The chat room/forum problem (& an apology to @Technosailor)

I’ve been doing online communities for more than 20 years, starting in 1985 when a friend had a BBS. One thing I’ve noticed over and over again is that chat rooms and forums start out fun and then devolve over time for various reasons.

But in 2000 I discovered that blogs had the opposite effect. They got more interesting over time.

Why is that?

I call it the chat room/forum problem and I think I’ve discovered the cause.

See, in a chat room no one is in control. But usually some small group starts one. They are interesting at the start. I remember when a small group of us joined Microsoft’s NetMeeting forum back in 1996. Those were the days! They were fun. Extremely so. Some of us are even still friends today and we always love to talk about the early days of that group.

Why?

Because all of us had a common interest (a new product) and we were a small group and we were at the same level at the beginning (all of us were newbies).

But it devolved.

How?

First, wave after wave of newbies came in. They all wanted their attention and you couldn’t tell the experienced users (visually) from the new ones. At first the newbie waves were a lot of fun because we were able to teach new people the tricks we had spent months learning (like how to get a certain brand of video card to work, etc).

But after six or so waves the experienced users started getting tired of answering the same damn questions over and over. See the newbies weren’t willing to search for already-answered questions and, because it was a forum, no one was able to take control and segregate things.

Then it got worse. The bad actors arrived. IE, trolls and spammers. Trolls I can handle. After all, I troll once in a while too. Spammers? No way. They destroyed any last joy I had in participating in the group. Some of us left. Others of us hung on (I did) until Microsoft killed the product. But it wasn’t fun at the end.

Here’s something I’m noticing: my Facebook has the forum problem. It’s getting noisier and noisier. Facebook is trying to solve this problem with filtering and with a new feed, which only shows “popular” items. But it has the Forum/Chat Problem and no amount of lipstick will cure that problem.

As long as you only have your really close personal friends in Facebook, this is NOT a problem at all.

But Facebook’s leaders want to change to be more like Twitter. More open, so they can defend against an oncoming Google and Twitter and Microsoft onslaught of social networking technologies.

But the more public they make Facebook the more connections each user will have, and the more noise each of those connections will bring.

At first this looks like a positive thing, right? Over on FriendFeed people are telling me “we have more conversations.” That’s true, but the more conversations I got involved in the less I found I was learning.

This came full circle tonight when I checked in my “best of day” feed on FriendFeed, picture of that experience here.

I didn’t see any geeks. I didn’t see any tech. I didn’t see anything that was teaching me anything. I had stopped getting much value out of FriendFeed.

But over the past week I’ve found that Twitter is gaining in incoming value, the way blogs got more interesting over time (and if they didn’t, I just removed them from my reader).

Why do blogs bring more value over time?

Because bloggers get smarter over time and they have more experiences to pull on.

I noticed this in talk radio, too. Generally a talk radio host will get better over time. Why? As she or he gets more popular he/she will get better guests, be invited to better events, and become better studied on the topics they are talking about.

In other words, they become an expert.

I find I’m craving experts lately. People who build things. People who do things. People who make things happen. Tony Robbins, when he spoke at the Twitter Conference last month said that Twitter is his knowledge machine. He uses it to import great minds.

The thing is in the early days of a community having serendipity, which is what Facebook and FriendFeed’s forum features bring, make things a lot of fun. After all, it makes finding people who are like minded with you easier.

But eventually the experts (ie, people who are teaching you stuff) get drowned out and you are left with an experience that looks more like the magazine rack at a grocery store than a book shelf at Harvard.

So, what happened on Friday?

Twitter got lists.

This let us throw together a list of experts. For instance, I put together a list of people who have started companies. Compare that feed to your average Facebook feed and you’ll see it in stark black and white: your Facebook feed is “fun” but isn’t teaching you much.

It becomes even more stark when you do a list like my tech news brands list. See, this is NOT a forum! It is NOT a chat room!

No one can enter this community without being invited. Now compare to FriendFeed. We could have built a list like this over there, but it would have gotten noiser because of a feature called “Friend of a Friend.” That drags in people the list owner didn’t invite. Also, anyone can comment underneath any items on Facebook or FriendFeed. That brings people into YOUR life that YOU DID NOT INVITE!

Again, at first, this seems very democratic and very nice. After all, it’s great to throw a party for the whole world and let them drink your wine and have conversations with your kids. But, be honest here, would you rather have a private dinner with Steve Jobs, or would you rather have a dinner with Steve Jobs and 5,000 people who you don’t really know?

Which one would be a better place for you to learn something? Have an experience you can brag to your friends about?

See, tonight I had another experience on Twitter. One that ripped this whole thing wide open.

Mike Lee watched a friend die. Mike Lee is an engineer at Apple. His friend was Vinay Venkatesh, one of the top engineers at VMWare (he worked on the Fusion product). This afternoon Vinay had an accident on his motorcycle in the hills above Silicon Valley.

Listen into Mike’s Tweets:

Today
1

News

2

Update

3

No no god no

4

I regret to report

5

I held

6

Tragic, my heart is out to everyone involved.

What do you NOT see?

You don’t see any stupid YouTube-style commenters making light of the situation. You don’t see anyone posting pictures that would be inappropriate.

You don’t see anyone entering a conversation that should be viewed on its own in its own totality.

Twitter does NOT have the chat room/forum problem.

Let’s go back in history and discuss other forums/chat rooms.

I started out with BBSs. They had it. They started out interesting, but then as more and more people figured out how to do BBSs their value both devolved (more noise, and slower lines) and increased (more files to download — files for some reason don’t have the same problem that chat rooms do).

Prodigy? Yes. I was on that back in the 1980s. It started fun and then devolved. Now it’s gone.

CompuServe? Yes. Same thing.

AOL? Yes. In fact it was SO devolved that when AOL joined up with Usenet all the geeks on Usenet gave a collective “oh damn” when their own conversations saw an intrusion of newbies, bad actors, and spammers.

YouTube? Just go to the average video and you’ll see full scale devolution on going.

Digg? Absolutely. Devolved big time.

TechCrunch comments. Yes, but notice that they are now moderating their comments (some posts saw deletions of more than half of the comments), which dramatically improved them. As soon as the moderation stops on comments, they too will devolve and drive out anyone interesting.

My comments? I’m moderating them now too.

But notice that top-level blogs don’t have this problem.

Also notice that Twitter doesn’t have this problem.

If I only want to listen to, say, Louis Gray, there is NO WAY ANYONE ELSE CAN GET ONTO MY SCREEN (on Twitter)!

On FriendFeed? No. Louis Gray’s feed drags in tons of others.

On Facebook? No. Louis Gray’s feed drags in tons of others (even though you need to be “friended” by Louis to see his feed there).

But, Scoble, this makes you an elitist jerk!

Bing! Bing! Bing!

But at least I’m learning something and I’m not being dragged into cat photo land if I don’t want to go there. By the way, if all you care about is cat photos, a forum is a BAD place to be. Someone will post dog photos and ruin it all. Blogs even win here.

Which brings me to why I’m apologizing to Aaron Brazell and Mike Arrington. Earlier this year both of them deleted their FriendFeed accounts for various reasons.

I was bent because I saw the geeks leaving and the utility of the forum changing. At the time I didn’t want to internalize what I already knew, that the forum problem was rearing its head. Arrington left because he didn’t like the mob attitude that reared up over there. Brazell left because he didn’t see the utility in FriendFeed.

I fought with both of them, even blocking Brazell because I just didn’t want to taste the medicine they were dishing out. After all, I’ve posted 31,876 comments to my FriendFeed account. I’ve clicked on 21,981 things to “like” them. I’ve shown FriendFeed to dozens of audiences at conferences and consulting sessions. I’ve talked about it with the press. I’ve pushed it incessantly on Twitter (which, I figure, got me unfollowed there by at least 5,000 people).

In hindsight they were right. Why was I blindsided? Because FriendFeed had some features that made it different than other forums in the past. For one, it was decentralized conversation (in old-school forums the conversation was chosen for you. In FriendFeed you could start a new conversation with each item). For two, we had decentralized moderation (I can delete any comment underneath my items, and I can hide any items that come into my view).

But these newfangled features were not enough to keep the geeks after Facebook bought FriendFeed. After the geeks left (I was one, so this story is influenced by me in part) the tide was too much and now it just isn’t for me anymore.

I will still use it here and there and drop in on a conversation when I see something interesting, but that’s less and less.

Anyway, this is a pattern that I’ve seen. I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to counteract it, but this is a dangerous pattern for social software companies to ignore.

And don’t think that Twitter has learned this lesson, either. It is testing a new retweet feature (they used to call it “sharing” internally) that is very controversial.

Why is it controversial? Because it brings people into your view that you didn’t ask to see.

The chat room/forum problem should not be ignored. I’m sorry I ignored it and burned bridges with Aaron (I talked with Mike tonight and he barely even remembers our spat, so we’re cool).

I’ve unblocked Aaron and put him on my lists. Hopefully he’ll forgive me. But will Twitter and Facebook learn from this? Probably not.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

149 thoughts on “The chat room/forum problem (& an apology to @Technosailor)

  1. Aaron. One of the reasons I was a jerk to you is when you left FriendFeed you deleted your account. That deleted utility. For one, it deleted your content so it made the search feature there a little less useful. When you take utility away from me it pisses me off. That I could get over, though, cause, well, it's your content. But, on FriendFeed when you delete an account you ALSO delete every one else's comments that they made on your content. THAT was MAJOR infraction time. We warned you that would happen yet you still did it. Even though I'm probably going to leave FriendFeed soon I'm not going to delete my account because of these two issues.

    You and I also have the same sin. Right now the FriendFeed community is just as pissed with me as I was with you back when you announced you were leaving. When we get tired with something we let everyone know. That makes people feel bad. I'm cool with that, it's part of the cost of being an evangelist. If you're spending your time doing X that defacto means you are NOT doing it on Y. That makes everyone on Y pissed because they see their community is dwindling (and their investment in such looks lame — which is one reason I lashed out at you).

    As for new Robert, well, I see I was wrong to attack you when I am now following a similar path a few months later. That said, I'm still pissed you deleted your account because it deleted my comments too, which I spent a lot of time adding to your content. Even here you said that I was not a valuable member of your community. And I'm supposed to be happy with that? I accept you don't want me in your community and you don't like me. That's the risks of being online. If you are doing interesting stuff you'll piss SOMEONE off.

    Anyway, onward.

    What's funny is that you say you don't attack people personally. But when you say that I'm not part of THAT community (IE, yours) well, you just attacked me personally. It's certainly not an inclusive attitude. But I understand that, because I'm in a similar mood lately. Which is why I'm apologizing to you because I took it too personally and should have listened deeper.

  2. I am a big fan of Friendfeed, but I have to admit I no longer feel the need to keep it open all the time. I still check it occasionally, but many of the people that I followed and wrote comment on their post are gone or post just occasionally. I am still not totally happy with Twitter, it is still hard to follow conversations on it, however with the addition of list that should help. I still think that Friendfeed has value I just think that who it has value for has change.

  3. Robert:

    I feel like you deserve more than a simple acknowledgement of this post. It's only fair.

    I do accept your apology on a professional level. I do believe you're sincere. However, this is more than just about FriendFeed, Facebook or Twitter. It's about a common respect for people and their right to choose.

    When I left FriendFeed, you not only attacked my decision based on platform, you attacked me personally. And you continued to do so on Twitter and the other social networks. You were not content to let me make a decision for myself. You come from a world where people make decisions based on others wishes.

    That's fine. I'm a small l libertarian though. Live and let live. You do your thing and I'll do mine. The only time I'm going to push back on anyone elses decisions is when they go to war with me. If you read my blog, you know I don't attack people. I can count a handful of times in the past 5 years of Technosailor.com where I went to war with someone personally. It's not my style. I'll go to war with ideas. I'll go to war with companies. I won't go to war with people. You chose to go to war with me. Whatever.

    Also, if you read my blog or my Twitter or anywhere else where I have a presence online, you will see a very distinct pattern in my behavior. On the surface it may be erratic. I may be less than your corporate drone mixing personal and professional without thinking of it. Chaos theory. Out of chaos comes order. The pattern that exists and is distinct everywhere is that I am a filter for my audience. I use services, products or engage with people based on actual value to my community – a community that is largely made up of small business owners and, more recently, gov and journalism types.

    I am not a SV boy nor do I cater to SV. I cater to a specific group of people who are looking for a voice to help them navigate the web and help them do business better. I am not just a geek who lives and breathes the Internet.

    That voice that I bring is highly important and valuable to that community and as such, I make decisions like dropping FriendFeed because… it's just not valuable to them. That's my choice, not yours. You went to war with me. I did not go to war with you until you challenged my position and role in this matter.

    I accept your apology, Robert. I'm glad to see that you are making a distinction between old Robert and new Robert though, to be fair, I don't see a difference yet. What is changed? You're moving around on services like a child with ADD. You're evangelizing products. It's all the same. Now, Arrington and I are namedropped to accent yet another move by you. No harm, no foul but… new Robert?

    This is not about FriendFeed. This is about respect and until I see a pattern of that, I don't know if a new Robert exists yet. I accept your apology and you may not care what I have to say here. I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this level but it will take a lot more than a post to convince me long term.

    Cheers.

  4. The problem with Twitter lists is that they don’t solve the “Cereal Problem” (“I just had cereal for breakfast, it was yummy”, the kind of tweet I never want to read). All these experts that you put in your list are not going to be tweeting about the topic of your list 100% of the time, so eventually, they will degenerate just like the others.

    It’s already happening, by the way: someone present on two of your lists will statistically be sending tweets that are off topic at least 50% of the time.

    Hashtag lists would create much more focused content since people who write can specify what list their Tweet should go to.

  5. If you believe in linear learning and don't want to be troubled with people you don't know who might be talking about something you're interested in, well you'll do just fine with lists.

    But it leads to a form of entropy born of a type of social inbreeding. It's what I call the Groups problem. You start a group and it has a bunch of people you like and respect. It's invite only and it starts off swimmingly.

    Then a few begin to dominate the conversation and others fall off. The activity on your list goes down and it becomes a self-reinforcing echo chamber with little new thought or it strays from the topic and chases those remaining few off.

    No, the future is in non-linear learning and constantly getting new, relevant inputs to challenge and shape your thinking and world view.

    The good thing is the tools are available at FriendFeed. FoaF is at the heart of the best discovery engine on the web. But with great power comes great responsibility. FoaF is powerful. It supercharges your network.

    You can't overload it. My main feed in FriendFeed is Dunbar's number compliant and I use other tools such as hide to shape it even further. FoaF is a way to select experts as your filters. I've written a bit about this here: http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/soylent-green-i

    You're a great technology filter. So is Rob Diana. Louis Gray is great for tech and social media. There's also Michael Fruchter and Mahendra and Atul Aurora. These people bring me new and interesting content through FoaF.

    Really and truly. I think this has more to do with an inflexibility to change and adapt. FriendFeed *has* changed. Usage is different. The DATA is different. So – of course – you have to change the filters you have in place to turn that data into information. You just haven't changed your filters (even though all the tools are there) and instead of sought out the purported greener grass.

  6. I used to help run Leo Laporte's IRC chat room. It had these problems and far more. One night we had to block the entire country of Singapore to try to get rid of some of the bad actors who were spamming the chat room. Sorry, IRC sucks. And that was only with 200 people in a chat room. If you get more than 1,000 it's unusable even if every post is signal. Why? Moves too fast.

  7. I don't know. Thanks to compete.com we saw that FriendFeed lost some users and original traffic. But I still consider it the best Social Network. What you are mentioning is noise, spam, trolls, but they exist no matter the Social Network.

    Don't you think?

    In FriendFeed you still have the power to block a user that you don't want to see o comment your stream. But thinking this way I guess you are restricting your Social activity to a bunch of people, because not everybody thinks about a search engine to find information on a Social Network, at least not yet.

    Twitter is etilist as you said, try to think to a “Mr. No-one”, he is new in this “Social thing” an he is trying to emerge. I think it's impossible just with the use of Twitter.

    It's like GMail. They say that you don't have no more spam within your mailbox, but it's just a matter of good filtering, not of avoiding spam. If you check your spam folder is still full indeed.

  8. Totally late to comment here, but this isn't precisely true:

    “On Facebook? No. Louis Gray’s feed drags in tons of others (even though you need to be “friended” by Louis to see his feed there).”

    Yes, you see things other people have posted (and I really wish there was a way to prohibit people from posting certain stuff — like videos or ads, which I never want on my wall), but you can also filter to “Just Louis.”

    With the filters for your news feed and mini-feed (and the you can already create lists of your own friends on Facebook for news feed filtering and privacy purposes), Facebook is no noisier than Twitter.

    They're certainly different cultures… and your points about forums and chat rooms are well taken (and match up mostly with my observations over 15 years of doing the community thing), but I think if your Facebook is getting noisier than your Twitter, that's because you're not filtering and you're not curating (i.e., just like you unsubscribe from blogs or unfollow tweeps, remove or filter out noisy friends).

  9. Funny that I noticed how many spammers are following me on twitter. They even get in my @pythagras tag… Forcing me to see things I didn’t want to see :(

  10. Bringing in people you didn’t ask to see (as you put it) seems to be a short term gain for the community.

    After all, it helps people make new connections and hence speeds the growth of the community.

    At least in the short term.

    And in the short term it works – so the companies (not realizing the toxicity of the ‘features’) go on and start drinking the cool aid.

    I can absolutely see how this happens time and again: Try something. measure. It works. Do it more.

    Thanks for pointing out the long term effects. It may save our emerging community :)

  11. I mentioned over and over to you that only so many of us produce Feeds, so Friendfeed would never catch-on with the general public.

    Anyone who quits a service publicly does so for attention.

    Frendfeed is a great service for pulling all our feeds into one place, we just gotta find a better way to capitalize on this service

  12. Great post. I’d add that to be fully in control of your voice/channel you need to own your domain. You will always control what goes on at scobleizer.com (and because you use open source software to power it, you can always move to another web host and keep publishing). The same can’t be said for twitter.com/scobleizer (or scobleizer.wordpress.com for that matter).

  13. This is precisely the reason why I keep Facebook strictly for friends. Gets too hard to follow your own friends if you don't.

    Twitter, yes, lists are amazingly useful for people who follow too many people. Now we can finally segregate them into groups that we can refer to depending on mood/need/whatever.

    And you're right about the noise: Twitter is the carpeted café where you can chat to just the people you want. Facebook is the house party. Friendfeed is like trying to have a work dinner in a huge restaurant with echoing acoustics.

    That said, I don't see why anyone would “quit” Friendfeed. I don't think there's anything wrong with maintaining a presence there even if you're not actively involved in discussion. Just say that in the bio! The fact that your presence is there means that other people can still follow your feed and discuss the points you raise while you're elsewhere online. It's performing a service to those that do use Friendfeed.

  14. There are some dubious Twitter tools out there. They ask you to allow access to your Twitter Account. After that you get full access to the tool, but you became a follower too… I wonder how they do this because the Twitter API normally shows you an extra step so you can't follow by accident…

    It's such a stupid trick. Would you buy from a shopkeeper who glues you to his cash register?

  15. And this is why I love Livejournal – it has community, and pseudonymity, and the power to control exactly who can and cannot leave comments, so that I can keep things civil on the odd occasion when I need to.

    1. Likewise. LJ seems to be the only social networking website that has effectively solved the vast majority of these problems.

      I just wish they integrated better with newer Web 2.0 websites.

  16. I am mostly a fan Robert but I must disagree with some of your points in this post:

    1. Fortunately for Facebook, the vast majority of its users do use it for fun and are not there to find experts.
    2. I think you Valley types have a peculiar problem in that the majority of your real friends are also techies. I expect that for most people who follow tech but live outside the valley, like me, the distinction between twitter and facebook is quite clear. I post business and geeky stuff to Twitter but use Facebook to share fun and personal photos, videos and thoughts with my real friends and family.
    3. I think the point about your friend's tragic loss of a friend is misplaced here – are you suggesting that Facebook can't be used for that sort of thing? I actually find that Facebook is much better for expressing such sentiment. A friend lost his younger brother recently and I lost an aunt. Facebook enabled far more condolence sharing than had ever been possible before and because most people only connect with real friends there, they are unlikely to get the inappropriate comments etc to which you refer.
    4. I suspect that you got bored of FriendFeed like you did of GoogleReader and that you are not liking Facebook much because, well, it isn't Twitter. That's okay but …
    5. I think it is unfair on these services that you try to use them like your new favourite thing Twitter and then trash them when you get bored. I suppose in the case of Facebook, it is kind of their fault because they keep trying to be like Twitter when they ought to stick to what sets them apart from everyone else – or if they must copy Twitter, they should launch a distinct product or feature-set for it.

  17. No one is in control in a chat room? Where are your IRCops? I thought you said you used to go on BBS’, surely you’d know that these all require moderation to be good. The reason you like twitter so much is that you get to moderate it yourself (pretty awesome, I do agree), but don’t drag down the other perfectly fine methods of internet group communication just because you were in a chatroom that you didn’t know how to get under control. It’s not like IRC is one of the oldest communication protocols in the history of computers or anything. Also, did you not ever touch your phpbb forums admin page or what?

    The only reason you don’t like this stuff is because you’re bad at it.

  18. Facebook is usable if you don’t mind offending people a bit. Everyone who lowers the bandwidth on my news I filter out. Everyone who raises it I put on a special list that I read if I’ve been away a few days. I filter almost all applications out as they arise. I don’t friend or only give limited profile to people I wouldn’t speak my mind in front of, in order to keep my own content high (a lot of FB friends got boring after friending their parents…)

    But you are right — pure-form egalitarianism in social media doesn’t give you increasingly interesting content, or at least not at a very high rate (there is still the Flynn effect). Still, at the same time, I couldn’t have guessed who would generate the most interesting stuff for me on facebook in advance — some of them were on the margins of my social network, but that’s why they bring in such an interesting perspective. They are the small number of people who are smart, use web 2.0 well, and are in different professional or cultural communities than I am.

  19. See, the trick was you just had to wait till BBSs weren't cool anymore! Then the endless n00b problem solved itself and we've been happily chugging along since the early 90s and I expect we'll still be there 20 years from now.

    For good short or long term discussions with rooms by topic and simple x messages, I'd say the DOC style BBS is _still_ my favorite discussion interface. Twitter is great in that it solves the moderation problem, but it's still .. ephemeral in a way that BBS discussions are not.

    As a side note, my brain keeps trying to map Google Waves as sort of hybrid BBS rooms, but somehow less organized and more chaotic. Not sure, still trying to work that one out.

  20. You have managed to generate some *passionate* discussions the past couple of days Robert!

    I do rather wonder where we all go next. I've actually been using Facebook way more than I used to, strictly because Twitter has gotten more broadcast than conversational of late with the influx of people. I've also taken to reading more blogs than I used to because of the desire for finding information that interests me rather than (as you put it) 'cat pictures'.

    I suspect you're not quite as enamored of 'controlled' conversations as you posit here though Robert… as it is the unplanned encounter that changes our viewpoint best. Still – we all have our threshholds. Sometimes you just need to walk away from some places, scale back on others, and ramp up others.

    I think you're finding your balance. :)

  21. That's why I added the disclaimer regarding the UI–trying to focus on functionality. Incidentally, they have a list view for mobiles, but it needs work. Not a Plurk fanboy, just throwing it out there.

    Beyond that, what about a private-label FF , as I mentioned in above?

  22. Well, you can't share it with others, correct, but you can still create the
    list. The advantage there is you can control who in that list sees – you
    can't do that on Twitter. They both have their advantages. I have use for
    both right now – can't go all Twitter, I can *almost* go all Facebook. I'm
    betting most of those in your list have a Facebook Page (I can confirm I'm a
    fan of quite a few of those on Facebook actually). If they don't, what are
    they thinking?

  23. Actually that is not true. Twitter won because it was simple and because you could control who got access to your face. It also was bite sized and easy to skip over the noise.

  24. I think a large number of people came to the same conclusion because the FF founders employed an amateurish PR strategy during the buy out at best, at worst simply didn't level with the community that yes, FF is eventually going by the wayside. (Let's hope they at least keep the servers on for archiving purposes.)

    So that made it pretty hard to keep investing a ton of time into FF. Heck, I had started modifying some Greasemonkey scripts to customize FF, hoping that FF would eventually launch those features natively. Now pretty much all new development on FF has ceased. That's no way to keep people around in earnest.

    And parallel to the “death throes” of FF, everybody after a few weeks of shock has gotten way more emo than is good for everyday consumption.

  25. Hi Robert

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. My quick way of summarizing the problem to people is to say that if in a system the creation of spam (and I mean that in a very general sense – read “stuff you don't want to look at”) also gets the spam in people's faces, then you've got, or will have, real problems. The real problem are a) that you've set the scene for a biological arms race, b) that the system will devolve, and c) that you'll need a police force. OTOH, if you can mange to cut the link between the creation of spam and the getting it in people's faces, then you may stand a chance of not being destroyed by your own success.

    You can look at many offline and online services from this perspective. With physical spam mail, the act of creating it (putting in into the postal service) automatically gets it in front of peoples faces. Problem. On Facebook the act of commenting on something gets it into others' faces. Problem. With Google, the act of making a link gets it into the mix of PageRank and so if you make enough of them (e.g., Church of Scientology), you've got a problem (and Google has a police force to fight that arms race). If there's a popular #hashtag on Twitter or a trending topic, there's a problem – people hitch-hike on it immediately. That's why those particular things on Twitter can only be useful in the small – because they create forums so if they come to wider attention they automatically devolve. Look at an open tagging system where anyone can tag anything – once a tag is popular/useful, it devolves (people tag things incorrectly in order to immediately get their content in front of faces).

    I think to a decent extent Twitter does not suffer from this problem. It's not entirely absent (anyone can @scobleizer you). Anyone can follow you, but they can't make you go look at their page, follow their about link, etc. So in that regard the creation of spam (i.e., adding yourself as an unknown and possibly unwanted follower to someone) is not concomitant with getting yourself in front of the target's face. And of course if someone's bugging you, you can just block them.

    I've thought about all this a lot in the context of FluidDB. Because FluidDB objects don't have owners, anyone can add to them. But what they cannot do is get their additions in front of anyone. So while I could freely add a terry/opinion to the FluidDB object for Scoble, I couldn't make you or anyone else look at it. Of course if you did look at it and found value there, then it's not spam – it has a fitness (in a biological sense) and has a first foothold in the FluidDB ecology. You might even pass on a recommendation that others look at the terry/opinion tags on objects. And because we have identity, it's impossible for anyone else to put terry/opinion tags onto objects (unless I give them permission to).

    A summary of all this thinking is that the link between spam creation & getting it in people's faces is vitally important. You have to find a way to cut that link. And second, if you're going to design a system, that's part of setting it up so that its evolution can follow a useful path. Because it will evolve (perhaps devolve). You want something that allows for the evolution of reputation and trust (of people, of data, of apps). I think those ingredients are very important if you want to build something of lasting value – something whose success doesn't also carry within itself the seeds of its own inevitable devolution.

  26. Robert, but you don't spend much time in Facebook. I suggest spending a bit
    of time – use your fan Page like you used FriendFeed. Then post your more
    personal stuff (aka what you had for lunch) on your personal profile. Set
    up some lists in Facebook. Subscribe to some good fan Pages. Adjust your
    privacy settings for your personal profile. Facebook has improved
    magnitudes faster than Twitter has over the years, and they're still
    improving as we speak. Right now I'm finding value out of both, but I see
    *huge* value in what Facebook has to offer – those I'm working with and that
    I have talked to on my fan Page are all saying while numbers may not be as
    high they get much, much more engagement from a fan Page than they do
    Twitter. You've got to try it and seriously spend some time with it before
    you'll know that though.

    BTW, your fan Page posts are permalinked – you can do your “discuss here”
    posts to Twitter from Facebook just like you did FriendFeed.

  27. Robert, what about Plurk. Aside from its UI, it's sort of a hybrid concept, with threaded messaging, private messaging to your followers and some other features. I know some find the UI silly, but what about it's functionality. Or…

    What if FF offered a Ning-style private labeling? It would be sort of like moderating a forum, but you'd be moderating the functionality that attracted you into FF in the first place, right? Perhaps the open source community should replicate FF's conversation functionality?

  28. Robert, what about Plurk. Aside from its UI, it's sort of a hybrid concept, with threaded messaging, private messaging to your followers and some other features. I know some find the UI silly, but what about it's functionality. Or…

    What if FF offered a Ning-style private labeling? It would be sort of like moderating a forum, but you'd be moderating the functionality that attracted you into FF in the first place, right? Perhaps the open source community should replicate FF's conversation functionality?

  29. Robert, what about Plurk. Aside from its UI, it's sort of a hybrid concept, with threaded messaging, private messaging to your followers and some other features. I know some find the UI silly, but what about it's functionality. Or…

    What if FF offered a Ning-style private labeling? It would be sort of like moderating a forum, but you'd be moderating the functionality that attracted you into FF in the first place, right? Perhaps the open source community should replicate FF's conversation functionality?

  30. Facebook has definitely treated me better than Twitter has. I just guess I see this forum problem as being something that's going to make it difficult for me to get more and more value out of it. Twitter is dramatically improving for me every week I put into it. That's not true of Facebook or FriendFeed.

  31. Same here, ursulas. Although I've been using multiple Twitter accounts to focus on different people/interests I want to follow & engage with.

    Now I'm wondering (with the launch of Twitter Lists), if I should/will be abandoning all but one personal Twitter account and then tracking/following ppl through Twitter Lists and participating in the the various conversations in the same way.

    Thoughts?

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