Will Social Media allow the public to be more influential?

November 20, 2008

One of the largest complaints a majority of citizens here in the United States have today is that for whatever reason they don’t really have the opportunity to make a difference.  Especially when it comes to the political actions of the very government which is designed to serve us.

During Abe Lincoln’s great Gettysburg Address – he stated that our government system is a one that is

… of the people, by the people, for the people …

Today the “by the people” really can only occur during election years (theoretically).  I know that I can write a letter to my congressman or go door to door to get signatures on a petition – I am fully aware of the chain of command.  The problem is – that not only does this type of message take long to deliver (unless you are personal friends with a congressman) the message is a one way message.  No one but my congressman (and probably not even the congressman but rather a deputy director or associate) will see this message.

If that congressman is supposed to make decisions based on his/her constituents then this current system needs a boost.  Especially with over 300 million people equally guaranteed a voice.

In comes Social Media!

With Twitter, Blogging, FriendFeed, SocialMedian or any of the other Socially aware sites out their today (and coming in the near future) we are hopefully seeing a radical change to this paradigm of communication.

I have been turned on by a rather amazing phenomon which was started in late September/Early October by the makers of Twitter.  They created a special site called Election 2008 (http://election.twitter.com) which gave site visitors the ability to view real-time Twitter “conversations” happening all over the world.  It was truly remarkable and has lead to some more open sites like Monitter and TweetGrid which allow you to monitor the conversations on any topic.

So while I sat there yesterday listening to the 3 CEO’s of our great auto industry grovel for cash to withstand this economic downturn – I couldn’t help but notice Senator Dodd flipping back and forth between ‘auto industry’ and ‘auto bailout’ on www.monitter.com with his iPhone – tilted oh so slightly as to “pause” the stream when an interesting question arose from the community.

We truly do live in an amazing time.  Truly historic.


Monetizing Twitter

October 30, 2008

Ok, I think this subject has been beaten to death in the past whatever months but I want to throw another idea out there that I am not sure has been thought of.

What if there was a way to Monetize clicking on links from within a Tweet?

One of the hardest thing to do is to get someone’s attention – especially on Twitter.  I only follow 50-60 active users on Twitter and get more than 20 pages of tweets everyday.  I don’t read all of them – can’t.  It would take forever.  On Twitter you are forced to be clever or in a sense “market” their tweets in order to get someone to even read it.  And this is coming from someone with 50-60 active users – what about those people with hundreds if not thousands…

Here are 3 links that appeared in my stream today which exemplify what I am talking about:

@blakespot: Change. That’s what’s up. http://tinyurl.com/59resq about 22 hours ago from TweetDeck

@georgedearing: http://ping.fm/p/PrFjH – This is the crappy part of the trip about 4 hours ago from Ping.fm

@sfsmaus: Bugger all… http://snipr.com/4tqwo about 4 hours ago from digsby

Each of these Tweets was a promotion.  More so than posting it to their Del.icio.us accounts or to FriendFeed etc…. they posted to Twitter because it was something that they wanted to share.

In most cases (these three tweets as examples) I would have never stumbled upon (hee hee) these links and  would have never been subjected to their sites advertising.  Never.  Twitter is a crucial network for sharing information like this and if there was some way to monetize this I think it would help.

At some level most of the early adopters on Twitter – the one’s that are active – are all mavens.  Maybe not like a Blogger is but in a different way.  We are all promoting something – us and how we think and see the world.  In most cases that includes products.

I don’t know how many people I have turned on to Digsby.  I found out about Digsby on Twitter from @tonyk – else I might still be using that other crappy program – Trillian.  Goodness gracious.  So glad.

Maybe if we could track our influence similar to those silly pyramid schemes like Amway and Herbal Life – we could put a dollar sign to it.

Just a thought.

Telling the Universe What You Want

October 7, 2008

If Angel Batista is correct and we are all truly connected and somehow the energy of thought helps make things happen (must have watched ‘What the #$*! Do We Know’) then I am telling the Universe what I want.

I want us to not drill for more oil.  I want the project that Honda is working on and this lady from California to be viable solutions for consumers – soon (a.k.a. today).  I completely understand that Oil is the foundation of our economy – but if we are going to rebuild the economy – lets take this opportunity to do it right.

I like the fact that we are producing “eco-friendly” packaging (except for children’s toys which have gotten ridiculous).  And I love the fact that Windex is marketing a bottle that can be reused – and the fact that with less diluted detergents we can produce less plastic waste.  I am perfectly ok that I have to spend a nickel to ensure that that the beer bottles I drink out of get properly disposed of.  All of these things are fine.

What I am not fine with however is thinking that drilling for more oil is the answer.  Please watch this rant by Archie Bunker (a.k.a. Carol O’Connor – who was unfortunately a proud democrat during his time on the planet). This was over 30 years ago – for goodness sakes lets do something here.

And while I don’t take sides in this great political debate – I have to say that he was correct – we need to change.  And I am not talking about Obama “change” which is fictitious political change – I am talking about real change. Mr. Goodwin style change.

And then after you have thought about it for a minute.  Get out there and join something.  Say something.  Let the Universe hear what you have to say.

We Need to Implement a Comments (or Conversations) Microformat

September 26, 2008

Work has already begun to do this (see the Microformats site for more) and infact if you view the source of my WordPress blog (for those posts with comments) you will see that it has already in place.

If you were to think about the Internet like a Librarian thinks about the Library you would go nuts. Not only would the amount of information out there scare you into submission, but you also have to consider the types of information.  If you went into the local library and grabbed an index card from the Microfiche catalog and placed it into the Microfilm catalog the librarian would quickly and quietly escort you to the door and ask you to not return again.

The organization of information by type is just as important as indexing content by topic.

The Conversation
We are now having conversations everywhere.  Some popular places that I have conversations are:

  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Twitter
  • FriendFeed
  • Facebook
  • SocialMedian

And if you go onto FriendFeed you will see that there are millions of places to have conversations.  Yes, Millions.

Today a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook.  The article outlined how people are being misinformed by mainstream media.  The content of the link prompted a conversation between myself, the user who posted the link and one of his friends.  The new Facebook design allowed us to have this discussion inside each of our News Feed Home pages.  This was great but in about 2 days this conversation will be all but lost and no one outside of our small group will ever be able to offer their opinion or reference the conversation.

A little later on I read a post by Jeremiah Owyang on Twitter asking users to answer the following question

Debate: should the debates continue this Friday? #debatedebate

Being newer to FriendFeed than Jeremiah’s closer friends, I decided that I would reply via Twitter.  After a visit to FriendFeed (which automatically aggregates information from many Social Networking sites like Twitter, Google, Flickr, Blogs etc…) I saw that everyone responded to Jeremiah’s post there.  FriendFeed also provides an easy “comments” section for almost any type of aggregated content.

As conversations move from the traditional Blog Post, Forms and even Twitter – how can we capture that content in a useful way?


Are Images Any Different?

If you told the 10 year ago me that I would be able to type text like “American Flag” into a search engine and find all of the images that have something to do with an American Flag, I would have told you were crazy.  In fact, I might have even asked you to quietly leave.

When you think about what an image is – at some level it is a perfect Microformat and provides all the information needed to be fully indexed by most intelligent search engines today.

I think that if we implemented a common Microformat for comments (or conversations) we could begin to track conversations on any platform and treat them like a type of content (or information).  We could then aggregate this content in special search engines.

The result would be a glimpse into the conversations going on at any given time.

The first Social Media enabled Presidential Election

September 26, 2008

In 2004 here was the status of some the now more prominent Social Media sites:

  • Digg – didn’t exist (launched late 2004 December)
  • Reddit – didn’t exist (started in 2005)
  • Propeller.com – didn’t exist (started in 2006 by Netscape now owned by AOL)
  • Slashdot – started in 1997 (this site mostly focused on technology)
  • Treumers – didn’t exist
  • StumbleUpon – didn’t exist
  • SocialMedian – didn’t exist

(thanks for the list)

A New Information Channel

Now with the advent of Social Networking sites like Ning, a whole new era of information distribution has emerged.  A lot of the discussions that I have gotten into lately is about misinformation of the public.  Not the ignorance of the public but the flat out misinformation. In most cases some of these people that are misinformed are downright intelligent.

Take into consideration that although most of the mainstream media floats to the left, there are specific news stations (fox for example) which can also lean to the right. Other than sites like FactCheck.org, most sites are “interpretations” of the information.

The definition of a Social Media on Wikipedia (while it may differ from site to site) is

the use of electronic and Internet tools for the purpose of sharing and discussing information and experiences with other human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories and experiences.

It is the method of interaction which offers the most interesting change here.  Although there is no guarantee that the use of Social Media will be free of biased information, it presents a single channel comprised of information from both sides of the line.  In addition, the information is presented with collaboration tools (such as comments and forums). Good community action has proven to elevate the conversation beyond one persons opinion or view.  In most cases, the post or article simply introduces an idea or a viewpoint, the conversation which occurs after allows for mediation and fact checking.

SoMe Election 08

It is sites like SoMe (Social Media) Election 08 which drive this point home.  Built on the Social Networking framework of Ning it allows users to post content about the upcoming election.  Any content.  As a member of this site (it’s free by the way) you can post:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Discussions
  • Links
  • Events

You can even chat with other users who happen to visiting the site at the same time.

This particular site focuses heavily on the presence, power and effectiveness of media on the Presidential Election and accepts all viewpoints.  No one person has the power and while it is slow going right now it represents the type of change Social Media can bring.

What a site visitors gains out of this type of interaction is a more well rounded view of the issues (or information).  Not that they aren’t subjected to bias views, but since all views are expressed at once, it is easier to see both sides of the debate – which is required when making a decision.

Android (and G1) fuels mobile computing

September 25, 2008

Do a search on Google for the “mobile web is dead”.  Use the “quote” marks – guaranteeing that exact phrase and you will get over a thousand results.  May not seem like a lot but the fact that anyone can say that the mobile web is dead is androidprobably nearing death themselves.

3 million iPhone 3G phones sold in one month – 3 MILLION. Yeah – um in case you weren’t aware – that also included a required unlimited data plan – you know the Internet.

Now if you define the “mobile web” as a web browser on a phone then maybe there is some validity to that statement – but if you talk about the “mobile web” as the ability to connect to the Internet from a mobile device and perform functions you would normally perform on a PC or Laptop – then we are far from dead.  In fact, you could say that we are just beginning.

Up until this point there were really only a few choices for accessing the mobile web

1.) Blackberry
2.) Windows Mobile
3.) Pocket PC
4.) Palm OS

Or like some crazy people I know the mobile providers “browser” (if that is what you call it) provides limited “useable” access to the Internet.

Well they have finally announced the long awaited Android. And I am quite frankly very excited.

Granted they are not expecting the kind of surge seen by Apple but then again the model for Android is quite different and requires different marketing techniques.  Rest assured though – this OS will be a formidable opponent for Apple and really for one reason – Open Standards Based Development.

The Android OS is maintained as an open platform which was designed by over 30 technology and mobile companies and is managed by the Open Handset Alliance. I expect this type of Open platform to produce a few things:

iPhone1.) Competition – not just on the software side – but on the hardware side.  The one problem plaguing iPhone (if you think objectively) today, is that there is one piece of hardware and one provider.  Android will work on almost any piece of hardware and can be delivered by any provider.  In a world where Motorola can go to the industries darling (remember when EVERYONE owned a Razr) to the industry’s fool – a la – what have you done for me lately, Android should be welcomed – very welcomed.  Not sure if this will breathe life into companies like Motorola but if I was given an OS that would give me an easy platform to build iPhone-esque applications, instead of spending years perfecting my own – I would jump at the chance

2.) Growth – if everyone bought an iPhone because it was the only viable option for smart applications – in a few years the mobile web would be pretty stagnant. We would be shackled by the vision of essentially one man – that does not sound like fun.

What this means for consumers is that we will continue to see innovation.  If Apple never came back with the Mac and it never gained momentum we would never have seen Vista …. uh…wait…. I mean we would never have seen …. well you get what I mean.

The growth of the Web was fueled by Open Standards and the ability to “view source” – which is essentially an open source environment.  At least, Android will offer that similar environment which can only hope will fuel competition and make mobile computing something better tomorrow than what it is today.

The "new" Facebook and Product Management

August 20, 2008

As a part-time product manager (and a true fan of products, marketing and advertising in general) – I have to mention the phenomenon that is the “New” Facebook.  Quite frankly, I could give a crap.  Like almost any UI or system – we will adapt and the new users that come after us will not know the difference.  I have gone from Mosaic to Netscape to IE to Firefox – it’s all about change.  So who cares.  facebook_vs_comm

If you are product manager – you should.

There are two main factors which make this switch for Facebook so interesting:

1.) Facebook’s delivery model is similar to that of a SaaS

2.) Facebook presents an interesting collaboration model which allows customer’s voices to be heard (sort of)

Product Management in a SaaS model

Lets take the fist portion of this – SaaS (or Software as a Service).  The “Service” that Facebook provides here is simple – communication.  We can use this platform to communicate easily with people we know and to a certain extent – don’t know.  Applications are making it easy and fun to do things like track our movie and music tastes to posting photos and videos of our latest adventures – all on the same server. 

Which means that when Facebook wants to make a change it is instantaneous – they just post the change.  In traditional software – or non SaaS models (like ours) the change is more gradual and does not effect the entire customer base.  You post a patch or a hot fix – those people affected (or brave enough to try it) download it and the change is made.  Rarely, do you hit more than 20% of your users at a time.

The “New” Facebook was available to anyone by simply adding “new” into their URL like: http://www.NEW.facebook.com.  Although, most people didn’t know this – the changes were visible immediately.  All your friends, their updates, your updates, your applications – instantaneous.  Sweet.

As a product manager of a more traditional software environment I envy the SaaS model.  Deployment on a single platform has these added benefits:

  • Simple delivery model with a known platform
  • Coordinated testing with pre-defined groups (e.g. these users get the new Facebook while these other users get the old)
  • Instant feedback
  • Soft launch
  • Controlled roll-out

There are some other advantages to this type of model but I want to focus on a more important benefit that Facebook has when it comes to Product Management.  User feedback.

Like or not – you CAN NOT please everyone.  I can not repeat that enough.  However, without upgrades designed specifically to address user feedback your product can and will alienate your customer base.

If you search for the term “New Facebook” using the Facebook Search and you click on Groups you will find over 500 groups with that term in its name or description.  Dig through those results and you will find groups like these:

  • People against the New Facebook System (47,294 members)
  • The New Facebook Layout SUCKS! (9,188 members)
  • I HATE the New Facebook (3,683 members)
  • The New Facebook Sucks (2,113 members)
  • I hate the new facebook – change it back! (2,588 members)
  • i HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK (obviously group names are case sensitive) – (2,320 members)
  • The NEW Facebook SUCKKKKSS – Change it BACKKKK (2,233 members)

Managing Customer Feedback

When your customer base becomes contributors – the results are amazing.  These groups don’t mean that new Facebook sucks especially if you compare the size of these groups against the number of facebook users as a whole – more than 60 million active users as of the beginning of 2008 (source).

[As I write this – Facebook is down – hee hee]

However, what you do have is the best collection of user feedback that a Product Manager could ever ask for – without having to lift a finger.  They didn’t have to do anything. Nothing. Nada.

Just build the new software – put it out there so people could see/use it and wait.  Surely digging through the feedback is tough.  The “People against the New Facebook System” has over 1,700 wall posts and 55 Threaded discussions.  Mixed in this garbage of useless responses and posts like “Facebook sucks” and “Bring back the old Facebook” are some truly genuine criticisms like:

Jonathan M. Cajigas wroteon Aug 12, 2008 at 10:57 PM

Since I have no idea how to program anything but an alarm clock, I’m curious if anyone in this group with programming knowledge could comment on the feasibility of writing a Gresemonkey script or Firefox Add-On that would let Firefox users keep using the old Facebook, even after the eventual switch.

Robert Heller (Springfield, MA) replied to Jo’s post on Aug 6, 2008 at 11:16 AM

9) It seems to want a wider browser window. The old facebook fit on my 800 pixel wide browser window (yes, I have a 1024×768 pixel screen and no, I *DON’T* (and won’t) maximize my windows).
10) Seems to want flash player. I don’t have flash player installed and no I *DON’T* want to install flash player — I avoid sites that depend on flash player for navigation. Flash is seriously bad news as fas as I am concerned. If flash player becomes *required* for facebook, I am likely to quit facebook.

Jennifer Hale (Uni. Southampton) wrote on Aug 11, 2008 at 12:43 AM

Since the left hand navigation bar has gone, to get anywhere you have to go back to the home page and start again. I liked the fact that I could just jump from one page to another.
I will have to go back into the new Facebook (sighs and pulls face) just to find and list all the things that are now more awkward to use.
I liked the fact that the page was narrower before. It means you never had a problem viewing the page whatever resolution screen you had. The old Facebook just seemed cleaner and tidier to use. Yes some people’s profiles were so application filled that you couldn’t find the wall to send them a message, but that is their choice. I do have a few applications, but I always ensured that most of them were closed (minimised) or below my wall so people could access it easily.

My only criticism that I can see is that Facebook hasn’t made it public that it is listening to its customers.  I am sure that they have reasons but with all of this feedback (and some of it good) it would be interesting to see some interaction with Facebook Product Managers and/or developers.


The new application framework models (like SaaS) present some interesting benefits for Product Management and customer relations.  Additionally, the social media aspect of Product Management today is an improvement on old style customer relations.

Where is the press secretary when you need her?

August 12, 2008

Remember the spring of your senior year in high school?  When you had applied (and been accepted) to college already.  Remember your Guidance Counselor told you that you still needed to keep your grades up – that colleges looked at your final grades very seriously?  Remember that feeling you had towards High School – that “checked out” feeling?

That is kind of how I look at our president.  In his longest trip on foreign soil during his presidency (and the only visit to an Olympic Games by a president anywhere other than in the US) – George looks like he has “checked-out” (or at least the press secretary has…)

Take a look at these photos which can be found collectively here and here in the NBC.com Olympics photo galleries.  What?!?

Catching a peek at the action 

Um… take a picture please I am an idiot

What exactly is going on here?

Do you think that Misty feels obligated?

Hopefully this display is designed for the people behind him

Hopefully this display is for those seated behind him

what is he doing?

And my favorite … no comment

When will computers truly "work" for us?

August 2, 2008

I know that I don’t live in the time of the Minority Report or iRobot and I also know that I have a pretty big imagination but I kind of thought that computers were here to serve us.  While we are pretty far away from a central computer in our house asking us if they can turn our favorite music on or prepare some popcorn for the movie viewing time we have scheduled, I think we need to re-establish expectations.

Computer = No Help

Maybe I am being cynical but today my computer really only asks me to do things

  • There are 150 e-mails waiting for your input in your Unread Box
  • You have 24 meetings today you need to attend
  • There are 12 tasks outlined as “High Priority” due yesterday
  • AVG 7.5 needs to be upgraded (oh and by the way it is no longer free)

Rarely can I say to my computer: “Hey why don’t you get started on organizing those tasks in the project plan” or “When are you going to convert that Statement of Work to a PDF – the customer needs it tomorrow”.  Ok not even “rarely” – never.

I often wonder what it would be like to be totally connected to my computer.  I know that they are doing some cool things up the road at MIT and other Biotech companies related to integrated mind computers.  Mostly now these projects are isolated to paralysis victims or those hindered with MS – but I think I am ready.

Ok, so that won’t happen anytime soon.

Pattern matching

So there is one thing that I also think about a lot which I think could be quite possible (e.g. the technology is available – but it would require some work).  Ever get caught doing repetitive tasks? As an occasional programmer and administrative assistant to myself I find times where a pattern matching program might be nice – and totally possible.

Take the following situation:

I often miss a complete day of Twitter (remember the number of meetings/emails outlined above – only a slight exaggeration).  Unfortunately, today the interface for  twitter does not accommodate the occasional missed day – you see – the timeline display for Twitter runs descending and they only display a certain number of tweets on a page.  In order, to read the tweets you missed (while you were off doing oh you know work) you have to go backwards.  Which means if a conversation took place where someone asked a question – you would see the answer before you saw the question – dumb.

So, what I do to solve this problem is to add Firefox toolbar bookmarks to my Twitter pages backwards.  Starting with the URL: http://www.twitter.com/home?page=10 (um – yeah it only goes to 10 pages so if you wait to long you miss everything – which is another story) and working may way back to http://www.twitter.com/home.

The task for doing this is quite repetitive and would go something like this

  1. Create Twitter Folder on Firefox browser toolbar
  2. Navigate to ?page=10 and drag to Twitter Folder
  3. Navigate to ?page=9 and drag to Twitter Folder
  4. Navigate to ?page=8 and drag to Twitter Folder
  5. (Could use the pattern matcher right now …)
  6. etc…




Computer = Help

What I would like my computer to “say” is this:

Ron, I see you are entering into a boring pattern related data entry task (and i would hope that this starts right after step 2 from above).  Should I copy multiple bookmarks stopping at ?page=1?

Where I would reply

Why thank you that would be great.

And now my computer would be doing tasks for me.  After taking with our development teams about our Automated QA program – where servers check in with a central QA management server to pick up their next set of QA test cases – I know that this possible.

Privacy enabled photo sharing?

July 23, 2008

I have been testing out brightkite lately and I really only get to work with it if I am traveling (which I happen to be doing this week).  I was in Logan today when I saw an interesting site.  A woman traveling with me (someone I did not know) was also traveling with her dog.  She had on a very interesting “Baby Bjorn” style doggie carrier.  One that strapped around her back like a backpack.  I thought it needed to be posted so I took a picture of it and posted.uploading_photos

Immediately, I sent it to brightkite hoping I would get some discussion out of it.  I then received a notice back from brightkite stating that they could not post my picture.  Being that brightkite is a rather new startup (and probably small in size) I thought that it would not be unlikely that my photo was censored  because it was of a picture of someone I did not know (I am surel that the woman would not be happy knowing I took a picture of her and posted it for others to comment on).  I waited a bit and then posted it again – with a different comment which was less descriptive and didn’t lead to any conclusions about my relationship with this woman (or lack there of).  It took.  So clearly, it was a glitch (or was it).

GPS based privacy(automated)

So then I got to thinking about the iPhone (which I do quite a bit) and specifically about the GPS capabilities of the phone.  Many phones have GPS (my BlackJackII for instance does).  But when you put so many people on the same framework (millions of them) you can start to see paths towards mass acceptance and change.

I started thinking about how this situation with the dog lady could be governed better with technology and I came up with this idea:

Phone users taking pictures in public places would be required to register the  capture range for each of their photos/movies and privacy concerned individuals (with GPS enabled phones) could be notified when they may be appearing within a phone.  If the privacy concerned person would be notified when a picture they were in was posted to a public web site.  They would then get a link to that post, and have the ability to “flag” that photo as inappropriate and the original owner would be required to take it down.

Not saying we need to do this – but it might allow those individuals who are concerned about public exposure a means to handle that when they are either  intentionally or accidentally included in a photo posted to a public web site.