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March 30, 2010

Google Buzz Now Explains Why Messages Hit Your In Box

As promised in a note a little over two weeks ago on controlling Buzzed items entering your in box, the Google Buzz team is now explaining why posts are making their way into your Gmail. For people watching the new social service closely, this is a welcome, albeit small, help, especially as seeing the same items appear repeatedly - following new updates - could get tiresome.

While some are debating the perceived success (or lack thereof) of Buzz, and whether it is seeing engagement, it's no surprise that like most social networks, active people are rewarded with more activity. Engage, and others will engage with you - just like on Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter or anywhere else. But the more I (and others) would participate, the more posts would be delivered to my in box from Buzz. Now, I can just peek at the latest, and see the most recent comment that bumped it to my attention, rather than scrolling all the way to the bottom to get caught up, as was the previous way.

One Buzz Item's Explanation (via a Linda Lawrey Comment)

In the same note, posted March 11th, the Google Buzz team promised settings to control what items hit your in box (which are live in GMail now), the aforementioned explanations, and a "mute" link to stop further comments from getting to your in box. The mute button's not there yet, so far as I can tell, but we can expect that is coming soon - given the appearance of the other promised features.

Buzz Inbox Control In Your Gmail Preferences

On another note, I have already seen people publicly comment on the perceived slowness of innovation from the Buzz team relative to expectations. Without making excuses for them, making change at the scale of Google is proving to be hard. As the team wrote in their March 11th post, they need to make sure these features work across all 50+ Gmail languages, and as I was told at SXSW, "Gmail code is sacrosanct" and nobody wants to increase latency or worse... downtime. With Buzz and GMail being intertwined for now, we can expect movement forward to be with caution.

You can, of course, find me on Buzz here: http://www.google.com/profiles/louisgray

March 29, 2010

Gray Family Set To Expand This Fall With One More

It's a Boy! (The Latest Gray Family Member)

A little over two years ago, I shared with you the news that my wife and I were expecting twins, a boy and a girl, to add to our family. At the time, I referred to this as an expansion plan with 2 new hires. On June 20th of 2008, the twins, Matthew and Sarah, arrived and doubled our family overnight, from two to four. They turned a year old in June of last year, and are rapidly approaching their two-year mark. Now, while the family doesn't have yet another set of multiples to announce, I can let you in on the well-kept secret that we're adding one more to the brood this fall, and it's going to be a boy.

Should all go well, we anticipate adding the thus-far unnamed youngster to the family in the middle or latter half of September 2010, which sets us up with the unenviable position of two two-year-olds and a newborn causing havoc in our home by the end of the year. Pile that on top of all our other activities, and I think we're up for another round of exciting challenges.

When I first told people we were pregnant with Matthew and Sarah, a lot of folks thought you would see dramatic change here, that I couldn't keep pace on the blog and all other social media. But we made the twins part of the story, and have tried not to let our additional duties as parents get in the way of everything else. But the addition of a third child will most definitely bring change. The biggest change? Well, I don't see how we're all going to fit in our two bedroom, two bathroom condo. So that means the family will have to move up and out, and somehow get the opportunity to try and sell this place while finding a bigger home for our growing brood. Many have come before us and managed, so we have no doubt that we will also.




As Kristine, my wife, has successfully maneuvered her way through the first trimester, and all tests thus far have come back safe, it's time to share with you, and we look forward to more updates as the date draws closer. (This gives you six months to get on the schwag bandwagon...)

And yes, since we're geeks, we know "there's an app for that" too. We've been tracking this pregnancy with the iPregnancy app on the iPhone. It's been fun to see the days count up, and run through potential names. We have our favorites - and aren't closed to suggestions. So fire them up in the comments. What do you think? Twitter Gray? Does that work?

Twitter Hires On Lead Yahoo! Messenger Dev, Two More

It's Monday, which must of course mean it's Twitter new employee day (TM). The company, which is continuing its expansion practically every week with new hires, onboarded three more today, including the lead Web developer for Yahoo! Messenger, focused on scalable Web technology, a senior database admin from Bebo (who also had history at Yahoo! and Apple), and a software developer who hails from the unlikely source of the Indianapolis Star, with background as an airplane pilot.

Twitter's growth brings the company's "Team" list to 176 total members, including contractors and other contributors to the company.

Twitter Product Manager Josh Elman Excited About Adrien Joining

Adrien Cahen, formerly a senior front-end engineer at Yahoo!, was the lead Web developer for Yahoo! messenger, until announcing his resignation after 3 1/2 years at the Sunnyvale company on March 15th. In the resignation announcement on his blog, Cahen said Yahoo! had a great company culture with cutting edge technologies under development, and said his efforts on highly used products was a "very humbling experience."

One of the products he most recently contributed to was the launch of Yahoo! Messenger 10, and its inclusion of insider pages, mini versions of the Yahoo! homepage built on YQL (Yahoo! Query Language). He can be found at @gaarf.

Adrien Waxing Happy On His First Day At Twitter

David Bravant, the DBA joining Twitter by way of Bebo and Yahoo! spent nearly six years at Apple from 1999 to 2005, and doesn't have a long history of using Twitter, having possibly just opened up his Twitter account today, with no activity yet. (See: @clarethammer)

Dana Contreras, the pilot hailing from Indiana, most recently of the Indianapolis Star, describers herself as a software developer with a wide array of platform experience, and lists her new job as software engineer on Twitter's platform. Dana is also the developer behind JLex.org, a Japanese language reference and learning tool, with integrated kanji search. She can be found at @danadanger.

Cliqset, Status.net Support Salmon for Comments Migration



As Marshall Kirkpatrick noted in a post on ReadWriteWeb this morning, the Salmon Protocol project we first introduced back in October of 2009 looks like it is progressing beyond the planning stages, as it has been integrated in two small, but influential, social networking sites, Status.net and Cliqset - both of whom are strong open standards advocates laboring away in the shadows of larger communities.

The Salmon Protocol, which aims to define a standard protocol for comments and gestures (such as likes) to swim upstream to the originating blog, hopes to unify conversations across diverse locations. It's planned for adoption by Google Buzz (See: Designing Buzz for a Google-Free World) and solves the problem that first blew up back in 2008 around fractured conversations.

While many people, including myself, have adapted to a new world whereby conversations take place in a wide array of communities, it would be nice for the content originator to have one centralized location to see all downstream activity.

Evan Prodromou of StatusNet mentions integration of Salmon's digital signatures in a blog post from Sunday, where he also notes support for Activity Streams encoded in RSS 2.0 and Atom. The move, paralleled by deployment at Cliqset, should be what I hope is the start of a lot more announcements, from small and big companies alike, to make Salmon a reality. The next big target, which I am biased in favor of, obviously, would be for Disqus to integrate with Salmon and pull comments upstream to this blog.

I managed to find time to talk with Darren Bounds of Cliqset at SXSW earlier this month. In our quick discussion, recorded on CinchCast, you can find his comments on their support of open standards, and that network's direction - which could hint at why they're an early adopter of Salmon.

LedeLog: Google Apps Hosted Media Workflow, Launches


In what Google's Brett Slatkin termed a "small foray into productivity software", the developer best known for his work on the PubSubHubbub protocol released a note-taking application for journalists and researchers, featuring rich text, tagging and built-in privacy controls that keep notes available only to the creator. The product, titled LedeLog, runs on Google's cloud infrastructure, and auto-saves progress every ten seconds, so vital notes don't get lost. As simple as it sounds, it is robust enough to serve not just for its intended audience, but it looks like the beginning of new word processing or blog authoring tools. In fact, just for testing purposes, I authored this post on LedeLog.

The product's name derives from journalist's use of the term "Lede", which refers to the lead paragraph in any story, and says it is built for the workflow of modern journalists - but could work for anyone who wants to take down notes and save drafts with tags that are searchable.

This Post, Being Authored In LedeLog

When I am interviewing somebody for a story, or dictating notes in a meeting or event, I tend to simply open Apple Mail and tap out my data there - a byproduct of my getting used to older blog platforms from yesteryear that lost my data if the Web browser froze (although Blogger autosaves now). This results in an undesirable list of untitled drafts in my draft messages folder, sorted only by date - certainly without any tags. Going back a full decade to my time at the Daily Californian at UC Berkeley when I was a reporter in college, I similar wrote out my notes in Nisus Writer, an archaic word processing system for the Mac. It's highly likely that many journalists today, provided they aren't using a pen and paper, are typing out their notes in Microsoft Word - so you can forget about tagging or searching those documents. LedeLog, though new and raw, could be an interesting alternative.

For any journalist who wants to keep their sources secure and their notes safe, LedeLog is a step above saving any of that content on a local disk. LedeLog "ledes" are saved in the Google cloud (I assume powered by AppEngine, where Brett spends most of his time), and are accessible only through one's Google Account or OpenID.

Searching LedeLog by Tag and Discovering This Post

Unlike many startup projects, which release in beta with no users, it sounds like LedeLog has already proven itself in the field. Its description in the Google Apps Marketplace says "LedeLog has been in constant use by professional journalists since January 2009." The Marketplace description also says the product is free for the next three months and may have further pricing information after that point. Including the product in the Google Apps Marketplace, in the document management category, enables companies who have set up Google Apps for their domain to deploy LedeLog for their users.

The media hasn't been given too many helping hands of late, and LedeLog isn't designed to make unprofitable businesses profitable again. But it is a very handy tool for note-taking, search and security. It's another peek into a world without Microsoft Office, where documents can be created in the cloud and shared outward. Every LedeLog can be e-mailed to an external address, such as an editor. Brett's initial notes on the product suggest in can handle the management of hundreds of Ledes easily. You can give it a shot at LedeLog.com.

EdgeTheory: Is Our Social Activity Sanitized, Inauthentic?

In the social Web, we talk a lot about being transparent and open. But many of us are limiting what we say online to a specific topic. We’re sharing links and associating with people who share our viewpoints, and possibly avoiding hot-buttons like politics, in favor of talking about technology and tools. Is this the right thing to do, or have we gone too far in terms of being willing to share who we really are?

After a rare political post for him this week, titled "I am pro life", Chris Saad noticed a hesitancy for people to share his content. I said this was because the topic was out of line for what people expected from him, and each of us plays a specific role in each of the networks where we participate. This fell in line with my post Saturday on disaggregation and focusing content for each network. We would absolutely appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

This and all other EdgeTheory conversations can be found on the dedicated ET Conversations site.

Listen in below:

TheCadmus Hits Bay Area for Y Combinator, Twitter Boost

Since November, I've been talking to you about TheCadmus, a new tool that taps into your social streams to remove duplicates, find relevant topics and group discussions - one of many different services that is looking to improve the ability to find signal in today's noisy networks. TheCadmus is looking to make a name for itself in reducing clutter, and personalizing trending topics, including drill-down by lists. Now, the company is looking to take its personalization engine even further with a trip to Silicon Valley to talk with Y Combinator, the much-respected angel investment group, and a presentation later this week at Twitter headquarters to showcase what they have accomplished with the service's API.

The very acts of meeting with Y Combinator and Twitter are of course no direct correlation with success. TheCadmus is but one of 80 companies looking to impress the YC team with their story this week. A poor showing could send the two-person team back to Toronto empty-handed, with nothing but the experience to show for it.

I had the opportunity to meet with the company's two founders, Jay Air and Frank Wang, this evening, as we discussed the product's direction and its place in an online world where most of us are encountering too much noise. They told me the product's first direction, simply to group similar social updates and remove duplicates, led directly to more and more efforts around personalization. They told me that yes, it is a problem that many services are targeting now, but they believe they are approaching the problems in a new way.

Today, TheCadmus lets you consume updates from your social graph, but not communicate from them. For example, they're not a Twitter client. It's not outside the realms of thought that TheCadmus' API could be part of other Twitter clients looking to add new forms of personalization. I got the chance to take a few minutes with Jay Air to record a CinchCast explaining the company's plans for their short trip in Silicon Valley and what they would do with any potential funds gained from a Y Combinator investment. The discussion is embedded below:

March 27, 2010

A Big 2010 Trend: Disaggregation and Social Network Focus


For years, I've been sharing and distributing my content in such a way that if you followed me on just one network, you could essentially see all my updates in one place. While the most obvious example of that has been FriendFeed, for the last three years, I also mirrored my activity to other places, including Facebook - and Google Buzz has set up that opportunity to do so again. But what I am finding is that people in each network are more than likely following me in multiple places, and many are getting frustrated by non-native updates. The truth is that people don't always want to follow everything a person does online. They want to follow pieces of what they do in specialized places, and even where filters exist, I am seeing many people reduce inbound streams or focus them for the individual community. This specialization has even led to my running multiple Twitter accounts to give people that option, but not force it, and I know I am not the only one.

In the two plus years I have used Twitter, I have been quite careful not to overuse the product. I've kept my volume on my account to a comparatively low level, when contrasted with its more aggressive users. My main feed is primarily my blog posts, links to interesting stories around the Web, and real-time responses to people on tech. I don't use it so much for real-time status updates, but do so on occasion. At the same time, I have been more aggressive in my use of tools like Google Reader. To broadcast all the items I share in Google Reader to this main feed would be overkill. But for those people who want to consume this feed on Twitter, I created the separate @lgstream account. Separate, but equal.

Separate Content, Separate Twitter Streams

As one man's noise is another man's signal, I've also recently turned on a third parallel Twitter account (@lgloco), which is a mirror for my mundane Foursquare updates. Thus far, I've resisted Foursquare as I once resisted Twitter, but am at least experimenting with the app - all without muddying my main feed. Those who want to opt in to my comings and goings can do so there, as an opt-in process, rather than opt-out. (More on Foursquare's use for a married guy with kids who doesn't venture out much later...)

But this is just one service. Where the most visible issues with noise arise are when people like me try to use services as aggregators, when they're probably best suited not to be.

A New Approach to Facebook

For example, take Facebook. Thus far, I've assumed Facebook to be full of the same tech-sipping geeks I've associated with in FriendFeed and other places - so I gave them the full firehose. But as I could shrug off people like my mom hiding my own feed as it was dominating their stream, I received additional feedback that my "Facebook experience" was less than optimal. The FriendFeed shares lacked imagery and became a series of undistinguishable headlines and links. So, I've turned that off, and will be working to make that experience better - through a small number of shares via my6sense on the iPhone, as well as using Facebook better where its strengths lie - with photos and engagement. This decision also comes as many people complain about Facebook's news feed being dominated by repurposed Twitter updates (most of which they have already seen).

Similarly, the world of Google Buzz presents again the opportunity to aggregate content all in one place. But I have seen a similar backlash against people who pass their Twitter updates through the service. This is partially due to a lag between Twitter and Buzz, which sends updates through in clumps well after they were posted, and also due to the same problem as from Facebook - disjointed conversations that began somewhere else and don't belong.

(See Also: Kurt Starnes' great post: Going Native In The Age Of Aggregation)

Buzz Works Best When You Don't Pull From Microblogging Sites

I chose not to pull in updates to Buzz from Twitter and FriendFeed when I started using the service, and anecdotally, I have seen the most activity in Buzz on items started there.

Just because a tool can aggregate doesn't mean that it should. In a world where practically all of us are using multiple social services, many of us are following the same people two, three, five or even ten times, across different networks. Seeing the same updates in every place is off-topic and tiring. I like the idea of participating wherever comments erupt, but also of giving people the option to find pieces of my updates in the right places.

I separated out my different streams on Twitter to give people who want the content the option to do so, at their choice. I'm thinning out my Facebook to optimize there, and, while I will continue to pull Reader and blog posts to Buzz, I do not think I'm going to cram every service I can find down Google's newest tool.

We live in a world with a very easy potential to be overcome with noise, and I don't want to be responsible for more than my share. So go ahead and follow my @louisgray account on Twitter. Or my @lgstream or @lgloco. You can connect with me on Facebook, FriendFeed or Buzz as well, just know that each place should be giving you a different experience - aimed for that audience.

Disclosure: my6sense is a client of Paladin Advisors Group, where I am Managing Editor of New Media.

Facebook Sharing Data Webwide Promising, Difficult

Despite its walled-in history, many of Facebook's recent strides have trended toward making what was once private public, and that which was previously unavailable to search engines discoverable. The company, cognizant of the failures experienced by data hoarders of the past, appears to have the desire to change - and will need to do so progressively, as to not upset the apple cart, inviting the fire and brimstone from a mob wronged. This week's tea leaf readings spell out plans for Facebook to share data from your personal profile with third party Web sites you visit, letting them tailor your Web content (and ads) just for you. The result, a much more relevant Web experience, would likely have big benefits for consumers, advertisers, and of course, Facebook, but it sets off the same alarm bells that rang with Beacon and other companies who have changed the rules in the middle of the game. The question is, can Facebook make the leap in such a way that it can still be trusted?

I've talked a lot about my own desire for companies serving ads to leverage the social profiles I have created around the Web, so I don't have to constantly be bombarded with off-topic dreck. (See: I Wish Ad Companies Would Truly Leverage Social Profiles and I Just Marked All Facebook Ads as Offensive. So Should You., both from 2009) So the news from various outlets saying that Facebook is planning this very thing, to share data with third party Web sites, has me nodding in understanding, while at the same time cringing, thanks to a lack of transparency to the process, and the knowledge that many people won't be very excited about the move.

If I were to look at the situation from Facebook's perspective, I can see how the company is at a crossroads, tied to the old rules they've had since inception, but trying to be nimble enough to compete with companies that haven't had the same restrictions. Facebook is sitting on a gold mine of user information and attention data, and advertisers are as keen as ever to find the right targets and deliver relevant advertising or content. Facebook doesn't have the luxury of starting anew and trying to develop a new company that doesn't have the shackles of the past which it does, but has the opportunity of a network with 500 million users. The hardest part is seeing how they can get from Point A to Point B without leaving a bloody trail in the streets.

Shortly after the debate on Google Buzz and its own privacy issues, and my posting of an article where I said I thought the cries were dramatically overblown, I met up with Dare Obasanjo of Microsoft at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, and we talked about this balance of business versus privacy. In his opinion, social networks can never sacrifice their ideals on privacy, not matter the opportunity ahead of them. He told me, in a CinchCast (which blew up halfway through), that Microsoft had the opportunity to turn MSN Messenger and Hotmail into an open network like Buzz, but they chose not to because they determined it would be wrong. Buzz went through this process with Gmail, and they paid for it in the world of PR and trust, even if I thought the reaction was too strong. Facebook has had its struggles before with the same issue. For every public statement by the team's executives about the changing concept of privacy, and users like me who don't mind it at all, there are others who think their trajectory has them at odds with their user base.

I want to trust Facebook in the same way I have trusted Google and other networks with my data. I personally would not object to Facebook's sharing my information with third parties and advertisers, because I am not anti-ads, I am pro-relevancy, and I want to help solve these issues of quality. I think a world where third party sites know their targets better can only lead to more responsible business transactions and more commerce, period. I can see Facebook struggling to get 500 million people on its network to "opt in" to a system that shares their information, and them seeing pushing forward in a brutal way as the only option. It's a rough situation, where the end result would be great and the process in between would be a mess. I want the relevancy, but will everyone else find the cost worth it?

March 25, 2010

Twitter Highlighting "Clever Accounts" @cleveraccounts

A common aspect of any Web-centric company looking to break out of an early adopter niche to more mainstream acceptance is the highlighting of customers who have been brave enough to take the plunge first. The best of those often make their way into being showcased on the site, hopefully to convince others on the fence that yes, the product delivers real value. Twitter, for much of the last month, has quietly been building out a showcase Posterous blog full of "Clever" examples aimed to make you say, "Now I get it!". Showcased on the site are businesses including North Face, Best Buy and even Dunkin Donuts.

While practically every little move Twitter makes gets dramatically magnified on the Web, response thus far to these new stories and an associated Twitter account (@cleveraccounts) has been remarkably muted. CleverAccounts, for example, only has 300 followers and is on 15 lists, contrasted with 82,000 following @twitterapi and more than 3 million following their main @twitter handle.

It's also telling that these "Clever Accounts" have been fairly quiet, as the Posterous page shows less than a handful of Twitter mentions for most, and no comments on any of the pieces. Authors of the short briefs are Twitter's new head of communications, Sean Garrett, and Jenna Sampson.

As Twitter has expanded, not just its core team, but into new geographies, the company has also spawned a second list, called More @Twitter Accounts, featuring these clever accounts, as well as official Twitter updates from Japan, India, and Italy.

Twitter's case studies on North Face, USGS, Best Buy and others are simple one-pagers, highlighting their use of the microblogging tool. The profiles are very similar to the highly visual case studies you might see on Apple.com, for example, in their Pro section, but they don't export to PDF for download, as many enterprise companies offer on their site.

You can see these "Clever Twitter Accounts" at http://cleveraccounts.posterous.com/ or by following @CleverAccounts.


Presentation: Writing a Killer Blog Without Killing Yourself



For a presentation this morning, sharing with all of you.

March 23, 2010

Zite Launches Personal Web Filter, Recommends Content

Practically everywhere I turn these days, new products are cropping up to help you find content relevant to your interests. In addition to my6sense, who I covered yesterday, we've seen a fair share of Twitter applications, iPhone apps and Web sites looking to find signal in the noise, and each takes a unique approach. The latest to join the scene is a service called Zite, which bills itself as a personalized Web filter, leveraging your social profiles to guess your interests. You can improve the filter by grouping keywords you are interested in, and can dive down by domain to see what different sources are saying about your interests.

Setting Up My Zite

Upon entering Zite (and you can use one of 50 invites with this code: http://zite.com/?code=louisgrayorg), you are prompted to enter your user name for Twitter and Delicious. Zite analyzes the content you share on those sites, and delivers two things: recommended articles and keywords called your "Follow List".

Today's Recommendations from Zite

Older Recommendations from Zite

The recommended articles are split into two: first being today's recommendations, and the second being older items you might like, going from 1 day ago to as much as a month. If you like the articles you see, simple click the star to the left of each article, or you can read it. Zite intends to improved based on your feedback, so the more stars, the more you get to tailor it to your interests.

The "Follow List" at first is a quick stab at what Zite thinks you are most interested in. But the power of this list comes from your own edits. You can add new terms to follow, and interestingly, drag and drop topics into groups. This lets you have a set of results for "Startup, VC and Venture Capital", or another group for "Branding, Marketing and Public Relations", for example. You can also set up groupings for multiple domains, for example "louisgray.com and scobleizer.com", if you wanted to.


The Editable Follow List on Zite


Once the follow list is created, you can click on any of the groups and see recommended results on Zite from those terms. Zite tries to guide your exploration further with related topics, called "Parents" which are higher level topics, or "Siblings" which add more terms to those you're currently viewing.

Searching on one domain with a specific term on Zite

The ability to parse through RSS and other news sources by topic is something I like a lot, and you could see that from my feedback on Lazyfeed. Zite lacks the real-time updating element and cool UI that Lazyfeed brings, and doesn't clearly respond to implicit feedback, working on the explicit nature of your own activity. But if you want to see recommended articles from the Web on topics you like, you should check it out. You can get in to Zite's closed beta with one of 50 invites using this code: http://zite.com/?code=louisgrayorg.

Disclosure: My6sense is an assumed competitor to some aspects of Zite, and My6sense is a Paladin Advisors Group client, where I am managing director of new media.

FriendFeed Data Joins Its Coders At Facebook

Despite not achieving the lofty position in the social media stratosphere many of us had hoped it would as an independent company, FriendFeed played a significant piece for a mid-size community that has, for the most part, felt adrift and abandoned in the seven months since the once-perky startup was acquired and absorbed into Facebook. When parts of the site started to creak over the last few weeks, with features breaking or slowing, some thought it spelled yet more bad news. But after some considerable effort, the site and all its data has been migrated to the more robust Facebook data centers, which should hopefully keep the site going for those who have stuck around, even when others have said their last goodbye.

Moving all data on a live site as complex as FriendFeed's to another is no trivial feat, made even more challenging by differing hosting environments or code nuances.

On Thursday, after some of the site's more dedicated users complained the network's search engine was broken beyond repair, FriendFeed co-founder Jim Norris explained:
"We're working on moving the FriendFeed servers to the Facebook data center, which will have significantly more speed and capacity and (we hope) more reliable hardware. There are a bunch of difficulties we've run into though: FF has been running on Ubuntu Linux distributions whereas FB is based on various (old but stable) Fedora Core and Centos versions, so the package management is completely different."
Paul Buchheit, also a co-founder, best known for his work on creating GMail while at Google, and a successful angel investor besides, gained the unenviable task of compiling the code and building it on the new machines. As Jim added in a throw-away line, "I don't know the exact timeline but if when I see Paul I'll beat it out of him."

It turns out that timeline was for late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, as Bret Taylor, director of products at Facebook, announced the successful transfer of FriendFeed's data to the Facebook datacenter, adding, that it "fixed many of the ongoing performance problems we have had with the site and will provide us more room to grow."

Whether FriendFeed is growing, stagnant or decreasing depends on one's point of view. No longer a gem in Silicon Valley early adopter corners, the site did bounce off traffic lows last month (at least according to Compete.com) to rise more than 80 percent - even as new challengers including Google Buzz gained attention. FriendFeed has said the United States is no longer the most active country on the site, as that honor falls to Turkey. So somebody's using the site, and while figuring out the site's future and how it maps to Facebook requires either a divining rod or root access to Mark Zuckerberg's laptop, it doesn't look like the site is being allowed to gather dust and fade into the shadows.

As the move took place, users on the site are already thanking the team for improved speed, and lower errors. And as FriendFeed never quite let me export all my data I'd piled into the site since October of 2007, that's a good thing. If they had a way to export it all, that'd be a very interesting offer, but it's a battle for another day.

March 22, 2010

My6sense Intros Attention API for Hyper-Relevant Web

Content is coming at us from every direction in the form of streams, from blogs to tweets to social networks. These streams are combining to become information waterfalls of noise from practically every direction - noise because they are all shouting for our attention and demanding we choose them over updates from somewhere else. For some, this crashing sound has become information overload, as the demands from our data exceed the time we have available to give everything its appropriate attention. For the last nine months, I have been talking to you about my6sense's application for the iPhone, which watches my activity and senses what is most relevant to me, from my RSS feeds and my social streams. At the end of the last year, they became a Paladin client, and I have been working with them closely as they improve their digital intuition. Today, at the DEMO conference, they announce their new Attention API, which lets developers and service providers capture personalized relevance - and this, the ability to see my6sense-like sorting and impact throughout the Web, is what I have been waiting for. It is this Attention API that will help quiet the noise and start delivering clear signal from new places.

my6sense Promises Personalized Streams Across the Web

As you know from my prior coverage of my6sense, and likely your own experience with the application, my6sense's intention is to surface the highest quality, most relevant information, not from the crowd, but for you. It watches what you read, and what you don't read. It watches what you share, and what you don't. It watches how long you read, what articles you open, and what you skip. And over time, effortlessly, you will find the content getting better and better. Now, one of my first stops on my iPhone after time away from the desktop is to my6sense, so I can just scan a handful of headlines and know I didn't miss anything. The introduction of the Attention API from my6sense promises to take that personalization to the Web at large, should software engineers and content publishers be interested in delivering personalized streams to their users, no matter the type of content, without requiring them to fill out detailed surveys, or explicitly indicate what they like, and what they don't.


Examples of Prioritized Streams on VentureBeat and the WSJ

In the past few months, you have seen increased focus on relevance. Google Reader has made significant steps forward with their addition of "Magic", both on their desktop client and most recently on the mobile phone. Google's search engine has started to personalize results for you, including links from your social circle. Cascaad also talked about personalization of their social media application for the iPhone, and Twitter client Twazzup is trying to find "highlights" for you based on who you interact with the most, and other factors. But my6sense doesn't see attention and relevance as simply features - but instead as the core mission of their product. That other services are also trying to solve this issue speaks well to the need for publishers to provide better user experience to their customers and make their products even more appealing.

As I introduce my6sense to people, the most common requested product features are for its running in other environments than the iPhone. The company has promised new platforms are in the works, but the addition of the Attention API does more than bring my6sense benefits to new handsets, but to new environments altogether. While the company already made a big step to start filtering Twitter and Facebook streams by relevance in the application, you can imagine how content publishers, from vertical sites to industry news, new social networking clients and blogs could offer personalized streams, based on relevance, without having users jump through complicated hoops - or simple annoyances, with "more like this" buttons, thumbs up and down, likes and dislikes.


Examples of Apps That Could be Impacted by an Attention API

As my6sense promises today with their announcement, partners looking to offer tailored, personalized streams would connect my6sense's digital intuition engine to the streams they wish to personalize, and then let my6sense know how users are expected to interact with the streams. My6sense would then return personalized streams for each user, regardless of feed type. If partners sign up, the silos of unfocused, unprioritized data that we live in today should change - into a more focused Web that delivers content ranked for every visitor. With more people tapping into social services, and trying to follow more people in more places, the opportunity to cut through the noise and find the important information, taking it to the top, could be a critical competitive advantage. With today's launch, I look forward to seeing which applications and sites will step up first.

Disclosure: my6sense is a client of Paladin Advisors Group, where I am Managing Editor of New Media. My comments on the company's product are always independent, and do not pass their way in advance.

March 21, 2010

Branded Site Aggregator Nombray to Shut Down April 5th

Nombray, the project which looked to showcase all your individual or brand's destinations at a single URL, navigable by tabs, looks like it is going to find itself extinct as soon as April 5th, after the CEO was unable to complete the site's sale to a potential buyer at the end of 2009. Despite coverage from CNET, Lifehacker, Killer Startups and others upon its launch, the product apparently never gained the traction necessary to keep it going, although emphasis was on paid accounts with monthly subscriptions.

CEO Chris Lunt sent an e-mail today to users notifying them of the impending closure, saying the site was to shut down on Monday, April 5th, adding he wished "there was a different ending".

Nombray Will Be Gone for All Soon...

As I mentioned in my April 2009 coverage of Nombray, the site was very flexible, importing content from my various social media outposts along the Web and presenting them in one place - a site, which at least for the next two weeks, can be found here: http://www.nombray.com/users/305.

Lunt's note to customers spoke quickly of a potential buy that simply didn't pan out:
"I had arranged a buyer for Nombray in November, but after a long delay, they were unable to complete the deal. They could not marshal the necessary resources to run the business, and I find myself in the same position."
In the wake of Nombray's closing, Lunt pointed to alternatives, including Chi.mp and GizaPage.com. (Of note, I wasn't that big a fan of Chi.mp upon first glance at the end of 2008)

Sites come and go. Nombray no doubt had a hard time selling people on the benefits of a single site managed by their engine. The site is still up here: http://www.nombray.com/

Google Buzz Stats Now Available Via App Engine Project

With Google Buzz still being considered very new, just a little over a month after its introduction, it has been interesting to see users adapt to the new aggregation engine - seeing some use it to pull in their content and others using it as a self-contained blogging platform. Some people see lots of activity on their feeds, while others get significantly less. Now, as we have seen with products like TweetStats for Twitter and a multitude of packages for blog statistics, we now have the first entry (of many, no doubt) aimed at showing your activity on Buzz, and how much traction your feed is getting, along with details on who is commenting, and how much they are saying.

The new project, hosted on Google App Engine, authored by Siegfried Hirsch, analyzes your last 100 entries to Buzz, from any source, shows their origin, counts up the words, characters and replies, and displays the people interacting with your feed.

My Top Level Statistics for the Last 100 Buzz Entries

As Buzz does not yet have an official API, there is a lot of information hiding from the initial cut, such as the total number of "likes" for your feed, who is liking your content, and any data beyond the first 100 posts. It also does not analyze your own personal activity - trying to find just where you are commenting and liking through your own network (although Google's Dashboard can give you some top-level stats).

Who Is Engaging On My Buzz (and how often)

As I ran the numbers for a number of people on Buzz, from the highly prominent Googler DeWitt Clinton (whose script was the inspiration for this project) to Twitter's John Kalucki, Jesse Stay and myself, it seemed that those who posted natively to Buzz gained the most engagement, while those who piped in activity from third party services - such as Twitter - got less.

DeWitt's Unique Set of Data from Buzz

DeWitt, who has 76 native Buzz entries, saw responses from more than 430 unique authors, with 12 different people (him and myself included) making more than 25 comments on those entries. In contrast, 156 different authors made comments in my last 100 entries, the overwhelming majority of which have been shares from Google Reader.

DeWitt's Engaged Buzz Followers

Not unsurprisingly, DeWitt's native entries into Buzz are much longer than my shares, which are often excerpted. While my 100 posts totaled 4,228 words, the 76 posts he provided were a whopping 18,380 words, or more than 240 apiece. The attention to length resulted in nearly 2,200 comments on his items, with an average of 61 words per reply. The nearly 400 comments I received had a similar 57 words pre reply over the last 100 entries.

The Buzz-Statistics engine is billed as version 0.1, and has some work to do. I found it often lagged with larger accounts (my own included), but it's an intriguing first step into getting analytics data out of the new platform. You can check out your data by going to http://buzz-stats.appspot.com/ and entering your Google user ID.

March 20, 2010

Qwotebook Tracks Quotes by Friends, Famous Quotables


How many times have you logged on to Twitter and seen somebody note in a tweet: "OH", standing for "Overheard"? Some of these "Overheard"s are a doozy. But with Twitter's ephemeral nature, they fade as time moves on. Now, there's a site that aims to capture all the top quotes, both from the world of history, but also the world of the present, online in one place - called Qwotebook. The new site lets you "Qwote" your friends, attribute "Qwotes" to them and even provide context. The result is a fun site that acts as a quote book for the Web.

Drew Olanoff, an oft-quoted friend of mine, and brains behind the site, says, "I'm passionate about quotes." And one can see why from looking at the earliest aspects of the site. Coupled with top excerpts from friends in the social landscape, you can see quotes from famous people including Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and others. The result is an insightful mix of funny sayings and overheards intermingled with advice, friendly comments and observations.

With a goal of "Making Quotes More Social", Qwotebook is all about quotes submitted by its users. Submitted Qwotes are displayed with the most recent chronologically on top, as with many social sites, and each quote displays the user who submitted the entry and the user who said it. If the user doesn't yet exist, Qwotebook will make a page for that person. (As I did when I added a quote from Ronald Reagan last night)

My Profile, Showing Qwotes I Have Added

If a quote has context, only mutual friends who are connected can see the context of the qwote, allowing for some privacy.

A Quote from Adam Ostrow I Found

Words of Kurt Cobain, Posted by Drew

Over time, as your qwotes build up, your profile displays not just the qwotes you have entered for others, but also those that are attributed to you. You can "Favorite" some quotes by clicking the star to the left of the quote, and these will be displayed on your profile under your favorites tab.

One of Drew's More Qwotable Moments

Drew is not rolling this out as a one-man project. A duo of developers from the site I Heart Movies are the coders behind the scenes making everything work, and they recognize there are a number of features they want to add to the site over time. I have already seen opportunities where I would want to make a comment to a quote and explain what it means to me, or even provide some feedback. I can see situations where somebody qwoted could reject a qwote outright and say they never said such a thing, or maybe, like other sites, you would want to hide all updates from a specific user (like Einstein, for instance). But for a gen-one site, Qwotebook makes sense and could be a lot of fun. So go sign up and get to qwoting.

There are a number of invites with the code of "louisgray". Go to http://www.qwotebook.com and get started.