Social networks are boring and suggested users are evil

Face it, when you join a social network (Twitter, Facebook,  hi5, MySpace, FriendFeed) these networks are boring. The reason why these networks are boring, is because you do not know anybody who joined this network. Most networks solve this by offering you an import from either other social networks or from your email address book.  Issue solved, the social network is not boring anymore. No not really, you have solved the issue that you have no connections on the social network, you still haven’t solved the issue that you have no interaction.

However since we are human we tend to interact with the people we know en we see, so that is one thing you can solve easily, especially since you know where the people are that you are acquainted to, you just imported them. It is like moving to a new city, you have to invest some time to make it less boring, and if you already know some people in a new city, it makes the process a little bit easier.

Evil

Now the evil part: some social network, have the option of ‘suggested users’, this option is trying to solve the same issues as importing your new contacts from somewhere else. However suggested users are most often well known users of the social networking service (for example the suggested users on Twitter)  or are users that already have the most followers (like on the suggested users implementation on Yammer).

Imagine you are moving to a new city and to make things less boring you get ten addresses of people who are either already introduced to all other people or you get  some addresses of famous people who will not speak to you. Makes this things less boring? No it does not, it will create some noise so you will get the feeling you are not living in a vacuum anymore, however if you’d prefer noise you could also go in local pub to test your luck. You probably won’t have any real interaction with them, off course you can be lucky to get connected to someone who cares about you so you have an opportunity to interact, however most often you’ll be just a listener to the noise these  social media rock stars make.

The better alternative

There is a better alternative: do not suggest users to connect to at the start of using a social network. Suggest them after a few days, in this way you, the user, can already contribute to a social network, and you are able to connect to the ones you already know. Based on this relatively small footprint a selection can be made of relevant users that you would like to be connected to. It is also a good moment for the owner / manager of the social network to thank you for joining the network and ask for any feedback. This way the network can use it social graph to help you better yourself and you can help the network by providing feedback.

Social networking is quite identical to the real life: you will only connect to the ones who add value and who connect to you (since it is a matter of giving and receiving). So think twice before connecting to suggested users, unless you are groupie, than you connect to social networking rock stars because they are rock stars, you don’t need the interaction.

It is an attention economy, not a follower economy

If you are on some social networks you might notice that are different economics: the one who posts first, the one with the most posts, the one with the most karma (or kudos on other networks) and on Twitter there is the one with the most followers. However all of these economics are not about the first poster, or the one with the most followers or the superdude (or whatever obscure label one might get when one has the most karma / kudos), it is all about attention. Attention economy does exist and is creating bigger revenues than ever.

Attention is key

The fact that I have 600+ followers on Twitter does not mean a thing. It matters how much attention I can get them for my tweets. Mr Kutcher might be a bit more successful since he has 1.6 million followers, which is just a numbers game. If I only can get attention of 1% of my followers, it means that 6 people will read my Tweet and make an action. If Mr Kutcher can get attention of only 0.1% of his followers, it means that he got 1600 people who do something. This is just a game of numbers, however it might be clear that the number of people who are following you does not make the difference, nor the number of posts / tweets you produce on a certain platform,  it is about how many people you can really reach,  of how many can you get the attention and how many people can you inspire to take action.

What is worth paying?

Same goes for music, anybody can download a copy for free (which does not necessarily mean that it is legal!), however not everyone can make something that freely available into something that catches the attention of the public and is worth paying for. A great example is the iPhone application from the Presidents of the United States, you can download their music for free (again, this does not mean that you are performing a legal action), however they also offer a paid application in the Appstore for 5 euros. You can pay 5 euros for a box, a piece of user experience and listen to the music. The box is about creating attention and seems to be worth paying for, the copy of the music which is leveraged by the box is not unique and already available for no costs.

You can make money if you can create awareness and capture one’s attention, you probably make no (or less) money on copies and on vague big numbers such as the number of followers. It just matters of how many time people give to you when you capture their attention.

Pearltrees

At The Next Web Conference I was happy to meet Patrice Lamothe (CEO of Pearltrees). He told me about Pearltrees which is a collaborative project enabling Internet users to become editors of the Web, i.e. to visualize, organize and share their navigation. By building their own Web, they collectively build a living map of the entire Web. When I heard it at first, it flashed my mind it could be just another taxonomy, folksonomy or other bookmarking tool, however when Patrice showed me a demo it was clear that it was not.

Story telling

Pearltrees a great way to cover a subject since it offers context and provides a way to do some sort of storytelling. Besides that you can easily navigate between maps that have one or more web pages in common. A great example you can find on Pearltrees about The Next Web Conference. Why do I think that Pearltrees is such a great tool? It’s quite simple, Pearltrees provides a great visual way of organizing content (and context) about a subject. By creating a map with Pearltrees you can tell a story or explain a subject to somebody by just handing over the map to him. The map itself, and the sequences of the several pearls will guide somebody through the information, any cross references with other maps are highlighted, so it is a great way to spend hours reading about a subject (see an earlier blog post of me on discovering new things).

Another nice feature of Pearltrees is that it has a plugin with which you can record your journey towards information. When enabled it will create a map of your current browser session (for example: you start with reading a wiki page about Web2.0, click though to page A, than to page B etcetera).  This map you can reorder afterwards if you like and share to others (for example your peers) to explain a certain subject.

Some other great examples of subjects that are available in maps on Pearltrees:

Twitter just died a little

Twitter is very close to be no fun at all anymore. Why? Because Twitter is going to be mainstream, because everybody joins Twitter and because Twitter is now something you can talk about with people at a bus stop and they know what you are talking about. It is becoming mass media and a marketers playground. Is it a bad thing? Yes, a little bit of Twitter died because of the mainstream adoption, it made it a little bit less exclusive and created two new problems:

Mainstream adoption

Not only did a bit of Twitter die due to mainstream adoption, its platform is having a hard time too. Twitter was not build in mind with the immense follower numbers of Britney, Stephen Fry, Ellen DeGeneres and many other celebrities. I am not claiming they are the issue for outages and other issues, however scaling a growing platform to these kind of numbers is a lot different than scaling a platform for something that is 10 times smaller and the number of issues increased the last few weeks according to the status blog of Twitter.

Changing Social Graph

The existing social graph has changed completely in Twitter, perhaps it is even destroyed by the celebrities and the people on the suggested people page of Twitter (the suggested people are total random and are not linked to your interest, profile or tweets in anyway). There are now people that follow 19 others and have 200k followers. What kind of value will add that to the social graph, will it add any at all (and how much of an issue is it)?

Is Twitter dying bit a bit? Or is it just a maturing platform with some growing pains.

Distributed microblogging

Microblogging has almost become a commodity in most (social) networks and has become a lot easier since almost each microblogging service has their own (open) API. The fact that you no longer need the interface defined by the network to microblog but you can use another third party tool (for example TweetDeck or Twhirl) of your choice to do it is an immense step forward compared to social networks four years ago. The downside of all these tools and APIs is that they can be misused for distributed microblogging.

Doing it wrong

What is wrong with distributed microblogging you might wonder. Simply it adds more noise than necessary to the already noisy microblogging environments. It adds this extra noise because all of your networks are different in a certain way. Compare it to the moments in your life that you are communicating with other people face to face. When I talk to my grandmother I talk to her about different subjects in a different manner than I would be talking to my colleagues and friends. My grandmother would even be confused if I would talk to her about the wonders of social networking or new features on Twitter.

Different networks

Now lets go back to distributed microblogging: there too are the exact same situations as mentioned above. Your network on Yammer, Twitter, Facebook, Identi.ca are different networks with different people and different contexts. If you just blindly publish all your content through all the channels you create extra noise (content your connections are not always able to relate to, or in the worst case do not want to relate to). Therefore: do not push all your content to all the possible network your tool might support. Publish your content on the networks on which it adds value and do not publish it everywhere because is it so easy to do so.

Facebook owns your content

Since yesterday, Facebook owns your content you published on Facebook and the content you link on, on Facebook. They removed a tiny section in their terms of service and changed somes lines. It now states:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.
[…]
The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.

All your content on Facebook now is owned by Facebook even after account termination. You gave it away, for free, without probably even knowing it. Well it isn’t a new phenomon. Facebook already owned your content till the moment you decided to terminate your account. Something identical happens at LinkedIn, LinkedIn can use your content for commercial use.

Each User grants LinkedIn a license to use the content supplied by each such User for the purposes of disclosure on the LinkedIn website.

This license includes, inter alia, the right for LinkedIn to reproduce, represent, adapt, translate, digitize, use for advertising purposes, whether commercial or non-commercial, to sublicense or to transfer the content concerning each User (including information, pictures, descriptions, search criteria, etc.) over all or part of the Services and/or in any mailings of LinkedIn and in general through any electronic communication media (email, SMS, MMS, WAP, Internet, CD Rom or DVD).

If you are user of Facebook and LinkedIn you’ll probably never noticed these sentences in the TOS, or you did not care. The service PatientsLikeMe provides a platform on which patients can share their personal health data. ‘Patients embrace the open sharing of personal health data because they believe that information can change the course of their disease’.

Do you like the barter you have with Facebook and with LinkedIn? People participating in PatientsLikeMe thinks it is worth to share their personal health data. It adds value for them and for medical institutes, it provides new insights that would not have been discovered if people did not share their information.

What do you want to give away to get some value out of a service?

I like to get lost

Being lost seems to be a concept that will become history and needs some explanation within 50 years. I really like to get lost some times, especially since you can discover unexpected things in those moments that you would have never seen if you hadn’t been lost (for example a nice book store with great books, or a little restaurant serving the best pasta there is, or finding your perfect partner while asking in which direction you should travel). Google just released Latitude (in my opinion quite similar to Brightkite, Loopt, or Dodgeball that was recently shutdown by Google) which is another tool that makes it a bit more difficult to get lost while wandering around looking for places where your friends could be.

Can you still get lost in the near future?

I really wonder if you can get lost in about ten years, although I am pretty sure you cannot get lost within 50 years unless you are doing it on purpose (well what fun is in getting lost when you have to do it on purpose?). Is it still possible to just pick a direction on your holiday to wander off and to end up having no clue where you are and how you will ever come home? Or will we end up using some sort of device (or even no device at all since ubiquitous computing will became more mainstream then) to look up our location and to determine which we way we should go to get home again?

Being lost is a great is concept, either on holiday, in a library or in big pile of data. You can discover great things you would never had seen if you weren’t lost. Adopt Ron’s prediction about being delibaretely disconnected, do not filter your RSS reader with postrank or any other filter for any information at all and get lost. As Thomas Edison once said: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Delibaretely disconnect, drop all your filtering and guidance tools and get lost in your data, create your pile of junk and make great inventions. If you are not prepared to make mistakes (due to all the guiding and filtering), you will never be creative.

Do not block please

It is not uncommon that companies, schools and universities block social networking services, video and photo sites. Blocking is usually a respons to mis-usage of those tools: tools are used in a wrong way or at inappropriate times. However you couldn’t be more wrong than by blocking them. By blocking those tools you do not help the people that using them in the right way at the right moment and you do not help the people mis-using these tools since they will probably will have a work around (or an alternative) in a few hours.

Blocking is natural behavior

If you look in the past you can see that the blocking is a common reaction: first there was a block to call outside the company, then to call international, a block on email, a block on visiting websites, a block on instant messaging etcetera etcetera. A lot of things were blocked and most of them were unblocked after a while. Why? Because all these tools are useful in a way. The only thing you should do is to create a clear understanding with each other how to use these tools properly to prevent any mis-usage of these tools.

Freedom

Same goes for all the tools that are being blocked nowadays: social networking services contain a wealth of information and provide not only a big fun factor, but also tons of free marketing and consulting possibilities and an awful lot of new possible employees and customers. Do not block these kind of tools, just use them for your advantage. You cannot expect from employees that they will spent 100% of their working hours on their work. That is not necessary, let them spent some time during working hours on social networking services and other tools, there will be a return on investment if employees use it properly.

Tech predictions 2009: Dead of the money making core product

Selling your product for money is a very normal business model. If you make a product it will cost you some money and to make a profit you’ll ask more money for the product than you spend on manufacturing it. The same goes for services you offer. However your product is very seldom unique and if you are selling a not unique quite homogeneous product, you should not ask money for it. You should offer it for free to your customer.

Selling value

Customers will not buy your product or your service since it is 2 euro’s less expensive, customers buy your products since ancillary products and services add value to your product. Therefore let customers pay for the ancillary product and not for the core product itself. Also there are more ancillary products to think of than core products, so perhaps you could even earn more money with those products than with your core products (seems to be something like The Long Tail again).

No revolution

This is not a revolutionary business model: Ryanair offered som of their flights for free (or very low prices) and they are planning to earn money completely based on ancillary products (which already was not quite new, since KLM used to have some money in the Hilton Hotels). Zappos (online shoestore) has a brilliant story around it that someone phoned them asking where they could order a pizza and the employee of Zappos provided them with five numbers they could order pizza from (not an ancillary product though, however very good for Zappos reputation). And the newly launched service Rypple (which is for free) does offer an awfull lot of service and direct interaction concerning their service. When I used it the first day I already got some extra followers on Twitter and a good mail conversion with David Priemer from Rypple about the service and its possible improvements.

Your core product will be your lead to sell the ancillary services and products that make the real money and gain marketshare.

Tech predictions 2009: Information filtering and behavioral targeting are the new gold

Clay Shirky mentioned it some time ago “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure”. And he is right, currently there is so much information that it is hard to filter it correctly to come to the information you need (Well it is not hard to filter it, it is hard to find a filter that fits your needs). Not only will you have this issue in your RSSreader or your inbox, you’ll also experience it when visiting websites.

The Quest for information

Not only website visitors will experience this issue, website owners will experience related issues. Due to the fact that the visitors cannot find the information they are looking for they will either stop looking and do nothing or will contact the organization of the site via another channel that is more expensive (a call to a helpdesk costs approximately 7 Euros for the helpdesk owner). The result however is a bad user experience for the visitor. Visitors will either not visit the site again and will try to find another more userfriendly site or they will only use the more expensive channel. Both results are not pleasing for neither the owner of the website (resulting in more costs and perhaps even lower revenue) nor for the visitor (bad user experience and wasting time on another channel than he initially prefered).

Save time by filtering

Therefore information filtering as well as behavioral targeting is the big thing for 2009. It will enables the visitor to get to the information he needs within the amount of time he wants to spent to look for this information. By customizing the website in run time on the personal needs of the visitor the site owner is able to create a nice you experience and the website owner will save money by having less phone calls and perhaps even earn more money due to the fact the visitor is seduced by some products he really could use that pops up thank to behavioral targeting.