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Three Reasons Google Should Acquire Delicious from Yahoo

So the news is out. Yahoo plans to shutter Delicious, the largest social bookmarking site. Which is shocking, particularly among the tech savvy and socially oriented. Delicious is iconic for its application of social sharing and collective intelligence. Hard to believe Yahoo wants to shut it down.

But wait…this doesn’t have to be the end. Why not seek alternatives to shutting down the service? Might there be a logical company to take on Delicious, and all the value it holds? Why yes, one company comes to mind.

Google.

Delicious fits Google’s mission

Hmmm…what is it Google wants to do? What defines their corporate philosophy? Ah yes, here’s Google’s mission:


“Organize the world’s information.” Now, doesn’t that sound like the kind of thing that applies to Delicious? Millions of people organizing the world’s information, according to their own tags. Which makes it easier to find for others. Crowdsourced curation.

For that reason alone, Google would be wise to take on Delicious.

Glean new insights about what people value

Google’s pagerank is amazing. It’s incredibly good at finding nuggets. But it’s not perfect, as anyone who regularly use it knows. The use of links is powerful, but is a limited basis for identifying valuable web pages.

What people elect to bookmark is a different sort of valuation. Which is important, because not everyone blogs, or creates web pages with links to their favorite sites. But there is a distributed effort of indicating value via bookmarking.

This activity would be a valuable addition to Google’s search results. Take a look at this thread on Hacker News (a bunch of tech savvy types) about Delicious:

I added that highlighting. And here’s what Michael Arrington said when Yahoo experimented with adding Delicious bookmarks to its search results:

I have previously written that Delicious search is one of the best ways of searching for things when a standard search doesn’t pull up what you are looking for. After Google, it is my favorite “search engine.” Adding this information into Yahoo search is a great idea.

Google could leverage the activity of Delicious users to improve its search results, or at least give users an additional place to find content. Mine the tags to provide more context and connections among pages.

Note that Google, and Bing, are exploring different ways to apply social signals from Twitter and Facebook. Inclusion of Delicious in the search process would be consistent with that.

And Google would still benefit from its Adwords program here. Which would be a monetization strategy for Delicious, which has no ads.

Great PR move with the tech community

Google finds itself in a fight with Facebook for employees. Google is public, Facebook is pre-IPO. Social is hot, and Facebook is dominant in that. Google isn’t.

But as Allen Stern notes, Google does have a special appeal to the tech crowd for its developer-friendly moves. Stepping in and taking over a legendary Web 2.0 site like Delicious would be a good fit with that reputation. Enhance the usage of the data and make it easy for developers to access.

More importantly, Delicious holds a special appeal among the geekier set. Many of us are still active bookmarkers, and use the service. Google is known for being a geek-centric paradise, with a bunch of high-GPA, advanced degree types on its campuses.

What do you think it costs to run Delicious “as is”? I’d hazard a guess that it’s not too much. And Google is throwing off some serious cash ($10 billion in last 12 months):

So they do have some capacity, but obviously need to invest it wisely.

For a relatively low cost, they gain a treasure trove of data on relevance and value, and a solid boost to their PR. Seems like a big win to me. How about it Google? Why not step in and take over Delicious?

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Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*

FriendFeed Triple PlayFriendFeed has got to be one of the most innovative companies around these days. It seems every week, it’s hatched something new with its service. That alone makes it worth being there.

Then there’s the interactions. When those are rocking and rolling, it’s a lot of fun. Even a few Likes and comments are worth the experience. Of course, not everyone is engaged enough on the service to fully benefit from that. Which is something I completely understand, by the way.

I’ve got three reasons you should be on FriendFeed now. Not for the conversations. Not for the real-time experience. But three reasons that will be valuable to you personally.

The FriendFeed triple play.

#1: Google Juice

You likely know the background of much of the FriendFeed team – Google. Yeah, these guys know search. Even more importantly, they know something about how Google manages search.

So it comes as no surprise that FriendFeed can rank pretty highly in Google search results. Here’s a favorite example of mine.

Alex Scoble (yes, Robert’s brother) is planning his wedding reception. One candidate location for the reception was the Hillsboro Cultural Arts Center. But the managers of that location were not very flexible in working Alex and his fiance. On FriendFeed, Alex posted about the Hillsboro Cultural Arts Center, with some comments explaining why he was not going to use them. It’s not a flattering portrayal of the Center.

Well, check out what a search on the Center’s name returns: Alex’s FriendFeed entry is the #6 result.

Not something that Center wants in their search results, but a great way for Alex to let others know about his experience with the Center.

FriendFeed’s Google prowess shows most strongly in name search results.

On this FriendFeed discussion, Mark Trapp noted that his FriendFeed account always ranks higher than his personal site. Well, if you run a search on mark trapp, you’ll also see that his FriendFeed account is ranked #1, ahead of some attorney named Mark Trapp. Without FriendFeed, that attorney would own the #1 search result.

And FriendFeed member Brian Chang noted this back in January: “I just discovered that my FriendFeed comes up on the first page of Google search results for my name. I think that’s the first time something of mine has actually done that.” A quick search on brian chang reveals he’s not on the first page, but he’s still there, among a lot of brian chang sites.

FriendFeed shows up #3 on a search of my own name.

#2: Personal Content Database

Let’s assume you participate in more than one social media site. Maybe Twitter, Del.icio.us, blog and Flickr. FriendFeed, of course, lets you pipe all of that into its site. If nothing else, having one place where you can search for all your content easily is reason enough.

Returning to the search pedigree of the FriendFeed team, there’s a really good reason to have your Twitter account piped in. It makes it easy to find your tweets. As Louis Gray noted last week, it’s much easier to find tweets in FriendFeed than it is with Twitter’s search. On FriendFeed, you’ve got an archive of all your tweets. On Twitter, you don’t.

Here’s an example. I’ve tweeted a few times about “friendfeed” and “search”. On Twitter, I get one result when searching my tweets for those words. On FriendFeed, I get many, as I’ve actually written those two words in a number of tweets. See the screen shots below, which show only a portion of the FriendFeed search results:

FriendFeed vs Twitter search

Remember when the bookmarking service Ma.gnolia lost all its users’ data? If you had saved your bookmarks there, you were out of luck. There was no recourse to getting that data out. In a post here, I noted that bookmark service Diigo lets you save to De.licio.us simultaneously. The idea being that you needn’t rely on just one service, in the wake of Ma.gnolia’s data loss.

Well, that same notion of mitigating your risk carries over to FriendFeed as well. I pipe all my Diigo bookmarks into FriendFeed. So now I have my bookmarks in three places: Diigo, Del.icio.us and FriendFeed. And when I need to look up one of my bookmarks, where do I usually search? FriendFeed.

#3: Tracking Web Content about What Interests You

Probably my biggest use case for FriendFeed is as a tracking platform for various topics I care about. I’ve got a room to track Enterprise 2.0, which I augment with following 70+ individuals from that world. I’ve got a room for tracking my company Spigit, its competitors and the innovation management field.

The importance and value of tracking the Web this way is something I’ve discussed here many times. You can visit those prior posts for greater detail on how and why.

But I’ll say this. Whenever I need to get up to speed quickly on something, setting up these FriendFeed Rooms and Lists is one of the first things I do. You’d be amazed at how effective they are. And unlike a lot of social media monitoring programs, FriendFeed doesn’t cost you a thing (although some would pay for these features).

Wrap-Up

Those are three powerful reasons you should be on FriendFeed. Right now. They don’t require you to get in there and apply Likes and comments to entries if that’s not your thing (that’s powerful in its own right, but more the province of social networks). But you will immediately start benefiting from what the service offers.

Know anyone holding out or just unaware of FriendFeed? Send ‘em this post.

Four Tools for Tracking Topics in Social Media

binoculars1

Photo credit: jlcwalker

I’ve written previously about the inadequacy of Google Alerts for tracking information and conversations around a given topic. Google has some algorithm for determining what content ends up in your daily email. Sometimes it’s good, many times there’s little value there.

Today, Telligent’s George Dearing tweeted this:

i’ve got a Google Alert set-up for enterprise 2.0..can you say diminishing returns? Paltry at best. #enterprise2.0

I’m currently using four different services for tracking information and conversations around ‘Enterprise 2.0′. With these four, I’ve got good coverage on the state of the sector and what people are buzzing about.

I wanted to share the four services I’m currently using. I follow  ‘Enterprise 2.0′, but you can use them for any topic you’re tracking. The four tools differ in how they use ‘authority’ as a basis for surfacing what’s new and relevant for a topic. Here they are:

four-info-tools-plotted-by-authority

I’ll describe the four below, starting from high use of authority and working backwards.

Google Alerts

Yeah, Google Alerts are imperfect. But they’re still pretty good for a quick read on potentially interesting topics. I don’t know exactly what Google uses, but I think it’s safe to assume it follows a similar path to search results.

Google Alerts do give a nice selection of news, website and blog updates around a topic. They limit the number of results, which makes them easy to scan quickly to see if there’s anything of interest.

One problem with these results is that they often contain links that really aren’t helpful in keeping up with a topic. I attribute this to the imperfections of computer algorithms in identifying what’s valuable.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Sacha Chua, whose blog always manages to make it into Google Alerts for ‘Enterprise 2.0′. She may have cracked the Google Alerts algorithm.

Filtrbox

Filtrbox is a service that lets you track mentions of keywords you’re tracking across a variety of media types:

  • Mainstream media
  • Blogs
  • Social media

The service is great for digging up nuggets throughout the web. The daily email can be a little daunting, with many more results than what you see in your Google Alert.

You can create separate folders on Filtrbox. For instance, I have an ‘Enterprise 2.0′ folder. Inside that folder, I track mentions of ‘enterprise 2.0′ and ‘social software’ as sub-folders. My daily email includes both sub-folders. This sub-folder approach is a great way to tie different keywords into a common topic.

Filtrbox lets you decide what level of authority to use in filtering results for your topics. Called FiltrRank, the algorithm scores content on a 1 to 10 scale.  You simply “turn the dial” to require a higher level of authority in your results. I don’t know what the secret sauce for FiltrRank is.

Filtrbox also lets you block domains, so that you can avoid seeing results for specific websites. Pretty handy, actually.

MicroPlaza

MicroPlaza is a service, in beta, which tracks content based on tweets. The core idea is that the higher the number of tweets, the more interesting the tweeted content is.

MicroPlaza doesn’t just scan all tweets to deliver popular posts. Rather, it uses who you follow as the starting basis. If someone you follow tweets a link, MicroPlaza will rank the content based on all tweets of that link, not just who you follow.

But it starts by having someone you follow tweeting it. Otherwise you won’t see it in your list of popular content.

The really innovative thing that MicroPlaza has done is Tribes. A Tribe is a group of people you follow on Twitter, according to however you want to group them. For instance, I’ve created my own ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Tribe.

This is powerful stuff. Tribes narrows the range of content I see to be more closely linked to a topic I care about. It still leverages the total popularity of those tweeted links throughout Twitter, but only if someone from my Tribe tweeted it.

MicroPlaza is still in beta. I may be able to get you an invite, leave a comment if you’re interested.

FriendFeed Lists

FriendFeed is the uber information tracking service. With one subscription, you get a variety of a person’s activity streams: tweets, blog posts, bookmarks, Google Reader shares, etc. You can also track people that haven’t joined FriendFeed via the imaginary friends feature.

FriendFeed includes a feature called Lists. Lists are your own selected groups of people you follow on FriendFeed. I have an ‘Enterprise 2.0′ List with over 70 different people I follow in the industry.

I’ve also created a public Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. This Room tracks tweets and Del.icio.us bookmarks related to the Enterprise 2.0 world.

FriendFeed Lists can include not only people, but Rooms as well. So my Enterprise 2.0 Room is included in my Enterprise 2.0 List. The List becomes my one place to track the ongoing observations and relevant content for what I want to track.

I ranked this the lowest in terms of authority-based filtering. The filtering really happens by who you put in your List. You can select individuals who for you personally constitute authorities, and leverage what they’re finding interesting. The Del.icio.us bookmarks constitute another implicit basis for authority. Bookmarking is a fairly engaged activity of retention, meaning the associated content has value.

As I wrote before in Follow Everything by a Select Few, Select Content by Everyone, FriendFeed Lists are a great way to stay on top of a topic.

How About You?

Those are my current tools for tracking what’s happening on a topic. I’m sure there are others out there. What are your favorite tools?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Four+Tools+for+Tracking+Topics+in+Social+Media%22

Ma.gnolia’s Data Loss Got You Concerned? Use Diigo + Del.icio.us Simultaneously

By now, you may have heard that social bookmarking service Ma.gnolia suffered a tragic corruption of data this morning. As the company says on its website:

Early on the West-coast morning of Friday, January 30th, Ma.gnolia experienced every web service’s worst nightmare: data corruption and loss. For Ma.gnolia, this means that the service is offline and members’ bookmarks are unavailable, both through the website itself and the API. As I evaluate recovery options, I can’t provide a certain timeline or prognosis as to to when or to what degree Ma.gnolia or your bookmarks will return; only that this process will take days, not hours.

It’s awful, and I feel for those who were active users of the service.

Just a reminder that there are a couple other services out there, and that by using one, you actually can have your bookmarks stored in two different places. If nothing else, the Magnolia issue should point you to the value of this strategy.

So what are they? Diigo and De.licio.us.

And here’s the way to store your bookmarks in both. Save to Diigo, and have those bookmarks automatically written to Del.icio.us at the same time. First, register for Diigo and Del.icio.us. Then here’s what to do next:

1. Click on “My Diigo Tools” on Your Dashboard

my-diigo-tools


2. Click on “Save Elsewhere”

save-elsewhere-diigo

3. Enter Your Del.icio.us Credentials

diigo-save-elsewhere-input-page

That’s it.

Once you set this up, add the Diigolet to your browser. Thereafter, save everything to Diigo, and a copy of each bookmark – link, title, tags, notations – will be saved to Del.icio.us as well.

Double cloud coverage in Diigo and Del.icio.us. Can’t be too careful these days.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone+Ma.gnolia%E2%80%99s+Data+Loss+Got+You+Concerned++

Google Alerts Ain’t Working – Why Don’t They Use Attention Signals?

Do you use Google Alerts?

I do. I’ve got seven of them set up. Generally, they’re pretty helpful. But they often suffer in terms of quality. Here’s a few comments with regard to that:

#1: @VMaryAbraham so am I. Google alerts and blog search have been delivering really bad quality results lately. Old and spam.

#2: Google Alerts actually sent me some useful info today instead of the usual mess of bizarre kitchen sink links from random years and places.

#3: @JesseStay my Google alerts are similarly getting less useful

One of my alerts is for ‘Enterprise 2.0′. I’m doing a pretty good job of staying on top of things in the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed, but the Alerts are good back-up. And Google Alerts are the most common keyword notification service that people use.

So this is my question: what determines the links we see in those daily Google Alerts?

I ask this because of a recent experience with a well-received blog post that was not included in the ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Alerts. Compared to another post that did make it in to the Google Alerts, I find myself mystified as to what algorithm Google is using to generate its Alerts.

It’s not to say that Google Alerts don’t deliver some good posts – they do. But they seem to miss the mark pretty often as well, as the quotes at the start of this post show. I’ll relate my own experience below, based on objective factors, as opposed to my own declaration that “It was good post dammit!” ;-)

Tale of Two Blog Posts

I checked the Google Alert of January 18 for Enterprise 2.0. Here’s what I saw (my red highlight added):

google-alert-enterprise-20-011809

The highlighted post is a schedule of Web 2.0 sessions for Lotusphere 2009. If you’re into Lotus, good stuff. One session at Lotusphere was titled “INV101 –   From Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0: Collaboration, Productivity, and Adoption in the Enterprise”. Hence, its inclusion in the Enterprise 2.0 Google Alert.

I use that entry as a contrast to a post I wrote on the Connectbeam blog, titled Three Silos That Enterprise 2.0 Must Break. It’s a post that pushed some definitions of what a silo is and where knowledge management needs to move to. It was well-received, with a number of attention signals like Del.icio.us bookmarks and tweets.

And you’ll notice it’s not listed in the Alerts email above, or in any earlier ones. It was included in my ‘Connectbeam’ Google Alert. So I know Google had indexed it in its blog database. But it was not in the ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Google Alert. Which got me to wondering, what does it take for a post to make into the daily digest of Google Alerts?

I put together a comparison of the two posts: the Lotusphere post, and the Connectbeam Three Silos post. I wanted to see where the Connectbeam post falls short. Take a look:

google-alerts-tale-of-the-tape

The table above includes some typical Google attributes: PageRank, term frequency, links. It also includes the next generation of content ranking: comments, bookmarks, tweets and Google Reader shares. On either basis, it’s surprising that the Lotusphere post made the cut, while the Connectbeam post didn’t.

So I’m still trying to figure out what makes the difference here. Clearly, the Three Silos post struck a bit of a chord in the Enterprise 2.0 community. I know this not because of links by other bloggers (although they were there), but by the other Web 2.0 ways people communicate what’s of value to them.

How about it Google? Time to update your algorithms to include attention signals from our growing use of social media?

Tim O’Reilly Course Corrects the Definition of Web 2.0

eBay was Web 2.0 before Web 2.0 was cool.

Tim O’Reilly wrote a nice piece the other day Why Dell.com (was) More Enterprise 2.0 Than Dell IdeaStorm. In the post, he re-asserted the proper definition of Web 2.0. Here’s a quote:

I define Web 2.0 as the design of systems that harness network effects to get better the more people use them, or more colloquially, as “harnessing collective intelligence.” This includes explicit network-enabled collaboration, to be sure, but it should encompass every way that people connected to a network create synergistic effects.

The impetus for Tim’s post was that people leave Google and its search engine off the list of Web 2.0 companies. As Tim writes, seeing the power of what Google’s search engine did was part of the notion of Web 2.0.

Here’s a way to represent what Tim is talking about:

I like that Tim sent out this reminder about Web 2.0. Here’s how Web 2.0 has become defined over the years:

  • Social networking
  • Ad supported
  • Bootstrapped
  • Fun and games
  • Anything that’s a web service

This seems to have fundamentally altered Web 2.0. I’m reminded of a post that Allen Stern wrote back in July, CenterNetworks Asks: How Many Web 2.0 Services Have Gone Mainstream? In that post, he wondered how many Web 2.0 companies will really ever go maintream.

Check out the comments on Allen’s blog and on FriendFeed:

I would say MySpace but that really came before Web 2.0

mainstream – Facebook/hi5/bebo, Flickr, Youtube, Slide, Photobucket, Rockyou

Oh and you’ll have to add Gmail to the list as well.

I’ve yet to see one, really. ;)

Is eBay web 2.0-ish? [this was mine]

Agree with Facebook, MySpace, YouTube. I’d add Blogs as another 2.0 winner. I’d put eBay and Amazon as 1.0 success stories

A better way to ask this is “which web services since 2000 have gone mainstream?” Blogger. Flickr. Gmail. Facebook. MySpace. Digg. YouTube. WordPress. Live Spaces

Look at those responses! You can see a massive disconnect between Tim O’Reilly’s original formulation of Web 2.0 and where we are today.

One example I see in there: Gmail. Gmail is a hosted email application. Does Gmail get better the more people use it? No. There’s no internal Gmail application functionality that makes it better the more people use it. It’s just an email app the way Yahoo Mail is an email app. Being a web service and ad-supported isn’t, strictly speaking, a Web 2.0 company.

Terms do take on a life of their own, and if the societal consensus for a definition changes over time, then that’s the new definition. But the responses to Allen Stern’s post highlight two problems:

  • People discount or ignore key components of the Web 2.0 definition
  • Web 2.0 is slowly coming to mean everything. Which means nothing.

Finally, Tim’s post helps me differentiate the times I should use “social media” as opposed to “Web 2.0″.

What do you think? Should we go back to first principles in defining what really is “Web 2.0″?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Tim+O%E2%80%99Reilly+Course+Corrects+the+Definition+of+Web+2.0%22&who=everyone

Use FriendFeed Lists and Rooms As Your Platform for Information Flow

Fred Wilson tweeted this recently:

i want to follow less people and more keywords in my twitter timeline. can’t wait for summize to get integrated into twitter

I agree with this sentiment – selected topics from a broad population, and broad topics from a selected population. When it comes to learning about particular subjects, it’s right on. FriendFeed’s beta version now gives you the ability to do exactly what Fred Wilson suggests for any topic. I’ll describe how I’m using them to track developments in the world of Enterprise 2.0.

Streaming Keyword-Based Content into the Enterprise 2.0 Room

About three months ago, I tried a little experiment. I created the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed.

Not having time to be a Room Community Manager, I set it up to stream in content related to Enterprise 2.0. I did this as a search on FriendFeed for “enterprise 2.0“.

Well, the idea was neat. The actual implementation pretty much blew.

Because a search on FriendFeed, piped into FriendFeed as an RSS? It produces a lot of recursive results. Made the room pretty noisy and not particularly attractive to follow.

So I’ve cleaned up my act. Here’s what’s up:

  • No more FriendFeed searches
  • Using Summize Twitter Search to source content
  • Using Del.icio.us tags to source content

I’m piping in RSS feeds from Twitter and Del.icio.us. Twitter is great for those little hits. The links to content. The expression of a single perspective. And Del.icio.us is great for leveraging what people decided was worth saving.

Here are the search terms I’m using for the two services:

  • Twitter: “enterprise 2.0″, “E2.0″, “social computing”
  • Del.icio.us: enterprise2.0, enterprise20

In Case You Don’t Want it in Your Home Feed

Rooms can be set so that their entries don’t hit your Main FriendFeed stream.

You can un-check the box there that says “Show me this room’s items on my FriendFeed home page”. This works fine for Original FriendFeed.

The other option is to use Beta FriendFeed. In Beta FriendFeed, Lists have become the cool new feature. I have to admit, I’m finding it a lot easier to manage content via Lists than Rooms.

You can create a List called Enterprise 2.0. Rooms can be added to Lists. As if the Room was some sort of person on FriendFeed, streaming all sorts of content. Cool idea.

So you can run the entire Enterprise Room through a List if you want:

As you can see in #2 above, I’ve taken the Enterprise 2.0 Room out of my Home Feed. It only pipes into my Enterprise 2.0 List.

The cool thing about using Lists is that you can supplement the Twitter and Del.icio.us feeds of the Enterprise 2.0 room with other people or Rooms you like. For instance, I’ve included the FriendFeed accounts of Dion Hinchcliffe, Charlene Li, Ross Mayfield, Thomas Vander Wal and others into my personal Enterprise 2.0 List. For people not on FriendFeed, I also have created imaginary friends to pipe them into my List, such as the tweets of Harvard professor Andrew McAfee.

The Future: Keywords + People

Repeating Fred Wilson tweet from above:

i want to follow less people and more keywords in my twitter timeline. can’t wait for summize to get integrated into twitter

That pretty much describes my List set-up of the Enterprise 2.0 Room + specific FriendFeeders.

If you’re interested in a single place to track the happenings of Enterprise 2.0, I invite you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room. Then personalize things with your own List. If you think of any search terms or data sources I should add, please let me know.

And feel free to start your own Rooms and Lists for topics you care about.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Use+FriendFeed+Lists+and+Rooms+As+Your+Platform+for+Information+Flow%22&public=1

FriendFeed Lets You Tag Users: Now Expertise Finds You

FriendFeed’s new beta version is out. There are a number of new features there, which are well described by Bret Taylor on the FriendFeed blog.

I want to focus on a particularly powerful new feature:

The ability to tag the people to whom you subscribe.

In an earlier post, On FriendFeed, We’re All TV Channels, I described people as programming. Via our lifestreams, Likes and comments, we send a stream of content downriver to our subscribers. People make their subscription decisions based on that river of content.

Tags are logical progression in distinguishing people based on programming. FriendFeed has made it very easy to set up channels based on tags, and seek out different content depending on your mood. My initial set of tags are shown above.

On Twitter/FriendFeed, I asked this question:

What’s more valuable in the realm of information discovery? Finding relevant content, or finding people with relevant expertise?

The preference was generally for expertise over content. Marco made a good point:

find the expertise and the content will likely follow

I like that. It well describes the value of FriendFeed’s new user tagging feature.

In fact, FriendFeed just filled a gap in the way people find information.

Here’s what I mean.

Social Media Filling Gaps in the Ways We Learn

The diagram below describes a spectrum of learning that has been enabled by the Web.

On the left is the search revolution led by Google. Google’s search was a revelation when it started, and it’s still going strong. On the right is a method of learning that dates back at least to Ancient Greece: question and answer.

Social media fills the gap between the two. Social bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Diigo, Ma.gnolia) was a very innovative approach. What content have other users found useful? Rather than depend on Google’s crawlers and algorithm, you could turn to the collective judgment of people. What did others think was useful?

Social bookmarking continues to be really good for directed searches, and serendipitous discovery.

But how about a different form of finding information?

I like how Mary Anne Davis described a shift to having the expertise of others brought to you, in the form of lifestreams, in this comment on FriendFeed:

A curated life. Lots of choices and more friends who I trust suggesting what they are passionate about influencing how I might spend time reading, listening or watching.

There are three reasons lifestreaming will emerge as an important new source of knowledge:

  1. A lot of good information and opinion occurs in conversational social media (e.g. Twitter). But this media isn’t usually bookmarked, and it doesn’t rank highly in search results.
  2. There are times you’re not actively trying to learn about a subject. But taking in a curated stream of content can be helpful down the road.
  3. You may not even know the questions to ask or the breadth of information you don’t know. Following the lifestream of someone who has knowledge about a subject is a great way to educate yourself.

The value of these lifestream apps really kicks in when there a lot of users. FriendFeed is growing, but you had to accept all lifestreams combined (which has its own merits). With the new tagging capability, you can set your “programming” the way you want.

I initially wasn’t sure about the new design of the FriendFeed beta, as I liked the spare quality of the original. But I’m warmed up to it now. Tagging people’s lifestreams….cool idea.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22FriendFeed+Lets+You+Tag+Users%3A+Now+Expertise+Finds+You%22

Why Isn’t This the Tag Standard? Multi Word, Comma Separated

Tagging is a great way to put context on user generated content. The tag cloud to the right shows what the hundreds of thousands of blogs were talking about on the evening of August 21. (Click the image to see what bloggers are talking about right now).

Pretty much any web 2.0 service that has user-generated content supports tags. Flickr. YouTube. Del.icio.us. Google Reader. Last.fm. Tagging is entrenched in the web 2.0 world, and it’s one of those idea that spread without any standards.

But there is a problem of no single standard…

Beta, VHS.

Blue-Ray, HD-DVD.

Space or comma delimited?

What’s happened is that tagging formats are all over the map. Each web 2.0 service came up with what worked best for its product and developers:

This post at 37signals described the same tag formats above, and it got a lot of comments. Good energy around the subject. Brian Daniel Eisenberg thinks the failure to have a consistent tag method may undermine its adoption by the masses.

To me, there really is one best format.

Multiple Words, Comma Separated

I tweeted this on Twitter/FriendFeed:

Can there be a universal standard for tags? Multi-word tags, comma separated. Odd combos (underscore, dot, combined) are messy, inconsistent.

You can see the comments on the link. The gist of them? Multiple words, comma separated is the best format. Here’s why I think so:

  • Forced separation of words changes their meaning (“product management” or “product” and “management”)
  • Forced separation of words creates tag clouds that misrepresent subjects (is it “product” content? or “management” content?)
  • With single terms, too many ways for users to combine the same term:
    • productmanagement
    • product.management
    • product_management
    • product-management
  • Writing multiple words with spaces between them is the way we learn to write
  • Putting commas between separate ideas, context, meanings and descriptions is the way we write

Let people (1) use more than one word for a tag, (2) written naturally without odd connectors like under_scores, and (3) using commas to separate tags. These rules are the best fit for germanic and romance languages, and I assume for most other languages as well.

To Brian’s point about the masses, let’s make tagging consistent with writing.

For Developers, It’s Pretty Much a Non-Issue

In The Need for Creating Tag Standards, the blog Neosmart Files writes:

Basically, it’s too late for a tagging standard that will be used unanimously throughout the web.

A lot of developer types weighed in on the comments. For the most part, they’re sanguine about the issue of different formats. Rip out any extraneous characters like spaces, periods, underscores, etc. What’s left is a single string that is the tag.

It’s About the Users

The issue fundamentally is how boxed in people are if they want to tag. In the Neosmart Files post, commenter Jason wrote this:

As this topic suggests, there are issues in resolving various tags that whilst literally different they are contextually equivalent. I believe this to be the critical juncture. Perhaps the solution lies not in heaping upon more standards, but improving the manner in which tags are processed by consumers.

From my perspective, multiple word, comma separated format is the most wide open, flexible way to handle tags. If a user likes running words together, he can do it. If a user wants to put underscores between words, she can do it. If a user likes spaces between words, not a problem.

But making users cram together words in odd combinations takes them out of their normal writing and thinking style. Tags should be formatted with humans in mind, not computers.

That’s my argument. What say you?

*****

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Delicious and Diigo: Differ in What It Means to Be “Social”

Andy Brudtkuhlhas has a nice post, 6 Reasons Diigo is Better Than Delicious. In the post, one of the reasons he cites for Diigo’s being better is its social aspects:

Diigo has an extra level of social networking that Delicious does not provide – at least not in a usable manner. You can connect with people that have similar interests based on what you tag.

I’ve been playing with them a bit. Here’s an initial impression I have of how “social” works in the two bookmarking services:

  • Diigo uses content to find people
  • Delicious uses people to find content

Delicious, an original web 2.0 company, still has “user-generated” as its core raison d’être. Diigo has the later-stage web 2.0 philosophy of being a “social network”.

Diigo: Social Is as Social Does

Diigo has been built to find people based on common bookmark and tag interests. It has social network features throughout:

  1. Finding people on Diigo is much easier than on Delicious
  2. Diigo generates user matches based on tag and bookmark compatibility
  3. User profiles
  4. You can see who has visited your profile page
  5. You can comment on the bookmarks of others
  6. You can share bookmarks with specific users

Networking on Diigo Is Easier

A basic function – finding other users – is much easier on Diigo than on Delicious. The graphic below shows the results of a search for my name:

On Delicious, you have to know someone’s Delicious handle. On Diigo, you can use a person’s regular name. Diigo’s approach is more like that of today’s various social networks:

Social networks make finding users easy. So does Diigo. Delicious doesn’t.

Diigo Social Recommendations

Diigo attempts to match you to others based on common bookmarks and tags. As the graphic below shows, it’s not exactly Toluu-like in its matching.

Levels of compatibility at 2% and 3% don’t quite inspire clicks for further investigation. Social recommendations are a work-in-progress at Diigo. Delicious doesn’t do recommendations.

Diigo User Profiles

For each link, Diigo provides a user profile of everyone who bookmarked the link:

So when you check out others who bookmarked something you like, you can quickly determine if they are someone to whom you want to subscribe. Delicious also lets you look at someone’s activity, but you have to click on their handle to see their page. There’s no profile provided on the list of users who bookmarked a link.

Diigo Visitors Info, Commenting, Bookmark Sharing

I’ll skip the screen shots for these Diigo functions. But here’s how they foster social networking:

  • Who visited my profile? Potential matches. Also lets you know when your social network paid your bookmarks a visit.
  • Commenting. Commenting enables discussion with others. Socializing.
  • Bookmark sharing. You can call out specific users with whom to share a bookmark. Very social.

Delicious Has More of a Crowdsource Feel

Where Diigo is social, Delicious emphasizes the interests of all users. What are people finding interesting. That’s not to say it doesn’t have social network aspects. On Delicious, you can:

  • Add users to your network
  • View your network’s bookmarks
  • Become a ‘fan’ of someone

But Delicious pretty much stops there on the social aspects. The rest of Delicious is centered around bringing order to the huge volume of crowdsourced bookmarks.

Delicious: Who Bookmarked That Link When?

The new Delicious has a really cool timeline that shows who bookmarked a given link when:

That timeline is a thing of beauty. Users, dates, tags, notes. Where Diigo wants to get you socializing around a bookmark, Delicious wants to provide you with information about how a link fared with the public at large.

As mentioned above in the Diigo user profile section, Delicious doesn’t provide user profiles in this listing.

Wrapping It Up

The new Delicious continues its mission of organizing a massive number of user-generated bookmarks and tags. It looks cleaner, and I like the way information is presented. Information organized by an army of user librarians. “Social” in this context means your bookmarks and tags are exposed to others, and you can find related content based on what others are bookmarking and tagging. People are the basis for discovering content.

Diigo wants people to interact via common interests in content. It has a lot of social network hooks. “Social” in this context means establishing and building relationships with others. Content is the basis for finding people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the different approaches of Delicious and Diigo. And you can find me on both services:

*****

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Tag Recommendations for Content: Ready to Filter Noise?

In a recent post, I suggested that the semantic web might hold a solution for managing noise in social media. The semantic web can auto-generate tags for content, and these tags can be used to filter out subjects you don’t want to see.

As a follow-up, I wanted to see how four different services perform in terms of recommending tags for different content.

I’ve looked at the four services, each of which provide tag recommendations. Here they are, along with some information about how they approach their tag recommendations:

  • del.icio.us: Popular tags are what other people have tagged this page as, and recommended tags are a combination of tags you have already used and tags that other people have used.
  • Twine: Applies natural language processing and semantic indexing to just that data (via TechCrunch)
  • Diigo: We’ll automatically analyze the page content and recommend suitable tags for you
  • Faviki: Allows you to tag webpages you want to remember with Wikipedia terms.

Twine and Diigo take the initiaitve, and apply tags based on analyzing the content. del.icio.us and Faviki follow a crowdsourced approach, leveraging the previous tag work of members to provide recommendations.

Note that Faviki just opened its public beta. So it suffers from a lack of activity around content thus far. That will be noticed in the following analysis.

I ran the six articles through the four tagging services:

  1. The Guessing Game Has Begun on the Next iPhone – New York Times
  2. TiVo: The Gossip Girl of DVRs – Robert Seidman’s ‘TV by the Numbers’ blog
  3. Twitter! – TechCrunch
  4. Injury ‘bombshell’ hits Radcliffe – BBC Sport
  5. Why FriendFeed Is Disruptive: There’s Only 24 Hours in a Day – this blog
  6. Antioxidant Users Don’t Live Longer, Analysis Of Studies Concludes – Science Daily

The tag recommendations are below. Headline on the results? Recommendations appear to be a work in progress.

First, the New York Times iPhone article. Twine wins. Handily. At Diigo gave it a shot, but the nytimes tags really miss the mark. del.icio.us and Faviki weren’t even in the game.

Next, Robert Seidman’s post about Tivo. Twine comes up with several good tags. Diigo has something relevant. And again, del.icio.us and Faviki weren’t even in the game.

Now we get to the trick article, Michael Arrington’s no text blog entry Twitter! The table turn here. Twine comes up empty for the post. Based on the post’s presence on Techmeme and the 400+ comments on the blog post, a lot of people apparently bookmarked this post. This gives del.icio.us and Faviki something to work with, as seen below. And Diigo offers the single tag of…twitter!

Switching gears, this is a running-related article covering one of the top athletes in the world, Paula Radcliffe. Twine comes up the best here. Diigo manages “bombshell”…nice. del.icio.us and Faviki come up empty, presumably because no users bookmarked this article. And none of them could come up with tags of “running” or “marathon”.

I figured I’d run one of my own blog posts through this test. The post has been saved to del.icio.us a few times, so I figured there’d be something to work with there. Strangely, Twine comes up empty. Faviki…nuthin’.


Finally, I threw some science at the services. This article says that antioxidants don’t actually deliver what is promised. Twine comes up with a lot of tags, but misses the word “antioxidants”. Diigo only gets antioxidant. And someone must have bookmarked the article on del.icio.us, because it has a tag. Faviki…nada.

Conclusions

Twine clearly has the most advanced tag recommendation engine. It generates a bevy of tags. One thing I noticed between Twine and Diigo:

  • Twine most often draws tags from the content
  • Diigo more often draws tags from the title

Obviously my sample size isn’t statistically relevant, but I see that pattern in the above results.

The other thing to note is that these services do a really great job with auto-generating tags. For instance, the antioxidant article has 685 words. Both Twine and Diigo were able to come up with only what’s relevant out of all those words.

With del.icio.us and Faviki, if someone else hasn’t previously tagged the content, they don’t generate tags. Crowdsourced tagging – free form on del.icio.us, structured per Wikipedia on Faviki – still has a lot of value though. Nothing like human eyes assessing what an article is about. Faviki will get better with time and activity.

Note that both Twine and Diigo allow manually entered tags as well, getting the best of both auto-generated and human-generated.

When it comes to using tags as a way to filter noise in social media, both system- and human-generated tags will be needed.

  • System-generated tags ensures some level of tagging for most new content. This is important in an app like FriendFeed, where new content is constantly streaming in.
  • Human-generated tags pick up where the system leaves off. In the Paula Radcliffe example above, I’d expect people to use common sense tags like “running” and “marathon”.

The results of this simple test show the promise of tagging, and where the work lies ahead to create a robust semantic tagging system that could be used for noise control.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Tag+Recommendations+for+Content%3A+Ready+to+Filter+Noise%3F%22&public=1

Hey Yahoo! Forget MSFT, GOOG. Change the Search Rules.

These I wish I knew the moment I was turned off on Yahoo and what the root cause may be, but I no longer use anything Yahoo (except my Flickr account if you want to count that).

Vince DeGeorge, on FriendFeed

I was doing the same thing until I started using delicious as a search tool. Finally realized how powerful it was, and have been using it since.

Shaun McLane, on FriendFeed

I have previously written that Delicious search is one of the best ways of searching for things when a standard search doesn’t pull up what you are looking for. After Google, it is my favorite “search engine.”

Michael Arrington, TechCrunch, Delicious Integrated Into Yahoo Search Results

The latest news is that Microsoft is reaching out to Yahoo again. In fact, a couple reports (here, here) say that Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo’s search business.

Before any such transaction occurs, it seems worthwhile to think about what Yahoo could do with its existing assets. The three comments above are insightful. Yahoo is slowly losing share of mind, although it’s existing base of users will be around for a while. At the same time, there are nuggets in the Yahoo empire.

Search via del.icio.us ranks as one of those nuggets. Another nugget? Yahoo! Buzz. According to ReadWriteWeb, Yahoo! Buzz has surpassed Digg in terms of traffic, and its demographics better reflect web users.

Yet, Yahoo struggles against Google in the highly lucrative search market. Google increased to 67.9% of searches in April 2008, compared to Yahoo’s decline to 20.3% of searches.

What should Yahoo do? Stop playing Google’s game. Rewrite the search rules by embracing the social web fully, leveraging the social media assets it has.

And in doing so, demonstrate an aggressive path to make Yahoo a social media titan.

A Proposal for “Socializing” Yahoo Search

In January 2008, TechCrunch ran a post with a preview of del.icio.us integrated with regular Yahoo search results. Included in the search result links would be stats that tell a user:

  • Number of del.icio.us users who bookmarked the page
  • The top tags they used on the page

Both of those stats appear to be clickable. By clicking on the number of users stat, I assume a user would be taken to the del.icio.us page showing the users who bookmarked the page. If one clicked a tag, you’d land on the del.icio.us page for all web pages with that tag.

That’s a good start. But Yahoo can do better. Below is a diagram that shows how Yahoo can use its existing assets, combined with a good dose of the new social media experience, to radically change search:

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on with the proposal.

Search Rankings

From what I’ve read, Yahoo has pretty much caught up to Google in terms of search performance. That means the use of links and clicks to rank websites is pretty common across the two search engines. However, Google does have the advantage of three times the traffic, which makes its insight into what’s relevant better than Yahoo.

But Yahoo has its own in-house advantages: del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz. Both address shortcomings in the links and clicks rankings for search engines:

  • Links require a media site or blogger to take the time to link. These links are insightful, but lack the broader reach of what Web users find relevant.
  • Clicks occur before a searcher knows whether the landing site is valuable. They don’t describe its usefulness after someone has clicked onto the site.

With del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz, Yahoo can tap into users sentiments about websites in a way that Google cannot. These insights can be used to influence the ranking of search results.

Search Results – Your Friends or Everyone

Here’s where it can really interesting. Notice I keep the general search results outside the influence of what your friends think. I think that’s important. A person should see results outside their own social circle. Otherwise, it will be hard to find new content.

But there is real power in seeing what your friends find valuable (e.g. see FriendFeed). So Yahoo should let you easily subscribe to other people for content discovery. Yahoo already has a head start on letting you set up your subscriptions:

  • Yahoo Mail
  • Yahoo Instant Messenger

In addition to that, you should be able to easily subscribe to anyone who publicly shares content they find interesting. Both del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz have public-facing lists for every user of what they bookmark or ‘buzz’. After viewing those lists, I should be able to easily subscribe to these users.

Once your network is developed, it becomes a powerful basis for improving information discovery.

Search Results – Associated Tags

Whenever tags are available from del.icio.us, they should be visible for each web site shown in the search results. This is what TechCrunch previewed. What do tags tell a user?

  • A way to discover other sites that might be relevant
  • Context for the web site
  • That someone thought enough of the web page to actually tag it

Tags should come in two flavors: everyone and your network. Clicking on a tag should display the top 10 associated sites right on the search results page. For more sites associated to the tag, the user is taken to del.icio.us.

Keeping the top sites on the search results page is important to make people use the functionality. Leaving the search results page just to see the sites associated to a tag will cause adoption to drop signficantly.

Search Results – Associated People

Each web page in the search results will show the number of people who have (i) bookmarked the site; or (ii) Yahoo! Buzzed the site. These numbers give a direct indication of how many people, not websites, found the web page valuable.

Clicking these numbers displays a list of the people, along with their most recent activity. This gives users a sense of whether they want to subscribe to a given user or not.

Search Agent

Once users perform a search, they will be able to subscribe to new content matching their search results. These subscriptions can be based on different criteria:

  • Any new content matching the search term (Google does this via Google Alerts) or a tag
  • Any new content matching the search term/tag and bookmarked by someone to whom the user subscribes
  • Any new content matching the search term/tag and Yahoo! Buzzed by someone to whom the user subscribes
  • Any new bookmarks or Yahoo! Buzzes by someone to whom the user subscribes

New content notifications occur via email or RSS. RSS can be anywhere, including on the user’s My Yahoo page. Again, FriendFeed has shown the power of these content streams.

Final Thoughts

My little post here isn’t the only idea someone could float. But it does at least address taking Yahoo much more deeply into the social media world, where users drive the value.

Yahoo revealed details of a proposed del.icio.us integration back in mid-January. And then nothing. Yahoo previewed Yahoo Mash, a new social network in September 2007. And then…nothing. The last post on the Yahoo Mash blog was January 11, 2008.

Yahoo has so many amazing assets. Search, email, portal home page. Several beloved social media apps (Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming). Yet they have not put them together into a cohesive strategy and experience.

And now, talk of selling the search business? C’mon Yahoo. You’ve got too much going on to give up yet. Stop playing by others’ rules. Make your own rules with the amazing assets you have.

*****

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