Q&A about the Future of Social Networking

Future of Social NetworkingUsing Microsoft’s recent acquisition of a $240 million stake in Facebook as the point of departure:

1. What does Microsoft’s stake in Facebook practically translate into for the company? And for the site’s users?

Facebook now has a partner who can fund further expansion and growth as the need arises. Microsoft gains a very strong foothold into the Social Networking industry, which it has been lacking for a long time. Most user activity is now taking place online and not on the PC Desktop so this was crucial for Microsoft. For Facebook users it does not mean much because its only an advertising relationship which has been confirmed and solidified by the investment from Microsoft. Most people, and especially Facebook users, have become very savy in avoiding online advertising.

2. Why the interest in social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace by internet giants like Microsoft and Google? What is the motivation behind buying/attempting to buy stakes in these sites? Is it straight access to a demographically-specific marketing database?

Yes, part of the reason is the detailed demographics available so advertising can be customised in a very specific way. The bigger reason is that next to search engines, social networking is where the majority of Internet users are starting there online journey. Google already owns Orkut, which is very popular social networking website in Asian countries like India. And that also explains why its not well known in South Africa.

3. One of the views I’ve come across suggests that the social networking space will tend to move towards a monopoly because people need to communicate with each other in the same “language”. Basically, if most of your friends are on Facebook, then it makes sense for you to join that as opposed to MySpace to communicate with them. Others argue that users of social networking sites are non-specific. If you have a Facebook profile, you probably have a MySpace profile and you use both. What do you make of the debate?

Social networking sites can either be specialised on generalised. The roots are always in a niche community. For example MySpace started out among independent music scene in San Fransisco to allow their fans to connect with the bands, sample music and get a full gig guide. So MySpace has and will continue to have a strong foothold in the music and entertainment industry. Most of my MySpace friends in South Africa have moved to Facebook. Facebook started among university students and has spread from there. MySpace is a behemoth with over 207 million registered profiles while Facebook only has about 45 million users. LinkedIn on the other hand is the #1 social networking website for business people with over 15 million users worldwide and almost 40,000 users in South Africa.

There is a trend towards websites that allow you to tap into all your social networking profiles from one place.

4. Do you think fears of a monopoly within the social networking space drive the market price?

Yes, there is a vicious competition between Microsoft, Google and Yahoo for control of the Web. They are the biggest online publishers by a far margin because they control 3 biggest search engines. Microsoft in particular is paranoid as more and more user activities takes place online and not on the Desktop.

5. Why has Facebook taken off in a way that MySpace never did? What are the key differences?

As I said before it’s a myth in South Africa that MySpace is not important. You may consider that MySpace has been around since August 2003 and Facebook launched in February 2004. And until late last year Facebook was limited to university students only. It does seem like MySpace’s growth is slowing down.

6. What is the future of social networking? A Datamonitor report estimates social networking sites will enlist 230 million active users by the end of the year, continue attracting new users until 2009 and then plateau in 2012. What do you make of this?

That Datamonitor report is wrong because MySpace is over 207 million and Facebook is over 45 million alone. That is excluding Orkut with about 67 million users and LinkedIn with over 15 million users. Even with some overlap of users the is at least 300 million active users worldwide. We currently have 1.1 billion Internet users and almost 3 billion cellphones users. My view is that by 2010 the grow in the Web will come from people using cellphones to access search engines and social networking websites. Most social networking sites already support access via a customised mobile interface.

7. The same report suggests social networking services revenues will reach $965 million this year and $2.4 billion by 2012. Is this income generated purely through targeted advertising on these sites?

Yes, most of the revenue is from advertising. Some websites like LinkedIn is generating 1/3rd of its revenue from paid members. Most of the rest do not have any paid subscription options – just yet. Google struck a deal in 2006 that guarantees MySpace $900 million over the next 3 years for exclusive search and online advertising rights. Remember Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp bought MySpace in 2005 for $580 million and everyone thought he was crazy.

8. Google’s own social networking site, Orkut, hasn’t gained as much popularity as MySpace or Facebook. Do you think Google’s launch of OpenSocial is aimed to popularise it so it can join the big social networking players?

OpenSocial is a application programming interface (API). What that means its an easy way for programmers to develop applications on social networking websites. Google wants to be the interface to all the social networking websites. Most users still do not know how to get directly to websites. What they typically do is Google words like “Facebook” or even “Yahoo” to find these websites. So Google will remain influential. They are appealing to the technorati, the early adopters, to built loyalty to Google, not necessarily to Orkut.


The Future Doesn't Need Us: Web 3.0 the Good and the Bad

First the good:
Along with automation, customisation of content will continue to be refined and personalised. This is best illustrated by the Orwellian future vision in the Epic 2014 video clip:

Maybe the biggest gold rush for the next 100 years is the integration of the Web with the human mind. Sony has already taken out a patent on a game system that beams data directly into the mind without implants. It uses a pulsed ultrasonic signal that induces sensory experiences such as smells, sounds and images according to a CNN article from July 2006.Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web has dedicated the rest of his life to the development of the Semantic Web also known as Web 3.0. The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which web content can be expressed not only in natural language, but also in a format that can be read and used by software agents, thus permitting them to find, share and integrate information more easily. It derives from W3C director Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange.

Each and every device in a typical household will be able to access this new Web 3.0 through the interoperability that will be built into the software and the hardware.

The Bad:
The arrival of Web 2.0 has seen an unprecedented increase in people giving up personal privacy. This will only continue with Web 3.0 because as your household appliances or computers learn your every mood, behaviour, desires and needs it has to interact with the global Internet, and you are willingly giving away personal privacy. For more see Electronic Frontier Foundation and Web 3.0 the first step towards computer takeover.


Keys to keeping kids safe online

Net filters, Web sites help shield children from predators

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News

Englewood physician Gregory Papadeas already has gone through the experience of his 9-year-old seeing an obscene image inadvertently pop up on a computer screen. She told him about it.

He’s already gone through the frank talk with his 13-year-old daughter about the pros and cons of social-networking sites such as MySpace.

“We felt it put her at risk and exposed her to things we as parents were not comfortable with.”

He said his daughter agreed she shouldn’t participate at this time.

Still, Papadeas recently was looking for even more information about how to keep his children safe on the Internet. “It’s an important topic,” he said.

Papadeas and his wife have four children ages 6 to 13, “so we’re in the thick of the whole thing. It’s a whole new world. We want to make sure that together we identify the bad things.”

Bad things can range from Internet pornography to online bullying to being stalked by strangers and sexual predators.

The good news for parents is there are plenty of resources to help out.

“There’s never been a time when parents have had more tools to protect their children,” Adam Thierer, who has written extensively about Internet safety for the Progress & Freedom Foundation, said at a recent communications summit.

Tools include Internet filters or “parental controls” and Web sites that offer videos, handbooks and other educational materials.

But Thierer and other experts point out that it’s unclear to what degree parents are aware of the tools, are comfortable with the Internet and know exactly what their kids are doing online.

Mitch Bowling, Comcast’s general manager of online business, echoes many experts when he says that parents need to be engaged and “try not be intimidated” by what they don’t know.

“My message to parents is to be proactive,” Bowling said.

Take time to talk to children. Take time to learn how to set up parental controls. Seek additional help if needed.

As a father of three children ages 4 to 12, Bowling blocks Internet sites that he doesn’t want his children to see. He sets up automated controls that enable his children to surf the Internet only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. He spends time talking with his children and telling them never to respond to an e-mail or an instant message from a stranger.

Of course, strategies change depending on a child’s age, but experts urge parents to get involved as soon as their children start using the Internet.

Linda Young, a Seattle psychologist Qwest Communications has hired as a consultant, advocates using the Internet in an open space in the house and working closely with children on the rules.

Mutual agreements are ideal but not always possible. Parents must be clear about the rules and practice what they preach, Young said.

She warns against parents adopting authoritarian positions, which she says “drives kids underground” and encourages them to “figure out ways to beat the system.”

Young talks about parental controls in terms of “walls and windows.”

“As they earn your trust, show them your trust by giving them more freedom,” she said.

Even with all the bad stuff out there, Young is optimistic and believes research shows that Internet safety is winning the battle.

She cited a report this year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that found the majority of teens actively manage their online profiles to protect sensitive information from the “unwanted gaze of strangers, parents and other adults.”

For example, teens rarely post information such as addresses or cell-phone numbers that would help strangers locate them.

The most recent Pew survey, released in mid-October, found that while 32 percent of online teens had been contacted by someone they didn’t know, only 7 percent of those encounters had made them feel scared or uncomfortable.

But some troubling indicators exist in this year’s surveys as well, a reason for parents to remain vigilant.

Nearly two-thirds of the teens with online profiles believe a motivated person could eventually identify them from the information they provide on the Internet.

One in three teens online has experienced online “harassment,” such as threatening messages, having an embarrassing photo posted without their permission or being subject to rumors placed on the Internet.

And teens who post photos online are more likely to be contacted by strangers – with girls more likely than boys to report the contact made them feel scared or uncomfortable.

Read the rest of the article for the following information:

  • Parental tips
  • 7 Reasons why good kids do bad things on the Internet
  • Kids’ sample rules for online safety
  • How to set-up parental controls
  • more Online Safety resources

Are you being held hostage by your hosting company?

Last week I had a small crises when my hosting company disabled this website and several others due to a PHP error on the server. I had been travelling and missed several emails they sent me warning me to take action and resolve this problem, which on the shared hosting platform was causing problems for everyone else. This whole episode reminded me of a lesson I learnt from Tony Roocroft about 3 years ago.

The basic lesson was never to host your website with the same company who controls your domain. I took it very seriously and always started using Godaddy for registering all my .com domains while in South Africa I registered my co.za domains directly with Uniforum. However, I have realised even hosting all my domains with one company is still a weakness because all websites are impacted being hosted under one account. So I’ve moved my personal blog to PowWeb. I may move some more domains to them to share my risk. And I advice you to consider this situation if you are heavily investing in your online business. There are many different hosting providers. There are several comparison websites available like Top 10 Independent Website Reviews website. And if you insist on hosting in South Africa one of the best ones are Hertzner and Afrihost. Avoid MWEB and Telkom Internet as these hosting solutions are either very expensive or severely limited.


Self regulation by knowing who's editing Wikipedia

Virgil Griffits creator of Wiki ScannerLast Friday I was interviewed on the Midday Report with Chris Gibbons. This is a very fast paced show which addresses everything from business to politics and what lies in between. The topic was who’s editing Wikipedia which has been driving up a storm of online commentary. A Caltech graduate Virgin Griffith has developed an application Wikipedia scanner, which identifies the anonymous edits on Wikipedia pages.

Most of the articles on Wikipedia, which now has almost 2 million English language articles, are written by registered users. Yours truly included. It’s the old Pareto principle where 20% of the people produce 80% of the output. They way Wikipedia works is that even anonymous users can edit any page. That’s the classic definition of a Wiki. And so what Wikipedia does is record your IP address. There are databases on the Internet which record the distribution of IP address to large organisations, countries and ISPs. You can simply use the WHOIS function on such domain name lookup or IP address lookup databases.

As a standard practise Wikipedia records a history of edits. This becomes very useful when abuse takes place on a particular article and Wikipedia editors can roll back very within minutes of detecting the changes. Wikipedia also has a very detailed FAQ which explains it’s rules and regulations in detail. Now when you find that an article is biased in a particular direction this violates the Neutral Point of View clause.

So when you find large organisations like Diebold, Church of Scientology and the Catholic Church, removing negative comments on their entries it’s no surprise. The beauty of the Wikipedia scanner is that it reinforces the self-regulation that has made Wikipedia such a big hit. In the bigger context it’s a hark back to the Cluetrain Manifesto where conversations become smarter, the larger the network of participants.

I have for a long time been an advocate of more contribution to Wikipedia from African countries. This is one of the best ways to make our voices heard. So I encourage you to sign up as a registered user on Wikipedia and start editing and contributing more content in your language of choice.


The ABC of Shopping on the Internet in South Africa

Online shopping has taken off in South Africa and here’s some useful tips on how to avoid getting robbed in broad cyber light.

With over 800 local ecommerce website to choose from and thousands upon thousands of international websites like Amazon.com and others it has become much more acceptable to purchase goods online. According to web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, 95% of people visit e-commerce websites to facilitate product research, cross-shopping, and other non-buying tasks. And only 5% purchase products.

Some of the most important reasons Nielsen found, in a study by the Danish E-Commerce Association, for those who do purchase online are:

  • Easy to place an order
  • Large selection of products
  • Cheaper prices
  • Faster service and delivery
  • Detailed and clear information about what is being offered
  • No sales pressure
  • Easy payment procedures

Microsoft recommends that you shop at reputable online businesses, keep your personal information private, and check the fine print before buying. On the Internet there are thousands of websites selling varying things. The easy ones to trust are those who have a bricks and mortar operation e.g. Pick-n-Pay. But what do you do if you come across a website that you¡¦ve never heard of before and they have the product you want? Make sure the company supplies its full contact details like day time telephone number, physical address, etc. In addition check if they have a disclaimer and ¡§terms and conditions¡¨ in place. The final check, once you have decided to make a purchase, would be to see if they are using a secure website. Click on the product item and check whether the URL of the shopping cart page has an “https” in front. This means it is SSL, which is the same kind that online banking website have used for years.

When a website asks for too much information even before you make a purchase you should become suspicious. Just ask yourself why do they need to know your age, or date or birth to allow you to buy something? You should be allowed to browse through all the products and check the pricing information without having to supply any personal information. Fly by night companies may take your personal information and resell it; this may eventually result in your Inbox being swamped with spam. Be careful as to how much information you give out when shopping. Just give them the most important information.

Most people will not read the disclaimers, privacy statements, or the terms and conditions on websites. You can burn your fingers by not doing this, especially if you¡¦re unhappy and want to return the product for a refund. Many website have no refund policies and you¡¦ll be stuck with something you don¡¦t want, so always read the fine print. If you think you may use the website again it is worthwhile taking a few minutes to read the terms and conditions at least once. The privacy statements should also warn you of any ¡§cookies¡¨ being placed on your hard drive that tracks your preferences on the website.

These days it is recommended that you run anti-spyware software to clean your PC from unauthorised website cookies and other unwanted files you may never have known about.


The lack of Email Netiquette as the Internet grows in South Africa

My mentor Arthur Goldstuck has just released his latest statics on Internet growth in South Africa. According to his annual study growth has slowed down to 3% per annum and by the end of 2007 we will have ONLY 3.85 million South Africans online. This is including the explosion of access since broadband became available a few years ago.

Anyway as more new people are gaining access to the Internet they are breaking most of the guidelines of good email netiquette. In the early days of the Web around 1994-1998 there were many people who policed the Internet and enforced good netiquette. Netiquette is simply a set of guidelines that was originally published in RFC 1855. The problem we are finding ourselves in is that no company – as far as I am aware – provides their staff with some basic training around online etiquette. The simply result here is that you will find half of your emails could be jokes with sometimes excessively large attachments sent to you by friends or acquaintances who have added you to a jokes list without asking your permission. This is one of the ways that we are increasingly creating more information pollution.

Here are a few reasons why companies should change their attitudes about basic online literacy training:

  1. reducing internal and external bandwidth costs
  2. lowering support costs from the IT department (internal or external)
  3. increasing productivity by employees

I look forward to your comments with the stories of your bad email netiquette experiences.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 12: Patrick Awuah

Patrick AwuahPatrick Awuah left Microsoft to found Asheshi University. The questions of transformation in Africa is a question of leadership. He gives a shocking example of two incidents at a hospital when they lost power. Learned about courage when stopped at age 16 and stopped by soldiers who wanted him to join some protesters. He found it’s helpful to think about girls, basically taken the anxiety of the moment away for him at the time. He won a scholarship to attend Swarthmore College. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can help an individual. While he worked at Microsoft the revenue of the company group grew larger than the GDP of Ghana.

Three major problems were identified when he came back to Ghana and interviewed many people to find out the root causes. What was identified is corruption, weak institutions and leadership. A sense of entitlement was found in graduates. He wishes there was a liberal arts university in every African country, they would make a huge difference. A month after launching he received and email from a student, “I am thinking now.” Another student asked “Can we create a perfect society?” after they were issued a challenge to come up with their own honour codes. This has lead to a vigorous debate among the students on campus. For the first in the history of Ghana, a woman was elected to be president of student body. This is real hope.

A 100% of the student have been placed after two graduations. Excellent feedback is pouring in from corporate Ghana and corporate West Africa.

This project reminds me of the impact of the CIDA City Campus university in South Africa. I really think Teddy Blacher, founder of CIDA should have been invited to speak or at least attend TEDGlobal.


Rich spend more time online

Being rich not only gets you the best cars, houses, luxuries, clothes, health care, insurance, entertainment, you also get more out of using the Internet. To put it bluntly when you are wealthier you tend to be more educated and therefore have a more specific reason for using the Internet. And some new research by Jupiter Research shows that rich Americans tend to search the Internet where the rest tend to surf. The simple definition here is that surfing is mindless reading of websites, random or not, to relieve boredom whereas search the Internet is to solve problems. So a good chuck of their time is focussed on business rather then pleasure.

Here’s a quote from the article, “ Speaking of social networking, it’s in with the upscale crowd. The Jupiter study found 43% of affluents use instant messaging, compared with 36% of people with lesser incomes. A full 26% of affluents read blogs and 11% are blog-authors. Among non-affluent people, those figures are 22% and 6%, respectively.”

This would certainly hold true in South Africa where the rich have been able to afford Internet access for much longer – and therefore has more experience online. When you have more experience on the Internet you get more out of it. In my online dating research I found that user experience improves dramatically after first 12 months.

Read the full article @ MediaPost here…