Conversations as Data: We need new UI

Catacombs : Maze

Image by monsieurlam via Flickr

This is another one of my thinking/blogging out loud posts so your feedback is appreciated and encouraged. I would also like to note that I am not a programmer and I’m sure my description of databases and UI is laughable to anyone that knows what they’re doing but these analogies work for my purposes

I don’t think anyone (or at least anyone reading this) would argue that the Web is evolving at an exponential rate.

I’ve begun to think of the Web and our activities on it in a new way. It reminds me of the way archeologists discover ancient cities.

You have one layer that may be the aqueducts or catacombs with a city built on top. Then a major war, volcano or new ruler comes along, wipes everything out and builds a whole new city right on top of the old one.

Databases and the Old Web

At the core of everything we do on the Web are countless numbers of databases processing 0’s and 1’s. On top of that raw data programmers and designers build user interfaces (UI) that allow us to read and interact with that data.

Web 2.0

A lot of the meaning was lost behind the buzz around Web 2.0 but at the core (my definition) Web 2.0 is the capabilities behind social media. RSS, AJAX, etc have enabled the programming inept (aka regular people) to become mini-media empires.

We can start a blog (or several), fill out dozens of social profiles, join social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and easily start reaching hundreds of people interested in what we have to say. If we are moderately good at it we can reach thousands with very little extra effort.

The problem is that all of those millions of conversations, in aggregate, become as un-consumable as the raw data that lays at the core.


So with the Old Web the database was processed into a consumable UI and with Web 2.0 that database is filtered with a UI that allows us to then create more data in the form of conversations.

What I see happening now is only the tip of the iceberg; we are creating new layers of user interfaces to aggregate and consume that conversation data.

Look at sites like Alltop, ExecTweets or the recently announced Tinker. These are efforts to create another layer of UI over the conversation data.

As marketers I think a huge opportunity is to harness past, present and future conversation data in targeted efforts using a new layer of of aggregation UI.

How would this work?

Imagine you want to target Moms. Let’s also imagine that your company has a company blog or several blogs that contain useful information for moms (even if you don’t this would still work). To date the main approach has been to sponsor popular mom blogs. There’s nothing wrong with this but I think companies could take it to the next level.

Why not create a site that integrates the best blog content across several, if not dozens of, mom blogs as well as content from your company blogs (past content)? The site would also aggregate real time posts from select mommy blogs as well as your company blogs while simultaneously integrating Twitter and creating a presence on Facebook (present content). The site and the Facebook pages would also encourage and reward participation from moms (future content).

I think that as conversation data continues to explode (and believe me, it will)marketers need to look at this as a huge opportunity not a problem. Let’s get creative and innovate around not just our products but how we communicate with our customers.

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What’s your Web Mosaic look like?

As you know I like to “think out loud” here on here on my blog (should I call it “blogging out loud”? hmmm). And lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the relationship between people and content and how we think about both our Web presence as well as our content distribution.

Warning: I’m not a designer, nor do I play one on TV but it sometimes helps me to doodle. For what it’s worth I thought I would share those with you.

For most marketers I think we have evolved our thinking from a linear view of traffic and content to a hyper linked way of thinking about it. We know that people don’t enter ever site from the main page and they don’t always travel along expected paths.

Web Thinking

This still seems limiting to me. It still makes the assumption that people digest our content on our sites and that the goal of Web marketing is to get people to our site. That may be the goal if you’re site has e-commerce or you are trying to gather leads (BTW I still don’t think that’s true but I won’t argue it here) but shouldn’t the goal of Web content be to engage and influence people wherever they are? That’s hard enough to do by itself let alone trying to get them to our site first.

To me this seems like the digital marketing equivalent of flirting. You (assuming you’re single) go to bars and parties to flirt with people and meet people that you may or may not start a relationship. You don’t go to parties to find a wa y to bring people home with you so you can then flirt with them. That’s just creepy.

And what if you never want anything more than a friendship, why try and get them to your home at all? The same is true with your Web content.

Jeremiah Owyang has quoted Dell’s Bob Pearson as saying that Google is your company’s front page. And I mostly agree with that but I think it’s bigger than that (bigger than Google? Yes.) Search is your company’s homepage. Last year search meant Google but with recent disruptions like Twitter’s search I don’t feel Google covers it all anymore.

I’ve started to think in terms of a Web Mosaic.

Web Mosaic

Your Web site is wherever people might encounter your content and that includes stuff you didn’t create. User created videos, fan photo’s on Flickr, conversations happening on blogs and Twitter. It’s all out there.

This is a rough draft, what do you think?

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My 3 favorite quotes

I’ve been unusually quiet here on this blog. I’ve been really busy (which is nothing new) and mentally distracted (again nothing new).

I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection lately and keep coming back to three of my favorite quotes. I thought I would share them with you. Hopefully you find as much inspiration in them as I do.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Image via Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin
I have always thought that one man of even moderate abilities can create great change and leave a powerful legacy if he has a good plan, stays focused on it and dedicates his life to making that plan a reality.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt. Crop of :Image:Theodo...

Image via Wikipedia

Theodore Roosevelt
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Alexander Graham Bell speaking into a prototyp...

Image via Wikipedia

Alexander Graham Bell
When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

Do you have a favorite quote? Please share it with me in the comments.

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Zemanta discovers a content worm-hole via FriendFeed

Yesterday while blogging about how different prosumers consume media I noticed that Zemanta was polling in related article suggestions from FriendFeed. Interestingly enough all the articles were from Steve Rubel, who I was blogging about. So I posted it to FriendFeed. There was some lively speculation about the new feature when Andraz Tori, founder and CTO of Zemanta chimed in.

This is funny. Friendfeed items inside Zemanta’s suggestion pool are actually an unintended consequence of some infrastructural changes. :) I probably shouldn’t have admitted that :) . But hey, if users like it, this is just great! - Andraž Tori

He went on to answer further questions and hint at new content sources coming soon.

As @frodeste says, we’re doing content-to-content recommendations, and this is just another type of them (more news coming in next weeks). - Andraž Tori

One of those new sources is obviously going to be FriendFeed. If I had to place any requests I’d ask for some sort of integration with Twitter. Don’t know how ;) but it would be cool.

I’m a big fan of Zemanta. For me it helps save some time while blogging but it also adds a whole level of discovery to the blogging process. I also love Andraz’s honesty on the serendipitous mistake. I’m excited to see what they release next.

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Media Consumption: Scoble vs Rubel

I consume, filter and sort a lot of information everyday (this is an understatement) and I don’t even consume as much as some people that I know. If you look at Robert Scoble or Steve Rubel, I pale in comparison.

I’ve written before about the need to build the skill of juggling the flow of information. One thing I have  noticed however is that there are different ways to become a prosumer of information.

I look at the way Robert Scoble and Steve Rubel manage their information. Please note that these are just my observations from watching Robert and Steve and following them online for the past 5 years. They (or you) may disagree with my assessment of their media consumption practices.

Robert Scoble drinks from a fire hose. When he gets on a new service or social network he figures out how to follow as many people as he can.

Robert uses other early adopters and available tools (video on how he uses TweetDeck) to bring information to him but relies on his brain to do most of the filtering knowing that important themes and trends will reoccur.

This approach has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Robert knows that his brain will pick up trends less obvious to most. He’s almost subconsciously seeing patterns. This isn’t perfect or scientific by any means but it has worked well for Robert. This is also a much more time consuming way to approach data consumption although it’s done in the background during *spare cycles*. Some Most people find this too overloading.

Characteristics of Scoble Consumption:

  • Multiple sources
    • There is no limit to the number of Sources you use. Wherever you can get the highest level of raw content.
    • To achieve this you will also follow just about anyone sacrificing signal for data.
  • Multiple Devices.
    • You have no preference between Mac or PC. You run multiple laptops, mobile mobile devices and whatever’s the newest AIR app.

Steve Rubel on the other hand chooses to rely on tools as a primary filtering tool. His Jedi like mastery of Gmail and GoogleReader is truly awe-inspiring. I’d love to watch over his shoulder one morning as he goes through his morning routine. (Steve needs to at least compile all of his posts into an ebook or something)

Steve uses people as filters as well, keying in on certain influencers who he knows will pass on a much higher signal to noise ratio. Once the tools and people have brought the content to Steve this is when his highly analytical skills to sort through the remaining noise. He’s obviously very good at this given that his position at Edelman is basically to do this and report on important trends. He’s basically Edelman’s lighting rod. (Pretty much the coolest job in the World IMO)

This approach also has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Taking the time to master the tools and set them up is probably more time intensive initially but I’m assuming pays off in less manual filtering. The other risk is that some of the finer nuances a Scoble like approach may bring could be lost through the initial filtering. Also as tools change so fast in this space the switching cost of moving to a new tool is pretty high, which is why Steve still prefers email as his master dashboard.

Characteristics of Rubel Consumption:

  • Multiple sources but heavy influencer filtering
    • You are on FriendFeed, Twitter, Facebook, etc, etc but are in no hurry to follow thousands of people. You rely on select people to provide up front filtering.
  • A preference for an integrated OS
    • Whether it’s Mac or PC you live and work on one laptop and one phone. All your tools integrate together seamlessly (Steve’s a Mac BTW)
  • You experiment with the latest shiny web app but are slow to integrate it into your system.

Ultimately I think that it’s understanding how your brain works. Neither of these approaches are going to work perfectly for everyone. I think it’s an important part of the juggling process to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t and it does take time.

I think I tend to lean more towards the Scoble approach for consuming media (just not at his level) and more of a Rubel approach for creating content (ie I lean on a lot more tools for creation). My brain does the filtering in the middle but I make up for it in the creation process. I also work to integrate the creation with consumption. This results in a lot of “thinking out loud” blog and Twitter posts but that’s also part of the filtering process for me.

What about you? What tools or tricks do you use to consume and filter the growing amounts of data?

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Sequoia and Ycombinator team up, but is that a good thing?

Image representing Y Combinator as depicted in...
Image via CrunchBase

YCombinator has been a huge inspiration for many a young startup. The whole investment/accelerator/incubator model is something I would love to see more of (esp here in my home town of Boise) but I have to wonder if YCombinator’s newest deal is a good thing or not.

(via TechCrunch) Y Combinator Gets The Sequoia Capital Seal Of Approval

Sequoia and the angel investors (Ron Conway, Paul Buchheit and Aydin Senkut) aren’t investing directly in Y Combinator. Instead, they are putting money into a new entity, managed by Y Combinator, that will make investments in new startups going forward. In other words, Y Combinator won’t just be investing their own capital any more, and they’ve got a larger war chest to expand operations.

Right now YCombinator has been successful by focusing on companies that they have direct contact with and can really nurture. While this new fund gives them greater reach at a time which makes a heck of a lot of sense to be branching out into early stage funding I wonder if it just dilutes their focus and distracts them from building great early stage companies.

Of note TechStars out of Colorado i another great model that is also aggressively expanding right now.

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Microblogging is about to go Supernova

SN 1996cr in Circinus: Powerful Nearby Superno...
Image by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

Two new developments this week are the precursors to potentially huge developments. and Jaiku are two other microblogging platforms. The big difference is that they are both open source. has always been open source. Jaiku was an early competitor to Twitter which got bought by Google and then promptly shut down. They have now opened up Jaiku as an open source project.

You can read mre about developments with here and more about Jaiku here.

So why is Tac geeking out over this. Well, if you remember not so many days ago I made the claim that

5 years from now the non-early adopters will be using dozens of services built on top of Twitter and they won’t even realize it and Jaiku give developers an even greater abilty to further microbloggings functionality into additional apps.

One of the keys to this (I think) will be developers tapping into Twitter’s API so that #hashtags, @replies and other common protocal translate well across services.

Everything from Web chat, sentiment engines, polling applications etc, etc, could be build on Twitter (and other microblogging tools) without ever having to interact with Twitter itself.

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The 2009 Recession Will Produce the Largest Wave of Entrepreneurship

This isn’t a recession, it’s a Revolution!

I am proud to say that my generation; Generation X has been the largest entrepreneurial generation ever. That’s all about to change.  In preparing for my IgniteBoise presentation my friend Steve Nipper sent this great NYT article over to me:

Tired of Looking for Work, Some Create Their Own -

“If there is a silver lining, the large-scale downsizing from major companies will release a lot of new entrepreneurial talent and ideas — scientists, engineers, business folks now looking to do other things,” Mr. Cannice said. “It’s a Darwinian unleashing of talent into the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The tidal wave of workforce being unleashed on the open market consist of just as many, if not more, Baby Boomers as Gen Xers and as Generation Y walks out of college they are also being hit with the stark reality that there are no jobs.

I predict that the rising force of new businesses will be the most disruptive movement to date.

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Your complete guide to following SXSW without having to go to Texas.

So if you’re like me, you’re NOT at SXSW :( But never fear, here is your complete guide to catching everything at the event without having to be there.

Twitter Search will probably be the most popular real time way to keep up on all the sxsw activities. The biggest problem is that you will see everything. There is no real granular way to sort by certain people or events

sxsw twitter search

FriendFeed search for SXSW will aggregate the most types of sources. FriendFeed has the most granular level of search. You can either search from just your friends or just by content source or from everything.

sxsw on friendfeed

BrightKite Place Stream is another great way to follow SXSW and has more emphasis on pictures. You won’t have as much to sort through which could be a plus or a minus.

sxsw on bkite

The BrightKite Wall is a cool feature that unlike the other mentioned services won’t have you hitting the refresh button over and over again. It also has the ability to pull in other feeds like Twitter search.

bkite sxsw wall Flickr of course is a great way to actually see the events and people you’re following at SXSW. You can also choose to search by most recent uploads, which I recommend.

sxsw on Flickr IceRocket is probably the best blog search engine out there and has quietly been building better functionality while Technorati and Google Blog search get most of the attention.  If you want better detail about SXSW than 140 characters then you’ll want to do an IceRocket search and I’d recommend grabbing the RSS feed since some of the best reports won’t come out until after the event. icerocket sxsw search

There it is. Everything I could think of to help you catch as much of SXSW without having to be there. Did I miss anything? Do you have any virtual conference tips?

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Has Twitter driven Gmail to the #10 spot in Web visitors?

ReadWriteWeb reports that Hitwise reports that Gmail visits have outpaced YouTube Visits

I’m pretty sure it’s because so many early adopters are on Twitter and early adopters tend to use Gmail. And I don’t know about you but I’ve been getting 20-30 new Twitter followers a day. Each time I get a new follower, I get an email.  Of course half of those are spam, real estate investors, or online work from home, almost spam.

Anyone who seems half way legit I follow back. Unfortunately half of the people I follow back send me an auto DM. This results in another email. This of course doesn’t count the 10 or so DM’s I get each day (more email) or the hourly Tweetlater or Twimailer reports I get. Oh yeah and I manage 2 separate Twitter accounts.

Adding it all up I get about 100 email a day from Twitter or related services. Thankfully I use Gmail filters extensibly and all of those either skip my inbox altogether or go to a special label I have set up to act on later.

But if a decent number of Twitter’s 6 Million users also use Gmail and are experiencing similar email usage growth then I hypothesis that Twitter is responsible for Gmail’s rise in visitors.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it :)

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