Why I Will Block You on FriendFeed

Here’s a primer to how to get blocked by me on FriendFeed. I used to try to engage with people with trollish tendencies, now I’m just blocking out of hand. I’ve crossed the “life is too short” threshold in dealing with it.

I will block you out of hand, no warning or recourse or anything if:

  1. I’ve never heard of you or interacted with you before
  2. You aren’t subscribed to me and came in via some friend of a friend relationship
  3. Your first ever interaction with me is to pick a fight, tell me how stupid I am or pompous I am or how bad a person I am to hold whatever opinion I hold

It’s that simple. I’ve put in a feature request to FriendFeed to have the capacity to block myself from the whole “friend of a friend” post thing. The first hour I started using FriendFeed, I hid the FoF posts for myself but I really don’t want to appear in them for other people. That’s where the trouble starts, at least for me. I’d like to reduce or eliminate the number of drive-bys that drive by.

I use the site to interact with my friends, and I’m tired of the aggression of strangers. If the first thing you ever say to me is negative, you begin overdrawn at the karma bank so that the first check you write on it bounces. Sadly, this whole dynamic isn’t new to me. I’ve been through it on FriendFeed, on Twitter, on Sff.net, Google groups, IRC, Usenet, Compuserve, GEnie and local BBS in Augusta GA.

I might have to admit that despite my leanings toward and belief in infotopias, given a large enough pool of people to interact with, there will always be people that make it their personal project to ruin your day. No interactive medium is immune to griefers. My 25 years of dealing with people electronically have boiled down to a series of hacked up mitigation strategies. I’ve walked away with more friends than enemies (and blissfully have forgotten most of the latter) but it always feels like more work than it should be and like we all are wasting a lot of energy on pointlessness.

In a slightly related topic, I registered the domain “douchebagfeed.com” today.

Social Media on a Timeout

I’m an impulsive guy and unlike a lot of people, I do better at cold turkey than tapering things. One day last spring I just decided to stop drinking diet coke and went from 3-6 cans a day to drinking maybe a dozen in the last year. Last fall I decided to stop using Twitter pretty much all at once, based on their treatment of the I Want Sandy acquisition.

Today, out of nowhere I decided to taper down my use of FriendFeed quite a bit. From my hiatus message and comments:

I’m thinking hard about taking a FriendFeed timeout. It feels like I have a big imbalance between the time I use it and the value I receive from it. I also really don’t like that I used to blog 10 times a week and now I do it once or twice a week.

I used to build value for myself, now I do it for FriendFeed. Others are doing it for Twitter or Facebook or whatever. This is the ugly underside of Web 2.0. We feel like we’re conversing but we’re really sharecroppers to make a few millionaires into billionaires. I’m having a 2.0 burnout/meltdown/rejection.

In fact, I’m closing the web page right now. For the time being, my only interaction with FF will be through the ~ 1/10th of my subscriber list that goes to IM (mostly locals with whom I might conceivably have lunch.) Time to start following my gut, and this feels right.

I really do feel like I’m getting played by social media in general. FriendFeed is without a doubt the social media that feels like I get the most value out of it and it isn’t enough. I’m tired of strangers who come in via friend of friend relationships giving me smack. (It’s already happened on my post above.) The whole enterprise feels like a time suck that doesn’t give me enough back to warrant my time.

I’m already gotten pushback on my paragraph #2. This is absolutely something I believe and have been talking about for some time. Tim O’Reilly and other Web 2.0 utopists talk about the upside to users. I’ve been noting that Web 2.0 and the Long Tail have a seriously dark underbelly in that while lots of people are doing bits of work and hopefully receiving requisite value back, the people who cash in are the aggregators and big players while the rest of us are just hamsters in their wheels. While we are running around and crying “Wheeeee!” for getting to ride in the wheel, they have wired us to the grid and are selling the power we generate. The real winners are Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Rose and Evan Williams. People think I’m nuts for this attitude, but it’s the truth. This is happening right now. I mentioned I Want Sandy above. Rael Dornfest sold his company to Twitter and the reason he could is that 50,000 or so people used the site. We created the value, someone else cashed the check. That’s what Web 2.0 really is.

So, I’m withdrawing somewhat from the social media world. I’m going to take that energy and try to post more to this blog. I’d like to record more podcasts. Perhaps I’m being a selfish prick but if I’m taking my time, I’d like to accrue the value. I have control of every post I’ve ever made to this here blog. I can’t say that about any social media site. I’m tired of building things in other people’s house. Let’s do some of it here or on your own site, in ways you control. Take back your time, rise up and stop your tweets and super pokes and what have you. I want to be in charge of my own identity, to own my own stuff and I’m tired of building someone else’s house 140 characters at a time.

My Relationship with Google Viewed as Burn Notice

For the longest time I’ve been somewhere between nervous and terrified of the growing influence of Google. Any organization that feels the need to tell me that they are not evil probably ain’t really on the up and up. I used to not want to ever be logged in to a Google account and also search because I feared that they were building a dossier on me. As their toolset grows though eventually they got me, with Gmail and Reader and Analytics and such. However, as a devoted viewer of the best current show on TV Burn Notice, I have come to a realization.

Think of you, me or any other user of Google as Michael Westen. Google itself is Sam Axe. Google/Sam helps us out. A lot. Certainly the relationship is useful, and we/Michael have our bacon saved by them. However, Google/Sam is also keeping tabs on us and will gladly sell us out whenever there is enough to gain from that. We/Michael also know that, and we keep that in mind as we deal with Google/Sam. We/Michael keep the really good info away from Google/Sam out of self-preservation.

So, Google will be happy to betray us and the reason they haven’t is that they haven’t been offered the right price. We know that and can use them for what they are worth. Just watch your back, keep your eyes open, and don’t let them learn the real good information about you that would fetch a nice price. Then everyone can coexist is this stable equilibrium of betrayal. It actually does work out.

Google Calendar, CalDav and iCal

A month ago, I set up iCal syncing with my Google Calendar via these instructions. Thus far, it has rocked the serious rock. I’ve given in to the borg and set up Google as my central hub for mail, for calendars, contacts, etc. They already know everything about me anyway. I used to be scared of it, then I decided to go whole hog on this path and bought some of their stock to make me a shareholder. If I can’t fight the tiger, maybe I can ride it.

I made an appointment to give blood from my day job workstation. They gave me an outlook VCS file for it, which I imported into my google calendar. At lunch, I hooked up to wifi at a Starbucks. Without thinking about it, I checked something else on my calendar and saw this appointment. I didn’t think about it, it was just there. Things are starting to get good here. Maybe the chaos that is my disorganized life will get a little underpinning to keep it from spinning out of control. There is always hope while there is breath.

The Return of Where’s George

For years and years, I was a devoted user of Where’s George. I georged pretty much every bill I could, and I tried to keep them separate in my change so I knew which bill was which for date entry since I liked to enter the venue from which I received it in the notes. It was fun, but eventually the drag of the scut work wore me down. That, and living in small town South Carolina meant that my hit percentage went way down and it got less fun.

I did revive it some for this trip to San Francisco that I’m currently on. Because of the tech hipster density, bills I’ve let go in the bay area have a hit ratio approaching 50%. I georged every bill in my wallet before we left. A few went into the Charlotte airport and I’ve taken in new change since. I’m guessing now that every original bill I brought with me is now circulating and its all new bills now.

Coincidentally as I was doing all this, I got a mind-blowing hit yesterday. This is one of the bills I entered and stamped very early in my career as a georger. It was hit this week, 7 years and 51 days after I first put it in the system. It’s hard to imagine a $1 circulating that long, since compared to other denominations they tend to get used hard and have short lives.

I don’t imagine I’m going back to entering every bill that passes through my hands again, but now and then it is fun to return to this and prime the pump a little more.

How I Would Have Merged Twitter and I Want Sandy

I’m not a brilliant internet entrepreneur or much of any kind of entrepreneur, really. I’m not a strategist or business expert or pundit or guru. All I have is guesswork and barely healed stubbed toes and a general feeling around of my way in this online world. However, even with my lack of chops it is hard to imagine a worse way to deal with the purchase of Values of N by Twitter and how they dealt with the aftermath.

I can understand that mostly what Twitter wanted out of the deal was Rael Dornfest. I have been part of acquisitions where one company bought another mostly to get an in-place development team. However, this was at the height of the dot-com boom when hiring was difficult and people were expensive. I sure don’t understand how that makes sense when there are a lot of people looking for jobs, the labor cost is under downward pressure.

What really fails to make sense for me though is why Twitter would acquire a company with working, extant and deployed products and get zero value out of them. Sure, they bought Values of N to integrate the team into Twitter but I Want Sandy and Stikkit are already out there. How does just shutting them down help anything? It creates a lack of trust in cloud based services in general, if a solid and useful service like I Want Sandy can just disappear with a few weeks notice. I’ve already posted about how the only defense ever offered is that the service was free, which I think is insufficient a defense. Being a free service does not relieve a company of its responsibilities in being stewards of their users, particularly when like Sandy they asked to be an essential portion of the workflow of ones life. To say “Hey it was free, what do you expect?” is exactly akin to saying “Hey, you were stupid enough to trust us. What do you expect?”

Assume I was somehow involved with either Twitter or Values of N. This is what I would have wanted to happen with the acquisition:

Step 1: Before announcing the situation, I would have set up an exit path for the users. Dornfest put together some export tools only after public outcry and 1 week into the original 2 week notice. That’s weak tea.

Step 2: I would have informed the users before the general public about the situation. I would have sent it down the actual paths of notification, rather than posting it on the company blog. It should be noted that only today, 3 days before the original shutdown date, has any notification been sent to the users. That’s worse than weak tea.

Step 3: I would have said that effective January 1st 2009 there would be no more free versions of I Want Sandy. New users would get a 30 day trial, all users would effectively be on a trial until Jan 1. After that point, the service would be subscription only. Let’s say $10/month, $100 if you prepay for a year. That could be more or less, but within that general range.

Step 4: For any paid up I Want Sandy users who have a Twitter account enabled, I would turn back on IM access and track for that Twitter account. Both I Want Sandy and Twitter were more valuable when those features were in Twitter, so if you are a paid up user then you get those features back. This gives both Sandy and Twitter a basic revenue model. It might not be huge, but for every 10,000 users of Sandy flipped to paid users that’s $1M/year. I don’t know the user base of Sandy but because of the nature of the service, I’d suspect a higher than usual percentage of users would flip to paid, maybe something on the order of 30-50%. If Sandy had 100K users, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see 50K pay up. Rael cites the cost of maintenance of Sandy as rationale for the shut down, even if they do no further development. If it had paid users, you could hire cheaper admins and let them baby sit the site.

At that point, the conjunction of Twitter and I Want Sandy would have value above what either has alone. That’s synergy, used appropriately for the actual Buckminster Fuller definition, not the business wonk BS version that has been watered down to mean “anything I like”. The ecosystem of the two services would provide things the components do not. It would be monetized at the point of value creation. It would make Twitter more valuable even when not using Sandy. It would have prevented the hordes of angry users such as myself. I’m ceasing to use Twitter as protest of this stupidity. Once they’ve proven that they don’t care about the users and stewarding their data, I cannot trust them as any part of my communications infrastructure.

As I said, I’m not a business guru but it seems like all of this provides more value to everyone, keeps a valuable service alive in the Web 2.0 ecosystem, increases user satisfaction, and avoids buying a company and keeping the people but disposing of all its value creating assets. Am I just too stupid to see why scrapping I Want Sandy was a better move?

Lessons I Learned about Hyperlocal Coverage

My coverage of the Conway SC mayoral election continues. Yesterday I posted at Grand Strand Bloggers the video of the mayoral debate. Today I emailed every newspaper and TV station that covers this area to let them know about its existence, as well as all four candidates. I’m desperately trying to figure out what else I can do to get the word out to my fellow citizens of the city of Conway. Today I figured out how to burn a DVD and created a few of them and am trying to get them distributed so that people can watch it before election day.

The short window between the debate and the election put some extra pressure on me, and let to a few mistakes I could have mitigated. I should have worked with iMovie more, particularly in the audio handling so I wasn’t learning on the clock. Same thing for how blip.tv works. I made a really bad mistake with it that could possibly have been avoided if I had worked with it more. The general advice is when you are working on this kind of timetables, try to not be learning anything. Take some time beforehand to do all the work you are going to later. It really sucks to be googling to figure out where to click in an iMovie project, all the while watching the clock tick and you still don’t have the work done.

I got home Monday night, got the video from the camcorder onto my laptop and started working on it. The audio needed some help and it took me a really long time to figure out how to extract it from iMovie 08. I thought at one point I’d have to get the video into the old iMovie to work with the audio. Turns out the Quicktime export has the ability to export just the sound as a WAV file, which was perfect. I ran it through the Levelator to get all the candidates to the same audio level. That worked fine but it also left the ones who were adjusted upwards with audio full of really loud room noise. I ran that through Sound Soap which cleaned up most of that.

At this point, I was ready to put on some minimal credits and go forward. Things were not perfect but since a perfect video that takes until after the election to be ready is worthless, I opted for a “non-perfect but good enough” version that was done. At lunch on Tuesday I finished all that work and then set about exporting the final video. This was a many hours process. I took my laptop to work Tuesday afternoon and left it on my desk doing nothing but exporting the video to Quicktime. When it finished, I opted to upload it from work, where it happens about 60 times faster than from my home cable modem. I pushed it up to blip.tv and let it start its flash conversion. By the time I got home from dinner, it was done and ready to go, and I made my post with the embed tag. Late in the evening I realized that I had made one error, putting up the wrong name in the thanks at the end. It’s a livable error but one that really sucked. I made the correction in my iMovie project and mulled my options.

This morning I emailed all of the news outlets and went to the day job. Since I had the correction in the end credit card, I just exported again and once more let it run on my desk while I worked. It finished around lunchtime, so I uploaded it again. This is where I really screwed up. It turns out that when I did that, I wiped out my embed until the flash conversion was done all over again. That mean for about 75 minutes from 11:30 AM to 12:45 PM today, my embed wasn’t actually working. I was really sweating the downtime and hoping this was not the period that the reporters and news directors chose to look at the video.

At lunch today, I also created an iDVD project and set it up. This too I should have worked with before. I got the DVD mastered in about 20 minutes while sitting at a Dunkin Donuts. It wasn’t wildly intuitive and what I have is actually kind of screwed up. The DVD works and plays in a DVD player, and autostarts the debate video. However, I couldn’t figure out how to set up the menu, how to not have a menu or whatever. Now, at the end of my video it rolls into an empty DVD menu that you can never leave. You have to eject your DVD and reinsert it to make it work. Now, this might not be a huge issue. We have 6 more days of relevance for this DVD, but I really should have figured all this out at my leisure weeks ago, instead of learning it all in a panic.

So, none of these tips are rocket science. Learn your tools when the clock is not ticking, think ahead, plan ahead, gather emails and do all this stuff as far ahead as you can. I’m really enjoying doing the hyper-local coverage and think both the online debate video and the DVD turned out pretty well but I could have done much better if I had prepared more ahead of time. Live and learn. I’ll be doing this again, so I hope to do more in less time for the next election.

Free Services are Not Free

As my post about hating Twitter gets traction, the main thrust of pushback to my stance seems to be this: “Hey dude, it was a service they provided to you for free, get over it.” That is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. You don’t get to play that card. I Want Sandy didn’t have a pay option, so it’s not like we were freeloading when they were trying to get us to pony up. IWS deliberately pursued the public to make it a part of their life and work flow, to be an essential bit of their day and to help them get work done. People did, which created the value that Rael has now monetized by being acquired (almost literally, he was acquired if the reports are true). They worked to anthropomorphize the service in the persona of “Sandy” and to create a personal connection. To now blame people for being connected and personally invested is disgustingly disingenuous.

But really, any of these services are not free if they take any significant amount of my time setting them up and using them. I can’t overstate this point: I care more about my time than my money. Time is more limited and precious to me, so making me waste my time is worse than wasting my money when they are anywhere near, like within an order of magnitude. The switching cost of putting in a new service and getting used to it is non-trivial and I and every other user of Sandy or any other Web 2.0 service have every right to be pissed when you successfully convince us to insinuate your service into our lives and then pull the plug.

I’m willing to use my time to check out your service and if I like it, I’ll use it. I’m begging you, don’t betray me. Don’t sell me out, and if I get mad when you do, don’t you dare push it back on me. I did what you asked of me, I cared about what you built. You are the one that failed to hold up your end of that contract, so don’t tell me the failure is mine. That karma burden will not work out well for you.

Why did I move this workflow from Sandy to Google? Google may be becoming the Borg and they may scare the hell out of me, but I trust them not to shut down Gmail and Google Docs and Calender on or before December 8th, so that puts them ahead of I Want Sandy and Twitter.

Update: Here is a very similar take to mine on this subject from Devan at Cloud Ave.

I Hate Twitter

I went for a long time resisting Twitter, then I joined and liked it for a good while. Eventually I grew weary about Twitter’s downtime and disingenuity and their rolling back of the feature set. Meanwhile, I liked FriendFeed from the first time I used it and the value of it has consistently gone up to me. At this point, I love FriendFeed and hate Twitter. In the course of two years, I have gone with Twitter from brand apathy to brand loyalty to brand contempt.

Now comes the news that Twitter has acquired Values of N – the company that built I Want Sandy – and will be shutting down their services on December 8th. I used Sandy and l liked it a lot. In fact, the main reason I stopped using it on a daily basis and started using Google Calendar and documents for that kind of work is when Twitter took IM access away. I’m highly pissed about this. It makes no sense to me why even if Twitter acquired Value of N they can’t leave the services up and running with a skeleton crew. This just reinforces the idea that you should be careful what services you commit your time and energy to, because Web 2.0 companies will screw you and make you waste your time building value that they cash out and leave you holding the bag.

I now loathe Twitter as a company and a service. I wish them the worst and hope they disappear, sooner rather than later. I’m happy that my Twitter network has pretty much migrated over to FriendFeed. I have the Twitter integration turned on but would gladly switch it off in a heartbeat. I don’t originate tweets there, FriendFeed is the central location for me. Nothing about Twitter makes me happy anymore. Not the service, not the company and not the way they do business.

Update: I kept building a slow burn on this until I decided I’m done. I had been pushing my FriendFeed updates to Twitter since they added that functionality but now I’m turning it off. I don’t want to do anything to that builds value for Twitter. I’m withdrawing my participation from them.

Update 2: Mark at Mashable has picked up on this post. Even though my goal is to “love loud and hate quiet”, it’s always the hating that gets any traction. Love isn’t as good a story. It should be noted that the only thing I’ve used Twitter for in the last 24 hours was to ask Twitter users to join FriendFeed – successfully at that. That’s the only thing Twitter is good for to me anymore.

Update 3: The people who are pushing back to my stance have only one shaky leg to stand on, and I address that in a new post – Free Services are Not Free.

Update 4: The term I should have injected into this debate earlier is “stewardship.” I Want Sandy asked to handle information that was important to us, and asked for our trust. By getting acquired and shutting down the service, they have betrayed themselves as poor stewards of that trust.

What You Do Is More Important Than What You Say

Mark Glaser at MediaShift published an article a few weeks ago that was an insider perspective from a NYU journalism student. She is taking a class called “Reporting Gen Y (a.k.a. Quarterlifers)” and she wrote a blog piece about the class. The piece itself is surprising, containing observation that she was the only one of the 16 students who actually had a blog before the class amongst others. What’s really interesting is what the follow-on reaction was.

Her professor – the one teaching young budding reporters how to use new media – was not happy at the budding reporter’s use of new media. This class requires all of the students to blog, but when the subject was about the inadequacies of the class itself as reported by Alana, the professor claims that was an invasion of privacy because she did not ask permission to do so. I’m no journalism student or a journalist, but is that how it works? You need permission to write a piece about your experiences from everyone else in the experience?

Even more fascinating to me are the comments on Glaser’s follow-up about the reaction to the original post. It reflects the clear divide to me between the defenders of the status quo and those willing to upset it. I find the latter group more valuable because, to quote Dr. Horrible “the status is not quo!” The impression I got from those defending the actions of NYU and Professor Quigley is that reporters should know their place, only report on things that the subjects want reported on, not upset apple carts. Thinking back a century or so, what important pieces of journalism were comfortable for anyone involved or did the subjects desire to have written? The argument seems to be on the ethics of writing the blog post without telling people she was doing so – in a class required to write blog posts. That whole line of debate is at best disingenuous.

I can tell you that if I paid my money to go to NYU, took a class on blogging, blogged about the class and then had a policy applied to me ex post facto that I was not to blog about what happens in the class on blogging, I would be pissed off at the minimum. What it would give me is a teachable moment, but the teaching is not what the professor wants. It is clearly “Listen to what I say but ignore what I do.” My favorite moment in any Subgenius ritual is when the speaker says “Question Authority!” and the whole audience yells out “Why?” If this journalism professor feels that authority can appropriately quash things from being written that the authority doesn’t want out there, then that explains a lot to me about our modern times.

I don’t create journalism. A few years ago when I was doing interviews at an SF convention and they made me get a press pass, I wasn’t happy because I didn’t like being labeled press. To my mind that’s a value subtraction from what I was trying to do. I have no reverence for the position of Professional Journalist as a career. That’s great kid, now report on something meaningful to me in an illustrative way and we’ll be getting somewhere. More and more these days, I’m not happy with the journalism I do experience. It doesn’t ask the hard questions, doesn’t provide what I need to know and generally fails to question authority in the ways that I feel it is obligated to. Now I’m slowly beginning to understand why that is, and the outlook for that improving in the future is that much bleaker.

Let me close with an appropriate quote from one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries:

Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived
We got to pump the stuff to make us tough
from the heart
It’s a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange
People, people we are the same
No we’re not the same
Cause we don’t know the game
What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved lets get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say…
Fight the Power

Gillmor Gang on Micropayments

As it happens, today I listened to a few weeks old episode of the GIllmor Gang, the one from August 22. In it, they talk about Pandora and tip jars and micropayments, the same sort of things I was discussing yesterday. Despite Doc Searls talking up his VRM stuff and my enormous respect for him, I think that’s the wrong path and Cory Doctorow is on the right path. It doesn’t matter how frictionless you make the money pipe, the selection energy it requires you to think about how much to tip makes it unworkable. I get pissed off having to decide whether to give a wait person 15% or 18% or 23% most times I’m in a restaurant. I don’t want to have to decide whether to give a musician $0.03 a play or $0.05 or whatever. Just the thinking about it is too much trouble.

The quip that occurred to me listening to them talk about it is “think less about the tip jar and more about the tipping point.” Consider 100 fans who might tip $1 apiece. I think you’d be better off if you could convert 2 of them into the Kevin Kelly style “1000 true fan” types who will give you $50 this year, and each year until they stop being a true fan. You make the same $100 that way, but you’ve got an annuity and evangelists and a deeper relationship with the people who do kick you dough.

The more I think on this subject, I think “go big or go home” is the way to go.

Dragon*Con Wrapup Coming

I really need to do a big wrapup of my Dragon*Con experience really soon, or else I’ll start forgetting details. I had much fun this year, my first since 2002, and would like to capture some of that in a permanent form on here. I plan on making a big linky, photo-riddled post but that takes time. I also have a backlog of new media to create and for a variety of reasons, mostly related to exhaustion and my inability to keep my eyes open, I FAILED to do this weekend.

I have interviews galore, for both the EGC podcast and for Reality Break. I’m also way overdue for making a blogger roundup post at Grand Strand Bloggers and I need to start working on next spring’s CREATE South. I’m not sure how it is that my hobbies can lead to being so incredibly busy but they do. I just had a vacation and I need another! Keep watching this space, netizens, and I’ll try to get all of that out very soon.

Cory Doctorow on Macropayments

In his column at Locus Magazine, Cory Doctorow has a piece on “macropayments.” It lays out a lot of his thinking in giving away his books for free, but also refutes the whole philosophical basis of micropayments at the same time. I like this bit:

Taking someone’s money is expensive. It incurs transaction and bookkeeping costs and it incurs emotional and social costs. Micropayments have historically focused on eliminating the cash overheads while ignoring the intangible costs. For a writer whose career might span decades and involve hundreds of thousands of readers, these costs cannot be ignored.

At various points in my career I’ve been involved in micropayment type startups. I’ve believed in the idea and it always made sense to me in the abstract and theoretical. When Scott McCloud wrote his defense of micropayments, I agreed and cheered along with him. However in the feet on the street sense, it’s impossible to note the relative lack of success of micropayments (remember Bitpass) versus the kinds of projects Cory lays out in his essay. It emphasizes to me the technocratic divide – geeks are always trying to solve people problems with technological solutions, and that seldom if ever works.

I’m working behind the scenes as an advisor to a new media/old media hybrid that is in a bit of a funding crunch. I’m almost wondering if the ideas Cory raises aren’t perhaps the way to go. Rather than looking to get $10 from thousands of people, what about getting $1000 from a few hundred people? When you look at the distribution of people who gave money to fund Jill Sobule’s next record, $70K of the $86k raised came from donations of $100 or more.

Maybe there is something to that, focusing on a few larger donors. In a way, that’s a shame because my leanings are to be communitarian and get lots of people involved. It may be that in terms of generating dough quickly, it is actually more effective to go big or go home.

In a slightly related topic, this is why I priced my stuff packages the way I did. I could have done it more cheaply but then I’m doing all the same work for less profit. That profit has bought most of my equipment and kept my podcast running at close to break even for four years. After a period of inactivity, I actually sold some more stuff packages recently which helps out. If you’d like to pull on that rope, you certainly may. Not only do you help the show, you get to be a styling fool with some great tunes. Win/win, citizens!

The Continuing Death of Twitter

So I haven’t a created an original tweet over on Twitter – one that wasn’t either housekeeping or a reply to someone else – in a month. That mode of interaction exists entirely on my Friend Feed account now. Any tweets that do happen are exhortations to get followers to move over to FriendFeed with me, or crossposted FF comments. I’m happy with that.

For a month of Steve Gillmor has been telling me that I was philosophically inconsistent for still having any Twitter in my life. He thinks I should hide it all on FriendFeed if I’m such a hardcore switcher. I’ve toyed with the idea but am not ready to pull that trigger. FriendFeed has a beautiful transition plan in place automatically so why not take advantage of that a little long. Now I heard on his show that Steve too has ceased to originate tweets, in his case choosing to use Identi.ca exclusively. If he’s getting fed up, then things are coming to a head. He’s been a die hard proponent for longer than is reasonable and a better friend to Twitter than it was to anyone else as it enters the fast part of the toilet bowl swirl. I’ve always wondered how much of this love of Twitter by Silicon Valley types even as it was sucking ass was for the service itself and how much is residual affection and loyalty for the founders? Odeo was winning awards for “best podcast startup” when all it had was a “under construction” page, so this dynamic of over-valuing their ventures is real.

Now, as if all the various unreliabilities weren’t enough, users are finding their accounts blocked for TOS violations and removed with no apparent cause. I’ve obviously been done with Twitter for a while, but this should be check and mate for everyone else. When the unreliability goes beyond website downtime, rollback of feature sets, intermittent unavailability of your account data into full fledged spurious lockouts from the account, it is time to bail. Twitter is like your drunk uncle, and now this is the 5th baseball practice in a row that he has failed to show up and give you a ride home. Are you going to trust it to be there when you need it? I don’t.

I’d suggest that everyone that still cares about the Twitter mode of interaction move to Identi.ca or FriendFeed (or both hooked together), leave a pointer in your Twitter account that you are moving over and shut out the lights. Enough is enough. I understand you once loved the service but if you continue to use it now you are entering the codependent enabling phase of the relationship. Don’t come crying to me when you get hurt. It doesn’t deserve your loyalty, so withdraw it. I’ll see you on the other side, as geniodiabolico at both FriendFeed and Identi.ca. Check and mate.

Eno and DRM Free MP3s

I can hit the quinella and make a new post that ties together two recents posts about music I love and DRM protected music. I realized that Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets is probably the album I love most that I don’t own. Somewhere in a box I believe I have a cassette of it that I recorded during an overnight at WREK. That was one of the perks of working in the station – bring blank cassettes and tape all the music you can stand too. I went to search for it on Amazon and I found that it is available as a DRM free MP3s.

I’ve never bought MP3s from Amazon. For that matter, I’ve never bought from iTunes either. I have one song I got via a coupon for a free download, Jimi Hendrix’ “When 6 was 9”. Apple has never received cash from me for music or movies, mainly because of my disdain for DRM protection, even when defeatable. I downloaded the OS X version of the Amazon Music downloader, completed the purchase and the downloader came up and within a minute or two I had the songs. They are in good sounding 256 kb unprotected MP3s. The downloader tool created an Amazon directory in my OS X Music folder, and it also added them to iTunes. 20 seconds after the purchase, I was listening to the album.

This is really a winner, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not getting involved with DRM music but I will buy it this way. Everything about the experience was pleasant and Just Worked. I like it when it goes like that. Brian Eno (or probably his record label) made a little money he might not have any other way. I wish it could just go straight to Eno. Now, if record labels were largely disintermediated out and bands could sign up directly with Amazon, we’d really have something.

A quote from the album seem appropriate now:

Some of them are old, some of them are new
Some of them will turn up when you least expect them to
And when they do, remember me, remember me.

Pay for DRM Digital Goods and Get Screwed

In yet another data point for why you should never commit your cash to any digital good that is protected by DRM, Yahoo Music is shutting down their authorization servers this fall. What I just said goes double for anything that requires a server hit to authorize or reauthorize. Some day, the server will not be there, because the company has gone out of business or been purchased or, like Yahoo, just decided it is too much trouble to provide ongoing service of the goods you bought in good faith. Pay attention everyone, because sooner or later this is what happens to everything purchased digitally and protected by DRM that requires central servers.

I used to be in this business when I worked for Intertrust. I’m still working off the karmic debt for that (although getting screwed up the butt on the failed stock was a big downpayment). At the time DRM seemed rational enough and now I have completely reversed that opinion. The worst part is that almost always, these goods have a price markup because of the costs of the DRM provider in the chain. In reality, they should be discounted because of the lowered utility to you and the risk you bear of one day not being able to listen to your songs or watch your movies or play your games.

At Intertrust. our system worked by generating keys that were based on a fingerprint of your system. If you changed anything, the fingerprint changed and the keys stopped working, needing a new one to be served. That would include reinstalling the OS, changing a hard drive or MAC address, etc. Basically, make any substantive change to the hardware or OS and you invalidate those digital goods. That is the fate awaiting all the Yahoo Music customers (both of them.) Things will work up until a change and then it is over. Eventually something will fail or you will buy a new computer and there goes that.

So my friends, pay attention to this. It’s time to cut off this style of doing business at the wallet by dropping the demand for such goods to zero. If you trust the market like most libertarian leaning geeks, making sure there is no profit in DRM will get rid of it more effectively than a million words of rhetoric. I’ve bought digital goods that I can no longer access and that will never happen again. It’s not unlike the group dynamics of vaccination or going on strike – it only takes a small percentage of group members breaking out to undermine the whole effort. Don’t pay for DRM goods and help the digital world.

Epic Fail Whale

I hope this to be my last post about Twitter and FriendFeed for some time. My migration has finished and now I am completely on FriendFeed and completely off of Twitter. My Twitter social network has been completely disassembled. As I added people on FriendFeed I unfollowed them on Twitter and then as I added imaginary friends for those not yet on I did the same. At this point, I follow no one on Twitter although in true Twitter fashion it tells me my count is 2 as it shows me 0 friends.

An interesting development is that Steve Gillmor seems to be coming around. He has truly freaked me out in recent weeks by being such a staunch defender of Twitter even as the service gets worse and worse. Metaphors I have used or seen in recent days include:

  • Twitter dealing with their scaling problems being like the colonial marines in Aliens, sealing off room after room and falling back into smaller and smaller perimeters and still getting overran.
  • I’ve compared Twitter to having an alcoholic uncle that promises over and over again to give you a ride but never shows up.
  • Aron Michalski compared it to a car that you once loved that now you have to crawl in from the passenger side and use hand signals because the door is stuck and the electrical system shot.

I’ve heard that help is on the way to Twitter in the form of this SWAT team of bad ass developers. Good for them, but if they unveiled a system Monday morning that involved every bit of functionality turned back on at full nominal baseline, I still wouldn’t care. It’s too late for me. Twitter got me in to believing this form of communication was valuable, and then it convinced me it was too valuable to let them handle it. That’s why I’m completely done with it now. It now exists as a vestigial remnant of something that was, a third class shadow cache of data I originate other places. I have no network on it, I don’t care what happens to it. It was fun while it lasted and now it is done for me. Bye.

Twitter Migration Tweak

I updated my original post on how to leave Twitter to include this information, but I thought I’d make a new post as well so people see it. If you are pushing your FriendFeed entries to Twitter via TwitterFeed, you might want to use the feed of this format as the source to TwitterFeed: http://friendfeed.com/geniodiabolico?format=atom&service=internal . That will only push your original FriendFeed messages, not any of your other services. That can keep from overwhelming your Twitter account with things like Google Reader shares and such. The other beneficial bit is that it will prevent those loops when your Twitter account feeds FF and FF pushes back to Twitter.

There Must Be 50 Ways to Leave Your Twitter

Here are details on how you too can get the hell away from Twitter, increase the functionality available to you and still not lose your whole social network. I hope at this point I have some credibility as a late adopter and as a person who does not jump at every new service that comes along. It took 9 months of nagging for me to join Twitter in the first place and I’ve still never joined Facebook. I have the same process as the Amish about adopting technologies: I stay away until I see some evidence it will make my life better. It is with that idea that I have adopted FriendFeed.

I avoided FriendFeed as well for some time. The whole thing with 41 services that it integrates actually put me off. It gave me panic attacks. However, I knew that Twhirl had some integration with it so finally I said WTF and just did it. Right away – I mean within minutes – I knew it was at least at parity with Twitter and within a day I had no doubts as to its far superiority. Twitter is the basic proof of concept prototype that should have been thrown away, and FriendFeed is the real product that comes after. Even if Twitter’s downtime problems weren’t so pronounced, I’ve gotten tired of even how it works nominally. The 140 character limit around SMS, a technology that I have never once used, rankles me. Its very best feature is track and that has been turned off for a month, so at this point I’m pissed off enough to leave and motivated enough to do it.

Because of the very nature of FriendFeed, it contains in itself a nice way to taper down from Twitter (and Pownce and Jaiku too) into using FriendFeed exclusively, without losing your social network and without doing quite so much “new SNS busy work” (although there is some.) Here are some steps I have taken, and I’m serious as a myocardial infarction about turning Twitter off when the tipping point has been hit.

You just slip out the back, Jack

First, create yourself a FriendFeed account. If you can, get the same username as you had on Twitter. If you can’t we will all survive. When asked to hook other services up to it, you might be tempted to add Twitter but don’t. We’re actually going to go the other way.

Make a new plan, Stan

If you don’t have it already, download Twhirl. It was already the best front end to Twitter. I knew it had integration with FriendFeed and frankly the ease of using the two is part of what tipped me. In the accounts tab add in the information for your FriendFeed account. You can add in your Twitter too if you want to as a transitional strategy but eventually that is coming out. That’s what this is all about, Jack. Or Stan. Or Gus.

You don’t need to be coy, Roy

Update: There is an alternative to the steps below. Kreg Steppe has written a PHP script that will search on the same username and give either a link to that FF page or a convience link to search on that name. It’s still somewhat manual, but much easier with Kreg’s script than doing it by hand.

This step is the shakiest of all, I admit, and I wish there were better alternatives. I’m half thinking about trying to build that myself. Go get Internet Duct Tape’s Twitter to FriendFeed utility. Now this is a Windows console app which really sucks, so those of you who don’t have a PC or VMware or Parallels are left out of this one. I swear, by next weekend I will really try to code up the equivalent in a more portable solution. Worst of all, this step didn’t work for me but it does have a workaround.

When you run it, you give your FF and Twitter credentials. It logs into each and gets your lists of friends/followed. It uses the Google Social Graph API to map the two together which sounded crazy to me but works alarmingly well. It is supposed to add your contacts to FriendFeed but in my case, all it did was give me three results: “is already your friend on Friend Feed”, “Not on Friend Feed”, and “Unable to subscribe”. I don’t know what is happening with the last (API change?) but as it is doing all this, it is writing a log file and that log file includes the FriendFeed account name that couldn’t be added. This allows you to still add the person, although it is much more of a pain in the ass than it should be. If they fix this tool it will help or if I can write an act-alike clone, that will help. Either way or the manual way, when you are done as much of your existing Twitter network as possible will instantly be set up on FriendFeed. In my case, I’d say about 40% were already there, and even in a few days that number is climbing.

The last bit is that you can create what FriendFeed calls “imaginary friends.” Even before someone signs up you can create a dummy account and add in their Twitter feed to it. Do that for all your friends whose tweets you can’t live without and then even without using Twitter you will continue to get their updates. This touch is the brilliant bit that really makes the whole exit plan work, in my opinion. Unfortunately, imaginary friends don’t seem to automatically convert to contacts. Maybe FriendFeed can fix this shortly or better yet, build in this important functionality so we don’t have to do ridiculous hacks to get more users into their system. You know?

Anyone that knows of or can create a better solution for this step let me know and I’ll replace this information with your upgrade. I fear this part is where we will lose people, particularly those with really large networks they currently follow.

Hop on the bus, Gus

The whole purpose of this stuff is that you are going to stop originating any messages in Twitter. In my case, the only ones that will ever go straight to Twitter again are ones to let people know that I’m leaving and how to keep up with me. In order to let the people that follow you ramp down, you will create a way that your FriendFeed posts will get set to Twitter. Create an account at TwitterFeed but rather than giving it your blog you will give it your FriendFeed atom feed: In my case it is http://friendfeed.com/geniodiabolico?format=atom but you will just substitute your username in there. Now your FriendFeed messages will post back to Twitter. You can add in a step of scrubbing that feed with a clone of my friend Paul’s Yahoo Pipe but I chose to just skip that step. It means that some extraneous stuff will end up in my Twitter updates but what do I care? I want to goad all my followers to leave the service anyway. This is why you didn’t add Twitter into your FriendFeed services. If you do, your original FF messages get retweeted and then your tweet comes back into FF and pushes back out (unless you remove it with the Pipe.)

You don’t need to discuss much

At this point, you can post messages to FriendFeed. People can comment directly on them which is a model 100X more sensible than Twitter’s fractured and fragmented @reply semantics. Twitter is getting your messages via TwitterFeed. The maximum of 5 in 30 minutes is the most the service will post, so you might lose some. However Twitter already loses my updates about 1 in 6 times so most Twitter users should be used to this by now.

Just drop off the key, Lee

The beautiful thing about all this is that the experience gets better, I have found. The only thing that Twitter has to offer anymore is the user base, and with a little effort you can take the user base with you. In my case, I’m now becoming an evangelist for the Twitter Exodus and urging everyone that follows me to follow my FriendFeed instead. I seldom link whore but if you could spread this meme around, I would love it. Of course the FriendFeed guys will also love it and the Twitter guys will hate it. On the bright side, if most people do bail on Twitter and only the hardcore lovers of it stick around, maybe the service will be usable for those who remain.

And get yourself free

And that my friends is how to extricate yourself from the Twitter hairball without losing your whole network and all the energy you put into it. The one detail that I haven’t yet figured out is what to do with Twitter @replies during the transition. Unless I figure out a solution for that, I’ll check them every day or three and reply back in FriendFeed with my own @reply. My last Tweet will one day just be a pointer over to FF and a notice that I won’t see anything in Twitter anymore.

When you get to FriendFeed you can join the Twitter room and commiserate with other expatriates from that service. At first you’ll be a little sad and then you’ll think “Holy crap, FriendFeed has rooms!” and you’ll get happy again.

Trust me on this, our lives will be better. Of course if FF takes a Twitter-style performance dump after a mass migration I’ll look like an ass but I’m willing to risk it. I’m a poker player and on this I’m willing to go all in. Who’s willing to call that bet?

Update: This post seems to have lit a number of firecrackers, which is, like, awesome. Scoble pointed out that when using the FriendFeed comment box on a post that was originally from Twitter, you can check a box and have it posted back to Twitter. Also, I have found out there is this WordPress plugin to show FriendFeed comments on posts. I have now installed it on this blog, so if you look at any post with FF comments you should see them. Steve Gillmor, how does this fit in with your definition of “silo”?

FriendFeed Waxes as Twitter Wanes For Me

I’ve hit the point where I’m really just totally sick and tired of Twitter. Long ago, I thought it was too frivolous to care about and last fall I gave in and joined. Over time I changed my mind and decided that I generally liked the concept behind it while still not being happy with large parts of its implementation. That it has three entirely different interfaces for interacting whether you are talking to everyone, one person publicly or one person privately is ridiculous. The threading model is non-existent and having functionality like track that existed via IM but not elsewhere was just nonsense.

Similarly I’ve been fighting FriendFeed as well. It seemed too busy and overwhelming for me to want to be a part of it. I hate the “new SNS busy work” effect where you have to duplicate all the crap you’ve done on every other SNS. I had a few burbles with it but it seemed OK. When I hooked it up to Twhirl it really came alive though. I like the way conversations stay together and don’t spread out into an illegible mess like on Twitter. I’m less enamored with the FriendFeed default of showing me stuff by “friends of friends.” If I cared about those people, they’d be my friends. That was the very first thing I hid. I also like being able to hide categories globally, categories by person, etc.

So my Twitter account while it still exists is deprecated. I expect that whether or not I eventually leave, I’ll be moving slowly over to my FriendFeed account for this sort of interaction. I also have a Pownce account as well, although at the moment it really is only a backup of my Twitter. It has only ever received duplicates of my Twitter posts and probably that won’t change anytime soon.

Overall, I’m happy with FriendFeed after a few hours, in a way that took me months to get with Twitter. At this point I think absolutely the only thing Twitter has to offer is the user base. At its best, most of its model and interface sucks and lately you take the sucky baseline and add on much downtime. I honestly don’t care if it disappears, now that we all have a better alternative.