Our investment in Gnip keeps getting better and better. While the company is growing like crazy and the financial results would make any investor giddy, what really gets me excited is to see how Gnip is disrupting how business decisions are made. Gnip believes that someday every significant business decision will include social data as an input and they’ve been working hard for the last five years to make this vision a reality.
Last week, Gnip made another significant step forward towards their ultimate vision. Foursquare and Gnip just announced an exclusive partnership that allows Gnip to provide full coverage of anonymized Foursquare check-in data to Gnip’s extensive network of customers. Gnip is delivering over four billion social activities to their customers every day and their distribution network is delivering insights and analytics to over 95% of the Fortune 500. As much progress as they have made, location-based activity is one area of social data where the ecosystem has lacked significant coverage. Companies wanting to analyze geo-based activities around locations have been begging for more location-based activity. With the partnership between Foursquare and Gnip, the entire social data ecosystem gets a big win with this key signal of physical presence.
I’ve been a user and believer in Foursquare from the earliest days. It will be fascinating to see what types of analytics are built upon this new data. Both Foursquare and Gnip discuss some examples in their blog posts. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how businesses can capitalize on this unique data set. And with this partnership, we no longer have to imagine!
In December I wrote a post titled It’s Not About Having The Most Friends, It’s About Having The Best Friends. Since then I’ve been systematically modifying my social networking behavior and cleaning up my various social graphs. As a significant content generator in a variety of forms (blogs, books, tweets, videos) and a massive content consumer, I found that my historical approach of social network promiscuity wasn’t working well for me in terms of surfacing information.
I made two major changes to the way I use various social networks. I went through each one and categorized each on three dimensions: (1) consumption vs. broadcast and (2) public vs. private, (3) selective vs. promiscuous. These are not binary choices – I can be both a content consumer and a broadcaster on the same social network, but I’ll use it differently depending where on the spectrum I am.
For example, consider Facebook. I determined I was in the middle of the consumption/broadcast spectrum, public, and selective. With Foursquare, I determined I was closer to broadcast and private and very selective. With LinkedIn, I was 100% broadcast, public, and promiscuous. With Twitter, I was similar to Facebook, but with a much wider broadcast and promiscuous. With RunKeeper, very strong on broadcast, public, but selective.
I then looked at the tools I was using. Yesterday I noticed Fred Wilson’s email The Black Hole Of Email and it reminded me that I view email as my primary communication channel for broad accessibility (I try to answer every email I get within 24 hours – if it takes longer you know I’m on the road or got behind) and often respond within minutes if I’m in front of my computer. But I’ve worked very hard to cut all of the noise out of my email channel – I have no email subscriptions (thanks OtherInBox), I get no spam (thanks Postini), I run zero inbox (read and reply / archive immediately), and am very selective with the notifications I get via email (i.e. I check Meetup.com daily, but the only email notifications I get are for Boulder Is For Robots.) As a result, I find email manageable and a powerful / simple comm channel for me.
Tuning each social network has ranged from trivial (15 minutes with RunKeeper and I was in a happy place) to medium (Foursquare took an hour to clean up my 800+ friends to 100-ish) to extremely painful (going from 3000 Facebook friends to a useful set seemed overwhelming.) I decided to clean up the easy ones first and then come up with manual algorithms for the harder ones.
My favorite approach is what I’m doing with Facebook. Every day I go into the Events tab and look at the birthday list. I then unfriend the people whose name I don’t recognize or who I don’t want to consume in my news feed. Since Facebook’s social graph is on the public side, people can still follow me (ala Twitter follow). I view this as a reverse birthday gift which probably enhances both of our lives.
In contrast, I’ve continued to just accept all LinkedIn requests except from obvious recruiters or people who look like spambots. I know they can pay to get access to my social graph – that’s fine – I want them to have to pay someone or work a little for it, not just get it for free, but the benefit of having a wide social graph on LinkedIn for the one time a week I use it to hunt someone down somewhere far outweighs the pain of being promiscuous.
I’ve continued to find and use other tools for managing all the data. One of my new favorites is Engag.io. Rather than getting a stream of Facebook email notifications, I check it once a day and respond to everything that I see. I’ve noticed that I find comments in other services like Foursquare that I was previously missing, and rather than having a pile of clutter in my inbox, I can interact it with once a day for ten minutes.
When I reflect on my approach, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s very algorithmic. That’s how I’ve always driven my content consumption / content generation world and part of the reason it doesn’t overwhelm me. Sure – it spikes up at times and becomes less useful / more chaotic (like it did last year when I realized Facebook wasn’t really useful for me anyone.) This causes me to step back, figure out a new set of algorithms, and get it newly tamed. And yes, Facebook is now much more useful and interesting to me after only a few months of cleanup.
I’m always looking for new tools and approaches to this so if you have a great one, please tell me. For example, the “unfriend on birthdays” approach was suggested several times in the comments to one of the posts and after trying a Greasemonkey plugin, manual unfriending on the iPad while watching TV, and other brute force approaches, I just decided I’d clean it up over a year via the birthday approach. So – keep the comments and emails flowing – they mean a lot to me.
Over the past month I’ve been systematically cleaning up my social graph. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted to do this, as I’m a very active user of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Google+ along with a bunch of applications that leverage these various social graphs. Historically, I’ve been a very promiscuous friender, accepting almost all friend requests.
While this strategy worked fine for me for Twitter (since I didn’t have to do anything, and could deliberately choose who I wanted to follow) this didn’t work for any of the other services. Specifically, Facebook had become basically useless to me, LinkedIn’s activity feed was pointless, Foursquare scared me a little, and Google+ was just a cluttered mess.
As I used each of these services daily, I thought hard about how I was using them and what I was doing. I realized that I was using Twitter ideally and no changes were needed. I broadcast regularly through Twitter, which connects to Facebook and broadcasts there as well. I consume content in a stream throughout the day from about 600 people who I follow. I unfollow someone periodically and add someone new periodically. The tempo works fine and I have my Twitter activity feed up on my Mac all day long.
Facebook was more perplexing to me. Ultimately I decided to orient around my activity feed and started unfriending anyone who I didn’t want to see in my activity feed. Given the current Facebook infrastructure, these folks will still “subscribe” to me (same as Twitter follow) and anyone who wants to subscribe to me can. Unfortunately, the UX for unfriending someone Facebook is horrible, so it’s a tedious and long process. I’ve decided to unfriend 10 people a day which means I’ll be done in about 200 days. I realize that once I’ve got this done I need to adjust my security settings to reflect what I actually want to share. That’ll happen at some point.
LinkedIn was easy – I just decided to ignore the activity stream. I’m remaining promiscuous at LinkedIn with two exceptions – no recruiters and no totally random people. LinkedIn continues to be the best way for me to discover professional connections to people I want to reach and the wider the network, the better.
Foursquare was the hardest to figure out. I rebroadcast Foursquare to Facebook and had a very uncomfortable experience this summer with someone pretending to stalk me on Foursquare. While it was a prank, I never found out who did it which caused me to quit Foursquare for a few months. I get too much value out of Foursquare as a historical record (I love 4sqand7yearsago) so I’ve just decided to aggressively unfriend anyone who I’m not close to. Once I get this done, Facebook done, and my security settings right, I’ll be in a happy place.
Google+ is more dynamic right now as I figure out how I really want to use it. I’m finding the integration into Gmail to be very interesting and I expect my use case will change as they roll out more features, like they did today. For now, I’m using it much more like Twitter.
As I’ve been cleaning this up, I realized that I have a bunch of awesome friends. When I look at my friends lists in apps like RunKeeper and Fitbit, I smile a big smile about who I’m connected to. Most importantly, I realize that all of this technology is enhancing my relationships, and it reminds me to be deliberate about how I use it.
I’ve had a number of interesting conversions about the intersection of the virtual and the physical world since I wrote the post Did Someone Ruin Foursquare For Me Yesterday? Kashmir Hill in Forbes did a quick email interview with me titled Venture Capitalist Gets Creeped Out by Foursquare which captured a few new thoughts and I spent some time the other night at a TechStars Mentor dinner talking with Alex Rainert, the head of product for Foursquare, who had spent some time digging into this issue to try to figure out what was going on.
When I reflect on this, it’s clearly a “me problem” and not a “Foursquare problem.” Specifically, I’ve been chaotic and much too promiscuous with regard to my social graph. I don’t have a clear rule set about who I accept as friends on different services (I pretty much accept everyone) and as a result don’t have much control over what I broadcast. When I reflect on this, I also realize that it has rendered services like Facebook and LinkedIn largely useless to me as an information consumption mechanism.
Given my social network promiscuity I realize that I’ve fallen into a broadcast-only trap. Basically, I’m broadcasting on all the various services I use, but not consuming much new information, except on Twitter. When I extend this to my overall information consumption pattern, I realize that a lot of signal is once again getting lost in the noise, especially around the RSS feeds that I try to read regularly versus the endless amount of web media that is now distributed by RSS.
Toss in Quora, Stack Exchange, Disqus, and a few other high signal services into the mix and my approach has broken down. While I’m still able to manage my email, I’m struggling to get the right kind of utility out of my social graph.
As a result, I’ve decided to make one of my Q2P1s to rethink and re-architect my entire social graph. While this will require lots of effort, my expectation is that I’ll get two clear benefits out of this. First, I’ll reset how I use my social graph. But more importantly, I’ll get a better handle on the dynamics – and gaps – that exist in using and managing a very active social graph. Once again, I get to use my corner of the universe as a laboratory and hope to find some new important technologies and companies as a result. And I’ll blog the experience so you can help me figure it out while learning from what I do.
I was at lunch at Japango with some of my Foundry Group gang yesterday. When I went to my house in Alaska last July, I took a Mac with me but left my PC at home. Ross bet me $100 that before the month was out I’d beg him to fedex my PC to me. He lost and I decided to use my winnings to take whoever was around yesterday out to lunch.
We were enjoying our sushi and talking about random things, like what our family restaurant was when we were growing up (Godfathers, Pizza Hut, Burger King were three of them) and where the smokers hung out at high school. Someone was mid-sentence when the manager of Japango walked up and asked if I was Brad Feld. I said yes; he handed me the landline phone and said “someone is on the phone with an urgent call for you.”
Everyone paused while he handed me the phone.
Them: In a voice that was clearly masked “Is this Brad Feld”
Me: “Yes, who is this?”
Them: “I wrrrr whrrr your rrrr.”
Me: “I’m sorry – I can’t understand you. What are you saying.”
Them “Brad Feld – I know whrrr you rrr.”
This went on for a few more exchanges. I figured out what the person was trying to say but I wasn’t really processing it so I kept asking what they wanted. Eventually I hung up. I explained to my friends what had just happened and we had a short conversation about checking in on Foursquare and I speculated that was what had prompted the call.
A few minutes later the manager came by, picked up the phone, and asked if everything was alright. I quickly told him the story – he was pretty perplexed and apologized for bothering us. A few minutes later he came back and said the person was on the phone again asking for me. I once again picked up the phone, this time with a little anxiety, but by the time I got on the line the person was gone.
Now, I’ve had my share of Foursquare serendipity moments. I met Kevin Kinsella from Avalon for the first time when he stopped by in a restaurant in New York that I had checked in and was eating at (he was hosting a dinner for me the next week for the Do More Faster book tour in San Diego, but we’d never met in person.) In Boulder, Amy has asked me not to check in until after dinner when we eat together because she doesn’t want the periodic interruption. And I’ve had my share of emails saying something like “I see you are in town – can we get together?”
In general, I like the Foursquare serendipity a lot. I don’t check in at my houses because I don’t want to broadcast where I am overnight, although I will check into a hotel when I’m traveling just in case someone is around. And I’ve got Foursquare wired to Facebook so things show up in my feed. I recently wired up Tripit as well (and to LinkedIn) and that has resulted in some positive serendipity lately.
But yesterday’s call spooked me. I didn’t check in for the balance of the day. When I walked out of Japango, I was a little nervous about where I physically was for the first time I can remember while in Boulder. And I had a heightened awareness of my surroundings last night as I walked home.
I haven’t sorted this out yet, but as an early adopter – and a promiscuous one – of location-based checkin – I’m rethinking how I use this stuff and broadcast where I am. I expect this will be a much bigger issue in the future as humans become transmitters of their location (don’t believe me – just go read Daemon and Freedom.)
I guess it’s a good thing that this just happened and caused me to think harder about the implications. One of the reasons I immerse myself in this stuff is to understand the products and services, but also to understand the impact on humans and our society. While it’s easy to think intellectually about privacy, it’s a whole different deal when you have to process the ideas in the context of real issues that you encounter.