social media cheat sheet

I tweeted a friend’s WSJ post, and he asked me why the update didn’t show up on my Facebook status.  Damn, I was afraid someone would ask me that someday.  The reason is that I use extremely precise and entirely idiosyncratic rules for how I publish personal social media.  Here is a cheat sheet:

social site receives from publishes to primary purpose
Facebook FriendFeed no external publishing for both personal and professional contacts to get mostly personal updates from me
Twitter no external sources FriendFeed for me to broadcast updates to contacts as well as strangers
ginsudo blog Flickr FriendFeed, LinkedIn open publication of longer form pieces, often for blatant self-promotion
LinkedIn ginsudo blog no external publishing distributes professional info only, to professional contacts only
Flickr no external sources Facebook, FriendFeed, ginsudo blog photo sharing for contacts and strangers
FriendFeed Twitter, Flickr, ginsudo blog Facebook (thru FF app) for social media junkies to get as much public me as there is, without much personal detail
Google profile no external sources open publication in case someone Googling me searches for “gene yoon” instead of “ginsu yoon”
Picasa Picasa desktop private links only photo sharing for family and friends
private blog no external sources no open publication therapy notes, homemade platitudes, risqué pictures, cartoons, country music lyrics

To the untrained eye, this may seem somewhat insane – that’s ridiculous, it’s completely insane.

madness, I say, it's madness!

Updated 29 Apr 2010: Finally decided what I wanted to do since Facebook acquired FriendFeed.  Going to hook up blog, Flickr and Twitter directly to Facebook, disconnect FriendFeed app from Facebook.  This means that the things that I previously shared to siloed audiences, I now share to all audiences, and I share them through Facebook as a central sharing point.  Which of course, is exactly what Facebook wanted from the FriendFeed acquisition.

that’s entertainment

Is social media entertainment?

Of course it is, whatta silly question, you say. When people spend their leisure time engaged in updating their profiles, messaging each other with pokes and posts and status updates, posting and viewing photos and videos – well, that’s entertaining. The answer to the question from the user’s perspective is undeniable. But of course the fun in any analogy is to see how far you can extend it, so I’m really wondering if social media is entertainment from a business model perspective.

Think of a big-budget movie. A group of people get together around a concept, script or performers. They raise financing in excess of $100 million from traditional studio and independent interests, often pre-selling shares in future revenue stream. Many dozens, sometimes hundreds of people are employed in executing the vision into the reality of the work on screen. Distribution occurs not just in theaters, but downstream on DVD, TV, and of course the Web. A successful blockbuster returns hundreds of millions of dollars in a burst, and a continuing annuity essentially forever.

Is this so different from what we’ve seen in social media? From Tribe to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, it’s been a hits-driven business. People assemble around a concept and produce, and it seems that there is a limited window for the concept to catch fire with the broader public. If and when it does catch fire, there is a period to maximize revenue during the peak of popularity, and then a long slow decline. Maybe the curve is a little more like a successful TV series than a blockbuster movie, but the dynamics are the same: the production of a media experience that has temporal value for audience entertainment.

This is certainly an analogy that most social media companies would resist. They prefer to think of themselves as technology companies, building a platform for media delivery, or even becoming a fundamental part of the infrastructure of communication.

It’s not easy to define a platform on the Internet. You would think the concept of infrastructure is simpler. It’s relatively easy to envision the most concrete elements of the communications infrastructure: the physical wires (be they fibers, cables or tubes), the hardware of routers and switches and terminal devices, the often unglamorous stuff that moves the bits and bytes around. Database and storage are surely infrastructure components as well.

But can a software service company become part of the infrastructure? This isn’t a question of offering infrastructure services in a cloud of computing – it’s a question of whether a service that is not about transport and storage of information can be considered essential to modern communication.

In areas where that can be considered a serious question, we have an enormous market. Search is the prime example. Without search, the way we communicate and create on the Internet would be severely hampered, in the same way it would be hampered if we didn’t have significant storage or large databases. And search is a good example of a putative infrastructure element that must be provided as a service – which means a business can be built around it. Coming up with a protocol like TCP/IP may give birth to the Internet, but it doesn’t necessarily give rise to any dominant business for its creator.

So are the companies involved in today’s creation of social media making infrastructure? Can essential services be built in social media that become a fundamental component of communication? Even if so, is the social graph going to be as enriching as TCP/IP (that is, in more of a spiritual than monetary sense)?

Or is it all “just” entertainment?

social networks and the dunbar break

A couple of months ago, The Economist noted that the Dunbar number appears to apply to online social networks like Facebook.  I’ve since been thinking about the threat this represents to Facebook’s business, and all social networking businesses.

To recap:  The Dunbar number is a theoretical limit to the number of social relationships that one person can maintain – this number is often estimated at 150.  Facebook’s “in-house sociologist” confirmed that the average Facebook user has 120 “Friends” (i.e. other Facebook accounts linked to the user’s account).  Moreover, when measuring the interaction between users, such as comments on each others’ accounts, men average regular interaction with only four people, while women average six people.

You see the problem?  It’s too easy to leave social networks:  you’ll leave as soon as your six closest friends do.  From Tribe to Friendster to MySpace, no one has been able to hold on to their users.  Given that history, Facebook and Twitter have to fight more than just faddishness – they have to fight the cognitive limits of the human brain.

Ironically, social networks do not have the full benefits of network effects.  A really robust network effect means that each additional user of a network adds value to the network for all users.  In social networks, once all of my friends have been added, I don’t really care if any more people join the network.  And that means that the converse is true:  once all of my friends leave, the network has no value to me, no matter how many other users are still on the network.

The ”’Dunbar break”’ occurs at the point at which so many of your contacts have left a social network that you no longer value the network.  Dunbar’s number suggests that this point might be as high as 150, but looking at the actual interaction on Facebook, your personal Dunbar breaking point for Facebook could happen when as few as half a dozen of your friends leave.

That’s why Facebook and other social networks must paddle furiously to try to add value that scales across all users with a true network effect.  But with advertising and applications and ”’lifestreaming”’, they haven’t quite found the magic formula yet.

Does current media darling Twitter hold the key to defeating the Dunbar break?  As a combination of social media and broadcasting, it has some intriguing possibilities.  Ask yourself:  Once all of my friends are on Twitter, do I care if anyone else joins?  And would I care if all my friends leave Twitter, while the rest of the world joins?  A lot of people are answering those questions differently for Facebook and Twitter, which is why Twitter is such a popular dance partner these days.