April 30, 2010

Google Checkout Web Element Simplifies E-Commerce

In a simple Friday update, Google's Web Elements team rolled out a number of new options for Web site owners to integrate the company's tools in their content. Among the updates was a new offering for Google Checkout, which, when used in combination with Google Docs, presents a very easy way for people to create online stores - for everything from physical goods to eBooks and services, depending on what you offer.

While Google Checkout has not enjoyed the market awareness and penetration of its competition, PayPal, the new offering lets users create their own marketplace on their own Web site, instead of resorting to other common methods, such as Yahoo! Stores or the Amazon Marketplace.

To create a store, one needs to make a new spreadsheet in Google Docs, with corresponding SKUs for the products, enter a price, and the total number of products available. Other features, including graphics and varieties of products are optional.

Web Elements comes into play when you link this database to the new Checkout gadget. As you can see below, I made a quick one to offer eBooks, product reviews or even one-day consulting. Depending on the store, you could of course sell specific goods, and draw down from your inventory - including the option of presenting a standard price for shipping and handling.

Once the gadget is created, you can post it to your blog, add it as a sidebar for your Web site, or just grab the HTML and post it elsewhere. All told, it's a solid way for individuals and small businesses to get into simple E-commerce without too many headaches.

Of note, while the offerings and prices for my demo are clearly examples only, if you hit the buy button and send cash my way, I am sure we can figure out something. So go for it.

My Demo Google Checkout Gadget from Web Elements:

April 29, 2010

EdgeTheory Conversations: HP Plucks Palm, Shelves Slate

Wednesday's announcement that HP will purchase Palm, and its accompanying WebOS, for $1.2 billion, has a lot of people wondering just what the slow-moving Silicon Valley giant has planned, and where Palm's OS will fit in their world, currently dominated with Microsoft software. Can HP turn Palm into a market winner more than just a technology showcase? Chris Saad and I discussed that tonight in another EdgeTheory conversation, where we also hear about Chris' lost opportunity to pick up an HP Slate, meaning he just might need to get an Apple iPad.

Also - we discuss Apple's opportunity against Android and Chrome OS from Google, and if open software should possibly run on closed hardware - especially in light of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' recent comments on Flash.

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

Listen in below:

Facebook Starts Mandatory Profile Linkage to Public Pages

With the company's new "Like" feature launched and controversial Open Graph API introduced last week, Facebook looks to be further extending the visibility of the Pages within the network - asking users to connect their various interests to the numerous Pages within the site, instead of them simply being loose preferences that led to search results, only slightly helpful at finding people with similar interests. Upon logging into Facebook, and visiting your profile, you might be asked to automatically connect your profile to each of the corresponding Pages, and if none exist, you may be prompted to create a new Page so it does.

Meanwhile, by linking your profile to these Pages, these connections are Public, another big move for the network to get our data out in the open.

Some of the 52 Public Pages Facebook Wanted Me to Connect

My Likes And Interests Translate to Public Pages, Pre-Checked

In the "Info" tab of your profile, it may now say "The things you care about will now link to actual Pages". Facebook scans your profile, finding if those things you have entered as your Likes and Interests, including your favorite Music, Movies and TV Shows, have corresponding pages. Similarly, it will try and match you with Pages for your "Work and Education", matching you with your colleagues, alumni, and even fellow citizens of your hometown and current city.

The Fine Print: Uncheck to Opt Out, and All Pages are Public

The more data you have on your profile, the more Pages you are prompted to connect to. For me, I was asked to Link to 52 separate pages, and all were pre-checked, by default. Facebook asked me to "Uncheck any Page you don't want to link to". Ominously, if I said I don't want to link to any Pages, these sections on my profile will be empty.

After Linking to Dozens of Pages, My Profile Is Much Cleaner, but Public

With the company moving away from "Fans" of Pages, the standard to date, and to the new "Like" model, considered more lightweight, this move to make it easier, and practically mandatory, to connect to public Pages, should see member counts on Pages skyrocket, and the available real estate for partners and advertisers to further mine your public data even higher.

While I had liked my profile being Page-free, I have to admit the new linkage is much more visually appealing.

April 26, 2010

Like It or Hate It, Facebook Shoves Us Down Slippery Slope

Last week, Facebook made some big announcements at the company's F8 conference, including a few aggressive moves to extend the company's presence to third party Web sites. The plan consisted largely to enable people to "like" content from around the Web, transmitting their downstream activity back to Facebook, and also - garnering an incredible amount of backlash from those opposed to the company's approach to automatically opt users in - they introduced the opportunity for partners to personalize your Web experience based on your profile. Facebook's introductions, as close as they are to exactly what I have been asking for over the last few years, are running contrary to what the company's large user base expected from the network, and the company's methods are presumably violating the public trust. While I do not have plans to delete my profile out of protest, as many have, I do not plan on acting as if any of my content placed on the site is done under the realm of being private. I expect my data, all of it, to be publicly searchable, shareable and indexable by the company and its partners, forever, and will act with that in mind.

In April of 2009, I practically begged for ad companies to "truly leverage our social profiles", specifically Facebook. At the time, I wrote:
" I think the real money is in Facebook offering to team up with all the major advertisers on the Web (Google/Doubleclick included) and letting said advertisers tap into our personal profiles, giving them a cut of the downstream revenue. Facebook has proven they know us, even as their ad team does not. Turn over the right data to ad people who do know what they're doing, and maybe I'll stop being annoyed by ads that have nothing to do with me."
Last week, Facebook opened up my profile to a select few partners, including Pandora, Yelp and Docs.com, a Microsoft front for their Web Office plans. While the ads are still terrible on Facebook (and other sites), presumably these three starter sites are going to be customized just for me. Sure enough, logging into each presents a "personalized" experience, featuring avatars of friends with whom I am connected. In theory, my recommendations on Yelp get better, my musical recommendations from Pandora get better and Docs... well, I have no idea. But two out of three's not bad, right?

Docs.com Uses Facebook to Personalize My Experience

I can't get too riled up about Facebook trying to make the Web a better place through leveraging my social profile. To be honest, I want this.

I want these downstream sites to tap into my personal profile and use the data they find. And I also believe that I am acting in a way online that doesn't have any skeletons in the closet, if all the data becomes public some day. I have seen Facebook work to extend to a more "public" (not open) status, and expect all my content to go with it.

I also can't get too riled up about Facebook's making this move unilaterally, especially given my stance on Buzz, when I thought the company (Google) made some initial mistakes around privacy, but I stuck with it, waiting for them to get the formula right. To accept Google's issues, but throw Facebook to the wolves would accurately appear two-faced.

From what I have seen, the major concerns around Facebook's moves are two-fold. First, there is a concern that they made these "special agreements" with the three mentioned merchants, and that this might be the tip of the iceberg, as they gain more relationships, and extend the ability for these relationships to see more and more of your content. Second, there is a concern, one I believe to be accurate, that the overwhelming majority of Facebook users will not only not understand what has changed, but they also will not know how to opt out of the process. It is clear that getting out of the process requires many steps, many more than it took to get into the process, effectively zero.

The flareup of response around Facebook's move has spawned more feedback from the network's blog, which aims to quell some of the concerns. In a post today, prefaced by "answers to your questions", Facebook said "Our highest priority is to keep and build the trust of the more than 400 million people who use our service every month," adding "None of your information—your name or profile information, what you like, who your friends are, what they have liked, what they recommend—is shared with the sites you visit with a plugin." The company also pointed to a help center, which tries to explain what is shared with whom when. The response wasn't very reassuring, but was better than nothing.

I am reminded of the phrase "first do no harm", which is often incorrectly attributed to the Hippocratic Oath. If Facebook has changed the rules in the middle of the game, and is slowly exposing more customer information than before, after they had an assumption of privacy, then that is wrong. But the question is, has Facebook violated users' trust based on the letter of the law, or the intent of the law? It seems to me that there are those who feel no data from Facebook should ever be shared with third parties without your explicit permission. But there are others, no doubt some at Facebook, who think you should be able to share as much as possible, until reaching the point where somebody could get hurt. So we ask, "where is the harm?" The benefit of a customized music station the borrows from your friends' likes seems fairly innocuous, as does personalized restaurant reviews. But then, what next?

One prominent tech geek I talked to on Friday asked me if I would be comfortable knowing my insurance carrier had shared my medical history with a third party, without giving me the opportunity to decline - suggesting Facebook's moves were the same - as one "trusted" resource passed along personal private data I had not intended to be public. While I understood his point, I did not share the outrage, as I never assumed my data on Facebook would be safe. In contrast to Blippy, Mint.com and others (which I discussed yesterday), I never had an explicit relationship with Facebook whereby I would give them information that, if it leaked, would fall into violation of contract or even legal territory.

As the tumult continues to rage, I think we are in an odd position in the industry, where we are in serious need of independent third party leadership who has our own data protection and privacy in mind. Many of the biggest names in the open standards front or in the privacy game are now working hard at the very companies who have a vested interest in monetizing our data. It's both a great thing and a bad thing, but when a company like Facebook makes moves like they have, it seems like we don't have anyone trustworthy to stand up and say "This is wrong" if it is indeed wrong, and spell it out. That's why on Saturday I posted a quick note to Google Buzz asking the leaders of these companies to find a way to help users without taking potshots at each other. I posted that note on Buzz, rather than this blog, as it was a casual and personal note, and it reached the people I hoped it would. But it also led to some tremendous conversation in the comments about why we need independent voices that have impact, and right now, it might have to be the government's oversight that lays down the law.

We are already seeing U.S. Senators asking for a solution to problems like those posted by Facebook and other companies who have our personally identifiable data and look to be cavalier about sharing it. Charles Schumer is already pushing the FTC for guidelines. But the case, as with most cases involving the Web, innovation and changing culture, is not cut and dry. There is not a "good guy" and a "bad guy" in this case. Take for example, David Recordon's position when he wrote: "Why f8 was good for the open web". I believe David thinks what Facebook is doing the right thing, just as much as I think some prominent Googlers and other techies think that Facebook is doing absolutely the wrong thing. It's a measure of whether you think Facebook is on the path to violating your trust, or if they already have, and depending on your experience, upbringing or personal preference, your results may vary.

As far as I am concerned, Facebook is in a very difficult position in terms of being able to make change and do so without upsetting the apple cart. The company enticed nearly a half-billion users into sharing some of their most private activity into the network, and now the company needs to grow in new ways that will require this data to be mined and shared. The company probably doesn't feel like it has the luxury of asking a percentage of its users for permission to share their data, because they know very few will outright, without convincing. To do so automatically and asking them to work hard to get out of the situation is a much more lucrative and beneficial position for them in terms of revenue and growth. It's very similar to what Dare Obasanjo of Microsoft said when we were at SXSW this March, when he suggested that users and companies' goals were in conflict.

Facebook has such a strong position in the social Web that they can do practically anything and keep users. My family uses Facebook for their networking, photo sharing and commenting. Even if they are vaguely aware of changes, they aren't going to delete their Facebook accounts because Facebook started being aggressive with its partners. And they know this. Facebook has an opportunity now to leverage their social capital and grow to be more of the rest of the Web - even if their users would not have given them permission in advance. Whether you think we are approaching the point of no return, or if we already crossed it, that's the direction and you can't undo it. Just plan on your data online being public - all of it.

Twitter Absorbs Two More Ex-Googlers, Threadsy Web Dev

The advent of a new week regularly means the addition of new employees to Twitter, and as is common, the much-discussed ambitious microblogging powerhouse is draining the intellectual coffers of larger Valley titans. Today, the company welcomes three more to its team, two of whom call Google their last stop. One of the adds was most recently the lead product manager for "Watch and Discovery" at YouTube.

The three new hires include Jacob Thornton (@jacobthornton), Brian Larson (@balarson) and Shiva Rajaraman (@shivalr). Their hires bring the total number of people followed by Twitter's team list to 191, which we've been told includes contractors and other friends of the company.

Jacob Thornton (LinkedIn | Twitter) was most recently listed as a product designer for Threadsy, a unified social messaging startup that was a participant at TechCrunch50 in 2009. Jacob, a social media app designer, worked on the front-end for Threadsy, and his departure is likely the reason that Threadsy is looking to hire a front-end Web site and HTML ninja. (Given the job was posted 2 weeks ago and his start date is today, it seems more than coincidence)

In parallel, Jacob also is behind the project somelemonade, a visual reader for Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube and Vimeo. That side project recently crossed 500 users. He joins Twitter as a release engineer.

Obligatory First Day Tweetage from Jacob

Shiva Rajaraman (LinkedIn | Twitter) was the senior product manager at YouTube for Watch and Discovery, where he was in place since September 2006, a month prior to Google's $1.65 billion acquisition. Shiva joins Twitter as a product manager focused on monetization.

Brian Larson (Twitter | Google Profile) is most recently of Google. Prior to joining Google, Brian picked up a computer science master's degree from Stanford, and co-authored a paper on distributed recovery from attacks on peer to peer systems (see PDF) in 2002. He joins Twitter as a software engineer on the search team.

April 25, 2010

Why I Trust Blippy, Mint and Others With My Financial Data

In an up and down week for the startup, Blippy gained a huge amount of unwanted attention on Thursday and Friday as it was discovered that four (and eventually five) of the company's users saw their credit card numbers exposed, in full, through creative Google searches (since removed). As somebody who has registered my credit card and debit card with Blippy, you might think my knee-jerk reaction would be to pull out my data, but it's not, and I am just as supportive of the creative site for sharing transactions as I ever have been. I will continue to encourage people who want to share this activity to use the site, and I am not any more shy about putting my data into their product than I was before. Similarly, I will continue tracking all my data on Mint.com and other sites, because these companies and others like them, have proven themselves to be trustworthy and innovative - delivering me real value.

I joined Blippy in January largely because as I have been participating in and advocating sites that tell people what we like for years, Blippy takes the next step and tells people what we actually purchase, going beyond the "like". I have watched Blippy expand its social capabilities, as you can follow friends, have conversations on transactions, and see groupings of similar behavior, seeing who is buying from specific vendors, or even finding out if other friends are buying the same things you are.

My Credit Cards Go to Blippy Automatically. Zero Concerns.

Unlike some users of the site, I opted to go "All in" with Blippy, sharing not just my soft accounts, like Zappos and iTunes, with the service, but all my purchases. That means you see the boring fillups at Chevron on my debit card, my cash withdrawals from the ATM, and yes, even my wife's Teletubbies DVD rentals on Netflix for my kids to watch. I did this because for much of what I do, I am living life in public. I believe in sharing as much as possible, partly demonstrating that there is little to hide. And while some of my transactions are boring, that's just who I am.

When it was reported this week, by VentureBeat, who, from my understanding, worked on the story for a few days before issuing their initial story, that some cards were exposed, it was quickly shown to have been a limited bug, related to early beta users using a specific card from a specific bank - and was completely out of the ordinary. Blippy quickly responded to the issue, and worked publicly with Google to solve the issue, keeping all of us informed, if we were nervous. (I wasn't)

Mashable's Typical Approach to News Reported by Others

Meanwhile, you saw the typical tech press pile-on from people who had done no original research, flocking to the story like youths at a soccer game chasing a ball, as blood in the water can be exciting. But VentureBeat calmly and professionally kept the story updated, while the Blippy blog did the same, open and with considerate remorse.

There is a huge difference between making a mistake and being untrustworthy - and for me, putting my card data in Blippy is not dissimilar to putting my credit card data into Mint.com, having Intuit find my W-2 data come tax time, or entering my credit card information over and over and over from e-commerce site to e-commerce site. In order for Blippy and Mint.com and these other businesses to succeed, they need to ensure the safety of users' private data, and practically without exception, they have done so. The companies' success will come through their amassing a high number of users, and being able to report trend data based on groups and demographics, not on individuals - and thus, it is in their best interest to keep your data safe and secure.

Google Makes Their Role In Fixing the Issue Clear

ReadWriteWeb chronicled some of Blippy's response to the slip-up today, when they said what to do when a PR disaster strikes your startup. Blippy did the right thing by all accounts, apologizing, making full disclosure, and reporting how the issue was being addressed. Meanwhile, Google's Matt Cutts took to Twitter to explain what that company had done to fix the issue also. That's transparency and a closed loop response.

If I had more options to share even more data with Blippy, I would do it, and getting my e-mailed updates from Mint.com is among the highlights of this data-driven geek's week. It benefits the Web at large to get more real data about our purchases and activities public, and Blippy is one of those making the process interesting. I trust them with my information, and won't be changing a thing. You can find all my data here: http://blippy.com/louisgray.

Steve Jobs: Apple's One Man Social Media Machine

In a time when the company's core business has grown to record highs, with its iPhone business, flanked by Mac sales, iTunes store revenue, software and peripherals all contributing to Apple's strongest position of all time, the company has practically opted out of the trendy move most of its peers have embraced - social media. There are no official Apple blogs, and with the exception of its iTunes Music property, there is little to see from Apple on Twitter and Facebook.

This has not impacted the company negatively, as it gets plenty of press from the Mac faithful and increasingly curious mainstream media, but in the last few months, a surprising trend has emerged - as the company's cofounder and CEO, Steve Jobs, has taken on a much more active role in responding to customers one to one from his personal e-mail account, reducing the barriers needed for end users to engage with one of the most influential people in the world. In effect, Jobs' usually quick one-liner e-mails are providing the same results many have championed with social media - access to customers, rapid response times, and providing a human face to a business.

Steve's attention to detail, and most would argue, control, over Apple's efforts is legendary. While Apple's media events have recently seen an increased number of executives speaking on behalf of the company, it is still Steve who starts things off, wraps things up, and orchestrates the process in between. Rank and file Apple employees, like those who would manage the company's social media properties, if they were active, are not blessed with the option to speak on behalf of the company, and those who make even the most minor of mistakes are at risk for termination.

Thus, there is a vacuum for official Apple news between company press releases and events. As the company has gained a higher profile with its iPad introduction, regular iPhone upgrades, and constant introductions at the iTunes store, users and developers with questions are increasingly turning to ask Steve directly about company plans, policies or even to send off notes of frustration. And he's answering. Not all of them, no doubt, and not often with significant length, but one doesn't need 1,000 words from Steve when 10 or 50 will suffice. These nuggets seem to be a big shift from Cupertino, historically tight-lipped and non-responsive to rumors or other inquiries, and it will be very interesting to see if this move is a fad, which fades quickly, or if Steve can scale as it becomes more widely known that you can reach him by simply lobbing an e-mail.

While this one man social media experiment exists, you can see Steve responding:There are many more, but the pace is rapidly increasing, especially now that Jobs has his iPad at home. Maybe it's the environment he wanted to fire off one-line e-mails to customers, or just him getting more smooth as he ages, but it's become a highly effective press channel that doesn't need Mossberg and Goldman and others to interpret what he says as he can go directly to those who care - and I don't know of any similar high profile tech CEOs who are making themselves as accessible as Steve is in this way. Is Eric Schmidt responding to e-mail? Is Mark Zuckerberg? Ev Williams (@ev) occasionally posts replies on Twitter, but not to the types of questions Steve is fielding. I just hope Steve has found his comfort zone, and that this can be something that continues, so we don't see Apple as an impenetrable silo, but one that talks back, even if it's still through one unique individual.

April 23, 2010

A Fabulis Launch: Social Network Aims to Find "Gay Take"

After raising $625k in seed funding this January to pave the way for a unique social network targeting gay men and their friends, Jason Goldberg, formerly of Socialmedian and Jobster, opened the doors to his new site, Fabulis, today, appropriately, on his birthday. Looking to go beyond the skin-deep hookup-obsessed competition for gay male visitors, Jason and his team are hoping to forge a central place for this affluent demographic to "celebrate life" and provide a "gay take" on the world.

After knowing Jason primarily through the Web, phone and e-mail since early 2008, I finally met the man in person today, in Palo Alto, in the middle of what was surely an incredibly full schedule. Over lunch, we talked about how this launch, unlike those of Socialmedian and Jobster before it, is a very personal one for him. While I teased Jason that I was a little disappointed that I couldn't be as active a user for his new site as I was with his last one, the passion he has for the latest venture is real, and a for good reason.

As Jason and I discussed, finding good venues and products for gay men is more than finding gay-friendly businesses, but instead, finding ones with a good "gay vibe", ones that are trendy. The data all points to the opportunity being a very good one, with gay men earning more, on average, than their straight counterparts, being more likely to hold a college degree, going on vacation and generally traveling much more, while also displaying significant consumer loyalty. A review on sites like Yelp from midwestern grandmothers is much less relevant to the Fabulis target audience than one from their own background.

Jason by no means is on a plan to take out leading social networks, like Facebook. He recognizes that network's leading role, but thinks there is a very real opportunity to get the experience right for this important market - and their friends. He promised me the site would have value not just for gay men, but their friends. Of course, I am registered, which, according to the site, makes me Fabulis. You can check out Fabulis at http://www.fabulis.com.

For more on the launch, listen to the CinchCast Jason and I recorded from this afternoon. You can hear from his mouth directly the site's focus and goals. Wishing his new network the best of success.

April 22, 2010

The Buzz Bots Brouhaha and Other Empty Statistics

On Tuesday, ReadWriteWeb and a number of other tech blogs (including Mashable) stirred themselves into a tizzy around a report from social media measurement firm PostRank, who reported that almost 90 percent of content in Google Buzz, the company's nascent social network, came from news feeds and other non-native sources. Their self-congratulatory conclusions, kicking dirt on the service which hasn't hardly had a chance to grasp for air following body blow after body blow after a stumble out of the gate around privacy, came with phrases saying Buzz had "fallen short of capturing the hearts and minds of the social web", and another, "Much of Buzz’s content may be hand-crafted — it just doesn’t originate on Buzz."

Oh dear! What a terrible thing! Prepare the wake! I would be honored to act as a pallbearer, if given the opportunity.

PostRank's data served only one purpose - to count the total number of entries from all individual services being aggregated by the downstream collection service (Buzz). It is no secret, and I don't think anybody has successfully ever argued against it, that every single network that has the potential to import Twitter entries can easily be dominated by updates from that service. It was true with FriendFeed. It is true with Ecademy. It can be true with Facebook, depending on who you follow, and there is also that potential with Buzz. Twitter entries are light, easy, and update often. Even the most avid bloggers post more entries to Twitter than they do on their own site - as they post their own blog entries in addition to other updates, so it is no surprise that many people see their own feeds dominated by their Twitter. Add in Google Reader shares, which are very well tied in with Buzz, and you can see how this so-called "automated" "bot" behavior can start to ratchet up the stat-o-meter.

But the data (and reporting) was an inch deep, and it very poorly associated the world of automated feeds with the world of automated non-human behavior on other social networks which is nefarious. (Twitter bots, for example)

Aggregation services are built to aggregate data from disparate networks. It's practically their core definition. However, many of them also offer the option to create net new content. Buzz lets you make very detailed blog-like posts if you like. It's a great engine for sharing pictures, or YouTube videos, or simply adding a link from a Web page, and adding your observations. These so-called native entries are what amassed the approximately 10% of all updates seen as non-bot behavior by the survey.

As I mentioned back in March, native entries to Buzz get the most engagement. Some people, such as DeWitt Clinton from Google, make fantastic high quality posts on Buzz, and can get dozens to hundreds of comments. So do native entries from highly-visible people like Robert Scoble, and very active supporters of the community, including svartling and Leo Laporte.

I recognize that the vast majority of my own updates on Buzz are feeds. I love feeds. RSS or Atom, whatever you like, I recognize they are great tools. I will not stop sharing my items from Google Reader on Buzz unless the community goes silent, or tells me to stop - but between my Reader shares and my native blog entries, my own 4 native Buzz entries represent a miniscule 2% of my last 185 Buzz updates (according to Buzz-Charts).

This doesn't mean I haven't supported the platform, and it doesn't mean people are not engaging. In fact, according to the Buzz-Charts site, the last 185 posts received 478 total comments, or between 2 and 3 replies for every single entry. Some got none, and others got much more. But every single share was originated by a human, and every single comment was a so-called native entry.

PostRank surveyed Buzz with the subtlety of a political pollster operating under payment by the Committee to Re-Elect the President. (CREEP) While it may be factual that many people imported their Twitter entries and other automated feeds to Buzz, the Buzz community knows to largely ignore those items, or to not follow those people who are using the service in a poor way.

Real Buzz Data That Shows Real Engagement By Source

Buzz-Charts shows a much different story. In their graph of actual replies (comments) on all entries in Buzz, they found that of 24,584 posts that gained comments, 13,520 of them were native Buzz entries, a full 55%, not the measly 10% created. In second place, Google Reader shares showed 3,978 entries with comments, or 16%. Add on Buzz Mobile's 1,572 active threads (6.4%) and those top three conversation starters represent more than three quarters of all active threads, more than 18,000 of the total 24,000.

In contrast, all those automated Twitter entries that PostRank said was 62% of Buzz? They only had 837 active threads, or just over 3% of active threads. That means more than 90% of all Twitter entries that hit Buzz are ignored. Given you can't really have conversations in Twitter in the same way you can Buzz, and the person's entries already seem disjointed, that's probably just fine.

So we now know the community can self-select and self-filter, and that Buzz users comment on native entries and Google Reader shares more than anything. But let's go back to what a "bot" is anyway.

According to Tweetmeme, that ReadWriteWeb story was retweeted 662 times on Twitter. Is that any different than making a share in Google Reader? Even if a human clicked that button, are those not 662 bot entries into Twitter? In addition, the main RWW feed (@rww) is dominated by entries from TwitterFeed. That very post about Google Buzz bots was fed by a bot to their Twitter account. So the underlying hint of "Buzz loses and Twitter wins" is dead on its face, if this is the measure.

Do I want Twitter updates in my Buzz? Not really. I can go to Twitter for that. Also, in March, I talked about the trend toward disaggregation and putting native data in native sites. There is a huge benefit of getting that right. I took Twitter out of my Buzz for a reason. But Reader shares obviously have a good role in the community, and they are part of my curation activity.

Want to get a real good idea of what is happening on Buzz, with real people? Spend some time with a statistical site that really knows Buzz at http://buzz-stats.appspot.com/. Run your own chart to see if you're as feed-crazy as me, or who the top 100 people are on Buzz for getting replies to their content. PostRank didn't do themselves a service with their shallow report, and neither did the guys who regurgitated their data, and then retweeted it, or let their bots do the dirty work for them.

April 20, 2010

Video: The Start of the Connected Decade: Now What?

This video was filmed with Ecademy Chairman Thomas Power and myself in February during a social media retreat in Silicon Valley. Expect more videos, prepared by YourBusinessChannel to trickle through. And no... I don't call myself a social media expert. They did. Enjoy!

You might remember Thomas from: Ecademy Chairman Says Limited Networks are "Flawed"

Google's Battle For Your ID Against Facebook Heating Up

With the news last week that Blogger product manager Rick Klau was transitioning to a similar role leading the Google Profiles team, I have been doing some thinking around how Google could improve the utility of its Profile property, and the more I think about it, I really believe the Profile could be a major front in the company's battle with Facebook and other networks to act as the central hub for your online persona. Today, Google Profiles seem to be something of an afterthought, although their integration with Google Search and now Buzz in the last two years have raised their prominence. But given Google's mountain of data being amassed on you and your preferences, and the opportunity to build a new feature set, I see significant opportunity for them to get the content right and the deployment right. Strike early enough with our suggestions, and we just might actually have an impact on what they do as well...

At the end of 2007, in one of my more speculative posts, I asked, Will There be One Profile to Rule Them All?, highlighting three of the most prominent Web profile services at the time: Google, MyBlogLog and FriendFeed. Nearly 30 months later, MyBlogLog is practically dust, squished by its Yahoo! overlords, FriendFeed was similarly absorbed into Facebook, though the site continues to run, and Google hasn't changed all that much, to be honest, featuring the same collection of third party links that hint at who I am online.

At the time, I asked of the three services, "which one knows me best?" In the last 30 months, those three services didn't do much to answer that question, offering a minimum of personalization, and letting the content from third party sites tell the story. In their place, Facebook became the dominant player in the space, transitioning from a student-only site to one inviting all Web users to input information about themselves, their likes, preferences and connections. Now, the answer is obvious - Facebook is the dominant profile online, with others possibly answering LinkedIn, and a smaller percentage pointing to Twitter, assuming your one-line description, profile picture and tweets encompass the true you.

But Facebook's goal, thus far, has not been so much to encapsulate the entire you, built from content created on other sites. While you can pull in blog posts and bookmarks and third party activity, the majority of action is created from within what people call the walled garden, and unless you have connections with the individual, the data is not fully open and available. Google's approach, to have all profiles viewable, open, indexable and discoverable, opens up new opportunities to make the Google Profile the Web's reference guide for you as an individual.

Today, Google Profiles have six distinct sections:
  1. About Me: Includes a short biography, which you write yourself, which can include links or e-mail addresses. It also has a summary section for "Where I grew up", "Places I've lived", "Companies I've worked for" and "Schools I've attended". Not too much detail on positions held there, or years served... just the basics.
  2. Buzz: If you are populating Buzz, the content will be shown in a tab on your profile.
  3. Contact Info: You can make your e-mail, phone, birthday, and address visible to contacts and friends, or keep it private.
  4. Sidewiki: If you make entries in Sidewiki, they can be displayed on your profile.
  5. Photos: You can display photos from Flickr, Picasa or other services below your avatar.
  6. External links to social services: The same logo farm provided in many places, where you can customize what external sites you use.
Also included are some small random elements including "Something I still can't find on Google", "My superpower" and "Interests".

All told, it's a pretty casual approach, but not one that would have me returning often.

That said, the ingredients appear to be in place for Profiles to expand beyond their current role and possibly take a more direct assault on Facebook, LinkedIn and other personal hubs. In this scenario, a public site, built from Buzz entries from those you follow, take the place of Facebook's current newsfeed, and your profile becomes your Facebook Wall. Facebook Photos are replaced by Picasa photos, and the many connections you've found in Facebook are similar friend connections through Google, only in an asynchronous mode, not a synchronous one, a public one, and not a private one.

Does this mean that the experience of Facebook could be directly duplicated through some brilliant massaging of Profiles and the extraction of Buzz from Gmail into a more public, dedicated site? Of course not. For one, the work on Groups, Networks, Causes, and the many apps that have people coming back to Facebook, if for nothing else than doing battle on Lexulous, takes some work to replicate. Also, it can be assumed that one's social graph will vary from network to network, so those friends from high school might be your links on Facebook, but your colleagues might be linked to you through Google.

Google, seemingly caught flat-footed in the world of social for the last few years as Facebook and Twitter ran circles around them, is trying to win this game through following the Web's trends - toward open standards, public content and discoverability. Even if they don't get people to stop using Facebook, they can deliver an alternative that is a distributable URL that you can share with people to say "This is me" on the Web. I may use my blog for that, but for many, one's Google Profile truly could be the real "Me". They have an opportunity to compete and take visibility and share from these services by eliminating the holes in their lineup, and then innovating to go beyond what others are providing today.

The question is - are people interested, and does Google want to win this thing?

10 Suggestions for Redesigning the Google Profile

Have you looked at your Google profile lately? (Here's mine) Pretty boring, right? Just a white page with a bunch of blue links, like much of the rest of Google? You might not look at your Profile all that often, but with Profiles being discoverable in Google Search and made more central to your online activity with the introduction of Buzz, it's possible that this page could be a major hub for your personal presence on the Web. Given the recent addition of Rick Klau to the team, it's clear Google wants to get this product right. It's also a great opportunity to give Rick and his entourage a little helpful advice. So here's what I would do if I got the opportunity to design the ultimate Google Profile:

1. Unhook Buzz from GMail and Open a Dedicated Buzz Site

This one is screamingly obvious - and something I anticipate to be a near-certainty, unless the criticism of Buzz had Google reconsidering its focus, which I don't think it will. If Buzz and Profile are to be paired, there has to be a way to get to Buzz on its own domain, outside of my e-mail. This, I believe, would dramatically raise engagement and ease of access. As each Buzz user's entry and comments link back to their profile, this in turn raises the visibility of the Profile itself.

2. Enable the Option to Remove Buzz Without Killing Your Profile

A corollary to the above is that in order to completely opt out of Buzz and disable it completely is that you need to delete your Google Profile too. That's crazy. That's almost punitive judgment for somebody who doesn't see things the Google way. That Buzz and Profiles are connected in the same way that Facebook's News Feed and Facebook's Profiles are connected is one thing, but to require the deletion of one to unlink the other should be fixed immediately.

3. Add the Ability To Import One's LinkedIn Resume to Google Profiles

Today, Google Profiles asks you where you've previously worked, but it's scarcely an inch deep. I would want the option to import my LinkedIn profile, complete with titles, companies and summaries, and be able to display that in a tab called "My Career", "Work" or "Professional". Of course, for those who don't have existing LinkedIn resumes, the option would be to populate this tab from scratch, but have it display on Google.

While this would not immediately gain you the relationship and recommendation portion of LinkedIn, it could easily be a new place for your online resume.

4. Introduce an Ability to Customize the Google Profile With Templates

The look and feel of today's Google Profiles is extremely sterile. Like many other Google properties, the wisdom has been data over design, and users don't have much, if any, opportunity to tailor the content in the way they would like. Rick Klau, having just watched fellow PM Siobhan Quinn launch Blogger's new Template Designer, would do well to tap into that option, giving people more ownership of how they are presented online. In fact, Rick's quote: "How you express yourself online is a lot more than just a blog," from the interview we had on the day he announced the move, hints that he feels the same way.

I would want the option to change background colors, sidebar designs and reformat the page's elements - things that even Facebook gives you little opportunity to do - but others have done well.

5. Think Global, Act Mobile

All the trends are pointing toward increased Web consumption on our mobile devices, be they Android, iPhone or some other variety. Facebook's iPhone application has gained tremendous traction and is quite usable. Buzz was designed with mobile in mind. However, Google Profiles simply scrunch the text down in a small way for a smaller screen. It wouldn't hurt to have Profiles recognize mobile browsers and provide a superior mobile experience.

6. Highlight My Streams By Category - Like Status Updates!

Google Profiles do a good job of featuring links out to other third-party services where I participate. If I register dozens of social sites, and you know I have them, these disparate icons will litter the right side of my Profile. But like MyBlogLog and FriendFeed, the icons themselves don't tell a story. The story comes from the content being created at each of those sites. While some of my streams might be flowing through my Buzz tab, I should also be able to choose to share my Tweets, native FriendFeed updates or GChat status updates on my profile, as a lifestream, in a "Status Updates" tab in my profile, which would show the most recent shares at the top. Similarly, if you have multiple photo site accounts, you could pull in the latest updates from Flickr, Smugmug and Picasa in a tab called "Photos".

7. Raise the Visibility of Contact Information, and Remove the Tab

Today, my Google Profile says my name, my title, and features my latest status update at the top, generated through GMail's GChat feature - and even that status message is not visible to anyone who is not a connected "chat buddy". The contact information I have provided, including e-mail, phone, and address, optionally posted by me, is tucked behind a tab. If I have opted to make this information public, it should have higher visibility, and could easily take the spot where the bulky status message is today.

8. Reduce The Automatic Behavior and Placement of Photos

In today's Google Profile, your title and avatar are immediately underwritten with a strip of photos. It's a cool feature, to be sure, but their is no option to put them somewhere else, to resize them, to add any relevant information about photos, etc. If photos are not something I think should be a lead part of my experience, then I would want to minimize their focus, or even tuck them behind one of the tabs at my disposal. Today, these photos pull from Flickr, Picasa, or from other hand-entered photo streams, but they all look the same - disconnected and unrelated.

Facebook has become the king of photo uploads not just because of the network's relevance and reach, but also thanks to the option to leave comments on these photos, or to tag other people. Google Profiles do nothing but link out, making the photos vestigal. Unless Google wants us to upload photos directly to our Profiles, they should get lower visibility.

9. Sidewiki Doesn't Deserve the High Profile on My Profile

Sidewiki entries are one of the four tabs on my Profile today. I've made one Sidewiki entry, ever, and while it may have been a good one, it certainly doesn't rate equally with my "About" and "Contact" sections, yet it gets the same billing. That's silly. And for whatever reason, I cannot remove Sidewiki from my profile within my profile settings. It's impossible. If you're a huge Sidewiki fan, then sure, add it, but it shouldn't be there automatically.

10. Modular Permissions By Section

Google's default approach, and mine, is to make content visible to all, so that it is indexable and discoverable. If we have learned anything from the tumult around Buzz's entry to the marketplace, it is that one size does not fit all when it comes to public content vs. private content. But today, I don't even have the option to make my Gmail chat messages public if I wanted to, and others don't have the option to provide comments on their Google Reader shares to the public, but only invited friends. In reverse, if I chose to, I should be able to hide my photos from the public, or any other item, making that only visible to synchronous friends. If this can be managed in a simple way, it could go a long way to getting people comfortable in providing even more personal information to a company that already knows a lot about us.

Have you given a lot of thought to your Google Profile? I see this as a key weapon in Google's assualt on Facebook. More on that soon, of course. What else would you do to make this a better product?

April 19, 2010

With Chirp Complete, Twitter Opens Doors to 9 New Hires

Last week, at the company's first-ever developer conference, Chirp, Twitter reported the company's growth to 175 employees. Some of those 175 started today, and the company's official "team" list has expanded to encompass 188 total accounts, up nine week over week.

Joining today included a new partnership manager, formerly of Google, a new product manager for the Twitter platform, a Ruby on Rails developer, a former biz dev guy from CoolIris, a media-browser plug-in, a new front-end Web developer, a new mobile engineer, and a new member of the communications group who most recently represented Android for Google.

The expansion seems to see growth in all areas of the company, with adds on Web, mobile and platform, as well as on the back-end. The addition of Kelton Lynn, from CoolIris, seems interesting due to CoolIris' focus on photos, videos and plug-ins, which could hint at Twitter moving beyond simple text updates, and the addition of the pair from Google shows continued interest in employees making the move up Highway 101 from Mountain View to San Francisco, from the world of a massive public company to a more nimble startup.

As is now a practical rite of passage, many of the first day employees were more than happy to tweet from what is now being termed the ... "twoffice".

Starting this week: April Underwood @aunder, Brian Ellin @brianellin, Carolyn Penner @cpen, Mark Percival @markpercival, Kelton Lynn @keltonlynn, Ben Cherry @bcherry, Marcus Hanson @MarcusDHanson, Niels @niels and Kristin @kkanaar.

April 18, 2010

Google2Twitter Streams Restored After Week's Outage

For those of you who follow the @lgstream Twitter account, fueled by my shares from Google Reader, in addition to Delicious bookmarks and blog posts, the flood slowed to a mere drip over the last week, as the service behind its automation was stopped cold, due in part to its own success. The Reader2Twitter application I first featured back in September, which saw an update in February to support Buzz entries to Twitter as well, exceeded its AppEngine quota and ground to a halt on the 12th, leaving its users high and dry in the meantime. With the newly-called Google2Twitter down for the count, all that hit my @lgstream account were the rare bookmarks and posts from here - making me look more self-centered than usual. As of tonight, however, the stream is back in full, having been reenabled.

When faced with the outage, Google2Twitter's author explained that the once-small application had outgrown its 1GB datastore, and required an upgrade to a paid version of Google's AppEngine. But paying from China, where he lives, is no easy feat. In the meantime, he suggested it could be open sourced at some point, and he was going to work out a way to get the project funded.

After six days of downtime, which stopped my stream, streams of my clients, and many others, the stream was unclogged tonight and data is flowing again. Interestingly enough, the author is hinting at bringing on yet another supported service, Blogger. In a quick tweet tonight, he wrote: "the web interface of Reader2Twitter has been restored. I am going to support blogger2twitter later." On the Blogger platform, this would be of benefit to me, although my routing through TwitterFeed already does a fine job.

I'll be checking in with the app's author to see if this is a one-time blip, and what measures will be taken to avoid problems in the future, but for now, I'm just glad it's back. To see my stream through Twitter, don't forget to be subscribed to @lgstream. I share the best of the tech Web so you don't have to read everything else. You can watch Google2Twitter at @gr2t.

Apple iPad, MacBook Air and iPhone 3G. Pick Two.

Two weeks ago, when the iPad finally became available for purchase, I picked up a pair for our home - one for me, the 64 GB WiFi version, and one for my wife and twins, the 16 GB WiFi version. Given Apple's tremendous track record in the last decade through the debut of the iPod and iPhone, the march of the iTunes Store, and yes, even the Apple TV, for our home anyway, I figured the iPad would find a good spot in our technology gadgetry usage model - despite my already having an embarrassment of riches from Cupertino, in the MacBook Air and iPhone 3G. And it does have a place, but it hasn't exactly been revolutionary. While I am not one of the handful of folks trying to make headlines by shipping theirs back to the store, I recognize the iPad for what it is, a nice machine, with some incredible features, but if forced to take only two of my three devices somewhere, it's the iPad that stays home.

The iPad does some things extremely well. That its battery life can stay above the 90% mark for a tremendous amount of time, even when watching movies through iTunes, immediately puts it well ahead of the juice-hungry MacBook Air and iPhone. While I am always watching the battery life on those two models, and don't want to stray too far from a power outlet, the iPad can go several hours without needing to get reconnected. The iPad's large screen and ability to run existing iPhone apps also is very fast and sharp, making using the same apps on the iPhone seem cramped and less than satisfying. I also really like the iBooks app, and have been doing a lot of reading on the iPad when I've put my other devices down. In addition, the iPad's keyboard is large enough that typing is practically second nature - unlike the iPhone, where I have to heavily rely on its autocorrection to pick up my typos.

But with all that said, giving it all sorts of kudos for being brilliantly designed and making my iPhone seem like a chew toy, I have to seemingly go out of my way to find time when it makes sense to put down one of the other two devices and use the iPad instead.

I always assumed the iPad would be a fantastic content consumption device. It is. It doesn't have much parallel for reading books and watching films through iTunes. Doing so now on the iPhone's dinky screen seems silly. Having my bookmarks synched through MobileMe to the iPad also makes it easy to go site by site and make sure I am caught up with the world. But when it comes to true Web browsing and true e-mailing, the MacBook Air still trumps the iPad in all sorts of ways. Not only can I type much faster for e-mail, do copy/paste in a non-convoluted way, and run multiple apps at once, but I don't have to avoid Web sites that run Flash, leaving holes in my browsing experience.

The lack of Flash, as non-consequential as you might think it would be, shows up in all sorts of places. Client Web sites don't load. Twittercounter.com won't display graphs. Videos and other elements show up as holes where content should be. At least I know that when I switch back over to the MacBook Air, I can get something resembling a full Web experience.

One of the best things about the iPad has been its lack of a keyboard. While that may seem crazy, it has made sharing the device with the twins dramatically easier. While Matthew and Sarah tend to prefer mashing the keyboard and banging on the keys when seeing anything on my laptop, the iPad eliminates that possibility, and they grok the touch-screen options immediately, having grown up in a home with iPhones and an iPod Touch. The iPad has reinvigorated our relationship with YouTube, as the twins click from video to video and see not just themselves, from our own home videos, but YouTube favorites, like "Charlie Bit Me" and "David After Dentist", just by tapping the screen.

Clearly we have found use for our iPads. Some of the applications available for the iPad, such as ESPN's ScoreCenter and eTrade's application, are very good, even if they are just repurposing content found on their Web site. The iBooks application is a game-changer and playing some game apps, like "9 innings" on a real screen is much more satisfying than on the iPhone. In fact, having the iPad around has probably impacted our iPhone usage much more so than it has my laptop usage. As I am not using the iPhone any more at home for browsing the Web, e-mail or application use, it hasn't been too uncommon for it to be the "forgotten" device, sitting somewhere in the other room until it springs to life when someone calls. But the MacBook Air is still the best device to read Google Reader quickly, and to write blog posts, use Office documents, or really do anything around creating content.

While you can write blog posts on the iPad, or you can write e-mail on the iPad, or you can take notes on the iPad, for the most part you can always do them better on the laptop, and by doing these tasks on the iPad, you are essentially doing battle with a force of will, attempting to get it accomplished because you can, not necessarily because you should.

With dozens upon hundreds of thousands of iPad reviews out there on the Web, you no doubt have seen other people's comments on just how Apple's newest device has impacted their workflow. I am glad we have ours in our home, but if you were expecting a revolution, this isn't it. It's a missing piece between two already-solid products, a nice to have, but not a must have. I eagerly await new applications that show up on the iPad to help it make that leap to a must-have device. Until then, I'll keep using the MacBook Air for most things, stick with the iPhone for actually making calls, and use the iPad as a comfortable consumption machine for when I don't want to be overwhelmingly efficient and productive.

April 16, 2010

It's Time for A Digital Used Book Store on the iPad

While many of us may be wrestling with defining the role Apple's new iPad will play in our digital ecosystem, in a world of smartphones, fully-powered laptops, netbooks and single-use devices (like Kindles), there's no question it is a very good platform for reading, especially due to the availability of the iBooks application and the many titles available on Apple's iTunes Store.

On Thursday, April 8th, at the iPhone OS 4 event, Apple announced more than 600,000 iBook titles were purchased following the iPad's debut, and it's likely that number is now approaching or has just passed 1 million. But unlike music files, which are often listened to over and over again, books are rarely read more than once, and, at least in the offline world, there has always been a side business of selling and purchasing used books, or passing older titles to family members. In the digital world, however, this is not an option at all, and it's high time this changed.

My mother and I share an interest in Stephen King books. I can't say who was addicted to the world's best horror writer first, she or me, but it has practically become second nature to pass along our books when completed. But she has "early adopter syndrome" when it comes to his work, while I tend to wait until the paperback version arrives. If she doesn't wait, as was the case with King's recent Under the Dome, weighing in at more than 1,200 pages, the massive tome can find its way into my bookshelf, where it sits and taunts me with the width of two complete local Yellow Pages. Just imagine trying to cram that particular book as reading material on the plane, and even the price, $33, seems to be out of control. But Apple offers the same book, in digital edition, for half the price, $16, for the iPad.

The Four Books in My iBooks Library, to Start

But, as with all of Apple's digital purchases through iTunes, there is no option to share beyond just me. I can send the iBook or iTunes album as a gift for its full price, or I can send money or gift cards, but it's just not the same. If I am done with an iBook, I should be able to designate a recipient and send it to them, relinquishing my own rights to the iBook, and enabling Apple to charge the recipient a reduced price for their acquiring a "used" book. After all, I am just going to delete the iBook anyway, or let it continue to sit, unused, gathering digital dust on my hard drive, once I am done.

Apple's much-discussed Digital Rights Management (DRM) could be used to ensure that when I pass along the iBook, that it is erased from my machine, exactly as they do with rented iTunes movies that have crossed the imposed 30-day limit for viewing. And the receiver of said used iBook would always have the option to refuse the gift, declining without giving Apple another dime.

Is there risk to this proposal? Of course. There's always the potential that user groups could be made online for digital cheapskates to beg for used versions of iBooks instead of paying full price. But these are the same people who likely purchase used books from Amazon, or might be willing to pay a few dollars instead of getting the book free offline.

Apple has already had to do battle with countless record company executives, book and magazine publishers, and film studios to bring their content into the iTunes Store. After a slow start, the iTunes Store can be counted on to find practically any artist or title - with some exceptions, of course. The media industry's position, thus far, has been less innovative, and more in favor of preserving their old ways, hoping that Apple's iPad and iTunes ecosystem can help drive them premium prices. But premium prices don't work for all, and the way we have been consuming and sharing media for decades offline should be replicated here. I don't want to fill up my bookshelf with these monstrous books just to get the opportunity to hand them off down the road. I want to use what I think is the most versatile platform for reading books (and doing much more), but still have the option to share the content forward when I am done.

So, Apple... you just might have the best hardware device for books today. You have the most discussed and possibly most successful digital devices on the market today. You have an incredible number of titles available through iTunes. It's time to open up new opportunities for revenue for you and your partners, and give greater flexibility to your customers. I would absolutely be more than pleased to share with my friends some of the books I have been reading, once I am done. Find a way for me to do so.

Editor's Note: Jeremy Toeman of LIVEdigitally had a similar idea last year, related to the Kindle: Where’s the Kindle Used eBook Store?

Ads? Check. @Anywhere? Check. Chirp? Check.

In November, when Twitter COO Dick Costolo (@dickc) promised ads that we would "love" were on their way to the popular status update service, I promised to embrace the move, assuming the content was relevant. Now that Twitter's "Sponsored Tweet" model has been revealed, and promotional updates can be seen in various search results, we're seeing the tip of what should become a consistent and growing revenue stream for the much discussed San Francisco start-up.

The news of the Sponsored Tweets platform came in a week of delivery for the company, who held its first developers conference on Wednesday and Thursday, talking to the somewhat shaken community, explaining their direction and plans to make more opportunities for them to tap into the company's massive real-time ecosystem. The week also saw them begin the roll-out of their @Anywhere platform, bringing elements of Twitter to the rest of the Web, this Web site included. (For example, mouseover @louisgray or @rsarver and see what happens.)

The most interesting news out of Chirp came from two things: the promise of a new API that delivered live content streaming (See @jesse: Twitter Announces Live Social Graph Streams) as well as the delivery of a new option for developers, dubbed annotations. (See @scobleizer: Developers: how will we all get along with Twitter’s annotation feature?) The combination of these two pieces means not that Twitter will be reducing the need for developers' products, but giving them more access to more data more quickly, with the option to extend information well beyond their famous 140 character limit.

For some, the metadata around Twitter's data will always be more interesting than the short updates themselves. We can know, for instance, when you said something, the location from which you said it, what client you were using, and whether it was in reply to someone else to continue a conversation. Those are things we have taken for granted - the basics. With annotations, we can now go well beyond. Additionally, the elimination of latency and polling should let aggressive clients like TweetDeck and Seesmic get even more robust, as they can focus on adding more features, not on band-aids to work around what have been slow elements in Twitter's infrastructure.

You Can Get to a Sponsored Tweet If You Look Hard Enough

Despite my not having attended Chirp, I saw the onslaught of updates from those participating and attending through their various streams. Their viewpoint of the service having just completed the event looks much stronger than it did going in, when the news of official mobile clients from Twitter threatened to drive down developer morale. Hopefully this means future releases that are even more innovative which I can get to review here.

As for those ads? Right now, they are incredibly hard to find. Twitter is starting slow, letting big brands be the testbed before opening up to the world, as AdWords has. You can find a Starbucks ad when you search for coffee, for example, but for the most part, you won't see a Sponsored Tweet unless you try hard. Over time, I expect this will change, even as Twitter moves to make them more pervasive in search results and in third party clients. So not only am I fine with how they're being run so far, but their impact is small - except to show that Twitter is serious about revenue, just like we always hoped they eventually would be.

After the announcement of the ad platform, I got an e-mail from one reader, who said, "Still waiting for your post on Twitters Biz Model." When I pointed to my November post, asking "... that was in November of 2009. Do I need a new one?", he responded: "Ha! Touche. I forgot that you're one of the few who actually write presciently."

I can't say it's a level of prescience. It's just common sense. And Twitter, despite its challenges, is progressing on the right path. In a few years, you just might look back and say, "Remember when?"

Disclosures: I am an unpaid advisor to MyLikes, a company which also allows Twitter users to post sponsored Tweets in their stream. I also advise SocialToo, which would benefit from the new API options, and is @Jesse's company.

April 15, 2010

Twazzup Opens Up Twitter Web Client, Launches Insights

Three months after being prematurely unveiled in early beta, Twazzup's Twitter feature-rich Web client, now called a "reader", has opened up to the public, at http://reader.twazzup.com/. The Reader goes beyond Twitter's standard interface, highlighting those you engage with most often, displaying rich media and showing live sentiment analysis and a tag cloud for every page you visit, including specific individuals or search terms. Despite its many different options, Reader loads quickly and brings more sense to your stream, helping to break out photos, video and links.

In addition, Twazzup is debuting a new product called "Insights". Based on data sourced from Twitter's firehose, Insights aims to offer real-time reports and alerts, edging into the crowded social media influence and measurement space. The reports show activity by day or by hour including the number of participants, unique links, original tweets and retweets.

Twazzup Results for "American Idol"

The third leg to their three-legged stool is there focus on "real-time news", born out of their original Twazzup service, which stepped beyond Twitter search, and launched just over a year ago today, on April 13, 2009. Their real-time news service displays search results alongside live pictures, influencers, hashtags and news items. (See "Ash Cloud" or "American Idol" for examples)

The tie-in between search, the stream and measurement makes the trifecta very interesting. Twazzup certainly seems to be unafraid to compete directly with Twitter on their turf, and they are making a compelling case through differentiation.

Twazzup can be found on Twitter at @twazzup and is headed by Cyril Moutran @mocy.

April 13, 2010

Advisory News: MyLikes Announces Funding, Advisory Board

Today, MyLikes, formerly Likaholix, announced they have raised more than $600,000 in funding from former Googlers, and the addition of a few names to their advisory board, myself included. As you know, I've been watching Likaholix (and now MyLikes) since their launch in March of 2009, and outside of the blog, I have had numerous conversations, by phone, e-mail and in person, with co-founder Bindu Reddy on the company's progress, morphing from a social recommendation engine, to one focused on word of mouth advertising for the Web. It will be a fun challenge to have a helping hand in the company's move to the next stage.

As I have said many times here, I am not a fan of unfocused advertising or low-quality ads and for the most part, I am not a fan of advertising for advertising's sake. But I am a big fan of relevancy, and leveraging one's social graph to discover what people are not just liking, but recommending, and actually buying. Those are reasons I have been working with my6sense on relevancy, and what attracted me to sites like FriendFeed and Likaholix in the first place - as well as Blippy, where I am a happy oversharer of my actual purchasing history.

MyLikes Lets Me Select Available Advertisers And See Potential Revenue

MyLikes' attraction to me is the platform's ability to have people act as influencers in their community, promoting items and services that make the most sense for them, to their friends, and getting rewarded for spreading the word. It's something I do informally all the time as I praise some products and ignore others, and while I may not be the perfect target for this kind of affiliate model, others are finding the approach to be significantly improved, in terms of click-through rates and payouts, than standard keyword advertising.

Creating an Ad in MyLikes for Google Apps

The Ad, via MyLikes, Posted to Twitter

Ads on influencers' blogs or tweets or other social activity, which are hand-selected by the individual, carry much more weight than those selected by a generic ad network. And as Twitter has made a lot of noise around their own approach to revenue, enabling big companies to promote their services in the tweet stream, MyLikes lets the users benefit from similarly promoting exactly what they like and signing their name to it - extending beyond Twitter, but to blogs and other sites as well.

Given my history of not embracing off-topic advertising, I am looking forward to working with MyLikes to drive quality through the system. You can be sure I will be one of their more interactive advisors, and they will hear from me often.

DISCLOSURES: I am an unpaid advisor to MyLikes. I hold a small equity stake in the company. In addition, my6sense is a client of Paladin Advisors Group, where I am Managing Editor of New Media. My comments on the company's product are always independent, and do not pass their way in advance.