Archive for May, 2008


What Friendfeed’s “MicroMeme” Means For You, Brands, and The Web

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Bret Taylor, one of the Friendfeed founders
Bret Taylor, one of Friendfeed’s four founders

After experimenting with Friendfeed (add me) on and off since March, and more heavily the last few weeks, I decided it was time to meet Founder Bret Taylor at Friendfeed’s airy headquarters in Mountain View for a formal analyst briefing. I don’t often blog about the companies that brief me, unless I see something of particular interest.


Trends: As more social content is created, value is hard to find

Many create their own content…
Forrester’s Social Technographics indicate how people are using social technologies. You’ll quickly note that toggling the age ranges in nearly every geography that adoption of these tools is much higher among youth, although adults are also using these tools. I’ve not seen any indicators that content created on the web by consumers will decrease, sorting through this firehose will continue to be a challenge as we adopt more and more services like blogs, facebook, myspace, delicious, twitter, and whatever comes next.

…Yet finding our friends signal is challenging
The challenge is that much of the content that is created is noise to many, but signal to very few. You may not care what Michelle eats for dinner, but her immediate sisters absolutely do. With this micro conversations happening on many websites, we need to organize this content not around websites, tools or technologies, but instead …sorted by people.


Information needs to be sorted around people, not content
Unlike search tools that sort by content, the social web needs to be sorted by people, and what’s important to them. Each person has a unique network of friends, and our trust research (see graph) indicates that information shared among peers is highest.


[MicroMeme: A conversation with your immediate network about what they think is the most important]

It’s not a MacroMeme: A conversation about the things your industry thinks is important, like Techmeme, Digg, or NYTs homepage.

Friendfeed is a:
A social network
A social feedreader
A way to sort information by people, not content
Similar to Facebook’s Newspage (Dave McClure calls this an open source Newspage)
The underpinnings of yet another social graph

Friendfeed is not:
A Facebook/Twitter killer
A replacement
Mainstream
Closed
The end all


How Friendfeed works?
After signing up, you can can subscribe (via RSS) to your flickr, twitter, blog URL, a total of 35 services (with more coming, I’m sure). Everytime you created content on any of those publishing sites, it will now appear in your river. Next, you can connect with friends (this is a social network) to see their content.

After the streams of your content and your friends is centralized in one place, you can favorite items, or leave comments on their items and begin discussions. This has created some angst among users who feel the conversation is splintered, yet again. There are other features such as filters or bookmarking tools, Expect friendfeed to collect discussions from these many tools into one place

Lastly, the goal of Friendfeed (although the features aren’t fully there yet) are to find out what’s important within your network, by elevating the most talking about contents. A meme is an important theme or idea that is being discussed, and the goal of Freindfeed is to create unique meme’s for every user, each will be different.

Inside Friendfeed, a former car mechanics garage that was converted in web boom
An inside view of the airy Friendfeed HQ


Market Forces:

Competitive Forces
I asked Bret who the thought the biggest competition was, he responded “Email” as it was the most common method that people share information. Brew expressed he feels his service is complimentary to others, and users who feel they’ve moved away from other services were indications that they weren’t as attached as before. I noticed that because content can be added via RSS, the barriers to entry are lower than Facebook, as you don’t have to sign up through every service.

Weaknesses and Challenges
This tools is in the very early stages, it’s not been truly stress tested during an election, Superbowl, or national emergency. The spartan UI, while simple and spartan leave more advanced users with more to desire (fortunately there’s an API). It’s unlikely everyone will use this tool, only a subset of advanced social users. And perhaps most importantly, while there’s certainly a very smart team assembled, aggregating RSS feeds is low on the science isn’t new, there’s plenty of room for other competitors to enter this space, or for existing social networks with millions of users to offer similar features.

Eventual Impacts to Brands
My main role as an analyst is to help interactive marketers (the main readers of this blog) and Friendfeed right now is mainly a personal user tool. However, if you’re attempting to evangelize your company using social tools, you can create a user name around your brand and start to aggregate your brands social assets in one location. Then, you can have conversations with those that have an affinity with your company, learning and sharing with them.

Do not think of this tool as a one-way publishing systems, it’s an interactive conversation of give and take. In the long run, content created about your brand (employees or customers) will aggregate into one location, this will be particularly effective for product lines, events, and launches.

Perhaps one major challenge to brands is that Friendfeed users will share information directly with each other, reducing any unwanted noise or clutter from brands, such as invasive marketing, or advertising. To reach Friendfeed users, brands will need to: 1) create relevant content and 2) be part of the conversation. I do recall similar conversations in 2005 with the popularity of feedreaders.


What I learned about Friendfeed
Founded in Oct, 2007, This small team or 8 employees are ex-Googlers that built the highly scalable and successful Gmail and Google Maps products. They are seasoned, trained, and well, rich. They raised $5million from benchmark and two of the Friendfeed employees, some were employees at Google before it hit 1000 employees. I asked them why they left Google, and their entrepreneurial spirit was fueling them forward. Unlike Google, they are extremely open, transparent, both in company communications, as well as offering an API for developers. They believe a free service should be open towards it’s users.

What’s Next for Friendfeed
They will continue to add new features that aggregate the MicroMeme of your friends, or sometimes the friends of a friend (FoaF) in order to enhance what is important to users. They’re not looking at monetization yet, but mentioned that advertising based on social activities could be in order. More on that as that develops.

Friendfeed HQ
A view from the front: Friendfeed used to be a former auto garage


What you should do:
Friendfeed is an example of the trend the web is headed: content sorted by people, not by topic. It’s currently being used by very early adopters. If you or your company creating a lot of social content, perhaps more than 5 social sites, or your friends are, you should create a Friendfeed account and trial the service. Experiment with the service until you’re comfortable with it before promoting to your network. Perform searches on topics that are interesting to you, try the advanced search features, monitor these topics, your name/brand and engage in conversations.

Update: Part of the criticism of Friendfeed is that the conversations splinter, this has already happened, see what others are saying (and critiquing) about this post.

Sending customers away and firing your own customers

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Yesterday, Paul Greenberg asked on Twitter:

“Can anyone give me names of leading social media/social network analyst besides @jowyang, of course. Big or small firms or soloists okay”.

I’m not sure what he was looking for, or why I wasn’t included in his query (update he responded below in comments), but I quickly responded:

“@pgreenbe try Oliver Young (Forr), @monkchips (redmonk) @gartenberg (Jupiter) @yarmis (AMR Research). Did I just refer to my competitors?yea”.

It should have been @jyarmis I had it wrong

While I’m started, he should also check out eMarketer, Hitwise, Compete, and Gartner, you’ll find plenty of resources from those analyst firms. Need even more resources? I created a list of resources for those seeking analysts.

The natural instinct for most companies is to pull customers as close as they can, so why in the heck would I sent someone away from me? Well first of all, it was clear that he was seeking an alternative voice, so whatever I can do to help him on his quest may lead him back to me.

The thing about people is that if you send them away, when thinking about their best interests, the hope is that they’ll come back with friends, good luck Paul! For another perspective on this same discussion, see what colleague Josh Bernoff thinks about talking about your competitors.

Also, yesterday at the 10th Aniv of the Cluetrain we talked about when some customers are too costly to do deal with, and expelling them (firing your own customers) was a good idea. Apparently, Royal Caribbean cruises banned a vocal customer for life from their ships, I somehow think there are two sides of the stories, but you be the judge.

Tell me a time when you or your client sent customers away, maybe it was to help them, maybe it was to get rid of them.

When would you send away prospects or fire your own customers?

Carmen, John, and Ajay on the future of White Label Social Networks

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In my previous post, I asked a question for the chance to win one of two tickets to the Graphing Social Conference in Virginia. I was getting so many responses (over 20 in 12 hours) that I had to put a cap on the contest. I carefully read each of the comments, and have found three comments that I find insightful, back up their assertion with reasoning, or are just plain interesting. Please congratulate these winners!

Also, for reasons out of my control, I won’t be attending GSP this time, hope you live blog it.

Question: Where you think the future of White Label Social networks is headed over the next 5 years, and why you back up that prediction?


Two top answers (Winners)


Carmen Delessio writes:
The value of a white label social network is tied to the intended audience. A network for a closed affinity group will have more value than social networking features on a generic local business web site or large corporate site.

A closed affinity can be the alumni of a college, fraternity, or corporation. It can be based on a shared experience or common interest. Managing the verification of the group info is a component of closed social networks. I really am an alumnus of Manhattanville College. Verifying that is a component of participating in their alumni network.

White Label social networks can stand alone for these affinity groups *and* coexist and thrive within larger social sites like Facebook. People can belong to more than one club.

In 5 years, there will be consolidation in this area. The remaining players will provide deep services to closed affinity groups and simple services to very small groups. Large corporations will be more interactive and engaged with customers through these tools, but it will be seen as a normal extension of their web sites and not a standalone community. Facebook and future large social sites will provide ties to these networks – small and large.
Corporations that blur the line between products and affinity will be succcessful with social networks.

Jeremiah: Carmen gets it, it’s not about “or” it’s about “and”. There’s plenty of room for white label vendors in the world of Facebook and MySpace. I enjoy her future perspective in making corporate websites relevant again. Good stuff, enjoy the conference!


John Bell writes:
For public social networks, the “white-label” space is due for shakeout and consolidation. All you had to do was browse the “vendor” floor at Community 2.0 a few weeks back and see the clustering of 5-6 different platforms with overlapping feature sets and minor tweaks on un-tried busiess models (charge by the user, charge by implementation, charge by time).

They cannot all succeed. Hopefully the market will favor those with real distinctions and with the best technology. I am pretty technologically savvy but still don’t feel prepared to judge Mzinga next to Jive next to…..

The most immediate an tangible use of white labels is in a space where the label doesn’t really matter: employee intra/extranets. The social network-based model where the staff member is the dominant knowledge “unit” is the natural course of all extranets. Many companies have been spending quite a bit to create their internal social net for knwoledge management, access and communication. The wide range of choices from teh current slew of socnets will drive down the costs of implementation dramatically.

The interesting innovation to come is when employee social networks bridge the divide between walled-garden access and content to the public face of employees. I want to share one thing internally – client materials and insight – and something else externally – though leadership and co-creation. Will there come a time when my staff “profile” at Ogilvy becomes portable to me next job?
Anyhow, I’m just sayin’…..

Jeremiah: John often leaves broad thinking comments on my blog, as he should as he’s one of the senior leaders at Ogivy interactive, so I’d expect no less. I agree with John, we’ll see a shake out in this space in the next few years, especially after traditional IT companies, ERP, CMS companies realize it may be better to buy than build their own. Thanks John, hope you live blog the show.



Honorable Mention

Ajay Mungara writes:
I think the whole concept of social networking is getting morphed into all websites. I see an explosion of corporate and consumer websites touting the social networking bandwagon. Just because a website has the so called social networking capabilities (blogs, wiki, podcast, twitter streams, facebook apps, etc.) does not make it a social networking site. Tools & services are only the means, but not the end. Today most of the tools / services are centered around providing social networking capabilities to your websites, but five years from now the best services will be the ones that can actually harness the power of “social intelligence” for practical business/consumer uses.

Jeremiah: Thanks Ajay, who’s busy over at Intel in the trenches dealing with these very issues. We agree, the tools aren’t as important as the actual relationship changes companies will have with their customers.

Thanks to everyone who participated it was hard to narrow down to these choices. Speaking of games, I was part of Jive’s Jeapardy game, where I scored last place, a mere $200 Jive bucks and Bill Johnston won the game! Jive is a client of Forrester btw.

Update: Sam from Small World Labs (white label social network) says that many of the commenters were negative on white label, and he sees a different future.

The Many Challenges of Corporate Blogging

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We should try to be unbiased when it comes to social media, point out the good and the bad, this is one post in my ‘challenges‘ category, read the others, it’s important.

With there being so many social media zealots out there, It’s important to ground things in reality. When it comes to corporate resources, time, money, and effort to try new activities takes risk.

First, it’s important to note that I do believe that blogs are indeed the right tool, but only for the right objective. Secondly, I’ve gone through this process within corporate, and I know the common mistakes. Lastly, it’s obvious I believe in the power of blogs.

So, before you get into blogging with your corporation or client, do know the challenges, this way, you’ll be able to overcome them with plans, resources, and preparation.

Let’s get into it…

The Many Challenges of Blogs

Most don’t receive a lot of traffic: Truth is, from one day to the next, there aren’t massive increases in eyeballs to the web, also, there are only so many hours in the day. The same applies to blogs, while there are millions out there, only a few rise to the top of their marketplace and really stand out.

May require a lot of time: Take it from me, blogging’s biggest cost isn’t money, it’s time. When this comes to executives, the cost per hour radically increases from a support technician or a line marketing manager. For a special case, read about the challenges of CEO blogs. Blogging is costly, I easily spend 1-2 hours every morning managing this blog.

Being conversational is unnatural: Traditional marketing looks a lot more like carpet bombing than conversations at a coffee shop, and despite good intentions, corp comm dictates the voice and spirit of blogs created by employees.

Often, no ending date: Blogs aren’t marketing campaigns, there is no ending flight. Bad blogs may whimper along for months, great ones will also continue on, at what point does one stop?

As employee bloggers become popular, brands get concerned: This happened to Scoble and others, as bloggers became more popular as individuals rather than being behind the collective wall, they develop a platform to move on. This happened to me as well, and I know it’s happening to others, so why would a brand invest in individuals that aren’t execs?

Legal has hangups: Two way dialog that allows objective and negative content is scary for legal. Furthermore, how do we react to colleagues that may look like they are making promises on behalf of the company?

Our employees don’t represent our brand: I’ve actually been on a call with a client where they indicated the mental capacity of some of their employees (laborious retail jobs right out of college) really weren’t going to make great bloggers, and they were concerned with the activity they had on MySpace and Facebook. The same applies to blogs, some employees may cast the brand in the wrong light

Hard to measure success: Marketers measure campaign success by drops at the end of the funnel: visits and registrations. The problem with blogs is that social software success could take the form of comments, trackbacks, and qualitative intangibles. With management looking for those raw numbers, how does one succeed?

You tell me: Leave a comment below with your blogging challenge, primarily in the context of a corporation

For each of these challenges, I do know how I would respond to them, but it’s really up to you to figure out how you’re going to hurdle over these barriers. Take for example what Dell’s Bob Pearson is doing to deal with the changing world of online communication.

The Truth Why Twitter is Over Capacity

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Why Twitter is Over Capacity

[See handwritten green notes over image to understand why]

Lately, Twitter has been down more than the ground. So many are commenting why Twitter is having so many issues: scalability due to Ruby on Rails, mainstream adoption from press and media, or even just Scoble after two many cappuccinos.

After painstaking analysis of Twitter’s 404 page (above image), I’ve found the reason for the downtime of Twitter, it’s not what you expected: the infrastructure, users, or external factors, it really comes down to poor deployment of internal resources.

Whales can only go one way, gotta get those birds going the same way.

Did you like this? Digg it.

Forrester Underway to Catalog the White Label Social Networking Space

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As an analyst at Forrester focused on Social Computing, I’m creating an online catalog for clients that lists out the many players in the White Label Social Networking space, a market I’ve been covering before I even joined the company.

If you work at one of these 100 White Label Social Networking sites (a social network that any company can rebrand) then you’ll want to be included in this catalog. Later, this catalog will help me determine the vendors that will be involved in the Forrester Wave document, which will segment out vendors by strengths.

If you want to participate in this Vendor Catalog, follow these steps:

1) Email Scott Wright swright at forrester.com (Update: Please send to Sarah Glass sglass at forrester.com)with your request: Subject line should be “VPC”
2) He’ll send you instructions, and you can then fill out the short excel sheet.
3) Return it to us by June 4th

If you know someone who works at one of these companies, please forward this post over to them, thanks. I’ve emailed those that I have on hand, but that’s clearly not the entire list.

Update, May 31: Important note about privacy.
Many vendors have expressed concern about how revenue numbers will be used, as many are private companies. The final report will show “price brands” such as 1-5 million, or 6-10 million, just as examples.

It’s important that we place you into these buckets so buyers will know which vendor matches to their particular need. We will use your specific revenue numbers for internal research purposes only, and not publish or share outside of our company. If you still have questions email me at jowyang at forrester.com

Update June 10th

A few days ago, I announced the call for White Label Social Networking vendors (I cover the social networking space at Forrester, for the Interactive Marketer) to complete a spreadsheet and send back to me. Thank you all for completing it, the following companies will be in the Vendor Catalog (A report for Forrester clients):

I used to have a list of vendors who submitted to the report, instead, you can now access the report directly on the Forrester site, or read my background info on my blog.

Of course, each of those vendors who submitted will receive a copy of the report, which will be published in late June 08 or sooner.

If you didn’t submit in time, you’ll have a chance to apply for the vendor catalog, watch this post, and my blog for details.