Tag Archives: facebook

Social networks need time to grow up – thoughts on Buzz

Email is the ultimate social network. There is no doubt about that. And yet not many companies have attempted to unwrap that opportunity.

Google made a big, bold move in that domain last week. Which is remarkable considering Google does not play (or play well) in the social domain. Buzz has unleashed all sorts of reactions and social gaffes (including pretty serious ones).

While I am looking forward to Buzz for my company (we use Google Apps), there are some fundamental problems with the Buzz approach for personal email, and even more so, with the way it was launched.

Most social networks do not launch fully developed. They start small, plant the seeds, watch it grow, react and build on it. At birth, the social network is a newborn baby which slowly learns to crawl, then walk, then run. This is how every successful social network has been built.

In contrast to a newborn social network which develops in relation to its surroundings, Buzz is a fully developed adult who popped out of the (Gmail) womb one fine day. It received 9 million messages in two days (how many did Facebook/Twitter receive in first two days). Buzz has not had time to adapt to users or let them adapt to it before getting scale.

Turning the Google firehose on means instant growth – a huge advantage for other types of apps, but a huge disadvantage for a social system which needs a strong foundation and to get the fundamental of social interations right. Think of how important it was for Twitter to the sociality of the basic tweet right, before letting it grow.

Secondly, not all social networks are the same. We have our private social networks and there are public social networks. Email is a public soical network – with me as the center of my network. Which is why a tool like Xobni can expose that network and fit in, without disrupting the basic nature of email.

In contract, Buzz makes our personal social networks public. This is huge – its a problem (or an opportunity) not just for Buzz but also Gmail itself. The question in my mind is less about user acceptance of Buzz, but more about changes in perception of Gmail. Will people start seeing Gmail as less private because of Buzz?

Is Buzz going to succeed? I honestly don’t know. But its sure interesting to watch Google trying to be “social”.

Is it time to reimagine your product / service?

In his on stage interview with Michael Arrington (at the Crunchies), Mark Zuckerberg made the most insightful observation of the evening. On being asked about privacy, Mark said that Facebook default settings from private to public since that is what it would have been like if it started today. Things were very different when they started 6 years ago in his dorm at Harvard. People were questioning the basic concept – why should I share my info on the web. Things have changed a lot since then. People share a lot of their life online on different places on the web.

If Facebook started today, they would take where the web is today into account. The default would be public rather than private. And this is why they changed defaults from private to public since they want service to remain relevant. Mark added that it was not an easy move – from a technical or a user perspective – to change a service with 300 million users on such a core dimension.

I have been very critical of Facebook’s change from private to public, but as a owner of a web service, I completely understand where Mark is coming from. How many of us are stuck at the point where we started – not been able to imagine what our service would be like if we started today. Our services are vintage the year which they started. Flickr is vintage 2004 when it started. Basecamp is vintage 2004. Delicious is vintage 2005. While they remain great services, there has been no re-imagining of the service so that it fits into the web of 2009-2010.

The problem with being the vintage of your launch year is that the domain gets reimagined. You get left behind even if you are doing everything right. This is the classic problem that so many companies face – they are innovative when they launch. They continue on the path they launch with, which they get traction with initially. At a certain point, they are executing so well, that they get left behind. Their success contains the seeds of their becoming obselete.

Facebook is avoiding that problem by constantly imagining what it would be like if it launched today. It might face criticisms and even loose some users with such moves, but it fits better into the web today. And ultimately this is why Facebook will survive and prosper.

Ask yourself – what would my service be like if it launched today? Is it substantially different than what you are now? It might be time to reimagine it.

Can Facebook change from a private to public social space?

In another gutsy (though perhaps misguided) move, Facebook is encouraging all its users to go public with their and statuses and other information. The motivation is clear – take on Twitter, and partly Google. Become a bigger part of the open web.

I will leave others to analyze the privacy implications (which are many). I am interested in a different aspect – is it possible to change from a private social space to a public social space. Can a living room become a bar, or a nook become a public park? Yes, you can encourage individual users to change their preference, but a social space is more than the sum of individual user preferences. For example, Twitter lets users be private. But it is predominantly used as a public space. Similarly social spaces are generally public or private.

If I change my statuses from private to public, then do the expectancies of those around me change as well? What about the interactions between someone who is private and another person who is public?

I think its going to be hard for Facebook to make this change and remain the type of trusted social space they have become. Time will tell, but I am predicting that either the change will not have a major impact (people will stay private), or there will be a backlash.