Friday, February 17, 2006

Not going to THE party tonight...

Last night I had a great time at Kevin's SuperNova 2006 Pre Party and the Geek Entertainment TV fest. The 2 events could not have been more dissimilar in style and ambience, but each were fun and filled with deep, worthwhile discussions. The GETV party felt like a family and friends get together with most of the Brat Pack in attendance. That is how Mike's first and second TechCrunch parties were - worthwhile, exciting AND intimate.

Tonight's TechCrunch hosted Naked Conversations party promises to be quite a crazy, fun, crowded party. While we would have went if we had gotten our names on the RSVP list in time, we did not. Kristie and I briefly thought of just going anyway since Mike's a friend, but I honestly don't want to deal with the door men like I had to do all the time in South Beach in order to get into the big parties of friends and celebrities. Again, the hard choices comes down to values - while we probably could get away with crashing the party, we weren't invited and did not make the cut - c'est la vie. Maybe we could hold an overflow 'Clothed Conversations' party in SF ;)

It is obviously a very good thing that the energy and attitude in the community has swelled so much and so many people want to be a part of what's happening, but I sure am glad I got to experience it while it was still just Keith Teare slaving over the BBQ, Laguna barking at everyone she met and about 30 people in the living room looking at demos on the TV. It's hard to believe I am saying this, but those were the days...

If you are lucky enough to be going, have fun tonight, remember what it is all really about and party from the heart! This is still just the beginning...

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wrubel Moving PR People to Analytics

Not that I follow his work everyday, but I have no doubt that Steve Wrubel has the pulse of the PR people at the edge. He just wrote about the GeoCoding of Conversations that Topix is doing which is a great and simple tool that should also be available on a broader basis from someone like Technorati. In the post, Steve suggested some of the most basic data points which PR people need, to understand the nature of the conversational network including:
  • language

  • loud(ness)

  • speed (aka velocity)

  • accelerating/decelerating

The odd thing to me is that the other examples are really so very basic in nature - barely the price of admission in my book. If this is where the PR industry is at, they are about to get a drubbing at the hands of interactive agencies who are smart enough to seize the opportunity. The new feature from Topix however, is merely a localization tool akin to what Amazon does with Purchase Circles - a personally relevant set of insights based on local geography. The professional analytic tools that create meaning from the data points have the potential to finally let interested people understand the world beyond their physical and virtual connections - what people are saying, what people are thinking and how people feel about almost anything. The most important elements that need to be understood are:
  • Persona of person communicating (or better still Identity)

  • Tone of the remarks (like or hate)

  • historical perspective (more of a fan or detractor)

  • relative influence (on other influencers, on specific communities, in general)

  • nature of primary information (product suggestion, customer service complaint, recommendation, etc...)

  • depth of company/product knowledge

  • tag based cluster and visual pivot points - i.e. the visual display of information - being able to slice the data according to any point of interest or shared trait

Most importantly, the potential audience goes way beyond the PR and Communications industry. It includes every employee, every investor and even every customer as well as the general public. Access to "near perfect information" as I speak of at the BrainJams events extends to the sphere of conversation as well as up to the minute accurate directory data. This was the core element to the work I have done on "The Communications Strategy". This "Open Source" approach to company/product/organization conversations will enable smart companies to move beyond their traditional brands and into TrustMarks - well on their way to the pinnacle of becoming a Lovemark.

While interactive agencies may be more apt to seize the opportunity due to their hunger and nimbleness, the communications industry is best poised to help all of these stakeholders understand what it all means and leverage the key insights to the fullest. Isn't it true that the best podcasters are those with a professional understanding of how to communicate via the audio medium? The same principle is at work here since communications and public relations people are those with the best skills at communicating ideas and knowledge. The great news from my perspective is that contextualizers like myself who interpret the data to generate creative, insightful, empowering communication pieces for all aspects of the conversation are about to be in very high demand. This principally requires a wider breadth of understanding about the world around us, how things work, how to help people and most importantly, having an authentic desire to help people and the ability to bring your entire self to whatever work you do.

For over 4 years I re-quoted Patricia Seybold's article time and time again - "[Companies need to]...take responsibility for disseminating all of the product-related information the customer needs to buy and enjoy the product". Most companies are still afraid that their customers might say something bad about their product on their sites, or even worse, they still actively censor legitimate criticism that could be helping them improve - but instead all it proves is that the company does not get it and they can not be trusted.

In the Knowledge Economy, the most successful companies will have brands that create trust by empowering their customers and stakeholders with the knowledge and ability to enjoy their lives more by saving them time and furthering their life goals. Now more than ever, it is about the complete relationship between customers and the people within your organization, not between the people and your CRM database.

Conversal was originally founded on these insights - many others are now working towards them with some very interesting improvements beyond even these core elements. One of which, BuzzLogic, I have been advising on an informal basis for several months. I felt it necessary to disclose this publicly as more and more people have been asking me for advice within the industry and I want to avoid any potential conflicts of interest ahead of time if at all possible. They are doing some really incredibly innovative things that I hope to be talking with you about in the future.

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SF PIllowFight Club

It's over 12 hours later and I still have feathers in my hair! The whole scene was pretty surreal, but what a great example of creative expression and explosive love via lashing out (with a soft fluffy pillow). Everyone was so happy that even those who took a real shot left the melee with utter joy on their faces. This is the best flash mob event I have seen yet!

Kristie and I got to step into the fray to shoot some photographs before going to One Market for a Paraduxx Vintners Dinner (the Valentines Day surprise I set up for her but could not keep a secret). We had a blast and ran into Eddie, Alicia and Scott Beale.

Scott has a good post on it and the Chron ran a good story as well...

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It's supposed to be A-Z, not A versus Z

While the original point of Scoble's BlogCode post may be lost by the brrreeeport tagbait project, it is clear that the collective unconscious strikes again - Whether it is the issue of the 'Z-list' or not being allowed to sit at the cool kids table, the question of being found and heard seems to be an emergent issue again. Doc Searls talks about the A-List as gatekeepers and then in a separate post points to numerous bloggers from the long tail who have written on this issue like Mike Warot.

The bottom line is that this is one of the tactical/practical issues behind the Pareto principle and power law distribution - it is why the head of the long tail is so large and powerful, but the tail is so long and thin. The value of the people and idas in the thinner tail is not actually low, it is still just very, very, very difficult to find the gold within the mine using the mining tools that are available... Which does not mean that Doc needs to change his behaviour, but rather that we still need better tools for discovery. I had thought Tailrank was supposed to do this, but instead it seemingly highlights the same A-listers that Memeorandum and Technorati do and puts those in the tail a click behind them - where most mainstream users will never discover them.

Still, we must look to the fact that we are the early adopters relative to the rest of the people, and the everyday people's behaviour will be slightly different than our own in this regards. While many of us early adopters will delve into the long tail looking for subjects and deeper smarts, the majority of the masses will continue to do what they have always done, rely on the implied power and authority that comes with fame and wide distribution/awareness. Even though Doc doesn't want this role, he plays that role within the system - it is one of those universal laws, not something bad he is doing. I don't think there is anything wrong with it really, but as he did with his post linking to numerous other bloggers, he has the power to shift some of fame's bright spotlight on other's via hyperlinks. Scoble just wrote about a similar issue with regards to Guy Kawasaki 'joining the conversation' a short while ago where I posted a relevant comment to this subject.

The trouble is, the power of A-listers is real and very often legitimate in that they have risen to such a level of awareness and impact by being insightful AND understanding how to leverage the system to build an audience. It is not necessarily an evil conspiracy when it comes to the cross-linking between them - it is usually just an issue of people bringing their entire weight to bear within the conversation on particular subject matters, within different conversational spaces. In the global conversation that is the blogosphere, it just happens to be THE most public space for those who really care about what the best thinking is. The difference is the A-listers bring a lot more gravity to their words since they are more widely recognized, with a greater number of 'trust points' in the minds of everyday people. It is also often a necessity for them, from a practical viewpoint, to counter what they perceive as incorrect statements from other people of power - hence, a very necessary public service for them to engage other's of somewhat equal power in debate to ensure the right ideas are being spread and the wrong ideas are being squashed.

From a practical point of view, we still need better editors and filters with high valued 'trust points' in order to find the 'good stuff' (like Memeorandum is today and Cool Site of the Day used to be). The public conversation system itself has its own natural laws in effect that are hard to counter. Perhaps it is time for someone to develop a specific site ( is already taken!) that shines the spotlight on a relatively unknown subject matter expert each day within different fields of expertise - from this site many A-listers could engage them in conversation rising up the Z-lister's good ideas and shooting down their bad ones, ultimately defining and establishing their expertise. By focusing the conversational spotlight in such a way, the ranks of the A-list could swell and the entire knowledge economy would be the better for it.

In a very small way, this is part of the idea of BarCamp and BrainJams - to ensure that everyday people's ideas can be heard as opposed to continuing to support the current slate of talking heads on the podium in front of the public.

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Yahoo! 'gets' Web 2.0 and then some...

In another significant move pointing to the deep smarts resident at Yahoo!, Yahoo! has opened up its Design Patterns and User Interface Libraries. Whenever Nate has his head down for 14 hours each day over several weeks, we know something cool is going to come from it, but this is even bigger than I could have imagined (and I have a pretty big imagination).

So why is this such a big deal? In simple terms, it means you can now officially leverage all the years and millions upon millions of dollars of Yahoo! research that has gone into developing highly usable web sites, using highly interactive design elements - without having to try to hack it or reverse engineer it, without fear of reprisal or that guilty inner conscience. From what I understand in my brief conversation with Nate about this announcement - it makes including rich, Web 2.0 styled AJAX interface elements as easy as dropping in one line of code - the ultimate of ultimate's in open API. Better still, they are also publishing detailed documentation in addition to blogging about some of the reasons they made their design choices and what they are thinking.

Ultimately, this also means that their expertise will grow even deeper as they can now engage in open discussions with the Information Architecture, User Experience and Human Computer Interaction communities about their choices. Of course, it also means that my web sites, and many others out there, will get to test some of their insights in new ways, further enhancing the core of the knowledge that is originally presented.

Kudos to Nate and the rest of the Yahoo! team who worked on this!.

More on this from WebBreakStuff and O'Reilly.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Technorati 'Authority' - the cool kids' table

I just read this post over on Scoble's blog pointing out the new feature on Technorati search. Parts of the below post is cross-posted there as a comment, but since it is such an important piece of news and potentially so much trouble, I felt I needed to post it here for you as well.

I agree with Stephanie (a like minded innovative spirit from Switzerland I just met via the BarCamp channel on IRC this past weekend while we both virtually attended Northern Voice) - like pagerank, popularity is just one approach to determining relevancy - but it too can be gamed and often has nothing to do with 'authority', though Technorati positions it as such incorrectly. As hacking memorandum showed, even the best of algorithms can be gotten the better of. It just feels off I guess, so I investigated further...

As an optional feature it is ok I guess, but just because some people are sitting at the cool kids table does not mean they are the authority. Funny how most of us geeks never sat at the cool kids table growing up and how we detested such egocentric attitudes - but now we are just emulating what we secretly wanted to be a part of before in so many parts of our online and offline lives.

So in trying this feature out, I did my oblilgatory search for 'BrainJams'. When applying the filter for 'a lot of authority', my posts are not even included in the list, though arguably, as one of the founders, one might expect me to have a lot of authority on the subject. To be fair, when I tried 'a little authority' it seemingly removed several blog spam posts - but then again, one search with this level filter returned 178 posts, the next returned 193. This inconsistency of search results (and ongoing unreliability to even return results on occasion) is a continuing problem with Technorati that I expected to be fixed by now.

An interesting thought on this just came to me which hopefully some people here can expand further:

    Popularity = awareness * excitement

    Authority = awareness * (understanding + experience)

The feature on technorati may prove to be useful over time, but I still think it is a combination of human inputs and computer algorithms that are necessary for truly relevant results. When it comes to understanding levels of authority, I believe the same general rules apply. The logic boards are good for linear processing, but the human brain is what will put things in the proper context... I suggested to Kevin Marks via chat during Northern Voice that the real key to improving result relevancy was simply adding a button next to each result that enabled the community to filter out the splogs (spam blogs) much as Craigslist has the miscategorized or inappropriate buttons on each posting there. He said they considered it, but did not elaborate further on why they chose not to implement it.

As it is, this feature seems like a way of filtering out the long tail edge thinking so searchers can focus on the head of the tail - ultimately reducing the variety of inputs and leading to more like minded thinking from those people who want to be sitting at the cool kids table.

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Brave Mohammed Cartoon Counter-Protesters

I am very impressed by the two gentlemen who attended a Mohammed cartoon protest in France who demonstrated extreme bravery in the face of a swelling and very angry crowd. By merely supporting free speech and the country of denmark in silent counter protest, they are called terrible names by the 'spiritual' and 'peaceful' protesters in the crowd who are showing the telltale signs of eminent violence - even chasing after the men while they were whisked away by police for their own protection. These men did not speak against anyone, they only silently stood for free speech and the country of Denmark (though I do see that they also had a severed hand with them, which is one of the things many Imams have called for) - this is enough of a 'provocation' to seemingly warrant their death in the eyes of many in the crowd.

The full story, and a link to the video can be found here.

This is seriously getting out of hand. Unless you can sit down and talk with someone, it is nearly impossible for there to be peace. Perhaps this is why so many of their leaders won't have an open and honest dialogue that addresses the real issues with an eye towards compromise and getting along better - perhaps they simply don't want peace and would prefer all out war, but don't have the chutzpah to actually start one directly. They are certainly preparing their young children for such a world as evidenced by these photographs of a Hamas lead protest involving kindergarten aged children where the children are carrying a coffin draped with the flag of Denmark.

While few, if any, muslims (even fewer of their leaders) speak out and stand up for dialogue, understanding and loving other human beings, our leaders grapple with an untennable problem that seemingly gets worse no matter what their approach. Regardless of which party is in office, I feel the problem would still be very much the same (though perhaps Al Gore might be more in bed with the Saudis than the Bush's are). As I have said before, it is hard to believe that World War III may be started by cartoon... but with the violent, unemployed fringe elements of the Muslim world in the drivers seat and most of the peaceful (and silent) centrist majority scared for their own lives lest they be found out to be in disagreement, I am deeply concerned that this is a genuine possibility.

I found an interesting background piece on the whole story from the Weekly Standard (which contains a reprint of the original Danish publication) courtesy of Michelle Malkin (my first visit to her blog BTW).

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