The Web 2.0 Paradox

As readers know, I’ve been testing Twitter.  It’s fun, but for me the jury is still out.

One of the things I’m noticing is the preponderance of New Media Gurus inhabiting Twitter.  And inevitably, many feel the need to constantly evangelize on the issues of Web 2.0.  News flash: if you have to talk in broad terms about Web 2.0, Social Networking or Social Media, you’ve probably already missed the boat.  This is not some abstract concept that is coming down the pipe someday, it’s a trend that’s here.  If you’re a designer or a developer, it is not a trend, it’s a wrench your toolbox to be employed where it fits.  No more and no less.

Let me say that more clearly: the whole social networking thing is an extension of web design and development, not a radical departure from it.  It is an iteration, one more bit to add on and be aware of.  Think of it as a stop on the bus route of development.  This is all an evolutionary step, as will be the *next big thing*.

When I see “new communication tools” like Twitter, I have one standard that I apply.  If the discussion in the tool is mostly about the tool, it is a failed experiment.  I am not currently certain if Twitter has risen above that level of primordial ooze yet.  As John C. Dvorak noted, I don’t really want to know that you’re having a cheese sandwich for lunch…

Epic Post – How to Monitor Social Media for Free

Okay, we all know that social networks are out there and that we should be making use of them.  But how do you monitor what’s going on in the vast ecosystem of Twitterverses, MySpaceDoms and FacebookVilles?

David Churbuck has been doing just that for Lenovo for the past two years and he’s sharing the lessons learned in this post: “Try to Detect It” which I consider a must read for any web marketing pro or business owner/senior manager.

Free: yup. It costs nothing to detect the chatter about your company. There are two solid solutions for blog search – perhaps you’ve heard of Google? Thought so. Google Blog search is a good thing. And then there is Technorati, which sort of defined the space. Both are great tools, but you can automate searches of specific keywords and phrases and then syndicate those searches as RSS feeds out into a blog reader such as Bloglines or (in my case) Google Reader. Then you just need to remember to scan the blog reader a couple times every day.

The best part is that it’s true, unlike so many “Free’ claims.  You can measure a lot of this stuff in some very novel ways.  I’ve been doing some of this back channel to detect mentions of some new sites I’ve just launched and it works.  Plus it’s always great to walk into a meeting armed with facts, especially when everyone else is essentially unarmed.

The media landscape has changed, if you hadn’t noticed.  Trade magazines are dinosaurs and if you’re relying on them to tell you what’s going on in your industry, you’re woefully out of touch.  Not only should you be monitoring what’s said on websites, you’ve got to find a way to monitor what’s happening in the social networks like Twitter, when product talk can affect you without your ever knowing it.  If you’re not monitoring, now is the time to start and Churbuck has given you an excellent primer to jump start your efforts.

Thoughts after a week of Twitter

After slapping Twitter around for the past year, I thought it was about time for me to shut my mouth and actually try it. So after a week, here are my initial impressions.

First off, communications through Twitter are by their nature somewhat superfluous. I’ve really only had one discussion that’s actually meant anything. My impression is that it’s basically the Internet equivalent of the CB Radio. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

The means of communication is totally different. Look at the stunts Web A Lister Jason Calacanis; as he basically uses Twitter as his personal marketing platform.  He’s offering a Mac Book Air to be raffled off if he is “followed” by 20,000 people. He’s been using Twitter to bombard sites, move articles on Digg, etc. The other day he flooded UStream with people as he offered via Twitter to give a way a GPS unit. I was there, it was hysterical – the chat window was rolling so fast it couldn’t be read. He actually had to tell everyone to stop using it. But the real point is this: if he’d used any other communication means it would not have worked. If he email me, or worse, called, and asked me to go there for a chance to win a GPS I’d have reported him to his ISP for spamming. But for some reason, spamming seems to be okay here.

I’m going to chock it up to the bleeding edge nature of Twitter. I still don’t get it, but at least now I can see uses. However, I’m a results oriented kind of guy. I’m betting I find I don’t have time for this in my life.

This will really work when it’s teamed with groups.  Simply following a couple hundred people increases the signal to noise ratio to a point that it’s almost unusable.  However, it could come in handy when working with team members, or extended communities like a club.  Groups would cut the signal to noise ration down and make it useable.

For now, it seems like a place where A Listers like Calacanis and Steve Gillmor flood the Tweetwaves and make it tough to use.  I’ll have to narrow down my “follows.”

Niche Social Networking is Networking that Works

Niche Social Networking with Mark CahillI’ve been saying for over a year that there is a limit to the places I want to network with people, and I’m going to go one step further right now: there are a whole lot of people out there I am not interested in networking with.

There, I said it. It’s not that I hate people, it’s just that for the most part I have little interest in the generic style networking that’s offered by Facebook, and in my estimation, it’s lesser brethren, LinkedIn and MySpace. Call me a snob, but I’d like to have something in common with the folks I’m going to network with, and frankly I’d like to have that commonality reach a little deeper than computer ownership and a willingness to share banality over the web.

The shine if off the first round of Social Networking, and it’s not going to come back. I’m not the only one who’s realized it either. You see, Social Networking for Social Networkings sake is a waste of time. The truth is, it’s a tool that as web developers we should be deploying where appropriate.

I believe that ’08 is going to see the rise of niche social networking. A place were the tenets of social networking find real traction in niche spaces, by users who share that common thread, be it cycling, classic cars, fly fishing, whatever.

While Twittering still doesn’t make much sense to me, I can see that it would make a whole bunch of sense when I’m networked with my fly fishing buddies (like “I’m on a blitz of blues at Sagamore Beach right now” ). Online user groups make total sense to me when it’s applied to a classic car group, but an online group of people who simply live within 40 miles of me makes no sense if I’m not interested in dating (and I’m not). Think about it.

Niche Social Networking is like hanging out at your fishing club, while Mass Social Networking is like hanging out in a bus terminal – the two are totally different experiences.

I’ve been working with niche communities since 1995 – niche social networking is a winner.

More Reading: Gary Andrews

Chris Anderson on the Long Tail

Wired Editor Chris Anderson discusses the Long Tail.

From the video notes:

“Everything is measurable now,” said Anderson, comparing charts of sales over time of a hit music album with a niche album. The hit declined steeply, the niche album kept its legs. The “long tail” of innumerable tiny-sellers is populated by old hits as well as new and old niche items. That’s the time dimension. For the first time in history, archives have a business model. Old stuff is more profitable because the acquisition cost is lower and customer satisfaction is higher. Infinite-inventory Netflix occupies the sweet spot for movie distribution, while Blockbuster is saddled with the tyranny of the new.

Value for the Few

Mukund Mohan had a great post hitting on the comment by Jason Calacanis:

“An absolute idiot with 10-20M users can make a ton of money. So, get to tens of millions of users and forget about money.”

Mukund points out that while Linked In has the 10 million users Jason mentions, but it provides very little value to most of the members. I’d even go one further in saying that many of us see it as a total drag.

I get a ton of updates, link requests etc. mainly from people I haven’t worked with in years, knew peripherally, or flat out wouldn’t consider working with ever again. In other words, I have very low grade contacts coming in through LinkedIn, yet I still have to deal with the incoming message traffic. Do I link to this one, etc. Why? Mainly out of fear that at some point I’ll look like a snob if I stop.

The best way to describe the feeling I get is to liken it to the jet fighter pilot from the Korean War. In the rush to the jet age, the techies tried to cram every possible device into the cockpit for him to use. The pilots quickly found that the best thing was go get up in the air and turn most of the blackboxes off, simply because they were a distraction from the main mission – not getting shot out of the sky and ending up digging a flaming crater in the ground.

But apparently Calacanis was really talking about Twitter – the darling of the tech set. Another on of those services that serves as proof of your “I get it” status. I’ve railed on it for over a year: I don’t want everyone in the world following my every move…

The truth may be that I just don’t get it. But the nice thing is that I don’t have to. There are enough means to communicate and to “join the discussion” out there that I’m free to choose the ones that work for me. And I have enough chatter in my life that I don’t need to add to the signal to noise ration by having you send up constant updates on what you’re doing every minute. Granted, I wish you well in it, but I don’t need to know that you’re getting your back waxed, or eating a Knish or any of that.

David Churbuck posted his stats for the past month on Twitter. I can’t help but think that most of the communication going on is marketeer to marketeer – not a whole lot of direct customer contact is going on there.

As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, M’am.”

(Update: after pounding on Twitter, I decided to actually give it a try. You can see my tweets in the sidebar. I’m mncahill – follow me and I will lead you to banality…welcome to my life…)

Another Post on the NameMedia Launches

Tom Willmot of EdgeDesigns, one of our team lead developers posts on the launches of www.hotcars.com and www.dreamwheels.com last week. He succinctly sums up the niche social networks for those not familiar:

A niche social network is simply a social network aimed squarely at a niche interest, be it wine or geeks. You take the classic social network components: user profiles, friends lists, user messaging, forums and groups; and then you tailor the experience towards your intended niche. Throw in expert articles, regularly updated content and a strong multimedia element and there you have it.

Read it all here.

(Note: I am a senior developer with NameMedia, and worked on these projects)

Launches this week…

I’ve had a couple sites go live this week – first, some niche websites with NameMedia, Hotcars.com and Dreamwheels.com as well as Cats.com (I didn’t work as much on that one, it was in the hands of the talented Matt Busby and David Rodal).  These come on the tails of the launches on March 1 of Biking.com, Cycling.com, Boating.com, Yachting.com and Mommy.com.  I was lucky enough to work with Eugene Bernstein, Tom Willmot, Joe Hoyle, Peter Kuhn and Neema Dhakal on these sites, with designs by Dave Dellovo and Erik Stern.  A tremendous team!

The important thing to note on all of these sites is the application of so many facets of Web 2.0 to niche sites.  These are tightly woven niche communities that include all the things you’d expect, like friends lists, groups, internal messaging, blogs, forums, comments, and so very much more.  But it’s not a cookie cutter approach – we’ve looked at the communities we’re serving and attempted to provide the features that particular group needs.  On Mommy.com, there is an online baby book.  Or on Cats.com, we’ve come up with a means of dealing with the big internet question: how do I tell an expert from a loud mouthed rookie online, since the value of their advice is so vastly different.

On Hotcars.com and Dreamwheels you’ll see a major change to the forums setup.  It’s fully integrated with the rest of the system, and we’ve added features like the ability to link to youtube videos, etc.

There’s a lot more to come here, but for now, I think we’ve made a great start.

Additionally, I was able to launch PowerUpGeneratorService.com which has been on hold for several months (this one is not a NameMedia project).  It has an integrated project/product gallery and a homepage that is rotating between their major service/product offerings.  If you need a generator, no matter the size, PowerUpGeneratorService.com is the place for you!

Excessive Email and Texting a Sign of Mental Illness

Social networking draws tin foil hatsOkay, as a forum administrator, my initial response was to say “Well, gee, of course it is…” but then I realized that not everyone else might recognize this. News.com.au is reporting that an article in the current American Journal of Psychiatry “has found addiction to text messaging and emailing could be another form of mental illness.”

Any of us who have suffered the slings and arrows of an online community malcontent know what it’s like. You get email after email arguing points that make no difference to you. You have told the clown to knock off his rants or go away, and he immediately turns his flame throwers on you. Eventually, you stick his head on a pike (ban him) and get on with you life. Only to find he’s still emailing you his diatribes. You finally put him into your ignore filter.

Honestly, to my mind this thing doesn’t sound like a new disease, it sounds like Aspergers Syndrome, a mild form of autism that manifests in an inability to behave normally in social settings, aggressiveness/irritability, obsession/compulsion as well as an adherence to non-functional ritualistic behavior.

It stands to reason that any form of mental illness that might affect social interaction would almost by definition affect participation in online social networking/social media. After all, it’s merely an extension, right?