Why Twitter is just an awful amalgamated mess for me

Twitter is described as new media and, more specifically, a new medium.  It’s a replacement for RSS, or so many say , eliminating the need for most blogs, etc.  Here’s why I don’t buy that.  When news flows to me, I really want to be able to scan the news from the time I left off to the time I’ve picked it up again.  The real world analog would be knowing that yesterday’s news was in yesterday’s paper, and today’s news is in today’s paper.  If I want to skip ahead and ignore yesterday’s news, I can, but if I want to go back that’s an option as well.  When I’m done, I can throw away the papers as acknowledgement I’ve read them.  In the RSS world, most readers have already implemented this type of workflow, but Twitter clients universally treat Twitter as a stream and do not give you the ability to easily establish what you’ve read and what you haven’t.  Ironically, the last link even advocates that this is good for workflow, and I agree if you consider the amount of traffic that I used to get in my RSS reader when blogs were as much inane chatter as Twitter holds today.  However, with the absence of noisy traffic, RSS has become an extremely high signal to noise method of consuming the news, and the “time value decay” as Tom Tunguz calls it really doesn’t work for me when consuming items I actually want to read.

For a stream of “chat”, which is essentially what Twitter is, to come streaming by where I’m going to assume the communication is very low value, then I think it should behave like oldschool IRC and chatrooms, or like Campfire for the hipper web-guys.  In that model, conversation organizes around topics.  I don’t have a bunch of people just shouting out hoping people will follow them, people individually join conversation topics, some choosing to stay there and establish an identity for themselves and their handle around that topic, and others flying from topic to topic.  Either way, Twitter doesn’t work in that model.  Sure, there’s hashtags, but frankly every time I follow a hashtag I rarely see a conversation, more like that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where you walk down the street and hear all these soothsayers and prophets spouting prognostications… they seem like a hashtag to me.

I’d like to see a de-centralized protocol that gives us an IRC for the web.  Short messages, but sent and hosted on our own servers, with the protocol bringing together the conversation in a way to subscribe to the entire “channel.”  Perhaps rather than being standing topics, they’d organize around a particular news item.  We could all contribute to the discussion, and the discussion would remain archived at that particular URL but the content would be contributed from each of our individual servers.  If for some reason we wanted to remove our portion of the conversation, we’d simply delete it from our server.  Web pages already routinely pull content from dozens of sites, so this doesn’t seem unfeasible.  I think Dave Winer has some very similar ideas, and I see him writing about them, but I’m at a loss to know whether we have the same idea.  I wish he had a place where his new vision for Internet conversation that he’s working on was clearly articulated very succinctly.

One other thing I’ve been meaning to mention, is why isn’t anything developed as a standard anymore?  When I was first coming onto the Internet, everything used open standards.  Now everything is proprietary.  I recently read Dave Winer’s piece from 1994 called “Bill Gates versus The Internet,” which isn’t really all that relevant for this discussion, except he said:

The next versions of Windows, Macintosh and OS/2 are all Internet clients, with the standards supported — Gopher, WAIS, FTP, Telnet, Mosaic, news groups, etc. It’s an incredible thing because none of the platform vendors had any say in the definition of these standards!

In 1994, the standards were winning, and now it’s time to start the next wave of new standards.  The type of conversation I’ve envisioning starts with a news topic or a blog post, and organizes itself, with content fed from any open source, and is discoverable on the web, indexable, and permanently referenceable.  I think we should build it.  Where can we bootstrap the conversation to build it?  Is Dave already building that?

Why I write here instead of there

I often consider moving what limited writing I do today over to other services (Tumblr, Posterus (which just sold), etc), but I don’t.  I’ve not given it much thought, other than I have this nagging fear that Dave Winer has articulated well in his last post:

Further, I am creating an archive of my writing, over many years. And if I scatter my writing all over the place, even if these services were part of the web, it would be against my interest to do that. Having it all in one place is value, to me at least.

Right now I’m using wordpress.com to publish the site, but up until about 6 months ago it was on my own servers.  That’s merely for convenience.  Wordpress gives me the opportunity to easily export everything from this site and import it into a site I’m hosting myself.  I really believe in Dave’s effort to get people to run their own servers, and at some point I’d like to contribute.  I’m just not a fan of his software stack or development environment (or Matt’s for that matter, the development environment not necessarily the software).  Maybe I should write my own, but just don’t have the time right now.

Holy Shit, 1.5 Years since my last post!!

Holy shit.  That’s crazy.  Wonder if anyone still reads this thing.  It appears to have been hax0r’d as there’s some links on my blogroll I didn’t add.  This WordPress version is crazy old now too.

So, things are going great at work.  Since my last posting I’ve signifcantly advanced in my management track and have something like 20 people working for me (although that’s about to go down a bit).  I have lots of interesting commentary on IT Management, and I suppose I’ll probably refactor this blog to voice my opinions on IT Operations.  Dunno if anyone even cares about such things, but we have a number of challenges I don’t mind sharing wisdom with the Internets on.

More to come in a week or two while I figure out what to do about this hosting situation and get this thing refactored.

My FireAnt Story

So, if you hadn’t seen the news FireAnt was acquired by Sonic Mountain (Odeo).  You can read recaps of the news on two of my favorite blog networks, NewTeeVee (run by Om Malik), and Tech Crunch (by Mike Arrington).

 I came to be involved in FireAnt through my connections to Jay Dedman and Josh Kinberg.  We had some discussions at Vloggercon in July of 2005 which extended into the following months involving my helping them get FireAnt off the ground.  I had started a project I was calling MediaFeedr, which would poll RSS feeds, examine any links, and then develop a new RSS 2.0 feed with enclosures for downloading into FireAnt.  The theory was that you could put any feed into MediaFeedr and then come out with any linked content as enclosures.  In reality, it never really got out of testing, but the initial feedback was good and I was proud of the code and the idea.

 Jay and Josh were in need of a directory.  Josh had put together some rudimentary code to implement some server side components to tie in the Mac and PC versions of FireAnt, but while Josh is an excellent visionary and a good leader, he is by his own admission a pretty poor coder.  I took the best of what I had and the best of what Josh had developed and we developed a videoblogging directory and some really innovative server side features to go along with with the video aggregation clients.  We spent months developing it, and we released it to the public on January 24th of 2006 (initial TechCrunch coverage can be found here).  We were ironically directly competing with Odeo at the time for one of the best directories available on the web.  It was developed with AJAX technology which at the time was still fairly new and required a lot of hand coding of JavaScript, etc.

 I was incredibly proud of the work I had done, but even by that point it was becoming obvious that the things we had thought were important weren’t what the market felt was important.  YouTube had in the course of a year become huge, and flash-based web video was where the traffic and the money was at.  The idea of aggregating different forms of video (of which Flash was incredibly hard to play on a PC based client and for the most part no sites supported RSS 2.0 with media enclosures) was falling by the way-side.  After a successful launch but a limit in the amount of video content to be obtained through podcasting, I left in March of 2006 shortly before Katie was born to pursue other opportunities and to limit my workschedule to spend time with my newborn child.

What went wrong then?  I’ve had over a year to reflect on this, and I think I can boil it down to a few choice areas where we wrong:

  • Too much focus on the business and not enough focus on the technology
    • We brought in BizDev people very early in the process, in fact before I even officially joined the company.
    • Our BizDev people were unsuccessful at selling the technology.  Simple fact is, they were opportunists who were looking to make a quick buck and really didn’t believe in the company other than they thought they had a gravy-train to ride on.  The early stages of the startup should focus on the technology first and the business second.
  • Poor initial design of the business and ownership structure
    • The initial design of the business was a 5 way partnership between two visionaries, two developers and one business development guy.  First of all, equal partnerships never work.  There was no clear leader and far too many chiefs without enough Indians.  When I was brought in, the initial founders were reticent to give up more of their ownership structure since it was already fairly deluted as it was.
  • We bet wrong
    • We bet people wanted offline content and simple aggregation of feeds across many websites across the Internet.  Fact was, people wanted one destination in their web browser to view content.  YouTube won, we lost.

 There were great people involved in the founding of the company, but there were just too many.  The next startup I do will have a clear leader, a core set of technology people, and we’ll worry about making money last.  There just isn’t enough of a small company to split it 7 ways.  It should be split three ways and then a quarter left over for the rest to come.  The development people, the ones doing the work to get the technology off the ground should come first.  I’m slightly bitter over the fact that I worked hundreds of hours and at the end of the whole story I ended up with virtually none of the company.  The technology I developed for them was critical to the initial success of the company and I felt from the beginning that even thought my work was highly valued, the ownership percentage was never ponied up.  This is probably why I left early and didn’t stick with the project.  I think had I have stuck with it and not run out of personal funds we probably could have been much more successful.  There were also numerous problems with the client development founders who were also having to work day jobs.  I was the best suited financially at that time due to my severance with Cingular to work for no money, and I was rewarded the least.

 While this may seem harsh to the people who were involved with the company, I want to point out that I feel no ill-will towards the people who I worked with.  Mistakes were made all around, and I have the highest respect for Josh, Jay, Daniel and Erik who were involved in the project during my tenure.  They are all excellent people, and I’d work with all of them again.  I only note these things largely for my own reference, and I point them out so that if I were to ever team up with these people again we can have an open and honest discussion of our mistakes so we don’t repeat them again.  This was a learning experience for all of us, and I hope that some time in the future I can find a way to work with these people again.

 I’d especially like to point out Josh’s effort.  Josh stuck with FireAnt from the beginning to the end.  Josh sacrificed far more than any of the rest of us, even delaying his wedding so that he could see this through to the end.  I consider Josh a close personal friend, and I’d jump at the chance to work with him again.  Josh is an excellent person of the highest moral caliber.  Josh has endured personal threats, personal hardship, and he has endured and completed this project while the rest of us moved on.  I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices he made, and I tip my hat to the Sonic Mountain team who more than the technology we developed got the best part of FireAnt when they got Josh.

 You can still see the technology I developed for FireAnt at getfireant.com.  Some of our more unscrupulous shareholders stole fireant.tv as part of a petty personal squabble, but at least it’s still available there.  To those of you shareholders who were involved in that, shame on you.  Being involved in a small company with no revenue is about sacrifice, dedication and a pursuit of developing your vision, not about cashing out.  Stealing money, lieing, and personal threats are no way to end a failed startup, and I hope you feel ashamed of your behavior.  You know who you are.

 Jay’s thoughts can be viewed here.  Josh’s thoughts can be viewed here.

Yes, it should be legal

Good post from Mark Cuban about the hypocrisy involved in having partially legalized gambling like we have in this country. Why is it legal some places and not others? Beats me. I ask the same question about why marijuana is illegal. More ramifications of a country founded by Puritans, and the case of marijuana, laws passed by racists (yes, I’m serious, look it up).

Web 2.0 Marketing

Tom has a good post over on his personal blog about marketing in the Web 2.0 age. Something we’re finding a lot of people are missing, especially in Arkansas, is how to integrate their web presence into their existing marketing strategies.

It’s especially fascinating to be bringing the web to people,especially skipping the last 10 years of the Internet, and trying to bring them up to what people are calling Web 2.0. People, even in Arkansas, are either going to get that the Internet is changing everything about the way they do business, from marketing to customer interaction, or go out of business. Tom’s a leading mind in this area, IMHO, right up with the best of them.

Why would you want to kill exclusives?

I like Steve Rubel. I like Robert Scoble too. Robert’s dead wrong on this one though. For some reason, bloggers seem to think that just because there’s more of us and anyone can contribute the conversation, that somehow everything has to change. Not so.

Perfect example, we just did a major release about 3 weeks ago of FireAnt. We spent a lot of time on the product. The directory was over 4 months in development. There were test sites available to the public about a month prior to release. We seeded the release out to trusted videobloggers and our users groups for the product to get feedback, but we asked all of them to remain quiet. They did. The reason? We wanted to give someone who had traction the exclusive to write about the new release such that we’d get a bit of a bang with our release instead of a gradual dull thud. That exclusive fell to Mike Arrington of TechCruch, and we were not disappointed. He got the exclusive, he was happy, his readers got the scoop the day it was released, and we got extended coverage in the blogosphere echo chamber because we gave a high-profile blogger the exclusive.

Steve groks it. I’m not sure why Chris and Robert seem to think everything has changed. I could have had the exclusive or given it to someone like my good friend Steve Garfield (whose readership/viewership is nothing to sneeze at), but why would I want to release something to my 200 readers and wait for it to maybe disseminate throughout the blogosphere when I can seed it to someone with a much larger and more influential readership? If we had given it to everyone all at once, we would have ended up with that dull thud I was talking about earlier. Somebody has to help control the noise, and a little bit of PR and marketing savvy can go a long way to doing that.