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Posts tagged with ‘instant messaging’


MSN Messenger is finally shutting down after 15 years

Nerdvana 1 Nerdvana 2 Nerdvana 3

AIM Could Have Been The Start Of Something: Nerdvana

I guess it’s not unexpected, since rumors have been flying around about more cuts at AOL:

AOL Slashes Staff at AIM Unit; Wider Cuts Expected - Nick Bilton via

The AOL Instant Messenger group took the deepest cut so far. A former AOL employee said the group was “eviscerated and now only consists of support staff.” This person, who asked not to be named because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the company, added that “nearly all of the West Coast tech team has been killed.”

Next up, AOL is expected to cut employees who work at, the company’s effort in hyperlocal news. Other cuts are expected in smaller doses around the company over the next month.

In a statement given to The New York Times, AOL confirmed last week’s layoffs. A company spokeswoman declined to say how many employees had been cut.

“We are making some strategic but very difficult changes to better align our resources with key areas of growth for us as a company,” the statement said. “We remain committed to our presence in Silicon Valley and driving innovation in consumer products and mobile.”

Jason Shellen, vice president of the AOL messenger products who was based in the company’s West Coast offices and who once ran Thing Labs, is among those leaving. Mr. Shellen declined to comment, but AOL confirmed his departure.

I think AOL blew a great chance.

Starting in late 2006, Greg Narain and I worked on a project with AOL, called Nerdvana, where we envisioned using the buddylist model of AIM as the basis for a brand new way to share media. The images above were taken from a design we produced in early 2007. Relatively quickly after that date we were bogged down in endless committees all fighting for their funding, following the arrival of Randy Falco, and the departure of smart people like Jim Bankoff, now the CEO of SB Nation, who hired us in the first place.

Bankoff and other at AOL had their curiousity piqued by a piece I wrote in April 2005, called Nerdvana, that sketched out a new synthesis of instant messaging, social networking, and social media sharing. And it included an open follower analog, which was implemented in Twitter in 2006.

A year later, I was approached by an AIM manager, Alan Keister, and we launched an effort to prototype the Nerdvana concept. However, once Bankoff was gone, the project slowly ground to a halt, and was shut down because our design was ‘too complicated’ for the folks still there to grasp. Or maybe we were trying to do too much.

Still, a shame: because AIM had hundreds of millions of users at the time, sending billions of messages every day. Nerdvana might have been a breakout for AOL, instead of dying the death of a thousand cuts.

And with AOL’s CFO, Artie Minson, now running M.A.M.A — mobile, AIM, Mail, and — I have to presume they are positioning themselves to sell it off, or spin it out.

Facebook Groups versus Groupings

Facebook has announced a new implementation of Groups:

Mark Zuckerberg, Giving You More Control

We’ve long heard that people would find Facebook more useful if it were easier to connect with smaller groups of their friends instead of always sharing with everyone they know. For some it’s their immediate family and for others it’s their fantasy football league, but the common concern is always some variant of, “I’d share this thing, but I don’t want to bother 250 people. Or my grandmother. Or my boss.”

Until now, Facebook has made it easy to share with all of your friends or with everyone, but there hasn’t been a simple way to create and maintain a space for sharing with the small communities of people in your life, like your roommates, classmates, co-workers and family.

We set out to build a solution that could help you map out all of your communities, that would be simple enough that everyone would use it and that would be deeply integrated across Facebook and applications so you can communicate with your different groups in lots of different ways.

We approached this problem as primarily a social one. Rather than asking all of you to classify how you know all of your friends, or programming machines to guess which sets of people are likely cohorts, we’re offering something that’s as simple as inviting your best friends over for dinner. And we think it will change the way you use Facebook and the web.

Today we’re announcing a completely overhauled, brand new version of Groups. It’s a simple way to stay up to date with small groups of your friends and to share things with only them in a private space. The default setting is Closed, which means only members see what’s going on in a group.

Groups will make Facebook more corporate, and less like the open web.

The tech world is falling over themselves about this great advance.

But this isn’t a great step forward. Groups — addressable collections of people who become associated by invitation from the group’s owner, and who have symmetric relationships with each other — are as old as the web. You have them in Yahoo Groups, Flickr, and all over the place.

One of the most interesting and exciting advances on the social web have been ‘groupings’,  where people are spontaneously members of free-form and ad hoc associations without invitation.

For example, all those people that follow me on Twitter are in effect members of a Stowe Boyd grouping. Or all of those people that use a given tag, or follow it (I wish Twitter would implement that, by the way). Or all the people that have liked the same artist in Ping.

Consider’s ‘virtual neighborhoods’, based on people’s music play. Wandering around in my neighborhood introduced me to more great music in a few hours than all the people I know had played for me in years.

If I were only connected to people on Twitter that I already knew — that I invited to be friends with me — my world would be much much smaller.

Don’t get me wrong: groups have their place, especially when privacy or secrecy is needed, as in many business situations, or when planning a surprise party. But openness, transparency, and serendipity are more interesting as general principles than closedness, opaqueness, and knownness.

Groups will make Facebook more corporate, and less like the open web.

With services like group chat Facebook is taking a run at Google, preemptively, since Google is known to be building a ‘Facebook killer’ that will leverage Google advantages, like Google Talk.

This really feels like the instant messaging wars between AOL, MSN, and Yahoo, all over again.

I find it astonishing that so few people seem to think this ‘advance’ isn’t. Oliver Chiang is one:

Facebook’s Fundamental Flaw, And Why Its New Groups Misses The Mark

The new Groups interface will also have three components: shared space, group chat and email lists. The latter two are exactly what they sound like. Shared Space is a section within Facebook where groups can share communications, photos and other content.

Taking aim at competitors Google Groups and Yahoo Groups, Zuckerberg says “Most people use them as email lists, but we think that what we’ve built here in version 1 blows everything else away.”

Zuckerberg compares to the way groups will spread to how photos spread. Though a small percentage of people upload photos, 95% of users are tagged in photos. Likewise, though a small percentage of users may form groups, Facebook is betting that this “social solution” will get most of its user base to be tagged in groups. In addition, Facebook will rely on users and their social norms to form accurate groups. For instance, if someone adds a non-family member to a family group, the group members will be able to see who made the addition and contest the addition with that user.

But the problem with the new Groups is lack of incentives. Tagging people in photos is one thing. Tagging people in groups and then expecting accurate and agreed-upon groupings to arise naturally is an infinitely more tricky thing. Groups in real life aren’t easily defined, and are dynamic, slippery things. Even something seemingly as simple as a family group raises many issues. Who is considered family? The nuclear family? Extended family? God-parents and second cousins? Who gets to make these final decisions within a group? Asking group users to explicitly name these groupings on an online social network in black and white could easily lead to conflict and disagreements.

[emphasis mine.]

  • Facebook Groups demonstrate the downside of “social design” (
  • The key to social design, Cox said, is that “the interactions of one person … affect and organize the interactions of the people around them.” Cox repeated the phrase during his speech and called it “profound”, prompting me to snicker along with some of the other journalists around me.

    Maybe we should have been paying closer attention. There was a dark side to Cox’s statement that I didn’t really catch until today’s complaints. When someone’s actions “affect and organize” your life, that can be useful, but it can also be a huge pain.

Instant Messaging Decreases Interruptions

Those that have followed my work will know that I don’t buy the microeconomic reasoning that requests for assistance should be minimized because they lead to a decrease in personal productivity. On the contrary, I have been arguing that the willingness to trade personal productivity for connectedness is a hallmark of web culture, and that drive for connectedness trump any personal productivity hits [Boyd’s Law]. I also maintain that the productivity of the extended network of web denizens is the only sensible way to measure productivity, if it is relevant to measure it at all.

There is new evidence that suggest that the personal productivity hit may be negligible. or perhaps even a productivity boost, decreasing the overall numbers of interruptions when workers use instant messaging as a medium for interoffice communication and coordination:

[from Instant Messaging Proves Useful In Reducing Workplace Interruption]

Employers seeking to decrease interruptions may want to have their workers use instant messaging software, a new study suggests. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University and University of California, Irvine found that workers who used instant messaging on the job reported less interruption than colleagues who did not.

The study challenges the widespread belief that instant messaging leads to an increase in disruption. Some researchers have speculated that workers would use instant messaging in addition to the phone and e-mail, leading to increased interruption and reduced productivity.

Instead, research showed that instant messaging was often used as a substitute for other, more disruptive forms of communication such as the telephone, e-mail, and face-to-face conversations. Using instant messaging led to more conversations on the computer, but the conversations were briefer, said R. Kelly Garrett, co-author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State.

I still argue that responding to requests — whatever their source — from people that you want to remain closely connected to is a positive thing, and worth whatever the productivity hit might be, but that doesn’t mean that you should try to minimize the time consumed.

This is a strong argument that the use of presence-based social tools — not just IM — will decrease the costs inherent in interruptive communication, and increase the overall benefits from connectedness.

[via Vicki; original research here.]

LinkedIn and Plaxo: Adapt or Die

Dan Farber’s scoop about LinkedIn’s plans to adapt to the new world that Facebook is making is almost anticlimatic:

[from � LinkedIn to open up to developers | Between the Lines | by Dan Farber]

I talked to LinkedIn founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman on Friday at the Supernova 2007 conference about Facebook’s rapid growth and potential incursion into his territory. He told me that over next 9 months LinkedIn would deliver APIs for developers, ostensibly to make it more of platform like Facebook, and create a way for users who spend more time socially in Facebook to get LlinkedIn notifications.

One half of that message is just sensible: if you have a huge social network, why not allow others to build on top of it? The second half almost suggests conceding leadership to Facebook, as if Facebook is the really social social network, while Linkedin is some more functional thing that just so happens to work based on social relationships. Which is really what I have always thought was wrong with LinkedIn: it’s a bunch of business processes that are partially automated that rely on a large database of people’s relationships. It is, however, not the sort of place where you make or foster relationships. So, in a way, Reid is conceding nothing, since what Facebook is doing is intensely social, not just leveraging a big dataset of contacts.

In a similar fashion, Plaxo’s Ben Golub and I spoke the other day, and the ‘contact unmanagement’ company has released a beta of Plaxo 3.0: a real category shift, in many ways. Along with a long roster of synchronization options (like Google Calendar, Mac OS X Address Book and Calendar, Outlook, and especially, LinkedIn, which represents a whole new angle: syncing social networks (to be expanded in another post)), Golub and company have added a ‘Pulse’ feature that plants the product over in the camp of flow apps, like Twitter, Jaiku, and Facebook.

Plaxo Pulse

Pulse pulls new media traffic from your Plaxo contacts: photos from Flickr, blog updates, address modifications, and so on. I have already requested some kind of desktop tool (like Twitterific) for Pulse.

I find the Plaxo sync stuff sort of awkward, but that’s because I have my calendars and contacts spread out in a very unique way. I use Google Calendar as my actual calendar, and only sync to the Mac OS X iCal so I can sync to my phone. And I have addresses all over, primarily because I can’t sync between my Mac Address app and Google. If Plaxo fixes that I would be happy, but the Google address sync is still planned for the future.

I see Plaxo breaking into two twinned parts: synchronization of various sorts of coordinative data caught up in calendars, address books and to-do lists (yawn… useful, but so twentieth century), and a new (less boring) collection of services that are traffic-and-flow based.

Pulse is another run at the Nerdvana meme I have been pursuing for a long, long time. The basic notion of Nerdvana is that we want to have updates of all sorts from our contacts collated into a buddylist representation, which is where Golub tells be Plaxo is headed. I could see Brian Solis’ online presence, most recent status message, last five blog posts, and recent Flickr pictures, but linked to the buddylist icon for Brian.

[I can’t tell you how many IM companies I have have suggested this too, over the years, by the way. But again, we have to look to the upstarts to do the breakthroughs, I guess.]

If Plaxo heads this way, my recommendation will be to break Pulse out as a separate application, one that relies on data managed within the Plaxo platform, but sylistically and operationally separate. It has nothing to do with sync of data, and everything to do with media traffic flowing through personal relationships.

Both Plaxo and LinkedIn seem to be making serious business model adjustments, based on the new world.

Feed Crier Acquired By IMified

Adam Kalsey hipped me to the acquisition of his Feed Crier business into IMified recently, and he’s announced it officially today:

[from Feed Crier climbs into bed with IMified :: Feed Crier]

For the last couple of months, we’ve been talking to IMified, sharing war stories, and helping them out with some ideas on how best to manage the signed on bot portion of the service. The more we’ve talked, the more we’ve liked each other. We started exploring ways we could partner and work together, with IMified providing a publishing backend for Feed Crier and us providing an alerting service for IMified.

The more we talked and planned the integration, the more we realized how much more we could do for each other. One thing led to another, and today I’m happy to announce that IMified has acquired Feed Crier.

I have switched over, happily, to getting my RSS feeds via IM bot, but I certainly want more. Even though I am trying to use Feed Crier as one element of my overall traffic stream (or lifestream) it is not enough today. I want to be able to pull up a log of RSS emelemnts I might have missed while offline, and I’d like to be able to query the stream app to get all sorts of information that I can’t today. For example, I’d like to be able to say ‘show me the last 20 posts from Brian Solis’ stream’.

I hope that IMified will be pushing in this direction.

Nerdvana: A Better Tool For Communication (I Can Dream, Can’t I?)

[originally posted on Get Real]

I have used literally thousands of communications tools over the past 20 years, and although there has been an increase in commmunication speed and media, we have yet to see the “nerdvana” of tools that I have dreamed about for so long.

I have long championed other media as inherently being better than email, such as instant messaging, so, as you can imagine, the tool I am dreaming out incorporates the basic metaphor of IM: the buddy list. But it goes beyond IM, as I will show you.

How can I so baldly state that other media are better than email, in such an absolute way? Simple. Email is designed as a lowest-common denominator communications system, where everyone is treated equally. All emails, more or less, are the same (leaving aside issues of rich text v HTML and so on, which is not the thrust of my argument), which is stupid. The reality is that my relationships with people — whether I know them or not, how well I know them, and how involved we are at any given time in regular communication — is foremost in my mind when involved in communications, and as a result, the various artifacts of communication should be treated differently based on the context for their existence.

Basically, email is pretty good at communicating with people when you don’t know them well, or people you don’t know at all. All you need is their email address and your emails will be treated pretty much like anybody else’s. But as a result, email doesn’t really do very much to help with the highest valued communication: communicating with the known. That’s where the paradigm of buddies, and the gated communities of instant messaging networks excel.

But even technologies that I think are more useful in remaining in close contact with your circles of friends and colleagues don’t necessarily work together very well, if at all. So I am forced to read and write emails in one tool (yes, I do email, despite my dislike for the medium), IMs in another (actually, two IM clients), and read blogs in yeat another. Coordinating appointments and to-dos that involve others is managed in yet another app. And an address book app is used as the repository of some of the information about people (like email address, IM handles, and phone numbers), while their blogs RSS feeds are stored elsewhere.

So, I decided to mockup an example of what a good unified client might offer someone like me, so I could sit in one tool all day long, choosing the appropriate communication, collaboration, or coordination channel based on the context.

The Nerdvana Client

Just for laughs, I have dubbed the mocked up client “Nerdvana” after the Dilbert strip where Dilbert proclaims, after he’s cleaned up his PC’s desktop, compacted his drive, and deleted unnecessary files, that he has reached “Nerdvana”.

Basically, Nerdvana takes the IM concept of a buddy list and extends it to include all sorts of media. I have chosen to partition my world into three groups, Inner Circle (folks I interact with daily), Outer Circle (folks I interact with regularly), and The World (everyone else). This is largely for simplicity: there could be dozens of groups. And, oh, by the way, contacts can appear in multiple groups, and groups can include subgroups with no limits on level of nesting.

In the first image, I expanded only the Inner Circle — note I did not include any icons to represent expand/contract because I am a lazy designer. I have a small number of contacts in this group, although in the real world my Inner Circle category is more like a dozen folks. Each contact has four numbers associated with them, which represent ‘of interest’ blog entries, emails, IMs, and appointments, respectively. By ‘of interest’ I mean whatever the preferences are currently set to: for example, I may have configured things to display unread blog entries, unread email, open IMs, and future appointments, to suggest only one reasonable group of settings.

Also note — since this is all in the world of conjecture, so I can get whatever I want — that the Nerdvana tool is extensible, so is possible to add on as many services as you’d like. For example, the IM service could expand to be Jabber, AIM, and Yahoo. Or completely different services could be included, like podcasts, to-do lists, geolocation, and web conferences. Presence is indicated by the green/yellow/red lights on the contacts.

In the second graphic I have expanded Greg Narain’s content, and see various categories of communications going on.

In the third graphic, I have fully expanded Greg’s content, showing the blog entry’s title, the subject line of the emails, the title of the IM session, and the subject of the upcoming appointment. This is displayed two different ways, based on two different sets of preferences or different commands used to expand the content: with and without category headers.

Clicking on any of these fields could lead to extremely variable behavior, based on what sort of client you think Nerdvana should be.

  • In a open API sort of environment, clicking on any of Greg’s content could lead to opening the appropriate tool of choice for that sort of interaction. So, for example, clicking on an email could lead to popping that email in Apple Mail (I am running OS X), and likewise, selecting the IM topic could pop the active IM session running in Fire (the multiheaded IM client I run to stay in contact with Jabber, Yahoo, and MSN users).
  • Clicking on the blog entry could lead to either opening the entry in the browser or popping an RSS reader on my desktop, depending on configuration settings in Nerdvana.
  • In a totalitarian software world, Nerdava would include all the functionality needed: it would be an email client, RSS reader, IM solution, and calendar tool. But such tools are generally not best at any of the things they aspire to be, and wind up discarded as a result, because users want some cool feature in their mail or IM client, or just don’t want to imagine dropping their chosen RSS reader.

Obviously, my preference is the former: for Nerdvana to act as a primary organizing interface for existing communication tools, taking the buddy list concept as the core principle for all communication strategy, and supporting cross tool integration.

For example, your IM solution might not support the concept of an appointed time to start an IM session, but with Nerdvana you can do so:

  1. Define a time and a subject for an appointment, using the Nerdvana interface, but actually managed in your native calendar app, like iCal.
  2. After it exists, select the appointment in Nerdvana, and create an association with some other sort of communication — in this case an IM session.
  3. When the appointment occurs, Nerdvana will create the pending IM session.

The same technique can used to link writing an email with an appointment, or queueing up future blog entries.

Alternatively, you could imagine a structure where important communication events — such as long IM sessions, or time spent reading blog entries — could automatically be journaled on your calendar, as a means of tracking time, or simply being able to use the calendar as a way to search back for communication activities and content on a timeline basis.


I have always maintained that if you are going to dream, dream big. So I have big hopes for Nerdvana. Maybe someone out there is trying to do something along these lines — at least in part — and if so, I want to hear about it. There is lots of innovation going on in the various specialized communication areas: better RSS readers, IM clients, and innumerable social networking apps. But I haven’t seen much going on in bringing it all together, based on something like the buddy list metaphor.

I could also start in on how Nerdvana could play in an open social networking system — where the aggregation of communication channels, like blogs, IM, email, with specialized services like Flickr,, Plazes, and so on, for photos , music, and location — could not only lead to multifaceted digital identities, but a coherent way of bringing together the disparate threads of identity into a manageable tool framework. This starts to look something like Mark Pincus has been looking into in his PeopleWeb thoughts. But I will leave that for the next installment of the Nerdvana series.

The Game Neverending: an IM Community

I was contacted earlier this week by Stewart Butterfield, the visionary behind Ludicorp and that start-up’s massively parallel role-playing game-in-progress, The Game Neverending.

Over the next few months, Ludicorp will be actually rolling out the gameplaying part of the Game. In the meantime, he has enlisted a seemingly fanatical group of beta testers who are working hard to smooth out the communication infrastructure for the complex and highly social (and neverending) game that Stewart and company envision. The idea is a complete social world, with individuals wandering around encountering other folks, bumping into objects, buying land, setting up businesses, forming cults, making war. (Reminds me in some ways of the virtual world in the Neal Stephenson book, Snowcrash).

To support this intensely social scene, Ludicorp has developed a few interesting concept around instant messaging.

He has defined two sorts of social groups: Circles and Orgs. Circles are egalitarian, and all members has similar rights and controls. Orgs are more like hierachical organizations, with those higher on the totem pole limiting or directing the choices and rights of those subordinate to them, like military or religious groups.

But for both sorts of groups, the Game supports group presence: associated with the group information is an icon that presents a ‘completion bar’ icon — like the one used for installing software — that indicates the number of online group members relative to the overall number. Stewart plans for a variety of more complex sorts of presence — indication of group status (“voting” or “working independently”) or goals (“Looking for allies” or “trying to sell copper”) for example.

I am very taken with group presence and its possibilities in the business context: business process status (“awaiting signoff from Bill”) and project status (“90% completed”), as only two basic examples, could be transmitted through group-oriented buddy lists in an economical, concise, visible, and real-time fashion.

I was also intrigued that the system supports a scalar approach to degree of relatedness, including acquiantance, friend, close friend, soulmate (they are changing that name), and enemy. I think all social systems need a way to designate enemies.

My personal interests are not the game itself, per se, but the constructs that Stewart and company are developing to support rich, real-time interaction for online communities. I’m sure there will be lots to learn from watching what happens at The Neverending Game.

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