Tag Archives: Facebook

What a week for MQTT!

Part of my role as WebSphere Messaging Community Lead involves IBM’s MQ Telemetry Transport protocol. I spend a chunk of my time talking about how MQTT relates to building a Smarter Planet, and explaining how it can be used to build some very cool new applications and solutions.

MQTT logoFolks from IBM and Eurotech may have jointly authored MQTT, but it has been published online with terms enabling royalty-free use and implementation of the protocol. The next stage is to put it forward for standardisation. Last Friday, the call for participation in a standards discussion was published on mqtt.org. It’s open to anyone to join, and given the excitement I’ve personally seen in the developer community, I’m hopeful that we’ll see plenty of interest.

Friday saw even more big news, from an entirely unexpected source. As I stood chatting to people arriving at the OggCamp party that evening, my Twitter alerts and email went crazy with MQTT chatter… Facebook announced that their new Facebook Messenger application (a result of their acquisition of the Beluga team earlier in the year) uses MQTT! I’d been aware of different mobile app developers using MQTT for a while now – in fact we recently highlighted what a great match the protocol is for Android applications, on the mqtt.org blog – but had not known about Facebook’s interest or usage. In their post talking about how Facebook Messenger works, they call out the characteristics that make it a strong protocol for a mobile group messaging application – low bandwidth, low overheads, low power cost… all of the things that have made MQTT successful in sensor networks and solutions, make it ideal for these kind of applications as well.

Well… as I said, a big week, with some exciting news. So it seemed only right that I should give a talk about MQTT and all of these latest developments at OggCamp this past weekend – the event which three years ago, resulted in Roger Light creating his mosquitto broker.

You may recognise the slides as a remix of the talk I gave at LinuxConf in January, but I’ve updated them to highlight the OggCamp dimension and to talk about the recent news. There will be more to come during the coming weeks, so join the chat in channel #mqtt on Freenode IRC, and keep an eye on mqtt.org!

 

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Is Facebook really useful for B2B?

I was struck by the title of Chris Koch‘s recent piece for Social Media Today, 4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing – it’s an eye-catching headline. This topic is something I’ve thought about a lot recently. In my professional space, much of the marketing is in aid of business-to-business product awareness – or sometimes, business-to-employee, or developer relations – but it is rarely a straightforward, business-to-consumer/man-in-the-street model. I read Chris’ article with interest, as well as another article he’d earlier tweeted about, Facebook Can Work for B2B Marketers, and I was surprised to find that both pieces missed out on what I believe are some very important points.

As regular readers will know: I’m not a marketeer, I’m basically a techie who sometimes talks about social stuff. However, since I’m tagged as a “social media guy” within a software development organisation, I’m often asked whether a particular software product or technology should have a Facebook page. What about support information, documentation, introductory videos – surely those kinds of things should be available via Facebook? Isn’t that where all the cool kids are?

My answer is usually tentative and skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of¬† brands having some presence on Facebook is fundamentally useful for visibility, and more so if an organisation is prepared to spend some time on engagement (NB ephemeral, instead of ongoing engagement is one of the key holes that B2B campaigns can fall into that Chris Koch picks up on in his piece). I follow Starbucks UK and love getting the occasional freebie from them… and I am a fan of many other brands, too. However, considering a B2B relationship, I personally feel that Facebook is a far less useful social space in which to share information and engage with customers than, say, a network like LinkedIn or a standalone site with API hooks to existing social networks.

Here are my own “4 reasons” why Facebook doesn’t hit the mark for B2B:

  1. Facebook is famously a “walled garden”. You put content in, and they keep it there; it’s not indexable or embeddable from the outside. They’ve recently added a tool to export personal profile data, but not product or brand pages, to my knowledge. Facebook has always been about absorbing data, whereas a company like Google has been about indexing it. If you read Jeff Jarvis‘ excellent book What Would Google Do? it quickly becomes clear that Google grew and became successful by building or acquiring tools which made it easy to embed their information and gadgets into your site (whilst of course, recording signals as people visit those sites). That YouTube video you created? Easy to socialise and embed on other websites. Post a Facebook video? it can only be played on Facebook.
  2. It’s ok for Business-to-Consumer products, but not so useful for enterprise software and middleware where the relationship is essentially B2B and less visible. What does it mean for me to “like” WebSphere Middleware (or whatever) on Facebook? Why would I want to make that statement in a personal context? Will my friends and family, many of whom I don’t work with, know what these things are when they show up in their social streams? It makes sense for me to be part of a professional network via e.g. Slideshare or LinkedIn, but the value for B2B / middleware / invisible products is a lot less tangible.
  3. Facebook is blocked by a very large number of companies. I may not like that personally, and in fact I’m a supporter of the Stop Blocking campaign. I happen to work for an organisation where I have a wide degree of freedom in my access to and use of the web. On balance, though, it’s unlikely that users connected to a corporate network will be able to do lot with content that is posted on Facebook, during business hours. Have a presence, but think about whether it’s worth the effort to push a lot of content through that channel (and see point 1, again, too)
  4. It’s not necessarily a useful place to post content if your goal is to attract people in “nascent / emerging markets”, either. I spent some time in China last year, and clearly in countries like that, Facebook is officially inaccessible. Consider how to maximise access and “sociability” of content – Facebook is unlikely to be that channel.

So, having said all of that, and started out declaring myself “not a marketeer”, I end up sounding suspiciously like one, talking about channels, content and effectiveness! I am a page owner and I’ve played around with the advertising tools, so I do know that Facebook offers some very compelling segmentation, reach and analytics tools – but again, I’d argue that you have to consider whether you’re really providing wide access and ongoing value by centralising information inside their network.

What about Google+? I’ve not written about the social network of the hour here on my blog yet (but if you are on G+ feel free to add me to a circle…) but given Google’s interest in making content indexable and easy to locate, it is likely that when business pages arrive, content over there will be more widely accessible than it is inside Facebook. I’m not saying that “social” in general doesn’t work for B2B communications and marketing… I’m just saying that Facebook, to me, doesn’t make the perfect choice.

I’m still not a marketeer, and I don’t think I’d make a very good one – but I try to apply common sense to these spaces. Those are my 4 pennies on this issue… let me know what you think!

Digital Local Government

I just saw my mate Dominic Campbell retweet something interesting from Monmouthshire County Council (yes, really!)

For those who don’t know Dominic, a) you NEED to be following him on Twitter, and b) he’s the great guy behind the consultancy FutureGov which runs a whole swathe of events and projects which are about encouraging and supporting government organisations as they come online. I’m a big fan!

Every time I see something like this, I immediately wonder how my local council is doing. So this evening, I had a quick poke at the Hampshire and Rushmoor websites (hint: Rushmoor, you don’t have to require the ‘www’, you can use a redirect), and followed that up with a look at neighbouring Surrey (I’ve just joined the new Digital Surrey committee, incidentally, and spend a lot of time there, so I have a legitimate interest). What I saw didn’t really encourage me, so I found the contact form on the Rushmoor Borough Council website, and for the sake of transparency on my part if not on theirs, here is what I posted:

Details of your comment/complaint:
Do you provide news or information via any social websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or others? I’ve observed that several councils have begun to share budget information, provide important news alerts etc via these kinds of services and they would fit well with my lifestyle.
(http://twitter.com/#!/monmouthshirecc and http://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=386)

Are there RSS feeds for news from your site? Do you have any APIs for access to local information and data (http://www.sunderland.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4112)

Do you have any kind of digital engagement strategy and where can I find it?

What would you like us to do?
Provide better access to local information online and explain the council’s view of how to use new technology to engage with people.

I’ll be interested to read what they send back! I’ve been extremely disappointed with my local MP’s digital engagement (oh look, his Twitter stream abruptly stops about a month after the date of last year’s General Election, hmm!). Still, at least if the local councils need some help, I know a bunch of very good people to put them in touch with…

The year of consolidation

An interesting year so far in terms of online services ending or merging. I don’t have a good enough memory to mention all of those that have vanished this year, but there are a number of notable examples I thought I’d highlight, mainly because I’ve used them in the past. I last did a short review of some of these consolidations about two years ago.

So where to start… well, I just read the news that drop.io has been acquired by Facebook. It’s a file-sharing service which was incredibly easy to get set up. I wrote about drop.io a couple of years ago and at the time it was an exciting service with a lot of potential, a growing developer community, and some very cool plans like location-sensitive drops, content transcoding, and so on. I guess for me its utility was rapidly eclipsed once I discovered Dropbox which I now use to sync content between 2 laptops, a netbook, a home server and my iPhone, and which my Dogear Nation co-hosts and I use to share our content (not using it yet? try this referral link). It looks like drop.io is effectively closing on December 15th.

Two notable (to me) video services are going, too. [well, OK, as I write this, one has gone, and the other one is on its way]. Seesmic – the original video version, not the microblogging / update service – is closing. This was a service which wanted to pioneer a “video Twitter” conversation concept, and it was interesting to start off with – I mentioned it in my round-up of online video services back in February 2008. For me, I enjoyed the experiment, and there are a lot of ways in which video online has grown and become an effective way of delivering content, but text has remained my major conversational medium so Seesmic didn’t work out longer term. Of course it has spawned a successful business on the back of Twitter and other sites in the form of Seesmic Web and Desktop clients (and they acquired Ping.fm as well).

Another fun and fascinating video service has gone away – 12seconds.tv has just a page of video static greeting visitors now. I loved that service, although again I struggled to make longer term use of it… but I’m often to be seen sporting my 12seconds t-shirt ūüôā

In the cases of both Seesmic and 12seconds I’m left to wonder where to re-host my content… kudos to both sites for enabling me to get access to what would otherwise be lost. I suspect I will end up dumping them to YouTube since that isn’t likely to go away in a hurry. Of course the Seesmic videos, particularly the conversational ones, won’t make so much sense without the context.

Vox went the way of the dodo in 2010 as well. As an early adopter I tend to try out most services and I had a small but largely inactive blog over on Vox. I can’t say I’m too sad about its end as I’m perfectly comfortable with a blog at WordPress… it’s funny that Windows Live Spaces bloggers are being migrated to WordPress too – a sign of the times I think, as we’re seeing many of these earlier diverse networks collapse into the larger, more established networks (Vox to SixApart/Typepad, and whilst Windows Live Spaces is hardly supported by a non-established brand in Microsoft, but they are obviously refocussing just like everyone else).

The final service worth mentioning, I think, is xMarks. This is a service I only started using in the middle of the year, in an attempt to synchronise my browser content between the iPhone and other devices. The sudden announcement that it was heading for the buffers back in September led to an outpouring of despair and support from the user community, and as a result what was looking like a failure ended up being a near death experience – they initially took user donations, and have now negotiated a sale (so this is more consolidation, in a sense).

So what’s next? Well the microblogging wars seem to have died out, Twitter has won over e.g. former contenders like Jaiku and Pownce, although most online services appear to be integrating their own “updates” concept to continue to seem relevant. The big spaces where I’m personally seeing competition / overlap at the moment are in sites like Tumblr vs Posterous for general content sharing, and in online identity landing pages where about.me, chi.mp and flavors.me want my business. There are a number of fascinating new music-oriented services as well and I think some of those will start to overlap as they add features. The rest of the competition and fight for success seems to me to be in mobile apps and between runtimes on the handhelds. Just a personal point-in-time observation as 2010 starts to draw to a close.

The circle of life played out on the Internet – early innovation and excitement, a plateau of limited success leading to, possibly, monetisation (and/or an explosion of copycats), and a quiet death disappointing a small user community, or heady growth and unlimited stock prices. It’s an interesting space to continue to watch for us early adopters…

Thoughts on The Social Network

uncomfortable

… and “uneasy” are two words that I’d use to describe my immediate reactions to The Social Network, aka the Facebook movie.

I’d previously heard various people talk about the film, including a very enthusiastic review on the Guardian Tech Weekly from Jemima Kiss, Gia Milinovich¬†and Charles Arthur. I’d also listened closely to the thoughts of Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis on This Week in Google – neither of whom were so glowing, and who gave a reasoned discussion towards the view that the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is in fact “anti-Internet” in his portrayal of the themes. I was impressed that Leo had producer Dana Brunetti take him on during net@night that same week. The¬†film is based on a book by Ben Mezrick and also, apparently, real interviews with a couple of the “injured” parties. Given the advance chatter, I was keen to see it for myself.

Firstly I will say this – the film was gripping. I was not bored at all, even though it was a couple of hours long. The music by Trent Reznor was great, and almost all of the performances were excellent. Before anyone comments, I also know it’s a dramatisation / fictionalisation… so I wasn’t expecting to go in to the cinema to watch a “true facts” documentary. I’m also not sorry to have been to see it!

It’s very hard to say what disturbed me or put me ill-at-ease. Anyone who thinks that Mark Zuckerberg comes off as some kind of injured genius good guy here is clearly not looking at the movie through the same lens as me. As presented, he’s not the nice guy that he claims to be at the end of the story. He betrays his closest friend – admittedly the man whose testimony much of the source material is based on – despite several acts of generosity¬†on Eduardo’s part, including the way he apparently¬†overlooked Mark’s personal flaws. ¬†The Winkelvoss guys do not come over well in the script, and I did wonder whether part of what I thought was a flawed performance there came from having a single actor play both twins, which must have been technically tough.

I guess I got the uncomfortable feeling that the film was a pop at geeks, a pop at¬†privilege¬†as well, and the female characters were all pretty poor (either Sorkin hasn’t read up on how to create strong female roles, or felt they are not relevant in this geeky collegiate techy world). I think the multiple betrayals were probably what left me with the ultimate sour taste in my mouth. Maybe I’m not cut out for hard-nosed business ūüôā

For all of that, there were some great comments… I particularly felt resonance in the discussion of how a site, a social model like Facebook, like the Internet itself, is never finished – like fashion, it evolves.

I’m still mulling my reaction, and may have to watch it again to rebalance (or perhaps reinforce?!) my views.

Footnote: did you know that IMDb is 20 years old today? Wow. That’s one of those sites that has showcased the power and changing nature of the Internet over time, emerging from the embers of Usenet lists, crowdsourcing people power to generate an amazing treasury of information, going commercial, and then acquired by Amazon in 1998. Congratulations!

Update: a day later and I’ve thought about this a little more. I think there are two other things that bother me about the film. Firstly I can certainly relate to Zuckerberg’s lack of social comfort in the rowdy college party culture, so I think looking at that made me a little uneasy too. Secondly, the film presents the genesis of Facebook / Facemash as a reaction to a break-up and fundamentally something of a revenge-driven science project… something that Zuckerberg has dived into as an attempt to recreate the college social experience so that other people will think it is cool (and presumably by extension, that he is cool), an attempt to boil it down to algorithms, rather than through a real desire to engage in that space himself. Perhaps the infamous privacy incident where he took his own content private when he couldn’t drive the new controls on the site a few years ago is a sign of that. Now, I know that the authors and filmmakers can say well look, we have the original blog post as evidence here… and I’m not denying that’s the case. I think that if that is all Facebook is, though… well it makes me feel pretty strange about using it and other similar sites to the degree that I do.