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Archive for July, 2011

The bubble in articles about whether there’s a bubble

by Nick Faber
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

via flickr user zarzoso

Yesterday, Digiday’s editor-in-chief Brian Morrissey quipped about the ongoing tech-bubble debate:

there's definitely a bubble in articles about whether there's a bubble. http://j.mp/qJV8nb
@bmorrissey
Brian Morrissey

We did a little research, and joking or not, Morrissey is 100% right. Below is a timeline of 40 articles about this year’s tech-bubble – that we might or might not be in the middle of.

I’m not sure what’s most amusing about these articles: the sheer number of conflicting findings, the creative choices of images used to illustrate a “bubble”, or the dearth of headline writers quoting MacBeth. (more…)

Featured Blogger: Will Folks of FITSNews

by Paige Wilcox
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Founding Editor of FITSNews, Will Folks, utilizes his experience as a South Carolina political consultant and former gubernatorial spokesman when delivering his commentary on politics, news and pop culture on his site.  Folks is upfront and honest about his views, clearly declaring the site as “unfair” and “imbalanced” right on the Home page.  His transparency lends to his credibility for readers seeking a direct, conservative and libertarian perspective. Join Folks’ nearly 7,000 Twitter followers and keep updated with the FITSNews Facebook page!

Q: When and why did you start blogging?

A: I started blogging in 2006 – accidentally. Someone had written an
article about me, and I was trying to post a comment in response.
I must have clicked on the wrong link, because when I tried to
post my comment I was taken to a “build your own blog” Web page.
So that’s how it started. I guess it’s still going because I have a
lot to say.

Q: How do you think your blog stands out amongst blogs of the same
genre?

A: FITSNews is very opinionated – but that’s not why people read it. People
read it because it’s also blunt. I try to say what I think – which
results in people often saying “you said what other people were
thinking.” It also stands out because we’re beating the
mainstream media to a lot of stories and starting to compete
with them more directly. (more…)

10 Google Plus circles suggestions for sorting your randos

by Nick Faber
Friday, July 8th, 2011

Has friending your mom changed your Facebook habits? Then Google+ is the social network for you. Rather than dumping all of your friends into one list, Google+ allows you to sort your contacts into circles. So, for instance, you can share all of your sweet beer-bong highlights with your ”drinking buddies” circle, while posting prayer requests to your “church friends” circle.

For now, the user base of Google+ is fairly small, and full of technorati and the like. But one day, if Google+ reaches the critical mass of Facebook, you’re going to have to figure out where to put your mom and all of the other random characters of your life.

Need help sorting your contact list? Try these circles, and the types of updates you should be giving each one:

CIRCLE NAME DESCRIPTION SAMPLE UPDATE
Frenemies Even though these people seem to bring out the worst in you, they really like you and keep adding you to all of their social networks. Links to posts about annoying internet behavior that your frenemies exhibit, like this.
Co-workers that I don’t feel comfortable complaining about work to Sometimes you need to vent via social media, but if the wrong person reads an anti-work update, you could get fired. “No matter what anyone says, I really love the new cubicle arrangement. I feel so productive without windows to distract me.”
My Mom Nothing like a post from your mom to stop an inside-joke-laden thread dead in its tracks. Give mom her own threads. “Anyone know a delicious chicken casserole recipe?”
Suspected Bimbots A beautiful gal or guy adds you to his or her circle. You’re flattered, but something tells you they’re a data-mining robot. “I am enjoying this meal at this restaurant in this town I live in.”
Exes You were dating when you got on Google+, and your ex ended up in your friends circle. When you post pics of yourself with your new beau, your ex creepily +1’s all of them! [No posts in this circle! They already have your heart, isn’t that enough?]
Small Dog Owners We get it. Your dog can fit in your purse. Photos of cats
New Parents Does your stream have baby fever? “Man, kayaking and hiking was so much fun today! I love my free time!”
Family I pretend I’m not related to Just because you’re related doesn’t mean you’re friends. But you can only ignore your cousin’s invite for so long. “Same old, same old, nothing interesting going on here. I am totally stable.”
That guy from the bar You “bumped” iphones with this guy when he asked for your number and now he’s got your email address, too. “My boyfriend and I are watching our favorite movie tonight, LAST TANGO IN PARIS.”
We possibly took seventh grade biology together Yes you “know” this person, but they don’t really know you anymore and can offer no insight on your social media musings. Photos of other people’s babies.

 

Why Google+ will fail: social networks grow like trees, not on them

by Henry Copeland
Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Having read many claims that ‘Google+ will kick Facebook’s ass,’ I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Google+ will fail miserably.

Or at least won’t dislodge Facebook anytime soon.

First, let’s stipulate that the Google+’s technology is cool and powerful. Former NYT tech journalist Jennifer 8 Lee says “Face­book should be scared.” Over at PC World, Mark Sullivan offers “9 Reasons to Switch from Facebook to Google+.” (Here’s a video intro to Google+ if you’re interested.)

News maven Jeff Jarvis enumerates the features he thinks will make Google+ an important journalistic tool.

Jason Calacanis, the entrepreneur behind WeblogsInc and Mahalo, argues that Google+ will take “half the market” for social networking from Facebook. “Google+ will compete with Facebook as effectively as Android is competing with the iPhone.”

To prove his point, Jason highlights a number of Google+ features that beat Facebook’s — features like “Forced categorization of contacts” and “Chrome Browser and Chrome Store integration” and “Android integration.”

And with more than 200 million deeply invested Gmail users, Google would seem to have a powerful launch pad.

So if Google+’s technology is brilliant, its userbase is deep, Facebook’s functionality is flawed and all the pundits are convinced Google will romp, why am I confident that Google+ will fail to beat Facebook?

Because in their Google worship and/or their focus on comparing features, the pundits are forgetting tried and true axioms about how humans adopt technology, axioms documented decades ago by tech visionaries like Gordon Moore and Clayton Christensen. Here’s my rundown.

1) Even the best carpenter can’t build a tree. Though Google+ is an elegant piece of engineering, it’s not a social network. Jason and Jeff love Google’s technical innovations. Sure, normal technology thrives because of technical brilliance, design beauty and marketing megatonnage. But social networks are affected only marginally by those factors.

Instead, in social networks, the users are the product. Users’ habits and passions and commitments to each other are the life-force that makes a social network grow. Just as you can’t build a tree from a bunch of boards, you never could have constructed Facebook or Twitter or eBay or LinkedIn or Wikipedia top-down with a bunch of prefab components. Launching with one hundred million users or a $100 million marketing budget would have more likely killed those sites, not grown them. (One advantage Google WILL have, at least initially, is fewer bimbots than Facebook.)

2) Wrong launch users. Passionate persistent users, not brilliant designers or programmers or professional commentators, build social networks. Google+ is launching with a diffuse cloud of alpha-tester geekerati who view Google+ as a feature set to be explored, tested and rated. Having the attention span and loyalty of fleas, this jittery crowd will migrate onward within weeks to the next hot-smelling technology that swaggers into view.

Beyond sharing a common identity as “early adopters,” members of this crowd don’t (usually) care deeply about each other or share a common passion beyond a burning desire be first in using a technology. They’re users, not community members.

Google’s diffuse-by-invites strategy works fine for a tool like Gmail, which is evaluated purely as a feature set, but it won’t work for Google+. Evidence: my friend Dan Gilmore, who as an innovator and former reporter for San Jose Mercury News should have more Google+ connections than anybody, went onto Facebook to look for friends who might also be using Google+. With no luck.

It doesn’t matter to you if 1 million or even 100 million people are using a social network, if only one of your 20 key colleagues and friends are using it. With social networks, it takes at least three to tango.

3) Diffuse launch path. Social networks can ONLY start small and tight with a set of enmeshed users, then percolate slowly outward. Facebook started in a Harvard dorm, then spread across Harvard, then to Stanford, Columbia and Yale. Then other Ivy League schools. Then colleges across the US. Then high schools. Then Microsoft and Apple. Only then, 30 months after launch, was Facebook opened up to everyone.

Likewise, Twitter started with messages between Biz Stone, Ev Williams and Jack Dorsey and their friends in San Francisco in March of 2003. It percolated there for a year, before expanding in March of 2007 into the tightly networked SXSW crowd, folks who were hungery for a way to recreate and sustain their SXSW friendships when they left Austin. That crowd, in turn, evangelized to their social network savvy friends at businesses across the US.

For both Facebook and Twitter, initial users were tightly networked. There was a strong sense of clubbiness among community members through a long initial phase. Those members’ loyalty to the club withstood even repeated outages (on the part of Twitter) and privacy concerns (on the part of Facebook) that would have doomed a normal technology product.

4) Noisy feedback loops. One of the key reasons that launching big is fatal to social networks is because the feedback loop from users to designers to users to progammers to management to newbs to old-timers to programmers gets cluttered with noise. When a tool launches big, its designers end up trying to build a feature set that satisfies all communities — or their own peculiar whims. Most users end up with a luke-warm affection for the service. There’s no ‘sponsor’ community to advocate change or evangelize.

MIT professor Eric Von Hippel has amply documented the importance of users in driving innovation in technology domains as diverse as thermoplastics, semi-conductors and scientific instruments. Is there any doubt that user innovation would be even more crucial in shaping social networks, where the user and the product are so closely entwined, functioning as two ends of the same biocyber synapse?

Rather than launching big and broad, far better to build a “small” tool for one passionate community. Once the kinks get worked out, this template of technology and usage patterns later gets adopted/adapted by other adjacent communities. Using this approach, people like to feel they’re in a human-sized space in which their actions matter, in which their feedback into the system gets processed and used. (Gordon Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm is awesome about this process.)

(It’s worth noting that Robert Scoble thinks Google+ is just for geeks and will survive by serving that market alone. I think geeks don’t just want to socialize with geeks… for long.)

5) Professional managers. Successful social networks evolve over time, often blossoming out of series of random, non-linear, unpredictable connections and chemistry. In retrospect, the winner’s strategy looks obvious (read Duncan Watts’ book!), but at any given moment, it is impossible to determine what feature set or user base will drive the coming decade’s NEXT dominant social network.

Professional managers, particularly of software projects, can’t tolerate this kind of nonlinear growth. In his post about Google+, Jason notes that he wrongly predicted huge success for Wave, Google’s previous attempt at social software launched with great fanfare two years ago, because Google ultimately stopped devoting resources to Wave. Why should things be different this time? Google is a big public company that needs high-profile successes not meandering muddles that may eventually pay off. This means Google will likely give up on Google+ before it can take root, just like it killed Wave. Clayton Christensen’s brillian book Innovator’s Dilemma gives the playbook.

6) No culture. Starting big and broad also kills the chance for a social network to develop a distinctive culture. This is crucial because a great social network is known by its culture, its lingo, its behaviors, its taboos, its history. Some examples:

Overwhelmed by the volume of information flowing from Twitter, Tweeters (not Twitter) created hashtags to keep track of ideas.

Back in 2004, the liberal blog DailyKos was playing a key role in narrating and steering the Democratic party’s primaries. The site was getting lots of favorable press, and I asked Markos Moulitsas, the community’s creator and curator, whether this attention was having a big positive impact on the community. On the contrary, Markos replied. Every time there was big press about the site, the community would flood with new users who didn’t get the site’s culture. Traffic would spike briefly, but interaction quality would plummet. A big gush of new members busted the site’s chemistry. Then DailyKos would shrink back to its previuos size and start growing organically again. Since then, the Kos community’s richness has spawned its own yearly convention.

(Another example of Kossite culture: to this day, a novel ad campaign can’t run on DailyKos without invoking communal cries of “pie fight,” an insider reference to an infamous, bodacious 2005 ad campaign by Turner Broadcast for a Gilligan’s Island reality show.)

For another example of how growth can kill a social network’s culture, look no further than the Q&A community Quora‘s explosion/implosion early this year. Once a steadily growing service, rich with VC and tech insiders, Quora suddenly went viral in January. New users flooded into the service and quality of interactions plummeted. Despite lots of agonizing over how to sustain the growth, http://quorareview.com/2011/01/27/evolving-quoras-design-for-growth/ the site has fallen back to earth.

In contrast, the Q&A service Stackoverflow, which is tightly focused on serving specific communities and growing organically for the last three years , has overtaken Quora. Notice in the Google trends graph for the two services that Quora has gotten a huge amount of press (bottom trend box), but Stackoverflow is now far bigger.

Am I a Luddite or Google-hater? Judge for yourself. I started tweeting in March of ’07. I was LinkedIn’s 4,154th user. I even own a few Google shares — their ad business is a money-printing machine.

Summing up: Google’s great at carpentry. Gardening, not so much.


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