Twitter is a competitive sport

Last month I noticed an interesting Tweet by Dave Winer about Jason Calacanis not being #1 on Twitter any more. After giving some thought I decided to respond to Dave that I wasn’t aware of the fact that Twitter was a competitive sport. Dave replied clearly, that Twitter is competitive, like everything is. He is right, Twitter is a competitive sport, however is there a way to become #1? Is the ranking based on followers, following, number of Tweets, number of Retweets, number of replies, a mixed of all those indicators.

For example this a graph created via Twittercounter:

twitterCompetition

This graph shows the number of followers Ron Tolido, Lee Provoost and I have at the moment of writing this blog. Is there way to say who is#1? Clearly Ron is number one in the most followers, however is he winning or is winning based on something harder to measure, such as attention? With Twitter and social media being a competitive sport it is hard to identify when you score (assuming that social media is a competitive game based on scoring) and when you are being scored at. One thing is very clear and that is if you are not participating, you are certainly not scoring and certainly not winning. It doesn’t mean that if you participate you will win, however it will mean that you have an opportunity to win.

Is your best good enough

While participating in social media you will win some, you will lose some and sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. However not participating at will definitely result in losing. Not only losing in social media, but also losing customers, losing business, losing market share, losing revenue and perhaps even losing your business in the end. You have to be in this game, otherwise you will definitively lose.

Moving from service to infrastructure

Are you using a certain service? Do not judge it by its cover. Sometimes the medium someone is using for a service will become some kind of personification of the service. Like for some Outlook is equal to email and TweetDeck for Twitter.

Email or Yammer?

For example some weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague on Yammer. At a moment in the discussion I referred back to a previous conversation that was related to the subject, she told me that she read that discussion, because she already received my emails of this conversation. At first this was rather surprising for me, especially since I only spoke to her via Yammer and never send her an email before. When I gave it some thought, I realized that you could also Yammer via email (as you by the web interface, SMS, IM and third party tools).

Email will be always there

What I also realized that we never get rid of email (even if we really want to) and that some services will move from service to infrastructure. Twitter and Yammer are both moving (or already there) towards being a piece of infrastructure (a protocol) and people can use these protocols to communicate with one another. People can choose which tools they use to use the protocol. It could even go further (especially with the tools that take care of distributed microblogging) and tools could even make the protocol irrelevant (which should be done, since it is about communication and not about data exchange via a specific protocol). This way someone might read the information you posted to Twitter on his TV while accessing Facebook.

It will be just a matter of time till services and protocols become more and more irrelevant to the end users, they will not even be aware of the fact that they are either using Twitter or Yammer or Facebook, the service itself is hard to differentiate on anything other than the network effect. The medium will matter, since every medium has its value. It should be the ultimate goal of every service: moving from being a service to becoming a piece of infrastructure.

Collaborative library

I live in a little village (Spijkenisse)  in the Netherlands that used to be quite average and was not really adopting 2.0 concepts. However this is changing, that itself is not very surprising, since it is not a question if you adopt 2.0 concepts, but more when you adopt them. The new library in my city will not only have a very innovative design, it will offer next to the regular space for books, also an extra space for 75.000 books. This space for 75.000 books is intended for the residents of Spijkenisse. Each resident is allowed to contribute one book to the library.

The community defines the content

This is a really great concept, since you have approximately 75.000 books in your library that a resident would recommend to others to read. Instead for going only the standard collections approach Spijkenisse is partly outsourcing / crowd sourcing the building of its collection. An easy way to collect the books that matter to the community. Also a nice way for writers to promote their own books though. On the other hand, people living in a certain place have a lot in common, therefore it might happen that you have some books that will occur multiple times in the crowdsourced selection. This isn’t a bad thing, especially since the crowd sourced collection also shows the interests of the residents. Based on the interests the library can extend its collection with books that will have fit with their residents.

Just by simply creating some shelf space, on which residents can put their books they think that are worth reading ,does the library of Spijkenisse create an immensive value. Not only will the crowd sourced collection be read by other residents (and probably more than the conventional collections), it also provided an enormous ammount of information about the (potential) clients for the library. The only thing the library did was to inviting people to give something to them for free.

Social networks are boring and suggested users are evil

Face it, when you join a social network (Twitter, Facebook,  hi5, MySpace, FriendFeed) these networks are boring. The reason why these networks are boring, is because you do not know anybody who joined this network. Most networks solve this by offering you an import from either other social networks or from your email address book.  Issue solved, the social network is not boring anymore. No not really, you have solved the issue that you have no connections on the social network, you still haven’t solved the issue that you have no interaction.

However since we are human we tend to interact with the people we know en we see, so that is one thing you can solve easily, especially since you know where the people are that you are acquainted to, you just imported them. It is like moving to a new city, you have to invest some time to make it less boring, and if you already know some people in a new city, it makes the process a little bit easier.

Evil

Now the evil part: some social network, have the option of ‘suggested users’, this option is trying to solve the same issues as importing your new contacts from somewhere else. However suggested users are most often well known users of the social networking service (for example the suggested users on Twitter)  or are users that already have the most followers (like on the suggested users implementation on Yammer).

Imagine you are moving to a new city and to make things less boring you get ten addresses of people who are either already introduced to all other people or you get  some addresses of famous people who will not speak to you. Makes this things less boring? No it does not, it will create some noise so you will get the feeling you are not living in a vacuum anymore, however if you’d prefer noise you could also go in local pub to test your luck. You probably won’t have any real interaction with them, off course you can be lucky to get connected to someone who cares about you so you have an opportunity to interact, however most often you’ll be just a listener to the noise these  social media rock stars make.

The better alternative

There is a better alternative: do not suggest users to connect to at the start of using a social network. Suggest them after a few days, in this way you, the user, can already contribute to a social network, and you are able to connect to the ones you already know. Based on this relatively small footprint a selection can be made of relevant users that you would like to be connected to. It is also a good moment for the owner / manager of the social network to thank you for joining the network and ask for any feedback. This way the network can use it social graph to help you better yourself and you can help the network by providing feedback.

Social networking is quite identical to the real life: you will only connect to the ones who add value and who connect to you (since it is a matter of giving and receiving). So think twice before connecting to suggested users, unless you are groupie, than you connect to social networking rock stars because they are rock stars, you don’t need the interaction.

Monetizing could kill your service

I used to be a frequent user of Twitterfon on my iPhone. However it seemed like the developer of Twitterfon did not like the fact that a lot of people were using this app. Why would I think something like that?  I think the developer of Twitterfon dislike the fact that many people used Twitterfon since he put a mega ad on top of its app and will be offering a paid version that is ad free. You should not degrade something to monetize it.

Ads aren’t uncool

I do not dislike ads, not at all, I use some other apps on my iPhone  that have ads in them, the big difference is, those apps had those ads all the time  and there was all the time an alternative paid version of the app available without the ads.

For the very few who might wonder: I switched to Tweetie as Twitter app on my iPhone. Tweetie is a paid app and has similar features as Twitterfon. Since I like those features and I would not mind paying for it, I decided to pay for Tweetie. I do not trust Twitterfon anymore , since the app was degraded and the features that were free were put in a paid version. If everything else is equal, I’ll always prefer to deal with someone I can trust.

Don’t break trust

People do not mind to pay for a service. They mind paying for a service they cannot trust. Do not break trust, especially since it is the most valuable thing in a market where everything else is equal.

Twitter does not understand discovery

Twitter changed its @replies system which has a big impact on the one thing that adds the most value to networks: it disables the possibility to easily discover people you do not know:

We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow it’s a good way to stay in
the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your time line is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

This really a weird decision, and it is quite like @scotthepburn tweeted:

OMG! I’m in a bar and can only hear conversations between people I know! It’s so quiet! This place is lame…I’m leaving.

No added value

A situation like that will not add any value. It is great to overhear conversation and have the opportunity to tap in at the moment you like. If you do not know the conversation is there, you cannot tap in and you cannot add value. Is this therefore a killer feature from Twitter? Well it certainly kills a bit of value, you can only interact with people you follow and you know already. If somebody outside your network has an issue and is explaining this issue to somebody in your network and there is a conversation about it, you will not be able to help that person, since you do not know that there is actually a conversation. If for example Lee is interacting a lot with Davide, than I might want to follow Davide, since Lee and I share a lot of the same interests and therefore have an overlap in the people we follow. However thanks to Twitter I do not know with who Lee is interacting, the only people I see Lee is interacting with, is with the people I already know.

Please Twitter, fix the replies.

It is an attention economy, not a follower economy

If you are on some social networks you might notice that are different economics: the one who posts first, the one with the most posts, the one with the most karma (or kudos on other networks) and on Twitter there is the one with the most followers. However all of these economics are not about the first poster, or the one with the most followers or the superdude (or whatever obscure label one might get when one has the most karma / kudos), it is all about attention. Attention economy does exist and is creating bigger revenues than ever.

Attention is key

The fact that I have 600+ followers on Twitter does not mean a thing. It matters how much attention I can get them for my tweets. Mr Kutcher might be a bit more successful since he has 1.6 million followers, which is just a numbers game. If I only can get attention of 1% of my followers, it means that 6 people will read my Tweet and make an action. If Mr Kutcher can get attention of only 0.1% of his followers, it means that he got 1600 people who do something. This is just a game of numbers, however it might be clear that the number of people who are following you does not make the difference, nor the number of posts / tweets you produce on a certain platform,  it is about how many people you can really reach,  of how many can you get the attention and how many people can you inspire to take action.

What is worth paying?

Same goes for music, anybody can download a copy for free (which does not necessarily mean that it is legal!), however not everyone can make something that freely available into something that catches the attention of the public and is worth paying for. A great example is the iPhone application from the Presidents of the United States, you can download their music for free (again, this does not mean that you are performing a legal action), however they also offer a paid application in the Appstore for 5 euros. You can pay 5 euros for a box, a piece of user experience and listen to the music. The box is about creating attention and seems to be worth paying for, the copy of the music which is leveraged by the box is not unique and already available for no costs.

You can make money if you can create awareness and capture one’s attention, you probably make no (or less) money on copies and on vague big numbers such as the number of followers. It just matters of how many time people give to you when you capture their attention.

Going real time

The next big thing would be the real time web. Friendfeed introduced a real real time, and Twitter has a real time which you do have to refresh every now and then via their web interface. However both are more realtime than ‘conventional’ sites and they contain a continuous flow of information. A real time web is nice, but how many hours a day do you have the time to gaze at your screen reading all the real time information. And also important: are all those real time events happening in your time zone and are you still awake when they happen?

Screen staring

I think just a very few people will have time to stare at their screen while all the news flows by in real time and since most people sleep approximately eight hours a day, you’ll miss a third of all the real time information (unless you tap in during your sleep). Therefore the real time web is something great, however it will not be used as often as we think or as we would like that it to be. Especially as you are not watching it real time (so you catch up every few minutes) it is not real time.

On demand vs real time

So the next big thing will be more like the on demand web: real time at the moments you want, available everytime you need it. It fits more in the snack size consumption that has become a trend in the last few years and gives you the possibility to tap in at the moments you want to snack. The pause button on friendfeed is a great example of their understanding of the on the demand web: you cannot do real time viewing all the time, sometimes you need a break. I even think that friendfeed without a pause button would be better: you shouldn’t be afraid to miss something in your information flow by not watching it. If things are really important to will come to you eventually, even when you missed it on forehand, your network will make sure you do not miss a thing, without that you have to gaze at your screen for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only thing you have to do, is to tap in at the moments you need to and you want to.

Pearltrees

At The Next Web Conference I was happy to meet Patrice Lamothe (CEO of Pearltrees). He told me about Pearltrees which is a collaborative project enabling Internet users to become editors of the Web, i.e. to visualize, organize and share their navigation. By building their own Web, they collectively build a living map of the entire Web. When I heard it at first, it flashed my mind it could be just another taxonomy, folksonomy or other bookmarking tool, however when Patrice showed me a demo it was clear that it was not.

Story telling

Pearltrees a great way to cover a subject since it offers context and provides a way to do some sort of storytelling. Besides that you can easily navigate between maps that have one or more web pages in common. A great example you can find on Pearltrees about The Next Web Conference. Why do I think that Pearltrees is such a great tool? It’s quite simple, Pearltrees provides a great visual way of organizing content (and context) about a subject. By creating a map with Pearltrees you can tell a story or explain a subject to somebody by just handing over the map to him. The map itself, and the sequences of the several pearls will guide somebody through the information, any cross references with other maps are highlighted, so it is a great way to spend hours reading about a subject (see an earlier blog post of me on discovering new things).

Another nice feature of Pearltrees is that it has a plugin with which you can record your journey towards information. When enabled it will create a map of your current browser session (for example: you start with reading a wiki page about Web2.0, click though to page A, than to page B etcetera).  This map you can reorder afterwards if you like and share to others (for example your peers) to explain a certain subject.

Some other great examples of subjects that are available in maps on Pearltrees:

Does layout matter?

No layout does not matter for readers. Most of my readers on my blog read its contents by its RSS feed and I think almost nobody even noticed that I did a complete redesign (read: installation of a new template ;)). Same goes for my twitter page. Hardly anyone will visit it often and I think the layout of this page is the same since I started to tweet. So does layout really matters?

Yes it does

Yes layout matters for strangers and it matters if you offer another service than ‘content’ (a service in which user experience is important). If you offer just content (like I do via my blog and via Twitter) than layout only matters for people who do not know who you are. Layout helps strangers to identify if you are someone they want to spend time with (by for example reading your content, not necessarily by watching hours at your layout). If you have a layout which they cannot relate to, they are likely to not invest time in you. The reason why Scobleizer can claim that his basic layout has no impact on traffic, is because due to the fact people already know him and people can use other sources to identify him as someone who they want to spend time with.