Category Archives: Facebook

Facebook, its time you fix yourself and be relevant!

Facebook

I have seen Facebook as product scale up since 2006, there was a time I believed this one could never go down. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself using Facebook everyday now. In tech world, products that reach this scale do not fail, they become irrelevant.

Facebook is fast becoming irrelevant and replaceable in our life. I love Facebook and really admire Mark Zuckerberg for building it one. I still think Facebook can still turn around and be that important part of our lives again.

Here are few things that Facebook needs to fix in its product:

1. Feeds & Notifications

Feeds and Notifications are (were?) the lifelines of Facebook. Both are quickly losing its relevance to create engagement.

The challenge with Facebook is you are subscribed to multiple content units. This includes updates from –
a. Friends & Contacts
b. Pages you ‘Liked’
c. People you ‘Follow’ or ‘Subscribed to’
d. Open Graph Integrations & Updates through Social Plugins
e. Promoted Posts

There is clearly too much of information that user gets subscribed to and its obvious that the Edgerank is failing to discover the most appropriate post for its users.

Edgerank has multiple flip points! It works on the fact that people / pages that you interact recently or regularly show up more frequently in your feeds, or the ones in your social circle that has higher engagement. That results in missing out other important updates from friends / contacts, missing that important update from your favorite band and so on.

Same with notifications, there are many irrelevant notifications that are shown on Facebook which over a time lose value for notifications all together. Facebook should restrict notifications only to posts / updates important to the user.

Facebook’s Edgerank struggles to discover the best post for you hoping that you will engage. Twitter simply says you missed it if you didn’t see it, so if you don’t want to miss any update – stay logged in. Twitter clearly works well here.

Facebook needs to fix its Edgerank to sustain itself. Maybe completely moving to a Twitter like time line will make more sense for Facebook.

2. Instant Messaging

Have read a lot of posts about how Facebook should be worried about Instant Messaging Apps like WhatsApp, SnapChat and others. While most of the posts put up the metrics like number of messages shared or photos uploaded or so on to compare them with FB, they miss a simple and crucial point on what makes them successful.

Facebook is a network that connects your family and friends. Instant Messaging apps like WhatsApp ‘connect them faster’. This was the perfect way to disrupt Facebook and it worked! Its no surprise that younger generation does not connect with Facebook- why should one sign-up, create a profile, upload status & photos and so on? Just download a Instant Messaging app and get started. Honestly, Facebook today is delayed WhatsApp’ing.

WhatsApp should have been acquired by Facebook long time back, there were rumors. But to continue to be relevant, its time that Facebook should now stop looking at its ‘messaging’ feature as a feature – but as core proposition!

Update: Few people pointed out that Facebook Messenger lets you sends instant messages like WhatsApp to anyone. I checked this again, but it looks that FB Messenger works with users who have registered their phone number with a Facebook Account. The Instant Messages are sent through to the Facebook messages in your profile. Nevertheless, the point I wanted to suggest here is Instant Messaging should become the core proposition of Facebook who wants to connect the world, and not its feature.

3. Developers

Its been more than 2 years that the last F8 conference was held, clearly Facebook does not have anything great on its plate for developer community. This is bad news for thousands of application developers who use Facebook (Connect) as primary platform to build their applications.

Distribution on top of Facebook is almost non-existent now (Read: Rethinking Facebook Connect). Eventually this will lead to developers looking for other platforms to build on top of it.

Twitter will stand to gain the most out here at this point of time. Google has been silently integrating Google+ to many of its services, if Google can provide ‘distribution’ as incentive to developers, there might be still hope for Google+ (of which I had been skeptical from day 1)

4. Facebook Pages are Dead.

When Facebook Pages were introduced, there was a gold rush among Marketers and Brands to get as much Likes or Fans as possible build an captive audience and engage with them on a regular basis.

Facebook pages are dead now, its effective reach is reduced to mere 2% of audience and practically they drive zero new likes / fans to the page as virality is almost dead. As a marketer, I would expect the posts shared on my pages to reach majority (if not all) of its audience.

If the only way to get any sort of engagement now is paid posts, marketers will soon realize the same and will start abandoning the Facebook. Instead Marketers will prefer sending traffic to their own website over Facebook Pages. Facebook should fix this.

5. Publishers

Millions of publishers use the Facebook Social Plugins, more particularly Like, Share widgets on their websites; the motivation here is to drive more traffic (users) from Facebook. It worked earlier as Facebook was a awesome discovery platform to know social actions of friends & contacts.

As engagement and virality of Facebook platform has decreased, these social plugins are proving to be lesser effective in driving more users / traffic to publishers.

6. No Mobile Presence

Post IPO Facebook (and analysts) were worried that Facebook did not have a solid mobile monetization strategy in place. Its solved now as mobile revenue contributes significantly to Facebook’s revenue. However I think it was not so much about mobile revenue, Facebook missed the mobile ecosystem completely. It does not own any of the core-experiences on mobile.

Look at smartphone on device strategy –

  • Calendar is owned by Google (Calendar).
  • Contacts are owned Google (Gmail).
  • Messaging is owned by WhatsApp & others.
  • Camera was owned by Instagram (acquired by Facebook) but faces intense competition from other apps like – Twitter, SnapChat, FrontBack, WhatsApp and others.
  • Location is owned by Google (Maps).
  • AppStores are closed. Owned by Google or Apple.

While Facebook Home was a great attempt at ‘hijacking’ the phone experience, but with no value attached for users the product dried down quickly. With no deeper integration on phone, Facebook is just another app. And as other apps deliver more value while communicating with friends, Facebook is very vulnerable to being an ‘optional app’.

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Concluding Notes:

Facebook needs to re-think its strategy and focus on making its product relevant. Not just for its users, but also for other stake holders like Developers, Marketers, Publishers and so on.

Out of context, but I find Facebook’s intention of getting the entire planet online (Internet.org) ridiculous and a big distraction for both – Facebook & Zuck. Facebook did an amazing job of getting over 1 Billion Users on its platform, but to think that Facebook and its partners (of Internet.org) will manage to get the next 2 Billion Users online is absurd.

Unfortunately for Facebook, the next Billion users will come online because of instant messaging apps. For now, Facebook should just concentrate on its product.

Facebook Pages: No one is talking about you!

About 3 – 4 years back, Facebook Pages was a hot property. Till just some time back, every brand, every advertiser wanted as many “Likes” as possible. At peak of this trend, some brands even did press releases on reaching 1 Million Likes.

Here is some bad news for Social Media Agencies, Consultants and every concerned with Social Media, Facebook Pages as a product has reached end of its life cycle and is no more valuable for brands. Why do I say this?

Check the metrics for some of the most popular internet brands in India and also International brands.

As defined by Facebook, the ‘People talking about this’ includes – likes, comments, shares, answering a question, responding to a event and claiming a offer. The average ‘People Talking about This’ is drastically reduced to just about 2%.

Why is this happening –

  • Facebook has two current priorities – Improve (and retain) User Engagement & Grow Revenues.
  • In a attempt to retain user engagement, Facebook wants users to engage with each other (people to people) and not with applications or pages. 
  • To grow revenues, Facebook wants you to pay to reach its audience. If the natural viral factor is high, brands no longer have to pay Facebook.
  • More pointers on this in my earlier post, where I said Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform.

What this implies –

  • Most pages listed above are currently (probably) not advertising on FB. It effectively means that the natural engagement of a Facebook page is now at a average of 2%. 
  • If only 2% of your page audience is going to engage, the ‘viral factor’ that introduced new users to your page will be a minuscule number. 
  • If a brand has gathered Facebook Fans / Likes by doing advertisements for its pages, value of the money spent is $0 today.
  • In case you are running any advertisements to get Likes to your page, consider halting it.
  • The only way to reach your own audience (people who have liked you) is using advertising tools like ‘Boost Post’.

So why is it a dead product? If a Facebook page (as a product) that has over a million users connected to it, but generates only 2% engagement and possibly even less viral factor is as good as dead. As a transaction product (like ecommerce) the conversions from Facebook Page will be further down since your posts reach a smaller percentage of ‘your Facebook audience’.

Going forward if the audience that you are building through Facebook Page is never going to engage with your posts, it might be a better option for advertisers to consider simply running CPC advertisements to target the necessary demographic, take users to their website and engage them there (back to pre-social media days of Facebook).

If you are a start-up building products around Facebook Pages or anything that concerns with distribution through Facebook Pages or even through Facebook, take a hard look at the data / funnels.

Some exceptions above are Mashable, BuzzFeed and 9GAG. Why? Because they are in the content business (yes Mashable too, in my opinion its no more a social media site) and for the fact that they have exceptionally high engagement numbers is probably because they are the only ones doing content marketing right on Facebook!

For everyone else, no one really is talking about you on Facebook. Not unless you are paying for it!

Rethinking Facebook Connect

As startups we need to continuously experiment and question the status quo; and for now we experimented with the Facebook Connect implementation. We started by removing it as default option to sign-in on Wishberg. As expected we got multiple forgot password requests (we built this feature in anticipation of same).  

Many folks questioned about this on Twitter, and I also had conversations with other startups founders who suggested this could be a bad move. So far we are happy with the results. We may / may not revert back (its still not clear) – but since many people asked me why we even thought of experimenting – here are the reasons.

a. Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform 

Let me sum up Facebook as a distribution platform for you:
Early days -> 1 + 1 = 11
Later ->  1 + 1 = 2
Now -> 1 + 1 = 1.1
Next -> 1 + 1 = 1.01

Face this, it is true. Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform or user acquisition channel for application developers. If the expectation is one user registration through Facebook connect will lead to at least one more., its not happening. 

Zynga achieved its distribution on Facebook through News Feeds; Branchout through notifications and others like Pinterest / Spotify through Open Graph. When more and more applications tried to ‘abuse’ each of these mechanisms Facebook put more restrictions & controls in place (which is correct since Facebook wants to maintain a clean experience for its users). Open Graph is currently the only way to get some effective distribution, Facebook has replaced few custom actions and asked developers to use built-in actions for Like & Follow, they are also merged in Open Graph. It also placed restrictions for applications that abused few actions like ‘read a article’ & ‘viewed a video’ with more controls / validations in place.

Personally I am against spam and to build a clean product we do not aim to spam our users through Facebook (even in name of user acquisition). Also because of the fact that few applications have abused Facebook to acquire users, users are smart and know how to differentiate between a possible spam and genuine link. Good for consumers and bad for developers, Facebook has made it ‘ridiculously easy’ for users to get rid of applications; so if your are spamming – do that at your own risk! 


b. Facebook engagement principles – P2P v/s A2P

You must have read this in news over and again – Facebook is trying hard to appeal to the current youth generation (as the earlier one has grown up!). While Facebook is trying to appeal to younger generation, it is also trying to improve engagement of its current user base. Current reports suggests that a Facebook update reaches approximately (just) 12% of your friends. 

If people stops engaging with other people on Facebook, it will be dead. While Facebook connect is a good way to keep social interactions that happen outside of Facebook discoverable through feeds on Facebook – its natural that Facebook will always be more inclined to have P2P (People to People) interactions featured over A2P (Application to People). 

On a personal note – I don’t think Facebook will have anything great to announce for some time ahead that will excite the developers. For now, FB will focus on improving user-to-user engagement, appeal to youth and its monetization products. So I don’t see the situation improving for developers. 


c. Inconsistent Discovery Experience for feeds

Facebook is not Twitter. Unlike the experience where every tweet is visible to your followers, every feed / status update is not visible to your friends. Its complex and depends on multiple factors – whom you interact with most, which group of friends are you a part of, has the feed gone viral to be showcased to more people outside that network and so on. If P2P feeds are discovered by only 12% of friends, chances for discovery of application feeds will be even lower.

And then there are innumerable pages that a user has liked, there are updates from them which also ask for a mind-share of user in his activity stream. One of Facebook’s monetization product that allows pages (and users) to pay and increase reach of their posts will also work against discovery of application feeds.

Facebook recently announced a new newsfeed which is rolled out to few users but not to all. It has also did a nice little revamp on Timeline view of profile putting all updates on the right side block – and also bringing up user’s likes and interests upfront and pushing open graph updates further down to an blind spot.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am supporting Facebook here as most of these changes are done to improve user experience and engagement for its own users. But in that attempt – the discovery of feeds for applications has got bit inconsistent. There is no science here – and most of the times for application developers it will mean shooting in the dark. 


d. Every user has his/her own identity on every platform

Each user has a different identity on every platform – Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Foursquare, LinkedIn and so on. Its incorrect to assume that the way a user behaves on Facebook will be essentially the way he will on your product or that he wants his friends to know he is using a particular product or service.

There is also a trend that users do not want to register on a product because it only allows only Facebook Sign-up. We did that with Wishberg earlier, but now have opened up email registrations; key here is – ‘Be valuable first, social later.’

The ideal way is to allow users to register and let them connect their Facebook account as a option – which they will if your product is valuable to them. You can prompt users to connect their Facebook account, but not force them to do so!


e. Psychology of Forced Distribution

As a developer once you implement Facebook Connect, unconsciously you get thinking and start relying completely on Facebook for distribution. You want every action that has happened on your product to be ‘forced shared’ on Facebook – even though a user would want it or not. Its time to stop that as the sharing economy has changed.

Since Facebook distribution is not controlled by you, it gets increasingly frustrating when your product does not go as viral as you thought it would. Instead build some sort of distribution / discovery mechanism on your own product which you control completely – we built couple of them on Wishberg and they have worked remarkably better. Remember – a small number of highly engaged users are much better than a large user base with zero or near zero engagement. 


f. Sharing economy has changed

The sharing economy on Facebook as changed over years. It is no more driven by features or applications, its completely user driven. Users have got smart enough to know what has to be shared and with whom.

Don’t build applications / features that will trick users to forcefully share something on their wall without their consent or knowledge. Focus on your product – users will figure out what they have to share and what they don’t have to. Users are now smarter than most developers think! 


g. Breaking changes that break your plans

While doing a startup / building your product – the one thing you don’t want to lose is time. Startups operate with small teams and any deviations from the product roadmap costs them dear.

And while they are on to it – Facebook wants you to constantly be updated with its latest ‘breaking changes‘ and there is no option but to comply. It sucks out time / bandwidth big time and knowing the diminishing returns from Facebook – it gets frustrating here!

 

Concluding Notes:

Most product managers integrate with Facebook Platform for three reasons – 1. One-click sign-in 2. Social Graph. 3. Distribution (Viral acquisition of users).

It is possible to achieve that without Facebook too.

  1. One Click Sign-in: Create a perpetual logged-in experience for users till he explicitly logs out!
  2. Social Graph: Most successful products like Quora, Twitter, Instagram, etc have build their own network / graph. Remember that same user will have a different identity on every different network.
  3. Distribution: 1 + 1 = 2 is no longer true. Think of discovery and distribution on your own product, you have complete control there.

The aim of this post is not to put negative remarks against Facebook, but to make fellow entrepreneurs know of this when they are building on top of Facebook platform and so that they set right expectations for growth. Happy building!

Update:  We got Facebook Connect back on Wishberg after 30 days of experiment. The main reason was not distribution, but authentication – users do not have to remember one more password! As far as distribution is concerned, Facebook adds little value.

 

Graph Search: What Zuck said!

Enough articles about Graph Search. Just one thing that Mark Zuckerberg said was striking.., “Graph Search is designed to show you the answer and not links to answers.”

For the record., check the last line from the most unnoticed post on my blog – Future of Search: A Search without Links: “Future of Search is not 100s of links on the search results page. Its one result – just exactly what you want.”

#ForTheRecord

API based Advertising. Maybe Google lost a Billion Dollar Opportunity…

Google is undoubtedly the master in text based advertising with its Adwords platform (that continues to be the largest contributor to Google’s revenue). It relies on a two formats of text advertising – through Search (display relevant advertisements to users on search results page) and Content Sensing (display advertisements based on content on the page user is browsing).

With advent of Twitter / Facebook and similar such platforms, emerged another prominent format of text outside boundaries of Google’s prominence – ‘status messages’ or ‘short text content’ or even ‘short text messages’. This text format originates and is consumed as quickly as it is generated. Concise, one-to-all (FB / Twitter) or one-to-one (SMS or chat).

Twitter owes its success to its API. Back in 2008-09, while developers were building applications on top of its API, I read/heard many say – “APIs is the product distribution” or “APIs is product marketing”. However, no one said “API is the next Advertising” (in context of text based advertising).

Imagine this simple hack – post the ‘short text’ through API to Google. The service would intelligently interpret if the ‘short text’ has any intent-value and revert back with the most relevant advertisement which the developers can embed back in their application the way they want it as part of their core product experience. The API could have options for Geo / Context, etc.

Is the opportunity huge? Its massive! Facebook is already under-fire for not having enough on its monetization plate. FB is monetizing via demographic targeting, while millions of status messages with a intent-opportunity go without monetization everyday. Twitter faces similar challenges, wrote about this earlier. Instagram, for example – you see this amazing photograph of a Pizza, you immediately want to eat one – show a relevant advertisement. Or two people on a IM like Whatsapp – making plans of a vacation to Canary Islands. This list goes endless.

There has been a radical shift in Internet (read content) over last 10 years, but web-monetization still continues to be same old method – either search or display. Companies involved in mobile advertising copy-pasted the web model to mobile. Web/mobile monetization models are ripe for disruption. While such kind of API based advertising requires a long-tail of advertisers, like the one Google has. But it will be difficult to under estimate startups who would want to get a slice off such very large opportunity; which otherwise will be Google’s lost opportunity….

 

Google+ may be miles away from being a great Social Product!

A Product Manager’s view – Why Google+ may be miles away from being a great Social Product!

There are various reports on super adoption of Google+, earlier about 10 Mn users and today it reaching 50 Mn users.  The key question is – How many users are engaged there? Also echoed by The Lean Startup author Eric Ries while Facebook has 750Mn active and engaged users.

I am trying to tell myself that first signs of product usage and assumptions change over time. It happened with me for Groupon where the business model was innovative, but not scalable; for Quora post initial adoption; for Twitter (where I was a early adopter) but found no one else there and stayed away for 2-3 years before becoming active again.

Same happened with Google+ my first reaction was Facebook killer, then next was Twitter killer – and over a period of time with my Product Manager’s hat – I feel that it may be miles away from being a great Social Attempt!

 

1. What is Google+? No one cared to answer!

A standard product management and product marketing practice is to tell consumers what the product is. The world knows about Facebook, despite its 750Mn+ active users – every time you visit Facebook homepage it tells you what it is.

  • Facebook – Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.
  • Twitter – Follow your interests. Instant updates from your friends, industry experts, favorite celebrities, and what’s happening around the world.
  • Flickr – Share your life in photos.
  • YouTube – Join the largest worldwide video-sharing community!
  • Foursquare – Check in. Find your Friends. Unlock your City.
  • Quora – A continually improving collection of questions and answers.

While for Google+ – No one cared to answer what product use-case it solves or what should users are expected to do on it.

 

2. How does a user access Google+ ?

Users access Facebook on www.facebook.com; Twitter on www.twitter.com; and so on – is it www.google+.com?

And to prove this point – look at Google+ suggestions on Search –

Accessibility is a big question mark for Google+. The correct way to access Google+ is plus.google.com – which a technology early adopter shall ‘probably’ remember – but even he or she will end up accessing (most of the time) Google+ from within GMail on the notification bar at the top.

This point is also related with next set of arguments – User Psychology & Naming & Identification Psychology. I feel these factors are extremely important to consider while building any consumer product.

 

3. User Psychology for Consumer Products

For any Internet or mobile product – consumers are quick to label it with its strongest product use-case – which is typically the recall product value of the user. Simply stated for a normal user –

  • “I visit GMail to check my emails!”
  • “I visit Google to search the web.”
  • “I visit Facebook to view what my friends are up to.”

Now it is extremely difficult for any product to have a “and use-case” for a product –

  • “I visit GMail to check my emails and Social Networking.” – No!
  • “I visit Google to search the web and Social Networking.” – No!
  • “I visit Facebook to view what my friends are up to and also searching the world wide web.” – No!

“And use-case” works for features that support any product’s core value. Features that would be to better manage emails (for Gmail), to better display search rankings (for Google Search), to show more types of friend’s activities (for Facebook) and so on.

Google is aiming to take on Facebook with a Social Networking product. But launched it like a feature on Google Homepage (Search) & Gmail (Notification Header). In current avatar, Google+ is a feature – and will gain traction as much as a feature can. It will not gain identity as a social-networking stand-alone product.

Also note the big failures of other “And use-cases” –

  • “I visit Facebook to view what my friends are up to and also Buy Local Deals.” – Deals was abandoned by Facebook
  • “I visit Facebook to view what my friends are up to and also to check-in in places” – Places as stand-alone attempt within Facebook failed, but as feature is gaining traction.
  • “I visit Gmail to check mails and Buzz up articles.” – Google Buzz… remember?

“And use-cases” work for B2B products, but have never worked for any consumer web product.

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4. Naming & Identification Psychology

Social Graphs & Social Networks are all about giving identity to users. Currently, Google+ itself needs an identity. Users think and will continue to think of Search when they think of Google, and it is virtually impossible for them to perceive Google as a Social Network.

How consumers relate with social activities – “Are you on FB?” “Can you tweet this?” “Let me share it on FB” and so on. The terminology “Google” or “Googled” is built over last 13 years – will be impossible to change from search to a social context.

For sake of Product identity or for its different product use-case, Google+ should have been outside of Google identity with its own identity (probably a www.plus.com if it was available). But the lure of exploring existing user-base is too difficult to give away – and if that logic was to succeed Yahoo! would have still been the largest internet company in this world. They tried to do everything under Yahoo! brand name (Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Shopping, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Hotjobs, Yahoo! This & Yahoo! That), but for consumers Yahoo! was and always remained a content play.

Even Google’s largely successful consumer products outside Search – Gmail & YouTube were successful because consumers saw it as an independent product identity outside the core of Google’s Search. While Google Video, Google Buzz, Google Answers – all failed. I am strong advocate of one-product = one-identity for consumer web businesses.

 

5. Social Graphs are occupied; No place for Google+ to fit in

I mentioned in my previous post Building Awesome Social Products – successful social products are reflection of people’s offline behavior in the real world. Similarly – successful social graphs are also reflection of people’s social relationships in real world. Social Products reflect activities, Social Graphs reflect relationships.

A typical user’s social relationships involve –

  • Close Relationships – Friends, Family, Friendly Colleagues (present and past) – more importantly people you know personally.
  • Professional Relationships – Colleagues, Business Relationships, Partners
  • Loose Relationships – People you know, but they probably don’t know you. Celebrities, known professionals, domain experts

Facebook covers Close Relationships, LinkedIn covers Professional Relationships, Twitter covers Loose Relationships. So if Google+ is trying to create a new Social Graph, it will be a struggle (big struggle) – simply cause there is no use-case for a new social graph. Social graphs are distinct; by nature, by user behavior and are established over a period of time.

Features don’t make a product success by itself and expect it to later evolve in to a Social Graph; Instead having a use-case for social graph is essential and the features should evolve.

6. It is important to know whom to kill – Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, or what -?

Google+ though it presently looks like a Facebook killer – it is not. None of my friends are using it the way they use Facebook, instead I see more updates from technology adopters in Silicon Valley – and the posts look like extended tweets (beyond the 140 characters). I follow these technology adopters on Twitter, and hence my own assumption that probably it is a Twitter-killer.

Google+ still does not have a clear proposition – and is trying to overlap between all three Social Graphs (Close Relationships, Professional Relationships & Loose Relationships) without taking a clear positioning against one of them.

I am personally not happy with the killer-suffix (no products killers have ever killed anyone – they are still trying to kill iPhone & iPad). But its also important to know who your competition or what your benchmark really is. Or you might just try running behind all, but never able to catch up with any one of them.

7. Developer APIs will not enable Social Graphs; Instead Gmail invite contacts are more powerful.

There has been lot of noise about speculated Google+ APIs for developers to build applications and its release dates or so on. Developer APIs will provide access to features – posting an Google+ update, ability to do +1 through applications, and so on – but this sounds (unfortunately once again) like Twitter APIs or FB app APIs that allow you to post status updates and share pictures and so on. Most importantly, Google+ will not be able to build a Facebook Connect equivalent.

Today Social Graphs when referred are mostly Facebook explored through Facebook Connect (unless you write some algorithms on top of them to bring context to your product). F-Connect allows applications & developers to enable Social Graphs (of friends); which clearly explains why 1000s of applications prefer to have Sign-up with Facebook buttons.

Google+ has multiple circles (friends, acquaintances, doctors, techies – and you can delete and rename any other circle); relationships in these circle are mutually not dependent on each other – and hence cannot be explored even if Google+ comes out with a API to access them. Let me explain this below –

a. A user Larry might add another user Zuck in friends circle; Zuck may add Larry in My Gang circle. Hence social relationship between them is not mutual (as friends).
b. Further Larry might name his friends circle as Buddies; Zuck names his friends circles as Pals; Hence the social graph definition itself is flawed.


This is a huge flaw – Through APIs the developer’s applications cannot reach mutually accepted graph of both connections (mutual friends) or an validated status of their relationships (close friends, professional or loose). Hence at this stage it would be more preferred to use the Gmail Invite Contacts module – for simple reason that it is more powerful and treats all contacts at a same level (a social graph of email contacts / connections).

 

8. Not the best attempt at Social Networking

Google already knows so much about its users – whom do you chat (on GTalk), whom do you mail (on Gmail) or who are my most contacted people in real world (on Android). Google could have actually used a lot of this data, recommended people with circles (I still hate sorting people in circle all the time, but pre-cooked circles by associations would still have been so much better).

With Google holding so much data and wanting to go ahead with a strong social product; it is expecting users to do it again from scratch. Makes one feel that Google+ is a half-baked attempt.

Facebook users usually have about 150 to even 5000 friends. Usually added over years, and all added at a same level – ‘Friends’. However cool the task of adding people to circle is in execution – to add those many people again to circles is a pain. While most people that users see on Google+ are those who are discovered through the people you follow. Every time to add someone to a circle is little more effort than just adding as a friend (on Facebook) or just following the user (on Twitter).

Circle looks like Twitter lists – People get added on them once, later everyone forgets which user is put in what circle. And while the News feed (or stream) stays common for all – the Circles might as well be forgotten just like Twitter Lists.

The next point makes it more clear – why it is not the best attempt at Social Networking.

 

9. Real Capabilities of Social Graphs (or Networks) are absent –

Get this right – Friends (or Connections!) are the minimum one expects out of a Social Network. What stands out are the capabilities to engage those connections. Remember Orkut? – it had all connections; but Facebook just made the engagement so much better.

  • Ability to discover Friends or Connections in context –
    Google+ has done a simple job or fetching contact list from GMail and enabled it with the painful process (yes!) of adding to circles. But by enabling discovery of friends or connections who are active on Google+ – the suggestion engine for friends could have been so much better.
    .
    Example –
    1. I end of following lot of product enthusiasts & early adopters. There are mutual connections that could be added to my circles – which currently not recommended.
    2. My Gmail contacts list have endless email addresses of people I really don’t want to follow in circles or on any social network. So a smart recommendation based on whom I chat with, mutual friends, top contacts on Android and others need to be made discoverable.
    .
  • Stream or Newsfeed –
    The most important discovery tool on any Social Platform is Newsfeed. In its current stage – the Stream on Google+ is very Twitterish – a timeline of all people you follow.

    Facebook raised the standard with algorithms that help you discover feeds that is most relevant to every user, ranking every story contextually around a user. Newsfeed makes or breaks any Social Product and single most important activity & engagement enabler for any Social Product or Social Graph.
    .
  • Communication or Chat –
    The most cut-copy-paste feature of Google+ is chat – where user can chat with contacts he otherwise can also on Gmail or Gtalk. Quite honestly, this is the most ridiculous feature, with no context to people any user has put in his circles.
    .
    In context of chat (or video chat) – expecting users to do Hangouts with webcam is a big No. Hangouts are not conversation starters, but should be featured alongside as planned video conversations.
    .
  • Ability to drive Traffic –
    Remember Google Buzz? There was nothing wrong in the idea – attempting a Digg or Facebook Share or Tweet Share. Once a user Buzz’ed an article – it was critical to reach his Social Graph and drive viral traffic to that article. This story failed cause of poor dissemination of activity in user Social Graph. Google should learn lessons from Google Buzz chapter.
    .
    Social Networks like Facebook & Twitter are popular with publishers or businesses due to their ability to drive traffic to their own websites. While few publishers have added the +1 button to their webpages – still drives only an insignificant proportion of traffic to them; and lot of unclarity on how the dynamics of +1 button works for publishers and its benefits to them eventually.+1, Like, Share, Tweet this – are big distribution mechanisms for a Social Network. Should be given its required TLC.

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As mentioned earlier – the product use-case should be driven by features; and not the other way round. Google can always come back and say – we are working on this. But hey, if a product is coming from a product & technology resource-heavy company like Google – even user expectations also very high.

Even these are early days for Google+, web is dynamic and consumer interests change quickly and Google can still do lots of changes quickly and innovate, possibly even work on the above arguments if they agree with it.

This post is written over last several days with some last minute additions on stats before hitting the publish button. Meanwhile Facebook has launched a series of new features, which looks like they are (over)reacting to Google+. Facebook, you are miles ahead, don’t make mistakes, please.

 

Building Awesome Social Products

Number of Social Products are launched these days; everyday we come across a new one. While I am also busy building my own Social Product – sharing few of our learnings with other Entrepreneurs & Product Managers working on Social Products.

Social Graphs are all around us today – some like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter have extremely high adoption rate and have provisioned development frameworks for existing and new products to leverage social graphs behind them. Each of these social graphs are distinctive by type of connections and mindset its users have developed towards them.

Google+ has been left outside of this discussion – cause in my personal opinion it is yet to find itself a distinct social graph. In current position – Google+ overlaps with lot of existing and established Social Graphs. More notes on Google+ can be reserved for a different blog post.

 

Existing Social Graphs (everyone knows this):

  • Facebook – Social Networking for friends, (close) colleagues and family. These are users with whom you have interacted in real life.
  • Twitter – Loose social connections, people you know or are acquaintances with. Typically people who are celebrities, known professionals, subject or domain expertise are followed by others.
  • LinkedIn – Professional and Business contacts.
  • Email Contacts – Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc – all people or contacts whom you have/had private conversations over emails.

There are other Social Graphs like – YouTube, WordPress, Flickr.., those who are limited by its mindset or domain; also limited ways to leverage those social graphs.

 

Every Social Platform has Social Mindsets & Product Norms:

Social Platforms – no matter how big in user base, its users over a period of time have developed strong mindsets, product usage norms and social norms. They are usually not said or stated, but followed subconsciously by its users.

  • Facebook –
    Product Norm: Users can share status, comments, updates, photos, videos with “known friends”
    Social Mindset: Informal, between friends, perceived closed group communication.
    Social Norm: Example – Do not keep on updating status at same pace at which they tweet.
    .
  • Twitter –
    Product Norm: Follow like minded people, domain experts, known professionals, celebs, etc
    Social Mindset: Open conversations & thoughts expected by followers.
    Social Norm: Example – Retweet what you agree on, etc
    .
  • LinkedIn –
    Product Norm: Strictly Professional & Business oriented. Make connection with people you have worked with or intend to.
    Social Mindset: Share professional or company updates; Industry news & views
    Social Norm: Example – Do not post jokes or Facebook-like status updates.

 

Social Mindsets and Product Norms are difficult to break:

Users follow social mindsets and product norms subconsciously, they learn to follow it over months or years of product usage. Over a period of time, they become so strong that such platforms itself are not able to foster adoption for new products & features they introduce. Some examples are –

  • Facebook attempted to take on Foursquare with Facebook Places – but did not make much headway. Interestingly – there might be an 100% overlap of Foursquare users with Facebook.
  • Twitter struggled with getting usability for Lists feature. Users have added people to lists – but not following them for tweets. Twitter acquiring TweetDeck might be another sign of product usage norm.
  • LinkedIn struggled with its product LinkedIn Answers – while Quora scaled.
  • Google launched Google+ through GMail, but now struggles to keep continued engagement and adoption of Google+.

Because the Social Mindsets and Product Norms are difficult to break, products that leverage Social Graphs outside them become successful. (Facebook abandoned deals, but maybe it should acquire Foursquare as it is more valuable than Groupon, & LinkedIn should acquire Quora)

 

Some Perfect Examples of Social Products:

  1. Zynga – Leveraged social graph of Facebook and introduced Social Games like CityVille, FarmVille and others as a Social Application.
  2. Foursquare – Leveraged social graphs of Facebook & Twitter to introduce a location based check-in product on Mobile.
  3. Quora – Leverage social graphs of Facebook & Twitter to introduce a Questions product as a destination website.

 

The 6 Basic Principles of Building Social Products:

  1. Social Graphs are already Established.
    Do not reinvent the wheel and try to build social graphs again from scratch on your product.
    .  
  2. Social Graphs get built over a period of time.
    a. Over years – Users have made friends on Facebook, added professional contacts on LinkedIn or followed people on Twitter
    b. It will take loads of time, effort and patience if you try to build them again.
    Google+ is attempting this – we can wait and watch if it succeeds.
    .  
  3. Don’t build Social Products for sharing content & driving additional traffic.
    a. Most social products are built with this intention – sharing content and hence driving more traffic
    b. Existing social graphs are powerful and already allow sharing of content to drive viral traffic.
  4. Build Social Products that add value to users.
    There are many tasks and products that can be built outside existing Social Platforms which can add value to end users. While existing social graphs are established, users have a Usage Mindset about them, this is biggest incentive to build innovative social products.
  5. Don’t arbitrage value through your product.
    There is immense value in integrating directly with social platforms like Facebook & Twitter, do not try to arbitrage this value through your product. Users (if it is a B2C product) or Merchants / Publishers (if it is a B2B product) will at some point of time realize this and abandon your product to integrate/use directly.
    .
  6. Don’t build – but leverage Social Graphs!
    Rome was not built in one day! And so are Social Graphs. Choose the one that fits most with your product use case and leverage it.

 

Building your Perfect Social Product:

Foursquare, Quora, Zynga did it, so can your product. Introducing established social graphs to new products. Key is understanding what you manage and what you don’t – Social Graphs are not owned by you, your product is – seamless integration with your product makes it scale up virally.

It helps you in –

  • Viral User Acquisition
  • Introducing your product to user’s existing social graphs
  • User activity on your product generates updates for Social Graphs, which acts like contextual marketing.

Identify what are the validation use-cases for your product, allow consumers to share the same with his Social Graphs. Few examples are – Foursquare checkins, Questioning & Answers on Quora, reaching a level completion milestone on Zynga while playing its games and others.
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Solving the Chicken and Egg problem:

Social Products have more than one first users. Every initial user who registers to your product has his own social graph, he is the first user of his social graph.

The Chicken & Egg problem here is – what do you show to such first users who do not have any friends or activities to look at. Ask hard questions and look around for examples of successful social products.

First User Questions (FUQs) –

  • Facebook’s first user question – “Whom do I add as a Friend? Who will see my wall-post?”
  • Twitter’s first user question – “Who will read my tweet? Whom should I follow?”
  • Quora’s first user question – “Who will answer my question? How can I quickly get a answer for my question?”
  • Foursquare’s first user question – “Where should I check-in? Why should I check-in?
  • Zynga’s first user question – “Whom should I play CityVille with? How will my City grow?”

Try to figure out how these platform solved the first user question. There are multiple ways to do it, but idea is doing this right. The biggest challenge for any social product is solving the First User Questions – the approach and execution here makes or breaks your Social Product.

 

Validation Cycle of Social Products:

Defining Validation Cycle for your Social Product and reducing the time to validate it is the key goal for Product Managers. Validation cycles are reduced when you are at scale – thats a easy task cause at scale most of the things you do is just optimize based on data/feedbacks.

Take example of Quora – product validation cycle means getting answers from people with best knowledge about it. Since Quora has scale & adoption today – you will see few questions getting answered within minutes or hours of submission, while few take days to see first answer. But in its initial days – the validation cycle was not so short.

More crucial moments are in the first 10,000 users scenario. Have patience, learn from initial user feedback and pain-points; validation will be slow and takes time in initial days of adoption. Also to due slow adoption cycle in early days – the early adopters of any social product, don’t necessary get the best experience.

Example – My twitter profile (twitter.com/beingpractical) was created in Sept 2007; I had the First User Question syndrome. Same was the case with my profile on Facebook, LinkedIn or Orkut (Orkut showed me – “Bad, bad server. No donuts for you” 1000s of time).

 

Should it be an Application on Facebook or Destination site:

“Why is this not a application on Facebook?” is also a question you will hear from Investors. While there are different answers for this question when it comes from Investors, but for a product decision make your judgment based on –

  1. Your product idea or concept or product use case should deliver real value. The value should not equate to addition of features on Facebook.
  2. There are Social Graphs outside of Facebook that you want to explore.
  3. Facebook would want people to interact with people; not with applications.
  4. Product or Business use case qualifies to be a destination site outside of Facebook – like a Quora or Foursquare.

Remember again – Social Mindsets & Product Norms on Facebook are difficult to break. If your product requires to explore Social Graph and is outside the Social Norms of Facebook – it can be a destination!

 

The Key Questions to answer before getting started:

Have good answers to all of these questions before starting with build your Social Product –

  • The task your product is planning to solve – do people do it in real world socially?
    Social Products are reflections of user behavior in real world – People play games together, People want to hear answers from persons with best knowledge about it, and so on. If people don’t do such tasks in real world – they will not do it on a Social Product as well.
    .  
  • Is it a feature on Facebook or Twitter or any Social Platform?
    Feature products don’t last. Identify if your product can be a feature on Facebook or Twitter.
    .  
  • If B2C product – Is there a value to do this task outside of Facebook?
    Check and check again – Is your product idea meant to be a application or destination.
    .  
  • If B2B product – Is sharing and driving traffic to merchants / publishers the key aim?
    There is no harm if it is one of the propositions, but this should not be the key aim of your B2B product. Many social commerce products on top of Facebook project sharing & driving traffic as their core benefit. Marketers are smart, at some point of time they will self-integrate this on their Facebook pages.
    .

Always keep these things in Mind –

  1. People drive Social Platforms & Products. Not features!
    Features are how you want users to drive your product. But it is always people who drive it – make your features people-centric; not people feature-centric.
    .
  2. Engagement should be People to People
    People don’t login to Facebook everyday cause it is Facebook, it is cause there friends are there. Same will hold true for your Social Product.
  3. Don’t arbitrage on User Value
    Consumers & Businesses will eventually figure this out. So don’t do this in first place.
    .
  4. Don’t be Evil
    People love their Friends & Social Circle / Connections more than they love your product.
    Don’t mess with them. Don’t spam. Don’t be evil.

Happy Building your Social Product. Don’t forget to send me invites on pj(at)beingpractical.com.

 

The Biggest Innovations never solved any problem!

Being an entrepreneur is exciting. And one question you hear often is – “What is the consumer problem that you are trying to solve?

We try to reserve our weekend lunches for some awesome conversations over products, companies and where the world is heading in connected world. Last Saturday, Anupam Mittal (Founder & CEO of People Group, Entrepreneur behind Shaadi.com), my co-founder and myself discussed this over lunch – “Did Google or Facebook  solved any consumer problem?

Our interaction inspired me to write this post –

Solving a problem and creating a market are two different ways to look at any company or any product idea. Products or Companies that solve a problem are the Million dollar companies, while products or individuals who look at the industry from a radically different approach – are the most disruptive, innovative and create Billion dollar opportunities as they grow.

My conclusions were –
– The biggest innovations never solved any consumer problem
– The founders or entrepreneurs had a different approach to the industry
– In almost all cases, the entrepreneurs did not belong to the industry, had little or no experience in that industry.

Further thoughts are embedded in this SlideShare presentation –

Have a different approach. Think different!

Social Commerce is Simple

Social Commerce is Simple. Here is how you solve it in 24 hours!

The Context of this post: Have been hearing & participating in some awesome conversations lately about Social Commerce. Someone explained me this – Transactional eCommerce is Big. Social media is where all users are today, it is already very Big.

So, Social + eCommerce = Social Commerce = Very very big!

Hence there is lot of interest today in products and platforms that are trying to bridge the gap. Analysts are predicting that its the next big thing and stating it is reaching its inflection point.

Completely agree with all that. But Social Commerce is simple, here is how you solve it.

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Oooops, btw did I tell you that more than $50 Million has been invested till date to solve this Social Commerce problem that merchants can do it themselves in less than 24 hours!

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The following text is not included in above presentation.

Some key insights for players in Social Commerce:

Existing ecosystem of eCommerce and Social Media is sufficient for building a Social Commerce without intermediation of players who do not add any value.

It will be difficult for a:

  • Existing social player to exploit potential of social commerce by introducing a new ecommerce service
    (Facebook or Twitter trying to build a Amazon)
  • Existing ecommerce player to exploit potential of social commerce by introducing a new social service.
    (Amazon trying to build a Facebook or Twitter)

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Most current players who are trying to build solutions are concentrating on building their own ecosystem of users & products – which is not impossible but extremely challenging. Reason being – such players do not own the products or the users (users that have more tight social connections as on Facebook & Twitter)

Unless a third situation happens – someone builds a valuable middle layer that provides affinity to both – social & commerce. As an platform in this case you need to provide enough value to users (either users from Social Media or users from eCommerce).

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One such promising player is FourSquare. They add a new value of – “checking in” to its users that are socially connected. Their current efforts are concentrated on getting these Social Connections to checkin to venues – which is demonstrated by its 6Mn+ users.

For purpose of this presentation I have kept other Social Models out –

  • Foursquare: Because its reach is still 1% compared to Facebook’s 600 Million users.
  • Groupon: It is a commerce player, but not social player. Groupon is not user engagement – view Fred Wilson’s comments here: http://t.co/p78buu0

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Drop me a mail, Available for Coffee and endless Product Management Conversations on weekends :-)

Marketers Wishlist for Facebook Pages

Lazy Sunday – Started checking on how the multiple Facebook Pages I have created have performed over time – was surprised at the level of analytics provided by Facebook to page administrators – it is just about OK!

This is not surprising. Facebook was always centric towards more user engagement with his/her contacts – more features and capabilities for users to interact, share and discover content. While in between this – Facebook created Pages (earlier Fan pages) about 2 years ago. Marketers were quick to understand and grab on to creating Pages, and promoting user to be a Fan (or ‘like’ the Page) – now to an extend that value of a brand is getting judged by the amount of users who like the Fan page.

(Still stuck with old terminology – For further notes, Facebook Pages will be referred as Facebook Fan Pages and its users as Fans)

Facebook today is rumored to be touching revenues of 2 Billion USD, to my judgement a significant portion of that revenue is contributed by brands & marketers promoting its Fan pages to users. That means – huge revenues are generated for Facebook without moving traffic out of Facebook (smart move..huh!).

Facebook did two version of Insights for Fan Pages – the newer version with simplified graphs of old information with few minor updates. However, when it comes to level of engagement that a Fan Page can offer and level of Analytics that can be made available about the Fan Pages and interactions happening on them, Facebook still has a long way to go. The pace of innovation and development on Facebook Pages is far less compared to attention (and revenues) received by it from digital marketers.

Based on my experience with managing Facebook Pages, here is a marketer’s wishlist for Facebook – Features, Interactivity and Analytics that should be introduced.