Thursday, June 28, 2007

Keeping track of community services

The current hype are communities with user-generated content - starting from pure weblogs with their blogrolls, media sharing sites (flick.r, youtube), bookmarking services (, Mr. Wong), recommendation sites (Qype, DaWanda), genealogy sites and others. (I'm sure someone out there must have a more comprehensive overview). Some of these services intentionally try to look flashy and innovative (especially the ones being implemented in Flash). But how do I really keep track of all these services I am subscribed to (and I am not going to ask how to have the time to take care of all this)?

Enter Facebook, which is called a social utility by their creators (for some more information look into mashable, TechCrunch and Wikipedia). Actually, it'a kind of service aggregator plus social network, which may help structuring the own set of subscribed services.

Like most of the cited services, this one also lives from advertisements - but I am not sure what the consequences of alternative ad revenue models such as pay-per-action will be. While it seems relatively easy to find potential investors for services which label themselves as Web 2.0, only time will tell if the revenues will be sufficient in the long run, especially if there are many competitors.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ratings and Trust

Some online communities offer some kind of rewards, e. g. points that one can collect (associated to specific actions like writing a contribution, sharing one's knowledge, number of contacts). Assuming that everyone acts according to fair principles, there seems no problem with that. However, taking the example of rating other people's contributions, it is not uncommon for people to generate some specific accounts from where they will rate their own contributions, however under another user account (associated to themselves, which the platform is not aware of).

There seem to be several approaches to cope with this issue:

  • Require full address upon registration together with phone number in order to check it against phone listings. This has the disadvantage that not every potential user may be listed in some given directory (e. g. students sharing an appartment, where one phone is shared among several people)
  • Require first and last names at registration (with the possiblity to choose a nickname for users who do not want to unveil their identity to the general public).
  • Require passport or ID card upon registration. This requires a mechanism to verify users given their passport number.
  • Only allow one account per email address. Of course, I may be generating a large number of email addresses to circumvent this, but still it may help
  • Require user photographs for any active account. But, on the other hand, how would it be possible that a photo really shows the user, and not some other person?
  • Allow only active accounts, where activity relates to productive actions (such as writing a contribution). That is, remove accounts whose users have not been showing any social interaction with their peers for a given time (e. g. a week, a month)

As I am only starting to think about valid mechanisms to ensure a community of trust, I welcome any ideas that expand on my own thoughts.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More semantics for social networks!

Profiles are difficult to generate (you mostly need metadata). And profiles are difficult to match (takes a substantial amount of computing power). That is why we see a large variety of services on the Web which work based on communities, such as Qype. So far, it's been German only, but today, Qype has their UK launch party, so I'm quite excited about how this interactive city magazine will evolve. Recommendations in Qype and elsewhere are, then, based on who your friends or acquaintances are. That is, if you trust someone to write good reviews and add that person to your list, then your're regularly updated on what that person writes about.

What's even better is that some services, including blogs and other regularly updated sites that you like reading, have RSS feeds, which you may nicely feed into twitter - and then, you can get a mixture of interesting contributions (based on your "profile") on your mobile phone, wherever you are.

Besides these technical issues, what I learnt is that if you base your service on virtual communities, they need some real equivalence on one hand (i. e. meeting the people in real life, or at least some of them, that you like by their contributions). On the other hand, you need to take care of your community by giving them some motivation to stay tuned.

These are all nice experiences, but what happens if your personal network grows too big? Then you probably need some more semantics which contributions to feed you first. But I am only starting to think about all this, so any thoughts on this are welcome!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Geotagged media

Well, the association of resources with geocoordinates, also known as geotagging, is not new, but one of the reason for me to write about Panoramio, a picture-sharing platform where photos are associated with locations, is its recent announcement of being taken over by Google (after already having closely cooperated). While Google does not yet reveal how this service will be integrated, it makes a lot of sense also from a user perspective to make Google Maps a more personalized experience. Looking at the world in hybrid mode (satellite pictures) is nice, but they're not up to date. And considering the effort that Google is taking in photographing the world (well, at least some cities, as it seems), why not take advantage of the Google community taking digital pictures and uploading them for other users to look at?

Of course it's all about gathering user-related information, and I assume that it will remain one of Google best-kept secrets of what they will actually do with all this data. Having Google Mail, Google Documents and now something that might be called Google Media, user context (time, location, interest) becomes as enriched as you could possibly think of. But hey, you are not forced to use any of these services, right?

Anyway, if pictures can be geo-tagged, any other kind of resource will also do. Videos, mash-ups, "office" documents, newspaper articles, podcasts, blogs - anything that may exist in digital form. And if you think mobile, you may get all these geo-tagged resources while walking by some marked location, or instantly leave your own photographs or videos right after shooting them.

Oh, I forgot about Orkut. This may be the foundation to share digital resources among persons you directly relate to, as an alternative to writing your friends a postcard or SMS from your vacation.

I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg - many more possible scenarios I have not been thinking of yet ...