My Proposed Imo Roadmap

It’s Monday.

I spent the entire weekend (when I wasn’t at the Renaissance Festival watching acrobats and getting my niece’s face painted) coding up a website (Note: this link may expire at any time. The page being linked to is temporary.) It was fun work with a bunch of niggly css stuff that got to be a real pain.

But most of the especially tricky bits are finished, and now I feel bored.

Have I mentioned that I really enjoy the feeling of being productive? Especially when working in a team with others? It’s seriously fantastic.

Anyway, since I’m not really in the mood to do anything else at the moment, I figured I’d fill everyone in on the Imo thing, since at least a couple of you are actually paying attention.

First off, if you haven’t visited the site Dear Imo, where I apply in the most ridiculous way possible for the Community Manager position at Imo, you really need to. As I recap here, it’s pretty freaking sweet. And I managed to fix the clicky-hand issue!

Second, after having seen my manifesto, Megan, the nice Imo recruiter, contacted me. I went through two rounds of interviews and then got invited to come chat, in person, with the Imo crew. Needless to say, I was absolutely, stunningly amazing, and after performing numerous backflips and feats of strength, I was hired on the spot, given a salary of $500,000 a year, a budget of $3,000,000 a year, and a license to kill.*


Now coming to a theater near you!

*I bet you didn’t know employers could issue licenses to kill. Neither did I. It was both startling AND super duper exciting.

And then, of course, I woke up. Some of that is actually true. I went through two interviews and got invited to come chat with the team in person.  I was excited for this chance, because I’m excited about Imo.* I resolved to talk about three things while I was there. I think of those three things as my Proposed Imo Roadmap. When the time came to do so, I fell on my face a bit, but I’d brought along my two pieces of paper that outlined the three things, so – while I never actually pulled them out of the ridiculous purple folder in which I’d placed them – I was able to place my hands upon them and summon their magic talisman powers.

*Also, I’ve never been to the Bay Area and flying is fun.

Let me tell you about those three things.

After my first two interviews, I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what Imo was, what made it unique, what services it offered that you couldn’t find on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, or Google+.

In the end, Imo provides a single killer feature. Imo is the ultimate provider of realtime communication. The last time anyone tried realtime communication, it was the late 90s, and people (teenage boys) were logging into AOL chatrooms, trying to score some free cybersex.

Since then, the next closest thing to a mass market real time communication solution has been Google Hangouts, which require video chatting and, while occasionally useful, are not very practical for everyday (read: at the office) use.

The big difference between Imo and AOL chats is the fact that there is nothing pre-built in Imo. Imo doesn’t try to come up with what a user wants to talk about before the user knows. Imo provides a little box, asks the user what is on his mind, and then lets the world weigh in on whether the topic is something worth chatting about. If it isn’t, it’ll drop down the list rapidly. If it is, it’ll wind its way back up the list, time and again.

It’s like an awesome combination of some of the best parts of Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, with realtime chat incorporated into the mix.

Unfortunately, while the idea is truly fantastic, there are still clearly some teething issues, which is where my list came into play. I went into the interview with the relatively simple plan of saying that the software is revolutionarily awesome, but with some problems that absolutely must get ironed out as the user population increases.

Essentially all the major concerns stem from one simple concept: The Tragedy of the Commons. Right now, every single Open Communication platform* deals with the Tragedy of the Commons on a near constant basis.

*I quickly need to define some things. The current online social world is divided into two camps. In the one camp you have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc. These are all Filtered Communication platforms. You start out seeing nobody and only get more info/chatter as you add friends/follows/etc.  In the second camp, you have Reddit/Gawker/Blogger/Wordpress/comment-systems/forums.  This camp starts out with everyone seeing everyone else’s comments by default, and requires the user to actively block other users.This camp is what I’m calling the “Open Communication platform.”

Needless to say, the first camp is somewhat more people based. You don’t care about the content, except as it relates to the people you are connected to. The second camp is content based. You don’t care about the people, except as they relate to the content you are reading.

If you happen to be a reader of GigaOm, you know that Nick Denton, the head of Gawker (aka that site with Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel, and Deadspin), has publicly stated that the current open comment system on Gawker is like “asking someone to go down to Occupy Wall Street and plunge into the mob and start shouting. No reasonable person is going to do that.”

How is Gawker going to fix their site? Honestly, I have no idea. If I had to guess though, I’d say they’re probably going to simple shift from an open communication platform to a filtered platform. The question then will simply be “How filtered will they make the comments?”

Ehem. As I was saying, any open communications platform deals with the Tragedy of the Commons, which is simply the idea that there is a common resource and people, acting totally rationally, will deplete that resource to such an extent that it no longer exists. In the world of the internet, the common resource is reading time. When two thousand people at once want to comment on a Huffington Post piece, absolutely no conversations will actually occur, because no one will have the time necessary to read all the comments that came before. So rather than read those comments, new visitors will simply ignore them and start their own discussion… which will then also be ignored.

Now, imagine that same problem, except add the cacophony of realtime communication. Right now, Imo is relatively sparsely used, outside the a/s/l cybersex crew and nigerian princes. Most of the people actively participating in the community (without trying to sell anything) actually know each other. That is going to change very quickly in the very near future. And when it does, the crew at Imo are absolutely going to have to beginning introducing filters.

The Three Items

Natalie Portman Filter

Some filters let words out. Some filters keep words in, even those words spoken by Natalie Portman.

Which brings me to my first big item. Awesome filters. Imo can open filters by geo-ip location, by topic, by friends of friends, by… I mean, honestly, the possibilities are endless here. As an entirely new network, Imo doesn’t have to deal with a rabid user base that hates change. They can be interesting and unique and learn from the creativity of their forefathers in the social community. Filters are the only way users are going to willingly adopt Imo en mass, so why not make those filters awesome?

Imo could give the user the ability to create a chatroom that’s viewable worldwide, but only people within a certain geographic area could actually write in it, perfect for conferences, talks, and lectures.

Imo could give users the ability to create a secret password to speak in a room, attached to a totally open room.

Imo could borrow from Reddit, and create channels of interests or borrow from Twitter and create an incredibly powerful tagging and searching system.

Right now, the path is totally open, and something has to be done. In terms of massive enhancements, I have no doubt that innovative filters will be of preeminent importance over the next year.

A side benefit of this kind of filtering is that the scam artists and nigerian princes of the world should theoretically have less traction, without any additional work on the part of the Imo staff.


Did somebody say garden?

The second item on my wishlist is Internet open conversations. There may be a better word or phrase for that, but I don’t know it. At the moment, all Imo conversations happen in an enclosed garden. You can’t link to the conversation. You can’t use other social networks to advertise the conversation. You can’t go onto a show on Revision3 and say, “Join me in this sweet conversation” and then provide a link.

It makes sense, while no filters are set up, that the conversations wouldn’t be linkable and indexable. In the long run though, this really needs to change. The Imo network is ironically an open communication platform that isn’t actually open.

Natalie Portman at Comic Con

"Why is everyone looking at their phones while I'm talking?"

The third item on my wishlist is much more social in nature. Once conversations become linkable, I’d like to go around the world/nation/etc and partner with various institutions to make Imo the official place to talk about something happening. I’d like to partner with various ComicCons to have open (possibly geo-ip limited!) chatrooms during panels. I’d like to partner with Expos to do the same for lectures, plus a big, open room for the show floor. I’d like to partner with news blogs and sites to make live blogging the next big Apple event exponentially easier for all parties, plus the ability for the conversation moderator to pull comments from one sponsored open live chat into another closed live chat.

The Remainder

So, while my path to talking about these three topics wasn’t a complete success, I think we mostly covered those bases. Beyond these topics, a few other issues were raised. The idea of reducing CP (points you earn that you can use to start/join conversations) if your conversations appear clearly to be spammer material was an interesting idea. Broadly, trying to solve weaknesses through social gamification was a fairly common topic.


After an hour or two, the interview was over. And now we are in the waiting period. Do I think I’ll get the job? I honestly have no idea. I haven’t thought this hard about any other position I’ve ever applied for, but speaking simply from an odds perspective (and the-past-history-of-Nathan perspective) I’m probably not likely to get the job. There are simply too many roadblocks for me to think it’s a done deal, from the fact that maybe I don’t come off great in interviews to the fact that I’m male (not a good trait in this particular kind of job) to the fact that I probably have less experience than other people that applied (though this seems like a job that’s unusual enough that experience, beyond a certain minimum level, might not be super useful) to the fact that I pretty clearly have strong opinions about where Imo needs to go, and those opinions may differ enough with the Imo crew that our working together simply isn’t tenable.

I definitely hope I get the task of managing the community of this realtime communication revolution, because, at the risk of sounding WAY too confident, I just don’t think there’s anyone else out there equipped and excited enough to push the project forward to best meet the needs of this burgeoning community. It won’t simply take a friendly voice on the other end of the complaint department. It’ll take vision to dramatically reduce the need for a complaint department in the first place.

Nevertheless, if the team decides to go in another direction, I definitely hope that they push forward along a roadmap that takes these major topics into consideration. I remain convinced that realtime communication in the modern internet remains a vast, unexplored area, and I firmly believe that Imo stands on the cusp of that huge region, ready to explode.

  1. NathanBetzen said:

    Hah. Nah, I used a font called Chalkboard. 

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