Twidiots of the World, Unite!

Twitter, as the latest social networking fad brilliant microblogging innovation, is attracting a huge following.    The appeal of Twitter is hard to explain until you’ve actively participated for some time, but I’m finding it’s a very enjoyable distraction from more pressing concerns.     Not only can you eavesdrop on usually intelligent tiny written conversations going on all over the world, through the “following” and “followers” features you can filter those conversations and control what you see and send to others.    Arguably the most important feature is that you can link out to blog posts or other URLs of interest, making Twitter a way to filter the increasingly overwhelming stream of data a bit more coherently than otherwise.    Twitter’s most practical application is probably simply “keeping in touch” with others both when they are distant and when you find common ground (e.g. at a  conference).   Tweetups are real life meetings where people who gather online get together for real – usually at a conference or in a city such as the one scheduled for CES 2009 in Las Vegas.

Loic LeMeur, the very popular Seesmic Founder, LeWeb Conference Organizer, and Twitter guy suggested improvements to Twitter search that would rank the material by the *authority* of the person writing, and this sparked a nice debate about how to assign value to the massive and constant stream of human commentary at Twitter.     I didn’t like that idea:

NO.   I’m OK with Scoble’s approach but I think the search by “authority” will deliver the same problems we have now with blogging – the best posts about a topic are not generally surfaced by authority measures. Instead, we get the most algorithmically appealing posts which are usually either a product of old A list bloggers sticking together and linking very opportunistically or overly SEO’d posts that suck but do a great job fooling the algos. Mostly ranking is now a combination of those two factors (old stuff and SEO measures).

One of the *great* things about Twitter is that it limits exposure fairly democratically. Authority search will help the twitter “rich” get richer, but I hardly think that’s a noble objective – it’s the same problem we have now where early adopters with a superficial voice are elevated above quality journalists.

Unless I’m missing something it sounds like you and Mike want to make sure Twitter does not threaten the status quo with more democratic ranking. I think it’s a great idea. In fact I think it would be interesting to *reverse* the algo you suggest – I’d rather hear from some Grandmas in Peoria about their iPhone experiences than from Jason Calacanis about [groan] the wonders of Mahalo.

Mike at TechCrunch
had a somewhat opportunistic take on the situation saying this was a fine idea.   I didn’t agree with him either:

Mike my beef with the idea is the notion that popularity or even authority *in any form* is something we should work hard to protect and promote. I’m tiring of a mostly regurgitated news stream and increasingly I want to know what Peoria is thinking as much as what Mountain View thinks.

Even though Peoria is rarely as interesting or well articulated or technologically sophisticated, it’s far more *representative* and if I’m looking for business ideas or social trends…I’d like to hear from Grandma as much as from you and Loic.

The game as it stands mostly retains the status quo and limits the debate. There’s a much better way and, collectively, I think we’ll find it soon.

Scoble was getting closer but still missed the key point here that we need to work *away* from the elitist “my speech is more valuable than your speech” nonsense that somewhat ironically now drives many of the Web 2.0 debates:

Robert I appreciate the fact you are arguing against something that would benefit you far more than others. However my beef with Loic is the idea that popularity or even authority *in any form* is something we should work hard to protect and promote. Call me a digital anarchist, but I’m tired of TechCrunch’s often regurgitated news stream. I find that increasingly I want to know what Peoria is thinking as much as what Mountain View thinks. Even though Peoria is rarely as interesting or well articulated or technologically sophisticated, it’s far more *representative* and if I’m looking for business ideas or social trends…I’d like to know that.

Luke … I’m your Facebook Father

Parents are starting to flow online and although I’m still searching for some data on this topic I think the main reason is not at all to follow their own college-aged children, almost all of whom have been socially interacting online for many years.    Rather it is to connect with their own friends and relatives as the online social universe expands to include …. virtually … everybody.

Facebook’s dignified style probably has helped with this trend as Myspace  is is less appealing to the professional and parental style world view.    However I think mostly we’re just seeing something of a Gladwellian  “tipping point” where enough friends and relatives of online friends and relatives  have come online to reach a critical mass.

Obviously we still have many years to go before “everybody” who wants to be connected online is connected, but I think we are  crossing some thresholds that will be sociologically significant.      One of these thresholds is the parent / child continuum, where parents like me with college age kids like Ben become “friends” on Facebook and wind up sharing types of information that are generally *not shared* between parents and their kids or the friends of their kids.

On balance I’m very optimistic about this development.  I think it’s a way to *add transparency* to the system, especially for kids who are facing personal challenges and sharing information online that their parents should know and act on.     More common however will be an *enhancement* of functional relationships between parents and kids.     In fact what inspired this post was noting a very thoughtful and loving “wall” note at Facebook had come from the *mom* of a friend of my son’s.    My first reaction (my “legacy media” reaction) was that it seemed like too public a place to rave about your kid, but I quickly realized that the mom was just adopting the very nice new tendency of the bright and shiny kids in the new generation to give glowing praise to each other very publicly.    Note to Loic Le Meur and Mike Arrington – you guys could learn from those young whippernappers!

A threshold I find even more interesting is something I have yet to experience but I’m sure better connected folks like Robert Scoble have by now, which is where social networking finds new and significant, but previously unknown connections between friends and relatives.     e.g.  you find out you are your close friend’s second cousin once removed.    Or, I suppose in some of those “fun but alarming”  stories, people will  find that they really were adopted and their biological parents are actually their … current in-laws.        Hello, this is Jerry Springer calling.

Still, the implications of a massively interconnected social sphere are to my way of thinking very positive.      We’re not there yet but we’ll be there soon, and at the very least it’s going to get even more … interesting.

Yammer Wins TechCrunch 50

Congratulations are in order for startup company Yammer , which just won the very prestigious TechCrunch 50 startup competition in Silicon Valley.   Over 1000 companies applied and 52 were chosen to present at no charge to a very distinguished group of corporate and media digital luminaries such as Marissa Mayer, Mark Cuban, Don Dodge, Robert Scoble, Mark Andreessen, and many other major corporate decision makers and online influencers.

Is is sour grapes that I think they’ve picked a dud here?  No – Matt Ingram Agrees and he is ALWAYS mostly right.  Our not-yet-launched  Retirement startup was rejected  – perhaps because we really were offering a great business model in our demo presentation but no new technologies.   Frankly I was impressed watching several of the presentations.   The programming side of things seemed very inspired as people had created elaborate game worlds, powerful photo grouping software, a collaborative music mixing environment (BoJam), and several more clever innovations with online technologies.  For this reason I was very surprised to see the judges rate Yammer so highly.

Yammer is a fine idea and application,  but it seems to simply be a modification of the Twitter idea for company use.  As far as I can tell is very unlikely to do the two things it needs to succeed:   Replace people’s use of Twitter, including a Twitter than could easily be modified to do the same thing as Yammer, and be used in place of other company messaging systems that can simply copy this layout, use a modified twitter, develop their own, etc.     IBM’s not going to start Yammering and small companies are going to Twitter.

So, as with many of the amazing technologies presented at TechCrunch there appears to be little revenue to be had.

No, this isn’t just sour grapes for being one of the 950 or so TechCrunch LOSERs  (we actually could have presented in the “Demo Pit” at the show but opted out of that due to cost and time).    My thinking is that the best course of action now is to bring the *existing* tool sets to bear against old problems in existing businesses.    We don’t need a new travel *application*, but we certainly need better ways for people to research trips without too much advertising pollution or misleading information.

Then again, when I look at the most hyped of the startups, Ashton Kutcher’s  BlahGirls I wonder if I’m just hopelessly…. i mean … like …  Blah Blah Blah!… in the wrong business.