The difficulty I have with privacy controls on Facebook

I’m not a regular user of Facebook. I’ve joined a long time ago, have given it a few tries and then stopped using it. There are many reasons I don’t use it. I’ve written a post a long time ago and provided 5 reasons why I felt Facebook sucks. I’m about to add a few new reasons to that.

6. I’m getting spammed by 3rd party apps, and can’t get rid of it easily

In my attempts to get back into Facebook I noticed that the nr of requests from 3rd party applications vastly outnumbered the nr of friend requests. One could argue that I simply do not have a lot of friends, but I am inclined to observe that a lot of the traffic Facebook generates comes from users installing 3rd party applications not realizing they are spamming their friends at the same time.

I figured I’d take a look at my own settings today. To my surprise I had several applications running I wasn’t aware of:

Applications I seem to have authorized on Facebook

Applications I seem to have authorized on Facebook

The only applications I recall installing are photos, videos and a game called Packrat. Now I may very well have forgotten I also allowed Ads & Pages, Gifts, Slide funspace, but I sure has hell haven’t used these apps in the past month (wasn’t logged in), even though Facebook tells me I did.

I seem to have used Gifts the last month even though I barely logged into Facebook

I seem to have used Gifts the last month even though I barely logged into Facebook

In my quest to disable all applications I ran into several problems. I first couldn’t understand where to do this.

Deleting apps from Facebook?

Deleting apps from Facebook?

I ended up opening the applications that I seem to have added to my profile. In that overview there are little crosses I can press and I assume it means the application is then removed from my profile. Notice how Slide Funspace is greyed out, suggesting I successfully removed it. However, a page refresh brings it back alive again? Another attempt then. I open the view that shows the apps I am supposed to have been using in the past month. I press the little cross there and there I seem to have more luck:

Removing an app from my Facebook profile

Removing an app from my Facebook profile

Finally, it's gone

Finally, it's gone

Removing apps from my “Apps used in the last month” view is a bit complicated to say the least.But that isn’t all. I go back to another view, called ‘Allowed to Post’:

Why can Gifts post to my profile and that of my friends?

Why can Gifts post to my profile and that of my friends?

Huh? It took me 10min to figure out how to remove Gifts from my apps, and now I see that it actually is still appearing in this view. Gifts can still post to my newsfeed and even worse, it can post to my friends newsfeed too? Notice that there is no cross available for me to remove this, and worse there seems to be no way for me to get rid of Gifts? This is getting really annoying now. I do not want to receive or send out electronic gift to anyone, and I can’t figure out how to get rid of it.

7. Privacy settings are in sight (good), difficult to use (not good) and the ones that matter are buried deep and default to the wrong behavior (evil)

On to my privacy settings next. I like the fact that Facebook gives Privacy settings a prominent place in the interface and doesn’t bury them somewhere deep in a menu structure. My initial enthusiasm disappears quite fast as I dive into them. The settings may be there, but they are by no means easy to use. Instead of providing me 1 view of every privacy setting there is, I get a menu structure and worse, tabs within that menu structure (didn’t even see them at first).

In my newsfeed settings there turns out to be the setting I was looking for. Facebook, by default, seems to be using my profile picture to appear in ‘Social Advertisement’. I seem to be endorsing ads to my friends and I didn’t know about that. Facebook immediately provides me a popup explaining that it isn’t Facebook that is doing that. It is the fault of 3rd party apps. Sorry guys, you can’t put responsibility away like that. The user is naive (yes, I am too), and 3rd parties are evil, but if you take privacy serious, then you can’t blame anyone else for this.

Facebook struggling with Social Advertisement

Facebook struggling with Social Advertisement

Advertisement needs to be opt-in, a conscious decision, not a side-effect of installing an app or even joining Facebook in the first place. It turns out that Facebook by default uses me and my information for advertisement purposes to my friends. Worse, there seems to be no way for me to stop Facebook from doing that.

Facebook Social Advertisement defaults to friends only

Facebook Social Advertisement defaults to friends only

I don’t want to be part of ‘Social Advertisement’ and I sure as hell don’t want my friends to see that either.  Facebook explains how my information is used for advertisement purposes towards friends, but I cannot turn that off (evil). Notice the big warning at the bottom that frees Facebook from all responsibility when it comes to 3rd party app behavior. I still do not know if I will now never appear in any advertisement, whether it is Facebook or a 3rd party app?

8. I have no control over advertisement on Facebook (evil) and Facebook does a poor job displaying relevant ads (bad)

Here is my profile, the way others can see it:

What is the relevancy of the ads on the right?

What is the relevancy of the ads on the right?

Notice the advertisement on the right side. Facebook knows everything about me and my friends. They track us down, store every little detail about us and our interactions and what do they come up with? A ‘Strategic Marketing’ ad, a ‘Dating’ ad, and a ‘Business card’ ad! WTF? After all this big brother data crunching, these are the most relevant ads you can show? The friend that is looking at my profile is married and has 2 kids (I’m married too, have 4 kids, but I haven’t told Facebook that). A $15 Bln valuation and 5 years of user data harvesting, and all Facebook comes up with is these ads? I’m offended by the fact that Facebook finds it relevant to show dating ads next to my profile, but I’m even more shocked by the fact that they seem to be unable to show anything really relevant, given the fact that they know all about us.

After writing this I noticed another post of someone with very similar experiences.  Facebook may take privacy seriously but their business model forces them continuously to cross a thin line from protecting the user to protecting their advertisement scheme.

Posted in business model, Facebook, on-line advertisement, privacy, Social Advertisement | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The magic is gone



I’ve been on a 2 week summer vacation and hardly spend any time on “Social Media” services. On return I found myself not getting back into old habits as easily. I haven’t spend a lot of time on Twitter or Friendfeed. I hardly ever use Facebook, I can’t even recall when I went there last.

Instead I found myself spending much more time communicating with people I actually know in real life. Not just family and friends, but also people I know professionally. I use my Family Social Network, e-mail (yeah!), physical meetings and my mobile. I am reading a lot more than before. Getting into people’s blogs (I still love Google Reader), reading longer posts and books.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty average user when it comes to social media. I follow about 900 people on Twitter, and am followed by slightly more. I’ve always made sure I tweeted more than the nr of followers I have (so far about 2500 tweets) . I don’t know how many people I follow on Friendfeed or the amount that follow me. I have hundreds of Facebook friend requests, even a lot from “old” friends, but I don’t touch the service. I am on Flickr, but stopped using it. BrightKite, Google Lattitude, great services, but no big deal to me. Instead of looking for alerts daily I’ve noticed that I forget to start or look at services I used to watch daily.

I’ve asked myself what causes this change in behavior. It’s actually quite simple. Public interaction isn’t providing me as much value (joy) as when I started. It’s something I knew would happen. Everything becomes social, but as we now have the ability to interact anywhere with anyone, I find myself scaling down the conversation to a core set of family members, friends, and professionals I interact with. Enough is enough already. The magic is gone.

I don’t see myself as a front runner and I do think that I’m that much different from others. I believe that public social interaction is great, but nevertheless not sustainable. WTF? The whole world is participating, and I’m questioning it’s sustainability? I’m not talking about services here, nor am I talking about professional usage. I’m talking about the individuals using these services. It’s very seductive to dive into and join this global conversation. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, there are new things and new people to be discovered every day. But let’s face it. How many ‘friends’ do you really, really (I mean really!) interact with? Invest time and energy in?

We might follow or be followed by ten thousands of people, but our human nature tries to scale down this herd (community) into workable proportions. We may do this by following celebrities or in our case tech pop stars. We may use sophisticated services or preferences to tailor the experience to our needs. Or simply ignore most of the stuff passing by and only get into conversations with the same 10, 20 or 100 people. Why do you think the web latest and biggest invention is the status update? The status update addresses our human inability to process a lot of complex real-time data. Instead we flatten it out into 140 characters that we can barely process. I’m suspecting that there are billions of status updates by now, and most of them are ignored. It’s a self-perpetuity engine of waste. If I were an environmentalist, I would attempt to stop part of this ridiculous pumping around of useless information, and save the planet 😉 Of course all of this is nothing new. We already shared important stuff with people. The only thing that has changed is the technology and the scale. Visits, letters, phone calls, they have been replaced by E-mail, Social Networks, SMS and now status updates.

While technology has provided us scale, our human nature tries to scale back down using every opportunity and technology we have. We can’t cope with that much interaction, nor does it provide us enough value. I’ll still be on the networks that I like and care about. I’ll interact with the people that interact with me. But don’t expect me to be Social Media-izing 24×7. It’s not because of you or the great things that you have to offer. It’s my human limitations, and the fact that public interaction is less important. I’ll do what I always liked best. I’ll dive into the river every one in a while, have a great time, only to get out again and do something more useful.

Posted in human behavior, social interaction, social media | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Social Relevancy may turn the web into a next edition of the Lonely Planet

(disclaimer: this post is written using an iPhone and a crappy Internet connection from a sunny beach in Greece. It is bound to contain (spelling) errors 😉 )

I just read a good post by Alex Iskold about social search. Pagerank is currently the most relevant search algorithm, both in terms of delivering information and revenues. Finding the next ranking system is as much a quest for new relevancy as it is a treasure hunt.
Social Relevancy Ranking is a direction that sounds promising but also raises a lot of questions for me:
1. How will relevancy be determined? Robert Scoble is a great source for tech news, but can I trust him when it comes down to movie reviews, cooking pasta, or the theory of black holes? How can I, unbiased, determine who is an authority, or can be trusted? This is hard to determine within a group of people that you really know, so how can you do this for strangers?
2. How can the algorithm provide unbiased results? If anything ‘social’ has yet again proven us that it is human to cheat and bypass the system. Just look up any discussion on Twitter’s SUL list and you will know what I mean by that. Algorithms are unbiased, people cheat.
3. How will signal be found in the noise? Pagerank takes time to build. You need consistency and quality. But how can we deal with that when real-time results are incorporated? What if results from bots and spammers start to dominate the input, as they seem to be doing on services like Twitter? How can we distinguish commercial play from an honest message (this is the best coffee I’ve ever had).
4. How can we ensure that the web will not become a next version of ‘the lonely planet’? This is my worst fear. The web and the emerging technologies make everything and everyone look the same. There is no room for individualization, uniqueness, or creativity. It will all be captured, indexed, socialized, and pretty soon we are all looking at the same web. We will all discover that great place that serves great coffee, the one authority on backpacking vacations, the best car to drive, movie to watch, recipe to bake. Social relevance ranking becomes the common denominator. It makes the world flat, and leaves little or no room for alternative voices (as they will not rank high).

Social relevancy ranking may become the next big thing after PageRank. It will be exciting to see where it will take us. But it could very well turn out to become the biggest threat to our most precious gift, our own individuality!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

5 reasons why Friendfeed fails to appeal like Twitter does

I’m sitting on a hill with a beautiful view over the sea. While on vacation, I am reading an excellent post by Robert Scoble in which he provides his views on why Friendfeed doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as Twitter or Facebook.
I have deep respect for the Friendfeed team but I tend to agree largely with Robert’s analysis.

From sunny Greece here are 5 reasons why Friendfeed lacks consumer appeal when compared to Twitter::
1. Twitter messages are volatile. They are written down and lost in the stream. Friendfeed items keep coming back as users interact over them. The problem with this is that despite its capabilities, ff is (used as) a publishing platform. It should flow, but it doesn’t.
2. FF converstations are dominated by a few. The quality of the discussions is often very low. People talk more than listen (basis for a good discussion). The information density is low compared to for example the original post that sparked the discussion. And it keeps appearing as people continue the “discussion”.
3. FF discussions force you to look smart. You can’t just publish as there is always the danger that someone actually reacts. On Twitter you can remain relatively anonymous, as your tweets are lost in the stream.
4. the average joe will not share and interact over content like geeks do. Sorry, picture your best friend, brother, father, child, or neighbour trying to get into FF. No way. Tweeting on the other hand is east to grasp. No obligations, just 140 characters into the open.
5. Sharing on FF lacks intention. Everything is automated for us. As a result, the quality of shared content is constantly fluctuating. If I have to type my message, even in 140 chars, there is more intention.

I can think of a few more reasons, but blogging on an iPhone is an experience in itself.

FF has a great team and great technology. But its original intention might be blown to pieces by overly active first users. It isn’t likely to get better over time unless the FF team is able to create a much better First Use experience than the current one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Freemium and the art of letting it sink in for a few weeks

There is so much to read, so much to say, and no time to do all of that. This week several interesting posts about my favorite business model, Freemium appeared. All of them triggered by Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free”.

Posts you should be reading about this are:

A skeptic post by, and a followup questions and answers post series between the author and Chris Anderson himself.

Mark Cuban with a post explaining that anyone using Free will die by Free. My initial take is that is makes very broad claimes but doesn’t tie it very wel into the ‘free’ aspect.

And Fred Wilson, who I always find has a very good view when it comes to Freemium.

I have lots of thoughts about all of this, and no time to write them down. Sorry about this link post only, that is usually not my style. But hey, now you can make up your own mind about all of this, instead of having to read through mine 🙂 . I do know that my company has chosen to move forward with the Freemium business model, so I’ll be trying to avoid all pitfalls. I’ll be gone for 2 weeks for yet another great vacation in Greece, Korinthos. I might try to experiment with iPhone blog posting, but don’t count on it 😉

See you in 2 weeks!


Posted in business model, Freemium | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Calling BS on the Real-Time Web

The tech world is full of the real-time web. Google seems to have missed it, Twitter is on top of it but sucks at indexing it, Friendfeed is the aggregation king, and Facebook might get there by copying Twitter and Friendfeed all along.

Personally I think it is not worth the hassle. Real-time web is a publisher’s thing, not a consumer thing. There are few situations, usually disasters,  where I might be in need of a real-time web. The geek will tell you that it is great to be able track what people are saying when a plane crashes, Obama is inaugurated, or a famous pop star dies. The problem I have with those examples is that life isn’t like that every day. Most of the times we get along quite well without the ability to track these rare situations, and when they do emerge we’ll find out about it quickly enough.

Another argument is real-time search. That’s a lot of BS too. there is so much twittering around that it is impossible to get valuable real-time results in search. Google Pagerank uses an algorithm to decide what could be relevant. You may not like the algorithm, but it does attempt to ensure that there is a reasonable objective approach in getting you valuable results. Chit chat isn’t the way to do that. There currently is no algorithm when real-time search is running. There is only people, and the things they publish right now. It leads to a lot of clutter and near-zero value in search.

The Friendfeed crowd will argue that it isn’t about real-time search, but about real-time conversations. I don’t buy that for a minute. Have you ever seen a discussion on Friendfeed? the service gets praised for their ability to let people interact over content. It’s the best service out there. Personally I find many of the “discussions” hardly interesting or useful. There is too much content, too many people, too many comments, no structure in discussions, too many geeks. But most important hardly anyone  is actually listening (the basis for ANY good conversation is the ability to listen). A Friendfeed discussion isn’t an interaction, it’s a mob screaming out loud. A voice lost in 2000 other voices. I get much more value out of the posts that are aggregated in Friendfeed than the discussions that take place below them.

The real-time web currently is a geek’s wet dream.  I’m sure it will eventually get to a point where people will find aspects of a real-time web useful enough to incorporate it in their lives. But for now I don’t think it is worth all the hassle. I don’t have a “need” for the real-time web. There are more important things in life then having access to a fire hose of unfiltered nonsense. How about getting me the right information at the exact right time!

Posted in Facebook, Friendfeed, Google, interaction, real-time web, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

We are live with the Family Timeline!

Glubble for Families

Glubble for Families

[disclaimer: this post is related to my job at Glubble]

It’s taken months of making plans, thinking things through, building, and testing. And now we are live. The Family Timeline is here.

Glubble aims to provide families a private place to connect online. It consists of a private family page with a ‘twitter for families-like’ message wall, and sharing of events and photos. And we provide integration with Firefox so that family members are notified in real time of new events taking place on the family page. Small children can participate too, with our Firefox with Glubble kids browser. It lets parents teach their children good digital citizenship and social networking in a safe family environment.

The Family Timeline

The Family Timeline

The Family Timeline is the latest addition to the service. Born out of a frustration that I am not very organized when it comes to my digital photos. I have tons of images on my computer, but I can’t find or browse them the way I want. The Family Timeline is an attempt to make life simpler and more fun for families.

When you upload photos to the Family Timeline they are placed automatically on a visual Timeline that allows easy navigation of your photos.

Time is a powerful concept when it comes to navigation. Events are important, but for me time is something I can relate events to. Our vacation in Greece last year, the birth of our children, a party at a friends house. I might not remember exact dates, but the Timeline lets me find these images really quickly.

The service provides you the flexibility to organize things your way, and attempts to help you by reading in the dates the photos are taken. The Family Timeline also incorporates your Family Events and messages,  providing an online archive of your most important family memories.

A personalized web page to share your photos with friends

A personalized web page to share your photos with friends

You can share photos outside your family if you want, you decide. No need to send big files through e-mail, instead a personalized web page where your friends can see and download the photos that you want to share.

We will add more sophisticated sharing options as we go along. One click posting to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter etc. But not by default,  you will remain in control. We will work on mobile uploads and importing photos you already have online.

For now, we provide a simple yet effective service. Your most important family memories and interactions online, visually attractive and easily navigated through time. It is a Freemium service. You can use it for free with some limitations, and upgrade to Premium if you  like the service. For $39,95 a year you can upload, store and share as many photos as you want, in high quality.

I would like to thank my team for doing a great job. A huge nr of volunteers that helped us test the service and improve it. And a special thanks to Steven Hodson who was there from the beginning, Robert Scoble and Louis Gray for hearing me out, providing excellent feedback and letting the world know what we are doing!

I’m really amazed at the great coverage too. TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat. There is more coming in all the time. The press release is right here. But honestly. The best post I’ve seen so far is right here.  A family giving the service a try. That is what this is all about!

If you want to give the Family Timeline a spin, you can register here.

Posted in Glubble for Families, photo service | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why the iPhone will never be the biggest money generating platform

The iPhone will not generate significant mobile revenues

The iPhone will not generate significant mobile revenues

Tomi Ahonen has written a very long post about the history of mobile phone development  in Europe and the United States. Tomi is a well known authority in the Mobile space and is the author of the well known Communities dominate brand book.

His post contains a number of provocative and thoughtful observations. The post itself is as long as an e-book, but I urge you to read it all the way. It’s excellent.

In his post Tomi argues that even though the iPhone has brought a revolution in smart phones it will not dominate mobile revenues with its current offering. the bulk of mobile revenues are not in App stores or the real Internet. Apple’s iPhone represents less than 1% of the mobile market, and it’s revenue generation is infinitely small compared to current real mobile Internet revenues. A quote from Tomi’s post:

So we come down to the applications. Tomi, its a smartphone. By definition, a phone that can accept applications? Why aren’t you talking about the Apple iPhone Apps Store. Yeah, sure, its important for us nerds and geeks, the early adopters of new technology, who have been envisioning a pocketable PC that could be perfect for the gadget freak. Yes, the Apps store is wonderful. A billion downloads, yeah. Except that the mass market consumer, your mother, your father, your sister and your brother, are not like you and me at this blog. They will not madly download tons of apps to any smartphone. The theory of “Crossing the Chasm” has been explained by Geoffrey Moore a decade ago and is not disputed. Techie-geeky appeal of ultra high tech does not translate to the mass markets, in fact in most cases what geeks want and mass markets want are diametrically opposed.

No matter what stats you see for Apple iPhone Apps Store success, whatever the stats, the total market share of Apple is 1% of the phone market. It is exactly at the pointed end of that Crossing the Chasm theory that Moore talked about. This is NOT a mass market, and CANNOT BECOME one if the same model is repeated. Understand what I say. Even if you are able to make a success out of your app in the Apps Store today, it CANNOT translate to a mass market success, using that same model. its not my theory, Moore’s theory holds near unanimous agreement by all technology marketing gurus. Do not kid yourself.

The problem with the iPhone is that it has been developed with a pc in mind. It is a pc device that can also call. This is exactly why I wrote a post about a year ago explaining why the iPhone is probably one of the worst mobile phones I have ever used. It comes with downloadable applications that let the user customize his device. But that is exactly why it will not be adopted by the mass market.

Yes there is a big opportunity for apps to be sold to smartphones. Yes, it is a very significant market, when viewed from the angle of the software applications industry. But it will always be – always be – only a niche. Do not allow yourself to be delusional about this. We do not buy – and the mass market will not ever buy – smartphones so that they could install some apps to it. The vast majority of users will be contented with the apps that come pre-loaded, and then they go to web based services to get their additional benefits.

The real value (in terms of revenues) lies in the mobile web. This is not the real web displayed on a high end handheld like the iPhone. Instead it is the ‘walled-garden’ Internet that is build and maintained by the mobile carriers. Sounds totally unbelievable right? The facts and figures however are indisputable. Again, a quote from Tomi:

That is where the big opportunity is. Not apps that we install onto a smartphone, but the services that we deliver via the network. Mobile premium services, what could be called “mobile internet” and by this I mean a superior, better, money-making internet than the old legacy dumb internet we have on the PCs. So I explicitly do not mean “the real internet” onto the phones. That is as dumb as putting a real horse to power your car! We have a BETTER engine in the car. And now, yes, please understand, the “mobile internet” is the far better internet than that horrid old creaky stupid cheap “advertising-led” “get-me-more-eyeballs” internet which we all use today. The internet is for good reason called the 6th mass media channel and obviously mobile is the newer, 7th mass medium.

No, while that will be there, and yes, there will be millions and millions of users on “the real internet” on our smartphones, that is peanuts. PEANUTS. The far bigger opportunity in mobile is in the 7th mass media type of mobile internet, the better, smarter and richer money-making and magical mobile internet. That is where the opportunity is. To see how vibrant and lucrative it can be, one need not look further than this decade and Japan and South Korea, where the mobile internet really thrives already. Application developers have a hard time making money selling 1 dollar apps on the Apple iPhone Apps Store. You have to be very lucky to make the top 100 apps listing to have any chance of recovering your development costs. A very risky development path.

But in Japan, they offer the service on the mobile internet, take a subscription of one dollar per month (100 yen) and pay 10% to the carriers/operators and the service provider gets to keep 90%. Rather than one dollar from one customer once, the customer is charged 12 months, 12 times per year. 12 dollars, and the content owner gets to keep 10 dollars and 80 cents of it. Which is better? A dollar or ten? I rest my case, milad.

Worldwide the mobile data market is a much bigger opportunity than pc based Internet. There are more users, more devices, payment is integrated on every device (no need for credit cards). In another great and long post Tomi estimates these markets:

The total mobile premium content industry is worth 71 billion dollars and the mobile messaging industry adds another 130 billion, giving the total moblie phone based data services industry a size of 200 billion dollars for 2008. Now, consider the internet. Even as we add not only all content revenues, and all advertising revenues on the internet, but also the access revenues for broadband and dial-up narrowband internet access, the overall size of the internet business is about.. 200 billion dollars. In half the time, mobile has grown to same size.

Mobile is the bigger internet. Mobile is the stronger internet. Mobile is the money internet. Mobile is the faster-growing internet.

It sounds counter intuitive to us geeks, but the smart phone market is a niche market. No matter how sexy and cool we think it is. The SMS market alone is bigger than the current pc based Internet content market. Premium mobile data services add extra growth that can’t be matched by the web. On the web we are stuck with inefficient, crappy old-fashioned web 1.0 based business models. In the mobile data market every bit transferred represents real revenue. Twitter could have done it, but they didn’t pursue the biggest revenue generator.

Facebook missed that one too.In 2007 I wrote a post entitled “Mark Zuckerberg, when in doubt, follow the money”. I said then:

But there are 2 aspects to a mobile phone that are of huge importance when thinking about next generation web services:

  1. The mobile phone platform has billing capabilities
  2. The mobile phone user pays to interact with others

Think of the US on-line advertisement spent 2006 ($16 Bln) as a small hill,


think of the worldwide spent on SMS as the Mount Everest (btoh images taken from Wikipedia). It is estimated that the SMS market alone will be $ 67Bln in 2012 (or 3.7 trillion messages a year!) .That is excluding Mobile Internet services. In Japan alone more than $ 1 Bln revenues are generated from mobile data services. So stop thinking ads and start thinking payed services.

The mobile business model is the most User-Centric I can think of. It provides user value and the user pays directly for that value. There is nothing more powerful than that.

Posted in business model, Facebook, iPhone, Mobile Internet | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A personal manifesto for a User-Centric web

A pretty walled garden

A pretty walled garden

There are walls all around us. We live our lives realizing that we have to live with rules and limitations. We have laws to obey,  values to live by, families we are part off, countries we live in, services we make use of, gravity that pulls us down, freedom of speech, natural resources, food, water, money. Everything we do in life comes with a set of rules.

The existence of some of these boundaries is something we tend to ignore. We are taught to aim for the highest, get the best out of our own potential, be a winner. There are no problems, only challenges. Can you see an athletic coach explaining to the world fastest sprinter that it is impossible to sprint 100m in 4.5 seconds? No way. You need to train harder, overcome your fears and doubts. You can accomplish anything if  you really want to. Work hard until you reach your goals. Just do it!

We don’t like it to be captured. If we bump into a boundary we will try to get around it. If it is a problem, we will try to resolve it. If the wall is bigger then ourselves we will try to mobilize others to help us.If we don’t deal with a wall that stands in the way then at least we will complain often about it (dissatisfied customers that can’t leave a service).

It seems to me that we sometimes act very differently online. Sure, if there is something to complain about we harness the power of all the publishing tools and cry outrage. But when it comes to the core of our online presence, our personal identity we willingly accept the boundaries that the big web companies have set for us.

There is a war out there, a battle to own your online identity. Driven by network value based business models service providers aim at unlimited growth. We get sucked into the best web 20 services. It’s free and it’s cool. Big service providers fights to get you in and then never let you out. It’s like a black hole. You, your personal data, your interactions and friends.

We seem to accept this a a fait accompli. That is the way the web works. Nothing we can do about it. We give away our online identity for free and in return accept the boundaries and limitations the service providers give us. Google shows you their web, which is different from Yahoo’s web, or Facebook’s web for that matter. We let Social Networks own and exploit our personal data, our interactions, our family and our friends. We create the value of those networks ourselves yet accept that these networks impose (sometimes ridiculous) boundaries on us.

All effort goes into enlarging the network, the data, and few big service providers put as much effort in setting you and your data free again from that very service. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t all bad, or even intentional. And the value we get in return can be very high! I’m a happy user of many web 2.0 services and I am amazed at what technology can do for us. There are many services, organizations and individuals out there that have a user value focus.

However we are often blinded by the coolness factor, the joy, the zero cost participation, hype created by the media, following the crowd, getting sucked in by friends (that’s called viral growth, which in itself doesn’t have a very healthy sound) we join everything and accept that our online identity isn’t ours. But at what cost?

The biggest threat in my opinion is that in this process we let a few very big service provider decide for us where the walls are build. What boundaries and rules we need to live by. We are giving away our online identity for free in order to be able to participate.

Tim O’Reilly nailed the web 2.0 definition when he said:

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

It has become part of our history books now. The network effect Tim mentions has lead to an undesirable side effect. Driven by network value business models some service providers are not just viewing the Internet as a platform. Instead they are aiming to ensure that their own platform becomes the Internet!

That is a boundary I’m personally not willing to accept. Why should I be confined to one network, or accept that my online identity is not only scattered but not even my own? In a true service provider model, the user is in control of his identity, his data and his interactions. The user needs to be able to define his own ‘Terms of Service’, which are to be respected by the service provider. It’s web 2.0, inside out.

It is something I am passionate about. It’s why I write about it often. But that isn’t enough. I can’t complain about it if I am not really contributing to changing this. I feel I should take my own responsibility and join those that are already working on it, no matter how small or insignificant my contribution is.

It means professionally that I’ll be spending as much time and effort on letting users control their own identity, data and interactions, as I spend time on getting these users in the first place. It means changing the ‘terms of service’ from protecting a business (model) to serving the user. It means embracing standards like OpenId to let people decide where they create their online identity. It means supporting efforts to define solutions that will put the user in control of his online identity.

Joining discussions already taking place. Helping the big service providers change their strategy. Making sure that the Internet isn’t confined to a single platform. Choosing business  models that leverage user value instead of network value. And perhaps most important of all, educating those unaware of the importance of their online identity. It’s an effort for the long run. I don’t expect fast changes or revolutions over night. But any journey start simply by taking the first step, and by writing this down.

I’m taking my first and I’m joining those that have already gone down this path.

Posted in inspiration, personal manifesto, Tim O'Reilly, user centric web, web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Everybody loses in the battle over our online identity

A birds cage

A beautiful bird cage

Facebook announces user names. It generates a lot of buzz on Techmeme. TechCrunch reports the obvious (vanity), but Chris Messina is the only one that is actually analyzing what Facebook is doing and what impact it can have on our online lives. In a post he entitles “Facebook usernames and the digital battle over your identity” he goes into the underlying strategy of this move and the effect it has on your online identity.

Arguing that Facebook shouldn’t get into the vanity URL business, I still think that they had it right the first time around. Digital identity should change the adapt to humans; not force humans to refer to each other in more computer-friendly ways. But the allure is simply too great. I also can’t say that I blame them, even though I think it’s a distraction along the way towards more widespread real identity (and thereby reputability) online.

Chris goes on and hits the one thing that s relevant about this move by Facebook. the online battle to own your identity, profile and interactions:

So, this is happening, and companies are racing to achieve namespace dominance over your online profile. This is what Tim O’Reilly warned about in his definition of Web 2.0. He said that one of the new kinds of lock-in in the era of [cloud computing] will be owning a namespace. There you have it — who are you going to trust to own yours?

I suggest you read the article in full, it’s an excellent read.

Chris hits on a nerve I’ve always felt was important. While web 2.0 has brought us a lot of great things it also provides service providers more opportunities for user lock-in. User lock-in is a term invented by marketeers (they are all idiots you know). Customer lock-in is in essence a protective measure, hence the “lock-in” part. Marketeers will obviously never say that. They brainwash themselves and their company by arguing that achieving customer lock-in is done by excellent service, providing the user with value and more of that. They are wrong of course. Customer lock-in is achieved by simpler things. The inability for a user to leave a service, to hide customer help behind layers of customer service, 23 pages of legal gibberish called terms of service, the impossibility to switch to other providers, downgrade services etc.

In the online world customer lock-in is even worse. Here is where Tim O’Reily’s definition of Web 2.0 lacks a user dimension. Tim says:

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

The problem I have with this definition, even though it adequately describes what we refer to as web 2.0, is that it doesn’t address the user and the value he should receive. What we often fail to realize is that the network effect Tim talks about is not only the best thing that web 2.0 has brought us, it is also its biggest tragedy. The network effect forces service providers to concentrate on the size of the network, instead of a primary focus on user value. The Internet is not seen as a platform at all. The service provider sees his own platform as the Internet! And to make matters worse, web 2.0 is governed by old-fashioned web 1.0 business models that leverage that network value, instead of user value.

The network effect and the failure of online business models to evolve with the technological evolution leads to unwanted effects such as customer lock-in, the network value being more important than individual user value, Twitter spam, walled gardens, the total lack of data portability, lack of privacy control,  the battle over your online identity, profile and interactions. And now the battle over name space. In effect, it cages us, instead of setting us free. It takes away our ability to be in control of our own profile, our data and our interactions.

And there is nothing we can do about it as individual users are either unaware or unable to generate enough counter force to balance the power on the web. This fight to control you on the web can only be halted if we evolve online business models to a point where revenue and competition are based upon user value instead of network value. If service providers generate revenue buy providing user value they will achieve the exact same effect as they try to reach ow. Users will be committed to user their service. Not because they can’t leave, but because they choose so. All it requires for service providers is to let go, to turn the relationship with the user inside out. Now that would be a revolution.

I’m with Chris here. He sums it all up in one little hidden line in his post:

It’s remarkable how cheap we’ll sell out our identity these days.

The question is, are we seriously going to put up with this? Will we allow Facebook, or any other service provider dictate that their platform is our Internet? That is the ultimate user lock-in.  A shiny, gold-plated bird cage.

That is not a future I would feel comfortable with. It’s time we redefine online business models. It may be our only way out of this lock-in to a web that is user-centric instead of network centric.

Posted in business model, Facebook, social networks, Tim O'Reilly, user centric web, web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Social Media is bound by our human limitations

The definition of Social Media according to Wikipedia is:

Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).

It sounds perfectly reasonable. Social Media gives us all the power to become publishers. To distribute our content and interact over them. To a certain extend this is true. But if you think that the world is waiting for you and your content think again. It isn’t that easy. There are certain rules you need to understand and follow.

While distribution scales endlessly, your ability to interact will not

Wikipedia is right about the scalable publishing technologies. Anyone can now create, publish and distribute content across the web. The technologies involved allow you to reach out to audiences far beyond your social network. There is a problem with this scalability. While your content can be distributed endlessly, your ability to interact over that content cannot. In a sense many of the current successful web 2.0 companies try to scale down this endless stream of content and conversations. Our human limitations do not allow us to follow 10.000 people, process millions of pieces of content and interact over all of them.

Technology tries to help us bring order into this chaos by allowing us to broadcast without the need of interaction (Twitter), limit content and discussions to people we trust (Friendfeed), build up a network of friends we want interaction with (Facebook) or attempt to capture the conversation in one place (Disqus). While technology has found us easy to use and scalable distribution, we do not have proper solutions yet for scaling down our interactions. Search for signal to noise and you will find many different startups and services trying to solve our human limitations wrt scale. This is not a new problem. Google has been working on this for years. They build their search engine and PageRank to try and provide a better signal to noise ratio. It is impossible for us to see all content on the web, so we use search engines to find us the right content.

Social Media adds another dimension to this scalability. It gives us not only more content but also more interaction over that content. Needless to say that this leads to an unprecedented nr of startups trying to provide us new methods and technology to deal with this endless stream of content we now call Social Media.

Social Media isn’t always democratic, it is a game that has winners,  losers and cheaters

Anyone can become a celebrity. The past few years of YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, blogging and Idols have proven that anyone can become a hero, right? Hardly. Of course there are excellent examples of people coming from nowhere into stardom, but for every 1 success there are a million failures. When it comes to online distribution and scale, you need to understand that while the technology itself is perfectly scalable, the actual game is a game with winners, losers an cheaters. There are those that have worked extremely hard, for many years, to become a celebrity (In the Tech world people like Robert Scoble and Louis Gray would fit into this category). These people have been providing constant value and interaction to a community and have earned respect and a voice from that.

Then there are those that understand the dynamics behind the game and seek an audience by taking a few shortcuts here and there. Instead of slowly building up an audience by providing constant quality, they actively seek high visibility through different channels and circling around other celebrities. Getting noticed by a person or channel representing a large community will help build your own community of people you can interact with. Needless to say you do need to provide valuable content in order to get noticed. Bottom line is that it takes a lot of work and a thorough understanding of the dynamics of Social Media to become a well known community member. Just because publishing has become easy doesn’t mean that you will be heard.

And there are those that become instant celebrities because they cheat. If you are thinking about becoming a web rock star yourself. Be prepared to either invest all of your time for the next few years in publishing relevant an valuable content and slowly building up a community of followers. Or cheat, buy yourself into high volume traffic without actually having to do anything relevant to earn such a position (I suggest becoming a recommended Twitter user for example).

Don’t get fooled by the ease to publish. Social Media isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work to interact

I see the following type of conversation pop up all the time on Friendfeed. A user observes that while he is active on the community, the content he publishes doesn’t draw a lot of attention (=discussion). This is the perfect way to start interaction on Friendfeed btw 😉 . It takes only a few seconds before the community starts to give helpful hints. Bottom line in most cases seem to be ‘give and you shall receive’. In other words. If you want people to interact with you, start by interacting with them. In order to become a respectable member of any community, you not only need to produce relevant and valuable content for that community. You also need to add value via interaction. Give, without expecting something in return. While this makes perfect sense, it doesn’t make things easier. Not everyone is as outspoken. There is always a small subset of the community that is responsible for a large part of the interactions. It’s hard to make your voice count. And while the technology does level the playing field (anyone can be or interact with a celebrity), it doesn’t automatically mean that you are heard. It takes time, effort, and a lot of positive energy to build your own voice within a community.

Some random thoughts

Social Media provides us endless possibilities to create, mash up, publish and interact over content. The one thing that holds this endless scalability back is the human factor. We simply can’t deal with a universe where there are no boundaries. As soon as we enter this world we set a playing field by following a specific set of people, signing up for certain services, interact in specific places, search, filter and share specific content. It help us to create order in a chaotic world. The biggest effect Social Media might have is that we will use it to make our world smaller instead of bigger. Quality over quantity. We might see a trend where networks will become smaller instead of bigger. Where content and interactions will become highly focused instead of widespread. Where geoposition and localization will be more important than globalization. Where interaction with people you have actually met will become more important than people you have stumbled across online.

Just like in the physical world 😉

Posted in Facebook, Friendfeed, Google, human behavior, social media, social networks, web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The potential power of Google Wave is far bigger than its demo

I was just reading this CNET post on wave. Rafe Needleman and Stephen Shankland (both working for CNET) answer questions about Google Wave in an attempt to explain what it is.

Sadly, they don’t really get past the Google Wave demo itself. In my opinion, the demo itself, although remarkable, is not very important. Google Wave isn’t impressive because Google build a cool demo. There are 10 other reasons why Google Wave is more important than that. Google set a vision that will change the way we will communicate online.

What I find remarkable about this vision is that Google is breaking through some existing boundaries that hold web 2.0 progress back so far. I could repeat my 10 points made earlier, but I would like to focus on a subset.

Google has not only unified different types of online communication (e-mail, instant messaging, SMS) into one paradigm (wave), but they have also ensured that it can run fully distributed and can integrate with most of the things we have. To understand what that means I urge you not to see Google Wave as a new service, but as a new service layer.

Whereas services like e-mail, instant messaging and social networks always have been build on the premise of a walled garden business model, Google Wave can become the new communication structure services can develop upon. It is set up from the start as an open source project with a clear focus on development API’s. I’m sure that Google will launch a Google Wave service at some point that will attract many users. But it also allows any other service to use that same paradigm to implement unified online communication.

Google has not only spent time and energy making sure Wave can suck content into the platform, it has spent as much time and energy making sure it can get out too! Farewell destination based business models. Farewell walled gardens. If Wave gets adapted, it will put the user in control, and that is exactly what we need to do to break out of our current web 2.0 boundaries. That is what makes this development so remarkable.

Google just did some major plumbing on the web, and honestly, they were probably the only ones that could do this. They, unlike other companies, do not need walled gardens to make lots of revenues. After all, their walled garden is the entire web, and beyond 😉

Posted in business model, Google Wave, user centric web, web 2.0 | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Shifting the balance of power inside out solves many web 2.0 issues

What are the most important aspects for a User-Centric web to me? In a User-Centric web:

  • I get to own my data and my interactions
  • I control my privacy
  • Services travel along with me, instead of me traveling to those services
  • I do not perceive walled gardens, I can take my data with me and (re-)use it wherever I want
  • Services connect to me in a standard manner, allowing me to (re-) use my data (think friend list, unified messaging, interaction, privacy control etc here)
  • Services read my privacy policy and terms of use, and agree to my terms when connecting

It basically changes the balance of power inside out. Instead of putting control at the web service, control should be with the individual user. If we switch to this perspective you will find that a lot of the issues we currently see on the web would be solved quite naturally. We would not need destination-based business models (with complementary user-lock-in and walled gardens). It would solve the biggest web 2.0 tragedy as service providers would have to compete on user value, instead on network value. And privacy, or the lack of control, of it, would be solved automatically, as the user decides what to do himself. that doesn’t imply that everything will be locked down. It just implies the user explicitly can decide what to do, including the option to share everything.

The problem with this concept is that it takes plumbers to realize it. You need development effort to focus on the core aspects of the way the web works. It isn’t about creating a new Facebook or Twitter. There is no glorious, unique business model available to make this happen. It really isn’t even about technology. we already have the technological capability to make it happen. The real issue is revenue. Unless we figure out a way to generate revenue  in this User-Centric web, we won’t see it happen easily. There are movements working on this.  OpenID is a great example. But we will need commercial companies to embrace this concept and bring it to life. Unless there is a revenue generating perspective they simply will not do this.

The exception is obviously Google. Google is not only the largest revenue generating machine on the web, they are by far the biggest plumber too. Their recently announced Google Wave is a typical example of this. They have just provided us the mean to re-invent the way online communication works. This is going to have a huge impact on existing communication and social networking services if adopted. Google wave to me is one of the first initiatives that will allow us to develop User-Centric services.

Maybe we should simply revert to a very old business model, even older than the current web 1.0 models we upgraded to web 2.0. Maybe we should ask users to pay for the value they receive?

Posted in business model, Google, Google Wave, privacy, user centric web | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

10 reasons why Google just reinvented online communication

This is a huge development. Techmeme is going wild over Google Wave. Google has focused on the one thing that is important in the web, communication. They have taken apart and reinvented, and integrated all forms of communication and build a clever cross platform integration of it.There are so many things to discuss that it’s hard to know here to start. I would advice you to watch the entire video, eventhough it is an hour long.

10 reasons why this will change the way we communicate and use the web:

  1. It integrates all communication methods into one paradigm
  2. It will be open source, and can be decentralized
  3. It provides as much possibilites to take data out of the system as it can pull in
  4. It solves communication first, and integrates everything else around that (instead of the other way around)
  5. It comes with developers API’s to make sure that a whole ecology of extensions and totally new services will be build on top of it
  6. It isn’t burdened by a destination driven business model
  7. It will fundamentally change destination driven services like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.
  8. Google has yet again proven that they are willing to do the plumbing in the web
  9. It works on the web, mobile, and it fully integrates with other key services Google provides (example google maps). And it can be integrated into any other (social networking) service
  10. I don’t think it will work on IE right now. Sounds to me like Google will crush IE between Chrome and Firefox, leaving Microsoft with a blow that will be hard to recover from

These are just a first set of quick thoughts. This sounds like a huge step towards a User-Centric web to me. I will take some time and work some of these thoughts out. What do you think? Did Google just deliver disruptive technology?

Posted in Google Wave, user centric web | Tagged , | 21 Comments

An important revolution in the web can’t be driven by technology

Who am I?

Who am I?

Yesterday I tried logging into a service I hadn’t visited in a while. I couldn’t remember my user name or password. After a few frustrating and unsuccessful attempts I gave up. Recognize this? Happens to me all the time. Currently, my best bet is to search my mailbox to see if I can find the information I need to get access to services.

It is a problem we all face. For safety and security reasons we need to have unique ID’s and hard to remember passwords. But humanly it is nearly impossible to remember all these combinations. There are tools out there that help your resolve this issue (take 1password as an example). But the tools mask the underlying problem. Why do I need a new online identity for each new service I sign up for?

OpenID addresses this problem. It let’s you sign in to different services using one identity. Several big sites, including Facebook, now support OpenID. You can now, for example, use your mail account to get access to Facebook.

To me, OpenID only solves the initial problem that I described above. It provides me a simple way to get access to different services, without the need for me to remember user names or passwords. But I would like to take it a few steps further. If I can have one identity, securely stored, and usable across different services, then why not store my online profile there as well?

Every service I sign up for requires me to reveal some aspects about myself. It could be anything ranging from name, address, phone, gender, birth date, icons, preferences for movies, books, friends. It could be information linked to my profession, to my free time. I need to set preferences. How open do I want my data to be? There is privacy settings to consider, e-mail addresses to be filled in. The list is endless. The problem is that this information doesn’t change all that often. I might decide that I want to reveal more or less of myself but all this information is stored (in my head, my computer, my address book etc).

But each of these services force me to enter this information in order to serve me a better experience. It’s no fun on Facebook if you do not indicate who your friends are. At the same time, the fight over data has become an important economic factor. Services exist and have economic viability if they can ‘own’ my data. This economic force creates the boundaries often referred to as walled gardens. By locking in users, services can fire up their economic engine. By locking in more users and more data the engine continues to run. While it seems to make perfect sense to have one identity and profile across different services we have to understand that the economic reality of today is that there is no business model available that supports such a radical change. In other words, companies like Facebook will have a hard time justifying their economic value if they didn’t lock in users and own their data.

Technically, by swapping the current balance of power from the service provider to the user we could easily solve this one identity – one profile issue.The Diso project, started by Chris Messina, tries to address these issues. However, this balance of power can’t be swapped until someone figures out a way to make it economically justifiable to do so. I’m sure service providers are willing to do the right thing, but only if it positively affects their bottom line. It is my believe that we need to solve this economic problem first, before we can solve the one identity –  one profile problem. A User-Centric web will only be conceived if it is accompanied by business models allowing service providers to generate revenues without being in control of the user’s data.

The value for the user is evident. Instead of monetizing networks, the service provider needs to monetize user value. Instead of focus on growth, there will be focus on user value. Service providers wont be competing on ‘who is the biggest’ but they will have to compete on delivering value. I’ve been complaining a lot about service providers locking users in, about not respecting privacy, or control over user data. But I’ve come to realise that it isn’t fair to be complaining about this, if we don’t address the economic issue at the same time. If we can develop business models that facilitate a User-Centric web, we will have optimal conditions to make it happen. This is a case where economic innovation needs to proceed technological innovation. Forget about technology for now. We already have the technological capabilities to make it happen. We need smart people to focus on defining the business models that will enable this transition to happen.

Posted in business model, user centric web, walled garden, web 2.0 | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Open, Social web needs plumbers

Chris Messina has a long and good post up about the open Social Web. He hits on a topic I have written about many times as well:

Moreover, by commoditizing certain fundamental features, service providers will move to compete on the level of user experience and service, rather than on lock-in alone. And in the distributed social model of the web, there is nothing more fundamental than establishing a means of expressing durable, cross-site identity.

It is my contention that the individual is the basic atomic unit of society, and without society you can’t get to acting on the “social” layer. And since change only can begin at the scale of the individual, OpenID must occupy a cornerstone of the open, social web.

The commoditizing fundamental features Chris talks about are identity, discovery and access control, contacts and friends, activity streams, messaging, groupings and shared spaces. I read his post and ended up posting a comment on a Friendfeed discussion in which I said:

I guess it all boils down to the point that most initiatives are not willing to work on the plumbing of the web. Everyone wants to build the house and contain people within it. The irony of course is that if you build the plumbing smart you would be part of everything, instead of “owning” a small piece of the web trying to lock users in (And I thought my posts were long 😉 )

It reminded me of an old post Rolf Skyberg once wrote about the plumbing on the web. In a post called 98%, or even 100%-open, not enough in social networks he writes:

Unfortunately, this pattern all points into an area where few large companies want to compete: commodity services. To those with dollar signs singing in their sleep, “commodity” is a painful, dirty word where products must compete both on their merits and consumer whimsy. Even if you’re the best, you are forced to walk that careful line between technological prowess and merchantability. It also shines bright lights into the cobwebs of your code; ruthlessly ferreting out weakness.

I’ve written about my view of a User-Centric web (although I was told I should be calling it the User Driven Web).  It’s what Chris calls the Open Social Web. In this web the user is the most important actor. The problem of getting to this type of a web is that we need these commoditizing features in place first. The question is, what is withholding this plumbing? They are not brilliant new insights (brilliant, but not new 😉 ). It isn’t that no one before Chris, Rolf, Doc Searl, myself or others have thought about the need of having this plumbing taken care of. It seems common knowledge, yet it hasn’t been sufficiently addressed or implemented.

I can think of only one reason. There hasn’t been a commercial incentive to make the User-Centric Web happen. There is no money to be made in plumbing, given the current state of web business models. We are still ruled by old-fashioned web 1.0 business models, and they prevent us taking the leap to a fully open, social  web. We need to break free from Tim O’Reilly’s definition of web 2.0 and move beyond that. Until someone figures out how to create revenues by setting up the plumbing , there will be slow progress towards solving it. There are many initiatives, many projects. But turning the web inside out, making the user the center of it, won’t happen until we break through the glass ceiling of current traffic and destination oriented web business models. We need less focus on steroid growth and more on basic infrastructure.

Not only is it more sexy to build a new Facebook, or Twitter, but it is also more lucrative. It’s hard to get investors to line up for basic plumbing. It is hard to convince people that you may earn a decent living by delivering commodity. It is extremely hard to come up with a revenue model for commodity. And until we solve that problem, we won’t easily be able to make the User-Centric web happen.

Who is willing to take care of the plumbing?

Posted in business model, FactoryJoe, OpenID, Rolf Skyberg, Tim O'Reilly, user centric web, web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Looking for testers of our new photo service

[disclosure: this post is related to my job as CEO of]

I haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately. I regret that because I like thinking out loud here and I miss the interaction

Winter view outside my house

Winter view outside my house

with the people that are willing to read and react to my thoughts. The main reason for a lack of time is that my team and I are working hard to get ready for a field test of a new photo service we are about to launch.

I won’t disclose exactly what it is yet, but I do believe we have a very cool approach to help you upload, organize and share photos with family and friends.

I am looking for people interested in testing this service for us. Send me an e-mail, or reply in the comments and I’ll make sure you will get an invite to give the service a spin. We are aiming to start a field test within 1-2 weeks.

I would appreciate it if you would be willing to give it a try. Your feedback would help us tremendously 🙂

Posted in Glubble for Families | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

The fundamental problem of ‘owning’ user data

Who is on control now?

I do not often agree with Facebook, but I do agree with their decision to make privacy settings of their users more important than opening up the vast amount of data they track to 3rd party developers. Marshall Kirkpatrick writes about that decision and points out that Facebook isn’t opening up everything:

Facebook holds a mind-blowing amount of conversational data. The company is analyzing it extensively and it has an omniscient view of conversations across all the networks of friends and privacy restrictions. It uses that aggregate data analysis to make business decisions and to sell advertisements. The rest of us are only allowed to give Facebook more data and to get back a sliver per user that will facilitate more user-level participation in amassing more data at Facebook.

He continues and decides that the value of the data is too big to be held by one company alone:

The data that Facebook controls, conversations and social connections, could be used for analysis of real-time social patterns which could lead to world-shaking new insights. Do we get access to that data? No.

Why not? We don’t get that access because Facebook was built on a fundamental promise of privacy and a complex system of privacy controls. Privacy is good, it’s very good. But, the census gathers and exposes personal data without violating privacy. Lots of systems do.

[stuff deleted…]

The data the network controls is just too valuable to keep locked up for only the company’s own analysis.

Marshall asks an interesting question and provides a provocative answer for it. Is the ability to innovate with user data fundamentally more important than the right of a user to keep his data (interactions)  private?

It is tempting to answer this question with a ‘yes’. Many web advocates will explain that by giving up privacy they get value. That the free flow of data has lead to new interaction possibilities that were impossible before (web 2.0). We’ve made our progress because everything is set free. Data that is free can be mashed up and provide new value, unprecedented.

While we all benefit from these effects, we should not lightly dismiss this as a simple case of ‘collateral damage’. Marshall touches a fundamental dilemma. What is more important, the rights of the mass, or the rights of the individual. In the western world we tend to assume an inverse relationship between individual rights and social control. More social control leads to less individual rights and vice versa. Marshall suggests that individual rights may be less important than the ‘greater cause’ of being able to provide more value to users if data is freely accessible. The obvious question to ask when resented with this view is “where do you set the boundary?”  In other words, what violation of individual rights is still acceptable for the greater cause of innovation?

But to me, there is a more fundamental flaw underneath. Individuals do not really have the means to protect their rights in the first place. Even with every privacy setting Facebook offers a user, there isn’t a single setting that protects the user’s rights from Facebook itself! There is only one way a user can be in control of his own rights. The user can decide not to participate. The web gave us value, and in return it forced us to give up our most important right. The right of the individual. Everything is free and accessible for all. But in return we have to accept that there is no way for us to control what these companies know or do with the data they collect. No matter how honorable Facebook is, they have a disproportional power that allows them to crush individual user rights. Currently, 3rd party developers complain they can’t store Facebook data because of privacy settings, but Facebook itself doesn’t have that limitation. Teh user doens’t own his data, Facebook does.

I realise that these views aren’t popular. That many already (un-)consciously made the decision to participate. We are accepting a world in which the balance is in favor of the companies that develop services. That it is ok that I have to accept a Privacy Policy and Terms of Use of a company, but that that same company doesn’t commit itself to my individual rights. I do not mind data being set free, but I do mind that I do not really have the means to decide for myself what the tradeoff is. It’s all or nothing. Join the party or stay home. And while we might see the benefit of more value now, this is a decision that can’t be undone easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally agree with Marshall that the innovation over user data can lead to incredible value. I’m fine with sharing my data in order to have access to that value. What bugs me is that I do not have control over that decision or that balance. We are scared to give that fundamental right back to the individual. It might break all web business models. But I am an optimist. I think we would be surprised to see how many people would be quite willing to share data in return for value. The difference is that in this new situation they would be able to make a conscious decision. The user would be in control. He would join a service like Facebook and consciously deciding the best trade off between sharing information and obtaining value from the service. And that conscious act would provide us all more value than the current situation in which we are  hijacked.

The only way this can be solved is by putting the user in control. Turn the entire model inside out Privacy/accessibility settings should not be set per service, but set by the user. The user shouldn’t have a fragmented profile across every service, but instead have one profile that can connect to any service. He should not have to find friends across many services, but have his friends within his profile, accessible to him across any service he wishes to use. The user can be in control of what his profile would look like per service, who his friends are, what data he is willing to share. The user should own his data. If that would be the case then we would have balance between user and service provider. If the user has control over the decision to share, then there can be a much more effective exchange of data for value. A service provider wanting access to some of that data will have to agree to the individual’s privacy policy and terms of use. We would not need a new developer’s APIs for every service, but we would need one standard API that allows users to connect to services.  In many ways, putting the user in control would simplify technology and our ability to mash up data in order to create new value. It enforces a more natural cooperation between service provider and user.

The real innovation of the web would be to restore balance and put the individual user in control again.

Posted in business model, Facebook, freedom, privacy, social networks, web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments


Question mark

Networks and destinations

1. If everything becomes open and connected, what will happen to the big destinations?

2. Why is the web rapidly evolving into uncountable databases with connections, instead of one database where everything connects?

3. If all services and destinations become open, then what is the point in being a destination site in the first place?

4. Why are we creating webs within webs, instead of one network that connects it all?

Personality and identity

5. Why am I forced to be fragmented across the web, instead of having one presence that can connect anywhere?

6. Why do I need to get my friends to use the social services I’m on, instead of having my friends with me no matter what service I use?

7. What is or defines my online identity? Am I my profile, my interactions, my data?

8. What defines my presence on the web? Is it the fact that I can be found, or that I can interact anywhere?


9. Why is ‘having data about me’ more important than ‘serving me the right data’?

10. Why is real-time data more important than serving the right data at the right time?

11. Can data lead to demand, or does it only take care of supply?

12. Why does a company have control over all data, instead of letting the user be in control of his own data?


13. Why does every service need a TOS and a Privacy Policy, but at the same time the users that are exploited don’t have a TOS or personal Privacy Policy?

14. Why does every service have to implement privacy controls for the user, while we could implement 1 set of privacy controls that the user can control across all services?

Business models

15. Why is the economic model on the web broken for most companies?

16. Why do most companies work with advertisement models while clearly few manage to be  sustainably profitable?

17. When does the network effect diminish in web business models and thinking?


18. Why can we now publicly rant about anything or anyone, without really being held accountable for our actions?

19. Why do we expect everything to be free, and then have high demands and complain about service?

20. Why would we want to have thousands of friends and interact everywhere?

21. Will we continue to increase interaction or are we reaching saturation?

22. Why do we spend more and more time online while real life passes by so quickly?

Just a few questions that I have. How about you? Do you have any?

Anyone have some answers?

Posted in business model, human behavior, interaction, privacy, social media, social networks | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The real value of Twitter’s ‘Suggested users feature

Jason Calacanis has a long post up about the value of a Twitter suggested user. He explains that being a suggested user on Twitter is more valuable than buying a superbowl ad:

Everyone loves a timely or fascinating question and, in my estimation,
I would get a one percent clickthrough rate on each question. If I was
able to reach three million followers, and kept half of them (1.5m),
that means every tweet would get 15,000 visits. Five a day means
75,000 daily visits, and over two million visits a month–or close to
50m visits of two or three years. Some percentage of those two million
would participate in Mahalo by asking or answering questions, and if
that number is also .5 to 1%, that means I would get about 250,000 new
members for my service.

He goes on and explains why Twitter is so disruptive:

What is so disruptive about Twitter
From my perspective, the most disruptive thing about Twitter is its
presence. It’s everywhere at all times in a way that only an AT&T “You
Will”-style commercial could have predicted in 1995 (or could explain
in 2009–funny how that goes huh?). People get and give Tweets from
the time they wake up until they fall asleep.

Twitter is a giant, open email box that we all hang out in every day.

I don’t really get it. I may be ignorant, but what Jason is actually doing is pretty much old-school web 1.0 thinking. He is thinking eyeballs, traffic, and getting some users from that traffic and monetizing it. He knows Twitter is growing fast, and he has seen that being on the suggested friends list of Twitter gets you ten thousands of followers every day.

What he fails to mention is that the quality of the followers is below zero. You don’t get a targeted group of people you can communicate with. You get everything, including thousands of spammers and bots invading the Twitter network. You get engaged people, listeners, people that signed up and have no activity, people with 20K followers and 2 tweets, etc.etc.

It makes the reach you have on Twitter as good as any spammer that hijacked millions of e-mail addresses. There is always a sucker that falls for it. The real-time effect is pretty much worthless when put into comparison to the nr of followers and the spam being produced. To me the only benefit, if you can call it a benefit, would be that the audience that follows you remains persistent. How many people have you seen closing their Twitter account actively? Before Jason knows it he is addressing 2M Twitter accounts of which maybe 1% may provide some real value. The rest is like with display ads. Not targeted and a waist of money, space and effort.

If anything, social media evolution should have taught us by now that it isn’t a numbers game. It isn’t about quantity, but about quality. And frankly, quality is hard to be found these days on Twitter with their suggestion list, spammers and bots. It seems to me that 9-10 new followers fall in that category at the moment. Could be that I attract the wrong crowd, but I doubt that it is different for others. Jason is betting on quantity, and that might just cost a lot of money with mediocre results.

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out this perfect example of a discussion that Robert Scoble started on Friendfeed, a service that is supposedly the best around when it comes to engagement. Forget it. It performs as bad or good as any other service out there. Most people aren’t engaged (are they even people?). Most are publishers, some are listeners. A few engage, and those are the types that would engage everywhere. The rest are just people that signed up to promote. They don’t care much about engagement.

We may be getting to a real-time web and a more social media place. But I doubt human nature is changing with the same speed. It’s all over hyped and we need to relax a bit about it. To reduce the web’s future to status updates and refer to this as email 2.0 is more than idiocy. It’s mediocre. And it is scary to think that all our creativity, technological progress, and plain smartness has lead to this ultimate achievement of mankind. Is the real value of Twitter’s ‘Suggested user’ feature really $500K as Jason says? I’d say that there are far easier ways to burn money than that.

Posted in advertisement, Friendfeed, Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble, Twitter | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments