No Zuckerberg, I don’t think we will ever trust you

Facebook wants us to trust it.  Zuckerberg says they need to change their hacker mentality.  Stop taking advantage of users and start seeing our point of view.  It’s not going to happen.  And he isn’t putting his money where his mouth is.   Facebook is still essentially the same scammy way of thinking he had from the day he ripped off the idea from others and rushed to do it first.

It is also about how businesses react to pressure.  Google is a fine example.   They do the philantthropy angle much more convincingly.  They did from day one.   Purple cow, Project X or anything else you want to call it, they made it part of their branding all along.

But there is more to it;  the whole social network idea is simply not the right message.   Don’t look at youngsters leaving Facebook.  Look at Google starting to phase out the Google Plus logging from other sites.  Why?  Not because Google plus failed.  Because a Google identity either from Gmail or from an Android phone is pretty ubiquitous.  And serious.   Nobody will blink if you tell them you have Gmail.  Tell them you use Facebook and it takes a bit of explanation:  what, how, when, why.

Social networking is not a core life activity.  Communicating is.   Facebook made it’s mission (along the way) sharing the things you care about with the world.  Well, Facebook is not the best way of doing that, is it?  Windows dressing, slogans and reacting to market research won’t save Facebook unless it really, really changes its actions before its words.

Just how bad is Facebook at programming?

Cute picture of my son today.  Huge smile as he looked through a Holy Crepe.  He had eaten out some of it and looked to the camera; cute as ever.  Gotta have this as my profile picture.  Facebook profile, upload picture, wait….wait….wait some more.  Finally it uploads.    Sometimes it doesn’t of course.  Go to Twitter.   Same objective.  But hey, it magically shows me a preview of the picture instantly.   And wow, I can even crop it to the part most relevant to a profile picture.   Must be rocket science.  The boffs at Facebook haven’t figured it out.   Some ultra secret patented method Twitter is using…  The picture even uploads faster at Twitter!  Must be they have more money for better servers…

Or Facebook is simply terrible at designing their infrastructure.  And no, it’s not about the scale of the exercise.   Facebook has always been a terrible platform.  Sure, we don’t get as many major hiccups anymore, but does anyone there even bother to test the user experience?   Tech journalists and social media pundits have a field day with every major overhaul.   Facebook cause pages are created demanding we change back.   Plug ins appear to make it “look like the good old Facebook”.   They never work.

Because Mark Zuckerberg is still carrying the mentality he had when he started.   He is more concerned with the people gaming his system than the experience of the rest of the users.

Here is a simple example.   Accepting friend requests.   You may never even consider this if you get 1 or 2 per day.  But anyone building up fake profiles and trying to amass a lot of Facebook ‘friends’ might have two or three hundred friend request to accept.  No, there is no “accept all” button.  Because Mark, knows some people will abuse it.   If you really are a popular person, just starting on Facebook and you have 250 friend requests, you have to click them one by one.   And of course the buttons aren’t at the same place.  No, that would be to easy to get an automated script monkey on to.   As you accept one friend request, it morphs into something else so you have to physically scroll to the next right position of  “Accept”.

There are dozens of examples like this.  Most people with just one genuine personal account, will not even notice them.  What they will notice and what we all experience daily is just a really really bad user interface.   They build little hoops for cheats but penalise everybody else while they are at it.    The fact that it has never been done in this scale and that it has to serve billions of very different customers is no excuse;  many of the niggles I have with Facebook are due to the fact that Zuckerberg is obsessed with people that are as sneaky thinking as him.  And he can’t think of clever algorithmic ways to get over it.   In a sense, Edgerank is this magic ingredient.   And all the recent changes are a move in the right direction.

Now let’s hope Edgerank gets good enough so that Zuckerberg relaxes the stupid interface hoops some more.  You can now accept hundreds of friend requests from the left button directly which is faster.  When I see an “accept all” button I will know Facebook has finally got a real and stable business model.

How social networks are improving the whole software industry

Few people realize how important the Google Plus “Real names”policy really is.   Maybe it’s just me having spent so much energy taking advantage of Facebook’s completely chaotic structure over the past years.  Sure, it ran contrary to most Facebook official policies but any business person would be an idiot not too.  What?   You can see all the ‘friends’ of your competitors’ fan page. That is often their customer list.  Damn sure I will take them even it has to be done one by one manually from a user profile.   Facebook has plugged the holes over time but Google Plus in comparison feels like a straight jacket from it’s beginning.   No free lunches here.

So point No1:  1. How strict and honest a social network is.

And then today everyone is talking about the “new” Facebook, changing their profiles to “look slick”.   Looks like a waste of prime screen real estate to me.   Hello?  Most people are still on 768 pixel vertical resolution you know…that big picture takes almost all of it up!   And these new fangled timeline adjustments of course will fly over the head of most users who have started whining about the “great old interface” as usual…  Point 2. Simplicity

It sort of reminds me of the WordPress vs Tumblr debate.   Users get used to something simple and figure out how to work around it.   Hash tags and loads of third party developers built the ecosystem that works for million of users.   Then  Twitter added photos, then comes video and…before you know it we have another Facebook like experience on our hands.   And then we will need complex settings and choices explained to get it to do what we want it to.  How our privacy is controlled.   Who sees what.   Point No3 is Control.

As anyone who has worked in the software industry knows, there is no perfect interface.   Every user wants something different and it will depend on their experience, background and …well…their mood really!   Your energy levels at different points in the day even.   What Facebook and Google are getting better at is getting the interface to morph constantly using intelligence, a little user input and a whole lot of bravado.   It takes balls to change a user interface, especially when you are a market leader with everything to lose.   But Facebook is right to do it now while it is still a virtual monopoly.

As users switch from software to online applications and from computers to smartphones, a lot of the old “big boys” in software better pay attention…  HP, if you really want to get into software, don’t go chasing the SAP business model…

 

Facebook ads don’t add up: how I proved they are cheating

“So why don’t you cheat?”  It took me a while to recover.   My father has always been my moral compass.   He has stood through many decades of doing business with absolute integrity refusing to bribe anyone in a country where this is unheard of.   He didn’t fall for the trap of taking funding from the European Union or going to the stock market when all other tech companies where making a quick buck.   He is almost a saint in the way he helps everyone and anyone he meets, often without them even knowing about it.

We were discussing a recent client of mine, a difficult case.   It is still in the early phases and I haven’t quite figured out how to work my social engineering magic in order to bring them clients. What my father was really asking is “how will they know that it is real customers clicking on their website and not some click farm?”   The man is a born business person and goes straight to the heart of a problem even though he has never used Facebook or any social media.

The answer is simple.   Anyone with a slight knowledge of how to use web site analytics will see right through it.   And – more importantly – it just won’t make any business sense medium term as they will not be getting new customers and new business.   Which is what I promise them.   But this is not what Mark Zuckerberg promises my customer when he entices them with Facebook advertising.   He is simply selling clicks to ignorant business people.

Most of my customers have already used Facebook ads before I start with them.   They are all perplexed. “I saw a big spike in traffic but then…nothing.” It isn’t just that the traffic disappears the day you stop paying for FB ads, it is that all that traffic seems to amount to …nothing.    Are you paying $50 a day?   Funny how you get a completely stable amount of hits during those days.

This bothered me on a methodological level initially.   “What if my customers’ budgets are all spent on ‘early morning’ type people?” I worried.   So I begun to set up experiments. I split the day into particular time segments that seemed to make sense to me based on experience with status updates, Likes and such.   I am the Greek Dan Zarella after all.     Women checking Facebook between 6.30 and 8.30 are quite a specific bunch.   Organized!   Men online between 11 and 12.30 another.   Lazy!   I have even discovered a niche of females that do a “facebook lunch break”.   So all I had to do was set up the same advertisement and shoot it out to different demographics.   And then monitor it every hour to see what is happening.   (Yes, you need big monitors to handle the big spreadsheets without getting dizzy!)

It was amazing.   “Boy, these guys at Facebook must have some really clever algorithms” I mused.   They somehow seemed to be spreading the clicks around the day.   It made no sense.   Humans are highly unlikely to be so consistent.   As the day closed the clicks trickled and everytime by midnight Facebook had managed to get the campaign to the exact daily target.   “Wow, hiring all those geeks from Google must have paid off” I thought.    “They have build something that even Google AdWords can’t do.”

And then, somewhere near midnight, in between stats, being more online on Facebook than I think is healthy because of this project, it appeared.   Right there, in front of me, on top of the other adverts was one of my test ads.   I left the tab open and scrambled to the summary to triple check.   Yes, this one was clearly targeted to men aged 45-64.   I double check my profile.   Yes, Facebook knows very well that I am male but only 41.  So what is it doing?

It is bending the rules! If “The social network” showed the whole world something is that someone who cheats and lies once, will probably do it again, given the chance.    The people at Facebook know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would discover this trick.   After all most people only have one profile.   Unless you specifically set out to prove them wrong, your website analytics will be hard to monitor for such small variance in age of visitors.   And all too many advertisers on Facebook are only using it to funnel people into their Facebook page where the analytics are even worse.

I have criticized Facebook advertising on many levels, ranging from the pathetic demographic information they provide (outside the US it is much worse) to the kind of clicking you usually get from it.   But this is different.   They are wasting what can soon become a powerful tool by rushing to capitalize on it by cheating.   Judging from their rate of improvement in search they have the brainpower to do a proper job.   They have the network to make something more powerful than GoogleAds.   They should just focus on what is unique about this new advertising medium rather than trying to bolster up the numbers to impress investors.

10/3/2011 Just discovered an even worse thing Facebook is doing.   There are charging above the set limit!  (Article and screen grabs in Greek here.)