There Are Practical Limitations on Real-Time

No one is a bigger fan of real-time than I am. I’ve been working on real-time communications for 10 years, and I intend to continue to work in that space for the foreseeable future. That being said, let me be clear about one thing: There are practical limitations on real-time.

FriendFeed launched their new UI today in beta (check it out here). I am a huge fan of FriendFeed – and have been for a while now. They are doing more to advance the real-time web and social aggregation than any other service. But…

The new user interface (UI) leaves me with a single takeaway. This beta clearly demonstrates the practical limitations of real-time. If we begin with the end in mind, and clearly say that real-time exists as an enabler of:

  1. Communication
  2. Information Discovery

we quickly see that at some point real-time becomes a barrier to both.

New FriendFeed User Interface
New FriendFeed User Interface

I follow roughly 400 people on FriendFeed – which isn’t a particularly big number – and with the new full real-time user interface both communication and information discovery become all but impossible.

People are going to tell you “you’ll get used to it” – I actually saw one user compare it to flying a plane – information overload at first, but once you do it a while it starts to become less overwhelming. That may be true, but communication and information discovery shouldn’t be like flying a plane; which is a decidedly life or death experience. It should be streamlined and optimized to take advantage of the limited attention of the user. As importantly it should allow the user to take control of the experience and allocate their attention as they see fit – dynamically – as their attention allows.

And this is exactly where the new FriendFeed user interface breaks down. It requires 100% of you attention, 100% of your mental cycles – and it is still almost impossible to actually accomplish your goal; communication or information discovery.

FriendFeed has the building blocks in place to better manage your limited attention, but they are tangential to the central user experience and lack critical features. Filters and lists can solve the problem of limited attention, but they must be at least as functional as the current user interface – including the ability to post and follow the information in real time.

This puts the user in control of how they allocate their scarce attention – too much to pay attention to, tighten up the filter – not enough action, broaden the filter and get more.

At justSignal we are solving these problems as a platform for other companies, brands, or organizations to leverage in their content. FriendFeed needs to keep their eye on the ball, because they are solving it (IMHO) for the individual consumer.

The “ball” is enabling communcation and information discovery… that should be getting 100% of our attention.

Why Twitter Search Does Not Mean Twitter is a Search Engine

canstock1336888.jpgArrington is back. And he dropped a nice post today over at TechCrunch indicating that he believes it is time to start thinking of Twitter as a Search Engine. In general terms I agree… but as always the devil is in the details.

There is one major hole in Arrington’s theory, but that hole is HUGE. The fact is, Twitter Search isn’t a search engine. It is a simple keyword search which returns results in chronological order. That is very useful in some ways, but it negates every example Arrington cites in his post.

People searching for news. Brands searching for feedback. That’s valuable stuff.

Twitter knows it, too. They’re going to build their business model on it. Forget small time payments from users for pro accounts and other features, all they have to do is keep growing the base and gather more and more of those emotional grunts. In aggregate it’s extremely valuable. And as Google has shown, search is vastly monetizable – somewhere around 40% of a ll online advertising revenue goes to ads on search listings today.

In reality FriendFeed’s search is much better positioned to execute a “search engine” strategy. Why? Because they have measures of relevance, authority, and rank via comments and likes. We know these things matter when people search – how? Because Google won the search engine battle – and by no small margin – and did so on the simple idea that the results have to be ranked by relevance (i.e., PageRank). Excite, Yahoo and a bevy of other search services completely missed the boat by failing to realize that in search the relevance of the returned information to the user’s question is everything. Without that there is no revenue from ads – because if the ads are not relevant they are worthless.

Can Twitter build a relevance engine into Twitter Search? Maybe, but execution is everything. And thus far Twitter’s execution has been lacking in almost every regard. More importantly, since every Tweet is indexed by Google and (potentially) pulled into FriendFeed – two companies who’s ability to consistently execute far exceeds Twitter’s – they will face immediate and stiff competition for those search dollars.

As importantly, for companies (and “brands” – for example, musicians, movie stars, etc) search isn’t nearly as interesting as being able to take the raw data and analyze it. For what? Whatever it is they want to know. I can not predict what Peter Himmelman will want to discover today (or next week) about what his fans say on Twitter – so why would I offer him a canned report that only tells him one or two things?

So, while search will matter to Twitter in terms of revenue generation (I’ve officially boycotted the term monetization – but that is a subject for another post) – I’m not as sure as Arrington is that it is the key to selling services to brands.

And I’m not just shooting my mouth off – I’m betting I’m right by using justSignal to set the data free. justSignal will collect Tweets and make that data available to our customers. Not in a fancy report that tells you something I think is important, but in raw XML format – allowing you to analyze the data for what is important to your business. Again – the value is in the Signal – and you are in a better position to determine what Signal you are looking for today (and I know it will be a different Signal tomorrow).

Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?

2008 was supposed to be the year we began to see real-time web take shape. And while Twitter and FriendFeed have begun to show us some bits of what a real-time web might look like mostly it has been a year of discontent.

While I hate year end/beginning “predictions” (what am I Nostradamus?) I’m predicting 2009 won’t be much better. Why? Well that is the interesting part.

200901081030.jpg

I’ll let you in on a secret (shhh, this is just between you and me). Real-time services on the “web” are nothing new. We have a pretty good idea how they work (and don’t work). We know what the challenges are – and to a large degree how to architect/engineer the solutions. The problem is we aren’t leveraging the work that has already been done.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?”

Defining your Brand – One Conversation at a Time

I’ve spent a large part of my professional life dealing with the realities of having conversations with customers. In every type and size of company imaginable. And there is one single reality that holds true:

Your brand is what your customers say it is… regardless of your best Marketing and PR efforts.

With the rise of Social Media this reality is even more true. Not because you ever really controlled you brand – but because word of mouth just got global, social and the biggest megaphone you could have ever imagined.

200811251132.jpg

It used to be a single pissed off customer might only impact 10 or 20 people over the course of 3 months. Now a single dissatisfied customer with a Twitter account or Blog can reach hundreds of people in a single day. And, as a rule, if you are doing (or not doing something) that makes customers mad, you do it to more than one per day.

So feel free to create all the marketing material and press releases you want lauding your superior product or service and you commitment to great customer service. In the old world that might have worked. But today it simply can not compete with the conversations your customers and prospects are having about you. You are what they say you are.

If you want to really impact your brand – and how it is perceived by your customers and prospects, get in the conversation.

Your PR and marketing staff will tell you to invest in Social Media Monitoring tools like Radian6 and Techrigy to gather Social Media data to analyze for your next marketing campaign. And I concede – monitoring what is said about you is a positive first step. The challenge with this strategy is that you are still trying to control the conversation.

What you need to do, what you should be doing is participating in the conversation.

Provide Solutions, Inform, Listen and Respond

The most important branding you do (and can do) is in the conversations you have with your customers and prospects.

Think I’m nuts? Great – Let’s look at two examples:

Motrin’s Blunder:

Motrin released an ill conceived ad. And it isn’t that they didn’t realize their mistake – it was that they weren’t engaged in the conversation. Because of that there were 4 days to allow the controversy to reach significant proportions.

Links:

http://mashable.com/2008/11/16/motrin-moms/

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/motrin_bows_to_social_media_pr.php

Exploring Social Media: The Motrin Moment Impact of Social Media

http://blogs.reuters.com/mediafile/2008/11/18/motrin-moms-and-the-perils-of-social-media-marketing/

Ford’s ScottMonty:

ScottMonty from Ford is actively engaged in Social Media. And because of that he is able to react in real (or near real-time) to negative and positive brand messages. This allows Ford the opportunity to actively engage in the conversation and refute false perceptions and reinforce positive messages.

Links:

http://friendfeed.com/e/a8d15997-12ec-eeee-921b-61c96ed66d27/Why-I-love-the-US-auto-industry/

http://friendfeed.com/e/e34bb7df-5a8c-4d1c-84cb-d16e0fa09099/I-am-watching-CNN-and-seeing-bad-employment/

http://friendfeed.com/e/b4753ec3-a123-6ef4-6671-cdd7ef10e4b5/Glohamar-Here-are-a-few-of-Ford-s-other-Twitter/

http://friendfeed.com/e/45cec2a1-17c8-3e26-3afc-4a9d3897c15a/ScottMonty-scottweisbrod-LisaHoffman-1-2-Bill/

The takeaway:

Analyzing the data and reacting is about how fast you can “clean up the mess”. It pre-supposes you can megaphone your brand message and shout down those who have a different point of view.

By participating in conversations about your brand you have the ability to prevent situations where the perception becomes the story. You have the ability to turn negative experiences into positive brand affinity moments that increase your customer loyalty and enhance your brand in the eyes of those watching. And in this new Social Media world we are all watching.

JustSignal – Turn down the noise and just get the signal.

snr-big.png

On Friday, November 21st cosinity released JustSignal – a combined FriendFeed and Twitter application that allows you to turn down the noise and focus in on just those topics or users you find most interesting.

As much as I love Twitter and FriendFeed, they can become a giant distraction. Too much noise, not enough signal. JustSignal is the solution. It allows you to get your entire home feed from FriendFeed and near real-time “Track” from Twitter – all in one user interface. JustSignal’s filtering solution allows you to only receive the information you care most about – in real-time.

justsignal.tiff

While that alone is a powerful solution for the individual user… JustSignal delivers so much more.

JustSignal Brand Monitor tracks your brand across Twitter and FriendFeed – allowing you to monitor what is said about your brand – and react in real time. Our robust solution queues Tweets, FriendFeed Posts, Comments and Likes that refer to your brand. Anyone in your company can log in and respond to those Social Media brand messages as they happen.

JustSignal Brand Monitor also archives everything said about your company – allowing you to analyze the data and determine what the perception is and how it is trending.

This combination of real-time monitoring and response, and historical data analysis is transformative for your company. Stop sending out surveys and start listening to your customers, prospects and influencers.

You can contact me directly for more information.