This is a great example of how the ultimate execution will make all the difference. The Wall Street Journal today had a story about how new mobile phone services enable people to know where their friends are. The video gives a good overview of the service, and acknowledges the balance between privacy concerns and convenience.
This balance is very delicate. I'm not sure where I will fall on this one. I'm all for convenience, and I can easily see the benefits this service could provide. On the other hand, this certainly has the potential to be a bit too revealing for comfort. What do you think?
One conclusion drawn in the article amused me. They suspected that younger people would like the service. Sure. When it's their friends who can see them. What if this becomes a prerequisite for any parents who pay the cell phone bill?
ReadWriteWeb had an interesting post about Best Tools for Visualization. While I found the post to be full of interesting information, there was an obvious omission that I feel compelled to point out. No visualization tool, regardless of how technically clever or unique it is, can take the place of clear thinking.
Visualization is a term whose meaning in popular culture is beginning to stray from its original intent. (Isn't that the fate of most words that become popular buzzwords?) In the pure sense, visualization is the visual expression of an idea. The information in that idea can take many forms. It can be literal, like a picture of an object, or it can become abstracted, such as images that convey emotion.
Most frequently, the term visualization describes visual representation of how informational elements are connected. In the offline world, this is usually called Information Design. Two main skills are required to make Visualization useful. First, the complexities of interrelated information must be untangled. The causes, effects, and connections must be clearly understood. The second step is to figure out how to represent this information visually so that it can be easily understood.
The upshot is that these tools can be helpful aids in visually representing information. It is up to the person who is trying to communicate their ideas to: a) understand what the information is, and how it is connected, and b) choose the right visualization tool to best communicate that information. No tool can do those two things for you.
These tools are very good at making cool images of information. Most people have a difficult time making compelling images, and they are often seduced into falling in love with these tools for the wrong reasons. Please do not fall into the trap of confusing the quality of the content with the quality of the image. Good Information Design will help to ease communication, and provide common understanding. If you are using one of these tools, and your discussions still keep spinning, go back to the drawing board and start clearing up your thinking. Then visualize it.
I'm finally jumping in!
My money's on SocialThing!
If you're like me, you don't even want to think of joining another social networking site. It takes time to create a good profile page for each site you belong to, and then there's the constant maintenance of keeping the profiles updated. And of course you want to be a member of the "right" community, which may require that you are a member of many, just to hedge your bets. (Remember Friendster?)
I began thinking that there must be an opportunity to break down the walls between all these Social Networking sites. Can I just be one person who interacts with multiple groups of friends? Well, now there are two options that claim to let you do that. SocialThing! and FriendFeed. There is a very good snapshot on TechCrunch , which compares the two services quite well. ReadWriteWeb also has a good interview with the CEO of SocialThing!
As I see it, the main difference between the two is that Socialthing! allows you to multitask. It simplifies the job of updating Social Networking sites because it will post your updates to all the profiles you maintain. FriendFeed basically aggregates what you are doing on all the other sites, and posts that activity on FriendFeed. So, FriendFeed doesn't ease the pain of updating all the sites. It just allows my friends to monitor my activity on all of them.
Earlier I talked about how good Social Networking allows people to do things online that they would already want to do. From what I can tell at this point, Socialthing! does that very well. It allows me to communicate with all of my friends more easily. Information flows from me to others. I can use it how I want. FriendFeed allows my friends to watch what I am doing with all my other friends. Information about me is exposed to others. Historically people tend to shy away from that, even if they like the novelty at first.
So my prediction is, if people value simplicity, then Socialthing! will win.
I saw this video in a post on Seth Godin's blog. As a person who studies consumer behavior, I found it analogous to the work I do. Before you read on, you should watch at least the first half of the video.
I did not miss the bear the first time. Most likely, this is because it is my job to pay attention to what's going on behind what consumers are telling me when I interview them. Most consumer interviews go exactly like the video. Consumers go on and on about the game; how they played it, what they were thinking, etc. They are so used to playing around the bear, they don't even think that he might have an impact on them. And he IS having an impact on them. They are careful not to hit him, and that impacts their choices. So many companies are trying to learn to integrate consumer feedback into their processes. It often goes wrong for several reasons.
First, consumers are typically not overtly aware of what drives them. You can talk to them, they can tell you what they like, but they cannot tell you what to do. If you literally do what they say, you are doomed.
Second, the web makes it easy to get consumer feedback. In terms of the video you just saw, getting self-reported, written feedback is like trying to understand what's going on in the video while wearing a blindfold and having someone describe it to you. And most likely the person describing it does not see the bear.
Finally (for today at least), companies often have trouble translating what a consumer says, does, means, or needs into a viable product offering. This is true whether they see the bear or not.
I'm interested in the human aspects of what's going on with technology and the web. People get so carried away with the mechanics of what they are doing, they often lose the point behind it. And losing sight of the main point is usually the reason for losing relevance in the market.
Find the bear, understand his impact, and keep your eye on him.
I had AIM several years ago. I had to remove it from my computer because it was too distracting. IM has a way of being intrusive and distracting, and I was not going to fall into that trap.
Now, my needs have changed, and I decided to try IM again. I installed the new AIM, and it was a mess. It messed up my computer's ability to find the right wireless networks, and just had too much distracting stuff going on. I couldn't just do what I needed to do without a three-ring-circus of web pages opening, email messages for accounts I didn't want or know I had...YUCK!!
And then a colleague suggested that I try Pidgin. It has just what I need, and is an inobtrusive as IM can be. It also has a Babelfish quality to it that I love, but have not had the need to use. It basically enables you to integrate all your IM accounts. Ahhhh...Simplicity!! I only need one solution. As I said, I don't need that right now, but I love the idea of it.
Pidgin may not be the best solution out there, but my experience proves a couple of things. Technology is best when it lets you do what you need to do, and gets out of the way. The other thing is that people will try what their friends suggest, and those are the things that have an opportunity to become loved.
I'm not an early adopter of technology. What I mean by that is, I don't acquire technology for the sake of having new technology. To be of value, technology has to enable me to do something that I would love to do, either because I couldn't do it well, or at all, before the new technology came along. And the less I have to interact with the technology itself, the better.
When I first heard of Twitter, I wondered why on earth I would ever want to use it? I still don't use it, but I'm now compelled to try. Why? I will have to admit that all the hype about the Zuckerberg/Lacy interview at the SXSW conference is what started it. As I was reading Jeff Jarvis' post, I realized that Twitter was allowing people to know the news in real time. There was no waiting for tomorrow's paper, or tonight's blog. In fact, if Lacy had used the medium to her advantage, she could have course corrected during the interview. The fact that she didn't has been the topic of many other blogs and articles.
I was impressed by the power of a tool like Twitter in the media. There is no wondering what individuals thought. It was right there. There was a swarm, so we knew something important was happening. Yes, everyone has biases which cannot be filtered out. But this real-time coverage was powerful.
It also raises a new issue to consider. Instead of just considering personal biases, we now need to worry about Twitter's potential to foster group-think. If the discussion wasn't public, would people answer differently? Would you have the courage to stand out among your peers?
I'll let you know when I actually use Twitter. I usually find myself too engrossed in what I'm doing to stop and Twitter about it. But we'll see if that need changes.
Here's a newsflash. Social Networking has been around since the dawn of humanity. It's one of the things that makes us human. There is an entire field devoted to the study of social connections, culture and society. It's called Sociology. I'm always caught off-guard when I hear someone refer to Social Networking as if it's a phenomenon that was invented by members of GenY. And it is not only GenY members who refer to it this way.
To me, Social Networking simply means that people are connecting with each other. It happens all the time, and you don't need the internet to do it. It is especially popular with younger people. They learn about relationships by making friends in school, and spend a lot of their time socializing, or "hanging out." They may then move away from home, they have no friends, and they need to meet people. This is not new.
What is new is that the internet has provided a new channel for socializing to occur, for whatever the reason may be. Initially the technology limited the use to a one way conversation. You could look up information. We could access it via a physical (wired) network. New technology (dare I say Web 2.0 tools?) has allowed a two-way conversation. Voila. A social network can now exist in an arena where originally there was only a physical network. Groups of teens used to "hang out" at the mall, and before that it was the local soda fountain. Now they can "hang out" on MySpace, Facebook, or other Social Networking websites. Due to the "hanging out" nature of the connections, younger generations have popularized the use of this new channel.
Why am I bothering to rant about this issue? I was discussing a new website the other day with a coworker. It was an information heavy site that allowed people to connect with experts for information. When the words "allow people to connect" came up, it was thought that the site was Social Networking site, which in turn meant it must be about fun like MySpace. They then questioned the credibility of the content. An important distinction was made at that point. There is a big difference between using Web-based Social Networking tools to create a website which allows access to expert content, and using those same tools to create a website whose sole purpose was about Social Networking on the web.
This is why I'm amused when I read about Social Networking with a purpose (other than hanging out online) being the next evolution on the web. "Oh, you mean that people might want to connect with others for some reason other than hanging out?" Brilliant!! I'm sure it's never been done before.
In support of the United Nations World Food Program, here's a link to the Free Rice program. An oddly addictive word game, it helps feed the people of the world by donating grains of rice for every correct answer. You will be better for it.
Enjoy and do good!
I received an invitation to join BluBet today. I'll have to admit, I had no idea what it was, but the promise of a free gift from someone I know prompted me to follow the links. Had I not been the type who is interested in social/viral technology, I would have deleted it.
I became increasingly annoyed as I was then prompted to sign up for an account, then taken to another screen to add profile information. All with the promise that my "gift" was getting nearer, and yet there was no way to figure out what I was signing up for in the first place. After the third screen I quit. I no longer cared about my gift. I felt that I was being led into a lion's den. It was just too creepy.
A note to anyone who works at BluBet. That sign-up process incites skepticism. It doesn't matter if you learned of it through someone you know. Friends don't expect friends to blindly sign up for things without knowing what they are. If my friend knew what my experience would be like, I'm sure he would not have sent it in that way.
Of course, all this did pique my curiosity. What was BluBet, and why hadn't I heard of it? After a bit of googling I made it to the home page, and was happy to find about us and how this works sections which explained it just fine. In case you're curious and the title of this post hasn't tipped you off, BluBet is about social betting. I find the concept quite intriguing. People post questions and the community bets on what the popular votes will be. Winning is dependent on how well you predict how the community will vote. And then you wonder how many people actually vote that way. Social betting has the potential to be quite fun, and I can imagine all the fodder for party conversations that can come of it.
The best thing about BluBet, in my opinion, is that they are very open about the fact that this is a game. The currency is BluBet Bucks, which only have value on the site. If you run out, they give you more, but acknowledge that you went belly-up. So if someone invites you, fear not. It's just a game.
And to the folks at BluBet. Please change the way you "gift" people into signing up through friends. Social networking works when people can expand trusted networks. I will not invite friends through the site because I do not want them to have to join something with no way to find out information about it. Please fix this. It's just too creepy.