Fred Wilson on the Next Wave of the Web

fred-wilson-blog-avatarSearch, filtering, semantics, etc, etc. That’s the next wave of innovation in the real time web and that’s why FB opening up status is a big deal

Originally posted as a comment by fredwilson on A VC using Disqus.

2009 Prediction: As Social Connections Reduce, Keyword Tracking Increases

Via Army.mil on Flickr

Via Army.mil on Flickr

Let me ask you this:

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

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

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

Social Network Contraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is an issue with this as well…

Seek Out Non-Redundant Information

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

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

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

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

How to get the best of both? Keyword tracking.

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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A Promising Future for Newspapers

nyt-front-page-111008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combining Flow with Subscription-Based Revenues

Two revenue models are available:

  • Lightweight flow = advertising
  • Articles = advertising, subscriptions

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

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

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

Curated Sources of Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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Matt Drudge Is Not Your Friend

Saw Matt Drudge post this note the other day on his site:

THANKS FOR MAKING OCTOBER 2008 THE BIGGEST MONTH IN DRUDGEREPORT’S 13 YEAR HISTORY!

Drudge is bigger than ever. Sure, politics are a big driver, but his site was running in 1996, 2000 and 2004. The site’s popularity continues to grow.

I sat in on a Paul Kedrosky-moderated session today at Defrag 2008, called “Around the Horn“. An open discussion that was entertaining.

One area of discussion was the rise of social media as a source of information for people. This is something that we have seen written and discussed in many places. I’ve asked Who Is Your Information Filter? I continue to believe people will turn to trusted friends in social media for a primary source of news.

That being said, why does a one-man link-aggregation site continue to grow? After all, Matt Drudge is not your friend. Anyone got his Twitter or Facebook account info? I need to follow this guy.

*****

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Enterprise 2.0: Considering the Effect of Information Usage on Companies’ Market Cap

I want to tackle the issue of Enterprise 2.0 and its ROI for companies from a different angle today.  I want to consider the effect of individual “information units” on a company’s growth, and hence its market cap.

“Information units”? Yup. In the information economy, success is guided by superior generation and use of data, with manufacturing as a commodity output of that information. In the manufacturing economy, companies’ success was predicated on their production lines, access to raw materials, and superior distribution channels. I don’t to overstate the case of information, as these manufacturing-based factors are still critical. But they have become commoditized, with easy global outsourcing and markets.

The differentiator for today’s companies is their ability to source and use information more effectively than competitors. And we now we return to what I mentioned before…”information units”. An information unit is a discrete piece of information. There are billions of these units inside companies. Examples of information units include:

  • A customer reporting a problem with a product
  • The contract for ordering office supplies
  • How many days’ supply of inventory
  • The agenda for an upcoming conference
  • A project dependency and its risk of missing deadline
  • Etc…

I’m taking the view that in the information economy, a company’s value is intrinsically wrapped in its ability to use the high value information generated everywhere in the enterprise. With a bit of mathematical license, here’s a simple equation for what I mean:

Let me break down the two parts of that equation.

Value of Information: Information Units Are Like Shares of Stock

Companies have billions of information units. The value of any single information unit varies, not unlike an individual stock. The variation is based on where a company is currently with regard to its markets, financial performance and product or service offerings. These factors change constantly for companies. What’s unimportant today rises in importance tomorrow, and vice versa.

This dynamic flows all the way down to the information unit level. There is no absolute value for any information unit. Rather, its value derives from how it helps companies at any given point in time in dynamic markets and circumstances.

I think this well describes a huge challenge for companies. There’s no shortage of information, of data. The question is figuring out what data is most relevant.

And this is a battlefield issue, not one that can be managed from army headquarters. The employees doing the daily work are the ones who have to execute on their part of the overall company objectives. They need to create and find the relevant information for where the company is right now.

There’s too much information, too many actions needed and markets are too dynamic to wait for senior  executives to decide which information is important. Employees are tasked with this responsibility.

A problem for companies is flowing information (I’m using Stowe Boyd’s formulation of data flow). It doesn’t really happen. As new information affecting a company and its market is learned, most corporate information channels are poorly designed to get this out to everyone. Thus, the employees, those soldiers on the information battlefield, are not well-equipped to identify information that is rising or declining in value.

Email? Portal? There is too much new, dynamic information that can affect employee perspectives on the value of information units to be presented well in those channels. In other words, the value of existing information (tacit or recorded) is affected by external information coming in to the company.

In the mathematical equation above, the goal is to have employees better identify the value of information. If this is accomplished, much of the declining value information is ignored, raising the average value of a company’s production information units.

Propensity To Be Accessed at the Right Time

Here’s the thing about information units. Their value can increase in response to external events. But that value is never realized if no one ever finds them.

Every company has these. Valuable information that would have been great to know previously. It’s just that the information was inaccessible. It was trapped in someone’s inbox under an avalanche of emails. Or it was in an application that is accessible across the organization, but no one thought to check there. Or someone checks on of these apps, but the rising value information unit is buried in a sea of search results.

The basis to improving an information unit’s propensity to be accessed at the right time will be a mix of technology and people factors.

Technology: I’ll go back to Stowe Boyd’s flow as one element. Improving the way employees can consume an ongoing flow of breaking news, information from the front line and activities of colleagues. The goal here is not to memorize everything, but to develop an ambient awareness of what’s happening inside and outside the company.

The second technology component is making information units more accessible everywhere. If an information unit is rising in value as company circumstances change, it needs to be located. Cracking open apps with limited usage becomes more important. Oliver Marks has a piece up today on ZDNet in which he notes:

It’s not a stretch to see that the ‘aerobic fitness’ of free information flow though a company to its employees, partners and in some case customers makes them stronger and a healthier place to be. (Ever worked somewhere managerially opaque and secretive and tried to build momentum?)

We are entering a game changing era with applications…which provide technology bridges to other applications and systems.

People: The people is aspect is equally important. Companies can have thousands of employees, each producing plenty of information units. Information accessibility is the first step, but that unleashes a lot more information on employees. How to filter through it to find the important information?

There will be the wisdom of crowds approach, in which useful information is highly rated, clicked, saved. This will be a common basis for finding out what’s valuable. But that can be somewhat dated information, and cannot sniff out the nuggets that apply to specific situations.

Individuals become important filters. We naturally develop trust relationships with colleagues based on their past performance as curators of useful information. This isn’t an Enterprise 2.0 phenomenon, it’s a reality of our daily work. Hopefully your manager is one of these people, but there are always colleagues laterally in the organization to whom you turn for information and opinions.

With enterprise 2.0, use of these personal information filters is accelerated. It’s what others wrote in the wiki. Or their own blogs. Or tweet. Or tag. Or the documents they upload to the portal.

Improving the ability to track what others generate and find valuable is an critical component to improving the propensity to access information at the right time. Because it means you’re not on own to figure this out.

Wrapping Up

The takeway here is that Enterprise 2.0 touches on a couple levers for maximizing the value of information. First, recognize that there is no way for senior management to be there for every decision an employee makes. In fact, they shouldn’t be, as that would limit the flow of new information and ideas. But it does put the onus on employees to judge what information unit is valuable in the context of a company’s circumstances at that moment in time. The goal is improve the overall average judgment of what’s important right now for a company.

The second point is that accessing the rising value information – and its corollary, ignoring the declining value information – is just as important as recognizing the value of an information unit. After all, if you can’t find the piece of information, it’s pretty hard to assess its value to the company.

Maximize the value of information, and you increase the market cap of a company.

*****

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Business Week Launches Info Sharing Social Network – Will It Float?

Business Week Magazine has entered the social networking world with Business Exchange. Business Exchange is built around the sharing of information and discussing it with others. Here’s how Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler described it:

“Business Exchange, a free online information hub, is a new initiative of BusinessWeek.com. It enhances the ongoing reporting and analysis of Business Week writers and editors in print and online by aggregating other sources of news and analysis (including other media brands, blogs, videos, and research reports). Readers can use it to track business trends, with hundreds of topics available at launch, or create a specific topic that’s not currently on the Exchange.

The best part is the social underpinning of this platform. Users (including our journalists and editors) can share their own knowledge about a subject to enrich each topic far beyond what any single person or search engine can accomplish.

Business Exchange is a mix of:

  • Social bookmarking
  • Forums
  • Social network

Business Exchange vs. FriendFeed

FriendFeed actually has a similar mission to that described by Business Week’s editor-in-chief. So I put together a quick comparison of the two sites:

FriendFeed feels like a hotbed of activity, the kind of site where you’re compelled to hit the F5 refresh button. Business Exchange is more staid, partly because it doesn’t yet have an active user base, partly due to its design. The key design points from the table above that make a difference are:

  • Bounce to the top – Adding a comment or a save doesn’t move an item to the top of the Business Exchange page for a given topic, losing that feeling of “what’s hot”.
  • Forced segregation of content – For a given topic in Business Exchange, you can look at News or Blogs or References. But you can’t take them all in at once.
  • View Saves by user – In the list of entries on Business Exchange, you can’t see how many times an item has been Saved. This information is available for an individual item. But it’s not an easy experience to see what others found valuable.

As seen in this discussion, community, conversations, variety and outstanding design are making a difference for FriendFeed.

That being said, Business Exchange is new and it’s beta. Let’s see what they are doing.

Business Exchange’s Features

Content is both streamed and added. Being streamed into Business Exchange seems like a nice bonus for a media site or blogger. Check out the difference below in the way these two items made it into Business Exchange:

The MyDebates post was “published” into the topic. The Soul of the Enterprise post was “added” to the topic. From what I can tell, designated media sites and blogs are automatically added based on either key words or tags.

Full Profile. You get a full profile page on Business Exchange. Work, education, picture and up to four links to other sites. It also shows your recent activity, which is nice.

Building a social network. You can’t search for other users. So you find them when they’re displayed as “Active Users” on the site, via the items they Save or Comments they make. It makes it a bit challenging to build out your list of subscriptions. Your subscriptions are simply a list, and you can click an individual to see their activity. There is not currently a way to see the aggregated activities only of your subscriptions.

Focus on Most Active. At different points on the site, Business Exchange gives a list of what’s most active. The home page tells you the most active Topics, and gives a list of Active Users. Each topic includes a list of Most Active, which does aggregate from News, Blogs and References.

The definition of Most Active inside a topic is probably based on the number of Views, Saves and Comments. You can see all of those stats for an item when you go to make a Comment. I like seeing those stats.

If You’re Business Minded, Check It Out

It’s early in the life of Business Exchange. Getting more users will, of course, make it a more interesting place to hang out. It doesn’t hurt that it hangs off the businessweek.com site, and that it can get periodic boosts from the print magazine.

I’m still learning the site, and maybe the Most Active tab for each Topic is the place to be.

My profile on Business Exchange is here. If you sign up, add me, and I’ll add you back.

*****

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I’m Doubling Down My Subscriptions Because of FriendFeed Lists

As discussed here before, FriendFeed’s beta version includes the ability to tag users, putting them in different Lists you create. You can create your own programming channels.

I’m loving this feature.

One effect for me has to been to add subscriptions left and right. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Now that I’ve got themed Lists, I want there to be some good content in them! Right now, I’m subscribing to a lot of FriendFeeders who are into Enterprise 2.0 or who have an amazing eye for pictures.
  2. Managing a high flow of content is a lot easier. You can take users out of your Home feed, and tag them into different Lists. Check the Lists at your leisure, and you can see content for many, many more people. It doesn’t all just go flying by you.

Here’s my rendition of how Lists have changed the FriendFeed experience:

How about you? You started your Lists yet?

*****

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