There’s an interesting post over on the Nielsen Wire blog from Jon Gibs (their VP Media Analytics) about the methods people are now using to discover content. Their findings show that a lot of surfers now make social media their starting point when trying to find information online. 18% of the people Nielsen quizzed said they start a search for new information using Wikipedia, blogs or social networks (such as Facebook or Twitter). That’s a pretty big percentage, especially when you consider that only 37% said they started their hunt on a search engine (which you’d traditionally think might be the starting point).

It’s not really a surprise to see web users learning to trust information that is recommended by their peers, or info that comes from within their sphere of influence on social networks. Recommendation is a powerful thing online and crowd sourced recommendations are a great way to answer certain queries. However, as networks are inherently distributed are they as likely to get an accurate answer to their more complex info needs as they would on a search engine?

In the same report 26% of respondents who identified themselves as socializers (the ones likely to start on a socnet) said that they feel ‘there is too much information online’. Perhaps this is what draws them to social networks for their information searching needs? Maybe the trust factor that someone has recommended some information to them gives them the confidence that they will drill through the dross and find the nugget they are looking for. However, if they feel overloaded now that is only going to get worse as networks grow.

Social network contacts are never going to be able to answer all the questions that intelligent use of a search engine would (unless your network includes some of the finest minds). If we, as web users, rely too much on social networks for finding information are we going to lose the ability to really search when we need to? Search can be a bit of an art form; some people struggle to get how to think laterally when searching for a niche topic, others can get there in one or two searches by using word combinations and booleans cleverly. Could reliance on social networks for the answers to questions destroy the art of searching or data mining that the web has historically been so good at encouraging? Social networks are great for recommendation and serendipitous discovery of content but how do they cater for people who just want their questions answered? Do they need to branch out more deeply into indexing and search or perhaps encourage search to begin on their networks by providing tools to do so?

I’m not offering any answers as this is a shift in habits which has been underway for a long time, but as more users become socializers (inevitable), and information becomes more and more realtime, someone needs to provide a way they can divine the realtime stream for the information they seek. Either that or search engines need to provide new, more social ways to search their indexes. What do you think?

PS. Just in case you think I mean divine in the Biblical sense, have a look at this.
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This post has now been moved to my new blog and can be found here.

Part of Facebooks game plan seems to have been to create an illusion of openness while at the same time ensuring that their platform is actually closed to anyone who could tread on their toes in the areas that drive their revenue. Now admittedly they don’t have much revenue right now but that is going to change very soon with all the new advertising options available to brands who want to be promoted on the social network. So with this increasing revenue should come an increasingly closed approach as they try to prevent others from stepping on their toes. Right?

Well, it seems Google may have a way in to the Facebook platform, and it may be something that Facebook can’t do anything about.

Bring forth OpenSocket; a Facebook application that allows you to run any OpenSocial application on your Facebook profile. Now, as OpenSocial gains traction I can very well see developers looking for ways to monetise their efforts on this new platform. Of course, with Google at the helm one of the obvious options would be to carry Adsense adverts on your OpenSocial app. So that is how Google can potentially make advertising revenue out of Facebook without striking any sort of deal.

Will this happen? Well, I’d imagine Facebook will try to block Google ads from appearing, but if a lot of developers start using OpenSocial the demand to allow this may be overwhelming and actually more in Facebooks interest to allow this than to try to block it.

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.

Techcrunch has a great article on the emerging rumours about ‘Maka-Maka’ the hotly discussed coming social platform that will apparently tie all Google’s online properties into a stream of social attention and activity data.

I mentioned this ambition in September, it seems the rumours back then were true. All that remains to be seen is quite what is going to emerge from all of this. Techcrunch’s commentary is spot on and covers all the angles so I’ll say no more apart from that I really hope this results in a set of fully open API’s and a stream of data (as Techcrunch surmises). That will be an incredibly powerful tool and enable a new surge in development of web apps coming from outside Google, some of which could even compete with Facebook.

How does Orkut fit into this picture? I hope they recreate it as a social hub for your online attention and activity streams.

When it’s on Facebook it would seem!

Valleywag has uncovered the rather dubious practices going on at Facebook HQ. Employees at the world’s most popular social network have access to every users profile information. Not only that, they have access to a log of all the user profiles you have looked at during your time on the site.

Obviously some people within Facebook have to have open access to the whole database of users and their activities, however to make this open to everyone seems a major breach of privacy to me. I don’t want their junior developers reading my wall posts, or their interns knowing who I have added to my top friends (and who I haven’t).

This breach of privacy becomes even more worrying when you think about who are members of Facebook. From political candidates to pop stars to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, all their personal and attention data is available to Facebook employees.

It’s unknown whether the data available to employees includes the more sensitive messages and contact details.

It’s seen as a perk of the job, but to me this just seems plain wrong!

Many people assume that social networking is a strictly western past time, with the vast majority of users coming from the U.S. and western Europe.

Not true at all! The latest figures from comScore show that it’s a truely international phenomenon and is actually being lead by the Asia Pacific region at the moment.
This leads me to deduce that it’s not all about Facebook and MySpace. Neither have the presence in these other areas of the world. Orkut, Google’s social network offering, is massive in Latin America and making waves in Asia, but something else must be contributing to these Asia Pacific totals.

Engagement wise, it’s Latin America leading the way. The average social network user in Latin America spends much more time engaged in social networks than users in North America or Europe. Could it be that Orkut is more engaging than Facebook?
The figures above would seem to suggest that although Asia Pacific are heavy users of social networks they are not as engaged and are using them for different purposes to the Americas (perhaps).

Lastly comScore have a breakdown of the regions with what social networks they prefer.

This is where it suddenly jumps out that Friendster is doing really well in Asia, and that a network called CyWorld accounts for a lot of the numbers in that area but doesn’t figure at all in EU or U.S. Also obvious from these figures is that Facebook just doesn’t feature in Asia or Latin America, they have a massive opportunity to break into these regions and gain a lot more eyeballs!