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Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

Bing’s Cheating, Scoble’s an Attention Whore, Escape the Internet Soap Opera

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 1, 2011

Geez, must be a slow news week or something. 

First we got the whole Scoble/Quora soap opera.  To make that long story mercifully shorter, Scoble went from thinking Quora was biggest blogging innovation in 10 years to “Why I was wrong about Quora as a blogging service” to being given a good intervention to finally admitting he gamed the service like a one man narcissistic content farm and that’s why he failed there.  Well that was certainly epic.

Now on to the latest, where Google accuses Bing of cheating (thank you Techmeme for those links!):

“Teacher, Bing is copying the answers from my test!”

“How do you know Google?”

“Because I fed him the wrong answers and they turned up on his test so I called the press.”

“And why is that wrong, Google?” (And why were you worried about Bing instead of doing better on your own test?)

Because I worked hard to get those results and they shouldn’t benefit from them.”

“Didn’t all those people who made all the links on the web that you benefit from with Page Rank also work hard only to have you take their work and become fabulously wealthy from it?”

“Um, yes, but that’s different!”


I say, why not?  Search engines aren’t worth beans without watching what humans do and learning from it.  It takes a lot more than a few keywords to produce good results.  Whether it’s using Page Rank to use humans as unwitting curators of your results or watching which search results I actually click on or reading my email so you can present relevant ads in G-Mail, it’s all about liking to watch so that Chauncy “Search” Gardner can appear to understand what’s really going on.

Google, you must be desperately afraid of Bing to have this, your second organized negative marketing PR campaign follow so quickly on the first (the whole Facebook/Bing affiliate marketing flap).  Are you guys sure your brand wants to be associated with negative marketing?  Remember that old youngster’s lament, “I have become my parents.”  Google, right now it looks like you’ve become Microsoft and Oracle.  So far we don’t have Larry (Page that is) doing the fire-breathing Shogun routine yet (or the Ballmer Monkey Boy rants), but at this rate, it must be only a matter of time.

Here’s the thing: we have a very limited number of ways right now to improve quality of results and find great content.  Many of those ways involve confusing popularity with quality.  Scoble’s Quora issues largely had to do with using his popularity to game his results into better positions than they deserved.  Quora promptly reacted to that in a negative way, as they should if their value prop is great answers to questions (not popular answers to questions, there is a difference).  Q&A services like Quora are valuable to the extent they introduce beneficial friction into their game mechanics so popular doesn’t always win.  Watch for more examples of beneficial friction–it’s a good idea, though it is somewhat at odds with the get-rich-quick-with-traffic mentality that currently fuels the Internet.

Humankind have a terrible time separating popular from good.  Mostly, we give in and accept popular, whether it for business, politics, or whatever hard decision awaits.  That’s great right up until we’re popular enough that the wisdom of crowds becomes American Idol.  Glenda knew this when she sang, “Popular, it’s all about popular.”  But is Glenda’s view what you’re looking for?  Umpteen hundred million peeps on Facebook.  That’s certainly popular, but do you go there for the highest quality content?

Lately, the Internet has gotten to be too much all about popular.  It is as near a frictionless medium as we can create, and that actually interferes with Content Quality.  Think about it in terms of evolution theory.  If Quality involves being first, being different, being unique, evolutionary systems don’t really reward those qualities directly.  It isn’t until the biomass of the meme has reached enough popularity that it spreads virally and can claim to have staked its eco-niche.  By then it’s too late.  Lack of friction destroys diversity and amplifies popularity: anathema for high quality content.  You want to get the 411 right before the punctuated equilibrium begins.  That’s when it has the most juice.  That’s when it’s the most interesting and valuable–before everyone else has spun it, parroted it, and profited from it.

Content memes proceed along these typically evolutionary cycles.  As conventional wisdom settles in, the original meme is widely imitated and only mildly improved, if at all.  This goes on for quite some while.  The dinosaurs lasted over 160 million years and it took a catastrophic event to shake their hold enough that something new could take their place.  Those events create the punctuated equilibrium where evolution suddenly moves ahead a quantum leap.  So it is with punctuated equilibriums and the social evolution of memes of content on the Internet.

If you value good content, look for friction.   Look for what is not popular and what is not easy to find: 

–  Start with your search terms.  Avoid Google’s attempts to box you into the ordinary search echo box where they can maximize attention competition and raise ad prices.  Google’s Instant Search is an Instant Echo Chamber.  Think of more novel ways of expressing your search.  If possible, figure out how an expert would write about your topic and search for those kinds of terms.  Use the first pages of results to learn that much and then start new searches.

–  Identify the experts and see what they read.  For a long time I have found better results searching blogs than searching the Internet at large when researching new topics.  Be on the lookout for Google Reader share feeds from folks you respect so  you can see what they’re reading and finding interesting.

–  Constantly prune your regular reading list.  Stick to the sources that bring you genuinely valuable information and new insights for the first time.  You don’t need 10 different feeds that all parrot the same stories.  Subscribe to Techmeme and one or two others in case the rest of your list fails you and so you can quickly located what the popular news sources are saying should you wish to have that perspective.

Are you starting to see the trend here?  If you want to learn something valuable from the Internet, you have to do something different.  You have to work a little harder.  You can’t just read what’s popular unless you’re most interested in regressing to the mean.

Related Articles

Danny Sullivan’s live blog confirms alot of what I write above.  Looks like Google plans to continue the negative marketing with a vengeance.

Great quote in Quora Review via Techmeme:  Seek friction and avoid popularity unless you’re just looking for “highly digestible morsels of mass appeal.”

Posted in Web 2.0 | 5 Comments »

Google Says Spam a Priority, Not So Much a Problem

Posted by Bob Warfield on January 21, 2011

Official response from Matt Cutts on the Google Search Spam problem.  The long and the short of it?  There is acknowledgement that there has been a “slight uptick” in recent months but that things are much better than they were 5 years ago:

The short answer is that according to the evaluation metrics that we’ve refined over more than a decade, Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness.

Now that all sounds great, until you think about it.  When I wrote about this issue recently, I stated, “If there is blame to be made, I would blame sloth more than conspiracy.”  Let’s go with that and assume no conspiracy and that Google simply needs to work harder.  As everyone knows, Google is an algorithms-driven company.  So here is the conundrum:

If you have a lot of spam because your algorithm isn’t good enough at rejecting it, should you believe your algorithm when it says your “search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness, and comprehensiveness?”

Two other comments and then I’ll leave this topic: 

First is that I appreciated the reference to Smoothspan’s recent article, “Silly rabbits: Google is for Spam not for Search“:

One misconception that we’ve seen in the last few weeks is the idea that Google doesn’t take as strong action on spammy content in our index if those sites are serving Google ads.

While I continue not to think there is a conspiracy, it is important to note that Google monetizes the spammers, drives traffic to their sites, and so benefits.  All the more reason to be very squeaky clean.

And speaking of being very squeaky clean, did anyone else think it was at least vaguely humorous that Google’s Spam Czar, Messr Cutts of the “Move along, these are not the spam droids you’re looking for” memo, was spending his time breaking stories about the spaminess of his competitors when he could have been improving his own company’s record there?  Did we consider that while Facebook’s #2 advertiser was a spammer, we have absolutely no way of quantifying how much revenue Google gets from spammers monetizing their spam through Google’s ads.  What if there are some in Google’s top 10? 

How about we all focus on dialing down our own spam, let the Internet police the competitors, and get on with some more relevant search results.  Speaking of more relevant results, I love Google’s Custom Search Engines.  Great way to reduce spam per this ReadWriteWeb article if you want a specialized search for a particular domain that’s narrow enough to have a manageable number of contributors.

Posted in Marketing, strategy, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments »

Improve Your Blog Reading Signal to Noise Ratio

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 26, 2010

Since I subscribe to almost 200 blogs, it’s critical for me to keep a high signal to noise ratio.  In other words, the posts that show up in my reader need to be things I really want to read.  If I’m spending all my time separating the wheat from the chaff, then I’m wasting my time.Improve your blog signal to noise ratio

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is when I like to try to improve my S/N ratio on my blog subscriptions.  I do this by eliminating subscriptions that aren’t paying off for me.  It’s also a time when I subscribe to a bunch of new blogs knowing I’ll turn right around and knock them out again if they don’t perform.

Finding the subscriptions that don’t pay off is something you want to do carefully and methodically.  Being an engineer, I like a metrics-based approach.  Fortunately, Google Reader’s “Trends” function provides plenty of worthwhile metrics.  What I was searching for was some idea of the ratio of “useful posts” to “worthless posts.”  Percentage of posts read is pretty easy to come by, but I wind up reading a lot of posts that turn out to be worthless for my interests.  A better match is posts I share to my share feed (you can subscribe to it, here is the feed).  This works because I religiously share all the useful posts I find.  So, we just want to divide the number of shares by the total number of articles over a particular length of time.  Longer time is better.  This gives me a “useful post” percentage.  We’re not quite done yet though.

Next, I make up a spreadsheet that has three columns:  blog name, # of posts, and usefulness percentage.  I then make up a fourth column which uses a formula:  number of posts time one minus the usefulness percentage.  This tells me how many “worthless” (remember, worthless is in the eye of the beholder as almost any post is useful to someone) posts each source is producing.  I rank my subscriptions in descending order on this number.  Lots of useless posts represents lots of time wasted.  This year, my number one entry was Techcrunch, which only had 14% useful posts and a rocking 552 useless posts out of 642 total posts for the period I reviewed.  That’s a lot of worthless posts clogging up the old reader.  What if these posts are solid gold and it’s worth it to wade through the chaff?  This is where you have to think back and ask yourself whether that’s been your experience, and whether there is some other blog that will up the gold stories with a better Signal to Noise ratio.  In my case, I was pretty sure that one of my other “Bulk Feed” category blogs such as Techmeme, GigaOm, or ReadWriteWeb would pick up any stories interesting enough to be worthy.  Based on that confidence, I deleted Techcrunch from my feeds and moved on with the analysis.

To be effective at pruning your blog sources, you have to decide why you’re reading them in the first place.  For me, a blog is either providing breaking news or analysis and insight.  Lest there be any doubt, Smoothspan readers should be here for analysis and insight.  I don’t write often enough to provide you with breaking news.  However, if you read my Google Reader Share Feed, you’ll find the breaking news that I think is important.  I keep my feeds organized in Google Reader in folders that represent the “big picture” categories I’m interested in.  You’ll find folders corresponding to entrepreneurship, social computing, technical software development, sales and marketing, and experiments.  Experiments are blogs I watch to learn something from but that I don’t intend to watch forever.  Perhaps it’s a style thing I’m trying to study.  Keeping things by category makes it easy to check the best signal to noise performers in each category too.

Finding the right blogs is a matter of deliberate research as well.  If you find a subject that interests you and is important, you need to do two things.  First thing is to drill down on the links available in whatever blog posts you’re already reading.  More often than not, those links are the original sources that have inspired the blog author to write.  Getting access to the wellspring sources is good for you too.   Second, get onto Google and search like crazy.  No better way to learn than an hour or three each week spent deeply researching some topic and being on the lookout for useful blog links to add to your list.

Lastly, keep some perspective.  I mentioned I have a category called “Bulk Feeds”.  These are blogs that throw off tons of posts.  They have multiple writers each of whom wants to post every day.  As I mentioned, Techcrunch had 642 posts during the time I considered.  I can subscribe to a lot of single blogger feeds even if they post every day and not get to 642 posts.  The thing is, it’s usually the single bloggers that convey the more valuable information, with all due respect to the big guys.  You’ve got to winnow your Bulk Feeds every so often to make more room for the valuable individual bloggers that have the real juice.

The thing about the Internet, is that in a low friction information exchange medium, you have to be prepared to travel out the edge to find the really good stuff.   You need the leaves of the tree.  By the time it gets to the big branches, let alone the trunk, you’re far removed from where the real action is.  It’s more fun adventuring out by the leaves anyway!

Posted in strategy, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

CIO’s: How Will You Avoid Social Silos?

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 21, 2010

I’m a firm believer that maximizing the ROI of your Social efforts in the Enterprise requires deeply integrating your Social Platforms with your Enterprise Software Platforms. 

The major Enterprise Software players are well aware of the importance of Social Software as well as the advantages of deep integration for ROI.  This is why we have SuccessFactors acquiring Cubetree, Salesforce investing heavily in Chatter, and so on.  Indeed, a lot of the uniqueness of Salesforce’s Chatter is it’s integation with business process.

There’s just one problem: if every Enterprise Vendor is going to acquire and build a social platform, how are we going to tie them all together and avoid Social Silos?

It gets worse.  To really maximize the value of your Social Platforms, you need to involve not just employees, but also your customers and partners.

Working through a set of requirements questions CIO’s should be considering for their Social Platforms is the topic for this week’s Smoothspan Sponsored InfoBoom post.  Check it out!

Posted in business, enterprise software, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Check out IBM’s InfoBoom

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 7, 2010

By way of introduction, I just made my first post as a Sponsored SubjectExpert on IBM”s InfoBoom community, and it was a doozy.  Think of it as an appropriate next chapter to follow my Enterprise 2.0 is Dead post, because it talks about a new (actually getting to be pretty widespread) concept in Social Business Software that some have taken to calling “Procial.”  It’s the idea of layering in some highly integrated but conventional business process software with social.  Salesforce has layered their entire ecosystem as a productivity layer under Chatter, for example (some would say I have it backwards which is layering which, LOL).

The post can be found on InfoBoom as “Talking Pro-cial With Teambox.”

On InfoBoom itself, it’s a community sponsored by IBM for IT professionals that’s focused on the major megatrends facing IT today:

–  BI

–  Data Security

–  Green IT

–  Governance

–  Social Media for Business

–  Cloud Computing

Given the last two, you can see why they picked Smoothspan to do a little blogging there.  If you’ve never visited a first-class community for business (I hestitate to call it a Facebook for grown ups because that isn’t fair to Facebook), it’s worth checking it out.  Lots of interesting ideas for how to go about it.

Related Articles

Catch Tony Nemelka’s guest post on Esteban Kolsky’s blog.  When I read Tony saying that E2.0 vendors have been skating to where the puck is, but that the goal is now behind them, and he goes on to say customers want E2.0 to “Integrate with how we operate. Don’t interrupt. Become part of the fabric. Follow our lead. We’re in control of things now,” it resonates with what I’m saying here.  Social without full integration to an existing and important business process is missing some very important beef.

Posted in business, enterprise software, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Facebook has an Opening for Messaging, But This Ain’t It (Plus: What Should Google Do?)

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 16, 2010

There’s quite a bit of back and forth about the Facebook Messaging announcement.  Since a little time has passed, people have settled in and we’re slightly past the hype.  Time for my two cents:

Facebook has an opening based on at least two value propositions that I can see.  There is value in a single inbox, though at least one EI discussing the issue seemed to think that value was marginal.  I disagree.  Every “2.0” effort has to overcome the cost of introducing another silo where you have to divide your valuable attention.  This is one of the reasons I wrote my E2.0 is dead note–too many times the 2.0 effort doesn’t offer enough value to deal with yet another silo.  Without getting sidetracked into that discussion again, any new Social offering has to provide enough reasons to overcome the cost of divided attention.  What better gambit than to argue they will reduce the division by providing a single inbox?

The second value proposition is that they can use their Social Graph to add value to this inbox.  Zuckerberg wants to improve the signal to noise ratio, and most people would welcome that, if it works.  Scoble paints an interesting picture of Facebook as repository of better contact information in his discussion of the Social Graph openness war between Facebook and Google:

It’s too late for Google. Facebook knows this, which is why it’s being more open. Why? Well, my Google social graph has rotted. The 8,000 names on my Google Contacts are attached to email addresses that are old, not good, and phone numbers that are old, not good. Tonight I tried to call someone from my phone’s contact list. The number was dead. I went to Facebook, grabbed his new number there and I even made the call right from the Facebook iPhone app.

Now Scoble is not representative of any audience I’m very close to, but he is representative of some audience.  Perhaps it’s a growing audience.  I know people who spend hours in Facebook, but not many.  Perhaps their contact information is more current in Facebook than in Google Contacts.  For those folks whose contact and other information is more current, I can see where this might make sense.  Or perhaps Scoble just represents that audience that insists on having 8-10,000 or more close friends and nobody on any smaller lists.  I can see where it would be hard to keep that contact information current.

I have to say that after having tried to train Google’s Priority Inbox for about 6 weeks, I finally gave up.  I was spending more time training it than it was saving me.  Somehow the information available to Google was either not adequate, or their algorithms didn’t make good use of that information.  The bottom line is we shouldn’t take the logical-sounding promise of vast improvements in the relevancy of our inboxes based on Social Graph manipulations as a forgone conclusion.  Extracting useful semantics from data is a hard problem that will remain hard for some time to come.

However, if you are going to buy into the “Social Graph Can Add Value to Your Messaging” camp, you need to pick the Social Graph that fits your life.  Is there really one?  Don’t some people like Facebook mostly for friends and family, LinkedIn for professional contacts, and somebody else for some other thing?  Hold that thought!

Okay, those are the reasons why Facebook has an Opening for Messaging.  Did they score?

The answer so far seems to be a resounding, “No!”

Discussion among the EI’s was decidedly underwhelmed.  Nobody could understand what new value was being added.  I want to be sensitive to the notion that maybe these EI’s, all older software company execs, but not too old (grin), are not necessarily communicating in the same way that some demographics would.  There’s been a lot of talk for example about how the younger crowd has no use for email.  Perhaps there is value to them in having a threaded conversation inbox for their many other channels of instant messaging.  That’s a possibility the crowd brought up on email would overlook.  If that turns out to be a big issue, then the communication divide between these generations will turn out to be a lot larger than anyone thought.  It amounts to having an older generation that only listens to radio and a younger generation that only watches TV.  You can imagine how profound that might be.  Zuckerberg is watching this closely, and apparently High Schoolers tell him, “We don’t really use email.  It’s too slow.”

I will also reiterate that there is huge value in a single Inbox.  But this one has some serious flaws.  I briefly touched on the question of whether the Facebook Social Graph is the penultimate Social Graph to base your life around.  It isn’t for me, and I suspect it isn’t for a lot of people.  It might not even be for the majority of Facebook users for all we know.  That graph simply cannot capture the nuances of every aspect of our life, if for no other reason than Facebook has already mismanaged its stewardship of it for far too long.  They have constant privacy bru-ha-ha’s.  They’ve demonstrated a willingness to exploit it beyond the pale as the ultimate walled garden.  I frequently hear opinions along the lines of, “nor do I want to put my online identity anywhere near that company.”  Facebook is definitely getting a reputation as “that company” when it comes to trust.

Sam Diaz’s “First 10 Impressions” article was fascinating too.  The impression one gets is of a product with a fairly deeply flawed User Experience.  Sam is surprised by an awful lot of what goes on in this experience, and his summary makes that clear:

“Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was exactly right when he said that this is not a GMail killer. For now, it’s confusing and that’s intensified by the integration of SMS.”

Just as fascinating as the conclusion is some of the specific things Diaz found.   I found this one to be the most telling comparison of E-Mail and “2.0 Things”:

I have this overwhelming urge to go in and clean out my messages. I had no idea I’d had that many message exchanges on Facebook. And I had no idea that I had unread messages dating back to August 2009.

Note to 2.0 software designers: think hard about what this means as it’s an experience a lot of people are having.  It’s okay to miss a message or two among friends and family.  They will remind you if it was important and tease you about your forgetfulness if not.  However, when it comes to using Social for business, missing messages can be a real problem.  Imagine if your best customer tried to get some answers from your Social CRM support forums and you just missed the message.  This happens all the time.  It’s why the rest of the Customer Service world invented the Trouble Ticketing or Case Management systems.  They’re nothing more than managers of messages and action items that must not be forgotten.  In fact, contractually, they often must be handled within a specific SLA.  When was the last time you saw a Social CRM system do that?  To do it right, it has to be tightly integrated with your CRM system so it knows who is entitled to what treatment as well, no?  My former company, Helpstream, did all that, but we digress. 

Let’s agree that Facebook has an opening, but this ain’t it.  That puts the ball back into Google’s court.  What should they do?

First thing is they need to resist the normal Geek mentality.  You know, the one that leads to Second System Effect, defined by Wikipedia (hopefully with a hat tip to Fred Brooks!) as:

The tendency, when following on from a relatively small, elegant, and successful system, to design the successor as an elephantine, feature-laden monstrosity.

BTW, the small, elegant, and successful system is GMail.  And Google Reader.  And many other successful offerings in the Google lineup.  The tendency to monstrosity would be personified by Wave.  Repeat after me guys, “Wave was a bad idea and we don’t want to do it again.”  BTW, they won’t repeat that mantra.  Geeks hate to lose and somewhere is a Google Alpha Geek thinking it was a failure due to marketing, not waiting long enough, being too early to the market, or almost any reason except that it was a bad idea.  After all, it was probably hard to build, and anything hard to build is a Good Idea so far as most Alpha Geeks are concerned.  If it was easy, pretty soon non-Geeks would be doing it. 

Okay, having thought hard about it and having decided to avoid Second System Effect (phew!), this is not that hard.  Borrow a page from Sun Tzu.  Break out your OODA loops while you’re at it.  Competitive Strategy Sun-OODA 101 says, “Focus your strengths to strike your enemy where he is weak, force him to fight his war on many fronts, and keep him second guessing his own strategies so he never sticks to one long enough to see it to fruition.”  Let’s translate that to action:

Google, you are in the Inbox and Reader business, not the Social Graph in a Walled Garden Business (that’s Facebook).  Through Inbox and Search you are the Reader for the entire Internet for cripe’s sake.  Revel in your time and crush these pathetic date-seekers.  You are only missing two things:

1.  Unified Inbox:  Find an elegant combination of Reader and GMail and you are mostly there.  It ain’t that hard.  Resist the Second System Effect and git ‘er done.

2.  Promiscuous Connectivity:  Unfortunately, you are not good at this and have a lousy track record, but you have to succeed at this one because it’s the only antidote to 500 million strong Walled Social Graphs.

Why do I say Google has a lousy track record at promiscuous connectivity?  I dunno.  Maybe I’m soured by my experiences trying to integrate GMail with Outlook-Exchange.  It gets the email part because they can fall back on the POP/SMTP open standards.  It failed miserably with contacts and calendar integration, even when iPhone could do the job beautifully.  Maybe it’s because Google has never gotten for the Apps business that there are only 2 kinds of compatibility with Microsoft Office–100% Compatible and Not Compatible.  Guess which one Google Apps has?

This inability to promiscuously connect is not a failure of technology or IQ, it is a failure of willpower.  No Geek likes to have to slavishly deal with someone else’s standard.  They will hold their noses for Open Source, or some other Open Standard, but as for these other things?  Fuggedaboutit.  You may as well ask a Geek to maintain someone else’s code instead of rewriting it (Gasp!).  Oh the horror, the humanity of it all.

But wait, does Facebook have this issue too?  Evidently not.  They will lower themselves to the moral equivalent of screen scraping to get Google’s data while Google sits around and whines to the press instead of engineering some whizbang gizmo to suck the Social Graph out of Facebook’s Walled Garden.

Dudes, you are going to have to get good at doing this thing you evidently detest–living in the shadow of someone else’s software.  If you can seamlessly, easily for your users, and in real-time, continuously scrape all the Social Feeds and Graphs that are out there and feed them to a nice elegant little reader, you will win.  You do want to win, don’t you?  Well then that’s a technical problem worth solving.

BTW Google, consider this Facebook Messaging thing a shot across your bow.  Facebook will now start reaching out into your web.  If you don’t move quickly, they are going to OODA you and get inside your decision loop.

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

Heretical Thinking: Enterprise 2.0 is Dead

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 11, 2010

After reading Dennis Howlett’s piece, “Enterprise 2.0 is beyond a crock.  It’s dead,” and Andrew McAfee’s counterpoint, “Social Business is Past Retirement Age,” I found myself in the surprising position of agreeing with Dennis that E2.0 is dead.  I’m not suprised because of any issue with Dennis, I’ve been reading and enjoying his work for years, but rather because I would’ve expected to come out more on the side of E2.0 idealists.  After all, I was very recently involved in a closely related space called Social CRM, and I’m supposed to be a card-carrying “Social Guy.”  Dennis has never made a secret of his skepticism.

Where's The Beef?

Where's The Beef?

Here is my problem:  the Business Social Scene has rolled forward under the banner of the Consumerization of IT and not much else.  That’s a polite way of saying they’ve copied everything they can from Facebook, Twitter, and online BBS systems, without adding much innovation of their own.  They’ve made it possible to visit the water cooler without leaving your desk, but that’s hardly an excuse for big ROI payoff. 

Because of my past, I find myself talking to lots of companies that are interested in Social for Business.  If there is one thing that constantly surprises me, it is the sameness of their approach.  Really the only interesting new thing I’ve heard of was Chatter’s ability to have the Enterprise Software itself participate in the conversation. 

Take recent reviews of Moxie (used to be called nGenera) where two reviewers (Ben Kepes and Klint Finley) remark along these lines:

Moxie is a full-featured social suite including internal and external community sites, wikis, idea management, microblogging and more. Ben Kepes is not particularly impressed by Moxie. He lists the things Moxie told him in a briefing set it apart:

  • Pointers to people (think rich profiles and the like)
  • Rewards for participants (thinks badges and stuff – yawn)
  • Going where the people are (single sign on and enterprise integration)
  • A compelling UI (code for “we look like Facebook”)

I was basically told the same thing in my briefing, and I agree that most of this is all pretty common place – except maybe badges, which aren’t a big deal.

I saw the demo some time ago and had the same reaction.  They’re awfully late to the party to be showing a Me Too product, even if it does have a little nicer fit and finish than many.

The trouble is, almost everyone is late to this party in some sense or another because they’re all so similar.  That means that the consolidation that’s already underway (where companies like Cubetree are bought by companies like SuccessFactors) will continue or accelerate. 

There is also another disturbing tendency, and this is where Howlett’s piece really resonates and Andrew McAfee lets us down as an academic: it’s gotten to be all about faith and marketing.  When it comes to ROI, “Where’s the Beef?”  Discussions of ROI quickly turn circular:  You can’t get the ROI until everyone is participating, but once they are, we’re sure the ROI will be huge.  Dennis’ point is that in the end of the day, it’s all down to the people and their culture.  If you have a company with a culture that’s capable of embracing E2.0, you may get some value from it.  If not, fuggedhaboutit.  And this is where my problems with Andrew McAfee start.  He says the idea of a “Social Business”, is old as the hills, and E2.0 is the new new thing we have to focus on.  In talking about “Social Business” (how people behave) versus E2.0 (Tools), he pens a great passage that if I were he, I couldn’t imagine wanting to be held accountable for:

This distinction matters. It matters because telling business decision makers “There are some important new (social) technologies available now, and they’ll help you address longstanding and vexing challenges you have” is very different than telling them “Business is social, and the more deeply you embrace that fact the better off you’ll be.”

Absent any other information, I would’ve expected McAfee to immediately embrace his second statement and move on.  Wouldn’t you?  After all, it is the more profound and more accurate statement.  The first is more faith marketing from the E2.0 cheerleader’s squad.  Imagine my surprise at his next paragraph:

The former sentence, I’ve found, is pretty effective at getting their attention. The latter one is less so, because I tell you with complete certainty that they’ve heard it many many times before. It’s a message that has been broadcast into the executive suite for fourscore years now. Sometimes it’s been delivered with great skill and clarity, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s been internalized and acted on, sometimes not. But the message has been heard so often that it’s faded into the background. I’ve found that the phrases “business is social” and “people, process, and technology matter” have lost most, if not all, of their power to persuade decision makers.

Hold on Andrew, when did you cash in your academic credentials, pick up a bag, and decide your most important job was selling E2.0 software?  Aren’t you supposed to have weightier matters of the mind such as learning something new and discovering the fundamental truths of our time?  Isn’t the fundamental truth, “Business is social, and the more deeply you embrace that fact the better off you’ll be.”

Here’s the deal: we are nearing the end of the time for Faith-Based Marketing.  That’s an Early Adopter’s game.  We’re staring at the chasm and wondering how to get across.  You can’t cross the chasm with a hope and a prayer.  The folks who live on the other side of the chasm are not Early Adopters.  They don’t worship every new shiny thing.  They are more practical and pragmatic people who insist on an ROI.  Chris Yeh puts the mindset of these later adopters in a blunt but accurate fashion:

If you can’t sell more, buy less, or fire somebody, you’re not getting real ROI.

If there is one thing I learned selling Social Software, it is that the issue is very black and white.  You can’t convince people to be Social unless they already are.  There are no grays, and any company that bets its future on turning grays into blacks or whites is going to have such a high cost of Sales and Marketing they will fail.  There is a crowd that believes it’s all down to demographics.  “We just need enough Gen Y’s in decision-making positions and the world will turn Social overnight.”  There is a crowd that looks at Facebook’s 500 million people and concludes, “It’s inevitable and moreover it is here right now today!”  They are both wrong.  They are both relying on Faith rather than actively doing something new.  Remember that old definition of insanity–doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  Get off of Faith and onto ROI and you can talk shades of gray.  Chris puts the E2.0 mindset on ROI equally as bluntly:

I keep hearing that the benefits of E2.0 initiatives will take a long time to accrue and are difficult to measure, but that it’s still worth adopting because the cost of experimentation is so low.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is bullshit.

If we’ve been studying the Social Business for such a long time without a result, that’s a clue.  McAfee will argue that’s precisely why he has quit focusing on it and started focusing on the E2.0 world.  But that world has been here long enough too.  Lotus Notes was an E2.0 tool, for Heaven’s Sake.  A few of the E2.0 companies at the very top are doing great, most are so so, and there is a consolidation underway.  If E2.0 is the Megatrend those with the faith think, there should be so much green field that many more of these companies are hitting the ball out of the park.  We should be tee’d up for 3 or 4 IPO’s imminently, just as soon as the market opens.  I don’t get the sense we are there or even close.  We may very well have a repeat of the old Portal market, where despite many companies being in the space, only one (Plumtree) managed to have an IPO, and a tepid one at that.

As an Engineer and Products Guy, I have to comment on the software, and not just stick to the people angle.  I do believe it is possible to do what Moxie claims to have done, and that is to construct a User Experience so compelling that it drives rapid adoption.  To be clear, I don’t think they have done it, just that it is possible someone could.  The fundamental problem with the UX for these products is they start from the assumption that Generic Social is the Goal.  It ain’t the case.  Solving a real Business Problem and Delivering an ROI is the Goal.  This is the essential point McAfee is missing.  In his article, he argues putting people first is dumb because we’ve tried that and nothing happened, while:

What is novel is the digital toolkit available to help businesses and their leaders become more social, more open, more Theory Y, more Model 2, etc. In the 2.0 Era, these tools experienced a quantum leap forward, not an incremental improvement. Because business is so social, this quantum leap is a big deal.

Andrew, the digital toolkit is not nearly compelling enough as it exists today to turn otherwise recalcitrant cultures upside down and thereby prove your thesis.  Cultures that are already very sophisticated in their Social tendencies without the tools can benefit.  Others will not change, and if they would, there would be no end of case studies showing it.  The truth is that recalcitrant culture is corrosive to E2.0.  It kills it dead as Howlett suggests through passive aggression and politics, the way people have always killed things they were afraid of.  Why should a little bit of software upset the very structure on which people build their livelihoods, their reputations, and their power bases?  Andrew, go back and study all those writings about a Social Business that you’ve so eloquently quoted from, because those forces I mention are more than powerful enough to derail E2.0.So are we doomed?  Not at all.  As I mentioned, it is possible to create a UX that is an agent of change.  The trick is to design from the standpoint of not having to change the culture before it can be successful.  That is something that no E2.0 offering to date has yet done, though we have been trying since Ray Ozzie brought us Notes a very long time ago.  How would this new UX operate?  I have some ideas, but let me start with an example of a market where something similar worked with a vengeance. 

Long ago, but still in my recorded memory, there were no such things as spreadsheets.  We had accounting and accounting software, which produced reports.  We had various attempts at using computers large and small to do analysis, mostly by programming.  Very little analysis was actually getting done because despite the availability of simple languages like BASIC, and despite the cult following PC’s were gaining, you had to learn to be a programmer to do it, and that was too hard.  Then along came the spreadsheet.  What an interesting confluence of properies it had:

1. Spreadsheets have tricked more people into becoming progammers than anything else in history.

2. They did this largely by not forcing people to learn to be programmers.

3. Instead, they became an electronic embodiment of what was already being done.  A “spreadsheet” for those that don’t remember what it used to mean, was a particular kind of paper form that accountants would lay out in order to organize their numbers for computation.  They used to call them “electronic spreadsheets”, in fact.  I remember to this day driving over to an accountant’s home to see one for the first time so I could understand what it was people were so excited about.  And there it was, a piece of paper come to life and calculating live numbers as I changed the cells.

The spreadsheet is a metaphor for where E2.0 has to go if it is to regenerate itself, make a huge difference, and Cross the Chasm.  The UX has to start from how people are working today, not how you’d like them to work after they have accepted your E2.0 tool.  Proponents will say, “We’ve already done that!”  It’s true, but they’ve picked the wrong things to emulate and automate.  Wikis are automated the means to publish books or perhaps to keep community filing cabinets.  They’re great.  But who will argue that books or filing cabinets have a radical ROI?  Likewise with automating the water cooler.  If you look at it in that light, have you really solved the water cooler problem so much better that it has a huge ROI?  Was the water cooler ever capable of delivering a huge ROI?  Probably not.

I will leave this post on that note because there are so many business processes that have the huge potential for ROI that to drill down on any particular one would do the others a disservice.  E2.0 vendors, heed the spreadsheet.  Quit trying to automate the water cooler, quit trying to change the culture, and figure out something genuinely new to do besides copying Facebook!

Posted in enterprise software, Marketing, strategy, user interface, Web 2.0 | 11 Comments »

The 8 Flavors of Social

Posted by Bob Warfield on October 19, 2010

1.  Social built on email and message board traffic.  Perhaps Notes started this frolic, or was it IRC?  Both still soldier on quietly in their corners while forums won the day.  Xobni and others want to go back to the future.
2.  Social built on documents.  Wikis, in other words.  Blogs also get a run here somehow:  Social built on Dear Diary?
3.  Social built on people and activity streams:  Twitter et al in the purest sense.  Facebook too is all about “me”.  But we had SMS, we had Instant Messenger, and maybe blogs go here more than as documents.  We’ve had some of this for a long time.
4.  Social built on questions ala StackOverflow.
5  Social built on geolocation and the check-in.  This is closely tied to social reviewing.  Foursquare, Yelp, and all of that ilk go here.
6.  Social built on rich media: YouTube and the music social crowd.  Photo sharing social ala Flickr and Photobucket live here too.
7.  Social built on transactions in business software, e.g. Chatter?  BTW, Notes did some of this in its day.
8.  Social for business cards and the casual handshake.  LinkedIn.
Have I missed anything?  What’s next? 
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what people are interested in talking about.  Some of these are third and fourth generation while there are large areas never even touched.
Social Analytics?  What might that mean?  Social medicine?  Some of that trying to hatch out there.  Social buying and collecting?  Funny how eBay totally missed that boat, but Amazon is trying to go there.
Figure it out the next big social category and you’ve got tomorrow’s headlines.

Posted in user interface, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

What is With Twitter? Google, this is Where You Should Step Up

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 21, 2010

The ink is hardly dry on yesterday’s post about Twitter’s inability to roll out their new UI faster when I wake up to the news that Twitter has been totally hacked.  Not just hacked a little bit.  Not just hacked if you do some certain thing.  Hacked as in, “Don’t even bring up the site or you may get hacked too.”  Don’t believe me, it’s all over the web.

By now, Twitter says they’ve fixed the problem, but it’s not exactly confidence inspring.  I hear from comments and emails on my other post that the new UI is full of problems too.

Here is a company that has raised over $100M in capital, yet they seemingly have a hard time with the basics.  For a long time they couldn’t scale, and now this problem.  Do you guys have QA?  Do you have a real software development process?  Is your architecture solid?  Tell me you are not doomed

At the same time, they’ve pretty well killed off their ecosystem by taking over the key successsful add-on niches as their own. 

Meanwhile, Google has designs on Social Media.  Here is the thing Google.  These Twitter guys have stumbled and stumbled.  Their service is popular, but its technology is straightforward.  We can argue about whether it even is Social Media (it isn’t), but that’s not really important.  Put your Facebook plans on hold for a time.  Build a Twitter clone.  Buzz is sort of that, and maybe could serve, but it needs to be dead on and not vague about its intent to supplant Twitter (no pussyfooting around).  Weave it into G-Mail and your other apps.  Make it better (but don’t do anything weird, focus on polish).  Make it stable.  Make it a reasonable alternative to Twitter which many have said needs to be an Open Platform anyway.  And BTW, make it open and be Switzerland.  Put it on Android.  Create and nurture a vibrant ecosystem.

Since everyone uses Twitter more to broadcast news than to actually interact, this is a franchise you can build.  It actually has minimal network effects (not saying it has none) to lock in its users.  You just need to make sure the widgets to broadcast on your service are awesome.  In fact, I would set them up to broadcast on Twitter too, just so people can change widgets once and not have to worry about it to have all the bases covered.  In addition, if you can make it easy to build followers, or especially to keep your old Twitter followers, you are set.

This is not a particularly high risk or hard to execute plan for Google.  Put all the wood behind that arrow.  You will succeed.  And you can build on that success.

Related Articles

Oh no.  Some evidence Twitter new about this late last month.

Similar problems for Twitter last year.

Web brands, get your house in order.  Phil Wainewright’s take on this sort of thing.

Posted in strategy, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments »

Is Twitter Not Multitenant or What?

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 20, 2010

So here I am, 5 days after the big announcement, and still no new Twitter UI.  We just finished a weekend, which would seem to me like a logical time to roll it out to the remainder of the audience.  No joy.  WTF, over?

Is Twitter not multitenant, or what?  I sure they look with disdain at hearing that term usually reserved for business SaaS software, but I mean really, what’s up with this, guys?  Did you not get the memo about keeping all users on the same code line?  Did we forget to Tweet that somewhere along the line so you never read it?  Is your architecture so fragile that you can’t afford to let everyone have the new UI at once?  WTF is up with this?

I don’t know what’s up with me on this.  I mean, some guys who “get it” are all “Meh” about it, while others think it’s a whole friggin’ platform.  Basically, Twitter needs to be a richer medium for me to like it better, so it sounds cool to me and I want to see it. .

OK, I can see the advisability of not rolling it out to everyone in one fell swoop.  I’m trying to calm down, and sure, I’ve written about release feathering myself.  That’s kewl and all, but how long is this going to take and why isn’t there more transparency into when I as a user can expect to get the UI?  You know, like there must be an algorithm or some such.  If my handle starts with an “A” I get to go first, unless I’m a Tech Crunch reporter with the handle “Zelda” in which case I get to go first too.  Hey, at least I could figure out what to expect.  Or maybe you could even make my expected upgrade date accessible to me in the UI somewhere.

Here is the thing.  If you are going to make the biggest update ever.  If you’re going to have PR about it and all.  You’ve got to have more transparency and a shorter release feathering cycle so people know what to expect and can get access sooner.  I mean Google is much bigger and managed to get the Priority Inbox to me a lot sooner.  After all, you’re pissing off guys like Anil giving it to his wife before him and all.  Anil is right by the way in that post about it being a platform that doesn’t act like Switzerland (if you want to call that pane a platform).  But Twitter has been acting more and more walled garden-ish all the time.

Do you know what I mean?

Posted in saas, software development, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments »

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