Where Google Goofed

Google officially pulled back the curtain on Google+ today and opted for a slow, controlled roll-out instead of opening the floodgates.

And therein lies the goof.

Facebook is the behemoth in the social networking world right now, boasting over 500 million active users–all of whom have invested heavily in the service. All their friends are there as well as photos, videos, notes and other content. They play games there. They organize events there. They interact on Pages and in Groups with others who share their interests. Regardless of what pundits may want to believe, people aren’t going to just drop Facebook on a dime and flock to Google+.

One reason is that they can’t, because of the whole slow roll-out. The other is that the masses just won’t be there to make the site sticky when they do arrive.

Those who do have access to the service are lamenting the fact that they have access to Google+’s cool new features and no one to use them with. That curiosity will wane and those users will end up right back where they started–on Facebook, where everyone else is. In time, a new wave of Google+ users will be invited into the kingdom only to find their friends have abandoned it.

This isn’t like Gmail, which went through the slow roll-out phase. Gmail had no social aspect. Users replaced their old email provider with Google’s new service and had no idea whether one person was using it or millions were using it. Google also had novelty on their side, and it hadn’t failed at email multiple times before like it has with social.

If Google expects to have a chance at dethroning Facebook, they need to get Google+ ready for prime-time and get as many people using it as possible. ASAP.

Can you monetize a Facebook Page? Let’s find out.

A few days ago on Twitter, I had mentioned the fact that my most successful social media venture was one that no one knew I was a part of. I don’t talk about it, I don’t link to it — hell, I don’t even use my own name when I write posts for the blog.

Why? Because I was concerned that the site’s topic would frighten off potential employers, most of which still live in that bizarre world where someone’s personal activities have anything to do with their job performance. But I digress.

I’m still not sure if I should pull the metaphorical curtain off of this thing, but I will tell you a bit about what I’m dealing with.

I have a “news” site that averages around 5,000 visits a month. Meager, I know. The Facebook Page, however: 29,481 “Likes” at the time of this writing. It grew beyond my wildest expectations, partly because I made sure to keep the community members engaged with both myself and each other, and partly because people really seem to like the topic.

The Facebook Page’s growth affords me an opportunity to try out an experiment. I’m going to try to monetize the page by offering a “Sponsorship” ad package on the site, which consists of two banner advertisements, an ad on the “Welcome” tab of the Facebook Page and two weekly “thank you” posts on the Facebook Page. My math tells me that, between the site and the Facebook Page, the advertiser in question would receive over 100,000 impressions per month.

And, in my experience, Facebook users are much more likely to click a link in their timeline or on the Facebook Page than they would be to click a banner ad on a website.

Is this type of advertising allowed by Facebook? I don’t really know. I suppose I’ll find out. I don’t know if this type of advertising has ever been done before. Has it? Let me know.

Facebook’s acquisition of Drop.io: file-sharing on the way?

In case you missed it back on Friday, Facebook has snatched up file-sharing service Drop.io and its creator, Sam Lessin. Drop.io is a service that, before the acquisition, allowed you to quickly create an online file “drop” that could be used to store and share files online. Now that the purchase is public, Drop.io has shut down the ability to create new drops.

As a student, I used Drop.io quite often to store research papers online so that I could access them anywhere on campus. It beat carrying a thumb drive around (one less thing to lose). Now that Facebook has nabbed Lessin and Drop.io’s technology, I have to assume that file-sharing features will be making their way into Facebook. Students, work colleagues and members of community organizations could use these features to collaborate on projects and store useful and important documents.

And, as I’m sure Facebook is well aware, these features will have you logging into its site even more than you already are.

From where I’m sitting, it looks like a very smart pickup. If Facebook is looking at getting into the file-sharing/online collaboration game, its user base of 500+ million is a huge advantage against already-established services. Drop.io was a great service and, while I’m sad to see it go, I’m interested in seeing what Facebook does with the tech and what Lessin ends up doing as a new member of the team.

Stabbed in the back by FriendFeed

I haven’t written a blog post in about four months.  Life has been getting in the way and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and put some thought into a serious post.  This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to write in that span of time and it pains me to do so.  Whether this strikes a chord or is just another post echoing around inside the chamber, this is how I feel.

Betrayed.

Earlier today, FriendFeed sold itself out to Facebook for a reported $50 million.  What will Facebook do with FriendFeed?  No one knows for certain, but many suspect this was not a purchase of FriendFeed but instead a purchase of FriendFeed’s tech and talent.  Much like Twitter acquired I Want Sandy a few months back and later shut it down, this might not bode well for FriendFeed users.

I’m a bit sickened by FriendFeed’s willingness to sell.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have a few theories.

Maybe it’s the way the early FriendFeed adopters contributed so much and are now getting so little.  Robert Scoble and Louis Gray, for example, evangelized the hell out of FriendFeed and did so for good reason – they loved the service and thought it could do big things.  My idea of a big thing was not selling to Facebook, but I’m not sure how Louis and Robert feel.  And it wasn’t just Robert and Louis but tons more.  If I named every single person who talked up FriendFeed like it was the light bulb, I’d be writing here for days.

Maybe I hate this move because I will miss the FriendFeed community – the people I’ve met, shared laughs with and learned from.  What happens to them?  Do they vanish into thin air?  I don’t know.  For those who want to keep in touch, find me on Twitter (@shawn) or send me an email – shawnfarner (at) gmail (dot) com.

There’s one last reason I could be disappointed by this – maybe I thought the FriendFeed crew was above selling themselves out.  Maybe I thought they wanted to innovate on their terms.  After all, these guys left Google to strike out on their own.  That led me to believe that they were going to do their damnedest to make sure FriendFeed became all it could be, and by that I mean more than just a few new buttons in Facebook.  Guess not.

I’m sure a lot of others are let down by this news and are standing at the same crossroads, too.  FriendFeed is saying it still wants to be my friend (for the time being), but I’m not sure if I can do it.  If Facebook decides to keep FriendFeed intact, that will take some of the sting away but it won’t repair the trust – and what’s a relationship without trust?

Give me Scrabulous or give me death

Are you a fan of Scrabulous?  If so, you’ve probably noticed that the popular Scrabble-clone has vanished from Facebook.  I’ll let you go for a few minutes while you blow off some steam.

. . .

Feeling better?  No?  Don’t worry – about half a million other Scrabulous players are feeling the same way.  Several blog posts explain the situation, but nowhere is the frustration more obvious than on the Facebook walls of both Scrabulous and Hasbro’s SCRABBLE Beta.

Here are some snippets (viewer discretion is advised):

  • “I didn’t have an interest in playing the board game until I started playing scrabulous online. Have several friends who’ve purchased the board game simply because they became hooked on scrabulous.”
  • “This is a sad day. In the big Scrabulous game of life, Hasbro made a BAD MOVE!!!”
  • “I will personally ban the Hasbro application, they have left a very negative impression over this whole issue….I am moving to Europe where I can once again enjoy playing scrabulous!”
  • “Hasbro sucks big fat donkey d*ck!!! I looked forward to 2 things daily… my morning cup of coffee and playing scrabulous… Sad sad day”
  • “What the shit! Don’t they realize that because of this app I actually went out and BOUGHT a scabble board! I’m sure alot more people have done the same, now I dont even want to play the real thing I am so pissed. What a bunch of losers!”
  • “Just more corporate greed. The folks at Hasbro can go screw themselves!”
  • “Are you fucking kidding me??????????????????? I met the possible love of my life playing this game. I shall never, ever buy another Hasbro product again!!!!!!!”
  • “This is pathetic. Who was being hurt by people playing this game? I’ll be sure to remember this when it comes time to do my Christmas toy shopping.”
  • “So you fucking take scrabulous down and cant have a working application? Fucking ridiculous.”
  • “wait. now i have zero scrabble options. this is better how? AT LEAST PUT YOUR CRAPPY BETA BACK ONLINE.”
  • “Your application is pitiful. I can’t believe you killed Scrabulous for this piece of crap.”
  • “Gosh, this application is awful, a bandwidth/CPU hog, and buggy as hell! I expected more from the combined corporate resources of Hasbro and Electronic Arts. How do you spell L-A-M-E?”
  • “Great idea to shut down Scrabulous before you even have a working replacement…Jackasses.”
  • “oh. and please note that every 5 minutes ur getting a new negative message about your game. Oh and also I can still play scraboulous by proxy. Lick my balls.”
  • “BOYCOTT Hasbro!!!”

This is surely not the PR Hasbro wants to be getting right now.  Still, they should have seen it coming.  Did they think they could shut down an application with over 500,000 daily users, not offer a working replacement, and get away unscathed?  If so, they are severely overestimating the power of their brand.

I already hate the new Facebook layout

Well, the new Facebook layout is here – that is, if you want it to be.  It is accessible by visiting www.new.facebook.com and logging in.  I personally have been looking forward to the upgrade to see what features Facebook would implement to take on Twitter and FriendFeed.  They had a real opportunity to turn the News feed on the Home Page into a FriendFeed of sorts by adding likes and commenting, and to take on Twitter by making status updates more of a conversation and less of an away message.

They did none of the above.

The News Feed is pretty much the same – and by pretty much, I mean EXACTLY the same.  Ball dropped.  I’m confused as to why Facebook felt it needed to add commenting to the Profile’s Mini-Feed (which I rarely look at) but not to the Home page (which some people scan religiously for the latest gossip).  They had a real chance to put FriendFeed away – Facebook’s user base easily dwarfs FriendFeeds.  A definite blown opportunity.

Status updates are primped up a little bit, but not much.  The Profile page now has a box at the top that asks, “What are you doing now?”  Very Twitter like, don’t you think?  However, that’s where the similarity ends.  First off, I don’t quite understand the rationale for treating status updates like Twitter on the Profile page but treating them like the status updates of old on the Home page.  It’s confusing – I honestly believe that those new to Facebook (and even some veterans) might not understand that these two status messages are, in fact, the same thing.  On top of that, there’s no way to communicate with others through updates (no @replies like Twitter).  To see the status updates of all your friends, you have to visit the “Friends” link at the top of the page.  However, these status updates are only that friend’s most recent – you won’t find multiple updates and it is nearly impossible to look at old updates.  Lame.

There are a bunch of other things I don’t like about the new Facebook interface, like the Wall Post/Activity mashup where a clean, uncomplicated Wall should be.  However, the News Feed and Status Update features are the ones I’m the most disappointed with.  I really felt like Facebook had a chance to capitalize on its user base and establish itself further as a hot spot on the web by implementing FriendFeed and Twitter-like features.  They didn’t, and that is an epic fail.

Twitter dying? Twishful thinking

I’m getting really fed up with all the FriendFeed evangelists who insist Twitter is on its way out. I can’t go one day without reading a blog post, a FriendFeed comment or a tweet (the irony) suggesting that the takeover of FriendFeed is imminent.

Let me tell you what is going on in my FriendFeed right now – lots of tweets, a few posted FF messages and blog posts. Most don’t have comments. I’m following a lot of not-so-well-known techies who are getting no love. It seems that most of this “world-wide talk show” revolves around items shared by Paul Buchheit (a FriendFeed founder) and well-known FriendFeed trumpeters (Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, etc.).

Moving over to Twitter – someone is clearing out their spam folder. A local journalist is @replying back and forth with residents in the area. Robert Scoble is on his way to HP labs. These people are telling the world what they’re doing and what they think is interesting – quickly and concisely. In Twitter, it seems to matter less how popular you are. It doesn’t matter that @problogger has thousands more followers than @floor9. Their tweets are weighed the same – unlike FF, where the popular users gain more comments, which in turn bump their items to the top and bury the rest.

Does Twitter have downtime problems? Absolutely, and I complain a lot, believe me. The truth is, though, that Twitter’s network dwarfs FriendFeed’s. The users are hooked. Think about how many times Twitter has gone down or deactivated key features. The fact that they still have such a strong user base speaks volumes. If anyone thought there was a viable alternative to Twitter, they’d be there. There isn’t. Those who insist that the Twitter exodus has begun or that FriendFeed has somehow “taken over” are being sensationalists. FriendFeed will never kill Twitter. I’ve stated this a few times, but one more won’t hurt – if Twitter is killed by anyone, it’ll be Facebook. And FriendFeed will share the same fate.

I will continue to play in both, because I do believe that each one has value. FriendFeed does a lot of cool things and aggregates social networks better than any other app I’ve seen. But FriendFeed replacing Twitter is nonsense, and I invite anyone who truly believes it to totally delete their Twitter account and put their money where their mouth is.

Would I want to be Robert Scoble?

Of course, a lot of me wants to say yes.  Scobleizer interviews some pretty high-profile people in the world of technology.  He also gets to fly all over creation.  He has a multitude of eyes and ears hanging on his every word.

Unfortunately, I feel that being fully immersed in the startup world and the ever-changing landscape of the web has put him out of touch with those who will make or break many of these ventures; the every-day guys and gals.

That isn’t a knock on Robert at all.  I’m totally envious of what he gets to do, and if things go my way, maybe one day I’ll have as many eyes and ears on me.  You can call my BS if you want, but if I had to choose between being a voice among tens of thousands of voices in the Valley or being one of just a few here, I’d choose here.

I’m located within spitting distance of a state capital that is severely lacking in web presence.  There are not many people on Twitter in Harrisburg – how else would a college student be able to chit chat with local news reporters at will?  We have very few serious bloggers, but these bloggers consistently scoop our newspaper writers on a regular basis.  There aren’t many people here who get it yet, and to me, that’s exciting.

Those few of us bloggers/early adopters that do exist here have the opportunity to do something great, something not a lot of people can say they’ve done.  We have, in our hands, the opportunity to transform an entire city.  We have the chance to completely change the way this city communicates, consumes media and sees the world as a whole.

I would guess that 97% of Harrisburg’s citizens have never heard of Twitter.  They’ve never heard of FriendFeed.  Some might think that Google is the only search engine in existence.  These people use email, AIM, Myspace and Facebook.  They read their favorite sites using bookmarks, not RSS feeds.  They find new music through the radio and word of mouth, not sites like Last.FM or Pandora.  The early adopter pace is just too fast for them to keep up.

I do not look down on these people at all.  Many early adopters seem to think highly of themselves for having been on something “first”, before it was cool.  I do not think that way.  For me, these people are not a heavy anchor holding us back.  Instead, they are the sails.  When they flock to a service, then you know you have something special.

I look foward to helping introduce them to this new world.  And Robert, next time you go to Tel Aviv, save me a seat?