Thursday, September 10, 2009

Twitter As a Newsource: Sweat the Big Stuff?

What is Twitter in the business of? Arguably, the news business. One of the most suitable, and perhaps the most valuable, uses for the social networking site Twitter is as a newsource.

As a news aggregating and delivery service, Twitter is extremely adept at delivering a news-stream that is localized, topic-specific, and individualized according to each user's needs and interests. The major advantage(and maybe a limitation) is that you, the user, is charged the responsibility of choosing the news sources, i.e. choosing who you will follow.

I primarily use Twitter for following the news. For instance, my feed is localized...I follow local venues, breweries and restaurants in order to stay informed about upcoming concerts or new seasonal brews. My feed is topic-specific... I follow prolific members of the tech-media industry and respected lawyers to keep apprised of the latest technological and legal developments. And, my Twitter feed is individualized...I follow my friends, who both comment and share on both news related and personal topics.

Still, it is global breaking news (the Big Stuff) where Twitter truly excels. When something really big happens, I frequently hear about it first on twitter. It is only after seeing a tweet, that I will then shoot-off to a news site (BBC, HuffPost or ESPN, depending on the topic) for more information than can be gleaned in 140 characters. The only problem, however, is that Twitter has become too good at this, it has become too popular a landing spot for the discussion of these breaking stories. Historically, Twitter has not handled these massive emerging new stories well. Massive, but still relatively 'non-critical' stories such as Apple announcements and Michael Jackson's death have the tendency overload the Twitter servers and 'fail-whale' the site.

My concern is that, if a critical, emergency situation arises (I'm thinking on the level of Hurricane Katrina or 9/11), where Twitter could actually serve to help connect the individuals affected, or provide aid to those who need it, Twitter will not be able to handle it. Apple iPods and Michael Jackson are important stories, but they are not critical situations.

If Twitter is overloaded by the 'non-critical' stories, can it survive a true emergency? Can it handle the Big Stuff? Will its potential, as a social tool for effective and efficient responses to catastrophic or emergency events, be wasted?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An(other) "I'm Feeling Lucky" Patent

Today, Techcrunch reports on a story that an Israeli company, Netex, has been issued a patent on an Internet search option, the issuance of which could generate massive licensing/royalties fees from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other companies involved in Internet search. [story here]

In essence, the patent covers one specific search technique, whereby a user simply inputs a search term (e.g. 'Phish') directly into an address bar, or search field, and that input will lead the user directly to the web page represented by that term ( Many browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome, enable this search option through the use of their address (or "wonder") bar. Google further makes use of this searching option through their "I'm Feeling Lucky" search choice, featured underneath the search box.

First of all, this story is a strident example of the patent system's failure to disclose an invention until well after the invention has been in use. PTO workload and patent disclosure issues are seemingly both at fault here. Sure, this Israeli company cannot impose royalty or licensing fees retroactively, but it can (and will) stifle current usage of innovation by 'holding hostage' the search companies, requiring them to pay the licensing fees in order to continue implementing this search option.

This development is striking similar to the i4i/Microsoft office patent situation. i4i claims not to be out to 'destroy' Microsoft, however, their actions appear to be sickeningly extortionate in nature. Here, the business model appears to be to make money off a patent, while not producing further innovation or working the invention ourselves. The "lucky" issuance of a questionable patent allows for this to occur.

Netex's statement regarding their patent is also disheartening. The 28-year old face of the company states that they plan on "entering the American market " and "try[ing] to make the most of our patent." Again, this sounds like a business model based on collecting royalties from a (questionable) patent. The company will not work the invention, and will not significantly add anything new to Internet search.

Sadly, the "lucky" issuance of this questionable patent gives this misguided company a monopoly over this particular search option (ironically, one that is relatively insignificant, besides the addition of a slight modicum of convenience).

Google is in the business of adding, not removing, search features; naturally, the Mountain View company will not be happy to yank this search option. They also will not be eager to pay an extortionate licensing fee, especially to a company such as Netex. It will be intriguing to see whether an amicable resolution is forthcoming, or whether Google (or Microsoft) will initiate some form of challenge or protest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

NFL - Why Ban Social Media?

It seems counter-intuitive that the NFL (also, the SEC) would be fighting social media's eventual arrival into the stadium and onto the football field. Recently, the National Football League has announced plans to implement various social media policies that would effectively attempt to ban or limit the use of social media services, like twitter, by players, fans, reporters and even refs.

Sports (especially football) are, inherently, a social phenomena. You need at least ten other individuals to comprise a football team (a QB "tweets" the play-call in the huddle). You need another team to play against (the NFL creates a Facebook "event", inviting teams to participate). Then, the true glory and excitement of a NFL football game is not achieved without the presence of thousands of screaming, die-hard fans cheering for the home team ("add friend", "Follow", "join group").

The social aspects surrounding the game are arguably more important than the game itself; tailgating outside the stadium or gathering at a friends house or a bar to watch a big game, hanging over the stadium arm rail to high-five your favorite player, the Monday-morning talk around the office water cooler...the weekly NFL football experience is all about people connecting on various social levels.

Banning social media only serves to stifle these social connections--between both and fans and between fans and more fans. By doing so, the NFL is (purposely?) limiting one of the best aspects of the sport.

Sure, the NFL is not at risk of going out of business. They make a tremendous amount of profit. They do not need to embrace or accept social media. This certainly does not mean that they should suppress it[or that they will even be able to...]