Likes labours lost: You get the Facebook you deserve

Recently, Wired reporter Mat Honan conducted an experiment to see what happens if you Like every Page that appears in your Facebook feed. The result was his Friends’ stories being crowded out by updates from noisy brands. No great surprises there.

But here’s a question. If we’re saying that brand stories blocking updates from your friends is a bad thing, what exactly is the logic of Liking any Facebook brand page?

Even if an interest in something suggests you may appreciate news about it, the idea that you would choose for those to be injected in and around stories of your friends’ lives is pretty insane.

It’s also one of the reasons that Facebook can start to feel so repetitive and numbing. The newsfeed puts the commercial, the mundane, and the largest life events all side by side. And they’re further trivialised by the act of idly thumbing through on a tiny smartphone screen at Thursday lunchtime.

Partly to blame is Facebook’s smart use of language. Equating like with Like isn’t like for like. And the problem continues with another core feature: there are friends.. and then there are Friends.

Many users have long passed the magic ‘Dunbar number’, which states that humans can only maintain around 150 stable relationships at any time. As a result, it’s inevitable that people you care about are going to get lost.

The most honestly named feature in all of Facebook is the Newsfeed. But the rest of the language around it stops us from asking the simple question: How do I tell it only to give me the stories that matter.

So here’s a new approach. Every time you see a story that doesn’t interest you, click the little menu button in the top right corner of that card and Unfollow (not unfriend) that person. Go to your likes page (Facebook.com/(your username)/likes/) and consider who you might want to ditch.

Nobody is making you live with your current Facebook experience and it doesn’t take long to fix. What’s stopping you?

September 8th, 2014


In defence of Google+

If you don’t understand why Google is the 2nd most active social network, you don’t understand what Google+ is. And it’s all your fault.

Since day 1 in June 2011, Google was very clear about the motivation behind its Emerald Sea project: build a better Google.

People like Danny Sullivan have spent their time fundamentally misunderstanding even the clearest explanations:

When I asked Gundotra how many people are using Google+, he deftly told me I was looking at it wrong. “You have to understand what Google+ is,” he said. “It’s really the unification of all of Google’s services, with a common social layer.”

No, we’re not looking at it wrong. Google is just refusing to answer the question for its own reasons — which is probably because Google+ has far less activity as a standalone social network than either Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps even less than Pinterest, for that matter.

Right. That’s one possibility. Or you are just not listening to the poor man. But you wouldn’t be the only one. Comparing numbers of G+ posts to Facebook posts or any other network does not make sense if you consider their goals.

The stream you see when you visit plus.google.com is not Google+. It’s simply where the actions you take across Google services manifest when shared. They may be shared to one person, they may be shared to a circle, they may be shared publicly. It’s the journey, not the destination.

But it’s not without its virtues. For example, anyone who has tried to tackle big topics in 140 char without either linking many tweets together or ending up being glib and superficial will appreciate the extra scope that comments on Google+ posts allow. Or even the basic simplicity of being able to +1 someone’s response (which everyone can see, vs relatively hidden Twitter favourites) and say more than a hollow thumbs up tweet.

Google+ is not a Facebook killer (as some journalists have started to twig). Google+ is Search, Youtube, Gmail, Maps, Drive, Android, Hangouts and more. Google+ starts as the layer that runs through all its products but the real goal is its extension through the web. This is where the Google Authorship markup strategy has been so ingenious. Never has anyone had such a compelling reason to integrate a new way to share into your site.

It’s this kind of thinking that is gradually helping Google+ become the widely distributed fabric that it intends. Google doesn’t need to beat social networks in quantity of shares or visits to the stream — or indeed almost all the other areas that businesses like Facebook and co. care about — to get value from this initiative.

Why is this important? For most people, it’s not and although it’s a shame I can’t share all my photos with my university friends anymore like I could on Facebook, I can live with that.

But if you work in marketing, PR, digital, social, search — whatever you want to call our converging industry today — and you’re patting yourself on the back as you joke about this ‘ghost town’, it might be time to wake up and smell the +1s. It’s part of our job to look past the surface to understand things and offer that knowledge to our clients. Keep up.

September 6th, 2013


Linkedin endorsements – cynical, not stupid.

Since its introduction, it’s fair to say that Linkedin’s “endorsements” feature, which makes it simple to add a ‘point’ to your connections’ skill in various areas, has divided opinion. Actually, that’s probably not fair — anecdotally most people I know seem to think it’s a complete absurd joke.

But, I think there’s an easy misunderstanding around this feature. Most people assume, quite reasonably, that Linkedin has added this to provide more value for its users. I don’t actually think that’s the main story here — it’s about interaction figures.

As a social network, your best indicators of network health are not user numbers but user engagement. By the same argument Apple keeps coming back to re. iOS devices being *used* much more than Android equivalents, the unloved accounts that litter hundreds of now dormant social networks speak for themselves.

For years, most Linkedin users I know have been lurkers. Perhaps there’s a flurry of activity if you’re on the hunt for a new opportunity but, even then, most peoples’ career cycle is more like a couple of years than a couple of months. And as for the communities on Linkedin, the experience is so unpleasant and the general usage so uninspiring and cynical that it’s hard to create stickiness compared to the variety of alternative communities that exist.

So what do you do?

Endorsements are the answer. Every iota of the feature’s design exposes its motive to simply up engagement metrics rather than genuinely add something valuable. The box pops up gleefully all across the site, challenging the user to confirm endorsements that verge on the rhetorical with a simple click and message of positive reinforcement. It feels like hyper-engineered altruism by numbers and its what makes it clear this is a feature for Linkedin, not so much for you.

I think this kind of design is more common in the social world than people often realise. I had an article in mind recently to run through all Twitter’s announcements for the last year and create a checklist of who each development served. If it was the users, they receive a point, if it was Twitter and/ or it’s business model, Twitter gets a point. Sadly, I don’t think there were many where everyone benefited.

For Twitter and Linkedin, I think it actually works because they do have something valuable at their core that people are already finding value from. In Linkedin’s case, it’s engineering reasons to come back more often and support that user value with company value. Does it hurt you to play with the endorsements feature a little to help support their service? Perhaps you’re actually endorsing something more important than you first thought.

Postscript: minutes after I wrote this, Mat Morrison brought up the following not entirely irrelevant aspect to the matter from Linkedin’s Q3 results. Another very clear side of the picture…

August 8th, 2013


The modern ‘manuscript’ of status updates

The humble status update has grown up a lot in recent years, by me on Medium:

It’s more and more common to have not just a stream of social updates now but a full landscape. What we have today, is almost like a manuscript — and I think some of the most interesting developments can be lumped into three categories that also demonstrate how the humble status update has evolved into something more.

So let’s look at actions, dialogue and illustration.

August 1st, 2013


The troll rules have changed. Or have they?

There’s a lot of talk about trolling at the moment but just because someone shouts about wanting to kill you, it doesn’t mean their actual goal is a murder. It’s attention — and trying to quiet everyone in the world who’s after attention is going to take more than a new button in a social media tool.

From my article about this on Medium:

The global mainstream community is now being confronted with something more like the old dynamic of trolling. Even though most of it won’t be familiar with the old ways of dealing with these things, I think it’ll inevitably have to return to the time-honoured solution to disruptive human influence.

July 31st, 2013


Vine is Twitter’s route to selling visual ads in your stream

Imagine you have a stream of info with riveted users but all you can put in there is text. Want to expand the options? What better way than to introduce something for your users first and foremost that can be monetised in more powerful ways later on. Sponsored tweets are about to get more serious.

January 30th, 2013


Facebook – What a difference a day makes

Yesterday I was just thinking about going back to retroactively add in my technology history to my Facebook timeline after a comment from a Wired reader declared that technology journalists should make theirs public to provide context to their articles. Of course, I was going to set it as private and viewable just by me (and I think the suggestion is pretty ridiculous) but it was fun running through the years of gadgets in my mind and putting things like the Retina Macbook in context.

Which made me then think perhaps it would be cool to do the same with just general events from my life that I could remember — going back through my life year by year and adding everything I could think of for each. Again, stored privately but just like a private diary to check back on every once in a while to see how far I’d come.

And then, as if perfectly on cue, news started to spread that Facebook was somehow publishing users’ private messages posted years earlier on the service publicly for all to see on their Timeline. After some bouncing back and forth with friends, denials from the company itself and then closely scrutinising a couple from my own timeline, it seemed clear something fascinating but bizarre had happened.

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September 25th, 2012


Facebook should update its concept of ‘Friends’


With its IPO now public, Facebook is about to enter something of dark zone for announcements – a move which will no doubt leave a void for speculation and rumour among tech writers. So I thought I might jump the gun with a thought of my own: should Facebook replace “friends” with Likes?

Danny Whatmough and I were recently discussing how to balance the use of different social networks – what are they for and what do you post where? One thing that came up was Facebook and how the friends we had on there didn’t really reflect our current interests and every day any more. It had become almost a scrapbook of people from years and places past.

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February 26th, 2012


Facebook wants you dead


Back in September 2010, Facebook went on a really interesting PR offensive – including a flurry of activity when The Social Network launched and the announcement of a $100m donation (of Facebook stock) to American education.

I find the latter of these especially interesting when considering Facebook’s big picture strategy for the next few years- to explain why, join me for a brief history lesson.

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January 10th, 2012