Jed Cohen

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Threadsy

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I wish I could go to more social media events/conferences/festivals/whatever.  Sadly, my schedule is a bit tight, and I don’t live on the west coast.

I stumbled across Threadsy via Twitter (the opening comment makes sense when you consider that Threadsy launched at Techcruch 50).  Anyway, it looks interesting, and I signed up for a beta invite.  Then, because they asked, I started filling out their survey.  In addition to the usual demographic information, they asked “How would you improve email, Twitter, or Facebook?”

Before I post my response, I should note that I don’t have access to Threadsy now.  And I didn’t write this post because I want an invite faster.  Don’t get me wrong, I do want to try it out, but I wrote this post because they made me think.  So way to go them – in my eyes, that’s as important as providing a service I’ll actually use.

Now here’s my response to their survey question:

I think Threadsy is a good way to start. With the rise of Twitter clients (especially those that can integrate with other services), we now have an expectation that not everyone will view social media content the same way – that way being through the service’s website. Opening up the data stream across platforms and allowing third party applications to access, sort, and analyze it can help to increase the signal to noise ratio, and make sure that we’re seeing content we actually want to see.

I suppose this mirrors the original development of e-mail clients, especially when you consider that they often include additional features beyond that of what e-mail services provide (like better spam filtering).

This said, it’s interesting to note that nothing above truly changes the concept of e-mail – although that may be just what it needs considering that it’s been around since the 1970s. And if I knew how to completely revamp e-mail, well, I’d probably be off trying to do it.

So yeah.  That’s what popped into my brain in response to their question (and I didn’t even go into Google Wave).  I’m still thinking about this, but I’m also curious – how would you make e-mail better?

Written by Jed

September 16th, 2009 at 10:06 am

Microsyntax

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Note: I’ve updated this post with a few new thoughts on some recent changes to Facebook.  Check out the end if you’ve already read this.

As far as I can remember, the first time I heard the word “microsyntax” was at The 140 Characters Conference (#140conf) during a talk by Stowe Boyd.  Among other things, Stowe writes/runs Microsyntax.org, which proposes and tracks new forms of microsyntax.  Examples:

  • The hashtag – using #word as a way to track a topic
  • The retweet – sharing a tweet from someone else using either RT @user or (via @user)
  • CoTags – marking who wrote a tweet using ^AB, where AB are the writer’s initials

All of these are focused on Twitter, yes.  I suppose that’s what happens when you only have 140 characters to work with – you start to invent shorthand for various grammatical constructs.  There are three things that I’ve been thinking about lately (not related to any specific platform):

  1. The development, mainstream adoption, and evolution of microsyntax tells you something about the network in which it is used.  I’m thinking primarily that it means that there is a large enough (semi-cohesive) community willing to embrace a standardized form of communication.  I suppose that the development and evolution of these elements also provide for a way to study a medium’s network and determine the flow of ideas and influence.
  2. Mainstream adoption of a microsyntax allows for its modification by the platform.  I’m thinking here of the change that Twitter made to the way @replies work.  If you’re not aware, you only see people’s replies to users you also follow, whereas a while back you had the option of seeing every tweet a user sent.  That’s why some users put a period in front of reply tweets, or shift the username of the person they’re replying to to the end of the tweet.  Veronica Wei Sopher has a great explanation of the change and how it impacts you, if you want to read more.  There’s also Twitter’s upcoming formal adoption of the retweet and alteration of the concept.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, it becomes the responsibility of users to learn current microsyntax.  Like verbal language, microsyntax can change; that said, it happens a lot faster due to the connective, real time nature of the Internet.  I’m surprised at how many Twitter users regularly forget to change their tweets as a result of the change to @replies; they forget that a lot of their tweets that they intend for many users are in fact seen by just a few.  It then becomes our responsibility to understand and properly use different microsyntaxes so that we can better engage with the community and accurately portray our thoughts to the public.

What might this mean for you?

Here’s what I think:

If you’re a user, try and follow the ways in which microsyntax changes over the course of your time on a particular platform.  Or create your own – it may just evolve into the next big thing on the platform you use.

If you’re a platform, try and listen to your users (which you probably should be doing anyway).  When they create a new syntax, consider adopting it and developing it in a way you feel is consistent with the overall principles of your service.  Or don’t and allow the community to manage it; it’s one more choice evolving social networks must make as they grow.

Update:

(9.10.09 11:10 PM)

Something related happened that I can write about!

Facebook added @mentions to status updates today.  Pretty cool, and I think an interesting example of how the development of microsyntax is not focused on a single platform.  Instead, it’s about creating standards that allow users to communicate clearly, regardless of where they’re actually communicating.  Think about the other standards you interact with when you use the web – domain names, programming languages, UI/UX, and so on (never mind the hardware standards in your computer).  Are any of those so open to modification by us, the end users?  Not so much.  Which is why I think the opportunity to create standards of communication like microsyntax is so unique – it is perhaps one of the few chances the general community has to shape the social web of tomorrow.

Written by Jed

September 8th, 2009 at 11:17 am

Posted in social media

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A Different Strategy is Required

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I wrote a post a little while ago about how I was going through a period of social media fatigue.  It kind of faded into the background a bit, but ever since then I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to engage with others online.

We do this in a variety of ways.  Some of us form deep personal relationships.  Others joke and play.  Still others network on a purely business level.  We all choose different ways to join the digital community.

I joined Facebook (five years ago!) to keep in touch with high school friends as we all spread out to varying colleges.  I joined Twitter (it’s already been over a year) first because a variety of friends were on it and then because of all the interesting people I could follow.  I joined LinkedIn because that’s what you do for business networking (not going to lie – still don’t know what I’m doing there).  I joined a host of other networks that I don’t even use (just in case I want to some day).

And then there’s this blog.

It’s a bit weird to consider writing a blog as a form of engagement, in that it is kind of a one way form of communication.  After all, I moderate the comments, I write the entries, I control how my posts are distributed to the public.  But the fact of the matter is that I release this blog out into the world for others to read.  And I read the blogs of others.  In a manner of speaking it’s a two way network, because what I don’t control is what you think of me (and what I think of you).

I originally created this blog in part because I wanted to express my opinions.  Because I wanted to control what people would see when they Google me.  And because it’s kind of what you expect from Gen Y-er who is interested in social media.

What does this mean exactly?

Looking back at my usage of this blog and other social media networks, I’ve decided that a change is in order.  Here’s three things I hope to do:

  • Stop following people on Twitter just because I like the idea of following them.  More often than not I end up skipping over/missing their tweets anyway.  Why do I follow a ton of internet marketers and graphic designers when I am interested in the fields but not involved in them?
  • Explore new networks.  Brazen Careerist recently relaunched their site to incorporate more social networking features.  I’m not sure if I’ll use it yet, but I should at least invest time in the network to see if I like it.  As new networks launch (and old ones evolve), I would like to alter the way I use them to match.
  • Make a commitment to this blog.  Even if few people read it, this is still my own little corner of the Vox Populi.  My own place to express my thoughts and figure out what works for me in the digital space.

So?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to experiment.  I’ll be starting by posting short commentaries about a few things at the same time.  Chances are some of these will be revisited when I write full entries, but most things will probably start as these “seed” posts.  You can think of it as something between the 140 characters of Twitter and the paragraphs of more traditional entries.

First up?  Probably a thought or two on the new Brazen Careerist, plus a look at the difference between reciprocal and one way relationships in social networking communities.  Check back soon.

Written by Jed

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:16 am

Cross Platform Integration

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Cross platform integration can be a great thing.  Promoting and sharing content from one network to another can improve the quality and spread of information, and it can invite new perspectives on a discussion.  But there are definite downsides.  Let’s take this whole Twitter/Facebook and FriendFeed/Facebook integration mess that’s going on right now.  As far as I can figure out, what’s happening is that individual’s Twitter and FriendFeed posts are being mass pushed to Facebook, even if they didn’t turn on that feature.  It’s probably because of a change in the Facebook apps that integrate those services.  I feel comfortable saying this because it’s happening to people with both their Twitter and FriendFeed accounts connected to their Facebook.

Chances are, some behind the scenes change to the way the Facebook applications get data from Twitter and FriendFeed has led to this.  Or maybe it’s some changes they’ve made to the settings on status updates has overridden the application’s settings; if I remember correctly you can display the apps in your profile but not update your status (not sure because I don’t use these apps).  I don’t know for sure – I’m not a computer programmer, so this is all just possibilities and a little bit of common sense.  Either way, there are a few lessons we can learn from this I think.

  • If you’re a platform, please test changes before you go live.  This seems obvious, but “testing” when you have a userbase of 250 million like Facebook does means a lot of variables have to be considered.  I don’t want to be critical of Facebook –  let’s cut them some slack, and recognize that they can’t test every scenario, and things like this will happen (as much as they’d prefer they didn’t).
  • If you’re a developer, remember that you’re not working in a vacuum.  If you use the Twitter or Facebook APIs, you have to remember that you don’t own them.  Expect that changes will be made, and be willing to be flexible.  Plan accordingly, and build in contingency plans if you can.
  • If you’re a user, recognize that you use different platforms for different purposes.  I use Twitter for public stuff and Facebook for friends only stuff.  I hardly use FriendFeed (sorry FriendFeed, I just haven’t worked you into my routine).  It’s cool if you want to mix them; I don’t.  Either way, think about how you integrate all of your services across the web.  Keep in mind that those services are all created by different companies and have different goals.  Just because you want to send one unified message doesn’t mean that you should hook as many services into one another as possible.  Instead, keep in mind that each channel is different and deserves a slightly different approach.  This applies to companies too – would you use a radio ad on television?  Of course not!  So should you really be using a Facebook campaign on Twitter?  (Note: not a rule, just a suggestion).

Anyway, things like this are reminders that social media is still a new space.  Sure, Facebook has been around for years, and the White House uses Twitter as part of its communication strategy now.  But we still play and work in this fluid, dynamic environment that is subject to change – and we must be prepared to accept issues like this one, and be patient until they are resolved.

In the meantime, here’s how to block the Twitter and FriendFeed apps on Facebook – just click “Block Application” on the left. (This issue has been resolved).  And why don’t you leave a comment and let me know what you think while you’re at it?

EDIT (7.30, 8:30 AM EST):  I was reading the two articles at Mashable about this, and scrolling through the comments, I saw many negative responses to the whole situation.  Can someone please explain this to me?  Do we really expect social media companies to be perfect in everything they do?  It’s not like Facebook started putting everyone’s information on the Internet….they just posted a public feed somewhere it wasn’t meant to go (on another public website).  I don’t really get it.

Written by Jed

July 29th, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Posted in facebook,twitter

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Social Media Fatigue

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I’ve  been experiencing social media fatigue over the last few weeks.  I’m not sure why, and I don’t know how to stop it.  What is interesting to me about this though it that social media is an entirely voluntary experience.  I choose to log into Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, etc, and if I want to leave all I have to do is close my web browser.  So why should I feel overwhelmed with social media when I choose when I want to interact with it?

Take a look at the right hand side of this page and you’ll see a list of links to a few social media sites I’m on.  I’ve signed up for so many services, I can’t begin to assemble a full list.  Tumblr, Posterous, Delicious, YouTube, Disqus, Google, Scribd, SlideShare, and on and on and on.  My accounts on some of these sites are just placeholders in case I decide one day to use whatever features that platform provides.  And what I’ve listed here just scratches the surface of what is online.  What does the fact that there are websites like namechk dedicated solely to checking username availability tell us about the space that social media occupies?

This may perhaps be at odds with my last post, as there I was all excited about the growth of the third dimension of the social graph.  But as social functions are built into more and more websites, we run the risk of being unable to isolate ourselves from others online if we want to.  And why would we want to?  Any number of reason I suppose, from frustration with spam to a desire for privacy to a temporary bout of misanthropy.

Remember that work/life balance concept you may have heard of?  I wonder if we should begin to focus on a physical/digital balance as well as more and more people, companies, and brands enter the digital space.  As high speed mobile internet access spreads, should we be working to grow the number or quality of the interactions we participate in in the real world to match?  What happens when we shift more and more online to a hyperconnected web that lacks many of the nonverbal cues we use during in person interactions?  How can we stay engaged and focused when we flit from platform to platform like a hummingbird amongst the flowers?  And can we afford to take a break from social media to relax and focus on the real world without harming other’s perceptions of us?

Hopefully my social media fatigue will resolve itself soon.  In the meantime, I suppose I’ll be observing more than participating – which is one of the pluses of digital interactions I suppose.

Written by Jed

July 19th, 2009 at 8:48 pm

The Third Dimension of the Social Graph

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Welcome to the world of the social web.

These days, social media websites are no longer siloed off from one another; they are integrated entities, working together.  I can post my Twitter updates to my Facebook profile, throw in what I’m listening to on Pandora, export that all to my blog, and post it to any number of aggregators.  Each one of those websites has its own set of connections, the people I follow, or friend, or connect with.  And each of those individuals sits on my “social graph.”   If you’re not familiar with it, this just what it sounds like – a map of all of your social connections, and those connected to who you’re connected to, and so on and so forth.

What is interesting is that not all the ties on your graph are the same.  Consider the weak tie hypothesis of networking theory/sociology, which accounts for the development of social ties between disparate groups of people.  Basically, a lot of strong ties implies a close knit network where you know everyone well, while weak ties tend to imply a far reaching, varied social network with weaker relationships.  Thus someone with many weak ties is likely to have a large net of information to draw from, but the relationships will not be as deep.  (This, by the way, has many personal networking implications, but I think I’ll leave those to the networking experts).

I suppose it is then fitting that what I really want to talk about is a different kind of “weak tie,” one in which not separate people come together, but separate services and items.  I mentioned above some 0f the examples linking each social media service to one another, but there is another level to this as well – one that moves beyond just social media.  Specifically, I am thinking about the relatively recent rise of the interconnectedness between what we traditionally call social media and “non-social” websites.  To spell it out in terms of Facebook and Twitter, this would be Facebook Connect and the Twitter API.  Both expand the social graph beyond the two dimensional world of who you know and who knows you.  They allow for a world of three dimensions, one where every user can plug additional information into their social graph if they wish.  Here are two examples.  Facebook Connect allows you to log into Digg with your Facebook account and digg stories; this action can then be transmitted back to your Facebook account, telling your friends what you’ve done.  On the Twitter side of things, Spymaster allows you to assume the role of a covert agent and assassinate (and recruit) your fellow Twitter users, while also posting updates to your stream about your not so covert activities.

These, and other websites, are using the social aspects of social media outside of the traditional realm of the “social network” – the 2D relationship of being someone’s “friend.”  (I suppose that one could argue that the unidirectional nature of Twitter is a 1D relationship, but that’s not the point….however interesting its implications are.)  The point is that this information builds upon the basics provided by the social platform of your choice.  It’s not just your bio on your profile anymore; it’s also how you use the web.  And I think that that is the third dimension of the social graph.

This can be even more powerful if you start to look at ways that the social graph of the digital world can interact with the physical one.  Consider Nike+, which tracks users’ runs.  That too can be tied into Facebook (and Twitter).  Or BakerTweet, which tweets when the Albion Cafe in London has freshly baked goodies ready to sell.  There are many other examples of this type of crossover as well (see the plant that tweets, the washing machine that tweets, the cat door that tweets…..I’m sensing a pattern here folks).  What they’re all doing though is contributing to this third dimension on the social graph.

What’s the end result?  Don’t know.  It could be an interconnected, always on social world web, one where you can attach as much information to your identity as you’d like from a variety of sources.  Or it could be a layer of social networking information floating over the real world, one that tells you what your friends are doing at all times.  Or it could be the next way to meet new people, allowing users to find friends and business partners by interest, activity, or likes.  Or it could be all of these (one can argue it already is).  What remains though is that the social networks of today have opened their borders to one another, allowing users to access information from the digital and the physical, bringing the social web to conceivably every aspect of our lives – personal, professional, public, and beyond.

Regardless of how it turns out, I imagine this 3D social graph is going to be quite the interesting place to be.  And it’s one I hope to take advantage of.

Written by Jed

July 6th, 2009 at 11:00 pm