Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Apple a Day (for a hundred and sixty billion days)

A friend of mine pointed out that that Apple recently passed both Intel and (holy cow! really?) IBM in market capitalization. Wow. So much for Apple being a footnote. Also an article in Wired today about Apple having more cash on hand than Facebook's entire (MSFT-driven) valuation.

You know, Apple hasn't made any strong "web 2.0" moves yet. hmmm...

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Friday, October 19, 2007

You can't have small without the big

Robert Scoble, in response to comments made by Evan Williams, creator of Twitter, at Web 2.0 asked the question: "why would anybody want a social network with only 10 friends? Seriously, don’t we already have this? It’s called a family." Williams was talking about creative constraints. Limiting the scope of a social network (TuDiabetes), or limiting the size of a message (Twitter/SMS). I'm surprised, frankly, that Scoble would make such an obtuse comment. That I have lots of friends isn't a reason to not use Facebook, and that my family exists says nothing about the modalities of communication I use to "groom" my relationships with them (to borrow a term from Robin Dunbar).

TuDiabetes for example is a small network (recently passing 1100 enthusiastic users), constrained in scope to the issues related to living with Diabetes. That it is small and constrained makes it more valuable, not less.

On the opposite end of the scale, The Economist recently published an article called "Social Graph-iti - There's less to Facebook and other social networks than meets the eye". I think it's intended to be a cautionary article about "irrational exuberance" in the social networking space, along the lines of the recent New York Times article. There's a lot that's right in the Economist's article, but I disagree with a few things. I think the author doesn't understand the nature of social networks in this respect: we can and do belong to many at one time (as we have since before there were "humans" at all). Many of our social networks, in fact, are built on top of other, existing networks. For example, the management team I work with at Kinzin is a small network built out of my larger "business associates" network, which is part of my "everybody I know" network. It overlaps with my "close friends network" and my "co-workers" network, and so forth.

But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. “The value of a social network is defined not only by who's on it, but by who's excluded,” says Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster. Despite their name, therefore, they do not benefit from the network effect.

Mr. Saffo is both sucking and blowing, though, using "Social Network" to mean two things at the same time: the sum of all the users who are members of a particular social networking application, and all of the connections that each individual member has on that network.

My personal network doesn't scale for all the reasons that I've written about previously in my commentary on Dunbar's Number , but Facebook's network doesn't have the problem in the same way. It can contain every human in the world, and it doesn't lose value for me (at least not the same rate or in the same way), because I only need it to be able to find everyone in the world who potentially could be my contact, I don't need everyone to actually be my contact. It seems to me the Economist doesn't account for the fact that we all have multiple overlapping networks, containing people that in the end all are drawn from the same pool, namely all the humans in the world. If I'm trying to maintain 10 different social networks (friends, family, business, acquaintances, etc.), it's helpful to have the underlying system contain all the people in all the networks. So Facebook having 6B members helps me to better create the 10 person network that represents my geographically dispersed family.

Everyone's trying to make it simple: "Irrational Exuberance!", or "Everything's Really Different!" The reality, as it usually is with humans, is much more subtle.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

How to organize yourselves

This last weekend (August 23rd), I was speaking to Alumni of the McCrae Institute of International Management about the social shifts taking place today as a result of the Internet. "Groups of people can organize quickly and efficiently and make their voices heard," I said. "The locus of control is shifting from corporations to people, with powerful implications for politics, marketing, product development." In response, I got the obvious question: "how?" Recognizing that I took the answer to that question for granted a little, here is a short treatise on the ways groups of people (such as the McCrae Alumni) can make finding each other and getting together a little bit easier. In the end, you'll need to have a motivated, passionate, and involved group of people to get anything done, of course. That problem hasn't been solved with technology, at least not yet ;-).
  • Get involved in the Blogosphere. Create your own blog (typepad is good, so is wordpress. I use blogger). Find others who share your interest who blog, and comment on their blogs. Link to their blogs from your blog. Blog about their blogs. Strike up conversations. Talking, linking, and generally letting people know what you're about and that you want to connect is how it all begins.
  • Get set up on LinkedIn. Make sure you fill out the "additional information" section at the bottom of your profile with relevant details of your interests and affiliations, and make sure your "contact settings" encourage people to contact you. Actively search for contacts, and invite people you know.
  • Find your friends on Facebook. I'm a little more wary of Facebook's privacy policy and terms of service, but if you're careful about not revealing non-essential information you should be fine. When you're filling in your profile information, don't forget to put information in the other tabs (to the right of the "basic" tab) that will make it easier for people to search for you.
  • Create or join a private or public discussion group. You can use Yahoo! Groups, Google groups, or Ning. Try to use them more than point-to-point communications like email and IM. These days, I like Pownce. ...and I hear Jumpnote is going to totally kick butt when it comes out of alpha.
  • Most importantly, follow your passion: find out where people are already gathering and add your voice.
Hey Blogosphere: any other keen suggestions for a motivated and savvy, but loosely knit, group of people who are hoping to get more organized?

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My first online social networking application (1982)

It was 1982, and I was calling into a music video show called "Soundproof" (1979-1983... big love out Buzz E. Miller and Dave Toddington!) on the North Shore Community Cable Channel. Ring. Ring. Ring. I was hoping to request Shrink's "Paranoid" (anybody?), and I was waiting for the phone to pick up. They didn't even have IVR to pick up and put you on hold, so we'd call and let it ring while we watched videos. One day, I was sitting on the couch at 1 AM, with the phone to my ear and I realized I could hear voices in between the rings. "Hello?" I said. To my surprise, somebody responded.
Dozens of us would call the request line and chat in between the rings. Can you imagine? "Oh yeah, I'm (ring) totally into Wall of (ring) Voodoo. 'Callbox' is the (ring) best song ever!"
Check out the article on page 8 of this old UBC student paper.
Warning: Some bad language in this video!

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007


In Turning the Generational Dial, Carol Orsborn (who works at Fleishman-Hillard, along with my good friend Jennifer Torney) makes the case that the generations that follow the Baby Boomers will be the first in all of history "not (to) have grown into adulthood anticipating the marginalized, invisible, powerless future boomers once expected to have—but rather, the promise of lifelong vitality, relevant entertainment and the thriving careers at midlife and beyond that boomers pioneered." This, I find very interesting. I've heard it said that the web is for the young, that youthful early adopters (alone) are driving the new generation of applications we're seeing on the web. I don't believe it. I heard something at the Web 2.0 Expo regarding the demographics of users of the instructables website. I can't for the life of me, find a link anywhere to it on the internet. If anyone can find something, please let me know. Instructables is a site where people post plans for projects that people can build themselves. The interesting tidbit was that Instructables users fall into two categories: posters and readers. Posters tend to be older (over 35) and readers tend to be younger (under 35). What's interesting about that is how obvious it is. Older people passing their knowledge and skills onto younger people. How... human. One of the things the web 2.1 may give us is better access to an increasingly web-savvy older generation with more energy and more things to share than ever before. Maybe, I'm starting to get a sense of why I should care about the Wikia search engine project... Google lets you search what's on the web, but how do you search somebody's life experiences? That's what I want. Anybody working on that?

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