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.

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

Nick Carr: Google Making Us Stupid? How About Smarter?

The media or other technologies we use in learning the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains.

Nick Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, The Atlantic, July/August 2008

Nick Carr has a really interesting piece in the current issue of The Atlantic (CNET coverage here). The premise of the article is that use of the web is possibly rewiring our modes of thinking. We’ve become much more adept at the light skimming of content than the deeper understanding of long thought pieces. If that’s the case, what does that mean mean for intellectual progress in the future?

The article is full of historical references (e.g. how Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing changed when he went to the typewriter) and scientific studies (e.g. the plasticity of the human brain enables us to adapt to new learning modes).

One area that Nick doesn’t talk about much is apophenia, which Maki on FriendFeed first alerted me to. According to Wikipedia:

Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”.

Robert Scoble employs apophenia as part of his profession. In one of his posts, he says: “I like the noise. Why? Because I can see patterns before anyone else.”

In this way, the larger consumption of data in lightweight chunks can be thought to bring a new kind of intelligence to people. Your subconscious is collecting a series of signals along the way. At some point, all of this information lurking just below your accessible thought pops up, and you’re suddenly aware of an emerging dynamic.

I really like this idea. And it fits with how we pick up information ourselves in the physical world. You don’t stop and ask people what they’re talking about on the street. But you may pick something up as you listen in to their conversations. You may not read the planning commission report, but you see how development is progressing in your town based on the construction you see.

I’ll contrast apophenia with traditional learning, in which a person can go deep with the thinking of a few selected masters in a field. But I draw this contrast not to dismiss traditional learning. Not at all. Understanding things based on a deeper reading of learned intellectuals and practitioners is a vital part of learning.

I hope Nick is wrong about losing our ability to sit through a longer piece. I haven’t lost that – I read his article twice this weekend.

If we can add a new mode of learning via apophenia to our traditional forms of undersatnding concepts, we’re all going to be smarter in the long run.

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See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Nick+Carr%3A+Google+Making+Us+Stupid%3F+How+About+Smarter%3F%22&public=1

Three Big Questions Facing FriendFeed

I write about FriendFeed. A lot. Someone told me they wondered if I was employed there. Nope, just really enjoying the service.

Then I see a couple of bigger names in the online world, Robert Seidman and Steve Rubel, expressing their view that FriendFeed feels like it’s going to be the next big thing.

And I realize I’m not the only one with great enthusiasm. It’s growing.

As FriendFeed continues to acquire new users, innovate and roll out new features, it’s inevitable that some big decisions will need to be made. I want to discuss three of them here. Shall we?

1. How Will FriendFeed Balance Signal, Discovery and Noise?

This question really hits on two fundamental elements of the social media experience:

  • Distribution of information
  • Consumption of information

Managing information is a BIG deal. It’s hard to get the balance right – when do users really need a piece of info, when are they in the mood for a bit of discovery and at what point do they tune out because of information overload?

Google’s success was in recognizing the need for better information access, a process they continue to refine and improve. The thing with Google is that you search when you have a defined need. User intent is known. It’s what makes Google’s advertising so successful.

FriendFeed has a bigger challenge. Intentions vary by person. By hour. There’s time the river of content needs to deliver a hard dose of signal. Other times, you need a break from some work you’re doing, and you want a bit of discovery. But above all, please recognize what I consider to be noise!

So FriendFeed has to figure out the user intention, a burden that Google doesn’t have.

They’re off to a great start with these:

  • You choose the people to whom you subscribe, providing the first cut on topics you’ll see
  • Excellent Hide function
  • Rooms to isolate discussions around topics
  • Ability to view top content by likes, comments and other signals

This will be an ongoing war for FriendFeed, particularly as the service grows beyond its information junkie user base.

2. How Much of a Social Network Does FriendFeed Want to Be?

FriendFeed states their mission as follows:

FriendFeed enables you to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that your friends and family are sharing. It offers a unique way to discover and discuss information among friends.

A simple goal. And yet, early users of FriendFeed are finding the social network aspects of FriendFeed to be compelling. I personally have established a completely different network of people on FriendFeed from what I have on Facebook or LinkedIn. I didn’t just port over my friends from those services, I established new connections.

When I was training for my first marathon back in 2003, I regularly participated over on Runner’s World message board. A group of us were running the California International Marathon in Sacramento, and an online bond formed. We conversed on the message board, and decided to meet up in Sacramento. How’d we do it? One guy posted his disguised email address, and we all emailed him. We then did the email thing to coordinate.

FriendFeed is above that level of social networking right now, but not by a whole lot.

FriendFeed has the potential to be a very powerful social network, one rivaling Facebook and LinkedIn. Why? Facebook is your network from school. LinkedIn is your network from work. FriendFeed is your network based on stuff that interests you. That’s what makes it so powerful.

Remember the interest in felix’s FriendFeed Likes Compatibility Calculator? People were really curious about who they match up with based on shared interests.

A few things come to mind as “best of” elements of social networks:

  • Direct messaging (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter all provide this)
  • Profile page – express yourself, complements your content, Likes and Comments
  • Status – for those times when you’re just not around or you need to get personal

Want to take it further? I can see FriendFeed becoming a more robust professional network than LinkedIn. You like all those comments and content? Maybe you’d look at that person as a potential hire. How about calendaring? Coordinate events, and it’d be a real nice complement to the Rooms.

How far does FriendFeed want to go in social networking?

3. How Will FriendFeed Make Money?

Ah, the money question. It’s inevitable and ultimately must be addressed to justify the venture capital.

I can see two possibilities for making money at this very early stage in the company’s history:

  • Advertising (duh…)
  • Business uses

Social media advertising has potential, but is not without its issues.

FriendFeed has a a few things to address and going for it when it comes to advertising. Users’ affection for the Refresh function means a lot of page views, but how much time will they spend on the ads. There’s a field of white space off the right, so real estate for ads won’t be a problem.

But FriendFeed does have two good weapons in its arsenal when it comes to advertising:

  1. A search function with a ton of potential (and search is the killer advertising feature)
  2. A mountain of data about what users’ interests are

As for business uses, my first thought when I saw the Rooms feature was that it could be a great thing for companies to use. Employees can trade thoughts on ideas and projects via Rooms. In fact, that’s how the FriendFeed guys use Rooms:

It started when we wanted a better way to share feature ideas and product plans with each other here at FriendFeed

I can also see media companies adding Rooms functionality to their sites. A much richer way to let readers discuss content than the current commenting systems.

Final Thoughts

I’ve written plenty about FriendFeed, and I’ll probably write more in the future. Partly because it’s such a compelling site for me. As a full participant, I can see a lot of stuff going on. And it doesn’t hurt that the site is getting hot in the blogosphere.

But there’s something deeper here as well. In FriendFeed, you can see some of the bigger issues that all social media have to deal with. For instance, I’d written a series of posts about the noise issue on FriendFeed. My most recent post stepped away from being FriendFeed-specific, and took a look at the broader issue of signal vs discovery in social media. Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb took it a step further with a great post Why Online “Noise” Is Good for You, pulling in scientific studies on the value of noise and discovery.

FriendFeed is tackling some meaty issues, as described above. Since they’ve got traction, a talented team, an innovative spirit and an attentive audience, their efforts to address the big questions will be a terrific study of the larger social media realm.

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See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22three+big+questions+facing+friendfeed%22&public=1

Weekly Recap 060608: Ferris Bueller Was Right

The week that was…

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“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris Beuller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Consider that line in the context of the recurring demand for more signal

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FriendFeed rolled out a new feature to let you see the content that has risen above the noise…Personalized recommendations let you see the stuff that has the most likes and comments, but only for content provided by your network…actually, upon closer inspection, there’s one other component to the ranking…from the blog post: “based on your friends’ comments and ‘likes’ and other signals”…other signals?…hmmm…wonder what those are…

It’s a very cool feature, with some real potential…early benefit seems to be finding the good stuff missed during extended time away from FriendFeed (like more than 2 hours)…it also gives you a personal meme as well…

Robert Seidman has a good post describing potential pitfalls…

What winds up happening is that people are finding “best of” items so easily that they naturally are and adding more “likes” and comments to them which causes them to jump to the top of my regular FriendFeed stream (even outside of “show best of”). I don’t love this.

I noticed this too…older posts with lots of likes/comments suddenly were showing up in my stream again…because people using the “best of” feature were liking and commenting…let’s see how the dust settles once people get used to it…

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Robert Scoble, on the value of noise

If you don’t have noise, how can you tell what is signal?

Stop and think about that for a little while…

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I’ve been harping on the noise and filter issue for a while…I was really stoked to see ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick pick up the issue with a beautiful blog post Why Online “Noise” is Good For You…a few good points Marshall brings up…

  • Scanning quickly over large quantities of roughly relevant information can turn up invaluable resources, opportunities, context and contacts.
  • The ability to recall passively collected information that was gathered purposelessly in the past and put it to use in the future is a particularly powerful form of intelligence.
  • Some people worry that being exposed to too much information will lead to not remembering very much of it. Scientists say that’s not necessarily the case, though.

There’s a lot more there, you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t read it…

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Plurkkarma“…gonna wait on this one…

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Had a chance to visit the FriendFeed office this week during their open house…if you’ve seen Robert Scoble’s Qik video, you’ve got a good sense of their office space…big, spacious, plenty of room to grow…they actually share the space with another company…

Paul, Bret, Kevin, Casey, Ross, Dan, Ana (bios here) were all just as nice as can be…I’ve actually never gone to one of these start-up open houses before, is this some sort of Valley tradition?…one thing I got from talking with Paul was his interest in the distribution and consumption of information, which is what FriendFeed is all about…

Got to meet a few folks I’ve seen online…Ginger Makela, Adam Lasnik, Adam KazwellLouis Gray was there, and he had this awesome shirt that has his blog graphic on it…it actually made it easier to identify him if you’ve never met him before…as Chris Brogan’s been writing, you need to establish your online brand (even in offline meetings)…

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See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Weekly+Recap+060608+Ferris+Bueller+Was+Right%22&public=1

Social Media Consumption: You Want Signal or Discovery?

In yesterday’s post A Definition of Noise, I talked about two types of social media consumers. Those who have a strong desire to receive only signal (signalists) and those who are looking for stuff outside their own interests (discoverers).

I thought it would be interesting to explore this a little further. Shall we break it down a little more?

Where are you on this table?

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See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22social+media+consumption+you+want+signal+or+discovery%22&public=1

Filtering FriendFeed – How Crowdsourcing Can Solve This

It would be nice to have filters on FriendFeed. For instance, it would be nice to be able to hide any post containing the word “Obama” without having to hide someone’s other stuff. Or the ability to hide any entry containing the word “ubuntu”, etc.

Thomas Hawk, FriendFeed direct post, May 1, 2008

The need for filters on FriendFeed is a recurring topic. Click here to see the numerous entries that contain the words ‘friendfeed’ and ‘filters’. Louis Gray notes the need for this in a recent post.

I want present an idea for filters that has two pieces:

  • Category filters
  • Keyword filters

The two pieces are interrelated, and crowdsourcing will be used to build out the category filters.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Category Filters

FriendFeed already has a “Feed Preferences” page for each member. Here is where you can manage your category and keyword filters. The graphic below is mockup of this:

A. Category Filters

Various categories will be displayed, along with a link to the full list of categories. In the example, above, I say that I’d like to filter out all FriendFeed entries that relate to politics.

The value of category filtering is that it prevents you from having to manage every keyword that might relate to a category. In a recent post, I noted Dave Winer’s 38 different politics-related terms. For instance, he used the terms: Hillary, HRC, Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Rove, etc. Having the ability to automatically filter those out without having to set up keyword hides over and over would be a great benefit to many members. Particularly as FriendFeed gains traction with a flood of new members.

Now how would FriendFeed know that Hillary, Obama, HRC, etc. are part of the politics category? Keep reading.

B. Keyword Filters

Members will need the ability to see what words they have hidden. They can un-hide keywords, or add new keywords to hide directly on the Feed Preferences UI.

Keyword-Based Hides

FriendFeed currently supports hiding specific entries, plus entries from specific members and services. For instance, you can hide all Twitter updates. What is lacking is the ability to filter out entries with specific terms in them.

For instance, shown below are three tweets from Dave Winer regarding politics:

What I’d like to do is apply the Hide function to anything with ‘Harold Ickes’ or ‘Henry Waxman’. This is a mock up of that screen below:

A. Full Text of Entry Displays

The full text of the entry appears. Each word of the entry includes a link. The links are easy ways for members to populate the ‘hide terms’ input box.

B. Hide Terms Input Box

Commas separate each term.

C. Categorize the Terms to Be Hidden

As the member hides the terms, they will be asked to apply a category. The most popular categories previously applied to the keywords will be displayed. Or the member can type a category into the input box, and FriendFeed will auto-suggest different categories with each character entered.

Why do this? This is the basis of the crowdsourced solution.

Let the People Decide

People will have a much better handle on the categories that apply to a keyword than will a heavy-duty algorithm. Such human filtering is the basis of tagging.

Two elements are relevant here:

  • The need to prevent bad categories being assigned to keywords
  • The motivation to do this categorizing

Use Bayesian Stats to Prevent Bad Categories

Here’s the issue you want to avoid. Some prankster assigns the football category to the term “Paris Hilton” while hiding all entries containing her name. Suddenly, members who are filtering out football entries stop seeing their Paris Hilton updates (yes I know, horrors…).

Enter Bayesian statistics. Carl Bialik, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, has a great column on the use of Bayesian stats for online ratings. The gist of this approach is that all items in a rating system are born with identical ratings. Their ratings only change as people vote, and it takes a sufficient number of votes to really move the rating of an item. Here’s an example of this from the WSJ column:

For instance, as noted in the column, IMDB.com doesn’t use straight averages to list the top 250 movies of all time, as voted on by its users. Instead, each movie starts out with 1,300 votes and a ranking of 6.7, which is the site’s average. That helps smooth the effects of a few intense votes; it takes a lot of votes to budge the IMDB meter up or down from 6.7

That same approach would be applied inside FriendFeed. It would take a large number of people putting a keyword into the same category before the keyword actually became “part” of that category.

Once a keyword graduates to a category, any users filtering that category won’t see entries with those keywords.

Motivation

Why would anyone bother to categorize the keywords they hide? One answer – not everyone will. But there are two drivers of members doing some keyword categorization.

First, members need to recognize that they are contributing to a system from which they are likely benefiting. If you filter any category, you will be benefiting from the work of others’ who have categorized keywords.

Second, the categorization experience has to be simple and fast. You’ve got the member right there, motivated to hide a term. Make it easy for them to channel that motivation into a simple categorization. The most popular previous categories are displayed, making it easy check them. And the auto-suggest feature can be done fairly quickly. I like how Faviki is doing it:

Faviki draws from thousands of different Wikipedia entries for this list.

Final Thoughts

One thing to consider here is that every entry coming into FriendFeed would need to be filtered for keywords. Serious processing power will be required. Fortunately, the FriendFeed guys have firsthand experience with high volumes of real-time queries for keywords at Google.

With regard to this proposal, I haven’t (yet) seen anything on the market that will provide the category tags that would help filter FriendFeed. Since it’s the members who are most in tune with what they want to filter, their common sense and motivation should be leveraged.

As FriendFeed grows, imagine new members easily managing the flow of information by simply filtering the politics category rather than having to set up an extensive list of new keywords. It would make the experience that much better for everyone.

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See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Filtering+FriendFeed+-+How+Crowdsourcing+Can+Solve+This%22&public=1

Weekly Recap 052308: If You Love Your Blog, Set It Free

The week that was…

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Things kicked off with a pair of posts about the next stage of blogging. Yes, fractured comments and all…Duncan Riley wrote Blogging 2.0: It’s All About The User. He writes: If blogging 1.0 was about enabling the conversation on each blog, blogging 2.0 is about enabling the conversation across many blogs and supporting sites and services…Louis Gray followed up with Blogging 2.0 Causing Friction With 1.0 Bloggers…Louis nicely defines the old blogging paradigm: Blogging 1.0 centered around who could: (i)Amass the most page views; (ii) Display the most ads; (iii) Get the most comments; and (iv) Attract the most RSS subscribers

As a relatively novice blogger, I pretty easily fall into the Blogging 2.0 camp…why on earth would I want to keep the conversations limited to my little blog?…that’d be a recipe for having a stale blog…

But Blogging 1.0 is still a strong instinct out there…one example: see Allen Stern’s post on CenterNetworks, Let’s Get Serious About FriendFeed; the 1995 Message Board, the Smart Consolidator and the Stolen Conversation…read not just the post, but check out some of the comments…Blogging 1.0 will die hard…

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Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!…bad week for Twitter, everyone’s favorite social chat room: outages, outages, outages…this seems to be getting progressively worse, as Twitter’s success is killing it…

To show disapproval for Twitter’s handling of these outages, several folks staged a Twit-Out on Wednesday May 21…a number of regular Twitterers went the whole day without going over to Twitter…they also hid tweets from their FriendFeed streams…even the biggest Twitterer of all, Robert Scoble, joined in…

It wasn’t met with universal love, but they made their point…oh, and Twitter did go down that day…

But one bright spot: Twitter apparently scored a new $15 million round of VC funding…

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One outcome of the twitter issues this week…some bigger names in the social media world started to embrace it much more…Jeremiah Owyang, who previously marked the date when new Twitter subscribers could not be considered as early adopters, got into it again with FriendFeed…first he posted on FriendFeed that he now had a new place (FriendFeed) to look for conversations, which elicited a bunch of hearty “welcome aboard” type of messages…

Well that got Jeremiah fired up, and went into throw-down mode: Dudes, I’ve been on FriendFeed for a while, not a late adopter…he challenged Robert Scoble to list his date of FriendFeed registration…geek cred…

Of course, if you looked at his activity stats at that time, he had no comments, no likes…but he’s much more engaged now, which is cool…he even wrote a post about FriendFeed…

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One thing I’ve noticed in some favorited Flickr photos…models wearing little to nothing…not that I’m complaining, I love art…Thomas Hawk has some strong opinions about making this even easier here

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FriendFeed now has Rooms!…Rooms are separate spaces on FriendFeed where people can direct post items, and re-share items into a Room…they accomplish two things: (i) allow a focus around specific topics to follow; (ii) remove some of the items that were considered noise by many users…

Bwana McCall (second reference in this post, nice!) has a good initial set of use cases for rooms here…my favorite is the use of Rooms for live blogging like from one of those Apple events…

One bit of hilarity was the land grab that occurred for Room topics…Michael Nielsen asked Any plans to prevent squatting? I can see people snapping up thousands of “rooms” on the off chance that one day they’ll be worth something…um, well, uh…I managed to score Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Running, Obama 2008 and Coca Cola among others…no idea what I’ll do with them, but anyone’s free to join…I wonder if the Obama campaign will want their Room?

Something that Rooms will foster: an increase in FriendFeed direct posts…regular feeds from your social media sites won’t stream automatically into Rooms…

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See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22weekly+recap+052308%22&public=1

Yes, FriendFeed Will Be Mainstream (by 2018) and Here’s Why

We recently went through a Twitter meme about whether it was mainstream yet. There is no debate as to whether FriendFeed is mainstream today – it’s not. The question really is, will FriendFeed ever see mainstream adoption? Robert Scoble played both sides of the coin (here, here).

FriendFeed will go mainstream. My definition of mainstream: 33% of Internet users are on it. It’s just going to take time, and it’ll look different from the way it does now.

Four points to cover in this mainstreaming question:

  1. What will FriendFeed replace?
  2. What is a reasonable timeline?
  3. What content will drive the activity on FriendFeed?
  4. What topics will drive engagement?

What Will FriendFeed Replace?

Harvard professor John Gourville has a great framework for analyzing whether a new technology will succeed. His “9x problem” says a new technology has to be nine times better than what it replaces. This is because of two reasons:

  • We overvalue what we already have by three times
  • We undervalue the benefits of a new technology by three times

What does this mean in everyday terms? There’s comfort in the status quo, and fear of the unknown.

There’s the argument that FriendFeed is a complement, not a replacement to existing services. There’s some truth there, but the bottom line is that we only have 24 hours in day. Where will end up spending our time?

Here’s what FriendFeed will replace:

  • Time spent on the individual social media that stream into FriendFeed (blogs, Flickr, etc.)
  • Visits to static, top-down media properties (e.g. CNN, ESPN, Drudge Report, etc.)
  • Visits to other user-driven aggregator sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo! Buzz)
  • Usage of Google search (search human-filtered content on FriendFeed)

In terms of the “9x problem”, the nice thing is that people do not have to replace what they already do. Visit CNN? You can keep doing that. Like to see what’s on Digg? You can keep doing that.

Searching on FriendFeed will advance. You can do a search on a keyword or a semantically-derived tag, and specify the number of shares, likes or comments.

FriendFeed doesn’t require you to leave your favorite service. It’s the FriendFeed experience that will slowly steal more of your time. That mitigates the issue of people overvaluing what they already have. They won’t lose it, they’ll just spend less time on it. Thomas Hawk continues to be an active participant on Flickr, but more of his time is migrating to FriendFeed. As he says:

One of the best things about FriendFeed is that it gives you much of what you get from your favorite sites on the internet but in better ways.

I think FriendFeed will have the 9x problem beat, but it will take time.

What Is a Reasonable Timeline for FriendFeed to Go Mainstream?

The chart below, courtesy of Visualizing Economics, shows how long several popular technologies took to be adopted in the U.S.

Using my mainstream definition of 33% household penetration, here’s roughly when several technologies went mainstream:

  • Color TV = 11 years
  • Computer = 15 years
  • Internet = 8 years

In addition, here are some rough estimates of current levels of adoption for other technologies. Estimates are based on the number of U.S. Internet users, the recent Universal McCann survey of social media usage (warning, PDF opens with this link) and search engine rankings.

  • Google search = 68% of searches after 10 years
  • RSS = 19% of active Internet users after 4.5 years of RSS readers
  • Facebook = 9% of Internet users after 4.5 years (20mm U.S. members / 211mm U.S. Internet users)
  • Twitter = 0.6% of Internet users after 2.2 years (1.3mm members / 211mm U.S. Internet users)

Yes, the date of FriendFeed mainstream adoption is pure speculation. But looking at the adoption rates of several other technologies, ten years from now is within reason (i.e. 2018). The RSS adoption is a decent benchmark.

What Content Will Drive FriendFeed Activity?

Alexander van Elsas had a recent post where he listed the percentage for different content sources inside FriendFeed. The results were compiled by Benjamin Golub.

Not surprisingly, Twitter dominates the content sources. Original blog posts are a distant #2 content source, and Google Reader shares are #3. That speaks volumes into the world of early technology adopters.

When FriendFeed becomes mainstream, the sources of content will change pretty dramatically as shown in this table:

The biggest change is in the FriendFeed Direct Post. Relative to blogging or Twittering, putting someone else’s content into the FriendFeed stream is the easiest thing for people to do. FriendFeed Direct Posts are similar to Diggs or Stumbles. Since all the content we create, submit, like or comment is part of our personal TV broadcast on FriendFeed, Direct Posts can be just as much fun for users as newly created content by someone you know.

Direct Posts will draw from both traditional media sites as well as from other people’s blogs. Expect media sites and blogs to have a “Post to FriendFeed” link on every article.

Twitter drops as a percentage of content here. Why? FriendFeed’s commenting system replaces a lot of what people like about Twitter. Blogs drop a bit as well. More people will blog in 2018, but many of those will be sporadic bloggers. Still, 10% of the content consisting of original author submissions is pretty good.

Google Reader shares hold as a percentage as more people recognize the value of RSS versus regular-old bookmarks inside their browsers. ‘Other’ goes up, because who knows what cool other stuff will be introduced over the next ten years.

What Topics Will Drive Engagement?

Human nature won’t change. The same stuff that animates people today will continue to do so in the future. Politics, sex, technology and sports will be leaders in terms of what the content will be. There will be plenty of other topics as well. I can see the Iowa Chicks Knitting Club sharing and commenting on new patterns via FriendFeed.

One issue that will arise is that people will have multiple interests. They’ll essentially have various types of programming on their FriendFeed “TV channels”. For a good example of that today, see Dave Winer’s FriendFeed stream. Dave has two passions: technology and politics. I like the technology stuff, but I tend to ignore the political streams.

Well, this will become a bigger issue as FriendFeed expands. I personally like the noise of the people I follow, but my subscriptions seem to generally stick with recurring topics. But as more mainstream users come on board, the divergence of topics for any single person will likely increase.

FriendFeed will employ semantic web technologies to identify the topic of submitted items. These semantically-derived tags will be used to categorize content. Users can then subscribe only to content matching specific categories. How might this work?

A Dave Winer post with “Obama” in it is categorized as Politics. I could choose to hide all Dave Winer updates that are categorized in Politics.

Final Thoughts

The constant flow of new content, the rich comments and easy ‘Likes’, and the social aspect of FriendFeed will drive its mainstream adoption. It’s a terrific platform for self-expression and for engaging others who share your interests. It’s also got real potential to be a dominant platform for research. In the future, look for stories in magazines and newspapers asking, “Are we losing productivity because of FriendFeed?”

So what do you think? Will FriendFeed ever be mainstream? In ten years?

*****

See this item on FriendFeed : http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone+%22yes.+friendfeed+will+be+mainstream+%28by+2018%29%22

On FriendFeed, We’re All TV Channels

Husband: Hey honey, what’s on TV tonight?

Wife: Just seeing what’s new on Do you KNOW Clarence?

Husband: Cool. Any tech updates on Scobleizer?

Wife: Always! But I just want to chill tonight. Let’s see what’s up with Hawaii over at Roxanne.

Husband:Nice. Let me get a quick NBA update over on Odenized.

Wife: Give me that remote. No sports tonight!

Husband:I know what we need. Glasses of wine and some Thomas Hawk photos.

Wife: That’s it! Perfect!

When you watch TV, you have channels and shows that fit your interests. When you surf the Web, you have sites that you enjoy. All are forms of media, of programming, of content. That pretty well describes FriendFeed.

We’re all TV channels on FriendFeed.

You choose to follow people on FriendFeed because they stream content, comments and likes that fit your interests. Isn’t this like TV? ESPN gives you sports. Comedy Central gives you humor. MSNBC gives you prison lockdown stories…

Imagine if you tuned into ESPN and saw shows recounting the battles of World War II? Or if the Oxygen network was showing a hockey game? You’d be confused. And annoyed!

Which is an interesting take on the signal vs noise meme. One person’s signal is another person’s noise.

Select Your Channels Wisely

This is a theme which I’ve stressed before. If you subscribe to people who are not giving you programming you like, you’re going to run into the ‘noise’ issue.

Personally, I wouldn’t watch the Oxygen network. It just doesn’t interest me. It would be noise to me. But there are millions of women who do enjoy it. It’s signal to them.

Which is why I don’t follow any sort of auto-subscribe philosophy, in FriendFeed or Twitter. If someone subscribes to me, I may not subscribe back. Their programming just doesn’t fit my interests. It’s a very egalitarian thing to automatically subscribe back, but you’re bringing noise into your information stream.

Programming Changes

My FriendFeed mostly consists of social media stuff. I also enjoy the world of track and competitive running. If I suddenly switched programming, and fed a lot of running things through the stream, my existing network would look at that as noise. Just like if ESPN started running sci-fi movies. Not what people were expecting.

Louis Gray had another example of this in a recent blog post. Tony Chung switched his programming from Apple and next gen technologies, to covering the arts.

Final Thoughts

Mia Dand and Steven Hodson have nice blog posts on how content forms the relationship between a blog and its readers. They are good examinations of social media as programming.

FriendFeed is even larger than blogs. We get someone’s interests beyond just their blog. Heck, you don’t even need to blog in order to become a FriendFeed channel.

If you value having subscribers and developing a network of like-minded individuals, think about what your Friendfeed streams mean in terms of your programming. Even the simple ‘Like’ function brings content into others’ streams. I’d hate to be too careful about what I ‘like’ or comment on! Just recognize what it’s doing to your subscribers.

And with that…back to our regularly scheduled programming.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/64843b5f-f950-c815-72ad-bb7931540ff9

WordPress Content Recommendations: Off to a Good Start

I love recommendations. Well done, they make my life easier and provide a great source for learning things I didn’t know. So I’m pretty excited about a new feature rolled out by WordPress.com, “possibly related posts”, on April 26, 2008.

At the bottom of blog posts on wordpress.com, you’ll see a list of several blogs under the heading, “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)”. These are posts which should have some relation to the blog post you just read. WordPress is working with Sphere to deliver these recommendations.

There’s an priority ranking to the recommendations:

  1. Similar posts on the same blog
  2. Similar posts from around wordpress.com
  3. Articles, blog posts from elsewhere on the Web

Two areas are of interest here: (i) what recommendations appear on your blog; (ii) what other blogs are showing your posts shown as ‘possibly related’.

Recommendations That Appear on Your Blog

I surveyed five of my blog posts to see what were listed as possibly related posts. They’re shown below, along with a rating of ‘yes’ for related, ‘no’ for not related, ‘sorta’ for posts that might appeal to some readers of the blog post.

I. Ten FriendFeed Visitors Beats 1,000 StumbleUpons Any Day (link)

  • Wired blog: FriendFeed Offers Developers the Key to Build Custom Social Apps (link): no
  • New York Times: Friends May Be the Best Guide Through the Noise (link): yes

II. You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play: A Blog Hits 50 Posts (link)

  • This blog: When Your Blog Is LouisGrayCrunched… (link): yes
  • A wp.com blog: asylum street spankers, and a word about hits (link): sorta
  • CBS Sportsline: Major League Baseball (link): no

III. How Do Solo Bloggers Break into the Techmeme !00? (link)

  • A wp.com blog: break (link): sorta
  • A wp.com blog: Ichimonji No Kata – Raiko No Kata – Kukishin Dakentaijutsu (link): no
  • Scobleizer: New PR Trend: Anti-Gaming TechMeme? (link): yes

IV. The Best Blogs You’re Not Reading? Toluu Knows (link)

  • A wp.com blog: ‘A Fistful of Euros’ awards (link): yes
  • A wp.com: The demise of letter writing: oh, really? (link): yes
  • A wp.com: Reading blogs simply (link): no

V. How to Write a Farewell Email to Your Co-Workers (link)

  • A wp.com blog: How To Write Emails People Will Actually Read (link): yes
  • A wp.com: Email Etiquette (link): yes
  • A wp.com blog: Getting Better Results from your Email Marketing (link): no

The recommendations are off to a decent start. “Related” is a subjective measure, and my ratings above may not match what another reader would think.

How about comparing the WordPress recommendations to other sites? Here’s what Kleiner Perkins-backed startup Aggregate Knowledge’s discovery algorithm currently shows on the Washington Post story, “Failed Yahoo Talks Leave Google on Top“:

Only one of four are related to the Yahoo – Google story. Admittedly, Aggregate Knowledge doesn’t tout itself as a ‘related articles’ service, but their list of other articles should be viewed in this context: “Will people click on those links?”

And here’s what the New York Times shows as “Related Articles” for the article “Friends May Be the Best Guide Through the Noise“, which discussed lifestream companies FriendFeed, Iminta and others:

None of the ‘related articles’ relate to the story.

Recommendations for Your Blog that Appear Elsewhere

What’s interesting here is that you, as a blogger, can see what other blogs have similar subject matter as you. Oh, and the possibility of increased traffic doesn’t hurt.

I’ve really only seen clicks to this blog on ‘possibly related’ recommendations from two sites (with links to posts that include links back to this blog):

  • Scobleizer.com (link)
  • Alexander van Elsa’s Weblog (link)

Neither of those is a surprise. Both have good posts related to social media and Web 2.0, subjects which are covered as well. The ‘possibly related posts’ from this blog shown there are relevant to the posts on which they appear.

Final Thoughts

I’m a fan of this feature, which is still in its early days. It does have its detractors though. Here are a couple comments posted on wordpress.com about the feature:

I actually hate the randomness of this, even though you’re using an engine to try to find related material. Here’s why this is a horrible bad idea, and really, you should turn it OFF everyone’s blog unless they specifically ask for it: If I want random, unvetted links on a topic, I’ll google it. The REASON why blogs are a great medium is one of TRUSTED information. If I know a blogger is smart, savvy, well connected, and honest, I will trust THEIR opinions, and look to what links THEY supply. Making these robot-choices LOOK like they are endorsed by the blogger is where this really falls down, and makes me want to shut it off immediately and everywhere. It is so unfortunate that this is on by default. I will recommend to everyone that they shut off this feature. This is so anti-blogging, it’s not funny, and in fact sad coming from a trusted blogging platform. I bet if you took this issue to serious bloggers first, they would have chimed in overwhelmingly in the negative camp.

Morriss Partee

What it seems to be designed for is to keep the readers IN wordpress, which is understandably your goal. What it PROBABLY will do for individual bloggers is take the reader away from his or her blog into someone else’s blog within wordpress, a dubious result in my way of thinking. But what do I know?

Alice

Count me as a fan, and I hope they continue to iterate through improvements to the recommendations. I fundamentally disagree with Morriss Partee. Blogging is about conversations, even if they go elsewhere. If my blog post piqued someone’s interest and they click to another blog, that’s fine by me. I’d rather the reader have a good time than try to trap him onto my blog.

Go WordPress, go!

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/7a1528d4-96c3-40ea-f5c3-6493372fa956

FriendFeed Is from Mars, Twitter Is from Venus

While we theorize that women spend more time on social networks, building and nurturing relationships, we also theorize that men are less likely to spend as much time nurturing relationships as they are acquiring relationships from a transactional standpoint.

Friends of Men vs. Women on Social Networks, Rapleaf, 4/30/08

Blogger Corvida is a prolific Twitterer (Louis Gray Twitter noise ratio 9.75). She decided to go cold turkey on Wednesday 4/30/08 to see what non-Twitter life was like. She avoided FriendFeed as well. She blogged about the experience. These thoughts stood out to me:

Twitter is crack people (I’ve been saying this for months)! Twitter is more than just a social hub for me. Twitter is ME!

[FriendFeed is] not as addictive and I peruse it leisurely and more so for the conversations than the content. I wasn’t feigning for Friendfeed, but I sorely missed it.

My immediate thought was that I’m exactly opposite. I’ve really become a fan of FriendFeed, and think of Twitter as something I peruse on a more leisurely basis. And yet there are a lot of similarities between the services. Indeed, when Twitter was suffering outages today, people migrated to FriendFeed, as the conversation here shows.

Why the difference between Corvida and me?

  1. Myers-Briggs
  2. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Myers-Briggs

You may be familiar with Myers Briggs – it’s a personality assessment test. After you take the assessment, you get assigned a 4-letter code. The first two letters in that code? “E” or “I”. Explanation of the letters from Wikipedia:

  • Extroversion: People with a preference for Extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their level of energy and motivation tends to decline.
  • Introversion: Those whose preference is Introversion become less energized as they act: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. People with Introversion preferences need time out to reflect in order to rebuild energy.

Twitter is a constant, keep-up-with-the-action experience. Now I’m always an “I” when I take those Myers-Briggs tests, so it’s no surprise that I don’t find the Twitter experience as compelling as Corvida (who has to be an “E”). It is fun though.

FriendFeed streams can flow quickly, particularly as you subscribe to many people. But via ‘Likes’ and comments, two things make a particular update findable repeatedly:

  • Each interaction causes the update to pop to the top of the page again
  • Your comments and ‘Likes’ serve as bookmarks, making the content and all its associated comments easily findable

So FriendFeed satisfies the introversion crowd: reflect, act, reflect again. It also has enough action for the extroversion crowd as well.

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

More from the Rapleaf study:

While we theorize that women spend more time on social networks, building and nurturing relationships, we also theorize that men are less likely to spend as much time nurturing relationships as they are acquiring relationships from a transactional standpoint. Spending less time on a social network but transacting more equates to having roughly the same number of friends as women, who spend more time on social networks, but are busier sustaining relationships.

The report doesn’t explain what a “transaction” is. I’m going to assume that men tend to have relationships around some sort of structure – a “transaction”. Women tend to have more general conversations to sustain their relationships, not needing the organization of a “transaction”.

FriendFeed has “transactions”. They’re the content updates that flow through there. Blog posts, tweets, FriendFeed messages, Flickr pix. Those updates are the conversational structures – your comment on the content itself, your ‘Like’, your comment on someone else’s comment. You have group conversations.

Twitter is less of a transactional place. It’s more of relationship-sustaining place. You can maintain parallel one-on-one conversations with many people at once. There’s not really an organizing principle in Twitter. That’s been one of its attractions. It’s a wide open social thing.

I enjoy the conversations around content that define FriendFeed. More so than general relationship building, for which Twitter is really good. As Corvida said, “Twitter is more than just a social hub for me. Twitter is ME!”

Final Thoughts

I know I’ve horribly oversimplified things here. Plenty of guys love Twitter and are really good at it. Plenty of women enjoy the conversational scrum around content that can define FriendFeed. And there’s plenty of room for reflection, not just action, on Twitter.

But assuming there’s truth to the averages, those are some thoughts into what will drive the relative successes of Twitter and FriendFeed.

*****

See this itme on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/f8827724-34f6-fa36-fca5-a00c75bc171d

Video Blog Comments (Ironically) Aren’t Conversational

TechCrunch has added video comments to its blogs, courtesy of Seesmic. Oh lordy. Think you’re feeling overwhelmed by social media? Try following video comments.

Online video has gotten traction as a one-way communication and entertainment vehicle. Is it ready to add “conversation” to its portfolio of uses?

Where Has Online Video Worked?

YouTube is undeniably the success story of online video. And what has been so successful there? Entertainment. Selected hits from amateurs have become mega hits, like the guy playing Pachelbel’s Canon on his electric guitar. The most popular videos on YouTube are professionally produced music videos, as reported by Michael Learmonth at Silicon Valley Insider. My 4 year old is a huge fan of Feist.

This entertainment is very much a one-way experience. They play. You watch.

Online video has also been useful as a communication tool. Google has been particularly active on this front, such as with this video explaining Google Apps.

The training video, again, is a one-way communication.

Seesmic’s Mission: Make Online Video a Conversation

Seesmic wants to turns these one-way communications into conversations among two, three, heck even dozens of people. You post a video, someone posts a video in reply and you post back. Kind of an asynchronous conversation. From the Seesmic site:

Until now, online communication has lacked personality as it’s been limited to text (IM, SMS, email). Now, Seesmic brings conversation alive through video. See and hear people share their experiences straight from their webcams, join in live conversations, and engage in real interactions with real people.

The concept is pretty innovative. As always, the question is whether it makes sense in real world usage.

My Rant About Online Video

I personally do not watch videos online much. If I land on a page that has video instead of text, I usually hit the browser’s ‘Back’ button pretty quickly.

Why? I don’t have time to wait on whether the video will be interesting. After the video loads, you then sit through its latency to see what the person is saying. It’s a crap shoot as to whether the time was worth it. Thus, the Silicon Valley Inside story about professionally produced videos YouTube dominating doesn’t surprise me. You know what you’re getting ahead of time.

Which brings us back to online video comments.

The Blog Video Comment Experience

The implementation on TechCrunch seems to be well-done, based on the video comments of several people. Kudos to Seesmic for making that happen. This is an innovative idea.

Three issues make video comments less conversational overall than basic text comments:

  1. You have no idea what you’re getting when you click a video
  2. It’s hard to reference someone’s comment
  3. It takes too much time

Video comment quality: Variance in comment quality is a well-known dynamic on blogs. It will apply to these video comments as well. This comments here and here on TechCrunch intrigued me…

The big difference is that with text, you can pretty quickly size up the quality with a quick scan. You have to endure much of the online video before realizing it won’t serve up nuggets of insight.

This is a turn off, and it undermines the participative quality of comments. If people aren’t watching your video comment, then you’re not really participating in the conversation.

Referencing comments: Say someone leaves a 60-second commentary on a post. You’re going to have to remember that interesting thing that was said 27 seconds into it. And then you’ll have to rewrite the interesting thing to properly reference it in your text comment. Or in your video reply.

The burden of tracking an audio commentary for response purposes hurts the conversational aspect of video comments.

Too much time: Keeping up with the entire thread of a conversation may require viewing several videos. On the TechCrunch post, I found the time for each of 43 video comments. Average run time = 29 seconds. Median = 24 seconds. The typical text comment doesn’t take 25 seconds to read. So your time investment just went up to stay on top of videos.

And that detracts from the conversation.

Final Word

I’ll admit to sticking through several of the 43 video comments on the blog. There is something to the idea of watching a person speak their comments. The hard part is to know which ones will be worth it. I assume over time, some people would just have a flair for the medium. Regular blog visitors will consistently click their videos.

But the majority of video comments will just be time sucks. There’s probably a real opportunity to implement some sort of rating system on comments, and on people who comment that will help filter out the video noise.

Still, I prefer text comments for the conversation. Learning on my time, not the video creator’s.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/11b7e37d-c97f-e35c-b7fe-9f1588e3876a