The Side Effect

Over the past two months, with the arrival of App.net, my social media usage has undergone a noticeable shift. Rather than pouring my inane thoughts and reflections into one digital funnel, Twitter, my attention has been divided. I no longer have the capability, nor the inclination, to mindlessly share my feelings at even the most anti-social and ill-fitting of times.

Instead, when something strikes me — something I typically would've tweeted without much further consideration — my mind now poses the question as to which social network I should share this thought with.

As an aside, I'm fully aware that App.net and Twitter are fundamentally different and that the two are vying for mutual exclusivity but, for now, the simple truth is that they are living in uncomfortable harmony on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Despite my keen desire for App.net to prevail over its competitor and, indeed, for it to grow into something altogether different for a new digital age, I'm not yet at a point of psychological comfort with the notion of Twitter abandonment.

Accordingly, I'm faced with an interesting side-effect — one that I'm actually quite pleased to endure. That is, despite the ubiquity of Twitter-enabled posting tools and capabilities, I no longer feel the beckoning of such thoughtless sharing. Despite the enabling draw of the Twitter echo-chamber, I'm now aware of the futility of such sharing.

As I instinctively reach for my phone and my thumb hovers over Netbot and Tweetbot, my decision increasingly defaults to "neither." Despite the endearing aesthetic similarities — and the psychological duping therein — I'm forced into a self-evaluation of what I once would've callously shared. Now, as I consider the separate audiences of Twitter and App.net and to whom my thoughts might appeal to the most, more often than not, I realize that the thought is altogether unworthy of sharing to either. That I'd be better off keeping my phone in my pocket and pressing on with engagements outside of the ephemera of Twitter and App.net.

One of the most endearing characteristics of App.net, in its current state, is the social network's propensity toward more mindful discussion. Allowing for lengthier thoughts to share with an audience primarily comprised of thoughtful geeks, App.net has — at least for me — slowed my typical desire to repeatedly re-visit and re-check my stream. I've grown increasingly conscious of the merit and value of my posts, rather than simply spewing lazy questions for others to unenthusiastically endure.

Given our collective distaste with Twitter's business decisions and our increasing cognizance of our digital reliance, I cannot help but think this might prove to be the most alluring element of the App.net environment. Rather than preying upon trending topics and reacting to live events, with App.net we might instead choose to reserve its usage for content and thought befitting of its clientele.

I'm unsure whether this side-effect is temporary or permanent, but I'm unequivocally pleased it's here at least for the time being. I have no desire to become a obnoxious over-sharer, I'd much rather occasionally write a quick thought that stokes some discussion. Whether I have the capability to be that person is yet to be seen, but I'm willing to try.

Reflexively reaching for a means to share inconsequential thoughts is an unhealthy and anti-social phenomenon and, despite its accessibility and lure, it should be treated with far more consideration and self-awareness than it is today. There's a fine line between truly interacting with people and just yelling loudly into a room filled with other people yelling loudly. In my eyes, Twitter seems to embody the latter, whilst App.net has the potential to enable the former. Perhaps we should embrace the "decision" side-effect, and bring that to fruition.

Regarding the Facebook Privacy Notice

Facebook

Early this week, I noticed an influx of Facebook privacy notices posted by friends on the social network. Sporting some lengthy legal jargon and blatant ignorance unseen since the day of late-nineties email chains, the notice is clearly utterly meaningless. Fortunately, Mat Honan has done everyone a favor and proven such an assumption as fact:

This is the online equivalent of wearing a “no fat chicks” t-shirt, and is just as enforceable. You might as well post a status update that Facebook owes you a gazillion dollars and a bigger penis for all the good it will do.

Your interactions with Facebook are governed by an agreement you previously made, that both parties entered into—even if you didn’t read it. When you signed up with Facebook, you agreed to its terms of service. If you’ve been there for a while, you’ve even agreed to new terms as they’ve been updated over the years. That doesn’t change because Facebook is a public company, and it doesn’t change because you post some dumb crap on your timeline. It changes when Facebook offers new terms, and you accept them either by explicit agreement or your continued presence there.

Fantastic.

Facebook: The Long-Awaited Web Interface for Instagram

Facebook

Contrary to popular opinion, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram need not spell death for the novel photography-sharing social network. Rather, the deal highlights Facebook’s endeavors toward fostering an environment conducive to all-important increased end-user engagement.

Boasting a shockingly poor pedigree of mobile applications, Facebook has, thus far, utterly failed to infiltrate the burgeoning market of mobile photography. With increasingly competent cameras, mobile phone owners worldwide are beginning to unlock a chest of vast potential within their own devices. High-quality photography has, simply put, stoked confidence in mobile phones as viable replacements for traditional point-and-shoot cameras and, in doing so, has opened the door for a new paradigm of novel interactivity between people.

Facebook, at the end of the day, is in the business of exploiting the novelty of such newfound means for interconnectivity. Originally incepted as a vessel for ogling classmates and chipping away at perceived social barriers in real life, Facebook aided in the redefinition of typical sociability. Rather than exchanging a phone number, many began to add each other on Facebook — photographs, interests, and friendly interactions betraying a person’s leanings far better than even the most adept mind might elicit from a brief conversation.

And yet, since its founding, Facebook has remained largely unchanged. Mr. Zuckerberg and his organization have merely sought to uncover and promote new ways in which personal information might be shared. Whether it’s location-based socializing, ubiquitous messaging, status updates, or the recent Timeline initiative, the core principles of Facebook, albeit bloated, have remained relatively unscathed. Built as a device to shatter social walls between Internet users, Facebook has grown into a behemoth in the field, deftly swatting away inevitable privacy violations, breaches in security, and even the most compelling of competitors.

For all of the innovation poured into Facebook’s core web service, however, is a missed opportunity in the mobile space. With its acquisition of Instagram, Facebook has demonstrated contextual awareness and true reflexiveness for the first time in years. Aware of an impending and compelling threat from the mobile sphere, Facebook recognized its most prominent feature — photography — and its most prominent threat therein — Instagram — and acted. Accordingly, due to the mitigation of a threat and the evident awareness of the importance of photography to the service, many onlookers have embraced paranoia with regard to the integrity of Instagram.

Such rife paranoia amongst the technology community is of powerful importance to the Facebook/Instagram equation, insofar as — regardless of Facebook’s true intent — its mere presence conjures fear in the mind of the user. Facebook has a poisonous mobile brand and, as a result, has endangered its intentions in its acquisition of Instagram. Simply put, Facebook’s intentions must center around engagement. Increased engagement equates to increased revenue. But, in doing so, Facebook must not damage the trust and interest of the average Instagram user.

As Facebook’s astonishing growth continues to slow, the social network has been forced into an era of introspection. Lost is the goal of broadening the reach of the service in exchange for today’s guiding conceit. That is, Facebook must keep existing users entertained, engaged, and interested in order to remain afloat. Without such interaction, Facebook’s profitability and relevance are both associatively undermined.

Many have recognized this state of affairs and have thereby come to the assumption that Facebook must, therefore, incorporate advertising into Instagram, or that Facebook must deeply shoehorn Instagram into its existing infrastructure.

Not necessarily.

Boasting a poisonous mobile brand, a threatening presence as owner of the service, and a tenuous position as an advertising-driven entity, Facebook is not in a position to tamper with a beloved brand. Quite the contrary, I would imagine Facebook’s goal is to complement it. If Facebook can sustain the relevance of Instagram without culling competitive features (i.e., Twitter sharing), the social networking giant will suddenly have tens of millions of satisfied, active users adjoined to its existing services.

Facebook has grown beyond its bounds as a social facilitator. It is bloated, clunky, and broaches far too many privacy concerns. Instagram and its small-time brethren, on the other hand, are characterized by an overarching sense of versatility, responsiveness, and agility. As is betrayed by the Instagram purchase, Facebook is interested in extensive weight loss within its central infrastructure in order to remain competitive with such entities.

If Facebook can successfully incorporate the affable characteristics of smaller social networks such as Instagram and Path, refocus on mobile in a compelling manner, and introduce a fundamentally new, coordinated social paradigm, then I imagine Facebook will regain an enormous quantity of its alienated users. The most obvious initiating steps are as follows:

  1. Leave Instagram relatively unharmed. Perhaps integrate some loose branding, but do not quash the guiding integrity and pleasantry of the Instagram experience.
  2. Do not tamper with Instagram’s interoperability with competing social networks. As a Facebook entity, Instagram photography shared to competing services will only redirect traffic toward Facebook, not undermine the Facebook brand.
  3. Most importantly, whilst largely separate, position Facebook as an optional backend for Instagram. Currently largely unseen outside of the app, many users have been clamoring for a web-interface for years. Facebook — as photography powerhouse and social network — would be an ideal candidate for such storage and interaction.
  4. Do not make Step 3 compulsory. Allow Instagram users to exist alone and apart from Facebook.

What would such actions accomplish? Simple: Instagram’s long-lost, oft-requested web interface. Why? Tens of millions of active, engaged advertising impressions.

Suddenly, without harming the significance and integrity of Instagram as a standalone entity, Facebook is repositioned as the web interface for all compliant users. Inevitably, some users will refrain but, for the average user, I imagine a great deal would willfully engage. In doing so, Facebook will have constructed a corridor through which millions of users may fall into active engagement with Facebook and, associatively, its advertising-centric revenue model.

Investing in the expansion and relevance of Instagram as a satellite structure will facilitate a corridor through which users may pass into the central Facebook structure. Shared photos are no longer isolated to desolate instagr.am pages, they are kept in a centralized, interesting, timeline-laced repository within Facebook.

Such a concept is undoubtedly repulsive for the vast majority of ONE37 readers but, realistically, it is the only hope of the sustenance of Instagram as a relatively independent entity. Advertising is no longer necessitated, users are happily engaged, and some — if they so choose — are able to enjoy a compelling web-interface for their colorfully filtered photographs. In turn, Facebook gains active users, concordant profits, and takes a significant leap toward resurgent affability in the eyes of the end-user.

The central problem Facebook must contend with is its name. No matter how benevolent Mr. Zuckerberg’s intentions may be, few users will feel comfortable sitting beneath the all-seeing eye of the Facebook brand. Although ostensibly becoming an Instagram web interface does not mitigate this psychological hurdle, Facebook performing an act of surprisingly positive intent towards the end-user will certainly go along way.

In a period characterized by agile social networks usurping the bloated, all-encompassing relevance of Facebook, the best option is to adopt the basic tenet of humbleness. Arrogantly absorbing a popular application, replacing the name, diluting functionality, and replacing its heart with an iconic Facebook thumbs up, will simply serve to further alienate its loosely allegiant user base.

The average Internet user is fickle. Any conception otherwise is utterly misguided. Just as MySpace faded into insignificance in a matter of weeks, there is nothing to say the same fate cannot befall Facebook. Humbly recognizing strengths and weaknesses, respecting the user, re-strengthening a brand, and incorporating the help of another, Facebook may yet prove agile despite its size.

Fortune: Is Pinterest the Next Facebook?

Pinterest

Given the growing (and obnoxious) media cacophony surrounding Pinterest, it’s becoming rather difficult to ignore the Internet’s current social networking darling. With each passing day, Pinterest seems to shed its projected stereotype as a female-centric social network, and take several steps toward a fairly well-deserved role as a serious contender in the Internet arena.

Unsurprisingly, such success has prompted rampant discussion of Pinterest’s long-term viability. And, in turn, such discussion has led to the painfully inevitable question: “Is Pinterest the next Facebook?” Posed by Jessi Hempel for Fortune, Jessi writes:

It’s clear from the new user page that the Facebook ethos has rubbed off on Pinterest. Each user can upload a profile photo, and there’s a stream of continually updating pinboards, not unlike the information on Facebook. Pinterest uses Facebook Connect to let Facebook members log on to Pinterest and opt to publish their activity to their Facebook newsfeed. But as Pinterest gains traction, it becomes a potential threat to the social media giant. Facebook has pretty much captured the U.S. market for subscribers, so its growth is likely to come from engagement — keeping users on the site longer. As more people spend more time pinning — and revealing to marketers the kinds of hobbies and objects they covet — it may cut into the time they have to spend on Facebook.

Following the hiring of Tim Kendall, the creator of Facebook’s monetization strategy, such a question is (cosmetically) fair to consider, but the question overlooks the very nature of Pinterest.

Pinterest — much like Twitter and Instagram — is dedicated to doing one thing exceptionally well, but it certainly does not portend to undermine Facebook. Pinterest facilitates the sharing of images, products, and design, but it lacks any semblance of a true interconnected social strategy. Although you can “follow” people, the relationship does not proceed further than literally viewing the cosmetic interests of others.

Pinned images are to Pinterest what Tweets are to Twitter. You may reply, re-share with your own followers, or save those pins for later, but Pinterest’s interactions lack any semblance of depth. Although images and products may betray a person’s aesthetic interests — as the social network’s name suggests — the nature of Pinterest does not allow for the true inter-personal connections that you might find on Twitter or Facebook.

Above all, Pinterest is a prominent agent of the impending shift in social media, insofar as it does not attempt to encompass all social activities — only one. Just as Twitter excels with textual updates, Instagram with photography, and Path with private sharing, Pinterest facilitates the sharing of aesthetic interests and leanings.

It’s important to acknowledge that Facebook encompasses all such functionality, but does not particularly excel at any.

From my perspective, it is not a question of which specific social network will usurp Facebook’s position, but what combination of them will. Pinterest coupled with Twitter, Path, and Instagram allows for a fairly broad social landscape — one that is interconnected and one that excels in far more areas than Facebook might attempt. The rise of powerful APIs characterizes an environment in which competitors may achieve a loose form of connectivity without the need for directly absorbing functionality. In this environment, the all-encompassing mediator, Facebook, is unnecessary.

Given the relatively small scale and intent of such networks, they are far more responsive to end-user desire. Facebook, on the other hand, is stifled by its sheer magnitude.

One significant differentiating factor between these smaller networks, however, is Pinterest’s obviously viable business model. As a social network dedicated to the facilitation of an attractive and influential medium between consumer and product, Pinterest is well positioned to swivel into a monetization strategy between these two entities. As such, I imagine the platform’s value will grow exponentially over the coming months.

Despite the aforementioned strength and potential of Pinterest, it would be foolish to misconstrue such viability as evidence of Pinterest usurping Facebook’s dominance. Facebook and Pinterest are fundamentally different and, while Pinterest may compliment other social networks and chip away at Facebook’s active userbase, it simply does not pose a threat as a Facebook replacement.

Regardless of reason, I dishearteningly imagine it’s only a matter of days before we are greeted with a new “Is Pinterest the Next ?” article. Such is the nature of the media.

Incidentally, you can follow my experimentations with Pinterest here.