Will customer service come to social media?

Despite the constant call for companies to engage in customer service via social media, it’s rare anyone points out that the people running the social platforms are generally a bit rubbish at servicing customers themselves…

John Batelle writes about the challenge Google faces with the Nexus One – in that it’s not a company geared for customer service. Something that’s not a surprise if you’re a user of Feedburner for example.

I’m fortunate enough to have been introduced to a couple of very wonderful people at both Facebook and Twitter, which means I can get a bit more help than most people. But not only has that been a relatively recent development, but those contacts are only for my work activity (And I’m afraid I won’t be sharing their details, as I suspect they’d be bombarded with emails and probably never speak to me again.)

For my personal accounts I use the same customer service routes as everyone else – and like everyone else, I face a load of impersonal FAQs, contact forms, and seemingly circular links to try and get an answer from anyone to solve my problems…

And yet at the same time, I’m joining everyone else in proclaiming how useful social networks are in solving customer service issues and engaging with people to get them responses.

The only reason that the networks escape a lot of criticism appears to be either down to the fact we’re still sympathetic to the plucky little startups they once were, we’re worried about getting deleted if we complain, or we’re all waiting for the market to evolve to the point where social network customer service is as important to us as changes to the news stream or the way we Retweet.

Until then, we’ll have to live with the fact we’re trying to become open and transparent on networks which do their best to avoid hearing from us…

Hi Newspapers – can I join the party?

Having spent a long time looking at, reading about, and experiencing firsthand the changes happening to print and digital mainstream media publishing, it’s a bit of a shock to find out I’ve gone down completely the wrong path.

Until now, I was siding with the view that complaining about Google ‘stealing’ the news and sending worthless visitors was more a sign of ineptitude and fear on the part of a traditional business model and industry which hasn’t radically changed in 100 years.

But then it struck me.

I write and publish content on two blogs.

That content is indexed by Google, even if I’m not a major contributor to Google News quite yet.

Google also supplies a lot of the advertising that appears on both my blogs.

Plus most of my blogging time is spent in Google Reader and Googlemail.

So that means if the newspapers can look for concessions from the Government, Google, Microsoft, and anywhere else they can think of, then so can I!

I can’t wait for the campaigning newspaper companies to get in touch and offer to help me as well. I might even get a call from Mr Murdoch himself.

And if cash isn’t forthcoming, I wouldn’t say no to a few links sending some more visitors my way… I don’t mind trying to make money from a much bigger pool of people…

Off to London Twestival tonight… And Google’s news masterstroke

And then I’m spending a long weekend concentrating on my family, so don’t expect many updates until Monday…

Details of London Twestival 2009.

And in the meantime, two things have caught my attention:

 

One is the fact that the Government’s quoted figure of 7 million illegal file sharers seems to have been revealed as being spun out of a very small original survey, with some assumptions distorting the figures. (Hat Tip to  JP Rangaswami)

 

The other is the response to newspapers from Google – they’re creating a micropayments system to appear within the next year. (via Mashable).

I’d guess there are a few reasons for Google adopting a checkout-type micropayment system for newspaper content:

  • It’ll shut the newspaper owners up for a while – allowing Google to press ahead with book deals etc to own even more alternative content.
  • It will also be available for Google properties, meaning that there are ways to cream off some of the money at the top, as well as by providing the service itself.
  • Bugger all people will embrace fixed internet micro payments for generic content.

The last one is the most important – and even in the world of mobile there are divisions between iPhone app spending and Android app spending which suggests that even on an supposedly highly chargeable platform (mobile), many people are starting to expect apps for free.

-NB- I’ve just though of another reason why this benefits Google more than anyone else:

  • If the newspapers are fooled into believing this system will make them rich, then they’ll start pushing pressure on aggregation sites to pay – Digg, Reddit, etc. Those sites are unlikely to be happy about paying for content, and the efforts and traffic newspapers currently drive from those sites will disappear. Meanwhile, the one aggregation destination which will be safe and secure will be: Google News.

Still room for improvement in Google Reader

A lot of people have commented on the new social features which have been released for Google’s RSS Reader – and most of them have been pretty positive.

Recent changes have included showing more information on who likes and shares posts, and being able to connect with more people who have interested with content you like. And the option to ‘Send To’ various listed or custom social networks from Google Reader has also been a step towards improving the influence it has.

Both the basic ideas behind the improvements are good ones, so it’s just a shame that there are a couple of major niggles which mean they’re not as good as they could have been.

Firstly, I use Google Reader for around 2 hours every day when I’m travelling to and from work by train. The access to free wifi means it’s completely replaced ever bothering with a newspaper or magazine, and I can get all the information that I’ve requested delivered to me.

But it also means that the fact the Send To option doesn’t occur within the reader itself means that I’m still stuck waiting for other pages to load before I can Stumble them, for example, and that’s no at option on shared wifi. It still means attempting (and failing) to remember which articles I loved and going back to promote them when I’m on a better connection.

Secondly, and this is the biggest problem – the more people sharing with me, the more times I’m seeing duplicate content. In some cases, the same feed item can appear 4 or 5 times – once from my own subscription and then numerous times from my friends and contacts.

That means I’m loathe to add anyone, particularly in my areas of interest, because I’ll end up with 200 items every day that I’ve already seen, added to the 150+ that I get anyway.

It’s frustrating, because I’d love to see what a ton of people are sharing, and it’s a nice alternative to short urls with no explanation on Twitter.

Still, it’s good to see Google investing some time and effort in Reader, even if the supply side of Feedburner is as flakey as ever.

And there’s also an interesting Greasemonkey script for Firefox (called gReactions) which has just been released to show blog comments, Friendfeed, Twitter, Digg, Hacker News and Reddit underneath each post.

Google RSS Reader finally allows social bookmarking

One of my guilty confessions is that I’ve been doing less linking and sharing of other sites on places like Stumbleupon recently than in the past.

A major reason for that is that I’m generally going through my reading on the train in Google RSS reader, and not actually visiting sites. Combine the slow speed of the onboard wifi with the hassle of coming out of my RSS feed to recommend things on a regular basis, and you might be sympathetic as to why it’s a bit of a hassle.

But no longer – in addition to the places which allow me to import my RSS shared items (Friendfeed, Publish 2 etc), Google’s Matt Cutts revealed today that Google Reader now has a ‘send to’ option for Twitter, Stumbleupon, Digg etc from within the feedreader, and that you can also set it up for sites which aren’t currently listed.

Like him, it’s a feature I’ve wanted since I started using Google for RSS reading, and combined with the improved social tools for sharing and following with other Google RSS readers (And with an 84% share in one example, there’s quite a few!), and RSS is back in the game alongside sharing links on Twitter etc.

(Incidentally, to enable it, just go to settings, and it’s under the ‘Send To’ tab.)

A recap on the original three microblogging platforms.

Once upon a time, there were three prominent microblogging platforms, Twitter, Plurk and Jaiku. One became incredibly popular, one introduced a side-on view, and one was acquired and then released by the Google Fairy Godmother.

Others fell by the wayside, including Pownce, and Rejaw.

But how do they compare now, after the mainstream adoption of Twitter:

Obviously this doesn’t tell the complete story, as it tracks web visits only, but it’s safe to assume it’s proportionally correct. Twitter’s close to 25 million Unique Visitors, Plurk is holding steady between 250,000-300,000 for the past year, and Jaiku has dropped from 70,000 down to 30-40,000 for the last two months measured.

In fact, it’s not even winning the Open Source Microblogging Platform war – as Identi.ca has grown slightly while Jaiku declined.

Meanwhile, Google has listed the 46 official accounts it has on Twitter.

And in the meantime, we’ve seen the rise of Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck, internal microblogging such as Yammer,  the blend of micro and macro blogging in Tumblr and Posterous, and video and audio blogging with the likes of 12 seconds and Audioboo. Not forgetting the lifestreaming element of the likes of Friendfeed.

And although we talk about forums, blogs and Web 2.0 social networks as if they’ve reached the endpoint of their evolution, there’s still a lot more to come from them – I’d say the social elements of the web aren’t even 15% of what they’ll become in the next 10 years.

The question is how you as a person, you as a company, or you as a developer can find clarity through it all…

(There is also the question fo what Google were thinking re: Jaiku, and how it’s managing to miss out on the rise of Open Source as much as it did on the rise of microblogging – after all, the platform itself doesn’t appear to be the cause)

Is Twitter destroying the link economy?

I’m in the process of collating various posts and search into the effect of Twitter on the link economy for a post later this week – but I want to include your views and comments.

It’s been sparked by a few things – including the the fact that despite receiving the same amount of traffic to both my blogs, and numerous Retweets, the ranking of them by various lists has gone down. And much of this seems to be due to a lower amount of inbound links as measured by Technorati and Yahoo.

In the grand scheme of things, the only reason measures of popularity are important for my personal blogs is it makes it easier for people to find them via search or relevant lists, allowing me to hopefully meet and interact with more people (I’m not aiming to build a media empire at the moment!).

But are you seeing the same things happening?

Do you wish Google/Technorati etc started counting Retweets as a metric of authority for a website?

Do you think the effect is proportional to the time you invest of social networks rather than interacting via blogs?

Does it matter to you?

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google join Twitter

First an official Google account appeared on Twitter:

twitter-_-google

But now Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been uncovered, having had an account for almost a month.

twitter-_-finkd

Definitely some validation for Twitter – which also hit 8 million U.S users.

It’s fun to hypothesis that Google, perhaps, is on Twitter as a customer service exercise – after all, they owned Jaiku, and the differences between the two services are fairly open and obvious, so it isn’t a research mission.

But Zuckerberg is even more interesting – Facebook already had an offer turned down for Twitter, so it’s unlikely he’s trying before he buys. And Facebook has also unveiled changes that seem to be partly in response to the real-time nature of Twitter.

Perhaps he sees it as an additional communication channel that is worth spending some time with, or perhaps he just fancied some fun by trying to see how long he could be anonymous?

Personally I’m just excited (and surprised) by the fact that for some strange reason, he’s decided to follow me!

Internet discovery still amazes me…

Having been active online for over a decade, I’m happy to say that I’m still pleasantly amazed by some of the things I’m able to find online.

For instance, due to the seemingly endless repeats of Scrubs on the E4 TV channel, and the fact it’s the only bearable TV show at 7pm as my son is finally going to bed, I’ve had a song from one episode stuck in my head.

I’m old enough to remember a time when that snapshot of a song would have played in  my head for days, weeks or years – unless one of my real life friends happened to know what it was, or a magazine tc happened to mention it.

Image by graciepoo on Flickr (CC Licence)

Image by graciepoo on Flickr (CC Licence)

Instead, a google search for ‘Scrubs, Brendan Fraser, Song’ led to to the exact tune: ‘Hold on Hope’ by Guided by Voices.

Then, thanks to Last.fm’s ‘similar artists’, I was able to listen to solo work by members of the band, and within a couple of degrees of seperation, end up at the interesting (and brilliantly-named) Psycho and the Birds side project.

Then a bit of background reading on Guided by Voices on Wikipedia (slightly more detail than Last.fm entries tend to have).

I love the internet for the things it allows me to do, not what it is.

And in a funny coincidence, my random library on Last.fm just threw up an old Lemonheads track -

After an interview in a magazine, I discovered The Lemonheads were on Taang Records, and would buy anything I found on that label without ever hearing it – leading to good stuff like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and some absolutely terrible purchases.

Having always preferred the writing/singing of Ben Deily, who left before The Lemonheads hit mainstream success, I was idly googling his name and trying to find out about what happened after he left.

I ended up finding Ben Deily‘s website, discovering his new band, Varsity Drag, realising they were on tour in Europe, asking if if was possible to interview Ben for the online magazine I was doing at the time (see a PDF of the gig review/interview here), buying a copy of the album on CD, and a CD of a previous project I’d missed, and a T-shirt from the gig.

And it’s safe to say I’m guaranteed to be at any future European gigs/buying future CDs – particularly as my other half confessed to being rather smitten with Ben after her first pop-punk gig. And all from an imported CD from 1988 (now signed), that I bought on the strength of hearing songs by an entirely different band lineup.

To close the rambling love letter to music with some sort of point:

Somewhere in there, there’s a business model for musicians/the music industry. The internet allowed me to find a musician who wouldn’t be stocked in local music stores, read his website and blog, find out tour dates, arrange an interview, publicise his music to more people, buy physical copies as much as mementoes as to play, buy a T-shirt, and sign myself up to buy future releases, T-shirts, and see gigs whenever I can.

Two Twitter things for Monday morning

The first is my contribution to the debate on whether Twitter and the real-time web will replace Google. I couldn’t decide which blog to post it on, as it crosses over to both my sites, so apologies for the linkage.

So to brighten things up with something more light-hearted:

Get your Status on a T-Shirt with Twitoshirt

Get your Status on a T-Shirt with Twitoshirt

That’s right, you can now quickly and easily post your favourite status message at Twitoshirt, and then proudly wear your (or someone else’s) genius for just $16.99.

Whether or not you’d want to might be another matter.

But it does make me wonder if I should revive the Tweet of the Week, and if I’ve missed a business opportunity there!