One Man and His Blog: Le Web Archives

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Baratunde Thurston at Le Web London
One talk at Le Web London a couple of weeks ago that I got far more out of than I expected to do, was the one by Baratunde Thurston, late of satirical site The Onion. His appearances on This Week in Tech have always amused me, and I sat down expecting 20 minutes of amusement, and not much else. 

Instead, I learnt a whole bunch of stuff about how to create great content, fast, on topic and in a way that really engages people.

Baratunde brutally eviscerated the pretensions and humourlessness of journalists who took The Onion's twitter coverage of a fictional siege of congress seriously. The completely lacked the nous to spot it was coming from a well-know satirical site. Or indeed to see that the idea of a bunch of armed congressmen holding children hostage was inherently ludicrous. 

But he also showed how to make stuff for the teh interwebs that really works. The Onion's process for making the most of big, attention grabbing events is just inspired:

  • Compile a list of links to archive content related to people likely to be featured at the event (say, the Oscars
  • Monitor the hashtag for the event, as well as event coverage
  • As people are mentioned, tweet out links to archive content that matches, using the event hashtag
  • Enjoy the traffic gains
Their use of online tools for brainstorming is interesting, too. For big events - like the death of Steve Jobs - the team pulled together a Google doc outlining all the possible stories with associated headlines they could do, before deciding which one would strike the right balance of humour and taste for their audience. This may be all in the service of satire - but there's plenty more conventional journalists could learn from them about how to use online tools for effective team working and fast response to breaking news. 

Here's Baratunde talking about running a campaign on Foursquare:

And here's the whole thing:

(I actually make a guest appearance in this one - look for me at about 8:10... ;-) )

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The Keen versus Scoble fight

What to make of a debate between Andrew Keen and Robert Scoble, moderated by Milo Yiannopoulos? It's like a bubbling Twitter pot of internet controversial celebs... 

But was it any cop? Well, it was entertaining. We found ourselves presented with the question "Where's the real Scoble?" Is he purely relational? Is his sense of self completely determined by his followers? 

Robert Scoble

"I didn't have followers 10 years ago," said Scoble. "Back then I'd just find the geek at the cocktail party, and hang out with them." Apparently, he just keeps the bedroom secret. We don't know the clubs he was in in Amsterdam. (But I'm intrigued now, I don't know about you.)

Keen asked how many of the audience would be prepared to go as far as Scoble in making their lives public - and only a handful put their hands up. Scoble shrugged it off. He turned an example of embarrassing drunken pictures of him into a positive: "I've been invited to a better class of party since those came out."But he did point out that social media is killing people, because they don't put their mobiles down when driving.

Andrew Keen

Our two champions circled each other again, over the issue of data. Keen accused Google and Facebook of selling our data. Scoble struck back with the fact that Facebook sells access to you, not your data.

"Do people understand that?" asked Keen.  "People are getting resistant and wary of those social services. Social has climaxed, privacy is the next thing."

Scoble, of course, disagreed. Totally. He thinks people are changing their habits all the time, and the freaky line is shifting. And Keen and Yiannopoulos think that he's "super-freaky". 

Then, they turned to my second favourite subject: whisky. Keen pointed out that when he asked Scoble what's faster than real time, our favourite blogger replied it's when the server knows what your drink is before you get to the bar. 

"And yet, I've Liked Oban whisky on Facebook," said Scoble.  "And when I got to the Badoo party last night I was handed a champagne. I've never Liked chapagne. I don't like champagne."

milo yiannopoulos

Filter bubbles? Scoble wants filters to shape what people see of him, or what he sees. Keen suggests that newspapers are already a filter bubble problem. And the internet is destroying serendipity, because you always get served Oban. Scoble says that people who know he likes Oban bring him a  new one, which they think is better. 

Last words to Mr Keen: "Social media isn't social: it's creating a radically individualised web. It's destroying social."

He has a book out you know: Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us. If you buy it from that link, both he and I get money. I have no shame. Much like the scheduling of this panel... 

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Nick Halstead

Nick Halstead, Founder & CTO, Datasift 

We're expressing opinions all the time on the web, via Twitter, via Facebook, via multiple sources - and that's all data. And Nick Halstead and DataSift take that data and, well sift it... As well as drawing out sentiment and analysing it, they're also interested in inflection; most day's there's a certain baseline discussion about a company. If it suddenly changes, that's worth noting.

The world of SEO is worth billions - now 50% of traffic to some sites comes from social media. How do you optimise that? DataSift take a cross-section of five news stories and analyse how people are reacting to them. Publishers can then tweak headlines and stories based on the information.

Wikipedia has peaks of 100 edits per second. No-one has ever captured this. Datasift allows you to filter against that content and see changes - it's an amazing resource for researchers, wanting to know how things change. WikiStats looks at all those edits in real time and looks for trends. 

Big data in practical use. 

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Alexander Ljung of Soundcloud

Alexander Ljung, Founder & CEO, SoundCloud  

Alex explains that Soundcloud was born of the founders' desire to share sounds on the web, in a pretty sound geek-focused way. However, they discovered what they were really interested in was all these social platforms that allowed people to connect. Their favourite form of expression was sound - and that could be social. And suddenly the idea went from their geeky need to something they felt the world needed - and they had to do it. 

Soundcloud solves specific problems: "I'm a musician, I want to promote my album, and spread it through networks". But they're more interested in sharing moments through sound. He admits to always being a sound geek. Sound can be music, a baby's first works, a lecture ore a political speech. Sound evokes more of an emotional reaction than the written word. 

Sound is incredibly simple to create - we're all walking around with these incredible microphones in our packet. One button - 140 times simpler than Twitter. Yes, it's slower to consume - but it can be consumed in parallel. Imagine how much time you can spend with a game or a video if you have other things to do. It's limited. In a connected age, sound can follow us around everywhere. It can be slower in terms of information transfer, but you have more time to do it, and it has more of an impact. 

jamillah-knowles-Alexander -Ljung.jpg

They've seen incredible growth, and a lot of passionate users - and they give feedback on the site. The web has progressed since the site launched, so they wanted to incorporate feedback, and make the site faster, more gorgeous and more engaging. They brought in ideas from the mobile app. They're making it easier to share sounds, and adding real time notifications. It should be easier to go through sounds quicker, and added seamless playback throughout the site. And you can create collections of sounds. 

Hack days have been really important. Hacking is very similar to how designers work with prototypes - you're solving a problem by actually doing things. That's tremendously powerful. It's not limited to writing code - you can hack in every discipline. They've had an API since the public launch. The web is, by definition, an inter-connected thing. If the parts aren't connectable, you're just an island. They wanted to be a Lego block. 

Freemium is working for them. They don't see much scope for charging brands in a different way - people seem to have individual account, even within a company. It's a flexible and successful model he seems very content with, because it keeps the interactions personal. Their profiles have been revamped on the site to make fluid sharing of sounds across the web, whatever the platform more easy. 

More and more of our lives are mediated - and eventually everything will be mediated by the internet. The issue with that is that online interactions are mainly based on visual communication - but that's not reflecting the richness of what it means to be human. He's really excited to see sound take a more important role on the web in general. In five or six years they won't be where he wants - but they'll be a lot closer. It will be normal to speak to the internet, and it'll be less clunky and more fluid - and more people being moved by their web experiences. 

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Hugh MacLeod
The famous Gaping Void cartoonist doing his thing...

Efe Cakarel

Efe Cakarel, Founder, MUBI

A global VoD platform that I've never heard of - I'm so very parochial. But isn't everyone? As Efe points out, only 13% of global internet users in the US - and it's a steadily declining share. His business started in Palo Alto - and it's easy to think of that as the centre of the universe. But the US may not dominate the internet in 2030 - and dominating that world means understanding other countries. 

Their business mashed Netflix and Groupon - one movie a day, at a much lower price point. And they decided that Turkey was the country to focus on - it's got growth of 9% right now. Forecasts show Turkey as fastest growing OECD country. Half of Turkey is less than 30 years old - and they are very social media savvy. And - to the benefit of his business - they have a healthy disregard for copyright. 

So, it's time to wake up and smell the Turkish coffee. 

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Mike Arrington and Kevin Rose at Le Web

Do entrepreneurs have a sense of the future? Based on the session at Le Web billed as being about the future they don't have the first clue. When we spend more time talking about Kevin Rose's car collection than the future, we have a smug exited-startup love-in. But lets cut through the dross and find some information in the discussion.

Why do entrepreneurs who have made a good exit still work? Chad Hurley gets up to have fun - life's too short to sit around. Kevin Rose just doesn't think about it as work. Niklas Zennstrom loves competition. 

Chad Hurley

Hurley is working on AVOS, which has a series of components which allow them to get things off the ground quickly. They have Delicious, and Zeen is coming next - a tool for building online magazines. Delicious was a challenge - they had to rewite the whole codebase and migrate the data. They've been focusing on their other products, but are coming back to Delicious, and are hoping to build on the brand with some innovation. 

Zennstrom's Atomico is aiming to be a global investment operation. And Rose is with Google Ventures

What's the future? Zennstrom thinks we're no longer building the technologies- we're building the products. And the opportunities are in where people connect online. 

Hurley is bored of tweeting and liking. The default position is socially sharing everything - but he doesn't care what his friends are doing - he wants to figure out what he's doing. 

Rose would like to get involved in TV-commerce related stuff, should he go back into entrepreneurship after his "break" from it in Google Ventures. 

Niklas Zennstrom

Zennstrom brings up climate change as something not being aggressively addressed enough yet.. 

Are Google Ventures looking at eco tech? Rose says he's more involved with early stage startups, and is interested in the quantified self idea, tech that monitors your body and lifestyle. He also suggests that there will be eight to 12 apps we will use every day. You need to figure out what those will be.

Zennstrom thinks that common apps like calendars and address books are still ripe for disruption. Enterprise is too slow still - it's innovation cycles are very, very long. 

Q. Anyone doing anything in education?

A. Rose invested in Treehouse. 

Q. Investments in Africa?

A. No. 

If these guys have good insights into the future, they didn't want to share them with us. 

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Jan Rezab socialbakers

Why do so many businesses which claim to be social have closed Facebook walls? How many companies use social media as more than a thin layer on top of traditional businesses. Good questions, and Jan Rezab, Co-Founder & CEO, Socialbakers thinks he has some answers - analysis. 

Socialbakers - only a 50% response rates to their fans. They knew they needed to make this better. He's read articles about social media IVR - it's automating responses. He thinks that isn't going to work. You can't automate people and it misses the point of social media.

Industry response rates

They've started ranking companies socially. 70% of fan questions go unresponded. We do marketing to communicate with people, and get interest. And then we ignore the interest. Why? 

Their ranking of top social companies actually shows south american companies doing very well. The bottom three? Ebay, Yamaha Motor Indonesia and BlackBerry. Ah, poor RIM.

These leader boards are all available on their site - Socially Devoted - which they've just launched at the show. It's built as a starting point for the industry to start talking about this issue - to get some sees of what the industry benchmarks are for response rates, response times and the like. And in an industry where social media snake oil in is severe danger of drowning the genuine innovators, that conversation needs to happen.

Paul Davison of Highlight being interviewed

The app of the show, in terms of meetings, seems to be Highlight. I've just been notified by it that there are 30 people who might be of interest to me around me right now. Pity I'm busy typing...

Paul Davison, Founder & CEO of the app is being interviewed by Milo Yannopoulos, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Kernel.

And he's full of enthusiasm when most of the audience are trying to drink enough coffee to be awake.

We have the tools in the real world to identify common interests, he suggests - band t-shirts, for example. But we don't have the tools to know if the person sat next to us is a friend of our mother. The real world is like a bad version of Facebook or LinkedIn, with only one profile photo and no details on who they are or what they do. Milo is horrified by this view of the world. Paul doesn't really seem to care. He want's to "fix" the real world with Highlight, by starting to give people information about those around us. 

If you've enabled it on you phone, Highlight allows your profile to pop up on screen for another user who might find you interesting  when they are nearby. Identifying "interesting" is a deeply contextual thing, starting with friendship, that friends of friends, and leavened with a mix of familiarity and frequency of proximity. You can throttle notifications to make sure people aren't overwhelmed, but also look at response rate to identify people who like meeting people. But they don't see it as a meeting tool, more as a metadata tool for the world. 

We've only just reached the point where the technology supports what they're trying to do - battery life supports push notifications properly, and they can now publish into this space above people's heads. He posits that the app is solving the problem of forgetting people's names when joining a company. He thinks it's made offices more friendly, more communicative, because barriers to communication drop away. 

Still needs to get over British reserve, though... 

Lindsey Sterling (and Loïc)
Without doubt the most entertaining performer of the day... 
Martin Varsavsky

The founder and CEO of Fon is coming out of the closet - as someone who doesn't work that hard. He doesn't think that entrepreneurs need to work that hard, despite the traditional image. How does he do this?

  • He never watches TV - just YouTube and Netflix sometimes. 
  • He doesn't watch sports - but he does them. 
  • He reads few books - but he writes a lot, ask yourself: "am I prepared to give 20 hours of my life to this person?"
  • Guys spend an average of 83 minutes grooming themselves. He spends 10 minutes. 
  • He flies his own page and has a driver. That saves time - but is "elitist" he admits. 
  • He almost never talks on the phone - he uses messaging clients instead. 
  • He doesn't drink. 
  • He doesn't do business meals - he hates them.  He saves meals for family and friends.
  • He shows up on time. 
  • Social media works for him. Twitter is his best search engine. He asks questions. He hires people...
  • He sleeps with his baby. Sleeping is important - and you should share it with the people you love
  • He goes to conferences - but says "no" to a lot of them. Saying "no" is a huge part of managing your time. 
  • He devotes time to philanthropy - because he enjoys and believes in it.
  • He spends wight weeks sailing - with his family and friends. And he doesn't pretend that he's working. But it's great for problem-solving
  • Oh, and he has a great team. 

But it's not for everyone. You have to be able to delegate - you have to say goodbye to having things done exactly the way you wont them done, and to decision making - but it gives you your time back. 

Tom Katis

Voxer turns your phone into a walkie-talkie. Folks download it, try it and realise that it's a bit more than that. It was born out of frustration with existing push-to-talk systems and of founder Tom Katis's experiences in Afghanistan -  the "complete inability to multi-task while being shot out". He served twice, and was in Silicon Valley between those two occasions. When he went back, he was really conscious of how badly designed so many of the tools they had were. 

They key to Voxer is that everybody gets the message - they can listen live, but if they don't, they still get the message as part of a threaded conversation. He suggests that the technology underlying had to unite live transmission with e-mail like message transmission. Live systems have to interrupt - which is why people tend to use messaging systems. Voxer gets around that by letting you jump in at any point when you realise your friend is talking - and the system plays the message so far a little faster so you start to catch up. 

He's cagey about releasing download figures, as he think's that's a vanity metric. Engagement is his preferred measure - how many people use the app daily, and he claims to have "exceptional" engagement. Growth really shot up when they went cross-platform. 

He doesn't believe that we're all going to become deaf as the world becomes mobile - it's just that the live voice system doesn't make it easy. There's room for a new way of doing that, and that's what he's see Voxer as. It's a useful application, which people get a lot of fun from, and he wants to see it grow all over the place. And he disagrees with the idea that startup life is all about the team, not the idea and pivot, pivot, pivot. He's keen on being determined to make an idea work...

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Le Web category.

be2camp is the previous category.

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