Unraveling Obfuscation

ob fus cate – 1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy 2. to make obscure or unclear

My new BFF – Victoria Espinel

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 14, 2012

So, I don’t like to brag about this kind of stuff, but I’m going to go ahead just this once. I got an email today from the IP czar! She knows my name…and she has me on a list of people who are against internet censorship. Ohhhh, maybe that’s not as good of a story as I thought. When they come for me, I won’t tell them about you, I promise.

Anyway, she did ask for a favor in the letter. She wants us all to try not just “stopping legislation” but to imagine how to make things better. In her own words

So, rather than just look at how legislation can be stopped, ask yourself: Where do we go from here? Don’t limit your opinion to what’s the wrong thing to do, ask yourself what’s right.

I’ve weighed in with a bit of my opinion over on the techdirt article about this, so I won’t rehash it here. There are at least two things going on that need fixed, and honestly I care a lot less about the legislative angle on this than I do the really important stuff. Sorry Victoria, what we had was nice. It’s not you, really, it’s me.

When I say I care less about the legislative angle, I don’t mean that I’m not terrified that some atrocity will ultimately be committed by the legislature. My general take on politicians and the political process is that they are nearly all somewhat dishonest and generally not looking out for the best interests of the public. Certainly we need to call them out each and every chance we get, and hold them to the responsibility they bear in representing the people. The issue with this, and the reason for my lack of passion about it, is that it is a never-ending and thankless task. As soon as you squash some mis-begotten spawn of the RIAA type legislation they have something worse queued up to fight over next week. It’s their job. So, in the never-ending battle to keep the hounds at bay, we have to work really hard to come up with something workable for the legislators to pontificate on. My hope is that the #open process can yield something reasonable. But this is not the real fight.

The other part is the thing that I’m actually more interested in. You may have seen the recent discussion by Cory about the war on general purpose computing. It’s spot on. The issue will not go away until politicians realize that the nature of the thing they are attempting to regulate is not severable (to use lawyer-speak). I’m not sure how we go about the process of getting people to realize this, but it is something that needs to be done.

The fundamental issue that is so difficult for many to understand is the tremendous benefit that we receive by having powerful computational tools and open networking. Society benefits greatly from the advances that are made when access to these tools are ubiquitous. I say this, unfortunately, without a lot of hard data to make the case. It makes intuitive sense. Most reasonable people would probably agree with the statement, but I don’t feel comfortable criticizing censorship proponents for not having data when I don’t have any to support my own point. Perhaps that’s where this needs to go – documenting and analyzing the net benefits of openness, as well as attempting to quantify the potential harm of losing this capability.

In addition to this shift in perspective that needs to happen on the part of regulators, there is a potentially more difficult and important change of thinking that needs to happen for this problem to truly be solved. In many ways it seems inevitable, but the change that is happening seem painfully slow by internet standards. Most of the modern day buggy whip manufacturers, just like those in the original case study, don’t realize that they are in a position of increasing irrelevance. Some have certainly gotten the message. Software is eating the world. If you took a survey of newspaper publishers, you would get some really clear sense how the economics of distribution and production have changed with the advent of widespread usage of inter-networked systems. Many people in the industries that also used to rely on wildly expensive barriers to competition are completely lost in attempting to come up with ways to stay relevant. Unfortunately, these people are well-connected and well-funded. They produce things like SOPA and push with all their might to get them passed. Seems like a waste of time, in the grand scheme of things. Once the inevitability of the changes become unavoidably obvious, hopefully the push for bad laws will stop. We can hope.


Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Sharing isn’t saving (huh?)

Posted by Todd McKinney on August 12, 2011

OK, this is pretty much a repost of a comment on this response to this post. Fixed the typos here, because I can’t edit a comment on Om’s nifty blog and I feel mighty bad for leaving the thing incomplete…

While I certainly disagree with Alex Swartsel’s position on this issue, I welcome the publication of it. The copyright industries tend to suppress discussion and comment at every opportunity. The more we discuss these issues, the more opportunity that the valid arguments will win on the merits. Since the position of the MPAA/RIAA is dubious from top to bottom, I say bring it on. People notice when you attempt to suppress discussion. It makes your arguments look weak.

Alex is disappointed in Janko’s post because she (yes, I figured out she is a she and her name is actually Alexandra. This information came not from the MPAA blog, where she seems to be an anonymous author, but from the publicly available congressional staff salary database at http://www.legistorm.com/person/Alexandra_R_Swartsel/37497.html. The lady seems well connected, to say the least. Oddly, my only motivation was to get the he/she bit correct, and I came across a textbook play from the regulatory capture field manual) believes that Janko is casually promoting theft as acceptable. I read the original post yesterday, and that is not the way that I took it.

In my reading of the original post, Janko is simply pointing out the realistic consequences of our intellectual overlords deciding to make it much more difficult and potentially much more expensive for people to conviently access entertainment. It seemed to me to be a common sense analysis of the situation. Maybe I’m biased, we all bring some baggage to these discussions.

The attempt, however, by apparently anyone who is paid by the money machine that is the copyright industry, to equate file sharing to shoplifting clothes has gotten pretty darn tiring. Somehow, the legacy industry folks don’t seem to grasp the idea of fixed costs vs. marginal costs and how it matters in the economics of production. I understand that it is expensive to make things. I write software. I make things. It costs a lot to do that. Once those very expensive things are made, there is one master copy. Then, in the world that we find ourselves in today, I can quite literally produce and distribute an infinite number of perfect copies of that one really expensive thing I made.

I would like to see Alex do that with back-to-school clothes. Really, I would. The reason I would like to see this happen is because it would revolutionize our society and it would make people’s lives quite different than they are today. My suspicion is that if she pulled something like that off, she would be very unlikely to stand up for the rights of the legacy clothing manufacturers to hold on to their dying businesses. Unless, maybe, they hired her to lobby Senator Dodd or Senator Whitehouse. I’m sure that there is some price at which she would say just about anything, no matter how little sense it makes.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Crazy – yep, like a fox

Posted by Todd McKinney on December 17, 2010

I don’t know why this particular theory didn’t occur to me sooner. It does seem that there may be some sense to the general approach that the US has taken in aggressively pursuing draconian IP laws across the globe. I tend to be really strongly against this idea, because it means that we are generally disadvantaged in doing dang near anything creative or innovative. There may be a method to the madness, however…

Travel with me, if you will, to a time and place where all of Europe has suppressed any kind of sharing of any kind of “media”. Extend that a bit further, into India and possibly even China. Get some compliance from Russia, and slam Australia and New Zealand into shape so that only around half their population can even spell wikipedia. Now you’re getting the idea. Slowly, and even possibly never, suggest that the USA also comply with our own stinking, stupid, putrid, brain-dead rules. Allow the legal system to bottleneck things and always keep us “on the cusp” of doing the stupid stuff we make everyone else do. But never actually do it.

We win.

Simple. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this until just now. The only real problem I can see with this plan is that our national production of new Baywatch episodes has fallen to zero. I’m sure that Hasselhoff can be bought, however, if the price is right. There may be no price to high to pull this scheme off.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Maybe 2020?

Posted by Todd McKinney on March 25, 2010

I’m not sure what they’re waiting for here, but with the data collection cycle for the census bureau being what it is I would put at least 50/50 odds that they will have a suitable web solution in place for next time.


Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

It really is a jungle out there

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 26, 2009

As I’ve been laying out a plan for discussing how social networks and the new realities of customer service are playing out, I’m quite encouraged. This certainly doesn’t need to be a mostly negative, ranting diatribe that constantly says “you’re doing it wrong”. On the contrary, there are a lot of companies and individuals that are leading the way and providing excellent examples of how to deal with people well. This brings me hope and joy in this new era of hope (amidst dire financial turmoil), or whatever we are calling it.

image One company that I personally have been pleasantly surprised by is Amazon. While my experience didn’t quite rise to the level of this hilarious email on the consumerist, when I got in touch with Amazon about a fairly routine shipping problem that was my fault they responded like human beings. Helpful human beings even. It seems like my positive experience is not an isolated incident. Now, it’s not that there isn’t room for improvement. I despise web forms that call themselves email. I’ll explain my feelings about that in a separate post.

In some ways the bar is pretty low here. All it really takes is responding as a real human, and treating people with some respect to provide customer service that is noteworthy. This is especially true for a company that operates primarily on the internet, and it seems that Amazon has a good grasp of the need for trust and communication with customers that you are never going to be able to directly talk to.

So, Amazon, thanks for putting in the effort and making things a little less stressful for me when I needed you to. I won’t forget it.


photo credit: quinet

Posted in Customer Service | 1 Comment »


Posted by Todd McKinney on January 23, 2009

Crap. Despite the best of intentions, this blog has underperformed. Don’t worry – I don’t blame you, I mostly blame myself. Interestingly, although it has ominous parallels to the trend lines of the stock market and the US economy, the downward spiral of this particular publication was NOT due to high leverage or ill-advised risky investments. Mostly it’s because I have other priorities. image

OK, enough groveling. What now. One of the things that recently occurred to me is that most of my best writing happens whenever I’m on the bad end of a corporate system that doesn’t seem to be working right. I don’t know why this is. I’m deeply engrossed in writing software and the whole startup ecosystem is a fascinating thing. I should be able to write about this stuff fairly well. For some reason, however, I seem to be most passionate when there is an “injustice” in the world and I’m on the receiving end. Whether it be Network Solutions and their abysmal policies, or whoever seems to be taking advantage of their customers, I seem to have a lot more to say when there’s something bad happening that nobody can do anything about.

Except we can. Partially inspired by Jeff Jarvis and the Dell saga, partially by the horrible treatment of MG Seigler at the hands of Comcast, and partially by the things that really bother me about the way that ridiculous business policies affect me personally – I think I finally have a theme for this blog. It’s going to largely be about changing the way companies interact with customers. Our tools and our systems have become overwhelmingly social. Lots of companies have had a hard time adjusting to the constant feedback loop. There’s a lot of raw material for this one, so hopefully the theme will have some legs.

Unfortunately, this probably means that I’ll come across as a grumpy complainer much more than I would like. Hopefully there will be some examples of good customer service that I can use to balance out your perception of my personality. Without further rambling, here’s the full text of an email that I recently sent to the people that sent me down this path (newegg):

I have to say that I am pretty disappointed in the facilities that you have for handling rebates. My expectations around rebates have been set by Fry’s, and I would highly recommend that you study their in-store system for how this “should” be handled.

While newegg seems to have a pretty good mechanism of advertising the benefits of rebates, there is almost no system at all to help with redemption of the rebates once a purchase has been made. In retrospect, having been through the process at newegg, I believe it verges on false advertising.

As I suggested, there is a lot to be learned from the way that Frys handles this issue, but I will summarize it here so you have a clear idea of what I see as an opportunity for you to implement some improvements to achieve a semblance of parity. The ideal system for newegg would be to print all necessary paperwork for filing for a rebate, attach the paperwork together in logical groups, print a summary sheet with destination addresses, products and amounts, and send all of that with the product shipment.

Given that the above process may be difficult to implement, you could start with doing a couple of things that seem fairly straightforward and that I was honestly shocked to find that you are not already doing:

1) When assembling an order, the rebate links are prominently featured with each product in the shopping cart. Upon completion of the order, there seems to be no way to find out what, if anything, had a rebate associated with it let alone the amount of the rebate and instructions. This is the part that I think is borderline dishonest. It should be fixed.

2) Everything on your site seems very time-sensitive and temporal. You really need to capture the state of the order, including all rebate info, in a form that allows a customer to access the information later. I had to google your rebate documents for each product on my order to find anything that even resembled the offer at the time of purchase. You should really be embarrassed that the mechanism you have built is THAT bad. Unless, of course, you did it on purpose to lower the response rate on rebates. If that is the case, then you should be investigated by the FTC.

As a final suggestion, you really should put an email address on your website. Having a web form and calling it “email” is insulting. I have included a forwarded copy of the invoice you sent me to enable you to extract all the stuff you seem to want to collect on the web form.

I do apologize for the somewhat harsh tone of parts of this message, but I do feel strongly about the issue and it has caused me a large amount of unnecessary effort to do something that should not be so difficult. I believe that this has seriously damaged my perception of your service and the overall value that newegg offers to me as a customer. You WERE well on the way to becoming my “preferred default” vendor, and now that is not such an easy call. I will be comparison shopping elsewhere and weighing the pain of dealing with this aspect of your business when deciding where to buy. This is also an opportunity for your organization to take feedback and do something positive with it. I sincerely hope you consider this issue in that light. I do not expect an answer to this email, but I will definitely be watching for evidence that you are fixing your processes.

BTW,  if you happened to stick with me this far, thanks – I know it was a bit long. I would love to hear about examples that you have experienced (good or bad) in the comments, or friendfeed, or wherever. Let me know.

photo credit: me’nthedogs

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Will FriendFeed be the next FriendFeed?

Posted by Todd McKinney on July 6, 2008

The reason I ask this question is that nobody can argue with the premise by saying “NO! They’re different!”. There’s a lot of discussion going on lately about “service x” is the “service y” killer, or I’ve got 95,000 followers on “service z” in just two days (63.23% of service x after 10 years), etc… Some of these questions seem interesting, some of them pointless, and still others are just a silly cry for attention.

The common denominator

image In nearly every case when some web service is being compared to another there is always someone, and often multiple someone’s, who jump into the discussion and expose the truth that the two things are in fact different. Often, this pronouncement seems to be made in a tone that implies the discussion should just end now because the answer has been found. No point in continuing. Quite similar to finding the rosetta stone with the number 42 prominently chiseled on it, we now know that the question was pointless because someone just figured out that Twitter != del.icio.us.

What’s really going on

There is a fairly useful idea that is often employed in analysis that is called “compare and contrast”. It is a way that humans can recognize patterns, extrapolate functionality, and synthesize ideas. Consider it to be the same thing as a thought experiment. In order to get value out of a question such as this, the items being compared need not be identical. In fact, if they were identical THAT would be a reason to quit talking about it. I mean really, WILL Google be the next Google? They have feature parity, and the exact same user base, and they even share a URL. Yes, I can say with reasonably high confidence that Google has a great shot at being the Google of tomorrow. Have either of us learned anything from that? I doubt it.

Consider something that has nothing to do with technology. Take apples and oranges. Lots of folks use this one to imply that you’re comparing something that can’t be compared. But what if? What if an orange had a skin like an apple, that didn’t taste disgusting, and was easy to bite through? It would be something else, neither orange nor apple, but it might be something I would want. That is the point of all these compare and contrast questions – it’s like “fusion” cuisine and it’s one of the easiest ways to come up with something new. Take two things that are not the same and combine the best of both. Do you like what you ended up with?

Here are some technology examples of the same kind of thing. When Steven compares Twitter to Windows, I learn something. It gives me a perspective that I can immediately grasp, and it’s an angle I hadn’t considered. When Alan Stern discusses a missed opportunity by del.icio.us, it immediately resonates with me. I remember the potential that service had. Thinking about how I use friendfeed today leads me down the path of “what could del.icio.us have done to get me there with their service?” Would it look different than friendfeed? Probably. Can I learn something by connecting the dots? You bet.

STOP IT – I know they’re different

In an appropriately subtle way, I would like to suggest a simple 12-step program for those that feel compelled to enlighten the world that an egg is really not a baseball. The first few steps go something like this:

1. Admit that you have a problem.

2. When the urge to point out that the letter “R” is not even remotely like the letter “V”, give other people a little credit. A blind cat could figure that out.

3. Take 10 deep breaths and step away from the keyboard.

…additional steps as appropriate to get to 11

12. Once you’re OK, come back and say something useful.


All right, you people can really say anything you want. Freedom of speech and of expression are valuable stuff. I just wanted you to know how it comes across when I see it.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Under new management

Posted by Todd McKinney on July 3, 2008

I’ve probably been reading Seth Godin’s blog for too long. I’m starting to notice the marketing messages in common stuff that people usually ignore. Yesterday I drove by a convenience store that had a really large yellow banner with three big words that they really want the world to know. The sign read:



Now I’m sure that someone thought this would be a pretty compelling message, but when I read this I thought “what are they trying to say?”. My interpretation is this:

DELI – we’ll go broke if you just buy gas. Come inside and spend some money on high margin stuff. We’d hire a dancing bear if it would make you come in the store.

NEW MANAGEMENT – the people that used to run this place were completely incompetent. We’re a lot better, so forget anything that ever happened here that was a bad experience.

imageI don’t really have a problem with the “buy more stuff” pitch. That’s just market-driven capitalism and I wish them the best of luck selling sandwiches. The really odd thing to me is that if the primary feature that you want to promote about your business is that the people who used to be in charge have left, either the previous management created a horrific train wreck, or you don’t really have much to promote.

This message may be helpful in some extreme cases, but to me it almost seems like the nuclear option in promotion. Hunting around on Flickr, it does seem to be a fairly common message.


photo credit Robyn Gallagher

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

Home is where you park your RV

Posted by Todd McKinney on July 3, 2008

The background

I haven’t been writing much except for code, documentation and email lately. One of the things that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading during this quasi-hiatus is Alexander van Elsa’s most excellent blog with the really long name: Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior (that’s how it shows up in Google Reader, anyhow). Alexander’s writing works for me for a number of reasons:

  • I’m a sucker for long-form blogging. This is kind of anti-schizophrenic-2.0 in concept, but I think most things worth talking about can’t be fully described in 140 characters. I’d rather spend twenty minutes thinking about something substantial than flitting to 30 web sites and speed-scanning 1,000 rss entries doing pattern matching looking for something good.
  • As a requirement for #1, the whole thing only works if you have something to say. Alexander brings a perspective and depth to his writing that I find engaging.
  • He comes highly recommended by at least one cranky blogger. As Steven appropriately pointed out in his respect post, finding someone you can learn from is something of a treasure.

All of that was a really long-winded lead in to the thing I’ve spent some time pondering the past couple of days. In the first post in his current series, Alexander goes on a bit of a thought experiment regarding the human factor. The first point is that openness will inevitably triumph over the walled garden, but we will still need some place on the web to call “home”. We’re left kind of wondering about what that will be. I want to find out.

Home is…


Everyone knows that home is where the heart is. There may be some real truth to that, but it’s not real helpful in painting a picture of the way we will navigate the social web of the future. I did a search on the term “home is”, and got some interesting results.

  #1: Wikipedia – A home is a place of residence or refuge. Didn’t even need to visit. The google summary was enough.

  #2: seti@home – That’s kind of ominous.

then, a bit further down, I come across the title for this post: http://homeiswhereweparkourhouse.com/. Similar to the snail picture that I found on flickr, these folks take “home” with them when they travel around. This approach seems to have some advantages, and I think it may have some parallels in the way we view “home” online.

To get a little more specific about what I think about when we’re talking about our online home, here are a few different things that combine together and help define our “place of residence or refuge”:

  • a launching point
  • a statement of who we are
  • a place to have friends visit

Launching Point

This is part of what we consider to be home. It’s the place we leave to go navigate around the world, it’s familiar and comfortable and we know how to find things from here. Google kind of works in this role, but it feels kind of generic. That may be a bit of the idea behind iGoogle, where you can move the furniture around a bit. The thing is, though, there’s not just one place like this. Today’s social web leads to a navigational style that’s a lot like staying in every house in the subdivision while you’ve got a room at the Hilton and the Motel-6 (reference to MySpace, obviously) and have construction started on four different houses in different cities and you’ve moved in to your friend’s cool new boat to see what that would be like. Twenty open browser tabs and a couple of Adobe AIR apps later, when you’re browsing around trying to decipher the difference between a “digg this” badge and “shovel this” and “drop kick this” and “trip on this” and on, and on – you just have to think there’s a more sane way to navigate and share stuff. Has to be.

We seem to be building control panels like FriendFeed to solve the problem, but it’s funny how quickly the idea becomes like one of those Russian doll things. This joke pretty much sums up how difficult it seems to be to own that one essential service that is home for finding stuff. All that navigational home base variety abounds, and we haven’t even talked about “normal” aggregators. Google Reader, FeedDemon, RSS Bandit, etc… These things are also important pieces of the navigational puzzle. There is still a lot to be done here, as the current tools are fulfilling about 5% (swag – margin of error ~90%) of their true potential. One really important function that has been envisioned but I don’t think I’ve seen implemented, is that this tool needs to prioritize the things that I find important. Must be because it’s a hard problem.

Statement – This is ME

Another thing that defines home for us web dwellers is some kind of structure that people can drive by and use to make judgements about us. What neighborhood we live in, whether we mow the lawn often enough, what kind of cars are out front – you know the drill. This is probably less nebulous than the home base concept above, but there are still a lot of options. Am I mostly defined by what shows up in Google, or my blog, or stuff I say on FriendFeed, or Twitter, or comments that are splattered across the web with my name on them (including even the ones I authored), or…

Well, it’s not perfect, but it does seem a little less confusing and a lot harder to change. It does seem to be a bit telling that there is a growth industry in image consulting/personal marketing/seo just to help people present the “this is me” picture in the best possible way. I can’t imagine what my kids are going to have to go through to get a job.

Gathering Place

This is an essential function of a real-world home. More and more, it seems to be a function of our virtual home(s) as well. I was intrigued by the reasons that Hutch gave for switching his home page. The reasons all seem to boil down to “the content is better (and it’s not slow)”. As we shift from the free-for-all world of forum posts and blog comments to an environment where we only hear the people we find interesting, it starts to feel a lot more like my living room and a lot less like a trip to the mall. Interestingly, in the process we get a lot closer to a launching point that knows what I want to see. Rather than doing some wickedly difficult statistical modeling of my reading habits, filtering the source to people I find interesting is a pretty good start. A big difference between blog aggregation (which is also “interesting person” filtered by definition) and FF/Twitter activity streams is the amount of effort that has to go into interacting. This is the secret sauce that makes both of these services so compelling. It’s not about gathering data from rss feeds in one place. That’s a simple problem and easily solved. Friction-free interaction is the big draw. As much as I’m a proponent of spending 20 minutes reading a blog post, or an hour writing one, I don’t really always have the time. The time and effort bar is just so much lower for Twitter and FriendFeed that it’s not a fair comparison. Ultimately, if this is about having conversations, then these “short form” venues seem a lot more like a conversation to me.

Mobile Phone, Mobile home

While pondering this stuff during my commute for a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that we’re really heading towards a future that gives us the ability to communicate with people in really intelligent ways. We should be able to get feedback from people directly without the hard interrupt of a phone call. It will be a system that travels with us, and knows who we are in some significant sense. Going down this path led me to the inevitable “but what would make this mainstream” questions. It’s easy for people who are always glued to a laptop, but what about all the normal people who seem to be everywhere and don’t really spend much time on the web? It’s just so blindingly obvious that I wish I didn’t spend so much time thinking about it. Normal people already have this. It’s SMS. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. It isn’t the pittance of data transfer that’s important. It’s that for most people their cell phone is “home” and it’s their social network, and it fulfills all the stuff I just spent so much effort typing about. This definitely falls into the category of I knew that, but I don’t think I realized how important it was until I really spent some time thinking through it.


photo credit SantaRosa OLD SKOOL

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Drift Diving in (cyber)Space

Posted by Todd McKinney on June 29, 2008

Strange but true, for those who may be wondering if I died or something, you need not fear the worst. There are a few cobwebs collected on the blog here, but I somehow managed to still remember the password. That’s a big win in my book.

So, where’ve you been?

First, before we just jump back in to me spouting off about something, I think a quick update is in order. I’ve been completely consumed with the enormous task of delivering software for the last month or two. The really, really good news is that this effort is paying off. It’s quite thrilling to start seeing some buzz around our product and the company. We’re not completely past crunch-time yet, there’s a mountain of work on my plate. Hitting a couple of critical milestones has, however, given us just enough breathing room that I’m starting to think about stuff like mowing the lawn and eating regular meals again. Blogging falls somewhere in there.

Can you get to the point already

Fair enough. I know it’s bad form to go on and on about not posting. It really bugs me when people do it.

Mark Evans is a writer who continually says things that resonate with me, and he often captures my imagination with an idea that challenges my assumptions and makes me think. I read Mark’s “love affair with FriendFeed” post, and spent a bit of time thinking about it. Ultimately, my opinion differs from Mark’s because FriendFeed for me is a service that is quite useful. I believe it has the potential to be both mainstream and HUGE. As is often said in these discussions, everyone has a different experience with the service. That fact is a real plus for FriendFeed. Personalization and customization are critical to being flexible enough to meet a wide range of needs.

Specifically Mark criticized a couple of things about the FriendFeed experience. First, there is the noise level. I have to say that I was pretty concerned about this at first, but sometimes it is best to just let go and enjoy the ride. image Initially, the stuff I saw on FriendFeed was a nice manageable bit of thoughtful conversation. Mostly this is because I was subscribed to about five people. The experience changed pretty noticeably after I took Louis Gray’s advice and started subscribing to everyone that looked interesting. Is it noisy? You bet. Is it valuable? I would have to say yes. Surprisingly the noisy version is even more useful to me than the more civilized chat I used to have among a few people. That’s where the “drift diving” idea in the post title came from. You get dropped off where there’s a nice current, and amazing things just float past. You don’t even need to put much effort into it.

Secondly, there is the shiny thing syndrome that Mark mentions. This aspect, if it came to pass would matter to me quite a bit. One of the things that I find compelling about FF is that it enables me to follow and participate in conversations with people that are very interesting and influential. If the swarm of “digerati” suddenly abandoned the service it would definitely lose something. I’m pretty confident, however, that there’s a lot of staying power to the service. This does seem like a pretty good yardstick. If all of the fans and cheerleaders move on to something else, perhaps there is not enough compelling value to the service to hold people’s attention. Time will tell on this one.

What’s so great about it then

In one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” concepts – FriendFeed is driving us in the right direction. I don’t believe that this is THE be-all and end-all service, but it’s the best I’ve seen so far. imageThere is a confluence of capabilities that I need that all intersect right where FriendFeed lives. The killer aspect of FriendFeed is NOT in the aggregation of multiple services and multiple people.

The thing that makes it useful is that it enables the closest thing we’ve got to friction-free conversations. The aggregation of feeds is a necessary component that brings in source material, but is not the point in itself. Rather than having to run all over the web chasing a bunch of links, I get to see and participate in conversations that people I like to follow around are having. It changes the focus of the conversation from a post on a blog somewhere to a group of interesting people talking about a bunch of stuff. Twitter almost does this, but unless you’re following half the population of California, Twitter can be like a surreal scavenger hunt just trying to figure out who said what. On FriendFeed, they all get nicely organized, like this.

The feel of conversation in FriendFeed is just completely different than comments on a blog. Rather than having one person pontificate and everyone else discuss, it raises the commenter to a more equal participant. There isn’t a feeling of having the discussion be below the fold. The discussion is the content.

Also, this conversation is not just about things I write. I read a lot more than I write (obviously). Being able to quickly share things I read and find interesting was enabled with Google Reader and other rss aggregators quite some time back, but this always left me feeling kind of unsatisfied. Did anyone even read it? Did they understand what I liked about it? Being able to see what the writers I like are reading is also pretty amazing.

Finally, there are more things I think the FF team has done well, but I just want to point out another possible contrast. Mark asked if FriendFeed is the “next Facebook”, or just something we’ll soon grow tired of. I think it won’t be the next Facebook. FriendFeed does not feel at all like a walled garden.


Photo credit nieve44 and Steve Deger

Posted in FriendFeed, General | 1 Comment »