A call for twitter clients interoperability

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A basic one at least.

With the advent of the second gen twitter clients, which support, among other things, groups, users are confronted with higher barriers to entry and exit: In all clients, the painstakingly prepared groups are hardwired in the client. No easy way to get them out. When one desires  to switch to a new client, he has to recreate all these groups by handpicking users one by one.

The problem becomes apparent even in the case where one does not necessarily want to change twitter client, but he simply has to work on two different (or more) computers.

In my case, I had to recreate the Tweetdeck groups for my desktop and laptop computers. And I did it only for the two out of four computers I use and for two out of seven operating systems (3 windows, 1 mac, and 3 flavors of linux). I did not even manage to create them as exact copies.

Now, this call might sound like a luxury request, but given the path the twitter clients have taken (check Nambu or AlertThingy or Seesmic Desktop, to mention a few), you will notice that ‘groups’  is one of their prevalent characterists. So dealing with this feature effectively is essential for the success of the product.

And it is very simple really. A CSV or XML file would suffice. With bare minimum information. The name of the group, the twitter account it belongs to and the follower or friend ids that belong to it.

And even if the software vendors do not to go this way for fear of loosing users, there is something else they could do, to allow portability of groups for the same client but different computers: store this piece of info in the cloud. Create a simpe web app where each client will connect to and retrieve the group data.

Some people have  already hacked their way to group migration for Tweetdeck but this, clearly, is  not the way for the masses. Hence this call. But is anybody listening?

Change the web, Social Entrepreneurship and a new 80/20

change-the-web-challenge-logo-smSome days ago I got glimpse in twitter of the Change the Web challenge. I took a look at it, to discover the underlying Social Action web site and its API. The Challenge was about using this API for a new innovative web application or widget. For some reason this appealed to me, although I generally do not participate to such contests. There was a money prize too, but that was not my  motive:  I would never agree to receive a monetary prize from a socially oriented initiative, only because it would be better spent if it were spent on its very cause.

The Change the Web Challenge
I have to admit that I was hasty in my decision on how to participate and what to build: I did not  look anything else apart from the API itself. I ended up paying in hard currency for this haste: lot of wasted time! Because, I, almost from the first moment, resolved in building a WordPress plugin with the Social Actions API.
I started coding and in a couple of days I was done only to find out that the Social Actions site already had such a plugin, a very well written one and definitively much better than mine.
Almost in panic, because the time was running out, I started thinking what could I build instead. I turned down the option of building a better plugin, because it was not only a matter of quality, but of originality too.
My mistake made me research better what was already in place and found that web site widgets were rather abundant. Except.. Except for wordpress.com where javascript, iframe and flash widgets are not allowed to run.

I remembered then the days I was trying to circumvent this limitation by employing Yahoo Pipes and the WordPress RSS widget. I did not find something similar revolving around the social actions API, and, despite this being a pretty simple solution (even though it took me a lot of hours to remember how pipes worked and catch up with the new features), I found it appealing since it would potentially be useful to the 7mio or so WordPress.com users. So I built a pipe which could be configured by users to retrieve actions theiy were interested in, in the form of an RSS feed (you can see it in action in the bottom of the sidebar of this blog) .

I  barely  had finished when I discovered that even this was not a good plan because Wordpess had committed to adopt the best plugin the challenge produced! This rendered my pipe obsolete and there was no time to go back in rebuilding my plugin. I did then what I should have done from the very beginning: looked at the ideas people had already posted in the relevant page and noticed that some kind of map would be a nice thing to produce.

With a few additions to the pipe and thanks to the Pipes Location Extractor, I managed finally to pull out something. Not much, but something.


Leasons learned

Thinking back my  experience, I realized that the whole thing looked pretty much as a  failed  startup.

I made the mistakes I wouldn’t have made if I was starting a business: I did not make a proper market research, I did  not check  what the users really desired, I ignored the opportunities and the threats… In sort, I got myself entangled in programming instead of building a product. How many such startup efforts had I scoffed in the past?

One step ahead.

From startups, my thought  jumped to social entrepreneurship only to realize the obvious: whatever you build,  the rules are the same. It is just the kind of returns that differ. In social entrepreneurship it’s not about making money. It’s about making a difference, aiding people and, ultimately, changing the world.

The new 80/20 rule

One more step ahead.

If social entrepreneurship mechanics are the same  with pro profit entrepreneurship why people who are experts in these mechanics do not do both? The easy answer is that entrepreneurs are mobilized by greed and not by human solidarity.

But I believe the truth is different. They just haven’t thought  about it!

I know many people that could do both and if they don’t, it is because they focus relentlessly on the success of their pro profit efforts and spend all their time there. And for some stages of entrepreneurship this is not only inevitable, but a prerequisite.

But then, there are so many other people that have tasted success, have turned into angel investors, have embarked on a second, or third or forth startup effort, while their bank account  has enough for the rest of their lives.

What if these people applied to themselves the famous 80/20 Google rule?

80% of their time and effort spent on their pro profit ventures and 20% on social entrepreneurship.

Think of the vast amount of talent, genious, power, skill and  resources that would go into this 20%. I am convinced that even a fraction of it would suffice to change the world.

Filter this!

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Cesar Rocchi of Posty wrote, on a guest post to Luis Gray’s blog,  a simple “Guide to Unfollow Uninteresting Twitterers”

In general, I agree with what he says but here I want to elaborate a bit on his first rule, because, although quite natural, it is a bit unfair.

The rule goes like this:

What language is this?
When I stumbled upon a tweet with “strange” characters or words I opened that profile and then asked: does she regularly post in this language? If yes then unfollow. Moral: how can I be interested in what is expressed in a language that I don’t understand?

Such a  filter could be used in  facebook news stream too, and, in general, in any kind of info ‘streaming’ service.

And, of course, I wrote my proposal  in  English so not to be  filtered out by those who should listen 🙂

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I have a dream (of social bookmarking)!

By Alex King
Back in the end of 2007, half a year after Google Reader had launched the sharing feature, I had an idea of a new service that would aggregate all the shared items and sort them according to the number of times one post was shared.

As it usually happens with the new ideas, somebody else had it too, and, most importantly, made it real before I had even started coding (actually, I had, but just a few lines). In a short while, a second similar aggregator appeared and, today, we are fortunate to have ReadBurner and RssMeme.

The two services, both dear to me,  have a lot in common with one notable exception: RssMeme employs a kind of spider to find and aggregate shared items  while ReadBurner is an opt in service.

In due course, other feed readers were added as sources: Bloglines, Netvibes, Newgator etc. and RssMeme went  a bit further querying known services to find out whether an article had been bookmarked in any way.

The idea that what one shares through his feed reader is actually a vote or a recommendation is pretty solid, and, once a big number of sharers is reached, the power of statistics comes to play: the articles that emerge to the top are the ones that people truly feel are important. Isn’t this the essence of social bookmarking? And isn’t it also true that this essence is actually gamed in the digg like sites by a rather small group of people, despite the huge influx of traffic these sites enjoy?

One short  visit to Readburner or RssMeme reveals though, that the articles that rise to the top, have been shared by such a small number of people that, with  equal diggs, they would never see the light of day in digg.

Which leads to the conclusion that either the people who share are not that many, or they have not been included in the two aggregators yet.

Speaking of numbers, how many people really use Google Reader? I tried to google the question but came with no answer. I tried to google also the ‘google reader market share’, but came with no recent data either.

Without an idea of how many people use feed readers and share, it is  pretty hard to make any predictions or recommendations. Yet, if we assume that it is only because it is too early  (less than a year) that the sharing culture hasn’t spread and that it, eventually, will, we can fantasize one implication:

Some clever engineer will think of incorporating the share-votes into digg: a little bit of matching (is the sharer a digg user, and has the shared post been dugg already etc) and there you go.

But would that be a good thing?

Yes, it would. Because it would instill the democratic element of Readburner/RssMeme into digg. And, democracy is a good thing, isn’t it?

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A surplus of ideas? Part with them!

In his blogpost “A brilliant idea at Harvard“, Dave Winer says (bold is mine):

Before I started blogging, I held many if not most of my good ideas in reserve because I thought some day I might do them as products. But as you get older, you realize that most of the things you think of are going to be outside your grasp, you’re not going to get to do them, so rather than hold on to them, it’s better to let them go. Maybe someone else will do them, and at least you’ll have the pleasure of using the product before your time is up.

How true this is!

And it is  true on more general circumstances than simply  getting old.

Our personal powers, will and resources are far more limited than the things we can imagine of making. It is only a few ideas that are truly dear to us, and only a fraction of them that we are willing to pursue whatever it takes. And unless we pursue an idea whatever it takes, it has very few chances of becoming a reality. What about the rest?  What is the purpose of holding back ideas that we can’t turn them into reality? Why let a good idea die into oblivion, locked into our mind?

A few weeks ago, I read a little book by Paul Arden called “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be“. It is the kind of book that offers some recipies for success and I am always too suspicious with such books. Nevertheless, if certain passages from the book stick to your mind, be them even just one little sentence, then the book has some merit.

Here is the one that stuck to my mind:

“Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know and more will come back to you”.

An idea can be one’s way from rags to riches. But it is hardly ever sufficient in itself. Lots of other factor need to be in place. If they are not in place, nor can they be soon enough, then part with the idea. Give it away for free. Whatever comes back from it, it will be more than zero.

Crowdsourcing blogposts

Smashing magazine is running a contest to find new professional writers and is giving a MacBook Air as a prize.

While I was contemplating whether it would make sense for me to participate in the contest, I started thinking about the general issue that a high profile/traffic blog or site encounters: how to find and recruit new talented writers. And then an idea came to me that might prove to be a solution completely in sync with the current trend of ‘social everything’: crowdsource blogpost writing.

How on earth would that work? Well, not much to wonder about, because it actually works.

Let me explain:

Blog posts and the comments they attract have long been considered in unity. The post might be correct or not, might be complete or not, might be original or not. Regardless of what it is aspiring to be, comments tend to ‘correct’ it. Commentators might have more information than the writer and they can contribute it. They might also pin point errors, either in the thinking or in the referenced material. They might add insights to aspects the author has never considered etc.

If you have even a small blogging experience  then all the above is common ground to you. But how does this relate to new blog posts?

Simple. One has to initiate the same process before a post is published.

How would that work in detail?
One option that I considered is this: the publisher (i.e. the blog or magazine owner) makes known his intention to utilize crowdsourcing, and invites interested writers to contribute.
Writers register (if they haven’t already) in a private wiki and offer whatever they think fit on a case by case basis. Contributions can take many forms:

  • Submitting an idea for an article
  • Submitting a draft article
  • Correcting an article
  • Complementing and or documenting an article
  • etc

Fees for the work contributed can be based on the words submitted that were included in the final post. We are not talking a lot of money here, but we are not talking a lot of work per individual either.
A bonus system that will increase the per word remuneration based on the amount of past contributions can work out the incentives needed to keep people hooked in. The remuneration of the submission of ideas has to be different though. Could be a flat fee or a percentage of the total article cost.

If you like the idea, well, let’s crowsource this post and make it better. No money will be involved though, just the glory 🙂

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identi.ca: Is there a business model for federated microblogging?

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In the past two days a wind of optimism blows over the tech blogosphere: identi.ca, the  microblogging service of Evan Prodromou, made  it’s debut,  throwing the dice for two very important issues: Scalability  and innovation.

Scalabitity has been tantalizing twitter to the point of causing a mass user exodus.

Twitter competitors (Pownce, Jaiku, Plurk etc) have not brought really important new features to microblogging. It is also  debateable whether the ones they brought have the power to attract some of the fleeing twitter users in the long run.

In contrast, identi.ca, or rather, the underlying laconi.ca, the open source platform  identi.ca is built upon, has brought in the scence two things long desired and awaited: federation and open source.

Federation in microblogging means microblogging services ‘talking’ to each other, i.e. users of one service befriending or following users of another and vice versa. A federated microblogging ecosystem is the answer to the scalability issue.

Open source means innovation, means that now there is a platform the thousands of briliant developers around the world can peep into, in their free time, and contribute tons of new code and new ideas.

In the microblogging world to come, there will be no single big provider that dominates the game, but rather small or medium ones, spread all over the globe.

Yet, however appealing this vision might look, one has to think the mundane realities: how are these service provides going to make a living? In other words, what business model is appropriate for them?

Twitter has no business model. And so do many other web 2.0 ventures. As an answer to this, we hear pretty often that it does not need any. Once a sizable community is formed around twitter, the business model (or, rather, the advertsers) will follow.

The same line of thought cannot be applied to federated microblogging though. With practically not existent barriers of entry, new microblogging services can sprout like mushrooms everywhere, each attracting a small number of users and, therefore, never attaining the magnitute twitter aims for.

What are the options then? I would say only three, none looking  a really viable solution:

  • Charge for premium  services
  • Revenue sharing for SMS originated updates
  • Whatever ad revenue stream can be generated (i.e. adwords)

The first option should rather  not be  accounted for: extra storage or page customization or high profile accounts (: the wordpress.com model) are not a serious bait for users to spend their bucks.

Revenue from SMS updates,shared with the telcos, can be a serious source of income. Yet, the proliferation of smart phones and the affordability of data plans, will eclipse this kind of revenue in the near future.

Text and banner ads are gradually losing power. Yet, text adds for a text service sounds like the the appropriate ad type.

Banners are largely ignored, especially by  a crowd so diverse as  microblogging users, which cannot be targeted easily. Text analysis tools, that can extract meaninful information (like one’s preferences, buying patterns, spending power, age etc), need to be developed.  Such tools  would also need to perform their analysis throughout various microblogging services, and target users throughout  the microblogging ‘federation’.

How much ad revenue can make a microblogging service break even? Not too much, given the low setup and zero development costs. Even so, will it be  generated? It better be or the ‘federation’  will go bankrupt.







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