Why Facebook is succeeding and MySpace isn’t

The techno-pundit circuit has been good enough to provide detailed explanations of what went wrong with MySpace along with lots of advice about what MySpace needs to do now. All this intelligence made all the more accurate given their perfect 20/20 hindsight vision. 

But most answers I read seemed fuzzy and unclear until, that is, I met up with the 16 year old son of a colleague who happened to be in our office one day. 

This fresh faced young man came in with his expected teenage uniform – jeans, t-shirt and his PC. He was quietly but intensely doing something on his PC when I started to talk about how we use our Paltalk Facebook group and I must have snagged the young man’s attention because he lifted his head in interest. Seeing an opportunity to learn from him, I started to ask him what he thought of Facebook. “Oh, he said, “all of us in school are on Facebook now. Yeah”, and then he added on his own, “we all stopped going to MySpace. No one ever uses their real name on MySpace.”

In that one exchange I understood what went wrong for MySpace and in my view, that 16 year old accurately put his finger on the heart of the problem (all the high paid consultants notwithstanding). MySpace simply failed to find ways to help users establish connections that “stick”, connections born of a trusted bond.  As a result, MySpace became a haven for spammers, causing a loss of more trust and the decline trust spiral began.

Before you skeptics reject the simplicity of this answer, consider MySpace’s fate with that of Facebook and the answer becomes easier to fathom. Facebook started as a way for college kids to connect with their trusted peers (trusted only in the sense that they went to the same university – but hey – trust is fluid depending on the context). These students already shared a trust bond, they were already part of trusted community and Facebook provided the platform that let people create these “trusted”, sticky connections. Further, as Facebook grew, it was able to attract a mass audience because it expanded by staying true to its very DNA – its ability to let people make trusted connections. It was a killer strategy and a risky move, but it is now paying off just as, paradoxically, MySpace seems to be feeling its way through the digital dark. 

If one tests this theory to see how it stands up in real life, we see this principle operating at many of the most successful social networks out there. For example, LinkedIn thrives as a professional network because you invite “trusted connections” and video based communities achieve a higher level of trust than a text chat community because one can see who one is talking to. These are just a few different strategies to achieve a similar goal – create ways that let people make trust bonds with each other and within communities.

The core concept I am advocating is that we learn to transform online trust from something we do to avoid digital harm into something we can expect in a next generation web. I am advocating that, like Facebook began, we learn to create the trusted digital society of tomorrow.

In fact, I favor the name the Trusted Web for the next gen web in the hopes that injecting trust as a proactive expectation of the internet is a requirement that should drive our innovations. 

People joining together to make a difference is what trusted communities are all about. Trusted communities are something we all need to help create together – for all of us in technology, education, government and business.

The ties that bind are the one based on trust. Let’s help shape what that means in the next generation web – The Trusted Web.

Judy Shapiro

Enough already! We’ve been here before.

I can’t believe the media frenzy around how, according to “everyone”, Twitter virtually single handed heralded a new era of citizen journalism. This little 140 character wonder is able to leap tall political buildings in a single bound …

From all the reporting you would think never before in the history of man has broadcasting ever had a more profound impact on the political landscape.

How ridiculous.

One only needs to look back over the years – these “media game changer” moments happened again and again. From the impact TV coverage of Vietnam war had on the American psyche to the availability of bandwidth for public access to the ability of anyone to broadcast via the internet – whether it be Twitter or any number of other video based chat rooms.

These all share one fundamental trait – they allow the one:many broadcast model. Technology just made this capability available to almost everyone … whether a news station or a civilian broadcasts a riot on his cell phone.

The opening up of a broadcast platform to so many more people is not without significant issues. It is not hard to fathom how, a particularly clever influencer, could recruit an army of citizen journalists to broadcast a particular version of a story. The lack of credentials and accountability is a startling development that should not be ignored.  

It’s one thing for anyone and everyone to become a mini broadcast network – the question then becomes which broadcaster can we trust.

Unfortunately, now you’re on your own, my friend.

Judy Shapiro

The final mystery.

Everyone has their “big question”.  For some it is around the next, best technological innovation. For others, it is about advances in the human condition.

For me, the “big question” is around how will our biology and technology merge. I remember fondly my days at Bell Labs where over lunch we would argue the subtler points of human consciousness. “At what point”, we asked each other, “once we added technology to our bodies, would our individual humanity be too weak to maintain our soul? Do you think science will be able to create a soul one day (I came down on the side of yes – it was a distinct possibility)?  Did we need a certain “critical mass” to maintain our personalities?” 

 The answers remain as elusive today as they were over a decade ago. But at least more people are asking the same questions today whereas a decade ago it was rarely the subject of polite conversation. And if you ever suggested that science can create souls well that usually resulted in some deeply uncomfortable conversations.

Today, people are more opened minded and I have more freedom to chat about this stuff with more people that ever before. I can challenge the belief that some have that there is a man vs machine confrontation coming (I don’t BTW). Others believe that our ability to create technology will outstrip our ability to introduce safeguards preventing the technology from running amok. Still others imagine a matrix-like world where we are all just the result of some massive software program and we only think we have free will  (but if one thinks one is free – does it matter if you are not).

Ah – such philosophical quandaries.  I long for Spinoza’s simple view of everything. He maintained that anything and everything was eventually knowable (yeah – the Church was not happy about that idea since it put a crimp in their monopoly in the business of knowing God). Plus Spinoza understood God as follows; all matter is divisible but once you hit “matter rock bottom” so to speak, that indivisible thing Spinoza called “Substance” (a.k.a. God).

It’s a simple world view that is eminently satisfying until one realizes that it does not account for the leaps of brilliance only the human heart can take. Or the flashes of insight that allow someone to create a masterpiece no machine has yet been able to duplicate. Nor does it explain the power of love to transform and the essential element of hope to sustain the human spirit.

Today, science has put forth many more questions than it actually answered over the last 50 years.  Maybe, just maybe, the human spirit needs mystery just as much as it needs hope. Maybe the final mystery is that we need mystery to sustain the spirit. The more I ponder this mystery the more puzzled I become.

Ah – the exquisite agony of it all. No software program could ever fathom that …at least I don’t think so. 

Judy Shapiro

Why Twitter and Twine matter

Much digital ink has been spent trying to explain the likes of Twitter and Twine. Often, they are characterized as the poster children of the Web 2.0 techno trend. Pundits wonder if they represent a new, democratized broadcast platform. Others imagine that they serve as the next gen CRM tool. And skeptics believe these are just tech toys to be quickly dispensed with once the novelty is over.

As I read the plethora of opinions, I was left more and more unsatisfied largely because the answers ignored the “irrational exuberance” often surrounding media’s descriptions of these technologies. Either the media is very easily seduced when it comes to new technology (and that is not a hard argument to make) or they sensed these technologies represented an important trend taking shape beyond the current Web 2.0 craze.

I come down on the side of the latter opinion and believe these technologies do represent “something different”. Yet I could no more articulate the “something different” than anyone else until a recent conversation I had with some colleagues about Twine. I was explaining why I like Twine and how even the name appeals to me because it suggests interconnectivity where like-minded people form a “mini, trusted search circle” among themselves. When you participate in a Twine, you can get more trusted information about the subject of the Twine because it is strengthened, enhanced and expanded by real people. The “twine”, in effect, creates a “trusted search community” becoming more relevant and thus more trusted over time. The name says it all.

And Twitter matters for the same reason. You can follow people whose opinion you trust within a loosely bound and loosely trusted community. Or, you can share with your “followers” (a.k.a. your trusted community) what you think is useful, important, even trusted. Taken even further, I attribute Twitter’s popularity to the media friendly way reporters can get bite-sized updates from their “trusted sources” which is probably one reason why the Twitter scent carried so far and wide. But don’t let the hype around Twitter obscure the value of this technology – it is a means to receive or broadcast personal, relevant and yes, trusted information.

Now I think I can better put my finger on the “something different” I detect in these newer technologies and it revolves around how we use trust in this new web world. In today’s Web 2.0 world, we don’t expect much trust nor does it drive much how people use these social networking technologies. And if “trust” comes up at all, it is thought of as a risk mitigation requirement as in; “I need to be sure I can trust this person trying to friend me because I don’t want to get scammed.” But for this new web to materialize, trust will have to be transformed from the risk mitigation attribute to the key driver for how we optimize our personal, web experience. In essence, the next gen web hinges on the next gen kind of trust that is a proactive, positive part of the web experience.

When thought of in this light, then it becomes clear that the likes of Twitter, Twine and the many other forms of communities (from forums to bloggers to chat rooms) lies at the heart of how the next gen web will accomplish its charter. People today are creating all forms of communities as a way to proactively create different kinds of trust through relevancy made more potent via communal sharing. In the cases of Twitter and Twine, they provide a key, community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data, (after all, there are only so many “OMG, check this URL/ video out” emails we can sort through). Forums provide a different kind of trust by letting users share experiences and the sharp rise of bloggers’ influence in the social media celeb heap is proof of their power to create trusted communities.

As more and more people become more dependent on the Internet, the community creation groundswell is one indication of how people are imaginatively and proactively filling the “trust gaps” (a phrase I gratefully attribute to Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo) using their trusted communities. I broadly think of Twitter and Twine as variant versions of communities and this is why I assert it makes sense to think of all these emerging communities as smack in the middle of the next gen web rather than the Web 2.0 landscape. They represent people’s desire to create a personal, relevant web and that will, increasingly, be a function of how people are able to create trust in their ever widening web world.

That’s why Twitter, Twine and all forms of communities matter. They are the building blocks of the next gen web – the Trusted Web.

Welcome home.
Judy Shapiro

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