Posts about facebook

Newspapers v. Facebook

While in Sweden…. The new editor of Aftonbladet says they learned in a focus group with 20somethings that their major competition for time is Facebook.

I had a somewhat related conversation with my entrepreneurial students yesterday as we debated what properly can be defined as a journalistic enterprise, or part of one. This is a business variant on the who-is-a-journalist debate. But I argued that the real question is, what is the role of the journalistic institution in its community? Is it merely to inform or is it also to organize (which, not coincidentally, is the advice of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: bring your community elegant organization)?

Is a social service that helps local sports players organize properly part of a journalistic organization? For that matter, I’d argue, is a sports section? If we define journalism merely as reported content, then perhaps not. But if we define the larger role of the news organization to help its community organize itself, then social applications — even about sports — are properly part of the mission. I think we need to define the role of the news organization broadly, especially until we figure out what works.

So should Aftonbladet view Facebook as competition for attention — or its mission? I’m not suggesting that Aftonbladet should start its own social network; that would be the reflex of most media companies (we do it all ourselves). Instead, the question should be how to help the community where it is, doing what it does.

If I were making Facebook applications for news organizations now, I wouldn’t be making quizzes and such fripperies. I’d be figuring out how to get news that matters to you in your news feed. I’d be finding ways to tie you with other people who share your interest and know what you want to know. I’d find ways to enable you to recommend more news to your friends.

Seen this way, Facebook isn’t a competitor for a newspaper. It’s just another place to help your community.

(Aftonbladet news found via Media Culpa — which, by the way, is a great name for a blog.)

Friendship

Here’s my Guardian column this week, a much shorter and more cogent version of this post about changes in friendship brought on by the social web.

Zuckerberg on OpenSocial, ads, and friend lists

I’m at Foursquare listening to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in the one on-the-record session. Asked why Facebook chose not to be involved, Mark replies, “Who says we didn’t choose to be a part of it? We didn’t really find out about it until right at the end there.” When? “Maybe an hour after it launched.” Will Facebook be involved? Mark said they’ll see how it works and then evaluate. If it add values to users then they would be involved, he said.

He’s also talking about his new ad system, announced yesterday. I haven’t gotten my head around the full implication of the system but it seems like a customer advocacy platform without the conflict of paying those advocates (see: Pay Per Post). This is an extension of what I wrote about in my Business Week piece on Dell: customers as the best marketers. The recommendations of peers matter more than the spam of advertisers.

Jeff Pulver asks whether we’ll be able to segment business v. personal friends. Mark says they are trying to map out all the connections and that will get more and more granular; some will be manual and some will be agorithmic. He says that “realtive soon” they’re going to release things that help people organize. Soon, that will be lists of friends you can make so you decide what to share with what groups. He also said that they are considering raising the limit on friendships.

The new British class sytem: Facebook

In today’s Telegraph (and this month’s Vogue), Conde Nast UK head Nicholas Coleridge admits that he’s trapped in the new British class system: Facebook.

I know people – adults, that is, busy people with jobs – who spend two or three hours every single day tending their virtual roster of acquaintances, “poking” people, adding applications, trawling friends’ lists of friends to find new ones to poach, or approaching complete strangers to boost their score.

The second half of 2007 has seen the renaissance in England of social competitiveness. Who has more friends on Facebook, me or you? Or, more pressing, who has the most glamorous friends on Facebook? We have turned into a nation of social-stamp collectors.

As I posted on his page on Facebook, I am relieved to both be his friend and have more than he does.

How would Google compete with Google?

So when someone came along who actually managed to compete with and even frighten Google — namely, Facebook — how is Google competing? By going open. There’s a lesson in that for the rest of us.

I keep saying that media companies should ask WWGD — what would Google do — in formulating their digital strategies. Well, in Google’s Open Social, we see that the best competition against a growing monopoly is openness.

So how should we compete with Google or at least challenge its monopoly? Openness. I’ve argued for sometime that we need an open-source ad infrastructure. If the rest of the world other than Google — that is, those who have the other half of advertising Google doesn’t yet have — can gather together and create standards, then Google would be faced with the same decision Facebook is now faced with: whether to use those standards. What organized Facebook’s foes? Ironically, it was Google. Who could organize the nonGoogle ad universe? I see no one on the horizon. That’s why Google keeps growing. We’re letting them.

Social value

$15 billion for Facebook doesn’t sound so crazy when you consider this: A Deutsche Bank analyst says that a newspaper reader in 2004 was worth $964 a year. Today, that’s $500. Facebook’s 50 million active users translates to $300 per at that valuation. And newspapers are shrinking while Facebook is growing by 200,000 new users a day. A day. And those users spend an average of 20 minutes each day inside the site vs. 41 minutes a month on newspaper sites, says DB.

By the way, the analyst says newspapers will come back into the black in 2012 but I see no rationale in theh E&P story for that prediction.

(Link corrected. Thanks, friends.)

The Facebook economy

You know a platform is gaining traction when it spawns an ancillary economy. The Facebook platform has not only supported apps companies that are, in turn, supported by venture capital, but now it yields conferences that can charge $400 at the door. I don’t see why such a conference is needed when Facebook developers have been gathering in hackathons thanks to Meetup, which is a helluva lot cheaper, or thanks to organizing on Facebook itself, which is free. But this is capitalism at work. Next we’ll be seeing the equivalent of SEO: app optimization consultants and conferences and books and new job descriptions and ads for them.

Recommending the tail

Wharton and O’Reilly just released two provocative reports on whether social distribution and recommendation really get into the long tail.

First, O’Reilly’s on the distribution of Facebook apps:

The good news has already been widely disseminated: there are nearly 5000 Facebook applications, and the top applications have tens of millions of installs and millions of active users. The bad news, alas, is in our report: 87% of the usage goes to only 84 applications! Only 45 applications have more than 100,000 active users. This is a long tail marketplace with a vengeance — but unfortunately, the economic models (for developers at least, though not for Facebook itself) all rely on getting into the very short head.

I think there are a few reasons for that. First, the Facebook platform is so damned new. If the same analysis of the entire web had been made in December, 1994, two months after Netscape’s release, it would have shown that Netscape got most of the attention along with a camera on a coffee pot. It took a long time for the Web to develop its incredible depth: its tail. The Facebook platform is very much in its infancy. It’s far too soon to draw any grand conclusions.

More substantively, I think one reason for this undistributed distribution is the nature of social apps: They gain in value the more that people — especially you know — use them, and so the community is uniquely motivated to create blockbusters. It’s one matter to simply recommend things to people (more on that from Wharton in a minute); it doesn’t really affect you if more people watch the movie you recommend, except that you feel as if you’re part of a trend and maybe you can discuss it with them. Those are light motives. By contrast, many Facebook apps are all but useless if your friends don’t use them; that’s the social in it. This creates more of a gathering point than mere recommendation.

I think there’s a lesson in this for old, blockbuster-oriented economies — entertainment and media, mainly: How do you improve your product for all by having more people involved in it? And how does that motivate people to spread it for you? We have seen this happening in online forums: the more people who are involved, the more people get involved (though there is a tipping point; you can have too many people). I wonder whether collaborative media could take on this effect. Lonely Girl 15 may be an example: people made media around the media and spread the original along with their creations. How can newspapers and TV shows do likewise? How does the collaboration and the involvement of your friends improve the product and how then do you get your friends involved? If I were trying to produce a social news or entertainment product, I’d investigate that formula.

Now shift to mere recommendation. The Wharton report (via PaidContent) says that as presently implemented, automated recommendation systems tend to cluster people around products and create blockbusters.

Online retailers may be shooting themselves in the tail — the long tail, that is, according to Kartik Hosanagar, Wharton professor of operations and information management, and Dan Fleder, a Wharton doctoral candidate, in new research on the “recommenders” that many of these retailers use on their websites. Recommenders — perhaps the best known is Amazon’s — tend to drive consumers to concentrate their purchases among popular items rather than allow them to explore and buy whatever piques their curiosity, the two scholars suggest in a working paper titled, “Blockbuster Culture’s Next Rise or Fall: The Impact of Recommender Systems on Sales Diversity.”

Hosanagar and Fleder argue that online recommenders “reinforce the blockbuster nature of media.” And they warn that, by deploying standard designs, online retailers may be recreating the very phenomenon — circumscribed media purchasing choices — that some of them have bragged about helping consumers escape.

The problem is with automated recommendations and that a critical point:

“Because common recommenders recommend products based on sales and [consumer] ratings, they cannot recommend products with limited historical data, even if they would be rated favorably,” they write. “This can create rich-get-richer effects for popular products and vice-versa for unpopular ones, which results in less diversity.”

That could be solved or balanced, I think, if you shift to reliance on human recommendations: ‘My friend Fred finds good stuff for me…. My friend Sally finds better stuff than Fred…. My friend Jeff has no taste.’ Then a critical mass of historical data doesn’t really matter; relationships and taste and shared knowledge do. And we find the friends who like the stuff we like. We live in the tail. We can also live in the head of the curve: We all watch American Idol, too. More on this later…