Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Bloody RSS

The ProBlogger post explaining how you can see how many Google Reader subscribers you have caught my attention because my RSS traffic has always been a bit of a mystery to me, especially since dropped its RSS stats. Web traffic is nice and easy to measure, RSS traffic not so!

I really, really wish I had switched to a Feedburner RSS feed when I first started this blog but doing so down the track doesn’t seem to make sense as any stats I get from Feedburner will only show a portion of the picture. Now I know, there’s a way to divert your WordPress default RSS to Feedburner but when your running off the hosted it isn’t so simple so I’ve never bothered and therefore never really had a good idea of what kind of RSS traffic I was getting.

Apparently, I’ve got 197 Google Reader subscribers which I’m feeling pretty good about considering how little I’ve been blogging recently. If you’ve been reading Squash for a while, you’d know that during the Rugby League season down here in Australia I don’t blog a lot on Squash because I write another blog about the team I follow which pretty much absorbs any spare time I have. But Footy season is over now so I’m hoping to try and blog daily again. It will certainly be nice to have a metric like this Google Reader one – as incomplete as it obviously is – to see if I have any luck at building this sucker up again.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Why Digg-clones don’t work

There is another TechCrunch article today about yet more Digg-clones. After  noting that Digg seems “hard pressed to break out of its geek-infested niche”, TechCrunch goes on to observe that “other sites are using Digg-like voting mechanisms to attack a much larger and much less tech savvy crowd: celebrity gossip aficionados”.

Outside of Digg and Reddit has anyone seen Digg-like voting systems work? Not here.

So why is that? Why does Digg work so spectacularly well while all these clones bomb. Check out all of the sites that TechCrunch mention in the article (Showhype, BallHype, Conde Naste’s Lipstick, Dotspotter, and SugarLoving (which supposedly has ‘massive page views’). On all of these sites the top ranked stories have about a dozen votes and a hand-full of comments. One obvious consequence of this is that with such little critical mass, any of these sites could be gamed but presumably noone really cares enough to bother.

So why aren’t any of these sites working? Well, you have to think about what value Digg really brings. For one, it is focused on the tech sector, which has such a massive and diverse range of content written about it on a daily basis that there is a definite need for filtering. Digg’s audience is one that will respond to the empowerment of a social filter system the same way it embraces anything open source. Power to the people, comrades.

There aren’t many content niches where there is so much content that a really good blog can’t effectively aggregate that content. There aren’t many content niches where big media companies aren’t already doing a pretty effective job of aggregating news.  Celebrity sites won’t work because there are so many really good big media sites already doing a really good job in this space, and your typical celebrity gossip reader doesn’t care who’s filtering that content. Same goes with sport and just about every other niche I can think of.

The only way you can make this kind of voting system work is by building a community that gets off on this type of interaction.  The problem with these Digg clones is they’re trying to build a community via the Digg-style news mechanism but that’s always going to have the chicken and egg problem. You need a community to make the concept work but you can’t build a community until the concept works.

I can see Digg-style voting becoming increasingly omnipresent around the web, but more so as a “feature” rather than a product in their own right. So I’ll get to choose whether I want to view the content as selected by the editor, or based on the number of votes, reads, links or whatever other ranking system you want to implement.

What it all comes down to is the way you filter news depends on your audience. TechMeme works for the Web 2.0 community because their primary method of interaction with news is based on approval by blogging and linking. Digg works for the Digg-crowd because it is an effective way of using the kind of egalitarian social interaction favoured by these users to sort through vast amounts of content. Blogs work great as an aggregator for many niches because there isn’t so much to filter through, and most of it is just rewritten content anyway, so the value-add that the blog adds is hopefully some informed commentary or analysis.

It’s easy to get enamoured with the Digg model because its a nice low-cost model that means you don’t have to employ editors or journalists but aren’t people wising up to the fact that there are literally thousands of Digg-clone sites on the web and still only a handful have gained any real traction and there all in tech-related areas.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Windows Social OS could kill Facebook

Everyone talks about the social “efficiency” of Facebook but the reality is Facebook isn’t efficient at all. It’s just more efficient than what we’ve had in the past.

And the reality is if Microsoft was to re-think its operating system strategy and go down the social path it could whack Facebook good and proper.

Every body in the blogosphere is talking about Steve Ballmer’s comments that Facebook might just be a fad. A lot of people are getting up in arms over this saying Microsoft “doesn’t get it” – gosh, where have I heard that before. Although I do lend a certain amount of credence to Robert Scoble’s blog on the topic given that he’s been inside the operation and therefore has a more sophisticated understanding of how Ballmer and co. might be thinking, then I could ever pretend to.

However, since I’ve been covering the tech industry as a reporter and blogger for the last dozen years or so, I’ve heard people say “Microsoft doesn’t get it”, a thousand times before. The fact is Microsoft’s operating system advantage is such a massive factor that Microsoft can come late to the party and then deliver a king-hit that knocks the opposition for six. Netscape anyone?

If Facebook should be scared of anyone, it should be scared of Microsoft because if Microsoft was to build social functionality into its Windows operating systems it could deliver an ecosystem a thousands times more effective than what Facebook is.

Let’s remember that Facebook has been positioned as a platform. And it’s doing alright on that front with 40 odd million users. However, as a platform its a minnow when compared to Windows.

So what happens to Facebook if Windows gets social? Facebook dies. And Mark Zuckerberg starts to think that he probably should have snapped up that $15 billion valuation.

So what do I mean by this? We come back to this concept of “social efficiency”.

Right now, I’m required to go and visit Facebook when I want to keep up with what my friends are doing. Which means that when my friend updates his status to say ‘… is in Sydney for 2 days’ and I don’t log into Facebook during that time, I miss out on catching up.

In fact, most of the methods of interacting with Facebook are a chore. Uploading pictures, updating my status, etc, etc all require me to log back into Facebook whereby I typically spend another 15 minutes catching up with everything that has happened since I was there last. Facebook is still a time sink.

If on the other hand, my computer itself becomes social then the ‘efficiency’ is greatly increased. I upload pictures from my camera directly into my social drive which automatically shares them with my friend. Infact, while I’m working away, it’s making use of my PC’s significant processing power to do facial recognition in the background and automatically tagging all my photos with my friends identities and then IMing them to let them know I’ve posted the pics. I’m getting desktop alerts of all the updates my computers deems important enough and everything else is running through my Vista sidebar. I’m using new desktop apps that suddenly have new P2P collaborative abilities because they’re tapping into the social graph that is now a part of every Windows PC. My Media Player is automatically updating my friends on what I’m listening to and they can use P2P to share that song in a Zune-like fashion. 

You tell me that’s not a Facebook killer?

Now, the first objection will be that if you don’t run Windows you’re locked out but Microsoft can have an online version for the Mac and Linux fans that let’s them participate, just not as efficiently.

That’s Microsoft 101, embrace but then extend via Windows.

Facebook have already shown that they’re not oblivious to this threat. They’re only acquisition has been Parakey – a technology that is about synching your computer and your online experience. Facebook is clearly looking at evolving into a social platform that sits between the operating system and your web applications – but the problem with that is its not efficient as it can be – it can always be done more efficiently in the operating system.

However, while I think Microsoft is the vendor who can overthrow Facebook, the question is will they? I’ve blogged before how Microsoft’s next operating system needs to be web-native. It needs to assume that every PC is connected and leverage the incredible advantages that affords. Vista should be the last desktop operating system – the next Windows to use Microsoft’s own terminology should be live but it should also be social

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

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