Friends – who loves ya baby?

I have been thinking a lot about friends lately and the real value of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo etc. I came across an excellent (if long) presentation on slideshare by Paul Adams of the User Experience team at Google. It looks at relationships (friendships) and the differences between the way your online social networks (such as facebook) work and your real life social relationships and how they influence each other.kojak

Online, people are either your friends or they are not. There is some filtering at a very high level, Plaxo and LinkedIn for example are typically limited to business acquaintances not personal friends, but beyond that everyone is treated the same, from your best buddy to the guy you met yesterday. To paraphrase that wise TV philosopher Theo Kojak, “(online) Who love’s ya baby?” the answer is all your online friends. He uses the analogy of the time and trouble folks take on planning the seating at a wedding in real life and yet how on a social network they are all just lumped together.

Paul provides a view of your offline relationships that can be segmented by groups of people (family, college, neighbours, activities etc. (most people have 4 to 6 major groups)) and the strength of the relationship (strong (4 to 5 relationships), weak (up to 150 relationships) and temporary) and how they influence your decisions. As he points out,

Social Networking is a means to an end.

You need to understand what the end is.

So what does this mean? I think there really is a need to be able to segment friends on social networks to better reflect how life really works. Until then, I for one will continue to be just a casual user of facebook (social networks). As always comments welcome.

Facebook as the new “walled garden”

I have followed the world-wide-web as it relates to Telecom companies for it seems for ever (surely only 15 years? Ed). They were well positioned to use their relationships coupled with their ownership of the transport part of the internet value chain to become major factors in the internet space. It never happened. One of the criticisms, leveled at the Telcos was their insistence, early on, of operating a walled garden, where the Telcos controlled access and gave significant preference to specific applications (mostly their own or white-labeled from other providers).Walled Garden Consumers viewed this as restrictive and not helpful. It was obvious up front that the benefit of a walled garden was almost all Telco.

So where goes Facebook, in an opinion piece in this Sunday’s NY Times, Randall Stross makes a number of strong points – how Facebook has changed and how its original premise has been lost, in its frenzy to become the de facto web.

The Facebook model of organizing the world’s information involves a mix of personally sensitive information, impersonal information that is potentially widely useful, and information whose sensitivity and usefulness falls in between. It’s a tangle created by Facebook’s origins as the host of unambiguously nonpublic messaging among college students.

The company’s desire now to help out “the world” — an aim that wasn’t mentioned on its “About” page two years ago — has led it to inflict an unending succession of privacy policy changes on its members.

People often talk about the two leading social networking sites in a way that sounds like they’re a single entity: FacebookandTwitter. But the two are fundamentally different. Facebook began with a closed, friends-only model, and today has moved to a private-public hybrid, resetting members’ default privacy settings. By contrast, most Twitter users elect to use the service to address the general public.

As I look at this, I see Facebook building its very own walled garden. I am reminded of a quote by George Santayana

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Photo courtesy of Ell Brown

The dilemma that is Facebook

Facebook started out with a wonderful premise, the automation of the college freshman book. Then it got caught in the feature trap that is the bugaboo of way too much software ~ just because I can do something, ought I to do it? Facebook has become unwieldy and bloated as it has sought to commercialize its initial premise – facilitating contacts.

facebook privacy small The New York Times published an article on the Facebook privacy settings, including a very unsettling infographic. As the NY Times points out, there are now 170 privacy options, and the policy statement  text has ballooned to 5830 words. What Flickr is able to say in less than 400 words requires 14 as many words for Facebook.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook and finding ‘lost’ friends and acquaintances, but the software is broken and Facebook may soon suffer a Yogi Berra-like fate;

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Further discussion on facebook’s privacy settings (and the fact that not many people seem to understand what they actually are) can be found at the following link.  CNN Tech Facebook Delete.

At 400 million strong, is Facebook imploding under its own weight? I wish there was a better alternative.

Game on … (Buzz vs. Facebook) Round One

In an interview on silicon.com, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind the # 1 blogging platform WordPress (used by brazethoughts no less), makes some insightful comments on the future of software and how it can learn from the gaming industry. He believes the biggest challenge for the software industry is to make sure users can take full advantage of the increasing complexity of applications.

“If you think about it, complexity is actually not a bad thing – I mean users are not dumb, they’re actually very smart. You just need to give them the best way to learn and discover all the power that you have, and the best example of this is computer games. Computer games are so, so good at this. Think how complex the average computer interface is. It varies from game to game almost 100 per cent – the way you play Mario is not going to be the way you play Modern Warfare. But it starts you out on a training level – you start out, you get your legs, you walk around and you advance from level to level. And this applied to traditional software I think is going to one of the most interesting trends.”

He then attributes much of the success of Facebook to its game-like nature.

“They’re really brilliant how they encourage certain behaviours and how they tailor their news feed and the way images work and everything like that. Essentially it’s a social game but the other players are your friends and the objects are updates and photos, videos and news stories. The game never gets old because it’s constantly fresh from the content your friends are feeding into it. It’s utterly brilliant.”

facebook vs buzz Google’s Buzz has now entered the social networking arena,  it has a nice feature set but it doesn’t appear to have anything like the game aspects of Facebook. This got me wondering if the smart minds at Google have not thought things through and missed an opportunity.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest one of all?

The answer is it all depends on the image.

Bush-Kerry

In the last few years, virtual reality, including Second Life, has faded from the technology hype cycle. But as I recently discovered there is still life in the old dog, as demonstrated in this lunch time lecture titled Transformed Social Interaction in Virtual Reality from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Stanford’s Professor Bailenson examines how social interactions can be affected in a virtual world where one can modify actual behavior through a ‘digital filter’ and present something quite different to an audience in the virtual world. An example would be sending different behaviors to an audience of avatars or the same behavior to the same audience of avatars. Or as he states (my paraphrase)  “If I am chairing a meeting in the real world, I can only maintain eye contact with one person at a time, in a virtual meeting, I can maintain eye contact with everyone in the meeting.”

One of the most interesting experiments (see image above) has to do with the well known phenomenon that we tend to like people who look, act, or behave like us.  One week before the presidential election in 2004, volunteers were shown one of three scenarios

  1. Untouched photos of George Bush and John Kerry (the control group)
  2. An untouched photo of George Bush and an altered photo of John Kerry (a 60/40 morph of the untouched photo with 40% of the volunteer’s facial features).
  3. An untouched photo of John Kerry and an altered photo of George Bush (a 60/40 morph of the untouched photo with 40% of the volunteer’s facial features).

Why 40%? Anything below that figure is not perceived as “odd” by the volunteer. So what was the result? It is very very scary.

Bush-Kerry2

There is a 19% swing between the two morphed alternatives. Just by making the politician’s appearance look a bit like the volunteer, we can change the outcomes of elections.

This capability to manipulate images and behavior (and to hide the fact from the other party) presents a significant ethical dilemma in virtual worlds. As with most things it can be a force for good but in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. There are a lot of people who are worried about social networks and behavioral targeting (advertising customized to your behavior) – what is to stop advertisers from presenting ads on facebook using pitchmen that deliberately share your characteristics in order to increase your propensity to buy?

Social Media – a business view

In tandem with the cultural view taken by the Us Now video, I had commented on previously, I came across an IBM presentation through slideshare on the business side of social networks.

social networks

It was presented at the mobile social networking forum and concentrates on how social networks affect businesses in the  media and telecom industries. There are a number of key points to be drawn from the presentation.

  1. Social networks while primarily about relationship building are branching out to content distribution and a place for targeted adverts.
  2. Brands are creating their own exclusive social networks to build direct dialogue with their customers.
  3. Many companies are using social networks internally to replace the disappearing water cooler

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