Running a data-driven social software site

SlideShare began with an idea. We built it on instinct, launched it. People liked it, it grew. Our active users wrote to us, blogged, sent us feedback about what they liked or did not like. We took that into account as we planned features.

Its great to listen to active users, but it can bias you towards the superuser. As our userbase is growing, we need to take into account the different user segments, the people who don’t blog and write to us.

There is only way to keep in mind all the user types, to end the endless debates within the company about what we need to do next. And that is to be driven by data. Period.

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Slidecasting as a general way to synch web audio and visuals

Jay Feinberg articulated much better than I did in my previous post, what the implications of slidecasting are. He tried to post this as a comment, but turns out my commenting system was broken.

One comment about the web and audio: there is a standard, or, at least, emerging standard, way to connect together multiple segments of audio: the playlist (and the XSPF standard playlist format). And, a slideshow seems very similar to a playlist in the way that you have discreet elements stiched together to form a linear presentation.

From a music / arts perspective, I would imagine that the most interesting possibilities would be the most web-like, e.g., that any one slide could connect to any playlist of multiple audio tracks, any one audio track could connect with any presentation of multiple sides, or one audio track could just connect with one side.

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Designing Slidecasting: a new multimedia format for the web

When SlideShare launched it was a place to share PowerPoint on to the web. TechCrunch called it the “YouTube for PowerPoint”. And while it was not my choice of words, I did not disagree! Yesterday, we moved beyond that initial description. SlideShare is now a place to share and create a new multimedia format: Slidecasts!

Slidecasts are a mashup of slides with audio. As it was pointed out time and again, slides by themselves can feel bare. Our users wanted to add voice tracks, music etc.

We did not just want to add audio to slides. We wanted to create a multimedia format suited to both creation and consumption on the web. What does that mean? The main developer on the project Kapil and I debated this time and again. We were inspired by the philosophy of “small pieces loosely joined“. For video, the visual and audio stream are generally recorded together. For Slidecasting, we wanted the multimedia format to suit the nature of the web, where multiple streams (slides and audio) can be loosely or tightly coupled.

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The SlideShare karoake randomizer

Fun project of the week was to work on a karoake randomizer to help you use SlideShare to run a ppt karoake event. You enter a tag from slideshare. It grabs all creative-commons licensed slideshows for that tag. If the slideshows allow download of the original file, it shows that link. All you need are some volunteers for presenting!

The SlideShare Karoake Randomizer is the first tool that uses our just-released API. We are open sourcing it so that you can use it as you like. Its available on our new API site SlideShareToys. And the code is available through Google code hosting.

The SlideShare Karoake Randomizer will be used for the first time today at the Creative Commons Salon in San Francisco! If you are in SF, come by this evening to Shine and watch the pptkaroake in action. Or maybe volunteer to present to a random slideshow. I am told that a critical element of pptkaroake – beer will be available!

PowerPoint Karoake at Creative Commons Salon on July 11th

If you missed the PowerPoint Kaorake at etech this year (I wish I had been there). Or if you were there and want more, then come by to the Creative Commons Salon in San Francisco on July 11th. Danny O’Brien will moderate the event. SlideShare is helping pull it together – actually, the only thing we are doing is to build a randomizer for randomly pulling slideshows for the event! (Ya, that’s a fun design project!)

Slideshows will be pulled from ones that have been shared with a Creative Commons license on SlideShare. If you want your slide deck to be considered, then upload to SlideShare, tag it “pptkaroake”. Also make the original file downloadable. If you plan to come by, then RSVP to this upcoming post for the Creative Commons Salon. For a great description of PowerPoint Karoake, go to Heathervescent.

Google buys Zenter (or the online powerpoint space heats up)

I am taking a break from reading blogs, techmeme etc. (try it sometime – its like having a mini-holiday without going anywhere), so it took an email from a friend to find out that Google bought Zenter, another one of those Paul Graham startups. Zenter was focused on online powerpoint authoring, with some community features. There was speculation on TechCrunch that this was an HR buyout – that they just wanted the team, while VentureBeat thinks its for Zenter’s browser based editing and polling features.

I think its curious. Eric Schmidt pretty much demoed Google’s PowerPoint clone at Web 2.0 expo. Why buy another PowerPoint company when their own app is almost ready? What did Zenter have that the Google PPT clone did not? I can speculate (and have some theories), but we will find out soon.


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Talk at Yahoo research tomorrow: The perils of popularity

I am giving a talk tomorrow at Yahoo Research Labs titled “The perils of popularity“. There has been a lot of excitement about how web-based social systems harness the wisdom of crowds. I want to challenge that notion. I also want to challenge some of Chris Anderson’s assertions about the long tail. Anderson contends that with the democratization of the tools of production and distribution and ability to reach niches with tools like Netflix and Google, the era of hits and manufactured pop is over. I think that the mechanism for creating hits is shifting from studios to the large scale social systems like YouTube and the rules for how content rises to the top. Instead of manufactured pop like N Sync, we have hits from teams like lonelygirl who best understand how to use that medium.

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