Each new group of kids come of age wanting a space they can discover together and call their own. This is DNA, not computer science. It’s not about tech changing (oh, this is Facebook if it was build only for tablets) – it’s about getting to a dry piece of land when you’re 13 years old and being able to plant your own flag. I don’t see how you get beyond the anthropology of this.
I can’t get over the “middle schoolers use it” comment, especially since they use Tumblr as an identity tool. That’s exactly how my friends and I used Myspace in middle school, and we too abandoned it (for Facebook) once we reached high school. So in middle school you care a lot about your personal presentation (themes and cultural images on your Myspace or Tumblr page), but once you reach high school you care more about the people you present yourself with (photos on Facebook and Instagram)?
This is fascinating. To a certain extent we’ve all been through this. We created our identity to ourselves and peers around these social enablers. Before MySpace, for example, my group of friends hang out on MSN/Skype. And everyone was on it. We had these big group hangouts each night.
The problem however is that these social enablers can be “usurped” by a community that as a creator of the social site you have no control over. Just like how to Josh Miller’s sister, Tumblr now has only ‘middle-schoolers’. The nature of these sites however means that you can use Tumblr without interacting with ‘middle-schoolers’, but in popular culture it can be tough to shake off these preconceived ideas. Just like the unfortunate idea that Mxit (mobile-only social chat service) only contains pedophiles.
This brings it to the question of decay. For identities and online communities to evolve beyond their perception, decay has to naturally exist. Posts have to disappear, photos have to disappear (or get hidden). As Rian pointed out in his post, it perhaps explains the current success of Snapchat. That’s what I always thought, but now I wonder. I’ve always loved Twitter for its ephemeral, real-time nature. It’s focused on the now.
But is decay enough for social sites? It might succeed in more various scenarios because of this, but it’s shackles is still unfortunately tied to the name and idea. Snapchat already has a reputation of being “that sexting app”.
Should the truly chameleon, social site that allows for creation and destruction of identities and communities, for example, change it’s name every month?
I’ve been watching the whole debacle unfold surrounding FB’s recent changes that allow pages (and people) to pay to have their posts promoted to more people. There’s been a rather large backlash to this. I’ve seen a lot of bands share the “add to interest list” meme in order to stay more relevant to their fans. The bottom line is, is that most people see this as Facebook being greedy: purposefully limiting the reach of their posts for money. What most people don’t realize, is that FB has been limiting the reach of posts for quite a while.
Due to the nature of information overload, Facebook limits the amount of updates you receive through its edgerank algorithm. A lot of people know they haven’t seen updates from old friends they haven’t spoken to, but Facebook has been doing this with pages as well. A ‘like’ is an intent to subscribe to relevant updates, not ‘all’ updates.
This is (un)fortunately how an online social-network of this nature remains sustainable as an online community. Few people realize the importance of this. Filtering of updates must happen for a feed-based OSN to remain relevant. I’m sure Facebook knows this, because it is doing it. Paying for adding weight to a post is a great idea, but users don’t know this. Do you see Facebook trying to explain to users of these band pages the problem? Inherently, it is Facebook’s problem. A user will reply and add: “But if I like this band, I want all updates!” Yes. Sure. But you don’t know your intent for all the people and pages you like. I don’t trust myself to know precisely to what extent I “like” each thing I’m connected to on Facebook. And things change. Nothing will remain binary.
Facebook is ultimately losing with this approach. Users are becoming connected to more and more. Plainly filtering was okay. From a (perhaps greedy) business perspective, users wouldn’t know about this. They would’ve continued only receiving relevant updates. Now FB has opened up the inherent weakness of feed-based online social-networks to their users. They don’t like it, although it is what is needed. The problem will only get worse, receiving fewer percentage of updates from all connected nodes (as users add more connections), resulting in pages and people having to pay in order to be heard. It’s starting to feel like paying taxes. Most people don’t like doing it, because there is little transparency to what your money is doing (and you’d want that money). However it is needed to in order to sustain the system you function in. Ideally FB should explain and educate to users the benefit they are providing through, just as the government should about taxes. There will be users who will leave that more educated, however most people won’t want to bother. It’s easier to just moan about paying taxes. It’s easier to just moan about FB’s changes.
The big difference however is that it is probably easier to stick it to FB, than the “man”.
Something interesting I want to find out, which I actually think is actionable at the moment.
I’ve thought. Am I in the background of other people’s photos?
I’m sure I am. You are out in a club and someone takes a photo, you are there. Or you are at a touristy place, someone takes a photo and you are there.
So I think I’ve derived a way to test this. Unfortunately I don’t have time atm, so I’m putting this out there. Whoever wants to do this, please do, because I’m really keen to see the results!
In order to increase the chance of detecting something, the sample size is reduced. Okay. So this is how you test it:
1) Grab your facebook profile. Get all photos tagged of you in it. Train your face with a facial recognition API (such as Lambda’s one).
2) Now get your friends of friends through the API (reducing sample size and increasing chance of detection). Friends of friends are more likely close by with which you haven’t coincidentally interacted it.
3) Now those friends of friends might have public photo albums of events. Dump all those photos.
4) Depending on location, you can filter out photos of places you know you haven’t been yet (such as public vacation albums).
5) Now run the model you trained on those public photos and see if your face pops up in the background somewhere.
I’m really curious how much data you’ll get and if you’ll be to find photos where you are in the background. If someone wants to do this, please do!
In short: In order for a social site to become sustainable, it needs to have critical mass. Users come back, because enough is going on for them to come back. However, this continues to create value, leading to characteristically hockey-stick growth. This value can’t be sustained due to restraints in how the medium is structured and limits of our own to process information. This is the fun part, the challenge that a lot of these sites are struggling with (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Users won’t stop becoming connected to more users, whether it is close new friends, or no one you know (ie a new follower on Twitter). In order to sustain critical mass discourse, some things need to change.
The one’s that been stuck in the back of my mind, is to decrease the amount of “entropy” created by the increase of information in the network.
The larger your graph becomes and the more information you share, mean you start looking at sharing differently. ie, with each new piece of information being added to the network (in form of updates, photos or new connections), it adds value, but returns start to diminish. More information means more to consider.
Let me try and explain by a metaphor (and perhaps a lame platitude):
To get a car driving at top speed, it is easier and faster to start from 1st gear. Once it kicks in, acceleration increases, changing gears (value is still being added), top speed increases… up to a point where any addition to the top speed means new problems arise (that wasn’t evident before). Driving faster means greater possibility of accident and more considerations to take into account. Instead, the car and driver tend toward an equilibrium of speed that is sustainable.
The same with social networks, however these sites don’t look at how to trend towards critical mass discourse equilibrium. Recently however, it’s begun to change. There is less informational baggage hanging about.
Facebook, with it’s new timeline feature, summarises old content. Unless you know where to find it, it’s nigh impossible to just scroll through it all. Users who you haven’t been involved don’t show up in your feed, everything is becoming more and more filtered. Facebook is running at critical mass. It accelerated from a small college site, adding features along the way and growing into the behemoth it is today.
Twitter is a great example as well. The system is thankfully still relatively simple (not too much to consider). It is and always has been focused on “What’s happening”. This is fleeting, and it shows. There is less information bogging new interactions down. It is much easier to run at critical mass with a system like Twitter, however they aren’t doing any filtering. The result shows: critical mass discourse occurs in groups less than 150 (http://arxiv.org/pdf/1105.5170).
What it comes down to is that running a complex system at critical mass is difficult. You won’t know whether the system you built will be the cause of its own death, because just as the car shows its new troubles at higher speeds. Trying to change such a system at such a stage can cause user confusion, so instead they’ll just have to change constantly.
P.S. I’m currently researching information overload on microblogging services. Sometimes it is just nice to write in a non-academic way and be able to use unbacked opinions (that hopefully will become scientifically backed opinions).
So, in my previous I detailed my experience in interviewing for an internship at Facebook. After that I did some thinking and wondered what is the most I like in terms of web/tech. I knew I wasn’t quite capable of fulfilling a pure software engineering role. I am technically inclined enough, but not enough to compete with people who are only technically inclined. I’ve done development in various stacks, and I’ve coded a compiler. So, if I must, I’ll get there, but not fast enough to maintain a position as a pure software engineer.
I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche (I used to read university psychology textbooks for fun in highschool), which is why I switched my major in 2nd year to Marketing + Socio-Informatics. This meant, I could still do programming, but also learn business skills and study the understanding of our information society’s interaction with people. I enjoyed it immensely.
Marketing felt like applied psychology. When you understand people, you know how to bring about that textbook “mutually satisfying exchange”. I could apply my love for psychology (understanding people) to a field where at that point I wouldn’t have to worry about where my eventual paycheck would come from (I still don’t quite know what psychologists do for a living). Socio-informatics also delved deeper into systems thinking, looking at the ways we solve the problems our society faces as the information and knowledge economy continue to thrive. My favourite part was learning about complexity/chaos theory and emergent behaviour.
Given what I studied, I tried looking for internships that fit that kind of niche. It is difficult, and I haven’t quite succeeded. Do I sign up as an IT analyst? Technology consumer behaviour expert? The problem is, I don’t have much to show in this area. The closest I can find is becoming a UX designer, focusing mainly on product and interaction design. Given my experience in founding two successful side-projects (Tweekly.fm and TwimeMachine) and failing at others (might do some posts about these at some stage), I’m coming closer to knowing what makes a product work (at least that is what I tell myself). My experience in marketing and socio-informatics also helps.
The problem is: coming full-circle, I don’t have much to show for visual design. I tried applying for Google’s user-experience design internship, but I didn’t make it as well. The only real example I have of visual design that was completely of my own making is vinyls.fm.
I’m learning, looking at designs and giving my critique and thoughts. Here are some posts related to UX I’ve written.
Ultimately, it is difficult when applying for an internship at a large company to be a jack-of-all-trades. This sucks, especially when I want to go to learn. Maybe I should just stick to being in small startup mode for now? Before I apply for new internships, I’m going to take time to figuring out how to communicate the value I can provide.
Have you been in a similar position? I am sure there are people sitting at cross-sections of fields of interest wondering the same thing.
I like trying new things. And sometimes that is a problem, because I spread myself too thin. This year (2012), I started my Masters degree in Socio-Informatics at Stellenbosch University with MIH Media Lab. I’m working hard doing research on information overload on online social-networks.
One of the purposes of me deciding to do a master’s is the opportunity to go do an internship somewhere. I’m aiming high, and I want to travel.
So, after a friend (@marcog) recommended I apply for Facebook, I jumped at the opportunity: he got me a reference. The whole process was quite interesting. I got quite far into the process, but ‘fell’ out later in the interview process. I originally applied for the software engineering team, but switched half-way to the user interface (front-end dev) engineering team.
How it went:
The first step I did was a time programming puzzle (1h30) through interviewstreet. I did computer science in my first year, so my algorithmic skills wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so the week before the puzzle, I did some of the old Facebook puzzles, some Google codejam puzzles, and re-studied some basic algorithmics. The puzzle had me balancing weights, which was basically a problem of recursion and using trees. Luckily, I had practiced a similar problem and aced it (in python). Although there were some problems with interviewstreet, I got through to the next round.
At that point I realised I might not be up to scratch completely considering I switched from computer science major to marketing+socio-informatics in my 2nd year.
The third step was a longer UX challenge that involved some algorithmic thinking with a front-end problem. I built a calendar that had to deal with overlapping events. I eventually finished it, and sent it back. It was accepted.
Alas, although I thought I did well, I didn’t make the cut. They didn’t have a “good fit for a position available”. Either that’s the truth, or that’s a euphemism for “learn some more, come back next year”.
The problem is: I am technically inclined, but not enough. I am product/design inclined, but not enough. If I am going to want to do an internship, I’m going to have to show expertise in a narrower field, and that is what I am struggling with. The 2nd part will detail another opportunity I had and the problem with being a jack-of-all-trades.
When studying marketing, one of the first and most important lessons is to understand how to define a target market. Understanding who will buy your product is the key to ensuring that textbook “mutually satisfying exchange”.
I remember in one of the first classes, when the lecturer asked us to look at a product and then write down who we thought would the target market be, a lot of students responded (including me) quite vaguely with no idea whether their market was too broad or too little. Was the market even actionable? Where would you find them, etc?
I remember someone saying something to the lines of “…EVERYONE. Basically, people from 18 to 70 who likes having fun!” And then the lecturer would respond with: “Ain’t that cute…. BUT ITS WRONG”.
Well, not entirely, but it boiled down to that.
Remember kids! You don’t market a product for everyone! And that is extremely valuable advice. You don’t advertise billboards in Kenya for the latest Rolling Stone Magazine in South Africa.
So, today, while reading up on Facebook for my research, I came upon this graph. Look at it. LOOK.
That is insane. It is estimated that there are 2.1 billion people using the internet… and 845 million of them are on Facebook. It looks great, the prospects are going straight ahead. About 500 million of the 2.1 billion are in China. Which means, unless internet stats rise, Facebook has a cap of 1.6 billion users. (Don’t argue with me on this. The stats will obviously differ as more people come online. I’m making a point. Bear with me). They added about 245 million users last year (2011).
They still have some space to grow… for oh, about 3 years (at current rates). However in 2015 however, the total internet users are expected to total 3 billion, so that gives them a few more years.
However, what is interesting, is that their strategy for the upcoming years are to target countries like India (and get more of them online). They have already hit caps in countries like the US, where seasonal changes in users are now more common.
This map in their SEC filing shows an interesting map. Every line on it is a friend connection. Interestingly enough, it recreates geographical boundaries. Look at China… Nothing.
Can Facebook run out of users? And when?
That is hilarious. Not in a “haha. Facebook has a big problem in its hand, kinda way”, but more in a “haha. Who would’ve thought that your market cap would be… EVERYONE in the world?” kinda way. In retrospect to what my marketing lecturer said, Facebook actually needs to target everyone at this point. (BURN).
No. But really, their value will increase as long as there are users, but once most of them are online what will they do then? Don’t forget that about 1.7 billion people are living in absolute poverty. In less than a decade they will hit their cap. Serve better ads? Serve more ads? What? Increase engagement (they are doing quite well in this regard)?
It is going to be an interesting ride. There is a pun in here somewhere about saying: “You know what’s cool? Billions!”
Based on a competition by Greplin, I pondered whether Wikipedia’s search should be improved. I talk about the nature of knowledge and why people use Wikipedia and how they get access to the information they need.
There was an interesting event in early 2010. RWW ranked higher on Google for the term “Facebook login”. We all laughed, but it isn’t actually that funny. We have to start thinking differently about user experience now that the rest of the world is coming online.