Category Archives: Web 2.0

Microblogging: Who Needs It?

The Twitter revolution must be official now that Time, BusinessWeek and The New York Times have all covered it. Twitter is a platform for what some are calling “microblogging” – a combination of blogging and instant messaging that has no real point that I can see other than to let people follow you around virtually all day as you keep a running diary of your activities – in 140 or fewer characters. From the NYT:

For anyone unfamiliar with the latest trends in technology, “Twitterers” send and receive short messages, called “tweets,” on Twitter’s Web site, with instant messaging software, or with mobile phones. Unlike most text messages, tweets — usually in answer to Twitter’s prompt, “What are you doing?” — are routed among networks of friends. Strangers, called “followers,” can also choose to receive the tweets of people they find interesting. …

Most twitterers communicate with small networks of people they know, but the most popular have thousands of friends and followers. One of the best-loved twitterers, Paul Terry Walhaus, a gray-haired blogger from Austin, Tex., has 9,177 friends and 1,851 followers, according to the tracking site Twitterholic.

Perhaps I’m just envious of someone who has 9,177 friends (think of the parties!), but this is not for me.  

The general banality of the posts has turned off a lot of folks. Other tweets have had the opposite effect, landing their authors in virtual hot water as a stream-of-consciousness tidbit is picked up and circulated throughout the Web. Unlike traditional IM, Twitter posts don’t disappear after a chat session ends, so something you say in passing is bound to outrage someone, somewhere. The above link (a tweet by Steve Rubel from PR firm Edelman) caught the eye of PC Magazine Editor in Chief Jim Louderback, who responded to Rubel’s comment that he tosses PC Mag in the trash by threatening to cancel Rubel’s comp subscription and boycott Edelman’s tech clients (of which there are many). Rubel subsequently apologized in an effort to save face (and stave off the boycott), and presumably they will both co-exist happily ever after.

There may be legitimate uses for Twitter; I just can’t think of any. BusinessWeek speculates on a few:

In different contexts, say among friends or colleagues, knowing that someone is sick or at lunch explains why they aren’t returning your call or why they’re so cranky, argues Ross Mayfield, chief executive of corporate wiki outfit Socialtext Inc.

For that to happen, the information–or time required to enter it–can’t be overwhelming. And Twitter must refine its filters. Right now it’s possible to direct updates to one person, but imagine if you could selectively reach certain groups of colleagues and filter recipients according to subjects, like restaurants. Already, Twitter tools are popping up, such as maps that show where people are twittering and a Twitter search engine.

Anyway, Twitter founder Evan Williams is obviously a smart guy who has a track record of success with startups (former CEO of Odeo, co-founder of Blogger parent Pyra Labs, since sold to Google). So he’s probably onto something with Twitter, but I’m not yet convinced. Of course, in the late ’90s I thought instant messaging was a huge waste of time, and that seems to have done all right.  

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Selling Copiers in Second Life

Xerox simulcast the launch of some new office products yesterday from two venues: Fenway Park in Boston, and Xerox Innovation Island in Second Life. Xerox exec Jim Firestone said the simulcast demonstrates the intersection of the print-based and paperless worlds.

The Fenway event was cool – free food and drink in the EMC Club, a few swings in the indoor batting cages, and Jim Rice signing autographs. The SL event – well, not so good. Xerox Chief Technology Officer Sophie Vandebroek used her avatar to walk through a couple of product demos from within the virtual world, which featured streaming videos of real-life product managers embedded in virtual displays, and a skinny Al Roker avatar running around as some type of investigative journalist/narrator. Vandebroek said Xerox is using Innovation Island to study the social dynamics of the virtual world and potential opportunities for Xerox. I’m sorry, I still don’t get the appeal of Second Life to marketers.

Website Asks, Could Second Life Kill off the Call Center? Uh, No

This story on a website called silicon.com caught my eye for its sheer silliness. The writer posits on how virtual world Second Life could play a role as a virtual waiting room for real-life customer service. The story even quotes a consultant:

In future [sic], the consultants believe call centres could one day ask customers to follow up a phone call with them by moving the query into a virtual world. And hanging around in Second Life is more fun than being stuck on hold. As Claus Nehmzow, member of PA Consulting’s management team points out: “The waiting period can be so much more entertaining than with an IVR system”.

Instead of being placed in a queue to enjoy hold ‘muzak’ when contacting a call centre, virtual world visitors could make more profitable use of their time – talking to other inhabitants, viewing videos, reading information in the environment for example.

And I’m sure customers with real problems to solve or orders to place will eagerly latch onto being shunted to a fake world where they can chat up their issues with an avatar.

This is a textbook case of a journalist desperately seeking a fresh angle for an overexposed topic. Inevitably, the result is an incredibly dumb story.

The Future of Web Video

Nice juxtaposition yesterday: Viacom sues GooTube for a cool $1 billion the day after Michael Eisner launches his new online studio, called Vuguru, and unveils its first programming, an 80-webisode series called Prom Queen. Other than its name, which sounds like something I used to mutter around last call, Vuguru may be the best example yet of the future of Web video.

On the surface at least, the Prom Queen site offers provides a nice blend of high-end production quality and modern Web packaging. The target audience (the YouTube generation), the format (90-second episodes), the viral enablers (“embed,” “send” and “download” buttons at the end of the teaser video), a handful of sponsors (including Ellegirl.com and Fiji Water),  and the backing of a Hollywood heavyweight like Eisner all bode well for the venture. Of course, the content could suck, which would make the buzz moot (“Snakes on a Plane” syndrome). But this could be a milestone in the evolution of broadband video.  

Mediapost: Is Web 2.0 Bad for Google?

Interesting column on Mediapost’s Search Insider about the impact of Web 2.0 – specifically user-generated video – on Google’s business. Not sure I agree with the author’s distinction between Google (search company) and Yahoo and MSN (media companies), but he asks some provocative questions about how search engines will be able to handle rich-media content.

‘How Do You Censor Content?’

Yesterday, I moderated a webcast on social media. The presentation was given by executives from Akamai and VideoEgg, who discussed the opportunities (brand affinity, ad revenue, more traffic) and the business and technical challenges (editorial control, site scalability and performance, monetization) for media companies and marketers looking to open up their brands to user-generated content and community.

We had a large audience turnout, but clearly not everyone has embraced the democratized nature of social media and consumer-generated content. Among the questions submitted by listeners was this one: “How do you censor content?” There were others that similarly touched on screening user contributions for offensive or illegal content, but this question, posed by someone affiliated with one of the Big Three automakers, stood out for its bluntness. And for its insight into what some folks really think about losing control of their brands.

Big Media Bites Back

Viacom told YouTube today to pull from its site more than 100,000 copyrighted video clips – accounting for more than 1.2 billion video streams. Viacom’s general counsel called it a “takedown action,” but it’s more like a smackdown after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement that would let YouTube post videos from the media giant, whose properties include MTV and Comedy Central. The move will keep YouTube’s producers busy over the weekend, but it won’t solve the bigger issue of how proactive YouTube has been in filtering for copyrighted material posted without permission. If you ask me, the genie is already out of the bottle – good luck to Big Media trying to get it back in.