Friday, September 11, 2009

Nokia to Acquire Plum

Today it was announced that Plum has been acquired by Nokia in an asset sale. We will join Nokia’s Social Location unit.

Margaret Olson and I started the company in early 2005. It's been a lot of work and a very fun ride. I have learned more from the past four and a half years than any other period in my life. More to come on this shortly.

For now, very excited to have 110,000 new colleagues at Nokia and to move to Berlin in the fall to join the Social Location unit there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Not so social networking

Kara Swisher posted an interview with me: Plum’s Hans Peter Brøndmo Speaks About the Less-Social Social Network! on her Boomtown blog on Friday. I like the "less social social network" angle. It captures what we are doing quite well. Here is the video interview she did with me a few weeks ago at our "swanky" SF office.


We are all obsessing about how we can blurt out anything about everything in increasingly small and public chunks. We can follow Opra, Ashton Kutcher and and now the White House on Twitter and have thousands of friends on Facebook. While, all this is fun and useful, it's such a small part of how we actually share and communicate.

Personal sharing and personal communication whether with family, close friends or co-workers is a critical part of my everyday life. Plum Groups has become the main way I have private, contextual, ongoing, social exchanges with the people in my real life while Twitter is where I get bombarded with the fun, funny, interesting and trivial status updates of people I've deemed worth paying attention to.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who owns my address book?

There is a simple answer to that question: I do. I own my address book. You own yours. The question should really be: "Who will control my address book?"

I am speaking tomorrow on a panel at the ThinkMobile conference in NYC. The title of the panel is - you guessed it - Who owns my address book?

This is an interesting subject. As Facebook just announced Facebook Connect for iPhone and Twitter announces Open Authentication (OAuth) support it is pretty clear that there is a battle for my identity.

And that's really what this is about. It's a question of who controls my identity. A part of my identity is who I am connected to. My address book, or to use social-web speak, my social graph, is an important part of who I am. This is really just the beginning though, because the really interesting data turns out not to be who is in my social graph, but who I interact with.

Therefore step one in the social graph wars is controlling my identity. Once you control my identity you become my passport (MSFT pun intended) for signing in. Next you become my social coordinator, helping me stay in touch with my friends from anywhere. And finally you become my event coordinator and activity tracker. At this point you know who I am, who I know, who I talk to where I go (on the web and in real life) and presumably where I live too.

If that's not the holy grail of marketing information then I don't know what is. Check out my February post Who owns you(r electronic soul)? for more thoughts on the subject.

More during my panel talk tomorrow.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

When the conversation gets too big

Is there such a thing as a "big conversation"? I think the answer is "Twitter" -- a conversation with a lot of talking, some listening and a falling signal to noise ratio.

A common objection I hear to Twitter is along the lines of: "what's so interesting about knowing when people are putting their kids to bed or eating dinner". And yes, there is a lot of fairly meaningless or trivial chatter in the Tweetsphere. Yet, the bigger challenge for the social utilities and microblogging sites like Facebook and Twitter is not handling the trivia, it's about how to keep the conversations from getting "too big" and hence too noisy and ultimately irrelevant or useless due to its sheer volume and lack of context.

CNET posted At SXSW, attendees confront Twitter saturation on Sunday and the New York Times Bits blog made similar points here: Social Media Overload Allows Web Apps to Shine. They both raise the question of whether the utility of microblogging, tagging and following breaks down at scale.

What is the value of sifting through tweet, after tweet after retweet from people that you don't or barely know? Information? Entertainment? Awareness? Probably all of the above. The question dujour is when the flow of information starts loosing its value due to its unfiltered volume.

I've been spending more time reading Tweets in the last few months than I spend looking at my Facebook feed. Why? Presumably because I find value in the experience. In fact I do. This shift in behavior is probably the reason why Facebook adopted a more Twitter-like user interface last week.

But the questions being raised about Twitter and the new Facebook interface is mostly about how we manage the overwhelming input. My question is different. I want to know where the "conversations" happen? You know **real** conversations with people interacting and actually listening to each other. Where can I discuss the things I discover in a format that makes sense. Where can I ask for advice and input from people I know?

The tweet spout is an interesting experiment. For the experiment to become a permanent fixture in my life I need to be able to engage in personal conversations with the people I trust and respect. And those conversations have to be separate from the ever growing public Facebook and Twitter flows, or else it just becomes too noisy, too impersonal and "too big".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Can you be social and private at the same time?

Sure you can. Plum Groups launched today and we are making a bet that the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

I'm social when I have dinner with my family.
I'm social when I play soccer with friends.
I'm social when I hang at the proverbial water cooler chatting with people at work.

Each one of these happenings, and many, many more in my daily life are private. I have a constant need to have social interactions and exchange information, news and "status updates" with different groups of people.

Plum Groups is built on Plum's social media sharing platform to accomplish just that - make it easy to share the things you care about with the people you care about. Private or public. You decide.

I know I need it. Hopefully you do too.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Small is beautiful – bringing intimacy to social networking

Hanging out on Facebook today is social like going to a party or reunion with 300 people you went to school with is social.

Sure it can be fun. You run into a lot of folks you know or used to know. Some you may be happy to see. Others you say a polite hello to, but you really don't want to hear about the minutia of their lives, see pictures of their kids, learn about the struggles they are having at work.

It's just not all that interesting. Now imagine that the party happens every day. Phuh!
Today's social networking sites are not well suited for intimate and truly personal social sharing and communication. That's because social networks are getting bigger by the minute, and as they grow they are becoming impersonal and turning into directories of people you know, with a a "bulletin board" and an inbox. Or according to a recent article in The Economist:
...people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project
Don't get me wrong. I love Facebook and look to my newsfeed as valuable source of updates of a certain kind. When my “friends” post status messages that are funny or informative or news articles that match my interest it provides great value. The same applies to Twitter and other social utilities. Yet I do not feel comfortable sharing intimate or personal information in this environment because I would be sharing it with almost four hundred people ranging from family, to friends, to high school buddies, to business associates and sundry others. So when I considered where to share photos from a recent family trip, Facebook was not an option for me.

Yet I do want my close friends and family to see and comment on my personal photos. I also want to post status updates and have various other online social exchanges with different groups of friends and colleagues.
There is no good solution for more private, group oriented social sharing today. Sharing is an all or nothing proposition. As I have scoured the landscape I find that traditional online groups services like Yahoo! Groups or Google Groups can be a partial solution to my social sharing needs. Sometimes private blogs or email may suffice. All useful tools, but they don’t support the powerful ability that social networks have to post status updates, post media, comment and easily track all of the above (and more) in an “activity feed”.

We need something new, something I am going to call social networks for groups, or just “social groups”. Social groups are kind of a marriage of the functionality you find in social portals like Facebook and traditional online groups services like Yahoo Groups. Social groups provide a way for groups of people with a real-world connections to engage and share in an environment where they don't have to worry about who sees what. Social groups are for groups of people who already know each other, mirroring “real life” relationships and connecting us online.

Against a backdrop of high unemployment, economic uncertainty and globalism we seek connection, a sense of belonging and community. Social groups can support connection and community by giving people who know and care about each other ways to easily share and stay in touch through private and intimate ongoing and ephemeral exchanges. Why should there only be one place to congregate and “be social”? And does it make sense that all your four hundred “friends” are there every time you want to share something? In real life you belong to different social groups. Some open. Some closed. Why not online?Social groups are a natural evolution of the social net. The future of social networks has to be a future that facilitates sharing and discussing the things we care about with the different groups of people we care about. We will belong to many social groups and they will by their nature be smaller than today's social networks.

Small is beautiful because small is intimate and because small is personal.

Friday, March 6, 2009

FB and T’s bad date

FB: Hey T I’d like to buy you.

T: That’ll be $400million

FB: Now, now, I like you and all, but really! You’re just a status update.

T: That’ll be $450million.

FB: Hmmm, I thought you said $400?

T: That’ll be $500million

FB: You’re pissing me off. I’m the giant in this space you know. I could crush you.

T: Hold on. I’m down.

FB: My status feature is more sophisticated than your entire service. You should really let me buy you.

T: That’ll be $600million

FB: Ok, that’s enough. I’ve been trying to play ball with you and am willing to be flexible, but if I were you I wouldn’t poke a giant gift horse in the eye.

T: That’ll be $700million

FB: That’s it! I’m outta here. You just wait, I’m going to blow your lamo status updates out of the water.

six months later

G: T, you're just a poor man's email system.

T: Email system? That’ll be $1billion.

FB: Now I am more open just like you T and I have celebrities with profiles. I am going to make you wish you weren’t such a twit back then. Just you wait and see.

T: That'll be... hold on, let me think about it for a sec...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What kind of friend(er) are you?

What do you do when somebody "friends" you on Facebook?
a) Hit accept
b) Ask yourself "Who is this person?", "Do I know them?" before you hit accept
c) Apply some kind of rule to determine whether they should be a part of your "friend" circle
d) You're not really bought into the whole social networking, Facebook, Twitter thing.

There is a new social order. The one who has the most friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter is the cool one. Kind of like high school.

But to what point? How do you use these new social networks and utilities? For broadcasting trivia and opinions? Marketing your company? Self promotion? All the above.

I'm fine with having hundreds of friends and followers, but it means I'm on a soap box every time I post or comment.

Control and privacy is becoming a growing issue. Is there such a thing as intimate communications and connections in these environments? I think not. It's fun. Its public. It ain't private.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's a social mobile phone?

As far as I'm concerned, mobile phones have always been social devices. They contain your address book and let you call people. That's pretty social. They are good for sending short text messages. That's social too. And they have built in cameras. Social again.

Now the INQ phone is claiming that it's the first social mobile. It looks like a mobile with a bunch of "social" apps. Not a bad idea mind you. And it seems like they have done a pretty good job at integrating with services like Facebook, MSN messenger and Skype.

How is this more than an iPhone with some apps on it? I'm going to have to get my hands on one soon to find out.

Meanwhile, the idea of a phone with truly integrated communications and sharing apps where messages from a bunch of different services show up in my inbox and my address book is "live" and shows status updates is neat.

What this points to is that the social handset games have started. It makes all the sense in the world that these "mission critical" personal devices become tightly coupled with all our favorite social utilities. To borrow from Nokia, these devices are all about "connecting people". Are we witnessing the beginning of connecting people 2.0?

Interesting question is whether we will just see a bunch of new onramps for Facebook and Twitter, or whether new models for connecting and communicating will evolve.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The conversation moves to where your friends are

Have you noticed that the conversation is no longer just happening "on" the content.

It used to be that you had to have your conversation about an article or a blog post "on" the article. I.e. the place you consumed content was also the place you talked about it. It's kind of like watching a movie and only being able to talk about it while you're in the movie theater. That makes no sense.

Now the conversation is happening where the people are - just like in real life. Blog posts are of course a part of the conversation. But increasingly the conversation is happening at places like Facebook, Twitter and my own favorite, Plum ;-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who owns you(r electronic soul)?

Another privacy storm is brewing fueled by Facebook's Feb 4th change to their terms of service (TOS). See posts on Consumerist and LA Times for good discussion and summaries.

In the fall of 2007 I wrote this post about a new framework and model for personal information ownership. Here's a brief excerpt:
Until we agree who has primary interest in and control of the information that represents an intimate profile of our private person, the legal landscape will continue to be a patchwork and we won’t be able to define broad and mutually beneficial practices that govern the use of personal information. The best we can expect is a wide variety of unpredictable and inconsistent use, the worst is gross inaccuracies, lost economic value and threats to our civil liberties.
The debate that Facebook's TOS change has ignited has its root in the fact that the most important asset in the information economy - personal information - has no underlying legal ownership model. It's basically a finders keepers world out there in personal information land. If you manage to get hold of my personal information, you can claim ownership to it.

My Facebook profile is a pretty intimate portrait of me. Besides the obvious personal information that I have entered, it contains my social graph, my semi-public and private communications patterns and history, a knowledge of the ads I have clicked on and more. Yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Layer on the information that Google gathers about my search and surf paths, my credit card records and as of recent, my genetic footprint courtesy of Navigenics. What surfaces is a snapshot that tells someone with access and the right predictive tools more about me than I am probably aware of myself.

Facebook's Zuckerberg posted this response today on the FB blog: On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information. While vague and non-commital, directionally it is promising. I'm in the Facebook-probably-does–not-have-nefarious-motives camp. The problem is that this is a much bigger issue than what's in a Facebook TOS.

The big issue is not whether Facebook or Google know too much about us. (They do, get over it.) Nor whether they get to keep our records if we kill our accounts. This issue is about people not having control or legal rights over their personal life stream and digital footprints.

The debate needs to be lot more comprehensive than a discussion of what happens to our personal messages if we close our account on Facebook. A meaningful outcome cannot be affected by any single player. Personally, I would like to see leadership from Washington on this issue. We've heard a promise of "change". Isn't it time we change the way we own and control our electronic souls?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Am Contribute, And So Can You

New Study Makes It Official That People Like To Share

Yes, that's a really bad riff on Colbert’s book title. Ok, now that that's out of the way, a new study from the consulting firm McKinsey and Co proves what many of us already kind of know: people like to share. In fact, one third of all Internet users now contribute to the net weekly. YES, one third! And it's not just the kids and the 20-something MySpace and Facebook generation they're talking about. Those guys are actually at 70% per week.

From McKinsey’s iConsumer Study conducted in October 2008
Sample of 20,000 US Internet users.

With the common wisdom being that a very small percentage of people online contribute original content and only 10% are somehow active with 90% being passive info-voyeurs, the numbers from the iConsumer report represent a huge shift. And if we assume that 70% of people 18-24 contributing weekly is a trend indicator, this speaks volumes about the direction that things are heading.

Why is this happening? And what might it mean? Is the study…
  1. …debunking conventional wisdom that a very small percentage of users will contribute?
  2. …a function of “Facebook and MySpace training” where people have become conditioned to sharing media and posting comments and status updates?
  3. …pointing to a fundamental shift from email and IM as primary communication tools to status updates and feed posts within “friend networks”?
  4. ...proving that microblogging and status updates makes it so easy to contribute that everybody can do it?
  5. …all of the above?
Witnessing my DP (domestic partner) @juleshanna’s new Twitter addiction it was easy to frame her new obsession as a leading indicator of broader adoption. She’s gone from being relatively quiet on the contributor front, to becoming an active Tweeter in the last few months.

Not so fast says the study. While the iConsumer study proves that people are sharing and contributing online more than ever before, it's also saying that groups of people exhibit very different behaviors. In fact it identifies seven distinct segments of user behavior.

So while living here in Silicon Valley can leave us to believe that the rest of the world finds Twitter and all the other services that we like to obsess about as compelling as we do, that is actually not the case at all and probably won't be for quite some time. Different cohorts spend their time online in very predictably ways doing very different things. Want to find out who you should be targeting? Talk to McKinsey.

All said, the bottom line is that behavior IS changing. And fast it would seem.

I am not at liberty to post the entire study, but ping me if you want more detail and I’ll put you in touch with my friend at McKinsey in Palo Alto who leads the practice that did the study.