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...