In my last post, I decided to give a “state of the blog” because a lot of things have been happening. This morning I was going through my feeds in Google Reader and realized a lot had changed, even in my reading habits. This has all happened in the past 6 months or so as well. There is a reason for this, but some background is probably needed. I have always been a practical person. I have been accused of being overly practical and possibly even boring. I believe this is mostly due to my education. I was a computer science major for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Pessimism, worst-case analysis and Big-O notation were my best friends. Given that I have been a software developer since I graduated from college, I have been living and working with this type of attitude, which has definitely been beneficial to my career. This also means that I typically did not use the newest development tools or techniques because I needed to see a reason to use them and get them supported by the development organization. I was not a late adopter of technology, I was just practical in my approach. If a leading edge technology was the best way to do something, I was happy to use it. I just did not adopt something because it was new, I needed a use for it.
You may be wondering where I am going with this, but stay with me as I go through this exercise as it may take a while to get to my point. I have always had a little part of me that wanted to start a business. I was involved with a small consulting firm that never really gained the success that we wanted, but did continue to be profitable. After the consulting, I have been involved with smaller and even tiny companies. Last summer I decided to launch a professional football site filled with analysis and assorted trending information. I was finally bit by the entrepreneur bug. The site never received much traffic, but that was OK because this failure was purely my fault. It was an unfocused effort, but it gave me a lesson. Failure did not hurt, it just made me think about what happened. Nothing major happened, I just made some mistakes along the way. Because of this, my newer venture is moving along nicely if not too slowly.
Lesson: Failure is not the end, it is an opportunity to learn.
Ages ago Digg came on the scene with Reddit and others following. I tried to use them, but did not really find a good use for me initially and dropped them. I found Mixx back in October, had the same issues as I did with Digg, but stayed with it because I liked the people in the community. This was my first foray into early adoption. Mixx was nice, but I was not looking to be a top user of the site. Eventually I did find a use for it, basically it gave me a way to filter mainstream news and find other sites I normally would not find. Cool! My pragmatism and early adoption merged into one idea. Shortly after getting comfortable with Mixx, I started this blog as a way to voice my opinion on various technology news, issues and various other things. Again, the point was not to become Robert Scoble, but just a way to get some things off my chest. So, things changed in February when I found FriendFeed.
Lesson: Early adoption is not always about a shiny new toy, good early adoption is when the toy is immediately useful.
I immediately saw a use for FriendFeed, so my pragmatism was completely satisfied. I am not going to wax poetic on the benefits of FriendFeed, but the network of early adopters is my target. This was “real” early adoption as FriendFeed and the whole aggregation/lifestreaming segment was very new. Granted, FriendFeed enabled me to discover more blogs to read, but the network that I connected with was different. I had connected with the early adopter group. I had always assumed that the “A-listers” and early adopter set were difficult to deal with, generally unreachable and really did not care about us “little” people.
This is where some real change occurs. I was having “comment conversations” with Scoble. I learned that he openly publishes his email and phone numbers. My blog got highlighted by Louis Gray when it was still in its fairly early stages. Because I was already reading his blog, and Scoble was always saying he was a man to listen to, this was really interesting. Why would these people be helping smaller bloggers? I have found that the early adopters are a community just like everyone else. They are a surprisingly welcoming community as well.
Lesson: The people in the early adopter and “a-lister” groups, are just that, people.
By now, you must be wondering what my point is. The point is influence. By “joining” the early adopter crowd, I have access to a group of people who have a significantly different sphere of influence than I do. A good example of this is Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. On his blog, he posts contact information. One day, I decided to email him regarding some questions I had. I expected nothing in return, but I also had nothing to lose except the 5 minutes needed to write the email. Much to my surprise, he did respond a few days later. No I am not getting funding or anything of that nature, but I found it interesting he did respond. Then I remembered, he is a person like the rest of us just in a different position than I am. I also realized that he is doing the same thing I am getting information. There is a plethora of information posted to FriendFeed and a lot of people can see it.
Lesson: Information can come from anywhere, and everybody is looking for good information.
This brings me to another example of the early adopter and influence, Disqus. Disqus has Union Square Ventures behind it, so generally, influence is not a problem. However, no amount of funding really drives press or blog coverage after the funding. Disqus had a new release the other day and had tons of very positive coverage. Obviously, they have a good product that a lot of people use so there is some interest. However, the positive coverage was bigger than that and there is a reason. Daniel Ha, the CEO of Disqus, uses Twitter and FriendFeed to monitor what people are saying about Disqus and whether there are problems. As a developer myself, I have sent many questions to Daniel which he answered fairly quickly. Many people on Twitter and FriendFeed have said that Disqus customer service is excellent. On the day of the release, Duncan Riley and the Inquisitr had problems with the Disqus comments getting to FriendFeed:
I turned to FriendFeed, asking simply “need some help if anyone knows XML + feeds. Email from Paul Buchheit saying The Inquisitr’s feed is invalid because it includes < links.length but I have no idea why WP or Feedburner would start doing this. Anyone have any ideas?”
Between the help of the FriendFeed and Disqus teams, the issue was sorted out with a code fix from the Disqus team. Again, using an early adopter site and excellent customer service garners even more praise even though there was something wrong.
Lesson: A good product is just a good product. Great customer service turns it into a great company.
While writing this post, Hutch Carpenter wrote up a post about how social media got him a new job.
Blogging has become quite important for me. FriendFeed has become just as important. FriendFeed opened my eyes to the possibilities of knowledge as the basis of relationships. The ways in which content from a variety of sources is a powerful, addictive basis for learning, conversations and collaboration.
There are some key words in this, knowledge, relationships, conversations and collaboration. This is all stated by Hutch as existing within the framework of FriendFeed. He basically got a job from it.
Lesson: A major change of influence is beginning because knowledge is increasingly being shared.
The newer early adopter tools like Twitter and FriendFeed are allowing for access to people and knowledge that we have not been able to get before. This access is also bidirectional, so that potential employers can gauge your level of expertise based on your blog and even the conversations in which you participate on FriendFeed. If you are part of a technical startup, you need to be involved in the community of Twitter and FriendFeed. The access to people like Scoble and Louis Gray makes getting good feedback an almost trivial task. The authors of TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb and Mashable use tools like Twitter and FriendFeed to gather and publish information. People are constantly talking about the problems of the day and what might be done to solve them. The information is there, we just need to find it and use it. Using information is easy, you just need to act.
Lesson: Finding information is harder and is highly dependent on your network.
Damn, I suck at networking.