January 31, 2010

The Burning Drive to Never Settle: Refuse to Compromise

One of the classic books on many shelves in the Silicon Valley in the mid to late 1990s was Douglas Copeland's Microserfs, a story of former Microsoft programmers slaving away at their own startup, working ridiculous hours, and putting quality of code ahead of quality of hygiene. I often think about one of the main character's musings, saying that you could tell which companies were going to thrive by the hours the cars stayed in the parking lots, and if you could find a company whose lot was full on a Sunday, it could be an incredible investment opportunity.

My initial career experience in the late 1990s came at a time of Web 1.0, amidst the dot-com frenzy. It was a badge of honor to work late, and even after leaving the office, it was assumed you were on call to respond to product ideas, releases or customer issues. With the potential opportunity being so high, the challenge was to see if you could deliver the best possible products and experience, despite having a lean staff, and there was a constant question of whether you were doing all you could. This drive, whether shared by all colleagues, or whether exhibited by keeping near-nocturnal hours or simply outproducing everyone else, is one that I have had a hard time shaking, as I know at times, I can find myself being hyper-competitive. On the occasional times I've talked to jobhunters and recruiters in past years, I've easily handed that over as a weakness, that while I've been "always on", when others are not as committed, it bugs me, and I question their desire and drive to achieve.

I hate losing. I hate not seeing a result be as good as it possibly could be. I hate turning in a project or a product that is not to the best it could be. I believe in executing quickly, but not if it means sacrificing personal responsibility or standards. And I know I am just as competitive out of the office or off the Web, making sure I win at cards or board games, or beat my friends at bowling. If I don't, then I'll know where I screwed up, and remember it the next time I get a chance to redeem myself.

The best companies and people in business and technology refuse to compromise, even in the face of incredible challenges. The ones that are revered do not concede the battle for product quality, scale, reach or speed.

Take for example Don Dodge's solid and transparent description of how Google sets goals and measures success. A recent transfer from Microsoft, Dodge recounts how he submitted quarterly objectives, which he thought were "aggressive yet achievable", and they were rejected. Why? Because his manager said they "needed to set stretch goals that seemed impossible to fully achieve." He adds, "you can’t achieve amazing results by setting modest targets. We want amazing results. We want to tackle the impossible."

I got a picture of a similar discussion this week when I visited FamilyLink.com in Utah for a single-day visit. Without revealing the details of the conversation, one engineer was challenged to raise the target for a key feature's adoption curve beyond his initial estimate. As with Google, the push to meet this high goal would be set to find a way to achieve the impossible. It's no doubt part of why the company was ranked by comScore as the fastest-growing Web site for December of 2009. The high target was not set to guarantee failure, but instead, to enable success - and the culture was configured to help the team members achieve their full potential, not to reach a lower number, and accept mediocrity.

In a week dominated by iPad news out of Cupertino, we gained a window of insight into one of the most driven people on the planet, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who reportedly characterized software developer Adobe as "lazy", adding, "They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it." Steve Jobs, and his team are notorious for perfecting their products down to the pixel and down to the millimeter and doing things over and over again to get them "right", not just "acceptable". One can imagine the fun and excitement that would take place if he were to get the opportunity to run Adobe for 100 days, cutting the fat and finding people to focus in a way where they are not today.

Part of what keeps me excited about Silicon Valley, and what attracts me to finding out more about the entrepreneurs driving the next generation of startups, or exchanging ideas with fellow writers and curators on the Web, is seeing this drive for greatness and refusal to compromise. It can be pretty easy to tell when some people have the drive, and also easy to tell when others don't. Those that slip deadlines, or ship mediocre products, or don't respond to support issues, or leave the office at 5 o'clock to get home in time for primetime TV are easily exposed.

I'm not 22 years old any more, like I was in 1999, when there was little keeping me from being 100 percent dedicated to the job. Now, staying a few extra hours at the office, or embedded in my laptop at home, takes time away from my wife and the twins. While I wouldn't exchange them for anything, I do sometimes get jealous at the opportunity some Valley leaders have to feed the fire in their belly to achieve and achieve. I dream of finding a team that wants to put sleeping bags under the desks, like Jerry Yang of Yahoo! was always said to have done, and finding a team that is just as excited about talking shop on a Sunday as they are on a Tuesday. (If you've ever seen the reverse, it too can be draining)

It's part of why I often say, "Sleep is a waste of time. And unproductive."

Now that there are so many outlets on the social Web for us to see what people are doing, and sharing, and writing and thinking, we have more and more ways to find out how people are using their work time and their leisure time. There's a good reason that Steve Jobs and his direct reports aren't posting their every nuance to microblogging sites. There's a reason Sergey Brin and Larry Page only surface on rare occasions at corporate events. These guys, and many many others like them, have a drive to succeed and never accept second best or treat failure as an inevitability. It is a lifelong race that has no finish line, and they can never stop. I may not be scoring patents and writing the best code on the planet, but I do not want to be second-best. I want to win on virtue of being consistent, driving quality, thinking in a way that is differentiated, and being active in a beneficial way in as many places as I can to distribute value. If you can achieve, never accept the opportunity to not do your best, and expect the same from everyone.

January 29, 2010

Fabulis Scores $625k In Funding for Gay Community Site

Jason Goldberg's new startup, Fabulis, a new service targeting the lucrative, but potentially underserved, gay male market, announced the raise of $625,000 in seed funding today, the majority of which will be used to "build product". Fabulis' launch comes on the heels of Goldberg's success in building and selling Socialmedian to XING in 2008, which itself followed his work at Jobster, one of the more visible jobs and recruiting sites on the Web. The first round of funding came from the same supporters who invested in Socialmedian, clearly happy with their returns from the 2008 deal.

Following success with Socialmedian and Jobster, Goldberg sees Fabulis as a personal venture, about him and his friends. As he wrote me in an e-mail today, "If we can't get this right, we should just hang it up."

Fabulis' goal, in Goldberg's words, is to establish the site as the "definitive service that gay men around the world rely on to help them connect with amazing experiences." The company is planning to launch its Web site and mobile applications, for iPhone and other platforms, in the Spring, which will help site members to get tailored suggestions on "where to go, what to do and who to meet".

As has been well covered in demographic studies, gay men have a disproportionate amount of disposable income and discretionary time when contrasted to the general population. Goldberg and team look to tap into the $400 billion spent annually in the US alone by this group, and leverage the high amount of activity the demographic participates in for travel, online commerce, and early adoption. Goldberg's stats said that gay men are more than twice as likely to own an iPhone as their straight equivalents, and were also more likely to own laptops or digital video recorders.

Despite all this, Fabulis doesn't believe that there are adequate solutions online that help this market. Traditional travel sites do not target the gay male demographic, nor do restaurant listings, or other marketplaces, making the gay community rely more on word of mouth than any centralized directory.

Fabulis' focus may seem somewhat exclusionary to straight visitors or same sex female couples, but Goldberg thinks this focus will really give the site an advantage.

"Fabulis is intended for gay men and their friends. We are very focused on our target market," Goldberg said. That's not to be exclusionary, rather just to make sure that the site appeals well to our target user. This site is unapologetically for gay men," he added.

With such a massive growth in niche social networking sites focused on specific tasks, be that for credit card sharing, calendar broadcasting or location checkins, the opportunity to focus all the major social elements into a recommendation service for a lucrative demographic looks extremely promising, if it is done well. And unlike many Web services, Fabulis appears to already have a business model in mind that will make money - one that is "not just a straight ad model (pun intended)", Goldberg said.

After the successful launch to sale of Socialmedian, Goldberg is also doubling down on seeing how social relationships form and evolve in a community. He wrote me, explaining one aspect to the social graph that differs between gay men and the rest of the population:

"One really interesting aspect of gay male relationships that we're also spending a lot of time on is how the gay male social graph functions differently than that of the typical straight person," Goldberg said. "For instance, for most straight people, the social graph of who you know is enough. Facebook is really good at helping you share and discover things with your friends. But with gay men, it is often as useful to know what friends-of-friends are doing or recommending or where they are going. And, for gay men, even just knowing what everyone in your city is doing or gravitating towards is very interesting. So, that's an interesting problem to solve, how to make the big gay world seem a whole lot smaller."

And if you think the name is "Fabulis", you can tell the company is looking to have a good time building a "fabulis" product. You can get a "Fabulis shirt" just by explaining how you are Fabulis. The Fabulis blog explains.

January 28, 2010

Google's Mac Mail Uploader Taunts Would-Be GMailers

Tonight, I thought I saw the final missing piece fall into place that would let me take my gigabytes and gigabytes of e-mail off my hard drive and put them in the cloud, setting the stage for a long-discussed, but never fully implemented, move from my decade-old Mac.com e-mail address to a more Web savvy GMail account. An update on Google's Mac Blog introduced a new software option that promises to take all your Mail files from your personal computer, and take them to Google Apps. A free utility, the quick download looked like it was going to get me one step closer to a Web-centric experience, moving to the cloud. But it looks like I am still on the outside looking in, even though the product's release is extremely promising for an eventual solution.

More than two years ago, I talked about the potential attraction of GMail to corporate users who have long been tethered to the world of Microsoft. I said that Importing PST Files, or e-mail archives common to Microsoft Outlook, could be GMail's secret weapon. In the ensuing years, tools have been made to help upload e-mail from Windows, and to migrate Web mail to Google e-mail accounts. But tonight's announcement was the first for Mac users, who, despite the many synergies between Apple and Google, often find themselves last served, behind Windows and Linux users, by the Mountain View company.

101,000 messages to upload over 28 hours. Do it!

So, of course, I downloaded the application immediately. Without any configuration on my end, it found my Mail.app e-mail and the correct hierarchy, looking to move more than 100,000 messages I've been hoarding since the mid 1990s to the cloud, with appropriate labeling. The expected move time for these 100,000 messages? Almost 30 hours. But at least it was something.

Unfortunately, as many good things tend to have, there was a catch. The e-mail uploader "currently can upload only to Google Apps email accounts, and not to gmail.com or googlemail.com accounts", so the planned migration, once again, seems to be on hold.

Curses! No upload to GMail! Can I hack this?

Given the wording of the post, the author, Greg Robbins, seems highly aware of the issue, having called it out, and the word "currently" is promising that a solution may soon arrive. But until that time, I will continue to keep using my Mac.com e-mail and storing my data locally. For me, the archives are almost as important, and in some cases, more important, than my most recent data. If I could upload my 100,000+ e-mail messages, with appropriate labeling, to GMail and have the search functionality and all other great items offered in GMail, I would have started the process tonight, but the restriction to Google Apps keeps us on the outside looking in, still.

The promise of the move is tempting enough to open up a new Google Apps account, but I'm not interested in further forking my e-mail experience with more and more accounts to check. It's already a challenge to get work e-mail with multiple clients, and my various online accounts. I have been wanting a real Mac-friendly E-mail uploader to GMail since shortly after its debut, and almost six years after GMail shocked the world with its invention, I still don't have it. So Greg, I know you want what I want, so how can we make this happen?

iPad Wins On Casual Computing, Content Consumption

Despite my reputation as an Apple fanboy, through the months of rumors and hype around Apple's tablet, I remained relatively quiet. While it may have reduced my page views potential, I've made a cognitive choice not to be the fifteenth person jumping into a dogpile just to say I did it. If you wanted rumors and guesses, they were out there. If you wanted speculation and mockups, you knew where to find it. And when the big day came yesterday, instead of calling in sick and watching Steve Jobs wow the faithful in San Francisco, I was working, taking part in a full day consulting engagement with a new client working on some very interesting things.

But with 24 hours plus after the iPad has moved from rumor to reality, I am as unimpressed with the swarm of armchair quarterbacking that is going on from many corners of the Web pointing out its shortfalls when contrasted to their own dream machines, or trying to find out why feature X made it but feature Y did not as I was with their thin rumors. I've seen people claiming that the debut of the iPad is a big bucket of iFail, that it's a dud, that it's "not for you", or in the reverse, that it means the death of TV, the death of banner ads online, the death of Flash, the death of... yeah, you get it.

Without shooting myself in the foot, this is part of why the blogosphere can at times get a bad name. This is why Apple can afford to keep its eyes closed to the rumors and speculation and suggestions by committee, for if the iPad had been developed by the many who have designed its tombstone over the last 24 hours, it would be too expensive, late to market, too heavy, or simply defy the laws of physics.

To question Apple's decisions at this point, after the success of the iPhone, and the iTunes Store and the iPod before them, on the heels of the iMac, and Mac OS X and the top-quality MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines, is pretty silly. Put toe to toe with any other hardware and software company on the planet, I think I am going to pick the Apple team every time, because they simply know how to focus and execute.

Today, I finally took the time to watch Steve Jobs introduce the iPad. While some may have derided the iPad as simply a larger iPod Touch, I believe the most important part of what Jobs focused on was the reason for such a device, sitting between an iPod and a laptop. The need for such a product would be obviated if it could not do certain tasks better than an iPod or better than a laptop. Steve said it needed to browse the Web better, to play videos and iTunes better, and to look at photos better. It is also as important to focus on what he did not say it was intended to do. It was not built to "create" content better. Even though it does have e-mail, and iWork is to be soon available also, this device is built to be an amazing content consumption device.

The iPad is not a Photoshop machine. It is not designed to create PowerPoint slides. But it is designed for how many of us are using our computers today - to consume content. We read Web sites and blogs. We watch videos. We look at photos. We update our social networks. What the iPad is is the stepping stone from the laptop to the virtual "cloud machine", with no hard disk at all, which we may all see some day, the true network computer which has been promised for a decade-plus.

The iPad is designed for casual computing. The presentation yesterday did not focus on speeds and feeds. There was not megahertz bake-off with the A4 chip against Intel processors. Instead, we saw Scott Forstall snowboarding from the couch, and checking his Facebook wall. Steve Jobs looked at photos from vacation trips, sent a single-sentence e-mail and chilled to Bob Dylan.

The price of the iPad, starting at only $499 for an entry level unit, is about the same as the first iPods were in 2001 ($399), and they only did one thing - music. But instead of being limited to just one task, the iPad does about 90% of what you have come to expect from a traditional $1,000 to $2,000 laptop. For all the derision of the iPad in the world of business, it could be a fantastic tool for business meetings around round tables, and at home, it could be a fantastic Web tablet for people of all generations. Forget about finding a niche for me to use it, in addition to my iPhone and MacBook Air. Why shouldn't an iPad, version one or version two, become the first computing device for my kids? At its low price, large enough screen for their small hands, and instant access to iTunes apps, that could end up what happens in the next few years.

While the iPad does not run a derivative of Mac OS X, what instant integration with the iTunes App Store has done is turned the old adage of Macs not having enough software titles completely on its head. While more and more of our activity today comes through Web services, the iPad starts with tens of thousands of potential apps, on day one. Contrast this with what will no doubt be a future alternative to the iPad, with Google's Chrome OS, which may be a winner in browsing the Web and having a cheap price point, but won't likely come close to offering such a massive library of apps.

At the beginning of the year, I said that 2010 computing was going to be four things: Lighter, Faster, Mobile and Connected. The iPad is lighter, mobile and connected, three of the four, and it looks faster than the iPhone in terms of loading and processing apps. Reading the tea leaves that showed the MacBook Air line was not going to be updated this week, accurately, I did pick up my MacBook Air refurbished a few weeks ago, and it is already acting as my own cloud machine. Despite getting the 128 gigabyte hard drive, I still have more than 100 gigabytes available, as I continue to work toward a cloud experience. The iPad is another step in that direction, as it doesn't look open to third party software installs, and like the Air, does not have a removable media drive.

The iPad simply makes sense. I don't need to hold one to know how it will work, because I have become so familiar with the iPhone experience. I don't have to carry it from room to room while using the Web as I know I would, or read books or other content on it, instead of the Kindle, as I know it's better from day one, with more functionality, a better screen and real color. I do not care about all the whining that is going on about it missing a camera, or whether it supports Flash, or whether it needs a USB port or two to fit in. This is the first generation, and like the iPod and iPhone before it, the first generation is going to get updated and antiquated in about a year's time, as we continue to see the product evolve. The iPad, despite not being perfect, is the best product on the market at this pricepoint, period. It can make casual computing comfortable, and continue to erode the complexity so long associated with PCs from any source.

Have I purchased one yet? No. Having just purchased the Air, I am plenty happy with it. But I know an iPad, either this version or the next, will make it into my home. And if the twins have their druthers, we'll probably end up with two. So it's time to stop complaining about dream machines and misplaced expectations, and time to start trusting Steve. No other company, Google and Microsoft included, could have pulled off what Apple did yesterday. They are going to sell a ton of these machines, and you'll see them in places you never expected. Casual computing and content consumption are going to drive it.

January 25, 2010

Can You Filter for Quality News Amidst Instant Analysis?

With real-time news and distribution increasingly becoming the norm for many product launches and events, the interpreters of the news who pass their findings your way don't often have additional information that was gleaned as exclusive. As events are live streamed directly to the public, or presentations are mass broadcast to large groups simultaneously, those headlining the news are armed not with inside sources and first person quotes, but instead with immediate analysis of the events to try and put their own unique spin on history, separating themselves from their peers.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a post titled Launching Products in the Age of Instant Analysis, highlighting the tech media's instantaneous interpretation of products like Google Finance and semi-regular introductions from Apple. You could later see tech bloggers swarm around Cuil and Microsoft's Origami platform, declaring each of them as failures, fairly accurately.

In the ensuing time, news has gotten even more rapid, and even more participants are helping to broadcast events, not just through their blogs and publications, but on Facebook, Twitter and many other social media properties. Those that attend live gatherings get an edge over their competition through speed of publishing, speed of transmission of photos and videos, higher quality videos, a better angle, or through an innovative use of a new Web service. We saw this with the recent Nexus One announcement from Google, and will inarguably see it again this Wednesday, when Steve Jobs entertains a hungry press corp looking for the latest from Apple.

Wednesday's entertainment will be much like many similar events before it, no doubt. Scads of gadget bloggers and Macintosh faithful will be there, flanked by general tech reporters, and the mainstream press. There may be a QuickTime stream, and if not, the absence of said stream will be made fairly irrelevant thanks to near-immediate live blogging, best exemplified by the work at Engadget or MacRumors Live in years past. Other sites will try to do the same, but to choose their work over the seasoned pros should only be done out of compassion by family members or significant others of the writers themselves.

Essentially, as Steve Jobs and his team flip through each successive Keynote slide, or walk through each carefully rehearsed product demo, those waiting and watching will all find out at the same time. The news you see or read through your computer screen will not be substantively less accurate or less speedily discovered than by those who were actually there. The press corp, in an effort to drive home their own relevancy and highlight their value through a key thing called "access", will drive home their recaps of the proceedings. Those driven by the quantity of posts will give each major product or feature its own story. Quotes off the cuff may be spun as insight themselves, and others will simultaneously post how each introduction will place in history, or judge its success or failure relative to the meteoric expectations they drove themselves. Subsequent stories will fawn over the first views of the product at stores, we will see glorious unboxing videos, disassembly of the parts, and estimates to total costs and product margins. Speculation will ensue as to whether the company built too many machines or not enough, if it's taking too long to reach customers, or if they priced the product too high. (They never complain that it's too cheap, after all)

All these angles and all this spin from all these places... While in the past, media properties were judged by their ability to get access to individuals and find things out that were not known by anyone else, or before they were supposed to be aired, the flattening of the media and the measurement of what some would say are the wrong metrics (be it page views, retweets or whatever your favorite statistic of the day is), have delivered a scenario by which there is more noise than ever, and as consumers, we must filter like mad.

Robert Scoble, a peer, and fellow geek and curator, said that he will be skipping out on Wednesday's news, and watching the news ink feeding frenzy as it seeps through our computer screens. His goal won't be necessarily to report on the news, which will be common knowledge as soon as he starts typing, but to find the best interpretations of the news from his favorite sources. He publicly will be doing something we all must learn to do - separating the news discovery artists from the news spin artists. With tools like Twitter and other networks making it ever easier to hit the publish button, our ability to screen, filter and decide what information is good for us is going to be increasingly tested.

Twitter Expands Technical Ops Team for Capacity Growth

If the company's recent hiring practices are any indication, fail whales may soon fade into the Web's memory bank, as Twitter continues to expand its team focused on data center and hosting solutions, or technical operations, hoping to scale the company's capabilities in line with and in advance of future growth. Today's newest hire is Lisa Phillips, who leaves Six Apart, no stranger to the high scale and high activity Web services arena.

As outlined on Lisa's LiveJournal page from earlier this month, Lisa is starting her position as Capacity Planning Manager today, and will be based in Seattle, visiting Twitter headquarters in San Francisco often to work with the technical ops team.

No stranger to spills and crashes, Lisa is also an avid roller derby participant with Bay Area Derby Girls.

January 24, 2010

EdgeTheory: Apple’s Closed Approach in an Open World

In advance of all the fun and fury that will be sent Apple's way this week, as many are expecting new hardware from Cupertino on Wednesday, EdgeTheory conversationalist Chris Saad and I talked about how Apple can be so successful with its closed, proprietary, approach when we tend to promote and hope for openness from companies we do business with on the Web. In addition to discussing Apple, we talk about Microsoft not getting enough credit for its own innovation, and trip ourselves up on what exactly came first... USB or FireWire.

Listen in below:

January 21st: EdgeTheory Conversations: Twitter's New Suggestions

RowFeeder Tracks Twitter Terms In Real-Time Database

Two weeks ago, I introduced Searchtastic's ability to search Twitter, and enable the export of any search results to a Microsoft Excel file. While Searchtastic does a good job enabling export of any search on the fly, it doesn't go deep enough for more popular terms, only offering the last few dozen. RowFeeder, one of the many offerings from Damon Cortesi, creator of TweetStats and other programs, is the first volley to launch from the mysterious Untitled Startup, and it too tries to convert Twitter search results to an actionable database. It does so through utilizing Google Docs, and already has a business model, powered by Laura Fitton's OneForty.com.

For $2.49, you can ask RowFeeder to track a Twitter search term and back up all positive hits in the next 48 hours to a Google spreadsheet. Should you need more time, such as for a 3 or 5 day conference, you can send a note to RowFeeder and ask for the time to be extended.

Setting up RowFeeder is really quite easy. You enter the term you want tracked, see if RowFeeder can do it, (The more general or popular the term, the less likely it is to work) and pay your $2.49. Upon payment, RowFeeder sends you a unique Google Docs spreadsheet link for your tracked term, and you have access.

Once this has been enabled, your spreadsheet starts filling up with tweets that match your criteria, with the username, the tweet itself, data on the sender, and time on the tweet. You can export the results, or even push the results to a live Web page, viewable by anyone.

I thought checking out RowFeeder was worth about five bucks, so I did two queries, the first being an obvious vanity search to track mentions online and see who was distributing my content, and the second, a more broad test, was to track mentions of TiVo, my favorite DVR.

The ability to make the spreadsheets public is a big bonus, and as you can see, the trend is to mine Twitter and other social media networks for Marketing or brand tracking potential. RowFeeder offers a solid solution for not a lot of money. It's not free, and doesn't enable databases for every term, like Searchtastic does, but its results are more complete, and are completely automated for future results, not just past results. You can find RowFeeder at http://www.rowfeeder.com.

January 23, 2010

Hard But Smart Decisions: Blogger Tackles The .5% Problem

One of the most difficult decisions a product manager can make is one that could possibly negatively effect a loyal, but very small, population of users. Whether it be the reaching of a crossroads around supporting a legacy product or feature, or finding far too many engineering resources are spent with little or no return, it can be tempting to refuse compromise and continue foolhardily ahead, trying to be all things to all people. But sometimes, it is smarter to draw a line in the sand, and make a decision. With a proper amount of foresight and communication, the impact can be reduced, and for the most part, the potential tsunami can be reduced to a mere trickle.

Quietly, on Friday afternoon, Google's Blogger division pre-announced the group's plan to phase out support for FTP publishing to the service. The company explained that FTP publishing in Blogger will be unsupported after March 26th, and the service is working in the interim to provide a simplified migration tool for impacted users, as well as a dedicated blog and help documentation, extending beyond what promises to be an "all hands on deck" approach from the team's members.

Blogger, widely considered to be the largest blogging network in the world, has at times been seen to trail competitors in capability and features, even as the service has more recently introduced a comparative barrage of new options in the last few months, coinciding with its ten year anniversary. As product manager Rick Klau communicated, the team has seen a drain on resources which has impacted the ability to improve Blogger beyond its current state, and much of that drain has been from a .5% share of users who have relied on FTP.

Without going too much into detail on the technical side, it is clear that among Google's strengths in its array of services is the ability to scale and have no bottlenecking, including dynamic access to content from an array of servers. As a recently converted FTP Blogger user, I know the experience I had on the FTP site was less robust and less dynamic than the Google experience I've long been used to. Switching, though a non-trivial process last fall, which also saw me migrate from www.louisgray.com to blog.louisgray.com, has been nothing but good news for me since, with greater access to all the new Blogger features, and near-instant publishing without outages that used to plague the FTP service. (See: Google Blogger FTP Publishing: Out for 12+ Hours from June of 2008)

Having worked for the past decade plus with technology companies who have seen significant upgrades from product generation to product generation, there come times when you have to announce the end of life for a first generation product, or make it clear that a specific software release is code complete, and won't move forward with the rest of the family. This can seem like the end of the world as an individual, especially at first, but, as part of the bigger picture, it is almost always the right idea, or else you suffer from a never-ending engineering drain and endless testing for compatibility ahead of feature leadership. A good example of this that most can remember was when Apple announced work on Mac OS 9 was complete, and the rest of the world moved to Mac OS X, laggers be darned.

Klau's post promises "a number of big releases planned in 2010", many of which would no doubt be available only to those users not using FTP. In order for Blogger to move forward, they know they need focus and they are starting the process by talking to a vocal, non-trivial minority of folks who should be learning in the next few weeks how they can make the change and what that means for their future. While some may say they are fed up with Blogger and find themselves staring at a new WordPress install, Blogger is doing the right thing by taking a hard choice and looking ahead to the future. (See also: Rick Klau: Turning Off Blogger FTP)

I hope to be talking a bit more on this with the Blogger team and look forward to seeing their new announcements. If you are a Blogger user on FTP now and see this news as the end of the world, let's talk about it. I survived, and it looks like it should be even easier for you.

January 22, 2010

XING Closing The Door On Socialmedian by January 31st

Just over a year's time following Socialmedian's acquisition by XING, the social news site is going to fade away, as users will find themselves under the umbrella of the European online business network. This comes after the recent news that Socialmedian founder Jason Goldberg, who whipped the site into position for acquisition in just eight months as a public service, had left XING, headed back to the United States to start his new company, Fabulis.

Socialmedian, one of my favorite sites in all of 2008, became a go-to site for many Webheads, helping to surface breaking news on technology, politics and other topics, cultivated by your social graph. Content pulled into the site from Google Reader, blog posts and other Web sites could then be discussed in a centralized forum. One of the best things about the site was that it would scan the incoming data for its topics and automatically assign it to networks you chose to follow, such as Venture Capital, Apple, Mobile or anything else. While you could follow individuals, just like on most social networks, the ability to sign up to a news network on a specific topic meant you could find the best of the Web, cultivated by smart folks, on just the topics you liked.

Coming in a year that also saw tremendous growth in aggregation services like FriendFeed, it was not a surprise that Socialmedian was snapped up so quickly. In the last 12 months, Jason and his colleagues worked to combine the filtered news service with Xing's social network, popular in Europe, but less popular in the United States. In the meantime, traffic to Socialmedian itself dropped to about half where it was at the beginning of the year.

Existing Socialmedian.com users will get a month of XING premium membership, but I don't expect many to make the switch, having since moved to get their news elsewhere. Meanwhile, Jason, who discussed the transition in a blog post at the end of the year, is focused on building out Fabulis, described as "a place where gay men and their gay-friendly friends celebrate life," looking to "produce the ultimate gay guide to living -- all through user generated experiences." The site's blog, already getting updated, is a little sparse on the details, but with Jason's history, it is one worth watching, no matter your preferences.

For more history on Socialmedian.com, check out some of our archives:

January 21, 2010

EdgeTheory Conversations: Twitter's New Suggestions

From: EdgeTheory Conversations with Chris Saad (@chrissaad) and myself, discussing Twitter's incremental changes to the controversial Suggested User List and launch of Suggestions.

Referenced include:
@joshelman, @danielbru, @gregarious, @jesse, @anildash, @rsarver, @scobleizer and @twitter.

Listen in below. Total talk time is about 20 minutes.

Seesmic, Microsoft Team for Mainstream Twitter Tool: Look

Despite Twitter's phenomenal growth over the last few years, many see the microblogging network as odd, for geeks, or difficult to fully embrace, as it can be hard to find relevant content or a challenge to find people to follow or engage with. Seesmic, which has been making headlines on a regular basis over the last few months as Loic LeMeur's company has launched an array of clients for different devices, and even purchased Ping.fm for multi-network broadcasting, has now partnered with Microsoft and the Windows 7 team in Redmond to deliver a new product which brings engaging Twitter content to the desktop, without requiring users to even log in to view content.

The new tool, called Seesmic Look, hopes to make browsing Twitter as easy as selecting channels on a television. Look organizes people and brands, led by many celebrities' accounts, and centralizes an area for brands to communicate to potential customers, much like Facebook Fan Pages today. The product is a Windows desktop application, prepopulated with top users' accounts, by category.

Ellen DeGeneres In Seesmic Look

Instead of presenting the individual's updates on a monchromatic background, ordered from most recent to oldest, as has become the standard in Twitter clients for both the Web and desktop, Look displays the content in floating box windows atop artistically designed pages, featuring artsy Hollywood names for some celebrities and bold logos for participating brands.

Time's Channel on Seesmic Look

Like more traditional Twitter clients, Seesmic Look lets users track words or phrases through the application's search functionality. But as with the dedicated channel pages, the search results are also played back in a more visually entertaining array, more in common with a computer screensaver than flat search results common on practically every other solution.

If users do opt to login to Seesmic Look, it comes as no surprise that one can manage online mentions, direct messages and updates from within the application. Once logged in, you can make replies, favorite updates, view user profiles, post photos and shorten links, just as you can with other clients, but leveraging the unique application's interface.

Searching Twitter in Seesmic Look

Browsing Twitter Lists In Seesmic Look

For longtime Twitter veterans, Look won't add dramatically new functionality that would have them deleting their Seesmic Desktop, TweetDeck or Tweetie, even if you prefer native Windows clients. But for the more casual users who have heard of Twitter and didn't have a great idea as to how they should get started, Look should get them to do just that.

After a slow start in the innovation side that had many wondering when Seesmic was going to stop parroting TweetDeck and following the company's lead, it is clear they have achieved momentum and are looking to find new ways to bring the realtime Web discussions out of the edge and into the norm. Teaming up with Microsoft's Windows 7 team looks to have been a fortuitous relationship that is helping the company deliver a unique interface and new approach to consuming data from the real-time firehose.

January 20, 2010

The Cloud Is Within Reach From the Air

At the turn of the new year, I mentioned my current state of thinking around 2010 computing, saying the trends were toward getting lighter, faster, mobile and connected. While many are shaking in anticipation of Apple's announcements next week, spurred even further tonight with news from the Wall Street Journal about Apple's embracing a cloud-powered iTunes, I took a major move myself this week to practice what I project, aiming to live a much more cloud-connected life. The tool? A new (to me) MacBook Air, purchased from the Apple Store online, refurbished, saving me more than a few bucks.

While the Air is not brand new, it's a big step forward beyond the 2007 era MacBook Pro I've held onto the last two years-plus. Despite that machine's slightly-faster CPU power and larger hard drive, contrasted to the Air, its sluggishness grew too much to bear, bogging down from applications and mysterious bugs as time went by. It came to the point I could barely use apps like Microsoft Office without completely stalling. So I'm trying a new experiment, one that gets very close to this promised cloud future that is coming.

First, I am keeping the "old" laptop at home as the home "media" machine. That laptop will stick around and be the computer where I use Photoshop, my 60+ gigabytes of iTunes and our family's photos and videos. (And yes, it's all backed up)

Second, I am going to do the best I can to keep the Air light on applications, with the clear exception being Microsoft Office, out of necessity, not out of love.

When I set up the Air, I did not move over all my music, or my photos or my videos. The Air's 128 GB hard drive, even if it is a fast solid state drive, didn't need to be chewed up with 90 gigabytes of media. And I left more than 90 percent of my applications and utilities on the old machine, including Adobe's extremely demanding family of CS applications, from Photoshop and Illustrator to Reader. If I can help it, I will stay in the browser as much as possible, visiting Office on occasion, and maybe, if I want to, firing up Tweetie, should I grow tired of Web clients.

The goal is to choose Webmail over desktop mail, Spotify over iTunes, and for the most part, live in Safari and Chrome whenever possible.

This is not a full move to the cloud. I am not yet ditching Office for Google Apps (yet), and I still need to find a place to hold all that rich media in the cloud, if I am to do this for real, but it's close, and I am going to make a concerted effort to do as much as I can online rather than off. It's good for the computer, and it's good for me.

Apple & Google are Primary Enemies? At What Cost?

BusinessWeek has an interesting article that is being passed around the Web tonight talking about potential discussions between Apple and Microsoft to make Bing the default search engine on the iPhone, replacing Google. The reason for this, the article speculates, is the increased competition between Cupertino and Mountain View, with the advent of the Android platform and Chrome OS. The article goes on to quote an unnamed source as saying that "Apple and Google know the other is their primary enemy", leading to the conclusion that working with Microsoft would be more advantageous for Apple than sticking with Google.

So what is this about? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

I have talked at length previously about the capability of Google to take on Apple on many fronts, highlighted most directly in my "Could A Real Apple Fan Completely "Go Google"?" post last October, looking at the two companies offering competing products at the OS layer, the browser layer, the mobile platform, and many other applications. That the two firms are increasingly overlapping is clear.

But primary enemies? Really? I am not yet sure.

The 1980s saw Apple's primary enemy as Big Blue. IBM and its IBM PC was seen as this monolithic figure that needed to be combatted, made famous with Apple's 1984 ad which introduced the Macintosh. By the 1990s, having been relegated to a minority market share, smacked down repeatedly from Redmond, Apple was going up against Microsoft, which was mocked as "The Evil Empire" and attacked around the world as a monopoly. At times, Apple and Dell were seen as rivals. In the 2000s, Microsoft itself focused on different mortal enemies, from Netscape and AOL to Google, with Apple being a mere thorn in its side.

Jobs' Deal With Microsoft in 1997

Google's rise in the 2000s saw not Apple as a major enemy, but more accurately, Yahoo! and Microsoft. Google eventually grew to the point that it was half-heartedly rooting for Yahoo! to play a larger role on the Web, to reduce anti-competitive discussions, and Microsoft's enterprise dominance has been the clear target for the company's push of Google Apps, and growing Office suite.

In the decade, for the most part, Google and Apple remained friends - with Eric Schmidt's role on Apple's board for the majority of the decade being the most obvious example. Apple made the right decisions through the decade to include Google when it made the most sense, integrating Google search into Safari, and Google Maps on the iPhone.

Even with the increased competition, Google never flipped the switch that Microsoft once did, turning "evil". Whether it's assumed Apple and Google are best friends at this point is not as important as the two companies making the right choices for consumers.

Going back to the BusinessWeek article, the main focus is that Apple is looking to make Bing the default search engine on the iPhone, which would reduce, only mildly, some exposure to Google Search, and would help Microsoft more as their improving search engine is in the hands of iPhone fans everywhere. But this could be a humungous case of sour grapes, poised to no doubt leave a bad taste in our mouths. And we've seen it play out before.

In 1997, Steve Jobs, returning to the CEO position at Apple after his jettison the decade before, struck a deal with Microsoft and his arch-rival Bill Gates, to have Microsoft invest $150 million in the floundering Apple and, ridiculously, make Internet Explorer the default browser for the Mac. He even went so far as to say it was the best out there, dissing Netscape Navigator. It was a huge volley in Microsoft's battle to crush Navigator, and it reeked of backroom shenanigans that defied reality.

In 2010, moving to Bing would be perceived in the same light. While Bing has its fans, and I know some great people who work on the engine, the assumption from users is that Google is the gold standard in search. If Apple sells its customers short in what is perceived as a second class product, it erodes the customers' trust, and perception of quality from what's supposed to be a premium mobile experience. Even if Bing is twice as good as Google, no handful of on-stage demos from Steve Jobs and his team is going to make people think there's more to the story than Apple playing favorites.

From my view, Google is as concerned with Facebook and Microsoft as it is with Apple. If Apple is going after Google with Bing as a revenge play, then we customers are pawns being forced to accept embedding of products we didn't request. That very thing is what was at the heart of the DOJ's case against Microsoft in the late 1990s, and has me feeling less inclined to trust Apple, not more so.

Apple has gained a loyal customer base through focusing on best of breed, even if it costs a little bit more. From Apple, I should be able to assume a higher quality product, and something that reflects real worth. Bing is good, the very best Microsoft has ever offered in search, but backroom shenanigans dealt out due to hurt feelings or assumed alliances is wrong, no matter what. I don't think Apple and Google are going after each other's throats right now, and if so, Google is thinking about Apple less than Apple is thinking of them, so making a move because of enemies' rank is just ridiculous. It's not 1997 any more, and I have alternatives.

January 19, 2010

Abuzz Launches Social Media Search App for iPhone

As social media activity becomes an increasing portion of companies' marketing focus, including finding new clients and tracking company brands or product mentions across the Web, a virtual industry of reputation and analytics firms have sprung up to try and derive value from the noise. A simple application called Abuzz just hit the iTunes store with a goal of making these social media searches simple and mobile. The result is a lightweight client that tracks keywords across multiple outlets and even lets you respond to mentions from within the application.

Abuzz Lets You Set Campaigns and Keywords to Track

Abuzz's interface is very easy to grasp. Start by creating a new campaign (such as a brand name or product), add keywords to that campaign, and choose what communities to monitor. Abuzz comes standard with the ability to search blogs, Digg, forums and Twitter, and you can select to not search any of those communities if you believe they do not drive value.

Select Where to Search and Abuzz Delivers Results

Rather than passively watching the updates stream by, you can click through to any of them, including blog posts, which are displayed within Abuzz, without having to open Safari and exiting the app. Similarly, selecting relevant Tweets puts you into a Twitter stream of sorts. If you have entered your Twitter login information, you can respond to mentions, retweet activity with a single click, tag the content for later viewing, or even e-mail it to an interested party.

Abuzz Even Tracks Twitter Mentions and Messages

While Abuzz isn't trying to replace Tweetie or whatever your favorite Twitter client is on the iPhone, its integrated client is good enough for most tasks. It knows, once you have registered, how to easily discover your mentions on the service, and brings your direct messages to the fore for easy viewing.

Take Action on Tweets From Within Abuzz

The goal of Abuzz is to let you monitor social media sites with saved searches at any time from your iPhone. Today's Twitter clients tend to be heavy on the updating and light on the searching, but Abuzz makes the process all about finding relevant content and keeping it easily accessible. As you can see from my example screenshots, Abuzz makes it easy to track clients or recent companies I have written about to watch for impact. The application is authored by Shawn Farner, who details the app as "social search, plain and simple". You can find Abuzz here.

Disclosure: The application is $2.99 on iTunes. Shawn passed me a free code to review.

January 18, 2010

The Web's Impact and Looking to the Future: Web 2030?

It seems a bit redundant to talk about how much the Web has impacted my life and the way we communicate on a blog, but with the advent of the World Wide Web's recent 20th anniversary, I took some time last week to speak with Stu Miniman of EMC about how the Web has broken down barriers that were traditionally limited by geography or class, and how we as a society are increasingly turning to the Web first for news, business and entertainment. It can be tempting to pull out a crystal ball and project our own desires as to what the Web will look like 20 years from now, in 2030, but I know that any specifics I give would just be wrong, as they were for most guesses back in 1990.

What I do believe will happen is that as the components of the Web improve, from processors to networking and storage, so to will the Web's potential continue to grow. We will see further crumbling of barriers, and gain the ability to have shared experiences that may involve more senses than just sight and sound, which are predominant today.

Stu posted the discussions, as a correlation to ON Magazine, EMC's thought leadership magazine, on his blog earlier today, and you can find that, as well as comments from Hutch Carpenter, here: Celebrating the Web at 20. I have included the CinchCast of our call below, and you can read the full transcription on this page: The Web 2030:

Beyond Search: Twazzup Prepares New Twitter Web Client

Last April, Twazzup looked to make searching Twitter a more rich experience, one-upping the vanilla Twitter search interface by adding graphics, real-time updates, and influencers of individual accounts, to name a few most obvious improvements. Now, the company looks to be on the verge of shifting gears in an aggressive way, developing not yet another search engine, but instead, a feature-rich Web client for Twitter that looks within the real-time content stream to find different types of updates, and even goes so far as to expand links shared on Twitter, providing followers with a preview of that which you have shared. The result is easily the most compelling Twitter Web experience I have seen since Brizzly, even if it is not yet known when the service will open up to all, or what it means for the company's current search offering.

Twazzup Breaks Out Content by Type, Displays Rich Media, Integrates Search

With Twitter's maturation, the service has recently adopted a number of new features, including the much-discussed Lists, addition of geolocation, and integrated retweeting. These additions have led to greater functionality by practically all clients, but few have looked to take the next step, not only integrating the new options, but presenting a new approach to the real-time streams. Brizzly was among the first to debut in-line display of video and images. Twazzup does this also, but in addition, expands links to provide previews of content, like you see on Facebook, and the automated categorization of content by its type, a sentiment analysis of updates, and an associated tag cloud, velocity of updates, and the ability to take action on updates, such as favorites, retweets, or replies in a single click.

Viewing a list shows sentiment analysis and a content cloud

To be honest, the more I played with the beta functionality of the new Twazzup, the more features I uncovered. While not completely baked, it is easily the most feature-rich Web client out there, and when it does debut, it should see people kicking the tires in a big way.

Today, Twitter's standard Web client is functional, if not exciting. You have the familiar "What's happening?" box and a series of updates from those you follow, as well as your own personal statistics on the right. Twazzup focuses less on your own numbers, but those from your stream.

Note the velocity in the top right and new updates on Twazzup

Mentions on Twazzup also show tags, sentiment, who shared the content.

In addition to a simple "Post Update" button, Twazzup's client shows the total number of recent updates from those in my stream in the last hour, selects "Highlights", which includes those I talk to most often, influencers and popular shared links, "Photos and Video" for shares that display rich media, "Questions" for those updates that have questions, and "Map", which highlights updates that feature geolocation, complete with avatars from those Tweeters.

Check Out Twazzup's Map for Where Tweets Originate

Retweets, replies and favorites in line on Twazzup.

The velocity of the tweets can vary from time of day, of course. In my testing, it looked like the nearly 10,000 people I follow were tweeting at a velocity between 6,000 and 15,000 updates a day, on a quiet Sunday. No doubt a weekday, or a big news day, would see higher numbers. Given the high numbers, it can sometimes be hard to find the most relevant data. Twazzup dices these updates with its powerful search roots. A "Refine" search box on the right shows only those tweets in my stream that match keywords, and the search term is highlighted in results.

Searching for a frequent term in the stream on Twazzup

One of Twazzup's big features is a minimalist navigation bar atop the screen, which shows lists you follow, mentions, and an Inbox (where direct messages come and go). On the right side, you also have a "Settings" box which lets you choose what contributes to your "Highlights" on the page. It's much like the right navigation bar on the Twitter page, but the only numbers that populate it are those of how many mentions you have seen, how many new messages are in your in box, or how many new items are on your home stream.

I can choose my Highlights from Twazzup.

In place of the right side navigation, you get details on your stream, from a tag cloud based on included keywords, with larger words being used most frequently, and a smiley face to indicate positive feedback, or frown to indicate negative mood.

Twazzup's new Twitter client shows significant potential, especially when compared to Twitter.com and Brizzly, but it doesn't yet offer some of the more advanced features some clients offer, from what I could tell, including support for Facebook, multiple user support or columns, like Seesmic Web. But it does hint at API integrations, including a connection to LinkedIn, so I will be very interested in seeing what is in store for the very newest of Twitter Web clients. I don't yet have information on when the service will open up, or what this means for Twazzup's current search offering, but there will soon be a new name in town when it comes to Web interfaces for Twitter, and that name is Twazzup.