Monthly Archives: April 2009

What are the tech bloggers missing? Your business!

I’ve been watching the tech bloggers quite closely for some time now. Here’s a database of more than 17,000 of my favorite posts, Tweets, and videos from them. But I’ve noticed a few things.

1. They are AWESOME at covering news. For instance, watch how TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Steve Gillmor, Louis Gray, Hutch Carpenter, and a variety of others ask questions at the friendfeed press conference (part I, part II, part III, part IV, part v).
2. They are pretty good at explaining how to use a particular technology. For instance, here’s Marshall Kirkpatrick explaining how to use Yahoo Pipes to build an RSS and news site for your project.
3. They are really good at aggregating attention. Louis Gray even noticed that TechCrunch is making sure its headlines work well on Twitter. Why? Because lots of people hang out on Twitter and click on links.

But what don’t the tech bloggers do well?

Bring home all these new shiny objects and explain why they matter to a mainstreet business.

Yes, there are a few that are trying, like this blog that focuses on social media and your business, but notice the difference between that one and, say, TechCrunch. The headlines are boring. The text is uninteresting. There aren’t very many videos or graphics. And very little engagement on comments.

Or, on the other side, are “pro” sites like that also try, but notice how bad their layout is and how much color and advertising there is surrounding their content.

It’s to the point where I’m wondering if I’m missing something. Is anyone doing a good job of explaining how to bring a business into the modern age?

Last week I was talking with Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace (I now work for Rackspace) and I asked him whether he knew of anyone looking out for regular everyday businesses. I showed him the Web site of KSCO, a small radio station in Santa Cruz, and noted that it sucked, but that it is emblematic of a whole raft of businesses. Most of whom really don’t get the Web and understand how their customers are using it.

Heck, just yards from Facebook’s main building on University Ave is a great restaurant, Junoon. Do you think they get the modern Web? Absolutely not.

They have tons of Facebook employees as clients. Do they have Facebook Connect built into their Website? No. Do they have any real people on their website? No. Do they have any real interactivity? No. Do they have a mobile client? No. Do they have a community, er, forum? No. Do they have Twitter integration? No. Do they have a way to get people into the restaurant during dead times? No. Did they have any SEO help so people can find them easier? No (their site is largely Flash).

Now, if the business right by the front door of Facebook isn’t getting it right, what are the chances that any of the other millions of businesses around the world are getting it right?

And why aren’t the tech bloggers helping them?

On the other hand, this shows the opportunity open to Twitter, friendfeed, Google, and Microsoft.

Facebook has NOT sewn up the business market yet. Heck, they haven’t even gotten the business right by their front door to use its Connect technology yet.

This market is wide open for anyone to snatch it away from Mark Zuckerberg.

Is anyone showing businesses like Junoon or KSCO why they should use social media and how to do it? I keep thinking I’m not following the right bloggers.

Who should I be following that’s helping out real businesses figure this stuff out?

Mike Arrington and I disagree on the future

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Last Saturday on the Gillmor Gang Mike Arrington wondered aloud whether Twitter had won a “winners take all” game and whether that meant that friendfeed was toast. He then wrote a blog post titled “FriendFeed is in danger of becoming the coolest app no one uses.”

If Arrington is right, then Friendster would have kept MySpace from happening. MySpace would have kept Facebook from happening. Facebook would have kept Twitter from happening.

The thing is that Arrington and I disagree about the future.

He is right about one thing. Twitter has won. It is now the favorite way for people to do microblogging. It LOOKS like a “winner take all” thing, right? After all, who will use a different service than all those celebrities now? To be serious we already know that Twitterers won’t switch, because last year Twitter was down all the time and no one switched, even when they were being abused by the technology.

So that game IS over and Arrington is right about that.

But, is the microblogging game where the cash is? No, I don’t think so.

Well, then, where is the cash?


“Huh?” I can hear you asking. “Twitter has real-time web search already.”

Yes, but it isn’t all that good.

Here, let’s demonstrate. Remember the plane that crashed in the Hudson?

I want you to find the original picture that someone sent in from their iPhone over Twitter.

Here, I’ll do the searches for you. Go to Twitter Search and type in Hudson Plane Crash. See all the noise? Yeah, the picture is there somewhere but it’s hard to find.

Now, here’s another search, this time using some of the filtering systems over on friendfeed. The picture stands right out.

See, what is going on here is that for search to work you MUST have metadata. Google built a multi-billion-dollar business on the metadata of linking. The next big business will build on top of the metadata of these three things:

1. Who shared or commented on an item. The search above I knew I had liked the picture, so I constrained the search to only things I’ve liked.
2. How many comments or likes are on an item. The search above I knew had tons of comments and likes, so I looked only for items that had more than five likes. That got rid of 95% of the noise.
3. What was said in the item. See on Twitter there’s only 140 characters and other people can’t add tags or info onto that item. On friendfeed I can leave a comment underneath a tweet and make it even more searchable. These comments get indexed in seconds now, which makes them very useful. I can add “cool tweet” to a Tweet and then search for that tweet later. Here’s an example.

NONE of these pieces of metadata are available in Twitter.

This is not just about friendfeed, either. Over on Facebook Mark Zuckerberg has a TON of extra metadata to study as well. He knows who has commented on each other’s walls or who has sent a message, so he knows who your “real” friends are.

Now, to be fair, Twitter does have some metadata to study as well. Retweets are metadata. Already Retweetfeed and TweetMeme are watching that metadata and there are other sites as well.

Twitter can also study hashtags, but I have been talking to people about why I think they are dead. Certainly hashtags are less relevant in the future.

But, notice what Twitter’s metadata is: it has to be included INSIDE a Tweet, where Facebook and friendfeed’s metadata is OUTSIDE the Tweet. Which gives you more characters to communicate with your friends.

So, why are the dollars in search and not just in microblogging?

Well, let’s look how people buy something.

Someone or something creates the need in their head to buy something. I have a baby on the way so I’m starting to look at strollers again since our old one isn’t good enough for a two-baby family.

That’s the “need.”

Then I start talking to my friends. That’s where Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed come in. I also start researching. That’s where Google comes in and parenting sites and all that.

Then we make a decision. NOW that is the only place where monetization is possible.

Let’s say I decided on a Bugaboo stroller. I search Google for such. Notice all the ads along the right side!

Why are all those ads there? Because businesses know that’s where the money is. Not in blasting ads on the Superbowl. Not in bothering you with ads in my videos or on my blog, where there aren’t many people buying strollers.

No, they want to hit you AT THE MOMENT YOU ARE BUYING.

So, why would Bugaboo want to put ads inside your Tweets? Hint, they won’t. They won’t get many sales that way. But, what if you are searching for information on strollers? Absolutely! That means you’re looking to buy.

OK, here’s where we differ on the future.

We found our new doctor on Yelp. You’ll find all sorts of things this way in the future.

How about a restaurant? A plumber? A TV repair shop? A lawyer?

Consider that you’re walking down the street with a future version of Facebook or Twitter or friendfeed in your hand. You’re looking for a restaurant.

Which is going to be able to bring back the best restaurants that your friends care about?

That requires having metadata to study. That’s why Facebook copied friendfeed’s likes so that it can come back and say “there are four restaurants that have more than 20 likes from your friends within walking distance.”

Translation: the future hasn’t been built yet. That’s why Twitter has not won the entire game yet. That’s why this is a fun industry to watch.

Oh, and Mike, you only have 62 comments and 72 likes, which demonstrates you haven’t done enough with these systems to see the real value. I have 18,300 comments and 17,284 likes and now I have a database that ANYONE can search and find a LOT of value. Plus, I have now been to the future and you haven’t. Yet. You’ll get there. :-)

I gave my Twitter and friendfeed followers a look at the video I did, discussing our disagreement and here’s the comment area that erupted. Keep in mind that this is a live chat room and you can add comments and I’ll see and be able to answer them live on screen there. Oh, that’s something else that Twitter and Facebook can’t yet do. Like I said, I’ve been to the future. You should come and join me.

A private note to PR people

Instead of cleaning up their industry and getting rid of all the people who send me bad pitches, the industry has gone on attack. Shel Holtz has one of the kinder versions of this attack.

This is why I got out of the news business and why I don’t care anymore about getting on Digg or Techmeme. Many PR people have an entitlement attitude. “We will get you to cover our products one way or another.”

Shel: of course journalists want you to pitch them on email. Out of 1000 pitches 995 are crappy. I sure wouldn’t want to get 995 crappy pitches on my phone. Or 995 crappy pitches face-to-face. Email is the most efficient place to get crappy pitches. Actually that’s not true. Twitter is a far better place for crappy pitches. Why? Because they are limited to 140 characters (which actually greatly improves your chances — only 237 out of 1,000 pitches on Twitter are crappy).

I was wrong, though, to paint every PR person with the “PR sucks” brush. There are good ones. I do read every PR pitch, even the crappy ones. Of course I was being obstinate. This is blowback because I get so many crappy pitches for so many things I don’t care about.

I am not the first to ask PR people to both send me better pitches and to not do it in email. Dan Gillmor, a real professional journalist (who worked for the San Jose Mercury News and who was instrumental in getting the DOJ to go after Microsoft) said that long before I did. Back when he did that I didn’t pay attention because the PR industry hadn’t yet started sending me lots of lame pitches. I should have paid more attention. Today Gillmor is no longer a journalist. Note what his contact page says “don’t pitch me.” After being a blogger or journalist many people feel the same way. I have lots of meetings with journalists and they always gripe about the PR pitches they get. Why? Because this industry won’t clean itself up and won’t look at what it’s doing as being caustic. Even good ones like Shel Holtz won’t look internally.

Why is this a private note? Well, my readers don’t care so I wanted to let them know they can just skip this one. They just want me to find the coolest stuff in the industry to hear about and get my video camera in front of them. They don’t care about the private hell that has become my email inbox.

Yesterday I got videos of friendfeed’s press conference. Notice that they did pitch me in email, but pitched me to come to that event. Also note that friendfeed doesn’t have a PR person, they already have my attention so no need to pay $10,000 a month to get more of it. See, if your company is good it’ll probably get my attention anyway. Heck, Zappos has never pitched me (that’s a shoe company) but I am interested in that company because so many of the people I follow praise them. That’s also how I found Feedly and Evernote, two companies I like a lot.

So, how do good PR people pitch me? They do send me email. But they build a relationship with me first and find out what I like to write about. One example? Jeremy Toeman. He tells me all the time that he has clients he doesn’t pitch to me because they aren’t going to be interesting to me or my readers. He protects his relationship with me from crappy pitches.

Because Jeremy both knows me as a person and doesn’t send me tons of crappy PR pitches, when he sends me email I listen. He doesn’t just send me pitches for his own company, either. If I’ve missed something interesting he calls me and says “did you see this?” He regularly tweets the same and blogs things that I need to be aware of (sometimes even calling me on the carpet when I’m off base).

But the other interesting thing is he rarely pitches his company in email. His best pitches come when we’re walking around Golden Gate park with our kids. Or, like when he launched his new company recently, when we’re just sitting around his house (that’s why I almost always am carrying a video camera).

So, Shel, and all the other PR people, keep sending me your crappy (and good) pitches to If you think you really have something awesome, don’t email me. Call me. My phone number is on my blog. +1-425-205-1921 It’s been there for four years now. I don’t mind getting calls from people who really have something great to show me.

What do I care about now? People and companies who are fanatical about building a better Internet.

If I can’t take your call (today I’m in meetings all day, for instance). I’ll call you back when I can. Thanks and sorry if you felt attacked by my broad brushes. If you have a blog and a Twitter account you probably aren’t among the bad ones anyway so don’t stick up so much for the bad ones because that tarnishes the good work you do.

Tips for Real Time Web working on new friendfeed

Here’s some tips I’ve learned after using the new friendfeed for a while:

1. Turn it off. There’s no way to be productive doing something else while the stream is moving and distracting you. Two ways to turn it off: 1. close the browser. That’s brute force method. 2. Push the “pause button” at the top of the feed. That will keep it from moving. You can then refresh the page to see more items, or push play when you want to start seeing new items again.

2. You can “stun” the feed by mousing over it. That will slow it down for a few seconds.

3. Make sure you put a picture in and fill in something about yourself. Click on “settings” at the top right of the page.

4. If you’ve followed more than about 400 people, your feed will probably move too fast (mine is moving too fast) so you’ll want to create more lists and move people you’re following into separate lists (they act like folders). This way you can have “noisy jerks” in a separate folder from “family members” and they can be separate from “people I work with.”

5. Buy more screen realestate. Not just for friendfeed either. I just picked up a new screen just to run friendfeed and it makes it a LOT easier to track a bunch of different lists and rooms and filters.

6. Learn to make a filter. You do that by first searching for something. Try searching for, say, “Earthquake Italy” since there was a pretty big earthquake in Italy yesterday. Now, click “make a filter.” Add some conditions. I only want to see items that have at least one like. That’s the good stuff, according to Bret Taylor, co-founder of friendfeed. Here, now see the filtered result. Note that it’s similar to what you can do over on but that instead of only Tweets the enw friendfeed includes all sorts of interesting data types. The filtering will change over the next few weeks. There’s a lot of power under the hood that’s hard to get to. For instance, you can set it to only show you YouTube videos or only show you Tweets, but getting to that is pretty difficult right now.

7. Learn that everything is a feed and you can subscribe to it. Here you can see Louis Gray’s likes and you can follow just those, without following his comments or his other items.

8. Learn about how to hide and other things. If you are new to friendfeed I did a video about 20 things you need to know on friendfeed here.

What I hate about real-time web (your productivity goes to hell)

For the past 12 hours I’ve had friendfeed running, along with another secret tool that’s coming in May that shows me news updating in real time, and another screen is running Tweetdeck here.

This is powerful stuff, I can talk with the world and see reactions coming in live. We’ve turned the Web from something that took weeks to discover new sites to a big chat room that pushes items at you in crazy fast manner and moves them down the screen.

More and more geeks are complaining to me that they can no longer keep up with Facebook, Twitter, friendfeed, and all the other things.

Linda Stone defined this problem as continuous partial attention.

I think it’s worse than that. Continuous partial inattention. I dare you to open up the new friendfeed in a window next to your work, point it at the aggregation of all the people I’m following, and try to get any work done.

Now, some of you are saying “well, unfollow.” But there’s something interesting for me in seeing all sorts of little conversations that hundreds or thousands of people are having.

The thing is I +can’t+ unfollow. Why not? You might say I’m addicted. Better people than me already have.

But there’s no going back for me. I will not give up this new world.

That means that we need new skills to deal with this new world.

One new skill? We now will share filters. I shared one with you in another post. Yesterday there was a big earthquake in Italy. Here’s a filter to help you find all the news about it. You can write me filters that will bring other things to my attention that I might miss in the stream of noise.

Other skills? We’ll need to build new news aggregation sites, like the “trending” feature on Twitter Search or Techmeme that will find the news “needles” in the stack of noise “hay.”

But right now we’re entering a period of transition. One where some of us will not be able to cope. Or we’ll be sucked in so deeply that we suffer career or family consequences. I’m struggling with the balance here myself.

I don’t know the answers here, other than to know that this new world does have its problems.