Twitter, Google, and search

For some reason, the “Twitter is a Google killer” hyperbole has sprung up again in the last week or so. And this time, there are some important thought leaders like John Battelle chiming in. Here’s what he wrote in a post called “Twitter = YouTube”:

So why did Google really buy YouTube? My answer, which of course looks brilliant given it’s 20/20 hindsight: YouTube was a massive search asset. Fast forward to today. What’s the most important and quickly growing form of search on the web today? Real time, conversational search. And who’s the YouTube of real time search? Yep. Twitter.

I’ve been writing about Twitter Search since the early days of Summize – I’ve always loved it. It’s no surprise to me that others are finally starting to see the value in it. Here’s what I wrote in October, for instance:

Lots of people already contribute to the noise on Twitter, and I think their user base will only continue to grow. So they’ve got that covered. Increasingly it seems that Twitter is working to extract value from that noise. That’s the area they need to focus on most.

The improvements to Twitter Search have been minimal – the addition of the “source” parameter to results, and testing integrated search on the main website. I’d love to see some additional improvements to the service.

Others who have discussed the “Twitter threat to Google” idea include: San Jose Mercury News, Fimoculous, Search Engine Journal, and The Blog Herald. AllFacebook looks at it from another angle.

What should you take away from this? Essentially, that Twitter Search is becoming increasingly important. If you’re not already using it, start now. And don’t expect Google and others to ignore it forever.

Can Facebook become the new default?

I find Facebook incredibly useful, if not particularly exciting. My usage reflects that – I like to add people on Facebook in order to maintain connections, and I like to keep my profile looking fresh, but I rarely surf Facebook like I used to. Yet there’s no escaping Facebook. The numbers tell the story. Check out these statistics compiled for a recent Fortune article:

  • 175 million members
  • 3 billion total daily minutes of use
  • 850 million photos uploaded each month
  • 15 million who update their status daily
  • 24 million pieces of content shared each month

Very impressive. Also in the sidebar, Fortune looks at the race to 150 million users. That feat took Facebook 5 years, versus 7 years for the iPod, 14 years for the cell phone, 38 years for the television, and 89 years for the telephone. Obviously it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but you get the idea (and notice how other technologies such as Google or Windows are left out).

With numbers like that, it’s not hard to listen to Mark Zuckerberg and actually think he’s got a shot at achieving his new goal:

"We think that if you can build one worldwide platform where you can just type in anyone’s name, find the person you’re looking for, and communicate with them," he told a German audience in January, "that’s a really valuable system to be building."

In the article, author Jessi Hempel positions Facebook as the new phone system, but I think the new email system is perhaps a more reasonable comparison. I think the “default” right now when you make a connection is to get an email address. You collect business cards at events and they all have phone numbers and email addresses but how many people actually pick up the phone? Email is the default.

What if Facebook could become the new default? Clearly, that’d be a big deal.

Already I think Facebook is the default platform for events, and most people seem to think it’s the default for photos. Can it become the default for communication in general? As I’ve said before, I think Facebook Connect is a step in that direction.

Twitter and the future of journalism

twitter logo On Friday, David Schlesinger from Reuters posted an entry to his blog discussing Twitter and the future of journalism. David had been tweeting from the World Economic Forum, and found that his updates beat the Reuters newswire. No big surprise, but it prompted a bunch of questions:

Is it journalism?

Is it dangerous?

Is it embarrassing that my tweets even beat the Reuters newswire?

Am I destroying Reuters standards by encouraging tweeting or blogging?

David’s answers are: Yes, Potentially, No, and No. I love that someone in the “mainstream” media is able to answer these questions honestly and openly!

His entire post is filled with wonderful quotes, such as:

I have no idea what journalism will look like in five years except that it will be different than it is now. That’s a great thing, I believe.

Fantastic outlook on things, in my opinion. Twitter is changing journalism and news media for the better. Ignore it at your own peril. I can’t say it any better than David himself:

If I don’t beat the Reuters wire with a live tweet because I deliberately hold back, someone else will. If I don’t beat the Reuters wire because I’m slow or inattentive, someone else will.

There’s something to be said for holding back, providing context, and thoughtfully articulating a story or idea. But when you’re talking about breaking and spreading the news, speed is the name of the game, and nothing at the moment does it faster or more effectively than Twitter.

Another way to look at it is chunking. Give me bite-sized chunks as the news happens, and when I have time later, I’ll explore the topic in more detail. Twitter is perfect for chunking news.

Take a couple minutes and read the entire post. I’m looking forward to reading it again in a year – I suspect it won’t seem so unique and refreshing by then!

Ups and Downs for Podcast Hosting in 2008

podcasting Back in October, Dickson and I announced that we were shutting down our hosting service Podcast Spot. At the end of November, we disabled uploading and are now in the final transition phase for downloads and RSS feeds. In February 2009, the site will be taken offline completely.

We’re not the only podcast hosting service that shutdown in 2008 – at least two other services also called it quits recently:

The most visible of these services was Podango, so news of its demise created some discussion over the holidays. From Podcasting News:

While Smith attributes Podango’s state to the effects of the financial market, Podango and other podcast hosting services have not demonstrated that there’s much of a need for podcast-specific Web hosting services.

Podcango’s situation raises the question: Is there a real need for podcast-specific hosting services?

It’s a good question, and one I have thought about quite a bit in the latter half of 2008. For the vast majority of people, YouTube, Flickr, and similar tools are good enough. If they want to share some audio or (more likely) video, these services make it easy to do so. Increasingly, video cameras come with built-in support for YouTube, so the user doesn’t really have to do anything but record. This was the curve we attempted to get ahead of with Podcast Spot.

For a smaller number of people, something more advanced is required. Maybe they want to sell advertising, or have more control over production quality, or gain access to better statistics. I think this group can be split into two – the DIY crowd, and the use-a-hosting-service crowd. So yes, there is a need for podcast-specific hosting services, but perhaps the market is a lot smaller than everyone thought.

It wasn’t all bad news for podcast hosting in 2008 though. Some familiar services still appear to be going strong: Libsyn, Podbean, and Podkive to name just a few. Back in July, RawVoice announced they were entering the market with Blubrry. In August, Wizzard Software announced increased revenues and decreased expenses and losses. And on October 21st, announced they had raised another round of investment.

I’d expect 2009 to be similar – a mix of ups and downs for podcast hosting services.

It’s important to realize that we’re talking about podcast hosting here. I don’t think the demise of Podango or any other service should be taken to mean that podcasting itself is in trouble. As Paul Colligan said:

Podango’s problems say as little about the future of Podcasting as GM’s problems say about the future of cars.

Podcasting is all about communication, and the need for that hasn’t gone away. Podcasting itself is doing just fine.

How do you define mainstream?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the word “mainstream” and what it means. Princeton’s WordNet defines mainstream as “the prevailing current of thought” while Merriam-Webster defines mainstream as “a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence”. I think many people have a different definition however, something more akin to the one at UrbanDictionary:

Mainstream is what’s the new trend. When one "style" gets old, a new one is reborn; a mainstream person is someone who jumps from trend to trend so that they fit in with the rest of the crowd.

That definition has 514 positive votes and only 51 negative votes. There are a few others there too, but that one is the most popular. The definition at Wiktionary is similar.

Two recent articles got me thinking about this. On October 27th, the Wall Street Journal said that Twitter is going mainstream:

When the service first appeared a couple of years ago, its appeal seemed largely limited to narcissists who wanted to let everybody know what they were doing in real time. But, like blogs and social-networking sites, Twitter is starting to cross into the mainstream, as a wide range of people find interesting uses for the brief notes.

Is the WSJ right? Has Twitter crossed into the mainstream? I think that depends on which definition you use. Based on the one in the dictionary, I’d say they’re wrong.

The second article was from The Economist. They say blogging is mainstream now too:

Blogging has entered the mainstream, which—as with every new medium in history—looks to its pioneers suspiciously like death.

Hold on a sec – blogging has only just entered the mainstream? If that’s true, how can Twitter possibly be considered mainstream? Seems the “mainstream” media have different definitions for the word too!

Maybe everyone has a different definition for the word? I think it all depends on what your litmus test is. For instance:

  • Has Twitter been mentioned on TV and in the newspaper? Yes, it’s mainstream.
  • Does anyone make money using Twitter? Yes, it’s mainstream.
  • Do my parents use Twitter regularly? No, it’s not mainstream.
  • Do all of my friends use Twitter? No, it’s not mainstream.
  • Will a random person on the street know what Twitter is? No, it’s not mainstream.

I think that’s pretty close to what my litmus test is. Replace “Twitter” with “Google” or “Facebook” and all of the answers are yes.

What’s your test? How do you define mainstream?

Netbooks are trendy

dell inspiron mini What kind of computer do you use? Most of my work is done at a desktop or workstation; a tower attached to three monitors. The rest of the time I’m using either my laptop or tablet. I’ve also got a little Sony UMPC but it doesn’t get used much. It was kinda cool for a while, but it’s not all that fast. And once I got my iPod touch, that pretty much fulfilled my small device needs.

My favorite to use is probably my tablet, even though it’s the slowest of the bunch. I think I like it mostly because of the form factor – it’s pretty small for a laptop (at 12 inches) but large enough that I don’t sacrifice a keyboard or full operating system.

A couple years from now though, my tablet might seem rather large thanks to the netbook trend. What’s a netbook? From Wikipedia:

A netbook is a small to medium sized, light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient laptop, generally optimized for internet based services such as web browsing and e-mailing. Netbooks are also sometimes, but rarely referred to as a sub-subnotebook.

The form factor of a netbook is smaller than that of a notebook and they are very light in weight (usually 2 to 3 pounds). Common features include a small screen (usually around 7-inches to 10-inches diagonal), wireless connectivity, but no optical disc drive, and a smaller sized keyboard (usually 80 percent to 95 percent of normal size). There is also a trend of using solid-state drives instead of traditional hard disk drives.

Maybe it’s just me, but every second article on technology these days seems to mention netbooks! The blogosphere made a big deal this week out of the fact that Windows boss Steven Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 7 running on a netbook. And today, PC World declares that netbooks will soon cost just $99:

Subnotebooks like the Asus Eee PC, the Dell Mini 9 and the HP 2133 Mini-note will soon cost as little as $99. The catch? You’ll need to commit to a two-year mobile broadband contract. The low cost will come courtesy of a subsidy identical to the one you already get with your cell phone.

A monthly service fee for mobile broadband doesn’t appeal to me at all, but a $99 netbook certainly does. Heck, I’m already tempted by the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (pictured above) and it’s nearly $500! If the cost of components fell enough so that a netbook was about half that price, I’d have no hesitations about picking one up and I doubt anyone else would either.

Netbooks are definitely trendy, but I think this is one trend that will last. A small device to check email, read and post blogs, and update Twitter is something that appeals to lots of people. Okay maybe not that last part 🙂

Blogging killed by Twitter? I don’t think so

I’ll give Paul Boutin credit for writing some seriously good link bait, but that’s all his recent essay for Wired is worth. Paul argues that we don’t need blogs anymore thanks to Twitter (and for good measure he mentions Facebook and Flickr too). He advises anyone thinking about starting a blog to think twice, and anyone who already writes one to pull the plug:

The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

I guess Paul is a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy.

Of course it’s difficult to get noticed in the blogosphere – there are so many blogs out there! Of course something you write is going to attract comment trolls – you can’t please everyone! Of course blogging takes more time and effort than Twitter – but that’s because you’re writing so much more!

But none of that is reason enough to give up on blogging.

Obviously I’m a big fan of Twitter, and I do spend quite a lot of time posting there, but I don’t think I could replace my blog with it. I find the two are complementary – quick comments and updates go on Twitter, longer thoughts go on my blog. That system seems to work well for me.

Same goes for the consumption side of things. Tweets are searchable instantly, true, but good luck following a thread. Short conversations between a couple of people are okay, but anything more and you’ve got problems. Blogs don’t have this problem of course, thanks to comments and trackbacks. And let’s be honest, Google indexes blogs fairly quickly anyway.

Paul says:

Twitter — which limits each text-only post to 140 characters — is to 2008 what the blogosphere was to 2004.

I’d agree with that. Twitter has lots of buzz right now, that’s undeniable. Just as the election in 2004 helped blogs increase in popularity, the current election is giving a boost to Twitter. What I don’t agree with is the notion that Twitter’s success sounds the death knell for blogs.

I think blogs remain incredibly valuable and will be with us for a long time to come.

Five new radio stations approved in Edmonton

mic Believe it or not, the CRTC has approved five applications for new FM radio stations in Edmonton. According to the official decision, that would bring the total number of commercial radio stations in the Edmonton Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) to 21, though Wikipedia already lists 25 stations (I suppose some are considered non-commercial). Here are a few other highlights from the document:

  • From 2003 to 2007, total revenues grew at a compound annual rate of 9.8% in the Edmonton radio market, compared to 9.9% for the province of Alberta and 6% for all of Canada over the same period.
  • In 2007, the Edmonton radio market recorded a profit before interest and tax (PBIT) of 26.7%, slightly above Alberta’s PBIT of 26.4% in 2007 and well above Canada’s 2007 PBIT of 20%.
  • An economic outlook for 2008 released by the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) in November 2007 predicts continued strong economic growth in the region.

Though it might seem crowded, the radio market in Edmonton appears to be doing quite well. It should be noted that 14 applications were submitted, so 9 of those were rejected by the CRTC. The approved stations include an Aboriginal language station covering all of Alberta, as well as Adult Contemporary, Adult Album Alternative, Essential Alternative and Young Music stations. I’m pretty sure that John Yerxa’s New 107 FM was the first of the new stations with a website.

It’s also worth taking a look at the Summer 2008 ratings book, by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. As usual, last link on the left has all of the details:

When they’re not spinning tunes or tales, most radio folk will say a summer book is a lightweight and not truly indicative of the market. However, total listenership was up, reaching 1,647,000 compared to 1,631,000 in the previous book, suggesting BBM diary-keeping was done in earnest.

The top radio station for the period was The Bear (100.3 FM), with 630 CHED taking second place and CISN Country (103.9 FM) in third. Corus’ new station, iNews 880, placed 16th. You can read the full report in PDF format. The Fall 2008 ratings book will be released on November 27th.

I don’t listen to much radio myself – CDs and my iPod work well for me. When I do listen, it’s to either 630 CHED or The Bounce (91.7 FM, which placed 4th in the Summer 2008 book). Very rarely do I “station surf” so I doubt I’ll hear much of the new stations first hand.

Faster wireless, everywhere

As a tech geek I’m interested in a lot of things, but I have a particular interest in wireless technologies. I want to have the ability to connect to the Internet wherever I go, using whatever device I happen to have with me. Despite the progress we’ve made in recent years, that vision is still a long way from being realized. A couple of things I came across recently look promising though.

The first is an article in MIT’s Technology Review, discussing research to make wireless faster:

One way to achieve faster speeds is to harness the millimeter-wavelength frequency of the wireless spectrum, although this usually requires expensive and very complex equipment. Now, engineers at Battelle, a research and development firm based in Columbus, OH, have come up with a simpler way to send data through the air with millimeter-wave technology.

Apparently they’ve been able to achieve speeds of 10.6 gigabits-per-second in a point-to-point field test, with antennas 800 meters apart. In the lab, they’ve demonstrated 20 gigabit-per-second speeds. Those are fiber-like speeds! Of course this wouldn’t work for blanket-wireless (like a cell network), but it could have some really useful applications.

The second article discusses a new study by market researcher In-Stat:

In-Stat said that more than 294 million consumer electronics devices with Wi-Fi shipped in 2007. But that number is quickly growing and will likely reach 1 billion by 2012. The fastest-growing embedded Wi-Fi segment is mobile handsets. By 2011, dual-mode cell phones will surpass PCs as the largest category of Wi-Fi devices, the In-Stat report said.

The phenomenal growth of consumer electronics devices is nothing new, but the takeaway here is that wireless Internet access demand is going to grow quite a bit over the next few years. After all, what good is a device with Wi-Fi capabilities if there is no Wi-Fi network available? This is good news for the Free Wi-Fi project.

A world with faster, more ubiquitous wireless Internet access is a world I want to live in.

What's trending right now?

twitter It’s been nearly three months since Twitter purchased Summize and renamed it Twitter Search. They still haven’t integrated Twitter Search into the main site, but they have made a number of other improvements:

Those last two points are the most important, I think. When you visit the Twitter home page, it asks you a simple question: “What are you doing?” Until now, that question has been Twitter in a nutshell. Moving forward though, I think a new question becomes equally as important: “What’s trending right now?”

I’ve said for a long time (with regards to Twitter) that there’s value in noise. It might seem dumb or trivial for me to post a tweet that says I am sleeping, but what if everyone did? Heck, we don’t even need everyone, just a sizable percentage. Then we could ask the question “how many people are sleeping right now?” and have real numbers to answer it with.

Twitter seems to have two sides now – gathering the noise, and filtering it.

Lots of people already contribute to the noise on Twitter, and I think their user base will only continue to grow. So they’ve got that covered. Increasingly it seems that Twitter is working to extract value from that noise. That’s the area they need to focus on most. I’m not sure how they plan to monetize their creation, but I suspect this is a big part of it.

The Election 2008 site seems like an experiment. If it goes well, I’d expect them to launch a number of other mini-sites in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow expanded on the trending entries on the blog too.

For me, Twitter Search is already the #1 stop for news. It’s where I learned that O.J. Simpson was found guilty, and that the bailout plan had passed. I think others will increasingly turn to Twitter Search first also.

You tell Twitter what you’re doing, and they’ll tell you what’s trending. I can’t wait to see where this leads!