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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Happy Birthday, I’m Unfriending You

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In December I wrote a post titled It’s Not About Having The Most Friends, It’s About Having The Best Friends. Since then I’ve been systematically modifying my social networking behavior and cleaning up my various social graphs. As a significant content generator in a variety of forms (blogs, books, tweets, videos) and a massive content consumer, I found that my historical approach of social network promiscuity wasn’t working well for me in terms of surfacing information.

I made two major changes to the way I use various social networks. I went through each one and categorized each on three dimensions: (1) consumption vs. broadcast and (2) public vs. private, (3) selective vs. promiscuous. These are not binary choices – I can be both a content consumer and a broadcaster on the same social network, but I’ll use it differently depending where on the spectrum I am.

For example, consider Facebook. I determined I was in the middle of the consumption/broadcast spectrum, public, and selective. With Foursquare, I determined I was closer to broadcast and private and very selective. With LinkedIn, I was 100% broadcast, public, and promiscuous. With Twitter, I was similar to Facebook, but with a much wider broadcast and promiscuous. With RunKeeper, very strong on broadcast, public, but selective.

I then looked at the tools I was using. Yesterday I noticed Fred Wilson’s email The Black Hole Of Email and it reminded me that I view email as my primary communication channel for broad accessibility (I try to answer every email I get within 24 hours – if it takes longer you know I’m on the road or got behind) and often respond within minutes if I’m in front of my computer. But I’ve worked very hard to cut all of the noise out of my email channel – I have no email subscriptions (thanks OtherInBox), I get no spam (thanks Postini), I run zero inbox (read and reply / archive immediately), and am very selective with the notifications I get via email (i.e. I check Meetup.com daily, but the only email notifications I get are for Boulder Is For Robots.) As a result, I find email manageable and a powerful / simple comm channel for me.

Tuning each social network has ranged from trivial (15 minutes with RunKeeper and I was in a happy place) to medium (Foursquare took an hour to clean up my 800+ friends to 100-ish) to extremely painful (going from 3000 Facebook friends to a useful set seemed overwhelming.) I decided to clean up the easy ones first and then come up with manual algorithms for the harder ones.

My favorite approach is what I’m doing with Facebook. Every day I go into the Events tab and look at the birthday list. I then unfriend the people whose name I don’t recognize or who I don’t want to consume in my news feed. Since Facebook’s social graph is on the public side, people can still follow me (ala Twitter follow). I view this as a reverse birthday gift which probably enhances both of our lives.

In contrast, I’ve continued to just accept all LinkedIn requests except from obvious recruiters or people who look like spambots. I know they can pay to get access to my social graph – that’s fine – I want them to have to pay someone or work a little for it, not just get it for free, but the benefit of having a wide social graph on LinkedIn for the one time a week I use it to hunt someone down somewhere far outweighs the pain of being promiscuous.

I’ve continued to find and use other tools for managing all the data. One of my new favorites is Engag.io. Rather than getting a stream of Facebook email notifications, I check it once a day and respond to everything that I see. I’ve noticed that I find comments in other services like Foursquare that I was previously missing, and rather than having a pile of clutter in my inbox, I can interact it with once a day for ten minutes.

When I reflect on my approach, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s very algorithmic. That’s how I’ve always driven my content consumption / content generation world and part of the reason it doesn’t overwhelm me. Sure – it spikes up at times and becomes less useful / more chaotic (like it did last year when I realized Facebook wasn’t really useful for me anyone.) This causes me to step back, figure out a new set of algorithms, and get it newly tamed. And yes, Facebook is now much more useful and interesting to me after only a few months of cleanup.

I’m always looking for new tools and approaches to this so if you have a great one, please tell me. For example, the “unfriend on birthdays” approach was suggested several times in the comments to one of the posts and after trying a Greasemonkey plugin, manual unfriending on the iPad while watching TV, and other brute force approaches, I just decided I’d clean it up over a year via the birthday approach. So – keep the comments and emails flowing – they mean a lot to me.

Is Astroturfing Coming To Social Media?

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I hate astroturfing. I think think it’s the lamest form of promotion and advocacy possible. It’s the opposite of authenticity and the antithesis of the brilliance of Twitter.

Last week I tweeted about one of my investments and a number of people replied. After each reply, the founder of a competitor tweeted out his own message to the @replies that responded to me. After a few I became annoyed since his @replies were both (a) unwelcome and (b) cluttering up my stream. I considered blocking him but then decided to think about it some more.

I’ve seen this strategy a few times. A competitor tries to piggyback on another company and intersect the stream and inject “look at me – my thing is good also” into the mix. I haven’t decided if this is brilliant or stupid, but after chewing on it a little it felt like a derivative of astroturfing to me.

Now, unlike astroturfing, it’s merely a low grade tactic to get attention one by one in the Twitter stream by intersecting existing interactions. In some cases, I’m sure people will be intrigued by it. In others it will feel spammy. And in others it will be ignored. I also think it’s a stupid competitive approach, which reminds me that I have a bunch of posts to finish up about competition which are sitting patiently in my drafts folder.

My concern isn’t the one off dynamic, which I don’t think has much real impact. It’s when this becomes a social media strategy. It’s inevitable that this will scale up and pollute the conversation, changing the signal to noise ration. The awesome thing about Twitter is anyone can follow you. But they can also @reply to you. Of course, they have to follow the other person copied for them to see the message, but that’s an easy thing to do. Once someone builds this into a social media dashboard and automates the “identify-keyword, add, @reply-message” function, it’ll get yucky fast. Especially when political campaigns get hold of the idea and really start astro-twitter-turfing.

Current Fascination With Google+

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Jeff Clavier is hanging out with Amy and me in Paris for a few days. We had an incredible dinner last night at L’Arpege - we’d been there once before with another friend (Ed Roberto) about five years ago and it was even better than we remembered it to be. We got home five hours after we started dinner which included an epic cheese course and two dessert courses.

Jeff’s been spending a lot of time on Google+ as have I and many of the VCs and tech early adopters that I know (my VC Circle is my largest circle.) Google+ is rumored to have reached 10m users already and show no sign of slowing. My experience with it has been fascinating – I didn’t do much beyond set up my account, figure out the right login approach since I use Google Apps and Google+ doesn’t yet work with a Google Apps account, and put up a few posts. I’ve got 1400 followers already who presumably simply auto-discovered me via Google’s algorithms (they do have a great social graph already given all the Gmail emails and address books.)

Recently I wrote a post titled Rethinking My Social Graph. I’ve struggled to get my Facebook social graph in order (3000 friends later – lots of acquaintances, not that many friends) and pondered how I use LinkedIn (promiscuously – I link with pretty much anyone). Twitter has been my ultimate broadcast tool and when I think about Google+ vs. Facebook, I realize that the power is the “follow” model vs. the “friend” model.

Facebook has become not that useful for me because while it’s the friend model, I’ve treated it as a follow model. As a result, there isn’t that much intimate communication on it for me, or if there is, it’s completely lost in the noise of the people who I’m acquaintances with. I’ve tried to solve this by sorting them into Lists but there are two problems. The UI for doing this is awful / tedious / excruciating and the control over what you do with lists is weak, especially in places where you really want the control (such as the news feed).

In contrast, Google+ nailed this with the follow model, letting anyone that is interested in what I have to say follow me, while I only follow people I’m interested in. While this is the Twitter model, you get much finer control over both consumption and broadcast through the use of Circles. Now that I have enough activity on Google+, I’m starting to understand and see the impact of this. Oh – and I guess I should start calling it G+ like all the cool kids do.

As Jason and I are about to launch our new book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist I’ve been once again thinking about communication and promotion via social media. My experience setting up the blog and twitter feed for Startup Marriage reminded me how easy it is to get the tech set up, but how challenging it is to get engagement. And my investment in Gnip is showing me the continued geometric expansion of social data across an ever increasing number of platforms.

Get ready – I think we have now finally “just begun.”

An Example of Failing At Marketing Using Twitter

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I don’t know who’s managing the District 9 twitter marketing campaign, but their abuse of twitter (via their creation of Twam – “twitter spam”) just caused me to decide not to go see the movie tonight.  Here’s the history of the experience.

On August 15th, I tweeted “has anyone seen District 9?  Worth it?”  I got a handful of generally positive responses including one that said "@bfeld district 9 was very good.  stylistically a bit reminiscent of 28 Days Later.  well done  and entertaining.  also, go see hurt locker.”  I didn’t recognize the handle of the person that tweeted it to me but I noticed it since it was more descriptive than others.

Over the past three days I’ve now gotten over 20 tweets from people I don’t recognize that say exactly the same thing.  For example, I just got one from Joanne ODonnell (apedvatu).  I don’t know Joanne (if she even exists) and her twitter account is garbage. 

Or how about the tweet from Dominique Arnold.  Exactly the same text.  Same drill – no clue who Dominique is and her tweets are a bunch of district 9 crap.

This is classic marketing spam.  No different than all the email garbage we get every day (that a whole industry has been created to deal with).  To date, Twitter has done a great job of dealing with twam but it’ll logically get worse, especially now that all you need to be a “social media consultant” is a twitter account. 

As I was writing this, I saw a tweet pop up on a TechCrunch article titled “You’re Doing It Wrong Part 348: Complete And Utter PR FAIL”  I think the dynamics around social media marketing are now going to get a lot worse now before it settles down.

Guess I’m going to see Julie & Julia tonight instead of District 9.  Amy told me that District 9 looks too scary for me anyway.

It’s All About The Faces

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I heard the line “it’s all about the faces” from someone in the past few weeks.  The line stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  Last night I tried an experiment and changed my twitter avatar to a graphic done by Anthony Dimitre, a really talented local designer.  While there was plenty of positive feedback, there was also a lot of “I don’t like it” feedback, including the tweet “i think the avatar makes you seem less accessible than a normal pic” from @joshpayne

While I like the avatar that Anthony made for me, Josh’s comment rang true and I changed the avatar back to the photo I’ve been using. Now, I might need a new photo (or a new face for that matter), but that’s a different issue.  When I think about my experience on the web, there is no question that photos make people feel more real and accessible.

When I got my iPhone, I started taking quick pictures of my friends and family and adding these pictures to their contact record.  These photos got synced with Outlook and ended up in the top right corner of my emails from these folks (in addition to showing up on my phone whenever they called me.)  This was cool, but it forced me to take pictures of people and go through a convoluted UI experience to get the pictures associated with their contact record.

Even though this was a lot of extra work, the power of the photo matters.  I’m happier when I see Amy’s picture pop up on my phone.  Or, when my partner Jason calls me, I remember our great dinner at Uchi in Austin a few months ago (his photo was taken in front of the sign late at night.)  When I ponder the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and reflect on the early coolness of MyBlogLog, the power of the photo seems very real.

This hit home with me during the most recent two week iteration for Gist.  I get the new features between one and two weeks before everyone else (they do a release every two weeks) and there’s been an awesome new one that has appeared.  If a contact record appears without a photo (I guess II should call it an avatar), I have a chance to add a new image from a Google search.  Suddenly, between the data Gist imports from Facebook, Twitter, and the photos it is finding for me on the web, many of my most recently used contacts have photos that appear whenever I interact with them.  I have a real, positive emotional response to this.

Now, this data isn’t yet syncing back with my email contact list, so I’m only seeing it when I either go into Gist or open up the Gist Dossier in Outlook.  That just makes it even more noticeable that it’s missing from within my inbox (which is my most actively used form of communication.)  But – that’s just a matter of time.

As the social web continues its extraordinary growth, “faces” seem to be a small, but critically important part of it.

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