The Vortex: The Volcano Bubbles

Lots o’ links saved up this week. Let’s see if I can adequately sort through them without boring you. No Vortex next week, as Chris and I are headed to London and Dublin for the next round of Innovate!Europe workshops. Pip pip.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Twitter possibly raised another round of funding, on a rumored $250 million valuation. Here’s the question you should ask yourself: if Twitter started charging $20 a month to use it, would you pay it? If not, would you truly miss it? Be honest. Duncan Riley’s assessment is so apt, I may just make it the motto of this weekly review: “Until the very end, the citizens of Pompeii continued their decadent lives, until being buried for eternity.”

-Here’s a fun one. A conservative take on Wikipedia, called Conservapedia, has been taken down after Wonkette revealed a not-so-veiled hit list of Democratic senators on the site.

-The Boy Genius Report posted a spot-on list of things to hate about the iPhone. I would like to add the awful Google Voice Search to that list, which translated “Who directed A Fish Called Wanda” into “bass fish called wanda.” Not helpful.

-And I suppose we have to mention the kerfuffle of the week. Michael Arrington was spat upon in Munich and Jason Calacanis immediately responded with a call for an industry-wide group hug. I’ll simply posit that civility and manners in the technosphere should be an everyday fact of life, not a one-day occurrence when spittle is hurled.

Apps on the Radar

-Sarah Perez pointed me to RepairPal, an incredibly helpful iPhone app that uses GPS to deliver roadside assistance, auto repair estimates, and a repair shop directory.

-Hangman Cheat – if anyone can beat this thing, you are my linguistic hero.

-Not so much an app as a new feature, you can now submit news items to Techmeme via Twitter. Good idea in theory but I pity the soul who’ll have to wade through all the PR tips and self-promoting bloggers. (God knows I’ll be promoting myself shamelessly.)

DEMO trends – where the innovation lies with DEMO 09 applicants

-rich media publishing integrated with key back-office tools

-more location-aware mobile couponing – really getting a lot of traction this year

-highly personalized semantic networks

Tweet of the Week

-I swear I’m not kissing butt here. Chris Shipley’s tweet from the DLD Munich conference made me guffaw – and wish I was there: “At #DLD: ‘moving to an era of bio spare parts’ – Philippe Poullety. After visit to beer garden last night, I await the spare liver.”

Ephemera

-In the This Should Help You Sleep at Night department, a New Zealand man bought a used MP3 player filled with US military data, including personal details of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The worst sentence: “He says he will hand it over to the US Defense Department should it ever ask.” Um, let’s go ahead and ask, shall we?

To List or Not to List

I’ve been thinking about high school a lot lately. Specifically, the social hierachy of high school; how a certain portion of students are automatically anointed as popular due to athletic prowess and/or beauty. It’s the natural order of adolescence (at least it was in my day) – cheerleaders and football players = popular; geeks = not so much. It’s a precursor, really, to society at large. Generally speaking, there is a pre-determined hierarchy in most circles. Attention is paid to those who succeed financially, athletically, politically, or by sheer force of will (see Tila Tequila).

Sometimes, though, an entirely new sector of society is created in which there are no pre-determined rules. The members of that sector must establish hierarchies on their own and chaos invariably ensues, as people elbow for notice in whatever manner they see fit. The past few years have seen two such sectors brought into being: reality television and the blogosphere. The similarities between the two are striking when you think about it, but most notable is the manner in which “celebrities” in both worlds have risen to the top.

Now before I go any further, let me note one key difference between reality TV and the tech world: there are inordinately smarter people in the latter. The “A-List” in tech is comprised of people who’ve built successful companies on truly innovative ideas, people who can dig down into the trenches of coding languages and produce brilliant technologies used by consumers around the world. For the most part. There are also a few people on that list who would feel right at home on ‘The Real World’ or ‘Survivor.’ (You can tell how long it’s been since I’ve tuned into reality programming.) With no established rules as to what creates success, you’re invariably going to have some who push and scream their way to the top. Continue reading

Distributed Influence and the TechMeme Leaderboard

In a post on Thursday, WebProNews’ Jason Lee Miller takes on the TechMeme weighting algorithm based on the rankings on the sites leaderboard.

In the post, Jason wonders whether No. 1 ranked TechCrunch is really as credible a news source as CNET (No. 2) , The New York Times (No. 3), or Reuters (No. 12). Never mind that the venerable The Wall Street Journal ranks No. 17.

Certainly, there are plenty of questions to be asked about TechMeme’s rankings. Reasonable people can debate whether a showing on TechMeme endorses the credibility, popularity, or legitimacy of any blog. But with due respect, I think Jason misses the point so obvious when reviewing the leaderboards’ Top 100 sources. Jason writes that:

[The TechMeme leaderboard] shows TechCrunch as the go-to blog for all things tech or, assumedly, tech-business related.

There’s no questioning TechCrunch’s popularity, but with just a 7% presence among the many links TechMeme mines and promotes, it can hardly claim total world domination. Nor can any of the other blogs that make the leaderboard’s Top 100.

The leaderboard, in fact, is a perfect illustration of the Long Tail. Referrals from TechMeme are highly distributed, just as blog readership is. The blog-reading public hasn’t landed on one or two sites as a sole source of news, information, and opinion about the tech market. Instead, these numbers suggest that the tech-interested public reads lots of blogs in order to get, one would assume, a diverse and complete read on the industry. Whatever you think about TechMeme’s algorithm, fact is that the site is discovering links from sources that’d the average reader wouldn’t have time to investigate on his own.

It is oddly paradoxical for any social media site to claim victory over any other. That would be, after all, an anathema to the very idea of linked social media as a conversation borne out in links and referrals. More people may go to the top ranked blogs more frequently than they do to other social media sources, but the fact is they are going to a wide range of sources for news and opinion.

Girls Girls Girls

The New York Times stuck its foot in its mouth today by running a story on girls in tech… in the fashion section. This raised a bit of consternation – Mary Hodder was none to happy – but not as much as it perhaps should have. The piece is ranked pretty high on Techmeme but only has three blog posts attached to it. Compare that with the recent hubbub over Seattle vs Silicon Valley (in which we got involved), which generated 158 comments on Arrington’s blog alone.

The premise of the NYT piece, that the majority of Web content innovators is increasingly teenage girls, is a strong one and worth covering. But why not in the Business or Tech section? It’s a question to which I don’t necessarily have an answer. But it adds to a theme that’s been bubbling in my head lately: where do women stand in the tech community?

It’s a subject I find myself returning to every few months. Back in July of 06, I tackled it on my personal blog and the Guidewire site, bemoaning the need to make every gadget “for girls” pink and sparkly. A few months later, I railed against Sugar Networks for throwing up a Digg clone, complete with hearts. (I’m sad to find that site still in operation.) It comes full circle with today’s news of the PopSugar/TechCrunch mixer scheduled for April in Hollywood. TechCrunch presented it in a mostly inoffensive manner; PopSugar just came out and said it directly – find a husband here, girls! Continue reading