Posts tagged "analysis"

Twitter as SMS, Email, Address Book, RSS, Answers, Memory, and More

I still get the “I don’t get Twitter” comment often — and I’m sure you do too. Let’s be honest — there are parts of Twitter that we don’t get too. But if you’ve spent any amount of time in the Twitterverse, you know all the places it does add value. Here’s a few…

SMS

More and more, I find both myself and others using Twitter to communicate while on the go. Using apps like Boxcar or iTweetReply — which provide push notifications for mentions or direct messages — also makes Twitter feel more like SMS. I literally get a SMS-like notification on my iPhone when people either “@” or “DM” me.

Email
Even when I am sitting at my desk (wherever that may be), Twitter has become the faster, more lightweight way to email. It’s perfect for the quick coordination or logistical note, giving props, saying “hi,” and many other 140-characteresque communications. Interfaces like Tweetie, also thread all direct messages, so in some ways, it provides significantly more context and easier access to find messages since it’s “people-based.” No need to worry about subject lines or multiple different emails from a single person.

Address Book
One of the reasons that TwitterFon is my favorite iPhone client (and more generally, has some of the best Twitter features regardless of the platform), is its “address book” capabilities. When writing an update, it is very easy to access the address book to reference someone.

Getting my first look at Brizzly, their search box works in a similar manner. With Twitter users following hundreds of people, searchable (and integrated) Twitter address books are going to no longer be optional.

RSS
There’s been much written about how Twitter has killed or is killing RSS. It’s interesting that some on the Brizzly team used to work on Google Reader — I wonder if they saw the writing on the wall.

As a point of clarification, I don’t necessarily agree about RSS being dead because RSS — as a technology — is very much alive. I just see how consumers use it as changing quickly.

I’ve written before how most of my attention has moved to the stream and real-time web and opined about how Google Reader has now fallen out of my workflow. Twitter and similar sources act as a filter, leveraging my self-selected social graph, to point me to the links I should absorb and give my attention.

Answers
Before Aardvark and TweetBrain, Twitter served as real-time Q&A service. Why trust someone on Yahoo! Answers or comparable sites, when you can get an immediate answer from someone you trust? Services like Aardvark take it a step further by making Q&A easier and smarter.

There’s also instances where the people-oriented architecture of Twitter makes it more efficient to find specific sources or information you need. Here’s one case I recently RT:

RT @startupcfo : Twitter beat google for research. Found an expert on Twitter, and raided tweet archive. Way faster than searching on goog

Memory
As the self-proclaimed, “What are you doing?” platform on the web, Twitter captures not only what we are doing but what we are paying attention to, where we are, who we are with, how we perceive things, and much more.

For this particular article, I relied heavily on Twitter and Topsy to search my stream for old updates and links. It would be very easy to overlay a bookmarking service on top of Twitter and tag or file tweets into folders.

Beyond
Of course, there are many, many more uses and applications for Twitter — these are just some of the ones that interest me (right now).

Google’s FeedBurner – Hanging Tough, Lazy Bloggers, or No Legitimate Alternatives?

Aside from the fact that many bloggers felt abandoned by the “FeedBurner love” since it was purchased by Google, FeedBurner was placed in the bull’s-eye of bloggers at the start of 2009 for two main reasons — feeds not updating quickly enough and changing their ping address without notifying anyone. During the migration from FeedBurner to Google, around the same time, people were also annoyed at stats not staying consistent with the switch. For the updating of feeds issue, the problem should now be resolved with PubSubHubbub. Good for them.

My instinct was that FeedBurner was going to face an impending exodus. Fast forward to just past the midway point of 2009 — now. I’ve surveyed the top tech blogs to see who has stuck with FeedBurner. Using them as a barometer, many are still snuggled up with FeedBurner. During my analysis, only one had switched to a self-hosted feed but has since switched back to FeedBurner before I clicked publish. Go figure.

Indeed, while I was going to experiment with self-hosting my feed, I too have just never gotten around to it. Is it because I’m thrilled with every aspect of FeedBurner? Negative. In fact, there is one issue related to the migration from FeedBurner to Google services that continues to irk me — multiple feed addresses. Let’s take a closer look.

During the migration from FeedBurner to Google, we got this notice after the migration (my emphasis) —

You will no longer be able to sign in to feedburner.com, but that’s okay: from now on, there is no reason to do so. Also, your old FeedBurner feeds, found at feeds.feedburner.com, will automatically redirect traffic to their new addresses on the feeds2.feedburner.com domain. You may still want to update any links or buttons on your website to use the new feeds2.feedburner.com address.

Many made that switch and Google showed the “feeds2″ address as the address listed in the FeedBurner service. I’ve noticed recently, however, that it’s back to “feeds” (with no indication “why” from what I’ve seen) —


Now, Google is pretty smart, so I’m sure that regardless of the feed address someone is subscribed to, it is likely getting logged as a subscriber. But let’s consider the confusion someone might see in an RSS reader —


There’s also a valid feed address that starts with “feedproxy” (http://feedproxy.google.com/name). So, there can be three different addresses for a single feed. I’m sure this makes life difficult for Google engineers but it also can create confusion for the end-user.

Making the Switch?
To be fair, Google is doing more with FeedBurner. While not a FeedBurner-specific feature, PubSubHubbub is now available on all FeedBurner feeds with PingShot enabled. They’ve also added a Map Overlay for stats and some subject line customizations for RSS to email.

Considering that it’s all free, there’s little room to complain. But, like the above, there are reasons for dissatisfaction. So, why are more bloggers not switching?

For starters, it’s easier to stick with FeedBurner. No, it’s not perfect but it is good enough and the far and away dominant option. And for people who have been with FeedBurner from the beginning, there’s significant historical data there. Not to mention, the fact that migrating could mean the loss of some subscribers.

A close second, is that bloggers are not aware of alternatives. FeedBlitz has made a big push to take on dissatisfied FeedBurner customers because of the early year criticisms. It’s a paid service, however, and that has likely slowed its progress.

The yet to be launched feedsqueezer may be another choice. While it will have a free service, it will be focused on being a paid service based on volume. Since its inaugural blog post in January ’09, it has been relatively quiet. I’m sure many will give them a go, especially because they will provide the ability to create a CNAME record, allowing a publisher to effectively own the feed address.

For the purists who want to own the feed address and the statistics, there are some platform-specific options like the WordPress FeedStats plugin. The one that I’d most likely move to, if I were not so complacent, is Mint’s Bird Feeder Pepper. In the event you still want to showcase your feed stats, there’s also a little Minty Readers Pepper.


Concluding Thoughts
For now, the cries of foul and fail against Google (FeedBurner) seem to have subsided. Some of that is due to Google’s efforts (they should address the feed address questions above) while another element is due to bloggers being too busy to be bothered with the annoyance of switching from a service that is good enough and arguably still the best option. At the very least, there are options to try and a now listening Google — and that’s definitely a better situation than six months ago.

Apple’s iPhone – Modern Day Indentured Servitude

Apple is in a unique position. It controls the OS of the most popular phone ever and is also the creator of the device (hardware). More importantly, Apple plays the gatekeeper of the content that is allowed onto it through the management of the App Store. The only thing Apple does not control are the pipes, with AT&T being the sole owner of cellular service in the U.S.

As consumers, we have given Apple a tremendous amount of power. The key word is “given.” In exchange for a highly fashionable, highly useful, and highly fun mobile device, we have agreed to a scenario where we in fact have little rights and few opportunities to legitimately gripe about how Apple treats us. That means if Apple decides to pull or ban Google Voice apps from the App Store, under their advisement or coercion from AT&T (or other cellular providers), the only credible response consumers have is, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

It is important to recognize that Apple is not in too dissimilar a position as its iPhone users. Namely, in most markets, it too is in a relationship dominated by a single partner. As consumers yield to Apple’s will because we absolutely must have an iPhone, so Apple must have the pipes for its device. Until exclusive contracts expire, Apple will be locked into the whims of its partner.

That doesn’t get Apple or consumers off the hook though. Apple has shown time and time again that it is happy to waive a tyrannical, competition-killing hand on apps that want to mimic (but really improve) iPhone functionality. It goes farther than that. Many of its OS 3.0 features were essentially usurped from apps that had already solved problems that Apple didn’t, couldn’t, or hadn’t thought about.

Sorry landscape emails programs, voice memo recorders, and the entrepreneurs and engineers who spent countless hours answering similar market demands — your apps will become obsolete with the next OS release. But thanks for giving us a head start!

Love,

Apple

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We weren’t that angry that Apple yanked those apps into core features. With OS 3.0, we didn’t have to pay for them and the experience overall was much more seamless. Yes, if Apple opened up more of its OS, maybe the latter point is moot — but it hasn’t and it likely won’t (for now).

And now for some more honesty. No one is forcing us — forcing you –to stay on the iPhone. Digerati like to write long-winded, soul-searching posts about how they are so tired of Apple and AT&T and are really — this time, this time for sure — ready to leave. If I worked at Apple or AT&T, I’d bookmark those posts under a folder called “veiled threats” and read them when I wanted a good laugh.

But it’s “not fair,” you say, “Apple controls everything.” Yes, they do. And if you don’t like it, go support an open source initiative like Android or try the Pre. After all, competition is the only thing that is going to make Apple more honest. In the meantime, more power to them. They’ve built a killer product, set up the rules for how they want to operate their business, and have millions of customers freely agreeing to those terms. Until there’s something better or consumers start voting with their wallets, let’s stop getting tears on those fingerprint resistant screens.

It’s Time to Bring “Old” Blogs into the Real-time Web

Today’s culture values, no, expects immediacy. And the latest technology is only strengthening the psychosis of now. What we see with Twitter and the “real-time” web is a world where information is old in minutes instead of hours (as if hours were so terrible). Like the blog, tools like Twitter have shattered the traditional channels that information traveled. In some ways, the real-time web has even challenged the importance of the blog or at least the way many have used it.

For more than several years, early adopters have relied heavily on RSS and aggregators (machine and human driven) to act as their sources for news and information. Lately, however, these sites contain stale content compared to the trove of links and breaking news in the stream of micro-blogging updates. As a result, the stream for early adopters has for the most part, replaced those sources. People don’t want to read today’s news tomorrow. More apt is that they don’t want to read this morning’s news at lunch.

Bloggers have felt this change and adapted accordingly. Many simply spend more time on Twitter. Others have changed their cadences to put out shorter, more timely posts. The big blogs have soaked up larger and larger numbers of writers to keep their content fresh and relevant. But that’s just throwing people and processes at a larger issue — most blogging platforms aren’t built for the real-time web.

Most but not all. Posterous, for example, is gaining significant traction because of how quickly and easily it facilitates getting content to the web. And like Tumblr, it deals with different types of content very well, be it text, photos, videos, or MP3s.

Perhaps the important difference with these systems though, is that overall, they encourage a blogger to be less constrained. For example, not only can posts of all types of content be created by email, each content category is presented in a unique way. Posting an excerpt to an article feels OK because it looks different than a full blog entry. The same goes for photo or video updates. Ultimately, bloggers can more quickly get up content and feel more comfortable posting shorter amounts and different types of content, knowing that an entry won’t look empty even if it doesn’t have all the trimmings of a “traditional” blog post.

Whether faster and shorter posting is a positive change, is a question for another time. The point now is that these new entrants are powering an evolved sense of blogging. But not everyone can play. Most particularly, while Posterous, Tumblr, Amplify, and other platforms are emerging, the existing tools, such as WordPress, TypePad, and Blogger are not adapting quickly enough to the real-time web.

There are two larger implications to this situation. The first is that new bloggers have a very attractive, lightweight, up-to-date, and media-friendly alternative when determining what platform to use. For someone who is not tech savvy, the simplicity offered in a choice like Posterous is a no brainer. Secondly, some established bloggers are making the switch. Steve Rubel is probably the best example, leaving his Micro Persuasion blog for his lifestream on Posterous, all in the name of staying agile, relevant, and keeping up with the stream.

Comparatively, the tried and true blogging systems look bloated next to these upstarts. They are beginning to feel outdated, as was using Dreamweaver or HTML to manage a website, during the rise of content management systems.

It’s time to bring these “old” blogging systems into the real-time web. That doesn’t mean im.wordpress.com or P2 (which are great WordPress efforts). In short, it would mean:

  • Faster and more ways to post: Provide simpler and more ways to get content on the web. Think Posterous for emailing any type of content to create a new entry, Tumblr’s iPhone app, or Amplify’s Firefox add-on to excerpt an article.
  • Better native media support: Handle all types of media better. For example, these platforms should have built-in media players for MP3’s or videos.
  • New content types and presentation styles: On the real-time web, not all entries are going to look like this one. In fact, most won’t. Bloggers need to be able to specify the type of entry they are creating (e.g., article excerpt). The blogging system should subsequently have a styling element that corresponds to it.
  • Simplified, lightweight versions: Time to get back to the basics. The navigation and dashboards for WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger, and other platforms have become complicated. There are way too many options, especially when compared to the new entrants.

While the established blogging players decide if they want to adapt to these changes, the new entrants have the opportunity to continue to lure the digerati to their systems. Posterous, for example, offers the ability to import an existing blog from WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and other popular systems. To reach the more stubborn bloggers, there’s also a strategy for these upstarts to try and somehow integrate into the existing platforms through plugins and widgets. In this case, they can offer a taste of their real-time features without the commitment of migration or having content completely outside their domains.

The web is changing (again). Blogs will either adapt to the speed and mobility of the real-time web or become another feature of website management software.

Will the New “Real-time” Web Last?

I’ll be attending TechCrunch’s CrunchUp on the “real-time” web. There’s a good agenda and some of the pioneering “real-time” individuals and companies will be discussing their ideas and presenting their products that help facilitate “real-time” activities.

My use of quotes around “real-time” is because I find this term, similar to “social media,” to be an odd descriptor. If we think about the early days of the consumer web, two of the most popular features were instant messaging and chat rooms. It doesn’t get much more real-time than that. So, one can argue that real-time is not new but rather evolved. It is that evolution and what makes this version of real-time different and interesting that I want to examine. Now, that you get the point, I’ll (mostly) drop my use of quotes. But first, some more history.

Back in the glory days of “Web 2.0,” blogs and RSS were the real-time web and Technorati was the go to resource for understanding them. If a blog was not in Technorati, it might as well have not existed. A blogger’s clout was married to his Technorati ranking and FeedBurner stats. Like many other blog search engines and to some extent, even Google’s own effort, Technorati has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur (although they are trying to make a come back with Twittorati).

It is hard to pinpoint why a Web 2.0 poster child failed so hard. It didn’t happen overnight. The reasons why they floundered are important. Some of these factors included its inability to keep results relevant (too much noise, SPAM, languages, etc.), scaling its indexing (bloggers would often complain about updates taking days), Google including blog postings in its index, and many established media players either creating their own blog content or syndicating it from the biggest blogs. Thus, that interpretation of the real-time web slowly integrated itself into the larger web, until it was no longer distinguishable as a “real-time” element.

Without the historical context of IM, chat rooms, blogs, and similar technologies, it is easy to get swept up into the “new” craze of the real-time web. What we are experiencing, while exciting, is just the next paradigm of real-time. This particular interpretation actually combines two qualities of its predecessors. The first is the absolute immediacy of IM and the second is the broadcast nature of blogs. Twitter is basically a version of IM that publishes to all friends on a buddy list. Indeed, co-founder Jack Dorsey describes one influence of Twitter being around friends’ IM status messages, giving the service its “what are you doing?” tagline.

Another major distinction of today’s real-time web is mobile. The current climate puts state-of-the-art yet intuitive, smart mobile devices that are GPS and video-enabled in the hands of average consumers. Not only have the devices themselves advanced rapidly, they now have platforms where thousands upon thousands of developers are flocking to build applications on top of them. Just like with the tools that made the blogging revolution possible, it is now dead simple to instantaneously broadcast text, photos, and videos from the a device that fits in a pocket.

In understanding the history of the real-time web and the characteristics of its latest interpretation, a question remains. Are there any signs that it is starting to simply be subsumed into the larger web? This question is not motivated by looking for the “next big thing” or in wanting everyone to get over there Twitter obsession. Rather, the answer informs where these technologies are at in their life cycle and what we can expect from them in the future.

There’s no doubt that Twitter has spread far beyond its early adopter roots. That happened well before Oprah. Most established media outlets constantly promote their Twitter handles. Twitter is a common choice for late night jokes and parodies. For businesses in particular, being on Twitter is now not as much of a competitive advantage because many people and organizations are also on it.

This type of saturation was one of the breaking points for blogging. Many early bloggers became disillusioned and abandoned their blogs because of their need to “keep up” with them while having to compete with larger and more reputable blogging outlets. Although Twitter requires lower maintenance, keeping up with the stream of updates can feel overwhelming, as can having to compete with CNN and aplusk.

It is clear that society is coming to terms with the new real-time web but society alone cannot make it become integrated into a seamless web experience. What’s missing is a technology disruption by a major player that brings real-time results to where users already are. Twitter acquired Summize under this motivation. Similarly, many startups have funding to solve how to mine and index real-time data. It will either be their acquisition or the birth of similar technologies at big players like Microsoft, Yahoo!, or Google that bring the latest incarnation of real-time back into expected normalcy.

One element of the real-time web that must not be overlooked is the need to understand it by time and by relevance. Users don’t want to solely see results based on the now. They want to also know the most relevant or authoritative of all “real-time” results. Google Blog Search allows results to be sorted by both date and relevancy. New search engines like Collecta and Topsy are looking at the real-time dilemma from the perspectives of time and relevancy respectively.

The latest real-time web is already collapsing into the larger web. It is only a matter of time before this version of “real-time” is just another view into content. And that’s the way it should be. After all, there is no “now” without a before or after.