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To the Twitter Naysayers: Just Give It A Try

I don't want to comment on the premise of his post (which is not to say I don't agree or disagree with it), but I liked what Steve Hall had to say about Twitter:

It's pretty much guaranteed you'll interpret this as idiotic puffery but until you use Twitter, really use it for a while, you won't really understand what you're missing and you don't really have the right to comment. Seriously. Give it a try.

As the only user of Twitter at work, I get asked about the merits of it all the time. I love Twitter and find it a valuable resource for everything Steve mentions: "IM, email, mobile app, chat room, focus group, news source, a wall on which to bounce ideas, a research resource, presence indicator," but I have a hard time getting that across to people. I get told by people that Twitter pointless and a huge waste of time, but without having tried it, they really don't have a right to comment. Next time Twitter comes up in conversation, I'll respond simply with, "just give it a try."

Thanks for the advice, Steve.

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My Data, Your Data and Our Data

Mr Scoble is making headlines again, this time for getting kicked off of Facebook (now he's back in, although I wonder if someone not as high-profile been given the same luxury?). He got caught scraping data off of Facebook using a feature of Plaxo Pulse, a competing social network. I'm all for data portability, but this of course raised the question of who actually owns the data in your social graph.

Clearly what came out of this is that it's no one's data but Facebook's. It's clear they control access to it, so there's nothing stopping them from keeping it from you. After all, Robert wasn't just restricted from accessing the data he was scraping, he was also restricted from accessing his own profile, including photos, videos and other content that no one would argue he doesn't own. And it's in Facebook's interest to make it their own. Their top two (only two?) competitive advantages are closed access and momentum and the former drives the latter.

Facebook is being pulled from opposite sides by the push for open access and by the necessity to ensure privacy. They get in trouble for not doing enough of both even though the means to achieving both are often at odds. To that extent, there are three levels of open access Facebook (or any social network, for that matter) could offer while maximizing privacy for those who require it:

My Data
First things first, let me pull my own data out - my list of favorite music, my photos, my videos, etc. I let the network borrow it and I have a right to take it back (and take it with me). Furthermore, all of this is stand-alone data and does not reveal any information about my social graph. My pictures might reveal other people in my social graph, but tagged friend data is explicit revelation of that shared data and doesn't come along for the ride at this level.

Our Data
Second, let me pull out my links. This is shared data, but since the existence of the link is usually public knowledge and doesn't reveal any real identifying information other than your name, letting me take this data with me is probably okay in most circumstances. It would be safe, though probably unpopular, to make this shared data opt-out instead of opt-in.

Your Data
Finally, there's your information. This was the stuff Scoble was pulling out en masse and rightfully got in trouble for. I can take your favorite movies to my Netflix buddy list or your work info to my LinkedIn network, but only if you let me. Here's the kicker though: I have to let you have my data too. I shouldn't be able to post your pictures on HotOrNot (or explicitly say you're you in one of my pictures) unless I give you the ability to do the same.

Facebook doesn't currently let anyone do any of this. It's easy enough to get away with grabbing my own data, although it comes out in a non-standard format. Pulling out my links is a still quite trivial, though somewhat useless given the current state of things (meaning I can't do much with just your name and there isn't much to do even if I could). Robert proved it's feasible but risky to pull your data. For all Facebook knows all 5000 of his friends would happily let him have their email addresses and birthdays.

It's clear that a solution that maintains privacy and provides open access exists, I came up with one in less than an hour (though admittedly implementing it is a huge task). The problem isn't that a creepy old (just kidding on both counts :-p) blogger wants to wish me a happy birthday. The problem is that under the guise of protecting privacy, Facebook continues to block open access to data that wants to be free when all they're really doing is protecting their business model.

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Producing/Participating More and Consuming Less

43Folders had a post about re-evaluating one's online commitments, something I've been trying to work on for a few months now, ever since the Media Fast Experiment I did back in September.

Google Reader is perhaps my most time consuming "commitment" and so it's the one I'm scrutinizing the most. Since starting over yesterday, I've read close to 300 items, have 60 unread, of which I'll read 20 or so. Over 10% of the content that comes passes through my brain is content I don't want. I've become especially adverse to the big group blogs that put out 10+ posts a day of things I'm only tangentially interested in. I'd much rather follow 5x more personal blogs and have more varied and more authentic posts, even at the same volume.

I also want to eliminate Digg from my life. Most of the stories I read on Digg are mildly entertaining but ultimately mindless. The community is fairly bottom-of-the-barrel in terms of intelligent conversation and the comment system itself doesn't help any even there was good conversation.

On the flip side, I'd like to spend more time on Flickr. My Flickr usage pattern has me posting a ton of photos over a concentrated period of time. Part of the reason is that most of my photography has been from vacations and I'm too OCD to leave gaps or upload them out of order. Now that that's slowed down a bit (I have <100 photos from South Africa left to post), I can go through my backlog of random shots and start uploading those in less quantity but far more often. Hopefully with more frequent posting I'll be more likely to participate in the great community that exists on Flickr.

As I said yesterday, I'd also like to spend more time blogging. With this post, I'm 2 for 2 which puts me on pace for 366 this year :-) Along with more blogging, comes more participation. I hope to do a bit more connecting with my audience via posts and connecting with other bloggers via comments and link love. The same goes for Twitter. I don't want just more tweets, I also want more conversation.

To reiterate what I mentioned yesterday, it's all about producing (and participating) more and consuming less. Just a warning: posts here might be a bit repetitive over the next week while I force this stuff to stick.

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Google Readerbook Me

Google has added a social networking aspect to Google Reader. Inviting a user to chat (i.e., adding them to your GTalk buddy list and you to theirs) allows you to view their shared feeds in a new section, cleverly titled, "Friends' shared items".

You can add me by adding martingordon at gmail.com to your GTalk buddy list. As an aside, there should be an easy way to link to this action instead of having to provide instructions. For now, I'll call it "Google Readerbook me", in honor of that other social network.

I only have one friend at the moment, Scoble, and there is a major flaw (which I mentioned to him last night and he blogged about): If they share an item from a feed you're subscribed to, you see it twice. For people with many friends and lots of overlapping shared items, the number of dupes that have to be processed can grow considerably.

The solution, of course, is to remove the duplicate items. But let's take it one step further. Show me how many times the item would have shown up in my feed list. I can list six metrics that are no-brainers: friends sharing/starring/subscribed to this item and all users sharing/starring/subscribed to this item. Google Reader instantly becomes a del.icio.us/Digg competitor if they decide to show the "all users" metrics. Perhaps it even turns into a del.icio.us/Digg killer since starring/sharing is such an "organic" action. Since I'm doing it anyway, there's no inertia keeping me from participating and there's no need for me to install and use browser extensions or Bookmarklets to bookmark/submit anything.

It's clear now Google's approach to building a social network is the exact opposite of Facebook's. Facebook first built the network and then tacked on applications; Google first built the applications and then integrated the social network into them. In Facebook's case, yes the network itself has its uses, but I have yet to find a truly killer app among the thousands of Facebook apps ("Zombies" and "Super Wall" aren't going to change the way I live, work, or for that matter, socialize). Google's way is sneakier (in a good way) and this means it may take longer to build up the network, but I feel in the end it'll lead to a more useful social network - the one that enhances the applications I already use.

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Hating to Love Facebook

The blogosphere just hates to love Facebook. It took almost three years after it's launch for people like Mr. 5000 to notice it, (although in all fairness only a year after it became open to the public) and now the second something newer and shinier comes along people to start proclaiming that Facebook is dead.

Guess what? The 99% of Facebook users who don't care that Facebook is closed as long as it's not exclusive won't switch away; I also doubt that the 1% who do care won't switch either. App developers won't suddenly leave Facebook because OpenSocial is more widely supported; at best, an OpenSocial (curiously OS for short) app will supplement an existing Facebook app. Apps follow users and the users are still (and still will be) on Facebook.

Users may be fickle in their taste, but so many of them have invested too much of themselves in Facebook (by way of routine, photos, videos, wall posts and other content) to go running for the doors even if something tremendously better came along. The lag between the introduction of a better alternative and the abandonment of the old is long enough that Facebook will have time to react; just look how long AOL stuck around despite much better alternatives in both content and connectivity. Facebook's lock-in, while fragile, is in no way as big a disadvantage as everyone makes it out to be.

If OpenSocial does take off, Facebook can adopt it without much hassle and we're pretty much back to where we are now. If it doesn't take off, then it's probably because of Facebook and Zuckerberg and the gang have nothing to worry about.

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Facebook Tackles Spammin' Apps

This came across the Facebook developers feed tonight and through a message to members of the Facebook Developers group:

Over the last few weeks we have noticed several developers misleading our users into clicking on links, adding applications and taking actions. While the majority of developers are doing the right thing and playing by the rules, a few aren’t – and are creating spam as a result. Going forward, if you are deceptively notifying users or tricking them into taking actions that they wouldn’t have otherwise taken, we will start blocking these notifications. The bottom line is that if the notifications you send are the result of a genuine action by a Facebook user and that action is truthfully reported to the recipient so they can make an informed decision, you should have no problems. If you do find some notifications blocked, it was probably because this wasn’t the case and we will be happy to inform you of some best practices by other developers that have prevented this issue.

If you've been blocked by us for deceptive notifications, the error message you will see is - 200 Permissions Error.

Thanks,

The Facebook Platform Team

I'm glad they're doing something about it, because I was just about to write how I hate the (formerly) growing trend of apps posting notifications like, "so-and-so has posted on your Advanced Wall, click here to read" or "Click here to see what so-and-so said about you". I'm glad they're tackling this issue now so that Facebook doesn't become a MySpace-like spam-infested wasteland.

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The Digg Problem

I am becoming increasingly irritated with Digg. The amount of misinformation that gets spread on that site is appalling and makes me wonder if we aren't better off having some editor at CNN or the New York Times or even Slashdot tell us what's newsworthy (or at the very least true).

Who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?

What it boils down to is desperation to get on the front page or a simple lack of reading comprehension. In a little over a week, I've come across four stories purporting rumors as fact. Despite the fact that other people notice this as well (and make it known in the comments), the story still ends up with a couple thousand Diggs. In roughly the same period of time, I've heard two people spread these rumors as facts to other people, who may or may not be Diggers, and so on, and the misinformation propagates.

If an idiot throws a rock into the water, not even 50 geniuses can fish it out.

When I come across these stories, I'll bury them as inaccurate. I like to think others do too. But the story keeps climbing. Is anything done after people bury stories? They just turn gray in my news list, but I don't really care. I already know the story sucks. It's already possible to "digg down" a user comment, why aren't we afforded the same "luxury" with stories? As far as comments are concerned, 98% of them are trash. There's no intelligent discussion because the inmates are running the asylum. Calacanis had it right, there needs to be some sort of moderation team out there dealing with the mountains of crap.

So Scoble wonders why Digg's audience hasn't grown much. I feel it's because Digg isn't a serious site. I go to Digg to pass the time, not to find late-breaking news. I figure most people on Digg do the same and the quality of the community reflects it. Perhaps I expected more from the Digg community, but I've grown increasingly disappointed with the quality of stories that appear on the site. And that's where the Digg problem lies: in the world of user-generated content, if the users are subpar then the content they generate will (for the most part) be subpar as well.

So what else is out there in the land of social news? Maybe it's time to try out the Facebook Google Reader app (what Scoble calls, "Digg for the smart people"). Still, I'd like something that's a bit more open (and doesn't require me logging into Facebook).

[tags]Digg, social news, user generated content,

Thoughts on Blogs vs. Social Networks

Facebook's announcement of the Facebook Platform and the ability to add third-party applications to profiles has caused me to re-evaluate my thoughts on what defines blogs and social networks, and particularly where you draw the line between the two types of user-generated content (ugh). Tonight, I came across a post by my blogosphere buddy Kent Newsome on the differences between blogs and social networks and so I felt compelled to commit my thoughts to paper/bits/web/whatever (it also gave me an opportunity to return one of the many links he's been kind enough to give me). Kent mentions that there's a ton of people in the blogosphere that he's friends with that he simple would have never met via Facebook and I echo that sentiment.

That said, I agree more with Jay Neely on the fact that a distinction exists between blogs and social networks. The friend/audience distinction Jay describes is seen by the composition of my personal networks on the two types of networks. My Facebook friends consists largely of people I had a previous relationship with in real life with a few A-list bloggers sprinkled in there for the mutual ego boost. After some thought, I realized that there exists an underlying difference that can draw a firm line between blogs and social networks. Facebook is not a place to make new friends, it's a place to interact with existing ones. The blogosphere, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: it facilitates and rewards growth of contacts and communication amongst strangers. This is evident on many levels:

For one, there exists a social stigma about approaching new people on Facebook (it is perceived as "stalker-ish"). This stigma simply doesn't exist in the blogosphere and the mentality is in fact the opposite, as can be seen from the rise of blog search engines such as Technorati and Google Blog Search and the ease of sending trackbacks and leaving comments.

More fundamentally, however, is the fact that Facebook has set up walls between its internal networks. In the blogosphere, this is akin to only being able to use the two-line Google search description as criteria for deciding to link to a blog. And if you do decide the two-line description is adequate enough to link to a blog AND the blogger decides to let your link through (since all "links" between people are moderated on Facebook), then you simply get the "About Me" page with some comments (although I'll admit this will change now that Facebook has opened up a bit and third-party applications are allowed).

Finally, social network profiles are largely static and therefore not very conducive to sustained interaction on the network. Like I said above, how many comments and links would a post-less blog with only an "About Me" page get? Not many. The reason why social networks continue to flourish, then, is that connections created on the network will continue to exist despite this lack of interaction on the network is that the interaction happens off the network. Social networks facilitate interaction off the network, whereas the blogosphere is defined by the interaction that takes place on the (ad-hoc) network.

I don't think either will disappear in lieu of the other, nor will one absorb the other, as I believe the two types of networks serve different purposes. It has been possible for a while to integrate blogs onto social network profiles, but the tools for posting and interacting are much better on full-blown blogs that I haven't seen anyone close down their Wordpress blogs in favor of Facebook Notes or a MySpace blog (Twitter, on the other hand, is a different story :)) Tools notwithstanding, I think that the differences I mentioned above are enough to keep the blogosphere and social networks distinct.

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Wharton Link Love

I was studying (read: Twittering) at Huntsman tonight when I overheard some guys talking about their up-and-coming social network (here's some advice: don't do it in public). After some quick searching, I discovered two blogs run by fellow Whartonites. Here's some link love (by the way, thanks to Kent Newsome for his!):

curiousgirl's playground
3000 Miles of Virtual Insanity
(and another one) Cool New Web

If you've been wondering what's been going on with this blog in the past few weeks, Hugh Macleod made a comic about it (it wasn't for me, but it may as well have been):

History Of My Blog

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Twitter 2007-2007: The Exodus

Twitter may be dying, but not for the reason you might think. It's not a matter of it not being monetized, or the servers crashing under popularity, or people losing interest. The reason is its name.

Last night, Leo Laporte, Chief TWiT, announced he was leaving Twitter to avoid confusion between it and the TWiT (This Week In Tech) network, especially in light of mashups like Twit Box, Twit This, etc. The now deleted Tweet said: "I've asked Ev to delete my Twitter account. I'm concerned about confusion with TWiT. I'm moving to Jaiku: account is ChiefTWiT. CU there!"

Robert Scoble thinks Leo is setting up for a trademark suit, since Leo does own the TWiT trademark. He's not doing it to be evil, but to simply protect his trademark. Trademark law states that if you don't protect a trademark, it enters the public domain.

Leo moved to Jaiku and I noticed right away it was down, no doubt due to Leo's switch. Leo is the most popular Twitter user according to Twitterholic, and his move also prompted Scoble (#3) and Paul Terry Walhus (#10) to jump onto Jaiku. That's three of the top 10 Twitter users that have moved to a competing service. And it's not just in the short head: there's been a lot of buzz on Jaiku, as a Twittersearch reported 210 tweets in the past 9 hours mentioned the competing service.

I don't see Twitter disappearing tomorrow, but Evan Williams (founder of Obvious, the company behind Twitter) needs to change the name of the service yesterday if he wants to keep Twitter's 1999-like growth going. The sooner Twitter becomes something else, the less time people have to rally behind Leo on Jaiku. For the sake of TWiT/Twitter fans, this needs to get resolved right away.

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