SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Archive for September 22nd, 2007

Social Graph or Network? Or Social Time Waster?

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 22, 2007

There’s a massive amount of traffic in the blogosphere about whether we should be referring to Social Graphs or Social Networks.  Over the weekend just the blogs I follow that commented on this included:

–  Dave Winer:  Who started this particular go round and insists you sound like a monkey if you call it a Social Graph.

–  Josh Catone over at R/W Web:  Agrees he found it all very confusion when the term Social Graph came up.

–  Nick Carr:  Was similarly confused until someone straightened it out for him.

–  Scoble:  Disagrees with Winer et al, the Social Graph and Social Network are two different things to him, thank you very much.  I don’t think he liked being told he sounds like a monkey, but then, who would?

–  Alen Patrick:  Places a vote against Social Graph because “it irritated him” when he first came aross it.

–  Dave McClure:  He of the 500 hats says he agrees with Winer, but puts a thumb in his eye saying RSS = XML. 

Talk about a tempest in a teacup!  Is it just a slow news day, or what?  People, get a life!

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Adobe Flex is an Awesome Prototyping Tool

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 22, 2007

I talked to someone the other day who built a complete mock up of a complex enterprise app’s proposed UI facelift in 2 days.  They were just as surprised as I was, and have since become addicted to using Adobe’s Flex for UI prototyping.  It’s really easy to use Flex in this fashion, much easier than trying to do something similar with AJAX. 

UI prototyping is essential for good UI development in my book.  You need to get the proposed UI in front of real customers ASAP, well before you can hope to have real code behind it in most cases.  Storyboards and the like are handy, but there’s nothing quite like an interactive UI prototype that at least navigates to the correct screens if nothing else.  I also like the idea of being to build an app from “both sides”.  The UI gang can get a prototype doing and start fleshing it out towards the engine.  The engine can can start building towards to the UI, and they’re able to see what UI functions are contemplated up front.  The two meet in the middle and you have alpha quality code for a product.  If I’m planning to support both a RIA and a “dumb” thin client, I’d rather dumb down the RIA than try to “smarten up” the dumb thin client as well, which argues to start from the RIA in any case.

Developers often like to start out with a real web page too, rather than a Photoshop illustration or Visio diagram or some such.  It only makes sense.  The task of trying to convert a Photoshop or other drawing into code is drudgery anyway, so why not just start with something that’s nearly ready for incorporation into the app?  A UI prototype also gives QA something more substantitve to start thinking about test plans around.

Go ahead, give Flex a taste for this purpose.  It’s easy to learn at this level.  Here are some resources to help you get started:

Adobe Flex Home Page:  There’s a 30 day trial offer here: that’s your ticket to play with Flex.

Flex Component Explorer:  An easy way to see all the gadgets available in vanilla Flex 2.

Flex 2 Style Explorer:  And you can see how to tweak their styles.

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Viral Blogging 2: More Ideas

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 22, 2007

I couldn’t agree more with Chris Brown when she says that the puzzle facing companies who want to use Web 2.0 for marketing is solved when they start thinking of how to collaborate with the people they’re trying to reach.  This is true for outwardly facing marketing applications for Web 2.0, and its also true for inwardly facing Web 2.0 solutions that try to improve productivity or morale within the organization.

In part 1 of this Viral Blogging Series, we talked about some simple features that could be added to blogging software to promote more linking between blogs.  It basically boiled down to some dedicated blog search features to make it quick and easy to find articles related to a post you are drafting and link to them.  Let’s continue to brainstorm some ideas together (and I do want to collaborate on this, so please use the comments to add your own ideas to this list!) for collaboration using Web 2.0.  Collaboration is, after all, the “viral” aspect here.  If folks don’t link to your blog articles or comment on them (or you to theirs), we don’t have that collaborative frenzy going.

Given that we have the “Find Related” button to help us identify related blogs, the next thing I’d propose is the ability to automatically track and interact with related writings that come out on your article.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a little feed called “Related Articles” that you could add to the bottom of a post?  You may have seen me do this manually from time to time, but it’s way to time consuming to keep up with it by hand.  And yet, the life of a blog post is just beginning when we first put it out there.  Yes, there are trackbacks and comments, but often there are also other articles that are related that don’t have any linkages.  I want to make easy to find those and designate them for the “Related Articles” that appear below your post.  Perhaps you have to do a bit of editorial work to select which articles should appear, but that’s okay, you don’t want to just spam a bunch of search results up there.

Now what about making it easy for other non-blog platforms to tie into your article?  There’s a whole raft of these, and you can get various plug-ins to help out, but it makes more sense to have one single widget provided by the blogging platform vendor that covers all the bases.  The blog owner should be able to customize which of these platforms appear.  For example, I often show, Stumble Upon, and Digg.  Someone else might like Reddit.  These are all good sources of traffic and community and it should be made easy to tie into these.  They also provide more ways for people who like to participate (collaborators!) to use the tools they’re used to.

This brings us to a huge point that’s being made by Fred Wilson:  your social graph is not necessarily inside a Social Network.  Your email has a social graph and so does your blog.  Blogging platform guys, you need to enable this!  Xobni shows the way for email.  What does it mean for blogging?  Well, we can certainly extrapolate Xobni very literally and see some interesting possibilities.  If nothing else, I want to see my Social Graph in a meaningful way:

  • Who regularly links to my blog?  Who used to link but hasn’t in a while?  Can I add these guys with one click to Google Reader?
  • Same with comments.  Who comments on my blog, do they still comment, do they have a blog, can a start reading it?
  • What Love have I shown these folks?  Have I reciprocated by linking back to their blogs?  Have I commented on their blogs? 

Now what about tying into larger communities?  Having identified the Social Graph associated with my blog, I want to:

  • Invite the folks in the Graph to join other communities I’m a member of:  LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace.  After all, we’re interested in the same stuff, we’re conversing on our blogs, let’s get involved elsewhere too!
  • I want to pump my blog’s content into these other communities as desired.  Perhaps just News Feeds announcing when I make a new post.  But it has to be super automatic and easy.

What else can we do?  Well, the world of widgets comes to our aid here.  In short, we can try to engage the audience more fully.  I see two easy avenues worth trying.  First, we may try to appeal to more of the Web 2.0 Personality Styles.  We have to get away from just medium-sized textual posts (and I’m a self-confessed offender on this!).  Try these on for size:

  • Kyte adds a Twitter-like conversation to video.  Can I add a Twitter conversation to a blog post?  The idea is to encourage real-time back and forth with readers.  Perhaps it needs to be scheduled to make sure the blogger will be online at the appointed hour.  This is all stuff that could be done as a widget that’s inserted into the post to support doing this.
  • Let’s publish some video sometimes, and try to work photos in often. 

Second, there are lots of Widget possibilities that encourage collaboration:

  • Polls encourage people to express themselves.
  • How about being able to switch from a chronological view of the blog to a “votes” view.  People can vote on every entry the way they do on something like Dell’s IdeaStorm.  Is it still a blog if you do that?  Who cares!  Haven’t wanted to go to some new blog you discover and see all the older articles that were really good?  Isn’t this a way of giving them new life?
  • How about IdeaStorming new blog article ideas with your audience?  Heck, run a contest for the idea you like the best.  Wouldn’t you love to be able to convince Scoble or TechCrunch to jump on your idea, research, and write about it?

While we’re on the subject of contests, I think they’re a wonderful way to generate content for corporate blogs.  Go to your employees and ask them to submit articles to the corporate blog.  Let them guest author on the CEO’s blog and give prizes for the articles selected.  You may want to guide them with a list of appropriate themes, but remember, blogging is not so much about just staying on message, its about giving valuable content and encouraging collaboration.  Wouldn’t you like an occasional guest blogger on Jonathan Schwartz’s blog?  There are a ton of really bright people inside Sun, let them share the soapbox once a month.

What are your ideas for injecting more collaboration into blogging? 

Related Articles:

Noah Brier sees improved community features as the next logical step for blogging.

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