Monthly Archives: January 2010

The social behavior incentive (how your app can be as addictive as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare)

I’m an addict. You already knew that, didn’t you? After all, I’m just about to pass my 30,000th Tweet and on Facebook I have more than 10,000 friends and on Foursquare I follow more than 3,000 people (about 1% of their user base as just reported).

I’m not the only addict, though. On Google there are 402,000 results for “social media addiction.” Someone even made a rap video about social media addiction.

In my journey through these systems, I’ve been seeing how each gives incentives to their users.

For instance, on Foursquare every time I check in it gives me points. If I check in a new place that it didn’t know about, it gives me a ton of points. It is rewarding my behavior. This “reward” turns very addictive.

Twitter, on the other hand, has its own incentive system. It puts all sorts of things in your face, like how many Tweets you’ve done, how many people you’re following, how many followers you have, and how many lists you are on.

Things that are measured become games and increase addiction. But Twitter has other games going on as well. Anytime someone uses your @name in a Tweet you see it. Remember that Dale Carnegie said in his book about how to win friends and influence people that your name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Yes, we’re all narcissists and these services use that to be very addictive.

Or, look at why people hate the new Retweet Feature. I still see tweets every day about how hated that new feature is, and one of the top reasons is that they can’t see when someone has retweeted their tweets. Narcissistic behavior, yes, but understandable. We want to know when people found something we did valuable.

So, how can you make your own app addictive?

1. Serve your users’ narcissism. Make it very clear whenever someone else has done something that involves other users. This is why so many apps notify you anytime you get a new user. But look for ways to get other people to say other people’s names in your system. Make that part of the “game.”
2. Measure behavior and report it. Do you want your users to check in? Then measure it like Foursquare does and report it. What’s the home screen of Foursquare’s iPhone app show you? Everytime someone of your friends checks in they show up there. Foursquare reports how big a loser I am because there are 34 people in San Francisco area who’ve checked in more than me this week.
3. Add status for behaviors. When I visit Foursquare in huge type it tells me how many times I’ve checked in. It also shows you my badges that I’ve earned.
4. Make multiple status reports. Foursquare reports how much status I’ve earned, but if you visit, say, the Golden Gate Bridge, it also tells who is the mayor. That is two ways you can see status, and get addicted. Can you come up with other ways in your app?
5. Make undesired behavior seem lame. Why is everyone finally putting their photos into Twitter? Because if you don’t have your photo in Twitter the icon it puts there looks, well, lame. So, Twitter is putting a subtle enticement to all of its users to upload a photo. In Foursquare it reminds me that I’ve done 0 tasks. So, that’s looking pretty lame. Since Foursquare only will win if it gets engaged users, they want to make it more likely that you add a tip or complete a task. They might as well have just painted a big “L” on my forehead for “loser.”
6. Make it easy to share success with others. Foursquare has done this in spades. To the point where now I, and others, consider Foursquare messages on Twitter almost spam. You know the kinds “Robert Scoble just became Mayor of the Half Moon Bay Peets.” I turned them off, but if I ever want to taunt you with my mayorship I just need to click a slider in the iPhone app.
7. Make an API for studying behavior. Developers love to build apps to study data and report that. Don’t believe me? Look at Osnapz’ list of top Foursquare users. Or look at MustExist’s display of my Twitter lists. Or look at Favstar.fm who keeps track of my 13,000 favorite Tweets and who I’ve handed them out to.
8. Make it easy to join in other users. Facebook, for instance, makes it very easy for me to try to tag you in a photo I take of you. If you aren’t in the system it makes it easy for me to invite you to join my addiction.
9. Give people more “hooks” to addict their friends. Facebook, for instance, asks you what your relationship status is, and what your political persuasion is. Why does it ask you those? So you’ll force your friends to join!!! How many more hooks can you put in your app to addict users?

Can you think of any other ways to make your applications more addictive?

Review: “open” Listorious vs. “closed” new Twitter suggestion list

Twitter today turned off its suggested user list and turned on a new “suggestions” list which includes a nice improvement. The Twitter team explains the changes in a blog post.

The old SUL had four problems:

1. It wasn’t transparent. We didn’t know how it was made and there wasn’t any official way to suggest people for the list.
2. It wasn’t open. For instance, Louis Gray isn’t on the list (either the old one or the new one) and I think he should be on. He isn’t the only one, there are hundreds of tech influencers that I think are worthy of anyone interested in tech to follow and I have a list of 233 of them. Twitter’s new tech list only has 57 people on it.
3. It wasn’t complete. It’s very easy to browse any technology list over on Listorious and compare who is on those lists to Twitter’s own list to see that Twitter’s list only has a small fraction of the people and brands you might want to follow if you were interested in tech.
4. It gifted un-engaged users to people because it was on by default during the setup process. Anil Dash wrote a great post about why that sucked (he was on the list and got hundreds of thousands of followers who didn’t really engage with him). In short, it sucked because people who got on Twitter to listen to celebrities would also follow the geeks because they were added by default. This made Twitter less interesting for newbies because they were seeing people and brands they really didn’t care about.

Today Twitter only fixed point #4. This is a dramatic improvement, yes, but now we see the other problems with the list, especially now that we have Listorious to compare it to (which was made possible by another one of Twitter’s new features, called lists).

So, let’s compare the new Twitter list to a third-party service that I use a lot, Listorious:

Listorious = Open. Twitter = Closed. What do I mean by that? On Listorious if someone is a jerk and leaves you off of a list, just start your own list. You can participate. You can add. And you’ll be treated fairly by the system. If you’re popular, you’ll be listed first but there isn’t any favoritism like what Twitter exhibits with its own directory.

Listorious = Transparent. Twitter = Opaque. What do I mean by that? On Listorious you know who created every list and you can write to them. You know how each list is produced and can figure it out. Most lists are human curated, but some, like the top 50 tech list done by Favstar are curated by algorithms. Now, quick, tell me who created the Twitter list? How did they chose those people and companies? You can’t definitively say either.

Listorious = Complete. Twitter = Incomplete. Look through Listorious’ directories. You’ll see many times more lists on many esoteric subjects when compared with Twitter’s 20 lists. Why is this important? Because if you are looking for information on very specific topics, like, say, you are a Cricket fan. What’s your choice on Twitter? The sports list. What’s your choice on Listorious? Search for Cricket and get dozens of lists back.

Why does this matter? It’s shocking to me that Twitter is still not putting its best foot forward with new users.

Twitter’s growth has slowed and I believe a major reason is because new users aren’t figuring out anything useful to do with Twitter. They aren’t being shown enough other members with interests that match their own!

I’ve talked with normal people about why that is. Over and over they tell me that they can’t find anything interesting to watch on Twitter.

This is a damn shame, because if you just spend a few minutes looking through the lists on Listorious you’ll find something that is very interesting to you personally. But on Twitter? They are still showing a list that’s not open, not transparent, and not complete.

Oh well, at least it’s a little better than last week.

Another way to look at it? Why can I come up with pretty nice lists of the tech industry (I have 20 lists separated out into separate things like venture capitalists, tech news brands, tech executives, web innovators, etc) but Twitter can’t spend more time getting these right?

Review: How should Twitter’s design shift? Seesmic gives us a “look”

When Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic, first started telling me about Seesmic‘s new “Look” Twitter client (released today) he said “you will probably hate it.”

Why would I hate it? Because Seesmic had done real customer research and found that lots of people who are using Twitter just don’t understand Twitter and so they set out to develop a client for these normal users, not for geeks like me. They don’t know what things like RT’s or hashtags are. They don’t know how to find interesting people to listen to. They don’t see a point of it and the display is too boring to use (most people want to sit back and be entertained and don’t know that to get the most out of Twitter you should use clients and spend some time over at Listorious to find some curated lists of users).

That pitch is all well and good, but when I finally tried Seesmic Look this morning I see a ton of things that make the old Twitter client seem boring and not nearly as fun.

What are those things?

1. Aesthetics. Twitter is looking dated when compared with the photographic-aesthetic used on Seesmic Look. This caused journalist Dwight Silverman to note that “The Seesmic Look interface is gorgeous in Win7. Really shows what you can do w/Aero.”
2. Discovery of other users. In Seesmic Look they have an “interests” link, which introduces new Twitter users in a number of different interests groups. This is like going to Listorious, searching for something like “politics” and finding a list of Twitterers. Why hasn’t Twitter gotten rid of the very lame Suggested User List yet and integrated Listorious? I don’t get that. That would dramatically improve the Twitter experience for new users.
3. Focus on Tweets. Lots of other clients, including Seesmic’s other clients, focus too much on info density. Getting as many tweets and features on the screen as absolutely possible. Seesmic Look goes the other way, by hiding quite a few features until you need them and making the size of the tweets much bigger. This goes to aesthetics too, but it dramatically changes the relationship a reader has with the Twitterer and also makes possible a new kind of display which includes previews of links and videos.
4. Complete theming/skinning, including for brands. It’s lame that after three years all we have is the ability to change our backgrounds on twitter.com. Seesmic Look shows that we can have complete control of the look and feel of our clients. Want to put a picture in the background and have a beautiful new display? It’s possible with Look, not with Twitter.com. Or, if you are CocaCola and want to have a really well themed display? Seesmic Look makes it possible. Why not on Twitter.com? RedBull, for instance, has a channel inside Seesmic Look that’s very cool looking and not possible with Twitter.com. Brands will go nuts over this kind of theming and skinning.

This said, Seesmic Look comes up short in a number of different areas.

1. My existing lists didn’t work/didn’t import into Look.
2. You can’t use multiple accounts with Look, which is becoming more and more important every day, especially given Twitter’s limitations around lists and lack of filtering.
3. No Facebook integration as with other social media clients including Seesmic’s other clients.
4. Sometimes info-density is what you need, so it would be nice to have a column view built into Look.
5. Figuring out how to navigate around Look not nearly as nice as other parts of the interface. On the navigation menu on my screen right now it says “trends; inbox; social; favorites; interests; channels; searches.” That’s way too many choices for infrequent users and they all shouldn’t be presented with equal weight. Also, Twitter searches bring back way too much noise and spam for normal users. Most users won’t know what’s different between all these choices, too. Tell me again what the difference between “interests” and “channels” are again? Don’t look. I bet you can’t define those cleanly so one needs to go away.
6. I’d love a “watch” mode that was clear so I could put this on one of my screens and just have it automatically refresh like Brizzly does. I didn’t figure out how to do that.
7. In “Interests” mode, the navigation takes up too much screen real estate. I’d like to select an interest and just “watch” it on my screen. After a few seconds it would be nice to get rid of all non-Tweet navigation elements.
8. Trends needs a rethink. Trends are, to most users, pretty lame and pretty useless even when they are interesting. The top level trends? They trend toward pablum, which is one problem. But even if they don’t (very rarely are they actually interesting) if you click through you’ll get tons of spam. We need a better trend system. I’d love to see one based on retweets and favorites of lists of people you choose (or that other people curate). I’d love to see what Mike Arrington’s friends are trending to him, for instance. That would be far more interesting than a huge crowd picking the lamest of trends. For instance, I really could care less about Conan O’Brien and his fight with NBC. It might have been interesting a week ago, but now? It’s just lame and brings new noise into my view.
9. There’s still too much “jargon” in the Look interface. Mouse over the icon for Direct Messages. Now you and I know what those are, right? But normal people don’t. And Seesmic doesn’t do a better job of explaining what they are than Twitter.com does. Demonstrates there’s still improvements that can be made.
10. Lists are not transparent. Click on “Interests.” You can then click on a variety of topics like business and tech. Unfortunately these lists are WAY too narrow (the business list, for instance, hardly has anyone on it) and aren’t easily customizable and Seesmic has way too much control of who appears on these lists. (Disclaimer: they included me on the tech list). A much better way would be to provide a seed list and at bottom include a link to Listorious. Here’s Listorious’ business list, for instance. This is a LOT more transparent and you could add your own list then (which you can on Listorious).

Anyway, my 90 minute review of Seesmic Look? It brings a much-needed new “look” to Twitter, but doesn’t go far enough. It does show Twitter’s own team how badly a redesign is needed, though, and hopefully does shove all Twitter and Facebook clients to focus on aesthetics and filtering and a focus on real users. Overall I like the direction but it needs a bit more work to make it a client I’d be able to use every day.

One thing that Seesmic has going for it, too, is that it has clients on almost every platform except for iPhone (which Loic tells me is coming “within weeks”) but so far I don’t see good common themes between all of their clients. It will be interesting to see how Seesmic evolves its family of clients and makes them useful with each other. Right now it doesn’t seem like these are developed by the same company with a common vision and that may prove troubling for Seesmic over the long term. If Seesmic Look is the training wheels to get new users into Twitter, I don’t see a good upgrade path to their more “professional” clients like Seesmic Web or Seesmic Desktop, not to mention any commonality between their Android client and their other clients.

20 years of Adobe Photoshop

On Friday I had a chance meeting with John Knoll. He and his brother shipped Adobe Photoshop just about 20 years ago (Adobe, he told me, will be doing an official celebration next month).

Photoshop is one of the most important pieces of software written so far in this industry’s small history.

What is Knoll doing today? He is an award-winning special effects designer for Lucasfilms’ Industrial Light and Magic. He did some of the effects you see on Avatar, among many other movies.

Anyway, thanks to Craig Hosoda, who got me a tour of ILM (he worked there as one of its first computer geeks for several years) and who introduced me to John. It’s my 45th birthday today and this was a real treat I’ve been waiting 20 years for.

Enjoy the interview. In it you’ll learn that Electronic Arts turned down Photoshop, and you’ll hear many other stories about Photoshop in its early days.

The push and pull of China

Sarah Lacy, on Techcrunch, wrote that the Google move today was more about business than about ethics. I am torn by her article, but to explain why I need to go into the push and pull of China and how it rips the heart out of US companies.

I’ve visited China twice, once in 1995 to work at a computer show there, and again last year to visit entrepreneurs in Shanghai, get a tour of Seagate’s factory, and see inside PCH, which is one of the supply chains that many of your favorite technology companies use, and visit a blogger conference.

As an American I saw two opposite poles: one of unending opportunity and one of unending frustration of dealing with the government.

First, the pull. The opportunity was in my face. When I visited Shanghai I met up with Gary Rieschel, one of the top VCs in the world (he helped start Softbank). There he showed me a nicely profitable taxi screen company and we had to wait for nine taxis before we found one with his screen. I could have copied his business plan and made many millions of dollars a month all without coming up with an original idea and all without really causing his company much new competition. In China there’s a gold rush underway and there’s gold lying in the streets for entrepreneurs.

Everywhere you looked you saw similar opportunity. In fact, if you are Chinese, it’s even easier. Just look to what’s getting popular in the west, copy it (there were tons of copies of Facebook and Twitter, at least one of which has a billion-dollar valuation) and go on your way. You don’t need to come up with an original idea, because what sells in San Francisco usually sells pretty damn well in China. All the American brands on the streets there were testimony to that fact. GM has a pretty good market share here, for instance, and there are more than 100 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in Shanghai alone.

I met with quite a few entrepreneurs and they told me they see nothing but unending opportunity for China and its digital future.

But now the push. Everyone I met with told me stories of how they need to play games with the government to stay in business. We all know that the government censors things, makes things tough for entrepreneurs, and forces complicity from them. How if the government asks for access to their servers you must give it. One entrepreneur told me his biggest expense was hiring censors to watch his Twitter clone and make sure nothing the government didn’t want up got up.

One thing, though, the government can do is reward companies that play the game.

Let’s say you have a Web service like Foursquare. It’s getting hot in America. Foursquare would love to expand into the huge China market, too, wouldn’t it? Of course it would. Ask any of the people running the big companies in Silicon Valley or Redmond and they spend years and billions of dollars to get access to the Chinese market. Money isn’t enough, because the Chinese market works on relationships and on playing the game with the government, both of which are hard to break into with just sheer economic power.

Anyway, my friends showed me how China will keep sites working for quite a while, which lets entrepreneurs hire hundreds of developers (remember, a great developer gets paid about $25,000 per year, a decent one about $15,000, and a new one even less) and they’ll just clone the site.

So, now Foursquare will have a Chinese copy of it. That’s not fair is it? No, but it gets worse. Eventually the Chinese government blocks Foursquare, which will eviscerate its business. Think this doesn’t happen? A couple of years ago the Chinese government blocked Google and let Baidu stay up.

Why? Relationships and willingness to play games with the government.

So, now, Baidu is the #1 search engine in China and Google is #2.

The government rewarded Baidu for playing the government’s censoring games and punished Google for not playing the games (or not playing them very well).

The small little Foursquare can’t fight back, either. (Have you ever heard of Facebook complaining about this? I have, behind closed doors, but not in public). Why can’t Foursquare fight back? Because it will guarantee that it won’t have access anymore. It will give up access to a market that’s much bigger than the US market (potentially). Since businesses are supposed to serve their investors this is a move not made easily. Even if Google were in second place its investors would want it involved in the Chinese market because that market is so large. Pulling out of China would be anti-investor. This is why Microsoft continues to invest in search even though Microsoft was #3.

But, if that Foursquare or other company would play the government games, it would get a huge black eye back home in the US. Remember how Yahoo was pulled in front of Congress and told that it was evil for turning over information to the Chinese government?

So, if you are an executive inside a large tech company you are always being pushed and pulled. I’m glad I don’t need to make that choice. Even in Google’s letter you can see the push and pull. They didn’t just say “we’re out.” Why not? Because of the pull.

Why doesn’t the US government do anything? Well, because the Chinese have loaned us tons of money because of our deficit. The government isn’t willing to put any penalties on Chinese products to force the door open for Google or Facebook. And it gets worse over time.

So, now that Google found out that it was getting attacked by hackers paid by the government it said enough is enough.

Look at the wording from Google’s post:

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted….

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists

This is the reality of dealing inside China. That’s why it was brave for Google to stand up to the Chinese government. Might have been a very stupid business decision (even being #2 in China means sizable profits and business over time).

Anyway, that was a long way of saying that I am torn by Sarah’s article. I both disagree with it and agree with it. Why? Because I’m feeling the push and pull of China.

Is Google doing this because of business or because of ethics? Probably a little bit of both. Or, maybe, just sheer frustration from the push and the pull of China.

Why now Google?

UPDATE: A Google Spokesperson just emailed me this: “This is not about market share. While our revenues from China are really immaterial, we did just have our best ever quarter [in China].”

Techcrunch’s Japan writer, Serkan Toto, tweeted at me tonight: “Astonished about how some people, i.e. @scobleizer, idolize Google now. What did G do in the past 4 years in CH besides playing along?”

Randy Holloway, who works at Microsoft, tweets: “You are a good guy, but you have lost your mind today. Ever think that Google is pulling out of China because they are *losing*?”

UPDATE: While I was writing this post, TechCrunch ran a post that said it was about business (and made the point that Google did this because it was losing again).

I think both questions are legitimate (albeit misguided) and they aren’t the only ones asking.

First, let’s take on the question of Google losing in China. I think this is an overly-cynical take (I stole that line from Danny Sullivan, search expert, who said the same thing).

Why is it too cynical? Because, well, if that was how business decisions got done than Microsoft would have pulled out of the search business long ago. But, seriously, to answer that you need to go and visit China, as I have. China is a HUGE market. In 20 years it’ll be much bigger than our own in the United States. Their people are getting online in HUGE numbers. So, to give up on this market now just doesn’t make sense.

Also, Google, and most other tech companies, have many employees there who develop features for the US market. I saw this first hand when I worked at Microsoft. Many of the coolest features inside Windows and Office were developed in China. So, to pull out of the Chinese market, even if you are a losing business concern there (Google was not, even though it was coming in #2 behind Baidu) doesn’t make sense at all because you’d have to give up these employees, many of which are smarter and work far cheaper than engineers in USA (when I visited China last year a HIGH END engineer was paid about $25,000 US per year, compare to a high end engineer in Redmond who usually gets paid $200,000 or more).

Pulling this move in China actually strengthens Google’s competitors (Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, et al). Why? Because over in China EVERYTHING is done with government support. Every factory I visited was assisted by the government and approved. If Google falls out of favor with the government, it won’t get the best employees, won’t get approvals for offices, will get blocked even more frequently than it is today (how do you think Baidu got so big, anyway? You think they are actually more innovative? Yeah, right. More on that in a future post).

Not to mention that the best supply chains in the world are in China. Translated to English: that’s where the Google Nexus One phone was made (and the hard drives that Google uses, etc etc).

Google has EVERY INCENTIVE to kiss Chinese ass. That’s why this move today impressed me so much.

Now, onto the other point, that Google hasn’t done much up to now to fight Chinese censors and other human rights issues. Um, I’m sorry, but when I visited China I heard from many people that of the American companies Google didn’t play the game as well as, say, Yahoo or Microsoft. Remember Yahoo? Remember what they turned over to the Chinese government? When I worked at Microsoft I saw them play footsie with the Chinese government too. Heck, the Chinese president visited Microsoft’s campus when I worked there and got a red-carpet welcome. Why? Because China is a HUGE market and a HUGE supplier of labor that builds Microsoft’s products.

It doesn’t matter to me that Google played footsie up until today, either. They were the first to stop playing footsie and THAT deserves a HUGE round of applause.

UPDATE: VodPod’s CEO, Mark Hall made quite a few good points in his post about Google and China.