So the backlash has begun. There are groups on Facebook devoted to keeping it free of the kind of useless apps that are popping up daily on the platform and other groups begging it not to turn into another MySpace (which is interesting when MySpace has recently added structure and clarity to profile layouts). Brad Stone wrote a great article in the NY Times about the proliferation of applications for the platform.

And now we have the ultimate app! Dramatic Whitespace is just that, a square of whitespace which you can place on your profile. Developed by a guy called Adam Bildersee it has 21 active users (not bad for something that does nothing).

I get loads of app requests from friends to become anything from a zombie to a keeper of virtual goldfish. Now none of that adds any value to my experience of Facebook, what I want are apps that add functionality, add value, integrate with other web services I use, deliver me useful information and allow me to make Facebook a homepage for my browser. Currently my homepage is Netvibes (including a Facebook app which means I don’t have to visit the social network too often) which I love, Facebook has a long, long way to go before it could ever provide that much usefulness.


Facebook subpoenaed again

September 24, 2007

The popularity of Facebook is really starting to show, they’ve taken over the Myspace mantle and are getting hit by subpoenas.

In this latest one, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating Facebook accusing them of not keeping youngsters safe from sexual predators.

Undercover tests have been conducted of Facebooks safety controls and procedures which should protect innocent young users from solicitation by adults. These controls aren’t working according to Cuomo.

The problem here is that no matter how good the controls are users are likely to be too blaise about them and leave themselves open to approach. Quite how Facebook can control that I’m not sure. Also, the type of people who prey on youngsters are unfortunately likely to find ways around them by enticing users to interact in other ways.

It’s a really difficult issue; in an ideal world no one would ever be put in a position where this could happen, in reality with the internet being an open and free platform for communication, that will never be possible.

I hope the attorney generals office see this and instead of firing off legal requests go to the table with the big social networks and discuss ways this can be worked around.

Now if I had some spare cash I may be tempted by this!

Forbes report that a groundbreaking patent related to social networking is coming up for auction very soon. The “Jaipuria Patent”, U.S. Patent 7,047,202, and a pending continuation-in-part application, which are amongst the foremost patent filings related to the social networking industry. The Jaipuria Patent was filed in 2001 and claims priority to an earlier application filed in India in 2000 — before the growth of the social networking industry. These patent assets will be offered as Lot 54 at the Ocean Tomo Fall 2007 Live IP Auction on October 25th at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

The patent involves means for building a user and community driven secure social network, flexible privacy features for users in maintaining their online social network, and a means to refer users to one another via a referral network. In addition, the patent covers a social networking technology that is driven by user privacy features – fundamental to all successful social networking services today. Now that all sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it?

Other features are (quote from Forbes) ‘Among the many social network features disclosed and claimed in the patent and pending application are: fundamental technology used to develop and maintain an online social network; creating an online social network including individual users and groups; searching a social network to identify users and groups for keywords and then identifying a chain of contacts leading to the targeted user or group; flexibility in granting user defined privacy rights and access levels to control availability of user’s personal information and contacts with respect to others in user’s personal and extended network; process of anonymous referral networking using a link by link request forwarding system; and accessing and using social network via the Internet or wireless devices.

Now, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo all use these types of functions as fundamental parts of their services. I’m confused as to why the owner of this patent hasn’t tried taking legal action in the past. The only reason I can see for selling this is to try to make money from someone who may use it either in a lawsuit or to sell it to an existing network. Although if it hasn’t been used up to now then I’m a bit sceptical as to its value. Will be interesting to see what it goes for!

So we’ve all read the recent reports of businesses banning Facebook, Bebo and MySpace to try to prevent employees wasting time. We’ve also read the stories about recruiters and employers using social networks to check out prospective hires. Now the TUC (Trade Union Congress) have stepped up and issues some guidelines to help employees and employers make informed decisions about usage in the workplace. They also discuss the possibility of it being discriminatory to not hire someone based on their Facebook profile when they might be the only candidate with one (good point!).

There’s some guidelines for TUC members here, and some guidelines aimed at employers here.

It’s quite amazing to see something like this happen. The TUC is generally an old school organisation so to see them tackling this kind of issue is testament to the huge popularity and buzz surrounding social networks at the moment.

One day…

I’ve been blogging recently about the problems with multiple social networks and keeping in touch with everyone and how good it would be to have open standards and API’s to allow intercommunication and development between platforms.

Well now someone has taken the brave leap to propose and open standard called Open Friend Format. From their blurb: OpenFriend is a set of standards that allows Social Networks to discover any of your friends already on their networks while still protecting your privacy. The ultimate goal is to standardize and make transparent the user experience between importing and exporting of contacts from various social networks. OpenFriend allows for social networks to implement a standardized way of exporting their contacts and discovering relationships between new and existing users. It also allows for sites to generate documents detailing the relationship between people on different social networks.

This is a great step in the right direction and I for one am right behind this push to standardise and aggregate the networks!

Be careful where your banner adverts appear! When you serve ads through a network it’s really tricky to keep an eye on where they appear and what the content surrounding them is referring to. Yes you can specify the types and categories of sites they appear on, you can even specify the actual websites it gets placed on, but some are finding that this level of control is not enough.

We had an issue a year ago where we were running millions of impressions a day on a behavioural ad network. We were targeting the travel and leisure community and also major portals but somehow we ended up advertising holidays on a link farm site which had a rather less than decent advert for a swingers club on the same page as our advert! Needless to say as soon as this was spotted we pulled that site out of our target group. We could of course have been placed on many other sites like this during that campaign without even knowing it…

And then there’s websites like Facebook. Social networks are really difficult to target for advertising as being full of user generated content you have no control over what your advert could appear next to. Vodafone has now experienced this and has pulled all advertising from Facebook after it’s banner was displayed on the group profile for the British National Party. Vodafone pulled the ad straight away, but other brands such as Virgin Media and Orange have also appeared on that page.

I can’t see how Facebook could possibly control to a granular level where adverts are appearing in relation to the content on the pages. It will be a really difficult task and so if a lot of their big advertisers start complaining about the content on the pages their ads are appearing on it could spell trouble for their revenue streams quite quickly.

This is the trouble with user generated content and advertising. As bad as Facebook content can be I’m sure MySpace is worse. With the increasing popularity of corporate responsibility it is only going to become a bigger issue!

In a growing trend, the Telegraph reports that many firms are blocking access to Facebook over fears that employees are wasting time on the site. MySpace and others have been banned too. It’s testament to the huge popularity of Facebook that this has happened, it’s only in the last three or four months that Facebook has really taken off in the UK, and already people are desperately trying to keep employees off it.

Will this hurt Facebook’s growth? I don’t think so, users will visit the site in their own hours instead. Is it hurting companies productivity? Social networks are the second biggest culprit of in work time wasting after web based email, so definitely, or this type of article wouldn’t be necessary!