Wednesday, December 31. 2008
How much leisure time do you spend on the internet? In the UK, its the housewives that are on the net the most, reports the BBC:
A survey of more than 27,000 web users in 16 countries has shown that the Chinese spend the largest fraction of their leisure time online. (see below)
% of Leisure Time Spent on Internet
However, UK housewives spend even more than China's average - 47%.
In the UK, a breakdown by occupation shows striking differences in the responses; students spend 39%, more than the unemployed (32%) but still far less than housewives.
There are some other nuggets:
However, when asked the question "Have you ever arranged to meet in person people who you've met through the internet?", Germans came out on top with a whopping 76% saying yes.
Unfortunately, the one missing piece of data is how much leisure time a Chinese vs say a British Housewife has in net hours.
Tuesday, December 30. 2008
Did a quick analysis of the Techmeme Top 10 Stories for 2008, split by companyt type (Old Co's New Co,s) and what they were doing (Old tricks, New Tricks).
Techmeme Top 10 in bubble decline view
The Top 10 are (to precis):
1. Microsoft: Microsoft Proposes Acquisition of Yahoo! for $31 per Share
As you can see - mainly big old dogs trying to get into new tricks.
Sunday, December 28. 2008
Just to echo something Fred Wilson noted that on his blog, the commenting is getting almost salon-like:
....there's this great back and forth between two frequent commenters about the bank panic of 1907 and JP Morgan's role in it. That's the kind of conversation that just didn't exist for most people pre-Internet. You could get it in college dorms, bars and coffee shops in the right towns and cities to some degree, but certainly not late at night in your pajamas in your studio apartment.
Now Fred named his post "Correspondence Is Making A Comeback" and I wanted to note two other things I've read recently:
- Letter writing is making a comeback in this digital age
(This maps to the Return of Vinyl in an mp3 world)
The game theory would argue that this is so as actually writing something has a higher transaction cost than banging off some digital text and hitting "send", and game theorists are keen on seeing "strong tells" - signs of strong commitment - in signalling intent.
The other thing I'd note, in London anyway, is that UK bloggers have been drawn to meet each other in person in te Coffee Shops of London (hence the Tuttle Club) and now even Micro-Bloggers are getting together (at Twinterval, hardly a micro-bash)
Saturday, December 27. 2008
Fascinating debate raging on Techmeme about whether Twitter should be able to search by number of "follows" (as a proxy for authority). At first glance its a "what's the issue here"?. After all, Google pretty much runs its page ranking off links, and Technorati uses links to a blog over a last 6 month period to rank its authority.
So why all the fuss, why so many coming out against it?
Firstly, its worth looking at why its being propesed - Loic leMeur organised a major conference (Le Web), the reaction to which was, well, controversial - and he clearly wanted to search Twitter to find the individuals who were the most followed and try to neutralise them where news was bad. Problem was, sifting through 6,000 odd comments is non trivial (though I must say it can't be that hard to build a routine that would map identity of commentators in a particular stream by number of followers*.)
He gives away the Web 2.0 game a bit when he says:
“We’re not equal on Twitter, as we’re not equal on blogs and on the web”
Ooops - the Kool Aid packet preaches that the Web 2.0 media is Democratic, not Feudal. Shame on you for giving the game away Loic
The key arguments against this sort of search are fundamentally that:
(i) People who have little knowledge on a topic, but high overall authority, will win out over those with real knowledge (an issue we pointed to in this article about the risks of User Generated Content drowning in its own noise) to the eventual detriment of the overall ecosystem
Realistically, since Twitter is increasingly being seen as email 2.0, PR/Marketing people will write these sort of routines, its arrival is inevitable. And judging by the jostling that goes on every time a new status list on Twitter is shown, the number of players will be huge, despite pious declarations to the contrary.
However, this should not be the only way to search people on any system. The endgame will be the ability to search across a wider number of user volunteered parameters (location, people you follow, as examples), not just followers.
* And indeed, 24 hours later, there was one.....
Thursday, December 25. 2008
Thanks to the dwarves under the mountain at NORAD and assiduous filming by faeries globally using modern mobile video systems, it is possible to see Santa Claus in flight. Proof to all children that the story is real!
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year (We'll all need it!)
Wednesday, December 24. 2008
Friendfinder Networks, owner of Penthouse and web properties such as Adult FriendFinder and various other social media type sites, is filing for a $500m IPO.
Why now? This can't be the best of times to tap the equity markets!
It would appear - reading the prospectus for the IPO - that they have a rather large lump of debt that needs paying off.
As one of the TechCrunch commentators observes, when Penthouse bought FriendFinder etc, they funded it mainly with Notes. Now the company is looking to go public to raise money to pay off the previous owners. In addition there is a $60M+ hole because the previous owners did not bill or pay VAT in Europe.
As best I can work out from a quick once over of the numbers, they are slowly bleeding money to service the debt, and there is not a lot of cash to provide a runway. Not good medium term.
But hey, why go for an IPO while the US Govt. is giving bailouts to industries in real trouble (and boy is the porn industry in real trouble - user degenerate content is really stripping its revenues!)
More interesting though is the raft of data about the operations of what is an early day social networking system - and interestingly for our times, an early day online Freemium play. Roughly 77% of the money comes from various paying members grades, which - reading the prospectus - seem to comprise of about comprise of about 950,000 users of a total of 270m (of which a high proportion are probably defunct say 27m, gives about 2-3% of members generating the bulk of the revenues).
Payment gives you a higher level of visibility (as it were) of other members' (as it were) details and access to more site functionality. The probable model for today's SocNet crop to follow in fact.
One of the prime tenets of the Web 2.0 movement has been the democratisation of content creation, leading to Time Magazine's declaration of 2006's Personality of the Year being YOU! However, two years on I have been reflecting on what this means, and if one looks at it empirically, there seem to be two major trends:
I suspect that one begets the other.
YOU! are the problem.
Just as all Welshmen can sing, but not all should, we get to the situation where although all people can blog / twitter / etc, when it comes to many things not all should either - it merely fills up the bandwidth with noise, reducing the signal. (This, we suspect, explains the increasing use of purloined copyright content - it is higher quality and thus more likely to be consumed, but by and large costs nothing to copy and send today)
Our hypothesis is that in essence, UGC is an inefficiently structured system - it is manageable when small as its benefits (free form expression) outweigh its problems, but as it grows and takes over more and more of the output, its inefficiencies eventually prove its undoing.
Being of analytical bent I was playing with a way of modelling the Future of User Generated Content and how it may turn out. In effect the "thought experiment" analysis presented here as a result implies that we will probably reach a period (soon?) of Peak UGC, to the point where the signal is lost among the noise. The next development we will probably see is vigorous filtering. The How and where is the interesting thing.
A Hypothetical Model Part 1 - all Commenters are Equal
Firstly, imagine that in this Democratised Media (the mix of mainstream, blogosphere, PR puff, and whatever other media that is Google-able - aka the Goog-o-sphere) that a communication split is such that about 1% of these (User & Other) content Generators will Create and Communicate (aka make a lot of noise), that a further 9% will Comment (aka make some noise) and that 90% will Consume - aka say nothing. ( Ratio follows the emerging rule of thumb for Social Media of 1:9:90 Creator/Commentator/Consumer)
Secondly, imagine also that on any topic you may care to name, this same 1:9:90 split applies to Knowledge - between those who Know a Lot (1%), those who Know Something (9%), and those who Know Nothing about it (90%).
We now assume the total output in the Goog-o-Sphere on any matter is distributed equally according to probability, thus it means only 1% of the Creators know anything about the given topic, but all will Create, Communicate etc.
This gives the following truth table, if we assume All Men(/Women)'s postings Are Equal, in this most Democratic of Media
Signal to Noise Ratio - All Are Equal
But let us assume that the vast majority - the Consumers - remain a silent majority and their posts are never made. Thus, ignoring the content theoretically produced by the consumers and summing that of the Communicators and Commentors gives a total of 10% of all possible output is posted. Unfortunately, most of it is by the 90% who know nothing, and 9% by those who only Know Something. Now, if you weight the Know Somethings as being on the button 2/3 of the time, and knowing nothing 1/3 of the time, then you get a Signal to Noise Ratio of 8%
A Hypothetical Model Part 2 - factoring in the A Team
But, I hear you say, this is patently untrue. Being of noble spirit and collegiate mind, surely those who Know Nothing will indeed refrain from holding forth on this Topic du Jour. In a spirit of seasonal generosity I grant you this, though insist that - empirically - it is my observation that some - say about 1/3rd of those who Know Nothing - will weigh in anyway. Assume similarly that not all those who Know Something will also weigh in, but about 2/3rd of them will
Also, we have to factor in the bigger voices the Creators and Communicators have vs the Consumers - so, if we assume the average Consumer has 1 volume point (where this is the reach of their view), then let us assume the Commenter - via twitter, small blog or whatever has 10 x the volume, and the frenetically Communicating Creators Pumps it up a mighty 100x. But given that the Consumer mainly says nowt, we will focus on the Great Communicators and ignore Les Autres. The silent majority will stay that way!
(In other words, Media - even Democratic Media - is more accurately termed Feudal Media - a small number of extremely media rich nobility at the top, a larger group of media bourgeoisie in the middle, and the media peasantry tugging virtual forelocks on the bottom)
This amended Feudal Media truth table is shown below, adjusting the likelihood to comment in the column 2nd left and the Volume of the commentary on the row 2nd from top. We see that the Signal to Noise ratio has doubled to 16%.
Signal to Noise ratio adjusted by volume and probability of content creation
(There is, by the way, a lesson to be learned about why heirarchies came about - they are potentially better information processing systems)
Essentially, what user generated content does is to take the workload from the editor, and puts it on the end user in the form of a lower signal to noise ratio that reqires the user to do the filtering and editing. There is a limit to how much time people can spend doing this, however. Attention time has a hard stop.
This, we also contend, is what a Google Search increasingly looks like today - the algorithms reward vessels making a lot of noise, but are unable to discern if those vesels are empty or not. In gfact, much SEO wizardry is essentially trying to portray empty vessels as half full. If you observe the blogosphere you will quickly understand that noisy, empty vessels may gather links as well or even better than those who are In the Know, as they are often playing more populist - aka linkbaiting - cards.
Anyway, at some point the effort involved in deciphering the signal gets too high. Simply stated, a 16% S/N ratio means only 16% of your time spent is gaining useful signal - the rest is wasted.
In other words, at low Signal/Noise ratios, we are not looking at a "River of News" - we are looking at best at a stream of clear signal mostly lost in a vast Sewer of Sh*t. Its not so much a firehose as an effluent outlet pipe.
Now I don't know the exact estimated productivity improvement Google etc has brought in real terms, but lets assume that at some reduced S/N point the average punter says "f*ck this" and goes and does something else. We would contend that 16% S/N ratio is pretty close to that point. (12.5% S/N means for every day worked a useful 1 hour is signal - that, we contend, is roughly equivalent to the world Before Search).
How Shall we Filter
By observation, the forces driving self-moderation by the Know Nothings are being outweighed by the desire to Say Something Anyway (gets googlejuice), to say nothing of the increasing intrusion of PR, commercial blogs, reflecting media (eg FriendFeed etc) and all sorts of other new entrants to the Goog-o-sphere. Thus, we contend, the Signal to Noise ratio is by definition increasingly getting worse, not better.
Hence the urgent need to filter - now the interesting thing about this truth table is it gives some clues as to how to filter. That small % of Very Noisy Know Nothings are easy to identify and a big part of the Noise, and thus culling a small group of voices produces a near doubling of the signal to 29%, as shown below:
Signal to Noise Ratio - Filtering out redundant A Listers
This is more like it. Communications theory likes signal to noise ratios of 100%+ (Analog gear likes 400%+, humans are remarkably good filters so need much less, but, as we argue above, eventually the wasted effort is just too large and they will try another way).
One can argue that Social Media is part of the filtering process too, especially of the harder-to-filter remaining know nothing commenting group - but it only really works for incoming stuff, when you go and do historical searches its all there back in the cesspit.
Clearly this is just some (hopefully Know Something) input to the discussion, but what we are showing is this:
- Left to itself and humanity, User Generated Content will kill itself by drowning in its own output.
- Democratised Content is not democratic - a small number of empty vessels create most of the noise
- The "Publish, then Edit" model is eventually unsustainable
The only way to get some form of benefit from the "river of news" is to filter out the cr*p.
- The easiest stuff to filter are the small number of very noisy empty vessels.
- After that, it gets harder to filter - moderation, algorithms, social media are all partial solutions
- It is probably easier at that point to pre-filter the Sewer of Crap - Asymmetrically Subscribe, only go to trusted, edited sites etc
- This is hard enough to do for real time media, but far harder with searched historical media searched via Google etc as it can't - today anyway - Asymmetrically Search
- But it will have to tomorrow. The hard limits to our attention and time to be productive will force this.
Funnily enough, this is good news for edited media - ie good old mainstream media and similar - because one way of "asymmetrically searching" is to not search the whole Sh*t-o-sphere, but just subsectors which have been edited for signal, then published.
Thus, we contend, the UGC "explosion" is an aberration, is probably a temporary phenomenon, and will subside again to a far smaller piece of the pie- largely because the load it puts on the average user is too high for it to be productively sustainable.
Next Installment - Part II - what does User Generated Video look like
Tuesday, December 23. 2008
I read Seth Godin's Tribes this week. I must admit I couldn't get into it, more because the style of writing (high on emo, low on ano) sends my critical antenna through the ceiling. I enjoy his early work and blog a lot by the way, and he is no fool - so you just know there is something in it. Enter Ian Hughes, who has distilled the core messages here in a form analytical wonks like me prefer - and they are:
Things to do
Finding a summary like this is one of the great things about the blogosphere. Saves time and frustration. And you'll never look at some Web Manifesto in quite the same way again
It had to some..from SAI:
A source familiar with the negotiations tells us that Warner and the three other majors -- Sony BMG, EMI, and Universal Music Group -- all think they could do better creating their own music video Web destinations and are in early talks about forming a joint venture similar in concept to Hulu, the increasingly popular TV-on-the-Web joint venture from News Corp and NBC Unviersal.
As the amount of venture / speculative backed plays recedes, making real money beings to impinge into Web 2.0 wonderland. The majors have clearly learned from the Hulu lesson.
It would be really good for the overall experience though if they allowed innovative servces like Pandora to flourish, as its value is not so much the music as the discovery of it.
Monday, December 22. 2008
Those of us who recall Archie, Veronica, Gopher and the gang do (I suspect) sometimes look at the Twitternuts with some wry amusement, as it is so similar in feel to the early text based 'Net - and the bulletin boards before it. The community was so small, and everyone was just delighted to find like minded others who used this newfangled thing, so a level of cameraderie grew up between people who had never met and mostly never would - but the mutual trust was huge, I recall letting some American 'Netfriends house sit our place for their vacation based just on the fact they seemed like decent people on the Internet.
But we will also, if we are wise, heave a sigh now for what it will look like as it grows up - if those systems are anything to go by, with increasing numbers comes:
- increasing defective behaviour (mo' trolls, pimps, flamers etc)
(Actually, strictly speaking its not exactly the same - Twitter is an asymmetric rather than symmetric pub/sub network, and its limited to 140 characters, and it's multi-medium - bit it serves much the same purpose)
Anyway, before that time comes - here is a very funny analysis of the 10 types of people who use Twitter from Shannon Whitley - I've published 3 as a taster, my favourite is the last one (No 10). This is what reminded me of the Old.Net, there was something like this posted yonks ago which was similar:
1) The Pimp - The pimp is always looking for avenues of self-promotion. If almost every tweet is a reference to a blog post and even conversations end in links to posts, you're following The Pimp.
You will recognise yourself in some of the archly drawn archetypes I'm sure
One thing he doesn't have (probably because its a recent phenomena) is the Sleb Following "Social Media Climber" - the twitterer who follows and attempts to ingratiate themself with the "Celebrities" as those people come onto Twitter. Just search summize for @wossy or @stephenfry for example, and you will see this in spades! Knowing the market would be huge, we even designed an automated system for this over here.
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