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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 020609

From the home office in Victoria, Australia…

#1: Interesting convo w/ colleague. Is there any risk to tweeting that you’re traveling on vacation? Burglars searching for such tweets?

#2: Guy was turned down for a job because he switched majors his freshman year of college. Say what? Details: http://bit.ly/23yHBT

#3: FriendFeed continues to roll out the powerful features. Latest? Much more granular search options, very helpful: http://bit.ly/VNYX

#4: I’m impressed w/ Yammer’s hustle. If you’re doing an internal preso on it, they’ll help you with the preso. Smart. E.g.: http://bit.ly/PR1A

#5: RT @beccayoungs I really do think the Amazon Kindle will be a game-changer. Check this out – Kindle to be a $1B product http://tr.im/eflz

#6: RT @barconati Oh no! Yahoo briefcase is closing. Believe it or not I still use it. More out of habit than anything else http://tr.im/e88z

#7: Mike Gotta on the rise of employee social profiles inside companies: http://bit.ly/135Vz Benefits and advice w/ nice Connectbeam shout-out

#8: Check out http://www.socialwhois.com/ Lets you search for people on based on keywords in their lifestreams. Very cool.

#9: RT @lehawes w00t! I made the Wall St. Journal today! Page A11 in print edition or online at http://bit.ly/iRcH

#10: After the WSJ coverage…@lehawes blogs about being included in a recent WSJ article: Taken Out of Context http://bit.ly/17aRy

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Fred Wilson on the Next Wave of the Web

fred-wilson-blog-avatarSearch, filtering, semantics, etc, etc. That’s the next wave of innovation in the real time web and that’s why FB opening up status is a big deal

Originally posted as a comment by fredwilson on A VC using Disqus.

FriendFeed: Social Network? Or Uber Information Management Service?

friendfeed-logo

Item #1: Tamar Weinberg posted this on FriendFeed the other day:

I’m starting to see a lot less regular interactivity on FriendFeed. I see *activity* though — people posting their own stuff. Commenting and Liking content? Not so much. Case in point: my own FF stream. Two weeks ago, it was a lot more active than this past week & I barely changed anything.

Now Louis Gray wondered if this comment reflected a case of the blues. I’ll disagree with him there. But before I get to that, let me add a couple other comments I found interesting.

Item #2: Shaun Farner posted this on FriendFeed:

We’re turning FriendFeed into Delicious. What happened to the feed part?

I just feel like things are more likely to be ignored if they aren’t posted directly to FF. Kinda lame. I check FF for activity constantly even if I post something on a different service.

Item #3: And then Mona Nomura, who can garner 50-like posts on FriendFeed better than anyone, wrote this:

Actually, I’m the opposite. Been diggin’ Twitter lately. ;)

As I read these, and reflect on my own usage, this is the question I ask: FriendFeed: Social Network? Or Uber Information Management Service?

I’m curious, because the two use cases are different, with different revenue models and feature sets. Which way do you think FriendFeed should go?

FriendFeed: Social Network

FriendFeed enables you to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that your friends and family are sharing. It offers a unique way to discover and discuss information among friends.

FriendFeed About Us Page

ffundercats

FriendFeed is a social network, for sure. I see people posting details about their personal lives, some with nice discussions around them. I’ve got a number of people I’ve connected with purely through FriendFeed and I love staying on top of what they’re doing. That social aspect is important to me and many other active users. There’s even a weekly podcast of FriendFeeders called ffundercats.

In a post a few months back, I asked “how much of a social network does FriendFeed want to be?” Think about Facebook. It’s got a lot of “sticky” information aspects for each person. Their profiles. Their apps. Their status (which does not usually equal Twitter-like velocities). Their Wall. Their photo albums. And you can send emails to one another on Facebook.

FriendFeed, on the other hand, is a steady stream of content. Having sticky aspects to your persona on FriendFeed is tough, and the most permanent thing is the set of icons representing what you feed into the service.

So yes, it’s a social network. But heck, everything is a social network. Digg is a social network. Reddit is a social network. Hacker News is a social network. SlideShare is a social network. GetSatisfaction is a social network.

But they’re not primarily social networks. They provide other services, and communities grow up around those activities. Those communities are the social network, but they’re not the defining part.

A defining element of social networks is setting up a place you can call “home”. A place of permanence from which you then reach out to others. Alexander Van Elsas wrote this last July:

Can we live an on-line life without an anchor point? Surfing the web without some on-line place that we can call home?

FriendFeed doesn’t yet have that home yet. It is a social network, but is that it’s primary purpose?

FriendFeed: Uber Information Management Service

Being the uber information management service is something I see for FriendFeed. It’s the use case I’ve been touting on this blog a lot lately.

Social networks generally have profiles, internal messaging, status updates, comment walls – which FriendFeed doesn’t have. With that in mind, let’s look at the  recent rollouts by FriendFeed:

  1. Powerful, more granular search (link)
  2. Display the actual twitpics in tweets that feed into FriendFeed (link)
  3. Better display of content sources (link)
  4. Notifications and posting via IM (link)
  5. Post FriendFeed updates to Twitter (link)
  6. Simple update protocol (link)

Notice anything in that? A strong orientation toward improving the posting and consumption of information.

Think about it. Is there anything on the market like this? There is a mass migration of production and consumption toward user generated content and traditional content filtered by people you trust. It’s been a piecemeal effort to track all this. For the first time, there’s a service with an amazing architectural foundation for letting users track all manner of topics and media types they want, while tuning in to their preferred information filters.

The only comparable way to do this was in an RSS Reader. And that experience doesn’t even come close to that of FriendFeed.

FriendFeed’s Highest and Best Use?

Certainly the social network will continue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this sentiment expressed: “So-and-so just dumps their feeds in here, and never interacts. I’m not following them.” That’s the social network talking right there.

But if you come at FriendFeed from a different angle, the information management service angle, you’re fine with those who add their feeds but don’t comment or Like. Instead of looking at it like a social network, you’re looking at it the best way on the market to follow topics and people of interest. It’s why I add Imaginary Friends as well. I don’t want to have to go to different services to track what everyone is doing. One centralized place for that, with architectural scalability and stability, and an amazing array of user-controlled tools for managing information…that’s what I want.

The revenue model of an information management service looks different from that of a social network. To see how a social network monetizes, study Facebook’s efforts. The ad model is not so hot. Particularly when compared to Google’s ad revenue.

And remember where FriendFeed’s team came from. Not a social network like Facebook. But from the information powerhouse Google. Once FriendFeed has collected all of this amazing information and the various attention signals (Likes, comments, # times  a URL is shared, mapping individuals’ specific interests), I’ve got to believe there will be people who want that data. Ads will make sense, but so will other value-added services that FriendFeed can uniquely offer. Think of start-up BuzzGain.

At the top of this post, I said I disagreed with Louis. I don’t think Tamar’s post was any indication of sadness. I mean, FriendFeed hit 1 million unqiue visitors in December. It’s hot.

I do think most FriendFeed usage will be the consumption of information, less social interaction. Tamar’s post just reflects some of that.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=FriendFeed+Social+Network+%22Uber+Information+Management+Service%22

One Thing Social Software Needs: The Guaranteed Delivery Button

At the start of January, Jennfier Leggio and I launched the 2009 Email Brevity Challenge. The goal is to reduce the length of emails, with an eye toward migrating a lot of what’s in them elsewhere.

Well, January is over. Time to see how I did:

email-stats-jan-09

As you can see, I’ve got some work to do. First, my average email weighs in at 164 characters. 164 characters…hmm, doesn’t sound so bad but it’s pretty far beyond 140 characters.

Even worse, 41% of my emails are beyond the bar set for the email brevity challenge. One positive? Check out that median length – my heart is in the right place in terms of brevity.

But I can do better.

Looking at my emails, I see an obvious candidate for cutback. Seven of those 140+  character emails are essentially links with commentary of snippets.

Say what? You work for a social bookmarking company man! And you’re emailing links?!!

Well, yes. But I also bookmark them. Let me explain. I bookmark plenty of links for my own purposes. And true to social bookmarking’s purpose, other people can find them as well, which is better for discussions around the information.

Some of these bookmarks are more than useful information I want for recall later or for others to find in their research. Some are relevant to things that we’re working on right now. They provide context to product, development and marketing efforts.

Those bookmarks need to have higher visibility than typical links do.  And a problem with only bookmarking a link is that many people won’t see it who should.

That’s what email provides: guaranteed delivery. Everyone is using the app, and everyone checks their email. So I know the link + commentary will be seen. What social software needs is an equivalent mechanism.

Social Software Options for Guaranteed Delivery

In fact, many apps do have such guaranteed delivery mechanisms. For instance, you can think of the @reply on Twitter as a form of that. Although even then, it requires someone checking that tab. So TweetReplies will actually email you when someone uses your @name in a tweet.

As I wrote before, email’s evolving role in social media will be more notification, less personal communication. Email is still a centralized place for all manner of notifications and it has that lovely guaranteed delivery aspect.

So what are alternatives for emails inside companies?

Inside my company, I actually have three alternatives to emailing the links with lots of commentary”

Connectbeam: As I mentioned, a simple bookmark has no guarantee of visibility. But the app does include email (and RSS) notifications of new content. You can subscribe to emails of individuals’ and Groups’ activity in real-time, or get a daily digest of those options plus keyword-based notifications. So what I can do is set up a Group, call it “Email Worthy”. I then have all my colleagues subscribe to real-time notifications of activity in that Group. Voila! I add a note to my bookmark, save it to the Group and I know everyone will get it.

Confluence: Another option is to create a wiki page for these entries. I can put longer form commentary in the pages, include a link and tag them. Since Connectbeam automatically sucks Confluence wiki pages into its database, these individual wiki pages would be as good as a bookmark. I could then email a link to the wiki page (using a bit.ly URL), going Twitter style with a brief intro.

Yammer: Yammer now has Groups. Which is something people have been wanting with Twitter. You can publish a message in Yammer (a “yamm”?) to just a particular Group. Yammer has nicely added an email notification feature for Groups. So similar to what I described above for Connectbeam, we can create a Group on Yammer called “Email Worthy”. Everyone can join the Group and elect to recieve email notifications when new yamms come through.  I can post the link + commentary, and be assured of guaranteed delivery.

One problem with using Yammer this way is that information put there is separate from the wiki entries and bookmarks we have. So people would have to check two places for information. As I wrote over on the Connectbeam blog, that creates a de facto silo.

It’s February, A New Month

I’m going to experiment a bit with this. Of course, I need to get my colleagues to subscribe to email notifications for Connectbeam. But I’ll just tell them, “do that or I’ll email ya!” And I’ll try the Confluence wiki approach as well.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=One+Thing+Social+Software+Needs+The+Guaranteed+Delivery+Button

Your Brainstorming Sessions Suck? Four Drivers of Success and Where the Web Helps

Freshview

photo credit: Freshview

ReadWriteWeb’s Bernard Lunn penned a piece recently, How Can Web Tech Help Enterprises with Innovation Management? The post argues that Innovation 3.0 will include a large dollop of external idea generation via social media. And companies are hungry for it:

There is no more important an issue on the agenda of top management than driving innovation.

Bernard’s point about the hunger for innovation is right. It’s always been an imperative, but the ease with which companies can come from anywhere to disrupt markets has raised the importance of new ideas.

While his post focuses on externally sourced ideas, I’d like to talk about what’s happening inside organizations. Specifically, I’m talking brainstorming. Those “have-the-potential-to-be-fun” meetings with your colleagues to work on the next generation of your companies products and services. But they’re not always fun are they?

Turns out there are some new services that can improve the way companies’ employees generate top-notch ideas. Before hitting those, there’s an intriguing study by some INSEAD and University of Pennsylvania researchers that sheds light on where brainstorming can be improved.

The Four Drivers of the Best Ideas

In Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea, the academics examine the different processes that  lead to the best ideas (not just good ones) being generated and selected in brainstorming.

Their hypotheses are interesting. Here are the four drivers for getting the best ideas from brainstorming:

  1. The sheer volume of ideas generated
  2. Average quality of all ideas generated by brainstorming
  3. The amount of variance in the quality of generated ideas
  4. Ability to evaluate what the best ideas are

These are covered below, including which styles of brainstorming are better. Before that though, here’s a little more on how these academics arrived at their conclusions.

First, they studied existing literature. A must for any researcher. They then created their own field study, using Wharton students in brainstorming experiments. Now whether that fairly models company brainstorming…let’s see what they found, eh?

Two styles of brainstorming were analyzed:

two-methods-for-brainstorming

Hybrid: Individuals went through their own personal brainstorming exercise, then met as a team and generating more ideas.

Team: All idea generated occurred in a group setting.

Turns out, it makes a difference which brainstorming style is used. This is discussed below.

Volume of Ideas Generated

This one ranks up there with motherhood and apple pie. The more ideas you generate, the higher probability you have of generating outstanding ideas.

On this metric, the Hybrid approach is much more productive. When individuals sit down and come up with ideas by themselves, they produce more ideas than what a group typically generates. The primary difference in quantity of ideas generated is termed “production blocking”. Production blocking is the inability to generate ideas when others in the team are speaking.

Important to note here is that there is a time restriction in this metric. As in, “# ideas per hour” type of a metric. The more time given to a brainstorming session, the less difference there is in quantity of ideas generated between the two brainstorming styles.

Average Quality of Ideas

This one is little less intuitive. The Hybrid process generates ideas of higher average quality than does the team process. I can’t say what I expected, but hearing this was a bit surprising.

Seemingly, the ability of the group to refine an idea generated during brainstorming would ultimately raise the overall quality. But it seems that individuals have pretty good internal regulators. I’d guess we actively suppress the worst of the ideas, or those that we’re not so sure about.

Thus we raise the overall quality. But in doing so, do individuals snuff out potentially high value ideas?

Variance in the Quality of Ideas

This is the one that will probably surprise you. To get the highest ranked, the best ideas, you want a higher variance in the quality of ideas generated. That means more really crappy ideas, along with some truly inspired ideas. In terms of a statistical distribution, think of it as more ideas extending to the extreme left and right tails of a population quality.

Turns out, Team has the edge here over the Hybrid approach. As the study authors say, “we believe there is more potential for both breakdown and collaborative success in teams then in individual idea generation.”

What an interesting statement! On the downside, the variance comes from poor group dynamics inside that brainstorming conference room. Have you ever been in that situation? I have. A bunch of elephants coming together into a room, with existing political connections, and the result is a really bad session with few ideas of middlin’ quality. Because of these qualities, some idea gains currency among the group, and discussing that idea becomes the theme of the meeting.

And it feels like you just wasted an hour or two. Frustrating.

But Team brainstorming also has its high points. When the team comes together without agenda, and brings a serendipitous variety of viewpoints. People feed off one another, and imperfections in one idea are overcome with different thinking from someone else’s idea. These brainstorming sessions are gold, and incredibly valuable when they happen.

One thing to take away from this. When considering brainstorming in your workplace, have an honest assessment about your company’s culture. Can people really come in and have an idea jam? Or will things inevitably get mired in the same old agendas and relationships to reduce brainstorming effectiveness?

Evaluation of Ideas

This is the final step, and it’s where a lot of brainstorming sessions fall short. How good is the team in evaluating the quality of the ideas generated? According to the research of the academics, the Team approach is less effective in evaluating idea quality than the Hybrid approach.

To ascertain the “true” quality of ideas in the Wharton student experiments, the researchers had an independent panel of people rate the ideas that came out of the brainstorming sessions. They then compared these independent ratings to the self-evaluated ratings of the different teams.

This quote from the paper actually made me laugh a little:

We find that the ranks obtained in the Team process have no correlation with the panel ratings whereas for the Hybrid process they exhibit a significant positive correlation.

No correlation for how the Team approach evaluated the ideas. My fellow workers of the world, does that ring a little true to you? The researchers ascribe this finding as supporting “the theory that in a team, ownership of ideas, social pressures, team dynamics and interaction of different personalities limit objectivity and the ability to discern quality.”

In the Hybrid process, there were actually two idea rating events: individuals rated their own self-generated ideas, and the team evaluated its ideas. The researchers found that the individuals rating their own ideas was the primary reason for the correlation of self-evaluated ratings’ high correlation with the panel ratings.

Turns out we’re pretty good at discerning idea quality when we’re free from the group setting. Even for our own ideas.

Implication for Using the Web to Improve Innovation

The academics findings lead them to this conclusion:

These results suggest that it would be best to employ team processes in the idea generation stage and then use an independent individual evaluation process.

I’m going to disagree somewhat with the first part of that statement. I’d say a mix of individual and team processes is best. Inside an organization, there will be plenty of times where you as an individual will have an idea. Some of those individually-generated ideas will be top-notch. And there will be times where a Team approach will be employeec. See what ideas come from those sessions. As I said before, just be mindful of your existing company culture in term of the quality of ideas that come from these sessions.

The second part of the reseachers’ conclusion is where Enterprise 2.0 comes in. Once ideas are generated – whether individually or in a Team process – they need to go through an evaluation process. Google employs a form of this with its internal prediction markets.

There are a couple companies out there who are working in part of the Enterprise 2.0 space:

Spigit: Spigit provides InnovationSpigit, which has a prediction market orientation to evaluating ideas.

BrightIdea: Brightidea provides Pipeline, which has a project management orientation to idea management.

There may other companies out there as well. The point is to recognize that we employees are imperfect.  Increasing the visibility and accessibility of ideas and independent evaluations is a great way to bring structure and a diversity of opinions to bear on ideas. Remember, companies are hungry for innovation.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone+%22Your+Brainstorming+Sessions+Suck++Four+Drivers+of+Success+and+Where+the+Web+Helps

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 013009

From the home office in Tampa Bay, FL…

#1: PETA ad that uses sex to sell vegetables (yeah, you read that right) is rejected for Superbowl. See for yourself: http://bit.ly/1xVgO5

#2: NYT piece on Twitter & David Pogue’s request for help w/ hiccups: http://bit.ly/1oI72B BTW – SUGAR. Teaspoon of sugar makes ‘em go away.

#3: I’m already part of the Jeff Bezos fan club, nice post here about how he pursues root cause analysis: http://bit.ly/aJtH

#4: Guys at The Content Economy post: Three good presentations on Enterprise 2.0 http://bit.ly/3slVoL Honored to be there w/ @jowyang & AIIM

#5: Enterprise 2.0′s job is to increase the frequency with which those who need find those who know. Among many jobs.

#6: RT @ghornet About to present a business plan – must focus on not using e2.0 buzzwords… afraid someone will yell BINGO!

#7: One thing with emails…you have to re-earn the right to arrive in the in-box every time you send them. Unlike RSS feeds.

#8: Chrysler removed its “Thank You America” post (for the bailout). Became a rallying point for public venting. Background: http://bit.ly/bp0z

#9: Odd to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, realizing he’s our governor. Bad guys were easier to handle than Sacramento lawmakers.

#10: And so it is settled…after 14 games of the card game War with my 4 y.o. son Harrison, I am victorious, 8 to 6.

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