An Experimental Facebook Friend Cleanup Algo

I had over 500 so-called Facebook friends, and I realized that I was getting more and more uncomfortable sharing something with all “Friends”. This led to creation of custom Facebook lists, and choosing lists to share every update. What ensued is the headache of keeping all the lists updated. I needed to simplify things.

Everyone has different ways of using Facebook and neither one of them is right or wrong. I just had to decide how I am going to use Facebook, in the way it makes it useful for me. Thus, I ended up with this process:

  • If not recently added,
  • If not a blood-relative,
  • If ex-colleague connected on LinkedIn but not a personal friend,
  • If never met in real life or never want to meet in real life in the future,
  • If “See Friendship” shows no other interactions besides “Happy Birthday” for over 3 years,
  • If profile and timeline photos do not include a single personal photo,
  • Unfriend.

This is a human process, so the algorithmic AND/OR are unnecessary. It seems to work so far, I am already down to <400.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Switching from Google Android to Windows Phone 8?

I have been a happy Android user since I bought the HTC Hero in late 2009, and it is now time for me to upgrade. I am considering switching to Windows Phone 8 and this post is to gather my thoughts as I evaluate a potential switch. I am a very atypical smartphone user, hence my considerations may not match most users’ needs.

To begin with, why not the iPhone 5? I already use iOS 6 on my iPad where I can enjoy the flowers in the garden. If I can have the best of multiple worlds, why not? For purposes of this post, I am contrasting the LG Nexus 4 with the Nokia Lumia 920 as they are the newest flagship phones on the two platforms. Lastly, this is the first time I am writing about gadgets on this blog or anywhere, so mea culpa for any errors!

Philosophy & Requirements

I prefer to own my core data – documents, contacts, music, photos, etc. – so that I can choose to use it in any different service as and when I like. This is not always possible, but I try and hence I’ve primarily stuck to Google or local storage. I use Gmail (separate personal & professional GApps), Google Search, Chrome, Google Reader. I also have my music library in Google Music, which is locally in an iTunes-format library.

I use a Windows 8 desktop PC, use MS Office on it for all my documents, have 25GB of unused SkyDrive, will likely get an XBox after some months. My iPad has my eBook collection, and usage is mostly restricted to reading, gaming, and other fun/education/reference apps. I am also in the process of setting up a 7.1 home theatre, for which I am choosing a Marantz that would be both AirPlay as well as DLNA compatible, besides a DLNA-compatible AC Ryan PlayOn HD media box.

I spend all my weekdays online, working from home, on my PC. I spend time away from home only on weekends, when I like to be and largely am, offline. Holiday travel is few times a year. Thus my atypical smartphone requirements, in order of priority, are:

  • Voice calls and text (70% of which are spam)
  • Basic email & social networking
  • Unified cloud-based contact management
  • Good, easy-to-use camera, selectively share photos to Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Navigation when I’m on the road
  • Easy, cloud-based note-taking
  • Kid-friendly
  • Stream photos/music to home theater / act as remote control
  • Cloud access to key documents
  • Expect good usage for at least 3-4 years with latest updates

Pros & Cons of Android / Windows Phone 8

After remaining stuck with Android 2.2 on my HTC Hero, the latest Jelly Bean on the Nexus 4 is very enticing indeed. A quick summary of Android advantages

  • My comfort factor with Android, especially the tight integration with all of Google
  • Extreme Customization (I love being able to tinker with different ROMs), keyboards, backgrounds, etc.
  • Number of apps (Besides all the popular apps, I need apps to block/identify spam calls/texts)
  • Google Now, new Camera app, Photo Sphere

Given these, why am I considering Windows Phone 8? I am an early-adopter who likes to try new things.

  • Live Tiles, People Hub, etc. are a whole new perspective different from the app-centric model of iOS/Android and I’m enticed
  • Better integration with my Windows 8 PC, and future XBox
  • Better integration my Office Documents, better usage of SkyDrive across PC & phone, and OneNote
  • Kid-friendly. My 6 yr old plays a lot with my iPad but never with my Android without supervision.
  • 60% of my Gmail is spam, and it is getting increasingly difficult to control spam in Gmail
  • I can use Outlook email with both my phone & my Win 8 PC
  • Use new cloud-based contact management system integrated with Email, Facebook, Phone Numbers, Twitter, and Gmail (at least so far)

Nexus 4 vs. Lumia 920 and Regional Factors

  • LTE support is largely irrelevant in India
  • Google/LG support in India is largely unproven, while though Nokia has huge base in India, Microsoft hasn’t rolled out WP8 updates as quickly
  • Nexus 4 not yet launched in India, worldwide availability issues, Lumia 920 launched officially in India
  • Storage on Nexus 4 is 16 GB vs. 32 GB on Lumia 920 (neither support external storage)
  • Nexus 4 has DLNA, Lumia 920 to get a DLNA app in future
  • Nexus 4 is light, Lumia 920 is a monster
  • Nexus 4 expected to be cheaper than Lumia 920
  • Both have Cameras that have few pros and few cons in overall performance & usability so it’s a non-factor
  • Navigation with Google Maps & Nokia Drive excellent on both so it’s a non-factor

Have I missed anything important?

Windows Phone 8 Adoption Hurdles

Mainstream Indian reviews advise against it, especially the software. There is a price to pay for being an early adopter, but almost every long-term user of Windows Phone 8 I have interacted with is passionate about it. In shifting from a Google-centric Android universe to Windows Phone 8, here are the challenges I will face:

  • Updating my new personal Outlook address on all 3rd party sites and services that are important (this is one-time, but a very big deal)
  • Painstakingly organizing my new contact hub in the Windows world
  • Miss the excellent universal Notification Center in Android
  • Hunt for replacement apps where possible, live without one if there isn’t any
  • Relinquish my history and personalized maps with Google, make a fresh start with Nokia
  • Import/Integrate my local music library with that of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8
  • Pay a high price for a heavy-weight monster of a phone
  • No support for multiple Twitter accounts in People Hub
  • Lose patience waiting for latest updates (also somewhat true of Android in India)

Any items I have missed?

Summary

I have not committed myself either way at present. This post was a starting point to organize my thoughts on the subject. Also, regional factors are sometimes critically important while choosing a gadget, something you don’t find in the US-based top gadget site reviews, which entails one to evaluate relevant factors oneself. There may be other Indian early-adopters considering a similar switch, for whom I hope that this post would be useful.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

The Disillusionment of Social Networks

  • I logged into Facebook after several months and the first thing I see is <insert what you consider to be crap here>, so I am quitting.
  • Seriously, is there anyone really, I mean, really, using Google Plus?
  • Facebook is a smart network for simple people, Twitter is a simple network for smart people.
  • I am quitting blogging because blogging is dead.
  • Quora is the new Orkut.
  • There is no better network than GoodReads, it’s where I am most enriched.
  • Sometimes, I think everyone using LinkedIn actively is either in HR or jobless.
  • Why are people not sharing their true selves on Facebook anymore? The network is degenerating.
  • I rarely use Twitter these days. There’s nothing interesting happening there other than the mediocrity of influencers and marketers, no intelligent conversations.
  • I’m afraid I must say that I spend most of my time on Google Plus, it is where I find the most enriching content.
  • After my experience with Shelfari, I’m not going to waste time on any other network about book-reading.
  • The only place where I share my most private stuff is Facebook.
  • I do not use social networks as frequently as I blog. I love my blog because I own my content, it is permanent, and I find great like-minded people through blogging.
  • Quora seems to have become the go-to place for anything interesting.
  • Seeing that LinkedIn is fast becoming the professional’s first choice for conversations now.

Seem familiar? Such observations have become commonplace and pervasive across networks. I find their inherent disparity quite fascinating.

A social network is not the same for everyone by definition, because your experience of it is dependent on who you are connecting with on that network. Is our experience of a social network it’s defining characteristic? No.

Why then do we characterize social networks in such broad brush strokes when what we are really characterizing is the people who we, by our own choice, are connecting with on that network?

All social networks use some kind of relevance algorithms to try to engage us in what may interest us the most. These algorithms are just that – algorithms, not humans. The lesser we use any network, the lesser we choose whom to connect with or not on that network, the lesser we configure it to our preference, the lesser it’s algorithm knows what we are really interested in, and the more it becomes irrelevant and useless to us. And then we are disillusioned with it.

I have repeatedly succumbed to this mode of thinking. What ensues is that I continue to stick with the networks I find most interesting and comfortable, reducing my participation in other networks. What is the end result? There are passionate and thriving communities on several networks, but I engage in only a handful of them. I do not gain anything by deriding those other networks, I only lose.

I realized that I can rediscover the beauty and diversity of the social web if I let go of this handicap.

Rethink/Tips

Here are some tips that I found helped me:

  • Continuously update who I’m following on all networks. Laziness in curating my social graph leads to irrelevance. This also includes actively finding new people to follow.
  • Don’t be negative. Unless I’m an opinionated tech blogger focused on page views and committed to supporting one company while deriding other companies, I’ve got nothing to lose by engaging on social platforms created by various companies. Whether I prefer iOS devices or Android ones has got nothing to do with what I think of Google Plus. If I think Google is evil and out to destroy my privacy, I should not be on Facebook either and probably not on any other social network.
  • Blogging is dead. Nobody comments on my blog posts, so I’m quitting blogging because blogging is dead. Rethink. Disqus had 500 million unique visitors last year, 35 million of whom are actively engaging in comments on blogs. Disqus is a social network in itself.
  • When I am disenchanted about what my chosen friends share, it is not a problem of the social network, this is just how people are, and maybe I need to introspect about my expectations of people. Do I really wish people to “slot” what they share on public social networks in defined categories? If so, I’m not being realistic.
  • The next time you’re about to say “XYZ <the social network of your choice> has lately become <adjective of your choice>, instead say, XYZ has become <same adjective> to me, because <results from your introspection here>.
  • Own your data. This is extremely vital and unfortunately, not possible in some cases. Companies and their online platforms rise and fall, and your precious data goes down the drain along with them. Keep copies of your blog posts, photos, reviews, tweets, videos, comments, and everything else. Blogger/Facebook Timeline/GoodReads/Flickr/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/etc. are here today, but none may exist 30 years from now. Liberate your data from the chains of these services so that your precious data remains portable. Act now to avoid disillusionment later.

Conclusion

From Paul Sawyers at The Next Web:

Social networks only work when people use the same ones. In other words, they naturally lend themselves to being monopolized…The Internet isn’t a monopoly though. It’s an oligopoly consisting of multiple monopolies.

It is for us to choose whether we allow ourselves to get victimized by a monopoly or choose to enjoy the oligopoly.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged | 15 Comments

On Our Online & Offline Identities

The pace of psychological science has not kept up with the pace of technological progress, leading to a whole slew of issues surrounding our so-called online identities.If you follow psychology as far as it flows into mainstream media, you must have observed the studies surrounding online addiction, marriages, suicidal behavior, and so on. But, most of these focus on extremities, and the numerous surveys and research studies don’t address what the rest of the 99% are going through. Yes, many of us feel a conflict as our digital personae become as or more pervasive as our real ones were never destined to be.

It is a conflict that needs deeper study.

Even in our real lives, we struggle to understand our real self. This illustrates the situation pretty well:

(I am not sure where this abstraction comes from – Carl Rogers comes close)

In essence, we are neither who we think we are, nor are we what others think we are. Our real “self” is embedded in some shadow. Discovering this – our “real self” – is the magic that has spawned generations of godmen and mystics. This quest for the search of our true “identity” has continued for centuries.

What happens when you introduce the online world? This:

The quest for identity has gotten much, much more difficult thanks to the Internet. We are no longer just real human beings living in real lives, visible to sound, sight, and touch – we are now a Twitter persona, a Facebook persona, a Google Plus persona, and so on.

These online accounts are identities in themselves. Whether one chooses to associate these online identities with one’s real identity is an individual’s choice. (There are over 7 billion people on this planet.) But many do, and when they do, there is possibility of conflict. Online and Offline collide in ways one had never thought of before. Yes, they often do, just like this.

How does it look when your online persona is very different from what you really are?

The more different you are online than in your real life, the more stress you feel.

Some people are true to themselves to such an extent that their real life identities match closely with their online identities.

These are folks who experience harmony, with their digital and real self entwined together.

Another way to think about this:

No wonder millions of people are trying to solve the puzzle.

I am not offering any solution to the possible conflicts, merely trying to gain some insight. Please do share your thoughts in comments!

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

On Smart Phones and Anti-Social Networking

The phone was invented as a way for geographically distanced people to communicate. Social networking exploded in its popularity over the last several years as a way to connect with people you knew, as well as many others you didn’t. What is happening now, however, is not so simple and straightforward.

‘Social’ Networks

Spend time on any general purpose social network today, and you’re bound to discover not a simple apathy, but a healthy disdain & contempt for other ‘social’ networks. There are communities & groups on each, who share & rejoice in the ridiculing of other networks. It would not be a problem if the ridicule & the disdain were targeted only at the individual companies behind these networks, the issue is that it is being targeted towards users.

People are now forming opinions about each other depending on whether they’re primarily using Facebook or Google Plus or Twitter for their social networking and whether they’re on a network or not. Are you checking-in on Foursquare? Are you sharing pictures of our meeting on Instagram? The scenario of a date or prospective couples meeting only to discover one of them isn’t on Twitter and hence having a negative influence isn’t an imaginary future, it’s a reality today.

Is this what it means to be social? When we judge people, and this is becoming more & more common & widespread, we are being the exact opposite.

‘Smart’ Phones

Instead of the phone simply being used to communicate, phone ecosystems have become organized religion. There are evangelists (fanatics) who not only vigorously defend their platform of choice, but wage war on those who choose another. When the vitriol reaches the level of death threats, one wonders who is being ‘smart’ in this whole affair. Using a smartphone doesn’t make one smart, it makes the company’s marketing smart.

Look at how stats are being published on whether iPhone or Android users are more likely to have sex on the first date. If you think these are just blogs eyeing page views, think again. There are companies behind these stats, out there because there exists a market for them. It is real.

When one meets a person in real life today, one of the Frequently Asked First Questions is about which smartphone you use. Several judgements & conclusions follow, though they may not be expressed explicitly. If you reside on different continents of the ecosystem, a real distance is created.

The continents of these different ecosystems belong to different companies and are drifting further and further apart. These tectonic shifts are getting worse. Remember what a phone was invented for? Now, these ‘smart’ phones are creating islands of communities hostile to each other. Instead of communicating, they’re distancing many people.

You

Facebook is a 800 million strong social network. Yet, as a public company, it has opted for the “controlled company exemption”‘, retaining 57% voting control to a single individual. Google has compromised on its flagship successful product, to promote its own rival social network. Twitter has decided to accede to governments, opting for a country-specific censorship policy, with Google following in its toes, with Blogger. The ‘Universal’ in URL is lost forever.

The question is, are you being really social? Are you really smart? If you were you would agree that both the Internet and humanism in general are suffering, thanks to a few companies.

Posted in Social Web | 10 Comments

Google Reader+ And Identity vs. Personas

Google has announced that Google Reader will finally get a much-needed revamp. It will now be integrated with Google Plus, and its native isolated social network will be abandoned. See Techmeme for responses from the tech blogger community. The response from Google enthusiasts has been largely positive, as you can see in this Google Plus thread. For non-Google enthusiast responses, see this Hacker News thread.

As a heavy user of Google Reader, I have mixed responses to this announcement.

Positives

  • Google Reader will finally get a much-needed UI revamp. I suspect removing the native social follower-model within Google Reader will make it much faster.
  • Sharing from Google Reader to Google Plus will be much easier. I can quickly share an item from my Google Reader to my “Tech Enthusiasts” circle on Google Plus.
  • No way to get an RSS feed of your Google Reader shares. Many people use this RSS feed for auto-posting shares on their WordPress/Blogger/Tumblr blogs, in addition to Twitter. Of these, Twitter is where the most noise is generated by this auto-posting. I have written about this in great detail before.

Negatives

  • No way to follow a highly-curated tech-focused feed of other Google Reader enthusiasts. As a passionate Reader enthusiast who stays on top of tech news all day, my feelings about missing this feed is well expressed by Sarah on TechCrunch.

Understanding the Root Problem

My Google Reader shared feed is a tech-focused feed and nothing else. My Google Plus feed, however, is a mix of personal photos, personal blog posts, shares as a father about my daughter, etc. Where will my Google Reader followers get my tech-focused feed now? No, Google Circles doesn’t solve the problem.

The reason I have this tech-focused blog, and keep a separate personal blog (where I’m currently writing about Western Classical Music appreciation) is that readers of this blog expect to read tech-focused posts, while friends who know me personally enjoy reading my personal blog too. I do not pollute my own Google Reader shared items with my own personal blog posts.

The reason I have two separate Twitter accounts is for the same reason. @ScepticGeek is well-known as a tech expert, while people who either know me in real life or are interested in my other non-tech interests follow @Palsule. Different people even call me in real-life either as “Mahendra” or “ScepticGeek”.

Identity and Personas

Both Google and Facebook are now forcing me to be myself with all my varied interests in all my sharing and engagement on those networks. Twitter allows me to be two different persona. This is a crucial difference, recently described best by Chris Poole, nicely summarized by Tim Carmody here. The money quote:

Both Google+ (with Circles) and Facebook (with Smart Lists) misunderstand the core problem of online identity: It’s not only about who you’re sharing with, but how you represent yourself. “It’s not who you share with, but who you share as.”

On Google Reader I am @ScepticGeek, on Facebook I am @Palsule, on Twitter I can be both, and now I wonder what I am supposed to be on Google Plus.

The Future: Focus on Interest Graph

Does this mean Google Plus necessarily becomes a place of incongruous, irrelevant shares? No. What we need is better filters for relevance. I have written before about how Quora complements the Social Graph with an Interest Graph for greater relevance as well as serendipity. As a general-purpose social network, Google Plus needs to do more.

We need to be quickly able to filter the Google Plus feed by source – Google Reader, Photos, YouTube, etc. Google needs to invent a way to auto-tag/auto-classify Google Plus posts such that I can view a feed of tech news, personal photos, humor, photography, etc. using a simple UI filter.

This problem is understood by Bill Gross, who started Chime.in as a way to “Follow a Part of a Person”, the idea being that you can follow both @ScepticGeek and @Palsule on the same network, and depending on your interests, you will auto-magically see only the shares you are interested in. But with the likes of Google and Facebook in the race for dominance of the social web, it is unclear whether new startups focusing exclusively on this problem stand a chance.

Do you know who is already capitalizing on this problem and is hugely successful? Tumblr. Most people use Tumblr by sticking to a specific area of interest, and the social network makes it easy to follow others sharing your interests. With 850 million Facebook users, 50 million Google Plus users, why are there almost 30 million Tumble blogs out there with over 10 billion posts? I suspect it is because neither Facebook, nor Google Plus are an interest-based social network like Tumblr. The future war of the social web hinges on who better creates the most relevant experience for users.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Google Plus: Why Facebook and Quora Should Worry

Google launched Google+ this week, and there have been many excellent posts highlighting its potential as well as its challenges. My first impressions are very positive. I will not regurgitate any of the points already made by others, and will limit this post to what I think has been missed.

Relevance: “The Mother Of All Streams”

Most of the commentary about Google Plus so far has focused on its social feature – “Circles”, a new way of grouping contacts for targeted sharing. But as I’ve said before, the future belongs to the Interest Graph complementing the Social Graph.Google-plus-logo-640

Facebook has done a not-so-great job capturing users’ interests. Many people have ‘Liked’ hundreds of pages just because they were asked to do so by their friends. Facebook’s obsession with and overreliance on the social graph has corrupted their interest graph, and this might well be Facebook’s Achilles Heel in the long term.

Google Plus takes a different approach. The goal of Sparks is to capture your true interests. It is in a primitive state at present, but I’m talking about the Big Picture here! As Andrew Tomkins explains:

“Sparks is essentially the stuff that flows to you through the interest graph and the stream is the stuff that flows to you through the social graph”

This is precisely what I described was the secret sauce behind Quora:

Quora’s newsfeed is an interesting showcase of what happens when you mix an Interest Graph with a Social Graph – and the result is the mysterious addictiveness so many have experienced, but found difficult to explain.

Steven Levy goes on to explain how the Google Plus team plans to mix these two to create the “mother of all streams”.

Also: Once Google gets to know you better, it can help provide more relevant search results. Classic search disambiguation problem – when user searches for ‘apple’ is it for the fruit or the company? Your interests from Sparks can help Google learn what you’re looking for.

Why Quora Should Be Worried

It was reported earlier today that code for Questions has been found in Google Plus. If this comes as a surprise, you haven’t understood Google’s ambitions with Emerald Sea.

Unlike Quora, where users/moderators need to manually tag Questions to fit their taxonomy, Google could easily auto-tag questions. Further, it could easily AutoComplete your Question in a way Quora could only hope. And even further, in many situations, Google could answer your question without waiting for a human being to respond.

Imagine such a Q&A service working across mobile devices, where Google knows your location and much more about your interests and friends.

Why Facebook Should Be Worried

AllFacebook has a great post on how Google Plus is a challenge for Facebook. Some folks have already opined that Facebook has nothing to fear, that the mainstream users are not going to join Google Plus and quit Facebook in droves. But pundits have been wrong before.

I wouldn’t dismiss Google Plus so quickly if I were Facebook. Challenges for Google Plus:

  • Critical Mass: Google Plus needs a critical mass of users if its ever to gain mainstream acceptance. However, these are very early days, and early adopter response has been largely positive.
  • Games: Mainstream users love games. Google is reported to have invested in Zynga, while Facebook has had a rocky relationship with them. What if the next Farmville were to launch exclusively on Google Plus and not on Facebook?
  • Simplicity: As it stands today, Google Plus is not actually more complicated than Facebook, it just feels like it because it is new. Try introducing Facebook to a first time user and walk through the different features, and you’ll agree that Facebook has slowly evolved to a much more complex service with a plethora of components. Google Plus will need to become simple and intuitive to attract a sizeable mass of followers before adding new features.

There are a lot of unknowns, and my take is that it’s too early to make predictions. In any case, the stickiness factor of Google Plus is a big challenge for Facebook.

I am very impressed with what I’ve seen so far. There are challenges, but for once, I think the Emerald Sea team is seeing things in the right perspective and making all the right moves. In Feb 2010, I explained Why Google Buzz Doesn’t KISS. So far, Google Plus does.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , , , | 28 Comments

Top 10 Best Practices of Social Media Experts on Twitter

Here are some of the best practices I’ve observed of folks who are so-called “experts” at using Twitter.

#1: Influence Is Important

Talk about Klout and PeerIndex at least once a day. You might say anything – that the service is down, or about a new feature they introduced, or even some critique of these you found, or something like that. Don’t tweet about your score or refer to it directly. Be subtle.

Objective: Your followers should be aware of these services if they aren’t already, and they should go and check out your scores on them.

#2: Emphasize Positives

Retweet anything and everything whenever anyone says anything positive about you. This includes all mentions, all Follow Fridays, and all @replies.

Objective: Your followers need to know what an awesome person you are! Or else, how would they know?

#3: Demonstrate Engagement

Once in a while, ask a question or for help. Even if you don’t get any, after a while, say “Thanks for all the responses!”

Objective: Your followers will be struck in awe at how much ‘engagement’ you get on Twitter.

#4: Engage With Influencers

Keep @replying to people who are celebrities on Twitter with a high Klout. Keep doing it, even if you don’t get a response. Once in a blue moon, one of them will.

Objective: When someone with a high Klout replies to you, your score increases. Also, your followers are awe-struck that you talk with such great folks!

#5: Reciprocate

It’s all about give and take. You need to keep a score of who retweets you how much and who has mentioned you positively and who has recommended you. You should reciprocate in exactly the same manner, in exactly the same proportion. If you don’t, you’re out of their favor.

Objective: Maintain give and take relationships on Twitter. That’s what it’s all about, you dud!

#6: Lifestream

You should be constantly sharing your life online:

  • Everywhere you go, check-in to all location services – Foursquare, FB Places, etc.
  • Share photos of each place you go to
  • Each time you travel, describe your travel experience, in real-time
  • Each time you meet with other people who have Twitter handles, mention all of them and talk about how you’re having an awesome time with them

Objective: Demonstrates how committed you are to living life online, and establishes your presence 24×7, enhancing ‘discoverability’.

#7: Share Wisdom

Whenever you attend a social media conference, tweet about it in real-time, with the appropriate hashtag for that conference.

Objective: You should be imparting all the wisdom you’re getting to your followers, shows how unselfishly you share insight.

#8: Hashtags

Don’t overuse hashtags, else you’ll appear to be overdoing it. Never forget to use them either, they’re very important.

Objective: Balance: Your tweets should appear in anyone’s searches for that topic, but you don’t feel a bot to your followers either.

#9: Use Old Style RTs

Never use native style retweets. They’re impotent because of a number of reasons. If you natively retweet someone, someone else can do an old-style retweet without attributing you, for example. Also, it is very important for the person you retweeted to know how many retweets that person received because of your retweet. Get it? Once in a while, keep talking about why you prefer old style RTs, because they ‘get more engagement’.

Objective: Many experts have shared their wisdom on this topic – Google it to find out if you missed it.

#10: Be a “Pro”

Keep talking about different Twitter clients on desktop, iPhone, iPad, etc. Talk about their pros and cons. Also, maintain a healthy dissatisfaction even about the Twitter client you prefer to use above all.

Objective: Shows you’re a “Pro” at using Twitter with very high expectations of the client you use.

Unfortunately, as you might have observed if you follow me, I don’t practice any of these best practices. Have you seen any more? Share with all in the comments!

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , | 39 Comments

The Age Of Relevance

[This is a copy of my guest post on TechCrunch, in which I have recapitulated and refined many of the concepts discussed in earlier posts on this blog.]

What’s the next big thing after social networking? This has been a favorite topic of much speculation among tech enthusiasts for many years. I think we are already witnessing a paradigm shift – a move away from simple social sharing towards personalized, relevant content. The key element of the next big thing is the increasing significance of the Interest Graph to complement the Social Graph. While Facebook, Twitter, and Google are already working on delivering relevant content, a slew of startups are focusing exclusively on it. Relevance is the only solution to the problem of information overload.

The Information Discovery Matrix

image

The above matrix is a representation of how the process of online information discovery has evolved.

Phase I: The Search Dominated Web

This is how Google began its dominance over the web two decades ago, using PageRank to surface the most popular web pages as identified by other web pages that linked to them.

Phase II: Web 2.0 With Social Bookmarking

In the Web 2.0 era, social bookmarking services gained significant traction, surfacing popular content. Sites like Reddit and SumbleUpon are hugely popular even today, driving millions of page views.

Phase III: Personalized Recommendations

Services like Hunch, GetGlue, etc. have focused on building an Interest Graph for users, to deliver personalized recommendations using a ‘taste engine’.

Phase IV: Personalized Serendipity

The latest crop of startups is focusing on personalization using a combination of Interest and Social Graphs. Personalized Serendipity is what Jeff Jarvis calls ‘Unexpected Relevance’. Examples include Gravity, my6sense, Genieo, and TrapIt.

What Exactly Is Relevance?

The battle against information overload is sometimes presented as a choice between Relevance and Popularity, where ‘relevant’ is equated to ‘personalized’ as against popular. However, Relevance does not always mean Personalized. Relevance is very dynamic – it depends on the needs of a person at a specific point in time. There are times when users want to know about the most popular stories, and other times when they seek personalized content.

There are multiple approaches to filtering information for Relevant Content. Google, Paper.li, and PostRank are examples of algorithmic filtering, while Reddit, Hacker News use a crowdsourcing approach. Klout can be used to filter Twitter streams by influence, while Facebook uses social affinity as a filter for its newsfeed and social signals for its new Comments Plugin. Location is another high-impact signal for delivering relevant content, gaining importance in a mobile world.

In other words, Relevance spans across all the quadrants of the Discovery Matrix above, and none of the above approaches to filtering for relevance is the ‘best approach’. There is no killer approach to Relevance. Henry Nothhaft, Jr., CMO of TrapIt, described it as “the myth of the sweet spot”. The competitive edge will be with services that support multiple discovery methods, multiple filtering approaches, have flexibility, and support multiple mobile platforms.

Quora: A Showcase Of The Interest Graph

Quora has pioneered the use of the Interest Graph as a dominant signal for its newsfeed. Quora asks new users to select Topics to follow, as part of its onboarding process, which is the first revelation that Topics are as important as Users to follow.

Quora’s newsfeed is an interesting showcase of what happens when you mix an Interest Graph with a Social Graph – and the result is the mysterious addictiveness so many have experienced, but found difficult to explain. An item pops up in your newsfeed not because you were following a user, but because you were following a related topic. This often leads to Personalized Serendipity – or Unexpected Relevance – which is why Quora gets many people hooked.

The war over the Interest Graph began between Twitter and Facebook last year, as Eric described eloquently. So how did Quora beat them to this game? For starters, Quora is built from the ground-up with the Interest Graph being a backbone of the framework. Twitter’s ‘Browse Interests’ is too broad and primitive to be of use, even at present. And while Facebook has a mechanism for allowing publishers to push new items to your feed, most publishers have been unaware of this functionality. This is also the reason why Facebook’s Like Button now publishes a full news feed story. The future clearly belongs to who best captures the Interest Graph as Max Levchin and Bill Gurley put it.

The Future: A Paradigm Shift

The implications of a Relevance-driven web are wide-ranging and broad in scope. Better utilization of the Interest Graph by services will lead to better ad targeting, and a potential decrease in reliance on CPM/CPC-based advertising. Monetization focus will be on higher yields through transactions and subscriptions as Dave McClure once described. Online media publishers will focus on Relevance Metrics revealing engagement and time-spent on site, than primitive metrics like page views and traffic. Social media may lose its obsession with follower numbers and traffic, evolving to context-driven reputation systems and algorithms.

Interest Graphs will be used to build Better Social Graphs. Today’s monolithic Interest Graph will get further specialized into Taste Graphs, Financial Graphs, Local Network Graphs, etc., yielding higher relevance for different needs. The Age of Relevance beckons!

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