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The social landscape in 2012

2012At this time of year many blogs like to make predictions for the year ahead. I've always resisted the urge (perhaps wisely) to do so in the past but this year thought I'd have a stab at it.

Some of my posts are already partly predictive in nature as I will, from time to time, outline what I think could/should happen with regards to certain services. Sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm wide of the mark but, even when wrong, I believe the thought process and discussion the idea creates is just as valuable.

So let's have a look:

Twitter

I have already suggested that the new #discover tab will iterate relatively quickly in order to better facilitate the discovery of content and people - it is all an extension of "follow your interests" that was introduced with the last redesign, #newtwitter. So, where it is heading?

  1. Twitter is seeking to convert consumer into producers so must get them tweeting. The #discover tab is the ideal opportunity so will surely make it easier to respond to a "topic" rather than individual people or tweets. I envisage normal tweeting functionality (replies, retweets, etc.) Will appear more prominently on content within the #discover tab.
  2. Personalisation has been an increasing trend in 2011 and with Facebook continually tweaking their algorithms to display more relevant content in the news feed looks set to be here to stay. I do not doubt that Twitter will introduce behavioural analytics of their own so that #discover can filter information for us. We will, therefore, be provided with a selection of relevant content based on our interests as well as the "popular" items we already receive.
  3. Twitter keeps joining force with new partners (the latest being WordPress) to enable the display of external content inline within the stream. I suggest there is the possibility that #discover could evolve into a more Flipboard style UI containing embedded media (rather than just links) making "commenting" more obvious, instant and simple.

Google+

Google+ will obviously continue to slowly seep into all aspects of the Google ecosystem but in order to be taken seriously the "social layer" must get greater exposure and emphasis.

There must be a move to enable interaction in situ at the source service instead of needing to jump back to Plus. Comments will become bidirectional - syncing and appearing at both the source and the stream regardless of where they are made.

Only then will it be truly a social layer and not just a collection of, exceedingly functional, share buttons.

The social web

I can't help but think that the social web will become less network dependent over the next year. The existence of tools like engag.io will take us away from relying on specific social networks per se - instead we will just connect to people regardless of where they are and what the method.

A perfect illustration of this in an early form is Apple's iMessage: one application which chooses the most appropriate method of connection for the particular contact.

It is, perhaps, a bold statement but the "unified social inbox" will become a big part of how we work.

Over to you

What features do you feel will help to shape the social landscape in the next 12 months?

Why not discuss this post at Google+?

Image by shaza mahmoud1

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Twitter showing its hand.

A new UI confirms Twitter's move to simplify and unify the way we use the service but is that really all it does?

As I have previously mentioned, Twitter's plan to simplify the feed and unify the experience across multiple platforms will be its core differentiator while other services become ever more complex and all-encompassing.

Before #newtwitter the service had a simple one column display but all shared content links forced you to jump out to the relevant source. For any service that relies on being a destination the ability to limit the need to leave your site is paramount; it was, therefore, no surprise that linked items such as images and videos would be displayed in situ.

Reducing this need to click away would have had its advantages but doing so by the use of the "media-pane" creates a disparity with other avenues of access which does not fit with the vision of a unified experience.

So, what's new?

Patrick Bisch over at Pinglio posted that Twitter appears to be rolling out a new simplified timeline (and TechCrunch advise us that Twitter has confirmed this is only a small test) after receiving a new UI when using the web site.

New Twitter UI

Key amongst the changes is that tweets will now display media and related items in-line rather than in the right hand column. Clicking on an open/close toggle (where the arrow to break out the item to the media pane usually sits) will show linked images or videos from Twitter's media partners, the conversation thread or even a list of people who may have retweeted the original item.

While these changes lead to a more streamlined experience in their own right I belive the intention is to enable a view from the web that can be more easily replicated on a smaller screen or even within a mobile application thus presenting the same face regardless of how you use the service.

Keeping it simple

This new UI - which Twitter should roll out as soon as possible in my opinion - seems to be the first step in the direction indicated by CEO Dick Costolo and unifying the user experience will make the service more compelling. Also, as I have posted before, we are unlikely to see anything with regards to metadata as this will just further complicate the issue.

Twitter has been seeking to take control of the client experience for a while and advising developers that they should not be building new ways to tweet but ways to interact with the data. A new UI that displays media and conversations in-line will have the added advantage of matching the existing behaviour of some other third-party clients; having your mobile application function in the same way as the primary web interface will reduce the need for users (especially new ones) to look elsewhere.

Rather than force users away, a new simplified approach will most likely give Twitter greater control over its ecosystem than might have been imagined.

Image via Patrick Bisch at Pinglio

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Embracing its simplicity may be Twitter's master stroke.

Social networks are becoming ever more complex with increasingly sophisticated methods of grouping and sharing in a bid to gain and retain users but, is this always necessary or the right direction to take?

Twitter grew from an SMS application and ever since has stuck to its roots and refused to abandon the option to communicate on the web using the humble text message. The short, sharp status updates of only 140 characters, while sometimes a bit limiting, are the perfect antithesis of the more verbose Facebook and Google+.

Keep it simpleSimple

The simplicity of Twitter is the key attraction; the speed with which you can scan through a lot of information coupled with the absolute ease of access - there is virtually no barrier to entry - means there is no reason why anyone can't send a tweet from just about anywhere.

This simplicity, ease and speed are what make it perfect for real-time news coverage and instant reaction to events.

Less is more

I have written in the past of additional functionality that I would like to see within the current interface - most specifically a form of topic or event based channels - but the news that Twitter is planning to simplify its interface and standardise it across the multiple means of access (web, mobile app, etc.) is quite refreshing and shows that, yet again, the service is keen to honour its beginnings and resist the temptation to force competition with those it is not directly comparable with.

The figures released by Dick Costolo showing that only 50% of Twitter's 200 million accounts are live - 40% of which don't actually tweet - illustrate that Twitter needs to get back on track and recover some of its lost momentum. The initial explosion in user adoption was, no doubt, due in part to this very simplicity but an abundance of feature additions and the #newtwitter interface placed additional barriers in the way of easy use.

Fred Wilson points out that the number of accounts - and subsequently active users (those who have actually logged in) - is misleading as Twitter, unlike Facebook, allows visitors to view content without being logged in or even having an account. The actual potential "customer" base is, therefore much higher and taking steps to ensure that all customers (active or otherwise) can find relevant content will be of benefit.

The reported 400 million unique visits to twitter.com will, however, include those who may visit the homepage and immediately leave as there is no obvious way to interact without signing in or creating an account so we must be careful not to assume that this high figure translates into actual "users".

The silent majority

While the ratio of creators to curators to consumers may be incredibly bottom heavy for content such as blog posts and videos I would argue that with status updates it could be considerably more evenly spread. This was the case in Twitter's earlier years and moves to simplify the service may encourage some of the logged out users to log in again and, perhaps, the casual viewer to even create an account.

It is undeniable that a logged in user is far more valuable to Twitter as the business model will include more targeted ad campaigns but the logged out or casual user must not be ignored as it is in Twitter's interests to encourage them to become active.

Image by R_rose

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Twitter: standing at the crossroads.

Standing at the crossroads, world spinning round and round Know which way I'm going, you can't bring me down - Ozzy Osbourne 

this way, that wayChange is inevitable in order for things to progress. We have an irrational fear of change but must accept it, often realising the benefits once it has happened. We are creatures of habit and anything that disrupts the status quo is unsettling - we need, however, to upset the apple cart and shake things up in order to move on rather than getting stuck in a rut.

A recent theme has emerged: that Twitter needs a new vision, a new direction.

From the outside it seems as though Twitter is standing at the crossroads wondering which way to turn, what changes to make for the best and who it is going to upset on the way.

Rob Diana asked Twitter what it wants to be when it grows up arguing that if needs to focus on product development and work out where it wants to go in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.

Mathew Ingram, over at GigaOm, goes a step further suggesting that Twitter needs "a consistent and tangible vision" under the leadership of a Steve Jobs character.

Competition

We have had the rumours that UberMedia is going to build a competitor - possibly using its stable of client applications as leverage - and the new TweetDeck web service (still in beta) is being seen as a rival to #newtwitter but Twitter needs to improve its experience in order to progress, even without the threat of competition.

It has been said UberMedia's network will focus on some of Twitter's failings and gaps in usability to gain traction and I go along with the need to recognise how people are using a service in order to greater facilitate this use.

Twitter has done it before, taking on board the ideas of hashtags and retweets, but it needs to get more creative and take a few risks.

Back to basics

A couple of days ago I had a "Wow!" moment listening to the radio in the car. During an interview, historian Neil Oliver was asked how you could sum up Stonehenge in a sentence or two. His answer: forget the stones, (what?) instead think about why people considered the site to be important enough to want to keep coming back and permanently mark it in this way. Why is the site important?

How does this apply to Twitter? Forget the tools, forget specific functionality, think about why people are using the service - why do they think it is important.

It's almost like it has been ripped straight from the intro to the Cluetrain Manifesto:

"What if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales?" "In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenized broadcast media, sterilized mass "culture," and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organizations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered."

Read Twitter for "the internet" in these paragraphs and you have a good basis for realising the attraction for what is, essentially, a very basic service.

If Twitter is going to look at how we use it then a few trends may be instantly identified but it has to prove it is listening.

Dog eat dog

There is obviously a willingness to eat in to the ecosystem when it suits, and to undercut developers, but Twitter needs to start doing it better than the third parties rather than doing just enough to get by.

The beauty of Twitter, however, is in its simplicity - change the game too drastically and you run the risk of losing what you've got. It's hard to think what Twitter could do that would be big enough to be a game changer again but without destroying the success achieved so far.

The question then becomes does Twitter know which way it's going? Will it slip up allowing others to bring it down? Or, perhaps, it will take the time to rethink its direction to ensure it is on the right path.  Image by Lori Greig

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Going beyond the hashtag - using implicit social graphs within Twitter.

hashtagAs I posted last week, the recent release of mobile application Color has caused quite a stir, not because of the app itself but because of the idea it brings to the table: the implicit social graph.

Implicit graphs are being touted as the way forward for the social web as they are more firmly rooted in the here and now, more closely mirroring real life as we are constantly moving through implicit graphs throughout our day.

Implicit social groups are formed around locations, events, ideas, topics and ad-hoc conversations exist for the duration of the event around which the group is formed in direct contrast to the way Twitter normally operates.

Twitter users have already demonstrated ways the service can be used: from elections to sports events to natural disasters it has taken its place at the forefront of instant communication and connection but this has not been structured.

Beyond the hashtag

By going beyond the hashtag and introducing implicit social graphs within Twitter more targeted conversations can be created. We can go beyond just location and group tweets together based on our interests and activities.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison and multiple people at the same event can create noise within timelines; how many times have we seen threats to unfollow people because they are attending a conference such as SXSW or CES – these would be ideal candidates for targeted conversations.

Benefits

The obvious benefit of implicit social groups is keeping track of all related tweets within one place and there should also be an easier way to contribute. By hiding the conversation from the main public timeline we would also reap the benefit of reducing noise.

Revenue potential

Some conversations such as those surrounding sports events and conferences occur repeatedly so the owners of those events may wish to have an element of control over the conversations that occur; this would allow for the possibility of registering your event for a fee to gain this control.

So, how would it be done?

As the post title suggests implicit social graphs could be created by going beyond the hashtag; using some form of code. To keep the nomenclature consistent I would suggest the hashcode. The hashcode would be the target word surrounded by hashes, for example: #SXSW#.

Twitter with my6sense

The My6Sense extension for Google Chrome illustrates that additional tabs can be created for the #newtwitter web UI – this same behaviour could be used for implicit graphs created using hashcodes.

Tweeting just a hashcode on its own could open a dedicated tab for that conversation which will display all Tweets tagged accordingly.

Twitter with hashcode

The group tab will be a self-contained timeline and any Tweet posted here will not be visible in the main public stream, thus reducing the noise for those not attending the event or discussing the topic.

Tweets will be tagged as belonging to that group if they are either: posted directly from within the tab or from the public timeline provided they are preceded by the hashcode. Tweets could also, perhaps, be tagged within the UI itself to indicate the ad-hoc conversation to which they belong, as below:

Tagged tweet

Just as with @ replies, the tweets would show within the timeline on your profile should it be viewed directly so that a permanent record can be kept.

Just as with other tabs a drop down could provide the option to close the tab once you no longer need it.

Control

Many conversations will be one-off events and could be created by anyone but, as described above, events such as conferences are repeat events and the opportunity exists to charge for the registration of the hashcode matching that event.

Registration could provide the ‘owner’ with an element of control such as locking the hashcode (so that it can’t be used unofficially) and treating it more like an account. A hashcode could have an avatar and description and the ability to block users from accessing it – perhaps subject to an official review from Twitter staff.

Summary

In short, hashcodes would provide the ability to create ad-hoc implicit social groups within the traditional explicit framework of social networks granting a focus and flexibility not currently available as well as a means to reduce noise within the public timeline.

I had intended this to be pitched directly to twitter but have not been able to find a way to do so. You can view the full idea pitch in this PDF: Going Beyond the Hashtag

Lead image by Jeff

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog