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FriendFeed’s New Beta: Taking Realtime Aim at Facebook

FriendFeed released its new beta on Monday morning. I’ve had a chance to play with it the last day or so, and I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • I like it
  • It appears to take aim right at Facebook

That second statement may surprise some people. But after looking at the two sites, I see a lot of growing similarities. And given Facebook’s incredible momentum, it’s not a bad thing.

The new features are described in detail, but here are the highlights:

  • All real-time, all the time
  • Cleaner separation of individual entries
  • Direct messages
  • Preset filters
  • More people-centric visually
  • Limited bios
  • Other nice touches

I’m going to hazard a guess that the default real-time experience is going to cause the biggest reaction.

Before discussing the explicit Facebook angle, let’s examine the new features.

All real-time, all the time

This may be the most abrupt change for people. The current FriendFeed offers two choices: pages that reload every minute of so, or real-time. The new FriendFeed is only available in real-time.

Now since there already is real-time with the current FriendFeed, what’s the difference with the beta release? Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of the different versions below:

friendfeed-beta-vs-current

On the left is the new beta UI. On the right is current real-time UI. Now on the right, take a look at the top there. See those gray bars with smiley faces and text? That’s how a Like comes through in real-time. Disconnected from the original entry. And see that comment by Luke Kilpatrick? That’s how comments come through. Again, disconnected from the original entry.

On the left, the beta solves this problem. When a new Like or comment occurs for an entry, it remains connected with that entry. Just like the non real-time version of the current UI, Likes and comments cause the entry to “bounce” back  to the top of your page.

If the stream of entries is too fast for you, you click Pause to slow things down. In my useage on a Sunday (lower volume day), the pace of entries flying thorugh my home feed was fast, at times too fast. But then I’m following 1,600 people. On a regular work day, I’m guess things will be flying by rather quickly.

But if you follow a more limited number of people, say 150, the real-time pace will be fine. Or live in your Lists more regularly.

Cleaner separation of individual entries

The new display of entries is very well-done. Each entry stands alone, partitioned by light gray lines. Visually, this separation helps a lot with tracking distinct content on FriendFeed.

On the current UI, separation is achieved with an extra margin of white space. This makes separation visible, but the page in total can run together in a blur of text and graphics.

The cleaner separation will be welcomed by users.

Direct messages

Yes, FriendFeed now allows you to send direct message to others. This has been something that users have asked for. I love this feature.

You can’t just DM anybody on FriendFeed. You can only send DMs to people who follow you. Twitter has the same restriction on DMs. Once you DM someone, they can reply with a comment. So your original DM includes a thread of the entire conversation. Very nice. You can send a DM to multiple people at once. You can include a picture with your DM, which is very handy. Someday…files?

One thing missing is the ability to search the conversations you have via DM. I had a DM conversation with Louis Gray, and he used the word “marathon” in one comment. I later ran a search on “marathon”, but our conversation didn’t show up in my search results. Adding that would be useful for later recall.

Preset filters

Got a favorite search you like to do? Well now you can set up a search, and save it as a filter on your side bar. The search becomes another “filter”, which you access with a simple click. The saved search can include all the parameters that FriendFeed provides on its regular search, including:

  • Specifying which users or groups to search
  • Keywords
  • Titles
  • Comments
  • Minimum number of Likes and/or comments
  • Likes or comments by specific users

The saved search is a powerful feature for finding relevant information.

More people-centric visually

With the move to all real-time, all the time, the user picture becomes the focus of each entry. In the current UI, the icon of the service that fed the entry is dominant. In other words, you’ll see a Twitter icon, a FriendFeed icon, a Del.icio.us icon, a YouTube icon, etc.

The prominence of the service icon in the current UI puts the focus more on the source of the content. And for many people, it matters. I’ve seen a number of users say they hide all Twitter entries, for instance.

The beta UI puts the focus on the person first.  It’s actually hard to see which service is the source for the person’s entry. Your first impulse is to think of the person.

I like this. Philosophically, it says people are the core, regardless of the source of their content.

Limited bios

This is another oft-requested feature. People can now include a short bio on their profile pages.

This is very handy, it’s a quick way to find out a bit more about someone without going to their LinkedIn profile or blog About Me page.

I decided to put my job, the fact that I’m a father and my location into my bio. HTML tags aren’t supported, but you can include a link.

Other nice touches

There are some other nice features as well. Two caught my eye.

First, there’s a page called “My discussions”. Previously, there was a hard separation between entries you originate, and entries you comment and Like.

My discussions dispenses with that separation. It includes everything that you’ve:

  • Created
  • Liked
  • Commented on

This is a great move. Makes it very easy to track all content you’ve touched in FriendFeed.

The other thing I noticed is a change in the way those you follow are listed. The Subscriptions box appears to show those with whom you’ve more recently and most often interacted. The current UI shows a random set of subscriptions.

Making those with whom you interact more prominent in your Subscriptions list is a great way to foster repeat visits to those peoples’ feeds. Which means more interaction.

Facebook similarities

Take a look at the comparison of the FriendFeed beta and the new Facebook home page:

friendfeed-beta-vs-facebook

Here’s are the similarities I see:

  • Person’s picture leads the entry
  • People can Like and comment on entries
  • Clean separation between entries
  • Timestamp of the entry
  • Filter (on the right for FriendFeed, on the left for Facebook)
  • Ability to message others directly
  • Bios of each user

The soul of the two services still differs. FriendFeed makes following anyone easy, and everything is searchable. The new beta puts a premium on real-time, and it delivers. And with saved searches and a million filter possibilities, information management is still at the heart of the service.

Facebook has the two-way follow requirement, and you can’t search for anything that people have previously posted. Things still feel slower there, although that is probably because I follow much fewer people on Facebook, and those people tend to share share less abundantly.

All that said, I still see the gap narrowing between the two. This competition between the giant and the innovative start-up is great for users.

Give it a road test

The URL for the beta is:

http://beta.friendfeed.com/

Give it a try, and let the FriendFeed guys know what you think.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=%22FriendFeed%E2%80%99s+New+Beta%3A+Taking+Realtime+Aim+at+Facebook%22

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 031309

From the home office in Austin, Texas…

#1: @defrag has been saying he thinks the economy is slowly coming around. To that end: http://bit.ly/pP5bd and http://bit.ly/nRkzv

#2: “I think the days of the traditional San Francisco startup approach are numbered.” http://bit.ly/jyw4H

#3: @petefields Companies should follow all who follow them. I’d bet companies’ tweet reading is more keyword & @reply based, not person based.

#4: Maybe it’s just me, but Techmeme has improved a lot recently in terms of the variety of interesting stories. Human editor + user tips = +1

#5: “Facebook is the SharePoint of the Internet” http://bit.ly/4fu73o

#6: This shouldn’t be too controversial…The Case Against Breast-Feeding in April’s Atlantic Magazine http://bit.ly/Xs4ZG

#7: If browsers were women http://bit.ly/kO1su (h/t @mona)

#8: I’ve been blissfully unaware of what Sophie’s Choice is about all these years. My wife told me about it last night. Never gonna watch that.

#9: Actively banishing artists showing up in my Last.fm recommendations: Peter Cetera, Richard Marx, John Parr.

#10: In an email f/ my son’s preschool: One kid: “We’ll take them home in the future”. My son Harrison: “But I’ve never been to the future.”

The Serendipity of Attention

In the recent post Forget Dunbar’s Number, Our Future Is in Scoble’s Number, commenter Adam Metz wrote:

H-Dog,

Maybe I’m missing something, but where’s your definition of Attention? Can you add it in to the second or third paragraph? Good idea, but a little rough around the edges.

Calling me “H-Dog” is one way to get my attention. ;-) But back to the definition of attention. Putting it simply:

Attention = time + interest

Time being a real-world constraint. There are only but so many hours in a day, so attention is bound by that dimension. If I’m tied up with work or playing with the kids, I’m not going to give anything my attention. The second aspect is interest. Say, I do have some time. If I’m viewing something on the foraging habits of the scaup bird, my interest is quite low and I’m likely not to pay attention even though I have the time. I’ll find something else.

I will observe though, that while time is a concrete and unyielding dimension, interest is fluid and dynamic. Our moods, activities, friends and life events  affect what is interesting at any given point in time. It’s not like it’s totally random – there is a baseline of things that consistently interest us. While time is rigid, interest is a flexible dimension of attention.

Next question is how we find things that are of interest to us when we do have the time.

The Reducing Bands of Attention

I think I can make this statement with certainty:

You will miss the vast majority of information which would fit both your interests and time available to read

Anyone disagree? That’s probably a frustrating aspect of our information age. Am I finding the things I should know? How do I improve that? How can I be both more efficient and systematic in finding what interests me?

Technology is making it easier to be more efficient and systematic, but we’re nowhere near perfecting that. And we can’t get too perfect, because as I mentioned before, our “interests” are fluid and I don’t think we could possibly catalog all of what interests us.

Honestly, we have to accept a certain serendipity of attention. And realize we’ve got a much better system of discovery than we did just ten years ago. I’ve thought about my own experience. What’s my personal system for attention?  It’s a mix of ways, as the graphic below shows:

bands-of-managing-reduced-attention

Let me describe the bands.

Dunbar’s Number: This is the theoretical limit on the number of individuals whom you can follow closely. The number is pegged at 150, a number of people which even Robert Scoble uses for his core basis of attention. My Dunbar’s number includes the 70 or so people I’m following each day on my Enterprise 2.0 List on FriendFeed. It then includes some other folks who fall outside Enterprise 2.0 but interest me in other ways.

With people in your Dunbar’s Number, you read what they create, share and talk about. My guess is that this is the core use case of Facebook members. Note that you expand the number of people you track via this group when they share content or talk with someone outside your core 150. The expansion is temporary though – based on what someone you follow has engaged with.

@replies: I use the Twitter @replies function as shorthand for the ways in which people reach out directly to you. This includes the @replies, the DMs, the Facebook messages, email itself,  etc. Now I’m not inundated with these, so they still get my attention. As you rise in the social media pecking order, apparently you get bombarded with these directed messages. Then they probably move to an outer band of attention for you.

Keyword tracking: This is how people, information and conversations outside my Dunbar’s Number most often get my attention. I track content that includes keywords in which I’m interested. This is the most systematic way I have for improving the efficiency and coverage of things that interest me. As I often write here, I use the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed for this. Another good option is Filtrbox. I’m sure there are others.

Other groups: OK, you’ve got the core group of people you follow in your Dunbar’s Number. But there are others you like to keep up with as well. This is where the group functions come in to play. You can group people based on some characteristic, and check on those groups as attention allows. On FriendFeed, these are Lists. TweetDeck lets you group people.

Groups are great for when you’ve already seen your Dunbar’s List and @replies. And sometimes you just need a break from the usual topics and people on which you’ve put focus.

Random views: I do this as well. For some, it may be dipping into the public timeline of Twitter. Or FriendFeed’s everyone tab. Once you’re following a large number of people, checking out the tweets or FriendFeed entries of everyone you follow becomes a form of random views. Because you can’t possibly take in the full river of content all the time. You’d get nothing else done. But it is worth it to dip in occasionally.

Scoble’s Number Requires a System

In the graphic, I categorize all the bands outside Dunbar’s Number as the province of Scoble’s Number. To track people well outside your core 150, you need a way that aids the goals of better efficiency and more systematic coverage, while preserving the serendipity that accompanies the fluidity of our interests.

That’s where I am these days when it comes to attention. How about you?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=%22The+Serendipity+of+Attention%22

Data Privacy, Data Ownership and Who You Trust

facebook-google-safeway-chase

In the recent imbroglio over what exactly Facebook was saying in its (now-reversed) updated Terms of Service (TOS), I found myself on the opposite side of a lot of smart people in terms of what it meant. There was a lot of concern that Facebook was essentially claiming the right to commercialize any content its members uploaded to the social network. As I said in a couple posts, it didn’t strike me that way.

In other words, I didn’t think the terms or the intent matched the hyperbole I was seeing.

So I ask why was I so sanguine while others were so worried? Jeremiah Owyang asked readers whether they had deleted their Facebook accounts. The most common response seems to be that they removed their photos, although I don’t expect that reaction to be the norm. Personally, I’ll keep uploading photos without concern.

Why? It’s not about the terms. It’s about trust. I trust Facebook.

We All Trust Companies of Some Type

In order to live in society, we have to trust companies. If you didn’t, you’d never buy anything, or you’d spend a lot of time carefully inspecting everything you purchase. We don’t do that of course.

Quickly, here’s why I trust Facebook, no matter the interpretation of their TOS:

  • Established company with an imperfect, but acceptable rack record
  • Companies that want to be profitable and go public don’t trash their relationship with 175 million members
  • In the event Facebook ever started unilaterally using and selling its members’ content, the backlash would be 1,000,000 times greater than the Motrin Moms episode

I have no reason to distrust Facebook. Others apparently do. I sort of understand that, although no one who expressed their suspicions of Facebook could give an actual example of how the social network has done them harm. I think for a lot of people, this Facebook TOS story was a vehicle to vent their general concerns about social networks and the tension of making our personal info public. People like to participate in social media, but there’s always this dark side of concern in the back of their minds of what people will do with that info. Or it’s front of mind for a vocal minority.

In a previous job at biometric company Pay By Touch, I remember these concerns well. There was an understandable concern about some private company holding your biometric, personal and financial information. And yet plenty of people did participate.

Clearly, Facebook does have some work to continue building out people’s trust in the site. But as people watch Facebook, I thought it’d be instructive to look at the the terms of service for some other popular products and services that people use.

The idea here is to ask whether you are skeptical of Facebook but using other services that seem to have as much potential for violating data privacy and data ownership. If you’re not questioning these other services, why not?

Google’s TOS

Let me start with this comparison of Google’s TOS and Facebook’s TOS (initial updated version from The Consumerist):

google-facebook-tos-comparison

Notice the similarities in those clauses. Facebook’s TOS looks like it used Google’s TOS  as a starter. The Facebook TOS story started on the news that the site had dropped two lines saying they no longer had such a license when you quit Facebook. By dropping those lines, it appeared they were claiming a license to your IP forever.

Yet the controversy I saw was less on that issue, and more on concerns that Facebook intended to grab all users’ content and start commercializing it. Let me put it another way. It wasn’t like bloggers said, “As long as you’re a member of Facebook, you’re fine letting them commercialize your content without your permission. Only consider that an issue when you quit Facebook.” No, it became an intellectual property issue, regardless of whether you are a current member or have quit.

Google has similar terms. Yet Google doesn’t face the same issue for having essentially the same terms as Facebook. Why?

Safeway Club Card

You may have a loyalty card with your local grocer. I do – the Safeway Club Card. If you don’t use a Club Card, you pay a higher shelf price for many products. Gotta get that discount!

So Safeway is collecting name, address info and purchase history for its shoppers – via the Club Card and online. Let’s see what Safeway’s privacy terms look like:

safeway-terms-of-svc

Really, not too bad, eh? Sure, your private information may end up in the hands of third parties, but it doesn’t appear to be to commercialize it. But check out that second-to-last paragraph. Safeway will hang on to your private information for as long as it deems necessary. Sort of like Facebook.

Safeway also reserves the right to update its privacy policy at any time, without informing you. Which is one of those fears people have about Facebook.

If you wanted to stir it up with Safeway, you’d blog something like: “What’s to stop Safeway from sharing your purchase history with insurance companies? Buy too many fatty snack foods? We’re raising your insurance rates!”

Yet we continue to shop at Safeway, and no one raises its TOS as an issue. Why?

Chase Credit Card

I love my Chase credit card. I get 5% back on groceries and gas. Great program. And most people have at least one credit card.

You ever look at the terms of service there? Here is Chase’s privacy policy:

chase-credit-card-privacy-policy

Chase will share information about you with outside companies. In other words, you do not have complete control over your own transaction information. Even if you indicate a preference for your information not to be shared, it still will be made available to others. Kudos to Chase for its notification policy though, if they “broaden their information sharing practices.”

Still, aren’t you worried about this? All those purchases you’ve made that maybe you don’t want to the world to know about? They could end up sold to the highest bidder! Well, no, that won’t happen.

But certainly Chase’s policy contains elements that should scare people the way Facebook’s TOS did. Yet we continue to use our credit cards. Why?

Who Are You Trusting Right Now?

I had an energetic discussion about this with several people in a FriendFeed thread. After that, I’ve come to this conclusion:

If you trust a company, it doesn’t matter what their terms of service are.

If you don’t trust a company, it doesn’t matter what their terms of service are.

So why the ongoing distrust of Facebook. That’s a topic worthy of exploration. I’ve seen two plausible explanations out there.

Alexander Van Elsas says that the lack of clarity about Facebook’s ultimate revenue model injects uncertainty into its relationship with its members. In other words, it’s hard to be certain the company won’t lurch into some egregious territory with members’ content. I think there’s some truth in that, particularly for those tracking the industry closely.

In her interview with Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Sarah Lacy asks whether Facebook is bumping into issues caused by its being at the leading edge of social networking. I think there’s truth here too. Grocery loyalty cards that track your spending are not without some controversy. Credit cards are not immune either. I imagine when these programs were first introduced, there was a lot of concern about privacy and data ownership.

How about you? Who are you trusting today with your personal information?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=%22Data+Privacy%22+%22Data+Ownership%22+%22Who+You+Trust%22

LinkedIn Matches Twitter, Facebook by Elevating Status Updates

Checking in with LinkedIn, I noticed this new look on my home page:

linkedin-status-update

“What are you working on?” By putting it so prominently on the home page, you can’t help but be reminded to update it. LinkedIn is upping the importance of these real-time updates on what has historically been a fairly static social network.

I like this, because it’s a chance to put some work-oriented updates out to your network. So LinkedIn now joins Twitter and Facebook in the status update arms race.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=LinkedIn+Matches+Twitter+Facebook+by+Elevating+Status+Updates

Did Facebook Just Forgo a Big Revenue Stream?

dr-evil

In case you’re not actively reading Techmeme, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reversed course on the changes in the service’s Terms of Service. Recently, Facebook had altered its terms in such a way as to have a perpetual claim on the content uploaded by its members.

Overnight, Zuckerberg wrote about the change in terms:

A couple of weeks ago, we revised our terms of use hoping to clarify some parts for our users. Over the past couple of days, we received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information. Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

The move is a smart one for Facebook. It was getting a lot of grief for the earlier change.

That is, unless it just scotched it revenue model…

Facebook’s Nefarious Revenue Plans

From what I’ve seen, people really were worried Facebook had plans to take all this user content and commercialize it. See Mona’s post (BTW – she’s great, subscribe to her for a fun view of technology and life in general). Alexander Van Elsas wrote a similarly dark view of Facebook’s intentions. And the discussion on this thread in FriendFeed shows that as well.

Strapped for a way to make money, Facebook had latched on to this idea that it could take its members’ content and commercialize it.

* Cue the dramatic music *

Assuming this is true, how much of a valuation hit did Facebook just take? Investors must be pissed!

Read the TOS a Little More Closely

One small issue. Did anyone check out the actual language in the earlier revision of the TOS? As the Consumerist reports, it included this language:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

The bolded and underlined words are my emphasis. But they are a critical piece.

Assume you’ve got some cute baby picture that your friends think is great. It gets so popular, one of your friends reaches out to Gerber to let them know about it. Gerber wants the picture. Do they:

  1. Ask Facebook for permission to run the baby picture in an ad?
  2. Ask you for permission to run the baby picture in an ad?

Lets assume, as the worst fears illustrate, that Gerber goes to Facebook. Facebook says, sure, have that baby picture, and pay us $$$.

Great! So where will Gerber run your baby’s picture? Only on Facebook among your social network. Why? Because that’s all your privacy settings will allow!

Yeah, that’s a real scalable model for Gerber and other advertisers. How much time and effort would be needed to search Facebook for these gems of content?

Not to mention that public relations nightmare facing Gerber if they actually operated this way.

Glad to see Facebook reverted to the old TOS to avoid inserting fears in the market. Hope they have a plan C for their revenue model too!

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=Did+Facebook+Just+Forgo+a+Big+Revenue+Stream

Three Reasons Facebook’s TOS Data Policy Doesn’t Worry Me

what-me-worry

Facebook apparently updated their Terms of Service to assert perpetual rights any content you’ve ever shared on its site. This has understandably raised the ire of a lot of people, including Perez Hilton.

On Twitter, I posted this:

Trying to figure out if I care whether Facebook can do whatever it wants with my content or not. Leaning towards not caring.

Three reasons:

  1. I don’t post things that will come back to haunt me
  2. Not convinced there’s any commercial value to my content
  3. The first time Facebook crosses the ethical line will be its last

Let’s do a quick breakdown of each of those reasons.

Not Posting Things that Will Haunt Me

My lifestream on Facebook is…how to put this nicely….sorta boring? I’m a married professional with two young children. I don’t have crazy pictures on there. Well, check that. A high school classmate did post an old picture of me wearing the dress of one of our homecoming princesses. With a tiara and parasol.

But hey, what guy didn’t wear girl’s clothes in high school?

Anyway, as I’ve engaged more with this online world, I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that one day my kids may find old things about me. It’s not that I live my life by the principle of “would if my kids found this?” But I am aware of that.

I also can’t remove things from Google’s cache. So this idea that you can retract something once published is a fallacy anyway. Facebook is just another place where things will live on.

No Commercial Value

Presumably, the only reason Facebook would use the stuff I’ve shared is for commercial purposes. Well GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!

Seriously, what will they do with my little notes about and pictures of my kids? My tweet stream which I pipe in as my Status Updates? My Google Reader shares? No one else has monetized that yet.

Perhaps they will include such information in aggregate for data mining purposes. Fine, because that’s not using my content specifically.

If they do figure out a way, I’ll write about their ingenuity most likely.

First Mistake by Facebook Will Be Its Last

Facebook is not some Twitter spam application site, stealing your login and password for nefarious purposes. It’s a commercial entity with designs on being THE social graph platform for the world. I’m sure Facebook is thinking IPO somewhere in the next few years.

I believe this alone will curb excesses by the site. We don’t need to overregulate the hell out of everything. Thus far, Facebook has experimented, but stayed on the right side of the ethical line. I don’t see a lot of changes in that.

But let’s say Facebook does cross the line, abusing the trust of its members in retaining and re-purposing their content? The very first time that happens, there will be an uproar in the blogosphere and Twittersphere. The mainstream press will pick up on it. At that point, state governments and the Federal government will investigate and hold hearings.

This is NOT what a public or wants-to-be-public company wants. If Facebook was some small start-up without its blue chip status, I’d worry more.

What, Me Worry?

That’s why this particular Facebook TOS clause doesn’t worry me.

How about you? Answer the quick poll below:

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=Three+Reasons+Facebook%E2%80%99s+TOS+Data+Policy+Doesn%E2%80%99t+Worry+Me

Forget Dunbar’s Number, Our Future Is in Scoble’s Number

social-graph-graphic

Photo credit: Mark Wallace

I probably don’t know about your latest job project. I don’t know what your kids are up to. I don’t know about that vacation you’ve got coming up. I can’t say what city you’re visiting for business. I have no idea that you’re having a bad day.

But I do know you’ve got a really strong take about where social software helps companies.

Why? Because that’s an area where we have a common interest. I don’t need to know all of you, as Dunbar’s Number posits. I only need to know part of you.

From Wikipedia, here’s what Dunbar’s Number is:

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.

This is a recurring issue in social networks. As in, why do people maintain large numbers of connections that can’t possibly be personal?

I like to break it people down into three types.

Three Types of Social Network Participants

I’m oversimplifying here, but this is a useful way to segment how people view their social network participation:

Close Friends: These folks view social networks as sites for staying up to date on a limited set of close connections. As in, “actual” friends.

Information Seekers: These folks, including me, expand beyond those with whom they have a pre-existing connection. Their interest is a bit of networking, and tapping information in their field.

Power Networkers: These folks amass thousands of connections. In the offline world, they’d have huge rolodexes. They want to connect with as many people as possible. Connections are fundamental to their professions. Think Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble.

The Close Friends users really want just that…updates from and interactions with their actual offline connections. When they post an update, they’ll hear from someone they know. When they read an update, it will be from someone they know. This is what Dunbar’s Number is all about.

Then there are the rest of us.

We Have Dunbar’s Number…How about Scoble’s Number?

If Dunbar’s Number is defined at 150 connections, perhaps we can term the looser connection of thousands as Scoble’s Number. The next model of social connections. Now let me explain what I’m saying here.

I’m not saying we can magically follow thousands of people closely because of social media. We can’t.

I’m not saying that we won’t have close connections that we know much more about. We will.

I am saying that a significant percentage of our online interactions will be with people about whom we know little.

That last point occurs as your connections get larger and larger. I follow 1,600 people on FriendFeed, 1,100 on Twitter. I can say from experience now that I know little about many of the people with whom I have @reply and thread conversations.

And it doesn’t bother me. I get plenty of value from these drive-by interactions.

Here’s how I differentiate interactions between Dunbar’s Number and Scoble’s Number:

scobles-number

In the top graph for Dunbar’s Number, you’re aware of a fuller range of what’s happening in someone’s life. Even if you aren’t actively trying to know about it. This is the stuff of warm friendships. You internalize a lot more information about someone, and they know a lot more about you. You develop short-hand ways of talking, and can call on older experiences to relate to new information and developments.

The bottom graph is for Scoble’s Number. Here, you only intersect socially with someone periodically. This happens when the stars align:

  • Someone is talking about a topic of interest to you
  • You happen to see this topic being discussed

Scoble’s Number is a our new reality. By maintaining a larger number of weaker connections, you can tap a wider range of opinions. People often deride “echo chamber” aspects of social media. Well, if you’re only paying attention to same people over and over, you will have created your own personal echo chamber.

This is not to say that we don’t have a more limited set of people we trust as information filters. Those people are important for keeping on top of things in a more systematic way.

But I tend to think of Scoble’s Number as a rich, chaotic frenzy of interactions that never would have occurred before social media was adopted so heavily. Online bulletin boards have this aspect, in that you “followed” thousands of participants on them. Think of molecules bouncing around, with occasional collisions. It’s these collisions where interesting reactions occur. Where you learn things you didn’t know, and you get perspective from people beyond your immediate circle.

It’s healthy. And given the growing participation in social media, and the low friction for finding and interacting with others, I see the trend as favoring Scoble’s Number.

Over time, some connections will move from being out there in your Scoble’s Number into your more personal Dunbar’s Number.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

FriendFeed Looking at Giving Users More Control Over Who Reads What in Their Feeds

ugcx-logo

At the UGCX conference this week, I attended a session on social media mashups. The session included FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit, along with folks from Google, iWidget, Kyte and Gigya. Someone in the room asked this question (paraphrasing):

How do I gain more control over my identity and what I publish across social networks? I want to separate my personal and professional identities, and control who sees various parts of my online life.

There was some discussion by others about things like OpenID and OAuth. The guy who asked the question clarified that he wasn’t talking one ID to rule them all, rather he wanted a way to better control to whom his lifestream was published.

That’s when Paul spoke up from the panel. He said FriendFeed was looking at giving users more control over who reads what in their feeds.

Well how about that?

He didn’t elaborate on how FriendFeed was planning to do this. And lord knows they probably have a gazillion other ideas on their plate. But his comment struck me as an interesting approach to an issue that seems to plague some social network users. Indeed, it’s one that’s an ongoing discussion on FriendFeed.

Let’s speculate about what this might be like.

A Change in the Consumer-Publisher Relationship

FriendFeed has developed a really strong foundation for people to manage the information they consume. Follow only those you want. Hide with multiple options. Lists to segment people.

The FriendFeed publisher controls are:

  • Decide which services will be fed in
  • The nuclear option of setting your feed as private
  • Using invite-only Rooms for your content

Those options tend to be “heavy”. What might a more nuanced approach look like?

You use your Lists as the basis for deciding who will see a FriendFeed post or an entire external feed.

You then designate which people’s streams will include your post or service. If you’re not on that List, you don’t see it. Presumably, your post or service will be searchable by everyone.

For instance, my crazy music tastes could be limited to a select few who seem to like them. Or LOLCatz pictures would be posted, but only for people on your LOLCatz List. Or esoteric work things only go to your professional List, because they’ll bore others to tears.

It would be an interesting approach. Keep in mind that I’m purely speculating about how such a system would work.

Facebook Has Some Notion of Groups

On Facebook, you can share some things only with specified groups of your social network. When you post photos, you can specify who gets to see them.  When writing Notes, you can do the same. It’s not pervasive on everything you share on Facebook, but it’s there.

Wouldn’t surprise me to see the FriendFeed guys come out with a really clever way to handle this. And then see Facebook implement the same feature 6 – 9 months later.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=FriendFeed+Looking+at+Giving+Users+More+Control+Over+Who+Reads+What+in+Their+Feeds

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.

The Perfect FriendFeed: Themed Channels for New Users

friendfeed-logo

On his blog, FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit asks others to chime in with their own thoughts about improving the experience on FriendFeed:

If you’d like to contribute (and I hope you do), I’d love to read more of your visions of “the perfect FriendFeed”. Describe what would make FriendFeed perfect for YOU, and post it on your blog.

I’ve seen some good posts out there on the subject, many of them with suggestions for UI changes. I’m more inclined to think along the lines of Louis Gray on this one. He suggested a lite version of FriendFeed.

I’d like to suggest another approach.

FriendFeed provides pre-built lifestreams centered around different themes.

The idea is to make it easy for new users to get started.

What Is FriendFeed’s Bridge to Existing Consumer Behavior?

It’s useful to consider FriendFeed in light of the emerging success of Twitter. Twitter rides the earlier adoption cycles of email and IM although clearly it takes some mental adjustment to grasp the how and why of twittering: public declarations of activities, information finds and conversations. Run a Google search on “I don’t get Twitter” to see the past and current struggles people have.

But there is a link to prior behaviors. And with the @replies and DM, Twitter keeps that link.

FriendFeed’s models of consumer familiarity are less clear. Seeing a stream of links, pictures, tweets, etc. from someone…what’s the analog? Online forums come to mind. When I was active in marathoning, I spent time on LetsRun.com.  People would post new topics, and we’d comment on them. Each time someone commented, the topic would bounce back to the top of the page.

Of course, FriendFeed dramatically changes the forum experience: richer set of content, sourced from dozens of external sites, Likes-based ratings and you personalize the set of topics you see.

So what were the earlier adoption factors for online forums?

FriendFeed = Community + Information Tracking

FriendFeed has two primary benefits for users:

  1. Community
  2. Information tracking

Of the two, which one is more accessible to a new user?

Community requires people who are familiar with you, and with whom you are familiar. That’s tough in any social network to get right off the bat. And FriendFeed isn’t a social network the way Facebook is. You don’t set up shop with a profile page where you describe yourself and interact with friends. You pipe in content you’re creating elsewhere, and find others’ content to follow.

Facebook lets you anchor yourself, and then reach out to others. FriendFeed is a constantly moving stream.

Community does come to users of FriendFeed. But it takes time. It will be hard for non-tech geeks to get into FriendFeed right now. Sure the bacon posts and photo memes are great. But most people just joining FriendFeed won’t be part of that. In fact, the adulation of bacon posts will probably scare them.

Something that Lists have shown me is that my attention gets focused on people who share interests in a particular topic. I guess that’s not surprising. And yet it points to the value of having something in place on FriendFeed that new users can immediately get value from.

If you join FriendFeed now, you’re not going to find anyone initially that shares your interests. You can do searches, maybe follow some of the bigger names on the service. But for the majority of the population, that’s not going to get them invested in the service. They’ll sign up, look around, then become inactive.

Community on FriendFeed comes over time as you find people that share your interests. This is why I suggest that FriendFeed provide  pre-built theme channels that let new users quickly find content they care about.

Themed Channels

Themed channels would let new users find areas of interest quickly. By “themed channel”, I’m thinking of feeds that relate specific topics for users of the various 59 (and counting) services that FriendFeed supports: bloggers, YouTube users, twitterers, Flickr users, etc. Included in that would RSS feeds of keywords related to the theme.

How might it work?

  1. New user joins FriendFeed
  2. They are provided with the option of adding one ore more themed channels
  3. They select a topic that is of interest
  4. By selecting a themed channel, they are immediately joined to a dedicated Room for a topic. The Room is one that is probably managed by a FriendFeed employee.
  5. They also can be subscribed to highly rated users whose lifestreams are among the top in terms of percentage of content related to a subject.

As an example, I created a Room for NASCAR. Into the Room, I’ve added three Twitter accounts, two YouTube accounts, four blogs, one Tumblr account, Del.icio.us tags for NASCAR and NASCAR tags for Upcoming events. Imagine a racin’ fan decides to try out FriendFeed. What do you think he’s going to do? Wouldn’t it be great if he had a pre-set channel of content relevant to him?

FriendFeed Isn’t Immune from the 90-9-1 Rule

Jakob Nielsen famously wrote about the 90-9-1 rule:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

The challenge for FriendFeed is that a lot of the population doesn’t blog or tweet. Or if they do, they don’t bring a lot of followers with them. Facebook or MySpace may be the biggest online social network they have. Asking these folks to create their own experience and find content they like is probably asking a lot of them.

But putting them in touch with user-generated content and other users who are relevant to their interests is a great way to kick off someone’s FriendFeed experience.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone++The+Perfect+FriendFeed+Themed+Channels

Social-Filtered Search

Recently, there was a lot of discussion about running searches on Twitter, using authority as a filter. The idea is to reduce Twitter search results to only those with a minimum number of followers. The idea garnered plenty of discussion. From that discussion, I saw some perspectives that I liked:

Frederic Lardinois: I would love to have the option to see results from my own friends (or those who I have communicated with through @replies) bubble up to the top.

Jeremiah Owyang: Organizing Twitter Search by Authority is the wrong attribute. Instead, focus search by your OWN social connections. People you actually know score higher relevancy. http://www.loiclemeur.com/engl…

Robert Scoble: On both services you should see a bias of tweets made by people you’re actually following. Who you are following is a LOT more important than who is following you.

Those ideas make sense to me, because they reflect the way we seek out information. I do think there’s room for search results beyond only your friends. Here’s what I mean:

social-filtered-search

The idea above can best be described as follows:

I’ll take any quality level of search results for my close connections, but want only the most useful content from distant connections.

The logic behind this is that any quality “deficiencies” in content generated by my close connections can be made up for by reaching and having a conversation with them. That’s not something I’d do with more distant connections.

The chart above has two axes: strength of ties and usefulness signals. Let’s run through those.

Strength of Ties

Harvard professor Andrew McAfee blogged about the strength of ties back in 2007. With an eye toward employees inside companies, he segmented our connections as follows:

strong-weak-potential-ties-mcafee

The segmentation works inside companies, and it also applies in the personal world. For example, on FriendFeed, my Favorites List is akin to Strong Ties. The rest of the hundreds of people I follow are my Weak Ties. Friend-of-a-Friend entries I see are my Potential Ties. And of course there are a lot of people I never see. Those would be the “None” Ties.

The hardest part of this segmentation is that people aren’t likely to take the time to create and update their Strong Ties. Rather, Strong Ties should be tracked via implicit signals. Whose content do you click/rate/comment on/bookmark/share/etc.? Extend this out to email – who do you correspond with the most?

For example, I tried out the social search of Delver. It lets you load in your social networks, from places such as Facebook and FriendFeed, and uses content from those connections as your search index. Innovative idea. What happened though is that when I run a search, I get a deluge of content. My social networks are too big to make the service really useful.

Here’s where apps that handle a large percentage of my clicks and interactions will have an advantage. FriendFeed, with an extensive library of content from my connections, has this quality. Inside the enterprise, workers interact with a limited set of applications. The company’s IT department can set up tracking of interactions to identify implicit Strong Ties.

Bottom line: determining Strong Ties via implicit interactions is scalable and useful.

Signals of Usefulness

I’ve already described these in the paragraphs above:

  • Clicks
  • Ratings
  • Comments
  • Bookmarking
  • Sharing

Implicit data + explicit signals are the most powerful indication of usefulness.

Putting These into Place for Social-Filtered Search

When I say that I’d want to receive search results, even without many signals of usefulness, from my Strong Ties, here’s an example.

  1. I’m planning to run a marathon
  2. What marathon training plan should I use?
  3. I run a search for marathon training.
  4. I see a tweet from one of my Strong Ties: “Just started my marathon training this weekend. 4 miles FTW!”
  5. I @reply my Strong Tie, ask what training program he’s using.
  6. I now can leverage someone else’s work on this subject.

Of course, I’d want to see well-rated marathon training programs too, like Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning. I’d want to see the content from my distant/non-existent connections that had the highest signals of usefulness. Not unlike Google’s algorithm.

But the key here is that I’ll make up for any deficiencies in the utility of content for someone I’m close to by contacting them. A search on ‘marathon training‘ in Twitter shows a lot of results. But I’m not going to reach out to most of these folks, because I don’t know them. I only want those with whom I can have a conversation.

As I said, the ability to track both implicit and explicit activity is key to making this work. Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter and Enterprise 2.0 all seem like good candidates for this type of search.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Social-Filtered+Search%22&who=everyone

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