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Facebook, Google Must Adapt as Users Embrace 'Unsocial' Networks

When Facebook bought the photo-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion, theories flew as to what it might mean. Was Mark Zuckerberg defensive, worried that his 850 million Facebook users might stop uploading
250 million photos a day? Or was he making a proactive move into
mobile, where Instagram’s friendly interface makes Facebook look clunky
on iPhones?The real story is both—and one of splintering social
networks that are breaking up the vast, open “social graphs” that give
Facebook and others such power. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is a
signal that smaller, closed networks are growing popular by giving
audiences more control over what they share. The networking giants, such
as Facebook and Google, will have to allow consumers new ways to build
tighter social circles. And marketers will face new challenges in “going
viral” among the masses.For nearly a decade, marketers have been
agog over the promise of social networks to provide free advertising, a
cascade of word-of-mouth in which consumers act as advocates for a
brand or product. The dream is based in part on Robert Metcalfe’s law—the
concept by the inventor of the Ethernet that in any networked system,
value grows exponentially as more users join. Like the old 1970s shampoo
commercial, you tell a customer about your product, and she tells two
friends, and so on, and so on, until the world is knocking on your
hair-products door. Going viral like this requires massive connections
of friends.Trouble is, Metcalfe was wrong, at least with human networks. In a landmark 2006 column in IEEE Spectrum,
researchers Bob Briscoe, Andrew Odlyzko, and Benjamin Tilly showed
mathematically that networks have a fundamental flaw if all nodes are
not created equal. The authors pointed primarily to Zipf’s law,
a concept by 1930s linguist George Zipf that in any system of
resources, there exists declining value for each subsequent item. In the
English language, we use the word “the” in 7 percent of all utterances,
followed by “of” for 3.5 percent of words, with trailing usage of terms
ending somewhere around the noun “floccinaucinihilipilification.”
On Facebook, your connections work the same way from your spouse to
best friend to boss to that old girlfriend who now lives in Iceland.Human
networks, like words in English, have long tails of diminishing usage.
New, smaller social media tools are resonating because they recognize we
have limits on what we share and whom we listen to. Here are a few:• Path.
This social network restricts you to 150 friends, the exact number that
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested was the upper limit on
human relationships. While Path users can post images, videos, or
locations to Facebook and Twitter, the core appeal is creating a closed
circle of high-quality connections.• Pinterest. This network is the darling of 2012, skyrocketing
to No. 3 in usage behind Facebook and Twitter. Users tag, or “pin,”
images of things they like and sort into online scrapbooks. While users
can follow others and comment on their posts, about 90 percent of usage
in my observations has been pins with zero social comments. Pinterest is all about what you like, not how you communicate with others.• Google+ vs. Facebook vs. Twitter. Google (GOOG)
finally got social networking right in 2011 when it gave up on Buzz and
launched G+, a cleaner version of Facebook with strong privacy
features. Google+’s “Circles” allow you to sort friends into groups, and
then share different things with different circles of friends. Facebook
rapidly copied the idea by making it easier to post updates to select
groups of friends. And while Twitter is open to all, one of its popular
features is “lists” that allow you to view updates of only handfuls of
online contacts.• Springpad. This innovative note-taking application
allows users to save items they like, via Web or mobile, and appends
useful information such as price comparisons or movie times. While you
can share items with anyone, the default settings are private, and the
app’s slogan is “share and discover with the people you trust.”• Instagram. Yes, this is an open network that allows liking and commenting on photos. But Instagram
is primarily a photo broadcasting tool, and its rapid growth to 40
million users is driven by how easy it is to make your mobile snaps look

Added: Apr-19-2012 Occurred On: Apr-19-2012
By: Jhurst
Science and Technology
Tags: news
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