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Weekly Recap 072508: Twittering into the Mainstream

Twitter got some big play this week: 2 good, 1 bad…let’s start with good…

USA Today had a nice feature on Twitter, Twitter took off from simple to ‘tweet’ success…this quote from the article really gets it right about Twitter these days…

Twitter has become so popular, so fast, that keeping up with its fast-growing user base is a real issue. So many people now use Twitter to update friends that the system often crashes.

The outages are the markers of a company that is experiencing success beyond its expectations…

The New York Times ran a story about how companies use Twitter, blogs and other social media to keep up with customer issues and questions…

If you’re scoring at home, that’s two mainstream, huge-circulation newspapers writing positive stories about Twitter this week…if you wonder a couple years from now how Twitter became so mainstream, remember weeks like this…

But not all was well with Twitter this week…the company inexplicably chopped off subscribers from every user…there were a lot of pissed Twitterers…people threatened to leave Twitter…but when the followers were restored?…

Temporary retraction .. comes back up 50 more followers ? I can’t help it … it’s sticky”

Twitter’s je ne sais quoi

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I’ve never said jailbreaking

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SmugMug seems to have figured out FriendFeed’s visual dynamics…SmugMug pictures come thorugh big, bright and beautiful on FriendFeed, especially compared to Flickr pictures…

SmugMug pix on FriendFeed, courtesy of Dave Cohen:

Dave Cohen SmugMug Pictures

Dave Cohen SmugMug Pictures

Same pix, this time Flickr on FriendFeed:

Dave Cohen Flickr Pictures

Dave Cohen Flickr Pictures

Great advertisement for SmugMug…and the little guy is cute regardless of the photo service…

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Noticed a change in my Google Reader shares these days…I’m tending to share blog posts that I haven’t already seen a few times on FriendFeed…that means fewer TechCrunch shares…more emphasis on those nuggets that haven’t seen wide circulation yet…

Figured people were seeing the big blogs enough already…

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I got to do a guest post on Louis Gray’s blog this week…really good reactions out there in the blogosphere, which was great…blogger Barry Schwartz thought enough of the post that he wrote his own post in response, Am I Losing the Connection?

Unfortunately, Barry got the author wrong…he overlooked the “guest post” announcement at the start of the post, and naturally figured Louis wrote it…from Barry’s post…

  • Louis Gray wrote a blog post named Bloggers’ Interactions With Readers Decrease With Prominence
  • Louis Gray documents what are “interactions:”
  • “It’s these two dynamics that cause some bloggers to head onto the next stage,” explains Louis.

Sigh…I am happy the post resonated, but it’d be nice to get a little recognition…so I left a comment on Barry’s post a few days ago:

Barry – glad you liked the post. One small correction – I actually wrote that particular post. Louis was kind enough to let me guest post on his blog.

As for losing your connection to the industry. Look to people like Fred Wilson and Louis Gray as examples. I don’t think any blogger should feel the need to connect with every reader. Just like connecting anywhere else – pick your spots, right?

Despite the comment, Barry hasn’t updated his blog…Barry – you’re losing touch with your readers!…

Well, I’m not alone…Rob Diana wrote a piece on Louis’s blog, Can Microblogs Just Talk to Each Other?…Dave Winer thought it was Louis’s post…such are the benefits and perils of guest blogging…

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According to Allen Stern, Mahalo employees are busily writing articles for Google Knol…Unsure of Google Knol’s future impact on his company Mahalo, Jason Calacanis is making sure they have plenty of articles with links pointing to Mahalo pages…

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Plan to buy an iPhone this week, if they have inventory

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Google Knol: A Massive Blogging Platform

Google opened up its Knol service on Wednesday July 23. From the Google blog:

The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people’s heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone.

Allow millions of people to freely write up their own thoughts and contribute knowledge. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah…

You know what Knol is? It’s a blogging platform. A hosted, multi-author blogging platform

As Mathew Ingram notes, Knol is compared to Wikipedia and Mahalo. Here’s how I’d break down the three services.

  • Wikipedia is a wiki
  • Mahalo is an editor-controlled links aggregation site
  • Knol is a giant blogging site

Wikipedia is a collaborative effort toward creating a single information page. Mahalo is handpicked information created in a top-down fashion by experts. Knol is a bunch of separate blog posts on a given subject.

I Wrote My First Google Knol

To find out more about Google Knol, I decided to write up a knol. My knol is Using FriendFeed to Increase Blog Readership. I took my old post Ten FriendFeed Visitors Beats 1,000 StumbleUpons Any Day, and got rid of the comparisons to StumbleUpon and Digg. The knol focuses on how FriendFeed is actually good for bloggers.

I figured that post was a good one to start with. It got Likes from FriendFeed co-founders Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor:

The post was also (ironically) quite popular with Stumblers. So I cleaned up the references to other sites and added some things around attention optimization.

Yup, I was ready to rock-n-knol.

Knol = Blogging

The process of creating a knol was really easy:

  1. Go to knol.google.com
  2. Click on “Write a knol”
  3. Sign in with your Google account
  4. Start writing

I thought there might be some sort of test to prove my expertise, or some approval period while someone checked my credentials. Nope.  It was just another Google Accounts sign-up.

The process reminded me of signing up for wordpress.com and starting to write. Here’s the knol blogging interface:

Once I got in there, it was just like blogging. I wrote my paragraphs. Created section titles. Added graphics.

I did assume a somewhat more professorial tone in the knol than I do here.

Knols Allow Some Wiki-Like Collaboration on Blog Posts

The overall Knol site is not itself a wiki. But there are wiki elements available for individual knols. Three collaboration options are available, set by th author:

  1. Wide open editing by anyone who is signed in
  2. Moderated editing – all edits must be approved by the author
  3. No editing – no one except the author can make changes

So there could be knols that are set up as true community build-out efforts (#1 option above). That’s pretty much Wikipedia. The difference is that there may be several knols on a given subject – some by solo authors, some by a group of collaborators. Wikipedia has only a single page per subject.

Knols Allow Comments – Just Like Blogs

People can make comments on your knol. A good discussion can occur around a subject. This is just like a blog.

Knols Allow Ads – Just Like Blogs

An author can elect to allow ads to appear beside the knol. I did this, signing up for Google AdSense for the first time in my life. I don’t expect to earn a penny, but I want to see what ads run there.

Blogs, of course, can also have ads.

Knol Includes an Author Profile – Just Like Blogs

When you create your first knol, Google automatically creates a second one for you: your profile page (link to mine). A really nice feature that, again, is a hallmark of blogs (the About page).

Aside from a  bio, the profile page includes a listing of the knols that someone has written.

What’s the Difference Between Google Knols and WordPress.com?

Really, there’s no reason the content of knols will differ that much from blogs. I searched for “back pain” on Google Knol and WordPress.com. Here are two results:

The knol is the more scholarly of the two. But the wordpress.com blog holds its own in terms of information.

There are two key differences from what I can see:

  1. Brand. Knol is branded as an expert/knowledge site. Blogs are that, but also include a lot of opinion and first-person experiences.
  2. Ranking. Readers can rate a knol on a 1-5 star scale. These rankings will help the best content emerge at the top of search results.

Google knols may also have better “Google juice” than most blogs. Search Engine Land suspects knols will inherit a Google page rank advantage in search results.

Try Writing a Knol!

For me, writing a knol was a lot less pressure than adding to a Wikipedia entry. It was just like writing a blog post. Now I am conscious of the purpose of knol, and don’t expect to fill it with my blog posts. But perhaps over time people will be less wary of adding opinion to knols. From the Google blog post introducing Knol:

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It’s their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.

Note the inclusion of opinion in there. Once you open that up, you’ve fundamentally got blogging. Knol might be good for people who don’t want to maintain a full blog, but would love to write a few articles providing knowledge and opinion.

Go take a look at the knol I wrote (link). Please rate it. Comment on it. I’m curious what all that interaction looks like.

And then go blog your own knol. If you do, leave a link in the comments so I can check it out.

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Search Smackdown: Mahalo – del.icio.us – Google

I was reading the Crowdsourcing vs. Expertsourcing: A Misleading Comparison post over at Mashable. In it, Paul Glazowski analyzes a Newsweek article that suggests the bloom is off the Web 2.0 rose. Too much junk is enabled via everyday people logging on, and there’s a movement for more professional, expert information sourcing.

One example of expertsourcing is Mahalo. Mahalo was started to be a guide to Web content. Paid professionals own a topic, they research a number of sites related to that topic, and post the links that provide the best information. In their opinion, that is.

I’ll admit to some skepticism here. Google has been so good at revealing information and letting me see what’s out there. The idea of limiting my results to what someone deems worthy seems so incomplete. I’m afraid I’d be missing something that’d be really important to me.

But Mahalo has gotten some traction, so there’s something there.

I decided to run my own simple test of Mahalo, pitting it against two other ways to find relevant web content: del.icio.us and Google search. Quick backgrounder on those. del.icio.us is a bookmarking/tagging app that lets you save websites you like, and give them terms that have meaning to you. You can also find content on a given subject by searching tags, and seeing what others have bookmarked. Google is, of course, the preeminent Web search engine.

I tested three separate search terms, going from broad to specific:

  • Running
  • Marathon training
  • Tempo run

My scoring system is simple. For each search term, gold, silver or bronze will assigned based on my own subjective view.

SEARCH TERM #1: RUNNING

‘Running’ is a fairly broad topic. There are a lot of areas that may apply, making it a challenge to return results that are relevant . With that in mind, let’s see what the three search apps returned.

Mahalo: SILVER

The foundation of Mahalo’s search results is “The Mahalo Top 7”. These are the seven best links for a given topic. It is the Top 7 where expertsourcing proves its value.

The ‘Running’ Top 7 provide links to two running publications and wikipedia’s entry for running. Another link is to About.com’s page for running, itself a form of expertsourcing. A little uninspired, but a serviceable offering.

Mahalo also has several other sections in its running page. These include health-related topics, oddball sites, web tools and user recommendations. The web tools include MapMyRun.com, which lets you map a run or view others’ running routes. A user recommendation includes LetsRun.com, which is the best site for the competitive runner.

One other thing that’s good. All the links relate to the physical exercise running.

del.icio.us: BRONZE

This search shows both the power and the weakness of bookmark/tagging sites. On the plus side, I love the running results that are returned. Very interesting variety. The downside? A lot of sites that aren’t exercise running-related. Things like “Running a Windows Partition in VMware” and “Internet Explorer 7 running side by side with IE6”. In fact, 26 of the first 50 results were not related to exercise running.

There are interesting sites that del.icio.us users have posted related to running. MapMyRun.com is here. How to Select a Running Shoe by eHow.

Several, but not all of the Mahalo Top 7 appear in the first 50 del.icio.us results.

Google: GOLD

You can see how Mahalo picked its Top 7 websites…they’re all the top results in Google search! Google also returns the fun stuff in del.icio.us.

Then Google offers a plethora of other sites, and only 6 of the first 50 are not related to exercise running. Pretty much everything on Mahalo is there, plus other interesting sites. A site listing running movies. A company that sells the running skirt! Ultrarunning.

SEARCH TERM #2: MARATHON TRAINING

‘Marathon training’ is not nearly as wide open as ‘running’. This search is for someone who has a a goal in mind.

Mahalo: BRONZE

First, let me say that the bronze here is a very strong showing. If there was photo finish, you’d have a hard time telling Mahalo hadn’t won this test. The presented sites are all good and worty of consideration for anyone contemplating a marathon.

There are a variety of programs available here: Runners World, Running Times, marathontraining.com, etc. And to Mahalo’s credit, there’s no listing for Galloway’s training program! Editor bias there, I’ll admit.

I was disappointed that Pete Pfitzinger’s program isn’t shown. It’s my own favorite. But I liked the CrunchGear site, listing stuff marathoners would want.

del.icio.us: GOLD

One thing that immediately struck me this time is that all 50 of the del.icio.us results were related to marathon training. The greater specificity helped del.icio.us here. Also, “running” has several meanings, but “marathon” has few.

Several of the Mahalo Top 7 are in the first 50 results. Missing are the Running Times program, the AIDS national training program and the Boston Athletic Association program. But Team in Training is included (if you’re offsetting charity-related programs).

Several other valuable sites are here. For example, there’s McMillan Running, which includes running pace calculators and marathon time prediction workouts.

Unfortunately, Jeff Galloway’s site is bookmarked here. But…Pete Pfitzinger is included as well. Bonus points for that.

Google: SILVER

Google does its usual excellent job in its results. 6 of the Mahalo Top 7 are here; Running Times is missing from the first 50 results. Surprisingly, Team in Training is not in the top 50 results.

Google gets dinged for no race calculator in the first 50 results. No Pete Pfitzinger. But Jeff Galloway is there! Noooo…

SEARCH TERM #3: TEMPO RUN

A tempo run is a specific training technique in which you hold a fast pace over several miles. It’s a tough workout, but it can advance your performance dramatically. Obviously, we’re now in the technical weeds of running.

Mahalo: DISQUALIFIED

Mahalo has no entry for tempo running. We’ve gone too detailed for Mahalo here. DQ’d.

del.icio.us: SILVER

Use of the term “run” again confuses poor del.icio.us here. 34 of the first 50 results are not related to exercise running. But there are several good sites related to the tempo run. Runner’s World has Learn How To Do A Perfect Tempo Run. Running Times has A Tempo Run by Many Other Names.

And this is one of my favorites…a LetsRun.com post/discussion about Tempo run length vs. speed from 2003. One would have to go pretty deep into the LetsRun site to unearth that one. A true credit to the power of social bookmarks & tagging.

Google: GOLD

Incredibly, all of the first 50 results were related to exercise tempo runs. Very impressive. Lots of good info about the temp run. A LetsRun post/discussion, but different than the one on del.icio.us. Bloggers describing their tempo runs. Formal programs that advise on the pace of the tempo run. Just really good stuff.

Recap: Broad, Narrow, Technical

Broad search: Google, Mahalo, del.icio.us
Narrow search: del.icio.us, Google, Mahalo
Technical search: Google, del.icio.us, (Mahalo DQ’d)

Conclusions that I draw from this admittedly small, subjective test:

  • Mahalo is a good starting point for finding information on something that’s not familiar to you. It only covers broader, more popular categories. It does appear that the Mahalo expert just skims the top results from Google. But the clean interface and human filtering makes it a decent place to start your search.
  • del.icio.us is challenged by results that are not related to the search topic, which is consistent with its user-generated chaotic nature. It’s also a really good place to find hidden nuggets of valuable information not easily found elsewhere. And for a narrow topic with words that do not have multiple meanings, del.icio.us really shines.
  • Google still makes sense as the first place to look. Breadth and depth of results, and it takes on all comers. It also does an exceedingly good job of figuring out what sites relate to a search topic.

One final note in favor of Mahalo. There is research that shows consumers are actually better off with fewer choices than more. Give me 7 good choices, and I’ll be able to begin my journey to learn more about a topic. Give me 50 choices, some great, some terrible, and I’ll be flummoxed as I try to read them all.

Mahalo does have the advantage of providing a simple, limited set of good results to get beginners going. There is value to that.