Monthly Archives: September 2010

Did Twitter kill the RSS reader or copy it?

Two memes caught my attention in the last few weeks.

Many conjectured that the rise of Twitter is what “killed” RSS. I don’t believe RSS or the RSS reader is dead.  In fact, I believe, instead that these paradigms are converging.  It seems to me that “New” Twitter is evolving to become more and more like an RSS reader.  Executives at Twitter  themselves have touted Twitter as “for news…for content…for information” and not a social network. The new design/functionality of seems to trend that direction by bringing more content into view in a separate panel, a la Bloglines or Google Reader. They even added the same keyboard shortcuts as Google Reader.

I’ve always thought that for consuming information, in some ways, Twitter was a step backwards from an RSS reader – the beauty of an RSS reader is that it enabled fast processing/consumption of a wide variety of blog posts via full or partial content of the posts.  On Twitter, however, instead you get a headline or even partial headline and a link, usually abstracted by a link shortener so you might not even know the source.  So why has Twitter cannablized my time spent on Google Reader (I had abandonend Bloglines for Google Reader a long time back)? Twitter provides the following:

1. Social interaction/conversation unrelated to blogs

2. Socially filtered news/information – in theory if one subscribes to the right people, better/more interesting/more relevant information will surface more quickly than having to sift onesself.

3. Lower threshold to create one’s own content – we all wrestle with finding the time to create content while trying to wrestle with consuming the firehose of available content out there – Twitter gives you a place to do both and through it’s 140 character limit, lowers the threshold for creating content.

4. Feedback – Google Reader has tried to add social features and encourage sharing, liking, etc. but this is a forced layer.  Maybe serendipitously, Twitter started out with social features as primary, therefore the features are more addictive.  We all strive for the validation associated with @mentions and retweets.  This makes us come back for more.

Clearly though, Twitter saw the value of the efficiency of an RSS reader format in terms of processing and consuming information.  They are moving towards a better means of displaying this content.

I think that companies/products like Flipboard are even further ahead though. Social+information is a powerful combination.  Finding the right balance will be the key to annoint the winners in this space.

There is also, however, an interesting contrast in the underlying standards.  RSS is a true public standard. Meanwhile, as described by Alex Payne here, there is Twitter with a capital T which is the web client and then there is twitter with a lowercase t which I believe is the Twitter “standard” of messaging/the platform.  RSS was never a standard that gained mainstream adoption, for a variety of reasons, not to mention techies insisting on calling it RSS everywhere.  twitter (the standard), on the other hand gained wide adoption by developers and has been made more accessible to the general population.

I’m not sure what the success of Twitter as a company and as a platform means for RSS as as standard.  I do think that clients/web clients like Google Reader that enable one to sift through reams of unfiltered content will continue to exist, but probably that most people will probably use services like Twitter or products like Flipboard to find/consume content. Professional content creators (bloggers, journalists), information addicts (e.g. me) or “curators” will probably continue to use RSS readers. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’s analogy about PCs being to tablets as trucks are to cars. Probably  a similar analogy applies here.

What do you think? Do you still use an RSS reader? Has Twitter replaced that for you? Has changing to Twitter been a step forwards, backwards or sideways? Also – any thoughts on the new twitter for those that have it?


What does your e-mail address say about your cell phone?

The next logo for AOL, used from 2006-2009

Image via Wikipedia

Many others have written about e-mail address prejudice  (see Lifehacker and Gizmodo) and I have to confess to having a  strong case of it. What does this mean? As soon as I see or hear what e-mail address someone has, I make all sorts of judgements. One of these is an assumption of what cell phone they use. The opposite is also somewhat true.

Now let me say that many of my beloved friends and family have many of these e-mail accounts and phones…. no hard feelings.

E-mail Address Cell Phone Motorola Razr or similar Samsung or LG Flip or Candy bar phone, maybe a “txting” phone Blackberry or Palm Pre iPhone or Android Phone
Custom domain (usually Android Phone or Jailbroken iPhone

Now of course these aren’t hard lines. I know folks with Hotmail and blackberries, and I know GMAIL users with blackberries, but overall, I find these pairings quite frequent.

Why? I think one’s e-mail address service is generally representative of adoption of new technologies. Those that have AOL or Hotmail addresses are mostly saying, “I know these new services/phones are better but I don’t care….” In fairness, AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail are making efforts to improve their services to keep up with GMAIL, but IMHO, it’s too little, too late. Those that switch to GMAIL realize very quickly why it’s (IMHO again) such a superior service. Yahoo and Microsoft  should be particularly ashamed of ceding market share when they used to have such market-leading products. I’m also not saying that platforms like Blackberry or Palm OS are clearly inferior, but the full implications of their sparse app stores and/or outdated phones/operating systems/UIs mean that there are clearly tradeoffs with not adopting one of the two pioneering mobile phone platforms.

Like many prejudices, making broad assumptions means you’re going to be very wrong quite a bit of the time, but in this case, I’ve found that I’m right far more often…What do you guys think? Is this true? do you have other suggestions to add to the list? What else does someone’s email address or phone choice say about them?

Related Articles

Will Facetime be Apple’s BBM?

RIM has only recently noticed and begun promoting one of their features that has been maintaining and growing their user base – BBM or Blackberry Messenger. You can see some of their recent ads touting BBM here.

For those that don’t know, BBM is a built-in application that comes with every blackberry and lets you send messages to any other blackberry user who you add to your BBM list. This combines the functionality of SMS/text messaging with IM(instant messaging). Some other cool features are that you can add people to groups and send messages back/forth to each other. I will say that the one drawback to BBM is that adding friends is a bit complicated/cumbersome/clunky as you may need to know another blackberry user’s “PIN” which they have to figure out from their phone’s operating system. Additionally, sometimes the add a friend process seems to just hang with the connection to the other user not fully functional. Besides that though, BBM is cited by many a “crackberry” addict as one of the reasons they are loyal to the Blackberry brand. Here are the reasons why I think BBM is so powerful:

1. It’s free! SMS is costly – whether paying by the message or on any fixed or unlimited plan, it’s very expensive to send an SMS. This is particularly true for international texts. With BBM – it’s all free….

2. It’s exclusive – people who have blackberries get to feel like they’re in an exclusive club where they can send each other private messages that mere mortals (or Apple fanboys) can’t access.

3. Groups – this feature allows for a continuous conversation amongst a group of friends or colleagues. Great for making plans or talking trash. This concept is so powerful that a start-up (GroupMe) was just funded to replicate that feature for all other phones via SMS.

4. [virtually] Unlimited message length – SMS is notoriously limited to 160 characters based on its ancient standard (this is the reason for Twitter’s character limit). BBM messages can be up to 2,000 characters.

5. Threaded conversations – Conversations on BBM look like IM with the back/forth of a conversation displayed and the history clearly visible. This is an especially huge improvement (ironically) on how Blackberry handles SMS messages which are buried in a “unified” inbox.

6. Easy file transfers – it’s easy to send along a photo, video or even contact to one of your BBM contacts, all within the same BBM app.

7. Instant notifications – the fact that BBM notifications are instantaneous, just like SMS means it’s made specifically for things you want to tell someone right now, differentiating it from e-mail.

8. It’s free – the carriers did Blackberry a huge favor by making SMS so absurdly expensive. They have tried at some points to charge users for BBM messages, but RIM has won that fight.

BBM has become a huge and powerful network effect for RIM. It makes users want to keep their blackberries and attracts new users to the brand.

Ok – so Facetime going to be the BBM for the iPhone? On one hand, it certainly fits the mold. It’s a very cool and unique method to communicate with others via video chat. The UI is great and it’s very simple to set-up a video call. For now, it’s a closed network, so you can’t Facetime with anyone who doesn’t have an iPhone 4 (or now the new iPod touch). Here’s why I don’t think it will be quite as successful a network effect:

1. Text communication has eclipsed voice as the preferred means for most people. There are many theories about this, but text in some ways is more efficient. It has the potential to be asynchronous and it is certainly more private in public environments. Mostly though it probably lets us maintain the illusion that by “multitasking”, we are able to accomplish more. In any case, this is a major trend and I think that video goes the other way, it’s totally synchronous, you can’t (in good conscience) check your email or do something else while on a Facetime video chat with someone else.

2. Because of number 1 – I think that video chat via mobile will be a much less frequently used feature than any form of text communication (like BBM), so it won’t be seen as integral to one’s experience. Once the novelty factor wears off, I imagine it may be like, “so what?” or “my phone has video chat too.”

3. As I inferred in #2, I think that front facing cameras will become more prevalent in other devices and interoperable mobile video chat through Skype and other providers will become the norm. Apple will either open the access to their video chat platform or suffer the consequences.

So this begs another question– why didn’t Apple launch the iPhone with iChat, it’s native Mac OS IM client – this could have been their BBM, right? My theory is that At&t bargained hard so that they could charge many users $20/month for unlimited SMS on top of the $25-$30 they charge per month for data…. I think this is an argument Apple should have fought harder on as it’s one of the only things that is allowing Blackberry to cling to its consumer user base. I’m not sure that it will be enough for RIM though as Apple has another network effect that I think will be more powerful over time and it’s called…. the App Store.

The New York Mets, Bobby Bonilla And Bernie Maddoff

I realize this is a random post relative to my usual ranting about mobile, Apple, etc.  but I found this whole topic fascinating.

The basic story goes like this:

– Bobby Bonilla played [very badly] for the Mets during two separate stints, one from 1991-1995 and another in 1999.  During the 1999 season, he played particularly badly, batting .160 with four home runs in 60 games. He also was caught playing cards in the clubhouse while the Mets were losing the last game of the playoffs.  Infuriated, the Mets wanted to be rid of Bonilla and hence started negotiations to part ways.

The Mets still owed Bonilla $5.9 million for the year 2000.  The very strange agreement that resulted was that the Mets would pay Bonilla nothing for another 11 years.  However, beginning July 1, 2011, they will pay Bonilla $1.19 million per year for 25 years, totaling almost $30 million.

Sound crazy? Students of finance will immediately recognize that per the time value of money, these amounts could or should be “equivalent”. However, a key input for this would be the expected rate of return that each party would expect  to receive.

Looking at the spreadsheet I created here (unfortunately no iframe or other way to embed Google spreadsheets on platform…), you can see that the Mets would have had to assume that they could earn > 8% per year on their cash, closer to 10%, in order to make this deal worth it.

One could certainly make the argument that a business owner should believe that they can generate those returns.  However, I believe that a different factor was at work.  It’s been well publicized that the Wilpons, the owners of the Mets had substantial investments with none other than Ponzi scheme artist Bernie Madoff.  With the seemingly low-risk, high-return profile  of the Madoff investments, it’s no wonder that the Wilpons felt that an 8% “loan” from Bonilla was a no-brainer.

Bernard Madoff's mugshot

Image via Wikipedia

It’s unclear how the Wilpons fared when the Madoff scheme collapsed (they insist they came out ahead) ).  If they didn’t do quite as well as expected though, they might have gotten less than they bargained for with this deal…..

Related Articles