Posts Tagged Google
From Jae Kim – Director of Social Media Products, FaceTime Communications
About fifteen years ago, I was happy with my desktop applications installed. The computer was a glorified calculator, typewriter, and video game machine back then. When I powered up my desktop, I was either going to write quick proof-of-concept Pascal code, type up school reports, or play Doom. All executables and contents that I used were installed on my hard drive. Whenever I wanted to talk to friends, I picked up the landline and called. Whenever I needed references checked, I headed out to the library.
These days, the computer has turned into an all-in-one communications device. When I fire up my laptop, I immediately open my browser, check out the latest tech news on Twitter, read what my friends are up to on Facebook, and respond to emails. No longer do I have to pick up the phone. I just open my IM client to chat with my friends or use Google to look up the answer to any fleeting question that I may have at the moment. I cannot possibly imagine using a computer without a network connection. A computer without an Internet connection is as good as dead weight.
In this post, I would like to make a case that this increasing connectivity is not a trend isolated to computer networks, but applies to social networks as well. The urge to share things and get connected has deeper roots within our human nature. It is something that cannot be ignored and must be harnessed to make the leap into the next stage of networking.
I’ll give a few examples of what it means to technology evolution and how it impacts the adoption of new communications tools. I would argue that the same is true with social media and lay out the likely scenario for social networks to get federated.
For long term viability of social networks as communications platforms, I would argue that social networks must get federated to survive or face the inevitability of obsolescence and eventual obliteration.
1. Internal-Only Email to Email for Everyone
For those of you old enough to remember Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) must have used internal-only email and messaging systems. It used to be that workstations connected to the main server comprised the early intranet. When you wanted to see whether someone was available, you would type ‘finger’ or ‘w’ to see if the other party was online. If so, you were in luck. You could use ‘chat’ to have a real-time chat (what’s known as IM today). If the person was not online, then you had an option to send email using ‘mail’.
As server and workstations became popular, more companies started to adopt these internal-only email systems. Soon, it became obvious to everyone that linking these islands of email services made sense and would create disproportionately more value for everyone. Companies started to federate their email islands to their partners’, accelerating the adoption of the ARPANET mail format.
Some held back saying it would create security concerns in both leaking sensitive information and receiving unwanted files (viruses). Today, no one disputes the value of having a global email system and being connected to it. These concerns were valid, however. People have built solutions around these security issues, and they have given rise to the Data Loss Prevention (DLP), security, and SPAM-filtering industries.
2. AOL – the Walled Garden
America Online (AOL) in the late 1990s was unstoppable. They made the Internet easy for millions by simplifying the technical configuration required to sign up for a service and to dial in the AOL server farm. AOL essentially had the same network model as the LAN-based DEC architecture. AOL subscribers would log on to their servers and see other subscribers who were online, exchange IM/emails, and browse AOL-hosted company sites. AOL was a huge LAN network where you couldn’t access content outside of AOL.
At the height of AOL’s popularity, there were 30+ million subscribers. It became so popular that every brick-and-mortar store was buying AOL keywords to reach AOL subscribers (the similarity is striking with what we see today with Facebook pages, as Peter Yared points out on his Venturebeat.com article).
But AOL did not leverage the explosive growth of content outside AOL’s walled garden. As people found richer content outside the AOL network and companies realized they had to make separate investments to reach non-AOL users, users and content creators started to migrate.
Only after losing more than two-thirds of its peak subscribers did AOL start to retool itself into an Internet portal site, i.e., a gateway to an open Internet. In effect, AOL finally dismantled the walls around its isolated garden and federated with the rest of the Internet, albeit only after paying a heavy price.
3. Disjointed IM Networks to Federation
After ICQ became successful and acquired by AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google launched their own instant messaging networks. Again, people were chatting in a similar approach as the DEC server/workstation model. AOL users were able to IM with AOL users, MSN users with other MSN users, and so forth.
Unlike islands of email services, technologies were available to federate these services in their early days. However, each provider stood their ground and couldn’t work out an agreement to federate. It was only after enterprises started to deploy their own enterprise IM servers and federate with each other that AOL and others began to federate with other IM networks.
IM network providers refused to give up control over their user base to the detriment of the long-term benefit of doing so. But, the fact is that people have been getting around these disjointed networks by creating aggregator IM clients to combine AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and Google Talk networks (not to mention Skype and Facebook – check out IM+ for the latest attempts at building the ultimate aggregator). It’s futile to resist improvised user workarounds. You have to adapt your service to support these workarounds as valid use cases.
4. What About a Federation of Social Networks?
If we have learned any lessons from email, AOL, and instant messaging, it’s that social networks should federate with each other to create a global exchange of real-time status updates. It’s not a zero-sum game. As social networks federate with each other, the value of the resulting network is far greater than the sum of disjointed networks.
We are starting to see this happen already. Twitter has shared its feeds with LinkedIn and Facebook. MySpace is now connected with Facebook. Yammer, which has developed a social networking platform for enterprises, is connected to Microsoft Sharepoint.
But then there are signs of resistance, as evidenced by Facebook’s and Google’s policies not to share friends’ lists.
Walled-garden policies invite users to create workarounds. Just as islands of IM networks motivated users to create IM aggregators like Trillian and Meebo, preventing users from sharing friends’ lists is already prompting users to create workarounds, such as Facebook friend exporter. Rather than resisting federation, social networks need to embrace them.
In reality, however, those who are in control seld
om relinquish it voluntarily. History tells us that federation will be a gradual process and will pick up steam only when the perceived value outside Facebook outweighs what’s found within Facebook. For that perception shift to occur, someone must create a more compelling use case outside Facebook.
What might cause this perception shift? I have no idea. But I can tell you that it won’t be called social networking, but rather, something else. I couldn’t agree more with Pete Cashmore at RWW: it’ll be someone who introduces a different communication paradigm than what we know as a “status update” today.
When that next wave happens, users will start to see greater value outside Facebook and will force Facebook to fully federate with other social networks. Until then, I expect to see continued resistance from leading networks. And yes, Google will join the race soon, and things are going to get a lot more interesting before federation is a household term.
From Jae Kim – Director of Social Media Products, FaceTime Communications
These days I seem to hear about the launch of a new social networking site every other day. There’s Neezz.com, the classified ads site; CollegeOnly, the site for college students; The Fridge, a social group site; Diaspora, an open-source privacy-sensitive social network package; and Path, a personal networking site. And the list goes on and on.
If you look at location-based social networks (LBSN) only, there are dozens of them starting out, following the initial success of Foursquare. It seems like every organization is either thinking about starting up a new social networking site or incorporating social networking features into their existing site.
This got me wondering. Is there any lesson that we could draw from failed social networking attempts, such as Google Wave and Google Buzz? What lessons can we learn from Facebook and LinkedIn’s success? What should be the strategy for new social networking sites to bootstrap themselves?
Here are nine bootstrapping strategies that all social media startups should consider:
1. Find a niche user base
Smaller, more focused user bases will allow a startup to tailor the new social networking site to its target audience. Launch the site with a specific use case in mind. In order to have a specific use case, the site must focus the user experience on a specific user base.
Great example of this is Facebook. It first started out as a Harvard social network, then expanded to include Stanford, Columbia, and Yale, and soon to all colleges. By focusing on college students, it was easy to tailor the entire site to a target audience. In addition, college students are more likely to experiment with new sites, and this also helped Facebook build its initial user base. This may be another reason why you see many social networking sites
popping up, geared towards college students, such as CollegeOnly and The Fridge.
You could argue that this is what Google overlooked when bootstrapping Google Buzz. Rather than trying to build a core user base, Google incorrectly assumed that users would flock to its new service, if you placed Buzz right on the Google Mail UI. Their strategy was to target everyone from day one. While Google Buzz had its values for some, not all Google Mail users found the value. User adoption of Google Buzz has been disappointing at best, and its
opt-out approach of targeting all Google Mail users was disastrous at worst.
2. Provide value to the target audience
Once a target user base is defined, the next step is to decide on the value proposition to the user base. In reality, what value to provide is often the first impetus to launch a social media site (e.g., “let’s build a professional networking site” in LinkedIn’s case). One thing to keep in mind when identifying the value proposition is the target audience. The site must have a feature that has perceived value from the target audience’s perspective.
A good example is Facebook. Facebook started out as a profile photo surfing site for college students. Facebook had a clear idea of what to offer, and it understood college students will spend time surfing friends’ profile photos. New social networking sites must understand what features would be valuable to their target audience.
Best way to do this is to build a site yourself. Just as Mike Zuckerberg understood college students’ needs as a student himself, you are far more likely to succeed if you build a site that you yourself would use.
3. Add signature user experience
User experience is very important. A great user experience is to a social media site what great taste is to a fabulous meal. In other words, a great user experience is a critical part of the entire package.
It used to be that websites were criticized by their available features (or lack thereof). But as more and more horizontal features, such as user-feedback platforms, recommendation platforms, and social connectivity platforms are shared and available off-the-shelf, features alone can no longer be differentiating factors. In today’s social network sites, user experience is one of the key determinants in attracting users.
Consider the MySpace user experience. Although MySpace hit its peak before Facebook did, MySpace failed to expand outside its core user base. It’s debatable what factors caused MySpace’s decline, but I would argue that one key area where MySpace failed miserably was its user experience. Does anyone remember how MySpace’s user profile page looked before their UI makeover?
It’s not surprising why MySpace hemorrhaged users.
On the other hand, one good example is hipmunk.com. It is yet another meta-flight search site, but with a very refreshing user experience. It is perhaps the simplest air travel site that I’ve seen on the Web so far. After selecting departure/arrival dates and airports with ease, it returns available flights in a Gantt chart showing layover and overall travel time. What a difference visual display of flight schedules makes. Add to this user experience an easy way to perform another search (i.e., adding a new tab to make similar searches) and you have a winning recipe.
4. Make it easy to join – use a Facebook, Twitter, or Google ID
When people visit a new social networking site, one of the most dreaded parts is filling out user information and creating yet another account, not to mention a password. This new account creation is often enough to turn the prospect off and have them move on to the next distraction. I am not sure why websites think that having a user create new accounts will be of value to anyone. It will be the case that most users, especially those who will be early adopters of the new site, will likely have dozens of usernames and a few passwords they use (if they are security-conscious), and dozens more that they’ve created but have forgotten.
Creating an account does no one any good. It does not guarantee any return visits any more than you handing out business cards to total strangers in a parking lot.
Instead use what’s already out there. Allow users to sign up with your service through their Facebook, Twitter, and Google IDs. Most successful social network sites do this, and more need to embrace existing user accounts.
5. Leverage Facebook and Twitter for viral advertising
Another reason to link with existing social networking accounts is to leverage the social net to launch viral marketing. Remember seeing one too many Farmville updates from your Facebook friends? Do the same (of course, with the user’s explicit permission). It’s unlikely that people will complain about too many of your new social networking ad bits (that will be a good problem to have). If you are offering enough value as discussed in #2, people will in fact thank their friends who introduced it to them.
Check out mentionmap of me. It visualizes the mentions of people and hashtags in the most recent tweets. Oh, don’t forget. They offer an easy way to retweet about them.
6. Make it addictive by adding games or gaming elements
Building value, targeting the new site to a specific audience, and making it easy to join with viral marketing is a good start, but often not enough for sustained growth. As a new social media s
ite, you’ll need repeat hardcore users; users like those who propelled Zynga to a billion-dollar enterprise within three years of launch. Your service needs to be addictive for users to spend lots of time and for users to spend lots of time, it needs to have gaming elements.
One of the huge windfalls for Facebook was Zynga’s success. With Zynga’s FarmVille, FrontierVille, Cafe World, and Mafia Wars popularity surge, Facebook was able to attract and retain those social gaming addicts. This explosive symbiotic relationship between Zynga and Facebook is something that Google has been working on to recreate on their social networking site.
Game-like features can be integrated within the site as well. Foursquare and SCVNGR are geolocation-based social networks (GBSN) that incorporates gaming aspects. Foursquare gives badges as you check in to places, along with mayorship to those hardcore users, which encourages users to compete with others. SCVNGR has added challenges to GBSN so that users can engage in ad-hoc games when they check in at places.
7. Embrace third-party developers by offering a useful API
While it is important for the site to provide value for its target audience, it doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting in creating additional value. No one has exclusive right to creativity, and certainly no one understands users’ needs better than the users themselves. When tools to integrate third-party applications are available and developers see the value in targeting the audience that you are attracting, they will build applications to become the Zynga for your site.
Take a look at the iPhone app store and Facebook API. The iPhone app store offers the Facebook mobile application, which is arguably why people are buying smartphones like the iPhone. The Facebook API enables Zynga games to be integrated with Facebook, which played a key role in increasing active daily user counts since 2007.
8. Take risks to provide innovative features
When you have all of the above, you then have to innovate. It is far too easy for someone to copy what you are already doing. Just take a look at all the Facebook-wannabe startups just coming online. You have to take chances to build upon existing features to provide more value, above and beyond the feature that you started out with.
Look at what Facebook did. Starting out as a profile photo sharing site, it added an innovative feature (some might call it evolutionary, but no one did it as well as Facebook), News Feed. The idea of making it super easy for anyone to subscribe to a friend’s news was a huge hit. Initially, Facebook ran into some resistance from users, but they kept tweaking its features and look-and-feel to make it the de facto standard of all social networking platforms.
Facebook had their share of flops as well. Does anyone remember Facebook Beacon? What about its overly simplified privacy controls UI? But, Facebook consistently took chances with new features and responded quickly to user feedback to continue improving their features.
Facebook continues to expand their core feature set by introducing Facebook Groups, Deals, and Messages. Not all of them will succeed, but they will be the first to learn from these lessons and iterate on them.
9. Listen to user feedback and iterate fast to increase value-add
Fast iteration is the key. I discussed in my earlier blog entry about the importance of fast iteration, especially when you are entering a new market. You have to listen to user feedback and incorporate it into the feature as if it’s coming down from board members. Ultimately, it will be the users who determine whether your new site will succeed.
From Jae Kim – Director of Social Media Products, FaceTime Communications
As social networks grow in popularity and entrench themselves into the social fabric, many people have embraced Mark Zuckerberg’s message of sharing. Some knowingly, while others begrudgingly, to stay connected within newly emerging social media. Whichever camp you belong to, one thing is clear. There’s much less anonymity and privacy on the Internet today than ten years ago.
Are We Sharing Too Much?
If you are unsure how much information you’re sharing, one way to find out is to Google yourself. But, as we talked about, Google is still struggling to fully integrate social media into its search engine, and unless you are a public figure, Google will bury your information in its mountain of search results. A better way to search is Spokeo. Spokeo pieces together all public social network information and creates demographic reports of who you are.
Another is using youropenbook.org as I covered earlier. It searches publicly shared status updates and displays them in chronological order, using nothing but Facebook APIs. Remember that it’s not your privacy settings that matter, but rather, the privacy settings of the page where you post to. For example, if you are writing to your friend’s wall and he has selected the default “share-with-everyone” privacy setting, your status update is open to everyone.
If You Don’t Feel Like Sharing, Government Will Help
Just five days ago, it was uncovered that the FBI is seeking to expand the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) so as to mandate all US telecommunication carriers to provide a way to wiretap all communications, including encrypted traffic. With the US government leading the pack, United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, and Indonesia have already threatened to ban BlackBerry use. BlackBerry is targeted because of its end-to-end secure encryption where BlackBerry Enterprise Server encrypts messages to BlackBerry devices. For the time being, UAE and India have extended the deadline for the BlackBerry ban to take effect to next January 2011, but don’t expect the US government to lead by example in advocating for “secure” flow of information.
Facebook Doesn’t Want Anonymous Users
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know there have been many fake and anonymously created Facebook accounts just until a couple of weeks ago. But, thanks to Michael Arrington impersonating Eric Schmidt on Facebook, Facebook is now visibly stepping up its efforts to combat fake accounts. All of the fake accounts that were reported earlier in my blog seem to have been taken offline.
Barry Schnitt, Policy Communication Director at Facebook, made it clear on TechCrunch that Facebook intends to move to real identity-based social networks.
“Who Watches The Watchmen?”
All this points to one thing: anonymity and privacy are becoming two endangered species. But should we care? After all, wouldn’t using real identities and sharing more be better for society as a whole? Wouldn’t real identities lead to fewer Internet trolls, less downmodding, and less bullying because people are now taking responsibility of their deeds on the Net?
True. I agree with all these points. I do see clear benefits of introducing real identities into social networks and the Internet in general. But who watches the watchmen?
If we have learned any lessons from the early 20th century experiment with totalitarianism, it’s that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Making all information public and leaving no room for us to be anonymous and private will be a very dangerous proposition because there’ll be no checks and balances against entities that watch over us. We all know everyone is capable of making mistakes; governments and authorities are no exception. If we allow every piece of information to be known about us, we’ll be enslaved by the information, not be enriched by them.
We’ll have to strike the balance between our private lives (i.e., our anonymity and privacy) and public lives (i.e., identity, openness, and social responsibility). That applies to social networks and the Internet as well. Case in point: FaceTime Communications. FaceTime’s platform enables organizations to “strike a balance” between letting employees use these social networks while at work, but also monitoring and archiving the appropriate content so as to remain compliant with any applicable regulations for that organization.
So, who’s going to counterbalance Facebook? Well, so far we have 4chan defending anonymity. Anyone care to join?