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The streets of San Francisco: all agog about verbs

Last night I was hanging out at

About 300 people from many SF startups were crammed into a little bar.

It's the kind of event I like. Wall to wall geeks. :-)

But I didn't take a seat after doing my opening remarks to the crowd where I helped kick off a developer contest by Viadeo (a new business social network that's popular in Europe and now is moving into US). They are handing out a $20,000 prize at for new kinds of social apps.

Instead, I hung out outside where geek after geek came up and we talked about the world.

It's clear that everyone in San Francisco is watching Google+. Everyone has an opinion about whether that rocks or sucks (most SF types think it rocks).

But that's not the important thing I've been seeing lately. Instead over and over we talked about verbs.

What are verbs?

They are the part of APIs that describe our social behavior.

In other words, when you comment on this post, your comment will be seen by APIs as a "comment" verb. Click + 1 (thank you!) and you'll be hitting the "liked" verb. Reshare this (double thank you!) and you'll hit the "share" verb. If you buy that Contour camera, you hit the "buy" verb.

Every system is building its own set of verbs. Badgeville and Gigya both tell me that things are about to get really crazy in the verb space. Why?

Well, look at that red box on Google +. You know, the notifications. That is a huge trend that developers are trying to get their arms around. Right now Google+ notifications suck. Why? Because Google+ isn't yet able to study the right verbs. It shows me everyone who has "followed" (another verb, get it yet?) but it isn't adding the right context to my display. I don't care that you followed me. What do I care about? Did my best friend follow me? Did someone I really care about follow me? Did someone down the street follow me? Did a family member follow me?

So, right there, you are seeing a huge explosion in the kinds of verbs needed. "family follow" "nearby follow" "friend follow" "influencer follow" etc etc etc.

Now look at the other major trend that Instagram kicked off: activity streams. These streams are going to tell us data about what is going on. Think this isn't important? Lots of engineering time is going on at Salesforce, VMware, Twitter, Facebook, and many other places. I wouldn't be shocked to see a new kind of activity stream show up here on Google+ either.

These streams show you data ABOUT what's going on the networks you care about. "15 of your friends shared this" or "23 of your friends commented on this."

I was talking with Chomp's CEO, +Ben Keighran and he was telling me that he's studying Tweets for sentiment about apps. Yet another verb. "app sentiment."

Last night on the streets of San Francisco I saw tons of entrepreneurs who are building different kinds of verbs. All of which will soon be aggregated into these notification feeds (iOS gets notifications this fall, Android already has them) and Activity Streams (Instagram and Twitter already has those).

What are we seeing? +Steve Gillmor calls this the new real time social world. His boss, +Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce) just spent the whole week keying in on the beginnings of what is going on here by pushing the social enterprise term. I talked with Gillmor about these too, and we'll discuss more on Friday on the Gillmor Gang.

Add in the new app stores (some big news is coming next week on that topic that I can't yet talk about). App stores need all this stuff to figure out which apps to present to you and they are going to use these verbs to addict you to even new apps "we notice you use Foodspotting and Instagram, your friends on Google+ are also praising FooApp."

One thing. We don't have a good name for this new "verb world."

I remember when +Tim O'Reilly noticed a few new things developers were talking about and he called them "Web 2.0" and then pushed that term and a conference by that name. He made a lot of money doing that.

Calling this bag of topics "verb world" doesn't seem so sexy, but maybe it is.

The technology underneath certainly IS sexy.

Thanks +Myles Weissleder for putting on a great event last night. Again.

Anyway, do you have a better name for what's going on?

UPDATE: there's another part to this, which is that social companies are building what I call "addictive technologies." That's what Gigya and Badgeville are doing, but they are hardly the only ones doing it. Gamification is another thing lots of geeks are thinking about. In other words, keeping track of all the verbs we generate and rewarding us for certain ones of them. Or, heck, just displaying all of our comments, or all of our shares, or all of our buys, or all of our checkins. I'll have more to say on that as new systems roll out over the next few weeks.
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So Google is going to implement Ad-verbs?...
thanks for sharing this with us..!
I suppose you could call them 'adverbs' since they do modify other verbs in a meta sort of way it seems.
Also, I like the double meaning of the prefix 'ad' since their big use will be to offer contextualized 'suggestions' for our use. In other words - 'ad'vertisements.

I don't suppose that helps though as 'adverb world' is not any better than 'verb world'.

Perhaps something which changes the context and is simple to understand, such as 'smart notifications'.
This is readily meaningful.
It also makes it seem like an obvious benefit to users rather than the implication of their actions being studied in detail - which seems creepy and stalkerish on the surface frankly.
Quite an interesting post +Robert Scoble and yes we definitely need a better term for these social verbs than verb world. What makes this approach to the social web interesting is that new entrepreneurs can identify new niche markets not currently targeted by going through a list of verbs and determine whether that market is currently served and what value it would have to serving it through social technology.

In some ways you could say this links up with the semantic web definition that has been floating around for a few years. That however was more about looking at the information and correlating it via semantic verbs. This is about providing services through these verbs.

Certainly a thought provoking idea...
Having a sufficient data corpus for sentiment analysis of a wide variety of topics is also very valuable as a service. I'm expecting that to be Twitter's path to profitability, not so much selling Ads in the tweetstream.
Hmm. 'Units' of activity. Are they all commodity-definable..?
Imagine if we can then start combining verbs with "nouns" and "adjectives" to form "sentences" that are solutions based on multiple verb technologies...
The "basic/lowest denominator" verbs provide the underlying infrastructure and become the building blocks for more complex verbs...if I already have list, comment, share, like and buy...then I can create a more complex shopping verb that allows me to comment on products, share the ones I like and buy them...
+Robert Scoble Seems there are a couple of angles here. One is the overarching concept. +Sharon Strandskov with this article and me here were exchanging thoughts overnight about some of the larger issues. G+ and many others still haven't fully agreed on what it means to have streams. Second, there has been little to no agreement on the underlying implementation details; are we talking about a new grammar? I think we are. The kind of thing that a language specification or at least some kind of spec can define for the implementation of these things talking to each other or to software clients. I suspect private industry companies are going to have to voluntarily do this together; otherwise there is going to be significant mashup glue coded to make it all work. But lastly we have what you talked about first, the end user experience. Did "my family" like me. The underlying social grammar needs to facilitate that kind of user experience if that is what the solution provider is trying to do for the customer.
Being social requires actions (verbs). Those actions produce energy which can be mined, drilled and harvested for fun and profit. Maybe this is more like a kinetic web.
I like your idea +Michael Romig that we need a social language with predefined grammar. Imagine if that was actually a programming language that would allow you to connect the different verbs together...
Does this mean that u are going to change your title to Chief Verb Officer?
Robert, I don't think you're wrong in your analysis, but don't neglect the fact that there is still a lot of opportunity in building new nouns. The big platforms are coalescing around nouns that are the answer to 'who' and 'where', and as +Michael Romig points out there is still a lot of confusion about streams of 'whens', but there are still a lot of 'whats' that aren't covered.
I thought you were the Chief Reporting Officer :-)
+Robert Scoble, You don't care if I follow you? You don't care about ME? Is Ben Lomond too far down the street?
"I don't care that you followed me. What do I care about? Did my best friend follow me? Did someone I really care about follow me? Did someone down the street follow me? Did a family member follow me?"
This very much relates to what David Bohm did with his experiment with language what he called the Rheomode. He said that language as we use it, is too much focussed on nouns and thought that the verb should play a primary role. Going from that, language should follow a certain development, from 1) action to 2) focus and thinking, to 3) if it is relevant or irrelevant, and finally to 4) a continuing state or generalization (which might be the noun) well something like that.
So the fact if it is relevant to you (family who follows or comments) is a further state of development in the process.
+Robert Scoble
Did you run into my friends from PeekYou? I am on their advisory board and I met with them yesterday afternoon. They then dropped me at the airport and went to SF NewTech.
The information you want depends to a large degree on the volume of that information. If a random person follows me, I'd want some chunk of data on that. If a family member followed me, the same. But when ten family members follow me in one evening, or a dozen randoms, at that point I really just want some basic overall numbers. And less if a thousand people, even Influencers, jumped on board.
In other words, the amount and type of information to be presented depends on its rarity.
This results in wanting to know particulars about an Influencer following you and barely caring when a Random follows you, not because they are Influencers and Randoms per se, but because Influencers are rare events and Randoms are common events.
Really interesting. I think using the right verbs is going to create a whole new competition in of itself. I think we all never really thought of how important a verb is until now.
And let's remember that these are past-tense verbs. We're getting closer to present-tense verbs and still a bit off on the nirvana of future-tense/predictive verbs. APIs are the lingua franca of the new web.
There are verbs in the past tense - that is what we have in Activity Streams:
that give us a record of actions we and others have taken.
Then there are imperative verbs - the follow button, the like button etc that we can acto on. These are being documented as Web Actions:

As with all these empirical standardization efforts, the goal is document and converge common behaviour so we don't need a separate language for each website - what +Erin Richey calls 'button sluts' above.
Thinking about this, I would actually like to have a trail of breadcrumbs to see where I was followed from on a service like G+.
I would think a lot of such action might come from a profile page after somebody sees something of you and clicks through to your profile page to see more - to see if you are someone they might like to follow.
In that case - I would like to see where they clicked into my profile page from just prior to following me. Etc...
This will be interesting to individuals such as myself.
And I'm sure could be aggregated into larger slices of interest to big-time users/posters/companies as well. To see where they have been effectual at generating interest specifically.
Dammit. I miss San Francisco. If I wasn't the middle of a stupid legal quagmire, I'd tell you about it one day. If I can / am allowed to .

I've always loved your startup interviews. You have the 'access' and the 'draw' to get the access at the early stages.

But you seem to always focus on the (potential) successes [don't get me wrong, this is a good thing :) ] rather than the myriad of tales of woe which could serve as a warning to others.

One day, regretfully, I may get the chance to tell you this story.
If not you, then a Hollywood screenwriter.

Very clever observations, Robert. Language is such an interesting prism to look through at technologies trends because technology has become such an integral part of our daily lives. So how to feed that language back into the technology to make it smarter is a great question. Great food for thought!
The SFNT guys work so hard to put together a great event. Im so happy for them.
Very nice to meet you yesterday! And thx again for being part of the'll make a lot of developpers happy to get your advice:) BTW I'll send you asap an invitation for the deliberation lunch on Oct 21th ! Stay tuned for the cool apps that are coming!
Lets not forget the verbs that all this is built on: HTTP's GET and POST.
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