Threadsy Aggregates Email, Facebook and Twitter (plus invites!)

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TechCrunch 50 startup and runner-up Threadsy reached out to me earlier to look at their service. I’m not usually one to do that but I had some time and their street cred seemed legitimate (TC50, etc).

The service is an aggregation tool that pulls email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo, even IMAP to name a few) together. I couldn’t get my IMAP email account functional but that could just be me. It’s been awhile since I had to configure email addresses manually. My Gmail account imported successfully without any special configuration.

In addition to email accounts, Threadsy also aggregates your Facebook Inbox as well as Twitter. Though no differentiation (visually) seems to exist for DMs and public messages in Twitter, it did manage to aggregate everything nicely and order them in the proper order. I’ve noticed that other products that trie to do this always seem to be a little glitchy on timestamps and sorting, so I appreciated this.

What you get is a consolidated inbox, as seen below. It’s very interactive and clicking on messages brings up helpful information about the sender.

The experience is also very smooth with interactive visual elements (swooshes and what not… to be technical).

My big question surrounding this service is why? There already seem to be a lot of social inbox tools. Gmail is increasingly becoming one everyday with the addition of Buzz, though it does not yet support aggregation of Twitter and Facebook content. I can see the benefits, but I wonder how many users will be sold on it.

Try it for yourself though. The first thousand people to click on this link get into the private beta program. Let me know how you feel about it.

Buzz Kill

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By now, if you follow the technology world at all, or if you use Gmail, you’ve probably noticed a new thingy released by Google in the last few days. The thingy is called Google Buzz and it is billed to be a “status update” tool to allow your friends to know what you’re up to?

Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s supposed to be going after Twitter or some nonsense like that.

I enabled Buzz on my Gmail account and then promptly disabled it (you too can disable it, if it’s already turned on for you, by clicking on the “turn off Buzz” link in the footer of your Gmail account).

I’m going on record today to say that Google Buzz is and will continue to be an absolute failure. The reasons why are fourfold…

No one cares about the Google community

This thing is all about tying the Google community together, though they do have support for Twitter and Flickr as well because, well… no one can ignore those massive communities and have legs for the long run. People care about the YouTube community (a Google property). To a lesser extent, people care about the Blogger community (a Google property). No one cares about the Gmail community. It’s email!!! It’s not about community, it’s about utility and communication. Not community. I get spam in my Gmail. I get business conversations in my email. I get a searchable index of messages sent back and forth over the last five years in my Gmail. I don’t get community in my Gmail. The only community feature in Gmail is Google Talk and I don’t use that in Gmail. I use it in an IM client (Adium).

Google is too spread out to worry about community. They have products to meet needs and diversify web experiences, but their forays into community have sucked. Badly. Last time Google’s OpenSocial was a factor in the collaborative, community space was… oh, well, never. That’s dominated by Facebook. Not Google. Last time Picasa was an actual factor in the photography community was… oh that’s right… never. That’s controlled by Flickr.

And the next time Google tries to be a player in the “status update” community will be… oh, that’s right, never. That’s because Twitter dominates. Just ask Identi.ca. Oh, and Facebook.

Friendfeed is still something small and irrelevant

Why do I bring up Friendfeed? Well, my argument against Friendfeed still exists. Even Louis Gray, one of the biggest historical champions of Friendfeed, acknowledges that it remains a small community. It never has and never will go mainstream. So why has Google essentially ripped Friendfeed off and expect different results?

Comment? Like? Sounds familiar…. Oh, Facebook and Friendfeed do that.

Buzz is insecure

It’s well documented at this point that Buzz is actually pretty insecure. Because it operates out of Gmail, it assumes that your most frequently emailed people should automatically be friends. Except that that assumption is inherently insecure because friends are publicly viewable. Take these hypothetical situations for instance:

  • Bill has been corresponding with a major possible client under NDA. For any number of reasons, the communication should not be revealed to the public. Yet, due to the volume of email between Bill and his contact, his contact is automatically made a Buzz contact.
  • Kelly is negotiating an acquisition of a company. If this information were public, the deal could be off.
  • John is trying to take his wife on a big, secret getaway for her 40th birthday. In emailing with a variety of resorts over the period of several weeks, those resort contacts become part of John’s publicly viewable community.

Are we seeing the problem here? This is like Facebook Beacon all over again.

Why add more workflow and more social networks?

The argument has been made in favor of Buzz that Google has a huge Gmail userbase to jump off of. While this is true, this is one more area of workflow for users to utilize. Why do it? We have YouTube and Flickr and Twitter and Facebook? Do we really anticipate Buzz being added to the repertoire? I think not.

Buzz will have the same result as most other social networks: it will die. Very few have legs because very few are innovative and do new things. Twitter was an accidental success because it innovated on the concept of microcontent over SMS… yes, that’s how it started. Buzz is just one more has been and offers nothing new. It will stay in the bowels of early adopter-hood until it is forgotten.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Update: VentureBeat reports that Google has tweaked their privacy settings.

HipHop, PHP, and the Evolution of Language

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A lively little discussion developed over the past few days on the DC-PHP developers mailing list. We have a very active developers group here in the DC area – much larger than most cities, in fact. Part of what makes our group great is the diversity of background and experience that is in the group.

This was front and center over the past few days when one of our members, Hans, offered his opinions on Facebook’s new HipHop for PHP product. We have already expressed our intent to help make WordPress compliant with HipHop, something that will be beneficial to major WordPress sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, VentureBeat, WordPress.com, the NFL Blogs, the NY Times blogs, the Cheezeburger network (LOLcats, FAILBlog, etc) that carry large amounts of traffic. I hope to be able to consult with some of these organizations on moving into a HipHop system once my head is wrapped around it and WordPress is compliant.

Photo by Josh Hunter

Photo by Josh Hunter

Hans is an extraordinary developer. I have never met him personally, but his depth of knowledge on issues of security and scalability is downright frightening. He offered his own opinion of HipHop on the mailing list and so I’m going to pick on him a bit:

This HipHop thing is interesting, perhaps in much the same way as HipHop music: it feels like a hack. — And I mean that respectfully in both cases; I like hip-hop music, and appreciate how it pays homage to R&B roots, remixing/reinterpreting them, etc; and I think that the idea of taking one language and building it out to something else is also something I should support. After all, I’ve embroiled myself in code generation tools (e.g. Propel) that are operating on the same philosophical groundwork. But I also believe that there’s a general rule like “if you need code generation, there’s something wrong [in your design or in the tools you've chosen or ...]” … so those tools also feel like hacks.

In all of life, there is an evolution that happens. One iteration of something becomes better with improvements over time. This has happened on a micro level inside PHP. Without PHP 3 there would be no PHP 4. Without PHP 4, there would be no PHP 5. Ben Ramsey talked about this evolution before Christmas.

Why is it a hack to improve upon the tools used with a language? Is it a hack to use Memcached with PHP? Is it a hack to run on nginx instead of Apache or to implement FastCGI? All of these are third party software or extensions outside of PHP. So how is HipHop any different?

That’s all fair, but I feel like the problem here is that somewhere a long, long time ago, Facebook *must* have realized that they were going to have scaling problems. Long before they started having a problem, someone *must* have thought “maybe a compile-at-runtime language isn’t the right solution here”. I guess to me this cross-compiler is just a public way to admit that PHP is not the right tool for the job, but they’re stuck with all these developers that only know PHP so it was somehow cheaper to engineer a way to change PHP to C++ than it was to retrain developers on C++ (or, probably more realistic, Java).

I responded in that conversation with an only slightly edited response. While I appreciate, and always have appreciated, his frank, honest, high level view of PHP, web security, web applications, etc., he strikes me as somewhat naive and puritanical.

What I can say is *I*, along with dozens of other technology people in and out of DC, in and out of PHP, never look at our initial ideas as scaling ideas. We look at them as ideas and experiments to see if they have legs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is counter-productive to think about scale before thinking of concievability (is that a word?).

There’s a reason why Rails (God help us) is popular. It’s a great prototyping tool. You stand up an app quickly and let it into the wild to see if it has legs. Does it go? What are the market influences? What are the
pros and cons? Do we have to adjust?

After a concept is proven, then a solid dev team with solid tech leadership brings in their expertise to see if the idea can be built into something sustainable. As a sidebar, please take a read of Brad Feld’s very awesome
post from a few years ago “The first 25,000 Users are Irrelevant“.

My point is, it’s silly and a waste of resources for startup people to start thinking about how big they might get maybe 5 years down the road. I think you’d find out that, in most cases, successful technology, web-based companies happened by some dumb luck. Twitter. Facebook. Name-the-popular-app. Dumb luck.

Hey, I’d even argue that when too much comp-sci brain energy goes into an app, you get things like Wolfram Alpha. Cool. But useless. And not nimble enough to actually do the scaling necessary to need all that comp-sci engineering prowess.

Balance, my friend. Balance.

Facebook (and others) start with PHP because PHP is fairly ubiquitous and easy as pie to drop into production. However, there is a point of no return where you are committed to PHP and that’s where HipHop comes in.

Personally, I wish we had HipHop when I was at b5media. We had a ton of scaling problems with PHP and we were running fully clustered Apache servers (25 deep, if I recall), sharded MySQL across 6ish database servers, and we had massive I/O bottlenecks. We ran eAccelerator and Memcached and had squid-based load balancing and damn if Grey’s Anatomy or the Oscar’s didn’t pin our entire network on more than one occasion. What could have happened with an alternate to opcode caching. What could have happened if I had resources to put on developing C++ binaries of our frequently used PHP libraries.

I’ll tell you. It would have rocked. We were already committed to PHP. We were already committed to WordPress. And when the company started, we were all volunteer resources. There was no assumption that our idea had legs or I think everyone on the team would have quit our jobs immediately and put everything into building that company. It took a year to get there.

This is, for better or for worse, the way companies get started in the real world.