A really excellent column (as usual) from Ezra Klein that references the interview with Gawker’s staff person in charge of finding viral content and ponders what going viral means for “traditional” media. Or more accurately: how can the trend of going viral help out traditional media?
I especially love the four points he brings up later in the column, which I’ve reworded here to make them a bit more applicable to non-profits:
- Traffic from the social web can be far more than you imagine if you focus on social traffic rather than just pointing social at your already-existing content.
- Specifically writing for social traffic is a skill that people can learn.
- Don’t focus only on page views to the detriment of creating quality content. The page views are just the beginning.
- Find ways of making your non-social content more appealing on social networks. In other words, don’t just post the link and hope for it to take off.
I’m a little obsessed with this screenshot from Google Analytics in this fantastic post. Right there, you can really see the value of SEO and linking. Even as fewer people are landing on the super-popular blog post, the organic traffic referrals are still going up. Inspiring.
The real reason that Gmail’s tabs worry me
The number of people in (for lack of a better term) email marketing who are wringing their hands about the Gmail’s new tab system—especially the dreaded “Promotions” tab—are far outnumbered by the people who say they aren’t worried about it at all. The drop in open rate has been tiny, they’ll say.
I am worried about open and click rates from Gmail users in the long term, though, but not because email is being sorted into tabs. That feature itself is actually really useful, and I’ve been using a version of it for years, filtering email into labels and skipping the inbox. That system has worked well for me, doing exactly what Gmail is now trying to do for everyone: keeping your inbox as a place that’s only for the email you want to see now.
My problem with the new Gmail tabs is the read count. It appears just underneath the tab—“3 New”, in a shiny, colored highlight—but once you click on the tab, it disappears. So if you don’t read the email right then, your notification that you have unread email is gone.
I really think this will lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people who have inboxes with hundreds or even thousands of unread messages, because unless they’re reading those emails right away, there’s no nag for them to go back and look; no bold number reminding them that they have email to read. They won’t even unsubscribe. They’ll just let their unread email sit, because it won’t ever bother them again.
The problem with “we need to”
There’s a lot of terms that indicate productivity dead-ends, but the latest that I’ve been trying to get rid of in my speech is “we need to”. While, yes, it is a term that’s often used when coming up with an idea that you want someone else to do the work on, what really bugs me about it is its lack of specificity. Who needs to do this? What are the steps involved? How are we going to get it done? It’s a phrase that keeps project managing from happening.
True, we can’t trust Google not to yank Keep away from us, but does it matter?
All over the place this morning, there’s been a common refrain about yesterday’s launch of Google Keep, the GOOG’s Evernote clone: Why should we trust Google not to yank it out from under us once we start using it? One of my favorite quotes was one that referred to last week’s shutdown of beloved Reader and posited: “It seems fairly bizarre to violate users’ trust so much, and then days later ask for it right back.”
I read these articles nodding in agreement, but then it occurred to me: so what if Google pulls Keep from us?
As they showed with Reader, Google is really good about making sure you can export your data. So even if you use Keep, you won’t lose your posts.
But more than that, this is a free service which is really convenient and could potentially make you more productive (or at least mean that you don’t forget stuff), but it’s far from vital. And while Reader was extremely useful (and vital for quite a few people) and it was very frustrating to get such a great product and then lose it on a corporate whim, it was, like Keep, still just a free service that was nice to use and little more.
It’s not that I don’t agree that we shouldn’t be wary of every shiny new product that Google tries to convince us to use, or that we shouldn’t be more wary with every product they take away from us, but let’s put it in perspective. If you started using Keep and then they shut it down, it would be nothing more than a disappointment, not an emotionally scarring event or an act of betrayal.
Pay software vs free software has absolutely nothing to do with the death of Google Reader
Yesterday, I had a good Twitter debate with Farhad Manjoo spurred by his assertion that the lesson of the demise of Google Reader is that “if you want software to last, you should pay for it.” Manjoo wasn’t the first person I’d heard say that same thing yesterday in all the talk about the demise of Google Reader, and the notion just doesn’t make any sense.
For starters, there’s the obvious: we never had a chance to directly pay for Google Reader. In fact, we don’t even have the chance to pay for Flipboard or Feedly or Bloglines or Hivemined. This argument only works for companies that have either a donation process or a pay version.
But secondly, this argument comes in the wake of a service—GoToCamera—that I’d been paying for for two years emailing me to tell me that they’d be shutting down in two weeks. In short: paying for something doesn’t do anything to ensure its stability.
Majoo’s second argument is that “you should make sure [services] have a biz model”. But why? As users of the product, we’re consumers. It’s investors that need to know what the business model is. Consumers use a product because it’s useful. Asking us to consider the business model of every new product we use is flat-out ridiculous.
More importantly is that if we only used products whose business models were clear, why would any of us ever have used Twitter? Or Tumblr or Posterous or any service whose only business model is “get tons of users and then start selling advertising”? And again, just because a product has a clear business model doesn’t make it any safer to use. Plenty of products shut down because they can’t sell enough, and just because you bought some doesn’t ensure their survival any more than if you use a free product whose long-term business goals aren’t clear.
Ultimately, to say those people who are sad (and angry) to see the end of Reader should have paid for it is an exercise in wanting to feel superior. Not only does it have zero bearing on the end of Google Reader, but the reaction is nothing more than that: a reaction. No matter how upset people are, it’s no more than if their favorite restaurant closed or a company stopped making their favorite product. You know…things people buy?
Thoughts on the demise of Google Reader and decline of RSS
My friend Chris said he was looking forward to the book I’m going to write on how Google mismanaged Reader. I’m looking forward to it, too. It’ll be a real thrill to read since I’m not planning on writing it.
My first (and, so far, lasting) thought on Google’s condemnation of Reader to Google Death Row (beta) is that it makes sense for them, business-wise, for the same reason that Twitter is getting rid of it’s desktop Tweetdeck app (among other things). They have a finite number of developers and they want to concentrate those developer’s efforts.
In Google’s case, they want to concentrate their efforts on Google+. There’s no doubt in my mind that Reader’s demise has nothing to do with the size or habits of it’s user base, and everything to do with Google wanting to minimize the number of places besides Plus that people can look at links. Now, we all know that they’re crazy for thinking that the boneheaded interface of Plus is a substitute for Reader. Or for anything. But it’s obvious that the GOOG is determined to have you use Plus, dammit.
The other factor that I’m guessing is going into Reader is that, judging from the various RSS readers that I’ve seen over the years, from Bloglines to Hivemined, is that RSS readers are not easy to develop and seem to be a real PITA to maintain. Not that Google can’t manage it, but why put all the work into editing and maintaining software that’s only diverting your audience from your flagship product?
It’s all those working parts, development and maintenance that’s caused the downhill popularity (and the never-arriving mainstream popularity) of RSS in general. Feeds aren’t easy to create if you don’t have a system that makes them for you, they render in readers inconsistently, they’re difficult to get even marginally reliable analytics for, and they’re one more part of your site that you have to chase after. In short, RSS feeds from a site owner’s/business perspective: harder to maintain than social media feed with hard-to-see ROI. Is it any wonder more sites are letting their RSS feeds rot away?
It’s even worse from a user’s perspective. Yes, many of us have worked our content-consuming web lives around RSS for years, but have you ever tried to explain it to someone? “It’s like subscribing to a magazine! Well, you have to find the feed. If the site doesn’t put up the link, then you have to find the feed discovery icon in the browser bar (if your browser supports that). If it doesn’t give you the option to choose one of dozens of feed readers (you have to use a feed reader…pick one), then you have to copy-and-paste the link and then put it into your feed reader. And if the site doesn’t properly maintain the feed, then…tough luck?”
RSS always desperately needed someone to come up with an easy way to subscribe; something like the Facebook like button where you can simply subscribe to an RSS feed; something where we could quit calling them “feeds” and have it be a clear subscription. And something that was extremely easy for site owners to provide for their customers and had a clear business use. But that never happened. So site owners AND consumers slowly quit using it.
Back to the original question, though: I think that Google’s mismanagement came not in the direct decisions regarding Reader, but in the mismanagement of Google Buzz and Google+.
In Buzz, they had the perfect social network. Yes, seriously. The concept was simple and easy: take your blogs and shared articles and put them in a feed with the ability to post a status. But then they forced it into gmail and forced your friends/connections. The same concept into a standalone app with individual friend selection would have been a fantastic social network.
In Plus, they’ve pushed a flawed concept (Circles) and a terrible design in which a single story will take the entire screen real-estate and tried to make it be all things. If, from the very start, they had just kept Reader sharing exactly as it was, except that your shares showed up to Circles that you decide on, it would have made Plus rich with content and conversation. But instead, they’ve shut down the interactive site that lots of people use in an attempt to get us to use another interactive site that’s a different thing altogether.
Since Reader’s sharing was shut down, I’ve turned much more to Twitter (and more specifically, the columns of Tweetdeck). It’s not a great place for conversation and debate, but it’s the best place for curated articles from the connections that I choose, and that’s what I always loved about Reader.
“Workers were abusing the policy on working from home, the former employee said. “There was a ton of flexibility, and I remember several times going to ask my manager a question — and he was nowhere to be found.”
Ex-Yahoo Workers: Marissa Mayer Is Right, ‘Many Workers Were Milking The Company’
This is a really important angle around the story of Yahoo forcing all its workers to come into the office. Again, I love the flexibility of being able to work from home, but there are communication problems (not to mention productivity problems) that have to be addressed in order to have quality remote collaboration. If they’re not addressed, working remotely will be unproductive.
Yahoo isn’t wrong to make people stop working from home
To put it lightly, the news that Yahoo is requiring all of its telecommuting employees to start coming into the office was not taken well by the tech-osphere (is that a thing?). This post (by the makers of a virtual-collaboration software, not coincidentally) reckons Yahoo will start losing employees to it because they’re not as desirable a place to work as Google or Apple. Enh. Maybe.
But while I consider my ability to work a day a week from home to be a huge perk of my current job, I also think that there’s a lot that gets lost when people work from home all the time. Most of what gets lost is what Yahoo says they’re trying to improve: communication and collaboration. Quick conversations and, maybe more importantly, casual conversations that turn into work ideas are infinitely better when everyone’s in the office. Email, IM and Google Hangouts are great, but it’s much harder to have informal and quick conversations, and the more formal conversations take much longer to have when typing everything out and waiting for responses.
I think it’s still possible to be highly productive with a team when working from home. But in-person collaboration is much quicker and more effective, and pretending that emails, IMs and video conferencing can totally bridge that gap is just not right.
Considering that Yahoo is trying to rebuild their company, I don’t blame them one bit for telling people that if they want to be part of the team, they’ll need to physically be part of the team.
“Once you start to think of mistakes as deterministic rather than random, as caused by "bugs" (incorrect understanding or incorrect procedures) rather than random inaccuracy, a curious thing happens," she writes. "You stop thinking of people as ‘stupid.’”