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Archive for November 29th, 2007

MySpace for Sharing and Expression, Facebook for Networking?

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 29, 2007

It’s been interesting to watch the foot race between MySpace and Facebook, and even more interesting to watch people’s reactions to the two.  Somehow, MySpace got pidgeonholed by the Digerati as a great first try ultimately doomed by the Facebook better mousetrap.  These people complain that MySpace is too ugly and unstructured to be useful.

Andrew Chen points out:

 “that MySpace is still far ahead on stats. For example:

What’s up with this?  Andrew says, “Silicon Valley people aren’t MySpace users,” that they don’t understand the use cases, and he brings up the notion of people who:

 “insist on every product being “Googley.” What I mean by that is:

  • Simple
  • Functional
  • Easy”

He winds up drawing an analogy between MySpace and scrapbooking, which is good, but it isn’t the whole story.  A callous interpretation of Andrew’s remarks might even lead one to believe he is recommending that MySpace is groups that are “economically challenged.”  The underclass, according to an article Andrew links to.  Trailer Trash and Red Necks of the Jeff Foxworthy persuasion if we gone to be more blunt, and believe me, the article Andrew links to gets extremely blunt.

I think there is a lot more at work here.  Part of it has to do with what people do on these networks, and part of it has to do with my concept of Web 2.0 Learning Styles.  My thesis is that MySpace is about giving the common man a way to express themselves and share that expression.  In that sense, Andrew’s scrapbooking is a good analogy.  Really, any craft or art form is a good analogy, including blogging, because a big part of it is a desire to express one’s self.  Expression is very much an ongoing process.

Facebook seems more goal oriented.  That goal seems to be networking:  How many friends can I notch up?  How influential are they?  Can I get a hot date (for those who subscribe to the idea that Facebook is largely about college dating).  The opportunities for expression on Facebook seem dramatically more limited.  Perhaps it’s a natural outgrowth of the goals.  If Facebook is all about courtship rituals of one kind or another (yes, business networking is definitely a courtship), then expression can be a dangerous thing.  If we express too freely, we may turn off the object of our pursuits.  So instead of putting the expression out there as a reflection of our personal taste and talents, which is risky, the expression is channeled into cutesy, low-risk, multiple choice options.  “You have 1 gift to give.”  My gift today is Thanksgiving leftovers.  This allows Facebook users to be cute, coy, or flirtatious, but without putting much of their real persona on the line.  Personally, I’d rather meet someone’s fuller expression of themselves before I feel like they are a “friend”.

There is another aspect that I think about frequently, and this is my concept of Web 2.0 Learning Styles.  The Myers Briggs test is based on certain personality traits.  It inspired me to come up with a similar approach to web services after I saw the love/hate reactions to things like Twitter and Scoble’s videos versus his blogging.  I could see that there was a place for more than one style, but that people prefer styles, sometimes intensely.  Savvy marketers and designers need to cater to this.  They need to figure out how to help people to self-select the communication style they prefer and then serve up content using that style that accomplishes the goal.  You can clearly see the MySpace/Facebook differences here too.  Here was my original casting of it:

Web 2.0 Personalities

In this case, I show MySpace as a more Free Form and less Structured Facebook.  I almost think I should have categorized Facebook over on the Text side of the line, or perhaps defined that dimension as “Simple Media” and “Multi Media”.  There is definitely a difference in richness of expression, with Facebook being “Googlier” as Andrew Chen says.

Getting back to Andrew’s original remarks, why then does the Valley not like MySpace?  Because engineers and business people are often more into structure, participation, and simplicity.  It’s the visual thinkers and intuitive crowd that will prefer the MySpace (or similar avenues of expression).

Related Articles

faberNovel consulting reaches a very similar conclusion about Facebook and MySpace.  On their quadrant, they position MySpace as being about Public Exposition and Fantasized Identity.  Facebook is about Real Identity and Qualitative Contacts.  I prefer to stick to my view that MySpacers are “expressing themselves” as much as they’re creating “fantasized identities”, but there is truth in both views.

Posted in Marketing, strategy, user interface, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments »

A Kindle User After My Own Heart

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 29, 2007

Go read Josh Taylor’s post on how he took a Kindle to the Carribean and why he has fallen into “deep like” for the device after that.  Being able to travel without a suitcase full of books was the first lightbulb that lit for me when I heard about Kindle.  The truth is, I’d seen an eBook a long long time before Kindle.  I can’t even remember whose it was, but we’re talking before Blackberry even existed.  It was a lame device back then, but I would still have bought one but for lack of decent book selection.  Despite O’Reilly not being there yet, I think Amazon has the means to fix the selection problem, and the device is certainly light years ahead of most of what we’ve seen even if many are still unconvinced.

Tidbits from Taylor’s post:

  • Taylor loved the Kindle’s screen for reading text, but says graphics, even black and white pictures, are almost hopeless.  I still haven’t personally seen a Kindle, but my friend Song Huang was recently telling me how impressive the eInk display is.  He saw one at a conference somewhere and was convinced they had just stuck a piece of paper behind glass as a mockup.  When the thing updated and showed it wasn’t paper, he was blown away.  I’d love to hear whether line art looks good on a Kindle.  That’s the sort of thing I’d want if reading a technical book, although it’s a shame actual pictures are so poor–it’ll make it hard to see screen shots.
  • As to the UI, Taylor loves the navigation but laments you can’t put Kindle away without accidentally flipping a page.  Has no one ever been reading their paperback, nodding off, dropped the book and lost their place entirely?  Must be my age if I’m the only one.  He also had an incident where his wife went to the beach without a proper charge and the Kindle died.  Doh!  Hate when that happens!

I also liked learning that Amazon will let you grab the first chapter of any book free to see if you like it before purchasing.  As I wrote in my original Kindle post, there are lots of ways the buying experience can be enhanced by Kindle.  One of my minor book purchasing peccadilos is an inability to keep track of all the authors and which of their novels I already have.  Every now and then I wind up with two copies of something.  Nothing worse than diving into what you think is a new offering from a favorite author only to discover you’ve already read the book!  I want to be able to get into a book club for my faves whereby I get notified as soon as something new is available and I can get the book with one click.  BTW, Amazon is famous for patenting the one click (I believe the recently lost that patent too).  I would expect them to try to patent a lot of the new stuff behind Kindle.  Patents are not my favorite thing, but they are a fact of life.

Scoble ran an interview on the street with a woman who wanted to see his Kindle while he was giving a talk at Stanford.  I came away from the interview with a slightly different reaction than I think Scoble and others may have.  There is a view that Kindle’s foibles are disasterous, but I’m not at all convinced.  Scoble points out that this woman hit many of his complaints almost immediately:

Notice that she accidentally hits the “next” button. That she tries to use it as a touch screen. That she is bugged by the refresh rate. But, she, like me, is interested enough to want to buy one (she’s the first that I’ve shown it to that has that reaction). Imagine if Amazon had designed it better? Imagine how many more people would want it.

The thing is, if you watch the video, none of that bothered her.  She made an assumption that is common outside Silicon Valley: if the thing didn’t work as she expected it to, it was not a problem, it just meant she needed to learn.  Sometimes I think we get too focused on a particular view of how things have to work in the Valley, and we’re way over the top critical when they don’t.  Many successful products are riddled with inconsistencies, but work so well compared to the alternatives that we ignore them.  I’m typing this in WordPress and let me tell you, it has at least as many UI foibles as Kindle, but it doesn’t matter, and it’s wildly successful.

I do agree with Scoble that if Kindle had been as perfect as iPhone or iPod from the get go, if it had been just as sexy, and just as “right”, Kindle would be a much bigger success.  However, let’s reflect on two thoughts.  First, Josh Taylor remarks that the Kindle must be popular because you can’t get one.  Note that this may not be the whole story.  Amazon may be limiting supply for a variety of reasons.  They want to understand usage patterns better to see if they can make money, or they want to respond to user criticisms without having a ton of inventory, or even they want to make sure it doesn’t damage their lucrative Christmas season.  Second, iPhone and iPod were not first generation devices in their categories.  I suppose we can argue that Kindle isn’t either, but it seems to me the precursors of the Apple products were much closer to success than Kindle’s precursors are.

All this has, um, kindled my desire to have a Kindle.  Still not sure I’ll put it on the Christmas list (you can’t seem to get one anyway), but my birthday is early in the year.  I just hope to see the rumored Apple Tablet device before I have to pull the trigger.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if Amazon takes the Open Road and has an OEM offering for other eBook builders?  Wouldn’t it be even more awesome if the Apple Tablet picked up the backend of the Kindle service and accessed it from their own UI?  Whoa!  Stranger things have happened, but not often…

Posted in amazon, platforms, user interface, Web 2.0, wireless | 3 Comments »

Giant Global Graph: Do You Need A Clue?

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 29, 2007

Sir Tim, who more or less invented the World Wide Web, recently did a blog post entitled the Giant Global Graph.  It’s a long rambling post that touches on multiple themes.  It is a logical reductionist discussion that only geeks are equipped to fully understand and appreciate.  Not because it is a superior way to organize and article, but only because our minds are pitifully linear compared to more intuitive thinkers.  Opinions vary on how well these themes go together as the primary insight behind the whole article is that the notion of additional structure for the web beyond mere hyperlinks in the form of a graph is valuable and far reaching.  Let me say it again, slightly differently:  Berners-Lee is on about the idea of additional structure and content for the web beyond hyperlinks.  Hyperlinks are navigational.  They convey some meaning beyond navigation, but not much.  Perhaps the most famous is Google’s Page Rank which makes the assumption that lots of links to a page indicate the page may be of more value to a searcher than a page with few links into it.  There may be other things one can intuit by examining hyperlinks, but it’s hard.  Making it easy, and especially making it easy for computers, is what Tim Berners-Lee wants to accomplish with his Semantic Web notions.  As long as we’re layering weird but related notions into this mashup, I’d like to add one I haven’t seen the other commentators write about which is the use of what are essentially web hyperlinks (a bit more, but close) to allow computers to interact directly with one another in a practice that has been called RESTful Architecture.

It’s quite amazing, really, what’s possible with a clean, simple, and well designed architecture like the web.  The danger is that if we extend it as Sir Tim proposes, that we do so equally as elegantly.  There’s a lot out there now, and a lot of moving parts interacting with what’s out there.  Adding sand in the machinery is not helpful.  So what exactly did Sir Tim’s latest missive bring to the table?

There’s a nice historical / layered architectural view of what the Internet and World Wide Web are and how they differ.  Put simply, the Internet is the generic plumbing that lets computers talk to each other Internationally through standard protocols.  The World Wide Web is a notion of documents that users interact with over the Internet.  Both are what mathematicians call graphs, which are nothing more than nodes with connections between them.  The Internet is a graph of computers.  The World Wide Web is a graph of documents.  Again, for “graph” substitute “network of nodes with connections between them.”  Pretty easy so far, no?  Okay, we’re a third of the way through the post, and we’re going to kick things up a notch.

TBL’s next concept that he brings to the table is, “It’s not the documents, it is the things they are about which are important”.  He goes on to say this is obvious, but I don’t think it is as obvious as he thinks when you go on to consider the real ramifications of all that.  TBl wants to somehow factor out the core ideas in these documents and use those ideas to create another kind of graph, which he calls the Semantic Web or Giant Global Graph.  These core ideas become the nodes of the graph, and they link together documents and related ideas in interesting ways. 

Why?  Because computers are actually pretty lousy at reading plain English (or any other language) and figuring out what those underlying ideas are.  For examples, TBL mentions things like:

– Biologists wanting proteins, drugs, or genes.  BTW, any profession or interest area will have a big list of jargon that is peculiar to that interest area and that should be factored and graphed for any web document.

– Business People want customers, products, and sales information. 

– People in general want Social Relationship information, and that is what people refer to as the Social Graph.

You see where he is coming from?  I wasn’t trying to be insulting with my post title.  When I say, “Do you want a clue?”, I’m referring to this new graph structure as providing clues to computers about what the heck is actually on a web page so that you can use the web pages in novel ways that are hard today but very useful if you can get a fully annotated Semantic Web, er GGG.  This is not the easiest thing in the world to do, as you can imagine.  There is a heck of a lot of work involved in doing all that annotation, and a lot of it may have to be done by hand. 

However, if we are very very clever, some useful pieces may become automatic.  Take the Social Graph.  If we create our own Social Graph about our relationships with people, it may contain enough information that the web can meaningfully change how it interacts with us as regards those people.  Today, we look at it as happening in the context of a Social Network, but it should not be limited.  Why can’t I go into my address book, pick a person, and reach out with high certainty into the entire web to see as much as possible about that person?  Where are their blogs and home pages?  Which Social Networks do they belong to?  What articles quote them?  What company do they work for?  If I visit the company’s web site, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to tell who I know that works there?

A couple of things should be coming clearer now.  First, I hope you can see why many of us (and now TBL), recognize the term “Social Graph” as being separate from “Social Network.”  The Social Graph can be so much more than a particular web site focused on Social Networking.  It can literally impact every aspect of your web experience.  And it is a collection of data that is at once both very open and very private and personal.  There are pieces we want everyone to see, and pieces we want to keep entirely to ourselves.  It is a very tangled web we are weaving.  It grows and morphs constantly.  We would like to start building it once and never start over.  This is why I’ve said the Real Social Graph Hasn’t Shown Itself Yet.

Here is another way to think about the GGG or Semantic Web.  The web of today is manual and literally.  You create a concrete link between documents.  You traverse the links.  They are largely fixed and relatively inviolate.  This is a good thing.  You don’t want to lose track of a thing.  But that is only one form of navigation.  Sometimes you don’t know where the first bread crumb on the trail is.  For that, you need search tools of various kinds.  The Semantic Web can inform the search process much more fully than keywords and Page Rank.  Beyond search, we would like a living web that restructures itself as it learns.  A change in one place can ripple through this graph structure to have far reaching and beneficial effects.  Suddenly the map of the web can be personalized around your interests, knowledge levels, relationships, and needs.  That’s pretty cool!

TBL winds up with a cautionary note about control.  Each of these layers has involved some loss of control.  First we gave up the idea of private networks to get to the Internet.  Anyone can be on it, including your worst enemies, competitors, criminals, and other evil doers relative to you.  Second, the World Wide Web involved a loss of document control.  Everything went to HTML instead of native document formats.  HTML involves a lot of loss of control.  It has gotten better, but real page layout and typography afficionados cringe.  Now we’re talking about sharing that graph data.  A graph requires two components, a lock and a key.  You hold the key.  Your Social Graph is your set of friends and relationships.  The lock is the set of pages that the key unlocks.  There is cooperation on both sides.  And, as TBL points out, this loss of control doesn’t have to mean that someone can access data they have no right to access.  It is important that you maintain control.  Even though the Internet is not a private network you can still run HTTPS to encrypt the packets or even some other protocol.  We routinely trust sensitive information to the Internet these days because there are cultural patterns for how it’s done and real technology to help protect us.  These things have yet to evolve for the next graph layer that TBL wants us to construct, but it is necessary infrastructure for this all to work.

What has been the reaction of others to this? 

Umair, as usual, gets it, and points out an important pitfall to avoid: the social graph is not web 3.0 (and the converse is also important:  web 3.0 is not the social graph).  I hope from my post above it is easier to see how the Social Graph is a subset of the GGG, and how it is also different than Social Networks.  GGG is a lot bigger than just Social.

Stowe Boyd, for example, had been very anti-Social Graph, but now says he “gives”.  Boyd was right to insist on more clarity before giving, but he is still suspicious that TBL is somehow trying to hitch a free ride on Social Graphs for his Semantic Web.  On the latter Boyd is more suspicious, but I think needlessly.  I hope you can see from my notes above what its all about, this Semantic Web.  The reason Stowe sees so much more fire around Social Networking is because this is an area where users have found sufficient value to create Social Graphs for themselves.  So far, we haven’t seen much action elsewhere, but we should.

My guess is that there are others areas of sufficient interest to generate spontaneous volunteer work of the kind we see around Social Networking.  There just needs to be the right enablement.  Perhaps it will be some form or flavor of the bookmarking trend that surrounds sites like Digg.  Perhaps it will be around online retailling.  Merchants have uniform means of referring to products in the form of standardized EDI, Bar Code, SKU, and other information.  Perhaps if shopping search got dramatically better when such information was available in the GGG for a page, it would drive many to add the information.

Anne Zelenka on GigaOM takes a dim view of all this.  She feels that computers are poorly suited to understanding relationships, and that trying to shoehorn the Social Graph into the Semantic Web sells it short.  I can’t seem to find a good concrete objection or counter example in her article though, other than a vague sense of unease about it all.  She cites another of her articles that talks about the downsides of a distributed and open social graph.  My problem is I can’t see where TBL is advocating this.  In fact, I’m not sure I see where anyone is.  We all want control over our Social Graph.  Remember my analogy of the lock and key.  I’m the only one with my key.  Also go back to the example of how the Internet involved a loss of control but that various standards came into play so that privacy could still be preserved.  That has to be done for the GGG as well.  There will be lots of kinds of data there that we may not want out roaming freely.  Facebook’s tracking of what you purchase with Beacon is another great example of a GGG like Graph Structure (call it the Global Purchases Graph or GPG) that some folks are upset at losing control over.  In other words, with some maturity in the standards, the tradeoffs can be extremely palatable and do not amount to putting all that data right out in the open.  That we don’t have this today is another reason why I say nobody has yet seen the Real Social Graph or the Real GGG either for that matter.

One thing that still seems missing from many of the other commentaries I’ve read is that this GGG notion puts a lot of the value that is currently being delivered by proprietary platforms like Facebook back into the Web.  That’s a better and more open model.  It’s in the best interests of everyone to pursue that model.  In fact, GGG tries to go beyond just being a Social Graph precisely so that it becomes  general purpose means of capturing almost any kind of structural annotation and linkages around the Web’s document model.  That sort of thing can help future proof a big idea so it runs further before we find ourselves having to add a fourth and fifth layer on top of the first two that are already there.

In conclusion, I think TBL did a good job tying his vision back to some immediate realities thereby making it more concrete and touchable.  It still has quite a ways to go, but it’s great to still be in early days and not have to worry about whether Facebook and Google have a permanent and irrevocable stranglehold on all innovation.  My own little contribution is that now that we’ve tied Social Graphs into the Semantic Web, I’d like to see REST somehow get tied in.  After all, why shouldn’t we annotate rest API’s on web pages too so that they can easily be found and connected to?  It’s like putting electrical sockets in a room for future use.

Related Articles:

I guess it’s not just me seeing a connection between the GGG and REST, see Discipline and Punishment for more.

Posted in saas | 5 Comments »

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