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What’s the Story of Your Life?

In the recent post Who Is Your Information Filter?, I noted that individuals are emerging as leaders in the distribution of information. These Information Filters have good judgment as to what their subscribers like.

But there is certainly more to the being a good filter. Here’s an example of what I mean. Dare Obasanjo wrote a post titled Giving Sh*t Away is not a Business Strategy. Eric Rice and I both shared the post on July 12. Check out the results on FriendFeed:

The Likes and comments on Eric’s share included some folks who are subscribed to me.

This is the sort of thing that I love to explore. What makes people respond to the sharing of identical content from one person, but not another?

Interactions and relationships are an important part. Robert Scoble made this point in a comment on FriendFeed.

There’s an additional factor as well. Here’s one way to describe it:

  1. Experience and passions make up your narrative, the story of your life.
  2. A narrative gives context.
  3. Context loads the information you share with meaning.
  4. Meaning draws interest by others.

This takes a little explaining.

A Lesson in Mark Rothko’s Paintings

Mark Rothko was an abstract painter, famous for paintings of rectangles (multiforms) with different colors. His life shared the drama that seems to mark many great artists. He was Jewish, and saw the persecution of Jews in Czarist Russia. His family emigrated to the United states. He was highly intelligent, rapidly advancing through school and receiving a scholarship to Yale. He divorced twice. He drank heavily. He ultimately committed suicide.

And yet he was pivotal in the abstract movement of the mid-1900s. He hated being called an “abstract artist”, but he was leader in the genre. His is a rich history of art, intellect and  experimentation.

Growing up, I’d see art like his and think, “I could paint that. What’s so special about that painting?” Typical punk kid.

But to that point, I went ahead and tried my hand at painting in the Rothko style. Below are a painting by Mark Rothko, and one by my own hand:

This was my first painting effort since middle school. Please pardon the brush strokes.

With practice, I could get the hang of the brush strokes. With time, I bet I could replicate Mark Rothko’s style pretty well.

Which would make me a hell of an abstract painter, right?

Obviously, the answer is no. Even if I could duplicate the style, no one would care. Why? I don’t have a narrative to back it up. I didn’t come up with the style, I wasn’t a participant in the abstract movement, I’m not a student of art or of Rothko, I’m not a painter.

The silly adolescent that I was didn’t want to understand that. And yet understanding the importance of Rothko’s narrative imbues his paintings so much meaning.

There is a lesson here in terms of people who shine as Information Filters.

The Information You Share Fits a Larger Narrative

The context surrounding a piece of content is an important, underestimated component of what makes it valuable to an audience. If Thomas Hawk and I were to favorite the same photo on Zooomr, I suspect Thomas’s favorite would garner more Likes and comments on FriendFeed than would mine. Which makes all the sense in the world.

Thomas is a professional photographer, shooting photos for magazines and other media. He regularly blogs about issues affecting photography. He’s the CEO of a photo sharing site. When he shares a photo, you know he “gets” a wide range of attributes for that photo:

  • Lighting
  • Subject matter
  • Angle
  • Lens
  • Dimensions
  • Etc.

Me? I’m just a dude who likes a picture. The pictures I share lack a larger narrative.

Curious about this, I took a look at my Google Reader shares on FriendFeed. Here are five that received the most attention (excluding my own blog post shares), and five with no Likes or comments:

My online narrative is really defined by this blog. So the lists above don’t surprise me. The five that fit my narrative are consistent with blogging, information consumption and distribution, and enterprise 2.0. The five that don’t fit my narrative reflect themes I generally don’t hit on here: online advertising, acquisitions, SAAS and the environment.

Does that mean I should stop sharing them? Hell no! But it does show that the people who subscribe to me have particular interests, consistent with my narrative.

Attention Paid to A-Listers: It’s Not Just Hero Worship

I do think there’s an important point to be made. Sometimes people get exasperated that something they’ve blogged about or posted didn’t get a lot of traction, while an A-Lister talks about the same thing and everyone falls over themselves to Like, comment, share the content, etc. This is generally ascribed to an overly worshipful flock. I’m sure there’s a bit of truth in that.

However, I think an overlooked element is that a lot of the well-known figures out on the web have a strong narrative.

When they share something, it’s really part of the larger narrative they’ve been sharing with a lot of people over time.

What’s Your Story?

I bring up A-Listers because its a familiar meme. But there are regular people who have a particularly strong narrative in a subject area. You see people reacting to the content they share, because it fits what they’re about.

Strong narratives make people strong Information Filters.

How about you? What’s the story of your life?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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Cuil and Business Models: Complement, Replace or Create?

Cuil went live Monday. The new search engine promises dramatically better search results:

Rather than rely on superficial popularity metrics, Cuil searches for and ranks pages based on their content and relevance. When we find a page with your keywords, we stay on that page and analyze the rest of its content, its concepts, their inter-relationships and the page’s coherency.

Cuil went live with an incredibly high level of publicity. Alas, the promise of the company’s press release has not been met initially:

So Cuil has its work cut out.  And Cuil is running into the classic 9x problem anyway. As Harvard professor John Gourville explains it, new products need to be nine times better than the product they replace. Two parts to that nine times rationale:

  1. Risk aversion: the market will overvalue the incumbent product, with all its warts and limitations, because the benefits are certain and entrenched
  2. Uncertainty: the described benefits of the new product may not be realized

Three Philosophies to Building Products

I lack any build-your-own-company experience, so my observations are those of an outsider looking in. From what I see, companies build products that do one of the following:

Each product strategy entails its own risks and rewards.

Complement Strategy

In the Complement strategy, companies plug into an installed based and existing ecosystem. They see an opportunity to improve the functionality of the existing product.

The nice thing with the Complement Strategy is that there is a defined market. The incumbent provider has done the hard work of creating it. And the way customers use the incumbent product is well-known, so creating an experience consistent with that makes the new company’s job easier.

The Complement Strategy company ties its fortunes to the incumbent’s installed base and future product roadmap.  A nice exit strategy is to be acquired by the incumbent. There is the risk that the incumbent company will just add the feature on their own to their product.

One good example was Summize. Summize built a very nice search application in support of Twitter. Summize didn’t ask you to use it for micro-blogging. It worked on top of Twitter, making up for a limitation in twitter: search.

9 times better impact: Companies that pursue the Complement Strategy buys themselves a much easier time of it. The issue of risk aversion is put to bed because customers are not asked to give up their existing products.

Replace Strategy

The company that pursues the Replace Strategy aims to dislodge the incumbent. This is a tough thing to do. Customers know what they value in the existing product. They know how to work around the limitations of the products. They built their own processes around the product.

That’s going to be tough to disrupt. But the rewards are terrific. Typically, the incumbent has a large market size. The customers’ use cases are well-developed, and the shortcomings of the existing product are easy to identify.

Still, it takes ripping out a lot of entrenched processes and mindset to replace.

The iPhone is a good example of a product successfully employing the Replace Strategy. Not that it has actually replaced the bast majority of existing mobile phones yet. But it has gotten vital traction in the mobile market and is carving out its share.

9 times better impact. This strategy is the one that runs hardest into the issue of a product needing to be nine times better than what it replaces. Customers are going to overvalue what they have, and the completeness and reliability of the replacement product will be questioned.

Create Strategy

The Create Strategy is a storied one in the world of entrepreneurship. To create a whole new category of usage. Companies that pursue this are riding the visionary edge. Fun place to be.

The landscape is littered with companies that have tried this approach. That’s the big risk with this approach. It takes a lot of experimentation to find the new products that resonate with the market and really change people’s experience.

If a company hits on success in creating a new category, it will enjoy first mover advantages. These are important as Replace Strategy competitors inevitably crop up.

Twitter is an example of this. Twitter is the leader in the micro-blogging/social messaging movement. Other companies are trying to move into the space (Jaiku, Pownce, Plurk, Identi.ca), but Twitter continues to enjoy a dominant position.

9 times better impact. This strategy has an easier time relative to the nine times better requirement. The Create Strategy does have replacement aspects, but they’re often more time replacement issues. Using Twitter as an example, Twitterers were likely replacing some of their activity on email, instant messenger and social networks. But they really weren’t replacing those. Twitter stands on its own merits, not in comparison to other apps.

Diigo: A Hybrid Case

Diigo is a new bookmark and tagging service. Ultimately, Diigo would like to replace Del.icio.us as users’ go-to site for bookmarking (Replace Strategy). But Diigo is being sm,art about it. They have made it easy for sites bookmarked in Diigo to be exported over to Del.icio.us at the same time. So by bookmarking in Diigo, users are suimultaneous bookmarking in Del.icio.us. In this way, Diigo is also pursuing the Complement Strategy. This allows users to get comfortable with Diigo while not losing their existing investment in Del.icio.us.

Cuil: The Challenge of the Replace Strategy

Google Search has en established brand. It has a huge share of mind. People have Google Toolbars. Google Search is a popular add-on to the Firtefox browser. Google Search powers myriad corporate websites.

Louis Gray has a nice post describing the challenge start-ups face when they take on incumbents. Often they start out with dreams of becoming the next big thing, but may have to settle for niche market positions.

Cuil’s initial approach is one of being better than Google Search. Not carving out a particular niche. But based on the initial feedback, Cuil has not come anywhere near being nine times better than Google Search. Cuil is not trying to create a new category. It is not trying to complement existing search. It is firmly in the Replace Strategy mode. Here are its options:

  • Completely replace Google Search: continue to compete against Google for more content that is searched and superior relevance.
  • Replace Google Search for a niche segment: be better than Google at just one thing. But really be nine times better.

Might there be a hybrid strategy for Cuil? You get your Google search results, but get to see what Cuil found? Perhaps like dogpile.com. Not sure how that would work though. And it really doesn’t address the entrenched ecosystem that Google has.

Choose Your Strategy with Care

Dave Winer makes a nice point when it comes to competing against an incumbent like google:

Google is a thriving coral reef, and one doesn’t just show up one day with an idea and compete with an ecosystem.

I don’t know if the Replace Strategy or the Create Strategy is harder. Both have their challenges. It seems Complement Strategy is the easiest, but probably has the lowest market potential.

What do you think? Did I miss any other product market strategies?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Cuil+and+Business+Models%3A+Complement%2C+Replace+or+Create%3F%22&public=1

Who Is Your Information Filter?

This comment by Michael C. Harris on FriendFeed the other day caught my eye:

Heaps of fantastic shares from unknowns get almost completely ignored and yet Scoble shares “Scoble” and gets 50 comments

Michael is hitting on something very important. In FriendFeed, not all shared items are created equal. I’ve noticed some people are really good at getting people to click through on a shared item and start a conversation.

I think of these people as the new Information Filters. They have a knack for getting their subscribers to check out stuff they find interesting. More so than your average social media user.

Over time, a logical outcome would be this: as the Information Filters share information with their subscribers, click-throughs and comments occur on that content. Which attracts new people into the discussion. Who then subscribe to the Information Filter. Which increases the click-throughs and comments. Repeat…

Good Information Filters can find themselves with a lot of power to direct traffic, and subtly influence what others take in when it comes to information. This isn’t without precedent. Television and the web are prior examples of this.

Migration of News Consumption Habits

Both television and the web have seen changes in the way people get their news. In both TV and the web, the changes are based on the strength of someone’s personality and judgment as to what the audience wants:

In 2004, CNN reported a Pew Research Center survey of news viewing habits. The survey found that 21% of people aged 18 – 29 got their news on the presidential election from Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live. A follow-up report “Where Americans Go for News” by Pew also noted:

During these late night hours, many young people are tuning into comedy shows such as David Letterman and Jay Leno. Those under age 30 are among the most likely to watch these types of shows 17% watch Leno or Letterman regularly, compared with 8% of 30-49 year-olds and 12% of those age 50 and older.

What do Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Jay Leno offer that the traditional news broadcasts don’t? Humor, obviously. They also get to pick the most interesting news items for their shows. NBC News anchor Brian Williams noted the obligation of professional news organizations to offer news that likely doesn’t interest most audiences:

Some people call it ‘eat your peas’ journalism because it has to include everything that’s good for you to know to be a good citizen of the world. We put it out there.

In this comment, you see the larger societal obligation felt by the mainstream news media. They cover everything, even the stuff you don’t care for. There’s a tension between ensuring people get a full range of information about our multi-faceted world, and what people are willing to pay attention to.

The web has undergone a similar change in reading habits. Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report has eclipsed traditional news outlets in terms of influence. From The Telegraph’s article Matt Drudge: world’s most powerful journalist:

So much internet traffic can be directed to an item linked to by Drudge that unprepared websites have been known to collapse under the strain.

For politicians, the effect is akin to a needle injecting information into the media bloodstream. A positive story can give a shot of adrenaline to a flagging campaign. More commonly, negative information can be like a dose of poison being administered.

Drudge rose to prominence when he famously put the Monica Lewinsky story in play. Since then, his traffic has grown enormously. It’s not just about that one scoop. Drudge has a good sense about what is newsworthy. From the Washington Post blog The Fix:

The second major reason for Drudge’s influence, according to the Fix’s informal poll of Drudge-ologists is his ability to sniff out a potentially big story when others — including reporters — miss it at first glance.

“He can identify what’s a big deal even when the reporters who actually cover and report on an event don’t realize what they have,” said one GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He scoops reporters’ scoops.”

What do Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Matt Drudge have in common?

  • They don’t actually find and report news (for the most part)
  • They only present what they find interesting
  • They have shrewd judgment as to what audiences will like
  • Their personalities are part of their effectiveness as news filters – people trust them

Each of these guys have emerged as a key Information Filter.  New social media platforms, such as FriendFeed, are starting to see the emergence of their own Information Filters.

You Are Who You Follow

This is something Robert Scoble emphasizes: you define yourself by who you follow. Early FriendFeed employee Kevin Fox described the general role of your friends on FriendFeed:

The nature of FriendFeed is that you start to think that the world is like you, because your friends shape your FF world. I think the FF world is full of Obama supporters, and other people thing it’s full of Twitterers. Pick your friends wisely because they define your FF.

In an equal world, information shared by any of your friends will merit click-throughs and discussion. But the practical reality is that some people will be more “equal” than others in terms of driving the discussion agenda. There are two highly correlated components to that:

  • Number of subscribers
  • Reputation for identifying what is interesting

The sheer number of subscribers make some people Information Filters. The big power users on Twitter: Leo Laporte, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, etc. These guys really drive discussions around ideas, opinions and news. If you subscribe, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the discussions they can kick off.

The reputation for finding interesting stuff is a little harder. Like Matt Drudge and Jon Stewart, you need to have a sense for what people want to know and find interesting. Some people are naturals at this, but I think anyone can learn how to identify interesting stuff.

Louis Gray is a really good Information Filter. Out of curiosity, I took at look at the last 30 Google Reader shares he put into FriendFeed. And I compared them to my last 30. I wanted to analyze the interaction around them: Likes, comments.

The chart to the right graphs the total Likes and comments for the 30 Google Reader shares of each of us. Louis is clearly good at putting things out there and having people discuss them. You’ll see the Likes and comments on his shares are double mine.

I consider Louis to be one of my Information Filters. He’s great at identifying the good stuff. And he takes this role seriously. He wrote a post Roll Your Own Blog Leaderboard with Google Reader Trends, in which he identifies the blogs he’s sharing most often.

The Effects of Our Information Filters

NBC News’ Brian Williams had this to say in response to the increasing application of personal filters to news:

Do you have a problem with people personalizing the news vs. you saying ‘these are the top stories’? Is there a danger in that if you give people too much personalization?

Williams: That’s for others to decide. I will say that if you’re using a filter, if you wake up in the morning and you have loaded up your computer, in other words to say, ‘Foreign news totally bums me out, this Iraq thing, it just ruins my day. Keep it away from me.’ Is that what [James] Madison had in mind, do you think? Is that what [John] Adams and [Ben] Franklin and [Thomas] Jefferson had in mind? Did they expect a little more informed electorate, to quote Mr. Jefferson? Did they expect a little more from us as citizens? I can’t judge people.

Democracy, on the other hand, looking at the argument, it’s their right [to filter]. I’m a lover of news and information, I’m a lover of American history, it’s my hobby. So if I had my druthers… Some people call it ‘eat your peas’ journalism because it has to include everything that’s good for you to know to be a good citizen of the world. We put it out there.

I can’t start programming the ‘NBC Nightly News’ with just the news that doesn’t bum people out. Just the news they want to see and hear. But I can’t stop someone from using filters, from using pay-as-you-go technology to get what they want. I will probably have my own opinion in a couple years about what we’ve become as a society as a result of if we stop getting the news that’s at all negative.

There’s a similar concern about over-reliance on our Information Filters in social media. That it becomes too easy to rely on what they find, and put in front of us. Robert Scoble asked a question that touched on this recently:

Hmm, how come you all like commenting on Google Reader Shared Items here in FriendFeed but you all do so little Google Reader reading yourselves?

Check it out for a good discussion around the merits of using FriendFeed exclusively for reading new blog posts.

Choose Your Information Filters Carefully

Brian Williams alluded to the “eat your peas” element of being an informed citizen. That is, take in information even when it doesn’t interest you. But that’s really fighting against human nature. We’re time-constrained, and social media has made it easier than ever to perpetuate our natural tendency to rely on the advice of friends for what is interesting.

So really, the best thing to do is to choose your Information Filters wisely.

What do you think? How do you select your Information Filters?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Who+Is+Your+Information+Filter%3F%22&public=1

Weekly Recap 072508: Twittering into the Mainstream

Twitter got some big play this week: 2 good, 1 bad…let’s start with good…

USA Today had a nice feature on Twitter, Twitter took off from simple to ‘tweet’ success…this quote from the article really gets it right about Twitter these days…

Twitter has become so popular, so fast, that keeping up with its fast-growing user base is a real issue. So many people now use Twitter to update friends that the system often crashes.

The outages are the markers of a company that is experiencing success beyond its expectations…

The New York Times ran a story about how companies use Twitter, blogs and other social media to keep up with customer issues and questions…

If you’re scoring at home, that’s two mainstream, huge-circulation newspapers writing positive stories about Twitter this week…if you wonder a couple years from now how Twitter became so mainstream, remember weeks like this…

But not all was well with Twitter this week…the company inexplicably chopped off subscribers from every user…there were a lot of pissed Twitterers…people threatened to leave Twitter…but when the followers were restored?…

Temporary retraction .. comes back up 50 more followers ? I can’t help it … it’s sticky”

Twitter’s je ne sais quoi

*****

I’ve never said jailbreaking

*****

SmugMug seems to have figured out FriendFeed’s visual dynamics…SmugMug pictures come thorugh big, bright and beautiful on FriendFeed, especially compared to Flickr pictures…

SmugMug pix on FriendFeed, courtesy of Dave Cohen:

Dave Cohen SmugMug Pictures

Dave Cohen SmugMug Pictures

Same pix, this time Flickr on FriendFeed:

Dave Cohen Flickr Pictures

Dave Cohen Flickr Pictures

Great advertisement for SmugMug…and the little guy is cute regardless of the photo service…

*****

Noticed a change in my Google Reader shares these days…I’m tending to share blog posts that I haven’t already seen a few times on FriendFeed…that means fewer TechCrunch shares…more emphasis on those nuggets that haven’t seen wide circulation yet…

Figured people were seeing the big blogs enough already…

*****

I got to do a guest post on Louis Gray’s blog this week…really good reactions out there in the blogosphere, which was great…blogger Barry Schwartz thought enough of the post that he wrote his own post in response, Am I Losing the Connection?

Unfortunately, Barry got the author wrong…he overlooked the “guest post” announcement at the start of the post, and naturally figured Louis wrote it…from Barry’s post…

  • Louis Gray wrote a blog post named Bloggers’ Interactions With Readers Decrease With Prominence
  • Louis Gray documents what are “interactions:”
  • “It’s these two dynamics that cause some bloggers to head onto the next stage,” explains Louis.

Sigh…I am happy the post resonated, but it’d be nice to get a little recognition…so I left a comment on Barry’s post a few days ago:

Barry – glad you liked the post. One small correction – I actually wrote that particular post. Louis was kind enough to let me guest post on his blog.

As for losing your connection to the industry. Look to people like Fred Wilson and Louis Gray as examples. I don’t think any blogger should feel the need to connect with every reader. Just like connecting anywhere else – pick your spots, right?

Despite the comment, Barry hasn’t updated his blog…Barry – you’re losing touch with your readers!…

Well, I’m not alone…Rob Diana wrote a piece on Louis’s blog, Can Microblogs Just Talk to Each Other?…Dave Winer thought it was Louis’s post…such are the benefits and perils of guest blogging…

*****

According to Allen Stern, Mahalo employees are busily writing articles for Google Knol…Unsure of Google Knol’s future impact on his company Mahalo, Jason Calacanis is making sure they have plenty of articles with links pointing to Mahalo pages…

*****

Plan to buy an iPhone this week, if they have inventory

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Weekly+Recap+072508%3A+Twittering+into+the+Mainstream%22&public=1

Unclear on the Concept: People Complaining about Comcast Monitoring Social Media

The New York Times has an article today about Comcast using social media to respond to customer complaints. Comcast is definitely at the forefront of this move to engage customers out in the wild. Comcast’s efforts have previously been documented on ReadWriteWeb. New York Times coverage helps move the concept, and Twitter, closer to mainstream adoption.

What caught my eye in the NYT article is that some people are concerned about Comcast doing this. They feel like Comcast is acting like Big Brother. According to the article, 20 year-old Brandon Dilbeck blogged about his dislike of ads on Comcast’s programming guide. A Comcast representative found the post (Google blog alert perhaps?), and responded to him via email.

Hey dude! Your blog had some impact! Isn’t that cool?

Well, no. The blogger apparently thought it was weird:

Mr. Dilbeck found it all a bit creepy. “The rest of his e-mail may as well have read, ‘Big Brother is watching you,’ ” he said.

Here’s what I don’t get. Blogs are publicly available. Anyone can find a blog and comment on it. Sometimes, your blog posts result in actions you wouldn’t have expected. This is the power of Web 2.0.

If you’re going to write publicly, how on earth can you be concerned about Big Brother? Sure, if Comcast had monitored his email or phone conversations, that’d be Big Brother (and illegal).

But to air your concerns publicly and have someone from the company read it? If you’re concerned someone would actually read your post, then don’t blog. I’m actually surprised this 20 year old was concerned. The Gen Y folks are supposed to be pretty open about everything in their lives. Maybe Mel McBride is right when she made this comment on FriendFeed with regard to Facebook:

I’m just getting tired of dopes buying into the surveillance of their personal history, daily activities and personal associations as a “convenience” – wake up people.

Social media: If you write it, do it or video it, people can find it. That’s the great opportunity for all of us.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Unclear+on+the+Concept%3A+People+Complaining+about+Comcast+Monitoring+Social+Media%22&public=1

Google Knol: A Massive Blogging Platform

Google opened up its Knol service on Wednesday July 23. From the Google blog:

The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people’s heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone.

Allow millions of people to freely write up their own thoughts and contribute knowledge. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah…

You know what Knol is? It’s a blogging platform. A hosted, multi-author blogging platform

As Mathew Ingram notes, Knol is compared to Wikipedia and Mahalo. Here’s how I’d break down the three services.

  • Wikipedia is a wiki
  • Mahalo is an editor-controlled links aggregation site
  • Knol is a giant blogging site

Wikipedia is a collaborative effort toward creating a single information page. Mahalo is handpicked information created in a top-down fashion by experts. Knol is a bunch of separate blog posts on a given subject.

I Wrote My First Google Knol

To find out more about Google Knol, I decided to write up a knol. My knol is Using FriendFeed to Increase Blog Readership. I took my old post Ten FriendFeed Visitors Beats 1,000 StumbleUpons Any Day, and got rid of the comparisons to StumbleUpon and Digg. The knol focuses on how FriendFeed is actually good for bloggers.

I figured that post was a good one to start with. It got Likes from FriendFeed co-founders Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor:

The post was also (ironically) quite popular with Stumblers. So I cleaned up the references to other sites and added some things around attention optimization.

Yup, I was ready to rock-n-knol.

Knol = Blogging

The process of creating a knol was really easy:

  1. Go to knol.google.com
  2. Click on “Write a knol”
  3. Sign in with your Google account
  4. Start writing

I thought there might be some sort of test to prove my expertise, or some approval period while someone checked my credentials. Nope.  It was just another Google Accounts sign-up.

The process reminded me of signing up for wordpress.com and starting to write. Here’s the knol blogging interface:

Once I got in there, it was just like blogging. I wrote my paragraphs. Created section titles. Added graphics.

I did assume a somewhat more professorial tone in the knol than I do here.

Knols Allow Some Wiki-Like Collaboration on Blog Posts

The overall Knol site is not itself a wiki. But there are wiki elements available for individual knols. Three collaboration options are available, set by th author:

  1. Wide open editing by anyone who is signed in
  2. Moderated editing – all edits must be approved by the author
  3. No editing – no one except the author can make changes

So there could be knols that are set up as true community build-out efforts (#1 option above). That’s pretty much Wikipedia. The difference is that there may be several knols on a given subject – some by solo authors, some by a group of collaborators. Wikipedia has only a single page per subject.

Knols Allow Comments – Just Like Blogs

People can make comments on your knol. A good discussion can occur around a subject. This is just like a blog.

Knols Allow Ads – Just Like Blogs

An author can elect to allow ads to appear beside the knol. I did this, signing up for Google AdSense for the first time in my life. I don’t expect to earn a penny, but I want to see what ads run there.

Blogs, of course, can also have ads.

Knol Includes an Author Profile – Just Like Blogs

When you create your first knol, Google automatically creates a second one for you: your profile page (link to mine). A really nice feature that, again, is a hallmark of blogs (the About page).

Aside from a  bio, the profile page includes a listing of the knols that someone has written.

What’s the Difference Between Google Knols and WordPress.com?

Really, there’s no reason the content of knols will differ that much from blogs. I searched for “back pain” on Google Knol and WordPress.com. Here are two results:

The knol is the more scholarly of the two. But the wordpress.com blog holds its own in terms of information.

There are two key differences from what I can see:

  1. Brand. Knol is branded as an expert/knowledge site. Blogs are that, but also include a lot of opinion and first-person experiences.
  2. Ranking. Readers can rate a knol on a 1-5 star scale. These rankings will help the best content emerge at the top of search results.

Google knols may also have better “Google juice” than most blogs. Search Engine Land suspects knols will inherit a Google page rank advantage in search results.

Try Writing a Knol!

For me, writing a knol was a lot less pressure than adding to a Wikipedia entry. It was just like writing a blog post. Now I am conscious of the purpose of knol, and don’t expect to fill it with my blog posts. But perhaps over time people will be less wary of adding opinion to knols. From the Google blog post introducing Knol:

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It’s their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.

Note the inclusion of opinion in there. Once you open that up, you’ve fundamentally got blogging. Knol might be good for people who don’t want to maintain a full blog, but would love to write a few articles providing knowledge and opinion.

Go take a look at the knol I wrote (link). Please rate it. Comment on it. I’m curious what all that interaction looks like.

And then go blog your own knol. If you do, leave a link in the comments so I can check it out.

*****

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The New Facebook Newsfeed: Slow. Over-engineered. I Like It.

Facebook recently rolled out several changes related to activity streams and commenting. As TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington noted, these changes represent the “Friendfeedization” of Facebook. The changes include the ability to import activities from other services (e.g. Twitter, blogs, Last.fm, etc.).

Before looking at these changes, let’s take a moment to understand Facebook’s market position. Recent numbers indicate that Facebook continues its tremendous growth. Mashable’s Adam Ostrow reported that Facebook had a terrific June in the United States:

According to Nielsen Online, Facebook swelled to 29.2M unique visitors in the US, up more than 10 percent from May.

It’s clear the site continues to do well with larger numbers of mainstream users. But among the tech cognoscenti, there is a different view of Facebook. Dave Winer wrote this on FriendFeed:

Am I the only one who doesn’t give a flying fcuk about Facebook?

There were a number of concurring comments. And that’s fair. I really haven’t been on Facebook much in the last several months.

But Facebook is definitely working to improve the experience on its site. Now one might argue that with mainstream users’ growth, what do they need to do? From my perspective, they need to make the site more interactive.

So we have the new changes. Let’s look at them.

Services Import = More You, More Activity

Definitely a component of the FriendFeedization. Having been on FriendFeed for several months, I’ve gained a healthy appreciation for others’ content: Flickr photos, Last.fm music, blogs, tweets, direct posts of cool and funny stuff. It really is like people are TV channels on FriendFeed.

Bringing these into Facebook is a great complement to the usual apps and group joining that seems to dominate the newsfeed. It will be nice to see more of the things my friends like.

Hopefully it will help the level of activity on the site. Compared to FriendFeed’s Mississippi River of content, Facebook is a quiet brook.

Newsfeed Rules Make the Activity Stream Pretty Quiet

Facebook has rules that govern what content makes it into the newsfeed of members. This is a difference to the wide open flow of Friendfeed. In FriendFeed, users control the noise. In Facebook, the site controls the noise. And according to TechCrunch, those noise control rules will be updated. It will be harder for many apps’ activity to make it into the newsfeed.

Great for managing those annoying app updates. But not so good for fostering increased interaction around users’ activities, as only a fraction of them will get through. A half-commitment to lifestreaming.

Maybe it’s just me, but my newsfeed is dominated by Facebook photos. Keep those in there, but I’d like to see a greater variety of entries show up.

Commenting = Great Addition, Wish It Was More “In the Flow”

This is the most direct FriendFeedization feature: commenting on the activities of friends. I really love this feature. Previously, it was see something in the newsfeed, then go post a message to the person. Nice that it’s all bundled together now. Conversation around activities.

I already received some benefit from the feature. I now know of a website that will tell me where iPhones are available. How’d that happen? I commented on an item on my Facebook newsfeed:

My friend Amy isn’t on FriendFeed. But her status update, my question, and her response, are exactly the kinds of interactions that regularly occur on FriendFeed.

One observation about the commenting. After someone responds to a comment on their entry, the ‘comment’ button disappears. No chance to follow-up commenting in the main newsfeed. You can see this in the graphic above. There’s no ‘comment’ button to click.

You can go to the user’s profile page and post a follow-up comment. So it is possible to continue the conversation, but Facebook takes it out of the newsfeed flow.

One other point versus FriendFeed. In Facebook, you get notifications of comments on an item. This contrasts with FriendFeed’s “bounce to the top” approach of seeing new comments. Notifications are just fine for me.

Facebook Is Still a Little Strange to this FriendFeed Addict

FriendFeed is very good with presenting content and letting users make quick interactions around it. Facebook isn’t quite that. Consider this exchange. My sister had an update in the Facebook newsfeed from one of her apps. Here’s how that conversation went:

My sister’s update: Helen has updated the Cities I’ve Visited map, by TripAdvisor.

Me: Which city?

My sister: Which city, what? ;-)

So I’d have to add the TripAdvisor app to my profile, then navigate over to my sister’s profile, and figure out what my sister updated. Painful.

Facebook Is Slow and Heavy

Facebook is very slow. Every page takes forever to load. Facebook’s slowness is a restrictor plate on interactions there.

Robert Scoble talked with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about this, and posted this comment on FriendFeed:

Mark Zuckerberg and I talked about FriendFeed today. He says he likes the search engine here. Explained that Facebook’s scale is slowing them down. Says that 90 million users make things go slow.

In that FriendFeed thread, Duncan Riley points out that Google Search is lightning fast with billions of users. But to be fair, Google Search doesn’t need to access everyone’s individual rules, settings and apps loaded specifically to everyone’s page. Doesn’t make the slowness any better though.

Facebook Status Updates Are the Best Comment Fodder

The status updates are great because they provide a natural basis for conversation. The things people do are those things which they’re most likely going to talk about. As the experience with my sister’s TripAdvisor app shows, commenting on actvities with apps is a little more painful.

One of my friends did include a blog post about Pandora and the iPhone in her newsfeed. I clicked on that, read the post, and came back to the newsfeed to make a comment. Felt very FriendFeed-ish.

I ‘Like’ the New Facebook Newsfeed

All that being said, I do like the new newsfeed.I have a whole circle ofd friends who do not hang out on FriendFeed. And the stuff that makes up their streams is different from those I follow on FriendFeed.

It’s a slower pace over on Facebook, but that’s OK for what it is. I use FriendFeed to learn information and points of view. I use Facebook to keep track of all those other little life details.

*****

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