Nate Silver calculates the chances of a flight being attacked by a terrorist: one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.
But while they are spending less time with television and DVDs, they are actually spending more time with media than any other age group – watching videos on the Internet, listening to music and playing video games."
Google Notebook, Jaiku and, Dodgeball
Windows Live Events
Barnes & Noble Quamut
The Telegraph reminds us all that psychics (and the predictions they make) aren't two damns.
"This week, the German Skeptics Society revealed that all of the predictions for 2009 made by the nation's clairvoyants were wrong. One hundred and 40 forecasts, these so‑called psychics made, and every one of them turned out to be incorrect."
German Skeptics Society, ich liebe dich. You should start keeping track of economists' predictions next.*
Despite this reminder that predictions are a fool's game, I wrangled a few of my friends to discuss what 2010 might bring. We used Google Wave in part to make this roundtable happen, which might make this one of the first documented productive uses of that particular application. Google, please send a check.
Your dramatis personae for this post:
We started our conversation about 2010 by talking about social media's sawhorse of 2009: Twitter.
Fernando Rizo: Facebook made an attempt to buy Twitter at the end of 2008, Google tried again this past spring and there were rumours of varying credibility not long after that Apple was interested as well. Would it make sense to make a new play for Twitter in 2010? Or is Twitter a depreciating asset already?
Matt Burton: YouTube, delicious, Flickr, MySpace...all of these purchases by big players already had revenue (or in the case of delicious, an easy implementable model for it). The logic behind the purchases, I suppose, was "Let's buy a lot of users and figure out how to make money off of them." And yet, AFAIK, none of the new owners have been able to do this. While Twitter does have some revenue, it's a pittance. It would make sense to buy Twitter if they were siphoning your users; such was the case with Facebook. But that standoff is over now.
Mike Litman: The founder of Delicious went on record saying that he regrets the sale and the path that Yahoo have taken with it. Now I use Delicious daily, it's fantastic and there isn't much I use as regularly (probably Posterous but that's another conversation). If the founder didn't sell out but said 'hey, if you want to still use Delicious (and you'll get a 'Pro' account similar to the Flickr model) then that will be £20 a year please.' Then you'll see who stumps up the cash, they are the 'real' users.
Rizo: What both of you are talking about - it seems to me, anyway - is a change in start-up culture to an extent. Isn't the operating philosophy that drives the VC/startup model "I'll build my app/destination/what-have-you, acquire a cornucopia of users and then you buy it and figure out how to monetize it"? Is this the end of that kind of thinking?
Burton: I don't know if that was ever the case. Most startups at least have IDEAS for monetization by now. They should at least be able to support themselves.
Litman: Let's take Foursquare. I was told the other day that Foursquare is not a business, it's a tool. Nonsense. They are building 'something' in order either for integration in to an existing network or a buy out. That's my theory. And I love Foursquare too. I'm gonna damn well be the Mayor of Israel in no time. (ed - Mike was on holiday in Israel while we were discussing this.)
Burton: I don't know what it is, but Dennis definitely has a good plan for Foursquare.
Kai Turner: Litman and I were chatting about this the other day - Foursquare has gone for breadth (e.g. number of cities) over depth. I'm not sure that's a wise decision. A lot of London's early adopters have already moved on to something else.
Rizo: The CEO of Hubspot recently said that startups shouldn't even waste their time on business plans.
Burton: That jibes with what i've read: VCs don't give a damn about your biz plan. That doesn't mean they don't care about its ability to make money, though. The reason they don't care about a small startup's business plan is because it was probably written by geeks. VCs care about geeks' ability to make something good, not run a business. A biz plan will change dozens of times between the pitch and the moment you start bringing in revenue.
Turner: I would actually predict a major contender to Twitter emerging next year. And I think it will be driven by the front-end clients. I've always wanted to see Twitter turn into a protocol rather than a service.
What if Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Tweetie, etc. all adopted an open protocol alongside Twitter's api? They could make Twitter itself obsolete.
Burton: I'm surprised Twitter doesn't charge api fees.
Rizo: There are competing open protocols that already exist, like Identi.ca. If there's one thing that perpetually amazes me it's that Twitter has proved so durable in terms of popularity despite being a pretty weak product. Plurk does everything Twitter does just as well, and even has some neat original ideas. Twitter is the most amazing case for the power of PR I can think of.
Turner: Plurk sounds horrible - people underestimate naming & branding. You don't want to Plurk something do you?
But I'm not saying that's why it failed. Kevin Rose's service Pownce - was also more robust than Twitter - but Twitter's simplicity was the initial reason for it's success. That's why I think it should be a protocol - let the innovation happen one layer above.
Mat Morrison: Yep -- I really liked the idea of Pownce. But it was all about media sharing really; and that let it down. That and the early implementation of Air. Someone else should have written the desktop UI.
Rizo: Just thinking out loud - but what's the obstacle to Kai's scenario happening? Is it that If Tweetdeck, Seesmic and Tweetie all started their own protocol, you're still leaving a big chunk of Twitter's users behind? A major chunk, maybe a majority of Twitter users are still on the Web interface.
Turner: It would need support from someone even larger than the clients alone I suppose. It could be driven by Google - but I don't see them doing that. Not with Chrome & Wave in the early stages.
Rizo: "Too many projects" rarely seems to be an obstacle for Google, though. Facebook also has that ability to launch (or morph into) a Twitter-clone that would instantly have hundreds of millions of users, too.
Turner: Facebook hasn't exactly been at the cutting edge of open standards, though.
Rizo: Point taken.
Turner: I think it would have to be something that the clients developed, and then maybe Google adopted seeing an opportunity to compete with Twitter. It would be mutually beneficial - it's bad for clients not to own the protocol they are built on. Just look at how lists and RTs completely derailed whatever development plans TweetDeck and others may have had.
Rizo: Couldn't you argue that lists and new Twitter features are less important relevant since a large minority of Twitter users never visit the Web site to use the app? I don't think I've even seen Twitter's RT feature yet and I've heard nothing but bile about it. You could theoretically keep your Twitter client going on into the future as a fork development that never uses the official RT.
Burton: The new RT is part of the Twitter API. Tweetie uses it.
Rizo: It is now, but they could have skated right over it. Tweetdeck and Brizzly were offering baked-in RT support ages ago. I don't knowing if they're using the new RT part of the API but it doesn't seem to me that they would need to.
Kai: I agree - i'm just saying the clients are tied to whatever changes to the API that Twitter decides. And Twitter doesn't always seem to make the best decisions. Surely they would prefer an open protocol that would be managed by a working group of some sort, and they could have a say.
Being a former resident of New York and someone who does not lack for opinions, I was asked to suggest some notable spots for a Londoner to see while visiting that great town. The whole list (with some foul language edited out - I really should work on that) got posted on Peonies and Polaroids. Here's the first item:
Best Bowl of Eel
St Mark's is one of my favorite streets in Manhattan. It's where midtown starts to turn into downtown, midway between NYU and Tompkins Square Park. There's all kinds of quirky shops there: karaoke bars, head shops, comic book stores. The best reason to go is Kenka, which is a Japanese restaurant that serves great traditional cuisine (no sushi, though) and the cheapest pitcher of beer in town. Kenka's sign isn't in English, though, so to find the restaurant you have to look for the statue of the bear/raccoon god with the red eyes next to the candy floss machine. I'm serious. Once you're drunk and full of boiled eel, take your candy floss and go down to the West end of the street to have some shots at The Continental, the best bar in the neighborhood. They will probably be projecting a Dennis Hopper movie onto the back wall.Click through to Peonies and Polaroids for the whole list.
I knew Mat Morrison and I were the same kind of nerd the first time I had a beer with him: we talked about how we organized our Google Reader subscriptions.
If you're not that kind of nerd, that might strike you as a short conversation. You'd be wrong. My Web browsing has a serious bent towards taxonomy. You never know when you'll need to refer someone to an important aviation or sustainable pottery or moustache maintenance blog. One of these days you might have a hankering to sit down and read RAND Corp white papers. I'll be perfectly prepared for all of those scenarios, and you'll come crying to me. In theory.
The consequence of constantly adding subscriptions is that I have a teeming horde of RSS subscriptions in my Google Reader and I never get to a point where everything's read. We read to learn and to sate our curiosity, but a considerable part of reading is the accomplishment of it. Finish a newspaper, or get to the last page of a novel - and you've done something. An RSS reader with hundreds of subscriptions in it stops acting like a newspaper and starts acting like an encyclopaedia, a useful resource that you'll never see the end of.
In addition to losing that satisfying end point, my Reader had started to become an inefficient time sink on a meta level above even just reading it - the very organization of my subscriptions takes time. By choosing to organize my RSS subscriptions by topic, I've involved myself in a never-ending taxonomy exercise. Is Garfield Minus Garfield a Webcomic or a picture blog? File Gawker in the "New York" folder or start a new - and potentially emasculating - "Gossip" folder? Every new subscription comes with its own classification dilemma.
When Mat and I were first talking about this, he pointed me to a post he had written that explained his RSS organization system. Borrowing from 43 Folders' Matt Wood, he organized his Google Reader folders not by topic, but by the context in which he read them.
So instead of folders like mine ("Football", "Tech news", "London") Matt suggests folders that correspond to how you read: "News", "Can't Miss", "Skip 'Em", etc.
It made instant sense to me, and I spent a few hours that week reorganizing my bookmarks. Now, eight or so months later, spent a few hours over the last few days re-taxonomizing my folders. I gave up.
Matt's is an elegant system that dispenses with Website taxonomy and gives you a built-in triage system, restoring that recycle-the-newspaper feeling of accomplishment when you read through a high-priority folder. But I am not an elegant system, it seems.
Website taxonomy was a waste of time, perhaps, but I loved it. When I would describe the contextual system to people, I would often ask, rhetorically, "Who sits down and says, it's time to read about economics or sports?" This was the newspaper model in practice: the RSS reader is a newspaper you edit yourself, populated with a huge variety of topics.
Over the last few months, I learned that I was the answer to the rhetorical question. I do sit down with an intent to read one particular subject - games, politics, what have you. When I sit down to go through MP3 blogs I do just that and nothing else. The RSS reader isn't a newspaper for me: it's a magazine rack, filled with specialty niche magazines that I read one at a time. I'm not the promiscuous reader that I imagine Matt Wood is.
So while I've learned to love my need to classify the Web, all my old problems of my old system return. I'll just file it under "Cognitive surplus" for now.