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6 Ways The Pundits Are Dazed and Confused About Google Reader and RSS

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 14, 2013

mainstream-mediaOne of the you-betcha-surefire Pundit strategies is that when something is getting a lot of heat, like the current flap over Google dropping Google Reader, you can get a lot of attention by disagreeing with the crowd.  You want to do so in the most colorful possible way, in fact.  It’s a common form of link baiting and mild trollership.  So long as all that’s happening is they’re family the flames of emotion for their own benefit and to gain attention, I couldn’t care less.  But, along with this behavior, comes the risk that someone will actually take some of what’s said seriously and be confused about it.  That’s to be avoided.  Hence my list of 6 ways the Pundits are confused about Google Reader and RSS:

1.  Just use Twitter

There are so many problems with Twitter as a replacement for Google Reader that I’ll only list a few of the most important:

–  You can only search 140 characters when looking for meaning, whereas with RSS/Reader you get to search the title and the full contents of a blog post.

–  The signal to noise ration on Twitter is terrible.  Save one silly article where the ZDNet writer said he had failed to organize his RSS feeds but had very carefully tended to his Twitter followings, this is not something many disagree with.  Twitter is overrun by chittering twirping bots.

–  What signal that does exist on Twitter is largely coming from people who use RSS Readers to curate what they pass along.

–  Twitter is the poster child of a company that frequently upsets and destroys its ecosystem in its own self-interest.  If you think that is bad while it’s been private, just wait until it is under the publicly traded spotlight to show growth to sustain its ridiculous multiples.  Why would you trust that whatever you value about Twitter has any permanence at all?  Particularly after watching the Google Reader-you-are-products-not-customers drama unfold?  As the saying goes, fool me once…

–  Twitter has all the problems of the River of News Metaphor, which is next up.

2.  The River of News is a Better Metaphor

I can’t avoid addressing the “River of News” metaphor when RSS inventor Dave Winer says that’s the better mousetrap and when so many who prefer Twitter think they want the River of News.

My problem with the River of News is not that it isn’t a good metaphor.  Rather it’s that Google Reader could function just fine as a River of News (you don’t have to care about unread vs read or put anything in folders, just reader the latest arrivals as you wish) and that the River of News doesn’t solve the problem Google Reader is ideally suited for.  More on that problem below, but right here, let’s focus on what problem the River of News does solve.  It’s the problem of Finding Something Current of Interest Right Now.  That’s a useful problem to solve for many people.  If you just want to be on top of the latest industry gossip so you don’t feel silly at lunch, it works.  If you just need to kill a little time and want to learn something new, it works.  However, if you actually want to solve the Real Problem that Google Reader was the best at solving, the River of News is useless.  The River of News is what True Google Reader Users spent their time trying to get past.  Let me illustrate.

I used Google Reader in some specific ways precisely because I was trying to avoid the River of News.  The River views that the most important dimension is arrival time.  The more recent, the better.  Consequently, I used Reader’s folders to group noisy sites under a category I called “Bulk Feeds”.  These were the general purpose news sources like Techmeme, ZDNet, GigaOm, or (back when I cared) TechCrunch.  Every single day I would start the morning by marking all read except today’s entries in the Bulk Feeds folder.  I wish I could’ve automated it by saying, in essence, “For this folder I only care about what came out in the last 24 hours and you can delete the rest.”

I had a second group of folders I called “A-List”.  This was a group of very very good bloggers who were more likely to be worth wading through more articles than the Bulk Feeds, but who were still extremely general in terms of their content.  Seth Godin would be a good example.  It would’ve been nice to be able to mark these as read if older than a week.

Every thing else went into a folder by subject, because these were blogs that were highly focused on deep areas (outbound marketing, seo, UX design, etc.) and that wrote content that was essentially Evergreen.  Any blogger or SEO marketer knows what Evergreen content is–it’s content that is not perishable and that you’ll get value out of for years.  This is content that I explicitly do not want to see lost in a River of News, that I do want to be able to read through over time so I will not mark it as read without at least skimming it.  This is the content Google Reader is really the best tool for curating, and it is the content that River of News substitutes are the absolute worst at helping me acquire, manage, and consume.

3.  Google Reader Was Preventing Innovation

Mark Masterson gets my award for silliest and most confused outlook on Google Reader.   His long and bizarre rant against it seems to boil down to it being bad for any software to be around for too long, apparently because it stifles innovation.  Apparently it is some sort of impediment to evolution.  Baloney.  There’s been plenty of misguided evolution going on and none of it has solved the problems Google Reader solves.  There are cases where there isn’t any particular benefit to be gained by trying to evolve further solutions to a particular problem.  When that happens, it’s a good thing if the solution has commanding market share and is allowed to stand while others see clearly the ecological niche related to that market is now filled.  Aside from a desire to keep enough competition to avoid monopolistic price gouging, there’s no real evolution needed.

One of the biggest risks is that in their effort to fill the gaping Google Reader void with something new, New, NEW, we will lose sight of what Google Reader did well.  By deciding to fix its shortcomings, we’ll get a magazine like Flipboard, a way to read something later like Instapaper, or an ambient noise generator like Twitter.  These are not innovations on Reader, they’re different eco-niches entirely.

4.  RSS is Dying Because It’s Not Social Enough

We’ve all met people that approach “friends” in one of two ways.  There are those people that form extremely deep and long-lasting friendships.  Then there are those who will refer to anyone they’ve met as a friend.  Certainly there are possibilities between these extremes, but on the whole, people tend to fall more at one end or the other than not.  Those people that argue RSS is not social enough are from the “If I’ve met you, you’re my friend” extreme.  They have a zillion follows on Twitter, a zillion friends on Facebook, and a zillion more connections on LinkedIn.  Or, perhaps their bipolarity is a function of type of relationship, with a zillion business-related connections and relatively few personal connections.

But here is the thing–RSS is for those people that want to form extremely deep and long-lasting connections.  That’s what the RSS experience is all about–I don’t want to miss anything you’re saying so I will subscribe to you in my Reader, and once there, you’ll probably stay there for quite some time.  The River of News crowd thinks that because they’ve exchanged the occasional Tweet with someone they don’t really know and may never Tweet with again, that’s being more Social.  No, not at all–they’re different kinds of Social and we’re losing essentially half of the Social spectrum when we walk away from RSS.

That same ZDNet writer who never organized his RSS feeds but carefully curated his Twitter and then complained RSS was too noisy claimed:

SS readers don’t exactly lend themselves to conversations either — the sorts of conversations that happen quite naturally on social media (including social bookmarking/linking sites like Reddit).

Yet, he has 33 comments on that post as I write this, and I’m sure there’ll be many more before people quit commenting on it.  Many of the comments are more thoughtful than 140 characters can support.  Ironically, so far this year he has had exactly one post (on why the cost of the 128 GB iPad doesn’t matter) that had more comments.  I’m not going to bother counting how many of his Tweets had more conversation as the point is made that he couldn’t hope for a more social medium than RSS and blog comments.  There isn’t one that exists.  I doubt even Fred Wilson could claim otherwise given how his blog comment ecosystem works even though he is an investor in Twitter.

5.  Since Google Reader Was Never Profitable, It’s Best To Shut It Down

This is a popular refrain:

Google is a business it has to make money and it has every right to shut Google Reader down because it wasn’t making money and you have no right to complain about it because it was free.

Bollocks.  If Google was Walmart choosing not to carry some product or other that I used to be able to buy there cheaply, that’d be one thing.  But here is the difference:  Google is igniting real negative sentiment towards the Google Empire as a result of this decision.  They’re making a mockery of their business motto of, “Do no evil.”  In fact, I would argue that very root of the Evil they claim to want to avoid stems from the idea that most of the people who use their software (I am carefully not calling that software “products”) are not their customers.  Google’s Customers pay for advertising and give them money.  Rather, those of us who use their software are in fact the real “products” Google has to sell.  When you look at it that way, any massive sentiment issue among the “products” is a defect that is ultimately bad for the business.  You can only mistreat the “products” for so long before they revolt.  Unfortunately, these “products” are fickle and don’t have to stay with Google.  They can be “products” for lots of others.

Closely related is Google’s Valuation.  It is unnaturally high for a reason–because people believe in them.  Actions like sunsetting Google Reader damage that belief right at its core.  This is a grass roots problem that ultimately leaves only the role of commoditizer open to Google, and this is not good for their long term valuation prospects.

6.  RSS and Reader Are In Decline and the Average Consumer Never Used It, So Why Bother?

Let’s leave aside for the moment that some of the folks who worked with it say this has little to do with decline and everything to do with trying to prop up Google+.  While I find that notion entirely plausible and painfully Microsoft-like in its execution, it’s worth musing about the “decline” of RSS.  It’s a bit like saying that since so many Prius’s have been sold Porsche’s are in decline.  Porsche’s were never meant to take the place of the Prius.  It is not unusual for the power tool to come along first followed by the tool the mere mortals can use, but that does not in any way diminish the value of the power tools.  Look, we started with HTML and people had to know it and deal with it to have a web presence.  Then we got some better tools such as blogs.  Eventually we made it all the way to things like Twitter and Facebook, where anyone can have a web presence very easily with absolutely no need of technical knowledge or even the creative ability to write more than 140 characters or so of text.  That’s great, but it in no way means that since we can create 140 character messages easily we’ve no need of static HTML pages or blogs.  It’s fuzzy thinking.

I have no problem believing the number of people who engage in use of the power tool may have declined a bit, but as I mentioned on the Twitter note above, these other tools remain vitally dependent on the power tools users who are curating content.  It’s less a decline and more of a saturation.  This is the same fuzzy thinking that leads us to declare that since people are buying smartphones and tablets like there is no tomorrow the desktop PC must be dead.

The idea that the only thing that matters is what appeals to the lowest common denominator is what’s wrong with the news today in general.  It’s why there’s a more enlightened crowd out there that very much wants to seek the Long Tail, needs Google Reader to do it, and couldn’t care less about USA Today, Fox News, Huffington Post, or Techcrunch.

What Google Reader Really Was:  Super High Octane Page Rank

Laura Hazard Owen’s, “Google Reader, Please Don’t Go — I Need You To Do My Job” is one of the best takes on what Google Reader really does I have seen.  She makes her case well:

–  Twitter is no substitute for RSS:  The best thing about Google Reader, from my point of view, is that it allows me to scan a lot of information quickly, with the assurance that I’m not missing anything.  Exactly what I’m saying about Twitter and the River of News metaphor.

–  Neither is Flipboard:  Services like Flipboard are great if you want to see the most popular stories on a given topic. But as someone who really geeks out digital book publishing, I don’t just want to see the stories that an aggregator recommends for me because they’ve reached a critical mass.  Amen, sister!  I want to lever myself as far out onto the Long Tail as possible because that’s where the real action is.  Everything else is processed and homogenized for mass consumption.

Let me go beyond what Laura has to say to cut through to essence of what I think Reader is.  Laura talks about it being for someone who wants to, “…keep track of what’s going on at the roots of my beat” or to “…really geek out” on some subject or other.  It solves a very deep Search problem by facilitating a connection between the consumers of the information who want to get it in as dense and pure a form as possible, uncut on the street with the baby laxative the various aggregators use to define what will be popular.  It is information curation in its purest form.  If we once manage to find the true experts in the subjects we thrive on, the very wellsprings from which the best ideas flow, how could we not want to establish a permanent pipeline into those cognitive reservoirs?  How else to do so than by use of a tool like Google Reader.  This is the Super High Octane driven by true Human Intelligence alternative to Page Rank.  It’s Quora done more deeply than a single question at a time.  It’s more deeply Social than anything seen since for those who genuinely want to be a part of a select community of Thinkers.  It is Ernest Hemingway and all of the others in Paris.  It’s plugging directly into particular cyber-cognitive neighborhoods the way only Gibson and Stephenson could imagine before it came along.  And Google wants to burn it down.

Try asking Ernest Hemingway to communicate with his peers 140 characters at a time while anyone who wants can crash the party and conversation.  Writing is a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to be that lonely.

Posted in user interface, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments »

Twitter’s Biggest Problem: Brevity

Posted by Bob Warfield on July 2, 2012

Twitter CEO Dick CostoloThere are many rumblings these days about Twitter’s recent changes blocking LinkedIn from putting Tweet’s into their streams.  Lots of different reactions from various folks:

–  From Twitter’s perspective, they’re trying to deliver “a more consistent user experience.”  We can paraphrase that one as, “We can’t run ads if you don’t come to our site, so we have to block you.”  This is one of many direct examples where advertising creates a nasty conflict of interest between a large audience and the folks who really pay the bills.  It’s one reason why ad-driven business models are more likely to treat their audiences like cattle to be harvested and milked.

–  Owen Thomas points out over on Business Insider that Twitter’s own Facebook app does cross posting.  Well, that is a bit inconsistent, isn’t it?  Apparently Twitter believes it can live without LinkedIn, but not so much Facebook.  Looking at these three services, I think that’s an astute assessment, but time will tell whether they cut out Facebook too.

–  Mathew Ingram warns Twitter to be careful of what happened to MySpace and Digg, who both alienated developers with these sorts of changes.  Mathew agrees with me on the reason for Twitter’s move, “Twitter wants to control the network as tightly as possible so that it can monetize it more easily,” but he goes on to point out that there are downsides to the simple greedy strategy (as there always are).  He points out that the developer community is not happy with these quotes:

Twitter was trying to shut down third-party services so that they could “inflict a homogenized, boring, monoculture on their user base [that] they can monetize, which will make the experience progressively worse.”

Says developer Jonathan Kupferman in a tweet, “Twitter seems to be mercilessly killing all developer apps of any interest… Light the match, hello 

John Abell of Reuters points out, “Twitter’s value is its integration with other networks. Cutting them off is like being on the wrong side of history.”

Ingram concludes by pointing out that MySpace and Digg, “started to hemorrhage users because it focused more on monetization through ads and other elements than it did on maintaining a good experience for users.”

–  Dalton Caldwell laments Twitter having chosen the advertising route instead of becoming the Internet’s real-time API.  In the beginning, Twitter was great to many developers precisely because it had an early API that made a lot of sense for things these developers thought were very cool.  Not so much anymore.

–  Nick Bilton of the NY Times calls this latest Twitter move a, “Cacaphony of Confusion” for Twitter owned apps and sites.  He points (among other things) out that if what Twitter wants is a more consistent user experience, starting with Twitter’s own apps is not a good idea.

There were not many positive responses, save for the occassional, “We can make lemonade from this lemon” post, or the other stock-in-trade for Internet Hysteria which was Anil Dash’s missive about how the Web was over reacting by a lot.  He chides the developers for feeling hurt because Twitter is finally readily to appeal to the great unwashed instead of being their personal playground.  He claims this will all ultimately be healthy for the ecosystem because it cuts down on ‘bots Tweeting spam.  Except it doesn’t because I can still push articles from LinkedIn to Twitter, just not vice versa.  Hmmm.  So much for that kind of logic.

Twitter’s real problem here is ironic:  it’s own Brevity limits the options for what it can do.

Look, you only get 140 characters.  There’s nothing left if you try to divide that into something smaller.  If you have something like a blog post, you can link to the frickin’ blog post and there’s ample reason to go there.  With Twitter, why bother linking?  Just put the whole Tweet in the article and save people the trouble.  They can read 140 characters faster than they could click through, possibly have to sign in, get oriented, and read it in situ.

I’ve written along similar lines before when I said that Twitter’s biggest problem is the Tweets themselves are ads.  I’m not the only one.  I’ve heard many a person quip that Twitter is write only and never read, or that it’s just bots Tweeting headlines back and forth about one another.  So many have gamed the service to get more followers for their own ads, I mean Tweets, that it’s a joke.  Robert Scoble has gone round and round and seems to choose his latest Social Dingbat of the day based on which one is the easiest to game into another huge crush of followers in the shortest time.

Is the ecosystem really going to be improved by what Twitter is doing?  Can it fix this problem that Tweets are ads?  And what can you do with high quality non-ad/non-bot Tweets?

I don’t think they will fix the ecosystem.  As I said, they want to make it easy to add Tweets via API’s, they just don’t want you reading them in that way.  And to actually separate the wheat from the chaff is not something they’re directly incented to do.  They want to live on the advertising model.  And, to keep a consistent user experience, that’s only going to work if the ads look just like Tweets.

It’s a vicious cycle.  Don’t expect it to end any time soon–instead, expect it to get much worse.  They’re making a final monetization dive bombing run to get to a liquidity event.

Lastly, entrepreneurs and geeks, don’t bet the farm on Twitter.  They are not in business to help you.  Quite the opposite these days.  They’re in business to collect ad revenue.

Posted in business, Marketing, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

My 2008 Ideas for LinkedIn Are Still Good: Maybe Google+ Will Do Them.

Posted by Bob Warfield on August 11, 2011

I got to thinking about LinkedIn this morning largely because I was annoyed with them.

I received a request to link from someone this morning.  The name was vaguely familiar–about the level of friend of a friend sort of familiar.  So I went to their profile to try to figure out who it was and whether I wanted to link.  I don’t just link everyone, I only link people I have some legitimate relationship with.

So, clicking over to the profile, I get to see their current job and that’s about it.  If I would like the privilege of actually trying to understand how this person knows me, whether through shared contacts or prior work history, I’m out of luck.  I have to pay LinkedIn money to do that.  That strikes me as completely ridiculous.  It’s one thing if they want to restrict my access during random searching, but this person identified me to LinkedIn and they forwarded the request to me.  I am adding value to their network effect if I accept the invitation.  Basically, I was minding my own business and these two entities, the inviter and LinkedIn want me to agree to something.  What I can’t fathom is how that is a reasonable time to be reaching into my pocket?

As I remarked over on a Google+ conversation about it with Sameer Patel, when you have a Greater Fool Theory Valuation (as LinkedIn does), you have to get some pretty unreasonable profits before the poker players start looking around the table and realizing they’re the marks.  They haven’t acted on much of it, and the suggestions are still good today.  Whenever a company decides the road to profitability is to start charging for what they used to give away, indeed for what made them great, it always makes me wonder about that company.  It often indicates they were either tragically wrong to start with, but if they kept it free as long as LinkedIn has, you have to drop that theory.  That leads to, “We knew this was not sustainable, but we wanted to suck as many of you in as we could.”  Fellas, that’s not nice.  Karma being what it is, that makes companies vulnerable to disruption because they obviously can’t innovate very quickly (quickly enough to think of new things to charge for so they can leave the old things free) and they’re have a cadre of annoyed users who are starting to feel cheated for having supported the company to where it is today.

Speaking of innovation, I got to wondering about a post I did way back in 2008 where I recommended 10 things they should do to step up their game.  It’s a real pity they didn’t act on the list.  Consider the first two items on it:

1. Build, Buy, or Partner with Xobni and Nail Down the Outlook Connection

For those that don’t know, Xobni is the intersection of email, Social, and LinkedIn-like networking.  The dynamics of what I had in mind are exactly how Google+’s integration with GMail has played out.  I think it is a huge part of their meteoric rise.  Why other strong email companies like Microsoft or Yahoo don’t take more advantage of this stuff is beyond me.

2. Start a Coffeehouse with WebEx to Foster More Interaction between LinkedIn’s Members

Doesn’t a rich media coffeehouse sound like Google+’s Hangout feature?  Now I just wish Hangouts were more like WebEx.  It’d be awesome to be able to do demos in a Hangout and switch back and forth between video conferencing and playing back your screen.

After I saw those two standouts, and finished going over the rest of the suggestions, it dawned on me:  Google+ can easily take over for LinkedIn.  Why not?

–  They’re well on their way to having LinkedIn style profiles that are resume like.

–  They’ve demonstrated they do a great job connecting people.

–  It’s a nice professional counterpoint to Facebook’s fun and family role.

–  They can monetize without all these nickel and dime charges LinkedIn wants to levy.  LinkedIn has to do that, BTW, because their engagement levels are too low to live on advertising alone.  I recently saw an article that says ads only work when you have 100x the traffic you need to make the revenue by charging.  Sorry I didn’t save the link.

–  Most of the conversations in my circles there are more business-like than Facebook tends to see.  Could be the nature of my friends, but then I have similar friends on Facebook and the conversations are just about different things.

Here’s hoping G+ will take on some of this and disrupt LinkedIn.

Posted in business, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Seth Godin’s Take on The News

Posted by Bob Warfield on July 22, 2011

Ironic that Seth Godin ran this post right after my rant on some Social Media being Toxic to Productivity:

The value of breaking news (news = whatever is new to you) is dramatically overrated, and the cost of keeping up with what someone else thinks is urgent is just too high.

This is akin to what we’re dealing with on some Social Media: it jacks itself so high in your attention hierarchy with game dynamics, fun, and faux importance that it crowds out the truly significant things you should be doing.

Posted in Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Some Social Media is Toxic to Productivity: Google+, Twitter, and Facebook

Posted by Bob Warfield on July 21, 2011

This post is on  behalf of the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Do you struggle with productivity some days?  Have you discovered that one of the secrets is to eliminate distractions?  If your answer is yes to both, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from with this post.

After having spent some time with Google+, it finally clicked that some forms of Social Media are toxic for productivity, and some are not.   Let’s try listing a few in each category and see if we can discern any patterns:










Forums with a Purpose or Focus:  HackerNews or any Customer Forum associated with a Product or Company

What’s the difference?  That last example, “Forums with a Purpose or Focus” comes close to laying it out.  But first, let’s go back up and look at it from a high level.

People just love to talk.  It’s not just the title of a great Blues tune, it’s true.

When we’re working, we know when we’re talking productively and when we’re not.  Hanging out around the water cooler discussion wide ranging topics, many of which have little to do with work, is fun but not productive.  That period at the beginning of a meeting when not quite everyone is there and whoever is running the meeting hasn’t started it–we all know what that is about.  We don’t enter the workplace under a vow of silence–talking is important and a lot of it is productive.  But if you want to focus productivity and make sure your tools for collaboration are actually accomplishing something useful, you need to understand the psychology of productive talk versus just talk.

Getting back to our list, Forums with a productive purpose or focus are far more likely to be an aid to productivity than say a Twitter stream.  Why?  Because the forum is like the meeting that’s gotten started.  It has moved from random chit chat to a focus.  If you’re at that meeting, you are potentially a part of that focus.   Same thing with the question-oriented social media like Quora and StackOverflow.  They bring a focus of some kind into play, StackOverflow more so than Quora.  At least Quora uses the tools of a Q&A modeled site to try to float some cream to the top and bury the dreck.  Same with LinkedIn.  It has a particular focus.  Yes, people can comment to their networks, but do you really get sucked into those random comments very much?  Do you go to LinkedIn to participate in that?  Same thing with blogs.  Most of them have a purpose or theme.  They’re a channel you tune to knowing what to expect.  Or if they don’t, you know to expect that too.  But they do occupy a defined channel that can be tuned in or tuned out consciously.  They’re not just a random free for all that rages 24×7.

The problem with the Toxic Media is they employ every trick in the book to drag you back into their embrace, just when you thought you’d been scared sober by the need to get some work done:

–  They notify you of every little thing.  Google+ is the worst because its part of your email stream if you use GMail, which had been, by virtue of its focus on the relatively narrow mailing list, a quasi-productive type of Social Media.  Not only do a get the little red indicator that I need to attend to G00gle+ (feed the beast!), I get what looks like ordinary email from folks I know that is a thread digest.  Pretty clever guys!  As an aside, people have been well aware of the toxicity to productivity of email, plugging Social Media into your email is far worse.

–  They make it sooo easy to just take one more.  Nobody can eat just one, was that old tagline.  It’s only 140 characters max and you don’t need to worry about pictures, proper spelling, grammar, or any of that.  Come on, it’s easy!

–  They make you do it personally.  Latest innovation–ban the bots.  No automatic posts.  If you want to be heard, you have to take the time and type it yourself.  Sure, they’ll tell you this increases the quality of the feed.  Great.  Now I have Larry Page posting a picture of a kite in my stream that leads to hundreds of inane comments having nothing to do with anything that keep bumping the item back up.  I deleted Larry from my Circles, and it kept on coming.  Finally had to mute the post.

–  Along the lines of doing it personally, the last innovation was ban the clients.  You have to go back to the Toxic World and be exposed to all those distractions.  Forget about tools to help you sift through the chaos to create a focus or purpose–that’s not allowed.  Forget about tools to make you more productive with the Medium, that is also not allowed.  It might interfere with the complete absorption of every last available neuron if we let you get too choosy.

–  They make it a game.  Games are great.  They make you feel like you’re doing work because hey, we’re keeping score!  You won a badge!  You sorted those random names into circles!  You silly fool, you were productive as heck, what were you thinking?  Just be careful when the game has little to do with what you need to do to be productive.

Sameer Patel was remarking that he was fascinated by all the chatter about how Google+ could be a collaboration tool for the Enterprise (don’t know if that link will get you to the thread or not), I responded:

Google+ has too many viral hooks designed to maximize its sink on your time without regard to your productivity. Personally, I’d ban it from the Enterprise and provide some other collaboration tool.

Those are strong words, but the viral hook issue is real.  Social Media designers have gotten really good at gaming human psychology to drive traffic regardless of whether that traffic is productive.  Hey, you really didn’t want to be in a productive meeting anyway, if you had a choice, did you?  Many people wouldn’t.  But at least somebody in charge finally does get the meeting started and people know to get productive.  Who performs that task when you’re alone at your desk surfing the Toxic Media?  Personally, I try to turn it off by 9am and get on with my day.  If I revisit, I limit it to lunch hour or end of day.   Treat it like it’s play and don’t kid yourself that it’s work.

And Enterprises, think about banning Toxic Media rather than hoping you’ll reap the benefits of collaboration by embracing it.  Banning it is going to be a neat trick if you can’t figure out how to ban G00gle+ without banning GMail.  One more bit of clever to combine the two.

I look forward to seeing more Productive Media models invented like StackOverflow, or conversely, features added to Toxic Media to provide the antidote when used in Business.  There’s a lot of room for worthwhile innovation there.

I will continue to enjoy playing with Google+, but I’ll try to make sure the addiction stays controlled.


I’ll be interested to see whether this post is controversial.

To all those who will want to write with anecdotes of the hugely valuable information and contacts they’ve gotten from Toxic Media, hold the phone.  Are you telling me that all the time you had to spend separating wheat from chaff was the most efficient way to get that information or make those contacts?  Did you even try to find either in another way?  Search Engines?  LinkedIn?  Color me skeptical.

Posted in business, Web 2.0 | 7 Comments »

When Will Your Job Be Consumerized?

Posted by Bob Warfield on June 2, 2011

This post is on  behalf of the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.Consumerizing = Having Fun Doing Work

It’s become all the rage to talk about the Consumerization of IT in the last few years.  There are a lot of definitions of what the term means.  Those who are looking to downplay it somewhat will toss out the idea that it’s copying consumer web technology into business software.  One gets the idea that some are trying to argue consumerization happens when proper business software thinkers become bankrupt of ideas and so are forced to steal from other markets.  Wikipedia says it’s:

A stable neologism that describes the trend for new information technology to emerge first in the consumer market and then spread into business organizations, resulting in the convergence of the IT and consumer electronics industries, and a shift in IT innovation from large businesses to the home.

Okay, that’s a bit much (stable neologism?).  In 2005 Gardner said it would be the most important trend of the next 10 years of IT development and that, “the majority of new technologies enterprises adopt for their information systems between 2007 and 2012 will have roots in consumer applications.”  Better, but this all misses a larger point:

What drives Consumerization?  Why is it happening?

If we could understand that point, assuming it’s more than just business software companies being bankrupt of ideas, we might start to skate where the puck will be instead of where it has been in the consumer markets.

I believe consumerization is a much deeper phenomenon that simply copy consumer markets.  My manifesto and definition of consumerization is:

Consumerization happens when the consumers have choice in any market causing the market to have to leverage the user experience of its consumers to make them more satisfied.

Steve Jobs “consumerized” what was already a consumer market, the music industry, by leveraging a far better user experience in the form of choice, instant gratification, and the ability to manage that choice more easily.  Thus was born the iPod and the digital music industry as we know it today.  He radically improved the user experience for telephones with the iPhone, and before either one came along, the Macintosh improved the user experience for personal computers.  Netflix did it for movies.  Amazon did it for retail and especially books.  These are all consumer areas that were further “consumerized” because the digital everyone always connected world meant consumers had the choice to adopt a better user experience.  And they did so in droves.

What’s happening with IT is the realization that workers are consumers.  They’re consumers because they have choices.  Choice is what begets the opportunity for consumerization in most cases.  If we have to do something because we have no choice, why bother improving the user experience?  But, if there is one thing that has radically changed in Modern Society, it is the prevalence of choice in all things.  People no longer work for the same company their entire careers as they once did.  They do not expect to be doing the same job their entire careers either.  They have choices, and when they have choices, it’s important for those who depend on the outcome of the choices to pay attention.

It used to be good enough to save someone somewhere a little time with a piece of Enterprise Software.  Most of this software boils down to fill in a form and move the contents of all those fields around from database table A to tables B, C, and D.  We may make minor transformations to the information along the way, and we may even review the information at some later date in a report.  It’s a solitary pursuit though, and not much fun.  Not much of a user experience, either as anyone who has ever had the sort of job where you fill in such forms all day every day can tell you.  These applications are data assembly lines where the knowledge workers (to use that quaint old term) are the modern blue collars.  Guess what?  If you give them a choice, they’d like to have a better job.  They’d like to add more value and not just be blue collared cogs on your data assembly line.  They want to use their minds, have some authority they own where they make decisions, and they’d like a chance to collaborate with their coworkers.  They want to understand how their contribution fits into the corporate mission so they can take pride in it.  And while we’re on the topic of taking pride, they’d like others to see their work as something meaningful and valuable.  Hard to do that if you’re just punching data into forms all day.

How can business software do this?

It’s easier than you think.  Let’s take one of the most painful jobs out there–handling Customer Service.  My last company was focused on this problem.  The traditional Enterprise Software solution is part of the CRM space.  It involves what we’ve been talking about–a customer gets in touch and a “Trouble Ticket” is opened up.  The Service Rep fills out the ticket, and pretty soon we’re moving data from Table A to Tables B, C, and D.  Tickets get closed.  We track whether we responded within SLA requirements.  We collect metrics on our call centers.  And we spend a lot of energy trying to minimize the expense of all this to the business by making it efficient and tying Service Rep’s compensation to their metrics.  In the process we incent all kinds of bad behavior and generally piss off our customers beyond belief.  Service Reps have none of the things I mentioned.  They’re not empowered to make decisions of consequence, they’re only there to try to get you off the phone and the ticket closed even if the way to do that is to frustrate you so much you give up.  They are not able to use their minds to any great extent, they stick to a script.  We’ve all talked to many of these people who know less about the product we have a problem with than we do.  They don’t get to create anything of lasting value, collaboration is minimized because it interferes with the metrics, and so on.  These are very hard jobs to take pride in, and I’ve been hearing since I first started in the software industry that Customer Service is not a destination career.  People get out as soon as they can.

To counter that depressing backdrop, we had a very simple idea that today is called Social CRM.  We realized after watching all this machinery in action that a much better User Experience could be made both for the Service Reps and the Customers.  The idea behind Social CRM (today a very promising market with companies like Lithium and Jive, not to mention’s Chatter) is to change all those negatives using the Social Web.  No, it doesn’t mean literally copying Facebook or Twitter, and it doesn’t mean copying them either.  It means engineering a user experience for Customer Service that better serves the Customer Service Reps and their Customers.  Because both have a choice.  In this case, a better User Experience involves helping these parties to collaborate via social software with one another.  When a Service Rep closes a trouble ticket they (may have) helped one customer.  When they have a collaborative discussion in a forum, our data shows they helped an average of 16 customers.  After all, if one customer has a problem, others are likely to have the same problem.  There are genuinely few one offs.  And, if you can make it possible for customers to help themselves to the answer to the question because someone before them had already asked it, they actually prefer it that way in many cases because it’s faster.  If they get to interact with fellow customers along the way, if the Service Reps get to have the fruits of their labors visible to a broader audience, and all the rest that goes with a modern Social CRM application, that’s a better User Experience for everyone.

So I’m back to my original question:  When will your Job be Consumerized?

There is a wealth of opportunity in the Enterprise to start Consumerizing.  After all, we largely finished building the data assembly lines as a result of Y2K and the first dot-com boom.  The work is getting done more efficiently.  Now it’s time to take the next productivity step and help people to actually like getting it done.

This post is on  behalf of the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.


Posted in business, strategy, user interface, venture, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Twitter’s Biggest Problem: Tweets are Ads

Posted by Bob Warfield on April 14, 2011

Today seems to be bash on Twitter day:

–   Trouble at Twitter is a Fortune article talking about how Boardroom antics, CEO switches, and other distractions are keeping Twitter from progressing.

–  Twitter turned down a $10 Billion offer from Google, and the Business Insider claims that although they have 200 million registered users, only 20 million are active.  If Larry Page comes back again, they admonish Twitter to take the money and run.

There is a tiny dose of positivity (hey, sometimes you have to make up a word) in the form of people loving new Twitter mobile client Tweetbot, but it is tinged with almost totally offsetting negativity by fretting over whether Twitter’s Draconian “Write no Twitter clients policy” will let it survive.

Twitter has always been a love hate sort of service.  Some people can’t imagine what good it serves and some can’t imagine ever being without it.  I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, but I do think Twitter has one huge problem on its road to significant monetization:

Tweets are ads

There, I’ve laid the grenade on the table, sans pin.  Before we get started analyzing the premise of whether Tweets are ads, I’m sure we ought to spend a little discussion on why this is a problem.  The answer to that one is pretty simple–would you want to pay for advertising in the middle of a sea of free ads?  For the most part, don’t you capture most of the value by just firing off a salvo of your own free ads, er tweets?  The problem is diminishing returns and inventory.  To want to pay to run an ad among ads, you’ve got to want to be seen pretty badly and you need to run an ad that really sticks out.  Like the Dickbar, for example.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of inventory available for big noticeable ads and Twitter’s users hate them.  Other than that, it’s a pretty good idea, but not one that will deliver $10B valuations.  Still, all sarcasm aside, you can see why they had to try something like that if you think Tweets are Ads.   How else to be seen in a see of other ads?

Go through the classified advertising sections in what few print periodicals are left.  There are very few ads there.  It’s not a happy place for ads, curiously enough, even though you have an audience spending time there because they presumably want to buy.  It’s not happy because of the inventory and cost problem.  Simply put, there is a hole in the middle of the continuum between cheap (just run a classified or type the darned Tweet) and getting seen (run a big ad that is much noisier than the classifieds or tweets).  That’s not to say you can’t run effective ads there, as I say, people reading classifieds presumably are looking to buy something.  But there is not enough inventory to sell there to make it all that lucrative and what inventory you do have must be pretty high-priced.  Contrast that with something like Facebook.  There you are running ads in the middle of a water cooler / friends chit-chatting conversation more so than amid other ads.  It’s still not really ideal, but it is much better, hence Facebook is making a lot more money relative to their participation.

Okay, if you assume Tweets are Ads, you can see Twitter’s problem pretty clearly.   But are Tweets really ads, for Heaven’s sake?

The short answer is, most but not all Tweets are ads.  You have to admit that every bot-generated Tweet is essentially an ad.  “Come read my new blog post!”  That’s an ad, let’s be real.  Or, perhaps to be more precise, it isn’t an ad to the industry because you didn’t pay for it.  It’s more like PR or a press release.  Nevertheless, functionally, it’s an ad.  It’s a message you put out there to drive traffic.  Heck, with only 140 characters, you can’t hope to do much more than drive traffic.  There aren’t enough characters there to actually inform anyone of anything momentous.  There’s certainly not enough there to convince.  Your only hope is to create enough shock value to get people to click a link and look further.  Isn’t that starting to sound an awful lot like what an ad does?

Are Retweets ads?  Well, depends on the Retweet.  It’s sure hard to argue that when you RT every darned Tweet that mentions you, your products, your company, or anything you ever Tweeted, Blogged, or said in a private inner dialog that you aren’t advertising.  I mean come on, we’re back to doing what those darned bots do.  Where’s the creative insight in that?  Twitter doesn’t even let you comment on the RT when you use their button, you’re just rebroadcasting someone else’s message to your flock because you happen to like or agree with it.

Try this experiment.  Stop what you’re doing right now (i.e. quit reading this blog post), go to your Twitter account, and scan the first screen.  Be really dispassionate.  How many of the Tweets there could be called ads in the sense I’m using it?

As I write this, my first page has 15 Tweets focused on just a few subjects:

– I got 5 repeats that are identical.  They say “Twitter’s Troubles” and link to one of the articles I gave above.

– I got 5 that are identical and say, “Tweetbot enters the IOS Twitter client fray” with a link to that article.

– I got 5 that talk about ‘Microsoft flexing IE9 muscle”

These are all bloggers and follower-seekers of one kind or another.  They’re all saying exactly the same thing.  They’re probably automated they are so darned similar, although I’m not personally familiar with the tools that do that.  Disclaimer:  I was shocked to see so little variety.  There are times when I do see long runs like that, but subjectively, I’d say it is more like 80% ads, 20% valuable insights than this sample would imply.  Nevertheless, since it is bash on Twitter day, I was happy to be able to make my point.

These are all ads.  Twitter’s problem is that when the vast majority of your content is advertising you give away for free to get participation, it’s going to be very very hard for you to sell additional ads on top of that for revenue.


I was tempted to call this post “The Trouble with Twitters” but there probably aren’t enough Trekkies left in the world to have any idea about Tribbles and Twitter, so I contented myself with the photo.

Zoli Erdos points to a bit of Twitter Schadenfreud I missed.

Posted in Web 2.0 | 7 Comments »

Fred Wilson is Still Wrong About Streaming Music and Amazon’s Locker Will Rock

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 29, 2011

Fred and I have tangled before over the issue of owning your music versus streaming it.  Fred continues undaunted in his latest post, a reaction to Amazon’s Music Locker announcements:

I don’t get the idea of music locker services like the one Amazon just announced. If I’m going to stream music from the cloud, why should I continue to buy files and collect them? I’ve been a Rhapsody subscriber for something like 11 or 12 years and I love subscription streaming services. I’ve just stared using on my Android and on the web and I love it too.

Locker services seem like they are designed to continue the physical model of collecting music and buying music when there is a new and better way – just subscribe to music dial tone and listen to whatever you want wherever you want.

I’m bearish on locker services and bullish on subscription streaming services.

Naturally, I am equally as undaunted.  The answer for why we differ so much is a simple one: people interact with their music in different ways.  Fred seems to love variety.  In a comment to my original post, he says:

i may be wrong. it happens all the time!

but it’s how i see all of this playing out

i own close to a thousand vinyl records

i own at least that many CDs

i have a terrabyte server full of mp3s

all of that is available in our home to our whole family

and yet we listen to rhapsody and other streaming services close to 80% of the time

it’s just easier. we don’t have to wonder if we own it. we just decide what we want to listen to and then play it.

I like variety too, and I use streaming services sometimes when I want to go in search of it.  But I like curation better.  My curation.  The songs I know and love I want to be able to hear when I want to hear them.  Music is not background ambience for me.  I literally can’t have it on when I’m working, or pretty soon I’m more focused on the music than the work.  Moreover, I’m concerned about the future when I don’t own the bits.

Look, things change.  The music industry is arbitrary and capricious.  Fred himself has suffered the outrageous slings and arrows of their behavior to the point he eventually confessed to pirating some music to get access to it.

I don’t like the possibility that the streaming service I’ve paid for falls into a dispute with a music label and suddenly can’t stream some artist I love.  I don’t like the idea that some streaming service concentrates so much power they become a monopoly and decide to charge per listen or some such nonsense.  We only just got the Beatles on iTunes after years fer cryin’ out loud.  Let’s keep as much power as possible in the hands of the music lovers and not the record labels or distribution (e.g. streaming) channels.  I know the latter offer better ways for VC’s and Startups to make money, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or support it.

If I am going to make the emotional commitment to the music, I want to be in control.  Amazon’s Locker Service is the ideal way to have my cake and eat it to.  I can get all the benefits of streaming and keep all the benefits of owning.  Fred may not value the benefits of owning, and that’s great for him.  He should stick to streaming. But his bearish predictions for the non-streaming world don’t reflect the whole universe of whole people interact with their music.

BTW, this is no different than insisting you be in control of your data when you sign up with a SaaS software company.  If they can’t deliver regular backups of your data whenever you want to see it, it’s time to start asking why.

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For the record, I agree with the sentiment that this isn’t innovative.  We’re past the Early Adopters.  Amazon’s service is the sound the Chasm makes when you’re already across it.  In light of that, I will see Fred’s Bearish call on lockers and raise with my own Bearish call on streamers.  Streaming music businesses that can’t also offer a locker service are going to be limited to either casual use as a second service and not the System of Musical Truth that is my music collection, or they’re going to be limited to the portion of the musical audience who, like Fred, don’t require a music collection.  In short, there will be a ceiling on their success if they can’t support both models, particularly in light of Amazon and Apple’s distribution strength.




Posted in business, cloud, strategy, user interface, venture, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments »

What are Customers Looking for From Social Businesses?

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 23, 2011

There’s a great conversation going on right now around what Customers are looking for from Social Businesses (e.g. what is Social CRM, really?) between Dennis Howlett, Paul Greenberg (via Dennis), Mitch Lieberman, and no doubt several others I haven’t yet tracked down.  It starts from a survey IBM did on what businesses think the value of being Social is versus what Customers think:

Social CRM PerceptionsLike any great discussion topic, there are layers of data and possible interpretations that become a Rorschach tableau on which to justify one’s personal predispositions; hence I won’t hesitate to share mine!

The money quote is the one Dennis plucked from Mitch’s piece:

Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them.

Ouch! Those darned selfish customers, we just want to be their friends!

OTOH, there is an evil part of me that speculates that an awful lot of our “friends” are not much less mercenary most of the time, particularly if they’re just business acquaintances, so why are we surprised?

The other reaction to the chart is that in terms of measuring whether customers want a relationship, they didn’t ask all the right questions and may not have interpreted the ones they did ask very well.  After all, “Feel connected” and “Be part of a community” are pretty much content free touchy feely BS.  What sort of person do you have to be to seek that sort of companionship in the bosom of a corporate entity?

OTOH, if I consider a more realistic view of Social Interaction, all the areas that scored big on learning seem perfectly Social.  And, when I look at “Purchase”, it makes me wonder what that really means.  Here is a chart from IBM that shows why Consumers go Social:

Why Consumers Visit Social Sites

Presumably, this is the chart we’re meant to compare and contrast with.  Let’s consider some of these categories and ask whether they have a place, even indirectly, in the business Social world.  Consider it a way to think differently about your Business Social efforts in order to increase engagement.

Connect with friends and family

The desire to “Feel Connected” and “Be Part of a Community” is evidently much less important in Business Social.  The corollary seems obvious: if you want to increase this motivation for connecting, get some friends and family in there.   Family is hard, but there are countless Social sites where people go to meet and interact with others who have similar interests.  When I was with Callidus, one of the most popular components of our User Conference was a session we called “Birds of a Feather”.   This was essentially a beer bash organized by industry vertical where customers could go compare notes.  The session had two parts.  First, we had our domain experts present, one at each table.  Their instructions were to listen and only chime in when nobody could answer a question.  They were told to act strictly as a resource and not to try to guide what was going on.  Second, we had a closed session where all the Callidus people left.  Customers were welcome to talk about us, our competitors, or whatever else they needed to in our absence.

I can think of no reason why this “Birds of a Feather” type interaction couldn’t be done in an online Social context nor why it wouldn’t be extremely popular.  Some vendor or other probably already does it and I am just not aware, so please chime in if you’ve heard of it.  In a broader sense, think about whether your Social CRM efforts are purely hub and spoke, meaning they force too much interaction with your company and not enough peer to peer to do very well in this context.  Get out of people’s ways and facilitate their getting to know one another.  Empower the gregarious networkers whether or not they are customers.  They will keep the party rolling.

Access News and Entertainment

This ranks pretty high on both scales.  If you haven’t already figured it out: content is king.  Give away as much valuable content as possible.  Call it Best Practices or whatever it takes, but be the best educator in your space and do it for free.  Free means not even pestering incessently for contact information.  BTW, at my last company, we had a Best Practice Community filled with content that went over extremely well.  Some of our highest landing page conversion rates came from the signups for the community.  People didn’t see a signup to join a community as egregious in the way a signup for a White Paper seems to be.


Several of the entries amount to “Sharing” of one kind or another.  Too often businesses see Social as just another direction to point the megaphone.  Are you giving your customers voices too?  Are they empowered to share?  Are they encouraged to share?  Are your customers actually trying to share and then getting shouted down or smothered by the people in your company that run the Social program?

This is one of the hardest things for businesses: giving up control to the customer, even just a little bit, doesn’t feel right.  But go talk to your best Salespeople.  Aren’t they good listeners?  After all, Social isn’t some High Priesthood that takes years of learning and arcane knowledge to master.  It’s just people.  Go ask people who are good with people how they’d solve a problem and then try that in the your online Social context.

Bottom Line

These are just a few thoughts about turning some of the Social Debate and information on its head to try to get new insights.

If your Social isn’t, well, Social enough, try thinking about it from your Customer’s standpoint.  Forget about what you want from them, give them what they want from you.  Establish reciprocity, and the rest will follow as best it can.  Forcing the issue won’t necessarily help and it may very well hurt.

Postscript:  The Pepsi Refresh Failure

In his post, Dennis refers to the Pepsi Refresh failure :

The Refresh Project accomplished everything a social media program is expected to: Over 80 million votes were registered; almost 3.5 million “likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page; almost 60,000 Twitter followers. The only thing it failed to do was sell Pepsi.

It achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.

While Ad Contrarian views this as Social Media’s massive failure, and an indictment on Social in general, I look at it differently.  I don’t think Pepsi’s problem is merely about what they measure or how they engage.  It’s a lot deeper.

How much do you and your friends talk about Coke or Pepsi?  I think the longest conversations I’ve ever heard happened because some restaurant had the wrong brand and someone made a snide remark afterward.  Is it any surprise that while such brands can bribe people in various ways to visit, that these people don’t really want to engage?  These Pepsi guys could’ve saved their $20M.  Rather than asking why Social didn’t increase sales, they could as easily have not spent the $20M on any marketing at all and wondered why it didn’t affect their sales.  Heck, if Coke would save the money they spend to advertise at the beginning of every movie I see I would thank them, “Like” them on Facebook, or whatever.

At some point I will do a post on what sorts of brands benefit from Social or not, but for starters, just observe whether parties who should be interested spend much time talking about it.

Similarly, Dennis in his post touches on some cultural issues companies may have that will ultimately prevent them from being very Social.  Some Company cultures are flat-out anti-social when you expose Customers to them.  But, these two points are peripheral to my main theme, which is to try to think out of the box or at least in your Customer’s corner of the box where Social is concerned.  You have a lifetime of monkey-see monkey-do formal marketing to overcome, but it’s worth it.

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Black Hat Social Marketing (aka Maybe Scoble Was a Little Bit Right About Authenticity)

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 15, 2011

I have to admit: when Scoble blew up over the idea that the Facebook comments adopted by Techcrunch might reduce authenticity, I was convinced he was wrong.  The premise is a simple one: the Facebook commenting system forces you to leave comments under your real name.  The theory is that a lot of people will be afraid to say what they really think for fear of angering Techcrunch, which can make or break startups with their bully pulpit posts.

But then I happened to notice a weird thing in Eric Schonfeld’s Techcrunch article lambasting Adobe’s Wallaby for being weak.  It was the usual sort of Apple Fan Boy post you see so often on Techcrunch and a few other places.  He hated Wallaby, a Flash to HTML 5 translator, because it has limitations on which Flash features it can translate and there are bugs that can crash the browser.  Never mind that said limitations might be limitations of HTML 5’s current maturity not to mention the crashing of the browsers when fed HTML directly conflicts with Steve Jobs assertion that it was Flash doing the crashing.  I didn’t really expect much, but being a Flex developer and a great fan of the platform, I was out reading the articles on Wallaby and this was the only negative one I saw in my Google Reader.

So how did Scoble get to be a little bit right?  Well, of course you have to read the comments on Techcrunch.  They’re the real value on Techcrunch as I see it.  The posts are sort of like the Hockey Game and the comments are the Fights.  You’re there for the Fights, not the Hockey Game, silly!

One of the posters, Steven Sacks (hey, we get to know his real name), points out:

Ever since TechCrunch switched to Facebook comments, all their anti-Flash posts have a slew of comments supporting Flash. Prior to this, all the anti-Flash post comments were predominantly anti-Flash. Good to see all those anonymous posters don’t have the guts to post under their real names AND can’t write negative comments under numerous names.

Sure enough, there were a ton of comments, all but one were pro-Flash and very negative on Techcrunch as I write this.

That’s fascinating.  OTOH, I look at Scoble’s argument, and it seems obvious that if you can’t be anonymous and you want to say something negative, you might hesitate.  But here were folks not afraid to use their real names when trashing the mighty Techcrunch, and they were nearly all pro-Flash.  Where had all the Apple Fan Boyz in the commenting audience gone?

So far, I only have two working hypotheses:

First, maybe the Apple guys just didn’t get there yet.  Only problem with that is that the Techcrunch post went out several days ago, so they had time to mobilize.  That hypothesis is looking sketchy.

Second, maybe Techcrunch was being gamed.  What if a whole bunch of those anonymous Fan Boyz were actually just a very small number of people who disappeared once the veil of anonymity was no longer available?  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know who they were?  Employees of an Adobe competitor even?

It’s fascinating to consider the impact on perception if you can scare up a virtual cyber mob any time you want to say anything you want and nobody is the wiser.  Maybe we’re seeing some evidence that just as there is Black Hat SEO, there can be Black Hat Social Too.

I actually don’t think Facebook is the cure for bad comments, but the dynamics we see here are fascinating.

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4Chan founder says anonymity is authenticity.  I’ve decided the authenticity is a function of what’s being discussed.  Yes, there are topics where anonymity begets authenticity.  But as we’ve seen above, there can also be topics where anonymity begets manipulation.

Scoble does a good job explaining how anonymity hurts.

Posted in apple, Marketing, strategy, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

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