Posts about interactivity

If only one could edit conversation

Tonja Deegan blogs about a new job opening at the local paper:

Our local paper, the Detroit Free Press, has an opening for a “Community Conversation Editor.” The description is described in these not-so-subtle terms: “The job is critical to the Detroit Free Press’ future.” Even more revealing is that when the newspaper described itself, it barely mentioned the word “newspaper” but instead called itself the state’s leading news source.

Facebook: the platform of people?

Seth Goldstein writes an inspired post today about Facebook’s chances of becoming the platform for people. First, he sets the scene:

Meanwhile, the kids who treated their MySpace profile, and concomitant friend requests, with the same reckless abandon that we have done with our LinkedIn profiles, have now de-camped for Facebook. While I don’t have fresh data on hand to support this hunch, the well-sourced rumor I heard last week about MySpace scrambling feverishly to open their API’s reinforces what is becoming obvious: MySpace’s Kremlin-esque behavior towards 3rd party widget developers -“we buy them or we crush them!”- is on a crash course with the debauched dirty-dancing going on amidst the MySpace spring-breakers. As these kids move from junior high to high school, from high school to college, and from college to the work force, they are increasingly choosing the meritocratic social logic of Zuckerberg over MySpace’s “hot or not?” popularity contest

There can be little doubt now that Facebook is a platform for social media, as opposed to simply a web site community.

He then talksa bout what it takes to make a platform.

In 1999 I sat down with Brad Silverberg of Ignition VC who Microsoft recruited out of Borland in the early 90’s to become the lead developer and project manager of Windows 95. Never has there been a more valuable platform. He described 3 things that platforms needed to have:

* wide distribution
* application developers making money
* good tools

Let’s test those three axioms against the preeminent platform play of our time, Google:

* Wide distribution? YES
* Application developers making money? YES (if you count all the adsense publishers)
* Good tools? YES (all the adwords and adsense self-service goodness)

Now let’s test these axioms against Facebook:

* Wide distribution? YES
* Application developers making money? NO (at least not yet, I will comment on 3rd party Facebook developers such as Slide, Rockyou, and AttentionSoft)
* Good tools? YES

So, the question for establishing Facebook’s value as a platform is no longer whether Facebook itself can make money but whether its developers can do so. . . .

Nobody controls the web as a platform the way that Microsoft controlled the desktop. But certain parties do control enormous pools of user data and direct their behavior…API’s are fountains of data, mostly consumer meta data, that are the byproduct of some other functionality… The value of a web service API is tied to its ability to convert granular feeds of individual data into useful social media contexts. . . . Google does not offer this Social Media API. Facebook does.

That is the opportunity.

: A few more Facebook links:

* Mashable pits MySpace against Facebook, judging design, media, community, usefulness, and ease of use. Guess who wins.

* From a few days ago, Watchmojo tracks Facebook’s growth and says that 100 million users is not a question of whether but when.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg this week stated that the site was growing 3% per week, adding 150,000 users per day. Given the exponential nature of social networks, if the site is indeed growing 3% per week, and currently has 24M users, then by our calculation Facebook will have 100M users by February, 2008. Please note this is an exponential forecast: it calls for a 3% growth on the 3% growth… I also did less conservative forecasts etc., but for the sake of this post, this is for purposes of illustration and not an actual forecast that “Facebook WILL have 100M users, and it will by Feb 2008.”

They then go on to speculate on valuation. That’s anybody’s game.

* And I just started reading Inc. Magazine’s cover story on the Facebook that wasn’t, Friendster, and its founder, Jonathan Abrams.

It’s not easy being the brains behind one of the biggest disappointments in Internet history. Sure, there are those who describe you as a visionary, but in the same breath they’ll deride you as a lousy businessman. Bloggers attack you, call you “a real asshole” and “a very lucky idiot savant.” Former investors badmouth you. Other entrepreneurs copy your ideas without giving you credit. The New York Times makes reference to your “ballooning ego” and the local Fox affiliate can’t even get your name right.

Jonathan Abrams–founder of Friendster, the first online social network, and a pioneer of one of today’s hottest trends on the Web–tries his best not to think about these things.

Guardian column: Facebook’s genius

My Guardian column this week tries to dissect the genius of Facebook:

At Davos this year, a powerful newspaper publisher beseeched Mark Zuckerberg, the young founder of the hugely successful social network Facebook, for advice on how he could build and own his community. The famously laconic Zuckerberg replied “You can’t.”

Zuckerberg went on to explain that communities already exist and the question these magnates should ask instead is how they can help them to do what they want to do. Zuckerberg’s prescription was “elegant organisation”. That is what he brought to Harvard’s community when he started Facebook, then to more colleges, high schools and companies (including half the BBC, which has 10,000 friends, says its director of global news Richard Sambrook). And now it is open to the rest of us.

I finally joined Facebook and have become obsessed with Zuckerberg’s creation. Until last autumn, one could join only with a university “edu” address. As a professor, I finally got that. Once inside, though, it felt terribly lonely; I had no friends. But since Facebook opened up, a flood of fellow old cronies have joined. So I spent a weekend morning inviting people I knew to be my Facebook friends – which would mean that we could see each other’s pages and follow each other’s actions in the service – and what floored me was the speed with which they replied. In a day I had 150 friends. What’s notable about that is not that I’m liked but that these 150 people were on Facebook within a weekend. They, too, were addicted.

What is Facebook’s secret sauce? I think it starts with identity. On the otherwise anonymous and pseudonymous internet, this is a place where real identity matters: I use my name and I associate with people whom I actually know. Soon after I started, I got invitations from strangers and asked my blog readers about the etiquette of responding. I was told that, in school, one accepts all invitations, because you are all in the same institution and it’s rather like an arms race; school is, after all, a popularity contest. But we newcomer adults already seem to be developing a rule (borrowed from the similar business site LinkedIn) that we should befriend only those we know; it is an endorsement. So we are the masters of of our identities and our communities, which establishes trust. I think internet users have been yearning for such control.

Next, Facebook introduced what it calls a newsfeed, filled with simple updates about what your friends have done on the service: one posted a photo, another a video, two more befriended the same person, four others started using a feature. This was controversial when introduced – mainly because users were surprised by the change – but now it is popular, even essential. Zuckerberg says it is not news as we know it, but it has news value: if four friends I respect start using a program, that’s good enough reason for me to look at it. As one blogger said, this isn’t the wisdom of crowds but the wisdom of my crowd. It is like the talk around the cracker barrel in a frontier general store: the protonews of my small society.

Finally, a few weeks ago, Facebook turned itself into a platform. That is, it enables anyone to create applications on top of the service. Already there are scores of aps hooking up users’ information with other services such as calendars, maps, chat, music, news, shopping, and much more. Every media, entertainment and web company needs to figure out how Facebook can help their communities. It is not just about widgetising content – the latest web 2.0 fad – but about people doing things together.

Zuckerberg’s ambition for Facebook -which he has so far refused to sell, even though it is said he has been offered more than $1bn – is nothing less than for it to become the social operating system of the web, the Google of people. If the service opens up yet more – if it becomes the twine to tie together my lives online in my blog, my work, my town, YouTube, Flickr,, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, and more – then his ambition may be attainable. That would be elegant organisation indeed.

Meet your public

Guardian journalist Tim Dowling writes a novel, being syndicated in the Guardian, about a newspaper journalists who discovers and becomes obsessed with an online community dedicated to tearing apart the work of said reporter. What a great idea: writer’s ego meets his public – and so timely and true today. Some snippets from the third excerpt of ‘he Giles Wareing Haters’ Club’:

I delayed my visit to the Giles Wareing Haters’ Club until midday, in order to give its members a chance to digest the morning papers. By the time I got there, it was gone. The thread was simply missing from the list. I searched the talkboard for Wareing. There were five results, all from a brand new thread:

Started by moretoastplease at 10.12 AM on 29.10.04 Today our favourite very bad writer Giles Wareing interviews the celebrated very bad writer “Chair” Fitzpaine. Can anyone think of a more profligate way to waste newsprint?

Grotius – 10.21 AM on 29.10.04 (1 of 19) Dearie me. Hard to decide who comes off worse, but I’d say Wareing edges it by a very brown nose.

Salome66 – 10.31 AM on 29.10.04 (2 of 19) Oh my God! I haven’t even looked at the paper yet! . . . .

FritsZernike – 10.42 AM on 29.10.04 (5 of 19) A new GW Haters clubhouse! What happened to the old one?

Grotius – 10.43 AM on 29.10.04 (6 of 19) Deleted last night. Watch your libels please, people

Salome66 – 10.49 AM on 29.10.04 (7 of 19) It’s more horrific than anything I could have imagined. Might one dare to describe it as “insanely bad”? . . . .

Salome66 – 11.31 AM on 29.10.04 (17 of 19) If one reads between the lines (it’s less painful than reading the actual prose, I find), one can detect in Wareing a certain snivelling envy. He clearly both worships and despises Fitzpaine for his undeserved success, but he doesn’t dare begrudge him it, because he knows undeserved success is the only kind he could ever hope to aspire to. Apologies for the dangling preposition.

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I had reached the bottom of the page. My throat was dry, my heart thudded as if I had run a mile. I could dismiss all of this as casual, recreational cruelty, the electronic equivalent of drawing a moustache on a bus-shelter movie poster; all of it, that is, except the last post. I realized that Salome66 not only hated me, but had my measure. Everything she’d written was right. . . . .

There were now twenty-two posts in total.

PavlovsKitty – 11.47 AM on 29.10.04 (18 of 22) A Cher Fitzpaine apologist! I didn’t know there was such a thing! Apart from Fitzpaine himself, of course

Lordhawhaw – 11.54 AM on 29.10.04 (19 of 22) Or perhaps they’re lovers

Salome66 – 12.03 PM on 29.10.04 (20 of 22) Too cosy for words, isn’t it? But I imagine it’s just a case of one terrible writer coming to the rescue of another out of instinct, being unwilling to criticise someone whose manifest inadequacies so closely mirror his own. Unless the idiot Wareing has a book coming out soon and they’ve made some sort of deal.

Lordhawhaw – 12.09 PM on 29.10.04 (21 of 22) I still think they are b*mming each other.

moretoastplease – 12.17 PM on 29.10.04 (22 of 22) Unless the idiot Wareing has a book coming out soon … Heaven forefend!

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My hands were shaking. I itched all over. Sweat was gathering in the runnels of my ears. It was clear to me that I had to stop reading this stuff. I could see it turning into a peculiar form of self-harm. I was already obsessed. Me, who avoided all confrontations that might involve criticism, who knew better than to listen at locked doors, who knew all the barked places on his thin veneer of self-regard. I took a few deep breaths, and tried to look at things realistically. The ability of Salome66 to peer directly into my soul was probably, most likely, coincidence: two lucky punches landed in a row. She didn’t, couldn’t really know me. I was just feeling vulnerable because my birthday was approaching, and because there was an article by me in today’s newspaper which I knew was not exactly my best work. Salome66 was in all likelihood a sad, lonely woman with too much time on her hands, perhaps even a failed writer who drew comfort from attacking someone who had what she didn’t. I should feel sorry for her. I should think more generously of her. I should, at the very least, ignore her. . . . .

Salome66 – 12.34 PM on 29.10.04 (24 of 24) How utterly perfect! His “book” is nothing more than a distillery-sponsored pamphlet – no doubt the product of some boozy four-day junket in Dublin – designed to be sold in “heritage site” gift shops. I imagine he’s extremely proud of it nonetheless, but wonders from time to time if he should continue to rest on his laurels! You’ve made my day, Grotius!

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I believe this was the point when I first entertained the idea of finding Salome66 and killing her.

Great fun.

Amazing Facebook

I have spent this weekend in awe of — and devoting too many hours to — Facebook.

I joined sometime ago, as soon as I got an .edu address at CUNY, back when that was still required. But it was a lonely and pathetic existence, reminding me all too much of freshman mixers at my then-men’s college. I had no Facebook friends. It was all the worse because I wanted to explore the phenom of Facebook and couldn’t without links to people. It’s a people place. I wanted to stand on a virtual campus corner with sad and wide eyes asking whether anyone would be my friend. But that would have gotten me arrested.

Then Facebook opened up to the rest of us. And last week, it announced its platform, which seems to have caused lots of people to suddenly dive in (at least in my geek/capitalist/media circles).

So I asked appropriate people — that is, people I actually know — in my address book to be my friend, which for some reason on Facebook seems to feel less like human spam than on LinkedIn. And then as people agreed to be my friend — they like me, they really like me — I found connections to more friends. And a few people I don’t know befriended me. In a little over 24 hours, I had 187 friends.

What’s significant about that is not that I’m so popular but that Facebook is. This demonstrates clearly that those 187 people are as addicted to the service as I’ve quickly become. They were online using it on a holiday weekend and responded instantly. I’ve never seen anything like it. Of course, there’s nothing new in this; people have been amazed at Facebook since it started. It’s just that I finally get to join the in crowd.

What is new is the platform and its is quickly proving to be remarkable as well. As I said yesterday, my son, Jake, has created a few applications and the response has been impressive: As of lunchtime Monday, 6,500 people were using his ap and because it’s not yet on the approved list, that means it grew strictly from being on TechCrunch — no small promotion — and then virally. Interesting to watch the reaction of the two companies he apped. LastFM users were impatient that they didn’t have an ap so they started using Jake’s, gratefully. Then along came LastFM the company and they were nice but asked him to take off their logo. Meebo, on the other hand, was nicer; they said they’d promote his ap. Which one passes the 2.0 test? Meebo, I’d say. The more your users use you — the more you are an API — the better. Then a few other companies and even two VCs contacted him to ask for help or just to compliment him, which is all very cool. (/dad bragging)

And no wonder there’s such interest: Facebook becomes a platform for viral distribution of actions. I can think of a dozen companies that out there that out to be doing three dozen things here, and I’ve emailed a few of them. Keep in mind that this isn’t just about putting some damned widget on a page, it’s about interacting with the content and the person behind it in more than one way: You can put content on my page for me and my friends, but that’s just the starting point. Or you can use what I’ve said about myself on my page to serve me better. Or you can interact with other applications in smarter ways. Or you can expose the action around my page to say more about the people here. If your ap’s any good, thousands will use it. If not, no one will.

As impressed as I am with the platform, I still wish it were more open. I want to combine my presence on Facebook with my presences on my blog,, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, iTunes, Daylife, Amazon, eBay, and lots of other places — that is beginning on the platform — but I also want them to interact with each other and with my friends’ presences in those places to see what surprises result. Maybe I start to see that my friends are buying the same books. Or I put together a Twitter group for an event. Or I find that my blog readers who are in my same group are going to the same event.

It’s said that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for his service to become the social operating system of the web, the Google of people. Mark talks about bringing communities elegant organization. I say the internet already is a community of communities and there’s a winning strategy in bringing it elegant organization. But that’s different from making everyone come to you and join your service behind your closed walls. Granted, those closed walls have an advantage when it comes to people: I’m not friends with the world, only those I say are my friends (and only if they agree). But I need to be in charge of my identity and my relationships. Facebook started down that road. But it hasn’t yet arrived. At Davos, I heard Zuckerberg tell a big-time newspaper publisher that he couldn’t build a community; he had to serve a community that is already there and bring it, again, elegant organization. One more time: The internet is that community.

This also has big implications for publishers, portals, governments, and companies that interact directly with customers. This is about more than “widgetizing” your content in hopes people will publish it on their pages — though that’s a smart strategy as far as it goes. I’m writing about this in my Guardian column this week, which I’ll put up soon. It’s also about going to people instead of expecting them to come to you. And it’s about thinking beyond content to functionality: How can you turn yourself into an API? Shouldn’t news be something we use in new ways?

I’ve only begun to get my head around the possibilities of the Facebook platform — and I think that Facebook has only begun to open it up. This points to a new architecture to the web, an architecture built around people instead of content, the public instead of the companies. It’ll be exciting to watch and I’m glad I’m finally on the inside to watch it.

: LATER: Mediapost reports on Washington Post and Slate’s political applications on the Facebook platform. (I just tried to add one of them but high use overloaded the Post’s servers.)