Categories
Business Technology

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.

Categories
Technology

A new Facebook feature: The “I told you so!” button

Facebook is, essentially, a Content Management System.  (CMS)  Only it is a really, really, extraordinarily bad content management system.   Its search function is rudimentary to say the least.  There is little categorization and even less user generated categorization.  It is almost impossible to find something from the past.

To large degree this is because Facebook’s engineers are obsessed with making the interface impossible to automate.   Any script you might like to have such as “accept all” (friend requests) or “delete all” (messages)  is reverse engineered so as not to work.   It stops people like me from making so many false accounts and conducting experiments to some degree.   Which means the user has to jump through all sorts of unnatural hoops to get anything done.   “Who cares?   Isn’t Facebook just for wasting time and socializing?”  Well, yes, but even when socializing, some of us like to maintain a higher level of discussion.

Case in point.  Surprise, surprise, Lance Armstrong was doped.   Where are those discussion I had about this topic a couple of years back?   Who was that friend that insisted I was being extreme?   Whether I am simply a pedantic friend, or someone actually looking for an old joke in my status updates, this is a practically impossible task right now.   I would have to scroll down my wall for a very very long time and then use my browser’s “search” capabilities.   Depending on the kind of search this would be either difficult or impossible.  Multifactorial searches out of the question.   I can’t ask Facebook things like “probably a year ago, a female friend of a friend commented on something I wrote about homeopathy.  What was the name of the substance she recommended?”

It may seem petty or minor to you.   Some psychological deficiency of mine personally maybe that makes me want to make these things clear all the time.   Or a hypersensitivity to long term trends which I am always searching for.   I studied theory of knowledge at university and tend to make an extra effort to calculate long term odds for anything I see.  Cycling is of course “one of those sports” which is more susceptible to doping.   If you don’t see the point of such functionality, you were probably not around when Zuckerberg announced he wants us all to use Facebook as our digital life store.  Well Mark, do you mind if I organize mine a bit better than you?   It does seem that your main concern is making money and mine would be finding my stuff.

 

Categories
Business

Does the stock market work better than journalism?

The bias of stock market movements and the psychological phenomenae that affect it have been pretty well documented.   The purposeful ways of manipulating it less so, though with every new scandal we learn – usually retrospectively – something new.   As a person with some history in technology, what never fails to impress me is how tech journalists get carried away.  A recent example is Facebook.   Glowing reports and hyperbole, dotted with a few lifestyle titbits and dashed with vague futurological questions was all we got for years.

And then came the IPO.

Suddenly we learnt all about its internal management issues.   Guess what?   A major percentage of  Facebook’s users (that enormous number journalists flouted about in the titles) is fake accounts.   Oh my, what a surprise!   We learnt about Zuckerberg’s lack of skills for the job.    The huge problems in the business model, the enormous questions about the kind of advertising it sells.   The possible impact from legal action in relation to privacy concerns.

All this was either non existent in the press before, or glossed over.   But when it comes to paying good money to buy a stock, we are obviously more careful than we are when choosing what to read.

Categories
Business

Facebook screws up on the international business etiquette

“Right now you may only reach 16% of your fans each week.  Reach Generator guarantees that you reach 75% of your fans…”   This is Facebook’s grand plan to show us they know how to make money?  Instead of “connecting people” or “helping us share with the people we love”…  Facebook is openly admitting to allowing advertisers the right to dominate our timelines!

The idea is of course nothing new.   It’s just advertising.   Google has been taking money to tweak search results, make items disappear from autocompletion and promote certain results for years.   But they don’t tell everyone about it!   Not even pretty high ranking Google executives know the whole picture regarding what you can make disappear from Google if you have enough money.   Only people and companies with…well, enough money, know that sort of thing.

It could be some twisted campaign to show that Facebook is opening up regarding privacy.   But no.   This is just inexperience of global corporate rules.     Worse still they are testing out a similar thing for consumers as the “highlight you want to be sure your friends see”.  If I am going to pay 2 New Zealand dollars for that luxury, I might as well make my own website Mark!   People already distrust Facebook big time (not so much Google).

This is not the way to beat Google.  Take a page out of Apple’s book instead.   You don’t like Android?   Go out and buy 2-3 mapping companies and produce a spectacular rival to Google Maps for starters.   Buy a company and throw in a free Siri for people to start relying on that instead of Google search.   Give us freebies so that we use your service.

But maintain appearances please!

Categories
Communication Society

The painless way to disappear and reappear on Facebook at will

After much ballyhoo in the past, Facebook made it easy to deactivate your account….and reactivate it!   In fact when deactivating one of the choices in the multiple available is “This is temporary.  I’ll be back.”   It is so easy and fast that you could well use it instead of logging out.   There is a very minor delay when logging in as Facebook informs you that “we are reactivating your account” and then everything you had is just where you left it.  Too easy.   If you are worried about what is “happening on Facebook” while you are on holiday, just deactivate instead of logging out before you leave to go somewhere offline, even if it is for a few hours!

Oh.   So in fact the account is never deleted.   Much like photos you upload which are always available throught their direct link.   Which is why Facebook says “deactivate” instead of delete.  All they are doing is adding a tag in their database not to show stuff you own.   Well what if everyone deactivated their accounts instead of logging off everytime?   It would be like an optical illusion as comments would disappear from threads of conversations, rendering them meaningless.   You would know when someone is online because they will all reappear.   You would have 6 friends (awake – logged in) at 4am and 150 by lunchtime.

Interfaces are in fact well suited to analogies with biology.   With such an enormous number of users they adapt or die.   Facebook is sure to make it harder to deactivate your account.   They will introduce an artificial delay to reactivating or add some hoops when you try to deactivate.   Otherwise we will all be confusing privacy advocates by deactivating every time like me.

Categories
Communication

20 Social Media Statistics (which are completely imprecise and stupid)

Email going around with the following disinformation:  (In italics my responses.)

“These figures reveal the huge black hole that our time disappears into when we visit Facebook, Twitter or YouTube or other social media sites.

  1. One in every nine people on Earth is on Facebook ( This number is calculated by dividing the planets 6.94 billion people by Facebook’s 750 million users)   No they are not!   About 1 in 5 Facebook “people” is in fact a company or something else other than a real homo sapiens.
  2. People spend 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.    No they don’t!  Much like television, there is no way to measure when they are spending time on Facebook or watching television while the laptop has Facebook open in some browser window.
  3. Each Facebook user spends on average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site.   No way of knowing!
  4. More than 250 million people access Facebook through their mobile devices.   And what a horrible user experience that is!   What exactly are they doing other than checking up in case ‘something happened’?
  5. More than 2.5 million websites have integrated with Facebook.   More than 2 million of those are completely automated through various other platforms which are also ‘integrated’ with loads of other services – it doesn’t mean anything.
  6. 30 billion pieces of content is shared on Facebook each month.  And by category that would be…extremely interesting information as opposed to this!  How much is video, how many original posts, how much news, etc.
  7. 300,000 users helped translate Facebook into 70 languages. Yeah right.   It is the beginning of a new type of democracy I presume too…
  8. People on Facebook install 20 million “Apps” every day.  And then never use them again most of the time!
  9. 190 million average  Tweets per day occur on Twitter (May 2011)  Of which most are highly concentrated by region, profession and other demographics which make them a pretty unrepresentative bunch in most countries.
  10. Twitter is handling 1.6 billion queries per day.  And their servers overload on average how many times a day?
  11. Twitter is adding nearly 500,000 users a day.   Rubbish.  Many. Twitter users never actually interact with their Twitter account again.
  12. Google+ has more than 25 million users.  Google+ has as many users as Google wants.   They can just turn all Gmail users into G+ users without asking them, or force you to have G+ to access Google Maps or…many other typically Google “here’s something for “free” approach’…
I skipped the other 8 about YouTube which were fairly accurate (so boring!).   Is it just me or are we experiencing a wave of social media…media mania?
Categories
Business

Hello, pleased to meet you. Facebook can ruin your business.

While most of the media tries to convince business people that they should all run to use social media asap, I beg to differ.   The step is simply too big, especially for market leaders.   You make a business page for your company, brand or product?   I will use it against you!   What you have effectively done is made a media channel with all your customers for anyone to use!

Sure you could lock down the wall, but then “that’s not very social media”.   You can monitor the wall 24/7/365 but  if you take an offensive post down you might get a consumer backlash for “censorship” and “that’s not very social media”.   Despite being an early proponent of social media in business I think you really need to define your targets and then look even more carefully at potential risks.   I am not the only person being hired to ruin companies and brands through social media.

It sort of gives a different ring to the term “viral”.   You know that kitch email chain letter you received?   Well, chances are it started from someone out to hit a competitor’s market share.   It is just much easier to knock off 5% of sales from a competitor than to get a 5% increase yourself.

So yes, you need to watch what is happening in social media.   As traditional media crumbles, these are exciting times for anybody in the business of communication.   And yes, you might find that many new tools are really cost effective.   But they have far reaching implications to your organization’s structure and inner workings.   Which don’t always make business sense.   I have tried to change companies through their communication and it doesn’t work easily, especially when top management doesn’t change first in a very public way.   It is like trying to change a company through it’s IT infrastructure.

As we all talk about leaving hierarchical structures behind and how media is becoming decentralised, it is useful to remind ourselves that most companies are still very hierarchical and centralised.   And for good reason.

Several articles on this topic are available on my Greek blog – and the Branding Intelligence blog (also here).

P.S. Some people have arrived at this post through extremely narrowly targeted Facebook ads; don’t worry, you are the only one that saw that provocative material  and as soon as I see you have clicked through I will take it down… ; )

Categories
Technology

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…

 

Categories
Business

Social media: turning useful employees into mindless gossip peddlers?

That does it.   Another major Greek corporation inviting all employess to a briefing on social media.   Not “legal issues concerning what you can and can’t write online about the company”.    Not “ten useful things you need to know about how best to integrate social media in your life.”   But “how and why you should spend more time doing marketing for the company doing social media instead of your normal job.”

No two ways around it.   We used to split people within a company to those that faced the customers and those that didn’t.   There are good reasons for this.   Not everyone is good at communication.   Corporate communication is more complicated than private chat.   You need to take into account many more factors and weight them with much more care.   Yet time and time again in the past year I see companies wanting to “enable” all their employees to speak on behalf of the company.   Marketing departments are shrinking and the extra work is going to …everyone!

So Mr Joe from engineering is sitting in a seminar about social media.  His personal facebook page and all 120 friends used to seeing his favourites on youtube, views on politics and photos from his holidays now get a …company press release?  “Hey everybody, my company has a new facebook page, please press ‘like’ immediately!”   This may sound stupid but how far away is it from what is actually happening?

I sometimes have difficulty switching from one project to another.   Especially in the early stages of a job when I have to immerse myself in their world completely in order to discover that best path which they haven’t seen yet.   Like an actor’s studio method I have to become one with the marketing people, management and the customer.   But this is my job and I have developed ways to deal with it.   Your employees haven’t.

If your company has vision, strategy and everything else they keep going on about in these fashionable social media seminars then it wouldn’t need to train everyone in how to use them.    If we all understand the company’s vision, it permeates what we are and what we do.   It will wash through to what employees communicate about on facebook or twitter like it does when they chat to neighboors around the barbeque.   You don’t need to do something special.   Asking them to take on communication tasks carries the most serious risk of them losing focus of what you really hired them to do.   Your entire team can fall apart.   Publicly, on social media!

Categories
Communication

This is how to beat Google on search: the way Google+ is beating Facebook!

Like anyone serious about business, I spend time trying to figure out how Google’s search algorythm works.  Because if you are serious about business you care about communication.   And if you care about communication you have to care about the way most of the world now discovers information.

Yesterday I was surprised to notice that my main computer produced absolutely no Greek website results for “champions league” or “Europa league”.   Not even on the twentieth results page!   Both of my reference machines (different setups, not logged in to a Google account, not using Google Chrome) had their first page full of Greek results.   Obviously Google has been tracking the fact that I am not interested in football.   But no matter how hard I search, there is nowhere in my Google customization, preferences or other location where I can untick a box to change this.

At the same time I have been admiring Google+ .   You are much more in control of the experience than Facebook.   It is much, much less prone to scams, false profiles and spam of all sorts.   For anyone who has lived in the uncertain world of trying to do Facebook marketing over the past years it is a breath of fresh air.

And that is exactly how Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine can overtake Google.   Bear open your secret sauce.   Show us the workings of your algorythms and let us tweak them.   Let me, the search users, decide what I want to attach weight to.   We could even swap tweaks, like my “don’t care about football but like outdoor stuff and sport in general” attitude.    It would be something you nurture through time, like a farm on Farmville; your searches and clicks create your own unique version of the search algorythm, your own “magic soup”.   Many users would love it.   At least those who care about what they see, the discerning users who are probably more interesting for advertisers too in the long term.

You can’t beat Google any other way, and we all know how hard you tried…