File this in the “we-try-it-out-so-you-don’t-have-to” category. So.cl is a derivative social network that may be useful to students, but it won’t fly elsewhere.
Over the weekend, Microsoft quietly launched an experimental social network called So.cl. It’s a mix between Google+ and Storify. Users are encouraged to search for information about a particular topic, then compile the best results – textual content, images and videos – into a single post. So.cl is initially targeted to students. It may end up being useful to that market, but it’s unlikely to get traction as a mainstream social network. Here’s why…
Microsoft is calling So.cl “an experiment in open search,” in that anything you search for on the network is viewable by other users and made available to third party developers. That description makes it sound like a direct competitor to Google+, which was Google’s attempt at combining search with social networking. It certainly has similarities, but So.cl is ultimately an academic tool moreso than a social one.
To get started, you can sign up using either your Facebook or Windows Live profile. Microsoft had little choice but to leverage Facebook’s social graph, given that hardly anyone uses Windows Live (Microsoft’s ID platform). Sure enough Facebook gave me a good leg up into the So.cl network, giving me over 50 people to follow.
When it comes to using So.cl and finding value in it, the flaws become obvious. The Storify-like aggregation features in So.cl are nifty enough, but everything else is derivative: posting, commenting, tagging, liking, sharing (two options: to Facebook or email!).
The attempts at innovation in So.cl seem forced. An option labeled “riffing” is supposed to be “a new way to interact and improvise with content” – but in reality, it simply means to re-share a post and optionally add your own comment or content.
It is nice that you can add extra content to a post and I can see this being useful in an educational setting; for example a student in a science class adding more data to a thread about an astronomy topic. But this isn’t something people need or want in a mainstream social network. When it comes to re-sharing, all most people want to do on a social network is paste that inspirational quote or solar eclipse photo to their profile page – so their friends can see it too. Also, others have tried and failed to take social aggregation mainstream: for example the Xerox PARC news aggregator Kiffets.
Another noteworthy feature in So.cl is something called “video parties.” This is basically a video playlist with a chat area – kind of like YouTube’s playlists. It’s probably the most innovative feature in So.cl, but that isn’t saying a lot. The reality is that Facebook or Google+ could easily replicate it, if they wanted to.
So.cl is a largely derivative product and there’s no way this is going to go mainstream. What slim chance it had to capture the imagination of a public that is already using Facebook (and may or may not be playing around with Google+), was dashed with the decision not to have a mobile component. As Robert Scoble rightly pointed out: “we’re in the post-PC world now. Why didn’t you start with just working on mobile? That would have been at least interesting.”
I can see why So.cl is PC focused, with its reliance on aggregation and multimedia elements like “video parties.” But that doesn’t change the fact that any social network launching in 2012 that isn’t mobile-based, is most likely doomed to fail if it wants to reach a mainstream audience.
So.cl comes from Microsoft’s FUSE research group and the resulting product shows its academic roots. It may become a useful tool for students, with its focus on aggregating topical content. But So.cl won’t get any traction outside the education sector. It’s too unoriginal and wonky.
bhagwad writes “Apparently Robert Scoble tried to post a long comment on Facebook only to have a message pop up saying ‘This comment seems irrelevant or inappropriate and can’t be posted. To avoid having your comments blocked, please make sure they contribute to the post in a positive way.’ If true, this is huge. For one the self-moderating system of comments has always been the rule so far. And with countries like India rooting for the pre-screening of content and comments, is Facebook thinking of caving into these demands?” Facebook says there’s a more innocuous explanation: namely, that the comment triggered a spam filter.
As smartphones and tablets end up in the hands of more people, the volume of apps continues to rise exponentially. We noted that January had the highest download rate of the top 200 iOS apps from the Apple App Store than any month previous. February will likely break that record and it will be broken again in March. We are truly at the inflection point of explosive growth for smartphones and apps where it is no longer the early adopters looking downloading apps but everyone and their mothers.
That makes it much harder to find useful or entertaining apps. There is a sea of apps in the App Store and Android Market and growing by thousands of submissions everyday. We are here to help with our Apps Of The Month column that examines what is new in iOS and Android and where you should be looking for great new functionality on your smart device. We brought back the Staff Picks section this month and the notable updates section is in its six month.
We likely missed some great apps that you found this month. If you found something that should be on this list or you want to make the world aware of, let us know in the comments.
Glancee helps you find people that are nearby. It recognizes other Glancee users based on proximity and gives you an alert when somebody you know or somebody interesting is in your general vicinity. I cannot figure out if this is a really cool way to make serendipitous connections or just kind of creepy and stalker-ish. Think of Glancee as kind of a location-based social network for people you may know or do not know but think you might like to know sometime.
MLB At Bat ( Free with $14.99 subscription — iOS, $14.99 Android)
When I was a broke and in college and living away from Boston, the MLB.com mobile site that had pitch-by-pitch tracking was my favorite (and only) way to track the Red Sox on a daily basis in real-time. I was using it through Windows Mobile on a Samsung BlackJack and, at the time, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Over the years, the coolest thing in the world has gotten cooler … if you like baseball. The MLB At Bat app gives you live pitch-by-pitch tracking of MLB games through its GameDay feature and a subscription to MLB Premium ($125 a year) will let you stream any game from anywhere, live. This is not really new from the MLB At Bat 2011 app except for the pricing and subscription models have changed for iOS. Instead of having to buy the app twice for iPhone and iPad, it is just one purchase with a subscription. The Android version is much more functional than it was last year and improvements have been made to the iOS app. I have spoken with some of the designers that created the app for MLB and it is a fairly difficult process to take video feeds, audio feeds, real-time stats and news and pull it all from their direct sources (the MLB broadcast networks) and stream it in real time to your device. So, appreciate the hard work and, if you love baseball as much as I do, this is the must-have app for 2012.
Brought to you by the fine folks at Kik, Clik is a remote control for any screen with a browser. That may sound ambiguous and a little esoteric but it is actually pretty cool. Point your desktop browser at ClikThis.com and then scan the QR code that comes up with your smartphone to sync the two. You can then use the smartphone as a remote to surf YouTube videos. There is no extra hardware, dongles, NFC chips or any other such nonsense. Just a browser and a smartphone with a camera and you now have remote access to videos on your computer from your phone. While it is just a proof-of-concept at this point, Kik’s CEO Ted Livingstone told Anthony Ha at TechCrunch that potential partners for the app are in the works, from music services to gaming companies.
OnLive brings your PC desktop to your mobile device via instant response from the cloud. View and edit Microsoft Office documents such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint and sync your entire PC to your Android tablet or iPad. The iOS version came out in January but the Android version was in February so we will give it an App Of The Month nod. My sister owns a restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia and she got a new iPad for Christmas and came to me looking for cool apps to download (having the mobile writer for ReadWriteWeb as your brother is handy). About a month later she texted me out of the blue trying to find ways to sync her home desktop to her iPad so she could manage documents like schedules and invoices from her tablet while at work. At the time I pointed her to the Citrix Receiver and something from VMWare but OnLive might actually be the way to go.
We started Staff Picks last month and I promised that I would shame anyone on the staff that could not find an app for me in the month. I am going to hold back on the shaming this month because I did not actually give most of the staff a good amount of lead time before telling them when this month’s update was coming. So, instead of likening the staff to angry baboons (all in good fun, of course), we will just get straight to the picks.
This month we got selections from John Paul Titlow, Jon Mitchell and Robyn Tippins.
The cameras that come built into iPhones, Android devices and Windows Phones are now capable enough to replace point-and-shoot digital cameras in most people’s lives. On top of that, we’ve seen the rise of photo-editing and sharing apps like Instagram, Hipstamatic and Camera+, all of which give new visual life to the images people snap on their phones. If you thought there wasn’t room for one more photo app, you obviously haven’t played around with Camera Awesome yet.
The iOS app is really a few apps in one. Its basic picture-taking functionality blows the native iPhone camera app out of the water. Meanwhile, it has all the photo-editing features of many paid, stand-alone editing apps. On top of that, it has Instagram-style filters, textures and social sharing options.
As a replacement for the built-in iPhone phone app, I’m using a new app called Buzz. It replaces the endless, alphabetical scrolling lists built into iOS with big, tappable panes for custom contacts of your choice. You can put your contacts into groups, like work, family and friends. Each group gets organized into pages of four big contacts at a time.
When you add someone to a group, you choose whether you’d like phone, text, email or FaceTime to be the default mode for them. Tapping once goes straight to that mode, tapping twice lets you choose from the others. The first update added the ability to swipe up and down between groups, so now it’s even easier to find the contact you’re looking for.
The app does even more, and if you’re not yet convinced to replace the phone app with it on your home screen, check out my full ReadWriteWeb review.
Fancypants is a new app for iOS from Electronic Arts. It’s not a new game, however, being available on consoles and as a flash game online for almost a year. Unfortunately, the move over to iPad doesn’t really take advantage of key iOS features at all. The moves that once were done with arrow keys are now done with arrow icons. You might expect a platformer to use arrow keys, but FancyPants could be so much more. When I handed the iPad to my daughter, who often plays FancyPants online, she immediately tried to use touch to slide the character around. When that didn’t work, she tilted the machine to move him. I think it’s fairly clear that arrow keys aren’t the expected movement mechanism for an iPad game.
Despite the quirks, FancyPants is a solid game and certainly worth the $.99. I’m often disappointed by an iOS game, but this one will keep us playing for months.
The staff was so excited by this app at the beginning of the month that I actually had to preempt them from using it as their Staff Picks for the Apps Of The Month and take it for myself. Multiple timelines, smart gestures, native push notifications, support for Read It Later and Instapaper, custom navigation, save drafts and locations. TweetBot has it all and it has a shiny new user interface that people have come to love.
Quite personally, my favorite Twitter client for iOS is the official Twitter app for the iPad but I can get behind the TweetBot excitement and the fact that the company was ballsy enough to release it for $2.99. A paid Twitter client?! Say it ain’t so. Yet, this one may be worth the money.
I will admit it … I really suck at puzzle games. My mother used to kick my butt in Dr. Mario and Tetris on Nintendo when I was a kid and things are not much better more than 20 years later. Yet, 90º is a really neat game that is both challenging and fun so I gave it a whirl. I found out that I still suck at puzzle games. From the App Store description, “Your goal is to collect as much energy as you can whilst turning your wrench as few times as possible to get to the end. You have a limited number of rotations, so use them wisely!”
If you follow the tech press, you have probably seen Game Your Video on basically every tech site on the Web earlier this month. It won Best of Show at MacWorld and App of the Week in the App Store. It is a video editing app that lets you add motion effects, audio transformations, filters, themes without track-based scripts. Game Your Video will allow you to do all of this straight from the app while it is playing live with a gaming interface unique to any video editing software that we have ever seen. Definitely one of a kind and the biggest surprise is that it comes from a small studio in India that, until this month, nobody had ever heard of.
Here is Robert Scoble’s interview developer Rahul Arun Shetty:
Clear is a task management app that brings one of the most innovative uses of gesture based input that we have ever seen. There are no static buttons in Clear but everythingis done via a swipe, pull, pinch or tap and hold. Create and item by pulling the list apart or pulling down, swipe right to complete it, left to delete, pinch vertically to shut it or pull up to clear it. Simple and clean, one of the better task managers that we have seen.
Everybody at ReadWriteWeb loves NPR. I very rarely listen to the radio but every so often in the car I will tune into NPR in search of intellectual stimulation or good classical music. Especially on long drives. The NPR Music app brings all goodness of NPR music straight to your iPhone or iPad with streams of over 100 NPR stations, a searchable list of music across different genres and reviews and information about the artists. It is like Pandora all of a sudden got really smart.
Sync your iTunes to your Android over Wi-Fi. Install the PC or Mac client on your computer then launch AirBind on your Android and your device will seek out your music on your computer. There are other services like such as DoubleTwist but AirBind is a new app that does one thing and attempts to do it well. Whether it does it well or not is a matter of debate as the ratings in the Android Market are pretty split between one star and five stars. Personally, with between Google Music and my Spotify subscription on my Motorola Atrix, I do not need to sync my iTunes and the idea seems to be two years old but some people might find value in it. If you have tried it, let us know in the comments what you think of it.
Chrome for Android (Free — Ice Cream Sandwich Only)
There are a lot of things to like about the Chrome Beta for Android browser. It will sync all of your Chrome browsers across devices, be a boon for HTML5 apps on Android and bring the Chrome OS closer to integration with its mobile counterpart. It is fast, can sync all of your bookmarks and has an incognito mode. There are a variety of Android browsers competing for user attention including the native browser, Opera HD and Dolphin but Chrome has the potential to come in and put them all to shame. The only problem now is that it only works on Android 4.0 which precludes about 99% of all Android users from actually getting their hands on it.
Did I mention that I am terrible at puzzle games? Well, this may be an exception. Osmos HD is one of the simplest and most visually appealing puzzle games that I have come across in some time and it finally has made its way to Android. It is is like the classic Asteroids game met a stoner developer on a sandy beach looking up at the stars and was inspired by a jellyfish. You are a floating galatic mote that much is absorbs smaller lifeforms while trying to keep from getting eaten by larger entities. Float through space in this relaxing game from the developers at Hemisphere Games.
There are no shortage of camera apps for iOS or Android but some of them stand above the crowd. Whether that is Instagram for iOS or Retro Camera for Android, there are some great things happening in the world of mobile photography. Cartoon Camera is a free Android app that does exactly what it sounds like: turns your photos from dreary looking real life stills into cartoon sketches worthy of any Anime or Waking Life followup. Cartoon Camera is similar to some of the effects that can be created in Camera Fun for Android but it is more polished and gives a better cartoon representation.
I have been trying to figure out why “games” like Talking Tom Cat and Pierre the Parrot are popular and have been drawing blanks. Then, I downloaded Pierre and it hit me. This is good old-fashioned fun with a parrot that lives in your Android. Talk to Pierre and he will imitate you but also remember what you said before and cobble together sentences from what he remembers. The possibilities are endless and the potential for having a dirty talking bird in your pocket has potential for pub time fun for everyone. I really just wrote that sentence. You can even record Pierre videos and upload to Facebook or YouTube or email or MMS them to people. Pierre is childish in so many ways that it actually becomes fun.
It is always important to remember to go into your device and update apps on a regular basis. Updates provide new functionality, performance and security upgrades and make sure that the bugs from the last version have been taken care of.
Nook by Barnes & Noble, Foursquare, Kinetik, Quora, Skype for iPad, Can I Stream It?, Atari’s Greatest Hits, The New Yorker Magazine, Newsy for iPad, StumbleUpon, WebMD for iPad, Google+, OpenTable, Spotify, IMDb Movies & TV, Hotspot Shield, Qik Video, Instagram, Discover, NFL ’11 for iPad, Wired Magazine, Opera Mini Browser, Path, Slice, Pulse, Flixster, Flipboard, Square, Words With Friends Free, HBO Go, Rdio, The Weather Channel, Skype, Twitter, Hipmunk Flight Search, NYTimes for iPad.
Adobe Flash Player 11, E-Trade Pro, Easy Task Killer Advanced, Facebook, Foursquare, Google Books, Google Maps, Google+, Hulu Plus, Kindle, LinkedIn, Lookout Security, Norton Mobile Utilities, Flixster, News360, NYTimes, Path, PayPal, Rdio, Skype, Swiftkey X, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, Dolphin HD Browser, Evernote, Medscape, Opera Mobile, Pandora, Paper Camera, Skitch.
Path uploads your entire address book to their servers. This and more in today’s Daily Wrap.
Sometimes it’s difficult to catch everything that hits tech media in a day, so we wrap up some of the most talked about stories. We give you a daily recap of what you missed in the ReadWriteWeb Community, including a link to some of the most popular discussions in our offsite communities on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ as well.
The rise of the app store has fundamentally changed the concept of software delivery. Gone are the days when zealous software companies sent users discs in the mail (oh, AOL, we remember you well) that ended up making better coasters than promotion. Many computers these days do not even ship with a CD-ROM drive and smartphones have never seen any type of physical downloads. The delivery mechanism of the application store is an often-overlooked revolution of the mobile era. (more)
Apple really does not like it when you mess with its finely tuned systems. Especially when it is the company’s cash cow iOS platform. In a short statement yesterday, Apple warned developers not to game the rankings system in its App Store, threatening the loss of Apple Developer Program membership to those who are found using services intended to artificially raise the profiles of their apps in Apple’s store. (more)
Wolfram Alpha isn’t the “Google killer” that many hyped it up to be prior to its 2009 launch. Instead, the self-described computational knowledge engine takes a completely different approach to letting users find and analyze information. Rather than scouring the Web and ranking everybody’s pages in the order it thinks we’d find them useful, it uses its own data sets and computational power to return detailed reports and analysis about whatever topics users query it for. (more)
In PaaS Makes Progress in 2011, I argued that the previous 12 months had been pivotal to the advancement of platform-as-a-service. As a result of this fast-paced evolution, the PaaS of 2012 is quite a different beast than that of just a couple of years ago. While this second-generation PaaS differs in many ways from initial forays in the field, one of the most important distinctions is that this new PaaS has been disintegrated, or at least made more modular. (more)
In 2008, a UK-based Adobe Acrobat engineer remarked, “I believe in striving to minimize the use of paper, but I do believe that we will probably never reach a position where paper is eliminated from our workplaces.” This morning, his predictions were clearly confirmed by a study published by the information professionals organization AIIM. (more)
It’s an attention economy, and the good people at Jones-Dilworth have built a tool that will help you get some. Totem launches today, a free app that helps anyone build a great press page. Whether you’re a giant company, a start-up, or even a solo act, you shouldn’t have to think too hard about a press page. For that matter, neither should I. (more)
One of the things that I’m often asked by developers at conferences is “how do I get coverage for my project?” I had that conversation with several people at Monktoberfest, and thought it might make for a good talk at Monki Gras. (more)
Entrepreneur aficionado extraordinaire Robert Scoble posited a question on his Rackspace blog yesterday asking if there is push back against HTML5 by the top mobile designers in San Francisco. He cited new apps Path, Storify and Foodspotting as prominent examples of great apps with acclaimed UX that were rendered native languages as opposed to HTML5. Are top developers really pushing back against HTML5 or is Scoble once again a little too deep in his fantasy world?
One thing that often worries me when thinking about the San Francisco-based developer community is the fact that it is one giant echo chamber. It feeds off itself to a crescendo of memes, themes and rumors until no other reasonable arguments can be broached.
Scoble is often the mouthpiece for these developers. To be fair, Scoble and I have met and are friendly and I find him to be a fine individual but the classic argument against him is that he is the living personification of the edge case. He knows everybody, talks to everybody and does a respectable job of eating his own dog food. Companies and developers, with good reason, respect his opinion. But, the way he inundates himself with all the great innovations of the ecosystem, he sometimes misses the reality of development and utilization in the rest of the world.
With respect to Scoble, this HTML5 argument is hogwash.
Path won a Crunchie for best design. For those not in the know, a Crunchie is an award show for best startups, design and innovation in the tech community hosted by TechCrunch, VentureBeat and GigaOm. It is the yearly culmination of the San Francisco echo chamber and, while interesting, is not really followed by many outside of Silicon Valley. That is not to discount what Path has created. We have noted the splendid design of Path at ReadWriteWeb as well and it is truly a very well made app.
Path is an edge case scenario in the world of mobile app development. It integrates social messaging, location check-ins, photography and music recommendations into a sophisticated timeline (a “path”) that is endlessly scrollable and visually appealing. Path is the quintessential native app.
It would also be impossible in HTML5.
The limitations of HTML5 at this point are that it does not allow device access (to objects like the camera and location services), scrolling is often limited and multi-layered sound is very difficult to implement. See our recent coverage of the “HTML5 Developers’ Wish List” for a fuller understanding to the limitations of the spec. All developers agree that HTML5 is still a work in progress and there is great hope that the standard will be advanced to a degree in 2012 that many of the problems that inhibit mobile developers will be solved. The key concept to remember with HTML5 is that it takes the one true “killer” app, the browser, and enhances its functionality.
To say that the best mobile developers and designers are pushing back against HTML5 is outrageous. It is like saying that Web developers and designers (by far the most robust group of Internet coders) are turning their backs on the standard that is taking the browser to the next generation. This is simply not true.
Like Scoble, I also talk to top developers on a daily basis. Some of the most talented coders and designers I know are working on creating dynamic experiences in HTML5 for mobile devices. That includes developers from Sencha, appMobi, Zynga and other games makers, mobile cloud developers and third-party Facebook developers. All see HTML5 as a great opportunity and are fully embracing the challenge. Look at Facebook in particular. Nobody would suppose that its developers are not some of the tops in Silicon Valley. The company is working towards progressing HTML5 and the apps ecosystem around it with innovative approaches to what the mobile Web can do.
For me to believe that the “best mobile app designers” are pushing back against HTML5, I am going to need more examples than three edge case native apps that have very specific functions. There is so much more to the mobile Web than a pretty native app.
Mobile application developers unite! That is the theme for a new professional association that will launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. that intends to bring organizational support to mobile developers.
According to InfoWorld, the association is to be led by Jon Potter, the former executive director of the Digital Media Association. It is intended to promote mobile developer interests, collaboration, education, cloud hosting and governmental lobbying. Do mobile developers need their own guild?
The specific duties of the of the new industry association will be to offer a collaborative network based on an online database, offer product testing facilities with multiple platforms supported, offer discounted and free tutorials and certification programs as well as discounted cloud services through Rackspace.
The Rackspace collaboration is the interesting part of the proposed association. The company is heavy into entrepreneurial evangelism (see: Robert Scoble) for all things innovation because the cloud provider believes that the more startups, app developers and entrepreneurs out there that are successful, the more of a chance they will end up using Rackspace for cloud hosting.
We got in contact with Scoble and this was his reasoning for supporting startups:
“Usually we support startups wherever they are. We do that for several reasons: 1. Hosting decisions are usually made early on in a company’s life and it’s hard to change those decisions once they are done. 2. Startups influence hosting decisions by other, more traditional, companies. Sort of like how Canon supports professional photographers so that the masses will buy Canons to be “like the pros,” Scoble said.
“The growth in startups will come on mobile. That’s where more people will be, and more of those users will be looking for new applications and solutions. We’re investing in groups that help mobile startups so that we can be involved in the biggest growth area of startups.”
It will be interesting to see how this mobile developer association differs from the services offered by CTIA – The Wireless Association. CTIA is the largest mobile industry group in the United States and has historically been focused on equipment manufacturers, broadband and spectrum issues, security, enterprises and development. CTIA has branched into more developer-related issues in the last several years, recognizing the rise of the application ecosystem by starting a second large conference apart from its main event in the spring. This last year it was CTIA Enterprise and Apps hosted in San Diego.
According to InfoWorld, the association will generate revenue through sponsorships and membership fees.
There are a variety of candidates that would be ripe for joining such an association. All the various gaming studious such as Glu, XMG and even Zynga would be ideal. The integrated development environment (IDE) providers along with framework creators like appMobi, Sencha, Appcelerator and others would be a great fit. Larger organizations, such as the aforementioned Rackspace, or a couple of the big tech companies like Apple, Google or Mozilla could be ripe for sponsorship opportunities.
Developers: Are you likely to join this new association? What benefits can you see it bringing to your endeavors? Let us know in the comments.
Just ask the man who signs my paychecks… or at least, go back to October 2007 and ask Richard MacManus, the founder and EIC of this publication. He would tell you directly and succinctly that ReadWriteWeb is not a blog. That is, by the definition of that time, it’s not a one-man show. “ReadWriteWeb has evolved,” Richard wrote at the time, “into something different than a blog, which is traditionally thought of as the voice of a single person.”
Over the years, the complaints I’ve received from readers (we all receive some) center around the notion of bias – a tendency to interpret a story with the appearance of a certain slant or, perhaps more accurately, from an angle somewhat askew from the angle most others use in their interpretations. If a blog were truly by and about one person, then the appearance of bias would be impossible to avoid. Typically with publications, it is plurality that enables the reader to see the complete picture of subject matter. Plurality, for any organization, requires organization. And at a time when the Web publishing industry’s definition of what we do evolves faster than our ability to do it, organization has been difficult to achieve.
A sea of one-man bands
What Richard was saying back in 2007 was something I believe we can still appreciate today: A great publication evolves beyond the voice of any one person. Specifically, his comment came in response to his own surprise at finding RWW placed #6 on the Techmeme Leaderboard. He cited RSS pioneer Dave Winer, who in May 2003 – in an effort for his readers to distinguish a blog from a wiki – defined a blog as something that is unedited.
“Assuming a Wiki is a weblog-like system that allows anyone to edit anything (I know some don’t) then a Wiki represents an interesting amalgam of many voices, not the unedited voice of a single person,” wrote Winer. “On my weblog no one can change what I wrote. In contrast, having written for professional publications, pros have to prepare for their writing being interfered with… Weblogs are unique in that only a weblog gives you a publication where your ideas can stand alone without interference. It gives the public writer a kind of relaxation not available in other forms. That might mean that in some sense the ‘quality’ of the writing is different, but I would not say lower, assuming the purpose of writing is to inform, not to impress.”
Thus the notion of freedom as “exemption from ever being edited” may have been born. Readers are developing a notion of blogs as self-service operations, minimally administered content management systems from which unaltered streams of observations are broadcast in their raw and unencumbered form.
Or as one reader put it to me in an e-mail last week, “No one wants to consume a ‘package’ of content any more. The Web and blogs in particular have freed us from all that… [You] reminded me of the old magazine editors I know who don’t like the Web because it has taken away their power to pretend they know what is best for the reader.”
In his October 2007 post, Richard also cited an October 2007 claim from prominent blogger Robert Scoble that the infusion of journalism was, in a way, poisoning the art of blogging, as evidenced by his estimate that only 12 of the 100 blogs on Techmeme’s leaderboard were single-person operations. “Most of the things on the list are now done by teams of journalists – that isn’t blogging anymore in my book,” Scoble had written. “TechCrunch just hired a professional journalist which is sort of funny cause when I started blogging I never expected blogging to become a business, just a way to share what was going on in my life.”
So perhaps in retrospect, one of the reasons why blogging has had such difficulty transitioning itself to a business model is because its leading practitioners had not expected it to be a business in the first place.
Last September, when the inevitable structural breakdown began between TechCrunch and its corporate parent, AOL, contributor M. G. Siegler defended the publication as a blog under the classic Winer definition, and in so doing, distinguished TechCrunch contributors from the body of practitioners called “journalists.”
“Journalists seem to think they can write about TechCrunch as if they’re looking in a mirror,” Siegler wrote. “That is to say, they think our operation runs in a similar manner to theirs and they use that as a jumping off point for misguided (but predictable) outrage… First and foremost, the concept of an ‘editor’ at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike [Arrington] nor Erick [Schonfeld] (TC’s two ‘co-editors’) are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even reads posts by any other author before they are posted. Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage.”
Are we, or are we not, bloggers?
For those of you keeping score at home, ReadWriteWeb has slipped down the Techmeme Leaderboard to #41 in the four-plus years since MacManus rendered his initial assessment. The simple reason, I’ve tended to believe, was the same one I maintained in defending a different publication I used to manage: It’s not really a blog. “One thing hasn’t changed and hopefully never will – the best bloggers are passionate about the topics they write about, and they are informed and opinionated,” Richard wrote. “All the writers on ReadWriteWeb have those attributes. So even though we’re not a blog, we’re still bloggers.”
Fast-forward to last December, and ReadWriteWeb’s acquisition by SAY Media. At the time, SAY’s corporate blog trumpeted RWW as “one of the most popular and influential tech blogs in the world;” and Richard MacManus followed up by calling the publication he founded “one of the biggest blogs in the world.” He later added, “ReadWriteWeb is and always will be a team effort.”
The distinction matters because of that very phrase. Unlike a diary, a poem, a high school term paper, or any other one-person dissertation, a publication resulting from a team effort carries with it specific responsibilities. It must inform the public accurately, to the best of its ability. It should present a balanced and clear representation of the topics it covers. It should improve the lives and work of the people who read it.
Just as importantly, the law treats a publication differently because it is produced by a plurality.
Last November, a U.S. District Court judge in Oregon ruled that a blogger named Crystal Cox could not invoke the state’s Shield Laws for journalist protection in her defense in an anti-defamation case, stating specifically that one cannot proclaim herself a journalist the same way one can proclaim herself a blogger. In his opinion, Judge Marco Hernandez wrote:
Defendant cites no cases indicating that a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” is considered “media” for the purposes of applying a negligence standard in a defamation claim. Without any controlling or persuasive authority on the issue, I decline to conclude that defendant in this case is “media,” triggering the negligence standard.
Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.”
Judge Hernandez’ ruling triggered a measure of outrage, particularly at the notion that in this era of the 24-second news cycle, for someone to be recognized as a journalist, he or she must be associated with an established “media” organization. The EFF’s Matt Zimmerman and Trevor Timm wrote last month that laws should be changed to reflect an era where journalism is practiced by individuals with their own motivation and their own means.
“The proper approach to this question is to focus on what amounts to journalism, not who is a journalist,” Timm and Zimmerman wrote. “Journalism is not limited to a particular medium; instead, it focuses on whether someone is engaged in gathering information and disseminating it to the public. To the extent that laws are unclear or out of date – such as Oregon’s retraction statute which does not clearly include (or exclude) Internet journalism – legislatures should be encouraged to expansively update them to ensure the protection of individuals seeking to communicate information to the public.”
Of balance and choice
At one level, freedom from the burden of organization may be considered enablement, especially for practicing journalists who (like so many of us) have found themselves without a regular paycheck. But the moment we all become privateers, we journalists lose our capability to provide the one characteristic that readers continuously, adamantly, passionately, and rightly demand: balance.
A one-man show cannot be without bias; it is impossible. True, Web publishing has freed journalism from the stifling encumberments of bureaucracy. But it has not relieved journalists of the burden to contribute to a cohesive, complete, accurate picture of the world they cover; and no matter how many hyperlinks it can throw at the subject, the Web cannot substitute for coordination and organization. The editorial system provides journalism with the checks and balances it requires to fulfill its responsibility to the public for fairness and accuracy.
You can have freedom from bias or you can have freedom from oversight. You cannot have both.
In my last post on ReadWriteStart, I talked about how, in many cases, it wasn’t an advantage to build your start-up in stealth mode. As a continuation of that theme, I thought it would be interesting to explore five tools you can use to iterate and improve your startup idea before writing one line of code. There is nothing worse than building a tool no one is interested in, so I’d encourage you to consider these options before starting down the path of building your next startup.
Specifically, these five tools can help you do three critical activities before starting to write a line of code: create a wireframe, get feedback from the target market and test value proposition through multiple landing pages.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’re re-publishing some of our best posts of 2011. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2012. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!
iMockups for Wireframing Concepts
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a good mockup is worth 1,000 lines of code. If you own an iPad, iMockups is a killer solution to quickly and efficiently create wireframes. It’s been interesting to watch a number of the startups I advise shift from trying to use PowerPoint or Keynote to flesh out concepts, to using iMockups. The feedback from those startups has consistently been that the iMockups tool makes it so much faster to put wireframes together that the time savings was well worth the $10. Check out the video below to see iMockups in action:
Feedback on Concept from Target Market
Once you’ve got a concept put together, it’s often valuable to get some early feedback from your target market. Obviously, in many cases this can be done by setting up meetings with your target customers and walking them through the idea.
Another simple and relatively low cost way to get feedback from a critical mass of potential users is to use Ask Your Target Market. While there are a lot of online survey tools, the nice thing about this tool is it has developed a great network of respondents (or “panel” in market research parlance) who you can target for response. This allows you to get statistically meaningful feedback from a specific target audience.
Build & Test Landing Pages
A final obvious technique to testing and improving your idea is to build some landing pages to test out different value propositions.
LaunchRock: We’ve covered them a few times before, but with tools like LaunchRock that have automated the process of developing these landing pages this is a great way to test interest and get signups.
If you aren’t familiar with LaunchRock, see the video the team did for a demo with Robert Scoble:
A/B Testing Different Value Propositions: To take this approach to the next level, you can even use a solution like Optimizely, Google Website Optimizer or Sumo Optimizer. For a thorough review of these options check out this analysis on our SMB channel ReadWriteBiz of the tools. The general technique of optimizing your landing page is a practice most startups should do. But before you build out your solution you can actually see which value propositions and features are more compelling by testing which call to action – for example “find new sources of information” vs “filter the information you already read” – gets a higher percentage of requests from users.
As an entrepreneur, you have to figure out the right plan to test and build your product. However, locking yourself in a room and designing and then building your product is rarely optimal. Before opening your IDE of choice, maybe the best step next time is to launch one of the tools mentioned above and started getting some feedback? Do you have other techniques to test out your ideas? Let me know in the comments below.
“You can always opt out,” said the fellow at the other end of the table, reminding me of that most priceless freedom which the Internet, in all its majesty, has given me, given us, given the people. “If you don’t want to share anything with anyone, hell, why would you join a social network at all?”
And therein lay the small print, the disclosure at the other end of the asterisk. Opting out* is already carrying with it a social stigma, the personal choice to remain behind doors with locks and windows with shutters, to not be One of Us. At the same time, it is the new symbol of American freedom as professed by its right wing, the inalienable right for each of us to exit, to withdraw, to take the door other fools would take: the right to do the wrong thing.
“In most cases…”
“When users first install one of the new Open Graph apps with auto-publishing capabilities, they’re asked for persistent permission to report their activity back to Facebook through a system called frictionless sharing,” reads Facebook’s official description. “They can set the privacy of their shared content to buckets such as ‘public,’ or choose a specific friend list to share with. In most cases, though, users simply choose the default of ‘friends only.’” Isn’t it good to know what the majority of users will do so that you never have to make the wrong choice? If only all voting worked like that.
“From then on, whenever users engage with the app or Facebook-integrated Web site, their activity is published to the home page’s Ticker, their profile or profile Timeline, and in some cases the news feed,” Facebook continues. “Typically, there is no way to preemptively hide or opt out of sharing a specific activity, such as listening to an embarrassing song or reading a controversial news article. Users must go to their profile and manually delete the post, but by then some friends may have already seen the activity in the real-time Ticker.”
Thus far, the discussion about Facebook’s accelerated implementation of this feature has centered around whether it is “ruining sharing,” as CNET’s Molly Wood contends; exploiting sharing, as RWW’s Marshall Kirkpatrick believes; or redefining sharing, as RWW’s Richard MacManus argues. If I may interject a fourth point of view: Since when have we forfeited the right to define sharing for ourselves without either the status or stigma of “opting out?”
Up to now, I haven’t felt the need to “share” with the world what I eat, where I walk, what I listen to or read, on what point of the Earth I stand or sit. It’s nothing personal; as a journalist, I just seem to have this inner feeling that you don’t actually care. One of the skills that comes with journalism is filtering out unimportant information. If I were to write an article about my music listening habits on a day-to-day basis (“On Monday starting at 11:28 a.m. I listened to Joe Bonamassa, followed by Chris Smither, then Diana Krall…”) you would not stick around to read the complete list. You would rightly ask, what kind of conceited maniac shares everything short of his own bowel movements with the general public?
Well, if you would rather I not “share” this information with you in a blog post, then under whose content quota am I obligated to “share” it with you through some social channel? Of course, as Facebook reminds us, “in most cases” other people with more sense than I will share with “friends only.” Explain to me how that makes sense, that the outgoing data feed I would filter for my regular readers’ benefit should remain unfiltered for my friends’.
We used to speak with one another, but now through the convenience of electronics, we can enable a service to do that for us. Or, in the alternative, we may opt out. The point where “sharing” drifts away from pure communication, and toward Aldous Huxley’s searingly prescient vision of thousands of couples simultaneously fornicating in glass houses under spotlights, is what blogger Robert Scoble calls “the Freaky Line.” The ability for Facebook to strategically relocate this line, as it is appearing to do once again with “frictionless sharing,” is described by Scoble as “Zuckerberg’s brilliance.” Through the movement of this line, he continues, “the media comes to us.”
Once we have ceded the responsibility for maintaining our “Freaky Lines” to an outside entity, so that media and other junk can save us from the inconvenience of having to make choices for ourselves, when can we expect those lines to stop being moved on our behalf? Keep in mind that Facebook is actively experimenting with the Internet of Things protocol (MQTT), with creating an exchange mechanism for everyday devices that may be used by members. On the day that RFID-empowered groceries enable me to walk out of the grocery store and pay for them automatically, do I want the contents of my grocery cart to be published on Facebook? What’s my heart rate right now; did you ever wonder? When I try on a pair of jeans, do I want the world to see, “Scott Fulton is trying on a pair of 501s!” When I trip down a public staircase, should my personal feed announce to the world, “ROTF?” When I run out of gas on a highway, should you know the mile marker?
If none of this information coming from me is important to you, then why should the converse be any more valuable? If you would not open your windows and doors to voyeurs hiding in the bushes, why would you illuminate every detail of your life online? When do you decide to opt out, to choose the wrong door, drop out of the club, make the non-preferred choice? When do you exercise the freedom to speak for yourself and not have your life be spoken for you by some bot in the name of targeted advertising? When and where do you start drawing the lines again?
iPhone 4SÂ lines have started with less than 24 hours to go for official launch.
As we mentioned earlier, with shipping estimates for iPhone 4S pre-orders slipping to 1-2 weeks, one of the only ways to get your hands on Apple’s new iPhone 4S is to stand in line outside the Apple Store.
The lines outside Apple Stores in Japan are already quite long, which will be the first to open for iPhone 4S in a few hours from now.Â Guillaume ErardÂ reportsÂ that there were over 100 people in line at Apple’sÂ Shibuya retail storeÂ in Tokyo. He has also posted the following video:
MacRumors reports that lines have also started outside Apple Stores in London. Here are some photographs:
Meanwhile things seem to be quite in U.S as of now. MacRumors reports:
Things still appear to be relatively quiet in the United States and Canada nearly 17 hours before the first launches, as we’ve been receiving scattered reports of lines beginning to form but with only a handful of people encamped at most of the stores from which we’ve received reports.Â
However, it looks like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak isÂ reportedlyÂ the first and only person in line so far at the Los Gatos retail store in California.
Some of you might call this crazy but Robert Scoble had aptly put it“waiting in line for an Apple product is glorious, even if it is idiotic.” Have youÂ pre-ordered your iPhone 4S? Are you getting it delivered or planning to pick it up from the Apple Store? Or are you planning to join to be the first to get the iPhone 4S?