Ballmer's tablet bumble

Associated Press image of Steve Ballmer demonstrating a tablet at CES

For a look at why Apple’s tablet, due to be demonstrated in a few hours (watch my Twitter feed for curation details starting at 9 a.m.), is getting so much hype even when Microsoft has had a set of great tablets for years we need to go back to the Consumer Electronics Show a couple of weeks ago where Steve Ballmer failed to impress, according to UK’s Telegraph.

I was sitting in one of the front rows and held my breath when Ballmer barely could get a tablet to do what he wanted. Now, admittedly, he was trying to use the tablet while holding it away from his body (akin to using it while it is upside down), which is a skill that I probably couldn’t master either, but that bumble was the metaphorical one that Steve Jobs needed.

But even if the demo had gone well, Ballmer had bumbled the Tablet PC years earlier. How? By not forcing every employee at Microsoft to use the tablet. Or, if he couldn’t do that, by not investing in a new OS that’s constrained and totally touch/stylus focused. Dig deep on a Windows tablet PC and you’ll see lots of areas that just aren’t designed for touch or a stylus. That won’t happen tomorrow with Apple’s tablet.

See, back in 2003-2006 when I walked around Microsoft’s halls (I interviewed more than 500 employees when I worked there and visited their development labs around the world) I saw very few developers who took to the Tablet PC.

Why? Most engineers sit at desks at Microsoft, or, when they have to go to meetings, have a desk in front of them where it’s culturally OK to bring a laptop and bang out emails during meetings.

Visit a developer’s desk and you’ll probably see two large screens, probably made by Dell, hooked up to a couple of big desktop machines that can compile as quickly as possible. Or, if they do choose a laptop, they probably will pick the Dell model with as much screen real estate and resolution as possible. Why? Because on their screens they will want to have a few code windows open, along with their email, er, Outlook screens (Microsoft lives and dies via Outlook’s calendar and email).

Why does this all matter? Well, because Microsoft’s best engineers don’t really buy into the Tablet PC and because the various teams around campus doing things from Microsoft Office to Windows 8 to Xbox to Microsoft Dynamics really don’t think ink features are all that important they seem to cut those features out of their priority lists year after year.

Yeah, it’s gotten better, Windows 7 actually has quite nice touch capabilities but they just aren’t inspiring.

Steve Ballmer didn’t show anything inspiring at CES running on the Tablet PCs he paraded around stage. He needed to if he wanted to keep Steve Jobs from grabbing the inspiration reigns again. It was a bumbled moment.

Contrast that with what Steve Jobs is planning to do on stage tomorrow.

Watch Steve focus on several use cases and each one will inspire in a way that Ballmer didn’t even attempt to do. Already Techmeme is flowing with leaks about them from publishers, media folks, and others.

The use cases I’ll be watching for are:

1. Classroom. Steve will tomorrow show off a textbook of the future. One where there isn’t just text and photos like in the textbooks that I grew up in, but ones where there’s augmented reality. Where 3D objects, maps, and videos pop off the page ready to be interacted with by the user. A company named Metaio has already shipped a book that does this, but Steve Jobs will bring these capabilities to the masses.

2. The Couch. TV is about to radically change. Imagine sitting on a couch, looking at a new virtual TV guide like the very cool Clicker, seeing a cool video on YouTube, then flinging that video up to your big screen. Or, let’s say you are watching what your few hundred Facebook and Twitter friends are sharing tomorrow morning from the Apple keynote in real time and you point at one of the videos to play it. Using a service like Redux you can already do that tonight! No need to wait for Apple to show it off, but Steve Jobs will make this integrated media experience cooler and easy for non-geeks to do. Tonight look at Boxee, it has been shipping for months what Apple will bring to the masses with the new tablet.

3. The car. Yeah, you can’t text in the front seat of the car in California, but come on, if you had an always connected slate wouldn’t you find a way to mount that to read Tweets to you like Buzzvoice does, or show you a Google Map, or use Waze to report traffic conditions to others. But put the tablet in the back seat, and it becomes an entertainment device for the kids. I already see how valuable that is. This is where Jobs will bring out a few new games that will let tablet owners play against each other, so my kids in my car could play against friends in their cars on a long road trip, or on the way to school, etc.

4. The coffee shop. OK, most humans still love visiting their local coffee shop, checking in on Foursquare, and then sitting down with a magazine or a newspaper. But watch as Jobs makes those things come alive and do stuff that a Kindle just can’t do. Videos, augmented reality again, games, graphics that move and flow, charts that show up-to-the-minute info from Skygrid, which already is way better than any financial newspaper printed on dead trees.

5. The airport/airplane. I flew in a rich guy’s private plane a few weeks back. What did he have in the cockpit? An Amazon Kindle. No, not to read newspapers or Tweet or anything stupid like that. He had all the airport charts loaded on his Kindle. But, he showed me how weather maps use color and he wasn’t able to display those on the Kindle. OK, OK, there aren’t enough rich guys in the world for that use case to matter, but what about those of us who sit back in coach? Well, how about showing off how Tripit will help you find a better seat when you buy your ticket, or how it’ll warn you if your plane is running late, etc? Yeah, not to mention that watching a movie on a Tablet will be a lot more comfortable than watching it on a laptop, and there’s lots of game scenarios, etc, that would be fun to see him demo here.

6. Healthcare. Tablets make a HUGE amount of sense in healthcare. Remember Epocrates, the iPhone app that Steve Jobs’ own health team helped influence? Now imagine they came out on stage and showed off their new version which has much better integration with your entire health chart.

Anyway, the fact that Ballmer didn’t have anything new to say on any of these scenarios left the door wide open for Steve Jobs to drive a truckload of tablets through in the morning. It’s too bad that Microsoft’s engineers just never got on board with the Tablet PC and started investing the future of the company on touch-based technology.

Will Ballmer stop bungling Microsoft’s strategy in time to save Xbox’s franchise from Apple’s moves? We’ll learn that in 2011. Stay tuned, my bet is he drops the ball there too, although a new Halo will hide the damage until 2012.

Anyway, let’s meet tomorrow on Twitter at Twitter.com/Scobleizer (that’s where I’ll spend the most time on in the morning) or FriendFeed at FriendFeed.com/Scobleizer or Facebook at Facebook.com/Scobleizer. I’ll have a few people from Google over my house to get their take on the morning’s events and we’ll curate the best news from around the Internet.

Oh, and I bet that Steve Jobs won’t bumble the Tablet demo the way Ballmer did at CES a couple of weeks ago.

Developers: the Apple tablet press announcements start

Appcelerator, which is a company that makes a developer tool/platform for developing native mobile and desktop apps by using HTML, Javascript, and its own API library, tonight is announcing Apple Tablet support and has also taken a poll of its 18,000 developers and found that 90% of its developers said they plan to build a Tablet application over the coming year. Also that most of its developers have already put Apple Tablet development behind iPhone and Android platform, but ahead of Blackberry, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile, and Symbian.

VentureBeat has all the details on their survey and other fun things they learned.

OK, nothing really shocking there, but I did sit down for an interview with CEO Jeff Haynie this afternoon.

In the interview Haynie explains why his developer platform is a lot faster to develop on than building apps in Objective-C (developers use standard web technologies, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, along with its own API, named Appcelerator Titanium, that is easy to call from JavaScript to do a variety of functions. You can watch a video where they explain more about how this works.

Basically Appcelerator is a competitor for Adobe’s AIR framework/app system but one that delivers onto the iPhone (and, within a few days, on the Apple Tablet, or whatever it’ll be called).

Yes Haynie is taking advantage of the Apple news, even before it happens, but I gotta appreciate that in a CEO.

Finally, in his survey they found that most of their developers see lots of opportunities for the Apple Tablet outside of the kinds of scenarios already discussed. We talk about these at length in the interview, but while gaming will be hot they see opportunities to develop new apps in entertainment, productivity/business, social networking, and education.

Ahh, Apple Tablet Hype Week continues…

Lessons from Steve Jobs has learned from @BillGates' purchase of NEC Tablets

NEC Tablet PC, 11 mm thick, released in 2003

It has been forgotten already, but there have been sexy tablets out for years. In fact, you might not know, but I used to work at NEC when it released their 11mm-thick tablet back in 2003! This was before I worked at Microsoft (I worked there from 2003 to 2006). I was working the phone lines and I will never forget one call from then Microsoft executive Vic Gundotra (Vic now is an exec at Google). It went something like this “I saw you talking about the new tablet on the newsgroups, I want the first one.” That’s a photo of the NEC device, it really was ground breaking and sexy.

He did indeed get the first one — in the United States. Bill Gates actually beat him by a few hours by flying to Japan and getting one directly off of the factory line there.

But a couple of months later Vic called me back and said “Bill Gates wants 400 to hand out to his CEO summit attendees (hundreds of CEOs from the world’s biggest companies).

One problem.

NEC could only make a couple of thousand of these every month for the entire world.

Which brings me to a list of lessons that Steve Jobs should have learned from by watching Bill Gates’ experiences with the Tablet PCs.

So, that’s the first lesson. If you have a sexy product, you need to be able to make more than a couple of thousand, at least for the first four months which is when most of your demand will come in. That was NEC’s first downfall. Misjudging worldwide demand has caught Apple many times in the past, too, and it’ll be interesting to see if they predict demand properly this time (lately Apple has been pretty good, but go into an Apple store and see if you can buy a 27-inch iMac — there are tons of reports of delays and problems). If you guess wrong on the high side, you can go bankrupt. Nothing like building a warehouse full of expensive machines that don’t sell (NEC had had that problem, which is why they didn’t gear up the lines for the Tablet PC). If you guess wrong on the low side, you leave major money on the table. My guess is Jobs and his teams are spending a LOT of time studying the market to make sure they get pretty close on filling the need.

Second lesson? You can sell a few thousand by doing social media marketing, but for real sales you need to go on TV and give people a reason to buy one. Vic later hired me to work at Microsoft and told me that I was the only OEM factory rep he’d seen in the Microsoft newsgroups talking about new products. Why was I doing that? Because NEC didn’t have much of a marketing budget and I wanted to find a way to keep my job (I knew the small mobile solutions group needed sales to avoid the chopping block — remember, this was during the last Silicon Valley downturn and we were very focused on survival). But, truth is NEC failed to build a global brand because it didn’t spend much energy on marketing and advertising. Which, made sense because they couldn’t have built enough anyway. But this shows the catch-22. They should have planned on making many more than they did, and supporting those with a real marketing budget. Back in 2003 this WAS a breakthrough device that would have been attractive to students and executives, but most never even heard of it because it never got through the noise. Apple has the best TV advertising in the business and can’t wait to see the ads start to appear. Wouldn’t be shocked to see another Super Bowl ad.

Third lesson? If you want to have Apple’s brand you must be near flawless. NEC’s Tablet, unfortunately, did have a couple of flaws that kept it from being used in some key areas like hospitals. First, the battery only lasted about two hours. Second, the wifi antenna was designed to flip up so it got better reception, but that made it look weird and also some people reported they broke off. Both are flaws that doomed the product, and worse, kept NEC from building a good brand where they could launch other products off from and gain traction. If Apple’s Tablet doesn’t have six hours of battery life, so you can use one on a flight across the US, Apple’s Tablet will be doomed too as people rush back to their Kindles (which last twice as long as that, if you turn off the wifi).

Fourth lesson? NEC’s tablet didn’t fit into the rest of its family very well. It was more of an engineering exercise to prove that the Japanese engineers could build a sexy piece of hardware. But they didn’t hire software engineers to design an experience that fit in with its consumer electronics equipment. Steve Jobs won’t make that mistake. Watch Steve demonstrate how you can flick videos from your iSlate or iPad or whatever it’s called to a new Apple TV. He’ll show many experiences that will show how Apple’s family are working together, from iLife to iPhone.

Apple brochure ad I was in at college

Fifth lesson? The young are the ones who will provide the base of support. NEC never figured out how to make its Tablet appeal to college kids, which was unfortunate because they were the ones who could have benefitted the most from a thin Tablet PC that you could write on. Think back to chemistry class. It’s hard to take notes about equations and molecule structures with just a keyboard. NEC could have put a full-court press on college kids by showing up to demonstrate how cool the Tablet was for them. Apple won’t make this mistake. They’ve been doing great marketing to college kids for 20+ years (the picture here is of an Apple ad that I was in back in 1992).

Mark Graham showing off the front page of the Mercury News (local newspaper showing me getting my iPhone)

Sixth lesson? NEC never got the press to support its Tablet. I don’t remember seeing it on many front pages of major computer magazines, much less front pages of newspapers, like the iPhone got on. Apple’s PR machine knows how to get the press to show up, and how to get them hot and bothered enough to put their products in key positions. Here’s a picture of the San Jose Mercury News. Note how it dominated front page. I guarantee that no matter what Apple will get front page coverage on hundreds of newspapers and in key slots on all major TV news, not to mention on tech blogs like Techcrunch.

Seventh lesson? To get people to buy you need to show them and put it in their hands. I sold quite a few of the NEC tablets by going to industry events and letting people hold the device. It WAS sexy back in 2003! But Steve has built something even better than what I had: a series of stores around the world so you will be able to get your hands on and try it yourself.

Eighth lesson? At NEC Vic first learned about the Tablet from me in a newsgroup where I posted some photos and info. Think about that for a second. A low-level employee was first to show off the NEC. While it was fun to break the news about this device, that was pretty lame. Imagine Apple doing the same. I can’t. You’ll first see this device in Steve Jobs’ hands.

Anyway, this is just a fun way to remind you that Bill Gates actually has been pushing Tablets for many years, but his failure in capturing the industry’s imagination has left the door open for Steve Jobs to hit a grand slam home run.

Why I will wait in line again

San Jose Mercury News image of me getting first iPhone

Ahh, it seems so long ago when my son and I waited in line to fork over more than $600 each to buy an iPhone. The image above is from the front page of the San Jose Mercury News (I was cheering to many thousands of people who were waiting to get into the store to buy their iPhones and who had waited for up to 38 hours to do so — my son and I were first in line, which was a lot of fun).

I will do it again for WHATEVER Steve Jobs introduces on Wednesday.

Yes, I am a fanboi.

But for why, you need to go back to the experience I had waiting in line.

Unlike the media spectacle on Wednesday, waiting in line is not a controlled PR event. It is a PR event, for sure, but not a controlled one.

I have never participated in an event before or since than that one.

Tonight I looked back at photos and reports that Thomas Hawk shared and I want to take you back to 2007.

What made it magical?

1. It was a shared experience. Everyone was welcome, from kids to old geeks. From rich to poor (we shared the event with homeless as well as famous venture capitalists and CEOs from companies like Smugmug and teams from many companies like Quicken).
2. No PR control. Katie Cotton wasn’t there and couldn’t control what we reported, when we pulled out cameras, or how unruly things could get.
3. At the end we got to walk into the store and get something that did, indeed, end up changing the industry.
4. It was better than any FooCamp or BarCamp or WhereCamp or whatever. Why? Because we didn’t need an invite and we could talk with Apple’s first software developer, Bill Atkinson, all night long. I bet we’ll never be able to repeat that, and THAT is an even better story to tell my grandchildren than to say I sat at an Apple keynote.

It might sound pretty damn stupid to say I will be waiting in line again, especially since this time I won’t have seen the device or the software or the accessories that are surrounding it.

But I can already tell you that I will wait in line again.

Why?

My brother in law worked at Apple on the iPhone for several years. He kept telling me about a tablet device that Steve Jobs was personally working on.

Since then other Apple execs (both current and former) have told me that something is coming that I’ll definitely want to have.

Now, you might be cynical. But, these people have delivered before and I’m pretty sure they will deliver again.

One thing about Apple: if they don’t have the goods, their PR people will wave you off of the event. I’ve seen past events where this has happened. The hype the past three months for whatever Steve Jobs is announcing on Wednesday is extraordinary but there haven’t been any waveoffs. In fact the hype is intensifying.

Even if this device goes on to be a market failure like the Cube or the Newton or Apple TV I will want to own one, if even for a few weeks so I can try it before selling it on eBay.

Add these two things together and, yes, I will be in line again.

Thomas Hawk, you in?
Don McAskill, you in?
Bill Atkinson, you in?

Plus, this time I bet we get Techcrunch to sponsor the party instead of just covering it.

To create or curate? That is the Apple question

I’m torn.

I really want to be sitting at Steve Jobs’ feet again on Wednesday as he introduces whatever it is he’s introducing. Largely rumored to be not just a slate of some kind, but a new Apple TV, a new iPhone update, and new iLife suite.

If you’ve been living under a rock or in a coma for the past few months this has thrown the tech press into a tizzy. Right now on Techmeme just an overheard item from Steve Jobs has the top place (who cares if it really is true or not, as long as it has the words “Steve Jobs” and “Apple” in the headline).

Don’t believe me? Look at my list of 500 of the world’s top tech press. In between messages about football this weekend has been tons of speculation about Apple.

But that got me thinking “should I go to Wednesday’s event or not?” I thought I’d put it up for a vote, so here’s the pro’s and the cons. But deeper than that, I wanted to show there’s value in curation, not just in creating content. Let’s talk about that later more.

PROS OF GOING TO APPLE EVENT AND “CREATING CONTENT”:

1. I’ll get to see the new device a few seconds before Engadget will get to upload pictures of it to its live stream.
2. I’ll get elbowed by CNN in a fight to get close to Steve Jobs for an interview that won’t be exclusive anyway.
3. I’ll get a free donut or bagel and some lukewarm coffee from Starbucks.
4. I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren “I was there when Steve Jobs introduced the iSlate.”
5. I’ll be able to argue with Katie Cotton, head of Apple PR, about whether I can use a Google Nexus One to Qik live video out to all of you.
6. I’ll be able to hang out with the God of Gadgets, Ryan Block, who co-runs GDGT along with Peter Rojas, the guy who started Engadget.
7. I’ll be able to beg Walt Mossberg for a ticket to All Things D, the conference he does every year with Kara Swisher.
8. Speaking of Kara, if I’m there she’ll interview me with her Flip cam and ask me a funny question, usually along the lines of “how did you sneak by Katie Cotton?”
9. I’ll be able to race the entire press corp down to the Apple store which has decent wifi and try to upload a video from there, since Apple doesn’t give you good wifi at these events because they want you to see the device first in glorious HD from ABC or CNN, not from some blurry Qik cam. Seriously, at the Apple event I was at you aren’t allowed to use video devices in the first few rows, so there’s no chance to get decent video. And, anyway, unlike at Google, Apple will have a glorious HD version of its own up on its own website within a few hours anyway.
10. After working my behind off trying to get SOMETHING that one of the other press people won’t get (yeah, right Scoble, you’re going to get an exclusive that CNN or BBC or New York Times won’t? HAHAHAHHAH) and giving Apple even more free press than I will anyway they won’t give me one to try for a month, like Google did with the Nexus One. No, I’ll have to wait in line and buy my own. On the other hand, Walt Mossberg and four other hand-picked journalists will get a press demo unit to try a month before anybody else.
11. It’s possible this is Steve Jobs’ last “big product” development at Apple so there may not be another chance to be part of a press event like this again.

PROS OF STAYING HOME AND “CURATING” THE EVENT:

1. I’ll be in my pajamas and won’t need to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to make it to San Francisco in time to beat Ryan Block in the door.
2. I’ll have great wifi and four computers with more screens than the average Avatar special effects nerd at Lucas Films has (really, I visited there two weeks ago and they have small screens).
3. I’ll be able to watch 500 of the world’s tech journalists in real time and will be able to pick out the best reports.
4. I’ll be able to write a blog in peace and quiet and put together the best reports.
5. I’ll be able to make it to the Palo Alto Apple store before any of the Press Corp will, and since they are all up in SF I’ll get the best geek story of reaction from Silicon Valley store visitors.
6. I’ll be able to mix Engadget, Crunchgear, Gizmodo, Gearlive, and all the other blog posts together and put together a more complete picture than any of them will give.
7. I’ll be able to talk with my friends in China, who probably know more about this device than anyone except for Steve Jobs anyway. If I’m stuck in the event I won’t be able to make phone calls to do original reporting while the event is going on.
7b. I’ll be able to call — while the event is going on — other execs at other companies like Google and Microsoft to get their take on things and will be able to report that in real time.
8. Unlike most tech journalists, who will only link to their own stuff, I’ll be able to tell you — in real time — who has the best photos and best streaming video or audio from the event. After the event I’ll be able to link you to the best reports. Yes, Techmeme will do the same, but Techmeme has its bias. Just tonight Techmeme linked to a story about YouTube that had been broken by someone else a week ago.
9. I’ll be able to get on audio shows, like those from Leo Laporte or Steve Gillmor or Clayton Morris or Louis Gray and get the first punditry out. I’ll be available in a quiet place to do shows from BBC, Fox, etc that would be very difficult to do from the floor of the event.
10. I’ll be able to hang out with the other hundreds of thousands of geeks who didn’t get invited to the press event and since I won’t be able to get any exclusive news by going anyway they won’t be jealous of me and might invite me over for a beer in the afternoon while griping that they, again, have been locked out of an opportunity to sit at Steve Jobs’ feet and drool on the floor while seeing stuff that will cost us all at least a few hundred bucks and probably thousands over the next few years.

I guess you can see I’ve pretty much made up my decision, but what about you? Would you go? Why?

BACK TO CURATION AND ITS IMPACT ON NEWS

OK, that was all pretty tongue-in-cheek, but there is something to this curation argument. After all, where is the value in the news chain? Is it taking a photo that 60 other photographers will take? Is it trying to compete for video with CNN, ABC, BBC, etc, all of which have $100,000 HD cameras, not to mention that Apple has its own multi-camera video crew that will shoot video that’s better quality than anything you’ll be able to make anyway?

Is it in writing an article about the specs? Come on, please do be serious. Engadget, GDGT, Crunchgear, Gearlive, and Gizmodo will all do those and have distribution to boot. Plus they will each have teams of people there and, probably, will have the spec sheets in their hands hours before the event anyway. When I was at the Palm event at CES last year I saw several journalists had their entire articles written BEFORE the event and were just waiting for a quote and the embargo to end before posting them. You really think you can add more value there?

How about thinking you’ll get an exclusive by hanging out with Steve Jobs and he’ll whisper in your ear something he isn’t going to repeat to everyone else. Hey, it could happen, right? And I could win the lottery too.

But, look at curation. I know all of the tech journalists and have been studying them for years. Here’s a set of my Twitter lists, which you can watch yourself in real time:
500 of the best tech journalists.
433 tech venture capitalists.
500 company founders.
339 tech company executives.
500 iPhone developers, businesses, and influentials.
493 of the world’s top tech news brands, from CNET to Techcrunch, and have a list of them.

I can watch all of these lists in real time and curate news from any of them. Also, because I’ll be home in front of big screens I’ll be able to see patterns, like the differences between how tech journalists and tech company executives are reacting to the news, and report that to you. That’s something that very few tech journalists have demonstrated they are willing (or able) to do. Look at how few tech news brands have created comprehensive lists like these of the tech industry.

Add to that over on Facebook I have a list of the world’s top executives, including those who run Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and lots of other companies and I’ll be able to call and do reporting from my seat.

I can watch all of these lists in real time and put patterns and reports together from across the industry. To me that’s more valuable than even just watching the keynote live. Which explains my choice.

But none of that really compares to the real fun we’re going to have on Wednesday: we’re all going to be able to curate this event together in live time thanks to Facebook, FriendFeed, and Twitter.

See, I’ll be also watching my stream from 17,500+ of you. So, if one of you gets some exclusive news (which is more possible than if I went to the Apple event, since some of you probably have relatives building the device, or friends who work at Apple who are giving you a sneak peak, etc) then I’ll be able to see it and retweet it before anyone on the event floor will be able to see it.

Already if you watch my favorite tweet feed, which this weekend passed 13,000 tweets, all hand favorited by me in just the past eight months, you’ll see the best of the Apple news.

To me THAT is what really has changed about news in the past few years. It’s not that any one of us will get an exclusive but that those who are good at sifting through large numbers of tweets, most of which have tons of noise, will be able to curate a story that no one journalistic team will be able to build on their own.

But, either way, it’ll be fun to watch on Wednesday and my curation hat will be on. Which would you rather do? Create or curate?

Oh, by the way, I bet that Steve Jobs shows off a system on Wednesday that will let you BOTH create and curate and that is why Apple will win this week, big time.

UPDATE: On Wednesday I’ll be giving away my Kindle 2.0 (the small one). It’s not heavily used, in perfect condition. After Wednesday I doubt I’ll use it much so might as well give it away. And, if Apple’s tablet is a huge disappointment (yeah, right) I’ll be able to buy the bigger Kindle anyway or try out Barnes and Noble’s Nook. Anyway, to win it just leave the best response in comments below. I’ll announce the winner at the start of the keynote.

The social behavior incentive (how your app can be as addictive as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare)

I’m an addict. You already knew that, didn’t you? After all, I’m just about to pass my 30,000th Tweet and on Facebook I have more than 10,000 friends and on Foursquare I follow more than 3,000 people (about 1% of their user base as just reported).

I’m not the only addict, though. On Google there are 402,000 results for “social media addiction.” Someone even made a rap video about social media addiction.

In my journey through these systems, I’ve been seeing how each gives incentives to their users.

For instance, on Foursquare every time I check in it gives me points. If I check in a new place that it didn’t know about, it gives me a ton of points. It is rewarding my behavior. This “reward” turns very addictive.

Twitter, on the other hand, has its own incentive system. It puts all sorts of things in your face, like how many Tweets you’ve done, how many people you’re following, how many followers you have, and how many lists you are on.

Things that are measured become games and increase addiction. But Twitter has other games going on as well. Anytime someone uses your @name in a Tweet you see it. Remember that Dale Carnegie said in his book about how to win friends and influence people that your name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Yes, we’re all narcissists and these services use that to be very addictive.

Or, look at why people hate the new Retweet Feature. I still see tweets every day about how hated that new feature is, and one of the top reasons is that they can’t see when someone has retweeted their tweets. Narcissistic behavior, yes, but understandable. We want to know when people found something we did valuable.

So, how can you make your own app addictive?

1. Serve your users’ narcissism. Make it very clear whenever someone else has done something that involves other users. This is why so many apps notify you anytime you get a new user. But look for ways to get other people to say other people’s names in your system. Make that part of the “game.”
2. Measure behavior and report it. Do you want your users to check in? Then measure it like Foursquare does and report it. What’s the home screen of Foursquare’s iPhone app show you? Everytime someone of your friends checks in they show up there. Foursquare reports how big a loser I am because there are 34 people in San Francisco area who’ve checked in more than me this week.
3. Add status for behaviors. When I visit Foursquare in huge type it tells me how many times I’ve checked in. It also shows you my badges that I’ve earned.
4. Make multiple status reports. Foursquare reports how much status I’ve earned, but if you visit, say, the Golden Gate Bridge, it also tells who is the mayor. That is two ways you can see status, and get addicted. Can you come up with other ways in your app?
5. Make undesired behavior seem lame. Why is everyone finally putting their photos into Twitter? Because if you don’t have your photo in Twitter the icon it puts there looks, well, lame. So, Twitter is putting a subtle enticement to all of its users to upload a photo. In Foursquare it reminds me that I’ve done 0 tasks. So, that’s looking pretty lame. Since Foursquare only will win if it gets engaged users, they want to make it more likely that you add a tip or complete a task. They might as well have just painted a big “L” on my forehead for “loser.”
6. Make it easy to share success with others. Foursquare has done this in spades. To the point where now I, and others, consider Foursquare messages on Twitter almost spam. You know the kinds “Robert Scoble just became Mayor of the Half Moon Bay Peets.” I turned them off, but if I ever want to taunt you with my mayorship I just need to click a slider in the iPhone app.
7. Make an API for studying behavior. Developers love to build apps to study data and report that. Don’t believe me? Look at Osnapz’ list of top Foursquare users. Or look at MustExist’s display of my Twitter lists. Or look at Favstar.fm who keeps track of my 13,000 favorite Tweets and who I’ve handed them out to.
8. Make it easy to join in other users. Facebook, for instance, makes it very easy for me to try to tag you in a photo I take of you. If you aren’t in the system it makes it easy for me to invite you to join my addiction.
9. Give people more “hooks” to addict their friends. Facebook, for instance, asks you what your relationship status is, and what your political persuasion is. Why does it ask you those? So you’ll force your friends to join!!! How many more hooks can you put in your app to addict users?

Can you think of any other ways to make your applications more addictive?

Review: "open" Listorious vs. "closed" new Twitter suggestion list

Twitter today turned off its suggested user list and turned on a new “suggestions” list which includes a nice improvement. The Twitter team explains the changes in a blog post.

The old SUL had four problems:

1. It wasn’t transparent. We didn’t know how it was made and there wasn’t any official way to suggest people for the list.
2. It wasn’t open. For instance, Louis Gray isn’t on the list (either the old one or the new one) and I think he should be on. He isn’t the only one, there are hundreds of tech influencers that I think are worthy of anyone interested in tech to follow and I have a list of 233 of them. Twitter’s new tech list only has 57 people on it.
3. It wasn’t complete. It’s very easy to browse any technology list over on Listorious and compare who is on those lists to Twitter’s own list to see that Twitter’s list only has a small fraction of the people and brands you might want to follow if you were interested in tech.
4. It gifted un-engaged users to people because it was on by default during the setup process. Anil Dash wrote a great post about why that sucked (he was on the list and got hundreds of thousands of followers who didn’t really engage with him). In short, it sucked because people who got on Twitter to listen to celebrities would also follow the geeks because they were added by default. This made Twitter less interesting for newbies because they were seeing people and brands they really didn’t care about.

Today Twitter only fixed point #4. This is a dramatic improvement, yes, but now we see the other problems with the list, especially now that we have Listorious to compare it to (which was made possible by another one of Twitter’s new features, called lists).

So, let’s compare the new Twitter list to a third-party service that I use a lot, Listorious:

Listorious = Open. Twitter = Closed. What do I mean by that? On Listorious if someone is a jerk and leaves you off of a list, just start your own list. You can participate. You can add. And you’ll be treated fairly by the system. If you’re popular, you’ll be listed first but there isn’t any favoritism like what Twitter exhibits with its own directory.

Listorious = Transparent. Twitter = Opaque. What do I mean by that? On Listorious you know who created every list and you can write to them. You know how each list is produced and can figure it out. Most lists are human curated, but some, like the top 50 tech list done by Favstar are curated by algorithms. Now, quick, tell me who created the Twitter list? How did they chose those people and companies? You can’t definitively say either.

Listorious = Complete. Twitter = Incomplete. Look through Listorious’ directories. You’ll see many times more lists on many esoteric subjects when compared with Twitter’s 20 lists. Why is this important? Because if you are looking for information on very specific topics, like, say, you are a Cricket fan. What’s your choice on Twitter? The sports list. What’s your choice on Listorious? Search for Cricket and get dozens of lists back.

Why does this matter? It’s shocking to me that Twitter is still not putting its best foot forward with new users.

Twitter’s growth has slowed and I believe a major reason is because new users aren’t figuring out anything useful to do with Twitter. They aren’t being shown enough other members with interests that match their own!

I’ve talked with normal people about why that is. Over and over they tell me that they can’t find anything interesting to watch on Twitter.

This is a damn shame, because if you just spend a few minutes looking through the lists on Listorious you’ll find something that is very interesting to you personally. But on Twitter? They are still showing a list that’s not open, not transparent, and not complete.

Oh well, at least it’s a little better than last week.

Another way to look at it? Why can I come up with pretty nice lists of the tech industry (I have 20 lists separated out into separate things like venture capitalists, tech news brands, tech executives, web innovators, etc) but Twitter can’t spend more time getting these right?