Category Archives: Social Networks

The morbidity of the Facebook Timeline

Not much happened in my life between being born and 2007.

When Facebook rolled out its “Timeline” to replace their Profile pages, it seemed like a neat gadget.  It seemed like an odd move to get rid of the activity stream that had been on Profiles before, but it was kind of neat to see an overview of the person’s life, along with the large picture they could choose to show at the top.  The Timeline is more visually interesting and distinct than the Profile, but over time something about it bothered me, and I didn’t really get get my mind around it until now:

The Facebook Timeline is morbid.

Where are we used to seeing the “timeline” paradigm?  History books.  Timelines are used for tracking progressions of significant events chronologically, events that usually have an explicit beginning and an explicit ending.

When I look at my Facebook Timeline, I feel it is a weird mesh of the profound and the trivial.  It lists a string of mostly insignificant events, things I’ve liked, comments I’ve posted, photos I’ve uploaded, songs I’ve listened to, and other nuggettes of daily life.  Alongside these minutiae, at one end is my start (birth), and at the other end…my end.  That’s pretty heavy for a social network profile page.

The timeline therefore becomes an online tombstone in progress.  Someday, nothing I do will show up on it anymore, and my friends and family will come to my Facebook Timeline to see what happened in my life, and they’ll see that I liked this viral cat video, or listened to Lady Gaga on Spotify.  Maybe a few significant events will be sprinkled in between, but how much of what we do every day on Facebook is really significant or worth remembering for more than a few hours?

It is this unintentional memorializing of the trivialities of life that I object to, and why I wish Facebook would bring back the old Profiles.  I liked them when they felt fluffy, when they were fleeting, and changed constantly based on my whims, and captured the essence of now rather than documenting my existence for future generations to peruse and be amused by.

If I wanted to create a memorial to myself, a summary of my life, a memoir, I would do so on my own.  There are probably sites dedicated to this.  But why force this morbid paradigm onto my daily communications with friends and family, without giving me a choice in the matter?

Most design decisions Facebook are very much about living in the moment.  The News Feed, the Ticker, Chat, Messaging, Open Graph, Places – all have been built to spread information about NOW, about what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, and whom I’m doing it with, so to slap a layer on top of this that turns my Profile into a living document of my life is intensely off-pitch.

As it stands, the morbidity of the Timeline has largely turned me off from using Facebook.  Hopefully Facebook will realize the error of their ways and rebuild Timelines to be more temporal and less monumental.  Time will tell…

 

Google+: Better than Buzz and Wave, but no Facebook Killer

So I finally got in to test out Google+, and I have to say it’s definitely an interesting product.  I can’t dismiss it the way I did with Google Wave.  Here are some of my first impressions:

Circles

Adding friends to your Circles starts out fun but quickly becomes a daunting task.  G+ appears to use my Gmail account history to suggest people that I might want to add to my Circles, which is convenient, but regular Gmail users like myself may end up with an overwhelming number of recommendations.

I have 500 recommendations (presumably this is a maximum), and I just don’t want to take the time to sort them all into Circles. Maybe I’ll whittle away at it over time…I stopped after 40 friends because it’s just too tedious.  This is why the Friend Lists never took off over at Facebook, but I don’t think it’s a good sign that Google hasn’t really improved upon the concept aside from slapping a nifty UI on it.

It’s not immediately clear that people whom you add to your Circles will receive an email notification.  I added several people whom I’m not close to, but I just wanted to follow their updates (like Twitter), and they may be rather confused when they see that I’ve added them on G+.  Google needs to work a little on this process to make it more clear what’s going on, and what the consequences of your actions are.

The Stream

In “The Stream” (like Facebook’s Feed), you can see updates from anyone whom you’ve added to your Circles, without them having to approve you as a friend (although they are notified, and can Hide or Block you after the fact.)  This makes G+ work a little like Twitter, actually – you can have a 1-way relationship, more of a “follow” than a “friend,” but you still need to know someone’s email address in order to “follow” them, so don’t expect many celebs to be joining up or ditching Twitter for this.

Using 1-way relationships is a very interesting product decision, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.  It’s possible that people may develop a Twitter-like usage pattern, where they follow a lot of people that they don’t know, particularly in business circles.  For instance, if you can get the email addresses of people in your industry, you can just start following their G+ updates, but of course you’ll only see content those people make public unless they add you to one of their Circles and publish to that Circle.

If you add someone to your Circle who isn’t using G+, they’ll get your updates via email, which is either an awful idea or a fantastic one: if you don’t have G+, you’ll get your inbox spammed by your friends who do, so that could motivate more people to join, or it could just annoy them.  Maybe both. It’s a little risky, but if people surrender and sign up for G+, it’ll be a big win for Goog.

Update: I received this via IM from a friend today:

why is google+ spamming me when they know I’m not a member and I can’t join? load of crock

One side effect I noticed: I’m hesitant to share things with my Circles, because I don’t want my friends who aren’t on G+ to get emails for every little thing I share.  It’s okay on Facebook because people are already there, and if they happen to see my update, that’s cool, but most things I post to Facebook, I do NOT want to send to my friends via email, or I would have done that in the first place.  Once all my friends are on G+, it’s not an issue, but that’s a long ways off.  Until then, I may have to “unfriend” my contacts who are not on G+ just to avoid spamming them, or I’ll have to post things as “Public” without posting to a Circle.

The Toolbar

Once you’re on Google+, you’ll see a toolbar on any of the common Google sites you go to – Gmail, search, Docs, Picasa, etc.  There’s a “Share” button at the right of the bar, so you can easily add things to your Stream from any of those sites.  A smart move, and it should kick start sharing.

G+ has some neat features, but I’m not sure how Google is trying to position it.  It appears to be a direct Facebook competitor, as I really can’t imagine myself using both for very long.  It’s just too much sharing, too much work to maintain friends lists, too much seeing what my friends are up to, and too much “hanging out.”

I really wanted to see Google tie their tools together as a part of G+.  All of Goog’s consumer tools still exist as independent entities, when most should be tied into one interface.  Picasa is tied in (to some extent), but Gmail and Calendar are totally separate still, which is unfortunate.  If Google could reposition G+ as the only site you need to go to for your daily communication needs, they’d have a leg up on Facebook which is struggling mightily to integrate email functionality. Hopefully they’ll move this way soon.

Hangouts

Hangouts are audio/video chat rooms. I suppose Google wanted to be clever by giving them a hip, in-your-face name, but it’s often rather confusing.  How’s this for clear product messaging: “Hangouts: Have fun with all your circles using your live webcam.”  Oy.  I started “hanging out” by myself, and it posted to my stream that “Joel Downs is hanging out.”  When I finished the experiment, it told my friends “Joel Downs hung out.”  I’m sure my friends were fascinated.  It’s even better than the inane Facebook Places updates like “Joel Downs is at Starbucks.”

Sparks

Sparks are interests.  You type in things you’re interested in, and Google recommends content for you.  I assume it’ll put recent recommendations in my stream, but I haven’t seen that yet.  It could be a nice way to keep on top of topics you’re interested in if it works well, akin to Google News Alerts or Yahoo’s Alerts.  We’ll see.  Why does Goog call them “Sparks”?  I have no idea.  They definitely built in a bit of a learning curve.

Other Stuff

I won’t cover the Photos or Profile today…neither section seems particularly robust or different.

Summary

Google has a good product here, but so far I think it’s too little too late.  Google+ just isn’t well differentiated from Facebook, and it certainly isn’t any easier to use, in fact, the terminology alone may relegate its usage to a younger audience that digs the hipness and wants to spend the time to figure out how to use it.  It’s much more interesting and robust than Google Buzz was (not a high bar), but it’s hard to picture many people either 1) switching away from Facebook or 2) using both G+ and Facebook regularly.  My guess is that G+ will attract the same demographic as Gmail, but will have a hard time going beyond that.  Google will have to do some serious work to woo Facebook users, and they need to do it fast.

Vyoom: get your pitch straight!

Rule of Product Management #675: If you’re going to post your mission on your homepage, make sure people can get behind it.  Vyoom, a new “real-time” social network presents their philosophy front and center on their homepage:

We at Vyoom believe members should be rewarded for connecting and sharing with friends, family and co-workers in a real-time environment.

Excuse me, what?  Why exactly should I be rewarded for chatting with my friends and family?  Shouldn’t the mere activity and social interaction of sharing helpful, entertaining, or personal information with my acquaintances be reward enough?  It sure is on Facebook, Twitter, email, or even in person.  Why do I need to be rewarded for this?  If I’m using your site because I want to be rewarded, I’m likely to overuse the site, flooding my friends and family with information they don’t want, and ultimately having them all block me and/or add me to their spam filters.

Further down on their homepage, they claim they have a “real-time” social network that lets me see what my friends are doing and customize what updates I want to see.  Their meta description (shown to search engines, but not on the site) describes them as a

Social network with advanced social capabilities and true real-time data streaming in both a public and a private network all in one platform

This featureset actually sounds like it might be interesting and differentiating, so why lead with the messaging about rewarding me for communicating with friends?  If you have a great new tool that will make my communications easier, lead with that.  You don’t need to bribe me.  If the product is that cool, I’ll use it and I’ll do your marketing for you by telling my friends.  This is a classic case of a split personality site – they seem to have a cool product, but their lead pitch doesn’t even mention its strengths.

And while we’re at it, Rule of Product Management #425: Avoid underlining words that are not hyperlinks.  Their homepage is riddled with underlined words that unfortunately I just can’t click on.

And you might be asking if I actually used the site…well, no.  I tried – I registered, but never got my confirmation email, and you can’t use the site at all without it.  I tried signing up with a different email address, and the registration form broke.   Sorry guys, I’m done.

Market Research Fail: Twitter has yet to catch on with Gen-Y

fail2According to the laboriously-named Participatory Media Network, 99% of 18- to 24-year-olds have profiles on “social networks,” but only 22% of people in that age group use Twitter.  In their press release about the survey, the PMN concludes that Twitter “has yet to catch on” with Gen Y’s, and Cnet’s Caroline McCarthy parrots the PMN’s press release in her post “Young adults haven’t warmed up to Twitter.”

In what alternate universe does a service that after just over two years in existence already has a 22 percent market share count as something that has yet to catch on?  This is exactly what happens when market researchers trained in the 60’s are allowed to research things they don’t understand.  Any new online service would be thrilled to have a 22% market share of Gen Y, particularly a service that requires them to actually post content publicly to participate, rather than consuming content or having private conversations as they do on most social networks.

PMN is showing that they are hopelessly out of touch by positioning Twitter against the entire social networking space at large – it’s like saying “90% of adults 18-24 have cars, but only 20% are Toyota – Toyota has yet to catch on!”  Yet again I am severely disappointed by market researchers, as well as the press who mindlessly regurgitate these releases.

Facebook should not be afraid of Google Wave…yet

Google today announced the impending release of their new…product, Google Wave.  I hesitate when describing it, because it’s actually pretty tough to categorize.  Techcrunch has a thorough writeup of the functionality and Mashable has a brief of their own, but neither does much analysis, so let me try to summarize.

Google Wave is:

  • Like email, but won’t work (navtively) with existing email
  • Like IM, but it isn’t an application
  • Like Facebook messaging, but without Facebook
  • Like Facebook’s application platform, but without Facebook
  • Like Twitter, but without a public-facing feed
  • Like IRC, but less temporal

Does that help?  Maybe not.

Let me try to sum it up in a positioning statement that I’m making up based on the proposed featureset:

Google Wave is a web-based messaging system that helps people communicate, share, and collaborate with friends, family, and business contacts both in real-time and asynchronously.

If we look at it in these terms, Google Wave is not only extremely ambitious but is also set squarely against Facebook.

You may consider this comparison invalid because Google Wave has so many features that Facebook doesn’t and Facebook has a ton of features that Wave doesn’t, but users don’t look at features, they look at problems the product solves for them.  Is it filling a need that isn’t met right now, or is it filling the need better than existing services?  It’s unlikely that people would give up Facebook for Wave, so the question for Google comes down to: will they use both? You can ask the same question about Wave vs. email, IM, and Twitter.

In order to think Wave will be successful, you have to think the problems it solves are important.  Here are some of the problems it purports to address:

This is just a start of what they want it to do.  One of the creators, Lars, said of Wave,

“My vision is to have the one communication tool. I want all the use cases to be covered. We made up ideas of what Wave could be used for — negotiating contracts, writing articles. Lots of things.”

Is it trying to do too much?  Very likely.

I fear that Wave breaks one of Google’s own product development tenets: fail often, fail early (or maybe fail early, fail often, I don’t remember, but I know there was a lot of failing involved.)  This project has been in development since 2007 and has 50 developers working on it, and it already has a plethora of what we product managers call “would-be-nice” features.  I encourage Google to make sure the core features work and release this thing as soon as possible to see if people like it at all.  If they like it, THEN add the silly extras like real-time wiki-style collaborative editing that lets you see what other people type as they type it.

I do like the concept behind Wave in how it aims to unify communication, but I want to see that happen in a way that simplifies my life.  Read through the comments on the TechCrunch article, and you’ll see that most people think it looks too complicated.  As a contrast, no one who saw the iPod or iPhone unveilings thought either device would complicate their lives – they are both beautiful in their simplicity, and that’s why they sell by the boatloads.  Google will have an uphill battle marketing this product until they can show an average user how it will simplify their lives. If they clear this hurdle, Facebook needs to watch out.

Whopping 40% of Twitterers still active after 30 days

The blogospehere has been all atwitter lately about Nielsen’s latest survey stating that 60% of new Twitter-ers stop using the service after one month.  Many people doubted the number and ribbed Nielsen for perhaps overlooking the fact that many Twitterers use third-party apps to access the site.  But Nielsen checked their math and they’re sticking with their original assertion: 60% of Twitterers leave the site after one month.

I suppose it might be hard to believe that a site that’s growing as fast as Twitter only retains 40% of new users for more than a month, but if you’ve ever run a user-generated content site, you’ll know that 40% retention is fantastic, and most sites would kill for retention like that.  Most users who start a WordPress blog, a Flickr account, a Delicious account, or an account on just about site, try it out for a day or two and never come back.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Further, most users are consumers, not producers, and while that trend is changing over time with the rise of the over-sharing Millennial generation, most users just don’t feel like sharing their stories, pictures, or current status with the world, so they try it out and then move on.

So congratulations, Twitter!  40% retention is awesome, so keep up the great work!

Don’t comment on this blog

Who cares about comments on a blog? Answer: No one.

Think about it. How many times have you read a blog and actually read the comments on that blog? Maybe one time out of ten? Now, think about how many times you’ve read a blog and actually left a comment. Maybe one time out of 20? 50? Yeah, if you’re like the vast majority of internet users, you comment on a blog almost never.

So why are we now seeing all this activity around blog comment systems? You’d think that blog comments are the Friends List of 2007, at least to hear Techcrunch go on about them. Of course, TechCrunch tries to make everything sound interesting so they can justify all the articles they churn out every day despite the fact that there are only one or two Web 2.0 happenings that are actually important enough to write about on any given day.

But back to my point: blog comments just aren’t that important. In the big scheme of things, no one really cares. Read through the sites that have the most active commenting community like Digg and Slashdot, and you’ll see that most commenters:

  1. don’t know what they’re talking about
  2. don’t bother to read the other comments
  3. are illiterate
  4. can’t assemble their thoughts into a coherent point

The blog commenters have become victims of their own enthusiasm. These trolls who reside under the most-frequented bridges of the Internet have so much zeal that they ignore common rules of composition, grammar, and logic, and have therefore doomed themselves to irrelevancy. These trolls make up less than half a percent of the visitors to these sites (source: my flawless intuition), and they never click on ads, so they do little to actually contribute to the sites they comment on.

So, why do we need four companies (mentioned in TechCrunch’s article) devoted to helping us keep track of our comments? Why does the tiny, tiny fraction of people on the ‘net who comment frequently need such powerful tools to organize the dreck they serve up daily to the rest of us?

Of course, they don’t need them. No one needs them. These services exist because we’re in a bubble again, and any idea remotely related to social networking — or the new buzzword: conversations – can raise VC money and hope for a buyout by a company that makes a valid, useful product. And these companies are only buying because they’re also sucked in to the Web 2.0 hype, and they think they need some of that Ajaxy hawtness to justify their valuation multiples.

These comment systems are trying to exploit bloggers into sharing user data with them so they can because big all-powerful comment aggregators.  Perhaps they’re trying to take over MyBlogLog‘s market position?  If so, they’d better focus more on what they can offer the bloggers and less on what they can offer the commenters.

So stop it, guys. Let’s make products for people who really need them. And for God’s sake, don’t comment on this blog.