Archive for April, 2009
Ask any “social media consultant” and they’ll tell you – “you’ve gotta be part of the conversation.” This is typically about the end of the advice, though it probably also includes things like “get on Twitter”, “respond to comments”, and other recurring uses of the word conversation. And now for a new media interlude…
Here’s the issue I have: I don’t see much conversing. I see a lot of one-to-many and one-to-nobody content sessions, but rarely do I see anything that comes even close to a conversation. In a conversation, when one person talks, everyone else involved is listening. At the end of the individual talking, another person talks (though there may be a little overlap to determine who is being the most forceful about talking next). Again, while this second person talks, others are listening (or possibly checking sports scores on their iPhone). The pattern repeats. If you feel lost, read this fun article for more help on “conversing”.
Online, however, it’s extremely rare to see anything that resembles conversing. One person gets the ball rolling, either by a blog post, twitter, or posting first in a discussion forum. After that, havoc ensues. Multiple respond simultaneously, instantly fracturing the original discussion into numerous threads. Newer visitors see the additional comments and either (1) skip/ignore them completely, or (2) reply to one of them. Also, since many of the discussion systems (or commenting systems) don’t use visibly threaded replies, it’s difficult-to-impossible to create a single thread of discussion. Most, if not all, commentors do not return to see replies, and rarely actually engage with the original author. And then there’s Twitter, which is pretty much the ultimate in non-linear discussion.
I find this more than a little frustrating. First, it create a near-zero value reward system to anyone who “participates” in any form of discussion/conversation/comment thread. Why bother adding value or debating, when you probably aren’t even coming back to see what people write? Instead, commenting is basically a huge dumping ground, where people show up, drop some clever remark (psst, it’s not that clever), and then leave, having made the Internet just slightly worse than it was 17 seconds prior. “Bad commenting” is so commonplace there’s even a funny list defining the worst kinds out there!
The worst part of all this is it applies equally to the “thought leaders” that preach all the virtues the “social web” (social is no longer needed to describe the Web, it’s just social all the time, okay?). It doesn’t matter if you’re on a monster truck fan page or the freshest Web 2.3 blogger’s microvlog – the content is equally disorganized. And it’s just as much a mess on Twitter and FriendFeed, by the way, so it doesn’t matter how much of an “early adopter” you are – the “conversations” are just as screwed up as anywhere else.
So if you want to give anyone advice, it’s probably more likely to say “You’ve gotta be part of the shouting match!” I guess a better way to have said it all would’ve been “It Seems like Internet Discussions are being Moderated by Jackson Pollock.”
Now that Oprah’s on Twitter, it’s safe to say there’ll be even more attention being paid to this bizarre little service. Yes, I use it, and yes, I can comfortably say it’s bizarre. Never before in the history of mankind has the concept of extremely short format person-to-world shouting been possible, and we have a long way to go to until we truly understand the impact. But in the meantime, with all the new users coming to Tweetersville, I figured I’d put together a handy-dandy guide to help explain some of the Twits you might see out there.
The following translation table should help get you started on comprehending the true meanings of what can be “conversed” 140 characters at a time. Important disclaimer: if you cannot handle cynicism or snarkiness, well jeez, what are you doing reading blog posts at all (here’s a safer place for you)?
|If you see someone Tweet…||That person is saying…|
|I’m here in [COOL LOCATION] but am so exhausted from the flight I’m gonna crash.||Hey everyone, I got to go to [COOL LOCATION] and you are stuck in your lame place!|
|Hanging at the Web 2.0 Expo with @Arrington and @Scobleizer||I’m at the Web 2.0 Expo and just saw @Arrington and @Scobleizer walk by|
|Retweeting [FAMOUS PERSON]: …||Hey, [FAMOUS PERSON], please notice me!|
|Just heard a really cool rumor about a big tech company – you’ll get the scoop tomorrow||Nothing.|
|Thanks for following me, I really appreciate it!||I’m a big tool that uses autofollowing/autoresponding services, and didn’t even push a button on my keyboard to send you this message. That’s right, it took exactly zero of my caloric output for this waste of bits to occur.|
|Gosh, I’m sooooo behind on my emails!||Rather than deal with my email overload problem, I’m going to waste more time by Twittering.|
|Heading to the mountains, have a great weekend everyone!||Attention 14+ 19 million people, my house will be vacant this weekend. Please review older tweets of mine to determine my home address, then enjoy yourself to my stuff.|
|OMG, can’t believe I’m going to be on [SOME TV SHOW, PODCAST, OR OTHER "BIG" MEDIA]! so exciting!||Yeah, I’m hot stuff, and I want you to know it. This little realm of 140-character communication is neat-o, but the big folks know about me too, because I’m special. My mommy said so, and this proves she’s right!|
|Holy crap, I can’t believe they killed [MAJOR CHARACTER] on the [BIG TV SHOW] season finale!||I am envious of DVR owners and thus comfortable with spoiling the TV show they watch.|
|Holy crap, I can’t believe [SOMEONE] won/got kicked off [BIG REALITY SHOW]!!||see above|
|Hey, does anyone out there know where you can buy [SOME PRODUCT] in San Francisco?||Hey, can someone Google [SOME PRODUCT "San Francisco"] for me? I’m just too darned lazy to do it myself.|
|Hah, [COMPANY] just [DID SOMETHING], just like I predicted in my blog post 3 years ago.||Gosh I’m smart, even though the other 80% of my predictions don’t come true.|
|[PRODUCT/SERVICE/COMPANY] is so lame/amazing, I hear [unimportant blah blah blah thing]||Someone else just said something about [PRODUCT/SERVICE/COMPANY] and I don’t really know it first-hand, but they sounded authoritative while on that phone call I was listening in on in line at the Starbucks instead of minding my own business|
|Sweet, only 7 more followers until I reach [IMPRESSIVE-SOUNDING NUMBER]!||I spend most of my offline time alone, so I could really use a little ego-boost online. Can you spare a follow? Just a quick follow, please! I’ll clean your windshield…|
|OH: [SOME CLEVER/RIDICULOUSLY INANE COMMENT]||I’ve wanted to say [COMMENT] for a while, but didn’t really have the cajones to just say it myself.|
|Kinda embarrassed to see myself on this list of the Top 50 Amazing [TITLE] List||Not embarrassed at all, only bummed that I’m not in the Top 10, because I feel great about the world when my blogger friends write lists to identify cool people and put me in them. It’s pretty sweet|
|Twitter’s totally lame now that [OPRAH/ASHTON/SOME OTHER ACTUALLY FAMOUS PERSON] is now on it. I’m probably just going to stop using it, or maybe try FriendFeed||I used to think 2000 followers made me popular, and now I realize I’m one of the masses again. And I sure don’t like it.|
|Waiting in a line to get a Frappucino. Or maybe I’ll try an iced chai latte, I hear those are good. Oooh, vanilla scone bites! Yummy!||I have lost the fine art of being able to just do absolutely nothing for more than 17 seconds. I tried to just stand here in line, and let an original thought fly through my synapses, but instead I grabbed the nearest gadget I could and did something with it. Please, oh lord, let me be at the front of the line by the time I am done with my 140 characters!|
By the way, I put together the list based loosely on Tweets I’ve actually seen… Did I miss any?
Note: if you are looking for help understanding what things like “bit.ly/2lOL2g” or #gov20 or OH/RT: mean, you are in the wrong place.
I bought my first digital camera in the late 90s, it was a 1-megapixel Kodak that weighed about 14 pounds. I took terrible pictures onto my spacious 16MB compact flash card, which I copied onto my Toshiba Tecra (running Windows 98). The ~500K files had fun names like DCP0001.JPG, and I created folders named “Family” and “Vacations” and even created subfolders like “1997″ and “1998″. Every now and then I’d email a picture or two to a friend or family member, who would look at it in email, and promptly delete it. Printing a picture was generally a nuisance, and my best guess ratio of pictures taken to pictures printed was around 500:1.
Fast forward to 2009. My Canon SD850is takes 8MP pictures onto a 2GB SD card (small by current standards), each of which is ~4MB large. iPhoto automatically sync’s the pictures, which have fun names like IMG_0001.JPG, and stores them in folders named “Apr 5, 2009″ and similar. Every now and then I email a picture (a manual, tedious process since I don’t use MacMail) to someone, who looks at it and promptly deletes it. Printing a picture is generally a nuisance, and my best guess ratio of pictures taken to pictures printed is around 500:1, though might actually be as low as 1000:1.
So what’s changed? Well, I can use Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, Kodak Gallery, or one of many other sites to host and store my shared photos. The most recent version of iPhoto also has built-in tools to share with Flickr or Facebook, which has certainly improved the process a lot. Of course, I believe in maintaining a certain amount of privacy to familly photos (which represent >95% of my pictures), so only my “Flickr Friends” can actually see most of the pictures I take. Which means I have to manually generate “shared links” and manually email these to my family, since the bulk of them are not on Flickr. Further, most of these family members need occasional assistance in either saving local copies or printing photos (and before you go making comments, these are college-educated people who speak multiple languages and have many other fine skills).
In other words, photo sharing still sucks.
The whole concept around requiring membership to sites is stupid, though in an industry where metrics are “registered users”, it’s clear why these companies want it. Terrible user interfaces dominate these products and services (go sit with a regular person and watch them navigate Flickr for a while – you’ll be stunned at how confusing it is). Printing photos is easier, yet still a royal pain because most photo collections are unmanaged. Managing photos is near-impossible due to the change in usage patterns from film cameras (instead of being film-conscious and taking a minimum number of pix, we now opt to take as many as possible, since we know the storage is effectively unlimited).
None of the services seem to recognize the concept that we might, on occasion, want to use a removable drive instead of the one in our computers. Photo backup, the single most important feature for digital pictures, is effectively a non-existent feature. I actually know people (again, smart people) who opt to purchase new memory cards when they fill up, rather than synching to computer hard drives. Facial recognition is finally making the rounds to facilitate “Tagging” – another feature that makes the techies happy yet utterly alienates everyone else. Other confusing terminology has resulted in me receiving dozens of unprintable photos, yet the sendor being completely unaware that they aren’t sharing full resolution pictures to someone else.
As the kids today say, epic fail.
Here’s what I’m *still* waiting for:
- Automatic Backup: Okay, if nothing else, build more backup features. Ask anyone who’s ever lost photos how upsetting it is. Heck, Geoff Barrall pretty much started Data Robotics (the Drobo company) because of losing photos! Nobody should ever lose a digital photo, ever. Ever!
- Group Albums: I have a BBQ, and create an album on Flickr called “JT’s MegaAwesome BBQ”, and give a link to all the attendees. Anyone with a matching email address can, wait for it, upload the photos they took. They don’t need to “register” or “create an account”. They don’t need to download special software. They don’t need to “synch” something.
- Standardized Tagging: Oh look, there I go calling it Tagging again. Call it categories or keywords or tags or whatever you want, but here’s the thing – standardize it. Make my iPhoto tags automatically transport to my Flickr tags and have them easily usable when I want to print on SnapFish. Also, auto-suggesting tags as people type (based on popular tags) would sure help create a consistency around terms (rather than seeing photos tagged with “Paris, France”, “Paris”, “Paris 2009″, “Paris Vacation” etc)
- Improve the Sharing/Printing: Every photo program or web service should have BIG buttons that say “email to someone” or “share”. Pushing these buttons should make it really obvious as to whether or not they are sending the Original/Printable version, or just the quick one to view on their screen. Further, when the recipient receives pictures, make it really obvious to them as to whether or not they have received a printable version, and if not, an obvious way to get it.
- Work with more address books: Don’t make me “friend” everyone on a proprietary system. Just talk to my local or gmail address book (or Facebook friends, or Plaxo contacts, or whatever), let me save groups/names, and easily update those I want, when I want. Even *evite* has this part figured out!
- Support numerous, flexible storage systems: If I have some pictures on my local drive, others on my wife’s computer, more on my USB drive, some online, and others on my NAS or Pogoplug, so be it. Somebody needs a photo sharing system that is able to understand the concepts that (1) photos are unique, (2) multiple copies of the same photo will exist, (3) photos will be stored in numerous places, (4) some of the storage locations will not be available at all times (ex: backup drives), (5) all photo metadata should always exist with the photo, regardless of location, (6) facilitating moving these photos around is a good thing. Got it?
I’m sure there’s a lot more to be done to improve the overall sharing experience. Better search across photo networks. Better systems for favoriting across multiple sites and services. Smarter album/set creation and management. The list goes on. What’s amazing is how far we came for a few years (until about ~2005ish), and how little we’ve progressed since. I believe there remain tons of opportunities for existing players, and if none of them make any smart moves, then maybe some new little players will emerge to take them on.
There’s a lot of startups out there. Tons of em. Widget companies. Cloud companies. Gadget companies. Streaming companies. In fact it’s almost hard to imagine more new companies, yet the river never stops, it just ebbs from time to time. With all those startups however, it’s rare to find the company that is not only highly innovative but also sparks creativity and innovation in others. Bug Labs is one of those companies, and I’m proud to be involved with them.
Peter, the company’s CEO, put together two blog posts regarding the company’s anniversary. Part one is a bit of a look back, analyzing the “hits and misses” the company’s made. Part two is a look forward, sharing the vision and plans for the future. Give em both a read.
I’ve always viewed the BUG as two different products. The first is a fun kit for programmers. By and large, programmers today have one environment to work in, it involves a keyboard, mouse, and display (even mobile apps are only a minor variation on this theme). These days I personally don’t really hack much outside of some occasional PHP scripts. But if I had stuck with the ol’ C++ and Java, I think I’d be fascinated by a programming environment that enabled me to use the same functions, routines, and libraries and be able to interact with sensors, GPS, motion detectors, and other fun stuff.
The second BUG is a prototyping/deployment tool for … well, anyone who makes devices. Whether it’s in the healthcare, automotive, industrial, or any other industry that spends huge capital to build a small number of electronic products for very narrow/specific purposes. It seems pretty obvious to me that companies large and small would be better off investing in the relatively low learning curve for a product like BUG as compared to the typically not-reusable time and money investment into custom, proprietary systems.
So far, the company has engaged with both types of customers and learned a lot from it. There’s a long story ahead still for them, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next chapter.
I’ve been “tweeting” for about a year now. As many of my friends know, I joined fairly reluctantly, but felt it was one of those things I just “had” to do professionally. Over time my use of the service varied, but I tried to stick to using it for mostly professional purposes (with exceptions of important life events, like my hospital stay, the birth of my son, the time I had to wait extra-long at the bus stop, and about that really yummy cookie I got at Specialty’s). In the past year, Twitter usage has grown leaps and bounds, and their brand awareness is clearly reaching the mainstream.
Now there are those who feel this is bad for society, as we reduce content intake to bite-size formats and become headline crazy. Personally I think this happened over a decade ago, and Twitter is merely the cough to our lack-of-depth cultural pneumonia that’s going around. That said, there’s something a bit more to the Twitter effect than the other rapid-fire tools people seem to have at their disposal. When you talk to people who really use Twitter (I’ve tried to do so to find employees, refer business, donate money, rally volunteers, but none of these efforts really go anywhere for me – I think you have to be in the Scoblesphere to actually have impact on your followers), they talk about it differently than virtually any other Web service they use. Further, there seems to be a little bit more… fanaticism to Twitter than anything else I’ve seen. I’ll paraphrase the commentary I’ve heard and seen…
“You aren’t on Twitter? Dude, *everyone* is on Twitter, what are you thinking?”
“Did you see my funny Tweet today? It got retweeted like 4 times!”
“I’m already up to 600 followers, but I gotta find more.”
“OMG, @garyvee is following me now! I’m special and important!”
To the non-twitterers, this kind of talk is clearly reminiscent of the Smurfs, with more gibberish words being used to describe any derivation of a Twitter-based action. But as I’ve spent time watching the unbelievable quantity of discussion about Twitter itself, it’s become utterly clear to me. Twitter is a cult. Maybe not we’re-all-going-to-live-on-the-great-spaceship cult, but a cult nonetheless.
Warning to the thin-skinned: there are broad generalizations here – if you cannot deal with that as a concept, go here instead! As sourced by The Internet, a cult can be defined as a group having all of the following 5 characteristics:
- It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
Twitter users attempt to get non-Twitter users to join. They talk about the urgent necessity of being on Twitter (funny video on this). New twitterers are welcomed with very open arms. Gaining followers is rewarded psychologically (go find a single human being not happy with “being followed”), and once a user has a mass of followers, they are highly dis-incented to leave Twitter.
- It forms an elitist totalitarian society
Twitterers tweet to each other, and in person, talk about their tweets. Twitterers believe that everybody should be twittering. Non-twitterers are ignored. Companies and individuals who do not use Twitter are belittled, and generally looked down upon. Having followers is “good”, not having them is “bad”.
- Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma
Okay, this one is a stretch – first, I don’t know the founders at all, and second, from what I do know about them it doesn’t seem like a very accurate claim whatsoever (though they certainly are treated like royalty around the valley). But instead of thinking about this in context of the individual founders, think of the so-called “twitterati”. Many “top” twitterers absolutely act these ways. They make bold claims, talk about the famous people they are meting with, and otherwise spend a lot of time self-aggrandizing on Twitter.
- It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people
Forget the solicit funds, since we are still waiting to hear about a business model, but again, look at the communication style of self-proclaimed “Twitter experts” and the utter requirement on dragging anyone and everyone into the twittersphere. People have offered to spend money to be a “recommended twitterer”. Social Media Consultants tell 100% of their clients they “must” get on Twitter. And it’s all self-serving – companies “have” to be on Twitter, because “that’s where the conversation is happening” – and by the way, they need to pay someone to get there and pay for advice on how to Tweet and pay for others to “monitor” their Twitter topics. If topics like ROI arise, they are swept aside by the “importance of the conversation” and being told “all the early adopters are there”. Buzzword merchants rule the day, and rational business logic is thrown out the window. Don’t misread me here – there are early adopters on Twitter, and there are plenty of reasons to get your business listening and engaging in the 140-character-at-a-time shouting match, but the manic rush to push big business there is truly amazing.
- Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
As I linked to above, studies are showing the concerns of impact Twitter may have on society. Personally, I found myself agreeing with many points raised. As I saw what I will call “prominent” technology Twitterers reacting to the article, their comments treat it with disdain. Why? Because it’s a threat to the foundation that Twitter must be good. While I have seen a few examples of people using Twitter to actually produce a benefit (raising some money, rescue stranded bloggers from the desert, etc), it’s pretty hard to justify other true benefits. It certainly occupies time, and is unquestionably a fascinating method of communication (albeit a fundamentally broken one), but I’d wager a fine penny that heavy Twitter users are not healthier, happier, or otherwise more satisfied with life than the poor schlubs out there limited to such primitive tools as the phone and texting to just one person at a time.
Quick update: Just read “Twitter Leads to Immorality? C’mon!” – one other common attribute of a cult is the complete inability to handle negativity nor criticism about the cult itself.
Now before anyone massively overreacts to my statements (oops, too late, the angry reactions probably got written as comments/tweets long before most readers would even get this far), I’m not saying “all Twitter use is bad”! But maybe we need to really consider the role it plays and how we could and should use it. I fundamentally believe it is not creating “a community” and I am also deeply concerned about the combination of “Attention Grabbing Headlines” with the lack of responsibility used by many Twitterers (urban myth perpetuation, worms/attacks, and, of course, Rickrolling).
If there’s one thing I do believe is that Twitter is pushing us even further down the perilous road of “instant reporting”, regardless of the news or facts about a situation. Fact-checking is all but dead in traditional writing, let alone 140 character chunks. This pace is part of the contribution to the “work creeps into personal time” calamity modern society faces. Yes, it’s a calamity – did you know that when we were hunter-gatherers the average human “worked” for about 17 hours per week?
How to solve the problem: calm down about the Twitter. Don’t have to stop. Don’t have to quit. But also… don’t have to have 50,000 followers. Don’t have to be retweeted a hundred times a day. Don’t have to have everyone know every intimate detail of your day. Don’t call me up to tell me about a cool tweet you wrote. Don’t try to recruit your grandpa to sign up. Don’t expect every company to beckon to win your love just because you wrote (something negative) about them in 45 seconds.
And, of course, don’t expect a free latte just because you have some followers.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the new iPod shuffle is just stupid. (You could probably tell from the title what I want to rate it.)
Good lord. Where to begin. Let’s start with a disclaimer. I haven’t touched or seen the new shuffle in person. Deride me all you want, I don’t care. Apple has made several colossal, incredible mistakes with this device.
Anyone who’s read this blog before (only a rare few have come back more than once) knows that I care a great deal about Apple, and that I adore the aluminum shuffle. That review was one of my very first, and it took place almost exactly 2 years ago. I like that shuffle so much that I even got a second one and had it waterproofed. But this new one… sigh.
Let’s see. No buttons. Brilliant, let’s use an earphone-based switch. Except, wait a second, what if I want to use a different set of earphones? I can tell you for a certainty that some people (Sol) don’t like Apple’s earbuds – they just don’t fit. So now I’m locked into Apple’s proprietary earphones whether I like it or not. I will be unable to skip songs, pause and play, or change the volume without them. Epic Fail. And the controls are not very straightforward – Adrian Covert over at Gizmodo compares it to Morse Code. Haha.
Form factor. The new one is smaller. Small as a house key. Whoopee. I use my square shuffle when I run, and I clip it to the waistband on my shorts. It fits easily and doesn’t pinch or push against my skin. The new one is long and skinny instead of square. Maybe it occupies less cubic space overall, but it’s still longer than the square version, which means that it sticks further down the leg and is significantly more likely to pinch and press against the top of the leg while running. Wahhhh! I know, I’m a crybaby. Don’t care. I don’t see how making it rectangular and slightly smaller is an improvement. Doubling the flash memory while shrinking the device (and preserving battery function) is a technological feat, I will grant them that.
The point is, they’re messing up an excellent product. Even sight unseen, Apple just took a 7.5 and made it a 3. The earphone restriction is egregious. Moronic. Idiotic. It’s dumb. The judgement on the form factor is my opinion. Others may disagree, and that’s cool. They can write their own blog. But imho, there is no excuse for this stupidity.
Apple is a money-hungry American corporation that wants to insert themselves into our lives and control all our devices and hence have control over our actions and more importantly our buying habits. For this I applaud them. Seriously, I’m an American and a capitalist. I love Apple, even if I find some of their practices annoying (DRM anyone?) But when they start making bad (or worse yet, stupid) product decisions, that shakes my faith and my confidence in the world of consumer electronics.
As noted above, if I were force to rate this product (albeit without playing with it in person) on a scale from 1 to 10, it would get a 3. If it weren’t being compared to such a superior previous version, it might score better. But the earphone thing is pretty stupid. Gahhh.
This reiew is also published at 1TO10REVIEWS.