Facebook is a combination of web 2.0 companies

Facebook is a combination of Web 2.0 companies. That’s one way to look at it. The flip side – and more accurate – is to say that there are many Web 2.0 companies that are taking a piece or feature of Facebook and making an entire service out of it. Not the most original strategy, but it does seem to work (at least for some).

Obviously the core pieces of Facebook have been companies already and are very common features around the web. Features such as:

  • Facebook Mail: this feature is exactly like regular mail applications and the FB version of mail is becoming more like traditional email every day. You can send mail to anyone (even if they’re not on FB) and soon be able to receive mail there too.
  • Photos: Facebook has the largest photo service on the web and deservedly so as they took the traditional album upload sites like Snapfish/oPhoto and made them social.
  • Events: They made a much better and easier to use Evite service.

These features have been around for a while, so it’s nothing new that they’ve also been standalone companies. The new services are the interesting ones. What i’m thinking of in particular is:

  • Facebook Share: This is a feature that let’s people post items they see around the web on to their facebook profile. New services such as Tumblr let you repost things very easily too. Don’t call it a blog b/c it’s much more lightweight but it is really more or a repost feature with comments – like the Share.
  • Facebook Status: What are you doing right now? This feature has been around on FB for a long time and now the company Twitter has taken that made it more mainstream, with an API and with other features. In fact, i’ve already blogged about how the two are the same.
  • News Feed: The Facebook News Feed is essentially an RSS reader of your friend’s activity. This concept is not lost on everyone else and a few companies are focusing directly on that. Specifically Plaxo & FriendFeed. They allow you to enter in sites that capture your activity and then they repost it to your friends.

Whether these services can survive as standalone applications, i’m not sure. I’m somewhat doubtful that there is a business there, but if you can get an audience doing these things, you should be able to monetize it.

Obviously, Facebook is not going to build a feature better than a standalone service can (although they often do), but they are able to integrate it into everything they offer. Items like Events work well on Facebook because they are easily shared and posted around FB. This “threading” is crucial for their success. Ultimately Facebook won’t win in trying to be everything to everybody, but they at least have to try to be most of the core services all in one place – and in this respect FB does a great job.

MySpace vs. FB & the Top Social Network Sites

As with most people, i’m obsessed with Facebook these days.  But is it the best?

From a numbers perspective, MySpace is still the big dog. I read an article yesterday from danah about how Facebook is attracting more affluent, middle-class users whereas MySpace indexes higher for less privileged users.  It’s a good read (article is here)

I also read today that Friendster is still hanging around.  The top social networks in the world are:

  1. MySpace
  2. Facebook
  3. Hi5
  4. Friendster
  5. Bebo

Hi5 is a huge social network in Europe.  I’ve heard from my Romanian friends that this is the go-to place for them.  From what i can tell, it’s a pretty standard site.   Bebo is a UK site that focuses on music, similar to how MySpace does. I think they’re a little more sophisticated in terms of functionality but they definitely haven’t hit it out of the park the way facebook has.

Friendster is a strange one though. It’s functionality is nothing special but it has been around for a long time and has lots of users.  The problem is that it doesn’t have anything unique or special about it and there’s no reason to go back every day.  It is less sketchy than MySpace but less cool than facebook.  It rides somewhere in the middle.  Social networking is such a large phenomenon that there is probably room for a player like this.

What do you think?  What has been your experience with these sites?

Facebook Will Take Over The Web

I’ve been a long-time facebook user. Dartmouth was one of the first 10 schools on the service in 2000-2001 and you could tell even back then that it was a special service. I’ve always thought it was the best social network – even as MySpace and others came around.

Facebook is a better services than other social networks simply because it has better features. Sure they have the same as a lot of sites, but they’re engineered better and they resonate with users MUCH more. Facebook features provide feedback, they portray status and most importantly, they’re social. Two of my favorite features on the facebook service are:

  • picture-4.pngPhotos. Supposedly this was the feature that spurned The Platform (see below). This feature is very similar to other services like Yahoo Photos, Photobucket, etc. except with one exception – it’s social. You can tag people in your photos and when you do it – that photo shows up in that user’s profile. In the past, if a friend of yours had a photo of you, this was never identified and you would never know.  Or if you see a person in a picture with your friend, you can see who that person is and click through to their profile. Facebook made photo viewing easy and made it social feature instead of just a way to enhance your profile. This caused the facebook photo sharing to be the most popular photo network on the web (or at least a close #2). Check out this article for details
  • News Feed. RSS is a simple concept. It is publish/subscribe. You subscribe to get information from certain sources and updates to those sources are published to you. RSS readers are doing this for the web such as Netvibes, iGoogle, MyYahoo, and the Google Reader (which is what i use). Just as your email inbox is a place for receiving mail messages, RSS readers are a place to receive messages from the web that you’ve signed up for whether it is a blog or a website. Facebook has an activity RSS reader called “News Feed” which displays any activity of a friend of yours on your home page. Most people don’t realize it’s RSS, but that’s essentially what it is and instead of delivering web messages, it delivers your friends’ activity. That is social and this feature alone is what makes facebook better than any other social network. It is great at telling you what your friends and network is doing and that is always relevant.  I also wrote about this a few weeks ago here.

Last week facebook came out with a new feature called F8 and also known as The Platform. This is a huge deal and it will change the web for millions of users. This feature allows any company to develop an application to live inside Facebook and makes it easy for any facebook user to install, share and use. With this feature, facebook is now a platform of users and friends available for any application or company to access. I repeat, this is huge. It has always been my thought that going forward social networking is a foundational attribute of the web. Any activity you do online – shopping, reading, watching videos – is enhanced if you can see what your friends are doing (or have done) and can easily share it with them. For any traditional site (BestBuy.com, Google Maps, Fandango, etc.), it could be much better if it was built into facebook and showed you what your friends had purchased, or had done, or what their opinion is. I already love using the flickr, netflix, delicious, and other facebook applications that have been created in the first week and i’m positive the quality will only get better.

To summarize – Facebook is a great site and similar to how Google went from building a great search product to building just great products (gmail, docs, calendar, maps, etc.), facebook is now on the path to go from a great social network to being an integral aspect of the internet. Also similar to Google, they are winning not just because of their vision but also because they are better at the subtle differences in their features and the overall simplicity of their site which makes the experience usable and enjoyable. Little things like auto-complete textboxes, slick javascript, and empty whitespace is why the site is so usable. Facebook is primetime now and it’s only the beginning.

Twitter: Facebook's News Feed for People over 25

picture-6.pngThe technorati are going insane about the website Twitter these days. It’s all people can talk about. It’s driving me nuts! One thing that i keep asking myself is, isn’t Twitter is just the same as Facebook’s status indicator and news feed? If you don’t know about this feature in Facebook, here’s what it is…

When you log on to Facebook, there’s a little window where you can write what you’re doing. The home page for each user is something called a “news feed” which displays what all your friends are doing. This could be their status that they’ve typed in, a change in their profile, a new message, etc.


Kids on facebook have been using this feature A TON, everyday, all the time. Twitter does the exact same thing – except that it is ONLY the status description as you can’t do anything else on the site. Facebook is mostly used by people under 25 and it is used frequently. So basically Twitter took one (of the hundreds) of features of facebook and made a site around it for people over the age of 25. Not a bad idea, but doesn’t seem worthy of all the hubbub.

What do you think?

Technology Incantation for Muggles

My friend danah boyd gave a talk at the Etech conference last month (link is here). I just got around to reading the speech which i thought was fantastic. She begins it….

Isn’t there something magical about how fast the Internet went from a defense project to a key part of social infrastructure? Isn’t there something magical about how grandparents are blogging and activists are remixing popular TV shows to make social commentary? It is my belief that if we stare solely at the technology, we lose track of the true magic that exists around us.

What she does in the speech is break down how startups, corporations and almost anyone thinks

if you want to think about people, you need to understand how technological and corporate decisions interface with people’s lives and practices…

danah breaks down America’s society into stages and then describes the top 5 priorities of each stage, which are:

Life Stage #1 Life Stage #2 Life Stage #3 Life Stage #4
* Friends * Sex * Labor * Family
* Attention * Friends * Family * Health
* Play/Leisure * Money * Money * Religion
* Sex * Play/Leisure * Power * Hobbies
* Consumption * Labor * Property * Friends

As someone who is moving from stage 2 to stage 3 (damn that’s scary) i see this switch happening. Friends are harder to get access to as work and relationships/marriage take a more important role in everyone’s life.

I like how she can switch from looking at behavior patterns to how corporations and startups behave and deliver products:

Startups typically are naive about people’s practices but utterly passionate about technology. If they’re lucky, their technology will reach the hands of a population for whom it will make complete sense. This population will morph their product to meet their needs. And if the startup is not stupid, it will support this morphing, learn from it, and seek to make more and more happy users. Companies typically try to model out demographics and design for the market that they think is most monetizable. They go straight for mass adoption based on need, not love. Even more so than startups, they tend to blow through their early adopters so that they can get to the cash-cow as fast as possible. Warning: once you destroy the trust of your early adopters, you’re on the greed path.

All in all, it’s a great speech and worth checking out if you’re at all interested in technology (even if you’re not technical).

Le Web 3: Day 1

After visiting Romania, i attended the Le Web 3 conference in Paris. While i won’t get into what went on the second day (kinda lame), i wanted to post my notes on the first day of speakers. Here goes:

10-10:30: Real World and why it matters: Hans Rosling
This was a fantastic presentation of describing why we need to change our perspective from being Us vs. Them when describing the global social/economic nations to being a low-middle-high income view as almost all countries have exactly the same birth rate and life expectancy. Hans is a great speaker and his company gapminder.com is worth checking out. I wish i took more notes on this one. He did have a great visual view of how the countries of the world have progressed so that almost all of them today are 2 children homes with a life expectancy of 70 years. That’s right almost every country is there. There are no more large family, short life expectancy countries – the world will stabalize at 9 billion people.

11-11:40: Giants Outlook on Web 2.0 (Yahoo, Orange, Nokia, Windows Live)
While the first was amazing, this was quite the opposite. It was too generic of a presentation. Questions were posed like “does size matter?” and they all said, “well ‘yes’ and ‘no'” and expain why size might be good and the negatives of being big which the generalities were just useless. This was more a pitch of why these companies are awesome and less about what they’re working on. They all said that user-generated content is the key to their success. The questions were all soft-balls, like “do communities matter?” to which they all responded an obvious “yes” – the Nokia presenter was the worst. He would say blanket statements like “communities aren’t about technologies,” to which the moderater would ask, “what are they about?” and he would answer blankly, “they’re about people.” Worthless. I saw much more innovation and better presentations as the Startup place.

2-2:20: State of the Blogosphere (David Sifry, CEO of Technorati)
Some stats he showed (which is pretty much all he did):
– The blogosphere doubles in size every 150-200 days
– 60 million blogs, 7 million update once a week or more
– I was surprised to see that while english is the largest in the blogosphere, it’s not over 50% (i’m a dumb american). The US is at 39% and i was surprised to see japanese blogs at 33% (france was at 2%)

2:40-3: Future of Business (Reid Hoffman – LinkedIn)
This was a short but interesting talk. He believes all people will eventually have a public facing web page. He comments that MySpace won the wars over Geocities and others b/c your home page is a social page and customizable. LinkedIn will do the same. He sees the technology of resumes as migrating from a list of assertions of where you’ve been and what you’ve done to being much more accurate and informative. Current resumes are “very 1.0, sometimes lack information, and they lack metadata.” They should be demonstration of expertise which they currently aren’t. LinkedIn is trying to become the next version of that resume. He also sees Business 2.0 right around the corner and what are the new set of business applications. So many professionals are online, there will be increased collaboration

3:20-3:30: Jamendo startup preso
Largest aggregator of indie music in Europe. Users can stream the music from the Jamendo site or download the entire album using bittorrent. Our service (Qloud) links into AmieStreet and i’d like to get Jamendo content in there too. Hopefully we can make that happen.

5:20-5:30: Viral Growth (Netvibes CEO)
This was one of my favorite talks. He spoke of when he first started with 4 guys and they had no idea what to do. Lukily they had Wiki and API’s which turned out to be a critical piece of their growth. They allowed others to translate the widgets and make useful plugins that the users wanted.

Continue reading “Le Web 3: Day 1”

What I Would do to Fix AOL

I saw the annoucement last week (and news stories) of the new AOL CEO, Randy Falco, and got to wondering, if I’m in charge of running AOL which is now in the business of monetizing traffic to AOL.com and other pages, how would i do it? A few thoughts came to mind….

First, i would buy the best, more user-friendly and one of hte most popular social networks around – Facebook. With facebook, you not only get a great social network, but you also get one of the best photo-sharing applications on the internet. Then i would merge it with AIM, change all AIM-pages to be facebook pages, and place the mini-feed on every users home AOL.com page. That would drive traffic. Granted, it would take a long time to get everything on the same platform (calendar, aim, mail, etc.) but facebook’s interface and features are much, much better than AOL’s. Everyone’s speculating about Yahoo buying facebook, why not AOL? AOL has just as much cash and just enough desire to monetize their traffic. It’s almost as if everyone assumes AOL is dying and isn’t going to invest in their future.

Buy Meebo
AIM is one of the most precious assets AOL has and it is being threatened by Meebo. I would buy it immediately and make all meebo-me widgets become AIM widgets and place them all over the web and inside the recently purchased AOL-facebook pages.

Streaming Music Locker

Subscription streaming. AOL should abandon the WMA format and go for only streaming. In an iPod world, the only way to play is to make your server compatible with iTunes and that means abandoning DRM and/or simply abandoning any local download. A service like last.fm + mp3tunes would go a long way.

Go all-flash as DRM instead of Windows Media so mac users can play. Have it all hosted so you can access anywhere and watch anywhere.

Build, Buy or do whatever it takes to do a SERIOUS upgrade to your mail application. Mail is the largest driver of ad inventory and if you’re service is completely ad-based, this should be your #1 priority. It’s been over 2 years since Gmail launched, you would think someone at AOL would have noticed how to please mail users. Where is unlimited storage, where are ajax-features to reduce latency, where? AOL mail is by far the worst webmail application on the internet. It needs to be fixed.

AOL bought 3 voice companies between 2000 and 2003: eVoice, Quack, and another one from Canada (i’m forgetting the name). AOL made serious investment in voicemail, voice recognition and other voice services. From what i can tell, all that has been completely abandoned. I would restart this effort and do more click-to-talk services, similar to Google’s. However, all of AOL’s services are tied into mail and AIM making them more attractive. For instance, it would be easy to do click-to-talk and then save to mp3 which would be put into your music streaming locker.

These are just a few of the things i’d do. What do you all think? I think Randy’s in for a tough job and i’m not bullish on AOL’s chances. I think the most successful internet companies are run by those who understand the technology and can see the trends coming. Google embraces technology and let’s it unlock new opportunities and i don’t see somewhat who’s entire background is in TV and TV ad-sales pushing AOL into new models and opportunities. That’s just my initial reaction. Then again, Terry Semel’s done a good job at Yahoo, so who knows.

Second Life's Got Homeless Too

slhomelesskid.jpgUnless you’ve been living under a stone you’ve heard of Second Life – the virtual world where real people in real places can make virtual people and virtual places. Real people and companies have been flocking to it over the past few months. Now i read that there’s the first homeless guy in there. However, this is not some guy in Second Life who’s out to just get in your way while you’re walking down the street asking for a quarter. No, this guy is the result of a non-profit in Spain who are trying to reach the young and digital.

I think it’s great when companies get creative and go to where the people are. Second Life is full of young, affluent and social conscious people. That’s where NGO’s should be.

Qloud's Music Search and iTunes Plugin Launches

We launched Qloud yesterday and it’s been a crazy ride.  The response to the idea and the site has been positive.   We were first reported (here) about by a popular technology blog called GigaOm which had a good review by their journalist Liz Gannes.  Then we were reviewed by a very popular social networking site called Mashable (here) which got into all the features of our site and nailed what our idea is. One quote from them:

It’s a neat service that looks incredibly slick, although the interface takes a lot of getting used to – I constantly forget to clear my old search before conducting a new one. That said, I’m verging on the side of liking Qloud: it’s still rough, but the intention is there.

Oh yeah!  These two reviews caused us to be featured on Digg (here) which drove a ton of users to our site last night causing our servers to go down twice.  All the users commenting and contacting us caused me to stay up pretty late.  Which is a great problem to have.

Today was another story.  Due to the interest yesterday, we were then listed on the del.icio.us site’s Hot List.  And the popular blog LifeHacker featured us as the Download of the Day.  These drove another drove of users from all around the world to Qloud.

On our Qloud blog we have a MeeboMe widget which allows us to talk to our users in real time and while all are encouraging, we’re definitely having some technical difficulties with the plugin.  They should be fixed soon, but it’s great to get real feedback from real users.

If you haven’t tried it, please  and register (sorry – only Windows for now) and let me know what you think.  Any feedback is greatly appreciated.