Unraveling Obfuscation

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


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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