Category Archives: social graph

Widgets Suck?

I didn’t see Fred Wilson’s keynote at the Widget World Expo, but read about it on Nate Westheimer’s Silicon Alley Insider post:  Fred Wilson, Why Widgets Suck, And How to Fix Them

Nate writes:

His talk (you can see the slides at the bottom of this post) was titled “Why Widget Is the Wrong Word and Why it Matters,” but it was really about why widgets aren’t working today. …as widgets started to be used to display other web content…they became ‘relegated to the sidebar and increasingly seen as ad units and increasingly ignored.’  …But they shouldn’t be ignored, Fred argued. They should be integrated into the flow and experience of the page. Developers, he said, need to put more focus on widget user experience.

I believe Fred is more or less on point with his observations, but Nate’s point about “context” is even more essential.  In the long term widgets only make economic sense within the context of editorial experiences on websites outside the context of traditional social networking experiences.  In fact the basic building blocks of content-oriented websites will increasingly be “widgets” (e.g. blocks of modular, interactive content informed by social graph data).

As Fred points out in his blog it’s all about mashing up web services, and so the components of the widget, itself, must be modular and flow seamlessly with the page.  Therefore a new generation of “widget builders” is necessary for the task, which is something we’ve been working hard on at KickApps.  Moving forward, a single widget may draw on data from multiple web services and often won’t resemble the boxy things we now call “widgets”.

But it’s not just the definition of “widgets” that needs an overhaul to be relevant outside of the context of traditional social networking experiences.  The “social graph”, itself, needs break free from traditional social networking websites, and the reasons go well beyond “profile portability” (which industry people often make way too much of).

Widgets (and all content) increasingly need to be contextually-informed to be relevant, and that transformation of content can only happen with access to contextually relevant social graph data.  There’s no doubt that social graph data will be used to inform (socialize, personalize) editorial experiences on sites across the entire web—miles from the nearest social networking portal.  The problem for publishers is that existing uber-social graphs are simply not up to the job of serving individual websites.

Friend Connect and similar efforts may prove to be valuable for certain limited tasks as a kind of mega-phone book (e.g. portability), but the future will belong to web publishers that learn how to organize and make use of their own audience data, collected within the context of their own user experiences.

End Note:  KickApps provides the industry’s first Social Graph Engine ™ for Publishers.

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The Social Graph Engine

FAQ of the day: What about Google Connect?

The short answer:

Anytime the large social networks make it easier for us to help our customers (web publishers) promote audience growth, it’s a very good thing.

The long answer:

While few and far between, my blog posts have always been about the opportunity large social networks and traditional portals have to begin serving publishers across the entire web.  I’ve used phrases like “open portal”, “anti-portal” and “the distributed web” to describe this opportunity.  In sum, if the major players hope to extend their ad networks to credible publishers across the web, they will have to earn that inventory by helping publishers grow their audiences. After all, Fox and NBC have to earn the right to place ads across their network of independent television stations by providing their affiliates’ programs that grow ratings. The same is true for internet ad networks.

Recent “openness” initiatives by MySpace, Google and Facebook Connect begin to ask the right question: How can we begin providing value to the universe of websites outside our domain? It’s a first step, but only a baby step.

While these initiatives allow website publishers to make limited use of mega-portal social information, they don’t empower publishers to aggregate and own their own user profiles and social graph information.   I believe this limitation is fatal if the major social networks hope to interoperate with high value web publishers in a meaningful way.  Moving forward all serious publishers want to contextually inform their advertising experiences and user applications with real-time user data that is unique to their audience. It is therefore essential that publishers own and control their own community profile management, reporting and social graph engine.

Providing publishers their own social graph engine is core to the KickApps product offering.  In fact all KickApps applications (e.g. UGC, social networking, widget building, programmable video players, media management, member management), along with 3rd party OpenSocial and Facebook apps, are fully integrated with the KickApps social graph engine out of the box.    What’s equally important is that we provide a full set of APIs, customizable feeds, widget builder tools and a plug-in architecture such that our publishers can easily build and deploy their own custom applications that make full use of our social graph engine.

The KickApps platform will certainly integrate with Google Connect, Facebook Connect and MySpace because these initiatives may help our website publishers accelerate audience growth by tapping into “friends” on the big social networks. But this value to publishers is modest relative to the benefits of leveraging their own social graph engine. KickApps will continue to earn long-lasting relationships with publishers because our sole mission is to serve them.

More analysis from around the web:

Google Friend Connect: What’s the Point? Mike Gunderloy, Web Worker Daily, GigaOm Network

Why should I, as a webmaster, set aside part of my page for you to have a conversation in? Why should you, as a user, come to my site to talk with your Facebook friends, rather than using Facebook? Why should I have to choose which identity to share with a site, rather than just logging in with OpenID and interacting with other users of that site? What are we getting in return for pushing another stream of data through Google?

Google Confirms Friend Connect Erick
Schonfeld, TechCrunch

But it is not there yet. For instance, it doesn’t work with Google’s Social Graph API, and many more social and identity networks still need to be connected.  …The bigger downside of Friend Connect is that Websites using it cannot mash up the data with their own to make compelling new applications. Glazer confirmed that the data will be sent to third party sites via an iframe rather than directly through a set of APIs (as Michael speculated on Friday).  However, Glazer also says that he wouldn’t be surprised if eventually Google or somebody else makes it possible for Websites to combine the Friend Connect data with their own.

Facebook Connect and Google’s Friend Connect Charlene Li, Groundswell

Prying Open the Social Graph Stacey Higginbotham, GigaOM

Hooman on semantic web

I enjoyed Hooman Radfar’s post re semantic web at  Widgify. When semantic web finally rolls out in a meaningful way I doubt consumers will have any idea that they just experienced the “semantic web”.  They’ll just find that many separate services that they normally use in an ad hoc fashion are suddenly integrated in more interesting ways.  Semantic web will also bring new ways to navigate the internet.  More on that later.

Context Is King

With KickApps 2.0 now live I figure it’s about time to post some of the blog entries that I’ve been scribbling in my notebook the past few months. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but with the final episode of Rome beckoning on our DVR my wife says I have to keep it brief and type fast…

I’ve received a lot of enthusiastic feedback following my talk at the MIT Enterprise Forum, but the question on the mind of most publishers seems to be: how can they compete effectively with the likes of YouTube and MySpace for audience and revenue? It’s my favorite question because the answer is easy–it’s not their job to compete with the big general purpose portals! Publishers have an asset more valuable than low CPM traffic, namely an identifiable audience attracted to specific editorial content. To thrive, publishers have to convert their audiences into communities, and the most effective way to do that is to encourage participation around every aspect of their content. In other words, when it comes to building community, context is king.

Publishers can transform their site experiences into something far more compelling by inviting visitors to bring their own opinions, media and friends to the party. The operative word is “party” because with that perspective publishers can begin to recognize that their role is as much party host (and door bouncer) as it is content provider. Great editorial content (e.g. videos, photos, text articles) is just the beginning of the user experience, not the end-all. As publishers embrace the concept of “openness” the purpose of editorial content increasingly will be to get the conversation started by encouraging user participation around specific topics.

But enabling user participation within the context of specific content websites requires a much more flexible and modular implementation than what you might find at general purpose portals like YouTube. User content (whether videos, photos, blogs, personal pages or forums) must live alongside editorial content, not on remote “community pages.” An editorial story about World Cup Soccer, for example, might be surrounded by UGC modules containing soccer-related blogs, forums, member lists and videos. As the distinction between editorial and UGC continues to blur, have no doubt that stand-alone “community pages” (or message boards that live apart from editorial content) will soon be tired vestiges of internet days gone by.

Context is Meaning

Everyone has a theory as to how MySpace became the dominant social networking destination.  Was it weak competitors?  Better technology?  Interface design?  Savvy grassroots marketing?  Timing and momentum?  Blind luck?  Maybe all those things had something to do with it, but I tend to think that MySpace took hold on the strength of its original purpose: bands, music and underground hip (and hot girls also had something to do with it, I’m sure).  In other words, MySpace provided an initial context through which their community took root and grew.

Since then dozens of new social communities have appeared, funded by tens of millions of dollars from the venture capital community eager to participate in this aspect of the Web 2.0 tsunami.  Some have more and better features, others more robust architectures, yet none of the new general purpose portals have taken significant market share from MySpace.  So, is it game over?

KickApps is premised on the assumption that the next wave of successful social networking (and user-generated content) communities will come from major media websites and other content providers that offer their audiences contextually specific reasons to aggregate.  It’s easy to imagine why very large communities will form overnight around specific cable networks, reality shows, talk shows, radio stations, newspapers, universities, religious groups, expatriate organizations, gaming enthusiasts, celebrities, extreme sports, etc, etc.  And it’s easy to see why advertisers will be willing to pay a meaningful cost per thousand for advertising within a community with knowable demographics and closely moderated content.

From a user perspective, uploading photos and videos to new, niche-oriented communities is not a significant barrier to entry—anyone under the age of 35 can handle that task in a matter of minutes.  But from a webmaster perspective, the harder barrier to entry is technology development.  This is especially true for major media properties that will require sophisticated media management, administration and reporting functionality to protect their brands (and advertisers) from pornography and other potentially offensive material.  Building a very basic application that accepts video uploads and displays them on a page is relatively easy.  But when time-to-market is a critical competitive issue, building all the tools necessary to moderate and customize a community experience is quite another story.

So we built the KickApps platform with an eye toward serving many thousands of websites, big and small, with a hosted, turnkey approach to implementing sophisticated community functionality.  Our emphasis is scalability and customization with a range of tools that allows websites to focus on creating premium content and tasks more relevant to their core competencies.  Our roadmap will increasingly enable features that provide additional branding, real-time reporting and the dynamic inclusion of premium content within pages served by our platform.  Our implementation paradigm of “Viral Widgets” will allow our affiliates to present contextually relevant user-generated and premium content with an ever-growing array of styles and flexible layouts, and our Affiliate Center will evolve into a data-mining dashboard, providing real-time information.

The KickApps “Open Portal” philosophy is about providing easy access to a range of hosted technologies that enhances the community experience within our affiliate websites.  More on the Open Portal concept in my next entry.