Thanks to Read/WriteWeb for posting this interesting study in a nice easy to view Slideshare way.

There’s some interesting thoughts about structure, how identity is managed, the types of networks available to users, followed by case studies of some of the major players.

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Further to my recent post on how young people are overexposing themselves on social networks and my earlier post on self-PR online there are a couple of issues being discussed on this topic in the news today.

First up, the Guardian has a piece on the legality of using the internet to investigate job candidates. They’re saying that it could actually prove to be illegal and an infringement of a candidates privacy if potential employers use the internet to look into their background. Academic institutions could also be at risk of infringement here as they too are apparently using the web and social networks to look into applicants backgrounds. Personally I cannot see how this could be the case. The information is freely available and has been posted with that knowledge (or at least the poster should be aware). It can’t contravene data protection laws in that case. Of course, turning down a candidate because of their Facebook profile would be against HR laws but I’m sure no company would use that as the reason for not hiring someone, they’ll come up with another reason the profile will just have made their minds up.

Secondly, there’s an article on the Inquirer which suggests that the UK’s Revenue and Customs department (yes the one’s who loast all that personal data) are now using social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to catch criminals who have gone missing. An unnamed customs official claims that social networks are proving to be a useful source of information for tracking wanted persons down. The official suggests that it has led to a number of successful arrests.

So all this goes to show that your trail of data left behind on these sites is highly useful to anyone wanting to trace or assess you. Self PR is hugely important now, and this will get more and more important as the information connectivity provided by the web gets more pervasive into society.

I posted ages ago about the risks of posting too much info on social networks. It’s all too common now for potential employers, universities and parents to use Facebook etc to find out what people are doing in their personal lives.

Now the Information Commissioner’s Office has launched a website aimed at helping to protect young people in the way they use social networks.

The ICO have found that more than half of young people asked divulged far too much information and failed to keep it private. More telling still, 71% of 2,000 14 to 21-year-olds said they would not want colleges or employers to do a web search on them before they had removed some of the material. Two thirds of those questioned accepted as friends on such websites people they did not even know. Some 60% posted their date of birth, a quarter put their job title and almost one in 10 gave their home address.

So the ICO have launched this site to help inform young people about how to protect themselves on Facebbok and MySpace (amongst other social networks).

Very interesting story on the Channel 4 website today.

Apparently, a Facebook user has logged an official complaint with the UK Privacy Watchdog after it transpired that trying to leave Facebook didn’t actually mean that your data was all deleted and removed from their servers. Actually, when you try to leave Facebook all it does is deactivate your account and keep the data on their servers so anyone who changes their mind can easily sign back up again.

Now that’s all well and good, but storage of personal data and photos of someone who doesn’t actually want to use your service is blatantly against the UK Data Protection Act (I believe). The act is designed to protect people like you and me from having their personal data misused in any way. Facebook definitely have the resources and technical know how to offer a way to delete the data for those who really want to delete an account. By not doing so they are making it very difficult for users to clean up their trail of data, it could take hours to go round the site deleting everything you’ve ever posted or uploaded.

Will be interesting to see how this pans out! I do wonder whether MySpace and Bebo etc offer this full deletion service or whether they are also possibly infringing on ex-users privacy.

For development… Don’t get too excited as this doesn’t guarantee them dominance in the social networking world but Google have a bit of a coup as they’ve announced MySpace, Bebo and Six Apart are going to be working on Open Social too. Apparently Google have been in talks with MySpace for about a year on this (which explains the recent appetite to open up from MySpace). Techcrunch has more here.

Here’s the official announcement from Google on their blog, and here’s the link to the API’s which is now live.

And for an insight into why this is all happening, here’s a video from a Google event last night explaining more about why it’s good to be open.

The full list of Open Social members is pretty formidable (MySpace, Engage.com, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo, Salesforce.com, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, Bebo and XING). Should Facebook be worrying? Well right now all the announcements mean is that there will be an amazing amount of openness between the members of Open Social and there should be some pretty amazing development going on. It doesn’t yet mean that people will leave Facebook for anywhere else (although the chances of that will get greater).

There may be an opportunity here for an early adopter of Open Social standards to create an uber social network which features functionality and data from all the participating networks. It makes the evolution of the life stream much more important and likely to appear sooner. It also gives choice, no longer do you have to stick with anyones interface, you should be able to move away and go to other places while still keeping in touch with the networks.

Just a quick post to publish some of the thoughts that are appearing on the web about the huge valuation of Facebook. The $15B valuation makes it the 5th most valuable U.S. internet company according to Michael Arrington at Techcrunch .
Is a company with no evidence of profit actually worth such a huge sum? Possibly; it has the traffic (the most important thing for any site which will derive most of it’s revenues from advertising), it’s just signed a deal with a good technology partner (Microsoft), it’s open standards should help it (unless of course MS integrate their services with it, how open would it’s platform be then?) and with the current bubble mentality it’s likely to get more investment very easily.

The BBC has published 15 reasons why Facebook may actually be worth $15B. Very interesting, my comments interspersed in blue:

1. The network has gone viral in the last 12 months, with more than 50 million users worldwide and a user base that is growing faster than great rival MySpace. According to Facebook, it adds 200,000 new users each day.
Yes, it’s certainly a traffic monster! The growth rate is astounding, but that could slow as it must reach a saturation point eventually. The eyeballs is great for advertising revenue though so that should guarantee them a profit (eventually). They need to be careful to avoid the saturation point though, keep it fresh, become the webtop of choice and don’t let anyone launch something more interesting (or the fickle web users will forget about you very quickly).

2. The average user spends 3.5 hours a month on Facebook – more than the average user on rival MySpace – which is increasingly attractive to advertisers.
Funny one this; I don’t spend long on it at all, in fact I’ve taken to updating my status via a browser plug-in now. So a lot of people must be using Facebook as their email and communication alternative, that’s what they need to do to keep the eyeballs, become a default location for peoples web browsing.

3. Facebook is the current Web 2.0 darling – popular with ordinary users and “tech heads” alike.
Darling of the moment, but it could easily slip from being the techies darling, especially with Microsoft on board.

4. US research reveals that Facebook users come from wealthier homes and are more likely to attend college than MySpace users – increasing that attraction for advertisers.
Not sure on this one; often the more prosperous will be the earlier adopters anyway, and as Facebook descends closer to the more chavy MySpace I believe the demographic will change anyway.

5. Microsoft’s investment makes them a serious player in the growing market of “social advertising”. Social network profiles are full of personal data that users voluntarily hand over, which is very useful for targeting adverts.
Big point this one! The data Facebook is gleaning is amazingly powerful to an advertising network. Facebook could be one of the first websites to carry adverts that are actually contextual and useful to their targets, this can result in a huge revenue stream if done right.

6. Sixty percent of Facebook users are outside of the US – so Microsoft’s investment buys access to a global audience quickly and simply.
Microsofts ad network is global anyway and there are plenty of other places they could have invested in to get a global market. Global doesn’t matter as much as size (as the old adage goes).

7. Facebook is the new web: The decision to open up the network to outside developers turned Facebook into a destination for many uses, like messaging, photos and video. Of course, as Facebook is on the web it could never really be the new web.
Facebook could be the newest web if it integrates with Microsoft Live platform… That could be huge and really make it into a webtop.

8. Every major content firm with an online presence is either working on a Facebook application or has already launched one – from Google to the BBC.
Hype; everyone will always try to dive into something new which gains popularity as quickly as Facebook. I don’t believe that is any sign of value.

9. According to a report, 233 million hours of work are lost each month in the UK due to staff looking at social networks. Advertisers can now target people when at their desks.
Advertisers have always been able to target people when at their desks, now they can target them on another site where people are actually very engaged and in my opinion less likely to interact with adverts than a traditional site or portal.

10. The openness of Facebook is attracting a wealth of talented developers who can launch their applications to millions of users quickly.
Yes, but this helps those developers make money it doesn’t increase Facebooks value directly, only indirectly. Of course the better the developments the greater amount of traffic is attracted…

11. Facebook messaging is the new e-mail. Everyone feels stressed from a deluge of e-mail from unwanted people and companies. But Facebook messages are always from friends.
How long till spam becomes a feature of Facebook??? If Facebook could integrate with Live Mail and become the email destination of choice that would be the coup of the decade.

12. Facebook’s “status updates” have become the easiest way to let friends know what you are doing and how you are feeling at any given moment.
Along with Twitter and a multitude of other status alert services. I do like the Facebook status engine, but it can get annoying. We need better ways to filter the types of alerts sent!

13. Facebook thrives on playful applications such as Pirates, Zombies, Super Wall and Top Friends, which have made the network a place to play as well as communicate.
And they add no value! All style no substance this aspect of Facebook, it needs more productivity apps and networking features to be really succesful and not end up another MySpace.

14. Facebook is the acceptable face of blogging – you can reflect your life and personality online without being seen as a “blogger”, which often carries a geeky stigma.
Geek? Me??

15. Facebook is worth $15bn only because Microsoft says so. The value of Facebook is based on a 1.6% share of the firm being worth the $240m Microsoft paid for it. Microsoft and Google were in a bidding war for a slice of the firm and both companies have large pockets. This was not just business, this was personal, according to some analysts.
Very true! It will take a market valuation for me to believe it is worth so much, and even if it had one I’m not sure $15B is worth it in it’s current state. A year down the line, if it becomes a web starting point of choice then it may command a valuation many times higher!

Some good, thought provoking points from the BBC there!

Google’s social ambitions

October 9, 2007

So Google owns a social network called Orkut. I’ll forgive you if you didn’t know that as it’s not the best known of the social media darlings of the moment, that accolade sits with the Facbook, MySpace and Bebo’s of this world.

However, Orkut is actually doing really well, organically growing in markets around the world where even Facebook doesn’t really get a look in. Orkut is doing really well in both Latin America and the Asia-Pacific regions. In Latin America they command double the traffic of Facebook and MySpace combined with approx 12 million monthly visitors. In Asia-Pacific they command 11 million visitors per month and have recently taken the lead as the most popular social network. In the US however they receive just 600,000 visitors per month, although that is climbing.

Business Week has a good article on Google’s social ambitions which muses that they will be releasing a new set of API’s for Orkut (around November 5th) and some of their other services, allowing developers to build on these and turning Orkut into a platform (similar to Facebook). Google may take a slightly different tack to Facebook though and open up much more transparently, allowing developers to create much more value from applications than purely poking or throwing things at Facebook pals. Orkut may see apps such as one that allows users to see who is online of their friends on Facebook and vice versa. There’s also talks of Orkut and Google Maps mashups, GMail and Calendar apps etc. Sounds much more useful than Facebook already!

Of course the article mentions Socialstream too, which I blogged about in August. That’s the biggy! Get this kind of cross platform social network integration working and you’re onto a winner. Make your social network the hub for it and you will see immense growth (in my opinion).

I wouldn’t write Google off quite yet. Orkut has a lot of potential and Google have the tools and the muscle to make a big dent in the other social networks traffic graphs!