Sunday, June 3, 2007

is Facebook really all that open?

There has been a lot of talk about Facebook's new platform and how it open it is. Yes, third-party developers can now build applications using Facebook, meaning they can be embedded and distributed within the Facebook website.

While I agree that's open, it's not as big of a deal as everyone is making. Facebook isn't opening their userbase, nor are they distributing relational data to third-party services. They are still a walled garden - if you want your application to integrate with Facebook, you need to build your service on the Facebook website.

What's a better solution? Let the services directly integrate the userbase and relationship data. Make it mutual. Allow a service like eBay to relate their users using the Facebook grid... when I sign up at eBay, they can analyze my e-mail address and get my unique user ID. Repeat this process for every registered user, and you now have a related userbase within the eBay platform - not some little widget on a Facebook profile.

How else could the grid really be open? Let third-parties attach/retrieve information to/from users. If a person uses a service such as 30Boxes, let 30Boxes attach the calendar data to that person. This would allow participating calendar services to mutually display scheduling information for friends - if I'm at Google Calendar and my friend is at 30Boxes, no worries - our data is still visible to one-another.

A company like eBay could attach listings to a user so that social search engines could organize results based on how many degrees away an item is. If I went to the Facebook platform, I could search for an item and have results sorted by the grid... or Flickr could attach photos to a user, again, resulting in a good social search solution. This isn't content aggregation, so it would actually drive more traffic to these services.

Facebook doesn't see it that way. They want you to be in their grid. They don't want to share their userbase outside of the Facebook domain. That's not open.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting closer...

We're getting farther and farther with Humansy. I uploaded the splash page, but there has also been some serious backend work going on. The road-map has been laid out, and the private alpha version is expected to be finished within the next 5-7 days. I'm going to begin conceptualizing some core features that will really enhance the way people communicate and share information.

We're trying to be as open as possible. Relationships will be exportable, we're going to make heavy use of the existing e-mail infrastructure, and probably more. We want to hit hard with a stunning UI that makes grouping and classification super easy, and super cool looking.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mining Relationships

There are multiple ways to mine relationships... some of which have been largely untapped. One of the big ones, as mentioned by Tim O'Reilly, is the phone network and e-mail. By analyzing incoming and outgoing communication, a user's true network can be mapped out. A recent company profile on TechCrunch discusses a plug-in that works with Outlook Express. The plug-in analyzes messages and message content and maps out a user's network; however this is an enterprise product.

An even larger network can be built upon phone communication - particularly cellular phones. Building a basic Java application that analyzes incoming and outgoing messages, in addition to reporting statistics (perhaps via SMS or text-to-email?), would help build one of the largest real networks in the world. The cellular phone market is huge, just like the e-mail and instant messaging market.

I'm a truly interested in building the largest database of user-to-user relationships and building kick ass products on top... The best part? I want it to be open... I want people to be able to pull their network information (in XML format) and take it somewhere else if they would like.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Social Map Project - Humansy

It's been a long time since the last update.

I've purchased the domain for the "social map project". Wantsy has fallen off the map since the lead developer dropped out, with Humansy replacing it. I'm pretty close to chalking up Wantsy as a failure; I think the idea could have worked, but finding the right people to execute it has been tough, especially if their level of interest isn't high.

Anyway, work has started on Humansy. As of right now, we have the UI outlined in PPT (and html) with some database work being done. The goal is still the same; build the largest grid of user-to-user relationships. By analyzing the structure, we can assign each user a level of trust based on various attributes. Given the UI, it's also possible for users to assign complex relationship and group types very easily. This brings up the secondary goal.

The secondary goal is to add a layer of efficient communication between nodes. Since nodes can be categorized into complex relationships and group types, it's possible to reach out to an entire subset of people within your first degree (i.e. your family, your co-workers, your golf buddies consisting of family AND co-workers). It's also important to note that these people do not actually have to be in the grid to be part of it. I can upload and classify my entire address book, and not a single person needs to hit the Humansy domain.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The new opportunity

It's official... We've changed positions and are focusing on the advertising market; particularly the non-traditional advertising market that isn't well covered online. There are a few reasons for this change;
  1. There really isn't a simple solution for people seeking ads in non-traditional media
  2. The buyer-driven market is much better for advertising, as it allows for more automation
  3. The advertising industry is huge; a lot of people don't even know where to begin or how to deal with ad-sales reps
The concept is still pretty simple. The idea is to make advertising more direct, and easier for both the distributor and the advertiser. Rather than advertisers trying to hunt down a sales representative and comparative pricing, they simply tag their information. The distributors can then easily see prospective buyers and create an offer specifically for them.

This works really well with both local media and national media. If you're a local business, narrow your information down locally, and local distributors will be able to find you.

Automation is another important aspect. An advertisers selects their tags, sets their price, and uploads their media. Depending on the tags selected, distributors can automatically have offers and counter-offers setup... Once the advertiser selects a listing, their media is automatically pushed to the distributor.

Hopefully we can save non-traditional advertising.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Social Map Project

The Social Map Project is something I'm pursing along side Wantsy. Since this is really a blog about the life of an entrepreneur and techie, I'll also post information here.

After taking a look at Geni, it suddenly hit me that mapping out a user's known connections is very important. While services like Facebook and MySpace focus on the facilitation of "fake friends", I think it's very important to define a user's real social network.

How can this be done? With the use of existing data -- very primitive social networks like e-mail and IM "buddylists". The vast majority of people on the internet have an e-mail address and use it to communicate with their friends and family. For those that do not, they most likely use AIM. The data flow doesn't stop there, either. Most people are willing to trust someone that lives geographically close (i.e. a few doors down) than some random person 200 miles away.

I would really like to map out everyone's real social network using this primitive data. The barrier would have to be really low -- no user registration, very little information, and input as simple as possible. For example, I would simply input my e-mail address and name, and then input my mom's e-mail address and her name. That's it -- I'm mapped with my first connection - my mom. An e-mail then goes to her asking if she knows me... If she does, then it's a mutual connection. If she doesn't (or she doesn't respond), she's still listed as my connection, but it's a one-way.

In the future, it might be possible to mine user connections. For example, if I input my address, my geographical neighbors would be mapped in the database as "neighbors". Going a step further, if people begin to use meta-data as theorized for the "semantic web", you would be able to define connections by your interactions on other services or websites. For example, I interact with a ton of people in blogs... They would be more familiar to me than someone that I've never come across (although, the trust level would certainly be lower than immediate friends and family).

The concept isn't really a service at all, but rather a database of connections. I hate to use the term "social networking" because there really isn't any "working" going on at user level. Don't be fooled, however. There are many extremely valuable uses for such a database:
  1. User Trust Algorithm -- This could be used when no other metric is available. A user would simple input their e-mail address into the widget and see how they are connected with the user. Obviously a user in the 6th degree has more trust than someone in the 10th degree, but it doesn't stop there. If a user has lots of mutual connections several degrees out, then they are a trusted user. If they are simply an isolated node in shadowy corner, then they aren't that trusted.
  2. Intelligent E-mail -- This is pretty similar to the above. If people send you e-mail, it would get a rating dependent on how close a connection is. Spammers are very unlikely to be within your first several degrees (or have any meaningful mutual connections beyond on the second degree, for that matter).
  3. Data Sharing -- With a web built around trust, buying and selling would be safer, distributing information would be easier, etc..

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shifting Gears

After some concern over the market, I think it's time to change gears.

After doing some research, the general census of the initial wanted-ads market doesn't appear to be all that good. The response I get most often is "...why would I list a wanted-ad on your site when I can just find what I need on eBay?"

That's a good question, and I don't have a good answer. The problem with wanted-ads is that, while it's awesome for sellers, it simply won't attract buyers because they'll be too busy using other channels to satisfy their want(s). We need to apply the Wantsy concept to a market that doesn't have a lot of channels for the buyers, and a market that is really buyer-driven.

What is that market?
Advertising. While everyone is being blinded by text ads, the remaining 75% of the market is left untouched. Sure you have services like AdBrite, but are they catering to off-web media? Are they really catering to the buyers? As an ad distributor, I can honestly say it'd be much easier to sell my inventory if I can see the buyers. As an advertiser, I can also honestly say that listing my need and having it fulfilled by an ad distributor who can flex is about the best option that currently exists. Having ad distributors upload all of their inventory in hopes that they'll get a buyer is too time consuming. Advertising is really a buyer-driven model, and I think it's a nice niche.

Tony Wright and Steve Poland really opened my eyes to that market (Steve pushed me to do more research), as well as Fred Wilson, who noted that the wanted-ads market was serviced by Craigslist (although, I think he missed the fact that it wasn't just about wanted-ads).