February 8, 2009 3 Comments
From the home office in Victoria, Australia…
#1: Interesting convo w/ colleague. Is there any risk to tweeting that you’re traveling on vacation? Burglars searching for such tweets?
Observations on technology and business from someone who should know better
From the home office in Victoria, Australia…
#1: Interesting convo w/ colleague. Is there any risk to tweeting that you’re traveling on vacation? Burglars searching for such tweets?
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.
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?
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:
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
We are marching down the lifestreaming road. There are a proliferation of lifestream apps, such as FriendFeed, SocialThing, Strands, Swurl and others. Lifestreaming is getting hotter, and there’s some thought that lifestreaming will be the new blogging:
Sites and social tools like these and many others encourage more participation on the social web than ever before. Although the social participants on these sites are often more active in socializing than they are in blogging, there’s still that need to stake out your own piece of real estate on the web. But we wonder: does that really need to be a blog anymore? Perhaps not.
It’s a great concept, one that Mark Krynsky has been chronicling for a while at the Lifestream Blog.
An area I think that is ripe for inn ovation here is the ability to find the meta data from one’s lifestream. On FriendFeed, people will have multiple services that fill up their lifestreams. A couple issues that crop up on FriendFeed are:
Because there is one thing that has been noticed with all this lifestreaming – there’s a lot of information generated (or “noise” as some might say).
So here’s my idea:
Create tag clouds for our lifestreams
What do I mean? Read on.
I’ll use the lifestream service with which I’m most familiar, FriendFeed. Here are the tag clouds I’d like to see for each user’s lifestream:
And I’d like to see tag clouds for what users Like and Comment on. Because on FriendFeed, Likes and Comments have the same effect as a direct feed of someone’s lifestream: they put the content into the feed of all their followers.
So via the tag cloud, I’m can quickly come up to speed on what someone is interested in.
I don’t propose that users suddenly tag their own streams. Rather, let’s leverage the work of others.
It’s de rigueur for Web 2.0 apps to include tagging. Bloggers tag. Social bookmarkers tag. Music lovers tag. Why not pull the tags applied to the source content into the lifestream?
Here’s what I mean. My blog has plenty of tags. These tags are included in the RSS feed of my blog. So any feed that includes my blog should include these tags. Let’s leverage:
For some background on this, click here for a page on Technorati that talks about tags in feeds.
By leveraging the tagging work already resident in user-generated content, one can quickly build up a tag cloud for lifestreams.
Google Reader is a good example. People ‘share’ blog posts they read via their Google Readers. Sharing lets others see the articles that someone finds interesting and useful. And of course, those blog posts that someone is sharing have tags.
Here’s what the tag cloud of my recent Google Reader shares looks like. I’ve simulated the tag cloud by using Wordle for the tags.
You can see my interests lately: Enterprise 2.0, FriendFeed, social media. If someone wanted to get a quick sense of the things they’ll see by subscribing to me, this tag cloud answers that. And if someone is curious about the specific posts I’ve been sharing that relate to a subject, they could click on one of the tags and get a list of my Google Reader shares.
Curious, I ran the same analysis on the Google Reader shares of four people I follow on FriendFeed: Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, Sarah Perez, Mike Fruchter. Here are the topics they’ve been sharing lately:
Robert Scoble clearly is following the iPhone and Google. Louis Gray was following the happenings at Gnomedex. Sarah Perez is pretty even in her interests, with FireFox, social bookmarking, FriendFeed, Twitter, search and photos among her favorite topics. Mike Fruchter has been reading up on Twitter and social media.
Just like that, I’ve gotten a sense for their interests right now. And if those were true tag clouds, I could click the tag and see the Google Reader shares. Robert Scoble is really good at tracking useful relevant things. Clicking the ‘iPhone’ tag and reading his shares would be a quick way to understand what’s goin.
As I said, most user generated content comes with tags these days. So pulling these into the feeds and representing them in a tag cloud would be a fantastic move forward in creating lifestream tag clouds.
But what about Twitter? There are no tags on tweets. Not a problem. FriendFeed and other lifestream services could do a Wordle-like tag cloud. Tally the most common words in someone’s tweets, represent it as a tag cloud. And make the tag cloud clickable, which would essentially run a Summize Twitter search of the user’s tweets for a given tag.
The key here is to not make it onerous on the end user. Tag once, re-use everywhere. If desired, users could be given the option to add tags to their own lifestreams. But the core idea is to eliminate double tagging work for users.
If this could be done, you’ve got a visual representation of people’s lifestreams. And an easy way to find the specific entries in a lifestream that relate to a topic.
Lifestreamers – would you want something like this
I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.
Complaints about social media information overload remind me of alcoholics griping about all the drinks they’re being served. It’s not the bartender! It’s you!
For instance, TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld writes today about information overload. The post got a lot of play. And it’s instructive that Erick’s post was an outcome of using the desktop client Twhirl to manage all his Twitter and FriendFeed updates. Apparently Twhirl and AlertThingy are in some sort of desktop feed arms race (Sarah Perez coverage, RWW). Yup – you can always be “plugged in”.
So what’s the answer for information overload? Here’s what I’m doing for FriendFeed.
I’m still adding people to my FriendFeed subscriptions. It’s still early, and I’m enjoying the flow of updates. Before I add a subscription, I take a look at each person’s activity streams. If the streams look like something I’d like to follow, I subscribe. If not, I hold off. Pretty basic, unoriginal policy eh? Yet it does cut back on the stuff you don’t want.
Strategy: subscribe to that which will interest you to reduce the noise factor
There aren’t enough hours in the day to constantly monitor the flow of activity through FriendFeed. I’ve got a day job plus kids that keep me plenty busy. So I check in on FriendFeed only occasionally.
This means I’m missing plenty of updates. But I do enjoy what I can see. I call this serendipity. The discovery of information at a given moment in time. That’s still a pretty good experience with FriendFeed.
Strategy: embrace serendipity, recognize you can’t possibly consume all updates
When I do have time, I will look at the activity stream for specific people to whom I subscribe. I’ll go to their profile and catch up on things I missed. I couldn’t possibly do this for everyone I follow, but I can do it for a few.
Strategy: closely follow the updates of only a few select people
FriendFeed is a fantastic research and discovery application. With a bit of a hack, you can create RSS feeds of FriendFeed updates that match pre-selected search criteria. For instance, I follow FriendFeed activity streams with the term “enterprise 2.0”.
This way, I stay on top of updates that interest me without having to monitor everything. And RSS is persistent, centralized, and easily viewable.
Strategy: use RSS to follow updates on topics of interest to you
Installing AlertThingy or Twhirl as desktop clients makes FriendFeed streams constantly visible. If you’re already suffering from information overload, this is the equivalent of an alcoholic strapping on a CamelBak filled with bourbon. Access is just a sip away.
These apps remind me of the Bloomberg machines used by equity traders. Traders need to be constantly on top of the news. Missing key information by just one minute can cost them big dollars as the market moves quickly.
Are activity streams that important? No – unless you’re one of the big-time professional bloggers who needs to break, or react to, a story quickly. Otherwise they’re just too distracting and contribute to the information overload. As Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins of Mashable writes (about Twitter, but also applies to FriendFeed), That’s Why It’s Called Work. If They Called It Twitter, They Wouldn’t Pay You.
Strategy: don’t install or at least occasionally turn off AlertThingy or Twhirl
That’s what I’m doing. What are your strategies for managing the social media information deluge?
See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/e4953d64-e268-dc82-cb25-094ba338b49d
In social networks, bigger is not necessarily better. Robert Scoble, famously with 5,000 Facebook friends, recently posted this on Twitter.
Spent some time cleaning off my Facebook Profile. Stripped it way down. Much nicer now, no crap. I haven’t been into FB for months. Sigh.
Normally this may not rate as important news. In fact, Scoble had a Feb. 22, 2008 post up on his blog titled Is Facebook Doomed? But there, his issue is primarily one of limits on the number of friends and messages. He still liked Facebook fundamentally.
But then came his recent tweet. While many technorati are expressing their ennui with Facebook, with Scoble it’s significant for two reasons:
Let’s start with the idea that 5,000 “friends” is appropriate for a social network. It can be…but not for Facebook.
Let’s imagine having 5,000 friends on Facebook. What must that be like?
Newsfeeds. That newsfeed must be constantly in overdrive. People’s statuses updating. New groups they joined. Apps added. New friend connections. Friends compared. Blah, blah, blah…! A 5,000-friend newsfeed must be like a stock ticker. Hit refresh every second and a new set of newsfeeds displays.
Inbox. When you have 5,000 friends, your Inbox and Notifications are probably largely untouched. How do you go through the sheer volume of messages? Inbox from hell is what that is.
App invites. How many times has Scoble been invited to try every inane app out there? Especially since its Scoble. Get him to try your app and mention it on his blog or Twitter, and you’re on your way. Not enough hours in the week to try all the new apps.
Reaching out to friends. How do you figure out which of your 5,000 friends you interact with each day? Assume Scoble attempts a meaningful exchange with 13 friends each day, on top of all his other duties. That translates to contact with each friend once per year.
Here’s what Scoble said in his blog post defending his decision to have 5,000 friends:
In social networking software a “friend” is someone you want in your social network. Period. Nothing more. The fact that people assume that you should only have “real friends” in your social network is just plain wrong.
See, I have this theory about social networks: different ones are good for different types of social interactions. What Scoble is looking for is something different than Facebook. His interactions have more of a one-way quality to them. He’s really good with discovering and analyzing new things, and is eager to share them with the world. And that’s really cool. But he really doesn’t want to know that you just joined the Austin networking group, posted your child’s picture or that you’re working on that report for your boss. Nothing wrong with that – I don’t either. But I didn’t add you as one of my 5,000 friends.
I believe Facebook is fundamentally tuned to be an interactive lifestream social network. That means it wants to be the place where all parts of your life are captured and shared. It’s built around that goal. Which makes it terrible as a large-scale broadcasting platform.
So it’s no surprise that Scoble has tired of Facebook. I assume he’s still getting to broadcast his life to the 5,000 friends. I’ll bet a lot of those updates occur as apps connected to his various preferred social apps: Twitter, Jaiku, Flickr, etc. For him, Facebook is more of a broadcasting server, not a place for true social interaction.
For Scoble’s social networking style, he’s already got what he needs: his blog. He talks about what interests him. He responds only to comments that interest him. To complete his lifestream, more widgets for his favorite social apps could be added.
FriendFeed is emerging as an app to satisfy the social network needs of power users like Scoble. Unlimited (well, theoretically) numbers of people can subscribe to his feed: blog posts, Facebook status updates, Twitter posts, Flickr photos, etc. Anyone can comment on his lifestream. But he doesn’t need to subscribe to these same people. No app spam, inbox overload, etc. However, I notice he already has 1,700 “friends” there.
I suspect Scoble will probably find a better home for his mode of social networking on FriendFeed. And Facebook is just fine for what it wants to be: lifestream platform for interacting with your actual friends.
This post is not meant as a criticism of Scoble. Quite the opposite. He pushes the boundaries of all these social apps, and does so in a very public way. He’ll give you his take on his own actions. But by pushing things to the extreme, he also provides a great lens for analyzing Web 2.0. That guy’s got a cool life.
Two recent posts on the implicit web provide two different takes. They provide good context for the implicit web.Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb asks, Aggregate Knowledge’s Content Discovery – How Good is it, Really? Aggregate Knowledge runs a large-scale wisdom of crowds application, suggesting content for readers of a given article based on what others also viewed. For instance, on the Business Week site, you might be reading an article about the Apple iPod. Next to the article are the articles that readers of the Apple iPod article also viewed. MacManus finds the Aggregate Knowledge recommendations to be not very relevant. The recommended articles had no relationship to Apple or the iPod.
Over at CenterNetworks, Allen Stern writes that Toluu Helps You Like What Your Friends Like. Toluu lets you import your RSS feeds and friends who have also uploaded their RSS feeds. It applies some secret sauce to analyze your friends’ feeds and create recommendations for you. Stern finds the service a bit boring, as all the recommendations based on his friends’ feeds were the same.
In the case of Aggregate Knowledge, the recommendations were based on too wide a pipe. The implicit actions – clicks by everybody – led to irrelevant results because you essentially the most popular items. In the case Toluu, the recommendations were based on too narrow a pipe. The common perspectives of like-minded friends meant the recommendations were too homogeneous.
Both of these companies leverage the activities of others to deliver recommendations. The actions of others are the implicit activities used to improve search and discovery. A great, familiar example of applying implicit activities is Google search. Google analyzes links among websites and clicks in response to search results. Those links and clicks are the implicit actions that fuel its search relevance.
Which leads to an important consideration about implicit activities. You need a lot of explicit activity to have implicit activity.
That’s right. Implicit activities don’t exist in a vacuum. They start life as the explicit actions of somebody. This is a point that Harvard’s Andrew McAfee makes in a recent post.
Let’s take this thought a step further. Not all explicit actions are created equal. There are those that occur “in-the-flow” and those that occur “above-the-flow”, a smart concept described by Michael Idinopulos. In-the-flow are those actions that are part of the normal course of consumer activities, while above-the-flow takes an extra step by the user. A couple examples describe this further:
Above-the-flow actions are hard to elicit from consumers. There needs to be something in it for them. Websites that require a majority of above-the-flow actions will find themselves challenged to grow quickly. They better have something really good to offer (such as Amazon.com’s purchase experience). Otherwise, the website should be able to survive on the participation of just a few users to provide value to the majority (e.g. YouTube).
So with all that in mind, let’s look at a few companies with actual or potential uses of the explicit-implicit duality:
In an interview with VentureBeat, Google VP Marissa Mayer talks about two different forms of social search:
ThisNext is a platform for users to build out their own product recommendations. They find products on the web, grab an image, and rate and write about the product. Power users emerge as style mavens. The site is open to non-members for searching and browsing of products.
ThisNext probably relies a bit too heavily on above-the-flow activities. It takes a lot of work to find products, add them to your list of products and provide reviews. It also suffers from being a bit too wide a pipe in that there’s a lot of people whose recommendations I wouldn’t trust. How do I know who to trust on ThisNext?
Amazon, on the other hand, has a leg up in this sort of model. First, its recommendations are built on a high level of in-the-flow activities – users purchasing things they need. This is the “people who bought this also bought that” recommendation model. Rather than depend on the product whims of individuals, it uses good ol’ sales numbers (plus some secret sauce as well) for recommendations. This is a form of collaborative filtering.
Amazon Grapevine is a way of setting the pipe for implicit activities. The explicit activity is the review or rating. These activities are fed to your friends on Facebook. One possibility for Amazon down the road is to use the built-up reviews and ratings of your friends to influence the recommendations it provides on its website. Such a model would require some above-the-flow actions – add the Grapevine application, maintain your account and connections on Facebook. But these aren’t that onerous; the Facebook social network continues to be an explicit activity that has high value for individuals.
Yahoo bought the bookmarking and tag service del.icio.us back in 2005. It’s hard to know what, if anything, they’ve done with that service. But one intriguing possibility was hinted at in this TechCrunch post. The del.icio.us activity associated with a given web page is integrated into the search results. Yahoo search results would be ranked not just on links and previous clicks, but also on the number of times the web page had been bookmarked on del.icio.us. And, the tags associated to the website would be displayed, giving additional context to the site and enabling a user to click on the tags to see what other sites share similar characteristics.
This takes an above-the-flow activity performed by a relative few – bookmarking and tagging on del.icio.us – and turns it into implicit activity that helps a larger number of users. But with the Microsoft bid, who knows whether something like this could happen.
The use of implicit activity is a powerful basis to help users find content. Just don’t burden your users with too much of the wrong kind of explicit activity to get there. Two factors to consider in the use of implicit activity: