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Explaining the Web and Web Programming With Octocat, Sushi and Fish

One of challenges of organizing Rails Girls Ljubljana was coming up with short lectures that would prepare the girls, absolute beginners, to understand the basic terminology of the web and what they would be working on.

Sure, there are some existing presentations online about what programming is and where Rails fits in the whole story, but I thought beginners could benefit from something a bit more simple, funny and thus memorable. Which is why I borrowed GitHub’s mascot Octocat and sent him off on a journey to find sushi without fish on the web. Wait, what?

Why I Write at Least 750 Words a Day

One year ago I first came across this strange website, 750words.com (thanks, Swizec!). Simple concept, simple instructions. Write 750 words. And come back again tomorrow, write at least 750 more. Rinse and repeat. 750 words. Each and every day in the past year. Now a total of 356,548 words, 367 days.

Forget Email, Send Me a Raven!

The Game of Thrones TV series gave me a much needed kick in the ass to start reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. Again. I actually read the first book or two a couple years ago, around the time when the fourth book was coming out. Even though I found the story amazing, I somehow never got to the other books.

Watching the TV show did however remind me of the books, and considering the fact that I recently plowed through all three Fifty Shades books without punching something or somebody, I decided it was about time I actually read something brilliantly written for a change.

And I’ve been completely immersed in the series for a while now. It’s probably one of the only reasons why I still voluntarily put up with the awful public transit in Ljubljana - I found out that I can read a lot on my iPhone while waiting for the bus or riding the bus in peak hours. Which is probably why you always find me at the bus stations minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. More time waiting for the bus = more reading time.

One of the reasons why I love the series so much is the fact that it gives you a very realistic feel of the world. It’s crude, it’s real, and it’s full of complex characters that actually feel human. There’s nothing romantic about Martin’s knights. They bleed like everyone else, drink like most, and smell rotten after a week in prison. On the other hand, I can’t really say I know Aragorn that well.

And there is a particularly interest aspect in the books for me: the slowness of communication and how utterly unaware most characters are about what’s going on in the rest of the world. They don’t have Twitter to cover the latest rumors about the dragons from across the sea. They don’t have paparazzi following queen Cersei around King’s Landing. They can’t make threats to distant foes in a blink of an eye through SMS or email. They don’t have people making “King Joffrey totally looks like his uncle Jaime” posters on meme sites.

Instagram and the New Renaissance of Visual Communication

There’s a big shift happening in the world of consumer applications. The web is finally becoming a true visual medium. We are finally leaving the limitations of the early, text-based web and computers and embracing visual creative thinking.

Want some proof? Instagram. Photo sharing mobile app with artsy filters sold to Facebook for 1 billion USD. 50 million users, popular among teens. Pinterest. One of the fastest growing social web sites, centered around visual bookmarking, easily beats Google+ on engagement. Draw Something. Insanely popular mobile game, making millions of users finger paint with a childlike joy. Something is going on.

I’m in Love With Pinterest (and Why That Matters)

I’ve got a confession to make. There is a new website that is capturing an increasing number of spare minutes in life. It provides an endless stream of visual inspiration, and every time you use it, you can’t help but feel a bit more creative. Yep, I’m in love with Pinterest, the latest over-hyped tech media darling.

I did try to resist it, I swear. When I saw the first blog posts about it, I thought I didn’t need a service like that. I tried to convince myself that Tumblr and Instagram were enough for me. And I didn’t want to fall into the whole ”women love Pinterest” stereotype. But then, as the hype kept growing, I gave in to my curiosity and a professional dedication to trying out all the new cool social services in town. And I haven’t looked back ever since. Why is that, and why does it matter?

Facebook Is Becoming the Next Big Platform With Timelines, Smart Social Apps and Better Privacy

I know it’s super trendy to be anti-Facebook and looking for more “open” or less “evil” alternatives like Google+ or Diaspora. But after the massive changes announced at Facebook’s f8 developer conference on Thursday, I feel like it’s time I say this out loud: I love Facebook.

Facebook, one of my favorite web destinations
Skating to where the puck is going to be

I love Facebook as a service, and I love Facebook as a company. I completely agree with MG Siegler from Techcrunch on this: Facebook is becoming the new Apple, skating to where the puck is going to be, and leaving the competition baffled in dust, miles behind.

Sure, change and innovation are often difficult to accept for the now almost 1 billion strong mainstream Facebook user base. Even a minor repositioning of a button is bound to make someone upset. For a week or so.

And that’s why I have even more respect for Facebook: despite being very mainstream, they are not afraid to innovate. They could easily sit on their asses for a year or two and wait for Google+ or something else to catch up. Instead, they choose to run head first into the questions nobody is even asking yet, and often finding answers nobody else can think of. Like Apple, Facebook is still able to maintain the mentality of a startup and has the guts to challenge the status quo.

Do they get it right every time? No, of course not. But you’re bound to make mistakes if you’re trying hard to be the first and the best in what you do. The tricky part is knowing how to recover from your falls, move on, and find the next big thing that will change people’s lives forever.

This might seem like a big statement; after all, Facebook is just a social network, right? Well, it seems like they have bigger plans than that. The folks at Facebook are really hard at work trying to find the best ways for people to connect online. And not by pilling up features, but by rethinking the way we connect to each other on a human level.

And human is the keyword to the two major changes announced on Thursday. Firstly, completely redesigned user profiles, now called Timelines. And secondly, the new generation of Facebook apps that enable social experiences, and finally make seem the semantic web a step closer to reality. Let me explain why I’m so excited about all these new features.

Subjot: Bridging the Gap Between Twitter and Facebook With Subjects and Dicussions

Yesterday I came across a blog post on TNW on Subjot, a Twitter alternative. Yeah, I know. At first, I rolled my eyes. (Yet) another Twitter is probably not what we need. But I’m glad I read the post anyway and discovered that Subjot actually offers a solution to a Twitter dilemma I’ve been having lately and builds an interesting product centered around discussion on top of it.

I wouldn’t really call Subjot a Twitter alternative. It actually works quite well with Twitter, and in a way provides a middle way between Twitter and Facebook, providing a public space for discussions based around topics user define themselves. Call me crazy, but I actually see Subjot as Google+ done right. Intrigued? I sure do hope so, because I think Subjot is a nice little gem with a lot of potential and a harbinger of a larger trend. Let me explain why.

Subjot: “Talk about your favorite subjects. Let your friends choose what to follow.”
The human flaw behind Google+ Circles

Ok, first, let’s get the Google+ elephant out of the room. Here’s a confession: I don’t like Google+. Yes, it’s new, it’s shiny, it has a neat interface, and has the privilege to sit on top of all Google services we love and use often. I was thinking about writing a blog post about Google+, but these two blog posts describe what bothers me about it more eloquently than I could:
  • Can We Ever Digitally Organize Our Friends?: the post does a great job at explaining what Google+ Circles (and grouping friends in general) do right and why they suck. Spoiler alert: we’re not really good at categorizing people in groups, and every worse at maintaining the categorization; the lines are often too blurry.
  • Reality Check: Google Plus Is No Facebook Or Twitter Killer: nice explanation of the problem sharing with Circles creates. Spoiler alert: again, we’re really bad at deciding what other people are interested in.
It’s not that I think Google+ doesn’t have potential. It sure does. And Google is very serious about it, so I think that’s a rare social Google product we’ll have to learn how to live with. I don’t think it will kill Facebook; in fact, I see it as a closer threat to Twitter. But unless the majority of friends I interact with the most on Twitter and Facebook ditch Twitter/FB in favor of Google+, I really don’t see myself actively using it.

Subjot’s selling point: you get to decide which subjects you want to follow

Now, back to Subjot. The main idea behind Subjot that makes it unique is that we all have different interests we like to talk about. For instance, I’m interested in education, mobile technologies, running and cats, just to name a few subjects.

A few of my interests - and you probably don’t want to read about all of them
Now, when a person follows me on Twitter or friends me on Facebook, she will get my updates on all of these subjects. But my dear follow just might be a dog person that doesn’t think my cat is special (gasp!), which might lead her to unfollow/unfriend me because of my annoying cat updates.

Yes, Google+ is built around the idea that you share content only with a circle of friends that will find certain content interesting. The problem is that I don’t always know who out of my friends likes cats. Meaning, some of my friends might end up missing important updates on my awesome cat! (terrible thought, I know)

And this is where Subjot finally comes into the picture: on Subjot, my followers decide which of my subjects they want to follow. Each jot I share has a subject. And if some of my followers are fellow runners, they can follow just the updates about running. If they are interested in social media, they can follow just my updates on social media and ignore all cat posts (although, to be honest, cute cats have always been a big part of social media!).

Your feed, you get to decide which updates you want to get. There are a lot of different follow options for each person you want to keep an eye on.
Subjot subjects are not just (hash)tags

I know what you might be thinking: it’s like using hashtags on Twitter or tagging your blogs posts. Well, yes and no. For one, Twitter doesn’t let you filter your friends’ content by hashtags. If a person you follow tweets excitedly about a conference you’re not attending, your feed gets really noisy and there’s nothing you can do unless you unfollow your friend temporarily (rude, I know!).

And while you can use several hashtags on Twitter and on your blog, Subjot only has one subject per update. And I think that’s brilliant because it keeps the service simple. You don’t have to understand tagging to categorize content on Subjot. Just pick a subject, it’s that easy!

Plus, the user interface for choosing subjects is pretty smart. You are always offered the three most common subjects you use in the form of nice, big buttons, and an autocomplete tool helps you reuse subjects you or your friends have already used.

Choosing a subject on Subjot - so easy, my cat could do it
 And you can also Explore popular subjects on Subjot and find users that job about certain subjects to follow. Again, you don’t have to follow everything they post, just the subjects you’re interested in.

Encouraging discussion with comments and notifications

So, is Subjot just Twitter with the ability to categorize content and fine-tune areas of interest you follow? Luckily, no. Twitter is all about fast, instant sharing - and it’s really, really good at that! What it’s not so good at, is keeping track of discussions. You can RT and reply to tweets, of course, but those actions are usually relevant just in that instant.

On the other hand, Subjot borrows two very important features from the Facebook side of the fence: the ability to comment on shared content and notification about other people’s comments. Consequently, Subjot offers a really nice, public space for discussion.

Example of a jot with comments
Bridging the gap between Twitter and Facebook with elegant simplicity

Yes, unlike Facebook, where a lot of people choose to have private profiles, Subjot in a public discussion place. Here, again, it comes closer to Twitter, where most sharing is public. So, we can describe Subjot as both as Twitter with better support for discussions or as a public Facebook with asynchronous connections (you don’t have to follow people who follow you). And that’s the beauty of it.

Subjot is not trying to replace either Twitter or Facebook. In fact, it plays nice with both. Whenever you post of Subjot, you can send your updates to Twitter or Facebook or both. And you can easily find friends on Subjot by connecting your Twitter and Facebook accounts.

You can share your jots on Twitter and/or Facebook
I also like the fact that the creators didn’t try to cram too many features in the service right from the start. For instance, there are yet no “Likes”, reposts, special privacy settings. And in a way that is ok. I think that at this stage, it’s smart to let the users figure out how and what they want to use Subjot for.

What intrigues me about Subjot is that it isn’t really trying to clone any of the big, existing social networks, but it’s providing a fresh, simple, elegant twist on the way we discuss our interests online. Of course, the big challenge for this little gem is attracting enough users that will (hopefully) start forming passionate communities around subjects.

Subjot’s potential as a discussion platform and the question of privacy

And I do think there is a lot of potential for different types of communities to embrace Subjot. For instance, I can see Subjot being used in education, with teachers and students sharing course related content with the ability to follow just that content and not get updates about their teacher’s cooking recipes (unless they want to).

Of course, as we start to imagine such use cases, the question of privacy also emerges and it’s one that Subjot hasn’t addressed yet. For instance, it might be interesting to have the ability to have private subjects and allow followers to view post on those subjects only after approval or upon invitation.
Perhaps there’s also a monetization opportunity in there - go pro and create unlimited private rooms for certain subjects? Ads and sponsored content could also be interesting opportunity for Subjot down the road. But of course, growing the user base and keeping a close eye on how users are using Subjot should be the main priority in the early stages of the product.

The big picture: can the Subjot approach cut down the social networking noise?

I think it’s pretty clear by now that there is something about Subjot that really excites me. I really think Subjot is onto something with this idea of allowing users to follow specific areas of interests when they choose to follow certain people. Of course, we yet have to see how the Subjot approach scales up, but I think a few things are pretty clear by now.

First, we all have different interests we like to talk about, and usually our friends don’t share all our interests with us. Second, there is a need to cut down the noise in social networks. Third, we are not so good at predicting what are friends are interested in and neither are machines (yet). Is the Subjot approach a good solution for all of this? I don’t know, maybe it is.

But I certainly think we’ll start seeing more and more social networks trying to cut down the noise by filtering content based on users’ interests. For instance, just recently, Facebook started experimenting with the aggregation of news feed stories by topic. Isn’t the next logical step in this story ”More about topic X” and “Less about topic Y”? Not to mention the increasing number of iPad news app that are trying to figure out what content you like and serve you a highly personalized selection of content based on your friends and behavior.

Facebook is trying to get smart by grouping news feed posts by topic
 We’ll see who does a better job at filtering content - humans (on Subjot or even Google+) or smart algorithms (on Facebook and all those fancy news apps). But it’s certainly something that will be an important competitive advantage in the coming years. After all, I don’t hear anybody complaining about there not being enough content online, but you can hear a lot of complaints about social networks being too noisy and good content hard to find.

Still with me? Good, now give Subjot a try!

Anyhow, thanks for bearing with me through this ridiculously long post. If you did, I do hope you’re now ready to give Subjot a try. If you want to connect with me there, just sign up using this link: http://sjot.it/qwwPUQ. I really do think that Subjot deserves a fair chance, and I’m really interested in seeing the direction and shape it will take in the future.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2011/08/subjot-bridging-gap-between-twitter-and.html