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Guest Post: Facebook's claims about data portability are false

Added on by Chris Saad.

I have published a guest post on RWW about Facebook's recent privacy challenges and their claims about data portability.

"The lack of honesty and clarity from the company and its representatives ... and the continued trend of taking established language - such as "open technology" or "data portability" - and corrupting it for its own marketing purposes, is far more disconcerting than the boundaries it's pushing with its technology choices."

Read it here.

Google Buzz = FriendFeed Reborn

Added on by Chris Saad.

FriendFeed was dead, now it is re-born as Google Buzz. I've not been able to try the product yet, but philosophically and architecturally it seems superior to FriendFeed.

Here are my observations so far:

Consumption Tools

Buzz is better than FriendFeed because Google is treating it as a consumption tool rather than a destination site (by placing it in Gmail rather than hosting it on a public page). FriendFeed should have always been treated this way. Some people got confused and started hosting public discussions on FriendFeed.

That being said, though, I've long said that news and sharing is not the same as an email inbox and those sorts of items should not be 'marked as read' but rather stream by in an ambient way.

While Buzz is in fact a stream, it is its own tab that you have to focus on rather than a sidebar you can ignore (at least as far as I can tell right now).

How it affects Publishers (and Echo)

The inevitable question of 'How does this affect Echo' has already come up on Twitter. Like FriendFeed before it, Buzz generates siloed conversations that do not get hosted at the source.

So, the publisher spends the time and money to create the content and Buzz/Google get the engagement/monetization inside Gmail.

For some reason, all these aggregators think that they need to create content to be of value. I disagree. I long for a pure aggregator that does not generate any of its own content such as comments, likes, shares etc.

That being said, however, the more places we have to engage with content the more reasons there are for Echo to exist so that publishers can re-assemble all that conversation and engagement back on their sites.

Synaptic Connections

Note that they don't have a 'Follow' button - it's using synaptic connections to determine who you care about. Very cool! I worry though that there might not be enough controls for the user to override the assumptions.

Open Standards

Already, Marshall is calling it the savior of open standards. I don't think Open Standards need to be saved - but they certainly have all the buzz words on their site so that's promising.

That's it for now, maybe more later when I've had a chance to play with it.

Update: After playing with it this morning, and reading a little more, it's clear that this is actually Jaiku reborn (not FriendFeed), because the Jaiku team were involved in building it. They deserve a lot of credit for inventing much of this stuff in the first place - long before FriendFeed.

Also, having used it only for an hour, the unread count on the Buzz tab is driving me nuts. It shouldn't be there. It's a stream not an inbox. Also it makes no sense why I can't display buzz in a sidebar on the right side of my primary Gmail inbox view. That would be ideal.

It's also funny to me that some people have tried to give Chris Messina credit for Buzz even though he's been at Google for no more than a month. They clearly don't understand how long and hard it is to build product. Messina is good, but he aint that good :)

Facebook and the future of News

Added on by Chris Saad.

Marshall Kirkpatrick has written a thoughtful piece over on Read/Write Web entitled 'Facebook and the future of Free Thought' in which he explains the hard facts about news consumption and the open subscription models that were supposed to create a more open playing field for niche voices. In it, he states that news consumption has barely changed in the last 10 years. RSS and Feed Readers drive very little traffic and most people still get their news from hand selected mainstream portals and destination sites (like MSN News and Yahoo news etc). In other words, mainstream users do not curate and consume niche subscriptions and are quite content to read what the mainstream sites feed them.

This is troubling news (pun intended) for those of us who believe that the democratization of publishing might open up the world to niche voices and personalized story-telling.

Marshall goes on to argue that Facebook might be our last hope. That since everyone spends all their time in Facebook already, that the service has an opportunity to popularize the notion of subscribing to news sources and thereby bring to life our collective vision of personalized news for the mainstream. Facebook already does a great deal of this with users getting large amounts of news and links from their friends as they share and comment on links.

Through my work with APML I have long dreamed of a world where users are able to view information through a highly personalized lens - a lens that allows them to see personally relevant news instead of just popular news (note that Popularity is a factor of personal relevancy, but it is not the only factor). That doesn't mean the news would be skewed to one persuasion (liberal or conservative for example) but rather to a specific topic or theme.

Could Facebook popularize personalized news? Should it? Do we really want a closed platform to dictate how the transports, formats and tools of next generation story-telling get built? If so, would we simply be moving the top-down command and control systems of network television and big media to another closed platform with its own limitations and restrictions?

Personalized news on closed platforms are almost as bad as mainstream news on closed platforms. News organizations and small niche publishers both need a way to reach their audience using open technologies or we are doomed to repeat the homogenized news environment of the last 2 decades. The one that failed to protect us from a war in Iraq, failed to innovate when it came to on-demand, and failed to allow each of us to customize and personalize our own news reading tools.

That's why technologies like RSS/Atom, PubSubHub and others are so important.

What's missing now is a presentation tool that makes these technologies sing for the mainstream.

So far, as an industry, we've failed to deliver on this promise. I don't have the answers for how we might succeed. But succeed we must.

Perhaps established tier 1 media sites have a role to play. Perhaps market forces that are driving them to cut costs and innovate will drive these properties to turn from purely creating mainstream news editorially toward a model where they curate and surface contributions from their readership and the wider web.

In other words, Tier 1 publishers are being transformed from content creators to content curators - and this could change the game.

In the race to open up and leverage social and real-time technologies, these media organizations are actually making way for the most effective democratization of niche news yet.

Niche, personalized news distributed by open news hubs born from the 'ashes' of old media.

Don't like the tools one hub gives you? Switch to another. the brands we all know and love have an opportunity to become powerful players in the news aggregation and consumption game. Will they respond in time?

Due to my experience working with Tier 1 publishers for Echo, I have high hopes for many of them to learn and adapt. But much more work still remains.

Learn more about how news organizations are practically turning into personalized news curation hubs over on the Echo Blog.

A failure of Imagination and Conviction

Added on by Chris Saad.

As you might know if you follow my work even remotely, my projects almost always come from a place of philosophical supposition. That is, I first create a model that I think matches the current and emerging state of the world, and then I create a product, project, format or other that works inside, encourages or commercializes that model. Many of my colleagues at JS-Kit do the same thing. Khris Loux and I, for example, spend hours and hours discussing our shared world views and how this translates to features, business direction and general life goals.

This methodology allows us to couch our decisions in well thought out mental models to make them more consistent, predictable and, we hope, more effective.

Over the years, and with my friends, I've proposed a number of these philosophical models including APML, DataPortability and most recently (this time working with Khris) SynapticWeb.

One of the hardest aspects of creating a philosophical model, however, is truly letting it guide you. To trust it. To take it's premise to the logical conclusion. Another challenge is explaining this methodology (and the value of the resulting outcomes) to others who a) don't think this way and b) have not taken the time to examine and live the model more fully.

Many times, the choices and decisions that I/we make from these models are nuanced, but the sum of their parts, we believe, are significant.

Let me make some concrete examples.

Social Media

There is this ongoing tension between the value of social/user generated media and the media produced by 'Journalists'. Sure social media is amazing, some say, but bloggers will never replace the role of Journalists.

The fact of the matter is, if your philosophical world view is that Social Media is important, that it is a return to one-to-one personal story telling and that it allows those in the know - involved in the action - to report their first hand accounts, then you must necessarily expand your imagination and have the conviction to follow that line of logic all the way to the end.

If you do, you must necessarily discover that the distinction between Journalists and 'Us' as social media participants (all of us) is authority, perspective, distribution and an attempt at impartiality.

In the end, however, we are each human beings (yes, even the journalists). Journalists are imbued with authority because a trusted news brand vets and pays them, they are given the gift of perspective because they sit above the news and are not part of it, they have distribution because their media outlet prints millions of pieces of paper or reaches into the cable set top boxes of millions of homes and their impartiality is a lie.

Can't these traits be replicated in social media? Of course they can.

Reputation can be algorithmically determined or revealed through light research/aggregation, perspective can be factored in by intelligent human beings or machines that find both sides of a story, distribution is clearly a solved problem through platforms like Twitter, Digg and others and impartiality is still a lie. At least in social media bias is revealed and transparency is the new impartiality.

I don't mean to provide an exhaustive reasoning on why Social Media as a philosophical framework holds up as new paradigm for news gathering and reporting here - only to give an example of how we must allow ourselves to imagine outside the box and have the conviction to fully believe in our own assumptions.


The same type of artificial mental barriers have appeared at every step of the way with each of the philosophical frameworks in which I have participated. Streams, is the most recent.

When we launched Echo we proposed that any conversation anywhere, irrespective of the mode or channel in which it was taking place, had the potential to be a first class part of the canonical and re-assembled lifestream of a piece of content.

Many pushed back. "Oh a Tweet can't possibly be as valuable as a comment" they lamented. They're wrong.

A Tweet, an @ Reply, a Digg, a Digg Comment, a Facebook Status Update, a Facebook Comment, an 'on page' comment and any other form of reaction each have just as much potential for value as the other.

Some have created artificial distinctions between them. They separate the stream into 'Comments' and 'Social Reactions'. I have news for everyone. A comment is a social reaction. Thinking of it as anything less is a failure of imagination and conviction. The trick is not a brute force separation of the two, but rather a nuanced set of rules that help diminish the noise and highlight the signal - where ever it might be - from any mode or channel. We've started that process in Echo with a feature we call 'Whirlpools'.


Another interesting failure of imagination that I come up against a lot lately is the notion of community building.

With Echo, we have taken the philosophical position that users already have a social network - many have too many of them in fact. There is no reason for them to join yet another network just to comment. Not ours, not our publisher's.

No, instead they should be able to bring their social network with them, participate with the content on a publisher's website, share with their existing friends on existing social networks, and leave just as easily.

By using Echo, you are not joining 'our community'. You already have a community. If anything you are participating in the Publishers community - not ours.

We don't welcome new customers to 'Our community'. Instead we help their users bring their community to a piece of content, interact, share and leave.

Publishers invest large quantities of capital in producing high quality content only to have the engagement and monetization opportunities occur on Social Networks. In these tough economic times, publishers can not afford to bleed their audience and SEO to yet another social network just to facilitate commenting. That is the opposite of the effect they are trying to achieve by adding rich commenting in the first place.

If we use our imagination, and have the conviction to see our ideas through, we realize that publishers need tools that encourage on-site engagement and re-assemble offsite reactions as well - not bolster the branded 3rd party communities of the products they use.

Be Brave

In summation - be brave. Observe the world, define a philosophical framework, imagine the possibilities and have the conviction to follow through on your ideas. Stop being lazy. Stop stopping short of taking your impulses to their logical conclusions because I've found, when you consistently execute on your vision it might be a little harder to sell your point of differentiation - but your contributions will ultimately be better, more consistent and more long lasting for your company, the web and the rest of the world.