Push Level Agreement

So now we’re in for an apparently unlimited amount of blaming Facebook for just about anything that needs a scapegoat. Take the story that crossed whatever we call the wires these days about how social readers are being destroyed by some tweaking of the Facebook engine. I followed all the links on Bruce Francis’ Cloudblog story and now realize this is actually about Facebook social readers. But the net seems to be: don’t trust your friends when they have something to share with you.

I thought this was already well known, starting and ending with Digg and its tyranny of the crowd. Trending topics for me is another way of saying here’s what to find out enough about to ignore everything else until something new happens. All you need to know about this is to see how many unfilled programming jobs there are out there that involve dedupping.

I’m not looking for a social reader in any case. What we really need is a social limiter, a version of the Beatles’ favorite studio tool, the Fairchild limiter. I once sequestered myself for months at the Band’s ShangriLa studio in Malibu, where the producer who ran the place had assembled as many Fairchilds as he could get his hands on. These babies were like some velvet glove you could wrap around guitars, vocals, even drum tracks — and out would come this warm glowing sound bursting with overtones, that felt better than what went in.

Translate that into a stream that discarded the latest rehash of a trending article, the latest numbers why RIM is screwed, why Facebook is the worst IPO in history. How about a size-shrinker that offers some visible clues as to the amount of actual information in the few truly interesting headline grabbers. How about some metrics on what actually is the amount of information we’re looking for per inch. The Fairchild limiter didn’t limit the music; it expanded its impact and clarity.

Social reader is really a misnomer, though. What’s social is the path travelled to the push notification that triggers your awareness of the next thing to absorb. And I’m the reader, not some app on Facebook or anywhere for that matter. More and more, I’m the detective, intuiting what I don’t see in the space between the lines, the posts, the tweets. Now that House is over, we only have his mantra to employ: the relentless odyssey in sea rch of completely irrelevant revenge for some dimly perceived slight that suddenly explodes in insight based on a random piece of dialogue. Remember: everybody lies.

Take Facebook. Supposedly the IPO was rigged to protect the house, as in every other form of legalized and otherwise gambling. The interior logic of the show was that because Facebook has 900 million subscribers, they by definition are inevitably going to be profitable, maybe more so than their competitors present and future. I actually feel that’s kind of right, but have much less clarity as to how I personally can profit by the insight. For example, if everybody who invests $1000 can flip it ten minutes later for $1100, at what point do you run out of suckers?

But just because the stock dove, then recovered, then dove, then barely got back to square one, doesn’t mean we don’t still have that same intuition. Waiting until Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday and Thursday’s half bump, and Friday’s mini-dive, does nothing to change our minds about the big picture. 900 million, it’s like Sam’s Club, isn’t it? Who’s gonna do better anytime soon? So we didn’t do the flipitydip… it’ll just take longer. Meanwhile, the patient, this means us, is in a coma.

OK, let’s blame Scoble then. Doc Searls does a wonderful job of that in his new Techmemed post, but he somehow misses the point that Robert represents a fairly good bellweather of what actually is going to happen, namely that Facebook will succeed at whatever the hell it is experimenting with right now. Maybe the last minute warnings about mobile cluelessness are true, but I doubt it. My wife’s iPhone is off the hook with Facebook alerts from family, friends, and such. It’s not mobile they don’t get, it’s push.

That’s the big secret Wall Street is struggling with, that push is the monetization model of mobile. Who cares what the UI is, or what the advertising surface is. The moment a push hits your screen, it comes down to a binary decision: do I want to know more, or do I already know enough. To make that decision, we need social metadata to help out. Who said this, who retweeted it, who @mentioned it, and how are these signals parsed to prioritize the queue.

This is why micro-communities like Path and FourSquare persist. Their signal to noise is scoped by the care with which we follow our peers and the precision of the resulting clarity of pushes. In a world of push, the most valuable signals are the ones that don’t interrupt, don’t repeat, don’t strangle the message in a sea of marketing. Push is about permission, which turns advertising into information on request and marketing into paid subscription.

Push requires a PLA, or Push Level Agreement, where we populate our social channels with enough signal from which to derive educated guesses about our intentions and intuitions. Yes, Facebook has plenty of data, but little understanding of how to leverage it because we’re not allowed to tune the inference algorithms. Metadata farming requires not just permission but incentives for broadcasting rich metadata and priority context.

This is why Google + Circles are so brain dead. Yes, they let you know who you are broadcasting to. But no, they don’t let us know who you’re broadcasting to. I can’t intuit the effect a post has on the implicit group, so I can’t tell how important it is to know about in the push queue. Since you’re not telling me how important you think this is, why should anybody else weight it? There’s little incentive to create those signals, and the end result of a push notification of a Google + item is to perceive it as an interruption.

Push is the cloud’s security blanket. It implicitly says, those who trust you will be trusted by you. Everybody else loses. Push capital punishment is to go to the Settings page and turn off an app. SocialCam may be the first if they don’t watch out. I like the early days feeling of the app, but I’m not sure the trust signals coming from its users are visible enough for me to understand. Photo apps are only push friendly to the extent that they don’t go viral, which seems contradictory unless you believe that push is the new money. I do.