July 2011 – Stay N Alive

Better Noise Control on Google+ is Coming, but its More Beautiful Than You Think

Over the last 2 or 3 years Facebook, Google, Plaxo, Myspace, and others have all been working on a standard to make fixing the noise problem easier. It’s called ActivityStrea.ms (pronouced “Activity Streams”), and its intention was to make it so companies don’t have to duplicate the efforts of re-creating stream formats in their news feed or “activity stream”, providing an open format to make implementation of this simple for both companies and developers. The standard encompasses multiple types of formats for presenting data, some even mimicking Facebook’s combined story syntax (“collections”) where you’ll see multiple shares in a single post, or collapsed commenting. In addition, it provides a simple API for accessing this data in Atom and MediaRSS format.

The key players?

There were others, but at the forefront were Chris Messina and Joseph Smarr, currently both major players on the Google+ team in directing its design. See this video from 2009, when both were not working for Google:

Here’s the deal though. ActivityStrea.ms isn’t just about a common API or noise control. See this presentation by Chris Messina about a year ago:

Activity Streams, Socialism, & the Future of Open Source [slideshare id=4382152&w=425&h=355&sc=no]

In it he talks about the vision of using ActivityStrea.ms for distributed social networks. So, not only would you have a beautiful, noise-controlled format on sites like Facebook and Google+, but you also get to bring your content to other networks. Through this format, developers can bring content from Google+ over to Facebook, or from Facebook over to Status.net, and for any site that supports this standard, the users get to choose what content they want to share, and where they want to share it to. It’s federation at its finest.

So as we’re talking about any noise problems on Google+ (I think the choice to launch with a noisy stream was smart because it means users are always seeing a constant flow of information and followers, and that makes people feel good), keep in mind that the people behind fixing the noise problem in the open standards world are also in charge of the design for Google+. I have no doubt that noise control, but much more than that, distributed social networks, are on their way to Google+, and the solution is going to be beautiful.

Oh, and Google Buzz already supports ActivityStrea.ms in case you were wondering (as does MySpace, and Facebook used to).

You can follow me on Google+ at http://profiles.google.com/jessestay.

"Follow" Networks and The Creep Factor – Why It Isn’t a Facebook Play

As I was setting up an account for my wife to be able to post to this blog today, I created a Google+ profile for her. She knew, and will probably even use it – some day. However, there’s something I just can’t get passed, and that’s that I’m a little creeped out by the fact that just about anyone can follow her on Google+. The stalker factor is a real risk with systems that allow follow-type relationships. It’s going to be a really tough battle for Google to get passed this without any sort of 2-way friend relationship like Facebook if they want a mass audience. I’m starting to think that’s not what they’re going for.

Marshall Kirkpatrick had a great post where he mentioned that Google+ could be Google’s move to try and make Facebook a more open environment. I suggested it made some sense – a closed environment is a good way to compete with an open one (and vice-versa), however there’s one flaw to some of this – Facebook actually isn’t that closed. I can make my posts public there, just like Google+. Facebook’s API is one of the most accessible APIs I’ve come across. Facebook has given users almost 100% control of what apps have access to about them. Facebook even preempted Google by almost a year in having a way to backup your data to your own machine if you like. (See Louis Gray’s backup of his Facebook data here) David Recordon, Senior Open Programs Manager at Facebook, confirmed that point, pointing out that Google+ actually validates Google’s own open strategy, not just Facebook’s:

“One thing I appreciate is how Google is now developing skin in the game for when they try to design these decentralized protocols. These sorts of standards are honestly hard to get right and only come out successful when they follow real products. It’s been frustrating to see “Google invents open standard ” for the past two years without an appreciation for what it takes to make work at scale. And by “scale” I don’t mean anything to do with bits on the wire.”

In a sense, I see Google and Facebook working together, on 2 different planes to open up the social landscape. I don’t see them competing necessarily – Google is too open for that to be the case. On Google anyone can follow anyone – the relationships aren’t always 2-way, and this is a very popular feature amongst users of Twitter, which include the early adopter base, the tech blogs, and the media. Google+ has a follow model, similar to Twitter’s – not a friend model like Facebook’s. Again – there’s that stalker factor again. If you’re worried about stalkers, Facebook is just a much more secure and private environment to protect from that. It’s simply a lot harder to have a stalker on Facebook than it is on Google+ or Twitter.

Instead, I see Google competing more with Twitter and other more open follow-centric networks. It’s a different type of social graph than Facebook’s. For that reason I just can’t see my wife, or my daughter, or any of my kids or less tech-savvy friends using Google+ unless they adopt a more private 2-way friending model. It’s simply too risky. As a husband and father, I’m just not sure I can trust suggesting it to my wife and children and not have them expose something they’re not supposed to expose. I’m already seeing the problem of people trying to figure out what Circles do what, and people unknowingly posting things as public when they don’t mean to. On Facebook that all defaults as your friends only. That’s the advantage to Facebook – you can trust, for the most part (key words), that what you post will only be seen by those you specifically have friended. I don’t think Google should be scared of that, either.

The fact is, as it now stands, Google and Facebook just aren’t competitors at the moment, and they shouldn’t see each other as such. I know originally I said “Facebook should be shaking in their boots” (although I still stand by the fact that Google beat Facebook to encompassing the entire web experience – that will change though) – my hope is that at least got Facebook’s attention just in case Google does decide to go for those more intimate types of relationships (which they very well could), but for now, the way it is set up, that just isn’t going to be happen. Instead, I think it is Twitter that should really be paying attention, and let’s hope they do try to compete. The competition is a healthy one. Twitter has quite the competition though!

In the end, yes, this is a battle for your social graph. I do think there are different types of social graphs though, and the battle right now is over the less personalized graph and the more public information. If you do compare it to Facebook, perhaps Facebook Pages and the fan-to-Page relationship is the real social graph you should be looking at as competition. At the same time, will Google ever go after the more intimate relationships that are less educated on privacy? That’s hard to say, but I’m starting to feel Facebook isn’t the comparison right now.

If you’re looking for “one network to rule them all”, at the moment I don’t think there is such a thing. In reality, the “one network to rule them all” of the future probably won’t even be Google or Facebook. In the future, you’ll pull your social graphs from both services, and put them into your own more personalized network on the various sites you visit on the web (like Facebook Connect). In the end, in ad-focused networks like Google and Facebook, that is what they would prefer to see anyway – your social graph, from their networks, across all the websites on the internet. Each product experience will have its own reasons to choose which networks those connections come from.

Selling is Dead – Free is the Newest Trend

Note from Jesse: I’ve always been impressed by the work of Mike Stelzner. As organizer of Facebook Success Summit, which I presented last year and will be presenting again this year, and organizer of Social Media Examiner, he has a passionate audience that really produces strong and engaging conversations for everyone that his websites and social media properties touch. That’s why when he sent me a copy of his new book, Launch, I was very excited to feature it on this blog. I thought I’d take it a step further and see what my wife, Rebecca, thought. Here is her review:

Twelve years ago, my husband was installing Linux on our computer. I asked him how this could this possibly be free? He told me that the internet was going to make everything free in the future. He was right.

In a world where anything you want to know is just a Google search away, paying for information is a relic of the past. And with it, paid advertising has become increasingly less effective, even obsolete. Just ask any newspaper company.

Free is more effective than pricey ads

So if paid advertising is ineffective and too costly, how do you market your product? The answer is simple: offer help to as many people as you can for FREE. By sincerely helping as many people as you can and building relationships, you set yourself above the rest of the players. With a website, you will have the ability to reach and help enough people that eventually customers will come.

You Don’t Believe Me

You probably don’t believe me. If you offer them help for free, why would they ever pay for your help? Let me give you an example. You need a plumber. You Google search and post a request on Facebook for recommendations from your friends. You find one that has a great website that a friend recommended. The website had a few articles on how to diagnose and fix the problem yourself. They offered a free plumber to chat with you via instant messaging. You quickly trust this company because they look like experts and they are so helpful. You check the company on Yelp. They have good reviews from their customers. After all the free advice they give you, you decide the problem is bigger than you want to do yourself. Who do you hire? You guessed it. Their own website and their connection to social media websites, not paid advertising, is what made the sale.

Beating the Competition in an Internet Era

If you really want your business to attract customers, you need to create your own website that offers high quality content for free. Content that solves problesm, educates, inspires, and entertains. Michael Stelzner in his new book Launch outlines all the steps necessary.

Step 1: Create a website with great content like how-to articles, expert interviews, book or product reviews, case studies, news stories, and contrarian stories (my personal favorite)

Step 2: After attracting a wide audience through step 1, take your website to the next level by adding reports based on surveys, white papers or long how-to articles, top 10 lists, and micro events like live webinars or live interviews (videos are power)

Step 3: While doing step 1 and 2, collect information from your readers such as email addresses from a free login process, or a Facebook fan page, or Twitter following

Step 4: Make sure that your website is so helpful that your readers will recommend you to their friends and that experts will want to be featured

Step 5: Continue to offer new content so your readers continue to come back and your reader base grows

Step 6: When you have enough readers, then market your product or service but do so as little as possible.

Stelzner calls this the Elevation Principe: Great Content + Other People – Marketing Messages = Growth.

The Cost of Building Your Free Website

Though your website is free to your reader, it costs money to build it yourself, maintain it, and update it. That cost should be less than what you spend on paid advertisements, however. It also takes time to implement this system. Stelzner estimates 4 months based on his own experience. Some businesses may take longer. Some businesses will have a difficult time writing well enough for their own websites and may have to hire a freelance writer. Implementing this idea takes time, money, and patience.

Selling really is Dead

In a world where we are increasingly blocking, skipping, and tuning out ads, traditional marketing no longer works. We are just too savvy. What we like is being helped and then we tell our friends. We freely market for you. So, invest in your own site.

You can buy your own copy of Launch here.

Too Much Noise on Google Plus? Here is How I Deal With It

A lot of people are complaining that power users such as myself and Robert Scoble and others are causing too much noise in their stream. Scoble’s wife even quit the service because of it (and I can’t even convince my wife to use it even though I created an account for her). It’s nothing new, though – this is a problem Friendfeed had when they first released their real-time stream (Just Google “friendfeed noise” to see what I mean). However, there are ways of managing it. I’d like to share some of the ways I deal with the noise.

To start, let’s cover what generally causes the noise:

  1. It’s not necessarily about how many people you follow. Scoble follows thousands. I follow several hundred more personal contacts. However, as long as you don’t use the main stream as much, the number you follow really doesn’t matter. What matters is who you interact with.
  2. It is about how many conversations and what types of conversations you interact with. For instance, if you comment on one of my posts, you’ll get notifications for every comment on that conversation. On my posts, and people like Robert Scoble or Chris Pirillo or others, that will be a lot of notifications!
So, how do you fix this problem? At the moment Google+ doesn’t have a whole lot of noise filtering options for people. In some ways that’s why it’s growing so fast. It’s in your face, and forces you to interact. At the same time that’s pretty overwhelming for many people. Friendfeed overcame much of this by creating a pause button, and causing the stream to pause when you moused over it. They also collapsed many of the longer comment streams (Facebook does this too) so that only the first or last comment appeared. I imagine Google+ will do this in the near future. I don’t doubt they’ll find a solution. However, until that happens here is how I deal with it:
  1. Turn on your email notifications and ignore the big red circle. The first thing I did when I joined Google+ was turn off the email notifications because they were becoming too overwhelming (you can do this with the little gear icon in the upper-right of Google Plus). It turned out I found myself becoming too obsessed with how many things were happening in my stream, and it kept reminding me on every Google product I participated in. So I turned them back on, but with one caveat:
  2. Uncheck “Email” for “Comments on a post after I comment on it”. I leave every other email option checked. If you leave this checked, when you comment on one of my posts or one of Robert Scoble’s posts you’ll very quickly be overwhelmed by email. Not even I can handle that! The other options can be managed though, and won’t be nearly as frequent. If someone in one of those threads wants your attention, they’ll mention you with a “+your name” and you’ll still get an email (this is because “mentions me in a post” is still checked in your settings).
  3. Use Gmail. Gmail provides some great management tools for managing noise. First of all, you have priority inbox which you can train to not mark Google Plus posts as priority. You can create filters to send them to another label and skip the inbox if you like, and you can just skip over your notifications as you have time. And the best part about Gmail? Grouped conversations! Me personally – I like the notifications so I keep them in my inbox. Here’s what I do further though to manage that type of flow:
  4. Mute. Mute. Mute! When you’re in Gmail, just press “m” on your keyboard when you have a Google+ thread open, you’ll never see that thread again appear in your inbox. If you want it to appear again, just search for it and press “m” again and it will turn on the new messages to your inbox again. You don’t lose any messages this way. They just skip your inbox so you don’t have to pay attention to them any more. Also, in your Google Plus stream, if there’s a long stream that’s bugging you, you can just click the small triangle in the upper-right of the thread and select “Mute this post”. The post will no longer appear in your stream – no one ever knows you muted it.
This method has worked really well for me so far. It’s the same method I use on Friendfeed to manage my stream mostly. Please let me know how it works for you, or if you have any better ways of managing the noise in your stream better. You can do so in the comments below:
As always, you can follow me on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/107833107845497630206.

Where is Your Audience?

Google+ is all the rage right now. For those that can get in, it’s all they can talk about on Google+. For those that can’t get in, it’s all they can talk about outside of Google+. Or so it seems – that’s what the people I follow and pay attention are doing. It doesn’t mean that’s what the people in your network are doing, and in fact, there are many people out there that don’t even know what Google+ is at the moment – I would predict that’s the majority right now.

Google+ is all about “Circles”. We all have different types of “Circles” of friends. Each of these “Circles” is a different audience and each of them probably talks about different types of things. I have an entire circle of hundreds of LDS friends (I work for the LDS Church) on Google+, and their conversations are much different than the Circle I have of Tech bloggers and influencers. At the same time I have circles that aren’t even on Google+. My family, for instance, minus one or two, are all over on Facebook – that’s where I go to talk about family related stuff, and you’ll probably find a much more personal “me” over there. In fact, if that’s your audience, come see me over there.

At the same time, I have certain “circles” over on Twitter that don’t exist on Facebook or Google+ – for instance, I’ll hear a lot more about what my Twitter employee friends are up to over there. Or, on LinkedIn, I have “circles” of professional friends – if I ever want to hire, or have a professional-related question, you better bet I’ll go to LinkedIn for such. The way I met people like Robert Scoble and Chris Pirillo was on Friendfeed of all places.

Did you know that Myspace is still one of the most popular networks for kids age 13-18? Now, that’s quickly diminishing as kids move over to Facebook, but as a marketer, I’d consider going to Myspace if my audience is 13-18 year olds. That would be a major part of my business strategy.

The future of “Social Networks” aren’t social networks at all. The fact is, and Charlene Li at Altimeter Group has said this numerous times, social networks will “be like air” in the future. They will be integrated into everyday “circles” that you participate in.

For instance, at work many of use use Yammer to associate with other coworkers. It makes much more sense to participate on Yammer than Google+ if I’m to communicate with coworkers – there are many networks like this. The future will be full of these types of branded “circle” networks.

Imagine branded social networks for your company, or the ability to collaborate in a social way via your High School or College’s website with your classmates. You’ll never have to go to a site like Facebook or Google+ or Twitter to communicate with those closest to you, and they’ll all talk with each other. Or what if a site like FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com enabled families to communicate better with each other in a branded way, just for families? There would be no need to go to Facebook to communicate with family members any more.

As social networks are able to communicate better and better with each other, and more and more standards are built to federate the different circles you participate in, you won’t go to Facebook.com or Google+ or Twitter. You’ll go to the brands and the areas you’re most familiar with and your friends and family will “just be there”. Those are where your real “circles” are.

The fact is no social network is going to be a “Facebook killer” or “Twitter killer” or even “Myspace killer” (remember the stat I shared above?). If anything kills any of these it will be branded experiences that make it easier for you to communicate in the environments you’re most comfortable with. In the end, it’s about where your audience is, who you want to communicate with, and the best places to do that.

This will be different for every person out there – every individual, every professional, every family member, and every marketer. We all have different audiences and it’s up to you to decide which environments are the best places to reach those audiences.

New Images Suggest "Shared Circles" Coming Soon in Google+

Florian Rohrweck has been on a role lately uncovering upcoming features to Google+ (including noticing features in Google’s code hinting at Google+’s launch days before it launched and as other bloggers were under embargo and being demoed top secret versions), and it seems Google isn’t keeping their upcoming features well enough behind a test area somewhere. In a recent blog post (language), Rohrweck uncovered some new images hinting at the possibility of sharable Circles to others you want to share to in Google+. Such functionality would be comparable to Twitter Lists, which anyone can subscribe to.

Looking at the image names, each one starts with “shared_circle”, providing open, closed, and highlighted versions of each, and an icon representing the circles. It would seem that Google+ is readying a way to let you share certain circles of yours that anyone can subscribe to and view. This would completely replace just about every feature Twitter has of benefit (other than perhaps the 140 character limit and SMS interface if you call those benefits) – it will be interesting to see what happens as more and more Twitter users get Google+ accounts.

In addition to Shared Circles, Rohrweck seems to have also uncovered that Google has added some sort of Questions icons to its default set of Sprites for Google+, hinting that they are readying a Questions product for launch soon to compete with the likes of Facebook Questions and Quora. Also among Rohrweck’s finds were a Chess piece icon, which may be one of the games also rumored to come out soon.

If you’re looking for a great blog to get the dirt on what Google is preparing, be sure to check out Rohrweck’s blog here. It will be interesting to see, with more CSS, Javascript, and other source digging, what will be found as we move forward (and if Google finally decides to implement a testing area for these types of releases before the products go live). Great job Florian! You’re always welcome to do a guest post or two (or three) here. (Someone should offer Florian a job at Google, or maybe Facebook?)

As always, you can follow me on Google Plus at https://plus.google.com/107833107845497630206.