Posts tagged with ‘social media technology’

iPhone Tracks User Locations. So What?

Last week it was revealed that iPhone users might have had their locations tracked by Apple. People are up in arms over what is obviously a major violation in privacy.

Wake up, people. Google reads your mail. Apple tracks your locations. Facebook tracks your user habits. It’s all to sell you stuff.

While I agree it’s a bit unnerving to have a major corporation documenting your every move, let’s get realistic. Apple, Google, and Facebook are relatively uninterested in what you are ACTUALLY doing. In fact, most user information is tracked for the sole purpose of selling you products you will likely be interested in. Emailing about Spiderman posters? Google will target advertisements selling you superhero paraphernalia. Suddenly “liking” parenting websites on Facebook? You may notice Facebook ads for diapers and other baby gear.

Yes, it’s creepy and it borders on unethical. But can you blame them? It’s becoming easier and easier to ignore advertisements on television, radio, and other mainstream forms of media where we were once bombarded with products and services. I’m not condoning Apple’s transparency failure in tracking user’s locations, but I’m not surprised and you shouldn’t be either.

HTML 5 and CSS 3: The Game is Changing… Again.

Much has been said about HTML 5 and CSS 3 lately. While this post is not seeking to add revelatory statements to those made elsewhere, I am seeking to aid the average layperson – people like our clients – in understanding why this updated code stuff is so important, and how it represents yet another sea change in web site visitor expectations.

You may remember a time a few years back when you couldn’t go an hour without someone using the buzzphrase “Web 2.0”.  Many of us felt it was a kind of hyped up way to say that the web was changing, and with it people’s expectations.  As with any mass hysteria, you have to wait for the dust to settle before real meaning and understanding can be gained.

What Web 2.0 was then is exactly what Web 3.0 and 4.0, etc. will be about: Evolution. The gradual change that takes place along a continuum.

What was touted as a destination by those caught up in the hype has turned out to be the next logical step in the evolution of web technology and computer-aided human interactivity.  Whatever Web 2.0 was about, it wasn’t a stopping place.  There are no real stopping places on the internet.

We have been pushing the limits of our web since the first day two computers could talk to one another.  Big surprise then that we would continue to rearrange the virtual furniture.  We will never be completely done decorating the spaces within our browsers. (And that’s the big lesson for any business that wants to remain relevant.)

Whereas the previous wave of disruptive technologies centered mostly on the cool stuff you could build and run on web servers (those glorious and all-but-invisible computer boxes that fueled the growth of countless social startups), and to a troubling extent a “glassy button” graphical look that almost supplanted the actual advancements being made, this upcoming wave of change seems to have as its beach the browser itself.

And that’s as technical as I am going to get.  Why?  You’re busy making your company work for you.  You don’t need to know the difference between server-side and client-side actions.  What you need to know is that as this new wave gathers strength and presses inexorably toward landfall, your web site visitors – the people from whom you’d like to extract a measure of value while providing the same in return – are about to get even more sophisticated in their expectations of what a web site should be and do.

So if this article is seeking to add anything to the conversations happening around the release of new web standards, it’s this: You cannot afford the luxury of a set-and-forget web strategy.  You must continue to invest and innovate in order to keep pace with the evolution of your market.

HENMA Talk: Social Networking and SEO – Strategies for Growing Your Business

In about an hour I will be joining my friend and colleague Taylor Hill to give an informal talk to members of my local merchant’s association about Social Networking and SEO, and how each can be used to grow a business.  I am looking forward to it!

For those who would like to follow along with the notes (there won’t be any slideshow for this one) you can download the PDF here.

Twitter and Facebook: The Basis for Connections

whovswhatAs a social web participant, technologist and consultant, I am being asked on a daily basis my thoughts on Twitter and Facebook for business. I definitely have opinions about the uses of both platforms, and the suitability of each to various types of marketing and relational/conversational business networking activities. I was asked by a merchant’s association of which I am a member to share some insight on the social web strategies I see working, but of course before any such discussion can be meaningful, there has to be a short summary of the features and benefits of each platform. And the shorter this preface is the better, in my opinion.

So in an attempt to cram it into a nutshell for my upcoming audience, I was comparing and contrasting the ways in which the two networks build connections. The starting point for a connection can often be quite revealing about what sorts of conversations will be able to emerge as mutual participation and engagement ensues. If I meet someone in the context of  being “a friend of the family”, I am likely to explore radically different topics of discussion than if I met the same person in the context of “having the same interests”.

Facebook’s primary connection mode seems designed to bring together people who already know each other, or are very likely to know one another in an existing relational context, whether past or present. A slightly secondary mode is the locale-centric one, in which Facebook seeks to center activity and connections based on the reported location of its members. Both modes suppose an existing geographic or sociographic connection in order for the system to perform well in suggesting friends. And indeed, many if not most of the prompts and activities around which Facebook revolves suppose that the connections occurring within networks have some real-world mirror or context.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the memes and recurring quizzes, etc. that get passed around. Without already knowing something of the individuals participating in these activites, the answers and the exercises themselves would be of little interest, consequence or value to the group.

Twitter, on the other hand, with fewer guided activity options (and subsequently a LOT of general confusion about what Twitter really is) can be much like Facebook, in terms of mirroring confined and pre-existing real-world social connection graphs, but it isn’t designed to limit or promote only those social spheres. In fact, Twitter seems to be harder to use in that way than Facebook, because of the lack of recommendations and six-degrees-of-separation sort of ready-made connections. To find people to follow on Twitter, or to find followers, one would typically start with an interest or subject matter that mattered in their world. With little in the way of formal introduction or pre-existing awareness of an individual, connections can be made, based on little else than a mutual appreciation of a topic, interest or body of knowledge. In this way, Twitter tolerates more anonymity during interactions in the network, and thus can be an appealing place to be a genuine and transparent brand with a valuable voice in the conversations already occurring there. One does not have to know much about someone before choosing to follow them, because the value of the connection is not based on felt associations, but rather based upon a knowledge transaction.

In other words, Facebook networks are based upon WHO you know, and Twitter networks are based upon WHAT you know.

I am thrilled to have finally come up with a “10 words or less” comparison/explanation of the two services. But probably no more thrilled than my audience will be.

3 Unintended and Valuable Consequences of Social Web Technologies

It’s always fascinating to read about ways that the social web is being used. The staggering growth and acceptance rate of technologies that were not even a blueprint two months ago is itself a staggering thought. The social web, for all its fickle-minded users and fad-chasing business models, has always had a bleeding edge where the “cool stuff” gets made. I should know, I’ve been involved in creating some of it.

But it is because of the fast and wide-scale adoption of these platforms and technologies that we have a full and healthy dose of the Law of Unintended Consequences operating today. For every new break-away service that comes into the light, there are a crop of parallel (and some would say “parasitic”) technologies that emerge alongside. Given the popular trend of public data APIs, this sideline innovation is often where the bleeding edge is found, much to the chagrin of the original technologies’ founders.

I’ll give you a few examples of the unintended consequences I am talking about.

  1. Search. Platforms like Twitter are poised to benefit from an emerging view about the data being batted about on any given day in the social web. Turns out that this data is valuable, and once it was made searchable and discoverable, it shines as a plausible replacement to search giant Google as an even more real-time search engine. Who would’ve thunk it? Certainly not the tops at Twitter, at least not from the beginning, and I’d bet money on that.
  2. Marketing. Facebook knows something about the data it has in its system. It’s a freakin’ gold mine. And if it can ever transition the unrealistic expectations of its user base to accept a business model that allows Facebook to sell more of this data (anonymous or otherwise) Facebook will be worth triple the inflated numbers that were bandied about several months ago. Marketers are standing by with very long extension cords, just waiting for Facebook to tell them where the high-voltage power receptacles will be located. Because marketers instinctively understand that knowing what Facebook already knows about its users, based solely on their organic and voluntary use of the platform, will likely fuel a global economic recovery. But if Facebook had realized the full value to marketers from the start, I think they would have laid some ground rules that would have made it much easier to do business without sparking user-generated revolt.
  3. CRM. How would you like to find out what people are saying about your brand, and quickly respond before an influential rogue micro-blogger can do real damage? The social web is already changing the way businesses manage customer relationships. But I am positive that blogs and microblogging platforms were not conceived out of that desire. It’s another beneficial yet unintended consequence, and it has incredible value to those interested in harvesting the data.

The real party-pooper in the above scenarios is the user and his/her expectations about the social web and the platforms that prop it up.  For now, the social web remains a Fortress of Free, and the expectation that the user-added data in these public systems will remain private and untargeted (ridiculous notions, by the way) are so strong that any wholesale moves toward marketing the vast data sets are met with rigid and unwavering protest. Yet another unintended consequence of making everything free from the start…

The Unsustainability of The Social Web

socialroaches

There is a dynamic that has developed within the social web over the years which I find disturbing yet pervasive, and about as hard to eradicate as an infestation of cockroaches. But the future of the Social Web depends on a close examination and realignment of thought regarding ingrained user expectations. Facebook is drawing fire from users for recent (some say misinformed, inaccurate?) news about plans to sell user data to market researchers, and I think this illustrates my point beautifully.

After one of my own social startup experiments failed to gain traction with its intended audience, I had some time to reflect on my interactions with social web users, and here is a list of some of the expectations and (often contradictory) attitudes I encountered regularly (I have shared these views at times myself):

  • I should be able to sign up and use Social Web apps and services for free.   If you cannot figure out how to monetize the service without bothering me, I will leave.
  • Ads bother me. So do requests for donations.
  • The publicly available personal information posted on my pages is mine, mine alone, and should not be used in any way I did not intend for it to be used. I don’t care if it’s public, and your commercial use of it is actually anonymous.
  • I should not have to look at a lot of on-page advertising in “my” pages. They are mine, and I do not want them cluttered up.
  • The free services I use should remain free, remain up, available, and working as expected 99.9% of the time. Service interruptions should be scheduled for the hours I am not online.
  • Delays, slowdowns, and interruptions to service are intolerable. Figure out your infrastructure and scalability issues before you bother to launch.
  • My features wish list is reasonable, and should be implemented, even though I do not plan on using the features regularly; they should be there because I think the ideas are cool.
  • Web apps should not have too many unnecessary features.
  • I think there should only be one or two Social Web apps and we should ignore all the others, so that it is easier for me to manage my digital life and connect with the world in the context of my favorite social app.
  • There should be a mobile version that does exactly what the full web version does, and works in exactly the same way. Screen size, operating systems, phone model and carrier contracts be damned. Make it work. Now.
  • Once my favorite app gets so big and successful as to a be an obvious target of criticism, I will openly blast them for their successes and work to destroy any attempt they make to monetize the service or use my anonymous data.
  • When a dumb service I loved at first, then wanted to change, then criticized for changing, doesn’t succeed in meeting all my above expectations, I will place them in the deadpool, and tell the world I knew they wouldn’t make it all along.

There is another side to the user experience; it’s the side of the brave people who dream up and actualize cool Social Web technologies. This is the environment in which they have been asked to launch, develop and prove commercially viable their free services. Perhaps we need to tame down certain unrealistic expectations, mmm? How else will the Social Web find its path to sustainability?

Better Understanding Twitter

Twitter has gotten a whole lot of people’s attention in the last year. I have had an account since the beginning, but I confess, I did not start really using it until the last few months. What a shame.

I am finally understanding the purpose, but in that statement I am acknowledging that the purpose is VERY subjective and perhaps different for everyone reading this. And to talk about the many ways Twitter can be used is outside the scope of this post.

One specific reason I am using it right now is news qualification. While a feed reader aggregates my news, I found it didn’t do a good job of telling me what was worth reading. Twitter, or more specifically, Twitterers, and those few who bother to find the good stuff and Tweet it, are serving the needed qualification I was seeking. Now, if someone I follow on Twitter says I need to see a post, and five others mention it, then rest assured I will be reading it before long. Even if there weren’t other reasons to love Twitter, that alone is reason enough.

Interesting how social media technologies, when used in conjunction with one another, begin to help filter the information noisefloor, making it easier to find the good layers you crave, and rise above the petty ones you don’t have time for.