Tag - web

PayPal story hitting Techmeme

OK, very silly of me, I know. But I’m kinda pumped.

I’ve been writing for VentureBeat for closing in on a month now, writing 14 stories so far. Some may have made it to Techmeme, the barometer of who is doing well in technology news, but if so I haven’t seen it.

So I was a little chuffed today when I saw that my latest story, Paypal handles 60% of web transactions, leaves Google in the dust on Techmeme in the “Newest” section when I dropped by for my morning cup of tech coffee, so to speak:

And a little below on the page itself:

I’ve been on Techmeme before for stories posted here on Sparkplug9. But this is the first that I’ve noticed for my work on VentureBeat. That put a bit of a smile on my face this morning.

Getting MobileMe errors on your Mac? Complete your move to iCloud – here's how

I’ve been getting odd errors in iPhoto lately – MobileMe alerts saying they didn’t recognize my password. Something like: “MobileMe didn’t recognize the stored password for …”

That’s fairly odd, since I’ve been using Apple’s new iCloud service for months, and haven’t knowingly used any part of the old MobileMe service for months, if not years. Finally I got annoyed enough to check it out (it usually takes more than a few alerts to stir me up enough to do something about it) and fix the situation. If you’re getting similar warnings, here’s what to do …

Complete your move to iCloud
You probably are already using iCloud, but you may not have completed the move. That’s because there’s still a MobileMe preference pan in your System Preferences (who knew) that may still be active. Or, at least be trying to be active:

MobileMe is deprecated (fancy for cancelled) so that’s the cause of your errors. But that handy little Move to iCloud button at the bottom of the screen is your savior. Click that, and you’re solving your problem.

Now you’re cooking with gas
When you click that button, you’re going to be taken to an online interface to move all your MobileMe data over to iCloud. If you’re like me and barely used MobileMe for anything at all, it’s a fast and simple process.

When finished, you’ll see something like this:

Sign in (and check “keep me signed in” if you wish) and you’re all set. Cloudy goodishness is yours for free (well at least 5 gigabytes of it).

Simple, easy, and no more Mobile Me error messages!

Of Klout and Klouchebags

My second post on VentureBeat is live: Why you should be using Klout when making hiring decisions.

Klout is a social measuring and monitoring tool that gauges online influence, mostly by analyzing data from Twitter, Facebook, and a few other social networks. There was a pretty major reaction last week to the Wired story about the marketing exec who lost out on a new job opportunity due to his low Klout score. A lot of people were pretty negative on Klout.

That’s understandable, to a degree. Who likes being measured and analyzed … especially when the results may not always line up with how we think of ourselves. Or, when there are concerns about the methodology and accuracy of the measurement.

In any case, I still find value in Klout … and here are a few reasons why.

Facebook apps & privacy (you don't have any, by default)

Facebook is amazing. Over 900 million people are connected via this social utility, and Facebook will soon be the first billion-person social network. But privacy is an issue …

Yes, for apps too
When we think of Facebook and privacy, we think about status updates. We think about friends, and “public by default” privacy policy updates. We don’t usually think about apps.

But apps are possibly the biggest threats to our privacy. And I’m not talking about updates from FarmVille outing your bad Farmer John habit.

Share my data with apps my friends use?
Facebook apps are notorious data hogs. Some want just your email and name. Some want access to your friends. Many want to be able to post to your timeline.

But did you know some apps that your friends have installed have access to YOUR data? I didn’t think so. Fortunately, Reginald Braithwaite blogged about this a couple of weeks ago.

My friend is my data
As he shows, BranchOut (the Facebook-enabled LinkedIn competitor) gets your data when you authorize it. But it wants access to all your friends’ data too. Nothing too personal of course: just their employment histories, schools attended, and places they’ve lived.

By default, it’ll all be made available.

It’s legal, but is it ethical?
You can bet that whatever privacy policy Facebook has in place now, and whatever decisions you’ve made and clicks you’ve committed add up to full legal authorization for Facebook and the apps to do whatever they want.

But is it ethical?

Most people don’t assume that apps their friends are installing will have access to their data too. Most won’t dig through the labyrinth of Facebook privacy settings to deny the possibility. And some that would prefer to disallow this might be almost forced into agreement due to the need to access and use apps themselves.

A perfectly valid question is, therefore: is this ethical? My answer is no.

Ask me, please
If Facebook would ask people first, before sharing their info, that would be ethical. And helpful, not to mention aboveboard.

How hard would that be?

Top 10 social media tips for businesses just starting with social media

I’ve been doing a lot of work lately with businesses and organizations that are recognizing the need to do something – anything – with social media.

The why is simple: they want to be where their customers are. The how: not so simple. Where do you start? What’s important, and what’s nice-to-have? How do you enter a social space appropriately, and how do you connect with people?

Here are 10 tips for businesses getting started with social media:

  1. Claim your space
    Domainer squatters are capturing all available domain names. And social squatters are doing similar things. So protect your future interests by automatically claiming your brand on any social media site. You don’t always know which ones will become significant remember Pinterest’s amazing growth) so cast a wide net.

  2. Start by listening
    Just like you wouldn’t show up at a party in a foreign country talking at full volume acting like you own the place, start slow. Start by understanding a social network before you try to establish your own presence. Reddit is very different than Facebook. Twitter is not YouTube. And different communications tactics and strategies work in different places.

  3. Talk to a pro
    If you’re new to social, buy some time from a long-time pro – a consultant who does social for a living. Even if it’s just an hour a week, get some tips, get some strategies, and most important, get some quick feedback on your ideas. A small investment here will save big dollars down the road: especially if you do something catastrophically wrong and create a PR nightmare.

  4. Start a blog
    Participating in social networks is like renting: it may make a ton of business sense, but it’s not on your own turf, and you don’t make the rules. Tilt the field a little in your direction by starting a blog, where you own the land and you set the rules. Everything you do here is an investment in your own property.

  5. Connect with others in your industry
    See what your competition is doing. See what your colleagues are doing. You can avoid mistakes that others have made, and you can learn from successes they’ve enjoyed. You’ll need to travel your own path, but you don’t have to do it in ignorance.

  6. Know your story
    Just like coming to a business meeting for networking, know a few things before you go. Who you are (your brand, your story), and what you want (your strategy). People who don’t know who they are or what they’re interested in can be boring … and the same is true with companies and brands. So figure it out before you open your mouth.

  7. Be able to act on what you learn
    As you engage with current and future clients, you’re going to hear some things that are going to need to be acted on. So have good communication lines with people in your company who manage marketing, production, customer relations, PR, and so on. Nothing’s worse than hearing about a major problem at your company that you can’t do anything about because you haven’t built your bridges first.

  8. Lighten up and have some fun
    Social media is … wait for it … social. So reading from the corporate strategy manual is a non-starter. Selling like it’s a TV ad is a waste of time. And keeping the stiff, formal tones of the annual report is not going to cut it. Social is about people, so talk like a real person. Just like you’d want companies to talk to you.

  9. Be social, don’t just do social
    Social is not something you do, it’s a way you live. So don’t just do social for the company, participate in social media yourself. Get as many on your team and company to do likewise. This will teach you the culture and communication styles of tomorrow’s clients and partners.

  10. Set some goals
    Nothing in your company gets done just to get done. Everything has, or is supposed to have, some kind of strategy – some link to what makes your organization successful. Social’s no different. Establish goals and track progress toward them. And, obviously, align your goals with company strategy … but make them realistic given the character of social networks that you’re engaging with.

  11. And a bonus point: set up monitoring
    Set up cheap/free monitoring with Google Alerts or Social Mention (here are a few more options for listing to your clients). Nothing is worse than being ignored … unless it’s finding out that you ignored a small issue that is now a major one. So listen to mentions of your brand and products, and be prepared to respond appropriately.

Meetup: this is how NOT to treat paying clients

Earlier this week I set up a Meetup group for coworkers in BC’s Fraser Valley. It contained some information about coworking, some hints on the kinds of people who might enjoy coworking, and a link to our current landing page for coworking in Abbotsford.

Today I was informed that the meetup group had been terminated:

Needless to say, I was totally flabbergasted. Our meetup group was for people who wanted to help start a coworking community in the valley. It wasn’t about porn, and we weren’t selling anything. So why were we being closed? How were we not in compliance?

Well, the answer was simple.

For more information you can review the Terms of Service

This is one of those cases where something that is simple is not easy. Here are the Meetup’s terms of service – to the right. As you can tell … there are a lot of terms. And a lot of words. And a long, long, long web page full of reasons why we were not in compliance.

But which one was applicable?

After a lot of reading, I think it was this one: 5.3(b)(vii). Yeah, that’s number 5, section 3, subsection (b), sub-subsection (vii). Which reads under a heading titled “Grounds for removal, sanction, and/or suspension:”

[Posting any material] that uses the Platform primarily as a lead generator or listing service for another website;

Well. Perhaps the link to our coworking signup page violates that stipulation.

Here’s how you should treat that scenario, Meetup
Here’s a wild, crazy idea. I know it’s out of left field, so brace yourself. Be seated. Hold on to your hat.

How about: you send me an email, explain that stipulation, and ask me to remove it?

I know it’s ground-breaking and earth-shattering … but do you think that might be better than arbitrarily booting a paying customer with no reasonable explanation?

No, I didn’t read your terms of service
I’m sorry, but there are 14 pages of TOS, totalling 8319 words. And I have a life.

So no, I didn’t read your TOS. And I don’t think your TOS is reasonable or customer-friendly.

So please …
So I’m asking … please reinstate the group. I’ll remove the offending link (if indeed that is the problem).

How to cancel recurring Paypal payments and subscriptions

Noticed a drain on your Paypal account lately? Wondering why there’s always money missing?

I recently checked my Paypal account and noticed a subscription and recurring payment for a service that I no longer needed. But cancelling is not terribly simple in the Paypal interface. In fact, you’d almost assume they’ve built the user interface to discourage discovery and awareness of all your recurring payments. Or, at least, made it hard to find and stop subscriptions.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding and cancelling Paypal subscriptions:

  1. Log into Paypal
    Then click on the History link in your account overview:
    Find all your recent transactions
    Select the first radio button and pick Last Three Months, which will show you enough history to know for sure which payments are recurring.

  2. Select Subscriptions
    Select the Subscriptions link above the activity listings. Now you should see all your subscriptions and recurring charges in Paypal.

  3. Click the Active button
    While you might reasonably be expecting and looking for a cancel button (!!!) click the Active button:

  4. Scroll down and click Cancel Subscription
    Yes, it’s right at the very bottom of the page …

  5. One more step … confirm the click
    No, you’re not quite finished, now confirm that you want to cancel the Paypal subscription and stop all recurring charges by clicking the Cancel Subscription button on the confirmation page …

Now you’re finished – cancelling your Paypal recurring charges in six easy steps 🙂

Theoretically this should be a lot simpler: Paypal should simply provide a link right on your account for all recurring charges so you don’t have to search for them. And … providing a clear “Cancel” link instead of a somewhat cryptic “Active” button.

What every Facebook user should know about Facebook Marketplace and privacy

What should you know about Facebook Marketplace and privacy? The short form is, you don’t have any by default.

I was idly browsing Facebook Marketplace early this morning when a message popped up from a friend:

Send me the info as I don’t want an auto app on Facebook 🙂

My first reaction
What the heck?!? How did you know I was browsing an item for sale on Facebook Marketplace?

My next reaction
When I read the context, I wondered: why the heck did Facebook post a status update for me on an item I was browsing? Without my permission? Without asking me? Without alerting me?

Here’s the conversation that ensued:

It does, actually make sense
The answer of course, is that at some point, perhaps months or longer ago, I authorized Facebook Marketplace to do all kinds of things on my behalf.

These sorts of things:

Facebook Marketplace permissions and privacy settings

So … what’s the problem?
The only problem: I had totally forgot about that.

Worse, I had no idea when authorizing Facebook Marketplace to do all those things that it would post to my timeline when I was just surfing a listing! My assumption was that it would post to my timeline when I posted an item for sale … which I did recently.

Lessons learned
There’s a few lessons learned from this episode …

5 lessons for users:

  1. Don’t assume
    I’m tech-savvy, build websites, and run marketing campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Google AdWords, and multiple other places. But … I shouldn’t assume that how I THINK a Facebook app is going to use the powers I grant it is how it will ACTUALLY use them.

  2. Grant minimum privileges
    Don’t let an app do more than it needs to do, to get done what you want to accomplish. That may mean revisiting its privileges after enabling (since you cannot currently be granular about WHICH privileges you want to grant an app, when enabling it).

  3. Don’t install Facebook apps …
    … unless you absolutely have to. Why? Because they have access to your information and your status update and your friends and many more things … and they won’t always do only what you want or expect.

  4. Review occasionally
    Once every month or so, go over the list of apps you’ve enabled on Facebook. You’ll be shocked at what you’ve allowed. Trim as needed.

  5. Be careful what you visit
    Someone is always watching 🙂

3 lessons for marketers:

  1. Don’t require too much
    Go back and check what my friend says in the chat stream. He won’t visit the marketplace because he refused to install the app, which wants more privileges than he wants to grant. So limit the privileges to an absolute minimum. And, be certain you must have an app.

  2. Don’t do unexpected things
    You cross the creepy line when you do more than your users expect. And crossing the creepy line is bad for your business long-term.

  3. Inform users about what you’re doing
    If you’re going to share something, let them know! Give them a chance to reject it. Messages that they accept are going to be much more powerful, and you won’t alienate your users over time.

. . .
. . .


On a related issue, this is why I haven’t (knowingly) installed any apps that autoshare based on activity. For me, it crosses the creepy line when you auto-share for a user that he or she visited a page or looked at an item or listened to a song. Perhaps even more dangerously for the social fabric of the web, it divorces sharing from conscious choice … robbing it of curation and value. This is why I don’t install the Yahoo! app, which autoshares stories its users read. It’s creepy, it’s oversharing, and it’s robotic.

The mythos of Evil Empire 13

In the world of Evil Empire 13, great plots are constantly being woven behind you – and everyone. The surface reality of the world is just that: surface. And universe IS actually out to get you, just as you always suspected.

I’m starting a new site, mostly for fun. It’s Evil Empire 13, and I essentially built it in a morning this past week.

The idea is that there is an organization – naturally of course, an evil organization – behind all the stupid, bad, annoying, and just downright embarrassing idiocies in your life.

For example, when your zipper won’t zip. When you pull our of your parking space and promptly smash the stop sign, or mow down granny’s geraniums. (Or, heaven forbid, granny herself.) When PowerPoint absolutely refused to be reasonable and move that BLOODY BOX OVER JUST ONE PIXEL, insisting instead that your presentation looks much better WITHOUT aligned elements.

The Evil Empire
Naturally, however, no villain can resist the urge to brag. Just look at all the geniuses on Facebook who stole something, took a picture, and posted it. Or boast about breaking the law to that small, select group of people in the world WHO CAN ACCESS GOOGLE.COM.

Evil Empire 13 is where #1, who is sort of the CEO of Evil, Inc., lets the cat out of the bad. Not literally, because he’s evil and would never let the cat actually get out. But figuratively. And with varying degrees of competence.

And it’s funny (well, it’s supposed to be)
The goal is to poke a little bit of fun at the silly and annoying and maybe even potentially dangerous things we deal with every day. And, with humor, make them a little more bearable.

Like looking on the bright side, because even if a potentially civilization-ending solar storm is heading our way at millions of miles an hour, at least it’s not sharks with head-mounted lasers. Or pretending that failed Armageddon prophet Harold Camping is working for Evil Empire 13 … but we fired him because he keeps spilling the beans and forcing us to reschedule the end of the world.

If there’s even one smile that results, we’ve done our job.

Our evil job, that is.

This ain't yo daddy's Amazon.com

Amazon.com is an interesting adventure in user experience.

For a time, it was the sine qua non of web UI, just because it was so successful. And many tried to copy it. Then most of us realized: Amazon can do what Amazon is doing because Amazon is Amazon … and you can’t because you’re not.

Circular, illogical, and annoying, but unfortunately true.

Remember the millions of tabs? I grabbed this screenshot from WakeUpLater. I think that at points there were even more:

Listing to the left
And then, of course, the weighty left-hand nav, loaded with things you might want to do, places you might want to go:

Amazon has always had a busy, cluttered, confused user interface, but they’ve always gotten away with it because when ecommerce buyers grow up with you, they learn you, they know you, they grok you, and they love you. And Amazon was our first buy-online girlfriend.

But something is a little different at Amazon.com today:

What’s this at Amazon? White space? No tabs? No heavy left nav? It’s almost Apple-like in its simplicity, you might be tempted to think.

Well, no. It’s still ugly. It’s still unbalanced – a UI only a mother could love.

There is space and breathing room – must have been an edict from Jeff Bezos. And obviously there’s a massive focus on one of Amazon’s key strategic weapons, the Kindle e-reader/tablet. But the overwhelming change is massive, perhaps almost complete personalization.

Almost every single item on the Amazon home page is focused squarely on me:

  • what I’ve bought recently
  • what I’ve searched for recently
  • what might go with things I’ve purchased in the past
  • tools and apps to help me manage and consume my purchases

The site is mine
Gone is the heavy nav and million tabs. The site is not what Amazon is, the site is what Amazon is for me (yes, with some corporate strategy driven exceptions, I concede).

Personalization? Where’s the social?
That’s an interesting shift, of course, and one that has been happening for years of course, but it begs the question: where’s the social? I could imagine some juicy cool integrations with Facebook, the social graph, and Facebook’s new actions.

Unfortunately, I imagine, both Facebook and Amazon would have strategic concerns with such an alliance.

Gizmodo: this is just dumb

If you’re clicking to see photos in an embedded gallery on a page, you should still be able to see the story, right?

Wrong, according to Gizmodo:

Not only does clicking the gallery links obscure the story, you can’t get back to it via your browser’s Back button … because with the miracles of AJAX, you haven’t really left the page. Which makes on wonder: why can’t they still show you the post?


They must be angling for more comments …

FourSquare: local's great, but it needs to be meaningful

Foursquare, the location-based social app based on “checking in” to locations for fun and deals, has massively updated their site. Yes, the old-fashioned, actual, website thingie for embarrassingly large screens on heavy machines that don’t fit in a pocket.

It’s all about discovering what’s around you, and guess what, a bigger screen makes the experience better:

The first thing you’ll notice when you load up foursquare.com is a big map on the top (you can click on the arrow to make it even bigger). It shows everything interesting nearby – your friends, places that are trending (in yellow), places on your lists (green), places with Specials (orange), and places that are popular (blue). You can even drag the map around or zoom in and out and all the interesting places update automatically. Try dragging it around to see how it works.

It’s a great idea, and the execution is beautiful. I’m just not sure how useful it is yet.

Here’s an example of what I see:

Let’s break this down:

  1. Foursquare knows I’ve just checked into Subway. Ergo, I’ve just eaten.
  2. Foursquare knows, or should know, that after going to Subway in the middle of the day, I usually go back to the office. I’m certainly not hungry for more food.
  3. I hate sushi. I have never checked into a sushi place

So, why is Foursquare showing me more restaurants? I’m not hungry, I just ate, and I don’t like sushi. But, everything local, apparently, is an eatery of some sort.

This is not meaningful. And it is not useful.

Sometimes, the best answer is no answer at all. And sometimes, the best suggestions are those that are not made. Location-based services have to learn this so that when there is a good suggestion to be made, it is more credible.

Instagram, where are you online?

I guess all of us in the industry are pretty familiar with the mobile-first development philosophy prevalent these days.

However, as mobile-optimized everything and not-so-plain-old-web just kinda seem to get closer and closer week by week, I’m not so sure that mobile only is a great strategy. Last I checked, Facebook had a website.

I’m talking, of course, about Instagram, the mobile social network based on photos. The official blurb is:

A fun & quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. Snap a photo, then choose a filter to transform the look and feel of the shot into a memory to keep around forever.

I’m really not sure about the “forever” part, and I don’t do a ton of filters … sorta preferring reality to be filtered by my perception of it rather than my machine-aided reinterpretation of it … but I love using Instagram. It’s a great way to take and share pix you snap throughout the day.

I’d just so dearly love to be able to have a place to point to online where all my Instagram photos live. And there ain’t no such animal.

You can do precisely 3 things on Instagram’s website.

You can visit the home page. Yay.

You can visit an individual photo, lonely and proud in its isolation:

You can click through to iTunes and download the app.

. . .
. . .

But actually, #3 is cheating because it’s not really on the Instagram website. So there’s only two things you can do.

So the question becomes: when is Instagram going to take all that wonderful, beautiful, socially-related content and post it online?

One would thing they are missing some opportunities here, even if they are mostly pre-revenue. And one would think they could provide a better user experience for Instagram devotees.


Bing & Yahoo send less traffic in a month than Google in a day

I know Bing is getting better and better at search. I know they’re even increasing their market share, and not just because they’re also driving Yahoo! search results now.

Frankly, more power to them – competition in any space drives improvements for all of us. So I hope they continue to push Google and both companies get better at finding and organizing information.

But this is really weird. You’d think that if Bing drives about 30% of the searches on the internet, I would see some traffic here at Sparkplug 9 from them. Or from Yahoo. You’d think wrong:

See that big blue chunk of the pie? The 96.91%? Yup, that’s Google’s share of search-engine-driven traffic to this site. It’s not all traffic – I get a ton of traffic from StumbleUpon and other sites. But traffic from search engines is a big chunk of my traffic … and almost all of it is straight from Google.

Perhaps it’s audience – my topics are not interesting to the typical Bing or Yahoo user? That’s possible. But so much less interesting? Kinda hard to believe.

In any case, Bing and Yahoo! send less traffic to my blog in a month than Google in a day.


Connecting buyers and sellers: the coming Action Engine (part 3)

The future of search is found.

That may be a truism … sort of like a classic rock song: an oldy but a goody. But let’s unpack it a little.

I started this series on connecting buyers and sellers a couple of months ago. In the first article, I talked about how companies make money. Mostly, they either:

  1. make stuff
  2. provide services
  3. connect buyers and sellers

The third group, the connectors, have the opportunity to make the most money because they operate across business categories. (Unfortunately it’s hard to successfully layer across too many verticals, which is why Google is now verticalizing search … e.g., boutiques.com)

In the second article, I talked about companies that are working to own layers across the entire web which will enable them to know you, and secondly know a virtual representation of the world (including the commercial world, where money and goods and services are exchanged), and thirdly connect the two … thereby earning the right to “make a piece” (of the action) on every transaction.

I said that:

  1. Google owns the intention graph (what do people want)
  2. Facebook owns the social graph (who do people know/like)
  3. Twitter owns the interest graph (what are people interested in)

And today, I’ve said that the future of search is found. But not really. Actually, the future of search is done … a big red Easy button for life.

Web -> Directory -> Search engine -> ???
In the beginning you had the web. It was cool and good and most excellent.

Unfortunately, there came to be a time when there was just simply too much of it, and you needed a map. Enter stage right: directories … human-edited maps of what was, so you could traverse a neat Dewey-Decimalish system and find what you wanted. Ergo, Yahoo!

Quite astonishingly, the web continued to grow at ridiculous rates, and human-edited directories couldn’t keep track. Enter algorithms, and spiders … automated tools for finding, cataloging, and retrieving all the knowledge that’s fit to post. Hence Google.

Google is amazing, Google is marvelous, Google is incredible.

But Google is not enough.

Action engine
‘Cause it’s not just about finding stuff. Who cares, abstractly, about finding stuff? The reason you do the search for dentists in Detroit is not to find a list of dentists in Detroit.

You search for dentists in Detroit to find a dentist in Detroit, yes. But your actual search intent is only a part of your larger goal intent … and your goal intent is to find A dentist in Detroit (a good one, maybe the best one) and then to get an appointment with said dentist in Detroit … and then to get a root canal, remove an impacted wisdom tooth, or whatever your pleasure might be.

So the progression is as follows:

Web -> Directory -> Search Engine -> Action Engine

So the tools of the future are not about finding you lists of stuff. They’re about actuating desires in your life.

Hence the mention of Siri in the second installment of our little journey through the future (and the past) of commerce. It’s about tools to make our lives simpler. Because we all know about the paradox of choice.

More is less
As Barry Schwarz has shown us, more information is less value. Less value as far as happiness and quality of life is concerned, at least.

More results (millions on Google for everything) means more choices. More choices means more stress … both before a purchase/click initiation (which is the right decision?!?) and after the purchase/click completion (was that really the right decision?!? was there a better XYZ to get/do/use?!?).

So a truly empowering technology will transform intention into action … and manage many if not most of the complexities (quality, reputation, efficiency, effectiveness, etc.) for us.

We’re ready for the Action Engine. Who’s going to build it for us?

Connecting buyers and sellers: beyond Google, Facebook, Groupon etc. (part 2)

Note: this post is part of a series … Part one | Part two | Part threepost last week on the future of connectors (companies that connect buyers and sellers), I looked at what connectors are, what they do, and the key ones online.

But the question remains: what’s the future of commerce online?

I ended last post with 3 givens:

  • Location awareness is only going to grow
  • Social connectivity is not going to decrease
  • Mobile devices are going to get smarter/better/faster

It’s all linked in some way
One way of looking at the new web, next web, web2.0, or even web 1.0 is via links. Not just web links (Google) but also people links (Facebook) … and people to thing links (Facebook likes/recommends), and interest links (Twitter). A nouveau chic term for this is graph

  • Google owns the intentional graph (what do people want)
  • Facebook owns the social graph (who do people know/like)
  • Twitter owns the interest graph (what are people interested in)

Let’s get a little more speculative and even more out on a limb with our reckless use of the word “own” and say that Groupon owns the deal graph (or wants to, or will, or part of it).

But the deals and purchases graph is a much more fragmented reality. Amazon owns a big chunk of it. eBay and especially Paypal know a lot about what people buy. Deal sites abound, and Groupon clone-pons are a dime-a-dozen. Craigslist could potentially know a lot about what people buy and who they buy from, except that the ethos of the site is aggressively low-tech, low-friction, low-customization, and low, well, everything (cost, data, you name it).

One ring to rule them all
An obvious answer for the uber-connector to come in and sweep the stage clean of all current competition is a connector that utilizes aspects of all the graphs. A connector that brings all the links together.

Something, for instance, that:

  • knows you
  • knows what you search for (and want)
  • knows what your interests are …
  • knows your friends (and what they own, search for, and are interested in)

AND also knows if not everything at least an awful lot about the digital world:

  • which products are available where and for what prices
  • where to find and how to obtain services

AND can present them to you intelligently, in an organized way, at the right time, and fairly efficiently … OR, with your pre-determined permission make buying decisions, negotiate with service suppliers and product sellers …

… would be an unbelievable connector between buyers and sellers, and would be immensely valuable.

Special agent
As I said, that’s the obvious answer. And guess what, in the 70s and 90s a lot of energy went into thinking about and trying to create software agents, who could do all the tedious painful stuff for you that you don’t want to.

After all, who really wants to check 50 airline sites (or Expedia or Kayak) for the best price for airline tickets. All you really want to do is tell someone (or a system): I want to go from here to there at this time for about this price or cheaper … and have the someone/system go do it.

Essentially, this is AI – artificial intelligence. At least at some level. And Skynet’s got bigger things on its mind.

Agents on the move
The 00’s and 10’s version of agents, of course, is apps. This is precisely the vision behind Siri on the iPhone (check Scoble’s interview if you don’t live in the US and can’t download this app for your phone.)

Siri is a personal assistant that can do mundane (and non-so-mundane) activities for you. But Siri is also a connector that will get you what you want … and collect a small fee from the service providers.

The next web
Siri is a clue to the next web. Because let’s face it: just because we can search search search on Google doesn’t make everything perfect.

Searching Google happens to be easier than the meatspace analogue of going to a library, finding a book, reading the book, finding another, reading the other, getting your data, going home, and continuing your life.

Yeah, it’s easier. But is it easy? Double-plus-no-no-no.

Directed search for in-depth tasks where the master intent is more complex than “what is the capital of Kenya” is hard. Just one example: what TV should I buy. The answer to that question is a non-obvious goal which is better answered by some kind of expert system than a traditional search engine.

Google knows this … and that’s why Google is changing.

Google’s mission may be to organize the world’s information … but in 5 years, Google will not be a search engine.

More on that next time …

War is peace, love is hate, and Verizon/Google's "net neutrality" is open internet

I’m not sure if Big Brother’s peering out at us right now through our LCD monitors. Or maybe it’s just Little Brother, but when it’s Google and Verizon … it’s big enough.

Net neutrality is a core concept underpinning the foundations of the entire internet. Everything that goes through the “pipes” is treated equally: data packets to route to a destination.

Google has always been in favor of net neutrality … mostly out of fear that big ISPs with ties to media companies would slow down traffic to a bandwidth hog like YouTube while preferentially passing packets from, let’s say, CBC’s online TV offerings.

Now Google and Verizon are talking about net neutrality as if they are maintaining it … but are in fact talking about building new services over or above the existing open internet. To those who think this sounds familiar, this is precisely the kind of “embrace and extend” strategy for destruction that we have grown very familiar with from Redmond, WA.

Soon, the apps and services that are built on this new layer could get so compelling that people will want to, or would maybe even almost be forced to use it. At that moment, you’ve killed the internet and you’re back to AOL in the 90s.

A link you send to me may not work. Or, it maybe access a resource so slowly as to make little difference. An app or slice of media meant for some will not be accessible for others.

We already have enough of this trouble with geo-location and the transference of archaic locale-based TV broadcast rules onto the existing internet. We don’t need another entire layer disrupting this web we all live in.

Google, remember your unofficial motto: don’t be evil.

Yes, Virginia, consumer software is better than corporate software

This is completely, desperately, and viciously true. I’ve experienced it myself.

A few months ago the CIO was asked by the chief marketing officer to provide a way for marketing employees around the world to share and build documents together, and perform other collaborative tasks.

The CIO discussed the project with his application development group, then went back to the CMO and said “we can do this, in nine months at a cost of $14 million,” according to Whitehurst.

“The CMO says “what are you talking about? I was describing my daughter’s high school science project.” And they were on Google Documents, sharing information, jointly editing documents, and they’re doing it for free. This is a true story. I may have been slightly off on the numbers, but a true story.”

via Google Docs creates expectations CIOs can’t meet, Red Hat CEO says.

The problem, however, is not that this is possible, or that this is competition. The problem is that this is seen as a problem.

Because there’s a very easy solution here: Google Apps for the enterprise. Or Microsoft Office Live. Or a number of different readily available and fairly cheap solutions.

CIOs must, however, get over their NIH (not invented here) mentality, and be open to using distributed tools that don’t necessarily live on their servers and are not necessarily controlled by the organization.

Security is an issue, control is an issue, coordination is an issue, searching and archiving and knowledge management is an issue … true.

But the biggest issue is LETTING PEOPLE DO THEIR WORK EFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY. That’s the first requirement.

After that … you figure out the rest.

Ticketmaster needs some new UI designers, stat!

I can’t believe how shockingly bad some major companies are when it comes to user interface design.

These days there are just so many resources out there, so many knowledgeable people, and testing is so easy to do … there’s just no excuse for really horrible, hostile user interfaces.

Exhibit #1
Notice the empty text entry field. In the top screenshot, the field is empty, and there is no clue what the user needs to do with it. It’s only when the user actually clicks into the field that a context-sensitive help note appears: “Please enter your student number.”

It goes without saying: help is nice, but you shouldn’t need help to complete standard operations. More importantly: important UI information should not be hidden like clues in Myst.

Exhibit #2
Three options to get your tickets! Wow, better read them all! Which is better? Which meets my specific needs?

The user is bound to be disappointed after his or her limited time has been invested in reading through all these three options … they are exactly the same. Every one of those options is print-at-home, and pay for the privilege.

(Naturally, every ticket takes up an entire 8.5×11 page – full of color ads – and warns you to present the entire page at the venue when entering. Nice … and more than a little self-serving.)

A cardinal rule of user interfaces: only present a choice when a choice is needed and a choice is necessary. If there is no choice, don’t waste the user’s time, patience, and good will by presenting the illusion of choice.

. . .
. . .

I’m graduating this month with a Master’s degree in Educational Technology, and just ordered tickets for my wife and kids. But you don’t have to have a master’s degree in applying technology to learning to understand that these UI decisions deserve a failing grade.

Facebook: portal or plumbing?

Interesting speech by social game maker Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus today at Inside Social Apps.

An excerpt:

In his speech, Pincus envisioned a world that runs on an app economy, where it’s easy to access and use sophisticated software on any device or platform via Web services.

The current platform is booming and has grown tremendously. But it has a chance to become universal, so much so that apps could take over traditional websites as the way users interact with all software. To get there, Facebook faces a critical choice in the next 12 to 18 months, Pincus said.

Pincus added, “It would bother me if (something as innovative as the location-based Twitter game) Foursquare is not built on the Facebook platform. An analogy is Windows. If it had not been the home of Excel or the web browser, then it would not have grown” into Microsoft’s cash cow.

The other choice, he said, is to focus on being a social portal, with a business model supported by advertising.

“They have a more obvious business model around being a portal,” Pincus said. “I hope they find the business model around the plumbing.”

Essentially, he’s saying: you can be a portal and make money off advertising. Or, you can change the game and become part of the fabric of the WWW. One is simple, clear, and fairly obvious. The other is riskier, bigger, but with potentially much more reward. And … it’s much more world-changing.

The corollary that comes to my mind? Steve Jobs telling John Sculley: do you want to sell sugar water for a living, or do you want to change the world?

via Zynga’s Mark Pincus: Time for Facebook to choose | VentureBeat.

Facebook To Twitter: Back Off, We Own People’s Interests

From TechCrunch:

Whoever knows what your interests are right now and can package them up for advertisers has the chance to make a lot of money. Of course, Google does this right now every time you declare your interests in a search box and it offers up matching ads on the side of results. But Facebook and Twitter are trying to capitalize on the shift from search to sharing. Your interests are expressed by what you follow and react to “like,” “retweet,” etc., not only what you explicitly seek out through search.

via Facebook To Twitter: Back Off, We Own People’s Interests.

Monetizing the Realtime Web

Some really good things we’ve learned:

1. Users are open to ads as long as they’re relevant to their realtime experience.

2. Advertisers really want to create ads that are relevant to the realtime experience.

3. Realtime applications are starting to make serious money through advertising!

Some really hard challenges all of us face:

1. Realtime targeting is complex

2. Data is everything

3. Advertisers need to be taught how to engage in a realtime experience.

OneRiot has been at it since October (beta launch in January), and in April we expect to exceed 1/2 billion ad impressions across our network of realtime apps.

Our impressions are in the stream (e.g. on Twitter apps like UberTwitter and social desktop apps like Digsby) and they are in search (e.g. on OneRiot.com). Recently we’ve started distributing them across the wider web through traditional ad units.

What we’ve discovered is that when the ad is relevant to a trending topic, relevant to what people are talking about on the realtime web, the click thru rate goes through the roof. In other words, if iPad is trending, and we promote the hottest accessories for the iPad, realtime web users love it. Even on mobile, the CTR goes from an industry average of 0.1-0.2% to over 1% and sometimes even higher. We’ve had CTRs as high as 8% when we really nail it.

via Monetizing the Realtime Web – Insights and Challenges after 6 Months | OneRiot Blog.

10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps

Everyone who builds or designs for the web should read Fred Wilson’s 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps. Fred is a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures in New York, and writes the not-very-creatively-named A VC blog.

Check the full article for all the details … but here are the main points:

  • Speed
  • Instant utility
  • Software is media
  • Less is more
  • Make it programmable
  • Make it personal
  • RESTful (this one is geeky … superficially: everything has a home, and anything/anyone can see it)
  • Discoverability
  • Clean
  • Playful

Google Stars: is the big G taking aim at social bookmarking sites?

Google’s blog just announced that they are adding a new “star” feature to web search. Essentially, when you see results you like, you star them, and they’ll appear higher in results next time you perform a similar search.

From the Google blog post announcing the new feature:

With stars, you can simply click the star marker on any search result or map and the next time you perform a search, that item will appear in a special list right at the top of your results when relevant.

My first thought on seeing this is: hmmm … watch out del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, and any other social bookmarking service. For starters, this eliminates the need to save the search result on some external site. For finishers, you can bet your last red Olympic maple leaf mitten that what data Google collects, Google will find some means of collating, utilizing, and monetizing.

You can already star, favorite, and share items in Google Reader. Buzz is bringing social connectedness (sometimes too much!) to the earliest of internet media, email. How long before Google Stars make search more social as well as “more personal?”

My guess? Not long!

. . .
. . .

More discussion on this here, here, here, here, and here.

Anybody Can Do Usability (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Usability is like cooking: everybody needs the results, anybody can do it reasonably well with a bit of training, and yet it takes a master to produce a gourmet outcome.

One of the discount usability movement’s basic tenets is that we need a drastic expansion in the amount of usability work done in the world, and to make this happen we need more people to take on usability assignments.

via Anybody Can Do Usability (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).

‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web

We are no longer just consumers of content, we have become curators of it too.

If someone approached me even five years ago and explained that one day in the near future I would be filtering, collecting and sharing content for thousands of perfect strangers to read — and doing it for free — I would have responded with a pretty perplexed look. Yet today I can’t imagine living in a world where I don’t filter, collect and share.

via ‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web – Bits Blog – NYTimes.com.

Thomas Friedman: The Do-It-Yourself Economy – NYTimes.com

“The budget was about 20 percent of what we normally would charge,” said Greer. “After one meeting with the client, almost all our communication was by e-mail. The script was developed and approved using a collaborative tool provided by http://www.box.net. Internally, we all could look at the script no matter where we were, make suggestions and get to a final draft with complete transparency — easy, convenient and free. We did not have a budget to shoot new footage, yet we had no budget either for stock photography the old way — paying royalties of $100 to $2,000 per image. We found a source, istockphoto.com, which offered great photos for as little as a few dollars.

“We could easily preview all the images, place them in our program to make sure they worked, purchase them online and download the high-resolution versions — all in seconds,” Greer added. “We had a script that called for 4 to 5 voices. Rather than hiring local voice talent — for $250 to $500 per hour — we searched the Internet for high-quality voices that we could afford. We found several sites offering various forms of narration or voice-overs. We selected http://www.voices.com. In less than one minute, we created an account, posted our requirements and solicited bids. Within five minutes, we had 10 to 15 ‘applicants’ ” — charging 10 percent of what Greer would have paid live talent.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Do-It-Yourself Economy – NYTimes.com.