Tag Archives: Twitter

Drama vs. Helpfulness, how I will rebuild a friendship

Twitter. It almost means drama. Heck, for those who didn’t catch musician Wil.i.am and Perez Hilton going at it over on Twitter you can get a whif of the kind of things that seem to happen in our real-time entertainment-focused world.

I have drunk too much from that world.

It’s too easy to be nasty. To build alliances, mobs, and use them to hurt people. I know, I’ve been on both the receiving end of that and the giving end of it too.

But I’m going the other way. How can I be helpful?

Yesterday I reminisced about the good old days, when coders ruled the world, not drama. Code isn’t dramatic. It either works, or it doesn’t.

Code doesn’t incite riots. Code doesn’t call people names. Code doesn’t end friendships.

So, I’m leaving the drama world to those who want to use Twitter to riot, to harm, to hurt, or to cause a fight to encourage people to click on their links so they can get the page views and get paid.

Tonight a friend says he’s ending his friendship with me. I don’t care how or why, but I’ll work to be helpful again. I used to be helpful.

I used to help by being excited by seeing the coolest latest startups. I used to help by trying out all the latest technology and knowing more about how to use it than anyone else.

That is still there, but it’s been repressed by the real time world. The drama. The fights.

My friend is noticing the same thing, although he’s articulating it badly. So am I.

It takes two to fight, so now I’m off. How to be helpful?

Well, for one, have you tried Feedly? I’m playing with it and it is now my favorite way to read Google Reader’s feeds and tell the world about who has the best blogs. Yeah, it only works with Firefox, but most of you should be using that anyway. Would love to help out.

Anyway, earlier today I wrote that with every tweet we have a choice: helpful or hurtful. I’m trying to be helpful. Kick me if I’m not.

Excuse me while I try to patch up a friendship.

Crowd sourcing works, here's some examples

Ever use a crowd to learn something? I have. Here’s some of my favorite ones:

1. What Netbook would you recommend?

2. Examples of “now” marketing.

3. Teaching me about microformats.

4. Top apps to load on your new iPhone 3GS.

5. Favorite Twitter app for iPhone.

6. A bunch of people’s favorite web sites.

7. Tools people use to build 2010 websites.

8. Hundreds of people teach me about “leadership.”

9. What apps/services people think should be included in a list of 2010 web ones.

10. What to do if you see FriendFeed spam.

11. What to use instead of PowerPoint to give presentations.

12. What should CIOs consider about the 2010 web?

13. Interesting groups of Twitterers.

14. Should you use Disqus, Intense Debate, BackType on your blog’s commenting system?

15. What kind of mountain bike do you recommend for $1000-$1,500?

There are plenty of other examples too, but most of these have very good answers and are participated in by dozens if not hundreds of people each.

Have you found other examples of where crowds were used to answer questions and where the answers that came back are better than what you can find elsewhere?

Real-time systems hurting long-term knowledge?

Whew, OK, now that I’m off of FriendFeed and Twitter I can start talking about what I learned while I was addicted to those systems.

One thing is that knowledge is suffering over there. See, here, it is easy to find old blogs. Just go to Google and search. What would you like me to find? Chinese Earthquake? Google has it.

Now, quick, find the first 20 tweets or FriendFeed items about the Chinese Earthquake. It’s impossible. I’m an advanced searcher and I can’t find them, even using the cool Twitter Search engine.

On April 19th, 2009 I asked about Mountain Bikes once on Twitter. Hundreds of people answered on both Twitter and FriendFeed. On Twitter? Try to bundle up all the answers and post them here in my comments. You can’t. They are effectively gone forever. All that knowledge is inaccessible. Yes, the FriendFeed thread remains, but it only contains answers that were done on FriendFeed and in that thread. There were others, but those other answers are now gone and can’t be found.

The other night Jeremiah Owyang told me that thought leaders should avoid spending a lot of time in Twitter or FriendFeed because that time will be mostly wasted. If you want to reach normal people, he argued, they know how to use Google.

And if you want to get into Google the best device — by far — is a blog. Yes, FriendFeed is pretty darn good too (it better be, it was started by a handful of superstars who left Google to start that company) but it isn’t as good as a blog and, Jeremiah argues, my thoughts were lost in the crowd most of the time anyway.

And that’s on FriendFeed which has a decent search engine (although it remains pretty darn incomplete. Here, try to find all items with the word Obama written in Washington DC on November 4th 2008. Oh, you can’t do that on FriendFeed and on Twitter search you can’t pull out the important ones and the location information is horribly inaccurate because it isn’t based on where a Tweet was done from, but from the tweeter’s home location).

Here’s an easy search: find the original Tweet of the guy who took the picture of the plane that fell into the Hudson. I can do it on FriendFeed after a few tries, but on Twitter Search? Give me a break. Over on Google? One click, but you gotta click through a blog or a journalistic report to get there. Real time search is horrid at saving our knowledge and making it accessible.

This is a HUGE opportunity for Facebook, which has more than 10x more users than Twitter and 100x more than FriendFeed.

Or, it’s how Google will get back into the social networking business and lock everyone out.

What do you say Larry Page?

The day Twitter kicked CNN's behind & @ev bought me a whisky

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Yesterday is the day when Twitter thoroughly beat CNN. Badly beat CNN. Embarrassingly beat CNN. And most other USA-based media too.

Over on friendfeed we’ve been talking about this for the past 12 hours. Here’s one thread on CNN’s horrid news judgment.

This second thread is interesting because of the number of interesting news sources linked to by various people. Don’t miss the photos and videos. Great examples of photojournalism.

ReadWriteWeb wrote a good post to CNN.

I’ve been clicking “like” on the best items about Iran that have come through friendfeed. The photo above I found on TwitPic here. Pulitzer Prize winning material.

OK, so last night something else really weird happened.

My friend Luke Kilpatrick (he lives a couple of blocks away from me) invited me down to the Ritz at about 9 p.m. tonight. He met up there with a couple of geeks. While there he introduced me to Philip Kaplan (the guy who started AdBrite and Fucked Company), Scott Raymond, and Rachel Luxemberg, who is a community manager at Adobe.

It was dark, so I couldn’t see who else was there around the fire ring out back.

Anyway, I was pretty passionate about this CNN story, since every hour we had been turning through the channels trying to learn about Iranian news (my wife is Iranian and hadn’t been able to call her relatives in Tehran). So I was telling Luke about how Twitter was totally kicking ass over CNN (CNN, when I kept turning it on, had nothing on and, instead was playing shows like Larry King Live with a couple of guys who build motorcycles).

That’s when I heard a voice say “what are you saying about Twitter?” I looked up and it’s Evan Williams, founder/CEO of Twitter. Oh, hi!

Anyway, I congratulated him on kicking USA’s media’s behind (CNN wasn’t the only one who wasn’t covering the Iranian protests). We talked about a variety of things, including family (he has a kid on the way, his wife was there too) and the future of Twitter.

We talked about why he isn’t going to sell Twitter, but I’ll let him explain that all in a blog post. We talked about Building43, which has gotten a good chunk of traffic, because his competitor, Mark Zuckerberg gave me one of my first interviews there.

He said that Twitter would ship more new features in the next few months than it has in years. Anyway, I talked more about the evening on friendfeed. We ended up as a group up in the Ritz’ bar where Ev graciously bought us all drinks. That’s how I got my whisky.

I do have to admit it was cool seeing @ev on the evening when Twitter kicked CNN’s behind. Welcome to the Twitter News Network.

Oh, this week should be fun. I’m headed to New York to be on a panel with CNN’s Rick Sanchez at Jeff Pulver’s Twitter 140 conference. I’m definitely going to bring this up with Rick (there’s tons of people Twittering about CNN right now, it’s a trending topic on Twitter’s search and there’s even a hashtag titled #cnnfail).

It is there that I found Steve Bennen of the Washington Monthly talking about CNNFail. CNET too wrote about CNNFail.

Facebook: still a data roach motel when compared to Twitter and friendfeed?

Twitter has done something really remarkable: they have made the entire database of Tweets available to other companies. My favorite friendfeed is one of the beneficiaries of that “firehose” of data. You can watch my Tweets go from Twitter to friendfeed and back again. Oh, and friendfeed makes its firehose available to Twitter in return. You can see how this benefits both services. My liked items go from friendfeed to Twitter.

Now, what did Facebook do today? Well, it turned on an open stream API so that developers can put things into the stream over on Facebook. It also looks like developers can take some data off of the stream and use it in their own applications.

Loic Le Meur, CEO of Seesmic, has already shipped a version of Seesmic that does just that.

One big problem that Marshall Kirkpatrick, over at the ReadWriteWeb points out: Facebook is still keeping most of its users’ data private due to the privacy contract that it has made with its users. See, over on Twitter and friendfeed the bias for most user data is that it is public by default until you make it private (like, in friendfeed, you would have to open a room and make that explicitly private to be able to keep your data from going over to Twitter and over to Google. On Facebook it’s the opposite. If you use Facebook as designed your data only gets shown to your friends, not anyone else).

This is a HUGE difference between the openess of the Twitter/friendfeed model and the Facebook one.

Go see the comments on Marshall’s post. They are very telling about how poorly people understand what’s going on here and how they can articulate what they want.

The real elephant in the room is “where’s the money?”

The real money is in search. Yeah, I’m sure that someone at Facebook this afternoon will point out they are selling lots of display ads because they know their audience demographics pretty damn well (hint: Facebook knows EVERYTHING about who you are. I told it, for instance, that I’m a male 44-year-old democrat who loves skiing and photography, among other things).

But the REAL money has NOT shown up for Zuckerberg and crew yet. What’s that?

Search.

When I can ask Facebook “what sushi restaurants do my friends like?” ONLY THEN will you know that Facebook is getting close to the gold mine.

The thing is, Facebook doesn’t want to let you build that kind of business using its data.

THAT is reason #2 why Facebook isn’t going to turn on its real firehose for friendfeed to study, the way that Twitter has let friendfeed have access.

Reason #1, though, is that Zuckerberg hasn’t yet figured out how to change user expectations from having everything private by default to having everything public by default, the way Twitter and friendfeed work.

In an hour a group of us will be meeting with Facebook executives. If everything works out you’ll be able to follow along at http://live.twit.tv as part of a special Gillmor Gang at about 4 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll definitely try to figure out how Facebook will change the default mode so that it can turn on the business social graph.

I also will find out if there’s a roadmap to opening up the data stream to include more data leakage outside of Facebook. If I were Zuckerberg I wouldn’t open that up until after I could change user expectations and get people to build a public instance of themselves. That could take a couple of years.

I wonder what you think of Facebook’s moves? Join us on the Gillmor Gang and over on friendfeed (we’re having a live chat about this post over on the beta friendfeed) and let’s see if we can learn something together about where Facebook is headed.

UPDATE: friendfeed cofounder Paul Buchheit just wrote this over on the live chat: “It’s not about defaults, it’s about ownership. On Facebook, you are not allowed to give other people access to your data, because your data belongs to Facebook. On FriendFeed or Twitter, you can choose to be public or private, but either way you can still access your data and do what you want with it.”

What San Francisco/Silicon Valley can learn from the Twittering company: Zappos

Zappos Tour

Yesterday I was lucky enough to visit Zappos and get a tour and talk with some of their executives, including Tony Hsieh, CEO.

Up until now most of what I knew about Zappos was that they had a lot of people on Twitter (434 of their 1,500 employees are on Twitter with more joining every day).

I thought I was going to Zappos to study how Zappos uses social media and get an interview about that for Building43, the community Rocky and I are building for people who are fanatical about the Internet.

But within 10 minutes of walking in the front door I realized that there’s a lot more to Zappos than that they get Twitter. More on that later, because Tim O’Reilly demonstrates some of Silicon Valley’s worst beliefs about Twitter when his conferences advertise “learn the secrets of building 100,000 + followers.” Zappos does NOT believe that is the goal of Twitter, more on that later in this post. Aside: if you want to attend a Twitter Conference that focuses on real business value and community engagement, come to 140: The Twitter Conference. (UPDATE: Tim O’Reilly wrote me and said he totally agreed with me that focusing on followers is the wrong thing to do for a Twitterer and he has removed that language from his conference materials).

Before we even got to the front door tons of employees said “hello.” That’s weird, doesn’t happen at most companies, believe it or not. And the way they greeted each other told me something else was up here.

A warm greeting in Zappos headquarters

Then when we got into the front lobby we were warming greeted again, and then as we looked around, we saw this wasn’t going to be a normal visit to a normal company. There was a book store with books free for the taking. There was a popcorn machine. A Dance Dance Revolution machine. A “hall of fame” board for employees who had pushed “reply to all” too quickly. And a video display that showed off how many sales were made yesterday. I had never been in a corporate lobby like this before.

Then I hooked onto a tour given by Zappos’ Mayor, Jerry Tidmor. Oh, yeah, everyone has weird titles. Executives are called “monkeys.” One employee’s title was, simply, “fred.” Causes him a lot of fun when he tries to get a badge at conferences. UPDATE: here’s video of the beginning of that tour.

Along the way Jerry showed us office after office that was decked out with some fun weird theme. I had seen some of this at other places like Google and my new employer, Rackspace, but Zappos gets everyone into it. The lawyers’ offices even hold the Christmas tree (they have Christmas twice a year at Zappos. Why? Why not?).

In one office they set up a bowling alley. That was a lot of fun for the Rackspace employees who were here for discussions.

Total transparency

They are transparent with all their numbers. All employees know how they are doing and so does the public. The numbers are on a white board on the tour for all to see and take pictures of. This picture is of Jerry standing in front of the board with the up-to-date numbers.

During a lunch session with Zappos “monkeys” we asked how they handled a recent layoff. We noted that the employees who were laid off were incredibly positive. The answer: they did it in open with everyone understanding the reasons for it. They did it fast and didn’t drag their feet. So when they did it they had enough cash to give everyone a good severance package. They said if they had waited to see if business conditions would improve they wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Anyway, so what can Silicon Valley learn from Zappos?

1. You don’t need to be in San Francisco to build a great company. Zappos actually started in the same building as Craig’s List. They moved to Las Vegas because it was cheaper and because they saw they could build a better company. The other half of the company is a warehouse in Kentucky. That’s there because that’s where UPS is, so they can take your order in the evening and have it on your doorstep the next day.

Sign with one of core values

2. Focus on culture and build something for long term. Tony’s first company, Link Exchange, was sold because it wasn’t fun anymore, he told me. That’s why he focused so much on culture when he got involved with Zappos. I see so many companies who focus on growth and get exactly what they want: an unfun fast growing company that falls apart later.

3. Get rid of assholes. Zappos has a filtering system before, during, and after hiring to make sure they get rid of people who “don’t fit the culture.” That is the nice way of saying they get rid of assholes and they get rid of them quickly. They even pay candidates $2,000 after they go through training if they can admit they don’t fit into the culture.

Dr. Vic

4. Get a coach. Zappos has its own coach. His name is Dr. Vic. He meets with every employee. Takes their picture. Learns what they are about and helps them get their career moving. Plus he writes a blog for everyone else’s company.

5. Share with others. Zappos gives tours to everyone to share what they’ve learned. You can take the tour too, I highly recommend it if you are in Las Vegas. tours@zappos.com will get you a date and a time. Oh, did I mention they pick you up from the airport? And that they carry your bags? And that they are, well, um, nice?

Grab a book and learn

6. Train, train and train some more. Zappos has a whole department that puts together classes. Your pay goes up the more classes you complete. Plus they have all those free books in the lobby.

7. Enable all employees to be spokespeople. Every single new hire at Zappos is asked to start a Twitter account and post a few times to it during training. After that they don’t care if you keep it up. Why do they do that? They want to rub it in that EVERYONE in the company is a public spokesperson for Zappos, not just the CEO or PR team.

Zappos core values

8. Everyone lives by same rules. During the tour we heard of a new hire that was fired during training for not showing up on time and giving some lip. This was a high level technical person that they really could have used. Silicon Valley companies would put up with that kind of behavior. Not at Zappos. Everyone, from executive recruits on down are expected to live to the same rules.

9. The CEO’s office isn’t sacrosanct. Tony enouraged us to throw peanut shells on his office floor. Why? That happens every day, we learned, as tours come through. But it’s a subtle message that Tony isn’t above anyone else in the company and that his door isn’t just open, but that you can come in and mess up his work space.

The Casual department

10. Create a welcoming culture. Every department, as we walked in, said “hi” in a different way. Here’s the casual department who waved these little clappy hands at us. Other departments had other kinds of noise makers. The Fashion department took pictures of us while they played music.

Everyone on tour is a VIP

11. Everyone is a VIP. Both internally and externally everyone gets the VIP treatment. This means all sorts of little things all across the company. Vendors, when they come to Zappos, get their bags carried. That wins them accounts. In our case we had our tripods and cameras carried and our every need catered to.

Lunch with Zappos executives

12. Create an atmosphere for both goofiness and brilliance. Every conference room was decked out with personal touches. It gets you in the mood for creative discussions. Here Rackspace employees are meeting with Zappos employees and learning more about Zappos. Notice all the weird touches on the table, the walls. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously there.

13. Root out hubris and kill it. This is mostly a note to myself, but I know lots of San Francisco companies who this could apply to just as well, too.

14. Follow your employee’s and customers’ passion. How did Zappos get into clothing? Their customers and employees were passionate about it.

15. Don’t be religious about what’s working. Having 400 employees on Twitter is clearly working for Zappos but Tony, at one point, told his employees to talk to me about friendfeed. They are always looking for the next idea. By the way, here’s everyone who is saying something about Zappos on friendfeed. I love this quote from Forrester’s CEO, George Colony (Tony is speaking at the Forrester Conference today): “When asked why he was on Twitter, Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO said: “People relate to people, not companies.”

16. Be religious about taking care of customers. Tony loves telling the story about when they got pizza ordered for them by Zappos help desk (they didn’t know who was calling). Every employee is empowered to take care of customers and get their problems solved.

17. Reward greatness. Every employee can give a $50 bonus to any other employee. Does it get misused? Not often and when it does it’s easy to solve.

18. Remember most policies are to take care of edge cases. They resist writing new policies at Zappos. When they do write a policy, they make sure it really is needed across the company. Usually policies get killed.

Anyway, there is lots of posts like this one about Zappos and why this company is so interesting. I didn’t get it until I went on a tour and saw it for myself. I’m a fan for life. I wish there were more companies like Zappos.

The fact that there isn’t tells us something about us. And I don’t like what I’m learning.

Back to that quote from the O’Reilly Twitter Camp home page: the goal of a good company as they get on Twitter should NOT be to get more followers. It should be to take care of customers and create an emotional attachment to the company through its people. Zappos gets this at a deep level. Boy do I wish more did.

The newspaper industry just gave away another free meal, er Twitter: do they have any left?

I’m listening to Dave Winer and Jay Rosen “reboot the news.” Jay is a journalism professor and Dave is a geek that helped either birth or bootstrap all sorts of publishing technologies including blogging, RSS, OPML, XML-RPC, and more. So, hearing the two of them do an audio podcast every Sunday is very interesting.

I’ve been pretending in my head that I’m a newspaper exec. When I do that I keep beating myself around the face. Why? Because the newspaper industry keeps giving the geeks free meals. Let’s study the free meals:

Free meal #1. Giving away classified advertising to Craig’s List.
Free meal #2. Giving away photography to Flickr (look at the photos from the Chinese Earthquake, why didn’t this happen on a newspaper branded site?).
Free meal #3. Giving away front page news to blogs like Huffington Post.
Free meal #4. Giving away “small” community news like births, deaths, birthdays, etc to Facebook.
Free meal #5. Giving away real-time news to Twitter.
Free meal #6. Giving away news distribution to Google News and Amazon Kindle, among others. With new sites like Kosmix coming on strong (hundreds of percent of growth month over month).
Free meal #7. Giving away restaurant reviews to Yelp.
Free meal #8. Giving away traffic information to Google Maps.
Free meal #9. Giving away celebrity news to Facebook and Twitter. (Why is Oprah on both of those, and why didn’t the newspaper industry lock up Oprah and keep her on a newspaper brand?)
Free meal #10. Giving away local news to Topix (at least that was funded by a newspaper brand).
Free meal #11. Giving away business news to Yahoo Finance and Google Finance (and something new that will get announced tomorrow).
Free meal #12. Giving away news ranking to Memeorandum.
Free meal #13. Giving away astrology to Astrology.com.
Free meal #14. Giving away comics to Comics.com.

What is their latest giveaway? Crowd-sourced news. I visit Twitter Search every day to find out what is “hot news.” That’s something I used to look at newspapers and older media for (radio, TV) but Twitter is just plain better at telling me what is trending.

OK, so now my face is bloody because I’m seeing all the things the newspaper industry gave away. Do they have anything left to give away?

YES!

“OK, Scoble, you’ve lost it now, there isn’t anything left.”

Oh, you are wrong. There are still some tasty meals left. The rest of this post will be a plea to the newspaper industry to NOT give away the last things they have left.

Meal left #1: their distribution. About half of the houses in Washington D.C., for instance, still receive the Washington Post.
Meal left #2 (partially eaten): their understanding of the local community, although this is disappearing very quickly in many communities. I’d still rather read a New York Times review of Broadway Plays or restaurants than a Yelp review, but that is changing fast too.
Meal left #3: they still have journalists who can be paid to chew on something for a while (like go to Iraq to cover the war), although this is disappearing too. Sorry, I’ve watched the blog world and we aren’t willing to self fund longer term projects. We chase the fun short stories, or things that will get a quick hit on Memeorandum or Techmeme, but doing the longer stories that require doing real reporting with hundreds of sources, say, about what a politician is doing, just isn’t there.
Meal left #4: objectivity and accountability. I can argue that lots of journalists aren’t objective, but the truth is they are part of a system that adds objectivity and accountability as a system BEFORE publishing. Blogging and Twittering, I have noticed, can be objective and accountable, but it sometimes takes time to figure that out, especially when bloggers and twitterers don’t disclose their conflicts of interests up front.
Meal left #5: Systems for aggregating and archiving information. Far beyond what I’ve seen on most blogs or on Twitter. Here, find quickly the first four Tweets about the Chinese Earthquake. Now, why does the New York Times make it easier to find the front page of the paper the day they reported the Titanic sank?. Hint: they have this figured out in a way that Twitter and others just don’t.
Meal left #6 (partially eaten): they have brands that many people who are older, and therefore understand politics, business, sports, news, influence, wealth, and many other topics, love a lot more than Facebook or Twitter.
Meal left #7: They have news systems that are very robust. Do you have the Associated Press warning you about news events coming up? Newspaper editors do. Do you have a scanner and a team of people listening to the police full time? Newspapers do (or did).
Meal left #8: They have a room of curators. People who understand the news. Understand their communities. Who pick the top stories and who add understanding onto them with photos, graphics, headlines, etc. Believe me, I’ve been watching most bloggers and most of them suck at packaging their stories.
Meal left #9: Sources. The San Jose Mercury News can get into the Mayor’s Office. I can’t. Well, I probably could, but it would take a while to figure out who to call, what the stories are, who the gatekeepers are, etc. When I visited the Capital I had a journalist as a guide. If I didn’t have someone who was familiar with the Capital I would never have gotten past all the gatekeepers and I would not have been as effective.
Meal left #10: Relationships and an understanding of same. Most of us haven’t really thought about how the Mayor of our town is related to other people. Journalists study that in depth.
Meal left #11: a newsroom. I’ve been in a few newsrooms, including the New York Times. Being there gives you access to other people who care about the news. People who’ve been around a long time and understand how to get to the bottom of a story and how to tell it in the best possible way. You also have access to all the machinery of creating news. Can you afford a 300 mm F2.8 lens? I can’t. That costs $8,000, but the local newsroom probably has several. The New York Times even has a TV studio to shoot HD interviews that I can’t yet do.
Meal left #12: great opinion writers who understand the news system a lot better than most Twitter users. The New York Times even ran a post about that today, which is causing interesting conversation.

So, what is the next meal to be given away and, how could I, as self-appointed head of journalism, keep our industry from giving it away to yet another San Francisco geek with his or her hand out?

We are in the middle of moving to a real-time system for EVERYTHING. Tomorrow afternoon at about 4 p.m. Pacific Time a company called SkyGrid will show off just how this is true. But you already have plenty of taste in Twitter, Facebook, and especially, friendfeed. But those systems are still VERY UNSATISFYING.

That is where we could work together. Why don’t the geeks and the last remaining news organizations create something new?

Let’s start with Facebook and Twitter. They are onto something, but they have NOT nailed the monetization system. Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook knows they are very close. Let me explain a little of how close they are.

To do that, first let’s go back to how people buy things. I’m in the middle of buying a mountain bike, so am studying this process very closely. Here’s the buying process:

1. Something created the need in my head to buy a mountain bike. In this case it was a doctor who told me I should exercise more. I have a great trail near my house. I don’t like swimming. I don’t like running anymore (did too much running in high school when I ran four marathons). I don’t like going to the gym. So, I’ve been looking for something more fun that will help me in my goal. My friend Luke wants me to surf, and that might play into it, but I like riding a bike and I like photography, so I want to carry a camera while mountain biking.
2. Now I’m researching. That means visiting stores. That means asking my friends. Talking about it on Twitter and friendfeed. Just a few minutes ago (while writing this post) I did just that and already have dozens of replies, all in live time!
3. Soon, this week, I’ll be buying. That’ll be the only time you can really monetize me.

So, let’s look at Facebook, Twitter, friendfeed.

Can they create the need? Absolutely!
Can they help you research? Yes!
But can they monetize? No!

That’s the opportunity Mark Zuckerberg has left open and it’s only open for a little while.

So, what can we do?

How about we create our own social network? One that is a meritocracy. Best participants get recommended. Not like Twitter where celebrities get recommended above people who are actually participating. Oprah, for instance, already is on Twitter’s recommended follower list despite only being on Twitter for three days. Huh? Twitter will come to understand why that’s a pretty stupid idea. Celebrities rarely will tell you where to buy a great mountain bike and even rarer will they answer your questions in live time. Come on, do you really hold delusions that Oprah will answer your questions? I don’t.

First, let’s start with cloning Twitter. It’s the simplest to clone. Heck, there’s already an open source system that did just that. It’s called Laconica.

But remember, what we really need is a search engine to pull interesting things out.

Here’s some use cases we’ll need to design that search engine to do:

1. Local establishments. When I am walking down University Ave (or any ave) I want to be able to say “show me sushi restaurants within walking distance.” Now, imagine if Facebook did that? Well, it could tell you “four sushi restaurants have been liked by 10 or more of your friends.” But it doesn’t store location information. Friendfeed? It can give you the real time metadata, but we need more to be able to really pull back just restaurants. Relying on comments and titles, the way its engine does now, will lead to lots of noise. And Twitter? Twitter doesn’t give us enough metadata to do much of anything except to know that a few sushi restaurants were retweeted a lot or that there’s one with a popular metatag.
2. Movie feedback in real time. I remember seeing movies with my team at 7 a.m. on release day when I worked at Microsoft (they bought tickets for lots of us and made us go early in the morning so that we’d be at work on time). The email lists would tell everyone else whether the movie was any good or not. So, why can’t we do that? And rate theaters at the same time?
3. News sharing. Already Twitter does THAT pretty well. I knew about the Chinese Earthquake while it was happening thanks to just watching Twitter. But months later? Try to pull out the important Tweets. I can’t. Over on friendfeed I can. Over on Facebook? Nope, because my friends started yelling at me when I pulled Tweets in there. They like baby photos and personal information, meant for close friends, but not a lot of news. Facebook is going to have a tough time getting over that.
4. Product feedback. I need a way to look for good feedback about all sorts of stuff. Dave Winer just bought a toaster oven that he has been raving about. Now go to Twitter Search and tell me about his toaster oven. I couldn’t find his info. Over on friendfeed I was able to find his info, but it’s unstatisfying, because I can’t see who else liked that particular toaster oven.

So, how do we build what I need?

I have some ideas. First, let’s assume we can match friendfeed. That’s already a tall order. That company was started by four superstars from Google. I’m not a superstar from Google.

But, I know that there are a few technology superstars at, say, the New York Times. I’ve met a few of them on my travels and there are a few others out there, too, and if we pool our efforts we could convince others to join us. There’s lots of engineers on the streets right now.

How about making a platform that would enable everyone to build their own little Twitter? You know, have a community of people that they could draw out of Twitter and over to your private community? Friendfeed is very close to that. Watch how I’m using Twitter to get my Twitter followers to answer questions over on friendfeed. But that means you’ve gotta have something that adds functionality onto Twitter over on our own site.

Look at my question on Twitter and friendfeed about mountain bikes again. What do you notice is missing?

1. Price data.
2. Comparison charts.
3. Separation of very credible and uncredible answers. Let’s say someone from Nike’s adventure team, who I believe is the winningest mountain bike team, comes over and answers my question. Why is his or her answer the same as everyone else’s? Doesn’t he or she have more credibility and authority?
4. Other metadata that shouldn’t be visible, like metatags. Maybe someone wants to connect my answers to another answer on, say, bike components. But why should that connection be visible? Today building such a connection in Twitter, Facebook, and friendfeed is not possible. So, how would we do it? Invisible comments and a command line interface. More on that in a minute.
5. My ability to mark different people as credible for different reasons. Let’s say the CEO of Specialized came over and commented on that thread. He would be credible, but he would be biased toward pushing Specialized. So, he’s not as credible as, say, someone from the Nike adventure team, at least when it came to bikes. He might be VERY credible when it comes to other biking topics, though, and even in bikes he’s more credible, than, say, me, who has no expertise in the industry.
6. Connection with existing resources. I like how Mahalo does this. If they don’t have a human-built connection they add algorithmic ones from Google.
7. Links to places to buy. Anytime I mention “mountain bikes” why doesn’t Twitter and friendfeed bring up a link to different mountain bike stores? Heck, even Amazon ships Mountain Bikes and if I included my affiliate link (I have not here) I would get paid some cash everytime someone bought a bike.
8. Comprehensive links to all the reviews that already have been done about the products that are getting mentioned in there. I have to manually put each one of them into Google to find more info. Why is that?

Here’s what I meant by “invisible comments.” Look at friendfeed. Each comment is a piece of metadata that can be used by the search engine. For instance, I can put “greattoasteroven” into a comment, like I did underneath Dave Winer’s toaster oven post, and now you can use friendfeed’s search engine to find it. But why does that “metatag” have to be visible? Here, let’s design an invisible commenting engine.

First, let’s invoke the invisible commenting engine. We could pick something like %%0, which is a string that would never get used. So, let’s design an invisble comment:

%%0 metatag=”greattoasteroven” This one could do metatags.
%%0 location=”25 Pinehurst Lane, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019″ This one could do location.
%%0 price=”$1,499″ This one could do price.
%%0 language=”german” this could tell the search engine to pull this entry up only if the speaker wanted german results
%%0 invisible=”Dave Winer is a nice guy.” This could be used to leave a comment for you, or for the search engine, but that wouldn’t be visible for the outside world. You could even use that to make things only visible to certain people, so you could have private conversations INSIDE the comment thread.
%%0 administrator=davew This one could make Dave Winer an administrator of the item, which would give his comments a different color, and would enable him to delete or edit comments on that thread.
%%0 post comment at 12:01 p.m. Pacific Time April 29, 2009: “this comment will appear on April 29th at 12:01″
%%0 credibility=10:davew This would mark Dave Winer as “highly credible” on this topic, and because everyone else has a default credibility of 5, would give him a different color and a star icon. You could then do the next invisible comment:
%%0 display credibility of >8 only (this would make only comments of people with credibility of 8 or above visible, once the user had invoked this).

Anyway, I could keep going all night long. In the real-time web having such a console would be important to be able to talk to the search engine. We could brainstorm such things all night long.

Now, isn’t that “geeky?” Yes. Would the celebrities that now are moving into Twitter get it? No AND yes!

See, while the geeks might be stuck with such a command-line interface, I expect that very quickly developers of applications like Tweetie, Twhirl, and TweetDeck would add on UIs to take advantage of the invisible functionality. You could click a “price” button in TweetDeck, for instance, which would show you the price of the bike you are now looking at (or allow you to input it as a Tweet-like message, if you knew the price).

This would build a very rich microblogging service and I think everyone else would want to build invisible comments into their system and interroperate with the ones we designed.

But, no, I suspect this whole post is for naught. I suspect that the newspaper industry will give away their last few meals to the geeks in San Francisco yet again.

Why is that?