Monday 24 May 2010

Share; sharing; shared?

Some thoughts about semantics (especially for Mark Zuckerberg and others):

What do we mean by "share"? In the real world where people sit together at kitchen tables and drink hot drinks and chat about the next-door neighbour, there are two kinds of sharing. There is one chocolate biscuit left so you agree to break it in half and share it. That is the most basic kind. It is free. Equal by definition. Generous of spirit. There are no strings.

The other kind of sharing can be a little more complicated. In the discussion about the next-door neighbour, one of the coffee drinkers at the kitchen table might say:

"I have a good story about the neighbour - I am going to share it with you."*

Superficially this information is going to be free. But there is often a lot of tacit code attached:
"I am party to information to which you are not."
"I am generously going to make you party to it too."
"I am giving up something with my act of sharing with you."
"By telling you that I am going to share something with you, I am reminding you that that is what I am doing."
And, depending on the context, there may be many other strings attached.

(*especially if they are American - it may be just me, but I suspect that on the European side of the pond we find this use of 'share' a tiny bit creepy - pompous even - and are much more likely simply to say, "I am going to tell you something.")

But what about the meaning of "share" online and in a social web and networking environment? It has become clear that it depends which side of the user-provider fence you are standing on. The friend on Facebook - if they think about it at all - mostly believes, or used to believe, that clicking "share" meant they are simply posting something for their friends to see. But the FB executive trying to create income streams for their social network sees every click you make as a potential money-spinner. "Share" has surreptitiously come to mean "Share with the world; share with every application and site which is prepared to pay for it." (In some ways this is no bad thing: Targeted ads are surely better than un-targetted ones.) All social web apps like to use the term "share". It has become an industry standard. But wouldn't "post" or even "broadcast" be more appropriate?

And it is disingenuous of Facebook to try and have us believe that the current incredibly tedious and long-winded privacy settings you can use to combat their version of sharing are simply a silly mistake on their part. Who are they kidding? (Somebody really designed all those forms by mistake?) They will do something about it because of enormous public pressure. But only because of that pressure. In reality they would like every user to let them use/sell everything they do on Facebook.

And therein lies the great struggle between social network provider and user. We want 'free' social networks. The 'free' social networks need to make money by some means or other.

But I am convinced it will not be through business, large or small, except by the placement of traditional ads. I believe Facebook simply isn't for business, whatever people have been persuaded, or like to imagine. Another recent FB débâcle proves this in my opinion. Facebook have decided to make Page owners with under 10,000 fans pay for the full facilities associated with Pages in one way or another. Please see: As one would expect small Page owners are furious. I have picked out just two, among numerous excellent and pertinent comments attached to the Allfacebook piece:
" I’ve been fuming about Facebook for a while, and how they deliberately make it difficult for small businesses to organically grow a following. This move further proves that Facebook is no friend of small biz. Unless you have an established brand and know how to find your customers on Facebook, it’s fast-becoming a next-to-useless marketing “tool” for small business. Boycott I say!
Lucy Beer - May 19th, 2010 at 7:22 pm "

" Makes you wonder what else they will “take away” with no notice. This is another good reason why you need your own website or blog where YOU call the shots not Facebook…
Michelle Hummel - May 19th, 2010 at 8:20 pm "

" need your own website or blog..." Oh yes. Exactly. Your website is yours. People will find it, whether they are FB users or not. Forget Facebook!

So how is Facebook to make money? I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Targeted, discreet ads in the right column à la Google. (I'm prepared to give up certain aspects of my online privacy to have targeted ads rather than untargeted ones - for me that is a no-brainer.) And that's it. If this reduces the perceived value of Facebook, then so be it. Sorry guys and gals. But with 500 million users surely it is worth it for business to advertise?

Just a thought: Does all this winding up by Facebook of their 500 million and business to boot, bring my Second Wish a little bit closer?

PS: If you want to check that you have the strongest privacy settings at Facebook, and maybe completely lock-down the service, follow these 33(!) steps. Not all are sensible - why prevent your friends posting on your wall, for one thing? But as a basic guide to navigating FB's current byzantine privacy settings it is helpful.
(Note: some of the features are called different things in different parts of the world.)

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Saturday 15 May 2010

Grooming for cloud-computing, or simply misunderstanding Facebook?

I have been particularly interested by two recent announcements. Interested, but not necessarily desperately excited.

The first partially explains, but does not excuse, Google Books' bugger's muddle of an interface for their users' libraries which I raged against in a post last month. The second is the revelation that Microsoft's Office Web Apps, which copycats Google Docs, will apparently be made available, free, to all users of Facebook.

The first announcement concerned the coming of a Google ebooks store this summer. Yes, they are going to take on Apple and Amazon in this lucrative download market. Clearly the ebooks store will be intergrated with the main Google Books site. Nothing wrong with that. However, it does in some part explain Google Books' cack-handed redesign of their library interface to include compulsory social networking elements which I blogged about last month. Obviously Google wants to use the viral marketing potential of users (they hope ebook buyers) writing reviews and 'spreading the word' among other users/buyers. Again, nothing wrong with that - in principle. However, it does not excuse the awful botch-job they have made of the user library in anticipation of this momentous event. It still beggars belief that they can think making their five default 'shelves' undeletable and in-yer-face is any way constructive, user-friendly or displays the slightest trace of intelligence or adeptitude. I can only dream that when the ebooks store eventually goes live somebody at Google will realise that the current user libraries design needs binning. We live in hope.

The second announcement is of course Microsoft's direct attack on Google Docs with online apps of their own: Office 2010 will include "Office Web Apps". OK, fine. I am not particularly interested in who fights who for what share of the online apps market - so long as there IS a lively and developing online apps market. What does interest me is this quote from the BBC's piece on the subject:

"Crucially, Microsoft will also offer its online office suite to all users of one of the world's most popular social networking sites, Facebook."

Crucial? More like gimmicky - at least that's what first sprang to my mind. I have written many times about what Facebook is for - what users really want it for. It's really not for business, except as a benign adjunct to a much wider web presence. Social networking sites are really exactly that - exactly what the term 'social networking' implies. So do FB users really want to access, create and store Worddocs, spreadsheets and all that 'work' related stuff directly from their FB account? Somehow I expect that instead they will be slightly bemused - as they are by many of Facebook's tweaks and attempted innovations.

But hang on a minute.

Google Docs is the trail-blazing serious cloud-computing place for both business and individuals. However, it has been around a while now in internet terms, but as the BBC report states:

"Google Docs currently has a small (4%) but growing share of the [business] market."

Everybody recognises that cloud-computing is the way forward - for everbody. However, few businesses and individuals have made the switch so far. They don't really need to at the moment. Even cloud-computing evangelists like us at Glanton still have our hard drives cluttered up with MS Office, OpenOffice and all the bits and pieces of 'traditional' and fantastically wasteful home and office computing.

So what are Microsoft and Facebook playing at? It can only be grooming.

Grooming users to first realise there IS an online apps / cloud-computing universe out there; then accept it; then use it; then wonder how they ever lived without it. Office Web Apps at Facebook is not an end in itself. It is simply a (possibly) very clever way to worm their way into the consciousness of a very large user group. It may take some time to have any effect, but I believe the Facebook connection will fade in time as its job is done.

The success of this move may well start to show in the next few hardware buying cycles. If the FB user - now accepting the concept of cloud-computing - can buy a new laptop relatively cheap because it actually has fairly limited hard disk space and no bundled software packages like the traditional MS Office, but does have free access to Microsoft's new Office Web Apps - then they are going to be tempted aren't they? Or they will have learnt enough to know that they don't even need the access to MS Office Web Apps because they have already become a free Google Docs user.

When I find myself buying my next computer I am sure that is what I'll be looking for.

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