Tag Archive for 'facebook'

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.

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.

Facebook’s no longer a startup

Facebook pokeFacebook announced today that they became cash-flow positive in the last quarter. This is a big deal, and should be looked at in the broader context of the Internet’s development and the economy’s resurgence.

The difference between a start-up and a growth company
There are four stages in the life-cycle of a business: start-up, growth, maturity, and decline.

In tech, we tend to obsess over the “start-up” – a culture that idolises small, nimble teams innovating every day. Bu there is a natural consequence of getting better, bigger, and more dominant in a market – you become a big company. And big company’s can do a lot more (and less) than when they could as startup’s.

Without going too much into the difference between the cycles, it’s worth mentioning that a functional definition to differentiate a “startup” business from a “growth” business is its financial performance. Meaning, a startup can be one who has revenues and expenses – but the revenues don’t tend to cover the operating costs of a business. A growth business on the other hand, is experiencing the same craziness of a start-up – but is now self-supporting because its revenues can over its costs.

This makes a big difference in a company, lest of all longer term sustainability. When a business is cashflow negative, it risks going bankrupt and management’s attention can be distracted by attempts to raise money. But at least now with Facebook finally going cash-flow positive, it has one less thing to worry about and can now grow with a focus less on survival and more on dominance.

Cash register

Looking at history
Several years after the Dot Com bubble, I remember reading an article by a switched on journalist. He was talking about the sudden growth of Google, and how Google could potentially bring the tech industry back from the ashes. He was right.

Google has created a lot of innovative products, but its existence has had two very important impacts on the Internet’s development.

First of all, there was adsense – a innovative new concept in advertising that millions of websites around the world could participate in. Google provided the web a new revenue model that has supported millions of content creators, utility providers, and marketplaces powered by the Internet.

Secondly, Google created a new exit model. Startup’s now had a new hungry acquisition machine, giving startups more opportunities to get funded as Venture Capitalists no longer relied on an IPO to make their money – which had now been effectively killed thanks to the over-engineered requirements of Sarbanes Oxley.

Why Facebook going cashflow positive is a big deal
Facebook is doing what Google did, and it’s money and innovation will drive the industry to a new level. Better still, its long been regarded that technology is what helps economies achieve growth again, and so the growth of Facebook will not only see a rebuilding of the web economy but also of the American one. The multiplier effect of Facebook funding the ecosystem will be huge.

And just like Google, Facebook will likely be pioneering a new breed of advertising network that benefits the entire Internet. And even if it fails in doing that, its cash will at least fund the next hype cycle of the web.

So mark this day as when the nuclear winter has ended – it’s spring time boys and girls. We my not have a word like Web2.0 to describe the current state of the Internets evolution, but whatever its called, that era has now begun.

Google should acquire Friendfeed, the leader in the real time web

May is real time month: everyone is now saying the latest trend for innovation is the real time web. Today, we hear that Larry Page, co-founder of Google, confirming to Loic Le Meur that real time search was overlooked by Google and is now a focus for their future innovation.

With all this talk of Google acquiring Twitter, I’m now wondering why isn’t Friendfeed seen as the best candidate to ramp up Google’s real time potential.

Friendfeed does real time better than anyone else. Facebook rules when it comes to the activity stream of a person ‚Äì meaning, tracking an individuals life and to some extent media sharing. Twitter rules for sentiment, as it’s like one massive chat room, and to some extent link sharing. But Friendfeed, quite frankly, craps all over Facebook and Twitter in real time search.

Why? Three reasons:

1) It‚Äôs an aggregator. The fundamental premise of the service is in aggregating people‚Äôs lives and their streams. People don‚Äôt even have to ever visit Friendfeed other than an initial sign up. Once someone confirms their data sources, Friendeed has a crawler constantly checking an individuals life stream AND that’s been validated as their own. It doesn‚Äôt rely on a person Tweeting a link, or sharing a video ‚Äì it‚Äôs done automatically through RSS.

2) It’s better suited for discovery. The communities for Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed are as radically different as America, Europe, and Asia are in cultures. People that use Friendfeed literally sit there discovering new content, ranking it with their “likes” and expanding it with their comments to items. It’s a social media powerhouse.

3) It’s better technology. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook has an amazing team. But they don’t have the same focus. With less people and less money – but with a stricter focus – Friendfeed actually has a superior product specifically when it comes to real time search. Their entire service is built around maximizing it.

Up until now, I‚Äôve been wondering about Friendfeed’s future. It has a brilliant team rolling out features I didn‚Äôt even realise I needed or could have. But I couldn’t see the value proposition ‚Äì or rather, I don‚Äôt have the time to get the value out of Friendfeed because I have a job that distracts me from monitoring that stream!

But now it‚Äôs clear to me that Friendfeed is a leader in the pack – a pack that’s now shaping into a key trend of innovation. And given the fact the creator of Gmail and Adsense is one of the co-founders, I couldn‚Äôt imagine a better fit for Google.

Phishing for fraud on Facebook

Wow – now that was interesting. I’ve received spam messages through Facebook, but never this before. A friend who I’ve barely spoken to since 2003 (we used to work together) sent me a Facebook IM and we had a long discussion. She apparently needed me to urgently send her $600 as she was held up at gun point and lost everything.

You can read the below. As an epilogue, I wrote the below message to her as well as posting it on her wall. The wall post was deleted within minutes and I was removed as a friend, which confirmed my suspicions.

I am an experienced traveler so could sympathise with the situation but was fully aware of how con men operate as I’ve been done over before – and I could easily see someone falling for it. I’m sharing the below because this is only going to be more common in our society, as people sign into things like Facebook at internet cafes and don’t log out properly. Use the below as a guide if you ever get into this situation.

Remember that nothing is that urgent that it requires you to send a bank transfer from your online banking facility right now. Only ever send money via Western Union, which costs $70 but it’s quick, secure and truly global. I would know as well – I was in Peru with not even enough money to pay for my accommodation that night and barely for lunch. Western Union can deliver money to post offices, pharmacy’s as well as banks in minutes – they are literally everywhere – and they only provide the money (up to $1000) if there is a passport to validate. It’s a much better way to help out someone in need, as it eliminates the potential for fraud.

———————————

Rhiannon,

We’ve been chatting on Facebook chat. You’ve got $800, so that means you are not in an immediate emergency of not having somewhere to eat, drink and sleep. So you’ve got a few days leeway, that’s good.

But it’s easy to hack a persons facebook account, and I won’t know if it is genuinely you until I speak to you on the phone.

I will help but other than calling family, you need to consider
– talking to the consular which has a 24 hour hotline. You won’t get money but they will help you
– calling your credit card company. They will issue you emergency cash and an emergency credit card.

I am not going to transfer money from my bank account and will only do it with Western Union – as they can confirm your identity with a passport. I am also not going to wire the money over until you’ve exausted the other options I’ve listed above as I’ve done it in the past before and it reduces scope for potential fraud and burden on other people.

I’m sorry if this is genuinely you reaching out, but I am advanced with my knowledge about internet security, and this could very typically be an example of some prick taking advantage of your account which you forgot to sign out from in an Internet cafe which quite frankly I am highly suspicious of because there is evidence to support that.

I am sending this message because you will get it through your e-mail account which is seperately secured. I am also posting on your wall so your other friends can see what we discussed. Hopefully you won’t delete it, because that will prove this is a phishing scam and I will monitor so as to inform Facebook what’s happening to prevent any fraud from happening.

———————————

8:38pm Rhiannon
Hi

8:38pm Elias
Hi!

8:39pm Rhiannon
I am stranded in london and i need your help

8:39pm Elias
ok, what can I do?

(and happy birthday :))

8:40pm Rhiannon
i was mugged at a gun point in Kentish town, it was a brutal experience, all cash i had on me were stolen and my credit card was collected too now i’m left with no money here. I need you to loan me some money to get a plane ticket

yea thanks

8:42pm Elias
How do I know this is Rhiannon?

It’s happened to me before and it sucks, so appreciate it if this is not a joke

8:43pm Rhiannon
what

Elias i would never you stranded in another country if you really needed my help

I am still in shock right now and i’ll apprecaite it if you can help me out

8:44pm Elias
call me on

or give me a number I can call you

8:45pm Elias
if you had a credit card, you are in luck because you can get emergency cash

8:45pm Rhiannon
i can’t make any calls right now

my phone was also stolen

8:46pm Elias
well give me a number to call you

8:46pm Rhiannon
I have been able to raise over $800 but i need $650 more to get the plane ticket back home,so please can you loan me some money till i get back home? i will pay you back as soon as i’m home..

8:47pm Elias
do you have your passport? and who is your credit card with?

8:50pm Rhiannon
yes i still have my passport but my creditcard was also stolen as well

8:50pm Elias
I understand that, but you can get $500 in emergency cash straight away and an amergecy card sent to you within 48 hours

8:50pm Rhiannon
I need you to loan me $650 to get the hell out of here

8:52pm Elias
ok, you are asking me to give you money despite me not speaking to you for over 4 years. but you are not answering any of my questions which could get you out of you situation without me having to give you money which I am not going to do because this is potentially someone that’s hacked into your account

8:53pm Rhiannon
wtf?

8:53pm Elias
who is your credit card with!

8:53pm Rhiannon
You work at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant from 2002 to 2003.

8:53pm Elias
what town are you in?

yes, my facebook profile says that

who was the manager at nicks?

8:55pm Rhiannon
i am in kentish town

9:11pm Elias
Rhiannon I want to help you, but need to speak on the phone. I can’t send money because it’s sunday night here, and I’m not confident about your identity right now. If you can find a number I will call you and see what I can do

9:14pm Rhiannon
Elias i don’t know what else you want me to tell you or how else you want me to prove myself to you

all i know is that if you were to be stranded in another country i wouldn’t even think of it twice before helping you out

Ofcourse you can have the money wired online .. you don’t have to fo to the bank

9:15pm Elias
Well I am still online talking to you, so clearly I’m not blowing you off. But I am not stupid either.

Find a phone, give me the number, and let’s chat

9:19pm Rhiannon
Hotel Manager’s # +447024019672

9:21pm Elias
the number is busy. I’ll keep trying

9:24pmRhiannon

ok

9:24pm Elias
what hotel? maybe i can call reception?

Facebook needs to be more like the Byzantines

Flickr graph Chris Saad wrote a good post on the DataPortability Project’s (DPP) blog about how the web works on a peering model. Something we do at the DPP is closely monitor the market’s evolution, and having done this actively for a year now as a formal organisation, I feel we are at the cusp of a lot more exciting times to come. These are my thoughts on why Facebook needs to alter their strategy to stay ahead of the game, and by implication, everyone else who is trying to innovate in this sphere.

Let’s start by describing the assertion that owning data is useless, but access is priceless.

It’s a bold statement that you might need to get some background reading to understand my point of view (link above). However once you understand it, all the debates about who “owns” what data, suddenly become irrelevant. Basically access, just like ownership, is possible due to a sophisticated society that recognises peoples rights. Our society has now got to the point where ownership matters less now for the realisation of value, as we now have things in place to do more, through access.

Accessonomics: where access drives value
Let’s use an example to illustrate the point with data. I am on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, hi5, Orkut, and dozens of other social networking sites that have a profile of me. Now what happens if all of those social networking sites have different profiles of me? One when I was single, one when I was in a relationship, another engaged, and another “it’s complicated”.

If they are all different, who is correct? The profile I last updated of course. With the exception of your birthdate, any data about you will change in the future. There is nothing ‘fixed’ about someone and “owning” a snap shot of them at a particular point of time, is exactly that. Our interests change, as do our closest friends and our careers.

Recognising the time dimension of information means that unless a company has the most recent data about you, they are effectively carrying dead weight and giving themselves a false sense of security (and a false valuation). Facebook’s $3 billion market value is not the data they have in June 2008; but data of people they have access to, of which, that’s the latest version. Sure they can sell to advertisers specific information to target ads, but “single” in May is not as valuable as “single” in November (and even less valuable than single for May and November, but not the months in between).
Network cable

Facebook Connect and the peering network model
The announcement by Facebook in the last month has been nothing short of brilliant (and when its the CEO announcing, it clearly flags it’s a strategic move for their future, and not just some web developer fun). What they have created out of their Facebook Connect service is shaking up the industry as they do a dance with Google since the announcement of OpenSocial in November 2007. That’s because what they are doing is creating a permanent relationship with the user, following them around the web in their activities. This network business model means constant access to the user. But the mistake is equating access with the same way as you would with ownership: ownership is a permanent state, access is dependent on a positive relationship – the latter of course, being they are not permanent. When something is not permanent, you need strategies to ensure relevance.

When explaining data portability to people, I often use the example of data being like money. Storing your data in a bank allows you better security to house that data (as opposed to under your mattress) and better ability to reuse it (ie, with a theoretical debit card, you can use data about your friends for example, to filter content on a third party site). This Facebook Connect model very much appears to follow this line of thinking: you securely store your data in one place and then you can roam the web with the ability to tap into that data.

However there is a problem with this: data isn’t the same as money. Money is valuable because of scarcity in the supply system, whilst data becomes valuable from reusing and creating derivatives. We generate new information by connecting different types of data together (which by definition, is how information gets generated). Our information economy allows alchemists to thrive, who can generate value through their creativity of meshing different (data) objects.

By thinking about the information value chain, Facebook would benefit more by being connected to other hubs, than having all activity go through it. Instead of data being stored in the one bank, it’s actually stored across multiple banks (as a person, it probably scares you to store all your personal information with the one company: you’d split it if you could). What you want to do as a company is have access to this secure EFT ecosystem. Facebook can access data that occurs between other sites because they are party to the same secured transfer system, even though they had nothing to do with the information generation.

Facebook needs to remove itself from being a central node, and instead, a linked-up node. The node with the most relationships with other sites and hubs wins, because with the more data at your hands, the more potential you have of connecting dots to create unique information.

Facebook needs to think like the Byzantines
A lot more can be said on this and I’m sure the testosterone within Facebook thinks it can colonise the web. What I am going to conclude with is that that you can’t fight the inevitable and this EFT system is effectively being built around Facebook with OpenSocial. The networked peer model will trump – the short history and inherent nature of the Internet proves that. Don’t mistake short term success (ie, five years in the context of the Internet) with the long term trends.

Byzantine buildingThere was once a time where people thought MySpace was unstoppable. Microsoft unbeatable. IBM unbreakable. No empire in the history of the word has lasted forever. What we can do however, is learn the lessons of those that lasted longer than most, like the forgotten Byzantine empire.

Also known as the eastern Roman empire, its been given a separate name by historians because it outlived its western counterpart by over 1000 years. How did they last that long? Through diplomacy and avoiding war as much as possible. Rather than buying weapons, they bought friends, and ensured they had relationships with those around them who had it in their self-interest to keep the Byzantines in power.

Facebook needs to ensure it stays relevant in the entire ecosystem and not be a barrier. They are a cashed up business in growth mode with the potential to be the next Google in terms of impact – but let’s put emphasis on “potential”. Facebook has competitors that are cash flow positive, have billions in the bank, but most importantly of all are united in goals. They can’t afford to fight a colonial war of capturing people identity’s and they shouldn’t think they need to.

Trying to be the central node of the entire ecosystem, by implementing their own proprietary methods, is an expensive approach that will ultimately be beaten one day. However build a peered ecosystem where you can access all data is very powerful. Facebook just needs access, as they can create value through their sheer resources to generate innovative information products: that, not lock-in, is that will keep them up in front.

Just because it’s a decentralised system, doesn’t mean you can’t rule it. If all the kids on a track are wearing the same special shoes, that’s not going to mean everyone runs the same time on the 100 metre dash. They call the patriarch of Constantiniple even to this day “first among equals” – an important figure who worked in parallel to the emperor’s authority during the empire’s reign. And it’s no coincidence that the Byzantine’s outlived nearly all empires known to date, which even to this day, arguably still exists in spirit.

Facebook’s not going to change their strategy, because their short-term success and perception of dominance blinds their eyes. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us need to make that mistake. Pick your fights: realise the business strategy of being a central node will create more heart-ache than gain.

It may sound counter intuitive but less control can actually mean more benefit. The value comes not from having everyone walk through your door, but rather you having the keys to everyone else’s door. Follow the peered model, and the entity with the most linkages with other data nodes, will win.

Thank you 2008, you finally gave New Media a name

Earlier this year Stephen Collins and Chris Saad had flown to Sydney for the Future of Media summit, and in front of me were having heated discussions on how come nobody invited them to the Social Media club in Australia. As they were yapping away, I thought to myself what the hell are they going on about. It turns out things I used to call "blogs", "comments" or "wikis" were now "social media". Flickr, Delicious, YouTube? No longer Web 2.0 innovations, but social media. Bulletin boards that you would dial up on your 14000 kbps modem? Social media. Online forums discussing fetishes? Social media. Everything was now bloody social media (or Social Media: tools are lower case, concept uppercase) and along with Dare Obasanjo I was asleep for the two hours when it suddenly happened.

social media bandwagon

However it turns out that this is a term that’s been around for a lot longer than we give it credit for. It hung low for a while and then as some significant events occurred this year the term became a perfect fit to describe what was happening. It’s a term that I’ve been waiting to emerge for years now, as I knew the term "new media" was going to mature one day.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our new world and the way of defining it: 2008 is when the Information Age’s "social media" finally displaced the Industrial Era’s "mass media". Below I document how, when and why.

Origins of the term and its evolution
The executive producer of the Demo conference Chris Shipley is said to have coined the term during a key note at the Demofall 2005 conference on the 20th September 2005. As she said in her speech:

Ironically, perhaps, there is one other trend that would at first blush seem at odds with this movement toward individuality, and that is the counter movement toward sociability.

As one reporter pointed out to me the other day, the program book you have before you uses the term “social” a half-dozen times or more to describe software, computing, applications, networks and media.

I’m not surprised that as individuals are empowered by their communications and information environments, that we leverage that power to reach out to other people. In fact, blogs are as much about individual voice as they are about a community of readers.

The term gained greater currency over the next year, as Shipley would use the term in her work and various influencers like Steve Rubel would popularise the term. Brainjam which popularised unConferences first had the idea of a Social Media Club around the time of Shipley’s keynote and eventually formed it in July of the following year, which created more energy towards pushing for the term. Other people starting building awareness, like the Hotwire consultant Drew Benvie who from April 2006 has been writing the Social Media Report (and created the Social media Wikipedia page on 9 July 2006). Benvie said to me in some private correspondence: “When social media emerged as a category of the media landscape in 2005 / 2006 I noticed the PR and media industries looking for suitable names. The term social media came to be used at the same time of social networks becoming mainstream.” Back then it was more a marketing word to conceptualise online tools and strategies to deal with them, which is why there has been distaste for the term that prevented its adoption.

It was 2008 however when several news incidents, innovations, and an election entrenched this term into our consciousness. Later on, I will explain that, but first a lesson.

web2_logos

So what is Social Media?
A debate in August 2008 created the following definition: "social media are primarily Internet and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. " I like that definition, but with it, you could arguably say "social media" existed when the first e-mail was sent in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s going to suffer the fate of the term “globalisation” where in the 1990s people didn’t know the term existed – but by 2001 in high school, I was told it had been around since the 1980s and by my final year of university in 2004 I was told "globalisation" started in the 1700s. Heaven forbid it turns into a term like "Web 2.0" where no one agrees but it somehow becomes a blanket term for everything that is post the Dot-Com bubble.

The definition is off-putting unless you have a fundamental understanding of what exactly media is. It might shock you to hear this, but a newspaper and a blog are not media. A television and a Twitter account, are not media either. So if you’ve had had trouble getting the term social media before, it’s probably because you’ve been looking at it in the wrong way. Understand what media really is and you will recognise the brilliance of the term "social media".

Vin Crosbie many years ago answered a question I had been searching half a decade ago on what was new media. Crosbie’s much cited work has moved around the Internet, so I can’t link to his original piece of work (update: found it on the Internet archive), but this is what he argued in summary.

  • Television, books and websites are wrongly classified as media. What they really are, are media outputs. We are defining our world on the technology, and not the process. Media is about communication of messages.
  • There are three types of media in the world: Interpersonal media, mass media, and new media.
  1. Interpersonal media, which he coined for lack of an established term, is a one-on-one communications process. A person talking directly to another person is interpersonal media. It’s one message distributed to one other person, from one person.
  2. Mass media is a one-to-many process. That means, one entity or person is communicating that one message to multiple people. So if you are standing in front of a crowd giving a speech, you are conducting a mass media act. Likewise, a book is mass media as it’s one message distributed to many
  3. New media, which is only possible due to the Internet, is many-to-many media.

I highly recommend you read his more recent analysis which is an update of his 1998 essay (can be seen here on the Internet archive ).

That’s a brilliant way of breaking it down but I still didn’t get what many-to-many meant. When the blogosphere tried to define social media it was a poor attempt (and as recently as November 2008, it still sucked). But hidden in the archives of the web, we can read Stowe Boyd who came up with the most accurate analysis I’ve seen yet.

  1. Social Media Is Not A Broadcast Medium: unlike traditional publishing — either online or off — social media are not organized around a one-to-many communications model.
  2. Social Media Is Many-To-Many: All social media experiments worthy of the name are conversational, and involve an open-ended discussion between author(s) and other participants, who may range from very active to relatively passive in their involvement. However, the sense of a discussion among a group of interested participants is quite distinct from the broadcast feel of the New York Times, CNN, or a corporate website circa 1995. Likewise, the cross linking that happens in the blogosphere is quite unlike what happens in conventional media.
  3. Social Media Is Open: The barriers to becoming a web publisher are amazingly low, and therefore anyone can become a publisher. And if you have something worth listening to, you can attract a large community of likeminded people who will join in the conversation you are having. [Although it is just as interesting in principle to converse with a small group of likeminded people. Social media doesn’t need to scale up to large communities to be viable or productive. The long tail is at work here.]
  4. Social Media Is Disruptive: The-people-formerly-known-as-the-audience (thank you, Jay Rosen!) are rapidly migrating away from the old-school mainstream media, away from the centrally controlled and managed model of broadcast media. They are crafting new connections between themselves, out at the edge, and are increasingly ignoring the metered and manipulated messages that centroid organizations — large media companies, multi national organizations, national governments — are pushing at them. We, the edglings, are having a conversation amongst ourselves, now; and if CNN, CEOs, or the presidential candidates want to participate they will have to put down the megaphone and sit down at the cracker barrel to have a chat. Now that millions are gathering their principal intelligence about the world and their place in it from the web, everything is going to change. And for the better.

So many-to-many is a whole lot of conversation? As it turns out, yes it is. Now you’re ready to find out how 2008 became the year Social Media came to maturity.

How 2008 gave the long overdue recognition that New Media is Social Media
The tools: enabling group conversations
MySpace’s legacy on the world is something that I think is under-recognised, that being the ability to post on peoples’ profiles. It gave people an insight into public communication amongst friends, as people used it more for open messaging rather than adding credentials like the feature originally intended when developed on Friendster. Yes, I recognise public discussions have occurred for years on things like forums and blogs, but this curious aspect of MySpace’s culture at its peak has a lot to answer for what is ultimately Social Media. Facebook picked up on this feature and more appropriately renamed it as "wall posts" and with the launch of the home screen that is essentially an activity stream of your friends, it created a new form of group communication.

The image below shows a wall-to-wall conversation with a friend of mine in February 2007 on Facebook. You can’t see it, but I wrote a cheeky response to Beata’s first message at the bottom about her being a Cabbage-eating Ukrainian communist whose vodka is radioactive from Chernobyl. She responds as you can see, but more interestingly, our mutual friend Rina saw the conversation on her homescreen and jumped in. This is a subtle example that shows how the mainstream non-technology community is using social media. I’m currently seeing how non-technology friends of mine will share links that appear on the activity stream and how they jump into a conversation about it right there. It’s like over-hearing a conversation around the water-cooler and joining in if you want.

Facebook | Elias, Beata, Rina

This is what made Twitter what it is. What started as a status update tool for friends, turned into a chat-room with your friends; you can see the messages posted by people you are mutually following, and you can join in on a conversation that you weren’t originally a part of. Again, simple but the impact we have seen it have on the technology community is unbelievable. Like for example, I noticed Gabe Rivera a few days ago had a discussion with people about how he still doesn’t get what social media is. I wasn’t involved in that discussion originally, but its resulted in me partially inspired to explore the issue with this blog post. These are subtle, anecdotal examples but in sum they point to this broader transformation occurring in our society due to these tools that allow us to mass collaborate and communicate. The open conversation culture of Web 2.0 has helped create this phenomenon.

Another Internet start-up company which I think has contributed immensely to the evolution of Social Media is Friendfeed. It essentially copied the Facebook activity screen, but made it better – and in the process, created the closest thing to a social media powerhouse. People share links there constantly and get into discussions in line. In the mass media, an editor would determine what you could read in a publication; in the Social Media world, you determine what you read based on the friends you want to receive information from. Collectively, we decimate information and inform each other: it’s decentralised media. Robert Scoble, a blogging and video super star, is the central node of the technology industry. He consumes and produces more information than anyone else in this world; and if he is spending seven days a week for seven hours a day on Friendfeed, that’s got to tell you something’s up.

The events: what made these tools come to life in 2008
We’ve often heard about citizen journalism with people posting pictures from their mobile phones to share with the broader Internet. Blogs have long been considered a mainstay in politics this last decade. But it was 2008 that saw two big events that validated Social Media’s impact and maturity.

  1. A new president: Barack Obama has been dubbed as the world’s first Social Media president. Thanks to an innovative use of technology (and the fact one of the co-founders of Facebook ran his technology team – 2008 is the year for Social Media due to cross pollination), we’ve seen the most powerful man in the world get elected thanks to the use of the Internet in a specific way. Obama would post on Twitter where he was speaking; used Facebook in a record way; posted videos on YouTube (and is doing a weekly video addresses now as president-elect) – and a dozen other things, including his own custom-built social networking site.
  2. A new view of the news: In November, we saw a revolting event occur which was the terrorist situation in India (and which has now put us on the path of a geopolitical nightmare in the region). However the tragic event at Mumbai, also gave tangible proof of the impact social media is having in the world .

What’s significant about the above two events is that Social Media has robbed the role played by the Mass Media in the last century and beyond. Presidents of the past courted newspapers, radio and television personalities to get positive press as Mass Media influenced public perception. Likewise, breaking news has been the domain of the internationally-resourced Mass Media. Social Media is a different but much better model.

What’s next?
It’s said we need bubbles as they fuel over-development that leave something behind forever. The last over-hyped Web 2.0 era has given us a positive externality that has laid the basis of the many-to-many communications required for New Media to occur. Arguably, the culture of public sharing that first became big with the social bookmarking site Del.icio.us sparked this cultural wave that has come to define the era. The social networking sites created an infrastructure for us to communicate with people en masse, and to recognise the value of public discussions. Tools like wikis both in the public and the enterprise have made us realise the power of group collaboration – indeed, the biggest impact a wiki has in a corporation from my own experience rolling out social media technologies at my firm, is encouraging this culture of "open".

It has taken a long time to get to this point. The technologies have taken time to evolve (ie, connectivity and a more interactive experience than the document web); our cultures and societies have also needed some time to catch up with this massive transformation in our society. Now that the infrastructure is there, we are busy concerning ourselves with refining the social model. Certainly, the DataPortability Project has a relevant role in ensuring the future of our media is safe, like for example the monitoring the Open Standards we use to allow people to resuse their data. If my social graph is what filters my world, then my ability to access and control that graph is the equivalent to the Mass Media’s cry of ensuring freedom of the press.

Elias Bizannes social graph
Over 700 people in my life – school friends, university contacts, workmates and the rest – are people I am willing to trust to filter my information consumption. It will be key for us to be able to control this graph

Newspapers may be going bankrupt thanks to the Internet, but finally in 2008, we now can confidently identify the prophecies of what the future of media looks like.

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

How many people are there on Facebook?

Facebooks new advertising features allow people to create targetted advertising campaigns. I took advantage of this feature to uncover some data about Facebook’s user base as I designed a mock campaign, because I’ve been curious to know where its strongest.

Although not all countries are listed below (ie, I have friends in Russia and Serbia whose data I could not fetch), this does give a good indication on users by country. The subtotal of 50 million is about the amount of users I’d expect to be on Facebook; the countries not included are obviously small and would make an immaterial difference. Fifty million users is within the ballpark of what sounds right (sorry, no link, but I read it somewhere), so the breakdown seems pretty complete.

I thought it might also be useful to add the data of under 18 year olds, to show social networking is certainly an adults tool now and not just some teen fad.

facebook users in US	Canada	UK	Australia	China	Columbia	Dominican Republic	Egypt	France	Germany	India	Ireland	Israel	Italy	Japan	Lebanon	Malaysia	Mexico	Netherlands	New Zealand	Norway	Pakistan	Saudi Arabia	Singapore	South Africa	Korea, Republic of	Spain	Sweden	Switzerland	Turkey	United Arab Emirates<br />

Update March 2008: I’ve done a follow up posting on March 2008 numbers