due to time issues or a lacking skill set. It's always a lot easier just to ask for the press release ahead of time, and an embargo date.

In an ideal world, those who are acting as our news filters would take the extra time necessary to ferret out news before its time, would ask those making the news the questions they didn't want to answer, would understand competitive landscapes, and wouldn't worry about getting a post up in a few minutes to hit a quantity threshold, without it first passing a quality threshold.

Lest we think Alex and Marco are the lone cries for help, you can see other comments this week from The Angry Drunk, and from Google's DeWitt Clinton, who posted to Twitter, "Don't worry. Save some time. Your story doesn't need a shred of truth to it. It will be retweeted just the same." in response not to a tech blog story, but a mainstream media piece that had missed the mark. (He later, in contrast, praised Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb for solid reporting)

Content producers need to make choices in terms of what it is they cover, and where their field of expertise lies. If not breaking the news, or having access to the technology elite, there are many other ways to make your voice heard, through analysis and personal use cases, as well as the option to find new stories. Content consumers too have the choice as to where they get their news. I would hope that those people who are being spoon fed repeats of others' original reporting, or are waiting, jaws agape, for recaps of company blog posts, recognize what it is they are really missing.

Given the low cost structure needed to create content, it doesn't look like there is going to be a painful consolidation any time soon. In the meantime, the system is set up to reward those who publish quickly and pile on - for extra effort doesn't bring home the page views. There are going to be pockets of the Web that harbor original ideas, a focus on quality and data, and there are going to be other places where copying, scraping, and shortcuts are going to rule the day. I know what I hope to be. The question is, can we do our part, as publishers and consumers, to somehow reward those that do things right?