Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

The Secret about Secrets

Dreams are a window to the human soul. So are secrets.


There really is no place to be truly honest on the web today. There’s no place to scream like no one’s watching. Sadly, this is especially true on issues that matter to you, on issues that make you, or issues that break you.

Yesterday’s news that Facebook is dabbling in the creation of an “anonymous” app has Om Malik seeing red. Facebook has owned the market for your identity on the web and now seems to also gravitate towards the opposite end of the spectrum, ostensibly to alter perception on their approach to privacy?

Facebook’s DNA is about mapping people, their relationships and booming their online identity. In fact, online identity is their most killer feature. It is what we all use to log into various websites to leave comments, or sign-in to new apps and services. It is how many Pinterest. Facebook identity is Facebook. So that is why it is hard for me to take any attempts at anonymity seriously!

Is this a PR move? Let’s give Facebook the benefit of doubt in that all of their successes (as driven by advertising) is also driven by an acute sense of how social works. That and given the lengthy product roadmaps that dictate the creation of products, I think anonymity on the web is something Facebook is giving a lot of consideration and this just might be their initial foray into that space. There might be more than meets the eye and I bet there’s a simple answer to all these hyperactive rumors. Here’s where my heads at in this space.

1. Contextual anonymity is empowering, transformational

Relationships matter. Always have, always will. Just ask Facebook and LinkedIn.

But as psychologists will tell you even within the concentric circles of our life (partner, family, work, neighbors, industry, etc.) we employ varying degrees of straight talk (think “fake it till you make it” resumes) for varying reasons. What if we added anonymity to these different concentric circles?

Google + tried creating these circles (minus the anonymity) to provide different slices of news feeds for different communities within your network.

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Facebook did the same when it allowed you to share different content to different slices of your life.

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And Branch tried the same mix of generating conversations within communities (experts, journalists, etc.)

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Given that Facebook acqui-hired the team at Branch and Josh Miller from Branch currently leads Project Anonymous, it’s not a stretch to imagine the much rumored product being an extension of the DNA that powered Facebook Groups and Branch.

And since Facebook owns the social graph, it’ll be very easy for them to anonymize conversations within groups already created. For example: I’ve a group for my closest friends (10 people), people I worked with while at LinkedIn (30 people), etc. There are so many ways to slice and dice sub-communities within your Facebook graph and just toggle pseudo / anonymity into the mix.

But what’s the benefit of anonymity, you ask…

2. Corporate Dens: When Communities *talk *

Enter Secret.

I became a recent convert to Secret after stumbling upon the concept of “contextual anonymity;” see a Secret experiment called “Dens” which allows for honest feedback within the filter of anonymity in your workplace. Dens seems like a powerful device to enable people at companies to speak up, be playful, and share their daily thoughts that others can follow within the community / company. Even the 360 degree feedback finds in confidentiality, its Achilles Heel:

People who have never gone through the 360 process before are usually initially worried about how the data will be used and if it will remain confidential. You need to ensure you assure them up-front that it is a confidential process and won’t come back to haunt them at performance review time.

The benefits for safe, anonymous comments in similar settings should be pretty obvious to Facebook. Granted there’s room for slander but I’m sure product driven updates will mitigate just that.

3. When Honesty Matters

Take Quora, a content network that allows anonymity for a slew of reasons. Here are a few reasons why this works:

Besides the reason you included, sharing life experience, other reasons include, but are not limited to:

• political/religious views where those views might be persecuted by a strong majority: Falun Dafa, pro-democracy in Hong Kong, Muslims in India, Christians in Iraq, etc…
• Experiences with drugs, and mental illness, or any other taboo subject
• Simply wanting to hide your content from being explicitly pushed out to people who follow you
• Asking questions that you are not able to fully, or clearly enunciate, which feel like they might appear trolly, but aren’t

As I’ve become more active on Secret, I find many heartwarming snippets of humanity show up. And this is just the tip of the iceberg since the network hasn’t hit critical mass yet. But the opportunity to leverage anonymity for its goodness vs. the acts we’re used to seeing on the web, is an untapped market.

Goodness.

Kindness.

Controversy.

And more

Can we scale this kind of a network is all that’s left to be seen. And if Facebook is going to bring a billion people into the world of anonymity, it could tip the scales.

Time will tell.

Filed under: Branch, Facebook, New Products, Secret

Hacking Time and To dos

To dos, like New Year’s resolutions, are a Herculean challenge that most of us have tried and failed. Nothing works. Paul Ford), former editor Harper’s Magazine, thinks we repeatedly waste time building to-do applications with no serious solution in sight:

One of the systems Victor talks about is in that speech is Doug Engelbart’s NLS system of 1968, which pioneered a ton of things—collaborative software, hypertext, the mouse—but deep, deep down was a to-do list manager. Since then the world of technology has never hurt for personal productivity tools.

Every year or two there seems to be a new hotness: it was Remember the Milk for a while, and OmniFocus, and TaskPaper, and Asana. Asana’s tagline is “Teamwork without email.” And of course there are tons of productivity technologies that don’t involve a computer, including the “Getting Things Done” system, which tore through the Internet like wildfire for a few years—Inbox Zero is its legacy.

That said, I believe we are at the cusp of upcoming technologies like speech recognition, the evolution of notifications, and a renewed focus on what I’d like to call “life management” (think wearables) that will finally put a dent in the way we manage our lives, to dos included. A couple of examples that have attacked this problem with some level of success have been “Mailbox” and “Google Now” to cite a couple of examples. Sure, these are early attempts at fixing email and to-dos, but I see this as a harbinger of the future.

The Challenge with To-dos

The biggest challenge with time management apps is the fluid requirements of To do apps. They have to scale from the micro (staying focused on the immediate task at hand) to the macro (that needs perspective with other apps like the calendar, ideally with notifications); the simple to the complex, the one-time to the repetitive (like habit tracker @liftapp); the important & urgent to the trivial; and so far we’ve just had blunt instruments with which we’ve been trying to hack away at this complexity called life.

All this complexity also has to be handled with little input from the user, or you risk losing them at the get-go should you try to gather much information from them. And the input medium has to be as simple as possible, not forcing the user to be typing away with difficulty on their smartphones. That’s where Google Now becomes more and more magical, as they delight their users by surfacing information users might have missed. This will be the future of To-dos. Read through Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan’s post comparing predictive search to digital assistants:

However, there’s no question that Google Now has proven that there are some search needs that can be predicted. These are often especially tied to location. That’s why — in retrospect — it’s not surprising that predictive search has emerged as more a smartphone feature rather than a search engine feature. We got Google Now for our phones long before we got it for our desktops.

Indeed, predictive search may even develop into an essential smartphone feature. We may come to expect every phone to have it, just as we expect our phones to have cameras or notification areas. And just as people might not buy a phone deemed to have a bad camera, they might also pass over a phone with poor predictive search in favor of one offering better.

The other major challenge with to-dos is handing off some of their actions to apps like email and calendar. Like some to-dos, that are important or urgent, could very well be a unit on your calendar. Now how does one hand that off across apps?

[Update: Since the writing of the post, Khosla VenturesTimeful App launched on iOS this past week, and seems to do a terrific job thus far. More on that in an upcoming post]

Now if only there was a way to dumb down this process to its fundamental basics, where the user does none of the heavy lifting but experiences the benefits of (feedback loop) of such a system, we might have a start. Granted we do not have a single solution that is cross-application and cross-platform, yet.

Hacking To-dos with Siri

This past weekend, upon transitioning to Apple’s latest OS X Yosemite, I feel I may have a quick fix, at least for now that might ease my time management. [This post was written before the launch of Timeful, so expect a sequel shortly.] Two of the biggest improvements in Yosemite, besides the mobile iOS influenced look-and-feel are Notifications (at a swipe) and Reminders that (finally!) syncs across mobile and desktop.

And the secret sauce to make this time management hack work is Siri. In its most recent avatar, Siri is a pretty good note taker, transcriber, and so removes the biggest obstacle with Reminders, which is the act of opening an app to type in your to-do, now all you’ve to do is say it out loud and it’s integrated into a giant catch-all. Let’s call that folder: “Do.”

In addition, I’ve created a bunch of often repeated categories, which range from Groceries (which I turn to when I shop at Google Shopping Express or Instacart), to Chores, which I’d rather not turn to, but gotta. At the end of each day, I review the “Do” folder and either assign a time / date for completion, either / or a folder that I can turn to “Later.”

The missing piece to all To-dos is Timing. Notifications (across mobile and desktop) can really make this work, unlike all past attempts at To-do apps. The good news with the new Mac OS’s is that Notifications are integrated cross-platform and a cursory viewing is just a swipe away under the newly redesigned OS X on the right hand of the desktop.

Frankly, this is as good as Reminders are gonna get for now, but I bet there are ways to further do the thinking for us, as Google Now has shown.

The Future is Brighter

With my experience with Timeful these past 24 hours, it’s clear that time management can be hacked on mobile and desktop in a way we haven’t been able to do thus far. And with increasing tie-ins with the mobile OS and the world of notifications (check out Naveen‘s (Partner, Expa) essay on how “notifications are becoming the app itself”) and predictive search, we just might be able to crack this case.

Also, notifications will allow time management apps to interact with the user on a project to project basis in a way that task managers haven’t been able to in the past. The benefits of such one-click incremental interactions (task done or task moved forward) in future OS’s will bring about a sea change in the efficiency of to-do apps.

When we can interact with our data in short bursts via notifications, we make remarkable efficiency gains, especially on tasks that we perform again and again. Apps will become more about information and communications; we’re going to think of them as services instead of as windows onto our data. The things that can make best use of single click efficiency will soar. A whole new world is up there waiting for us at the top of the screen. We just need to pull it down.

Finally, one of the time management fads talked about in Paul Ford’s piece was David Allen and his until recently ubiquitous Getting Things Done (GTD) craze in the nerd community. Even comedian Drew Carey outsourced his time management to Allen to fix this problem and learned this:

[It] turns out that the Zeigarnik effect is not, as was assumed for decades, a reminder that continues unabated until the task gets done. The persistence of distracting thoughts is not an indication that the unconscious is working to finish the task. Nor is it the unconscious nagging the conscious mind to finish the task right away. Instead, the unconscious is asking the conscious mind to make a plan.

And that plan needs to be made in concert with the big picture, without which the minute next steps mean nothing. Curious what David Allen thinks of the new wave of time management?

How do you track time in your life? Curious if any of your time hacks beat the version I outline above. Tweet me @mariosundar or just leave a comment below.

Filed under: HOW-TO Use Social Media, New Products, What's New in Social Media

Time has come to change how we read

Google Reader is dead. Long live reading.

If you are from the real world and happened upon posts from any-and-every tech blog, you wouldn’t be mistaken in assuming that today marks the demise of the written word, now that Google’s offed Google Reader.

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Image Source: Business Week

But as Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine, notes, most people don’t know Google Reader from Google Currents, less so care about its disappearance:

As a blogger this might be blasphemy, but the online echo chamber when beloved products, however esoteric, change or shut down is out of control. Worse, it might convince us, through repetition, that these things matter. Regardless of what your social media circles might indicate, the universe will not mourn Reader because the amount of people whose job (or even hobby) it is to consume and process news is actually minuscule. Thankfully.

As a matter of fact, in their rush to tease out the minutiae, I fear we have missed the big picture. There is a fundamental disruption happening in how news is consumed.

Many apps (Digg, Aol, Feedly) are scrambling to jump on the RSS bandwagon by touting their next Google Reader but fact is we are already seeing attempts at more efficient ways to consume news.

And RSS is only part of that story.

What’s the New TiVo of News?

Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker, writes of the problem that ailed Google Reader:

But a feed reader still represents a fundamentally different vision of gathering information than the social model that has gripped the Web. It is largely a single-user enterprise—a digital monk diligently scanning feeds. And it is intensely focussed on the Web sites most important to the user, rather than the omnivorous grazing that characterizes scanning news on social media, as links are surfaced by the people the user follows.

Fact is most of the sites I recommend below have moved away from the RSS-only model while curating social content, in many cases with a lil help from an expert – a trait most successfully used by Gabe Rivera and his trinity of popular news aggregation insider sites Techmeme (Technology), Memeorandum (Politics), and Wesmirch (Celebrity).

As Matt says:

Everybody consumes the Web differently, so it’s hard to imagine a single reading service that works for every person. But it seems reasonable to think that one combining a person’s deep and abiding interests with the serendipity of social media could work for most.

But the future for news readers is brighter than ever and here’s not one, not two, but five different reasons why:

1. Flipboard

The one news app I cannot live without today would have to be – without doubt – my Flipboard.

Flipboard pulls together the disparate threads of news that course through our ubiquitous social media world and makes gorgeous sense of it. Everything from your LinkedIn to Facebook updates, YouTube to Instagram (even SoundCloud), and most importantly, your Twitter followings are displayed in an elegant magazine like format. It’s the kind of design one normally expects from Apple, and Flipboard’s attention-to-detail here is impressive (Follow their designer, @craigmod).

The important distinction to make here is that Flipboard is primarily a consumption device. Though it provides you options to tweet or update your status on any of your social accounts, the beauty of Flipboard is its visual clarity and the ability to on-board you with great news right away.

2. Feedly

For those hard-core Google Reader users who fret-and-fumed since the announcement-to-shutter was made, Feedly has been a god-send. Not only has Feedly invested the most in making this a smooth transition for users, they have also made the most gains among the same user base (up to 3 million users now). In addition, they now support lost RSS reader tools (like @reeder and @newsify) stay alive.

From a user perspective, what feedly has done is provide a quick replacement for Google Reader with a blazing fast cloud service, which you can find at Feedly Cloud. What’s most shocking to me in this whole scenario is why Google didn’t transition those influential Google Reader users to Google Currents – their Flipboard wannabe – the same way Flipboard did!

What Feedly does with its aggressive push into the Google Reader space remains to be seen, but I’d watch out for what they have up their sleeve next.

3. Newsify

All great news consumption apps start on mobile. Flipboard set the standard and, believe it or not, Newsify and Reeder are two similar apps with similar credentials.

RSS subscriptions, unlike the real-time ephemeral nature of social, add up pretty fast in an inbox and what you found is that you had to declare news bankruptcy pretty soon, deleting days worth of RSS content.

What you need is a pictorial, almost Pinterest-like, visualization that allows you to skim through hundreds of posts while picking out the ones that seem most interesting. If it’s 4.5 star app rating is any indication, Newsify seems to have nailed that experience for the iPhone and the iPad.

4. The Modern Op-ed: Quora and Medium

What Huffington Post successfully started, Quora and Medium have tried to emulate. The goal: to find and amplify excellent sources of authoritative analysis, with topics ranging from breaking news to expertise across varying categories.

While Quora is focused on news-via-experience, Medium seems to have perfected the art of the modern op-ed, democratized it while still maintaining its quality.

But what all these sites do is take the traditional news model and flip it on its head by finding commenters, whose comments are the starting point to creating worthwhile reading, and giving these individuals a platform to write and a community to pontificate.

5. Social News: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Finally, the elephant in the room. Social.

Let’s not forget that all of the above innovation rests on social.

What would Flipboard do without Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn feeds. Would their pages be as interesting or even exist?

Most of what I follow on Flipboard are Twitter lists I’ve created. Most of what most people follow on Flipboard are also built around links shared on social sites. With LinkedIn already showing how a successful social news product should be built around relevance and Facebook clearly showing its cards with what could potentially be a social news engine, we can see the direction that social news is gonna take in the coming years. And it’s gonna be a game changer.

So let me leave you with a question:

How do you get your news today? Is it on Yahoo News or Flipboard or Twitter? Do you read news primarily on your phone as you are boarding the train or on your desktop once you get to work or with a New York Times subscription while you drink coffee in the morning.

Leave me a comment.

Filed under: Curation, Facebook, Journalism, Medium, Quora, Social Media Tools, Tumblr, What's New in Social Media

BREAKING: Can we put Journalism back together again?

This is an attempt at deciphering the happenings of the past week in Boston and the way we follow news today. What are some of the learnings from the past days and what must we avoid. And most importantly, how has social media, Twitter in particular, forever changed the way we consume real-time news.

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The photo acquired via a LetsRun forum that gave us a closer look at Suspect #2 (with white hat in left corner)

This was our generation’s OJ Simpson – Broncos chase. This time, instead of 21 helicopters hovering over the infamous slow-speed chase, we had hundreds of thousands of us refreshing our Twitter feed in real-time as the Chechen brothers evaded, assassinated, and ran over their way into infamy. This time, we contributed and participated our way into the history of media.

Journalism isn’t dead. We’re just reinventing it.

Let’s refresh our memory on a few of the biggest on-air and online human errors the media bungled:

1. CNN who rushed to call that an arrest had been made when none had and other too eager networks like Fox who repeated the nonsense.

Well no one pokes fun at CNN better than Jon Stewart, so here goes. This should give you a sense for the continued hits that CNN has been taking as a sub-standard bearer of mediocre news these days.

2. NY Post: No one expects much from this tabloid, the second Murdoch outlet that screwed up the Boston coverage by pointing fingers at bag men who weren’t Suspect 1 nor Suspect 2.

3. Reddit: Aah… where would we be if social media weren’t a part of these screw-ups.

Yes, there may have been some smugness from social media folks when they thought some of the internet sleuthing pin-pointed the suspects but as was the case, they were way off-base and have apologized profusely since. And I regret being a part of the RT mafia that was a lil too eager to beat our chests a lil too early; a culpability we now share with mainstream media. But for every Reddit fiasco, there’s a LetsRun success and that’s why the “wisdom of crowdsworks and is here to stay:

In places where reporters could not tread because of police restrictions, local residents filled in some of the audio and video gaps. From their front stoops and through their windows, they posted videos of an early-morning shootout and photographs of a vehicle said to be involved in a police chase. The material was quickly scooped up by local television stations and Twitter users. On NBC’s “Today” show, Savannah Guthrie was able to interview two Watertown residents sheltering at home, thanks to a Skype video connection. The residents showed images of bullet holes in their walls, presumably from the shootout.

Farhad Manjoo of Slate Magazine goes as far as hyperventilating:

Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.

Finally, load up your favorite newspaper’s home page. Spend about 10 minutes reading a couple of in-depth news stories about the events of the day. And that’s it: You’ve now caught up with all your friends who spent the past day and a half going out of their minds following cable and Twitter. In fact, you’re now better informed than they are, because during your self-imposed exile from the news, you didn’t stumble into the many cul-de-sacs and dark alleys of misinformation that consumed their lives. You’re less frazzled, better rested, and your rain gutters are clear.

Breaking news is broken.

Molly Wood of CBS suggests:

It’s not. We have more information, but it’s a morass of truths, half-truths, and what we used to call libel. It’s fast, but it’s bad. And bad information is a cancer that just keeps growing. I’d argue the opposite of Ingram: that the hyper-intense pressure of real-time reporting from Twitter, crowdsourcing from Reddit, and constant mockery from an online community that is empirically skewed toward negativity and criticism is actually hurting journalism. It’s making all the news worse.

I beg to differ. Bad journalists make specious judgments with or without social media.

  • Social media had nothing to do with John King’s judgment to call that an arrest had been made.
  • Social media had nothing to do with the New York Post broadcasting two innocent young men’s photographs from the rooftops.
  • Yes, Redditors, did get their facts wrong, messed up, fessed up and now have offered to help find the poor young man who’s been missing and was falsely accused by them as a potential suspect but it’s the last in a string of bad judgments made this past week.

It’s easy to blame social media for all the ills ailing journalism, but fact remains good journalism will always be about an objective interpretation of verifiable facts. And it’s the responsibility of the world’s largest media institutions to uphold these standards. Not CNN their way into infamy.

None could have said it better than Alan Gregg, former director of Medical Sciences for the Rockefeller Foundation in this excellent post on the Art of Observation:

“Most of the knowledge and much of the genius of the research worker lie behind his selection of what is worth observing. It is a crucial choice, often determining the success or failure of months of work, often differentiating the brilliant discoverer from the … plodder.”

The Boston incident is not an isolated incident. Increasingly we find news outlets choosing to be held captive to the ever quickening news cycle. It was true during the Kennedy assassination, it worsened during the OJ trial, and it’s running a mile a second in today’s social media world.

  • It is the journalist’s job to be the discoverer, not the plodder.
  • It is the journalist’s job to urge caution and call out the plodder.
  • It is not the journalist’s job to be the plodder.

Thoughts echoed by one of the few journalists who proved his value in this melee of real-time nonsense:

But I’d like to go one step further and point out that social media can be a huge asset to journalists in doing their job better. And that job is keeping the rest of the country (that’s on edge) posted on the latest in an unnerving string of attacks. And, if Twitter is the best medium to get that information out, then journalists have to figure out the best way to use it. And some did.

And as the @Boston_Police (now with over 330K followers on Twitter) found out this past week:

“Nothing has really changed,” Bar-Tur, a social media and law-enforcement consultant says, “just the medium has changed.” That might be enough for a new model manhunt to emerge.

And, that exactly should be the takeaway for journalists today.

The medium has changed. Journalism will evolve with social media.

(To be continued…)

Filed under: Crisis Communications, HOW-TO Use Social Media, Journalism

Is Facebook’s Graph Search a Giant Killer?

Will Facebook’s “Graph Search” be a threat to Google, LinkedIn, Yelp, or Foursquare asks a question on Quora?

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No, No, No and Definitely Not. Yet.

The key is expertise.

Beneath the obvious user delight, Facebook is betting a lot on Graph Search’s core ability to connect people with what they’re looking for accurately and immediately. And obviously as the middle man, they stand to gain. Fair enough.

But will Facebook’s imminent functionality be a threat to well established vertical searches like Google, Yelp, LinkedIn and Foursquare?

All of the four kinds of search you can do today: Photos, People, Places and Interests, bear commercial implication. But the most immediate remain People and Places, which as bloggers speculate may pose a threat to Yelp, Foursquare, Google (Places) and LinkedIn (People). So, let’s take simple examples and compare Facebook Search with the other four searches.

Facebook vs. Yelp

I started with a simple search for “bars,” something I presume will be a common search on any local product. Here’s what I got with Facebook. For starters, along with actual bars it also pulled up law and bar associations or offices which was a bit odd.

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Now try the same with Yelp and you see how right away, they try to segment that query into the different types of bars you’re potentially searching for.

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Once you get a set of results, Yelp then allows you (and this is the most useful feature on yelp currently) to convenience sort by “rating,” “proximity,” “price,” “open now,” or even better by neighborhoods.

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I’ve gotta tell you; if you go out often, this filter is magical. But again, the filter is by utilitarian ratings by foodies and not by friends around you. More on that in just a second.

But before we leave Yelp, the third most useful feature on Yelp is their surfacing key elements of the review. So you’re at a restaurant and you’re wondering what’s the best thing on the menu. In days past, you’d have had to ask the person serving you but now you can rely on “the wisdom of an expert crowd” what’s the best food here and it works. Like magic.

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Facebook vs. Foursquare

Back to the topic of friends which is Facebook’s biggest competitive advantage. If you do wanna take into account which restaurants your friends are frequenting (ignoring the fact that expertise is the key), then try Foursquare.

The first thing you’ll notice yet again is the structured data (categories like Bar, Sports Bar, Salon) right up front (similar to Yelp) that Foursquare now provides you; though not as in depth as Yelp, can still be a tad useful.

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Digging deeper through the results, you’re gonna find them sorted by Foursquare’s own proprietary “Zagat number” that they conjure based on multiple data points.

Foursquare comes up with its score by looking at tips left by users, likes, dislikes, popularity, check-ins and it also weights signals more heavily for local experts.

They also show you a self-selecting group of folks who you know. Chances are most of these folks are more prone to bar hop than your other friends. But still Yelp really nails it with their community that they have nurtured for many many years who continue to write meaningful reviews that makes a world of difference when it comes to local search.

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Facebook vs. Google Local

While on the topic of a Zagat number, Google recently bought restaurant ratings site Zagat which now powers their Google Local ratings.  Zagat which originally started off compiling restaurant ratings of the Zagat’s friends, does something very similar to Yelp and the model here is yet again – expertise.

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Facebook vs. LinkedIn

Shifting gears to people search, Facebook’s people search is three years after LinkedIn launched its faceted people search. I know because I helped launch it at TechCrunch Disrupt where product manager Esteban Kozak demoed it right before CEO Jeff Weiner went on stage. (Disclosure: I no longer work at LinkedIn and don’t own any stock either) My mind was blown when I first saw what we could do with faceted search on LinkedIn both from a user experience perspective and I’m sure recruiters have found even more value from it.

Take a look at this demo video we shot in 2009 that shows you the plethora of signals a site like LinkedIn uses to hone in on the right professionals in a search. Easier said than done, and much like with Yelp, these signals have been gathered over many many years and such a search isn’t something you can turn on willy-nilly.

In all four instances the quality of Facebook’s search is insipid today compared to the robust community based expertise that the four sites have either built or bought .

The key is expertise. 

Now granted there are many things Facebook could do to build or buy their way into each of these verticals but the key point is that strength in local search across People and Places is not “friend” related, but rather “expertise” dependent and it takes years to build that. And frankly, I’d go with the critical reviews from experts in these fields and that’s an area that Yelp, Foursquare, Google and LinkedIn have Facebook beat.

Filed under: Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, LinkedIn Features, Local Search, Location, Mark Zuckerberg, , , , , ,

The magic left the building with Jobs

I remember the moment Steve Jobs scrolled through his music and uttered those magical words – “scrolls like butter” – while illustrating the beauty of the original iPhone.

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It’s moments like this that you lived for, as a technology obsessed professional in Silicon Valley. And with Jobs we got to watch the Michael Jordan of technology, courtside, at his best. iPods, iPhones, iPads, the hits kept coming and Jobs made them look great.

So, it’s a pet peeve of mine these days when companies try to rip off Steve Jobs’ launch style. Not Apple’s style because the new PR machinery at Apple leaves a lot to be desired. But what Jobs created, no one else can put together, because it was and will always be classic Jobs.

Jobs in the above video is the same age as Zuckerberg is today. Incomparable!

Why “Public Relations” sucks?

Kevin Roose writes of the Applefication of Facebook PR in light of today’s Facebook press conference.

I’m sitting in the Facebook headquarters, in Menlo Park, in a room filled with the symphonic clicking of keys produced by hundreds of tech bloggers, all writing the same stories and updating the same live-blogs on identical Apple laptops.

Go on…

Zuckerberg has long departed — he was disappeared from a teeming pile of reporters and cameras and out a back door like a sitting president — so now it’s just us and the PR Borg. Oh, the PR Borg. Facebook’s communications staffers are paired up with reporters at demo stations, showing off Graph on a series of computers. The spares are milling around the room. There must be 50 of them — a phalanx of fresh-faced professionals with smiles on their faces and carefully scripted responses to our questions in their hip pockets.

These are today’s news factories. These are things I’d hoped would change with social media but frankly the hand that runs the machine continues to operate with an old playbook. And that sucks…

But wasn’t social media meant to change these things… Hold that thought.

Because no company can ever be Apple with Jobs 

I never went to an Apple event in the Steve Jobs era, but I gather that the pitch is nearly identical: the charismatic founder, the well-paced presentation, the subtle way that certain media outlets are subtly given preference. (This time, major news outlets — this one not included — were given off-the-record briefings about Social Graph.) It’s all drawn from a playbook that was developed a decade ago and has been used to transform a smallish computer company into the largest corporation in the world.

Not so fast. This playbook copied by every large company from Amazon to Facebook forgets three key elements for this communication to work: killer product, charismatic founder, real user values.

The magic with Steve Jobs was his effortless communication. A passionate user himself whose demos communicated his wonder around Apple products that truly changed the way we interact with technology.

Yes, Apple had their PR machinery but the difference was Jobs.

  • The difference was in backing up those missives by publicly sparring, evangelizing and winning over developers or journalists when they called him on it.
  • The difference was a holistic approach at communicating openly to users by treating them as adults.

Wasn’t that the utopian goal of social media? To help companies talk one-on-one with their users. Instead here we are, still mass producing press releases around giant product announcements, trying to reach the lowest common denominator at the lowest possible price. In some cases, at the ridiculously low price of $100.00!

Welcome to the future of social media communication.

[Disclosure: I own public stock in Facebook, I do not own stock in Apple. This blog holds my my personal thoughts on all things marketing and communications since 2006.]

Filed under: Best-of, Facebook, Public Relations, Social PR, , , ,

All the iPhone apps a Writer needs

Since my return to blogging, I’ve been trying to develop a regimen to get my writing in shape. A process during which I’ve put together an ideal stable of iPhone apps that enable me to save your fleeting thoughts – write and publish – whenever, wherever.

Every writer has their writing setup.

This is mine.

forrestgump-feather

I think to be a good writer, you’ve got to read, read, and read more. And then when you’ve an idea – write, write and write – wherever you are. Over time you learn how to discern good from bad writing, understand sentence structures, how to play with them, and finally through that knowledge how to break rules. Robert Louis Stevenson says it best.

All through my boyhood and youth, I was known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler; and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write. I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a penny version-book would be in my hand, to note down the features of the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with words.

If you choose to do the same – “live with words” – in today’s smartphone world, there’s a slew of apps to check out, but the sad fact is most of it is crap. After wasting hours investigating these apps, I’ve curated the best; 4 reading and 4 writing apps, that’ll help every writer keep their New Year resolutions this year.

Reading iOS Apps

My two biggest sources of daily reading are: Twitter, and Google Reader. Anything I see there that I don’t have time to read I schedule for end-of-day on Instapaper; also sent daily to my Amazon Kindle, which is my fourth reading app.

One of the main reasons I picked the apps below is their multi-platform capability. You start reading a book on your Kindle, pick it up on your iPhone’s Kindle app later or maybe read it when you get home at the end of the day: all synced up. Same for the other three apps below.

By syncing a book across platforms, including a Kindle smart phone app, a dedicated Kindle reader, and the audio version, we can read more by reading in smaller chunks. We can get a bit of reading done whenever we have a few minutes. And then we can transition to longer stretches of pleasure reading with our dedicated Kindle reader.

In general I prefer web based apps for twitter and like @Tweetdeck a bunch, but the main reason I switched to Tweetbot was the ability to sync up tweets based on were you read it (Mac, iPad or iPhone).

I was stuck on @reeder, a very pretty Google reader app on Apple’s iOS universe, but given the number of feeds I subscribe to the entire process of reading became a chore.

What I needed was an app that made it easy for me to skim through hundreds of feeds and Newsify is the solution. Works great on the iPad and the iPhone.

This one’s a doozy. I’ve oscillated between Pocket and Instapaper, back and forth, for a while now. But, this past week as I figured out my writing style, I settled on Instapaper. I bet Marco’s smiling. Here’s why.

Search archives: I knew this feature existed, but as a writer, I didn’t realize how critical it was. As I mentioned above, reading is critical, and with a lil digital savvy you shouldn’t have to struggle finding great pieces to link to or re-read just because Chrome does an awful job with their not-so-Awesomebar.

Now if you route all the articles you find, whether it’s on Twitter, Google Reader (Amazon Kindle: can we send highlights and notes to Instapaper?) to Instapaper, now you can search through all of them later so you can link to exactly the right article you’re looking for.

Amazon Kindle integration: There’s magic in the power of habit, powered by the habit of one.

The goal is to channel as many of these curated, high-quality articles, you stumble upon during the day, into one distraction-free reading app just for your eyes, for the end of the day.

Instapaper has this amazing feature to route the day’s read-laters to Amazon Kindle at a specific time of day. I usually set it up for end of day and read these before I get ready to blog for the next day. That routine works great for me. Here’s how to create that setup for yourself. Hat tip @_davidsmith.

Before diving into the details I want to try and explain why this feature is so incredibly useful and has changed so fundamentally how I read content from the web. The Kindle is a device with a singular focus, reading. While it isn’t without flaws, the experience of reading long-form content on the Kindle is the best of any device I’ve tried. The e-ink screen is gentle on your eyes. The insane battery life and tiny size means that you can always have it with you. But most importantly it can only be used for reading which enforces a mental focus that I find very relaxing.

Within that context reading my Instapaper queue on my Kindle is the most comfortable experience I’ve found. I even find it better than the iPad app, which will good in its own right but provides far too much opportunity for distraction.

Agreed, agreed, and agreed.

Writing iOS Apps

Inspiration strikes anywhere. Just ask Galileo.

Today’s digital world allows you to do things that a moleskine just couldn’t. The most important moleskine notebook you can ever have is the one you carry with you everywhere and that’s your phone.

While picking these apps my goal was yet again multi-platform compatibility and inter-operability. The four apps covers the journey your words make from your mind to being written and published.

This goes without saying: it’s always good to carry a dictionary with you and the iPhone app’s dictionary is stellar, not only allowing you to find meanings and synonyms but also helping with pronunciation. I wish there were a similar app for grammar but too bad there isn’t a Kindle version for “Strunk and White’s Elements of Style” – 85 pages of Grammar Gold. That’s Gold, Jerry. Gold!

All you need is a blank page. Now imagine a blank page with a blinking cursor.

As intimidating as it has been for writers world-wide, for centuries; a blank page is the perfect way to get your ideas down as they flow freely onto paper.

And, I can’t think of a better app that allows you to just [focus on the writing, one sentence at a time], while the rest of your words on that page wait for your edits. I can’t recommend iA Writer enough. The best part is that it syncs up your words on iCloud (preferred method) or Dropbox (which would be my second option since it may lose stuff when offline).

Give it a try.

Of course, in some cases when I’m working on projects I have it saved on Google Drive or Google Docs. It’s definitely no iA Writer but if you have your stuff there, then it makes sense to have their iPhone and iPad apps cos it allows you to edit content (spreadsheets or docs) on your iPhone.

The last piece to this puzzle is publishing your thoughts; a blog being the easiest way to accomplish that. My blog’s been on WordPress for two reasons: it was the easiest to setup when I started nearly 8 years ago and it is great at helping your words reach the right audience when they search for your on search engines like Google (it’s called search engine optimization).

But the downside to WordPress is that they suck at designing beautiful apps and frankly their iPhone, iPad app sucks.

So imagine my surprise when I found Poster, the most beautiful, minimalist WordPress app you’re ever gonna find. And, it works with Markdown which I use on iA Writer to write my posts. Secondly, if I want to publish in HTML, iA Writer makes it super-easy to export-copy in HTML which I can then publish in WordPress. Plus, Poster has Dropbox integration so you can carry your posts on the cloud.

** Markdown is the simplest way to format your posts within the realm of your keyboard.

Now that you have all the tools you’ll ever need to write – at any point of time in your daily life – all that remains is to write like you give a fuck.

A better metaphor I couldn’t have thought of, so here goes. Robert Louis Stevenson, take it away

To know the secret of skating is, indeed, I have always thought, the beginning of winter-long pleasance. It comes as sweet deliverance from the tedium of indoor isolation and brings exhilaration, now with a swift glide to the right, now with a deft swerve to the left, now with a deep breath of healthy air, now with a long exhalation of ozone, which the lungs, like greedy misers, have cast aside after draining it of its treasure. But it is not health that we love nor exhilaration that we seek, though we may think so; our design and our sufficient reward is to verify our own existence, say what you will.

And so, my dear young friend, I would say to you: Open up your heart; sing as you skate; sing inharmoniously if you will, but sing! A man may skate with all the skill in the world; he may glide forward with incredible deftness and curve backward with divine grace, and yet if he be not master of his emotions as well as of his feet, I would say—and here Fate steps in—that he has failed.

Filed under: Social Media Tools, Writing

Quora’s Vision, Competition

Quora’s Adam D’Angelo penned an interesting year-end post where he articulates Quora’s mission better than they’ve ever done before. As a huge fan of the site and a disappointee with some of their recent work (Quora boards anyone?) I’m glad to see Quora returning to its roots.

Quora’s mission is to share and grow the world’s knowledge.

LIBRARY-OF-ALEXANDRIA

Much of Adam’s thoughts reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The American Scholar, which predicts the beauty of Quora and it’s goals many years ago.

I read with joy some of the auspicious signs of the coming days, as they glimmer already through poetry and art, through philosophy and science, through church and state.

Instead of the sublime and beautiful; the near, the low, the common, was explored and poetized.

Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body; let me see every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an eternal law; and the shop, the plough, and the leger, referred to the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing; — and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order; there is no trifle; there is no puzzle; but one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench.

That to me, was and is, Quora’s highest ambition: to educate, organize and share the world’s knowledge  from the sublime to the mundane (which is very different from Google’s “organize the world’s information.”) And, it was refreshing to read echoes of that in Adam’s recent post:

We hope to become an internet-scale Library of Alexandria, a place where hundreds of millions of people go to learn about anything and share everything they know.

Or as Emerson said from the users point-of-view:

The scholar is that man who must take up into himself all the ability of the time, all the contributions of the past, all the hopes of the future. He must be an university of knowledges.

Matthew Ingram over at GigaOm suggests this pits Quora with Wikipedia, while Owen Thomas is more like Google v. Quora. Frankly, it’s neither of them.

The battle lines are drawn. Its knowledge platforms that Quora will find itself facing off.

1. Knowledge Platforms: The Old Guard

WordPress, Typepad, etc.

Frankly, any site or service that dabbles in knowledge dissemination is competition to Quora, the only difference here being Quora could be both the platform (like WordPress) and the connector (like Google). I’d have counted Answers sites in this mix but they’re either too niche (Stack Overflow) or dead (Yahoo! Answers and LinkedIn Answers).

So, blogs. There are close to 150 million blogs in the world with Google doing a pretty decent job of corralling that information, sometimes connecting the highest bidder with the rest of us with questions. But that’s not the market Quora is going after. It’s knowledge; a higher quality of information. And where do people share the knowledge they have – mostly on blogs and niche social networks. Think about this: the biggest drawback of most blogs is the ability to build an audience (the more influential, the better) but Quora is great at helping you find that audience and helps you connect with those who seek that knowledge (like Quora credits?)

But before they get there they need to scale their knowledge platform; hence, I’d guess, the push away from Q&A to everything that constitutes knowledge.

2. Knowledge Platforms: The New Wave

Svbtle, Medium & Branch.

Increasingly I’m seeing sites that aim to one-up the WordPresses of the world with “a curated collection of great people who have things to say, “a new way to talk to each other,” or “the sharing of ideas and experiences.”

Oddly enough, two of the above come from the House of Obvious Corp. (the brainchild of Twitter co-founders, Ev and Biz), both of whom “would rather build the next Wikipedia, than Zynga.” Guess who’s building the next Wikipedia – Quora.

While Branch forces us to take a second look at commenting systems, cryptic Medium seems to be aimed at publishers and media companies or something like that. Either way, all of the above are aimed at scaling the quality of knowledge that’s distributed on the internet. And by doing so they aim to become the Google at connecting knowledge with those who seek it.

You may notice I didn’t mention Tumblr because I feel they’ve carved out a unique niche for themselves far from either “quality” or “knowledge” by becoming a social entertainment platform with a specific audience (teenagers and time-wasters?), much like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post both of whom feed off of Tumblr.

3. Social Platforms: News and Blog Niche

LinkedIn Blogs, Facebook News

Much like Tumblr and Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn too have a distinct purpose that immunizes them against Quora. But increasingly, both of these social networking giants, especially LinkedIn seem to making subtle inroads into knowledge sharing. Heck, LinkedIn even recently launched a curated blogging platform. As LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, says in his recent post “It’s Not Just Who You Know, It’s What They Know.”

I’m also personally looking forward to posting on a number of subjects I’ve grown passionate about during the course of my career: how to scale a company; the most valuable management lessons I’ve learned; thoughts about the future of work; how to close the skills gap; and many others.

Topics that you can find answers to on Quora along with the more mundane questions that professionals across various spectrum have asked questions on, but LinkedIn’s scale makes this an interesting one to follow.

Granted, this is but a hobby for LinkedIn; their very own “Apple TV” but as I see it, 2013 is shaping up to be the year of knowledge networks.

Filed under: Branch, Knowledge Networks, Linkedin, Medium, Quora, , , , , , , , ,

Why do Social Media Management Tools Still Suck?

It’s been over 5 years since I wrote this piece on MarketingProfs referring to Charlene Li’s original post that introduced us to new ways to track social media metrics. Here we are in 2012 and after a review of some of the leading social media “management”, “monitoring” and “listening” tools, it’s too bad that we don’t have a single winner-take-all scenario but rather a mashup of tools, some of which work better than others.

Now, I bet you didn’t come here to read that. What I’d like to do over the next few minutes is to give you a sense of the social media landscape that greets you today. Consider this post a primer on navigating the mess that is social media management.

There are tons of social media management tools out there that’s probably confusing to the novice but the ones you’ve probably heard of are the ones above. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’d highly recommend Jeremiah’s research on this topic.

Where do I begin?

I’m sorry to break this to you but there ain’t a single tool that’s a panacea for all your social media tracking woes. Frankly, you’re gonna find out that there are two kinds of tools that cater to different teams in your organization:

  1. Social Media Management tools (Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, etc.)
  2. Social Media Listening tools (Radian6, Sysomos, Lithium, etc.)

You’re going to find that all of the tools you evaluate is going to perform better either as a management tool or a listening tool. Very few try to do both (For example, Hootsuite) and in those cases, they fail at one of the two. Chances are that most companies and small businesses will start this journey looking for a social media management tool since the first step in evolving your company’s social media brain is “Awareness” where you identify and track your existing social media presence on social platforms. For example, see LinkedIn’s Social Media Presence below:

Step 1 is gonna be to monitor your activity on these key platforms, identify audience growth (# of followers) across platforms and figure out engagement (how to improve RTs or comments via proper copy and scheduling).

Define your criteria

Step 2 is to identify what are the criteria for selecting this social media tool for your company? The social media tool will have to take into account a bunch of internal requirements that you’ve got to map and then find a tool that fall within the parameters you set for yourself. Here are some criteria I mapped before we began the process of identifying potential social media tools at LinkedIn.

Once you define your version of the above criteria (see above), the goal is to come up with a list of tools that fall within the parameters you define. As you go through the list you realize that the primary challenge is finding a tool that’s complex enough to deal with massive datasets (for example, to plan your marketing campaigns on Twitter or run reports around PR campaigns) while at the same time easy enough to be used by everyone on the team to update your company’s status updates.

So, though Tweetdeck is ideal since it’s free and is easiest to use (has basic scheduling of tweets for e.g.) it unfortunately lacks even basic collaboration / report generation features. So, what you eventually end up with is you’re forced to pick either a Social Media Management System, Listening tool or both.

How does your company do social media? And, if you’ve had a different experience and found your ideal social media tool leave a comment or tweet me @mariosundar

Filed under: Social Media ROI, Social Media Tools, , , , , , ,

#NotAtSXSW

For the past four years, I’ve made the annual trek to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Conference and have fond memories and some great friendships that were forged during those weekends. This weekend will be the first year in 5 years (I even made it last year despite the chaos) that I’ll be missing out on the action – partly due to a bruised rib and partly cos I haven’t had a chance to breathe since my return from Toronto.

Bringing #SXSW to Twitter

Over this weekend, I’m gonna do my best to avoid staring at my Tweetdeck screen that will taunt me with tweets from friends streaming into Austin, sharing their Instagram photos or checking in non-stop over this weekend, I figured why not get other non-attendees together do something constructive – a Twitter chat.

Who better to host the chat than Mack Collier. Mack and I started blogging at roughly the same time over 7 years ago, we shared the stage at Southby years ago and he runs a weekly twitter chat (#blogchat) on topics related to social media every Sunday. And, that’s exactly what we’re doing this Friday to distract ourselves from SXSW.

Here are the details:

  • Time: Friday, March 10 at Noon Central for an hour (see Mack’s post here)
  • Topic: Using Social Media tools to network (here’s a hint on some of the things we’ll cover)
  • How to: Log onto Twitter (ideally use a desktop app via Tweetdeck or Hootsuite). Create a search column for #notatsxsw and you’re off to the races. And, hashtag your tweets #NotAtSXSW

How do I participate? And, what’s a Twitter Chat?

To the uninitiated, Twitter chat is an online unconference, if you will. What’s an unconference, you ask. Well, never mind. It’s a great way to bring together peers with a common interest on common topics. Frankly twitter chat will be a perfect example to illustrate how to “Use Social media tools to network”. For you newbies, here’s a short description from Mack on how Twitter chat works:

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Twitter, you know that there are a lot of conversations happening at any one time, and it can sometimes seem like a jumbled mess. But when we add a hashtag like #blogchat to our tweets, then it becomes much easier for us to track and keep up with the conversation that’s happening!

Think of the #blogchat hashtag as a ‘mark’ that we add to our tweets, then if you are searching for the term ‘#blogchat’, you can quickly and easily see all the tweets that are related to our discussion!

The only difference this time is we’ll be using the #NotAtSXSW hashtag both during the chat as well as for the rest of the week, as we lead up to it. So, look forward to seeing you guys there. Don’t forget to follow @mackcollier and you know me – @mariosundar. See you guys on Friday!

Follow me @mariosundar

Filed under: HOW-TO Use Social Media, Twitter, , , , ,

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