Why Real Names in a Social Network are Good

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I posted this in a comment on this page and thought it would be good to talk about here
A little background. Circa 2006. Every high school kid longed to be different and express their differences. So they got a myspace. They chose strange names for their profile, they posted a million pictures filled with ironic and pithy sayings, they made their profiles their own. Pink text over a strobing background of nickleback? Why not, you are expressing yourself. When someone added you as a friend, it might take 20 minutes to figure out who they actually are.

Ugly Myspace Profile

Check out this mashable article that actually touts this as a good looking profile... Imagine what that bad ones must have looked like. 2007

Enter Facebook. Its clean, people use their real names, their profiles look the same, all the information is in the same place for everyone, and it works. It was a huge breath of fresh air for its users. People realized that they don’t want to be assaulted by everyone else’s confusing and frequently obnoxious forms of self expression. And they realized what they valued in a social network was not childish expression, but the socializing itself. And facebook allowed them to do that as efficiently as possible.

Facebook even almost lost that image for a while when apps became an issue, but due to massive public outcry they fixed it.

Now come back to the present. Facebook users still primarily use their real names. But lots of people don’t. Some use their middle names, others use a made up one. Often it is because they don’t want an employer to find them and don’t understand privacy settings. Sometimes it isn’t. But I can tell you that the consensus among many of the most active Facebook users is that it is extremely frustrating when people use fake names. It is a painful reminder of the way things used to be, when you would struggle to connect with somebody as a result of their overzealous self-expression.

I think google realizes all of these things. People don’t want their social network website to be about self-expression. They want it to be about socializing and sharing. Not that there is anything wrong with self-expression, but in this case people see it as getting in the way of what they are there to do.

The fact is that no matter how much you want to express yourself in an unusual way, people don’t want to be forced to constantly wade through everyone else’s self expression as a constant hindrance to actually socializing with them.

To summarize what I believe the sentiment of most social network users is:

You want to express yourself? Write a song, buy some clothes, paint a picture, do something. If I appreciate your brand of self expression, I will check it out. Don’t change the background of your social profile to a band I hate and don’t change your name so I can’t find you.

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Google Calendar Appointments: a Half-Baked Plan?

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Recently, my Google Calendar alerted me to one of its newest features: an appointment calendar. The idea is simple: Make a list of all the times you are available, make this list available to others, and have them sign up to meet with you whenever they want. It sounded so great, I had to try it immediately. I had even had a conversation with someone earlier in the week about how there should be something exactly like this.

So I set up some appointments. This process is straight-forward enough, though in practice it is a lot of work and fairly time consuming. My goal was to take the days where I have lots of time and break it up in to one hour meetings spaced half an hour apart. Simple enough. But actually accomplishing this is a lot of work… They require you to first create an event, select appointment slot, then change it from the default “offer as slots of 30 minutes” to offer as a single appointment slot. The slots would make sense, but there is no way to use them to space the meetings out. Unless you are in the same building meeting with people with zero downtime between, this is not useful. I could, in theory, select “offer as slots of 90 minutes,” but this would then be confusing to people looking to sign up for an appointment slot. They don’t want to meet for an hour and a half.

So in the end, I had to select all of those options for all 20 slots I might have for a given week. It was repetitive and boring, and it makes me sad to know that if I want to do this in the future I will have to do it all over again. You would think there would be a way to clone the events over and over, but there isn’t. Additionally, if you don’t name each one then a big, ugly “(no title)” appears as the main piece of information for each slot. Why would you name them to begin with? You don’t know for sure what the event is going to be, thats the whole point…

I finished setting that all up. Now all that was left was to send potential meet-ees the worlds longest link to my own appointment calendar. First off, you might want to use a URL shortener for this one, because it is seriously long. It looks like this: https://www.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=UU1lenJiclp3cFp6fGRlZmF1bHR8ZTE4NDk3NzAwYLk4NDczNTNiZTAzMWM4ODBjZmNkJDQ (Not a real link). It is anything but pretty. The emails went out fine, and I figured I would just wait.

Within an hour or two, I got many emails back. And this is where I learned the true failure of the appointment calendar. Of the eight or so people who responded, only one had actually gotten through to my calendar. Just one. Why? Because Google did perhaps the most asinine thing they could possibly have done to the system: They require you to log in to your own Google calendar before you can even LOOK at this appointment calendar. Are you kidding me?

So lets walk through what happens when somebody wants to select a time to meet with me. They click the link. What it takes them to is not a page explaining whats going on, where they are, or any relevant piece of information. No. Instead, they are faced with a log-in screen. Most people give up instantly at this point, probably even if they HAVE a Google calendar. It looks like it didn’t work… As if only the owner of that particular calendar can see it. Maybe this would be a good idea if every person on the planet had and was logged in to their own Google calendar. But they don’t and never will. The pragmatic approach would be to let anyone see the calendar without logging in, and even letting people sign up for appointment slots.

The final irony of all this is that when the one person made it through and selected an appointment slot, it showed up as a new event on my calendar, leaving the appointment slot free. Meaning that as far as everyone else is concerned, that time is still available for me. What the heck is the point then? I might get 10 people signing up for the same time, thanks a lot Google. And in a telling twist of fate, the only person who made it through is the owner and sole-employee of an IT services and support company. And even she sounded a little confused.

I can only hope that Google will continue to develop this feature to make it usable… It is a great idea that has been laughably implemented. Stick to emails and phone calls for now, everyone.

Groupon-like Site Goes Viral?

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We have all seen the scammy offers out there designed to get you to market a company for them. Get 10 friends to enroll in our terrible service and get yours free! Right… Even Groupon seems a little contrived. Post a deal in which lots of people must sign up, otherwise the deal won’t go live. Of course, if the deal is even the least bit good, at this point it won’t have any trouble getting the required number of buyers. Any marketing that people did is just superfluous and not actually required for the process.Buy With Me Logo

Today I came across a deal via slickdeals.net (I am a very longtime subscriber) which was essentially 4 AMC tickets for $24. They don’t expire and you can use them at any location. Not bad, if you go to nighttime showings frequently. But the site I bought it from was more interesting… It is buywithme.com and the deal works like this: You buy it normally, and thats all good. But then you share a link to the deal, and if three friends buy it as well, you get the deal free. The deal only lasts 24 hours apparently, so presumably they don’t charge your card until that time is up. If 3 friends bought it, they don’t charge anything.

I could definitely see this picking up in the future because it offers an attainable way to get free stuff. People actually have an incentive to share since it’s so easy to see how you could save money with it. Large brands with decent followings could easily see a huge influx of  traffic and usage for deals they post online. I am calling it now, this site or sites like it will either grow much more popular than Groupon, or fail do to an unsustainable business model. Only time can tell!

Also, here is the link to buy the tickets and help me get them free. http://www.buywithme.com That’s right, I am selling out for free tickets… Oh wait, I am just being social using SOCIAL MEDIA! Yay!

Facebook Questions: Wrong Answers?

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UPDATE 11/10/2011: There is a new problem going around that is as follows: 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 x 0 = ? This problem is a whole lot easier and less debatable, and so I am absolutely shocked that the vast majority of respondents are so horribly wrong. It actually makes me sad for humanity. Anyone who took 6th grade algebra knows the order of operations. Multiplication comes first. So the “1 x 0” portion goes first, making it of course 0. Then you add and subtract all the rest, resulting in 14. Basic. SUPER basic. So why exactly are people getting it so wrong? I have absolutely no idea. It is sad.

The answer is 14.

UPDATE: A crushing argument has finally arrived that is seemingly incontrovertible. It was brought up that wolfram would show that the answer is 9, when you plug in the equation. Which is true. It was argued that Wolfram is infallible. But is it really?

The arguer went on further to put the equation a different way. Instead of (1+2), let’s say it is x. So x=1+2. That would make the equation:

6/2x=?

Let’s enter this into Wolfram and assume the answer is 1. We did it here.

What happened? X=3. Wait a second… But 1+2 = 3… Just like in the original equation… But that means… THE ANSWER REALLY IS 1???

Dun Dun Dun… It’s true. Wolfram gives conflicting answers, proving the fallibility of technology in solving ambiguous problems.  As far as I can tell, the program is not using parentheses correctly in the order of operations. They should be as highly ranked or more than variables, but they aren’t. Interestingly, when we do the exact same equation but with the x in parentheses (which should be the same), it gives the answer of 9 . Interesting stuff

The new Facebook feature in which users can post their own questions and have their friends answer has actually begun to pick up lately. Today, I came across a question which over half a MILLION people had answered. It was a math question. And as far as I can tell, most people got it wrong. Here is the question:

6÷2(1+2)=?

Now clearly there is something unusual about this question. It is in a format rarely seen, and with good reason. The order of operations in extremely ambiguous. Most people said the answer was 9. But is it? Lets read about the order of operations. Every operation is ranked, with the highest ranked operations going first, followed by the lower ranked operations. Most people remember “PEMDAS,” which stands for “”Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction””. That is the order in which operations must go.

So according to that order, here is what happens:

6÷2(1+2)=?
6÷2(3)=
6÷6=

1

The answer is one. Parentheses come first, even when they signify a multiplication. Purplemath.com, a popular online math information site,  illustrates this example on this page: http://www.purplemath.com/modules/orderops2.htm. They go through this problem and illustrate the correct method:

    • Simplify 16 ÷ 2[8 – 3(4 – 2)] + 1.

16 ÷ 2[8 – 3(4 – 2)] + 1 
= 16 ÷ 2[8 – 3(2)] + 1
 
= 16 ÷ 2[8 – 6] + 1
 
= 16 ÷ 2[2] + 1   
(**) 
    = 16 ÷ 4 + 1 
= 4 + 1
 
5

The ironic thing is that many involved in the discussion are citing “PEMDAS” as the reason why the answer is 9.  One of the highest ranked answers cites this and proof that the answer is 9: http://www.quickmath.com/webMathematica3/quickmath/equations/solve/basic.jsp#v1=6%2F2(a%2B2)%3D9&v2=a

Of course what this girl fails to realize, is that 6/2 is a fraction, which is different than 6÷2. It is calculated differently because a fraction is its own number, not an operation.

Please feel free to share your thoughts about this problem. I don’t think there is any way to show that the answer is 9, but I challenge you to try, and please cite some source as to how that could possibly be correct. 

Facebook Users Do Not Censor Themselves

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You know how in ‘real life,’ people typically say things that are appropriate to the situation and actually think before they speak? Facebook is exactly the opposite of that. To quote the recent hit “The Social Network,”

“It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared.”

People post whatever is on their mind, whether it be offensive, in poor taste, or just stupid. It’s as if the veil of anonymity prevalent in the old internet has somehow carried through to the present, even though any veil, especially on a site like Facebook, is purely imaginary. Status updates frequently contain questions as to why the other half of the population (and political spectrum) is so unintelligent, though usually in far more colorful words. Flame wars generally ensue.

And we all have the friends who want to share EVERY hill and valley of the emotional roller coaster that is their life. While I appreciate their candor, sometimes I wish people would only say things they would say to each of their friends in person.

So what does this mean for marketers and businesses? It means that people will say whats on their mind, good or bad, and that they will be honest. It doesn’t so much create new opportunities so much as it provides further evidence of what we already knew: people are going to talk about things that they experience whether you are involved or not. This might be a great or awful experience with your brand. It’s your choice whether you participate in the conversation.

This observation also made me wonder… Which way is internet culture swinging? Towards self-censorship and professionalism, or towards complete free expression and possible recklessness? What are your thoughts?

Directories and Content Farms are a Waste of Human Effort

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“It would actually be better to have companies LITERALLY just hand Google wads of cash in order to get their search engine placement.”

We have all been there… You Googled a question, clicked a promising looking result, only to find that it was essentially a page with nothing but your question on it. There isn’t even an answer… Just the question. The site Fixya, for example, Loves to

return results like this. How is this highly rated enough in the search engine to show up? Well, it is a large, “popular” site, and it has the exact term you were looking for. But is it useful, in the sense that it was what you were searching for? No. It’s just another search engine. And the results, as you can see, aren’t that good.

SEO marketers have all also experienced another worthless piece of the internet… Online directories. You know the kind… DMOZ wannabes, or even DMOZ itself. There are hundreds of thousands… maybe millions of them out there. And we as marketers spend a lot of time submitting our sites to them.

But here is the question. Who goes to these sites to get information? What benefit do these provide to users? Unless you are an SEO marketer, probably none. I don’t think a single clear-headed person has gone to a directory to find what they are looking for since probably… 1993. They simply aren’t used for anything except inbound links.

Directories hardly even give benefit to MARKETERS anymore either. Why? Because everyone does it. And if everyone does it, nobody benefits. It’s a textbook example of game theory… You have to do it, because if you don’t, you get left behind. Now it is just an immense body of work for marketers to go through and add their sites to all these directories. Work that provides no real benefit for the human race.

So why do the search engines put up with these sites? Google has recently received flack for posting results leading to content farms and the like… They have since changed their algorithm to lower the occurrence of these results, which is a step in the right direction.

Those changes might take care of part of the problem for sites like fixya and others that don’t actually answer your question. But what about directories? What has been done about them? They don’t show up in search results anymore… But could more be done? I think it can and should.

I think the search engines should no longer give SEO credit to directories. Sites should not be ranked higher because every worthless directory has them listed. I guess I can’t fully expect Google to give up on its baby, the DMOZ, which admittedly is the best of the directories. Of course being the best online directory is a little like being the best intramural softball team at a community college… Not that hard to do, and even if you win, nobody cares.

I think Google has taken a step in the right direction, but search engines as a whole I think have a long way to go. Giving credit to companies just because they have put the effort in to these directories, which provide no real benefit to anyone, is completely arbitrary and pointless. It would actually be better to have companies LITERALLY just hand Google wads of cash in order to get their search engine placement. It would be the same as now, only we could skip the step of someone having to actually put the links on a site that no one will ever see. Clearly this is not what I am suggesting, but hopefully you see my point.