Social Networking – Past & future

Social Networking – Past & future

Looking back to 2007 – and it seems so long ago now – social networking was just starting to get a bit of buzz happening.

Some of the social networks that we were talking about in 2007 included Bebo, MySpace, Second Life, and YouTube. Back in those days we were all talking about Second Life, and pondering how it might revolutionise business. Ross Dawson’s Impressions of Ad:tech Sydney 2007 gives a good flavour of some of the buzz at the time.

It is also of interest to note that some of the questions raised back in 2007 included: identity protection, growth of personal branding, how to do SEO & online marketing, how to incorporate social media into marketing plans. Funnily enough we are still searching for definitive answers to most of these even today.

Darren Rowse (aka ProBlogger) has a good summary of some his thoughts and concerns back in 2007 in his archives.

For me 2008 was the year of microblogging with a bunch of new betas, e.g. Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce. By mid-2009 the clear winner in microblogging so far is Twitter, but it has also been interesting to watch the evolution of Friend Feed.

Again, this marked a shift in the way people were using the internet. There was a move away from static web 1.0 mindsets, where the chief consumption mode was passive consumption, into a more active and collaborative co-option of technology to each user’s own purposes.

Social-Network Traffic Surpasses Web-based Email's in UKThis was a seismic shift in how ordinary people used the internet and applications. For me this is borne out by the Hitwise UK email v. social traffic statistics that showed social network traffic surpassing web email for the first time at the end of 2007.

[Source: Hitwise]

This trend arises, not because people suddenly stopped emailing each other in 2008, rather it is simply easier to send messages from within Facebook (or whatever social network they were using) than to open up an email program to send a message.

In any case, this phenomenon signifies a shift from the old utilitarian world of email to that of the integrated social network.  Where the integrated messaging and online presence was enabled without the need for users to purchase expensive unified communications platforms.

Looking forward

It is hard to predict the next big thing in particular (who could have predicted Facebook or Twitter in particular).  Rather it is probably safer to identify some trends that are driving technology innovation.

We are at a stage in the evolution of devices and bandwidth that will enable location based services to come into their own.  Their rise has been predicted many times but never at a time when the iPhone and its various competitors is a commodity product.  With the game changer of the mobile computing device (a.k.a. mobile phone) location based services are finally viable.  I suspect that we are going to see many contenders and it will be hard to guess which ones will win.  New products like FourSquare , Google Latitude are considered contenders in this space.  This trend especially taps into how teenagers use technology to stay in touch and find out where their friends are right now.

The other trend that is accelerating is video on demand.  This is another area that will continue to grow.  Where all the growth in the past few years has been in text based social computing I think we are about to see video based social computing and communication take off.  Again, this has been predicted before but the bandwidth and hardware were insufficient to support it.  Now though we have many devices that are ready to support high definition video over high bandwidth connections in the hands of ordinary people.  The usage trends show how significant this trend is– for example the growth of Hulu and the continued strength of YouTube.  Also international news services like the BBC and Australian Broadcasting service are seeing publication of video content as a public service with their iPlayer and iView services respectively.  Already this trend is impacting on television viewing figures and we can expect that to continue.

Innovation and technology predictions

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”.
Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

It is easy to look at a statement like this and poke fun. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

But as I have said on many occasions – innovation always comes unexpectedly & from the periphery. Very often the innovation is not a completely new technology, rather it is a new way of using or applying existing technology. The iPhone is a good example of this phenomenon – it is still a mobile phone, yet it changes the very playing field for mobile phones & computers in important ways.

But Watson’s quote shares a common feature with many technology predictions. Based upon then current knowledge of existing business models, technology and applications those predictions are often right at the point in time they are made.

For example, how many people in the world really needed a computer at home that looked like this one?

When Thomas Watson made his comment regarding the number of computers in the world, he had no mental map of a world where a computer could fit into your pocket or be used on your lap while watching television.

For Watson the computer he referred to was something like the British Colossus computer or the American Harvard Mark 1 – these were physically huge machines that were designed to assist with decryption of coded messages during World War II. Machines of this kind were not needed in large numbers across the world, and their cost to build, use and maintain was very high. Thus Watson’s statement from1943 was apt for its time. And he was unable to imagine some of the future improvements in technology, like transistors, that enable us to have computers in every home (and soon in every pocket or handbag).

Predicting technology futures is a funny old thing to do. When an innovation is revealed it often seems obvious, except that it was not obvious until you saw it.

The other challenge with predicting technology futures is that people change in their expectations of what is helpful or desirable. If we had explained Facebook or Twitter to an ordinary person back 1997 they would probably have thought it a completely mad idea. And, with the technology available to us in 1997, it would likely have been a bad user experience too.

But in 2009 Facebook seems like a completely reasonable thing for many ordinary people to use on a regular basis.  I keep wondering what the next big thing will be – I’ve got some ideas.  But my suspicion remains, that like Twitter, when I hear of it first it will seem either stupid or irrelevant.  Then, only gradually will it dawn that this new technology is changing the way we think and behave, or that it is shifting our expectations of technology and people in everyday life.

Cupcake Camp Sydney goes animal


Cupcake-Dayw00t! Cupcake Camp Sydney is on!

Date: Friday 28 August 2009

Time: 5.30 pm – 7.30 pm

Venue: CBS Interactive Sydney

We are running this as part of the RSPCA Cupcake Day fundraiser – if you are a cupcake maker you can go to the RSPCA site & sign up to receive a cupcake kit.

Register (opens a Google Docs form)
Sponsors Needed
If you’d like to help out as a sponsor please let us know – we need some prizes for the fabulous cupcakes & their bakers, & a food or drink sponsor would be nice too.

What is a CupcakeCamp?
CupcakeCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and eat cupcakes in an open environment. It is based on similar principles as other unconferences such as BarCamps and you can find some more information here.

In this instance we are also going to try and raise some funds to help out the RSPCA as well as enjoy each other’s company and a cupcake or several.

Pleasantly surprised by Norton 360

Quite a few years ago I uninstalled Norton AntiVirus in complete disgust as it slowed my PC down to the point where it was almost as bad as having an actual virus.

But recently, while chatting to some of guys from Symantec, they assured me that they had seen the error of their ways & that their new product, Norton 360, had a nice light footprint. Perhaps I even snorted in disbelief – but even so, they sent me a copy to test.

I installed Norton 360 on 12 July and have had it running since. I do not even notice it is there unless it pops up to give a warning.  I’ve even been moved to tweet about how much this amazes me (especially given the crappy-ness of the old version a few years ago). At first the warnings popped up a lot, but once the settings were re-tuned all was well.

Strangely enough, it seems that the folks at Norton have actually done what they claim.  It has a light footprint, is easy to use and it runs as well as or slightly better than my previous security product (Nod32).

Behind the scenes is all the detailed tracking information about intrusion attempts and updates that a pro would want.  But all the complexity is nicely abstracted and hidden from the average user. A few other neat features also included in addition to security are:

  • backup
  • identity protection
  • PC scan

From the average user’s perspective these other features of Norton 360 can make managing a PC a much easier job.  The bad news for the family geek is that I can see that the task of setting all of this up will probably still fall upon their shoulders.

I’m still exploring the capabilities of the identity protection & will post about that later. Just about to run my first backup and will let you know if it beats Carbonite (my incumbent provider).

Up until now I’ve been using Nod32 as it had a lighter footprint that most of the other anti-virus products around.  But based on this experience to date Norton 360 is well and truly back on the list, especially for non-geek users.

Women’s rights still evolving slowly

It is very easy for young, well-educated urban women in Australia to think that we have achieved equal rights both here and overseas.  Consequently one often hears comments like ‘I am not a feminist, but of course I believe in equality’ – and the speaker often genuinely  believes women are equal.

But it is within living memory in Australia that women were forced to leave their jobs immediately upon marriage.  It is also within living memory that women were paid substantially less than men for equivalent work.  And, even today, women in Australia have not achieved wage equity.

Presentations from Justice for Women at Work: A discussion of Paid Parental Leave and Pay Equity are available here.

Women’s childcare responsibilities also create inequities in ability to generate income and superannuation; while divorce and family breakups damage women’s prosperity more significantly than that of men.

At least, for the most part, Australian women live in comfort and something close to equality.

Australian women have many choices, mostly based on our access to education and work.

But equality for women in large parts of the world remains a distant dream – some examples include:

[Source: Global Issues]

There is still much work to be done that builds on the foundations laid by the feminists & suffragettes who fought for – and won – the rights and liberties we enjoy here today. Women should still be proud to be called feminists. It is an honourable label and one that I’m proud to wear.

Some will argue that this is all just about human rights.  But the fact remains that women have less access to basic human rights than men.

The informal slogan of the Decade of Women became “Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the means of production.”

— Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 1999), p. 354


Does being nice pay off for women?

Not really – especially for women – according to some research by Guido Heineck that was cited in the Daily Telegraph recently.

None of this is a surprise to me due to a long participation in business and, in particular, male dominated areas such as finance and IT.

Some of the research merely confirmed personal experience, for example “…results suggest that only females’ earnings are positively affected by greater preferences for challenge rather than affiliation.” (Heineck, 2007, p.4) This translates as ‘women who do not value group membership as much as others earn more’.

Nice and overly polite people (read ‘passive’) don’t often get a chance to take on high profile projects. Instead the people who are obviously willing to take on a challenge get them. And, greater rewards are often attached to more risky projects or endeavours. That’s not to say those women who like a challenge are not perfectly nice and polite people.

I’ve noticed that women on my teams over the years haven’t always achieved the kind of roles they’d like. Well-qualified women often do not push themselves forward, while less qualified men are willing to give it a shot. This particular issue is one that I have counseled many younger women about. Putting up your hand for a project or opportunity is often the only way to get them. Rarely are they offered without some kind of track record.  Women with a high need for affiliation can rarely push themselves forward past that need.

Interestingly some female friends were irate at the conclusions drawn in the Telegraph article.  They felt that this kind of discourse had a place in the past.  But I just look at results.  People who achieve tend to have a willingness to prioritise achievement over affiliation. It seems to come down a question of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

The full paper, dating from 2007, is available here (NB: opens a pdf in a new window).

Get lots of followers on Twitter?

Many times every day I receive tweets from people saying ‘get hundreds’ or ‘get thousands’ of followers on Twitter.  And every time I wonder what their frantic getting of followers really gets them?

It also gets me thinking about the nature of social media and social networks.  What are they for?  Even more, who are they for?

Are they just a place to aggregate all the consumers to facilitate better focused corporate marketing? That does seem to be the attitude of the many people who exhort me to ‘click here to get lots of followers’ and the like.

The other thing that happens a lot is people challenging me to show ‘the power of my network’ by asking followers to do something (usually sign up for a conference or something).

I hate this approach to social networks. To me they are community gathering places not centres of commerce.  Sure asking people to take social or charitable action fits in.  But commercial exercises feel very unnatural.

No.-27-Scenes-From-The-Life-Of-Christ-11.-Expulsion-Of-The-Money-Changers-From-The-Temple-1304It feels like it is almost time to throw the ‘money changers’ out of our social networks.  Is commerce the only truly valuable thing we can do with social networks?  How can we fund social networks so that ‘commercialisation’ issues are not a problem?

The power of social networks to do good and to create community is immense – just look at the conference tweeting, social and political activism. Twitter has enabled ordinary people to harness the power of network amplification in previously impossible ways.

The old next big thing

I can recall when both Twitter & Friendfeed were talked about as the next big thing. But that was a long time in the distant past (almost 12 months ago) and an aeon in internet terms.

Thomas Hawk shared an interesting chart showing the growth of these two products over the past 12 months.

friendfeed.com v. twitter.com

It is interesting to ponder why one is taking off and the other is languishing. Friendfeed seems easier to use and allows richer interaction. While Twitter is fairly primitive to interact with and all the funkiness is provided by other applications.

This last seems significant. Twitter just offers a basic web interface and users are free to write their own or use other people’s applications to create a richer experience. Even the #hashtag in Twitter was invented and adopted by the users almost in spite of Twitter. And this has enabled search to become a key Twitter feature – check out the cool search stuff that PeopleBrowsr does with Twitter to get an idea of the possibilities.

And it is this phenomenon that encapsulates the trend for the web. Grass roots co-option of applications and platforms. We’re on the cusp of something big and the platform doesn’t really matter anymore. Twitter, Friendfeed and their fellow travelers are all ephemeral. The new next big thing will come along soon.

What will remain is the grassroots empowerment of users to co-opt the technology and to use it in unexpected ways.