MySpace Announces Launch of Developer Platform

As read on TechCrunch this morning,

MySpace is finally getting ready to pull the trigger on its long-awaited platform for developers. Starting today, programmers can sign up to register for the MySpace API program, which will go live on February 5th. The APIs will allow developers to create social applications for MySpace much like they can already for Facebook. The platform will be compatible with Google’s OpenSocial platform, meaning that applications written for OpenSocial will work on MySpace with a few minimal tweaks.

MySpace Developer Platform Logo

More details will come out later about what exactly the APIs will allow developers to do, but at a high level they will allow for deeper integration into MySpace than can currently be done with Flash widgets. The APIs we believe will support Flash, iFrame elements and Javascript snippets, and give developers deeper access to MySpace member profile information and their connections. Developers also will be able to make money from advertising associated with their applications.

What it means: with all the talks about Facebook in the last 6 months, we tend to forget MySpace is still a major force in the social networking world. According to this recent eMarketer article, “The site received 72% of US visits to social networks in December 2007 alone” with Facebook a distant second at 16.03%. In terms of reach, MySpace had close to 72M unique visitors in October 2007 (source: eMarketer quoting ComScore) giving the site 40% reach of the US online market (Facebook is at 18%). In November, Compete data showed that only 20% of MySpace members were also on Facebook. So, if you’re interested in reaching these 72M users, get in line to get a developer access.

Member Overlap at Various Social Networks

With the rise of Facebook and the arrival of the OpenSocial ecosystem, web site operators are left wondering about prioritization. Which social network(s) should I embrace, where should I invest my time, what site(s) offer the biggest bang for the buck if I build an application?

The folks at Compete have analyzed member overlap at various social networks and explain their findings in this blog post. The graph below shows those interactions.

Compete Social Network Member Overlap

Here are some of the highlights:

  • 20% of MySpace members are also Facebook members.
  • 64% of Facebook members are also on MySpace.
  • Bebo, Hi5 and Friendster all share more than 49% of their members with MySpace.
  • LinkedIn shares 42% of its members with Facebook and 32% with MySpace.

What it means: From a sheer size point of view, Facebook and MySpace are interesting but operators should not underestimate the reach of Bebo, Friendster, Hi5 and LinkedIn. Some of these social networks are very strong in different parts of the globe and, depending where your user base is located, could make interesting platforms for your applications. In addition, LinkedIn and Viadeo reach a business-oriented user base.

MySpace to Launch Local and Vertical Ad Network(s)

Seen on TechCrunch this morning, MySpace is going to announce a new self-serve advertising platform today. A couple of things caught my eye:

The Local angle: “MySpace says there 23 million small and local businesses in the U.S. (citing government statistics) Only about 1 million of them advertise online, and those that do generally advertise only via search (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft). MySpace says about 10 million businesses maintain a profile on the service. The goal of the product is to give those businesses a new way to reach out to the community.”

The Vertical angle: “MySpace will also announce the completion of the first phase of another new advertising platform, “HyperTargeting by MySpace” which allows marketers to buy advertising targeted to specific interest-based segments of the MySpace audience. (…) There are around 1,000 total categories.”

I just read the release as well. Chris DeWolfe, CEO and co-founder, adds: “MySpace is the first and only place where a small business can create a display advertising campaign and target it to their desired customer. There are 23 million small businesses in the U.S. and less than a million advertise online. SelfServe is designed for the millions of businesses that dont advertise online todaywe want to bring that new class of advertisers to MySpace.

What it means: I predict strong success reaching national advertisers (the Techcrunch article mentions that Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Ford and Taco Bell are among the first 50 advertisers quietly trialling the system) but some definite challenges reaching SMEs using self-serve. I’m not sure DeWolfe understands local but, nonetheless, local media companies currently selling Google AdWords and search engine marketing firms should be keeping an eye on that new ad network. There is a lot of inventory in MySpace and if targetting works well, it will be very valuable inventory.

Google is Spearheading the Launch of an Open Social Web API

Following this blog post yesterday about my speculation that Google is building a mobile development platform, the whole blogosphere announced this morning that Google is leading an initiative called OpenSocial that will see the launch an open social web API. This new API will allow social networks and application developers to work together using a set of standardized instructions. Partners currently include Google’s Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Salesforce.com, Oracle, iLike, Flixster, RockYou, and Slide.

Opening the Social Graph Barcamp

Flickr photo by magerleagues.

As Marc Andreessen said this morning on his blog,

This is the exact same concept as the Facebook platform, with two huge differences:

  • With the Facebook platform, only Facebook itself can be a “container” — “apps” can only run within Facebook itself. In contrast, with Open Social, any social network can be an Open Social container and allow Open Social apps to run within it.
  • With the Facebook platform, app developers build to Facebook-proprietary languages and APIs such as FBML (Facebook Markup Language) and FQL (Facebook Query Language) — those languages and APIs don’t work anywhere other than Facebook — and then the apps can only run within Facebook. In contrast, with Open Social, app developers can build to standard HTML and Javascript, and their apps can then run in any Open Social container.

TechCrunch explains in more details:

OpenSocial is a set of three common APIs, defined by Google with input from partners, that allow developers to access core functions and information at social networks:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)

Hosts agree to accept the API calls and return appropriate data. Google won’t try to provide universal API coverage for special use cases, instead focusing on the most common uses. Specialized functions/data can be accessed from the hosts directly via their own APIs.

What it means: this is a major announcement, maybe the biggest announcement of the year. Standardizing the social web will go a long way towards the explosion of social as a key element of the Web operating system and one more step towards the web becoming a gigantic word of mouth machine. You’ll want to embrace these standards.

Update: According to AlleyInsider, MySpace will announce today that they join the OpenSocial “alliance”

Update2: Techcrunch reports that blog software publisher SixApart is also joining. Bebo also.

Evan Williams: What We’ve Learned Running Twitter

As most product managers will attest, the temptation is always great to add new features when building a product. Evan Williams, Twitter’s founder, did a short presentation yesterday afternoon at the Web 2.0 Summit to talk about how we can build better products by removing features instead.

Web2Summit Evan Williams Twitter

Knowing that Williams created Blogger at Pyra Labs, he defines Twitter as a blogging application with a maximum of 140 characters and no formatting. But he says that Twitter does not compete with current blogging applications as it offers a different experience. They originally built their technology to use with an already existing ubiquitous friend status network: the SMS, and SMS basically come with a command line.

They quickly realized that the majority of people went directly to the Twitter web site, many of them using 3rd party apps built on their API. They now have hundreds of applications today because “text integrates well with everything”.

He offered additional examples of sites or technologies that kept things simple (or that should keep things simple):

  • YouTube has a 10-minute limit for uploaded videos. This definitely had a beneficial impact on the service as it created addictive, ready-for-the-web content.
  • Podcasts would certainly benefit from a time limit to become a more successful phenomenon.
  • What about a social network that limits you to 10 friends?
  • What about a dating site with only a picture and a yes/no button? (Hot or Not)
  • What about an e-mail tool where you can only have 20 messages in your inbox?
  • What about a competitor of MySpace where only college students are admitted? (Facebook)
  • What about a competitor of Yahoo with only a search box on white page? (Google)

Social Networks Slowing Online Adverting Growth in the UK

(via the Financial Times)

The rise of social networking websites such as FaceBook and MySpace could bring the rapid growth of UK internet advertising down a gear this year, according to media forecasters at WPP, the marketing services group. GroupM, the umbrella forecasting group for WPP’s media buying teams, cites the increasing time that audiences are spending on such websites as one reason to anticipate a slowdown in the “warp” speed expansion of web advertising. Any deceleration in internet growth would be relative, especially compared with the sluggish state of UK broadcast and press advertising. (…)

Advertisers are interested in the fast-growing social networks but still grappling with how to market on them. The sites have fewer obvious advertising slots to sell than conventional web publishers and portals or search engines. Using techniques such as branded banners or pop-up windows to reach online networkers can appear intrusive to users primarily logged on to communicate with other individuals and share music and video clips. Networking audiences also tend to spread thinly over many different website areas and focus on their own content, such as blogs or homepages. That distinguishes them from portal audiences, which usually congregate in popular areas such as news, sport or entertainment channels, making them easier for advertisers to target.

What it means: remember my predictions for 2007? Clearly, Atomization/Deportalization and Verticalization are happening within social networks, which means that traditional online ad vehicles are not as efficient as in centralized portals. New ad models might have to be invented. A good example is the soon-to-be launched Lookery, discussed today on GigaOM. Lookery is an ad network for Facebook Apps.

Web Cleaners: They Exist!

Following my post last Tuesday on teenagers and how they live their online lives very publicly, I was predicting the arrival a new job: the Web cleaner. To my surprise (you’ve got to love the clarity of my crystal ball!), the Washington Post talked on Monday about calling in pros to refine your Google image.

The article exposes the story of Sue Scheff, a consultant to parents of troubled teens, who came under cyber-defamation attacks in 2002. She would type her name in Google and find many pages attacking her personally. The article continues: “The stream of negative comments began in 2002 after a woman who had sought advice from Scheff turned on her. The postings appeared on PTA Web sites in Florida, where Scheff lives. On bulletin boards and online forums. There were even YouTube videos threatening her. She sued for defamation and won an $11.3 million verdict, but the attacks only got worse. In December, Scheff turned to ReputationDefender, a year-old firm that promised to help her cleanse her virtual reputation. She no longer dreads a Google search on her name. Most of the links on the all-important first page are to her own Web site and a half-dozen others created by ReputationDefender to promote her work on teen pregnancy and teen depression. “They created Sue-Scheff.net,” she said. “They created SueScheff.net. They created SueScheff.org. . . . They created my MySpace account, for God’s sake. I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff.”

Additional article highlights:

Charging anything from a few dollars to thousands of dollars a month, companies such as International Reputation Management, Naymz and ReputationDefender don’t promise to erase the bad stuff on the Web. But they do assure their clients of better results on an Internet search, pushing the positive items up on the first page and burying the others deep. (…)

Companies like IRM try to outthink Google. Search engines comb the Web with complex and ever-shifting algorithms, evaluating relevance and authority by looking at many factors: Is this a government Web site? How many people have linked to it? And so on. The point is, said ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik, “Google’s not in business to give you the truth, it’s in business to give what you think is relevant.” The goal is to get Google and other search engines to seize on relevant sites that contain positive information on their clients and to downplay the rest. Google does not object in principle to people adding positive content to outrank the negative. But a spokeswoman said in an e-mail, “if you use spammy and manipulative techniques to get this positive content to rank highly, we may take action on it.”

What it means: wow! this is going to be big business in a few years. I would suggest that everyone working in search engine optimization today starts thinking about how this could positively impact their business.

YouTube: 50% More Traffic than Other Video Sites Combined

(via Hitwise)

YouTube‘s growth has not begun to slow yet this year. Hitwise traffic data shows that the market share of US visits to YouTube has increased by 70% when comparing January 2007 to May 2007 (this only includes site visits, not streams or streams from views on embedded videos). In comparison, the market share of visits to a custom category of 64 other video sites increased by only 8% in that period. As of May 2007, YouTube’s market share was 50% greater than those 64 sites combined. Here is a ranking of the top 10 sites in that custom category for May 2007:

Top 10 video sites May 2007 Hitwise

What it means: YouTube still completely dominates the video market online. As video sites are quite bandwidth intensive and the video ad business model is not quite “ready for prime time” yet, we’ll start seeing some attrition in the marketplace in the next few months within the 64 video sites counted by Hitwise. Expect verticalization and B2B-ization of some of these players. Some of them might close as they run out of VC money.

Will Teenagers Continue Living their Online Lives in Public as they Grow Up?

Jason Fry from the Wall Street Journal writes about one of my favorite topics : “Will the kids who grew up with the Net (After Netters) become more like their elders (Before Netters) as they take on full-time jobs, relationships, children and the other stuff of adult life? Having once craved attention, will they now shun it? Or will they continue to live their lives in public, chronicling their ups and downs in ways their elders will find befuddling and disturbing?”

The origin of his article is a story that claims that “a quarter of human-resources decision makers had rejected job candidates because of personal information found online. ” Fry thinks that teenagers will continue to live their lives in public. He illustrates his thoughts with an example of what’s going to happen in the future: “Today, it’s pretty obvious that having the HR guy at your prospective employer find photos of college beer bongs isn’t a good idea. But that guy running HR isn’t going to be in his job forever. Before too long he’ll give way to an After Netter with an old MySpace page of her own out there for anyone to find. Will she conclude drunken snapshots are a sign of bad judgment and hire someone else? I very much doubt it. ”

And talking about your online persona, he adds: “What do you do when you realize how public your online life is? You could retreat into anonymity and try to ensure you leave no trace online (…). You could try to scrub your online image, getting rid of the things you’d rather not have people see and/or taking steps to elevate what you do want people to see in search results. But that generally doesn’t work. ”

“Or you could say “So what?” and accept that every aspect of your online life is out there for people to find and judge as they will. (…) That’s the strategy the After Net kids have pursued — not consciously, but because it’s the only world they’ve ever known. Will it cost some of them jobs? Undoubtedly — but not for much longer. Because it’s their world view that will win the day as they assume the positions of authority vacated by people my age. The ones who’ll struggle? Here’s betting it’ll be Before Netters like me, with our weirdly sterile Google lives that begin in middle age and our old-fashioned skittishness about online embarrassment and criticism.”

What it means: Not sure I completely agree with Jason Fry. I agree that we’ll see a generation who’s more comfortable with the multiplication of their online personas but I think they’ll be more logical about what’s out there. Anything that’s too fringe will have to be erased. We’ll see the rise of a new job: the Web Cleaner (a la Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction), who will go in, erase some stuff and create for you a new, more professional online persona. The explosive growth of Facebook, a site that’s more “serious” than MySpace, could also signal the maturing of the net native crowd.

What is Social Media?

In my daily work, I often use the expression “social media”. I’ve been asked to define it before but I always end up talking about user-generated content and reciprocal, two-way conversation between the user and the media. Wikipedia has a good definition but Joe Marchese from the Mediapost’s Online Spin adds more meat:

Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. These sites typically use technologies such as blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis, and vlogs to allow users to interact. A few prominent examples of social media applications are Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Gather.com (social networking),YouTube (video sharing), Second Life (virtual reality), Digg (news sharing), Flickr (photo sharing) and Miniclip (game sharing).” (source: Wikipedia)

Marchese begins: “first I think one of the biggest myths regarding social media is that it equals user-generated content. (…) Second, there is nothing about social media that demands user creation. The “media” part of social media can be anything from professional content to home videos. Just because “America’s Funniest Home Videos” consisted of user-generated content certainly didn’t make it social media. Conversely, just because “Heroes” is professionally produced doesn’t mean that it can’t be social media.”

He continues: “the real difference between broadcast media and social media is not the media itself, but the system of discovery, distribution, consumption and conversation surrounding the media. (…) What many of us are defining as social media today are actually just technologies specifically architected to facilitate people’s natural tendencies to seek out, share and discuss media content. Think about it. How is MySpace social medium? I would certainly say that MySpace is the largest and most influential social media platform of our time, but it doesn’t create media (at least not for most of it). The media one finds on MySpace is a mix of professional, semi-professional and (I hate using the term) “user- generated” content, and that media is made social by the context of its distribution and its ability to create dialogue between people. ANY TYPE OF MEDIA CAN BE SOCIAL MEDIA — and eventually all media will be social media in the most literal definition. This will have serious implications for media companies and advertisers alike, so it is important that we are not dismissing social media as the user-generated portion of the Internet.”

What it means: so my quasi, minimalistic definition wasn’t too far off. I agree that social media is all about the conversation but I think that, as part of that conversation, there will be some “user-generated content” happening. I agree that all media can be social media. I would even say that all media will have to become social media. Consumers are getting used to contributing to the conversation and that’s not going away. BTW, I like his thoughts regarding America’s Funniest Home Videos.