Monday, October 27, 2008

Twitter: potential terrorist tool, mainstream media marvel, or still just web wankers wasting time

For some reason, mainstream media's got some kind of cyber-woodie on for Twitter with several stories appearing in the mainstream in the last two days. This got me wondering why there was so much ado about Twitter and if our mainstream media outlets just might be jumping on a new Twitter hype bandwagon. But why?

It started innocuously enough with this crazy little article in the The Wall Street Journal that declared "Twitter Goes Mainstream." Funny thing about the article though--it's pretty much San Francisco-centric in its view of what constitutes "mainstream," esp. as it tries to advocate business uses of Twitter. For instance, both Zappos and cable service provider Comcast are discussed. O.K--these are like the "early adopters" and in one case, Comcast, it's a no-brainer why they would early adopt, since they provide services to the San Francisco Bay area!

For Comcast, it makes great business sense to be in the medium where a lot of your customers just might be complaining--esp. if the complaints start after they cannot get through on your regular telephone-based customer service feature!

Still, just because an online shoe company (who might want to put some resources into their website as well--bad time on it last time I was there) and an SF based cable provider are on Twitter, it's a bit of a stretch from there to the "mainstream..."

Yet it may be even more of a stretch to claim that Twitter has the potential to be a tool for terrorist attacks--or so it's claimed in a recent draft report from Army Intelligence, and reported in Spy Fears: Twitter Terrorists, Cell Phone Jihadists on the ABC News Science and Technology page (after it appeared Friday in Wired.) According to the report, military intelligence has been monitoring "chatter from Al-Qaeda-affiliated online forums" and finding that these potential/would-be/wanna-be terrorists have been trying to figure out how to use GPS devices, cell phones, and other electronic goodies to commit terrorist acts....

But the weirdness comes in when the report states that: "Twitter was recently used as a countersurveillance, command and control, and movement tool by activists at the Republican National Convention," the report notes."The activists would Tweet each other and their Twitter pages to add information on what was happening with Law Enforcement near real time."

So, now activists at a convention are now the same as Al-Quaeda affiliated terrorists.

Let's just call this one Twitter Stretch Number Two then. You'll have to read the article for the scenarios where Twitter might be used effectively by terrorists (hint: it might have more to do with cellphones than Twitter itself...)

So, of course, when I woke up yesterday, and saw this report on the CBS Early Show, I really had to think about what the heck was going on with mainstream media and why it's now rushing out to do these goofy little reports on Twitter:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Which really didn't impress me all that much, albeit that it does manage to make Twitter look like everybody might be doing it--if you're a marketing executive or some other media person (hint: lots of people really don't have time for 20 tweets a day about minutia.... or for "lifecasting" something else that the report mentions...)

One glaring thing that appears to have been left out of all these reports: Tweets are public record. Not too many people understand this aspect of social networking....

Wading in among these whacky reports was Simon Dumenco's insightful (yet slightly cranky) Twitter, R.I.P.? Or Is There Gold Buried in Them Thar Tweets? The opening salvo:
As the future of Twitter gets cloudier and cloudier, I keep thinking that it'd be really sad if Twitter died, because there'd be no way to Twitter its funeral.

Dumenco points out that even though it enjoys great popularity (albeit perhaps still among only a particular set of people) its business model remains among the missing--and what's being offered by Twitter's new CEO is a revenue model that may be based, in part, on charging companies to have Twitter streams for conducting customer service. To this, Dumenco sez "Oh, really, now? Cash-strapped companies are going to want to pay to annoy their customers? Customers are going to want to be monitored? and I have to agree. There's definitely the potential for a Facebook-style backlash among customers, and a dismissing of Twitter by businesses (which will just find a way to get around this...)

And what if Twitter can't make any money? What if, in these bad economic times, the idea of generating revenue from some kind of ad scheme, is now a dream that isn't going to come true? Dumenco brings up another point that plays to the old "we'll monetize UGC!" revenue generating (or not) model: What if not everything that flits across our screens -- computer or cellphone or whatever -- can be contorted into serving as a profit center? As I've said before: I don't think every tweet or blurp or bloop or fart that emanates from a human can or should have ads sold against it or be otherwise monetized.

Which makes me wonder: what might the CPM be on a Twitter page? How many followers must one have in order to generate sufficient return for Twitter? Will Twitter then be supported by power users who have scads of followers, and the rest of us will have to rely on their largess? Then will there be more hype about how we have to get every single connection we've ever made in our entire lives on Twitter to help support Twitter?

Or, when all is said and done, is Twitter, perhaps, just the world's biggest, geekiest online cocktail party where they forgot to charge for the drink tickets?

Just a thought....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Few Late Words About BlogWorld Expo

Blogging conferences used to be a big thing for me. Over the years, as I've made connections with people I only see at conferences, I have less time (or is it less desire?) to blog about the conferences themselves. Lots of times I don't even mention where I've been and I've left that section of my sidebar rather untended. One of the events I attended in September was BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas--and I was very glad I did!

Ok...I'll 'fess up: I was there, in part, to moderate two panels--you can check the schedule here to find the panels on The State of Citizen Journalism (with Jan Schaffer and Mike Tippett) and Who Needs Hyperlocal?--and both went very well....

There was a super-enthusiastic group in the Who Needs Hyperlocal? panel, asking all sorts of questions on whether or not to start a hyperlocal news venture, how one can make money from such a venture, and a number of comments about how money doesn't need to be the main goal of a hyperlocal site. In fact, if the hyperlocal region has a very small population, it might be difficult to earn money from standard click-through advertising rates. Debbie Galant, Mark Potts and Ruby Sinreich had a great deal to share with this group about their extensive hyperlocal experiences....

And yes, I did get to meet up with lots of folks I know from my version of what the "conference circuit" happens to be (my version takes in marketing and tech cons, not just journalism.) So I got to see the likes of Chris Brogan, and Toby Bloomberg, and Liz Strauss, and got to meet Connie Bensen and a few other folks from the "social media" scene--which tends to overlap with marketing, which overlaps with "community development."

And as I hung around BWE on Sunday, taking in some of the panels (I missed a lot on Saturday due to "moderator's anxiety" which shouldn't haunt me any longer) I got to thinking about all these overlapping fields of blogging--from journalism to marketing to public relations--what the various practitioners think about what they're doing, what outside observers think about what the pundits and practitioners have to say, and how, for all this communication, there's too little communication between disciplines and across conferences.

It's as if conferences become their own little bell-jars, their own closed communities where messages bounce around and many times are never heard beyond the confines of the conference...

I've been thinking about this a lot, as there were some philosophies about blogging floating around in BlogWorld that are not necessarily heard out in many of the groups of bloggers I know. I always think of an email conversation that was had about "under-represented" blogging groups, and how one group of people with one political leaning might find gay and transgendered bloggers an "under-represented" group, others with a different political leaning may find military or god bloggers to be "under-represented" groups. And both would be right. There are many small groups that are under-represented at conferences, which still seem to be geared to particular elites (and I've been an "elite" at times--or just play one at conferences ;-) ) and BlogWord tries to give some of these groups a place to gather, meet, and share info on how to be more effective.

Overall, BlogWorld tries to do a lot, and I believe it does its best to bring a great deal of information to the folks who are attending. Yes, much of the conference focuses around "how to make money" from blogging, or how to blog for maximum audience, or how to get more readers to business blogs, or how to explain one kind of blogging ROI metric to potential clients who don't believe blogging even *has* an ROI, but IMO, this is information that a lot of people are looking for. Blogging's potential isn't just as a vehicle to empower the aspiring "citizen journalist" who will struggle for pennies and on principle--blogging's potential extends into so many media-related disciplines it's staggering.

And, when it comes down to it, making money really isn't a bad thing....

I also got to meet conference organizer Rick Calvert, who, over the time leading up to BWE, I'd shared some great telephone conversations. It was a little odd, as my appearance had changed from my pic (hence my change of pic when I got back from BWE) but it was great to make that f2f connection finally.

Perhaps my only disappointment was not being able to sit in on David Perlmutter's Citizen Journalism Bootcamp sessions on Friday. I really didn't want to get the certification--just wanted to hear some of the info and meet Prof. Perlmutter. Oh well, maybe next year....

Check out more BWE info: BlogWorld headlines on NowPublic, Miss604's liveblogging of the State of Cit J panel and a plethora of blog posts and tweets listed on Technorati...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Can Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook Replace the Humble Blog?

Wired used to be cool--at one time it interviewed guys like Linus Torvalds. But today, it kinda sunk to a new level of link-baiting with Paul Boutin's declaration that blogging is over and how everyone who's anybody will be sharing bits and pieces of oneself all over a variety of social networking sites....(yes, I'm going for the link-bait...)

Paul goes on a bit about how new voices just can't get heard over the din of professional blogs: When blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google's search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers. In 2002, a search for "Mark" ranked Web developer Mark Pilgrim above author Mark Twain. That phenomenon was part of what made blogging so exciting. No more. Today, a search for, say, Barack Obama's latest speech will deliver a Wikipedia page, a Fox News article, and a few entries from professionally run sites like The odds of your clever entry appearing high on the list? Basically zero.

Uh, no. This never was the case, really, with the possible exception of guys like Mark Pilgrim and others in the tech world, which has always been its own Private Idaho of sorts. What Paul doesn't seem to remember is how Google used to *not* pick up blog posts from small bloggers, usually because the SEO was pretty awful. A lot of that changed with Google's acquisition of Blogger and Wordpress's crackin' good SEO. Both have helped to bring more blogs into search.

Including this humble little blog....

On the whole notion of blog traffic, I'd like to point to Darren Rowse's wonderful graph showing how a group of bloggers he surveyed get most of their traffic directly from Google vs. from other sources (see this post as well):

Even though this was a self-submitted group, you can bet that many of these bloggers aren't "A-listers" in the traditional sense of the word. Many may indeed be niche bloggers, who enjoy very good traffic and feedback from a particular group of readers. The idea of who is or isn't an A-lister has changed and is relative to who among the myriad of niche bloggers you're speaking to on any given day. There are A-listers with huge traffic that traditional Silicon Valley "A-listers" have never heard of, and have Google page ranks lower than 3. I've met some of them....

Overall, more people are reading more blogs these days than they were years ago--because more blogs come up in search, and because many people don't really recognize that they're reading a blog. Some think blogs are "websites." Further, if you cultivate good keywords and solid posts in a particular niche, you will come up in search more often....AND you will knock out the transparently bad marketing blogs and splogs....

In order to continue his point, Boutin goes on to invoke the old incivility bugaboo (reminding me a bit here or Andrew Keen): Pour your heart out in a post, and some anonymous troll named r0rschach or foohack is sure to scribble beneath it, "Lame. Why don't you just suck McCain's ass." But think of the irony here: a Valleywag writer declares that most blogs get only uncivil comments, when Valleywag itself is known for erroneous and somewhat uncivil commentary on the tech industry--kind of like Keen was accused of "trolling" with his book "The Cult of the Amateur."

So, pot, meet kettle...if one is going to decry incivility, one must take responsibility for one's own contributions....

Which makes me think: the whole civility discussion is now fraught with such irony that it risks becoming a non-conversation--or a bit on the Daily Show.....

The other two statements that have little bearing on the majority of bloggers have to do with Calacanis and Scoble. As many of you may already know, Jason Calacanis stopped blogging awhile back and has moved everything to a subscriber-only email list. Which, when it happened, was decried as a rather retro and non-social move. If we follow Boutin's logic, it's now hip to be retro--cooler to have an email list for friends only than it is to publish for everyone. So only your friends can read your thoughts and you don't have to deal with those awful "incivil" people (or worry about Valleywag misquoting you...)

When invoking Scoble, Boutin admonishes us to "get a clue" and just microblog, post videos, etc. What Boutin doesn't acknowledge about videos is that many of the comments on videos, esp. those on YouTube, are rife with troll-like comments, not to mention that most comments are never responded to by the folks who post the videos (I'm not sure what Scoble does. I don't follow his video work. Too time consuming. I have friends and a life...) So videos are in many ways and for many people just another form of broadcasting and the commentary is...well....(more on video and communities in another post...)

As for microblogging and using Facebook--those are great for keeping up with people you already know, and maybe for finding another "fan" or two here and there, but many folks do not use those tools to search for information. Occasionally on Facebook, if our friends are discovering cool things and posting about it, we might check out whatever. What friends discover, though, are often other pages within Facebook, so we never really leave Facebook.

What fun is that??

And microblogging, for the most part, is still a niche activity. Most people who don't live in the Silicon Valley, and have real jobs, and perhaps real-world, face to face relationships, don't use microblogging all that much. Of those who do, they're not necessarily going to use Twitter or other microblogging platforms to search for information. Twitter's there for lots of reasons, but unlike Scoble, who has thousands of "fans" who hand on his every tweet, and is essentially a disseminator of a particular kind of gossip and information, most of us are just regular folks who are exchanging personal info and a few bon mots with friends while we get on with the business of our workdays...

We're hardly using Twitter to search for information or to read the news That's why lots of us use Google (and some use Digg, Reddit, or other "social news" sites--something Boutin doesn't mention at all...but we might not use "social news" to be social either...many just read and never register, keep a profile, or comment.)

So, what then for blogs? Is the blogosphere, as Boutin contends, now so fraught with bad marketing blogs and high-powered magazine style blogs and so rife with incivility that those of us who aren't Big Guys should just give it up? I'm not so sure someone who writes for Valleywag--where a writer has to churn out a huge amount of daily posts to earn a living and in its own way courts trolling--quite understands how the folks beyond the Silicon Valley, beyond the friends of Calacanis or the worshippers of Scoble, beyond the realm of blogging-for-a-living use the medium, how even a humble blog can end up in search, and how even a marketing blog can help a company connect with customers who don't use Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Blogs, for tech insiders, may not be some kind of cutting edge social tool that they were back in 2002, but they still have the ability to reach many people--people who might never find their way to Facebook, who have little reason for LinkedIn, who have no time for Twitter, and value their privacy too much to post on Flickr and YouTube.

And, if you think about it, if blogging's dead, isn't Boutin writing the obituary for his own blogging career?

Just a thought....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Local Band Releases New Album for Free

Perusing the local scene thru my Facebook account, I found this interesting tidbit: local band The Figments have released their new album "Twelve Belles" for free.

The Figments are a bit on the down-tempo side for my taste (what can I say, I grew up too close to NYC where everything's a bit hyper), but I know there's a whole bunch of people who will enjoy their music...

You can download it here Curates "How To" Videos

Just found this great announcement from Steve Rosenbaum at they're going to start curating "How to" videos. Check out Steve's announcement here:

Steve's already spotted a trend in "how to" videos--and with the economic downturn, I'm sure more people will be entering the realm of DIY (do-it-yourself.) Magnify's made some strategic partnerships with some of the biggest repositories of how-to videos, which will save anyone looking for that info a whole lot of time finding it.

Cool idea Steve!

Web 2.0: It was all great fun till Johnny lost his V.C. funding

So, the folks at Sequoia Capitol, one of the leading VC firms in the Silicon Valley, put together this absolutely fabulous presentation that basically tells us why there ain't gonna be a whole lot of cash for start-ups any time soon....(thanx Eric Eldon @ VentureBeat)

Pretty bleak stuff, wouldn't you say? And maybe it is the end of a particular zeitgeist or sense of Web 2.0, and the entrepreneurs who fueled its particular excesses(see "Arrington's rumination and, if you can, the video, which I recall seeing somewhere else and being unplussed...) but is it really the full and unequivocal death of Web 2.0?

Or are things going to get more "lean and mean"? and what might or might not survive?

I was talking this a.m. to the organizer of a Hartford-based women's conference, where I've been asked to submit a proposal for a workshop. The organizer found me because there was some info about me online from a presentation on social networking and personal reputation management at Bay Path College last spring.

Yes, she Google'd me.

And the Googl'ing of others isn't going to stop any time soon.

Essentially, we are getting accustomed to using the Internet to find lots and lots of information about one another, even before we ask a person to present at a conference, or even before we hire someone for a job. We look online for ads to buy stuff, for job ads, to network, to leave little messages for friends.

We do a heck of a lot of social stuff online, using "Web 2.0" and "social media" an "social networking" tools. And because of a lot of great hype preached far and wide by tech enthusiasts, we've come to love a whole bunch of these new tools, including some (like Twitter and Facebook) that don't have any known business model.

Which makes me wonder: will these tools we've come to know and love and use to excess still survive? Is it only the new stuff, the iterative stuff that runs the gamut from "merely an imitation" to "a complete rip-off" be the stuff that no longer gets a share of the dwindling VC pie?

And what about the "dying" business models of traditional media (newspapers and tv especially)? Will the downturn and lack of money for innovative (or imitative) stuff bring a ray of hope to the "obstructionist demographic" and cause them to sing a chorus of "I Will Survive?" Or will we keep our slouching toward one man's Gomorrah and another's Bethlehem?

On a personal level, I'm wondering if it's time for me to give up my own social media journey, suck it up, buckle down, grow up and get that degree in Library Science (or something just as practical.) Should I spend more time on all this social media foolishness or consider it to all have been a fun time till Johnny lost his VC funding....

I have a lot to think about, I guess. But right now I have a proposal to write up, a few leads to follow, class materials to prepare, a product to test, and another presentation to polish up. Guess I'll just keep going, keep my eyes, open, and hope for the best.

Check out Kara Swisher and John Furrier for some good perspective