Eran's blog

Your UI should on My side

There’s been much hoopla over Facebook’s latest redesign. Personally, I kinda of like it, although many do not. I consider that to be a matter of taste and preference and maybe being used to how things used to be. In a few months this will be so far gone you won’t even remember it was a problem.

What I do not like is some of the recent changes they’ve made where pieces of the UI that used to contain recommendations for new friends (based, I’m guessing, on factors like common friends and location) now contain what appear to be random endorsements for public pages Facebook thinks I should be a Fan of for no apparent reason (at least to me).

katy perry
I don’t even know who Katy Perry is and I’m sure as hell am not becoming her fan.

My point is, if Facebook wants me to find their UI useful they should keep it consistent. Not just in the basic UI sense where things should be where I expect them to be but also in the content sense. Placing paid content where I expect real content will only fool me for a very short time. As soon as I realize the truth, I’ll start treating that entire space as an ad and completely ignore it. This makes it a lose-lose for both me and Facebook.

I lose because that space used to contain somewhat useful information that I wont see anymore but more importantly, Facebook loses because the information that was there used to make me create new connections with people, therefore making the social network more rich, therefore making Facebook more valuable.

I understand that Facebook is trying to appear more valuable to brands but hijacking my interface is not the way to do it. It is, on the other hand, the way to make me look for another interface or another network altogether.

Filed under: General, Social Software, , , , ,

On News Feeds

Justin Smith on Inside Facebook lays the business case for Facebook connect: Selling increased visibility in news feeds as a way to generate traffic to your Connect-ed website. Facebook’s news feed was always based on some hidden, inscrutable algorithm that offers very little control either to the users reading the feeds or to the applications publishing stories. Instead decisions on what stories show up in your feed are made by Facebook with some basic feedback from the user. This results in a confused, disordered, sometimes repetitive feed with stories that are sometimes days old being folded in together with up to date information and some stories (possibly more relevant to the user) never showing up.

This is where twitter’s “transcendent clarity” trumps Facebook. I know that every twitt published by my friends will show up in my feeds (modulo bugs and outages, of course) and mostly in the correct order. I know that stories that are more important to me (@replies and d messages) will be captured in their own feeds so I’ll be sure to see them. I can decide for myself how much attention to pay to each twitter or to twitter in general. Sometimes I’ll read every single twitt and reply to a couple, but often enough, I just skim unread twitts for anything that looks interesting.

Of course, with twitter’s API I can build additional services to cut and slice that feed to my liking. On Facebook, even with platform, I have very limited access to the feed and as far as I can tell, there’s not even an RSS version of my news feed. For my money, I’d say that if Facebook wants to take over or replace the Web they should learn more from it. What made the Web and the Internet so successful is openness – Open standards and Open software. It’s also what made twitter’s news feed an amazing success despite Facebook’s attempts to co-opt that feature.

Filed under: Social Software

Life, Online and Offline

Just finished reading On and Off the ‘Net: Scales for Social Capital in an Online Era by Dmitri Williams. As the title suggets, the article describes a new measure for Social Capital online and offline. An interesting read despite being a little technical (not “my kind” of technical, rather statistics and social science technical). Looking over the list of questions for measuring social capital online and/or offline I found myself thinking that I can’t really answer those questions properly anymore. It’s not that I’m lacking in a social life, quite the opposite actually, but my online and offline lives have almost completely merged (and in some cases flipped) since I moved to San Francisco.

When I lived in Israel my online life consisted of friends in the US that I connected to via IRC, Email, IM, etc. and offline friends and family that I saw and interacted with in person on a regular basis. Now those two have flipped and some of the people I was closest to in RL became online-only entities (except for when I visit back home). That’s interesting but somewhat expected considering that I flipped my life around by moving half way around the world. What’s more interesting to me is the merging of my online and offline life here in SF.

I have two main clusters in my social network. One is a group of friends that mostly formed online on tribe.net and then became a strongly connected real-life urban tribe. The other is a group I met initially in real-life (if you can call Web 2.0 parties real, that is) and I now experience on a daily basis via twitter, blogs, IM, etc. I am still a part of both groups both online and offline which makes separating my online and offline lives pretty hard. @rk and Ryan are the same person and the same is true for almost everyone else I know; there’s nowhere to draw a line.

It might be just me; I am, after all, mostly an introvert and I don’t meet new people very easily. I’ve pretty much saturated my social capacity so I don’t participate too much in online or offline activities where I can form new weak-ties (aka networking) also my friends and I are mostly very comfortable with technology and use it to communicate constantly. But I cannot help but think about the disconnect described in the beginning of the paper describing social researchers who failed to recognize that the Internet can be used for (and is indeed a hotbed of) social activity and see how a similar shift might be occurring now.

To me, the Internet is just another way to communicate. In many ways it’s a more efficient way to organize my social life, coordinate with friends and keep tabs on what’s going on in around my social circle. Separating my online life from my offline life is a futile effort and just doesn’t feel right. It’s all just Life and it’s all Real.

Filed under: Social Software, , ,

Being Evil Online Doesn’t Pay

At least not in the long run. In most cases. Well… here’s a glimmer of hope anyway.

Earlier today, Facebook sent warning to developers whose apps forced users to invite friends in order to use the app, turning off invitations altogether for those apps until that behavior was corrected. This was a major user experience problem that now should exist no more.

I’ve been having this back and forth discussion lately about Send Hotness just one of many Facebook apps that force you to invite X many friends before you get to use it. I wasn’t surprised (although somewhat disappointed) to see the app take off in a viral storm and reach hundreds of thousands of sign-ups or more. Despite their apparent success I maintained that in the long run this kind of behavior will not pay off. Irritating your users is not good policy especially if you’re trying to build an enduring brand. I’m glad to see Facebook cracking down on overly-aggressive applications. In the end this kind of policy will prove beneficial to everyone involved.

Here’s to less SPAM!

Filed under: Social Software,

Scaling Community

With community based tools and games spreading all over the net lately, I find myself thinking more and more about communities and ways to make them scale. Obviously thanks to the Internet we can create communities of scales never seen before. Physical limits no longer apply rather we are limited by human capacity to filter information and by the technology that helps us makes sense of this information.

I spent some time as a very active member of Consumating.com. During this time I learned to love the overheard feature. Overhears show on top of the screen and quote some random post from a random conversation. It’s a great way to discover conversations and people you didn’t know about so far but how does it scale? What happens when consumating grows to 100,000 users? A million? 650 million?

The simple solution is some static division of users: by geography, age, industry, etc. This solution seems to work pretty well in many cases especially if the division is appropriate to the context. Where this approach lacks, however, is when certain categories of the arbitrary division aren’t popular enough and users end up in what seems like an empty site or when some category becomes too popular and crowded. In such cases it might be better to use a dynamic, user-driven approach.

On tribe.net (and I’m told on Ning as well but I never bothered looking) any user can create a new group (or tribe) based on whatever topic (or lack thereof) she finds interesting. Some tribes are location based, some are interest based and some are community based. One of the pros of this system is that it is self regulating. Small tribes with little interest or activity tend to die off while tribes that get too big can fork off into several related tribes. Any user can start an offshoot of the parent tribe to concentrate on more specific topics or subsets of the community. Of course, this eventually brings us to a similar problem, what happens when you have too many tribes?

This problem becomes even worse on mobile. While on the web we can (somewhat) easily navigate lists or even hierarchical structures of groups, this is not so easy on a mobile phone. Navigating long lists is painful, and hierarchies will likely take too many page loads and end up in confusion. Perhaps a search based solution or a matching/recommendation engine would do better in this case. I’d love to hear about any ideas, experiments or even better, working solutions to this problem.

Filed under: Mobile, Social Software