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Friday, March 6, 2009

Blellow -- Twitter goes vertical

I was invited to the Blellow Beta and my interest was picqued in examining another Twitter-like application.  The recent history of microsharing is littered with past attempts to improve on Twitter. Pownce and Jaiku were both acquired... but not supported. Plurk hit a chord with it's threaded conversations, but then Twitter figured out how to stay up more consistently. And recently, Yammer and are working to bring microsharing inside the Enterprise firewall.

With all that context (baggage?) I joined the Blellow Beta.

First, let me talk about them in their own right. They are building a community of creative freelancers that can share ideas amongst itself but also act as a location that companies can post jobs/projects that the community can fulfill. This is a bold implementation that puts to the test the concept of collaborative competition. The community will be acting as a support group but also trying to compete for the jobs that get posted. How this dynamic plays out should be one of the major trends the Blellow community manager should watch for.

Now I feel comfortable starting to do the comparisons. I was talking with Heather Strout, Connie Reece, and LaniAR (what, she has a last name?) about how Twitter was so disruptive when they launched but quickly locked themselves into their feature set and let third-party apps take care of covering their weaknesses. 

This is the first place that I appreciated Blellow. They've taken the steps to incorporate some of the main requested features back into site. They allow threaded conversations by allowing you to open-up all the replies to a specific post right from your stream. You can also create actual groups and reference them (with the % symbol) which acts like a more formalized hashtag system. You can include files (especially pictures) right in your message meaning that people don't have to open up a new window to see what you're sharing. And, your home page dynamically updates (without constant refreshing!).

Why is this important? Because despite the familiarity of the early adopters, the concept of microblogging is still new. And innovation is still important. Blellow isn't trying to compete with Twitter in terms of user-base. They have taken the concept and applied it to a niche. But, they've also shown how the horizontal application could be improved.

My review of Blellow is postive because I want to see more companies take the approach of improving microblogging without trying to be the next Twitter. But I do also see a couple of downsides.

Any division of attention is going to create a barrier to entry. It's not impossible to maintain a presence in multiple social networks but when dealing with real-time networks like Twitter and Blellow, it is certainly more difficult. 

Guiding the community to focus on the right content. One of the axioms of social media is that you can't control the community. You don't own them, you can't make them do what you want. But, Blellow isn't asking "What are you doing?" they want to ask "What are you working on?" Keeping the community engaged in collaborative discussions about freelance work is going to take visible leadership from the Blellow team. If users slip into the more comfortable, more conversational, routine of talking with each other about what they are doing at the moment then Blellow hasn't differeniated itself from Twitter. The result, people migrate back to Twitter

Finally, while I like the inclusion of features into the website, I am also a big fan of having a desktop client. I use my browser all the time, if I have to keep flipping back to a separate tab or another browser window, I just don't get around to it as often. Allowing this to be created (or making it themselves) will again help with the adoption and retention of their members.

Would you use a vertical microblogging site?

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