The Swarms of Silence


tickerI like talking about Twitter. I have no problem with Oprah getting hip to Twitter. I have no problem with being left off the Suggested List. I have no problem with Twitter having dropped Track and slowed the micromessaging era until it became totally obvious that Twitter is a transcendent shift in the fabric of the network. All the rest is noise.

That’s because of people like the guys who are building out FriendFeed. There have been many such folks in the history of the network. Some have contributed ideas that routed around proprietary roadblocks. Some have used broad market force to mandate standards that led to impregnable empires built on economies of scale that in turn spawned disruptors of that hegemony. But today requires a combination of all these models, a blend of market power, independence, and crucially, the ability to work with your competitors in ways that allow both to grow.

FriendFeed appears to have the ability to sustain itself to the point where it can achieve its functional goals. Those goals, if its founders are to be believed, are to foster a suite of tools for managing the rich flow of metadata orbiting content objects on the information network. It’s not an open source project, but rather an open goal project. The bootstrap is in creating the synergies necessary to observe the results of realtime conversation and its output.

With the release of FriendFeed’s realtime tools and the imminent addition of Track (realtime search alerting) two weeks ago, the most observable result has been the monitoring of Twitter’s explosive growth in mainstream media. Although many of the former uber-followed tech stars have lost ground in relation to the bloated Hollywood effect of Twitter’s Suggested List and the gaming it incented, the rest of the rank and file have seen steady growth, ranging from one or two a day for newbies to 10 or 20 for more established technologists, journalists, and marketers.

FriendFeed realtime swarms around shows such as TWiT and FFundercats continue to expand, with downloads and streaming users growing aggressively as millions start participating in the Twitter information flow. While we don’t precisely know the pragmatic value or usage patterns of these swarms, we know enough to realize that learning by doing is a hedge against being passed by as the race for traction in the new media markets accelerates.

Although some see this as a battle of entrenched media versus the forces of transparency, the reality is much more nuanced. For one, the notion that gifts of attention should be taxed at some set value is unworkable. Did John Lennon receive unfair wealth because he was the Smart One, and was Paul McCartney disadvantaged because he was in Lennon’s shadow? Did The Beatles become colossal because Brian Epstein put them in suits and sucked up to the Queen? Did the Stones become great by pissing off the Queen? Popular culture has its own rules, its own operating system, its own arc of innovation, consolidation, and glorious decay.

For another, realtime has interesting characteristics that smooth out the hype curve on both ends. If people ignore the pressure of submitting to the realtime feedback loop, they lose authority rather than preserve it. Those that stand and engage in realtime are perceived as more transparent, more relaxed, less conflicted, and less scripted. JFK’s press conferences were the first realtime television events in the political process, and to this day they are electrifying to watch. Watching Dylan in a sea of lighters at Madison Square Garden intoning, “Even the President of the United States must stand naked…”

Once we get past the novelty of the realtime swarms around events, we begin to see the actual flow of realtime in the now, not about an event but the event itself. As the new comment folds in, you begin to see the body politic’s rhythm, the interval between comments, the ones that get picked, the ones that don’t. You begin to see the intelligence of the swarm at work, separating the brand management from the passionate, rewarding the humor with silence to let the gems resonate. The swarms of silence.

It’s not easy to hold your fire, or speak when you’re afraid of not being perfect. The realtime conversation has been attacked as creating an opportunity for thoughtless bravado and chattering of the mind, but more often than not the evidence points in the other direction. Particularly in an identity-focused environment like FriendFeed, the nasty stuff is muted by concern for reputation – hiding and liking are not necessarily weighted in the service’s core algorithms but the cumulative effect is visceral.

For now, FriendFeed has limited tools for sensing presence and aggregating distributed conversations. Ironically, @replies on Twitter are more useful for initiating a communication, though FriendFeed direct messages promise to improve cross-domain visibility. What comes next is the buildout of the rich middle of the realtime experience, where Twitter’s broadcast model breaks down and IM and email prove too siloed.

Track, of course is the foundation of such commerce, a distributed series of freeways where affinity services can be sampled, meshed, and decoupled. This is the intersection of social cloud computing, an elastic virtual town hall where the efficiency of social gestures, their transparency and pragmatism, produce high-value communication. It’s there already for the observing, even with just two weeks of probing. Best of all, the assholes who say this is much ado about nothing are reluctant to venture into the realtime arena. See you on the Funway.

More TechCrunch


Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo