February 28, 2009

Fewer Followers Or More Meaningful Connections?

By Corvida Raven of SheGeeks.net (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Connections. That seems to be the word of the week followed by followers. Everything is about connecting to others, but have you considered the type of connection you'd like to have with people?

In a previous guest post on Chris Brogan's blog, I wrote about my frustrations with the decrease in connections as my network increased. I highlighted popular and increasing problems with managing a network or community of over 500 people. One topic I failed to touch is whether or not those connections were short-term or long-term.

Short-Term Connections

If the connections are short-term, then an increase in followers might not be very hard to manage after all. You'll get immediate gratification and so will that follower, without the headache of maintaining that relationship. It's practically a win-win situation for everyone.

Long-Term Connections

However, if the connection is long-term an increase in followers might be the worst thing to ever happen to you. Previous connections may start to fall off the map and new connections may become harder to make.

Think about what type of connection you want to make with the majority of your readers. I use the word majority because it's hard to sustain long-term connections as the number of connections you attempt to make increases. You can't always pick and choose what type of connection you'd like to have with individual people across social networks. To tools to do so effectively just aren't available yet. Nevertheless, it's important that you establish what type of connection you'd like to make and apply the strategies you have for that type of connection with the majority of your audience.

In the long run, it'll make managing and making connections a lot easier on you and your audience.

Read more by Corvida Raven at SheGeeks.net.

SocialToo Launches a War Against Auto-DMs

As Twitter growth has accelerated, so too have some of the annoyances associated with the service - including the creation of spam bots, fake accounts impersonating others, and automated direct messages, many of which essentially include spam links. After initially including the option to send automated direct messages from within his social networking service, Jesse Stay of SocialToo is stopping the practice, immediately, and leading the charge to block automated direct messages (or DMs) from similar products.

As Jesse wrote in a post this morning (Time to Take a Stand - Yes, We’re Ending the DMs), "it seems many people either have not understood the service, or are simply abusing it, as I believe the spammers have started to take over this system."

In a case where a disruptive minority negated any positive benefits from the majority of above-board users, the ensuing complaints about auto-DM spam have escalated in recent weeks. Auto-DMs were behind much of the week's frustrations voiced by Loic LeMeur, which I previously covered here.

As an advisor to SocialToo, I am especially sensitive to the way Jesse's service, and its impact across Twitter and other networks, is perceived. Before he made the decision to stop the practice, we traded many e-mails and had many phone calls about what was the right thing to do, and would he risk losing some of his users by stopping one feature, or gain more because he took the extra step, which we consider to be right.

Every morning, I've opened my e-mail and been hit with a good number of updates from Twitter. Some might be following notifications, but many more are direct message nonsense. While I do get the occasional legitimate direct message, from the team of bloggers here, or from folks like Loic and Om Malik, I'm almost predisposed to delete, thanks to abuse from the surrounding riff-raff. As a SocialToo user, I am hoping this step by Jesse helps to clean up my Twitter and my e-mail, and that other services will follow suit.

February 27, 2009

Web Two Dot Oh DotCom Dot Cloud Colon Slash Slash

This afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a session presented by TechCrunch, hosted by Steve Gillmor, around cloud computing, featuring some of the Valley's thought leaders, from many of the biggest names in all of tech, ranging from Salesforce.com to Rackspace, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Sun, Ning, FriendFeed, Facebook, Amazon.com and a small handful of startups. Each of the participants discussed how their product leveraged the cloud, what it was about this new approach to harvesting data storage and computing that made their products execute the way they do, and how they approached new problems of bandwidth, capacity, licensing, security and scale.

The event, essentially a two parter, with early-stage start-ups presenting for five minutes apiece in front of an expert panel for the first half, and a roundtable of technology elite for the second half, saw a healthy dosage of skepticism mixed in with what was largely a genuine desire for these companies to try and deliver higher-quality services for their users by taking advantage of new protocols.

With everybody saying the word "cloud" to represent customer data or computing being stored independently of local physical disk or blade servers, the word itself grew to be mocked. One 'expert' said cloud was the new "dotcom". Another compared the cloud to rabbits as they kept multiplying, and a third called the cloud "Kool-Aid". With the move of terminology over the last decade from "Dotcom" to "Web 2.0" to "Cloud", you can see why people would be necessarily wary of jumping on the newest movement with two feet.

All names aside, there is as much fact as there was fad in the cloud. The cloud's benefits are clear as data can be stored independent of physical disks, and doesn't require dedicated storage and server administration. Code developers want anytime access to infinite bandwidth and storage, and consumers want instant response times. As the panel debated the genesis of enterprise apps absorbing consumer application features, it was clear that each was facing challenges impossible just a decade ago, and the cloud's availability changed everything.

Paul Buchheit of FriendFeed referred to the Internet as just one big computer, and said that instead of shipping software in a big cardboard box with floppies to introduce version 3.0, you could just ship new code three times a day. Mike Schroepfer of Facebook talked about how his team could handle 1 billion status messages of 100 characters each on a different level of storage than the 1 billion images, each a few megabytes apiece. And Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com won the prize for the best quote of the day, saying, "As an industry, we are always overestimating what we can do in a year and underestimating what we can do in a decade."

Benioff's quote is no doubt true. The next engineering team I meet that hits the initial proposed date with all the requested features is the first one I will meet. But a decade ago, we wouldn't have expected to stream full-length feature films without buffering, or do many of the things we do online, always having been limited by location, bandwidth, memory, storage, or even operating systems. Now, the operating system is even less a part of the discussion. While the panel was held at Microsoft's Silicon Valley office, practically all presentations were done on Apple Macintosh, and featured FireFox, not Internet Explorer. Now, consumers and businesspeople expect to get all their applications and data from anywhere on any device. It was enough that Benioff even left his laptop behind on a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in favor of his BlackBerry Bold.

It is happening. Not too long ago, yet another meme went around the Web on what the Internet looked like in 1996 - a blink of an eye when you think about it. In 1996, I was hosting a personal home page, using WebStar, on my Apple Macintosh Performa 631 CD, with all of 8 megabytes of RAM. Now, my blog is hosted on the cloud. The images themselves are on the cloud. My participation in social networks like Facebook and FriendFeed... is done on the cloud. And I'm taking my iPhone everywhere. I used to despise the term cloud, and used to rail against it with my colleagues at 3Cube back in 1998 to 2000, but it looks like I lost that battle. Good thing all of us as consumers are winning.

Is Twitter Broken, Or Are We Looking at It Wrong?

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Twitter is broken - again!?!

It's not the "fail whale" this time, but there is a lot of conversation going on about why Twitter isn't working for those looking for conversation. While Twitter reaches a point of critical mass and is being talked about more as a mainstream application among many demographics today, there is something fundamentally flawed with how it is being used.

Twitter has become, to many, a rolling billboard of information that might just give you indigestion. Dictionary.com defines the word twitter.

Twit - ter:

–verb (used without object)

  1. to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.
  2. to talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter.
  3. to titter; giggle.
  4. to tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter.

With a definition like that, why would we think it lends itself to having more than superficial conversations. Many might complain about the lack of threading and context, they also pin its success to the incredibly simplistic nature of the service.

"What are you doing in 140 characters or less?"

Wow, how did we get that mixed up? We grew hungry in our searches for massive followings, and feeling some quasi-social obligation to follow everyone that follows us. How many people in your subscription list do you actually converse with?

While some may argue that Twitter is an information source, and that following a massive number of people allows you to play the inevitable numbers game and find a few rare gems, in reality the chances of you missing rare gems is actually higher.

On FriendFeed, several threads have been circulation around, one from Robert Scoble, and one from Tina illustrating quite plainly the on-going debate many still have. Robert goes on to say,

"Twitter, you see, is really broken for interacting with large numbers of people. Friendfeed is much better."

Is Twitter any better or worse?

There is an old saying that goes, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem you find looks like a nail." In this bold new world we find ourselves in, thankfully there are many tools from which we can choose - maybe even too many. Certainly FriendFeed has its merits, but is Twitter broken?

Twitter is working better than it ever has, but let's wake up and realize that we are trying to make an appetizer the main course. The problem isn't with Twitter, it's our expectations that Twitter is a panacea to solve all ills, when in fact it is simply a hammer.

Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. To connect with Ken, you may visit him at DandyID.

Should RSS be Jettisoned On the Information Journey?

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

A Stay N' Alive piece (is there a cooler blog name than that?) by Jesse Stay called My Hiatus From RSS – Is RSS Really Necessary? made me think about my own ongoing challenge/struggle/scramble to grapple with the massive number of news stories, blog posts, comments, tweets, and on and on that might potentially be of use, interest, or service to my own work on any given day.

In other words: with so much stuff going on every second of every day, how can we best make sense of it all, and efficiently if possible?

Jesse, taking heed of advice given to him by Forrester Senior Analyst and blogger Jeremiah Owyang, is experimenting with a plan that I toyed with some months back: abandon the RSS reader completely. Now, Google Reader is such an important part of my information-devouring day that it seems somewhat radical to give it the heave ho. But it also takes a lot of time to get down to zero new items. And I must admit that at times I wonder: is it worth it?

Not so much from an existential standpoint, but from an efficiency standpoint, it's always worth examining what the best way to get the most out of culting out on online media. So here's a quick breakdown of different ways, different paths, and different strategies of absorbing information on the wild web.

I'll start with RSS as it remains such an important part of my online day. I'm continually making changes to how I have things setup though so that I can get the most out of Google Reader, and in the least time. For example, noticing a seemingly simple feature – list view as opposed to the default expanded view – has saved me an enormous amount of time in getting to the articles I'm most interested in.

I'm not a big keyboard shortcut guy for specific sites, but some people love them. Here's a big list of keyboard shortcuts for Google Reader if you want to play for super efficiency points.

Another thing I've done is to create folders to separate high volume websites and blogs from lower volume ones. For example, I have a folder called "online media – big" where I have feeds for ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, The Inquistr, and so on, whereas "online media" includes a treasure trove of blogs spanning A VC to WinExtra.

Smart people networks
I think of social media platforms like Twitter, FriendFeed, and Facebook as "smart people networks" that allow for the sharing of relevant information from friend networks that are customized to individual preferences. Jesse seems to be on board with FriendFeed in particular:

If there was ever a better reason to be on FriendFeed, this is why you need to do it. Even if you don’t participate, make sure your blog is populating FriendFeed (I would add it to Facebook as well). This will be how I obtain my news. Now, instead of just tracking news, I’ll be tracking Twitter, Blogs, Youtube, and more through a Friends List on FriendFeed. If I was subscribed to your blog before and you’re on FriendFeed, I’m now tracking your blog via that method. I’ll be “media snacking”, as Robert Scoble calls it, and IMO, this is the future of news discovery, and takes much less time.
For a lot more talk and discussion of my feelings about Twitter and Friendfeed versus Facebook, check out this story on louisgray.com (and the comments are still kicking!).

E-mail alerts
Some number of years ago, I used e-mail alerts to scan Google Alerts notifications and RssFwd (recently shut down) to pipe RSS feeds to my e-mail account. These days, I've mostly moved my Google Alerts RSS feeds over to Google Reader for easier management.

I can see some utility in using e-mail to manage some influx of news – particularly breaking news alerts – but with a full declaration of bias I'd have to think that a solid RSS reader is going to be far more effective in handling a large volume of data.

Meme trackers and large aggregation portals
I'm talking about Techmeme, Memeorandum, and Google News mostly here, and throw in Drudge Report for kicks. I'll check out these sites during the day when I very quickly want to scan very hot news as its breaking.

Standalone sites
This is the old school approach, which probably more people (read: the non-tech elite regular folk) take part in than anything else. I know an online writer that used a system of hundreds of bookmarks for his job until very recently, for example. For some reason, I like to take this approach every now and then when I'm mobile. TechCrunch on my BlackBerry while on line at the supermarket, that kind of thing.

"Viral" / breaking news
Another category of sorts I think is the news that breaks so quickly and so hard that it's the kind of thing that everyone talks about and covers for a period of hours, days, or longer as the story unfolds. When something truly breaks above the noise, I find that I'll start getting a combination of text messages, instant messages, and e-mails on top of the typical online media layer of information. If the television happens to be on, this is a good way to get another level of coverage (cable news channels live for these kinds of stories to break). Twitter is great at picking up this level of news quickly as well as you'll see everyone start talking about the same thing at the same time.

I must admit that it's tempting to pull the plug on one major category of the above in an effort to increase productivity, but I can't quite get there as yet, particularly when it comes to RSS and Google Reader. If anything, I'm continually trying to train myself to look for the kinds of stories that will most benefit me and suit my interests, to participate via social media tools such as Google Reader shared + note, Twitter, FriendFeed, blog comments, and so on as much as I can, and to try to waste as little time as possible during my online day.

It's not always easy!

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist

February 26, 2009

Don't Speak the Language? You Can Still Participate.

If you watch your referral logs and search alerts closely enough, there will come times when blog posts, tweets or other social media activity will point your way, but not be in your native language. And while it may be intimidating to try and engage in a tongue where you are not comfortable, translation tools have reached the stage where you can respond, in best effort, in the poster's language of choice, and participate. And that little bit of effort is absolutely recognized.

While we keep hoping for a panacea where every person in every continent can share information in real time, language barriers are still very real. Even after four years of high school Spanish, three childhood years in Mexico and my entire adult life in California, I'm no native speaker of Spanish - and there's no way I have enough time to try and pick up another language or two to participate with other Web users, be they in Europe, South America, the Middle East or elsewhere.

But if I see a blog post that mentions me or something I'm interested in, or if I get an alert from BackType or Google, I do try to respond. A quick analysis from Google's Language Tools, or even online services that go between English and Farsi, can get me a good idea as to what they are saying. If it makes sense, I will usually also leave a short comment, even it's as simple as "thanks for reading, I appreciate it," but in their language, not mine.

For example, earlier today I got an alert via BackType from this post: La fiebre de twitter “incluso amenaza a google”, where a commenter wrote, "Totalmente de acuerdo con Louis Gray: Twitter es un radar estupendo de actualidad."

Loosely translated, the comment reads: "Totally agree with Louis Gray: Twitter is a great radar for now."

Google's Translation tools are good enough that you shouldn't be ignoring posts from other parts of the world. And if you're concerned that your words could be misconstrued thanks to bad translations, try to use short sentences and avoid slang at all costs.

Online translation services have enabled me to have quick conversations in Farsi on FriendFeed, or to browse articles as uniquely titled as Google naikintuvai ir kitos naujienos, which translates as "Google fighters and other news" from Lithuanian.

There is no question the tools are not yet perfect. Go ahead and try any phrase and convert it to another language, and then back, to see if it stays the same. But the combination of BackType Alerts and Google Translator has me participating without boundaries. Give it a shot.

Coincidentally, earlier this morning, Google announced you can now translate up to 41 different languages with their service.

Twitter is for Following Topics and Listening, Not for Following People

Another slow news week means another opportunity to debate the "right way" to follow or be followed - and per usual, the forum is Twitter. Once described to me as the "backstage" discussion to the blogosphere's concert hall, there can occasionally be fisticuffs, especially when bigger personalities are involved. And tonight, Loic Le Meur and Robert Scoble are publicly debating whether following thousands of people on Twitter makes sense - with particular focus on whether programs that let you auto-follow add value, or instead, give credibility to people who aren't friends at all, but are spammers, or worse.

Even if you are a rabid information junkie, the constant updates from Twitter can be too much for anybody to absorb, even with a few hundred connections. To believe that I am seeing all of a friend's updates with 6,000 connections, or that Scoble can see the updates from ten times that many, is clearly impossible. So while a small population of Twitter is using the service to follow individual's updates, a huge number are instead using it to broadcast updates, monitor keywords, and occasionally, send direct messages to people or reply in public. Twitter is simply too much to handle as conversations are lost, people's updates can be of any type, and the limitations of the service, including the much-discussed 140 character boundary, make it a poor foundation for exchanging ideas in a crowd.

I use a auto-follow program from SocialToo and am an advisor to the company, run by Jesse Stay. I don't auto-follow to necessarily see an individual's updates, and I don't auto-follow to give a stamp of approval to who they are, or their Twitter stream. But I do use it to let me open up the opportunity to send direct messages to them, and they to me, and because on the occasions I do check in on Twitter, I want to at least have the opportunity to see their updates. But it does not mean I see their Tweets on a regular basis in any way.

That's right. I don't read your tweets. Practically the only way I would see your tweets is if I was following you on FriendFeed, if you were in one of my lists I read regularly, and even more likely, if that tweet got comments and likes, pushing it to the top of my visibility. Alternatively, I will have seen your tweets if you mention my user ID, the company I work for, or if you are mentioning a hashtag or a topic I am following.

When I do want to see an individual's tweets, I will go to their user page and scroll down to read, or I will check their FriendFeed. But I am not sitting with the Web interface open, or constantly refreshing TweetDeck, only to hit the API limit.

I use Twitter because I know my updates to Twitter go to both Facebook and FriendFeed, where I do have personal conversations and a real platform for discussion. I use Twitter for the opportunity to send instant messages, publicly, to individuals or groups. And I use Twitter to monitor mentions of me or my company via their search engine. But if I were to "really" follow people the way that some people think they are being followed, I would have to follow the new trend and start a massive unfollow process, eradicating more than 90 percent of those my Twitter account is following today.

Twitter has something special - a real-time search engine that can instantly take the temperature of today's Web users. It has a good platform to say what you are doing right now. But it does not have a good platform to follow people, or a large group of people, and it does not have a good platform for conversation. If you want people and discussion go to Facebook and FriendFeed. If you want to get a litmus test on a topic, go on and use Twitter. Just don't think I'm reading your Tweets. I know you don't see mine.

February 25, 2009

Safari 4's Introduction A Clear Salvo In the New Chrome Wars

In today's Web-centric computing world, there is practically no more important software than that of the Web browser. While an argument could be made that one's e-mail is equally as important, the move to Web-hosted mail services, like GMail and Apple's Mobile Me means that the Web browser itself is where most of today's work gets done. The move from the operating system being the center of our world, and the prism by which we see everything, to that of the Web browser, was central to Netscape's annihilation by Microsoft, and has now practically come true, even as Navigator's time has now come and gone.

Almost 14 years after Netscape as a company went public, a new wave of browser wars is upon us. And while, yes, Internet Explorer, the standard on practically all Windows-based PCs, is still the market share leader, the innovation is not being perceived as coming from Redmond. Instead, it's products like Firefox, Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari which are pushing the envelope and working to enhance our browsing experience. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it's gotten to the point that even if they made a better product with all the possible bells and whistles, nobody outside of Dare Obasanjo would give them credit.

Yesterday, as practically every tech blog on the planet mentioned, Apple introduced a new 4.0 beta version of the Safari browser, including speed enhancements, and most notably, a Top Sites feature that mimics Chrome's most visited sites page. And while other usability enhancements were made, including to the toolbar, expanded browser history and further integration with Google's search bar, it was this addition of "Top Sites" that has everyone thinking about how Apple is taking on Google's Chrome even before the company comes out with its much-awaited official Mac version.

My Top Sites - After Editing Out All Work-Related Sites

And this is exactly the dialog that has long-been needed in the browser space but was lacking when IE finally reached the summit atop Netscape's corpse. Opera and OmniWeb and iCab all had their handful of users, but never gained the kind of mindshare and deployments possible from Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Now, it could be said that Microsoft is being hit from all sides after years of letting Explorer stagnate. (I first called it the Chrome Wars on FriendFeed yesterday)

Being hard wired both as an Apple fanboy and an early adopter, I downloaded Safari 4 beta as soon as I knew it was available. After finally updating the laptop with the latest security updates, we were good to go - and honestly, there will be no turning back. For whatever reason, over the last few weeks, I have had the worst time keeping Safari up and running. Every new tab welcomed a new opportunity to stall and require a force quit. But Safari 4, after a full day's aggressive use, hasn't fallen on its sword even once. And considering I spend practically all my waking hours in front of a browser, that's a good thing.

For me, it's the stability and the speed, and the support for standards, that will make using Safari on a daily basis a success. The Top Sites feature is interesting, a cute way to have 12 pages on hand to click through at all times, but it's not exactly going to save me a ton of time. With RSS, keyboard shortcuts and autocomplete, it's not like I was taking tons of time to enter URLs and go site to site. So yes, we like the new features, but we like it even more that it doesn't crash and will support new Web services that may be using bleeding-edge code.

And while I assume you already know, Safari is more than just a Web browser for Macs. It's also available for Windows, and forms the core browsing experience on the iPhone and iPod Touch. You can get the new Safari 4 beta here: http://www.apple.com/safari/download/.

February 24, 2009

Trendrr - Trend Tracking for Social Media and Data Addicts

By Corvida Raven of SheGeeks.net (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Practically everyone watches trends. For some of us, watching trends can be a daily part of our job. For others, it may simply be fun to keep an eye on what's popular on the Web today. Many of you might be using Google Trends, but after reading this you might want to add Trendrr to your list of trend tracking tools.

The basics of any trend-tracking tool applies to Trendrr. You enter one or more keywords and receive data about how each keyword is doing on the Web. However, one of Trendrr's key features is the amount of data presented. Trendrr provides you with graphs pulling data from sites as diverse as Technorati, Flickr, Google services, eBay, Twitter, & YouTube. However, we'd loved to see some data from services like Digg, FriendFeed, Delicious, and Diigo.

Trendrr also takes the data a step further by breaking down results from Google and Twitter. You can view how well your keyword is doing per hour, or per day, on Twitter. You can also view whether a keyword is getting more search engine hype than news or blog hype from Google Search, News, and Blog Search. Using the keyword "Grammy", I can see that there wasn't all that much hype in the days or hours before and after the Oscars on Twitter, but there were more mentions of "Grammy" than one might have expected during the Oscars:

On the other hand, news stories containing "Grammy" were on the up and up as seen in the following Yahoo and Google News graphs:

According to Google, blog posts featuring the word "Grammy" dropped significantly, while Technorati's data says otherwise:

So, what else can you do with all this data? You can annotate individual graphs if you sign up for Trendrr, compare and contrast different data sets, grab a graph's feed, and share your data in a variety of formats.

Google Trends & Trendrr

I wanted to compare Google Trends to Trendrr, but that's proven difficult to do. It's almost like comparing apples to oranges because the form of data available is different for both services. Google Trends provides only one graph and is focused on providing data about regions, and cities for keywords. Most of the data given is pulled from Google Search and News. Trendrr on the other hand is more about emphasizing how keywords are trending on social media services. I'd recommend using both tools in conjuction with one another.

All in all, Trendrr is a great trend tracking tool. However, one annoying quirk with the service is that you have to drag graphs to the "Scratchpad" in order to compare keywords unlike Google Trends where this is automatically done for you.

Read more by Corvida Raven at SheGeeks.net.

February 23, 2009

How Can You Teach Intellectual Curiosity?

For me, a significant amount of time I spend using the Web is not so much about finding friends and peers, but instead about finding information. I want the newest news now. I want to have my finger on the pulse, and will use whatever mechanisms available to me to get the data faster. Whether it be through RSS, e-mail news alerts, pre-defined search strings, or relying on selections by others on news aggregation sites, I have built an array of tools that makes sure I miss very little about those things I am interested in.

Whether it's a desire to act as a knowledgeable information filter, or simply because I am a data sponge, I've made the absorption of news and trivia a big part of my daily activity, and it turns out, if I think about it, that I've been wired this way for a very long time.

For whatever reason, just shortly after I learned to read, I can remember thumbing through the children's dictionary, fascinated by the origins of the letters of the alphabet, as they evolved from the Phoenician to Greek, Egyptian and so on. Later, I was buying the Guinness Book of World Records every year, and stalking the bookstores for the next edition of the World Almanac. My favorite section? The population rankings of the top 200 cities in the United States, as ranked by the census in 1980 and 1990. To this day, I can tell you Worcester, Mass. was #200 overall, and that Baltimore had 939,000 people reported in population in 1980. When the 1990 census rolled out, seeing new cities like San Diego and Dallas, Texas enter the hallowed ranks of million-plus citizen populations, I was excited. Seriously.

And before you cry out, "NERD!", I'll nod my head, quickly agree, and move on. I loved this stuff. Luckily, it branched out to sports as well. My favorite present of all time had to be the massive 2,000+ page encyclopedia, Total Baseball, which, when released in 1989, when I was 12, had hundreds of pages of baseball stories and even more, containing all statistics of all players, ever, in the major leagues. I promise I pored over every single page - and it's made me very popular when it comes to sports trivia conversations (or unpopular if you want to go head to head).

But I have learned you can't force the issue and kindle the same passion in others. Even if I explain to you why I am excited about something, I can't get you the same way half the time. And what boggles my mind at times is when it seems the curiosity is missing altogether - especially when it's about something that could effect your making a more educated decision.

For example, a few years ago, in speaking with a friend in the industry about how the changing world of media was making blogs an increasingly-important venue, they were asked by someone else, "What blogs do you read?" And their answer: "The ones Louis sends me." It seemed they were content getting their news the way they always had, and they weren't even curious enough to want to get the data when it was available. They were comfortable knowing they could be missing out on a source of news on their industry, and turning a blind eye to what I thought was a major development in the way news was being created and disseminated.

To me, it would have been a lot more acceptable if the individual had, acknowledging they hadn't gotten into blogs yet, asked which I thought were the best ones, or if they had remembered some of the recent forwards and posts that caught their eye. But the nonchalant answer defied my expectations of intellectual curiosity, and I was frustrated about it for a long time - wondering why they weren't seeing the missed opportunity. It's the same type of frustrations I am sure parents feel when their kids don't get interested in school, or in studying to improve when you know they have the potential.

There's no question that my consumption level for news, blog posts, RSS feeds, and friends' updates on many networks is above the average. I crave the data, and am always eager to find new ways to get there faster. But I wonder if there are ways to get people to share the same enthusiasm. Is it possible to force intellectual curiosity when others just aren't wired the same way?

Why I Still Prefer Twitter and FriendFeed to Facebook

Editor's Note: As I noted last night, Facebook is quickly becoming the standard by which many social networking and social media sites are being analyzed, described and measured. Still, as Eric says below, not all are converted, preferring more dedicated sites, including Twitter and FriendFeed. This pair of stories was written independently, and the timing is sheer coincidence.
-- Louis Gray
By Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist (FriendFeed/Twitter)

I spent the last three years managing the production of a number of social networking websites. During 2006-2007, I produced ZonaZoom, an ambitious (and now defunct) attempt to grab market share of social networking Latino teens in the United States. And I spent a grueling, rewarding year producing quarterlife.com in 2007 and early 2008, the home of short-lived NBC show quarterlife (I'm not including the direct link as the site looks far different now than the version I helped to bring to life.)

So that's all to say that I dwelled in social networking land quite a bit over the last few years. But in my personal time I've never really been much of what might be called a "traditional" social networking person; I'm more of a microblogging/social media/information junkie kind of person, which has led to Twitter and FriendFeed and Google Reader becoming the hubs of my online media (so-called?) "social life." So when I think about how I like to use the web, I've long thought of myself as more of a Twitter/FriendFeed/RSS person, and less of a MySpace/Facebook person.

This made all the sense in the world to me until recently... when methodically, relentlessly every single person that I know, have known, or knew in some former life friend-requested me on Facebook. I exaggerate of course, but it seemed like everyone from the dude I hung out with at woodworking class during a Boy Scout retreat in 1985 to my mother's co-workers added me at some point recently.

So there was that, and there was also the fact gnawing away at me that Facebook's news feed is an elegant feature combining Twitter's simplicity with Friendfeed-like flourishes such as comment threads and the ability to embed images and video.

Therefore, I began to wonder: "Why don't I spend a lot more time hanging out on Facebook? It's got a lovely news feed, and a large slice of the people I know or have ever known in the world are right there for me to chat with and interact with."

I'm still working my way through the reasons why this is so, but here's a working list of why I still far prefer Twitter and FriendFeed to Facebook:

Talking to everyone I know/have known at the same time is not so appealing as it might sound

When it comes down to it, this is the big one for me. When I enter the Facebook news feed, I feel like I'm entering a vast hall where my professional colleagues, potential employers, family, current friends, old and dear friends, old friends that I lost touch with 15 years ago, online contacts, and on and on, are all waiting to hear a formal address from me at the same time. The result is that I have a hard time letting my guard down and actually enjoying the social media experience.

So for some reason – and I expect I'm not alone here – Twitter and FriendFeed feel like much more comfortable places to hang out… which is really the entire idea of social networking in the first place!

News, social media, and pop culture-based conversations versus life conversations

Software platforms create places where people can congregate and communicate and share media and all of those other kinds of wonderful things. The kinds of people that do congregate, and how they communicate and share creates an online culture of sorts that is unique to each software platform.

My experience is that Facebook tends to encourage conversations that center around what people are doing with their lives: video of ski trips, announcements about what people are doing after work, expressions of joy and despair about the minutiae of life, that kind of thing. Now, of course this kind of thing also goes on within Twitter/FriendFeed. But I believe the culture of Twitter and FriendFeed allows for conversations that I tend to be more interested in: hot social media topics, breaking news stories, pop culture debates, and that sort of thing.

So I suppose it seems to me a choice between cultures that tend to be more about news-driven topics versus life-driven topics. News-driven is more appealing to me for the most part.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy hearing about what's going on in the lives of my friends and family as much as anyone. But I still think that things like e-mail and "real life" things like the telephone and getting together in person are still pretty great for that!

Conversation lurking

When I first joined Twitter in early 2007, I thought one of the coolest things about it was the ability to "conversation lurk" and eavesdrop on conversations between the likes of Robert Scoble, Dave Winer, Jason Calacanis, Mathew Ingram, and so forth. And even cooler was the fact that you could participate with the very real chance that a Twitter celebrity of the day would respond. These days, the best place to experience this kind of interaction, I've found, is on FriendFeed in places like the Best of Day section.

Facebook, which is more directly tied to contacts that require an approval process, doesn't really allow for this looser and more freewheeling form of communication and listening in.

What's up with "is"?

One of the functional things that perhaps drives or at least directs the culture of the Facebook news feed is the little word "is." In other words, whenever you post a status update to Facebook, your profile name and the word "is" automatically precedes it. So while "Eric is ranting about the social mediaz" works pretty well, "Eric is New post up about the social mediaz, here's the link" sounds pretty awful. So that little word "is" in itself helps to set the tone for the culture of Facebook's news feed.

Alternatively, Twitter simply asks "What are you doing?" and then lets you have at it. And to be fair and as others have noted, Twitter should probably do away with that question as tweeters have basically created a culture where anything and everything is discussed beyond "mere" status updates.

Flat medium versus social medium?

I'm not sure I completely agree with Adrian's piece at sevitz.com called, as luck would have it, Why I prefer Twitter to Facebook, but I like the introduction of the terms "flat medium" versus "social medium" in comparing Facebook and Twitter:

It’s just this tiny little thread that shifts it from being a flat medium like facebook status to a social medium. It’s that difference that connects you to people rather than positions you as mere observer. And whilst the observation thread is nice, by itself it starts to die as it isn’t self sustaining. Where as the observation with interactivity grows and gets stronger. |t means I become a participant in my friends lives occasionally even if that participation is just Stuart getting coffee.

I'm curious to hear what other people think about all of this. I've tried to give Facebook a chance, particularly because I've never been a tremendous fan of the product. I admire what they've done to be sure and find the explosion of Facebook apps and its soaring popularity remarkable of course, but my personal test is whether I want to stick around someplace online –- if I get excited and engaged and eagerly explore every aspect of what the product offers –- or if I get kind of bored, mentally yawn, and then check my e-mail for 6,001st time of the day. And Facebook has always been in the latter yawn-worthy category for me, quite frankly.

So particularly because so many people I know love it, I've tried hard to give Facebook another chance. But for the reasons mentioned above, I still far prefer Twitter and FriendFeed.

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist

Facebook's Success Makes It the Social Media Prism and Translator

Facebook's impressive growth, and its gradual passing of MySpace in virtually every aspect, has brought the network to the point where it is universally recognized as the largest, most active, social site on the Web. This of course means that even outside our little bubble of Silicon Valley, our family members and less tech-obsessed friends might be using it - much more than they are the "edge" applications we might also be using. And as Facebook has evolved, adding more lifestream-oriented features, I've come to realize that it is becoming the standard by which practically all social media sites are compared, and even explained.

Case in point - over the weekend my wife, the twins and I, went to see my parents for a quick two-day visit. During a rare tech respite, I opened up the laptop and was blazing through my Google Reader feeds. My dad, curious, leaned over and said, "Is this your Twitter?", making a valiant attempt to guess at whatever oddity I was using. I said, no, that I was using Google Reader, which let me read new stories from hundreds of sites at once.

Then, hoping to explain Twitter, I referred him to the Facebook status. I said using Twitter, for many people, was like updating your Facebook status throughout the day, and choosing to see updates from others.

Extending the message to aggregation sites or lifestreaming services, such as FriendFeed, again, I find myself using Facebook as the starting point. I can refer to Facebook's news feed, and how it pulls in links and shares from other sites, allowing you to make comments or show you like something.

At this point, with 175 million users reported on the site, Facebook represents a significant chunk of online activity. When I threatened to "borrow" my younger sister's iPhone to ostensibly update her Facebook status on her behalf, you would think I was threatening to kill her future first-born. The simple status update on the network, to her, represents who she is to her friends and her family, and it likely does for many others out there - even if they aren't in their 20s, fresh out of college, as she is. As she told me this evening, behind texting, e-mail and the phone, she uses her iPhone for Facebook. She doesn't buy a lot of applications or play games, but she does Facebook, constantly.

Facebook, at this point, is almost as well known as AOL once was. And as we once would explain the World Wide Web and e-mail through the context of AOL, we are once again using an extremely popular site that isn't always best of breed as the standard-bearer for what other social sites are today. Does that mean Facebook does better status updates than Twitter? Probably not. Does that mean Facebook can do feeds and friends better than FriendFeed? Probably not. But then again, AOL wasn't exactly best of breed either, and for years, it ruled the world.

If we expect these odd tools that we geeks and early adopters have been pounding the table on to take hold, we just may have to speak the language that the masses know. Today, that language flows through Facebook. This might mean that after the dust clears, and nine out of ten startups are gone, that only Facebook will be standing. And just maybe that's what Zuckerberg and team are hoping.

February 21, 2009

February's Five Voices Spreading Thought Diversity

Part Twelve In a Monthly Series

The "five new blogs to watch" series, a monthly recurring feature here on louisgray.com, has now wrapped around a full year. Starting off in March of 2008, the February 2009 list marks the 12th consecutive month we have found five blogs that, in my opinion, have a lower profile than they should, and are ones you just might find interesting.

In the last year, including today's list, we have displayed sixty different voices who are bringing their interests, news and opinion into the world of blogs in their own way, but haven't yet cracked the upper echelon of visibility. It has been fun to uncover new names every 30 days, and now that we're one year through it, we'll review and see how the feature evolves. Looking forward also to your feedback to see if this is something you would like to continue.

Each of the bloggers highlighted over this time period has been added to my Google Reader list, via Toluu, and has, to date, been consistently informative, interesting or entertaining. Prior months' entries can be found for March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December and January.

This month's entries...

1) Sociosophy (www.sociosophy.com)

Focus: Blogging, Social Media Tools, Applications
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

2) Damon Cortesi's Blog (www.dcortesi.com)

Focus: Coding, Security, Twitter
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

3) Justin R. Levy (www.justinrlevy.com)

Focus: Public Relations, Marketing, Events
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

4) Dawn's Plan (dawnsplan.wordpress.com)

Focus: Internet Culture, Social Networking, Capitalism
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

5) Elias Bizannes (www.liako.biz)

Focus: Data Portability, Internet
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

Want to be on this list? You can catch my eye by posting great information in the field of technology, social media, blogging and the Web. I'll be more likely to highlight you if you blog almost every day, and bring new stories to the table that don't repeat discussions launched elsewhere. And if you have more than 1,000 subscribers, you're probably too big for this.

To see even more new blogs I'm adding to my reader, or get a sneak peek for next month's highlighted blogs, follow my activity on Toluu. If you don't have a login to Toluu, send me an e-mail to louisgray@mac.com and I'll get that set up right away.

BrightKite: If You Think Your Life Is Boring, You're Missing The Point

Guest Post by Kipp Bodnar and Wayne Sutton of Talk Social News

Authors' Note: This post references Brightkite specifically because it was the application discussed in the original post Louis wrote. However, many of the features and uses discussed in this post also apply to other location-based social networks. Though Brightkite is the example, this post should be seen as a commentary on the potential of location-based social networking in general.

Last week Louis threw down the challenge, when he asked to be educated on why he should use Brightkite. He was making fun of himself for having such a boring life. Because of this he felt that his placestream in Brightkite would always be the same and thus he should not use the service. While Louis has a point, location-based social networks should have their place in you day regardless of how boring you think you are.

Getting Local Without Posting An Update:
Like most all other forms of social media much of Brightkite's potential comes from observing. While participation is important, Brightkite offers a new way to observe people and places.

Below are some responses Wayne received to when asking How do you use Brightkite?" on his Brightkite profile:

gregbarnett says:

I'm using it to checkin and find new friends and I love learning about new places (restaurants, landmarks etc.) in the city I live in and also other cities and also to follow your obsession with hot dogs and donuts *lol*

dsims says:

I like the community aspect of seeing the notes and photos from at a place. Watching the placestream of Washington D.C. during the inauguration was awesome. I also use it to track places I've been to, and to share notes and photos about those places with others. I hate it when people use brightkite to post status updates that really have nothing to do with the location. I hope adoption increases because it does feel lonely to see that you are the only person to ever check in a certain spot, or even an entire city. Perhaps an integration of Google Latitude and Brightkite would help.

tbeseda says:

The placestreams are a great way to find new people who may not be so new after all (you see many of them every day!).

thunsaker says:

I've enjoyed seeing other parts of the world through the camera of another person. One person in particular @kewllewk travels quite a bit for his work and is always posting pics from foreign locations.

The above replies are only a sample, but using Brighkite to observe places in a new way was the most popular response to Wayne's question. To illustrate this, lets take a look at a place that some of us have been to, but all of us have probably seen on TV: Madison Square Garden. MSG is one of the most popular sports venues in the US and one of the icons of New York City. Regardless if you have been there or not a quick look at the Brightkite Place stream for MSG provides a new level of insight. It is a personal way to see such a monolithic place.

What if you are getting ready to go on vacation and planning what places to visit, a quick look at the Brightkite placestream for each could quickly help you determine which places will be a hit and which others look like misses.

So we convinced you! Their is value in checking out people and places on Brightkite, what is next? Participation.

Building Your Digital Footprint

Building your digital footprint use to mean having a blog or web site, maybe sharing some photos and videos. However, now with the popularity of the mobile web and location-based applications like Brightkite your digital footprint has gained a new dimension. Every place you visit now has the opportunity to be part of your digital footprint.

Lets take Louis for example, he will be on a panel next month at South By South West (SXSW) Interactive. Lets say he published a picture of the panel along with a couple of notes about what they are speaking about on Brightkite not only will all of his friends be able to check it out regardless where they are physically, but that image and note will always be tied to the Austin Convention Center's placestream. What happens at convention centers? Well a lot of conventions, so maybe someone a month or a year later is attending a convention in Austin and sees Louis' message and realizes that he needs someone to speak about that topic at an upcoming conference. The final result: a new speaking opportunity for Louis, from a simple checkin as part of his digital footprint.

Integration with Your Existing Social Media Workflow

A big plus for using Brightkite specifically is that it integrates with Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. You can post updates and photos automatically to one or all of those three services from Brightkite. Think about it this way, Brightkite makes Facebook, Twitter and Flickr location aware. If you are already sending photos to Flickr from your phone why not do it with Brightkite and add a location dimension to your photos while building your location-based digital footprint?

Facilitate Face-to-Face Communications

Brightkite also takes relationship building to another level.

Here are three quick examples:
  • You can find where other local users are located in real time or places they have visited.
  • You can meet other users at meetups or conferences when both check-in at the same location or near by.
  • Also, Brighkite makes it easy for unprompted meetings.
For example, Wayne is often in downtown Raleigh at Cafe Helios and on more than one occasion he has checked Brightkite and a few friends have showed up because they saw his update on Brightkite or his update on Facebook that came from Brightkite. The same thing has happen during traveling also, people who he's only had conversations with before have showed up at the same location to meet face to face because of Brightkite.

To some this may seem like cyber-stalking but you have to keep a few things in mind. One it's all optional, you don't have to check-in where you don't want to be found and two you can configure your settings to where you check-in to an area and not a direct address.

Business Impacts

As more businesses are using social media to reach new customers or engage with existing ones online, the business impact of using location-based services can be huge for companies looking to reach targeted local users. We're already seeing companies using twitter for coupons or promotions and that's great but what if you wanted to reach people who you knew that visited your company previously or worked near by. With Brighkite you can easily do location based advertising by the block, or city and go beyond advertising to understand the real-word referrers that normally send people to your business.

Brightkite's potential lies beyond its basic social networking features. Its power comes from connecting people and places together in a meaningful way and showcasing information in a user friendly manner that can be accessed from via desktop browser, SMS, and mobile browser.

When they aren't checking in on BrightKite or updating their own blogs, you can find Kipp Bodnar and Wayne Sutton on Talk Social News, a podcast focused on social media.

February 20, 2009

Adult Party Games On the iPhone? Get Penalized.

Usually we keep the blog on the safe side of PG, but it's late on a Friday night, and we're bending the rules a little. In the months I've had my iPhone, we have profiled a good number of innocent games, from jumping frogs to falling blocks, but not all the fun comes for kids with cartoon animation. Apparently, adults want to have fun too - and now the iPhone can be involved, with a silly game called Penalized that offers challenges, with the penalties being what you desire - be it loss of money, loss of sobriety, or loss of clothing.

The game, which requires two or more players, of course, displays unmarked cards which when revealed can display categories such as "I Never", "Impersonation", "Trivia", "Rhyme", "Physical Challenge" and "Penalty".

Penalized: I've Never Done What Now?

Each card reveals a statement, such as: "I've never mentally undressed a member of the group. Double penalty if you are doing it now." or "All virgins receive a penalty (and everyones pity)."

As you can guess, the hope is that everybody else gets a penalty, and you don't. If your impersonation isn't successful, according to the group, it's a penalty. Get the trivia wrong? Penalty. Can't do a physical challenge? Penalty.

Penalized: Trivia and Penalties for All

The game itself presents an odd mix - the silliness of Strip Poker and Truth or Dare with the geekiness and isolation of iPhone Apps. So in order for this to work, you need to find someone geeky enough to download the app, but popular enough to get a group together and play the silly game. And before your sensibilities come into play, not all the items are PG-13 and above in nature. For every virgin-related or fantasy-type card, there are ones as casual as impersonating Ray Charles, or stating if you have never broken a bone.

Penalized: Challenges and Impersonations

The author, Scott Goldie, who you might remember as the author of FriendFeedMachine, knows the game isn't exactly aimed at my demographic, saying, "It's a fairly off-the-wall party game best enjoyed after a few drinks and with a group of friends... probably best suited to single college students rather than fathers like you and I."

But even if you're not a single college student, you still might want to check out Penalized and have a little fun. It'll set you back all of $3.99. And yes, iTunes rates it 12+ for suggestive themes, mild sexual content and mild profanity or crude humor.

Which Companies Will Blink First and Lead Us Out of The Depths?

Graphic via Dreamstime.com

One of the scariest things about the type of economic slowdown we are in today is that it breeds yet more slowdown. If you see the headlines, you can read that as companies anticipate lower revenues and diminished profits, or expanded losses, they are turning to layoffs, and in parallel, reducing their own spending, from program and infrastructure costs, to employee costs. Just this week, for example, HP announced 5 percent pay cuts for its massive salaried employee base, across the board, and the Mercury News reports more than 100 public companies in all industries have reported executive pay cuts since the recession began.

While this helps the company in the immediate term, the ripple effects downstream are quantifiable - which, in my opinion, could make the problems worse.

Assuming lower revenues is one thing. Lowering spending costs impacts all the company's vendors, in reducing their own revenues, spreading the pain around. And of course, reducing the number of paid employees, and reducing the pay to those employees who are left, impacts them such that they are less willing to spend.

It's a high-stakes game of chicken, for if companies expect the market to turn around, and want dollars to flow again, they have to contribute to the economy themselves, and all actions we have recently seen in the press point to companies simply trying to survive what for many is the deepest downturn in memory. But there cannot be survival if every company reduces its spend so that every company downstream, and its employees, fails as well.

During the 2001 to 2003 recession, there were a few bright spots of hope and prosperity here in the Valley, from Google, who rocketed to market-share nirvana in the face of strong competition, to Apple, who rebuilt themselves from a PC company to one built around electronic gadgets and digital sales, following the introduction of the iPod in 2001, and later, the iTunes Music Store, in 2003.

Also during the 2001 to 2003 downturn, government leaders told consumers that the patriotic thing to do would be to open up their wallets and shop - to help keep the economy humming - even as spirits were broken. Of course, the resulting debts and the issues that surround people spending above their means were main contributors to the stark realities we see today, from credit crunches to home foreclosures. But this time, consumers have (hopefully) wisened up, and they are likely more reluctant to spend their way out of this deep recession, especially if they are one of the unfortunate millions who are drawing unemployment benefits or see their bi-weekly paystub reduced.

On this blog, many of the companies and services we talk about have very little to do with capital creation and distribution. Some of the products are fun widgets or sites that enable people to connect in new ways, not so much finding new places to spend money or even have revenue themselves. We recognize that - and hold to the line that for the most part, this blog caters toward early adopters, and it is not necessarily our role to gauge every company's business acumen and prospects - best left to others. But surrounding those people are real businesses with real, tangible products and a real-life balance sheet - and many entrepreneurs and fellow bloggers work for these companies that have been impacted - including some of my peers who write on this site.

Silicon Valley is not immune to this financial crisis. Companies big and small have reduced forecasts and results. Companies big and small have reduced headcount, and many more have reduced their operating expenses, without drawing headlines. Down the food chain, many start-ups have found the VC well to be dry, and will either be shutting down or changing their prospects. But as 90 percent of start-ups fail, this shakeout could violently separate the good ideas from the bad - faster than they had ever desired.

So as practically every business has reacted to the downturn and closed the spigot on spending, which ones will be the first to reverse the trend and say, 'Enough!', instead, taking advantage of competitive weaknesses to seize market share, and approach a more-wary consumer base? We can't sit on our hands and expect Google and Apple to be the names that rise to the top again.

February 19, 2009

Will The Crowdsourced Novel AirBorne Take Flight?

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

It's always fun to watch new creative experiments on the Internet play out. When it comes to novelists dabbling in the electronic realm, I fondly recall Stephen King's The Plant, "a serial novel published in 2000 as an e-book."

King wanted to see if people would voluntarily pay $1.00 for each installment versus the option to download for free. Perhaps an early sign of things to come, many people chose not to pay, resulting in the story -- a rather fascinating one if you're interested in how the publishing world worked in the New York City of the 1980s, before the age of the Internet -- never being completed in full.

Now we have AirBorne, "the world's first chain novel inspired by James Patterson." The concept is that best selling thriller writer Patterson will write the first and last chapter of this "crowdsourced" novel. The 28 of 30 "middle chapters" will be written by selected writers, who get the honor of writing one chapter apiece. Presumably, the writer of chapter 14 has to wait until the first 13 chapters are completed, or have a strong idea of what's going on in the story, to pick things up. That fact alone must have made this project a logistically challenging one.

In the 2000 online world that The Plant was released into, distribution options were relatively limited (a Web site destination and viral means limited to things like e-mail and IM), whereas AirBorne will be rolled out a chapter per day starting on March 20th through such "web 2.0" channels as Facebook, Twitter, and RSS.

It will be interesting to see how viral and popular (and airborne?) a project such as AirBorne can get. While chapters are limited to a lean 750 words a pop, will people be keen to churn through it for 30 straight days -- a lifetime in the online realm? And that's to say nothing for the editorial challenge of maintaining some form of stylistic and storytelling consistency through a cavalcade of 29 writers (including one battle-hardened pro) telling one tale.

More than anything, the concept behind AirBorne reminds me of a game that my friends and I used to play. A person would start a story by stating one sentence aloud (usually it was as goofy and bizarre as possible, of course). Then the next person would pick up the thread, and around the circle we'd go. I'm sure that many others have done the same, and I can infer that collaborative storytelling is a tradition that many people can appreciate and potentially participate in, as reader or author.

And as ReadWriteWeb notes:
The roots of the collaborative writing movement can be found in many web startups, including those like Novlet, Potrayl, Ficlets, Unblokt, Protagonize, and others we profiled here. A popular activity for creative writers, these communities offer various takes on how a co-written story should be developed, some focused more on "choose your own adventure"-style stories while others focus more on linear narratives.
I like the idea behind AirBorne, and think it's a worthy project for a well known author to participate in. That said, I think things could have been made really interesting if the non-author part of the crowd -- the online public -- were let into the process somehow. Or what if the group of authors were entitled to vote to move the story in one direction or another after each chapter was finished. For example, maybe after Chapter 15 was completed, the author of Chapter 15 asks a question, such as: Do you think Mike should drop the gun and give himself up, take a hostage and hole up in the control room, or start shooting and try to make a break for it? And the group of authors vote and dictate where Chapter 16 begins.

And, finally, speaking of AirBorne, I'm pounding the medicinal variety today to fight off the onslaught of a cold!

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist

February 18, 2009

Outbrain Unveils Revenue Plan With Advertising That's Not Evil

When Outbrain announced it had raised $12 million in its latest round of funding, I openly speculated that the team and its VC partners had wind of a revenue plan that the blogosphere at large hadn't been alerted to. Sure enough, just a week later, that secret has been revealed, as Outbrain, today, rolled out a new program that will display sponsored related links, attached to blog posts from its network of users, myself included. They call it "sponsored but good", and it represents an attempt to find a solution that is beneficial for readers, publishers and advertisers, which has proven very difficult for many vendors.

Outbrain is well-known for its rating widget that sits below users' posts, and tries to find related stories, both on the blogger's site and the service's network. Starting today, some posts will also feature a sponsored link - not to a paid-for blog article, but instead, to an organic article selected by the advertiser which will put their product in a good light.

An example sponsored ad, via Outbrain

I spoke with John LoGioco, the company's vice president of business development, yesterday, and he said he hoped the new program delivered a "perfect balance," as readers would find new and interesting content that was non-disruptive, advertisers would put sponsored content on trusted sites, and publishers could gain revenue.

The benefit package delivers a good share of revenue to the blogger in today's announcement, LoGioco said, adding he hoped the program would be one that be trusted and adopted by bloggers looking to add another incremental revenue stream along the more typical display ads, dominated by Google.

The hope? An advertising plan that works for all

"Advertisers are excited so far, because they know the power of trusted voices driving demand creation if people are considering a product but are in the discovery phase," LoGioco said. "They haven't really had a chance to take a piece of the conversation that has been positive about them and amplify it. We can reach the influencer audience, and it is scalable."

With Outbrain's growth in popularity, serving an ever-increasing number of recommendations from sites in the network, the company has reached the point where advertisers are looking to reach readers - ones that are tired of seeing pop-up ads and other tricks that get in the way of their information browsing.

"We have all seen how platforms can be good for the advertiser or the publisher, but rarely for the reader," LoGioco said. "The advertising is in a non-disruptive format, and it leverages authentic brand endorsements. We are being very honest and open with bloggers and publishers."

The target for the "Sponsored but good" program won't be for direct marketers, and it won't be self-serve. Bloggers can opt in to receiving revenue from the program, and can remove specific sponsored links, once registered with Outbrain, and use what they call a link zapper to zap live sponsored recommendations. And if you think you're share of the revenue pie isn't going to impact your life, you can even choose to pass it off to charity.

See Also: Coverage from CenterNetworks, Mashable and VentureBeat.

Omniture Announces Developer APIs, iPhone Integration

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

I am at the Omniture Annual Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah watching Josh James, CEO and founder of Omniture, deliver the first keynote for the conference. Some fascinating and useful things have been announced, but perhaps the most significant was their announcement of a developer platform around the Omniture analytics and marketing suite. The platform, called the Omniture Developer Connection, aims to give a single point for developers to connect, learn, and showcase the applications they develop.

From their recent press release:
"Omniture Developer Connection further opens up the Omniture platform, giving developers new levels of flexibility to create, and integrate with, applications that leverage Omniture data to optimize online business," said John Mellor, EVP of Strategy and Business Development at Omniture. "With approximately one trillion transactions measured each quarter, our customers are sitting on a tremendous resource of information and we are committed to rapidly expanding the ecosystem of applications available to help them drive value from that resource."
In addition to the platform, Omniture has released a series of sample applications, including a Wordpress plugin for tracking Blog traffic, and even more significant, a SOAP API for the iPhone so iPhone developers can communicate via SOAP within their applications, including interfacing and bringing live analytics and tracking into their iPhone applications. Omniture puts it this way:
"One notable omission in the iPhone SDK is the lack of a Web Services framework like WebServicesCore from the OSX SDK. Given the iPhone’s emphasis on online connectivity, it is at least surprising that there is no native framework stack for SOAP web services. So, what’s a developer to do?"
Now, developers have full access to the vast storage of data given to publishers via Omniture, on mobile devices as just one opportunity. Omniture, with over 5,000 customers, 5 of the top media companies, 6 of the top 10 retailers, 4 of the top 5 banks, 4 of the top 5 travel companies, and boasts 250,000 transactions per second, is the very definition of mainstream analytics. Now you will see sites such as Best Buy, JetBlue, Walmart, and many more begin to make a presence on the iPhone and more as they will now be able to track their presence on these mobile devices.

With the release of this developer platform Omniture has just opened up a goldmine of data around Site Analytics, and every developer has access to this information. Mobile and Social Analytics have just hit mainstream due to this platform, and will continue to strengthen due to companies like Omniture opening up their platforms to this data.

All developer APIs and documentation can be found at https://developer.omniture.com/.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.

February 17, 2009

TweetDeck: You Autocomplete Me (And User Names as Well)

TweetDeck's debut was a big one in terms of introducing a new way to absorb even the most active of Twitter accounts, through a column-based AIR desktop application, and the addition of groups, which let you break the stream down into smaller chunks. And last week, we talked about its addition of automatic translation and more. But developer Iain Dodsworth can make small updates as well.

The next iterative release of TweetDeck, which you can snag here, adds the ability to autocomplete Twitter user names any time you type "D" for a direct message, or an @ anywhere in the tweet.

Immediately, a small box will pop up and with the more letters you type, TweetDeck will display all that fit the string. It doesn't just look for first letters either, so if you type 'gray', you'll get @louisgray, not just all names that start with @gray, for instance.

See Iain's video below:

If you're sending a tweet to a friend whose name you type often, the autocomplete might actually slow you down, but if you're unsure on the spelling, or it's a long name, TweetDeck has found yet another way to enhance your Twitter experience. It will be included in the next full TweetDeck release if you're not the type to play with early builds.

It's Not That I'm Addicted, But I Just Can't Stop Playing iShoot.

Growing up, I wasn't one to play with Army men, GI Joes and shoot toy guns. I didn't play tank and make up elaborate war fantasies that involved bombing and artillery. I don't own a gun and I've never even considered being a member of the NRA. Practically the only regular games that involved violence in my youth were when my brother and I would sit down for a game of Contra on the old 8-Bit NES. But I've found the highly popular and already much-documented iShoot for the iPhone one silly app I can't put away.

The play is simple, a good thing when it comes to iPhone games, as I've mentioned before when covering Crazy Frog and Booty Blocks, for example. You are in combat with 1 to 3 other tanks, and blow each other to smithereens using weapons you have purchased. The goal is to be the last tank standing after you've cleared the screen of your enemies, having measured your shots by angle and force, adjusting for wind speed and terrain, of course.

Up to Four Tanks Can Battle On Picturesque Backgrounds

I remember playing a similar two-player game on old green screen Apple IIs, but iShoot is, despite its simplicity, much more involved. You'll get to learn which ammunition is most desired, when to move your tank to get a better shot, or whether it ever makes sense to toss up a wall of dirt to block others from taking you out.

Play Long Enough and You Can Rack Up Weapons

The game ranges in multiple levels, from Easy to Extreme. Easy is fun if you need to get acquainted, but you will want to try Extreme and see what it is like to fight when the tanks practically never miss and have you in their sights. And if you've mastered the ability to win in five rounds, ten rounds, or fifteen, and want to start flinging Shiva Bombs around as casually as you would Mortars (play the game and see what I'm talking about), you'll want to try the infinite round mode and just keep blasting away.

Not to Mention Domination Of Your Opponents

You know it's an interesting game when Nuke, which can kill you with one massive shot, isn't even nearly the most sought-after weapon. If well placed, my Shiva Bomb can take out three tanks with one blow. So far, 191 rounds into this massive iShoot-a-thon, I've killed 361 tanks, and lead in "Wins" 88 to 32, over the second highest competition. I don't know if I'll stop after 200 rounds. Maybe it will be 250 or 500. But there's a real reason why Ethan Nicholas has racked up more than a half-million dollars from the application, including $37,000 in one day. It's fun!

Don't Just Shoot - Shoot to Kill.

You can get it yourself, if you haven't already, for only 3 bucks, at the iTunes App Store. Also, there is an iShoot Lite, but don't be so cheap - get the real one. Seriously.

February 15, 2009

What's Growing Faster? Software Bloat or PC Capabilities?

There is an old adage in the storage business. No matter how large you make the hard disk, users will find a way to fill it. The same seems true in the bandwidth and networking business - build a bigger pipe, and customers will find applications that use it up. The same concept extends to me as a consumer, for my traditional software experience. While my laptop is tremendously more capable than its predecessors of 2, 5 or 10 years ago, it sure doesn't seem like the software loads any more quickly, and I still find myself closing applications or forcing them to quit when the whole thing grinds to a halt.

Back in late 1998 after I got a first-generation iMac, complete with a then-acceptable 32 megabytes of RAM and a 4 gigabyte hard disk, I marveled at the gargantuan install needed for the latest version of Microsoft Office. I remember specifically telling a friend to just wait... as the next one would take more than a gigabyte of space. Sure enough, that's practically accepted, and now, it's not too uncommon to see downloads, and even software updates, that are in the hundreds of megabytes.

But the issue is less about capacity and more about the perception of speed. Yes, my laptop can do more than its forefathers. It can do new things with the Web and with video that were never before possible. But booting Microsoft Office, Adobe PhotoShop, FireFox and other products still manages to slow down my system to a crawl. It's gotten to the point that I've even eliminated possible reasons for the slowdown. I hardly ever boot into VMware Fusion any more, to run Microsoft Outlook. I stopped using an external monitor at work, and try to recharge my iPhone only when I don't need full use of my MacBook Pro. And that doesn't even extend to other RAM and processor hungry apps, like one of my personal favorites, TweetDeck.

For whatever reason, it seems that software developers have, for the most part, chosen to add features, and not optimize for speed. I don't think it took more time to boot Microsoft Word 5.1 on my old Performa than it takes to boot Microsoft Word 2008 on my MacBook Pro, even if the Megahertz speed on the processor has increased from 33 MHz to 2.2 GHz, and the RAM from 24 Megabytes to 2 Gigabytes. And lest you think I'm picking on Microsoft, Apple's iPhoto has also been a slow to load memory hog in its own right.

If somebody told me ten years ago that I could increase my processor speed by 1,000 percent, and my RAM by about the same amount, I would have expected to be able to hit "Select All" on my Applications folder and then "Open" to run them all at once. But there's no way. At this point, even with my current machine, I probably can run Mail, iTunes, a Web browser and one more application without slowness. Add one or two more apps to the mix, and we're in spinning wheel city.

In one my recent tirades against how often my machine was slowing down, I heard the all too common reply: "Time for a new one?" but the answer should be no. It's time the pace of the treadmill whereby hardware needs to speed up to handle the new software should slow. Get it to work, and get it to work fast. Please.