FourSquare, Twitter, and Facebook


As a self-proclaimed social media expert  (hey, cuz I have a MASTERS DEGREE in Social Science!), I like to think I understand what is driving the latest wave of online enthusiasm.    But I’m increasingly convinced nobody understands it.  Rather, like evolution, we work away from failure and wind up with applications and websites that have *survived* and adapted far more than were “brilliantly planned and executed” according to some online success formula.

Of course predicting Google’s success was easy – they’d cracked the nut of “really good search” and even as others caught up to their quality they’d established our habit of “googling” when we needed good info fast and have reaped the enormous advertising revenue rewards from that early success.     I had more trouble understanding why Facebook was so appealing yet it has thrived as the key friend and family connector in an increasingly social media world.

I remain skeptical that Facebook can drive advertising revenue to the extent needed to ever compete against Google for online dominance, but we’re still *very* early in the big online game and clearly Facebook is rocking in terms of online influence.

As for many, Twitter didn’t impress me initially but after following a lot of people and capturing a lot of followers I started to understand how important Twitter would be to the online social experience.     This was borne out very strongly at CES Las Vegas watching how quickly businesses – even including non-tech businesses like the hotels and attractions in Las Vegas – were using Twitter as a key news, customer contact, and customer relations tool.    As mom and pop businesses and “regular folks” begin to understand how active engagement with Twitter can revolutionize the way we do business communication I think we’ll see a second explosion in use and Twitter will rival Facebook in terms of importance.

The latest in the pantheon of  very popular “social media” applications is called “FourSquare”.     The idea is to know the location of your friends and share your location as well as offer tips about everything from dining to attractions.    The basic idea is appealing and intuitive and the service appears to be exploding in popularity, though I’m finding it hard to use I think in part because I’m a rural dweller and things like this are more useful in urban centers where there are a lot more participants.   Still, it seems to me this only enhances Twitter somewhat, and is not really a major improvement over what we’d expect from more active use of Twitter, which I see as playing (eventually) the a role as an application that manages how people are relating to other people on an hour by hour basis.     Although it’s mostly early adopters who use Twitter in this way now, the fact that tweets are easier than a phone call means to me that eventually we’ll shift from calling to some form of text messaging, the most powerful of which is …. tweeting!

In summary I’m thinking that Google search will continue to thrive and dominate with Facebook and Twitter becoming the key tools for social interaction – Facebook more between friends and family and Twitter between businesses and celebrities and customers / fans.       That doesn’t leave much room for Foursquare to become huge, but the online social space has become so large that even a supporting role can be an auspicious one.

Twitter’s Discovery Engine: The End of Civilization As We Know It.


Sure it’s too early to know how the advent of “Social Media” will revolutionize the internet landscape but it will *certainly* revolutionize the online experience dramatically.     It’s been slowly happening for some time – perhaps 2 years or so – but I think we’re now at something of a tipping point where we’ll see widespread mainstream adoption of social media  – I predict Twitter will be the big winner in this space though there is plenty of room for Facebook to maintain the huge presence it now has online.

One of the most provocative upcoming items is the Twitter Discovery Engine, which will be Twitter’s attempt to allow users to  mine the information from the massive Twitter community.    They may not get it right at first but eventually we’ll see that unlike Google search – which is great for static information – Twitter will be able to connect you to a “human expert” about as  fast as you can Tweet out a 140 character note or click on their  “Follow” button.

This is very important because despite many foolish reports suggesting that Google has “solved” the problem of internet search they have done nothing of the kind.   Google’s very good at finding a lot of material about issues that stay the same over the years such as historical events.  Yet Google’s regular search generally fails – and miserably – when you are trying to find real time information on current events.    Their blog search and news search are better for information that changes regularly or has changed recently, but with a robust Twitter search you’ll soon be able to interact with newsmakers and news events in real time, asking questions and offering your own input.

The internet has always been about people much more than it is about technology.   Google is a brilliant company but I’d suggest that Google will be seen in the future as being the *last* of the major internet players to rely primarily on their technological prowess rather than their social architectures.     The new game will be the integration of human experience and expertise with the blossoming online information landscape, and this game will dominate until we have very powerful and direct integration of human brains with online information sources – probably in about 10 years.  This brain/machine integration has already begun at a rudimentary level with Braingate and mainstream devices like the Emotiv headsets coming soon.

This social media revolution  is not just a profound new development in the history of human communication, it is a social evolution of biblical proportions, and the beginning of a redefinition of social interaction that will both enhance and undermine our tribal history of human socializing that goes back tens of thousands of years and tended to favor smaller groups, less democratic social heirarchies, and simpler forms of “friend or foe” interactions.   These social mechanisms served our evolutionary needs at the time, but are becoming outmoded as the global population and global interests  come together, and fast.

Welcome to the new age new media revolution.    It’s going to be neat but be sure to fasten your mental seatbelts because there will be  some Twitter turbulence ahead.

Google & Facebook & Twitter, oh my!


Silicon Alley Insider is discussing an interesting analysis suggesting that Facebook could be a “Google Killer” thanks to Facebook’s greater rate of growth and the suggestion that Facebook now accounts for 19% of incoming Google unique user traffic, up from 9% a year ago.

My intuitive take on this is that the analysis is misleading and seriously flawed for several reasons:

1) Rates of growth will tend to be vastly larger as sites approach the market saturation levels we have with Google and I think we may soon have with Facebook.      The new 800 pound Gorilla on the social scene is  Twitter which is growing at over 1000% last year.   You can’t 10x your current traffic for long without exhausting all people on earth, so all these rates must slow, and soon.     e.g. at 1000% annual growth with 5,000,000 unique users you’ll exhaust earth’s population in about 3 years, 2 months.

2) Twitter will chip away at Facebook user’s time online, and fast.    No major application has grown at the rate we see now at Twitter.    For many reasons we’ll see Twitter continue to grow explosively for at least a few years and I’ll be surprised if it does not rival Facebook within 3 years in terms of use.    Most high tech early adopters are tending to move away from time on Facebook and towards time on Twitter, and major media is showing a huge enthusiasm for promoting Twitter feedback on TV to mainstream America.   Twitter, not Facebook, is the application with the most disruptive potential.

3) Monetization of Social Media sucks, and will continue to suck.    Google can easily monetize searches for things where Facebook continues to struggle to find ways to turn the vast numbers of views into big money.   Although they are likely to make modest progress,  I do not see social networking as potentially all that lucrative where keyword search, almost by definition, remains the best high value internet monetizing framework.

4) The claim that 19% of Google uniques from Facebook  seems very, very dubious.    This number appears to be from Comscore and does not even make sense.   Facebook searches do not generally direct people to Google, so presumably this is suggesting that a staggering number of people leave Facebook to go do a  search at Google?    I’m trying to find more detail about this but it does not pass the sniff test even if they are simply stating that people tend to jump to Google after visiting Facebook, which is correlation and probably not causation.
This suggests that Facebook’s 236m uniques drive  (.19 x 772m) =     146m uniques to Google?         Something is  Facebook fishy here.

I am confident that all three of these applications will continue to thrive because each is filling a different online need and doing the job well.   There is no need to converge online activity more than has already been done.   For example it’s not inconvenient to switch to your banking or travel booking website for those tasks, and many probably prefer this to having a single “one stop shop” for all online activity.     Ironically Facebook’s attempts to imitate Twitter may actually accelerate the growth of Twitter which seems to be a better way to communicate quickly and effectively and superficially with many contacts.      Facebook, however, has been making good progress with their “open social” efforts that allow users to log in to other sites easily and then post blog comments and other activity to their Facebook account.     Facebook will thrive but as the recent revaluations / downward valuations suggest Facebook is no Google and will never be Google.    Search trumps social in terms of making money, and the mother’s milk of internet growth and to some extent  innovation is …. money   (though I’d say innovation is fueled by the lure of wealth as much as real wealth).

The Social Networking Generation(s) enter online “adolescence”


Although Social Networking has been around for some time it has not seen anything like the widespread use until fairly recently.     Where technologists and early adopters are trying to figure out the importance of the  Twitter explosion to the social networking landscape, millions of regular folks are just now starting to come to grips with how social media is changing our relationships and our personal identities in ways we’re only beginning to understand.

Peggy Orenstein has a thoughtful article at the New York Times today about the how Facebook social networking has affected her and also her concerns about how it will change the way kids grow up.    She notes how a Facebooker’s post of a picture of her at 16, and her own Facebook account, brought up many items from her past, even including what appeared to be an inappropriate encounter with a high school teacher who now wants to be a Facebook friend.

She asks:

As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self?

The answer, as anybody who has been socially networking for long knows, is “sure, Peggy, no problem”.      I’d argue that the benefits of what we might call socially “‘transparent living” probably far outweigh the costs, though it’ll be years before we understand how all of this will shake out.     From a sociological point of view the most intriguing aspect to me is that the technologies are allowing us to expand our “social networks” well beyond the limits that nature intended.

Evolution works too slowly to anticipate most technological changes so our “tribal” genetics has prepared us well to deal with “hundreds” of personal associations rather than the “thousands” we have with even a modest level of socializing online.      I suppose you could argue that a “letter to the editor” in a local paper reaches thousands of people, and in this case can even label you for some time depending on how you express your concerns, but most people don’t write these letters where even in rural communities there are many thousands of people using social networks, creating huge numbers of individual interactions every day.

If biological and social evolution really do limit us to only about 150 close personal associations as some have suggested we’ll probably see that social networks will eventually sort of “implode” as people reduce their connections to more manageable numbers of friends.  However I don’t really see this – my guess is that we’ll see humans expand their numbers of  contacts well beyond the 150 number, reaching a new plateau that will likely be defined as much by our personal history of real associations as by any biological limits.    In fact there’s a lot for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to do to make it easier to manage our growing social networks, and I’d guess we’ll soon see a lot more slicing and dicing of contacts than we have to date into “close friends”, “family”, “business associates”, etc.    As in real life we’ll eventually want to control access to our information from different groups in several ways.

Another intriguing aspect of social networking is what we might call the Social Networking  “all your base are belong to us”  problem.    Even if a person despises the internet, social interaction, and everything technological they are already likely to appear in some internet venues and will eventually appear in many social networks.    Phone records, your home and real estate, business associations and records, permits, and most importantly photographs and videos are flowing online at a rate of billions and billions of bytes per second.    This information is increasingly  “tagged” by people you may not even know with information about you, usually without your consent or even your knowledge.    Reclusive old curmudgeons beware – you could be all over the place in no time by simply owning a home or phone or  attending a family function, Community BBQ, or Shriner’s parade.

Assume that a person on Facebook or Twitter has 200 people who read about them and who they read about.     Assuming each person in this network creates a *single item* for *private* review – a photo or short comment.    This small level of activity – under a minute of action per person – in one sense explodes to generate 200 x 200=40,000 different personal interactions.      Although obviously every participant won’t review every possible interaction which would not be possible without a rash of exploding heads, the total amount of interactions in the total  Social-Network-O-Sphere is, literally, mind boggling.

How this will affect our feeble human condition?    I don’t know, but you can bet your Twitter we’ll all be dealing with it for some time.

Why Twitter matters … a lot. Clue = Soylent Green.


Twitter is moving into the mainstream faster than any major internet application in history, and is redefining  online behavior as we continue to  move away from “internet as information” and into the era of “internet as people”.

Obviously both information and socializing will play a huge role in online behavior for the duration, but like the ubiquitous and mysterious food source in the old Charleton Heston Movie, Soylent Green

solyentgreen

Twitter is especially  important because ….  “Twitter is People”.

Some Twitter enthusiasts wrongly suggest that Twitter is important because it is breaking a few bits and bytes of news in real time (e.g. Hudson Plane Crash, CA Plane Crash) or providing a platform for discussion of pressing social issues (e.g. Gaza War).    Meanwhile Twitter critics very foolishly point to the obvious about Twitter’s superficiality as if this was a defect.

Twitter is certainly largely superficial in terms of how people chit chat on the service, but this is the reason for it’s spectacular success.  Humans by nature – ie by millions of years of evolution – are not designed well for thoughtful, reasoned discourse.   Instead, for much of evolutionary history we were very UNintelligently designed by trial and error and random mutations to survive in sometimes hostile environments.     This makes us a short term, superficial socializing thinker more than a long term planner.    Sure, we sometimes  do that long term stuff but if there are any lessons we can derive from history  it is how poorly humanity has optimized our long term well being.    One need look no further than the ongoing global financial crisis, global terror threats, tribal disputes across Africa, or global religious intolerance to see how poorly we cope with situations that would probably respond well with even a modest level of long term, optimal  planning rather than the short term knee jerk nonsense that often stains our  local and international finance, politics, and social relationships.

Twitter’s simplicity and superficiality are exactly why it will continue to thrive, diving into mainstream use faster than you can Tweet  Ellen Degeneres, who yesterday challenged her viewers to become “followers” of her Twitter account.    Although her goal of a million followers was not realistic, Ellen rose from zero to over 110,000 followers in a single day – perhaps a Twitter record and certainly a demonstration of a significant convergence of Television and internet audiences.

As internet activity stabilizes I think we’ll see people relying more and more on Twitter as their socializing platform of choice.    There’s certainly room for many social networking sites,  but I think Facebook needs to worry that Twitter may diminish the time people spend at Facebook in favor of the simpler, more intuitive interactions at Twitter.     Twitter has done for social networking what Google did for Search – they created a super clean interface and made it extremely easy to participate, building a large and happy user base in a very short time.     Unlike Google, however, Twitter will continue to face challenges monetizing their success, for as we’ve learned from Facebook’s experiences with ads and advertising fiascos it is not nearly as easy to make money in social networking as in information searching.    I predict it never will be as easy and Twitter is likely to face some interesting challenges as they try to bridge the gap between user enthusiasm for Twitter and aversion to advertising.      However Twitter will be a spectacular success with even a fraction of Google’s adverising revenue, so I see them thriving for some time.

TechCrunch’s Erick has this

Facing Facebook Friendships, sociologically speaking


In a  recent interview with The Economist called “Primates on Facebook” Facebook’s resident sociologist (hey Mark Z, got any more Sociology jobs at Facebook?)  reports that even though we have a lot more projection of our stuff out to the web people continue to maintain the fairly small circles of friendships that characterize offline behavior.

The  author Andreas Kluth has more at his blog

If this holds across social networks it’s very important, suggesting that we are likely to struggle or fail to cope with the level of social interaction we set up online at sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I remain skeptical and would argue that the Dunbar number (about 150,  suggesting the maximum number of people a single person can manage) will be increasing as we learn to cope with more online relationships.     I simply cannot believe this is a physical constraint – my guess it that it’s more an artifact of our tribal evolutionary primate past than a determinant of our future.

The Economist notes:

An average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”.  An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26.   Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

… people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a polling organisation.  Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.
Sure I have room for more Facebook  friends, just tweet me at Twitter!

Twittering Thanksgiving?


Like most folks who spend a bit too much time online, it’s always odd trying to explain things to folks who … don’t have an online life outside of the weekly checking of the email or surfing for a cranberry recipe.

Over Thanksgiving in Minnesota I was asked to explain what Facebook was and got in some trouble for suggesting that it’s more of a “coastal thing” which was in fact probably wrong anyway but also seemed to imply the heartland wasn’t up to snuff on digital happenings.    Interestingly though Craigslist was well known and loved by all even as the social networking tools were largely unrecognized.

I’ll definitely want to wait until next year to explain Twitter, but when I do I’ll have them read Tim O’Reilly‘s insightful post where I think he correctly observes that Twitter has moved from something that didn’t have obvious relevance or usefulness to an almost indispensable part of the work life of many onliners.

In some ways Twitter has replaced both email and blogging as the tool of choice for the digitally obsessed, and this has come about from it’s usefulness combined with the natural problems that have cropped up with email (spam, attachments, delays, lack of brevity, timing, etc, etc) and with blogging (surfing issues, navigation problems, wordiness, unequal playing fields, comment moderation, etc, etc.

Goodbye [S][C][R][A][B][U][L][O][U][S]


Hasbro appears to have won a battle with Facebook application “Scrabulous” which has been wiped off of Facebook.   One of the most popular applications on the massive Social Network, many thought Hasbro would buy Scrabulous from the two founders.   That may still happen but Scrabulous’ negotiating position has been severely weakened over the past month as Hasbro first launched an “official” Scrabble on Facebook and now has won the copyright battle and had the competitor removed.

As I’ve noted many times before the prevailing notions of copyright among onliners differ quite a bit from those held by most judges and the legal world at large and this will continue for some time.   Napster, YouTube, and Scrabulous may seem like reasonably clean applications for the online crowd, but in a legal sense they are on very shaky ground.   Will these copyright issue clear up anytime soon?   In one two letter word …  [N][O]

Facebook tells me I’m overweight – this is *good* targeted advertising?


Logging into Facebook I was assaulted presented with an advertisement featuring a picture of an incredibly fit fellow’s chiseled abdomen with the caption “48 YR OLD Overweight?”….

I suppose I should be thankful this was not a picture of a shirtless Mark Zuckerberg, but ..

I’m 48 so I can’t believe this was a coincidence – obviously Facebook is using my personal information to target ads to me – using the information they said they’d keep confidential and I really don’t want shared with any old Tom, Dick, or Hairy bodybuilder advertisers.

As I’ve noted before online privacy is largely an oxymoron, and I’m really not very concerned about the privacy “violation” here.  However something about this pisses me off – I think partly because after all the hype – including from people like me – I hate to think this is the best we can do with targeted advertising.

Sure, I’m a *little* overweight but I don’t need the bogus overpriced green diet junk advertised to me here by Mr. Muscleydude.    This is the classic type of junk product “seen on TV” presented in an annoying way using information I don’t want given out to advertisers.   In my book Facebook has already pushed past the limit of advertising more than is welcome by me, and I get the strong feeling that with revenues in question we’ll see a lot more of these marginally relevant ads in the future.

Facebook, Facebook Get Ya Facebook Shares at 80% off


TechCrunch is reporting that an insider at Facebook is shopping his shares at 80% off the normally quoted (and probably absurd) 15 billion dollar valuation.   TechCrunch is also suggesting that even Mark Zuckerberg is willing to sell shares at a price consistent with a 6 billion valuation for the company.

Like Arrington, I’d also like to take one share of Facebook.  For me please add a Coke and a Cheeseburger.

The 15 billion never made any sense, and as it becomes clearer that social networking won’t monetize well their perceived value may quickly drop below a billion, though that would still be one heck of a payday for Mark Z and the gang.