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.

Ranking top UK PR blogs using social network analysis | Much ado about nowt

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I’ve been playing around with NodeXL recently and found it quite an eye-opener. It’s a free social network analysis plug-in/add-on/strap-on/whatever for Excel and whereas I’ve known about social network analysis for a while, I’ve never really looked into it deeply. Tim Hoang was the ‘new Brendan’ at Porter Novelli and I’ve read this post before but just rediscovered it. He gives a really nice, straightforward account of his work with social network software and I think it’s going to come in handy both to understand this myself, and explain it to other people. Definitely worth a read and not, as Tim would have you believe, ‘much ado about nowt.’

Trends

Quite simply, some charts that may be of interest. For example, note how Apple is supplanting Microsoft in search volume; that PR may be peeling upwards away from advertising and even marketing; the relative fortunes of Google+, Facebook and Twitter; social media may be levelling off; and, especially heartwarming for me, Star Wars is much more popular than Star Trek (mostly).

All charts are for all regions and years except the politics chart which is just for the UK over the past 12 months (because a lot can happen in 12 months!) Click each chart to go to the Google Trends page for more information, such as the news items that account some spikes (A, B, C etc).

● microsoft ● apple

● ed miliband ● david cameron ● nick clegg ● politics

● hp ● dell ● ibm ● hardware

● advertising ● marketing ● pr ● social media

● social media

● google+ ● facebook ● twitter

● star wars ● star trek

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…

What do subscribe, like and follow have in common?

They’re all ways of linking, true.

They’re all different words for linking on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Also true.

But they all mean the same thing. And that thing is?

“I find what you have to say interesting, and I’d like to know more.”

This probably strikes you as blindingly obvious, but it does make you realise: what’s the point of starting any social media programme unless you’ve got something to say? Why should people be interested if you don’t have anything unique or interesting to say? And why should they come back if you stop saying it?

And this cuts to the heart of communications in so many ways, whether offline or online.

Imagine you’re setting up a radio station. You’ve erected the mast, bought a cool studio, installed your microphone and unnecessarily huge mixing desk. You smoked 20 Woodbine a day for the past year to give your voice that gravelly texture. Everything’s in place. You flick the switch. You’re on air. Everyone’s waiting. But you suddenly realise you don’t have anything to say or play. It’s just a big empty speech bubble.

Would this ever happen? I’d like to think not. In so-called ‘traditional’ media you think about what content you’re going to produce, whether in print or broadcast, who it’s going to be for, what are their needs and wants, and so on. PR people do the same, just on the other side of the media mirror. And we do the same in ‘new’ media, if you can imagine such a thing as a three-way mirror.

The point I’m making is that so much of what we do in social media relies on exactly the same processes traditional media would go through. We don’t wave a magic wand. It’s not weird science or a black art. Messaging, content, audiences, everything you’d think about in a ‘traditional’ comms programme, you need to think about with social media too. But most of all, it’s about content. Actually having something to say, and saying it in an engaging, interesting, relevant way.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. Subscribe, Like and follow all mean: we’re listening, so talk!

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.

The Universal Process™. Or: the Gartner Hype Cycle of Life

Life. Work. Birth. Death. And everything in between. Read on.

I wrote some time ago about the process of writing. Unless I’m writing for myself – that is, when I had time for ‘recreational writing’, or even blogging for that matter – I tend to procrastinate. I sit in front of the monitor surrounded by swathes of research, I huff and I puff, I put my head in my hands, I wander off, stroke the cats, make a cup of tea, sit in the garden staring at a bush. I repeat this a few times, then, after the first paragraph or two, it’s there, in my head. I totally know where it’s going and what I’m doing and before I know it, the piece is written.

But then it needs redrafting, often several times, off my own bat and following feedback. In the end I’m heartily sick of it and I’m happy to dispatch it, but everyone seems happy with it. Then, some time later, I go through my own stuff and think “That’s pretty good. Did I really write that? I must have been intelligent back then. Perhaps I’m destroying my brain with too much TV/Guinness/social media.”

This hasn’t changed, and it’s telling me that it’s an essential part of the process. You need that time to fulminate. To ruminate. To think. People don’t pay you to think, but it is necessary. Then you become so familiar with something you just want rid of it. Then you look back on it a few weeks or months or years later, and you’re pretty pleased with what you did. It was all worth it in the end.

The more I work in other fields, the more I think this is a universal process. I’m going to call it the UP™.

An example: I used to be into home-based music production. It was a phase, albeit a fairly long one (about 8 years – you can hear the results here). The same would happen. I’d noodle a fair amount, then suddenly latch onto it and off I went. Then I would spend a very, very long time with the production. In the end, same thing: I had enough. But it had to be finished. So I would end up finishing it without really knowing if it was finished. And sometimes I listen to it even now and I quite like it. Does that make sense?

Another example: today, I put together a Facebook page for a client. I’ve done this before, but every client is different, and you pretty much find yourself starting from scratch every time. At first I was fairly overwhelmed. There were so many wrong ways to go about it, and I had to find the right way. So I looked through all the content I had – several times – then did some research about best practice, looked at what other people had done, etc etc. There was huffing and there was puffing, there was head in hands. There were cats stroked. Bushes were looked at. Tea was drunk.

About two hours later I was absolutely heading in the right direction. And now I’m really getting into it. And I thoroughly expect that, after we launch and promote it (and keep promoting it for the next few months) I will have had enough of it, and want to do something else instead. But I’m hoping the client will like it. And I’m hoping I’ll look back on it and like it too.

Copywriting, music, social media (and, for that matter, design and code, which is what I’m doing with the FB page). They all follow this pattern. Even research. I hate starting a social media audit. I love it when the figures come out. I hate having to keep plugging away and updating it. I love it when I look back and think I did a good job.

This process needs a model.

I like the Gartner Hype Cycle. I like its categories: the Trigger, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, the Trough of Disillusionment, the Slope of Enlightenment and finally the Plateau of Productivity. See below.

I think that applies to work, too, but with a different shape. My new categories? The Commission, the Trough of Despond, the upward Slope of Encouragement, the Peak of Productivity, the downward Slope of Dudgeon and finally, the Plateau of Reality. It’s the UP™. See below.

Let’s be philosophical. I wonder if life is like this? In which case The Commission is when mummy and daddy got friendly, the Trough of Despond is when you realise you’re probably not going to get that Ferrari (or in my case a Morgan, although my Spitfire is seeing me alright), the Upward Slope of Encouragement is when you think “Well, that’s ok, let’s focus on what’s important”, the Peak of Productivity is after you climb up (or my case, up a bit, across a bit, down a bit) the career ladder and start really enjoying life, the Downward Slope of Dudgeon is when you start confusing your grandchildren’s names with the cats and hoovering the garden, and the Plateau of Reality is… well, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’ll post you when I am.

Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

In the 18 months since I went freelance, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and worked with quite a few different companies, including a fair number of PR agencies.

And what have I learned? That the state of social media is pretty much exactly as it was when I first became a social media type, over three years ago. Except it’s worse. So, I’m going to make it all better, right here and now.

When I started there was a vague notion that something called a blog might be quite a useful communications tool. This was before Facebook and Twitter had started to loom quite so large. I told people how useful I thought blogs could be, but no one listened. I made it my job to find out about these developments and eventually moved on to pastures new, where there were tactics a-plenty but no concept of strategy, measurement, value.

Eventually I decided to go freelance so I could do things more how I felt they should be done. I’ve since developed what I would call fairly nifty ways of monitoring, measuring results, developing strategies. But time and time again I come up against the old problems:

  • You develop a strategy that considers all the angles – the people, the message, the brand, ownerships – maps it onto what a business does, sets targets. You’re sure it will work. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of excited waving of hands. And that’s it. Six months down the line, it’s dead in the water. Why? Because, I think, people are too busy to be bothered with it. They got along fine before it, they’ll get along fine after it. They don’t really need it.
  • Clients make unreasonable demands of social media because they’ve heard of it. They want you to do things with it, right here, right now. You want to explain to them that it’s not a tap you just turn on. But they’re too busy to care. So you get unsatisfactory results because you’ve been using the wrong solution for the wrong problem.
  • You find yourself siloed because people don’t want to know. Part of your social media strategy is that people all look after different parts of it. But they don’t because they’re too busy. You just cannot sustain this position because social media is content-driven and you cannot be the expert on everyone else’s content.

Can you see the thread here? People are too busy. They’ve got their heads down working and social media is something they’re prepared to pay lip service to, but no more. It’s nothing malicious. They’re just too busy.

I have a very clever friend who once looked after the marketing for a prominent occupational psychology firm. When I met him recently I asked how things were going. He replied sadly “No one listens to me.” Of course they don’t. They’re too busy for marketing. So it goes, they’re too busy for social media too, it would seem.

But get this: things are worse now because a lot of people have sorta kinda heard about social media. So now they feel extremely smug when they say they’re not sure about it because they don’t know how it generates ROI.

ROI? Gimme a break! How many companies know the ROI of anything they do, let alone comms?

For example:

  • What’s the ROI of your website? How much did it cost you to put together, and how much have you made from it? If you don’t know, then why did you put one together in the first place? What would be the effect of taking it down?
  • What’s the ROI of your PR or advertising? How many leads did you make out of it? What was the value of those leads? If you just increased brand awareness/value/sentiment, how do you quantify this?
  • What’s the ROI of your intranet? Has it reduced development time? Has it reduced time to market? Has it helped retain knowledge? If so, how much do you think you’ve saved on the cost of recruiting and training new staff?

Etc

The real problem here is that people have no idea of how their online efforts are doing because a) they don’t measure them and/or b) they never measured them so they have no benchmark. And c) they’re too busy to worry about this anyway.

So, my advice?

I once saw a programme about some men who spent time in a monastery. After several weeks one of them had what he classed as a spiritual experience. He went a bit ‘funny’ and couldn’t quite explain what was going on. The monk he told this to just said, in a very calm, soothing voice: “I wouldn’t bother.”

It felt nice. Nice and reassuring. Calming, some might say. Absolving, even.

So, if you’re worrying about social media, I wouldn’t bother. You’re too busy. It sounds cooooool but really, if I put a strategy together for you, you won’t follow it because you’re too busy.  So I wouldn’t bother. If you want it to do something for you, here, now, then that won’t work because that’s not how it works, so I wouldn’t bother. And if you’re suddenly overly concerned about ROI – which you never were in the past – then, again I wouldn’t bother because if you didn’t measure anything before, you won’t do it now.

There now. Doesn’t that feel better?

TouchGraph | Products: Google Browser

Products: TouchGraph Google Browser

Use this free Java application to explore the connections between related websites.

Try it now! Enter keywords or a URL, and click ‘Graph it!’ See
Getting Started below for more details.

This could be a gloriously irrelevant toy or a hugely useful tool. I’ve only just come across it so I’m not sure. If it works, it could be creating influence maps on the fly for any given topic. I just tried it with ‘social media’ and whereas it mosly listed social media sites (eg YouTube, Twitter etc) it did throw up some interesting results. Definitely worth a look, even if you just want to look at the pretty graphics or impress clients with them in Powerpoint presentations.