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Thoughts about the web – Page 5

Facebook Doesn’t Want Posts Via The API To Be Equal To Internal Ones?

Links posted by 3rd party apps via the Graph API are treated differently. In September it was concluded that they are even penalized when considered for displaying on the home stream. Facebook allegedly fixed that. But still, posts via the Graph API have some handicap, and that’s on purpose.

Recently I reported a bug that links posted via the Graph API lack the “share” button. As you can see, this is “by design”. In other words, facebook deliberately handicaps 3rd party posts. In addition to that, recently posts by my app started being copllapsed on the homepage. The bug-report is still unresolved, without any feedback.

Of course, I may be exaggerating here – just a couple of missing features, and some bugs unresolved for a long time. On the other hand some things are improving – for example now you can tag people in API posts. A couple of months ago I tried to figure out the reasons for their not-so-great API. And one of them was:

Company policy. Facebook’s main revenue is adverts and adverts are viewed on facebook.com. Not on other sites that consume facebook content. So not giving a fully-functional API makes sense. Users should still have incentives to go to facebook.com

This is absolutely understandable, and I’m not complaining about it. It’s just that Mark should not emphasize on the “facebook platform” if they are not truly committed to it.

Selling Copyrighted Materials Is Not a Sustainable Business Model

With all the technology advancements, “piracy” spread – we are talking about “stealing” mp3’s and DVD rips. This leads to stern measures by governments to counter “stealing”. Including the recent SOPA, which is condemned by many internet leaders, including Sergey Brin and Jimmy Wales.

The debate is old and lengthy. Is it really stealing when the original is preserved, how exactly are the money divided between producers, labels, studios and artists, are government regulations against the rights of consumers. These are hard questions, but we don’t have to answer them. Because there is a higher-level question – is the business model of selling copyrighted materials sustainable? What if the music industry didn’t exist and you went to a VC today, proposing your business model. He’d reply that you just can’t stop people from copying the material without regulations, and you can’t make the government pass these regulations. But the music industry, and the film industry, are older than the technology, they have the money and influence, and they can make the government protect their business model. But in a pure capitalism the government would not interfere in the market. And this business model would fail in the open market.

I’m not saying this is good. Creative work – music, movies, books must be rewarded. And quality and distribution depends on money. So ultimately, these industries need money to give us better products. But they can adapt their business model to the market. This will not be the first business model that fails because of emerging technology. Is it too big to fail? I believe not. Will this drive quality artists out of business? Perhaps. Should the government interfere in the market with such regulations? Sometimes yes. But in this case the regulations aim to protect the interests of studios, rather than that of consumers.

The Case of Social Reputation

If you are in some way related to social media you’ve heard about social reputation. There are lots of services that calculate your social reputation and give you some analytics about it. These include Klout, Peerindex, Kred. But the what’s the point? Each of these services will tell you theirs is unique and has a bright future and people really need an indicator for their social media influence. Truth is, people don’t give a … tweet about it. Not because they don’t want to have something to brag about, and not because they don’t care how popular they are. It’s because the score alone means nothing. My Klout is 52, so what?

It’s not that this means nothing to me. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody. If I go in a room with marketers, and I say “My Klout is 70”, they may wink and say “yeah, cool”. If I go in a room with developers and say “my stackoverflow reputation is 140k” they may still do the same. But if I tell them “I’m ranked 21st, all time, on stackoverflow” they will likely be more impressed. And that’s what all these social reputation services lack – a leaderboard. A place where you can compete with others . And a place where people interested in you can see where you stand relative to others.

But then again, there are such indexes. With Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga ranked 1st and 2nd, and you ranked 562,134th. Which makes little sense. I’ll go back to the stackoverflow example. When I was on the 10th page, with something like 25k reputation, it didn’t mean anything. That’s equivallent to being 562,134th on the twitter leaderboard. But I was 4th in the Java tag and 3rd in the spring framework tag. And also 1st in the last 30 days in the Java tag, and 20th in the last month overall. That meant I was ahead of Jon Skeet (the stackoverflow celebrity) in the Java tag. Now that may matter to me. Not because I have 10k reputation, and not because I’m ranked 345th overall, but because I am first in some ranking. And on the other hand, people looking for Java developers won’t go to the overall leaderboard. They’ll go to the Java tag. And even though I was nobody overall, I was at the top in my tag.

That’s why complex and fragmented leaderboards should exist based on the social reputation score. Calculating it is the easy. Thinking of how to split the rankings is harder. One example: in my tool for power users there’s also a “score”. But you can check the top users in your country or in your city. Even if Lady Gaga would have 100 times more score than you, you can still be first in your city. And guess whom will marketers turn to if they need a local campagin? The top users in their area. That’s just a beginning. Other rankings will be cool as well: top people with a specific keyword in their bio (there’s an existing service about that already), top people with a given interest, in a given field, etc. And that would be great, because you will be at the top of what and where you are respected. Because Justin Biber can’t beat me at programming, can he?

Google+ pages API released to “partners” first. Why?

It appears selected companies were given access to more features of the Google+ API. Now, that’s lame. There are two sides of this: what companies get from it, and what google gets. And it’s a stupid move from whichever perspective you look at it.

  • The chosen companies are already market leaders. Why would google give them even more competitive advantage. It looks rather unfair to other companies that are trying to compete with “the chosen ones”. Yeah, Google doesn’t have to be fair. Well, it does, if it wants to retain its image of an open and “not evil” company. If Oracle or Apple have done that – well, whatever, you’d expect it from them anyway. But Google is different, right?
  • Even if the above point is nonsense, having just a few companies use the API would provide way less feedback than if it was open. And that’s what they try to do – make a better API. Wait, they can’t make a good API without someone else using it for a long time? You design an API, label it “version one”, and if it turns out to be horrible, improve it with minor tweaks or make “version two”. It worked pretty well for companies that didn’t know how to scale APIs (twitter, facebook). So it should work for Google.

By the way, they did the same with games. A few companies were given the privilege to build games. What happened? All the games I tried were crap. That’s not how the open market functions – you don’t choose the best ones – they compete for it.

This rant has nothing to do with the fact that my startup wants the Pages API. It doesn’t – welshare doesn’t even support Facebook pages (because it’s for power users, not for companies). But I just wanted to point out that this kind of decisions are not doing any good to Google+.

And something else – it’s almost December, and they still haven’t released the sharing and circles APIs. Waiting for all the buzz to die, or what?

Facade

Google+ introduced circles. Facebook followed. In short – when adding friends you have to decide what group they belong to. Joel Spolsky called this “autistic”. I agree with that view, but it only covers to process of creating and filling circles/groups/lists. But what complicates things even more is when you share – you have to decide which of the circles you want to share your thoughts with. To me this is rather hypocritical. You are something that you don’t want part of your acquaintances to know. With all my respect to that idea and the fact that it truly reflects real-life situations, I have three objections:

First, a little ideological point – society is changing to a more open one. Growing this kind of two-faced (or more properly – n-faced) internet society is a step in the wrong direction. There is a song from the musical Jekyll & Hyde – Facade, which illustrates the two-faced nature of people, and obviously disapproves of it. Why are we helping that nature thrive online? As Eric Schmidt himself said – if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. In this context I’d add – “or at least don’t post it online”.

Second, it becomes very complex. What happens if someone from a circle you share with reshares the message to circles you don’t want to share with? Forbid it, show a warning to the resharer? And won’t the regular user just throw all this complexity away. Yes, I know that for us engineers and social-media gurus this is not that complex, but ask your mother about it.

And third, this is not necessarily suitable for the Internet. Usually, you either don’t care who sees your posting, or you want only some particular people to see it, or you don’t want just a few people not to see it (boss, ex, parents). There are pretty good solutions for the first two categories. if you want everyone to see it, post it as public. If you want only a few people to see it, send it only to them – on skype, via private messages or emails. (And we know people do that – they send links to private picasa albums, they send dirty jokes via skype.).

What to do about the third case – you don’t want only a few people to see something – it’s still hypocritical, but sometimes life forces it – it will be bad if your parents see the party (this is the usual example), it will be bad if your boss sees you cursing your job. Well, if you could only hide the message from these people – problem solved. Even if a colleague of yours reshares your curses, the message holds the limitation and won’t be displayed to your boss. (it’s a different story whether you should friend your boss on social networks other than LinkedIn). A thing to note here is that this feature would be used rarely – only in very specific cases (such cases are often given as examples for the need of circles, but I believe they are pretty rare). The default scenario will be “open communication”. And most importantly – it is simple. You don’t need a master’s degree in social networking to understand the behavior.

So, I think circles will fail. And I hope they will, so that we can foster a more open online communication.

Facebook vs Google+: current status

So, what happened in the past 3 months?

  • Google+ got lots of signups because of the hype
  • Facebook copied all the cool features of Google+:
    • circles – facebook had lists, but they improved the UI and made it more visible. Now you choose whether your posts are public, or you want to target them at specific list
    • counting shares – sharing existed in facebook, but it didn’t count the number of shares. Now it does
    • subscribe – adds the non-reciprocal “friendship” concept from twitter and Google+.
    • video chat – only two people can participate though
  • Google are late with releasing their API – 3 months after the initial hype a rudimentary API appeared, but you can’t do much.

So, the end result? Facebook has everything that Google+ has, in addition to its huge user base and its API (which is far from perfect, but exists).

That doesn’t mean users should not use Google+. But the majority won’t. And facebook is obviously here to stay because it is adaptable.

The Google+ API – what to do with it?

Yesterday Google released a limited API for Google+. And they expect people to build apps with it, to give feedback. This is very good, but let’s see what you can do with the limited API. Well, nothing actually. You can get the user profile details and their own posts. You can’t get streams, you can’t get friends/circles. Yes, I know “this is just the beginning”, but I don’t find it very clever to release a useless piece of the API. Furthermore, it doesn’t conform to the spec – it claims that commenters are included in the response, but they are not. So you can’t even get who has replied.

You can, of course, think of some apps that use only the provided information. I already have ideas for three apps. But they are useless. I wonder if it’s worth investing time in some crappy app just because it will be the first on the market. Perhaps it is?

 

 

Twitter activity stream and the undetermined semantics of “favorite”

Twitter is adding “Activity stream”. What we can see in the screenshots is followings, retweets and favorites.

Retweets are also visible in the current stream. The only difference is that now you see how many people have retweeted it. Which you could do by clicking on the tweet previously.

Followings is something new – previously you didn’t know when others started following someone. Because you didn’t care, actually. The facebook “became friend with” can’t be directly moved to twitter because people you follow on twitter are not your friends and the people they follow are not of any interest to you. Well, they may be of interest, but that is supposedly handled by “Who to follow”.

Favorites – this is a feature with undetermined semantics. By idea it should mean “things I like and want to refer to later”, but people have been using them a lot as a “read it later” feature, especially when reading their stream from a mobile device. Another thing about favorites is – important tweets. I have a hosting company website and an analytics framework in my favourites. Not because I particularly like these, but because they might be useful in the future when I look for hosting or analytics. So the semantics of the “favorite” action is unclear and differs for different users. And because of that some users favorite a lot more than others. That said, showing favorites in the stream may not be very sensible. A couple of side-effects:

  • you will see links that are not particularly interesting, but that people have favorited because they’d like to check them out later when they are on their PC;
  • the stream may be dominated by a few users that use the feature extensively;
  • people might reconsider what to favorite when they know others are watching.

It seems to me that twitter are trying to enforce a “like” semantics on the “favorite” button – it will be shown in an aggregated stream, and it means you like something but don’t necessarily want others to see it in their regular stream. There is very little difference from the “retweet” button, and that makes it even more confusing.

But what’s the ultimate idea of the activity tab – to show you just the most interesting stuff and to filter out the noise. But my opinion is that it won’t succeed – it will add even more noise and useless information, like who are others following and their undetermined use of the “favorite” feature.

Social gaming has nothing to do with “social”

Recently it became clear that Google+ is going to also be a platform for social games. It may look like “social gaming” is something big. Well, it is big, but it has nothing to do with “social”. I have played games online long before the social networks became so popular. Yes, games with other people. These people were not my friends and that is supposed to be the big difference. Guess what – it isn’t. What makes the difference is the scale.

Facebook has such a huge userbase that is the potential user base of each new game. Everyone that 1. plays games online 2. is on facebook, is a much easier target now. It’s not that you can’t get running outside the facebook platform, but it is the speed you can grow that also matters. Gaming facebook users will say “Hey, I want to play this with somebody”..and their option is to send invitations to their “friends”. It’s not that they want to play with their friends in particular, it’s just the easiest way to get more people. The social graph is used, but just because it’s a graph. Any graph containing people would do. If twitter had games would it be “interest gaming” (after their “interest graph”) just because you invited all your followers? Or if LinkedIn had games (sounds weird)? In fact it is not uncommon to add “friends” on facebook in order to play a game. There are groups that connect gamers that are otherwise unrelated.

So it’s just the same old web games – in terms of gameplay and in terms of graphics. The slight difference is that they force you to spam your friends. And that your mother also plays.