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Twitter Adds ‘Poking’ Feature to Spite Facebook


San Fransisco, CA – Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced today that Twitter will add a ‘poking’ feature to its popular micromessaging service, enabling people to communicate using even less effort than before.

Williams, or ev as he is AKA’d on Twitter, broke the news via a 140-character ‘tweet’ to his more than 500,000 followers around the world. He then gave the inaugural Twitter-poke to dating columnist and New York-based social climber Julia Allison, who immediately gushed on her lifecasting blog NonSociety, “That’s hot.”

“People have been complaining for some time now that 140 characters is just too long to convey some thoughts,” William said in a later interview with Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek (AKA saracuda). “People’s tweet streams have long been clogged with brief quips like ‘Thanks!’ and ‘OMG ROFL’ – we decided to offer our users the opportunity to replace words of questionable value with a poke. We strongly believe that this new feature will grow to be loved.”

For social media mavens, poking has been a controversial feature of social network Facebook for quite some time. There, people can see friends’ profiles that often include contact information, photos, events, and other personal information. But people also had the ability to electronically ‘poke’ people they weren’t friends with, expanding their networks in unanticipated directions.

A source inside Facebook who spoke with us on condition of anonymity shared internal research showing that 14,478 relationships – of varying length and girth – and as many as 125 marriages have resulted from pokes.  Nevertheless, ‘poking overload’ has resulted in many extremely attractive people blocking people from poking them, continuing the co-evolutionary battle of the sexes.

A discussion about poking quickly took place on Twitter, although influencer Robert Scoble (AKA the scobleizer) chose to debate complete strangers on FriendFeed (which doesn’t allow poking, incidentally). In one highly retweeted tweet, lethally generous industry analyst Jememiah Owyang commented, “because poking is free, Twitter users are likely to abuse the new feature.” In response, Williams tweeted, “We’re all about loving our users and giving them a platform to love each other, not about making money. Oh, and I heart Zappos.”

In a 5,352-word article posted today on his website, NYU professor and new media guru Clay Shirky commented that, “The problem isn’t poking overload, it’s filter failure.”

Not unlike Blair and Serena scheming for optimal prom dates, Twitter and Facebook have been mindfucking for quite some time. Facebook, holding a beautiful bouquet of red roses, politely asked to buy Twitter, but gold-digger Evan totally dissed Mark. Mark, feeling hurt, then did what any fresh-faced, innocent young man would do in this situation – visit Oprah. And then my friend Jenny told me that she overheard Mark totally say to Oprah that he’s copying Twitter, so he doesn’t need it anymore.

In the drama of adding poking to his site, and indeed, visiting Oprah himself last week, Evan could now be turning the tables on Mark. But what if the new Twitter feature backfires with massive overpoking? And what if Mark and Evan have adjoining VIP tables at Mighty??

Celebrities have differing viewpoints on poking. Ashton Kutcher (AKA aplusk – get it?), a major adopter of Twitter and yet another Oprah BFF, had no immediate comment – but his fans did. “I’m going to poke the shit out of him,” shrieked a tweenager wearing a Gossip Girl t-shirt. “He’s so hot and I want to let him know it.”

Other celebrities such as Juliet Landau, perhaps most famous for playing Drusilla on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer from 1997-2003, are reportedly expecting a poke-driven positive surge of renewed interest.

Williams for his part says there are no immediate plans for poking safety features like blocking, either, because the poke was made available as a ‘beta’ product.

“Perpetual beta is common in the Web 2.0 world,” commented Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, one of the most popular sites for news on social networking technology. Personally, he enjoys poking a lot: “Poking helps me connect with a whole new group of people who have nothing whatsoever to say to me, but still want to get in touch. And developing and nurturing these kinds of relationships is the cornerstone of social platforms like Twitter.”

Williams hopes to monetize just these relationships. Cashmore: “Any small edge that a company like Twitter can get could make a difference in this competitive market. Poking is a feature of necessity for Twitter to create economies of scale for global gossip networks.”  A skeptical viewpoint was expressed by Pulitzer Prize-winning “long form” writer Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, however. “Why did they reinvent a poke with a poke? Just more evidence that all the really creative people on Earth live in Manhattan between Grand Street and 23rd.”

An employee of Twitter familiar with the company’s financial situation told us that Twitter had a good chance of being profitable by 2014. When asked if poking was part of a move towards a more concrete business model for the company, he looked right into our eyes and answered with complete seriousness, “Absolutely.”

Yammer and Present.ly, competitors in the Enterprise 2.0 microsharing niche, did not immediately respond to questions about whether they would provide poking to their corporate clients.

This satire was originally published at the emerging news and opinion site True/SlantSubscribe to my True/Slant RSS feed here!

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People I Wish I Could Hate – But Can’t


There are just some people that you wish you could hate, but can’t. Objectively, you just know they’re great. Admit it, deep down inside, you know you love them. Here are my five; Who are yours?

Contessa Brewer – This MSNBC newsbunnie, I mean, morning anchor comes across as someone barely smarter than a puppy. Really, it’s the ‘walking upright’ thing that puts her ahead, and not much more. But do you know someone more perfect looking? Maybe, back in her heyday, Angelina Jolie. But let’s get real – Contessa is flawless. She dresses classy, she’s a dark, sexy vixen, and her face would make statues jealous. And she’s probably not that dumb. I mean, she does find her way to work every day. I’d marry her. Oh, she’s taken? Hey Contessa, put in a good word for me with Alex Witt, would ya?

Lawrence O’Donnell – Man, this creator of West Wing is more smug than the characters in the show. His confrontational elitism, European socialism, and intellectual snobbery is enough to turn anyone reasonable completely off. But damn, he really is kinda smart, and had a very respectable career as a Senate staff member. And West Wing, as eutopian as the cast appeared, indeed was a good show; I watched every episode. And he acts on the edgy HBO show Big Love. Shit, he and I even both grew up in Massachusetts. Red Sox Nation, how can I hate a fellow member?

Jon Stewart – Unbelievable, really, this “fake news” anchor of The Daily Show. Sure, Jon, fake news when you like it to be fake, but you use your platform to ream hard working people like Jim Cramer when it pleases your personal preferences. Your snark smells up the whole country. But who can deny, seriously, that Stewart has spawned a new form of television and humor that has influenced millions and launched characters like Mo Rocca, Lewis Black, Steve Carell, and especially Stephen Colbert? He’s just awesome.

Ashton Kutcher – This guy is such an asshole. A model, an actor, a producer, a cougar hunter, and a Twitter master? Are you kidding?? It’s SO unfair to everyone else. Even guys like Rob Thomas and Billy Zane must shake their heads at “A plus K”. But dude, where’s my head? Ashton Kutcher is just a winner through and through. His head is in the right place, and so seems to be his heart. This guy works his butt off, is an experimenter, a risk taker, and loves to have fun ‘punking’ people among many other things. I practically want to steal him from Demi, make him fall in love with me, and then use his Twitter account to retweet all my stuff. But I have too much respect for him, and I’m still really into Alex Witt.

Tony Tsieh – Who? Here’s this Silicon Valley dork who made some stupid company, sold it for a zillion dollars, and now sells womens’ shoes. At a store named Zappos. Sort of like naming a book store “Amazon” but much, much more idiotic. I know that Sex in the City taught men that shoes are where it’s at, but can you still think of a more dumb thing to do with his life? Oh – and get this – he “cares” about his customers. But you’ve gotta love this guy. Hsieh has built the ultimate Web 2.0 company – everybody loves him, he sells something simple, barely makes a profit, and tours the lecture circuit teaching others how to be just like him. Tony, wait up, teach me everything!

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Twitter is a PR Platform That Screens Your Calls


Nearly every day I get asked a version of the question: “Why do you like Twitter so much”?

The answer is complicated, and I have written about this in a number of different ways. But I’ve been trying to think of a great soundbite to sum up why I love Twitter.

Here it is: Twitter is a PR platform that screens your incoming calls.

What do I mean by that? Twitter is a versatile, powerful way to publicize things of interest to you. But it’s not just a push – it’s bidirectional. Just like a traditional press release will have a contact person and a phone number or email address at the bottom, a person on Twitter has a handle or nickname – and that is how people can get in touch with you and ask you questions.

Here’s the difference. When someone calls you, it’s immediate – you either answer within 10 seconds or you do not; and you probably have no information about the person on the other end. Email’s slightly better because incoming email goes into a holding bin – your inbox – but you still may know very little about the sender.

When someone tweets you, not only does the tweet effectively go into a holding bin, but their entire usage of Twitter is also public. You can quickly see their mini-biography, a link to their homepage, how many times they’ve tweeted, who they follow, and even mine the topic matter or other information about their tweets. You can know a lot about the persons you will deal with, before you actually have to deal with them.

So the very nature of Twitter makes it a de facto ‘call screener’ – you can monitor the conversation about your topic, scope out incoming traffic, and selectively join conversations on your terms. That’s a really powerful approach to public relations, and it has ramifications not just for individuals, but also for businesses and the government.

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Why I’m Writing for True/Slant


Yesterday, the alpha version of an exciting new journalism site called True/Slant became public. This is something I have been working on behind closed doors since January. True/Slant, a privately held company funded by Forbes Media and Velocity Interactive Group, is based in New York and has recruited about 60 writers, or ‘knowledge experts’ to write columns about things we’re interested in, along the lines of our motto: “News is More Than What Happens”. You can see my column, named Cheeky Geeky, here.

As the Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Walter Mossberg points out in the premiere review of True/Slant this morning, the site is truly trying a new model of web journalism. When I had some initial discussions with the True/Slant team, particularly the Executive Director Coates Bateman (who will no doubt be challenged with ‘managing’ me), I was very excited to hear how social media tools would be mixed with original long form writing. And they were excited to hear about my knowledge of social networks and new marketing that’s come from experimenting with the tools for some time now.

Another quasi-news site based on blogging and funded by advertising, you say. What’s really different about True/Slant? Actually, a LOT.

For one, each contributor has their own platform under the True/Slant umbrella. That means that you can subscribe to just my articles from True/Slant, and not every author’s articles. That also means that advertisers can place ads about, say, technology on my column, and ads about food on my friend Robin Dorian’s ‘foodie’ column called Weird and Delicious. Hence, writers have a vested interest in exploring their niches and making their pages the best possible, worrying somewhat less about the overall True/Slant site.

True/Slant also wants you to know what it’s columnists are reading. Don’t you sometimes ask yourself where your favorite authors get their food for thought? At True/Slant, we tell you. We rip headlines of stories we’re reading and post links on our pages. And on the homepage, editors curate these headlines so you can see a mix of what everyone’s reading, and perhaps get a peek inside our minds as we work throughout the day.

Another thing that is different about True/Slant is a sense of community. As columnists we are strongly encouraged to follow other writers’ columns and post comments on their blog posts. This is already starting to build cohesion among the writers and throughout the site. Readers will learn more about our personalities and understand us more as people, and not just anonymous writers that put up a column once a week. I think this is not unlike the ‘ambient intimacy‘ that people feel when following someone on Twitter for a while.

Yet another unique feature of True/Slant is the plan for advertisers to have columns. Clearly marked as advertising, and perhaps similar to glossy special advertising sections of magazines, this is another potential revenue source that at the same time does not involve columnists in, say, getting paid to write about their views of brands – a highly controversial topic.

Finally, we want True/Slant to be a social network. The readers get involved too – when you comment on our posts, we can “call you out” for a great comment. Readers that get called out a lot will get recognition, as will readers that comment frequently. So, this is a multidirectional conversation – columnists are readers and commenters, and readers are commenters that join our social network. Even management is commenting on our columns – which is pretty cool if you ask me.

I truly believe that True/Slant is a step forward in combining the best of journalism and opinion writing with the best of social networking. It’s something I haven’t yet seen in sites like the Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Beast, or Salon. Even great sites like Mashable and TechCrunch that cover the Web 2.0 sphere of news, for all their RSS subscribers and Twitter followers, do not empower their columnists nor engender a sense of community. So I think we are pushing the envelope. As I once heard Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, say – Return on Engagement is the new Return on Investment. True/Slant is poised to make a large ROE by creating a platform for the community that may evolve into loyal readers, in order to then generate a more traditional ROI.

And this is just the start. Looking towards a beta version in May 2009, in the near future True/Slant will have more WordPress plug-ins, integration with Facebook walls and Twitter posts, and other new features that should make the columnist and reader experiences even better. Remember, what you see now is just the early alpha site!

Every week, I plan to publish exclusive opinion pieces on Tuesdays, satires on Thursdays, and a feature called “The Best, The Worst, and The Weird” on Sundays, the latter of which will highlight the best, worst, and weird thing I read in the past week – so send me your ideas!

As Mossberg says in his review of True/Slant, there’s no guarantee that this will all work. But I think that the management of True/Slant is pushing the envelope with regard to the interface of old and new media, and so at the very least it is very exciting to be a part of a great experiment at its most nacent.

For now, check out my column, and start interacting with some of the other great writers on the site. They also author stories for Rolling Stone, Time, Financial Times, and other great outlets, and write about everything from politics to restaurants to neuroscience. Comment on the columns, and tell me about what you do and do not like about the site! From the CEO and Founder, Lewis Dvorkin on down, they are truly listening to what you have to say – and writing columns themselves!

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Business Adaptation and the Biology of Failure


I’m not a professor, but here’s my business school metaphor for adaptation and survival: Wear a business suit and act calm at all times; evade local detectives, the FBI, and Mexican gangsters while you assassinate a heavily guarded Asian badguy inside a nightclub blasting Paul Oakenfold (in Korean, no less); do this while you hold your own chauffeur hostage;  catch flight home at LAX. But most businesses are far more complacent than the adaptive, erudite character Tom Cruise portrays in Collateral.

Traditional newspapers in major U.S. cities are filing for bankruptcy under selection pressure from the changing environment they failed to adapt to: increased media outlets, more online readers, and less advertising revenue.  Jeff Jarvis recently noted the stark differences between a modern company like Google and a failing one like the San Francisco Chronicle in a blog post he aptly named “Time Travel”.

As economist Paul Ormerod points out in his excellent book, Why Most Things Fail, patterns of business extinction and species extinction are very similar, with long periods of stability interrupted by large spikes of failure (a.k.a. “punctuated equilibrium“). One of Omerod’s theses is that while the future can be quite difficult to predict, experimentation in the present can help adapt to an uncertain future.  The benefits of genetic diversity in living organisms operate on the same theory, and are useful in practice.

Just the opposite of experimenting, media coverage of newspaper failure focuses on giant office buildings filled with cubicles and landline phones, lists of addresses where employees hand deliver products daily, and disruptions of pension plans and workplace friendships. But in biology and business, the nimble, innovative, and adaptive do well in turbulent times. Somewhat ironically, this line from Citizen Kane sums it up: “I don’t know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher, I just try everything I can think of.”

Unfortunately, most things fail. Nearly all of the species that have ever existed are currently extinct. The Rocky Mountain News was published for nearly 150 years, making people sentimental about its demise. Past success is irrelevant to survival, however. Dinosaurs roamed for millions of years, but their extinction made the rise of mammals possible. So too will new companies fill niches abandoned by failed ones.

Students should ask why business schools offer so many courses on economic theory, operations management, and accounting principles that teach about “doing” business, but don’t offer many courses about “thinking” business. Here are some of my suggested topics: (a) ecological niche theory, (b) coevolution, cooperation, and competition, (c) genetic diversity and adaptation in fluctuating environments, (d) network science and emergent behaviors of complex systems. Does your business school make Darwin required reading?

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