Category Archives: Web 2.0

If content is King, then distribution is King Kong

This rather quaint old media saying is not just funny – it might also still be true. Especially for high quality graphically rich content.

Web 2.0 evangelists have been promising us for some that we would be able to pipe time shifted high quality content of all kinds across the Net. But this month something happened in the United Kingdom, that might portend massive upheavals for the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and put a spanner in the works of broadcast industry web dreams.

And the significant event is? – the launch of the BBC iPlayer a month ago.

The iPlayer is a very different & dangerous beast from video aggregation websites like YouTube says Telco 2.0, because:

  • It is heavily promoted on the BBC broadcast TV channels. The BBC had a 42.6% share of overall UK viewing in 2006/7 and therefore a lot of people already know about the existence of the iPlayer after one month of launch.
  • It is a high quality service and is designed for watching whole programmes rather than consumption of small vignettes. This is sharp contrast to the current #1 streaming site, YouTube.
  • It’s not reliant on advertising funding.

The Register spells out the damage the iPlayer is doing to business models.

In only its first month of service, iPlayer pushed up ISP costs by 200 per cent, from 6.1p per user to 18.3p per user. This obliges ISPs who are simply BT resellers – and most are – to order more pipes; yet there’s no extra income. Remember that this is the low-bandwidth version of iPlayer, not the high resolution, high traffic P2P service, which uses much more bandwidth. And of course, it’s early days – we’re at the beginning of the iPlayer adoption curve. January’s figures involve just 19 minutes of TV per viewer for the month.

In other words, viewing iPlayer today costs your ISP a penny a minute – but the ISP isn’t gaining any additional revenue from you. Nor is it being subsidised by the content provider, the BBC, to carry those streams.

…The analysis makes grim reading for anyone who doesn’t own and operate a major network.

Telco 2.0 lays the fault at the door of the all you can eat business model.

The data reinforces our belief expressed in our recent Broadband Report that “Video will kill the ISP star”. The problem with the current ISP model is it is like an all you can eat buffet, where one in ten customers eats all the food, one in a hundred takes his chair home too, and one in a thousand unscrews all the fixtures and fittings and loads them into a van as well.

ISP’s that own their own Network, like the UK’s Virgin (who has a dedicated cable TV Network) and BT (Who owns all of the Network right to the homes) do better.

This suggests industry consolidation – the end of the small ISP resellers – will follow. And perhaps the end of the all you can eat model.

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Social Networking sites are differiated through their base functions

In the previous post we explored how Social Networking sites normally have 4 different functions:

  1. Networking;
  2. Social;
  3. Identity; and
  4. Sharing

Now, by looking at four well know examples, I will illustrate how different emphasis on these functions differentiate Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Second Life.

Second Life

Second Life is in fact a weak example of a Social Networking media property.

  • This is primarily because it lacks Networking functionality (You have no friend or contact lists, where you can create ties or nodes and track their movements or interactions);
  • It is however very big on Identity formation features (although this identity does not have to map to a real identity);
  • It can be very social and users can build real & warm relationships;
  • It also does have ‘sharing‘ functionality. (Just by being on Second Life you in fact become content! Everything you build is user generated content and therefore sharing.)

But because it tries to recreate reality and its users can not create ties or links (a buddy list) that allows them to associate, track or interact with contacts it’s a social networking site without the networking.

What are the user behavior of Second Life users like? They tend to spend hours on SL, they tend not to use their own identity, but a fictional one. They tend to meet strangers and befriend these stranger’s fictional identities. They can just be or play or build stuff in Second Life. But what they do there tends not to have much of a bearing on what they do outside of SL.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be described as a very functional Social Networking site that’s lite on social functionality because:

  • Is a Networking site in the business sense of the word, where people create ties to achieve a goal; (It has built its networking features strongly on so-called weak tie theory.)
  • Does not contain much Social functions (Users not enabled to show their personality and build deeper personal relationships);
  • Has basic and core Identity functions: A user’s real (but laundered to the extent that they can be sanitized of personality) identity is crucial;
  • Little by way of ‘Sharing’ functionality (Although they have recently added Question and Answer functionality, which generates fantastic content);

LinkIn’s user behavior is quite different form SL.

“We focus on a few but high value moments” Reid Hoffman, LinkIn’s founder.

And thats exactly what happens. Many users only visit it when they are job hunting – once every few years. The users real identities are crucial, but they are stripped of any depth. It’s a corporate identity, an online resume of your career status and achievements. There’s little evidence of socialising on LinkIn and little functionality that encourages it. ‘Sharing’ is limited to gaining access of contact’s contacts (weak ties) and asking professional Questions and getting Answers.

MySpace

MySpace combines the 4 functions more equally that Second Life or LinkIn.

  • It has very strong Social functionality that allows users to interact in a personal way;
  • But it has Networking functions as well, that allows users to create friends or contacts through ties;
  • User identity formation and expression, real or made up (and therefore often comprised of groups of people like bands), is extremely important, a user can completely customize a page to reflect who they are and associate with whom they want;
  • ‘Sharing’ things like songs, pictures, videos and blog entries is key;

MySpace’s users come back to the site often and spend a reasonable amount of time on it. It has become very popular with bands and artists as a promotional tool. Anybody can see who your ‘friends’ are, and some users have thousands of them – so weak tie theory applies.

“Andy Warhol said everybody is famous for 15 minutes. Social Networking changed that to everyone is famous for 15 people. If you have a million friends, your broadcasting. You’re an entertainer”Tom Anderson (MySpace)

Facebook

Like MySpace Facebook applies the 4 core functionalities associated with social networking more evenly. It has:

  • Very strong Networking functions, without ‘Friends’ you literally have nothing to read, see or interact with. Facebook is built on strong interpersonal ties;
  • It has allot of functionality that makes it very Social and allows personalities to to be on display. Poke!
  • User Identity functionality is paramount, made up identities are virtually useless (pun intended);
  • ‘Sharing’ is crucial (Users can share almost everything, their every Facebook move is UGC. UGC that is delivered to their ‘friends’ via a personalised feed);

Facebook’s user behavior is very interesting. Most users visit the site at least daily, but often for less than one minute. Besides the importance of real Identities and Facebooks strong and deep ties (versus MySpace’s weak ties), the main difference between Facebook and MySpace is in the clever exposure given to ‘sharing‘ via its Personal Newsfeed function.

“You can’t create communities, you can just find them” – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

All this explains why Facebook has been so successful. As Jeff Jarviss said, it harnesses the wisdom of your crowd. But it’s not suitable for all Social Networking needs, because it militates against discovering new people and therefore new things. It’s also doubtful whether it would have bee so successful without it’s revolutionary Personal Newsfeed.

Conclusion

Facebook and MySpace share almost all their key features, and LinkedIn shares some with them, but the differing implementation of the 4 elements has yielded very different user behavior.

So when planning a Social Networking site ask yourself:

  • To what extent should the users form relationships or ties?;
  • Should they be weak or strong?
  • To what extent should the site allow socializing?; and
  • To what extent should users be able to express their identity; and
  • Should this identity be real?
  • What content do you want your users to generate?
  • And how do users find out of new UGC content that might interest them?

Notes:

Ties

One can not have Social Networking site without two-way ties built into the architecture. The ability to communicate and interact is not enough (See Second Life), although users can still build ad hoc relationships without this functionality.

Building ties into the architecture requires permissioning functionality. Even when one does have permissioning to create ties, how one implements the use of ties leads to wildly divergent outcomes. (See the huge difference between LinkedIn and MySpace.)

Weak ties

Interpersonal ties, generally, come in three varieties: strong, weak, or absent. Weak social ties, it is argued, are responsible for the majority of the embeddedness and structure of social networks in society as well as the transmission of information through these networks. Specifically, more novel information flows to individuals through weak rather than strong ties. Because our close friends tend to move in the same circles that we do, the information they receive overlaps considerably with what we already know. Acquaintances, by contrast, know people that we do not, and thus receive more novel information

Social Networking on the Web

Are you building a so-called Social Networking site? Then you need to know what makes them tick, what user needs they address, and how you can play with these things to design your own site. But first lets start from the beginning. What is a social network?

According to the collective wisdom of Wikipedia –

A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of relations.

But what does that mean in practice, what is a social network when found on the web?

What is referred to as Social Networking online is often conflated and confused with the concept of ‘sharing’. So many think sharing pictures, video or music (so-called user generated content) are examples of Social Networking.

But in truth social networking sites tend to have three other key elements or functions besides ‘sharing‘:

  • Identity formation functions;
  • Networking functions; and
  • Social functions.

Often the distinction between Networking, Social, Identity and Sharing functionality is not clear and there is some overlap between them. I will now explore these concepts in further detail with reference to real life examples and on the net.

Networking – Here networking is meant in the business sense of the word. In the real world this would be like when two executives meet and exchange business cards at an industry seminar. What is taking place is formal, relatively impersonal and goal orientated relationship creation.

Social – If something has a Social function it means there is a strong human and informal dimension to the interaction. Personalities are on display and personal relationships created. Social could thus include people doing things for fun: Like playing tennis for instance. But it does not necessarily mean it is not serious. A practical example: It’s where Bill Clinton and Tony Blair sits in a bar at the yearly Davos conference and talks about the conflict in Palestine over a pint of lager.

Identity means building meaning and displaying what and who you are. If I have a Mohawk hair cut, skinny jeans, a black leather jacket and Doc martin boots, it’s fair to assume that I’m a punk, and that I’d be likely to have certain views with respect to work, society, politics and music.

Sharing’ is of course in reality a misnomer. To many observers, users seemingly do things on the internet for free as if they want nothing in return. This is not accurate. In fact this gift giving is actually self publishing – for egotistical and status reasons. They do it because they want recognition. For the purposes of this post we will keep on calling it by its popular name: ‘sharing’.

But this is still abstract. By looking at familiar sites like Second Life, LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook, all described as being social networking in nature and how they place different emphasis on these elements, it can help us to better understand their practical implications.

MySpace vs Facebook – a class divide

The UK Guardian reports that in the US (Facebook v MySpace – a class divide | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited: ) “Social networking websites MySpace and Facebook are increasingly splitting along class lines, according to a US academic.”

Facebook users

“tend to come from families who emphasise education and going to college. They are primarily white, but not exclusively”.

MySpace, meanwhile,

“is still home for Latino and Hispanic teens, immigrant teens” as well as “other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm”.

Virtual brands will soon be real

Second life, the best know online ‘world’ allows its users to design and build houses and almost anything else besides, including clothes and shoes. And because all users keep copyright of their creations in Second Life, and because its easy to copy items in a digital world, a brisk trade in digital items are taking place.

Apparently this also makes second life ‘manufacturing’ and retailing into a low margin high volume business. Unless of course one can establish a brand. Some established brands like Puma are already retailing trainers in Second Life.

But ZuluZulu reckons its only a matter of time that a brand which originates in Second Life goes ‘real’ and finds it’s was into a shop near you.

Facebook – the social operating system

Has it ever happend to you that someone has told you about something, and the next day another tells you about it, and then another.

ZuluZulu was told about Facebook last week. And again. And then I got an invitation to join.

So I joined Facebook last week. Now I have a MySpace, Flickr, Digg, YouTube, Muti, Blik account, but never have I found signing up and finding friends so easy. As you use it, its simplistic power wonders and charms. It’s the social networking site of social networking sites. A meta web 2.0 site.

And then today on the Tube I read Jeff Jarvis’ always excellent Media Guardian column. It was about, you guessed it – Facebook.

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

What struck me is that one of the peculiar successes is how Facebook somehow gets you to send messages to friends that are in your email address book that you normally never message. Why? Perhaps because it’s a more social, easier, friendlier environment than an email interface.

Facebook has two other incredible features which Jarvis explains:

Next, Facebook introduced what it calls a newsfeed, filled with simple updates about what your friends have done on the service: one posted a photo, another a video, two more befriended the same person, four others started using a feature.

…it is not news as we know it, but it has news value: if four friends I respect start using a program, that’s good enough reason for me to look at it. As one blogger said, this isn’t the wisdom of crowds but the wisdom of my crowd. It is like the talk around the cracker barrel in a frontier general store: the protonews of my small society.

But Facebook is also becoming a programming platform.

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

Zuckerberg’s ambition for Facebook -which he has so far refused to sell, even though it is said he has been offered more than $1bn – is nothing less than for it to become the social operating system of the web, the Google of people.

MySpace eat your heart out.

Do you Digg Blik?

ZuluZulu discovered Blik today. Blik (Afrikaans: view, stare, look) is a web 2.0 Afrikaans link recommendation site ala Digg. Already there is an English language South African recommendation engine called Muti.

Digg, which started off as a tech news recommendation engine, is so popular that it soon overtook that other massive tech news site Slashdot. Slashdot used to be so huge that the phrase “you have been Slashdotted” became synonymous with the surge in traffic when Slashdot put a link to your website and cause your servers to keel over.

But where Slashot had editors recommending stories and deciding their prominence, Digg took this one step further, allowing its users to submit them and deciding how popular they should be.

Sites like Digg are bad news for traditional professional media and traditional marketeers. It allows the lone blogger, filmmaker, web producer to compete with mighty media behemoths like the BBC and Naspers. It allows an interesting web service to be found, without throwing marketing money at it.

If the Digg community thinks your point of view is better, or you know something before the Guardian does, your story can experience a traffic surge.

Did you know you can “Digg” Mhambi’s stories by clicking on the link at the bottom of each story? And that increases the prominence of my story on Digg. See, six of you Digged my story on how many $100 laptops Oprah could buy South Africa.

Back to Blik. Is it a good thing to have an Afrikaans recommendation engine? Well it certainly does not suffer like Muti does in competing with Digg (who has long since moved out of being just about tech news). There are allot of South African stories on Digg.

But this brings to the fore a perennial problem Afrikaans faces. By using Afrikaans, Afrikaners can have a very unique, local, and intimate exchange of views and maintain their identity free from cultural imperialism. But its also self referential, self contained and incestuous. Often really interesting, sophisticated, open debates happen, like this Blik to a story on a farmer who’s micro credit system has helped his labourers invest happen, but nobody outside the Afrikaans community would know about it.