19 posts categorized "Attention"

Creating an Attention Wave - Building a Package Around Your News Release

So you have some news you want to get out there. You are thinking of issuing the standard old news release... Yet in the era of the "real-time web", when new stories are found through services like Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed; when the ranks of formal journalists are shrinking and the ranks of online writers are growing - and the pressure to publish is greater than ever; when there are thousands upon thousands of stories coming out each day... in all of that mess...
how do you get people to pay attention to your news?

Today, in late 2009, I've seen many of us in the PR and marketing space sending out more than a news release... creating a "package" of related stories in multiple media. As I've tried to explain this method to other people, I have recently found it useful to talk about this in terms of aiming to create an "Attention Wave". Let me explain - and I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether this framework helps in explaining what it is we aim to do.

THE GOAL

Ultimately, of course, you want customers to read about your news and buy more of your services, products, widgets, etc. or promote your cause, goal, etc. Naturally for them to read about your news, you need to get people to write about your news.

Can you do this with a single news release?

Unless you are Apple announcing their latest sexy gadget - or Google announcing their latest free service, the answer is almost certainly... no. The reality is that journalists, bloggers and everyone else writing online are inundated with a zillion stories every hour of every day. And they are scanning those endless headlines through Twitter, FriendFeed, RSS readers, email inboxes, search results and other aggregation means.

You have one... maybe two seconds to get their attention and have them open your content.

That's it.

Naturally, you need solid headlines that catch their attention and make them want to follow the link to read your content... but that's the subject of another post.

What I am talking about here is assembling a "package" of content centered around your news release that hits the web in one wave... multiple stories, some from you and some from others, cascading through the "real-time web", followed ideally by retweets and other redistribution / re-posting so that journalists and those writing online have multiple opportunities to see your content - and potentially will investigate for no other reason than that they are seeing many mentions of it.

The goal is to lengthen the time of exposure of your story to journalists, bloggers and anyone else writing.

Instead of 1 or 2 seconds while a writer is scanning new headlines, maybe you get 10 or 20 seconds... maybe a couple of minutes as stories appear and are redistributed... maybe more... maybe significantly more.

TODAY'S FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE

Nothing I've said so far is really different from "PR 101". It's always been the goal of PR to earn coverage of your news. We've always done pre-announcement briefings with the goal of getting people to cover you and come out with stories around the time of your news release.

The difference in our new world of social media is this:

The opportunity has never been greater to tell your story in your own words.

I'm talking about more than just the social media release, although that may be one of the communication tools you use in your overall package.

I'm NOT talking about creating a series of Twitter accounts to spam Twitter... or generating bogus stories on bogus web sites linking to your content. Those are games played by people who usually lack a story to tell - and in this world of transparency you will probably be called out on doing that. I'm also NOT talking about getting listed on TechMeme, Digg, or whatever the major news aggregation site may be for your industry - that may be an outcome of your work... but I'm talking about before you get to that.

You. Sitting at your computer. Putting together a package around your news. Aiming to generate a wave of attention focused on your news.

THE MAJOR CAVEAT

First, before I go further, there is of course one major caveat:

YOU MUST HAVE A STORY WORTH TELLING!

No amount of packaging can really help a worthless story. People now have a pretty high B.S.-detector. You might succeed in getting your story a bit more attention - but the backlash might also not be to your liking.

Let's assume you have a decent story to tell...

PACKAGE COMPONENTS

The pieces of your overall "package" will obviously vary according to your industry, your specific announcement, etc., but would typically include items such as:

  • a formal news release, including components targeted at making it easier for people to tell your story:
    • company/organization logos
    • pictures of the executives or others quoted in the news release
    • pictures of the product, or visually interesting screenshots
    • links to a video and other components of your package

  • a post on your corporate blog (you have one, right?), "humanizing" the more formal language of your news release and explaining the release in a more conversational tone

  • one or more embeddable videos, posted to your blog site or YouTube channel, providing a video interview, a demonstration, or other content. This could be multiple videos... perhaps one an interview with someone quoted in the news release going into more detail and a second providing more of a demo of the product. They need to have "embed codes" that allow writers to embed the video directly into their blog or news site.

  • a "deeper dive" post that goes into more detail around whatever was announced. Ideally with some interesting diagrams or other images that could be incorporated into other posts. Potentially, depending upon your industry, some sample apps or source code or items that others can try out.

  • companion posts on company/employee blogs: if you have other blogs for your company, perhaps targeted at specific audiences, can you plan a post related to your news that is relevant to that audience or vertical? can you ask employees to post on the topic of your news on their own blogs (assuming it is relevant to do so)?

  • companion posts on external/friendly blogs: do you know of people in the community around your company (you have one, right?) who might be eager to write about your new product or service?

  • posts on media/blog sites, resulting from pre-announcement briefing of appropriate media outlets.

Note that I am advocating for use of a formal news release. Multiple reasons, including the fact that news releases through wire services reach people who might not otherwise see the news - and also appear in news aggregation sites. They also serve as a formal statement of public record for many companies. The act of creating a news release also ideally has the effect of helping you tune your message and get it down to the essentials. (Or not, given some of the lousy news releases I've seen come through my inbox.)

Keep in mind, too, that my list is just a guideline. Maybe you want to include an audio podcast - or a slide presentation posted to your SlideShare account - or a supporting white paper. Whatever works for you... the point is that you are just creating multiple pieces surrounding and complementing your news release.

THE RATIONALE OF MULTIPLE COMPONENTS

Beyond the obvious effect of having multiple pieces go out at the same time and create the wave of headlines, there are some other reasons for creating the package:

  • Reaching different subscriber bases - Some people will want to read your news in Twitter. Some will in RSS. Some in email. Some in dedicated sites like YouTube. Some will be interested in a particular aspect of how your news applies. In some cases you might be able to distribute pointers to your news release in all those channels. In some cases you may want to create channel-specific content.

  • Addressing different learning/consuming styles - Some people want just short, brief summaries. Some people want detailed technical info. Some people will prefer to watch a video or a screencast rather than read an article. You can address these audiences through different pieces. Have the formal news release... then put the concise summary on your corporate blog, or perhaps a "news summary" page. Post a technical deep dive on a developer blog. Put a video up on YouTube. Create a summary post somewhere linking all of this together.

  • Enabling others to tell your story - You want to make it easy for other people to tell your story to their audiences. If it's a compelling story that people will want to share, make it easy for them to do so. Provide the pictures, the screenshots... make the video embeddable (and please don't make it "auto-play"!)... make this all easy and "self-service" so that people who want to write about your story can do so.

Creating the "package" of pieces lets you do all of this.

THE MULTIPLE HEADLINE EFFECT

An advantage of building a package like this, too, is that you can also try out different headlines in the different components of the package. The main news release can have the more formal headline:

XXXXX ANNOUNCES REVOLUTIONARY PRODUCT YYYYY
The main corporate blog post can say:
Our Product YYYYY cures cancer, solves world hunger and more

while another post on a targeted blog can say:

How Product YYYYY Delivers 6-Month ROI to the Financial Industry

or:

Man, check out how Product YYYYY smokes the competition

You get the idea... multiple headlines, each of which appears then in those various tools and searches monitored by media/bloggers/others. You have a chance to see what will work.

ASSEMBLING THE PACKAGE

Obviously, putting together all the pieces like this can take a good deal of effort... and time. Generally the process will be something like this:

  1. Finalize the news release in advance of the launch date. Depending upon your capacity to produce online content (i.e. how quickly you can do so), you'll need that news release some amount of time in advance... 24 hours? 48 hours? 72 hours? More? You need the news release signed off on for your final messaging - and also to get to those who will prepare companion pieces.

  2. Determine the URL of the news release. If you can know the URL where your news release will be when it goes live, you can pass this along to those writing companion pieces so that they will link back to the release on your site.

  3. Determine the launch time and date. (And remember timezones when relaying the info) This is important for communicating to those who will write supporting pieces. Ideally you would like the various pieces to hit in the same general timeframe. This is also incredibly important with regard to who will see your stories. If you are in the US, do you want to go live in the early morning US Eastern time? (probably) Or for a European audience?

  4. Develop your companion pieces. Some of the companion pieces can be developed in advance and tweaked with final messaging - others may need final messaging before you start them. (For instance, video may involve too much post-production to re-do, and so you may want to wait for final messaging.)

  5. Deliver pre-announcement briefings. To anyone writing companion pieces, internally or externally, as well as to media sites interested in writing about your news.

And so on... most of this at this point is "PR 101" in how you gear up for an announcement.

UNLEASHING THE WAVE

At the designated time and date, ideally your news release goes out over the wire... your own blog posts appear... your video is live on YouTube... and the stories start appearing.

Some of this you can prepare in advance. Most blogging platforms let you schedule posts. Videos can be uploaded to YouTube and set to be private (which then also gives you the URL you can add into the wire service when setting your news release to go). Other content can be ready in offline editors for posting. Regardless, there will be work to do to make it all start flowing.

Once it starts, you need to make sure you have a tweet (or several) going out in Twitter, a message going out on your Facebook fan page, in Friendfeed and any other services you use.

After that, it's engaging in the conversation in the real-time media, responding to comments, retweeting other stories you see appearing, and all the other things we do these days.

MEASURING THE WAVE

It should go without saying that if you are going to put this much work into preparing for a release, you need to understand in advance how you are going to measure the results. What kind of web analytics do you have available to you? Can you include custom (and therefore trackable) URLs in your pieces? Can you use URL shorteners like bit.ly that can track usage?

At a higher level... do you have an idea of what constitutes success?

Entire blogs and blog posts are written on the subject of measurement - be sure you have a plan.

PREPARING FOR PROBLEMS

What happens if someone runs with the story before you are ready? What happens if your video doesn't work? Or your web site goes down? Or one of the companion web sites? All the usual concerns you need to think about...

IN THE END

If you do this right... with a compelling story... an solid "package" of complementary materials... good headlines, etc., the opportunity is there to see this "attention wave" pass through the real-time aspects of the web today and generate some coverage. If it works well, you may indeed see the wave grow for a while.

There are no guarantees, of course. You may do all of this and at the time you go live there is some major disaster... or some celebrity action... (or Apple product release)... or something to divert attention away from you. But your odds of getting attention are way better than when you were thinking of just issuing that one news release.

THOUGHTS?

This way of thinking about what we are aiming to do as an "attention wave" works for me... but I am curious to hear your thoughts, feedback, criticism and opinions.

What do you think of all this? Do you think this is realistic? Unrealistic? A good way to think about the process? Or just the same basic stuff PR has been aiming for but given a slightly different spin? Any pieces I'm missing above?

Have you used a process similar to this in the past? How did it work for you? What problems did you run into?

Have you seen particular companies, organizations or brands that have stood out in your mind for using a process like this? Anyone specific - or any specific announcement - stand out in your mind? Pointers to examples left in the comments would be greatly appreciated.

Any other comments or feedback?


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Re-examining how I use Facebook - and again the blurring of our lives

facebook.jpgWho do you "friend" on Facebook? And how do you resolve the tension between private and public interaction?

It's funny how synchronicity works some times. Last week I was thinking about writing a post about how my use of Facebook has changed - or perhaps will change... when a note in my Twitter feed pointed me to a post from Michael Hyatt called "Re-Thinking My Facebook Strategy" which hit many of the points I was thinking about writing.

MICHAEL HYATT'S DILEMMA

Hyatt, who is CEO of Thomas Nelson, Inc, hits one of the central dilemmas relating to our online networking - the incredibly loose way in which we use the word "friend". Leaving aside all the English teachers rolling over in their graves at the way we are now using "friend" as a verb (ex. "I wasn't sure if I should friend him."), Hyatt provides a useful taxonomy of the types of people we interact with online:

  • Family: These are the people who are related by blood or by marriage. I have occasionally been too loose with term, too. I have used it to refer to close personal friends or even the “Thomas Nelson family.” But I don’t think this is accurate or helpful. It creates the illusion of something that is not true. From now on, I am going to use this word as it was intended.

  • Friends: These are the people I know in real life. They are people I have met face-to-face, enjoy being around, and interact with in real life. (These three elements are key.) Frankly, a few of these relationships started off online through Twitter. Over time, they grew and developed. Regardless, I have a few deep and significant friendships. But if I am honest, I don’t have many. I only have so much time available.

  • Acquaintances: These are people I have met online or off. I may know their name or even their face. We may even have been friends at some point in the past, but we don’t have an ongoing relationship. We only know one another at a superficial level, and that’s just fine. We just have to be clear that these are not are “friends.”

  • Fans: These are the people who know my public persona or my work. This is also where people get confused because the relationship is not mutual. For example, I am a fan of Chris Brogan. We have even met once. I know lots of stuff about him, because of his blog and Twitter posts. This creates the illusion of intimacy. If I am not careful, however, I could fool myself into thinking I have a relationship with Chris. I don’t. I’m just one of his many fans.

Hyatt goes on to discuss his decision to only keep as "friends" on Facebook his family and actual "friends". His acquaintances and friends he has moved over to a newly-created Fan Page within Facebook. Through this exercise, he has gone from having 2,200 "friends" on Facebook to down to 100. He notes these lessons:

    You have to understand the difference between friends, acquaintances, and fans.

  • If I try to be everyone’s friend, I will be no one’s friend. I must be deliberate and selective.

  • I will probably offend some of the people I unfriended. That’s okay. My sanity and real friends are more important than meeting the expectations of fans and acquaintances.

  • I need to be very careful who I accept as a friend on my profile going forward. Just based on mouse clicks, it’s three times as much work to unfriend someone as friend them.

The comments to both this post and Hyatt's earlier post about his dilemma make for interesting reading. How we relate to each other in online sites like Facebook is in my mind a key part of how we build our online identities as we all live in this increasingly interconnected space. As I wrote about back in January 2009 in a post "The blurring of our lives: Does learning info about co-workers via Facebook improve connections? Or feel creepy?", the different contexts in which we have traditionally interacted with people are all crashing together. The larger ramifications of this on a cultural level are still to be determined.

blurringofourlives.jpg

MY OWN CASE

Now I'm obviously not the CEO of a publishing company and don't have quite the high public profile that Michael Hyatt has. But I do have a public profile... through my various online sites and blogs, my weekly reports into the FIR podcast, my fairly heavy use of Twitter, my very public persona for Voxeo in blogs and Twitter and various other ways that I generate content online. Will all of that online extroversion do come the many Facebook connections (and connection requests) from so many people. Through all of that, I've made some wonderful connections - many of which started online and grew to include face-to-face meetings at various conferences or events. Some of those relationships have remained entirely online but have grown to become what I would consider true friendships.

And yet in other cases I've received connection requests from people who "follow" me in some context... perhaps Twitter... perhaps FIR... perhaps my various blogs... and I haven't really known how to handle them.

Now I've always applied fairly stringent criteria to whom I accept connection/friend requests from on both Facebook and LinkedIn. A number of years ago, I wrote about how "promiscuous linking" weakened the "web of trust" within services like LinkedIn. And I've applied that in LinkedIn very strongly... with perhaps only 1 or 2 exceptions that were accepted in moments of weakness, I know personally and have interacted in some capacity with the 500+ contacts I have in LinkedIn. I don't accept someone's connection request unless I do know them.

On Facebook, it's been similar: I've been fairly stringent about who I accept as a "friend" - although I admit that in the early days I was a bit more open. I joined Facebook several years back shortly after it had been opened up beyond the college/university crowd and there was a good-sized group of us trying to figure out what this Facebook thing was all about - and also how it could or could not be used for business communication. So for a while, I was accepting many friend requests from people I knew only peripherally, many of whom Hyatt would have termed acquaintances at best and perhaps really more "fans". Add to that... all the people I know who are friends, but are friends from different contexts... and it gets interesting.

In the words of Facebook... "It's complicated."

MY CHANGING USAGE OF FACEBOOK

Along the way, I've found that the way I use Facebook has changed somewhat dramatically. In the earlier days, I was exploring it mostly as a business communication tool. My updates... my applications... my notes... all of them were much more business-focused. (And many of my friends probably view my newsfeed today as mainly that... although I can assure them it was more so in the past.)

But somewhere along the way... perhaps sometime after I made my abortive attempt to connect my Twitter firehose directly into my Facebook status updates for a few weeks (resulting example (one of many): "Dan, we are friends, but man, your updates are killing me - you're making up over 90% of my news feed!"), I found that I wanted to use Facebook differently.

I have found that I want to retreat inside the walled garden of Facebook (even while despising walled gardens and fearing for the future of the open Internet)... that I want to share more private information with a smaller group... that I want to share photos, perhaps even of family... that I want to engage in deeper conversations with people I know well - and through that come to know them better.

In part, I'll credit my wife for some of this change. An artist whose eyes routinely glaze over when discussion turns to the online world I live in, she resisted joining Facebook for ages. When she finally did recently, though, she became a very active user... and in watching her interactions I saw more of the possibility for deeper interaction. It's been fascinating, really, to see how she uses it.

THE PUBLIC/PRIVATE DILEMMA

My challenge, of course, is similar to Michael Hyatt's: How do you create a private space in which to have deeper interaction while also simultaneously nourishing and expanding/growing your public persona and public interactions?

Like Hyatt and many of those commenting to his posts, I have a VERY deep and strong aversion to Facebook's terminology of a "Fan Page". I'm NOT a celebrity. I want people to be able to interact with me publicly... yet I don't want them to have to use the bizarre terminology of calling themselves a "fan" of me.

It's the word "fan" that gives me the most trouble.

Being a "fan" has an implied endorsement... a positive feeling. You are a fan of someone or something... you like it... you support it... you endorse it. It makes me uncomfortable.

The "follower" term of Twitter or "subscriber" term of Friendfeed are far less emotionally loaded.

Perhaps if Facebook, in their current lust to become Twitter, could move to talking about "Public Pages" and letting people "subscribe" instead of become a "fan", those of us uncomfortable with the current terms might more readily make use of the function within Facebook.

SO... WHAT TO DO?

I don't know.

I do know that probably in the last year or so, I've become even more stringent in who I accept as a Facebook "friend". My criteria has become:

  • Do I know this person well?
  • Do I know them well enough that I am comfortable sharing with them personal information about myself?

If the answer to either is "no", then I either "ignore" the request or, in some cases, just park the request in my "Requests" area of Facebook waiting to make a decision.

This has from time to time put me in the uncomfortable situation where there have been people with whom I have peripherally interacted - and with whom I would perhaps like to interact more with - but with whom I don't yet have that comfort level. For those folks, I've perhaps tried to interact with them more on Twitter, where through @replies you can interact with people very easily without needing an established relationship.

As noted above, I don't like the "Fan Page" idea... and so I still don't know how to interact with those who want to engage with my public persona - and with whom I would definitely like to interact in that persona.

Or is perhaps the whole idea of private versus public interaction one I need to simply discard when it comes to Facebook?

We do, indeed, live in interesting times... and sorting out all these different ways of how we interact with each other in this blurred world will definitely take some time.

What do you do? If you have a public face, how have you separated your private versus public interaction in Facebook? Or have you not?


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Social media, attention, distraction and overload...

One of the themes of my writing here and in my thinking in general is that we still don't understand the changes that are happening to our society with all the new media and communication methods all around us. For instance, I wonder a great deal about whether our "multi-tasking" is truly a good thing for us in the long run. Even as the latest "Millenial" generation emerges that is used to living in a "perpetual state of partial attention"... is that a good thing? As we increasingly divide our attention and our focus among many different tasks, will that help us get more things done? Or fewer? (Because, in fact, we are losing focus?)

I have my views... but I don't know... and I don't know that we will know for quite some time.

On that subject, though, Wired came out recently with an article "Digital Overload Is Frying Our Brains" that is really an interview with author Maggie Jackson who is writing a book "Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age". I know very little about Jackson, although her blog does have some interesting posts (albeit very infrequently posted) but the topic is obviously one of interest to me. The title, in particular "the Coming Dark Age" part, seems a bit over the top... but I also realize that there is a marketing exercise involved with titling books - and this one certainly does draw attention.

The book isn't due out until September 2009, apparently, but it will be interesting to learn more about it as that date draws closer.

In the meantime, I have 37 other books to read, a bunch of blog posts to write, some podcasts to listen to... some updates to tweet... and I should put out some status reports in here somewhere... oh, yes, and the email and IM conversations to attend to...


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Twitter and Follower Reciprocity (a.k.a. To follow (in return) or not to follow)

twitter-danyork-20080908-1.jpgWith Twitter, or for that matter any other microblogging platform, do you follow everyone who follows you?

I tried. Back in the early days of Twitter... a year-and-a-half ago or so... whenever someone followed me I almost inevitably followed the person back. We were all trying to figure out what this new medium of "microblogging" was all about, so I followed most of the very early adopters as we all joined into this grand experiment.

But somewhere along the way I had to stop the immediate reciprocity. As Twitter has grown and more and more people have joined the service, I found there was no way that I could really follow all those who started following me. I simply didn't have enough attention to share. I watched (and marveled) as folks like Robert Scoble, Jeremiah Owyang and Chris Brogan all started following thousands of people. (They still do: Scoble follows 21,000+, Jeremiah almost 6,000 and Chris over 12,000.)

I realized over time that my usage of Twitter was a bit different from that of Scoble and others. I outlined the 10 ways I learned to use Twitter first in December and then again a bit more back in April. For me to use Twitter in the way I do, I like to focus a bit more on the people and services I follow. I do like to scan down through them... and for me that meant following fewer people.

The "Replies" tab in Twitter also helped. I could use that to see who had replied to me publicly with "@danyork" and from there I could learn about people that I might want to follow. (Now I have the same functionality in Twhirl and pretty much never go to the actual Twitter web site... but the purpose is the same.)

The increasing amount of "spam" Twitter accounts has also killed any kind of immediate reciprocity, at least for me. When you can tell just by the name that the account is there purely to sell you something, it's a very easy decision to NOT follow that account. I've found that the spammers are getting a bit less brazen and sometimes when I do look at someone who is now following I find that even with a "normal" name... they are still a spammer.

So what do I do these days when I get a follower notification in email? Or if I see someone publicly replying to me on the Replies tab?

IF I have time (and that's a big "if"), I will go take a look at the person's Twitter page. (And if I don't have time, I sometimes let the notices accumulate and then look through a batch at once... or sometimes admittedly I just don't have the time to look at them.) What am I looking for?

  • What are they tweeting about? - If the person is tweeting about things that are of interest to me - and especially if they provide links to interesting articles I haven't seen before - I may follow them then. If all they tweet about is their lunch or what TV show they are watching, I'll usually pass.
  • Do they have a website URL in their profile? - What is the site they link to? Do they blog? Are they doing something interesting or with an interesting company or organization?
  • Who are they? - If they are a friend or someone I know in some context, I'll often add them.
  • Miscellaneous - Sometimes I may add someone purely because I'm not following anyone doing the kinds of things they do... or I think their posts are funny or interesting... I don't always have a solid reason.

Basically I'm trying to figure out... why should I let this person have some of my attention?

It sounds harsh... but to me the reality is that we all have only so many minutes in the day and we all have a zillion other things we are trying to do. If I am going to start following someone... why?

I try to look at folks who follow me... but I often can't... and so over time the ratio of people following me to people I follow has continually grown and grown. I feel bad, sometimes, too, when I wind up talking to someone and they say "I follow you on Twitter but you don't follow me."

What do you all do? What criteria do you place on people you follow on Twitter? How do you respond to follower notifications?

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Today's Squawk Box will discuss "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

squawkbox.jpgOn today's Squawk Box conference call/podcast at 11am US Eastern, we'll talk about Nick Carr's essay in the Atlantic Monthly called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Are his concerns valid? Or overblown?

Some of the other links I provided for background:

Knowing the Squawk Box "regulars", it should be a fun discussion.

If we have time, we might talk about continued information coming out of Apple's WWDC event and/or the Microsoft TechEd event happening this week. For instance, what do people think about the MobileMe service that I discussed in my blog post.

You are welcome to join us at 11am US Eastern via the Free Conference Calls application for Facebook. The show will also be available for download later in the day on Alec Saunder's weblog.

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Don't Make Me Go To Your Website! - The 5 Ways I Consume Information In The Web 2.0 World

Do you ever go to a website on a frequent basis to see if it has been updated? Do you go to a bookmark you have or click on a toolbar icon or even just type in the URL into your browser address bar?

Do you do that for this website? Do you NOT subscribe to the feed but rather just come here from time to time to see if anything new is here?

If not this site, do you do this for another site? How often do you go and visit the site? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Randomly?

I had an exchange today with someone I greatly respect and in the course of the conversation I realized that the reality is:

I don't really go to any websites these days on a regular basis.
I don't go to friends' websites. (Sorry!) I don't go to my employer's website. I don't go to any organization's websites. I don't go to my city's website. Every once in a while I might hit CNN's web page or a weather site, but that's about it. I do go to Facebook's page and Google Apps pages, but I think of those more as applications and communications services.

I don't have time in my daily work or home schedule... even though going up to my Bookmarks menu, choosing a link and then waiting for the page to load isn't a whole lot of time, it is some time... and if I get there and nothing has changed, it is wasted time. So I don't do it.

The only reason I visit a web site these days is generally if either:
1. The website turns up in a search result.
2. I get notified that there's something interesting there that I should look at.
3. Random times when for some reason I decide to go there, perhaps remembering a URL for a site I wanted to check out.

That's it. (Note that I do get the content of many websites through the ways I mention below, but I don't actually go to those websites and see their page.)

As I think about it, my consumption of information online really comes down to five ways:

  1. E-mail, although I get too much of it read it all.
  2. Twitter, where I see links from people or services that I follow.
  3. RSS feeds where my reader pulls it in and I quickly scan through the posts.
  4. Skype persistent group chats where I'm connected to several different groups of people on various topics.
  5. Searching for data, typically using Google.

The key thing is that, with the exception of search:

All the data comes to me!
Email is in my inbox, either on my laptop or my Blackberry. Feeds end up in my newsreader. Twitter I usually read in an IM chat window where I can scan it and search it. Skype groupchats I obviously read in Skype. I whip through and scan the info fast, clicking links if I want to see them and potentially firing off replies. I visit web pages only because I've seen an email with info and a link, or someone's twittered the link or posted it in a Skype groupchat... or because of a link in some item in my RSS feeds.

For better or worse (and I can argue philosophically that it might be worse), that's how I consume data. Funny thing is, I know I'm not alone. This is the "Web 2.0" way. Let me pull your data in some way and I'll consume it.

Don't make me go to your website to get updates. I won't.

So if a website has an RSS feed (or a Twitter feed), I'll subscribe and see when there are updates. Otherwise, I'll probably just only go there on random times when I think of it. Which, unfortunately, won't be often. I'm living in the blur.

Are you?

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Ken Camp starts a new series of posts on Jaiku and the new client for Nokia S60 phones

(Originally posted over on my Disruptive Telephony blog... but I thought it made sense here as well.)

imageI have not really written about Jaiku here at all... I have been meaning to explore it a bit more, but just haven't had the time.  What limited time I have had lately has been more focused on Twitter, Facebook, Skype and the evolving mashups of all of those.

But Ken Camp has been writing and advocating Jaiku, and is starting a series of posts with his one today: "Unveiling the new Jaiku Client for Nokia - Part 1"  Ken is going to talk more about the new client for Nokia S60 phones.  But this part of his first post is perhaps more revealing:

First, if you aren’t a Jaiku user today, you need to understand that Jaiku is what I call a lifestream aggregator. When you build your profile, you have complete control over what you wish to share of your lifestream of information. For many, that’s simply their Jaikus. Using this approach, a used can share brief snippets of information - current status, pose a question, leave a thought - for others to see.

Digging more deeply into Jaiku, we find you can also import RSS feeds of all flavors into your lifestream. For me, this means if you read my lifestream, you see blog posts from three different blogs, Flickr photos, blip.tv video posts, even Twitter posts. I’ll explain more about why I think this approach is revolutionary and exciting in a post tomorrow or Friday. It’s taken me a while as a Jaiku user to develop an appreciation for just why this is apprach to aggregation is really important. I think it’s positively revolutionary from a social networking perspective.

I agree with Ken that this type of "lifestream aggregation" represents a direction in which social networking is evolving.  The challenge, I think, really comes back to where you do that aggregation.  Jaiku would like to be your aggregator.  So would Twitter (which can bring in RSS feeds through sites like Twitterfeed.com).  And so indeed would Facebook which now includes an RSS application as part of its platform.

So which do you choose?

All are, to varying degrees, walled gardens of some sort.  Ken can't follow my status updates because I primarily use Twitter.  Alec Saunders does most all his updates within Facebook.   We do need to have some kind of common aggregator.   We need to tear down the walls so that we don't wind up in isolated islands of communication.

But in the meantime, if you want to read about how pretty and nice it is inside of the walled garden of Jaiku, head on over to Ken's post to read more.  This is Part 1, with the others to follow soon thereafter, I would expect.


On the need to aggregate status updates, a.k.a. why do I have to update my status and check friends' status in so many #[email protected]%@# places?

Over the weekend, Ross Mayfield posted "Status Contests and Attention Aggregators" which speaks to an issue I myself faced this morning.  As I have been talking about my impending trip to Stockholm for VON Europe/Podcamp Europe for the past while, I felt an obligation to tell folks that I was not going to be there.  So what did I feel I needed to do:

  • post a note at my blog Disruptive Telephony
  • post a note on my blog Blue Box: The VoIP Security Podcast (assuring people that tonight's dinner was still on)
  • post a note on my blog Disruptive Conversations
  • post a Twitter update
  • update my Facebook status
  • change my Skype IM mood message (for a little while, anyway)
  • send out email to various folks with whom I had discussed meeting while there

This actually was a good bit of work.  Now, granted, part of it was self-imposed by virtue of my splitting my blogging out from my single blog (curiously, the only one of my major blogs that I did not feel compelled to update).  I also did not update my other IM services because for most of the people with whom I was corresponding, Skype seems to be their IM client these days.  But let's just collapse this list and also drop out the direct email which is just kind of an obvious item - so here were my updates:

  • blogs
  • Twitter
  • Facebook status
  • IM mood/advisory messages

Still a good number of places to update[1].  And still a pain in the neck that takes a bit of time... perhaps not a lot, but still, a bit of time.  What I really want is a tool that lets me update my status once and then have it automagically posted across all my various "status services" and blogs.  As Ross posts:

Maybe they can work out a way to let you write your status once, publish everywhere, and remove dupes when aggregating.

Or to invert it, I need some way for all of those sites to pull my status from a central location.  Perhaps it's like the widget displayed on this page that pulls my info from my Facebook status... but, of course, that widget isn't integrated into my RSS feed for this blog so those who read by RSS will have no view of that widget and my current status in Facebook.

The challenge goes back in part to my previous discussion of the "walled gardens" of social networking.  Part of why I feel compelled to update my status in different places is because there are different "communities of interest" with whom I communicate in those different areas.  There are some who only read one of my blogs.  There are some who only read my Twitter stream.  There are some who live online inside of Facebook... while others really only pay attention to IM.

There are different audiences within different walled gardens.

I am the same way.  There are some people I only follow in Twitter.  Others only in Facebook.  For a good number, I see their Facebook updates, Twitter updates and their blog updates.  But they don't know that.  If they want to post a message that they want all of their various friends and followers to see, what do they have to do?

Post everywhere, naturally.

Breaching those walls - or at least running communication conduits through the walls - will become increasingly important as people continue to understand the utility of these various different "status services".  I agree with Ross Mayfield that new forms of status aggregators will need to evolved.  The walls must be torn down - or at least eased a bit - because the current situation can't really last long, especially if these services are to move up the curve into mass adoption.  (Either that, or one or two of the biggest sites will win out as the place that people use for status updates.)

[1] And yes, I could throw my MySpace page in there, too, but I don't really use it all that much and so have not attracted people who follow my updates there.


Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the Return of the Walled Gardens of E-Mail

"Email? I only use that when I have to contact old people!"
      - frequent quote these days from teenagers

When I started using "the Net" back in mid-1980s, the world of "e-mail" was an incredibly fractured place.  There were the big services of CompuServe, GEnie, The Source, The Well... there were the thousands of small BBS's... there were "corporate services" like MCI Mail and IBM PROFS... and there were all sorts of others services in the middle (my particular focus in those days was EcoNet, given my involvement then in environmental activism).  They all shared one thing in common:

They were all walled gardens.

Users on the system could only e-mail other users on the same system.  CompuServe users with their (then) numeric accounts could only talk to other CS users.  GEnie users to GEnie users, MCI Mail to MCI Mail... and so on.

But a funny thing happened along the garden path... the walls started to slowly break down.  UUCP started interconnecting UNIX systems.  FidoNet started linking together BBS systems.  X.400 came out and had corporate interest.  And then along came SMTP, which ultimately became the "one email protocol to rule them all" (paralleling the emergence of TCP/IP and the "Internet" as the dominant network in the midst of all the network walled gardens). 

While the fight against the interconnection continued for quite a long time, especially with some of the largest services continuing to try to go it alone, eventually all the services succumbed to the inevitable and provided SMTP gateways that allowed their members to send messages to everyone else. 

All was good - and everyone could send messages to everyone else.

However... a curious thing seems to be happening more and more on this thing we call the Internet.  Increasingly, our messages are NOT moving over what is traditionally known as "email" but instead are migrating to other services.

You could argue that this started some time ago with the walled gardens of instant messaging.  Users of AIM, Yahoo!Messenger, MSN/WLM, Jabber, Skype, IRC, etc. all can have really nice conversations with each other... but no one else.   As IM has continued to grow in usage and replace "traditional" email (which we could argue about why but I personally think it has a lot to do with "presence", but let's save that for another post another day), we've moved to a different messaging paradigm where we write shorter, quicker messages.  And we've also become quite comfortable with our IM walled gardens.  It's routine for people to run several different IM clients (or use something like GAIM that works with multiple services).  Looking down at my task bar, I count 4 IM clients, and I know there are 3 more on my laptop that I could be running.  Now, the walls of IM are slowly breaking down... there's "federation" now between MSN/WLM and Yahoo.  GoogleTalk can work with Jabber.  Other interconnection services are appearing.

But looking beyond IM, so many conversations now are moving to "social networking services".  The quote I started this article with did not come from any particular place, but it's the kind of thing that I've seen repeated again and again in any interview with teenagers (or even those in their 20s).  The service we know as "email" is today just a "communication mode of last resort" or "least common denominator" to communicate with those too old or clueless. All meaningful communication occurs within the worlds of MySpace, Facebook or any one of a zillion other websites that seem to be popping up on a daily basis. 

And all those sites are chasing each other.  Facebook started out as something of a "college/university version of MySpace"... now it's added "professional" settings like LinkedIn.  LinkedIn has gone the other way in adding "college" features to attract the college/university crowd.   Orkut started out as more of a dating site and then added other fields and settings. MySpace continues adding new features.  Not a day goes by when there isn't some notice about a new service that has been launched.

Even Twitter, which I personally use more as a micro-blogging platform, is used as a messaging platform by many.  And the "status" format of Twitter can be found in Facebook as well as newer services like Jaiku.

What do they all have in common?  Simple:

They are all walled gardens.

Each one is a messaging world unto itself.  Facebook users can only see messages from other Facebook users - and only generally when logged into the site.  Ditto LinkedIn.... Xing... MySpace... and others.  Twitter allows the public viewing of messages, but you can also change it to give only updates to friends.  (To "reply" in Twitter, of course, one would need to be a member... and also be "followed" by the person you are replying to.)  Sites like YouTube and Frappr blur the lines by providing messaging as well.

The result, of course, is that like running multiple IM clients, we all have multiple social networking accounts.

How many do you have?

For me, I can remember at least:  LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Twitter, ecademy...  There's probably a dozen others where I signed up to try it out and then forgot about it.  In each one, I can send and receive messages to and from the other members.  I can post updates and see messages from my "friends".

Interestingly, most all of these sites fall back on that "least common denominator" of good old e-mail to let me know that I have messages waiting for me.  I have to go back to those sites, of course, to read the messages.  Yes, some sites do updates via SMS and some let you subscribe via RSS, but generally you have to go back into the site.

The other intriguing difference is that within those sites, you can generally only see messages from the people you choose to see.  Within Facebook or Twitter, you only see updates from people who you have added as a friend.  Your friends or contacts can send you messages in many services, but others can't until they are your friend.

We've gone from the closed communities of email services to the complete openness of Internet e-mail and now seem to be returning back to those gated communities, with email/SMS helping keep us aware of updates.  Given the amount of spam plaguing email, this may in part a reaction and a desire for purer message flow.

So how do you communicate with others within this space?   Or stay up on what someone is doing?

It's not enough even to follow someone's blog anymore, because they may be posting more updates to their Twitter, Facebook or other account.

Given that email may not be the best way, how do you best reach someone?  Which IM service?  Which social networking site?  Which ones do they use?  Which ones do they monitor the most?

In which walled garden do they spend most of their time?