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Facebook Questions Forces The Question

August 03 2010 // SEO + Social Media // Comment

Facebook Questions

Facebook recently launched their new Q&A product, aptly named Facebook Questions.

The Q&A space is white hot right now, in large part because of the SEO potential of the content. Q&A, if done correctly, creates highly focused long tail content that gets gobbled up by search engines. Look no further than Demand Media's eHow as an example.

But is that what Facebook has in mind for Questions?

Facebook Questions Not Crawlable

Search Engine Land reported that Facebook Questions could not be crawled by search engines, and that Facebook has no plans to change that policy. The news was surprising, resurfacing the notion of the walled garden and sending mixed signals on Facebook's strategy.

Facebook Search Powers Questions

In the first few days after launch Facebook search would force users into Questions whenever a search started with the five Ws or one H. Facebook search results would shift to Questions after you entered one of those interrogative words and then hit the space bar. This search feature is no longer active. (Sadly, I did not capture this behavior.)

Perhaps it was a simple test or Facebook pushed enough traffic through the product to receive the necessary amount of feedback. Either way, it showed the power of Facebook search (both in flexibility and volume) and pointed to a reason for not allowing search engines to crawl and index Questions. Does Facebook need traffic from outside the walled garden?

Questions and the Open Graph

Where things get confusing is why Facebook is pursuing Questions and the Open Graph in parallel. There are plenty of other Q&A sites out there. Many of them are using the Open Graph protocol.

Questions from other sites could easily show up in Facebook search results. So, why build a whole new product if you could just suck in content from everyone else? Conversely, if you were going to spend the resources to build that product and create all that content, wouldn't you expose it to search engines so you could attract more users to Facebook? (Yes, that's still possible.)

Of course, Facebook might want just one more product that will keep people on Facebook. And the longer users are on the site, the more often they're clicking on ads and performing searches.

Articles are Second Class Open Graph Objects

Questions would be classified as an 'article' type in the Open Graph. Yet, articles seem like second class citizens in the Open Graph. Reports indicate that an object is not created for a page with og:type=article. This also means you can't administrate likes on article content. In other words, you can't publish to people who have liked an 'article' on your site or blog.

So, maybe Facebook is trying to create its own content instead of indexing what's already out there? Again, this seems contrary to the Open Graph concept. Yet, if you believe status updates are a form of content publishing, then perhaps Facebook believes they can be the ultimate content creator.

Facebook Questions SEO

Of course, sites are getting around the article prohibition. Answers.com is now populating the Open Graph with their content using the 'website' type.

Answers Using Website Open Graph Type

While Facebook frowns on this, it's the way smart search marketers are going to work the system.

Creator or Aggregator

The Open Graph would indicate that Facebook wants to be an aggregator, to suck more and more of the Internet into the walled garden, allowing their users to find Internet content on Facebook's terms - through the news feed and through Facebook search.

Questions would indicate that Facebook wants to be a creator, generating content as a way of keeping, attracting and engaging users. Though making them invisible to search engines takes attracting users out of the equation.

Which does Facebook want to be? Who knows, maybe both. But my money is on aggregator given the purchase of FriendFeed, promotion of Bret Taylor to CTO, advancements in type ahead search and roll out of the Open Graph.

Top Tweets is a Trojan Frog

May 14 2010 // Advertising + Social Media // 2 Comments

Top Tweets look like Promoted Tweets. That's no mistake.

Top Tweet by AJ Kohn

Promoted Tweet by Sony

Top Tweets

Twitter is getting users used to seeing something 'stuck' at the top of search results. Today it's Top Tweets but tomorrow it will be Promoted Tweets. Top Tweets are innocuous for the most part and leverage game theory psychology around being the best or most popular for a certain fiefdom. Twitter would likely say that Top Tweets deliver 'resonance' (aka relevance) for that search result and they're probably right.

Resonance is Quality Score

Twitter's resonance sounds an awful lot like Google's quality score. The launch of Promoted Tweets touted the fact that low resonance would mean the removal of that Tweet. Perhaps a few will fall below that resonance threshold and be removed. More likely, resonance will be used to secure top placement for a search term and/or reduce the CPC paid for that placement.

Multiple Promoted Tweets

Right now you see just one Promoted Tweet per search result. But lets look at how Twitter is displaying Top Tweets.

Top Tweets Smash Summit

Top Tweets are stacked at the top of search results. What does that remind you of?

Google Three Ads Search Result

So, how long until we see stacked Promoted Tweets?

Integrated Tweets

The difference in presentation between a Top Tweet and a Promoted Tweet is small. This allows Twitter to swap Top Tweets for Promoted Tweets with little visual dissonance. Not only that, but Twitter could integrate Top Tweets and Promoted Tweets, stacking them by order of resonance. What better way to make that real estate interesting to users. By doing so they'll prevent 'banner blindness'. Far-fetched?

Sponsored Tweets and Top Tweets

Trojan Frog

Trojan Frog

Twitter is undertaking a boiled frog strategy for getting acceptance of ads within search results by using Top Tweets as a Trojan Horse. In doing so, Twitter may actually have a viable paid search business in their future, and they've already got a potential 'network' in place with application partners.

Unfollow on Twitter

May 10 2010 // Rant + Social Media // 1 Comment

Friend and follow abuse is still pervasive on social networks. Sure, it depends on what you want to get out of those social networks, but I still believe that less is more. Social networks have paid special attention to creating connections but very little to breaking them. Yet, that's a critical part of any social construct.

ManageFlitter

I've used ManageTwitter to prune who I follow. In late April Twitter threatened to shut them down because they were in violation of Twitter's Automation Rules and Best Practices. Thankfully a few UI changes and a name change saved the service.

ManageFlitter helps you unfollow people in a few ways. It suggests you unfollow people who aren't following you back. This is my least favorite option since it feels too much like high school. Don't get me wrong, I do use it, particularly for those who follow, wait for a follow back and then unfollow.

It also identifies inactive accounts, as well as those that are talkative or quiet. Unfollowing on all three criteria can help remove noise and dead weight. Finally, ManageFlitter will also tell you which accounts are using the default avatar, which can be a good sign of a spammer or automated account.

My Imaginary Unfollow App

Twitter Unfollow App

As much as I like ManageFlitter it's still rather rudimentary. So I got to thinking about what type of signals I would use to unfollow people.

Tweets without Links

If you're using Twitter as a source for information and news, having people who excessively Tweet without links might not be very productive. Your dining activities, traffic woes or inspirational quotes might not be adding enough value.

Tweets that are Retweets

Retweets aren't necessarily a bad thing but it would be good to know if the lion's share of a person's Tweets are Retweets. This could, in fact, be a good thing if the quality of your Retweets is high. Human filters are a good thing and I thank folks like Atul Arora, Rob Diana, Louis Gray and Mahendra for their continuing efforts in making me smarter. However, it could also be a bad thing if it's just a steady diet of day old TechCrunch articles.

Tweets that are @Replies (not to you)

Some people use Twitter as a conversation platform. Now, I think that's a bit "square peg round hole" but to each their own. However, it can be a as exciting as watching paint dry to watch folks banter back and forth.

Tweets that are @Replies (to you)

This is a clear sign that you've got some sort of real relationship with a person. It likely makes them a keeper regardless of any other signal.

Tweets that have multiple @Replies

Multiple replies in a Tweet could be a sign of someone who is efficiently responding to others. Someone who is actually being social rather than asocial.

However, you'd want to see the percentage be a small portion of total Tweets. Otherwise, multiple replies in a Tweet could be a sign of automation or a ponzi-like follow scheme.

Tweets that have Hashtags

There's nothing wrong with hashtags per se, but overusing them might be a negative signal. This probably wouldn't be a strong signal but if other signals were weak it might tip the balance.

Tweets that have multiple Hashtags

Another potential weak signal but it could be helpful in unfollowing those who seem solely interested in traffic generation without any engagement.

Tweets with an Exclamation Point

Stupid Fight uses this in calculating the 'intelligence' of a group of users. I'm not sure it would produce a valuable signal, but I'd want to find out.

Tweets with ALL CAPS

This is another Stupid Fight signal. I'm not sure if you'd base it on the % of capital letters in a single Tweet, for a collection of Tweets or look for capital letters in more than four straight characters. The latter would help exclude normal slang like OMG and WTF from this signal.

Tweets with Repetitive Links

Tweeting the same link multiple times is annoying and could be an indication of some sort of publishing configuration error or just poor Twetiquette.

Tweets with Links that others in your network have also shared

Here is the most interesting (and likely the toughest) signal of them all. How much unique content does a user contribute to your network? If 100% of the links Tweeted by an individual were also Tweeted by others in my network, are they really worth following?

In the end, you can't look at everything. So, you need to make sure that the best content is coming into your worldview. Noise and clutter are your enemy. I'd give this signal a substantial weight, though you'd clearly have to recompute this signal frequently as you pruned who you followed.

Unfollow Algorithm

For each user, I'd want to know the raw number and % of total for each of these signals. I'd then score each signal on a relative scale and assign it a weight to come up with unfollow recommendations. I know this is easier said than done, but that's why it's my imaginary unfollow application. Maybe those with experience with the Twitter API could chime in. Are these signals viable?

What other signals would you use to unfollow people?

2010 Internet, SEO and Technology Predictions

January 03 2010 // Advertising + Marketing + SEO + Social Media + Technology // 5 Comments

As we begin 2010, it's time for me to go on the record with some predictions. A review of my 2009 predictions shows a few hits, a couple of half-credits and a few more misses. Then again, many of my predictions were pretty bold.

2010 Technology Predictions

This year is no different.

The Link Bubble Pops

At some point in 2010, the link bubble will pop. Google will be forced to address rising link abuse and neutralize billions of links. This will be the largest change in the Google algorithm in many years, disrupting individual SEO strategies as well as larger link based models such as Demand Media.

Twitter Finds a Revenue Model

As 2010 wears on Twitter will find and announce a revenue model. I don't know what it will be and I'm unsure it will work, but I can't see Twitter waving their hands for yet another year. Time to walk the walk Twitter.

Google Search Interface Changes

We've already seen the search mode test that should help users navigate and refine search results. However, I suspect this is just the beginning and not the end. The rapid rate of iteration by the Google team makes me believe we could see something as radical as LazyFeed's new UI or the New York Times Skimmer.

Behavioral Targeting Accelerates

Government and privacy groups continue to rage against behavioral targeting (BT), seeing it as some Orwellian advertising machine hell bent on destroying the world. Yet, behavioral targeting works and savvy marketers will win against these largely ineffectual groups and general consumer apathy. Ask people if they want targeted ads and they say no, show them targeted ads and they click.

Google Launches gBooks

The settlement between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers will (finally) be granted final approval and then the fireworks will really start. That's right, the settlement brouhaha was the warm up act. Look for Google to launch an iTunes like store (aka gBooks) that will be the latest in the least talked about war on the Internet: Google vs. Amazon.

RSS Reader Usage Surges

What, isn't RSS dead? Well, Marshall Kirkpatrick doesn't seem to think so and Louis Gray doesn't either. I'll side with Marshall and Louis on this one. While I still believe marketing is the biggest problem surrounding RSS readers, advancements like LazyFeed and Fever make me think the product could also advance. I'm still waiting for Google to provide their reader as a while label solution for eTailers fed up with email overhead.

Transparent Traffic Measurement Arrives

Publishers and advertisers are tired of ballpark figures or trends which are directionally accurate. Between Google Analytics and Quantcast people now expect a certain level of specificity. Even comScore is transitioning to beacon based measurement. Panel based traffic measurement will recede, replaced by transparent beacon based measurement ... and there was much rejoicing.

Video Turns a Profit

Online video adoption rates have soared and more and more premium content is readily available. Early adopters bemoan the influx of advertising units, trying to convince themselves and others that people won't put up with it. But they will. Like it or not, the vast majority of people are used to this form of advertising and this is the year it pays off.

Chrome Grabs 15% of Browser Market

Depending on who you believe, Chrome has already surpassed Safari. And this was before Chrome was available for Mac. That alone isn't going to get Chrome to 15%. But you recall the Google 'What's a Browser?' video, right? Google will disrupt browser inertia through a combination of user disorientation and brand equity. Look for increased advertising and bundling of Chrome in 2010.

Real Time Search Jumps the Shark

2009 was, in many ways, the year of real time search. It was the brand new shiny toy for the Internati. Nearly everyone I meet thinks real time search is transformational. But is it really?

A Jonathan Mendez post titled Misguided Notions: A Study of Value Creation in Real-Time Search challenges this assumption. A recent QuadsZilla post also exposes a real time search vulnerability. The limited query set and influx of spam will reduce real time search to an interesting, though still valuable, add-on. The Internati? They'll find something else shiny.

Twitter Makes Lists … Competitive

November 01 2009 // Social Media // 8 Comments

Twitter finally got around to launching lists and immediately created a whole new competitive mania that may render them useless.

Listed

Twitter Listed Metric

By simply showing Listed as a major metric Twitter encourages comparisons. Listed will be the new Followers. We'll see Followers to Listed ratios cranked out by the companies who traffic in these sorts of meta data measures of authority and influence.

Instead of using lists to help users manage the stream of data, they've turned them into a competition.

Following Twitter Lists

The ability to follow lists also creates competition. Which SEO list is best? Who's Ruby Rock Stars list should you follow? Lists allow users to segment, but how many instances are you really going to follow? Does it help me to follow 25 instances of an SEO list? Probably not.

Suddenly a person's lists are going to have an attached Followers metric. You could argue that the number of Followers helps define comparative quality, but that hasn't worked for users has it? So why would it work for lists?

My motivation for creating a list isn't to attract followers, it's to help me turn data into information.

Twitter Lists Do Not Equal Authority or Influence

The impetus for creating a list is for the user to manage their data flow. (Or it should be!) Using a data segmentation taxonomy as a proxy to show authority just doesn't compute. The motivation is not to grant authority to those on a list, but to simply shape data.

Lists is a grouping, but it assigns no weight to an individual within that group. We all know people who are ubiquitous but might not be well regarded. Nevertheless you'd likely put them on a topical list.

Volume is essentially what Listed measures. People with varied interests will be added to many lists. People who have played the Followers game will be added to many lists. Quantity wins, not quality.

Furthermore, once people understand that lists are the new Followers you'll have people asking to be added to lists, trading list additions and new accounts will spring up for the sole purpose of getting users on the 'right' lists. It's an obvious gaming nightmare.

Twitter Lists Don't Define You

There's an offhand defense of lists I'm hearing many employ: "lists show how others think of you."

Who cares! Guess what, I stopped caring about that my sophomore year in high school. But isn't that the DNA of Twitter? A navel-gazing popularity contest that somehow is supposed to validate value and contribution.

Thanks but no thanks.

The Real Problem with Lists

The idea behind lists seems to be around user discovery.

Twitter Lists

It's supposed to help you find "interesting accounts." But lists (of any kind) don't effectively do this because people are multi-faceted.

I have a varying level of expertise and contribution in many fields. My inclusion on Danny Sullivan's Search Marketing list is nice, but will people following that list get value from my bicycling and book related tweets?

Lists give you a complete timeline for a group of people to whom someone has assigned a certain user defined attribute. It doesn't mean you're going to actually get content matching that user defined attribute. This mismatch makes it difficult to find 'interesting accounts'.

Lists are simply a blunt instrument in the transformation of data into information.

Twitter is the Underpants Gnomes of the Internet

October 29 2009 // Rant + Social Media // 3 Comments

The other day I read Steven Hodson's Shooting At Bubbles post regarding Twitter 2.0. And it finally dawned on me!

Twitter is the Underpants Gnomes of the Internet

If you're not familiar with the Underpants Gnomes, they were featured in a South Park episode in which the Gnomes devised an ... interesting business plan.

underpants gnomes

Replace underpants with users (or VC cash) and you've got Twitter. Oh, sure they've alluded to some sort of business plan, but even as recently as a few weeks ago Evan Williams wasn't willing to divulge a real revenue model despite John Battelle's prodding.

I remember the Web 1.0 days of grow fast, grab market share and monetize later. Only a few survived this kowabunga style of business.

But who knows, maybe Twitter can turn underpants into profit.

Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls

July 14 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Rant + Social Media // 2 Comments

Paid Tweets

One of the great things about our new information culture is how disparate sources coalesce into something meaningful. Last week I read a Fortune magazine article on Marc Andreessen, news about IZEA's Sponsored Tweets and research on the impact social media has on brands and eCommerce. When I put these pieces together the picture is of a powerful locomotive hurtling toward a creaky bridge.

Social Media and the Telephone

The telephone is a social platform. You call family and friends to talk about things from the trivial to the serious. If you know a person's phone number you can call them. At some point, marketers figured out that they too could call you, so long as they had your phone number. Phone numbers weren't hard to find.

This didn't sit too well with most people. They didn't want some stranger calling right at dinner trying to sell them something. The thing was, enough people actually did respond to these calls and telemarketing flourished. It was a lot more effective than direct mail.

Over time, more and more people became irate. Laws were passed so that you could opt-out of these unwanted calls. But there were loopholes. Giant gaping loopholes. Any company you had a 'prior relationship' with could still call you unless explicitly told otherwise.

You might have bought from them before, maybe even kept an eye out for coupons, but you didn't want them to ring you up whenever they pleased.

Now replace phone number with user name. This story has already been written.

Sponsored Tweets and Telemarketing

Sponsored Tweets will not work like telemarketing. The reason why telemarketing works is because you can engage in a dialog. A good telemarketer changes their approach based on the subtle feedback they're getting from the prospect. And they'll certainly use every objection as an opportunity. I know a bit about this since I ran telemarketing programs for nearly five years.

The problem with Sponsored Tweets is that the lack of dialog. One way communication isn't nearly as effective. It's the reason why telemarketing beats direct mail. No, Sponsored Tweets are not like telemarketing.

Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls

Paid Tweets

You've probably received a robocall.

Robocall is American pejorative jargon for an automated telemarketing phone call that uses both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered recorded message.

I'm guessing you've gotten one during the election season or, most recently, from some company trying to sell you an auto warranty extension. You don't like them.

Getting a robocall from Martin Sheen is the same as getting a Sponsored Tweet from a celebrity.

Context Shifting and Social Marketing

Marc Andreessen believes that advertising can be an effective part of social interactions.

He tells me Facebook "will be bigger than Apple" and declares that the social-networking company will become the mass-market window to the web, much as Google has been for the past six or seven years. Twitter, so far criticized for having no way to make real money, will get advertisers to pay to reach people as they are sending messages about the sponsor's products.

The real issue here is context switching, a term my Caring.com engineers introduced to me. The general idea is that if you're thinking in one way (about one thing) it takes some time and effort to stop and think about something else. The context of your attention has changed.

This is why I believe social marketers need to build an ice cream truck. They need to deliver something that forces people to shift their context.

The example of Google actually supports the idea of context switching. Eyetracking studies have shown substantial differences in how people scan results for transaction based queries (left) versus information based queries (right).
Google Query Types

All searches are not created equal. The intent of that query, of that action, defines the context.

Social Marketing's Creaky Bridge

Others, like Andreessen, seem to believe that context is homogeneous and can be blended. That social messages and product based messages can live side by side. That as you're telling someone about the cool new things your iPhone does that you'll enjoy a message from Palm trying to persuade you that the Pre is the way to go.

... an overwhelming 96% of employed consumers say their opinion of a product brand does not change if that brand has no presence on a social networking site ... In fact, just 12% of respondents say their opinion of a brand actually changes if that brand maintains a significant social networking presence and only 11% of social networkers report following any major brand through a social networking site.

This is but one of numerous datapoints that illustrates that creaky bridge I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The locomotive of social marketing continues to thunder down the tracks, ignoring the flashing yellow signals at their own peril.

Facebook Data: Gold or Pyrite?

July 06 2009 // Marketing + Social Media + Technology // 5 Comments

The personal data Facebook has could be worth millions or wind up being as valuable as a stack of Monopoly money.

Facebook Monopoly Money

Social Media Data Mining

I got to thinking about this because of a FriendFeed comment Dan Morrill made on an Altitude Branding post titled New Books, New Covers.

Not sure if I really want to shift it, if marketing folks know I am getting tired of microsoft based systems and planning on going all apple, what kind of marketing fight would happen over that one? I want them to look at me one dimensionally cause I can blow them off easier.

A few weeks later I had a conversation with Ana Yang at the FriendFeed open house. Ana's not on Facebook. Why? She doesn't think it really represents who people are but who they want to be.

The implications of both these statements buzzed around in my head and connected with other thoughts I'd had on social media data mining.

People Lie

People Lie

Dr. Gregory House is fond of this saying. He's right too. People do lie, and for a variety of reasons.

Among other reasons, they lie to avoid things, they lie to fit in and they lie to avoid embarrassment.

I'd argue that people are more likely to lie in social situations and that the relative distance created by the Internet also increases people's proclivity to lie.

So, forget about the privacy issues surrounding data collection. The real threat to Facebook's plans lay in incomplete or downright inaccurate personal information.

Lies of Omission

The problem isn't the actual issue of privacy, but the reaction to privacy. The heightened awareness that your personal information might be available to the highest bidder leads many to change their behavior. Some, like Dan, may lie to avoid marketing. Others may go back and remove certain information.

At a minimum, many simply reduce the amount of personal information they share moving forward. This sharing reticence creates a skewed look at people overtime. The personal data becomes a snapshot of who they were, and not who they are.

There are also topics that you might not want to discuss in a public forum. You're probably not going to fan an incontinence product. You might not divulge the nitty-gritty details of your divorce. Most aren't going to discuss their pornography habits.

Social Lies

One of the core issues here is the idea that self-reported social data is accurate. This isn't a magazine subscription or a warranty card submission - things that have roots in a commerce transaction. Commerce serves as a safeguard against pervasive lying. You can't receive that magazine if your address isn't correct.

Social data is untethered from commerce and therefore doesn't have a natural safeguard. The transaction taking place is psychological and emotional instead.

The act of social lying is pervasive. How many share real information when asked 'how are you?' Not to mention the powerful force of peer pressure and the innate desire to be liked.

We acquiesce. We embellish. We edit. We redact. Not only that, but we change our behavior based on the environment and setting.

Social Schizophrenia

At work you might say one thing, but sitting out in the backyard with a beer you might say something different. Your status update on Facebook might be different from the one you have on LinkedIn.

Soon after the FriendFeed open house there was a rather public integration of social personalities. This might not be a frequent occurrence but it's enough to be unnerving. There is no householding of these different personalities under one address, whether it be an extreme case or simply the different facets of your social existence.

Even if you could accurately aggregate social data across various networks and email addresses, would you be able to extract reliable meaning from that data?

Social Trust

Why would companies pay for social data they can't trust? Most companies already have multiple sources of personal data. Consumer databases with multiple reporting lines are frequent. Many also build their own through rewards programs.

Yet, marketers are always hungry for more. That's where profiling and detailed segmentation services provided by companies like Nielsen Claritas come into play. You might think that Facebook could give them a run for their money, but it comes down to the self-reporting bias once again.

It's not what you say you do, it's what you actually do that matters. Facebook data is interesting but it's not a hotel on Park Place. It's more likely a house on Baltic Avenue.

Friend Is a Four Letter Word

June 22 2009 // Life + Rant + Social Media // 1 Comment

Technology now provides a level of connection that was unheard of just a scant twenty years ago. The cell phone, the Internet and the marriage of the two in smart phones (BlackBerry, iPhone etc.) have rapidly increased our ability to stay in touch. But who are we staying in touch with exactly? Do we have the time for all these people, and do we short-change family in the process?

Friend Is a Four Letter Word

Friend Overload

Automated report emails from work, status updates from Facebook friends you never really talk to and follower notifications that often wind up being spam consistently interrupt your weekend like a toddler tugging at the edge of your shirt.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when getting an important email while you're on the go can make a real difference. But most of the time it could have waited until the next day, never mind another hour.

More and more we're getting messages from online friends: Facebook updates, Twitter followers and FriendFeed subscribers. I get a lot out of my social network, which is nearly all on FriendFeed. There are a slew of people I now count as friends through my FriendFeed experience.

Yet, should I be using my time to chat with them when I could be spending more time with my family, or visiting with friends? To be clear, I'm not saying I'm quitting FriendFeed (far from it!) I'm simply working through how to best use my time in relation to all the 'friendships' new technology has enabled.

Technology allows us to keep in touch with more people. But should we? Are these quality interactions? Voyeurism friendships (or those people with whom you're connected via a social network but rarely interact with online and never speak or meet with offline) take up time, energy and emotion that might be better spent elsewhere.

The First Social Network

And it's not just about the time devoted to these voyeurism friendships. Technology makes it possible to disrupt real friendships with these voyeuristic updates. Even worse, they might make you inattentive to your first social network: family.

The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California is reporting this week that 28 percent of Americans it interviewed last year said they have been spending less time with members of their households. That's nearly triple the 11 percent who said that in 2006.

Each Saturday morning I take my four year old daughter to dance class. Parents stand outside and watch through a massive window. I bring my BlackBerry with me, but I am very rarely on it and try not to use it at all.

Instead I want to watch my daughter, react to her wave, thumbs up, wink or smile. I want to be present! Because all too often there's a parent there, head down, tapping away on an iPhone or BlackBerry, oblivious to what's going on with their child.

I wonder how many children are competing for time and attention with the tiny people living in that smart phone. I can't believe it feels very good.

Friend Overload

How do these voyeurism friends stack up against other friends or family? I'm a firm believer in Dunbar's number - the maximum number of healthy social relationships a person can maintain at any one time. Dunbar's number is approximately 150. The question is, do these voyeurism friends count against this number?

I'm beginning to suspect they do.

You might not think they do, but they're taking up social and emotional space. You are inserting a random piece of information about a person into your memory. A person who you went to high school with - not really a friend then or now - just got back from a trip to New Orleans. You can't turn that information off. It's been received and transmitted to your brain, mixed up with other random facts like song lyrics or television commercials from your childhood.

Whether you like it or not your brain is processing this stuff. You can begin to think about why Dunbar's number makes sense in this context. As your brain is trying to sort, track and shelve data on more and more people it becomes far more difficult to maintain. You can't crack the case and stick in more RAM.

Friend Turnover

At some point, you're only storing a very small amount of data on a slew of people, which makes those relationships tenuous as best. The issue here is that you're threatening the strength of all your relationships as you expand your reach. You might try to store more about 'good' friends and family, but I'm not sure we're wired that way.

There's a reason why you lose touch with friends. They aren't really friends (anymore) and you don't want to clutter your head with irrelevant data. You outgrow friends. Recent research suggests that you replace half of your friends every 7 years.

I question whether technology is inhibiting the natural shedding of friends necessary for us to move on, to establish new friends and evolve as a person.

The Future of Friends

I'm writing about this, in part, because I don't know the answer and am struggling with the topic. I'm on FriendFeed constantly, sometimes when I could (perhaps should) be spending time with my wife and daughter.

I've taken steps to address this disconnect. I attended the FriendFeed open house so I could actually meet some of the people to whom I've been chatting - something that goes against my natural introverted nature.

And I've walked away from the computer - completely - to spend more time with family. We walked the Golden Gate Bridge together and explored the California Academy of Sciences.

Time and attention are in short supply in our accelerated society. Sometimes you need to remind yourself about what's really important.

Twitter and Google … Analytics

May 08 2009 // Analytics + Social Media + Technology // 2 Comments

Twitter is using Google Analytics

Earlier this month Twitter launched new HTML versions of their Follower and Direct Message emails. Upon clicking through one of these newly designed emails you'll notice that the links all contain Google Analytics parameters.

Twitter and Google Analytics

For those of you without the best eyesight, the URL contains the normal utm_ parameters. In this case Twitter is using source=follow, medium=email and campaign=twitter20080331162631.

What is twitter20080331162631?

It is not a user id since a Google search for twitter20080330062631 shows results for more than one user. The first part looks like a date, but March 31, 2008 seems like an odd choice for something just released. Any ideas?

Why is Twitter using Google Analytics?

The obvious answer is Twitter wants more accurate or easily accessible metrics. But why select Google Analytics? Sure it's free but Twitter isn't hurting for money, are they? Twitter could use any number of other solutions.

Many believe Twitter is a Google competitor and/or acquisition target which makes using Google Analytics more intriguing.

Wouldn't Twitter be just a little bit paranoid that Google would peek at the Google Analytics data to gain insight into their business? Sure it's not supposed to happen but ... why take the chance?

Or is Twitter using Google Analytics to provide due diligence data to Google for a potential acquisition? Google certainly wouldn't doubt numbers generated by their own product. Is this part of the rumored negotiations taking place between Google and Twitter?

Google Killer or Google Accomplice

Outside of the conspiracy theories, Twitter's usage of Google Analytics further cements them as the leader in the analytics space, surpassing competitors such as Omniture and Coremetrics.

PowerPoint decks at conferences are peppered with Google Analytics graphs and screen captures. In a difficult economic environment it becomes more and more difficult to rationalize using a paid product when a free product has a similar feature set.

Twitter isn't a Google killer. Instead it's helping Google to kill web analytics providers.