The WWW and the Holy Grail

Adolph Ochs in 1896 put his slogan on a newspaper, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It still survives. Only just barely.

Sound arrived to movies in the late twenties, the silent-film industry and the Broadway theater industry were both broadsided. They never saw it coming. It was a running joke to them.

Radio was king for years. No one thought it would be overcome – there was a radio in every home throughout America.

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Then television started to gain traction in the late forties. Radio scrambled to adjust to the newer media – TV. Then, TV began to replace the radio in homes. Orders for TV sets were up 400 percent in 1949, many of them sold by the most popular shows of their time, (i.e. Milton Berle). Supply could not keep up with demand. Free television was for decades considered an American right, rabbit ears, ghosts and all.

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Then broadcast TV scrambled to adjust to newer media – cable TV. For a while during the reign of ‘Free TV’, “Pay TV” was a joke.   Americans now pay for 24/7 foreign news networks in their cable and satellite packages, news, weather, sports, movies, etc. That which used to be free on broadcast TV was no longer free.

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Then the hammer dropped for everyone. The Internet dawned, the digital revolution.  The Holy Grail of media. This was a change as great as the invention of electricity and the construction of transcontinental railroad. It was large, transformative and caused massively sweeping changes. No one was prescient enough to gauge even remotely how big this change was upon the whole planet.

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The recording industry became the first to fall in the digital pipeline. They thought by suing Napster in court they could stop their declining bottom line.  Movies and DVD’s became next to fall in.

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And then 2 large social media behemoths came along; Facebook (2004) the more social of the two and Twitter (2006) the most current up-to-the-minute form of news delivered to us not by a news anchor but by a neighbor.  Twitter made CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX ancient delivery mechanisms of news overnight.  We don’t select publications anymore, we select links.

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An ecosystem of “group journalism” in which consumers with a cell phone eyewitness reporting of the news submitted by ‘US’ rather than actual reporters in the field, changed everything. Witness Captain Sully on the Hudson river. The proliferation of the Internet made every publicly available source of information in the world openly available to everyone. This change in and of itself has altered the landscape for everyone forever. The NYT’s and CNN no longer have a lock on exclusive. Exclusive is old news – we are now the prevailing ‘exclusive’.

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Within all of this history of media, the largest companies, the ones we can name by brand have been caught sleeping by transformative change. From newspapers and magazines to Hollywood, aging media executives resistant to technology became overnight ostriches.  It was easier to take a paycheck, stick their heads in the sand then risk being ‘wrong’ about how future technology could transform their own business. Status quo was ‘safe’ harbor.  A herd of dinosaurs.

The decline and the fall of old media. It was inevitable and unavoidable. Casualties were and are in print, TV and soon cable channels. Yes, even cable TV will be falling (cord cutting: Aereo TV and Otoy). Old media will scramble to adjust just as before, but it will not be enough. The fall of old media is unavoidable.

And for us the consumer, the ‘hippie’ stage (freemium) of the Internet is over.  We will pay for more for media then ever before – not in print but whatever form it comes in. The trees will love us once again. However, the cost for this will be higher than it once was.  What is less talked about are the adjustments that consumers have to make. Paying for media that was free or easy to access is now the norm.

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And still only 65% of the country has broadband Internet access. What Google fiber offers is just a beginning and will become the norm. Google fiber speeds will knock cable TV off its legs.  We wont need coaxial cable – just access to the Internet.  And it won’t have to be coming from the white coaxial cable coming into your home – it will be wireless.   TV channels will be become specific apps downloaded on a phone or tablet.  Bundles will be forgotten. The ‘triple play’ of a phone, cable and the internet that we all familiar with for $ 150.-200 a month will soon be broken down.

Perhaps even the app store will disappear too. The potential disruptiveness of Otoy (http://goo.gl/aQZSl ), as a breakthrough streaming service could, in the near future, could end the need for app stores and computer upgrades.

Advertising will never ever again subsidize any old-media news organizations in the style to which they (and their audiences) have been accustomed.

News organizations used to be able to overcharge and under-deliver in their deals with advertisers; the pizza place and the car dealership had nowhere else to go, and no one knew how many people saw, or acted on, a given ad anyway.  Not anymore. Nielsen, one of the old guards struggles to stay relevant – even if they purport to have new measuring technology. There are at least the 10 other companies who are in the process of eating their lunch.

We are in for years of re-adjustment. Transformation from print and paper to digital – cable TV to Internet TV, YouTube, social apps and the like. Consumer adjustment will take time. But less than you think. Our kids are growing up ignoring cable and television, without radio and traditional print media. The norm:  downloading of apps, mobile phones, tablets and no desktop computers. It’s different and disconcerting for the parents. It’s happened before – it just happened without the Internet. How we used to do things in the seventies, eighties, and nineties is no more – change is good.  Breath in – breath out.

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The Changing of the Guard

Changing-of-the-Guard

 

IBM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, HP, and other large legacy hardware and software companies have something in common these days. A declining revenue stream. Big time.

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Its not just one or two companies, its most of the big ones. And the results will ultimately effect employees as each quarter passes and they are forced to reckon with Wall Street earnings and reports. The stock market takes no prisoners.

Online newcomers with ‘disruptive’ business models and software are flourishing. Box, Dropbox, Workday, Amazon, Salesforce, Facebook, LinkedIn, all have reported record quarters. Even Apple despite its recently declining stock price is still growing. Just about anything that has to do with mobile phones and tablets has the ‘Midas touch’.  Google Inc. said last Thursday that its revenue grew 31% in the first quarter, while profit rose 16%.

IBM last Thursday reported its revenue dropped.

Software giant Microsoft Corp., once known for rapid sales of PC software, reported that the business that includes its Windows operating system turned in essentially zero growth

Intel Corp., which has struggled to get its chips into mobile devices reported a first-quarter profit drop of 25% on revenue that declined 2.5%.

Oracle Corp., reported a 1% drop in its revenue in its most-recent quarter.

The disparities are the result of technology shifts—the rise of mobile devices and slowing growth in personal computers, conventional software replaced with online versions and cloud outsourcing by corporations. Companies want to rent software and computer systems. The deals are smaller and take less time to implement. Companies want to get out of the construction business—building and rolling out expensive software and hardware systems.

Web-based technology makes it easier for consumers and corporate employees to try new things and makes it harder for older technology suppliers to keep rolling out huge hardware and software deals month in and month out. Hardware, chips and hard drives get faster, smaller and cheaper now every 3-6 months making large purchases by corporations old before the equipment barely gets installed.

Workday Inc which was founded in 2005 and went public in October, reported that revenue for its fourth quarter ended in February rose 89%

Box Inc., founded in 2005 that lets customers store their data online and tap into it from mobile phones and PCs., revenue grew more than 150% in 2012 and it expects another doubling again this year.

“Their biggest challenge is they live in a world of legacy business models,” said Ed Anderson, an analyst with technology research firm Gartner Inc.

DPI is coming to a mobile phone near you!

                                 

Consumers will be confronted eventually here in the U.S. with DPI or Deep Packet Inspection. DPI simply put is a new technology that gives mobile carriers a way to tell exactly which applications you run and when on your mobile phone. Are you a  FaceTime user or Skype user? Do you check Facebook on your iPhone using an iPhone app 5 or more times during the day? Check into G+ a lot?  Tweet? Blog remotely to your Tumblr log? Do you text with a friend on the train or bus home? Is that during rush hour or business hours or between 6pm and midnight or in the morning?

                                       

Instead of allowing consumers to consume and buy an ‘unlimited’ data plan on their mobile phones (and by unlimited I mean unlimited for the most part and then ‘throttled’ ), carriers are seeking new ways to charge us for mobile usage. And they will have to figure this out because the number of mobile phones and data usage is increasing exponentially. Having a plan now as to how to avoid network congestion (as opposed to later when it really becomes a issue) makes total sense.  Its all about balancing out a consumers usage with network peak and lull times usage.  If I only was checking and using Facebook on my iPhone, I’d rather purchase a $5.00 a month all-access plan to Facebook than spend $25.00 a month for 2GB of data for everything.  Having a ‘Happy Hour’ on data usage from 7pm-midnight would get me to remember to download my music or movies on my iPad or iPhone during those times. Training the mobile public to use certain applications at certain times makes the use of the network better for all users during a 24hr. period. And carriers would not have to sell ‘unlimited’ data plans to us, which really aren’t unlimited after all.

This is not a new concept and is being tested and used in Europe right now. Orange is testing personalized pricing plans with consumers – working with them to determine which applications and activities they really use and crafting a pricing plan that fits them best.

Orange has a Panther plan for heavy users that costs £25 ($39.40 USD) for 10GB of mobile data and voice a month and a Dolphin plan for £15 a month that offers an hour of unlimited surfing at a time of the users choosing. Under the plan, customers can pick a so-called ‘Happy Hour’ from the following; 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. (the morning commute), 12:00-1:00 p.m. (lunch break), 4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. (late afternoon) or 10:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. (late night).

The more transparent the carriers become, the friendlier consumers will become to switching plans and buying services that fit their habits. The days of just a few data choices for us are limited indeed.

Is Google + deflating Facebook’s IPO ?

First there was usenet, arpanet, listserve and BBS’s, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, theGlobe, Tripod, Classmates, Homepage, then Homestead, GeoCities, Friendster, Sixdegrees, mySpace, Bebo, Orkut, Facebook and now we have Google +.  All of these services at one point or the other were the AlphaDog of their time. Each of them for some period of internet time shared the limelight as THE ‘hot’ spot site to be seen and heard on.  I had a block in GeoCities, used many a BBS (I dreamed in green and black back then), had a HomePage not a Homestead (disclaimer: I worked at HomePage.com) threw the most ridiculous backgrounds on my mySpace page with all of the ugliest stuff I could find on the planet, used Friendster, never did try a few other the others ( Sixdegrees, Bebo or Orkut). And of course have had a Facebook page since the ‘edu’ days when I tried to get in by using my old ‘edu’ email address from the University of Wisconsin (but that didn’t work for one reason or another I can’t recall).  I’m not including Twitter in this post as I don’t consider it to be a place where you have a page that you call and fashion as your own – rather it’s a fire hose of information to share.

What’s interesting to note here is that nearly all of these early services back then lacked 2 major components unlike today – the addition of the mobile phone coupled with leveraging the GPS in phones to create a location-based user experience.  This component has allowed all of us to extend our online personas to outside of our homes and desks where our main computer is.  And, because of this, the use of  these services and the traffic they generate like Facebook wouldn’t be possible.  It has been said that over 100 million people access Facebook using a mobile phone every month (http://on.fb.me/rmoDN1).  And that is just today.  And about 300 million access Facebook on a computer monthly (http://tcrn.ch/owiarn).

 

Its been just about 1 month since Google + opened their doors to a select group of people. Invites now are beginning to trickle out, and it seems that Google + has over 10 million users thus far. That’s not bad. At that rate and when the general admission doors open up, 100-200 million users should be easily possible. By years end, I think we will see just those kind of numbers. And perhaps in 2 years, double that, say 400 million or more. Flash forward to the end of this year and the impending Facebook IPO. Now if you are on the Facebook IPO train, you’ve got to look hard over your shoulder and realize that it might be very possible that a few people who now use Facebook will begin to use Google + as more and more friends try the service.  It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Precedent has been set already.  Look what’s happening to mySpace now? People who use and who have used all of these services are like minnows or lemmings – they all flock together and this happens quite quickly.  There is no ‘loyalty’ I ever had to Classmates, AOL, mySpace  and other sites I used like these.  And today, given the proliferation of mobile phones and the ease at which we can access these sites along with the ‘notifications’ that come along with the mobile web apps we get, interacting and trying out any new service like Google+ is easier than ever before.  So that’s what get me to think that the bankers on Wall Street are all smoking crack! Is Facebook really worth $ 100 billion dollars given the fact that Google + will more than likely have half the user base Facebook now has in a short 2 years? Does that mean that Google + just added $ 50 billion to the bottom line of Google?  Perhaps Facebook valuations might stick to the wall a whole lot better had Google + not just launched, but given the history of these sites and the rapid following and user base Google + has already, the only ones that will make money from the FaceBook IPO will be the underwriters and Zuck.  And if you haven’t tried Google + yet, run and get an invite from someone you know – it a breath of fresh air.

13 Movie Online Services is WAY too many. (PPV Part 2)

Netflix vs. Google TV 2.0 PPV (powered by Honeycomb 3.1) vs. YouTube rentals vs. iTunes vs cable PPV vs VUDU vs. Blockbuster OnDemand vs Facebook OnDemand vs BigStar Movies vs CinemaNow OnDemand vs. Alphaline ( Sears/Roxio) vs. Redbox (due 2011) vs. Flixster via Warner Bros. vs anyone else ?

What happens when the airlines have a fare war? You know, you can fly from NY to L.A. for $xx.xx and then the next thing you know, another airline tops that price by $ 20.00? Or gives you a free bag to carry on board? All of a sudden 5 or more airlines have the same special going on. Who do you fly with? Decisions, decisions… It all begins to seem and look the same to you. You get to the same destination, same approximate times, using the same type of transportation, in the air for just about the same money. Who suffers? Ultimately the carriers do.
Meet the carriers. Not the airlines, but the carriers of movies online. I count thirteen (13) of them – eleven (11) of them are live as we speak. All boasting the same movies for the most part for the same prices. All rentable at the same time for about the same amount of time. And I’m not even counting Redbox as an online rentable service…yet. What’s a consumer to do – who do you choose? And why. Do you ‘subscribe’ to a Netflix monthly or do you pick off a film on a one-off basis from another provider. More importantly, how do all of these guys begin to differentiate themselves from each other? How and where do they market themselves? Netflix is clearly the 900lb gorilla today. I guess iTunes is # 2. But beyond them, I can’t really tell who’s in third place. But more importantly, do I really care? Do I need3 or 5 or 7 similar services? On top of all this, I have Verizon’s FIOS cable service at home with thousands of movies to choose from to watch on any given day/hour.

I have licensed movies before from each of the studios and it was no easy task. Number one, its VERY expensive. Figure an upfront fee to be paid to play, maybe between $500k-$1m. That’s just for starters. Then there are the guarantees against each title licensed. Therefore as a provider of online fare, you’ve got to re-coup that fee with a certain number of minimum rentals or turns of the gate so to speak. With nearly 13 services out there plus cable choices, I’m going to take a guess here a few will not make it. Not only must you guarantee upfront cash, you also must explain how you are going to market the studios films, how you will digitally protect them from piracy ( good luck on that one) and how you will separate yourself from the rest of the online movie ‘noise’. All of this and then compete with the new ‘premium’ $30.00 a pop cable TV onDemand offering ( not that I think that’s going to be too successful – it’s the least of these companies problems).
However, the one issue I have with all these services is this: I am unable to save ANYTHING I purchase or rent for viewing later on a rainy day. If I had a ‘digital’ locker – someplace to hold what I spend my money on to see so I can view it later (more than 24hrs later), that might sway me to use that service ALL THE TIME.

You Probably Just Used the Biggest Brand in the World and Didn’t Even Know it…and it is NOT Google.

In the beginning of 2008 ( February 23, 2008 to be exact) I posted a story about the biggest brands in the world : http://bit.ly/fGlZK0 . I was prompted to write the story by something I had read from Umair Haque, the Director of Havas’ Media lab about the subject. Today, I decided to take another look and I was a bit surprised by what I found. I did a bit of research to look up what some of the larger agencies views were on big brands.  Interbrand, (http://www.interbrand.com) probably one of the best and most well known firms (been around since 1974) had their own list of the top 100 http://bit.ly/hG1we0 .  Notably, Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, Google and GE rounded out the top 5 most notable and best global brands. Interbrands methodology for determining this ranking is as follows: financial performance, role of brand ( or the demand for a service or brand) and brand strength (again somewhat based on financial ‘future’ earnings of that brand).

In 2008, I noted ‘When I think about any particular brand, what I believe I’m getting no matter what kind of material object I buy is an expectation of or a standard of quality. For instance, if I buy Nike sneakers, I know what I can expect or if I purchase a Coach wallet, I expect the wallet to last at least 2-3 years (or longer than most every other wallet) because its a Coach wallet. Coach leather is a brand I have come to know and the quality of their products are far superior to other manufacturers (at least that’s what I think). Its an expectation I have or a benefit I expect from a product or service. I know in advance what to expect. So, for years, we’d see advertising on TV or in magazines, on billboards or in newspapers about those brands. Not necessarily advertising the actual products, but big, full page ads proclaiming GE as the company that thinks about your future, etc. Big ads, big dollars and it reached most of us through the media mentioned above. It was and still is expensive, but it worked, that is until now. Think about this one – the biggest brand in the world has never spent a nickel to advertise itself. That brand is Google. Why? It doesn’t have to. But why and how did Google manage to become the top or if not the top, one of the top brands on the planet? Through the internet and its commonality of use and discussion among us. A huge, online community emerged that had something in common – they ‘googled’. Google has never spent any money on advertising itself.”

 

However, I think the one brand that has at the moment even done the one-up on Google, is facebook. facebook has built one of the worlds most best known brands without spending a dime on advertising on TV, newspapers, etc. Think about it…its really quite amazing.  WE did it for them. With over 500 million users, 25% of all pages views on the entire web, and the most recent round of funding announced yesterday – the social-networking giant raised $500 million through deals with investor Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian investment firm that has already invested about $500 million in facebook, giving facebook a $50 billion dollar valuation. To put this in perspective, The $50 billion is more than twice as much as the market’s valuation of Yahoo. It’s also worth more than eBay, but still less than Amazon.com — not to mention Google, which now stands at nearly $200 billion. BUT, somehow facebook almost seems more pervasive on a daily basis than does Google. And, most interesting it does NOT show-up anywhere on Interbrands list. My guess is that since its private, no one can really determine is true revenues and hence take a stab at accurately placing a true market valuation of the company (although the SEC may get closer than anyone once they start looking into the trading of the ‘private’ stock – http://nyti.ms/hIpz2c ). Nevertheless, its 2011 and I think facebook has overtaken Google as one of the biggest brands in the world as it marches towards the 1 billion member mark. And that may come very soon.

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Facebook, Think Again, Part 2

Hopefully the ‘new’ privacy controls REALLY are just that!  Here is what we used to have just a short week ago or less.

Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.

Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. Even if you didn’t really want to keep up with them.

Soon everybody — including your uncle Louie and that guy you hated from your last job — had a profile.

And Facebook realized it owned the network.

Then Facebook decided to turn “your” profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves. But to do that, the folks at Facebook had to make sure that the information you give it was public.

So in December, with the help of newly hired Beltway privacy experts, it reneged on its privacy promises and made much of your profile information public by default. That includes the city that you live in, your name, your photo, the names of your friends and the causes you’ve signed onto.

This spring Facebook took that even further. All the items you list as things you like must become public and linked to public profile pages. If you don’t want them linked and made public, then you don’t get them — though Facebook nicely hangs onto them in its database in order to let advertisers target you.

This includes your music preferences, employment information, reading preferences, schools, etc. All the things that make up your profile. They all must be public — and linked to public pages for each of those bits of info — or you don’t get them at all. That’s hardly a choice, and the whole system is maddeningly complex.

Simultaneously, the company began shipping your profile information off pre-emptively to Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft — so that if you show up there while already logged into Facebook, the sites can “personalize” your experience when you show up. You can try to opt out after the fact, but you’ll need a master’s in Facebook bureaucracy to stop it permanently.

Care to write a status update to your friends? Facebook sets the default for those messages to be published to the entire internet through direct funnels to the net’s top search engines. You can use a dropdown field to restrict your publishing, but it’s seemingly too hard for Facebook to actually remember that’s what you do. (Google Buzz, for all the criticism it has taken, remembers your setting from your last post and uses that as the new default.)

Now, say you you write a public update, saying, “My boss had a crazy great idea for a new product!” Now, you might not know it, but there is a Facebook page for “My Crazy Boss” and because your post had all the right words, your post now shows up on that page. Include the words “FBI” or “CIA,” and you show up on the FBI or CIA page.

Then there’s the new Facebook “Like” button littering the internet. It’s a great idea, in theory — but it’s completely tied to your Facebook account, and you have no control over how it is used. (No, you can’t like something and not have it be totally public.)

Then there’s Facebook’s campaign against outside services. There was the Web 2.0 suicide machine that let you delete your profile by giving it your password. Facebook shut it down.

Another company has an application that will collect all your updates from services around the web into a central portal — including from Facebook — after you give the site your password to log in to Facebook. Facebook is suing the company and alleging it is breaking criminal law by not complying with its terms of service.

No wonder 14 privacy groups filed a unfair-trade complaint with the FTC against Facebook on Wednesday.

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm wrote a post entitled “The Relationship Between Facebook and Privacy: It’s Really Complicated.”

No, that’s just wrong. The relationship is simple: Facebook thinks that your notions of privacy — meaning your ability to control information about yourself — are just plain old-fashioned. Head honcho Zuckerberg told a live audience in January that Facebook is simply responding to changes in privacy mores, not changing them — a convenient, but frankly untrue, statement.

In Facebook’s view, everything (save perhaps your e-mail address) should be public. Funny too about that e-mail address, for Facebook would prefer you to use its e-mail–like system that censors the messages sent between users.

Ingram goes onto say, “And perhaps Facebook doesn’t make it as clear as it could what is involved, or how to fine-tune its privacy controls — but at the same time, some of the onus for doing these things has to fall to users.”

What? How can it fall to users when most of the choices don’t’ actually exist? I’d like to make my friend list private. Cannot.

I’d like to have my profile visible only to my friends, not my boss. Cannot.

I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother or the world knowing. Cannot.

Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn’t be hard. And if multiple blogs are writing posts explaining how to use your privacy system, you can take that as a sign you aren’t treating your users with respect, It means you are coercing them into choices they don’t want using design principles. That’s creepy.

Facebook could start with a very simple page of choices: I’m a private person, I like sharing some things, I like living my life in public. Each of those would have different settings for the myriad of choices, and all of those users could then later dive into the control panel to tweak their choices. That would be respectful design – but Facebook isn’t about respect — it’s about re-configuring the world’s notion of what’s public and private.

So what that you might be a teenager and don’t get that college-admissions offices will use your e-mail address to find possibly embarrassing information about you. Just because Facebook got to be the world’s platform for identity by promising you privacy and then later ripping it out from under you, that’s your problem. At least, according to the bevy of privacy hired guns the company brought in at high salaries to provide cover for its shenanigans.

Clearly Facebook has taught us some lessons. We want easier ways to share photos, links and short updates with friends, family, co-workers and even, sometimes, the world.

But that doesn’t mean the company has earned the right to own and define our identities.

It’s time for the best of the tech community to find a way to let people control what and how they’d like to share. Facebook’s basic functions can be turned into protocols, and a whole set of interoperating software and services can flourish.

Think of being able to buy your own domain name and use simple software such as Posterous to build a profile page in the style of your liking. You’d get to control what unknown people get to see, while the people you befriend see a different, more intimate page. They could be using a free service that’s ad-supported, which could be offered by Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, a bevy of startups or web-hosting services like Dreamhost.

“Like” buttons around the web could be configured to do exactly what you want them to — add them to a protected profile or get added to a wish list on your site or broadcast by your micro-blogging service of choice. You’d be able to control your presentation of self — and as in the real world, compartmentalize your life.

People who just don’t want to leave Facebook could play along as well — so long as Facebook doesn’t continue creepy data practices like turning your info over to third parties, just because one of your contacts takes the “Which Gilligan Island character are you?” quiz? (Yes, that currently happens)

Now, it might not be likely that a loose confederation of software companies and engineers can turn Facebook’s core services into shared protocols, nor would it be easy for that loose coupling of various online services to compete with Facebook, given that it has 500 million users. Many of them may be fine having Facebook redefine their cultural norms, or just be too busy or lazy to leave.

But in the internet I’d like to live in, we’d have that option, instead of being left with the choice of letting Facebook use us, or being left out of the conversation altogether.
Read More http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/05/facebook-rogue/#ixzz0nilDpFs9

And you THOUGHT that you knew all about Facebook. Think again.

World’s Largest Social Network: The Open Web

Photo Illustration by The New York Times
Guest Post by Randall Stross  (Originally published in the NYT  May14, 2010.

ON its Web site, Facebook says it’s “giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

But the online world outside of Facebook is already a very open and connected place, thank you very much. Densely interlinked Web pages, blogs, news articles and Tweets are all visible to anyone and everyone. Instead of contributing to this interconnected, open Web world, the growing popularity of Facebook is draining it of attention, energy and posts that are in public view.

Every link found on the open Web, inviting a user to click and go somewhere else, is in essence a recommendation from the person who authored the page, posted it or broadcast it in a Tweet. It says, “I’ve taken the trouble to insert this link because I believe it will be worth your while to take a look.”

These recommendations are visible to search engines, which do far more than just tally how many recommendations point to this or that item. The engines trace backward to who linked to the recommender, then who linked to the recommender of the recommender, and so on. It’s a lot of computation to derive educated guesses about which recommendations are likely to lead to the best-informed sources of information and then placed at the top of a search results page.

No “friending” is needed to gain access; no company is in sole possession of the interconnections.

The size of the open Web — built without Facebook’s help — is hard to appreciate. In 2008, Google announced that its search engine had “crawled,” that is, collected and indexed material from, one trillion unique URLs, or Web addresses.

“The beauty of the Web is that it is open, and anyone can crawl it,” says Matt Cutts, a software engineer at Google.

But Facebook does not permit Google to reach most categories of information placed on the site, says Mr. Cutts, adding, “Google can only know what it can crawl.”

Susan Herring, professor of information science at Indiana University, sees it this way: “What the statistics point to is a rise in Facebook, a decline in blogging, and before that, a decline in personal Web pages. The trend is clear, she said — Facebook is displacing these other forms of online publication.

Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman, said his company provides Google with access to public profiles of members and status updates for public Facebook pages, formerly called “fan pages.” He said it also has announced plans to work with Microsoft on its Bing search engine, allowing Bing to publish the status updates of individual members whose privacy settings permit display to “everyone.”

The Facebook model of organizing the world’s information involves a mix of personally sensitive information, impersonal information that is potentially widely useful, and information whose sensitivity and usefulness falls in between. It’s a tangle created by Facebook’s origins as the host of unambiguously nonpublic messaging among college students.

The company’s desire now to help out “the world” — an aim that wasn’t mentioned on its “About” page two years ago — has led it to inflict an unending succession of privacy policy changes on its members.

People often talk about the two leading social networking sites in a way that sounds like they’re a single entity: FacebookandTwitter. But the two are fundamentally different. Facebook began with a closed, friends-only model, and today has moved to a private-public hybrid, resetting members’ default privacy settings. By contrast, most Twitter users elect to use the service to address the general public.

Facebook has redefined the way its users go about obtaining information.

“Information is becoming less of a destination that we seek online,” says Anthony J. Rotolo, assistant professor of practice in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. “Instead we are expecting it to come to us in a social stream.”

In the Facebook stream, friends, not search engines, are the trusted sources.

“Just because someone belongs to your social network, it doesn’t make them a good source,” Professor Rotolo says. “But there’s a natural inclination to assume that a person possesses reliable information because it’s person-to-person.”

This is what Professor Herring calls a “recommender model” of getting information. And she sees it as replacing the search-engine model. She points to the recent introduction of the Facebook “Like” button at Web sites, which allows Facebook to note recommendations of those sites among one’s friends. The record of who clicks that “Like” button, however, is not part of the open Web; it’s Facebook’s. The public visibility of users’ Likes on Facebook depends on their privacy settings.

DEFENDERS of the Facebook information stream argue that it doesn’t displace the open Web, but that it merely adds a new layer of information to it. Yet there is a cost: more time spent dispensing recommendations among friends on Facebook means less for similar contributions elsewhere. Members now spend more than 500 billion minutes a month on Facebook, a company fact sheet says.

The links on the trillion Web addresses found by Google, and within the billions of Tweets that have followed, form an incomparably vast, truly worldwide, web of recommendations, supplied by fellow humans.

In this sense, the open Web has a strong claim to being more “social” than does Facebook.

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University.