Sips from the Firehose

Mar 30

Bad UX: Klout malfunction is getting on my nerves

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Quick hit: It’s been about 2 months now, and all I see on Klout is this message:

klout broken malfunction dialog box

Well, this is helpful. Anything else we can do about this? No? K THX BYE.

Not that I’m obsessed with my Klout score or anything (no, that would be terrible), but at some point, it would be nice in terms of UX/UI to have something a bit more useful here in an error message. Particularly if it’s something that lasts since, oh, I don’t know, JANUARY.

I’ve been doing a long rundown of social media tools that’s set to get published on our main site, and this is unfortunately something that I’m gonna hafta mention. I’ve seen increasing signs that Klout is struggling with its business model; thing is, most of the social media management tools are piggybacking on its numerical rankings in their “influencer-spotting” panels.

Kred kind of came and went. Is there some other social tool startup that purports to measure influence out there? ‘Cause I’m not seeing it at this juncture. Guess I gotta do some more research (sigh).

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Jun 25

Forget an MBA – Watch creativeLIVE’s “Secrets of Silicon Valley”

Posted: under Digital Migration, New Marketing.
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 How many times do you get a chance to ask spectacularly successful tech entrepreneurs anything you want?

Janine & I just completed two days of intense sessions with some of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs at creativeLIVE’s “Secrets of Silicon Valley” sessions. And yes, that was really alliterative.  Sorry. Bear with me. Everyone talked in such catchy bullet-point laden phrases that it leaked over into my speech patterns.

dave lafontaine looking at creativeLIVE heatmap

The walls of the creativeLIVE breakroom are festooned with flatscreen monitors showing what’s on their various channels. Most fascinating of all are the real-time “heatmaps” showing who’s watching at any moment, bordered by the latest comments on Twitter and Facebook.  The “Secrets of Silicon Valley” was watched by people in more than 130 countries. In the map, you see clusters of red and white dots representing the audience through my reflection as I took this photo.

If nothing else, these two days were proof that above all else, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have mastered the talent of giving really beautifully designed and stripped-down PowerPoint presentations.

Seriously folks, if you’ve ever suffered through a “Death By PowerPointless” presentation where you were assaulted with dense bullet-point slides with hundreds of words on them … slide after slide after slide, none of them memorable, that made you fantasize about massive natural disasters, zombie apocalypse or alien invasions … these two days were not that.

Here’s what was so special about the “Secrets of Silicon Valley” speakers, who are entitled to have more than their share of ego and self-satisfaction: they didn’t just brag. Nor did they ramble on in thinly disguised sales brochures for their companies.

The most compelling speakers hardly mentioned their companies. Instead, their focus was on us, the audience. On what we needed to know.

The speakers knew what they were going to say, and they said it with humor, efficiency and – most unexpectedly, from a group of uber-nerds – humanity.

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Oct 30

Hurricane Sandy Coverage on Storify: An Inflection Point?

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Major news outlets use Storify to aggregate & make sense of social media flow about Hurricane Sandy

In the last two days, as we’ve all been inundated (pardon the lame water-related pun) with near-constant TV, radio, web & social media updates on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, one thing that stands out this time around (as opposed to previous disasters) is that, having had time to prepare, the major media outlets turned to Storify to pull together live coverage of the storm, via the thousands (millions?) of ad-hoc citizen reporters who were posting so many TwitPics and Facebook updates.

storify front page showing stories about hurricane sandy

The front page design of Storify has gotten much better over the past year, and shows the clear stamp of the current trend towards “Pinteresting” everything. Still, when you look at the content mix that has made it to the front page, you can see just how widespread the Storification of Sandy has been…

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Dec 16

How the Online Trojan/Virus Hackers Make Money

Posted: under adsense clickfraud.
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This is a great flow chart, explaining how the Dark Side of the internet uses your unwary clicks to generate real money. (h/t

It’s interesting to see the actual breakdown of how stealing your passwords and compromising your bank accounts can pay off for fraudsters. I was surprised to see that bank account passwords are not as valuable as I thought – only a 1% return, because of “risks for withdrawing the money.” Woulda thought the scammers were better than that – a couple years ago, my accounts were drained using withdrawals from ATMs at casinos out in the No-Man’s-Land between LA and Vegas. Guess they must’ve patched that particular security hole.

Anyway, this is one of the more interesting (and frequently alarming) flow charts I’ve run across in a while.


Infographic by Computer School

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Jun 22

Circulate: A “Find Engine” By Any Other Name Seeks to Monetize Online News Content

Posted: under Newspaper Deathwatch.
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This came to me via the Media Giraffe project at UMass (and a very special h/t to Janine Warner, currently filming a video for Microsoft up in Seattle), and I was inspired to write a long comment in response to it.

Basically, Circulate is the creation of a team at the Donald Reynolds Journalism Institute that includes Martin Langeveld, who blogs for the Nieman Journalism Lab.  Langeveld made the announcement of its existence on the “News After Newspapers” blog, and I was initially somewhat blase about it, due to these early grafs:

Circulate is a holistic, user-centric solution aimed broadly at sustaining journalism in a digital world, with specific relevance to the ongoing exploration of paid-content models for newspaper Web sites. Circulate enables experimentation with subscription and per-item user charges, but as a user-centric content discovery tool, Circulate goes well beyond the announced features of other systems that have been proposed in that space.

Circulate will be rolled out in phases. Initially, it will be a browser add-on that you can have always handy as you move around the Web. Circulate will function on multiple platforms to allow full portability: a mobile application is planned, possibly first as an iPhone application, along with user start page and e-mail notification options.

Oh Christ, I thought. Not another scheme to try to gin up a variation on the paywall strategy that has been a disaster everywhere it’s been tried.  Well, let me qualify that – it’s been a disaster when erecting the paywall was thought to be the only measure needed to “solve” the “problem” of the internet. 

DIGRESSION ALERT: When the subject comes up, and the cranky content publishers insist that charging for content is the only way to survive, my response is that yes, you can and probably should charge for content. But you can’t charge online for the same old stuff you’ve been selling offline. The audience doesn’t want it, won’t pay for it, and can find the same ol’-same ‘ol in a lot of different places.  If you really want to change your news organization to charge people for content, that content has to be something that people perceive enough value in to be willing to type in the credit card numbers/click PayPal. 

And – here’s the real core – producing, marketing, updating & charging for that kind of information is going to require just as wrenching a philosophical change as any of the other so-called “pie in the sky” digital triumphalist schemes that invoke the “information wants to be free” mantra.  I’ve worked for publications – currently still do, as a matter of fact – that survive by charging for content, rather than via ad support.  It’s a different way of thinking – far more intense, in some ways, than what newspapers have become acclimated to accepting as their regular content strategy.


What made me see this as more than a rehash was these three grafs:

As a Circulate user, you’ll be able to have an account with a home-base publisher, like the local paper, and optionally profile yourself. Then the Circulate system will go to work and discover and present to you information that’s really relevant to your interests. You’ll be able to set alerts if you want, but you don’t have to. Circulate won’t start out carrying advertising, but eventually when it does, you’ll see advertising that matters to you, not blindly-aimed mass-market ads. And it sets up the possibility that you could optionally subscribe, through your home-base publisher, to valuable information at hundreds and eventually thousands of news and other websites, all at a low monthly blanket rate.

Circulate will feature social functionality, so that you can share and discuss content (but its content recommendations are not sourced through “collaborative filtering”). Over time, you will be able to select additional features on Circulate as they are developed.

Importantly, a core, fundamental value at CircLabs is user privacy. While Circulate will work best when the user shares information, that will happen with the user’s explicit permission, not by virtue of obscure language buried in user agreements no one reads.

Well, bravo.

Circulate is setting itself up as a “Find Engine” that actually does something for you that doesn’t already exist.  Something that you can’t replicate by opening up a new tab or typing in the search box in the upper right corner.

That’s the key: to successfully sell something, whatever that thing is, if it’s information, it has to be information that isn’t available anywhere else. If your audience is saying, “Aw, I heard/saw/know that already,” then you’re screwed.

The book “The Return of the Player” ends with the anti-hero making billions by making the concept of a “Find Engine” work; maybe I’ll excerpt a couple of grafs from the book to illustrate what the vision was of this as of 2004 or so.  At the time, reading it, I thought it might have something of a core of value, but that the online marketplace was not ready for it yet.  Maybe it is now.

Anyway – here’s what I wrote in response:

Interesting concept, guys – although I have to admit that reading through the first few graphs, my stomach sank when I read “charging for online content.” Way too many collective clock cycles are being devoted to coming up with arcane ways to try to extract some kind of revenue stream from online readers.  Most tend to be veneers over the failed strategy of erecting paywalls over existing content, without really given a thought to how the core product has to be radically different for the consumer to be willing to yank out the wallet.

Reading further, it became evident that what you’re doing is a variation on the “Find Engine” concept – that is, that the app/site/widget/whatever will take over for the Almighty Google, and serve you up the information that you need, when, where & how you need it. 

OK, that’s interesting.

You also addressed the core problem with a Find Engine – that is, if the app/whatever knows enough about you to be able to accurately (and if it isn’t accurate, what use would it be?) know what you want, then isn’t that a treasure trove of information about you that could be hacked/exploited/sold?  Well, yeah. We all start to feel a bit creepy about the thought that something in the machine knows us & is ratting us out.  Despite the fact that it happens all the time …

Well, to a certain extent, it does. Big online ad agencies get quiet & change the subject when people bring up the idea of a “Universal Cookie.” Which would be far easier to implement if Circulate takes off.

Anyway – one suggestion. You talk about mobile, and indicate that one of the first moves might be to develop an iPhone app.  While I applaud your willingness to engage with this new platform, you might want to check the numbers.  At a recent Online News Association event I helped organize, Nick Montes of Viva Vision laid out the numbers involved with selling content – I’m posting the video and a description in the next day or so.

Briefly: the iPhone has market penetration of 9M handsets in a US market of 250M+ handsets. Nice, but not staggering.

But the real eye-opener was that Verizon makes about $20 billion a year from selling/licensing/streaming content.  The much-touted iPhone App Store is likely to make Apple about $300 million.

Basically, you’d be pouring sweat equity into constructing something for a platform that comprises about 1.5% of the money on the table…

Anyway – I look forward to seeing what Circulate looks & feels like. At least you’re trying.

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Mar 15

…thus confirming everything I always suspected about Aerosmith fans…

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense.
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I find data mash-ups like this absolutely fascinating. Totally anecdotal, useless for anything other than starting an argument or feeling smug/outraged, but impossible to look away from. It was made by comparing the reported list of favorite bands from Facebook with the average SAT scores of the university that those students were attending.

So yeah, it’s a completely made-up signifier, one that purports to reveal some hidden correlations, but which is maddeningly vague.   I mean, are Billy Joel fans really smarter than Foo Fighters fans? Or is it just some combination of Jersey-boy favoritism and Ivy League colleges skewing things?And AC/DC fans smarter than Doors fans? I mean, who really believes that the shop class dirtheads out-IQ the pretentious poets?

A larger point to ponder is the amount of data we all have voluntarily contributed to public places, and the ways that data is available to even casual researchers to aggregate, thin-slice and draw conclusions from. Imagine someone with a slightly more robust databank figuring out how to correlate the playlists on and Pandora with the incidence of buying Crocs sandals and voting Democratic in local school board elections.

We all make judgments about each other based on surface impressions – it’s what the book “Blink” was about.  A couple of bearded guys in an aging VW Microbus is such a cliche that I’ll bet you immediately thought “hippie.”  The cops do things like this with bumper stickers, such as when they revealed that 90% of the time they pull over a car in LA with a KROQ bumper sticker, they routinely search it for drugs (when this was reported, two things happened – KROQ screamed bloody murder and thousands of stoners went outside with razor blades and started scraping furiously).  Gang members do it with shoelaces, and screeners at airports do it with twitchy body language.

Graph showing the relationship between favorite band and SAT score.

Graph showing the relationship between favorite band and SAT score.

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