The Private Man

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Notes About Blab (@Blab)

In my quest to find a web-based platform to facilitate real-time conversation, I was referred to Blab from Bobbi Palmer who had some very good things to say about it. It’s far more interactive than Periscope without the setup of Youtube live streaming. I never got into Google Hangouts because Google keeps changing things. Skype also lacks certain features needed for group-based discussions. I’ve been using Blab for over two weeks and have spent many hours hosting Blabs or watching and participating in separate Blabs covering a variety of/ topics.

Blab does have some great features that show great promise. Hosting a Blab is easy as is participating in a Blab (video/audio or just typed comments). The Blab can be recorded and replayed at any time. There is also a tie in with Twitter so that one’s Twitter followers are notified if that person is hosting or participating via video in a Blab. Having a Twitter account, however, is not a prerequisite to lurking in a Blab. The platform can be accessed via a web browser and mobile devices, too. I’ve only been using it through a browser (Chrome).

Yet Blab is not without some fairly serious issues that need to noted:

1. No clear and cogent step-by-step instructions to either host a Blab or watch a Blab. In fact, when I sent Blab an email about the absence of such instructions, I received a rather snarky email in response. “As they say…if you need a’ve already failed.” Um, who has failed? The software developers who didn’t quite get the user experience figured out or the user who needs real help? If Blab thinks it’s the user, then here’s my message to Blab as that user:

Go screw yourselves, you arrogant nerds.

I remember such arrogance from 1999 and 2000, right before the Internet 1.0 bubble burst and you nerds found yourselves unemployed by the hundreds of thousands. (Rant over)

I understand that Blab is still in a beta release stage. This is a poor excuse for the lack of solid support other than live Blabs with Blab support people. That live support, by the way, is very cool but I question if that’s sustainable with growth. The other type of support is users helping other users. This is also unsustainable in the long run. Business users, in particular, won’t be adopting Blab for internal business purposes unless the platform doesn’t require such hand-holding, regardless of who’s hand is being held or who is doing the hand-holding.

2. Small user base. Blab has been available since May of last year. That’s an epoch in Internet time. But the user base is still too small for the platform to be compelling with solid and diverse content. There are rarely more than a few dozen or so available Blabs to join, most with under a dozen participants. Blab, the company, is not releasing its user statistics. Sure, the current users are very enthusiastic. But that applies to all early adopters of a product that hasn’t yet crossed the chasm. For Blab, that chasm currently looks like a vast gulf.

3. User-created content is inconsistent. Some Blabs are well-structured and compelling. These discussions are usually focused around nerd talk or marketing talk. That’s understandable and serve to set a solid bar for future Blabs that don’t focus on these two topics. The rest of the Blabs are usually of folks simply talking idle chit-chat about the minutiae of their personal lives. This is understandable except that new users don’t know the other Blabbers and so don’t understand the backstory behind the personalities. Think of those Blabs like sitting down at a high school cafeteria table where everyone else is happily gabbing about stuff that the newcomer knows nothing about. That’s hardly a good way to get new users engaged with the platform.

4. Technical glitches still remain because the platform is still in Beta (for eight months?!). The streaming video/audio burps and farts way too much. This requires the user to refresh, restart, clear the browser cache, or a combination of all three in order to use the video feature (the “hot seat”) or even just watch as a lurker. As well, first-time users who want to participate via video don’t always get things to work right away. These issues may not be because of real technical problems. But without clear step-by-step instructions to guide newbies through the Blab process, such difficulties might as well be the result of technical glitches. Such glitches might also be the result of poor connection speeds or inadequate hardware but the user doesn’t know that without explanation of some sort. “I don’t know what’s going with Blab today” is a too-oft heard comment.

Frankly, Blab doesn’t yet know if it’s a platform for real-time discussions or a community of users who simply happen to be using the Blab platform for such discussions. If it’s a platform, there is much room for technical improvements. If it’s a community, the users need to up their game seriously with better on-topic Blabs and less of the “we’re the cool early adopters and you’re just barely welcome as a newbie while we gossip about other Blab users you don’t know” mentality.

As a blogger and Tweeter with a community of readers, Twitter followers, and blog commenters, I’m keen to have discussions within my community and invite others to join in. Right now, I don’t think Blab is the platform for that, yet. I’m going to keep trying with Blab. However, I will also be trying other platforms that seem less like a boot-strap endeavor and more like an effort with clear progress towards maturity and milestones of good software development.

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