Prompted by this Friendster press release about their US patent # 7,069,308 entitled "System, method and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks"
Myspace dominates US social networking sites. Indeed it dominates all US web accesses. As I noted in June, Facebook comes in 3rd among US users of social networking sites, far behind MySpace. But Facebook has nearly complete control of the college social networking market. And they appear to be leveraging that elite position very effectively.
Facebook started with incremental rollouts at US and then UK colleges. In September 2005 they added a separate site for high school students. In February 2006 they allowed college networks and high school networks to interconnect. Finally, a few months ago they started adding corporations. At every stage they have preserved a sense of exclusivity. For example, you must have an appropriate email address (initially a ".edu" address at a member school) in order to register. Of course once you are registered, you can substitute any other email address and, while you start as a member of the network at your college, you can search across all networks for people and invite them to be friends. So there's a strong sense of exclusivity or elitism, but not as much exclusivity as you think.
Fred Stutzman, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina, posts a very interesting analysis of Facebook adoption among incoming freshman at UNC. The first thing to note is that more than 90% of incoming freshman have signed up on Facebook by the beginning of the summer before they arrive on campus. This was true in 2005 and it is true now. What's different this year is that most incoming UNC freshman already have a large set of friends on Facebook that are not part of the UNC network. Here's the image from Stutzman's essay.
Obviously the high school program has worked wonders. Evidently anyone planning on going to college (at least to UNC), gets onto Facebook while they are still in high school.
Today Myspace gets five times the page views of Facebook, but of all the English language social networking sites (i.e. not counting sites like Cyworld), Facebook has the market position as the exclusive, I'd say elitist, service and they appear to be leveraging that position effectively.
Look for Facebook to move from #3 to #2 in short order.
Perhaps more important, when it comes to monetizing social networking services, Facebook's user demographics give them a strong position. (Some indicators here).
As Xia commented on Tuesday, the Connect 2006 organizing team has updated the conference website with additional information, including session descriptions, special event information, accommodations, sponsorships, and registration. Details at http://www.nmscommunications.com/News/Events/Connect2006 . Still to come are the details on speakers. We've attracted some significant outside speakers to help us all get a better picture of the evolving telecom landscape and some of the available opportunities. Hopefully the team will have that information up on the conference website shortly.
For at least the past seven years, Tim Berners-Lee and the W3C have been advocating and working on the semantic web, a set of organizing principals for the web. Some parts, like XML, are in wide use but the project as a whole has made little progress.
Today I saw an interesting post from Aaron Swartz (the co-author of RSS 1.0) in which he proposes a third path. It's a rather obvious idea - now that I've read Aaron's article. :-)
Both the code and the markup positions make the assumption that users
will be publishing their own work on their own websites and thus we'll
need some way of reconciling it. But Wikipedia points to a different
model, where all the users come to one website, where the
interface for inputting data in the proper format is clear and
unambiguous, and the users can work together to resolve any conflicts
that may come up.
The Wikipedia model. It's clear that all three approaches can work and all will be used, but I wonder if there aren't many other domains, besides an encyclopedia, where the Wikipedia approach would take off.
If you are at all interested in the organization of information and the Web, Aaron's post is well worth reading.
Even with an estimated 30,000 internet police, he said it was difficult
to monitor bulletin boards. "The technology hasn't reached a level that
will allow us to control them. And we must also consider the trend of
democratisation, which cannot be stopped," he said. "China is very big.
If you want to control such a large country, mere politics is not
enough. You must control minds. You need to win the battle for ideas."
As I've commented in the past, the Internet is as significant in its long term benefit for humanity as were the advent of speech, writing and the printing press in their epochs. Each has allowed a greater number of people to connect with other people across distance and time. The sharing that results is natural, enormously beneficial and unstoppable.
It appears the Indian Department of Telecommunications has given Indian ISPs a rather extensive (several pages long) list of specific blogs to be blocked, but that some ISPs have reacted by blocking all blogs at popular hosting services like Blogspot and Typepad. Rumors are flying. The "Great Indian Mutiny" claims:
Two sources, one inside the Government of India and the other kind
of inside/outside have confirmed to the Mutiny, that ISPs are being
instructed to ‘control’ access to blogspot. It seems that some blogs
are being used by some terror units (read SIMI) to communicate.
There is a crack down in place. IP numbers are being physically
located and identified. All should come back to normal once this
operation is over. There is no ban in place.
Of course, if the goal is to catch terrorists, leaving blogs alone and secretly tracing specific people and specific blogs would seem to be a much more effective strategy.
What I find disappointing is the mainstream Indian press. Where is the outcry? Where is the discussion? This situation has been visible in the Indian blogsphere since Saturday morning Indian time. It's now (very) early Tuesday morning in India and yet I haven't seen any coverage in the mainstream Indian press beyond the Rediff article mentioned above.
What's up with the "world's largest democracy"? Why no discussion?
Some postings do little more than point to a press release but others add bits and pieces of discussion, like "unifying 2 of the large 4 instant messaging services ... (MSN, AIM, Yahoo and Jabber)." Others mention ICQ, but no one mentions QQ - the largest instant messaging service in China currently peaking daily at 20 million simultaneously on-line users from a base of 493 million registered users at least 221 million of which are "active subscribers". I don't have access to 3rd party subscriber estimates, certainly not apples-to-apples comparisons but, based on the Wikipedia entry, I'd say QQ is a major IM service provider we ought to be watching.
I've commented before on how little real knowledge there is about Asia among those of us in the US & EU. That's unfortunate as the number of Internet users in China is second only to those in the US and the use of the mobile Internet is more widespread in Asia than anywhere else in the world. Many new mobile phone applications already originate in Asia (e.g. ringback tones which started in 2002 in Korea).
Going forward we should expect many new mobile Internet and Internet applications to start in Asia. It's time to pay attention folks!
Shingo Murakami, Roger Premo, Ina Trantcheva and Erik Yeager – students at MIT's Sloan School of Management – have just published the results of a survey they recently completed. They surveyed 60 companies with annual sales between $100M & $1B on their outsourcing activities. I checked with Erik this morning – these were all US companies. As expected, language was mentioned as an important issue in forming outsourcing relationships, ranking third after "Specific Technical Expertise" and "Price." What surprised me was the extent to which language actually drove the selection of outsourcing locations. Here's the relevant picture:
Note the high scores for the US and India. It turns out the question in the survey only allowed for the countries listed, but a number of respondents specifically mentioned Canada and Ireland as other important outsourcing locations.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. At NMS we have our own staff all over the world, including major development centers in Montreal and Bangalore, and technical staff in France, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, etc. But everyone we hirer is an English speaker. We also do some outsourcing to both English speaking nations and to Russia, but again the people we contract with speak English.
A few months ago I spoke with a friend running a high tech company in Germany. Since the expansion of the EU, he's been hiring engineers from eastern Europe, but only those that can speak German.
I've never found culture differences to be a problem. Motivated people can easily bridge cultural gaps. But language is indeed an obstacle, apparently more so than I realized.
Cellular-news summarizes a report from The Usable Products Company on user response to the video and music player capabilities of three specific handsets (Kyocera Angel, LG Fusic & Samsung SCH-a950) on three specific US services (Amp'd, Sprint & Verizon). Verizon came out slightly ahead, although nothing to write home about.
I find this interesting, as I subscribe to Verizon VCast (on a Motorola e815). Frankly, I've just about given up using the service as there's little content that I am interested in and it's just too painfully slow.
It doesn't have to be that way. Playing with friend's 3G handsets in Singapore a few weeks ago, there were useful sites that delivered video information rapidly enough to keep one's attention.
One technical approaches is to use 3G-324 video, i.e. video over 64 kbps circuit-switched data! This has a 6-10 second delay to get connected, but then can deliver continuous video with rapid video switching and not interruptions. But that's a QoS effect that only matter during the busy hour. The real issue is user interface design.
Of course the bigger issue is wider access to 3rd party applications. When will US operators figure out that walled gardens are stifling their business?
In a long and interesting essay on standard interfaces, Martin Geddes makes the following comment about broadband, or more generally, fixed telecom networks:
There’s still some important unanswered questions.
How far up the stack to transition from “municipal” to “for
profit”? Brough Turner says “layer 0” at the rights of way. Bob
Frankston says “layer 2”, at the IP interface. Me? I think it depends
on local conditions, with a pragmatic cost/benefit analysis. In older
suburban USA with poles in the air you might
get a different answer to central Edinburgh with everything buried
under centuries of accumulated crap.
I don't agree (about dependence on local conditions). And I don't like framing the choices as "municipal" or "for profit." I will own up to advocating layer 0 competition and/or public ownership at layer 0 only.
As I've previously discussed, political processes are glacial when compared to Moore's law. Whether it's community, municipal, state or national ownership or regulation, we are talking about political processes that, once established, focus on the status quo and, at worst, are subject to regulatory capture.
To understand what makes sense, consider evolution rates at each "layer" of a local connection.
Routers and Switches, i.e. TCP/IP or Ethernet: Moore's law or faster
Lighting the fiber: Moore's law or faster
Fiber itself: Slowly improving - 20+ year useful life
Conduits and poles: Very slow evolution - 20-50 years useful life (with maintenance)
Local rights-of-way: Fixed, limited and already communally owned.
These are not "local conditions." These evolution rates are global and the answers they suggest are equally global.
Rights-of-way are already publicly or communally owned. Conduits, poles and the like are infrastructure in those rights-of-way and logically owned or regulated by the same bodies.
Dark fiber could be publicly owned or individually owned (condominium fiber) or run by a regulated utility (can you say structural separation?). Personally I'd like to buy my own dark fiber connections from a condominium fiber project, but I'd settle for publicly owned dark fiber if I could choose which ISP lights the fiber to my house.
But don't allow a government owned or regulated body to light the fibers! Whatever electronics they choose today will be completely obsolete in 2-3 years. (NTT and China Telecom would argue that the electronics Verizon is using to light the Fios network is already obsolete today!). Personally I'd pay for new electronics every 2-3 years. My cousin might only upgrade electronics every 5-8 years.
So rather than "municipal" versus "for profit" please allow for the possibility of individually owned fiber (via condominium fiber projects). Frame the discussion as public versus private ownership or control, and limit the public portion to dark fiber at most.