The latest “shiny social object”: an open/controllable social network?

Poster inside a Facebook office

Well, I’ve been taking a lot of shots in the past few weeks for always covering the latest shiny social object. You know, first it was Twitter. Then Jaiku. Then Facebook. Pownce. On and on.

The critics say that either I’m late to the game, like with Facebook, or that I’m just too scattered and not looking for real value. Or that I don’t stay on one thing long enough to learn it well and add real value to my writings.

Fair enough. Although one thing I’d like to clear up. When I yammer on endlessly about Facebook that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped using any of the others. Twitter, for instance, is just a constant part of my life now.

Anyway, last night I was at the Facebook party aka “Lunch 2.0.” I met Mark Zuckerberg and his sister, Randi, and a ton of Facebook employees and executives. It is one of those parties that in about five years we’ll all be looking back on as a major inflection point in the valley. I stayed until the very end. In fact, even after the party ended a small group of us hang outside of Facebook’s offices and kept talking about what is going to happen in social networking.

One of the guys was John McCrea, vice president of marketing for Plaxo.

He told me that on Monday Plaxo i sgoing to turn on a new version. Ahh, a new “shiny social object.”

But then he explained why we should care: Plaxo is going to open up a new social network that’s both open as well as controllable. Translation: Plaxo is making a play for Facebook.

First, let’s go back to Facebook. Why does everyone say it’s a “walled garden?” Because you can’t get to data stored on Facebook unless you’re a Facebook member. Two days ago I did a video for Chris Pirillo on Facebook. Chris instantly got excited and wanted to share that with his blog’s readers. But he couldn’t. That video is locked inside Facebook’s walled garden. If you don’t have a key (a Facebook account) you can’t see it.

John told me that on Monday Plaxo will come out with a social network that gets rid of the walled garden.

Why did I say a couple of weeks ago that Facebook is a “data roach motel?” Because I can put all sorts of information about myself into Facebook (I could, for instance, tell you that I like “Daft Punk.” But, do I own that data? Can I get it out of Facebook? No).

John told me that on Monday Plaxo will come out with a social network that lets me own my own data and take it out of Plaxo and put it on other social networks.

Finally, I’ve been getting a few complaints about what I’ve been doing with Facebook. By turning Facebook into a professional networking tool I’m causing problems for people who saw it as a social tool to keep in touch with their college friends. See, Facebook for the first three years of its existence was mostly a tool for college kids to pass photos and other funny things around. Now, if you have photos of your frat party at college do you really want your new boss and coworkers to see those? Probably not.

But Facebook isn’t controllable. You can’t really have two groups of friends. One group that sees your drunken college frat photos and another group that sees you making presentations to your board of directors.

John told me that on Monday Plaxo will come out with a social network that lets me control which groups of friends (or family) that can see certain items.

OK, sounds like Plaxo is going to kill Facebook and bring down Facebook’s value by a few billion dollars. The bubble 2.0 will end. Zuckerberg will drag his tail away from the valley defeated. Etc etc etc. Right?

It’s not going to happen. Here’s why. It’s too late and the walled garden will keep people locked in.

Huh?

Sorry, Facebook already has momentum and a coolness about it that Plaxo doesn’t exude. I don’t really know how to explain the coolness without sounding really idiotic and goofy. That’s part of the 20-something vibe that Facebook has going for it right now. Oh, here’s a photo of me looking at the artwork in the Facebook offices. That might explain a little bit about it. There’s lots of other photos from the event last night here.

But it’s there and can’t be ignored. If John could explain to me how he’s going to get the world’s college students to look away from Facebook and toward something else maybe I’d go along with this “more open and controllable” Plaxo. My head is telling me that Plaxo is the way to go but my emotion tells me that Facebook is more fun.

The other thing is that BECAUSE of Facebook’s “closed” nature I’m not likely to leave it anytime soon. Why? Because if Facebook has 10% more content than the other networks do (which it will have because of the momentum that Facebook has today) that the more “open” networks will always seem lame in comparison.

But, on Monday I’ll try out the new Plaxo. I’m into “shiny social objects” and will report to you the pros and the cons. The problem, though, is that even if I get really excited about it my email is demonstrating that many of the world won’t be listening and won’t care.

What do you think?

After I get up this morning I’ll film a video explaining more of my thoughts and I’ll put that on my Kyte channel. For now Nokia’s CTO left me a little message there. I’ll do more stuff from the Always On conference today.

[kyte.tv 6118]

125 thoughts on “The latest “shiny social object”: an open/controllable social network?

  1. Robert,

    How come you don’t mention mega social network sites like MyLifeBrand.com (http://www.mylifebrand.com) This site allows users to belong to numerous sites and access all of their memberships under one domain. I personally think that this is the wave of the future. As long as there is money behind Plaxo and other social network sites they are going to stay around. They’ll fulfill different niche functions. But then one website, MyLifeBrand will allow users to bring these different niches together as one.

  2. Robert,

    How come you don’t mention mega social network sites like MyLifeBrand.com (http://www.mylifebrand.com) This site allows users to belong to numerous sites and access all of their memberships under one domain. I personally think that this is the wave of the future. As long as there is money behind Plaxo and other social network sites they are going to stay around. They’ll fulfill different niche functions. But then one website, MyLifeBrand will allow users to bring these different niches together as one.

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  4. At one time AOL and Compuserve had momentum…

    I think this is a smart comment. And what killed them both? The web.

    The thing that succeeds Facebook, MySpace et al isn’t going to be another site that some company throws up. It’s going to be something far deeper than that; a standard for sharing data and connections between people, across all the networks and tools out there on the Internet.

    The groundwork is already being laid, and it’s only a matter of time before we all move on.

  5. At one time AOL and Compuserve had momentum…

    I think this is a smart comment. And what killed them both? The web.

    The thing that succeeds Facebook, MySpace et al isn’t going to be another site that some company throws up. It’s going to be something far deeper than that; a standard for sharing data and connections between people, across all the networks and tools out there on the Internet.

    The groundwork is already being laid, and it’s only a matter of time before we all move on.

  6. @46 good point. The original users of Facebook…the college crowd wanted a place that wwas “theirs” and wasn’t Myspace. Since Facebook opened up, those original users now dpn’t like the fact that geezers, dweebs, and punks that used to hang out Myspace are now peeing in the Facebook pool. So they would welcome another place of their own. So, It’s unlikely there will be a “Google” equivalent for social networks. If Facebook is not careful they will prove right what Yogi Berra once said about a once popular restaurant: “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”

  7. @46 good point. The original users of Facebook…the college crowd wanted a place that wwas “theirs” and wasn’t Myspace. Since Facebook opened up, those original users now dpn’t like the fact that geezers, dweebs, and punks that used to hang out Myspace are now peeing in the Facebook pool. So they would welcome another place of their own. So, It’s unlikely there will be a “Google” equivalent for social networks. If Facebook is not careful they will prove right what Yogi Berra once said about a once popular restaurant: “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”

  8. Well, you’ve got it mostly right with Facebook and maybe one of your other 40-something comments made this point, but you can use Facebook two ways. There’s a setting that limits easily your work contacts/friends from your friend/friends (who you don’t mind seeing some debauchery) — Simply click “limited profile” when adding/authorizing the friend, and choose what that limited profile looks like for everyone you have that setting for… Eliminating the concerns of work vs. friend relationships. Besides, the colleagues won’t know what they’re missing if you have all of them choked down.

    Just my two cents worth… From someone who uses that feature frequently!

  9. Well, you’ve got it mostly right with Facebook and maybe one of your other 40-something comments made this point, but you can use Facebook two ways. There’s a setting that limits easily your work contacts/friends from your friend/friends (who you don’t mind seeing some debauchery) — Simply click “limited profile” when adding/authorizing the friend, and choose what that limited profile looks like for everyone you have that setting for… Eliminating the concerns of work vs. friend relationships. Besides, the colleagues won’t know what they’re missing if you have all of them choked down.

    Just my two cents worth… From someone who uses that feature frequently!

  10. These new social networks are springing up all the time, but only a few can stand out. No one is going to visit multiple (maybe two or three) sites to social network. So the new networks need to pull people away from old services if they want to gather a user base. They need to include features to integrate with other social networks, and sports new features that people will want. Much easier said then done. If you don’t gain a user base quickly, you’ll be just another dead social network. It is getting to be a pretty large graveyard.

    -Vainentree
    http://thenerdcan.wordpress.com/

  11. These new social networks are springing up all the time, but only a few can stand out. No one is going to visit multiple (maybe two or three) sites to social network. So the new networks need to pull people away from old services if they want to gather a user base. They need to include features to integrate with other social networks, and sports new features that people will want. Much easier said then done. If you don’t gain a user base quickly, you’ll be just another dead social network. It is getting to be a pretty large graveyard.

    -Vainentree
    http://thenerdcan.wordpress.com/

  12. I am by no means a “tech-guru”, my blog is more diary than anything else so I will not claim to have some outstanding viewpoint on the newest shiny object. I do however utilize the web for various activities including, but certainly not limited to, having accounts on both Facebook -and- MySpace. The fact that Plaxo is releasing a new version sends shivers down my spine. YES… I know that I am beating a dead horse here so I will refrain to spare you all from re-reading everything you’ve seen on a million other comments. Has the leopard changed it spots? perhaps… perhaps not. I do know that certain cells of my personal and professional “networks” have been burned in the past and would be hard pressed to place their trust once again in Plaxo.

    So I guess what I’m wondering is…What does this mean for Plaxo’s future in this particular social market? Will they revert back to their old habits to boost their numbers again?

  13. I am by no means a “tech-guru”, my blog is more diary than anything else so I will not claim to have some outstanding viewpoint on the newest shiny object. I do however utilize the web for various activities including, but certainly not limited to, having accounts on both Facebook -and- MySpace. The fact that Plaxo is releasing a new version sends shivers down my spine. YES… I know that I am beating a dead horse here so I will refrain to spare you all from re-reading everything you’ve seen on a million other comments. Has the leopard changed it spots? perhaps… perhaps not. I do know that certain cells of my personal and professional “networks” have been burned in the past and would be hard pressed to place their trust once again in Plaxo.

    So I guess what I’m wondering is…What does this mean for Plaxo’s future in this particular social market? Will they revert back to their old habits to boost their numbers again?

  14. You’re right that Facebook has a lot of momentum, but they also have glaring weaknesses. They are still slanted towards college kids, and as they get bigger, it’s going to get harder and harder to forgive this.

    It’s amusing that Plaxo is going after them. The people who really have the right bullets to slay Facebook is Ning. With Ning, you can easily separate your co-workers from your drinking buddies, etc. You can also control your data. They give you access to all their data because they give you access to the very source code of their site. Ning reminds me of Google back when Google was the nerdy/geeky search engine to use.

  15. You’re right that Facebook has a lot of momentum, but they also have glaring weaknesses. They are still slanted towards college kids, and as they get bigger, it’s going to get harder and harder to forgive this.

    It’s amusing that Plaxo is going after them. The people who really have the right bullets to slay Facebook is Ning. With Ning, you can easily separate your co-workers from your drinking buddies, etc. You can also control your data. They give you access to all their data because they give you access to the very source code of their site. Ning reminds me of Google back when Google was the nerdy/geeky search engine to use.

  16. Hey Scoble,

    The reality is that Facebook is arguably the most open Web site on the Web today and it’s probably best to say it’s a walled garden with a really big door :)

    You can, in fact, pull most (but not all) data from Facebook including friends, photos, groups, events, and more. In fact, just last Friday, we published a video of Soma, the Developer Division Vice President and his daughter doing exactly that using Popfly.

    Here’s my full post on the subject with examples that pull data from the “alleged” walled garden.

    http://blogs.msdn.com/danielfe/archive/2007/08/02/not-all-facebook-data-is-in-a-walled-garden.aspx

    Cheers,
    -Dan

  17. Hey Scoble,

    The reality is that Facebook is arguably the most open Web site on the Web today and it’s probably best to say it’s a walled garden with a really big door :)

    You can, in fact, pull most (but not all) data from Facebook including friends, photos, groups, events, and more. In fact, just last Friday, we published a video of Soma, the Developer Division Vice President and his daughter doing exactly that using Popfly.

    Here’s my full post on the subject with examples that pull data from the “alleged” walled garden.

    http://blogs.msdn.com/danielfe/archive/2007/08/02/not-all-facebook-data-is-in-a-walled-garden.aspx

    Cheers,
    -Dan

  18. I was in the car with my girlfriend last night, and she began telling a story about how one of her good friends decided to take a major step in the relationship she’s in. What was that major step?

    She decided to change her relationship status on Facebook to “in a relationship” with her significant other.

    I laughed at first, but then I began thinking about it. Apparently, her friend was slightly embarrassed to have been dating this guy in the first place. She probably didn’t want everyone to know she was seeing this guy. So by changing her relationship status on Facebook, she’s guaranteeing that a lot of her friends are going to see it in theirs Newsfeeds. Its basically the same step as calling 200-400 (or however many friends you have on Facebook) and saying “Hey, guess what? I’m dating this person.” Doesn’t matter if they’re your best friend, or if you’ve only talked to them a few times at a party. Chances are, they’re going to see it.

  19. I was in the car with my girlfriend last night, and she began telling a story about how one of her good friends decided to take a major step in the relationship she’s in. What was that major step?

    She decided to change her relationship status on Facebook to “in a relationship” with her significant other.

    I laughed at first, but then I began thinking about it. Apparently, her friend was slightly embarrassed to have been dating this guy in the first place. She probably didn’t want everyone to know she was seeing this guy. So by changing her relationship status on Facebook, she’s guaranteeing that a lot of her friends are going to see it in theirs Newsfeeds. Its basically the same step as calling 200-400 (or however many friends you have on Facebook) and saying “Hey, guess what? I’m dating this person.” Doesn’t matter if they’re your best friend, or if you’ve only talked to them a few times at a party. Chances are, they’re going to see it.

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  21. Robert…I for one thing really like the fact that you cover the latest shiny social objects.

    When I read your work, I know I’m getting the cutting edge.

    As for Plaxo, I think that unless Facebook screws up big somehow, it’s going to be tough luring away the millions of entrenched users. Kind of similar to Pownce and Jaiku trying to grab entrenched Twitter users.

  22. Robert…I for one thing really like the fact that you cover the latest shiny social objects.

    When I read your work, I know I’m getting the cutting edge.

    As for Plaxo, I think that unless Facebook screws up big somehow, it’s going to be tough luring away the millions of entrenched users. Kind of similar to Pownce and Jaiku trying to grab entrenched Twitter users.

  23. Scoble,
    I follow your blog religiously and I enjoy the content and commentary…..however…do you think you could possibly give facebook it’s own section perhaps? It’s a little much these days and I want to continue to read your rss feed, but it’s facebook overload recently. Thanks.
    DG

  24. Scoble,
    I follow your blog religiously and I enjoy the content and commentary…..however…do you think you could possibly give facebook it’s own section perhaps? It’s a little much these days and I want to continue to read your rss feed, but it’s facebook overload recently. Thanks.
    DG

  25. Damon: yeah, I know lots of people find value in LinkedIn for jobs and such, but that’s EXACTLY why I don’t like it.

    Facebook is already being used for that and is so much more.

  26. Damon: yeah, I know lots of people find value in LinkedIn for jobs and such, but that’s EXACTLY why I don’t like it.

    Facebook is already being used for that and is so much more.

  27. My guess is that Facebook will adopt the site to support social & business networking, which would separate the two items from one another.

    Despite the crtiques of a walled garden, I actually prefer it to something more open. Why: because I get less spam.

    LinkedIn: I have to disagree with you here. While some bloggers might not find as much value in it, the people that use it to accomplish something (recruiters & employers) do find value in the product (disclaimer: I know a lot of folks over there). Just because some bloggers might not like it these days, it doesn’t mean that other people won’t find value in the product (bloggers, after all, aren’t the only folks in the universe).

    As LinkedIn is a different niche, I think it would be silly for folks to compare it to the other social networks. But I also think LinkedIn has to pay very close attention to the very real threat that Facebook does pose…

  28. My guess is that Facebook will adopt the site to support social & business networking, which would separate the two items from one another.

    Despite the crtiques of a walled garden, I actually prefer it to something more open. Why: because I get less spam.

    LinkedIn: I have to disagree with you here. While some bloggers might not find as much value in it, the people that use it to accomplish something (recruiters & employers) do find value in the product (disclaimer: I know a lot of folks over there). Just because some bloggers might not like it these days, it doesn’t mean that other people won’t find value in the product (bloggers, after all, aren’t the only folks in the universe).

    As LinkedIn is a different niche, I think it would be silly for folks to compare it to the other social networks. But I also think LinkedIn has to pay very close attention to the very real threat that Facebook does pose…

  29. Dan (25): yes, I did and yes, they do. I’m sure they’ll change Facebook in response to competitive pressures too.

    They do see some of the closed nature of it as an advantage. Why? Anti-spam. They say that a lot of the walls they’ve put up is to defeat spammers. That’s one reason I love Facebook (I say that as I look at 70,000 spams that have been caught by akismet).

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