I’m pleasantly surprised to read the news that Dalton Caldwell’s audacious proposal for a user-funded, ad-free alternative to Twitter has reached its funding goal. A week ago, it didn’t look like Caldwell would fetch the minimum target of $500,000 worth funding that he’d set as a requirement for launching — or rather pivoting — App.net. But he did, and it’s an achievement with potentially significant ramifications.
Why is App.net so important? Simply put, it reflects a growing frustration with the insidious nature of advertisements on social networks. While many people are now able to tune out traditional banner and sidebar advertisements, social ads are constantly evolving. And as social networks like Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr struggle to find viable business models and appease investors, so-called in-stream advertisements are becomingly increasingly common.
Evidence suggests that they’re working, which will only embolden those charged with generating revenue for social networks.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with in-stream ads that enhance, or at least don’t worsen, my overall user experience on a platform. My experience as a user (and yes, I’m aware that if I’m not paying for something, then I’m its product) is especially important to me as I spend more and more time accessing social networks — and the Internet in general — on mobile devices. In-stream ads need to be subtle on small screens in order to avoid becoming disruptive.
In my experience, however, subtlety is fading away (see the screen shot from Facebook’s iOS app). Which sucks. And so it’s time for a new approach, one in which advertisements aren’t crammed into every nook and cranny of screens both small and large. It’s time for social networking leaders to think different.
And that’s where App.net comes in, as a paid service that puts the interests of users first. Caldwell’s idea may or may not succeed — and some smart people are on the record in saying that it’s likely to fail — but I’m still hopeful. And thus, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, by backing the App.net project as part of its Member Tier.
I’m helping to fund App.net, in hopes that becomes a great service. But more importantly, I’m funding an idea, one that is best expressed in the words of former Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
Yes, it certainly does. For all of us.
While in-stream advertisements won’t (and shouldn’t) go away entirely, they need to remain minimally obtrusive. But within the streams of my social networking apps, they’re trending in the opposite direction. So perhaps there’s a place for App.net’s user-funded business model.
I certainly hope so. But what about you?
Millions of people are about one week into working on their goals/resolutions for the 2012 year. For tech savvy types, these plans may involve learning to code via Codeacademy’s Code Year initiative, or obtaining a new technical certification. For others (aka the “Normals“), plans might center around losing weight, becoming more active, or saving more money (at least that’s what this fantastic infographic from Radian6 shows).
And for me? I’m committed to reading more books, trying new foods, and learning to meditate. But each of those resolutions will be a piece of cake compared with my most ambitious goal for 2012:
I’m going to spend less time on Twitter.
To be clear, I’m not planning to spend less time on social networks. It’s just that I’ll be allocating my time differently. Twitter is great, obviously — it’s become a daily essential for me alongside air, food and water — but it has become relatively less interesting as other apps and/or social networks increasingly pull away my attention.
Like other established heavyweight networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter has come to resemble a presidential candidate who has survived a grueling nomination process and must now focus on appealing to a more moderate general electorate. In other words, these social networks are racing to to the middle, adding “me too” features that newer users expect and appreciate.
A couple of examples:
- Facebook’s recent “subscribe” feature that enables individuals — especially public figures — to share public posts with non-friends, providing for asymmetric follower relationships similar to Twitter.
- Twitter’s enhanced profile pages that allow businesses to manage initial consumer impressions, similar to landing tabs on Facebook (yes, I know they’re not actually tabs anymore).
And there are more. This is a good problem for these networks to have, of course. But the need to cater to the expectations of newbies due to mainstream acceptance doesn’t always lead to terribly interesting innovation.
As a consequence, I’m starting to spend less time on the heavyweight social networks. My average time spent on Facebook per day has dropped by about half, and LinkedIn has been relegated to a few visits per week (Yes, I know this is a bad thing. I know.). And Twitter? I’ve refined my Twitter lists to segment professional connections, news sources and personal relationships. These lists are so finely-tuned now that I keep up-to-date with news related to digital strategy and social media during the day, and scan through tweets from friends when I have free time.
So where will I be spending more of my time online? In place of Twitter, I’m going to commit time to a handful of other apps that are simply more interesting to me right now, such as:
- Pinterest: A self-described “Virtual Pinboard” that facilitates easy sharing of images from across the web via virtual boards. It boasts a phenomenal growth rate – over 5x from September 2010 to December 2011. Here’s my profile.
- Instagram: It’s the fastest-growing mobile social network ever, and it provides an easy means for sharing photos with amazing filter effects.
- Path: Taking a unique approach to social networking, Path caps the number of friends for each member at 150. The focus is on closer, more personal sharing between friends (without the acquaintances and professional colleagues who have started to bleed over into your Facebook friendships).
- Google+: I’ve had the unique experience of recovering from Google+ page suspension; despite that, I’m bullish on its potential. G+ is fresh off of its largest-ever surge in traffic during December 2011, and the Google+ continues to add features to improve the service. Here’s my profile.
In addition to spend more time on these four apps, I have also started up a photo blog on Tumblr, a platform that I adopted early-on and then abandoned a long time ago. I’ve found a reason to give it another shot this year.
Thus, 2012 will be a year of trying out new things and spending less time on the networks — especially Twitter — that have garnered most of my attention over the past couple of years. It’s not just a case of chasing new and shiny objects, either. I view Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and Path as apps/networks with real staying power, and the first three are especially interesting for brands.
Sometimes, it’s important to look beyond what is mature and proven. It’s certainly more interesting — wouldn’t you agree?
Google+ is still a new social channel, and consequently, there is a relative dearth of guidance on how to successfully navigate and stand out on the network. Mistakes will happen, and in fact, may even be probable.
I should know.
You see, my employer’s Google+ Page — the one I created and continue to manage — was recently suspended, forcing me to dig deeper into Google+ and learn some of its nuances. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot from the experience, and have decided to share some of the lessons learned here in hopes that others will benefit from the process.
Here then, are some trial-by-fire lessons that I hope prove useful:
1. Leverage both Google+ Direct Connect, and the Google+ Page Verification Process.
Google+ Direct Connect accomplishes a couple of important things. First, it connects Google+ Pages to brand websites via a snippet of code. This code produces a badge to embed on an official website to add a measure of authenticity for a Page. Second, Direct Connect creates a shorthand search operator (“+brandname” — such as “+Angry Birds” or “+Dell“) to enable quick searches of official brand pages — both within Google+ search and via Google’s main search engine. The + shorthand operator even provides a mechanism for re-claiming a brand name that has been high-jacked by clever SEO techniques, as this article points out using Rick Santorum’s Google problem as an example. In combination with Google’s verification process for Google+ Pages, these steps signal to Google that a G+ Page is an official brand account.
Key takeaway: Take the time to send the proper signals to Google that your page is legitimate. This will save you time, effort and possible embarrassment later on.
2. Don’t Fret about Brand Impersonations. These Fears are Overblown.
Almost immediately after Google+ launched Pages for brands, fake profiles — such as this Bank of America spoof– sprung up. This sparked fears among large organizations that Google+ would become a problematic platform that would, (a) require significant monitoring, and (b) place a heavy burden on community managers.
In response, Google pledged that it would monitor Google+, spot fake brand Pages, and suspend them until steps were completed to verify the authenticity of suspect Pages. This approach is what affected my employer’s page.
As a member of the Google+ team explained to me by email, “We do some impersonation sweeps regularly… The best thing you can do to make sure it’s all correct in the future is connect your page to your site,” so that Google “can see a bi-directional link between the two… [which] ensures that you also have control over that website. That tells us it’s the authoritative page for that site.”
Key takeaway: Don’t let fears of “brandjacking” cause you to jump into Google+ before you’re ready. It’s a great idea to get started with Google+ while nearly everyone is a novice and the repercussions of mistakes are minimal. But understand that you have ample time to outline a clear plan for Google+. Nobody is going to steal your brand name.
3. The Google+ Community is Awesome. Leverage Them, and Give Back.
Shortly after learning of our Page suspension, I posted a plea to members of the Google+ community to help identify members of the G+ team who could help expedite the process of reinstating the Page. After a short time, Denis Labelle (whom I’d mistakenly placed into a Circle of Google employees — he now resides in my Most Awesome People in the World Circle), responded with an offer to help share my plight. Denis — along with a handful of other Google+ members — re-shared my post, which quickly caught the attention of the Google+ team and led to a speedy resolution.
The G+ team had also picked up on my original plea for help and was busy working through internal channels to resolve the issue. But Denis’ offer to help was the true catalyst toward quick resolution of the issue. Members of the Google+ community saw Denis’ post, voiced their support, and helped build awareness of the issue.
Key takeaway: The early adopters of Google+ are passionate about the current and future prospects of the network and are extremely engaged and helpful. Now is the time to get engaged on Google+, learn from the community, give back to it, and build an invaluable network that will continue to grow in exciting new directions.
Key takeaway, part two: Denis Labelle is pure awesome. He is not only helpful, but he posts interesting and helpful content to Google+ every day. You should pause right now and go Circle him. I also owe thanks to Chris Vennard, Oscar Fuentes, Raphael Polanco, Yan Tseytlin, Harp Grewal, Kamal Singh and others for their help.
4. Tap Into the Power of Shared Circles.
Google+ makes it easy to share the Circles that you’ve created with friends and other G+ connections. This feature is helpful for sharing Circles of subject matter experts or photographers, for example. It’s also useful for curating a list of customer support representatives for your brand, or from brands that you follow. Google+ is a great vehicle for building a list (or even several specially-targeted lists) that can be shared with current and potential customers, partners and suppliers. Stakeholders can then post queries to these support Circles in order to reach several customer support members at once.
A shared Circle, in fact, is what led me to Denis Labelle and the other Google+ members who jumped in to help resolve our Page suspension. Another Google+ member had created and shared a “Members of the Google+ Team” Circle, which I found and added to my own Circles. While Denis and a handful of other members of the Circle were incorrectly identified as Google employees, the Circle did help alert several Googlers to our Page suspension.
Key takeaway: Consider using Shared Circles to make it easy for your target audiences to connect with groups from your organization. It’s also a good idea to seek out Shared Circles that will prove useful to you in a time of crisis. A good starting point is the list of Shared Circles on G+. It’s also advisable to Circle Google+ Your Business. It provides up-to-date information related to G+ that is targeted to brands and Page owners.
Google+ may be the fastest-growing social network in history. And yet, it’s still far from being a mainstream channel for brands and individuals. There are few established paths to success on Google+, and mistakes are inevitable. Use the guidance that I’ve provided above to help your brand to not only avoid a suspension, but to also overcome obstacles that could impede success.
Do you have any Google+ tips? If so, let me know with a comment below!
Like 20 million or so others over the past month, I’ve been getting to know Google+, the new social project from Google. I’ve created a handful of Circles, sought out people to follow, and pondered the future ramifications for brands (including my employer).
All very interesting, to be sure. I’m a sucker for new social networks, apps, and shiny new toys. So while it’s been easy for me to embrace Google+, shrug off the network’s controversies, and generally have a good experience, something else has happened that hasn’t been quite so easy for me to process.
I’ve started to re-evaluate the meaning of friendship.
You see, friendship always used to be born out of shared experiences in the physical realm. You grew up and played together on the same street, attended school together, or otherwise met and formed lasting bonds over recurring in-person events. When I take a look at my Facebook feed, most of the friends whom I see there meet this definition. We’ve met, broken bread, shared drinks, and have often laughed together over stories from past events.
But when I take a look at my Friends circle within Google+, I notice something peculiar: most of my Facebook friends aren’t there. It’s not because they haven’t made the jump to Google+, however. No, a large number of them are there… it’s just that they exist in different circles with names such as “Work,” or “High School,” or even the new equivalent of the first circle from Dante’s Inferno: “Acquaintances.”
And my Friends circle? Well frankly, it has very little correlation with the number of hours that I’ve spent IRL with the people who reside there.
To be sure, shared in-person experiences are manifest in my Friends circle. College roommates are there, as are a few grad school classmates and parents whose kids play sports with my children. But they’re in the minority alongside people whom, on average, I’ve met in person fewer than three times apiece (yes, I did the math).
Think about that for a second.
I trust these people with my important thoughts and personal details more than I trust the kid who grew up two houses down from me, the people who knew me when I had gleaming silver braces on my teeth, and even some family members.
To me, this signals that the criteria which constitute friendships are evolving. As geographic ties decrease in importance, the basis for friendships in the digital age now center around two different factors: (1) trust, and (2) shared interest graphs.
While trust has always been a key element of valued relationships, shared digital venues — centered around interests — have been increasing in importance relative to shared physical venues for years. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but Google+ amplifies it by forcing you to think about the people with whom you feel most comfortable sharing.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Right about now you’re whispering something along the lines of, “Nice work, Einstein, you’ve uncovered that people enjoy the company of others who share their interests.”
But that’s not it at all.
It’s not that I’m disinterested in receiving status updates via social networks from people with whom I’ve spent a lot of time. Instead, what’s happening is that I feel more comfortable sharing “the real me” with people whom I’ve hardly — and in some cases, never — met.
Why? Simply put, the alignment of interest graphs — the “the expansion and contraction of social networks around common interests and events,” according to Brian Solis — is increasingly the basis for trust in our lives. The more time we spend with people in social networking hangouts conversing over public and personal topics, the more we value the relationships within those communities. For me, shared passions such as social media, fantasy football, and technology form a background for more engaging, more trusting dialogues with others, even when our conversations stray from those topics and into personal matters.
The fact that my personal discussions now occur more often with people whose photos I recognize from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ — but have never seen in yearbooks or picture frames — is of little consequence.
I have Google+ to thank for this latest bout of introspection, and I bet I’m not alone in feeling this way.
In fact, I bet that if you take a good look at the one Google+ circle that you really trust above all others (whatever you call it), and compare it to your Facebook feed, then you might find the same thing.
Take a look, and let me know what you think.