Marketing department uploads, legal department serves takedown notice

This just happened. A big company approached us with a take down notice for a few slideshows. We responded and suspended the slideshows. The people who had uploaded protested. Turns out they were from the same company as the “big company” except from the marketing department. I see this happening again and again. Individuals from big companies want to embrace SlideShare (often web-savvy individuals, folks from marketing depts). The Legal and IT depts want to hold them back. Legal because they want every action to go through a set of legal hoops. IT because they have the “Made inhouse” syndrome and think they can build inhouse whatever web tool people are using outside.

Size and diffusion of responsibility already make it hard for corporations to be nimble and agile. Legal and IT depts make them even more backward thinking than they already are. Yes, both have their uses, but they don’t get the web, and especially how the consumer web has changed things for the enterprise by changing the individuals inside it.

Using Google Apps for your startup

We recently started using Google Apps at SlideShare. Reasons were many. I wanted the convenience of Gmail for our mail. Google Docs makes a lot of sense for informal spreadsheets and documents to keep track of things we are working on.

How the switch went
I registered for Google docs one weekend. It took me some time to configure email so that I could start downloading it into Thunderbird. I had to search around on the web to get the settings exactly right. Next I setup accounts for my cofounders. It was pretty easy to setup administrator accounts and to create email nicknames so that we could receive email to other addresses into our email boxes.

Over the years I have acquired many email addresses, and I set up all my work related ones to come into the one Google apps account. That required me to verify my other email addresses through Google Apps (once again, it was a pretty smooth process).

Continue reading

Google Docs vs. Microsoft Office: there we go again

ReadWriteWeb wrote an article yesterday about why Google Docs is a threat for Microsoft Office. Someone called Karim posted a long rebuttal which is its own post now. Makes for some interesting reading. The discussion in the comments breaks into the typical anti MS or anti Google camp.

In my own experience, Google docs is useful for different reasons than MS Office. Yesterday, I created a Google spreadsheet to track a weekly column on Slide Design that we are planning for the SlideShare blog. I want to share the information with the rest of my team, the spreadsheet is not heavy (it has very little data), I don’t need any fancy formatting. Google Docs was perfect for that.

The day before I spent almost the entire day in Excel crunching SlideShare numbers, creating charts. There is no way I could use Google Docs for that. Its a lot of data, lot of charts and a lot of manipulation of data. Any type of network latency will be annoying. Also, I use many advanced Excel features that I am sure Google Docs does not support.

Google Docs is useful, but I don’t see it taking over MS Office anytime soon.

Open letter to Matt & Toni: Three ways for Wordpress to become more of a social network

WordPress.com is growing at fast pace. Its not quite at the Facebook, MySpace level, but at the rate it is growing, it could clearly get there. It has some of the elements of a social network, but these elements tend to be implicit rather than explicit. I think WordPress could grow even faster and replace some of what people get out of sites like Facebook if it became a little more of a social network. The question is how it could do this without changing the current character of the community too much.

Others have also noticed that wordpress has some of the attributes of a social network. Chris Messina thinks of it as a distributed social network. I am building on that theme. Like Chris, I like the openness of WordPress. It fits the nature of the web. I like the fact that its person-centric. And I have also observed that for a object-based network like SlideShare, the main place for embedding our widgets is not Facebook, or MySpace or Orkut – its WordPress. So you could say that I am selfish in my desire to see WordPress grow!

WordPress does have the basic ingredients for social network. Spaces for individuals (their blogs) within a larger social system (WordPress.com) and ways for people to connect with each other (by linking, commenting, blogrolls). What WordPress does not have is the social glue to pull the disparate community together and give it more of a community feel. Here are three ways that WordPress can get more social glue.

Wordpress icons1) Make it easy to navigate via users: Right now you can navigate from user to post to user, or from comment to user. It would be easy for WordPress to change this and make it possible to go from user to user in a much more fluid manner. A specific example: on the front page of wordpress.com, they show the user icons next to blog posts in the News Department area. The user icons should point to the About page for that user. As a rule, user icons should always point to the About page for that user.

2) Standardize the “About” page: To the best of my understanding, there is no standardized profile page on WordPress. But every social network needs a profile page which has information about the user and includes a browsable list of contacts. The About page can service this purpose – it needs to the central place for information about a user and their contacts.

3) Create a standard list of contacts: Social networks need a way for each person to have browsable list of contacts. I don’t think that WordPress needs to have a “Add as contact” button like most social networks. There are many implicit ways for people to make social connections on WordPress (blogrolls, commenting, linking). Any or all of these could form the basis of an inferred list of contacts (this idea will need to be fleshed out).

There are other things that WordPress could do to create more of a community feel. For example, create WordPress groups. People express identity and form affiliations by creating / joining groups. Groups could be based on topical interest. Location based groups also might work well – letting bloggers from a certain location easily find each other.

I think the challenge for WordPress would be to do this without losing the current feel. But with a few subtle design and technical changes, wordpress could do this … the basic ingredients for a social network are already in place. And I think Matt and Toni are upto the challenge.

Ratio of creators to viewers for SlideShare

I was just running some stats for SlideShare and realized that the ratio of creators (people who upload slideshows) to viewers (who visit SlideShare.net) is just south of 1%. This fits in well with what Bradley Horowitz’s Content Production Pyramid described, with some caveats.

First Bradley also talks about the synthesizers. I have yet to calculate those numbers for SlideShare. However, SlideShare is an active bookmarking community (we have 2.7 tags per slideshow), so those numbers are likely to be meaningful. But a lot of the synthesis is also happening on the web. As people link to and embed slideshows, they add metadata about those slides. Some of the metadata is captured on SlideShare (e.g., we links back to all the embds). But a lot of it cannot be captured easily.

Secondly, the number of viewers is probably an underestimation in an era of widgets. Slideshows are embedded all over the web. Each embed leads to more views which our system does not directly capture.

Google Analytics and problems with AJAX, Flash sites

I spent part of my weekend trying to understand Google Analytics (GA) – mostly why GA shows such low engagement metrics for SlideShare. Every other measure tells us engagement is much higher. Finally I figured out the reason: we use a lot of AJAX and flash, and our media files are served from Amazon S3. So you can view a slideshow for half hour on Slideshare, you can comment, favorite and do many other activities. And none of them would get recorded on Google Analytics which is only recording page to page movement, and only for actions that happen on SlideShare.net (all the slide activity on Amazon S3 is not being captured!).

We started using GA recently and just did an out of box install. To give it credit, GA is very convenient, and rapidly becoming a standard for site statistics. But its out of the box install does not account for the way many modern websites work.

– Distributed Infrastructure: File serving from Amazon S3 is common
– Flash based for media files
– Lots of AJAX for on the page interaction

After spending time on the problem (including reading this book), we have figured out workarounds for most of the the issues. And while GA is flexible enough to accommodate us, it does not make it easy. Out of the box, it seems set up for old school HTML pages where you move from page to page, rather than mini-actions within page. Also, many of the options seem to be for ecommerce sites (tracking steps through an ecommerce funnel etc.) rather than for social (Web 2.0 to use a cliched term!) sites.

My advise – if you are going to use Google Analytics, spend some time upfront to understand how to customize both the analytics code and your own site. Don’t begin collecting data before you do that, or you will get a very biased picture of your site. Also, to do it right, you will end up integrating with GA much more deeply than simply placing some javascript in your pages.