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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.

Soylent Green is Filters

May 01 2009 // Social Media // 4 Comments

If you’re familiar with the science fiction classic you know the phrase is actually Soylent Green is People. With some substitution logic the equation boils down to the following:

People = Filters

soylent green are filters

Everyone is looking for technology that will help them filter the amazing amount of data that pours in through social sites like Twitter and FriendFeed. Yet many overlook the first and best filter – people.

The people you follow on Twitter and those you subscribe to on FriendFeed remain the most powerful filter you have at your disposal.

Follow Abuse

On Twitter you’ll have a dreadful time finding anything useful if you’re following a lot of people. Even if they’re all tweeting high value material (which is unlikely) you’ll miss a lot of it. In addition, a fair portion of it will likely be repetitive.

Twitter search isn’t much help and hashtags are a useful but flawed solution. I don’t rely on Twitter to get my information so I break my own rules here.

Subscribe Abuse

On FriendFeed the people you subscribe to are even more important because of the Friend of a Friend (FoaF) feature. I see people I am not subscribed to through the Likes and Comments of my subscriptions. I believe FoaF is the most valuable feature on FriendFeed.

I let Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, Rob Diana, Mike Fruchter, Thomas Hawk, Chris Baskind, Ken Sheppardson, Mike “Glemak” Dunn, FFing Enigma (aka Tina), Cee Bee and others bring great people into my feed.

There are many people who I regularly enjoy to whom I’m not subscribed. This isn’t because I don’t appreciate them, but because I see their contributions regularly as it is. My subscriptions are not always based on my appreciation of their content (though that helps) but often their ability to find and filter content.

I don’t use subscriptions as a form of popularity.

The Hard Truth

Some people have great content, but they’re not always the best filter of content. Some people have a lot of content but not all of it might be interesting – to me at least. So I experiment. I subscribe judiciously and see what it does to my worldview.

I currently keep my subscription count close to Dunbar’s number so my interaction on FriendFeed is truly social and not asocial.

Beyond People

FriendFeed has done a very good job of providing additional ways to filter the enormous amount of data available. Their list functionality can be used to apply additional subscriptions to a particular area. So, I could have a list of SEO gurus, another of economics folks and another of bicycling enthusiasts.

The most recent upgrade also included powerful saved search functionality, giving us yet another way to digest the data and turn it into information. This is particularly important because you get the information you want, instead of all the data from someone you’ve put into a list.

I’m a prime example of this problem. I feed a good deal of SEO, marketing and advertising material. Yet, I also feed books, bicycling, economics, art, humor and the dreaded lolcats. People rarely fit into neat tidy boxes.

People First

Even with all these great new tools the first, best line of filtering is people. It’s the way we’ll survive the social media chaos.

Soylent Green is People.

Asocial Media

April 17 2009 // Social Media // 2 Comments

Get Twitter Followers Fast

Asocial Media is on the rise

Asocial is defined by The Free Dictionary as follows:

1. Not social: “Bears are asocial, secretive animals” David Graber.
2. Avoiding or averse to the society of others; not sociable: “It’s not that you’re so asocial, but a man who likes people doesn’t wind up in the Antarctic” Saul Bellow.
3. Unable or unwilling to conform to normal standards of social behavior; antisocial: “crime, riots, drug use and other asocial behavior” Derek Shearer.
4. Inconsiderate of others; self-centered.

Twitter races and other follower incentives fall outside of ‘normal standards of social behavior’ and, more importantly, are obviously ‘self-centered’ in nature.

Twitter Races are Asocial

Tracy Flick

The Internati is buzzing about the race to 1,000,000 Twitter followers. CNN versus Ashton Kutcher. And now Oprah is entering the race. OMG!

I don’t care and neither should you.

Popularity is fleeting and is not social. You do not have a relationship with these people. Ashton Kutcher does not know who you are. Oprah isn’t going to reply to your tweet. You’re simply feeding their ego and business.

Dunbar’s Number

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorizes that humans have a limit of approximately 150 social relationships. Wikipedia defines Dunbar’s number as follows:

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.

I’d argue that social networking expands this limit to some degree. However, the foundation of the research is still valid. Even 1,000 ‘friends’ surpasses the limit where you’re engaging in social relationships.

Followers are not Social

Think about the term ‘followers’ for a minute. Has it sunk in? The definition of follower is:

1. One who subscribes to the teachings or methods of another; an adherent: a follower of Gandhi.
2. A servant; a subordinate.
3. A fan; an enthusiast.
4. One that imitates or copies another: A successful marketing campaign will have many followers.
5. A machine element moved by another machine element.

It’s a one way street. It’s a simple form of worship. There’s no relationship. There’s no social.

Twitter Bribes

So if it’s not social, what is it? It’s marketing. This can be seen even in the way in which people are trying to obtain followers.

Bribe your way to Twitter followers

Providing incentives to obtain followers is on the rise. Giving out a new iPhone or a free copy of some report or other bribes seem to be par for the course lately.

Again, this isn’t social. It’s marketing. It’s business. Oddly, it’s pretty bad business too. Any savvy marketer knows that ‘customers’ you acquire through sweepstakes and contests are of low quality.

Self-Centered Media

If we return to the definition of asocial and use the last entry we get to the heart of the matter. (Hat tip to Graham Greene.) It’s about ego, about self-promotion and about self-affirmation. There’s nothing wrong with this but it’s not particularly social and it’s not spawning the conversations so often heralded as the next big thing.

In the end, is quantity mutually exclusive from social?

Sponsored Microsites is the Twitter Revenue Model

April 03 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Social Media // Comment

Last week Twitter began to display ads for March Tweetness and ExecTweets.

Twitter Microsite Ads

When this unit showed up under the follower statistics about a month ago it was a clear prelude to a true advertising unit.

I was expecting a more straightforward advertising pitch, something along the lines of contextually relevant ads based on an analysis of your tweet stream. Instead, the ads above point to sponsored microsites leveraging specific Tweet streams.

I’ve been hard on Twitter before, but in this instance I’m impressed.

Sponsored Microsites is the Twitter Revenue Model

Clicking on these ads bring you to sites that are powered by Twitter and Federated Media and sponsored by Fortune 50 companies – Microsoft and AT&T.

Exectweets

TitleTweets

Twitter provides the tweet stream and eyeballs, Federated Media builds the site and lands the sponsors. Twitter and Federated split the advertising revenue.

Scalable and Self-Reinforcing Business Model

Microsites are scalable and the participation on these sites is self-reinforcing for both the microsite and for Twitter as a whole. So, not only can Twitter and Federated Media use these microsites to drive revenue, they also help to create higher engagement that make future microsites viable.

Sidestepping the CTR Debate

The sponsors Federated Media are bringing to the microsites are big. They’re interested in reach and branding not the CTR and ROI on the specific campaign. Twitter and Federated would be wise to do a brand lift study on these microsites to prove their worth from a brand equity perspective.

Privacy and User Issues

While Twitter is public, this is a whole new level of distribution. Could it generate more caution regarding tweets? Will some feel like Twitter is ‘using’ them to make money?

Twitter and Federated Media have already addressed this in some ways by letting people opt-out of ExecTweets. I wonder though, if that’s a slippery slope. Will we all wake up one day and have to check a box to agree to have our tweets used on ‘third party’ sites?

Or maybe that’s the plan.

Syndication or Subscription

If the microsite business model works, perhaps the future is a choice between having your tweet stream syndicated to microsites or subscribing on a monthly basis.

Whatever the future holds I’ll eat some crow and give credit to Twitter for finding a creative way to monetize their product. (Mind you I still think FriendFeed blows Twitter away.)

Are sponsored microsites enough to be a sustainable business model? I don’t know. But I’m more confident that Twitter will figure it out based on this implementation.

Social Marketers Need to Build an Ice Cream Truck

March 25 2009 // Advertising + Social Media // 1 Comment

Build an Ice Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck

That’s my advice to social marketers. Confused? Well, first let me describe my view of social media.

Social media and conversations are not a natural place to advertise. When I’m sitting down with a few friends for a beer and some idle banter I’m not looking for someone to come up and sell me on something. In fact, it’s one of the quickest ways I can think of to irritate the hell out of me.

But that’s just what many seem to think is appropriate for the online version of that same conversation.

Even if I’m talking about a product or service, say we’re debating cell phone carriers and lamenting our most recent phone bills. That is not the time to pull a chair up at my table and ask “Did you know, AT&T has more bars in more places!?”

If you begin to think of social media as the front stoop or the local corner where people hang out and shoot the breeze you can understand the difficulty of effectively reaching and interacting with them. The context of their conversation is miles away from a purchase decision.

Ice Cream Man LOLCat

Instead, think about things that can motivate people to break from that context. Something that will cause them to stop their conversations and instead motivate them to take action.

Build an Ice Cream Truck.

The Ice Cream Truck has a product and they have a delivery mechanism that stops conversations and inspires purchase. You hear that distinctive song warbling down the block and you’re taking orders from family members and making sure you’ve got your wallet!

Here’s what people don’t want. They don’t want inventory updates from the Ice Cream Truck. They don’t particularly care that the Ice Cream Truck got a brand new paint job. They don’t need to understand Ice Cream Truck mechanics and supply chain management strategy.

They don’t want to have a conversation with the Ice Cream Truck.

They want their Choco Taco!

Don’t get me wrong, brands and products should still have a voice in social media and that voice should be “open, natural and uncontrived.” Hopefully this leads to positive word-of-mouth, a viral transmission of product attributes and creates brand evangelists.

Conversations with products and brands are not social conversations.

The context of a social conversation and a brand conversation are completely different. And trying to mix the two together is a good way to torpedo your social marketing efforts. Brands really don’t want you to be their friend, they want you to buy their product! Deep down I suspect most people understand this motivation.

Conversations have their place but developing the Ice Cream Truck – whatever that might be – is where marketers should be investing more of their time.

Could Inconsistent Design Save Social Advertising?

March 23 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Social Media // Comment

Social media sites like Digg, MySpace, Facebook and others are finding it difficult (to say the least) to get by using an advertising based revenue model. A drum beat of research shows that users don’t like the ads on these venues or simply don’t see them. The poor performance of these social ads translates into dreary CPM ad rates.

Social Advertising

The Q4 2008 Pubmatic AdPrice Index (pdf) puts Social Networking sites at the bottom of all other verticals and the trend for Social Networking sites continues to slide.

social networking CPM q4 pubmatic adprice index

Many of these social sites have incredible engagement metrics. Users are there every day, multiple times a day and stay there for – sometimes – hours on end. You might think this would be a huge boon for potential advertisers. Yet, the exact opposite seems to be the case.

The Participatory Marketing Network (PMN) conducted a Generation Y study that detailed why “advertising remains a tough sell in these environments.”

84 percent noticed ads on social networks, 74 percent say they click infrequently/never (36 percent saying they don’t click on ads at all).

Then there’s a recent Nielsen study (pdf) of social networking users which showed that ‘false’ was the term most closely associated with ‘advertising’. Yeah … that’s not a good sign.

The high engagement on these sites means users become intimately aware of the structure of the site. They understand exactly where to look, how to navigate and what links to click.

The impetus for their visit compounds the problem. It is usually, and not surprisingly, social. Firing back responses to comments on your high school yearbook photo just isn’t the best advertising opportunity.

So while users may ‘notice’ ads I’m not sure they’re really ‘seeing’ them. They know where they are but they’re avoiding the advertising and they’re getting better and better at doing it.

Rearrange The Furniture

rearrange social media furniture

What if you made the navigation or design different. Not a major redesign but an ongoing number of smaller, incremental changes that break a user’s rote click pattern. Keep them on their toes!

Think of it as rearranging the furniture in a room. You’d still be able to find the couch, the coffee table, the chair and the TV, but it would all be just a little different. They’re in slightly different places or they’ve been reupholstered.

Wouldn’t that make you take stock of the entire room again? To get your bearings you’d see things you might have missed before. That picture on the wall that you hadn’t really looked at in ages?

Inconsistent Design

I’m not recommending something like this for just any site, but it makes sense for social sites where users become habituated to the design through repeated use. In these instances rearranging the furniture every month might help them see the paintings (aka banners) on the wall.

Is Facebook is seeing an increase in CTR since their much maligned redesign? Sure, 94% of users might be giving it a thumbs down but they’re looking at it with ‘new’ eyes. (Contact me if you had a campaign running during the redesign.)

A substantial redesign, nevermind the ruckus, wouldn’t scale well. Instead I’m thinking of smaller changes. It could be as big as moving columns or the order of top navigation or as small as a color change or resizing the logo.

The idea sounds radical even as I suggest it, but traditional techniques are not working. We take regular navigation off of lead generation and cart pages. Sure, that has more to do with keeping the user focused on a task, but it’s still a break in the natural design of the site.

Advertisers, by in large, still don’t understand how to market on social sites. I’m not sure any of us really know what’s going to work or not. So why not test inconsistent design, even if it’s a transitional measure?

FriendFeed Monetization? Focus Groups.

February 19 2009 // Marketing + Social Media // Comment

The other day Steven Hodson wrote a post on the Inquistr that opined that Twitter could generate revenue through one big focus group. I like Hodson, who also writes the thought-provoking WinExtra, but I disagreed that Twitter was the place for focus groups.

As I wrote my response as to why, I realized that FriendFeed was the ideal environment for focus groups. I could even envision a new green FriendFeed icon to denote a sponsored conversation.

FriendFeed Focus Group

FriendFeed Focus Groups

Focus groups are conversational, which is exactly where FriendFeed excels. A typical focus group will have a moderator who will pose questions and follow-up to gain additional insight into the participant’s response.

For example, a focus group moderator might ask you to tell them what animal best represents a specific car. The moderator will likely be able to understand the categorization but might want to follow-up to ensure they understand why you chose to associate, say, a Hummer with a Hippopotamus.

These focus groups are already taking place – naturally – on FriendFeed. Conversations about different cameras and different phones. Discussions about music, books and movies. Debates between Mac and Windows enthusiasts. FriendFeed fosters this type of robust interaction where details and nuances are often revealed.

What about demographics?

The part that’s missing are the demographics. It’s missing from Twitter too. Facebook seems to be banking on the demographic targeting capability. Many companies do want to ensure they have the right sample and a good cross-section of users. Perhaps FriendFeed could present a small lightbox form to users prior to commenting on a sponsored conversation?

What about psychographics?

Then again, many companies put more stock into psychographics. Who exactly are these people? What do they like? Do they travel? Where do they go out to dinner? What do they read? What are their interests? This is where FriendFeed – again – provides added value.

Moderators would have access to the feeds or lifestreams of participants. The amount of data for each participant would clearly vary depending on the number and variety of services each fed into FriendFeed. Some might be limited but others would provide bonanza of data.

Imagine Netflix, GoodReads, YouTube, Google Shared Stuff, Amazon, Last.fm, LinkedIn, Delicious and even BrightKite. Talk about building a profile on potential customers! And could FriendFeed provide an abstract of each participant? A digest profile for each participant on a sponsored conversation?

Would it be interesting for marketers to see not only what each participant fed, but what they liked as well? Or a keyword (or other) analysis on their comments? The degree of interaction, variety of content and abundance of text make FriendFeed an interesting and dynamic data hub.

The right kind of engagement

Twitter simply does not support real conversations. It was built as a status update service (and it performs that service well.) Facebook often creates conversations but those conversations are both asynchronous (wall post time lag) and seem to be less topical and more personal in nature.

FriendFeed, by comparison, is built for conversation around topical content. It fosters the exact type of engagement savvy marketers crave.

What do you think. Will we see green FriendFeed icons and sponsored conversations?

Twitter is not a Google competitor

February 15 2009 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // 3 Comments

Twitter search is a great feature but it in no way threatens Google’s dominance in search.

Recency does not equal relevance

The major flaw of using Twitter as a search engine is that recent tweets on a subject do not equal relevance on that subject. This should be obvious but lets do a few searches to illustrate the point. I’ll use searches that appeared in the top 100 from the Google Hot Trends list at some point on February 15, 2009.

Yosemite Camping

yosemite camping twitter search

yosemite camping google search

Which of the results best satisfies the query? Without question it’s Google. Let’s try another.

Daytona 500 Pace Car

daytona 500 pace car search on twitter

daytona 500 pace car search on google

In this instance both provide the answer. The Daytona 500 Pace Car is a 2010 Chevy Camaro. The Google result tells me it’s black and gold and gives me plenty of authority sites to visit.

Twitter on the other hand doesn’t provide this level of detail. In addition, two of the five results are from Mahalo and a third is from kinougo. More on ‘him’ later. For now lets try one last search.

Crayola Factory

crayola factory search on twitter

crayola factory search on google

Hands down Google satisfies this query better than Twitter. The only link available is, again, from our friend kinougo. So who is kinougo?

kinougo twitter profile

Essentially auto generated Tweets based on hot searches. But where do they lead?

daytona 500 pace car on kinougo

Look at that! An API based link farm with Google AdSense as the revenue source. That looks … awful!

Twitter would have been a near complete bust if it were not for Mahalo and kinougo. Yet, these sites are simply exploiting Twitter search, not contributing to it in a natural way. I doubt the user experience on these clicks would reinforce the idea that Twitter was the place to search. Probably the exact opposite.

Recency works only for hyper real-time events: earthquakes, Presidential debates and conferences to name a few. (Sidenote: There’s this other site called FriendFeed which actually did a bang up job on real-time commentary on the Presidential debates.)

Authority is nonexistent

What makes anyone believe that the latest 5 or 10 tweets on a subject are at all authoritative! Twitter has no mechanism to determine what is the best result for a given query other than the Tweets from their users in a very short time span. Do you trust the random users of Twitter that much? I don’t and neither does Google.

The Google algorithm tries to present the most authoritative, the most right, the most useful results, not just johnny-come-lately blog posts and certainly not some 140 character missive. They might not always get it right, but they’re trying … hard.

Duplication is a problem

alzheimer's disease twitter search

Twitter doesn’t handle duplicate results, opening itself up for SPAM both real and unintentional. Even for the hyper real-time events how many times do you need to see the same quote over and over again?

Twitter is not a Google competitor

Relevance, authority and duplication all ensure that Twitter is not, and likely never will be, a Google competitor. At best Twitter could provide supplemental information to a real search engine. Twitter is the crawl at the bottom of a cable news channel.

“I just ate a mango” isn’t going to disrupt the search world.

Should You Submit Your Own Content To Social Sites?

January 15 2009 // Marketing + Social Media // Comment

Is it ethical to submit your own content to social sites?

Should you Digg your own blog post? Should you bookmark it on Delicious? How about Stumbling it too? (If you can.)

promote your own content on social sites

My answer? Yes.

If you’re not confident enough to promote your own content, why would others do it for you? Sure, in a perfect world you want others to get the ball rolling but inertia remains high. In this instance, don’t rely on the kindness of strangers.

Remember, you’re not trying to game the system. You simply want to give your content the best chance to find an audience. Would you exclude your content from being indexed by Google? Heck no!

Would you refrain from Tweeting about a new blog post or exclude your own blog from your FriendFeed? Of course not!

Again, what happens to your content once it is submitted is out of your control. It could sit there in a corner doing nothing or it might find an audience who likes and shares it with friends. But it’s up to you to ensure it’s there in the first place.

Submitting versus spamming

Moderation in all things. Don’t go overboard. If you’re cranking out a lot of content, not all of it might be worthy of being submitted to every site. Pick your spots. Learn what works best on Reddit versus Digg. Figure out what content is most interesting to those using StumbleUpon.

Your personal brand will suffer if you are labeled a spammer, so don’t over submit your content.

Self submission increases content quality

Before you submit your own content, ask yourself if it is really worth submitting. If you hesitate that should tell you something. Again, you must be confident, and proud, of your content to submit it to social sites.

Use self submission as a filter to make your content better. It’ll help you deliver more value to readers and increase the chances of natural social media adoption.

No one likes a know it all

For best results you should participate on these sites. Not only will you better understand them but you can help and promote others. After all, these are social sites. Take as little as 15 minutes out of each day to promote recent posts by your favorite blogs or newly discovered websites.

Only promoting your own content makes you look selfish, vain, condescending and insecure all at the same time. But never promoting your own content might make you invisible.

FriendFeed Improvements Begin With You

January 09 2009 // Social Media // Comment

Recently there has been a slew of well intentioned people offering their opinions on how to improve FriendFeed. From Robert Scoble to Louis Gray to Joshua Porter, they’ve all had interesting ideas which led to a massive FriendFeed meta discussion. Finally, FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit, in his nice way, came out and told everyone to just chill out.
FriendFeed Time Machine

What Paul and the FriendFeed crew really need to do is invent a time machine so the impatient early adopter crowd can skip the slow but natural adoption curve of a product.

I’m not saying FriendFeed is perfect. There are a lot of good suggestions out there and I could offer my own but will save that for another day.

It’s the speed in which people are willing to claim failure which is troubling. And the mindset of many seems to be that FriendFeed is broken. That it doesn’t work like Twitter. That it’s too complicated. That it doesn’t work like Google Reader. That there’s too much information. That it sucks traffic away from blogs. That the new user experience is broken and scaring people off. The the signal to noise ratio is out of whack. That it needs Track to survive. On and on and on.

It may take some time for people to ‘get’ FriendFeed. Even those using it will endlessly debate exactly what it is and why they find it useful. And to be honest I’m doing the same thing right now. So instead of lamenting about what it isn’t I’m going to talk about what FriendFeed does right and what it means to me (YMMV).

FriendFeed connects me to people right away

Unlike other services, I can subscribe or connect to a group of people immediately upon signing up. My friends don’t have to be FriendFeed users. (Most still aren’t.)  And as soon as I subscribe to a few of these recommended people I get to see activity and lots of it. Instant gratification!

The arguments around who is being recommended (e.g. – ‘A-List’ individuals) seem to have died down. ‘A-List’ users help in a few ways. It shows that the service is being used by influential people and some of their feeds provide great activity that instantly showcase the value of FriendFeed.

Could the recommended list be better? Maybe. But it terms of showcasing what FriendFeed delivers, I think it does that extremely well.

Friend of a Friend helps me find new people

This is perhaps the best feature on FriendFeed because you get to see things you might not have otherwise. It’s a passive way of delivering exploratory information to users. It’s using your friends as the filter! And isn’t this the next thing? Getting down to networks we trust? Why let an algorithm try to determine what is relevant when you can use humans instead?

Removing the Friend of a Friend feature would cause FriendFeed to wither and die as more users simply sealed themselves into their own tiny echo chambers. While the intent of these folks may be to reduce the ‘noise’ they wind up drowning themselves out. (Think of it as getting the microphone too close to the speaker, causing the high-pitched feedback screech that makes your ears bleed.)

In the end, entropy will take over. With nothing new entering that universe, you’ll find less and less value.

Hide reduces ‘noise’

Use the hide feature. It’s your friend. Maybe your best friend. You might argue that the act of hiding shows that there is too much noise. To some extent that is true but lets think about this in a different way. Do you like every episode of a certain TV show? Do you like every book an author puts out? Do you agree with everything your favorite blogger posts? Heck, do you even like everything that your spouse or significant other likes?

Not only are we different but we’re multi-faceted. That’s not a bad thing! The hide feature stops you from throwing out the baby with the bath water. Hide can be used surgically to remove a specific service, without likes or comments, from an individual person. Or you can hide a whole service if you find it is never contributing any value.

Blocking defeats spammers

I don’t block people who actually contribute to discussions even if I don’t agree with their views. However, those who are abusive or fully interrupt the value of my stream will be blocked. The real benefit of blocking on FriendFeed is that it is viral. The community is quick to identify spammers and in short order, minutes sometimes, spammers are rendered invisible or removed.

This is not the case on other networks and has become an increasing problem on Twitter.

Duplicate detection was a huge improvement

When we talk about noise, one of my biggest complaints had been the fact that the same story could show up multiple times in your feed at the same time. That was noise. Sure enough, FriendFeed was able to solve this issue.

There’s a subtle difference here. Duplicative information provides little to no extra value. (All it tells me is that the item is popular.) In my opinion, that is the definition of noise in this context.

Information deemed less relevant or random in nature is not noise but instead simply a different vector of data – a piece of the puzzle that may or may not add value.

Random does not mean irrelevant

Lets stay with the puzzle theme for a second because it speaks to the new ways in which I think people will understand their world. FriendFeed provides a very rich stream of information from people you value. (I should add here that FriendFeed is not the place to friend blindly. Be selective.)

Thinking that you can put all the pieces of the puzzle together all at once isn’t going to happen. You’re going to get the edges done first and then you might work on a particular area that has a distinctive color. Then you’ll work out from there. It is not a linear process.

So, you may pick up a piece and find that it doesn’t fit anywhere. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in the puzzle, it simply means it’s not yet ready to fit. So what you perceive as noise simply might be a piece that doesn’t yet fit in your puzzle. But if you throw it away, you might never complete the puzzle.

The random nature of your feed (often perceived as noise) may actually be something to preserve. Jonathan Mendez has a great post regarding the optimization of randomness. There are a few parts from his post that I believe can be leveraged into the discussion of noise versus signal.

The sense of discovery fulfills a basic human need. We achieve further fulfillment from enlightening others to our discoveries. … Randomness helps us discover. It can create interest. It can lead to intent.

He uses music as one of his examples though he misses what I feel is the most obvious one – the shuffle feature on iPods.

How many times do you achieve an epiphany about something you’re working on by doing something else or talking to someone outside of your industry?

FriendFeed is a massive information hub

FriendFeed is the 90s science-fiction version of the data flow that Gibson and Stephenson among others talked about.

It will take time for people to figure out exactly how they can plug in to this new resource. But I believe more and more will change their behavior to best take advantage of this font of information. Lets remember, there were plenty of people who thought it was overwhelming to be reachable all the time (aka – cell phones.)

But our attitudes changed and we adapted our behavior.

Comments provide insight

FriendFeed is a great place for discussions. The comments are often where you’ll find some of the best thinking and writing. FriendFeed is a massive information hub because it is annotated by others to provide greater context and analysis. Comments allow the crowd sourcing of knowledge that transform mere data into information.

Informational osmosis is a reality

In college I made sure that I attended my classes because I found that even if I sat there barely awake, the information being discussed all sunk in on some level. Weeks later cramming for a test I could access some of this information that had seeped into my brain … simply by being there and letting the words wash over me.

Embrace the ‘noise’ and let your brain find the patterns. Give FriendFeed time and see what finally emerges.

Perhaps the biggest improvement to FriendFeed is … us.