Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Google+ the Facebook killer?

Google has announced details of it's latest foray into social networking with Google+. The core components appear to consist of :

o Circles (equivalent to groups) - where information can be shared privately. With Circles you can put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another and your boss in a circle all on his own!

o Hangouts - lets friends know that you're free for a video chat or impromptu virtual meet-up.

o Sparks - a sort of activity stream subscription feature, It looks for videos and articles that it thinks you'll like, based on what your interests.

There's also a Google+ mobile app available in the Android Market, which will no doubt soon come to Apple’s App Store.

It seems that Google have put a lot of thought into making all of this hang together in a seamless and natural way, and this is clearly laying the foundations for Google's future presence in the social web. It will certainly make Facebook sit up and take notice, but I'm not sure whether it will pull many users away from Facebook. However, I do believe there is room for more than one social media behemoth in the market, and for the significant many who dislike Facebook or find it overly complex, Google+ offers a compelling alternative.

Google+ is currently in an invitation- only “Field Trial” period, so only a select few can access the service at this time. Google+ will be going live to the general public soon, the company says.

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At long last, Google has announced its newest foray into the world of social media with a new service called Google+. But this time, Google could have a winner.

Google turned the world of social media on its head today with the much-anticipated unveiling of the “top-secret” Google+ project, a massive new type of service that essentially turns all of Google into one giant social network.

While Facebook, with its 700 million users, is a vast social network, made for connecting with as many people as you can get to accept a friend request, Google+  aims to redefine the way people connect online by letting users create a variety of smaller groups, called “Circles,” which allows people to share information and content with only the friends or colleagues they choose.

gplus_circle editor

“We believe online sharing is broken. And even awkward,” said Google’s President of Social Vic Gandora in an interview with TechCrunch. “We think connecting with other people is a basic human need. We do it all the time in real life, but our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets — or into being completely public.” By comparison, he says, “[r]eal life sharing is nuanced and rich.” With Google+, Google has tried to adapt the richness of real life interactions into an online software.


Like Facebook’s News Feed, Google+ gives users a dashboard with a flow of updates from their friends. Shared content, comments, photos etc are divided into “Streams,” one for each Circle of friends. Users can customize their security settings to allow some contacts to view personal information while hiding it from others.

Google+ can also be controlled through a newly redesigned navigation bar, which will appear at the top of the page of any Google product. Through this, Google+ users can access their profile, check notifications, and instantly share content to their various Circles.


Google has also built in a friend-finding feature called “Sparks,” which acts as a kind of search engine for hobbies. So if, say, you’re interested in single malt Scotch whisky, simply enter in “single malt Scotch” into the Sparks search bar, and Google will deliver content it thinks you might enjoy. (Google’s recently-launched +1 Button plays a role in what makes it to the top of these lists.) Find something you like, and simply click on it to add it to your list of interests. You can also connect with fellow enthusiasts in the “featured interests” area, and see what they are chatting about.

Next on the staggering list of Google+ features is what Google calls “Hangouts,” which is a group video chat feature. A Google+ user can simply launch a new Hangout session. Friends are alerted, and are free to join in. Up to 10 users can be in a single Hangout at a time. Any more, and they’re placed on the waiting list.

The final major feature to Google+ is its mobile functionality. The Google+ mobile app is currently available in the Android Market, and will soon come to Apple’s App Store. The Google+ mobile features include “Huddle” for group messaging, as well as an auto-upload feature that automatically adds any photo or video taken on your smartphone through Google+ to a private folder in the cloud. These files are then accessible the next time you log on to Google+ on a computer, and can be shared for up to eight hours after upload.

Google is currently in an invite-only “Field Trial” period, so only a select lucky few can access the service at this time. Google+ will be going live to the general public soon, the company says.

From what we’ve seen so far, Google+ seems like a giant leap in the right direction for Google — and far more robust than Buzz or Orkut. Obviously, there’s a lot here to sort through, so check back soon for more on Google+


Monday, 20 June 2011

Social Graph and Open APIs

Apple seems to be doing alright with it's proprietary and closed social graph; the rest of the pack continue to add value to their networks using open APIs to share social network data. So it appears there really is room for two quite different business models. However, as many social networkers have found out, there's no harm in having a foot in both camps!

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Viadeo, the European counterpart of LinkedIn operating a professional social network of 35m members, is about to release its public API by the end of this month.

Most of analysts or observers just do not care, considering open APIs as hacking news. They are wrong : open APIs are questions of survival for social web services.

The war of social APIs

Facebook paved the way of releasing open APIs to provide third parties access to its sensitive data. The open APIs have now become the standard for all social web apps : LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, Orkut, Plaxo… Twitter would have been a completely different company without its open API which drove the emergence of multiple clients and the integration of tweet functions in almost every web service.

At that time, the Facebook open API was the pillar of a risky strategy.

Let’s get back to the original sin. In early 2007, Facebook adopted this anti-Apple strategy of not keeping the core of its value (people’s networks) in house. Several millions of websites now interface with Facebook to personalize and socialize their web experience. This deep ecosystem is probably what strengthens Facebook the most and what makes the company a long-term leader. To go further (and a little provocative) I would even say that Facebook has a strongest long-term position than Google, because of its social graph.

There are not so many visionaries like Zuck to bet this way. In Facebook’s situation, the obvious by-the-book mainstream strategy (by that time) would have been to keep its zillions of users captive and feed them up with ads.

If you allow your users to go away with their network, you take the huge risk of easing your competitors : someone builds a better platform than yours and siphons your users and their friends.

Another risk is to be accused of privacy breaches. Think about this : when you share your pictures, posts and personal profile with some friend on Facebook, you do not imagine that your friend can give all your data to another web service. This is the principle of social APIs : bring your friends with you anywhere.

Fortunately for Facebook, the privacy debate is close to be over now and the generation Y has no concern for this matter.


Thursday, 16 June 2011

1000 Social Media Statistics

One of many websites and services offering social media statistics. Add this one to your bookmarks!

In March this year, we launched our social statistics pages, offering all the statistics we can find on the web relating to social media, neatly categorised with their source and date.

And as promised, we have been updating these every Friday since then and we have now collected 1,000 social media statistics. We’re pretty chuffed with ourselves actually.

The stats can be found below:


Thursday, 2 June 2011

What is Web 3.0?

A good - if slightly over-simplified - introduction to the semantic web (though personally I dislike thinking of it as a chronological sequence that started with 'Web 1.0'). Also beware this selling services from EPN (Dutch company).

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Some could argue that the concept of Web 3.0 has been around for quite some time although in truth, no one can really pinpoint the exact evolution the World Wide Web will take. We saw Web 1.0 in which simple HTML pages were put together to display information that was primarily meant for academics at first before moving onto the general public and the internet became a 1990s and indeed 2000s phenomenon.

Web 2.0 was a concept that many could both see and not see coming. Advances in website design primarily by those that pushed the boundaries and the introduction of techniques being used such as XHTML and CSS made sure that webpages were becoming more complex. But that alone was not the only factor; the use of Flash on the internet as well as AJAX made webpages alive with interactive information. They were more accessible to the user, displayed information in a more understandable way and most importantly changed the way we look at the internet. What we didn’t necessarily expect however was the growth of social networking. Having online friendships, connecting with people on Facebook including old friends and perusing Twitter for the latest real time news is a totally different world from the 1990s. The recent case of a resident living near Osama Bin Laden’s compound reporting what was happening before the story broke around the world is a testament to how our views have changed. The world is connected.

But Web 3.0 is different. The idea behind it puts webpages in the spotlight of being clever. At the moment a webpage does what its coding tells it to do and nothing more but as Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web puts it, Web 3.0 will be a collection of changes with one aspect being a Semantic web. This is where more information is available to be read by machines of that specific webpage therefore resulting in a better browsing experience and even being able to perform particular tasks on the user’s behalf. In other words, it’s a web which can bring numerous answers together into one understandable reasoning. Try for yourself and compare the results that you get, there are several semantic search engines around, the one I used was DuckDuckGo. Do a search for Wikipedia and notice the difference in results. While the search engines still have a way to go, it highlights the change of focus on information.

An example of this could be that someone wishes to get opinions of a movie that they’re thinking of going to see. A webpage could be able to intelligently search, similar in a sense to how a search engine works at the moment, to look for the same type of metadata to provide an overview. At the moment, many movie review sites use different rating mechanisms that make it difficult to truly compare properly.

Could this be practical though? People have a tendency to lie in the real world and very often over the internet. People have in the past placed misinformation on webpages and its coding. In a system which tries to make sense and even compute some data, it would be very difficult to weed out. Think of GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out), a thought process often used with data programs such as Excel, what you put in is what you get out.

How much can we protect personal data? A lot of news stories in the past few years have focused on the lack of privacy people have on Facebook or at least the difficulty in understanding it. Using that as an example, imagine semantic search engines being able to look into this information and use it in a general pool. To what extent can we use that information?

Web 3.0 isn’t just about intelligent data though, it’s about emphasising that computers could become personalised to the user’s needs. An internet that is focussed on the individual and can deliver results relevant to them in a much more efficient way are both features some expect to see. On close inspection, you realise that we already have technologies which are beginning to step into these ideas, such as behavioural advertisements and personalised homepages. But it’s a question of having that implemented across a large extent of the internet, not just on certain webpages.

How Web 3.0 ends up in practice may be somewhat different from the theories that currently exist to try and predict how the use of the internet will change. Some argue that Web 3.0 is an unrealised idea and that we’re comfortable living in a Web 2.0 world. However things take time to change and it may be years yet before we see another monumental shift in the way we use the world’s network.