Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shady Reality of Facebook



The other day I wrote about Facebook status update being publicly searchable. While I was investigating, I came to discover interesting use of this publicly searchable status update, the use that Facebook is probably aware but looking the other way. I'm talking about creating many fake Facebook accounts and posting same status updates on multiple Facebook accounts to increase traffic to their target site.

Thanks to youropenbook.org, we now can search using web interface instead of writing code to Facebook API. I was curious how the term 'angelgate' has become so pervasive in matter of hours in blogosphere. So I decided to search for 'angelgate' on youropenbook.org. Here's what I found :

Search AngelGate To See Victims of Identity Thefts

You should find something odd about this page right away. First off, they are mostly from female Facebook users. Not only that, female users have all attractive looks. Secondly, you start seeing same profile pictures shared by two different users. If you look a little closer, their status updates are almost identical except shortened URL. This smells fishy.

So I traced the original status update and where it came from. That required little guessing since those short URL all lead to now AOL's TechCrunch.

TechCrunch, Now That You Are Acquired,
Maybe You Should AOL to Drive Traffic?

To validate my suspicion I want and visited two Facebook pages (remember these are public pages, hence I can see their wall) that shared identical picture but with two different names.  And there were other identical status updates with differing short URLs (probably to track the referrer so that PR firm can create metrics report).

Too Obvious These Are Fake Accounts Dedicated To TechCrunch

This means TechCrunch either internally spamming their messages to multiple fake Facebook accounts or externally hired PR firm that engages in spamming practice. But stuff like this has been happening under the name of Search Engine Optimization for years. This should not be news to anyone. Hey, but aren't all these fake accounts being counted towards their 500 million users? Shouldn't Facebook be coming out and stopping these shady advertising practice?

At least on paper, they are. Facebook terms of use states that you cannot create multiple accounts AND use status updates to commercial advertiser.

Facebook Terms Of Use: For Display Only

Facebook is not, however, enforcing any of these because they have little to gain by doing so. Why would they? More people use Facebook as PR channel including fake accounts, more traffic will be going through Facebook, and that would mean more chances to serve ads. There is no incentive for Facebook to stop them, other than pressure from Facebook user base.

Until you hear more from Facebook enforcing their terms of use, I suggest you take that 500 million user count with grain of salt.

UPDATE (10/13/2010): Facebook has started to clamp down on multiple account usage, and blatant violation of its terms of use. I'm happy to report that most of these accounts have been cleared off from Facebook. To read more about recent update, please visit http://futureofsocialnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/10/anonymity-and-privacy-two-endangered.html.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Life as Open [Face] Book

Chances are you have a Facebook account. If you have iPhone, Droid, or Blackberry, you are probably spending good part of your day updating your status on Facebook wherever you go. You would also have about 130 friends that you connect with. Some of them you might know well, while the others you might have accepted friend requests just to avoid awkwardness of denying. I know too well. I admit I am one of them.

Recently there has been some buzz in media about Facebook privacy policy. When discussing privacy policy, I often hear that it's too complex to understand, Facebook changing them too often, users not sure how to configure the settings, and life seemingly going on without any noticeable change. I think people think of Facebook privacy policy as credit card or bank privacy policy statements that they so happily throw out in recycle bin every once in a while. After all people use Facebook to share things, not hide them. What's wrong with letting people see my life story? More visitors I have, more power to me because traffic means power in new Web 2.0, right?

Well, true, if you are Coca Cola selling Cokes. But not sure about you. Ok, you might not care, but what about your significant other's story? What about your 16-year old son's? What about your 12-year old daughter's? What about your prospective employee's? What about your current employees'?

I think the problem is that people don't really understand what they are doing on Facebook, and what it means to share, more accurately whom they are sharing it with. Trusting Facebook will do the right thing for you in determining how to share the info is just wrong approach. Facebook's incentive is for you to connect with more people and share as much data as you can, so that they can serve better targetted ads. That's their business model. That is why Facebook's out-of-box privacy policy is to share Friend connections, bio and status update including photo uploads.

Hello World! via Youropenbook.org
"My New Number Is..."
What that means is I can go to sites like youropenbook.org, and search on status update and photos.  Instantly I can pull up all status updates that contains phone number with profile picture, or whatever information that you happen to share on your status update.  What's even scarier is that sites like youropenbook.org is built on Facebook API.  This means any college kids can put together a quick PHP code to access these information.

It's interesting to note that as recent as last week, Facebook allowed even non-Facebook users to see user profile when following Facebook account link.  Today I noticed that Facebook disabled that access, but profile wall is still accessible if you are logged on to Facebook, even if you are not a friend of the person you searched.

That's not all. Let's say if you locked down your privacy settings so that you are sharing your status updates and photo uploads with friends only. If you have a friend whose privacy policy is default, meaning share status update and photos, then you are again exposed. Whatever status update or comments that you make to that friend's wall is shared with everyone because Facebook decided to follow page owner's privacy setting, not the author's privacy setting.

This search on Facebook status update is not an experiment on Facebook's part. They intend to open this up for wider consumption. In fact Facebook has entered agreement with Microsoft to integrate Facebook status update searches into Bing last year. Given the deep relationship with Microsoft and Google's increasing threat of entering social networking market, this integration is only going to be developed further.

So watch out. Your social life on Facebook begins naked. It's up to you to clothe yourself appropriately. Unless of course you are a naturist.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

TechCrunch Disrupt SF Hackathon: Startup Elevator Pitch Marathon

Over this weekend TechCrunch sponsored Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco. Idea is to gather hundreds of developers, entrepreneurs, and UI designers in large warehouse with well-stocked Red Bulls, sodas and pizzas over night, and see what cool ideas come out from 20 hr long collaboration. After all night long hacking and coding proof-of-concept, every team of two or three participants came up to podium to pitch their idea with demo in 60 seconds.

Well, it was originally supposed to be 90 seconds, but there were too many groups (86 teams, TechCrunch says) and to preserve judges' sanity organizers had to cap the time at 60 seconds.

The event was great. I could not remember the last time I was with warehouse full of energetic and creative crowds (maybe it was first time!). I have to give tip of the hat to TechCrunch for sponsoring the event to galvanize young startup community.

It was interesting to see a few common themes across many pitches. The most dominant theme was, not surprisingly, social network. Whether it be photos, quotes, product location and review, indexing and sharing these information were recurring theme. But there were also other creative ideas such as Blekko the reverse URL link tracker, flotype multi-touch picture browsing UI built on HTML5, WiseDame the personal blackbox recorder iPhone app, and Ostrich the twitter-style-tags in email.

After event, I asked Andy Brett, TechCrunch engineer and the event organizer of Disrupt SF Hackathon, and he said there are more hackathons being planned. Even multiple events per year. That will be a good thing for young entrepreneurs in San Francisco.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Twitter Hacked, Facebook Down, What's Next?

As if we haven't had enough news worthy topics for the week, we had two breakdowns of major social networking sites. Twitter had its cross-site scripting (XSS) exploited Monday impacting hundreds of thousands users. Just yesterday Facebook was brought down to its knees because of error-case handling bug in Facebook page.

Even Robert Gibbs, Press Secretary
Fell Victim To Twitter Hack
It's not a surprise to anyone that we are living in increasingly connected world. Just yesterday I wrote about Facebook's sneaky way of encouraging users to connect with more people and share more information. In face of ever increasing connectivity with people around us, what do these major social network site failure mean?

1. Social network is built on implicit trust of system and identity; therefore security cannot be an afterthought when building a social network

As I wrote earlier, social network models the real-life relationships. Underpinning of liberal information sharing and getting connected with new people is the trust. There are two kinds of trust. First is the trust of social networking system. Users are trusting their information with the site admins that the admins will not misuse their information -- I see Facebook has spotty records in this regard. Second is the identity of the person. Users are trusting that users are who they say they are. Twitter has more difficulty with this than Facebook because it is difficult to see because there is no friend relationship. Hence Twitter is addressing this with 'verified accounts'. Without trust, social networking will be impossible.

The recent set of failures demonstrated the potential of erosion of this trust model. In order to ensure that the messages are sent by authentic users, social networking sites must work to reduce their security vulnerability.

2. Users will find ways to share information

Having Facebook or Twitter down doesn't mean the end of social network, however. Need to share information and collaborate remains, and is ever increasing. In fact when Facebook went down, users flocked to Twitter to talk about Facebook outage. This means when one social network is down, people find another way to share information. And there are many alternatives, such as Hi5, Friendfeed, Tumblr, etc.

3. Federation of social networks needs bigger push

When switching to alternate social network, there is one great inconvenience, however. That is your friend list. Think of how annoying it was to re-enter all your friend's information back into your contact list when switching to new mobile phone. Even worse, with social network many times it's not integrated to send messages from one social network to another social network. That's akin to me as Verizon user not being able to call you AT&T subscriber. That's truly bizarre restriction.

In fact there are standards in the works to fix these problems. ostatus.org, identi.ca, elgg, and upcoming Diaspora are open standards and their open source implementations. The goal of these standards are to free users from getting locked into one social network vendor, and allow all these separate islands of social networks to talk to each other. This means if one goes down, users will be able to seamlessly transition to other networks. Well, almost. In future, I expect users to be on multiple purpose-built social networks while using open standards to aggregate them in a single view.


It's safe to assume that we will see further exploits of social networking sites. As user base continues to climb, it will be more attractive for hackers to use Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networking media to reach majority of Internet users.  I'm sure Facebook and Twitter have learned their lessons from these incidents, and improve their security in coming days.

Meanwhile, from social networker's perspective, we should not let our guard down, and use these sites with healthy dose of caution. That includes friending only those whom you know well enough to share posted information, and adopting think-before-share strategy on any posting. Remember that any information that you share can end up with someone you didn't intend.  And yes, that includes your significant other and employers, unless you work for German company.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Facebook "Following" Twitter?

Last week without much hoopla Facebook quietly changed their friend accept user experience. Inside Facebook caught this change and reported, but by in large this remained most of our radar. There were other juicier topics to chew on, such as Facebook phone and Oracle Open World 2010.

Note 'Not Now' Replacing 'Ignore'
The change is rather subtle. Facebook is now rolling out a new option to put friend requests in limbo. It used to be that users were presented with two options, either 'confirm' or 'ignore'. Now 'ignore' became 'not now'. This doesn't seem like a big deal. Innocent button label change, right?

Well, you could brush it off if you look at just this label change. But there is a larger design intent hidden behind this label change. TechCrunch noticed this change and ran a story a few days ago, that is by changing the label from 'ignore' to 'not now', Facebook is now creating a category of friend requests that are hidden. The difference is that asking users to make the decision each time user visits pending friend requests page, or putting those unclear requests in one bundle and hiding them so that it doesn't ask user to make the decision each time.

I'm sure everyone had the experience of getting friend request from someone who you might call passing acquaintance, or someone you don't even know. Often it's not clear whether to send rejection, which is what 'ignore' does, or accept. And let's admit it. It's far easier to procrastinate the decision than make one on the spot.

Hang on, but that doesn't sound right. Facebook being so considerate that they would change their label to accommodate our indecisiveness? I think not, either. Facebook is in the business of making connections. They want people to be connected. More users are connected on Facebook, greater the power Facebook has because Facebook knows more about how to push data in our "socially connected network".

Scavenger Hunt: Can You Find Unfriend Link?
Answer: Red Marks The Link.
The reason Facebook changed the label from 'ignore' to 'not now' is simple. Facebook is banking on the fact that people will connect more with 'not now'. Note that 'ignore' is replaced with 'not now'. With new user experience, user has to explicitly choose to 'delete this request' and/or report the request as spam. Chances are good percentage of iffy friend requests will now stay in permanent limbo, which means those people who send the request will be able to subscribe to your activity feed while their requests are in limbo.

Now, it starts to make sense. Notice how easy it is to add friends. It's plastered all over Facebook UI from the moment you sign on. Facebook even suggests friends that you ought to make, allocating valuable ad space. Did you try figure out how to unfriend to downsize your circle? Not so easy. You have to visit your friend's page and look for dinky little text link at the lower left.

Ok, but how does 'not now' make Facebook following Twitter? Simple. Twitter is all about following and being followed. It's not about friends, it's about fame and connectedness. It's very subtle wordplay, but they mean different things in our real lives. By creating this friend request limbo, Facebook is slowly moving to Twitter-like model, where people will be able to view the person's feed in their home page by sending friend request to the person.

So there you have it. Facebook is "following" Twitter. Now what would be Twitter's response? Well, it's been a definite 'not now' so far.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Argument for Social Networking

Since I wrote about lack of enterprise social networking adoption compared to general public, there was one lingering question in my mind a last couple of days. And that is 'what is the business problem that social network can solve?' If skeptics of social network were to ask me why they should adopt social network in their enterprise, what would be my elevator pitch to them?

So today I want to make a case for adopting social network in enterprise. Why the heck should social network be a part of enterprise communication platform? Isn't it yet another time sink for employees, and platform where employees can goof off with each other?

Seeing typical user behavior on Facebook, my short answer is 'yes, social network can be abused as time sink.' But that should not be the reason to throw baby out with the bathwater. If you look at email, you see similar misuse and productivity loss. Spams, frivolous email forwarding, and email with infected attachment all cost enterprise good deal amount of time and resources to maintain. Ferris research estimated that spamming alone costed staggering $130 billion to combat last year. Yet email has become indispensable messaging backbone of enterprise (more than 900 million business users estimated for 2010).

Ok, that may be enough reason to give the second look to social network. But what is the business problem that it solves?

To answer this question, I want talk about Steve Johnson and Daniel Pink. If you haven't watched their talk I encourage you to do so. In nutshell, Steve Johnson's observation is that cool idea is not created in vacuum. Most, if not all, innovative ideas are created in highly interactive and collaborative environment like cafe, he argues. He is not alone in advocating collaboration fostering innovation. Matthew Fraser gives similar account of success of Huddle. If you look back at how you came up with cool idea, you can recall instances of conceiving new ideas when you have a sounding board. Ideas are created in exchange of information, not in vacuum.

Let's talk about Daniel Pink. He looked at the challenge of motivating people, and found that money is not the right way to foster creative thinking. Instead he argues that giving sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose is the right way to motivate creative thinkers. He's not alone. Google has long adopted Google Friday where employees are encouraged to work on their own project and share the progress with the team. TechCrunch is throwing Hackathon as part of Disrupt to gather group of developers to exchange ideas and build a product onsite (Groupme actually started out this way and got funding). And there are number of other companies are following suit. But enough of all these hearsay evidences. Wouldn't you care more about your work if it were your own project (autonomy), something you do well (mastery), and believe that your work has chance of changing the world or cause that's greater than yourself (purpose)?

Social network is best at addressing these needs. It's enabler for collaborative work environment where ideas can be exchanged and created among autonomous knowledge worker participants.

So you still ask why bother with social network? Well, then your industry can afford to run a business maintaining the status quo. Just make sure you stay clear of any industry with innovators. And yes, that includes mom-and-pop food truck business (check out Kogi Korean BBQ, aka Twitter Taco Truck).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Facebook Should Stay Out Of Building Phone

Since Sunday, just two days ago, it became official that Facebook is working on its phone. In addition to TechCrunch and cnet, Business Insider has jumped on the bandwagon to report supporting evidence. While I watched how story evolved since Sunday morning, I couldn't help but wonder one thing. Is Facebook doing the right thing by entering mobile phone market? What might be Facebook's motivations for taking on the risk?

First on Facebook's motivations. Business Insider ran a story outlining what Facebook may be after. It's no secret that mobile application is a major component in Facebook user experience. 150 million mobile users and growing, mobile story is something that Facebook is deeply committed to (note Facebook Places which caters to mobile users).

As Facebook makes mobile app the critical user experience, it's increasingly butting heads with Google and Apple. Google is clearly working on its own social network strategy to take a bite out of Facebook user base, and Apple is keeping Facebook at arms length with their own launch of somewhat social Ping and Game Center. To counter these threats and make Facebook entrenched in mobile populace, Facebook wants to integrate social networking experience right into the phone.

Imagine your phone contacts, call log, and location information all integrated with Facebook status update. There are dozens of startups just around these areas, such as Twilio, Vroom from Vivox, Shopkick, etc. Threading mobile phone experience into social networking has many exciting potentials, not to mention opportunity to serve ads creatively. Facebook is the leader in social network space, and they have enough glow in public eyes to sell innovative way of interacting with our mobile phones to mass market.

But could Facebook phone work? Would it be worthwhile venture for Facebook as late comer into the market? I think the chance of Facebook phone gaining critical mass is low. Here are reasons why I think so:

1. Successful mobile phone needs major carrier's backing
What good would be to have awesome application without mobile network carrier? If it were to succeed as mobile phone, it has to have carrier's support and solid hardware. Both of these are not controlled by Facebook. They'll have to court Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile, and make sure the phone works well with the network. These are not Facebook's core competency today.

Is There A Spot for Facebook Phone
In This Battle for Best Mobile Phone?
2. Compete with iPhone design or Android's openness
Apple designed their own phone and OS, and iPhone's strength is richness of applications and elegant user interface. It will be difficult to compete with iPhone on user experience. On the other hand, there are Android phones, and their open platform. Allegedly Facebook is toying with idea of starting with Android as baseline -- that's gotta say something about Android's openness. But that's also what Facebook has to compete with. Unless Facebook phone offers compelling user experience, it will have to rely on third party applications, and openness of platform will be crucial to harness mobile application developers. It would be tough game for Facebook to beat Google and Apple.

3. Room for innovation is still vast in current mobile platforms
I believe that there are still many untapped improvements and innovations possible on albeit limited iPhone API and Google Android. If you have your core competency on social network, why not concentrate on what you are doing well? Although idea of mobile presence is interesting, but I think Facebook can do many more interesting things instead of diluting their focus. Plus, it will be difficult for either Apple or Google to deny Facebook the access to their platform. They understand social network is here to stay, and it's one of smartphone adoption drivers that they cannot ignore.

Jury is still out on whether Facebook will go ahead with mobile phone. We may never hear the official cancellation announcement from Facebook. After all, as far as Facebook PR is concerned, Facebook phone plan doesn't exist.

Enterprise Social Network - What's Holding Up The Adoption?

As Facebook gathers more steam to become over-one-billion dollar revenue company, there are still no clear winner in enterprise space. Granted that enterprise is usually the last to jump on board with new technology, experts are spelling out reasons why adoption of social network will be slower than what we saw before with email and IM.

Some of you may have already seen the report from Nielsen that email communication has been outpaced by social network in general public. If social network is so popular, why is that we are not seeing as steep adoption in enterprise?

Dion Hinchcliffe's Beautiful Chart
Illustrating Social Network Adoption Stage
Dion Hinchcliffe, CTO of Hinchcliffe & Company, ran a nice article albeit a bit dated. He listed out 10 reasons why he felt enterprise is slow to adopt social network in its work environment:

1. Lack of social media literacy amongst workers
2. A perception that social tools won’t work well in a particular industry
3. Social software is still perceived as too risky to use for core business activities
4. Can’t get enough senior executives engaged with social tools
5. There is vapor lock between IT and the social computing initiative
6. Need to prove ROI before there will be support for social software
7. Security concerns are holding up pilot projects/adoption plans
8. The needs around community management have come as a surprise
9. Difficulties sustaining external engagement
10. Struggling to survive due to unexpected success

Noting that he published his list July 2009, there might be a few things that he would revise if he had a chance (I see #1 as good candidate for revision now that Facebook has almost doubled its user base during 2009). But by in large, I think his points are still true today for most enterprises.

What's surprising is that I still hear enterprise holding up social networking adoption because of data security and information sharing concerns: Data security because enterprise is nervous about opening up internal resources to external crowds in decentralized manner, not to mention hosting their IP in remote clouds most likely, and information sharing because social network makes sharing information so easy with microblogging and real-time push model.

Hey, wait a second. Weren't they the reasons FOR social network? Easy information sharing without any boundary and data access from anywhere are the key features of social network. It's like saying we cannot use email because it's way too fast to stop and recall my accidental messages (I'm sure everyone has real-life examples of these horror story), or like saying IM is too distractive because it interrupts my train of thought when it pops up the alert at the bottom of my screen.

All tools have its right purpose. Email is great at sending message to one or group of people with context. IM is great at finding people, and getting a quick answer without tying up the person's schedule. Social network, in the similar token, is great at connecting people, and lowering the cost of sharing information and collaborating with half-dozen to thousands of people.

I have to think that in near future we'll look at these objections and say, 'gee, those reasons sure look dumb today.'

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Microsoft Kin, Google Nexus One, and Facebook Phone?

I don't think I've ever witnessed story with such a velocity. Breaking news in the morning, rumor control effort by afternoon, and unofficial declaration from blogosphere confirming the morning leak by evening. Yes, it's only possible with Twitter, your 21st century breaking news channel.

First Alleged Photo of Facebook Phone
per Sean Percival
This morning (to be accurate to the dots, it was shortly after midnight) TechCrunch writer Michael Arrington broke the news based on a internal leak from Facebook: Facebook was building a phone. He had a couple of high-level Facebook employees who might be secretly working on Facebook project as supporting evidence. This news spread like a wild fire on quiet Sunday morning, and I had this retweeted back to me half way around the globe when I got up this morning.

By noon, Facebook comes out to rumor control. Facebook spokesperson Jaime Schopflin sends a quick response out to Mashable saying "the story which originated in TechCrunch is not accurate." She went on to say "Facebook is not building a phone... building phones is just not what we do." By mid afternoon at least, it seemed like a quick response from Facebook has calmed my Twitter feed except one from Michael.

But let's remember TechCrunch has good records in breaking mobile phone news, just recall Google Nexus One prediction by TechCrunch. Michael came out swinging back at Facebook with a couple of responses of his own. It seemed like it will take a few sworn deposition to settle this case in court. Hey, but that's so 2000's. We are living in 2010's.

By evening, there was a tie breaker: cnet ran a story supporting Michael's early morning Facebook Phone story. Scott Ard from cnet independently confirmed Michael's story. Facebook was indeed building a phone according to his source.

Wow. A couple of take away from all these:

1. To Facebook PR team: Before you put PR team to spin and damage control, first order of business is to assess the potential loss. It is embarrassing to see the leak out in public, but it's more embarrassing to deny it just to be proven otherwise. Milk is already spilled on the table. Don't tell us there is no milk carton. Put the cap back on, and move on.

2. To Facebook Product team: Remember the lessons of Microsoft Kin and Google Nexus One. Launching a mobile phone would have nice upsides: getting into user's address book, call logs, and locations. But these upsides will only be realized if Facebook phone is gained acceptance in general public. There has to be a compelling reason for consumers to adopt, and price alone might not be enough to make the niche. Without consumer adoption, carriers might not be so kind to you (think of Google Nexus One).

3. To Mashable: Please read what you wrote before publishing. You don't want to be known as parrot that utters words without parsing the words.

4. To TechCrunch and cnet: Job well done. It's nice to see people sticking to their guns when they are under fire. Continue reporting stories as you see them!

5. Lastly to Non-Twitter users: Be on Twitter. If you want late breaking news, you don't know what you will be missing.

What a Sunday it was to kick off a new week!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Twitter Client: Coming Soon To You - BTW Call Me 'News'



New Twitter web client is coming soon near you. Twitter threw unusual press event a couple of days ago at their San Francisco office unveiling it with YouTube pitch. And they are trying to reframe the public perception of Twitter as real-time news source. Let's take a few moments to highlight the major changes to Twitter web client, and see what they mean to you and me, Twitter users.

1. Photos and videos

Twitter now has native support for photos and videos. It wasn't clear from bits of reviews and YouTube demo, but I would think uploading photos and videos from Twitter web client is supported. What's interesting is the degree to which Flickr and YouTube are integrated. As shown in the screenshot, not only Twitter displays picture included in the link, but also thumbnail of album to be scanned. For YouTube link, it's embedding YouTube video on the tweet.

2. Twitter web client as application

Unless I told you that screenshot is new Twitter web client, you might be thinking that it is new standalone desktop Twitter client, likes of TweetDeck. It offers shortcut keys to access frequently used features, has split view panes, and floating what's-happening window to allow you tweet without losing the context.

3. Easy author timeline and profile access

Another easy major feature is easy access to author's timeline and profile. No longer you have to follow a link to see author's tweet history and profile. Whenever you select a tweet, you can instantly see author's information expanded on right pane.

Now what does all these mean to you and me? As discussed earlier in this blog, Twitter can be thought of as stream of real-time filterable Post-It notes. I think Twitter is extending this paradigm further to become multimedia breaking news source. Kevin Thau in fact stirred up blogosphere with his assertion of Twitter not being social network but news source yesterday.

It's clear that Twitter is moving to become multimedia news medium where people come to find out breaking news. Tight integration with Flickr and YouTube will mean that everyone can use Twitter to be one-person news agency. Not only individual users but many brick-and-mortar companies can now use new Twitter client to send deliver headlines with full body of article to public. It's safe to say that you and I can expect more news to be broken on Twitter, now with pictures and videos.

Look out for surge of citizen reporters riding this new Twitter wave.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Microsoft: Are They Relevant In Social Network?

Those of you using PC will recall a company by the name of Microsoft. Yes, a company that used to be run by Bill Gates. The one that made Windows, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. This may sound very strange to Facebook generation, but Microsoft was once synonymous with personal computing. If you owned a computer, you needed Microsoft. Everything that you ever needed, operating system, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and email (hey, let's not forget Minesweeper and Solitary), were from Microsoft.

Not so much now. In fact Microsoft gets mentioned rarely when we talk about three fastest growing high-tech segments: SaaS, mobile, and social network. Doesn't Microsoft have any play in any of these segments? Are they still relevant?

Clearly Microsoft has missed the early boat. It made unsuccessful attempts at mobile by launching Kin hardware along with Windows Mobile operating system that were supported by third-party devices. It also wasted early mover advantage with SharePoint, and couldn't grow the adoption rate with long product cycle and gave ways to other competitors, such as wiki, box.net, and dropbox, to take stronger foothold. Microsoft has squandered opportunity to capitalize on early trend.

But Microsoft has kept enough momentum to gain traction on social network. As you can see, Microsoft invested $240 million in 2007 to get 1.6% stake of Facebook valued at $15 billion. That decision was great one because since then integration of Bing with Facebook has been on the rise.

Just today All Things Digital reported that Microsoft and Facebook are in talks to share public 'like' button results. This would mean social search patent that Facebook holds will be exclusively licensed to Microsoft Bing search engine, leaving Google out cold.

That's not all. Microsoft is also moving forward on SharePoint 2010 with its social network emphasis, and unified communication front which tightly integrates with SharePoint. They just announced Office Communications Server version 14 will be released under new name Lync yesterday, and made release candidate available for trial.

It is true that Microsoft has fumbled in getting social network right the first time. But we all know that the first doesn't always guarantee the place in the podium at the end. Just think of Netscape. Microsoft may get it right this time.

Google's HR Dilemma: Should They Hold or Let Go

I've heard this story earlier from grapevine: Google and Facebook competing for engineering talents in the valley. TechCrunch ran a story today to echo the same rumors that I've been hearing earlier.

Rumor has it that Google engineers have been defecting to Facebook in numbers. Apparently there are enough of Google engineers have left for Facebook, and that's concerning Google as they are gearing up to execute their new social network strategy. Faced with growing number of engineers looking at Facebook's pre-IPO stock offer as big enough carrot, Google is reportedly countering Facebook offers with 24-hr counter offer response time, unusual bump in comp package, promotion, and/or combination of all.

I'm not sure how much truth is to TechCrunch story, and how Google HR is dealing with this hemorrhage of talents holistically. But if Google is going after all who dipped their toes on Facebook applicant pool, I agree with Michael Arrington that Google may be creating a bigger problem that what they are trying to solve. I would think at least Google will know how to motivate employees' creativity, not greed.

First is morale of the rest of team. If submitting resume to Facebook is the fastest way to get up the corporate ladder and earn fatter paycheck in Google, Google is sending the wrong signal to the rest of organization. Second is that those who tend to defect have other issues whether it be lack of challenge, motivation, or not getting proper recognition in day-to-day work. Throwing money at it is not the right solution. Third is that money tend to diminish creativity if applied incorrectly. I'm sure most of you have watched Daniel Pink's case for right way to motivate creative workers: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I think what's needed is social network vision from Google. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, needs to lay out his social network strategy to his team, and get the engineers to emotionally buy into the plan. Once people are galvanized toward achieving shared vision, this won't be a problem. I would argue that it's better for Google to shed those who cannot be motivated to share the same vision across.

Engineering talent migration is nothing new in valley. By trying to stop it, Google may no longer be Google the innovator where creativity is rewarded.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Google and Zynga: Crocodile and Plover?

I'm sure everyone can recall crocodile and plover's symbiotic relationships featured on Nature channel or the like. Crocodile offers food to plover, and plover removes annoying leeches from crocodile's teeth. This reminds me of what I'm seeing between Google, the search giant and Zynga, the social gaming powerhouse. As my past blog discussed Google's strategy of reviving their social network ambition through social gaming, I found another evidence while I was reading my Twitter feed this morning.

All Facebook ran excellent charts today juxtaposing Facebook and Zynga factsheets. There are a couple of things to note from this comparison charts, in addition to its creative graphics.

First is the size of active user base of Facebook and Zynga. Although Facebook is growing at impressive rate past 52 weeks, Zynga has peaked earlier. Yet another reason why Google is so interested in Zynga because they want to reproduce Zynga-effect on their social network site.

Second is Google's quiet funding to Zynga. There were rumors floating around back in July 2010 that Google was directly injecting capitals to Zynga. All Facebook article suggest that Google's funding must have been around a few hundreds of million USD. Google's strategy seems even more obvious.

Now, the question is when Google crocodile will finish cleaning its teeth, and ready to take on Facebook alligator in nearby swamps. That would be interesting match to watch.

Salesforce: From Oracle to Amazon to Facebook

To understand SaaS and Enterprise Social Networking landscape, we have to look at Salesforce (NYSE:CRM). As you can see Salesforce has performed nicely on NYSE past 52 weeks. What went right? What propelled them to become the dominant SaaS player in the market? What does success of Salesforce tell us about SaaS and future of social network?

Back in June 22nd, 2010, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce kicked off Cloudforce 2010 in San Jose, and outlined his vision. His elevator pitch for Salesforce when he left Oracle to start Salesforce: Why can't enterprise software be as simple as using Amazon? Can enterprise software users just sign up for accounts, and start using the service? Brilliant idea. Sales guys started signing up for Salesforce accounts and became immediately hooked on to the model. Highly mobile nature of enterprise sales team was just the right target to go after.

Marc says the work of making Salesforce more like Amazon is of yesteryears, however. He's now on to Facebook: Why can't enterprise software be as collaborative as Facebook? Can Salesforce be extended to all employees in organization as collaboration platform? After all, Salesforce is already the biggest SaaS player with enterprise customers, and knows how to deliver easy-to-use software as service.

Marc mentions a few datapoints to back up his become-like-Facebook strategy. First is accelerated adoption of social networking by internet users. Recently Nielsen announced that time spent on Facebook eclipsed the time spent on Google and Yahoo combined. Second is sustained growth of mobile devices, and touch-driven UI paradigm. New emergence of mobile device usage will accelerate the need for workforce to access data using new mobile device UI paradigm. Third is push and newsfeed-based data consumption pattern.

Marc's read of enterprise social networking market coincides with mine. As Facebook dominance continues, enterprises will see more reasons to adopt highly collaborative means of communication. We are already seeing this trend with announcement of Cisco Quad, Sametime Connect, and Microsoft Sharepoint as on-prem solutions. Even early stage startup Yammer, Box.net, Socialtext, and Socialcast are entering the SaaS enterprise space to cut a niche market of their own.

But there are a few hurdles for Salesforce to overcome before enterprise starts rolling out Salesforce Chatter company-wide. First is corporate compliance. In order to expand the solution to all users in the enterprise, Salesforce must address many esoteric regulations and requirements. They'll have to work closely with existing compliance vendors to jump start the efforts. Second is data confidentiality and control. Salesforce and other SaaS offering must convince customers that their data is securely managed and maintained. This will be harder sell for new startup SaaS players than for Salesforce.

Marc's correct trend-spotting will help Salesforce widen its lead in enterprise social networking market. It won't mean Salesforce will get there without challengers, however. Before consolidation, I expect to see more players bid to become Facebook for enterprise. But clearly Salesforce will be the one to beat.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Start with Freemium under Shadow IT: Today's Way To Win Customers?

I have a confession to make. I have signed up for software service without telling my IT department. I've done it not once, not twice, but many times.

I bet that I'm not alone, however. I'm sure many of you have done even worse things: spreading unsanctioned, unsupported, fly-under-the-radar services to your co-workers. I am not talking about signing up on Facebook or Twitter (although that's how pretty much how Facebook and Twitter grew their user base). I'm talking about services that you need to get your job done, services like salesforce.com, linkedin.com, box.net, dropbox.com, yammer.com, surveymonkey,com, zendesk.com and many more.

Any of these services sound familiar? I'm sure most of you have heard of one or two. In fact salesforce.com is one of the biggest Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CRM company that had $1.3 billion revenue in 2009. Many others are following its SaaS model of offering service, and Shadow IT is one way to describe the unmanaged nature of these services. It is often talked about as the key to succeed with SaaS offering and to break into a new customer account.

Why would it be? Simple. There are either no upfront cost to many of these services or very minimal trial account cost. Mostly it's free (aka freemium). You just sign up as you would for a free webmail account, and 30 seconds later (or depending on how fast you can decide your account name and password) you are in business. You are either downloading the large file that you needed, managing all your contacts, sharing documents with your co-workers or customers, etc.

Unlike webmail however, these services are not usually integrated with other services. It takes two to join and get benefits of these services. They are social by nature. There are exceptions to this rule, but largely you are either inviting your co-workers to join, asking customers to sign up, or suggesting your boss to login so that he can see what you've been up to. Many of them have social network aspects to them, and this makes them viral. And once it gains critical mass in an organization, they tend to embrace it as sanctioned tool, and buy them as paid services for whole. Yammer is betting on this free-to-paid conversion scenario imitating LinkedIn's model.

In fact there are young startup SaaS companies that have little or no sales team that are generating revenues while relying on individual users signing up for services.

But it's unclear whether freemium model will work for all. Problem is users tend to stay on free account unless there is compelling need to switch to paid account. Many stay away from switching because they don't want to go through the hassle of justifying the account purchase to accounting team (usually their managers). Unless business case is strong, people tend to switch to different freemium service. In this age of boosting productivity while cutting cost, who would blame them?

How many of these freemium offering startups will survive is not yet clear. But it sure seems there will be many more Shadow IT services appearing in your intranet in near future.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Far-Fetched Idea Friday: KITT, Come Pick Me Up

It's been a hectic couple of weeks in Social Network space: semi-social Ping launch, Google Instant launch, Apple's change of heart on allowing Flash-based app, Facebook surpassing Google in eyeball time, etc. There are plenty of updates to digest from the newswire over this weekend. So I thought why not add something from my idea chest? Who knows, someone might be able to take the run with it, and make something out of it.

As a child, I wondered about turn signals (I heard it's called blinkers in places). It was not clear to me why it blinked. Clearly it wasn't to light the road, it was too small for lighting and blinking didn't help either. Neither did it help automobile to run any faster. Then after I got yelled at by one too many angry drivers (it was common in Korea during late 70's), I realized there were some causality; blinking means car's turning. Usually.

Then in early 80's there were popular TV show called Knight Rider. KITT, the souped-up Pontiac Trans-Am sports with A.I. that could understand David Hasselhoff's command, easily became a dream car for most teenagers who watched the show. It was just way too cool to imagine yourself calling KITT to get custom valet service to impress your highschool date.

My idea? Making KITT real. Not by making one car smart, but by connecting cars to other cars. Imagine network-enabled cars driving down on freeway. Each car is aware of the other cars, making instant social networking on the fly in location proximity. No more unreliable turn signal. If car detects driver checking for blind spot, it will activate turn signal. Better yet, send electronic broadcast to neighboring cars alerting them that driver is about to make a move. Even speed can be communicated among cars in the network to coordinate the maximum speed. No more senseless stop and go. It will be smooth driving for all.

We are already starting to see some early signs. GM has announced that voice-to-text and text-to-voice integration with Facebook status update. Social networking in last decade. Add GPS, Wii-motion detector and wifi on every car with IP6 enabled, you have all the ingredients to make this true. In fact, connecting devices will be a trend in next few years.

Alright, KITT. Time to head back home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Off Topic? Heck No. Google's Business Innovation - Google Instant

Ladies and gentlemen. Let me talk about Google Instant for a bit. It may seem off-topic, like discussing chicken pot pie recipe while serving coffee and blueberry pie (don't ask me how I came up with the analogy), but stay with me for a few minutes. I promise you'll get my controversial fourtune cookie line of the day.

Google announced yesterday their instant search capability, and turned on its switch on google.com sites around the world: Google Instant. It's about Google suggesting the best search phrase as you enter search keywords and returning search results to you by the most likely suggestion in an instant. Outcome is disorienting flash of results passing through your browser screen as you type your keywords.

Ok. This is auto-complete on the surface. But if you stop there, you are missing the real Google's intent. It pains me to read articles that reduce Google Instant to yet another auto-complete feature. What they are after is much bigger than saving a few keystrokes from your overworked fingers. It's not even show-off of their massively clustered computing power, although it's quite impressive. What Google has done with Google Instant is to expand their search market and to fend off growing threats from Facebook. And Google has done this through jujitsu technique picked up from watching Facebook.

Let me explain. Google has been under pressure to expand its market share. They have been well aware that it will be difficult to keep up the double-digit growth rate in current search market. That's when they decided to invest heavily on mobile with huge Android push and Google phone. Smart move. With acquisition of AdMob the mobile ad serving company, things seemed as though going according to the plan. Then they looked into due west, and saw Facebook. As discussed earlier, Facebook has been delivering contents right to user's Facebook home page, and Google saw this as problem. As more and more users became fixated on Facebook page, Google found itself competing for user's attention.

Then Google thought about this delivery of content. Can we bring this active delivery of contents to search? Google's answer was yes, and their proof is Google Instant. Instead of waiting for typing of keywords to finish, Google is now serving you contents, the contents that Google knows the best to serve. Google is waiting for you to walk in to Google.com, and the moment you open your mouth, they are pushing contents out to you. They are actively suggesting what you might have come to Google to look for.

Not only does this increase Google's ad serving capability, but also Google gets to recommend things based on trends. Oh wait, who says these trends cannot be set by one with biggest purse, or your friends that you connect with on Google Buzz or gmail? Google has learned Facebook's trick, and applied to what it does best: search. Brilliant idea!

My fortune cookie predicts that Google and Facebook competition will grow in next 6 to 9 month. I can see Google working on rehabilitating their Buzz on social media (pun intended), and try taking on Facebook on their own turf. But that will require more delicate jujitsu techniques as Facebook now holds a patent on social search. But I promise you it will be all the more interesting fight to watch.

Second Look At Apple Ping: Not Really Social Enough

Since iTunes 10 release and Ping announcement last week, my 'social network' Google Alerts have been filled with Ping reviews. Knowing Apple's ingenious marketing team, it would not surprise me good part of these hypes are created by Apple -- especially reaching 1 million in first 48 hours. Then it got me thinking, maybe I'm getting suckered by Apple's ploy. Maybe Ping is not really a Social Network, except in Apple marketing team's list of SEO keywords to go after.

Today I had a chance to take a closer look at Ping. Ok, I open my browser, type ping.com, and ... Oh, wait. Ping is only available on iTune 10. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who got fooled as Alexa report shows +730% jump on ping.com hit in last 7 days (I have a couple of things to say about that, but I'll save it for later). But why? Why would Apple choose the name that's so easy to remember as if it would be domain name, but decided not to make it available on browser?

Before we speculate, let's dig in a little deeper. Another odd thing about Ping is the way you interact with Ping. As an ordinary user, that is anyone without million-dollar record label and without invitation from Apple to join as artist, you can only publish things in reference to artist's work. Either you like an artist, an album, a song, make a comment on promotional music video clip, or comment on someone else's following of an artist/album/song. Ping has stripped down all social interaction capability that we've grown accustomed to with Facebook and Twitter, and left bare minimum that involves artist, artists that Apple has chosen.

Now it starts to make sense a little more. Ping isn't really another social networking platform. It's not even social networking music platform where people can share music, playlist, and discover a new burgeoning artist. Instead it is a closed music shop where list of artists are picked by Apple where all activities on iTune is shared for other potential shoppers to reference.

Clearly Apple is focusing on existing iTune users (the reason for not expanding it out to browser). Apple wants to leverage social networking trends, yet does not want to jump into going head-to-head with Facebook and other music recommendation sites, such as Pandora, last.fm, and the likes. Because that would mean jumping into ad-serving business, and that's not Apple's core business. At least, not yet. Apple wants to stay in paid contents service business, operative word being 'paid'.

It will be interesting how much sustained popularity will be on Ping. The fact that it's being labeled as Social Network, I think it will have negative impact on Ping in long run unless Apple figures out a way to make it more open, such as allowing new artists to join voluntarily and letting users to recommend non-Ping-listed artists. At the moment I don't expect Ping to release API and getting mired into privacy issues.

Who's the clear winner out of all these? Of course, ping.com.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Facebook as Newspaper Delivery Man (Pointcast, Anyone?)

For those techno geeks, push and pull concept will be no foreign term. While in pull model such as HTTP server and client design, contents are served by server when client requests for contents. Even when new contents are available on the server, unless client requests for them, they are not served to client. Hence pull model is also known as polling because in order to find out whether there's any update, client has to poll the server periodically to get the latest.

In contrast, push model says to client, "hey client, leave your URL at server, and we'll call you back when contents become available." Makes lot of sense just as you'd leave your callback phone number when you reach voicemail instead of calling every minute to see if the recipient picks up (although I still see this practice by some folks...).

Besides push model being more logical and economical solution overall, whole Social Network will not be as compelling without this glaringly simple concept of pushing contents to subscribers. In fact I would argue this push model is what made Facebook so successful (I wrote about this as #2 factor in Facebook's success). Why?

Before I talk about Facebook's clever use of push model, I want to rewind the clock back to 1996 when PointCast Network was making splash on press coverage with its push capability. Yes, the entire business model of PointCast was pushing newsfeed to custom built client on subscriber's desktop. When you log in to your desktop, you'll be instantly greeted with news from around the world (well of course occasional advertisements were sprinkled as well). It's like receiving daily electronic newspaper but on your CRT monitor! Press realized the power of push model immediately. Alas it was ahead of its time by just about 10 years, not to mention handicapped by poor management team. Back in mid 90's bandwidth and infrastructures were just not fat enough to sustain this great idea.

The key idea that PointCast had were twofolds: aggregating electronic news contents and magical delivery of contents to user's desktop.

Now come all the way back to the future in 2010. Now we take it for granted that we can see all our friends' status update when we log on to Facebook home page. But it's really push model working at friend-to-friend connection level. Facebook is letting me subscribe to friend's activity when I befriend someone (let's call him John). In effect I'm becoming subscriber to John's push notification. And when all my friends' news are summed up, it's like compiling all my friends' news and pressing a custom newspaper for me each time I visit Facebook home page.

Now communication is two way because I can react to John's news by commenting on it. Guess what? John is subscriber of my news as well because we are each other's friend. So when John logs back or stays logged on Facebook (remember second idea from PointCast: magical delivery of contents), he sees my comment instantly showing up on his LCD display.

If you are still unsure of power of all these pushing, consider this. Facebook just expanded 'like' external widget capability to allow publishers to push data back to likers (one who clicked 'like'). In other words, all third party websites now can push contents to anyone who clicked 'like' button using Facebook home page. I agree with Nick O'Neill on his recent article; this is huge expansion that people haven't fully appreciated. This mean non-Facebook sites can function as Facebook Pages with fans by serving updates directly to fan's home page. Now whatever pages that you showed interest with 'like' button, will be woven into your newspaper where publishers can sneak in targeted informercials.

PointCast to Facebook. We've certainly come a long way, but overall theme hasn't changed: It's all about push.

Social Gaming: Catalyst to Build Critical Mass?

Last week I wrote about Facebook getting head-to-head against Google. As contest to attract user traffic heats up, both Facebook and Google are finding themselves on direct collision path. Jay Baer wrote about them in his blog while back (thanks to Minwoo for forwarding the link), and I think his observation on Facebook microblogging trend and continual expansion of Facebook 'like' capability nibbling at Google's search dominance is true. Although his declaration of standalone websites getting killed is overblown, it's clear that Facebook's roadmap includes many marching orders into Google's territory today.

Google hasn't been standing still either. Anticipating growing threat from Facebook, Google has launched Google Buzz and search integration with Twitter. But Google Buzz has not been successful in building critical mass of users. If your network of friends on Google Buzz are anything like mine, my Google Buzz page has been anything but buzzing; it feels more like Circuit City just before its final days of existence. Not exactly what social network is meant to be. It's got 'network', but not 'social' part.

What could have possibly gone wrong? Google with all its gmail popularity and list of contacts to jump start the social connections, just couldn't get social networking site to gain momentum. Why would this be?

I think one of important aspects of social networking that Google missed was the whole fun and games aspect. Think of early days of Facebook and any other social networking sites, and ask yourself 'why I should join yet another social networking sites on the block?' All social networking sites started out with niche market of users who had reasons to join the site. Facebook started gathering all college students to interact with, Twitter started gathering momentum when there were festival or big sporting events to talk about (2007 South By Southwest festival featured live twitter feed on two 60-inch screens), and LinkedIn started gathering business folks who wanted to connect with other business men and women to extend their network reach. Ok. What about Google Buzz? Hmm... I don't remember a clear niche market that Buzz was going after. Instead it had shotgun approach of let's invite everyone on gmail, suck in all email contacts to jump start the user base, and see if people start using the new social medium. Just a wrong approach to take. In fact all Google got was nasty PR from pre-populating Google Buzz network with gmail contact list, and $8.5 million loss to settle class action lawsuit.

Google thinks it got this point right this time. It's investing heavily on social gaming aspect from recent series of acquisition. By betting on social gaming, it hopes to bring back fun and games back into its social networking strategy. I think Google's strategy is on right track. Considering +80 million users were active on Farmville out of 500 million user base, social gaming component has been indispensible component in building core active Facebook users. Google's challenge now is to balance the fun and games aspects with clear focus on target user base. It may be enough to start gathering critical mass from social gaming user pool, but Google has to start aiming for bigger pie to compete with Facebook's growing clout.

One thing that's going for Google is that they can learn from Facebook's mistakes. I hope Google doesn't repeat the mistake of putting Farmville update on my Google Buzz page.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Social Network Definition: Revisited

Before getting unplugged for long Labor day weekend, I posted a question on LinkedIn Q&A to see how my earlier Social Network definition would resonate with experts on LinkedIn. Not to my surprise, I got varying responses from my question, which was

What is the essence of Social Network? What makes a site Social Network site? If you were to define Social Network, how would you define? Do you agree with definition provided in http://futureofsocialnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/08/what-is-social-network-anyway.html

Although there were only handful of responses so far, it was interesting that two of most thoughtful responses extended Social Network to off-line social interaction. Social network has been there all along; it's just so-called social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, have modeled these social connections into Web 2.0 context.

While mulling over these responses, I came across a serendipitous tweet on my Twitter. Just last Saturday TechCrunch ran a story covering Addappt. The idea behind Addappt is to start building Social Network connection using your mobile phone contact lists. What would be most reliable source of connections that one can have, other than people you regularly keep in touch with on the phone? Such an apt example of off-line social network seeding the virtual Social Network connections. In fact there were comments on the TechCrunch post that directed me to earlier such example from India: Mobile Adda.

This seemed so appropriate when thinking about off-line and on-line Social Networking medium (to borrow Erica Friedman's term). Yes, people have been interacting and making connections with or without social networking sites. Whether it is a cocktail party or marketing event, when you make a handshake and exchange business card, you are making social connections that you can build on (remember rollerdex anyone?).

Another common vocabulary I saw from responses was collaboration. It sounds so fitting since I'm sharing all these information collaboratively in free exchange of ideas. Truly the multiplyer effect of Social Network!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ping: Yet Another Music Social Net or Clever Verticle Integration First Step?

Social Network segment has become a bit more crowded yesterday. Apple, the biggest-market-capped technology company, has just entered the track to play in crowded Social Network market. Their ticket to the race is called Ping (not to be confused with ICMP Ping for geeks out there).

First impressions of Ping have been trickling in from major review sites such as sfgate.com and wired UK, and they have been mixed so far. I think jury will be out for a long time before we know whether Ping will grow to be a real contender in Social Network segment.

What we do know today, however, is that Apple is serious about entering Social Network market. Apple clearly sees Facebook dominance in social media as threat and opportunity. Half of all iPhone usage coming from Facebook, Americans spending nearly quarter of their Internet surfing time on Social Networking sites, all signs are pointing to upward trends on social networking, and these trends are presenting growing hole in Apple's consumer market story.

It's interesting to note that Apple was in discussion with Facebook to integrate Ping with Facebook prior to launching Ping. In fact during Steve Job's demo yesterday, one of the screens was clearly showing the signs of Facebook integration. Steve himself said negotiation with Facebook broke down due to 'onerous terms' by Facebook. I would think Apple has greater goal than music. Think about vertical social networking site for TV and movies via iTune.

But Apple has a lot of work to do to realize that goal. First and foremost is building the user base. Social Network can only be as useful as size of user base. Granted that iTune's 160 million user base will be good launching pad for Ping, but it's not clear whether Apple understands the multiplyer affect of connecting users to other Social Network sites, especially with Facebook, the most dominant player today. Apple's challenge is to go after Social Network user base while keeping massive Facebook at arms length.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Google vs Facebook

Recently, I've been hearing lot of chatters around Google and Facebook butting heads against each other. They are both fighting to retain and increase time user spends on their sites for a simple reason: internet ads revenue. Facebook has been eating away at Google's bottom line by serving Facebook ads on the side, and it's understandable that Google sees Facebook as real threat.



But Facebook seems to be after bigger pie: providing more capable search using social network connections using their half billion (and growing) user base. Facebook just have been awarded patent for applying social network to rank search results yesterday. This means if Facebook can claim patent protection on applying social network connections.

Let me give a concrete example of what this means. Suppose I reviewed wireless router a few months ago, and clicked Facebook connect 'like' button on the model that I reviewed. Say my friend Larry is in market for new wireless router, and searches for 'wireless router' in Facebook. Now Facebook can use the social network connection between Larry and me, and rank the wireless router that I reviewed higher than the rest of results. Now you can see why Google might see Facebook as direct competitor.

Google, on the other hand, is not standing still. They launched Google Buzz which has so far been unsuccessful attempt at entering Social Network arena, but have been enhancing the capability by adding voice call features recently. Just last Friday Google announced that they brought Angstro team on board. Angstro have been working on enhancing popular Google Alerts by incorporating LinkedIn connections to bubble up the most relevant results.

It is clear that more head butting to continue between Google and Facebook. It's unclear, however, who will emerge as winner at the moment.