Monthly Archives: January 2011

The unearned follow

I wanted to keep this one to a separate post from the Quora issues, because it’s an issue worth discussing on its own.

I’ve been getting too many follows on too many services without earning them.

On PicPlz I have 2,034 followers.
On Quora I have 17,713 followers.
On Instagram I have 9,249 followers.

Did I earn these by having the best participation? The best photos? The best answers? No. Although I put in some good time, with 409 questions answered on Quora and hundreds of photos posted to the other systems, I can’t say I earned every follow.

I’m not the only one benefitting from unearned follows.

First, how do you get an unearned follow?

Well, let’s say you are following me on Twitter. Then we both join a service like PicPlz.

Did you know that PicPlz will automatically follow me for you? Even if you hate my photographs?

Did I really earn your follow on these new services like I did on the older services like Twitter or Facebook? Yeah, you could say that I didn’t earn them there, either, since I had hundreds of thousands of readers on my blog before I started tweeting, but on Twitter you needed to manually “follow” me and other people on the system. On the newer systems they automatically follow people based on their Twitter popularity.

I don’t think so but I don’t know what to do about it.

This presents a distorted picture of who is putting the most effort into the system. For instance, of the top five most followed on Quora, other than me, here’s how many questions they’ve answered:

Evan Williams has 17,373 followers and has answered five questions.
Kevin Rose has 16,486 followers and has answered 11 questions.
Tim O’Reilly has 13,122 followers and hasn’t answered a single question yet!
Jason Calacanis has 11,528 followers and has answered 29 questions.
Michael Arrington has 11,499 followers and has answered 15 questions.

As comparison, I went through the Quora reviewers (these are people who’ve answered a question well enough to have gotten “reviewer” status, which gives them powers that I don’t have, like the ability to mark questions as not helpful, and the power to not approve your question, which means no one will see it).

Most of these people have “earned” fewer than 100 followers.

Do you see the problems this causes?

Jealousy, for one (because no one can really get as many followers as those who already have them). Non-transparency for two (because the follower counts don’t mean anything on the newer services).

Why do companies do this?

Because it gets popular users onto the system, which drags their social networks onto a new social network.

What does that cause? Virality.

How many of us are talking about Instagram and PicPlz, but not Path? Why not?

Path resists this system and forces people to manually add their friends in their new system.

This retards virality but causes something else to go way up: loyalty and lack of churn. It also ensures that the social graph that is built on Path is one that’s earned on the new system, not dragged over from an older system where it might not make sense.

Path has other problems that keep me from using it (it’s not cross platform, for instance, and it is too limiting on number of friends, at 50) but this experience has me wondering if forcing all users to “earn” their follows might not be a better way?

What do you think?

UPDATE: I added a question on Quora to get feedback about this post.

The mistakes I made in Quora

So, I woke up early in Davos, Switzerland, excited to go skiing, and look at Techmeme and see that the Quora Review has published a post which could be titled “Scoble stay off the Quora lawn.”

Ouch.

Then I look at email. In my email I’ve been sent evidence by some of the 53 reviewers that a small group of reviewers has been marking posts of mine as “not helpful” in retribution to some things they don’t like about my behavior there.

Ouch 2.

Then I see Mike Arrington has posted that Quora is not about my hopes and dreams.

Ouch 3.

I should have just gone skiing without looking at my computer, but now I thought I’d recount some of the mistakes that pissed off these people.

Why?

So you can avoid making the same mistakes and getting the ire (and collapsing button) of them aimed at you.

1. At first I tweeted just my answers to questions. This ensured that my answers would be seen by a pretty sizeable group of people and would gain at least some upvotes, which would ensure that my answers would appear at the top of comment threads. Later, after getting this pointed out to me as a negative bias, I would link to other people’s questions, without my answers, and also to the entire question, so you’d see all answers. On Quora you do this by using the Twitter link on the right side of the page, not the one on the bottom.

2. I broke convention by using photographs in many of my answers. More than anything this seems to have gathered the ire of the reviewers and others. I did it partly because I know that posts with photos and images get more audience and more consideration than posts without, but partly for fun, and partly to, well, get more upvotes. But Quora is already being seen as a place that’s free of photos and videos so this gathered a great deal of hate.

3. I participated too much. In a little more than a month I wrote 400 answers. These made it seem like I was attempting to dominate the service. In reality I was just addicted and liked participating, but when most of the other people answered only a few thoughtful times (Mike Arrington, for instance, has only answered 15 questions) it was behavior out of place and got people to wonder about my participation there and the reasons behind it.

4. Some of my answers were controversial and caused flamewars. Quora is a place that’s free of flamewars and controversy. Why? Because when it happens reviewers pull those answers out of the stream and mark them as “not helpful.” I’ve seen this happen many times, not just to my own posts, but where I’ve answered in a way that got a flamewar going I’ve seen my answers pulled out too.

5. I answered questions too quickly, Part I. Why did I do this? Because, well, I was living on the service. At one point a week ago I was the number one user according to OneTrueFan and most other users, even reviewers, didn’t have the commitment to stay online all times of day and night just to answer the question first. First answers tend to get more visibility and upvotes. Why? Well, let’s say an answer gets five upvotes in first two minutes, because it shows up on the home feed, then it is very hard for a following answer to get the six upvotes it needs to beat the first answer (especially since the first answer keeps getting upvotes after that).

6. I answered posts too quickly, Part II. By answering posts too quickly, and because I knew that first answers were treated better than following answers, especially if the quality of the answer is the same, I would answer first with a poor quality answer and then come back and improve the answer over time. Again, this behavior pissed off people who couldn’t type as fast, or live on the system. Not to mention they saw the first, poor quality answer, and made up their minds that I was a poor quality answerer.

7. I was narcissistic and self promotional. It just leaks out of me. Why? Because I have 4,600 photos I’ve done on Flickr, 694 videos I’ve posted on YouTube, and the hundreds I’ve done on Building43, etc etc. and I pull upon that body of work to answer questions. Yes, many of these things augmented answers, but they pissed off people who don’t have a large body of photos, videos, and blog posts to call upon.

8. I didn’t understand soon enough how my participation in the system, which was mostly due to my own addiction and excitement, pissed people off. IE, I didn’t have my ear to the ground quick enough.

9. I really did think it was potentially a blogging service, not just a QA one. It looked different to me, and based on the answers I was reading (and the feed it generated for each user, here’s mine) that it was closer to a blogging service than to Wikipedia. I was wrong, but funny enough, no one at the company refuted my posts about it.

So, what can we do now? Well, I’m not addicted to the system anymore (partly because I was at Davos and DLD conferences for past two weeks — Louis Gray even noticed I’m not the top user anymore, but also partly because I have learned that if I want to participate I’ve gotta change the way I participate here, which means learning from these eight things myself).

That said, Quora had a huge impact on me the past month. It got me through writers’ block, and I learned some techniques to get me to post more here on my blog. For that I’m very grateful and you’ll see a different kind of blogging here thanks to it.

Why I was wrong about Quora as a blogging service …

I must apologize to Dave Winer. He warned me about supporting services that aren’t the open web and I wasn’t willing to listen to him a month ago, because I was infatuated with a cool new service that lots of insiders were supporting.

I’ve seen a LOT of discussion about Quora in the past few weeks since I wrote it could be the biggest blogging innovation in the past decade. GigaOm even wrote a post asking whether it was worth the more than $80 million the investors are hoping it’s worth.

Turns out I was totally wrong. It’s a horrid service for blogging, where you want to put some personality into answers. It’s just fine for a QA site, but we already have lots of those and, in fact, the competitors in this space are starting to react. Mahalo just released a new version that has been getting lots of praise and at DLD I met the CEO of Answers.com and he said to expect a major update from his service (which has 1000x more users). Stack Exchange is growing faster than Quora and has many many times more questions and answers, plus I’ve found the answers are broader in reach, and deeper in quality (especially for programmers).

Even worse, I’m getting dozens of emails from people pissed that their questions have been changed, their answers marked “not helpful,” or that they got kicked off the service altogether. Admittedly one of the things I really love about the service is there is very little, if any, spam and everyone is forced to use their real name, but lots of people want to talk about their business or not use their real names. Mashable, for instance, has the most followers on the service but they’ve been banned because brands aren’t allowed on Quora. Funny that some people with obviously fake names haven’t been deleted yet, though.

These are all things that are allowed on blogs, even welcomed, and no one can downvote my blogs here.

Why?

Because if you gather a group that doesn’t like you, or your writings, for some reason, you can get voted down, which effectively makes your answer disappear. See this post, for instance. As of right now my answer is voted down, even though it got 33 upvotes and lots of “great post” comments on Twitter and under the post itself. In fact, no one explained why the post got downvoted in the comments — which means that people who leave answers are left scratching their heads wondering “what did I do wrong?” Most just leave the system, not to return.

So, does this matter to the long term relevance of the system? Yes.

I’m watching hundreds of topics and not seeing the influx of new users and new questions that this service needs to become worth $100 million so that investors will make out.

It is a fun place to see answers by Steve Case and other technology insiders, but it just isn’t an interesting place to participate and until Quora fixes this moderation problem, and puts very clear answers onto why something was downvoted, it just isn’t the kind of place that I can recommend supporting.

Sorry, Dave, you were right and I was wrong.

UPDATE: How would I fix this? Turns out the question could have been collapsed by a reviewer (who isn’t paid by Quora, but given “special powers”). To fix this problem the reviewer’s name should be included on the collapsed answer, along with the reason why it was collapsed. There also should be a way to contest/appeal the downvote. Either way, whenever a question gets collapsed it should be very clear why, who did it, and what process the answerer can go through to change the answer to respond to the criticism, and get it upvoted again.

The hallway conversations I had at World Economic Forum

David Gergen has a conversation with Bill Clinton on the floor of the World Economic Forum

This week I’ve been wandering the hallways at the World Economic Forum meeting interesting people. Instead of keeping those conversations to myself I pulled out my iPhone 4 and recorded them with Cinchcast. Enjoy!

1. What it’s like to be a Quora reviewer, with Baidu’s Kaiser Kuo.

2. The Tech Guy (CTO) behind the World Economic Forum, Brian Behlendorf, told me about how the World Economic Forum is developing infrastructure and mobile apps to run the event.

3. Mashable’s founder, Pete Cashmore, talked about what he’s learned in Davos and the experiences he’s had. (He told me about dinner with a billionaire that could lead into something very special).

4. GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock is one of the top female executives in the world and she talked about what she’s trying to do to keep GE on top as one of the world’s largest corporations.

5. Discovered the future of “inside your body” drug tracking with Andrew Thompson, CEO of http://proteusbiomedical.com Mind-blowing technology to help people.

6. Discovered why people cheat and what the future of cheating (and beating cheaters) is with Duke University Professor Dan Ariely. Esther Dyson listened in and told me this was the best session of Davos for her.

7. The future of buildings with Serious Materials CEO, Kevin Surace.

8. How to protect your online reputation with Reputation.com’s CEO, Michael Fertik:

9. What are technology revolutions past and present with Esther Dyson.

10. The future of tablets and datacenters with Michael Dell.

11. The past and future of publishing with one of Europe’s most powerful publishers, Hubert Burda.

12. The future of cities with Chris Luebkeman, director for Global Foresight at the World Economic Forum.

13. The state of social media communities and addiction with Clay Shirky.

14. About China’s tech status with Kai-Fu Lee, former head of Google in China.

15. I had my mind blown by Harvard’s John Clippinger who taught me about the algorithmic corporation.

16. What Facebook is doing at the World Economic Forum by having a conversation with Randi Zuckerberg.

17. Forester’s CEO, George Colony, told me about trends in tech (the web is dead!?!)

18. The state of online news with Huffington Post’s CEO Eric Hippeau.

19. Price Waterhouse Cooper’s CEO told me what he’s learned about how CEOs think by surveying thousands of CEOs for its annual CEO survey.

20. Bloggers are more loyal employees, I learned, by talking with Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant, which has 100,000 employees.

21. Why Facebook is going to be the biggest bank in the world and how Ven is going to be the currency supporting it.

22. Wrapping up World Economic Forum 2011 with Jeff Jarvis.

Anyway, hope you enjoy these 20 conversations from the hallways at the World Economic Forum.

I will miss the old Y Combinator

One thing I love about Y Combinator before today is its austereness. Walk into InDinero’s original office, for instance, and you’ll see it actually is a house, where several people live, which keeps costs way down. This is typical for a Y Combinator company. The $17,000 they usually gave companies just doesn’t go far in expensive Silicon Valley.

Lately, however, companies like InDinero have been getting $1 to $5 million in angel or A rounds, which lets them get a real office. So, I’ve already noticed that I’m seeing fewer Y Combinator companies in low-cost situations like what I saw at InDinero.

Today, it was announced that Y Combinator companies could get a loan of $150,000 from Ron Conway’s SV Angel and Yuri Milner.

No longer will we hear stories like we heard from Airbnb’s founders of surviving off of cereal or “ramen.”

That bums me out, because struggle and sacrifice makes for great stories.

Davos hero: Elisabet de los Pinos

Davos hero: biotech pioneer

When I sat down last night at dinner I was facing Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials, a clean-tech firm that’s had good success in the past year, with about 450 employees.

He quickly whispered in my ear that I must meet Elisabet de los Pinos. He said “she is doing work that could win the Nobel Prize in less than 10 years.”

I’m looking for heroes at Davos. People who I can show my sons and nieces as examples of people they should emulate as they go through college.

Along the journey of my life I’ve met and interviewed thousands of people, but Elisabet stands alone, even in the rarified air of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

She’s the founder and president of Aura Biosciences. Just look at the press she’s accumulating, like this article in TIME.

What has she done? Found a way to deliver chemotherapy directly to cancer without delivering the poison to other parts of a cancer patient’s body.

Potentially world-changing work.

But, there’s a reason that I see her as a hero.

1. She’s a scientist. I wish our media would present more images of scientists like her, who are doing world-changing work, and fewer images of people like Paris Hilton. Young people need to see that science is fun, and talking with her you get inspired about science again.
2. She’s approachable. With her warm smile she puts a friendly face on a difficult part of science: working at 25 nanometer-wide nanoparticles. She makes it easy to understand what she’s doing, and that’s a skill that very few scientists have.
3. She isn’t cynical. Talking with her she is clearly an idealist. She believes she can find a way to get her innovations out to both rich and poor. She hasn’t yet lost the sparkle in her eye. Translation: the pharma industry hasn’t beaten her down yet and I hope it never does.

Anyway, I hope to get an interview with her soon so you can see what I saw, that she is one of the heroes that we should introduce to our kids to inspire them to do great things with their lives.

++++++++++++

I’m doing a series of interviews with interesting people I meet at the World Economic Forum. Here’s the ones I’ve done on the first morning:

1. Huffington Post CEO, Eric Hippeau talking with me and Henry Blodget, founder of Business Insider. Some interesting insights into the future of news. Henry is blogging about his Davos experience here.

2. Price Waterhouse Cooper Chairman, Robert E Moritz, talking about its annual CEO survey (you can find the survey here).

3. CEO of Cognizant, Francico D’Souza, who manages 100,000 employees, says they are noticing that employees who blog, even internally, are more loyal than employees who don’t.

4. CEO of Forrester, one of the big tech analyst firms, talks to me about what he’s noticing in the tech industry. He says some surprising things, especially about Google and Microsoft.