Getting the good content out of a Facebook group

I am astonished at how hard it is to get information out of Facebook groups.

The startup of which I am a part has created a Facebook group for dissemination of information of between commercial kitchen operators.  This was easier to get started than a forum and has the advantage of everyone being a “real person”, or at least real enough to get a Facebook account.  It also benefits from the ubiquity of Facebook–many many folks have it on their phones and get notifications about group activity.

However, it has the detriment of being a “walled garden”, with the content of the group being unavailable for searchers on the web.  Some might argue that privacy actually is a good thing, because it will encourage folks to be more honest, but really, anything you put on Facebook can be cut and pasted and made public, so I’m not sure I buy that argument.

Regardless, I wanted to find an easy, automated way to take the Facebook group content and pipe it elsewhere, where it could be reified and curated.  A human could do that, but I’d like an automated solution. And, other than the Facebook API, I haven’t found many.  Zapier (my go to integration choice) only recently released this as an option (I’m thr last few months.  IFTTT doesn’t have it.  There’s no commercial solution that I could find that does this.  There are, however, some open source solutions.

The Facebook API makes it fairly easy to grab the posts of a group, and from the posts, the comments, but frankly, I really want a solution that doesn’t require coding up the JSON parsing/pagination handling/Oauth access.  I just tried the facebook-export tool and it seems to work just fine (though I had ended up having to update the leveldown/levelup versions to 1.5/1.3 to get past a compile error: recipe for target 'Release/' failed). It gives you all your posts as JSON.

The Trouble with Snapchat

I joined Snapchat a while ago. I found tremendous value in the snapstorms by Mark Suster. And some value in the chats from Justin Kan and Gary Vanyerchuk. I’m no Snapchat expert–never made a snap. Just followed people for their stories. But I was interested and was checking the app a couple times a day for a while.

Yet, now I deleted the app from my phone.


Because even though I was getting value from the media I was consuming, there were two major issues.

  • I couldn’t share a great snapchat. Other than suggesting “hey, why don’t you get on snapchat and follow this person because they are talking about lots of interesting things”, you can’t share the knowledge. I didn’t think that was very important until the fifth or sixth time I thought “geez, XXX would really enjoy this” and then realized I couldn’t share it with them and felt a twinge of annoyance. I miss having a universal resource locator that I can share as I please.
  • I couldn’t consume a snapchat when I wanted to. I often will email myself an article, or leave a tab open, or even post it to Twitter or Hacker News if I scan it and know I’d like to come back and read it more fully later. Even in my Twitter or Facebook feeds, I can scroll back years if I want to. Snapchat forces you to consume content on their schedule. And that gets frustrating.

I can see why both of these attributes good for content creators–they force the consumer to engage more. More on that here, from msuster. But this consumer is saying goodbye to Snapchat. At least until they give me URLs.

Own your social media–install Storytlr

I guess I’m just not very trusting, because I like to have copies of my data.  I host my own blog, rather than use blogger or  I host my own email (or at least one of my two main accounts).  I prefer to document interesting things on my blog, rather than a site like Quora or Stack Overflow (though I do have an account on the latter).  Heck, even though I use an open ID provider, my own domain is the master, and I just delegate to

So, since I recently have been putting a bit more effort into my social media presence (you can find me on twitter here), I looked around to find a backup solution.  I did find one–Storytlr–via this article on backing up your twitter feed.  It apparently used to be a hosted service, but now is open source–code here, install instructions here.  (There’s at least one for pay service too, but then, you don’t really own your data, plus I’m cheap.)

It was pretty trivial to install.  I ran into this issue with Storytlr not recognizing that PDO was installed, but the fix (hacking the install script) worked, and I didn’t run into the Zend error also in that bug post.

I also ran into an issue where I chose an admin password of less than six characters on install.  Storytlr was happy to let me do that, but then wouldn’t let me enter the exact same password when I was logging in for the first time.  To fix this, I had to update the password column in the users table with a new MD5 string, created using this tool.

So, what does Storytlr actually give me?

  • Access to my data: I set up feeds to be polled regularly (requires access to cron) and can export them to CSV whenever I want.  And I keep them as long as I want to.
  • One single point of view of all my social content.
  • Really easy way to add more feeds if I join a new social network.  Here are the sites/networks Storytlr supports right now.

The issues I ran into are:

  • Technical issues, resolved as documented above.
  • No support for facebook.  (Well, there’s this experimental support, announced here, but nothing that is part of the project.)  This is big, given how bad Facebook is with respect to privacy.  I am not sure what my next steps are here.
  • Not wanting others to have access to my lifestream.  This was easily fixed with a Auth directive.

If you are depending on social media sites, have some technical chops, a server to host it on, and want to ensure a historical archive, you should look at Storytlr.

Useful Tools: StatsMix makes it easy to build a dashboard

I haven’t been to a BDNT lately, but still get their email announcements.  In August, all the 2010 TechStars folks presented, and were listed in the email.  I took a look at each company, and signed up when the company seemed to be doing something cool.  I always want to capture my preferred username, mooreds!

One that was very interesting to me was StatsMix; I signed up for their beta.  On Nov 1, I got invited to sign up.  Wahoo!

Statsmix lets users build custom dashboards.  I am developing an interest in web analytics (aside: if you are interested in this topic, I highly recommended Web Analytics 2.0, by Avinahsh Kaushik).  I’ve been playing with Piwik, an open source analytics toolkit, but Statsmix offers a slicker solution.

They have made it dead simple to create a custom dashboard for users.  They offer integration with, at this time, 29 services (twitter, mailchimp, youtube, Google Analytics, etc).  I could not find an up to date list of integration services outside of their webapplication!  The best I could find was this list from September.  While the integration interface is slick, the data integration is rudimentary.  For example, they will let you monitor the number of rows in a Google Spreadsheet, but nothing more (like rows in different columns, or the value in a particular cell–would be nice to see them integrate with Google Apps Scripting); you can track the number of likes on Facebook, but not the number of comments.

The real power of StatsMix comes from the ease of integration with your own custom stats.  They offer an API which is accessible via REST.  This means that you can push information from your database to a beautiful looking dashboard with shell scripts and a cron job.  Very cool!  It would be nice to see a plugin for Magento or other ecommerce vendors; I recently had a client, The Game Frame, that would have been a great fit for this type of dashboard, since it aggregates beyond what the ecommerce software provides.

Other cool features:

  • The whole UI is beautiful and farily intuitive.
  • The dashboard supports custom date ranges.
  • They will send you an email of stats every day, and apparently have some kind of limited version you can pass onto clients.  I didn’t play with the email feature at all, though it is extremely useful.

However, all is not perfect.  Some issues with StatsMix include:

  • As mentioned above, the integration with third party services leaves something to be desired.  What they offer is a nice start, but it’d be great to see them create some kind of marketplace where developers could build solutions.  For example, the twitter widget only tracks the number of followers.  From the TWitter API, it appears to be pretty easy to track the number of mentions, which could be a useful metric.
  • It wasn’t clear how to share a dashboard, though that may be an upcoming feature.
  • The terms of use are, as always, pretty punishing.
  • Once you develop a number of custom metrics, you are tied to their platform.  That wouldn’t be so bad, except…
  • They are planning to charge for the service, but give no insight into what to expect.  There is a tab called ‘Billing’ but all it says is: “During our beta, StatsMix is free to use. After the beta, you’ll be able to manage your billing preferences on this page.”  If I was considering using this as part of my business, I would want much more insight into possible costs before I committed much time to custom metric buildouts.  I’m fine with them making money, just want more insight into this key aspect of their web app.

All in all, it is well worth a try.  If you to, let me know by posting a comment.  I have 5 invites to give out.

Tech folks can learn from rap stars about social media

At least, this one did.

I am just finishing watching this hour long interview with Chamillionaire, (found via Both Sides of the Table).  It’s long, but worth listening to.  It is very interesting to see some of the patterns that arise in entreprenuership, venture capital, and the music industry. The key takeaway for me is that the rise of the internet means you are not limited to going through gatekeepers like you used to be (and this is true for entrepreneurs and musicians–check out this interesting company I found out about at Boco last year for a nice intersection of the two).

This isn’t strictly due to the internet (Chamillionaire started with mix tapes), but the internet radically increases the scope and breadth of our reach.  All you have to do is put in the time, blood, sweat and tears, and you can build your audience.  And, most importantly, you can take that audience with you wherever you go (Chamillionaire will when he leaves Universal, and Dion Almaer will as he leaves Palm).

Other highlights/takeaways:

  • control your image–even when you hire or use other people’s services, it is still on you maintain quality
  • you have lots of gifts to give–find out what people want and will pay for
  • go beyond your normal boundaries–when promoting one of his hits, Chamillionaire searched out rappers from beyond the mainstream (NZ, Greece) and leveraged their talents, rather than sticking with pop
  • the best presentation in the world fails if you don’t hold the microphone correctly
  • quora sounds like a useful, for pay, collection of questions and answers

In addition, lots of echos of Gary Vaynerchuk’s great video on building personal brands (cursing).  The user questions (the host took 5-10 during the hour) added a nice touch.  This is the first time I have watched ‘This Week in Venture Capital’ and I found the ‘sponsor breaks’ to be a bit abrupt, but I suppose the host has to pay the bills.

Online Tools for Enriching an Offline Community, CSA edition

I had a meeting yesterday with a Anne Cure, a farmer, and her web specialist.  She grows food that I buy via my CSA (community supported agriculture) share–I have a list of Colorado CSAs if you’re looking.  Anne, and the rest of the farmers she works with, has created a great offline community as part of the CSA.  There are multiple events at the farm, including an end-of-year pig roast.  As a CSA member, you get great veggies, you are part of a community and you support a local farm.  It’s win-win-win.

I asked Anne to meet with me because I felt that, while there was some member to member interaction, it wasn’t as prevalent as it could be.  Often, at CSA pickup, I wouldn’t talk to anyone except for Anne, or one of the other farm workers.  And I rarely observed any of the other members having any interactions either.

Being a web guy, I thought that bringing the community online might help.  Of course, there are always challenges around that–it takes work to maintain an online community too!

Here’s a list of all the ideas I thought of to leverage the offline community Cure Organic Farm has built, as well as some we discussed during the meeting.

Some of these ideas take little effort, some take a lot.  Some bring in revenue, some don’t.  Some put all the effort onto existing staff, others leverage excited community members.  Some had been done already, some they had never heard of.

Hopefully anyone else who has created an offline community can pick and choose useful tools and ideas, from below, to enhance that community online.  If you have additional suggestions, please feel free post them in the comments.

  • Use posterous to create a dead simple blog.  Leverage its auto posting capabilities to push content into other social networks (twitter, Facebook, etc, etc).  Use twitter/FB to drive traffic to their farmstand.  Cure Organic Farm does already have a Facebook page.
  • Use email list management software, like MailChimp, and look at the reports to see if email is a useful (aka ‘read’) means of communication.
  • Promote carpooling to pick up CSAs–save gas and promote interaction between members.  Consider using a tool like Divide the Ride.
  • Add a page of ‘Cookbooks Anne Uses’ (they already have a links page of various recipe sites).  Have that link to Amazon and you could possibly make latte money from it.
  • Cure Organic Farm puts out a great weekly newsletter during the CSA season, full of quotes and recipes.  However, searching it is an issue (I suggested Google Custom Search).
  • Also, making those recipes available in some kind of ingredient specific manner would be useful.  Even if the recipes aren’t broken out, just knowing that I can find a recipe for garlic scape pesto in newsletter #5 from 2008 is useful.  This could be done with a simple database or even plain HTML.
  • Forums, of course, are great community building tools.  They also are great for spam.  I imagined forums being used for sharing food knowledge (recipes, ‘how do I use 3 lbs of beets?’), though you could also share community events and even barter goods.  The issue with forums, as ever, is moderation–how to make sure that people are not abusing the forum (or each other).  This qualifies as a high input/high possible return tool.
  • An online calendar.  Both for specific events, such as the aforementioned pig roast, and informal knowledge, like when tomatoes are expected to be ripe, would be great to have on a calendar.
  • Online registration for CSA membership and other event payment.  They do online registration already (if the shares haven’t already sold out).  They currently use paypal, and the fees can really eat into the farm’s profits, so they don’t see a bigger effort into this area being useful.
  • Classifieds.  Kinda like the forums but for money or free.  Same model as craigslist, but aimed at a self selected group of people.  Again, moderation and ensuring appropriate use are challenges.
  • Using a ready-setup community building site like ning could help accelerate online community building.  I also pointed them to the great Transition Colorado Ning site, so they could see what a related organization was doing.
  • Use wufoo (or email) to let users submit newsletter content.  Just sharing what other businesses and professions other CSA members are in can help knit the community tighter.
  • Advertising on the site.  They weren’t too keen on this, but I think that the correct type of advertising would be useful.  Again, possibly too high effort to be possible.
  • List of links to local resources.  They are already doing this, but should make it easier for people to request addition.
  • Write a blog.  This is a higher input version of the posterous suggestion, but I think it would be fascinating.

Cure Organic Farm is a niche producer of vegetables, with a fiercely loyal CSA membership (shares almost always sell out within days of being open to the public) and proximity to Boulder, so their toolset will necessarily differ from another organization (imagine a farm just starting off, further out, with less reputation).  Hopefully some of these ideas and tools will be helpful to others thinking about strengthening offline community using online resources.

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Why Are You Following Me on Twitter?

Don’t you know that I’m a web developer posting geeky stuff and you’re a bar posting specials?

I joined the Twitter movement a while ago (not a first mover by any means) but have been actively using it more in recent months.  I find it useful as well as diverting.  However, I don’t want to discuss how I use it right now; what I want to focus on is a behavior that interests me.

It seems if I follow someone, mention anyone by name, or tweet on a topic of interest once, there’s a reflex for people to follow me.  This doesn’t happen all the time, but happens often enough that it bears examining.  Why would someone do this?

  • if I posted once on a topic of interest, I might post again
  • it’s easier to follow and then unfollow than it is to read my twitterstream and see if I’m actually worth following
  • I might follow someone who follows me, and followers are good
  • Someone might know me (online or offline) and a tweet might have alerted them to my presence on twitter
  • Someone might have seen my tweet, clicked through to my profile, and thence to my website, read a couple (or all :)) of my posts, considered whether or not I might have more of interest to say, and followed me.

Those are the main reasons I can think of.  Did I miss any? Oh, and the last couple are improbable, based on my web stats.

I think it’s early in the Twitter game, especially for the pragmatists (Twitter having crossed the chasm), and it feels like the early days of my RSS reader (when I first discovered the wonderful world of blogs).  Any time I stumbled upon a blog that had an interesting post, I added the blog’s feed to my RSS reader.  Eventually, I was following hundreds of blogs.  For a while, I kept up, reading the new posts diligently, but because of real life and work, I fell behind.  Now, I rarely open Bloglines–I know which blogs I want to check out and just visit them directly.

I think the same thing can happen to your twitter home page–if you add people indiscriminately (or even slightly discriminately) you risk polluting it and decreasing its value.  Note that I don’t use any of the tools built around Twitter.  They may help manage this issue–and I hope they do.

Because it is so easy to follow people on Twitter (easier, in fact, than determining whether it would be worthwhile to follow them), it’s also easy to clutter up your experience.  In the end, I believe this clutter will either drive you away from Twitter, or force you to spend time unfollowing (or, as Dion put it, “gardening”).

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December 2009 BDNT writeup

I went to the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup last night, and as always, had a good time.  I ran into Brett Borders, and had a good discussion with him about why BDNT is worth going to.  I only go every couple of quarters, but I always learn something, and meet some interesting people (last night, including Marty Frary), and get jazzed about technology again.  This particular episode was packed–standing room only.  In addition, in the spirit of the season, there was a food drive, which was a nice touch, and a giveaway.  One additional change was that the twitter stream was off during presentations, though available during the q&a period (here’s a twitterstream horror story from the presenter’s point of view).

Brad Bernthal gave an overview of Silicon Flatirons (and asked for $ support).  This is a center focused on tech, law and entrepeneurship, which puts on a number of programs supporting the Boulder tech scene (I attended and reviewed one a while back: IP Crash Course for Entrepeneurs).  Which raises the question–where is the CU CS department?  Why is the Law school hosting BDNT and other users’ groups?  The CS department does host Colloquia (I attend about one a year), but I don’t think those compare to BDNT, et al.

After Brad, we moved on to jobs and events.  I was glad to see a number of jobs pop up.  Over the last year, at BDNT there were always some developer jobs available, but this time there was also a marketing job.  Hope it’s a sign that the Boulder tech job market is thawing (for folks other than developers).  There were 8 job announcements, though one of them was equity only.  About half of the presenting companies said they were looking to hire as well.  As far as events, KGNU is having a fundraiser called ‘Beers With Brad’Ignite Boulder 7 is only a week away (here’s an interesting post on how to organize Ignites).

On to presentations…

  • The Blog Frog presented on their platform to turn blogs into communities.  This is an interesting space–you can see competitors in Ning, MyBlogLog and Google Friend Connect, though they all approach the issue from a different angle.  The Blog Frog is aimed at automating community creation, and have focused on mommy bloggers (as a large, valuable group).  We did not get a demo from them, and I haven’t signed up for their service for any of my blogs, but they definitely have a cool value proposition–helping niche content providers build their communities and reach advertisers and interested people.  You can see a presentation from them 7 months ago; it sounds like their business model has evolved significantly.
  • The Unreasonable Institute presented next.  They bill themselves as ‘Techstars for social entrepeneurs’, but they have a few differences.  Instead of picking applicants and providing them money, they want applicants to fundraise to provide a fee and idea validation.  After applicants are selected, they do get funds throughout the 10 week program, as well as mentoring, chance to pitch, etc, etc. The presentor said that the applications already received were split equally between the for-profit, non-profit and hybrid models.  So, the funding pitches would include VCs/angels as well as foundations–an interesting twist and a great way to increase connections between those communities.  They are accepting applications for the 2010 summer until Dec 15th.
  • Letitia Pleis, from Metro State College of Denver, gave a great talk on the tax implications of equity as payment.  She covered three scenarios.  Unrestricted (‘here’s 10% of the company, please write software!’) which is taxed as income at the time of the grant and also implies a great deal of trust in the payee.  Restricted (‘here’s 10% of the company, it vests in 3 years’) which is taxed as income at the time the grant is vested, possibly leading to a massive increase in taxes due, unless you perform an section 83(b) election within 30 days of the grant (one person spoke up and said they’d be bitten by this).  Unrestricted profits interest gives the grantee claim on a percentage of future profits.  She was at the end of her time, so we didn’t hear as much about this option as I would have liked.
  • Next up was a gadget review.  I’m not a gadget head, so I didn’t take notes on this, but they did give away a Sonos system.  Well, the winner earned it by knowing what the original cost of a Apple I system was ($666.66).
  • Public Earth presented next.  They are a wiki of places; the presentor said just like Netflix lets you collect your favorite movies, Public Earth will let you collect your favorite places.  (And they hope to have scale like wikipedia–he said that they plan to move beyond the ‘where’s the nearest restaurant’ level.  I looked for ‘slot canyons’ in UT, for example, and they had some.  I think they need to work on their linking, because I couldn’t get a link for my query to post.  But, on the upside, they don’t support IE6!)  They have 5M points in their database already, and just went live.  The wiki aspect is very interesting to me; I wonder whether they’ll get a critical mass of users to do spam policing.  It’s an interesting contrast to Google My Maps–PE has a slicker interface and more sharing features.
  • Last was RTP, with their sick iphone app, Real Ski.  This is an augmented reality application that helps you locate points of interest (bathroom, particular runs) when you’re out skiing.  They obviously couldn’t demo it at BDNT, but they had a video demo, and it looked killer.  It should be on the App Store soon–5 area maps free, 99 cents for every other ski area map.  They also asked for advice from the community about selling a B2C app; RTP apparently is a B2B company.  Pricing, scale, and accuracy were mentioned, but nothing really profound.  This question might be a better asked on twitter, or in some forum that allows more interaction.  (I searched, and was interested to see that no one had posted advice for them on twitter.)

The only complaint I had with this BDNT was that there were no demos (apart from the gadgets).  Several pseudo-demos (aka powerpoint slides/videos), and interesting and relevant presentations, but I think that live demos really add a lot and are in the spirit of the meetup.

Anyone you know care about society?

As a society and democracy, we don’t need newspapers, but we do need journalism.  Please send Clay’s article to anyone who reads or writes for newspapers.  We all need to start thinking about how to preserve journalism through the internet revolution instead of hiding from it.  Oh, and this too: most of a local newspaper is not journalism.

Thanks to Clay Shirky for a cogent, scary, realistic analysis of this issue.  Via Barry Ritholtz.

PS: I hope the universities know that the internet is coming for them too.

StackOverflow and Community

“Hey, have you heard?  StackExchange is the new faq/forum.  It’s the cat’s pajamas, with SEO friendly urls, lots of web 2.0 features (including a realtime wysiwyg editor) and social goodness baked in.” — Dan, trying on his hipster hat

If you’re a programmer, and you use the google to look for answers to your programming questions, you’ve probably seen pop up in the search results.  This site, started as a collaboration between Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood last year, is a better way to do question and answer sites, aka FAQs.  It opens the FAQ asking and answering process to anyone with a browser, has anti spam features, some community aspects (voting, editing answers, reputation, commenting, user accounts), and great urls.  And, incidentally, a great support staff–I emailed them a question about my account and they responded is less than 24 hours.

They’ve done a good job of generalizing the platform, and now you can create your very own.  There are a wide variety of stack sites: real estate, your pressing Yoda needs, small business, space exploration.  Here’s a list.  I love the fact they are charging for this software–$129/month for a 1M pageviews is not very much for software that lets you build your community and lets your community share knowledge.

And that’s the key.  Like most other social software, what you get out of a stack site is highly correlated to what you put into it.  If, like the folks at Redmonk, you create a stack site about a topic on which you have expertise and publicize it where you know interested people will hear about it and spend time answering questions on it, I imagine you have a good chance to build a community around it. And once you get to a certain threshold, it will take on a life of its own.  But you need to provide that activation energy–it’s an organizational commitment.
If, on the other hand, you create a stack site and don’t have a community which can get excited about it, or don’t do a good job reaching out to them, you end up with an abandoned stack site (worse than an abandoned blog, imho).  I’m hoping that Teaching Ninja won’t be in this state for long, but right now there’s only 3 questions and no answers there.

The proliferation of social software infrastructure sites (I’m looking at you, ning) has made it easier than ever to create the foundations for communities online.  But, you need to have people for community software to have any value!  Because it is so easy, getting others involved is not a case of ‘if you build it they will come’ (if it ever was).  There are too many competing sites for other’s time.  Software can make it easier and easier to build the infrastructure around community, but it’s the invisible structures (bonds between you and your users, and between them) that will actually create ongoing value.

If you’re looking for an outward facing FAQ site and willing to invest the time in it, a stack site seems to be one of the best software platforms for building that right now.  (I have some qualms about who owns the data, but it seems like they are planning export functionality.)  Just don’t believe the hype: “The Stack Exchange technology is so compelling, sites can take off right away.”  No software can make a social site ‘take off right away’.

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