John Ason, one of our investors at SocialFeet, forwarded me this interesting link about the presentation that spawned Google+. In the post, Paul Adams explains the problem of how facebook’s social graph works. On Facebook, you have one pooled set of friends, regardless of what your relationship is with each person (shown on the left). In real life, you have separate circles of friends based on common interests, geography or life stage. Here’s the graphical depiction of it:
A lot of the innovative “circles” for groups on Google+ stem from this concept. Based on interest, geography and life stage, you have different circles of friends that you want to exchange different information with. Fair enough.
But embedded into Google+ is the notion that you want to have all of these circles on a single platform. But if this diagram is to be believed, each of these circles has little or no overlap. So what’s the benefit of merging your online lives?
In contrast, there are lots of costs associated with a single platform. Complex privacy. Harder to innovate in each specialized social network space. Greater exposure to the risk of privacy violations. In other words, I think that the very analysis done to spark Google+ has the data to show that multiple platforms will serve people better than one unified platform.
[Hat tip to Rebecca Tadikonda for the inspiration for the title of this post.]
No doubt, Google+ is pretty slick, from a tech/UI perspective. It combines good elements from both Facebook and twitter, with a spartan google feel. It is powerfully integrated into google’s suite of products, like picassa and gmail. It is a major improvement over buzz. Google plus should get more interesting as more people use it.
Still, I think it may be too ambitious though, which will eventually cause it have unworkable privacy issues. They want to provide a master social network, which requires a complex, granular privacy model. They have created such a privacy model with the “circles” implementation of groups.
However, my thesis is that consumers will opt to belong to have 6-12 specialized social networks each for a specific content or activity vertical. For example, FB for photos, twitter for interests, linkedin for resumes, zynga for games, SocialFeet for commerce [disclaimer:I am a founder], etc. Each of these networks will have appropriate (but highly differentiated) privacy models, and users will basically adopt the default privacy model for each in a binary yes/no decision. As Fred Wilson blogs:
You either want to be totally public or totally private, but never sort of private and sort of public. It’s just too complicated to be semi-private. That middle ground is treacherous.
Could it be the one social network to rule them all? Fairly unlikely. My guess of what happens to google plus: it gets co-opted by some geography (like urkut) or vertical segment and becomes a niche social network of some sort that survives. So far, the most interesting segment is about google itself (like Sergey Brin’s kite boarding pics from Alaska) and the twitter-like public discussions.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out, especially as Google continues to experiment with social at such a large scale.
Bill Gurley has posted a great piece about Google’s business strategy that has turned into today’s “must read” post. In it, he accurately describes Google’s ad words as its “castle” and its open source strategy as its “moat.” Simply put, Google creates, supports and gives away platforms like Firefox and Android that enable Internet access in order to ensure its lead position as the default search engine everywhere.
As Bill rightly points out, direct assaults on Google by land look pretty hopeless. It looks pretty dark for direct competitors like Bing. It also creates collateral damage by destroying any business that wants to make money building a phone operating system or browser. But does that mean the castle is perfectly defended?
I believe that Google has a massive vulnerability, but it isn’t from a direct search competitor. Essentially, Facebook is substitute for search, not a direct competitor. As people discover products and services socially, they will go directly from intent to purchase–bypassing search entirely. This threat is not theoretical; indeed, one of customers at SocialFeet has truly zeroed its SEM budget in 2011. While dramatic, I think this move is a leading indicator of where smart merchants are moving. If so, this is very bad news for Google’s adwords castle.
This dynamic is an air attack, and Google’s castle, despite its incredible land moat, looks entirely defenseless against it.
Facebook is a monster of a company, no doubt. It seems that world domination is its ambition, and it is well on its way towards that goal. But will it dominate social commerce, as it has so many other areas?
It turns out that social networks like Facebook “are not structurally well-suited to be networks of sellers,” according to a fascinating study done at Columbia (download pdf). The problem? Social networks like Facebook and Twitter end up being too clustered. When I click on a high school classmate from Hunter, I inevitably find that we have 60+ friends in common.
Why is this a problem? If you start traversing the social graph from my profile, you’ll likely to get stuck in a Hunter cul-de-sac. I love my classmates, but after a while, it’s a deadend that eventually gets boring. And empirically data from a social shopping site in France support this explanation.
The solution is to foster a network that looks more like a web than a cluster. More links are better, but you want to make sure that they take to different places. In my opinion, this structure can be induced through proper incentives, but it does not occur naturally. Herein lies the opportunity.
But it is likely to be tricky, because such “strategic attempts to alter a social network’s structure can lead to unintended consequences.” Unfortunately, the researchers don’t provide much detail into what alternative incentives are worth trying or what consequences they are concerned about.
Since the opportunity involves creating a new network, it seems to me that it is not only large but defensible. A difficult problem, perhaps, but what a nut if you can crack it! Given how different it is than building a global social network, I think it is one that Facebook is unlikely to crack by itself.
I just finished reading The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick. I enjoyed it a lot. It is very thorough, both on the inside scoop but also in terms of analysis. Since not everyone may be as interested in every last detail about Facebook as I am, i thought that I’d post a brief summary of the highlights. Cliff notes, if you will.
- scalability was perhaps the central concern in the early days. Zuckerberg clearly understood the lesson of friendster
– Zuckerberg was very explicit about having profiles represent real people. Identity warranting is a key value of Facebook today IMO
– the launch of the photos application within Facebook is fascinating. Two core features of photo sites were — and still are — left out: high res versions and the ability to order prints.
Zuckerberg bet that social photos with tags were what people really wanted and he was right. More photos are viewed on Facebook thten all other sites combined. Photos are truly the killer app.
– the newsfeed was incredibly controversial. Zuckerberg bravely stuck to his guns because he saw the site engagement skyrocket even as 10% of the site protested the new feature!!
– Zuckerberg is supremely confident. He is not swayed but money — he turned away a $10mm offer only 4 months after founding Facebook at age 20 and has since turned down multi-billion offers. He marches to his own beat, and has control of the board of Facebook.
– Zuckerberg is ambivalent about ads and it shows. The second half of the book is blah, because Facebook has neither been wildly successful nor a complete failure at making money. This story remains unfinished IMO.
I am immensely impressed by Mark Zuckerberg. He has gone ‘all in’ perhaps 3 times with innovative and controversial features that have revolutionized the web and society. He has executed extremely well where many others tried and failed.
I eagerly await the next chapter as it unfolds! As well as the movie soon to be released, ‘the social Network’, with its fictionalized account of the human drama behind Facebook. UPDATE: It sounds that the movie is a start contrast to the book. The movie is entertaining but totally misses any of the real points of Facebook.
So, happy new year! (Sorry for such sparse posting here on weiksner.com.) Good news: we’ve made enough progress with customers, product and fundraising that social feet is hiring! It’s a cool position if you are a ninja with the browser and are interested in emerging social tech like OAuth, Facebook Connect, Open Social, etc.
Read the whole job description, consider applying and pass it on here:
I am having fun with the recruiting process, so I may post some thoughts about it in a future post. Cheers!
I am excited to announce that we are hiring a Lead Developer at SocialFeet.com. I think the tech challenges are interesting, and that the financial upside is large. Here is a brief quote of the tech challenge:
From a database perspective, you have transient streams (not just persistent relationships), continuous (not one-time) queries, sequential (not random) access and unpredictable data arrival patterns. From a UI perspective, you have ajax-y goodness a la Google Wave to manage synchronous and asynchronous messages in a small, yet highly contextualized, footprint. We have to define new standards and APIs for activity stream capturing and publishing. And our service has to scale not just to the total number of page views on our network of sites but to the number of interactions on each of these sites.
To promote this, we’ve posted our job description at Craigslist, Techcrunch, LinkedIn and other places. I’m now blogging about it, and we’ve tweeted it and posted it to Facebook. But the definitive place to check it out and send people who might be interested is:
Please pass the link on to anyone you know who might be interested in working for us!
Key people from Youtube (Steve Grove), Facebook (Randi Zuckerberg) and Twitter (Chris Sacca) talk about “Government 2.0“. Very interesting commentary about who is driving the show: it’s Obama and then a bunch of small protestors, etc., from around the world. An interesting 50 minutes.
A good question at the end about what is the new role of the fourth estate. But no good answers to the problem of outreach vs. accountability
1. technology, 2. politics
I was just invited to use aardvark, a match making service for questions and answers using instant messenger. It lets you tap into the expertise of the friends of your friends. I think the results speak for themselves. Here’s the transcript to my first question:
My Question: “Do you know of any applications of facebook connect that have ‘gone viral’?”
Kelly: here’s a list of all of the implementations: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Facebook_Connect_Live_Sites
the geni.com implementation is really cool
Citysearch has shared that users voluntarily publish 94% of their reviews back to Facebook
and most Connect implementations have a publish-to-click ratio of 0.8 to 2.0 (meaning, for every story a user sends to FB, approximately 0.8 to 2 people go back to the original site)
Kelly is a manager who works at Facebook, and I got these statistics from inside the Facebook connect team–within 3-4 minutes of asking. Sweet!
And so today, I returned the favor. I was asked to answer a question about “education”. I was skeptical at first, but I firgured, hey let’s give it a whirl. Here’s the transcript of that conversation:
Niko: Who is passionate in New York about educational technology? or online tutoring?
Me: One company I know about is called imentor
I learned about imentor through a board member, Matt Klein, who is also the ED of Blue Ridge Foundation.
Niko: Blue Ridge Foundation is just what I was looking for. Their portfolio companies are a godsend to the community. I’m a student at Columbia/Harvard. Would Matt Klein be the best person to talk to regarding the vision of the firm?
Me:I met Matt Klein very briefly in a large conference. He seemed very knowledgable and nice – I would think you could approach him directly.
Niko: Thanks a million. This aardvark thing may just be a huge hit.
I agree – aardvark is amazing. I have 9 more invitations – post a comment with your email and include three topics that you are knowledgeable about and I’ll send you an invitation. Cheers!
Facebook has relaunched it’s homepage, and I think that it is a step backwards. Admirably, they’ve opened up their newsfeed and now it acts like a waterfall, displaying the most recent updates from your friends. But this design decision fails in a few critical ways.
1) twitter folks now DOMINATE the feed, since they are hyperactively engaged! I can only imagine how unfriendly the new streams and streams of #’s and @’s are to tens of millions of regular FB users.
2) It diminishes rather than highlights the great content like photos and videos that people post directly to Facebook
3) The featured column is really broken. It is highly promotional, and there is no way to get stuff to disappear on it.
There are a few good parts to the new format, including interesting ways to interact with the content in the featured column. But I hope that Facebook is listening to its users, because I have to think that this launch is largely a step backwards for them. (Someone on twitter responded that this mistake marks the beginning of the end for Facebook. I think it is merely a step backwards and not a complete failure. We’ll see.)
One twitter is enough! (And for many people, even one twitter is too much.)
I had a meeting this morning with Ed Baker, CEO of Demigo, and viral expert par excellence. He made an important observation: your viral factor is a sum over all your distribution channels. Why is this observation so important?
First, adding channels is basically a linear cost. There is a certain overhead to learning how to use Facebook Connect. Within Facebook, there are certain costs for figuring out how to integrate with each of the internal channels they provide (e.g., newsfeed, profile, notification, invites, etc.). Individually, these channels boost your marketing potential but perhaps not enough individually to achieve viral lift off. And after facebook, you can also add channels by distributing on other networks like open social, twitter, AIM, etc.
Second, when the sum of these channels creates a viral factor greater than 1.0, you will grow *exponentially*. When you have this happy occurrence, you will reach millions of people in a matter of weeks or less. So, his recommendation for SocialFeet.com is to keep at it. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t viral on the first go around. Prioritize and optimize viral channels. Keep working on it, because those linear costs may in the end create an engine for repeatable viral growth.
Linear costs, exponential revenues. That sounds like the kinda business I want a piece of! :)
Nathaniel and I just had breakfast with John McCrea of Plaxo. His thesis: Facebook is the AOL of the social internet. The key similarities: both Facebook and AOL were walled gardens in their early days. Since the open Internet eventually beat the walled garden Internet, he concludes that Facebook must continue to open up, radically, or face a similar fate as AOL.
I think that the analogy has some validity. Yet, there are important differences. As I pointed out in our conversation, social relationships can generate interactions and collaborative artifacts among people. Who controls those things? There is no analogy for these social interactions and artifacts on the traditional client/server Internet.
So, cruise on over to his blog to follow an advocate of the open social Internet. And time will tell if his bold prediction comes to pass!
My mom forwarded me this column by Dave Carr about Twitter. It captures the essence of twitter: a confusing, time sink that can occasionally be invaluable. I created an account on twitter, savedemocracy, but don’t expect much activity from me right now.
I do, however, regularly update my status on Facebook and so far, I’ve gotten much of the value that twitter might offer from that.
InsideFacebook has written this nice piece about our new service, SocialFeet. They have had an interest in our kind of service–one that spans multiple sites–and it is nice to be acknowledged as a leader in this nascent space. And as they note, there is some controversy but I am hopeful, as we say in the article, that “we can and will remain in the good graces” of Facebook.