Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Challenge To Enterprises In Adopting Social Network: Employee Privacy

There have been a couple of posts regarding privacy on this blog. Although these days people don't seem to mind sharing lots of personal information on social networks, there are still many who are concerned and uneasy about sharing data on line. It looks like most of teens and twenty somethings are in first camp, while thirty something or older tend to refrain from sharing from what I can tell. I suppose one reason why younger people are more open to sharing personal information is because they tend to experiment and comfortable with taking greater risk with unknowns.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Your Friends Are More Likely To Have More Friends Than You Do

Have you ever wondered if your friends might be more popular than you are? Well, statistically it has some merits. On average, your friends will have more friends than you do. Scott L. Feld, Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, wrote about this counter-intuitive fact back in 1991.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Microsoft Social Strategy Update

Social network market is just too big and rapidly evolving for one guy to cover. Back in September I wrote about Microsoft's social network play, and managed to leave out Outlook Social Connect (OSC) and Spindex from Microsoft Fuse Labs. Today I wanted to talk a bit about what OSC and Spindex, and other developments around Microsoft's social strategy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Entering New Market? Release Now (And Release Often)

Today I'm going to talk a bit about software development. This may seem like a off topic subject, but If you think about a little, you'll soon find a connection. After all most of social networks involve software of one kind or another, and they are all developed by a team of developers. Talking about social network without touching on how it is developed would be akin to talking about pastry without baking.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Twitter The Noisy Internet News Channel

I must admit I didn't see Twitter succeeding anything beyond early adopters. When I first signed up on Twitter back in Summer of 2008, I remember thinking that Twitter was just another Facebook status update knockoff. I thought it would just quietly disappear into technology landfill. Boy, I was dead wrong.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Far-Fetched Idea Friday: Your Personal TV Channel

These days I rarely get to watch TV. It's partly because of my wife's no-TV-when-baby-is-around policy, but I also find TV lot less interesting than what's happening on Twitter and blogosphere. Although there are hundreds of channels to surf, it's rare that you find a channel that you want to watch.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Facebook Group: Will It Catch On?

As I discussed last week, last Wednesday Facebook announced their new Facebook Group feature along with other privacy enhancements (allowing Facebook data to be downloaded as archive file and dashboard to view history of authorized application access to personal data). While I was reading a few Facebook Group discussions on the web, there were many opinions as to whether this Facebook Group feature will catch on or not.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anonymity And Privacy: Two Endangered Species

"The mission of the company [Facebook] is to make the world more open"
- Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook)

As social networks grow in popularity and take deeper root into the social fabric, many people have embraced Mark Zuckerberg's message of sharing. Some knowingly, while others begrudgingly to stay connected within newly emerging social media. Whichever camp you belong to, one thing is clear. There are much less anonymity and privacy on the internet today than 10 years ago.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lesson From US Cyworld: Do Not Ignore User Community

Just the other day, I found myself in the middle of Facebook debate, whether Facebook is already at their peak or not. From the recent gargantuan growth of Facebook, it's difficult to imagine Facebook ever slowing down. But if I look back my own internet usage progression, I certainly see ebbs and flows of communication methods that I used since 1994. Starting with email, there were many popular methods of communication in the past: Gopher, BBS, IRC, Netscape browser, news group, webmail, instant messages, SMS, blog, comment, microblog, and Social Network.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Quora: Experimental Public Knowledge Base For Grown Ups

Question and answer sites are crowded market. There are dozens of websites that provide question and answer functionality already: Yahoo! Answers, WikiAnswers, Askville, LinkedIn Questions & Answers, Answerbag, AOL Answers (formerly known as Yedda), Aardvark (now part of Google lab) and Facebook Questions to name a few. This crowded market just got one more strong player about 4 months ago.  It is Quora.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Google Does Not Get Social -- Yet

I like Google. They gave me one-stop window to look out the world of noisy information, and immediately filter and sort the information by relevancy. They just made it better by making this sorting based on prediction so that I can find information by chance. When I blog, I have dozen tabs open on my browser, each showing different keywords to pull up sources. I'm a big fan of Google.

Facebook Group = Crowdsourcing + Seamless UX

Unlike millions of people who went out to see Social Network the movie last weekend, I stayed home happily with my iPad Twitter app and catching up on Google Alerts on 'social network'. Granted that I may be missing out on popular culture, but I didn't feel that I was left out since this morning, thanks to Facebook's surprise re-launch of Group. I've watched the live announcement via livestream on TechCrunch, and I must admit that I played Mark Zuckerberg (CEO) and Chris Cox's (VP of Product) statements many times afterward. Perhaps that was my way of getting vindicated from missing the opening weekend of Social Network...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What Is Right UI Design? One That Appeals To Your Target Audience

Recently I'm finding myself often putting together user interface mockups to solidify my thinking around what product should do. Then I began to question myself while I was flipping through hefty mockups that I created last few days. Am I spending my time wisely? How much does user interface (UI) design really count for? Shouldn't form be secondary to function at least in social network UI design?

Then I soon realized how foolish this question was. Of course, it matters. User interface matters a lot because that's what user sees.

Look at perfectly functional two alarm clock radios below.

GE Model C434C Tube
Alarm Clock AM Radio
Tangent DUO Clock Radio

Which one would you buy? GE alarm clock or Tangent DUO clock? I'm sure you have a preference between the two. Both of them provide identical function -- well almost, Tangent DUO probably has FM, while GE does not, but let's suppose they are functionally identical. GE is a true antique with pronounced clock face, while Tangent DUO is a modern interpretation of old boxy radio design. Is there a right answer? Of course not. What you picked makes perfect sense, FOR YOU.

That's my point. User interface should be designed with 'user' in mind. If the interface appeals to intended users, then the interface is working. It's doing its job of attracting users to spend more time with the product.

Just like alarm clock radio, there are close to a thousand social networking sites today. Each social networking site is competing for target user's attention. One way to differentiate from the rest is user interface design. User interface design has to have aesthetical appeal to target user so that they enjoy interacting with the medium.

That doesn't mean there is no guideline for better UI design. Take a look at below two iPhone application UIs of TripLog/1040. Which one is more appealing to you?

Old TripLog/1040 UI
New TripLog/1040 UI

It is no doubt the second one, new TripLog/1040 UI. If you look closer to the first one, you'll discover there is no alignment of names and parameters. "$ Spent" button is not aligned with rest of buttons, raising question in user's mind that it may have different context than "Save Data" and "Clear" button. "Type:" and its buttons are listed vertically while the rest of buttons are laid out horizontally. There are at least three other misalignments in the first UI that leaves jarring feeling in user's mind.

There is one more thing: color.  The reason why second looks more appealing than the first UI is the second UI's background color of light blue. Cyan, even if it's light, draws attention from user, and background is not the place where user should focus on.

That's just for aesthetics. Then there is functional design of UI, and it deserves whole new blog entry to go through.

People tend not to appreciate the value of good-looking UI. Because the best UI is the one that makes itself invisible to the user. Bad ones make themselves noticeable. Worst are the ones that make the user look dumb. Here's what I mean:

Wow, Where Do I Begin?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can We Use Yet Another Social Network? Yes, Because Context Matters

One thing I've learned while working in startup venture is to ask the right question. It is because question reveals one's assumption about parameters as well as perspective. Asking wrong question will inevitably lead you to incorrect answers.

Is There Room For More Social Networks?
I Think So
Hence I paused a few minutes before asking the question to myself. Can we use yet another social network?

Question is not whether we need yet another social network, or we want another one. But instead it's asking whether we could make use of another one. Are we at saturation point where people will not have time or interest to use yet another social network?

It turns out that I wasn't the first one to ask this question. As early as 2007, people were talking about social network fatigue. Now that we look back at 2007, it surely was premature. Since 2007, Vevo, Groupon, foursquare and strings of notable social networks have launched and gained popularity to sustain themselves through their own niche market.

But now that we are in second half of 2010, at the cusp of new decade, are we there? Are we closer to that social network saturation point?

My read is that we are not anywhere close. We will not only see more social networks starting up, there will be more fragmentation in social network market to come. Furthermore, there will still be successful social networking sites that are yet to launch in next decade. Here's why:

1. Context Matters

I agree with Jeff Wiener on this point. Context does matter. We don't put our home address on our business card, and we certainly don't share our kids birthday photos with newly established business contact. Befriending someone on Facebook and following someone in Apple Ping have two different context. People have many social roles they play, and based on context we connect with people for different reason.

In fact we are seeing just that from Groupon and Opentable. The reason why Opentable is successfully taking a bite out of Groupon's restaurant recommendation is because Opentable is all about connecting people who are interested in eating out.

2. Brand Image Is Not Easily Malleable

It's very difficult to extend brand image to apply even the similar tool to different purpose. Remember the lesson of Oldsmobile rebranding failure, "not your father's Oldsmobile". Oldsmobile was trying to rebrand their image to young and hip while holding on to the baby boomers buyers. Same car, but different image, and with this rebranding campaign, Oldsmobile was able to hasten their own demise by losing their most loyal customer base as well as failed to appeal to new audience because of lack of design change.

People still think of Xerox as copier company. It will be near impossible for one social network site -- yes, that would be Facebook -- to dominate all aspects of information sharing.

VC Shifting Back to Seed:
From Small Business Trends
3. VC Shifts Back To Seed Startups With Social Focus

VC firms are shifting back to seeding startups at early stage. Reid Hoffman in his interview with TechCrunch has echoed this trend, and announced that he has set $20 million funds to go after early stage startups. By the way, he also thinks that there is room for other social networking media.

Reid is not alone. Ron Conway's recently leaked Tech Megatrends slide on TechCrunch also confirms that VC is looking for "social" in their funding equation.

4. Explosion of Devices, Data Sources

Last, but not the least, is the explosion of mobile devices. But that's not all. There will be many more devices than mobile. TV and automobiles will start the next wave of smart device surge. This means one thing. More devices that can be connected with social media, and more sources of information that can be shared with users. Traditional means of sharing information will not be able to scale to support all these new data sources.

There you have it. I think that we are still long way from seeing mature market pattern and consolidation. So make room for new killer social network apps on your smartphone screen. I promise they won't be all disappointing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Note To Marketers: Remember 150, Dunbar's number

While I was listening to Tech Nation on NPR this evening, I heard interesting ideas discussed by Dr. Moira Gunn, the host of Tech Nation, and two guests, Tom Hayes and Michael S. Malone, co-authors of No Size Fits All. Among them I wanted to present a couple of interesting ideas that Hayes and Malone discussed during the show.

1. Future of marketing is about earning trust of small groups

First one is this notion that our brains are physiologically designed to maintain meaningful relationship with about 150 people. Also known as Dunbar's number, this number dictates how we are able to engage in personal relationship with around 150 people at a time. If you have read Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, you'll remember he also talks about Dunbar's number coming up in different situations from maximum informal corporate team size to largest efficient military unit size.

This is because trust without rigid formality is only possible with small group of people. People tend to trust and reciprocate the trust given to them when the size of group is small. We see this in Facebook as well. In Facebook, average user has about 130 friends. Although there is no systematic limit to number of friends you can have in Facebook, people gravitate towards about 150 friends where trust can be mutually shared.

Hayes and Malone contends that these small groups of 150-or-so people present unique challenge to marketers because the members of group tend to influence each other's decision. Unless marketer can establish the trust with these small groups of people, it will be difficult to penetrate these member's market. But on the other hand, if group's trust is won once, it will be far easier for marketer to sell to these members subsequently.

They mentions Apple as a success story in this regard. Apple has successfully created small groups of loyalists who will buy any Apple product that comes on the market. Whenever new Apple product comes out, these loyal customers become early adopters, and make any Apple product a million seller in matter of weeks. I would argue that these loyal customers also generates lot of free press for Apple as Pew Research Center reported last week.

2. Because of dense connectivity, information as well as misinformation can travel fast

Although we belong to small groups, we are highly connected in social network. This dense connectivity allows news to spread in just a few hops with out much filtering. Traditionally marketing messages are controlled by marketer and filtered by broadcasting news media reviewers. But with social network, there is no such filter available. Anyone can put up status update, and that can become news. Whether it is correct or incorrect, any news has potential to spread to many thousands of users, if not millions.

We are already beginning to see enterprises starting to invest heavily on Facebook advertising. Rumors have been around that Facebook's 2010 revenue will be in the neighborhood of $2 billion, and it doesn't look like it will slow down if trend continues.

That means Hayes and Malone's theory can be tested in the field now. It will be interesting to see how marketer starts to implement their insights. It will surely have Dunbar's number somewhere.

Friday, October 1, 2010

LinkedIn Signal: New Way to Follow Trends?

LinkedIn has been going through lot of changes recently. Since they introduced status update back in 2008, they have been largely playing catchups to Twitter and Facebook on sharing status updates and comments with your network. Just this year LinkedIn have added Twitter integration, improved group pages, and redesigned the LinkedIn Inbox layout.

Now LinkedIn is trying to set the tone for how professionals to consume news in real-time social network environment. It is called LinkedIn Signal.

LinkedIn Signal: Red Marks How LinkedIn Is Adding Value
By Leveraging Company HR Info and Ranking News URLs

The idea behind LinkedIn Signal is rather straight forward. It is to provide filtering on status update by degree of separation, industry, company, time of update and region. If you are an active LinkedIn user, you would have connected Twitter account with LinkedIn and imported all LinkedIn users into Twitter. This means all of sudden there are lot more activities on LinkedIn status update because Twitter status updates are displayed as updates on LinkedIn home page. With increased volume of status update, LinkedIn is now offering a way to filter them using LinkedIn user data.

With Twitter aspiring to become Web 2.0 breaking news channel, LinkedIn is trying to carve a niche by filtering the raw Twitter news feed with LinkedIn user information. It is an interesting idea.

What is more interesting with LinkedIn Signal is summary of recurring links. Most tweets have shortened URL link to blog or news article, and they are the ones that professional users are interested in, not people announcing their arrival at a cafe down the street. LinkedIn is ranking these tweeted shortened URL's original page, and ranking them by the frequency within the searched status updates.

This means you don't have to scroll through pages after pages of re-tweeted links and different shortened URLs to figure out whether it's story people are following. You can set up your Signal filter, and log on to LinkedIn each morning to go through top-ranking news URLs on Signal to get a snapshot of hot topics.

Combining these data with orgchart info that LinkedIn already possess, you can look at what news are being followed within your organization. As discussed in yesterday post, LinkedIn's strength is at understanding up-to-date company's human resources. This is a great example of leveraging their strength.

LinkedIn has not rolled out this new feature to everyone yet. As they let users in, it will be interesting to see how it will be received by active LinkedIn users. Look for Signal link on your LinkedIn home page in next few weeks, and let us know what you think.

Understanding LinkedIn: Web of Professional Business Cards

If you were in job market during past several years, chances are you've used LinkedIn to reconnect with your ex-colleagues to find out about opportunities.

LinkedIn has about 80 million members as of September (Jeff Weiner CEO of LinkedIn mentioned 70 million back in July), and they have been around since 2003. In the crowded field of social networking, how does LinkedIn differentiate with ever-growing Facebook, and at the same time compete with Monster or Dice for job posting?

Jeff Wiener CEO of LinkedIn Interview With TechCrunch:
Skip The Fluff, Watch From 5 Mins Into It

Jeff Wiener had an interview with TechCrunch back in July to talk a bit about LinkedIn's vision and how it plans to differentiate with Facebook and Monster. His main selling point of LinkedIn was twofold: Business context and connecting people with opportunities.

1. Business Context

Jeff's betting on the fact that people need business network separate from their personal network. He mentions the example of people wanting to behave differently in business context. When people come home, they have different persona, and people don't necessarily want to mix their business life with personal one. Analogy here is your business card. It doesn't have your home phone number or personal email address.

2. Connecting People with Opportunities

In addition, because LinkedIn is for business networking, it can maintain and connect your work history with your coworker's. Analogy here is Rolodex of business cards. LinkedIn is keeping track of business card Rolodex and connecting them with your coworker's. Since people often look for candidate within the circle of trusted network, LinkedIn believes that it can connect opportunities with right talents.

Jeff stops here during his interview, and moves on to talk about building brand images as any good marketer should. But I think there is another point helping LinkedIn further their success.

3. Valuable Organization Information

LinkedIn is squarely focused on business networking, and has up-to-date organization chart of large companies as their database. This affords LinkedIn a huge opportunity. This opportunity was validated by Salesforce acquiring earlier this year. Not only LinkedIn can make business out of connecting talents with opportunities, it can make use of organization's HR history to map out where companies are really investing.

2008 Financial Crisis Was A Boon For LinkedIn
As People Looked For Opportunities
Would these be enough differentiator to sustain LinkedIn's business among fast-growing Facebook and other job posting sites like Monster?

So far it has been. 2008 financial crisis and high unemployment rate among skilled professionals helped LinkedIn become more valuable to shifting work force. With rise of Facebook, LinkedIn is also benefiting as cleaner and more professional alternative to Facebook.

Challenge for LinkedIn is to remain as that: clean and professional. Protecting users from email spam of bogus network invitation and fake identities need to be first priority to LinkedIn as they continue to expand. As long as LinkedIn executes on those priorities, I see a bright future for LinkedIn.

And of course, Yes, I agree with Jeff: finding right talent will continue to be the building blocks of successful business.