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Four Tools for Tracking Topics in Social Media

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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

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Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email

In case you missed it last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt had this to say about the microblogging service Twitter:

Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems. In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?

At first blush, this seemed like an example of Google not ‘getting it’ when it comes to Twitter (see the comments to the linked blog post above). But I think he’s actually on to something. It is a new way of posting notes about what you’re doing, but it also has a lot of communications usage via @replies and direct messages (DMs).

Reflecting both on Schmidt’s statement, and my own use of Yammer at my company, I’m seeing that microblogging is slowly replacing a lot of my email activity.

As more companies take up microblogging with services like Yammer, Socialcast, Present.ly and SocialText Signals, employee communications amongst employees will both increase and divert away from email. Something like this:

microblogging-marginalizes-email

Socialcast’s Tim Young said this about email:

Email is dead. If your company is relying on email for communication and collaboration, your company is walking dead in this new economy.

Being the CEO of Socialcast, that’s not a surprising statement. But I think he’s more right than wrong.

The shift I describe applies regardless of the microblogging application used. Since I’m actually familiar with Yammer as a user, I’ll talk about its features in the context of this shift.

Yammer Follows the Innovator’s Dilemma Path

A useful context for thinking about Yammer versus corporate email is Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Generally, the premise is that incumbent companies need to grow and increase the functionality of their products. This increases the products’ complexity and cost, but also increases margins. But as the incumbents are doing this, it opens an opportunity at the lower end of functionality for new companies to come in and attack the incumbents’ base. From Wikipedia, here’s a graphic that demonstrates the concept:

innovators-dilemma-disruption-graph

A useful way to think about the Innovator’s Dilemma in the enterprise software space comes from this blog post, Enterprise Software Innovator’s Dilemma. Existing vendors expand the functionality of their products, heavily relying on the requests of large customers. Over time, this has the effect of creating a robust, highly functional and more expensive offering. This trend is what opens the door for new vendors to come in.

Let’s consider Yammer in this context. Simple microblogging runs along the “low quality use” in some ways. At least in terms of the feature set. But it certainly takes “use case share” away from email.

If all you could do was make public notes, that’s the end of the story. Microblogging does not replace email. But these guys are advancing their product, and are rising up the performance axis.

Here is what Yammer now offers:

  • Behind the firewall installation
  • Public notes
  • @replies
  • DMs
  • Groups
  • Private groups
  • File attachments
  • Favorites (a form of bookmarking)
  • Tagging
  • Conversation threading
  • Unlimited character length (i.e. not limited to 140 characters)
  • Search

Look at that list. When you think about your own internal email usage, what ‘s missing? Folders or the Gmail equivalent of tags seem to be something for the down the road. I’m not an IT manager, so I’m sure there are some heavy duty infrastructure aspects of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook and Lotus Notes that are not there. Thus, Yammer still has the insurgent, disruptor profile relative to corporate email.

But don’t underestimate that. There’s what IT knows is needed behind the scenes. and then there’s what the users actually do when given the different applications.

Expanding Communications, Marginalizing Email

Microblogging’s premise is that public proclamations of what you’re doing and information that you find are a new activity for people, and they have value. Information is shared much more easily and in-the-flow of what we’re all doing anyway. In an office setting, I continue to find the way Dave Winer describes it quite useful: narrating your work.

This use case is what promises to dramatically increase communications among employees. As we’re seeing with Twitter’s explosive growth, it takes time for people to grok why they should microblog. But once they “get it”, it takes off.

So services like Yammer have your attention as you post updates and read what others post. In reaction to what someone posts, you hit the Reply button. You’re having a conversation that others can see, and join in if they want. You decide to have separate conversation with someone in this context. Do you open up your email? Or just click “Private Message” to someone? I’m willing to bet you’ll do the latter.

Which starts the marginalization of corporate email. Why? Because a lot of what’s going to generate interactions is occurring right on that microblogging app you’re looking at. It’s the most natural thing to act in-the-flow and use that application in lieu of email. Well-designed microblogging applications are also quite seductive in terms of ease-of-use.

As I’ve written before, email’s role changes in this scenario. The logical end use cases are:

  • Notifications
  • External communications

This isn’t something that’s imminent. Email is quite entrenched in daily workflow, older generations aren’t likely to stop using it and internal microblogging is still nascent.

But no one said the Innovator’s Dilemma plays out over the course of a couple years. It will take time. But watch the trends.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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

One Thing Social Software Needs: The Guaranteed Delivery Button

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

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

email-stats-jan-09

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

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

But I can do better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Software Options for Guaranteed Delivery

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

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

So what are alternatives for emails inside companies?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s February, A New Month

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

I’ll let you know how it goes.

*****

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Why I Like Buzzwords (Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, Social Media, etc.)

Via Annie Mole on Flickr

Via Annie Mole on Flickr

UK-based The Register has an article out, They used ‘em, you reeled: the year’s most overused phrases. The article lists “tech terms that were so overused and misapplied during the last 12 months that they began to lose their meaning.” Included in the list?

  • The cloud
  • Web 2.0
  • Enterprise 2.0
  • Software as a service
  • Agile
  • Green

Then I saw this tweet from Lawrence Liu of Telligent:

I hope “social media” & “Web/Enterprise 2.0″ die as way too overloaded buzzwords in 2009. As New Yr reso, I’ll try to avoid using them.

To which Gia Lyons of Jive Software tweeted:

@LLiu I’m with you re the death of “social media” & E/W 2.0 buzzwords. I’m not gonna use ‘em either.

I get the sentiment, getting away from the overselling of benefits and hype associated with these terms. But man, at this rate, we’re not going to have any words left to describe Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, social media, or anything.

So What Terms Do We Use?

If we stop using terms like ‘Enterprise 2.0′, what would be the replacement(s)? Here’s what Lawrence thought:

@karitas Use real terms like team, community, Facebook, sharing, commenting, rating, discussing. :-)

Cannot disagree with Lawrence here. Those all are valuable terms. But I wonder how he meant this? Have people been using buzzwords in lieu of those?

  • “We need to get the enterprise 2.0 team together to collaborate”
  • “Let’s put this idea out into our social media community to see what they think”
  • “When employees are web 2.0-ing discussing ideas, make sure the record is accessible everywhere”

What those silly examples show is that there are plenty of points where you shouldn’t use buzzwords. I’m not convinced that people have been abusing the language that badly though.

There are two good reasons that those buzzwords should continue to be part of Lawrence and Gia’s vocabulary in 2009.

Buzzwords Provide Context and Findability

The first reason buzzwords have value is context. When I say ‘Enterprise 2.0′, I’m standing on the shoulders of others who have been working in the field for some time. It’s short hand for:

  • Employees are better off when they can find more content that colleagues create, not less
  • Workers can offer much more value than being just the cog they were hired for
  • People from different locations and units should be able to work together far more easily than they do
  • Companies’ culture needs to be open to empowering employees to drive and critique what’s happening internally
  • Adoption is an ongoing work-in-progress as employees shed old ways of thinking about sharing their contributions

Yup, I get the benefit of those connotations when I say ‘Enterprise 2.0′. You know I’m not talking about CRM or accounting software.

The second reason buzzwords are valuable is they increase findability of content and people. As I’ve written before, I’m tracking the Enterprise 2.0 industry by following specific people (such as Lawrence and Gia) on FriendFeed, plus people who are using terms related to Enterprise 2.0. That’s the whole premise of the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed.

If people wholesale stop using buzzwords, the ability to find others with common interests reduces dramatically. When some one writes or tags with ‘Enterprise 2.0′, ‘e2.0′ or ‘social software’, it’s pretty clear what their subject is. But if someone interested in social software inside the enterprise decides to only use terms like ‘Facebook’ or ‘sharing’, they will never be found. To see what I mean, here are Twitter searches for those terms:

Facebook

Sharing

Good luck figuring out who is talking about the enterprise in those results.

When Change Comes, It Will Be Organic, Not Declared

There is a time and place for usage of buzzwords, and it’s possible the language has been abused. But that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bath water. Smart people can discern when to use a buzzword for what they mean, and when to use something more specific (or generic, as the case may be).  I have yet to be troubled by irresponsible use of these terms.

That’s not to say things won’t change. People will use terms like ‘social media’ and ‘Enterprise 2.0′ until better, more descriptive terms emerge. Those new terms will make sense, and will provide the context someone needs when they use them. Right now, our buzzwords fit that bill.

Besides, if we couldn’t simply say ‘Enterprise 2.0′, what would we say?

Software-that-lets-employees-contribute-from anywhere-and-make-it-accessible-to-all-to-improve-a-company’s-ability-to-know-what-it-knows-and-which-requires-a-strong-employees-are-more-than-cogs-culture

I’ll take brevity on this one.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Why+I+Like+Buzzwords+(Enterprise+2.0%2C+Web+2.0%2C+Social+Media%2C+etc.)%22&who=everyone

2009 Prediction: As Social Connections Reduce, Keyword Tracking Increases

Via Army.mil on Flickr

Via Army.mil on Flickr

Let me ask you this:

How are you tracking keywords in various social media right now?

I’ll bet the most common answer is Google Alerts. Not bad, I subscribe to them too. But you’re missing so much in terms of content and people that will be of interest.

Let’s examine why keyword tracking will become more important in 2009.

Social Network Contraction

Peter Kim has a terrific post in which 14 luminaries in social media offer their predicitons for what will happen in 2009. Read the comments below for a common theme:

Peter Blackshaw: Some of us will join the Social Media equivalent of Weight Watchers, eager to trim the excess and rediscover a modicum of “don’t follow everything” discipline.

Chris Brogan: We’ll still have Facebook and Twitter, but the real interest will be in making targeted networks that aren’t “come one, come all.”

Charlene Li: Having thousands of friends becomes “so 2008″ and defriending becomes the hot new trend, driven by overwhelming rivers of newsfeeds.

Greg Verdino: Many consumers will scale back on both the number of accounts they maintain AND their number of so-called “friends” and “followers.”

Several predictions that people will dial back their personal social networks. I’m not sure which people have “thousands of friends”…seems like a peculiar Social Media Whale problem. But I think the sentiment is right. The experimentation of “hey, lets all be friends!” gives way to time management and strengthening relationships with fewer connections.

I’ve written about this before in Who Is Your Information Filter? There are those you follow for their acumen in finding useful information, and with whom you can bounce ideas and questions off.

But there is an issue with this as well…

Seek Out Non-Redundant Information

One risk of tightening up a social network is that diversity of information sources decreases. I love how these researchers from MIT, BU and NYU describe the value of diverse social networks:

Actors with structurally diverse social networks (networks rich in structural holes that link them to unconnected network neighborhoods) derive ‘information benefits’ from network structure because they are more likely to receive non-redundant information through network contacts.

Now if people are going to contract their social networks, what is the logical outcome for network diversity going to be? It’s going to reduce.

So here we have the tension of superior ‘information benefits’ from diverse social connections, and a desire to bring one’s social contacts down to Dunbar’s Number.

How to get the best of both? Keyword tracking.

Here’s what keyword tracking gives the back-to-basics social networker:

  1. Ability to leverage people outside one’s social network as sources of information on subjects you care about
  2. What topics have people buzzing
  3. New people to add, in a limited way, to one’s social network

Keyword tracking is a great way to get non-redundant information while staying in touch with the closest social connections you have. If you only receive information from the same old-same old, you will probably consume a lot of redundant information (aka the “echo chamber”).

I look forward to more movement on the notifications front. For instance, TechCrunch recently covered BackType’s keyword notifications functionality. Following an RSS feed of Twitter searches on topics will become a vital part of people’s information consumption. Personally, I’ve been loving the feed of tweets and Del.icio.us content related to social software in the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. Robert Scoble just set up his own ego tracking room on FriendFeed.

I wrote a post that described this phenomenon a few weeks ago, Follow Everything by a Select Few, Select Content by Everyone. The post included a poll asking people whether they will start using keyword notifications for tracking the world at large. 9 of 11 people said ‘yes’, they would. Let’s see how this plays out in 2009.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%222009+Prediction%3A+As+Social+Connections+Reduce%2C+Keyword+Tracking+Increases%22&who=everyone

Supply-Demand Curves for Attention

The basic ideas behind the Attention Economy are simple. Such an economy facilitates a marketplace where consumers agree to receives services in exchange for their attention.

Alex Iskold, ReadWriteWeb, The Attention Economy: An Overview

The attention economy. It’s a natural evolution of our ever-growing thirst for information, and the easier means to create it. It’s everywhere, and it’s not going anywhere. The democratization of content production, the endless array of choices for consumption.

In Alex’s post, he listed four attention services, as they relate to e-commerce: alerts, news, search, shopping.  In the world of information, I focus on three use cases for the consumption of information:

  1. Search = you have a specific need now
  2. Serendipity = you happen across useful information
  3. Notifications = you’re tracking specific areas of interest

I’ve previously talked about these three use cases. In a post over on the Connectbeam blog, I wrote a longer post about the supply demand curves for content in the Attention Economy. What are the different ways to increase share of mind for workers’ contributions, in the context of those three consumption use cases.

The chart below is from that post. It charts the content demand curves for search, serendipity and notifications.

micro-economies-of-attention-3-demand-curves-for-content

Following the blue dotted line…

  • For a given quantity of user generated content, people are willing to invest more attention on Search than on Notifications or Serendipity
  • For a given “price” of attention, people will consume more content via Search than for Notifications or Serendipity

Search has always been a primary use case. Google leveraged the power of that attention to dominate online ads.

Serendipity is relatively new entry in the world of consumption. Putting content in front of someone, content that they had not expressed any prior interest in. A lot of the e-commerce recommendation systems are built on this premise, such as Amazon.com’s recommendations. And companies like Aggregate Knowledge put related content in front of readers of media websites.

Notifications are content you have expressed a prior interest in, but don’t have an acute, immediate need for like you do with Search. I use the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed for this purpose.

The demand curves above have two important qualities that differentiate them:

  • Where they fall in relation to each other on the X and Y axes
  • Their curves

As you can see with how I’ve drawn them, Search and Notifications are still the best way to command someone’s attention. Search = relevance + need. Notifications = relevance.

Serendipity commands less attention, but it can have the property of not requiring opt-in by a user. Which means you can put a lot of content in front of users, and some percentage of it will be useful. The risk is that a site overdoes it, and dumps too much Serendipitous-type content in front of users. That’s a good way to drive them away because they have to put too much attention on what they’re seeing. Hence the Serendipity curve. If you demand too much attention, you will greatly reduce the amount of content consumed. Aggregate Knowledge typically puts a limited number of recommendations in front of readers.

On the Connectbeam blog post, I connect these subjects to employee adoption of social software. Check it out if that’s an area of interest for you.

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See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Supply-Demand+Curves+for+Attention%22&who=everyone

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