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A Promising Future for Newspapers

nyt-front-page-111008

Item #1: FriendFeed Widget Motivates Reporters to Use Social Media:

“This last week, I have been busy reorganizing our major financial blog, Bear&Bull, adding FriendFeed widgets in hopes of encouraging more audience interaction. The results have been surprising — although the audience has been slow to react, the changes have motivated many of my normally technophobic colleagues to start using video, pictures and live-blogging techniques.”

Item #2: Al Gore speaking at Web 2.0 Summit (thanks to Dion Hinchcliffe tweet):

“Gore says regulate the Internet as little as possible and says there is a future for journalists in curating content/new media. #web2summit”

Item #3: Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang on a “freemium” business model for analysts:

“Talking to @susanmernit about analysts sharing. I told her I give the appetizers away for free –but still charge for entres. It’s working”

Newspapers continue to suffer declining readership, hitting their bottom lines hard. Robert Scoble started a good FriendFeed/blog post around this. Two ideas I read there were:

  • A la carte funding – you only pay the specific categories of news you like
  • Crowd funded reporting – consumers pay upfront for specific stories to be created by journalists

A la carte is interesting, and is worthy of further exploration. Crowd funding won’t make it. A critical mass of people will not take the time to fund specific stories. Forget that idea – requires too much engagement by an audience that would just turn attention elsewhere.

I’d like to suggest a different possibility that builds on the existing advertising and subscription models, while leveraging journalism’s historic role in the context of modern social media. Journalists have traditionally played a role as information filters. That is, they are dedicated practitioners of finding information, evaluating what’s true, determining what’s relevant and providing it to a wide audience.

Using that definition of journalism, the items at the start of this post point toward a promising future for journalism. Think about it. Journalists are the original information junkies. They have to be. Their livelihood depends on being better informed than most of us.

This positions them well to providing a stream of content to readers outside of the normal daily articles that are the staple of newspapers. Rather than the single daily articles they deliver, here’s what a future set of content looks like for reporters:

  1. Longer, well-developed articles
  2. Quick blog posts
  3. Twitter messages
  4. Sharing content created by others

#1 above is the stuff of today’s newspapers. It doesn’t go away. Look how much power a daily has – New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles drive a lot of linking as seen in the Techmeme Leaderboard. That’s just the online effect. And unlike social media content, newspaper articles still adhere to high standards for sourcing, finding nuggets from people most of us don’t have access to, and bring a wealth of facts and voices to the stories. This type of content continues to have value.

#2 and #3 are the lighter weight stuff. This is flow information. The tidbits that a reporter gets after talking to a source. The legislative maneuver that will affect how new laws will look. The dissatisfaction expressed by a customer. The filling of a key company or government position.

#4 is a nod to the research and content that informs the worldview of the reporter. Reporters find useful information for the beat they cover, and would be great sources for Del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Reader shares.

The Bear & Bull blog is part of the Mediafin publishing company in Belgium. The FriendFeed widget is a great example of #2 – #4 above. Sounds like reporters are intrigued with it.

Combining Flow with Subscription-Based Revenues

Two revenue models are available:

  • Lightweight flow = advertising
  • Articles = advertising, subscriptions

I can see a newspaper’s website filled during the course of a day with content generated by reporters. A lot of that content will be great standalone stuff. It should make readers want to come back to the site to see what’s new. Tweets, blog posts and shared items all displaying on the newspaper’s web page.

The Jeremiah Owyang tweet above points to another element of the future newspaper. He describes providing appetizers to potential customers. Enough to give them some information. But if they want to know the full story, they need to pay Forrester. This idea applies to newspapers as well. Reporters will reveal just enough to give a sense of a story. But not so much to fill really know it. Readers will need to read the newspaper article to know the story. Note that article need not wait until the next morning. It goes live when it’s ready.

One area that benefits from this approach is the important, but less popular beats. These may not get as much attention, but newspapers can retain reporters to continue an important role in recording society’s history. A lot of the less popular beats may “just” get coverage via blog posts and tweets. But that continues to provide visibility to them.

Curated Sources of Information

As Al Gore opined, the future of journalism has a vibrant role in curating the chaotic mass of data out there. This view appears to be shared by watchers of the newspaper space. On the Printed Matters blog, here’s a quote from Journalism is important:

In a world where anyone can post, use and re-use the news, what is the role of the professional?

Professional journalists are more important than ever in a world of oversupply. We need credible people, people we can trust, to sort the wheat from the chaff, to make sense of the barrage, to order things.

That statement appears to rally around traditional newspaper articles, but I think it applies to an expansion of journalism’s mission. Newspapers are a huge attention platform. Entrepreneurs try to get the attention of TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable and Robert Scoble. Why? Because they command a huge audience. Well so do newspapers. People and organizations from all parts of society – business, governement, fashion, etc. – will continue to be interested in getting coverage by newspapers. Of course there’s a need for the continuing role of sorting “the wheat from the chaff”.

And lest we forget, mainstream consumers don’t hang on every utterance of Steve Jobs or what Google is releasing today. I like the way Rob Diana put it on his Regular Geek blog:

People have been calling for the death of newspapers for quite some time. In their current printed form, they may be dying. However, we are already starting to see the evolution from a printed newspaper to the online version. Who is going to be leading the charge of RSS content for the mainstream user? Newspapers. Why? They understand what the mainstream user wants. I think we, the techies, have forgotten that.

His post focused on adoption of RSS, but I think he’s hit on an important piece of the puzzle. Newspapers are way ahead of everyone else in understanding what interests the mainstream. As the public moves to the web for news, sure they’ll go on Facebook and Twitter. But their core interests haven’t changed.

If newspapers can adapt social media tools to their (1) historic information filtering role; and (2) understanding of the interests of the mainstream, I’m betting on a bright future.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22A+Promising+Future+for+Newspapers%22&who=everyone

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Riding Coach: A Day in the TechCrunch50 DemoPit

I spent a day in the DemoPit of the TechCrunch50 launch conference on behalf of my company Connectbeam. We didn’t debut at TC50 (two year-old company already has customers), but it was an opportunity to raise awareness among different communities.

I’ll say this: DemoPit is like flying coach, while the folks on-stage are flying first class. You don’t get the amenities or attention, but you still get to travel.

Here’s a quick summary of the experience.

Demo Tables

The tables are like 30 inches across. Not huge, but they were fine. Enough for a big display screen, a sign and a laptop. And that chip tip jar.

Wifi

Absolutely awful. The wifi was spotty early in the morning. Then it went down for several hours. That’s right…several hours. A bunch web-based companies without Internet access. Brilliant.

Jason Goldberg of SocialMedian went out for an EDVO card at the local Best Buy. He was back in business, so my colleague went out for one too. After an initial blue screen of death, we had Internet access again.

Late in the day, a TechCrunch staffer came by to offer another day to do demos since we had it pretty rough. Cool that they acknowledged the issue, and came up with a solution.

Demo-ing

Enjoyed myself when I could show off the product. It was great to take real-live data from someone visiting, punch it in the app and have it do all the cools things I said it could.

Lots of Visits by Tuesday-Wednesday DemoPitters

A lot of guys hitting the DemoPit on Tuesday and Wednesday came through the area on Monday. Smart. They wanted to see how we pitched, and find out what to watch out for (uh..the wifi).

Ashton Kutcher

Yup, Ashton Kutcher was in the house. He was up on stage pitching his start-up Blah Girls. You can read people’s tweet reactions here. It was amusing to see him on stage talking up his site. 10-12 year old girls might like it. Might…

Later this entourage-like crowd of people came through the DemoPit. It was Ashton Kutcher and Jason Calacanis’s were walking Jason’s bulldogs. There were several people accompanying them. Quite the scene.

And still later, Sarah Lacy was interviewing Kutcher. Do you think he got Zuckerberg’d?

FriendFeed Friends

I had a couple unplanned FriendFeed meet-ups, which was really cool.

Here are their handles on FriendFeed:

Weblebrities

Saw a few weblebrities: Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble, Stowe Boyd, Jason Calacanis, Dan Farber, Loren Feldman.

Big Companies

Three big communities were out in the DemoPit: Yahoo, Salesforce, MySpace.

Jason Goldberg of SocialMedian

Jason’s Social Median table had a steady flow of traffic during the day. And he did well with those DemoPit chips. People give poker chips to companies whose products they like. The company with the most chips gets to go on-stage at TechCrunch50 on Wednesday.

Social Media had a pretty good haul. Hope Jason makes it on-stage Wednesday.

Yammer

I liked TechCrunch50 participant Yammer. Enterprise Twitter.

On to Other Conferences

TechCrunch50 was tiring but fun. I enjoyed the scene. Next, Connectbeam will be at the KMWorld Expo September 23. And Defrag after that.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone+%22Riding+Coach%3A+A+Day+in+the+TechCrunch50+DemoPit%22

FriendFeed’s Progress Out of the A-Listers’ Garage

Photo courtesy of jo-h on Flickr

One of the earlier complaints about FriendFeed is that it is primarily the playground of the early adopter set, particularly the A-Listers. Remember the recent discussion around Allen Stern’s post about FriendFeed’s recommended members? That they are so heavily weighted toward the top A-Listers? Robert Scoble, Dave Winer, Steve Rubel, etc…

Well, over the past month or so, I’ve noticed a trend where sub-groups are forming and are very interactive with one another. And these groups don’t have A-Listers.

This is healthy.

If FriendFeed is to grow, it will have to get beyond being dominated by A-Listers with their large number of subscribers.

The post that prompted me to realize this was by Morgan on FriendFeed:

My Friendfeed compatibility 3 months later – an evolution

He added his graphs which show other FriendFeed members with whom he shares the most Likes. The blue chart on top is today, the green chart from three months ago:

Notice the change? Three months ago, his experience on FriendFeed was dominated by the A-Listers: Scoble, Michael Arrington, Chris Brogan, Loic LeMeur, etc…

But now look. Today, he tends to track more closely with everyday folks on FriendFeed. One person in that blue pie chart, Kyle Lacy, has even started a Facebook group for his friends: The FriendFeed Night Crew (click here to see the group logo on FriendFeed).

This is just one sub-group of which I’m aware. I’m sure there are others.

Consider this a small marker of FriendFeed’s progress out of the A-List garage.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22FriendFeed%E2%80%99s+Progress+Out+of+the+A-Listers%E2%80%99+Garage%22&public=1

Tag Clouds for Our Lifestreams

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:

  • Figuring out whether to subscribe to someone
  • Catching up on what particular individuals have been streaming

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.

FriendFeed Lifestream

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:

  • Blog
  • Music
  • Google Reader shares
  • Bookmarks
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • Digg
  • etc…

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.

Let’s Make Tagging Easy

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:

  1. The tags that people apply to their own Web 2.0 content
  2. RSS/Atom feeds that include tags

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.

An Example: Google Reader Shares

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.

Tags + Wordles

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.

Use Existing Metadata to Solve Two Problems

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.

My Three Nits with FriendFeed’s iPhone Interface

On my recent trip to Hawaii, I had a chance to road test my brand spankin’ new 3G iPhone. My web surfing largely consisted of FriendFeed. So I had a good chance to try out the iPhone interface for FriendFeed.

Overall, it was great experience. The links, pictures, comments and Likes came through well. But a week of living only with the iPhone did make me see some things that could be improved:

  1. The text input box on the iPhone and the Web interfaces have completely different purposes
  2. It’s too easy to inadvertently hide or Like things as you scroll the page with your finger
  3. Refreshing the FriendFeed page is a pain because you have to scroll back to the top of the screen (if you don’t know the iPhone “tap” trick)

I’m no UI expert, I certainly don’t have the UI chops of FriendFeed’s Kevin Fox. But why not dive in and see if there are ways to improve things?

Inconsistent Input Boxes Lead to Embarrassing Mistakes

Both the FriendFeed web UI and iPhone UI have text entry boxes at the top of the screen. But the text entry purposes are completely different:

On the web, the text box is to perform a search. On the iPhone, the text entry box is to post a comment. But people used to the web interface and the search box have made the mistake of a search term being posted to FriendFeed via the iPhone. Three examples:

  • Robert Scoble’s ego search for “Scoble
  • J. Phil’s search for “recluse
  • A European blogger also did an ego search for his name (since deleted)

A different mobile app, FF To Go, has a similar post box at the top of the page, as opposed to a search box. After Thomas Hawk’s wife Mrsth made a similar mistake trying to search for “thomas hawk“, FF To Go founder Benjamin Golub commented:

Sorry; many people make that mistake, any advice on how I could help that not happen again?

To which FriendFeed user Madsimian replied:

@bgolub The problem is simply that the normal web interface has ‘search’, not ‘share’, on the homepage. I’d change the link to ‘search’ for a link to ‘share’, and make the text box on the homepage search. I’ve done what @mrsth has done, twice.

Making the iPhone interface consistent with the web interface would help. On the web, you have to click “Share something” before posting a comment. Why not have the same approach on iPhone?

Accidental Liking and Hiding

As you scroll down the screen, your finger can accidently tap the hide or Like links for a given post. I did this while in Hawaii. Hugh MacLeod tweeted the German word for blowjob. I had no intention of Liking that (really!!!).

Yet a subsequent scroll down the page showed that I had Liked that entry. Which meant people who followed me also saw it, and saw that I Liked it. I quickly un-Liked it.

I also noticed hidden entries at the bottom of the page that I didn’t remember ever hiding.

I commented about this on FriendFeed, and Ben Hedrington noted the same issue:

Done it a number of times… hid Marshal K for a bit, sorry Marshall! Seems like it needs a solution.

How about this? Dedicate a strip of white space on the side of the screen for scrolling? No links appear in that space. I know the space is already cramped, but perhaps a centimeter-wide strip could be carved out?

Refresh the Page from the Bottom of the Screen

Once you’re to the bottom of the page, there’s no obvious way to refresh the page. So you scroll all the way back up to the top of the page. This is something that others have noted as well:

  • Justin Korn: “On iPhone particularly, but would work/be helpful on main as well…a back to top/refresh button at the bottom of the page. On iPhone it is REALLY a pain to scroll all the way back up to the top just to refresh.”
  • Andrew Burd: “I would love a “top of the page” button on the bottom of the iPhone interface. I wear out my scrolling finger trying to navigate between the rooms and my friends area”
  • Mike Reynolds: “New FF on iPhone: “Best” page needs a “go to top” link at bottom of the page. Otherwise, I have to scroll all the way to the top.”

However, it turns out there is a way to handle this. You simply tap the top of the Safari browser on the iPhone, and it automatically returns you to the top. Works just fine.

This nit is an iPhone buyer education issue. But if iPhone buyers regularly fail to know about this option, FriendFeed is one of the sites that would benefit from having a return to top link at the bottom of the page.

*****

So those are three things that occurred to me during my week of iPhone-only access. Still, the iPhone interface was great for FriendFeeding, and AT&T’s 3G coverage was just fine around Honolulu.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22My+Three+Nits+with+FriendFeed%E2%80%99s+iPhone+Interface%22&public=1

Who Is Your Information Filter?

This comment by Michael C. Harris on FriendFeed the other day caught my eye:

Heaps of fantastic shares from unknowns get almost completely ignored and yet Scoble shares “Scoble” and gets 50 comments

Michael is hitting on something very important. In FriendFeed, not all shared items are created equal. I’ve noticed some people are really good at getting people to click through on a shared item and start a conversation.

I think of these people as the new Information Filters. They have a knack for getting their subscribers to check out stuff they find interesting. More so than your average social media user.

Over time, a logical outcome would be this: as the Information Filters share information with their subscribers, click-throughs and comments occur on that content. Which attracts new people into the discussion. Who then subscribe to the Information Filter. Which increases the click-throughs and comments. Repeat…

Good Information Filters can find themselves with a lot of power to direct traffic, and subtly influence what others take in when it comes to information. This isn’t without precedent. Television and the web are prior examples of this.

Migration of News Consumption Habits

Both television and the web have seen changes in the way people get their news. In both TV and the web, the changes are based on the strength of someone’s personality and judgment as to what the audience wants:

In 2004, CNN reported a Pew Research Center survey of news viewing habits. The survey found that 21% of people aged 18 – 29 got their news on the presidential election from Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live. A follow-up report “Where Americans Go for News” by Pew also noted:

During these late night hours, many young people are tuning into comedy shows such as David Letterman and Jay Leno. Those under age 30 are among the most likely to watch these types of shows 17% watch Leno or Letterman regularly, compared with 8% of 30-49 year-olds and 12% of those age 50 and older.

What do Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Jay Leno offer that the traditional news broadcasts don’t? Humor, obviously. They also get to pick the most interesting news items for their shows. NBC News anchor Brian Williams noted the obligation of professional news organizations to offer news that likely doesn’t interest most audiences:

Some people call it ‘eat your peas’ journalism because it has to include everything that’s good for you to know to be a good citizen of the world. We put it out there.

In this comment, you see the larger societal obligation felt by the mainstream news media. They cover everything, even the stuff you don’t care for. There’s a tension between ensuring people get a full range of information about our multi-faceted world, and what people are willing to pay attention to.

The web has undergone a similar change in reading habits. Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report has eclipsed traditional news outlets in terms of influence. From The Telegraph’s article Matt Drudge: world’s most powerful journalist:

So much internet traffic can be directed to an item linked to by Drudge that unprepared websites have been known to collapse under the strain.

For politicians, the effect is akin to a needle injecting information into the media bloodstream. A positive story can give a shot of adrenaline to a flagging campaign. More commonly, negative information can be like a dose of poison being administered.

Drudge rose to prominence when he famously put the Monica Lewinsky story in play. Since then, his traffic has grown enormously. It’s not just about that one scoop. Drudge has a good sense about what is newsworthy. From the Washington Post blog The Fix:

The second major reason for Drudge’s influence, according to the Fix’s informal poll of Drudge-ologists is his ability to sniff out a potentially big story when others — including reporters — miss it at first glance.

“He can identify what’s a big deal even when the reporters who actually cover and report on an event don’t realize what they have,” said one GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He scoops reporters’ scoops.”

What do Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Matt Drudge have in common?

  • They don’t actually find and report news (for the most part)
  • They only present what they find interesting
  • They have shrewd judgment as to what audiences will like
  • Their personalities are part of their effectiveness as news filters – people trust them

Each of these guys have emerged as a key Information Filter.  New social media platforms, such as FriendFeed, are starting to see the emergence of their own Information Filters.

You Are Who You Follow

This is something Robert Scoble emphasizes: you define yourself by who you follow. Early FriendFeed employee Kevin Fox described the general role of your friends on FriendFeed:

The nature of FriendFeed is that you start to think that the world is like you, because your friends shape your FF world. I think the FF world is full of Obama supporters, and other people thing it’s full of Twitterers. Pick your friends wisely because they define your FF.

In an equal world, information shared by any of your friends will merit click-throughs and discussion. But the practical reality is that some people will be more “equal” than others in terms of driving the discussion agenda. There are two highly correlated components to that:

  • Number of subscribers
  • Reputation for identifying what is interesting

The sheer number of subscribers make some people Information Filters. The big power users on Twitter: Leo Laporte, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, etc. These guys really drive discussions around ideas, opinions and news. If you subscribe, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the discussions they can kick off.

The reputation for finding interesting stuff is a little harder. Like Matt Drudge and Jon Stewart, you need to have a sense for what people want to know and find interesting. Some people are naturals at this, but I think anyone can learn how to identify interesting stuff.

Louis Gray is a really good Information Filter. Out of curiosity, I took at look at the last 30 Google Reader shares he put into FriendFeed. And I compared them to my last 30. I wanted to analyze the interaction around them: Likes, comments.

The chart to the right graphs the total Likes and comments for the 30 Google Reader shares of each of us. Louis is clearly good at putting things out there and having people discuss them. You’ll see the Likes and comments on his shares are double mine.

I consider Louis to be one of my Information Filters. He’s great at identifying the good stuff. And he takes this role seriously. He wrote a post Roll Your Own Blog Leaderboard with Google Reader Trends, in which he identifies the blogs he’s sharing most often.

The Effects of Our Information Filters

NBC News’ Brian Williams had this to say in response to the increasing application of personal filters to news:

Do you have a problem with people personalizing the news vs. you saying ‘these are the top stories’? Is there a danger in that if you give people too much personalization?

Williams: That’s for others to decide. I will say that if you’re using a filter, if you wake up in the morning and you have loaded up your computer, in other words to say, ‘Foreign news totally bums me out, this Iraq thing, it just ruins my day. Keep it away from me.’ Is that what [James] Madison had in mind, do you think? Is that what [John] Adams and [Ben] Franklin and [Thomas] Jefferson had in mind? Did they expect a little more informed electorate, to quote Mr. Jefferson? Did they expect a little more from us as citizens? I can’t judge people.

Democracy, on the other hand, looking at the argument, it’s their right [to filter]. I’m a lover of news and information, I’m a lover of American history, it’s my hobby. So if I had my druthers… Some people call it ‘eat your peas’ journalism because it has to include everything that’s good for you to know to be a good citizen of the world. We put it out there.

I can’t start programming the ‘NBC Nightly News’ with just the news that doesn’t bum people out. Just the news they want to see and hear. But I can’t stop someone from using filters, from using pay-as-you-go technology to get what they want. I will probably have my own opinion in a couple years about what we’ve become as a society as a result of if we stop getting the news that’s at all negative.

There’s a similar concern about over-reliance on our Information Filters in social media. That it becomes too easy to rely on what they find, and put in front of us. Robert Scoble asked a question that touched on this recently:

Hmm, how come you all like commenting on Google Reader Shared Items here in FriendFeed but you all do so little Google Reader reading yourselves?

Check it out for a good discussion around the merits of using FriendFeed exclusively for reading new blog posts.

Choose Your Information Filters Carefully

Brian Williams alluded to the “eat your peas” element of being an informed citizen. That is, take in information even when it doesn’t interest you. But that’s really fighting against human nature. We’re time-constrained, and social media has made it easier than ever to perpetuate our natural tendency to rely on the advice of friends for what is interesting.

So really, the best thing to do is to choose your Information Filters wisely.

What do you think? How do you select your Information Filters?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Who+Is+Your+Information+Filter%3F%22&public=1

The New Facebook Newsfeed: Slow. Over-engineered. I Like It.

Facebook recently rolled out several changes related to activity streams and commenting. As TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington noted, these changes represent the “Friendfeedization” of Facebook. The changes include the ability to import activities from other services (e.g. Twitter, blogs, Last.fm, etc.).

Before looking at these changes, let’s take a moment to understand Facebook’s market position. Recent numbers indicate that Facebook continues its tremendous growth. Mashable’s Adam Ostrow reported that Facebook had a terrific June in the United States:

According to Nielsen Online, Facebook swelled to 29.2M unique visitors in the US, up more than 10 percent from May.

It’s clear the site continues to do well with larger numbers of mainstream users. But among the tech cognoscenti, there is a different view of Facebook. Dave Winer wrote this on FriendFeed:

Am I the only one who doesn’t give a flying fcuk about Facebook?

There were a number of concurring comments. And that’s fair. I really haven’t been on Facebook much in the last several months.

But Facebook is definitely working to improve the experience on its site. Now one might argue that with mainstream users’ growth, what do they need to do? From my perspective, they need to make the site more interactive.

So we have the new changes. Let’s look at them.

Services Import = More You, More Activity

Definitely a component of the FriendFeedization. Having been on FriendFeed for several months, I’ve gained a healthy appreciation for others’ content: Flickr photos, Last.fm music, blogs, tweets, direct posts of cool and funny stuff. It really is like people are TV channels on FriendFeed.

Bringing these into Facebook is a great complement to the usual apps and group joining that seems to dominate the newsfeed. It will be nice to see more of the things my friends like.

Hopefully it will help the level of activity on the site. Compared to FriendFeed’s Mississippi River of content, Facebook is a quiet brook.

Newsfeed Rules Make the Activity Stream Pretty Quiet

Facebook has rules that govern what content makes it into the newsfeed of members. This is a difference to the wide open flow of Friendfeed. In FriendFeed, users control the noise. In Facebook, the site controls the noise. And according to TechCrunch, those noise control rules will be updated. It will be harder for many apps’ activity to make it into the newsfeed.

Great for managing those annoying app updates. But not so good for fostering increased interaction around users’ activities, as only a fraction of them will get through. A half-commitment to lifestreaming.

Maybe it’s just me, but my newsfeed is dominated by Facebook photos. Keep those in there, but I’d like to see a greater variety of entries show up.

Commenting = Great Addition, Wish It Was More “In the Flow”

This is the most direct FriendFeedization feature: commenting on the activities of friends. I really love this feature. Previously, it was see something in the newsfeed, then go post a message to the person. Nice that it’s all bundled together now. Conversation around activities.

I already received some benefit from the feature. I now know of a website that will tell me where iPhones are available. How’d that happen? I commented on an item on my Facebook newsfeed:

My friend Amy isn’t on FriendFeed. But her status update, my question, and her response, are exactly the kinds of interactions that regularly occur on FriendFeed.

One observation about the commenting. After someone responds to a comment on their entry, the ‘comment’ button disappears. No chance to follow-up commenting in the main newsfeed. You can see this in the graphic above. There’s no ‘comment’ button to click.

You can go to the user’s profile page and post a follow-up comment. So it is possible to continue the conversation, but Facebook takes it out of the newsfeed flow.

One other point versus FriendFeed. In Facebook, you get notifications of comments on an item. This contrasts with FriendFeed’s “bounce to the top” approach of seeing new comments. Notifications are just fine for me.

Facebook Is Still a Little Strange to this FriendFeed Addict

FriendFeed is very good with presenting content and letting users make quick interactions around it. Facebook isn’t quite that. Consider this exchange. My sister had an update in the Facebook newsfeed from one of her apps. Here’s how that conversation went:

My sister’s update: Helen has updated the Cities I’ve Visited map, by TripAdvisor.

Me: Which city?

My sister: Which city, what? ;-)

So I’d have to add the TripAdvisor app to my profile, then navigate over to my sister’s profile, and figure out what my sister updated. Painful.

Facebook Is Slow and Heavy

Facebook is very slow. Every page takes forever to load. Facebook’s slowness is a restrictor plate on interactions there.

Robert Scoble talked with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about this, and posted this comment on FriendFeed:

Mark Zuckerberg and I talked about FriendFeed today. He says he likes the search engine here. Explained that Facebook’s scale is slowing them down. Says that 90 million users make things go slow.

In that FriendFeed thread, Duncan Riley points out that Google Search is lightning fast with billions of users. But to be fair, Google Search doesn’t need to access everyone’s individual rules, settings and apps loaded specifically to everyone’s page. Doesn’t make the slowness any better though.

Facebook Status Updates Are the Best Comment Fodder

The status updates are great because they provide a natural basis for conversation. The things people do are those things which they’re most likely going to talk about. As the experience with my sister’s TripAdvisor app shows, commenting on actvities with apps is a little more painful.

One of my friends did include a blog post about Pandora and the iPhone in her newsfeed. I clicked on that, read the post, and came back to the newsfeed to make a comment. Felt very FriendFeed-ish.

I ‘Like’ the New Facebook Newsfeed

All that being said, I do like the new newsfeed.I have a whole circle ofd friends who do not hang out on FriendFeed. And the stuff that makes up their streams is different from those I follow on FriendFeed.

It’s a slower pace over on Facebook, but that’s OK for what it is. I use FriendFeed to learn information and points of view. I use Facebook to keep track of all those other little life details.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22The+New+Facebook+Newsfeed%3A+Slow.+Over-engineered.+I+Like+It.%22&public=1

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