Facebook can be a magical thing. I’m often frustrated about how to engage with it (I’m more of a Twitter person) but every now and then something happens that reminds me how awesome Facebook can be.
For a variety of silly reasons, I had lost touch with my best friend in high school (Kent Ellington) about 30 years ago. Last year, when I was in Austin with my college fraternity gang – about 20 of us that span three years who go someone every few years (whenever someone gets their shit together and organizes it) – Kent reached out to me and asked if I wanted to get together.
Kent and I had friended each other on Facebook a few years ago after another high school friend had died suddenly. I knew a little about what was going on in his life and expect he knew a little about what was going on in my life. But neither of us connected.
We squeezed in an hour of hanging out, which included meeting his pre-teen daughter after her ballet class. We caught up, in the way friends from long ago occasionally do, without a lot of ego and mostly just enthusiasm and empathy for the ups and downs of each others’ journey over 30 years. Not surprisingly, questions how parents and siblings were doing took up about half the discussion.
We’ve gone back and forth about a few things over the past year. I woke up this morning to a Facebook message from Kent that said “Brad – Got these photos from my endocrinologists office. His diploma is from when your Dad was President of the College of Endocrinology.” The photo follows.
I remember when my dad was president of the American College of Endocrinology. I remember the 1998 Orlando meeting and talking to him about it. I remember being extremely proud of him then. And, this morning, as I roll into my day, I’m going to carry around with me how proud I am of him for all the things he’s done, including for me, in his life.
I love you dad. Thanks Facebook. And – Kent – thank you!
BusinessWeek has a fun article about my buddies Jesse and Joe from J-Squared Media titled Who wants to be a Facebook millionaire? Jesse and Joe were founders of one of the TechStars teams this summer – when they showed up their original idea was to create a sharing tools that would distribute links to your networks of friends (not in Facebook – on the web.) The Facebook Platform launched shortly after TechStars started and Jesse and Joe got all over it – today they have two very popular apps on Facebook (Sticky Notes and GlitterBox) and are generating over $45,000 / month of revenue (wow – not bad for two dudes in a basement on $10,000 of investment.)
Jesse and Joe exemplify scrappy first time entrepreneurs. Other than the tiny initial TechStars investment, they bootstrapped everything. I fondly remember a meeting in early July when Sticky Notes started taking off and Jesse and Joe were dying – they were staying up all night every night trying to keep their rapidly expanding number of servers up. We tossed some smart people at them (including Tony – the ClickCaster stud) who quickly helped them figure out some magic server stuff to deal with scale. By late July, Jesse and Joe still looked tired, but they weren’t lying on the floor in agony.
The BusinessWeek article is a quick read through the kinds of things Jesse and Joe are dealing with as they figure out their next step. Early acquisition offers (from both private and public companies), rapidly growing revenue (reinvest this cash now while it’s coming in!), potential VC investment (how much should we take at what price and why?), and endless feature requests (“Hii! Awsome app!! Just one thing You have the PowerPuffs except for one, Bubbles!! Can she be added, plz?”)
What a great example of early stage entrepreneurship.
One of our themes is Protocol. We’ve been investing in companies built around technology protocols since 1994. One of my first investments, when I moved to Boulder in 1995, was in a company called Email Publishing, which was the very first email service provider. SMTP has been very good to me.
We made some of the early investments in companies built around RSS, including FeedBurner and NewsGator. RSS is a brilliant, and very durable, protocol. The original creators of the protocol had great vision, but the history and evolution of RSS were filled with challenges and controversy. Like religious conflict, the emotion ran higher than it needed to and the ad-hominem attacks drove some great people away from engaging with the community around the protocol.
And then Facebook and Twitter took over. RSS Feed Readers mostly vanished, and the feed became the “Twitter feed.” After a while, Facebook realized this was a good idea, and created the “Facebook news feed.” I think it’s hilarious that the word “feed” is still in common usage – The Dixie Flatline is amused.
Over dinner, after he had become the COO of Twitter (but before he was the CEO), Dick Costolo (who had previously been the founder/CEO of FeedBurner) told me that he viewed Twitter as the evolution of RSS. At a protocol level this wasn’t true, but at a functional level (providing another way to get access to everything going on any website that was publishing content) this became true. Our investment in Gnip (which Twitter eventually acquired) helped extend this, by allowing companies to build products on top of the Twitter firehose (which was the name for the entirety of everything being tweeted on Twitter.)
Time passed. Facebook and Twitter gobbled up all the direct attention of end-users. Publishers pushed their content through Facebook and Twitter, not realizing the control over the user they were giving up to these platforms. For some reason, there was more focus for a while on Google, and how they were aggregating content. The beauty, and brilliance, of the web, started to become the walled garden of Facebook. For those of us who remembered AOL’s walled garden vs. the web (and Microsoft’s failed attempt as MSN as a walled garden), there were echoes of the past all over the place.
Some smart people started talking extensively about decentralization and lock-in right around the time that the Facebook privacy stuff became front and center. As it unfolded, and the dust settled, there was nothing new, other than a continued schism between the effort to control (and monetize) users and the effort to create broadly democratized and decentralized information. Oh – and privacy. And legitimacy (or authenticity) of information, much of which is wholly subjective or imprecise anyway.
In the middle of all of this, Wired’s Article It’s Time For An RSS Revival caught my attention. I’ve been using RSS continuously for over a decade as my primary source of information. My current feed reader is Feedly, which I think is currently the best in class. It’s one of my primary sources for information that informs me, is private, and allows me to control and modulate what information I look at.
While RSS has disappeared into the plumbing of the internet, there’s still something fundamental about it. Its durability is remarkably impressive, especially in the context of the lack of the evolution and perceived displacement of the protocol over the past few years.
The tension between walled gardens (or lock-in, or whatever you want to call it) and a decentralized web will likely never end. But, it feels like we are in for another significant turn of the crank on how all of this works, and that means lots of innovation is coming.
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.
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.
Brilliant moves by Widgetbox and Dapper (I’m not an investor in either company.) Both of them have released “development tools for building Facebook apps.” Widgetbox’s App Accelerator helps you turn Widgetbox widgets into Facebook apps. Dapper’s AppMaker helps you turn “Dapps” (Dapper Apps) into Facebook apps. Look for a lot more tools like this, but these first movers are both smart and neat.
Are you a Facebook developer? Do you live in Denver or Boulder? Do you like food?
On Thursday March 27th, from 6pm to 9pm, there is a Facebook Developer Garage meeting. It’s happening at the TechStars office (also fondly known as "The Bunker") is Boulder. Sign up via the Facebook Developers Boulder Denver site (recursive, I know) and then check out the meeting info.
We (Foundry Group) are providing the food so there should be plenty of it.
Today’s Techmeme meme is based on Facebook advertising brings poor results.
Most of the posts are talking about the rotten clickthrough rate (0.04%) on Facebook. Some of the posts – like Scoble’s – have some constructive suggestions about how to make the advertising more relevant (note to self – “tie it to people, just like Google ties AdSense to search results.”)
In the past two weeks, I’ve seen or heard of four Facebook focused ad networks that are about to launch that are specifically aimed at Facebook apps. One of the TechStars companies – J-Squared Media – has a rapidly growing Facebook up (Sticky Notes – 232,137 users – ranked #52) so we are getting an inside look at the action, traffic dynamics, and advertising (oh yeah – and dealing with scale on short notice.)
So far, it’s all about the CPM. I’ve seen proposals ranging from $0.50 / CPM to $15.00 / CPM. Do the math – it’s interesting. I expect the CTR will be low (< 0.1%), but some of the CPM based ads that I’ve seen are awesome and – especially if they are interactive in page with a call to action – render CTR meaningless.
Remember also that Facebook doesn’t really want anyone to leave Facebook (at least I don’t think they do.) In a conversation yesterday at Me.dium, we were trying to figure out the correct way to describe it (e.g. “inverted AOL”, “walled fortress”, “AOL 2.0 without the fee.”) We never got satisfied with the label, but the concept is an important one if you are trying to figure out the really effective long-term advertising approach.
If you are obsessed with Facebook, you should be reading Read/WriteWeb this week (as they’ve declared it the week of Facebook.) The first post is Facebook Week: Analyzing The Facebook Platform and Apps. Has anyone else noticed that Facebook Inbox doesn’t have a “Forward” (or – in Facebook land – “include more friends on thread”) feature? What’s with that?
On the heals of my friend Andy Sack giving up his switch over to a Mac, Fred Wilson blogged this morning that he has been unable to fulfill his New Years Resolution of getting rid of Microsoft software from his computing infrastructure. In Fred’s case, the culprit is Exchange + RIM. He’s given up on trying to use OSX for work and is going back to Windows / Parallels land.
As Amy likes to say, “why aren’t we still using MS-DOS – it was fine.” Oh – and as a special bonus, Dave McClure has an awesome post up titled Marketing Facebook Apps: All About the FEED, n00bs!.
After downloading Skype 4.2, I realized that I could now invite all of my Facebook friends who had Skype accounts to my Skype contact list. So I did. Unfortunately the Skype UI for this sucks so I had to go through about 1,000 entries a screen of five at a time unchecking the Facebook friends I didn’t want on Skype. I ended up inviting about 280 – fortunately I was on a conference call for the thirty minutes it took me to grind through this.
The data field used for the match was email address. Shocking, I know. It’s the same data field used to log in to Facebook and Twitter. Google sort of uses email (at least the gmail) account for their authentication, although now that I have both my gmail account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and my email account (email@example.com) in Google’s system, I am constantly having to fight with the “reauthorize me to access that thing via firstname.lastname@example.org) game” since Google hasn’t solved for multiple email addresses yet.
More and more sites are integrating Facebook Connect, Twitter “Connect”, or both. Yahoo has such a golden opportunity to do this and own it but they blew it. Google seems to have also missed this and ceded it to Facebook and Twitter for some reason. Microsoft has been trying for a decade first with Passport and now Live ID. And then there is Skype with their 20m simultaneous users. Or Amazon with their gazillion users authenticating via email. And then there’s Barnes & Noble – if I want to create an account I get to use my email address. And the list goes on and on.
Facebook and Twitter are in a perfect position to own single sign on. I just don’t understand why Yahoo and Google blew this although I don’t really care. What I do care about is that there seems to be a natural convergence on email as the user id and authentication via widely pervasive services like Facebook and Twitter rather than entertainingly complex approaches like Oath.
I predict email is going to become even more important in the next few years. There’s no reason for me to have a phone number any more – you should just be able to contact me via email@example.com. And that should authenticate me anywhere. And – as a messaging protocol – I should be able to use my “inbox” (wherever or whatever it is) as my central notification point.
It’s remarkable that 15 years after commercial Internet email started to proliferate, it is still at the root of all the commercial Internet activity. Very very cool.