"Right Here Now" services: weaving a real-time web around status

By Mark Sigal
March 11, 2009 | Comments: 2


I just had an AHA moment.

Fred Wilson of A VC wrote an intriguing post, 'Hasn't It Always Been About Status?' In it, he asserts that the "status update" has become the ultimate social gesture (think: Twitter tweets, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn updates).

I read this post when it originally ran, and pretty much agreed with Fred's points, but then moved on. Intuitive, but not earth shattering. Or so I thought.

But then, I activated a feature within Facebook that allowed my Twitter tweets to update my Facebook status automatically, in the process notifying everyone in my social network.

(Ironically enough, this one feature add materially increased the utility value for me of Facebook, which has done a good job of finding the balance between being an optimized, integrated walled garden and an open platform.)

That was the AHA moment when I started to see how you could bi-furcate a personal, brand or community messaging strategy between global broadcasts and targeted narrowcasts, and how all sorts of new status clients will emerge to make this process manageable.

Reduction as a Powerful Generator of Focused Activity

In Wilson's post, he presents a three-legged stool to explain both the import and destiny of status updating.

On one leg is the premise (articulated by Joshua Schachter) that reducing services to the simplest user experience possible is a powerful generator of focused activity.

Why? It's the antidote to the truism that when you raise the bar a half inch, you lose 90% of the audience.

On the second leg is the status message itself, a construct that is at once completely ad hoc and at the same time gaining structure (think: handles, transformers and payloads).

Owing in large part to Twitter's exposition of rich APIs, we are seeing all sorts of interesting service integrations (e.g., the above Facebook example and video tweeting services, such as Twiddeo, an effort by my company, vSocial), plus client side application innovation across Mac, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod touch and PC device environments.

This is the third leg of the stool, and Wilson concludes that the emergence of status as the ultimate social gesture is destined to be "very good for third party Twitter clients who will now be able to become status clients."

He concludes that "we are going to see continued innovation in and around the status message; (namely because) we can use filtering, semantics, identity, social graphs, and a host of other important technologies to weave a real-time web around status."

I think that he is right, and to frame this one, the rest of the post focuses on one such innovation example.

Right Here Now Services: Status Meets Location with Context

Google Latitude.jpgGoogle Latitude Form follows function. A few weeks back, my friend (and former business partner) Steve Lee, who runs product management on Google Mobile Maps, took me through a demo of their new locative status service, Latitude.

He showed me how they had thought through things like visibility control and privacy (they did a REALLY good job here - kudos!), and even plugged in status updating.

The basic idea behind Latitude is two fold. One is that most people don't use GPS, and besides it's deeply inefficient from a power utilization perspective. Battery life is everything on mobile devices.

Two is that because of this, mechanisms to share location status with family and friends are unreliable, not to mention, lacking in privacy controls.

With Latitude, Google has come up with a systematized approach to making location visibility work both effortlessly and securely so you can share your locative status in real-time with those that matter in your social network, across cellular and Wi-Fi networks, in a carrier independent and battery efficient fashion.

Now, imagine Status and Location as social application ingredients that can be combined together to create new application compounds using additional ingredients, like People, Places, Localities, Times, Topics and Events.

The composite that results is what I call "Right Here Now" services.

Here are some examples:

  1. You are hanging out near South of Market (in San Francisco) on a Saturday night and you want to see if any friends from school (or work) are nearby and want to grab a beer.
  2. You are listening to a compelling speaker at a trade show and in parallel, kibitzing virtually with others in the room (and those who couldn't be there but are engaged nonetheless).
  3. You are watching the Lakers play the Celtics on TNT, high-fiving with other Laker fans and trash-talking with Celts fans who are also watching the event, some in their living rooms, others at sports bars, still others physically at the game.
  4. You just heard about a disaster in Anytown, USA, and want to reach out to people physically located right now where the disaster happened to get news from ground zero.
  5. Or, as pathetic as it sounds, you are single, looking to mingle and doing what my friend calls the "lookup and hookup," which of course brings new meaning to the (twitter) term Direct Message.

Similarly, it is easy to see how such mechanisms might become tune-able to filter down communication channels based on delimiters such as specific interests, trust, and even thresholds, such as audience size and "friend of a friend" degrees of separation.

The Medium Truly is the Message

Marshall McLuhan famously once said that, "The Medium is the Message," suggesting that the medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.

In the case of status update messages, they are becoming a medium in their own right, increasingly containing much more informational goodness than simple text.

Specifically, they are gaining structured actions that allow you to compress long URLs into TinyURLs/Bit.lys; handles to enable auto-recognition of links to pictures, songs, videos and other media; categorization support so that you can add those you are following to groups; save favorite items of interest; and to archive referenced links for offline browsing, which is ideal for mobile/mobility devices.

Moreover, status clients are gaining search and trending functions, and newfangled status overlay services, like StockTwits, are building their own smart codes using hashtags (#NAME) and other symbols to identify things like stock symbols ($AAPL) and to frame recurring conversational topics of interest (#Watchmen).

Today, a lot of this nascent structure is ad hoc, which has the benefit of being organic and community defined, and thus, authentic. Plus it sticks to Schachter's axiom about simple user experiences generating lots of focused activity.

But what it doesn't provide is a reliable, predictable framing mechanism for easily plugging into conversational threads and persisting contexts beyond the HERE and NOW.

But, that is a topic for another day. After all, Rome wasn't built in a single day.

(follow my rants on the real-time web via Twitter @ http://twitter.com/netgarden)

Related Posts:

  1. Twitter-Nomics: Structured Tweets (and a Business Model for Twitter).
  2. Envisioning the Social Map-lication: An application that systematically connect the dots between me, my content and my network.
  3. vSocial launches Twiddeo: Twitter meets video, and vice-versa.
  4. Why Openness May Not Be Best: Android versus iPhone (a Guest Post I wrote for GigaOM).
  5. Mega brands, online communities and "three walled" gardens

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Hi Mark:

A group of us have been preparing the underlying communication foundation for exactly what you describe over the course of the last 3+ years. Take a look at http://dev.llup.org/ for more info and join in the conversation if you have the time. Link to subscribe to the Google Groups-based discussion is at the bottom of the page linked to above.

Hi David,

Thanks for the note. Will definitely check out. When you say foundation, I think middleware, protocols and framework, but not necessarily an application with a face. Is that a correct assessment?



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