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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: Social Media
UNICEF has launched a bold advertising campaign that takes direct aim at perhaps the most ubiquitous form of online activism — the Facebook “like.” Late last month, UNICEF Sweden released three commercials that urge viewers to support humanitarian aid not through posts or shares on social media, but monetary donations.
Congrats to UNICEF for having the guts to say this.
Here’s a problem Community Management and Social Media hasn’t really come to grips with. We focus on metrics that really don’t mean much, and forget the larger goals — and sometimes, those numbers hurt your ability to reach chose goals.
The “like’ seems harmless, but is it? You give people a chance to make an “easy commit” to your cause. It gives you a nice, big (and meaningless) number you can put in press releases and tweets. but because it’s so easy — frictionless — it’s a meaningless commitment. There’s no cost to a person to “like” something, so ultimately, there’s no value in that like. It’s a worthless, meaningless number.
And worse, you give that person a very easy act to do — and that act can let them feel like they accomplished something. They helped. By giving them a frictionless action that lets them feel they’ve helped, does that encourage them to take the next step and (for instance) join the organization, or commit funds to the cause.
It would be an interesting experiment (I can’t find any research on this) whether these easy “likes” help or hurt fundraising efforts. Does asking them to make their first step a “like” make them more or less likely to commit funds in a later step compared to a campaign that focuses on the fundraising itself?
I’m willing to bet that the like is in fact a disincentive, because it allows people to convince themselves they’ve helped the cause, without actually costing themselves anything.
I’m tempted to say “It’s about time!”, but Google has rolled out real communities/groups/forums on Google+. At first glance, they’ve done a decent design, and I’ve been watching groups pop up this evening and been seeing how people have started figuring them out.
I have also created a group there for bird photography. I would like to encourage everyone to pop by and sign up, grab a chair, and start chatting.
I expect these groups will do a nice job of formalizing the impromptu group organizing that’s been going on there via hashtags (like #BirdPoker). Overall, it seems like a good and long-needed addition to G+.
When I was interviewing for the Community Manager job with Palm’s Developer Relations, I found myself sitting in a conference room with the person who would ultimately be my boss, and we were talking over various aspects of the job and the usual interview questions and chatter.
And then she got a smile on her face and the question came out of left field: What would you do if I asked you to lie to the developers?
It’s actually an easy answer. I said I’d lie.
Because I would. And did. Because for all I tried to be the internal advocate for my developers and promote their needs and comments around the company, I was also the representative of the company out into the real world, and my primary role was presenting and protecting the company interests. (any developer I worked with who never realized this at the time, I’m sorry to break it to you now, but really, it shouldn’t be a surprise….)
And then we went into a 45 minute discussion about the implications of lying, and all of the complicated issues surrounding it, such as damage control when we got caught (no IF we got caught. ultimately, you will), and how part of my role was helping advise the company to try to make sure we never got to the point of having to lie (a good idea in theory, but people need to listen to your advice for you to influence decisions).
And to me, that’s at least the theoretical purpose of the Developer Advocate role, no matter what job description it’s tied to. It’s the person who not only interacts with the developers, but synthesizes down what the developers are saying and spreads that condensed version of the developer into the different part of the organization so that people planning products and making decisions that impact the developer can understand what they’re saying and what they need to be successful. (this, of course, assumes that people within the organization actually want to hear what the developers are saying. To the degree you have people deciding what developers should have, vs figuring out how to give developers what they’re asking for and saying they need, you have a conflict. Which in my experience is handled by finding out about meetings where decisions are made well after they actually happen….)
These are the kinds of questions that ought to be asked when trying to hire this kind of role, or in trying to figure out if you want to be hired. It’s all well and good to get all touchy and feely about taking care of developers and working with them to be successful (and yes, we did all that, too), but where it gets real is when it hits the fan, and then everyone on all sides need to know how people are going to react because that’s the time when you least can afford surprises.
(the honest fact is, I think my parrot could be a develop advocate for a platform when things are going well. What defines a good one vs. a weak one is how things go down when things aren’t going so well. I just wish my time with webOS had had fewer of those times, and more of the “yeah, this is easy!” times…)
What defines these roles is how the people in them handle crisis and challenge. And the ones that handle crisis well tend to be the ones that know that crisis is inevitable and do as much planning and work ahead of time so that when it hits, there are already options in place to handle whatever comes at them. And hopefully, is watching both the inside and outside of a company closely enough to know the crisis is coming, even if they can’t prevent it…
While Twitter has done a lot of things of late that may be disappointing or annoying or even infuriating—such as pulling the rug out of the 3rd party ecosystem that helped them get off the ground in the first place—most of those things haven’t been surprising. The writing was on the wall for a long time that Twitter would implement a business model based on eyeballs and while those of us that had been users from the beginning hoped that they’d find a different way, it’s not surprising that they chose to go down this path.
Remember kids, if you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product.
Given that, remaking the native apps to be more inline with their website presentation and however they are going to shove ads into our attention span isn’t surprising. Putting limits and restrictions on how third-party clients can present timelines? Not surprising. Going so far to put limits on the number of third-party clients out there? Not surprising at all.
I am Twitter’s worst enemy, unless perhaps Twitter proves itself to be its own worst enemy. That wouldn’t surprise me a bit.
I’m Twitter’s product. To date, I’ve been mostly satisfied with most of Twitter, such that it’s the social media channel is the place I spend more of my time than any other service (#2 is Facebook; #3 is G+, 4 is Stack Exchange, and 5 is linkedin). I’m not a “draw” on Twitter. I’m not a trend setter. I don’t pretend to be, or particularly want to be one. I’m a user. And I’m exactly what Twitter is trying to monetize. And I don’t mind being monetized — within reason.
Twitter seems to have forgotten a key fact, though. I’m not there for Twitter, per se. I’m there because all of you other people are there, and I’m hanging out with you. Twitter is just the place I hang out at. The same is true of Facebook, but the crew at Facebook a different crew — Twitter is my geek hangout, Facebook is where my family, friends and etc hang out.
If the people I hang out with at Twitter go elsewhere, there’s zero reason for me to be on Twitter. And Twitter’s recently been on a “hey, thanks for building this into a huge network of people, we don’t need you any more” thing with many of the people who are the reasons I’m on Twitter. Twitter probably doesn’t need to care, but maybe they’re going to regret this some day.
The way I look at it, the geeks came, they created stuff around Twitter. That brought in people attracted by the geeks, and that grew a network big enough to get noticed. It because a trendy place to be, then it because an expected place to be. Along the way, that attracted the brands and celebrities, and those attracted the mainstream. Just like Facebook. Now, Twitter’s made it clear it cares about the brands and celebrities and the mainstream, and the geeks and founders and builders? They can stay, or they can go; it’s not that Twitter’s trying to get rid of them, merely that Twitter no longer cares what they do.
But what I keep thinking about is this: if that group does leave Twitter and go some other place, what’s left is — well, it’s going to be more or less indistinguishable from Facebook. And if Twitter turns itself into another form of Facebook — which is pretty clearly what it’s trying to do — do all of those people in the mainstream still need both?
While I see Twitter successfully trying to turn themselves into something that looks very like Facebook, what I don’t see if Twitter doing anything to answer the question “why am I on both Facebook and Twitter anyway?”, especially if Facebook tweaks things in a way that makes it easy for Twitter traffic to move on over. You don’t want to be the N+1 service in someone’s life with no special attraction to make you worth their time. Just ask Digg. or Slashdot.
The question Twitter doesn’t seem to be considering is this: as it continues the “Facebookification” of itself, what about Twitter makes it a place people like me will want to be involved in? And if everything on Twitter I care about is also on Facebook, or on Google+, or on (name whatever service you like), why do I need to put time into both places?
And what I’m not seeing out of Twitter is any answer to that question. They’re so busy trying to become Facebook they don’t seem to have considered how to stay different from Facebook that people are willing to spend time both places. If they don’t figure that out, at some point increasing numbers of people will start making choices to only be on one service again, and if Twitter goes up against Facebook to be “that place you spend time”, Twitter’s likely to lose.
Me? I’ll still be on Twitter — to the degree it’s interesting to me. And that’s tied directly to who’s on it. And that’s something Twitter doesn’t seem to be managing well, and doesn’t seem to care about. And it’s at risk of not figuring that out until it’s too late.
Fast-growing chicken chain Chick-fil-A has long been known for sticking to its conservative roots. In a 2010 interview with Ad Age, an exec said the restaurant would sell hamburgers before it would consider opening on a Sunday. But what was once seen as an almost charming quirk of a Southern restaurant is increasingly coming under fire as the franchise funnels money into political causes that are seen as retrograde by large numbers of consumers once willing to give it a pass.
Things came to a head last week when an interview that Chick-fil-A President-Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy did with the Baptist Press hit the internet. In short, Mr. Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, affirmed the company’s support of what he considers traditional marriage. “Guilty as charged,” Mr. Cathy told the magazine. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”
Unlike a lot of people, I’m going to congratulate the Chick-fil-A company for standing up for its values here, and defend their right to do so. If that’s an important core value to the company, they should.
Don’t mistake defending their decision with supporting it. I don’t. Nor do I plan on visiting one of their establishments any time soon. But at least they took an position. How many big companies do that?
But if you want the casebook reason why so many big companies and professional athletes master the skill of “cliche 101″ and never utter anything remotely non-generic, just look at the outfall from this. Chick-fil-A is a company that’s been in expansion mode, moving into new markets, working to take the company and brand nationwide with some success. And this is the sort of hard lesson you learn when you go from “what works in my home town” to “what works everywhere”.
The reason big companies go bland is because bland is what’s palatable everywhere. It’s a difficult thing to try to speak to a nationwide or global audience and not get tripped up here. Remember back in 2003 when Apple introduced iTunes for Windows and proclaimed that Hell had Frozen over with Apple shipping windows software? No, you probably don’t, actually. But it was a big deal — and the state of Virginia threatened to cancel all of its Apple educational contracts because, well, Steve Jobs used a cuss word. Apple changed the ad campaign, and it all mellowed out again.
I use that example because there’s been some complaining by the conservative groups the we shouldn’t be picking on Chick-fil-A for their beliefs. Well, heck, why not? This is a common pressure tactic, and effective. It’s just this time it’s being aimed in the other direction.
The fact is, if you want to influence others with your position, you have my blessing. Please do. But realize that the flip side of that is that people will react to you and your position, and not all of them will be positive. And what may work in your home town or with your core group may not work so well in other regions, or in groups you’re hoping to attract to your brand.
THAT is why big companies go bland and cliche-ridden. And that’s a lesson Chick-fil-A is now learning. And they’re going to have to make a decision, do they want to hold to their values and promote them, and be willing to take the hit in lost customers or sales it might create? Or are you really interested in becoming a national brand and grow in the market?
Most companies choose growth. Honestly, there’s rarely a lot of upside to pushing your agenda. A better strategy is to shut up, take the money you make, and quietly funnel it to support the causes you believe in. That tends to be a lot less controversial; take a look at Curves as an example the Chick-fil-A management can emulate. Don’t think choosing to isolate yourself from the company management will completely protect you, though. Just ask the GoDaddy folks.
This would have likely been a quick and soon forgotten kerfluffle, if it weren’t for the Muppet toy crisis, and here’s where I think Chick-fil-A screwed up. One side effect of this was that the Muppets cancelled their relationship with the company, and that ended a promotion of a toy giveaway. Chick-fil-A announced this as a safety recall, which only gave fresh ammunition to those looking for reasons to criticize them.
For all I know, the claim is true, too. Whether it is or not is irrelevant. The perception here is that they’re covering this up, and no matter how Chick-fil-A tries, the critics will jump on them for this. And it frankly looks bad because they seem to be trying to blame the Muppets for this. If they had simply put up signs saying “because of circumstances beyond our control, we’ve had to cancel this promotion”, nobody would be posting photos of the signs to Facebook and beating them up for this.
To me, it looks like a sour grapes reaction, no matter what the truth is. And by doing it, they give their critics fresh ammunition to sustain the criticism. If they’d used a simpler response that avoided naming the Muppets, they wouldn’t have rebooted this controversy. Unfortunately, they did, and gave it a second wind. Someone in their marketing or PR group should have caught this and short-circuited those signs to something safer.
In the grand scheme of things, this is minor — assuming they don’t pour more gasoline on the fire. It’s a good time to be quiet and let things fade. It’s a good opportunity for a learning opportunity on when to keep your mouth shut, too, especially you’re a small company learning a lesson about what happens when you become a big one…
By now you have likely read the controversial article by Cathryn Sloane arguing that all social media managers should be under the age of 25. While most of the internet has strongly disagreed with this argument (especially those over the age of 25,) some older marketing experts are actually in agreement with Sloane, including Kevin Hillstrom of Seattle.
When I first read this piece by Sloane, I chuckled a little and thought to myself “here we go again”. And we did, and the article generated a bit of a kerfluffle, probably more than it deserved.
As one of those dinosaurs she’s kindly suggesting should not exist, my reaction to the article probably wasn’t what you think. In fact, what it reminded me of was me, when I was that age. Enthusiastic, full of energy, convinced of my opinions and able to see life as very white or very black, without much gray area in the middle. And frankly, more than a bit arrogant that I knew how this stuff should work better than everyone around me. Sometimes I was right, too.
The biggest problem I see in her article is the naive thought that social media and community management didn’t exist before Facebook, and therefore, people who didn’t grow up in the Facebook generation shouldn’t be doing this stuff. She kind of forgets that there are a lot of us old farts that were involved in actually building the stuff that led to the Facebook generation, or the tools that it was built on.
I’ve been involved in community management stuff going back to the 1980′s. That was long before anyone called it community management, and the kind of information sharing that became social media didn’t spring forth out of nothing, it was built on many systems and tools that were refined and improved over the years. Believe it or not, we’ve done this kind of stuff for a long time — it’s just we did it in black and white on kinescope film.
A good social media team needs both the enthusiasm of youth and the nuanced thoughtfulness of the graybeards. It’s not an either/or situation. If she had worked with me, and if she had shown me the article, I would have pointed out to her that she was setting herself up for a fairly emotional reaction that would obscure the point she was trying to make and leave her on the defensive — and then tried to work with her on how to mute those issues so the message came through without all of the heat.
And that’s my point for this piece; a good social media team needs both the exuberance and energy of youth but the perspective and thoughtfulness of experience. There is an value to the experience of “been there, done that, wore out the T-shirt”. There’s also a lot of value to the high energy of “let’s stop talking and try something”. Finding ways to mellow the raw edges of the enthusiasm with the tempering of experience gives a good team the best of both worlds.
When I was her age, I was a lot like her. Today, admittedly, I sometimes look back and who I was and wince, for tied up with the enthusiasm and skill I put into what I built, I also carried around a hunk of ego and a fair bit of arrogance to go with it, but it was easy to see what the right answer was, and nuance was for dummies. Today, the raw edges have been sanded smooth and where before there were black and white, easy decisions, I see immensely complicated, nuanced opportunities and challenges. There are times when I miss the simplicity of youth, but I have to admit I mostly prefer who I am today, and my ability to steer through the issues to a solution instead of shifting into overdrive and plowing over them to get to the next problem.
The one thing we graybeards need to remember, though, is that it’s important to keep working at it and stay relevant. Re-invent yourselves. You don’t have to be young, but you have to understand and be able to relate to them. If you don’t keep at it and keep upgrading your skills and attitude, you’ll end up one of those “get off my lawn” guys that nobody pays attention to any more. There’s no free lunch. the core truth of the “Facebook generation” gap is that this gap really does exist, and if you’re still arguing about how the good old days were better, you’ve made yourself ignorable. you have to stay up to date with your skills, and move with the world as it moves forward — and if you do, your experience and worldview from having gone through these generational changes a few times makes you more valuable to those who get it. But if you’re still riding on the skills you took from college and you’ve stopped innovating yourself, you have nobody to blame but yourself that people like Cathryn see you as expendable… Because you probably are…
And no, staying up to date isn’t easy, but if you want to stay relevant, it’s not optional.
Update: here’s another interesting take on this situation.
Link to great stuff often, and you’ll build an audience. But subsequent linkers don’t owe credit to every intermediate linker. It’s nice in some cirustances as a courtesy, but it’s never necessary. And even when a “via” link is included, most readers don’t care and don’t click.
My policy on attribution and linking is pretty simple: I try to link back to the article that led to me deciding to bring the topic to your attention. If I see a number of sites linking to the same original piece, I will typically give credit to whichever site I saw link to it first, unless I’m a subscriber of the site directly. If I am, then I’ll link directly without attributing a reference. So in the case of this piece, I saw it directly from the fingers of Marco on his site. For something like this piece on the EFF, it was Daring Fireball that I saw it on, so they get a link recognizing that.
Marco’s missing one big reason why these links matter: they are important to SEO and search engine placement, because they’re key currency in helping the search engines understand who’s influencing who and who’s writing stuff that other people find influential. As long as you don’t tag links with “nofollow”, your linking to the page or site helps Google and Bing understand which sites are influencing you, which helps those sites rank those pages and sites higher in their search engines. So even if nobody in your reader community clicks those links, they still impact the success of the site, so I think it’s important we at least try to make those links happen in situations where a site “earns” them (however you define ‘earn’).
It may not mean a lot to Gruber’s SEO that I link to his site, but it does help a little. In the case of a relatively small site like mine, it can make a big difference. My recent article on Aperture vs. Lightroom, for instance, got linked to by a few sites, and as of right now is the fourth link Google shows to people searching on “Aperture vs. Lightroom”. That’s driving traffic to that page so that right now it’s about 1/3 of my total daily page views, and THAT is causing some of those people to explore some other pages on my site. I expect that effect to fade over time, but for right now, a few (< 6) links have made a huge difference in site traffic, and it looks like some of those people are choosing to stick around.
That is why this kind of linking matters, not just whether people are clicking on the links while browsing. Few do, but the search engines notice, and that’s where all this cross linking and attribution pays dividends to those you give links to. And that’s why it’s worth the time to do it regularly, and put a bit of thought into how to do it well.
Each new social media service that crosses the threshold of public awareness sees two things: brands and celebrities rushing in to find out if they can use the service to their advantage and, right before that, squatters and jokers who got to the brand name first. The latest to experience this Wild West phenomenon is the visual bulletin board service, Pinterest, which recently announced a brief policy statement on usernames that hardly clears things up for companies, celebrities, and satirists alike.
We have something like 35 years of history and experience here on the internet now. Along the way, we’ve made pretty much every mistake we can make, usually multiple times.
But I really don’t know why startups ignore this history and keep getting hit from behind by things they should know are coming.
A basic reality: when you’re small and nobody knows about you, “be nice and act like mature adults” works. As soon as you get some visibility and growth, every service should know that there are common problems that are going to show up that need to be dealt with:
- trolls and griefers, abusive jerks in general
- Name grabbers and impersonators
The list goes on. The reality is, every site that succeeds at some level has to deal with them. And most of them, it seems, waits until they actually show up and create problems to sit down and go “we need to do something. What?”
I don’t understand why, either. They’re coming — unless you fail up front. So why not plan for these up front in your policies and your systems and controls? Maybe you won’t get it right the first time, but you’ll have a leg up over “now what?”
Pinterest seems to have missed the implications of copyright issues on their site. They’ve had their first wave of porn and spam, the impersonators are moving in. They seem to be reacting well, but some of these things (like the impersonators) they shouldn’t have to adapt their T&Cs to; it should have been there at launch.
Even worse is google; I swear 40-50% or more of the people circling me these days aren’t really people, they’re empty spam hubs waiting to activate. And a good 20% of the names are clearly failures of the real name policies they claim are so important. Taht’s the problem with making a priority of policies that don’t scale in enforcement, I guess.
To sites looking to launch into these social worlds: study what’s happened to sites that came before, and learn from them. It’s a lot less painful than learning on the fly.
Or ask advice of someone who’s been through the wars; at least they can tell you where the troll lairs are likely to be found…
First of all, readers aren’t going to learn what those symbols mean. The distinction between them is also unnecessary and will lead to more confusion: I’ve been running a hybrid articles-and-links blog here (↬DF) for a while, I wrote the function that added “via” links to billions of reblogged posts on Tumblr, and I didn’t even know the difference between “via” and “hat tip” until today.
But the inscrutability of these little symbols is irrelevant, because most writers aren’t going to use them.
The problems with online attribution aren’t due to a lack of syntax: they’re due to the economics and realities of online publishing.
Marco brings up problems with Curator’s Code, an attempt to define a way to standardize and encourage the “hat tip” attributions that go on from site to site (or should).
Now, I always try to give proper attribution. I’m not perfect, but I think it’s an important aspect of the ecosystem of the web. I thought about the proposal in Curator’s Code, and honestly, I’m not that impressed, for the reasons Marco states. But at least someone is starting this conversation, and it’s a conversation we should encourage (and link to).
I think there are a couple of problems with Marco’s argument, though.
First, while the codes may seem inscrutable, if they are adopted and evangelized, we can get past that inscrutability. This same argument could be waged against Creative Commons, and yet, it seems to have become fairly well understood (but with far from 100% awareness; this is the internet, of course). That’s one reason why I’ve tried with my Creative Commons licensing to not just use it, but to pro-actively explain what it is and what my philosophy for using it is. These codes would need similar treatment over time to become really useful, but I think it can be done.
Another aspect that Marco seems to miss is that even if the reader misses these completely — the search engines won’t (unless a site is doing their via/hat-tip links with “nofollow”, which seems like it’d be a wanker action and seriously disingenuous). So even if the person misses the attribution, the Google wouldn’t, and that in itself helps.
But for a situation like that, tying this into some kind of micro format would seem even more useful; and if we were going to push to adopt something like this, we should do it in a way that works both for the human and the machine ready. That seems to be missing here completely, and that’s a big reason why I’ve decided to not adopt this.
Consider a typical post on The Verge, a widely respected tech blog:
while I like the Verge, Marco is dead right here. Their attribution is a nasty example of design over usability. It’s basically impossible to find, even when looking for it. Which seems to be the point of what they did — it’s hidden in plain sight, which is too bad.
So, let’s take this another step or two. Let’s tie it into a microformat, make sure that it’s done in a way that works for sane web designs for both readers and spiders. This was a nice start to the discussion, but this proposal isn’t going far enough, or what’s really needed.
Apple can take all that address book data and make a real social platform out of it, adding features like two-way friend confirmation, blocking users, public profiles, photo sharing, activity streams, whatever. Then, one click could let you import all that stuff, especially all those existing friend relationships, into apps. Eventually, this could even become a standalone social network service, like Facebook. Maybe call it “Friend Center”.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of social apps for Apple’s iOS platform. Many of its most popular apps are owned by social networks, including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. And many of its top games are social, too, ranging from “Words With Friends” to multi-player card games.
I think this is a great idea. I don’t see it happening.
There’s a problem here. You can’t build social networking systems if you don’t understand social networking. If you try, you get — Ping. You get Google Wave. You get Google Buzz.
Google finally figured that out, and put work into changing the corporate DNA and getting people in who saw these things as social systems and not engineering systems, and I think Google+ is a good system that’s getting better (it’s interesting to live in two worlds and hear both sides of the Google+ story — the geeky elite seem to put it down a lot, and the photographers caught on to it early and love it (I lean towards the Photographer opinion, for what it’s worth).
Google, though, is further down the social path than Apple. They at least grok the need to converse with users and be part of the social space, and they have done a fair amount of blogging (corporate and personal) and while Google Groups needs a massive makeover, well, Apple Groups are, um… And where is Apple’s presence in their own support forums?
Steve was simple not interested or supportive of the core of the social phenomenon, which was talking to customers. You can’t control a conversation, and Apple was about control. You can join into a conversation, you can influence it, you can do a lot of things, but you can’t control it. And so, Apple was never IN the conversation.
I expect this will change under Tim Cook, but the DNA to be successful in this is missing from Apple even more than it was missing from Google when they thought Buzz was the answer. There are people at Apple who would love to do these things, but I think it’s going to require big attitude shifts within the company, and an influx of people who can both understand the Apple way of things and mindset AND social systems before you have a hope of something like this happening. Which to me means it’s easily a few years off. And people who can translate social systems into something that won’t give Apple hives (and work to transform Apple into a mindset that will work in a social universe, too). I think this shift is necessary; this “snow blind” issue of Apple and social systems is a place where I think Apple’s success is at risk; it’s a way for a competitor to shift the market away from Apple in a way that Apple can’t compete with, similar to the way Apple used the iMac and design esthetics to do that to Microsoft in a way Microsoft couldn’t understand how to react to. Not an easy task, but it’s where I see a big vulnerability to a market disruption that Apple can’t fight.
This isn’t new. It was one of the things I was pushing to people who would listen, way back before I left Apple.
2) Community architect for iTunes. This is one I actually had some discussions about. Maybe you’re familiar with Pandora or last.fm? One of the questions I’ve had since the start of iTunes (and the Clear-Channel-ification of broadcast radio) was how people found out about new and interesting music. It’s sure not on broadcast radio any more, especially here in Silicon Valley. Pandora and last.fm are heading in that area — but what if you could turn the iTunes community into a real recommendation service? And how would you do it? there are some very simplistic tools in iTunes today that are “very Amazon” and not “very community” — and they’re nice, as far as they go. I felt that there was a lot of opportunity to build something really sharp and best of show. There was definitely interest among some folks inside iTunes, too. It may well happen — it just won’t be something I did. ohwell. Here’s hoping, though. There’s such opportunity here.
3) Community architect for .Mac. Although honestly, .Mac needs a lot more than community building. Allow me to defer detailed discussion of .Mac for later (remind me if I forget….), but while I think it’s good for many things, there are lots of things Apple really ought to do with .Mac (they should have bought Flickr, dammit, to name just one), and Mac Groups are barely adequate for organizing a church picnic. But there are some decent bones here to build from, if they’d just commit to doing so. Unfortunately, I just never got the feeling they would.
And now, six years later, we have — Ping — and iCloud, and Apple’s emergence into the social fabric of the net is still, well, completely missing. Well, Phil Schiller now tweets once or twice a month…
Apple should be going in this direction. I see no indication they are. Apple needs to bring people in who can help them, people who both understand these technologies and understand Apple and its culture. Good luck finding them. And it’s going to take Tim Cook and Eddy and Phil and the top execs committing to not just integrating twitter into IOS in some superficial way, but bringing this stuff into Apple and the Apple mindset and corporate DNA.
The one thing I do know is that Tim Cook understands how Steve made Apple successful, but he’s not Steve, and he has his own ideas and vision. He’s started shifting Apple down different paths already; he’s much more likely to have his own blog than steve ever would have, for instance, and he’s a lot less controlling, but not less demanding. So I think the possibilities are there in ways not possible as long as Steve was in charge.
But still, I’m not holding my breath.
Tech people keep saying that artists can make it without the distribution systems, and they all trot out Jonathan Coulton as the example of someone who has made it on his own (by the way, he’s amazing). He offers his music for free, or you can buy it, and he does great. Hooray, there’s one guy making it. One guy.
Okay, you can add Radiohead and Louis CK, but both made their reputations over years in the old media system and only now have the power to make independent new media work. That’s three, so I’m still seeing a lot of artists left out in the cold.
Here’s a question to think about as a new artist-friendly distribution model evolves…
The employees of the old media distribution system did a lot of work, like promotion, financing, and obviously distribution. Who is going to do that in the new model? The artists? Does my favorite author now have to spend a couple hours a day on Facebook? Because I really want my favorite author working on the next book, not tweeting or other garbage that could be handled by someone else.
The problem with the old model was that the distribution system forgot who they worked for and started to think they were the important part. The new system will turn it around and put the creatives in charge. Maybe the band of the future will sign a record company to a deal instead of the other way around.
There are actually a bunch of people making it. But they tend to be smaller, they tend not to have a big PR machine pumping them onto the networks. The old system tended to push massive success towards a very few, whether it was Stephen King or Michael Jackson. There was a middle ground where you could grind out a living (and occasionally someone would turn that into a very lucrative business, like the Grateful Dead did). And there was a huge mass that the old systems didn’t want anything to do with at all that never got a break. And in most cases, they old system was right (ever sit down and read a slush pile in a publisher’s office? Seriously, most of it, be glad they filtered the worst of it away).
But yeah, that also limited access to some good talent as well. And as this new model evolves and matures, eventually the old system will figure out how to find and pull talent out of the pool and turn them into the next Stephen King or Michael Jackson and they’ll continue to be the promoters and publicity pushers for the elite super-earners. But their role as gatekeepers is diminishing, and will die off.
thank god (but that also means that we need to find other ways to protect ourselves from that slush pile, folks; in whatever form it takes).
Does this mean your favorite author will have to spend time pushing themselves on Facebook? When starting out, yes. But look at someone like Trey Ratcliff. He’s just hired something like his tenth employee. As his business grew and his revenues went up, he brought people in to take on parts of it. That’s always been the case with small businesses. That is the model we’ll see moving forward. The talent (whether singer, video maker, photographer, app developer or author) will continue to do the parts they’re good at and enjoy doing; as their income grows, they can farm out other parts — bring in someone to help with marketing and publicity, or proofreading, or formatting their ebooks, or handling Facebook. Whatever is not economic to do themselves, but needs doing.
This is nothing new. But it does mean you can’t succeed JUST by being a good talent; you need to be able to run your business, too (or get successful enough to hire someone to run it for you); in fiction, agents sometimes took that on. For that matter, that’s a common case for pro sports, too. I expect you’ll see the agent role mutate into more of a business manager instead of a submission broker.
The model for this is well known; it’s not new, and it’s been used successfully for a long time. What’s really happening is that all of these talent-centric industries are moving to that model with increasing speed, and the transition is at best unsettling for those caught in the middle. And it’s going to create problems and failure for some, and opportunities and success for others.
Which, honestly, sounds a lot like what talking movies did to silents, and what television did to radio, back in the day. And in both of those cases, some people woke up without a future, some people moved from one to the other just fine, and some found opportunities created where none existed before. But now, just being a good writer (or singer, of photographer, or…) isn’t enough to be a successful one.
If it ever really was. (I have my doubts).
(hat tip: BW Jones)
While I wasn’t looking, it looks like the “Comments: good idea, or tool of Satan?” fight has broken out again. Matt Gemmell fired it off:
Just over a month ago, I switched comments off for this blog. I wanted to post a very brief follow-up on that decision.
In a nutshell, it was definitely the right move.
but a number of people with a clue have chimed in, including:
- MG Siegler
- Matthew Ingram @ GigaOM
- Fred Wilson
- Siegler (again), with a cameo appearance from Daniel Ha, a founder of Disqus
- Brent Simmons (with a reference into the emacs vs. vi religious war, now in it’s 55th year. hint: I’m a VI guy [see note 1])
- Macstories (via MG, who seems to like this argument)
- Josh Constine @ TechCrunch
That’s some heavy talent with a lot of experience in dealing with the practical realities of this issue. Who’s right?
They all are. It comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish and what you want for your own blog or publication.
I will note for the record that this discussion happened across the various blogs for the most part, and also note for the record that if it had happened in the comment section of any of the blogs except for Fred Wilson’s, it would have gotten buried and almost nobody would have seen it because comments are notorious for not ending up in RSS feeds, search engines and the like, and most rational people get to about the third troll in a busy comment area and bail out, because they have better things to do than wade into the mosh pit.
Which is my way of noting that while comment sections definitely can work (and do, if you work at them), most comment sections fail the “why am I looking at this?” test pretty quickly, Fred Wilson’s blog being a notable exception. And Youtube being a site that proves the rule beyond any need to argue, because, as usual, absent landlords end up breeding slums.
Now, I use Disqus on my blog, and Akismet, and I have almost no spam problem, because my blog is small and generally ignored by the spammers and trolls. I’m also pretty careful to vet comments and back links and don’t encourage trolls and don’t post trackback links that point to spammy sites, which I think discourages them from trying a bit. And mostly, because I’m small I don’t get lots of comments in the first place. If I got popular (hah! not likely) and started seeing high numbers of comments (I wish!) I might change my mind and go commentless without feeling guilty. I think right now, they’re a net positive to my site, but I long ago stopped seeing them as necessary, required or some kind of freaking inalienable right like some people (mostly trolls, I think) do. Heck, if I were a troll, I’d demand free places to do my trolling and insist on no adult supervision, too. I’d love to spend other people’s nickels to spread my opinions…
So my bottom line is that comments are useful, but are mostly broken. You need to put too much work into them to keep them useful — even disqus, which I think does a better job than the others I’ve looked at. But I’m not sure “nuclear” is the ultimate answer here, either.
I’d like a way to configure Disqus to turn off commenting after a period of time (like 30 days, or after 3-4 days of no comments); there is little reason to carry on a conversation after it dies down the first time, and so open comments (and trackbacks on blogs) after a couple of weeks is useful only to spammers; reduce the places they have a chance to lay their stuff by turning comments off on older material.
I’d like a way to feature good comments, give them a visibility that doesn’t exist right now. Great example: The Online Photographer, which as far as I can tell, is manually editing them into the body of the article. It’d be awesome if Disqus supported a way in the admin interface to click a checkbox “feature this” and have them appear “above the fold”, so that we can start curating the good comments into the conversation stream as a way of giving them visibility, instead of only trying to keep the noise down by moderating out the worst stuff.
But really, this is a job for a reputation engine. Disqus is well suited to implement this, and spread a reputation across all sites that use Disqus. Allow a site to define what minimum reputation is needed to display them on a site, and track the +1 and abuse flagging back to the Disqus user to generate their reputation. the trolls will sink, and a site owner can choose just where to draw a line and say “below this, you don’t get on my site”, either by not accepting comments or not displaying them. And then let a disqus user override that on an individual basis if they want. even a decent reputation setup with some minimal metrics would make it a lot easier for a site to choose whether to display or dump the trolls, and if someone does post a troll note, let the other users vote it into oblivion if they want.
I think there’s still a lot of life in comments. Fred’s blog shows the possibility, just as this discussion about comments shows how well the alternate possibility (distributing across many blogs) shows how well it can work as well. But to make the kind of environment Fred’s fostered work without the kind of fostering that someone like Fred (or Teresa Nielsen Hayden does at Making Light) we need better technology underpinnings. Most site owners/admins/moderators don’t have the “touch” to guide a community into becoming what Fred and Teresa have. Or maybe they do, but not the time or will to make it happen.
But isn’t that what all this technology is about? finding ways to enable these things and free humans from having to drudge through the grunt work? And moderating comments is drudge work. serious drudge work. With some thought and some code, we can enable the community to self police itself here. So why not do it?
(and just because I can, here are some previous rants on this topic from previous rounds of this discussion: 2008, , (think comments as critiques here)
Note 1: my infamous emacs vs. VI joke: What’s the difference between an emacs user and a VI user? Give the Vi user a file and set of changes and they will sit down and edit the changes into the file and then go to lunch. Give it to an Emacs user, they’ll sit down and code a macro that they’ll use to make the changes automatically while they’re at lunch. Afterward, both of them have the changed file, but the Emacs user has a macro that he’ll file in his library of macros and never touch again in his life.
I have been experimenting with (and when I say that, I mean “avoiding work with”) Google+ the last couple of weeks, and I have to admit, I did not expect to be impressed, but I am.
The engagement factor is very high, and the friction issue is minimal. It’s very easy to put content into it and point it at your social group — or a subset of that social group — via circles, which are sort of like Facebook lists, but not broken. That’s because facebook lists were grafted onto facebook and fairly awkward to use, while circles were the core element Google+ was designed around, and so everything uses them almost seamlessly and circles make organically slicing and dicing your social graph easy and (almost) painless.
As a result, I’ve found I’m spending a lot more of the time I budget for wading into the social data streams on Google+; this means that I’m spending less time on other services, and the big loser so far is Facebook, where between closing off my time on Zynga games and Google+ means I’ve cut my time on facebook by about 85%. My primary use of facebook today seems to be interacting with and talking to people who are on facebook but not on Google+. Pretty much any situation where someone is on Google+ I’ve shifted my interaction with them there.
The system is pretty good for a 1.0, but not perfect. If find the lack of any way to share items from Google Reader ont Google+ curious (but trust me, I know how in a company the size of Google this happens, and I expect it’s in the plans).
More troublesome is the kerfluffle going on over pseudonyms. it’s hard to spend any time on the system without running into one of the many threads going on about this. For those just getting started, check out this thread for some background; it also shows one of the strengths of Google+’s messaging in its ability for a thread to both get into a meaty, intense discussion without spiraling out of control, and be able to survive ratholes and side points successful. Those are both things many services fail at miserably, and it’s clear some thought has gone into figuring this problem out.
I think Google is well-intentioned but didn’t properly think this one through. Given that it seems some pseudonyms are okay (look at, for instance, 50 cent), google has set up a system I feel can’t be properly policed and is open to use as a spite attack vehicle (spite attack: I piss you off, you report me and try to get my account shut down), and given celebrities seem to be able to use their ‘stage names’ okay, have created a perception of a double standard where you are being required to use your real name, unless you have money and fame.
I made the following comment in the thread above, and it sums up my views on why this policing is a bad idea:
Okay, pop quiz. pick the real and fake names in this list:
1) Barnabus Arnasungaaq
2) Kanimozhi Karunanidhi
3) James Tiptree, Jr.
4) Parasayip Ole Koyati
5) Dean Wesley Smith
6) Chuq Von Rospach
You can look all of these up in google, if you want (I did). Stop and think about it for a second.
1) inuit soapstone sculptor
2) indian politician involved in a sex tape scandal
3) famous pseudonym of a science fiction author (or choose John LeCarre Jr, if you prefer)
4) Person of the Masai tribe in Africa
5) real name of an author who publishes under many pseudonyms
6) are you sure?
My point? first, let’s get past thinking everyone here is an American, using an American name, and that we really have any practical ability to look at a name and determine real or not. When you start looking at a global culture of the scale of the internet and G+, it’s all over.
So policing this on a scale the size of G+ is practically impossible except on the “report/challenge” system. And that means the most likely result of a policy like this is that it’ll become a tool of the griefers. There’s no way Google or anyone can police naming on the scale of a service like this, period, except on a case by case situation involving abuse. So they shouldn’t try.
And my other point is that this is policing the wrong thing. Police bad behavior, not names. Some subset of naming is an aspect of bad or abusive behavior and should be dealt with, but deal with it as behavior. Trying to put naming restrictions in place is well-intentioned but won’t scale and will open the system to abuse by those with axes to grind. Focus on what matters, which isn’t the name, but how whatever is behind that name acts.
By the way, there are still real people in the universe named Adolf Hitler. If one of them joins G+, how would you police that? Because pretty much everyone in the universe will presume it to be a fake name, right? What if this person wants to avoid the issues involved with that name so chooses to use a pseudonym? you going to force them into a situation that opens them to abuse?
And a second big issue: where does “nickname” end, and “pseudonym” start? And how would you write a set of objective rules you could police as administrators?
What is my name, anyway? Is it my real name? Is it my nickname? Or is it a pseudonym? and why?
From reading the various threads on this, it seems clear Google is grappling with this and trying to figure it out; I expect they will. I think this is a case of naivete towards the complexity and implications of the policy, not anything “evil”, and as this has come to light as Google+ rolled out, they seem to be trying to figure out what the right balance is and how to implement it. I’ll cut them some slack while they try.
An even bigger problem for me, though, is harder to ignore: users have found when they get shut down on Google+ that it impacts their entire Google universe. For some folks, that’s devastating. The tight integration of “everything google” is nice, until it bites you; when it bites, it can bite hard. I’m frankly very uncomfortable with the idea of having my gmail account locked or deleted because someone picks a fight with me on Google+; enough so I considered setting up a second gmail account JUST for Google+ usage. Instead, I’m considering shifing my public email presence back to my me.com email address, so that if something bad happens, I’m not completely screwed over here. That’s a challenge as all of these systems integrate more tightly, and something we all need to be aware of. I’ve been careful about not having too many things depend too heavily on Google (no domain registry, no running my business via google docs or google apps, etc) just to minimize the damage this might cause, but now Google+ and Gmail linked is a bit too close for comfort.
This is more serious because Google can (and has; I hear of a few cases of this a year) shut everything down on you without warning, and their appeal process is, well, weak. you can’t pick up a phone and fix things, and they don’t make it easy to get things fixed; not something you are happy about if you’re on the wrong end of it and key business or personal things are locked away from you.
My recommendations for Google to improve all of this are:
- Commit to service specific lockouts. If someone gets blocked out of google+, then lock them out of Google+, not everything. Ditto if their email gets hacked and someone uses their gmail account to send spam, it shouldn’t cause them to lose their google docs or any of their other services. Free or not, people are building businesses and lives around these products, and depend on them, and it’s good customer support to treat them fairly and give them a way to reconnect, appeal and pull their content out of their accounts even if those accounts are closed down.
- Improve your account lockout/closure appeal process. nothing should ever be shut down without warnings; google needs to improve and make more visible the ways to connect in and explain/appeal these decisions. (note for the record, google’s no worse than most online social sites out there, everything sucks at the mediation/appeal process; it ain’t just Google, but Google can take a leadership role here in defining best practices for social sites if it chooses – and make it a competitive advantage of its services).
- Resolve the naming issue; as I note above, I think the naming issue is a red herring. Police abuse, not names; if nobody has a problem with the actions and content — don’t worry about it. I think any other path will lead to continuing conflict with the user base, and that’s not good for the service or its users.
- and please, hurry up and implement nested circles and “mute this person”.
- oh, and posting links/notes from google reader onto my public stream.
but overall, I think it’s a great launch. If things continue, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I dump my facebook account down the road. And I’m already posting fewer things onto twitter, and posting them onto google+ instead.
Those are the two services i think are at biggest risk at losing people’s time and interest from Google+, plus all of the smaller specialty sites (like Quora) can’t be happy with a new elephant in the room drawing attention. The biggest risk for Google+ is the naming issue; if they don’t resolve it in a reasonable manner fairly soon, I think there’s a risk it’ll turn into one of those running firefights you see on some services, with the controversy being continually replayed well out of proportion to it’s real impact, but having a high public visibility and impacting the reputation of the services overall.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, and Google+ grows into its potential. It looks to me like it can be a game changer. I didn’t expect Google could do that.
In any event, if you use Google+, you can find me here. Feel free to wander by and say hi.
I hadn’t planned on this nor intended to make changes, but the social landscape online keeps changing, and so I’ve been thinking through whether to make changes in my personal landscape and if so, what that means.
The big change? Google’s getting serious about the social area of the net, and they’ve started to roll out Google+. It’s bones look a lot like facebook, but it’s not a direct rip-off by any means. It’s tight integration with other Google properties like Gmail means that once you get access (it’s still in limited roll out) the friction point of dealing with it is minimal; that makes it a serious competitor to any service who’s functionality it overlaps.
And that includes not only Facebook, but through Picasa (being rebranded as Google photos) Flickr and the filesharing photo sites like Instagram. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all falls out.
Will it take on (or take out) facebook? I have no clue. It’s still incomplete, it’s still fairly empty with a lot of people outside wanting to get in, and so there’s a lot left to happen before we can decide if it succeeds or not — but it being to ubiquitous within google properties, it has advantages other sites don’t have. And honestly, after using it for a few days and getting a feel for how it operates, I’m moderately impressed, and I didn’t expect to be. It’s pretty well done, unlike Buzz and Google Wave (remember those?).
Still, there are lots of ways it could become the nets Quora, which, as Yogi Berra once said, is so popular nobody goes there any more. I was an early user of Quora and found it interesting, as it got “discovered”, it mostly became forgettable and noisy, and I’ve pretty much stopped using it beyond checking to see if Quora’s figure out how to solve these problems (answer: no).
One of the first reactions to Google+ was from Facebook, which blocked users who tried to grab their address book data out of Facebook to use it at Google. This is nothing new, Facebook has long held that data belongs not to the user, but to Facebook, but it just reinforces the reality that Facebook wants all sites to set up things so they share into Facebook, but Facebook doesn’t see a need to share back — and I find that annoying (as do many other users, like OM). Months back I decided not to create original content on Facebook for just this reason, but now, with Google+ as an alternative, this “roach motel” data model really seems like an increasingly unacceptable concept in this social universe that’s evolving on the net. This “as long as we’re in the center and in charge” is a problem, so I’m taking another step away from Facebook just to distance myself from this — I’ll continue to let my other content sources funnel into Facebook and interacting with the content of other users there, but where there are options (whether it’s Google+ or going back to the original source of data funneled in there by others) I will go to those options and interact there. and I (obviously) encourage others to do the same.
Facebook doesn’t want to play fair with the other sites out there, and now that there are some growing options, I think we should consider using them — as long as those sites DO play fair with their peers, and Google+, so far, seems to be. But it’s a good example of why you don’t want to be too dependent on services you ultimately don’t control. Especially sites that have a reputation for blocking stuff they decide they don’t like, sometimes in what seems to be arbitrary or punitive ways. (google, fwiw, is no saint here, either, and both have poor support systems for appeal and reconsideration. But that seems part for the course for social sites, sad to say — so diversify and control what you can, and don’t depend on these sites as your primary point of contact).
I’ve also, as I said, been experimenting with 500px. I’ve been increasingly — uninterested — in flickr, mostly because Yahoo seems just as uninterested. Taking a look at how Google is handing images within Google+ (using Picasa technology) and how well those images are presented and shared, it really shows how little Yahoo has innovated Flickr over the years; then when photo module of Google+ out-flickr’s Flickr, Yahoo has a real problem. And 500PX blows them all away with their beautiful design and presentation.
So I’m trying to decide if I want to stop contributing to Flickr. Most of the communities I’ve been in are at best stagnant or hibernating. There’s very little there there, unless you want to get in the race to show up on the interestingness pages (which I don’t). It’s even unclear to me if anyone cares if you’re on those pages any more.
I don’t plan on removing any content from flickr, but I may stop contributing, instead using (maybe) G+ for my “casual portfolio”. I’m thinking I might set up 500px to do my Saturday and Sunday photo posts, and Smugmug for me “serious” portfolio. Still thinking it through, but that seems like it’ll be appropriate uses for all of those services, at least once google+ fully rolls out. I don’t see flickr having a role in my social space long term unless something radical changes there soon.
And like I did last year, I’d originally planned on a blog redo for my birthday this eyar, but with everything going on at work, had no cycles. But I’m thinking of doing that when I get a chance. Duncan Davidson recently redid his blog, and I love how he built the design, especially his wonderful presentation of his photos, and I’m thinking seriously of — borrowing — from it heavily. With credit, of course.
There’s still an amazing amount of innovation going on in the online world, especially the social spaces; if you don’t innovate and adapt and adopt, you’re falling behind (as flickr has found, and they’re going to have trouble catching up again, IMHO). And if you don’t learn to share and cooperate — that’s another problem (I’m looking at you, Facebook). I have enough history and content on Flickr I can’t just leave, but I can let it hibernate. I’ve been smart enough not to over-commit on Facebook, so I don’t have a lot of digging out to pull free of that site to get to a degree I’m comfortable with. And while I think we have a lot to see come out of Google+ — unlike Buzz or Wave, I think it’s something worth wathcing, exploring and encouraging. So I will.