Who’s investing in microblogging and lifestreaming?

Want to know which venture capitalist invested in which web 2.0-company? Take a look at Crunchbase. It’s all there. And the best thing is: it has a beautiful and responsive API. I couldn’t resist downloading a few entries from this database to visualize the network of investors and companies that’s evolving around the new microblogging and lifestreaming tools.

So, here’s a network map of the most important companies offering microblogging or lifestreaming services and their investors. The companies are symbolized as green circles and the funding organizations as red squares (click to enlarge). It’s interesting how Ron Conway connects Seesmic, Twitter and Pownce with his investments. The rest is not exactly heavily linked by funding streams. Next will be a visualization that also shows the amount of money raised and the size of the companies.

Investors: Microcontent & Lifestreamng

See also these network graphs by Mikko Kivelä and Bemmu Sepponen displaying the links between companies and people of the whole Crunchbase.

Portfolio: Codes, Projects and Hacks

Here’s a short list of the diverse hacks, mashups and projects that I realized within the last weeks (you never know who’s reading ;-):

Friendfeed

  • Friendfeed’s Six Degrees: FF6° displays some information about your network on Friendfeed. How many friends-of-friends do you have? What are the most influential nodes in your network? The program allows exporting the network data in Pajek and GraphML format.

Twitter

  • Twisaster: Hurricanes, bomb blasts and earthquake live alerts on Twitter.
  • Twetter: How’s the weather in Twitter country?
  • GrapeFeed: Real time display of lates tweets about wine from Riesling to Saperawi.
  • Twetter: How’s the weather in Twitter country?
  • EcoFeed: Tweets about climate change, ecology, organic food, sustainability, biodiversity – what do Twitterati think about these topics?
  • DrinkFeed: What are Twitter users drinking right now? From coffee to beer.
  • EatFeed: Tweets about various delicatessen like Döner and Currywurst.

Blogging

If you want to learn more about any of these projects, please contact me.

Social media – bubble or real life?

There is some kind of a social media bubble. Not as much in a financial sense as in a conceptual sense. If you’re (over)using Friendfeed, Twitter, WordPress, Wikipedia etc. you slowly begin to believe that this is the world. Maybe a bit larger than Silicon Valley, but no more than a global village.

Many Startup enterprises are trying to sell solutions for problems created by other startups’ products. And in the line, there’s the next startup waiting to tackle the problems this new solutions generate. Of course, I am living in this social media world and so, the whole thing doesn’t look half as gloomy. Summize has been no more than a fix for one of Twitter’s shortcomings – it had no search. But, don’t forget, it has been a solution to a Twitter problems.

The number of people on this planet having Twitter related problems still is small.

So, instead of incrementally looking for solutions of solutions of solutions, the foremost task should be to expand the bubble. The task is to find “real-life” problems, that can be tackled with Twitter, Friendfeed and the like. Problems, that can be better be handled with social software than with other means. This would really be crossing the chasm.

Of course, the punchline is, that with more and more people using social media because even a mainstream user is able to integrate “the entire experience into his life/work”, as Alexander van Elsas just remarked on Friendfeed, more people have social media related problems that call for new incremental solutions (see above).

And more than that: it’s not only about integrating social media into daily life, this sounds like social media were some kind of a foreign body that has to be integrated. No, it should be an enlargement of your experience, something that gives you an indispensable addition to your life. Your real life.

And with this enlargement/extension thought, we’re back with Marshall McLuhan who once said that all media are extensions of human senses. Social media has the potential to be an extension of our social senses and not just a Silicon Valley fad.

Social Media is dead – long live Social Media!

Ben Parr is asking on Mashable: “Are social media jobs a fad or are they here to stay?” My answer would be: yes and no (that’s a quite common way for sociologists to answer complex questions like this).

Why yes? Because social media managers, analysts etc. are on the right side of the current change of mass media. The numbers tell us again and again that especially the younger generations are increasingly losing sight of the television and turning to the more involving experience of social networking, messaging and publishing. It will only be a matter of time until they discover that the internet as a versatile medium can not only stimulating but also relaxing.

Why no? Because the borders between social and not-so-social media are blurring. Ask a teenager what’s the difference between a regular NY-Times article on the web, Paul Krugman’s column, Krugman’s blog on NY-Times and the teenager’s own LiveJournal. And this is just the beginning of a massive media convergence that renders the concept “social media” obsolete.

A recent study of media use in Germany by the public broadcast organizations found out that although “social media” is more and more important for kids and teenagers (91% of them are using Wikipedia, 90% video platforms and 68% social networks), only 24% of them do know, what the word “blog” or “weblog” means. And of those 24%, two thirds are feeling that blogs are overrated. But still, they are using them.

Friendfeed’s network magic

The crucial difference between old mass media and new social media lies in the network magic, services like Friendfeed are able to perform.

One thing should immediately be evident if you’re using the FFSixDegree tool I coded yesterday: the real power of Friendfeed as a communication infrastructure is its network effect. Even if you are subscribed to no more than a handful of people, you are able to receive updates from a lot more people.

Take for example example Steve Rubel. He’s only subscribed to 79 other Friendfeed users. Is his timeline quiet? Doesn’t have to. If he did not switch off FOAF notifications, he could get updates from up to 10,521 people depending on direct contacts liking and commenting on their friends’ posts.

And while Robert Scoble‘s 3,130 subscriptions may sound overwhelming, this is even more true for the 34,441 people he can potentially listen to via his direct contacts. That’s what I would call hyperconnecting.

Don’t forget that this network effect not only holds for your subscriptions, but also for your subscribers. While in the world of old mass media like television or print, an audience of 100 is just that: an audience of 100. But in the world of social media, an audience of 100 can mean that 10,000 are receiving your message relayed by the direct audience of 100. What a difference a network makes!

A final remark: While the general rule is, the more friends you follow, the more friends-of-friends (FOAF) you can reach all in all, this effect is weakening when you’re reaching very high numbers of friends. Your network will eventually become saturated. This illustration shows this point:

On the x-axis is the number of direct friends while the y-axis tells how many friends-of-friends you can reach overall. Some users are a bit more efficient in their selection of friends, some contacts lists are (informationally speaking) redundant.

FFSixDegrees – take a closer look at your Friendfeed network

Just finished (for the moment) a small application that can be used for social network analysis of Friendfeed data. See for example this visualization of my Friendfeed contact network.

The application loads your contacts and your contacts’ contacts from Friendfeed and not only displays your number of friends and friends-of-friends but also the five most influential people in your network. Influence is defined as the number of incoming links a person has – like Twitter followers, but only within your FOAF-network. I also added a small chart that shows the relation of your direct contacts to all the people you can use via your friends.

The script is located here. But especially for people with lots of contacts, this can take quite a while because all contacts not in the cache must be downloaded via the Friendfeed API. If anyone’s interested in the PHP code, send me a mail and I’ll send it to you.

My social network on Friendfeed

How does my second order social network on Friendfeed look like? A network analytical exploration.

As the six degrees of separation experiment by Stanley Milgram went through press and social media again, I thought it would be nice to visualize my Friendfeed connections. I wrote a quick php hack that downloaded all my connections and my friends’ connections (FOAF) and cached them.

A few numbers: I have 343 first order connections that connect me to another 16038 Friendfeed users. All in all my FOAF network includes 16381 nodes. Quite a few second order connections.

It doesn’t require much imagination that a network of this size cannot be visualized completely, so I ordered the nodes and just used the 71 most prominent by the number of people in my second degree network linking to them. The resulting picture looks like this (click to enlarge):

My FOAF network on Friendfeed

My FOAF network on Friendfeed

The most influential nodes in my network are (no surprises for me):

  1. scobleizer
  2. techcrunch
  3. loic
  4. steverubel
  5. louisgray
  6. davew
  7. metaroll (this is because it’s my FOAF network)
  8. jasoncalacanis
  9. petecashmore
  10. factoryjoe

Anyone knows whether there is a nice network visualization toolkit that I could use to build a dynamic application?

5 things we may already know about the next big thing

What’s the next big thing after microblogging and lifestreaming? Here are five things that we may already know about it.

Now that Twitter and Friendfeed are starting to be better and better known and even adapted by mainstream media – well, maybe excluding Germany, where a large computer magazine tried to convince David Weinberger in an interview that Twitter was nothing more than a tool for kids having fun after school – I’m beginning to ask myself: What’s the next big thing in social media after Twitter and Friendfeed?

Actually, I don’t know what it will be – if I did, I wouldn’t be blogging right now, but talking to VCs -, but maybe a few things could be guessed about it. So, here’s a list of five things, we could assume about the next big thing after microblogging and lifestreaming:

  1. It’s already there. There is a blog or forum where someone already talked about this thing more or less detailed. Maybe someone did already code this thing. It could even be already in use. History shows that almost nothing is invented from scratch and suddenly appears on the scene. Moreover, most things have been invented not once, but twice or even three times.
  2. It’s hard to see because it’s just an element of another application. That’s the way Flickr started and that’s the way Twitter started. Both were just relatively minor features in another application. But after a while they became the center of attention. So the next big thing may already exist but is hard to see because it’s “buried” in another service.
  3. We will learn about it on Twitter or Friendfeed. This is where it happens right now and it seems to be some kind of rule that the last big thing announces the next one. Think of it as some kind of torch relay.
  4. The first time, the next big thing will only be mentioned in passing. There will be a short debate, but it will probably not be a huge burst. Then there is relative silence again before the real hype will catch on. You will have to be very sensitive to notice it.
  5. You can be certain that this will be the next big thing if there are two discussions about it running in parallel: A) X is nothing new, there always has been something to X around. B) X is the Twitter/Friendfeed/Blog/Flickr etc. killer.

What do you think, where do we have to look for the next big thing? Do you have other points to add to the list?

Lifestreaming by numbers

Lifestreaming and microblogging – both tend to overlap as most lifestream services allow for short status messages and most microblogs or activity streams allow feeding RSS feeds into them – are becoming more and more common in the social web. Some argue that Twitter is increasingly being challenged by other services like Friendfeed, Plurk or identi.ca. Do the numbers reflect this? Let’s take a closer look.

First, I took Alexa‘s numbers for the webpages’ reach (see here). Because the yesterday values were not available for every webpage, I took the weekly average. I calculated the relative values for each lifestreaming service and got the following picture:

Twitter’s strong position should be evident. I found it quite interesting that SocialMedian achieved such a strong position, coming up directly after FriendFeed and Plurk. But of course the numbers being so small, they are clearly not reliable. This holds for all numbers in this post. Lifestreaming may spread, but it is not used by enough internet users to allow for reliable measurement. And the numbers for active users don’t seem to be available for the services. It would be interesting to compare them as well.

The values from Google Trends for websites show a quite similar picture (see here):

Twitter has the most traffic while FriendFeed and Plurk are not very far apart. The other lifestream services are only marginally important. For Jaiku there are no numbers because it is a Google service.

Finally, I compared those two charts with the values obtained by Quantcast (see here):

Here, Twitter has the largest share while Plurk is very weak, compared with the Alexa and Google numbers.

All in all, the fail whale nonwithstanding, Twitter still seems to be the number one service when it comes to streaming your life to the internet.

But with major social networks like Facebook or Xing offering the same features, there could be new competitors for Twitter, FriendFeed and Plurk. But this competition does not express itself in traffic numbers, so this will be quite a challenge for social media measurement.

A short history of the fail whale

Yesterday evening, I was thinking about all those strange memes on Twitter and FriendFeed. From the fail whale to epic fail and bacon. I like the fail whale most because it’s such a perfect description and has spread very fast – the picture only has been introduced on May 30 (and posted to Flickr by Dave Winer) and now, two months later, the term “fail whale” seems to have become common knowledge of twitter and friendfeed users.

The failwhale - a digital icon

The failwhale - a digital icon

But when did this meme surface? Who started it? Jeff Jarvis in the Edelman White Paper on “Distributed Influence” distinguishes between five different roles people play in spreading memes:

  1. The meme starter who creates a meme and relates it to a few readers
  2. The meme spreader who has a large audience and shares the meme to them
  3. The meme adapter who is reformulating meme content for different smaller and targeted audiences
  4. The meme commentator who is adding comments to the meme
  5. The meme reader who is promoting a meme in the offline world

With the help of Louis Gray and Duncan Riley, it had been possible to identify the meme starter. My first clue had been this article on ReadWriteWeb by Sarah Perez. But while it tells a lot about the famous picture and the different ways it became a commodity, it only cursory deals with the term:

Sean [O’Stean, BK] is responsible for the Fail Whale web site and the Twitter profile, but the name “Fail Whale” itself was coined by Nick Quarantino.

Who is this Nick Quarantino? Google doesn’t seem to know him. Not very plausible for a person starting an internet meme.

The first time the fail whale had been mentioned on FriendFeed was in a thread called “Twitter’s downtime art” on May 31 at 3:18 am, where Robert Scoble commented on the picture:

that is now called “the fail whale.”

And on Flickr, Jeff McNeill answered the question “Has anyone named the Twitter whale yet?” with

Fail Whale!

But on Twitter the meme had already started spreading. Here the first time the term had been mentioned was in a message by GeekMommy on May 31 at 1:00 am:

GeekMommy: @themantisofdoom – can’t take credit for Fail Whale – @scobleizer used it in his Qik Vid today and I laughed too hard. It works for me.

The rest was easy. I just had to take a look at Robert Scoble’s famous video of his visit to Twitter on May 30th. And here it is: Ev Williams said it at 24:19. So the meme starters was Twitter itself, the startup. But only because Robert Scoble gave this term a large platform in his videocast, the meme could take off.

And this perfectly fits the pattern described in the Edelman white paper. The original meme starter did probably not have any mass audience. But he’d only to relate this meme to Robert Scoble, who in turn would spread it to his 20.000 followers and get it started. Then WWDC helped very much to popularize the term and later it became a general concept that could be applied to any sort of failure (“the iPhone fail whale”). So, here’s the complete story of the fail whale so far in a chart which shows how often the term has been twittered:

From May 30 to July 31 there have been 6,580 twitter messages mentioning the fail whale. And it still goes on.