Twitter Killed My Blog and Comments Killed Our Links [en]

I hope the provocative title grabbed your attention.

Let me say it straight out: my blog is not dead, neither are our links.

But I still have a point.

Twitter is IRC on steroids, for those of you who have already experienced the irresistable draw of a chatroom full of smart witty people, 24/7. Twitter is my very own IRC channel, where I do not have to hear those I do not care about. It’s less geeky than IRC, which means that many of my “online spaces” collide there.

It’s intoxicating. I love it. I can spend all day there.

But that’s not why I would provocatively say that it has killed my blog. Twitter is a content-sharing space, not just a super IRC channel. Found an interesting link? Five years ago, it would have morphed into a blog post, because that was pretty much the only way to share it. Nowadays, dump it in Twitter. Arrived safely at destination? Again, 5 years ago, blog post. Now, tweet.

New tools have an impact on how we use old tools. Sometimes we abandon them altogether, but most of the time, we just redefine the way we use them. This is what I was trying to explore in the first panel I ever moderated, at BlogTalk 2008 (crappy video).

So, no, Twitter did not kill my blog, but take a group of bloggers and give them Twitter accounts, and the temperature of the blogosphere changes. All the high-speed stuff moves to Twitter.

If you just look at the present, it’s no big deal. People are still connecting. That’s what all this social media/software is about, right? Connecting people. Online. But the problem with us spending all our time swimming in the real-time stream is that it’s just that, a real-time stream. Not much is left of it once it has passed.

Take this short piece about translation I wrote nearly 10 years ago. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s still there, as readable as it was when I wrote it. Had this taken place on Twitter, nothing much would be left of it. Gone with the wind, if I dare say.

Many many years ago when I first started blogging (can you tell I’m on a nostalgic streak?), blogs did not have comments. Hell, I barely even had permalinks when I started. Permalinks were the key, though: they allowed bloggers to link to each other’s writings.

And we did. Conversations would bounce from blog to blog. They weren’t chatty like on IM, IRC, or Twitter. They were blog-post-speed conversations. We would have to think (a little) before we wrote.

Even though comments are a wonderful invention and I would never want to take them back, they did ruin this, in a way. People started leaving comments all over the place and didn’t come back to their blogs to write about the conversations they were participating in. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited about coComment when it came out, or services like BackType (which also seems to have backed out of tracking comments one makes) or Disqus. (Aside: see, I’d love somebody to hire me to do some research and write a memo on the current state of the comment-tracking-sphere and all the players involved. I could totally see myself doing that.)

With comments came less of an incentive to link to each other on our blogs. With Twitter (and Facebook), less of an incentive to share certain things on our blogs, and also, less of an incentive to comment, as it became much easier to just “tweet a quickie” to the post author (therefore making our activity visible to all our followers). And with the death of Technorati tags (I’ll call it that), we bloggers are now connecting to each other on other social networks than the blogosphere.

I think it’s time to actively reclaim the blogosphere as our own, after leaving it for too long at the hands of marketing and PR.

Bloggers, it’s time to wake up! Write blog posts. Link to your fellow bloggers. Leave comments on their posts, or better, respond to them on your blogs.

We don’t have to abandon Twitter and Facebook — just remember that first and foremost, we are writers, and that “conversation” (though ’tis a wonderful thing) is not writing.

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Tumblr to Capture Comments? [en]

[fr] J'aimerais un système permettant de publier directement sur mon Tumblr les commentaires que je laisse sur d'autres blogs, sans passer par coComment.

The other evening, I was explaining that I still used coComment to capture the comments I made on other blogs. As always, people try to suggest alternatives: [co.mments]( or [disqus](, for example. I appreciate the suggestions, but they show me that I haven’t managed to make myself clear.

CoComment does two main things:

– **track** conversations you participate in (or want to keep an eye on) so that you are alerted when a new comment is added to the thread
– **capture** the comments you make on other blogs so that you can collect them somewhere or republish them.

I use mainly the second feature. I’m not that interested in tracking all the conversations I take part in. Every now and again I am, and co.mments does indeed do the job, in an *ad hoc* way. Disqus is quite exciting and also allows centralization of the comments I make *with the system* (if I got it right), but it has the great disadvantage of still being too “blogger-centric” instead of “commenter-centric”: sure, I can install disqus on my blog (as a blogger), but it isn’t going to help me capture or track all my comments until all the blogs I visit have done the same.

So, like at the end of a [messy break-up]( where you’re still sleeping with your ex, I’m still using coComment for the following:

– **capture** the comments I make all over the place and republish them in [my Tumblr](

That’s it. One thing coComment does pretty well, despite all the criticism I can make to the service, is capture comments I leave in a variety of comment forms (from WordPress to FriendFeed and Typepad and Blogger and even home-made in some cases) and spit them out in an RSS feed.

Yesterday, an idea dawned on me: what I really want is for my [comments to be published in my Tumblr]( Maybe we can come up with a way to do that directly?

I use Tumblr loads, and love it. The main thing I actively use it for (I’ve embedded a few RSS feeds in it) is for quoting interesting passages off blog/articles that I read. It’s very easy:

3 Steps to Share a Quote on Tumblr

1. highlight some text on a page
2. click on the Tumblr bookmarklet
3. Tumblr automagically recognizes it as a quote, and pops up a window which you use to publish it.

The result of all this is that I have [a Tumblr]( which is full of quotes, comments (thankfully coComment seem to have [removed the nasty ads from the RSS feed I complained about](, and other things (videos and screenshots, for example).

I’ve been thinking a lot (but not writing, I know) about how these new tools in my landscape, which weren’t there [8 years ago (in a few days!) when I started blogging](, are modifying my publishing and interaction habits. The [panel I moderated at BlogTalk in Cork]( was about that, actually, but I think we only brushed the surface.

So, back to the point for this post: I’d like a [hack for my Tumblr bookmarklet — or maybe a separate bookmarklet]( (by Tumblr or a third party) which will publish the comment I’m submitting to my tumblelog. It would work a bit like the coComment bookmarklet: click it to activate it at some point before hitting submit — and it does its magic when you submit the comment.

If you like the idea, [head over the Get Satisfaction]( and add your 2 cents.

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More on coComment Advertising [en]

[fr] Malheureusement, coComment et moi sommes partis pour une "Séparation 2.0: quand les 'social tools' que vous aimiez ne vous le rendent pas." Le choix de leur distributeur de publicité est vraiment malheureux (un cran au-dessus du spam, à mon sens), et clairement, il n'y a pas de dialogue entre coComment et ses utilisateurs, malgré les déclarations acharnées "d'ouverture au dialogue".

A la recherche d'une solution de remplacement pour la saisie des commentaires, donc. Le suivi des conversations m'intéresse beaucoup moins que la centralisation de tous mes commentaires en un endroit.

I was alerted to this a few days ago by [Nathalie](, and after witnessing it [with my own eyes]( — well, I’m going to go to bed a little later to blog about it, after all.

After [preparing to slap ads in our comment RSS feeds](, [coComment]( is staying on the same ugly and obviously slippery slope by inserting ads in the cocobar:

coComment blog ads in cocobar

So, slightly more discreet than the [big banners placed in the RSS feed](, but not in very good taste either. Here are some examples of scrolling ad text:

– “Want fast fitness results? Click for free info, revolutionary products.”
– “Walk on the well placed warmth of radiant heating. Click now!”
– “Free comparison of top car rental companies. Click here!”
– “Click to create your dream holiday trip now.”
– “Easy-to-use, advanced features, flexible phone systems. Click for more info.”
– “Visa, MasterCard, AMEX & Discover. Compare Offers & Apply Online. Click here!”

Reloading a cocobar-enabled page will provide you with hours of endless entertainment. (I’m kidding — but there are more out there, of course.)

Now, I understand that [coComment needs to “monetize”](, though one could question a business model which seems to be based on revenue from scrolling ads and blinking banners. (I can’t remember who said “if your business model is putting ads in your service, think again”.)

There are ads and ads, though. Here’s a sample of banners from the coComment site:

coComment blog » Blog Archive » Advertising, Revenues and harsh realities

Commenting is sexy. HotForWords is the talk of the party at Geek Goes Chic

Commenting is sexy. HotForWords is the talk of the party at Geek Goes Chic

coComment blog ads

The screen captures don’t render the blinking quality of most of these ads, but I guess your imagination can fill in. Now, does anybody else than me feel that this kind of advert is just about one step above spam? Based on a few of the comments I can read on [the post Matt wrote about the “harsh realities” of advertising](, it seems not:

> With all honesty, the banners displayed on the cocomment site are awful and are making the service look VERY unprofessional – totally agree with “disappointed” on this one. Few will argue that perception is 99% of reality, so with those banner ads making the site look like crap, the whole service becomes questionable. I felt like I was about to get a trojan into my computer when I first saw

> there are other advertising partners that don’t crap up your web site with ads that flash in your face. most opensource projects are using google ad sens now (just an example) that displays relevant ads that look very subtle.


> I agree with some of the commenters here about the ad selection. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were unobtrusive AdWords or… something a little classier. It cheapens your brand. Think upscale! Or, at least, more upscale.

Allan White, in comment

Yes, there are ads and ads. These ones definitely make coComment look very cheap and dodgy, and I’m not sure it would encourage users to hand over credit card details to pay for an ad-free version. Also, what’s with the [Hot For Words]( thing? I’m sorry, but this is not my world. coComment has obviously moved into a space which is very alien to my beloved blogosphere.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to [state]( that you [want]( to have a [conversation]( to actually be having one (I guess that for starters, that last post would have pointed to [the post of mine]( that [contributed to prompt]( it). A conversation starts with listening and caring, and obviously, despite their efforts to prove the contrary, the coComment team sadly don’t get this.

What could they have done? Well, I’m not going to launch into a session of full-blown strategic consulting for an ex-client of mine (who didn’t seem to value my advice much at the time), but simple things like taking up issues such as the arrival of advertising *with* the people who use the service **before** actually dumping ads in their feeds unannounced could be a way of showing you care a little bit about how they feel. Understanding that [apologies and justifications]( when you mess up do not erase the past also seems like a good idea. As my friend [Brian Solis]( put it:

> Making mistakes in social media is a lot like sticking daggers into a wooden fence. Just because you apologize and pull them out, they still leave the scars for others to see, and feel. Sometime apologies help people feel better, but they don’t fix perception. This is why thinking before engaging is critical to success in the world social media marketing. This is after all, about people.

Brian Solis

So, as I told Brian, coComment and I are headed for **[Breakup 2.0]( when the social media tools you loved don’t love you back** (yes, you can quote that one, it’s from me).

At the moment, I’m only using the service to “save” the comments I make, because I like keeping a trace of my writings (I used to collect stamps). Sadly, I’m not even sure coComment will allow me to walk out with all my data in an XML dump — I don’t see anything obvious in the interface for that, so if I am able to, it will probably be due to my relationships with the people who have access to the server. (I said “if”.)

The tracking feature is too confusing and overloaded for me to use — I can imagine using something like [co.mments]( to keep an eye on the small number of conversations where I’m on the lookout for an answer. But I don’t have an alternate solution for “capturing” the comments I make. Copy-paste is a bit of a bore, and doesn’t capture the comment content — just the fact that there is a comment.

I’ve been thinking up **an idea involving a Firefox add-on**. It would have a bunch of algorithms to detect comments fields (maybe would support some microformat allowing to identify comment feeds or forms), have a simple on/off toggle to “activate” the field for capture (some right-click thing, much more practical than a bookmarklet or a browser button, because it’s always there, handy, wherever you click), would colour the field in something really visible when capture is on (red! pink! green!) without disrupting readability (I need to see what I type). It would capture the comment, permalink, blog post name (it knows I’m the commenter, I could fill in that info in the add-on settings), and dump the info in an XML or RSS file, or in the database of my WordPress installation, with the help of a WordPress plugin.

It’s a half-baked idea, of course, and I don’t have the JS skills to actually code anything like this. It should probably be a week-end project for somebody with sufficient Javascript-fu — if you’re interested in bringing it to life, get in touch.

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Please Don't Be Rude, coComment. I Loved You. [en]

[fr] J'étais une inconditionnelle de la première heure de coComment. Je les ai même eus comme clients. Aujourd'hui j'ai le coeur lourd, car après le désastre de la version 2.0 "beta", le redesign du site qui le laisse plus confus qu'avant, les fils RSS qui timent out, le blog sans âme et les pubs qui clignotent, je me retrouve avec de grosses bannières autopromotionnelles dans mon tumblelog, dans lequel j'ai intégré le flux RSS de mes commentaires.

Just a little earlier this evening, my heart sank. It sank because of this:

Steph's Tumblr - rude cocomment

That is a screenshot of [my Tumblr]( And what [coComment]( is doing here — basically, inserting a huge self-promotional banner in their RSS feed — is really rude.

I’m really sad, because I used to love coComment. I was involved (not much, but still) [early on]( and was a first-hour fan. They [were even my client for over six months](, during which I acted as a community manager, gave feedback on features to the team, and [wrote a whole bunch of blog posts]( This ended, sadly, [when coComment finally incorporated](, because we couldn’t reach an agreement as to the terms of my engagement.

Inserting content in the RSS feeds is only the latest in a series of disappointments I’ve had with the service. I used to have a sidebar widget to show the last comments I’d made all over the place on my blog, but I removed it at some point — I can’t remember when — because it had stopped working. I tried adding it again, but for some reason WordPress can’t find the feed. It seemed very slow when I tried to access it directly, so maybe it’s timing out — and I think I recall that is what made me remove it in the first place.

I’m sad also to see blinking ads on the coComment site, confusing navigation, pages with [click here]( links, and [a blog which has no soul](, filled with post after post of press-release-like “we won this contest”, “we’re sponsoring this event”, “version xyz released”, “we were here too” — all too often on behalf of a mostly faceless “coComment Team”. CoComment used to have something going, but to me it now seems like an exciting promise that lost its way somewhere along the line.

[Last August](, the [version]( [2.0]( [beta]( [disaster]( made me cringe with embarrassment for my former love (who on earth takes all their users [back to beta]( when 1.0 was stable?) and left many blogs paralyzed, including my own. I started writing a blog post, at the time, which I never published, as other things got in the way. Here’s what I’d written:

> I reinstalled the extension yesterday (I’d removed it a few months ago because I suspected it might be involved in a lot of browser hang-ups) but had to uninstall it a couple of hours later:

> – too many non-comment textareas get the coco-bar
– blacklisting seems broken
– pop-up requesting info confirmation for website blocking form submission of non-comment forms, even though coco-bar was removed AND extension was deactivated for the page.

> It would be nice to be able to read some clear and detailed information about these issues and their resolution on the blog, so that I know when it’s worth trying the extension again.

> Also, a **major** issue is that when the coComment server isn’t responding, people cannot leave comments on integrated/enhanced blogs (like this one, or my personal blog). I had to remove coComment integration from my blog so that coComment downtime doesn’t prevent my readers from leaving comments.

***Update:** in case this wasn’t clear first time around, these problems have since then been solved and [coComment apologized for the mess]( It doesn’t erase the pain, though.*

So, coComment — and Matt — are you listening?

You’re in the process of alienating somebody who was one of your most passionate users — if you haven’t lost me already. I cared. I forgave. I waited. I hoped. But right now, I don’t have the impression you care much about me. I’ve seen excuses, I’ve even seen justifications, and now I see large ugly banners in my Tumblr. What happened to you?

*You’ll have understood, I hope, that this is not just about me. This is about the people who use your service. The service you provide is for us, right?*

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We Need Structured Portable Social Networks (SPSN) [en]

[fr] Nous avons besoin de réseaux sociaux que l'on peut importer/exporter d'un outil/service à l'autre. Nous avons également besoin de pouvoir structurer ces réseaux sociaux qui contiennent souvent un nombre important de personnes. Nous avons besoin de réseaux sociaux portables structurés.

Christophe Ducamp s'est lancé dans une traduction de cet article. Allez donner un coup de main ou bien en profiter, selon vos compétences! Je n'ai pas lu cette traduction, mais je suis certaine qu'elle est utile. Merci Christophe!

Scrolling through my “trash” e-mail address to report spam, I spotted (quite by chance, I have to say) a nice e-mail from Barney, who works at [Lijit]( Barney asked me if I had any feedback, [which I’ll give in my next post](, because I need to digress a bit here.

Lijit is a really fun and smart search tool which allows to [search through a person’s complete online presence]( “See mine.”), a remedy, in a way, to the increasing [fragmentation of online identity]( that’s bothering me so much these days. Actually, it was already bothering me quite a few months ago, when I wrote [Please Make Holes in My Buckets](

>So, here’s a hole in the buckets that I really like: I’ve seen this in many services, but the first time I saw it was on Myspace. “Let us peek in your GMail contacts, and we’ll tell you who already has an account — and let you invite the others.” When I saw that, it scared me (”OMG! Myspace sticking its nose in my e-mail!”) but I also found it really exciting. Now, it would be even better if I could say “import friends and family from Flickr” or “let me choose amongst my IM buddies”, but it’s a good start. Yes, there’s a danger: no, I don’t want to spam invitations to your service to the 450 unknown adresses you found in my contacts, thankyouverymuch. Plaxo is a way to do this (I’ve seen it criticised but I can’t precisely remember why). Facebook does it, which means that within 2 minutes you can already have friends in the network. Twitter doesn’t, which means you have to painstakingly go through your friends of friends lists to get started. I think coComment and any “friend-powered” service should allow us to import contacts like that by now. And yes, sure, privacy issues.

One thing the 2.0 world needs urgently is a way to abstract (to some extent) the social network users create for themselves from the particular *service* it is linked to. **We need portable social networks.** More than that, actually, we need **structured portable social networks** (SPSNs). I’ve already written that being able to give one’s “contact list” a structure (through “contact groups” or “buddy groups”) is vital if we want to manage privacy efficiently (in my horrendously long but — from my point of view of course — really important post “[Groups, Groupings, and Taming My Buddy List. And Twitter.](”):

> I personally think that it is also the key to managing many privacy issues intelligently. How do I organise the people in my world? Well, of course, it’s fuzzy, shifting, changing. But if I look at my IM buddy list, I might notice that I have classified the people on it to some point: I might have “close friends”, “co-workers”, “blog friends”, “offline friends”, “IRC friends”, “girlfriends”, “ex-clients”, “boring stalkers”, “other people”, “tech support”… I might not want to make public which groups my buddies belong to, or worse, let them know (especially if I’ve put them in “boring stalkers” or “tech support” and suspect that they might have placed me in “best friends” or “love interests”… yes, human relationships can be complicated…)

> Flickr offers a half-baked version of this. […]

> A more useful way to let a user organise his contacts is simply to let him tag them. Xing does that. Unfortunately, it does not allow one to do much with the contact groups thus defined, besides displaying contacts by tag […].

In fact, we need structured social networks not only to deal with privacy issues, but also (and it’s related, if you think of it) to deal with social network fatigue that seems to be hitting many of us. I actually have been holding off writing a rather detailed post in response to [danah](’s post explaining that [Facebook is loosing its context for her]( — something that, in my words, I would describe as “Facebook is becoming impossible to manage in a way that makes sense with my life and relationships.” Here’s what she says:

> Le sigh. I lost control over my Facebook tonight. Or rather, the context got destroyed. For months, I’ve been ignoring most friend requests. Tonight, I gave up and accepted most of them. I have been facing the precise dilemma that I write about in my articles: what constitutes a “friend”? Where’s the line? For Facebook, I had been only accepting friend requests from people that I went to school with and folks who have socialized at my house. But what about people that I enjoy talking with at conferences? What about people who so kindly read and comment on this blog? What about people I respect? What about people who appreciate my research but whom I have not yet met? I started feeling guilty as people poked me and emailed me to ask why I hadn’t accepted their friend request. My personal boundaries didn’t matter – my act of ignorance was deemed rude by those that didn’t share my social expectations.

danah boyd, loss of context for me on Facebook

I think that what danah is expressing here is one possible explanation to why people are first really excited about new social networking sites/services/tools/whatevers (YASNs) and then abandon them: at one point, or “contact list” becomes unmanageable. At the beginning, not everybody is on the YASN: just us geeky early adopters — and at the beginning, just a few of us. We have a dozen contacts or so. Then it grows: 30, 50, 60… We’re highly connected people. Like danah, many of us are somewhat public figures. From “friends of our heart”, we start getting requests from **people who are part of our network but don’t fit in *segment* we want to reserve this YASN to**. We start refusing requests, and then give in, and then a lot of the value the YASN could have for us is lost.

Unless YASNs offer us an easy way to structure our social network, this is going to happen over and over and over again. For the moment, [Pownce]( and [Viddler]( allow me to structure my social network. A lot of work still needs to be done in the interface department for this kind of feature. (Yes, [Twitter](, I’m looking at you. You said “soon”.)

So, to summarize, we need **tools and services** which make our **social networks**

– **portable**: so that we can import and export our relationships to other people from one service to another
– **structured**: so that we can manage the huge number of relationships, of varying and very personal degrees of intimacy, that highly connected online people have.

**Update, an hour or so later:** [Kevin Marks]( points me to [social network portability]( on the microformats wiki. Yeah, should have done my homework, but remember, this post started out as a quick reply to an e-mail. Anyway, this is good. There is hope.

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Groups, Groupings, and Taming My Buddy List. And Twitter. [en]

[fr] Long, long billet sur la notion de "groupe" en social software et les différentes formes que peut prendre cette notion. Trop raide pour traduire ou résumer, navrée.

*Warning: very long post. Not proof-read. Hope it makes sense. Mostly dictated, so if you see funky stuff that isn’t a typo and really looks weird, try reading out loud.*

“Group” is a word which is thrown around a lot in the social software/social tools/social networking/social thingy arena. Flickr has [groups]( Google has [groups]( So does [Yahoo!](, of course. CoComment is [working on groups]( (and have been for ages). Twitter is [being advised against them]( (I [second that]( [YouTube](, [Facebook](, [Orkut](, []( — “groups” seem to be a compulsory feature for any 2.0 service today. It’s very natural, too: we need to break down large communities in order to be able to function within them (see [The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes]( for some thinking around this issue). Unfortunately, it’s also a result of all the 2.0 “community” buzz stuff floating around: “implement groups, and your tool/app will have communities!”

Like many overused words, “group” is actually used in different contexts to mean different things, and this brings about quite a lot of confusion. “How to implement groups” is a theme that I’ve had a few exchanges about with both the coComment and the Twitter people, and I think it’s an impossible question to answer unless we have cleared up the vocabulary a little to start with.

I would like to distinguish between three types of “groups”, which are often all called “groups”, but which have different characteristics and different uses:

– “groups” or “shared-interest groups” (“Flickr-groups”)
– “groupings” (“ad hoc assemblages of people with similar interests” — Stowe Boyd)
– “contact groups” (organising my contacts)

#### Shared-Interest Groups

This is usually what people think of when they say “group”. It is a set of people who come together to (hopefully) form a community around a shared interest. Usually, one chooses to join such groups. Belonging to the group gives you some kind of special connection to other members (which you might not know, but you now have one thing in common with), and allows you to “do things” you would not be able to do if you were outside the group. (For exemple: send a message to all the people in the group, or post a photo to a shared album.)

Typical examples of this kind of group are Yahoo! Groups or Flickr Groups. People join these groups to be able to build something, share something, or simply hang out with the other members of the group. However, if you look at the way people use this kind of group in communities which are more “social networking”-oriented, like Facebook or Orkut, you will see that they tend to not be that active *inside* the groups, but that they use them a bit like “tags” to advertise their interests. These groups are therefore not only a way of connecting with other people, but also a way of saying something about yourself. And in some communities, the latter is clearly more important.

#### Groupings

Shared-interest groups are a bit limited when it comes to making your application truly “social”, as I heard Stowe Boyd point out during his [Building Social Applications Workshop]( at the LIFT conference earlier this year. Now, I’ve been through Stowe’s blog to try to serve you with a nice citation that explains exactly what he means by “groupings”, and haven’t really found anything that satisfied me. (As far as I can see, Stowe first talks about groupings in [In The Time Of “Me First”: IBM Slowr?](, and explains a bit more in [In The Time Of “Me-First”: Stikkit](

Here’s the definition Stowe gives in [his workshop slideshow, slide 24](

> Groupings: ad hoc assemblages of people with similar interests.

Stowe Boyd

As I understand it, groupings are things that “happen” rather than things that people elect to join or build. Groupings emerge within a social network because of the way people are using it. Groupings are things that occur naturally and all the time inside networks, but the tricky part will be to decide which groupings to make visible to the users and how.

The first time I really encountered this type of automatic grouping of users based on their behaviour was in tells you who your “[neighbours](” are, by picking out people who have similar music-listening habits as yours. So, in last FM, not only can you see [my contacts or “friends”](, people **I have elected to be connected to** in some way in the online world of last FM even though our musical tastes may have little in common, but you can also see [my neighbours](, people I probably do not know and definitely **have not chosen to be connected to**, but which I am inevitably connected to because we share similar musical tastes.

Isn’t this a more interesting way of interconnecting people than having them explicitly join groups saying “I like this or that artist”? CoComment also has a [neighbours feature]( (I like to think that I’m for something in its existence, as it was one of the first suggestions I made and pushed for about a year ago), but unfortunately you can’t see other people’s neighbours or do much with your neighbourhood. The value groupings will add to your tool or service will depend greatly on which groupings you decide to make visible to your users, what doors being part of a given grouping opens up for the user, basically, what you choose to **do** with these groupings (display them? Nice, but not enough in most cases).

With all this in mind, if you are trying to figure out “the best way to implement groups” for your application/tool /2.0 service, here is what I would recommend. Start by taking a long hard look at how your application already organises users into possible groupings. What can you make visible? What is interesting? What doors could you open to people who are inside the same grouping? What are your users going to want to do with these groupings?

Some examples of groupings could be:

– people who have listened to a particular song regularly over the last six months
– people who favourite my photographs on Flickr
– people who subscribe to a given blog
– people who have commented on a given post or blog
– people who have marked me as a contact
– people who use a given tag
– people who comment on posts or photographs tagged “cat”
– people who ordered this or that book on Amazon
– people who have been marked as a contact by somebody
– people who have joined a certain group…

As you can see, the definition of “grouping” is much wider than the definition of “group”. “Groups” are a small subset of “groupings”, which have a performative flavour, as you become part of them by the simple act of stating that you desire to be part of them.

The example before last is a little bit problematic in my sense. Most of the time, a user ends up belonging to a grouping because of the way he or she uses the system. It is your actions which make you part of a grouping. Here, you are not part of a grouping because of something you have done, but because of what somebody else has done to you (added you to her contacts). I have been hesitant for this reason to consider “being somebody’s contact” as a grouping, but if you look at it from the point of view of the social network, it is still a way in which “usage” organisers to people who are part of the network.

The existence of these “passive groupings” (from the point of view of the user who is part of the grouping) invites us to go through the looking-glass and examine what goes on from the perspective of the user creating the groupings by making his connection to other users explicit.

#### Contact Groups

I hope that we have now come to accept that networks are asymmetrical. It is not because I have marked you as a contact, that you have to mark me back as a contact too. I think that a great source of confusion is the [general use of the word “friend” in social networks]( There is an emotional component in there that makes it rather difficult to say “well, you might think I’m your friend, but I don’t.” Friendship is supposed to go both ways. “Contact” is a much more neutral word, which is easily understood as meaning “you are, in some way, part of my world here.”

“In what way?” is the big question here. In what way is John part of my world? In what way am I part of his, if at all? I will leave the second of these two questions completely aside in this discussion, for I consider it to be a psychological, emotional, and relational minefield. In our offline relationships, we don’t usually get to know exactly how important we are for our friends or acquaintances, or even love interests. We are treading on eggs, here. And to make things even more delicate, different people use different words to describe the people who are part of their world. These are, in my opinion, human relational issues which are way too delicate to be formalised in a social network without a lot of serious thinking, if they are to be respectful of people’s feelings and meaningful in any way.

The first question, however, is a crucial one. I personally think that it is also the key to managing many privacy issues intelligently. How do I organise the people in my world? Well, of course, it’s fuzzy, shifting, changing. But if I look at my IM buddy list, I might notice that I have classified the people on it to some point: I might have “close friends”, “co-workers”, “blog friends”, “offline friends”, “IRC friends”, “girlfriends”, “ex-clients”, “boring stalkers”, “other people”, “tech support”… I might not want to make public which groups my buddies belong to, or worse, let them know (especially if I’ve put them in “boring stalkers” or “tech support” and suspect that they might have placed me in “best friends” or “love interests”… yes, human relationships can be complicated…)

[Flickr]( offers a half-baked version of this. I say “half-baked” because it does allow me to introduce *some* organisation in my contacts, but it is not quite satisfying. And regarding what has been said above, this classification is made public — so inevitably, there is no way that it can be satisfying to the person making the classification. It has to remain politically correct. Basically, what Flickr does is allow you to single out certain contacts as “friends” or “family”. This is tame enough, particularly given that the word “friend” has been emptied of much of its meaning by social networks which use it as a synonym for “contact”. What is interesting here is how Flickr uses this classification to help users manage privacy. I can make certain photographs visible only to my friends or my family. I can decide to allow only my contacts to comment. But this kind of control remains quite coarse, because the groups are predefined and may not map well to the way I view my social world and want to manage my privacy.

A more useful way to let a user organise his contacts is simply to let him tag them. [Xing]( does that. Unfortunately, it does not allow one to do much with the contact groups thus defined, besides displaying contacts by tag, which is of course nice, but about as useful as making groupings visible without actually *doing* anything with them.

#### Use more precise vocabulary than “group”

Have you noticed how I’ve been using the word “groups” to speak of this way of classifying one’s contacts? Well, instant messaging software uses the word “group” (“buddy groups”, “contact groups”), and that’s what people are used to. Now, imagine the confusion if somebody says “[Twitter]( needs groups”, meaning “contact groups”, and the person listening understands it as “shared-interest groups”? **These are two very different kinds of groups. They are organised differently and serve a different purpose.** See why I think we need to stop speaking about “groups” in general and be much more precise with our vocabulary?

– **Shared-interest groups** are groupings that we actively choose to be part of, they are generally public, or at the least, we know who the other members are, and the point of **being part of such a shared-interest group** is to be able to do certain things with the other members, or get to know them.
– **Contact groups** (normally) passive groupings that somebody puts us into, they are generally private, to the extent that one does not know exactly what grouping one is in, and the interest of such contact groups is mainly **for the person creating them**, who can choose to treat the people inside them differently (mainly regarding privacy).
– **Groupings**, defined by Stowe Boyd as ad hoc assemblages of people with similar interests, can actually be understood as a very generic expression, including the two previous ones, to refer to “ad hoc assemblages of people emerging through social network/software/tool usage.” When it is one’s actions which bring him/her into a grouping, we can speak of “active groupings”, and when it is another’s actions, “passive groupings”.

One could probably say that the way in which a social application implements groupings (which are made visible and how, and which actions, features, permissions or characteristics are associated to them) — shared interest groups and contact groups being two particular species of groupings — is going to play an important role in how successful it is, because groupings in general are the key through which users will interact with each other.

Maybe somebody could start working on a taxonomy of sorts for groupings? We already have active and passive, the weird performative ones that are the similar-interest groups, all the contact group stuff, but we could imagine classifying and analysing groupings by looking at what brings one into a grouping: is it interaction of some type with other users? Quantity of something? Centred around one object, or a collection of objects? Is there a time component? Does it involve reciprocity? What kind of pattern of usage is it linked to? We could go on, and on…

#### Case-study: Twitter

Even though this post has been ripening in my head (ew!) since February, the reason I am writing it today is the following twitter from [Tara Hunt](

> Advising Twitter (Britt) AGAINST groups (gameable/spammable) and FOR personal lists (solves group messaging)

twitter from Tara

I have [blogged about Twitter]( quite a few times already, spoken with the Twitter people [when I was in San Francisco]( and sent them a bunch of feedback and ideas that I haven’t got around to blogging yet (I wonder when I will). This should make pretty obvious that I really really like this service. (So that’s the disclaimer: fangirl.)

If you’re still reading this, your head is probably full of groupings/similar-interest groups/contact groups ideas and concepts. Let’s see how they apply to Twitter. The nice thing about Twitter is that it’s a rather simple application, feature-wise (and that’s one of the things that makes it so nice). So, where are the groupings? Here are some:

– users who are friends with John
– users John is friends with (not the same grouping!)
– users John is following (still another grouping, because of the distinction twitter makes between friends/contacts and the act of “following”)
– users who are following John but he is not following (fans/stalkers, depending on how you look at it)
– users who answer John’s twitters (with @John)
– users who use the word “LIFT07” in their twitters
– …

What makes Twitter great? Well, besides the great online/offline integration through the use of mobile phones, the clean, usable interface, the great people using it and the cats in the servers, one of the things that makes Twitter Twitter (if I may say) is what it does with the grouping “users John is friends with”. Well, it’s pretty simple, in fact, and you’ll probably think I’m pointing out the obvious (but that, in my mind, simply indicates how good a job Twitter have done with it): they display all the twitters of those users in that grouping on one page. Well, yeah, I guess that was the [Obvious]( thing to do with that grouping.

Amongst the other types of groupings, one can wonder if Twitter needs to introduce similar-interest groups, or contact groups. I don’t see much of a case for the former, as Twitter is centred around people and relationships rather than the content of their interactions. Twitter is not really about what I’m saying to people. It’s about who I’m talking to. Twitter is precious because it gives me a space in which I can share a little things about my life with anybody who has decided that these little things had some value to them (and that can include non-Twitter users). Twitter it is equally precious because it provides me with a space (and this is where the “what they actually *did* with that grouping” thing comes in) through which I can stay informed of the little things in lives of others that I have decided were meaningful for me.

Which brings me to contact groups. Contact groups could have two purposes for twitter:
– privacy management
– twitter overflow management, particularly on mobile devices.

Without getting into the technicalities involved (and I’m aware they are not straightforward), let’s imagine that I can tag my Twitter contacts. This allows me to give some structure to my online world in Twitter. I can use that structure in two ways: make certain messages visible only to certain people I have chosen (privacy), receive messages on a given device only from certain people (overflow).

Tagging is the best way to create these contact groups. It leaves each user completely free to organise their world how they wish. It allows multiple classification of contacts. Keep the tags private, and personal dramas are avoided. Multiple classification requires establishing rules for when conflicting orders are given. Interfaces (web and mobile) need to be devised to tag contacts, to set message privacy (default, message by message, on/off style), and following behaviour. Not straightforward, of course, but can certainly be done.

Remains the basic question: does this kind of feature address a real need? (For me, it does.) How is it going to change Twitter if it is implemented? (If this can be predicted…) What might happen if it is not implemented? Well, you know, the usual stuff when making a decision.

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Donnant-donnant [en]

J’avais l’intention de faire court lorsque j’ai commencé ce billet. Du coup, étalant la rédaction sur plus de 24 heures… il s’est allongé. Mes excuses.

Jeudi, invitée de dernière minute un peu muette à la table ronde qui a suivi la présentation d'[Alban Martin]( sur l'[Âge de Peer]( lors du [dernier First de l’année de Rézonance]( (respirez!), j’ai enfin saisi la réponse à une réflexion qu’on m’a faite concernant la co-création et qui avait fini par me mettre mal à l’aise.

Les entreprises qui impliquent les clients dans la création de produits, qui comptent sur le bouche à oreilles ou les blogs pour faire leur marketing… ne sont-elles pas, en quelque sorte, en train de profiter de la bonne volonté des passionnés que nous sommes? Lorsqu’un service web sauce 2.0 encourage une communauté d’utilisateurs à devenir également une communauté de développeurs, et à produire plugins et extensions, ou lorsqu’il compte sur la “communauté” pour répondre aux questions dans un forum de d’aide, n’est-il pas en fait en train de **réduire ses coûts sur le dos des pauvres naïfs** qui donnent gratuitement de leur temps et de leurs compétences?

**Réponse courte: non.**

Réponse plus longue? C’est ce genre de dynamique qui permet aux utilisateurs de profiter de nombreux **services gratuits ou quasi-gratuits**. Si on peut aujourd’hui lancer un produit avec un budget marketing frisant le zéro absolu, parce qu’il est assez génial pour que les utilisateurs prennent eux-même en charge de faire sa publicité, cela réduit les coûts, certes, mais cette réduction est répercutée sur le prix que doit payer l’utilisateur: souvent rien.

On peut en quelque sorte dire qu’**au lieu de payer en argent un service, l’utilisateur paie en donnant un peu de son temps** pour recommander le service à des amis (réduisant ainsi la somme d’argent nécessaire à la publicité), ou bien en contribuant un peu de code qui profitera ensuite à tous.

J’aime bien cette façon de voir les choses: j’aime [GMail](, par exemple, qui fournit à mon sens un service e-mail extrêmement performant pour rien du tout (en cash). Cela ne me dérange pas de “payer” en recommandant GMail à mon entourage, ou en permettant à Google d’afficher parfois des pubs dans l’interface web. Personellement, j’aime recommander les produits que j’apprécie à mon entourage. On pourrait considérer que d’une certaine façon, Google me paie pour faire ça, et qu’en retour, je leur reverse d’argent pour utiliser leur service.

On se déplacerait presque vers une **économie du troc**, vous ne trouvez pas? L’avantage que j’y vois, comme ça un peu à froid, c’est que le “travail” que je fais pour permettre l’existence d’un service gratuit, je ne le ressens pas comme du travail. Finalement, le service devient le résultat d’un effort communautaire, avec un minimum de structure salariée pour servir de base.

Je crois qu’on commence à avoir tellement l’habitude du gratuit sur le web qu’on oublie ce qui le rend possible. Du coup, dès que quelque chose devient “un peu payant” ou se “commercialise” parce qu’il y a des gens qui gagnent un salaire, on pense que toute gratuité devrait disparaître — de la part des utilisateurs.

J’ai beaucoup entendu ce genre de réaction autour de [WordPress]( WordPress ([le meilleur outil de blog]( de la planète en ce moment, à mon avis) est avant tout un outil open source et libre, résultat du travail d’une communauté de développeurs et d’utilisateurs. Lorsque [Matt]( a fondé [Automattic](, une entreprise qui a des employés et qui fournit des services payants tournant autour de WordPress, certains ont commencé à dire “pah! les pigeons qui contribuent à WordPress sont simplement en train d’enrichir Automattic!”

Quand, dans le cadre de [mon travail avec coComment](, j’ai demandé à un utilisateur qui critiquait notre façon de faire ce que lui suggérait à la place, il m’a envoyé sur les roses en me disant que [coComment]( n’avait pas à tenter d’extorquer du public des informations que lui faisait payer à ses clients.

Ce qui échappe à ces gens, c’est que les petites contributions volontaires sont entre autres ce qui permet de leur fournir gratuitement un service qui vaut plus que rien du tout.


– [billet d’Ollie, qui était dans le public](

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Conversation Feeds [en]

A couple of weeks back, I was having a chat with Max, one of our new developers. We were discussing improvements that could be made to the “My Conversations” page, and the conversation drifted towards RSS feeds (well, feeds in general). I started thinking about how feeds could be made more useful for conversations (because, frankly, I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of trouble following conversations through feeds). I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you, and you can let me know what yours are.

  • When they are blog posts, feed items are reasonably independent from one-another. You can read a single feed item and it makes sense on its own.
  • When the elements of a feed are parts of a conversation, however, that changes. Whether the conversation is a comment stream on a blog post or the replies to a forum topic, the different elements in it are closely linked, and it’s difficult to understand one of them without seeing it really in context. Context here is two things: the initial article, forum topic, or even web page which sparked the conversation; the other comments which led the conversation to that point, or at least a number of the comments immediately preceding it in the conversation.

Now, if you keep that in mind, you’ll understand that feeds are pretty adequate for following:

  • a series of loosely joined articles (blog posts)
  • a single conversation

They are not the ideal solution for following multiple conversations simultaneously.

However, the very reason one would want to subscribe to conversation, usually, is because there is more than one to follow. (If you’re just having one conversation, or read only one blog, subscribing becomes less useful.)

So, how could we organise comment/conversation feeds to make them more usable?

The main problem I have with multiple conversation feeds is that the conversations are all mixed up. Unless I check the feed very frequently and have all the ongoing conversations present in my mind, and they’re not too busy, the main function of the feed will be to let me know which conversations have been updated, and give me a handy link to go and check them out on the original webpage.

I think a conversation feed should do more than that. Here’s how I, as a user, would like to see the conversations I’m following.

  • First, make the conversation the feed element, instead of the comment. I know this sounds bad, because we expect a feed element to be atomic, and a conversation is clearly not atomic — a comment or conversation element is. But from the reader’s point of view, the unit of meaning here is the conversation. As I said above, a comment alone usually has little value.
  • Second, provide context. If there are two new comments in a conversation I’m following, give me those two, plus 2-3 older ones to help me remember where I left off. Give me the title of the blog/forum and the post/topic name. And give me a link to the original publication page if I want to read everything.

Obviously, this can’t be done with a traditional RSS/atom implementation. You need something somewhere to count the new comments, distribute them into their respective conversations, and package it all neatly. This is where I see a service like coComment step in.

Do you think that presenting conversation feeds in this way would make them more useful for you? What other ideas would you have?

I’d like to stress that this is just my personal thinking. We’re not planning to replace the current coComment feeds by this system (and if that were to happen, we’d leave the “traditional” ones in too, I’m certain).

So. How would you like to read your conversation feeds?

*[Initially posted on the coComment blog.](*

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Job Offer: Chief Architect, coComment [en]

[fr] On embauche chez coComment! Architecte en chef recherché.

I’ve dropped hints with a few people that there were exciting things to come within coComment. There is still much we cannot say, but here’s a fist tidbit (and not the least): we’re hiring.

We are looking for an individual with skills in product design, familiar with the blogging/commenting space from both a technical and user community perspective. Fluent in English and at least one other European language.

Your remit will be to work closely with the Marketing and Technology teams to formulate and lead the development of CoComment.

You will need to be flexbile, fast thinking, passionate about the blogging/commenting space and with the ability to take creative thought and turn it into deliverable product.

In return, CoComment offers a creative, supportive and fast-moving environment, the opportunity to join a rapidly growing company and equity incentives.

Please email matt at cocomment dot com with covering letter and CV, detailing current and expected remuneration.

As a personal note, I’d like to add that there are chances I’ll be reporting to the Chief Architect. It’s of course not yet 100% certain as there are many unknowns, but here I am, probably posting the ad for my future boss’s position…

*Crossposted on [coComment blog](*

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Sorry For The Outage [en]

As you certainly have noticed, we’ve had a bit of an outage over the last 24 hours. It was due to a problem at our hosting company, and to the best of our knowledge, it is now resolved.

Around 1pm local time (CET), the firewall started acting out. I’ll spare you the sordid troubleshooting details, but the situation was such that it had to be physically replaced. We then worked with the hosting company to reconfigure it, but despite our efforts — which involved Christophe connecting and doing some setup magic from his plane back from Japan, and many other more sordid details I’ll spare you too — there were still problems with the comment tracking service and our e-mail distribution until this morning. (This also means that if you sent us mail during the last 24 hours, you’re better off sending it again.)

The main thing is that as of 11:30 this morning (still CET) everything is (hopefully!) back to normal. We’re really sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

If some of the conversations you wanted to track didn’t get recorded during the last day, remember you can simply go back to them and check the “Track this conversation” checkbox. If you want to reappropriate any comments you made during the outage, the old trick of selecting the comment and clicking on the bookmark (or toolbar button) still works.

technorati tags:, , , , , , , ,

*[Initially posted on the coComment blog.](*

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