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Email’s Changing Role in Social Media: Digital Archive, Centralized Identity

Alex Iskold wrote a great post recently, Is Email in Danger? This quote lays out the premise of the post:

From the 20th century mail was a fundamental form of communication. The invention of electronic mail (email) changed two things. It became cheap to send mail, and delivery was instant. Email became favored for both corporate and personal communication. But email faces increasing competition. Chat, text messages, Twitter, social networks and even lifestreaming tools are chipping away at email usage.

When it comes to email, there are some parallels to what happened to snail mail with the spread of the Internet and email. The biggest thing is this:

Snail mail found an unexpected opportunity for growth with the rise of the Web.

Email will lose out on some of its uses, but there are some interesting possibilities that will emerge.

The Disruption of Snail Mail

The diagram below depicts the disruption that occurred to snail mail.

I’ve kept the disruption focused on the effects of the Internet. In other words, no fax machine or FedEx in here.

Back in the day, the mail system was the way you got a variety of important communications to other people. Our grandparents wrote letters. L.L. Bean mailed us the stuff we ordered via their catalogs. All our bills came through the mail. We were notified of things like jury service.

With the arrival of the Net, a good portion of snail mail’s portfolio was assumed by other technologies. And it’s had an effect. Here’s a quote from a 2001 General Accounting Office report on the future of the U.S. Postal Service:

Although it is difficult to predict the timing and magnitude of further mail volume diversion to electronic alternatives and the potential financial consequence, the Service’s baseline forecast calls for total First-Class Mail volume to decline at an average annual rate of 3.6 percent from fiscal years 2004 through 2008.

Pretty bad, eh? Electronic alternatives were evaporating the revenues of the post office.

But something else was out there which would help offset these losses in first-class mail: e-commerce. With the growth of the Internet, people got more comfortable shopping online instead of going to their local mall.

Those packages had to get to shoppers somehow. That’s where the U.S. Post Office shined. It already had the infrastructure to get things from a centralized place to multiple individual residences. What got disrupted were the trucking companies who moved merchandise from manufacturers to retailers.

Sure enough, the U.S. Postal Service saw a rebound thanks to online purchases, according to Web Designs Now:

In 2005, revenue from first-class mail like cards and letters, which still made up more than half the Postal Service’s total sales of $66.6 billion, dropped nearly 1% from 2004. But revenue from packages helped make up for much of that drop, rising 2.8%, to $8.6 billion, last year, as it handled nearly three billion packages.

And the dark mood at the U.S. Postal Service headquarters brightened quite a bit:

“Six years ago, people were pointing at the Web as the doom and gloom of the Postal Service, and in essence what we’ve found is the Web has ended up being the channel that drives business for us,” said James Cochrane, manager of package services at the Postal Service.

There is a lesson here for email.

The Disruption of Email

Email is undergoing its own disruption:

Again, similar to the previous diagram, I’m focusing on the web here. No mobile texting as an email disruptor, even though it is.

As Alex outlined in his post, the easy messaging of social media is supplanting the email messages that used to be sent. I haven’t seen any surveys that show the decline in person-to-person communications because of email. But my own experience reflects the migration of communications to the various social media.

  • LinkedIn messages
  • Facebook messages
  • Twitter
  • FriendFeed comments

As Zoli Erdos pointed out in his blog post Email is Not in Danger, Thank You, wikis are growing as the basis for sharing documents. They provide better capabilities than does email: wider visibility, versioning and searchability.

But it’s in notifications where email’s future is bright. Many of us are members of social media sites. As we go through our day, it’s hard to stay on top of activity in each one: new messages, new subscribers, new friend requests, etc.

Where is the central clearinghouse of my multiple social media identities? Email.

Email is the permanent record of what’s happening across various sites. This is actually a very valuable position in which to be. Here are two examples where email helped me:

  • After I wrote a post about nudity on FriendFeed, I lost some FriendFeed subscribers. I know this because my number of followers went down. There was one person in particular I wanted to check. This person wasn’t on my list of followers, and I thought, “maybe wasn’t subscribed to me in the first place?” Checked email, and I did indeed have a follow notification from this person a few weeks earlier. So I knew I’d been dropped.
  • I inadvertently deleted a comment to this blog. On wordpress.com, once deleted, the comment is not recoverable. I was in a bind. But then I realized I get whole copies of comments to this blog emailed to me. So I went to Gmail and found the comment notification. I was able to add the comment back by copying it from my email.

As snail mail had to adjust to the rise of email, so too will email adjust to the rise of social media:

As the number of social media sites and participation in them expands, email will find new growth and value in being the centralized notifications location.

Email = Centralized Identity Management

Much has been written about email being the ultimate social network. The basis for this is your address book and the emails you trade with others. But might there be another opportunity for email?

If email has all these subscription and message notifications, doesn’t it potentially have a role in helping you manage your centralized identity? Gmail could map out my connections across various sites. Find those that are common across the sites. Gauge the level of interaction with others.

Even add APIs from the various sites and let me send out communications from email. Suddenly, email’s back in the communication game as well.

I’m just scratching the surface of what might be possible here.

What Do You Think?

Email’s primary role as a communication medium is diminishing. Many of us are enjoying the easy, contextual basis of communicating via the various social media sites.

But like snail mail before it, email has interesting possibilities for what it will do for us in the future.

What do you think?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Email%E2%80%99s+Changing+Role+in+Social+Media%3A+Digital+Archive%2C+Centralized+Identity%22&public=1

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What Interactions Do You Want from Social Media?

Mapping the different social media interactions to human anatomy:

Now…where to go to get those interactions? An incomplete list follows.

Ideas, opinion, information:

  • FriendFeed
  • Twitter

Share photos, videos

  • Flickr
  • SmugMug
  • Zoomr
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • FriendFeed

Music you like:

  • Last.fm

Chit chat

  • Twitter

What are you feeling?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

What are you doing?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • FriendFeed
  • Upcoming

What are you eating?

  • Twitter

Where are you?

  • Brightkite
  • Twitter

Personally, my interest is in ideas, opinions and information. But some photos and chit chat are also nice.

How about you?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

 

Yes, FriendFeed Will Be Mainstream (by 2018) and Here’s Why

We recently went through a Twitter meme about whether it was mainstream yet. There is no debate as to whether FriendFeed is mainstream today – it’s not. The question really is, will FriendFeed ever see mainstream adoption? Robert Scoble played both sides of the coin (here, here).

FriendFeed will go mainstream. My definition of mainstream: 33% of Internet users are on it. It’s just going to take time, and it’ll look different from the way it does now.

Four points to cover in this mainstreaming question:

  1. What will FriendFeed replace?
  2. What is a reasonable timeline?
  3. What content will drive the activity on FriendFeed?
  4. What topics will drive engagement?

What Will FriendFeed Replace?

Harvard professor John Gourville has a great framework for analyzing whether a new technology will succeed. His “9x problem” says a new technology has to be nine times better than what it replaces. This is because of two reasons:

  • We overvalue what we already have by three times
  • We undervalue the benefits of a new technology by three times

What does this mean in everyday terms? There’s comfort in the status quo, and fear of the unknown.

There’s the argument that FriendFeed is a complement, not a replacement to existing services. There’s some truth there, but the bottom line is that we only have 24 hours in day. Where will end up spending our time?

Here’s what FriendFeed will replace:

  • Time spent on the individual social media that stream into FriendFeed (blogs, Flickr, etc.)
  • Visits to static, top-down media properties (e.g. CNN, ESPN, Drudge Report, etc.)
  • Visits to other user-driven aggregator sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo! Buzz)
  • Usage of Google search (search human-filtered content on FriendFeed)

In terms of the “9x problem”, the nice thing is that people do not have to replace what they already do. Visit CNN? You can keep doing that. Like to see what’s on Digg? You can keep doing that.

Searching on FriendFeed will advance. You can do a search on a keyword or a semantically-derived tag, and specify the number of shares, likes or comments.

FriendFeed doesn’t require you to leave your favorite service. It’s the FriendFeed experience that will slowly steal more of your time. That mitigates the issue of people overvaluing what they already have. They won’t lose it, they’ll just spend less time on it. Thomas Hawk continues to be an active participant on Flickr, but more of his time is migrating to FriendFeed. As he says:

One of the best things about FriendFeed is that it gives you much of what you get from your favorite sites on the internet but in better ways.

I think FriendFeed will have the 9x problem beat, but it will take time.

What Is a Reasonable Timeline for FriendFeed to Go Mainstream?

The chart below, courtesy of Visualizing Economics, shows how long several popular technologies took to be adopted in the U.S.

Using my mainstream definition of 33% household penetration, here’s roughly when several technologies went mainstream:

  • Color TV = 11 years
  • Computer = 15 years
  • Internet = 8 years

In addition, here are some rough estimates of current levels of adoption for other technologies. Estimates are based on the number of U.S. Internet users, the recent Universal McCann survey of social media usage (warning, PDF opens with this link) and search engine rankings.

  • Google search = 68% of searches after 10 years
  • RSS = 19% of active Internet users after 4.5 years of RSS readers
  • Facebook = 9% of Internet users after 4.5 years (20mm U.S. members / 211mm U.S. Internet users)
  • Twitter = 0.6% of Internet users after 2.2 years (1.3mm members / 211mm U.S. Internet users)

Yes, the date of FriendFeed mainstream adoption is pure speculation. But looking at the adoption rates of several other technologies, ten years from now is within reason (i.e. 2018). The RSS adoption is a decent benchmark.

What Content Will Drive FriendFeed Activity?

Alexander van Elsas had a recent post where he listed the percentage for different content sources inside FriendFeed. The results were compiled by Benjamin Golub.

Not surprisingly, Twitter dominates the content sources. Original blog posts are a distant #2 content source, and Google Reader shares are #3. That speaks volumes into the world of early technology adopters.

When FriendFeed becomes mainstream, the sources of content will change pretty dramatically as shown in this table:

The biggest change is in the FriendFeed Direct Post. Relative to blogging or Twittering, putting someone else’s content into the FriendFeed stream is the easiest thing for people to do. FriendFeed Direct Posts are similar to Diggs or Stumbles. Since all the content we create, submit, like or comment is part of our personal TV broadcast on FriendFeed, Direct Posts can be just as much fun for users as newly created content by someone you know.

Direct Posts will draw from both traditional media sites as well as from other people’s blogs. Expect media sites and blogs to have a “Post to FriendFeed” link on every article.

Twitter drops as a percentage of content here. Why? FriendFeed’s commenting system replaces a lot of what people like about Twitter. Blogs drop a bit as well. More people will blog in 2018, but many of those will be sporadic bloggers. Still, 10% of the content consisting of original author submissions is pretty good.

Google Reader shares hold as a percentage as more people recognize the value of RSS versus regular-old bookmarks inside their browsers. ‘Other’ goes up, because who knows what cool other stuff will be introduced over the next ten years.

What Topics Will Drive Engagement?

Human nature won’t change. The same stuff that animates people today will continue to do so in the future. Politics, sex, technology and sports will be leaders in terms of what the content will be. There will be plenty of other topics as well. I can see the Iowa Chicks Knitting Club sharing and commenting on new patterns via FriendFeed.

One issue that will arise is that people will have multiple interests. They’ll essentially have various types of programming on their FriendFeed “TV channels”. For a good example of that today, see Dave Winer’s FriendFeed stream. Dave has two passions: technology and politics. I like the technology stuff, but I tend to ignore the political streams.

Well, this will become a bigger issue as FriendFeed expands. I personally like the noise of the people I follow, but my subscriptions seem to generally stick with recurring topics. But as more mainstream users come on board, the divergence of topics for any single person will likely increase.

FriendFeed will employ semantic web technologies to identify the topic of submitted items. These semantically-derived tags will be used to categorize content. Users can then subscribe only to content matching specific categories. How might this work?

A Dave Winer post with “Obama” in it is categorized as Politics. I could choose to hide all Dave Winer updates that are categorized in Politics.

Final Thoughts

The constant flow of new content, the rich comments and easy ‘Likes’, and the social aspect of FriendFeed will drive its mainstream adoption. It’s a terrific platform for self-expression and for engaging others who share your interests. It’s also got real potential to be a dominant platform for research. In the future, look for stories in magazines and newspapers asking, “Are we losing productivity because of FriendFeed?”

So what do you think? Will FriendFeed ever be mainstream? In ten years?

*****

See this item on FriendFeed : http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone+%22yes.+friendfeed+will+be+mainstream+%28by+2018%29%22

Social Media: Lighter Beats Heavier Every Time

www.waystupid.com

Interesting tweet from Stanislav Shalunov regarding SocialThing:

Asking for my passwords makes SocialThing sound like a phisher. Won’t use for now. http://tinyurl.com/4dquxn

His tweet expressed something that I’ve been noticing for some time. I am gravitating more and more to the “lighter” interaction social media apps.

What is “lighter”? It’s the flick of a wrist. Enter text + submit. One-click subscriptions. Here are three comparisons, including the controversial one of aggregator comments versus direct blog comments.

Twitter vs Facebook

Facebook is heavy. To build out your network, you have to:

  • Invite others
  • Request a connection and wait for the response

These processes make a lot of sense for what Facebook is about – true relationships. When your friend invite shows up in the other person’s inbox, what’s their reaction? That’s the key to maintaining the integrity of true relationships there. I have turned down friend requests there from complete strangers. It’s why I’m comfortable blogging about my kids there but less so elsewhere.

And it inhibits using Facebook for me.

Twitter’s model makes social network set-up a breeze. Find someone you’re interested in, click “follow”. Done. But Twitter does support Facebook-like controls:

  • You can block specific individuals
  • You can set your updates to be private, only available to those you approve

Most people just leave their subscriptions wide open on Twitter. Which is great for the user experience. I have made connections on Twitter that I would never have made on Facebook.

The other thing that’s easier – communications. I’m a voyeur a Twitter, jumping in when I want. I just use the @sign to respond to someone, or the occasional direct message . Facebook’s status updates post to the newsfeed and a few are shown on your home page. But those aren’t really conversations. To talk with someone, you use the Facebook message system. Again, that’s really cool – you don’t need to remember email addresses. But it also is heavier.

No surprise Twitter’s been growing like a weed.

FriendFeed vs SocialThing

FriendFeed and SocialThing have a lot in common in that they show the activity streams of friends across different services. But there are key differences, which are well summarized by Mark Krynsky at the Lifestream Blog.

Creating your network: FriendFeed has the lightweight Twitter model. Find someone, subscribe. Done. SocialThing imports the friends you’ve made on each of the services. This is also light. But you can’t add new users directly inside SocialThing. You’ve got to go to the individual service, add the friend and then SocialThing is updated. This is heavier than FriendFeed.

Importing your services: FriendFeed asks for your login ID for a service (Twitter ID, Flickr ID, del.icio.us ID, etc.). enter it. Done. Your updates start flowing. SocialThing wants your ID and password. This enables SocialThing to send updates back down to each service. But as Stanislav expressed above, getting passwords is heavy.

Interaction on the originating services: SocialThing lets you respond to a friend directly back on the originating service, like Twitter. FriendFeed is adding this capability for Twitter, and perhaps others. But if you want to comment directly on the originating service, for the most part you have to leave FriendFeed and go to that service. Socialthing’s support for direct comments is the lighter experience.

It’s still early. But FriendFeed has the edge in the “lightness wins” battle right now.

Friendfeed Comments vs Blog Comments

Man, do I really want to write this? Well, here goes. Comments on FriendFeed are a lot lighter than those on blogs. Which means it’s an easier experience.

Blog comments have these qualities:

  • You want to be pithy in your comment. The blog post addressed a weighty topic, and you want to comment in keeping with that.
  • You enter your name, email and website each time
  • You might encounter a captcha
  • The blogger may hold comments in reserve until they’re reviewed
  • If you mess up, you can’t change your comment

Meanwhile, on FriendFeed, comments have these qualities:

  • You can comment pithily
  • You can write more of a meta-comment about the post
  • You can talk with others via comments
  • You can click ‘Like’ to provide a quick, simple comment about the blog post
  • Comments are easy. Click Comment. Enter text. Click Post. Done.
  • You can edit or delete your comments

This doesn’t mean commenting on blogs isn’t worthwhile or valuable. Reaching out to the writer is an important part of the participatory ethos of blogging. Your comment also breaks the ice on a post, making it easier for others to join in.

But there’s no denying the lightness of comments on FriendFeed. Expect their volume to increase.

I’ll predict that FriendFeed comments are those that bloggers never would have gotten on their blogs in the first place.

So the lightness of FriendFeed comments won’t steal from bloggers’ on-site comments. They’ll add to them. And that’s a good thing for the conversation.

What do you think?

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/92524b04-4b9d-c0db-e09e-931c4f3e5084

Becoming a Web 2.0 Jedi

Thinking about the ever deeper levels of involvement one can have with Web 2.0 apps and the Web 2.0 ethos. Came up with this chart.

Thoughts?

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Becoming+a+Web+2.0+Jedi%22&public=1

Imagining an Email Social Network

Email has been proposed as a nearly ready-to-go social network. Just how would that work?

In September 2007, Om Malik asked Is Email The Ultimate Social Environment? And in November, Saul Hansell wrote, Inbox 2.0: Yahoo and Google to Turn E-Mail Into a Social Network. Both looked at the idea that email providers have most of what was needed to build their own social networks. There is potential there, but it’s not a slam dunk.

The Social Network Stack

If an email system is to become social, it needs to address the social network stack. To keep things simple, let’s assume there are three parts to the social network stack:

  1. Self-Expression = who you are, what you like, what you’re doing
  2. Relationships = people connections, of all different types
  3. Interactions = how you engage your network

Within each part, there are components that define the experience of the social network. This diagram describes those:

Self Expression: Email Needs a Profile Page

There isn’t a profile page in email systems. You log in, and you see your email. Adding a profile page really shouldn’t be too hard for Google or Yahoo. Even issues of privacy for the profile page are quite manageable for the two Web giants.

Apps on the profile page? Google’s got iGoogle widgets and OpenSocial. Not a problem.

Yahoo has demonstrated with its durable portal that it can pull together information from different sources. Wouldn’t be too much of an issue for them either. According to the New York Times’ article, Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse already has an idea for the profile page:

In this vision, people have two pages: a profile they show to others and a personal page on which they see information from their friends as well as anything else they want, like weather or headlines.

Relationships: They’re in the Emails, But Handle with Care

This is the biggest advantage the email providers have: they know your relationships. They’re sitting on a mountain of information about people’s connections to others. As the New York Times’ Saul Hansell wrote:

Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph – the connections between people.

This is the killer advantage Yahoo and Google have over other social networks. They know your connections right off the bat. And that’s not all. They know how often you email those contacts.

Imagine how this could work:

  • Email frequency is used to set your initial relationship level with someone else. Lots of recent back-n-forth means strong bond. Lots of one-way emails to you means it’s a company. Few two-way emails means you have a weak relationship.
  • Your address book categories – personal, work – can become relationship definition metadata.
  • If you don’t have your email address book organized by relationship types, the email provider analyzes the words to categorize the relationship. Romantic, friendship, professional. Yes, this is Big Brother scary, but Gmail already does this to display ads. Still, if not done right, this might backfire big time.

I do wonder how much value this really has though. Email address books are used to kick start your enrollment into social networks like Facebook. It’s not hard to import these.

The assessment of your email connections – strength and type of relationship – is cool, but don’t you know that already? Arguably, such analysis really is a way to save time on making your own decisions about these relationships. But if you’re engaged with your network, you’re probably going to take control of this.

Subscribe or Dual Opt-In: Twitter or Facebook? FriendFeed or LinkedIn? The recent stars on the social apps scene have a subscribe model. Your can read the updates of people on Twitter and FriendFeed, just by declaring that you want to. Pretty wide open. But a key factor here: when you join Twitter or FriendFeed, you do so knowing that anyone can read your updates. People with whom you email never had that expectation. So every user either needs to opt-in to having their updates read by their email contacts, or you must send a friend request to whomever you want in your social network.

Type of Relationship: Friend, common interest, professional? This is another one that requires thought. I’ve argued previously that different social networks are good for different types of relationships. Being a one size-fits-all is not easy. It requires a decent amount of management for the user: do I share my kids’ pictures with my colleagues and the people in my Barack Obama 08 group? Dedicated purpose social networks make managing the different aspects of your life easier. Otherwise, all your co-workers will know your political preferences, party pictures and relationship status. Email providers have all of your email contacts; they need to either pick a focus for their social networks or let users create their own types.

Interactions: Watch Those Activity Streams

Most of the Interaction stack is well within the range of Google and Yahoo. Yahoo’s been in the groups business for a long time. Google relaunched the JotSpot wiki as Google Sites. A wiki can be a good group site.

Apps were already discussed under self-expression. Messages? Of course – this is email.

Activity updates are an interesting concept. The biggest current activity in email apps is…email. But I’m not sure those qualify as updates you want broadcasted:

Should emails be shared?

Emails are pretty private, aren’t they? Not really something people will want to broadcast out to their social network…

Google and Yahoo could integrate activity streams from other parts of their social networks pretty easily.

So What Are Email’s Advantages as a Social Network?

I’m not sure there are intrinsic advantages email enjoys that make it superior as a potential social network. Rather, it has these two user-oriented advantages:

  • People wouldn’t have to go to a lot of trouble to set them up. Just present them with the opportunity when they log in to their, with very few clicks or decisions initially.
  • We tend to check our email daily, hourly. So recurring engagement with your social network is a lot easier than with destination social networks.

That being said, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Bebo, Ning and FriendFeed have a tremendous head start and brand. They also have clearly defined, different experiences.

If they choose to roll out their own social networks, Google and Yahoo will start ahead of the game. But success won’t be because of the email. It’ll require a differentiated social network experience. Just like anyone else entering the space.

Facebook Fatigue? NO. March 08 Visitors Back Up

Last week, I posted a stat on Facebook’s February 2008 visitors, which were down from January. The post asked whether it was a trend, or seasonality.

Facebook’s March 2008 numbers are in, from compete.com. And they’re up. So it was seasonality. The chart below shows a rebound from February.

The same kind of rebound between February and March was seen in 2007. So clearly there’s seasonality to their business.

The fatigue felt by prominent bloggers Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki is real. But clearly a lot of folks are enjoying Facebook. Perhaps this is the transition of Facebook from early adopters to mainstream.

Scoble Loses Interest in Facebook – 5,000 “Friends” Will Do That

In social networks, bigger is not necessarily better. Robert Scoble, famously with 5,000 Facebook friends, recently posted this on Twitter.

Spent some time cleaning off my Facebook Profile. Stripped it way down. Much nicer now, no crap. I haven’t been into FB for months. Sigh.

Normally this may not rate as important news. In fact, Scoble had a Feb. 22, 2008 post up on his blog titled Is Facebook Doomed? But there, his issue is primarily one of limits on the number of friends and messages. He still liked Facebook fundamentally.

But then came his recent tweet. While many technorati are expressing their ennui with Facebook, with Scoble it’s significant for two reasons:

  1. He’s the living embodiment of Web 2.0 openness and try-it-all, push-it-to-the-max gusto
  2. He’s argued passionately that 5,000 friends is just fine for Facebook

Let’s start with the idea that 5,000 “friends” is appropriate for a social network. It can be…but not for Facebook.

Facebook Is for Social Interactions, Not One-Way Communications

Let’s imagine having 5,000 friends on Facebook. What must that be like?

Newsfeeds. That newsfeed must be constantly in overdrive. People’s statuses updating. New groups they joined. Apps added. New friend connections. Friends compared. Blah, blah, blah…! A 5,000-friend newsfeed must be like a stock ticker. Hit refresh every second and a new set of newsfeeds displays.

Inbox. When you have 5,000 friends, your Inbox and Notifications are probably largely untouched. How do you go through the sheer volume of messages? Inbox from hell is what that is.

App invites. How many times has Scoble been invited to try every inane app out there? Especially since its Scoble. Get him to try your app and mention it on his blog or Twitter, and you’re on your way. Not enough hours in the week to try all the new apps.

Reaching out to friends. How do you figure out which of your 5,000 friends you interact with each day? Assume Scoble attempts a meaningful exchange with 13 friends each day, on top of all his other duties. That translates to contact with each friend once per year.

Here’s what Scoble said in his blog post defending his decision to have 5,000 friends:

In social networking software a “friend” is someone you want in your social network. Period. Nothing more. The fact that people assume that you should only have “real friends” in your social network is just plain wrong.

See, I have this theory about social networks: different ones are good for different types of social interactions. What Scoble is looking for is something different than Facebook. His interactions have more of a one-way quality to them. He’s really good with discovering and analyzing new things, and is eager to share them with the world. And that’s really cool. But he really doesn’t want to know that you just joined the Austin networking group, posted your child’s picture or that you’re working on that report for your boss. Nothing wrong with that – I don’t either. But I didn’t add you as one of my 5,000 friends.

Different Social Applications for Different Purposes

I believe Facebook is fundamentally tuned to be an interactive lifestream social network. That means it wants to be the place where all parts of your life are captured and shared. It’s built around that goal. Which makes it terrible as a large-scale broadcasting platform.

So it’s no surprise that Scoble has tired of Facebook. I assume he’s still getting to broadcast his life to the 5,000 friends. I’ll bet a lot of those updates occur as apps connected to his various preferred social apps: Twitter, Jaiku, Flickr, etc. For him, Facebook is more of a broadcasting server, not a place for true social interaction.

For Scoble’s social networking style, he’s already got what he needs: his blog. He talks about what interests him. He responds only to comments that interest him. To complete his lifestream, more widgets for his favorite social apps could be added.

FriendFeed is emerging as an app to satisfy the social network needs of power users like Scoble. Unlimited (well, theoretically) numbers of people can subscribe to his feed: blog posts, Facebook status updates, Twitter posts, Flickr photos, etc. Anyone can comment on his lifestream. But he doesn’t need to subscribe to these same people. No app spam, inbox overload, etc. However, I notice he already has 1,700 “friends” there.

I suspect Scoble will probably find a better home for his mode of social networking on FriendFeed. And Facebook is just fine for what it wants to be: lifestream platform for interacting with your actual friends.

Scoble Is Great for Analysis

This post is not meant as a criticism of Scoble. Quite the opposite. He pushes the boundaries of all these social apps, and does so in a very public way. He’ll give you his take on his own actions. But by pushing things to the extreme, he also provides a great lens for analyzing Web 2.0. That guy’s got a cool life.

Facebook Fatigue Watch: U.S. Feb 08 Down, But Is It a Trend?

Facebook’s number of visitors fell again in February 2008, according to compete.com. This follows a decline in January.

facebook-visitor-stats-feb-08.png

TechCrunch’s February 22 post, “Facebook Fatigue? Visitors Level Off In the U.S.” noted the January 2008 drop in visitors. It spawned a lot of discussion along two broad lines:

From where I sit, Facebook is taking a lot of positive steps to improve the user experience. More controls are being put on Facebook apps. Users can easily clean up their apps. There will be other moves.

I still think there is going to be natural attrition as well. The whole media-fueled rush to join Facebook was a boon to the company in the latter half of the year. But a lot of people who joined were there to experiment with it and see what all the hub bub was about. It’s not surprising that many of these folks are disengaging. It’s a natural market phenomenon.

As for the seasonality, it is entirely possible. The graphic below is from comScore, courtesy of the TechCrunch post. Notice how Jan 07 and Feb 07 both were lower, just like this year. One big difference – Facebook’s growth was so gangbusters in 2007 that you expected it to go on for quite a while. The drop so far in 2008 feels like the momentum stopped.

What do you think?  Trend or seasonal effect?

What Makes the Different Social Networks Tick?

There are two “full-service” social networks that I predominantly use: Facebook and LinkedIn. I belong to a Ning group as well, but don’t often check in there. I avoid MySpace the way I’d avoid a hipster rave…it’s just not me.

Over time, I’ve either read things about social networks or made my own assumptions about them:

Aside from this horse race aspect, there’s also the issue of what you want to get from a social network. This is an important consideration. Josh Catone at ReadWriteWeb has a post that asks, Should Employers Use Social Network Profiles in the Hiring Process? It’s a really good question. And I think one that is probably best answered this way: assume they will.

With these perspectives as background, I wanted to map several social networks to understand them a little more. Not so much the technical ins-and-outs (APIs, open social, openID, etc.). More in the sense of why people use the different networks.

I picked four: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Ning. They are all quite distinct in their approach and personality. The chart below is my map of the social networks’ strengths. Across the top, I’ve put six different types of social connections. The boxes below each column represent the relative strength of each network for that social interaction.

Social Networks Chart png

Here’s my breakdown of the four social networks.

Facebook

More than any other social network, Facebook wants to be The Social Utility. Like electricity or water, you just plug into Facebook, and it’s the place you go for all of your social interactions.

Facebook’s Ivy League-inspired ethos is a good one for being a wider destination of all your social interactions. Clean interfaces, heavy alumni basis and a relatively safe feel to it are key to its wide appeal. It works well for keeping up with friends, social acquaintances and friends from the past.

I think there’s a fundamental decision you have to make with Facebook. Do you intend to use it to keep up with people to whom you really have a connection? Or do you see it as essentially a communication venue?

I use it only for people with whom I have a relationship in the offline world. This is important for me. I use the Notes functionality to blog about my kids. Lord knows I don’t want everyone out on the Web to read those. So I keep my Facebook network quite limited. Others, like Robert Scoble and his 5,000 Facebook “friends”, seem less interested in the interaction and more interested in the one-way communication.

What makes Facebook great for friends is what makes it not good for business in my mind. There’s the personal and goofy stuff you do on Facebook. Blog about your kids, talk politics, post party pix, family pix, throw sheep, etc. I don’t think that stuff is what you want your business contacts to see.

Facebook has designs on moving into the business networking space. The recently introduced ability to create your own groups and use those groups for distributing updates helps this cause. But it seems like a lot of work to keep all these connections categorized and used correctly.

Facebook’s best social interaction: core lifestream stuff with people you’ve known for years.

MySpace

I remember the glowing, pre-Facebook stories about MySpace. Founded by musicians, it had hipster cred. Kids loved it. And the profiles can be customized a lot in terms of look and layout. True personalization.

What did all that give us? Tila Tequila.

OK, that was a cheap shot. But MySpace has become an impenetrable thicket of overdone profiles with…uh…interesting pix and teen age language. I surfed around over there, and I’m a stranger in a strange land.

Which begs a question. In the chart above, Facebook and MySpace share strengths in several social interactions. So don’t they compete? I’ll have to say not really. The demographics of the two networks are quite different.

If Facebook is Harvard, MySpace is the crowded hookup bar.

I haven’t heard MySpace tabbed as a competitor in the business networking space. Yeah, it’s a pretty safe bet that’s not gonna happen.

But I do want note the large number of specialized groups on MySpace. That’s a really nice aspect of the social network. Meet like-minded folks to discuss topics of interest.

MySpace’s best social interaction: sharing good times and opinions with friends, fellow travelers and hookups.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a dry, utilitarian social network. It feels slow, and you don’t get many interesting updates from your network. It’s full of business types. It includes business news on the home page. It’s kinda boring…

And it’s incredibly valuable.

As you get older and develop of a bunch of professional contacts, LinkedIn’s value becomes more apparent. I love to see when my former colleagues at Pay By Touch land new jobs. You can find people you’d like to meet, and work your connections via the “six degrees of separation” functionality of LinkedIn. I don’t have to worry about maintain emails for all my old contacts – I just fire messages through the platform. Employers use the network to find prospective employees. Job candidates can do research on the current and former employees of a company to which they’re applying.

I don’t look to LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on the lifestream events of my friends. I have no idea what my old friends from the past are up to via LinkedIn. The groups based on shared interests are only beginning on LinkedIn. I question how active they’ll really be. In professional interactions, people probably will have their “professional guard” up at all times.

LinkedIn’s best social interaction: reaching out to your network to prospect for a new job or employee.

Ning

Ning is a platform chock full of individual networks. Lots of them. Ning lets people create their own private networks, with much more control than what the other big networks offer.

This makes Ning an ideal place to set up social networks that revolve around a specific area of interest. On the Ning home page right now, featured networks include:

Ning works best for topics with members who are passionate about them. Hobbies, pastimes, specialized professions, politics. This is because these networks have a limited scope. Whereas Facebook and MySpace offer updates on a variety of activities for members, a Ning network is wholly dependent on its narrow scope of interest. Better have a lot of energy around that topic!

Arguably, a Facebook or MySpace group page can serve the function of Ning reasonably well. And specialized industry/hobby sites with good community boards are competition for Ning.

Ning’s best social interaction: discussion with people we’ve met online who ‘get’ our passion.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

 

Will Enterprise 2.0 Increase Web 2.0 Adoption?

On ReadWriteWeb, Josh Catone asks Is Facebook for Business Really Coming? The post is a good breakdown on how Facebook is growing in terms being useful for business. It touches on areas such as employees networking on Facebook, concerns about security around private content and groups, and inroad against LinkedIn.

The post is a good reference point for thinking about the effects of Web 2.0 in the enterprise. I’ve been out at the Gartner portals conference the past few days. Plenty of good analyst presentations and vendor updates. Expect to see more tagging, implicit activity integration, blogs, wikis, mashups, social networks, etc. Coming to a company near you!

As I listened to the presentations and talked with companies at our vendor booth, I came away with a strong impression that companies are looking at implementing Web 2.0 inside the enterprise. Yes, there are business cases to be built, but more companies are bringing Web 2.0 inside the firewall.

Assuming increased Web 2.0 usage inside companies, what are the outcomes? Of course, there are business improvements that will occur.

But, I think there’s another outcome from this increase. Web 2.0 tools will become more mainstream as employees are introduced to them in the enterprise.

Now, I want to make two points with regard to that statement. One is that “mainstream” is a relative term. In the U.S., there are 211 million Internet users. So one definition of mainstream could be say…50 million users. In the one quarter range. The other point is that plenty of great web sites can/will go mainstream without enterprise adoption. Nice thing about this Web, eh?

OK…with that out of the way…

This idea that companies lead the way for consumer adoption of technologies is not without precedent. Apple had the better PCs in the 1980s and 90s, but Microsoft’s operating system became the standard for the consumer market (Compaq, Dell, IBM). Why? Microsoft became the corporate standard, and employees bought the same technology when they got computers for the home.

As companies adopt Web 2.0 technologies, employee adoption is key to maximizing their benefit. As employees adopt the Web 2.0 technologies at the office, they become more familiar with them at home.

Let’s look at tagging. Del.icio.us has 3 million users. An impressive number, but only fraction of the 211 million Internet users. Many enterprise software companies are offering companies social tagging and bookmarking solutions. What happens once tagging becomes a regular part of the application stack inside the enterprise? People become comfortable with it. They ‘get’ why tagging has value (easy personal classification system, basis for discovering new content). They tag content inside their own companies. They click on tag clouds. They then come home, and want the same tagging experience.

How about RSS? RSS is a terrific way to easily stay up to date on new website content. But how many of those 211 million Internet users actually have an RSS reader of some type? Google Reader, FeedBurner, Firefox subscriptions, etc. Not that many yet. But RSS is going to be more pervasive in companies. Heck, you can even add it to Microsoft Outlook. What happens when people get used to staying updated via RSS feeds at work? They ‘get’ it. And when they get home, they’re stuck with email and their bookmarked websites. Until they realize they can enjoy the benefits of RSS on their computers.

You’re also going to see social networking introduced in the enterprise. Big as Facebook and MySpace are, the majority of Internet users do not have accounts on these services. Once employees are automatically enrolled into their companies’ social networks, they’ll start playing with them and begin to ‘get’ the value if being connected in this way. Maybe they had held off on social networks before (that’s for the kids). But after their work experience, what happens when they get home and want to keep up in a similar fashion with family and friends?

Companies need to be on top of the technology trends to stay competitive. This happens regardless of whether employees are itching for the change (how many employees were demanding groupware?). As companies roll out Enterprise 2.0, how long will it be before employee adoption makes Web 2.0 applications mainstream?

Facebook Beacon Is Dead. Long Live Amazon Grapevine.

Amazon has just come out with two new Facebook apps, as reported by Erick Schonfeld on TechCrunch. One is Amazon Giver, which lets friends share wish lists. The other is Amazon Grapevine, which lets you broadcast your activities on Amazon back to the Facebook newsfeed.

Pardon me…but isn’t that the basis of Facebook Beacon? Well, sort of. There are a few differences.

Amazon made this completely opt-in, which differs from the opt-out philosophy of Beacon. Also, product purchases are not included in Grapevine, but they were an important part of Beacon.

Personally, Beacon doesn’t bother me that much. I did not experience the early versions of Beacon with the too-fast notice that popped up on e-tailers’ sites. No accidentally revealing an engagement ring purchase. But there are times a purchase says something about you.

In fact, I think the idea of sharing your purchases with your friends has a lot of interesting potential. I can think of three different reasons people would share purchase information with friends and check out what their friends have purchased:

  1. Self-expression
  2. Product discovery
  3. Friends’ reviews

I’ve mapped those reasons to several different retail sectors.

  • Apparel = self-expression
  • Computer Hardware/Software = friends’ reviews
  • Consumer Electronics = friends’ reviews, self-expression
  • Home & Garden = self-expression, friends’ reviews
  • Sporting Goods = self-expression, friends’ reviews
  • Baby Products = product discovery, friends’ reviews

For instance, I think broadcasting your Apparel purchases is more a form of self-expression. People’s fashion tastes are an extension of themselves. Participation in some sort of Beacon-like program for Consumer Electronics, on the other hand, would be a chance to provide reviews to friends and read the reviews of your friends. And Baby Products would have a lot of discovery and reviews. See what your friends have purchased for their infants. Anyone who is a first-time parent knows the challenges of figuring out what to buy.

But, Beacon is still controversial, and Amazon doesn’t go as far as broadcasting purchases. So for now, we broadcast our ratings and reviews. This is pretty good. I can learn a lot from that.

The only problem is, the opportunities to share this way are still quite limited. Not too many e-tailers are doing this yet. However, Amazon has a rich history of driving innovation in e-tail. It was the early leader in e-tail. It was among the first to set up an affiliate program (Amazon Associates). It pioneered product recommendations.

So now it’s experimenting with the sharing of product-related information on social networks. Probably won’t be long before other e-tailers get on board.

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