Category Archives: web2.0

“Semantic Analysis”

The shiny new Web2.0 name for data mining.

Using Social Software to Avoid Socially-Awkward Situations

Subtitle: I’m Just Not That Into You

Much has been written about the new types of social situations that arise when using social software. Breaking up over text-messaging, seeing ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends connecting with other people on Facebook, the “do I or do I not friend this person” question, the soon-to-be-finance seeing the wedding ring purchase ahead of time — these all happen because social software has reconfigured what the term “friend” means today, and because social software has turned upside-down our previous notions of public and private.

In our new age of Web2.0 connectedness, going online unavoidably means getting yourself into awkward social situations.

Yet, in the vast research* which I have conducted to date, I have not found anyone writing about the way social software helps us avoid these situations. (*Research question: Do I remember ever seeing this written about? Answer: No. Research, complete.)

What has been under-appreciated in all the hype about the net today is the power of the Ignore button, and its various various forms across websites: The Unsubscribe; The Block; The Remove. These all help us avoid the kinds of awkward social situations we face both on- and offline, by letting the other person know that we do not want to connect. That we don’t really care about what they are doing online, who their friends are, and what their status might be each day.

By hitting ignore, we tell the other person, “Hey, I’m just not that into you.”

And this is OK. Better than OK, because it gets us out of those sticky situations we get into when we have to deal with people that, truth be told, we really don’t like.

You know how it goes. Let’s say you go home, to visit the folks, and you make the mistake of heading out to your local mall. You see someone you knew from, say, high school. Oh noes!!! The conversation you have always has a voice-over running in your head simultaneously, and it usually goes like this:

Me (in head): omg omg please don’t look at me please don’t look at me

Dude: YO DUDE!!! SHIT! How are you? WTF you been up to man?

Me: Heeeeeeyyyyy…..great to see you! Not too much! Same old same old!

Me (in head): FUCK.

Dude: How long’s it been!?!?!? Since high school, no? Hey, you remember that time…

[…this goes on…]

Me (in head): please don’t ask for my phone number please don’t say we’ll get together when we both know we won’t

Dude: Hey, man — give me your number. We have GOT to get together and HANG!!!

Me: um….yeah….

You see the problem here? The social protocol in these situations is to pretend that we’ve reunited and bonded, that even though it’s been 20+ years, and we have completely different lives, there is still something that connects us.

Wrong.

Now, imagine this same situation, but played out on, say, Facebook:

You have a friend request.

Would you like to confirm [insert person you haven’t seen in years here] as your friend?

Confirm Ignore

IGNORE.

See! So easy.

Now your former friend gets the idea — you are just not into him.

This, then, is the power of social media. It’s not to help connect us to others. It’s not developing a “social graph” upon which we can build a “network” of “relationships.” Those phrases might sell investors, and get the news media writing about your product. But it has nothing to do with what social software can do for us, really.

The power of social media is that we can ignore. That we can tell others we’re just not into them, without the messiness of actually telling someone we’re just not into them. We can be an a-hole, but we can be one silently; implicitly…

We can go about our day, secure in the knowledge that not-connecting with someone is only a click away.

Boxee’s Big Night Out

Last night, I attending Boxee’s NYC meetup. Over 600 people attended, hundreds more than attended the previous meeting, held in San Fran. A statement both to the growing popularity of the product, as well as the enthusiasm of the NY tech crowd.

I’m a big fan of Boxee, and have previously written about why I think it’s a real revolution in terms of both the user interface as well as being a potentially disruptive force in the media industry. More on the latter in a bit.

First, the product. You can read about the details over on the boxee blog, but, in short, last night they added support for Pandora, RadioTime (a service I’ve never heard of before last night…). They upped the ante in the Hulu debacle by creating the “boxee brower” — based on mozilla code, it essentially connects to Hulu (or any Internet site) as a web browser, so if Hulu wants to shut out Boxee, it will shut out everyone using, say, Firefox.

Information wants to be free and all…

Perhaps more significantly, the folks at BoxeeHQ, which seems to be a sort of incubator for boxee plug-ins, added PBS support. So now there is a ton of PBS video available for viewing through boxee. The BoxeeHQ work is one piece of a real push by Boxee to build a development community around its product. Avner Ronen, Boxee’s CEO, last night announced a new, easier to use API set, and encouraged developers to help bring content to boxee’s platform.

In fact, this actually key to Boxee’s business plan. To his credit, and unlike services like Twitter, whose Exec team either seems reluctant to speak in detail about their plans for monetization, or simply don’t know, Ronen was quite candid about the plan for his company. And it’s simple: Encourage enough people to use Boxee so that content providers (television execs, Internet media companies, Internet radio, etc, etc) take note, and then ask for a cut.

Ronen was adamant about never charging users for Boxee. His plan is to become a game-changer, and essentially force the hand of Big and Small Media by delivering an audience. Ronen also said he has no interest in selling user behavior data.

Do I believe him in all this?

I think it’s smart to remain a skeptic. The debate Ronen has been involved in with Mark Cuban, CEO of HDNet, illustrates the fact that Big Media won’t just acquiesce. Cable providers and television networks have their idea of how media works, and that picture doesn’t involve Internet techies cutting them out.

I also have no idea how lucrative Boxee’s proposition really is — it seems like there are two problems. The companies that are more than willing to work with Boxee (blip.tv, nextnewnetworks) are upstarts themselves and don’t really pull in the big bucks; the companies that have the big bucks aren’t interested in Boxee taking a cut.

Faced with that problem, the easy thing for Ronen to do with Boxee is exactly what he said he won’t — charge subscriptions, and sell user data.

So it will be quite a challenge, and time will tell how this plays out.

All that said, Boxee has plenty of things going for it. First and foremost, they have a rabid user base that loves the product, and loves the content this product facilitates. And as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, Boxee really is a huge step forward in user interface, taking all the complexity out of the web experience, and making it “couch-able.”

Couchable media. I like that.

Update: Whitney Hess, a design consultant working with Boxee, has updated her blog with more detail around the upcoming beta version, which will include some much needed usability features, like putting favorites on the home screen. Her post is here.

Don’t Click!

Yesterday, an interesting worm spread its way through Twitter. Thousands of people started tweeting “Don’t Click:” with a link attached. Click on that link, and it posted a tweet from your account to all your friends, with the same message.

Sunlight Labs did the initial analysis:

Huzzah! the first twitter social virus!

It seems mostly harmless, just perpetuating itself and breeding. You can check out the graph of its use here:

Here’s how it works:

You can actually link to twitter and auto-fill a message box quite easily. All you have to do is write a link like this:
http://twitter.com/home?status=Sunlight Labs post on Don’t Click:http://bit.ly/kj1z9”. What this “virus” does is, it creates an iframe of the page, hides it, and when you click that button and you’re logged into Twitter, it makes you post that message (even though you don’t see it). There’s not a bit of javascript involved. The only javascript on the page is their Google Analytics code.

So, this “social virus” simply created an invisible page that overlaid the page you *thought* you were clicking, and it essentially forces your browser to push out a link.

That fact that no scripting was involved, and your password wasn’t at all needed for this little trick means it was basically harmless, from a security and privacy perspective.

Many people on twitter remarked how the way this “virus” spread demonstrated the “power of social networking.” But that’s not true — just the opposite.

It demonstrated the frailty of social networking. It has exposed what is always the weakest link in any system — the human factor.

The spread of this “social virus” relied on the trust we all place on our online friends. When someone you know and trust says “Don’t Click,” you assume it’s a joke they are playing (like you going to get rickrolled), and so you go ahead and click on it. The fact that many of your friends started posting the “don’t click” message on Twitter simply meant that everyone else was in on the joke, and you had to find out what it was all about.

Social networking sites and programs rely on the fact that we all trust each other. This same trust we place in each other is also the way social networking site and programs can be exploited.

Social Home Buying?

Tough times call for inventive measures, and, with real estate markets so thin these days, sellers are looking for, well, something different:

That’s when the desperate owner decided to get creative. He opted to hold a raffle via his Web site at http://www.sanblasforsale.com. Tickets went on sale in October for 25 euros (about $33) apiece, and so far 2,000 of them have been sold. A drawing on May 1 will determine which lucky ticket holder wins the property. Crowsley hopes to sell enough tickets to clear about 1.2 million euros.

“Property raffles are without a doubt an exciting and different way to sell a property, especially if it has not sold using the conventional method,” Crowsley said. “I firmly believe that it will be the way to go in 2009 and beyond.”

Already, dozens of Web sites dedicated to property raffles have cropped up in several European countries.

Now, I may be completely off-base here, because, for the most part, this is straight up gambling. For 25 euros, you can win a house. But in light of many of the trends we so today, as our cyber-lives grow increasingly social, I often think our real lives have followed (see: 2008 Elections, Obama Campaign). Is it possible these property raffles are more than just a new and desperate way to sell a home? Could this be a sign that we are perhaps moving to a world that’s just a bit more community-minded? Less bowling alone, and more working together?

Again, most likely, this is gambling. But a couple things I’ve read make me wonder otherwise. First, almost a year ago, there was some speculation on a few blogs, triggered by a post from Jeff Jarvis, about “Insurance 2.0.” In particular, a comment in Jarvis’s blog struck me:

A few months ago I got a facebook message from a friend of a friend saying that the friend’s bicycle had been stolen, which was very bad news because it was the second time in a couple of months and hence wasn’t insured conventionally because the premium would have been too high.

It turned out that the friend of the friend had contacted all the friends’ friends. She’d asked us all to message back if we would be willing to put in £20 for a new bike which would then be presented as a surprise.

Sure enough, easily enough friends messaged back to buy a new bike, transferred the money, and the bike was bought. This all took less than a week – which is an awful lot shorter than a similar claim would take through an insurance company. Less paperwork too.

Now, obviously, there is a long way from that idea to Geico, but the idea is there, and it’s certainly worth considering.

That was then. Since, we’ve seen the collapse of the financial industry. Douglas Rushkoff has written about the “financial melt up,” as he has called it, how the speculative economy that’s created much wealth for relatively few people has run out of gas. His prescription?

All this means is that you can’t count on capitalism anymore. Your wealth is not how many paper assets you have. It’s not even how much land you have (or think you have). It’s what you can do. It’s your value to other people.

…The opportunity here, while the big boys are down, is to rebuild the genuine, local commercial infrastructure. To make shoes, clothes, food, education, healthcare and everything else we can in a bottom-up fashion. While speculators enjoy the economy of scale, we inhabit an ecology scaled to the human being that was lost in the corporatist equation.

The sooner you “drop out” of the speculative economy and its abstract concerns, the sooner you will be able to create and provide real value for the people all around you, and the better position you will be in to get what you need for yourself and your family.

Bottom-up. The idea behind “participatory culture.” And the same idea behind the “we all chip in and get our friend a new bike” insurance model, and, perhaps, a tangent to the property raffles that are happening in Europe.

Not sure, but it’s something to watch.