Archive for the 'social computing' Category

Veokami is an awesome new concert video curating service

I’ve been in America now two years (wow!) and one of the best things that’s happened to me since moving here is being involved in the Aussie community of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley (which actually is filled with New Zealander’s as well!). I don’t know all the Aussies, but the ones I do know have entirely justified the life-changing decision I made to move to America: the combined economic impact this group have had and will have in the next decade on the Australian, Kiwi and US economy really is amazing.

So it’s exciting to see one of my good friends and upcoming entrepreneur’s in the group Brett Welch strike it out on his own with his startup Veokami. Chris Hartley and Brett have built this funky piece of technology that aggregates all the video taken from a concert. For example, hundreds of people will record a show with their camera phones now and some upload it to youtube. Veokami synthesises all these videos and puts them in a timeline, so that it not only will organise the songs in a timeseries order, but will put them parallel to the timeline with videos shown from a different perspective. It’s like watching a TV recording of the concert, with you being able to switch camera angles…except the difference is, all this video is automatically organised and the video comes from hundreds of amateur footage shared by the Internet.

Check the video below for a sneak peak. And please vote for them on the hacklolla challenge as I’d love to see this service get integrated into concerts around the world, which further enables the power of the Internet and computing to transform our lives. It’s tools like this that put more power in the hands of the consumer and that alone is a reason why we should be supporting startups like this.

The potential of this technology really is interesting when you consider any public organisation of people — from political rallies to conferences to parties — the ubiquity of mobile camera’s now is unleashing a new collective intelligence in our world and Veokami helps stitch that intelligence together in a curated way.

There’s something about you turntable.fm

Three weeks ago, Turntable.fm became the hype in the echo chamber. Like I do with everything, I’m been observing and reflecting on how it’s being used by other people and myself. In short, I like it. It’s such a simple idea that could further disrupt the traditional radio business.

What it is
For the uninitiated, it’s an an Internet radio station, with a quirky web page that people interact in. People either sit in the room bopping their heads (approving the music) or people put themselves in the DJ chair and compete against another 4 DJ’s for the best tunes according to the room theme.

Turntable: room

My first observation: Spotify will kill it. Or not.
While they appear to be completely different, I keep thinking about my Spotify experience a year ago when I was in Europe: I was hooked. And it was for the same reason — I could subscribe to a friends playlist (turntable I can follow a friend and hear when they play). The benefit is that I can get filtered serendipity and discovery, like how radio has done for decades. (For example, you may love a particular kind of music but have no idea what the latest tracks are or the time to curate playlists — but you have friends who do so would rather follow their enthusiasm.)

Turntable’s cool, but I keep thinking it’s Myspace and Spotify is Facebook. When Spotify launches in the US (rumoured to finally be this month), then turntable’s core value in providing this discovery will be replaced as Spotify is just an amazing service. But I’m not so sure about that now, as actually it might be away where playlists in Spotify get generated so it’s completely complementary.

My second observation: it’s competitive curation
In this explosion of social media, people are starting to appreciate the role editors played in the traditional media. Curated content is a skill that algorithms still can’t beat humans at (and actually, the best kinds are based off existing human preferences).

With Turntable, you select a room and sit there listening to the music. People compete for the “DJ” spot at the table (of which there are a maximum of 5). A chat room allows people in the room to chat like the old days of IRC and give direct feedback to the DJ’s or discuss music. The vote meter helps regulate the quality of music as high votes not only impact the DJ’s rating but down votes can cut the song being played and move onto the next DJ’s track.

This motivation to please the crowd means there is an active effort to curate the playlists into something worthwhile. That’s an interesting concept to consider, as playlists in past have tended to be done by people along without real consideration of others listening to it (or at least, real time feedback to consider it).

My third observation: it’s social, like the Athenian assembly social
Turntable: chatroom

I don’t fully understand why yet, but the chat room aspect is the most powerful component of the experience despite being the most subtle. While the voting mentioned in my second observation creates a motivation to enhance their DJ reputation by playing good music, the chatroom makes this curation directly in touch with the audience.

It’s like a democracy, where those representing and controlling the room’s music are actually completely dependent on the goodwill of the audience. The voting is the main way this is enforced, but the chatroom is where people will negotiate. Games will be determined where certain patterns in music will be played; feedback of bad songs will be given to DJ’s; and requests will be sent. It’s like a radio station completely accountable to its audience.

Like Twitter, the service will evolve based on these discussions. Some of Twitter’s most useful features like @ replying (which turned it into a communications tool) and hashtags (which turned into into a information resource) were invented and popularised by their most passionate users. Turntable.fm offers a similar utility around music and I think will evolve in a similar way. Like any startup, it’s hard to know where turntable.fm will be in six months time, but one things for sure: it’s sticky and it’s only going to get better.

Platform growth over user privacy

Facebook announced that data about yourself (like your phone number) would now be shared with applications. Since the announcement, they’ve backed down (and good work to ReadWriteWeb for raising awareness of this).

I’ve been quoted in RWW and other places as saying the following:

“Users should have the ability to decide upfront what data they permit, not after the handshake has been made where both Facebook and the app developer take advantage of the fact most users don’t know how to manage application privacy or revoke individual permissions,” Bizannes told the website. “Data Portability is about privacy-respecting interoperability and Facebook has failed in this regard.”

Let me explain what I mean by that:

This first screenshot is what users can do with applications. Facebook offers you the ability to manage your privacy, where you even have the ability to revoke individual data authorisations that are not considered necessary. Not as granular as I’d like it (my “basic information” is not something I share equally with “everyone”, such as apps who can show that data outside of Facebook where “everyone” actually is “everyone”), but it’s a nice start.

http:__www.facebook.com_settings_?tab=applications

This second screenshot, is what it looks like when you initiate the relationship with the application. Again, it’s great because of the disclosure and communicates a lot very simply.
Request for Permission

But what the problem is, is that the first screenshot should be what you see in place of the second screenshot. While Facebook is giving you the ability to manage your privacy, it is actually paying lipservice to it. Not many people are aware that they can manage their application privacy, as it’s buried in a part of the site people seldom use.

The reason why Facebook doesn’t offer this ability upfront is for a very simple reason: people wouldn’t accept apps. When given a yes or no option, users think “screw it” and hit yes. But what if they did this handshake, they were able to tick off what data they allowed or didn’t allow? Why are all these permissions required upfront, when I can later deactivate certain permissions?

Don’t worry, its not that hard to answer. User privacy doesn’t help with revenue revenue growth in as much as application growth which creates engagement. Being a company, I can’t blame Facebook for pursuing this approach. But I do blame them when they pay lipservice to the world and they rightfully should be called out for it.

The new magazine

The Facebook homescreen is a remarkable thing. I just saw a video of a friend throwing food at birds; relatives taking pictures of themselves in a hot tub; a link to a mind-expanding article; and a status message that made me laugh. It made me think: the homescreen is the new magazine.

Sure, we can be simplistic with this and say lots of pictures and content makes thee a magazine. But what strikes me as fascinating is how much personal content is shared. People’s thoughts, insight into their lives, and the real-time autobiographical dictation by our “friends”. It makes me think of the fascination people have with celebrities, and how gossip magazines are some of the highest grossing of their kind. The same phenomenon is being exploited here — which is people want to know more about people they know. While with celebrities you could potentially say people do it due to a fixation on celebrity status and looks, I would argue the reason gossip magazines are so popular is due to the curiousity into the lives of people who are familiar. People would be equally fascinated with a magazine about celebrities as a magazine of their neighbours, if it was practical.

It’s almost like Facebook’s homescreen is the new media version of a publication. But of your friends. And like a glossy magazine. Of original content from otherwise hard-to-obtain situations.

Or more practically speaking, like a gossip magazine of your neighbours.

Delicious will go down as one of the great tragedies

As Marshall Kirkpatrick eloquently wrote, I’m also another person disappointed that Yahoo! is shutting down Delicious, the social bookmarking site that helped generate the Web 2.0 trend. But this reflects a deeper problem at Yahoo.

How Yahoo’s spreadsheets miss the point
As a “heavy” user myself, it may be ironic to say that I never visit the site; I often will not bookmark a site for month’s. And yet, it hits me like a shot to the heart to hear that it will be shut down. Why? Because it’s so valuable to me. The amount of times I’ve been able to rediscover content I’ve previously read has alone made it valuable — the tagging innovation that Del.icio.us pioneered makes my search for hard-to-recall content much more efficient. But there was even a time, where the most popular links of delicious were my homepage: the quality of the content being shared justified my daily attention in the same way other aggregators have to me like how techmeme.com have.

In fact, I’ve recently rediscovered this as I experiment with the Rockmelt browser, and I check the most popular links via the widget on the side of my browser.

Delicious via Rockmelt

But notice how I don’t visit the website? I might see what links are popular, but that doesn’t mean I will click on them. I don’t visit the actual delicious website and so the metrics the Yahoo management are reviewing are skewed. If advertising is on the site (the only type of revenue model attempted), it would not convert much. They believe no one is using the service, but the truth is, they are.

I never thought the “network” operating model could suffer due to the fact metrics measuring value can’t be quantified. So it’s completely reasonable why a Yahoo management team thinks it time to shut down this service: low on traffic, low on revenue. Numbers in the spreadsheet say this is a loss: let’s kill it, says the MBA.

What we have here though is a management team who not only are out of touch with how people use delicious (potentially because they don’t get the vision that only the founder truly gets — and he’s long gone), but more important, completely misunderstand how to capture the value of this valuable asset (not property). As a point in comparison, Yahoo acquired the other Web2.0 darling Flickr, which is a service I also have been using for over 5 years. And when I say using, I mean a paying customer that has paid his subscription without hesitation every year (which I will note, there are not many services I pay for which makes this even more impressive). Like Delicious, I store data with Flickr that I may not use for a while — but the way it manages my data has become an invaluable tool for my life.

I worry more about Yahoo and any company it acquires
Yahoo’s management should have implemented a subscription model like Flickr, because it’s obvious that a “book marking” site will never get a lot of a traffic (you can book mark sites without having to need to visit delicious.com). Tools like this don’t make money from traffic; and network business models like this generate value beyond the confines of the web property.
With the news breaking, it will now force an action. Either sell it to people who have now seen their cards (in fact, I’ve had friends of mine not in tech ask me how can they put an offer for this!), open-source it (like how Google reacted when etherpad was going to be shut down), or shut it down as they said they want to and lose the opportunity to capture its value. Of course, they could publicly announce they won’t shut it down, but everyone now knows what they think and it will kill the service due to new users being paranoid about their data. Yahoo! gains nothing with this.

But the sad thing about this, is that it’s forced them to ignore the opportunity of potentially being more innovative with the revenue model. And because they failed to do this, this impacts the company more generally — monetisation is key to sustainability and if you have a management that can’t do that (which presumably, is the reason it’s being shut down), then there’s something even more wrong with this new age media company that as Jeff Jarvis has called, has become the last old-media company.

Yahoo is an amazing company, and companies need to make tough decisions sometimes to grow the company. But not understanding the potential of Delicious will go down in web history as one of the great tragedies — and if Yahoo sells it, one of its biggest blunders.

Update: And just as I clicked “save” on this post, the Delicious blog posted saying they are now going to “sell” it as it’s not a strategic fit, which as I mentioned in my post was one of the likely outcomes. So if it’s not a strategic fit, it begs the question again, what is Yahoo?

Manipulating numbers that don’t mean anything

Erick Schonfeld wrote a post today saying all the hoopla over Facebook’s privacy isn’t justified. I disagree for two reasons.

1) Awareness.
When Facebook announced their new changes, I tweeted why the hell no one was complaining. Chris Saad and I then wrote one of the first (if not the first) posts that criticised the Facebook move. CNN referenced our post and the entire industry has now gone over the top complaining.

Why didn’t anyone from the major blogs critique the announcement immediately? Why the time lag? For the simple fact there wasn’t awareness – people hadn’t thought about it deeply. And to validate my point, check this recent exchange with a friend in Iran when I asked him how the people of Iran felt about the changes. He had no idea, and when he found out – he got annoyed.

2) The monopoly effect
I love Facebook as a service. But I will also admit, nothing compares to it – I love it for the sole fact it’s the best at what it does. If there was genuine competition with the company, that offered a compelling alternative – I wouldn’t feel as compelled to use it. They win me over due to great technology and user experience, but I’m not loyal to them because of that.

I think Facebook has some security right now because no one is in their class. But they will be matched one day, and I think the reaction would be very different. Rather than tolerate it, people would move away. And whilst Facebook can lock my data and think they own me like I’m their slave, the reality is my data is useless with time – what they need is permanent access to me, and to have that, they need to ensure my relationships with them is permanently ahead of the curve.

The best feature Facebook didn’t invent that it should invent now

Around 9.15pm last night after my first rugby training for the year (and in America), I sat down at the bus stop right by the football field, to catch a bus home. Playing on my iPhone, I noticed a woman walk past me and then run back. That’s weird I thought and it raised my awareness levels. Then, I noticed a hooded black kid approach the bus shelter from the back and entering from the left. I watched him turn and saw his arm raise with his jacket covering his hand. A second later, he pointed a gun right into the left temple of my head and mumbled: “ok man, hand it over”.

Luckily, I got away with my wallet, phone – and life – in tact. (I stood up, roared abuse at him, and he ran away – don’t ask why I did what I did, but it worked!) Minutes later, I shared the news on my Facebook account:

Gun pulled to my head - status.

And I received a flood of comments, phone-calls and text messages over the next 24 hours. No ‘likes’ however.

The like feature
Friendfeed, a startup Facebook acquired last year, pioneered social media in the way people could collaborate and share information. One of its most brilliant innovations was the ‘like’ feature – the ability for a user reading something, to acknowledge the content being shared by another user. Rating systems are a hard thing to get right, and its been said by YouTube that the standard five-star rating systems are actually not quite five stars. Friendfeed’s simple but elegant approach took a life of its own as a rating mechanism and more. Facebook implemented the feature, and I’ve been observing how my social circle have reacted to it – and I’ve been startled at the way its been used. Just like the unique culture Friendfeed built, encouraged by this simple ‘liking’ activity, so to has Facebook’s users developed a unique kinds of behaviour. I’d argue its become one of the key forms of activity on the site.

Australia trip like

So congrats Facebook – you copied a feature and your users love it. Now how about you evolve this remarkably simple form of communication, which has become a powerful way to have people share information (as it flags value, quantifies a kind of engagement and adds an additional level of communication to the originating message). How about a dislike feature? Do you think people would use that?

My friend Marty responded to my gun incident with the following:

Facebook | dislike button

And he wasn’t the only one. My Friend Kyle, who responded first, said:

Facebook | dislike by kyle

Despite being an engaging piece of content and popping up on my friend’s homescreens, there were no ‘likes’. It just didn’t seem appropriate. But just like when you can’t speak a foreign language fluently but want to communicate a message, the lack of this feature prevented additional communication.

Facebook | dislike button placed here

Social media is here to stay and is having a remarkable impact on our word. If by definition its about connecting people and communicating with each other, let’s evolve the way they can express their thoughts beyond simply text. It’s going to lead to a more interactive, engaging, and a far richer experience. This post may seem trivial because it’s like advocating we create a new word to communicate a frivolous concept, but like language, we gain a type of richness in the diversity we have to express ourselves.

Social media and that whole “friend” thing

Social media, is being killed not by fail whales , but social awkwardness. Facebook as a simple example – is everyone you add there really your "friend"? What’s a "friend", what ‘group’ do I put them in…it’s all very stressful. However bring into the mix social media services (sites where people collaborate, share content, discuss openly) and this stress becomes a real pain in the arse.
Twitter for example – you get alerts when people post a message. What happens when there is someone you know in real life, you are friendly with, but their Twitter stream is verbal diarrhoea? You force yourself to subscribe to them, because the social awkwardness matters more to you. Or Friendfeed, where people share links – it’s even worse. I would even go on to say it makes the service unusable.
Enter Google Reader, the tool I use to consume my online information habit. There is a feature that determines who e-mails you, and if they use Google Reader and share links, will come up along with your other subscriptions. It’s become such a valuable thing for me, that I now focus my attention on clearing items there ahead of my other few dozen subscriptions. The reason being, it’s the benefit of social media services without the social awkwardness.
Take Chris Saad, who was on my list. I didn’t like the things he shared – movie reviews – so I hid him. Up until now when a Google blog search will notify him (I expect him to find this and respond within 6 hours of posting this – watch!), he probably didn’t even know. However, if I was to unsubscribe from him on something like Twitter – he’d work it out – and say "dude, what’s the deal?". Because an inherent value of social media is that it’s collaborative communication; it’s just that too much communication from too many people can become more noise than signal.
This new age of mass collaboration is a massive thing, that I don’t think even the early adopters driving it, realise what’s happening. It’s the future of media – the fact people I know and trust will suggest articles, is the same human-powered recommendations the mass media have been doing -but so much more efficient, relevant and better.
And yet, Google Reader in its simplicity does it best – it’s almost like a secret. Mike Cannon-Brookes probably doesn’t even realise I track his shared links, but I love them because he reads a lot of RSS feeds on diverse subjects that interest me. Likewise, Kate Carruthers has such a diverse reading list I feel like I can whittle down my RSS subscriptions which stress me from having too much, and just get fed from her the good stuff.
Am I showing up in their field? Who knows. And quite frankly, who cares. I know I do for Brady Brim De-Forest, because he’s re-shared stuff I shared that I doubt he subscribes to (at least then). But that doubt detracts the fact it doesn’t matter. It’s a secret club – I go about clicking the "share" button for good content I come across, thinking perhaps someone follows them and would appreciate it. There’s no feedback mechanism, other than seeing other people encouraged to do the same. And this is the first time I’ve ever discussed the club openly. I think it exists. Maybe it doesn’t. But damn, it rocks.

Analysing the user experience from two social networking sites

Yet again, MySpace has e-mailed me a useless e-mail that frustrates me more than it gives me value . But what I noticed recently, was another social networking site, taking a different approach.

geni

Whereas MySpace is simply alerting me, which is forcing me to painfully log into their service, Geni is actually alerting me the information without me having to take another action.

A few points of reflection on this:
1) Using my business analysis on the consumer Internet , MySpace is offering a content model (hypermedia is how I referred to this in my post) whereas Geni is offering a Utility computing product. Both these businesses consider themselves "social networking" sites and yet both offer a different product model.
2) This also highlights two different business models: MySpace is a platform whilst Geni is working on a network model. Meaning, MySpace’s business model is premised on you visiting them for you to get value; Geni’s isn’t. To be perfectly honest, both MySpace and Geni are irrelevant for me. However platforms can come and go, but network models always stick around. As irrelevant Geni is to me, I still value it – a network business strategy (meaning you follow the user, rather than expecting them to come) builds a long term relationship.
3) Social networking sites when it’s the core product, work best as utility services and not a content business. Look at what a different user experience it is for me, because I can get benefit from my Geni account despite not having to log in. Although I am not giving them pageviews, I am giving them my attention which is translating into greater brand equity for them. When you treat social networking as a content business, this distorts the service offered to users, as misaligned business views on generating revenue drive strategy in a way that is harmful to the consumer ie, I feel like saying "f**k off" whenever I see those e-mails for MySpace . But "thank-you" to Geni.

The main point I want to get at though, is that the user experience is just as important when the user is not on the site as it is when they are on the site. People shy away from the recently-recognised network model of business, because they don’t get the same traffic. I say embrace it, because the market will eventually correct itself to recognise this is a superior type of strategy.

Facebook users: more and more in just four months

I am currently doing some research for an analyst report at work, and I thought I might update my November findings of how many Facebook users there are.

The total is within the ballpark figures of total users (Mix08 panel indicates around 65million from memory) so listing seems fairly complete, with maybe less than million missing for small countries not listed.

I found some of the results impressive, especially given the user growth in less than four months- even in countries like the US and Australia which I’d thought would be peaking. Sweden appears to have a bit of Facebook fatigue with canceled accounts, and looks like fundamentalist Saudia Arabia has a bigger userbase then tech-savvy Russians showing.

facebook users march08 update