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.

Want PR? Been Penalized by Google? Then lead a campaign.

Campaigns are an often-overlooked weapon in the PR arsenal. And, when conducted properly, social media can really, really help – which is what I’m hoping will happen with the ‘Have I Been Penalized’ campaign.

I spent some of my most creative, exciting and formative years working with Dr. Marc Pinter-Krainer on the Sharepages.com website and then for its parent company, KTS. Marc went into boardrooms and blew people away with the tech (cloud computing to deliver financial information before ‘cloud computing’ had been invented), while I wrote and designed everything, online and offline, that people saw or read.

Since then, I’ve found my niche in online comms. Marc has forged a new business, One News Page, which aggregates news feeds in a cleverly direct, sophisticated and simple way. With one catch: for nine months, his site was penalized by Google, and his web traffic dropped off a cliff. I remember searching for it and not being able to find it at the time, and thinking that was, well, weird.

Now that One News Page is back on Google’s results, Marc is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the penalties, and consequences, for pretty much any business out there. Of course, it hurts more for a purely online enterprise such as One News Page, but it’s a fair bet that any company would suffer if its web traffic dropped significantly.

And Marc’s point is this: that, given the essence of running a business is balancing risk, and you’re not even aware that there’s a risk you will be penalized, then this becomes a major problem. Especially so when the channels for redress from Google are so limited, comprising just one query page that only ever seems to return an automated response.

So I’ve done a bit of Marc’s publicity for him here by writing this post. But what I really mean to say is that campaigns are such a good way to get good PR. If you’ve got the balls to do it, arm yourself with facts, figure out your campaign strategy, then stick your head over the parapet and let rip. Next thing you know you’re seen as a true leader, with a strong brand, and plenty of online copy (and, I expect in Marc’s case, offline too).

It’s the essence of PR. Don’t talk about yourself. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how great your products and people and services are. But they do want to know how issues will affect them. If you can position yourself as a leader in these mission-critical areas, the doors to publicity open wide.

And social media? Well, never has the phrase ‘disintermediation of the web’ rung more true. Create a video, and a site, and maybe a Twitter account, and you can address your audience directly, in a compelling way, engaging in the debate and spreading the word. And campaigns are all about debate, right?

I’ll sign off with a bit more free publicity for Marc. Watch the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ video to find out what the true risk of Google penalties means for you, visit the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ website to sign up for the campaign email list, or follow the campaign’s progress to address Google penalties on Twitter. I’m watching it with interest, and it could pan out to be a fascinating case study.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: I’m not part of Marc’s campaign. Besides, he seems to be doing fine himself…

If you want to understand social media, do it when there’s a big TV event happening

We’re living in a strange world right now. We’re sort of at a tipping point between broadcast and broadcomment, where we can watch what millions of other people are watching, while at the same time see what they’re saying.

This was brought home to me during the Prime Ministerial debates in the UK. I watched them with my laptop showing tweetclouds, sentiment analysis and Twitter search to get a flavour of what people’s reactions were. So it was a deeply flawed experiment in many ways – take a subset of the population who are interested enough in politics to watch the debates, another subset interested enough to comment online, and find the intersection between them – but it was interesting to see the stats shoot up in favour of Clegg. And ok, so, he didn’t win, but then again no one did. I, on the other hand, did find out a lot about social media monitoring.

Social media in action

So it occured to me then that the best way to demonstrate how social media works is during an event like that. Something that people can relate to what they’re seeing on TV, and reading about in the newspapers. Also – and this is really important – being able to tweet, and then see that tweet – their tweet – appear in the results. It’s what got me into blogging in the first place, when I posted to this blog, subscribed to my own RSS feed in Google Reader, and saw myself pop up a few minutes later. It impressed me. But I think people often don’t quite ‘get’ the idea of cause and effect, that what they blog or tweet about can and will be found by other people.

So this weekend, another event: the six nations Rugby. I don’t play rugby but I do like watching a good game, and this weekend there were plenty (not least because England won). And this time I got quite a few interesting insights using some monitoring solutions that are good for real-time monitoring, namely Twitterfall, Twendz, Tweetfeel and Tweetgrid.

Again, it was a really good occasion to demonstrate how you can set up searches (in this case, for mentions of rugby and 6nations), then tweet something with one of those search terms in it, then see your tweet appear a minute or so later.

Pretty Twitterfall

Of all the sites I tried, I preferred Twitterfall‘s look and feel. I can imagine it working wonderfully well projected onto a wall during an event, especially in its presentation mode.

But Twitterfall doesn’t really offer any analysis. Even a tweetcloud would be useful and fairly non-controversial, I’d have thought.

Interesting and idiosyncratic Twendz

I found Twendz a little jerky in its presentation, but I did find its analysis tools fascinating. Not least because they’re wrong.

I tested the Twendz sentiment engine a long, long time ago, on the day Jade Goody died (a contestant in Big Brother in the UK). I searched against her name, and saw some tweets come in saying “So sad Jade Goody died” being classed as negative. Presumably this was due to the proximity of ‘sad’ and ‘Jade Goody’ but to my mind, that’s actually in favour of Goody. I asked about this and was told it was a ‘correct response’. Correct in that it’s classing death as negative, but I wouldn’t really be monitoring to find out what people think about death, to be honest.

So this weekend a tweet saying “My two home nations playing but I can’t watch :(” was classed as negative. Again, this is a tweet by someone who I think really wanted to watch rugby, but couldn’t. The proximity of the sad smiley must have classed it as negative. But this is someone who is sad because they can’t be there. It’s a double negative. So it’s in favour of rugby, right? Not against, imho as a human being.

Twendz also has an idiosyncratic way of picking out the main topics people are commenting on. For example, ‘DONT’ came up a few times. When I looked to see what was causing that, it was just two tweets with the word “don’t” in them. Hmmmmm. Maybe this is why Twitterfall steers clear of analysis.

Or maybe it was just having a bad day. Or perhaps it needed the right kind of event to work properly, much like the people of Summerisle needed the right kind of adult.

Touchy Tweetfeely

Tweetfeel, on the other hand, really goes for sentiment analysis in a big way. It even has a big strapline on the home page saying so: “Real-time Twitter search with feelings using insanely complex sentiment analysis.”

And it did seem to work. I was surprised at how well it would correctly classify tweets. It could be that it only classifies tweets that are definitely one way or the other (eg “France are brilliant” or “Scotland suck” – sorry Scotland, but you did, a bit) so I’d have to look into that more closely to compare an unfiltered search with a sentimented search.

Still, it gave me confidence, so perhaps Tweetfeel is good for the sentiment analysis side of things. You could maybe run Twitterfall on one screen and Tweetfeel on another, or maybe even bring them together into a Netvibes dashboard.

Tweetgurn

Finally, Tweetgrid sounds great and does a decent enough job of presenting tweets in, as the name suggests, a grid, but I found it difficult to get started until I realised the big brown pictures in front of me were clickable icons, and then, well, its presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Given the choice, I’d go for Twitterfall or Twendz any time.

Cause and effect

So there you have it. If you really want to show someone how social media works then speed things up, so that they can see cause and effect, and give them a context. In other words, do it during a live, national event, and show them how this all works with some monitoring tools. They’ll get to see what’s good and what’s not so good about monitoring and social media today.

One day…

I’ve already mentioned Netvibes, and I’ve considered building dashboards before big events that bring together live video streams with social media feedback shown alongside. Maybe I’ll do that next time around.

I await the day when broadcasters realise they can integrate this stuff too. I did find it very interesting seeing what people were thinking, but frustrating that I had to look at the laptop, then at the game, and found I couldn’t really concentrate on either.

So maybe, one day, someone will have the bright idea of running a Twitterfall-like column alongside the picture, or running below it like a newswire, together with a cloud. If so, I’ve got copyright on that one.

Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter - again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.

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.

I don’t like SEO copywriting. Apart from anything I don’t think it has relevance any more. Comments?

That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

This is what I tweeted yesterday. Then I went away and came back an hour later – to lots of them. Comments, that is.

So many in fact that I thought it was worth sharing them.

First, the backstory. I’ve never really used SEO on this blog. That is, I don’t really identify keywords then deploy them strategically, for example in links or headings, or in my first paragraph. I also don’t try and achieve keyword densities, that is, placing keywords a certain number of times in a post. It doesn’t seemed to have harmed my stats.

But I work with a very, very good web developer called Steve Meleka, and together we put together some very cool and unusual sites. So, we do employ SEO and keyword density, simply because it’s best practice.

The only problem is – and Steve won’t mind me saying this – I hate it. It makes me want to cry a little bit, because I want to write nice copy, not copy peppered with keywords. I know I need to, but I don’t like it.

Hence the tweet. It was more a cry of anguish and despair than a genuine request for comments. But the comments were really interesting, so here they are, together with my responses:

@KerryMG (who incidentally is a lovely cuddly Porter Novelli person, totally digitised up): why do you think it doesn’t have relevance?

My response: Because it’s more about who points to you with those words rather than what you say yourself. Communities rule. Plus it’s clunky.

She came back with: yes & no, relevance of content is key and how you brand/describe yourself too, Plus link building needs those optimised words

So, Kerry says it’s both. And, of course, she’s right. Probably.

Four other responses seemed to me to be saying essentially the same thing, that it’s about quality of copy:

  • @PodMatt: surely the best SEO copywriting is just good-ol’ quality copywriting? Today’s web is/should be about quality content
  • @OnlinePRNews: SEO copywriting is relevant as long as it is high quality. Keyword stuffing – absolutely not. Strong, compelling text – yes!
  • @cbingaman: They have their place, but not as imp. as many think. I write for people, not search engines. Search engines aren’t clients.
  • @tonyfelice: re seo copy, thatls what we’re seeing too. makes way more sense to write naturally, and to the customer. density is dead.

My response to @tonyfelice: Now that really is my take on it too. Density kills copy and I think it’s more about community – what other people say about you

I thought these were kind of along the same lines, so I also replied to them all with: Agree with quality – but do we need keywords any more? I’m not sure we do.

@cbingaman replied: They have their place, but not as imp. as many think. I write for people, not search engines. Search engines aren’t clients.

So they broadly agreed: it’s about people, not computers.

@thinkitcreative had a good, comprehensive response, no mean feat in 140 characters or fewer: Know & engage audience, have clear call to action, communicate w/ benefit-rich pro copy. Beats clunky SEOcopy every time.

Then I put something to @thinkitcreative: That’s my take on it – but, just to play the devil’s advocate here, what about ‘the machines’? As in, Google etc?

@thinkitcreative again replied: My take? Bots don’t buy things. People do.

So again, it’s about people. But, just to show balance in all things, @OnlinePRNews had the final say: From a PR perspective, having a keyword in your title helps your release rank higher in Google News for that term. :)

And, again, I guess they’re right (because there’s two of them, according to their profile).

What does this tell us?

  • Keywords are quite important
  • People and communities are more important
  • It’s a right old pain in the arse copying and pasting Twitter threads back together to turn them into meaningful conversations

But wait. The debate isn’t over. My mate Steve has a thing or two to say about this. I called him to chat about it. He agrees that yes, this is what Google say, especially about meta tags, and it’s what a lot of people say. But he’s finding – as someone working on this day in, day out, measuring traffic rates and getting the phone to ring for clients – that keywords do have an effect. So much so that he’s managed to increase a client’s response rates by 300 percent, through using good SEO keywords and meta tags.

Is that the final word on the subject? Given that I was quite taken aback at the number of replies I got on Twitter, I doubt it. But then, as everyone knows, Twitter is the real deal nowadays and blogging is dead. And I only have three readers anyway. So I won’t get any comments to this post.

Who are: @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson, @peter_bently?

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard. What are people saying? What are YOU saying? Click to find out.

This morning I took a quick look at what people were saying on the UK Election Social Media Dashboard.

I noticed a few spikes on Twitter for George Osborne. This was strange. Osborne hasn’t figured particularly highly so far, and when he has, it’s been associated with spikes for his contemporaries Darling and Cable.

So I took a look. And, even though I’m fairly apolitical – believe me, I’m more interested in the geekery than the politics here – I’m quite dismayed by what I think I’ve found.

I noticed that there were quite a few tweets referencing old news about Osborne – his inheritance, his expenses, and so on. So I looked at who was tweeting this. And there are four Twitter accounts that have been very recently set up, that have no weblinks, that all seem to be essentially spreading muck about him online.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories but this looks pretty dodgy to me. If I didn’t know better I’d say that someone, somewhere, is coordinating an attempt to discredit Osborne by setting up Twitter accounts to try and spread negative messaging.

Of course, I could be wrong. In which case maybe we should give @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson and @peter_bently the benefit of the doubt. Here’s an idea: why don’t you go and check them out and see what you think?

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.