Mike Arrington and I disagree on the future

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Last Saturday on the Gillmor Gang Mike Arrington wondered aloud whether Twitter had won a “winners take all” game and whether that meant that friendfeed was toast. He then wrote a blog post titled “FriendFeed is in danger of becoming the coolest app no one uses.”

If Arrington is right, then Friendster would have kept MySpace from happening. MySpace would have kept Facebook from happening. Facebook would have kept Twitter from happening.

The thing is that Arrington and I disagree about the future.

He is right about one thing. Twitter has won. It is now the favorite way for people to do microblogging. It LOOKS like a “winner take all” thing, right? After all, who will use a different service than all those celebrities now? To be serious we already know that Twitterers won’t switch, because last year Twitter was down all the time and no one switched, even when they were being abused by the technology.

So that game IS over and Arrington is right about that.

But, is the microblogging game where the cash is? No, I don’t think so.

Well, then, where is the cash?


“Huh?” I can hear you asking. “Twitter has real-time web search already.”

Yes, but it isn’t all that good.

Here, let’s demonstrate. Remember the plane that crashed in the Hudson?

I want you to find the original picture that someone sent in from their iPhone over Twitter.

Here, I’ll do the searches for you. Go to Twitter Search and type in Hudson Plane Crash. See all the noise? Yeah, the picture is there somewhere but it’s hard to find.

Now, here’s another search, this time using some of the filtering systems over on friendfeed. The picture stands right out.

See, what is going on here is that for search to work you MUST have metadata. Google built a multi-billion-dollar business on the metadata of linking. The next big business will build on top of the metadata of these three things:

1. Who shared or commented on an item. The search above I knew I had liked the picture, so I constrained the search to only things I’ve liked.
2. How many comments or likes are on an item. The search above I knew had tons of comments and likes, so I looked only for items that had more than five likes. That got rid of 95% of the noise.
3. What was said in the item. See on Twitter there’s only 140 characters and other people can’t add tags or info onto that item. On friendfeed I can leave a comment underneath a tweet and make it even more searchable. These comments get indexed in seconds now, which makes them very useful. I can add “cool tweet” to a Tweet and then search for that tweet later. Here’s an example.

NONE of these pieces of metadata are available in Twitter.

This is not just about friendfeed, either. Over on Facebook Mark Zuckerberg has a TON of extra metadata to study as well. He knows who has commented on each other’s walls or who has sent a message, so he knows who your “real” friends are.

Now, to be fair, Twitter does have some metadata to study as well. Retweets are metadata. Already Retweetfeed and TweetMeme are watching that metadata and there are other sites as well.

Twitter can also study hashtags, but I have been talking to people about why I think they are dead. Certainly hashtags are less relevant in the future.

But, notice what Twitter’s metadata is: it has to be included INSIDE a Tweet, where Facebook and friendfeed’s metadata is OUTSIDE the Tweet. Which gives you more characters to communicate with your friends.

So, why are the dollars in search and not just in microblogging?

Well, let’s look how people buy something.

Someone or something creates the need in their head to buy something. I have a baby on the way so I’m starting to look at strollers again since our old one isn’t good enough for a two-baby family.

That’s the “need.”

Then I start talking to my friends. That’s where Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed come in. I also start researching. That’s where Google comes in and parenting sites and all that.

Then we make a decision. NOW that is the only place where monetization is possible.

Let’s say I decided on a Bugaboo stroller. I search Google for such. Notice all the ads along the right side!

Why are all those ads there? Because businesses know that’s where the money is. Not in blasting ads on the Superbowl. Not in bothering you with ads in my videos or on my blog, where there aren’t many people buying strollers.

No, they want to hit you AT THE MOMENT YOU ARE BUYING.

So, why would Bugaboo want to put ads inside your Tweets? Hint, they won’t. They won’t get many sales that way. But, what if you are searching for information on strollers? Absolutely! That means you’re looking to buy.

OK, here’s where we differ on the future.

We found our new doctor on Yelp. You’ll find all sorts of things this way in the future.

How about a restaurant? A plumber? A TV repair shop? A lawyer?

Consider that you’re walking down the street with a future version of Facebook or Twitter or friendfeed in your hand. You’re looking for a restaurant.

Which is going to be able to bring back the best restaurants that your friends care about?

That requires having metadata to study. That’s why Facebook copied friendfeed’s likes so that it can come back and say “there are four restaurants that have more than 20 likes from your friends within walking distance.”

Translation: the future hasn’t been built yet. That’s why Twitter has not won the entire game yet. That’s why this is a fun industry to watch.

Oh, and Mike, you only have 62 comments and 72 likes, which demonstrates you haven’t done enough with these systems to see the real value. I have 18,300 comments and 17,284 likes and now I have a database that ANYONE can search and find a LOT of value. Plus, I have now been to the future and you haven’t. Yet. You’ll get there. 🙂

I gave my Twitter and friendfeed followers a look at the video I did, discussing our disagreement and here’s the comment area that erupted. Keep in mind that this is a live chat room and you can add comments and I’ll see and be able to answer them live on screen there. Oh, that’s something else that Twitter and Facebook can’t yet do. Like I said, I’ve been to the future. You should come and join me.

A private note to PR people

Instead of cleaning up their industry and getting rid of all the people who send me bad pitches, the industry has gone on attack. Shel Holtz has one of the kinder versions of this attack.

This is why I got out of the news business and why I don’t care anymore about getting on Digg or Techmeme. Many PR people have an entitlement attitude. “We will get you to cover our products one way or another.”

Shel: of course journalists want you to pitch them on email. Out of 1000 pitches 995 are crappy. I sure wouldn’t want to get 995 crappy pitches on my phone. Or 995 crappy pitches face-to-face. Email is the most efficient place to get crappy pitches. Actually that’s not true. Twitter is a far better place for crappy pitches. Why? Because they are limited to 140 characters (which actually greatly improves your chances — only 237 out of 1,000 pitches on Twitter are crappy).

I was wrong, though, to paint every PR person with the “PR sucks” brush. There are good ones. I do read every PR pitch, even the crappy ones. Of course I was being obstinate. This is blowback because I get so many crappy pitches for so many things I don’t care about.

I am not the first to ask PR people to both send me better pitches and to not do it in email. Dan Gillmor, a real professional journalist (who worked for the San Jose Mercury News and who was instrumental in getting the DOJ to go after Microsoft) said that long before I did. Back when he did that I didn’t pay attention because the PR industry hadn’t yet started sending me lots of lame pitches. I should have paid more attention. Today Gillmor is no longer a journalist. Note what his contact page says “don’t pitch me.” After being a blogger or journalist many people feel the same way. I have lots of meetings with journalists and they always gripe about the PR pitches they get. Why? Because this industry won’t clean itself up and won’t look at what it’s doing as being caustic. Even good ones like Shel Holtz won’t look internally.

Why is this a private note? Well, my readers don’t care so I wanted to let them know they can just skip this one. They just want me to find the coolest stuff in the industry to hear about and get my video camera in front of them. They don’t care about the private hell that has become my email inbox.

Yesterday I got videos of friendfeed’s press conference. Notice that they did pitch me in email, but pitched me to come to that event. Also note that friendfeed doesn’t have a PR person, they already have my attention so no need to pay $10,000 a month to get more of it. See, if your company is good it’ll probably get my attention anyway. Heck, Zappos has never pitched me (that’s a shoe company) but I am interested in that company because so many of the people I follow praise them. That’s also how I found Feedly and Evernote, two companies I like a lot.

So, how do good PR people pitch me? They do send me email. But they build a relationship with me first and find out what I like to write about. One example? Jeremy Toeman. He tells me all the time that he has clients he doesn’t pitch to me because they aren’t going to be interesting to me or my readers. He protects his relationship with me from crappy pitches.

Because Jeremy both knows me as a person and doesn’t send me tons of crappy PR pitches, when he sends me email I listen. He doesn’t just send me pitches for his own company, either. If I’ve missed something interesting he calls me and says “did you see this?” He regularly tweets the same and blogs things that I need to be aware of (sometimes even calling me on the carpet when I’m off base).

But the other interesting thing is he rarely pitches his company in email. His best pitches come when we’re walking around Golden Gate park with our kids. Or, like when he launched his new company recently, when we’re just sitting around his house (that’s why I almost always am carrying a video camera).

So, Shel, and all the other PR people, keep sending me your crappy (and good) pitches to scobleizer@gmail.com. If you think you really have something awesome, don’t email me. Call me. My phone number is on my blog. +1-425-205-1921 It’s been there for four years now. I don’t mind getting calls from people who really have something great to show me.

What do I care about now? People and companies who are fanatical about building a better Internet.

If I can’t take your call (today I’m in meetings all day, for instance). I’ll call you back when I can. Thanks and sorry if you felt attacked by my broad brushes. If you have a blog and a Twitter account you probably aren’t among the bad ones anyway so don’t stick up so much for the bad ones because that tarnishes the good work you do.

Tips for Real Time Web working on new friendfeed

Here’s some tips I’ve learned after using the new friendfeed for a while:

1. Turn it off. There’s no way to be productive doing something else while the stream is moving and distracting you. Two ways to turn it off: 1. close the browser. That’s brute force method. 2. Push the “pause button” at the top of the feed. That will keep it from moving. You can then refresh the page to see more items, or push play when you want to start seeing new items again.

2. You can “stun” the feed by mousing over it. That will slow it down for a few seconds.

3. Make sure you put a picture in and fill in something about yourself. Click on “settings” at the top right of the page.

4. If you’ve followed more than about 400 people, your feed will probably move too fast (mine is moving too fast) so you’ll want to create more lists and move people you’re following into separate lists (they act like folders). This way you can have “noisy jerks” in a separate folder from “family members” and they can be separate from “people I work with.”

5. Buy more screen realestate. Not just for friendfeed either. I just picked up a new screen just to run friendfeed and it makes it a LOT easier to track a bunch of different lists and rooms and filters.

6. Learn to make a filter. You do that by first searching for something. Try searching for, say, “Earthquake Italy” since there was a pretty big earthquake in Italy yesterday. Now, click “make a filter.” Add some conditions. I only want to see items that have at least one like. That’s the good stuff, according to Bret Taylor, co-founder of friendfeed. Here, now see the filtered result. Note that it’s similar to what you can do over on search.twitter.com but that instead of only Tweets the enw friendfeed includes all sorts of interesting data types. The filtering will change over the next few weeks. There’s a lot of power under the hood that’s hard to get to. For instance, you can set it to only show you YouTube videos or only show you Tweets, but getting to that is pretty difficult right now.

7. Learn that everything is a feed and you can subscribe to it. Here you can see Louis Gray’s likes and you can follow just those, without following his comments or his other items.

8. Learn about how to hide and other things. If you are new to friendfeed I did a video about 20 things you need to know on friendfeed here.

What I hate about real-time web (your productivity goes to hell)

For the past 12 hours I’ve had friendfeed running, along with another secret tool that’s coming in May that shows me news updating in real time, and another screen is running Tweetdeck here.

This is powerful stuff, I can talk with the world and see reactions coming in live. We’ve turned the Web from something that took weeks to discover new sites to a big chat room that pushes items at you in crazy fast manner and moves them down the screen.

More and more geeks are complaining to me that they can no longer keep up with Facebook, Twitter, friendfeed, and all the other things.

Linda Stone defined this problem as continuous partial attention.

I think it’s worse than that. Continuous partial inattention. I dare you to open up the new friendfeed in a window next to your work, point it at the aggregation of all the people I’m following, and try to get any work done.

Now, some of you are saying “well, unfollow.” But there’s something interesting for me in seeing all sorts of little conversations that hundreds or thousands of people are having.

The thing is I +can’t+ unfollow. Why not? You might say I’m addicted. Better people than me already have.

But there’s no going back for me. I will not give up this new world.

That means that we need new skills to deal with this new world.

One new skill? We now will share filters. I shared one with you in another post. Yesterday there was a big earthquake in Italy. Here’s a filter to help you find all the news about it. You can write me filters that will bring other things to my attention that I might miss in the stream of noise.

Other skills? We’ll need to build new news aggregation sites, like the “trending” feature on Twitter Search or Techmeme that will find the news “needles” in the stack of noise “hay.”

But right now we’re entering a period of transition. One where some of us will not be able to cope. Or we’ll be sucked in so deeply that we suffer career or family consequences. I’m struggling with the balance here myself.

I don’t know the answers here, other than to know that this new world does have its problems.

New friendfeed: Twitter that moves? Facebook filtering before Facebook?

Techcrunch has it up. Go see the new version. It’s wild.

More details coming shortly.

What I like about it:

Display is quite different, it no longer shows icons of aggregated services but instead looks more like Twitter.

Real-time. It’s all realtime.

You can direct message people who are following you.

There’s greatly improved filtering and searching.

There’s now a profile page.

You can now remove people’s entries from filtered display with Gmail like operators.

They’ve rethought the friendfeed rooms and made them more useful.

There’s a simplified API coming.

You can subscribe to likes and comments separately now as feeds.

I have videos of the friendfeed announcements that are uploading now. They will be up by noon at http://scobleizer.blip.tv

UPDATE: Thomas Hawk has his review up here. The new version will be up on http://beta.friendfeed.com soon (within minutes).

Twitter 2012

Tomorrow friendfeed is coming out with a new version that’s quite different from what it did before (I have a video of the meeting where friendfeed’s co-founders demonstrate the new version to a bunch of bloggers including from VentureBeat, TechCrunch, and a variety of others. That set of videos will be up Monday morning at about 9 a.m. Pacific Time).

I’ll be honest. I’m finding that new version of friendfeed unsatisfying on one level. Why? Because it isn’t Twitter.

“Huh?” I can hear you asking me. I’m sure you’re confused because I’m friendfeed’s number one fan.

Well, hear me out. Twitter’s success is its simplicity. It has no comments. No likes. No location metadata. No attachments. No enclosures. No headlines. No body text.

It is just a “river of noise” coming at you in reverse-chronological goodness 140 characters at a time.

That simplicity along with its publicness is why it is continuing to get hype, even as Facebook passed 200 million users (which, in more common times, would guarantee it 10x the hype of Twitter).

See, celebrities are who Twitter is aiming at now and celebrities don’t get all the geeky metadata that Facebook (tagging? too hard) and friendfeed (likes? too hard) have. See, if you are hiring ghost writers to keep your public image clean, as many of the celebrity accounts have done, you can’t teach “proper liking behavior.” I’m only halfway kidding.

But there is a world I want. I call it the world of Twitter 2012. Here, let me explain.

When that plane crashed into the Hudson I was watching most of the early Tweets. Most of the tweets that came in the first hour were total noise. People saying stuff like “I hope everyone survived” or “OMG, plane crash in NY.” But there were a few tweets that I remembered. The one with the picture of the plane in the water. The ones where people in New York said “I just saw a plane crash in the Hudson.”

Those were the high value Tweets. But how do we get them to stick around?

Well, you can retweet them. That’s metadata. You can put a hashtag on them. That’s metadata.

Or you could pull them into friendfeed and “like” them and “comment” on them. That’s hard, but that’s metadata too that’s more useful than Twitter’s metadata because it doesn’t need to be included inside the Tweet (which takes away characters from Twitter’s 140).

The real problem is we need more metadata to make this new world more useful. Here’s what I want to do in Twitter 2012.

If something like the Hudson plane crash happens in Twitter 2012, I want to draw a box around New York and tell Twitter “only show me Tweets from inside this box.” To do that Twitter will need more metadata. In this case, location of where Tweets are being sent from (Twitter could easily get that from my iPhone’s GPS or use my Internet provider’s data to get detail on where my location is).

Yes, I can set that in Twitter’s profile, but really that is pretty useless (I might be in New York on vacation and if my profile says Half Moon Bay it will think I’m Tweeting from Half Moon Bay).

What else might I like in Twitter 2012?

I bet that by then not having these features will look pretty lame:

1. Grouping. I’m following too many people so tweets go by too fast to read them. I’d like to group the people I’m following so that I can see their tweets separated into folders. But that would mean making Twitter more complex. More complexity isn’t working well for friendfeed, is it? It is for geeks like me, but what about normal people? No, not as well.
2. More data types. Why do I need to come to wordpress.com to write a long blog post like this one (which you probably discovered on my Tweet stream as a URL, right?) Why can’t I do that from inside Twitter 2012? How about photos? Why do I need to use a service like TwitPic to post a photo? Why do I need to use YouTube, 12seconds.tv, or Seesmic to post a video? Why can’t I do that right from Twitter’s UI? But adding those data types to Twitter will mean making Twitter more complex and will mean that Twitter will have to copy Facebook and friendfeed.
3. Real DM’s. Twitter’s Direct Messages suck right now. I have to follow you for you to even be able to send direct messages. And when you do send them to me I can’t search through them. I can’t forward them. I can’t copy other people on them. They are really lame. Yet even though they are really lame tons of people use them (which is the biggest reason I automatically follow back everyone on Twitter who follows me now — I want all my followers to be able to DM me. If Twitter 2012 got rid of that limitation I’d stop auto following everyone).
4. Filtering. In Twitter 2012 there will be many people with millions of followers and the flow will be eight times higher than it is today. Plus, many accounts will be machine generated. The Washington State Department of Transportation shows one such account. You send a tweet to it to find out how long times to cross the border are and it Tweets you back with the time automatically. By 2012 there will be thousands of such applications you can use Twitter for.
5. Location based information. In addition to the ability to search Tweets written from New York about plane crashes, I want to see all the Tweets written from, say, University Ave. in Palo Alto about restaurant experiences there. So, if someone says “Pluto’s rocks” there should be an aggregator that lets you see how many people talked about Plutos. Obviously only people writing on their iPhones FROM Plutos on University Ave. should be listened to. After all, if they are posting from Australia it’s probably not going to be very relevant. I can see a bunch of such ideas.
6. Like with my recent video of Apture I can see a bunch of different ways to present more information. Why have just a text URL? Why not bring up a whole control pad of information about your Tweet. After all, if I link to Dave Winer’s blog, why not include links to his videos, his photos, his podcasts, etc?

Well, it’s 2:42 a.m. and I could keep going if a nice warm bed weren’t calling my name, but this is just a start of a conversation. 2012 is three years away. What would you like Twitter to become by then?

Kara says "no Google deal" for Twitter

It’s funny, last night I had dinner with Matt Cutts, Google’s best known blogger. He said Google wasn’t buying Twitter as far as he knew, but I figured that Matt might not know whether discussions were happening or not so I didn’t report that to see what else fell out on the blogs after Arrington reported a rumor that Twitter was in discussions. After all, if you don’t want the world to know something you shouldn’t tell your #1 blogger. But now Kara Swisher is reporting that there is no Google deal under discussion to buy Twitter. Kara knows Google very well. Her partner is an executive at Google. So, I’ll go with Kara.

So, why would a rumor get started in first place? Well, Twitter might want to shake buyers out of the tree. Or, someone at Google might want to buy Twitter and is trying to get internal support built up for such an idea. Who knows?

For now, I’m going with Kara. I didn’t believe this deal from the beginning and said so over on friendfeed when I first heard about it.

UPDATE: I didn’t mean to imply that Kara got this info from her partner, see her disclosure. I included that info to demonstrate she knows Google very well and has tons of sources.