Thursday, December 10, 2009

The state of social networks: Facebook, Twitter and one other

I’ve interacted with three social network systems. Two get a lot of media attention, but the most interesting one is currently invisible. Here’s how they look to me in December 2009.

Facebook is currently useful, but worrisome. It's useful because it’s been a useful way for me to share family news that (very) close friends may enjoy seeing. Facebook is where I announce that my 12 yo scored a goal in a hockey game, and where my readers would understand that a goal is not always just a goal. Facebook is worrisome because their business model is currently based on exploiting the weakest members of a social graph, and then on selling information and marketing access to the entire graph. It’s remarkable how uninteresting Facebook’s ads are. That’s a bad sign, even thought it says something interesting about the limited predictive value of one's friendships.

Twitter would be more interesting if I had an archaic cell phone with unlimited text messaging, or if I had an interest in the domestic disturbances of celebrities. Twitter’s usage is on the same track as Friendster and MySpace. I don’t think it will last very much longer.

The most interesting social network I know of, however, is one that has very few members, no media coverage, no books, little documentation, no clear strategy, and mysterious privacy and revenue models. This is the Google Reader share and comment graph including the (currently) “like-based” discovery model.

Through the Google Reader (GR) “like” link I’ve identified about six English-language writers around the world who share an interest in topics I want to know about. When I find one who is sharing interesting items I don’t see or know about, I add them to my GR graph. They may choose to follow me or not – that’s not relevant to me. The value is that I can follow what they do.

I add one such meta-feed to my knowledge stream every few weeks. The stream volume does not increase much, because I can in turn drop direct reads of streams my experts cover. Given the uber-geekiness of the GR graph membership the quality of shared items is currently very high, but I don’t see why this approach won’t scale even in the event that the GR graph gets market attention.

The primary risk to this model, of course, is that Google will lose interest. I suspect, however, that this experiment will provide Google with interesting ways to explore and classify the world’s information stream – a mission very dear to their revenue model.

Google’s machine translation is improving every month – I’m looking for my first Chinese-language source. That will be interesting.

The GR graph means Google wins and I win. Maybe, if this increases the value of the world’s knowledge stream, we all win.

I like that model.

See also

Update: Of course the day I post this is the day it seems to stop working. I am following about 17 people, but nothing happens if I try to add someone new. Google has been doing something funky with sharing permissions; it's possible that when I "follow" someone they have to approve before anything happens. So it's now more of a "request to follow".

No comments: