10 reasons why RSS is still the bedrock of the social web

I must admit I've been thinking occasionally about whether my RSS feeds were still useful to me, what with the advent of Twitter, FriendFeed and other real-time tools/platforms. it seems that this is something Sam Diaz at ZDNet has been thinking too.

In response Dave Winer has posted a great article unpicking Sam's post and in the process has restored my faith in RSS (if I ever lost it). Go read it for yourself here and then subscribe to Dave's RSS feed for more great content.

Two key points to take from Dave's post include:

  • "My newspaper doesn't tell me how many articles I haven't read going
    back to the date of my birth. I bet it would be in the millions. Why
    should I care. This was the worst idea ever in news readers."
    < —– totally agree. This actually encourages me not to read stuff: when I have a large backlog of unread content I simple 'Mark all as read'
  • "If all the RSS on the planet were all of a sudden to stop updating (key
    point) the news would stop flowing. Any news guy or gal who thinks they
    could get by without RSS — think this through a bit more. We all love
    the Internet, but don't shut off your gas and electric because your
    computer and router wouldn't work without electricity. Same with RSS
    and news. RSS is how the news flows, whether you see it or not. If not
    RSS, something exactly like RSS."

Tags: RSS, Dave Winer

Twitter at the peak of the hype cycle

Neville has a good post taking a brief but insightful look at Twitter's current popularity, charting it against Gartner's famous Hype Cycle.

Twitter HC

Neville writes that Twitter is currently perched atop the initial Peak of Inflated Expectations and quotes Gartner's Mark Raskino who argues that if we take micro-blogging as an abstract technology its current mass popularity lies in the fact that it's a tool which helps journalists (and bloggers) do their job and is thus gaining significant media attention.

I would add to this and suggest that the journalist example is one half of Twitter's popularity. Once the media write about Twitter, their audiences sign up and find that as well as being a useful tool for journalists it's also a useful for them. In fact it's a damn useful tool for just about anyone. Thus the inflation continues.

Neville also reinforces this point with a quote from Don Dodge who suggests that the power of Twitter lies not in the technology, but in the people (which is something I've been saying for a while):

"Social networks are all about connecting people and letting them communicate. It is the power of the network…not the technology."

Neville ends his post with the (perhaps leading) question:

"How quickly will it slide down into and then out of the trough of disillusionment?"

I believe the answer to this question is: quicker than we think.

As Twitter gains popularity via the dual drivers of mainstream media coverage and amazing public utility it becomes a ripe target for spammers, shysters, snakeoil salesmen, etc.

Sure this has always been the case with any product, tool or service but key to twitter is the realtime, network effect conditions under which it operates.

If people love Twitter for it's live connection with friends and colleagues then they'll hate it for the speed and ease with which spammers and shysters can invade their lives.

It's already happening: first there were fake, spammy accounts following you automatically and now I and others are complaining of receiving direct messages from spammy, fake accounts without even following them.

And maybe this is the real driver of innovation or the migration to new social media platforms. Friend Feed is growing nicely but maybe it's not going to gain critical mass until Twitter is clogged up with spam – or indeed, mired in the Trough of Disillusionment.

Tags: Twitter, Neville Hobson, Gartner, Hype Cycle, Friend Feed

“Ghost blogging is illegal”, says CIPR

Rather an interesting statement has made its way into the latest iteration of the CIPR’s Social Media Guidelines. According to the section in the Guidelines covering Social Media and the CIPR Code of Conduct:

"[CIPR] Members' use of social media must be transparent, and they must make extra effort to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. … In this regard, members should be aware that ‘ghosting’ a blog is illegal"

Uh, sorry? Come again. “[M]embers should be aware that ‘ghosting’ a blog is illegal”. Since when? Well, according to last year’s Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, misleading marketing practices are illegal. But does this really extend to any blog that is ghosted?

Back to the CIPR: “[c]reating fake blogs (‘ghosting’)” is an example of a social media activity that falls under this legislation."

I’m not so sure. Yes, I agree a ghosted blog is disingenuous, bad social media practice and yes, I would agree that a blog purporting to be written by a genuine customer but in reality written by a marketing team would breach the legislation.

But can you go as far as to issue a blanket statement claiming *all* ghosted blogs breach unfair trading regulations? I think it’s unlikely.

So what’s the CIPR’s rational? To be honest, I’m not sure. It always errs on the side of caution, but this is potentially misleading. Interestingly, the statement is a new addition from the original consultation document so maybe they took on advice from someone at the consultation stage.

If they did then great. As usual I blogged my submission which was largely similar to the previous year's and also as usual I didn’t receive any feedback on my submission so I don’t know who submitted recommendations and what changes were made. 

Youtube rolls out video download option

Youtube download

It looks like Youtube is rolling out new functionality on the site allowing users to download videos.

The only example I can find currently is on Obama's Change.gov channel and Stanford's Lawrence Lessig blogs that this option will initially be available on "content that aspires to be consistent with principles of open government".

It's a bit of a vague definition so not sure of the full implications of this in the short-term or even whether it will be added to other content in the longer-tem. Either way I agree with Professor  Lessig, it's definitely a great thing to happen.

Via Lawrence Lessig

LabourList Review Part 3

LabourList: Conclusions

To round-off the LabList review it's worth returning to what Draper writes in his memo about LabourList aspiring to become “an independent site that aims, in time, to be our version of Conservative home”.

I think given time, this may happen. It won’t be easy with Labour being the party in Government. This adds a different dynamic in two areas. Firstly, in terms of what insiders can say on the site regardless of its independence. And secondly in terms of allowing the site to grow organically. This works best if both content and the ideas behind content can develop organically. We know that both ConservativeHome and LabourList (and Tory/Labour blogs in general) tend to eschew ideas generally in opposition to the mainstream party. When the mainstream party happens to be in government I think this will create tensions.

But remember. LabourList is still in beta and has a lot of bedding in to do. More importantly desipte my observations above I would clarify that if there was one avenue to resolve any intra-party tensions or overcome a desire to limit debate and move political communications and campaigning forward then sites like LabourList, ConservativeHome and LiberalVoice represent it. I'm told that at least one of the people behind LabList feel that MSM have focussed too much on the site’s launch rather than the symbolic change in Labour’s approach to the Internet. It’s early days yet, but I suspect he’s right about that.

LabourList Review Part 2

LabourList: It's Approach to Digital Politics
From a quick glance it’s evident that LabList is going big on creating clever and vitriolic campaigning tools and content seen during the Obama presidential campaign (and playing on some of the same by ConHome). My instinct tells me that this worked for those two groups because both are/were in opposition and campaigning for an election. The risk for Labour is that although it may feel at times as though it’s in opposition, it isn’t.

My advice would be to go about making friends using LabList as well as trashing the opposition.. Show a bit of humility and demonstrate you’re listening and responding to people’s opinions (party and non-party) as well as taking the party political approach. I’m not saying that this approach doesn’t happen (or won’t happen in the future) but two observations I’ve made on LabList indicate that it hasn’t quite struck this balance yet.

Firstly is Derek Draper’s comments which from reading some of the posts come across as if he is flaming other users. In fact, in the site’s first comment thread some of what appear to be responses from Derek’s to complaints by commenters about over-zealous moderation are pretty troll-like. In fact, they’re so troll-like I half wondered whether they were really left by Derek himself.

Two random examples:

“that was because it was a libel and i thought i would save you the trouble of me suing you. if you don't "get" our comments policy read it again and maybe ask a friend to explain it”

“Well… you'd better hope you don't need the police, a school, get ill, need to use public transport etc. etc. if this is the level of debate we're up against I think we're going to be ok!”

Not exactly the best way to make friends and influence people. And I understand that in traditional politics there’s llttle chance of converting those clearly not going to vote for your party and thus little point expending energy engaging/trying to convince otherwise, I would argue this approach doesn’t work – or at least translate well – into the digital political environment. I can’t help but feel that Derek’s a bit traditional politician at the moment.

Secondly, some of the creative anti-Tory campaigning stuff is – while inventive and coming from the right direction – a bit too much. A couple of comments from broadly supportive users also flag the issue of going after the Tories as too much too soon when more in-depth debate about policy, news, etc is what’s wanted.

Coming Next – Part 3… LabourList: My Conclusions

LabourList Review Part 1

I posted yesterday that I was holding off posting my review of Labour's new LabourList grassroots site until I had worked out where the cunningly titled Labourist site had come from. Well, it turns out the site is a spoiler put together by Tim Ireland so I'm going to post my review. However, I'm going to publish it in a couple of posts to spread out the reading. My aim is to break up the review into the following sections: 1) A bit about the site's background and a review of the site's look and feel 2) a review of the site's approach to digital politics and 4) my conclusions. Here's Part 1:

LabourList: Some Background
First things first. What is LabourList? The answer seems to be provided in the memo I was leaked from the man behiond LabList, Derek Draper, in a memo to Ray Collins, Labours General Secretary. Draper writes that LabList is “an independent site that aims, in time, to be our version of Conservative home”.

“Hang on a minute.” I thought, “Isn’t LabourHome Labour’s equivalent of ConservativeHome?” Not anymore. One of the other people behind LabList tells me: “I've always said Labourhome has the wrong name – Labhome is a community for people to talk to each other – Lablist will be a content engine, offering insight, thoughts, news, [about Labour]."

That makes sense to me but I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens with LabourHome as LabList develops. Will the sites work together and complement each other or compete? I suppose the nearest scenario is that of the relationship between Guido Fawkes and ConHome.

LabourList: Look & Feel
The site looks nice and clean. It is probably fair to say it looks and feels more plain and blog-like than ConHom does – but then again ConHome probably started off quite blog-like before growing into a more content rich traditional feel website. I can only guess this is the direction in which LabList will grow as it develops. If LabList is designed to be more of a “content engine” (which it is according to insiders) then the site’s layout will have to adapt to help make the content easily findable.

I think the layout and functionality of the site could be tidied up. In general, it feels a bit messy, although I think we need to bear in mind that the site is more than likely to evolve organically and so settle down once it gets going. In addition the site has also been launched in Beta so presumably any teething problems can be ironed out before the full launch.

A couple of specific (some might say pedantic) bug-bears is the comment thread and software platform. While the site looks like a blog, the comment threads seem to run like forums. While I’m sure the idea of allowing comments to comments and sub-threads is a good idea in practice I must admit I find it confusing. Equally, one commenter wonders out loud why they didn’t go with an open source platform like WordPress. It’s familiar to bloggers/new media types and there are a number of Government sites (Downing Street’s no less!) already built in WordPress.

Part 2 – coming next… LabourList: It's Approach to Digital Politics

Chinwagging tonight

Whoops – I meant to post about this in advance but clearly I have to organise my time better.

I'll be on the panel tonght at Chinwag's event: Xmas Futures, Crystal Balls? discussing, um, I guess, what 2009 will bring.

Others speaking on the panel include:

  • Neville Hobson – blogger, communicator, digital luminary
  • Jonathan Mitchener – Futurologist & Principal Research Scientist, Devices, BT
  • Jamie Coomber – Head of Digital Strategy, Profero

I'll be bringing up the issues of the economy, the perennial echo of "next year will be *all about* digital, the direction a lot of digital PR and marketing seems to taking compared to the route I believe it should be and how this leads my thinking right up to Doc's vision of the "end of the social bubble."

Hopefully see some people there.

Technorati tags: Chinwag, Future watching, Crystal balls

The Longtail is thoroughly debunked by empirical research

I posted back in July reminding those of us who take current Internet theories such as The Wisdom of Crowds at face value that many of these ideas are primarily marketing tools, rather than tested, research-based approaches.

As a fascinating follow-up to this, Alan Patrick from Broadsight has posted a fascinating analysis of Internet uber-theory, The Longtail, titled: The end of The Longtail?

Alan posts about a recent presentation given by an MCPS-PRS Alliance economist, Will Page, which argued that The Longtail is "fairly completely incorrect".

Page apparently helped Chris Anderson write The Longtail thesis, but has since carried out empirical research on a huge volume of global online music sales. The research found:

"while there was a long tail, it was extremely poverty stricken and much of it is moribund [...] even Free doesn’t work – when Radiohead gave away their music for free, there were still 400,000 illegal downloads in the UK. Not only that, they have found that illegal services focus on the “hit head” even more than the average."

Hypothesising further, Alan reckons that most demand curves are Log Normal rather than Pareto Power Law Curves, an opinion strongly supported by one of the researchers.

A full and thorough debunking of The Longtail based on the research can also be found by Andrew Orlowski over at The Register.

As a footnote to this, it is maybe worth adding that the researchers work for an organization that enforces commercial copyright on behalf of composers, songwriters and music publishers.

Technorati tags: The Longtail, Internet Theories, Power Law, Log Normal

Meme: Social Media Best Practices

I’ve been tagged with couple of memes recently and have finally managed to get round to converting ideas to words in the second case.
In the first instance my apologies to Nicky and Andy as I’m so late with their question as to who are my three most admired communicators I can’t imagine my comtribution is relevant!

More recently I’ve been tagged by Badger Gravling aka Dan Thornton who passed on the meme to share best social media marketing practices.

If we put aside the idea that I am uncomfortable with the term social media marketing then I want to approach this issue from the more fundamental position of what best practices should organisations adopt to make their communications relevant and effective in a digital age, rather than what’s the best way to secure maximum traction for my "viral".

The emphasis – to me at least – is on social media best practice, rather than marketing best practice.
This is encapsulated in a three word maxim that we talk about a lot at Edelman:
Be, Do, Say.

Let me elucidate:

Be – as Dan points out in his post, companies cannot turn on a social media marketing strategy overnight. It takes an (often) significant investment of time and understanding to review an organisation’s business goals to make them compatible with the expectations of a contemporary, digitally enabled society.  This is the first big hurdle organisations must overcome before they can deliver any kind of social media activity successfully

Do – If they can cross this first hurdle then the organisation should e able to deliver its corporate promises. This is the ‘Do’ bit. Companies must put their money where their mouth is and prove their commitment to open, transparent and authentic business practice through action

Say – Once the first pieces of the jigsaw are in place then – and only then – can organisations shout about how good they are. But even then it isn’t enough to simply change your ways for a sort-term campaign or brand/product re-launch. A commitment to this new way of working and communicating is essential. I call this approach ‘sustainable communications’. It requires a long-term, far-sighted approach to your business in order to sustain a long-term, far-sighted approach to communications.

So there are my views – and possibly the first and only meme I have followed up this year! Given I’m already behind on this one I think I’ll not pass it on.Apologies to Dan!

Technorati tags: Social Media Marketing, Social Media Best Practices, Dan Thornton