Jeff Bennett: How Businesses Can Benefit From Social Networking

We hear a lot of prognostication from the consultants about how business can benefit from social networking, but not as much when it comes to actual businesses that are using it.  Jeff Bennett, COO of Namemedia, Inc. blogs on this topic and gives real examples of how we’re (Disclosure: I’m a Senior Software Engineer at NameMedia) using social networking within out company.

Businesses need to foster enhanced methods for employees to communicate. Lotus Notes was the standard for early collaboration, but there is opportunity to enhance the ways for employees to connect and collaborate with more transparency. At our company, NameMedia, we have enhanced communication and collaboration with with our Twiki, which is a wiki application allowing for employee databases, personal pages, schedules, work flow and more. There are so many additional ways this can be deployed and other tools to be added for sharing information, enhancing collaboration and improving productivity.

As a developer, it’s easy for me to know what’s coming up for release, because the release engineering schedule is in the Twiki.  We’re of course using a ticketing system (Jira) for deficiency and task monitoring; but more over as a process control that allows us to control exactly what is getting pushed to our myriad of live sites (NameMedia owns something on the order of 900,000 domains).  We work remotely with coworkers in the Ukraine, the United Kingdom and around the United States via skype, plus our own internal IM system.

It’s true, we do use these tools throughout our daily worklife, but even more, we’re constantly looking for new ways to work more efficiently.  We’re currently looking for a better way to manage our work flow and documentation and will probably end up with something that integrates completely with Jira.  I’m hoping evaluate Yammer in the coming weeks as a means of keeping up with the current tasks our disparate workforce is handling.

You’ll want to add Jeff to your regular reading schedule, he brings a voice of experience, not just theory.

Social Media and Politics – All Lips, No Ears

As the election cycle proceeds, I’ve noticed that the level of monologue in supposed discussions has increased to a fever pitch.  Take Twitter for example; it seems the chatter is now 20% political.  The problem is, I never signed up to listen to what everyone’s political viewpoint is.

I know, I can simply unfollow everyone that’s into political discourse for the moment, but the truth is I like some of the other stuff they have to say.  Too bad I can’t simply filter out a posts with a few words in them.

The problem I have is this: most of the folks looking to “discuss” politics really have no interest in discussion.  Even if they were interested in discussion, being limited to 140 characters is unlikely to be enough to convince anyone to vote either way.

The trouble is so many of us are staking our “personal brands” on our online personas, why would we want to be identified in a way that would potentially alienate 40% of the populace?

That’s right.  We talk about how potential employers look into our blog posts, at our LinkedIn and Facebook pages, so why would we want to share our deepest political views? Even worse, for some reason, everyone seems to think that naturally everyone will agree with them.  Why would you, when even in a landslide win, 35% of your fellow voters will have voted for the other guy/gal?

Maybe we’d all be better off if you just tweeted about what you had for lunch…as long as it wasn’t a cheese sandwich!

Geek.com Relaunched

For the past couple months I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to the re-release of http://www.geek.com – the online technology resource and community for technology enthusiasts and professionals.  We’ve added a lot of social networking tools, and also done a general wordpress/bbpress upgrade which will allow us to easily take the latest releases in the future.  

This is important on a couple of levels, first off, this is a site that has over 10 million unique users a month. That ought to put to rest the “WordPress doesn’t scale” talk I hear around the net.  Wordpress scales just fine for large sites if you set your server up properly:

Continue reading “Geek.com Relaunched”

Reel-Time.com Acquired By NameMedia

In what has become an utterly bizarre turn of the tables, NameMedia Inc. has bought Reel-time.com – the site I have been working with since 1995 or 1996 as managing editor, head geek and general do-what-needs-to-be-done guy, is now owned by my current employer.

It’s a great thing for Thorne Sparkman, who is now able to repay the investors in the site. David Churbuck (he blogs on this story here)  and I had been almost completely disengaged and had no financial stake in the final buy out. The big winner is honestly the community which now will actually move forward, vs. being in a holding pattern.

Last September, when I posted my final Fishwire Report for the Boston Region (a report of what’s going on for saltwater fly fishermen) I swore it would be the last. Yesterday, I wrote two of them…handling both Boston and Cape Cod. The good news is that I was for the first time able to write them during normal working hours, instead of getting up at 4 in the morning.

Reel-Time.com was a niche online community before anyone had any idea that such a thing could exist. In a lot of ways we invented, identified or were afflicted by, just about anything you now hear about termed as “Social Networking” or “Social Media.”

So as things change, in many ways they stay the same for me.  I’m now back where I began, at Reel-Time.com and after 13 years, I couldn’t be happier.  Now if I can just get some fishing time in.

The Implied Responsibility of Communications Providers

Okay, I promise to go Twitter free next week, but for now, an interesting observation…

Yesterday, Twitter went down for about 3 hours. The general experience provoked a few thoughts. Firstly, I thought of the Twitter addicted, jonesing at their keyboards, hitting refresh endlessly in a forlorn hope the service will return.

But then I thought more on the idea of what happens when your communication means becomes a part of peoples lives.  I’ve been here before, since the Reel-Time.com Forum literally reached that level for New England Saltwater Fly Fishermen, who are, like most Twitter users, type A obsessive compulsives.  It’s a special kind of feeling to know that your important service has become a singular point of contact for many people.  That suggests that if it goes away, you’ve put those folks out of touch.

In my experience, services that provide such a commjunications will face a known, predictable response when are repeated failures:

  1. To begin with, everyone thinks of it as an abnormal situation and don’t push to hard.  Oh gee, there was an outage…
  2. Subsequent outages provoke concern.  Users ask where they can send get well cards.
  3. From there, we move on to anger.  You get phone calls…at night…on unlisted numbers, and they’re not utterly pleasant.
  4. From there, if the problems continue, the noise quickly subsides.  No more calls, no more emails from users.  You’ve reached the point that your users simply don’t care anymore, either that or you just don’t have any users anymore.

Th critical litmus test is this: people will not complain if they don’t care about you.

I’m generally concerned about using a communications means that’s provided by a single source, not knowing how scaleable their own infrastructure is.  They’ve also got a very open api that allows most users to access using tools other than the standard Twitter homepage.   That disparity of tools also creates a disparity in user experience.

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…

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

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…)

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!