free html hit counter The Web As Platform Archives - Page 15 of 26 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Social Editors and Super Nodes – An Appreciation of RSS

By - December 03, 2010

RSS comments.pngYesterday I posted what was pretty much an offhand question – Is RSS Dead? I had been working on the FM Signal, a roundup of the day’s news I post over at the FM Blog. A big part of editing that daily roundup is spent staring into my RSS reader, which culls about 100 or so feeds for me.

I realized I’ve been staring into an RSS reader for the better part of a decade now, and I recalled the various posts I’d recently seen (yes, via my RSS reader) about the death of RSS. Like this one, and this one, and even this one, from way back in 2006. All claimed RSS was over, and, for the most part, that Twitter killed it.

I wondered to myself – am I a dinosaur? I looked at Searchblog’s RSS counter, which has been steadily growing month after month, and realized it was well over 200,000 (yesterday it added 4K folks, from 207K to 211K). Are those folks all zombies or spam robots? I mean, why is it growing? Is the RSS-reading audience really out there?

So I asked. And man, did my RSS readers respond. More than 100 comments in less than a day – the second most I’ve ever gotten in that period of time, I think. And that’s from RSS readers – so they had to click out of their comfy reader environment, come over to the boring HTML web version of my site, pass the captcha/spam test, put in their email, and then write a comment. In short, they had to jump through a lot of hoops to let me know they were there. Hell, Scoble – a “super node” if ever there was one – even chimed in.

I’ve concluded that each comment someone takes the time to leave serves as a proxy for 100 or so folks who probably echo that sentiment, but don’t take the time to leave a missive. It’s my rough guess, but I think it’s in the ballpark, based on years of watching traffic flows and comment levels on my posts. So 100 comments in 24 hours equates to a major response on this small little site, and it’s worth contemplating the feedback.

One comment that stood out for me came from Ged Carroll, who wrote:

Many people are happy to graze Twitter, but the ‘super nodes’ that are the ‘social editors’ need a much more robust way to get content: RSS. If you like RSS is the weapon of choice for the content apex predator, rather than the content herbivores.

A “content apex predator”! Interesting use of metaphor – but I think Ged is onto something here. At Federated, we’ve made a business of aligning ourselves with content creators who have proved themselves capable of convening an engaged and influential audience. That’s the heart of publishing – creating a community of readers/viewers/users who like what you have to say or the service you offer.

And while more and more folks are creating content of value on the web, that doesn’t mean they are all “publishers” in the sense of being professionals who make their living that way. Ged’s comment made me think of Gladwell’s “connectors” – there certainly is a class of folks on the web who derive and create value by processing, digesting, considering and publishing content, and not all of them are professionals in media (in fact, most of them aren’t).

In my post I posited that perhaps RSS was receding into a “Betamax” phase, where only “professionals” in my industry (media) would be users of it. I think I got that wrong, at least in spirit. There is most definitely an RSS cohort of sorts, but it’s not one of “media professionals.” Instead, I think “social editors” or “super nodes” is more spot on. These are the folks who feel compelled to consume a lot of ideas (mainly through the written word), process those ideas, and then create value by responding or annotating those ideas. They derive social status and value by doing so – we reward people who provide these services with out attention and appreciation. They have more Twitter followers than the average bear. They probably have a blog (like Ged does). And they’re most likely the same folks who are driving the phenomenal growth of Tumblr.

Social editors who convene the largest audiences can actually go into business doing what they love – that’s the premise of FM’s initial business model.

But there orders of magnitude more folks who do this well, but may not want to do it full time as a business, or who are content with the influence of an audience in the hundreds or thousands, as opposed to hundreds of thousands or millions, like many FM sites.

I’m learning a lot about this cohort via FM’s recent acquisition of BigTent and Foodbuzz – both of these businesses have successfully created platforms where influential social editors thrive.

RSS is most certainly not dead, but as many commentators noted, it may evolve quite a bit in the coming years. It has so much going for it – it’s asynchronous, it’s flexible, it’s entirely subjective (in that you pick your feeds yourself, as opposed to how Facebook works), it allows for robust UIs to be built around it. It’s a fundamentally “Independent Web” technology.

But RSS also has major problems, in particular, there’s not a native monetization signal that goes with it. Yesterday’s post proves I have a lot of active RSS readers, but I don’t have a way to engage them with intelligent marketing (save running Pheedo or Adsense, which isn’t exactly what I’d call a high-end solution). I, like many others, pretty much gave up on RSS as a brand marketing vehicle a couple of years back. There was no way to “prove” folks were actually paying attention, and without that proof, marketers will only buy on the come – that’s why you see so many direct response ads running in RSS feeds.

It does seem that no one is really developing “for” RSS anymore.

Except, I am. At FM we use RSS in various robust fashions to pipe content from our network of hundreds (now thousands) of talented “social editors” into multitudes of marketing and content programs. (Check out FoodPress for just one example). We’ve even developed a product we call “superfeeds” that allows us to extend what is possible with RSS. In short, we’d be lost without RSS, and from the comments on my post, it seems a lot of other folks would be too, and in particular, folks who perform the critical role of “super node” or “social editor.”

So long live the social editor, and long live RSS. Perhaps it’s time to take another look at how we might find an appropriate monetization signal for the medium. I’m pretty sure that marketers would find conversing with couple hundred thousand “super nodes” valuable – if only we could figure a way to make that value work for all involved.

Hmmmm…..

  • Content Marquee

Is RSS Really Dead?

By - December 02, 2010

IMy Shrook.png‘m usually the last guy to know, and the first to admit it, but is RSS really dead? I keep seeing posts claiming Twitter and Facebook have essentially replaced RSS as the way folks filter their news these days, but I for one am still addicted to my RSS client (it’s Shrook, for anyone who still cares).  

Perhaps RSS isn’t dead, but instead it’s professionalizing. It’s the Beta to the VHS of Twitter. Higher quality, better signal, but more expensive in terms of time, and used only by folks “in the industry.”

I write, every single day (especially with Signal), and I consume a lot of feeds in order to do that. I need a professional tool that lets me do that efficiently, and so far nothing beats an RSS reader. But I’m serious about my feeds, and most folks, I guess aren’t.

Or are you? I mean, sure, Feedburner is languishing over at Google, I hear, but

Potemkim or Real.pnghell, I have 207,000 readers consuming my feed, at least, that’s what Google tells me. And that’s up from about 170K earlier this year. Are you out there, RSS readers? Or am I blasting XML into a ghost town?

Just wonderin. Shout out if you’re here, guys. And shout out if you’re reading this because someone pointed to it on Twitter….

Groupon: That's More Like It

By - November 30, 2010

marissa_mayer.jpg

ATD is reporting that Google is offering well more than twice what had been previously offered – $6 billion, instead of $2.5 billion. That sounds more like it. As I wrote yesterday, $2.5 billion sounded very low for this particular asset. (And this from the guy who thought YouTube was overpriced.)

Clearly, that leak to Vator.tv last weekend was timed to push a deal point, I’m guessing.

Key to this deal is Marissa Mayer, who recently took over local for Google and was promoted to boot. This would be her defining deal, and the integration of the acquisition would be critical. Google has had mixed results in this department so far – YouTube is clearly on its way to being a winner, but took far too long to get there. Many small pickups have proven to be big winners – Applied Semantics comes to mind. And Blogger, FeedBurner, and many other small acquisitions never really found their footing, but DoubelClick was a huge win.

The Final Web 2 Conversation: Evan Williams

By - November 19, 2010

Ev recently turned over CEO duties to Dick Costolo, but it’s clear he’s still very, very engaged. Highlights for me included when Ev spoke of his mission to lower barriers to publishing, avoided talking about financing, and needled me a few times, in a humorous way, of course.


Fred Wilson and John Doerr: A Great Conversation On Financing

By -

A highlight for me at Web 2 was watching John Heilemann interview Fred and John, two giants of the VC world. This was a pretty historic pairing, and I’m very pleased we made it happen. For your enjoyment:


Speaking with Yuri Milner – Business But No Politics

By -

My conversation with recently emerged super investor Yuri Milner was fascinating, and it got a bit tense when I brought up the recent trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and its implications for doing business out of Russia. I felt it was a pertinent question, but I’m not certain Milner agreed. What do you think?


At Web 2 Summit…Here's the LiveStream!

By - November 15, 2010

Postings have been and, through this week, will continue to be pretty light. The reason: I’m hosting, with my partner Tim O’Reilly, the seventh annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

There should be a lot of news here, starting with some of our own – for the first time ever the Web 2 Summit will be livestreamed, for free, to anyone. The stream can be embedded anywhere, so I’m adding it to this site below. If you can’t make it in person, well, now you can check it out on the web.

Enjoy! (Update – so far, nearly 75,000 folks have watched the livestream. That’s pretty cool – about one hundred times the number of folks in the room at any give time!)

web20tv on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

Evan Williams at Web 2: What's In A Platform?

By - November 04, 2010

_@user_40285.jpgI met with Ev at Twitter headquarters yesterday, a prelude to our conversation in less than two weeks time at Web 2 (I also spoke with him last year). As usual he was in a thoughtful mood, though an unexpected visit from Biz added some levity to the proceedings.

Williams will be the final speaker at Web 2 this year, a program that begins with Eric Schmidt, continues with Robin Li, Ari Emmanuel, Shantanu Narayen, Jim Balsille, Mark Zuckerberg, Carol Bartz, and so many more.

So by the time we get to Ev’s session, something of a grand narrative should have unfolded, if I’ve done my job right. And it feels right to me to conclude with Twitter, because it is at once the growth story of the year, as well as the enigma – what, exactly, *is* Twitter, now that the service is pushing 200 million users and on the verge of a truly scaleable revenue model?

I found Ev’s thoughts refreshing. He recently handed the CEO title over to Dick Costolo (see my interview of him here), and is focusing on product. As we spoke, however, it strikes me that “product’ is a bit too pedestrian a term for the issues and opportunities that Ev is tackling. They have a tiger by the tail. But what, exactly, is the nature of this tiger?

Twitter is a service, most would say, one that, by its own definition, is “the best way to discover what’s new in your world.” But it’s also a network, one with important social overtones – Twitter has created a public attention and interest graph. And it’s a platform, on which many developers have created applications and services. And of course it’s an emerging standard, of sorts, not unlike email – a set of protocols for short messaging that has become a de facto standard across the web (including mobile, of course). And related: Twitter is beginning to challenge search in terms of driving referral traffic around the web.

But Twitter wants to be more than just a protocol, Ev tells me, and that leads to perhaps the most contentious debate around the company: Should it be centralized, or decentralized? Those who have invested their time or resources in the Twitter “ecosystem” are increasingly complaining that Twitter should stick to a decentralized service model, letting other companies create value at the point of usage – in essence, let the developers determine how best to use Twitter. After all, that was how the service started. But Twitter has made it clear that it has more robust plans. It’s not that the company doesn’t want developers adding value, Williams argues, it’s that the company wants developers to add value beyond what’s possible right now. And to do that, Twitter has work to do on its own platform.

We’ll be talking about this and much more when we convene in ten days. What do you want to hear about from Ev? Here are a few questions to get your thoughts started, please leave yours in comments.

- How is the “new Twitter” doing? What have you learned from how usage patterns have changed? Can you share any data on how Twitter is being used now that might give us new insights?

- Tell us about the transition from CEO to founder with product focus? How is that going?

- The ongoing grumbling over Twitter obviating developers’ businesses by adding new features and services. What is your philosophy there? What do you wish developers would create that they are not creating now? What work does Twitter have to do to help developers create more sustainable, long term value?

- How are the new ad programs going? Tell us about the tests with HootSuite (in stream promoted tweets). When might we expect this to roll out at scale?

- One of the chief complaints about Twitter is finding relevance and signal from all the tweets. Are you working on this and what might we expect in the future? Might we expect to see “relevance” in the timeline?

- What do you make of the whole “open vs. closed” debate – and the “Web is Dead” meme? Can we unpack the decentralized vs. centralized debate?

- There have been rumors of another big financing. Shall we put them to rest?

Let me know your thoughts in comments. And while you are at it, click on over to my posts for Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, RIM’s Jim Balsillie,  DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen at Web 2: Apple? Who Needs 'Em…

By - October 28, 2010

_@user_64196.jpgAdobe CEO Shantanu Narayen has come to Web 2 as many times as Mark Zuckerberg, and like the Facebook CEO, he’s had one heckuva year. From the fallout with Apple over Flash to the rumors of a Microsoft takeover (which he’s denied), Narayen has had more than his share of challenges this past 12 months. So it should be interesting to hear what he has to say in two weeks time. Tim had some interesting things to say about Adobe in our webcast yesterday, I’ll post a link once the video is live. Meanwhile, what do you want to hear from Narayen?

While you are at it, click on over to my posts for RIM’s Jim Balsillie,  DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Here are a few thought starters:

- Why do you think the stock market liked the idea of a Microsoft purchase so much? (The stock shot up on rumors earlier this month).

- What is the future of Flash? How might it play in a cloud computing world? Could you see “Flash in the cloud”?

- How is the integration of Omniture working out? How does it complement Adobe’s core offerings?

- Are you concerned about questions of privacy, as Flash cookies combined with Omniture are starting to get more notice?

- If Steve Jobs were with us on stage, what would you say to him?

- The criticisms of Flash around performance seem to never go away. What’s your response to them?

- What is Adobe’s position on the Chrome OS and Android?

Please add your thoughts in comments!

Web 2 Conversation: RIM's Jim Balsillie

By -

jim_balsillie.jpgContinuing my tour of selected speakers at Web 2 this year, I alight upon RIM’s Jim Balsillie, the man responsible for guiding the Blackberry brand through the Skylla of Apple and Kharybdis of Android – or is that the other way ’round?

In any case, RIM has long been the king of enterprise smart phones, but that grip is arguably slipping. However, a suite of new products and an invigorated approach to developers is showing promise. Also eagerly anticipated: The Playbook, RIM’s first tablet product.

Balsille hasn’t been shy when it comes to Apple, he was recently quoted thusly: “We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple.”

Yep, I’m looking foward to speaking with Jim next month! What would you like to ask him? While you are at it, click on over to my posts for DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Here are a few thought starters for Balsille:

- What are your expectations for the Playbook? Can or will it cross over from business to consumer?

- RIM is behind when it comes to the developer support, at least perceptually. What are you doing to address that? Do you have a different strategy from Apple and Google?

- Related, what is RIM’s advertising strategy? You currently work with a number of networks, but is there a larger play coming?

- What do you make of Apple?

- Of Android, and HP/Palm? Windows 7?

- Would you ever make an Android-friendly Blackberry?

- What features do you wish RIM had now that we might anticipate?

- Blackberries are often called “the phones you get if you have to have a keyboard.” They are also seen as mainly enterprise phones. Is that fair?

- RIM has been the subject of takeover speculation – do you see that as a distraction?

- Do you see the carrier world shifting in any way?

Leave your questions in comments, and hope to see you at Web 2 this year!