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See You At Startup Weekend Adelaide?

Posted on 12 Mar 2012 by Andy - Filed under  

Wow, it’s been almost eleven months since my last post!

I’m still here and still living and breathing technology, just having to juggle fatherhood in the mix.

Now that I don’t have as much time, I need to pick and choose which tech events I attend carefully but one upcoming weekend got me excited and negotiating babysitting duties with my partner - Adelaide Startup Weekend.

What Is Startup Weekend?

Startup Weekend Logo

A startup weekend is a high intensity 54 hours that brings together developers, designers and business/marketing people with the aim of building a pitch or prototype between Friday and Sunday evenings. Along the way you get access to venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs to (hopefully) help steer you towards success.

The short runway limits the complexity of ideas which can be explored and prototyped but I think that the event is more about learning and networking than ending up with a world-changing business on Monday.

Am I Pitching?

Truth be told, I don’t know yet. I’d like to, but I need to find an idea that is practical to execute within the event’s constraints and is exciting enough to allow me inspire a team of people I’ve never met through a long, hard weekend.

I have thrown a few ideas into Google Moderator so please vote, discuss or add your own here or in the comments.

I expected any idea that I do pitch to evolve significantly over the weekend and even if I don’t pitch I’m very excited to get access to business (i.e. non-technical) people that are interested in using technology to solve problems.

Are You Going Along?

If you will be attending Startup Weekend Adelaide, then please get in touch. There’s no harm in a little pre-event networking.

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Five Improvements For The New Owners Of Delicious.com

Posted on 28 Apr 2011 by Andy - Filed under  

So delicious (my favourite social bookmarking service) has been sold to YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steven Chen who say they want to build an information discovery service and are porting bookmarks and networks over to AVOS.

That will help reduce the uncertainty around the service and should prevent the current exodus of users over to pinboard, but let’s look at areas delicious needs to improve if it is to meet Hurley & Chen’s goal.

Delicious Logo

Stop The Spam!

It is way too easy to buy your way to the popular page of delicious. Spend a few bucks on ebay or some of the blackhat forums and you’re there - and if you get popular at the right time of day, you end up with a ton of traffic.

This sort of vote-buying is a problem for every social bookmarking service but every one of delicous’s competitors is much more successful at stopping this kind of spam. Analysing voting patterns and weeding out those accounts which are only ever used for spam votes will be vital if the new owners want users to trust the service.

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate

Delicious already displays Flickr photos very nicely and allows MP3s to be played right from your page of bookmarks but if it is to compete with richer services like Diigo and EverNote it must work harder to integrate more rich media and content creation too. Here are some online entities that could benefit from a simple bookmarking service:

  • Videos - especially sections of video
  • Music playlists
  • Locations
  • Shopping carts
  • Contacts

Its current mechanism of sharing bookmarks with Twitter is clunky and feels like it has been tacked onto delcious’s network sharing (which it was). There is room for improvement to the user experience and benefit to adding many other sharing options like Facebook, Digg, Reddit etc.

Browser Plugins

The delicious Firefox extension is a fantastic piece of work, but sadly it doesn’t work with Firefox 4. Thankfully, Hurley and Chen have said that fixing that is their number one priority.

Google Chrome is well catered for, as is Internet Explorer but Safari users have to be content with the third party (but excellent) Delicious Safari. Surely AVOS could spare some cash to bring them into the fold?

APIs

The delicious API and RSS ecosystem has been used for a huge variety of purposes, from simple database CRUD to email newsletters to archiving your tweeted links. Easy access to your bookmarks has been a part of delicious since the early days and AVOS need to continue in that spirit.

I really hope that as the Grandaddy of social bookmarking services is molded into an information discovery engine that the API and RSS feeds grow alongside the rest of the site.

The Interest Graph is currently finding favour among deep-thinking tech bloggers and delicious is that data - that’s the short version of why AVOS bought it. If AVOS can bring itself to make that data public (ideally through linked data) it will really shake things up.

Open Up To Search Engines?

There have long been complaints about the fact that delicious has prevented search engines from indexing its data.

The fact that delicious is no use for influencing search engine rankings has contributed hugely to its success - I’ve argued that it is selfish, not social bookmarking previously. That is all changing as social signals become more integrated into the search engines’ algorithms.

I think AVOS will eventually allow search engines to crawl delicious data but that they’ll enter into individual agreements with Google/Bing, just like Twitter did.

Conclusion

There is a lot for delicious users to look forward to and I’m really happy that it has new owners that want to move the service forward. Hurley & Chen still have a very difficult task ahead of them but their success with YouTube shows that they are willing to forgo short-term revenue for a great user experience.

As to how they can build the world’s best information discovery service, well I don’t really know what that looks like but I’ll be watching with interest.

Does news of the purchase mean you’ll stick with delicious? Leave a comment to let me know.

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Quora API Shows Its Social Ambitions

Posted on 07 Feb 2011 by Andy - Filed under  

Quora log

The digiterati’s latest Internet fad darling, question and answer site Quora has received a lot of attention over recent weeks, much of it focussed around Robert Scoble.’s exploration of the service. I don’t want to go into detail, but Robert used Quora as a social service and got a little egg on his face. Here’s a quick recap:

The Silicon Valley soap opera is fun for a short time, but it doesn’t tell us much about where the service is headed.

Some Technical Info Appears

Thankfully, engineers working at Quora are answering technical questions pertaining to the service. Phil Whelan has collated several and put together an amazing post about Quora’s technology stack (seriously, go read it - Oli Young called it porn for web devs).

On the custom software side of the equation, Adam d’Angelo has answered a question about the answering ranking algorithm on Quora. There are no big surprises but note how votes from users that have written good answers in the past carry more weight - users are assigned a quality score.

An API

The announcement of an API aimed at browser extension developers made things even more socially focussed.

The API is still very much embryonic - it only has a single method at the time of writing. The only thing we can do with the API right now is get information about the current user (assuming he/she is logged in).

Quora promise to add to the API later but I think it’s telling that their first offering is aimed at people not questions.

RSS Feeds Too?

From the Quora FAQ:

We now have RSS support for user profile pages, user question pages, user answer pages, topic pages, and topic best questions pages.

That is three out of five feeds that are user-centric - more evidence of a social direction for the site. Further API methods are likely to follow the feeds.

Can/Should Quora Get More Social?

There is plenty of scope for the platform to integrate more social features without being sidetracked by "social media gurus".

Quora could add analyse a user’s questions and recommend people to follow. Then it could offer a private Q&A session with industry thought leaders (for a fee, of course). Users with a answer greater quality score could command a higher fee, or get first pick of the relevant requests.

If the quality score really works, there would be little reward for fakers.

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Using The TwitterSentiments.com API

Posted on 28 Dec 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

Checking out my RSS feeds over the Christmas break, a post from ProgrammableWeb caught my eye - a sentiment analysis API for tweets. Digging a little deeper, a blog post from the authors showed that they have applied libSVM to make a great tool.

I had to try this out

The API is incredibly easy to use - especially if you have used the Twitter API before. TweetSentiments.com essentially augment the JSON returned from a subset of the public Twitter API with sentiment data. So a search for tweets returns 20 tweets, each of which has a sentiment grade and then the whole block has an aggregated count and overall score.

Wines

I often test out SEO techniques using my girlfriend’s Wine Education site so I thought I’d see what twittersentiment.com thought of the most common wine varietals.

I whipped up a short perl script to call the API for the following phrases:

  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Semillon
  • Muscat
  • Pinot grigio
  • Pinot blanc
  • Riesling
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Syrah OR Shiraz
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet sauvignon
  • Malbec
  • Pinot noir
  • Zinfandel
  • Sangiovese
  • Barbera

The results got dumped into a CSV file, which I then imported into a Google Spreadsheet for analysis (spreadsheet here).

The Results

The results could hardly be called scientifically rigorous, but that’s not the primary purpose of the exercise, I just wanted to play around with the twittersentiment API.

The API found twenty tweets for each of my search terms so the small sample size has skewed the results towards a very narrow window. This graph shows that the wine with the highest sentiment score was Merlot, whilst the lowest was Pinot Noir.

Twitter Wine Sentiment Analysis Graph

Interesting choices, in a period traditionally associated with eating roast turkey when I’d have plumped for a fruity white, such as a Chardonnay.

The next graph might add a little towards an explanation - opinion of the Merlot is not as divided as for the other wines:

Twitter Wine Sentiment Analysis Graph

So, what this tells us is that Americans really like Merlot (see the full results for Merlot at tweetsentiments.com).

Other wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, got a larger number of tweets that were classified as neutral - sometimes incorrectly, sometimes because they used more technical terms to describe the wine. Here are the results for cab sav from tweetsentiments.com.

I used Google Trends to compare the top 5 and bottom 5 ranked wine varieties, and the results did not correlate very well with the tweetsentiments.com results.

That is to be expected - they do measure different things after all.

Conclusion

The tweetsentiments.com API is nicely constructed and easy to use but the results aren’t perfect (especially for this test).

It would certainly be interesting to track sentiment changes over time and a sharp swing towards negative sentiment would make a useful early warning indicator for brands in trouble.

One of the biggest take-aways from this exercise is that it is hard to extract meaningful data from the twitter stream. I have no doubt that there are people doing it, but they won’t be giving their data away via a free API.

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I Have Not Been Blogging Often Enough

Posted on 11 Dec 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

They say that bloggers should never apologise for not publishing regularly but I’m about to break that rule - my writing and twittering and commenting has dropped significantly recently and I want to offer you an apology and an explanation.

Over the past few months, I’ve been gearing up for the launch of a significant new project.

This has meant that I’ve not had quite as much time to spend on producing the kind of content that I think my readers want and deserve. I want to assure all my subscribers (both of you) that I will continue to blog and produce fun little mashups like my twitter map.

I hope that you will forgive me the recent drop in posting frequency.

So what of the mysterious project that has taken up so much of my time recently?

Well, launch date was the 5th December 2010 and the days since then have been a whirlwind of rapid development, scheduling changes and priorities that change daily.

I can’t understate the importance of this venture - I am 100% committed and consider it way too important to fail.

But, I’m still teasing you dear reader - I haven’t given away any details yet. So here we go...

His name is Marcus and he’s my son:

Marcus Murdoch

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How Google TV Will Change Your Family Viewing

Posted on 23 Nov 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

Early-adopter trial reviews of Google TV enabled hardware have started to emerge: From TechCrunch’s scathing review of Sony’s hilarious RC to Rick Klau’s more thoughtful piece. There can be little doubt that integrating the web with TV devices means change for consumers and manufacturers as they both get to grips with the full potential of the technology.

Disclaimer: I’m currently working on a different IPTV offering, but it’s definitely making me think hard about how consumers can best be served by the little box next to their TV.

So, let’s look at some patterns of behaviour enabled by Google TV...

Surfing As A Group Activity

Sitting the family in front of the TV to catch up on the latest lolcats, augment storytelling, plan activities or solve family arguments brings a level of interactivity that TV alone cannot provide but also the bigger screen means and end to crowding around a laptop.

There is still one similarity to huddling around a laptop that hasn’t been addressed - one person has control. If the person with the remote (it’s probably the Dad) doesn’t keep his audience entertained or switches pages too quickly, he will lose their attention and it will be his fault, not the fault of a corporate broadcaster.

Contrast the scenario above to that which happens in many households (including mine): adults watching the TV simultaneously using a laptop/iPad/iPhone to access the web and switch the focus of their attention during the boring bits of broadcast content.

The Remote Control Must Evolve

The New York Times has bemoaned the increased complexity of using the full feature-set of Google TV. That is understandable and it comes down to the TV manufacturers’ blinkered thinking with regard to how a remote control should look and act. Sony’s Playstation controller with a keyboard deserves to be called an usability nightmare and attaching a USB keyboard is a step backwards.

iPhone Virtual Keyboard

Instead, allowing control over TCP/IP (as well as infra-red) and leveraging set-top-box APIs will mean that consumers can use their smartphone and iPod/iPad as a remote. Control from outside the home - such as recording a favourite program whilst stuck in traffic - can also be made possible with open APIs like Google TV.

Virtual keyboards available on touchscreen devices, like the iPod, would alleviate a lot of the usability problems highlighted by the NYT and make textual search a much more natural part of TV viewing.

Apple is obviously aware of the potential of the smart remote and the iOS 4.2 update to Airplay paves the way for greater symbiosis between the internet in your hand and on the screen.

A further impact of using third-party smart devices as remotes means that there will no longer be just one remote in control. Widespread smartphone ownership could mean that families will no longer fight over the RC, but for control of the display.

Personalisation Pain Point

Web 2.0 properties have been adding value through personalisation (and later social connection) for a long while now, but this will be much harder when displaying content to family groups.

Content customisation becomes about the makeup of the viewing group instead of previous input. Dad might love action movies but it’s not appropriate to recommend Rambo when kindergarteners are being babysat by the TV. Similarly, teenagers will be unimpressed by Mum’s favourite 80s romantic comedies.

There are likely to be many more sets of preferences than family members - one each plus family viewing, kids viewing, sports nuts etc. Fast, easy switching between these customised views should be a priority for user experience.

An issue related to personalisation is that of parental controls - many set-top-boxes use passcodes to block access at certain times or to specific channels.

The Homepage On Your TV

Homepage is probably the wrong word, but Internet TV needs a jumping off point for surfing, just as the EPG makes a good starting point for your evening’s TV viewing.

It is my belief that a widgetised homepage is more appropriate to IPTV than Google’s minimalist web search box. Large, colourful icons that can be recognised from a distance can lead to fullscreen applications, customised for TV use. Here is Google’s TV Spotlight gallery, which provides a similar idea, but uses brands and logos instead of icons, but the navigation is interesting.

So now I come to ask for your help, dear reader, what would you like to see on the homepage of your future TV?

Here are some (fairly obvious) ideas:

  • TV guide - duh!
  • Informational apps - weather, stock prices etc
  • Games - with the success of Angry Birds this is a no-brainer but the user interface will have to be very different
  • Social apps - Twitter, Facebook etc have to be there but, again, user interfaces will need to be great
  • Home messaging - not quite email but a means of leaving notes for other household members
  • Media library - UPnP devices on your network should be able to communicate seamlessly with your TV

What else would your family like from the TV of the future? Let me know in a comment, please!


Creative Commons licensed photos by Will Lion and Djenan.

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Libya Will Not Take The Bit.ly Domain Away

Posted on 07 Oct 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

So there’s been a lot of hype around the announcement that vb.ly has had its domain confiscated by Libya’s domain registrar for breaching T’s & C’s.

Ben Metcalfe broke the news, declaring the .ly ccTLD unsafe and the blogosphere circle-jerk started a panic about a number of completely unrelated domains - including the very popular bit.ly.

Despite the sensationalist attention-grabbing headline, Ben’s piece was well researched and explained that vb.ly is an extension of sex-educator Violet Blue’s online presence. Whilst no pornographic content was hosted on vb.ly itself, it was made expressly for shortening links to sites that were decidedly against Libyan law (prurient as that may be).

I’m just surprised that vb.ly made it for so long without a slapdown.

I suspect that naïveté might have been the reason behind Violet using a .ly extension for her URL shortener but even if that’s not true she has certainly gained a load of publicity from its shutdown.

bit.ly Is Safe

Sure, Libya does not have the safeguards for freedom of speech that we enjoy in western democracies, but who is to say that a HTTP 301 represents freedom of speech? I don’t think that our lawmakers have got that far yet. NIC.ly it has been pretty happy to accept a slew of short domain name registrations and I think it will keep the biggest .ly on-side as it makes for a fantastic advert.

So even though anyone can create a bit.ly link to a page that the Libyan lawmakers might find offensive, that is not the primary purpose of the service and that, coupled with the Libyan ruler, Gadhaffi, gradually making friendly noises towards the west in recent years, means that bit.ly will be around for a while yet.

The Echo Chamber Is Annoying

I salute those who first broke the story, I really do, but do we bloggers have to go overboard?

There has been a lot of discussion covering why URL shorteners are bad, much of it focussed on the damage done to the web if a popular service were to disappear (as tr.im did last year).

Enough with this bandwagon of doom - the overwhelming majority of short links are used on services like twitter, which is about immediacy not perpetuity. Let’s have some common sense and original writing.

If you’ve made it this far through my rant, here is your reward:

This remains the best post on URL shortening I’ve ever read:

http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/put-an-end-to-uri-shortening/

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The Real Reasons Behind Google Buying MetaWeb

Posted on 29 Jul 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

So Google bought MetaWeb a couple of weeks ago. That’s old news in the fast-moving world of tech company acquisitions, but very few commentators have really understood what that means for the future of the web so I wanted to write this post to further the discussion.

What Is FreeBase?

Freebase is MetaWeb’s flagship product and is the central reason for Google’s purchase.

It is often touted as a database of things AKA an entity database and grew out of a project to add semantic data to Wikipedia articles. The result is a beautifully curated database of companies, people and events.

Freebase does provide web pages for its topics, but the real strength of the database is that it provides an RDF representation for each of its topics. This is hugely important for people building linked-data where subjects and objects are links to RDF documents.

FreeBase Has Authority

There’s much more to Freebase than just things - a big part of its database is concepts. Basic concepts like North, Aluminium, House, Kitten etc are also present. These RDF documents are the very foundations of the semantic web - an enormous number of third parties use them to describe their own entities.

So if I want to create some linked data stating that my shoes are white, I would link to Freebase’s representation of white, rather than creating my own.

Similarly, if I wanted to find a set of people who have white shoes, I would start at Freebase’s white node and traverse the link graph searching for white shoes and their owners.

All this means that FreeBase is the Wikipedia of the semantic web:

  • It has lots of inbound links
  • It does not link out
  • It has age and human curated data
  • It has authority!

What Does Freebase Mean For Google?

Google just bought a big chunk of the semantic web (relatively cheaply) with only one real competitor - DBpedia. OWL’s sameas method of mapping entity equality pretty much takes care of any competition from DBpedia (from an indexing and linking point-of-view rather than a commercial perspective).

Freebase gives Google an instant foothold into the web of linked data and you better believe Google knows a lot about links!

As more and more web documents get enhanced with semantic markup, Google will be indexing and ranking that data. It is a good bet that the search engine is going to enhance its results using that data. I would put money on a new onebox appearing for select queries and displaying factual data much like Wolfram|Alpha.

I’m also hoping that Google will provide some new APIs that provide very fast graph traversal for all this data.

What Does It Mean For Web Publishers?

The semantic web is heating up and with all this investment from some big players I think we’ll see consumer applications emerge soon. When that happens, the linked data graph will become another SEO battleground.

Web site owners should prepare for that future by publishing linked data about their company, products and services right now (I’ve been advocating semantic search optimisation for a while now).

Build authority for your data by:

  • Capitalising on your current domain authority
  • Publishing accurate and timely data
  • Build links to yourv entities

Some SEOs complain about Google’s love for Wikipedia but unless they start paying attention to the linked data web it will happen again.

Shout out to Chris Lewis - at least one SEO gets it.


More From Us On The Semantic Web


Creative Commons licensed photo by Eric M Martin.

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More On Twitter Annotations

Posted on 26 Jun 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

Damon Cortesi (@dacort of Rowfeeder.com and Untitled Startup) was tweeting about the Twitter Annotations Hackfest (I was very jealous that I couldn’t participate):

Trying to come up with cool ideas for Twitter annotations - what do you wish a tweet could do?less than a minute ago via Echofon

After my last blog post on Twitter annotations was very well received, I’ve been thinking about how they might be used in practical applications.

Twitter Attachments

One of the immediate parallels to explore is attachments to emails. Multimedia, like MP3 files, video and pictures are obvious and I’m sure that many, many developers are exploring those avenues. Other forms of email attachment offer some less crowded domains to play around in.

Sharing Microsoft Word or Powerpoint documents is pretty redundant over twitter: lots of tweets link to documents (in HTML) so uploading a document to share it has been done to death. Sharing privately via a public-private key exchange would be very useful though and has similarities with attaching your PGP public key to emails (hat-tip to Ed Borasky for the original idea).

Another common use of email attachments is to exchange contact details and it’s a common pattern in twitter backgrounds (like mine). This thinking lead me to tweet an idea:

@dacort I want to send a vCard (or hCard) with a tweet and easily add it to my email & phone contacts.less than a minute ago via Echofon

Rich twitter clients for smart phones could make great use of this, but for desktop or web-based clients we’d need a standard API for contact management.

Commenting Via Twitter

Another interesting application for Twitter annotations would be to allow users to attach a comment to any URI. Just like blog comments, but remember that in the time of the semantic web anything can be identified by a URI.

Many systems like Disqus and Intense Debate already pick out URL mentions from the Twitter public stream but they are treated much like trackbacks rather than adding to the conversation. Twitter clients (and/or blog plugins) could use metadata with technologies like PubSubHubbub or Salmon to tightly integrate with the conversation back into the blog post and twitterers could enhance their comments with tags, star ratings and more.

Just having one hundred and forty characters would severely restrict blog comments though - the average length of non-spam comments on this blog (HTML stripped) is 281 characters. Many are much longer. Mobile friendly blogs and tumblogs are likely to benefit more from Twitter comment integration.

How about the ability to pull up a stream of tweets about a product you’re thinking of buying, identified by its barcode? Or a restaurant you are stood outside? Hotels, movies, travel destinations and more could really benefit from the realtime semantic web.

There are many sites that present this kind of information already (Yelp, TripAdvisor etc) but they don’t offer the realtime element of twitter - nor the social features.

Here is a great presentation by Joshua Shinavier on the power of semantic twitter annotations.

Searching Twitter Annotations

A hugely important step in unleashing the full potential of twitter annotations will be the need for powerful and comprehensive search.

Remember how annotations are specified by namespace, key and value? They need to be searchable on those foields too but in a sensible manner.

Search must be available on namespace alone or namespace, key and value. I cannot think of any practical application of searching on namespace and key (no value), if you can please leave a comment!

Examples of searching on namespace alone are searching for all tweets annotated with RDF, or all tweets with video.

Whilst search against namespace, key and value could return all tweets with reviews of the Twilight Movie or tweets where people checked into a particular restaurant.

There has been no mention from Twitter as to how annotations will be handled in their Search API, but I am confident that it will be available soon after the full launch of annotations. If twitter don’t provide it themselves, rest assured that someone else will step up.

Annotations Are For Humans

One of the really heartening aspects to emerge from the Annotations Hackfest and the developer documentation is that annotations are being used to enhance the user experience - not simply feed hungry bots.

Twitter have recommended that common attributes for annotations might include a title, URL and image. That means they want users to interact with the meta-data and that’s a good thing!

One of the Hackfest projects even put together a "Rich Tweet Format" including Twitter Style Sheets - CSS for tweets. This might be an awful thing - how long before your twitter stream is as ugly as a teenager’s MySpace page? - but it shows how developers are working to create and share standards that bring more functionality to the user.

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I Will Not Be Deleting My Facebook Account

Posted on 25 May 2010 by Andy - Filed under  

Facebook have recently got a lot of flak for changes to their default privacy settings, terms of service and strategic partnerships. People (and applications) are moving away from the social networking platform and the list of reasons to do so is quite compelling:

I signed up for a developer account, read the Terms Of Service and played around with the API. I’ve also experimented with advertising on Facebook and after a while it becomes obvious that Facebook’s business model is to rent your data out to those willing to invest time (in developing free applications) or simple cash.

However, I will continue with Facebook and here’s why - my Facebook friends.

Friends: Not Fans, Not Followers, Not Community

The vast majority of my Facebook friends are people that I have met in real life, that I have worked with, been to school with or had a beer with and I want to interact with the way non-geeks do.

The geek in me prefers to share photos via Flickr; cool sites via delicious; status updates on twitter; longer messages via email; music via Last.fm and use a host of other specialised services that blow Facebook applications out of the water.

I’m no big fan of Facebook but my friends are on there and that is why I’ll stay.

Facebook is the lowest common denominator of online sharing and that suits a lot of people - people who struggle to keep their email contacts up to date, or don’t understand upload quotas, or cannot install browser plugins. For those people Facebook just works - we developers must remember that.

I Will Be Keeping An Eye On My Privacy

Whilst all of the information in my Facebook profile is available on other websites, I will keep an active eye on my privacy settings and recommending that everyone disable instant personalisation (howto guide here).

I also block a lot of Facebook applications - I just don’t trust them to follow the terms of service even after Facebook has weakened its data-retention rules. I recommend that others do the same, but I also recognise that many are willing to trade privacy for Bejewelled Blitz, Farmville or Mafia Wars.

Facebook Will Die One Day

Just not today.

Communities are fickle, and Facebook is a behemoth with a lot of traction in the lives of ordiniary people, just like Yahoo was and AOL before it. What is needed to make people move is an alternative that is very obviously better in the eyes of the average user (not just the techies currently pushing towards an open, decentralised replacement).

Remember when Google replaced Alta Vista as the most popular search engine? Heh, maybe not; that was a long time ago in internet-years, but I do. All the geeks shouted about how a new search engine’s results weren’t influenced by advertising, how you couldn’t buy placement, the purity of the algorithm, etc.

When Joe Schmoe visited google.com for the first time, he saw a text box and two buttons - and that was better than the busy portals offered by its rivals. Then he tried it out, and the results were good - better than competing search engines - and so Joe had a new favourite search engine. The algorithm didn’t matter; the revenue model didn’t matter; the user experience did matter.

So, developers should not just make an open Facebook, they must make a better social networking site. One that is obviously much better from the first glance and stays better the more you use it.

Facebook are reacting to user concerns too, but it remains to be seen whether this is just PR, or if there will be a root-and-branch change in the company’s practices. I suspect not, they make money by offering access to your info to advertisers and developers so a new revenue model would be needed.

Are You Deleting Your Facebook Account?

Go you! You’ll be part of a mass movement if you quit on the 31st May 2010. The instructions are here.

See this screenshot for what to expect (it’s quite sneaky).

Leave a comment and tell me which (if any) other social networks you’ll be using in future, or if you will stay on Facebook, tell me why.


Creative Commons licensed photo by Franco Bouly.

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