Shrinking the circles

When I wrote about Dunbar's Number a few years ago I was approaching it from the perspective of someone who was firmly ensconced in the social world.

I argued that, while Dunbar's Number was repeatedly touted as evidence that we should focus on the quality of connections not quantity, our "friendships" on social networks did not reflect the type that Dunbar was talking about.

As such, his number did not directly relate to social networks.

More recently, however, I wrote:

”It's ironic that the more we are supposedly connected the more distant we become. Perhaps we are widening the circles of acquaintanceship too far.”

I didn't expand on this at the time, it was a bit of a throwaway comment, however I thought I needed to come back to it.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the circles of acquaintanceship are the social layers within which the degree of our relationships decreases with distance.

The first circle only five people: your spouse and other closest family member and, perhaps, your best friend or two. They form your inner circle, those who you know most about.

The next circle contains fifteen people: maybe some of your wider family and more friends but who aren’t in your immediate circle of trust.

Next come circles of 50 and 150 with the intimacy of the relationships reducing as the circles expand.

And so on, as I wrote before:

”This logic extends beyond the limits of Dunbar’s number and it has been suggested that circles of acquaintanceship continue to 500, 1500 and beyond. Coincidentally, 1500 is apparently the number of faces we can easily recognise.”

But Dunbar’s Number was originally designed to apply to communities, villages, tribes. The online environment, however, is radically different hence the argument that Dunbar’s Number doesn’t apply here because the relationships we have are usually much more distant those offline.

Facebook limits users to 5000 friends and arguments exist over whether this is just an arbitrary number.

I’ve remarked in the past that Facebook, more than any other social media property, is firmly based in network science so maybe it’s no coincidence that 5000 would be the next circle of acquaintanceship after 1500.

So, whether you believe that it was a deliberate figure or necessitated by scaling issues, it was an interesting decision. One much to the annoyance of some popular folks who easily hit that limit, necessitating that Facebook had to add unilateral following alongside reciprocal friending.

For once, here, I find myself commending Facebook on a decision.

Perhaps the problems with social networks are due to playing the numbers game: more friends, more likes, more everything. Because of this we lose focus, lose the connections with others amongst the flow of data.

Dunbar may not apply directly but we should be taking the same approach with how many connections we have.

We are trying to cast the net too wide.

Shrinking the circles

Making the darkness conscious

I read this article arguing that Facebook should be regulated in the same way AIM was when the ill-fated AOL & Time Warner merger happened.

AOL was forced to open up the relationship data between individuals in AIM to allow third parties to interop. You could finally use your social graph in other apps.

This was all years before the major social networks we know today were even considered, let alone became the force they are now. The term 'social graph' wasn't even in anyone's vocabulary.

This was and is a big thing for the open web - it's not just the data that should be your own, transferable between different systems, but also your relationships. How two people converse on the web should not be solely controlled by a single company.

It instantly reminded me of a post I wrote back in August 2010 when I asked "are social platforms the next Microsoft?"

Microsoft was criticised and, eventually, censured for abusing its monopolistic position and forced to allow other browsers the same access to Windows as Internet Explorer while offering users an immediate choice of which one they used.

I wrote that Facebook and Twitter were acting like Microsoft of old, abusing their position and (effectively and literally) stealing the ideas of smaller startups who were unable to compete.

As such I wondered if this could put them at risk of censure themselves.

Fast forward seven years and they are still at it, especially Facebook which has made a not so subtle point of copying everything that Snapchat pioneered while amassing over 2 billion monthly users.

It's as though the reach and impact of social networks has been grossly underestimated; surely, those silly online services are nothing more than time sinks?

Wrong!

But it's only now that those pesky Russians are implicated that the need for some kind of regulation is being taken seriously. Maybe the Cold War never really end - it just moved online.

We've seen time and again that social networks can be dangerous places with equally dangerous degrees of influence.

Facebook has a de facto monopoly with a wider reach than any media company, no, any company in history. Connecting the world is theoretically a good thing but divisions will always exist - trying to force a utopian ideal upon everyone ignores those divisions and only causes resentment and an eventual explosive backlash when that resentment can no longer be contained.

As Carl Gustav Jung wrote:

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."

We have to recognise and experience both sides in order to rationalise the whole.

Facebook and Twitter have been too reactionary: only acknowledging a problem after having it repeatedly pointed out to them. Then, of course, the issue becomes a priority with the promise of more hires to police it and the best minds to come up with a solution.

But then something else becomes a problem - subsequently a priority - and, before you know it, this "crack task force" is allegedly working on three, four, five issues with little evidence that any are actually being resolved to any degree of satisfaction.

To not realise, or blatantly ignore, that these systems which can be incredible forces for good can also be remarkably destructive is irresponsible, if not negligent, especially so as the warning signs have been obvious, and repeatedly pointed out, for years.

But Jung's quote above concludes with:

"The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular."

With this in mind, perhaps it's unsurprising that regulation has not yet occurred.

Making the darkness conscious

Mulling Mark’s Manifesto

Reading Mark Zuckerberg's manifesto reminded me of something I wrote after watching his F8 keynote back in 2011:

"...watching Mark Zuckerberg talk about social is like watching Steve Jobs talk about Apple: the pied-piper plays his tune and we can’t help but follow (pun intended). There is an ultimate confidence in what is being presented."

There is an obvious total belief in what he says, and rightly so. There is a lot of truth to be taken from it but the cynic will have a hard time reconciling the vision and the current reality of Facebook with its over reliance on advertising.

How do we get from here to there?

Something I've said for years is that society is becoming more fragmented, not in this retreat from globalisation, but locally. Zuck states that there are "movements for withdrawing from global connection" but, even within these movements, there is no real consensus - just a feeling that the withdrawal should occur.

The 20th Century saw the nature of labour and our roles change. We previously worked locally to our homes meaning our colleagues were our neighbours. The local community was a true reflection of its members.

With modern ways of working and a shift in labour patterns we have separated the different aspects of our lives. We travel to work and spend 8 hours a day with our colleagues within a restricted social environment. When our shift ends we return home and, due to long days made ever longer by more distant commutes, spend increasingly less time with those beyond our households.

Local community no longer holds the same meaning or attraction as it once did.

Online shift

Over the past decade we have used technology and social tools to rekindle our social connections but are enamoured by the ability to have global conversations at the expense of local ones.

Zuckerberg mentions the 100 million Facebook users who are members of "very meaningful" groups but when you consider there are 1.8 billion users overall this is a tiny percentage.

We should not be surprised as this mirrors the change in society offline with people far less likely to be involved in community groups, religious groups, sports clubs, town associations etc. Our social fabric has been in decline for some time.

The move online, while an undoubted boon for some, has not been the panacea we hoped for. It has brought a small percentage together in meaningful ways but has actually been a contributory factor in pushing others apart.

The plan for Facebook to use AI to suggest groups that may be relevant to us is to be applauded but must be employed carefully and consistently.

Online vs offline

Mark talks about dealing with someone as a whole person in order to have a more productive conversation but this is unlikely to happen over a social network. The framework doesn't really exist to facilitate it.

This highlights the importance of meeting face-to-face; only by interacting on a regular basis across a range of experiences can we truly engage with a whole person.

Something people used to do a lot more often.

It is good to see this recognised:

"we can strengthen existing physical communities by helping people come together online as well as offline. In the same way connecting with friends online strengthens real relationships, developing this infrastructure will strengthen these communities"

This will be the real challenge. No matter how invested we are in our online communities if this engagement doesn't translate then how effective can it be?

Some will argue there is no distinction between online life and offline - it is all just aspects of life - but those who exist in this state are, again, in the minority.

For most the distinction between on and offline is real and severe; once the computer has been turned off or the phone put away life continues in ignorant isolation of whatever just happened beyond the screen.

We must ensure that our "very meaningful" groups have offline extensions and are so compelling, so useful, so supportive that we are compelled to seek them out.

Only by continuing these relationships on this side of the screen can we hope to rebuild a true social framework.

Responsibility

The biggest issue with the manifesto for most is that Facebook is run for the benefit of Facebook; it is a business after all.

If Zuckerberg Is desperate to support a rekindled social infrastructure then Facebook has to entertain a degree of social responsibility.

The site can no longer focus on keeping users present purely for its own purposes, to consistently expose you to more ads, but this conflicts with the current business model and may hurt the bottom line.

To meet the aims of the manifesto Facebook has to choose exactly what it wants to become and be truly for it's users. If it can get past this shift then it may succeed, but that very shift will be its biggest challenge yet.

Mulling Mark’s Manifesto

Markup and Interoperability

Markdown

A response to my last post accused me of being part of the "chosen tribe" who "make blogging as hostile as possible" and will "drive the normals from Twitter and Facebook too."

Why? Because I previously agreed that Markdown would be a good option for interoperability between blogs and Facebook.

Just another example of the tribe making it hard for normals to get on!

But, people are more familiar with markup than they think.

Surround a word with asterisks in Word or Outlook and it will be bolded, the same with underscores for italics - this is a widely known feature called "Real Formatting" and used by many. Hardly the reserve of a chosen tribe of nerds.

Google+ used basic markup right from the outset to add basic formatting to posts. Millions who had never considered anything like Markdown before were suddenly using basic markup without a second thought.

But this isn't the point I really wanted to make.

Standards

I'll admit to being a bit of a geek but wanting to use Markdown as a means of interoperability does not make me elitist.

Markdown is a standard which means that you know exactly what you're going to get rather than the various methods of implementing rich text that exist around the web. It has variants and offshoots but the core standard is defined and simple.

It doesn't have to be Markdown, Facebook would just need to implement something (preferably a recognised standard rather than a proprietary creation) that enables cross-posting to occur without losing formatting and links. Markdown is simply an obvious choice as it is becoming the de facto option.

People get nervous when they see the word "markup" assuming that it immediately puts a barrier between users and the systems they want to use. Employing Markdown within an environment such as Facebook, however, need not mean forcing everyone to write with it.

Options

As seen in this tweet, Facebook At Work (effectively a Slack competitor) already includes Markdown support but it could be also made invisible to the end user.

Why not have a toggle to switch between manual entry or a WYSIWYG approach with formatting buttons but the content would still use Markdown as the underlying markup?

Providing options lets users post how they want whilst providing the interoperability to prevent a fractured experience across platforms.

Markup and Interoperability

Mobile first or mobile only?

The open web is dying.

Why? According to Dave Winer in a post and Podcast the answer, which will come as no great surprise, is Facebook but not exactly in the way you think.

Facebook is great at what it does, although some will argue over its true purpose as a social network versus an ad platform. And that is the problem: what it does excludes what it needs to do to properly support the open, or non-mobile, web.

By its own admission Facebook was terrible at mobile and dithered between different app styles including a hosted web offering that performed exceptionally poorly. It hadn't figured out how to make money from mobile so made a concerted effort to remedy this by becoming a "mobile first" company.

Unfortunately, this has been taken to extremes and mobile first often now feels like mobile only.

With Dave's past it is hardly surprising that he focuses on the (lack of) interaction between blogs and Facebook.

Publishing a blog post to Facebook on the non-mobile web results in a very poor experience. Posts do not support titles, even basic formatting or links which are all the bedrock of blog posts.

All that's left is text.

Google realised the importance of basic formatting in posts with bold and italic supported in Google+ from the very beginning. You just couldn't cross post from an external source.

Facebook demonstrates its support for mobile with Instant Articles, simplified pages that look good and load, as the name suggests, virtually instantly. Their answer to AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) as pushed by Google.

The difference? Instant Articles are exclusively a Facebook property available only within its mobile apps.

Behind the wall.

Publishers, including bloggers, are encouraged to host IA versions of their posts within Facebook ostensibly to improve the reader experience by reducing load times over mobile connections. In practice it also negates the need for readers to leave Facebook. Shame 😉

Bloggers like to be read. Let's be honest, despite the arguments over controlling your own site, when it comes down to it the location doesn't really matter hence the move to cross post to places like Medium and Facebook.

You go where your audience is.

The problem is that Facebook defines that audience as mobile users, being the majority subset of Facebook users, and those good looking Instant Articles can't be seen on the non-mobile web leaving us with plain text abominations.

Where's the reader experience here?

How difficult would it be to support basic formatting in Facebook posts? Dave suggests Markdown as a solution - which, incidentally, supports way more than titles, bold and italics, and links. It appears that the network has been testing this on Event Pages so the ability exists within the product. It wouldn't be hard to implement Markdown in posts.

Although I don't use Facebook beyond closed family groups it would be nice to have the network as an option for cross posting. While I have added support for AMP I have purposefully held off on implementing Instant Articles because of these inconsistencies between platforms.

So, how about it Facebook?

Mobile first or mobile only?

Author Rank and the changing face of Facebook.Comments

Social networking is big business and much is made of the positions and strengths of the major players such as Facebook and Google.

I was recently sent an email by Vincent Schmalbach promoting his post "Author Rank: Larry Page's Nightmare" in which he likens Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm with the concept of Google's Author Rank.

I cannot agree with the starting point of his piece, for the reasons stated below, but he does raise a few interesting questions.

EdgeRank is not author rank for Facebook

EdgeRankEdgeRank is an automated relevance engine based on behaviour: it observes who we interact with, what we like, the types of post we most engage with, etc. and works to show us more of the same thus hoping to pique our interest and enhance our engagement - the overriding aim is to remove irrelevance and provide a better experience in our News Feed.

Author rank (according to patents) seeks to determine the relevance of individual authors to specific search queries and promote those with the most authority within search results. EdgeRank is far more personal.

Once Open Graph data is available via Graph Search, however, a form of author rank could be employed by surfacing web content with the most likes/external Facebook comments as relates to the search query and this is where Vincent's notion of transferring "EdgeRank to web search" comes in to play but, as it stands, this will be more personal than a strict Author Rank.

Search

As I have said in the past, Facebook is outsourcing its search engine index to users via Open Graph but, again, it is a relevance engine: it is not an index of everything but an index of everything that mattered enough to Facebook users that they felt compelled to Like or comment.

Author Rank coming, YodaOne thing Vincent and I do agree on is that Bing's social search initiatives could be a serious competitor for Google with regards to Author Rank and Open Graph data from Facebook could play a large part via nodes, connections and relationships. Unlike Bing, however, Facebook is not currently after definitive external data sources but about likes, interests and influence.

There is massive potential within Facebook but it exists in a state of dichotomy; on one side we have EdgeRank and Graph Search promoting relevance but, on the other, Facebook is constantly criticised for the complete lack of advertising relevance as though our interest data is being completely ignored.

Work is needed to make better use of the data held by the social behemoth.

Facebook's changing face

Much of Facebook's problem is that its social model, the traditional friending model, is becoming less relevant in the wider context of other services across the social web.

Social platforms have an increasing propensity towards discovery rather than just connecting:

  • Twitter's #discover tab and continued use of hashtags
  • Instagram and Foursquare explore options
  • Google+ communities, automatic and related hashtags

While it is seen as copying other services, Facebook is having to change and adapt to the new social paradigms and this is what we have started to see recently. Be it something simple such as Subcriptions or, coming up to date, Graph Search this is now not the look of a network that relies solely on people connecting with those they already know.

What not who

No identityDespite what we may tell ourselves, the business of social is increasingly less about existing relationships but more about establishing connections or edges and what tiny signals might possibly be inferred or extrapolated from even the most innocuous of actions.

It's not who you are but what you do, where and when you do it, who you do it with and how they share that experience.

Facebook used to care who you were as that determined why family and friends might want to join and connect with you; your real identity was important. Now, however, things are shifting and changing focus.

I said a while back that Twitter didn't care who you were, Facebook cared a lot and Google wasn't bothered as long as you were consistent. The reality now is that all social properties require that element of consistency so that users can be effectively targeted with advertising etc. either directly within the network or within connected services.

The need to know exactly who we are is diminishing as long as we always have the same identity, be it real or not.

The role of social

So, if identity is not strictly as important as it was, social platforms will have little interest in becoming true identity providers but merely identity services. Rather than wanting social identities to be our digital passport it needs to be more our entry ticket.

Take your seat.

Author Rank and the changing face of Facebook.

Is Facebook reinventing its image?Comments

Random NetworkIs Facebook being forced to reinvent itself adding, new features to reinvigorate its user base and placate the disaffected youth?

I have made no secret in the past that I am an admirer of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his vision for creating a socially connected world.

After the Facebook Home announcement in April I wrote:

"While I am not a big Facebook user I am fascinated by the principles of network science so the company interests me because it displays the most obvious adherence to these principles both in structure and terminology. Networks are about people and the connections we make with those people rather than the means of that connection."

Facebook suffers from having to accede to the business requirements needed to keep the company funded and the resultant advertising is a big turn off to many users.

Activity monitoring and the Open Graph supply the network with data about our online and social behaviour but we are still in the relative infancy of the social business model. Facebook appears to have problems either targeting us with relevant advertisements or, perhaps, getting relevant advertisers signed up with which to target us so needs to placate its users in other ways.

Drama

Recent studies have shown that teens have waning enthusiasm for the Facebook due, in part, to "stressful drama" and there are often jibes on other networks about the behaviour and ignorance of Facebook users so the findings are no surprise.

While relationships are the real social currency, users are increasingly taking to social networks for their supply of news and information about current events; social media even plays a part in shaping those events so it is understandable that networks should want to exploit this behaviour.

Facebook is looking to do just this in a number of ways.

Reinventing interaction

Facebook hashtagsFacebook's Graph Search aims to readily surface information related to a specific query but this goes way beyond just people. Being able to find interests, places, restaurants and local businesses all with the added benefit of social recommendation is a powerful departure from existing relationship based behaviour.

As I have previously suggested, the implementation of Graph Search could have an effect on user behaviour; if it is so simple to expose our actions then such a system might encourage some to moderate their behaviour. This would obviously benefit Facebook's reputation as a place of discourse and reduce the "drama" experienced by its members.

The introduction of hashtags had been rumoured for a while and its recent inclusion serves to add a new dynamic to the Facebook experience.

Hashtags are simplistic in nature on Twitter, allowing users to easily follow a specific topic in real-time. Google+ has now taken this one step further with auto-tagging and related tags which provides enhanced, more serendipitous discovery.

Facebook will be aiming to combine both as it takes a slice of the real-time conversation pie whilst iterating its hashtag implementation to facilitate enhanced discovery to act as a perfect counterpoint to Graph Search.

Newsfeed or news?

Facebook RSSAs is the way of the social web, rumour once again suggests that Facebook might be looking to further expand its remit by adding RSS consumption functionality to its toolset.

When Google announced that it would be shutting down Reader I suggested a possible way that Google+ could incorporate RSS feeds to replace it. Could it be that Facebook is moving to entice over Reader users who have not yet moved to another solution?

Although social networks, via user curation, can do a good job of disseminating news we are not on permanently checking our feeds. Subscribing to RSS feeds allows us to catch up with specific sources at our leisure so perfectly compliments the real-time flow of social.

Grow and adapt

Facebook has changed from its humble beginnings; it has moved from being solely the domain of university students to friends family and more via pages and subscriptions - it's not just for friends anymore.

The new design - which has yet to roll out to all users - and recent introduction of new features would seem to indicate that Facebook is trying to encourage a different breed of social networkers to use its service - those who are more focused on news, discovery and the intricacies of networking.

While the pressure is on to increase revenues via advertising and other initiatives there is equally a pressure to ensure that the user base is happy with the service. With everything that is happening this appears to be Facebook's biggest challenge and the long term fate of the network depends on getting it right.

Images by OpenBioMedical, myself and Techcrunch.

Is Facebook reinventing its image?

Social relevance, algorithms and choice.Comments

Apart from family and existing friends ... the interest graph is actually the primary driver behind expanding the social graph - The lines are blurring.

One of tDiscoverhe most important factors in social growth is discovery, discovery of posts and of people.

Google+ was launched on the premise of being "real world sharing for the web" - it aimed to make it easier and more natural to divide our online lives into "circles" just as we are part of different groups offline (family, friends, colleagues, etc.)

Social networks afford us multiple stages of relevance management and taking Plus as an example we have:

  • Circle management
  • Circle volume settings
  • Community membership
  • relevance by association which is discovery by similar actions, posting comments to the same thread, for example)

ControlControl

One of the most controversial and divisive aspects of Facebook is Edgerank - the algorithm used to decide what gets displayed in our news feeds based on the relationships and interactions with our friends. Essentially, our actions are analysed and we are shown more of what we "like".

Social networks such as Facebook and Google+ are cultures of affirmation where we only have the option to Like or +1, while this is intended to create a positive atmosphere it risks creating a closed loop where our feeds becoming more insular and focused.

When conditions exist such that we have multiple levels of relevance management do we need the social stream to be further filtered for us?

In response to user queries over strange stream behaviour, Google has confirmed that it is testing a relevance algorithm and "experimenting with ways of bringing the most relevant posts to the top."

The issue of control has come up before.

Engagement

Relevance engines are intended to maximise engagement - if we see things we like we are more likely to interact with them - but they can remove the opportunity for in-stream serendipitous discovery.

Is affirmation an indication of future behaviour? If I like (small 'l') an item about Jimi Hendrix today does that mean I always want to see items about Jimi Hendrix? Even if that were the case is this a zero sum game and does exposure of related content mean that other content has to be filtered out?

Engagement

The introduction of Communities to Google+ put a new slant on how we manage our engagement, consumption habits and connections; they are interest based rather than people based.

Could the addition of a relevance algorithm the main stream indicate a possible shift away from people towards interest or is it intended to supplement our normal consumption highlighting the things we might have missed?

Who does it serve? The network or the user?

Conflicts

While Google have advised that problems experienced by users were due to issues with the relevance algorithm it is clear that those users are concerned about any potential changes.

Can (or should) the interest-based discovery paradigm of Communities be forced upon the main stream? Are we able to reach a state of equilibrium between serendipitous discovery and being nudged in the right direction?

Alternatively, do we have a paradox of choice where being overwhelmed with content causes us to interact less or with fewer individuals? Could a relevance engine benefit us by filtering the stream and lessening the load?

Google+, in two different respects, suffers from having a dualistic nature:

  • social network v social layer, &
  • people focused stream v interest focused communities

In both cases, while there is an element of cross-over, they have their own strategies, subtleties and sensibilities. We just have to remember the reaction to Community posts being included in our personal feeds - this heavily divided user opinion forcing Google to give users a choice.

RelevantRelevance

There is concern that the intention could be to move us away from in-stream to in-community discovery but is this the network being purely reactive to usage patterns since the introduction of Communities?

The notion of relevance based on solely on stream activity is a worry to many and we should instead ask if relevance be dynamic (platform, location, time etc.) and we should definitely have the option to apply these filters or not?

Using Google+ search as an example we are able to filter by "best of" or "most recent" - that is a user choice and should be available for the stream should any relevance algorithm be retained. Facebook's Edgerank may be divisive but we at least get a choice.

Choice

The degrees of complexity involved are immense and opinions as to how social networks should operate are as numerous as their users but two factors are paramount: choice and consistency.

We should have a choice as to what we see and where we see it and this choice should be evident wherever we are within a network.

Update: Yonatan Zunger, Google+ Chief Architect, has confirmed that no new relevance algorithm exists and that stream problems were the result of a bug. Glick's statement about bringing relevant posts to the top most likely refers to the way Circle volumes filter content.

Images by Carnie Lewis, runran, darkuncle

Social relevance, algorithms and choice.

Facebook, Waze and Apple – a new dynamic.

WazeThe news that Facebook is considering a $1 billion acquisition of Waze seems like an obvious move but it also brings me back to a few ideas I had previously considered.

Location is becoming increasingly important with "local" being vital for marketing, advertising and targeting as separate from the global, social conversation. Facebook changed the importance of location in social by killing the check-in and making location integral to everything we do so having access to crowd-sourced data from Waze will take this to another level.

Apple and Facebook

As Waze is one of the suppliers of data for Apple's Maps application any acquisition would add a new dynamic to the relationship between Apple and Facebook; it also makes me wonder about deeper integration between the two companies.

We now have a collective of apps and services which could complement each other rather well:

  • iOS,
  • Facebook,
  • Messaging,
  • Apple Maps,
  • Waze, and
  • Instagram

Putting it togetherBringing it all together

The recent launch of Facebook Home with its ever-present "chat heads" highlighted the more closed nature of iOS but made me ponder how Apple could introduce a similar native UI (a radical departure, admittedly) and integrate Facebook messaging along with iMessage and SMS. A native solution could mean Chat Head like functionality but without the need to change third-party app permissions within the operating system.

While we're thinking a little radically what about integrating Facebook's Graph Search with Spotlight to add a social element to iOS search?

But, seriously...

Maps

In a previous post I suggested how Apple Maps could use shared photostreams to boost their Maps application with crowd sourced images of locations as a way of combating Google Street View in a social way. With Facebook buying Waze the potential exists for Apple and Facebook to really jump in bed together so that a range of Facebook data could be used within Apple Maps.

Forget the added layer of complexity and permissions required to enable shared public photostreams when people are already sharing pictures socially.

Apple MapsBy combining location information and sharing permissions, geo-tagged photos from either Facebook or Instagram (or those specifically tied to a location such as a landmark) could be displayed within the Maps application. Additional context specific data from Waze could be used to display different images or information based on current circumstances using the type of crowd-sourced data already obtained by the service.

How far is too far?

It is obvious that Apple sees Facebook as a leader in the social sphere and integration of the latter into iOS has evolved over time. Apple does not do services as well as the likes of Google - hence the need to rely on the likes of Waze and Tom Tom - but how far will the company go in allowing itself to be reliant on third-party data?

iOS may never get Facebook Home but a deeper underlying integration with the social giant may be of much greater value.

Image by .reid.

Facebook, Waze and Apple – a new dynamic.

Facebook Home – the shape of things to come?Comments

Facebook HomeAfter watching the Facebook Home announcement I was instantly enamoured with the concept of people not apps, of content not containers, but after a few hours was left with one thought: is Home the future of Facebook?

While I am not a big Facebook user I am fascinated by the principles of network science so the company interests me because it displays the most obvious adherence to these principles both in structure and terminology. Networks are about people and the connections we make with those people rather than the means of that connection.

In this context Facebook Home seems a logical next step.

Mark Zuckerberg stated in his presentation that they had been trying to make Facebook a "mobile first" company. Mobile is leading the way, whether it be smartphones or tablets so it seems probable that innovations in the mobile arena will find their way to the desktop - indeed, this has been happening in some areas for a while.

Whilst currently only available on certain Android handsets, Facebook Home will be available on tablets in later iterations so it will be interesting to see how Facebook uses the extra screen real estate and then translates the experience to the browser.

#f5f5f5; border: 1px solid #e0e0e0;">"Coverflow is the social equivalent of sitting back and watching the world go by." (Tweet this)

Visual

The web is becoming increasingly visual and Home is the epitome of this: no chrome, no visible apps, just content. If our experience should be viewed according to people why do we need pages and layouts and menus? Just give us content and let us interact.

Based on a logical progression are we looking at the future of Facebook on the web? Are we heading for a time when the news feed is replaced by a version of cover flow? Or our time line? Perhaps both.

Coverflow is the social equivalent of sitting back and watching the world go by - a Flipboard for Facebook. And as Home was described as the best version of Facebook yet by Zuckerberg it could follow that the concepts behind it might be applied across the board, across platforms.

Content is king but relationships are key

Moving the focus from apps to people is not a surprise; the surprise is that it's taken a social network this long to implement something like this.

Three years ago I stated that relationships are the real social currency and social networks will do everything they can to utilise those connections between individuals and brands. Basing social interactions around people rather than the mechanisms we use to connect seems natural if networks are going to mine the data we generate.

By using Home to concentrate on those relationships that are most important to us Facebook will also be able to improve the effectiveness (and perceived effectiveness) of Graph Search.

Changing landscapes

I have long been a proponent of a unified social inbox where we just deal with people irrespective of, and independent from, the means of communication.

Chatheads combines Facebook messaging and SMS just as iMessage combines texts and data messaging. Google is reportedly combining its various messaging tools into Babble (or Babel) and future iterations of Android will no doubt combine this with SMS in the same manner as Home.

Whilst Home is strictly Facebook (although further notifications are incorporated on phones built using the Facebook Home Project) it might just serve as the catalyst we need for a more unified social experience with other developers taking both functional and design cues from the social giant.

Home may be the future of Facebook but might we also see a shift such that people, rather than apps, are the global future of social?

Facebook Home – the shape of things to come?

From interaction to transaction.Comments

Social networks are continually widening their scope to cover more than our just connections and status updates. As usage expands and we search for ever simpler means of achieving our online goals, how far will the networks go to become everything we need in one place?

Perhaps, more importantly, will the regulators allow them?

Back in 2010 I asked "Are social platforms the next Microsoft?" and then last year "Are social networks a threat to the internet?" meaning that their remit would expand beyond social to encompass other areas thus threatening to usurp companies already operating in those areas.

We've already seen the first steps:

  • Facebook comments and the open graph extending out to the web
  • Twitter eating into its ecosystem by adopting functionality originally offered by third-parties

Despite encroaching on other products and companies, however, these actions are still intrinsically linked to social. Google combining social with the rest of its ecosystem via the social layer started to move beyond this but Google is in the unusual position of already providing non-social services but now linking them with a social aspect. Could this be seen by some as an unfair advantage?

We have already had the case of Peoplebrowsr taking Twitter to court over what it feels is unfair loss of access to the full fire-hose so what would be the reaction of companies like PayPal, for example, if social networks cut out the need for third-party payment services?

Encroachment on the normal web by social networks is already making waves but if those networks extend their remit to other areas is there going to be sufficient ill will to cause an investigation into social practices?

Buy here, pay here

From interaction to transaction

Twitter recently introduced new Twitter Card types including Product which will show info about a product and link out to it on the web. Is it a stretch to imagine that the company could implement its own e-commerce system in future allowing for direct purchase via Twitter itself - perhaps in return for a small fee for each transaction?

Give Twitter your credit card details and cut out the middle man!

A number of third-party platforms already provide for the creation of "storefronts" on Facebook but what if the social network introduced a native system?

Give Facebook your credit card details and cut out the middle man!

Just as Google has created interactive posts which can include a Buy button why couldn't Twitter do the same thing? Currently, Google's interactive posts take you to external pages to complete the transaction but what if social networks decided to own the whole process?

With promoted tweets advertisers are charged on the basis of interactions rather than impressions so why not implement a system to charge per direct sale? Twitter's ad sales are said to be approaching $1 billion a year but inbuilt e-commerce could provide yet another revenue stream.

Give and take

Deep linking from the new Twitter Cards to mobile applications may be seen as the company extending an olive branch to developers by allowing them to build value but what happens when Twitter wants a piece of the resultant action?

European privacy regulators have already investigated Google over the single privacy policy so it is perhaps just a matter of time before social networks over-extend their reach and we hear calls of "monopoly" both from regulators and those services who have built a business on the back of these social platforms.

This post builds on initial thoughts over at Google+ here.

Image cropped from a Brent Moore original

From interaction to transaction.

Facebook’s updated news feed owes as much to Twitter as it does to Google+

Facebook new news feedMuch has already been written about the new redesign for the Facebook News Feed (and I have purposefully tried to avoid most of it) including the inevitable comparisons to Google+ but that is only natural - Plus is constantly compared to Facebook after all.

I have said a number of times about how products and services will gravitate towards the "social norm" because of trends and customer expectations. Facebook says that the new look is following current trends for cleaner apps and a more visually appealing approach so, to call the new News Feed a Google+ clone is too short-sighted.

Conformity

Just as with individuals, products and services are influenced both by competitors and current prevailing themes; when writing about social influence recently I stated:

Normative conformity is compliance with the influence of others so that we may be liked and accepted. There is no guarantee that there will be an attitudinal shift but there will be a behavioural shift to conform with the social norms of the influencing group.

For products and services conformity means adapting to current fashions and the whims of your customers; since the rise of services such as Instagram and Pinterest the fashion has been for an increasingly visual web resulting in images and videos taking priority over the written word.

Competitors constantly influence each other - Google+ recently rolled out new profile pages with larger cover photos, for example, just as Facebook, Twitter and App.Net have all done before.

#f5f5f5; border: 1px solid #e0e0e0;">"Conforming to social norms creates a degree of homogeneity with periods of innovation being short-lived" (Tweetable)

Clean and consistent

Rather than just copy Google+ (a service currently in the ascendancy) Facebook has taken a leaf from Twitter's book in designing a simplified and unified experience. Twitter sought to make the core user experience with its network across all platforms as consistent as possible and Facebook has followed suit whilst realising that a "mobile look" is cleaner than the existing web site.

Despite redesigning both desktop and mobile versions of its service a number of times Google has not yet achieved parity between them with key functionality not being available for smartphones or tablets - the mobile versions also differ between platforms (iOS and Android) and devices (phones or tablets) giving rise to a sometimes frustrating and fractured experience.

Inevitable

In such a competitive sector as social it is inevitable that services will respond to trends and consumer demands in an attempt to maintain a high user base - frequently this means becoming more like a dominant competitor. Conforming to social norms creates a degree of homogeneity with periods of innovation being short-lived.

This time it is Facebook playing catch up, next time it will be Twitter or Google or someone else seeking to be in vogue or meet consumer demands.

Facebook’s updated news feed owes as much to Twitter as it does to Google+

Graph Search could encourage a sense of social responsibility.Comments

Rather than being something to fear, exposing the likes and decisions of Facebook users via Graph Search may encourage them to develop a greater sense of social responsibility.

Graph Search may increase social responsibilityIf there is one thing that the Graph Search launch taught me it's the strength of the anti-Facebook sentiment in some areas.

Consume you it will

People fear Facebook and its motives leading to a deep distrust and even expressions of hate. This can be a blinding force and, as we all know, hate leads to the Dark Side.

I have said before that advances in attitudes towards the social web have been largely fueled by the risks Facebook has been willing to take even if the company does push the envelope too far at times and get things wrong.

Opting out?

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised (rightly so) for automatically opting all users in to certain features but the news that there will be no opt out of Graph Search has recently angered a section of the online community.

Why should this be?

The primary complaints about Graph Search appear to be one related to privacy and that, as the primary social currency of Facebook is likes, there will be a low quality signal.

Facebook went to great depths to show that Graph Search will not override our privacy settings and, consequently, not reveal anything we are not permitted to see - it just makes it more "seeable". This seems to be scaring a lot of people despite them complaining that EdgeRank means their friends may actually miss many of their posts.

While users should have the option to opt in or out of Graph Search I personally fail to understand why you wouldn't want to be included. To me, opting out of Graph Search is like saying:

"I'm going to share this with a certain audience but I don't actually want them to see it."

Hypocrisy

There is a growing Facebook/Google divide with staunch Facebook users claiming Google+ is not a challenger while devout Google users argue that Facebook is faceless and evil - the fact that you cannot opt out of search backs up this view.

It is worth noting, however, that you also cannot opt out of search on Google+ and - as the privacy details note - your information is actually open to a much wider audience:

"Your name and any other fields that you make public in your profile are searchable on the web and may appear in Google Search results."

Google search, both in Plus and the more traditional blue links page - applies to your posts, as they are indexed almost immediately, and the personal information you specify. Why should it be okay for Google to do this but not Facebook?

Both companies use out personal information, habits and social graph to improve their advertising businesses so is it because Google gives at least an element of control?

Social responsibility

The Like is a throwaway act and, as such, people tend not to associate it with any potential consequences but each "social action" leaves a trail of bread crumbs that can be followed.

Graph Search makes following that trail far easier than ever before.

What if Facebook search makes users consider their actions or actually be the catalyst to ensure that their privacy settings are updated correctly? What if it encourages them to share more reservedly rather than pushing everything to public when perhaps they shouldn't?

If search makes us all think twice about what we do before throwing Likes at everything like confetti at a wedding then this will serve to improve the intent behind our actions and, as a result, improve the reliability of signal that such a search provides.

Choices

The social web is constantly evolving with the "freaky line" shifting as people grow comfortable and live more of their lives online and in public.

Always in motion is the future.

Change is inevitable as technology and familiarity serve to alter our online habits - for better or worse.

Ultimately, we must all be responsible for our actions and the information we place online - in any forum - and make our own choices with regards to what we share with whom. The saying says "the internet never forgets" and we would be wise to heed that lesson.

Image cropped from a picture by indy_slug.

Graph Search could encourage a sense of social responsibility.

Facebook Graph Search – half way there.

Social networks are crammed full of data about our likes, interests and connections but all too often this is not available in any useful, reliable or easy accessible state. Is that about to change?

Graph Search

Search within our social networks has historically been poor, even Google+ launched without it until Google deemed it ready for public consumption.

Twitter search is still limited to a short period despite the acquisition of Summize and, as far as Facebook search goes it been a case of the less said the better.

Due to a number of privacy concerns and other issues, such as the recent fracas over the Instagram Terms of Service, Facebook has been coming in for a lot of flak - some warranted but much unjustified. Many people have decided that the just don't trust Facebook and that's that!

When App.net launched it promised to be "what Twitter could have been" and, with the controversy over ongoing changes to the APIs, became a hotbed of anti-Twitter sentiment. Similarly, Google+ seems to be harbouring an unhealthy dose of anti-Facebook rhetoric again much of which is unjustified.

People don't trust Facebook.

So Facebook is asking its users to trust each other and has been building a tool which allows us to do just this.

As anticipated, Facebook announced a new search product which formed the third of "three pillars of Facebook" namely: the newsfeed, Timeline and, now, Graph Search.

Graph search is exactly as its name suggests: a search of the Facebook social graph allowing us to find information shared with us so far encompassing people, photos, places and interests while all relating back to the privacy settings for each piece of information. It is planned that mobile, post data and the Open Graph will be indexed in future but this will take a while to complete.

My initial reactions were that the Graph Search beta content was a promising start but that will not be fully realised until the extra data - especially from the Open Graph - is included.

Playing catch-up

Yes, Facebook is playing catch-up to Google on search but as Google is originally a search company so you would expect that.

Does Facebook have to beat Google at its own game? Absolutely not!

In order to succeed with Graph Search, Facebook has to make a system that works well for Facebook users which:

  1. makes use of the connections between them
  2. uses the search queries/results to improve the experience
  3. is good enough to make users want to use it rather than jumping out for a web search

Google is blurring the lines between a traditional web search and a search of the social graph but we still have two places we can instigate this which gives us two different sets of results (Google Search and Plus).

Google web search is a blue links list which is now personalised based on our interests, data provided from other Google products thanks to the single privacy policy and the actions of others (+1s) but it is still primarily a blue links search. For those who have not yet upgraded to Plus then it is still only a blue links resource.

Facebook does not have a blue links engine - so has to partner with Bing - but is not (yet) interested in having one. Instead, the blue giant is using the power of the networkto find stuff using recommendations and trust - Facebook is not building a search engine but a "trust engine".

Yes, Google is also building this based on sharing and +1s but when you have two search locations returning different results from different data sets then something needs to change there as well.

Half wayHalf way

Graph search appears to be pretty powerful and fast and is not limited to friends but also public information which you would expect - anything visible to us can be returned via a search. It is not designed to give us a definitive list of "plumbers in Yourtown" (as would be exposed by a web search) but instead "plumbers in Yourtown which people have used and would recommend" - it builds on the relationships we have with those we are connected to and the trust we can place in their experience.

Graph Search is half way as the data held on Facebook itself is only half the story; people will be liking pages and services across the "normal web" and taking other Open Graph actions which help to flesh out their interests, likes and opinions. Once all of this data has been indexed Facebook will really be able to flesh out the trust engine.

I have stated previously:

Facebook has no need to build a full search engine as the indexing of external content is crowd-sourced to its users with likes and frictionless sharing.

As Zuckerberg said during the announcement, he doesn't expect people to come to Facebook just to perform a search when they are used to blue link sites and may not even be regular Facebook users. What he does hope it will be is a valuable resource for those people who are already on the site and want some information while they are there.

Admittedly, Facebook will also be able to mine that search data in order to further identify our likes and intentions which will, no doubt, increase the ability to target us more effectively with relevant advertising even if there are no plans to immediately monetise Graph Search itself.

Good enough, but when?

As with other features Facebook has included, Graph Search doesn't have to beat the likes of Google but be just good enough to catch the majority of users and save them the need of going elsewhere.

Zuckerberg admitted that this is not something that will roll out overnight but the key will be how quickly they can release something, how reliable it is and then how long it takes to introduce Open Graph data.

With the talk of "years of work" Facebook can, however, be seen to be in it for the long haul - just like Google with Plus.

A version of this post originally appeared at Google+

Image by mtsofan

Facebook Graph Search – half way there.

Social media and the needs of the self.Comments

The social web is a place of conflict and excess where we can both hide behind usernames and computer screens to be feared and hated or present ourselves as masters of our art to be loved and revered. What part does 'the mind' play in our social interactions? 

When I wrote that participation on different types of social service may be constrained by our own vanity Will Berard directed me to a post where he compares our behaviour and needs on social networks to our needs and wants with regards to food.

While the side of our social interactions governed by vanity is, generally, undesirable it can be said to mirror our food consumption habits where we are repeatedly brought back by our cravings:

very much like eating, nature chose its wiring in the most basic fashion, associating the reward not with the actual thing that's good for you (a healthy, balanced intake of calories/meaningful construction of social relationship), but with a "shortcut" that works just as well (the taste of sweet/fatty foods, or superficial social validation).

This connection and our attitude toward the rewards from social media immediately brought to mind the battle fought within ourselves in Sigmund Freud's model of the psyche.

The Freudian mind

MindFreud proposed that the mind is composed of three 'constructs': the id, the ego and the super-ego which control aspects of our behaviour and are often in conflict.

The id

The unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives. It is unconscious by definition and drive us according to the pleasure principle as we seek short-term, instant gratification.

The ego

The ego acts in accordance with the reality principle and serves to satisfy the needs of the id in realistic ways. It looks for longer term satisfaction and sets up defensive mechanisms to keep us from harm. It is very much the piggy-in-the-middle, coping with the real world around us whilst trying to temper the animalistic urges of the id and the ideals of the super-ego

The super-ego

The super-ego strives for perfection and is our narcissistic drive. It aims for us to realise the image of ourselves that we want to become and introduces a sense of guilt when we do not achieve it.

The social mind

We can equate each of Freud's constructs with elements of our conduct on social services:

  • Id - instant gratification, the need for Likes, +1s and ReTweets, the desire for "affection" regardless of the consequences - "everybody friend me"
  • Ego - longer term planning, building a community to act as a foundation from which we can achieve those Likes and ReTweet's, having to interact with those in our community and relate to them as individuals so as to maintain those friendships
  • Super-ego - the part that only wants to talk about ourselves, the aspect that drives us to create, to blog so that we can achieve the state of perfection in our craft irrespective of others

As in our offline lives, we must achieve a balance in order to function within the generally accepted "rules" of the social web. We cannot endlessly seek out new friends online to satisfy the needs of our psyche so how can we relate all this to our normal relationships?

What of Dunbar?

Our ancestors had a physical need to gather in trusted groups for more effective hunting and greater protection. Base instinctual needs of these groups were consistent with the id-controlled mind: eat, reproduce, survive - all requiring instant solutions. As they evolved and settled so survival became easier and the relationships between individuals altered and started to become more social than functional.

The relative luxury of modern life and technology means that we no longer have this physical need for grouping (although as a species we still need to reproduce) but, instead, we have more a mental need to connect to avoid the psychological and emotional effects of isolation - we are social animals after all.

As children we are born with an id-controlled mind, instinct tells us to feed, to grow, to survive. As we become more cognisant so we learn, and are taught, that society demands the more ego-driven approach to social interaction and we each undergo our own mini evolution.

As we have previously seen, our capacity to create strong, intimate bonds doesn't scale and our relationships are more fleeting the larger our social circles extend. Consequently, the type of connections we establish with others via a social network will resonate with a different aspect of our personality.

Our closest relationships, described by Dunbar as existing within the smaller Circles of Acquaintanceship, are regulated very much by the ego as we seek to make and maintain those friendships by empathising with others, tolerating their views and interacting with them as equals.
Circles of Acquaintanceship

On a more frivolous note we can cast the net of our informal connections much wider and achieve the core, instinctive needs of the id via these extended connections; the selfishness of wanting others to like us (receiving +1s, and ReTweets) allows us to cultivate this form of affection without offering anything in response.

Our vanity sometimes gets the better of us and the super-ego takes over which triggers the notion that some may not wish to be absorbed by a topic and lose their sense of self. In such a scenario it is felt that the super-ego hits a wall and the id is denied direct gratification.

Platforms

It is the role of the ego to show us that "social gratification" can be achieved in a controlled, measured way without the bingeing and any subsequent feeling of guilt (thus placating the id) and that by volunteering ourselves to the greater good we can, potentially, achieve a sense of perfection by using the platform of the topic to improve on our creative skills but within its framework.

The different social platforms available will serve to feed the requirements of each aspect of our psyche:

  • the quick-fire social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) supply instant gratification with Likes, +1s etc. and the selfish gathering of as many friends as possible or gloating over a high Klout score
  • blogs are traditionally the realm of the super-ego where we exist in our self-made playground to do what we will and perfect our vision of ourselves - or at least our works.
  • the new breed of service such as Branch and Medium, however, serve to bring us back to the rational ego, the middle ground where we can still hone our craft and receive the plaudits of our peers but in a more controlled, and less narcissistic, environment.

It is undesirable to obsess over follower numbers, influence measurement and number of re-shares so, while these things can be useful, we should aim to keep the id in check and not let them govern our social experience. Similarly, it is good to write and share our opinion but the narcissisic super-ego must not be allowed to control our behaviour or we will find our 'friends' drifting away.

Evolution

As individuals, and as a species, we have gone from the instinct driven, id-controlled behaviour once essential to the survival of our ancestors to the more ego-controlled mindset required by modern society. We are still, however, at the mercy of both our instinctual urges and the perfection of self required by Freud's super-ego.

As we try to resist the base urges of the id and achieve a sense of ease with stepping out of the limelight then, perhaps, we can truly say that both we, and the social web, have truly evolved.

Social media and the needs of the self.

Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

Are there wider implications from Twitter's decision to cut services off from "find your friends" and do they affect the legitimacy of Twitter as a means of identification?

idRobinson Meyer argues in a post at The Atlantic that there are bigger civic implications of Twitter's API restrictions such as removing "find your friends" access for Instagram and Tumblr.

He states that a primary purpose of a social network is to identify you as a user and by restricting access for external services your very identity is being marginalised.

Identity

Google+ made a very public showing of being an "identity service" and not just a social network (hence the initial requirement to use your real name) and Facebook has been all about who you are right from its conception, in fact it is a core premise and would not work in the same way without it.

Facebook and Google+ provide the ability to restrict access to parts of your content and profile based on permissions levels you grant to specific groups whereas Twitter is all or nothing - you're all public or you're all private, there is no half way house.

Meyer maintains that the open nature of Twitter makes it the best social identity to be used across the web but is this really the case? Does restricting access to parts of your life on other services make their "social identity" any less trustworthy?

Twitter allows the creation of accounts with any name you like, pseudonyms, joke accounts etc. so, from an identity perspective, this is unsuitable for authenticating you as a specific individual across the web.

Trust

I have written before that trust is key to establishing a reliable, consistent online identity (and identity service) and without a real names policy it can be hard to ascribe the same level of trust to all accounts. I compared the major social networks' approach in October last year:

Facebook cares who you are because it relies on your identity for the links you create with others, with brands, with sites across the web via the Like button - it cares because it wants to advertise to you in a meaningful way and to encourage you to spend with these advertisers and spend time on the site earning it money by playing games etc. Facebook relies on your identity as that is how others find you and are persuaded to join the service in the first place - by friending people they know.

Google cares about the connections you create and the content you interact with so that you can be better targeted for advertising. It doesn't necessarily care 'who' you are as long as it can build a picture of your use. It does, however, care that you are not tainting its services with undesirable content so will prefer to track who you are.

Twitter doesn't care who you are - it cares that you are signed in and tweeting - ideally interacting with promoted content.

It would seem that Twitter is the least trustworthy of the main social networks with regards to defining who you are  and, therefore,  not best placed to be used as the basis of a web-wide identity service regardless of how transparent your feed may be.

Who are you?

The removal of find your friends may prevent users from replicating their social graphs across multiple services but does it actually negate Twitter as a means of identification? Ultimately, this has no bearing on that aspect.

Meyer's concern is, presumably, that third-party services may no longer want - or be able - to permit users to "sign in with Twitter" - although this is not actually stated in the post.  I would argue, however, that those third-parties could not risk losing sign-ups if this option was no longer available. I doubt Twitter would want to block this portion of its API due to the potential benefits of having data fed back from those third-parties services.

With no guarantee you are who you say you are, Twitter is not a desirable solution to establishing a consistent online identity with or without the ability to find your friends.

Image by Daniel*1977

Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

The Future of Social Networks.

Brian Chappell of Ignite Social Media asked 21 social media practitioners and pundits, myself included, for their thoughts on a few issues around the current state of social media and what may be coming up in future. The brief survey featured the three questions below:

1. Do you think social networking has hit a saturation point and peaked in user interest?

2. Compared to what happened to MySpace, what do you think is the future of Facebook?

3. For businesses and brands that are just starting to ramp up in 2012, what new social networking trends do you see going forward?

The responses were varied (especially with regards to the future of Facebook) and created a real exercise in "compare and contrast" but some common themes did appear and I would urge you to read the full post should you get the chance.

My own answers were as follows:

Don't fear the future1. Saturation point

Social networking has been taking another upturn recently with more mainstream media uses coming to light. TV news channels using Google+ hangouts, more brands including references to Facebook pages in their offline advertisements and huge adoption of Twitter for ease of thought gathering are all-seeing an uptick in consumer interest, which I can only see increasing over the next 12 months.

Social is also starting to combine with our offline lives so that where we are, who we are with, what we are doing, etc., will all have new context and, perhaps, influence our behaviour. Products like Google Now in Android Jelly Bean are at the forefront of the next wave in social.

2. On Facebook

While MySpace wasn’t the first social network, it was the service that first saw widespread adoption and recognition but the Internet and technology as a whole was not in a position to match its potential. Social was still in its infancy and was isolated from the rest of our lives. Facebook has the advantage of existing in a social age where our lives are so closely tied to the Internet. Facebook may have to change and adjust but it is in a much stronger position where it can react to market pressures and stay relevant.

3. What's next?

Social adoption is virtually ubiquitous but the next challenge is social discovery. A simple feed or stream is no longer enough and users are requiring something more advanced. They are looking to actually discover useful information, interesting people and more via social. We are already seeing a shift away from the social graph and towards the interest graph and this will continue as users are more interested in using social as a source of news and information.

It was a privilege to be asked to take part and I may come back to these questions later but, for now, you can find the Ignite Social Media post here:

The Future of Social Networks as Interpreted by 21 Social Media Practitioners

Image by Andrew Coulter Enright

The Future of Social Networks.

Have we moved the goalposts?

GoalpostsYesterday's post asking if Google+ had "made it" prompted an interesting discussion with responses ranging from the positive to the contrary, including that it is "still broken" and an absence of mainstream media in some areas means it hasn't.

Things have changed over the past few years and what was required to succeed perhaps no longer applies. Facebook and Twitter were not just working to gain credence for themselves but were also working to gain credence for "social" as a whole.

We may have had the likes of Friendster and MySpace, and they may have been quite cultish in their own right, but social did not become recognised as a useful medium in the mainstream until Facebook and Twitter put it there.

Now, the hard work is done and we live in a society which accepts interactions on social networks as valid. It is, therefore, easier for new networks to gain public acceptance without, necessarily, the need for adoption by mainstream media.

Yes, there are still loose ends and there is still a perception problem with Google+ (although I'm going to refer to this as not seeing the bigger picture from now on) but ever more people are "upgrading to Plus" and making their own assumptions about the service to fit their requirements.

The internet has evolved; we now live in "social times" and there is no longer the need to swim upstream and fight the current as the goalposts have moved.

Image by  Paul Bratcher Photography.

Have we moved the goalposts?

Thoughts: Don’t forget content, but context is king.Comments

Following on from my earlier post "mobile" is now really about the blend of online and offline; enhancing one with the other - social + sensors.

Context

Google are ahead of Apple at present as they have implemented this at the OS level with Google Now.

Google has the advantage of holding its own data whereas Apple is in partnership with various data providers (and will rely on opening up for other areas such as transit information) but that will change.

The one thing that won't change (at least immediately) is the partnership with Facebook, by necessity that must get stronger, closer and more ingrained - after a disappointing IPO and a share price in free fall Facebook needs all the friend it can get.

And Apple needs the social data.

So how about this scenario:

FB bought Glancee -> Facebook integrated into iOS6 -> contextual awareness via a "Glancee type" route will become native in iOS

iOS needs to have location awareness and Facebook integration with the expertise of the Glancee team is the perfect route to achieve this as easily as possible.

Combined with data from the central mapping engine (and maybe acquire some smaller developers that produce location aware apps) Siri could start providing us the type of information supplied by Google now. Google, however, still has the advantage of the Knowledge Graph.

The advantage of doing all of this at the OS level rather than by relying on apps is that you create a standard install baseline so you instantly know that all those with the latest OS running on (probably) the past couple of phone revisions will all be equally capable - and others will want to upgrade to achieve that capability.

No-one is safe

The question then becomes when does Apple acquire or develop its own data sources before dropping its partners? I've said before that dropping Google Maps shows all partners that no-one is safe from the cull.

Perhaps not even Facebook. Then we might see serious moves on a Facebook Phone.

Image by Context Travel

Thoughts: Don’t forget content, but context is king.

Bit.ly, Facebook and the state of Google+.

Google+Rather than rewrite full posts, here are a few recent items that have been posted on Google+ and generated some good discussion:

The state of Google+ - a rant

Articles calling Google+ a ghost town are annoying but so are those rebuttals from "Plussers" wearing rose-tinted spectacles. There is often no smoke without fire so this is a warning.

Where next for Facebook?

Facebook admits mobile is a problem and with all the talk of it building an OS or even a device Facebook will need somewhere else to go to further its graph. Where will it be?

Has bit.ly stolen a march on Google?

I previously proposed that Google could use a mixture of +1s and the goo.gl URL shortener to create a social bookmarking service. Bit.ly has pivoted and offers virtually everything I suggested. Will it work? Should Google do more with +1s?

Join in

If you haven’t already done so, check them out and have your say.

Bit.ly, Facebook and the state of Google+.