Jun 232010

I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend (Today), part II

I think Facebook is starting to get out of control from a usability perspective.  This doesn’t mean it’s not a great platform and that it doesn’t have utility.  But if the platform continues on its current path, the core system runs the risk of going sideways like its various predecessors:  GeoCities, MySpace, etc.  Maybe I’ll go in there to look for something or someone, but it won’t be a place I scroll through as part of a daily or semi-daily routine.

I wrote about this a year ago now, and while the site has some better tools to assign friends to groups, it doesn’t do any better job than it did a year ago about segregating information flow, either by group or by some kind of intelligence.

I don’t know why my home page, news feed, RSS feed, and iPhone app can’t easily show me posts from people I care about, but if it can’t do that soon enough, I will almost entirely stop using it.  Can’t Facebook measure the strength of my connections?  Can’t it at least put my wife’s posts at the top?  My usage is already way down, and the trend is clear.

And I won’t really comment on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s inane remark last week that “email is dead because young people don’t use it” other than to paraphrase two things I read on a discussion list I’m on:  “Just checked, and you still need an email address to sign-up for a Facebook account,” and “Most teens don’t buy stocks so Wall Street has no future.”  More entertaining analogies from Loren McDonald of Silverpop are listed here.

Filed under: Email, Technology

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May 112009

Five Years On

Five Years On

As of this past weekend, I’ve been blogging on OnlyOnce for five years.  My main reflection as I was thinking about it during this morning’s run is that blogging is different.  I started blogging to try out what was at the time the “new, new thing” (there were almost no CEO blogs at the time), just like I have tried out lots of other new technologies or web services from time to time over the years — from Skype to Facebook to Twitter to about 50 others.

You’ll never see a tweet from me about an anniversary of using Twitter.  Or any other comparable from that above list.  Blogging has ended up being fundamentally different.  It’s not just another expression of my status updates or another way to connect with friends and colleagues.  It’s become a core part of my business operating system, although I suppose that’s the case for many other tools as well. 

I think the main difference is that OnlyOnce has become a true form of creative expression for me.  It’s like (I imagine) writing a book or composing a piece of music. I’m not suggesting it’s high art, but I view it more as an ongoing project than most other online tools or sites I’ve tried out over the years.

Here’s to the next five years of it.

Filed under: Email

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Apr 022009

I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend (Today)

I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend (Today)

The biggest problem with all the social networks, as far as I can tell, is that there’s no easy and obvious way for me to differentiate the people to whom I am connected either by type of person or by how closely connected we are.

I have about 400 on Facebook and 600 on LinkedIn.  And I’m still adding ones as new people get on the two networks for the first time.  While it seems to people in the industry here that “everyone is on Facebook,” it’s not true yet.  Facebook is making its way slowly (in Geoffrey Moore terms) through Main Street.  Main Street is a big place.

But not all friends are created equal.  There are some where I’m happy to read their status updates or get invited to their events.  There are some where I’m happy if they see pictures of me.  But there are others where neither of these is the case.  Why can’t I let only those friends who I tag as “summer camp” see pictures of me that are tagged as being from summer camp?  Why can’t I only get event invitations from “close friends”?  Wouldn’t LinkedIn be better if it only allowed second and third degree connections to come from “strong” connections instead of “weak” ones?

It’s also hard to not accept a connection from someone you know.  Here’s a great example.  A guy to whom I have a very tenuous business connection (but a real one) friends me on Facebook.  I ignore him.  He does it again.  I ignore him again.  And a third time.  Finally, he emails me with some quasi-legitimate business purpose and asks why I’m ignoring him — he sees that I’m active on Facebook, so I *must* be ignoring him.  Sigh.  I make up some feeble excuse and go accept his connection.  Next thing I know, I’m getting an invitation from this guy for “International Hug a Jew Day,” followed by an onslaught of messages from everyone else in his address book in some kind of reply-to-all functionality.  Now, I’m a Jew, and I don’t mind a hug now and then, but this crap, I could do without. 

I mentioned this problem to a friend the other day who told me the problem was me.  “You just have too many friends.  I reject everyone who connects to me unless they’re a really, super close friend.”  Ok, fine, I am a connector, but I don’t need a web site to help me stay connected to the 13 people I talk to on the phone or see in person.  The beauty of social networks is to enable some level of communication with a much broader universe — including on some occasions people I don’t know at all.  That communication, and the occasional serendipity that accompanies it, goes away if I keep my circle of friends narrow.  In fact, I do discriminate at some level in terms of who I accept connections from.  I don’t accept them from people I truly don’t know, which isn’t a small number.  It’s amazing how many people try to connect to me who I have never met or maybe who picked up my business card somewhere.

The tools to handle this today are crude and only around the edges.  I can ignore people or block them, but that means I never get to see what they’re up to (and vice versa).  That eliminates the serendipity factor as well.  Facebook has some functionality to let me “see more from some people and less from others” — but it’s hard to find, it’s unclear how it works, and it’s incredibly difficult to use.  Sure, I can “never accept event invitations from this person,” or hide someone’s updates on home page, but those tools are clunky and reactive.

When are the folks at LinkedIn and Facebook going to solve this?  Feels like tagging, basic behavioral analysis, and checkboxes at point of “friending” aren’t exactly bleeding edge technologies any more.

Filed under: Email, Technology

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Nov 302007

Facebook and Privacy

I hate just doing linkblogs, but Fred’s thoughts this morning on Facebook and privacy around the beacon issue are spot on. 

Two highlights I couldn’t agree with more:

When the internet knows who you are, what you do, who your friends are, and what they do, it goes from the random bar you wander into to your favorite pub where your friends congregate and the bartender knows your drink and pours it for you when you walk in the door

and

These privacy backlashes do some good though. They keep big companies like Google and Facebook sensitized to the issue. And so we hope that they ‘do no evil’ with this data they are collecting

Read the full post here.

Filed under: Email, Technology

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Nov 252007

The Facebook Fad

The Facebook Fad

I’m sure someone will shoot me for saying this, but I don’t get Facebook.  I mean, I get it, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  I made similar comments before about Gmail (here, here), and people told me I was an idiot at the time.  Three years later, Gmail is certainly a popular webmail service, but it’s hardly changed the world. In fact, it’s a distant fourth behind Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL.  So I don’t feel so bad about not oohing and ahhing and slobbering all over the place about Facebook.

Facebook reminds me of AOL back in the day.  AOL was the most simple, elegant, general purpose entree for people who wanted to get online and weren’t sure how in the early days of online services, before the Internet came of age.  It was good at packaging up its content and putting everything “in a box.”  It was clean.  It was fun.  People bragged about being an AOL member and talked about their screen name like it was on their birth certificate or something.  And the company capitalized on all the goodwill by becoming a PR machine to perpetuate its membership growth.

Now Facebook — it’s the most simple, elegant, general purpose social networking site here in the early days of social networking.  It’s pretty good about packaging up its applications, and certainly opening up its APIs is a huge benefit that AOL didn’t figure out until it embraced the open web in 1999-2000.  It is pretty good about putting everything in a box for me as a member.  And like AOL, the company is turning into a PR juggernaut and hoping to use it to perpetuate its registration numbers.

But let’s look at the things that caused (IMO) AOL’s downfall (AOL as we knew it) and look at the parallels with Facebook.  AOL quickly became too cluttered.  It’s simple elegance was destroyed by too much stuff jammed into its clean interface.  It couldn’t keep up with best of breed content or even messaging systems inside its walled garden.  Spam crushed its email functionality.  It couldn’t maintain its “all things to all people” infrastructure on the back end.  Ultimately, the open web washed over it.  People who defected were simply having better experiences elsewhere.

The parallels aren’t exact, but there are certainly some strong ones.  Facebook is already too cluttered for me.  Why are people writing on my wall instead of emailing me — all that does is trigger an email from Facebook to me telling me to come generate another page view for them.  Why am I getting invitations to things on Facebook instead of through the much better eVite platform?  The various forms of messaging are disorganized and hard to find. 

Most important, for a social network, it turns out that I don’t actually want my entire universe of friends and contacts to be able to connect with each other through me.  Like George Costanza in Seinfeld, I apparently have a problem with my “worlds colliding.”  I already know of one couple who either hooked up or is heavily flirting by connecting through my Facebook profile, and it’s not one I’m proud to have spawned.  I think I let one of them “be my friend” by mistake in the first place.  And I am a compulsive social networker.  It’s hard to imagine that these principles scale unfettered to the whole universe.

The main thing Facebook has going for it in this comparison is that its open APIs will lead to best of breed development for the platform.  But who cares about Facebook as a platform?  Isn’t the open web (or Open Social) ultimately going to wash over it?  I get that there are cool apps being written for Facebook – but 100% of those applications will be on the open web as well.  It’s certainly possible that Facebook’s marrying of my “social network” with best of breed applications will make it stickier for longer than AOL…but let’s remember that AOL has clung to life as a proprietary service for quite a while on the stickiness of people’s email addresses.  And yet, it is a non-event now as a platform. 

It will be interesting to see how Facebook bobs and weaves over the coming years to avoid what I think of as its inevitable fate.  And yes, I know I’m not 18 and if I were, I’d like Facebook more and spend all day in it.  But that to me reinforces my point even more — this is the same crew who flocked to, and then quickly from, MySpace.  When will they get tired of Facebook, and what’s to prevent them moving onto the next fad?

Filed under: Email

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Jul 172007

Why Do Companies Sell?

Why Do Companies Sell?

Fred has a good post today about Facebook and why they shouldn’t sell the company now, in which he makes the assertion that companies sell “because of fear, boredom, and personal financial issues.”  He might not have meant this in such a black and white way, and while those might all be valid reasons why companies decide to sell, let me add a few others:

  • Market timing:  As they say, buy low – sell high.  Sometimes, it’s just the right time to sell a business from the market’s perspective.  Valuations have peaks and troughs, and sometimes the troughs can last for years.  Whether you do an NPV/DCF model that says it’s the right time to sell, or you just rely on gut (“we aren’t going to see this price again for a long time…”), market timing is a critical factor
  • Dilution:  Sometimes, market conditions dictate that it isn’t the best time to sell, BUT company conditions dictate that continuing to be competitive, grow the top line, and generate long-term profits requires a significant amount of incremental capital or dilution that materially changes the expected value of the ultimate exit for existing shareholders (both investors and management)
  • Fund life:  Fortunately, we haven’t been up against this at Return Path, but sometimes the clock runs out on venture investors’ funds, and they are forced into a position of either needing to get liquidity for their LPs or distribute their portfolio company holdings.  While neither is great for the portfolio, a sale may be preferable to a messy distribution

Fred’s reasons are all very founder-driven.  And sometimes founders get to make the call on an exit.  But factoring in a 360 view of the company’s stakeholders and external environments can often produce a different result in the conversation around when to exit.

Filed under: Business, Email

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