Foursquare: will it be bigger than Twitter?

Go back three years ago. Twitter was being used by the same crowd that is playing with Foursquare today.

What is Foursquare? It’s a location game. When I visit somewhere, like Sequoia Hospital, where I’m hanging out with Maryam (we’re having a baby sometime in the next 24 hours) I check in on Foursquare.

What does that do? It gives me points and lets other people know where I am.

It sounds really lame, doesn’t it? But didn’t Twitter sound really lame to you when someone first told you about it?

It’s not lame.

Already I’ve met people because of the game and it’s weirdly fun.

The game gives you points for doing various checkins. If you do a lot of checkins everyday you get more points. You also get badges (which are sort of like achievements on Xbox games) for doing various things. For instance, I checked in so much at the Half Moon Bay Ritz that I became the Mayor of that location. It’s a lot of fun and great bragging rights.

Yeah, still sounds lame, huh?

But I think this lame little location game is going to be bigger than Twitter.

Why? Because eventually businesses will learn that this is an even better way to engage with customers than Twitter is.

Why? Because when you know your customers location the way this game is going to let you know you can really do some wild offers. Plus, I bet that they add in their own Twitter-style feature that will let people talk with each other.

I wonder if Twitter will build in its own version of Foursquare into Twitter? So far Twitter hasn’t built in any location-based services (other than to add in a new API which has yet to be turned on in any real way) so who knows?

Either way, this thing is growing remarkably quickly, just like Twitter did back in 2006. Now that Foursquare has funding, too, I expect to see more cities and more features turned on.

Why is Foursquare more useful than, say, Google’s Latitude? Well, you choose the moments and places you check into. With Latitude, if you leave it on and head to, say, an adult establishment, everyone will know. With Foursquare no one would know, unless you clicked checkin on your phone.

What about competitors, like Gowalla? I’ve been playing with Gowalla too and it doesn’t have the gameplay yet, which I’ve found is critical to getting me to use Foursquare. It also doesn’t have either the community (I already have about 1,000 early-adopter friends on Foursquare, but only a handful of friends on Gowalla) or the business listings that Foursquare has (every place I’ve visited today was easier to find on Foursquare than on Gowalla).

The really scary thing is how FourSquare could become a much better Yelp than Yelp. Or will know more about me than even Facebook. Think about what the stores and places you go says about you! Think about the advertising Starbucks could do with you if it knows you go into a competitor for coffee every morning at about 8 a.m.!

I see all sorts of things that can come out of this little “lame” game. Twitter better watch out. I give Foursquare 400 more days before it is on Oprah.

How about you?

Our online lives slowly leak away

I just looked at the baby photos of Milan being born. Back then we did something pretty cool with a service called “Twittergram.” We recorded his first cry. But now Twittergram seems to have gone away and with it, our baby’s first cry. That was only two years ago. You can see the link there, but it doesn’t work.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed things online disappearing over time. My first two years of blogging are gone. Some of that was backed up by the wayback machine.

I’ve seen other people’s blogs, or other online items go away too. Hey, quick, find some of your Tweets from just four months ago. They are all still online, but you probably can’t find them. Me neither.

Or, wait until you are hacked and don’t have a backup, like happened with me. I love the folks who say “you should have backed up.” How do you back up everything you do online? You can’t. Quick, back up all your Google Docs, your Tweets, your Flickr photos and all the metadata surrounding them (comments, tags, etc), your Facebook items, etc etc. You will die trying.

I know, I’ve been backing up like a crazy man lately since I got hacked. What’s funny is one of my brand new hard drives died. Luckily I had a backup of that. But what if I didn’t?

What if my house burned down tonight? I wouldn’t be able to save everything. Heck, I’d be worried about getting my family out and screw the hard drives.

So our online lives leak away.

It gets worse after you die.

You think your family will be able to save your Flickr photos? Not if you don’t give them your passwords. Here’s why: they won’t be able to find them.

I let my Flickr Pro account lapse cause I was too lazy to put in a new credit card. I couldn’t even find my old photos. Why? Because Flickr’s search only shows the last few photos and they turn off the calendar and all sorts of things if you stop paying for the pro account. Yowza.

Reminds me of an interview I had with Jeremy Toeman who built a new company called Legacy Locker. But now we need to put enough cash in there to keep Flickr accounts paid up so my sons will be able to see their photos after I die.

Some best practices I’ve learned:

1. If you care that it stays around, use services from big companies. Google will probably stick around for a while. Twittergram? Gone.

2. Put your stuff in multiple places. Why? Because maybe Yahoo will decide to turn off the Flickr service in 10 years. So, make sure your photos go to other services.

3. Back up what you can, but that won’t help long term. Quick, if your dad handed you a hard drive with 10,000 photos would you be able to find anything on there? What if you got that hard drive in 30 years? Would you be able to even look at what’s on it? Remember, when I was in college my entire life was on floppy disks. I can’t even read those now.

4. Print out stuff that you really want to save. I still have my trunk of photos from my childhood, but lots of my photos taken digitally over the years are gone or hard to find.

5. Use services like Legacy Locker to ensure that your kids at least will have your passwords and rights to your stuff and accounts.

Any other “best practices?”

Helping businesses get into the 2010 web

It’s been a while since I’ve talked much about building43. Heck, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged that much! But we’ve been busy over on building43 helping businesses get into the modern world.

It really pisses me off when I try to find a business on Google and they don’t even have a web site. That’s just not excusable anymore in today’s business world. But it also gets me sad when I see businesses that haven’t improved their sites beyond 1994. If your site was last updated with Microsoft FrontPage you aren’t keeping up.

Here’s some of the videos over on building43 and how they help businesses.

Zoho shows off their customer relationship management suite and talk about how they are going to eat away at Microsoft’s dominance, even as Microsoft releases Office 2010.

Brian Alvey, the geek who built Engadget’s back end, is now building a new content management system aimed at professional bloggers and publishing houses. He comes onto building43 to talk about the modern world of publishing and what he sees them need.

Yelp is getting millions of new users every month who are searching for businesses. So we took our cameras to Yelp to understand what’s going on there and how businesses should engage with users there.

Speaking of Yelp, we visited a new restaurant that’s just nine months old and already has almost 300 reviews on Yelp. So, we visited Phat Philly Cheesesteaks to understand how they did it. Tons of tips for businesses on how to handle angry customers and encourage love from the happy ones.

You’ve heard the hype behind Twitter (lots of it from me) so we head to Boulder, Colorado, to find out how a Sushi Restaurant, Hapa Sushi Grill and Sake Bar, is using Twitter to engage with customers.

We visited Facebook to find out how they view business using their service.

But there’s tons of other stuff including videos from Guy Kawasaki’s Revenue Bootcamp and these articles:

Too small to fail: startups can grow in recessions, by Jason Cohen.
Why social media … even if you don’t want to, by Jason Cohen.
ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick explains to Michelle Greer about managing social media.

And many others.

People often ask me how to help with building43 as we turn this into a real community of people who are helping other businesses get into the modern world. Just visit our contributor page where we explain how to get involved.

The unknown story behind CitySourced

Yesterday afternoon I visited a startup, CitySourced, that is so new that they haven’t even bought any chairs yet. So we sat on the floor. Me. Kurt Daradics, co-founder. And David Kralik.

You probably know that CitySourced almost won TC50 (they came in second and today Sarah Lacy called them out as one of the few companies she saw that was trying to change the world). You’ve probably seen the boatload of press that came from that.

You probably know that CitySourced was one of the few companies to actually bring a customer on stage (a councilman from San Jose, CA, one of the largest cities in California and centerspot in Silicon Valley).

You probably know that Kralik worked for Newt Gingrich on a bunch of eGovernment initiatives (I’ve interviewed him before for Fast Company).

But what didn’t you know?

I bet you didn’t know that their product didn’t exist five weeks ago.

I bet you didn’t know that they had less than $100,000 in investment.

I bet that you didn’t know that about a week ago they thought they had been turned down for TC50 and that they would have to decide whether to be in the Demo Pit.

It’s an amazing story and more will be told when we get the video up on building43 in a couple of weeks.

What did they make? Something very simple. It’s an iPhone app where you can report things that are wrong in your city. But there’s more to the story than that.

How big a company can they be? Well, let’s say they get even a few percent of Americans using the app. Imagine all the candidates who will want to advertise there, or study the data for new ways to win. Imagine a screen that says “so and so isn’t going to fix your potholes in your street, but I will.” I’d give that girl or guy my vote!

CitySourced is an amazing story that’s just getting started. Wait until you hear their tips for winning TC. I love stories of how a few people get together with very little investment and try to change the world. Anyone else?

Running the numbers: why Gist should have launched at TC50

Gist is one of my favorite new companies to launch its product for the first time this week. They decided not to launch at TC50, the big conference this week. That’s cool, they’ve actually had a great week and their servers are being pushed hard. Gist’s CTO Steve Newman bragged that he’s seeing 380,000 Twitter handles come through the service. Very nice. I don’t have 380,000 Twitter handles and I’ve been doing this a lot longer.

I know one PR guy who I won’t name who told me he advises clients to launch somewhere else. That’s probably why OpenTable and Aardvark all launched stuff this week, but not on stage at TC50.

Now in OpenTable and Aardvark’s case, they might not have been chosen because they were already shipping. But Gist hadn’t yet been shipping to the public and I’m pretty sure they could have made a case that they should be on stage. I’m pretty sure that if Gist had launched at TC50 that they would have been in the final five at least and possibly been the winner.

So, what did they turn down by not launching at TC50?

The $50,000 prize.
The free advertising giveaway.

Yeah, but those don’t really matter to a great company. Amazon and Google got where they are by not doing advertising at all, remember? At least in the early years. And the money? Won’t really matter in the long run, although it’s nice to pay six months of some engineer’s salary to help get to the next level.

What were the intangibles?

At one point when I was on stage I asked how many people in the audience (of more than 1,000 people) had more than 200 followers? A lot of hands went up. One guy came up to me afterward and said he had 25,000 followers and had gotten them all organically and that they were all great people, not bots or spammers.

On the video stream more than 30,000 people watched at least part of the first day. Since then MANY MANY more times that number have watched at least one of the sessions.

And every company was covered on TechCrunch. I’ve heard that at least 20 people read that blog. Seriously. How about millions of people? Note that they didn’t cover Gist’s launch this week, while other blogs like Mashable and VentureBeat did.

So, by not being at TC50 they turned down a LOT of free exposure. I think that’s a mistake. It’s an even worse mistake because next week the Demo Conference will be here and lots of mainstream press and VCs and influentials are in that audience.

But, I’m sure some PR team is slapping themselves on the back and congratulating themselves on a good launch. Congratulations.

The thing is, you could have had an extraordinary launch.

OK, let’s say you don’t like TechCrunch. Well, there are lots of other events coming where the audiences are very influential. Next week is the Twitter Conference, which should be named “geeks and celebrities talking about audience building in the modern web world.” Have you seen who will show up there? Wow.

Or look at my link of all sorts of tech events. Remember, even an event with 100 people, if they are of guys who have 25,000 followers, will get you a HUGE amount of coverage! Much bigger than if you just talk to a single blog.

Next month is Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters conference. Yet another opportunity to launch. Or in December come to LeWeb.

OK, now tell me why I’m wrong and why Gist was right to stay off the stage at TC50 or Demo. Operators are standing by to handle the hate mail. :-)

UPDATE: One thing, this advice only holds if you have a company that is going to end up in the final five, the way I believe Gist would be. If you were going to be further down the list than that then maybe the PR people had a point. After all, I can remember the winners at TC50, but I have a hard time remembering anyone else. But in Gist’s case, they would have been one of those you would have talked about anyway so they should have gone and collected the check and gotten the exposure.

I have 3,571 tweets that show that Twitter isn't for lunch anymore

In just the last month I’ve really started using Twitter’s favorite feature. I’ve used it 3,571 times so far in just the past month. What is it? Well, I read thousands of tweets every day and I pick my favorite ones and click “favorite” on them. What does that do? It shares them with everyone on Twitter. You can see a page of all my favorites here. Unfortunately you probably will only be able to see the last few hundred, but a new service called favstar.fm is tracking them all and is showing some details.

For instance, you can see who my favorite Twitter users are here.

But what I’m learning goes well beyond that. It tells me that Twitter isn’t lame anymore. Remember those days when Twitter was for telling all your friends you were having a tuna sandwich at Subway in Half Moon Bay?

I do.

Those days are mere memories anymore.

Today Twitter is used for professional networking. Well, OK, and a few of us still use it to tell you where we’re eating for lunch, but those tweets are easy to skip over.

So, what have I learned by reading hundreds of thousands of tweets in the past month and favoriting 3,571?

1. If it moves in the tech industry it moves on Twitter first. I’m very active on Facebook, Google Reader, FriendFeed, and quite a few other services, and, sorry to those services, but stuff moves on Twitter first. If TechCrunch breaks a story I always see it on Twitter first.

2. More executives and influentials are on Twitter and far more are ACCESSIBLE on Twitter. There are lots on Facebook, almost everyone in the industry is, but very few people on Facebook will give you access to what they are writing and sharing.

3. Facebook is increasingly being seen as “for ‘real friends’ and family” or a rolodex of contacts, while Twitter is for telling us what they are working on. In many cases people just import their tweets into their Facebook accounts. (A practice that really bugs me but I’m not going to be able to stop it).

4. Twitter is a better news reader than Google Reader. And a worse one too. Google Reader is awesome if you really limit the number of feeds you follow (and the number of friends). Unfortunately I don’t follow that advice. Google Reader has become useless to me and VERY SLOW. I sure wish the team would use my account and figure out how to make it rocking fast for friend management. It’s gotten so bad I hate even going in there and use Feedly, except for the fact that the world is moving to mobile and Feedly only plays well on desktops with Firefox loaded.

5. Mobile is why Twitter is winning. I have moved probably 80% of my reading over to iPhone. On Facebook, FriendFeed, and Twitter. And I can tell that my favorite Twitterers have done the same. My favorite app? SimplyTweet. I’ve tried them all. Twitterrific. TweetDeck. Tweetie. And many others and SimplyTweet is the best — by far. It never crashes and hasn’t pissed me off once. All the others have. Reading behavior shifting to mobile has DEEP implications for all sorts of startups. If you don’t have a mobile strategy you will fail in this new world. It will be a lot harder to get adoption than if you have an iPhone app (and a Palm Pre one, an Android one, a Blackberry one, etc).

6. A large percentage of great tweets have a link. It’s very hard to say anything useful in 140 characters. Believe me, I’ve tried to spend most of 2009 saying stuff in 140 character bites. It isn’t satisfying most of the time. Long blogging has its place and those who get lots of retweets use long blogs a lot.

7. You only need to follow about 2,000 people to hit about 85% of the tech conversations out there. Why is that? Because of retweeting. Let’s say I didn’t follow Jeremiah Owyang. Let’s say he got an exclusive interview with Steve Jobs. How many minutes would it be before I heard about it? I’ve found usually about 30 seconds. In fact, within 30 minutes you will be sick and tired of hearing about it. Just tonight we had an example when Seesmic released a cool new desktop client. I wanted out I heard about it so much!

8. If you don’t read tweets for eight hours, don’t worry, all the big stuff you missed will be on TechMeme. When I was the first to talk about Yelp’s augmented reality feature on Twitter and on FriendFeed it was quickly blogged by EVERYONE and was on TechMeme within a few minutes and stayed there for about a day. The same is true of ALL news. I have not found an example yet where something important is discussed on Twitter about a tech company or tech news and doesn’t show up on TechMeme within a few hours. What doesn’t show up? Small stuff like birthdays or launches of obscure technology that only a very small audience will use.

9. Pushing Favorites over to FriendFeed via RSS makes them more searchable. I can find all sorts of stuff over on FriendFeed that I can’t find on Twitter. Why? Twitter’s search sucks and only shows you the last few days of results. Looking for something twittered about months ago? I can find it on my account, but you won’t be able to on just Twitter search. It’s not perfect, though. I wish search engines were better and I wish FriendFeed were better at letting me search just Twitter Favorites.

10. There is an 80/20 rule. The best Twitterers are a LOT better at Tweeting than even those just a few notches down. This is why some people get lots of followers on FriendFeed/Facebook/Twitter while others don’t, even after discounting the power of the suggested user lists on those services.

11. There is a LOT of noise on Twitter. It’s true. But that’s why human curation is going to be more and more important and why services like TweetMeme and others (I need to do a post on those) will be more and more important over time. Also, why when I unfollowed everyone that got a lot of discussion going. People are looking for ways to reduce noise in their lives and people and companies that help do that will get attention.

Anyway, I’ve gotta get back to reading tweets. Anything else you’re learning from reading all these tweets?

Oh, and I love that the Wall Street Journal made a case today that Twitter is worth 2.6 billion. I made the case a couple weeks back after reading so many Tweets that Twitter is worth $5 billion. Yesterday it was announced that Twitter raised another round of funding where investors poured in cash at a billion dollar valuation, which means that the investors can see a case for it being worth 10x that. Now you know why Ron Conway, investor in Twitter, was nice to me the other day at TechCrunch50. :-)

RSS=Robert's Stuff is Saved (will it do the same for CNN's Twitter account?)

I’ve been taking lots of bashing for not backing up my blog. I deserved that. Or did I? Several people this weekend have been sending me all the posts that have been deleted. How did they do that, I asked a couple. “RSS,” was the answer. In other words, I had been backing up my blog all along without thinking about it.

“Huh?”

I hurried off to Google Reader, clicked on my folder, and sure enough, there were all my posts.

RSS was automatically backing up my blog to thousands of people’s accounts. Oh, dummy! I’m now rebuilding my posts from those.

This is why I’m excited by another trend I’m seeing happen. RSSCloud. Turns out that WordPress turned on this infrastructure today. Yes, Matt Mullenweg is working on his day off. So is Dave Winer. Geeks! Dave Winer is showing off what happened today on his blog.

Anyway, what is this doing? Well, Dave Winer showed it to me the other day. He’s backing up all my Tweets (here’s my Tweets in XML from today on his server). So, if something goes wrong it’s stored on his server. In a decentralized way. All in real time, or nearly so (at oldest each item is a minute old due to the decentralized ping architecture that RSS Cloud uses, but I’ll let Dave Winer explain more about that.

Now this doesn’t look very important today. But, it’s an interesting building block for a new world where EVERYTHING Tweets.

Don’t believe me that everything will Tweet?

We have buoys in the ocean that Tweet. London’s Tower Bridge Tweets. The US-Canada border crossing Tweets.

Imagine a world where everything Tweets. Now, why do they need to Tweet on Twitter? Aren’t we rebuilding the same world we had in 1993 when lots of us were on CompuServe, Prodigy, or AOL? What came along next? The open web.

So, let’s think about CNN. Why is CNN giving Twitter millions of dollars in free advertising? I keep hearing that we should “follow CNN on Twitter.” Why not “follow CNN’s Tweets at cnn.com/twitter?” Instead of the current “follow CNN on http://twitter.com/cnn.”

Why do we need to care? Well, we’ve already seen what happens when we have a single point of failure: when Twitter is down everything is down. Have you ever seen the entire web go down? I haven’t. Even in high flow events like 9/11, where lots of “professional news sites” were unreachable for a few hours there were lots of other sites with the news that were reachable.

Imagine if emergency resources weren’t available because Twitter’s data center got hit by a huge earthquake? Now you are getting to the core of one of my fears. During the 1989 earthquake KGO Radio went down, but the net stayed up. Centralized resources aren’t the way to go. We saw this when the plane fell into the Hudson, too. We couldn’t get to Janis Krums’ picture, but because his picture was copied by a bunch of different servers we were able to see it other places.

Does CNN serve itself well by not having a backup of its Tweets? No.

Why not?

1. Because right now all the branding power of CNN is being gifted to another brand.
2. Because right now all the Google juice behind twitter.com/cnn is being gifted to another URL that might not be there when CNN needs it to be (during a high-flow event).
3. Because right now Twitter search is inconsistent at best, and doesn’t show Tweets older than a few weeks at worst. So, any useful stuff in CNN’s Twitter account isn’t searchable. If they built their own Twitter they would be able to build their own search that worked the way they wanted it to.
4. Because Twitter has proven that it is perfectly willing to kick accounts off. And sometimes things get hacked. My friend Fred Davis, who is one of the co-founders of Wired Magazine, recently had his Twitter account hacked and had his account closed down. This is why he now Tweets on a vulgar account here. Can CNN or the New York Times afford to let some other organization have that power?
5. Because anything that CNN types into Twitter now becomes subject to Twitter’s Terms of Service. It spells out the potential danger right here: “We reserve the right, in accordance with any applicable laws, to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time.” What happens if Twitter gets bought by Fox News and Rupert Murdoch wants to charge CNN for its Twitter account? This COULD happen. If CNN built its own Twitter on its own servers then that danger would go away.

But, maybe I’m being alarmist. Either way, I’ve learned a lot this weekend of the power of decentralized distribution. My words are safe. Because they were automatically backed up and distributed to thousands of people and their own accounts. Some people used Google Reader. Other people used RSS aggregators that stored my words on their local computers, like FeedDemon.

Now, what’s stopping us from distributing Tweets this way?

Yes, I know of Twistory, which backs up your Tweets. But here’s the rub, it will only back up the last 3,000 Tweets. I’ve already done many times that. Plus, your backup doesn’t help the ecosystem the way that RSS does. You can’t build search on top of the datastore that Twistory does. You can’t distribute your Tweetstore to everyone else who’s interested, at least not easily.

Anyway, now you know that RSS=Robert’s Stuff is Saved. Today, thanks to RSS Cloud, everyone on WordPress will be safe in a whole new way.