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It’s a Facebook world (well most of it is)

Reading Time: < 1 minute

My client Experian have put out research on Facebook usage out this morning. The research had two tables.

The first table looked at the average time spend on Facebook

Market Average time spent on Facebook in August 2011 per session
Singapore38 mins 46 sec
New Zealand30 mins 31 sec
Australia26 mins 27 sec
UK25 mins 33 sec
US20 mins 46 sec
France21 mins 53 sec
India20 mins 21 sec
Brazil18 mins 19 sec

The second looked at market penetration of social networks and forums as part of overall web behaviour

Market Market share for social networks and forums
New Zealand13.9%

This was spread across some 9,000 social networks in the UK alone.

I found it interesting that there didn’t seem to be a clear positive correlation between the amount of time that users spent on social networks and market penetration of social networks. Does this indicate that just because social network usage maybe tending towards ubiquity doesn’t necessarily mean that they are that engaging?


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Facebook’s F8 announcements: through a skeptic darkly

Reading Time: 2 minutes

One of the key challenges that I outlined regarding the future of Facebook last November was that of increasingly inactive profiles. Why are inactive profiles particularly bad for Facebook?

  • At the top-level inactive Facebook users call into question the value that has been put on the social network by investors
  • Facebook at its heart is an advertising business that relies on consumers providing compelling content in the form of updates, curated content and pictures so there is less content to put advertisements against
  • Visits by the audiences are likely to become less frequent and so the cycle continues in a slow downward spiral
  • Facebook can’t kick off inactive profiles as this would affect active users friend numbers adversely which would result in a sizeable amount of cognitive dissonance
  • Finally the cost of saving an inactive profile is small but in aggregate would adversely affect the margins of the Facebook business. Over time, it is likely adversely affect behavioural targeting of adverts

The changes that Facebook announced around timelines and news feeds look as if Facebook is already preparing for this; by trying to wring as much content as possible out of the existing news streams. Facebook’s frictionless sharing takes this a step further. It is about collating status posts from Facebook users who aren’t logged in with the content being sent via app developers over a Facebook API.

There are some issues I would like to understand better:

  • Does Facebook’s data show a progressively less engaged audience in its mature markets like the US and the UK? And by implication, is this is about as good as Facebook is going to get?
  • Has Facebook messaging not lived up to its initial promise to provide consumers with a reason to return and an excuse to update their status whilst they are at it?
  • Finally how much of these changes are likely likely to benefit brand pages?

More posts about this subject

Facebook redesigns itself for expansion (roundup) | CNET News

Facebook changes creeping out some customers – CNET News

What if People Stop Sharing? Facebook Has the Answer | SiliconANGLE

Nik Cubrilovic Blog – Logging out of Facebook is not enough

2011: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara

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Oprah Time: In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I bought In The Plex automatically because I had previously read and enjoyed Levy’s previous works: Insanely Great, Hackers and Crypto. Given his heritage covering technology companies and personalities as both an author and a journalist, I was curious what he would make of Google.

The book is expansive and provides a lot of additional colour around Google, some of which I found of interest as I had worked at Yahoo! competing against Google and working with some of the early darlings of the web 2.0 movement – Flickr and Delicious. There were a couple of things that surprised me such as Google’s use of machine learning on areas like translation explained why grammar is still so bad in this area as it needs heuristics that lexicographers could provide similar to that offered by Crystal Semantics.

Overall it was interesting to see that as with most large organisations Google is not only fallible but run through with realpolitik and a fair bit of serendipity. This contrasts with the external perception of Google as the technological Übermensch. A classic example of this is the series of missteps Google made whilst competing in China, which are documented in the book. From staffing practices, promotional tactics and legal to technology; Google blew it’s chances and Baidu did a better job.

As an aside it was interesting to note that Google used queries on rival search engines to try and work out how to comply with Chinese government regulations, which is eerily like bad practices that Google accused Bing of last February in ‘hiybbprqag’-gate.

There is a curious myopia that runs through a lot of later Google product thinking that reminded me of the reality and perceptions that I was aware of existing inside Microsoft from the contact I have had with the organisation through the various different agencies I have worked at. A classic example of this is the Google view of a file-less future, which by implication assumes that people won’t have legacy documents or use services other than the Google cloud. It is a myopia that comes part of arrogance and a patronising attitude towards the consumer that Google always knows best about every aspect of their needs.

Contrast this with Apple and iTunes. Whilst Apple would like to sell you only content from the iTunes store, it recognises that you will have content from different sources: Amazon MP3s, ripped CDs, podcasts and self-created files that iTunes needs to play nicely with.

The ‘no files’ approach assumes ubiquitous bandwidth which is likely to be a fiction for a while. (Part of the reason why I am able to write this post is that I was stuck for half-a-day on a train journey to Wales enjoying patchy mobile phone coverage and a wi-fi free environment, which allowed me to focus on reading this book in hardback).  This approach smacks of the old data lock-in that Microsoft used to have with proprietary file formats for its Office documents.

Levy does a good job pulling all of this together and chronicling Google, but he fails to cast a critical eye over it all. I suspect that this is because he is too close to the company: the access that he gained enveloped him. Which is a shame as all the experience and insight Levy could bring to the book that would add value to the reader is omitted. Whilst In The Plex is an interesting historical document, it could be so much more.