Scott Allen Interview on

I had a fun experience last week — my first virtual video interview.

Bill Vick, who I had the pleasure of working with on LinkedIn for Recruiting, interviewed me via Skype for, his video blog "about the collision of recruitment and technology". We talked about the importance of interpersonal skills ("soft skills") even in virtual networking, as well as the near future of social networking sites and what users should be watching for.

Sorry the sound is a little out of sync, but I suppose until we’re all running T1 lines into our homes, it comes with the territory. 😉

So what do you think? Where do you see social networking sites headed, and how does that affect how you’re using them now?

Social Web Aggregation – The Next Killer App, Part 1

508664515_853780cf3a Remember the good old days? Back when you had to log on to one email system at work and then at night dial up your favorite BBS’s one by one, replying to all of your emails while you were logged in? (I’m showing my age – if you don’t actually remember that – just use your imagination)

But then along came the internet and the idea of a universal email client — one application from which you could handle all your email across multiple servers. And you didn’t even have to be online to read and reply to email — you could do it at your convenience.

Remember Usenet? The same thing happened there. You used to have read in real-time while logged in, but before long came aggregators that allowed you to subscribe to the content you wanted and read it at your leisure. Eventually Google pretty much took it over and turned it into Google Groups.

AOL became the largest ISP at one time not just because they spent millions on marketing, but because they offered a simple, unified interface to the internet, accessible to the typical user.

As the web grew, it became apparent that it was far too complex to simply navigate via hyperlinks from one site to another. There needed to be a centralized directory of web sites. A couple of smart people realized that they could monetize that and Yahoo! was born.

While no one might ever have imagined it was possible, the web became so complex that it outran the capacity of a topical directory, and along came search engines to fill the gap. Was Google really THAT much better a search engine than all the others? Or did the "I feel lucky" button that promised one-click satisfaction have something to do with their success?

Some of the web’s biggest brands have been built around a fairly simple aggregation concept:

  • Amazon provides access to the pretty much the entire library of published books (and more, now, of course).
  • eBay aggregates individual buyers and sellers.
  • craigslist aggregates all types of classifieds, not just buy/sell.

And now the web is social. OK, it’s always been social, but now it’s mostly social. According to Comscore, "The number of worldwide visitors to social networking sites has grown 34 percent in the past year to 530 million, representing approximately 2 out of every 3 Internet users." In some countries, such as the UK, social networking sites account for more than 75% of all web traffic.

So where’s the super-aggregator for the social web?

Facebook wants to be it. So does MySpace. Google too. A host of startups are aggregating social networking profiles, online video and more – even multiple Twitter and Jaiku accounts.

Users are starving for this, even if many of them don’t realize it yet. As more and more social networks pop up, particularly those with niche focus, the space becomes increasingly fragmented. A new social network focused on one particular topic no longer competes with just other social networks on the same topic, but with all social networks vying for the user’s attention. And as anyone who’s ever studied GTD or any other productivity methodology knows, fragmented attention is counter-productive.

The inevitable trend is that unless social networking sites make it easier to aggregate their data, they’re going to lose their most active users to social network burnout (it’s already started). A widely-adopted, highly effective aggregation tool could stave off that trend and put the social web back on course to being an indispensable productivity tool, rather than a waste of time and a security risk.

It’s clear from the internet’s evolutionary past that whoever can figure out how to make a simple, unified interface to the social web is well-positioned to make a ton of money. But they’re going to face some significant challenges, and the technology is just one of them. I’ll address those in Part 2.

Image: Aldo Gonzales via Flickr

Web 2.0 Has Corporate America Spinning

As a followup on my Vistage presentations, here’s “What every CEO needs to know about the array of new tools that foster online collaboration — and could revolutionize business”: BusinessWeek: Web 2.0 Has Corporate America Spinning

Seeking data on Yahoo! Groups and competitors

I’m curious to see if anyone has data on the biggest providers of online network services. According to my sources, they include:

Yahoo Groups-90m users
MySpace-100m users (and many thousands more in the last day or so, no doubt) users
Neopets-30m users
Facebook-7.7m users

Jeff Weiner, SVP of Yahoo Search and Marketplace, reported at Yahoo Analyst Day on May 17 that Yahoo Groups has 90 million members. Does anyone have any more detailed information on this number? Are these 90 million members receiving and reading their Yahoo Groups emails, regularly visiting the Yahoo Groups website, or doing anything else to prove that they are “active” members in some way? Or does 90 million simply refer to the number of users who at some point in the past registered with a Yahoo Group, but who are not necessarily participating or involved in the group in any way anymore?


Rob Key, CEO Converseon, on Consumer-Generated Media

Rob Key, CEO, Converseon, speaking at today’s conference:

You can download the slides from this presentation here: Converseon

3 of top 10 media sites are blogs

39% of top search engine listings for Business week 100 derived from consumer-generated media

Google allows max of 2 listings per domain, so out of top 10 sites, 8 are not your corporation’s site

David Weinberger: ‘Google is the home page of your corporation”

7.6m searches on the term “Walmart” last month, and most of the results are negative.

“brand is an experience that creates an impression”

Someone who’s addressing this technology well: the “Starwood Concierge” goes out and interacts with bloggers, addresses their concerns

Blogs can maximize “shelf space”, Converseon’s term for the first page of search engine results . their product is “Search Engine Reputation Management” (SERMA)

Jupiter: 75% search engine users never go beyond first page of results. Very rare for user to scroll past the top twenty (2 pages) of search results. Therefore, critical battleground for reputation management is what content appears in 1st 20 sites.

Push negative listings off the ‘visibility cliff’.

His guidelines:

  • Establish a corporate blog policy.
  • Harness, don’t squelch.
  • “Don’t be stupid.”
  • Be committed.
  • Speak with authenticity.
  • Take the high road.
  • Be prepared for critics.
  • Let your personality come thru.
  • Consider legal parameters.
  • Listen & respond.
  • Optimize.

    Create fake blogs, e.g., Mazda.

    Quixtar created a series of “adoration blogs”. They were called out on it.

    Don’t disguise your intentions. “I Hate Starbucks” started getting communications directly from Starbucks, and so he posted their enthusiastic messages online.

    Burger King’s attempt to market its ‘king’ masks was a failed attempt at viral marketing.

    Don’t ignore the conversation. E.g., Dell initially ignored Jeff Jarvis, but then realized they had to pay attention.

    I asked: your SERMA product is designed to lower the ranking of negative sites. From Google’s point of view, perhaps they believe that they can provide a better user experience by providing a diversity of views about a controversial subject, e.g., starbucks. So how are the search engines responding to your efforts?

    Rob Key said: the engines do value diversity of opinion. A PR firm is your advocate in the court of public opinion; you have the right to an advocate.

    Social Machines

    For a great overview of why I’m so excited about social software, a.ka. social machines, see Wade Roush’s article, Social Machines from the MIT Technology Review. The conversation is continued at

    As advanced as our PCs and our other information gadgets have grown, we never really learned to love them. We’ve used them all these years only because they have made us more productive. But now that’s changing. When computing devices are always with us, helping us to be the social beings we are, time spent “on the computer” no longer feels like time taken away from real life. And it isn’t: cell phones, laptops, and the Web are rapidly becoming the best tools we have for staying connected to the people and ideas and activities that are important to us. The underlying hardware and software will never become invisible, but they will become less obtrusive, allowing us to focus our attention on the actual information being conveyed. Eventually, living in a world of continuous computing will be like wearing eyeglasses: the rims are always visible, but the wearer forgets she has them on–even though they’re the only things making the world clear.

    Human PacMan hits real city streets

    Many different researchers are taking different approaches to bringing PacMan into the streets. See:

  • Pacmanhattan (based out of NYU)
  • Virtual reality Pacman–from University of Singapore
  • Mixed Reality Lab
  • After years of video games providing some benefit in your hand-eye coordination and hopefully your multiprocessing ability, I’m glad to see technologies like these and ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ bringing some fitness benefit to video game players. Of course, being a soldier today also bears some similarities to playing one of these games. (The Singapore project was backed by military funding.)

    The Significance of "Social Software"

    danah boyd posts an abstract of a proposed paper on the Significance of “Social Software”. I agree with her that there’s not so much radically new about social software in terms of the technology, but that misses the point. Blogs are nothing more than web page publishing made easy, and yet they’ve clearly had a significant impact. Sometimes a modest increase in user-friendliness can create a tipping point in a technology’s penetration.

    Other reasons why this current generation of social software is having far more impact than earlier iterations:
    – increasing penetration of broadband
    – widespread use of digital cameras
    – ever-increasing familiarity with virtual communications—see Scott Allen’s blog post immediately below.

    Advertisement: Her abstract sounds like the academic version of our forthcoming book on social software, “The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online”. If you’re an academic interested in seeing an evaluation copy of the book, please go to and click the button, “Request an evaluation copy”.

    Integration of online, face-to-face, temporary, permanent, and various other networks

    Author William Gibson famously wrote, “The future is here, it is just not evenly
    distributed.” “Internet rockstar” Ben Brown reports with a great story from SXSW about how people are creatively and synchronously leveraging online, face-to-face, temporary, permanent, and social networks. The number of technologies that are seamlessly melded together in this incident is truly impressive.

    Via Danah Boyd

    Seven implications of Yahoo! 360

    As rumored for a long time (under the code name Mingle), Yahoo! announced the launch of Yahoo! 360, an integrated suite that includes web email, instant messaging, blogs, photo sharing, and music downloads.

    David Jackson of the The Internet Stock Blog points out seven key implications of this launch (republished with permission, with my comments in italics):


    1. Confirms competiton at the bundle level.

    Yahoo’s launch of 360 confirms that the large Internet companies will compete to provide an integrated and personalized package of web email, instant messaging, blog publishing, personalized news reader and photo sharing. Bill Gates has already stated that this is Microsoft’s goal. DT: “embrace and extend”.

    2. Convergence of communication and publishing.

    Note that this package is a mixture of communication (email, IM) and publishing (blogs, photos, recommendations) tools. Publishing via blogs and photo albums is a form of personal communication, particularly if permission to access content can be restricted. And it’s two-way if readers can leave comments.

    3. Stickiness rules.

    Why is the package so attractive to the large Internet companies? Because it is the ultimate sticky application that generates total user loyalty. It’s much harder to move your email, photos, blog and IM address to an alternative provider than it is to move just one of those. And if your applications are networked into theirs (for example you share recommendations with your family and friends), it’s even harder to get everyone to move. (A point made by Charlene Li.) DT: In the short term, yes. However, the real future is services not dependent on a specific platform. For example, my blog alone provides a big part of the social network functionality, and I’m not dependent on any one company to maintain and extend that blog.

    4. Competiton at the bundle level relieves competition at the product level.
    Google’s release of Gmail and Google Maps shows that it is targetting Yahoo!’s stickiest applications with technologically superior products. What’s Yahoo! to do? Shift competition to the socially-networked bundle level and leverage its enormous installed base of Yahoo! Mail and My Yahoo! users. DT: Of course, if Yahoo! created products of comparable sophistication, they’d be in better shape. Google is emulating Microsoft’s intense focus on recruiting the best and brightest, and it pays.

    5. Six Apart apart?
    Does this mean that Yahoo! won’t acquire Six Apart? That depends. If Yahoo’s goal is to provide a set of integrated personal tools, it doesn’t need Six Apart. But if it wants deeper functionality and a large installed base of blogs on which to promote its upcoming contextual advertising service, then Six Apart is still highly attractive.

    6. Early battle for wireless market share.
    Note the emphasis in Yahoo’s press release on mobility and local services: “mobile blogging (moblogging) and other sharing tools for recommending favorite movies, restaurants…”. Competition at the bundle level will spill into the provision of wireless content and services.

    7. The potential saviour for AOL.
    As competition moves to the ultimately sticky personal communication and publishing bundle, AOL stands to gain most – if it gets its act together. Why? AOL mistakenly bundled dial-up access and closed content, and is therefore losing customers in droves. But AOL can survive if it can transition its customers to the correct bundle of access-agnostic sticky applications. It’s got the pieces: largest market share in instant messaging, millions of email users, blogs, lots of personal customer information. Now it needs to tie them together and unbundle access from content and communication.