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Three Ways to Double the Value of Your Social Software

I did a Connectbeam webinar yesterday, Double the Value of Your Social Software. One thing about webinars is they really force you to crystallize your thinking, and you get to try out some cool new ideas. This one was a lot of fun for me. I enjoyed bringing some unconventional examples to the discussion.

So how exactly does one “double the value” of social software? The core of the argument is that integrating the various social software apps inside companies produces a new layer of value. In terms of how this happens, I developed three areas of focus:

  1. Expand information’s reach
  2. Create an employee skills database
  3. Diversify and strengthen workers’ sources of information

The Slideshare below is the presentation I used in the webinar. Below the Slideshare, I describe the background and the three areas of focus.

“Enterprise Silos” 2.0

The great thing about companies rolling out the tools of Web 2.0 is that it lets people from everywhere contribute. Multiple people jump on wikis, blogs, microblogging, etc. Social software can tear down the departmental and geographic walls that separate employees.

So it’s ironic that these wall-busting apps end up as new walled gardens of participation. Employees update their Confluence wiki, they blog on Movable Type and Yammer away. But there’s no integration of the apps.

There’s a screaming need to pull these social software apps together. The folks over at venture capital firm Foundry Group laid out a nice investment theme with regard to Glue.  A lot of the logic from that post applies to the proliferation of social software apps inside companies.

By connecting the different social software apps inside companies, companies will realize a new source of value from them, “doubling” their value.

With that, let’s look at the three new sources of value when you integrate these apps.

Expand Information’s Reach

It’s true that information is the key driver of success in the market today. That’s a truism, overplayed theme, I know.

But, it has had its effects inside companies. You see this theme played out in architectural decisions, such Service Oriented Architectures, which makes integrating data and processes much easier. Mashups are another area where we see this.

How about the consumers of data? How to optimize the creation, distribution and consumption of data inside the enterprise?

This is an area where Enterprise 2.0 can learn a lesson from the world of e-commerce. E-commerce companies work hard to optimize the finding and purchasing processes on their sites. Every extra step it takes to find something or to purchase it causes some percentage of consumers to drop out. So they work hard to provide a full, but easy experience.

How about applying that thinking to accessing the employee-generated content inside companies?
How to reduce the steps to accessing this content?

There are three components for what I’ll call an Information Reach Program:

  • Search
  • Serendipity
  • Notifications

Let’s take a look at those three components.

Search: A Forrester Research survey found that only 44% of employees can regularly find information on their corporate intranet. Meanwhile, Pew Research found that 87% of people can regularly find what they want on the Internet.

Where do you think employees will turn first for information? Now there’s nothing wrong with googling something. New information needs to be brought into the enterprise. It’s healthy and vital.

But the pendulum has swung too far toward looking externally, particularly with the rise employee-generated content. Thing likes social bookmarking, blogging and wikis are letting employees find and filter an array of great information. Yet it’s too easy to ignore.

One way to counteract that? Integrate employee-generated content with search engines. When an employees runs searches, they get their usual search results. But why not also show them related content from the company’s social software? Slide #12 in the Slideshare presentation shows Connectbeam’s example of that.

Serendipity: Also known as, finding useful information when you weren’t expecting it. Or as Dennis Howlett put it:

Serendipity: the 21st C word for ‘bloody good luck.

If search is purposeful, serendipity is passive, and in-the-flow of whatever else you’re doing. For serendipity to work, you have to expose people to a range of information during their activities. And let’s be honest – much of that information will score low on the usefulness scale.

But I argue that you need to cionsider serendipity from a portfolio perspective. If you can enable employees to be exposed to random information in high volumes, there will be cases of great matches between something a worker needs and a piece of information she wouldn’t normally see.

Key here is putting this information in-the-flow of daily work. If all employees do is watch a cascade of information, they’re not being very productive.

Notifications: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” says Clay Shirky. Search is purposeful, serendipity is luck. How about those nuggets of informaiton that you want to know, but aren’t actively searching for and miss during the course of the day? Notifications are the third component of the Information Reach Program.

Key here is to let people personalize their notifications, because people aren’t monolithic in their interests. Top down push processes diminish employees’ interest in tracking the data presented. Filter on groups (e.g. departments, projects, communities of interest), individuals and keywords. These go a long way toward answering Clay Shirky’s point about filter failure.

Create an Employee Skills Database

When you integrate the different social software apps, you can create rich set of data that well-describes what each employee knows and is working on.It’s not just your position and previous titles that matter – it’s your contributions, visible and accessible by all.

We’re seeing steps toward this approach on sites like LinkedIn, with its new apps platform. When you view a person on LinkedIn, you see more than their resume. You get a living, dynamic view of their work. Someday, all that content you’re piping into your LinkedIn  profile should be searchable by others – beyond the current resume entries.

Same idea holds inside enterprises. If you could aggregate employees’ contributions across the social software apps, you have a much richer view of their skills, knowledge and interests than the typical corporate directory.

Connectbeam customer and all-around smart guy Rich Hoeg of Honeywell put it nicely at the recent Defrag conference:

With Connectbeam, I was looking for a social bookmarking application. I ended up with a skills database.

Yes, that’s a Connectbeam plug. But the logic applies more broadly.

Diversify and Strengthen Workers’ Sources of Information

I’ve discussed previously on this blog a fantastic research paper that evaluated the power of employees’ social networks to affect productivity. Basically, the more diverse an employee’s sources of information, and the stronger her connections to a large number of peers, the more productive she is.

Now tie this idea in with Harvard professor Andrew McAfee’s thinking about employees’ Strong, Weak and Potential ties inside companies. Employees already maintain Strong ties inside companies. That’s the status quo out there.

The opportunity for companies is to work those Week and Potential ties. Move them closer to close ties. How?

  • Make employee contributions as findable as possible (i.e. expand information’s reach)
  • Associate activity and tags to individuals
  • Enable easy following of the activities of others
  • Fish where the fish are – put employee generated content where people do their work

Wrapping up

This webinar was a lot of fun, and I think you’ll notice some different thoughts than what is usually seen in these presentations. There are several ideas included in it that really merit exploration separately. I’ll probably do that on this blog, and over on the Connectbeam blog as well.

*****

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Newsletters Are Still Viable? How I Approached My First Newsletter Email

In some ways, I’m the worst guy to be in charge of emailing a newsletter out on behalf of my company Connectbeam. I’m very dismissive of spam email. I hang up on telemarketers without guilt, after quickly saying “put me on your do not call list”. I ignore newspaper and website ads, I don’t watch commercials.

I like my little cloistered world…

But newsletters are back in vogue it seems. Longtime blogger Jason Calacanis famously dropped his blog for an email newsletter. Chris Brogan maintains a newsletter. I subscribe to a newsletter provided by analyst relations firm SageCircle.

Clearly there continues to be life in newsletters despite the advent of RSS. I guess I should rephrase that. The dominant form of online information distribution is email, with a RSS still a small part of the pie. And email does have some advantages – people spend more time there in a business setting. It also has an outreach aspect that bugs the hell out of A-List bloggers, but can be less intrusive for everyday people.

As a young company looking to expand its brand and message, Connectbeam needs to consider the newsletter a part of its overall engagement strategy.

So I recognize the importance of it, even as I’m probably the last person who would read anything like this. Which, in a way, made me well-suited for tackling this.

Making It More Than a Typical Company Marketing Piece

The email went out to 253 people – we didn’t spam some purchased list of thousands of names. The subject line was: “Social Software During a Recession – Connectbeam Nov 2008”. I wanted the email to be topical, not some spam about a product release.

Here’s the email (also available online):

connectbeam-newsletter-nov-2008One of our HTML guys put together a good-looking layout.The email went out yesterday morning, and here are two stats on it so far:

  • 28% opened
  • 2 unsubscribes

My overall objective is to make the email useful, and to build Connectbeam’s presence out in the market. If I’m successful in the former, I believe I’ll be successful in the latter. A third objective is to advertise upcoming webinars as well. That’s going to be an ongoing battle, as I’ll describe below.

There are four sections highlighted in the email graphic. Here’s what I was doing with each of those.

1. Opening Message

The first challenge is getting people to open the email. Once you’re through that hurdle, next you’ve probably got 5 seconds to catch their attention. My guess is that people will do a quick scan of the different sections, then read the opening sentence at the top of the newsletter.

In writing the opening message, I essentially wrote a mini-blog post. Readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of linking to others’ work, and this was no exception. I linked to a nice post by Jevon MacDonald on the FAST Forward blog. Then I added my two cents. Right off the bat, I wanted to give the reader something useful. A couple people clicked on the link to Jevon’s post.

Something else that seemed important – putting my name on the email. I’ve been immersed in social media enough to know that a soul-less corporate entity as the sender immediately loses some of the engagement. It comes across as a pure marketing exercise. So I wanted my name on there.

The other thing about putting your name on it? It raise your own expectations for the utility of the email. After all, people are going to associate its quality with you.

2. Three Things We’re Reading

There are three objectives with this section:

  1. Give the reader links to information that they may find useful
  2. Provide links that fit a theme for the newsletter
  3. Connectbeam is all about collaborative information sharing – so practice what we preach

Based on the click stats, this seems to been a successful part. That first link for the MIT study of a company’s implicit social network (I blogged about it here) has been clicked 18 times. Clearly people were digging that one. The IBM tagging savings story was clicked 7 times, which was not too bad either.

My intention with this section is to design something that will be useful to recipients. Even if you currently have no interest in Connectbeam, you’ll find enough value in these links to continue receiving the email. That’s why I’m particularly attuned to the unsubscribe stats. Having only two people unsubscribe so far is a good start from my perspective.

There are no silver bullets with this newsletter program. It’s not like I expect people to sign contracts after reading the email. I’m looking at the newsletter as a long term brand-building exercise, and as a basis for increased engagement over time. But the only way that works is if they agree to continue receiving it.

3. Upcoming Webinar

Alas, this part of the email has not gotten a lot of love so far. I understand. Webinars are a time commitment. People have to make their choices.

Enterprise vendor webinars are a tough sell. I’m starting to appreciate the finer points of webinars. When I was at BEA, I led a webinar for social search inside the enterprise, talking about general issues and the Pathways application. We had 80 attendees, including many from the Fortune 500 set. It established a baseline for me on these things. But the driver of that level of attention? BEA was a significant presence in the market. Many, many companies had BEA portal software, and were curious about the new social computing applications available for that.

Connectbeam isn’t BEA. We don’t have nearly the presence. So a webinar by our company doesn’t yet have the fertile ground that a BEA did.

One trick I’ve seen companies employ (which we even did at BEA), is to partner with a well-known analyst or consulting firm, or with a big-name vendor. SocialText has done these with Forrester. NewsGator has worked with Microsoft. There’s an upcoming $100 webinar (yes, attendees pay $100!) by market research firm Radicati with Atlassian, SocialText and Telligent.

This webinar partnering idea is one I’m going to look into more.

4. News and Events

In this section, I describe the recent 3.1 release of Connectbeam’s application. This is an area where I can give an update on what is happening with Connectbeam. It’s the closest thing we have to an annoying email PR blast about what we’re doing.

But integrated into a useful email with other parts, I think it works. This section will rise on the email when I don’t have any upcoming webinars to tout.

Any Suggestions?

You now know my approach and objectives with this email program. I’m the guy who doesn’t like these things, put into a position of sending them out. And Connectbeam isn’t a major name like Google or Oracle, so there isn’t a ready-to-read audience out there. This stuff takes some hustle and experimentation.

If you have any thoughts on what you see, or what’s worked well for you, I’d love to hear it.

*****

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Defrag 2008 Notes – Picasso, Information Day Trading, Stowe “The Flow” Boyd

defrag-logo

One of the most consistently provocative conferences I attended last year — my own Money:Tech 2008 aside, of course — was Eric Norlin’s Defrag conference. Oodles of interesting people, lots of great conversation and all of it aimed at one of my favorite subjects: How we cope with the information tsunami.

Paul Kedrosky, Defrag 2008 Conference

I spent two days out in Denver earlier this week at Defrag 2008 with Connectbeam. As Kedrosky notes above, the conference is dedicated to managing the increasing amount of information we’re all exposed to. Now my conference experience is limited. I’ve been to five of them, all in 2008: Gartner Portals, BEA Participate, TechCrunch50, KMWorld, Defrag.

Defrag was my favorite by far. Both for the subject matter discussed and the attendees. The conference has an intimate feel to it, but a high wattage set of attendees.

In true information overflow style, I wanted to jot down some notes from the conference.

Professor William Duggan: He’s a professor at Columbia Business School. He gave the opening keynote: “Strategic Intuition”, which is the name of his book.  Duggan talked about how studies of the brain showed that we can over-attribute people’s actions as being left-brained or right-brained. Scientists are seeing that both sides of the brain are used in tackling problems.

He then got into the meat of his session – that people innovate by assembling unrelated data from their past experience. For example, he talked about how Picasso’s style emerged. Picasso’s original paintings were not like those for which he became famous. The spark? First, meeting with Henri Matisse, and admiring his style. In that meeting, Picasso happened to become fascinated with a piece of African sculpture. In one of those “aha!” moments, Picasso combined the styles of Matisse and African folk art to create his own distinctive style. He combined two unrelated influences to create his own style.

Duggan also described how all innovation is fundamentally someone “stealing” ideas from others. In “stealing”, he means that people assemble parts of what they’re exposed to. This is opposed to imitating, which to copy something in whole. That’s not innovation.

Re-imagining the metaphors behind collaborative tools: This session examined whether we need need ways of thinking about collaboration inside the enterprise. The premise here is that we need to come up with new metaphors that drive use cases and technology design. I’ll hold off on describing most of what was said. My favorite moment was when Jay Simons of Atlassian rebutted the whole notion of re-imagining the metaphors. He said the ones we have now are fine, e.g. “the water cooler”. What we need is to stop chasing new metaphors, and execute on the ones we have.

Rich Hoeg, Honeywell: Rich is a manager in Honeywell’s corporate IT group (and a Connectbeam customer). He talked about the adoption path of social software inside Honeywell, going from a departmental implementation to much wider implementation, and how his own career path mirrored that transition. He’s also a BarCamp guy. Cool to hear an honest-to-goodness geek making changes in the enterprise world.

Yatman Lai, Cisco: Yatman discussed Cisco’s initiatives around collaboration and tying together their various enterprise 2.0 apps. I think this is something we’ll see more of as time goes along. Companies are putting in place different social software apps, but they’re still siloed. Connecting these social computing apps will become more important in the future.

Stowe “The Flow”: Stowe Boyd apparently gave quite the interesting talk. I didn’t attend it, because Connectbeam had a presentation opposite his. But from what I gather, the most memorable claim Stowe made was that there’s no such thing as attention overload. That we all can be trained to watch a constant flow of information and activities go by, and get our work done. I think there will be a segment of the population that does indeed do this. If you can swing it, you’re going to be well-positioned to be in-the-know about the latest happenings and act on them.

But in talking with various people after the presentation, there was a sense that Stowe was overestimating the general population’s ability and desire to train their minds to handle both the work they need to do for their employers, and to take in the cascade of information flowing by (e.g. Twitter, FriendFeed). Realistically, we’ll asynchronously take in information, not in constant real-time.

We’re Becoming Day Traders in Information: I heard this quote a few times, not sure who said it (maybe someone from Sxipper or Workstreamr). It’s an intriguing idea. Each unit of information has value, and that value varies by person and circumstances. Things like Twitter are the trading platform. Of course, the problem with this analogy is that actual day traders work with stocks, cattle futures, options, etc. Someone has to actually produce something. If all we do is trade in information and conversations, who’s making stuff?

Mark Koenig: Mark is an analyst with Saugatuck Technology. He gave the closing keynote for Day 1, Social Computing and the Enterprise: Closing the Gaps. What are the gaps?

  1. Social network integration
  2. Information relevance
  3. Integration with enterprise applications
  4. The culture shift

Mark also believes in the enterprise market,  externally focused social computing will grow more than internally focused. Why? Easier ROI, more of a sales orientation.

Charlene Li: Former Forrester analyst Charlene Li led off Day 2 with her presentation, Harnessing the Implicit Valkue of the Social Graph. Now running her own strategic consulting firm, Altimeter Group, Charlene focused on how future application will weave “social” into everything they do. It will be a part of the experience, not a distinct, standalone social network thing. As she says, “social networks will be like air”. She ran the gamut of technologies in this presentation. You can see some tweets from the presentation here.

One thing she said was to “prepare for the demise of the org chart”. When I see things like that, I do laugh a bit. The org chart isn’t going anywhere. Enterprises will continue to have reporting structures for the next hundred years and beyond. What will change is the siloed way in which people only work with people within their reporting structures. Tearing down those walls will be an ongoing theme inside companies.

Neeraj Mathur, Sun Micro: Neeraj talked about Sun’s internal initiatives around social computing in his session, “Building Social Capital in an Enterprise”. Sun is pretty advanced in its internal efforts. One particular element stuck with me. It the rating that each employee receives based on their participation in the Sun social software. Called Community Equity, the personal rating is built on these elements (thanks for Lawrence Liu for tweeting them):

Contribution Q + Skills Q + Participation Q + Role Q = Personal Q

Sun’s approach is an implementation of an idea that Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee put out there, Should Knowledge Workers Have Enterprise 2.0 Ratings? It’s an interesting idea – companies can gain a lot of value from social computing, why not recognize those that do it well? Of course, it’s also got potential for unintended consequences, so it needs to be monitored.

Laura “Pistachio” Fitton: Twitter-ologist Laura Fitton led a panel called “Finding Serendipitous Content Through Context”. The session covered the value of serendipity, and the ways in which it happens. The panel included executives from Aggregate Knowledge and Zemanta, as well as Carla Thompson from Guidewire.

What interested me was the notions of what serendipity really is. For example, Zemanta does text matching on your blog post to find other blog posts that are related. So there’s an element of structured search to bring related articles.

So I asked this question: Does persistent keyword search, delivered as RSS or email, count as “serendipity”? Carla’s response was , no it doesn’t. Serendipity is based on randomness. It’s an interesting topic worth a future blog post potentially.

And of course, Laura encouraged people to tweet during the session, using the hash tag #serendip. The audience tweets are a good read.

Daniela Barbosa, Dow Jones, DataPortability.org: Daniela works for Dow Jones, with coverage of their Synaptica offering. She’s also an ardent supporter of data portability, serving as Chairperson of DataPortability.org. Her session was titled Pulling the Threads on User Data. She’s a librarian by training, but she kicks butt in leading edge thinking about data portability and organization. In her presentation, she says she’s just like you. She then pops up this picture of her computer at work:

daniela-barbosa-laptop-screen

Wow – now that’s some flow. Stowe Boyd would be proud.

Wrapping up: Those are some notes from what I heard there. I couldn’t get to everything, as I had booth duties for Connectbeam. Did plenty of demos for people. And got to meet many people in real life that I have followed and talked with online. Looking forward to Defrag 2009.

*****

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The Revenue Impact of Enterprise 2.0

I recently read a great study that looked at the impact of social networks inside companies. Information, Technology and Information Worker Productivity was written by academics at MIT, NYU and BU. The authors analyzed the social graph of employees for a 14-office midsize executive recruiting firm.

The firm didn’t actually have a social networking application in-house. It was all email. But what the authors did is look at the email connections of workers to extrapolate their social graphs. And what they found was enlightening.

I encourage you to read the study itself, as it has a wealth of good information in it. I’ll call out my favorite observations from the report:

A one standard deviation increase in betweenness centrality in the email network is associated with approximately $76,000 greater revenue output per year controlling for human capital, demographic variables and use of the ESS system.

A one standard deviation increase in network diversity is associated with approximately $83,000 greater annual revenue output.

Betweenness centrality: What’s the probability that an individual will fall on the shortest path between any two other individuals? This attribute measures the strength of an individual’s connections to other employees. Sort of a probability-based LinkedIn.

Network diversity: Measures the degree to which an individual’s contacts are connected to each other. If your social network consists of people who all know each other well, your network diversity is low. If your social network has a lot of connections that don’t know one another, your diversity is high.

Here’s what the network diversity impact looks like graphically:

The folks with the best access to a diverse set of opinions, knowledge and perspectives outperformed their peers.

How Do You Make These Findings Actionable Across the Organization

The author’s looked at the connections people had built on their own, and those who had the best, most diverse networks outperformed everyone else. What Enterprise 2.0 does is take these characteristics of the top performers and exposes them for everyone else in the organization.

If you force your employees to create these networks on their own with the existing offline relationships and siloed data, you’re not going to create opportunities for network improvements across the board. By making employees perspectives and work visible and searchable, you put every employee a step ahead of where they are now

I’ve got a fuller write-up over on the Connectbeam company blog. Check it out if you’re interested in developing an ROI of enterprise social software.

*****

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Notes on Presenting to Gartner…and That Magic Quadrant Thing

I had the opportunity to create and lead a presentation to Gartner last week, on behalf of my company Connectbeam. Now if you don’t about Gartner, the one thing to know is that Gartner’s analyses are used by organizations as decision criteria for purchases. Gartner affects how a lot of IT money gets spent.

So naturally, enterprise vendors are quite interested in how they are viewed by the respective Gartner analysts covering their sector. In fact, here’s how analyst relations strategy firm SageCircle describes it:

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is probably the iconic piece of analyst research. With its visibility and status, it also has enormous influence on vendor sales opportunities, especially when it comes time for IT buyers to draw up the all-important vendor short lists.

For an amazing review of the whole Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) phenomenon, make sure you read SageCircle’s 7-part series about the MQ.

And here’s what a Magic Quadrant looks like:

The MQ focuses on two dimensions. Here’s a description of them from CMS Wire:

  • Ability to execute: This criteria measures an organization’s success at selling and supporting both its products and services from a global perspective
  • Completeness of vision: This criteria deals with a company’s potential and helps to separate the vendors who are focused solely on the short-term from the vendors who have a more long-term view of their market

Yes, it’s a simple graph. But so much magic occurs to determine where companies fall on the X and Y axes of the MQ. For reference, Forrester Research has its own version of this, called the Wave.

Presenting Connectbeam to Gartner

In my previous jobs in technology, I’d only been exposed to one major analyst briefing. I had the good fortune to sit in on BEA Systems briefing to Forrester about our portals and enterprise 2.0 offerings. That particular session, which lasted several hours, was led by the head of marketing for the Business Interaction Division, Jay Simons. Jay did a wonderful job leading the Forrester guys through the BEA product and roadmap.

But now for Connectbeam, it was on me. What should we present to Gartner? I hadn’t read any good information on the specifics of what points to make to Gartner. But I did remember some points from the BEA presentation several months back.

After the usual iterations, dead ends and inspirations that characterize presentation building, I settled on three core points:

  1. Our latest release. Connectbeam recently GA’d Spotlight 3.0. Pretty important to talk about that.
  2. Our roadmap and vision. I didn’t think about the MQ as I did this, it just seemed a natural for talking with industry thought leaders. Where are we heading?
  3. Our customers. The idea here is that Gartner needs to know how you’re tracking. It turns out this was some of the most engaged conversation during our hour-long presentation.

The presentation seemed to go well. I personally enjoyed the chance to talk with these guys, because they’re smart and focused on the enterprise 2.0 sector. They just know stuff. Thanks to analyst Jeffrey Mann for tweeting about the meeting.

We originally anticipated two analysts from Gartner, ended up with four. It’s only now that I realize that the next enterprise social software Magic Quadrant is targeted for a 4th quarter release. Perhaps that’s why we had a larger attendance, but I’m not expecting Connectbeam to be in this MQ. We’re really just starting to maintain a dialogue with Gartner.

I know this is an area of focus for a lot of companies. Thought I’d share this experience, in case others are talking with Gartner or other firms. If you’re interested in talking more about it, feel free to connect with me through Twitter or LinkedIn (links are also on the right side of this blog).

*****

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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.

*****

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Why Isn’t This the Tag Standard? Multi Word, Comma Separated

Tagging is a great way to put context on user generated content. The tag cloud to the right shows what the hundreds of thousands of blogs were talking about on the evening of August 21. (Click the image to see what bloggers are talking about right now).

Pretty much any web 2.0 service that has user-generated content supports tags. Flickr. YouTube. Del.icio.us. Google Reader. Last.fm. Tagging is entrenched in the web 2.0 world, and it’s one of those idea that spread without any standards.

But there is a problem of no single standard…

Beta, VHS.

Blue-Ray, HD-DVD.

Space or comma delimited?

What’s happened is that tagging formats are all over the map. Each web 2.0 service came up with what worked best for its product and developers:

This post at 37signals described the same tag formats above, and it got a lot of comments. Good energy around the subject. Brian Daniel Eisenberg thinks the failure to have a consistent tag method may undermine its adoption by the masses.

To me, there really is one best format.

Multiple Words, Comma Separated

I tweeted this on Twitter/FriendFeed:

Can there be a universal standard for tags? Multi-word tags, comma separated. Odd combos (underscore, dot, combined) are messy, inconsistent.

You can see the comments on the link. The gist of them? Multiple words, comma separated is the best format. Here’s why I think so:

  • Forced separation of words changes their meaning (“product management” or “product” and “management”)
  • Forced separation of words creates tag clouds that misrepresent subjects (is it “product” content? or “management” content?)
  • With single terms, too many ways for users to combine the same term:
    • productmanagement
    • product.management
    • product_management
    • product-management
  • Writing multiple words with spaces between them is the way we learn to write
  • Putting commas between separate ideas, context, meanings and descriptions is the way we write

Let people (1) use more than one word for a tag, (2) written naturally without odd connectors like under_scores, and (3) using commas to separate tags. These rules are the best fit for germanic and romance languages, and I assume for most other languages as well.

To Brian’s point about the masses, let’s make tagging consistent with writing.

For Developers, It’s Pretty Much a Non-Issue

In The Need for Creating Tag Standards, the blog Neosmart Files writes:

Basically, it’s too late for a tagging standard that will be used unanimously throughout the web.

A lot of developer types weighed in on the comments. For the most part, they’re sanguine about the issue of different formats. Rip out any extraneous characters like spaces, periods, underscores, etc. What’s left is a single string that is the tag.

It’s About the Users

The issue fundamentally is how boxed in people are if they want to tag. In the Neosmart Files post, commenter Jason wrote this:

As this topic suggests, there are issues in resolving various tags that whilst literally different they are contextually equivalent. I believe this to be the critical juncture. Perhaps the solution lies not in heaping upon more standards, but improving the manner in which tags are processed by consumers.

From my perspective, multiple word, comma separated format is the most wide open, flexible way to handle tags. If a user likes running words together, he can do it. If a user wants to put underscores between words, she can do it. If a user likes spaces between words, not a problem.

But making users cram together words in odd combinations takes them out of their normal writing and thinking style. Tags should be formatted with humans in mind, not computers.

That’s my argument. What say you?

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