Tag Archive for 'e-mail'

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.

How to piss your customers off – a lesson courtesy from eBay

I get e-mails from companies. Sometimes I request it; but on the whole I always tick the option “please do NOT send me promotional material”. So when I receive e-mails from companies, I give them the benefit of the doubt that it was my error, although this is being extremely generous because I know I never allow them to send communications above what I need. The fact I am getting an e-mail from them already has me tense.

So if a company is going to send me promotional e-mails, I expect courtesy because they are taking up my time. Note to companies about how not to do it:

ebay

“…to change your communication preferences, log into eBay…” and click through the barrage of poor usability options to find that hidden box that allows you to stop being spammed. After all, a one click unsubscribe option or even a link of where you need to go makes it more likely that you would unsubscribe so we adopt of model of trying to discourage you, because we know most people haven’t got the effort to action and would rather delete it than remove the sending from the source. Hey, marking us as ‘spam’ or deleting each incoming e-mail is a better option because the more numbers we have on our mailing list as ‘receiving’ the more it makes the marketing director feel all warm and fuzzy that we have distribution outlets for campaigns, even though we know you don’t read them.

“Please note it may take us up to 10 business days to process your request” because it takes 10 microseconds to technologically do so but we are a bunch of losers who are going to hope you forgot you tried un-subscribing and will send follow up e-mails in that time hoping to win you back, because we refuse to accept we screwed up and have ruined our relationship with you”.

Search, email and wikis are the catalysts for innovation

A colleague added me to their network of trust on spock, one of the new people search engines, and so I had a play around. Spock and its competitors have come about on the premise that a large amount of search engine traffic is purely due to people: about 7% of all searches are for a person’s name, estimates search engine Ask.com. One percent of the search market is estimated to be worth a billion dollars, so this is a significant market opportunity.

Now take a step back into my mind this year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about e-mail this past year: first as I explained to people why wikis and blogs are a better way to collaborate than via e-mail; and more recently, as I prepare a whitepaper for January 2008 proposing we replace using e-mail for our corporate communications with RSS. E-mail is the default tool at my firm and its opened up doors to do things we couldn’t do before, but it’s also why we have e-mail overload, as e-mail wasn’t designed to do this.

Can you now see something I am noticing? Established general technologies like search and e-mail – now being replaced by more specific functions. Some would say you are defining a previously unrecognised niche. That is afterall, what is means to be an entrepreneur.

Traditional Search and traditional e-mail are powerful tools. People over-use them to do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do before. As these general tools were adopted, people could experiment and push boundary’s in ways the inventors of the technologies never thought before. And bam – that’s why we have a love hate relationship with e-mail; and why search has become the default industry underlying the web economy. They are doing something we now need; but because they weren’t invented to deal with that specific need, it is more like a blunt tool being used when all is needed is a glass pick.

Innovation is coming
I’ve been told repeatedly that technology should not drive strategy. I agree to some extent. However, I’ve also proved the management at my firm wrong on that point by results. When I proposed a firm wiki, and it was approved, it was taken as a risk. All I needed was that gateway to get in behind the door, and just let it do its magic. I have witnessed first hand when you give people a wiki – or probably better said a mashup enabler – you will see them take to it because they can now do things they never imagined. A general tool like the wiki in its freedom to manipulate the structure, has allowed staff members to create new ways of satisfying their painpoints. Technology should not drive strategy – I agree. But one thing I am convinced of, is that you need to just drop a technology onto a userbase, and let them experiment. Give them the potential to do something – things you never thought they needed – and watch them take to it like honey to a bee. Technology can help drive innovation through (accidental) imagination, which in turn can drive strategy

How does this link with innovation? MacManus has lamented on the lack of innovation on the web. I’m thinking something else. As these general technology tools have been adopted by people, new niches are being discovered. As I responded to MacManus’s article: the guy that invented the wheel was brilliant; but the guy that attached another three was a genius.

Think innovation on the web is dead? I think it’s just starting.

Pageview’s are a misleading metric

Recently MySpace, the social networking site that once dominated but is now being overtaken by Facebook, sent me an e-mail informing me that a friend of mine had a birthday. What is unusual, is that although I have received notifications of this type when I had logged into the site, I had never been e-mailed.

Below is a copy of the e-mail, and lets see if you notice what I did:
birthdayreminder

It doesn’t tell me whose birthday it is. In fact, it is even ambiguous as to whether it was just the one person or not. Big deal? Not really. But it very clearly tells me something: MySpace is trying to increase its pageviews.

Social networking sites are very useful services to an individual; they enable a person to manage and monitor their personal networks. Not only am I in touch with so many people I lost contact with, but I am in the loop with their lives. I may not message them, but by passive observation, I know what everyone is up to. Things like what they’re studying, where they work, what countries they will be holidaying in, and useful things like when they have their birthday.

Social networking sites are not just a website, but an information service, to help you manage your life. However as useful as I find these services, the revenue model is largely dependent on advertising, with premium features a rare thing now. So when you rely on advertising, you are going to be looking at ways of boosting the key figures that determine that revenue stream.

Friendster’s surprising growth in May was due to some clever techniques of using e-mail, to drive pageviews. And it worked. E-mail notifications, when done tactfully, can drive a huge amount of activity. Of the what seems like hundreds of web services I have joined, e-mail at times is the only way for me to remember I even subscribed to it once upon a time. Combine e-mail with information I want to be updated with, and you’ve got a great recipe for using e-mail as a tool to drive page views.

…And that is the problem. MySpace has very cleverly sent this e-mail to get me to log into my account. A marketing campagn like that will at the very least, see a good day in pageview growth. But the reason I am logging in, is just so I can see whose birthday it is. Myspace now to me is irrelevant: those pageviews attributed to me are actually, not one of an engaged user.

Pageviews as a metric for measuring audience engagement is prone to manipulation. Increases in pageviews on the face of it, make a website appear more popular. But in reality, dig a little deeper and the correlation for what really matters (audience engagement) is not quite on par.

So everyone, repeat after me: Pageviews – we need to drop them as a concept if we are ever going to make progress.

Facebook’s privacy is smart on technology but stupid in thought

I’ve had to neglect this blog because I have been insanely busy with work and my studies, and will continue to do so for the rest of the year. But I thought I’d post a quick observation I made today, that I found interesting. Even more interesting, because I rarely notice details!

Whenever Facebook notifies you of an e-mail – like for example when a friend messages you – it will actually show you their e-mail. An example is in the screen shot below, which would enable me to click ‘reply’ to their e-mail and it would go directly to their personal e-mail. (I’ve noticed however, that this will only occur if you have already added the person as a friend.)

direct e-mail

This raises some interesting issues regarding privacy. The first being, why the heck is Facebook allowing this? Am I going to reply to my friends asking them what did they say in the message?! Privacy is my right to determine when people can see information about me when I want to – and I don’t want my friends seeing my e-mail. I can think of an example when a friend collected my e-mail from my profile, and adding me to a forward list of chain e-mails. Unlike the postal system for snail mail, where people pay for sending me a message with a stamp, e-mail forces the user to pay when they receive a message through their time. Before I didn’t have a choice, but now with new ways of communicating, I can control what gets sent to me.

This actually is a bit deeper. I’ve seen fake profiles friend request me – I always deny people I don’t know, but I know that lots of my friends usually add people blindly (I remember asking a friend who a friend requester was when I noticed she was a mutual friend with him, to which he replied: “No idea, but she’s hot!”). This now just became a very easy way to obtain someones e-mail – certainly, not as easy as harvesting e-mails from a public facing website, but still another means. The concerns however is not spam but identity threats.

A crucial thing to understand about privacy, is the concept of identifiable data. Corporations can collect data about me until their heart is content and I wouldn’t mind- but only on the basis they can’t specifically identify me. An e-mail address is what I regard as identifiable information: the e-mail I use on various web services that hold different data about me, can be easily linked purely through my e-mail address.

I’ve previously said how social networking sites are a new type of communications, that are far better than e-mail. E-mail is one of the worlds most powerful technologies but also one of the most dangerous. Whilst most would think it is because of e-mail overload and spam, what I really mean is how a single e-mail address can do so much damage if used by someone trying to investigate you and your life.

As our digital world becomes more sophisticated (and scary), lets be clear of some things. People no longer need e-mail to contact you; they can instead contact your ‘identity’ which is far superior (I discussed this in the posting I linked to just above). However with this advancement, also comes the opportunity to regard what your e-mail address really is: a key piece of identifiable data that can link your multiple identity’s across the digital world into one mega profile.

Explaining APML: what it is & why you want it

Lately there has been a lot of chatter about APML. As a member of the workgroup advocating this standard, I thought I might help answer some of the questions on people’s minds. Primarily – “what is an APML file”, and “why do I want one”. I suggest you read the excellent article by Marjolein Hoekstra on attention profiling that she recently wrote, if you haven’t already done so, as an introduction to attention profiling. This article will focus on explaining what the technical side of an APML file is and what can be done with it. Hopefully by understanding what APML actually is, you’ll understand how it can benefit you as a user.

APML – the specification
APML stands for Attention Profile Markup Language. It’s an attention economy concept, based on the XML technical standard. I am going to assume you don’t know what attention means, nor what XML is, so here is a quick explanation to get you on board.

Attention
There is this concept floating around on the web about the attention economy. It means as a consumer, you consume web services – e-mail, rss readers, social networking sites – and you generate value through your attention. For example, if I am on a Myspace band page for Sneaky Sound System, I am giving attention to that band. Newscorp (the company that owns MySpace) is capturing that implicit data about me (ie, it knows I like Electro/Pop/House music). By giving my attention, Newscorp has collected information about me. Implicit data are things you give away about yourself without saying it, like how people can determine what type of person you are purely off the clothes you wear. It’s like explicit data – information you give up about yourself (like your gender when you signed up to MySpace).

Attention camera

I know what you did last Summer

XML
XML is one of the core standards on the web. The web pages you access, are probably using a form of XML to provide the content to you (xHTML). If you use an RSS reader, it pulls a version of XML to deliver that content to you. I am not going to get into a discussion about XML because there are plenty of other places that can do that. However I just want to make sure you understand, that XML is a very flexible way of structuring data. Think of it like a street directory. It’s useless if you have a map with no street names if you are trying to find a house. But by having a map with the street names, it suddenly becomes a lot more useful because you can make sense of the houses (the content). It’s a way of describing a piece of content.

APML – the specification
So all APML is, is a way of converting your attention into a structured format. The way APML does this, is that it stores your implicit and explicit data – and scores it. Lost? Keep reading.

Continuing with my example about Sneaky Sound System. If MySpace supported APML, they would identify that I like pop music. But just because someone gives attention to something, that doesn’t mean they really like it; the thing about implicit data is that companies are guessing because you haven’t actually said it. So MySpace might say I like pop music but with a score of 0.2 or 20% positive – meaning they’re not too confident. Now lets say directly after that, I go onto the Britney Spears music space. Okay, there’s no doubting now: I definitely do like pop music. So my score against “pop” is now 0.5 (50%). And if I visited the Christina Aguilera page: forget about it – my APML rank just blew to 1.0! (Note that the scoring system is a percentage, with a range from -1.0 to +1.0 or -100% to +100%).

APML ranks things, but the concepts are not just things: it will also rank authors. In the case of Marjolein Hoekstra, who wrote that post I mention in my intro, because I read other things from her it means I have a high regard for her writing. Therefore, my APML file gives her a high score. On the other hand, I have an allergic reaction whenever I read something from Valleywag because they have cooties. So Marjolein’s rank would be 1.0 but Valleywag’s -1.0.

Aside from the ranking of concepts (which is the core of what APML is), there are other things in an APML file that might confuse you when reviewing the spec. “From” means ‘from the place you gave your attention’. So with the Sneaky Sound System concept, it would be ‘from: MySpace’. It’s simply describing the name of the application that added the implicit node. Another thing you may notice in an APML file is that you can create “profiles”. For example, the concepts about me in my “work” profile is not something I want to mix with my “personal” profile. This allows you to segment the ranked concepts in your APML into different groups, allowing applications access to only a particilar profile.

Another thing to take note of is ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ which I touched on above – implicit being things you give attention to (ie, the clothes you wear – people guess because of what you wear, you are a certain personality type); explicit being things you gave away (the words you said – when you say “I’m a moron” it’s quite obvious, you are). APML categorises concepts based on whether you explicitly said it, or it was implicitly determined by an application.

Okay, big whoop – why can an APML do for me?
In my eyes, there are five main benefits of APML: filtering, accountability, privacy, shared data, and you being boss.

1) Filtering
If a company supports APML, they are using a smart standard that other companies use to profile you. By ranking concepts and authors for example, they can use your APML file in the future to filter things that might interest you. As I have such a high ranking for Marjolein, when Bloglines implements APML, they will be able to use this information to start prioritising content in my RSS reader. Meaning, of the 1000 items in my bloglines reader, all the blog postings from her will have more emphasis for me to read whilst all the ones about Valleywag will sit at the bottom (with last nights trash).

2) Accountability
If a company is collecting implicit data about me and trying to profile me, I would like to see that infomation thank you very much. It’s a bit like me wearing a pink shirt at a party. You meet me at a party, and think “Pink – the dude must be gay”. Now I am actually as straight as a doornail, and wearing that pink shirt is me trying to be trendy. However what you have done is that by observation, you have profiled me. Now imagine if that was a web application, where this happens all the time. By letting them access your data – your APML file – you can change that. I’ve actually done this with Particls before, which supports APML. It had ranked a concept as high based on things I had read, which was wrong. So what I did, was changed the score to -1.0 for one of them, because that way, Particls would never show me content on things it thought I would like.

3) Privacy
I joined the APML workgroup for this reason: it was to me a smart away to deal with the growing privacy issue on the web. It fits my requirements about being privacy compliant:

  • who can see information about you
  • when can people see information about you:
  • what information they can see about you

The way APML does that is by allowing me to create ‘profiles’ within my APML file; allowing me to export my APML file from a company; and by allowing me to access my APML file so I can see what profile I have.

drivers

Here is my APML, now let me in. Biatch.

4) Shared data
An APML file can, with your permission, share information between your web-services. My concepts ranking books on Amazon.com, can sit alongside my RSS feed rankings. What’s powerful about that, is the unintended consequences of sharing that data. For example, if Amazon ranked what my favourite genres were about books – this could be useful information to help me filter my RSS feeds about blog topics. The data generated in Amazon’s ecosystem, can benefit me and enjoy a product in another ecosystem, in a mutually beneficial way.

5) You’re the boss!
By being able to generate APML for the things you give attention to, you are recognising the value your attention has – something companies already place a lot of value on. Your browsing habits can reveal useful information about your personality, and the ability to control your profile is a very powerful concept. It’s like controlling the image people have of you: you don’t want the wrong things being said about you. 🙂

Want to know more?
Check the APML FAQ. Othersise, post a comment if you still have no idea what APML is. Myself or one of the other APML workgroup members would be more than happy to answer your queries.

Half the problem has been solved with time spent

On Thursday, I attended the internal launch of the Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook for 2007-2011. It was an hour packed with interesting analysis, trends, and statistics across a dozen industry segments. You can leave a comment on my blog if you are interested in purchasing the report and I’ll see if I can arrange it for you.

One valuable thing briefly mentioned, was the irony of online advertising.
Continue reading ‘Half the problem has been solved with time spent’

Pricks

If you don’t have a valid e-mail, Facebook forces you to verify it, before it removes those annoying CAPTCHA boxes.It’s a pretty standard thing for websites to do this.

Now, it’s telling me, I have to verify my mobile phone number – even though I have been regularly using the service for eight months.

bastards

This is not about verifying my identity – it’s about forcing me to give up my personal information. Bastards.

Social networks as the new e-mail

The other day, I received my first spam message within Facebook, which I thought was reminiscent of the Nigerian scam

Please if you are reliable and Interested in been a commissioned rep with our company we will be glad but you have to be a Trustworthy person. We have sold out to major galleries and private collectors from few parts of the world. We have been facing serious difficulties when it comes to the payment method, i.e The international money transfer tax for legal entities (companies) in Latvia is 25%, whereas for the individual it is only 7%.There is no sense for us to work this way, while tax for international money transfer made by a private individual is 7% .That's why we need you! Branches have been set up in few countries,and the head branch in UK.we are working on setting up a branch in the states, so for now i need a representative in Canada, America,Asia,New Zealand,and Europe who will be handling the payment aspect. so all you need do is cash the Payment,deduct your percentage and wire the rest back.</p> <p>JOB DESCRIPTION? 1. Receive payment from Clients 2. Cash Payments at your Bank 3. Deduct 10% which will be your percentage/pay on Payment processed. 4. Forward balance after deduction of percentage/pay to any of the offices you will be contacted to send payment to(Payment is to be forwarded either by Money Gram or Western Union Money Transfer).

But unlike spam I would get in my e-mail inbox, I could actually check the profile of the user that sent the message to me. It was empty and a dud – which is how I could assess it was spam. Spam through a closed social networking site like Facebook has very different implications to e-mail spam: it’s accountable.

Unlike e-mail spam, you don’t know who is sending it. Sometimes, the e-mail spammers can make it look like it comes from a certain company you trust (like your bank). This also to some extent happens on myspace, whereby spammers do up their profile and deceivingly make it look like a real profile when it isn’t (ie, a pretty girl with her interests filled out – but as soon as you click somewhere, it takes you to a porn referral site). Facebook is different, because people can’t modify their profiles (yet) like you can on myspace, so the person sending the message is a lot more accountable to their true identity. You can judge how real they are by the amount of friends they have, information in their profile, and postings on their profile from other people.

Profile comments are the key aspect – no comments, suggests a fake account – because you can’t fake friends to post real discussions. A spammer would need to create a few dozen profiles, to replicate the thread of discussion via peoples profiles, so that it could make someones profile look “real”: that’s a lot of effort that a computer robot can’t do on it’s own.

A new way of communicating

Aside from this, there is something more interesting: I rarely use e-mail to communicate with friends anymore. Messages or comments/wallposts are now the new way of how people communicate. In the old days, people would forward a funny video – now they “post a bulletin”. People post “notes” and tag their friends if they are mentioned in the note – a bit like writing a story, and alerting those who are involved to have a look. It’s the equivilant to sending an e-mail to a group of people – but leaving it somewhere where all your other friends can have a read as well if they want. That is huge – this open style of communication is something e-mail never did.

I’ve previously written how the “post a comment” feature is one of the most powerful features of social networking sites. When I say these sites are the new e-mail, it’s not just messages that are the means of communicating – it’s actually mostly through these profile comments that people have these discussions. The interesting thing about this new way of communicating, is that two people can be having a discussion, however all their friends can monitor the conversation. For example, I made a tongue-in-cheek comment of a Ukrainian friend of mine on her facebook profile wall, and another mutual (Ukrainian) friend saw the comment and joined in defending Ukrainians!

Social networking sites work because they are creating a community feel, where people interact within a tribe or small village that everyone knows each other, and they communicate in what is like a open forum. If it’s one thing I am sure of, these sites are no longer fads: they are a positive evolution of the Internet as a communications medium. It appear solutions to e-mail spam with clever algorithms that can filter messages arn’t the way forward; the solution is to be found in new ways of communicating, and that is what social networking sites do really well.

Patents: more harm than good

When I was in Prague two years ago, I met a bloke from Bristol (UK) that very convincingly explained how patents as a concept, are stupid. Because alcohol was involved, I can’t recall his actual argument, but it has since made me question: do you really need a patent to protect your business idea?

Narendra Rocherolle, an experienced entrepreneur, has written a good little article explaining when you should, and shouldn’t, spend money to protect your IP. Racherolle offers a good analysis, but I am going to extend it by stating that a patent can be dangerous for your business, and not just because of the monetary cost. Radar Networks is my case-study – a stealth-mode “Semantic web” company, that has received a lot of press lately because apparently they are doing something big but they are not going to tell us until later this year.

Continue reading ‘Patents: more harm than good’