Social Media is about Aggregation – Not Publishing/Networks

I’ve been using FriendFeed for several months now. As a matter of fact, with the addition of real-time FriendFeed is now my primary Social Media interface. Why? Because the critical attribute which makes Social Media useful (yep, I’m banging on the adding value drum again) is aggregation, not publishing or networks. Publishing and networks are required – but they quickly become commoditized. An example – Twitter gets popular and up pops Laconica, Yammer, OpenMicroBlogging,, …

Social Networks are no different. How many social networks do you have to check every day to keep up? What are the odds that all of your friends (or co-workers) are on the same network?

Social Bookmarking – no different. Friends across multiple networks.

The result is that you – in order to actually use Social Media in a useful way (information discovery) – have to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop to attempt to discover anything.

That is why aggregation is so powerful – and why I was never all that impressed with Twitter’s Track feature (which caused so much angst when turned off). Track was only interesting if you assume all the relevant information was/is on Twitter. In other words – the network drives value, not the information – and that completely misses the point.

FriendFeed gets it. The value is in the information – and providing aggregation of that information and useful tools to locate, consume and re-share that information is the key to providing value. With the introduction of Real-Time FriendFeed completely changes the real-time information discovery game.

FriendFeed allows a user to aggregate all the places they view, track, share, and create information. When you follow a person you follow all of their information – regardless of what network it is generated on. That – to me – is the point of a “follow” – I want to know what you find interesting, because if you find it interesting I might too. I really don’t care how you share the information… and I certainly don’t want to follow you around the inter-webs joining every cool new network to get access to the information you view, track, share, and create. When you join a new service (a.k.a., network) you add it to FriendFeed and viola! I can see what you share there as well…

The introduction of real-time (while admittedly imperfect) is a sea change for real-time information discovery. It transforms it from a network (service) based activity (e.g., I can see what happens on Facebook in real-time in Facebook – I can see what happens in Twitter real-time in Twitter – etc) to person based activity – I see, in real-time – what you share, without the limitations of network/service.

The only thing missing from FriendFeed today is aggregation based on topic. That is, the ability to specify a group (e.g., everyone, my friends, a room, etc) and a topic search (e.g., debate, google, pretty cat pictures, etc) and see only information which satisfies both criteria.

At the end of the day – the aggregation of information a person shares, and the ability of others to “follow” that information stream is Social Media. The social graph is interesting, but it doesn’t add value to people’s lives in any meaningful way (granted it creates a highly valuable advertising platform). Efficient sharing of information and information discovery does. Aggregation is the secret sauce.

Value = Signal, Cool = Noise

Great post today from John Furrier on

He points out – rightly – that:

I fully agree that it is the best time to start a company both for entrepreneur and the venture capitalist. In fact the angels are out there. I ran into one yesterday (granted I live in Palo Alto and you can swing a dead cat without hitting an angel or VC). There is big interest in seed, super seed, and full blown Series A deals.

In these downturn times the opportunities just fall out of the trees. In a downturn the noise level is reduced and it’s all signal. Thanks to the memo from Sequoia which was a strong signal from the Silicon Valley elite money machine on which behavior will be tolerated (translation they want less Seesmics and more real companies). The other them is that innovation is coming out strong. The real opportunities are presenting themselves. The real web 2.0 will emerge from this downturn.

Or – in the language I would use:

If you are building a startup that delivers real value to your prospective customers – real value they will pay for – now is a great time to get started. If you have a cool idea that lots of people will sign up for, but you are not sure anyone would pay for – keep your day job.

The idea that you can do something cool and aggregate subscribers and only then “monetize” the subscriber base is dead (and hopefully gone for good).

Can we please stop talking about monetization?

I can’t take it anymore – I just can’t.

NOTE – this post was triggered by a fine post (and subsequent FriendFeed discussion) by Mark Evans – which you can find here.

The idea that you can create a “cool” service, attract massive numbers of subscribers, and then monetize the subscriber base is insane. Always was, always will be. But it is the Google model. They created a web search service (cool) and then once they became a powerful player in web search they became an ad platform (monetization) – right?

That however, is a myth. The reality is Google was solving a real, important problem. The web was growing really fast. Creating a way for people to find the content they were looking for was a known problem with existing solutions (remember Yahoo and Excite were already out there). The existing solutions were already generating revenue – by placing adds in their content (remember the whole aggregating eyeballs thing?). What Google did was create a better search solution (product innovation) and refine the exiting business model from ad placement (putting ads on your blog) to becoming an ad platform (business model innovation).

So the reality of Google is that they solved an important problem via product innovation and solved an important problem via business model innovation – by creating an advertising platform which could be leveraged by any advertiser.

But the myth is so much more fun – couple of guys create a really cool way to index the web for relevance and everyone wants to use it. Now they can figure out how to make money. We all took the bait. The Bubble 2.0 story became “create a cool service, generate buzzz, aggregate tons of users, and then generate revenue”.

Here is the bad news – that is the same myth that created Bubble 1.0 – remember? Bubble 1.0 said – “Don’t worry about revenues – just grow really, really fast – once you have lots of growth revenue and profits will come.”

As Britney Spears would say “oooops, I did it again“.

What is real is that the winners solve important problems that have enough value that people will pay for them. Finding a business online (Google) – huge problem, great solution = $$$. Selling stuff I don’t want/need to someone, anywhere who does want/need it for as much as possible (eBay) – huge problem, great solution = $$$.

So let’s make a deal. Let’s stop talking about “cool” services, how fast they are generating page views or subscriber growth or any other measure until they tell us how they are going to make money. Let’s get back to creating services that generate value for the prospective customer – value that they are willing to pay for (again – ad placement is just a way of getting your user to pay for the service).

It isn’t important that the first business model is the “right” business model. What is important is that we are re-focusing all of our frenetic energy on what really matters.


Voice Is Data – STOP THE PRESSES (Alexander Graham Bell would be so proud)

From Techdirt…

With increasing attempts to turn internet access on in the sky, there’s been some concern about people making VoIP calls from airplanes, just as there is a concern over mobile phone use in the sky being too “annoying.” Some of the companies providing internet-in-the-sky have claimed that they would block VoIP calls, but that’s going to be pretty difficult. As we’ve pointed out in the past voice is just data and you can always find a way to disguise the data, such that it won’t be blocked. And, indeed, that seems to be exactly what’s happening. Andy Abramson talks about how he got around AirCell’s VoIP blocking when talking to a friend who was on one of these wired airplanes. There’s always going to be away around those things, so unless Congress really decides to ban all voice calls on phones, why not wait and see if people chatting really is a problem?

[From Voice Is Data: Tech Won’t Be Able To Stop VoIP In The Air]

There are two points here worth considering:

  1. VoIP is data and any attempt to block it can be worked around
  2. Phone calls on planes may not really be a problem

First – saying VoIP is data is (perhaps) the most obvious statement I’ve ever heard. But let’s clarify one thing. Transmitted (by any means, analog, digital or IP) SOUND is DATA. Always has been, always will be. We shouldn’t confuse the fact that it is now on an IP network with some kind of transition to “voice as data”.

The valid point is that because the sound (voice) is being transmitted over an IP network blocking is only as effective as the ability to detect the transmission of sound (voice). If everyone plays be the rules and uses RTP over UDP – it is simple to block. However, there will always be profit in circumnavigating IP blocking technologies – to the extent that there is profit, there will be people willing to create VoIP services that defeat the blocking.

The linked article points out the the reported “hack” is no more than RTP over TCP – which is fairly pedestrian. Imagine when RTP is tunneled over HTTP (I’ve done it) or SSH.

The simple reality is making the network the arbiter of acceptable use is never going to work.

Second, I’m not sure how we got to “people chatting on a plane is a problem”. Not too long ago, every flight seemed to have those air to ground phones in the back of the seat in front of you. People never used them – because the per minute charges were insane. But I’ve been on a flight where someone used that phone… and there was no lynching.

I’m wondering if “no calls via cell or VoIP” on a plane is about social norms and people being rude… or the airline’s inability to charge for it…