Friday, September 14, 2007

Before Communities and Networks, there were tools

There has a been a lot of debate online about communities and networks and many, including startups riding the web 2.0 wave have run into the habit of claiming that their startup is a community. VCs are also prone to this community fever.

So, it is important to note what Joshua Schachter of said about the pioneering social bookmarking site, a site that I think has more value than social news sites such as Digg, for great archival and research uses.

Joshua has said,
“ is a tool, not a community.’

This is very important. Most online services are first tools and the community of people who got together while using the service, comes later on.

Joshua Porter of Bokardo advocates a focus on ‘personal value over anything else’.

Differencing between communities and networks, Chloe Stromberg from Forrester Research says that 'while communities are bound by emotion and passion, networks are simply communication links between people who have something in common.'

Chloe Stromberg goes to list some popular types of online networks, including social networks such as Facebook, Blog Networks such as Gawker, Wiki Networks such as Wikipedia (meaning all the contributors), Professional Networks such as LinkedIn, Advice Networks such as Berkeley Parents Network, Metafilter (my entry), Dating Networks such as and Craigslist (my entry) and Emotive Networks such as Carepages, and any ‘cause-network’ supported by the likes of PETA or Greenpeace.

Chloe has done a good job but I think the time is ripe for researching into the value coming out of the current crop of online sites.

For example, when Facebook group for saving Business 2.0 was formed, never mind that this did not work, it nevertheless was an example of concerned people coming together and in this case, the name of the web site was purely incidental. Musicians using Myspace to build their careers is another case.

In both cases, the accent is on value.

Thus, while it is true that communities are not networks, it is worth remembering that before there were communities and networks, there were tools that brought value to people’s lives.

Related Reading
9 models of bloggers’ collectives

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The Future of news: Read more, write more, partner more

As was expected, yet another attempt from mainstream media to define and analyze the boom in user-generated news was hotly debated and trashed in equal measure on blogs and news sites.

Project in Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) analyzed headlines on social news sites (Digg, Reddit, comparing them with mainstream media headlines.

The only useful thing I found was that people forwarded ‘How To’ lists and advice more than other story types. The rest of the findings were along expected lines:

- The increasingly fragmented online readership
- Frontpages of MSM and Social News sites rarely match: since both have different editorial setups. Editors rule on MSM sites and the crowd is supreme on social sites.

Not wanting to comment on the usual outrage of bloggers , I have three takes on this:

1. Those who like to read love the new setup
Read the best of mainstream media and your favorite bloggers. Never before did I have so much data on any given issue at hand. Now, I can read the NYT and Guardian’s take on Hillary vs Obama and then look at how bloggers and members of Digg and Reddit have aligned themselves on the issue.

Given the abundance of available information, the modern editors’ bias is easily brought into focus now than before.

Now, the reader can ask the editor ‘if you knew A was B, why did you say that…?

2. The power of comments, link forwarding and bored people
Social News is driven by the hordes of bored workers in offices and in dorms everywhere, who submit links, forward links and comment their hearts out on the social news sites.

I believe comments on news items on social sites are richer than the news items themselves.

Among news anization, Guardian’s Comment is Free is a worthy attempt and I never miss reading the comments below any readable Guardian column.

3. Let’s work together
That’s what owners/editors at established news organizations should be telling to social news sites, bloggers, commentators and other enthusiastic participants, making it possible, and profitable, to both parties to include each other’s content in their offerings.

For your consideration:
A: Local paper + best of local bloggers
B: Local paper’s shoddy, mostly fluffy tech coverage and what bloggers think about Apple’s iPhone tactics and why doesn’t Apple do something about the battery?
C: New York Times plus Best of Digg and

Rather than bicker about what is news, what is not, or whether bloggers are useful or whether social media is making us dumb, let work together and create 'news that is fit to comment and act upon?' (Sorry, NYT)

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Social networks don’t win you close friends: a case for face-to-face

Recent research done in England suggests that the number of close friends you have is mostly a result of your face-to-face interactions in the real world.

Researchers at the Sheffield Hallam University say that your online friendships on social networking sites such as Orkut, Facebook, Myspace, Hi5 and others are ‘shallow’ in nature.

Researchers got more than 200 people to fill in questionnaires and found that most of respondents had around 5 close friends and many (90%) said their close friends were results of face-to-face meetings.

So, it seems that soliciting and clicking friend request on social sites is nothing but an ego trip.

So, what do you think about Face-to-face

Related reading
Faces, not Friends
If Friends were that easy to make
How social networking is making us fat

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

There are worse things online than adsense

I have gone through Nick Carr’s recent takes on the new browser plug in Adblockplus and how it may go nuclear for Google and I can see Microsoft smirking around the corner.

I can detect the dilemma in Nick’s mind, him being a far-seeing thinker and all, who thinks ad– blocking may be immoral, using the free stuff on web publishers’ sites without any personal overhead, when most online publishers are not in Wikipedia’s position – Paypal donations are far and few and Micropayments never took off.

But, eventually, the so-called hypocritical purist in Nick takes over and he concludes that even Jesus would abandon the ‘Vegas style’ ad-splattered Net and use Ad block plus.

I bet some ad block plus copycat would be using this tagline in his adwords campaign soon.

If Jesus were to use Ad Block plus, he would be batting for the big online publishers and websites and the old way of 'big site+ display ad deals+ payment only mode' will be back in vogue and that would mean that the old adage of ‘ God works for the rich’ would indeed be still be true.

Besides, the net would be taking a few steps back.

I haven’t tried it, but if Adblockplus is for blocking adsense type ads only, then it is a positive case of ‘wrong product, wrong category’.

Granted that there are made for adsense sites and blogs, spam/rewriting blog networks, and many advertisers are conned by spurious publishers but this is taking it too far and commentators ought to get off their high horses.

Try all you can, but the old and pure early 90s type ad-free,WELL-era net is not going to come back.

Jesus would be loving it that information and communication has become more widely and cheaply available to ‘commoners’ instead of some elite user base operating in the United States.

As it is, people who don’t click on adsense can be seen using and evangelizing Adblock plus, to cosmetic effects in this case.

There are worse things online and offline than adsense.

How about Spamblock plus? How about Spamblockplus on social networking sites?
How about Popupblockplus, Keywordpopupadplusplus, telemarketerblockplus…?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Bugroff: the social networking site you can’t sign up for

I am not sure whether they were inspired by Groucho Marx’s dictum about ‘not becoming a member of a club that would accept you’ or that they were plain tired of social networking, spamming and combine B.S. flying all around, but you must give it to the Bugroff, the new antisocial networking site for those of us who prefer being left to themselves, no more friend requests from complete strangers to accept.

‘Because enough is enough’, you can’t sign up to Bugroff since you are not invited. If you manage to get in, there’s a lot you can do:

- Post no pictures of yourself or friends
- Invite no one else to join
- Switch status between 'unavailable, 'hiding' and 'dead'
- Keep what you're doing now private
- Receive no communications of any sort
- Generally hide away

Found via JD Lasica

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The Future of Social Networks…

The future of most social networks is advertising (or spamming). As social networks evolve into giant ad machines, user control, privacy matters and user fatigue will determine how successful or long-living any social networking site is.

1. Transparency as a fetish for the A - Crowd
Continuing with her analysis of Facebook, as it morphs into a ‘YASNS' (yet another social networking site), becoming another Myspace clone in the end, Danah Boyd has this to say about the A-list tech bloggers’ call for transparent online identities (I wonder they have to say about their online activities)

I think that one of the reasons that the tech crowd loves Facebook is because they both want the "transparent society." This is the philosophy that information dissemination can only be beneficial and that people should not seek to hide things. Embedded in this are unstated issues of privilege and normative views.

It's OK to be transparent when you look like everyone else, but go ask the gay Christian living in an Arab state how he feels about being transparent about his social world. Fleshing out a critique of the transparent society requires a different post, but I'm starting to get the sinking feeling that we're all part of a transparent society experiment and my discomfort stems from a deep concern about who all is going to get washed up in that tsunami.

Like real-world politicians, A-listers are always hungry for a cause and I suspect some people are latching onto transparency as an easy way to be more popular. A-listers hanker for transparency because they want to show off their ‘following’ on social networking sites.

A commenter on Danah’s site says about Scoble and the future of social networking sites as ad platforms
Scoble… is using FaceBook incorrectly and spreading a message that everyone who wants to be like him should do the same thing he is doing, becoming a living breathing form of advertisement. The transition of FaceBook from something for you and your friends to a form of advertising is already beginning to happen.

2. In spite of technology, humans can never be Cylons

Danah goes on to explain why some people are so intent on transparency in online networks:

The goal doesn't seem to be about helping people maintain privacy; it seems more like pushing them to accept a world where they are constantly aware of everyone around them.

In other words, we all don’t like downloading our consciousness to a central database.

3. How early adopters get overwhelmed
One problem waiting to happen at Facebook is the struggle between the early adopters, the students and the older, business-minded crowd that have come to Facebook in huge numbers.

A commenter says,
The problem with social networks is that in the beginning, with few members, they are inherently private; as they become successful, they are inherently NOT private…(bye bye, country club)

Related Reading
The 12 problems with Facebook

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