Tag Archives: Facebook

Facebook isn’t AOLifying the Internet, but Apple is

Gizmodo put out a post last week that gathered quite a bit of attention called Facebook is AOLifying the Internet–and That Sucks.  In it, the author concludes that Facebook’s never-ending quest to add features that keep people glued to their site means they are an aggregation of sub-par services that decrease the quality of our online lives.

It wants to be Netflix, it wants to be your Xbox, it wants to be Foursquare, it wants to be Gmail—Facebook wants to be the internet. Will you let it?

His argument is actually very much akin to the argument against “big box” department stores like Walmart and Target.  Supposedly the big stores are “evil” and we should be supporting local businesses because they have more heart and are better at specific things than the big box stores that don’t specialize.

However, the author misses the fact that Facebook, unlike AOL, is always looking for ways to go beyond its walls with Like buttons, comment widgets, and the rest of their social plugins.  It wants to enable your social interactions on Facebook.com and off of it.  They know they won’t control your Internet experience, but if they can make it richer, they can still provide value and give you a reason to keep coming back.  How many of us are thankful for Facebook Connect that keeps us from having to create new accounts on every site we go to?

AOL held its customers in a prison of AOL content and community, but Facebook knows that it can’t compete with third-party content, so they don’t even try.  They help their users find the third-party content that their friends are sharing, and that’s actually a pretty “open” thing to do.

A more viable comparison to AOL is actually Apple.  Even since the release of the iPod, Stevie Jobs has been working hard to lock people in to the iEcosystem.  If you have an iPod, you need iTunes and the iTunes Store.  You can’t just throw MP3s onto your iPod, you need iTunes.  If you want to buy MP3s online and put them on your iPod, it’s much easier through iTunes Store than through Amazon.  Ripping a CD you just bought?  Better do it with iTunes to make sure it works right.  When the iPhone rolled around with its App Store, our dependence on iTunes deepened even further.  Have an iPad?  All the same restrictions apply.

Apple knows they can’t truly lock down their platform, but if you have an iDevice, life is MUCH easier for you if you use it the way Stevie wants you to use it, that is, with the other iSoftware and iDevices that were designed for it.  If you want to play a file that’s in the wrong format or want to use a different music player on your computer or want to organize your media files yourself, suddenly you have to search for workarounds and hacks.  If you have an iPod/iPhone/iPad, it just works better if you use iTunes, and actually even if you use a Mac.  The Apple ecosystem is (almost) complete.  You can look even further at how Apple restricts the apps they allow in their App Store, but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.

You can fully complete your assimilation with the iEcosystem by subscribing to MobileMe, but so far this is where Apple has fallen down.  The services MobileMe offers are all available elsewhere on the Internet, for less money, so only the true Apple believers are on the platform.  I think Apple knows their offering isn’t strong enough here, but watch out: New reports like this one lead me to believe they are renovating MobileMe to become a tighter piece of the iEcosystem.  Once that’s up and running, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smooth experience with Apple devices require an iPod/Phone/Pad, iTunes, a Mac, AND a MobileMe account.  Starting to sound more AOLesque?

So while it’s not a perfect analogy, Apple wants to control your mobile, computing & media consumption experiences just as AOL wanted to control your online experience.  Apple’s platforms may not be completely closed, but they are certainly much easier to live with if you work within the iEcosystem.

None of this is to say that Apple’s products don’t deserve the success that they’ve seen.  They are excellent, forward-looking products, and for people who live within the iEcosystem, they perform admirably.  For those of us who have needs that go beyond the iEcosystem, life becomes difficult quickly.

And this is where I believe Apple’s strategy diverges from Facebook’s.  Facebook knows you’re going to consume content anywhere you find it, and they want to enable that and find ways to make it a richer experience for you.  Apple wants you to find content (media) in the places they recommend, and they want you to consume it using their devices.  Facebook wants to enable your online life, while Apple wants to BE your computing life.  This is by far the more AOLish strategy.

Social Games all the rage? Not so much

There’s a great article over at Search Engine Watch about how “Social Networks don’t Automatically Make Games Social.”  Despite all the recent hype over social gaming, most of the games we see on Facebook are really single-player games that have loose social ties, like high score lists among your friends.  Most of the “social” features are really just pyramid schemes (I’m looking at you, Farmville), like giving away in-game bonuses for inviting friends, but the game mechanics don’t involve real social interactions, and there usually isn’t even a chat room.

True social gaming on Facebook is still pretty rare, and with the complexity of building truly social games, we’ll probably have to wait a while still before they come to the fore.

Facebook and Foursquare can coexist

By now you’ve surely heard about the release of Facebook Places.  Many are calling this release the endFacebook Places on iPhone of Foursquare, which has been the market leader in mobile location-based apps so far, but I believe the two can coexist, just as they promised they would at the launch event on Wednesday.

The reason they can coexist is that their products are different and will therefore serve different markets.  Foursquare from its inception has been focused on making check-ins into a game by rewarding users with badges and “mayorships.”  Foursquare also helps people stay connected by pushing notifications when their friends check in near them, but I’ve found this feature to be annoying personally.  Often I’d find myself in the middle of something when I’d receive a check-in from a friend telling me they’re at a restaurant or something, which is rarely useful information.  Am I supposed to stop what I’m doing and drive across town?  Maybe this is more useful in small cities or for high school/college students whose friends aren’t quite as spread out.

Surely Foursquare will integrate coupons or some other Shopkick-style shopping features to make the service more useful, but it’ll likely always be focused on the gameplay aspects and on aggressively notifying friends of their friends’ whereabouts, making it attractive for a younger, constantly-connected demographic who will likely be very loyal and use it non-stop.

Facebook’s offering lines up nicely with their overall positioning – their check-ins are aimed at helping people connect with their friends, see where their friends are (or have been), and share their activities with those they care about.  The entire experience is more opt-in – if I want to see where my friends are, I can go look at the list – it isn’t always pinging me to tell me where people are.  When you post check-ins, they go straight to your Facebook feed, just like any other status update.  Once Facebook gets the privacy settings all worked out, it promises to be an elegant, less “always-on” approach to keeping friends connected.

Facebook also has the advantage of a larger installed base.  Most people have far more friends on Facebook than Foursquare, so it’s inherently more useful than Foursquare (although I could see kids using Foursquare specifically to avoid broadcasting their check-ins to their parents/relatives…)

Ultimately I think the debate is about “mainstream” location services, and “hardcore” location services.  Foursquare can continue to dominate the hardcore and can likely be very successful with it, but Facebook will own the masses.

Does Facebook sell out their own Terms of Service?

I spotted an interesting post last week on AllFacebook.com about a marketing campaign that JVC was running on their Facebook page.   Its headline promised to explain how JVC added “35,000 fans in 30 days” which is an eye-popping number for anyone who’s ever tried to drive traffic to a Facebook page.  Only the largest companies have more than 35,000 fans total, let alone added in 30 days, so of course I had to read on.

JVC Like It to Win ItJVC is holding a contest in which they give away one product each day to one of their fans on Facebook.  The contest requires people to do three things to enter:

  • “Like” the JVC USA fan page (fairly standard)
  • Submit their email address
  • “Like” a post on JVC’s wall that is dedicated to a JVC product for a chance to win that product (JVC posts a new product on the Wall every day)

As many astute readers of AllFacebook noticed, the last condition of entry is against Facebook’s Terms of Service.

4.2 In the rules of the promotion, or otherwise, you will not condition entry to the promotion upon taking any action on Facebook, for example, updating a status, posting on a profile or Page, or uploading a photo.  You may, however, condition entry to the promotion upon becoming a fan of a Page.

Seems pretty cut-and-dried, right?  Here’s where it gets interesting.  RMI, the marketing company that designed the promotion for JVC says Facebook explicitly gave them permission to run this promotion because they paid Facebook.  The article’s author, Dennis Yu, tries to clear up the confusion but ends up pouring fuel on the fire:

Were any advertiser to just start running a campaign as we did, that would clearly be against the Facebook TOS, as clearly stated in their contest rules. You have to have explicit permission from their team in advance and spend at least $10k.

We had approval at every step of the way from our Facebook rep– Blair Thomson-Levin– and we spent $25k.

The crew at AllFacebook.com later added a note to the article making clear that the promotion actually is against Facebook’s ToS, but as of today JVC is still running the promotion with no sign of slowing, so this would imply that Facebook does indeed condone the promotion.

Maybe I’m being too nitpicky?  Maybe Facebook should allow this promotion?  The problem with this sort of promotion is that it artificially inflates the “quality score” for JVCs posts, making them far more likely to show up in people’s friends’ feeds.  It breaks the whole “I liked this, so you might like it, too” model that Facebook has executed so well, and turns it into “I liked this because I was bribed, and a thousand other people were bribed, too, so here’s some spam on your wall.”  Not cool, guys.

So it appears that companies who can afford to fork out the cash to Facebook are allowed to buy their way past the Facebook Terms of Service.  This makes Facebook a much more effective marketing venue for wealthy companies than for startups, and could ultimately make it hard for them to compete at all.  Slimy?  Not a big deal?  Capitalism at its best?  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Note: I contacted Facebook’s Ad Support group asking them what it would take for me to run a campaign like this…no response yet.

How Facebook’s Open Graph will own identity and threaten Google

Facebook today announced some potentially ‘net-changing features they are releasing under the moniker Open Graph.  Open Graph replaces Facebook connect, or perhaps deprecates it if you like, making it easier for people to utilize their Facebook data within the context of other websites.  Sounds fancy, eh?  Let’s break it down into understandable examples:

open-graph-stream1Most prominently, websites can embed “Like” buttons on their pages, just as Facebook has on its activity feed items and various other pages around their site.  Website creators will embed these Like buttons because it lets their users publish links they like back to their Facebook feed with a single click – they don’t even need to sign in to the creator’s site, as long as they are already signed in on Facebook - free marketing for the website.

In addition to the Like tool, Facebook offers a variety of other “social plugins” to help site creators make their sites more social and more integrated with Facebook.   The Activity Feed lets users see what their friends are doing on the creator’s site.  Login with Faces shows a user which of their friends are already members of a site and prompts them to sign up with that site to connect with them.  Comments lets users comment on individual items on the creator’s site, and gives them a seamless option to post that comment back to Facebook as well.  All this without having to create an account on the creator’s site.  You get the picture.

Facebook = identity

The most significant immediate implication of Facebooks Open Graph is that site creators may no longer bother having their own registration systems at all, as FriendFeed founder Bret Taylor (now with Facebook) explained.  My interpretation is that Facebook wants to own identity on the web, and site creators are likely to step in line because Facebook has made it in their best interest. If creators adopt the tools, they get free marketing tools and a seamless experience for their users.  All they sacrifice is having to share their user data with Facebook.

Open Graph is easier to implement than Facebook Connect, and people can start interacting with sites immediately, no login required, which is great.   It appears that Facebook will share users’ “basic” information once they connect on a site, so creators get names, email addresses, genders, etc. – all the basic things they would ask for anyway.  Easy for the user, easy for me, everyone wins.

Especially Facebook.  Once Open Graph plugins become widespread, Facebook will know exactly what users are doing…all the time.  They’ll know what sites you visit, and they’ll know what things you Like on those sites.  Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  Big Brother Zuckerberg knows.

Spam bait

Interesting note for you privacy fans: it appears that any data you make public on your profile (which is most of it by default), including things and sites you like, will now be available to other sites so they can tailor their content to your tastes.  Cool? Yes.  Spooky? Yes.  Ripe for abuse? Most definitely.  While I don’t have a problem with this personally because I am pretty careful and sparing about what I share on Facebook, a lot of people are going to get stung, and spammers and direct marketers will try to abuse the system to deliver unsolicited ads.  I wish Facebook well, but this is going to be a hornet’s nest.

open-graph-profile

The data

Now for what I think is the real meat of all this: the data.  When site creators implement these Like buttons and other plugins, Facebook is encouraging them to tag their pages with specific types of common metadata that may be relevant:  image, name, location, email address, phone number, and “type” (e.g. sport, activity, restaurant, athlete, city, product, book, blog, website, etc.)  If creators take the time to tag their pages like this, then when their users “like” something, Facebook will know exactly what it is and can present it nicely within the Facebook context.

Think about this for a minute. Suddenly, one organization on the web has the ability to know what pages are about without having to crawl every page (and its backlinks) to figure it out.  Site creators are telling Facebook exactly what their pages are about using structured data.  Here is the quote from their Open Graph page that jumped right out at me:

Based on the structured data you provide via the Open Graph protocol, your pages show up richly across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.

Search results, eh?  Any page on my site that I tag with structured data can show up in Facebook search.  Facebook could presumably let their users filter the search so it’s for “actors” or “politicians” or “athletes” or whatever type of object.  They can search for activities, landmarks, restaurants near their current location…  This sounds an awful lot like Google, but with 1/100th of the effort that Google goes to when compiling their monstrous index of every page on the Internet.

Even better, all these links are ranked by humans.  Every “Like” button that we press makes this massive index of webpages and real-life offline things smarter.  This is getting impressively close to the holy grail of search: social search.  Not only is it vetted by humans, but it’s real-time – no need to wait for a crawler to poke around every corner of the web.  The best of Google search with the Best of Twitter search in one package.

Google is surely watching these development keenly, and probably wishing they had acquired Facebook back when they had the chance.  Microsoft is surely dancing a jig.  (Hey Stumbleupon: love you guys, but it’s time to pack up your bags and go home.)

If I was Google, I’d give an arm and a leg for all this data.  With Microsoft being a major investor in Facebook, don’t be surprised to see this data integrated into Bing in the not-too-distant future.

Google Buzz: Cool, but not a game-changer

Google BuzzFor several years now I’ve been lamenting the fact that social networks have been divorced from web mail.  Seems like a natural fit, right?  If you’re already logging into a site that knows who your friends are, why not help me keep in touch with those friends beyond the simple “send an email” option?

Some of you may remember that Yahoo has  been taking steps to integrate their web mail with social networking (and other daily tasks) for a while now.  Facebook wants to add mail to their social network.  Google decided to play catch up today and released Google Buzz, as covered really, really, really extensively by TechCrunch and others.

What is Google Buzz?  Imagine your Facebook feed interspersed with your email, and that’s pretty much it.  When one of your contacts updates her Google status, you’ll see it in your Gmail inbox, and you can comment on it, making it show up in her Gmail inbox again.  Adding a little jab at Foursquare, Google will also allow you to geo-tag these status updates, which makes perfect sense if you’re updating from a mobile device.

So it’s fun, it’s cool, but…it’s a couple years too late.  Most of us just finished building out our Facebook friends lists, and we have co-workers, classmates, and our parents on it now, so I don’t really need another way to announce my status updates to my contacts.  Will I use it?  Yeah, occasionally, but I have far more friends on Facebook than I have contacts on Gmail.  Not everyone uses Gmail, y’know?

This is not a new concept or a new feature, it’s just a more convenient tool for current Gmail users to keep their friends and family up-to-date.  Hopefully TechCrunch will stop flogging this as soon as the “buzz” dies down.

Yahoo finally understands the power of Mail, Google doesn’t

screenshot6Over the past few months, Yahoo has been quietly adding more and more features to their webmail solution, Yahoo Mail.  For three years (from the sidelines), I’ve been hoping they would do this, and finally it looks like they’re getting the message.  Perhaps it’s Carol Bartz’ leadership, I don’t know, but Yahoo is finally polishing and rebuilding the biggest weapon in their arsenal.

In the past few months, Yahoo Mail has added support for large attachments (via Drop.io), added various Facebook-like “apps” from companies like Evite, Flickr, and Paypal, and they acquired Xoopit to improve their photo sharing and sending abilities.  They even started allowing Facebook style “status casting” which is equivalent to the Facebook news feed, allowing people to keep track of what their friends and family are up to.

These moves show a new, long-overdue dedication to email.  Yahoo has 350 million email users worldwide, and they have finally realized that email is their Trojan horse that will let them cross-promote and upgrade users to all of their other media properties and services.  Everyone needs email, and very little innovation has happened in the email space in the last 15 years.  If Yahoo can innovate and make social networking and messaging readily accessible and imminently usable for their already enormous audience within an email context, they have a chance to create some major buzz and hold off the Facebooks of the world that are out to eat their lunch.  Just imagine if Facebook started offering actual email addresses – Yahoo would face a serious threat.  Yahoo already has massive reach, all they need to hold off Facebook are tools that let that massive audience connect with each other.

The biggest question I have is whether it is too late.  Gmail was integrated with its IM solution from Day 1, but Yahoo Mail still isn’t well tied to Yahoo Messenger.  Why weren’t my Yahoo Messenger contacts automatically added to my Mail address book so I can see my friends updates?  This is a huge oversight and has hamstrung adoption of the Yahoo news feeds and status updates, but I’m hopeful Yahoo will move to correct this.

Also interesting is that Yahoo is innovating on its email solution while Google is reinventing email entirely with Google Wave.  I haven’t had the chance to say this often, but Yahoo’s approach is right, and Google’s is wrong.  Google Wave is too innovative, too paradigm shifting to gain widespread adoption in the next few years, and unfortunately it’s the kind of product that isn’t worth anything until the people you’re communicating with use it too.  Yahoo, on the other hand, is innovating on email incrementally, making their interfaces more streamlined, and making ancillary features like attachments and photo sharing more native and intuitive.  If Yahoo can get the social piece right, too, they may start grabbing headlines with their features again rather than for their deal-making and constant games of executive musical chairs.

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.