Ellen Pao and Reddit

Ellen Pao has been the target of unyielding harassment over the past several months; from unhappy Redditors who didn’t like her policies, and from chauvinists who saw her as a “money-grabber”.

She’s probably read heaps of ugly words. I’m sure it was tough to miss the Hitler Photoshops. She’s been put on trial thousands of times, each sentence one-upping the last. No one should have to endure that.

I think Reddit board member Sam Altman said it best: “People are still people even if there is Internet between you.”

Ellen Pao is smart. You’d have to be to navigate that sludge. She’ll go somewhere else and be an outstanding CEO. Maybe she’ll create her own startup. She could be a great fit in a lot of places.

Was she a great fit for Reddit? No. And you’re allowed to hold that opinion without being part of the angry mob.

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Reddit is a strange beast. All websites are dependent on visitors. But not many are almost entirely run by their users. And not all users are as well-organized as they are on Reddit.

How many “boycott Facebook” posts have we seen? Anytime Facebook makes a controversial change, users get all riled up, swear they’re quitting… and then they continue using Facebook. Meanwhile, on Reddit, the executive team made a personnel decision the community didn’t like, and Reddit’s most heavily trafficked sections ceased to operate.

That is power. And it speaks to just how much Reddit is at the mercy of its users. Those users hold certain beliefs about how the site should be run, and they aren’t big on interference.

Just as you wouldn’t go into a relationship and try to dramatically change your significant other, the next person who leads Reddit has to accept it for what it is; a flawed community. The newest CEO is founder (and former CEO) Steve Huffman. He knows Reddit very well. He’s familiar with the site’s ideals. He could work out.

But it’s worth noting that Steve will have to answer to the same owners Ellen Pao did. Those owners answer to shareholders, and those shareholders want growth. That growth will have to come from change, and it’ll be up to Steve Huffman to walk the tightrope of introducing that change while keeping the community happy.

It won’t be easy. Ask Ellen Pao.

The Twitter & Pocket Experiment

One of the things I really hated losing when Google started its Google+ push was the sharing feature inside Google Reader. Over the course of a few years, I had developed a pretty good list of users to follow, and I barely had to read my own feeds, as they were reading and sharing all of the good stuff. That feature was dropped, and it forced me to start sifting through content on my own.

Fast forward to tonight. I had been wanting to completely wipe out my Reader subscriptions and start from scratch, and I finally did it. Right around that same time, I was poking around and checking out the new features of IFTTT. When I saw I could create a trigger from a friend’s tweet that contains a link, the gears started turning. Could I potentially replace the Google Reader shared articles functionality by automatically saving links from Twitter?

So tomorrow, I kick off a one-day experiment to see how well the 1,000+ people I follow curate content. Every link tweeted out by someone I follow will be saved as a new item in my Pocket account, where I can read it on my own time without having to keep my head submerged in the Twitter stream, or go through a bunch of feeds myself. There will always be items I’m not interested in, but my biggest concern at this point is the sheer number of links that will likely accumulate. I’ll take a screenshot tomorrow. It’ll probably be frightening.

Check back tomorrow for results.

Improving the Website News Experience

There are a lot of great things about Twitter. One that sticks out to me is how often the service breaks news stories. When a Twitter user learns of something or sees it, a few taps can relay that news to hundreds of thousands of people as quickly as you can send a text to a friend. It’s phenomenal. Another great thing is Twitter’s ability to act as a live blogging platform, of sorts. For those who are on Twitter, it’s a great way to get filled in by someone who is witnessing a news event unfolding first-hand.

When you go to a news organization’s website, however, you don’t get near-instantaneous news. Most of the time, you get someone rushing to update a post in a CMS each time something of note happens. The front page of a news site hardly captures the sense that news is happening everywhere, every second. It shows whatever someone typed up 5 minutes ago, or an hour ago, or even half a day ago. Newspapers have a cutoff before they go to press, and they’re printed on paper. That content is static. They have an excuse. A website does not.

It’s 2012, and visiting a news website still feels like it did in 2002. These pages don’t feel alive. They don’t do enough to pipe in content that someone is rushing to put out with their thumbs. They don’t try to include people who might not be reporters, but are on the scene nonetheless. There’s an awful lot of “don’t” without any signs of “do” now or in the future.

I toyed with this the tiniest bit using the @Hashburg account (that I tried not to annoy people with), but I wasn’t pleased with the results I was getting using existing platforms and tools. The idea was that certain hashtags (#news, #weather, #traffic) were being searched for within a 25 mile radius of Harrisburg, and those tweets were being retweeted automatically. My goal was to eventually collect these tweets and present them in an easy-to-read format on the Web. But that was going to be more static, and lacked the human curation I feel is necessary. It was not at all what I envision now.

So here’s my pitch. If you’re a dev, designer, or someone interested in contributing to a project that does not compete with but enhances current news offerings, shoot me an email – shawnfarner@gmail.com. In the meantime, I will be trying to transfer what I’ve been whiteboarding into something that is a bit more clear and a bit less babblish.

Google+ and the New Google

When I think back to my Internet days B.G. (before Google), I struggle to remember which search engine I used. I assume Yahoo!, though I vaguely remember typing in names like “AskJeeves” and “AltaVista.” Before Google, finding what you needed wasn’t that easy. Google changed the game, and it became a fixture in our culture. Hell, it’s a verb. “Google it.”

Google Search was worlds better than anything out. They didn’t have to force me into using it. I typed “google.com” into my address bar willingly. When Gmail launched and a kind soul gave me a beta invite, I also made that my main email address. Willingly. No gun to my head. Gmail was a vastly superior product to Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail, or anything else that was currently available. Google won me by being better.

I can tell this same story over and over for products like Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader, and so on. When Calendar launched, I didn’t touch another calendar app again. When Docs launched, I washed my hands of Microsoft Office. When Reader launched, I read more and I shared more, because it no longer felt like work.

I use a lot of Google products, and most of them are best in class. For the products I love, I never felt for a second like I was being herded into using them against my will. It never felt like a hard sell. Google, in the past, has been really good about that.

Except with social.

Buzz kicked it off. One day, Google decided to add a Twitter competitor to everyone’s Gmail inbox. Terrible idea. People were angry, and rightfully so. No one signed up for Gmail so that they could join another social network, yet Google felt it was a necessary move. Buzz pissed a lot of people off and never caught on. It was later killed off.

You’re seeing the same thing now with Google+. Google is trying to reinvent itself (a “New Google,” kind of like “New Coke”), and is again trying to herd its existing user base into a new service that they don’t really want. It’s trying too hard. Google+ is, essentially, the guy at the bar who keeps hitting on a woman, missing all of the obvious signs that she’s not interested.

Google+: “Hi there. I see that you’re a fan of Guinness. May I sit down?”

Woman: “Sorry, I just want to drink by myself if you don’t mind.”

Google+: “Haha, that’s cute. But seriously, let’s talk a little bit. My name’s Google+. I help you share things with people, but I’m not a social network.”

Woman: “Cool.”

Google+: “So… what’s your name? What do you do? Who are you friends with?”

Woman: *leaves*

Worse yet, Google is gimping its inventive spirit in order to focus on things that promote Google+. It killed off Google Labs. It took the Share feature out of Google Reader, opting instead for a “+1” button. Former Google employee James Whittaker quit the company because he longed for the imaginative Google of old, instead of the Google+ focused corporation (“New Google”) that exists today. It feels like Google has replaced innovation with desperation, and as a Google fanboy, it is painful to watch. It’s like I don’t even know Google anymore.

It will be an interesting year, or two years, or three years. I personally think Google+ will be killed off within that period of time, and it will be devastating to the company because of the importance Google itself placed on the initiative. Anything less than mass adoption constitutes failure, and Google seems determined to get there by force.

Good luck with that.

Information Overload

Back before its social subscription features were stripped away, I was a big Google Reader fan. I had hundreds of subscriptions of my own, but the most important reading was done in the “People You Follow” section. I trusted content curation to a few, knowing that I’d get to read the top items from the day, even if I didn’t get through my own subscriptions. This worked wonderfully for a while, but then it was gone.

I’ve been struggling to deal ever since.

The beauty about following people in Reader was the fact that nothing but news and blog articles made it into that stream. You can do something similar by creating Google and Facebook lists, but you’re not going to get straight content. Other things will enter the mix — status updates, photos, etc. — that add noise. It’s not the fault of the social networks, as they were built for sharing lots of different things. But what replaces Reader? What setup gives you the highest amount of awesome content shares with the lowest amount of other stuff?

Please, help me!

The Future of SEO?

I actually tweeted this article out into the WebDrafter Twitter stream yesterday (which I’d love for you to follow if you’re not already!), but I wanted to take a closer look at it and examine some of the possibilities.

An Australian site called StartupSmart published an article yesterday titled “5 SEO Trends to Lookout For in 2012.” Being someone who works at the intersection of social media and SEO on a daily basis, it was of particular interest to me. I want to go through each bullet point from the original article and give you my take on whether or not I think that particular change will manifest itself this year.

“Social media will be an even bigger factor in Google’s algorithm.”
The safest bet of the bunch. Social is already a bigger signal in search engine results than some would care to admit. Google’s search engine is only getting smarter as time goes on, and Google is starting to realize that, as good as some of their algorithms are, humans do a better job filtering the junk and curating the best content. 2012 will be a big year for social in search, no doubt.

“The search results page will continue to feature less organic rankings and more paid.”
Google puts a lot of focus on usability and simplicity. While the search engine results pages have gotten a lot more busy since Google first started out, I can’t see them reaching a point where paid search ads outnumber organic search results. In fact, I believe some of the newer formats Google is trying out are meant to increase conversions and revenue without having to put more ads on a page.

“Paid search will become more important in supporting SEO efforts.”
With the rise of “not provided” in Google Analytics, good keyword data is going to be a bit more difficult to come by — unless you’re also running AdWords campaigns. This one is a definite.

“Spammy SEO practices will get targeted even harder.”
What SEO is becoming is what it should have been all along — a process to make a site the most quality result for a keyword search, not through spun articles or conveniently-phrased keywords, but through genuine usefulness, with legitimate link and word-of-mouth endorsements through other websites and social media. The march toward this eventual goal is only going to continue, and Google will leave a lot of bloodied, down-ranked sites in its wake.

“SEO will become even more competitive than ever.”
This is going to be the year SEO and SEM as they are known today start to die. Search engine optimization companies that are skilled at developing great content  and online relationships on behalf of their clients will thrive. The multitude of companies who add more useless content to the Web will see what little success they’ve had start to vanish.

Thoughts? Shoot me a tweet (@shawn).

Where Google Goofed

Google officially pulled back the curtain on Google+ today and opted for a slow, controlled roll-out instead of opening the floodgates.

And therein lies the goof.

Facebook is the behemoth in the social networking world right now, boasting over 500 million active users–all of whom have invested heavily in the service. All their friends are there as well as photos, videos, notes and other content. They play games there. They organize events there. They interact on Pages and in Groups with others who share their interests. Regardless of what pundits may want to believe, people aren’t going to just drop Facebook on a dime and flock to Google+.

One reason is that they can’t, because of the whole slow roll-out. The other is that the masses just won’t be there to make the site sticky when they do arrive.

Those who do have access to the service are lamenting the fact that they have access to Google+’s cool new features and no one to use them with. That curiosity will wane and those users will end up right back where they started–on Facebook, where everyone else is. In time, a new wave of Google+ users will be invited into the kingdom only to find their friends have abandoned it.

This isn’t like Gmail, which went through the slow roll-out phase. Gmail had no social aspect. Users replaced their old email provider with Google’s new service and had no idea whether one person was using it or millions were using it. Google also had novelty on their side, and it hadn’t failed at email multiple times before like it has with social.

If Google expects to have a chance at dethroning Facebook, they need to get Google+ ready for prime-time and get as many people using it as possible. ASAP.

Crowdsourced, instantaneous news

An eyebrow-raising tweet came through my stream today–one that I can certainly get on board with.

AnneDGallaher: Consider using a hashtag in tweets when we see news happening–advice from @harrisburgsmc #HbgSMC

First, a little back-story.

I occasionally brainstorm new social products from time to time. Abuzz is one that actually made it out of my brain and turned into something real. Most don’t. The particular problem I wanted to tackle was news. More specifically, how to make it faster, more widely distributed and relevant to those in a certain area.

About a week ago, I registered the @Hashburg name on Twitter and started toying around with some ideas. I set the account up so that a few hashtags (#news, #sports, #hbg and #hbgtweetup) would be caught in the filter and automatically retweeted from the account if the user in question was within 25km (around 15.5mi) of Harrisburg.

With apologies to @roxburynews, @todaysthedayhbg and countless others using the #hbg hashtag, my little Frankenstein news experiment went a bit awry and retweeted each tweet about five or ten times. If you didn’t notice, thank God. I deleted most of the tweets and took the account private so that the tweets wouldn’t interfere in anyone else’s streams while I tweaked it. But I still see potential in the idea as a way to quickly spread important news. A few other hashtags come to mind: #traffic (for relaying information about accidents), #weather (conditions and temperature where you are), #amber (to spread word about an Amber Alert), and so on.

It is by no means competition to the more established news outlets. The character length prevents that. But as a quick way to share newsworthy items, especially when coming from a non-news source, I think it’s the best way to spread a message.

Social Sabbatical

Don’t get me wrong — I love social networks. I tweet. I lurk on Facebook. I peek in on my FriendFeed pals every now and again. I check in on Foursquare. I browse through my groups on LinkedIn. I’ll join the latest thing Mashable’s pimping. I…

Well, I’m sure you get the idea. Do enough of this and it starts to feel like work. Add that to the fact that a large portion of the work I do revolves around this space and I guess you could say it is work.

So I’m pulling the plug for two weeks. Just like any job, sometimes you need a vacation.

I’ve did this almost six months ago (June 2-16) and I definitely recommend it. Believe it or not, it’s very possible to be too connected and too reliant on those social feeding tubes. When you take a step back and allow yourself to go a few minutes (and then days) without checking Twitter on your phone, the world slows down a bit.

I just wrapped up some work and don’t plan on putting anything else on my plate until the 21st. And, since I don’t anticipate someone inquiring about a project a few days before the holiday, I suppose that means I’m effectively done for the year. But I’ll let myself hop back into the social mix on the 21st.

See you in two!

Are social media “gurus” bloodsuckers? And a warning.

Preface: I hate the term “social media guru.” Also not a fan of “social media expert” or any other term that implies that one knows all there is to know. Such a person does not exist — not even some of the big names. There’s a fine line between being confident and being flat-out unrealistic and deceitful. Stay on the good side of that line.

Earlier this afternoon, I read a piece published on The Telegraph entitled, “Time to ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus.” As someone who does a bit in this line of work (but that’s not all I do — please — I diversify), I was quite ready to jump into the comments section and tell the author why he was wrong.

But then I read the article. And pondered. I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a lot I disagreed with.

The author, Milo Yiannopoulos, talks about the rise of the “social media guru” with London as his setting, but it applies everywhere.

In 2007, there were no social media consultants in London. Just a few short years later there are thousands of the blood-suckers clamouring for attention and lucrative contracts.

Let’s be frank: a shit ton of these people exist. A Google search for “social media guru” leads you to the websites of thousands with new ones popping up daily.

Many will vanish. Either the situations that pushed them into this line of work (unemployment, for instance) will reverse, or they just won’t be as successful as they thought they’d be, leaving their websites (and Twitter accounts) to gather dust as they move on. Or they’ll be wiped out (see below).

It’s funny: while I was in college, I had imagined myself in this field not as a freelancer but as an employee. The recession had other plans for me, and here I am, two years later. This was not my plan and, in a way, I feel for those who might have been following my same path and ended up in the same place. But just those people. I have no sympathy for those who are attempting to transition from “accountant” to “social media guru.” I’m sorry but that’s the truth.

Now the warning part.

I’m thrilled to have done what I’ve done but I’m not out of my mind — I’m pretty sure a backlash is coming in the future. Let’s just call it “The Social Media End of Days.” Floods of newcomers, a plague called “doing it wrong” and a fireball straight from the sky to blow the whole damn thing apart. The pretenders will be wiped from the Earth/Internet and the whole process will start all over again.

If you don’t think you’ll be standing after the sociapocalypse, start finding other things you’re good at. And even if you do think you’ll be standing, play it safe and find some other things you’re good at. Build yourself a diversification bunker and lay low until the ground stops smoldering.