Thursday, October 06, 2005

Blogs Are Conversations - Not Really


When I first heard of the Cluetrain Manifesto and read Mary Meeker's paper on blogs and Paul Kedrosky's article on syndication I understood the idea that blogs maybe a way to turn the one way web into a two way conversation. Publish-subscribe and syndication offer a loosely coupled dynamic way for corporations to create a conversation with their constituents.

A new communication paradigm. Cool. I'm on it.

I created this blog. I started monitoring blog conversations about our product. I discovered other bloggers with great insights into product requirements. I started subscribing to blogs in bloglines. I created Technorati watchlists. I started tagging with del.icio.us. I moved my photos to flickr and started tagging and blogging them.

It's been almost a year since I started and it was a lot of work. Stepping back to access the net value of all that work I'm coming to the conclusion that we don't have the right tools to make the blogosphere an effective conversation. The amount of work required far exceeds the benefit. Most people I have talked to about the power of blogging simply say they don't have the time to engage. It is clear that there is a lot of value but at this stage of the blogosphere's evolution it's too hard to realize it.

With any new communication paradigm an appropriate etiquette backed by good set of tools needs to emerge before we can really effectively communicate.

Take email for example. Remember those early email messages all in CAPS - why are you shouting? The flame test - would you have said that face to face?

While an etiquette is emerging for the blogosphere, the tools needed to realize an effective conversation have a long way to go.

The reason the tools are lacking, I believe is that we have made the assumption that blog posts are messages and therefore we should operate on them like email. Today's aggregators all look like email readers. The problem in making this assumption is that we have mixed 2 fundamentally different communication types - conversations which are request-response and blogs which are publish-subscribe.

Effective conversations need to adhere to a request-response protocol. I say something you listen, you say something I listen. There are varying cadences dictated but the medium but essentially they remain a serial request followed by a response. Verbal conversations are immediate and prolonged silence will end them.

IM and SMS have a slower cadence and can sustain some latency. In fact IMs asynchrony sometimes breaks the request response protocol. This causes conversations get out of synch and it can be unclear which of the 2 statements you made is the one I'm responding to. Email has an even slower cadence measured in hours and days and snail mail sustains conversations over weeks and months.

Publish-subscribe is a many to many broadcast protocol. I publish, many people listen. In fact as a publisher I don't need to know who is subscribing. If I have something interesting to say I can publish. If you find what I say interesting you can subscribe. This communication has its roots in the written word from cave dwellers hieroglyphs, to books, to newspapers, to websites and now to blogs. Each technology transition from hieroglyphs to blogs has made publishing more immediate, but publishing is inherently not conversational.

In order to converse you have to write back to the publisher and he/she must respond back to you. This is the conversation of the "letters to the editor." What's different from a Newspaper's "letters to the editor" and comments in blogs is that the latency is so low it approaches the cadence of a conversation.

So what kinds of tools do we need to be able to intermix publishing with conversations? It's clear that the tools and interfaces available today are far from adequate to actually enable the promise of a conversational web.

Jeremy Zawodny kicked off a good discussion on the lack of adequate tools with this post.

It's easy to get stuck in old think. Blog posts are messages therefore blog readers should look like email readers.

But blogs are not email and if we are to really deliver on the conversational web we need to start thinking about tools and interfaces that are up to the task.

What we need are tools that integrate tags, comments, posts and subscriptions into a usable interface that enables a conversation to exist within publish-subscribe. A web2.0 style interface with the kind of cross task integration shown in the new email from Zimbra is what I'm looking for.

Hopefully innovation will continue and not be stifled by Microsoft as they did with Outlook.

One thing for certain we have a lot of work to do before a really useful model emerges.

From The Desk
From the desk

Richard Treadway

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cutting Through the Incessant Barking

Heather Green's recent Blogspotting post featured this cartoon that is making the rounds online. With PubSub and Technorati tracking over 16 million blogs there certainly is a lot of pointless, incessant barking going on out there.

How to cut through the noise and find the good stuff?

The best way I've found is to use a prospective search service such as the one provided by PubSub. With prospective search you define a persistent query. Whenever anything is published that matches your query you are immediately notified. Through the PubSub service I have found numerous insightful and informative blogs on the topics that most interest me.

Prospective search can be thought of as an alerting service. Today there are many alerting services but they all offer different interfaces and only work within their own walled gardens. What I really want is a generalized alerting service that can notify me in a flexible and consistent way when ALL the things I'm interested in happen. The service will need to provide flexible notification delivery. I want to know about blogs that match my query in my blog reader but I want my flight delays delivered to my phone. Today's alerting services only provide alerts on their own data, are not consistent and as I have found don't really work.

Take Yahoo Alerts for example. I have a subscription to Notre Dame Football. As shown below the alert on the final score in yesterday's game came today at 1:03 in the morning. Needless to say by 1 AM I was fast asleep and I had already heard the final score.




Another altering service failure is ebay. In this example ebay sent me an alert of an auction I was watching 5 days after the auction concluded.

A generalized alerting service has yet to be developed. Can PubSub take the lead here? PubSub boasts it can deliver matches in seconds not days so it can easily beat the existing alerting services that simply don't work. The trick will be providing the right mix of really useful information with a consistent and flexible way to create, edit and deliver alerts.



From The Desk
From the desk

Richard Treadway

Thursday, September 22, 2005

An Evening with Ray Kurzweil


Ray Kurzweil
Originally uploaded by Richard Treadway.


This evening I attended the SD Forum Event "An Evening with Ray Kurzweil" at SAP in Palo Alto.

You can see my photos from the event here. You can get the slides from Kurzweil's presentation here.

Ray has a new book coming out soon called THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR - When Humans Transcend Biology.

Kurzweil's ideas are facinating and he is plugged into the center of so much innovation. Here are my main take aways.

Advancements in human intelligent thinking follow a straight line on a logarithmic plot. The first advance took hundreds of millions of years the last one took 10.

As advances are exponential, by 2013 computing power will surpass human intelligence and we will be able to model the human brain.

These advances happen incrementally and it won't become a human vs machine fight. The machines will be a part of intelligence - the assist we get from computers will become us. This is like all innovations that have changed us and become a part of everyday life. Computational power will be so small and available it will become part of our brain assisting our thinking in many ways.

If we can model human intelligence then we can separate our memory (software) from our brains (hardware). Just as you back up your data and programs and can move them to different processors you will be able to back up your memories, beliefs, and thoughts and load them into another brain. Wow imagine Douglas Adams idea of the "point of view gun" if we could load it with the real data.

The final thought... If we can live another 50 years then maybe we can live another 300.

Richard Treadway

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Power of Tagging

I just read that BusinessWeek online selected Del.icio.us as best of the web.

I discovered Del.icio.us last year and have been using the service ever since. It really changes the way you view the web. As BusinessWeek points out tagging is one of the essential tools that make it possible to listen to the web as a conversation. Being able to see what people are reading and how they categorize it provides a wealth of information for brand managers.

Email and a browser are being replaced by the new tools of the trade: Del.icio.us, PubSub and Bloglines.

The blogosphere conversation is based on a Publish and Subscribe model. The loose coupling of that model means that publishers and subscribers don't need to know anything about each other. If you find a blog you like you subscribe. The publisher doesn't need to know or take action to let you subscribe. The the power of the publish subscribe model is why RSS has become so popular. Before RSS the only way to get alerted when your favorite site was updated was to either check regularly (polling) or to sign-up for an email notification (asynchronous alert). As email has become spam infested, email alerts look like just more spam. Furthermore email is designed as a communication model where publishers and subscribers do need to know each other. With email the publisher owns the subscriber list making getting on and off the list problematic.

In the publish subscribe model tags can be created by both publishers and subscribers. Of the two alternatives the more useful to brand managers is subscriber based tags. The reason is that publisher based tags are completely susceptible to spammers. The best know tagging service, library of congress doesn't rely on the author to categorize its book. The library does it after careful analysis. As such Del.icio.us tags (subscriber based) are infinitely more useful than Technorati tags (publisher based) for understanding what's being tracked in the blogosphere .

An interesting tag space where both publishers and subscribers meet is Flickr. I switched to Flick recently because I wanted to integrate my photos into my blogging. I had been using Webshots. Webshots uses a the photographic paradigm of "albums" to organize your pictures. With the album approach a given picture is in an album. With that approach you're left with the question, "should albums be organized by media, events, places or subjects"? The reason that Flickr tags are so useful is that the answer can be all four. For example this photo was tagged "SantaTeresaPark SanJose California Landscape Poppy NikonN90-Agfa 2003-03-15"

What you want from a photo organizing system is something that lets you find pictures at a later date no matter how you happen to remember them. Flickr tags do just that.

Here is the tagging system I use.



The interesting thing with Flickr is that subscribers can also tag your photos. This gives you the unique perspective of seeing how others categorize your pictures.

Richard Treadway

Friday, September 16, 2005

Viral Marketing

With blogs implementing the idea that the web can become a conversation, the concept of providing personalized badges that let you express your character are having visible viral effects. Well known examples include Flickr Zeigeist, Feedster top 500 and Bloglines shared subscriptions.

One such site I recently found is the Cyborg Name Generator. You choose your name and your graphic and it gives you the HTML code to insert into your blog. According to the creator Lore Sjöberg the details matter as he describes on his blog he made one small change and it really took off especially among live journal users.

Richard Treadway


Transforming Robotic Entity Assembled for Destruction, Warfare and Accurate Yelling

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I'm a Recovering Programmer


Car with 4 Steering Wheels

I'm a recovering programmer. It has been 785 days since I wrote code. I’ve learnt to deal with it. Now I'm in marketing.

I discovered a great blog the other day called Creating Passionate Users, by Kathy Sierra. Her post makes an insightful point - Programmers should get over their distain for marketers and realize they are marketers. Anyone who is passionate about their product is really a marketer.

As an engineer and programmer of 20 years I've crossed over to the dark side of marketing on numerous occasions to evangelize the products I’ve built. I never saw marketing and engineering as opposing camps but I personally know the pain of being mistrusted by the technical community. In a world where marketing is all too often driven by technology, telling a consistent simple story about complex enterprise software is a never ending challenge.

Complex enterprise software is like a car with 4 steering wheels - it can go anywhere, in circles, at a diagonal, sideways, and more... Wow, let me delight in the beauty of your design but it's still a bitch to drive and what is it really?

In the end creating passionate users is what it's all about and no product will be successful without the viral effects of that passion. Kathy has another great post explaining the dynamics of passionate users called the Koolaid point. You know you have arrived when you have as many people that passionately hate you as passionately love you.

Thanks Kathy for your insights and for such an entertaining blog.

Richard Treadway

Thursday, August 25, 2005

GoogleTalk and XMPP

While the announcement of Google Talk hasn't impressed many technology watchers like Mike Langberg, it is significant that Google decided to base their IM on industry standard XMPP.

AIM is the industry leader in IM with 51% market share or 54.3 million users and getting their loyal users to switch to a new IM will not happen anytime soon. Nonetheless don't underestimate the power of open standards to create a flurry of new competitive applications. The challenges to the big players in the IM space have already started. Russell Beattie extols the benefits of using XMPP and wishes his employer Yahoo! would support an XMPP gateway to Yahoo! IM. Let the innovations begin.

As the web evolves and publish-subscribe technologies become more prevalent there is a need for a common protocol. As Bob Wyman points out in this post innovative companies like PubSub are betting that standard will be XMPP. Now Google is backing up that bet with the size and clout that can make it happen.

Richard Treadway

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Wednesday, March 02, 2005