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Birthday greetings as a proxy for how communication is becoming more public 3.0 September 29, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, email, facebook, social networks, twitter.
2 comments

This is the third year that I’ve tracked my birthday greetings as they have moved from private channels to public channels, primarily facebook. As I noted previously, in 2007 and 2008;

Social networks have changed the dynamic – it isn’t enough to wish someone a happy birthday, but it is also important to be SEEN to wish someone a happy birthday. Equally, it is important to be SEEN to have a lot of people wish you a happy birthday too!

This year the shift continued but was much less pronounced, as the graph below shows:

birthday stats

It’s somewhat notable that despite the huge increase of Twitter usage there were no happy birthday tweets. The use case is off. The tweeter would be sending a birthday greeting to the wrong audience – to their followers, not to mine.

The other notable point is that there is an overall increase in the number of birthday greetings over 2007. This is consistent with the obvervation in a recent edition of the Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine, that we are all writers now:

Go back 20, 30 years and you will find all of us doing more talking than writing. We rued literacy levels and worried over whether all this phone-yakking and television-watching spelled the end of writing.

Few make that claim today. I would hazard that, with more than 200m people on Facebook and even more with home internet access, we are all writing more than we would have ten years ago. Those who would never write letters (too slow and anachronistic) or postcards (too twee) now send missives with abandon, from long thoughtful memos to brief and clever quips about evening plans. And if we subscribe to the theory that the most effective way to improve one’s writing is by practicing—by writing more, and ideally for an audience—then our writing skills must be getting better…

True, much of what is written online is quotidian, informational, ephemeral. But writing has always been so: traditional newspapers line bird-cages a day later; lab reports describe methodology in tedious detail; the founding fathers wrote what they ate for lunch. And the quality of many blogs is high, indistinguishable in eloquence and intellect from many traditionally published works.

Our new forms of writing—blogs, Facebook, Twitter—all have precedents, analogue analogues: a notebook, a postcard, a jotting on the back of an envelope. They are exceedingly accessible. That it is easier to cultivate a wide audience for tossed off thoughts has meant a superfluity of mundane musings, to be sure. But it has also generated a democracy of ideas and quite a few rising stars, whose work we might never have been exposed to were we limited to conventional publishing channels.

So thanks for the birthday wishes, and be thankful that we’re all writing more!

Birthday greetings as a proxy for how communication is becoming more public September 23, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, email, social networks.
3 comments

Last year I noted how the “performance” aspects of social networks was moving more birthday wishes from private communication channels (e.g. email) to public ones (e.g. Facebook wall posts). This year, the trend is even more pronounced if my own experience is any indication.

The number of wall posts went up dramatically. FB private messages also went up. Email as a mode of communication fell in absolute terms, and far more as a % of communications. The chart below summarizes the differences between 2007 (blue) and 2008 (purple). (Note that the free gift and Facebook gift were both attached to FB wall posts)

The proportion of “private” birthday wishes (email, FB messages, calls, cards and in person) fell from 52% to 41%. “Public” birthday wishes increased from 47% to 59%.

Social networks have changed the dynamic – it isn’t enough to wish someone a happy birthday, but it is also important to be SEEN to wish someone a happy birthday. Equally, it is important to be SEEN to have a lot of people wish you a happy birthday too!

How Kosmix employs enterprise 2.0; a guide for other startups July 22, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in blogs, communication, email, enterprise 2.0, enterprise infrastructure, IM, management, start-up, startup, startups, wiki.
1 comment so far

Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of Lightspeed portfolio company Kosmix, posts about how to stop email overload and break silos using wikis, blogs, and IM.

We hit the email wall at my company Kosmix recently. When we were less than 30 people, managing by email worked reasonably well. The team was small enough that everyone knew what everyone else was doing. Frequent hallway conversations reinforced relationships. However, once we crossed the 30-person mark, we noticed problems creeping in. We started hearing complaints of email overload and too many meetings. And despite the email overload and too many meetings, people still felt that there was a communication problem and a lack of visibility across teams and projects. We were straining the limits of email as the sole communications mechanism.

We knew something had to be done. But what? Sri Subramaniam, our head of engineering, proposed a bold restructuring of our internal communications. He led an effort that resulted in us relying less on email and more on wikis, blogs, and instant messaging. Here’s how we use these technologies everyday in running our business.

* Blogs for Status Reports
* The Wiki for Persistent Information
* Instant Messaging for Spontaneous Discussions

The effects of the communication restructuring have been immediate and very visible. They include a lot less email and almost none on weekends; better communication among people; and 360 degree visibility for every member of the Kosmix team. After we instituted these changes, everyone on the team feels more productive, more knowledgeable about the company, has more spare time to spend on things outside of work.

Anand goes into detail as to how blogs, wikis and IM are used by all employees, and how this has streamlined the communications in the company. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Three ways that social networks are different from other forms of online communication February 4, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, email, performance, social games, social media, social networks.
9 comments

Social Networks are widely accepted to be the latest evolution of online communications, tracing a line back through instant messaging, webmail, chat rooms and bulletin boards. Now that we’ve had a little more time and perspective on how they are used, we’re starting to see a few differences between how social networks are used for online communication and previous forms of online communication. I can think of three primary differences:

Stages for Performance.

As danah boyd has noted before, the public nature of many social network communications leads to performance aspects to communication. Users are simultaneously communicating with not just the recipient, but anyone else who happens to stumble across the recipient’s profile. An example I gave in a previous post is a helpful illustration:

Suppose it’s your birthday, and I know it. If I send you an email wishing you “Happy Birthday” then you’re happy that I remembered. This communication is part of the social lubricant on which relationships are built.

But supposed that I post “Happy Birthday” to your Facebook Wall instead. Then not only do you know that I remembered, but ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS know that I remembered as well. They may find out from the feed, or by visiting your page, but they will know that I’m a good enough friend of yours that I know when is your birthday. That is the performance element of the communication.

Lighter Weight Communications

Historically, an important part of communicating with someone is having something to say. Emails are not sent blank, calls are not spent silently. But as the quantity of one’s relationships increases over Dunbar’s number, it becomes impossible to maintain the full overhead of communication with each person. Put simply, for some of your weaker ties, you just don’t have the time to think of something original to say to each one of them. But you still want to maintain some “heartbeat” to the relationship with an occasional ping.

People have found lots of solutions to this problem. One is the Holiday card, often with an annual update letter enclosed. Another is the non verbal communication often seen between coworkers in an office or competitors at a conference. Smiles, nods, back slaps, high fives as you pass each other in the corridor are enough to keep a relationship acknowledged without having to stop and talk each time. A third is the chain email. Whether forwarding inspirational passages, funny videos or jokes, chain emails let people keep in touch with their friends without having to spend a lot of time thinking about what to say.

These lightweight communications are native to social networks. Whether they be exchanging pokes on Facebook or pasting a glittering “thanks for the add” .jpg into a Myspace comment, “content free” communications abound. The meta message is clear though “I’m thinking of you”, and that is often enough of a ping to keep the connection open. Many of the Facebook and Bebo apps fulfill exactly this lightweight communication function, including Hug Me, Zombies and Scrabulous. Many of the social games on facebook wrap this lightweight communication around a casual game.

Context for communications

Facebook’s innovation in the feed is now being widely imitated by the other social networks, and with good reason. As I mentioned earlier, two of the challenges of having a large number of relationships are (i) keeping on top of them all and (ii) being able to communicate often enough to keep the relationships alive. The Feed dramatically simplifies this process, especially when combined with Facebook’s birthday notification and the full status updates list. All three features provide triggers for communications with friends, whether commenting on their pictures, posting witty comments to their wall about what they are doing or wishing them a happy birthday. Facebook and other social networks are helping prompt more communications between their users by helping to surface topics for communication.

Yahoo, Google, AOL and Microsoft are all rumored to be revamping their communications products; it will be interesting to see if how they start to incorporate some of these social network native features into their email and messaging products.

Communication, performance and birthdays September 23, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, email, performance, social media, social networks.
4 comments

It was my birthday on Friday ,and it was the first birthday I’ve celebrated as an active member of a social network.

I’ve posted in the past about the performance aspects of social network communication, and how this affects future email use. I’ve also posted about social design for social media companies, and how Facebook’s birthday reminder and wall work together to uphold the first two of the rules of social design:

Motorola Findings

It was interesting to see this all play out as a participant. For my birthday, I received in total:

  • 1 “happy birthday” phone call
  • 2 “happy birthday” cards
  • 20 “happy birthday” email
  • 3 “happy birthday” private messages on social networks
  • 26 “happy birthday” public messages (ie posted on profile) on social networks
  • Fully half of the messages were public. But within the context of the social network, almost 90% of the communications were public.

    Communications modes seem to be shifting very quickly, at least for those messages with a “performance” aspect.

    I’d be interested to hear similar stats from readers.

    Will email be dead in 5 years? September 17, 2007

    Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, email, facebook, myspace, social networks, start-up, startups, VC, Venture Capital, virtual worlds.
    14 comments

    I used to work with John McKinley at AOL where he was CTO and, later, President of Digital Services. I have enormous respect for him. In a recent blog post, he says that email in its current form is under attack and doesn’t have long to live:

    We are in the midst of an important moment of truth – email as we know it is under attack, and the major firms are not moving fast enough to prevent it from becoming more of a niche form of communications in the next 5 years. The email experience of today is being threatened on multiple fronts by a variety of new forms of communication:

  • Twitter/short-form blogging
  • Asynchronous messaging in social networks (e.g., the Facebook Wall)
  • IM experiences now supporting queuing of messages to offline buddies
  • Away message/Status message utilization in instant messaging
  • SMS adoption (late to come to the US, but now pervasive)
  • Wikis and other new collaboration platforms
  • Comments (MySpace comments, Blog comments, et al)
  • Casual communication forms (the nudge, the wink)
  • New sharing experiences (Flickr, et al)
  • Email aggregators (e.g., I use Gmail to aggregate all of my AOL, Yahoo, and POP3 accounts. These other companies still bear all the cost of hosting my email accounts, but now get none of the pageviews.)
  • Email and IM integration into social networks (the new entrant risk).
  • People have more compelling, more contextual, more effective, and more convenient options to share and interact than ever before, and incumbent forms of communications will be the losers here.

    John hits on a very interesting broader point. Every few years a new form of communication arises and for some people this becomes their primary form of communication. Over time, earlier forms of communication lose overall share. This has happened to letter writing, telegraphs, talking on the phone, Usenet newsgroups, chat rooms, and message boards in the past. Email has displaced many of these prior forms of communication over the last 15 years, and is now under threat itself.

    I don’t think all of the communication forms John lists above are equally threatening to email. Some are just features, and others have communication as a secondary aspect to another purpose. But it is clear that SMS, IM and social network messaging have supplanted email use among teens. Kids and teens are also some of the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of casual immersive worlds.

    As John points out:

    The risk is as follows: the major internet incumbents rely tremendously on having a robust base of consumer email account relationships to feed their ad/search businesses. Having that email inbox relationship can yield 2x the monthly page views, when compared with non-email-account consumers.

    The reason is simple – users are more likely to use their primary form of online communication as their homepage. This is why the social networks threaten portals. Being a homepage is an incredibly powerful position because as the first page a user sees, you have an ability to influence what other pages a user sees.

    The portals have long used webmail as the “milk at the back of the store” – a low margin product that keeps users coming back. But to get to the milk you have to walk past the high margin impulse purchase products in a supermarket – the candy and the cookies and the chips. Similarly, to get to your email you have to get past the editorial programming on the portals homepage. A few extra impulse clicks to which shows won at the Emmys or to read about the 700 foreclosure homes being auctioned in one city, and the portal generates some advertising revenue.

    This presents a real opportunity for startups. In the past, innovators that have driven mass adoption of new forms of communication have been bought by big portals well before they needed to show a revenue model, with ICQ and Hotmail being the two best examples. I’d be interested to hear what readers think are today’s most promising candidates for new forms of communication.