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November 08, 2008

One Reason I'm Blogging Again

Recently I was looking for something in my blog archives and found this entry, from December 2003:

[...] Social networking isn't a fad, it's a huge trend, and we're just at the start of it.

When social networks reach a billion humans through their cell phones, when social networks form the open directories of the future, when we share our words, our sounds, and our images with our social networks on a continuous basis, when we leave behind trails of the experiences that form our lives, when these trails live in multiple networks and are interconnected, persistent, available, and malleable... then we'll begin to comprehend how social networking will change us, how it will change our perception of ourselves and those around us, how it will change the fundamental nature of how we create, sustain, and destroy relationships.

Oh, and this is all going to happen within five years or so. Get ready.

That was exactly four years and eleven months ago.

May 01, 2007

Boosman versus Searls on the Future of Blogging, Revisited

In 2002, I wrote an entry on the subject of selective privacy for bloggers (for which I created the term 'privacy rings'). After discussing some of the complexities of selective privacy, I wrote:

This problem is difficult enough today when the vast majority of the content created for blogs is created by bloggers themselves. It will grow exponentially worse when we carry devices capable of posting continuous streams of updated data to our blogs (if we call them that). Imagine your cell phone after next uploading GPS coordinates, the names of nearby detected devices, call records, pictures, audio and video clips, and so on. How will we control access to such information?
Doc Searls read my entry and wrote:
I never liked the "It's the ______ (economy, war, oil, user, rules, latency, research, sex, games, runtime, comedy), stupid" line. But it's a good working cliché;, so let's add one more log to its fire: writing.

This morning I came to the conclusion, after reading Frank Boosman's pseudorandom blog, that blogging is about nothing more than writing -- and that more of us will be writing to more people, with more effect, because of it.

I replied:

As for Doc's thesis... as much as I respect Doc, I disagree with what he's saying here. To me, it's akin to someone in 1993 saying that the Internet was all about Usenet newsgroups. Like many other early Internet users, I posted regularly to newsgroups back then, but as new types of Web-based services became available, not only did many new Internet users not seek out newsgroups, even some existing newsgroup users like me gravitated away from them.

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

First, was I correct about the growth rate of blogging? According to Technorati, as of March 2007, there were 70 million blogs, with the number of blogs doubling every 320 days. In other words, when the five-year anniversary of my post rolls around this December, there should be something like 110 million blogs. I predicted there would be somewhere between 50 million and 500 million, so I'm comfortable with that.

Now, though, to the central issue: was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? Technorati tracks blogs, which I think generally fit Doc's text-centric definition of blogging. Could it be, though, that the growth of non-text-centric blogs is higher? The New York Times suggests that perhaps it is:

The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or their latest haircut.

New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably, to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.

Unlike the older networking sites, which are still largely used on PCs, these new phone-oriented services are bringing the burgeoning culture of exhibitionism to more exotic and more personal locations. They are also contributing to the general barrage of white noise and information overload -- something that even some participants say they feel ambivalent about.

The article uses Kyte, Twitter, and Radar as examples of services that fall into this category. Interestingly, the article doesn't refer to this as blogging, but as social networking. But I doubt the everyday users of these services think of what they're doing as 'social networking', much less 'blogging'. Is there a name for what they're doing? I ask because I've predicted privately (at least I can't find a reference in my blog archives) that blogging might not be called blogging when it becomes about sharing streams of one's life.

So there are 70 million blogs, and for the sake of discussion, let's say that they're all text-centric. But how many Twitter accounts are there? 60,000, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. How many Kyte or Radar accounts? What about a service such as Snapvine? More broadly, how many people use Flickr? According to this graph, as of November 2006, Flickr had 20 million users. That's one photo sharing service alone that is 28 percent as large as the entire blogosphere. How many people have posted a video to YouTube? I don't know, though I do know that as of late last year, YouTube users were posting more than 65,000 new videos per day.

My question was, was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? If you use Doc's definition as blogging being about writing, then no, I wasn't. We have over two orders of magnitude more bloggers than we had four and a half years ago, but those blogs are typically text-centric. But I wasn't using Doc's definition: I was using my own, broader version of the term. So by my definition? I'd say the jury is out. I don't know of an authoritative source for tracking the broad community of people who 'blog' without writing traditional blog entries, whether using pictures, videos, audio, or other rich media. If I had to guess, I'd say that as of today, there are fewer people doing so than people who blog by writing. But I'd also guess that the growth rate of non-text-centric blogging is much higher. It may well be that as of the five-year anniversary of my prediction, there will be more rich media bloggers than text-centric bloggers.

So the answer for my specific prediction is that we don't know yet. What about Doc's more general assertion? He wrote that "blogging is about nothing more than writing". Was he correct? I can't see how this can possibly be true, unless you adopt a narrow definition of blogging, in which case, it's a tautology. (In other words, if one defines blogging as 'writing an online diary', then Doc's statement equates to 'writing an online diary is about nothing more than writing', which says exactly zero.)

I'll see what I can do to track down better statistics and revisit this issue later this year.

February 28, 2006

Lazy Me

In my previous entry, I wrote:

The next question is, will there be 50-500 million bloggers within another two years?
Of course, I could have taken 15 seconds to visit Technorati and see that it is currently tracking 29.1 million blogs. A year ago, the figure was 7.3 million blogs tracked, and a year before that, it was 2.0 million. A reasonable back-of-the-envelope estimate would be 250-500 million blogs within two years, unless the growth rate tapers off.

Checking Up on the Crystal Ball

In December 2002, I wrote:

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

From a story in today's Business Journal:

Sony Ericsson and Google Inc. said on Tuesday they have signed a deal to make a phone whose owners will be able to easily file to a personal blog.

Sony Ericson said all of its future mobile phones will come with Google's Blogger and Web Search features.

Owners will need a blogger.com account to file stories via their mobile phone.

It is the first time a mobile phone will come with tools for blogging directly from a handset.

The software will first appear on the recently announced K610 UMTS phone and new flagship K800 and K790, available by June.

So far, so good. The next question is, will there be 50-500 million bloggers within another two years?

March 21, 2005

The Good Guys Win One

This has been covered extensively already (Slashdot, boing boing, AP), but let me be the latest to congratulate the team at Ludicorp, makers of the wildly popular photo sharing service Flickr, on their acqusition by Yahoo, announced yesterday. This is special for me because I served as a member of Ludicorp's Board of Directors over the last year, and thus had the chance to watch closely (albeit from afar) as Stewart Butterfield, Caterina Fake, and the entire Flickr team built something out of nothing.

This is from a message that Stewart sent me 22 November 2003 (I don't think he'd mind this excerpt being posted). At the time, Ludicorp was focused on its social networking game, GNE.

So, I am back & there is not too much to report from NYC...

I would like to talk to you again though -- while there, I had what I think was a pretty awesome idea to leverage the software that we have right now -- maybe 4 weeks of additions and we could have a full blown instant photo sharing site with all kinds of awesome group and social networking capabilities (tentatively called 'Flicker').

For those of you who are software entrepreneurs, this probably sounds pretty familiar. "We have this great new idea! And we can do it in a month!" Goodness knows I've been down that path myself many, many times. The amazing thing was that, after a bit of thought and planning, Stewart and the team actually did it. Flickr went public as a beta site 20 February 2004 -- not much more than a month after work was started on it.

One of the most interesting aspects of being involved (in a small way) with Flickr has been to watch how the team took a space -- photo sharing -- that was considered played out and showed that it hadn't really been done right at all. Ofoto, Shutterfly, and the like had been around for a while, but they were conceived as mechanisms to enable photo print purchasing. Stewart and the team saw Flickr from the start as a open-architecture Web service. Every time they had a decision to make that involved greater or lesser degrees of openness, they chose more openness -- and those decisions led to the creation of an ecosystem around Flickr.

So what have we learned from Flickr? How about this?

Open API Web services + open data repositories = Web ecosystems
Or something like that. Stewart has been talking about this with vastly more authority.

On a more personal note, I couldn't be happier for Stewart, Caterina, and the entire Flickr team. They're smart, they've worked like hell to get where they are, and I can't think of a more deserving group of people. The good guys win one! Congratulations, Flickrites!

April 09, 2004

The Economist on LinkedIn (et. al.)

The Economist has a nice piece on business-focused social network services, with the most ink being given over to LinkedIn:

A crop of business-networking firms -- LinkedIn is the most popular -- that let individuals mine the connections of friends-of-friends online, has sprung up in the past three years. After a quiet start, their e-mails are becoming ubiquitous. The idea is that finding a job, freelance project or new employee is easier when trusted friends make the introductions. Already, they have attracted hundreds of thousands of subscribers, mostly through word of mouth...

LinkedIn, with over 400,000 registered users, is invitation-only. It focuses on facilitating one-to-one connections, not community-building. It claims to log 20,000 completed connections a month. In November, Sequoia, a leading venture capitalist, invested $4.7m in it. But so far, there are no plans to charge for its service.

Way to go, Reid and crew!

February 12, 2004

Flickr Launches

A little over a week ago, in writing about joining Ludicorp's board of directors, I wrote the following:

Along with their public work on GNE, they've been in stealth mode, working on a new application of their technologies -- the idea for which their advisory board and I all feel strongly to be extremely compelling. Stay tuned for more in the very near future.
This project is now out of stealth mode. Stewart Butterfield launched Flickr during his talk at the Emerging Technologies Conference in San Diego.

From an end-user viewpoint, Flickr is chat + photo sharing + social networking. If you think about it from a photo sharing-centric point of view (which is only one way of looking at it), the social networking determines with whom you want to share your photos, while the chat provides a narrative context for them. But it's subtler than that. Is Flickr a photo sharing application? Yes. Is it a chat service? Yes. Is it a social networking tool? Yes.

In any case, Flickr is very, very cool, and well worth a try.

From a technical standpoint, Flickr is built on Ludicorp's existing engine technology, which means it's a Flash front end communicating with a J2EE back end using an XML-based protocol. The amazing thing is that the current public beta of Flickr represents just two months of work -- that's how long ago Stewart had the idea and decided to focus on it. Honestly, I'm blown away to see how much the team has accomplished in such a short period of time.

Congratulations to Stewart, Caterina, and the whole team at Ludicorp!

(Coverage of Flickr: Marc Canter, Cory Doctorow, Caterina Fake, Myles Grant, Ross Mayfield.)

February 02, 2004

Joining Ludicorp's Board

I'm delighted to report today's announcement (PDF press release here) by Ludicorp that I've joined their board of directors.

Based in Vancouver, Ludicorp has built an engine to enable the development of real-time social computing applications. The engine includes support for identity, presence, messaging, relationships, and groups -- and does all of this in real time, fast enough for entertainment applications. Ludicorp's engine makes it far easier, faster, and cheaper to develop the next generation of Internet applications -- applications that incorporate social networks not as their raison d'être, but as a part of an integrated and compelling experience. Think of it as Groupware for Play (which conveniently happens to be Ludicorp's slogan).

As a testbed for their engine, and as an interesting application in its own right, Ludicorp has been developing the very cool Game Neverending (GNE), "a surreal, absurd, intelligent and humorous game of political, social and economic interactions." Along with their public work on GNE, they've been in stealth mode, working on a new application of their technologies -- the idea for which their advisory board and I all feel strongly to be extremely compelling. Stay tuned for more in the very near future.

The real reason I agreed to join Ludicorp's board was because of its President and founder, Stewart Butterfield. Stewart has a great reputation in the software and social networking communities, as evidenced by the extremely high quality of the people he's been able to attract as employees and advisors (myself excluded). I've been continually impressed with not only his vision for the future, but also his ability to articulate this vision and then to go build it. Many people have visions, but being able to bring them to life -- and to motivate others to help one do so -- is a rare talent.

Keep your eye on Ludicorp. Stewart and his team are building something special. You heard it here first.

December 08, 2003

Self-Referentiality

I just realized the self-referentiality of my previous entry.

The discovery of a trivial piece of information on a social network led me to write an entry about the impact of the knowledge carried within social networks on interpersonal relationships, with my experience as the catalyst. I myself have added to the "persistent, available, and malleable" information about my life and my relationships -- however abstractly -- using social software (Movable Type). The act of documenting this phenomenon has increased my participation in it.

Too Much Knowledge ≠ Good Thing?

I've spent a good deal of time discussing social networks with people far more knowledgeable than me. I use social networks for a variety of purposes (especially LinkedIn for business networking, with Ryze, Friendster, Tribe, and other social networking services trailing far behind). Until, however, an experience today in which I discovered new information on a social network, I failed to appreciate how personal an effect social networks (as currently instantiated by social networking services) could have.

Some years ago, going through a difficult personal situation, I by chance found another participant's accounts of the situation in a public place. I understood their motivation as well as their right to do so, but this understanding didn't make it any easier for me to read what they had written. What happens as more and more of us capture our interpersonal relationships through social networking services? What happens when the trail of our personal lives is out there, waiting to be followed, always just a click away, for us or anyone else? What will the effect of this be? Will more knowledge empower us? Will transparency in social networks fundamentally improve human relationships? Or is too much knowledge sometimes a bad thing? Is there information we're better off without? I honestly don't know, but I think we're going to find out, and soon. Social networking isn't a fad, it's a huge trend, and we're just at the start of it.

When social networks reach a billion humans through their cell phones, when social networks form the open directories of the future, when we share our words, our sounds, and our images with our social networks on a continuous basis, when we leave behind trails of the experiences that form our lives, when these trails live in multiple networks and are interconnected, persistent, available, and malleable... then we'll begin to comprehend how social networking will change us, how it will change our perception of ourselves and those around us, how it will change the fundamental nature of how we create, sustain, and destroy relationships.

Oh, and this is all going to happen within five years or so. Get ready.

August 12, 2003

FOAF and the Semantic Web

Via Marc Canter comes an essay by Shelley Powers, "FOAF, Flocking, and the Semantics of Starlings". A brief excerpt:

Marc Cantor and Eric Sigler are working on this thing that Marc is calling a "PeopleAggregator". From bits and pieces I've picked up at their weblogs, in emails, and in comments elsewhere, this application will be able to create and consume and maintain FOAF files as well as networks of interlinked people who 'know' each other, as defined in these files. More, if someone within the network designates you a 'friend' in their FOAF file, the PeopleAggregator sends you an email asking for some form of confirmation...

Rather than the network of friends being maintained behind walls ala Friendster, it's out in the open with decentralized FOAF files that anyone can read. Now, what will become the social context behind the relationships denoted as resources withing these FOAF files? And what can be the social consequences of same?

Personally, I expect the first 'Technorati of FOAF popularity" before the year is out. I wonder, what crown will we give to the man and woman voted most popular? Prom king and queen? I also wonder, how soon will we get emails saying, "Please remove me from your FOAF file -- you don't really know me" How soon will we get emails saying, "Why am I not in your FOAF file"? ...

[W]ebloggers are becoming the Semantic Web lab rats -- through our curiosity and our interest, we're the first to test these Semantic Web tools outside of labs and universities. We're the ones that propagate the data and the technologies. When faced with confusion, we'll wing it. We did so with RSS 1.0, we're doing so with Pie/Echo/Atom and now we're continuing the trend with FOAF.

FOAF is becoming the bastard child that grew from the seeds that fell between the cracks of W3C debates, or were discarded with all the other messy 'touchy feely' stuff, such as social context surrounding URIs. It's the wolf child tempered in the pack, surviving on an existence of "keep what works, throw out the rest". One can't blame it, then, if it, and we, don't behave properly when invited to the Semantic Web tea.

There's much more to the essay. Recommended.

June 17, 2003

Business 2.0 on LinkedIn

Writing for Business 2.0, Rafe Needleman recently provided some of the first press coverage of LinkedIn:

Today's column got its start when Kevin Werbach, another tech commentator, sent me a request to join his "network" at the new site LinkedIn. I was curious about LinkedIn, so Werbach helped me contact its founder, Reid Hoffman -- even though Werbach doesn't know Hoffman personally (the two just "have friends in common").

Werbach helped me meet someone useful to my work. And this is just what Hoffman is trying to systematize with his service.

LinkedIn is a tool for turning your friends' connections into your own. It allows you to see a list of everybody in your own circle and in the circles of your listed friends. Now that I'm connected to Werbach and Hoffman, I might see that I have a connection to, say, Bill Clinton. But I won't know the path -- which friend of mine is connected to him or how many links away he is; LinkedIn doesn't tell me. But it allows me to compose a note to Clinton, which is then routed to the closest of my connections to him. This person, I hope, will then forward my message, essentially vouching for me as he or she does so -- and so on, until Clinton gets my note and chooses to reply to me (or not).

The difference between LinkedIn and most other social networking systems, like the first-generation Six Degrees or the newer Ryze, is that LinkedIn is invitation-only. You can't barge into the network by yourself. It's like a good cocktail party.

I find that I have to explain to people exactly how LinkedIn is different -- that's it's invitation-only, that you can't be contacted by a stranger without referrals from mutual friends, that there's no spam -- but it's tough. Existing social networking services, as well as the decline of trust on the Internet -- have set certain expectations among people, especially the high-level professionals LinkedIn is targeting.

Still, with improved marketing messages (which have already been usefully tweaked) and with growing buzz, I have no doubt in LinkedIn's fortunes. I've already been using it to make contacts myself, and at that, its primary task, it works wonderfully.

May 08, 2003

Mr. Social Networking

I wrote about LinkedIn a couple of days ago. It appears to be gaining momentum rapidly; my network of connections (which I believe is the set of people from whom I'm separated by three degrees or less) has grown to over 1,000 people without much effort on my part.

Any thoughts I had of congratulating myself on my 19 direct connections on LinkedIn melted away as I watched Joi Ito's direct network grow... and grow... and grow. He's up to 220 now -- 95 ahead of the second best-connected user and a full 170 connections ahead of the user in third place.

As Count von Count would say, that's one... one connected Japanese über-digiratus... ah ah ah.

May 06, 2003

LinkedIn Links In

I've mentioned Reid Hoffman in my blog more than once, usually noting that he was in stealth mode. No more.

Today, Reid went live with LinkedIn, his new business. It's a social networking service, not wholly dissimilar from services such as Friendster and Ryze. LinkedIn, however, is completely focused on professional networking, and relies exclusively on mediated personal introductions to bring people together.

LinkedIn went live to a limited group of testers last night, and then was opened up for new members earlier today. What surprised me was how polished it was right out of the gate. It's an impressive service. I think Reid has a future hit on his hands.