Making 2.0 tick

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What makes Web 2.0 tick? Sample this:

As I’ve said in previous posts, it’s their direct contact with the users that makes 2.0′s so much greater than the “old school” way of taking care of users. I know that as their user base increases that won’t be so easy for them, but their blogs and forums are another way for users to interact with them and with each other, and help each other along.

Another user wrote:

This kind of touch is exactly what more tech companies should have, regardless of specialty. I understand, yes, busy people can’t respond to all their email, but even getting back to some—especially if it’s on an external blog and wasn’t sent in directly—is really warm and sends more good vibrations than 100 clones of Brian Wilson in a marching band on a midspring’s dusk.

Usually, we have seen companies respond by saying, “We’ll get back as soon as possible”. At least in the 2.0 days, “As soon as possible” is measured in hours, not days. I’ll be damned if I post a query and don’t get a reply in a few hours, either in a forum, or a comment in a blog. After all, the user could be working on a presentation at the office a few hours away and requires to embed a chart. It would blow up everything if the application doesn’t respond or gets buggy; worse than that, you report the problem at the company’s forum or blog and they don’t get back soon.

Usually at Zoho forums, we reply queries and work on bug-fixing within hours. However, at times, things to go wrong (as Zoho Writer had log-in problems recently). Worse, it might happen on a weekend or a holiday (as it did), so that it might not possible to receive user feedback immediately. At times like those, we hope the users bear with us. Ofcourse, the solution lies in embracing more stable technology and we soon expect to do the same. Oh yes, unlike “Old-school”, it’ll be really soon. ;)

Conversations or not

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The Economist carried a story on Blogging. And the bottomline was:

Blogging is just another word for having conversations

Tom Raftery wrote a few days back that in his blog that Blogging was starting to become monologous as some of the most popular bloggers closed down/moderate comments.

And this is what Guy Kawasaki had to say regarding comments:

7. Acknowledge and respond to commenters. Only good things can happen when you read all the comments in your blog and respond to them. It makes commenters return to your blog. This, in turn, makes commenters feel like they are part of your blog’s community which makes them tell more people to read your blog.

It is rather ironical that comments are not “wanted” anymore, because in the early days of blogging, comments were an indication of how popular a blog was! With the advent of feed readers and trackbacks, popular bloggers have decided to shut down a window; one crucial channel of communication, blaming it on the trolls. Added to that, we have spams, word-verifications, comment moderations resulting ultimately in conversation-killers. Sad and sorry state, indeed. As Tom Raftery rightly asks:

how can we now seriously evangelise the benefits of having comments enabled when some of the most prominent bloggers have theirs locked down?

Kosmix: One step better Search

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Kosmix (via) is an example of next generation Search Engine in its nascent stages. It is different from a standard Search Engine in the context that it is Categorized. To start with, they have three categories – Medicine (in Beta), Travel and Politics (both in Alpha). A common clueless web-surfer who uses a Search Engine for generic queries on a regular basis can readily appreciate the difference. Since the categories are limited, queries have to be, for the time-being, specific to these topics.

For instance, there is a huge difference between searching for a Medical condition in Kosmix and in a standard Search Engine. I entered “Avian Flu” as a search query. The results are presented in an extremely ordered and sorted out manner. For each search term entered, there are sub-categories viz., Basic Information, Definition, Treatments, Symptoms, etc. But Kosmix search goes a step higher by linking Blogs and Forums that provide information about a condition. However, the best part about Kosmix Medical search is the links it provides to authoritative websites that address the problem of specific patients such as children or women.

As with standard Search Engines, search can be personalized. The Travel category is neat, with links to Travelogues and user reviews. Kosmix definitely has a long way to go before it becomes a next generation Search Engine. But this is a welcome change from using quotes, special characters and advanced search filters (and not to mention a great deal of effort involved in thinking about the right set of keywords) to find the information required. It seems that Kosmix was launched by two Stanford graduates. What is it with Stanford Graduates and Search Engines? ;)

Social Search?

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“Social” is the buzzword these days. Social Bookmarking, Social Networking, Social News-sites, etc. And so Microsoft is going the Social Way – Social MSN Search. To quote:

“The feature will let users direct questions to a specific universe, such as a group of friends, rather than to get automated lists of results from a generic search engine.”

The article reports that Microsoft will tie up with Eurekster which is community powered Search Engine. Sounds a nice thing to do, especially since a generic search most certainly returns irrelevant results; also the likes of Friendster or Orkut are potential sources of lot of information that’s poorly organized. Sometime back, Seth Godin illustrated this idea in his blogpost Tea. The method wasn’t right but the idea is. Hand-built search engines seem to be doing real good job when it comes to searching for generic search terms and recommendations for them. Digg is a fine example for articles recommended by other readers.

There are several Community powered Search Engines – full list can be found here (under the Search 2.0 Category). Most of them enable “rating” a search result. And the relevance of a search query improves as more people use it. So what is special about this Social Search? In what way is it different from any of the Search 2.0 sites?

Consider an option of buying a camera A or B at a place C or at a place D. There are several shopping websites that give you a price list. So enter the name of the camera you wish to buy, and you shall be able see the results and product reviews by people who bought it. Picture this against posting a question: “Should I buy A or B?” to a community dedicated to Digital Photography. The answer will be personalized and answer your question directly unlike the fifty plus search results.

Another example. This time personal. Recently there was a movie released by the name “The Island” which is a dystopian story. Aldous Huxley wrote a book “Island” which is of a similar theme. I wanted to know if there was a connection. Google and Amazon didn’t provide with satisfactory answers. Orkut’s Aldous Huxley community did. And I didn’t even have to scroll my way through several responses.

Many people turn into search engines for answers to their questions. They do not want search results for a key word. This is where I think community search will make all the difference.

Google Calendar

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There were screenshot leaks. There were expectations. And then it released.

Does it have Add Quick Event ?
Yes!

Does it support Sharing?
Yes!

Is it integrated with G-mail?
Yes! But not yet. Soon to be.

Does it send reminders?
Obviously.

Does it support Tagging?
No. But it is possible to Color code.

Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. After the likes of 30Boxes, it is going to be difficult to embrace Google Calendar. However, the best thing about Google Calendar is the integration with Google Maps. There is a “where” field and when you enter an address and it’ll be integrated with Google Maps. But more and more people are creating Mash Ups and it’ll only be a matter of time before some one else offers that functionality too.

Om Malik created a Poll on Google Calendar. Despite the fact that it is almost similar to any other Calendar Application, not so surprisingly, many people have voted in favour.

If Calendar will be compatible with Mobile Devices, though, it’d be another story. So it would be for Yahoo, if they integrate with Upcoming.org. Listening, anyone? ;)

Portal 2.0

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The New Updated version of Netvibes supports Tabs (Zoho supports Tabs within a browser tab too) and offers multi-lingual support (German, Croatian and Hindi!). Is Portal 2.0 the next happening thing?

Pageflakes too, seems to be pretty popular choice of a Portal service. It is interesting to note that Google’s Personalized Home Page or Live.com are no where close in terms of their number of users. Not surprising, since the extent to which services like Pageflakes or Netvibes allow customization is much greater than what Web-Giants have to offer. For instance, Netvibes supports readymade modules for Box.net storage, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Del.ico.us, Digg, to name a few popular sources. Pageflakes offers modules for Zoho Writer, Alexa and even an Address Book.

While it is true that any number of feeds can be added by a user, the popularity of Netvibes and Pageflakes is proof that people want the service itself to come packed with a lot of features; proof that people want more.