Facebook’s ‘open’ move into the data mining space

It’s been interesting to read many people describe the recent Facebook announcements (including today’s) as “Facebook opening up”. While it is true, they are – and should be congratulated for it – there are greater reasons for them doing so than just for ‘pure alteruism’ as some people have suggested.

It seems pretty clear to me that Facebook’s business model is shifting towards one of data mining and analytics – where they are able to leverage the collective thinking of everyone contributing their ‘stuff’ into the Facebook bucket.

Let’s take a quick look at the theme of Facebook’s recent announcements:

  • early Feb: Terms of Service changed to give FB perpetual right to keep all data you give them (later repealed due to public outcry)
  • Feb 19: Commenting on public pages with FB Connect
  • Mar 4: New Publisher (twitter like) and Highlighter (ranking content) functionality,

Let’s take a quick look at what those announcements gave us:

First off was the ToS changes – which for me was a clear indicator Facebook wanted to do more with the data it holds then just display it to your friends and use it to make recommendations on other content you might be interested in. If Facebook is going to move into a data play then it needs to make sure it can retain all of that data despite what the user might want to do with their view of it. It becomes tricky to have to remove arbitrary data from the cube because a user requests it, plus it devalues your model – and why would you want your model devalued?

OK, so they backed off with those sweeping changes, but only because of the fallout it created for the company. At that point, they had still partially shown their hand.

In addition to the data Facebook keeps inside it’s database there is also the metadata that Facebook can gather about what’s going on outside it’s domain – and that’s where functionality like commenting on external pages, released at the Facebook garage come into play. Putting Javascript calls on foreign pages also allows Facebook to match up visitors with a Facebook cookie and track their usage of that site even if they never interact with any Facebook powered functionality.

Today’s announcement of the Publisher functionality built on top of rudimentary twitter-like functionality with status requests that we’d begun to see with the Facebook comment boxes used during the Presidential Inauguration and more recently the live streaming of Demo 09. Highlighter also further aids the recommendation and collaborative filtering of content by peers in order to work out what is currently most interesting and most engaged with. Facebook call the subset that you can see of your friend’s output as your “social lens”. This is true, but at the macro level of the system, Facebook ends up with a complete lens of what everyone is filtering and sorting and ranking.

So where is this all going?

Facebook is moving into a new gear, encouraging constant flow of status updates and conscious thought (publisher, status messages), creating deeper indicators of intent and interest (highlighter, like functionality, etc) and behavioral indicators (integration with location based services such as brightkite, events, etc).

What this gives Facebook is the ability to gauge what is hot, popular and current in real time. It also gives Facebook historical data to track changing interest and attention over time. There are many uses for this data – including in the financial and trading sector, brand management, competitor analysis, real time consumer attention tracking.

Twitter is also doing this, but they have one dimension of data (text). Facebook has many dimensions of data that can go into their cube, and their sample size is much higher given their 175 million users vs Twitter’s 4-6 million.

I spent a lot of time working with MySpace last year, and one of the things that impressed me the most was their ability to monetize their pages with advertisements – ones that used a combination of technology (for user targeting) and business development (for high-yielding ‘take over pages’, sponsorships, promo tie ins, etc). They’re probably the best in the business at it.

However advertising on it’s own is a Web2.0 business model, and while I don’t want to go so far as to say data mining is going to be the Web3.0 business model, I do think we’re going to see a greater use of it moving forward – with industries who can benefit from it becoming a lot more receptive and engaged with the process in the same way that the digital agencies became popular as advertising wanted to move into the online space.

Risks for the ecosystem

The benefit of being ‘open’ and part of the ecosystem is that everyone gets to play and share and new 3rd party innovation and business can be created with it. While this is true, those 3d party participants in that ecosystem need to be careful not to loose sight of their own ability for commercial success. All of these announcements have included new ways to leverage the Facebook APIs to help users shovel more stuff into the Facebook Bucket. Those ‘spades’ must be clear how they will make money given that they will not have access to the data or ability to monetize it like Facebook will.

I’m not trying to be bearish on the Facebook API or platform – far from it. I merely wish to offer a sense of perspective and to urge developers to consider carefully the business models of everyone within the stack they are participating in. There is opportunity and success in here for everyone, but we must all be cognizant of where it lies and to what extent each level in the stack is able to capitalize upon it.

Follow the Pirate Bay Trial with commentry from @Sofia

The Pirate Bay trial has just started over in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s arguably one of the most important copyright and media consumption related court cases of recent times, but sadly (yet unsurprisingly) it is being held in Swedish.

Never the less, @Sofia is live tweeting in English the sentient points from the live Swedish audio stream of the trial. Check out http://twitter.com/sofia or her blog post.

You can also get the Pirate Bay’s defense perspective by reading the details of their yesterday press conference.

Twhirl 0.9 available for download

Twhirl Logo

Just a quick note to say that Twhirl 0.9 was released this afternoon. Yes, sorry for the self-promotional plug (I’m an advisor to the product and am involved with it’s product development) but we’re really excited about the features in this release – persistent search, spell check, @reply notification if your name is mentioned anywhere in a tweet (not just the start). I’ll leave it to Loic’s blog post to explain the features in depth.

Also, look out for version 1.0 that will be released shortly – we have some amazing super-secret features coming up and we’re not hiding that we will also support the biggest request of the product – a groups feature. That’s on top of the uber secret cool features we’re building.

Twhirl is of course totally free and available for download at http://www.twhirl.org.

$280 Dell Mini 9 running OSX is blueprint for the future

Anyone who follows me on Seesmic will know that I have been experimenting with a Dell Mini 9 Netbook running OS X. And I have to say it has been simply AMAZING.

I ended up choosing the Dell Mini 9 as it appears to be the only Netbook whose chipset doesn’t have any major incompatibilities with OS X’s driver set. (MSI Wind is a close second, but the internal mic doesn’t work – which is a deal breaker for Seesmic and Skype).

And now Engaget and ZDNet have noticed that Dell have slashed the prices on these babies. You can also pick up great deals over on Dell’s Outlet site. I managed to pick up a pristine 32Gig SSD/1Gig/Web Cam/Bluetooth refurb machine for $260 after 20% rebate with free shipping (such deals come and go, keep an eye on SlickDeals.net).

BTW: it’s wroth noting that the baseline model being touted is a Dell Mini 9n which is a slightly different model to the non-N and I don’t know whether it is equally as OS X compatible.

Why is this a future product line for Apple?

Because the iPhone doesn’t suit everyone as the truly portable Apple experience. Like many, I can’t stand typing anything longer than a twitter or SMS on the iPhone on-screen keyboard. It also still doesn’t give me multitasking of multiple applications nor true ‘full internet’ browser experience.

Laptop owners are buying Netbooks as second machines for times when they don’t want to carry their full-size and highly expensive main units. Desktop owners are buying them as their toe-dip into the laptop water – perhaps not really needing one but wanting to experiment given such a low entry point.

In many ways, a Mac Netbook is what the Mac Book Air should have been – especially as for many it serves as a secondary Apple laptop to a primary MacBook Pro 15 or 17 machine.

The fact that it can fit in a manila envelope is technically amazing but but doesn’t make it more practical to lug around than a Mac Book or Mac Book Pro. You certainly can’t fit it into a purse or regular non-laptop bag. That’s because it’s uber-small on the wrong dimension – thickness. What was the last time you complained your laptop was too thick.

Netbooks are often as much as an inch thick – but crucially only 10″ x 7″ or so, making them carriable in practically anything – even just your hand. They often also have as many as 3 USB ports on them, plus VGA and network ports (compare to the Air’s cripplingly situated single USB and no standardized NIC or VGA/DVI ports).

Apple MacBook AIR compared to MacBook Pro

The Mac Book Air design is also inherently expensive, and arguably it’s biggest flaw. It should have been a cheap affair – like the White Mac Book – rather than the pioneer for Apple’s expensive aluminum unibody design.

Steve Jobs has described the netbook vertical as ‘a race to the bottom’ – but by that he’s been referring to the price point. But with all of the mainstream netbooks based around the same Win XP/Intel Atom CPU platform with a 9″ or 10″ screen, the only differentiator any of them can offer is price.

However, an Apple Netbook would have a guaranteed notable differentiator in it’s operating system. Factor in the fact that it’s also likely Apple would make an aesthetically amazing unit and you already see a compelling alternative proposition, even at a higher price point.

Apple have never competed on price and they would be foolish to do so in the Netbook market. But if Dell can sell me a unit for $260 then there is no reason why Apple can’t manufacture such a unit with the kind of profit margins they enjoy on their other lines. The Dell Mini 9 utilizes a commodity Intel stack that runs OS X with little problem and clearly the same chip-set could be purchased by Apple for the same price Dell does.

Factor in that an Apple OS X Netbook would probably be a $600-$750 affair running on the same internals as my $260 Dell and you can see where Apple’s healthy profit margin is.

And despite that margin I know that I would gladly pay $750 for such a unit.

MacBook Air/MacBook Pro photo by Maury McCown

UPDATE: Gizmodo has a great guide on how to install OS X on to a Mini 9. I’m guessing its now going to be hard to get the larger capacity drive units on the Dell Outlet site as everyone will be wanting one!

More analysis, like the piece on the Bebo sale, please TechCrunch!

An on-going beef Michael Arrington has with me is that I am often “hostile” towards TechCrunch. (his words)

For my part, I feel I am not so much ‘hostile’ towards TechCrunch but more ‘holding to account’ of it’s activities. With my media background I find myself doing that with all media outlets that I consume from blogs through to mainstream media.

However, where deserved criticism is highlighted so should deserved praise – and I’d like to take a moment to highlight the excellent piece of reportage posted today on the site by Mike Butcher: A Year Later, AOL Is Contemplating A Bebo Sale. Mike Butcher also serves as editor of TechCrunch UK, of course.

Clearly there is a lot going on behind the scenes at AOL around it’s somewhat ill-judged acquisition of Bebo – emphasis being behind the scenes. However through some great working of his contact network not only has Mike Butcher been able corroborate the rumor that Bebo might be for sale but also pulled together some fantastic analysis of what went on before the sale that led AOL to agree the purchase.

I don’t bash TechCrunch to be jerk, I bash TechCrunch because most of the stories these days seem to have become toothless startup reviews or the puffing of ‘announcements’ (which read between the lines as simply lines fed to Arrington during last night’s drinks with a VC/similar who has a product to push or a gripe to air).

Good quality analysis or reaction to said information has been sorely lacking on TechCrunch since Marshal Kirkpatrick left.

What I like here is that Mike Butcher has taken the time to provide analysis on top of the fact-checked lead. It’s great stuff, and I would love to see TechCrunch publishing more of these longer form pieces.

Some of us don’t have ADD and can actually read through 10 minutes worth of text with the aim of finding out what’s really going on behind an announcement.

UPDATE: Hours after writing this piece, news emerged that Michael was assaulted yesterday at the DLD conference. He also revealed that during 2008, threats to kill were made towards both himself and his family. I want to stress that while I allude to some of my differences with Michael, they are of course only professional. I want to make it clear I am as shocked and disappointed as everyone else with today’s news, wouldn’t wish this kind of despicable behavior on anyone.

Join ‘Team Seesmic-Twhirl’ beta tester group and get exclusive preview access

Twhirl logo

Last week we launched a totally new version of the Seesmic website – with a much improved interface on the front end that builds upon 2008’s rewrite of the back-end. The new has version got some great reviews and I know the whole team is very pleased with the positive feedback it’s received. Do check it out if you haven’t tried Seesmic recently.

This week our concentration has moved to Twhirl, our Twitter (+ Seesmic, FriendFeed and Identi.Ca) client we produce. Once again there’s lots of buzz around some exciting new features in the forthcoming version, including:

  • The gathering under the “replies tab” of all tweets that include @yourusername, not just when it’s added at the start of a tweet
  • Ping.fm integration that posts your status messages from Twhirl to Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, WordPress and a other sites
  • One-click recording of new and reply Seesmic videos straight from Twhirl
  • Saved search, to keep across the discussion of your favorite terms across the twittersphere
  • More url shortening providers, including bit.ly and more

I’ve been using the beta version of Twhirl for a few days now and I have to say it’s excellent. We’ll be releasing the new version of Twhirl soon, but in the meantime you can get immediate access to the preview version by joining our brand new beta test group called “Team Seesmic-Twhirl”.

You can find out more, including where to sign up, on Loic’s blog.

Flickr/Getty stock deal breaks Creative Commons licenses

I think it’s a very interesting and exciting move for Flickr to partner up with Getty Images to provide a stock photography avenue for it’s members.

However, according to the Getty Images FAQ participation in the Getty Images stock program requires you to move your Creative Commons licensed images back under full copyright.

That’s odd, because not only does it go against the notion that Creative Commons Non-Commercial Use still reserves the work owner full rights for commercial use, but you can’t actually revoke a work away from it’s Creative Commons license once it has been made public.

Let’s look at this in some more depth. First off, the ‘fine print’ from the FAQ:

Can I sell my Creative Commons-licensed content?

There is a chance one of your Creative Commons-licensed photos may catch the eye of a perceptive Getty Images editor. You are welcome to upload these photos into the Flickr collection on Getty Images, but you are contractually obliged to reserve all rights to sale for your work sold via Getty Images. If you proceed with your submission, switching your license to All Rights Reserved (on Flickr) will happen automatically.

If you’re not cool with that, that’s totally cool. It just means that particular photo will need to stay out of the Flickr collection on Getty Images.

(emphasis mine)

Implying Creative Commons is bad for business

What I don’t understand is that, assuming you are offering your photos under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Use license (aka ‘CC-NC’, which is the most popular and usual CC license option), there is nothing that I can see that is incompatible with Getty Images selling your work commercially while it also remains under a CC-NC license. After all, CC-NC means that you still reserve full rights for the use of the work in a commercial setting. In fact, I know this very use-case is built into CC-NC.

I would have thought that 100% of Getty’s customers would fall outside of the non-commercial use and as such there is no loss or detriment Getty (or the photographer) if they keep their work under CC-NC while Getty sells their work under separate commercial license.

Creative Commons is perpetual

…ie you can’t reroke it. Flickr offers it’s members to license their photos under Creative Commons 2.0 license, which says:

7. Termination

2. Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted here is perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright in the Work). Notwithstanding the above, Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of this License), and this License will continue in full force and effect unless terminated as stated above.

(emphasis mine)

Which means that you can license the work under another license(s), but you can’t revoke the CC license for the length of time the work remains under copyright (usually 50 years, but varies based on jurisdiction and type of work) unless you totally remove the work from the public domain – ie stop distributing it.

So technically, Getty can’t have you bring your photograph back under full rights reserved copyright if you have been distributing under CC before.

Why this matters

This issue concerns me because I put almost* all of my photographs under Creative Commons Non Commercial Use license (I tend not to release identifiable photos of other people under CC for privacy reasons). Part of the reason for doing that is because I’m a big proponent of the notion that CC’ing work is commercially positive because it increases the distribution of your work. That means more people see your work; which leads to a greater chance of someone wanting to buy the work/license of the work for commercial use or commissioning you to do some photography commercially for them.

And Flickr has been a big proponent of that too.

Getty pushing Flickr (and/or parent Yahoo!) into an agreement that binds it’s members to move their photos back into full copyright in order for them to participate with this program is a slur towards that mantra.

I don’t believe Getty actually needs to worry about CC eating into it’s business but clearly Flickr were unable or unwilling to persuade them otherwise. I find that bit perhaps most disappointing of all; I thought Flickr were defenders of Creative Commons – clearly not.

I very much hope the otherwise great people at Flickr come back to the community with an official response to this issue. In the meantime, I hope photographers who, like me, believe in Creative Commons, will make their feelings known to Getty and Flickr by choosing not to participate in this program until these issues are addressed.

Update: I’ve asked Flickr for comment on this issue on the Getty Images Flickr Group (sadly there is no comment option on the Flickr Blog)

Great example of why rights management DRM sucks

I live in the USA, and I can’t access the BBC’s stream of John McCain’s acceptance speech… because “the media is unavailable in my territory”.

BBC NEWS | News Front Page
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Sure, this is nothing new to those of us familiar with online media. But equally, one has to ask why the BBC doesn’t secure worldwide distribution for ‘general news’, esp like in this case where it’s probably recording the broadcast live from the convention… it’s BBC copyright end-to-end.

And of course, it’s just plain stupid that I can’t watch John McCain’s speech here in the US from a website that is even served from the US (BBC serves international users mainly from servers in New York). Crazy.

Apture trial on BBC News Website a great success

Apture on BBC News Website

The BBC News Website has been trialing Apture for a few a weeks now – it’s been great to see one of my new projects find its way onto on of my old but significant projects.

The Beeb’s has been trialing Apture to provide background context for concepts and themes mentioned in it’s stories. If you want to see a great example of this, check out “Driving primates to the edge“. Tristan Harris, Apture’s co-founder and CEO, writes more about the trial on the company’s blog and the BBC also have a post about the trial on their Editor’s Blog too.

BTW, if you’re not seeing the Apture links on that primate story it may be because you need to switch to the UK version of the BBC News site (the BBC is only trialing Apture on the UK view of it’s site) . Click “UK version” in the BBC page’s left sidebar. If you return to the BBC story page, you should see a box called “BBC trial – in page links”. Click the “Turn on in-page links” button, and Apture’s iconic links should appear on the page.

Emerging results of the trial

Whilst I can’t reveal the exact numbers, the response to the trial has been fantastic – with the vast majority of feedback being overwhelmingly positive.

People like the ease of use and the way they can find out more about a given topic without the need to leave the story they are reading – and that’s exactly the use case Apture was designed to provide. Of course, if you do wish to view the content on it’s original page there is always the opportunity to click through from the Apture window.

However, as to be expected with any trial there has also been a number of people who have raised some concerns, mainly around the fact that the BBC isn’t directly linking to the sources and also the way in which JavaScript is used to create the hyperlinks.

I thought it might be useful to provide my own perspective on these two points – given my unique position of having worked on both projects. Of course, these are my views and not those of Apture nor the BBC.

#1: Not linking directly to other site

Jack Pickard’s comment about the BBC not linking directly to the sources is an interesting one, especially in the light of the BBC Trust’s mandate to the BBC that it must link to external sources more often.

For me, this comes down to appropriate use of the tools available to you. The purpose to Apture is to bring bite size chunks of pertinent content immediately to you, with the specific goal of providing explanation about the theme or concept of whatever you are reading. This helps readability and increases the user’s ability to engage in the story – especially where they may be unfamiliar with the subject matter.

The primate example above is a good one. As you read about the Bonobo chimp Apture gives you the opportunity to find out exactly what it is without the need to break your flow and move off site. To me, that’s a benefit and a good use of Apture.

However, where the journalist has made reference to Conservation of Nature’s 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, you can see they have linked directly to the website of the study. It’s not a few lines of background content but a whole new direction to take in one’s reading and so merit’s its own link. To me this seems like an example of best practice and, frankly, a great example what people are complaining the BBC are not doing.

It’s worth considering whether the BBC would have linked to the as many ‘background’ sources (such as the Bonobo monkey) without the Apture functionality. I don’t believe they would, and therefore the net outcome is little loss in outbound linking from stories to sites.

#2: The use of javascript to power Apture

On the BBC’s Editor’s blog, “pigsonthewing” complained:

I don’t see any in-line links – oh, wait, I have to allow javascript on your site.

I still don’t see any in-line links – oh, wait, I now have to turn on in-line links.

I still don’t see any in-line links. Oh wait, I now have to allow javascript *for an external site*

There have been a number of comments about this issue – but it has to be said mainly from ‘tech’ quarters rather than mainstream users.

I have to ask why ‘pigsonthewing’, and others, are surfing the internet without JavaScript turned on – and what kind of experience they are having on the 99.9% of sites that utilize JavaScript as part of their core functionality? (remember, most would consider Apture a secondary tier functionality – your use of the site degrades gracefully if you do not have JS switched on).

This is 2008. Back in the day there was a time when many of us geeks would turn JavaScript off due to concerns about security – however most would agree those days are gone and with browser security models what they are it is pretty safe to leave Javascript enabled – yes even for *external sites*! Gosh!

And perhaps more importantly, using the internet without JavaScript turned on is not something I think anyone would expect most ‘normal users’ to be doing.

Perhaps the only caveat to this is mobile phone browsers, however I would argue that from a usability perspective, rich functionality like Apture may not be appropriate on a small screen anyway – to this point when I created the BBC News PDA site, I stripped out the fact boxes and inline images for this reason.

This is not 2001 anymore, where we had to code for the fact that 20% of people had Javascript turned off or unavailable in their browser. According to the same source today 95% of people have JavaScript turned on. And that still includes all of the Javascript-less mobile and smartphone browsers that didn’t exist back in 2001 – the true %age for desktop browsers is going to be even higher.

It’s your right if you want to turn JavaScript off on your browser but I don’t think you can complain when sites no longer work for you. Your experience of the internet must be pretty broken and poor when every AJAX site breaks and you can not even expect basic site functionality to necessarily work.

The one other caveat for this is people who have a visual impairment, who sometimes use the Internet with JavaScript turned off. I speak from experience as I used to represent the BBC News website on the BBC Accessibility guidelines committee. However I understand that even today most screen readers and other assistive technologies have no problem with JavaScript enabled sites – and can easily interpret sites such as GMail for their user.

Conclusion and final thoughts

I take on board all of the points people have raised about Apture (as do the Apture team, I’m sure) – and there is definitely ways in which the service can and will be improved. But having worked for so many years on the BBC News Website, I’m delighted that the majority of people who gave feedback enjoyed the service and found it useful.

I believe the BBC will remove Apture at the end of the trial so that they can decide their next steps with the product. Of course I hope that the BBC will continue to work with Apture and roll out the service across the site.

In the meantime the product will of course continue to be iterated further, using as much of the feedback gained from the trial as possible (yes, even the points about JavaScript!).

If you would like to put Apture on your blog or site you can visit the Apture site for details of the free plugin. Apture is an angel-funded company and is currently seeking Series A investment.

(Disclosure: I am on the advisory board for Apture, and hold a small interest in the company. I worked for the BBC for six years, the majority of which was on the BBC News Website)

Please vote for my SxSW panels!

SxSW 2009 logo

I have two submissions to SxSW 2009 and would be delighted if you would consider voting for them please:

> Taking Platforms to the Next Level

Companies are finally realizing that in order to find market success they must build their products as platforms and empower their technical audience to embrace and extend their core proposition at the edges. But what comes next? Where is this all heading? What does a platform ubiquitous internet look like? Where does this all lead to?

This is a panel with my ‘professional hat’ on. I want to bring together some visionaries in the platform space and brainstorm a little on what the future of the platform is. We’ll concentrate on use cases, new ways platforms can work and opportunities for doing cool new thing. This won’t be a circle jerk about who will be the leading vendors, etc… at this point that doesn’t matter so much.

> Puppets, Theatre and the Conflation of ’Successful’ with ‘Popular’

Loren Feldman used a puppet to ruin a social media consultant’s career. Every day we witness ego driven squabbles and arguments play out on our twitter streams (often carefully orchestrated between the participants via the back channels). Even Micheal Arrington once went on record as saying he’s in the “entertainment business”. How did our industry deteriorate into a glorified law of the school yard? In an era of economic downturn, what damage is this having upon the rest of us who simply want to build great products, change the world and (perhaps) retire a little early?

Based on a popular blog post I wrote recently of the same title, this will be a candid reflection on the subject of the ego-fueled industry we currently work in and the implications it has for those of us trying to do great things within it.

Although this is listed as a solo discussion (ok, talk!) it is my goal to outline some thoughts and then turn the format into an interactive exchange with the audience for the rest of the session.

Apologies for the shameless plug on my blog, I realize that such requests soon become a little trite. However, this will be my first SxSW and I’m so stoked at the idea of presenting something!