Blogging to learn

People blog for all sorts of reasons. For me, it is mostly about learning. This wasn’t my original intention – it evolved over time. Now I see blogging as part of a continuous learning process:

– Start every morning by skimming through news, blogs, articles, etc. Much of this is tech related. I used to get tech news in the newspaper, then in Google Reader, and now mostly from Twitter. If someone I meet mentions something interesting that was published that I didn’t read, I go back and figure out how I missed it and change who I follow on Twitter so it doesn’t happen again.

– Try to meet with interesting people during the week. The reason being up on tech news is important is so that we can get the most out of the meetings. Often we’ll talk about whatever each of us is working on at the time but it’s also good to have news or blog posts as shared reference points. This makes the meetings more interesting for everyone.

– Try to learn at least one interesting thing each week and then blog about it. Then see how people react in comments, on Twitter etc. I guess some bloggers don’t like comments but for me they are the crucial so that I can get feedback on new hypotheses. Blogging new hypotheses also means a decent portion of your blog posts need to be ignored or ridiculed. Otherwise you are playing it too safe.

Chris Sacca on the implied user contract

Chris Sacca nicely summarized today’s FB vs Google vs Twitter controversy:

It comes down to what each company has promised its users. Facebook promised its users their stuff would be private, which is why users rightfully get pissed when that line blurs. Twitter has promised users, well, that it will stay up, and that is why users rightfully get pissed when the whale is back.

Google has promised its users and the entire tech community, again and again, that it would put their interests first, and that is why Google users, rightfully get pissed when their results are deprecated to try to promote a lesser Google product instead.

It’s all about expectations.

What’s not evil: ranking content fairly *and* letting public content get indexed

Please see update at bottom

Most websites spend massive amounts of time and money to get any of their pages index and ranked by Google’s search engine. Indeed, there is a entire billion dollar industry (SEO) devoted to helping companies get their content indexed and ranked.

Twitter and Facebook have decided to disallow Google from indexing 99.9% of their content. Twitter won’t let Google index tweets and Facebook won’t let Google index status updates and most other user and brand generated content. In Facebook’s case this makes sense for content that users have designated as non-public. In Twitter’s case, the vast majority of the blocked content is designated by users as public. Furthermore, Twitter’s own search function rarely works for tweets older than a week (from Twitter’s search documentation, they return “6-9 days of Tweets”).

There is a debate going today in the tech world: Facebook and Twitter are upset that Google won’t highly rank the 0.1% of their content they make indexable. Facebook and Twitter even created something they call the “Don’t be evil” toolbar that reranks Google search results the way they’d like them to be ranked. The clear implication is that Google is violating their famous credo and acting “evil”.

The vast majority of websites would dream of having the problem of being able to block Google from 99.9% of their content and have the remaining 0.1% rank at the top of results. What would be best for users – and least “evil” – would be to let all public content get indexed and have Google rank that content “fairly” without favoring their own content. Facebook and Twitter are right about Google’s rankings, but Google is right about Facebook and Twitter blocking public content from being indexed.

Update: after posting this I got a bunch of emails, tweets and comments telling me that Twitter does in fact allow Google to index all their tweets, and that any missing tweets are the fault of Google, not Twitter. A few people suggested that without firehose access Google can’t be expected to index all tweets. At any rate, I think the “Why aren’t all tweets indexed?” issue is more nuanced than I argued above.

You need to use social services to understand them

I don’t know if Malcolm Gladwell is right when he claims “the revolution will not be tweeted,” but I can say with certainty that the Twitter he describes is not the Twitter I know. Gladwell’s central argument is that Twitter creates weak ties but social movements require strong ties. I’ve made more strong ties through Twitter (and blogging) than I have through any communications medium I’ve ever used before. The relationships start off weak – a retweet, @ reply, or blog comment – but often strengthen through further discussions and eventually become new friendships and business relationships.

I can see why Gladwell gets this wrong – he doesn’t seem to really use Twitter (he does blog occasionally). I barely tweeted or blogged for a long time too. I read blogs basically since their advent, but social services are fundamentally participatory: reading blogs/tweets is to social services as watching TV is to a real life conversations. I finally relented at the insistence of Caterina, who had the foresight to insist that everyone at Hunch blog, tweet, contribute to open source projects, etc. I now get some of my best ideas from responses to tweets and blog posts, and have developed dozens of strong relationships through the experience.

I made some jokes on Twitter the past few days about Kleiner Perkins’ new social fund.  These were meant to be lighthearted: I only know one person at KP and from everything I’ve seen they seem to be smart, friendly people. But underneath the jokes lies a real issue: the partners there don’t seem to really participate in social services (something they only underscored by announcing their new fund at a press conference that targeted traditional media outlets).

I’d love to engage in a debate with smart people like Gladwell about the impact of the social web on culture, politics, activism and so on. I also think it’s great to see savvy investors like KP allocate significant resources to the next wave of social web innovation. But it’s hard for me to take them seriously when they don’t seem to take their subject matter seriously.