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November 2007

StumbleUpon Happiness: Computer-Mediated Serendipity

Stumbleupon I enjoyed an engaging presentation by Garrett Camp, founder of StumbleUpon, who was the speaker at this week's PARC Forum ... the first PARC Forum I've attended, despite having been working at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto, only about a mile away, for the past 14 months (!).

I'd signed up for StumbleUpon in August of last year, a few weeks before I started at Nokia (when I was working on a white paper on Web 2.0 (in one of the few income-producing activities I engaged in during my entrepreneurial phase)), but I don't remember using it much ... and, indeed, can't find any evidence that I rated any pages in my StumbleUpon profile.

Garrett offered a number of interesting insights and experiences that rekindled my interest in this web-based tool that facilitates "channelsurfing the web". Rather than regurgitate them all here, I'll start off with the description from the StumbleUpon web site, and then note a few gems of particular interest (to me).

About StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon helps you discover and share great websites. As you click Stumble!, we deliver high-quality pages matched to your personal preferences. These pages have been explicitly recommended by your friends or one of 3,961,071 other websurfers with interests similar to you. Rating these sites you like () automatically shares them with like-minded people – and helps you discover great sites your friends recommend.

How Does it Work?

StumbleUpon uses / ratings to form collaborative opinions on website quality. When you stumble, you will only see pages which friends and like-minded stumblers () have recommended. This helps you discover great content you probably wouldn't find using a search engine.

Garrett started off distinguishing between search and discovery, noting that search engines (e.g., Google) help you find pages when you know what you want, but recommender systems (e.g., StumbleUpon) help you discover pages you didn't know you wanted (or, at least, would be interested in) - a form of computer-mediated serendipity.

He shared some impressive statistics, e.g., 4M users, 3B stumbles (web pages rated visited - via the "Stumble!" button - by StumbleUpon users) total, growing by 10M stumbles per day. StumbleUpon users appear to be Internet explorers, visiting 170 domains per month (vs. the general average of 70 domains per month), yielding a total of 13M unique URLs thus far, and adding 25K new URLs per day (5 times more than Digg users ... despite the fact that the StumbleUpon system does not have any kind of leaderboard that might provide the kind of extrinsic motivation that may have led to influence peddling among Digg users). The relative absence of gaming incentives may also help explain the relative absence of lurkers: over 90% of people rate recommendations and 50% of people submit new content [though with three orders of magnitude difference between the number of users and the number of stumbles, I wonder how many stumbles are rated, or how many ratings there are (Netflix has over 2 billion ratings from 7M customers, and relative newcomer Flixter has 1 billion ratings)].

Garrett enumerated a few of their recent innovations, e.g.,

  • StumbleVideo: "the closest online experience to traditional channel surfing"
  • StumbleThru: facilitating discovery within a single domain (e.g., Wikipedia)
  • StumbleAds: targeted paid placements displayed between organic stumbles (1 in 20), with a CPV (click per visitor) rate of $0.05 - no click through required. Users can actually rate the ads (using the StumbleUpon toolbar), and the feedback is then offered to advertisers, giving them additional consumer insight. [This seems somewhat less intrusive, or at least less objectionable, than the recently announced social advertising "features" in Facebook.]

He also enumerated a number of lesssons learned, but I'll restrict my focus to some important and interrelated insights into costs, benefits and incentive schemes. StumbleUpon succeeds, in part, because it leverages one interaction (clicking "I like it") to trigger multiple actions (and thus offers multiple incentives for clicking):

  • adds to personal profile
  • adds to search reviews page
  • implicitly approves the page for distribution to friends and peers (social benefit)
  • improves quality of personal recommendation for the user (personal benefit)

Thus, there are 3 reasons to rate:

  • recommend to friends / community (social/altruistic motives)
  • keep a lightweight blog (memory/self-expression)
  • improve recommendations (self-interest)

After the talk, the first thing I did when I next accessed the web was to login again to StumbleUpon. I installed the StumbleUpon toolbar in Firefox and started stumbling. My first click brought me to Squashed Philosophers, which included the following among its philosophical gems of wisdom (from William James):

"If merely 'feeling good' could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience".

This triggered a vague recollection of Dan Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness (which, in turn, motivated the title of this post), but I let it pass.

My second click brought me to a page on how to people tick people off. I already have a pretty good idea of how to tick people off (though I like to think I don't practice this [often]), but I "liked" it anyway.

On my third click, I stumbled upon Amazing Dots ... which is part of a collection of optical illusions ... which reminded me of one of the many things that fascinated me about the Stumbling on Happiness book (Gilbert included a number of optical illusions in the book). The fourth click brought me to a page describing how to detect lies ... which also seemed related (though I'm not sure).

The fifth click brought me to the Essentials of Buddhism, which starts out with the Four Noble Truths:

   1. Suffering exists
   2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
   3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
   4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

I had to stop, because this was getting too serendipitous for comfort - late last night, I sent one of my colleagues an excerpt from the blog post I'd written when I was joining Nokia, in which I'd referenced Stumbling on Happiness, and then further noted:

In yet another odd instance of irony, preaching what I want to practice, reading what I’ve written and/or being reminded of what I didn’t know I knew, I read further in the post:

I'm not sure what to expect, so it's relatively easy to let go of expectations -- and embrace working without attachments. NRCPA is very young, and I believe that the experimentation and innovation in our research will be complimented by experimentation and innovation in our model(s) of research.  In fact, this multidimensional openness is part of the appeal for me.

Speaking of attachments, I'm reminded of Steve Pavlina's post on self-acceptance vs. personal growth (or, perhaps more properly, self-acceptance vs. positional growth):

The underlying problem is that by rooting your sense of self in something that will fluctuate, like the current position of any measurable part of your life, you’re going to suffer in one way or another.
Instead of rooting your sense of self in your position, which is changeable, what would happen if you rooted your sense of self in something permanent and unchangeable?  Stop identifying yourself with any form of positional status, and pick something invulnerable instead… like a pure concept that nothing in this world can touch.  Examples include unconditional love, service to humanity, faith in a higher power, compassion, nonviolence, and so on.

[Other examples may include helping people relate ... or connecting people.]

I’m further reminded that the root of passion is suffering ... and that (for Buddhists, at least) the root of suffering is attachment.

I think there's another whole blog post I could write about the idea that blogging (for me) is often a serendipitous re-discovery process of reading what I’ve written ... and being reminded of what I didn’t know I knew. But I'll leave that for another post ... and leave StumbleUpon for another time when I"m looking for some additional computer-mediated serendipity.

Sex and the Nice Guy: My Cousin, Tom Spath, at the Hollywood Improv

My cousin, Tom Spath (or, as we've always called him, T.J.), is a funny guy, in fact, he's one of the funniest guys I know. He recently premiered at the Hollywood Improv, where he delivered a hilarious 6 1/2 minute standup performance exploring issues such as sex, laundry, serial killers, household appliances, nutrition, gratitude and funerals (and did I mention sex?). Highly recommended.

[Update: as evidence that TJ/Tom can take it as well as dish it out (er, pun intended), The Bobs recently released a song, Tom Spath, in his "honor", invoking the metaphor of a bagel, on their new CD, Get Your Monkey Off My Dog.]

Continuous Improvement of our Thanksgiving Meal

We were searching around for our turkey recipe and then I remembered I'd blogged about brining and grilling a turkey last year, so I just went online to follow the instructions there (or perhaps I should say "here"). The post reminded me not only of the recipe, but of my pledge to not overcook the turkey "next time" ... and that Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a good accompaniment to the meal (my cousin-in-law, Richard Gagnon, wine manager at Brattleboro Food Co-op, first introduced me to this unusual pairing).



Among the variations this year:

  • My mother and father-in-law stepfather are visiting (last year, Amy's aunt, cousin, cousin-in-law and their daughter were visiting ... and I forgot to take a picture of the people (!)).
  • We bought a heritage turkey (just under 14 pounds) from our local PCC Natural Market.
  • I checked the bird 15 minutes before it is supposed to be done (it was done at exactly the right time - 2 hours, 40 minutes, at 350 degrees - and was not overcooked, I'm glad to say).
  • A newly discovered bacon Parmeson Brussels Sprouts recipe was a big hit with everyone.
  • The mashed sweet potatoes were also tasty.
  • The 1998 Domaine de Villeneuve Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Ville Vignes" (which we enjoyed last year) and the 2000 Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Chaupin" were outstanding; the Janasse had more fruit, body and depth, and [so] I preferred that one. Both are predominantly based on the Grenache grape, and so I may experiment with some single varietal Grenache next year, and perhaps a bit of Cinsault (Chateau Ste. Michelle offered their first single varietal bottlings of each grape this past year, and both sold out very quickly to Wine Club members).


On a separate but related note, an email exchange earlier in the day with Dan, who had posted a comment on last year's blog entry about his own firey experience with flaming grilling a turkey, assured me that he would be practicing safe[r] cooking this year.

Thanks for the Ad: Brand-Centered Sociality and Socioeconomic Networking on Facebook

Facebook announced their social advertising tools this week, unveiling a new set of channels for advertising on the site:

  • Facebook Pages: businesses can now be have faces on Facebook
  • Social Ads: advertisements based on actions your friends have taken on the site
  • Facebook Beacon: advertisements based on actions you have taken on other sites (e.g., online viewing, buying or selling)

Businesses are now be first-class citizens in the world of Facebook, and allocated Pages (with a capital "P"). People can add links to business pages, but they are listed as "fans" rather than "friends", prompting Jeremiah Owyang to coin the term fan-sumers (fan + consumers, a la prosumers (producer + consumer) ... though I wonder if fancons would be a more appropriate mashup, especially in view of some of the other dimensions of social advertising ... but I'm getting ahead of myself). With tens of millions of people, and 100,000 of [potential?] businesses, the Facebook Pages of "landmark partners" listed in the announcement appear to be off to a somewhat lackluster start, based on a little browsing around on Facebook this morning: Blockbuster (51 fans), CBS (no page), Chase (25) The Coca-Cola Company (the landmark leader, with 304 fans, as I suppose befits the world's most popular brand), Microsoft (35 fans on one Page, 2 more on another, leading me to wonder which, if either, is the "official" Facebook Page for the company), Sony Pictures Television (no page) and Verizon Wireless (83). Of course, we're only 48 hours into this brave - or should I say "brand" - new world, but I suspect that most people acquire friends on Facebook faster than most businesses are acquiring fans.

Social Ads allow people to have targeted advertisements displayed on their Facebook pages (er, which are not to be confused with Facebook Pages, or maybe they will be ... but again, I digress). To be honest, I can't tell from the announcement - or other reports - whether the targeting is based on the profile and actions of the Facebook user on whose page the ad appears, or on the profiles and actions of the friends of the person on whose page the ad appears ... perhaps it's both (especially given the boundaries that are being broken by other dimensions of the announced changes). In any case, businesses can purchase advertising space - banner ads - on pages of people who have fanned them, and fanned business endorsements can show up in people's minifeeds, leading to a new form of brand-centered sociality (a special case of object-centered sociality)

Facebook Beacon is an outreach service that enables Facebook user actions taken on other sites to be incorporated into that Facebook user's news feeds or Mini-Feeds, e.g., a buying or selling an item on eBay, purchasing a movie ticket on Fandango, booking travel on Travelocity or posting a restaurant review on Yelp (notably absent from the list of Facebook Beacon partners is Amazon, which, of course, has been adding more and more social networking service features to its own web site, another dimension of the convergence of ecommerce and social networking). The service is opt-in, and it will be very interesting to see the social ramifications of this new portal of revelation (I can imagine cases of "Who did you go to that movie with?" or "Why didn't you call while you were in town last weekend?").

This is, of course, all very exciting from the point of view of marketers ... and, of course, on some level we're all marketers (Citizen Marketers or Brand You's) ... especially the growing proportion of people with Facebook pages. Self-promotion is a natural human inclination, and one of the ways we promote or express our selves is through our associations with other people, places, things and activities. Many of us choose to promote brands in the physical world implicitly - through the clothes we wear, the posters we hang on our walls and the stickers we place on our laptops (or even the laptops we choose) - or explicitly - through conversations about our favorite products and services (TiVo fanatics come to mind ... or should I say TiVumers?). And it seems increasingly natural - or at least prevalent - for physical world social and economic practices to migrate into the digital world, so these new social advertising tools on Facebook do not come as much of a surprise ... but they may come at a cost.

I remember a trip to Mexico, where I was struck by the mixture of social and economic networking that pervades commerce there. Everyone seems to be an agent for someone else. My son and I wanted to go on a fishing trip, and as soon as we'd parked the car, the parking lot attendant introduced us to a security guard who introduced us to a guy who then set us up with a boat and later a restaurant that would cook whatever we caught. I had the strong impression was that everything was based on commissions, and a network of social and economic relationships among different parking lot attendants, security guards, boat captains and restaurant owners. Everything was fine, but as a relentless optimizer, I kept wondering whether we could be getting better deals. I developed a measured distrust for the rest of our stay about many of the people we encountered, as everyone seemed to have a financial incentive to steer us toward certain people, places and activities. They weren't trying to help us find the best boat or restaurant, they were just trying to get some of the money we would spend there. Perhaps this pervasive commission backend exists in the U.S.A., and I just don't recognize it, but the experience was somewhat unsettling.

I suspect that more suspicion and measured distrust will creep into online social networking as more economic incentives enter the networks. Trust is an important component in any social network, although it may be less so in online networks that promote promiscuous linking (friending (and now fanning)). I do wonder, though, how the flow of trust in these networks will be affected by the flow of money. This  basically comes down to the conflict (or tension) between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations: are you raving about something because you truly enjoy it and/or truly believe I would enjoy it, or because you be financially compensated for the influence you exert?

Jackie Hubba, co-author of the Church of the Customer blog (and the book Citizen Marketers), recently wrote about how fakers are bad for business, noting a study by Burson-Marsteller regarding e-fluentials  - people who are more likely to share their opinions and experiences with others, and thus influence purchase decisions - that show people are increasingly distrustful of reviews by people with an economic incentive to write those reviews:

People hate fakers when it comes to buying stuff. In fact, more than half of the people asked for a recent survey said they avoid buying from a company if they even suspect a paid professional is secretly behind the review of a typical, everyday person.

So what will happen when everyone is, potentially, a paid reviewer?

The Wall Street Journal had an article about a month ago on The Price of a Four Star Rating, in which they note some similar trends that are occuring in the blogosphere:

As online food sites become increasingly influential in the restaurant business, chefs and owners are plying bloggers with free meals to get good write-ups. Some are also posting favorable reviews about themselves on popular Web sites or becoming Internet scribes.

I wonder if Facebook Page owners will be plying potential fans with digital or physical freebies to entice them into explicit fandom.

I'll close with some provocative issues raised in a recent article by Chrstine Rosen in The New Atlantis on Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism:

Although social networking sites are in their infancy, we are seeing their impact culturally: in language (where to friend is now a verb), in politics (where it is de rigueur for presidential aspirants to catalogue their virtues on MySpace), and on college campuses (where not using Facebook can be a social handicap). But we are only beginning to come to grips with the consequences of our use of these sites: for friendship, and for our notions of privacy, authenticity, community, and identity. As with any new technological advance, we must consider what type of behavior online social networking encourages. Does this technology, with its constant demands to collect (friends and status), and perform (by marketing ourselves), in some ways undermine our ability to attain what it promises—a surer sense of who we are and where we belong? The Delphic oracle’s guidance was know thyself. Today, in the world of online social networks, the oracle’s advice might be show thyself.

With the recent Facebook announcement - and MySpace's earlier announcement of a "SelfServe" hyper-targeted affinity-based advertising network (which I won't even get into, given that I'm not a MySpace user, except to note that Jeremiah Owyang has posted a nice summary and analysis of the MySpace and Facebook advertising announcements) - I wonder if, in this week's newly expanded world of online socioeconomic networks, the oracle's advice might be sell thyself.

Mobilizing Social Software / Socializing Mobile Software: Nokia Mobile Mashup

Mobile Mashup 2007 Nokia held its second Mobile Mashup on Thursday. The theme for the event was "the future of mobile social", and we had a series of conversations on and off stage about how social software is and will be mobilized, as well as how mobile software (and devices) are being socialized. [Disclosure: I work for Nokia, but nothing I write on this blog should be construed as representing the official views of the company.]

The first conversation was between Tero Ojanperä, EVP & CTO, Nokia, and Seamus McAteer, Chief Product Architect, M:Metrics. The "fireside chat" (there was no fire, but it was a relaxed discussion) started on the topic of Tero's new role in heading the new Entertainment and Communities business unit of Nokia's new [re]organization (effective January 1), where he will seeking new ways of unleashing the creativity of content developers (formerly known as consumers) through services such as MOSH, the recently released content sharing service we were promoting at Pop!Tech 2007, where many of the attendees interviewed - and videotaped - each other using Nokia N95 multimedia phones, and posted the interviews in a special PopTech 2007 collection (a fabulous mashup - or montage - of which, created by my colleague Nils Huehnergarth, is highly recommended (I just watched it again, and had yet another Pop!Tech-induced whole body experience watching the continuous partial conversations (but I digress))).

Other topics Tero and Seamus covered included the origins and goals of Ovi (Finnish for "door", Nokia's recently launched Internet gateway service), our increasing focus on developing regions (or emerging markets (or, as I was told is the latest term by another attendee, "growth economies")) and our recently launched proactive displays research prototype (woo woo!). Near the end of the conversation, when asked about the recent acquisition of Navteq, Tero noted that one of his goals is not just to bring the web to mobiles, but to co-create a context-sensitive web. Emphasizing that the key to the future of mobile social software is openness, Tero closed with the challenge "rather than sharing a pie that does not exist, can we create a new industry that will serve everyone who participates in its creation?"

Next up was the first of a series of 5-minute "fast pitch" presentations by companies who are developing mobile social software:

  • Brring offers a service where subscribers can earn money by incorporating advertising in their ringbacks (what calling parties hear when they dial the subscriber's number), and can earn even more money if they personalize ringbacks (advertisements) for their friends by creating profiles of them (which raises some privacy issues, though I suppose subscribers need not create accurate profiles of their friends ... and I can imagine interesting network - or perhaps, cyclical - effects arising ... "you profile me, I'll profile you").
  • MyKidIsSafe offers a service that will monitor a child's use of SMS, email and Internet browsing, and alerts parents (via email or SMS) if any of 1500 objectionable words is detected. The speaker led off with some statistics - 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be molested by age 18, 50% of victims are under the age of 12, 30% never disclose the abuse, 75% of disclosures happen accidentally, and 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given time. I admire the presenter for his courageous disclosure that he and eight of his friends were sexually molested as children (such public disclosures are likely to reduce the number of nondisclosures). But I will also note my skepticism about the 50,000 online sexual predators statistic and my general belief that fears over online sexual predation are vastly disproportionate to the actual risks.
  • Tapatap offers an online "social contest community" service through which users can create online contests - typically involving photos that people can vote on - in which people can participate by voting on their mobile phones or other web browser platforms. Contest sponsors can add a badge or widget to any major social networking service - of SNS - page (e.g., MySpace, Facebook, etc.). What most appealed to me about this service is that it represents a kind of Manhattan Story Mashup for the Masses (MSM was a Nokia-sponsored one-time event co-created by my [now] colleague Ville Tuulos that I mentioned in a blog post on Pervasive 2007 - a contest involving large screens, mobile phones and the web)
  • Vello is a service that lets you schedule a conference call through a web interface that will send out invitations to participants (as Outlook Calendar items) and then call the other participants at the scheduled time. This was demonstrated in real-time for attendees at the Mobile Mashup, who were asked to [temporarily] change their mobile phone settings from silent to loud, creating, in effect, a short, impromptu telesymphony.
  • Vyro Games demonstrated their Personal Input POD (PIP), a mobile stress management tool that uses a small wireless device that measures stress via electrodermal activity (EDA) in a fingertip and transmits the data via Bluetooth to a nearby mobile phone running their software. Nokians Doug MacMillan and Ashley Walker participated in Vyro's Relax and Race game onstage, in which the more relaxed person wins the race; the winner, Ashley, who was at the center of the storm in the planning and execution of this event (and our participation at Pop!Tech) then further demonstrated remarkable relaxation prowess in the single-player Storm Chaser game.

Next up was a panel on Community Building moderated by Serena Glover, founder of Twango (recently acquired by Nokia); panelists included Matthew Rothenberg (representing Flickr, a photo-sharing community), Kevin Yen (representing YouTube, a video-sharing community) and Jessica Alter (representing Bebo, a multimedia social networking community). I see that Alex Pang has posted pretty comprehensive coverage of this panel on his End of Cyberspace blog, so I'll just note a few highlights here.

  • It's all about self-expression, people having something to say ... and having people to say it to (Jessica)
  • Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for any Flickr user to get their data into or out of Flickr (Matt)
  • The value proposition is key: people will invest time to learn something if they see it as really useful (Kevin)
  • The next generation services will be based on augmenting experiences in the real world (Matt)
  • Today it's all about camera phone photos taken & posted form events; in the future, it will be streaming video from events (Kevin)
  • There's no way to make a service just mobile or just web anymore (Jessica)

The last panel before lunch was on the Millenial Mindset entitled "Schooled by the Next Generation – Today's Youth on Mobile Social", moderated by Ben Bajarin (Creative Strategies). Ben led off with some statistics about four categories of Internet users - Silver surfers (55M, age 65+), Baby boomers (77M, ages 40-65), Gen X (49M, ages 25-40) and Millenials or Gen Y (79M, ages 12-24) - and noting that every generation has a world view. The millenials' world view includes assumptions about connectivity and control - users control their media, media does not control them (although I wonder about the addictive nature of some online media sites, e.g., MySpace and Facebook, with respect to control or at least discipline issues) - and the need for speed (processing information up to 5 times faster than earlier generations ... Robert Scoble's recent demonstration of live linkblogging comes to mind, though Robert is not, technically, a millenial).

Panelist Ben Keighran, founder of Bluepulse (a video interview with whom was recently podcast by Scoble), noted that there are two categories of social networking services (SNS) for mobiles: chasing after MySpace vs. improving communication among real groups of friends ... and Ben's choice of words probably makes it clear which group Bluepulse falls into (the latter). Jon Lunetta, Director of Worldwide Sales for mywaves, noted that many millenial users are becoming CTO's of their own household and their network of friends. Ben also noted a "party host" phenomenon, where approximately 1 in 10 Bluepulse users become primary content creators for their circle of friends.

The panel also included two millenials, Andrew (a college freshman) and Christina (a high school student), who shared some of their first hand experiences with mobiles and social software. In the mobile world, both prefer texting over talking (for time, energy and/or multi-tasking or multi-channeling reasons), but differ in their favorite SNS - Andrew prefers Facebook (now that he is in college) and Christina prefers MySpace. For that matter, Ben (a Gen Xer, by my estimation) also said he has found Facebook very helpful in his recent move from Australia, and Jon (also a Gen Xer, I think) said he has increasingly been using Facebook for business contacts. Hmmm ... it's too bad Reid Hoffman (from LinkedIn) wasn't able to attend the event (due to illness), as it would have been interesting to discuss Facebook vs. LinkedIn for business-oriented social networking ... leading me to wonder about whether the famous quote from The Godfather - "it's nothing personal, it's just business" - applies to the world of social networking (or the world of business) [anymore].

After lunch, we started off with a panel on "Business Models for Mobile SocialCasting" moderated by Tim Chang, a Principal with Norwest Venture Partners. Rob Trice, a Partner with Nokia Growth Partners, started off drawing a two-dimensional graph representing growth areas for social software (Tim remarked that the traditional after-dinner activity at Rob's house is to go to the whiteboard): one dimension is existing vs. new, the other dimension is PC vs. mobile, noting that the disruptive opportunities lie along the horizontal line (spanning PC and mobile). Vineet Buch, a Principal at BlueRun Ventures, noted that the three main ingredients (and stages) in a successful SNS are vitality, engagement and monetization (in that order). Michelle Law, a Principal with Greylock Partners, noted that in the US, due to its high penetration of PCs, mobile SNS will primarily be extensions of PC-based SNS, and will based on one of three primary business models: subscription, advertising (impression-based), or virtual goods / virtual currency. Daniel Graf, CEO of, started out with a Kyte.TV video created and posted by Robert Scoble using an N95 while driving (Scoble has also created and posted a video about Daniel Graf and Kyte.TV ... focusing on it's use on a non-Nokia phone). Daniel noted that SNS are all about sharing relevant moments with your friends ... and - hopefully - most of those do not take place when you are in front of your PC.

There was another Fast Pitch session next, but I was out in the hallway, going over last-minute preparations with the moderator and panelists for the next panel (which I'd organized).

Futurecommunitiespanel The panel, on "The Future of Connected Communities", began with moderator Alex Pang, Research Director at the Institute For The Future and author of 3 (!) fabulous blogs (Relevant History, The End of Cyberspace and IFTF's Future Now) introducing the panelists - Scott Golder (Researcher, HP Labs); Andrew Fiore (Ph.D. student, UC Berkeley); Marc Davis (Social Media Guru, Yahoo!) and Eric Paulos (Senior Research Scientist, Intel Research Berkeley) - and asking them to comment on concepts or technologies  in the research on connected communities that had not yet been discussed during the day. Scott warned of the incipient dangers of information overload, and noted that "if all my FB friends updated their statuses 5 times a day, I’d cancel my account." Marc observed that we tend to overload "social" when talking about social networking, distinguishing between social networks (where people generally know those they link to) and attention networks (where people follow someone else's media stream, whether or not they really know them) and said that mobiles will increasingly become not [just] windows into the web, but part of a massively connected network that connects people to each other and to resources in the physical world. Andrew raised the question "What is a community?", noting the negative reaction of many Facebook users to the news feeds "feature", and said that SNS designers have to be sensitive to different levels of boundaries and the shared sense of symbols or meanings people create within those boundaries. Eric predicted that mobile and situated sensors - beyond cameras and microphones - will be a big thing, and that the enhanced ability to collectively sense and make sense of our environments will enable people to come together and promote grass-roots change. As an example of this, Marc noted how the use of mobiles to track the news on the London Bombings shows how the nature of news is being transformed (the recent "Twitterquake" is another recent example, closer to home).

Observing that in the near future, we'll have not just 4 billion people, but lots of other things connected on the net, Alex asked "What then? Will my refrigerator be on Facebook, and will it be offended if I don’t friend it?" Eric noted that this will create more opportunities for awareness of your everyday environment; Scott predicted that things like being able track physical events like what I've eaten and spent will help people improve their lives; Andrew noted that expanding awareness into, for example, what my friends are eating, will amplify the impacts of the tracking of personal events; Marc warned that as more real data about real people in the real world become available on mind, we have to be careful about structuring boundaries and relationships so that people feel safe (and thus, willing to share their data).

Scott then interjected that one of the important business (vs. social or technological) questions is “Who owns that data? Can your neighbor say 'Can I borrow a cup of sugar, I see you have plenty of it?'  Can Safeway say 'You can’t have accesss to the data we have on the contents of your refrigerator'?" Marc agreed, adding a legal dimension to the discussion by noting a privacy bill introduced by John Edwards, and observing that well architected systems incentivize participation and protect privacy at the same time. Eric mused "I’m thinking of really bad DRM [Digital Rights Management] on your refrigerator."

Marc then turned attention to the audience, and asked "How many people out there who are working on mobile social software have an anthropologist / psychologist / sociologist on your teams?" Unfortunately, but hardly surprisingly (given my own experience), only about 5 hands went up. Mark then warned that "people have been studying these issues for hundreds of years … you’re hampering your efforts by not tapping into that."

The conversation among the moderator and panelists was flowing so smoothly that we were getting toward the end of our scheduled time without having opened up the floor to questions from the audience. Fortunately, Robert Scoble was there, and toward the end of the panel, he stood up and interjected a comment and a question (again demonstrating the changing nature of "news"): "I was just with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and Chris DeWolfe, CEO of MySpace, where they announced they are going to work together on the open social platform. Do you have any comment?" [Unfortunately, my attention shifted from offline to online, and I started browsing around for more information about this - finding, among other things, the video interview that Robert had just posted with Eric and Chris - and so I didn't catch the responses from the panel.]

The next (and last) question was asked by my colleague, John Loughney, having to do with the risks of posting half-naked photos on MySpace that come back to haunt people during subsequent job interviews. Eric boldly opined that we are the last generation who will care about that. John started to ask another question about the tradeoffs between real time vs. virtual time together, but Valerie Buckingham, the overall organizer of the event, intervened to try to get us back on schedule, wryly noting that "I think I just heard that young people today don’t know what they’re doing".

Unfortunately, due to my engagement in the preceding panel and subsequent conversation with the panelists immediately after, I cannot report much on the next panel, on "Open Innovations - Communities of Developers that Create Communities of People", except to note that Valerie had another pithy assessment to offer at the end: "You know how once you decide to buy a certain car you see that car everywhere? Once we decided to embrace open innovation, we started to see that everywhere."

I did catch bits and pieces of the next (and last) Fast Pitch session:

  • Mig33 is a mobile software service that is like MySpace, Email, Skype all rolled into one [mobile] platform.
  • Mozes enables anyone to create a mobile promotion campaign (e.g., using SMS) that is also accessible through a PC browser.
  • MyStrands offers a mobile social [music] player that bridges the gap between the web, the desktop and mobile devices, enabling users to play music, receive recommendations and connect with a community of friends and other music lovers. In the spirit of open innovation, they have recently announced an OpenStrands public API for their media and community services and are looking for sponsorship and distribution deals.
  • Social FM is a social music service that offers discovery, sharing and recommendations, synching over home wireless networks, and "the fastest codec" for music in the business. The slide deck used images of very attractive performers Nelly Furtado and Fergie, which I noticed seemed to rivet the visual attention of large segments of the audience (um, not that I was in any affected, of course).

Whew! It was quite a day, and these notes only cover some of the highlights. It is always useful for me to go back and review my notes from events like this, doing a little more research on what was presented and discussed, and digesting it all in a somewhat more accessible way (than scattered notes in a Word document). As usual, I don't know if any of this is useful for anyone else, but it will at least provide a useful future reference point for me.