Unraveling Obfuscation

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

Archive for January, 2008


Posted by Todd McKinney on January 22, 2008

A pretty interesting datapoint showed up in my feed reader today. Andrew Chen posted a graph of his subscriber numbers, and it’s a pretty dramatic curve. It seems that the primary driver of the recent spike is attributed to a link from Scoble. This didn’t strike me as strange. I remember reading more than once that Robert is specifically oriented towards participants instead of passive readers.

I want participants, not audience. Why? Well, in 2008 you’ll see that participants are who advertisers and sponsors REALLY want to reach.

Patrick, the first commenter on the post so far, offered the opinion that the link was accompanied by a glowing recommendation (my words, but pretty accurate) and that counts for a lot. Interestingly, it also is correlated with Robert discovering Andrew’s feed through Google Reader shared items. When I was looking back through the Scoble archives for the audience engagement posts, I came across a really interesting one from the middle of last year titled Google Readers are Engaged!

The other thing this demonstrates is that the most engaged audiences are now using Google Reader. What do I mean by “engaged?” People who are willing to do something. Click a link. Leave a comment. Buy. Etc.

Now, that was from June, and no doubt some of the action bias is due to the early adopter swarm rolling through the latest shiny new thing. It would be really nice to figure out some way to measure this engagement level over the long haul. The longer a tool like Google Reader is around, and the more mainstream it becomes, potentially the behavior could trend towards more casual involvement. I’m betting against it, however.

I believe there is potential for increasing involvement as time goes by for Google Reader users. One reason I think this could happen is a simple one. Sharing, or using Reader to create a link blog, is a killer feature. For one thing, with the current state of implementation, you end up deeply committed to the reader because it’s also your only avenue to publishing on the link blog. More importantly, some third party services are showing off a bit of the potential for this sharing activity to bubble up interesting and popular items. It becomes both a system that allows you to “vote” on a post kind of like Digg, as well as an ambient engine that collects user actions and surfaces patterns in the data.

Those attributes are all factors that should lead to increasing use of sharing over time, especially as Google adds features and/or the 3rd party services grow in popularity. The best thing of all about all of this sharing, though, is the ease with which it enables action. I think this is truly where the beauty of the system is. With a simple keystroke, you can take the thing you’ve just read and indicate “hey, that was worthwhile to me”. It takes no time, and can very easily move someone from a passive reading mode to an active publishing mode. Friction free publishing. It doesn’t get much easier.


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MS bashing may be fashionable

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 20, 2008

…but it’s not always right. I’m reading about all the dustup with Mashable not doing such a great job with attribution, and overall I’m thinking yes, something should change. It’s just sleazy to see the proliferation of internal links and content thievery among the commercial a-list in the blogosphere. These guys should be setting the standard here, not competing in a race to the gutter with MSM and sensationalism.

Then, I don’t know, maybe Louis Gray is throwing them a bone or something, kind of an olive branch, by sharing out this one-sided drivel from Mashable on his uber cool linkblog. The headline is certainly intriguing and it implies that I’m going to read some fascinating story about MSFT beating up on the web 2.0 ecosystem. My first thought is how does this play with the new accelerated acquisition kick they’re on, and how are things working out. Is that what I get? No.

The article parrots a Fortune piece that is whining about MSFT stopping people from scraping address book data. This is nearly the same song as the Scoblegate/Facebook storm that was raging a couple of weeks ago. From what I recall, that was kind of a 50/50 split among the crowd, with a lot of “Facebook was right” and “Scoble was right” depending on who was talking. In all the noise, one of the most sane and insightful discussions came from Dare.

Typing in credentials for another service is absolutely the wrong thing to be training users to do. It’s an insidious problem that raises the vulnerability of the mainstream user to phishing and identity theft. As an industry, and as individuals who are designing and building these systems we should be ashamed. Blaming Microsoft for saying this design is wrong might feel like a good idea, but it seems to me in this case that the artist formerly known as “Borg” is fighting the prevailing wisdom for a pretty good reason.

Posted in msft, Tech | 2 Comments »

Filter working nicely for me

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 16, 2008

Alexander, as far as the english view of things go, awesome job! Looks like you may have a little bit of encoding/escaping work to do on some characters, but the site has gone back to usable for me. Thanks – this thing is really interesting, at least for right now before it starts attracting bucket loads of spam.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Challenge Indeed

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 16, 2008

Over at the Twitter blog, Biz (which I would guess isn’t really someone’s real name, but who am I to judge) has a post up that addresses the burning question of Why We Are Focused on Engineering and Operations. Not in so many words, what Biz said is “because we crash and burn too often”. I’m thinking most people knew the answer as soon as they heard the question.

I would offer that the interesting bits here are:
  1. It’s reported to be a good problem to have, too much traffic/demand/opportunity/scale.
  2. They’ve got no revenue, so it’s not completely surprising that the whole app has the performance characteristics of an intricate pile of wet spaghetti, duct tape, and the occasional bit of baling wire.

Now, I’m not trying to insinuate that they’ve gone cheap on this thing – there is a stellar bunch on the VC side of the equation and if you read the Fred Wilson post I linked to, they’re laser focused on getting to scale. Nor am I poking a stick at the developers/architects/geniuses who though it up, coded it and have to keep it running. I’m sure they’re doing a fine job. It does, however, seem to be a simple conclusion that the tradeoffs you make when you have a goose-egg in the revenue column look a bit different than what you build if you’re IBM or Google (or walmart or whoever). Even if you’ve got deep pockets making big bets.

It’s just different to be spending VC money than to be funding the development of a product out of funds that you’ve collected from customers, advertisers, or whomever in exchange for an established product or service. I’m starting to think that the difference is that the math is just easier if you’ve got revenue. Based on what people are historically willing to pay, you can pretty easily come up with your budget cap to spend on development, maintenance, etc. If you don’t know what people are willing to pay (or what the business model is and by implication how much cash you can bring in) then you have to guess. The one thing you know for sure is that the more you spend building it, the less there is to go around when it’s time to cash in. Or, depending on what your variable is in the equation, the quicker we run out of runway.

To me, this current bit of Twitter noise looks a lot like a pendulum swing in progress. Stability is now a strategic imperative, and “maybe we were a little too stingy a while back when it wasn’t important” – now go fix it. Been there. This business of free stuff making people rich is a complicated game.

Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about Twitter or the intricate workings of Venture Capital beyond all of the indisputable facts I’ve read on the internet. Mostly this is me thinking out loud.

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Uh, no, I think you’re reading too much into that

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 12, 2008

Mark Evans asks a question that I think didn’t need to be asked, mainly because it’s stupid:

By the way, when did “60 Minutes” become the forum to plead your case when you find yourself on the hot seat? First, Roger Clemens; now Zuckerberg.

Oh yeah, Facebook has some negative feedback from the blogosphere so that is just like a congressional investigation into corruption in sports since they both went on the same show to discuss it.

The implied association strikes me as ridiculous.

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It’s not a conversation if everything is an essay

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 9, 2008

In a fairly unimaginative attempt to be funny, all I have to say about the latest Steve Rubel “I’m taking my ball and going home” dustup is: ditto.

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Little Nuggets of Gold

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 7, 2008

I spent a little quality time with Stevey’s latest essay. I don’t know if the basic premise is sound (I’m as unqualified as he is to be talking about the topic) but I truly enjoyed this one little bit that none of the commenters seemed to pay any attention to:

It’s one of the amazing miracles of the internet: write-only people. They can’t read but they somehow find a way to write. You see them commenting all the time in my blogs: “I didn’t actually read your entry, but allow me to comment on it all the same…” Lovely.

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