Another recommendation algorithm acquired

Waking up this morning, I can’t help but think about how the imminent acquisition of by CBS is just the next in a series of deals that financially validate the online social recommendation concept.  (StartupSquad has some of the best news coverage of the deal. blog post and comments worth a read as well.)  I am very excited about the rumored acquisition of StumbleUpon by eBay as well.

“Users who liked what you’ve cumulatively told me you like, also tend to like these other things.”  It’s a beautiful concept – I mean that I’ve been struck by the beauty of this concept across a number of sites for weeks.  Everyone knows that’s a big part of but it’s also what makes StumbleUpon what it is, too.  My favorite lately has been Pandora.

Recently I’ve heard people say things like “I worked on my Pandora ‘stations’ for months and I’m finally getting a really solid stream of music that I really, truly like.”  That kind of learning by a web service, starting from a point I designate and refining the trajectory based on thumbs up and thumbs down on subsequent movements, strikes me as fundamentally beautiful – especially when it’s music we’re talking about.  I far prefer Pandora’s interface over’s, by the way.

The roll of cumulative recommendation versus other core systems of analysis at or Pandora isn’t completely clear – but there seem to be two defining traits to both these sites and StumbleUpon:  The interface can be related to very simply (though more complex use is also an option.)  I get access to the fruits of my labor very quickly.

I used to use for my social bookmarking – I miss it terribly, in fact.  Furl would look at my bookmarks and suggest not just other URLs, which were less interesting, but it would recommend other users with similar interests.  I could look at each of these and decide whether or not to subscribe to their bookmarks by email or RSS.  Back in the day I chose email; I still get those emails and the signal to noise ratio is stunning, it’s like a stream of pure gold.

It looks like MeFeedia offers something similar to this for video feed recommendations.  The fact that does not offer recommendations seems a huge lost opportunity to me, almost a crime of neglect against my data.  You know that companies that collect loads of my data are going to mine it for their benefit – I want to be able to do the same thing, at least on the simple level of getting recommendations relative to other users.

This post isn’t terribly coherent or carefully crafted as much as it is a series of thoughts on the subject, but no series of thoughts here would be complete without the following.  Service providers, give me access to my own damn data.  I do the work using your tools, you hold the resulting data, you monetize that data for as long as I’m happy with you, I benefit from the act of data creation and secondary impacts like better recommendations over time.  Then I find someone I like better than you and I’m out of here.  Do you get to keep my data?  Not exclusively, no!  Keep it in aggregate if you’d like – but for goodness sake, if you think that holding my data hostage and threatening me with data poverty if I leave you is a way to keep me from leaving your service – well that’s just a totally dysfunctional way to maintain a relationship.

Now I’m angry, thinking and writing about user control over our own data.  VERY few companies are hip enough to this, I don’t think any of the above discussed companies are.  Why should they be until their users insist on control over our own data?

None the less, the CBS acquisition of is a big validation of the social recommendation concept.  I’m very excited about it and though I’ve got some big concerns, I am interested to see what a giant media company will do with it.

Changes to the old blog

Unless you’re the feed reading type, you may have noticed that I’ve made quite a few changes around here lately. In addition to my work as director of content at SplashCast Media, I’m also starting to do more consulting on the side. I’ve redesigned my personal site here with that in mind. I hope you’ll poke around the site in its current state and give me some feedback. The two pages that have changed the most, beyond the front page, are the Feedback page about my work and a brand new About page.

My primary goal in consulting is to help people become more effective and efficient in their engagement with existing conversations online.

I’m currently working with Rootly, a news search engine whose recent redesign I consulted on. Now we’re working on messaging and documentation so the company can have an explanation of its services befitting of its awesomeness. We’ll be making our work together a full, detailed case study that other prospective consulting clients can read to learn more about the services I offer. I’m working on a series of case studies and highly recommend this audio interview with Elizabeth Ferranini on the subject.

If you’re interested in working with me to ramp up your participation in new, online social media – drop me a line at I’m really looking forward to working with a variety of people and organizations. Thanks for all your ongoing support!

Why Buying FeedBurner is Really Smart of Google

Techcrunch is confirming a rumor surfaced last week by former TechCrunch UK writer Sam Sethi – that Google is going to buy FeedBurner for $100 million.    Smart, smart, smart I say.  Here’s a couple of things I want to throw into the conversation.

Update: It’s official, both the Google Blog and FeedBurner posted on June 1st that the acquisition has happened.

Strength in the Business World

In addition to FeedBurner publishing my feed, probably your feed and likely the feed of every other blogger we know that has been blogging for some time – the company’s real juice may come from enterprise customers.  FeedBurner publishes the feeds of IDG Tech Publishing (PC World, Computerworld, Macworld), Reuters, USA Today, AOL, The Nation, Newsweek and who knows how many more.  They are also the feed analytics company of record. If you are one of the many feed aggregators on the web – you must have a relationship with FeedBurner too (we just announced one at SplashCast, for example).

Thought Leadership

FeedBurner is one of the flagship companies of a paradigm that I think is key to the web 2.0 economy – give free services to consumers to build brand awareness, scalability, etc. and then monetize enterprise sales.  The value they have a added to the world of self-publishers (bloggers) is huge – number of readers, platforms read on, FeedFlare – the list goes on and on.  FeedBurner is big, important stuff for the new world of online publishing. Without RSS feeds to subscribe to, the blogosphere itself would be much less viable. If you had to visit every blog you wanted to read, all of our blogs would have far fewer readers. Did FeedBurner invent RSS? No, but they excercised great leadership in linking RSS URLs to human readable HTML pages instead of pages of XML code – at least a year before Firefox did. That was really important.

The one weakness that some people have said they suffer from is in number and variety of ads to run.  That won’t be a problem any more if Google scoops them up, they’ll have an army of sales people and the AdSense machine behind them.

User Control Over Data

The other issue that some people have raised is that FeedBurner has too much control over their users’ feeds.  That concern is going to be taken much more seriously if they become a part of the Goog.  Data mining is not inherently bad, and Google’s going to get a whole new frontier for it opening up if they buy FeedBurner.  What’s the solution to privacy concerns?  In the long run, people are going to come to understand our digital assets, including our clickstreams and other data, as a resource that we graciously let these vendors chew on for as long as we are happy with them.  Just like interest I draw on my bank account is mine to take out of that bank along with my deposit at any time – so too will we someday have the option of nearly one-click export and erase OUR data from any given vendor.  Big vendors will understand this or they will lose.

FeedBurner has always tried to be responsive to data ownership concerns.  They charge a tiny, tiny sum to have their service run through your domain, for example.

If this acquisition really does go through it’s going to be good news for FeedBurner and great news for Google.  What does it mean for the rest of us?  We’ll have to wait and see.

See also:
How and Why to Use FeedBurner
My interview with FeedBurner’s Rick Klau “Making RSS usable, interactive and mainstream”
My coverage of FB on the Social Software Weblog (good stuff)
My coverage of FeedBurner on
TechCrunch coverage of FeedBurner

Zooomr Relaunching Live by Video

It’s 3:45 my time and photo sharing site Zooomr is about to launch a new version of their service. How are they doing it? With a live video chat on UStream! This is a model of transparency for the future. If you come by in time, they are responding to the text chat going on at their UStream page. They’ve also recorded a short video about the new features they are adding.

These guys work hard to build relationships with their users all around the world. They are doing a lot of things that I really admire.

An interface available in more than 15 languages, free pro-accounts for bloggers who write about them, rapid feature development – the list goes on and on. Way to go, guys.

I had the UStream player in question embedded here, but it was leaking audio when my pages loaded.

Rootly Relaunches – Looks Awesome

One of my consulting clients, a news search engine called Rootly, relaunched this afternoon and I’m so proud of them!

Rootly founder Mark Daher and I worked together to improve the aesthetics, functionality and differentiation of the service. It’s been some time since I sent him my final recommendations and today the site looks totally unlike it did at the time.

The service provides highly customizable, RSS powered vertical news search based on about 1k preselected sources, plus any sources you add by feed. When a source is added by a sufficient number of users it gains trusted status and enters the general index. The search result feeds are good, there’s really easy internal bookmarking, commenting and friends. The best part of it: Rootly accepts OpenID! I can’t take any credit for that, but thank goodness! Who wants to create a new account for every service you want to try out? Not me. (I use MyOpenID, personally. It’s great and local to Portland.)

In the near term future the site will allow OPML import – which has a whole lot of implications – and a customizable widget for personal startpages.

For more information about the relaunch, see the review at CenterNetworks and more details on the Rootly blog.

Video: Problems and Solutions in Social Media Production

I wrote about this in two other places:
SocialMediaProduction: Knowledge Sharing Through a Common Video Tag
Tuesday Night: “Problems and Solutions in Social Media Production”

That second link is to the website of Portland Social Media Club. Hopefully we’ll have live streaming video of the event discussed, so if you are elsewhere perhaps you will join us. Check out the video below for good times and a couple of stories of problems I’ve solved.

Social Media for Marketing: What We’ve Done at SplashCast So Far

My new pal Baratunde asked on Twitter last week for info, examples or anecdotes about companies using new online social media for marketing. I thought I should type up some thoughts about what we’ve done at SplashCast so far because I think we’ve done a particularly good job of it. I thought I’d post it here in hopes that others would find it useful as well. It’s rough around the edges but I thought not posting it would be a lost opportunity.

If you haven’t checked out SplashCast yet, you can see just one example of its many capabilities in the podcast player on my sidebar here.

SplashCast’s Use of Social Media for Marketing

SplashCast has hired two experienced social media producers, myself and Alex Williams [that’s Alex on the right], founder of the Podcast Hotel series of podcasting industry conferences. One of our big responsibilities is what I call in-house content production to engage with existing social media communities.

I write blog posts that are accompanied by channels of mixed media content compiled using our company’s product. Alex publishes interviews from events using SplashCast.

My primary media production activity at SplashCast is similar to what I’ve done when working for content companies (TechCrunch, AOL Social Software Weblog, NetSquared and others). I try to break news, publish mixed media content related to existing online discussions and otherwise add value to the media landscape for readers interested in the emerging online video market. The goals of this work are to drive traffic the SplashCast website, demonstrate the potential of our publishing tool and ultimately to encourage people to sign up as SplashCast publishers themselves. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun for me.

The primary ways that we work to build readership for our blog are these:

*Daily blogging, not only about company news but interesting industry news as well. Some of our posts have been deemed interesting enough
to receive thousands of visitors from StumbleUpon, for example.
*Sending trackbacks to other blogs, where our posts that are related to theirs are linked for their readers to discover.
*Leaving thoughtful, value-ad-focused comments in response to posts on other blogs, where our names are linked to the SplashCast site added in the URL field of the comment form.
*Putting relevant bloggers at the center of our strategy for company and new product release PR. That strategy lead to more than 250 blog mentions within 48 hours of our launch, for example.
*Attending events and building relationships with other social media producers, who will think of us later when writing about related subject matter.
*We also use Twitter to stay abreast of what other people are doing and keep friends up to date on what we’re doing at SplashCast.
*Engegement with and inclusion in relevant topical aggregators. This is a big part of what we do. For example, a Google search of for SplashCastMedia brings back 1,400 results and we’ve now made 15 appearances on the front page of Digg. Both easier said than done, but both great sources of traffic and lead generation.

All of these steps could have been done well or poorly, but because we have two experienced social media producers in house we believe we can effectively communicate in such a way that our commercial message is more implied than it is overbearing. (For another perspective on appropriate marketing communication in new media, see this very smart post written by Jeremy Pepper.)

The high level themes of our work, I believe are the following:

*We find creative ways to participate in conversations of general interest. In particular, we let people publish aggregated collections of mixed media, so we watch the news and see what would be interesting to publish collections like this about. When the DoD banned social media sites from official networks, we published a channel of videos and photos tagged Iraq in YouTube and Photobucket, for example.

*Timeliness has been important – we work hard to cover news as early in the news cycle as possible. That’s a whole other topic that requires its own strategy.

*Helping people do their own work better. This is becoming cliche in the web 2.0 world, but it bears repeating. Our posts on things you can do with mixed media RSS, ways you can tag videos and how you can build a successful website around aggregated media were all big hits.

*Finding the balance between marketing and conversation. It’s no secret that the SplashCast blog is trying to convince people to use our product, so we don’t hide that. We do however try to make our posts compelling enough to be interesting on their own merits, regarding general interest topics, whether you care to try SplashCast or not.

As a result of implementing this strategy before, during and after our initial launch, we had more than 1,000 publishers register for an account at launch, we doubled that in our first month to 2,000 and doubled it again in our second month to more than 4,000. SplashCast player loads are now aproaching 5.5 million.

As a social media service company, it also makes sense for us to do a lot of in house content production so that we know the application, its possibilities and performance issues, as best as possible. That said, I believe that any company can benefit greatly by adding social media participation and content production to the center of their marketing strategy. The use of social media has proven enormously helpful to SplashCast.

The roll of social media in a market sector in a relatively commoditized sector is something else that could use some further consideration.

I hope you’ll stop by, see this work in action for yourself and create an account to publish your collections of mixed media. If you would like my help in coming up with a strategy like this for your company, drop me a line. I can be reached at