Twitter Activity Tab

Twitter’s new activity tab is pretty interesting. It shows who your friends have recently followed, favorited, or retweeted. I’ve already used it to discover some interesting people that I find interesting have found interesting, thus shortening the time until I found them from an eventual retweet to the follow action.

But, then I saw this:

Pat Kessler's New Follows

Which made me think “How could Kessler just now be following such influential political communications people?” Public Affairs Director – Minnesota House GOP? Deputy Chief of Staff in the office of Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota?

It makes me wonder what other nuggets people will find in their timelines of activity over time.

The Bright Side of Social Networking

Chris DeLine declared social networking bankruptcy earlier this year after deciding that he wasn’t getting enough value out of services like Facebook and Twitter. However, after taking an aggressive step away (he went as far as deleting his accounts) he found that there may be more to this social networking thing than he previously thought:

Reengaging Facebook

In the following months however it began to dawn on me just how shallow my approach to all this. All I really had to do was take a moment to think about the impact that online social networking has had on me, and my relationships, in order to realize the significance that these sites have had on my life. A good share of my real life relationships began, in one way or another, as online contacts and a lot of my real life interactions (event planning, networking, etc.) were at some point in time mediated by Facebook.

Well said, Chris.

As I look at people going through similar phases, I think the rut some people get into is focusing on the metrics rather than the relationships. For example, Dodgeball.com allows me to keep in touch with 20 close, local, friends. That’s truly valuable to me.

There really is a crossover opportunity between online and offline friends. Personally, I see this happening most often through Twitter and my blogs. Both help people discover other people with similar interests, passions, or senses of humor.

I’ve gone as far as inviting people to my home whom I’ve never met or even talked on the phone with before but “knew” through comments on my blogs, Twitter, etc. It was clear that they were someone that I’d like to meet. That’s real value coming out of authentic online relationships.

Brightkite: Location Based Social Networking

Brightkite is a new social networking site that seems to have found an interesting niche somewhere between Dodgeball and Twitter. I’ve had a chance to play around with it over the past week and have a few observations to share.

First, why is there a need for something between Dodgeball and Twitter? Dodgeball was one of the first social networking sites based on text messaging. It allowed you to create a group of friends, then check in from restaurants around town via SMS. Dodgeball would them broadcast your check-in out to your Dodgeball friends. It proved to be a great way to keep in touch and meet up with fellow foodies and drunks. However, Dodgeball was limited to large metropolitan areas and, after Google acquired it, failed to evolve beyond the initial concept.

Twitter, on the other hand, has no geographic ties, so allows people to network via SMS (or web, IM, etc.) with people all over the world. This is great at some levels, but loses the location ties as soon as your friend network expands beyond people living near you.

Brightkite’s Model

Brightkite allows users to sign up then add a group of friends to their social network. So far, no different from any other social network.

After that, check-ins are based on location, so a person can check in from a business (restaurant, airport, sports stadium), or location (City, state, zip). Your friends will receive updates on where you are. Beyond that, you can leave notes about locations you visit and publish photos of places you visit via browser upload or email from your phone.

Brightkite has many privacy settings, which allows you to share as much about where you are as you’re comfortable sharing with different classes of friends (you may not want to share your home address with the entire world, for example).

Beyond your network, you can subscribe to the updates of other Brightkite users within a set distance of your current location. This can be fun, since you may learn about things going on near you. Or, you may learn about a pancake at a local restaurant worth checking out thanks to a fellow Brightkite user’s sharing of a camera phone photo before digging in:

Pancakes

There are three levels for photo sharing: your friends, people near you (location determined by you), and the BrightKite Universe were you can view images coming in from all users. Cool stuff.

At this time, I imagine that Brighkite is building one of the best databases of relatively geocoded photos on the web. While you can geocode photos on many photo sites, including Flickr and Picasa, people rarely do so. Since Brightkite already knows where you area based on your check-in, they should be able to fairly accurately place your photos on a map.

Users can also send in notes, similar to Twitters or Dodgeball’s Shout-Out feature.

So, is this useful? I believe so, for people who like to keep up to date on what’s going on both around town and among their friends. It seems a lot like what Dodgeball would be like to day had Dodgeball continued to evolve. It is both interesting and useful to me.

Frank Gruber has some additional thoughts on Brightkite here.

Naymz: A Stalker Enabled Social Network

Naymz is a social network that appears to be going after something close to Linkedin.com’s market. Their slogan is, “Empowering Reputable Professionals.”

I was turned on to the site through an invite from a friend and have had a chance to casually check it out over the past few weeks.

While it does offer some interesting features for professionals such as the ability to endorse friends or use friends as online references, I can’t get past the site’s biggest problem: stalking.

Naymz offers reporting on which other Naymz users have been viewing your profile. While this is certainly fascinating information, it doesn’t take long to realize, “Wait a minute. That means everyone whose profile I visit can see that I’ve visited them too.” At that point, I realized that this site wasn’t for me.

Premium members can find out more about whose stalking them, as this internal ad shows:

Naymz: Stalk your Stalkers

If I paid, I could see who was visiting my profile, what IP address they visited from (possibly telling me which company that worked for), where they are in the world, and and the exact time they visited. If the referring link showed something like a company’s internal webmail, I could also infer that I was being talked about.

Naymz: Reports and Tools

This is all fascinating information, but the reporting flops when you realize that the same type of information about your Naymz browsing is being shared with other site members.

Could you imagine how quickly Facebook users would revolt if Facebook started reporting who was viewing your profile while telling everyone else whose profiles you’ve been viewing? That would kill it.

And if that would kill Facebook, Naymz may be dead on arrival if they don’t pull the plug on their stalking reporting.

Why Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter Hurt Publishers

Brian McConnell’s recent post about the history of social networks over at GigaOm was a great summary of where we’ve come from with a few insights into where we may be going that are worth paying attention to.

One projection where I think he’s on the right track is related to controlling one’s own data.

Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have grown at incredible rates due to the power of simple networking and sharing with friends and colleagues. However, I think people will start to wake up and realize that they’ve been spending hours and hours every week generating content that they can’t control.

Why would you contribute to your blog on MySpace when MySpace doesn’t make it easy to export your own posts and comments?

Why would you spend hours contributing information about your favorite moves on FaceBook if you can’t export that information for use in NetFlix or Amazon?

Well, maybe YOU would, but I wouldn’t. And I think less and less power-contributors will do so over time.

So, what is the alternative? McConnell suggests that it’s a system where you control your own information but can easily publish it to anywhere you choose:

The good news for users is that this will be an open market, an ecosystem, with no lock in. Users will be able to choose among many profile and update publishing tools. They’ll also be able to use whatever search tool they prefer. Most importantly, users (a.k.a. publishers) will own their data, and will be able to control how it is presented to the outside world.

If you decide tomorrow that MySpace kind of sucks (which it does) and want to drop it for Facebook (which sucks less), no problem. Just more your main profile over there. It’s your data after all.

But better yet, have your own site where you publish all of the information that’s important to you, then syndicate into MySpace, Facebook, or anywhere else where you want to connect with people. That way, you control your own data and don’t end up being locked into the social network of the week.

Andrew Baron explained this well in a recent post about Twitter where he suggested that Robert Scoble is doing more to help Twitter than himself when he relies so heavily on Twitter for communication:

Though obviously not a rule-of-platform-thumb, If you are going to spend your every waking hour churning out content, Scoble!, ‘might as well get some better link cred for that instead of giving it all away to the Twitter.com domain name.

A quick search on Google for Robert Scoble shows that he’s split his time, energy, and contributions between a variety of platforms out of his control over the years. They’re not necessarily bad decisions, but each does have consequences. Just imagine the authority of Scoble’s brand from a link perspective had he published consistently at one address rather than at multiple blog platforms, Twitter, and various video publishing platforms?

Will McConnell’s view of the future be correct? I think things will head toward more control of content by individuals with competition by platforms to provide additional value to you through processing your lifetime of work. This doesn’t exist yet today, but it’s probably not far off.

If a few highly influential bloggers said, “forget it, I’m sick of making the next new thing rich off my content and influence” we’d get there a lot faster.

Do You Own the Content You Create Online?

I tend to prefer blogging over participating heavily in sites like MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter, but hadn’t put much thought into why that is.

Luckily, I no longer have to since Brian Clark from Copyblogger nailed it:

Are You Someone’s User-Generated Content?

For me, there’s really no appeal in spending a lot of time creating “user-generated” content via a social networking application. That’s like remodeling the kitchen in a house you rent.

Exactly. Why should I spend time creating content within a social networking site when I can just as easily – actually more easily – create content on a property I own and control?

What happens when a social networking site dies? Or, more realistically, continues one but my firends and colleagues have moved on? Can I easily retrieve my content? If I publish blog posts to MySpace, the answer is No.

Can you pull content that you’ve created in Facebook out of it? What happens to your WhereIveBeen or Cities I’ve Visited data? Do you have to start over at the next hot spot?

If you publish the same content to your blog or other site that you control, you don’t have to worry about starting over since you maintained control of your own data.

This is why I’ve been a lazy Facebook user for the past year. I simply syndicate in headlines from blog posts I’ve written elsewhere rather than contribute content greater than status updates directly into the system.

If social networking sites gave me greater control over the content I create I’d reconsider. Until then, don’t expect much support from me.

Social Networking Update Redundancy

Should social networking sites make it easy to import updates from other social networking sites? Yes and no.

On the Yes side, it makes it easy to consolidate one’s social network updates from your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, etc.

On the No side, it causes serious redundancy issues for online friends who happen to follow you on more than one service.

For example, I have a friend who’s a blogger, Facebook, and Twitter user.

He’s integrated the blog-to-Twitter plugin for WordPress, so every time he posts a new post to his blog, I get a Twitter update about his latest blog entry. The tweet shows the post title, which is generally underdescriptive, along with a TinyURL I can click to see wha his 3-4 word Tweet is all about.

I’m already subscribed to his blog in Google Reader, so Twitters about new blog posts are redundant. Yet there is no way to turn off the blog-to-Twitter tweets without unfollowing him on Twitter.

In this case, I unfriended him on Twitter since he was putting out much better quality content on his blog and the majority of his tweets were reblogs.

I’m also friends with ths guy on Facebook, and guess what? He’s syndicating his Twitter posts into Facebook as well, so my Facebook news feed gets hit with his Twitters, which means it gets hit with links from his blog posts which hit his Twitter account, which end up in Facebook.

Worst case scenario:

1. He publishes a blog post
2. Causing my phone to vibe with a new Twitter message pointing to a URL.
3. I click that URL, sending me to his blog.
4. Within the hour, I get a new link in Google Reader telling me about the same blog post.
5. I then get another new new item in Google Reader from Twitter of recent Twitter posts that’s redundant to #2. I realize this one is redundant but I don’t want all of my Twitter friends coming to my phone but will take them in Google Reader.
6. I then log into Facebook to find the same Twitter message I saw back in #2 in yet another location.
7. He could also syndicate his blog into Facebook so I could see the same post yet again.

There are four solutions to this that I can think of:

1. Social networking sites and RSS reader applications could all get together and work out a solution where all but the site where an item is read first would pull the duplicate message.

2. People should stop publishing their content in a redundant manner.

3. Use Yahoo Pipes to filter out redundant content from friends.

4. Use a yet to be created Firefox Greasemonkey script to block redundant updates in Twitter or Facebook.

I’ve realized that I’ve been guilty of this too by using the Twitter application in Facebook. I removed it after coming to the realization that my Facebook friends are already following me on Twitter for the most part, so I’m creating redundant content for most of my friends.

Steve Rubel from Micropersuasion has been looking at this issue lately and described the aggregation as “lifecasting.” I think his definition of that term would be something along the lines of a aggregated look at all of the content a person generates online. If someone wants to hear every nugget from Rubel from a short Twitter through a well thought out blog post, you can follow him at www.steverubel.com. This may work well for many Rubel fans since his content tends to revolve around work with a little sports thrown in.

For people who publish to the web on a larger variety of topics, I think Rubel’s version of lifecasting will fall short. For example, I may write about technology here, things that interest me from politics to Britney Spears on my personal blog, about shoes hanging from powerlines on another blog, and about hamburgers with cheese on the inside on another blog. Consolidating all of this into a lifecast would please no one since the topics are too diverse to be of interest to anyone but me.

However, it’s possible Yahoo Pipes could come to the rescue by making it possible to filter web user’s lifecasts down to the content that interests them, or by filtering out the stuff that doesn’t.

Would this post have made any sense a year ago?

Concept: Virtual Resident Experts

Lately, I’ve been working on the concept of “virtual resident experts.” I define the term like this:

People participating in an online group with identified and respected skills.

In the offline world, groups of friends manage to identify who the expert is within their groups on various topics. For example, you know who to turn to if you’re looking for a great restaurant recommendation, a trustworthy car repair shop, a great bottle of wine, home buying advice, fitness tips, or fashion advice.

However, when you first met your friends, you didn’t know which of them possessed specialized skills like those listed above. And you didn’t know which ones talked liked they knew something about a topic vs. those you truly knew what they were talking about. Over time, this sorts itself out in the real world through referrals and trial & error.

In the offline world, the one skill that you know your friends possess is the skill needed to do whatever they do for a career. They must be sufficiently competent at that to be employable, right?

Moving that same group of friends to the online world opens up new opportunities for sharing “resident expert” expertise. As your friends start building out their profiles online, you discover specialized skills your network of friends possess. It turns out that one tunes pianos as a hobby, another is a master gardener, another has been to Belize, and another is an expert on home brewing.

There are unidentified resident experts in your network.

Having relatively direct connections to people with expertise in areas that either interest you or fulfill a need makes the world smaller. Technology accelerates this process by allowing people to turn in their specialized skills and interests through their profiles or blogs.

Do today’s websites make this work? Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook certainly help, as well as personal blogs where this type of content may be revealed. However, I think the concept of “virtual resident experts” is still in its infancy online.