Results tagged “obvious”

Toward Better Conversations

January 14, 2013

Today, my friends at Branch announced that their fun and pretty little conversation platform is now open to the world, available for you to bring your friends in and talk about what matters to you. (I'm an advisor, and became one because I liked the product when it was in beta.)

It's an exciting moment for me, not just because of the usual here's-our-new-features-check-it-out moment that startups live for (though you should read about all the new features!) Instead, I'm really optimistic about this moment of making a concerted effort to bring back meaningful, heartfelt conversation on the web.

This isn't a new fixation for me; when I was lamenting the web we lost, one of the fundamental underpinnings of my frustration was that we've lost the idea as a culture that positive, affirming web conversations are even possible. Hundreds of millions of people have come to the social web without ever knowing the era of making real human connections through open commenting online.

Making Friends and Influencing People

Why does it matter? Take my life: Most of the people who attended my wedding were people I'd first interacted with through conversations on the web, taking us from strangers to close friends over the course of a relatively short period of time. Most of the doors that have been opened to me happened because some of the folks whose sites or blogs or threads I commented on found my thoughts worthwhile enough to be willing to extend me an opportunity.

Those doors stay closed in the web we have today, where extreme abuse and acts of emotional violence are treated as common or even expected on most web forums. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: If your website's full of assholes, it's your fault. But for those of us who make tools and technology, it's also our fault in a profound way, making it hard to actively manage your conversation and community toward a positive outcome.

Branch is thinking of this problem from the standpoint of individuals who want to host conversations with a group of their friends all the way up to publishers who want to integrate thoughtful conversations from a set of invited contributors to become part of their offerings.

It's still early. Ideas like being able to highlight parts of a thread in order to emphasize it for others are still nascent, and it remains to be seen whether they'll work. But the important part is that someone's trying. There must be the ambition, the radical belief, that says the ability for the web to connect everyone doesn't intrinsically require that it be a brutal, unpleasant or even upsetting experience.

So as Branch takes its first tentative steps out into the larger world, I'm rooting for it to succeed, and for it to help inspire many other similar efforts, whether within individual sites or on standalone platforms, to provide a way for others to not just get as much out of the web as I was able to in the past, but to make real connections in a way that we couldn't have imagined.

Having 'Thank You' Money

February 20, 2007

One of the goals a lot of people have when they become entrepreneurs is to have "fuck you" money: Enough personal wealth to be able to say "fuck you" to whomever you want.

As is probably evident from my little love note to Twitter, I'm enjoying Ev Williams (and his team) having the freedom to experiment with a slightly nicer version of that freedom. Call it "Thank You" money.

The best part about people being independent is that they can tell the truth. And while this is true for other bloggers (Dave Winer, Jason Calacanis, and Mark Cuban come to mind), Ev's probably the most graceful with it. So a rumination a few months ago about Odeo's mistakes sets the stage for an honest appraisal of the challenges faced now that Odeo is for sale.

Pretty much everybody else who'd want to do something like this would have to ask permission from someone else, permission that would likely not be granted. As someone who likes entrepreneurship and working for an independent company, it does my heart good to see others revelling in it as well.

Consider Twitter

February 14, 2007

Twitter The sign of success in social software is when your community does something you didn't expect.

It's easy to be cynical about new sites, especially when one is trying to maintain some healthy skepticism. But sometimes you have to let that critical impulse down just long enough to be optimistic. That brings me to Twitter.

I was all set to hate, or at least scoff at, Twitter when it launched, especially because it was called "twttr" and it just seemed to me like "West Coast Dodgeball". (Dodgeball started here in New York City, and at least for me, caught on with my New York friends in a way that never quite happened on the west coast, even after Google acquired the company.) In a way, it's unfortunate that I have ended up liking Twitter, because I had a bunch of better titles in mind for this post if i hadn't. (See the table below.)

twttr's old logoIf you haven't tried it, Twitter is a simple service that lets you send simple status update messages to your friends via SMS, IM, or a very basic web interface. Those messages are then sent to everyone who follows your updates, using any of the communications methods available. Simply put, it's a buddy list or reply-to-all form of group communication for media which didn't really have them. And Twitter lowers the threshold of participation to being just a straightforward prompted text area. That simplicity echoes the updating interface for some of the best applications, such as the original (circa 2000) Blogger posting box. A lot of my favorite sites today have similar features that prompt for participation, like Vox's Question of the Day or the similar feature on Serious Eats.

Twitter messages are also persistent. The persistence of casual conversations has been key to the adoption of blogging. It's a response to the frustrating sense of impermanence that permeates most communication that takes place via email, IM, or SMS, and Twitter honors that need for a sense of history in the things we say to each other.

Plus, Twitter lets you use whatever medium is most convenient, like all good social apps. I've learned a bit about connecting the web, SMS and IM from LiveJournal's experience with LJ Talk, and the djabberd platform that powers it. Put simply, if your social network doesn't work when you're not sitting in front of your computer, your social network doesn't work.

This idea of adding persistence to instant messaging and status messages is extremely powerful, whether it's LiveJournal's celebrated "current mood" status, or the BuddyGopher service, which was an extraordinarily prescient service that provided a bot which would log all of your buddies' away messages. The service became a casualty of AOL's (now largely remedied) closed IM platform., but today, AOL itself even provides some views of this kind of IM status data on the AIM site.

That sort of platform or media flexibility pays dividends; I still never use Twitter via SMS, only via IM and the web, but it works seamlessly for me and all my friends who are on SMS. I wouldn't have become a user if the technology had limited me to texting on my phone. That's part of the measure of Twitter's success: An unexpected use.

And I think we'll see more of that kind of unanticipated creativity going forward. Already, lots of people on my friends list are using "@username" to direct personal Twitter messages to one another -- essentially sending individual IMs over a public medium to someone who might well be using IM on the other end. I wouldn't have predicted that, and I bet it's only a matter of time until Twitter lets you convert @username messages into its own D USERNAME syntax.

If I hadn't liked Twitter:

  • Wither Twitter?
  • Reconsider Twitter
  • I'm a Twitter quitter
  • Twitter, Please.
  • TWIT R DONE

And this highlights a key point -- good social media platforms are profoundly adaptive. The platform behind the technology was originally built for a different purpose. That's true of many of the greatest social network applications; Just as Pyra begat Blogger and Game Neverending begat Flickr, a lot of the infrastructure for Odeo helped create Twitter.

Finally, Twitter seems like it's a product borne of passion, and I can see all day every day it's made by a team that actually uses the service extensively. That's important, and helped inspire some of my fondness for the service. It definitely helped me overcome my initial skepticism. Fortunately, I had the chance to tell Ev and some of members of his team in person that their site is one of the few new services to come along that actually feels new.

And of course, as we've progressed from updating entire web pages to just updating blog posts to now entering one-line updates on Twitter, the only logical next step is for us to move on to just updating emoticons. :)

Some related posts:

In this case I'm referring back to wanting meaningful technology because I know the criticism of Twitter is "I don't need more random messages popping up on my phone." But I use Twitter like I use Vox, to keep track of friends and family whom I can't check in with constantly, to give me a sense of shared placed with people who are geographically distant. And that's something I alluded to in my earlier post:

[T]he most important things are the things that we arrogantly want to dismiss as trivia. In every aspect of life, the most profound things are so common that if they don't affect someone you love or care about, they can seem meaningless.

What I'd like to see is technology being used in service of helping me share and record those moments. And I'd like to see technology be used to help create those moments.

Still sounds like a good goal to me.

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