Monthly Archives: September 2009

How Microsoft Office 2010 will be locked out of my toolbag

Yong Ming Guang, CEO of Socialwok

I really like Office 10. Looks great, doesn’t it? Lots of new features. And it even works well on the web.

But it is doomed to be kept out of my toolbag.

I realized that when Yong Ming Guang, CEO of Socialwok, showed me his new collaborative toolset today.

How will Microsoft Office be locked out?

Mobile phones.

“But, Scoble, Microsoft Office has made a deal with Nokia.”

OK, name one geek in your circle that still uses a Nokia phone. I can’t and it doesn’t look like the new Nokias will get me anytime soon. Certainly not with Palm Pre phones selling for under $100 and Android phones coming on big time with developers that I talk with (you do note, don’t you, that Guang is holding an Android phone in the picture above).

So, why won’t Microsoft Office be able to ship on iPhone and Android and Palm Pre and Blackberry?

Well, they might be able to, but the versions they showed me so far are pretty heavyweight. IE, they load slow and on mobile phones that’s death. Google’s spreadsheet, on the other hand, is made for the mobile web and opens fast.

Also, Microsoft Office 10 isn’t shipping yet. You’ll notice that developers like Yong Ming Guang is showing off their systems now. What’s the chances that they’ll rip out the functionality they built using Google’s APIs and put in some unproven Microsoft APIs? Let’s just say it’s between 0 and 0.

“But, Scoble, it doesn’t matter, don’t you realize that everyone in the world is forced to use Microsoft Office anyway?”

That isn’t true and over the next five years is going to be less and less true.

If I asked at a conference five years ago, even an early adopter geek conference, how many people used Microsoft Office, lots of hands would go up.

Today? Very few hands go up whenever I ask that question.

By the way, what does SocialWok do? It is a new collaborative feed tool built around Google’s applications. Think about it as Facebook for your workgroup.

I thought it was lame the first minute, but after digging into it I’m pretty convinced that it, or something like it, will change how we work.

Why?

Because of mobile phones. Three years ago I used to carry my laptop everywhere. Now? I only carry my iPhone. It’s amazing how much work I can get done with it.

That will have a deep impact on the tools we choose for work.

And, I’m noticing even the geekiest geek in Silicon Valley is the same way. We’re switching our usage patterns away from desktop and laptop computers and toward our iPhones.

Why did Guang choose Google’s apps? Well, because of the atomicity of Google’s APIs. They can build a new kind of feed based on Google’s apps, which isn’t possible using Microsoft’s Office. Also, because 15 million people are using Google’s apps (according to Guang) he sees there’s a ready audience of people who would use his system today. Because Office 10 isn’t out yet, he won’t bet his business around an audience that might show up “someday.”

Also, Google has provided Socialwok with the infrastructure so he can build his company without spending much, if any, money (SocialWok is built on top of Google’s App Engine and could be easily moved over to other cloud-based infrastructures like Rackspace’s Cloud or Amazon’s Cloud if needed)

That has deep impact on the choices that developers like SocialWok are making.

Microsoft Office just isn’t part of this new world. That should scare the hell out of Steve Ballmer. No wonder why he gets so mad at people who bring iPhones to work there!

iPhone app shootout Thursday

This started out as a photowalk. Meet at a pumpkin place in Half Moon Bay. Shoot some pictures. Have some fun. Eat some pumpkin pie. Thomas Hawk and I did that a couple of years ago and it was most fun.

But now times are different. We all have a camera in our pockets. For a good number of geeks it’s an iPhone.

I’m inspired by professional photographer Chase Jarvis who last week released the hottest iPhone app for photos out there. He calls it “the Best Camera” because the best camera you have is the one you have with you.

Mix that with a recent dinner I had with Steve Rubel where he showed me a ton of cool iPhone apps on his iPhone. Ones I never heard of or considered using. Because the iPhone has 60,000 apps on it finding new ones that you’ve never heard of is a pretty easy thing. And hearing about them from your friends is the best way to find new apps. I find that if I hear about an app from a friend I’m about 100x more likely to use it and keep using it. Peer pressure is strong!

So, why don’t we mix these two experiences together?

That’s what we’re doing Thursday afternoon. We’re meeting at Pastorino Farms (Google Map) in Half Moon Bay at 4 p.m. to just after sunset (around 7 p.m.) Two kinds of people are welcome: iPhone enthusiasts and photographers (any kind of photographer). If you can’t find us, call my cell phone at +1-425-205-1921.

Who will be there? Chase Jarvis will be there. I’ll be there. Who else? I’m working on some other big names from the iPhone and photography worlds. Fred Davis, cofounder of Wired Magazine will be there, for instance. It’s free. I’ll bring my favorite app and I’ll even have the cool appsfire working by then so you can see what other famous geeks are using on their iPhones (and see reviews and such).

See you there!

By the way, that photo is one I made yesterday with Chase Jarvis’ iPhone app. The other photos I made with my iPhone and his app are here.

You’re not on Twitter’s suggested user list but you are in good company:

OK, so when Twitter came out with its Suggested User List I went through a bunch of emotions. Hatred. Jealousy. Self loathing. Blaming. Anger. Denial. All that kind of stuff. I have lashed out at it over the last few months here and there. Pissing off Tim O’Reilly and Veronica Belmont and a whole raft of other people. After all, I had more followers than any of my friends did before this list came along and now they all have millions of unearned followers that were gifted to them by winning a lottery called “the Suggested User List.” Also known as the “SUL.”

But the other day I heard Tony Robbins give a great speech at the Twitter Conference (the recording will be up soon, I hear, it will be a must watch) but he pointed out that looking at the world that way is destructive.

So, I went back to a talk that Jim Fawcette gave at one of our offsites back in the 1990s (he ran the magazine company that gave me my first job out of college). In that slide deck he pointed out that there were two kinds of people: those who viewed a half-full cup as half empty and those who looked at it as half full.

For most of 2009 I’ve been the half empty kind of guy when it came to the SUL.

Today, I thought I’d turn it around and look at it as half full.

First, lots of people are asking what the Suggested User List (aka SUL) is. That’s Twitter’s list of people it recommends to new users when they sign up for Twitter. Here’s Twitter’s own blog about what the list is and what it’s supposed to do and how it’s chosen (I don’t believe that the definition is given is right, but we’ll go with it). It has a few hundred people on it. How can you tell someone is on the Suggested User List? Well, if they have more than 150,000 followers they almost certainly are on the SUL because that’s the only way I’ve seen someone legitimately get that many followers. Oprah being the most famous example.

So, last night, I took a different tactic — a glass is half full one — where I went looking for really cool people who are NOT on the suggested user list. I Twittered a bunch, here’s the list, hope this helps you find some more people to follow. Please do share your own list in comments here, or on your own Twitter account.

These are in no particular order. Hope you enjoy!

Twitter’s founders @ev (Evan Williams, Twitter’s CEO and cofounder) @biz (Biz Stone, Twitter’s CEO) ARE ON the SUL (you can tell, they have more than a million followers). @dom (Dom Sagolla, Twitter co-creator and author of @thebook and co-founder of iPhone Dev Camp) is not (he was the eighth user of Twitter and one of the original team). @noah was one of two guys who came up with the idea, as the story goes, for Twitter and even he isn’t on the Suggested User List.

CNN’s @AmanpourCNN (Christiane Amanpour) is the best journalist on CNN and she can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List.

@OndiTimoner (Ondi Timoner) is the only movie director to win the Sundance Film Festival TWICE and she can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List (her movie “We Live in Public” is an awesome movie about the New York Internet Scene in the late 1990s and what happens when one group of people decides to live online 24/7).

@zefrank (Ze Frank) is funnier than anyone on the SUL but still isn’t on it. His videos on Time.com are must watch videos!

@Pierre (Pierre Omidyar) started eBay but can’t get into the Twitter Suggested User List. Of course Steve Case @stevecase started AOL but he can’t get on either (and he even gave a talk at Twitter’s headquarters a couple of weeks ago).

@OSTRICK (Marc Ostrick) did Obama’s campaign video and can’t get on the SUL.

@Zephoria (danah boyd, social media scholar) isn’t on it and she’s keynoting @sxsw next year that’s where Twitter got hot. Heck, @missrogue (Tara Hunt) wrote a book on how companies can increase their Whuffie and she isn’t on it.

You can write lyrics for the Grateful Dead, like @johnperrybarlow did (he also co-founded EFF), but that won’t get you on the SUL.

@paulocoelho (Paulo Coelho) wrote some of the most popular (and best) books ever and can’t get on Twitter’s SUL.

You can run camera for NBC at the White House, be on first-name basis with Obama, like @newmediajim (Jim Long) does, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can blog under government oppression like Isaac Mao does in China @isaac but that won’t get you on the SUL.

@IBMResearch invented the hard drive (among other things) and can’t get on Twitter’s SUL.

You can start Creative Commons like @lessig (Larry Lessig) did (he also argued a case in front of the US Supreme Court), but that won’t get you on the SUL.

@liamcasey (Liam Casey) makes lots of stuff you use in his supply chain company in China (you would be shocked), but isn’t on the SUL.

You can teach and make one of the most popular web 2.0/social media videos of all time (watched more than 10 million times), like @mwesch (Michael Wesch) did, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

There is 100x more smarts at MIT’s @medialab than most other places but they can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List.

My favorite recommendation site @yelp finds me lots of great places to eat but can’t get on Twitter’s SUL.

The coolest blog in the world @BoingBoing can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List, but then neither can @Lifehacker.

Every geek who uses @GogoInflight raves about it (wifi in airplanes) but they can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List.

@mattcutts (Matt Cutts) is Google’s best blogger and even he can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List.

@rsarver (Ryan Sarver) runs Twitter’s API team and he can’t get on Twitter’s Suggested User List but at least he probably has lots of Twitter stock options to make up for it.

You can run the Rhode Island School of Design like @johnmaeda (John Maeda) does but that won’t get you on the SUL.

@bramcohen invented Bittorrent and he can’t get on the SUL. @mcuban owns Dallas Mavericks and HDNet and can’t get on.

@scottgu (Scott Guthrie), who runs developer tools at Microsoft and is one of the smartest people I interviewed while I worked there, is not on the SUL.

Tim Bray, who is one of the authors of XML, is not on the SUL.

You can create Ask a Ninja like @kentnichols but the Ninjas can’t beat their way onto the SUL.

You can be a grammy nominated musician, like Peter Himmelman @furiousworld (great show, by the way to watch on Tuesday nights) but you won’t get on the SUL.

You can be a former rock star turned physicist who works at CERN and now is a famous face on the BBC, like Brian Cox @profBrianCox, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be President at the world’s largest hosting company, Rackspace, like Lew Moorman is @lewmoorman, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can know more people in the tech industry than anyone else, like Buzz Bruggeman, @buzzmodo, CEO of Activewords does, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be CEO of a big and important technology research firm, like George Colony @gcolony is of Forrester Research but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be the chief marketing officer of one of the largest retailers in the world, like Barry Judge, @BestBuyCMO, CMO for BestBuy, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can publish Global Voices online, one of the most important blogs I read like @EthanZ (Ethan Zuckerman) and @Rmack (Rebecca MacKinnon) do but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be a Republican Congressman from Texas who does videos from the floor of the House of Representatives, like John Culberson @johnculberson does, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be a conference where Bill Gates releases mosquitos, like @tedtalks did, on stage, but that doesn’t mean you will get on the SUL.

You can invent the wiki like @WardCunningham (Ward Cunningham) did but you won’t get on the SUL.

You can invent a lot of what made blogging possible, like Dave Winer @davewiner did, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can invest in Twitter, like Fred Wilson @fredwilson did, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can say Office and RSS and Comments are dead, like Steve Gillmor @stevegillmor has over the years, but that won’t get you on the SUL. Maybe the SUL is trying to tell Gillmor something? :-)

You can draw funny little cartoons on the backs of business cards, like Hugh Macleod @gapingvoid does (he also did the SXSW bags last year, and all the Techcrunch posters, among other things) but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be one of the best-known people in Tel Aviv, Israel, like Orli Yakuel @Orli is, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be one of Silicon Valley’s best and nicest investors, like Jeff Clavier is @jeff, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can run the Demo conference for more than 10 years, like Chris Shipley @cshipley did, where tons of famous companies have launched, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can say markets are conversations and co-write one of the most important business books of the past 20 years like Doc Searls @dsearls did but the SUL won’t let you onto it.

You can come up with the commercial web browser and do lots of other interesting things in technology but that won’t get Marc Andreessen @pmarcablog into the SUL.

You can hire three people to help you Tweet, like Guy Kawasaki @guykawasaki does (he has the most organically-grown Twitter followers that I know of), but that won’t help you get onto the SUL.

You can be the one who gets Scoble on FriendFeed, like Louis Gray is (and continues to find cool new social media startups before I do) @louisgray but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be a great photographer like Chase Jarvis @chasejarvis (who also has the coolest iPhone photo app out, released this week), Kris Krug @kk, or Thomas Hawk @thomashawk are, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be ultra cool robot maker @bre (Bre Petis) but you can’t get on the SUL (he founded MakerBot, which makes robots that make things). Neither can the smart people at @carnegiemellon (Carnegie Mellon University, which has one of the best robotics departments in the world).

You can teach everyone to make a mean cocktail like @drinkboy (Robert Hess) does (he also owns the Museum of the American Cocktail) but he can’t get on the SUL. He also is one of the smartest people at Microsoft and his team makes and evangelizes lots of bleeding-edge developer-focused stuff.

You can invent the spreadsheet, and co-found VisiCalc like @BobFrankston (Bob Frankston) and @danb (Dan Bricklin) did but you can’t get on the SUL.

Want a tour of Alcatraz? @rangercraig (Craig Glassner) does that every day to tons of tourists but can’t get on the SUL. He should lock Twitter co-founder @biz (Biz Stone) up! :-)

I blame Drew’s cancer that @drew (Drew Olanoff) isn’t on the SUL (he recently learned he had cancer and instead of letting cancer win, has started a movement with the hashtag #blamedrewscancer and has raised tons of money and awareness for organizations fighting cancer.

The @gatesfoundation (Bill and Melinda Gates and team) is making millions of people’s lives better but can’t get onto the SUL. Neither can most other charities/nonprofits.

If @facebook (Twitter’s top competitor, according to @ev Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter) got on Twitter’s SUL that would be funny! But imagine a world where Twitter gets that confident!

You can be a “sir” and one of the best speakers ever like @SirKenRobinson (Ken Robinson) but he can’t get on the SUL. (Look for his videos on Google, I especially like the one about how schools kill creativity).

The best writer at Fast Company magazine @ellmcgirt (Ellen McGirt, who has done cover articles on tons of interesting executives and causes) can’t get on the SUL.

He might be a key player in the HTML 5.0 spec, but @diveintomark (Mark Pilgrim) isn’t on the SUL.

Bob Cringely @cringely was one of first Apple employees, works for PBS, is one of smartest people I know, is building moon rockets, and can’t get on SUL.

Patrick Scoble @pscoble (Patrick Scoble) is my son and can’t get on the SUL, neither can my wife, @maryamie (Maryam Scoble).

@euan (Euan Semple) who worked in a senior position for the BBC is not on the SUL. Nor @charleneli or @jowyang who are great social media analysts.

Everyone I know in tech industry reads @techmeme but that can’t get onto the SUL (great tech news from blogs). Of course, the guy who invented Techmeme, Gabe Rivera @gaberivera, can’t get on the SUL either.

@Sequoia_Capital has more money than @god but can’t get on SUL. Neither can any other VC I can find.

This guy @tedr (Ted Rheingold) steps in dog poop so you don’t have to (he runs Dogster.com, which is very popular with dog owners) but can’t get on SUL.

Running Salesforce.com and getting the world to believe in cloud computing won’t get @MarcBenioff (Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com’s CEO) on the SUL.

If you read the “TwitterGate” papers that @techcrunch published you probably understand why @marissamayer (Marissa Mayer, Google VP) isn’t on the SUL. (The TwitterGate papers revealed that the Twitter team didn’t like her approach with them). Oh, and TechCrunch got kicked off of the SUL shortly after these were published and @arrington, who founded TechCrunch, has never been on the SUL.

Neither is @myspace.

@megnut (Meg Hourihan) was one of the cofounders of Blogger with @ev and she can’t get on the SUL. Neither can @LisaStone (LIsaStone) one of Blogher cofounders (famous blog and conference for women). In fact, none of the BlogHer cofounders, including @jorydj (Jory Des Jardins) and @ElisaC (Elisa Camahort) are on the SUL.

You can, like Shel Israel @shelisrael, co-author a book with me, write one of the best books about Twitter (Twitterville) and still not get on the SUL.

@kodakCB (Kodak’s chief blogger, Jennifer Cisney) has a better video camera (the Zi8) than the Flip and @stevegarfield (video blogging expert Steve Garfield) says so but neither can get on the SUL.

One of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley @tseelig (Tina Seelig) who runs entrepreneur program at Stanford University isn’t on the SUL.

@apatzer (Aaron Patzer) won techcrunch conference award two years ago and sold Mint.com for a Mint but can’t buy his way onto SUL.

MySpace might have just synced up with Twitter but @danidudeck who runs PR at MySpace isn’t on the SUL.

You can start Europe’s coolest music app (will be huge here too) called Spotify like Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) did but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can be a great designer, even one who works at Twitter, like @stop (Douglas Bowman) or one who doesn’t @veen (Jeffrey Veen) @zeldman (Jeffrey Zeldman) or @AvantGame (Jane McGonigal) but they can’t get on the SUL.

Some people believe Twitter is killing @googlereader but it cant get on the SUL. @bing is not Google and also isn’t SUL.

You can be the one who really made Twitter popular, like @leolaporte Leo Laporte did, but talking on his technology radio shows and on his podcast network about Twitter (which made it popular at @sxsw in 2007) but that won’t get you on the SUL.

@CERN started the web, might discover the meaning of life, or destroy the earth, depending on who you believe and is not on the SUL.

The NYTimes Tech team @nytimestech isn’t on the SUL. Neither is @huffingtonpost or @ariannahuff (very lame not to have them on it, after all, they have a seat at the White House but don’t have a slot on the SUL).

@nicknotned (Nick Denton) started Gawker, one of the most successful blog companies around, and he’s not on the SUL.

Hah @Microsoft isn’t on the SUL. But @Google is. @Yahoo ? Nope. @Oracle? Nope. @apple (doesn’t even Tweet!) @dell ? Nope. @hpnews ?Nope.

You can write the best gadget blogs in the business but you can’t get on the SUL: @engadget @gdgt @gizmodo @gearlive

@savitz (Eric Savitz) covers tech for Barrons and isn’t on SUL.

You can be CTO of Amazon like @werner (Werner Voegels) is but that won’t get you on the SUL.

The geeky and good @hackernewsbot (my favorite geek news after @techcrunch and @techmeme) isn’t on the SUL.

A great follow @MichaelHyatt (Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers) publishes more bibles than anyone and he can’t get on the SUL. @god isn’t either. @RickWarren (Rick Warren, who runs one of USA’s biggest independent churches, and did Obama’s innvocation) isn’t either.

You can start one of the top three most popular websites, like Craig Newmark @craignewmark, did (Craig’s List) but that won’t get you onto the SUL.

You can sell more than five million records as a rapper, like @Chamillionaire has, but that won’t get you on the SUL.

You can start Apple, be one of the only people alive on earth who has designed and built their own computer from scratch, not to mention be a damn nice guy, like Steve Wozniak is @stevewoz, but you won’t get onto the SUL.

Anyway, I could keep going. There are hundreds of thousands of interesting people who aren’t on the SUL. I personally wish that Twitter would just get rid of it.

It is causing Twitter’s engagement scores to go down and I believe that this has been one of the reasons that Twitter’s usage scores have started to go down.

See, if you slap your community in the face with something that isn’t merit based then people lose interest in your service and go elsewhere.

How to fix this? Get rid of the list altogether. Turn off follower counts for everyone and come up with a new “engagement score” that is more focused on how you use Twitter and how people engage with you. That’s more important anyway than how many followers you have, especially since so many followers are lurkers at best or bots and spammers at worst.

It’s time to change the game Twitter. Or leave the door open to Facebook.

Oh, and only one person I know of has turned down being on the Suggested User List. That’s NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen.

Update: my real “SUL” (Scoble’s User List) is the 3,267 people/brands/objects I’m following (which include all these stars and many other innovative people). Follow me @scobleizer and then troll through the list of people I’m following.

PR people: 10 ways to screw up @techcrunch’s embargo policy

TechCrunch is famous for not accepting PR people’s embargoes.

I’m always shocked that PR people care in any way about this, because there are so many ways to force TechCrunch (and anyone, really) to abide by embargoes. Here’s my favorite ways:

1. Copy Evan Williams (CEO/Co-founder of Twitter). Twitter didn’t launch in a tech blog. Or, if it did, it didn’t matter. I didn’t hear about it from any of the tech blogs. Ev, yesterday, even said that if he launched at Demo or TechCrunch that the judges would probably have panned it. So, how did they launch? They handed it out to friends and let their friends evangelize it. I remember first hearing about it from Eddie Codel. Face-to-face. No PR needed. No embargo needed. No “launch date” needed. I remember hearing about Qik from a friend of the company in an Apple store on a Saturday night. Same thing.

2. Brute force. Hire 10 PR people, call 10 journalists/bloggers at the same time and brief all of them at the same time. You really only need 10 people to launch a huge amount of coverage anyway.

3. Take Arrington’s own advice. He left this one in the comments on his post. Release it to everyone on your own corporate blog and then email everyone and say “take a look.”

4. Release the news in a press conference. This is how I learned of Google’s Open Social. I was in that press conference with Arrington. The embargo ended during the conference. We both had posts up in less than 20 minutes (and I was using Qik to live broadcast it).

5. Just give the exclusive to TechCrunch. Heck, that’s what most PR people do nowadays. It won’t bother us.

6. Promise bloggers a special feature that they will get to talk about first if they keep their mouths shut. Yelp did just something like this with me. They put a cool augmented reality easter egg into the product. So, after everyone else had talked about the app I was able to share with everyone something exclusive. It got covered in every single tech blog too, which gave Yelp a double dose of coverage.

7. Promise Arrington that if he keeps the embargo he’ll get an exclusive interview. This works especially well if you are Google or Facebook. But, if you are an interesting company, like, say, Gowalla, I’m sure there’s something you can offer TechCrunch that they’d be interested in over and above the news of your new iPhone app.

8. Donate $1,000 to a charity if Arrington keeps his mouth shut (will cost you maybe $5,000 to keep a few big bloggers in line). Make it public. That way he’ll look like a loser if one of his writers breaks wind first.

9. Sponsor a party at TechCrunch’s headquarters. That way if the news leaks it’ll look bad if TechCrunch doesn’t cover it. We did that with Building43, luckily the other writers stuck with their embargoes and everything worked out, but if it hadn’t you’d still have the launch party to get news.

10. Launch at a conference that all the tech writers from all the different blogs and publications like and will cover anyway, like LeWeb or Web 2.0 Summit/Expo.

What are some other ways you can mess with Arrington’s embargo policy? And how come so few PR people are writing about creative ways to deal with TechCrunch’s policy? (If you come up with some good ones, link to them in my comments).

UPDATE: since one of these really was just giving up, I’ll give you an 11th one. 11. go to a place a lot of Twitterers and bloggers hang out (like the Twitter Conference that ended today) and tell everyone you like the news and see how it leaks out. I did that with my news about leaving Microsoft and told probably 10 to 15 people. I told them on a Saturday and asked them to keep it quiet until Tuesday. Well, of course the news leaked, but not the way you’d think. A guy I didn’t even know leaked the news first and then we were off to the races. Within 72 hours Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR agency, told me I had gotten millions of media impressions with hundreds of articles and blogs.

Antifeatures: big mistake that location app developers make

This week I got a press release from Gowalla. It went on and on about how much better its feature set was than Foursquare, a point of view backed up by one of my favorite tech writers, Zee, so I gave it a second chance.

Why did they claim it was better?

Because their app forces users to use the GPS in their phone to check in. Foursquare does not, the press release says. That is all true.

If you read that you’d think that Gowalla was going to run away with the prize, right?

But, sorry, it won’t work out that way.

Here’s why. This “feature” is actually an anti-feature.

“What in heck’s name are you talking about Scoble?”

Well, they didn’t do their homework. On the Gillmor Gang last week Kevin Marks of British Telecom nailed it. He told us that people are freaked out by location-based applications.

Every time I show these apps to people they invariably respond with freaked out replies like “I would never use this.” Or, “stalkers would love these.” Or “something nasty is going to happen to someone because of these.”

This is a completely different response than those who I first showed, say, Twitter too. They responded merely with “that’s lame.”

You can get over being lame. You can’t get over your potential users being freaked out.

So, here’s why this is an antifeature for these apps, and probably lots of location apps (let’s talk about how Twitter is handling location troubles later):

1. Both of these apps are location games. You check in. You get virtual points. Your friends know where you are. This freaks people out. But only one app FORCES you to tell people exactly where you are when you check in: Gowalla. This is going to turn off a lot of people, plus it makes checking in a LOT harder. While staying in Sequoia Hospital I was able to check in with Foursquare, but not Gowalla (because my GPS didn’t work inside Sequoia).
2. Most people, when they play location games, want to add some “fuzziness” to their location. For instance, I am at home right now. The closest address to me is the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay (I’m walking distance away from it). On Foursquare I check in there. Which lets me “win” mayorship of the Ritz, plus it lets me add some fuzziness to my actual location. On Gowalla it forces me to check in at my real address, if I want to let my friends know I’m in the neighborhood. My friend Luke, who lives nearby, could use this to know when I’m home and available for going surfing, for instance.
This makes Gowalla considerably less fun, too. One part of a location-based game is presenting people as you’d like others to see you. It’s a lot more interesting to check in at the Ritz every night than my actual home address, which, to tell you the truth, I’d be a little freaked out to report to everyone (and if I’m freaked out, imagine how freaked out the average user is).
3. These two games have two significant challenges and Gowalla’s approach will cripple them in both. The challenges? 1. Get users. 2. Get those users to add locations.
Why are those challenges? Well, if you are a normal user, try to use these systems, and you try it in your home town and no locations are there, you get pissed off and leave. Even I behaved this way, ignoring Foursquare until just recently, despite it being hot at SXSW with lots of my friends. I checked in this afternoon at Rite Aid, a pharmacy in Half Moon Bay. Both systems didn’t have that location. I added it, but adding it in Foursquare had fewer screens. Why? Because of the GPS requirement. And, Foursquare has a LOT more users. Why do I think that is? Partly because it was out earlier, but also partly because it is, well, more fun to play because it doesn’t require exact use of the GPS. The people I’ve shown both systems to tell me they are more likely to join Foursquare. Oh, and I got a nicer reward for adding a new place into Foursquare than Gowalla, which made Foursquare more fun and made it more likely I’ll add the other weird places in my town.

The more I look at it, the more I’m convinced that the strict use of the GPS in Gowalla makes it significantly less likely to gain users than Foursquare will get.

That’s why I call this feature an “antifeature.”

Now, I do admit that there will be disagreement with me. Zee, for instance, thinks that Gowalla is hot because of this feature. I think he’s misjudged it and time will tell who is right.

Oh, as to Twitter, did you see how they added “fuzziness” into the location? They are deleting location information after 15 days.

Twitter is also making the system opt in. User control is very important in getting users over their fears of revealing their location. Most users are freaked out by these features, so user control and fuzziness are the two most dominant and needed features.

What do you think?

The real-time baby (what this means for media absorption)

If you were following my Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, or Flickr feeds you know by now that we had a baby on Saturday night.

Tonight, over on my Posterous blog, I asked the industry to give me curation tools so that I can tell you what I’m seeing on my screen and give you one place to find it all. So far the industry has ignored that.

But on Saturday night I tried to use as many tools as possible to bring you along on an event important to me. All in real time. What I learned was telling.

First, came email. That’s how we let our family know the event was close. What did I say in that email? “Watch Twitter.” Why email? Because most of my family and friends still like email the best for getting notified of things. They don’t get Twitter and FriendFeed. Some have gotten Facebook, though, but there I never know if people are seeing my most important updates, so we stayed away from that at first.

Anyway, I also checked in on Google Latitude, Gowalla, and FourSquare so that people would know we were at the hospital (I even Tweeted that, so people would know I was playing around). Mostly we did that for our social media friends. Our real life family and friends have no idea what those are and don’t use them yet. I did get a couple of surprised text messages from friends after checking in at FourSquare, saying they hoped things were going OK (they hadn’t seen our Tweets saying we were having a baby). Soon I had sent a message to FriendFeed and Twitter letting everyone know where I’d keep them up to date (I used FriendFeed for this, which pushed a single message over to Twitter — I knew that if I used Twitter too much I’d piss off a lot of my audience that really didn’t care that I was having a baby).

Which brings me to a point. Very few of my friends (even professional types) read Twitter all the time. A lot of people found out only today that we had a baby, even though our baby’s birth was retweeted hundreds of times on Sunday and by lots of people with fairly large audiences.

That’s the first lesson: even though you probably are getting sick and tired of hearing about something, like Michael Jackson’s death, which was retweeted by nearly every single one of my friends within the first 10 minutes of the news hitting (that’s what it seemed like anyway) the reality is that most of your friends haven’t even heard the news yet.

My brother Ben, for instance, didn’t hear the news until I called him because he was sick and wasn’t on his computer so didn’t get my email.

Which is the second lesson for media absorption: some people just are not reachable through modern media. If you want to reach those people you’ll have to do door-to-door knocking or calling campaigns. That’s why we got so many political phone calls last year.

Anyway, as the evening went on I’d occassionally Tweet. Things like “Ryan is playing games with us” or “baby’s arrival is tonight at earliest.”

Those Tweets traveled from Twitter to FriendFeed and over to a box on my blog. So anyone visiting one of those areas would know. I also let my Facebook friends know that a baby was on the way. That made sure I got as many people to know something was about to happen as possible.

Lesson three: get your message as much distribution as possible. Some of my friends only hang out on Facebook. If you don’t let them know, your message will arrive to them slower (it will still get there, due to people retweeting and such, but why make it hard?)

Anyway, as the evening wore on, things started to speed up. I tweeted about the drugs being better here than at Stanford (by the way, Sequoia is a WAY BETTER PLACE TO HAVE A BABY than Stanford is — our second son was born at Stanford and we can tell you lengthy stories about how much better the experience is here at Sequoia. Don’t believe me? Yelp backs us up).

Over the next couple of hours I tweeted “getting ready for C-section” and within minutes: “Gotta run, little Ryan is coming soon.

The big event was here. The doctors put me out in a hallway to wait while Maryam was prepared for surgery. It let me slow down, catch my breath, and I was able to use my iPhone to capture an image and post that up.

On my screen I could see how people were reacting to the images around the world. This was a big change from when Milan was born, two years ago (we tweeted his birth and posted photos too, but back then the real time web wasn’t so real time).

Anyway, in the surgery room I used mostly my 5D MKII. Mostly to make images for just Maryam and me. I wanted the first images to be high-quality, so I used my SLR. Luckily for this Maryam was almost asleep most of the time so I could watch the proceedure (the doctors watching me nervously because they know many guys faint at the sight of surgery — they had a screen up so that they could keep me from looking if they had to). Maryam forbade me from publishing in public any of these images. We had reached our privacy line, but I did make the images anyway — that’s the journalist training in me from photojournalism classes.

Soon little Ryan Soroush Scoble was out and crying and here I switched briefly to an iPhone, so I could get an image up right away to family. One family friend of Maryam’s told us today that it was incredible being able to watch in real time what was going on.

Over the first hour we gave little Ryan a bath, watched as he got his first clothes, first few checkups, etc. While Maryam and Ryan hung out together for the first time I had some time to upload those to Flickr and get out another email to family and friends.

Why didn’t I use Qik or Kyte? I’ve found those live video services don’t have enough quality, nor enough reliability, for what I wanted to do. Recording a video on my iPhone and uploading it to Flickr gives a lot better quality — yeah, Qik would have been real time, but it would have been a lot fuzzier. Funny enough I was expecting to use YouTube for that, but the iPhone uploader to YouTube totally sucks and failed on me three times, even for a short video. Apple needs to fix that. Luckily I had the new Flickr app on my iPhone and it worked for uploading the first time.

Also I wanted to choose the moments that get broadcast and Qik really is an all or nothing choice.

By the way, if you do this yourself, don’t forget to make an audio recording of the first cry. I did that just by using the audio recording feature on my iPhone and then I uploaded it via email to FriendFeed.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed sharing these moments with us.