Thursday, January 31. 2008
It would seem that the social networks are all seeing declining average usage per user....now, we predicted this would happen to Facebook (see here) as the empirical evidence we have suggests this is occurring to them, and Twitter is picking up the customers.
Any one person's time on a social network starts off with extremely high activity levels as they play with the service, find friends etc etc - but over time they use it less often, there are a few % who stay "superusers", but on average usage declines to a steady trickle.
Facebook has been at high growth, but our analysis suggests at about the time of Beacon its new growth rate was slowing, and that means c 3 months out the average time per user starts to collapse as all the large "boom generation" of users starts to reduce their activity. So Facebook I can understand.
But I am surprised by all of them losing market share together though, as they are at different lifestages.
More established networks like MySpace are quite mature, they have their schtick and its more stably sticky, so I wouldn't expect it to move in synch with Facebook.
One explanation is that everyone is bored with social networks, as The Register suggests (and everyone has a new year resolution to give them up), but another is its a seasonal effect, so I think its a bit early to call doom on the whole industry.
So, I read about Instapaper in TechCrunch - a simple one button thingy that I can use to store all those web articles I see and want to read later, and its not social so everyone else can't gawk at all the arcane/unPC/persona/(insert your reason for not being public) stuff I like .
Marvellous, thinks I!
Install it, am on da web and see this article - aha, sez I - no time to read now, but it ties in with the Watts / Gladwell stuff so store it on my new Instapaper!
Alas, Instapaper was not instant, and the webservice was down....no doubt the TechCrunch effect.
Two conversations re going the whole hog to web based services yesterday:
(i) Enterprise 2.0h no - chatting to CIO of a financial institution - noted that its all fine for low criticality, lightweight apps - but if you rely on the data in any way, or there is hefty processing power required, web based systems cannot yet cut the mustard. CIO's don't get promoted for giving users cool stuff to play with, they get sacked when companies can't do the work, or lose the data, or fail to service clients. Microsoft is safe awhile longer, easy on the shorts.....
And today I read that someone ran an anchor through Flag's Indian cable, thus cutting 'em off. Imagine if they had all their stuff on Google Docs in the US of A?
Let us all praise Twitter...again. Now its Read/Write Web's turn to hurl Twitter up the Hype curve: They gush that....
Twitter is fast becoming a serious platform for discourse and discussion. More than a status app, it is being used as a first alert mechanism for the dissemination of news and for immediate discussion surrounding that news. It is the coverage of news events and the continued emergence of citizen journalism that will push Twitter toward the mainstream this year.
Except that, in the same article, it is noted that.....
But chin up, because....
And why may this change be about to happen? Let us count the ways we may praise Twitter as a purveyor of The Good News to the multitudes:
It's fast. Increasingly mainstream news reporters and bloggers are utilizing Twitter to put up news tid bits as they happen, and commentary as it pops into their heads.
I'll buy being open - that has helped Twitter to do something that services up to now have not managed, which is to be a Unified Messaging service that is easily accessible via mobile and PC. As to the others, being 2-way and fast has been with us since the first hesitant steps of the AltNet and email. And as to filling a void with news and commentary that has just popped into somebody's head
But soft...despite the paeans of praise, all is not yet perfect in Twitterland:
Sometimes, it's too fast. Twitter happens in moments. If you think keeping up with the blogging cycle at big blogs like Engadget is tough, then keeping up with a thousand voices on Twitter is damn near impossible.....for the mainstream audience, Twitter might need better filtering tools before people can really wrap their heads around it.
Ah...so it can't do what we've taken for granted from email and chat software for 15 years then. And as to that filtering - I'm an early adopter and I want it ! What the article also does not mention at all is that Twitter is extremely unreliable - it goes down, typically at points of high usage. There were wails of woe when it went down a few weeks ago in the middle of the global Applegasm. And I don't buy that its faster - in recent weeks I have been watching to see where news came from first, and I see no discernable difference between Twitter and email - it all depends on what you are plugged into at the time.
Look, I use Twitter, it has its uses. But I use RSS aggregators, email, Skype, IM and Group / Forums too, and I'd put Twitter at the back the queue for "usefulness". This blog has been published on Twitter since June 2007, and I note an increasing number of news feeds, blogs etc are now being published on Twitter as it becomes better known (the BBC has been on for ages, Techdirt went on last night, I'm not sure if Read/Write Web is on). It has some benefits, but its functionality means that is fairly time consuming to use, so I tend to take these services over email.
Here's the deal stripped of the hype:
(i) Its basically Chatroom 2.0 - ie its chatroom functionality with the ability to see your friends' friends and their interactions, which is the unspoken voyeuristic pleasure that is the killer app of social media. And as it is a social network and "chatroom" system, it is a good way of making new friends among fellow geeky early adopters. It is very addictive at first - chatroom type systems always are - but is very weak in ability to follow conversations, so becomes frustrating, though it is better at turning off trolls than older systems.
(ii) It is well crafted for what it is - easy to get onto, intuitive to use, cutely whimsical when it doesn't work (which it needs to be!)
(iii) As the Read/Write article notes, it is slowly changing in usage style, the signal to noise ratio is improving - people are no longer just wittering on about their lunch, and are starting to talk about the sort of stuff we take for granted on email, forums etc. But the noise is still high, and I can see it potentially getting worse as all sorts of services use those open API's to broadcast even more frequently by automating people's output - imagine getting status updates from all your friends every 5 minutes..... For this service to work in any meaningful way there has to be much better filtering and threading.
(iv) It's the Hello! magazine for following Net Celebs. If you get vicarious pleasure in the day to day minutiae of your favourite Geek celebrity, Twitter is the place for you - they are all hanging out there.
(v) It is, as others have noted, licenced datamining - over time you are putting a huge amount of data about yourself out there, and there are people scraping it, and this will increase. If it doesn't worry you, fine - but it should.
(vi) It is not yet five-nines reliable, (not even three-nines reliable I should think) so its is not a service you would use for any critical comms needs, and it really is 15 years behind email in persistent message handling, so don't use it as a back-catalogue. (Update - its down as I write, apparently the Presidential pundits killed it this time)
(vii) It is the preferred means of communication - at the moment anyway - for a subset of my social network, so thats where I have to go to talk to them.
(viii) I have noticed a huge increase in people coming onto Twitter in the past few months, many of these are coming off Facebook, and they all remark that it is more "social" than a static Social Network, so clearly near-synchronous comms is the more powerful model for social networking. (No doubt Facebook will implement a Twitter-like service soon)
But its real killer application is as a Unified Messaging service, and that's the reason I think these sort of services will take off. Whether it will be Twitter, or Jaiku, or some new one, or even an upgunned IM system, remains to be seen. I noted earlier this week that people were using it to talk about a TV program while they were watching it, which was interesting as much of the current SocNet babble is about having to have "Social Objects" intrinsic to the social network, whereas in this case the network was used to communicate about an extrinsic object. And that I think is a tipping point - it allows people to talk seamlessly about what they want to talk about, when they want..
Wednesday, January 30. 2008
Interesting snippet from Twitter, remarking on how a bunch of people were talking about a TV program they were all watching.
This of course was going to be what Joost et al planned to do to differentiate themselves from Good Olde TV, and of course then mine that good ole' proprietary social network and its interactions to serve relevant Ads.
Ah well, back to the drawing board for them!.
Web 1.0-heads with a knowledge of 'net history will recall the attraction - nay addiction - of chatrooms, Twitter is really just Chatroom 2.0, but the killer app is you can access it on multiple mediums so its easy to use on mobile devices while grazing TV, not just glued to the PC
Very, very interesting - I think there is something fundamental in this - not sure what yet though - but it seems to me that the "light touch" virtual social network technology is weaving itself into real life "unifying activities". Instead of the "social object" (to use the current buzzphrase) - ie the raison d'etre of the service being intrinsic to the service, it is extrinsic.
To (ab)use JP Rangaswami's analogy, when the Twitter "river of drivel" is broken down into these thin capillaries, it starts to have real meaning.
Tuesday, January 29. 2008
Mike Butcher over at TCUK notes that O2 has dropped the price of the iPhone.
Don't say we never told you.....we wrote in November that
we predict it will sell as people come off their contracts from the other operators over the next 12 months or so, as there is just no compelling reason to switch operator to buy one yet, at that price and with that level of lock in. And as everyone knows, if you wait 6 months after launch with hyped stuff like this there will be better deals, and like DVDs, the unofficial hacks will be in place....
Gads...more like 3 months!
Fascinating piece in Fast Company, talking about how memes are spread in social networks. Essentially its a Fast Fisk using research by one Duncan Watts, of Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point (and by extension those that adhere to the view that some people are more influential than others:
"Oh, God," he groans when the subject comes up. "Not them." The Hush Puppies in question are the ones that kick off The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller about how trends work. As Gladwell tells it, the fuzzy footwear was a dying brand by late 1994--until a few New York hipsters brought it back from the brink. Other fashionistas followed suit, whereupon the cool kids copied them, the less-cool kids copied them, and so on, until, voilà! Within two years, sales of Hush Puppies had exploded by a stunning 5,000%, without a penny spent on advertising. All because, as Gladwell puts it, a tiny number of superinfluential types ("Twenty? Fifty? One hundred--at the most?")
In essence, this is laying out some research that Watts has performed that apparently refutes much of the Tipping Point work. There is some very interesting output:
He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure.
I say it apparently refutes Gladwell et al - and the Fast Company guys do a good job of setting up an either/or storyline, as is their wont. However, if you read the article closely (and if you've ever actually read Gladwell's book - or more crucially, some of the academic work behind some of those conclusions) you'll see that in fact the body of knowledge that has gone before has not quite been composed by a bunch of idiots. In fact:
Gladwell's book laid out many other factors that can "tip" a trend. He described other influential types: Mavens, who love to collect information and help others make decisions, and suave Salesmen of ideas. In order to spread, an idea or product had to be "sticky," and appear in a fertile social context. But as The Tipping Point climbed the charts, marketers fixated on Gladwell's Law of the Few, his suggestion that rare, highly connected people shape the world. For anyone involved in pitchmanship, it was an electrifying notion, one that took a highly complex phenomenon--the spread of memes through society--and made it simple. Reach the gatekeepers, and you reach the world.
In other words the PR and Social Media chatterati got a superficial end of the stick and ran off with it at full speed, neglecting all the nuances. A fertile field then for a New New Social Marketing Guru to plough
And if that person just happened, over the past three years, to have worked on a new form of advertising he calls "Big Seed marketing" as part of his work at a certain Yahoo, where he is a principal research scientist, (and where he developed the concept with a friend, Jonah Peretti, a veteran of the viral wars), you may just suspect that there is a certain amount of influencing going on here too.....
But I do like the way he's done the work - using an Artificial Life simulation setup to experiment with - because I've been fascinated with simulation and A-Life for decades, and have written quite a few simulations and system dynamic programs in my time. This is fascinating:
Though actually, its not counterintuitive at all - anyone who has studied some of the literature on the spread of diseases, memes etc would have expected results something like this - the academic literature is full of this sort of work going back 2 decades at least. And the reason why is actually given later:
Why didn't the Influentials wield more power? With 40 times the reach of a normal person, why couldn't they kick-start a trend every time? Watts believes this is because a trend's success depends not on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to the trend--not how persuasive the early adopter is, but whether everyone else is easily persuaded. And in fact, when Watts tweaked his model to increase everyone's odds of being infected, the number of trends skyrocketed.
Memeticists and A-Lifers have built memetic and genetic algorithm based models for many years now that show time and again that its the strength of the meme - its ability to hook - that really drives the spread rate. Well connected nodes just spread it further, faster. Disease researchers are well aware that its the way a disease is transmitted, not just the connectedness, that spreads it. But all research has shown that soem nodes are more connected, and if you hit that node then the meme/disease/whatever gets a big Mo. And - guess what - it has been shown in study after study that some individuals in groups are more influential / dominant / (insert your un-PC term here) than others, and people - (shock horror) - follow them, and even emulate their behaviour.
And the problem of course with simulation models is just that - they are imperfect models of the world. They do give amazing insights however, but I do feel that in this particular case there has been a certain amount of pimping the "known unknowns" in the body of work
In fact, there is at the end a (sort of) coming together of the parties at the party if you read on.
Watts does agree that some people are more instrumental than others. He simply doesn't think it's possible to will a trend into existence by recruiting highly social people. The network effects in society, he argues, are too complex--too weird and unpredictable--to work that way. If it were just a matter of tipping the crucial first adopters, why can't most companies do it reliably?
For his part, Gladwell is diplomatic. "Duncan Watts is exceedingly clever, and I've learned a great deal from his research," he emailed me. "In the end, though, I suppose that I feel the same ways about his insights as I do about Steve Levitt's disagreements with me over the causes of the decline in violent crime in the 1990s. I think that all books like The Tipping Point or articles by academics can ever do is uncover a little piece of the bigger picture, and one day--when we put all those pieces together--maybe we'll have a shot at the truth."
The problem of course is that the background body of work is nuanced, dispersed across disciplines, quite dense, potentially contradictory - as not all vectors are always teased out - and thus not at all attractive to the chatterati, who:
cling to their belief in Influentials partly because they're lazy. They love the idea of needing to reach only a small group of people to "tip" a product.....Plus, it strokes their egos: "Think about it. You're saying, 'I am in control--I am the biggest influencer, because I am going to influence the influencers!' It's an arrogance that only the corporate world could enjoy."
Quite so. And no doubt the chatterati will now go racing off saying everything is random, as this is the New New Meme, and its a sticky one too as it allows lots of Small People to wallow in the delusion that We Are all Equal After All. But hold on there before you go penduluming off in that thar other direction! Be honest with yourself - why do some people have 5,000 followers on Twitter or Facebook and others have few? Why do the Big Nodes get all the Link Lurve? Why are some kids on the playground time and and again bossing the others around? Recall teh 1:9:90 ratio on nearly all Social Nets! The actual background work shows that there is far a more complex interaction going on between the Zeitgeist and the Great Man theories. The truth is somewhere in between these (artificial) poles.
And that term "complex" implies to me that the one thing that Watts hasn't quite got (assuming Fast Company summed him up correctly of course) is summed up here:
Actually, if you believe Watts, the world isn't just complex--it's practically anarchic. In 2006, he performed another experiment that chilled the blood of trendologists. Trends, it suggested, aren't merely hard to predict and engineer--they occur essentially at random.
I doubt its random - essentially these are complex interactive systems, and they are usually demonstrably chaotic, not random - an altogether different thing.
Update - coverage of this in Ars Technica, with a corollary - it ain't the influencers, its the influenced that are responsible for all this influenza.
Its not often us multimedia strategists get to talk about the human back-end systems, especially of the sexy variety, so when an opportunity comes one grabs it with both hands (as it were). From Techdirt comes the report that (as so often happens) the FCC has enabled yet another opportunity for the Law of Unintended Consequences to smack it in the rear:
The latest crackdown on indecency has a number of people shaking their heads. It involves fining ABC affiliates $1.43 million for a brief clip of the TV show "NYPD Blue," that aired in February of 2003, and included images of a naked woman from behind. Of course, if Martin really was trying to protect people from viewing such indecent content, perhaps he shouldn't have issued this fine. After all, it was shown on TV nearly five years ago. By now, most people would have forgotten about it... unless, of course, the FCC were to bring the clip back into the news, getting someone to put it on YouTube, and driving well over a million viewers to watch the video since the fine was announced.
And in case you missed it, here it is...............Charlotte Ross in all her 2003 glory.
.................well, we are a Multimedia blog after all
Yet another example of the mainstream media and the Santayana Effect (like banning a Sex Pistols single makes it go to the top etc etc)
Monday, January 28. 2008
Qtrax, which has signed all four major labels (EMI, SonyBMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group), launched yesterday with 25 million songs (compared to around 3 m for Amazon and 6 m for iTunes)
Or maybe not....2 of the suppliers say there is no deal...ooops. Anyway, on with the show
It isn’t pretty - the downloaded songs are not compatible with iPods and have to be played via a proprietary player built on the Songbird platform. Ads are displayed during playback, even on music devices. For now the service is Windows only, so Mac users are left out. And right now the service is down completely from all the attention it’s getting.
Not to mention Amazon weighing in.........anyway, to continue
But the trend is clear - labels have given up on DRM completely and are willing to experiment with ad supported free downloads. Once they give up on the ad supported part of the model and just realize that recorded music is nothing more than marketing collateral for other revenue streams
Italics are mine.
I can't help but feel uncomfortable with music being a giveaway for other services. Not that I think TC is wrong, mind - just that I'm not certain what sort of quality of music will be generated this way. The temptation to use Ad Jingle 7 singles will be overwhelming mayhap?
And who uses a service with proprietary end to end delivery and Ads?
Qtrax is a son of Spiral Frog, which failed to do a similar thing....but as The Register notes, the music industry is a sucker for the "you can make money from music online" snake oil crowd:
It's a marriage of two desperate industries – the music business, and the ad-supported web startup. To steal a phrase from Sun's Scott McNealy, it's like watching two garbage trucks colliding.
Sunday, January 27. 2008
Confused of Calcutta has a post using the analogy of capillary action for both Twitter, and Open source/VRM
Re Twitter, JP notes, re music as an example:
So now all I need is for someone to build an app that scrapes what I am listening to, figures out what it is, goes and collects the enrichments and conveniences I want to send with the information (band links, YouTube, Flickr, Google, Amazon, the Facebook fan page, maybe a Netvibes collection of related feeds, the Wikipedia entry and so on) and then packages all that into a small space using something like tinyurl.
To an extent this is possible already, eg this blog has been published on Twitter (and Jaiku) since c July 2007via the Twitterfeeds application , it publishes the title of the post and the tinyurl (if you want to follow Broadstuuf on Twitter, the link is on the top right of this page or click to http://twitter.com/broadstuff ), so one could create an aggregation page and use Twitterfeed to publish (in fact one could use a blog as an aggregator quite easily).
As well as being a good way of sending data down thin networks, this also has some quite interesting applications for m2m and Semantic Web communications, as by reducing the message to smaller components it becomes easier to parse and parcel out.
(Incidentally, having observed JP's Twitter stream expand exponentially as the music posts hit the stream every few minutes, I can imagine a need for a whole lot of data filtering applications )
Re VRM, JP notes that:
...it would be worth looking at the role played by the opensource movement in making sure we can move around so freely between all these applications. Which brings me to a strange conclusion. More a hypothesis. Am I right in considering the possibility that VRM is necessary only because everything is not opensource? That good opensource obviates the need for VRM?
I don't think Open Source will do the trick on its own - it should make data more easily available to be taken and parcelled up, but in order to get the VRM applications themselves - the aggregation of user data, the capture of the conversations with vendors, the collation of datapoints - it will require new application development. In fact, as the propensity for providers is to be "CRM" focussed most of the development money at present is going the other way.
(Ironically Twitter, the subject of the 1st part of the post, is not really open source at all, whereas I would argue that email, which JP professes to hate in this role, is more so.....)
However, to take the metaphor into VRM - those millions of tiny capillaries aggregate into a major artery of demand - the lifeblood of any supplier - and deliver it into the very heart of the supplier, at (theoretically) lower cost of capture and higher commitment to buy.
And if that doesn't make their pulses race, I don't know what will....
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