Staying In The Flow

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post here–even forgot the password. But it feels good to be back, even to just browse through my earlier posts.

Long before I launched my most recent company, Flow, I’ve been curious about the importance of contextualizing information–hence, the name of this Blog. It may be that “putting things in context” is the art of being human: “this is a lot like that” or, on the other hand, “one of these things is not like the other”. I’m no neuroscientist, but I suspect most of the higher level work of the brain is about contextualizing new information–and insight has something to do with “likening” things that have never been likened before. Maybe this is obvious.

Even more obvious is the the importance of the “social context”–streams of information contextualized by “who” you care about. Still, there are infinitely more unexplored contexts (beyond the social context) for many-to-many data sharing.

My early startups (MILCOM, Meshnetworks, Triton Network Systems, TeraNex) had no particular theme. But with KnowHowVideo.com, HowCast.com and KnowItAllVideo.com (all YouTube precursors–too early for anyone to care), KickApps (one of the earliest social media platforms) and Flow I’ve circled around a number of ideas associated with contextualizing information in new ways.

My grand plan for KickApps was to provide a white label social experience on many websites that would all be confederated by what I called an “open portal”. My assumption was that if social sharing began in the context of specific websites (where audience already existed), a larger context could be created from the aggregate sharing across many websites–I started with the spokes before building the hub. Building the hub before the spokes was the better idea as it turns out–Facebook Connect proved that, damn-it. But still, it was pretty cool that it happened in such a big way, even if we didn’t get there ourselves. Back then (2005) the resistance was that nearly every major website brand thought it outlandish when we suggested they share user-generated content and feedback with a central hub. We even tried to talk AOL and Yahoo into teaming with us for instant scale. But in reality, it took the overwhelming reach of Facebook for brands to concede control to a central hub.

Flow is a different take on a similar idea, but with implications more far-reaching. It’s all about data in motion.

What if any mobile app (or website) could simultaneously share real-time data (structured data, not just “likes” and media) with thousands of other mobile apps and websites within millions of highly contextual streams. What if companies and industries could share real-time data with their ecosystems, connecting all those data silos and disconnected applications. Flow presents a different way for apps (and people) to “search for data” as information is explicitly published (by apps, brands, people) into finely grained contexts. And if a particular context doesn’t exist, it can be created and share in seconds by anyone. Equally important, information can intelligently route (we call them “tracks”) between and of those contexts (I’ll talk more about that in another post).

By comparison, apps cannot “post” into Google search indexes and Twitter hash tags contextualize only unstructured data within lawless tributaries of noisy commentary. It’s not the same thing.

So Flow is a “real-time data exchange” designed from the ground up (unlike the internet) for information sharing in many-to-many fashion. Our belief is that following “what” you care about will one day soon be more important than following “who” you care about. Stay tuned.

On Curation

Nice post on content curation by Martin Zwilling – Entrepreneurs Need to Find the Best Curators.  I follow most of the curators Zwilling mentions, but I would add to the list Jason Hirschhorn’s daily aggregation of the most relevant technology-media stories, Media ReDEFined.

While curation is a hot topic these days, particularly as it relates to the ever-growing legion of aggregation websites, the technology of content curation has advanced little in recent years.  The Flow plans to push curation technology  forward in a number of ways.

The Flow (www.flow.net) intends to deliver a powerful new weapon to professional and amateur content curators, including manual and automated tools for individual and group participants.  We will offer drag-and-drop goodness with fingertip access to real-time content that goes well beyond social feeds and traditional media content – to include commerce, services, classifieds, research and local content.   Granular permissioning, built in commenting, ratings and a deep set of developer APIs will enable a range of new content experiences.  In addition we plan to offer a subscription-based marketplace for proprietary data that will extend to curated content.

Coming soon to http://www.flow.net.

The Trouble with APIs

I meant to comment earlier on Stacey Higginbotham‘s Are APIs the New Black? but got distracted with our upcoming Flow beta release.

Stacey emphasizes the very real problem of what’s an app to do when an API provider changes its terms of service?  It’s not very pretty, and it’s unclear whether there is legal recourse.

But there’s another problem with traditional APIs.  What happens when many apps want to share real-time data with many apps?  Who has time to wire up so many API connections?  How can any app in the ecosystem guarantee a quality of service with so many dependencies?  How do app developers even find each other, let alone establish so many business and technical relationships?

One-to-many is pretty easy in that respect – we can all wire up to Facebook or Twitter.  And one-to-one can also work.  But many-to-many is a practical impossibility and that precludes meaningful data sharing between a large number of apps.

Think of the disadvantages faced by a real estate broker that doesn’t subscribe to Multiple Listings Service (MLS)?  His inventory includes only his own listings and he gets no help selling those listing from other brokers.  The same is currently true for every mobile app (or website) that’s trying to move inventory (whether coupons or pickup trucks).

The Flow is here to help.  By inviting any number of app developers to share very granular sets of real-time data using a single set of XMPP/REST APIS, data sharing finally becomes easy and scalable with predictable quality of service.

Sets of real-time data (each a “flow”) can have many or few required and optional fields.  Permissions can extend usage of a given flow to all apps (or end-users) or to defined number of apps.  Individual flows can be fully public when created by a Flow librarian, or entirely private (or public) if created by an app developer or individual.

Check out Flow.net and sign up for our beta program if this all sounds interesting.

The way it is

What’s coming soon

Who Owns My Data? A Lesson on Sharing

Check out the Tim Chambers’ post, Who Owns the Digital You?

On the subject of data ownership there’s lots to talk about – from Facebook privacy settings and commerce to cookies and safe browsing. The piece that the Flow takes on has to do with giving developers the ability to provide their end-users genuine co-ownership of the data they contribute.

Currently, even apps that fairly make use of user data have no easy way to allow users equal control of that data. The Flow gives developers an opportunity to offer consumers the ability to view, edit, delete and share their own data in a “data locker” that lives independent of their apps.

Our belief is that consumers will dramatically favor apps that give them equal access to their own data, combined with the ability to invite other applications to make use of that same data. This functionality is amazing with relatively “soft” data (coupons, check-ins, golf scores, photos, ratings), but is absolutely essential with more private information (financial, family, medical).

The trick was to make it VERY easy for both app developers and consumes to effectively share control of data.

The other piece was to make it VERY easy for an app developer to discover other apps using related data. With an end-user’s permission, new apps can continually add value to the same consumer data. For example, if I rate a restaurant with one Iphone app, a new Android app might come along and provide me a coupon every time I rate a restaurant in the first app. A third app might provide me a restaurant review of the second apps’ coupon recommendation, and so on. Wow.

Time to Read?

Check out The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick or, better yet, grab  Jeremy Campbell’s Grammatical Man to learn more about how (and why) we technology people do what we do.  Hint:  It begins and ends with Claude Elwood Shannon

The Flow

It’s been quite a while since I actively posted on this (or any) blog, but with the upcoming launch of my new start-up, the Flow, I figured it was time to get out there again.  Flow-specific posts will also be visible at Flow.net, but on this blog I’ll also write more generally about what I see happening from an industry perspective.

This blog (vintage 2006) was originally entitled “Alterman In Context” because it expressed my view of the internet world that providing ever more compelling context to content (and other data) is the primary job of technology innovation in this space. Twitter and Facebook providing social context to content are two obvious examples of this principle at work.

Another example comes from my previous start-up, KickApps.  KickApps is all about providing the tools of social media (profiles, UGC content, blogging) within the context of specific websites.  In other words, inviting users to share their side of the conversation within a more narrowly defined context (i.e. not YouTube or Facebook) where like-minded people can more easily discover their very specific content. Making valuable content more discoverable is the reason “context” is so important.

One of my early posts on this blog (probably ill-formatted from its import from Typepad), introduced an idea called Open Portals.  It was my suggestion to the then vital portals (e.g. AOL and Yahoo) that their paths to broader success (or survival, as it turns out) was reaching out to the entire web with an offering of both content and social functionality.  In short, my suggestion was all about providing value more contextually.  Any website could draw on an Open Portal for social functionality, media management, editorial content, relevant user generated content—analogous to the way local television stations draw on their network affiliations for content.  That was 2006, long before Facebook leapfrogged those sleeping giants with an Open Portal approach of their own…unfortunately they’re still snoozing.  But I digress…

My new start-up, The Flow, is all about providing an entirely new paradigm for context creation and content discovery. First, we take real-time data sharing very seriously! App developers, our primary purpose in life is to give you the tools to access the real-time data your customers really want.  Consumers, if you often find it frustrating finding exactly what you’re looking for using traditional search or perusing your Twitter feed, check us out.  Finally, media companies, we intend to provide you a far more efficient way to deliver your editorial content to highly target audiences.  It’s all about context!

If you’re interested in learning more, Flow.net lists articles and blogs from other writers that we find relevant to the conversation.  We’re also inviting app developers an early look at our APIs.  What exactly is the Flow?  Details to follow in the coming weeks.

Can Stew and Spike Lee’s “Passing Strange: The Movie” be called the Best “Film” in 2009?

Yes–because it is. Spike Lee’s astounding new film is probably his finest production, despite the fact that it is entirely a video capture of Passing Strange, the Broadway show. You really don’t want to wait for the DVD.

You can catch Passing Strange: The Movie at the IFC Center 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street

clipped from www.nytimes.com

It’s a Hard Rock Life
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