The Vortex: The Nice Version

I’m much less cranky this week, I promise. Plus, it was a pretty slow news week so there are more fun apps to tell you about than egos to deflate.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–There’s never a lack of pope-wears-a-funny-hat items in the technosphere. This week, it’s the discovery that “well-known” bloggers aren’t much known outside of Palo Alto. Mark Dykeman did some number crunching based on Google Blog Search results and found that household names in the blog world don’t necessarily equal household names in the real world. Check out his handy table for full results.

–CNN ran a funny piece on the 12 most annoying Facebookers. It’s pretty spot on and I couldn’t help categorizing my friends, and myself, as I read it. Post it on your wall and see if any status updates change for the better.

–And the latest Twitter parody is Woofer, a “macroblogging” service that requires a minimum of 1400 characters to post. Or as some call it, standard prose.

Apps on the Radar

–If you’re a fan of Qik like I am, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s finally arrived on the iPhone. Though of course you need the new 3G S for it to work.

–If your Tumblr account hasn’t been updated since, oh say, early June, maybe the new Facebook Connect integration will prompt you to get off your lazy bum and post something.

–The Google Wave preview opens to the public September 30th. Wheee! I am stupidly excited about this but can’t precisely explain why.

–The TomTom Navigation app is now up in iTunes. I could really use this app but will need to read more in-depth reviews before I fork over $99.

–In my ongoing search for a great iPhone news app, I’m encouraged by Mashable’s rave review of the NPR app. Doesn’t look like it has push technology for breaking news yet, but still worth trying out.

–And finally, check out Spider posthaste. Reviewers are fawning all over it, calling it one of the most ingenious games yet devised for the iPhone.

Tweet of the Week

–Thanks to one of my favorite tweeters @rainnwilson for notifying me that Paris Hilton now has a verified Twitter account. If I’m not careful, she could easily sweep tweet of the week regularly.

On my way to go visit some of the most poverty stricken villages in Central America. Going to be a very emotional day, God bless them all.”  No, Paris, God bless you.

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The Vortex: The Agony of Success

I’ve been awash in home-selling negotiations this week so I’m particularly cranky. You’ve been warned.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–As you’re well aware by now, Facebook acquired FriendFeed this week. Allow me to couch that: you’re well aware of this news only if you live in your browser. For those who frequent FriendFeed, though, it was like George Bush had been elected to a third term. Teeth were gnashed, tears were shed and exclamation points were employed with abandon. With characteristic good humor, FriendFeed set up a FestivusFeed on its site to allow for the airing of grievances.

I’ve been a long-time fan of FriendFeed and certainly understand the disappointment of a service’s community insiders. But the bottom line is that FriendFeed is a business that needs money to survive. Anyone who assumed that the site would exist as is in perpetuity needs to sign up for Economics 101 at your local community college. FriendFeed is an ingenious technology with a super-smart team that deserves to be seen and utilized by a much larger audience. Congratulations you guys – very well deserved. I can’t wait to see how far you go in Facebook.

–Marco Arment, Tumblr developer and Instapaper creator, took on Jason Calacanis this week, dissecting Calacanis’ I’ve-Decided-to-Hate-Apple post, picking apart the vast amount of circular, confusing and sometimes preposterous reasoning. There may have been a sound point or two in Calacanis’ post but those were overshadowed by his suggestion that we should activate multiple wireless services for one phone. Rather than defending his assertions, Calacanis instead “zinged” Marco by saying he needed a Wikipedia page and ending with a “for realz.” The really fun part? Jason did this on his personal Tumblr page.

–In related news, a Pear Analytics study found that 40% of Twitter updates are “pointless babble.”

Apps on the Radar

–Customers of USAA Bank will soon be able to deposit checks via iPhone, by taking a photograph of the front and back of the check. The actual check never even needs to be submitted. USAA is a small bank but their customers are primarily military personnel so they’re smartly adapting to fit client needs. Tech companies should take heed.

-AppsFire hasn’t been approved by iTunes yet but I’m hoping they jump on it. The iPhone app allows users to share favorite apps via email, something I’m surprised Apple didn’t come up with to begin with.

Tweet of the Week

–I fully admit to lifting this from the top slot on tweetingtoohard. But can you blame me? “I swear to g-d I can’t relate to most of society. I’m on a whole different level of consciousness.Its all so [censored] obvious. Wake the [censored] up.” – Loren Feldman

Wow. I need a shower after writing this one. Happy weekend, all.

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The Vortex: The Center Cannot Hold

News from the Social Media Vortex

–Someone broke the Interwebs yesterday morning, with a denial-of-service attack hitting Twitter, Facebook, Google, and LiveJournal. Twitter was the hardest hit (or the worst prepared), with the service going completely offline for a couple of hours. [And as of this writing, the site was down again this morning.] As expected, the universe folded in on itself as people tweeted about Twitter being down once Twitter was back up. Then John Hughes died and everyone shifted to Long Duck Dong.

–The other big story this week is so inside-baseball that you may fall asleep mid-paragraph. Robert Scoble “unfollowed” 106,000 people on Twitter. This proved to be a revelation for him – it cuts down on the noise! – which in turn engendered much discussion among people who monitor their audience with frightening acuity. Louis Gray parried with, “Wait, don’t do that!” saying:

“…to massively prune my list would introduce more problems, real and emotional, than it would present solutions.”

I think it’s safe to say that if Twitter ever causes emotional problems for you, it’s time to take a vacation.

–And though I’d love to ignore King Arrington for a week, the fact that he’s now battling the British judicial system is, well… I’m only human. He’s been found guilty of libel against Sam Sethi, charged with:

“a sustained campaign of character assassination against the Claimant… including threats to murder a business associate; of being psychotic; pathological; threatening; despicable; disreputable; deceitful; and a cheat.”

He should make that his Twitter bio. Anyway, Arrington says No Lawsuits Please; I’m Not British, which I’m sure will be a convincing argument to the UK courts.

Phew. Isn’t August supposed to be quiet? Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Apps on the Radar

–I so wish more developers were taking advantage of the iPhone’s push technology. The AP News app does a decent job but annoyingly doesn’t direct you to the related story. So I’m happy to hear that Breaking News Online is taking a stab at news alerts. I’ll be giving it a whirl this week to see if it’s worth two bucks.

Livestation has released an app for streaming live television to your iPhone. The selection is pretty thin right now but is sure to expand in the coming months.

Pitch of the Week

–If you’re a recipient of product pitches, add yourself to Jonathan Hirshon’s email distro.  The head of Horizon PR never fails to entertain and I find myself reading every one of his pitches, if only to reward his ingenuity. So in place of Tweet of the Week, I give you his intro to a pitch for Scenios:

A bonny Thursday to you, as the heat and humidity outside threaten to climb to levels unseen since my last Finnish Sauna experience (with an equal chance of cardiac lethality, I might add).  The economic climate is equally wilting,.…”

Now that’s a segue.

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The Vortex:The Jokes Just Write Themselves

The news this week needs no introduction. See for yourself.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, briefly became the most annoying person in the technosphere this week (and that’s saying something) after an interview with Der Spiegel was published. Here’s how the conversation began:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let’s talk about the future of journalism.

Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don’t use the word journalism.

He then went on to say that the words ‘newspaper,’ ‘media,’ and ‘news’ are all so-last-century. As long as we’re talking about 20th-century words that have no meaning, can we extend the same logic to 20th-century tech publications? Just wondering.

–BlogHer held its annual conference last week and much of the ensuing coverage focused on the swag mania that took hold of some attendees. One power-mad blogger threatened to inflict libel on a marketer if he didn’t come through with a pair of Crocs. To thee I say, aim higher, self-righteous blogger! I’d have at least gone for a pair of Nikes.

–Steve Rubel gave praise to Kara Swisher’s blog, saying that she raises the game for bloggers by… using pictures. That can’t be right. Oh wait, here we go: “she uses clever headlines and imagery in her posts – often tied to movies.” There you have it, folks: ironic usage of film stills is the secret to good blogging.

–And it wouldn’t be a week in tech without a proclamation from King Arrington. The iPhone is no more! In a blog post redolent with the fumes of stone tablets (I’m really hoping you get that reference), Arrington declared that he “quit” his iPhone because it doesn’t use Google Voice or something. I don’t know. Are we really supposed to care about this? I changed my brand of soap recently; do I need to inform you with a blog post?

Apps on the Radar

–Not so much an app as an “It’s all over people!” proclamation, beware of one-character SMS messages on any GSM phone, not just iPhones. Two researchers were kind enough to demonstrate the hack yesterday, so if you get a weird text, turn your phone off posthaste. No one seems to know when you can turn it back on though so… good luck with that.

–Since you can’t use your iPhone anymore – either because it’s been hacked or Arrington told you not to – go Mad Men Yourself. The music will make it all better.

Tweet Twitterer of the Week

–Rather than one tweet this week, I give you possibly the best Twitter bio ever, from Mark Dykeman: “Too boring to follow. Extremely unlikely to buy, convert, or click on your link. Negative. Smarm intolerant. Eats puppies, kittens, and babies.”

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The Vortex: Back from the Dead

We’re back by popular demand – or at least a few random asides from people I pass on the street. It seems some of you genuinely missed the weekly snark-fest that is The Vortex, in which we take a moment to poke some fun at the Egotocracy. And once I started compiling items earlier in the week, I just couldn’t stop. This may be slightly longer than usual; there’s just so much to choose from! Let’s get to it, shall we?

News from the Social Media Vortex

-The big kerfuffle of the past two weeks has been King Arrington vs Twitter. Citing the entire history of the news industry as precedent, he decided that publishing confidential company documents sent to him by a hacker in need of a hobby qualified as sound journalism. Twitter has not ruled out the possibility of lawsuits. I think the best assessment of the situation came from a journalist friend who said, “Lovely how journalism has progressed from The Pentagon Papers to this…” Indeed.

-In other Twitter news, the company found a fan in Martha Stewart this week and a critic in David Letterman. Calling Facebook “dippy,” (my new favorite word), Stewart lauded the ease of using Twitter, though also strangely labeled it the ‘Wal-Mart of the Internet.’ (Is Twitter now hawking mass-produced crap made by Malaysian children?) Meanwhile, Letterman rebuffed Kevin Spacey’s attempt to lure him to the service, calling it a waste of time.  They’re both right.

-Social-networks-in-a-box site Ning reminded us that the tech bubble never truly dies, raising a $15 million funding round on a valuation of $750 million. In April, the company said its users had created over one million social networks, with only 200,000 of those still active. I’m no math whiz, but that sounds like a user retention rate of just 20%. How does that translate to a valuation higher than the GDP of, well, any country in the world? Just asking.

Apps on the Radar

-Mashable has a great piece on impressive implementations of Facebook Connect.

-Parents will appreciate Have2P, for those times when the young ‘uns just can’t wait, and Balloonimals, an ingenious little app that lets your kid blow up a virtual balloon and shake the iPhone to create an animal.

-Gamers need to check out Triazzle and Peggle, both of which are quickly addictive.

-And stoners should know about Cannabis, a recently approved iPhone app that will locate legal purveyors of medical marijuana. Not that I know anything about that.

Tweet of the Week

-This one was just too easy. In the category of Scarily Immersed in Social Media, we salute Mark Rizzn Hopkins for the following: “Ever wanted to micro-podcast to your FriendFeed? Try FriendBoo!”  Um, no Mark. No I have not.

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So 5 Minutes Ago

Taping this week’s DEMOcast with Keith Shaw got me waxing philosophical. We were discussing the moon landing and, if it occurred today, what sort of reaction it would elicit. The conclusion we ultimately came to was that it would generate some excitement for a few hours, then everyone would move on to the next meme. In the Twit-verse, Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes shrinks to seconds.

There is no better example of this than what happened on June 25th. We were all humming along happily on Twitter, changing our timestamps to Tehran and tinging our avatars green, when the Iranian political struggle ran smack-dab into the death of an American pop icon. Guess who won? Not only did the death of Michael Jackson push Iran’s issues deep into the archive, it actually prevented many Iranians from accessing Twitter at all. Risking life and limb to fight for freedom in one of the world’s harshest dictatorships? Sorry, but the guy wrote ‘Beat It.’

I’m being a bit harsh here for comic effect. I was a Michael fan too and certainly won’t argue that his death wasn’t news. The sad part is, that in our new Internet-powered reality, once you’re usurped online, you’re history. It seems that there are no longer moments in which the world stops and holds a collective breath.

In the time of the moon landing, there were (maybe) three television stations. And that was it. No YouTube to watch keyboard cat play off Neil Armstrong. No Facebook Connect to record your minute-by-minute reactions. Just a bunch of people crowded around radios and TVs to witness the true power of human ingenuity. There were no distractions from the awesome event at hand. Even in this century, we had a collective-breath moment on 9/11, albeit a breath of horror. Granted, Twitter would have been incredibly valuable that day in many aspects. But I think it would have altered the day, and the ensuing weeks, ever so slightly. When a populace can communicate instantaneously, and simultaneously, it affects the actual course of the event.

This can be both a positive and a negative. Imagine, for a moment, that Twitter had existed during the Columbine massacre. (I’m reading that book right now and can’t get it out of my head.) One of the many tragedies that day was massive confusion about the number of shooters, their location, and bomb placement. Because of this, several victims arguably died needlessly. Insert the ability of students to tweet from inside the building and the police response might have been decidedly different. The negative is that this instantaneous nature can also impact an event’s importance, a la Iran. You’re at the mercy of the global brain, and if the brain is distracted by a shinier object, you fade quickly.

There’s not much we can do about this phenomenon. We’re far past the point of no return. And, as I’ve pointed out, it isn’t necessarily a negative development. It simply made me stop and ponder the reality that, well, we don’t stop and ponder anymore. There’s a possibility that technology could be its own solution someday. Perhaps a product, or even entire market sector, will come along that will allow us to reconstruct online moments. So that when we land on Mars, or colonize the moon, or cure cancer, we’ll be able to reconstruct and refer back to our collective reaction. Rather than have it lost in an ether of tweets.

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La La La

In the spirit of my last blog rant post, I’m attempting to view technologies with a slightly different eye these days. And that eye is decidedly mass-consumer. Would my next-door neighbor use this product? Will my suburban-mom friends have time and inclination to give it a whirl? If the answer to both is no, then your company needs to re-think its consumer strategy. As we attempt to move the tech industry out if its insular bubble and into the real world, these are questions we absolutely must start asking.

[Caveat: this reasoning shouldn’t be applied to DEMOfall applicants, as the goal is to identify companies on the cutting edge of the industry.]

I looked at two music-focused sites this week, thesixtyone and LaLa. LaLa has been around for a while but I didn’t check it out until I noticed it on Facebook Connect. My music fanatic friend, stepwinder, pulled me into thesixtyone and it only took me 20 minutes to discover that thesixtyone wins hand down from a consumer perspective. The site got me involved immediately from sign-up. And I still haven’t figured out what to do with LaLa.

Upon signing up for LaLa, the service spent most of the morning pulling songs from my hard drive into its site. That’s about as far as I have progressed. It isn’t immediately obvious what I’m supposed to be doing on LaLa. From an analyst perspective, I would dig into the FAQs and About section to gauge the benefits of using LaLa. But from the viewpoint of a consumer, I don’t have time or inclination to do so and would move on to a site whose benefit is more readily apparent. If I can’t figure out in half an hour why I need this technology, I clearly don’t have a real need for it. Or at least you haven’t convinced me I do.

thesixtyone, on the other hand features ingenious “quests” that give the user immediate tasks to accomplish while also familiarizing them with the site’s key features. Through nifty little pop-up bubbles and an interface that never pulls one away from the music, thesixtyone integrated me into its universe in no time flat. This is not something a lot of sites or services can boast, either. Even such mainstream services as Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed require a certain level of ramp-up time. Hell, my husband still hasn’t figured out the point of Facebook and he’s a software engineer.

Though thesixtyone isn’t for every consumer in the land – you need a desire to seek out new music – it is an excellent example of how to involve your user base and ramp them up quickly. It’s one of the most ignored aspects in the technology business and yet the simplest: teach your users, in an engaging and immersive manner, how to use your technology. I know – it’s bizarre I even have to type that, isn’t it?

So, LaLa, forgive me if I missed something – in fact I’m sure I did. But you had the unfortunate luck of arriving on my computer at the same time as thesixtyone. Now I must get back to upping my reputation points

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