November 2007 Archives

LinkedIn Is Not a Social Network says Tom Davenport

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Tom Davenport over at my alma mater, Babson College, just published a provocative post about social networks for business. He argues that there is no such thing as a business social network. And in his opinion, Linkedin is hardly a useful social network unless you are seeking a job or a favor from someone you don't know.

I like Tom Davenport as he cuts through the hype to explain what is truly relevant for business. He played the devil's advocate in the Enterprise 2.0 discussions and it looks like he's planning to do the same here. But I disagree with him in the case of Linkedin.

While LinkedIn maybe a job tool for lots of people, it does have two other very important purposes. First, it is my professional address book and one that automatically updates itself. Is this social networking, yes because I can use the "address book" to connect with other people and sometimes do. Secondly, it tells me what's going on in my field. The network updates are similar to Facebook's news feeds. And they're useful for me to keep pace with peers moving between companies, starting new ones and getting promotions.

Can Linkedin be better? Of course, they most definitely can do a lot of things better. In fact, here's my Linkedin wish list -

1. Remove the recruiters from Linkedin. They're an absolute nuisance and distract from the network's purpose. I'm tired of getting spammed by them and I am sure a lot of others are too.

2. Institute some form of reciprocity system. I should have a rating or points to give based on how much I reciprocate. When I ask someone for help, that person should know how helpful a person I am. The recommendations system is useful but this can do a lot more.

3. Figure out how to crack groups. Their group feature is a copy of Facebook's. That's not enough. For example, LinkedIn could partner with industry associations to create actually relevant groups. Conferences could all have LinkedIn pages through which registration, agendas and feedback are handled. LinkedIn could also be telling me which groups I should be joining.

4. Give me more to do on LinkedIn. Yes, I could be using LinkedIn for more business purposes. Just help me figure out what those are. For example, I'd participate in a community of peers that together evaluate trends and technologies using a prediction market. I may even be willing to participate in virtual panels hosted on LinkedIn.

Will It Blend? A year later and blending continues

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At the IDEA 2007 summit, I heard the Director of Marketing for Blendtec talk about how an unknown brand getting phenomenal brand exposure thanks to one good idea, a digital camera, youtube and staying true to its brand. Blendtec launched the Will it blend campaign on YouTube a year ago to promote its blenders. These ads depicted the CEO (with all his quirkiness) demoing different products being blended. By products I mean cellphones, iphones, ipods, rakes and lots more. Millions of views later, there advertising budget is still very small but their sales have sky rocketed.

Will this work for everyone? Of course not. We don't have enough patience to watch more blending. Good ideas can only be used once or twice. But what matters is that there's a small cost to experimentation and when the experiment appears to be succeeding, that's when you shouldn't stop but keep doing more.

A picture is worth a thousand words

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And this one seems to tell us exactly what's worrying Google, Microsoft and Yahoo by virtue of highlighting and categorizing their recent acquisitions. It is fairly obvious that Microsoft is beefing up its advertising offerings, Google is strengthening its product offerings across several areas and Yahoo, well its just hanging in there.
gym.GIFOriginally published at Library House, I found this via O'Reilly.

New Media & Google steal advertising $$

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google.jpgNot surprisingly, Google has had another excellent quarter. According to Silicon Alley Insider, Google, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft increased their share of total advertising revenue year-over-year by 4 percentage points from 22% to 26%. In Q3, this rate accelerated from 23% to 28%. Google's share alone jumped to 14% from 10% up 46% year over year. In other words, online revenue for the major four players grew by $1 billion in the third quarter with Google accounting for $700 million of that.

On a related note, Techcrunch points out that print advertising in newspapers is down $1 billion year over year while online newspaper ads are up only $135 million during the same period. Advertising is changing dramatically. Its getting harder and cheaper both at once.

Facebook Application Infrastructure & Pages

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accelerator-stack.png In another sign of the Facebook lure, a startup called Joyent has partnered with Dell to provide free hosting for Facebook applications. As you may know, Facebook applications don't actually reside on the Facebook servers. With this service (free for a year), developers have a place to keep their applications. The only requirement is that the application needs to be active.

Everyday we see new ideas coming out of the Facebook economy. The ideas are now going beyond applications with social ads and infrastructure too. But the most important question that remains is how successful will Facebook Pages and Social Ads be. They can either really make or break Facebook. While you're thinking about this, visit the Avenue A | Razorfish Facebook page and become a fan!

Barack Obama likes blogs and wikis too

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Barack Obama has announced is technology vision. It's a PDF document and fortunately not a very long one. In addition to all the usual stuff like enacting net neutrality laws, speeding up broadband deployment, improving math and science education and letting in more foreign tech workers, he also talks about wikis and blogs.

He'd like to employ a chief technology officer for the country (now that's new!) who's responsibility will be to make government more transparent and visible using the best technology in the market. This means live streaming of executive branch government meetings, public wikis through which information can be shared between government employees and the public and blogs for communication as well. Nice ideas, I wonder if they will ever get implemented though. Is government ready for openness? Visit for more on the story and hop over to ObamaForTechnology.

Twine and the semantic graph

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Roughly a month back, Nova Spivack from Radar Networks was in our in New York office giving us a demo of Twine. This was before their official launch at the Web 2.0 conference which is why I couldn't blog about it earlier. Until I saw Twine, I had wondered what the next competitor to MySpace and Facebook could look like. The answer I discovered is  really something more Twine like. OpenSocial doesn't quite cut it, at least not yet.


So what is Twine? Twine helps you organize, share and find information. It is the semantic web for the user side. It is about information networks and building a semantic graph versus just a social one. The emphasis is not your people relationships alone but on managing your information and the information that you need to have access to. Twine learns about you the more you use it and pushes different content based on that. It creates a semantic profile of you, your friends and colleagues and pushes the right content to you as a result.

Think of it as a place, or a personal assistant or even a portal that learns more about you as you interact with it more. All your information can be housed in Twine. Each time you add a piece of information to Twine, it automatically indexes it, creates a data record and semantically connects that information with other objects both within and outside Twine. It looks for the other people, places, networks and organizations being talked about that relate to what you have added. It is certainly a new way to share and contribute knowledge because it automatically creates semantic relationships between the information objects that you have added. And yes, it redefines customization and personalization too. For more on Twine, check out these blog posts -

EarlyStageVC: Initial Experiences with Twine
Radar Network's Twine: Semantic Web meets information overload
Minding the Planet: Quicktime Video Preview of Twine
Twine for Personal Knowledge Management, But Not Yet

And while you're exploring Twine, also check out this graph from Radar Networks too. It certainly is interesting.


Facebook applications, there are more everyday

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If you don't think Facebook Applications are growing quickly enough, take a look at the graph below. it represents the number of new applications added to Facebook in the span of just one week. aowtcs.gif
Granted, most applications get very few users, but the numbers still tell how much excitement there is in the developer community. In barely a week, 500 applications have been launched on Facebook. The key thing to remember is that it can take as little as a few hours to build one.

As off today, the top Facebook applications are -
1. FunWall with 2,347,118 daily active users
Top Friends with 1,952,687 daily active users
Super Wall with 1,408,534 daily active users
Video with 1,154,406 daily active users
Movies with 1,108,351 daily active users

Bringing 3D Graphics to eCommerce

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Before there was social media, there was customization. Rather than customize the world together, we'd all get excited about customizing our websites. Customization and personalization took the web world by storm (remember the debates over how you differentiate between the two?) and every client of mine wanted a customizable and a personalizable site. Now, we don't talk about customization much, but its importance hasn't diminished.

Take a look at this recently launched Concept to Kitchen for Breville, a maker of high-end kitchen appliances by Avenue A | Razorfish

It brings customization to eCommerce allowing consumers to create their own custom kitchens, try out Breville’s appliances and take gorgeously rendered 3-D product tours.

Find more info on the launch at the Digital Design Blog

Spore brings social media to gaming

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The clip below showcases a new game called Spore by Will Wright, the game designer behind the Sim City games. Spore is unique in that everything you create, whether it be an animal, building or island, gets uploaded to a central database and shared with other users. Your terrain and all the other creatures on it, are built by other users as you navigate the universe, fight aliens and evolve. Imagine Sim City meets Second Life and that's what Spore is.

Playing the game forces you to take a longer term view of life as your creature lives much longer than a human being does. And with the game changing each time you play because of the social media influence, you're guaranteed an engaging experience each time. Wright calls the game an imagination amplifier. I'd agree with that.

Are second tier social networks in trouble?

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Techcrunch is reporting that leaders of the second tier social networks like Bebo and Piczo are leaving their companies. Can this be a sign of consolidation in the social networking space? Are the smaller players frightened by the might of Facebook, MySpace and Orkut? Its left to be seen what happens. I believe that there's a strong, vibrant market for the smaller social networks if they have clearly defined areas of focus, interoperability (yes, think OpenSocial) and something unique that draws users in. Otherwise, its only a matter of time before they lose their users to a Facebook or Orkut group.

Facebook is similar to a phonebook, says Murdoch

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In News Corp's quarterly results call, Rupert Murdoch explained that Facebook is not a threat to MySpace. Why? Because MySpace is about self expression while Facebook is a phone book. Sorry, Mr. Murdock but I think you're missing the point. Facebook is much more than an address book which is why its gotten such phenomenal adoption. It is a platform that's becoming so pervasive, that for many of its users it is more important than the broader web. Is this good? Not necessarily, but it is happening. The reality is that privately News Corp is frightened by Facebook which is why they've joined OpenSocial and are opening up their platform more.

View the graph below to see how Facebook's growth over the last one year compares to MySpace and Linkedin (which historically as been more akin to a phone book).

Google's Phone plans worry customers

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We all expect Google to deliver on anything it touches, the way it has delivered for us on search which is why Google's Android announcement got a lot of attention. But not everyone is thrilled by it. Joe Wilcox at CIO Insight is one of those people. To quote,

What Google wants is a more open mobile platform for selling contextual search and advertising. What the company expects: developer drones to embrace an SDK (software developer kit) slated for release next week and to begin creating products and services, now. But the phones are at least a year away. Meanwhile, developers could (and should) create real applications for real operating systems, like Symbian OS and Windows Mobile, today.
He does have a point that Google has announced this platform maybe a bit too early. It seems to be defensive strategy not to lose developers. Google is fast learning that any traction with a new platform is dependent on having a large developer ecosystem. Microsoft learn this lesson a long time ago. And later on in the article Wilcox says,

Google controls more information and has a more crucial and growing economic role than Microsoft ever did. And based on the extent of information disclosure and other behavior, Google has about half Microsoft's humility, which can't be good.

Google is certainly huge. And it controls immense amount of information. How it manages that information, is left to be seen. It handled the fuss about Gmail privacy well. Lets see whether it manages customer concerns as well in the future.

Wondering what's a social network?

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According to Dana Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison in Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship 

We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

Read their article for a wonderful overview of social networks, their roots and some recent research. What's not discussed in much detail but deserves attention too is how much social networks get influenced by one another. Features present on social network quickly gravitate to the next. We're going to see a lot more of this if OpenSocial takes off and lots of applications are developed using it.

Google's OpenSocial. Closed to Facebook?

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googleopensocialmyspace.jpgSo it is fair to say that Google has turned the Social Networks business on its head with one quick announcement. By evangelizing OpenSocial and bringing in MySpace, Friendster, LinkedIn, Ning,, hi5, Hyves, imeem, Oracle, Orkut, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and Xing, Google has put itself at the center of the social networks business. Or nearly there.

Facebook with its 50 million users is missing from the party. Everybody else has signed up to allow users to carry their identities, friends and applications between networks. But no one can touch Facebook. Does this mean Facebook is doomed? Not quite, it already has the users, the connections and more than enough applications. It simply did not need Google's OpenSocial initiative. Now this may change in the future, but for now, Facebook is being clever. They don't need to join something that they don't need.

What does this mean for the social network users? Hopefully, it'll mean that these other social networking sites will get stronger. For example, I run a 300 person community on Ning and I certainly could do with some more applications for my network. I need those applications to prevent users from defecting to a competing Facebook group. Maybe, I'll get those as more developers code for OpenSocial. But only time will tell how much the announcements of the last two days matter. No one is going to be running away from Facebook because the applications are available elsewhere. We all loved Facebook before they introduced the applications. If anything, the OpenSocial initiative may spur the next revolutionary social network that gives Facebook some serious competition.

And as always, we won't know for a while how Google plans to make money off this initiative. But given where there stock is today, I don't think they are worrying about that too much.

Read Dan Farber's coverage for more perspective. Note, the image above is from Techcrunch.

More Social Networks & Group Formation linking

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Gavin over at Servant of Chaos (love the blog name) highlighted the Social Networks and Group Formation article that I wrote for Boxes & Arrows. He also discussed Granovetter and his strength of weak ties authored back in 1973 and published in the American Journal of Sociology. The article has gotten just under 15,000 page views so far and has been linked to from several prominent blogs all over the web.  

Twittering thru a Virtual Panel

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twitter.jpgYesterday I participated in virtual panel about twitter's applicability to businesses. Organized by Aaron Strout of Shared Insights and We Are Smarter Than Me, the panel brought together some rather interesting perspectives.

Nate talked about the San Diego fire and how Twitter helped get the message out. Mukund discussed aggregating information for his company and pushing the updates out through Twitter and an accompanying blog. Ami from Deloitte and others brought the corporate perspective highlighting out instant messaging has really taken off with people using the status features on it too. All in all, there were lots of interesting thoughts.

My perspective - I'm not sure if twitter specifically has a place in the workplace but microblogging in some form certainly does. Specific business scenarios should be identified. We all ready have more interfaces to deal with in the workplace. If I'm being asked to use another interface, it had better be for a good reason. 

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