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.

CES 2010 Coverage at Technology Report


The show is over and I’m back home in lovely rural Oregon, which is a lot like Las Vegas … if you take away the mega Casinos, lavish hotels, hundreds of national class restaurants, 24/7 dining, hundred-million-dollar theaters, zombie gamblers, throngs of people, massive convention centers, and the nasty city underbelly you find just away from the fancy venues.

For the next several days I’ll be writing up the show from the approximately 400 pictures I took of CES 2010 and Las Vegas over the past week.   That coverage will mostly be over at Technology Report

Although I tend to see things through Web 2.0 colored glasses I really think CES 2010 this year was really pushing the 3D TVs (skeptical of how well consumers will receive this) while ironically much more powerfully showcasing something something that cannot be directly sold – social networking and global device connectivity.

Tim O’Reilly and others have talked about “Web 3.0” which some see as a device-O-sphere  where our computers, cameras, phones, household appliances, cars, etc are all streaming data into online environments where that information can be used by other applications in a variety of ways.    I think we are very close to having the technical ability to do that, and soon we’ll see a lot more websites and other computerized ways to process and learn from that data stream.

Obviously there’s a downside in terms of the fact our personal drivacy is being eroded away but that ship has sailed and I’m optimistic that the Device-O-Sphere will bring us far more efficient ways to use our resources and time.

Inefficiency is massive in all sectors of the world and I think the folks who are fretting far too much about looming catastrophes from things like global warming should be spending a lot more of their valuable time helping to engineer systems that create energy and resource efficiencies by

1.  Finding the waste and 2. eliminating some of that waste.

FYI – start with your conventional water heater – for most turning it down a few degrees won’t create a noticeable change yet it will save more energy than switching off lights from now  through the climate apocalypse.

Technology Report

Social Word of Mouth Marketing


As social networking explodes on the scene I’m wondering about legitimate vs questionable marketing tactics that involve one’s social network.   Here at the JoeDuck blog I’ve avoided advertising (though I have taken a few liberties with posts that help rank other sites or promote friends, etc).

At my commercial sites I’m more aggressive with advertising and find it’s very hard to decide what levels of advertising are best suited to all the factors that come into play such as generating revenue, being honest,  keeping Google happy, etc.    Although I increasingly buy into the idea that “user friendliness” is a good guideline I don’t think it’s the best one from a revenue standpoint.   Even Google, which I think built a grand online empire partly on the basis of limiting the advertisements around search,  has very gradually increased the aggressiveness of their advertising at some “user centric” expense such as the ads that appear on top of the organic listings.    Although Google insists they are clear about identifying advertising the proof is in the perception and many people still do not understand the difference between clicks when Google is getting paid and when they are not.

I don’t object to Google’s current standards which I think are more than reasonable, though it’s always annoying to hear them pretend (or think delusionally) that their only consideration is optimizing the *user experience* without regard to revenues.   That would not be good business and arguably would deprive them of revenue they can use to provide the raft of great free services we enjoy from Google like blogger, search, mail, maps, and more.

But the real point here is to find a balance between social networking and marketing.    I certainly don’t want to pester people with advertising after they have nicely  come to Twitter or the blog to “interact” about politics, technology, or travel.     But are there appropriate advertisements that do not offend people?

More importantly, how should one handle paid or unpaid endorsements of businesses?     Over at Technology-Report we are now sponsored by Ipswitch Imail  Server, an Enterprise email system.   What’s really intriguing me is at what point one crosses the line between using and abusing the relationship you have with people to promote your business “allies”.  The link I just provided helps them.  I think that’s fine but some might say it’s using the blog inappropriately. Adding “nofollow” to the link would tell Google not to consider the link as an endorsement of the company but I’m happy to endorse them – they are smart enough to sponsor our Tech blog so they must be good, right?

I think the best working rule here at the blog is transparency, where people know the money relationships between you and those you talk about.   For stocks I use a disclosure blip, for companies an explanation of the relationship.  However for websites I’m not as transparent and I think I need to reconsider that and provide more disclosure than I have in the past to help combat the growing “economy of lies” that is far more pervasive than we tend to think.

From bank lending and “promotional offers” with fine print that traps even savvy borrowers to blatant phone credit card ripoffs that prey on the gullible to the Madoff stock scandal to bogus “get rich quick” training programs, the “economy of lies” is everywhere.    Online, it becomes even more difficult to check credentials and make sure an offer is real.

Then there are the “somewhat misleading special offers” which I think may be impossible or even undesirable to combat.    For example I’m shopping for Las Vegas hotels, flights, and show tickets and notice there are often dozens of offers for the same rooms, each with different rates.  Although the conditions vary a bit, basically these are marketing experiments designed to optimize revenues and collect information for the future.   Not perfectly “honest”, but not scams.   I’ll talk about this more at my Las Vegas Travel blog.   Hey, see, there’s a tiny SEO helpful pitch for my own site – is that legitimate?

An interesting idea – though bureaucracy alerts are kind of sounding for me now – might be to create some sort of volunteer disclosure standard that was monitored by a third party.    For example no site could endorse more than one product of the same kind.    Sites that abided by those rules would be listed and allowed to slap up a logo, those that did not would not.   Policing this probably could be done via an online “complaint” system, and the neat part would be to help screen out the huge number of junky sales sites that have no content of value and offer dubious offers.

Still, that option does not really seem workable on a grand scale because too few would participate.

The Stupid File: Twitter as Cult, destroyer of moral compasses. BALONEY!


One of the most intriguing and most frustrating aspects of the “new media” is how foolish the stories become as writers search for meaning amidst the ocean of change and sea of drivel that makes up the modern information infrastructure aka “Them Dang Interwebs”.

Today’s foolishness takes the form of Jeremy Toeman’s article “It’s Official, Twitter is a Cult” where Jeremy manages to mangle the meaning of a cult about as many times as he invokes it in criticizing Twitter.    Another article actually suggests Twitter is wreaking havoc with moral compasses but I’m not sure I’ll even dignify that nonsense with a read, especially because I find Twitter to be the *least morally offensive* of the many internet venues where I hang out.

Yo TwitterCritterCizers, when is the last time a group of your friends drilled a bunch of wells to give extremely poor people in Africa water?  On Twitter the answer is “Last Saturday “, when the Charity:Water effort, funded by hundreds of thousands of small donations from Twitter folks, began a project to bring clean water to Africa.    This act alone defies much of the cult charge since it is clearly benefitting people who are far outside the “Twitter” network and represents the opposite of a totalitarian, elitist approach to social interaction.   But let’s go through the “Cult” charges one by one to note how backwards this analysis really is.

I’m harping on this partly becuase I’m a twitter fan / evangelist but also because the promise of social media is absolutely spectacular, and I think Twitter may come the closest to realizing that promise for a mass audience.    Twitter and most other social media experiments represent humankind’s best effort to date to create broad based, non-elitist, participatory democracies and social networking infrastructures.    Twitter *defies* the cult and elitist mentality that is still pervasive in legacy human interaction, especially in religion and politics where money, charisma, and connections completely trump solid qualifications and personal virtues.

At the risk of falling into Jeremy’s  trap and talking about a stupid article, I really think its’ a good idea to debunk this mythology before the world comes to an end and only me and the glorious Twitter people survive the apocalypse , whoops…. I mean before it gets out of hand.

  1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
    Nope, in fact it’s hard to even talk about Twitter to friends, relatives, or readers of this blog who mostly think it’s silly.    I like to evangelize blogging but don’t do that much with Twitter, and  in Twitter land Twitter rejection is expected and OK.   No cultishness in the “coercion” department.
  2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society
    Ummmm.  No.  There are no real “kingpins” on Twitter.  In fact the founders, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, are not even the most followed and don’t participate in Twitter all that actively with comments.   Both are pretty mild mannered geeky guys who live modest lifesyles and largely shun the fame and personal power Twitter could bring to them with the simple act of more postings and calls to action.   Furthermore, on Twitter you can follow anybody you care to, and many will probably follow you back if you don’t annoy them with appeals to buy things.   This is called an “egalitarian society” and is the opposite of a totalitarian one.
  3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma. Even the author of the article states this one is “a stretch”.   A stretch to utter nonsense.
  4. It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people
    Huh?   Twitter does not solicit funds or actively recruit people.   It is free, it is open, you can leave, join, participate at your own whim.
  5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
    First, it has little wealth at this time.  Twitter’s looking to monetize its spectacular success and most folks hope they can do it, but one thing that is clear is that unlike cults Twitter won’t ask the members for anything – not even active participation.   More importantly Twitter’s  is getting used to generate a lot of money for *charities* and good works like the Charity:Water project listed above.

Conclusion:   Twitter is not a cult, it’s a minor social miracle.

PS  To avoid an untimely demise pass this Twitter propaganda on to 1000 of your closest friends and relatives and follow @joeduck at Twitter

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).

Google’s knol project


Google’s about to launch yet another clever idea.  Called knol, it will feature authoritative articles about any topic which will use community rating and input.   

It will be interesting to see how this project compares to the excellent community produced content at Wikipedia, and also how Google handles the legitimate as well as scammy SEO tactics that always follow good content.     Disallowing links to commercial sites would seem to inhibit an author’s ability to feature things, but allowing them opens up the chance of abuses of the type that made Wikipedia choose to use NOFOLLOW tag on all external Wikipedia links.

The good news – more quality information online – yippee!