Facebooking the Web: Opportunities and Threats

I have mixed feelings about Facebook’s new Open Graph Protocol. More on that in a moment, but here’s the quick summary, right from the Open Graph documentation:

The Social Graph is made of three basic components:

The Graph API, which is an open protocol allowing web designers to make website pages more “facebooky”. Setting this up is pretty easy, just add meta data information to your pages as defined in the developer’s guide, and Facebooks’s spiders do the rest. Here’s a sample bit of code from Facebook:

<html xmlns:og="http://opengraphprotocol.org/schema/"
<meta property="og:title" content="The Rock"/>
<meta property="og:type" content="movie"/>
<meta property="og:url" content="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117500/"/>

What’s in it for FB? Mostly a salvo against Google in the search space, once Zuck and crew enable advanced searching functions on the above meta data.

Social Plugins allow web developers and designers to easily add Facebook objects to web pages. Imagine “Liking” your favorite sports team’s website, and you have the gist of it. The Like button in the graphic above is one example, as is a social bar which makes any web page “social”, according to Facebook.

What’s in it for FB? Enabling website operators to add social elements easily is laudable, but of course Facebook’s real goal is to create the world’s largest database of preferences. Not just preferences in Facebook, but all over the web. The best part is their cost of doing so is zero since they’re distributing the work to everyone on the web. Brilliant strategy.

Docs.com is the third piece, and is Facebook-Microsoft’s joint project enabling social sharing of  Microsoft office docs with your Facebook friends. To use it, sign up at Docs.com.

What’s in it for FB? The official answer is it gives both Facebook and Microsoft a competitive product rivaling Google Docs. But the real goal here is to extend Facebook beyond the web and onto your desktop.

Opportunities and Threats

  • Actionable Recommendations.  Facebook “likes” were fun but useless. Until they enable discovery of new web content. Pandora.com now uses Likes to allow you to discover new music similar in style to those which you prefer. I’m sold – the new Pandora is awesomely accurate. That said, authenticate users your site “owns” via Facebook makes them no longer your users, right? On a related note, finding a coworker’s open Facebook page and liking questionable content is a great prank.
  • Social CRM Perhaps Google is threatened by Facebook, but salesforce.com‘s management should really be concerned. Facebook’s move likely to enable what many are calling “Social CRM”. Part of the reason my company uses Highrise as a CRM system in our company is it ties in contact social graph information automatically, without much data entry. Imagine using a CRM system where you look up contacts rather than manually entering them as you do now. Open Graph positions Facebook perfectly to dominate the next generation of CRM.
  • Weak Links Paradox Many of us have “friended” people we don’t know on Facebook because we simply want to be polite and sociable, but OpenGraph allows your friends to share some personal information outside of Facebook. That means some jackass who you barely know could expose your info without you knowing about it. Some are already pulling back their adding weak links to their social graph – and isn’t the strength of weak links the whole point of Facebook?
  • Single Point of Failure. The Interwebs is grounded in the idea of routing past single points of failure, however adding Facebook objects to every web page increases reliance on a single point of failure. Disconnect there. Besides, building a business on a social graph you do not control is asking for trouble.

Final Thought

If you’re going to integrate Social Plugins on your site, Facebook provides step by step instructions to adding Like buttons here. But beware, some buttons are evil…

Edit: Chris Messina also chimes in with this excellent post identifying the problem of a single point of failure for web content.

How Twitter Propagates Info

Interesting (and short) video on how Twitter users propagate information by Bitcurrent‘s Alistair Croll, delivered at W2E New York here:

They’ve even suggested a better retweet design. I figure this will be a topic of conversation buzzing with activity in the near future, and probably the topic of a more lengthy blog post of mine in the future.

Original posting on O’reilly net here.

Social Media is Enterprise CRM’s Research Lab

Salesforce.com announced its “gamechanger” at today’s Dreamforce conference keynote: the introduction of Salesforce Chatter which incorporates microblog capabilities into the CRM platform. To paraphrse blogger and heavy Twitter user Robert Scoble:  “How much Twitter Koolaid did Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO drink this morning? This much…”

Am I at Twitter Con or Dreamforce? (photo credit: Robert Scoble)

Can they pull it off and change the way sales organizations work? Can these organizations evolve from walled garden type processes to something more akin to the way sharing happens on Twitter or Facebook? The short answer is “maybe”.

There’s plenty of coverage on capabilities so I’ll focus on an adoption issue that is rather nuanced one. Chatter isn’t terribly revolutionary, but the move is significant in that it should quell any remaining illusion that microblogs are not for those who “get real work done.” Terrific. However, microblogs have proven successful in lines of work involving collaboration and serendipity among several individuals working on similar problems. Microblogs are particularly powerful when it comes to distributed work where combining yields work far more valuable than the sum of the parts. But the people who use salesforce are, well, sales people. They’re not known for collaborative work and typically sport a rather independent nature. That nature is reinforced by management policies encouraging competitive hunger (good thing) and individual achivement (good thing in some ways, bad in others).

For example, I can’t see a salesperson using Chatter to “tweet” something like “Can I offer flexible terms” or “I need help to close a deal”:

For the intended users of Chatter, it becomes a bit more of a medium to broadcast issues, which they’ll feel makes them look incompetent. That’s heresy in a sharing social media culture, but it’s important to understand that management policies and countless sales methodologies promote sharing successes and promotion individual accountability for results. IF a collaborative selling approach is something salesforce is driving (rather than just hopping on the fad of the moment) then change is necessary to promote team selling models, which changes sales organizations’ DNA. Specifically what’s needed is a fundamental shift to team incentives instead of traditional individual commission structures. That’s MUCH easier said than done – expect a burst of activity from salesforce and third parties consultancies to spring up to offer “training solutions” to just that problem.


Premium users or Ads – those two options have been the primary mainstay of web and mobile application developer/operators who are looking to monetize . A few have gone beyond the basics and have successfully captures a portion of the network effect value they co-create with their users. The creators of the popular mobile application Foursquare may be on the road to achieving free user monetization nirvana.

Foursquare was launched at South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) earlier this year, and aims to be part social network, part geolocator, and part metro area guidebook. For those who are iPhone/Web app savvy, it might be helpful to think of Foursquare as what you get if you crossed Yelp, Brightkite, and Facebook Vampires. The application is designed to provide users (gamers) with the ability to add friends, broadcast visits to locations to them, and pull up a list of frequented places others visit in your vicinity. Foursquare provides a competitive twist to city guides: users can compete to check in more often than friends to unlock badges (similar to cub scout badges), become the mayor of a location, and top the list of check-ins in a metro area.

The punchline? Friends provide better suggestions than static guidebooks, and the competition for social recognition keeps the information relevant, targeted, and fresh. For example, I’ve added a tip below indicating a particularly good drink at a local bar nearby my office. Another user by the name of Alexander F. provided a tip related to the New York Museum of Modern Art, writing: “Want a meditative place to work? On the 4th floor there is a ‘nook’ directly at the huge window front overlooking the sculpture garden.” Good stuff.

An example of a users achievements and suggestions summary

An example of a user's achievements and suggestions summary

At any given time, another player can “out-visit” another, becoming mayor of a location, which keeps the interest in checking in strong. There’s a natural tendency to check into the local TCBY for a frozen yogurt fix just to keep a mayor title, for example. The competitive achievement system is the addictive part of the game, and it is where both the challenge and the opportunity lie for Foursquare.

Challenges to Foursquare

For all the success, there are a number of challenges intrinsic to the game, driving some people like blogger Arsenio Santos away from playing. The challenges are roughly as follows:

1. The Grounding Effect. I recently left on a trip to China for roughly 2 1/2 weeks, which means I did not “check in” during the time (Foursquare is specific for metro areas in the U.S. until this month). Which means I’d likely lose my status. When you consider locations in Las Vegas, many of which are frequented by visitors from out-of-town, you’d imagine mayorships and achievements would be fleeting. It’s not much fun to be the mayor of the Bellagio hotel only to lose it a week later. Also, once a player is in another Foursquare metro area, the user effectively starts over as statistics are confined to specific metro areas walled off from one other. Thus success at Foursquare tends to require “grounding” a player to a specific metro area, penalizing frequent travelers.

2. Anti-Social Network? Arsenio Santos unintentionally grabbed hold of the mayor achievement at a local Peet’s coffee, and later on noticed the following Tweet scroll across the public twitter timeline:

“I’m sick of this @arsenio guy bouncing my mayorship of Peet’s. I guess I know where I’m going for coffee tomorrow…”

While Arsenio and the aggrieved former mayor of Peet’s developed a friendship, the introduction wasn’t based on the best of circumstances. While the competitive nature of the game might drive participation (especially with type A folks like your humble blogger), social relationships are driven by competition are an entirely different breed from those on Facebook, Linked in, Twitter, or other networks.

3. The Atomicity Effect I’m the mayor of my office (and likely the only person on Foursquare). Anyone who would join Foursquare who would like an achievement of their own would have to dethrone me, or could be more creative – they could set up a second floor area. Or become the mayor of the kitchen space. Foursquare allows users to enter in new areas, allowing a proliferation of areas, each with its own mayor. As areas become subdivided up, relevance (and thus interestingness) take a nose dive. I wouldn’t mind checking into the Bellagio hotel, but having to wade through a list of Bellagio locations would be annoying.

Business Use Cases (or How to Kill Two Birds with One Stone)

While Foursquare otherwise sounds like a bit of a timesink, there are some pertinent uses in a business context. The social network provides a low barrier-to-entry promotional locus for local businesses. Some venues have gone beyond simple listings and have begun to offer drink specials to those who check in on Foursquare (an inexpensive way to “buy” buzz advertising). Perhaps businesses can offer special perks to mayors of an establishment. Even more powerful, Foursquare can provide brick and mortar businesses with the kinds of visitation metrics online businesses have enjoyed for years.  Can this be done via Twitter? Certainly, but Twitter is not the optimal tool, since Twitter is not generally location aware, nor does it provide the achievement system to drive check in.

The bay area’s BART mass transit system sees value in Foursquare: Regular BART commuters will now be able to unlock a BART-themed badge, and also become eligible for $25 in promotional tickets that will be awarded randomly to Foursquare users who check-in at stations during the months of November, December, and January. The goal of course is to drive greater mass transit use: “A lot of BART riders are already having fun with this game,” said Timothy Moore, BART website manager. “We hope this partnership will encourage them to check out different stations and neighborhoods, and will show people who aren’t already BART riders some of the great things to do that are easy to get to on transit.”

But there’s a second and powerful benefit to Foursquare when a local business takes ownership of a location in Foursquare: there’s the ability to capture and bill for a portion of the value generated by Foursquare to be sure. However, the atomicity problem above is also solved in a rather graceful way – there’s only one official “21st Amendment bar in San Francisco” location which drives rewards and special offers if the management takes ownership of the listing. The spinoff location achievements become shallow and unsatisfying as a result, and tend to vanish into obscurity.

The grounding problem may also be gracefully mitigated via business ownership of Foursquare listings. Consider the fast food chains signing up (and paying a royalty) which in turn allows the chain to publish a top visitors list around the country. Becoming the top McDonalds Big Mac consumer in the world may be a dubious lead to a portly waistline, but is a location-independent achievement which addresses the Grounding Effect quite nicely. The McDonalds mayor thus has a chance to retain title while traveling, increasing engagement.

What Lies Ahead

Sell to Yelp? Who? Me?

Sell to Yelp? Who? Me?

If there is an exit strategy in place, Foursquare cofounder Dennnis Crowley is keeping mum about any plans. According to coverage on Jen Leggio’s terrific blog, Crowley has been quoted as saying “No official comment, but we’re not ready to do an acquisition this early. We had a real early exit with Dodgeball and it hurt the product.  There’s so much we can build and innovate on very quickly right now and I think we’re best doing that independently.” There’s also some question around Twitter’s upcoming geolocation capabilities, which would seem to compete directly with Foursquare’s core value prop.

Ultimately business use on Foursquare drives value to the social network, the businesses who drive foot traffic, and the users themselves. What’s most impressive is that Foursquare seems poised to introduce a monetization model which also blunts the Grounding Effect, the Atomicity effect, and the Anti Social effect. That’s the sort of nirvana achievement the web is all about.

Best of all, it’s fun.

Facebook Your Campaign

“Facebooked” as a verb has been around forever in internet time, referring to the practice of HR professions seeking information on people as part of their hiring due diligence. It’s starting to take on a new meaning for marketing types.  Blogger Jeremiah Owyang was tipped off to a new console game release called Prototype by Chris Pan of Facebook. The Protoype game’s website goes beyond personalization by linking ads with in-game content, or allowing users to upload their pictures to create e-postcards as JibJab does. Prototype’s website asks users to log in using their Facebook credentials, and uses profile photos and other Facebook profile information to create a trailer customized for the viewer.

Below is my experience with the Prototype site, which I encourage you to try yourself here.

What was fascinating from the beginning is how minimal the initial investment in time is. Simply log into Facebook and the website does the rest. No photo uploads, no questionairres..

Once you log in, the loading sequence begins. It takes a while, but it’s worth the wait…

Once The sequence began, a movie-like clip began playing…

Now I’ve read some of the other blogs covering Prototype, so I expected to see my own Facebook data. Imagine my surprise when a picture of my 4 month old son came up (the original here) ..

and of course I showed up as well. It’s hard not to be drawn into the experience when you see yourself in it…

It’s a bit hard to see because of the masking, so here’s the original photo

The information doesn’t simply include my own picture uploads, but also uploads from friends’ photo albums (which I haven’t posted here for obvious reasons). The video also incorporates profile information.  Funny enough watching the video made me realize I needed to update my home location on Facebook.

Anyway, here are my key takeaways from the experience:

  • Asking for logins will become commonplace. Using existing Facebook requires minimal time investment, cutting abandonment.
  • Viral is the new norm. These After the personalized experience, users are likely to invite friends to watch (or even *ahem* blog about the experience) if invited to. Protoype asks you to share the website with your friends at the end of the playback.
  • Marketers will increasingly bundle the extended network. The marketing message is powerful if you bundle it with the user’s data, but even more powerful when you include photos, videos, and profile information from connections (friends). I found myself running the video a couple of times to see if other friends would show up. They did.
  • Expect Orwellian / Big Brother argument to pick up as personalized viral marketing beomces more commonplace. there will probably be plenty of initial freak outs, but objections will become less commonplace as contextual ads become more commonplace.
  • Cross-network advertising is still a question mark. If meta logins (OpenID) pick up steam, expect a number of contextual marketing campaigns to ask for a meta ID and include content from a number of social networks. Someone will probably try to combine Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and other networks rolled into one spot in the not too distant future.
  • Someone’s political campaign will probably follow suit, rolling out videos which pull at the heartstrings using your own data. An appeal asking for support for health care reform is more powerful if superimposed on pictures of family members, but I suspect most users will be far more wary of providing a politician’s website with Facebook credentials. Game sites are far more innocuous.

Twitter: The Voice of a Disenfranchised Populace

Defying the curfew

Defying the curfew

Earlier blog posts about “Twitterquakes” and other media travelling at speeds greater than media coverage were an entertaining curiosity. Today that curiosity became an agent of change in the disputed Iranian elections as large numbers coordinate, communicate and corroborate via microblogs.

Within 2 hours of the polls closing in the Iranian election, the “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khamenei rushed to bless President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for winning the election, calling on Iranians to line up behind the incumbent. That’s when the questions began to erupt on the microblogs and mobile phones. How could the challengers lose by such an overwhelming percentage in their home cities? How do you count almost 40 million handwritten paper ballots in two hours and declare a winner? Why shut off mobile phone networks if the election was truly transparent? The iron clerics have a bit of a problem: while they control military, the judiciary and all public broadcasts, the supreme leader would find it difficult to shut down all leaks in an age of proxy servers, satellites, and microblogs. They also have a bit of a problem in that they can’t turn off the country’s collective ability to sniff out obvious bullshit.


It was via Twitter that the written 7 point statement leaflet distributed among the protesters in Tehran today reached the west:

1. Dismissal of Khamenei for not being a fair leader
2. Dismissal of Ahmadinejad for his illegal acts
3. Temporary appointment of Ayatollah Montazeri as the Supreme Leader
4. Recognition of Mousavi as the President
5. Forming the Cabinet by Mousavi to prepare for revising the Constitution
6. unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners
7. Dissolution of all organs of repression, public or secret

Indeed candidate MirHossein Mousavi has also joined the microblog fray, directing protesters to remain peaceful and determined. The candidate, taking part in the demonstrations himself, has become aware of Twitter’s power to spread messaging helping protesters assemble and avoid altercations with law enforcement. He (or the person managing his Twitter handle) posted a desperate plea to the Twitter team to postpone a scheduled maintenance cycle in order to keep information flowing freely in the face of mobile phone outages:

Don't Turn the Lights off

If you’re wondering, maintenance was rescheduled as requested. Such is the power of the Twitter News Network. Once an early warning system for seismic activity and random flashmobs of no importance, microblogs (and Twitter in particular) have become the message network to turn to when other means of communication are turned off.

Update 5.16.2009 4:26 PM PST: Boing boing’s Corey Doctorow published an engagement guide located here.

Epilogue: the following are a list of active tweeters I’ve been able to find in Teharan. If you’d like to be added to the list, please reply in comments below to add yourself to the list. Best wishes and be safe.

Amin Abbaspour
Abdul-Azim Mohammed
Parham Doustdar
Mohammad Ramezanpour
Sajjad A. Mohammed
Yashar Khazdouzian
Iran Election 2009
MirHossein Mousavi
jim sciutto
Raymond Jahan
Bahador Nooraei B.
William Yong
Bahram K
Alireza Sedaghat
ali khalaj
Jubin Ahdi
Naeim Karimi

The Twitter Ecosystem

From Jess and Brian Solis, a fairly comprehensive map of the Twitter ecosystem, broken down into applications focusing on geolocation, stream management, trends analysis, marketing & advertising, influence & resonance, search, stream management, relationship management, event management, URL management, and mobile apps (a subset of stream management in my opinion). Click on the picture below to see an expanded version.

Courtesy of Brian Solis and Jeff3

Courtesy of Brian Solis and Jeff3