Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Blog posts on Liako.Biz for 2008

I launched this blog in March 2005 as a travel blog. People would flood me with e-mails about my travels, and it made me realise how powerful blogging can be (not to mention fun). I re-started this blog in March 2007 as a "career" blog (whatever that’s supposed to mean). It’s probably best now to describe it as my "passions" blog which evolves as I progress through life and think about things.

What I love about blogging is that it forces me to think; forces me to research and learn; forces me to challenge my ideas by interacting with other people. All the good stuff in life – I hope to give a bit more attention next year.

I also thought it would be good if I summarised what I wrote about this year. Heck – let’s go right back to 2005. This will be the first in a series of three blog posts progressively released – starting with 2008 today, then 2007 tomorrow and finally 2005 two days later. For those that may post comments, bear with me as I have literally 24 hours of New Year’s concerts to attend to (get home at 6am from Shore Thing, ready for Field day at 11am). It may take me some time to recover and get back on a computer!

I’ve given you a brief summary to guide you on whether you should make the great leap and click. I was going to rank my articles with a simple "good, poor, average" and I ended up getting stuck reading some and think 90% are more or less the same style (so I am either consistently crap or consistently good).

Enjoy!

December 2008

  • A milestone year in my life: Basically, a mini biography of my career. The decisions I made and the experiences I’ve had that will determine where I will be heading
  • The evolution of news and the bootstrapping of the Semantic Web: Highlighting how the New York Times is making available news data in the form of API’s. The significance of this in my eyes is a huge shift in the evolution of the news media, and separately, I mention that this might make the vision of the Semantic Web a reality in an unintended way
  • Thank you 2008, you finally gave New Media a name: I indicate how 2008 was the tipping point for the Information Age’s Social Media to finally trump the Industrial Age’s Mass Media. I researched the history of the concept of Social Media, explained what "media" really is, and how the term "Social Media" is the perfect term to describe what we’ve been calling these evolving communication trends.
  • The makings of a media mogul: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch: A detailed analysis of how a nobody became one of the most influential men in the world as a New Media pioneer. Mr Arrington even thanked me!
  • The future of journalism and media: A look at the Watergate scandal as well as my own personal experience with a university publication, to understand the core dynamic of the media. I argue that what made the mass media tick in the past was a marketplace, and it’s one that can be applied to digital media going forward.
  • So open it‚Äôs closed: I make an argument that the term "Open" is being abused and has lost its meaning. We need better guidelines on what constitutes an "Open Standard" before it becomes too late.
  • Social media and that whole ‚Äúfriend‚Äù thing: A post about how there is pressure to subscribe to peoples content on various services, even when you don’t want to receive their content. The result is an unusable service. I reflect on how Google Readers friends option is a simple but more effective way of social media, as it removes this pressure.

November 2008

  • The broken business model of newspapers: An analysis of problems with the newspaper industry – too much detail in articles create extra cost, changes to the news cycle has changed their relevance, and incentives and structures are not aligned with what their strategic goals should be
  • Online advertising – a bubble: Long detailed analysis on why advertising is basically screwed in the long term (thanks to the Internet)
  • Liako is everywhere‚Ķbut not here: Some links to content I have been creating elsewhere, as this blog had been neglected!
  • The Rudd Filter: I wrote an e-mail to every senator of the Australian parliament on the proposed Internet censorship laws. As a postscript, it made an impact as I got responses from the key people who are the balance of power in the Senate 🙂
  • You don‚Äôt nor need to own your data: We live in an economy now where you don’t need "ownership" to live your life. This will certainly make you think!

October 2008

  • The mobile 3D future – as clear as mud: Recounting my experience from iPhone 1G to Nokia N96 back to the iPhone (3G). I conclude that the reason we never got the vision of the mobile web in the past, is because the interface has been the missing link for so long

September 2008

July 2008

  • Silicon Beach Australia – the movie!: An announcement post for the Silicon Beach Australia community which exploded in interest after I created it
  • The DataPortability governance framework: a template: An update, history and recognition post of the many months of hard work for the team that created the governance and workflow model for the DataPortability Project. It was a challenge because existing models aren’t designed for an online virtual world that we operate as.
  • Internet censorship in Australia: The responses from the Federal government on my letter six months earlier protesting against the proposed Internet censorship regime

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

March 2008

February 2008

A milestone year in my life

I try to avoid writing about personal stuff on my blog (even my travel writing is like a tour guide talking, as opposed to a description of my day-to-day activities). However I thought I’d share this as you will understand both my past experience and future direction better – as after all, this blog is a conversation between you and me right? And I’m going to do it in one hit, because you won’t hear me navel gazing like this again for another ten years!

elias fish kiss

Basically, I’ve hit a milestone in my life in whatever way you look at it. I completed the two-year postgraduate diploma which has had me locked in a room; completed the three-years mentored work experience that accompanies the diploma; and completed my formal education goals, which if you count my three-year undergraduate degree, has taken six years (seven if you count the year I took off to travel). At 17, I made the decision to go down this path (well one of them) and now as a 24-year-old, I have finally made it.

So this is an explanation of what I’ve been doing and why. How things are evolving in my career are quite random. Hopefully this will have you understand how my background experiences lead me to where I am now.

A career in business – the undergraduate degree
At about the age of 15, I had decided to pursue a career in business in some way – don’t for a minute think I had any idea what that meant, but my dad suggested a Bachelor of Commerce which was about as broad as they get, so it seemed like a plan (I like vague and broad – allows flexibility). However in the next few years, I experimented with student media and based on the amazing feedback I received from everyone (my folks complained at parent teacher interviews, all they talked about was the newspaper and not my academic performance), I seriously contemplated a career as a journalist. Worried about what path to take, my father gave me some advice which sealed the deal and which was passed down from my grandfather’s experience who was a newspaper editor: “You will never be your own boss, kid”. The thought of me being paid terrible money and forever hostage to a superior authority, made me decide I can always write for fun but it would better to invest in an education that you can’t pick up easily without formal study. So business it was.

I received an okay mark in my final year of school (93.10%) and was accepted into the university and course of my choosing – a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Sydney (you needed 93.00% – with my education, I seem to have a magic touch for doing just enough but not too much work). My eldest half-sister, a banker with JP Morgan at the time, told me her biggest regret was not becoming a Chartered Accountant. She told me to steer away from the subjects girls flock to, like marketing, and to do the more ‘hard’ subjects like accounting and finance. Even though I didn’t even do maths in my final year of school (all humanities, mostly history), I decided to pursue this path despite it not being something I was naturally good at. In retrospect, I decided finance was not for me in terms of a career choice and I regret not doing marketing. But I went along with the accounting thing – I could understand value in that if I wanted to become an executive one day.

GradDipCA
My undergraduate degree was simply a prerequisite to get into this course which I would start in 2006 and finish in 2008. I’m still in shock that I finally got through it

A career in media – the second curricula
I didn’t ignore my interest in journalism however. Six months in, I decided I wanted to start a newspaper because the crap on campus was exactly that. I also wanted to take aim at the mainstream media whose bias was repeatedly distorting our world. It turned out James Fraser, a guy I went to high-school with, wanted to do the same thing. My partner-in-crime approached this as a business venture, but I pushed for a society because I knew in 2.5 years I would be out of university and my motivation was to learn (not profit). And so we shook hands later in 2002 and created the Sydney University Journalists Society which grew to over 200 members.

In early 2003 after all the admin had been finalised, we went about creating our first product: “idMag”. Between the two of us, we did everything. I focused on the editorial and James more on the design, which we did at night. During the day, we would walk into small businesses and try to sell them advertising space based on a double-sided rate paper (ie, thin air delivered by two pimple-faced kids in suits). Of the dozens (hundreds?) of businesses we talked to, I would talk and James would give me immediate feedback on how to improve my sales pitch. I also tried calling the big companies (I think it was Vodafone), and will never forget getting absolutely roasted by a company’s advertising agency, who with her hard questions purposely demolished me to prove I was wasting her time (and perhaps intended, she taught me a valuable lesson about media). Nevertheless, we raised enough money to fund 4000 semi-colour 24 page magazines. I then learned one of my biggest lessons in the media world: distribution is key.

The magazine was a flop because without a distribution strategy, you don’t have an audience, and without an audience, you won’t have advertisers spending money on you again that second time around (so I assumed, I didn’t have the guts to re-approach our advertisers). During this time, I played with Microsoft Frontpage with blinking text and other cool (!) Frontpage features to create a website for the magazine, and after we published it, I decided to devote more attention to building it. It was in 2003 that I realised the future of media was on the Internet as the barriers to distribution were removed (so I thought, new barriers now exist -but sweet baby cheeses it was cheaper!). We experimented with a few other things that year, but I got distracted by an election to be voted on the campus newspaper I detested. I paraded around university telling people to “think outside of the box”. We didn’t get on, but I developed an awesome suntan.

"Think outside of the box"

It’s funny to trawl through my online footprint because up until then I was a tech savvy consumer, but that’s all I was, because at the age of 13 I made a conscious decision to unhook my interest in computers to not become a “geek” (ie, learning how to code) and instead became a jock of sorts. Now in 2003, I invested some time in the Kuro5hin.org community, which had me learn the potential of online media communities. When I finally got an article approved, I moved on – I had enough of the trolls. But in my quest to build a new media organisation, I actively reached out and had to learn about things like registering & resolving a domain name, hosting a website, and teaching myself CSS to get that Drupal installation looking how I wanted. It was amateur stuff that seems stupidly basic now, but that’s how I learned.

In 2004 one of the products we launched, which was a weekly news digest, became an absolute hit (as I recently wrote about). When the year ended, I ended my tenure as President and got the green light that all subjects had been passed. But before I end this chapter, I will share that in November 2003 before my corporate finance exam, I had a Eureka moment that newspapers in the future would be printed using e-ink technology (probably from something I came across my favourite blog at the time, PaidContent.org). I researched the idea and in the process of doing this ended up putting together a business case to apply for the Yellow Pages business grant (my idea had evolved to an innovative model for advertising, which to this day, I am still thinking about as it overlaps with the VRM Project). I didn’t get the grant (or even make the finals) – but boy, when you do things like that, it opens your eyes up to things.

USYD Degree

I left university with not just a degree in business, but a realisation that although I may never become a journalist, I was passionate about having a career in the business of media. And that the Internet was where it was at. It’s not something you will find on my undergraduate degree certificate, but it’s what I walked out of university thinking.

The corporate world
PricewaterhouseCoopers offered me a graduate job, following an early 2003 summer internship (60 positions, 1000 applicants). Having spent the last few years at a restaurant as a waiter, my discussions with the backpackers that came through the place made me itch to do a big trip overseas. And so in 2005, I managed to defer my contract (I got it in March 2004; deferred for up to two years) and went travelling for nine months (which is how this blog came into creation). I had always wanted to blog but never did because I didn’t want to keep an online diary – a travel blog seemed like the perfect opportunity to experiment with this form of media.

I returned from my trip and started as a graduate in December 2005 in the assurance practice (external audit), specialising in media & technology companies (our clients are Cisco, IBM, VeriSign, Getty Images, and a whole alphabet soup of that kind). However I couldn’t help myself with ideas that were flowing through my mind. And in April 2006, on a train, I wrote a to-do list note on my phone: “start a wiki at PwC”. It seemed stupidly obvious that the world’s biggest knowledge firm didn’t have a wiki (which was another experiment during my time at the Journalists Society that I thought was massive). Unfortunately, to get technologies like that switched on is not quite what you think. People that have been through the pain of creating change or innovating within a large organisation know exactly what I mean – and I was a nobody trying to influence people 15-30 years older than me in senior management.

tug of war

I pitched the idea to my manager in May 2006, and she must have been having a bad day, because she ripped it to shreds. Slightly taken aback, I dropped it, but it stayed at the back of my mind. Then, after a nasty month of work in August, I repitched it to her with recent experience as examples and using the language she shot me down with (“I don’t know what you said differently, and I know it’s the same idea, but I like it now!). She gave me advice which I ended up ignoring, and went about determining a strategy to pitch it to the partners after my exam. Preparing for my first CA exam in October, I randomly came across Charlie Perry who it turns out had been wanting to set up a wiki at the firm as well. We met up, decided to “join forces”, and rolled. What happened next I would never have imagined.

We pitched the idea to a group that had recently formed, and who were called “Service Innovation”. It turned out there was a big problem in the firm that the boss of Service Innovation had to solve on order of the CEO. Fed with information, I wrote a formal business case for how Social Media could fix this problem. The idea was approved right up to the CEO level and I then went about implementing it which is a story in itself but not one I can publicly share :).

The tech industry
Just after we got the pilot approved, Charlie randomly flicked across an e-mail. We ended up getting in contact with Marty Wells who ran Dinner 2.0 and would invite us (I think he thought he could wrangle sponsorship money out of PwC!), and in February 2007 I started mingling with investors, entrepreneurs and other people in what was an exclusive Sydney networking event. Talking to Marty that night, I told him and others I had a business idea I wanted to work on. “Well there are going to be a lot of developers at Barcamp”. So I went to Barcamp, restarted this blog, and joined the APML workgroup which I thought was a brilliant solution to advertising. (Remember that business idea of mine at university? Things you research, “fail” in, and move on come back to haunt you in a good way).

I attended more events, made more friends, started building a presence. I gave Chris Saad from the APML workgroup introductions and advice on his product, and in return, he introduced me to more people – which is how I was invited to explore the concept of a workgroup around data portability so early on. In January 2008, that workgroup exploded in attention and I suddenly was working daily with people across all the different continents. Separately, my involvement in the local community made me passionate about it, and quite randomly actually, I created something that has been played up that I am some kind of Big Deal when in fact I’ve done nothing other than moderate spam messages, host some drinks and create some podcasts.

December 2008
My official certificate recognising admission into the Institute of Chartered Accountants
So here I am. Milestones and goals achieved. At this age, all I hoped to achieve was to become a CA (which I was formally admitted earlier this month). In the process I’ve done things I never would have imagined.

As you can see, accounting is simply a stepping stone to what I really want to do: build and run companies. It’s great having a goal, but now I’ve got to work out what comes next! I’ve got some ideas – like plucking myself out of my comfortable life here and living in Silicon Valley in the midst of raw innovation – but who knows. The only thing I do know is that you need to meet as many people as possible and genuinely build a relationship with them with no desire to get anything out of it. They will open doors for you when you least expect it – keep giving (it feels good anyway) and they will hit you on the head back with something one day. And secondly, when you have an idea, just do it. Expose yourself to random experiences – just participate and the dots will connect one day.

So in 2009, I’m going to jump and see where that leads me. Wish me luck!

Why you shouldn't give me alcohol #4

The evolution of news and the bootstrapping of the Semantic Web

The other month (as in, the ones where I am working 16 hour days and don’t have time to blog), I read in amazement a stunning move made by the New York Times. It was the announcement of its first API, where you could query campaign finance data. It turns out this wasn’t an isolated incident, as evidenced by yet another API release, this time for movies, with plenty more to come.

Fake New York Times newspaper That is massive! Basically, using the same data people will be able to create completely different information products.

I doubt the journalists toiling away at the Times have any idea what this will do to their antiquated craft (validating that to get the future of media you need to track technology). As the switched on Marshall Kirkpatrick said in the above linked article for Read Write Web "We believe that steps like this are going to prove key if big media is to thrive in the future."

Hell yeah. The web has now evolved beyond ‘destination’ sites as a business model. News organisations need to harness the two emerging business models – platforms and networks. Whilst we’ve seen lots of people trying the platform model (as aggregators – after all, that is what a traditional newspaper has been in society), this is the first real example I have seen of the heritage media doing the network model. The network model means your business thrives by people using *other* peoples’ sites and services. It sounds counter intuitive but it’s the evolution of the information value chain.

This will certainly make Sir Tim Berners-Lee happy. The Semantic Web is a vision that information on the web is machine readable so that computers can truly unleash their power. However this vision is gaining traction very slowly. We will get there, but I am wondering whether the way we get there is not how we expect.

The New Improve Semantic Web: now with added meaning!

These API’s that allow web services to reuse their data in a structured way may just be what the Semantic Web needs to bootstrap it. There’s an assumption with the vision, which is that for it to work, all data needs to be open and publicly accessible. The economics are just not there yet for companies to unlock their data and my work this year with the DataPortability Project has made me realise to get value out of your data you simply need access to it (which doesn’t necessarily mean public data).

Either way, for me this was one of the biggest news events of the year, and one that very quietly has moved on. This will certainly be something worth tracking in 2009 as we see the evolution of not just the Semantic Web, but also Social Media.

Thank you 2008, you finally gave New Media a name

Earlier this year Stephen Collins and Chris Saad had flown to Sydney for the Future of Media summit, and in front of me were having heated discussions on how come nobody invited them to the Social Media club in Australia. As they were yapping away, I thought to myself what the hell are they going on about. It turns out things I used to call "blogs", "comments" or "wikis" were now "social media". Flickr, Delicious, YouTube? No longer Web 2.0 innovations, but social media. Bulletin boards that you would dial up on your 14000 kbps modem? Social media. Online forums discussing fetishes? Social media. Everything was now bloody social media (or Social Media: tools are lower case, concept uppercase) and along with Dare Obasanjo I was asleep for the two hours when it suddenly happened.

social media bandwagon

However it turns out that this is a term that’s been around for a lot longer than we give it credit for. It hung low for a while and then as some significant events occurred this year the term became a perfect fit to describe what was happening. It’s a term that I’ve been waiting to emerge for years now, as I knew the term "new media" was going to mature one day.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our new world and the way of defining it: 2008 is when the Information Age’s "social media" finally displaced the Industrial Era’s "mass media". Below I document how, when and why.

Origins of the term and its evolution
The executive producer of the Demo conference Chris Shipley is said to have coined the term during a key note at the Demofall 2005 conference on the 20th September 2005. As she said in her speech:

Ironically, perhaps, there is one other trend that would at first blush seem at odds with this movement toward individuality, and that is the counter movement toward sociability.

As one reporter pointed out to me the other day, the program book you have before you uses the term “social” a half-dozen times or more to describe software, computing, applications, networks and media.

I’m not surprised that as individuals are empowered by their communications and information environments, that we leverage that power to reach out to other people. In fact, blogs are as much about individual voice as they are about a community of readers.

The term gained greater currency over the next year, as Shipley would use the term in her work and various influencers like Steve Rubel would popularise the term. Brainjam which popularised unConferences first had the idea of a Social Media Club around the time of Shipley’s keynote and eventually formed it in July of the following year, which created more energy towards pushing for the term. Other people starting building awareness, like the Hotwire consultant Drew Benvie who from April 2006 has been writing the Social Media Report (and created the Social media Wikipedia page on 9 July 2006). Benvie said to me in some private correspondence: “When social media emerged as a category of the media landscape in 2005 / 2006 I noticed the PR and media industries looking for suitable names. The term social media came to be used at the same time of social networks becoming mainstream.” Back then it was more a marketing word to conceptualise online tools and strategies to deal with them, which is why there has been distaste for the term that prevented its adoption.

It was 2008 however when several news incidents, innovations, and an election entrenched this term into our consciousness. Later on, I will explain that, but first a lesson.

web2_logos

So what is Social Media?
A debate in August 2008 created the following definition: "social media are primarily Internet and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. " I like that definition, but with it, you could arguably say "social media" existed when the first e-mail was sent in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s going to suffer the fate of the term “globalisation” where in the 1990s people didn’t know the term existed – but by 2001 in high school, I was told it had been around since the 1980s and by my final year of university in 2004 I was told "globalisation" started in the 1700s. Heaven forbid it turns into a term like "Web 2.0" where no one agrees but it somehow becomes a blanket term for everything that is post the Dot-Com bubble.

The definition is off-putting unless you have a fundamental understanding of what exactly media is. It might shock you to hear this, but a newspaper and a blog are not media. A television and a Twitter account, are not media either. So if you’ve had had trouble getting the term social media before, it’s probably because you’ve been looking at it in the wrong way. Understand what media really is and you will recognise the brilliance of the term "social media".

Vin Crosbie many years ago answered a question I had been searching half a decade ago on what was new media. Crosbie’s much cited work has moved around the Internet, so I can’t link to his original piece of work (update: found it on the Internet archive), but this is what he argued in summary.

  • Television, books and websites are wrongly classified as media. What they really are, are media outputs. We are defining our world on the technology, and not the process. Media is about communication of messages.
  • There are three types of media in the world: Interpersonal media, mass media, and new media.
  1. Interpersonal media, which he coined for lack of an established term, is a one-on-one communications process. A person talking directly to another person is interpersonal media. It’s one message distributed to one other person, from one person.
  2. Mass media is a one-to-many process. That means, one entity or person is communicating that one message to multiple people. So if you are standing in front of a crowd giving a speech, you are conducting a mass media act. Likewise, a book is mass media as it’s one message distributed to many
  3. New media, which is only possible due to the Internet, is many-to-many media.

I highly recommend you read his more recent analysis which is an update of his 1998 essay (can be seen here on the Internet archive ).

That’s a brilliant way of breaking it down but I still didn’t get what many-to-many meant. When the blogosphere tried to define social media it was a poor attempt (and as recently as November 2008, it still sucked). But hidden in the archives of the web, we can read Stowe Boyd who came up with the most accurate analysis I’ve seen yet.

  1. Social Media Is Not A Broadcast Medium: unlike traditional publishing — either online or off — social media are not organized around a one-to-many communications model.
  2. Social Media Is Many-To-Many: All social media experiments worthy of the name are conversational, and involve an open-ended discussion between author(s) and other participants, who may range from very active to relatively passive in their involvement. However, the sense of a discussion among a group of interested participants is quite distinct from the broadcast feel of the New York Times, CNN, or a corporate website circa 1995. Likewise, the cross linking that happens in the blogosphere is quite unlike what happens in conventional media.
  3. Social Media Is Open: The barriers to becoming a web publisher are amazingly low, and therefore anyone can become a publisher. And if you have something worth listening to, you can attract a large community of likeminded people who will join in the conversation you are having. [Although it is just as interesting in principle to converse with a small group of likeminded people. Social media doesn’t need to scale up to large communities to be viable or productive. The long tail is at work here.]
  4. Social Media Is Disruptive: The-people-formerly-known-as-the-audience (thank you, Jay Rosen!) are rapidly migrating away from the old-school mainstream media, away from the centrally controlled and managed model of broadcast media. They are crafting new connections between themselves, out at the edge, and are increasingly ignoring the metered and manipulated messages that centroid organizations — large media companies, multi national organizations, national governments — are pushing at them. We, the edglings, are having a conversation amongst ourselves, now; and if CNN, CEOs, or the presidential candidates want to participate they will have to put down the megaphone and sit down at the cracker barrel to have a chat. Now that millions are gathering their principal intelligence about the world and their place in it from the web, everything is going to change. And for the better.

So many-to-many is a whole lot of conversation? As it turns out, yes it is. Now you’re ready to find out how 2008 became the year Social Media came to maturity.

How 2008 gave the long overdue recognition that New Media is Social Media
The tools: enabling group conversations
MySpace’s legacy on the world is something that I think is under-recognised, that being the ability to post on peoples’ profiles. It gave people an insight into public communication amongst friends, as people used it more for open messaging rather than adding credentials like the feature originally intended when developed on Friendster. Yes, I recognise public discussions have occurred for years on things like forums and blogs, but this curious aspect of MySpace’s culture at its peak has a lot to answer for what is ultimately Social Media. Facebook picked up on this feature and more appropriately renamed it as "wall posts" and with the launch of the home screen that is essentially an activity stream of your friends, it created a new form of group communication.

The image below shows a wall-to-wall conversation with a friend of mine in February 2007 on Facebook. You can’t see it, but I wrote a cheeky response to Beata’s first message at the bottom about her being a Cabbage-eating Ukrainian communist whose vodka is radioactive from Chernobyl. She responds as you can see, but more interestingly, our mutual friend Rina saw the conversation on her homescreen and jumped in. This is a subtle example that shows how the mainstream non-technology community is using social media. I’m currently seeing how non-technology friends of mine will share links that appear on the activity stream and how they jump into a conversation about it right there. It’s like over-hearing a conversation around the water-cooler and joining in if you want.

Facebook | Elias, Beata, Rina

This is what made Twitter what it is. What started as a status update tool for friends, turned into a chat-room with your friends; you can see the messages posted by people you are mutually following, and you can join in on a conversation that you weren’t originally a part of. Again, simple but the impact we have seen it have on the technology community is unbelievable. Like for example, I noticed Gabe Rivera a few days ago had a discussion with people about how he still doesn’t get what social media is. I wasn’t involved in that discussion originally, but its resulted in me partially inspired to explore the issue with this blog post. These are subtle, anecdotal examples but in sum they point to this broader transformation occurring in our society due to these tools that allow us to mass collaborate and communicate. The open conversation culture of Web 2.0 has helped create this phenomenon.

Another Internet start-up company which I think has contributed immensely to the evolution of Social Media is Friendfeed. It essentially copied the Facebook activity screen, but made it better – and in the process, created the closest thing to a social media powerhouse. People share links there constantly and get into discussions in line. In the mass media, an editor would determine what you could read in a publication; in the Social Media world, you determine what you read based on the friends you want to receive information from. Collectively, we decimate information and inform each other: it’s decentralised media. Robert Scoble, a blogging and video super star, is the central node of the technology industry. He consumes and produces more information than anyone else in this world; and if he is spending seven days a week for seven hours a day on Friendfeed, that’s got to tell you something’s up.

The events: what made these tools come to life in 2008
We’ve often heard about citizen journalism with people posting pictures from their mobile phones to share with the broader Internet. Blogs have long been considered a mainstay in politics this last decade. But it was 2008 that saw two big events that validated Social Media’s impact and maturity.

  1. A new president: Barack Obama has been dubbed as the world’s first Social Media president. Thanks to an innovative use of technology (and the fact one of the co-founders of Facebook ran his technology team – 2008 is the year for Social Media due to cross pollination), we’ve seen the most powerful man in the world get elected thanks to the use of the Internet in a specific way. Obama would post on Twitter where he was speaking; used Facebook in a record way; posted videos on YouTube (and is doing a weekly video addresses now as president-elect) – and a dozen other things, including his own custom-built social networking site.
  2. A new view of the news: In November, we saw a revolting event occur which was the terrorist situation in India (and which has now put us on the path of a geopolitical nightmare in the region). However the tragic event at Mumbai, also gave tangible proof of the impact social media is having in the world .

What’s significant about the above two events is that Social Media has robbed the role played by the Mass Media in the last century and beyond. Presidents of the past courted newspapers, radio and television personalities to get positive press as Mass Media influenced public perception. Likewise, breaking news has been the domain of the internationally-resourced Mass Media. Social Media is a different but much better model.

What’s next?
It’s said we need bubbles as they fuel over-development that leave something behind forever. The last over-hyped Web 2.0 era has given us a positive externality that has laid the basis of the many-to-many communications required for New Media to occur. Arguably, the culture of public sharing that first became big with the social bookmarking site Del.icio.us sparked this cultural wave that has come to define the era. The social networking sites created an infrastructure for us to communicate with people en masse, and to recognise the value of public discussions. Tools like wikis both in the public and the enterprise have made us realise the power of group collaboration – indeed, the biggest impact a wiki has in a corporation from my own experience rolling out social media technologies at my firm, is encouraging this culture of "open".

It has taken a long time to get to this point. The technologies have taken time to evolve (ie, connectivity and a more interactive experience than the document web); our cultures and societies have also needed some time to catch up with this massive transformation in our society. Now that the infrastructure is there, we are busy concerning ourselves with refining the social model. Certainly, the DataPortability Project has a relevant role in ensuring the future of our media is safe, like for example the monitoring the Open Standards we use to allow people to resuse their data. If my social graph is what filters my world, then my ability to access and control that graph is the equivalent to the Mass Media’s cry of ensuring freedom of the press.

Elias Bizannes social graph
Over 700 people in my life – school friends, university contacts, workmates and the rest – are people I am willing to trust to filter my information consumption. It will be key for us to be able to control this graph

Newspapers may be going bankrupt thanks to the Internet, but finally in 2008, we now can confidently identify the prophecies of what the future of media looks like.

The makings of a media mogul: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch

After recognising in my previous post that Michael Arrington has successfully captured the dynamic of the mass media to pioneer new media, my mind asked how did this guy do it. With some time on my hands, I looked into what I think is one of the most remarkable stories to occur in the recent tech boom that was Web 2.0 (yep, that’s past tense – it’s an innovation era that now has closed). How "a nobody ‚Äî a former attorney and entrepreneur who, at 35, looked as if he might never hit it big " became one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. I’ve never interacted with Arrington, although I know plenty of people that know him well (through the Aussie mafia that grace the Valley). So this is coming from a completely objective but aware view. An outside view with purely the public record to track his success. Let’s see what the evidence tells us.

The accidental start-up
Reading through the archives of his main blog TechCrunch.com and his companion blog CrunchNotes.com, I came to realise his success could be identified as early as his first five months from the first post written. He launched TechCrunch.com on the 11th June 2005 with posts released daily if not multiple times per day. The blog averaged 5 posts every two days in its first year, with 879 posts (it was actually more, but a half dozen or so have since been removed).

TechCrunch posts per day (year one)

His first post, which has since been removed (God bless the Internet archive), gives an insight into motivations for starting the blog.

TechCrunch is edited by Michael Arrington and Keith Teare, with frequent input from guest editors. It is part of the Archimedes Ventures network of companies.

Archimedes Ventures was at the time a two partner firm that specialised in the "development of companies focused on Web 2.0 technologies and solutions." The fact the page listed Teare and is marked as part of Archimedes Ventures network of companies suggests this was a conscious business development effort on the part of Arrington. As he would later reveal, he was inspired by Dave Winer who said: ‚Äúif you are going to build a new company, go to the trouble of actually researching what other companies have already done." Several months later in October, he posted an announcement that his startup Edgeio would be live soon, validating that TechCrunch wasn’t so much a "hobby" but a need to understand your market. Indeed, it seems TechCrunch just became a more formalised affair as he had been posting research into potential competitors on his personal blog publicly from March 2005 – and by the time he launched TechCrunch there were already four employees at Edgeio. No doubt, exposure and networking like any smart businessman was part of his agenda as well, which perhaps is why we saw a transition from a personal site to a TechCrunch brand (more on community building later).

On October 2005, TechCrunch was ranked the 566th blog by Technorati based on the amount of links it received from other websites. In December of that year, its ranking had climbed to 96th. One year on, in June 2006, it became the 4th most linked-to blog and has subsequently maintained its status as number 2 (not being able to beat another new media mogul Arianna Huffington who dominates the table, but that’s a story for another time).

TechCrunch subscribers

The above graph shows an explosion, but it’s the first year that tells the story which forms the basis of this post:

Over that first year, 23,713 comments had been left, with around 1-2 million page views per month. However as the figures show, it was the first six months where this research turned into a prospective business ("help "), with subsequent months and years simply consolidating his growth: by year two, there were 2,000 more posts (double the output of the previous year); 115,608 comments and trackbacks in total (an average of 40 per post); and 435,000 RSS subscribers. Pages views in the month leading up to the 24th month in operation were 4.5 million, twice what it was the previous year. In September 2008, over a million people subscribed to the blog.

So how did he do it?
Compared to his peers/competitors, he joined the game quite late, and yet he is absolutely smashing them. Same software in some cases and same focus. The question is, what did Arrington do that others didn’t?

Whilst the metrics might track his growth, they don’t track how he did it, which has less to do with Search Engine Optimisation and more to do with hyping up a boom. Below I describe what I think are the Critical Success Factors that made TechCrunch what it is today.

1) Events.
TechCrunch wasn’t just a blog; it was a host. Early on, there were events hosted at Arrington’s house where people could network and mingle. It would be a mistake to think that TechCrunch later on got into the conference business as an alternative revenue stream, but the reality is, social networking was being organised in the real world in parallel to the online blog from as early as August 2005. To create a new blog and have 63 people subscribed to it within a week indicates a lot of offline activity to get those subscribers. The social meet ups reinforced his readership base.

2) Web2.0.
Arrington saw a tide building for a second tech boom and formed a loose group of allies promoting this tide. Add to the mix some existing high profile personal brands like Dave Winer and Robert Scoble – and in the process, you build your own personal brand. To use his words, he saw a parade and got in front of it.

When Tim O’Reily coined “Web 2.0”, it was a buzz-speak marketing word. What Arrington did was successfully exploit this dynamic by recognising the rising investment trend occurring. He built a community around Web 2.0 by being its tireless champion and channeling existing energies. And as the community grew, so did he. He realised that what goes down, goes back up again – and by tapping into this growth, he could grow with it. If this second boom was anything like the first, being at the front of it would be such a good career move that it probably didn’t even need to be said.

3) Excellent content.
Don’t underestimate the difference quality content has. Arrington has an analytical mind and is a clear communicator – he is a lawyer after all. Intelligence and an ability to communicate will beat even the most experienced journalist. I‚Äôve been told that Arrington doesn‚Äôt understand tech, or at least makes a convincing image of not getting it, which probably explains the why he writes in plain English – even in the conversational style of writing that blogging is associated with, good clear English is rare to find. More importantly, he understood what all publishers have long known: good content is not just about the words. As Scoble highlighted long ago, one of the reasons that made Arrington such a popular writer is the simple use of images to break up the text.

No doubt, Arrington’s previous staff writers, ones I am familiar with like Nik Cubrilovic, Duncan Riley and Marshall Kirkpatrick, made a big difference in TechCrunch’s growth: Kirkpatrick’s ground-breaking RSS and research skills to find news, Cubrilovic’s Arrington-style writing ability, and Riley’s industry relationships to often break news – is how they made compelling content. However, Arrington quite uniquely stands out and it‚Äôs why when he tried to take a break and to focus on the business side, he was pulled back in to raise the quality. TechCrunch is Mike Arrington: it’s been proven you can’t separate the two (at least, yet).

4) The media dynamic.
As I recently argued, the mass media at its core is about playing a game, but in the context of web 2.0 it is about understanding the dynamics of a market place. He had access to Venture Capitalists (VCs) as he was a corporate lawyer as well as an entrepreneur with experience to boot Рaccess that other entrepreneurs quite simply didn’t have.

He was able to successfully take advantage of the VC paranoia that they might miss the next Google or Facebook. They literally were desperate to hear about the next big thing. For them, Arrington was a deal-type lawyer who would review things in plain English and present it with pretty pictures. On the flip side, you had entrepreneurs dying to get in front of these VCs as well as general exposure for their start-up. When Arrington decided to put advertising on the blog, it was a natural progression: entrepreneurs wanted to get exposure to VCs, future employees, and buzz amongst their peers. People on the other hand, are willing to consume this content because it’s free market research for them – catering in the audience for both investor and the entrepreneur. Powerful stuff? God yeah – that’s the kind of captive audience that’s addicted to crack cocaine.

To give you an idea of impact, I was told by an entrepreneur whose company was profiled in that first six months, that they got something like 30 VC calls and e-mails over a holiday period. After less than three weeks, they had Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers email, say "Hi, just another VC here. Can we meet next Thursday?". They had a list of meetings that kept them going for weeks. My own personal experience this year through the DataPortability Project saw first hand what exposure and support from TechCrunch could do, and suffice to say, it’s impressive. We had VCs wanting to talk to us about data portability, even though we‚Äôre non-profit!

This offline social networking is key to what ultimately became an online social media business. What’s very telling is a comment left by Valley legend Dave Winer, a man Arrington repeatedly showed admiration for and I am sure his relationship is what gave him a boost at the start. It reflects several things, but foremost, Arrington had a lot of goodwill in the community as a leader of the industry by existing heavy weights. He connected the various participants in what ultimately is a marketplace. Forget about Edgeio – this was the making of a new media business that would show the dying mass media what the future looks like for their industry. TechCrunch became the channel of choice for so many people to get their voice heard for competitive, strategic and ego reasons.

Concluding thoughts
TechCrunch started as a hobby and research project to test a bunch of the stuff he’d been reading about in the Web2.0 space. After the crash, he pretty much dropped out and watched a lot of college football – he needed a way to get back into it. Arrington probably knew he could write well, but I don’t think he realised how much of an impact his ability could have. The use of images in content, and the frequency of his posts made TechCrunch in the first six months, combined with offline social networking, the positioning as a champion of the Web 2.0 community, and exploiting the dynamic of a marketplace is what made him what he is. By the end of 2006, I don’t think Edgeio got much of Arrington’s attention at all – he’d been hooked by the excitement of writing, leading opinion and eventually, the power that attracts people to positions of note and influence, whether it be media, celebrity, business or politics.

This post only touches on the surface, as the Critical Success Factors in that first year do not give a full picture. Arrington‚Äôs involvement with the presidential primaries process, his disruptive influence with DEMO through the TC40/50, the Crunchies and even the people who keep trying to take him down add a further dimension to the TechCrunch story. He’s a man with more haters than Murdoch, but that’s doesn’t make him any less brilliant.

Arrington can get right up the nose of people with massive vested interests, and he loves to stir the pot – like the traditional press practice, controversy sells. Living in a massive rented house with all but a big dog, he can pretty much operate without fear. If it all exploded tomorrow, he’d probably have a beer, and enjoy a good long holiday and another season of college football. That’s what makes a journalist fearless, and that, combined with his obvious passion for the sector and the power he wields makes for a pretty dynamic combo.

He’s made no secret of his desire to be bigger than C|Net (without having to cop the overheads of their business model). Take out download.com, and I think it safe to say he’s reached that: maybe it’s time he puts his eyes on something a bit bigger. Although I doubt he needs to be told that – he’s already making history along with another select few, who through raw talent are pioneering “new media”, ready to replace the financially bankrupt mass media as the influencers in our society.

The future of journalism and media

Last week, Deep Throat died. No, not the porn actress but the guy who was effectively in operational control of the FBI during the Nixon years. Mark Felt was a guy who was in line to run the FBI from his number three position, but was passed up by Nixon who brought in an outsider. Whilst people often remark that the Russian government is controlled by the intelligence services, it’s worth reflecting that the poster-child of the free world has its own domestic intelligence services yielding too much power over the presidents. Nixon broke tradition for the first time in 48 years, doing something other presidents couldn’t do: it was appointing an outsider to run the agency. And so lays the roots to his downfall, in one of the most dramatic episodes in the mass media’s history – a newspaper brought the downfall of one of the the most powerful men in the world.

Felt’s identity has been protected for decades, and was only made public three years ago, arguably because someone else was going to expose him and he beat them too it. In an interesting article by George Friedman at Stratfor:

Journalists have celebrated the Post’s role in bringing down the president for a generation. Even after the revelation of Deep Throat’s identity in 2005, there was no serious soul-searching on the omission from the historical record. Without understanding the role played by Felt and the FBI in bringing Nixon down, Watergate cannot be understood completely. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee were willingly used by Felt to destroy Nixon. The three acknowledged a secret source, but they did not reveal that the secret source was in operational control of the FBI. They did not reveal that the FBI was passing on the fruits of surveillance of the White House. They did not reveal the genesis of the fall of Nixon. They accepted the accolades while withholding an extraordinarily important fact, elevating their own role in the episode while distorting the actual dynamic of Nixon’s fall.

Absent any widespread reconsideration of the Post’s actions during Watergate in the three years since Felt’s identity became known, the press in Washington continues to serve as a conduit for leaks of secret information. They publish this information while protecting the leakers, and therefore the leakers’ motives. Rather than being a venue for the neutral reporting of events, journalism thus becomes the arena in which political power plays are executed. What appears to be enterprising journalism is in fact a symbiotic relationship between journalists and government factions. It may be the best path journalists have for acquiring secrets, but it creates a very partial record of events — especially since the origin of a leak frequently is much more important to the public than the leak itself.

Now consider my own experiences as an amateur journalist.

After several years of failed media experiments, my university enterprise (I did it as a society, not as a company, because I want to treat this as my "throw-away" startup to learn but not be tied down when I left) at changing student media suddenly hit the gold mine: we created an online weekly "news digest" that literally became the talk of the campus for those in the university administration and the people surrounding it. An elite audience (not the 40,000 University of Sydney crowd), but the several hundreds of people that theoretically represented the campus and ran the multi-million dollar student infrastructure. Of the 23 editions we created that year, we literally had people hanging off their seats for the next edition: trying to predict the new URL, and e-mails with quotes of it sent out within hours of publishing.

The News Digest, October 29th 2004.

It was interesting because of how the product evolved during its first year. I started it thinking it would be a cool thing to have a summary of the news, once a week, in a "digest" format. The news was split arbitrarily as student, Australian and international. However within a few editions, the student news segment was no longer just about the latest party but about confidential information and the core reason why people read it. In the second edition I wrote:

USYD UNION : Chris Farral has been hired as the Union 's new General Manager. Farral has a highly reputable background in the ABC and various community-based groups. It has been a decade since the Union 's last General Manager was appointed, and as such we hope Farral will bring a new flair and vitality to the position. Chris also happens to be the father of Honi Soit editor Sophie. Does this mean an end to critical analysis in Honi's reporting of the traditionally stale and bitter Union ? No. That would require there to have been critical analysis in the first place. (EB)

Cheekily written but an innocent attempt to report news. Someone saw that, realised we had an audience, and in edition three we revealed:

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY UNION: Last week we reported that Chris Farrell was appointed the new General Manager of Sydney University’s student union. This week we can reveal that close to $50,000 was spent on external recruitment agencies to find Mr Farrell. Where was he hiding? The selection panel was evenly split for two candidates: Paul McJamett, the current Facilities Manager and previously expected next-in-line for the job, was supported by Vice-President Penny Crossley, Ex-President Ani Satchithanada, and Human Resources Manager Sandra Hardie. Meanwhile Farrell was supported by current President Toby Brennan, and the two senate reps (one of whom is new this year to the Board). Crossley is rumoured to have crossed the floor, and made the casting vote for Farrell. (Elias Bizannes)

And then we go threatened with a law suit (the first of many in my life, it would turn out) because we exposed some dirty secrets of a very politicised group of people. The reason I wanted to share that story, was to have you see how we evolved from a “summary of the news” to a “tool for the politicians”. The rest of that year, I had people in all the different factions developing relationships with me and breaking news. Yes, I knew I was being played for their own reasons. However it was a two way using: I was getting access to confidential information from the insiders. Our little creation turned into a battleground for the local politicians – and so long as I could manage the players equally, I won just as much as they did, if not more.

Up until now, I never realised (or really thought) that my experience in student journalism was actually how the big players of the world operate. Forget the crap about what journalism is: at its core, it’s about creating relationships with insiders and being part of a game in politics, that as a by-product (not a function) also creates accountability and order in society.

On the future of journalism
For as long as we have politics, we will have “journalists”. In the tech industry for example, the major blogs have become a tool for companies. I recently saw an example where I e-mailed a CEO of a prominent startup about an issue, and within days, two major blogs posted some old news to get exposure to fixing the issue. This CEO used his media credits with the publishers of these blogs, to help him with the issue. It’s the same dynamic described above: people who create news and people with the audience. Heck – we have an entire industry created to manage those two groups: the Public Relations industry.

So the question about the future of journalism, needs a re-look. It’s a career path being disrupted by the Internet and breaking traditional business models, with the new innovations going to have their bubble burst one day. Where we will find answers to the future, is where we can see in play the dynamics of news creators and news distributors, as that is where journalism will evolve.

Personally, I’m still trying to work out if the captive audience has now left the building. But my 2004 experiment in student media – targeting the same Gen Y’s that don’t read newspapers – is recent enough experience to prove the Internet hasn’t broken this relationship yet. If you are looking to see what the future of journalism and especially the media is – you need to follow where the audience is. But a word of caution: don’t measure the audience by its size, but by its type. One million people may read the blog TechCrunch, but it’s the same one-million early adopters around the world that are asked by their Luddite families to fix the video recording machine. There is an indirect reader of a publication, but they are just as much influenced and can be reached out to, if determined by the direct reader. Even though Michael Arrington who started TechCrunch was a corporate lawyer, his successful blog has now done what the mass media used to do. That’s something worth recognising as the core to his success, I think. Certainly, it validates that the future is just like the past – just slightly tweaked in its delivery.

So open it’s closed

The DataPortability Project has successfully promoted in 2008 the concept of “data portability”. However it’s become too successful – people make announcements now that claim to be “data portability” but are misleadingly not. Further, the term “Open” has become the new black. But really, when people say they are open – are they?

Status update on the DataPortability Project & context
The DataPortability Project now has developed a strong underlying transparent governance model to make decisions which embeds a process to achieve outcomes. We have also formulated our vision that forms the core DNA of the Project and allow us to align our efforts. Organisationally, we are currently working on a legal entity to protect our online community, and we are doing this whilst also ensuring we are working with others in the industry, such as the discussions we’ve had within the IDTBD proposal with Liberty Alliance, Identity Commons and others.

Our brand communications are nearly finalised (this time, legally vetted), and a refreshed website with a new blog has been rolled out. We’ve put out calls for positions and have already finalised our agreement with a new community manager. (Now open are positions for our analyst roles if you are interested.)

We have a Health Care task force that’s just started, looking to broaden our work into another sector of the economy. We also have an Service Provider Grid Task force finalising its work, which via an online interface and API, will allow people to query what various entities use in terms of open standards. We also have a task force that will provide sample EULA and TOS documents that encourage data portability, and further our vision.

The DataPortability vision states that people should be able to reuse their data. Traditionally in the past, people have said this means “physically” porting their data amongst web services. Whilst this applies in some cases, it is also about access as I recently argued .

So to synchronise our work on the EULA/ToS task force, I believe we need a technology equivalent, and which will give additional value to our Service Provider Grid. This is because Open Standards comply with our vision, and we need to ensure we only support efforts that we believe are worthy.

Hi, I’m open
Open Standards have been a core value that the DataPortability Project has advocated for since its founding, getting to the point where its even been confused as its core mission (it’s not). For us, they are an enabler Рand it has always been in our interest to see all of them work together.

Standards are important because they allow interoperability. For people to be able to access their data from multiple systems, we require systems to be able to easily communicate with each other. Likewise, for people to get value of any data they export from a system, they need to be able to import it – and this can only occur if the data is structured in a way that is compatible with another system.

We advocate “Open” because we want to minimise the costs of business for wanting to comply with our vision. However during 2008, the term "Open" Standards has been over-used, to the point of abuse.

An open standard is a standard that is publicly available and has various rights of use associated with it. But really, what’s open?
– its availability?
– the authority controlling the standard?
– the decision making process over the standard?

Liberty Alliance defines it as:

– The costs for the use of the standard are low.
– The standard has been published.
– The standard is adopted on the basis of an open decision-making procedure.
– The intellectual property rights to the standard are vested in a not-for-profit organisation, which operates a completely free access policy.
– There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.

That I believe, perfectly encapsulates what I think an Open Standard should be. However as someone who spends his days applying international accounting standards to what companies report in their financials, I can assure you, simply flagging the criteria is only half the fun. Interpreting them is a whole debate in itself.

In my eye, most of these "open" efforts don’t fit that criteria. To illustrate, I am going to shame myself as I am a member of a workgroup that claims to be open: the APML workgroup. The group fails the open test because:
– it has a closed workgroup that makes the decisions, without a clearly defined decision making procedure
– it does not have a non-profit behind it, with the copyright owned by a company (although it’s made clear there is no intention to issue patents)
– it has no clear rights attached to it

So does that mean every standard group needs to create a legal entity for it to be open? Thankfully no – the Open Web Foundation (OWF) will solve this problem. Or does it? Whilst the decision making process is "open" (you can read the mailing list where the discussion occurs), what about the way it selects members? It’s dependent on being invited. That’s Open with a big But.

How about OpenID (which I am also a member of) – that poster child for "Open Standards". On the face of it, it fits the bill. But did you know OpenID contains other standards as part of it? As my friend and intellectual mentor Steve Greenberg said:

openid xrds greenberg

Now thankfully, XRDS fits the bill as a safe standard. Well kind of. It has links to another standard XRI, which it is alleged are subject to patent claims. Well sort of. Kinda. Oh God, let’s not get into a discussion about this again. But don’t give poor APML, the OWF or Open ID too much grief – I could indeed raise some nastier questions especially at other groups. However this isn’t about shaming – rather, it’s about raising questions.

The standards communities are fraught with politics, they are murky, and now they are creeping into the infrastructure of our online world. As a proponent for these "Open Standards", I think it’s time we start looking at them with a more critical eye. Yes, I recognise all these questions I’m raising are fixable, but that’s why I want to raise the point, because they are currently being swept under the carpet outside of the traditional authorities like the W3C.

It’s time some boundaries were set on what is effectively the brand of Open. It’s also time the term is defined, because quite frankly, its lost all meaning now. I’ve listed some criteria – but what we really need is some consensus on what ‘the’ criteria for Open should be.

Social media and that whole “friend” thing

Social media, is being killed not by fail whales , but social awkwardness. Facebook as a simple example – is everyone you add there really your "friend"? What’s a "friend", what ‘group’ do I put them in…it’s all very stressful. However bring into the mix social media services (sites where people collaborate, share content, discuss openly) and this stress becomes a real pain in the arse.
Twitter for example – you get alerts when people post a message. What happens when there is someone you know in real life, you are friendly with, but their Twitter stream is verbal diarrhoea? You force yourself to subscribe to them, because the social awkwardness matters more to you. Or Friendfeed, where people share links – it’s even worse. I would even go on to say it makes the service unusable.
Enter Google Reader, the tool I use to consume my online information habit. There is a feature that determines who e-mails you, and if they use Google Reader and share links, will come up along with your other subscriptions. It’s become such a valuable thing for me, that I now focus my attention on clearing items there ahead of my other few dozen subscriptions. The reason being, it’s the benefit of social media services without the social awkwardness.
Take Chris Saad, who was on my list. I didn’t like the things he shared – movie reviews – so I hid him. Up until now when a Google blog search will notify him (I expect him to find this and respond within 6 hours of posting this – watch!), he probably didn’t even know. However, if I was to unsubscribe from him on something like Twitter – he’d work it out – and say "dude, what’s the deal?". Because an inherent value of social media is that it’s collaborative communication; it’s just that too much communication from too many people can become more noise than signal.
This new age of mass collaboration is a massive thing, that I don’t think even the early adopters driving it, realise what’s happening. It’s the future of media – the fact people I know and trust will suggest articles, is the same human-powered recommendations the mass media have been doing -but so much more efficient, relevant and better.
And yet, Google Reader in its simplicity does it best – it’s almost like a secret. Mike Cannon-Brookes probably doesn’t even realise I track his shared links, but I love them because he reads a lot of RSS feeds on diverse subjects that interest me. Likewise, Kate Carruthers has such a diverse reading list I feel like I can whittle down my RSS subscriptions which stress me from having too much, and just get fed from her the good stuff.
Am I showing up in their field? Who knows. And quite frankly, who cares. I know I do for Brady Brim De-Forest, because he’s re-shared stuff I shared that I doubt he subscribes to (at least then). But that doubt detracts the fact it doesn’t matter. It’s a secret club – I go about clicking the "share" button for good content I come across, thinking perhaps someone follows them and would appreciate it. There’s no feedback mechanism, other than seeing other people encouraged to do the same. And this is the first time I’ve ever discussed the club openly. I think it exists. Maybe it doesn’t. But damn, it rocks.