March 19, 2010

Hey @You! We are Talking About @You Over Here!

Over the last few years, I have enjoyed watching new sites spring up built around conversations and social engagement. These new social networks, be they about friends (Facebook), business colleagues (LinkedIn or Brazen Careerist), shared interests (MyLikes), shared items (Google Buzz and FriendFeed) or even shared purchases (Blippy), are primarily architected around posted items, and various groupings of gestures (likes) and comments. Practically all of the best sites are now following this model to varying degrees. But some are doing a better job than others of alerting you to your being mentioned or pulling new voices into the conversation. I believe that we are on the cusp of even better improvements to connect people across the Web, no matter where they are.

Take, for example, a basic share on Facebook. Today, when a shared item is added to Facebook, you can add a person's name to the item through their own twist on the familiar Twitter address of an "@reply". You can also tag photos or notes with people's IDs and they will be alerted, either by e-mail, or in their message box.

Facebook Lets You Tag People As You Post Updates

That's a great addition. But if I am making a comment on this entry, I can't refer to anybody in the same way (an @reply), and nor can anybody else. This is the same issue on FriendFeed, where I can copy a connected friend on a native entry, but can't do any kind of @reply to add them after the fact, nor can anybody else.

Facebook and FriendFeed Don't Let You Tag in Conversations

Two sites that do this very well are Google Buzz and Blippy.

Google Buzz has it set up so you can notify somebody they are being talked about by adding the @ symbol ahead of their e-mail address. For example, you can tag me by writing in the middle of any thread, and it will resolve to something that looks like @Louis Gray. The catch here is that you need to know the individual's e-mail address, have previously messaged them before through GMail, or you have to open up the person's Google Profile and use their username ahead of to get it right. It absolutely works, but is clunky, with too many steps.

Google Leverages WebFinger in Buzz for Mentions

Blippy's is the very best I've seen so far. Forget about e-mail addresses. If you want to reference another Blippy user, just enter @ and their ID, and a link is added to their profile. For me, as usual, that's just an @louisgray away. I will get notified you mention me, and no doubt, jump into the conversation, or at least see what you were saying. I used that just today to pull Jason Shellen of Thing Labs into a conversation on Brizzly, and in minutes, he was there.

Blippy Lets You @ Users In the Thread

By using this kind of @reply functionality, it takes out some of the guesswork and overdone ego-searching and vanity-searching from network to network. Just as Twitter has integrated mentions as part of their service, this mention functionality is becoming part of how we communicate - and I think we're about to see this taken up a notch thanks to two movements - one being WebFinger and the second being Twitter's @anywhere platform, even if it's not the goal right away for the latter service.

WebFinger is essentially supposed to leverage your e-mail address to aid in providing one true identity that is yours, across the Web. Google Buzz leverages WebFinger to tie back your mentions to your GMail account. If more services were to leverage WebFinger, I could tag your "true identity" in a comment, a blog post, a tweet, a photo, or practically anything else, and there would be no ambiguity in terms of whether I meant you or another person with your name (just like the easy confusion between Louis Gray, tech geek blogger and Louis Gray, Osage Indian senator). The open standard, being promoted by Google engineers, and some others, leverages public profile data to be made complete.

Meanwhile, Twitter's @Anywhere platform is looking to put a thin skin of Twitter on top of some major partner sites, at least at first, letting you follow people from 3rd party sites or let you perform Twitter-related actions outside of I can see a future where this functionality could in theory be embedded as part of major Web browsers, or via plugins, or on enough sites whereby my mentioning of @ and then your Twitter ID would tie back to your Twitter account. Once that gets turned on, you can forget about just counting @replies and @mentions on, and you would instead get, for example, 2 @mentions from, 3 @mentions from The Huffington Post and 1 @mention on TechCrunch. At this point, Twitter's @anywhere could become the @mention and @reply engine for entire Web.

Any good social media maven knows the best ways to search for their own mentions and see if people are talking about them or linking to their content across the Web. I get real-time notifications if I get mentioned on BackType, and I use IceRocket to see links from around the Web or mentions on Twitter. Google News and Blog alerts still work, even if they seem stale. And yes, Technorati is still alive. But if more sites leveraged the kind of @mention and @reply functionality in a great way, as Blippy and Buzz are starting, and Twitter and WebFinger are promising, we could have an even better, more connected, more participatory Web without demanding constant searching. I'm ready.

Are you ready to see this work, @chrismessina @dewitt @ev @biz @scobleizer @parislemon @kevinrose @paultoo @btaylor @finkd @elatable @daveman692 and @pud?