Tag Archives: Blogging

The secret to Facebook’s growth?

Alteregozi.com has recently also been attacked by the wonderous Facebook profile spam comments (I kept two specimens here and here, but deleted many dozens more in the past weeks). At first, I was amused at this new type of spam comments, but after running a few searches I felt more of disgrace for being so late to the party, seeing mentions of these more than a year ago

So what’s the deal with these comments? they usually don’t include any links, not selling anything, and some are really good comments. If you’d look at the above two you’ll have a very hard time figuring out they are not real comments. Looks like some spammers harvest comments from legit blogs, and then classify your post to find the most similar comment to stick. What is the motivation?

I don’t have the answers myself, but two thoughts:


  1. One spam fighting blog claims that the motivation is to establish the credibility of these accounts, so that they can later be used to sell likes on Facebook itself. The plot thickens…
  2. I’ve never seen an account repeating. The amount of fake FB accounts being created is probably huge. How much of Facebook’s recent continued growth is attributed to such fake accounts? nothing you would hear about in Facebook’s earnings calls.



Out of Context

Sponsored Stories are a brilliant advertising model by Facebook. Just like  AdWords in 2000, it’s an example of a model that leverages the core value of the company for advertising, without compromising that value’s authenticity. If your friends liked Starbucks, it was of their own free will and in a public forum, so having Starbucks pay to show this more prominently and to other users can only make sense.

So why is it, then, that a simple amusing case of 55-gallon of lubricant made so many bad headlines for Facebook?

And Facebook has more fronts to fight in its battles for transformation into a revenue-driven company. Timeline may be great for brands, but it’s a magnet for popular revolt. Besides resenting the no-alternative approach Facebook took, why are users so upset about the actual Timeline view, which is surely more visually appealing than the boring wall?

I find the answer to both relates to context.

Out Of Context

For the Sponsored Stories it seems pretty clear. “Yes, I linked to a 55-gallon lubricant product, but I did so as a joke”, well then, Sentiment Analysis still has a long way to go with sarcasm despite some recent advance right here in the Hebrew university. Sarcasm is one extreme example, but that missing context could even just be that you’re no longer fan of that company you liked a month ago, and just didn’t get to unlike yet.

And what about Timeline? isn’t it great that all your previous statuses and photos are there, organized along your timeline and telling your story? well, it is, but only if you care to ensure that it tells the story that you really want to tell. The context of that story may depend on where we were, what we were up to at the time, who our friends were… some of this may not even be possible to reconstruct in the Timeline.

In addition, we are used to our stories dropping off the cliff of the page fold and disappearing into oblivion, so we don’t really care to update them or remove those we don’t feel so proud of anymore. Suddenly, they come back to haunt us with Timeline, and we have to scramble to adjust

And in a final associative thought: the tiled UX of Timeline does remind me of the Pinterest-mania that has taken hold on every new social curation site. So why does this look so so much fun on Pinterest? Context again. Pinterest has none of it, it’s a pure fun/discovery experience, each tile is independent and you’re not really trying to follow up a thread, or cover all that you’ve missed since your last visit. For a social network though, that would be, well, out of context.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet (hint: that’s not the question)

I was catching up on my RSS overload the other day, when this side note in a post by Naaman on Social Media Multitaskers caught my attention:

“I find that I now blog thoughts that are too long to fit in a tweet; so feel free to follow my tweets…”

"I am the man. I suffered. I was there." CC by 'Kalense Kid'/Flickr

I’m not too much of a media multitasker myself, so I don’t experience this duality first hand, but I can imagine it: you get an interesting thought or experience, then you think is this major enough to develop into a blog post, for which I’ll go over here, or is it not that heavy / can’t be bothered, in which case I flutter my wings over there. Actually I do experience these, just that in the other case I simply drop it (and excuse me for not considering Facebook status updates an option, that’s stuff for another post…)

This should not have been a dilemma at all, had blogging platforms evolved to accommodate microblogging, which today is somehow seen as the centralized domain of a single commercial company. You really should be able to hop on your publishing platform, write that thought down, regardless of length, and fire it out. No need to figure out which channel to use, and whether the intended readers are indeed following you there. Similarly, your friends/readers should not have to register to your feeds on different platforms but rather consume one only, and rely on a powerful set of rules to filter your stream as they find fit.

posterous-mediumPosterous is a great (and fast growing) example of how easy it can be from the blogger’s perspective. Just post it (or rather, email it) and it will get published as needed (e.g. shortened for twitter). But it does not make it any easier on the consumer, who still needs to decide where to best follow this blogger (does he perhaps write additional blog posts directly on his blog that won’t show up on his twitter? or vice versa?’) and reduces the basic filtering capability that may have existed when different post types were distributed into the different services.

No need to reinvent the wheel here, blogging platforms are abundant, decentralized and perfectly fit to remain our publishing hub, with their developed CMS and the loose but well-defined social networks. What blogging platforms should do – heck, what Automattic should do to evolve, is:

  1. Conversation support the realtime conversational nature of short posts, with the right UI and notifications mechanisms. The “P2” microblogging-optimized theme released almost two years ago was a good start, sadly it still followed the line of thought of “blog or microblog, not both”. To move forward, Automattic need to realize that Twitter is not a personality, it’s a state of mind, hence also P2 can’t be a permanent theme, it should be a contextual theme.
  2. Publishingacquire Posterous. As simple as that. These guys got their fame by understanding the pains of publishing anytime anywhere, they know a thing or two on usability and persuasion, and they have great buzz. The latter is not luxury – a buzzed-up acquisition makes it very clear that this is a major strategy for you, a lot more than if you’d develop the same changes yourself.
  3. Consuming – that’s the tricky part… how do you embed Twitter and WordPress into the same stream, when each consumer has their own desired blend of it. We don’t want to invent a new technology, RSS is here to stay. We do want better ways of filtering our floods using better tagging coupled with more clever feed options. How exactly – I do hope there’s an entire team at Automattic working exactly on that…

    The Broken Web

    Dave Winer recently pointed out two trends that pose risk to user-created content on the web:

    • Over-reliance on url-shorteners. Fueled by twitter’s laconic style, more and more links to content are created using an indirection via url shortener services such as bit.ly and tr.im. The collapse of such a service may turn tons of links into broken links in an instant.
    • Centralized conversation platforms. Shifting the conversation away from their blogs, influencing content publishers chose to center on platforms such as twitter and FriendFeed. Besides the increased noise inherent to lifestreaming, there is increased risk in making your contributions (and having your readers contribute back) in a site run by a private company with no real commitment to its users.

    In the past two weeks both these risks materialized to some extent. The url-shortener service tr.im shut down, and that 404-iceberg was avoided in the last minute by the owners’ decision to open-source it. Then Facebook acquired FriendFeed, and their PR said

    “…FriendFeed.com will continue to operate normally for the time being as the teams determine the longer term plans for the product.”

    Hmm, right… So Scoble’s blog still loves him, and is probably a safer publishing venue.

    But why is this such a big deal anyway?Broken web of intrigue, CC by 'Looking for a Lighthouse'/Flickr

    We tend to forget how much we have invested into such services until they break down (as was the case with ma.gnolia). The web’s strength is in storing and being able to search in the content produced by millions of earthlings. The impact of frailness of large amounts of content or links is significant. Especially for social search, that content could be vital (OK, perhaps except for that part about what you had for breakfast).

    As always with such issues, the best solution is decentralization. For url shorteners, the ‘shortlink’ protocol was already suggested for site-maintained shorteners, and WordPress has already implemented it. My blog is already enabled, try http://wp.me/plBAi-8Q.  And then content decentralization is in our hands. Think about it the next time you post your thoughts into twitter rather than in your blog…

    The Opportunity in RSS Overload

    Dare Obasanjo has an interesting post, with a good comments thread, on overflowing feed readers. He’s quoting from a post by Farhad Manjoo on Slate:

    You know that sinking feeling you get when you open your e-mail and discover hundreds of messages you need to respond to…

    Well, actually Dare’s post is from two weeks ago. The reason I got to read it only now is exactly that…

    Yes, I know I don’t really need to ‘respond’ to subscriptions, and the answer should be – unsubscribe, or go on a feeds (or ‘follow’ edges) social diet. But these binary decisions are not always optimal, as I have plenty of feeds I subscribed to after hitting one or two posts I really liked, but that were not on that author’s main subject (if such exists at all). Thus I have to skim through many un-interesting (for me!) posts, many of them somehow always end up discussing twitter. In fact, that’s how most of my feeds look like (including the twitter part).

    We need shades of grey between subscribed and unsubscribed. It would be great to have a feed reader that learns from how you use it. It should be quite clear which posts interest me – ones I took time to read, scroll through, press a link etc. – and which did not. Now train a classifier on that data, preferably per-feed (in addition to a general one), and get some sense of what I’m really looking for.
    Mark All As Read Day - flickr/sidereal

    Now, I don’t need this smart reader to delete the uninteresting ones, let’s not assume too much on its classification accuracy. Just find the right UI to mark the predicted-to-be-interesting items (or even assign them into a special virtual folder). Then I can read these first, and only if/when have time – read the rest.

    I assign this to be my pet project in case I win the lottery next week and go into early retirement. Alternatively, if someone saw this implemented anywhere – let me know!

    Update: a related follow-up post on a new filtering product I started using.

    Oh yes! how true!

    Joel Spolsky is back from his podcasts moonlighting and has an angry piece on:

    …unbelievable proliferation of anecdotes disguised as science, self-professed experts writing about things they actually know nothing about, and amusing stories disguised as metaphors for how the world works…

    I like reading Joel. He’s smart, humorous, and has excellent insights on the software industry. This post, like many others, indeed made me do the Oh-yes!-How-true! routine at first. It reminded me of an anecdote that Mosh, a colleague at work was telling, on how a respected investment bank newsletter was advising him just a few months ago to buy the solid but profitable Icelandic state bonds (luckily he didn’t). Yes, the economic big bang indeed demonstrated how experts may know nothing, at least in that field.

    But something bothered me still. Joel went on to tell us that:

    On Sunday Dave Winer [partially] defined “great blogging” as “people talking about things they know about, not just expressing opinions about things they are not experts in (nothing wrong with that, of course).” Can we get some more of that, please? Thanks.

    I’ve read Dave’s post, and it’s a good one too. But asking myself where this definition put my own blogging, I had to send myself to shamefully stand in the corner, as I did sometimes express opinions about things I’m not an expert in. It was at that point that I realized this elitism stems from simple old school, centralized thinking on journalism. You see, blogging is a many-to-many medium, and you get to pick your reads. If that’s what you want, those sources are there, you just need to find them, Dave Winer mentions counter examples even in that same post.

    Elitismo, by duka/Flickr

    The new art of this medium, then, is picking those reads, and it’s no less than a skill for life in my eyes. If only my children’s computers teachers would teach them how to choose content sources, how to pick quality over noise, how to evaluate trustworthiness, rather than teaching how to google or use MS Powerpoint, I’d feel a lot more like they’re acquiring a skill for their the-web-is-like-air future life…

    Why blog? why now??

    If a blog post is published and no one is around to read it, does it make a difference?…

    That’s the thought that kept me from opening a blog all these blogosphere years. Bloggers write for others to read, but in an information overload time when I can hardly read just the few feeds I need for work, I’d have a very hard time keeping up with reading all the stuff friends write. So why bother?

    But then I started working in Delver, and one day it dawned on me. I was waiting for my turn to speak at IAAI-08, and listening to some very interesting talks had this tingling of “…I could blog about my thoughts on that!“, when I suddenly realized that this is what will change with real social search. Suppose I indeed blogged about insights from IAAI on the creative uses of Wikipedia as NLP datasets generator, the chances of that being helpful to a friend or colleague, at that moment, could be slim, and a post or two later – that post fades into oblivion. However, if that friend could find this socially-relevant post on-demand, just when needed – now that’s a different story. That’s pretty much what gmail did to email categorizing – but that’s a subject for a post on its own.

    So what is this blog about? depends which of my alter egoz takes over, but it’s safe to say web search is always there, one way or the other. There, that’s general enough so I won’t need to re-edit this post as my blog evolves to discuss marine biology. Here goes!