Riff raff

Well, Riffs, the new review-anything site, does one thing right that Amazon should have done from the first: You go to Riffs and write a review and it lets you get an RSS feed, which you can put on your own blog.

Still, I agree with Mike Arrington: “Do we need Riffs when everyone seems very happy writing reviews directly on their blogs?”

Fred Wilson tries out Riffs. But he has long pointed out that Gotham Gal has all kinds of reviews already on her blog. The question is: How do I find what she’s writing and find what other people are writing about the same topic so I can compare? How can I look for new restaurants in New York and find the ones she has found?

The service I’ll pay attention to is the one that lets me find the riffs and reviews (and recipes and whatever else) that people put on their own blogs. That can be a search engine or an aggregator or both that gets people to swarm around tags so they know their stuff will be found. It works inside Flickr and Del.icio.us. It can work outside, in the distributed web.

If I were a VC, I’d be investing in a company that tries to use tags and microformats and social interaction to link together the topics and opinions and information people care about on that distributed web. For that’s the company that won’t waste effort and expense trying to get people to change their behavior and reverse the natural flow of the web out to the edges — ‘come to us and give us your good stuff’ — but instead takes advantage of the essence of the web and leaves control out at those edges by saying: ‘We know you have good stuff and we’re going to help people find it.’ The consumer proposition is then clear: This is how you find the good stuff. This will be the real successor to and competitor against Google. Oh, Google could do it, too, but judging by Base, they’re not doing that. They’re taking control rather than giving it.

Remember Jarvis’ First Law: Give people control and we will use it.

: Fred Wilson and I get into a discussion starting in the comments below and continuing on his blog here.

: And Michael Arrington retorts.

  • Tim Windsor

    “Sorry, we don’t currently support your browser. For the best riffs experience, please try any one of the browsers below:”

    ’cause I’m using, like, a really crazy obscure browser called Safari. Sheesh, when will people learn? Guess I won’t be trying out Riffs….

  • jeff,

    i agree with your points, but i use flickr to host my photos and post them to my blog

    i use vimeo and youtube and blip.tv to host my videos and post them to my blog.

    i might use riffs to host my reviews and post them to my blog (because they have the entire database of things i might riff on already loaded)

    google base doesnt’ do that for me

    something to think about

  • Fred: Yes, I see the benefit of hosting services, when you don’t have a means of hosting them yourself.
    But Gotham Gal has a place to host her reviews, on her blog and that’s where they belong — because they belong to her ,and together they make up her blog and her presence and personality on the web. So I don’t see trying to get her to post on Riffs and feed her blog; that’s reversing the flow. I want a better way to find her posts when I’m looking for a review of a restaurant in the Village.

  • hi jeff,
    your comments are thoughtful but you clearly have the perspective of a committed blogger which most of us will never be, unless there are tools available to make our opinions and recommendations manifest and syndicatable quickly, easily, lazily and inconsistently rather than the determined effor to ‘publish’ as is the case now.
    i agree withj you that finding my communities of interest and friends and potential new friends easily is the task at hand.

  • David

    Since you’ve given us control I’ll Use it and am sure you’ll revoke that control soon as you find that you don’t like what you have to read.

    After you crawled out of your wormhole when the Iraqi constitution was passed I said you’ll crawl back into it once the initial excitement dies down and we find ourselves in the same place as before…mainly a few GI’s getting killed every few days. So as a reminder to you Mr. Blog Daddy Chickenhawk:

    “With 92 American military deaths, October was the fourth-deadliest month for American soldiers since the invasion in March 2003.”

    Remember that the next time you crawl out of your wormhole and tell us how great things are going over there.


  • Fred,

    I think that microformats and tagging solve the problem. Riffs should be aggregating this data, not hosting it. They’ll get access to the entire blogosphere’s data that way, not just people who’ve heard of Riffs. I understand their hesitation to do so – they could build a market and then others could easily follow because the data is open and on the web. But in my opinion, creative companies can still mind very good business models in the new world. Companies that force unnatural human behavior will have a much harder time succeeding.

  • Somehow the idea that some random person would have something insightful to say on an item that I might be interested in implicitly presumes a level of commonality in interests and tastes.

    So, without knowing the context of the reviewer I don’t see how I can use the information. If X says they like a movie because it is a bloody action film (without mentioning the blood) and Y says they dislike it for the same reason (also without mentioning the blood) how am I to evaluate the opinions? Pointing out that neither provided a good review is not adequate, why should I expect high quality reviews as a matter of course?

    Another assumption seems to be that popularity reflects something other than popularity. As the TV talent searches show there are lots of factors that people use to chose a winner, besides “talent”.

    I want some indication that the review I’m reading comes from someone whose opinion I should value/trust. Otherwise I have to spend as much time evaluating the reviewers as the content. Not very efficient…

    It is the same problem as when reading blogs. One develops a sense of the worth of the opinions from an individual. Those with poor ideas get rejected. Those with original points of view get return visits.

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  • I think Mr. Feinman makes a good point on the issue of popularity. Various social We pages and software systems makes our lives easier in many ways and help us discover others with similar interests. However, there is that issue of why we should trust some random person we find on a place like riff, or del.icio.us or any other social service. Just because something is popular and a lot of people have reviewed it, it does not mean it (whatever it is, a book, a movie, a website) is any good. More importantly, it may not be any good for your tastes or personal criteria. So some element of evaluation has to come into play. Just a thought.

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  • Max

    Do you have a second law?

  • I agree, Jeff, that media must give people control–direct control, as in blogs, as opposed to indirect control, like cancelling a newspaper subscription, and we will indeed use it.

    But new things like Riffs have to also teach people how it’s valuable to them and how to use it. I’m pretty knowledgeable, but I sort of glaze over when I read tech talk and visit sites like Riffs that are dauntingly different. I think computer companies should have boots on the ground in the stores this Christmas season demoing all these new applications, showing non-geeks like me how easy and fun they are.

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