Pffft! Social Graph, We Need the Portable Social Network

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

In reading Alex Rudloff's "Privacy as Currancy" post I had two thoughts reoccur: 1) privacy is a currency back by trust; and 2) Pfffft! Social graph? Where is my Portable Social Network?

I agree with what Alex stated about wanting to move out of Facebook as my trust in them is gone completely (mostly driven by even though they apologized (poorly) Facebook still receives trackings of all your travels on the internet after you opt out, Om Malik's Zuckerberg's Mea Culp, Not Enough, and Brian Oberkirk's Facebook Harder to Shake than the Columbia Record Tape Club (a great read on the hurdles of really getting out of Facebook)). I will likely blog about the relationship between privacy and trust in another post in the not too distant future, as I have been talking about it in recent presentations on Social Software (Going Social and Putting Users First).

The Dire Need for Portable Social Networks

When Alex states:

Beacon had me so freaked out that I walked through what would happen if I simply removed my account (my natural, gut reaction). The fact is, I'd lose contact with a lot of people instantly. There's no easy way for me to take my data out and apply it somewhere else. There is no friend export and there isn't anywhere suitable for me to go.

I think we need portable social networks (or Social Network Portability as it is also known) before we need the social graph. Part of the interest in the social graph (mapping the relationships) is based on Facebook, but Facebook is a really poor interface for this information, it has some of the connections, some of the context, but it is not granular and does not measure strength (strong or weak ties) of relationships on a contextual and/or a preferential interest level. This social graph does little to help us move from one social software service to another other than to show a linkage.

There are strong reasons for wanting and needing the Portable Social Network. One is it makes it easy to drop into a new social software service and try it with social interactions with people whom we are already having social interactions. Whilst this is good it is also really important if something tragic or dire happens with a social software service we are already using, such as it is shut down, it is no longer performing for us, or it has given us a reason to leave through loss of trust. As I noted in the past (Following Friends Across Walled Gardens") leaving social software services is nothing new (even predates people leaving Delphi for Prodigy and Prodigy for AOL, etc.), but we still are not ready for this seemingly natural progression of moving house from one walled off social platform for another.

The Call for Action for Portable Social Network is Now

I am finding many of my friends have put their Facebook account on in hibernation (Facebook calls it &#quot;deactivation") and many have started taking the painful steps of really getting all of their information out of Facebook and planning to never go back. My friends have not sorted out what robust social software platform they will surface on next (many are still using Flickr, Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr and/or other options along with their personal blogs), but they would like to hold on to the digital statements of social relationship they made in Facebook and be able to drop those into some other service or platform easily.

One option could a just having a Smart Address Book or as Tim O'Reilly states Address Book 2.0. I believe that this should be a tool/service should have the relationships private and that privacy is controlled by the individual that owns the address book, possibly even accounting for the privacy request of the person whose address is in the address book. But, this is one option of many.

The big thing is we need Portable Social Networks now! This is not a far off in the future need it is a need of today.

Can Facebook Change Its DNA?

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

The posting on Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable received a lot of feedback and discussion. The e-mail discussions has urged me to post about the Facebook DNA and why it will be tough to transition Facebook into a really valuable tool for business without changing the services to a great degree. A social platform like Facebook is desperately needed for business, within enterprise, and organization that have information flows between the people interested in or that are members of an organization. The platform for this type of community has slightly different needs that Facebook does not provide.

Facebook and Its Initial User-base

It is not secret that Facebook started as a services that was by and for students and members of a university setting. The focus was connecting to people you have run across or will run across as friends, acquaintances from social events, or classmates. The services is quite conversational and does a decent job pulling together a person's shared digital lifestream (many others have done this for years and do it much better, Jaiku (now owned by Google) is one example of a much better approach).

Facebook as a service tended to focus on the current conversation as students largely are focussed on the now or short-time frame planning, e.g. it is Tuesday and what are people doing on Thursday through the weekend or who is going skiing this weekend and putting together a carpool. The time span of conversation and interest is etherial and Facebook very much reflects the short term nature of conversation. The focus is also students in networks framed as campuses, which enables this Local InfoCloud of familiarity to be used for memory, which is not needed in the service. This means if I see something in Facebook, say a good restaurant for a special date night, I can track down the person who suggested the restaurant or tap friends in the network (on campus) to recall the restaurant. This foundation of building a digital space for people in a common physical network does not need strong search or capability to hold-on to information that may have future value.

The reliance on building a digital services that replicates the frailties of physical communication (all hallway, classroom, or party conversation is lost to the ether and is reliant of human memory) is problematic when the people using the service are physically distributed.

Future Information Value

Facebook's largest failure is the lack of using digital conversation for the great value digital conversation provides, which is capturing conversation and information. This capturing of digital conversation has great value as the information that is shared often has much greater future value than current value. Take the same restaurant example from before, when a friend recommends a restaurant I may not have a need for that romantic restaurant now, but I most likely may need that information at sometime in the future. There are two things that I can do with that information: 1) Know the information is in the service and can search for it at a later time ("restaurant" and "romantic" in search, which may also find others have made the same recommendation); or 2) Mark the information in some manner for my ease of refinding (flag, favorite, or bookmark it with annotation from my perspective and context).

The Challenge Facebook has Changing

Making this shift in Facebook will be a huge challenge, not for the developers or technology (although Facebook has not modified its interface to handle the scaling of information flows of applications or increase in traffic, but that is another real problem that needs addressing) as they seem capable to make the minor technology changes that would be needed to use the service for improved search or holding onto information. The big pain point will be making a change that is counter to the understanding and use of those who still make up the core of its use-base, university students. When Facebook opened its doors beyond university students it created panic (well deserved) as their closed society was open to all viewers. The difficulty in holding on to information and searching through the services did not keep people from finding party photos or profiles that were meant for just friends and not future employers or others outside their immediate network. A large number of people left, or more accurately stopped using the service as much as they did (after removing the potentially problematic images and content).

There is an incredible mass of information in Facebook, most of it nearly impossible to find and hold onto at this point. Many of the people who have used the service have relied on this obscurity to keep from removing the (at the moment funny, ironic, humorous, or even not fully informed) statements made on walls, groups, status updates, and other places. Changing the core platform to create value for the people using the service as a digital information platform, that is similar to what is expected outside Facebook could have dire repercussions for Facebook as a service. But, not making these changes makes Facebook a really poor platform for business and knowledge sharing.

Valuable Lesson in Foundations

Having build many web base services, intranet, and networked services over the many years I have been doing this it continually comes back to the initial foundations are the ones that are hardest to shake. The initial people using a service shape it for the future and the initial technology decisions of a service often are the ones that are hardest to change. This change is difficult as the practices are socially ingrained into the understanding of the mores of the system and the social interactions are predicated on these understandings. All design and all interaction aspects of systems are political and drive people's motivation for use as they set the rules and social scripts for interaction. The components are not intentionally political, but they have do trigger reaction and alter motivations no mate how slightly. Not only does the medium have a message, but how the services works or does not work has a message that triggers a response for if and how it is used.

The State of Enterprise Social Software

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

Last Friday the Read/Write Web post on "Big Vendors Scrap for Enterprise 2.0 Supremacy" post really was bothersome for me. The list of big players and their products in the post seemed to show the sorry state of offerings by the big companies more than it shows they understand the vast improvements that have been put forth in the consumer webspace and by much better smaller companies.

Companies Claiming to Get Web 2.0

Nearly all of the enterprise software product companies are claiming understanding of Web 2.0, but none execute well on it and very few show promise of getting to good products (not even targeting great yet) in the near future. The companies placing a stake, include:

  • BEA: Traditional enterprise clunky and difficult to use interfaces
  • IBM: A good start with their Connections social software stack, but none of the tools are close to current practices and not to best practices. A version 2.0 may fix a lot of the issues. This is the best of this traditional enterprise bunch.
  • Microsoft: Leads their efforts with their newest version of Sharepoint. Sharepoint creates mini silos that are difficult to share information out of. The opposite of openness, sharing, and efficiency (tenets of Web 2.0).
  • Oracle: Offers sprinkling of Ajax interfaces and Web 2.0-like features, but really misses
  • SAP: As far as I can tell they have not launched anything yet

The best of this bunch with the most promise is IBM at the moment. IBM is saying all the right things and their products, while not current best practices or close yet, show they have most of the right foundation and the whisperings of version 2 sound like that could be a really useful tool for enterprise. IBM is using their own tools in-house and getting a lot of feedback there from eating their own dog food.

The BEA product I have only been able to watch video demos as my request to get hands on demonstration was turned down as I am not a direct buyer (I have three large clients interested in the products that are wanting my feedback and that will drive their decision to purchase or not). The BEA screen shots show really poor traditional enterprise software interfaces and while including trendy (but often not helpful) tag clouds and other hints they heard the buzzwords, the tools are not really more than old enterprise software in Web 2.0 clothing.

Microsoft Sharepoint is every enterprise's darling for a few weeks. Sharepoint built on top of its existing teamware, collaboration, and workflow tools from the prior version and added easier to use interfaces. The downside for organizations is it creates mini silos of content and ideas that can benefit the whole organization. There is a lot of frustration around Sharepoint in enterprise as it is more difficult to get it to do what is desired and the silo issues are often problematic. I do like Sharepoint as it triggers business for me, with enterprises wanting to better understand and get smart on what social software in the enterprise could do for them if they get it right (this is what I do at InfoCloud Solutions, Inc. for customers, get them smart on possibilities and good practices, which usually leads to helping the technology vendors improving their products for use).

Oracle seems to have added "features" into their offerings (based on what Oracle developers tell me), but there is little solid there to talk about.

SAP is an unknown as they have not launched anything as of yet that I can tell.

What Should Be in Web 2.0 for Enterprise

One of the core pieces of the Web 2.0 mantra is Ease of Use. Most enterprise software over the years has been "ease of abuse". Enterprise software is apparently supposed to come with very large manuals. The interfaces need to be cleaned up and focus on affordance and improved task processes that allow for diversions (say, fix an address while entering a sales order should hover to fix the address not require you to go back to the beginning).

Providing ease of sharing information as well as ease for holding on to information that has value to individuals. Sharing is a really sticky problem in most large organizations as many are built around heavy privacy (some of it for good reason, but an incredible is overly cautions and hinders efficiency and being a smart organization). Sharing to make an organization smart and knowledgeable requires openness. There is yet to be an enterprise service that account for openness and needed privacy well. Many require a gatekeeper and permission, which are both bottlenecks. There does not seem to be a trust in employees to do the right thing. Most management can not come up with a valid worse case scenario that is viable, but still strong privacy is important. As one CIO commented to me, "we know we need social software inside our organization as we recognize the strong value, but we need to greatly limit sharing and have everything private." At least that person recognized the value of social software, the next step is sorting out that most things inside the organization do not need to be private (20 to 30 percent is usually what needs to be private) so to make a smarter, more knowledgable, and more efficient organization that is more competitive.

Today's Viable Web 2.0 Tools for Enterprise

While the big companies are not quite grasping how to vastly improve their offerings to enterprise, there are many companies that do grasp that is needed and being demanded by many enterprise organizations. There are many of these companies, but the ones I see performing well in enterprise and companies are happy with are the following for in-house enterprise solutions:

  • ConnectBeam for social bookmarking that intelligently incorporates with your existing enterprise search
  • Cogenz for social bookmarking for smaller companies and are comfortable with the service being hosted outside the firewall.
  • SocialText for enterprise wiki and adding needed wiki tools into Sharepoint
  • Atlassian for enterprise wiki and an increasing array for social software options
  • MobableType Enterprise Edition for blogging, identity management, community support, and profile tools
  • WordPress with Automattic Services for blogging
  • Drupal for a full platform for social software development.

There are many more options on this front, but these are the ones that are getting the most interest and high marks from people using them.

The Next Step

Those organization who have been implementing real social software solutions in-house are finding they are needing another layer after the tools have been running for a while. When the tools catch on, and the most often do, there will be a good amount of new content and sorting through it, analyzing it, and finding the best relevant information out of it (be it blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, collaboration tools, etc.) needs tools. Most of these tools will need to be built in-house as solutions are not yet there (other than enterprise search and its augmentations). Most organization do not see the need for these tools until 9 months to 24 months in, but it will come. There is good information and there is great information, but much of it all depends on the hand the information is in. On the web we are not quite there yet, but we are getting closer with tools like Lijit, and some of the ConnectBeam's relevance understanding is helpful.

I will likely be doing more in depth looks at these tools over the coming months. But if you need help sorting through what social software means to your organization and help analyzing needs and best products for your organization, please feel free to contact me through InfoCloud Solutions.

Open Conversations and Privacy Needs for Business

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

I thought I would share the latest press bit around this joint, Thomas Vander Wal was quoted in Inc Magazine What's Next: Shout it Out Loud (or in the August 2007 issue beginning on page 69). The article focuses the need and desire for companies to share and be open with more of their data and information. Quite often companies are getting bit by their privacy around what they do (how their source their products/resources, who they donate money to, etc.) and rumors start. It is far more efficient and helpful to be open with that information, as it gets out anyway.

Ironically, in the same paper issue on page 26 there is a an article about When Scandal Knocks..., which includes a story about Jamba Juice and a blog post that inaccurately claimed it had milk in its products, which could have easily been avoided if Jamba Juice had an ingredients listing on its web site.

The Flip Side

There are two flip sides to this. One is the Apple converse, which is a rare example of a company really making a mythic organization out of its privacy. The second is companies really need privacy for some things, but the control of information is often too extreme and is now more harmful than helpful.

Viable Privacy

I have been working on a much longer post looking at the social software/web tools for and in the enterprise. Much of of the extreme openness touted in the new web charge is not a viable reality inside enterprise. There are a myriad of things that need to be private (or still qualify as valid reasons for many). The list include preparations for mergers and acquisitions, securities information dealings (the laws around this are what drive much of the privacy and are out dated), reorganizations (restructuring and layoffs, which organizations that have been open about this have found innovative solutions from the least likely places), personal employee records, as well as contractual reasons (advising or producing products for competitors in the same industry or market segment). Out side of these issues, which normally add up to under 30 to 40% of the whole of the information that flows through an organization, there is a lot of room for openness in-house and to the outside world.

Need for Enterprise Social Tools Grasping Partial Privacy

When we look at the consumer space for social software there are very few consumer tools that grasp social interaction and information sharing on a granular level (Ma.gnolia, Flickr, and the SixApart tools Vox and LiveJournal are the exceptions that always come to mind). But, many of the tools out there that are commonly used as examples of social web tools really fall down when business looks at them and thinks about privacy and selective sociality (small groups). The social web tools all around really need to grow up and improve in this area. As we are seeing the collaboration and social tools evolve to more viable options we start to see their more glaring holes that do not reflect the reality of human social interaction.

Closing the Gap

What we need is for companies to be more open so the marketplace is a more consumer and communicative environment, but we also need our still early social web tools to reflect our social realities that not everything is public and having tools that better fit those needs.

Sharing and Following/Listening in the Social Web

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

You may be familiar with my granular social network post and the postings around the Personal InfoCloud posts that get to personal privacy and personal management of information we have seen, along with the Come to Me Web, but there is an element that is still missing and few social web sites actually grasp the concept. This concept is granular in the way that the granular social network is granular, which focusses on moving away from the concept of "broad line friends" that focus on our interest in everything people we "friend", which is not a close approximation of the non-digital world of friend that we are lucky to find friends who have 80 percent common interests. This bit that is missing focusses on the sharing and following (or listening) aspects of our digital relationships. Getting closer to this will help filter information we receive and share to ease the overflow of information and make the services far more valuable to the people using them.

Twitter Shows Understanding

Twitter in its latest modifications is beginning to show that it is grasping what we are doing online is not befriending people or claiming friend, but we are "following" people. This is a nice change, but it is only part of the equation that has a few more variables to it, which I have now been presenting for quite a few years (yes and am finally getting around to writing about). The other variables are the sharing and rough facets of type of information we share. When we start breaking this down we can start understanding the basic foundation for building a social web application that can begin to be functional for our spheres of sociality.

Spheres of Sociality

Spheres of Sociality The Spheres of Sociality are broken into four concentric rings:

  1. Personal
  2. Selective
  3. Collective
  4. Mob

There are echos of James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds in the Spheres of Sociality as they break down as follows. The personal sphere is information that is just for one's self and it is not shared with others. The selective sphere, which there may be many a person shares with and listens to, are closed groups that people are comfortable sharing and participating with on common interests (family, small work projects, small group of friends or colleagues, etc.). The collective sphere is everybody using that social tool that are members of it, which has some common (precise or vague) understanding of what that service/site is about. The last sphere is the mob, which are those people outside the service and are not participants and who likely do not understand the workings or terminology of the service.

These sphere help us understand how people interact in real life as well as in these social environments. Many of the social web tools have elements of some of these or all of these spheres. Few social web tools provide the ability to have many selective spheres, but this is a need inside most enterprise and corporate sites as there are often small project teams working on things that may or may not come to fruition (this will be a future blog post). Many services allow for just sharing with those you grant to be your followers (like Twitter, Flickr, the old Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0, and Ma.gnolia private groups, etc.). This selective and segmented group of friends needs a little more examination and a little more understanding.

Granular Sharing and Following

Unequal AccessThe concepts that are needed to improve upon what has already been set in the Spheres of Sociality revolve around breaking down sharing and following (listening) into more discernible chunks that better reflect our interests. We need to do this because we do not always want to listen everything people we are willing to share with are surfacing. But, the converse is also true we may not want to share or need to share everything with people we want to follow (listen to).

In addition to each relationship needing to have sharing and listening properties, the broad brush painted by sharing and listening also needs to be broken down just a little (it could and should be quite granular should people want to reflect their real interests in their relationships) to some core facets. The core facets should have the ability to share and listen based on location, e.g. a person may only want to share or listen to people when they are in or near their location (keeping in mind people's location often changes, particularly for those that travel or move often). The location facet is likely the most requested tool particularly for those listening when people talk about Twitter and Facebook. Having some granular categories or tags to use as filters for sharing and listening makes sense as well. This can break down to simple elements like work, play, family, travel, etc. as broad categories it could help filter items from the sharing or listening streams and help bring to focus that which is of interest.

Breaking Down Listening and Sharing for Items


Where this gets us it to an ability to quickly flag the importance of our interactions with others with whom we share information/objects. Some things we can set on an item level, like sharing or just for self, and if sharing with what parameters are we sharing things. We will set the default sharing with ourself on so we have access to everything we do. This follows the Spheres of Sociality with just personal use, sharing with selective groups (which ones), share with the collective group or service, and share outside the service. That starts setting privacy of information that starts accounting for personal and work information and who could see it. Various services have different levels of this, but it is a rare consumer services that has the selective service sorted out (Pownce comes close with the options for granularity, but Flickr has the ease of use and levels of access. For each item we share we should have the ability to control access to that item, to just self or out across the Spheres of Sociality to the mob, if we so wish. Now we can get beyond the item level to presetting people with normative rights.

Listening and Sharing at the Person Level

 Others Settings
Granular Listen/FollowYesNo
Granular ShareYesNo
Geo Listen/FollowYesNo
Geo ShareYesNo

We can set people with properties that will help use with default Sphere of Sociality for sharing and listening. The two directions of communication really must be broken out as there are some people we do not mind them listening to the selective information sharing, but we may not have interest in listening to their normal flow of offerings (optimally we should be able to hear their responses when they are commenting on items we share). Conversely, there may be people we want to listen to and we do not want to share with, as we may not know them well enough to share or they may have broken our privacy considerations in the past, hence we do not trust them. For various reasons we need to be able to decide on a person level if we want to share and listen to that person.

Granular Listening and Sharing

Not, only do we have needs and desires for filtering what we share and listen to on the person level, but if we have a means to set some more granular levels of sharing, even at a high level (family, work, personal relation, acquaintance, etc.). If we can set some of these facets for sharing and have them tied to the Spheres we can easily control who and what we share and listen to. Flickr does this quite well with the simple family, friends, contacts, and all buckets, even if people do not use them precisely as such as family and friends are the two selective buckets they offer to work with (most people I know do not uses them precisely as such with those titles, but it provides a means of selective sharing and listening).

Geo Listening and Sharing

Lastly, it is often a request to filter listening and sharing by geography/location access. There are people who travel quite a bit and want to listen and share with people that are currently local or will be local to them in a short period, but their normal conversations are not fully relevant outside that location. Many people want the ability not to listen to a person unless they are local, but when a person who has some relationship becomes local the conversation may want to be shared and/or listened to. These settings can be dependent on the granular listening and sharing parameters, or may be different.

Getting There...

So, now that this is out there it is done? Hmmm, if it were only so easy. The first step is getting developers of social web and social software to begin understanding the social relationships that are less broad lines and more granular and directional. The next step is a social interaction that people need to understand or that the people building the interfaces need to understand, which is if and how to tell people the rights granted are not reciprocal (it is seems to be a common human trait to have angst over non-reciprocal social interactions, but it is the digital realm that makes it more apparent that the flesh world).

Inline Messaging

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

Many of the social web services (Facebook, Pownce, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) have messaging services so you can communication with your "friends". Most of the services will only ping you on communication channels outside their website (e-mail, SMS/text messaging, feeds (RSS), etc.) and require the person to go back to the website to see the message, with the exception of Twitter which does this properly.

Inline Messaging

Here is where things are horribly broken. The closed services (except Twitter) will let you know you have a message on their service on your choice of communication channel (e-mail, SMS, or RSS), but not all offer all options. When a message arrives for you in the service the service pings you in the communication channel to let you know you have a message. But, rather than give you the message it points you back to the website to the message (Facebook does provide SMS chunked messages, but not e-mail). This means they are sending a message to a platform that works really well for messaging, just to let you know you have a message, but not deliver that message. This adds extra steps for the people using the service, rather than making a simple streamlined service that truly connects people.

Part of this broken interaction is driven by Americans building these services and having desktop-centric and web views and forgetting mobile is not only a viable platform for messaging, but the most widely used platform around the globe. I do not think the iPhone, which have been purchased by the owners and developers of these services, will help as the iPhone is an elite tool, that is not like the messaging experience for the hundreds of millions of mobile users around the globe. Developers not building or considering services for people to use on the devices or application of their choice is rather broken development these days. Google gets it with Google Gears and their mobile efforts as does Yahoo with its Yahoo Mobile services and other cross platform efforts.

Broken Interaction Means More Money?

I understand the reasoning behind the services adding steps and making the experience painful, it is seen as money in their pockets through pushing ads. The web is a relatively means of tracking and delivering ads, which translates into money. But, inflicting unneeded pain on their customers can not be driven by money. Pain on customers will only push them away and leave them with fewer people to look at the ads. I am not advocating giving up advertising, but moving ads into the other channels or building solutions that deliver the messages to people who want the messages and not just notification they have a message.

These services were somewhat annoying, but they have value in the services to keep somebody going back. When Pownce arrived on the scene a month or so ago, it included the broken messaging, but did not include mobile or RSS feeds. Pownce only provides e-mail notifications, but they only point you back to the site. That is about as broken as it gets for a messaging and status service. Pownce is a beautiful interface, with some lightweight sharing options and the ability to build groups, and it has a lightweight desktop applications built on Adobe AIR. The AIR version of Pownce is not robust enough with messaging to be fully useful. Pownce is still relatively early in its development, but they have a lot of fixing of things that are made much harder than they should be for consuming information. They include Microfomats on their pages, where they make sense, but they are missing the step of ease of use for regular people of dropping that content into their related applications (putting a small button on the item with the microformat that converts the content is drastically needed for ease of use). Pownce has some of the checkboxes checked and some good ideas, but the execution of far from there at the moment. They really need to focus on ease of use. If this is done maybe people will comeback and use it.

Good Examples

So who does this well? Twitter has been doing this really well and Jaiku does this really well on Nokia Series60 phones (after the first version Series60). Real cross platform and cross channel communication is the wave of right now for those thinking of developing tools with great adoption. The great adoption is viable as this starts solving technology pain points that real people are experiencing and more will be experiencing in the near future. (Providing a solution to refindability is the technology pain point that solved.) The telecoms really need to be paying attention to this as do the players in all messaging services. From work conversations and attendees to the Personal InfoCloud presentation, they are beginning to get the person wants and needs to be in control of their information across devices and services.

Twitter is a great bridge between web and mobile messaging. It also has some killer features that add to this ease of use and adoption like favorites, friends only, direct messaging, and feeds. Twitter gets messaging more than any other service at the moment. There are things Twitter needs, such as groups (selective messaging) and an easier means of finding friends, or as they are now appropriately calling it, people to follow.

Can we not all catch up to today's messaging needs?

Stitching Conversation Threads Fractured Across Channels

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Communicating is simple. Well it is simple at its core of one person talking with another person face-to-face. When we communicate and add technology into the mix (phone, video-chat, text message, etc.) it becomes more difficult. Technology becomes noise in the pure flow of communication.

Now With More Complexity

But, what we have today is even more complex and difficult as we are often holding conversation across many of these technologies. The communication streams (the back and forth communication between two or more people) are now often not contained in on communication channel (channel is the flavor or medium used to communicate, such as AIM, SMS, Twitter, e-mail, mobile phone, etc.).

We are seeing our communications move across channels, which can be good as this is fluid and keeping with our digital presence. More often than not we are seeing our communication streams fracture across channels. This fracturing becomes really apparent when we are trying to reconstruct our communication stream. I am finding this fracturing and attempting to stitch the stream back together becoming more and more common as for those who are moving into and across many applications and devices with their own messaging systems.

The communication streams fracture as we pick-up an idea or need from Twitter, then direct respond in Twitter that moves it to SMS, the SMS text message is responded back to in regular SMS outside of Twitter, a few volleys back and forth in SMS text, then one person leaves a voicemail, it is responded to in an e-mail, there are two responses back and forth in e-mail, an hour later both people are on Skype and chat there, in Skype chat they decide to meet in person.

Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?

When they meet there is a little confusion over there being no written overview and guide. Both parties are sure they talked about it, but have different understandings of what was agreed upon. Having the communication fractured across channels makes reconstruction of the conversation problematic today. The conversation needs to be stitched back together using time stamps to reconstruct everything [the misunderstanding revolved around recommendations as one person understands that to mean a written document and the other it does not mean that].

Increasingly the reality of our personal and professional lives is this cross channel communication stream. Some want to limit the problem by keeping to just one channel through the process. While this is well intentioned it does not meet reality of today. Increasingly, the informal networking leads to meaningful conversations, but the conversations drifts across channels and mediums. Pushing a natural flow, as it currently stands, does not seem to be the best solution in the long run.

Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?

There are a few reasons conversations drift across channels and mediums. One reason is presence as when two people notice proximity on a channel they will use that channel to communicate. When a person is seen as present, by availability or recently posting a message in the service, it can be a prompt to communicate. Many times when the conversation starts in a presence channel it will move to another channel or medium. This shift can be driven by personal preference or putting the conversation in a medium or channel that is more conducive for the conversation style between people involved. Some people have a preferred medium for all their conversations, such as text messaging (SMS), e-mail, voice on phone, video chat, IM, etc.. While other people have a preferred medium for certain types of conversation, like quick and short questions on SMS, long single responses in e-mail, and extended conversations in IM. Some people prefer to keep their short messages in the channel where they begin, such as conversations that start in Facebook may stay there. While other people do not pay attention to message or conversation length and prefer conversations in one channel over others.

Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels

Since there are more than a few reasons for the fractured communications to occur it is something that needs resolution. One solution is making all conversations open and use public APIs for the tools to pull the conversations together. This may be the quickest means to get to capturing and stitching the conversation thread back together today. While viable there are many conversations in our lives that we do not want public for one reason or many.

Another solution is to try to keep your conversations in channels that we can capture for our own use (optimally this should be easily sharable with the person we had the conversation with, while still remaining private). This may be where we should be heading in the near future. Tools like Twitter have become a bridge between web and SMS, which allows us to capture SMS conversations in an interface that can be easily pointed to and stitched back together with other parts of a conversation. E-mail is relatively easy to thread, if done in a web interface and/or with some tagging to pull pieces in from across different e-mail addresses. Skype chat also allows for SMS interactions and allows for them to be captured, searched, and pulled back together. IM conversations can easily be saved out and often each item is time stamped for easy stitching. VoIP conversations are often easily recorded (we are asking permission first, right?) and can be transcribed by hand accurately or be transcribed relatively accurately via speech-to-text tools. Voice-mail can now be captured and threaded using speech-to-text services or even is pushed as an attachment into e-mail in services as (and similar to) JConnect.

Who Will Make This Effortless?

There are three types of service that are or should be building this stitching together the fractured communications across channels into one threaded stream. I see tools that are already stitching out public (or partially public) lifestreams into one flow as one player in this pre-emergent market (Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The other public player would be telecoms (or network provider) companies providing this as a service as they currently are providing some of these services, but as their markets get lost to VoIP, e-mail, on-line community messaging, Second Life, etc., they need to provide a service that keeps them viable (regulation is not a viable solution in the long run). Lastly, for those that do not trust or want their conversation streams in others hands the personally controlled application will become a solutions, it seems that Skype could be on its way to providing this.

Is There Demand Yet?

I am regularly fielding questions along these lines from enterprise as they are trying to deal with these issues for employees who have lost or can not put their hands on vital customer conversations or essential bits of information that can make the difference in delivering what their customers expect from them. Many have been using Cisco networking solutions that have some of these capabilities, but still not providing a catch all. I am getting queries from various telecom companies as they see reflections of where they would like to be providing tools in a Come to Me Web or facilitating bits of the Personal InfoCloud. I am getting requests from many professionals that want this type of solution for their lives. I am also getting queries from many who are considering building these tools, or pieces of them.

Some of us need these solutions now. Nearly all of us will need these solutions in the very near future.

Breaking Down LibraryThing vs. Amazon Tagging Analysis

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

I have been rather heads down on a project the last week or two since the Thingolology: When tags work and when they don't: Amazon and LibraryThing blog post was created.  Tim from LibraryThing, who wrote the post, was kind enough to give me an early heads-up and I responded a few days later.  I have also had many people e-mailing and IM'ing me links to it and other people praising the post.  This has drawn me into some long discussions into the comparisons that are made, which are difficult to call valid. However, there are some great nuggets of insight that Tim brings forth, which sadly are getting overlooked in an apples to oranges comparison.

The Great Nuggets

I will (uncharacteristically) begin with the things I like with the analysis that I have not seen elsewhere. It is also appropriate to mention I love LibraryThing as it is really an innovative approach to organization of one's own things and there are many things it does that are done very well.

The first bit that is really good is the difference on LibraryThing in the use of tags based on the number of items in a person's collection.  The more items the great the probability that person will use tags.  The more items in a persons collections the greater number of tags they use.  Tim states it as,

Tags work best when they're about memory, so tagging makes the most sense when you have a lot of something to remember. On LibraryThing, members with under 50 books seldom tag, but users with 200 or more usually do. When you get right down to it, few of us need to remember 200 books on Amazon.

This is really good, because it points out that there is a trend toward people using tags when their collection of objects grows. Two of the reasons people tag (of many) is to aggregate as well as sort information.  It is building hooks to pull things together that are similar. It is a flat organizational structure.

Ironically, the other really good point is the core of why I think the analysis is really flawed:

In fairness, Amazon didn't give tagging a lot of prominence. Tags were stuck in the middle of their ever-lengthening book pageā€”one section for adding your own tags, another for showing others' tags. They didn't push them very hard.

Oddly this bit is one of many reasons why the analysis does not hold up. It is really important to grasp that there are many different reasons why people tag. For tagging to work it needs to scale, but getting people to tag takes work through explanation and examples. Not only did tagging not have prevalence on the page, but tagging was not in all user interfaces as of 7 months ago on US Amazon site.

Apple to Oranges

The major problem with the analysis is the comparison is being made on 2 vastly different products, with 2 vastly different uses, with 2 vastly different points of focus.

First Order of Functionality

The first order of functionality for both sites/products is vastly different.  LibraryThing puts its functionality focus on people organizing their book (and other media) collections online.  Tagging is central to what LibraryThing does and its means to enable organization. It is for people to claim and organize what they own, share that with others, and find related materials.

Amazon has it first order of functionality around people buying products they want. From this point Amazon uses other tools to ensure the person is buying what they want or believes they want.  Tagging is not central to the first order of functionality for Amazon, but it can and is being used to help people find products. People are not organizing their collection on Amazon, well as of yet.

Options for Similar Input

The two sites compared have very different sets of tools and the numbers of options are vastly different.  The length of time the other options have been in existence is nearly an order of magnitude different. LibraryThing has puts its primary focus on tagging and ratings, while it offers the ability to have people write a review very few people people seem to write them (I would not dare say reviews are a failure on LibraryThing as they are helpful). With the focus on tagging and ratings and with few other options to manage the collection it is no wonder tagging took off.

Amazon has been around for much longer and has offered reviews, ratings, wish lists, shopping lists, sharing purchases, listmania, registries, customer discussions about the product, search suggestions, share with friends, wiki pages for products, etc.  The reviews and ratings are the two things that people using Amazon are most familiar with as they have been around for many years. All of these elements are social web means for people to comment, track (all reviews on on the identity page for the individual).  Tagging has not had anything close to the prominence on the Amazon product pages or the site as it does in LibraryThing, due to the other options and the years of habitual use of the other options.

Amazon, only in recent months, has given tagging a little more prominence on the product pages. Amazon is still iterating drastically what they are doing with tags as screen captures over the past six months (even going back 18 months) will show.  Their current iterations are really are moving toward utterly brilliant interactions in some areas (I have done a couple hour long impromptu presentations on the depth of what Amazon is doing with tagging and how it seems to be making a difference - this may become another post, but it will be really long even for my norm).

Availability of Tagging in the Tools

One of the claims that bothered me most was the claim that Amazon and LibraryThing has roughly had tagging for the same amount of time.  As of 7 months ago I had people showing me they did not have tagging functionality in the Amazon page interface. Tagging on Amazon is only available on the United States Amazon site, as far as I can tell. Claiming the date that when tagging first appeared on the Amazon product pages for some of us, it even seems to have disappeared for a while, is not really a solid claim to make. Again it is another really weak comparison.

Related to the last major point made, options for similar input, the adoption rates for new tools for people using Amazon has been relatively slow. But, the tools quickly make difference and become valuable. One example of tools is Amazon's Listmania.  This has been on the Amazon site, rather prominently, for many years but many people (the people whom I am talk to about Amazon tagging and their uses of it) have not noticed it. This is directly related to the other features that do know. But, for Amazon the Listmania has been a really successful tool for increased sales.

Mis-understanding of DefectiveByDesign

The analysis claimed the "DefectiveByDesign was spam by a few people. But, the 501 people currently using the tag 5809 times across 1063 products may have a different view.  The dominant use of the tag is for items that have copy protection and/or DRM. Talking to people who do use Amazon tags, this is often one of the tags people find very helpful as it is a tag for missing metadata about a product.  None of the product pages state the OS will not let you copy your own media you have bought or the CD you bought will not let you copy it so to put it on your iPod (which is where you listen to all of your music). This tag is not spam and for many people I have talked with about tagging on Amazon has been how people found out about Amazon tags and the value it has for them personally.

Tagging in Amazon is True Longtail Commerce

One of the things that Amazon is doing really well with tagging, not covered in the analysis piece at all, is helping people interested in the LongTail products connect and share recommendations.  Because of changes in the interface that Amazon has been iterating through (there are many more potential possibilities where Amazon tagging could really soar) more people are using the tagging to connect products not normally connected.  One tag that has been around for a while is "discomusic dot com top pick", which is a great hook for the longtail as it is the picks from a site and putting them in a context that helps join disparate items together. The Amazon tag page for discomusic dot com top pick is a great jumping off point for beginning to grasp the insane power that one variation of use for tags has within commerce.

Following Friends Across Walled Gardens

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

Phil Gyford makes his plea for a single social network sign-on or as it was stated last week by Jeremy Keith on Twitter, "portable social network with XFN"  [Jeremy posted his More thoughts on portable social networks on his blog.]

The single sign-on is an often heard request these days. Nearly as much as a dashboard, er central interface to monitor all one's friends across the various walled social gardens.

I have been watching ClaimID and Marc's People Aggregator to make huge strides on this front.  Some recent conversations seem to point to others possibly providing this solution.  So far it is the early adopters that are needing these tools, but a recent post by Scott Andrew about people moving from MySpace to Facebook makes me think the cross-garden social tools will have a mainstream appeal in the very near future.  Well, those of us that are veterans of the on-line services of the early 90s will recognize the need as our friends jumped from one closed service to another when there was a 5 dollar a month fee hike.  Your buddies left Prodigy and went where? AOL, Compuserve, Delphi, usenet groups, etc.?

The current web environment makes the keeping up with your friends (if they grant you permission - this really should be the case) easier across closed social services.  Digital identity will be essential as will our trusted list (or grouped list) of friends we want to keep in they loop with our life (lives).

Local InfoCloud as a Responce

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

Ed Vielmetti posted about neighborhoods, networks, communities, online+offline and I had the following comment. My comment seems to fit in as a follow-up post to the Local InfoCloud post (linked below). The online and offline is very important, but so is the individual and the individual interests we have.

There is a huge need for tools that can connect in the neighborhoods. The neighborhood listserve is not the solution, even if some have been successful. The UK's Up My Street was an interesting take on this. There should be potential in something like Yahoo Local, but the people connecting to people is not there.

I have been doing a fair amount of thinking around this as part of the Local InfoCloud (more than just location, but location is very important) as in the Exposing the Local InfoCloud. Each of the components of the Local InfoCloud can be mixed with others and should be mixed.

This summer I have been to more neighborhood cookouts than any time in the past. But the commonality is our kids are around the same age and they interact at the local preschool just up the block. It is the similar/common interests that bring us together. It is the "location", "near in thought" (kids interests), and "affiliation" (school) components that are the aggregation/attraction points.

Part of the problem with every social networking site is they are broad-line friend based and not focussed on facets of our lives. The social network waters are muddied by the broadlines an make it difficult to identify common bonds with people whom we may not yet know, or know from other life contexts. The digital life tools need to start bubbling up the individuals and focuss less on the popularity engines based on people with dissimilar interests.

Dual Folksonomy Triad

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,

Needing to Express Folksonomy Simply

I have been presenting tagging and folksonomy quite a few times in the past two years. I kept coming back to needing a simple to understand view of what is happening in folksonomy that separates it from general tagging. I also wanted to show how it is relatively easy to disambiguate some of the perceived mess in tagging, if it follows the folksonomy standard of clear object being tagged, the simple tag, and an identity of the person tagging.

Folksonomy Triad

These three elements are the Folksonomy Triad. These items do not stand alone, but the relationships between them express a concept. From these concepts we start to easily see the relationships between the elements are quire important. Not only are they important, but understanding the relationship can help provide clarity in not only clearing up what others call a mess, but help easily find information (in addition to refinding information).

The Object

It must be clearly understood what object the tag is being applied to. The object of the tag in tools like is clear as it is the item being bookmarked. It is a simple interface from that standpoint and that removes ambiguity. In blog tags the object is not clear, as we are rarely sure if the tag relates to the blog post or what is being written about in the blog tag.

Exposing the Local InfoCloud

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

I have spent a lot of time and effort focussing on the Personal InfoCloud, but the past year or two I have been seeing that the interaction between the person and their information resources that are closest to them (the Local InfoCloud) is extremely important. I have gone around the Local InfoCloud looking at ways to best explain it and bring it to life in a more understandable manner. This past November at Design Engaged 2005 my presentation needed me to dig into the Local InfoCloud and it various components. Since Design Engaged I have been using the slide and ideas around it to explain its relationship to the Personal InfoCloud and the "Come to Me Web". I have iterated on the idea and received some good feedback (particularly from Liz Lawley. Are you ready to dig in?

Overview of the Local InfoCloud

The Local InfoCloud started as an idea of information that was physically close. What is stored or accessed by physical location (information that is physically close) as in an Intranet or location-based information accessed on your mobile device. The more I thought about it and chatted with others it became clear it was more than physical location, it is information resources that are familiar and easier to access than the whole of the web (Global InfoCloud) as a framing concept.

As the my understanding began to lean toward familiarity as a core component of the definition of Local InfoCloud, the term began to embrace the social and community aspects (I am working on shying away from the term community as it is a broadly used term and I am trying to be a little more precise). Interactions with people, services, networks, applications, etc. that are familiar are means of bringing information closer to us as people with data, information, and media needs. The Local InfoCloud eases access. It eases the ability to find and refind information. It is information that is closer to us, not necessarily in physical proximity, but in the ability to access, in which familiarity is bread.

I spent much time considering changing the label from local to community or social, but there were elements that did not perfectly fit that either. Location-based services may be created by a service, but understanding the mindset, terminology, dialect, and cognitive frameworks that are germane to that physical location the information can be structured to resemble or mirror the social elements of understanding in that place. I will get to a better understanding of this when I talk about the Location aspect of the Local InfoCloud. As well, thinking in the Model of Attraction framework the Local InfoCloud is that which is attracted closer to us than the Global InfoCloud.

Important Attributes

There are some attributes that are important to the Local InfoCloud and separate it from the Global InfoCloud and ease the ability to integrate or draw the information and/or media in to the Personal InfoCloud.


As mentioned above familiarity is an essential attribute. Familiarity can be through vocabulary and terminology used to describe or discuss information and objects that people are trying to find and use. The taxonomy or germane ontologies are important to understand as they help ease the connection between the person seeking the information and objects and those providing it.


Access to a resource is very important as it is in the ease of access that we rely on the Local InfoCloud. There is information that is in systems or in locations that others can not get to (that would make it in other's Eternal InfoCloud), but ability to get to the information is important. The ability to get back to the information (through password locked systems, access only by location, etc.) that dictates access is a key attribute.


Structure is a key attribute in the seeking, finding, and refinding information and objects. In a physical neighborhood we know that a corner store is on the corner, but in a portal we know that movie reviews have a certain URL structure and/or that we can click on a Entertainment button/link to get to the page that links to the movie reviews. Reading one movie review in a familiar site we know how to get to other movie reviews. These browsing structures allow the person to interact and attract information to their screen easily.

Known Actions

Known actions are the element in peoples lives that provide patterns that can be repeated to get to what the person desires. Many times people know how to get to, or more appropriately get back to what they are interested in through indirect connections. A favorite resource may be on a friend's link page as they have not set a direct means to connect to that source or to even draw that information to them to cut down the effort expended. Applications and location-based information are other environments that depend upon known actions to connect people to that which they desire.


Consistency is a main attribute driver to our use and reuse of a component in the Local InfoCloud. Consistency breeds familiarity as people learn the terminology, can bookmark, use the known actions to get back to information, or guess how to get access to other items of interest. Having URL structures that are consistent provides a means to get at open information as well as permits the person to restructure means to keep that information closer to them (external social bookmarking as an example).

Copy, Point & Tether

Copy, Point & Tether are actions that a person can take to move information from a Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud. The attributes are germane to the Personal InfoCloud, but also have importance in the Local InfoCloud often the Local InfoCloud embraces these concepts to ease these actions.

When a person finds data, information, or media objects of interest they most often do one of three things: Copy the item to keep it close (hard drive, flash drive, scan to a drive, scrape to a drive, etc.); Point to the location where the information is located (bookmark, link, blog, wiki, etc.); or Tether the item which is desired by copying or pointing, but then setting a means to get notified when that item has been changed, updated, moved, etc. through tools like RSS/ATOM, e-mail, a pinging service, etc. The tethering is insanely important for items that are anything but completely static over the very long-term (think years not shorter) and it will be getting its own long write-up in the future (subscribe to the RSS here to tether your interest to the future content).


Localinfocloud_overviewNow we can look at the components that can comprise the Local InfoCloud. Each of these have one or more of the attributes. The components are digital and physical in nature. Components may or may not be exclusive, as some Local InfoCloud resources may be comprised of more than one component.


Location was the first component of the Local InfoCloud I considered. Location is important as the physical place has characteristics that draw various attributes together. Location often has a familiarity with terms and language that frame the items within it. The structure of the physical surroundings play an important part in how and where things are located in that location. Tools that are implemented by location are kiosks, GPS/location-based information systems, games that use physical space to provide rewards or clues, language translation tools that are needed in a location, physical location can provide, ease, hinder or censor access to information, and access points to get information can be germane to location (mobile devices need local permissions to access services, etc.).

Friends (and Family)

There is one area that is often over looked as friends and family are not always digital resources, but can provide incredible means of information. Knowing a friend (or she has a good friend) who is an expert in the subject that we need understanding of is very helpful. We can call or visit that person, but we can also e-mail, chat, or have a video conversation with the person to get access to the information or knowledge. In social networks it is common that people will use those whom they are most familiar as a resource to get access to stored knowledge or use the person as a ready pointer to how to get the items they need. Access and familiarity are very strong attributes with friends and family. Often we do not have to tap the person to get the information, but the friend will e-mail us a pointer that they believe we have an interest in consuming. We can save e-mail (as that pointer or container of information is structured by a face or name we have known connections and have put them in context, much in the way they do with us.

A person's preferred method becomes a known action for us. We know the times we can tap somebody with a question or what tools they prefer to communicate using. We know friends who love to talk and their best means of interaction is the phone or an audio chat, while others are more apt to respond to e-mail, text chat, text messaging on their mobile device, or respond to a blog post. Over time we learn not only what is easy to get from whom, but the best means to interact to get the what we desire.

Near in Thought

We have resources that we rely upon because we have similar taste, interest, and/or perspectives on the genre or facet of life the resource covers, more directly these resources are near in thought to us. Politics is an easy example as the terminology used in and around the items we are seeking is known to us and we have expectations that we will like or agree with what is provided from that resource. Beyond politics we have resources with similar interests, perspectives and taste that help filter and provide easier access to items we desire. These resources are not only familiar but they often are structured in a manner that we understand the naming conventions for categories and other resource are easy for use to use and predict what will be brought closer to us through actions. These resources may be whole web sites, journals, writers, blogs, periodicals, etc.


In our life we belong to many groups. These groups have their own terminology and structures for things. Some of these affiliations will be easy to grasp how to access the resources at first opportunity, while others will come through enculturation of learning the structures and terminology. Through consistancy of the affiliations we increase our ability to use these resources to our benefit.


Organizations are things we can belong to or join, like a knitting group, local chapter of a national affinity society, etc. These memberships in the organizations allow greater interaction with others with similar interests and/or needs. Organizations can have gated resources that are only access through membership or affiliation with that group.


Work was the initial driver behind the Local InfoCloud as it was information and resources on an Intranet that was the initial understanding of local. But, work also has its own terminology, known actions, and structure. Over time we learn the resources, both digital, physical, and human that provide us access to information and knowledge.

Social Software

Social software can be device-based or network-based (web, internet, intranet, etc.) and the software builds consistency, structure, and known actions over time. If the software is built well the hurdles will be low to understanding how to get at the items we want and need. The software connects people and provides individuals the ability to contribute content and connect with others with similar interest and needs. Social software may connect people over time in an asynchronous manner as a person can leave an answer to a question at one point in time, but everybody with that same question or interest will have the capability to get to the same answer and potentially connect with that person as a known expert/resource through time.

The software becomes the conduit for connecting people and the data, information, and media the people share and/or discuss and augment. It also provides the means to connect people who are near in thought. It is one means for us to share things we would like feedback on. Social software mitigates distance for connecting people around common interests and can mitigate time as we do not need to be on at the same time to interact. Some examples are online discussion groups, listserves, social bookmarking, social networking, blogs, chat software, etc.


Portals in this meaning are the large aggregation sites that collect information and media into a familiar interface. Tools like AOL, Yahoo, news sites, aggregated shopping sites, etc. are portals with familiar structures that are consistent. Portals make a learnable interface to a variety of data, information, and media objects. Some are interest-based, while others are extremely broad. Similar to a newspaper or magazine the portal has one set of structures to grasp and access remains constant over time. We will easily know where to find movie reviews, car sales, discussion lists, various genre of news, etc.


This is still a work in progress to some degree. Feedback on these attributes and components is always welcome. There may be some editing to this page, but more than likely the modifications will be in pages and posts that follow-on under this Local InfoCloud category.