One of the peeves I had with the official Twitter client on Windows Phone 7, something I didn’t mention in my review of the platform, was that among the other things that its sub-par at (it really is the poor bastard child of its iOS/Android cousins) it couldn’t display images in-line. In order to actually see any image you have to tap the tweet then the thumbnail in order to get a look at it, which usually loads the entire large image which isn’t required on smaller screens. The official apps on other platforms were quite capable of loading appropriate sized images in the feed which was a far better experience, especially considering it worked for pretty much all of the image sharing services.
Everyone knows there’s no love lost between Instagram and I but that doesn’t mean I don’t follow people who use it. As far back as I can remember their integration in the mobile apps has left something to be desired, especially if you want to view the full sized image which usually redirected you to their atrocious web view. Testing it for this post showed that they’ve vastly improved that experience which is great, especially considering I’m still on Windows Phone 7 which was never able to preview Instagram anyway, but it seems that this improvement may have come as part of a bigger play from Instagram trying to claw back their users from Twitter.
Reports are coming in far that Instagram has disabled their Twitter card integration which stops Twitter from being able to display the images directly in the feed like they have been doing since day 1. Whilst I don’t seem to be experiencing the issue that everyone is reporting (as you can see from the devastatingly cute picture above) there are many people complaining about this and Instagram has stated that disabling this integration is part of their larger strategy to provide a better experience through their platform. Part of that was improve the mobile web experience which I mentioned earlier.
It’s an interesting move because for those of us who’ve been following both Twitter and Instagram for a while the similarities are startling. Twitter has been around for some 6 years and it spent the vast majority of that being a company that was extraordinarily open with its platform, encouraging developers far and wide to come in and develop on their platform. Instagram, whilst not being as wide open as Twitter was, did similar things making their product integrate tightly with Twitter’s ecosystem whilst encouraging others to develop on it. Withdrawing from Twitter in favour of their own platform is akin to what Twitter did to potential client app developers, essentially signalling to everyone that it’s our way or the highway.
The cycle is eerily similar, both companies started out as small time players that had a pretty dedicated fan base (although Instagram grew like a weed in comparison to Twitter’s slow ride to the hockey stick) and then after getting big they start withdrawing all the things that made them great. Arguably much of Instagram’s growth came from its easy integration with Twitter where many of the early adopters already had large followings and without that I don’t believe they would’ve experienced the massive growth they did. Disabling this functionality seems like they’re shooting themselves in the foot with the intention of attempting some form of monetization eventually (that’s the only reason I can think of for trying to drive users back to the native platform) but I said the same thing about Twitter when they pulled that developer stunt, and they seem to be doing fine.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that this is what happens when start ups hit the big time because at that point they have to start thinking seriously about where they’re going. For giant sites like Instagram that are still yet to turn a profit from the service they provide it’s inevitable that they’d have to start fundamentally changing the way they do business and this is most likely just the first step in wider sweeping changes. I’m still wondering how Facebook is going to turn a profit from this investment as they’re $1 billion in the hole and there’s no signs of them making that back any time soon.
The wonderful world of tech Initial Public Offerings isn’t the same beast that it was back in the hey days of the dot com boom. Gone are the days when caution was thrown to the wind on any company that managed to demonstrate a modicum of social proof, where the idea of going IPO was just a way to get another round of keeping a company going until they found a sustainable business model. Today whilst going IPO is still done with an eye to gather more funds for expansions they’re also big events for investment companies to make a quick buck on the hype surrounding a tech company going public. So much so that it’s become something of a trend for sexy high tech companies stock’s to soar on the first day only to come back down to reality not long after.
Take LinkedIn for example. On its opening day the share price skyrocketed, more than doubling its price on the opening day. Many took this as a sign that the tech bubble was returning with a vengeance, that tech companies would soon be inflating the market beyond its sustainable limits and that we were seeing the makings of another crash. More astute observers recognised that instead it was actually a ploy by the investment companies managing the IPO process. Instead of it being a sign that these tech companies were fuelling another bubble it was the investment companies severely under-pricing the IPO. Doing this would seem highly counter-intuitive, I mean who wouldn’t want the best debut price? The answer is of course, and unfortunately, very simple.
They wanted to be the ones who profited the most from the IPO.
Pricing the IPO so low meant that the initial buyers could acquire many more shares than they could if the IPO. Knowing that the stock was undervalued they then just had to wait for the pricing to hit it’s trading peak before unloading their shares on the market. Done at the peak of the LinkedIn IPO companies like Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan who were underwriters were able to get an easy 1X return without little to no risk. Employees and preferred stock holders who elected to have shares in the IPO got screwed of course, but that’s not a concern for these big name investment firms.
So it was with great anticipation that I watched the recent Facebook IPO. It’s by far the biggest tech IPO in history and also managed to set records in terms of trade volume on the first day. Since then it’s been a slow downhill trend for the nascent stock, shedding something like $11 per share since its high of around $42. Whilst the first day of trading was cause for concern, mostly because there wasn’t an insane pop like there was for all other tech stocks, the following days have been nothing short of astonishing at least for the investors who jumped in alongside everyone else on the first release shares. You’d think that this was a bad thing but for this aspiring start-uper it’s nothing short of glorious.
The other tech IPOs that showed explosive growth only did so because they were engineered that way. Now I have no idea why the Facebook IPO didn’t, it certainly had all the makings of one, but there’s a good chance that the watchful eye of the SEC had something to do with it. For all the people who bought in early they’re undeniably screwed but there is one group of people who (rightly so) profited from Facebook’s IPO: the people at the company.
The shares that made up the original offering would have come from preferred stock (early investors), common stock (employees) and options that other people had accured over Facebook’s 8 year lifespan.For them a right priced IPO that then declines in value means that they’ve got the maximum amount of value they could and were not screwed over by an artificially low stock price. Of course this has the not-so-nice aspect of pissing off a lot of investors, many of whom are now crying foul over the share price making a beeline for penny stock level. That’s warranted to some extent but you’ll forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for those companies who screwed over many a tech company in the past in the pursuit of a quick buck.
The question on everyone’s lips is where Facebook’s stock will go from here. Honestly I’m not sure, they’ve definitely struggling with mobile which is starting to heavily cut into their revenue and apparently the reason behind their Instagram acquisition but you’d figure that they’ve innovated heavily in the past so they should be able to turn it around in the not too distant future. Still all this negative press isn’t going to do the stock price any favours so unless the commentators want to see the price keep falling they should probably just shut their yaps and wait for the market to properly correct. The next few weeks will be very interesting times indeed and I can’t wait to see how the investor butthurt plays out.
I’m a kinda-sorta photography buff, one who’s passion is only restrained by his rigid fiscal sensibility and lack of time to dedicate to taking pictures. Still I find the time to keep up with the technology and I usually find myself getting lost in a sea of lenses, bodies and various lighting rigs at least once a month simply because the tech behind getting good photographs is deeply intriguing. Indeed whenever I see a good photograph on the Internet I’m always fascinated by the process the photographer went through to create it, almost as much as I am when it comes to the tech.
Such a passion is at odds with the recently Facebook acquired app Instagram (or any of those filter picture apps).
To clear the air first yes I have an account on there and yes there are photos on it. To get all meta-hipster on your asses for a second I was totally into Instagram (then known as Burbn) before it was even known as that, back when it was still a potential competitor to my fledgling app. Owing then to my “better get on this bandwagon early” mentality back then I created an account on Instagram and used the service as it was intended: to create faux-artistic photos by taking bad cell phone pictures and then applying a filter to them. My usage of it stopped when I made the switch to Android last year and for a time I was wondering when it would come to my new platform of choice.
It did recently but in that time between then and now I came to realise that there really is nothing in the service that I can identify with. For the vast majority of users it serves as yet another social media platform, one where they can show case their “talent” to a bunch of like minded people (or simply followers from another social media platform following them to the platform du’jour). In reality all that Instagram does is auto-tune bad cell phone pictures, meaning that whilst they might be visually appealing (as auto-tuned songs generally are) they lack any substance thanks to their stock method of creation. The one thing they have going for them is convenience since you always have your phone with you but at the same time that’s why most of the photos on there are of mundane shit that no one really cares about (mine included).
To be fair I guess the issue I have isn’t so much with the Instagram service per say, probably more with the people who use it. When I see things like this guide as to which filter to use (which I’m having a hard time figuring out whether its an elaborate troll or not) I can’t help but feel that the users somehow think that they’ve suddenly become wonderful photographers by virtue of their phone and some filters. Should the prevailing attitude not be the kind of snobbish, hipster-esque douchery that currently rules the Insatgram crowd I might have just ignored the service rather than ranting about it.
From a business point of view the Instagram acquisition by Facebook doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. It’s the epitome of the business style that fuelled the dot com bust back in the early 2000′s: a company with a hell of a lot of social proof but no actual revenue model (apart from getting more investors) gets snapped up by a bigger company looking to either show that it’s still trying to expand (Facebook in this case) or a dying company hoping that it can revive itself through acquisitions. Sure for a potential $100 billion company lavishing 1% of your worth on a hot new startup will seem like peanuts but all they’ve done is buy a cost centre, one that Facebook has said they have no intention of mucking with (good for the users, potentially bad for Facebook’s investors).
Instagram produces nothing of merit and using it does not turn one from a regular person into some kind of artist that can produce things with any merit. Seriously if you want to produce those kinds of pictures and not be a total dick about it go and grab the actual cameras and try to recreate the pictures. If that sounds like too much effort then don’t consider yourself a photographer or an artist, you’re just a kid playing with a photography set and I shall treat the pictures you create as such.
I don’t know how people keep getting caught up with their online social presence like they do, what with the dozens of stories that seem to come out each week about someone who’s been burned by their social networking activities. I’d like to say that I’m lucky that it hasn’t happened to me but it’s got nothing to do with luck and everything with the company I keep. All of my friends are aware of the impact putting up compromising pictures on the Internet and there’s an unspoken agreement that nothing of the sort will make it up there. However for those people out there who have “friends” who delight in posting embarrassing pictures of them online and haven’t learnt the privacy settings of Facebook there’s a lot you can do to make sure that they don’t come back to bite you in the ass.
The idea I’m talking about is called honey potting.
The nomenclature comes from the IT Security/hacker crowd and is used in reference to a system that’s set up to be attractive to people with less than righteous intents. In essence you’d set up this system so that a would be hacker would target it first and you’d set up alarms in order to alert you to when someone’s going in there. The core of the idea is that not only do you know that the intruders are coming you also control exactly what they see in that honey pot environment. Extrapolating that idea to the world of social networks and the potential for embarrassment contained therein the idea would then be to craft an online persona that’s more easily found via a cursory Google search than those compromising Facebook pictures are.
For me this was done accidentally when I created this blog. My name is tagged on every post and after 3 years of blogging any search for my name usually ends up with this blog at the top or something equally safe such as my LinkedIn profile or Twitter page. Facebook is much further down and contains barely any details on me at all (apart from a few pictures) meaning that the impression that a potential future employer will get will be mostly shaped by what they see on those other sites. Sure it’s not exactly a quick fix that people would be looking for but it works.
This strategy won’t help you too much if your employer asks for your Facebook login upon applying for a job though. Should they do that however I’d advise you to turn tail and run as far away from them as you can since a company that requires that level of invasion will more than likely screw you in more ways than you can imagine. I have no sympathy for people who willingly put compromising information on a public forum but an employer has no right to ask for that level of access.
Of course this doesn’t excuse the questionably ethical process of tracking down all the information on a potential candidate. Whilst the ultimate solution is abstaining completely (although that can lead to the undesirable situation of the Internet making your persona for you in the mind of the searcher) most won’t choose to do that. Hell even if you can manage your friends it’s still a good idea to craft an online persona that looks the way you want it to be, rather than one that constructs itself.
Google+ has only been around for a mere 2 months yet I already feel like writing about it is old hat. In the short time that the social networking service as been around its had a positive debut to the early adopter market, seen wild user growth and even had to tackle some hard issues like their user name policy and user engagement. I said very early on that Google had a major battle on their hands when they decided to launch another volley at an another silicone valley giant but early indicators were pointing towards them at least being a highly successful niche product at the very least, if for the only fact that they were simply “Facebook that wasn’t Facebook“.
One of the things that was always lacking from the service was an API that was on the same level as its competitors. Both Facebook and Twitter both have exceptional APIs that allow services to deeply integrate with them and, at least in the case of Twitter, are responsible in a large part for their success. Google was adamant that an API was on the way and just under a week ago they delivered on their promise, releasing an API for Google+:
Developers have been waiting since late June for Google to release their API to the public. Well, today is that Day. Just a few minute ago Chris Chabot, from Google+ Developer Relations, announced that the Google+ API is now available to the public. The potential for this is huge, and will likely set Google+ on a more direct path towards social networking greatness. We should see an explosion of new applications and websites emerge in the Google+ community as developers innovate, and make useful tools from the available API. The Google+ API at present provides read-only access to public data posted on Google+ and most of the Google+ API follows a RESTful API design, which means that you must use standard HTTP techniques to get and manipulate resources.
Like all their APIs the Google+ one is very well documented and even the majority of their client libraries have been updated to include the new API. Looking over the documentation it appears that there’s really only 2 bits of information available to developers at this point in time, those being public Profiles (People) and activities that are public. Supporting these APIs is the OAuth framework so that users can authorize external applications so that they can access their data on Google+. In essence this is a read only API for things that were already publicly accessible which really only serves to eliminate the need to screen scrape the same data.
I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed in this API. Whilst there are some useful things you can do with this data (like syndicating Google+ posts to other services and reader clients) the things that I believe Google+ would be great at doing aren’t possible until applications can be given write access to my stream. Now this might just be my particular use case since I usually use Twitter for my brief broadcasts (which is auto-syndicated to Facebook) and this blog for longer prose (which is auto shared to Twitter) so my preferred method of integration would be to have Twitter post stuff to my Google+ feed. Because as it is right now my Google+ account is a ghost town compared to my other social networks simply because of the lack of automated syndication.
Of course I understand that this isn’t the final API, but even as a first attempt it feels a little weak.
Whilst I won’t go as far as to say that Google+ is dying there is data to suggest that the early adopter buzz is starting to wind down. Anecdotally my feed seems to mirror this trend with average time between posts on there being days rather than minutes it is on my other social networks. The API would be the catalyst required to bring that activity back up to those initial levels but I don’t think it’s capable of doing so in its current form. I’m sure that Google won’t be a slouch when it comes to releasing new APIs but they’re going to have to be quick about it if they want to stem the flood of inactivity.
I really want to use Google+, I really do it’s just that the lack of interoperability that keeps all my data out of it. I’m sure in the next couple months we’ll see the release of a more complete API that will enable me to use the service as I, and many others I feel, use our other social networking services.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of what Google’s done with their latest product, Plus. Initial impressions of the service were good with the interface being clean and apart from the Huddle app experiencing some technical difficulties it was essentially bug free. It also seemed to be quite the hit with it gathering 10 million users in just 2 weeks, no small feat even for a tech giant like Google. I’ve been using the service ever since it launched to the public and now that we’re starting to get to the tail end of the honeymoon period for Google+ I’m starting to see some similarities to other social networks I once used, and that’s not a good thing.
When I first saw Google+ the first thing I thought of, and I wasn’t the only one to think this, was how persuasive Google could be in order to drag my friends across from Facebook. Now initial numbers were pretty good, with about 20% of my friends signing up in the first few weeks. They were all my somewhat technically inclined friends and I had expected the majority to come across in the early adopter wave. However the rest of my social network hasn’t shown any traction at all and in fact mentioning the fledgling social network to them draws blank stares. Thus whilst I was quick to see a good chunk of people come across the inertia for the regular user to jump ship is, at least at this point in time, still way too high.
It’s also become apparent that even these early adopters seem to value Google+ as a second rate candidate for their social networking. Whilst both my Twitter and Facebook feeds see dozens of updates every day I can’t say the same for Google+, sometimes going days without seeing anything new on my front page. I’ll admit that I too barely post anything to the service as most of my activities are automatically syndicated by way of in built APIs. There are of course solutions to this but unfortunately unlike WordPress, Twitter and Facebook which have rather elegant solutions anything involving Google+ at this point feels rather hacky. This may change once Google releases an official API and allows native apps ala Facebook, but since all my other technical friends aren’t syndicating their streams it makes me wonder if they’re that engaged with Google+ in the first place.
My anecdotal experience however doesn’t explain why Google+ is seeing such explosive growth. They hit 10 million in just a fortnight and managed to more than double that to 25 million just two weeks after that. By all rights that would seem to be an impressive number of people who were looking for an alternative to Facebook (around 5% of their users, give or take) but still a tiny number comparatively. Realistically it’s still way too early as whilst such traction is impressive it’s still very early days for Google+ and the real test will be if they can capture any semblance of that exponential growth in the next 6 months.
Google, to their credit, hasn’t been resting on their laurels since launching just a month and a half ago. Just recently they launched the games section of Google+ which includes a fair number of familiar titles. Whilst I haven’t had a play around in that section yet it does seem to be an almost straight up port of the games section of the Chrome Web Store. This isn’t a bad thing as it means that those looking to develop for the Google+ platform can already do so, just that it seems like a bit of duplication of effort even if Google+ and Chrome target different markets. Still initial reviews of the games service aren’t entirely positive but there is hope for future iterations that have tighter integration with the Google+ platform.
Google+ also seems to be sticking to its guns when it comes to being clear of privacy with it managing to avoid any scandals in that area. There has been the rather sticky issue of those users who didn’t want to use their real name getting booted from Google+ and subsequently losing everything attached to that Google account. This is really the only major issue that Google has faced with their network and whilst I can understand their position their reaction to those users has been rather heavy handed. Considering nearly all other Google services allow you to operate under a nickname many were under the impression that they could do the same on Google+. Whether Google will change this policy in the future remains up for speculation.
The next few months are going to be crucial for the ongoing success of the Google+ platform. They’ve definitely managed to make a product that a lot of people want however the competition they are going up against has a long head start, enough that such explosive growth looks like a drop in the bucket to them. Fortunately Google does seem committed to the platform with it being under heavy active development and it’s those improvements and additions to the service that will determine whether or not it becomes a viable alternative to Facebook.
If you haven’t yet got an invite to Google+ you can click here to get yourself an invite.
The perception in the tech community, at least up until recently, was that Google simply didn’t understand social the way Twitter and Facebook does. The figures support this view too, with Facebook fast approaching 1 billion users and Twitter not even blinking an eye when Buzz came on the scene. Still they’ve had some mild success with their other social products so whilst they might not have been the dominant social platform so I believe they get social quite well, they’re just suffering from the superstar effect that makes any place other than first look like a lot like last. Google+ then represents something of reinvention of their previous attempts with a novel approach to modelling social interactions, and it seems to be catching on.
It’s only been 2 weeks since Google+ became available to the wider public and it’s already managed to attract an amazing 10 million users. Those users have also already shared over 1 billion articles in the short time that G+ has been available. For comparison Buzz, which I can’t seem to find accurate user information on, shared an impressive 9 million articles in 2 days a far cry from the success that G+ has been enjoying. What these numbers mean is that Google is definitely doing something right with the new platform and the users are responding in kind. However we’re still deep in the honeymoon period for Google+ and whilst their initial offering is definitely a massive step in the right direction we’ll have to wait and see if this phenomenal growth can continue.
That’s not to say the G+ platform doesn’t have the potential to do so, far from it. Right now the G+ platform stands alone in its own ecosystem with only a tenuous link to the outside world via the +1 button (which ShareThis is still yet to implement and I don’t want to install yet another button to get it). Arguably much of the success of G+’s rival platforms comes from their APIs and with the initial user traction problem out of the way G+ is poised to grab an even larger section of the market once they release their API. I believe the API will be critical to the success of G+ and not just because that’s what their competitors did.
Google+, for me at least, feels like it would be the best front end to all my social activities on the web. Whilst there are many other services out there that have been attempting to be the portal to online social networking none of them have managed to capture my attention in quite the same way as G+ has done. The circles feature of G+ is also very conducive to aggregation as I could easily put all my LinkedIn contacts in Colleagues, Twitter in Following and Facebook friends in well, the obvious place. Then my G+ stream would become the magical single pane of glass I’d go to for all my social shenanigans and those who weren’t on G+ would still be connected to me through their network of choice.
That last point is key as whilst G+’s growth is impressive it’s still really only hitting a very specific niche, mostly tech enthusiasts and early adopters. That’s not a small market by any stretch of the imagination but since less than 20% of my social circle has made their way onto G+ from Facebook the ability to communicate cross platforms will be one of the drivers of growth for this platform. Whilst I’d love G+ to become the dominant platform it’s still 740 million users short of hitting that goal and Facebook has a 7 year lead on them with this. It’s not impossible, especially with the kind of resources and smarts Google has to throw at the problem, but it’s not a problem that can be solved by technology alone.
Google+ is definitely on track to be a serious contender to Facebook but its still very early days for the service. What’s ahead of Google is a long, uphill battle against an incumbent that’s managed to take down several competitors already and has established themselves as the de-facto social network. Unlike like their other social experiments before it Google+ has the most potential to bring about change in the online social networking ecosystem and with a wildly successful 2 weeks under their belt Google is poised to become a serious competitor, if not the one to beat.
If there’s one thing that the search giant Google doesn’t seem to be able to get right it’s social networking. This isn’t for lack of trying however, in Google Latitude is one of the most popular location based social networking applications out there and Orkut, their first social network, is still going strong with over 100 million users. However Orkut is still a far cry from what Facebook has become and Buzz has come no where near touching Twitter as a platform, even with the advantage of being right up in every Gmail user’s face. Google isn’t one to take things like this lightly and rumors have been swirling around for a long time that they were prepping to launch a new product that would be a direct competitor for the social networking starlets.
Today they announced Google+.
In essence it’s yet another social network, but it seems to combine aspects from all the hot start up ideas of the past couple years (group messaging, video chat, social recommendations, filtered photos) with a UX experience that feels distinctly non-googlesque. Whilst the product isn’t available for people to use right now you can put your name and email address in here to get added into the product sometime in the future. The screenshots I’ve been able to get my hands on have definitely piqued my interest in the product, not least of which is because of some of the features.
The first concept that I like, and one that had been talked about extensively prior to the announcement, was the Circles feature. Basically it lets you create groups of people out of your greater social network for sharing things like pictures and status updates. It’s a different paradigm to that of groups within Facebook since they’re only visible to you. It’s a great way of getting around that whole limited profile thing you have to laboriously set up within Facebook to make sure that you don’t inadvertently share something to people you didn’t want to. Grouping people up by interests is great too since I’m sure that not everyone is interested in the same things that I am.
The media sharing aspect sounds interesting too with Google saying it will be heavily integrated with mobile. In essence every picture or movie you take can be automatically uploaded to Google+, although it remains hidden until you choose to share it. Their image editor apparently integrates Instagram like photo filters for those of us who think that makes them some kind of artist, which is great but I feel is only there because that whole filtered photo thing is so hot right now. Google+ also has what they call Hangouts, basically video chat rooms that up to 10 friends can join. Hopefully that product doesn’t necessarily require video to work as it would be great to get an upgrade to Google Talk.
However after looking at what Google+ has to offer I started thinking about what I’d be using it for. I’d love to start using it in place of Facebook but unfortunately my entire social network is already on there and apart from the technically curious among them I can’t see any of them bothering to make the transition across to Google+. This means for Google+ to be any use to me it will need to have some pretty heavy duty integration with Facebook (and probably Twitter) in order for me to use it for any length of time. Google has been mum on the details of how deep the integration with existing social networks will go so we’ll just have to wait and see how they tackle this issue.
Like any new Google product it’s always interesting to see what kinds of innovations they bring to the table. Whilst nothing revolutionary in itself Google+ does show that Google is taking the whole social idea very seriously now and is looking to capitalize on many current trends in order to draw people to its platform. Whether or not this will lead to Google+ becoming a successful social network to rival that of Facebook and Twitter remains to be seen but I’ve already put my hand up to be one of the first to try out their latest offering, and I know I’m not alone in that regard (since the page refused to load twice when I tried to sign up).
Betas are a tricky thing to get right. Realistically when you’re testing a beta product you’ve got a solid foundation of base functionality that you think is ready for prime time but you want to see how they’ll fair in the wild as there’s no way for you to catch all the bugs in the lab. Thus you’d want your product to get into the hands of as many users as you possibly could as that gives you the best chance to catch anything before you go prime time. Many companies now release beta versions of upcoming software for free to the general public in order to do this and for many of them it’s proven to work quite well. However more recently I’ve seen beta testing used as a way to promote a product rather than test it and the main way they do that is through artificial scarcity.
Rewind back to yonder days of 2004 and you’ll find me happily slogging away at my various exploits when a darkness forms on the horizon: World of Warcraft. After seeing many of the game play videos and demos before I was enamoured with the game long before it hit the retail shelves. You can then imagine my elation when I found out there was a competition for a treasured few closed beta invitations and not 10 minutes later had I entered. As it turns out I got in and promptly spent the next fortnight playing my way through the game and revelling in the new found exclusivity that it had granted me. Being a closed beta tester was something rather special and I spoke nothing of praise to all my friends about this upcoming game.
Come back to the present day and we can make parallels to the phenomenon that is #newtwitter. Starting out on the iPad as the official Twitter Client #newtwitter is an evolution in the service that Twitter is delivering, offering deeper integration with services that augment it and significantly jazzing up the interface. Initially it was only available to a select subset of the wider Twitter audience and strangely enough most of them appeared to be either influential Twitter users or those in the technology media. The reviews of the new Twitter client were nothing short of amazing and as the client has made its way around to more of the waiting public people have been more than eager to get their hands on it. Those carefully chosen beta testers at the start helped formed a positive image that’s helped keep any negativity at bay, even with their recent security problems.
This is in complete contrast to the uproar that was felt when Facebook unveiled its new user interface at the end of last year. Unlike the previous two examples the new Facebook interface was turned on all at once for every single user that visited the site. Immediately following this millions of users cried out in protest, despising the new design and the amount of information that was being presented to them. Instead of the new Facebook being something cool to be in on it proved to be enough of an annoyance to a group of people to cause a stir about it, rather than sing its praises.
The difference lies in the idea of artificial scarcity. You see there really wasn’t anything stopping Blizzard or Twitter from releasing their new product onto the wider world all at once as Facebook did however it was advantageous to them for numerous reasons. For both it allowed them to get a good idea of how their product would work in the wild and catch any major issues before release. Additionally the exclusivity granted to those few souls who got the new product early put them on a pedestal, something to be envied by those who were doing without. Thus the product that was already desirable becomes even more so because not everyone can have it. Doing a gradual release of the product also ensures that that air of exclusivity remains long after it’s released to the larger world as can be seen with #newtwitter.
I say all this because honestly, it works. As soon as I heard about #newtwitter I wanted in on it (mostly because it would be great blog fodder) and the fact that I couldn’t do anything to get it just made me want it all the more. I’ve also got quite a few applications on my phone that I signed up for simply because of the mystery and exclusivity they had, although I admit the fascination didn’t last long for them. Still the idea of a scarce product seems to work well even in the digital age where such restrictions are wholly artificial. Just like when say someone posts a teaser screenshot on Facebook sans URL to an upcoming web application.
I’m sure most of you knew what I was up to anyway
There’s no question now that the hot thing for any company to do is to make some kind of software that has a social component to it, and why wouldn’t you. If your product is based around friends (and not really friends) interacting with each other then the marketing really does itself, so long as your product is somewhat useful or novel. It’s getting to the point where once a service has been around for a while they will inevitably either integrate with Facebook or build in their own social networking components, usually to keep driving the user numbers upwards. No company seems to be immune to this, even my fledgling little application allows you to login via Facebook, except for one: Microsoft. Despite the social revolution that seems to be rampaging on around them Microsoft has quietly kicked back letting others duke it out for social supremacy. For a company that’s renowned for throwing money around in order to gain market share in pretty much every IT related area their silence on the social scene is quite eerie, verging on the point of them knowing something the rest of us don’t.
For the most part their strategy seems to have been one of going along with the current trend of integrating their products with the current social giants. Their MSN Messenger product was just recently updated with a new beta that had Facebook integration. Already it’s garnered a healthy 4.6 million users or approximately 1% of Facebook’s user base. That might not sound like much but considering that it’s still in beta and the current incarnation of the Live product has well over 330 million users you can expect that a lot of people are going to be getting their Facebook fix from Microsoft. Additionally many Outlook users would be familiar with their new Social Connector which is in essence a social network for businesses and has been getting some traction due to its integration with Sharepoint and the Office suite of products.
Still there’s no Microsoft Social Network (MSN? Ha!) to be found, so what’s the deal?
Part of the answer would seem to lie in the past. Rewind back about 3 years and you’ll come across a flurry of articles speculating on a bidding war between Microsoft and Google for a piece of the next hottest thing: Facebook. Surprisingly enough Microsoft won out in the end managing to secure a small share of the company for a cool $240 million, or 1.6% stake. This was a continuation of the relationship that they had established previously when Microsoft secured an advertising deal with Facebook just one year earlier. Still it was an odd move for Microsoft as the investment was peanuts for them (They had over $23 billion in cash on hand, yes cash) and realistically even if the company went to IPO and they got a 10x exit from it you’re still only looking at $2.4 billion dollars for a company who turns that over in about 2 weeks, so it was more a foot in the door than anything else. Their recent integration activities with Facebook also shows that they’re more keen to work with them rather than try to push them out of the market.
Strangely enough it looks like Microsoft actually did try to compete with Facebook all those years ago. I’ll admit I didn’t know about this when I first starting writing this post, I came across it in my research, but it appears that in response to Facebook going open to all back in 2006 Microsoft retaliated by launching their own site Wallop:
Seattle-based Microsoft Corp.‘s (NASDAQ: MSFT) spin off Wallopsaid Tuesday it was starting service. It’s a site intended to compete head on with MySpace and Facebook. Wallop starts with $13 million in backing from Microsoft, Norwest Venture Partners, Bay Partners and Consor Capital.
Considering that I’ve never heard of this site it’s not surprising that it never managed to get off the ground. Checking out the wiki page on the service it appears that they left their lofty ambitions behind back in 2008 instead focusing on developing applications for social networks rather than trying to compete with them. This it would seem is the reason behind Microsoft’s curious lack of a real social network. They tried, they failed and then realised that there was more to be done with them than against them. This really is contrary to their normal kind of behaviour and I’m sure there’s an ulterior motive to this that I just can’t figure out.
Taking a wild stab in the dark I’d say that they just don’t think they can take the shine off Facebook’s crown. Microsoft really isn’t the kind of company you expect to make products and services like that, they’re more of an underlying services platform that will deliver those products to you. Considering this is where their main revenue line is drawn from it’s not surprising but it’s still one of the first times where it looks like Microsoft has just thrown in the towel and capitulated to the competition. It will be interesting to see how this maneuver pays off as Google starts to ramp up their efforts in the social space with a rumoured Google Me service starting to make waves on the Internet. I still think Microsoft will hang back on that one too, but there’s every chance they’re waiting for the market to segment a bit before attempting to jump back in to the social networking scene.