The Vortex: The Agony of Success

I’ve been awash in home-selling negotiations this week so I’m particularly cranky. You’ve been warned.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–As you’re well aware by now, Facebook acquired FriendFeed this week. Allow me to couch that: you’re well aware of this news only if you live in your browser. For those who frequent FriendFeed, though, it was like George Bush had been elected to a third term. Teeth were gnashed, tears were shed and exclamation points were employed with abandon. With characteristic good humor, FriendFeed set up a FestivusFeed on its site to allow for the airing of grievances.

I’ve been a long-time fan of FriendFeed and certainly understand the disappointment of a service’s community insiders. But the bottom line is that FriendFeed is a business that needs money to survive. Anyone who assumed that the site would exist as is in perpetuity needs to sign up for Economics 101 at your local community college. FriendFeed is an ingenious technology with a super-smart team that deserves to be seen and utilized by a much larger audience. Congratulations you guys – very well deserved. I can’t wait to see how far you go in Facebook.

–Marco Arment, Tumblr developer and Instapaper creator, took on Jason Calacanis this week, dissecting Calacanis’ I’ve-Decided-to-Hate-Apple post, picking apart the vast amount of circular, confusing and sometimes preposterous reasoning. There may have been a sound point or two in Calacanis’ post but those were overshadowed by his suggestion that we should activate multiple wireless services for one phone. Rather than defending his assertions, Calacanis instead “zinged” Marco by saying he needed a Wikipedia page and ending with a “for realz.” The really fun part? Jason did this on his personal Tumblr page.

–In related news, a Pear Analytics study found that 40% of Twitter updates are “pointless babble.”

Apps on the Radar

–Customers of USAA Bank will soon be able to deposit checks via iPhone, by taking a photograph of the front and back of the check. The actual check never even needs to be submitted. USAA is a small bank but their customers are primarily military personnel so they’re smartly adapting to fit client needs. Tech companies should take heed.

-AppsFire hasn’t been approved by iTunes yet but I’m hoping they jump on it. The iPhone app allows users to share favorite apps via email, something I’m surprised Apple didn’t come up with to begin with.

Tweet of the Week

–I fully admit to lifting this from the top slot on tweetingtoohard. But can you blame me? “I swear to g-d I can’t relate to most of society. I’m on a whole different level of consciousness.Its all so [censored] obvious. Wake the [censored] up.” – Loren Feldman

Wow. I need a shower after writing this one. Happy weekend, all.

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Up the Stream Without a Paddle

There are many big brains in the tech industry but one of the sharpest is Nova Spivack’s. He is one of those people who has so many concepts banging around in his head that you can literally see the neurons ablaze as he talks. I’ll admit that I sometimes fear conversations with him, lest my ignorance quickly be revealed. So I was happy to read about his latest concept, The Stream, as it dovetails perfectly into something I’ve been noodling on lately.

The theory behind The Stream is that the next phase of the Internet lies in “the collective movement that is taking place across” sites and services. That the ideas and conversations occurring on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and the like are a new layer on top of the existing Web. As Nova puts it:

The stream is our collective mind, what the Web is thinking and doing right now… a world of even shorter attention spans, online viral sensations, instant fame, sudden trends, and intense volatility. It is also a world of extremely short-term conversations and thinking.

His concluding question is, of course, how users are supposed to cope with the stream. And that’s where I’d like to step in. I’m all for the idea of a dynamic stream. But it’s time the rest of my online tools caught up.

The camel’s back broke for me last week as I was going through my RSS feeds. Keeping up with individual items has been a thorn in my side for months now. I can never manage to check them daily and inevitably end up reading only the first few dozen, then deleting the rest. So I was already cranky when I came across an item touting the latest social profile aggregator (I honestly can’t remember the name now). I almost threw my laptop out the window. I have no desire to 1) aggregate everything into one place or 2) visit a Web site to do this. That’s when the light bulb came on: I no longer want to visit Web sites. I want pertinent and relevant information delivered to me on a desktop app and on my Facebook feed. I just don’t have the time or inclination to click around anymore.

I’m not the only one in this mood. Webgiftr, a reminder/recommendation service for gift giving, recently announced that it is shutting down its Web service and migrating all user data to Facebook.  The company clearly saw dwindling site visits combined with increased Facebook activity and did the math. One of our Innovate!Europe finalists, Mixin, is integrating event information into the Facebook feed, making it easier to determine where your friends will be this weekend. This shows foresight on their part and I hope other services begin to follow suit.

I agree wholeheartedly that the stream is a smart – and potentially lucrative – concept on which to place your business bets. The trick now will be two-fold: integrating it into the necessary, high-traffic sites and applications and homing in on the content streams that will matter most to consumers. FriendFeed hits closest to the mark currently; it’s key problems are an unpopular interface, difficulty integrating real-world friends, and too much noise. But if it can face down those challenges, it seems to me a relatively seamless way to insert the stream into everyday consumers’ lives.

In short, I love the idea of The Stream. It’s time to think about content, and our relationship to it, differently. The age of the frequently updated Web site is over. Thinking about content, in all its forms, as an ever-shifting overlay to our time online should be our key focus in the months ahead.

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The View from Guidewire: Needs a New Name

I don’t know about you but this title ain’t doing it for me. I tend to shorten things and calling it ‘The View’ only brings to mind four women who yell at each other about subjects they don’t know much about. Something snappier, zippier is needed. Suggestions?

It was a quiet week around the technosphere, with only an ill Steve Jobs, a slash-happy Google, a new Yahoo CEO, and a plane crash to keep us occupied.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-But what should really keep you up at night is the news that Robert Scoble hit a mark of 25,000 followers on FriendFeed. It was the top post on FriendFeed this week, with a convoluted comment explosion involving phrases like  ‘augmented cognition’ and ‘homophilous networks’. What we should instead discuss is that Scoble now has a literal army of followers. A takeover of a small state is sure to follow. I nominate Rhode Island or Delaware.

-Burger King introduced a Facebook app in which users received a free Whopper for every 10 friends they deleted on the social network. Over 50,000 friends were sacrificed on the first day and 230,000 by week’s end. But Facebook quickly got wise and crippled a key feature, resulting in Whopper Sacrifice ultimately sacrificing itself.

-The social channels were put through their paces yesterday with the announcement of Steve Jobs’ medical leave in the morning and a miraculous plane crash in the afternoon. No snarky comments from me; it was one of those days when social media really proved its worth. From amazing instantaneous pictures of the crash to constant updates and discussion on both subjects, it was solid proof of what sometimes frivolous technologies can mean in the real world.

Special Inaugural Section (or Sweet Jesus Mary It’s Almost Over)

-Those of you stuck at your desks on Tuesday can tune into Joost for livestream coverage of the inauguration.

-Can’t livestream? Write your own speech with the Inauguration Speech Generator. See if you can out-hope and out-change our new President.

-And for the wonks out there, the great 10 Links a Day blog has put together all manner of sites (well, just 10 actually) for Inaugural info.

-Last but most certainly not least, drop by your local Krispy Kreme next Tuesday for a free doughnut. If for no other reason than just to annoy these people.

Tweet of the Week

Goes to Jason Meserve, who made me laugh out loud just after I published last week’s wrap-up: “Guy next to me at McCarran is going to transform the medical/pharmaceutical business. He just needs some cash. I hate him.”

Ephemera

-I like to title this story, “When Tweets Go Bad.” A PR rep from Ketchum made the mistake of tweeting that Memphis may not be the most fabulous town on the planet. FedEx, it turns out, doesn’t have a sense of humor about that kind of thing. Am I only the one who’s far more concerned with his typos?

-We are not, it turns out, completely made of stone. The top FriendFeed post of the week was a collective ooh and ahh over one damn cute baby, Miss Audrey Moskovitz. Congratulations Akiva and Rochelle! Really, she’s gorgeous.

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The View from Guidewire: New Year, New Silliness

I let ‘The View’ posts slide during the holiday malaise but the first work week of 2009 brings a bevy of technosphere fun. And apparently it also brings a rise in my snark quotient. I’ll try to be nicer next week.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Several celebrity Twitter accounts, including Obama and Britney Spears, were hacked, causing much kerfuffle and official statements from Twitter. Users were alerted to “change your password!” because no one wanted to admit they weren’t famous enough to be hacked.

-The big discussion this week on FriendFeed was… FriendFeed. Louis Gray wrote a post on what FriendFeed needs to do to grow (some great ideas in there, by the way) and it gets 140 comments on his site alone. Several others chime in to debate further, including Sarah Lacy, who predicts “a modest acquisition in someone’s future.”  Hmmm, I’ve heard that somewhere before… Paul Buchheit, FriendFeed investor and founder, then has his say, requesting that folks remember there is no such thing as overnight success. I probably skipped a few steps in there but you get the gist: FriendFeed needs to grow and attract more mainstream consumers. See also: Pope’s hat and bear in woods.

-Gawker Media continues to sell off its properties, with Consumerist going to Consumer Reports, and my beloved Defamer looking for a home. Seriously folks, someone snap up Defamer – it has some of the wittiest writing online.

2008 in the rearview mirror

-I’ve had Jason Kottke’s Best Links 2008 in an open tab all week. There’s a lot to wade through but it’s all fascinating. And there are a couple of fun games buried in there too. [Note: why can't I get Passage to run on my computer? I've been dying to play it since I read Jason Rohrer's Esquire profile.]

-Speaking of games, Mochi Media released its list of the top 10 flash games for 2008. Click that link at your own peril. Hours of time suckage lie in wait.

-And don’t miss Pitchfork’s 20 Worst Album Covers of 2008. I think my favorite comment is on Brad Paisley’s cover: “The artist who did this also designed GeoCities pages for people in 1996.”

Apps on the Radar

-WebEx introduced its iPhone app, for those times when you want your browser to crash on a smaller screen.

-ReadWriteWeb tells me there’s a Change.gov iPhone app now available but I’m not sure I believe them. Searches in iTunes and on my phone turned up nothing. **Update: Christopher Corfi was kind enough to include links to the Change.gov app. See comment #2 below.

-I finally downloaded Enigmo and am officially hooked. It was voted best iPhone game at last year’s developer conference and completely merits the title.

DEMO trends – where the innovation is with DEMO 09 applicants

-Consumer-controlled marketing – allowing users to control the conversation on business sites

-Social Web – a remote control for your online experience

-Immersive learning – transitioning education to 21st century tools

Ephemera

-Apple is possibly developing iPhone gloves. You heard me correctly – gloves for using your iPhone in the cold. For those times when you just can’t abide the extra five minutes it takes to, you know, go inside.

Tweet of the Week

It’s a three-way tie this week, since we haven’t named anyone in several weeks. Drumroll please…

-Funniest: (And cheating a bit because this was a FriendFeed entry) Alex Scoble, brother of Robert, – “I’ve created a pastime out of coming up with new ways to humorously say that my brother’s head is gargantuan.”

-Pithiest: @marshallk, who got married New Year’s Eve (congrats!) and said, “thx everyone. gotta say though, wedding license applications, next to “domestic partnership” apps, felt like a whites’ only water fountain.”

-And this one came in just as I was wrapping up the post.  Most Out of Touch of With Reality goes to @JasonCalacanis: “Must. Not. Order. Corvette. ZR1. STOP. DON’T DO IT. Recession. Not appropriate. DRIVE TESLA. Save. Planet. STOP. DON’T ORDER.”

We should all have such problems.

A Tale of Two Communities

If you’ve checked out my FriendFeed stream in the last few weeks, you may have noticed the emergence of a glaring theme in my online activity. Its name is Facebook and it has commandeered my life.  There are pages upon pages of Facebook status updates in my FriendFeed and not much else. (Excepting the glut of old YouTube favorites that just popped up yesterday. That’s an odd bug.) Though I can’t pinpoint precisely when this shift occurred – some time over the last month my time on FriendFeed has dwindled to zero while Facebook has become an always-open tab – I can tell you precisely why. My friends are on Facebook.  My real-world, send-Christmas-cards friends. For the most part, they’re people with which I share history. I want to see pictures of their kids and reminisce over embarrassing high school pictures. While it can be fun to argue politics with strangers on FriendFeed, at the end of the day it’s simply more fulfilling to connect further with people I’m personally invested in. And I’m reasonably sure I’m not alone in this sentiment, particularly among mass consumers.

What’s more interesting, though, is that no one on FriendFeed comments or likes my Facebook entries. They sit forlornly on the FriendFeed page, a sure sign that my attention and energies have moved elsewhere. It’s like a tacit acknowledgment among FriendFeed users that Facebook is an entirely separate world unto itself. Or perhaps my status updates are just boring.  The point is that these two worlds, so similar in so many ways, seem to be at war with each other. To FriendFeeders, Facebook is a sheep-filled home of tech noobs and FriendFeed is, well, no one on Facebook seems to understand the point of FriendFeed. Continue reading

Finding Them Where They Live

The worst part of not being a full-time blogger, i.e., other work precludes me from jumping on every story, is that you curse a lot. As in, “dammit, I was going to say that.” That happened to me this morning when I read this post by Rob Diana. He was building off a post by Chris Brogan that does an excellent job of examining real-world consumers and what technology means to them. Both posts echo Guidewire Group’s sentiment that the current financial crisis should be a call for the tech world to focus attention on the masses.

Rob’s post, though, takes it one step further to just where I wanted to go. The tech world has at its fingertips a ready-made, gargantuan network of users who have dipped their toe into the social media universe and are primed for more – Facebook. Tech insiders regularly deride Facebook and, at times on Twitter and FriendFeed, there seems to be a game of who can hate Facebook more. We could certainly spend an entire post talking about Facebook’s flaws. But the fact remains that the people who are on it are, for the most part, not involved in the blogosphere. Those are precisely the people entrepreneurs need to reach and, for the moment, they’re lying fallow, playing Scrabble and throwing things at each other. Continue reading

Search Takes a New Shape

Back in the old days – or the ’90s as some call them – we utilized the Internet as an information resource. What’s that phone number, where is that address, where can I buy that product – you had concrete questions and were no longer required to speak to a human to get answers. Sure, there were bulletin boards and Usenet forums for discussion but they primarily involved coding arguments and game walkthroughs. The Internet wasn’t truly upended into a community, and all that that entails, until just a couple of years ago. It was then that the inundation of bloggers collided with social networking and lifestreaming to produce a perfect storm of content. (And when I say lifestreaming, I mean the trend of putting as many pieces of our life online as possible – books we’re reading, music we like, etc.) We’ve now backed ourselves into a corner online, raging against the indundation of content even as we scroll through our fifth page of FriendFeed updates. We recommend well-written articles about navigating through the noise, right after sharing 25 items in Google Reader.

The logical next step in this technological journey is to therefore prune, to make our time online more meaningful and relevent, no matter how small the nugget of information. Whether I’m setting out to qualify findings in a drug discovery experiment or wondering when Amy Winehouse was last arrested, I want the most reliable, relevant answer in the shortest amount of time. The problem is no longer whether the information is out there but rather how we can get to it quickly and accurately.

It’s against this background that I’m seeing a gradual evolution of the semantic search market. Continue reading

Yoono takes aggregation in a new direction

Those of us who are full – and sometimes egregious – participants in the social Web have quickly discovered that aggregation is vital in maintaining some sort of sanity. While there have been plenty of entrants in the aggregation space in recent months, the new Yoono add-on for Firefox is taking the sector in a new direction. By providing a consolidated stream of social services – FriendFeed, Facebook, Twitter and others – along with chat, Web clipping, photos and videos, Yoono aims to provide an all-in-one tool for navigating one’s online life.

The UI is what initially piqued my excitement for Yoono. It’s simply the best I’ve seen. Simple-to-navigate widgets sit in an inconspicuous sidebar that opens only when you need it, small pop-up windows give informative snapshots of contacts and updates, all clicks open to a new tab, and photos and videos temporarily overlay the current Web page in a slick little feature I hadn’t seen before Yoono. The company has obviously put a large amount of effort and focus into design and it’s welcomed. At this stage of the social Web, it’s the type of UI we should start expecting from every product.

I have to be honest, though, and say that my enthusiasm waned slightly after a few days of putting Yoono through its paces. The app can drain a lot of memory and when you’re dealing with Vista, you need every little bit. (Macolytes, I don’t want to hear it.) I’ve also found myself drifting back to the FriendFeed page to read updates; the Yoono window just requires too much scrolling.

When I brought up that last complaint to Erica Lee, Yoono’s PR rep, she made a good point: Yoono isn’t intent on taking you away from regularly visited sites. The service instead wants to give you a one-stop dashboard, a more informative, simpler place from which to navigate. Perhaps then, the lifestream in the sidebar could be consolidated more, giving aggregated shots of FriendFeed activity, for instance. An aggregation of the aggregators, if you will. Stop me before I aggregate again.

My nits with Yoono, though, are just that – nits. Because I’m so impressed with what they’re attempting and the product they’ve designed, I’m even more demanding of perfection from it. Yoono is one step away from being a must-have product on my social Web list. With what I’ve seen of the team’s focus, responsiveness and overall aggregation philosophy, I imagine they’ll leap past my expectations rather quickly.

**We’ve been given 200 Yoono invite codes for interested Guidewire readers. Click here before they disappear.**

Web 2.0′s Gateway Drug

By gum, I think I’ve got it. My post yesterday on breaking out of our insular tech bubble to evangelize to the mass consumer spurred a good discussion on FriendFeed. There was much agreement around the idea that sharing all these neat Internet tools with mass consumers is needed. But how to do that? There were a couple of angles to the conversation: one, how to share our general insider knowledge with consumers and two, how to get people involved in FriendFeed specifically. Clare Dibble made a good point regarding the latter; that non-techies don’t have to sign up for the myriad services on FriendFeed to delve into the site. Simply by adding the FriendFeed share button to their browsers, they can start submitting interesting articles and watch the conversations ensue.

It was then that the light bulb went off. FriendFeed is the gateway to Web 2.0 for mass consumers. Continue reading

Share the Love

Every industry has a certain level of insularity. It’s human nature to want to be part of the in crowd and knowing the buzzwords and inner workings of a sector carries cache. The emerging tech industry, though, takes insularity to a whole other level. It’s easy to get caught up in the morass of social services and tools; a day spent immersed in tweets and status updates, FriendFeed links and Seesmic videos can easily cloud one’s mind. Spend enough time in here and you find yourself wondering why the gas company doesn’t just send your bills via Twitter. (On second thought, that’s a hell of an idea…) So it’s always a pleasant surprise to talk to my stay-at-home-mom friends, the ones I dragged kicking and screaming to Facebook. They give me a much needed reality check as to what’s going on in the real world.

I had one of those conversations this morning with my friend Polly, who is marginally tech-savvy, mainly because she’s too busy raising three boys to be otherwise. We talked about several tech-related issues, some of which I’ll post about in the coming days. But perhaps the most interesting talk concerned Facebook, in which she bemoaned the hesitance of some of our friends to join the site. Continue reading