Where Google+ Goes From Here

Google Plus

Google’s Plus release represents their first legitimate effort at a coherent social experience. Right out of the gate, they’ve got a few things incredibly right: amazing notifications unified throughout all Google products, good integration with Picasa and Android, Circles, Hangouts, data portability, and a feeling like this might be around for some time.

Now they need to focus on what’s necessary to make this a second nature, everyday product for people, like Facebook is now for most people.

Open Registrations/Invitations

If anyone can get scale right, it should be Google. Admittedly, scaling instantly in to the millions is a challenge for even the largest companies, and there’s surely a method to their madness here, but they need to be doing whatever they can to get this thing open to as many people as possible. They’re framing the current experience as a “Field Test”, but it’s difficult to test a social networking product if you can’t get your friends onto it. Early adopters are the type of user who will shift their more reluctant friends to a new system. They’re kneecapping their momentum with their limited invitations.

Figure Out Sparks

By far, the most confusing element of Plus is Sparks. It’s an interesting hodgepodge auto-aggregator of news and blog posts on individual topics (or “eccentric hobbies” as their video goes), but it’s presented in a bit of a sloppy way. Since it’s curated automatically, it’s not terribly great at it, which is a bit disappointing as well. Fortunately, Sparks is a nice-to-have within the Plus experience. Perhaps some integration with Reader would help make Sparks shine.

Make Huddles Amazing (Read: Copy Beluga)

I’ve got basically every single friend I speak with regularly on Beluga now. We use it to plan events, see what’s happening for the evening, and coordinate shared rides and the like. It’s a great tool. We also have fun with it. We share photos and links and such. And we can access it from our desktop if necessary. Huddles don’t currently let you access them from the Plus site itself, only from the mobile app. Since Plus isn’t available in the iPhone App Store yet, I can’t try to convert my friends to Huddles yet. And since Huddles don’t let us share photos or set Huddle photos, I don’t know if I’d want to yet. Location sharing is really useful too, and here Google has a definite leg up: it already shares location on posts… why not on huddle updates? Moreover, why not tie directly in to Latitude? Let me navigate right to a real-time-updating friend if I’m picking them up from someone, right from within our Huddle!

Import Profile Pics from… Somewhere!

Most of my connections/friends on Plus are faceless. Make adding a profile picture a required first step. It’s important to associate faces with names, but moreover, it’s WAY less usable to see a bunch of placeholder graphics throughout the product. Import from Gravatar, or, if you won’t violate TOS (heh), from Facebook directly. Either way, make it required, or constantly nag until it gets done.

Release a Stream Notifier or API

If you want us to engage, we need to know things are happening. Right now, it appears the only way to see new posts is to load up the Plus site or app and look at the Streams. Facebook and Twitter have apps or APIs that allow us to get pinged with updates as they happen. You’ll lose momentum and people will stop coming back to Plus if we can’t see what’s happening without having to call up the site manually every time.

Let Me Cross-Post Content Easily

Since Plus isn’t going to overtake Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In overnight, let me cross-post to those places with a click of a button. Better yet, blow everyone away and make it as easy as choosing a “Circle”. Add the Facebook “Circle” and the post auto-cross-posts there. Add the Twitter “Circle” and the shortened form is available for preview before it ends up there. By keeping up the walled garden, Google may be intentionally discouraging this sort of behavior, but this is what will trigger buy-in immediately and ease the transition. Social networks aren’t necessarily a zero-sum game, but two is likely very close to the limit for most.

What’s Next for Plus

Plus is off to a great start. Better than Buzz or Google Wave could ever hope for. It’s exciting, clean, original, and well-executed, with a lot of great features available right out of the gate, and some really innovative concepts. With a bit of polish and a bit more hand-holding, I think Google can convince people to begin using Plus as part of their daily interaction. But the elements needed to keep us checking in and coming back every day aren’t quite there yet. The notifications are a great start, but they only tell part of the story, keeping me informed only after I’ve already engaged. I need a reminder to check in on Plus and see that my friends are using it, and that’s sorely lacking right now.

Google also needs to integrate single-sign-on/Google Authentication with Plus, the way Facebook Connect can be used to allow people to log in or register on a site. It’s not necessary to have a complete app platform available right out of the gate, but Facebook is definitely on to something with Facebook Connect and it’s an important element for any social networking site to drive engagement.

Hopefully we’ll see swift continued development on Plus. It’s a great product out of the gate, but building the product isn’t the hard part in social networking: that’s left to getting users to buy in and keep coming back for more. Plus solves a lot of the qualms people have with Facebook on the privacy, data portability, account deletion, and sharing side of things, and that’s amazing. But it’s not an instant win, and they’ve got a long way to go. Making Huddles indispensible (and consider integrating them with group gTalk) would help, but I’m hoping they’ve got some other unique features up their sleeves to introduce into the Plus fold. I’m disappointed that the Slide-inside-Google-developed Pool Party and Prizes products weren’t built with Plus in mind. It might be time for the left hand to clue the right hand into what’s going on, and to get everyone on the same page.

Posted in: Cool Stuff

Facebook vs. Twitter Clickthroughs: More Bang For Your Buck

Facebook vs Twitter

While managing your social networking presence on Twitter and Facebook, it can be difficult to quantify the impact of each medium. While I’m a huge fan of Twitter, traffic results from earlier today on one of my sites confirmed for me what may sound like common sense: Facebook fans drive far more traffic per-user than Twitter followers for a given promotional message.

I’m currently running a contest in association with T-shirt company Threadless. (It’s called Threadknits, and it’s based on knitting and crocheting their t-shirt designs into crafts.) Today, Threadless posted a message on their Facebook page and  Twitter, both with essentially the same content: an invitation to check out Threadknits. They were both posted at nearly the same time.

The numbers are what might surprise you. Threadless has almost 1,500,000 followers on Twitter, and “only” 102,000 fans on Facebook. With the posts made within an hour of each other, my traffic on the site shot up, with a couple thousand visitors hitting by day’s end. Here’s the breakdown of traffic driven from each:

Medium: Fans: Visitors: % Audience Clickthroughs:
Facebook ~102,000 ~1,110 ~1.08%
Twitter ~1,490,000 ~682 ~0.04%

The difference is absolutely staggering. Whereas Facebook generated an approximate 1.08% clickthrough rate, Twitter’s was closer to, well, 0%. 232 visitors came from Twitter or related sites directly and 450 additional clicks landed on the home page without a referrer, which I’m chalking up to clicks from Twitter clients. (Though, to be fair, this could easily overstate Twitter’s influence.)

On a previous contest, Threadless would tweet and I’d see between 1,000-2,000 clicks on their roughly 1.4 million followers, so while it may be a bit low today, I think the point stands: Even at its best, Twitter for large audiences generates clickthrough rates dramatically lower than Facebook. For 2,000 clicks, the rate at 1.4M followers stood at 0.14%. A quick look at the bit.ly stats on a few links from Ashton Kutcher (the #1 Twitter personality by followers) shows they typically net about 20,000-30,000 clickthroughs, on 4.3M followers, gaining a decent amount on the Threadless best-case scenario all the way up to 0.48% ~ 0.60%. (This accounts somewhat for the viral nature of Twitter as bit.ly clicks are counted for retweets as well.) Naturally, clickthrough rates will vary dramatically even amongst popular Twitter personalities for a variety of reasons. I’d like to focus more on the significant difference between the Facebook and Twitter rates I witnessed today.

There are likely several possible reasons for this:

  • The audience may be slightly different—people willing to consider themselves “fans” on Facebook may be more picky with their allegiance than those willing to follow an account on Twitter.
  • The phrasing and formatting of the message were slightly different—not exactly apples-to-apples as Facebook includes the logo and a text clip from the website, but I imagine this had a negligible effect.
  • My mileage may vary—this is an admittedly small sample size, but I think the evidence and logic around these results indicate they’re not anomalous.
  • Most importantly, Facebook lingers while Twitter sails by. Users are probably more likely to follow links during their Facebook time than from a passing Twitter notification unless it’s of particular interest to them.

That last point is particularly important. Facebook, having reconfigured their News Feed yet again, no longer sorts things there chronologically. They’ve merged the Highlights functionality back into the News Feed which they now use to keep certain posts “stickier” than others based on what they believe you might be interested in. (It manages to do a strikingly horrible job at this compared to how it used to perform, but that’s a conversation for a different post.)

With Twitter, the very nature of real-time can be summed up: blink and you miss it. While you can use a Twitter client to review tweets over the past day or two, it’s still less likely your tweet was as visible over Twitter as a post would be on Facebook’s News Feed. I’d like to see some more statistics on total audience reach. The clickthrough rate surely only tells part of the story—I’d be far more interested to learn what percentage of each audience even saw the post, and determine true clickthrough rates from that.

In the end, it’s important to consider the overall spirit of the findings here. Twitter is great for growing virally and interacting with customers, but your message on Facebook may have a far more lasting impression and generate greater returns, even if fans are more of a fight to procure. Engage on both, but recognize the differences between them and leverage each of their strengths. I’ll likely post about the best way to do that for each site in the near future.

(The above graphic represents the total clickthrough breakdown by medium assuming a linear progression of Threadless’ Facebook audience to match their Twitter audience, maintaining the same clickthrough rates from today’s traffic. It’s likely the Facebook clickthrough rate could in fact fall some as their audience grew, but it’s my belief that it would still beat Twitter, user for user.)

Posted in: Articles, Cool Stuff

Twitter Advice for Companies: Engage Intelligently

sp_twitterAs more and more companies move to engage their customers over Twitter, I thought it might be useful to outline a few guidelines companies should use when tweeting.

Naturally your mileage will vary, but these are tips I’ve put together based on my experience with companies who are doing Twitter right, and some who haven’t quite got the hang yet:
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Posted in: How To

TweetNotebook: Custom Notebooks Filled With Your Tweets

TweetNotebook LogoTweetNotebook is a fun site by an interactive company from Belgium called Boondoggle. The premise is simple: enter your Twitter username and it generates a notebook filled with a random selection of your tweets in the footer of each page. For $12, you get a 320-page notebook with a different tweet on every page. The site lets you select your choice of cover (and print a specific message on the cover as well) before peppering each page with a random tweet from your Twitter history.

You can preview the book beforehand and regenerate the notebook as many times as you’d like, though for now, you can’t hand-pick tweets for the notebook. The notebook also appears to only have non-ruled pages much to my chagrin, but it sounds like TweetNotebook is planning on beefing up their offering in the near future if this takes off. For now, they have three different covers available, onto which your current avatar and cover tweet appears. Here’s mine:


Suffice to say, I’ve already bought mine. I think it’s a fun conversation piece, and I think that it’s a fun look into what was relevant to you a few days, weeks, or for some of us, even a year or two ago, in a blurb. It’s almost like thumbing through a diary in a sense, a simple snapshot at the bottom of each page that makes you pause and try to remember what context surrounded that tweet.

We’ve seen Threadless make T-shirts out of great tweets, and I think it’s no stretch to imagine other potential products that can be built out of a users’ Twitter feed. Consider a timeline, complete with tag cloud, friend diagrams, statistics, and more. Twitter lends itself to these sort of changes in medium because of their brevity and relevance—no one’s wearing a shirt with excerpts from their blog on it, but a poster that shows off my activity on Twitter is fun enough even if you’re not a raging narcissist.

For now, there’s also nothing to stop you from using someone else’s tweets, like a celebrity. (Or a friend, for a gift.) That situation may change if copyright issues arise. All told, my order was just $14.50, including shipping to Tempe, Arizona. Here’s hoping they’ll offer different sizes, bindings, and rulings in the future.

TweetNotebook | via TechCrunch

Posted in: Cool Stuff, Tech News

Google vs. Facebook Interface Design: Design by “Committee” vs. Baptism by Fire

Once again, Facebook has released a complete failure of a feature set or upgrade and been hit with such a strong backlash by their users (who, they assure us, are listened to even BEFORE launching such drivel) that they have had to backpedal to appease the masses. Facebook seems to have this bizarre mentality that shaking the etch-a-sketch and slapping the user in the face is a great way to spring new changes, regardless of the thoughts of their users or their preliminary feedback. Beacon, un-restricted Minifeed, new Facebook, new Facebook again, rape-and-pillage privacy policies—you would think someone over there would suggest that they NOT continue to learn these lessons the hard way, as one time of baptism by fire tends to be enough for most people.

With the exception of the penultimate “new Facebook”, they have had to rollback or significantly change tack from their initial position of “this is new and you’re going to like it,” forced  instead to listen to their users, post a mea culpa and attempt to save face with the global press and the blogosphere collectively rolling their eyes at each new foible. TechCrunch has an idiotic post about how when Facebook listens to their users, God kills a kitten for bowing to the masses and “designing by committee”. Robert Scoble backed this up with a misguided treatise about how Zuckerberg is on track to score billions from these changes and how they shouldn’t/wouldn’t start listening to their users. I call bullshit. Read More »

Posted in: Design, Rants

10 Things That Suck About The New Facebook

Just eight short months ago, Facebook redesigned the home page for a logged in user. At the time, I bashed on the News Feed, as it made a poor use of whitespace and seemed haphazard and disheveled. Facebook took to repair and tighten the design down a good deal, and I grew to find it functional, informative, and useful.

Facebook began rolling out their new design two days ago, and it’s frankly simply terrible. The first thing you’ll notice about the Facebook redesign is that it looks a lot like a basic Twitter page. Facebook talks a lot about how this new layout helps show a “live stream of your social graph” and a lot of other nonsense that would seem completely applicable if they were switching from the new design to the old.

The reality is that they are angering their customers by making things difficult to find, dramatically altering the aesthetic and interface of the site, and in many people’s opinion, taking a dramatic step backwards in usability. My exposure to this nightmare of an interface began just today, but I get a distinct impression that it won’t grow on me like the last changes.

What don’t I like? Let’s take a look: Read More »

Posted in: Rants

Track Twitter Unfollows and See Who Thinks You’re Boring with Qwitter

Image representing Qwitter as depicted in Crun...

EDIT, 12/28/09: It appears that Qwitter is no longer functioning, but the site makes no mention of this. Your mileage may vary.

If you’ve ever spotted a dip in your Twitter followers count and wondered which of your faithful disciples haven’t been quite so faithful, sign up for Qwitter. It’s mind-numbingly simple: enter your Twitter account name and your email address and you’re off to the races. Qwitter doesn’t need your Twitter password since the follower information is already available, so they just basically run a diff and see who you’ve managed to bore away, sending you an email with their name and the (potentially) offending last Tweet that convinced your follower to bail.


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Posted in: Cool Stuff

Easy Tip: Tame Your Facebook Feed with Facebook Friend Lists


In my review of Filttr, I mentioned that Facebook features some comprehensive friend sorting and grouping tricks that Twitter sorely lacks. But the feature is only slightly obvious, so I’m going to show you an equally obvious quick tutorial on the quick way to get a reasonable Facebook feed of People You Actually Care About, and setting that as your home page, to differentiate from People You Met At That Party That One Time or That One Girl (or Guy) You Shouldn’t Have Hooked Up With Who Keeps Posting Creepy Profile Pictures Of Themselves But Blocking Them Would Only Make Things Worse.

This is really simple: When you first log into Facebook, click the down arrow next to Live Feed. Next to Friend List Feeds, click Edit Feed, click Make New List, name it something cool, and start typing the names of people you really care about. Easy. (You can also manage all of this from the Friends page, from the top nav.)

Now, if you access Facebook via a bookmark, or through the Bookmarks Toolbar, you can click on the same arrow, right click on the Friend Feed, and use that for your new bookmark.

To be fair, this feature has been around since August 2008. Disturbingly, they broke the permalink functionality about two months ago, which drove me absolutely insane because it happened to be about three weeks into having changed my primary bookmark to the Friend List Feed. Facebook Support told me that they knew it was an issue and that they were working to resolve it and it looks as if it’s finally been restored, so you can now make the first thing you see when you log into Facebook the feed of people you care about. Or your “Keeping My Enemies Closer” list. Whatever.

(Bonus: You can also use Friend Lists to send blanket messages to groups of friends. To do this, just start typing the Friend List name when composing a message.)

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Posted in: How To

Cut Through The Twitter Crap with Filttr: A Quick Review

app-shotJust today I was bemoaning the lack of any capacity to filter Tweets from people I want to follow… but don’t want to hear that much from. There are plenty of people I follow because they’re occasionally interesting and I like to keep a peripheral awareness of things in their communities… but some of these people tend to tweet a LOT. Facebook offers you a way to customize your feeds, both by specifying which individuals you want to hear more or less from, and which types of updates you want to hear about.

The problem with following these people is that, while they keep things interesting, they sometimes drone out the people I care most about.

Enter Filttr. Filttr is a clever tool that grabs your twitter timeline (as your home page is called) and applies some algorithmic magic (the best sort of magic, we always say) to show you tweets it thinks you’ll be more interested in.

Filttr offers you the ability to add whitelist and blacklist keywords, which I don’t find particularly useful, since “blacklisting” any particular word or phrase is a bit strange to me (since, without context, how do you know if you’re really not interested, unless you just want to “mute” a particular topic for a bit) but it also offers the ability to rank individuals. So I’ve gone ahead and put a few of my friends on “less” and a couple others on “more” and Filtrr’s timeline is showing me a compressed version of the regular timeline, without all the crap. You can still view hidden tweets, but they’re compressed and cleaned up.

I’ve already suggested that they do a better job aggregating filtered tweets, since they still take up one “row” worth of space, but they’re on the right track here. Further, Filttr threads replies when a friend is replying to someone who had tweeted at them. This is a REALLY nice feature because it gives you context right there. I don’t particularly mind following through an interesting looking reply to see the other side of a conversation, but this is just a nice feature.

You can also establish groups of friends, much like you can do on Facebook, to only see a timeline of a certain subset of the users you follow. This is another useful feature that I’m glad someone else has bolted on to Twitter.

Filttr also offers a free Adobe AIR application to show the feed on your desktop. The app is new and a bit buggy: Scrolling is slow and can spike CPU usage, the app can’t be properly minimized to the system tray, and there are absolutely no options which they say was related to their effort to keep things as lightweight as possible. The app is lightweight, but I’d like to be able to configure a few things, and the lack of even a minimize button is a little strange to me.

When someone builds what is, to me, such an obvious feature for Twitter, it always piques my interest. There’s essentially nothing stopping Twitter from offering the exact same featureset. In fact, I’d expect them to add at least a few of these features. This brings about the argument of the platform versus the provider—many people wondered what would happen with Facebook’s third-party developers, since Facebook’s applications sometimes had direct competition in third-party apps. Thus far, they’ve been able to co-exist, but a third-party app will always be at a disadvantage if the platform decides to start delivering the same applications that the provider is offering. I’ll save the rest of my arguments on that for another post.

For now, try Filttr. It requires you to change the way you do things a bit, but there are some compelling reasons to give it a shot. What do you think?

Filttr (Blog Post) via Techcrunch

Posted in: Cool Stuff, Reviews

Trusting In The Cloud: The Fallout When Web 2.0 Apps Disappear

I Want Sandy is a small but useful “personal email assistant”—a proactive time management and reminder system that was built to work for you and intelligently help you manage your time. It’s offered for free and it’s one of many time management-type web 2.0 solutions available. Yesterday, its creator Rael Dornfest announced that he would be shuttering the site entirely in two weeks, as Twitter had hired him and purchased the intellectual property to the site. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Get Satisfaction forum post he made, essentially decrying that he’s left his user base out in the cold. And people aren’t happy.

There are so many web 2.0 applications out there that building a following and reaching a point where it makes any financial sense at all to keep the site open and available and to keep actively developing the site is a difficult challenge. It’s not helped at all by the fact that a site can grow beyond a regular simple hosting account to requiring an entire dedicated server, or even two or more in a load-balanced configuration. This problem is compounded when sometimes that growth milestone can be hit without the dollars backing it up. And yet, this decision wasn’t a financial one.

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Posted in: Rants