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The Perfect FriendFeed: Themed Channels for New Users

friendfeed-logo

On his blog, FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit asks others to chime in with their own thoughts about improving the experience on FriendFeed:

If you’d like to contribute (and I hope you do), I’d love to read more of your visions of “the perfect FriendFeed”. Describe what would make FriendFeed perfect for YOU, and post it on your blog.

I’ve seen some good posts out there on the subject, many of them with suggestions for UI changes. I’m more inclined to think along the lines of Louis Gray on this one. He suggested a lite version of FriendFeed.

I’d like to suggest another approach.

FriendFeed provides pre-built lifestreams centered around different themes.

The idea is to make it easy for new users to get started.

What Is FriendFeed’s Bridge to Existing Consumer Behavior?

It’s useful to consider FriendFeed in light of the emerging success of Twitter. Twitter rides the earlier adoption cycles of email and IM although clearly it takes some mental adjustment to grasp the how and why of twittering: public declarations of activities, information finds and conversations. Run a Google search on “I don’t get Twitter” to see the past and current struggles people have.

But there is a link to prior behaviors. And with the @replies and DM, Twitter keeps that link.

FriendFeed’s models of consumer familiarity are less clear. Seeing a stream of links, pictures, tweets, etc. from someone…what’s the analog? Online forums come to mind. When I was active in marathoning, I spent time on LetsRun.com.  People would post new topics, and we’d comment on them. Each time someone commented, the topic would bounce back to the top of the page.

Of course, FriendFeed dramatically changes the forum experience: richer set of content, sourced from dozens of external sites, Likes-based ratings and you personalize the set of topics you see.

So what were the earlier adoption factors for online forums?

FriendFeed = Community + Information Tracking

FriendFeed has two primary benefits for users:

  1. Community
  2. Information tracking

Of the two, which one is more accessible to a new user?

Community requires people who are familiar with you, and with whom you are familiar. That’s tough in any social network to get right off the bat. And FriendFeed isn’t a social network the way Facebook is. You don’t set up shop with a profile page where you describe yourself and interact with friends. You pipe in content you’re creating elsewhere, and find others’ content to follow.

Facebook lets you anchor yourself, and then reach out to others. FriendFeed is a constantly moving stream.

Community does come to users of FriendFeed. But it takes time. It will be hard for non-tech geeks to get into FriendFeed right now. Sure the bacon posts and photo memes are great. But most people just joining FriendFeed won’t be part of that. In fact, the adulation of bacon posts will probably scare them.

Something that Lists have shown me is that my attention gets focused on people who share interests in a particular topic. I guess that’s not surprising. And yet it points to the value of having something in place on FriendFeed that new users can immediately get value from.

If you join FriendFeed now, you’re not going to find anyone initially that shares your interests. You can do searches, maybe follow some of the bigger names on the service. But for the majority of the population, that’s not going to get them invested in the service. They’ll sign up, look around, then become inactive.

Community on FriendFeed comes over time as you find people that share your interests. This is why I suggest that FriendFeed provide  pre-built theme channels that let new users quickly find content they care about.

Themed Channels

Themed channels would let new users find areas of interest quickly. By “themed channel”, I’m thinking of feeds that relate specific topics for users of the various 59 (and counting) services that FriendFeed supports: bloggers, YouTube users, twitterers, Flickr users, etc. Included in that would RSS feeds of keywords related to the theme.

How might it work?

  1. New user joins FriendFeed
  2. They are provided with the option of adding one ore more themed channels
  3. They select a topic that is of interest
  4. By selecting a themed channel, they are immediately joined to a dedicated Room for a topic. The Room is one that is probably managed by a FriendFeed employee.
  5. They also can be subscribed to highly rated users whose lifestreams are among the top in terms of percentage of content related to a subject.

As an example, I created a Room for NASCAR. Into the Room, I’ve added three Twitter accounts, two YouTube accounts, four blogs, one Tumblr account, Del.icio.us tags for NASCAR and NASCAR tags for Upcoming events. Imagine a racin’ fan decides to try out FriendFeed. What do you think he’s going to do? Wouldn’t it be great if he had a pre-set channel of content relevant to him?

FriendFeed Isn’t Immune from the 90-9-1 Rule

Jakob Nielsen famously wrote about the 90-9-1 rule:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

The challenge for FriendFeed is that a lot of the population doesn’t blog or tweet. Or if they do, they don’t bring a lot of followers with them. Facebook or MySpace may be the biggest online social network they have. Asking these folks to create their own experience and find content they like is probably asking a lot of them.

But putting them in touch with user-generated content and other users who are relevant to their interests is a great way to kick off someone’s FriendFeed experience.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone++The+Perfect+FriendFeed+Themed+Channels

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Using Social Media In Hollywood – An Interview with MADtv’s Chris Kula

Chris Kula is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He currently writes for MADtv, seen Saturday nights on the Fox Network. I learned about Chris through an unusual connection – a link on my blog.

A few months back I wrote How to Write a Farewell Email to Your Co-Workers. The post ranks pretty high in the search engines, and is a consistent traffic source. It includes a link to a parody farewell email blog post by Chris, and I’ve noticed each week that many people click on that link. I was curious about who Chris is, so I reached out to him. He’s social media savvy, and I wanted to find out what’s happening in Hollywood these days with regard to social media.

First, some background.

Chris Is a Funny Dude

On Chris’s site, you’ll find a number of creative videos he’s put together, hosted on Vimeo. Check them out when you get a chance, they’re very good and are terrific displays of his comedic talents. These videos are Chris’s work done on his own time, not because he was being paid. Here’s one of Chris’s creations,”This Is Budweiser”:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Chris Kula – This Is Budweiser“, posted with vodpod

Chris started Flickr Punch on blogspot. Flickr Punch is a site where Chris applies punch lines to pictures he and others find on Flickr. He includes several of these “punchlined” Flickr pix on the home page of his personal site.  Here’s one for Storm Trooper fans:

Finally, Chris has also written for the Onion News Network. Perhaps his best known creation for The Onion is Child Bankrupts Make-A-Wish Foundation With Wish For Unlimited Wishes. This spoof is so realistic, concerned citizens contacted the charity about the news. The Make-a-Wish Foundation issued a press release saying that the charity was indeed OK. Chris’s creation even earned its own Snopes page.

He’s Got Social Media Chops

Chris clearly knows his way around Web 2.0 and social media. Above I’ve noted his work with Vimeo, Flickr and Blogspot (Blogger).  He finds humor in Wikipedia entries in a couple of his videos. He maintains a Tumblr blog about food he eats. He has his own blog, and includes links to his Facebook and MySpace profiles.

I was curious about the role of social media in the entertainment industry. Most coverage of entertainment focuses on industry efforts to clamp down on copying music, TV shows and movies. But what about people that work in the industry? How do they use social media in their personal and professional lives?

I’m particularly interested because Facebook has attracted a solid user base, and now faces the work of penetrating parts of the market that are less likely to try social media. Twitter hit a growth inflection point in March 2008, and continues to move forward into the consciousness of the mainstream. So how is social media playing outside the technology geek hot house?

I asked Chris eight questions, which he answers below. Obviously, these are just Chris’s experiences, but they do shine a light on what’s happening in Hollywood.

Eight Questions for Chris Kula

1. You’ve got some great stuff on social video site Vimeo, and your Flickr Punch site is great. What made you create those?

When I was working crappy day jobs in New York, I was really proactive about creating my own online content – be it videos or photo caption stuff (like FlickrPunch) or writing on my blog. At the same time I was doing improv and sketch at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, but that was more an ensemble type thing; making web videos and producing blog content was my way of establishing my individual voice as a writer. I got my first comedy writing job (at the now-defunct Time Inc. website Office Pirates.com) based largely on the content I’d been producing on my own.

2. Looks like you stopped updating on Vimeo and FlickrPunch a couple years ago. Did your social media stuff tail off after getting a job with Onion News Network and MADtv?

Yeah, I started producing less of my own stuff once I started getting paid to write. So now I don’t get as much chance to do my own thang as I used to, but on the other hand, I’m able to pay my rent and, you know, eat. It’s a fair trade. (But, given the very fickle nature of TV writing jobs, it’s really only a matter of time ’till I am once again updating my blog with sparkling new content just for the pro bono joy of it.)

3. A couple years ago, The New York Times ran a piece about United Talent Agency sourcing new talent via social media. Have you seen an increase in studios/talent agencies’ use of social media to source talent in Hollywood? Are the next generation of people trying to break into Hollywood using social media a lot more, with link to examples of their work instead of portfolios?

Absolutely. I think that’s the number one thing you can do as a writer/performer type today: have an online presence. The potential audience you can reach online is just so great, be it on YouTube or something more comedy-specific like Funny or Die. And yes, that audience includes the suits – I know a lot of sketch groups whose online body of work has earned them agents, managers, pilot deals, magic beans, etc. There are still the “conventional” routes to getting representation – writing a spec script, or putting up a live sketch show – but now you should absolutely be posting your own videos *in addition* to working on that stuff.

4. What’s your favorite social network these days? Why?

I really should make Facebook the Home page on my Firefox, as it’s basically always my first click. I like that I can keep up with what my friends “are doing right now” in an entirely passive fashion. Highly useful: event invitations for plugging shows, photo/video tagging. Highly ignorable: invitations to become werewolves, vampires, zombies and/or slayers of these creatures. (My second favorite social network is Tumblr, and these days I check my Myspace only about once a fortnight.)

5. You and your friends ever tweet?

Twitter has yet to infiltrate my friends. How I’ve managed to survive this long without knowledge of Julia Allison’s every waking activity, I do not know.

6. I checked out your Tumblr blog, Kula Foods. It’s cool. You really like food, don’t you?

My food blog is quite literally an exercise in self-indulgence. Delicious, savory self-indulgence. I post all the photos and text directly from my Blackberry Pearl. I’ll keep updating it as long as my metabolism allows.

7. What do you think of Ashton Kutcher’s Blah Girls?

re: Blah Girls – As a celeb-obsessed teen girl, I’m so loving it! Annnd… now I’m so over it. LOL

8. You’re a big Michigan fan. Are they going to make a bowl this year?

As a proud-bordering-on-elitist Michigan alum and fan, I used to complain about how other major conference teams can win, like, six games and still end up in a bowl game. Cut to: present day – Michigan football is the shakiest it’s been in, oh, three generations and I’m praying that FIVE wins might get us into the prestigious Carquest Motor City Bowl. Go Blue?

Thanks Chris.

You can see Chris’s work on his blog, and on MADtv Saturday nights.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Using+Social+Media+In+Hollywood+-+An+Interview+with+MADtv%E2%80%99s+Chris+Kula%22&who=everyone

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.

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?

Slide, RockYou = Live By The Hit, Die By The Hit

A couple of recent posts discuss the new world of Web widgets, which are small programs which can be installed on a web page, and run independent of that web page. Jeremiah Owyang writes about The Many Challenges of Widgets, while GigaOm believes that Companies Can Make Money with Widgets.

The two best known widget companies are Slide and RockYou. Both have grown exponentially via the social networks, Facebook and MySpace in particular. Their bread-and-butter offerings let users post pictures in slide show formats. They’ve expanded beyond that for other hits, like SuperWall and FunWall.

There’s a quality to their business models that seems to require a regular stream of hits. For the sake of argument, let’s say there are two business models. One is to create products that are enduring, and have an established place in the market. Microsoft Office. Tide detergent. USA Today. Margins (non-software) may be lower, but the stability represents good cash flow.

The second model is to create a regular string of hits. Disney Studios, EA computer games, Donna Versace. Margins are higher, and when you’re on a roll, the money pours in. But it is hard to always have a hit.

Slide and RockYou do have some established hits. They have great install numbers for several of their widgets. But to truly be huge, they’ll need more. I see them as more similar to movie studios than anything else:

  • They need releases that people will want (mega-hits, niche successes)
  • They need distribution of their product (like movies need theaters, DVD distros)
  • They need to monetize (OK, this is where they fall down a bit. People aren’t paying $9.00 to use the widgets).

Slide and RockYou need to be tech savvy. Jeremiah’s post lists issues they have to deal with: multiple APIs (Facebook, MySpace, etc.); changing APIs. They need to have a flair for creating great interactive experiences. And they need creativity to come up with new ideas.

This isn’t to say that they won’t build up a list of hits that transcend the up-and-downs that mark creativity-driven enterprises. EA has a great set of franchises in its sports video game collections. But the pressure to create new stuff is always there.

Slide recently raised $50 million, on a valuation of $500 million. Nice valuation, but the company has some challenges ahead of it. There’s that annoying need to monetize its widgets. Also, unlike reliable movie theaters that need releases, Slide and RockYou are depending on consumers to install their widgets. I imagine they’ll target websites as well – a bit easier and more stable than those fickle consumers.

And just as important, both Slide and RockYou need to set up their creative shops and processes such that a regular stream of potential hits are rolled out. They’ll make their lives easier by partnering with other companies that have “widget-izable” content. Touring through the Slide site, I see TechCrunch, Engadget and HotOrNot with widgets there.

There’s a real opportunity in widgets, but it takes more than throwing sheep at people.

Facebook Fatigue: Ten Reasons

TechCrunch has a post up, “Facebook Fatigue? Visitors Level Off in the U.S.” It appears the number of visitors to Facebook has stopped its inexorable growth, and even declined in January. This is newsworthy because that’s a real change in the trendline. Facebook has been on a tear the past couple years.

I personally enjoy Facebook very much. I check it a couple times a day, and I have activities and apps I like there. But I see some of the issues that afflict the site. Below are ten reasons for Facebook fatigue.

1. Friend activity junk mail: I love seeing all the things my friends do. I hate seeing all the things my friends do.

2. App invite spam: Yeah, too much of this. There are apps you really like, and apps that force invites. More of the former, less of the latter.

3. Lame apps: I got an email from “Compare Friends” detailing my “highest rated friends”. Inane.

4. Non-friend friends: LinkedIn is great for professional networks. Facebook is really best for friends. Adding non-friend friends reduces your interest in “keepin’ it real”. [UPDATE: Robert Scoble, with 5,000 “friends”, expresses his lost interest in Facebook]

5. Is that all there is? Tons of apps. But the killer activity on Facebook hasn’t yet emerged. Amend that…the killer activity for the new joiners (> 30 y.o.) of the past year hasn’t emerged.

6. Backlash by the under-25 set: For the younger crowd, maybe the growth of the over-30 crowd has killed the cool vibe. MySpace making a comeback? Bebo growing?

7. Backlash on the under-25 management conceit: It’s true that Facebook came from college kids. But too much blah-blah about how they really “get it” sours the older folks.

8. Stop the presses: Is it possible for there to be too much media coverage? Facebook, and its ecosystem get a lot (e.g. Slide’s $500mm valuation). Too much talk about how members are making these companies rich.

9. Inevitable bumps: Beacon. Scoble raising hell over lack of contact portability. Inability to delete your account. Competitors’ responses (LinkedIn changes, MySpace API, etc.)

10. Heat always dissipates: Hard to stay hot forever. Google’s been the closest thing to that.

Let’s remember that Facebook still draws massive numbers of users, and continues to drive a lot of discussion and innovation. They’ve got money and smart folks there. Looking at the list above, several are within the control of the company.

As Mark Twain said, “The report of my death is an exaggeration”.