Scripting News for 9/8/2006

The NY Times launched a new mobile site today.  

Michael Gartenberg reviews the new Times mobile site.  

Michael Levin says the new Times site is a river, but it’s a hierarchy, the opposite of a river. Rivers are reverse chronologies, like weblogs.  

Digg goes River, and Arrington reviews. They were inspired by our rivers, and give credit, which is appreciated.  

It’s cool that Digg links to Scripting, and even better that they link from their mobile version to mine. What’s coming next must be a web that works for mobile users, where we never click a link to a page designed to be rendered on a big-screen.  

Facebook does an about-face. 🙂 

Best wishes to everyone at Podcamp which kicks off this evening with a party at Harvard Law School (5:30-7:30PM tonight, Pound Hall, #213.). Wish I could be there, but there’s lots going on here in California. Have a great time, and do lots of podcasts! (Duh.) 🙂 

Amyloo wonders if Steve Gillmor was invited to speak at Office 2.0. That would make a lot of sense. 

East Bay entrepreneurs 

Last night we had a dinner for people running East Bay startups. It was a first meetup, I got to see some people I hadn’t seen in quite some time, which was really good; and some who like myself are East Bay newbies. We decided to do this as a regular thing, however I am not organizing it, I’m better at participating than organizing. 🙂

For some reason there’s less startup activity on the east side than on the other side of the bay. Not sure why, but I see this as a chance to bootstrap something more thoughtful and with more longevity. I hope it doesn’t become super-heated and bubbly. And I also hope there’s a streak of doing-good that isn’t part of the Silicon Valley culture.

Facebook 1-2-3 

Okay Facebook did good.

But Facebook also did bad.

Good: Bring innovative new feature to users at no charge, and not in response to competitive pressure.

Bad: The users had no control over the new feature.

Let me explain.

The feature they introduced tells users what’s new with their friends. It makes people more efficient at browsing the network of Facebook users they’re connected to. It’s a feature I understand because, as Rex Hammock points out, it’s very much like the River of News aggregators I’ve been developing since 1999.

Facebook is absolutely correct that no new information is available now that wasn’t available before, but only in a theoretic sense. An example might help explain how the users feel. Suppose you lived in a small city of 5000 people, on a small street that 20 people walked by every day. Because of the way the streets are aranged, most of the 20 people are neighbors, people you know well, the kind of people you trust to watch your kids if you have to run some errands. You leave the gate to your yard open because there’s a nice shade tree there, and you leave a bowl of fruit out because you want your neighbors to feel welcome as they walk by. Come sit a spell and visit, life is good. Maybe two or three of your neighbors come for a visit a day. They get to rest, and you get to catch up on the gossip of the day.

Then the city changes the way traffic flows, you still put out the bowl of fruit and your gate is still open, but now instead of 20 people passing your property, 2000 people pass. And you only know 20 of them! Now your yard is filled with strangers, people with odd habits. The same rules apply, your gate is open, all passers-by are welcome, but the result is very different. Someone should have given you a heads-up letting you know this change was coming. Maybe you would have put a lock on the gate and given keys to your friends.

Now, on a much larger scale, with Facebook’s user base, the heads-up has to be done by word of mouth, and opt-in. Instead of forcing all the users to make sense of this all at once, bootstrap a new network on your old one, call it Facebook Plus, or Facebook Big City Life, of Facebook Now, put some futuristic imagery out there, and require users to sign up for an upgrade to their account, which would work thusly.

Suppose I upgraded, and my friend Jane (in my network) also upgraded. Then Jane has a News page, and on that page all my changes show up, along with the changes of all members of her network that have also upgraded. I also have a News page and Jane’s updates show up there, as do all the changes of members of my network who have upgraded.

Now change comes gradually, and users drive the change. When I run into Joan at the bookstore and she tells me she broke up with her boyfriend, I realize I didn’t see that on my News page and ask if she’s upgraded. Now I, a user, her friend, explain how it works. She decides if she wants to participate or not. That’s what users are complaining about, and rightly so. They need to control how their network sees them. They’re entitled to. This was the implicit deal they had with you, and you broke it. You did good by moving the product forward in an innovative way. And you did bad by taking the users out of the loop.

Later: Facebook does an about-face. 🙂

12 responses to this post.

  1. Making the new feeds a separate paying features seems a little awkward to me. I think Facebook has made a fundamental shift in how users interact with social networks. Moving to a River of News is a natural progression.

    I think you’re right in saying the uproar is caused by an increase in traffic. But I think your analogy has a small problem. It’s not the city (Facebook) who has control of traffic patterns – it’s the individual users. Users create roads by ‘friending’ other users. Don’t want as much traffic? Don’t friend so many people.

    The real problem is endemic to all social networking sites. Friendship is presented as a binary question. Either you are someone’s friend or you’re not. Given those choices, most people just accept everyone. Facebook and all other sites lack a way of quantifying degrees of friendship. This would give people the choice of living on the main drag or a one way cul-de-sac.


  2. The mobile version of NYT is very good, it seems to be the same application that the mobile version of MSNBC.
    I’ve not noticed the mobile website of MSNBC before, but two days ago I check the url on my HTC TyTn and get a good layout for my pda. (MSNBC) (NYT)


  3. In moving from the lunch room tables and hallways and small-group IM chats to Facebook, many kids have moved from cul-de-sacs to main drags without realizing it. Their melodramas are now playing out to a large audience — an audience they can’t comprehend until something like this raises their awareness. As I said when seeing the feature demo’d: great idea, but why isn’t it an option? Another good by-product of the controvery: It may help the young people using it (I know two quite well) appreciate the issue of online privacy a bit more. As always, Uncle Dave, I love it when you tell stories.


  4. Hi Dave,

    Who is organizing the East Bay entrepreneurs meetups? I’d love to join next time…

    CTO @ Pandora
    on 22nd St in Oakland


  5. The problem with that argument that now “strangers” that are grabbing your fruit off your porch, is that these strangers must actually be your friends on facebook. For people to read about you they must be your friend otherwise you are not included in their feed. Much the same way that if you were not someone’s friend initially they could not view your page. No stranger is able to grab news about a random college co-ed from accross the country if they have not agreed before hand that they are friends. It truly is an aggregrator of your friends’ news. In your example, from the beginning you never would have left your gate open. This open gate never existed. And now instead of going door to door checking on your neighbors and friends, you get a newspaper with that same information.


  6. Tom, I don’t know the name of the guy who volunteered to organize the dinners, but when the next one is announced I’ll post it on Scripting News.

    JFravel, yes but, the term “friend” in a social network means something different from friend in the real world. That’s the shock that many Facebook users are experiencing, they linked up with a lot of people that they didn’t expect would be in the loop on everything they do.

    When you’re running a service like this, and I have some experience with that (on a much smaller scale of course) you have to try to understand what the users are saying, even if their exact words don’t make sense, they may be confused. And sometimes I’ve found that the confusion was with me, so it’s best to assume the old adage — The customer is always right — operates. In this case some customers said ouch, and the vendor said “calm down.” That’s not the right thing to say! 🙂


  7. If you know where and when the Berkman party at is tonight for Podcamp, please post a note here and I’ll update the post on Scripting News.


  8. Posted by Larry Bouchie on September 8, 2006 at 10:36 am

    The Berkman party is 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET tonight, Pound Hall (1563 Mass. Ave), John Chipman Gray Room, #213.


  9. Larry, thanks for the quick turnaround!! 🙂


  10. “What’s coming next must be a web that works for mobile users, where we never click a link to a page designed to be rendered on a big-screen.”

    Finally, I had the ah ha! moment when I realized why you’re making such a big deal out of the river of news idea and its relevancy to mobile users. If news sites and blogs published rivers of news and only linked to other mobile pages it would completely change the way people think about the web.

    But who am I to say anything…it’s not like I invented RSS or anything 🙂


  11. Posted by David Mercer on September 8, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    As an East Bay person with an entrepreneurial past, I’d love to hook up with such a group. I personally can’t stand all of the inside baseball and hype out of the valley, and have wanted to network with other entrepreneurs in the East Bay for a while.

    Especially as I’ve been trapped in BigCo wage-slavery for a whle now, and am starting to chafe at the bit to get back into startup land. I just can’t bring myself to commute via Caltrain. Ever. So networking with such a group in the East Bay would indeed be great.

    Is there a mailing list or similar?


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