The old web is dying and I’m not sure I like the new one

BlogPulse has no pulse

So I was playing around with dashboards and the like yesterday  – as one does – and noticed that BlogPulse has disappeared. BlogPulse was not the greatest blog search engine around, but it was the only one offering anything like useable charts. So, given that Technorati charts disappeared years ago (although they still have a page claiming they’ll be back soon), and other solutions such as IceRocket don’t enable you to pass keywords to create live charts, it would appear there is no longer any blog charting widget out there.

Is this the final nail in the coffin of blogging? Are we really so uninterested in blogging activity that charts are no longer considered viable? It would seem that way, and the ‘blogging is dead’ meme is very much alive right now.

Charting generally seems to be suffering

Recently, tweetcloud.com disappeared, without even a whimper. It just vanished. I seemed to be the only person who noticed, but tweetcloud.com was, like BlogPulse, the only solution that did something incredibly useful: it would create a tweetcloud for a search term on the fly. In other words, you typed in what you were looking for, and it created a tweetcloud for that search (not a tweetcloud of your own timeline, which really isn’t that much use but I suspect a lot less processor-intensive). Plus it did it quickly, and there was a widget for it, which enabled you to build dashboards giving an instant overview of the latest terms associated with any topic. It was great. And then it wasn’t. There are sort-of alternatives still such as Visible Tweets, Cloud.li and Twendz, but, while they’re very pretty, you can’t build them into dashboards.

And today, Trendistic, the only (again) solution for live charting of Twitter trends, is down. It was down yesterday too. Look for it on Twitter search and there are just a load of weird Polish references to it (who knows, maybe Trendistic is a Polish pop group). Surely – sssssurely – Trendistic can’t have disappeared too? And surely, again, it can’t just be me who thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea?

RSS is dying

If you’re detecting a pattern here, you’re not alone. It does seem that really great ideas are failing as the web grows bigger and faster. They just cannot keep up, it seems – or, at least, not until/unless they’re snapped up by one of the walled gardens such as Facebook. Free information – as in, really free, readily available, easily manipulated and shared across the entire web – is disappearing.

RSS was supposed to be the great hope of free information. Peel the content away from the format, and hey presto, you can share pretty much anything across any platform. But therein lies the problem: something free is not something you can fence off and charge for. It is free in every sense of the word.

So it seems RSS is suffering too. Google Reader used to be a really nice way to bring feeds together and create a static web page of the results as well as a newly aggregated feed. Not since its recent revamp however. All the sharing features have been ported across to Google+, presumably because Google+ is a neat, walled garden whereas RSS was messy and free. Yahoo Pipes was the ultimate RSS aggregator/mash-up tool but suffered from underinvestment by Yahoo. Even after a supposed major overhaul, it’s flaky and too slow to power a dashboard (unless you’re prepared to wait for a minute or so while the results load up). Another RSS mashup tool, XFruits, died a couple of years back. Do a search for RSS aggregator tools and it’s like a graveyard. The only viable tool that I can see is called FeedRinse which, while it offers aggregation and filtering (the two most useful features of Pipes), also feels a bit overloaded and slow. And, as with TweetCloud and BlogPulse, it’s the only game in town, which leads me to believe it won’t be for much longer.

RSS from search has been abandoned by major players too. Such as the bookmarking platform Delicious. You used to be able to search across the Delicious database and pull an RSS feed from that. Stunningly useful, as it showed you what other people considered important for any topic. Not any longer. Twitter has also demoted RSS from search: you can still do it, but you have to look around to find out how. It’s another candidate for the cull, I believe.

Mash-ups are harder

So where does this leave us if we want to create our own mash-ups or dashboards? Well we can dive into the APIs if we fancy it, and learn a smattering of HTML and javascript. But we still need reliable platforms to base our dashboards on. The familiar theme of ‘only game in town’ is revisited here, in that the only solution offering public dashboards – that is, pages that you can show to anyone without them needing to log in – is Netvibes. And every time I create a dashboard in Netvibes, I find I have to spend quite some time figuring out what works still and what doesn’t. Quite apart from discovering over the past few months that third-party sites have disappeared, I’m finding that third-party widgets in Netvibes are broken, or even that Netvibes itself is cranky. So for example, my attempts to create a dashboard yesterday were frustrated by HTML widgets only displaying the top portions of any image or javascript output, widgets generally not staying in the same place when I refreshed the page, RSS feeds not being imported correctly, and on recourse to their support forum, finding it full of spam.

It seems the free tools that were once so useful are now decaying or falling apart. I don’t know what ‘Web 2.0′ really meant, but I have a sense of something dying, something that was slower and smaller than the web today, that shared more freely but was doing so with less immediacy and monetary return. Whatever we’re moving towards, if it’s Web 3.0, then it’s becoming more consolidated, monetised, bigger, faster, noisier.

So the ‘roll your own’ approach is going to get harder. The smaller, innovative sites that did one thing, and one thing well, just cannot survive the double onslaught of vastly increased traffic and expectations of real-time delivery unless they can make money from  it.  The old, fluid, free web that comprised many islands of activity is solidifying into separate continents of influence. The game is so much harder now, that it’s only the really big players that can make sense – and money – out of it.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Me? I preferred the more innovative, dynamic environment. I liked the way that RSS could be readily shared, and smaller enterprises could create neat tools that let you do things with it, without really needing to be a developer. I guess those days are gone. Nostalgia certainly ain’t what it used to be.

Postscript: … and no sooner do I file this post then I read this Observer piece by John Naughton, entitled “Has the Internet run out of ideas already?”, on the progression of information technologies: “from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel – from open to closed system.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. In fact, I didn’t.

Whither Social Mention?

Social Mention is a pretty good social media aggregator. Think Google, but for social media.

When I say ‘pretty good’, I mean it’s not without its faults. It doesn’t do real phrasal searches – that is, a search for “Brendan Cooper” in quotes will give results with just “Brendan” and “Cooper” in them, which is a bit naughty really – and it also has a tendency to be a bit slow.

It does have some quite cool features though. You can get RSS feeds off searches (which you can’t do with Google but you can with Bing and Yahoo). You can get alerts (which you can also get from Google, but not exclusively for social media). You can download results as CSV files, which you can then open in Excel and start analysing. You can start to get an insight into where people are talking about topics, who they are, what words they’re using and who is the most active for a given topic. And Social Mention even gives you some metrics around sentiment, engagement and so on, and if you keep the salt cellar handy while using these figures, and apply liberally, you might find them useful.

But wait. There’s something wrong with this post. It’s all in the present tense.

Because, as of around two days ago, Social Mention vanished. It reappeared briefly, but has disappeared again. Not a peep from the @socialmention Twitter account, or from @jonnyjon who created it.

So change all the ‘is’ to ‘was’ and the ‘does’ to ‘did’.

This is causing quite a lot of consternation in the Twitterverse. Social Mention is/was pretty much the only game in town when it came to a free, full-on social media aggregator/search, especially one so well featured. Which should tell us all something, I suppose. If something is free, and it’s the only one, then there’s a reason for that. Meaning, it’s really bad, or really really good, or it’s unsustainable. I do hope it’s not the latter in this case.

So what is to be done? Apart from wringing our hair,  pulling our teeth and gnashing our hands? Stephen Dale has come to the rescue with a list of alternatives but you still need to be canny to work out how to replace the unreplaceable.

Solution #1. Do all the searches separately and aggregate them yourself. So, do a Google Blog search, get the RSS off that, aggregate it with an IceRocket search maybe, a Twitter search (if you can find out how to get RSS off Twitter searches nowadays – fortunately I made a note of how to do this before they removed it from visibility), a Google News search, etc etc. Aggregate these in Google Reader or Netvibes some such thing. Good luck with Facebook, fingers crossed Twitter doesn’t remove RSS altogether, enjoy the vaguaries of how YouTube, Flickr etc handle search queries, and so on. And, of course, you don’t get the metrics or the other coooool stuff.

Solution #2. Roll your own solution with Yahoo Pipes. I put a lot of work into Pipes quite some time ago. I built myself a completely modular social media aggregator, so you could change keywords and all the searches reflected it, or change the engine and all the results reflected that. Then I realised I’d just built my own version of Social Mention. But things kept changing and breaking, so I realised that Social Mention was doing the job for me, and instead of driving myself nuts keeping up with these changes, decided to use that instead. Guess what though? Yahoo Pipes stopped being reliable enough to use, and remains so despite a recent relaunch of the v2 engine. And guess what again though again? It’s the only solution out there that does what Yahoo Pipes does, for free. Sound familiar? Which heavily implies solution #3…

Solution #3. Accept that singularly useful, free services are an anomaly of the early years of social media, bite the bullet, and go to a pay-for service. There seems to be a new one every time I look, and I’m sure one of them will do what you want it to do. Check out the PDF report on Stephen’s page, it’s a good summary of them.

So, that’s my take on it. Solution #4 is, of course, to wait and see what happens to Social Mention. I really really really really hope this is not The End because I had plans for it. Same thing nearly happened with Delicious, which survived. But if this really is It, well, it was fun while it lasted.

Flanged bananas. Or: how to write a press release that works online too.

Do you write press releases? Do they work online? As in, can people find them? How do you know? Here are some ways to make your releases work as hard for you online as they do offline.

Takeaways:

  • Use keywords
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online
  • Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title
  • Make it trackable
  • Make it Twitter-friendly

I’ve written more press releases than you’ve had… whatever you’ve had a lot of.

A press release is like great big vat. At the top is a load of stuff that needs squeezing down, down, down – until a little drop comes out at the bottom. So you need to make sure that concentrated, pure essence is as effective as possible.

Often, this just means writing a good release. What’s the real news here? What’s the story? Who is it for and how can you make it as likely as possible that they’ll publish?

But now, the ‘who it’s for’ part also includes an online audience. This could be because you publish your client releases on your own blog (it’s a nice trick, try it sometime). Maybe you’re writing it specifically for one of those fancypants online release companies. Or it could just be that somehow, it just winds up online and you see it floating around months later.

So today, a good release also means something that ‘works’ online. This doesn’t need especially arcane or difficult skills. Here are some tips.

  • Use keywords. SEO may have been coughing up blood last night, but it’s not quite dead. Find a website that talks about exactly the same thing you want to talk about, copy its address, hop on over to the free Google Adwords tool for keywords and paste that address in. The Adwords tool will tell you what it thinks are the most likely keywords for that page and, by inference, what words you should be using. It’s a bit like a reverse search: instead of typing keywords and getting the page, you’re specifying a page and finding what the keywords might have been. Now, use them roughly 3-5 times every 100 words, especially in the title and first sentence because that’s where Google likes them. You just made your release more attractive to search engines because you’re using the words other people use online, not the ones you think you should use.
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online. Again, this goes back to how people might read your release. If they’re using RSS, then for example in Google Reader the title is cut off at 70 characters and the first sentence at 120 (this applies to Google search results too). So if you have nice, well-formed titles and first sentences that get the message across within those limits, people might be more likely to read you. It’s not exactly SEO – that is, search engines don’t prefer titles and first sentences within those limits – but humans do. Maybe we need to call this HSEO?
  • Do it backwards. Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title. That’s how I write blog posts and as a result, it’s how I write offline too. Usually I have it all in my head after writing it, and find it easier to compress than expand.
  • Make it trackable. Use an unusual phrase in the title that you can then track, via searches, Google Alerts, RSS monitoring, dashboards, whatever. I added ‘Flanged bananas’ to this, which is of course ridiculous (I’m a ridiculous person after all), but it’s a safe bet that when I search for that phrase from now on, I know it’s this blog post (actually, it seems I just inadvertently created my very own Google Whack). If you do it, you’ll know it’s your press release. Especially if you’re writing about flanged bananas.
  • Make it Twitter-friendly. Add a 140-character-or-less pre-made sentence at the end that people can copy and paste, complete with a bit.ly URL that you can track. Something like “Flanged bananas: How to write a press release that works online too. Brendan Cooper gives some tips. http://bit.ly/oIybwe” You just made it much easier for people to spread the word – and you controlled the message and can track it too. Nice.

Note that the second, third and fourth points above could equally apply to any title and first sentence no matter whether they’re offline or online because they just promote the essence of good copywriting. Get the message across with as much impact and brevity as possible, and make it lodge in people’s minds. Don’t give me any ‘revolutionary’ or ‘world-first’, begone with your ‘cutting edge’ and ‘delighted to announce’. It just doesn’t cut it any more. Think flanged bananas.

I usually avoid the cheesy “So what hints and tips do you have” motif at the end of blog posts but, seeing as nobody reads my blog any more, I’m willing to try anything. So, what hints and tips do you have?

Takeaways:

  • Use keywords
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online
  • Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title
  • Make it trackable
  • Make it Twitter-friendly

If you liked that, tweet this: Flanged bananas: How to write a press release that works online too. Brendan Cooper gives some tips. http://bit.ly/oIybwe

Goodbye Delicious, hello… what?

So the news is out. Yahoo have screwed up. They’re closing Delicious. I don’t even need to include a link here – just go out and look for mentions of it right now and you’ll see the news.

This is A Big Thing. It throws up all sorts of substantial issues, not least among which is, if the social web is such a big thing, then how come the biggest bookmarking service is about to go belly up? If a major company like Yahoo is experiencing difficulties monetising Delicious, then what does this mean for other cloud-based services? And, from that, how confident can we be when we store things in the cloud? At what point do we need to back things up locally, or – shock horror – actually have to start paying for this kind of service?

These are all important topics for debate that I’m sure will be covered over the next few weeks. But right here, right now, this is bad news for me, because I rely on Delicious for several important activities.

  • Distributed information gathering. Ever wanted to harness the collective effort of a team to gather knowledge as they go about their daily activities, quickly bookmarking something and slowly building up an incredibly useful, dedicated database? I have. In fact, I did, before I got into Delicious. I set up a team with Google Reader, where every member subscribed to every other member’s shared items, so that we could all see what each other had shared. It was a very useful way for us all to be clued up – maximum returns, minimal effort required. But the Delicious solution was much more elegant, in that you could install the toolbar to bookmark pages quickly and easily, add notes explaining why you’d bookmarked them, and so on.
  • News feed creation. From that same Google Reader-based project, in turn, the shared items could generate a branded page and an RSS feed, so we could pump information out to clients. They could then see what we were sharing with them, as a feed that we created based on our judgement of what was important, rather than search engines.
  • Monitoring. You can (in the near future, change that to ‘could’) search Delicious without needing to sign in. You can (could) create an RSS feed off that search. This is (was) a wonderful facility, meaning you can (could) see not just what people are (were) saying about a brand, but what they consider (considered) important enough to bookmark. Its human-based nature complements (complemented) machine-based searches extremely well.
  • Measurement. If bookmarking is a form of engagement – that is, actually taking action rather than passively reading – then you could use Delicious as a form of engagement metric. If more people are bookmarking you, then they’re engaged with what they’re reading about you.
  • Auto-publishing. Delicious has (had – ok, I’ll stop this now) a great feature whereby you could get it to post automatically to your blog at the end of each day with the bookmarks you’d created that day. You get two quality outputs for one input. Fabulous.

That’s just five reasons I have had big plans for Delicious. I have one client that I was imminently going to: install the Delicious toolbar on each member’s machine; create a set of core tags for them to use on web pages; create RSS feeds from searches for those tags; bring those searches into a dashboard for monitoring; share them with clients as a news feed; and occasionally measure the number of hits across Delicious to gauge engagement.

Now, suddenly, I have to think of a viable alternative.

There are some out there, and it seems to me the frontrunners are Diigo and StumbleUpon (which I have heard of before and used briefly before realising Delicious was far superior), and Xmarks, which I haven’t heard of before and need to look into. There is also, I guess, Google Bookmarks, but I don’t know how that’s faring nowadays given Google discontinued support for Notes some time ago.

But as far as I can tell, none of them offer the ability to create an RSS feed off a search without having to sign in. So I can still conceivably create shared knowledge systems and use metrics to a degree, but I cannot monitor or create filtered news feeds for clients. Bum.

Meanwhile I also have the major headache of figuring out where else to store the 1,107 bookmarks I have on Delicious, which I use for my own research and even for navigation using the toolbar. Double bum.

There’s a huge amount of hue and cry about this online right now, so I’m probably going to get lost in the noise here with this post. But, if anyone can point me in the right direction to get this sort of feature, please let me know. Otherwise I may need to go back to basics – Google Reader, which some people find fiddly and is not as elegant, as open, as ubiquitous, as plain old useful and great, dammit – as Delicious. Bum bum bum bum bum.

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard: What I learned

Estimated reading time: 1.5 minutes

So the dust is still settling – hasn’t actually settled yet because we have a hung parliament so all the politicians will be running around with their knees bent, flapping their arms and clucking and pecking at each other relentlessly until one of them, with a gigantic squawk, lays a huge golden egg and all the others look on in amazement then fall over, stunned, with their legs in the air – and I’m shortly going to retire the UK Election Social Media Dashboard. Yes, it’s going to be released into a fresh pasture where it can gambol about in the sunshine, eat grass and, with a shudder of its loins, remember fillies of days gone by. Or maybe led into a dirty shed, shot through the forehead with a metal bolt and turned into 10,000 tins of dogmeat.

Either way, it’s going to disappear soon because it won’t be needed much longer. But I thought it might be worth sharing – with my three readers – what I found out along the way:

  • Google Insights doesn’t allow more than two queries when going through Netvibes, otherwise you get an error result saying URL too long.
  • There is only one dynamic blog charting solution in town, and it’s not Technorati Charts any more.
  • The Tweetclouds widget doesn’t work when you click the ‘Get widget’ link.
  • You can’t have analytics in Netvibes.
  • You can only have certain pre-set widths for charts.
  • You can’t obtain sentiment by RSS.

So, you might ask, how is it that I have Google Insights, dynamic blog charts, tweetcloud widgets, analytics (believe me, I have analytics), varying chart sizes and sentiment on the dashboard? Ah, well, that would be giving you my secret sauce.

Everything does something, but nothing does everything

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to monitor, capture, measure and report. The good news is that there are ways of doing all of these. The bad news? None of them do it all.

Here’s the current state of play:

  • Google Reader is really good for monitoring and going back through old posts, but not for displaying (eg charts and so on),  and not for pulling out reports.
  • Netvibes is great for display but useless for pulling out individual items to analyse, share or report on.
  • Google Docs is great for display and analysis, and good at pulling in RSS feeds – BUT (and I only found this out after doing a lot of work) it only stores up to 20 RSS entries at a time. So, in other words, if you start monitoring pretty much anything on for example Twitter, that total is filled up within minutes and you have no way of knowing what else is going on.
  • Excel is great for offline display and analysis, but it’s very clunky when bringing in RSS feeds and often crashes. Plus, it just appends without figuring out whether it’s duplicating content so your spreadsheets quickly become massive and unworkable.

See what I mean? Everything does something, but nothing does everything – unless you actually create your own databases and reporting and all that stuff, which I want to avoid.

So, what we need is:

  • Google Reader – a decent front end and some sort of report producing facility – even output to CSV file would be good, for example.
  • Netvibes – some way in which to readily share or mark items privately, as well as pull out reports from that.
  • Google Docs – a vast increase in the number of RSS entries.
  • Excel – a better way to interface with the web, ideally one that recognises items already pulled in. And some way of pushing content back online would be nice too.

Or: we need a package that displays as well as Netvibes; that enables sharing, tagging and general RSS manipulation like Google Reader; and that pulls in data as readily as Google Docs but with the capacity of Excel. One day someone will produce that. Until then, we just have to keep banging the rocks together.

Unless I’m missing something? Given that I seem to have about three readers nowadays, if just one of them could suggest an alternative, that would be great.

What are people saying about… the iPad, iPhone and iPod?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past week, you’ll know all about the iPad, Apple’s new wunderkit – what it has, what it has not, what it’s for, what it’s not for, and so on.

Fortunately, the term ‘iPad’ is very quick and easy to search for. So, it’s a doddle to monitor. So, that’s what I’ve done.

The same goes for iPhone and iPod, so I thought it would be interesting to see all three lined up against each other. Inevitably the other two models in the Apple i-stable receive attention, so right now, all their figures are up. But this is more of a slow-burner. In a few weeks or months’ time it will be interesting to see how their charts look. Will one product cannibalise another? Will any of them drop off the radar?

Let’s take a look. Click here to see the dashboard, or click the image below.

What are people saying about the iPad, iPhone and iPod? Click image to see dashboard.

What are people saying about the iPad, iPhone and iPod? Click image to see dashboard.

Layout

First off, regarding the layout, well I thought it might be nice to nod to Apple’s design ethos and make it a bit more sophisticated than previous dashboards (all of which you can also see on the Netvibes tabs). This approach also endears you to clients. ;)

I also just concentrated on three sources: Twitter, because everyone tweets nowadays; blogs, because there are some very smart bloggers out there who can offer real insight into Apple strategy; and forums, because they’re often the forgotten social media platform and yet tech forums can offer heated debate, if not often informed opinion.

Twitter Conversations

Twitter buzz is, unsurprisingly, up across the board. There is a quite astonishing sudden spike showing when the iPad was launched (at time of writing – you won’t be able to see it after a week or so as the charts move on). Interestingly the iPhone buzz seemed to drop off quite quickly but also displays a ‘dead cat bounce’, that is, a sudden short spike after the fall. The iPad does too, but the iPod less so. This implies that the iPhone and iPad are seen as more contemporary products, the iPod less so.

The iPad tweets are all about the new kid on the block – what it does, links to reviews and so on. The iPhone tweets seem to mention the iPad and iPod, indicating a middle position in people’s attitudes. The iPod tweets are much more varied, talking about music rather than the product for example, which to me implies people have got over their wonderful new kit and are concentrating on the media instead. It will be interesting to see whether iPad conversations in a year or so will similarly discuss films, music and published media in the same way.

Blog Conversations

We see the same buzz profile as for Twitter – big red spikes, mirrored across all products. This time however the iPod peaked earlier than the iPhone, although it has approximately half the amount of traffic. The iPad trumps them all, with over 20,000 posts at launch.

The blog posts are all mashed up. Everyone seems to be talking about all products, comparing and contrasting. Maybe they will polarise in future.

Forum Conversations

Again, we see a familiar buzz profile, although this time the iPad, iPhone and iPod have a similar number of mentions at their peak. The actual forum posts aren’t that great in terms of quality however – mostly anecdotal and, strangely, Japanese. Maybe time to bring out the English language filter to snip them out.

Strategy

It’s always difficult knowing how to approach Apple. I sometimes wonder what their PR team actually does. I mean, can you imagine? Maybe you spend a few days in the office monitoring the buzz out there – none of which you really had to work to achieve – then go to the pub.

Of course, I don’t believe it’s that simple. But Apple is a strange beast. I’m tempted to say they really shouldn’t do anything with social media because they have such huge amounts of traffic and overwhelmingly positive sentiments. I think that, from a marketing perspective, they have to be careful not to cannibalise across the products. I’m sure they’ve considered this too. Smartarses.

But perhaps this is, as I said at the outset, a slowburner. Maybe this really is an opportunity for companies like Apple to watch what happens across social media, comparing and contrasting how different audiences behave.

For example, I was surprised to find that when looking at Bono’s twitter buzz, not only did it react much more quickly and at higher volume than other platforms – which is to be expected maybe – it was also more protracted buzz. That is, it took longer to die down than blogging or forums. I did not expect that, and I do wonder whether it’s a consistent pattern. I guess we just have to listen and learn.

I’ve seen the future of social media. And it’s… email

Email your RSS and make someone happy. Click image for source.

Email your RSS and make someone happy. Click image for source.

I’ve been playing around with Posterous recently. It’s stunningly quick and easy. This is in no small part down to the way you use it. You email your posts.

Now, at first I thought this was just a small feature of Posterous. But it’s making more sense to me. When I email something, I’m emailing it ‘to’ someone. That is, it’s not a blog post – which no one will comment on, they never do any more – or a tweet, which is here today gone today (or, more accurately, gone in a fraction of a second). No. I’m in my ‘telling someone something’ frame of mind, because I’ve got all the usual visual cues going on around me – inbox, outbox, drafts etc – that tell me so.

So from a strange psychological perspective, emailing your posts makes good sense for the user. It also works for Posterous too. They don’t need to provide much of a front-end, and certainly no text editor to get your head around. They simply let users get on with what they’re used to, whether it’s GMail, Outlook, Thunderbird – whatever. Nice.

And it got me to thinking about other cool uses of email in social media. I really like the email updates I get from LinkedIn. Without them I’d probably forget about it. But with them, I get an update on what’s going on in my professional network – who’s doing what with whom, and for how much, etc etc.

In the past I’ve poo-pooed Google Alerts, claiming that RSS readers offer much more. Well, yes, they do, but there’s nothing more effective than an alert popping up telling you when something’s come through. Email is more active in this respect. It’s more like an servant than an agent.

Back to Posterous. I’ll freely admit I heard about it when I discovered Steve Rubel was using it. That he’s using something with an email interface doesn’t surprise me because he’s an email ninja and has been using GMail as his intel database for quite some time. Turns out he’s found interesting studies and stats relating to email prominence: firstly, that email newsletters can be much more effective than RSS; and that you can do cool stuff with email such as get weather updates.

Mark Krynsky explains how it’s not all about email either. Posterous can access so many other platforms, it’s almost the post platform for other post platforms, in the same way Friendfeed was an aggregator of aggregators (until Facebook consumed it). So I only have to post something once and it goes wherever I want, to Twitter, blogs etc. I was testing it today and found I could post to many blogs at one time. Definitely something for the blog providers to think about, and I’m sure that if I continued that way I’d get banned.

Looking more widely, I was doing research recently for a non-profit organisation and found this: fundraising via email is more effective than through social networks. With (hopefully) their blessing (I’ve given them a link after all), here’s an excerpt I find fascinating:

… we found this interesting and profound story about the nonprofit group “Save Darfur.” This organization had grown to be one of the largest Facebook Causes, with over 1 million members. But it took Save Darfur over a year to raise about $28,000 from those Facebook Cause “friends,” — and almost two years to raise their current total of $78,000. Contrast that with a single email campaign that Save Darfur did in June of 2007 – with the help of M+R Strategic Services – to about a million of their email supporters. In only 10 days, Save Darfur raised more than $415,000 through an email series.

Wow.

Of course, there are still many reasons social media is good. The Facebook example above isn’t a continuous study, that is, we don’t know what sort of momentum it continues to pick up which a one-off email campaign would not. It’s also clear that a well-run campaign of whatever kind will beat a badly run campaign no matter what platform you choose.

There are also still limits to what you can do with email. For example, I find it frustrating that I can’t use my WordPress categories in a Posterous post, but perhaps I’ll find that out sometime.

In the final analysis perhaps Posterous’s greatest selling point is the visibility: I’m looking at my most recent posts, admittedly just bits and bobs grabbed from the web that are probably popular anyway (because a video of a man falling over is basically funny), and I’m seeing the number of views at 50, 60, 70+. When I compare that with the number of views my blog posts get, it’s a no-brainer: Posterous posts get more views.

The trick here will obviously lie in convincing clients to use it. They’re just about ready to blog, and whereas Posterous is still blogging, it’s ‘new’. Clients, on the whole, don’t like ‘new’. And maybe the high viewing rates are just because Posterous is the new kid on the block anyway.

But email. Think about it. Email. It’s the unsung hero of digital. With a good system you can really target people, and get great stats such as who opened the email, who forwarded it, who replied, and so on. You simply cannot get this from RSS – in fact, you can’t even tell who subscribed, just how many.

I’ve often dreamed of having the perfect interface to the web, such as just talking and watching the words come out (bye bye SpinVox), or plugging a USB cable direct into my forehead (hello Doctor Who). Email isn’t perfect, but it’s what we know. And whereas it cannot replace social media, maybe it’s the best gateway to it. It was there all along and we never realised it.

POST EDIT: I just realised, with a wry smile, that I actually posted this from WordPress! Doh!

What are people saying about… Bono?

Last week I looked at how Eurostar were faring, by putting together a dashboard in Netvibes which is powered by my social media search engine in the background. The results were interesting: we could see how the anger spread quickly through social media channels – and now, you can see how it’s waned quickly. No longer do we have photos of queues. Now, it’s photos of sleek-looking trains. But I imagine Eurostar still has some way to go to clear its name.

Today, I looked at Twitter and saw that for some reason #bonofacts was trending. “Do what?” I thought, then found out he’s been talking about filesharing. His point is probably quite valid: that, by making everything shareable, new talent is finding it difficult to come through, and he goes even further to say that this model is almost Robin Hood in reverse – we’re taking money from the pockets of artists and giving it to the rich. I’m not sure about the second point, but the first is a well rehearsed criticism of the  activities that virtually brought the music industry to its knees.

Solutions will emerge in time, in parallel to the conundrum of paid-for news content which Rupert Murdoch may – or may not – be about to crack. So perhaps a fantastically wealthy rock star shouldn’t be preaching to the unconverted. Or, basically, maybe Bono shouldn’t be such an irritating twerp.

That last bit was my opinion, but let’s look at what people are saying. Click here to see the Bono dashboard, or click the image below.

Bono monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

Bono monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

First off, I decided not to look at social photos or videos. It doesn’t make much sense: people don’t have much access to fantastically wealthy rock stars, whereas they do (or should) to trains. But I thought it would be interesting to look at news coverage, which in the main will (or should) give us the facts behind the story, especially one that is creating such a fuss. Because a fuss it is creating. Twitter is buzzing with it, as are the forums.

So we’ve got a nice four-column layout this time. It means we’re concentrating less on mid-crisis twittering – because really, this isn’t a crisis – and more on the balance between fact and opinion. It makes the charts a bit more scrunched but you can still see what’s going on.

Twitter has leapt to attention. Unsurprising really, as that’s where I noticed #bonofacts first. And I added a separate feed for exactly that – #bonofacts. Frankly, they’re hilarious.

It’s interesting to see how the news is reporting that Bono is getting stick from Twitter. I remember my days at Porter Novelli when we would take guesses at which online news would eventually bleed into the offline world. Now, it seems to be instantaneous.

The forums are telling a slightly different story, so much that I included charts from Omgili and Boardreader and will be following them closely to see which tells the truer tale. I don’t believe Boardreader’s chart – that the volume of posts has gone down. I can understand that there was buzz a while back when they announced they were headlining Glastonbury, and that relatively they may have lessened, but I’m not sure the chart is absolutely right.

I have to say I’m getting concerned at the output from Boardreader and Omgili. The charts don’t seem to reflect the true activity, and the RSS feeds sometimes bear little resemblance to the search results. It’s probably a tough nut to crack given the wide variety of forum formats out there, but they should be able to crack it. I’ve contacted both sites about this so let’s see what transpires.

Post-edit: Omgili got back to me and said yes, the RSS wasn’t working properly, and promptly fixed it to more accurately reflect the search settings! So that’s good. I’m still not sure the RSS output matches the charts however.

Overall, there is a noticeable proportion of foreign-language comments. This shouldn’t come as a surprise bearing in mind U2′s international reach, and in fact most of them are understandable. I just read a German one that, given my limited German, I could understand. But that’s mainly because of my less limited Anglo Saxon, if you know what I mean. In terms of monitoring this should be fairly easy to get around – simply stick an English Language filter into the results. I’ve already done this before to separate out British English from US English results.

So, ask yourself the question: what would Bono do? I suspect he’s aware of the commotion he’s caused. It’ll probably help his record sales, if no one else’s. If he’s not, then could someone tweet him quickly and tell him about this dashboard please?

Post Edit: ‘Bono’ is a classic case of a hard keyword. It’s Spanish for ‘bond’, so whereas the first results were good, I’ve been noticing a lot of Spanish coming in. The solution is to filter out items that include Spanish keywords, such as ‘y’ (‘and’), ‘o’ (‘or’) and so on. Fortunately I only have to do this in one place, and all the results should start filtering out those Spanish results. Goes to show the importance of getting the right keywords, both mandatory and exclusions.