David RD Gratton

Category: Social Networks

Scoble ruins Facebook and Linkedin, but he may have a point

July 19, 2007

I found this post on Why Facebook Why now really surprising. Robert Scoble is a smart guy no question, but he appeared not to grasp what a social network is and that there can be many types. He compares to , as if belonging to one is mutually exclusive to belonging to another.

"I dropped off LinkedIn a year ago cause the expected useage model there is to have your friends do things for you. Pass along resumes, give references, etc. Because of my popularity I simply got too many requests to do those things. There is no such expectation on Facebook."

uhhh... that's the point of the LinkedIn network. I expect to get requests on LinkedIn to help my contacts with business. Also my contacts on LinkedIn range from very close business partners to loose connections that I met at a conference. My family and closest friends are not part of my LinkedIn contacts. Conversely, friends (new and old), family, and close business associates are on Facebook.

"I’ve been on Facebook for about a month and I’ve already gotten 2,452 friends."

uhhh... you have 2,452 friends! I'm a social guy, but you have to have a liberal definition of "friend" to have 2,452 people you call friends. Then I read:

I’ll add you to my friends’ list. Just request me to add you. Oh, did you know that once you’re my friend you can look around at all the people who are my friends? This makes getting access to interesting people very easy. If I get complaints about you, though, I’ll remove you as my friend, so don’t abuse this privilege. Thanks.

Ok so now I can be your friend for just reading your blog? This just sent me over the edge. Dude, how can we be friends if we have never had a dialog?

So... here is where I was writing a scathing rebuttal pointing out in detail the differences between LinkedIn and Facebook, and how by trying to use Facebook in the place of LinkedIn, Scoble was ruining Facebook! Then it donned on me. Robert's social life is probably completely tied to his work life and he is probably not alone. It makes sense that he would see very little separation in these networks.

I for one have been telling local indie bands to move to Facebook (from MySpace), because the "fan lists" they can generate there are much more valid and intimate. So, why wouldn't Robert want the same thing for his "fan list". Why not ask his readers to become friends. He can learn more about them and keep a more personal relationship with his readers. That's good business. Sign me up. I started out highly critical of his use of Facebook, but I now think Scoble has a point. I may also start using Facebook for my business contacts.

So what does this mean for LinkedIn?

LinkedIn has business relationship tools that I like to use. We have just been looking for a COO and got some great referrals from my LinkedIn network. I have been referred for business, and I have requested business introductions through the service. I suppose could have applied some of the tools in Facebook for this purpose, but the mechanisms are not as direct or as private as they are in LinkedIn. However, getting more personal information about my business contacts, which Scoble rightly points out is readily available on Facebook, would be highly useful.

So, LinkedIn should probably start developing a USEFUL Facebook application that leverages their tools. I would be so bold as to state that this is a much higher priority than developing their own API for 3rd parties.

(I still think Robert dropping off of LinkedIn because he was so popular that he received too many 'requests to do something' for his contacts is still misguided. The Tipping Point, or The Frog and Prince, would suggest that may not be a good networking decision.)

Niched Social Networks Will Likely Collapse MySpace and Facebook

July 10, 2007

I woke up this AM and checked my e-mail to find the following from my friend Aaron Gladders of 2paths:

Dude - you got mentioned in gigaom!

Ok, in my world that's pretty cool. A-list bloggers rarely link to Q-list bloggers like myself. And they rarely say something so flattering that you actually blush. In his post on the continued commoditization of social networks, Om wrote:
There have been much smarter people than me who figured this out long before I did. One of them, David RD Gratton recently channeling Thomas Vanderwal, recently wrote Beyond communities of Interest, communities don’t exist.

Ok, his "smarter than me" compliment is over the top and undeserved, but I'm still pretty chuffed that he reads my blog or at least a post here or there.

Now that I know Om is reading my posts - I better milk it for all I can. So I pointed out in the comments to his post what really has got me thinking recently on this subject is Dave Winer's opinion regarding our present social network environment.
"What was centralized in the form of Facebook, Linked-in, even YouTube, is going to blow up and reconstitute itself. How exactly it will happen is something the historians can argue about 25 years from now. It hasn't happened yet."

I think the the niching of social networks into highly identifiable communities of interest is what is going to cause the implosion of our present social network landscape. Let me elaborate. You are still reading aren't you?

Communities of interest imply niched social networks
The achilles heel in large generalized social networks are smaller niched social networks that service specific communities of interest. If my dominant interest is music, I am going to want to hang out in a music community. If it is cars, a car community. (Groups are neat, but they are insufficient. I can explain why in another post if anyone cares.)

The niching of social networks into smaller well defined communities of interest is, in my opinion, the reason that Facebook released an 'open' API. With it they aim to bethe social network platform and stave off being nipped at the heels by thousands of little but focused social networks. Although it is uncertain how the API gambit will play out, my feeling is that these apps have proven to be little more than diversion-type widgets and any truly useful social tool may in fact wind up transferring users from Facebook to the niche social network that created the tool. Meta network plays like Ning and People Aggregator will only add to the niching of social networks, should they prove successful. They are not the end game in my opinion and I bet Dave Winer's opinion as well. They are also not guaranteed successes regardless of a $44 million funding by Ning.

We belong to many communities of interest and shift effortlessly amongst them
We belong to many many communities of interest:
Broadly, I follow music and I am interested in hearing new GOOD music. More specifically I am a rabid Pink Floyd fan. (One last tour with Waters and Gilmour for God Sake! PLEASE.)
I am also interested in dog obedience training. More specifically I am interested in Wheaton Terriers.
I am interested in Web and mobile development. More specifically social networking application development.

I will gravitate to these specific social networks. However, in regular life I move seamlessly among these interests and communities. In my Web community, I have people who are interested in discussing dog training or Wheatons in particular. We talk about Web development and we can slip right into talking about dogs in little more than a heart beat. I do not change dress. I do not change my seat. I don't meet them in another office. This reality of human interaction is what needs to be reflected in cyberspace. OpenID, attribution exchange, etc is not a solution to this problem.

Blowing up social networks
Ok so what does this world look like?
I don't know. (Yeah, that's a bit of a let down if you have read this far.)


I think it looks a little like "Technorati" tags, (or at least what I thought they tried to do) and a little like usenet. Don't worry I don't mean it literally will look like usenet. And before anyone jumps on me, I say Technorati tags to distinguish them from how tags are generally used on del.icio.us, flickr, lastfm, etc, which are really used for personal categorization. Ok, the idea is still fuzzy in my head, but I think we will not log on or even need to register (e-mail, user name, password) to "most" communities we belong to in the future. We will identify our interest by simply saying so (tagging), and we will participate. What made Facebook so great? I could tag myself as Queen's University 1989 and presto I found all my classmates. (if we have anything to say to one another is another question) Is Facebook as a centralized service necessary for that functionality?

Online social networks integrated with MMOs

June 21, 2007

MTV launched the Alpha version of their 4th MMO titled VLES last week. VLES stands for Virtual Lower East Side. VLES is unique in that it is a near exact replica of NY's actual Lower East Side - spiritual home of the hipster.

My two companies, Donat Group and Project Opus, are the developers of the accompanying social network and music sharing tools built on Drupal. The MMO is built by Doppelganger, and the creative is driven by Virtue.

With VLES MTV is working hard at combining MMO world with the Web/social network world with the real "meat" world.


Not Direct Integration But A Suite Of Open Source Products and Services

May 6, 2007

David Tosh wrote an insightful reply to my post on having opensource projects collaborate on development.

He states:
While I do agree with David that better communication between the various open source projects would be a really good thing; I just don’t see it working in practise. Well, not as direct collaborations.

  1. The end users: open source projects often gain partisan followers; for good reason - if the software has served them well they want to stick by it. Many of them will not want to think about the possibility of using another application and would rather wait for their platform of choice to gain the functionality.
  2. The business model: the large open source projects are usually trying to make money in some capacity from all the hard work put in, so why encourage their avid followers to use another piece of software? Competition still exists within open source.
  3. The developers: there can be a fair bit of work involved in proper integration; in fact, in most cases it would be easier to just build a plugin for your own application that replicates the required functionality.
  4. The future: direct integrations between similar apps will be a waste of effort if one or other of the applications changes their policy; license; or their very exsitance ceases.

I for the most part agree with Dave, except for point number one and part of two. I consider that zealotry and quite literally foolish. Are Drupal followers going to wait until the Drupal community develops a fully functional course management component that duplicates everything in Moodle?

I think where Dave and I may see things differently is that I think certain software packages like Drupal and Moodle or Moodle and ELGG, or all three for that matter as a potential software or service suite. I think Moodle, ELGG, Drupal and others can be combined into a powerful suite for customers. Simply having them exist and creating open APIs (which I agree are needed and critical) is simply not enough in my opinion. In 1990/1991 when Microsoft Office came out - at least as I recall - it was just a software bundle; there was no integration among the apps. You could cut and paste and open files among them to some extent via the OS API ;). In the mid 90s MS Office stopped being a loosely coupled bundle of productivity software and became a robust integrated software suite. Like it or hate it, people needed it. It worked and we bought it.

In education there is a need for:

  • Course management tools
  • Content management / website creator tools
  • Social networking tools
  • Portfolio tools

I think it is reasonable to assume that one framework or software package would have difficulty providing all of the above. It would also become a nightmare for ongoing development - it would be a beast. In fact a company deciding to build such a beast, would probably decide to split up the product into a pseudo standalone suite of tools - for ease of development if nothing else. Word, PowerPoint, Excel are all independent pieces of software with their own independent development teams. But the teams work together to ensure the suite works together and that certain code is shared among the apps.

This is what I am advocating.

Update: David Tosh has tried to work with some of the communities I have mentioned but apparently got responses 1 and 2 for his efforts. I'm not privy to the details or reasons for the rebuff. Maybe there were good reasons, maybe not. I really hope it is not endemic to these communities to refuse to work together in a more formal manner .

Rouxbe: a new Internet business actualling MAKING original content!

April 16, 2007

With so many companies focused on user generated content or aggregating content it is really refreshing to see a company like Rouxbe ( pronounced ROO - BE). Joe Girard the founder of Rouxbe has decided to take a different path and create original content for the Internet. As the company name indicates, Rouxbe, delivers personal culinary instruction. If you watch the Food Network like I do you, you will have noticed the decreasing focus on food preparation. The content on Rouxbe is outstanding: this is not about personality. It's about food! The production quality of the video and presentation is amazing. To Joe and his team, clearly food is about "experience". They have even gone so far as to create their own musical pairings! Rouxbe team member, Elliott Fienberg is a composer. His focus is on creating original musical pairings for each dish. You can listen to a sample of Rouxbe music here.

The video player uses a layered "drill down" approach that my company originally developed for Electronic Arts and User Friendly in 2000 and dusted off for Rouxbe in 2006. However, in the last year, the Rouxbe team has really improved the user experience from our original player and created a near perfect viewing experience for video instruction. The drill down approach enables viewers of varying skill and knowledge level to advance at their own pace without removing them from the context of what they are learning. There are distinct advantages to the Rouxbe approach versus a standard recipe site. Technique is critical to food preparation, but it is very difficult to demonstrate in text alone, even with images. Joe and his partner Dawn Thomas are accomplished and reputable chefs, who show you how with all the tricks of the trade to actually make food like the pros.

There are also plans for a social network, which I am really excited to see when it is launched.

Check out the site.

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