the culture and values of social media

social media, advertising, and why Donna Bogatin needs a clue

Posted: August 23rd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, business, social networking | 4 Comments »

I just delicious’d this NYT article about MS partnering with Facebook to sell ads. This struck me:

“It’s basically a consolation prize,’’ [e.g. not MySpace] Phil Leigh, president of Inside Digital Media, a market research firm specializing in digital media, said of the deal.But Facebook is also a legitimate test bed, a place where Microsoft can test new technology in a commercial context,’’ he said.

“What we’ll see is Microsoft attempt to do some fairly leading-edge type of things, involving banner ads, animation and interactivity,’’ he added. “Whatever technology they develop and use effectively in Facebook, they’ll be able to use it elsewhere.’’

I kind of actually like this idea, although it reminds me of some hearsay about TagWorld, a crappy MySpace clone stuffed full of low-budget Flash applets (sorry if you luv TagWorld 4-eva, I’m not a fan). According to my source, the SNS stuff on TagWorld is just a red herring. Really, they’re developing B2B apps that they test out using their large (1 mil or so), engaged user audience. They let the teens slam on the apps for a while, get feedback, etc., and then repackage them and sell them to enterprise customers.

What both of these deals show is that what users actually do on social networking sites is totally, totally, totally irrelevant to social networking companies. Facebook could care less what its users are actually doing, as long as they’re on the site (eyeballs) and staying on the site (sticky time). I’m sure there are plenty of great UI, dev, and product planners at all these companies working on cool features that they actually think will do some good (or something). But it’s just like television shows. The content is totally irrelevant– it could be Six Feet Under or it could be Are You Hot?– as long as an audience can be delivered to an advertiser.

Social media like YouTube and MySpace are great for advertisers because they’re cheap ad buys and give them the ability to experiment with wacky things and see what sticks. Stuff like the Suzanne Vega concert in Second Life maybe reaches 200 people directly, but it gets tons of PR and gives Vega a relevance to a younger audience she hasn’t had since the DNA remix of “Tom’s Diner”. Making a viral video or some stupid wallpaper generator costs nothing compared to physical, RW creative (a bus ad, a magazine buy) and allows for a lot more edge and sass than can be shown on, say, VH1.

Oh, and my least favorite ZDNet writer, Donna Bogatin, uses this news as an opportunity to write another squawky column about why Web 2.0 sites should handle all their own advertising. I find this really curious. Does she think that Coca-Cola or Ford should do all their advertising in-house? Facebook isn’t an advertising company. MySpace isn’t a search company. Why shouldn’t they outsource stuff outside their core competency?! This seems like basic business sense to me.

But this is the same writer who thinks Web 2.0 users (who, again, are providing content AND personal information to for-profit companies for free) are greedy and selfish. Her reasoning is that by prioritizing user experience over plastering advertising on every surface of every site, Web 2.0 sites are indulging their users too much. I can’t emphasize enough how much I disagree with this statement.

1. If you plaster your site with advertising and fuck up the UE, you will lose your users to another site unless your content is so compelling that they can’t find it elsewhere. Right now, there are very few sites that are that compelling.

2. The ONLY REASON Web2.0 sites EXIST is because users give them content FOR FREE.

3. The only reason Web 2.0 sites CAN sell advertising is because users give them personal information that they can use to generate demographic profiles for ad buys.

4. The only reasons sites get traction from day one is because they have a good user experience. Turning around and changing that as soon as you get a user base is sleazy and shows how little you care about your customers.

Like it or not, we are in an era where users expect a greater degree of interaction with companies. I could write an entire book about this, but suffice to say that the companies that will survive the shakedown are those with positive relationships with their users (or cable/cellphone companies with monopolies). If you treat your users like disposable cattle, they will disappear (hello, FRIENDSTER). Although a user base of dippy edge case technocrat fans isn’t enough to sustain an entire company, it’s much much much much better than an angry, organized mob of former users who aim to take your company down (exhibit two: TextAmerica), which often happens when you prioritize a quick cash grab over sustaining a user base over time.

In summary: Donna Bogatin needs to chill out, calm down, and stop blaming the users for poor business model decisions by companies that she doesn’t even work at (although as I said, I don’t think this Facebook/MS deal is a bad move). She could definitely use an HCI or CMC class as well. But what do you expect from a former investment banker?

I apologize for misspelling her name in the first draft of this article.

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social networking and music

Posted: August 21st, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: music, social networking, software | No Comments »

Music has been an enormous part of my social life for as long as I can remember. In high school, my friends and I spent a lot of time refining our musical preferences until they accurately reflected who we wanted to be (goodbye, INXS and Billy Joel; hello, Ministry, Tori Amos, Concrete Blonde). In college, I was the music director of my college radio station and spent a huge amount of time being a snot about bands on major labels, shopping for 7″s, and going to shows every week for free with my co-DJ Kara Flyg. Post-college, I moved to Seattle at least partially due to the music scene and immediately became part of the ecosystem of bands, DJs, promoters and club owners that permeates the social structure there. Anyway, the point is that music plays a really important part in social networks for young people; it provides a hook for identity (I listen to hip hop vs. I listen to underground hip hop vs. I listen to new bay hip hop / hyphy), it provides a commonality for friendship, and it provides social capital in the form of knowledge.

We’ve all had the cool friends who introduced us to the cool music. In high school it was my friend Arielle, via her older sister. In college it was my friend Chrissy, who knew all about the Olympia music scene. Post-college it was usually various boyfriends. Nowadays, music blogs fulfill that role for many people, and then the people who read the music blogs fulfill that role for their friends. But even among the bloggers, the person who first writes or breaks a particular band is going to be considered way more important than a me-too writer.

For bands, this is great because it means that there’s a vested interest for lots of people in finding out about relatively unknown bands and promoting them. And, unlike in 1993, nowadays that process goes on via digital publics rather than via offline networks of mix tapes, listening to tracks on car stereos, reading about bands in zines, and watching opening bands.

There are a host of services that have grown up around the social aspects of music. (Everyone reading this knows Pandora and Last already, so I’m not going to bother going into functionality specifics, just social practice).

last.fm lets you track all the artists you listen to and generates charts based on the data. It also has lots of community/friend features that facilitate recommendations. Last will recommend stuff to you based on your preferences, and you can send your friends recs for things you think they’d like. In a lot of ways, Last’s charts (which people display on their MySpace profile or blog – see sidebar) function in the same ways as “now playing” on LJ or My Favorites on MySpace: as a way to show off your musical taste, therefore your identity or simply how cool you are (and of course, more underground = more cool. I’m not sure how my love for Kelly Clarkson works in this model). I really don’t bother using the friends feature on Last because, well, whether or not I’m friends with someone has very little to do with whether I’m going to like the same music as them or not.

Pandora is more effective at recommendations since it generates streaming radio of artist suggestions based on songs or bands that you input. There’s a nice little hack that feeds your Pandora listens into Last so you can keep track of what you’ve heard, which points to the fact that Pandora has no way to broadcast or otherwise announce your preferences to the world. If you listen to some super cool, super obscure, super amazing artist before all your friends but none of them know about it, does that diminish the value?

Mog is a music blogging network. I have no desire to blog about music and I find Mog’s little audio tracker (which works in the same way that last.fm does) very intrusive, but I can say that Mog is a nicely designed site with some nifty 2.0 features. It’s highly community based, and rather than friending your RL friends, Mog emphasizes meeting new people with similar tastes. This is very smart, as I’d rather get recommendations from a hard core music junkie who I trust but have never me than some random college friend of mine on Friendster (must start using that as an example again now it got 10mil in new VC.. must be that there patent!).

SonicLiving is a music calendar app that mines your iTunes , Last and Pandora logins, creates a database of your preferred artists, and lets you know when and where they’re playing. This is a very beta site, so don’t expect perfection, especially if you don’t live in SF or NY. But the idea is great. Particularly when artists are having to come up with new monetization strategies that aren’t “sell albums” or “get on MTV” (see my last post on this). Since going to shows is an inherently social activity, and finding out about shows takes quite a bit of effort sometimes (esp. living in a giant, music-heavy city like NYC), this is a genius idea. It’s not quite there technologically, but the guy running the site is super responsive. Definitely one to watch.

(Another interesting site to watch is pocketfuzz, which is basically a peer production marketplace around mobile content. Pocketfuzz partners directly with artists (5000 of them!) who create ringtones of their own music and sell through the site. Disclaimer: my friend Danny is one of the creators of this site).

Finally, we have MySpace, which I’ve already talked about in some detail with regard to the changes it’s made in fan-band interaction. Expect to see lots of auxiliary market sites popping up that provide tools for bands to use to promote themselves on MySpace; the basic feature set for band pages is super low (music player really being the only differentiation from the regular user pages) and a smart young company could definitely find a niche there.

On the other hand, all the zillions of MySpace multimedia player companies should probably find a different model unless they are taking advantage of the network features of the site. Why have music information on a social networking site unless it taps into the network in some way? What are my friends listening to? Who’s changed the song embedded in their profile? What’s popular in my network? What’s new? What’s hot on MySpace? MySpace has such crap functionality compared to the other sites I’ve written about in this post that it’s almost laughable– unlike Last or SonicLiving, MySpace has no way to tell what you’re listening to, and the only ways you can update your profile music-wise is by changing the single song you’re allowed, or by changing your “My Favorites” music manually. If MySpace had better, cooler, more automated music tracking tools, it could really be useful for finding out about music, promoting music, and tracking music. Right now, though, the big advantage MySpace has, music-wise, is that lots of bands use it. That’s it.

Expect to see a lot more in this market space. The cool thing about social music software is that it tends to be written by people who are really super passionate about music– Mog and Pandora reflect this especially– which makes it more interesting than contenders in the, for example, YAVVS (Yet Another Viral Video Site) space, most of which look generic, boring, and desperate to grab YouTube ad dollars. I’m looking forward to watching these sites as they mature.


Widgety Tidbits

Posted: August 8th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, social networking, software | 3 Comments »

1. Talked to the Slide guys last night at the WWDC Bloggers party and yes, the new MySpace slideshow is definitely a Slide.com product. Which I’m in full support of, as it’s a cool piece of software.

2. All summer I’ve been posting about MySpace’s secondary markets and widgets. There are tons of new widgets coming out daily, and the best way to keep up with them is to read the widget blogs like Widgetoko and Flying Seeds. I’m not so interested in individual widgets (although I like Meebo’s embedded IM widget a lot, to the point where I might install it on this blog)– what’s fascinating to me is the number of widgets that attempt to monetize user-to-user interaction.

For example, here’s Favorite Thingz (please forgive me):

Basically, the user goes through a process where they create a badge by picking bands, movies, brands, services (websites), stores and teams until they have about ten. Each one of these “thingz” gets rotated through one’s badge (widget) and apparently the user earns some sort of kickback if they get clickthroughs. There is no explanation of this process on the site. Do referrals need to purchase something? Where do they purchase it? How do the users collect their commissions?

I have no idea how they picked the “thingz”: I believe they’re probably placeholders, unless Chanel has decided that user-to-user microtargeted advertising via MySpace profiles is their new publicity push. It is slightly shady that users can pick from liquor and condom brands– and what teen is going to want to broadcast their love of Carefree or Tampax to the world?

Mashable sez: “A really neat product“. Well, maybe. But it still remains to be seen whether the users actually get anything, and whether the products being offered are actually co-sponsored or not. I’m betting they aren’t. Kids are putting Chanel, BMW, Hummer, Coach, Louis Vuitton all over their MySpace pages already, so this model is an interesting way to kick back to what is essentially free advertising; but how much does it lessen the Chanel brand for it to be splashed all over the profile of a 16 year old girl from Florida who loves Rhianna and Hollister?

The same company made MyPickList, which attempts to monetize user-contributed reviews.

As usual, I’m ambivalent on this stuff. Academics would moan about the commercialization of everyday life, etc. etc. and to a large extent, I’m suspicious of that stuff too. But this isn’t the same as whisper marketing; it’s really more like wearing a Nike t-shirt or carrying a Coach knock-off bag. Yes, there are plenty of kids who are going to plaster their profiles with these types of self-created advertisements in an attempt to generate revenue, but it’s not like they would be pristine and beautiful in the first place. They’d be covered with YouTube videos of ghost ridin’ the whip and Diet Coke and Mentos rockets. So I guess given that, and given that we obviously live in a world where people express themselves through the consuming and flaunting of brands, the kids may as well get some revenue pocket money back from all this brand association.

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MySpace launches new killer image apps

Posted: August 3rd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: social networking, software | 7 Comments »

I just did a huge competitive analysis on MySpace, Friendster, Bebo, Cyworld and Facebook. MySpace has been rolling out some cool stuff under the radar lately that I was pretty impressed with. First, it seems that they’ve upgraded their photo hosting to unlimited, or at least more than the 9-10 photos that were previously alive. Not good for Photobucket!

But they kind of had to: compare the photo tools for the other social networking sites:

Facebook:

  • Unlimited photo storage
  • Ability to identify people in pictures
  • Really nice web-based uploading/photo album tool

Friendster

  • 50 picture limit

Bebo

  • Unlimited photo storage
  • Nice photo album organization

Cyworld

  • Built-in image editing software (granted, it sucks: it doesn’t work in Firefox and required three different plug-ins to work in IE, and then it still didn’t work)

Also interesting is that MySpace recently launched slideshows. Now, I can’t tell whether they partnered with Slide.com for this, but I suspect that they did, since they look so similar:

Slide.com slideshow

MySpace slideshow

Which is good for Slide. I like their product a lot; they have a snappy UI and great MySpace integration. Anyone know whether this is a real partnership? If it isn’t, MySpace should be spanked for ripping off Slide’s design.

Anyway, MySpace is slowly but surely continuing their drive towards demonetizing secondary market applications. I have a lot to say about all the Flash 9 stuff from last week that I’ll write about later today.

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MySpace to Secondary Markets: Drop Dead

Posted: July 20th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: business, social networking | 31 Comments »



myspace_flash9_warning

Originally uploaded by alicetiara.

On Monday, MySpace started displaying the following message when you log in (this is kind of a crappy screenshot, but you can see it larger if you click on it):

“hey folks – we are moving myspace music players and video players to flash 9.0. flash 9 has security fixes so that people can’t mess with you on myspace. if your ‘about me’ got screwed up this weekend, you could have been safe if you had flash 9 installed. here’s an easy way to install it, go watch this dashboard video i posted last week. if you don’t like dashboard, just watch any video in our video section, and you’ll be prompted to install flash 9.”

What Tom doesn’t mention is that Flash 9 has a a new attribute for the [object] tag called allowNetworking. When set to “internal”, it prevents the use of any Flash Player APIs which interact with the browser, including getURL() which is used to link to other pages from the player. (Note that josh endquote explained this to me). He writes:

“MySpace now transparently adds ‘allowNetworking=”internal”‘ to all Flash Player instanced placed in its pages, effectively disabling any buttons which link anywhere.”

So: stuff like Slide.com, RockYou.com, and YouTube’s Flash video wrappers will no longer be able to link back to the sites if the user is using Flash 9. Generally adoption for Flash isn’t that quick — but since all users with Flash 8 currently have broken MySpace video/audio players, you can expect that to have somewhat of an effect on the adoption rate (i.e.: skyrocket).

MySpace can say all they want about wanting to protect users, but really this is about them protecting their advertising dollars. The barnacle-like secondary market sites will have to find increasingly creative techniques to launch Flash-based content within the site if they want it to spread virally.

This is actually quite wily on the part of MySpace. And it’s going to be interesting to see how much influence they have on the adoption rates of Flash 9… I wonder if they have a formal partnership with Macromedia/Adobe.

Expect a LOT MORE moves like this from MySpace. I’m aware of a few I can’t talk about that I know will have huge impacts on secondary market sites. If you work for a startup whose entire business plan depends on mooching off MySpace’s user base, you guys might want to consider diversifying your revenue streams.


google & social software

Posted: July 13th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: business, social networking | No Comments »

MediaMetrix’s May numbers on social networking continue to provide analysts with fodder. This time c|net combines the parallel trend of Googlebashing with a lengthy discussion of whether or not Google is missing the social software wave. Tidbits:

1. MSN Spaces the #1 global network? 101 million visitors/year globally.

2. Orkut isn’t popular. Wow, thanks for the hot tip. While something like 85 percent of Brazillians use Orkut, you’ll notice that the site hasn’t really changed at all since it launched (during my MA, when I was writing my first paper on social networks). This means that it doesn’t incorporate customization options, video sharing, blogging, and all the rest of the stuff “the kids” are clamoring for. Also, the name is terrible and doesn’t exactly inspire younger or hipper users to flock to it, but apparently Google isn’t in any hurry to extend their core brand over the site.

(However, Orkut has 33.7 million/visitors year globally while only 210,000 of them were from the US)

I think the two statistics above can provide valuable insight into the difference between American internet use and global internet use. Technologists tend to focus on the echo chamber of US-centered net business, especially those of us in Seattle, New York, and San Francisco. But while we may be enamored with the latest hot social software, we should also be looking at what people are actually using. This is not usually what’s hot and trendy. Witness Microsoft pulling 98 support when there are still 70 million users worldwide on 98. I have another post percolating on this that I’ll write later today.

Finally, Google does own plenty of social software: Blogger, Dodgeball, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Orkut, Answers, Google Video, Notebook, Maps, Page Creator: all of these are components of what could be a really comprehensive and amazing integrated social solution. Of course, Google hasn’t really shown much ability to synthesize in the last few years and has rolled out a lot of half-baked solutions. But that doesn’t mean that it’s some sort of failure of the company to launch some ridiculous Google Spaces or Google LiveLinks or something, especially since many of these components are highly prominent in 2.0 mashups. Google may be deserving of backlash in some areas (although to be honest most of the backlash I see is just sour grapes and David and Goliath syndrome) but this isn’t one of them.

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MySpace is Too Scary to Advertise On

Posted: July 12th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, social networking | 11 Comments »

My assertion yesterday that advertisers aren’t going to keep flocking to MySpace is born out by this editorial by strategic consultant Mark Naples on iMedia:

Look for different kinds of branding campaigns than we’ve seen before to proliferate on MySpace. The kind of edgier video that makes its way virally around the web will increasingly be distributed, if not spawned on MySpace. If you’re an advertiser doing something very different than what is accepted on most sites, and you want to increase the buzz among those under 30, looking at MySpace may make some sense. But, for those of us who have been waiting for and advocating for larger and more established brands to spend their money online, the last thing we want to do is drag them to a suburban house party filled with teens and college kids, behaving in ways that they would only behave there– that is, until MySpace.

Again we see the disapproving voice of the parent, scandalized by what teens are doing online. Ho hum. But it is precisely this prudence (or prudery) that will prevent “established brands” from flocking to the site, which is probably a good thing. All the kids I’ve talked to who want microtargeted advertising want it because they don’t like seeing ads that aren’t relevant to them. They would way rather see something from Panic! At the Disco (a band that basically broke on MySpace) or the Scion (or, if the Facebook’s Pulse section is to believed, Coldplay or Jack Johnson.. snore) than something from Verizon or 1-800-PETMEDS (which is the current banner on my MySpace page). Honestly, MySpace’s current advertising is low-budget and of the “Get 1000 Smileys FREE!” variety, so they have a long way to go before advertisers really need to start worrying about whether or not to buy space on the site.

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myspace #1 site last week

Posted: July 11th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: social networking | 4 Comments »

Maybe I should just rename this “The MySpace blog”. Hitwise reports that MySpace was the #1 most visited internet site last week, accounting for 4.5 of all U.S. internet visits. (This is a 4300% increase in the last 2 years and 132% since last year).

I still maintain MySpace is jumping the shark. All the advertising blogs I read are indicating that MySpace is too shady for mainstream advertisers, so now they’re all trying to figure out how to monetize YouTube.

BTW: Read of the Day is danah boyd & Henry Jenkins, two scholars I greatly respect, on MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). A must read if you care about these issues at all.

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word of the day

Posted: July 5th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: business, social networking | 2 Comments »

I’ve been blogging for work and have been travelling a lot. I apologize for the lack of updates, although with RSS the nice thing is that you can push updates when you have them, and people don’t get upset when you don’t.

Today’s word is “smallcasting”, which means blogging or journalling to a specifically selected small group of people. Unlike narrowcasting, which implies an anonymous audience centered around an interest or demographic– a niche– smallcasting is similar to a Christmas newsletter or a wedding website in that it is focused on a family, group of friends, school, etc. It assumes that the caster knows their audience.

New services like Vox and Amiglia are predicated on this: people get to define who they’re talking to in extremely specific terms. For example, you could have a blog only available to parents on your kid’s soccer team. This would be different from a blog targeted at parents with kids who play soccer.

(I made this word up in a meeting the other day. I googled it and got some press release and a couple of disparate hits, but nothing “official”. Feel free to prove me wrong.)

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Review: MySpace IM

Posted: June 14th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: social networking, software | 8 Comments »

MySpace launched its instant messenger clone in beta a few months back and now it appears to be ready for prime time. I installed it and have a few thoughts on the product.

Setup is easy, just download and install the application.

However, adding friends is a big pain. The app doesn’t autopopulate your friends list, and there’s no feature to let you add all of them at once. Rather, clicking “Add Your Friends to IM” brings up your Friends, 20 per page, sorted (as usual) by date the person joined MySpace. (The way your FL is sorted, BTW, is one of my top pet peeves of the site, because it makes it really difficult to find people if you have large numbers of friends. Why can’t they institute alphabetical sorting already?) Since you can’t see all your friends on one page, you have to go page by page and click “add everyone on this page to IM” which, if you have 321 friends like I do, is a big pain in the ass. I had to do this 18 times.

The second obvious flaw is that the application does not integrate with MySpace’s pre-existing IM feature. I’d expect that my Friends who are on MySpace currently would display within the IM application as “online now”. But this isn’t the case. Rather, in order to chat with your MySpace friends through the application, they need to install and configure it. So the IM is basically useless if your friends haven’t bothered to do so. As a result, the only one of my “friends” online is “Tom”.

What works

- Smooth interface without too much extraneous advertising; less intrusive than MSN or AIM (I use Trillian and Google Talk).
- Makes it very easy to access various MySpace features
- Plus, gives MySpace persistent desktop real estate.
- Easy application installation

What doesn’t work

- Setting up friends is a big pain
- Should integrate with pre-existing MySpace IM/PM features

Overall: A great deal of room for improvement. I won’t be using this until enough of my friends install it for it to become compelling. MySpace should also realize that their early adopters on these types of technologies will likely be power users who have tons of friends, and adjust the UI accordingly.

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