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November 29, 2010

Unfriending, Unfollowing, Unsubscribing... Less Is More

The world of social media and networking is much too consumed with numbers, and it seems at times, we are making sacrifices of our time and energy wading through piles of noise and indirect relationships in an effort to obtain the rare connections of serendipity that bring us value.

In the past year, my position on connections in all these networks and with all these people vying for a piece of attention has changed - from an open networking approach, to one much more tidy, and it is constantly being refined. I've had it with seeing the streams where I spend a lot of time overwhelmed by strangers and off-topic behavior, and continue to take steps to improve the experience. Lately, I've resorted to seeing my numbers go in the reverse direction - fewer connections, fewer subscriptions and fewer services.

It's often said "he with the most names wins", but while that may be true for a social network, it's not always true for an individual. You are not a social network. You are just one point in that network.

A year ago, I said to jump on the massive unfollowing trend would be a mistake. At the time, I was following more than 12,000 people on Twitter, and that number eventually climbed to more than 14,000. Similarly, as I accepted connections on Facebook to all who wanted in, that pile of flesh grew to more than 2,000 - not near the network's famous 5,000 limit, but enough that if I ever looked at the "Recent News" feed, I was unlikely to know most of the folks.

What's changed in the last year for me is that I have had to adjust and spend more time on those two networks in particular, making them central points for engagement and discovery. With that post being written on August 6 of 2009, FriendFeed's acquisition by Facebook happened 4 days later, putting the once-vibrant community into practical mummification, making its centricity for my own activity dramatically less useful.

Additionally, more and more services are launching that enable the portability of one's social graph from site to site. For every new service I try, I can automatically discover who else I am already linked to, and get the chance to add them to my network. As others do the same, this increases the volume of service notifications by e-mail, and consequently, the number of updates on each site is proportional to your social graph at the source hubs - usually Facebook, Twitter and Google. Therefore, a reduction of people on any or all of those three services reduces the noise in all other places.

When Facebook launched their new messaging platform two weeks ago, putting an emphasis on the friends in the site having access to your in box, I started to have second thoughts about all these random people I'd blindly said yes to in the last couple years. For every great person who I would meet in the future and learn from, there were others trying to invite me to events and groups that were a waste of time, or whose updates were never catching my eye. So I took the opportunity to get out of the mess I had created.

Thankfully, Facebook has made the process of disconnecting much easier of late. Under the friends tab of the site, you can click "Edit". Sort by All Friends, and you can start to remove folks 1 by 1 with the little x to the right until your feeds are clean again.

In a bloody swoop, I cut more than 1,200 people on the site this way on the 15th, going from 2200+ to less than 1,000. Does this mean fewer people will see my blog posts, my photos or my status updates? Sure. But the benefits are that I know who I am engaging with and the quality of the site has improved a great deal. Before this move, I could only get a good Facebook experience through my6sense.

Unfollowing by Source in SocialToo Cleaned Up My Twitter Stream

For Twitter, the work was a little harder, but doable. A few months ago, as discovered by Twittercism, I leveraged SocialToo, where I am an advisor. The first thing I did was whitelist hundreds of my favorite contacts in Twitter, to be sure I wouldn't drop them. Then, I set up content filters on the site to automatically unfollow all people who used any of the major Twitter platforms, like TwitterFeed, Ping.fm, TweetDeck, or even "Web". I left this brutal killer on for about 5 days, and saw the people I was following melt away from 14,000 to about 2,000. Then I stopped the bleeding and took out the noise one by one, to the point I follow just over 1,000 now. Of course, I had to refollow some innocents who were caught in the purge, but most have been fixed. While Twitter still is rough to read in real time (again, my6sense wins here), I am connected to real people I know - and their reshares of other folks' content get the best of the rest.

Twittercism Captured My Unfollowing Earlier This Year

That leaves two major repositories of content that I also have moved to thin, to reduce content overwhelming my available time. The first was to unsubscribe from services that I don't use. Despite my practical abandonment of some services, that didn't stop people from following me constantly. It's obvious the social graph synchronization with Twitter and Facebook means people aren't even looking at your content, even if you think they are. So for the most egregious notification in box fillers, I just deleted my account. I started with GetGlue and Plaxo and may hit some more if things aren't dramatically improved. The other is in Google Reader. I'm notorious for reading a lot of RSS feeds, and still do, but Reader helpfully shows me just how many updates come from each source to clutter my daily reading. Contrasting the updates to shares I make shows me what I find valuable. For those where the noise ratio was too high, I have been cutting them one by one, and it's saving me hundreds of items a day. Bliss.

After some cuts, these are the top publishers (30 days of data) I read.

Twitter and Facebook hold more value for me in 2010 than they did in 2008. With their improved abilities to hide content by source, and to use lists, friend management has improved a great deal. Plus, they, in addition to Google Buzz and LinkedIn, are practically the only games in town for centralized discussions now. So rather than fight against the grain, it's made sense to make the sites a better experience for me.

There's no harm in letting people go. It's your right to unfollow and unsubscribe. It's their right to bring you value and deliver you a good experience so you don't disconnect. But if you're finding your streams a mess, take a deep breath and do something about it. I am glad I did.

Disclosure: I am VP of Marketing for my6sense, which has an app that supports Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz, and sorts by personal relevancy. I am also an advisor to SocialToo.

Sparkbuy Launches Personalized Gadget Recommendations

With the 2010 Holiday shopping season officially kicking off today in what's commonly referred to as Cyber Monday, Sparkbuy is hoping to give consumers a boost in finding personalized consumer electronics gear, based on a deep database that started with thousands of laptops and plans to expand to TVs, mobile devices and more soon. The goal? Leveraging the big trend of personalization and recommendations per individual and applying it to shopping, beyond that found from popular sites like Amazon.com.

Sparkbuy promises customizable results based on users' specific needs, a large database of independent research, and unbiased product information, unswayed by vendor interests or store margins.

My Top Laptop Priorities on Sparkbuy

Users looking to find the best laptop for them can specific their top priorities, ordered by individual preference, including items such as "long battery", "inexpensive", "big hard drive", "high resolution", etc. For those of us Macolytes, selecting "It's a Mac" and making it a top priority gives us the best from Cupertino, hiding Asus, Dell and the rest from our view, less we end up on Windows.

Sparkbuy Recommended I go for a 13" MacBook Pro

If I Got Out of Mac Land, Sparkbuy Recommends ASUS

CEO Dan Shapiro compares Sparkbuy to popular travel search engine Kayak, and relayed his experience of buying an airplane ticket as giving him "the 'aha' moment" that pushed him to start building the site.

The talk is big, assuming the site fulfills its promise, with a deep product database and curtailing the offerings to what users are searching for. At launch, limited to only laptops, the current offering is an intriguing tease - especially for those of us just fine with our current laptop and not looking to upgrade.

If you want a boost in finding the best laptop for you, and think the database will come in handy for future products, you can get in with the code LOUIS-VIP at www.sparkbuy.com to register.

November 26, 2010

Apple's War On Android Escalates, But No Total War Yet

       


Apple's lock on the iTunes application store is legendary. In contrast to more "open" marketplaces that don't rely on centralized editorial control, iTunes applications are hand-reviewed by Apple employees, and the company controls what gets in and what gets out, what applications are featured, and can take weeks or even months to give your application the thumbs up. As the company's competition with Google and Android has escalated in the last year plus, we've heard stories of developers not being able to mention the alternative mobile OS in their products, and have seen those which are iPad-only getting significantly more play with Apple's marketing muscle. Today, headlines were made after one publisher's Android-centric magazine was blocked, not because of any rules infringement or legalities, but due to its content. The idea that Apple would start to police the subject matter of content in its store beyond its also-famous war on pornography, is eye opening and has many people wondering how much power the company intends to wield on the store. As of now, the ruling looks overreaching - and to be honest, it's also wildly inconsistent with existing content already available.

One major weakness for the iTunes review process is that it actually involves humans on both sides. That sounds silly, but it also gives Apple leeway if one rep overstepped his bounds, assuming that an Android-centric magazine would have no place on iTunes. It's easy to see a menacing Steve Jobs in the darkness pronouncing there is "one true phone" and that no others shall be mentioned, but it's just as likely it's a mistake. I hope it is, for the alternative is far more dramatic - one that spells an extremely unfriendly environment from a company that for the most part has its users fawning over its every move.

Curious to see how hard it was to find Android related content on iTunes, I looked around this evening, and while it's not easy to find, it's also not impossible, especially if you branch over to the iBooks section of the store.

Hey Look! A Magazine that Mentions Android on iTunes!

I even found a smartphone-centric magazine in the App Store that looks like it regularly features Android content and reviews. Smartphone Essentials Magazine uses Android as one of its keywords, and the application displays Android phones on some of its covers. If centering on Android is verboten, it looks like featuring it is just fine.

The iBooks section of the iTunes Store is overflowing with Android titles, highlighting Android apps marketing, Android application development and top apps on the Android platform for business, games and entertainment. There are books on free Android apps and wireless apps, reference apps and geeky guides. The simplest of these float for $2.99 apiece, while the developer tomes check in as high as $35.99.


Android Books Galore in the iBooks Section of iTunes


Staying in the iBooks section, and flipping the search from Android to Google also doesn't show the impact of mass censorship and whiting out of competition one could expect if Apple had escalated the war of words to an unprecedented level. The bookshelf shows "What Would Google Do?", "Marketing in the age of Google", and many more titles on analytics, ads and SEO.



What Would Google Do? Not Censor, Probably.


In the Android market, which doesn't have the notorious human filters to it iTunes does, searching for iPhone doesn't come up empty either. There's O'Reilly Media's Missing Manual, iPhone themes to skin Android, and more. Don't let the fact that less than 50 people have downloaded the missing manual fool you, it's there, even if it isn't very popular.


The Android Market Isn't Afraid of iPhone


Brutish bullheadedness on the part of Apple to try and force consumers, publishers and developers into a predefined world of what's acceptable and what's not fatigues my good will toward the company and the platform. The beauty of its apps, core OS and devices may be unmatched, but I fear they are on the brink of misusing their market position in a way that would raise fierce scrutiny if it was somebody else performing the evil deeds. The company should not expect its exclusionary behavior, if it is indeed true, to go unchecked, for even if it is not in a monopoly position, it is playing an unacceptable role with considerable market power. I cannot adhere to the belief that this company knows what is best for me and for all its customers every single time.

Apple and Google have an uncomfortable relationship now. Google's apps play a core role on the iPhone. Google search is the default engine on the iPhone and in Safari. But Apple is clearly threatened by Android and is squirming under the heat coming with the platform's market growth and feature creep that arguably brings it to near-parity in quality. That the iBooks section does not shy away from showing Android titles gives me hope that this ban is an exception to the rule and that we're not on a slippery slope that damages consumers and developers. Google would never remove Apple and Mac or iPhone results from their search engine, and the company helpfully offers Mac hardware to employees, and will keep doing so until some theoretical future where Chrome OS notebooks usurp that role.

As a businessperson, I get Apple doesn't want to help the enemy. I understand they are not a government entity, required to offer constitutionally-protected free speech. But I do not like the role they are playing as arbiters of morality and markets. The company has proven it can compete and do extremely well in offering high quality software and hardware in desktop and mobile, and should focus on marketing its own brand without its power to pretend alternatives exist.

Want to make customers forget about competition? Make something dramatically better and execute. None of this censorship garbage.

November 25, 2010

iPad Tablet Competition Reacting Fast, Expanding Market


When Apple introduced the iPod, there were already a number of hard disk MP3 players out there. It wasn't clear to everyone that the move into this market was a good one for the company, and its initial sales didn't hint at the juggernaut it would later become. This was due in part to its Mac-only start, as well as its need for Firewire, but also due to needing to publicly define a market, improving upon the established competition and convincing the public that this product was a must have. Over time, the public got it in a big way, and the iPod became a cultural icon, selling nearly 300 million units. Later competition to the iPod from Dell, Microsoft and others was clunky, and sales were comparatively pathetic.

iPod Sales Growth by Year (Wikipedia)

When Apple introduced the iPad earlier this year, they were not the first tablet PC provider, but they set the standard again - helping to transition the market from a geeky niche to a consumer product millions are lusting over, just as they had done with the iPod. This time, however, it seems the competition is faster to respond, and with better quality peers - backed by able competitors, starting with the expanding variety of Android tablets including the Samsung Galaxy Tab and MotoPad, to BlackBerry's PlayBook, which are taking the iPad's queues in terms of appearance and functionality, and getting out there not years after the iPad, but only a few quarters.
The BlackBerry PlayBook

Regardless of your personal preference for Android or the iOS, it seems apparent that Apple will have a battle on its hands that is better coordinated, and on more fronts, than it did with the iPod. They don't have two years to slowly define the market and get the product right.

On Monday, it was announced that Samsung's Galaxy Tab had sold 600,000 units globally in the first month it was available. This contrasted with the iPad selling more than a million units in the same time period. Knee-jerk horse race focused reactions, like this one from VentureBeat said things like "So just a month in, the first model in a new series of Android-based tablet computers is already losing to Apple’s market-defining iPad."

It's a good thing markets aren't made in thirty days and that brands know better to ignore bloggers when it makes sense. If markets were made in thirty days, Apple should have walked away from the first generation iPod. And it's also a good thing this isn't a zero-sum game. There are going to be a lot of people who have room for Android tablets who didn't have room for iPads, and there are going to be others, like my house, no doubt, that will have both.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs roundly mocked the first Android tablet entrants to the market, saying their 7 inch screens would do them in, contrasted with the iPad's nearly 10 inches. But his comments smack more of preemptive market protection, as Apple no doubt plans to offer a family of iPads, as they have laptops and iPods for the last decade. As someone who has the Barnes and Noble NOOKColor, which has an Android foundation and one of those smaller screens, it's clear to me there is room for both. The NOOKColor review is for a later time, but there is absolutely a space for a tablet that can be held one-handed, and with the variety of Android manufacturers that are out there, there will no doubt be a variety of designs consumers can choose from - not a one size fits all strategy.

Apple is on quite a roll. There is no debate, really, with the stock at all-time highs and the company expanding its corporate offices in Cupertino, purchasing land from HP, and their product line is fantastic. But they cannot rest easy. The market is being defined, and a single month's sales are just that - a single month's worth of data.

Less Informed Analysts Don't Serve the Public Good

In the wake of the first dot com boom and subsequent crash, regulation swept through the financial industry, pushing a wedge between those who rated stocks and those who backed them, buckling down on insider information and weeding out a visible few who had not exactly acted with their clients' best interests in mind. With public trust in corporations further declining in the following few years with high-profile scams led by Enron, Worldcom and others, the federal government has played an increased role in watching what businesses can say at which times, both publicly and privately. What is released from companies now comes with lengthy SEC disclosures, authors routinely disclose their stock positions, and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance puts fear into the hearts of public and would-be public companies, to follow the rules - or else.

With this background came news earlier in the week that the SEC was looking into Apple stock analysts who had relied on connections with suppliers and manufacturers in the channel to help predict the company's sales projections. This broader definition of insider trading, if it becomes commonplace, nullifies some advantage and insight the analysts had, and reduces their value to customers.

While most of the SECs' moves in the last decade can be easily tracked to protecting investors from scams, conflicts of interest and pyramid schemes, I have to wonder what this type of move signals. Is the eventual goal to eliminate any real research and intelligence used in the community to level the playing field and make the professional analyst game one that more heavily relies on a gut feel and chart reading? Neither is an exact science.

Assuming the new guide to insider trading is to be adopted, the suggestion essentially means that financial analysts should not be briefed by company employees during the quarter, should not survey those selling the products, their partners or maybe even the customers themselves. The rarified times an analyst can talk with the execs would be limited to the short conference call Q&A periods that occur after each briefing. This would make the already imperfect industry one further removed from real data. Anybody can count numbers after they have been released, but few have proven true abilities to accurately guess a company's direction - and provide real data to customers who don't exactly do this for a living.

What I worry about is not that Apple investors (or others like them) are suddenly going to be in the dark because 1 or 2 guys get slapped on the wrist for chatting up resellers. What this leads to is a company running unchecked with no communication to the outside world, except for every 90 days when they emerge from their corporate offices and tell you how they actually did.

What we need as investors and market watchers is not less access to real data, but more access to information, which we can then use to make good decisions, or bad, based on what we know. There are already enough people out there guessing and writing and throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks. This just will make it worse.

November 22, 2010

my6sense Adds Posting, Smart Widgets to Android App

Following a humble start as a consumption-focused RSS reader on iTunes, my6sense has grown to become a versatile intersection of news and social, consumption and sharing. The app, available for both iOS and Android, pulls in streams from Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz, and lets you share out to each of these networks. Today, the company, where I am VP of Marketing, issued the latest update for the fast-growing Android platform - bringing native posting to the aforementioned networks within the app, and a helpful widget that brings your top news to you on your Android device.

As you can imagine, creating an application that impacts social streams like Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz presents its own challenges, as users start to expect the most advanced capabilities of native clients, such as TweetDeck and Seesmic. No sooner did we support these networks than did calls come for native replies, retweets, direct messages, likes and comments for each network. After knocking those off, the similar refrain continued as people wanted to update their status on the go directly from our app, instead of reading an update in our app and opening a second one to jump into the streams themselves.

So we listened.

You can now Post to Your Networks in my6sense for Android.

Version 1.4 of the application, available free on the Android Market, has a "Post" button in the top right of all streams. And it's not limited to just one stream at a time, either. If you have connected your Facebook, Twitter and Buzz, you can post to any or each of the networks, much like the Seesmic-owned Ping.fm does. Of course, if you post to Twitter, the standard 140 character limit applies, and Facebook updates are similarly limited to 420 characters. That said, if you have a keyboard on your phone and you want to bang out War and Peace, point it at Google Buzz, and you can go as long as you like.

Posting to Facebook and Buzz Using my6sense

One of the benefits of building out a sharp app for the Android platform is customization of a widget for the app - unavailable on iOS. Familiar with widgets from other platforms, which tend to show the most recent update, chronologically, we wanted to leverage the strength of our service, bringing personalized top news to you - and more than one update. The widget, a stylish black, scrolls through your top messages and you can click the up or down arrows to find them yourself, without opening the app. Find the article you like and click through to read.

The my6sense Widget With Top Stories

my6sense's core focus is, and will be, on making sure the best content gets to you as an individual, and that you don't miss important updates. We're working on making this digital intuition available in more places, and with more partners. But we want to make this a versatile Swiss Army knife that lets you jump into the streams with both feet.

Brad of TheNextWeb, a great user and clear fan of the service, wrote about the updates, saying "my6sense for Android gets updates to take over as your social client of choice". Choice is a good thing. I will choose the smart apps that make me the most efficient. He also posted a great demo video you might like. If you are on Android and haven't already picked up the app, find it at http://bit.ly/m6sandroid.

Disclosure: I am VP of Marketing at my6sense.

Founders Moving On from Social Aggregator Cliqset

Taking on Facebook, Twitter and Google in the fiercely competitive world of social networking and community building is a tremendous challenge that can be practically impossible to overcome, even with superior technology leadership and adherence to federated open standards. Cliqset, the wildly innovative social networking aggregator that was among the first pioneers to adopt Pubsubhubbub for real-time updates, and Salmon for cross-network comment posting, faces a murky future with news today that the company's founders, Darren Bounds and Charlie Cauthen, are going to be leaving the company, following an unsuccessful round of funding.

Despite a number of smart moves to make the site increasingly useful, such as the launch of social search in September, and the addition of Groups and Activity Streams in January, the site struggled to grow a consistent and growing community of users, with a short-lived Turkish invasion drawing a traffic bump and some amusement.

Speaking with Darren today, he said that he and Charlie are not moving on to a new project, nor have they sold the company, saying as founders of the company, it didn't seem appropriate to seek out other opportunities while simultaneously growing the site. But there are no regrets about the adherence to cutting-edge open standards with the site, which were ahead of practically any other service on the Web.

"A federated social Web agenda at Cliqset is something we chose to promote," he said. "The open standards aspect is something I believe is still the future. The roadmap to getting there is going to be a little longer than we would have liked. But where these standards can be implemented and improve efficiencies, they deliver real value."


As I wrote a year ago in a post on the 3 social pillars needed for any successful network, one needs to find leading technology, community and relevancy to make a site a must-visit each day. For Cliqset, their technology was never in question, but scrapping for users was a challenge that didn't find a great deal of traction. Darren agreed.

"In order to build a community, you need massive differentiation today," he said. "It's fairly obvious in hindsight. Projects I would be working on in the future would be leveraging the existing social graph, and the need for success wouldn't be contingent on relationships and community within itself. In no means do I think Facebook is impenetrable and somebody can't build something to compete with it, but it's not an easy task."

There are no plans to shut down Cliqset.com immediately, as the company's investors have opted to keep it up and running, despite a lack of engineering and operational support. In the event the service were to be acquired, Charlie and Darren could theoretically be pulled back in, but that scenario is unlikely. As I have been saying for a year aggregation is great in theory, but sites like FriendFeed, Cliqset and Arktan haven't been able to find a unique voice that makes people go their way instead of the original sources of content - Twitter and Facebook. I am eager to learn about the team's next move - they're very sharp and were focused on pushing open standards forward. In an ideal world, their work will not have been in vain.

November 19, 2010

Closed to Open: Downloading Your Data from Facebook

Six weeks ago, Facebook announced they would enable users to download the entirety of personal profile on the network - a big move for the company often seen as being "closed" when other sites have attached themselves to phrases like "open" and "portable". The promise was that content you put into the system could be easily retrieved, from your own personal profile (or Wall) to your photos, videos and even the friend list - while that famously does not contain e-mails, and has been at the heart of a data tug of war between the company and its occasional nemesis, Google.

The data comes as a ZIP file which expands into simple HTML pages, with each major section of one's Facebook experience hosted as browsable directories. In fact, the data is easily expandable and movable that you could choose to replicate the Facebook profile experience on your own site, simply by uploading the content to a server under your control.

My Facebook Data Weighed In at 31 Megabytes

Eager to try this, earlier this week, I set out to get a local copy of the data I put into Facebook. Not a tremendously active Facebook user, I didn't imagine it would be a huge mass of data, but it did weigh in at a compressed 31 megabytes, complete with a pair of short videos, and 13 photo albums, including "Wall Photos", "Mobile Uploads" and "Profile Pictures".

The first thing to note upon downloading and expanding is that when Facebook says they let you download all your info, they aren't messing around. The index.html file shows the data you list on your wall, from your real birthday and spouse info to religion, political party, employer, and interests (such as all those Likes you have racked up). This you probably anticipated. But it also backs up all your messages, so you now run the risk of downloading entire e-mail message threads from friends and posting them live for all to see, making the private public.

Facebook Said It Would Take A While

I Had to Confirm It Was Me Before Downloading

If you do choose to upload this content somewhere outside of Facebook, the major heft of the content is on the "Wall", which is not paginated by length at all - so you can expect it to weigh in at several megabytes.

My Downloaded Facebook Profile

Mine hits more than 7, but you can embarrassingly scroll down to the bottom of my Facebook history, when I joined late July 20th, 2007, updating my first status to read "wondering why he's looking at this facebook stuff and considering getting out before it's too late...", following on the next day, adding, "Any activity I have here will be met with serious resistance on my part. I see Facebook more like the MySpace and Geocities of the future than a serious Web platform, especially as it's password-protected and outside the range of Google."

Looks like I was wrong on that one. Point Zuckerberg.

As one's Wall can be impressively long, it actually can be fun to search for keywords posted over the lifetime of one's Facebook use. You can also scan quickly and see what applications you may have used and abandoned.

In addition to Profile, Wall and Messages, there are top level directories for Photos, Videos, Friends, Notes and Events. Photos and Videos are self-explanatory, providing the option to back up your rich media, while friends just lists your friends in alphabetical order by first name. Your Notes are included and Events shows those Events you said you participated in.

In the interest of sharing, I downloaded my Facebook details and posted them on my own site. You can find my full experience at http://www.louisgray.com/facebook if you are curious. I removed Messages for obvious reasons, but the rest is there.

Of note, according to an interview with the LA Times, the project was the last one worked on by FriendFeed cofounder Paul Buchheit before he left the company to join Y! Combinator - and not the revamp of Messaging many people thought would be under his umbrella.

Getting one's data out of Facebook is a good thing. It doesn't mean they don't still have it, unless you were to close your account, but the idea that one's posted content and personal data is available to the author is the right concept.

November 18, 2010

Facebook Recruiting Video Promises Bold Vision, Potential

With a much reported "War for Talent" under way in the Valley's largest tech companies, the companies making their case for the best and brightest minds are tapping into their culture and the employees themselves to make a solid case why you should join their team. Twitter launched a recruiting video in early August, and Google has more than 2,000 job listings for interested prospects. Not to be left out, social networking giant Facebook posted a video earlier this week helping to show they think their efforts are far from complete - even after growth beyond 500 million members.

The video's main points from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others?
  1. You don't need a lot of experience to make a big difference.
  2. Be bold, because what's being attempted has never been done.
  3. You can touch the lives of hundreds of millions every day.
  4. The company maintains a "David vs. Goliath" feeling.
  5. Passionate individuals can champion ideas, regardless of org chart.
  6. Facebook is about empowering human connections.
  7. The devices you use should feel like there are people there, and they are conduits to people you know.
The video is embedded below.




In the video, Zuckerberg says, "It's really early. If you look at the type of information that people share, it's all very simple. The amount of context that people can have about the world around them, the type of sharing that people want to be able to do, the type of things that you want to be able to learn about the people around you, it's really just getting started."

I was personally pleased to see FriendFeed alumni Bret Taylor and Sanjeev Singh, both previous Googlers, featured.

Like Twitter's fun, this too is a convincing video that just might make you jealous you don't have an FB.com address, and it just might encourage some folks on the fence about sending their resume to Palo Alto to do just that.

November 16, 2010

Google Hotpot Launches Social Place Reviews, Ratings

The transition of location based services from simple game-oriented exercises to valuable review repositories is well under way. From the promise six months ago by product manager Siobhan Quinn that Foursquare's value would be from friends' tips to Yelp and Facebook Places, people are sharing their thoughts and experiences about places they shop, eat and visit. Monday night, Google jumped into this fray with both feet with the simplest, most lightweight platform I have seen yet, called Hotpot. The extension to Google Places, embedded in an update to the Maps application for Android, can be accessed through the Web or mobile.

On the Web, Google hotpot starts with your home city, or places from your Web history, if that is enabled, and displays local businesses. You can rate each place with up to 5 stars, or can even present a medal if you absolutely think the place is the "best ever". When you provide a rating, the flashcard-like places flip front to back and offer a place for you to write a simple review. Then it's on to the next card. Don't want to review an establishment? Just click "not interested" and move on. I found it only took a couple minutes to rack up about a dozen reviews, probably as many as I've ever logged in Foursquare.

Rating Fry's On Hotpot via the Web

Rating Restaurants on Hotpot via the Web

While some folks are projecting a massive social service from Google to take on Facebook, Google has instead referred to adding social layers to its many products. Hotpot itself presents a social layer as well, letting you connect with friends to see places they have reviewed, and cutely, posting a leaderboard, with the most active individuals at the top. The option to add friends, instead of being a "everybody in the pool" synchronization with Gmail contacts or any other database, feels more like Google Buzz - with a screen offering you the option to connect to the people you e-mail most often.

The Google Hotpot Leaderboard Early On


Rating Sunnyvale Restaurants Via the Mobile Widget

When on an Android device, assuming you have loaded version 4.7 of the Google Maps app, you can add a widget to rate places for Hotpot on the fly. Dependent on your location, you can rate businesses, or do a quick search (for example, restaurants near Sunnyvale). Find what you like, and as with the Web site, you can post 1-5 stars, and add a comment.

For the most part, although I am sure it is not universal, it seems the majority of Foursquare users choose the app primarily to check in quickly, not to leave detailed reviews and guide to friends. This will probably remain the truth until game mechanics are introduced that push reviews. But for Hotpot, it's not about checking in that you were somewhere, but all about the reviews and providing recommendations to friends. It may have been a quiet little release pushed out from the Mountain View giant after 7:30 pm Monday night, but it could be a big deal. I have added the Rate Places widget to my Android home screen, and expect to be using it a lot.

Want to find my recommendations, just get connected through my e-mail address: louisgray@gmail.com.

November 15, 2010

MyLikes Passes 100k Influencers, Hires 3 More Ex-Googlers

MyLikes, the personal endorsement-based advertising platform best known for the ability to create sponsored tweets and YouTube videos, has seen significant growth since the company announced an initial funding round last April, opening up to the public and unveiling its advisory board, of which I am a member. The company's CEO, Bindu Reddy, reports more than 100,000 "influencers" are registered on the platform, reaching more than 160 million people. The company, who was founded by a pair of ex-Googlers, and who raised the angel round solely from former Google employees, has now added another three Xooglers to the mix, with the hiring of a new senior director of sales and engineering talent from the Mountain View search giant.

Like with Twitter, much of MyLikes' initial traction has come thanks to early engagement with notable Hollywood celebrities, and their loyal followers. Early users of the platform have included Snoop Dogg, Lindsay Lohan, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian. Also like Twitter, many of the company's initial employees are former Googlers. Of the company's first 7 employees, 6 came via Google.

MyLikes Finds a Home With Celeb Tweeters

Of the new hires, the most visible is that of the company's new sales director John DiCola, who spent 7 years in Sales at Google, from 2000 to 2007, and is credited with opening and growing the Google offices in Chicago, Detroit and Dallas as the regional sales manager in the midwest.

John is joined by Tracy Scott, a new engineering hire at MyLikes, who was a senior ads infrastructure and system engineer at Google, receiving the prestigious founders award, before becoming the CTO of Pixelpipe, and Nick White, a senior software engineer at Google who most recently worked at YouTube on social features and personalization.

Also joining the company, the only non-Xoogler, Grzegorz Miaskiewicz, who recently blogged on updates to the MyLikes home page.

Growth on the company in terms of users, employees and clicks has also spawned new features and product improvements. As users "Like" items and share items through MyLikes, they get a unique MyLikes page, which can be shared on multiple sites throughout the Web, including Blogger, Posterous, Twitter and Facebook.

Also, an interesting twist, the company has created a patent-pending influence score that is based on user's social engagement, taking into account multiple factors like the numbers of friends and followers, clickthrough rates on shared links, mentions and retweets on Twitter, and more. The Influence score is continuously updated.

Disclosure: I am an unpaid advisor to MyLikes and hold a small equity position. Content of this post, and others, did not pass their way in advance.

Does an Invisible Path Draw Intrigue or Fatigue?

As most tech insiders know, one of the more anticipated stealth startups, Path, unveiled itself to the world last night. Founded by respected Valley names with pedigrees from Facebook and Napster, and funded by a long, yet elite, list of active angel investors, the service launched on iPhones, presenting the concept of sharing photos with a smaller network of one's closest friends. This concept, a more intimate social circle, runs contrary to the "bigger, better, more" mentality of today's leading Web services, and has some appeal to those inundated by off-topic connections from friends on the periphery.

While the knee-jerk reaction to something like Path is to ask "why?", as in "why do we need yet another simple photo sharing service?", it's often the trivial and mundane concepts which get traction. The initial response of "why?" led to Twitter and Foursquare and so on, as the more intellectual pursuits that were noteworthy challenges had less success getting steam. I may want to find more places to learn and be challenged, but there's obviously a huge market for the casual and simple.

Path Photos from Drew and Robert

Path is notable for its limits. 50 people. If you hit 51, you drop somebody in the list, and from what I've read, they know about it. The concept of exclusivity drives intrigue - as people want to know if you really are BFF with those people you thought you were. But also limited, at least on day one? The platform. Path is an iPhone only service, and you can't even run the application on the very latest iPod Touch, let alone Android.
"The problem this app is trying to solve: we have too many friends (on Facebook) and as a result we miss key moments we should share with some of the people who are closest to us."
-- Om Malik
I made a personal decision to switch to Android away from iPhone, and bought an iPod Touch to test apps, like Path, that were made for the iOS platform. 9 times out of 10, that's not an issue. But Path, for whatever reason, detects if the device is an iPhone, and won't sync otherwise. So if you thought the service was limited in terms of scope or in terms of numbers, the limited platform ensures scarcity. The question becomes, as scarcity continues, will it drive demand, or annoyance?

Path Won't Go on My iPod, So I'm Out of the Game for Now

I like the guys behind Path. I think they've made great products together. I like the guys who I have seen already sharing their photos with me, as I teasingly have a read-only version of the service from the Web. But so far, I will have to be shown even more before I am a full believer. This looks like a test once and check in on occasionally type of app. There is definitely a hole out there for an intimate network of your closest friends. I just don't know if photo sharing is that start, and don't know if it will have value for me once it hits a platform I use.

For smart folks who get Path, see:
   Drew Olanoff: The “Intimate Social” Revolution
   Om Malik: On A Path To Nowhere

November 13, 2010

Under #NewTwitter, Blocked Users Can't See Your Timeline

Being blocked on Twitter is a funny thing. The practice, used infrequently by most people, and more frequently by more a small segment of the population who likes to wield it as a weapon or a punitive measure following temporary flare-ups or permanent dislike, doesn't really do a whole lot. Effectlively, blocking a person means they cannot follow your account directly, and that their tweets won't appear in your own timeline, but not much else. Under the old Twitter, those people you had blocked were unable to click on individual Tweets, but still could see all your tweets, in your timeline, and yes, if you sign out or use a second account, you can still see all the tweets in their original glory.

Quietly updated with the ongoing rollout of #NewTwitter, it now looks like trying to view the timeline of someone who has blocked you no longer works. Instead of a list of their tweets, you see a white lie from Twitter that says "Loading Tweets seems to be taking a while". In actuality, this means those tweets are not going to be showing up for you ever - at least until the other person unblocks you or you use a second account.

An Account Blocking Me on the Old Twitter Shows Tweets

An Account Blocking Me on the New Twitter Hides Tweets

According to Twitter's Help Center, blocked users can't:
  1. Add your account to Twitter lists
  2. Have their @mentions of you show in your @mentions area
  3. Follow your account
  4. See your avatar on their page or timeline
Even with all this, blocking remains an entirely ineffective way to hide your updates from an individual. Until there are ways to block by IP address or block a person's cookie and note they use another account which is blocked (just an example), it simply doesn't work. The new update just makes getting to those artificially hidden accounts one more step away. But if it is critical, and there is really someone you don't want seeing your updates, you could always go "private". That way, you are essentially turning blocking on its head. Instead of blocking a few people, you block everyone and bring in a select few.

As for my good friend Alex Payne (@al3x) who blocked me more than 18 months ago, I don't remember exactly why, but his account is always reliable for me to test against and see how this blocking process has changed.