Category: Technology

Google+ vs. Facebook: browser wars part 2?

By Razib Khan | July 6, 2011 2:17 am

There’s an amusing story up at The New York Times on the activity surrounding Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ account. Zuckerberg is of course just scoping out the competition. Here’s the heartening part:

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MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Google, Netscape

Circles are for real!

By Razib Khan | July 4, 2011 3:29 pm

Google Circles knockoff hits Facebook courtesy of unofficial plug-in:

…Circle Hack is a self-described “one-night experiment with Javascript” created by a few Facebook engineers in a non-affiliated capacity, which unofficially brings Google Circles-like functionality to the top social network. The creators of the Facebook plug-in have borrowed liberally from Google on this one (turnabout is fair play, perhaps)….

This is great. At a minimum Google+ could become like the Chrome browser. It might not attain a dominant market share position (though Chrome already has a higher share than IE on this site, and others, with a tech-savvy audience), but it could push the edge of innovation. I don’t have a problem with Facebook, but with the collapse of MySpace years ago it has had a de facto monopoly in the general social networking space.

Finally, an anecdatum: a friend noticed that six of his contacts deactivated their Facebook accounts in the past few days. He didn’t know why, but there’s a high probability that these may be the types who just want to start over like Ezra Klein suggested.

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Google, Technology

Google+ 2 days

By Razib Khan | July 1, 2011 11:41 pm

Google+ for the Blogger and Researcher:

After a couple days of playing with it, I haven’t quite identified what it is for, or at least how I’m going to use it differently from twitter or facebook, but so far I am generally impressed – it’s easy, intuitive, and fast. It also allows you a level of selective privacy that – while possible to achieve – is very clunky on Facebook. It only took me 10 minutes on the web interface and another 10 minutes after downloading the Android app to figure out how it all worked. And Google+ is already far better integrated into the mobile user experience than Facebook is (though this is to be expected for a phone that runs Android).

Yes. I haven’t used Google+ much, but:

1 – The user experience is manifestly superior to Facebook’s still. Interaction with the UI is more fluid and natural. Again, this may be due to the fact that it can be superior because the user base is small. No idea.

2 – The circles are great. My Facebook requests I mentally put into two categories. One category are people who I recognize immediately. I know them. Another category are people I’m vaguer on in terms of details (often they’re readers who don’t comment much, etc.). With circles I waste a lot less time being confused. If I don’t know you well, I put you in the acquaintances circle. Period.

3 – The Google+ Android app is very good. Much better than what I have for Facebook.

Then again, I haven’t really utilized Google+’s features too much, I’ve just accepted people who make friend requests. Lots of the comments I see in my stream are to the effect of “hey, can Google+ do this?”


Google+, not Wave or Buzz

By Razib Khan | June 29, 2011 11:33 pm

I’ve been playing around with Google+ a little today. Farhad Manjoo no like, More Like Google Minus:

… First, I don’t know whom the company thinks it’s kidding; Google+ is obviously a direct competitor to Facebook. Given the large overlap in functionality, I can’t imagine that many people will use Google+ and Facebook simultaneously. For most of us, it will be one or the other. Google+’s success, then, will rest in large part on Google’s ability to convince people to ditch Facebook for the new site. For that, Google+ will have to offer some compelling view of social networking that’s substantially different from what’s available on Facebook. And that’s where Google+ baffles me. What is so compelling about Google+ that I can’t currently get on Facebook or Twitter? Or Gmail, for that matter? At the moment, I can’t tell….

But circles are nothing new. Facebook has offered several ways to break your network into smaller chunks for many years now, and it has worked constantly to refine them. And you know what? Almost no one uses those features. Only 5 percent of Facebookers keep “Lists,” Facebook’s first attempt for people to categorize their friends. Recognizing that “Lists” weren’t great, last year the site unveiled a new way to manage your friends, called “Groups.” I was optimistic that “Groups” would help to compartmentalize Facebook, but from what I can tell, few people use that feature, either.

Since Google+ is not “prime time” I’m not going to judge it too much. The interface feels a lot zippier and more fluid than Facebook’s, but that might just be because there are hundreds of millions of people using Facebook. Unlike Manjoo I do think that the idea of “circles” is not without merit. I tried Facebook’s Lists, and it just plain didn’t work the way it was supposed to work, so I gave up. Right now I, along with others, slice and dice my online voice across different platforms. twitter for public interaction, Facebook for semi-public interaction.

When you have friends you know through science blogging, transhumanism, right-wing politics, high school, not to mention cousins who were raised in the Tablighi subculture, Facebook’s one-size-fits-all tendency of throwing them into a big pot has been kind of suboptimal. Then again, most people probably don’t manifest as much dilettantism as I do, leading them to have a much more well “sorted” social set.

I will say though that Google+ doesn’t seem as patently useless as Wave and Buzz were. But if you haven’t gotten an invite, you aren’t missing out on much. There is no way this should warrant the hysteria which was the norm when Gmail first rolled out and required invites.

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Google

The collapse of Myspace and its legacy

By Razib Khan | June 26, 2011 11:06 pm

BusinessWeek‘s The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace is a compelling read. But a huge piece of the puzzle which I thought was omitted was that Myspace was incubated in the short term bottom-feeder world to begin with, so the later fixation on revenue now rather than a long term vision may simply have been part of its original DNA. See this Planet Money podcast, MySpace Was Born Of Total Ignorance. Also Porn And Spyware, for what I’m talking about. As it is in the BusinessWeek piece Chris DeWolfe just tries to blame News Corp. Remember that DeWolfe and Tom Anderson sold out to Rupert Murdoch, while Mark Zuckerberg was uninterested in an immediate cash windfall. As far as the long term impact of Myspace I notice that the Urban Dictionary entry for ‘myspace angle’ is still more fleshed out than ‘facebook angle’, so the word “myspace” might still get preserved in this manner. In this way Myspace may resemble the audio cassette, which is still haunting our culture as the “mixtape”. Not surprisingly some young people are totally unaware that the tape portion actually refers to cassette tapes, since that technology was before their time.

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Myspace, Web 2.0

The trials of the "content slave"

By Razib Khan | June 20, 2011 4:27 am

Some of you may have read Oliver Miller’s AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out. If you haven’t read it, please do! This section is important:

“LADY GAGA PANTLESS IN PARIS” is the example given in “The AOL Way” internal documents. That’s the best possible title. A buzz-worthy topic, a sexy result. It mattered little if Lady Gaga was actually pantless in Paris; it only had to relate somehow to the article as a whole. The entire title could be a come-on, a tease. It might well turn out that Lady Gaga was neither pantless, nor in Paris at the time. The important part was that the reader would click on those words to read the rest, thereby producing ad revenue for the websites. Words didn’t matter; stealing other people’s work also didn’t matter.

I still have a saved IM conversation with my boss, written after 10 months of employment, when I was reaching the breaking point:

“Do you guys even CARE what I write? Does it make any difference if it’s good or bad?” I said.

“Not really,” was the reply.

A lot of Miller’s piece focuses on the fact that he was overworked and underpaid. That’s not optimal, but lots of people are overworked and underpaid. If AOL content slaves were producing valuable content then someone would benefit: the public. One person’s cheap skilled labor is another person’s cheap quality product. But there’s no redeeming aspect to this. The sweat and anxiety of the content slave is in the service of…search engine optimization. That’s it. Their goal is to swamp your pop-culture Google News queries.

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily bad about throwing content at “trend topics,” but most of it is just crap. This is the sort of thing which will drive people to get their information from twitter and Facebook. At least there it is harder to “game” the system because there are regular people doing the filtering for you.

Content farms and their ilk remind me of the salt which builds up in the most fertile irrigated fields. Pretty soon Google will become barren if they don’t start aggressively pruning these offal generators.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Technology

Peak Facebook?

By Razib Khan | June 13, 2011 10:12 pm

Three weeks ago I observed that Google trend data indicated that Facebook had finally plateaued in its growth in the USA. Today a story on data from Inside Facebook:

Facebook just lost a few faces. Six million users in the U.S. ditched their Facebook accounts last month. And the number of people using the site during the month of May also fell in Canada, Russia and the U.K. That’s according to new data from a company called Inside Facebook.

According to their data June 1st 2010 to June 1st 2011 Facebook grew ~20% in the USA, vs ~50% worldwide. There’s lots of room for growth in the rest of the world, but it may be that like the internet overall Facebook has hit its saturation point in the developed English speaking world. And I’m pretty happy with that. I get a lot fewer requests for annoying apps like “Mafia Wars.” Now that the novelty has worn off people are using the “social graph” tools of Facebook as background utilities (and since I have a set of “Facebook friends” who use twitter, I suspect that that’s cannibalizing some of the stuff that would otherwise be posted to Facebook).

MORE ABOUT: Facebook

The swell of content

By Razib Khan | June 11, 2011 2:09 pm

In the 1980s my family went and visited friends in Queens for a week in August. Down the street from the house there was a small shop with an arcade machine with Legendary Wings. Every day I’d start out with a fistful of quarters and pop them into the machine to get round after round. Eventually I purchased a version of the game for the original NES, and got so proficient at it that I could win basically on mental autopilot.

I thought of that when listening to a story on the radio about the decline of the home video gaming industry as a revenue generator. Here’s the relevant section of the transcript:

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Fun with Google Correlate

By Razib Khan | May 30, 2011 12:45 am

A few people have pointed me to Google Correlate. Google says that this tool is like “Google Trends in reverse.” You know I love Google Trends, so of course I’m going to poke around Google Correlate. The tool shows you the strongest correlations by query over time, as well as concentrations and correlations of the query by state. So here’s the distribution for “Jesus”:

If you know something about the United States, I assume you aren’t surprised. But how about something like “Krishna?”

Does this make sense to you? What’s up with New Jersey? As a proportion it has by far the greatest number of Indian Americans. (the #1 correlate is “Radha,” which makes sense)

How about something more obscure? OK, “Ludwig von Mises”:

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MORE ABOUT: Google Correlate

Zanran Numerical Data Search

By Razib Khan | May 28, 2011 11:38 am

Via Kevin Drum, Zanran, “Your source for data & statistics – graphs, charts and tables.” I am just checking it out, but I think it will be of use to readers.


Twitpic, all your photos are ours

By Razib Khan | May 26, 2011 2:25 pm

We’re in a brave new world when it comes to our conception of property. I’m on the skeptical side when it comes to the current aggregate long term utility of IP law (I think the value of property rights may be overwhelmed by the abuse which large corporations are inflicting upon the spirit of the laws). But I thought I’d pass on what everyone is talking about in relation to Twitpic, Why I abandoned Twitpic photo-sharing:

– 1. If someone wants to use my photo commercially, they need to ask Twitpic (but not me) and then credit Twitpic (but not me).

– 2. Twitpic can use or change my photos, in any, way without asking me first.

The financial rationale for this sort of behavior on the part of firms providing free services is pretty straightforward. If you want some level of control and ownership of what you produce, you’ll probably have to pay for services which grant you these liberties in the future, at least if you want to utilize the cloud.

For the record, I don’t mind if people somehow make money with my genotype. But I would be very skeptical of individuals who somehow assert exclusive ownership. When you grant exclusive rights to an idea, an abstraction, it isn’t surprising that individuals will begin to extract rents.


Facebook finally plateaus in 2011!

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2011 3:02 pm

I’ve been using Google Trends to track the rise of Facebook and the fall of MySpace for years. To my surprise Facebook has kept ascending up the Google search traffic for years past when I thought it would hit diminishing marginal returns of mind-share (I assumed it would level off in 2008). But it looks like it has finally reached a “mature” phase in 2011. First, let’s compare Facebook, Myspace, and Google in 2008. The following is search traffic on Google for the whole world….

Now for the past 12 months….

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MORE ABOUT: Facebook

Where people use their information appliances

By Razib Khan | May 21, 2011 11:58 am

In the U.S., Tablets are TV Buddies while eReaders Make Great Bedfellows:

Fast Company has a write up of the survey, concluding:

What can we learn from this data? Smart gadgets are pervasive. They’re already changing long-held habits, and doing so very fast. If you’re a content creator on almost any platform, you’ll need to be aware of how your audience’s attention is changing, and if you’re a marketer then think of the plethora of new ways to appeal to the public through their emerging habits.

One thing I notice about reading on the Kindle is that I’m more likely to finish books I begin front-to-back, because the device keeps my place. Flipping through the “book” is actually not as fluid, so in some ways I guess the Kindle is enforcing a retro-traditional reading style on me.


Kindle books outsell print books on Amazon

By Razib Khan | May 19, 2011 7:50 pm

Amazon: Kindle books outselling all print books
. This is more something I’d put on pinboard, but this requires noting more prominently. The figure itself isn’t important, but it is a marker for a silent transition occurring as we shift mediums.

MORE ABOUT: Technology

My dreamquest: what has the "phone" become?

By Razib Khan | May 3, 2011 10:48 pm

What is this?

I experienced a very strange and perhaps illuminating dream last night. I’ve had an HTC Evo 4G since Christmas (for what it’s worth, Sprint’s customer service has been horrible, but the phone itself is great). Before that I had phones with internet access, but which were more primitive. At this point I probably can’t imagine what life was like without a phone like the Evo. That was evident in my dream.

Here’s what happened. Apparently I had left the phone in my pocket while doing laundry. This meant that it was damaged. For reasons which the dream-gods did not explain to me, as a replacement I received an old school gray Nokia of some sort, the likes of which I hadn’t encountered since the mid-2000s. Here’s the kicker, I looked at my replacement phone, and wondered out loud: “OK, so what am I supposed to do with this phone? All it can do is call people. I don’t even like calling people!”

Obviously I still refer to my phone as a phone. But at this point I don’t see its primary role as sending and receiving phone calls! (in fact, if I want more reliable voice I’ll probably go with Skype due to issues with reception) I am reminded of the origin of the term ‘stationery’.

MORE ABOUT: Technology

The decline of web 2.0

By Razib Khan | March 27, 2011 1:56 pm

In 2006-2007 I worked at a firm which had its own web application, and “web 2.0” was a big term in the marketing materials. This article in DealB%k, Is It a New Tech Bubble? Let’s See if It Pops, made me wonder what happened to that term.

Here’s Google Trends:


"Content farms" and the media Precambrian

By Razib Khan | February 26, 2011 1:04 am

I’ve only become aware of “content farms” in any significant way over the past few days. Yes, I’m aware of Associated Content and eHow. I use Google! But I’ve always ignored them. But with Google’s turn against these websites I’ve become curious. This Wired piece from October 2009 is a gem. Here’s the part that caught my attention:

Plenty of other companies —, Mahalo, — have tried to corner the market in arcane online advice. But none has gone about it as aggressively, scientifically, and single-mindedly as Demand. Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.

In some ways “mainstream” websites also do this a bit, Nick Denton relies on fine-grained metrics for his Gawker Media properties. But obviously the sort of thing that content farms do, responding so specifically to the interests of the audience, take it to the next level. I started browsing some of the “articles” produced by the contributors, and I think Farhad Manjoo has it right:

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MORE ABOUT: Technology

Facebook is for the herd

By Razib Khan | January 15, 2011 2:47 am

That seems to be what John Dvorak is saying, Why I Don’t Use Facebook:

Which begs the question as to why anyone would use Facebook when it is essentially AOL done right? The fastest growing group on Facebook are people in their 70’s. Oldsters are flocking to Facebook the way they once did with AOL. Facebook is a simple system for the masses that do not really care about technology and do not want to learn anything new except something easy like Facebook.

Whenever someone tells me to check out something on Facebook, I recall the heyday of AOL with its keywords. “Go to the Internet at or AOL keyword: blah.” This was a common comment on the nightly news or in magazines. The AOL keyword is replaced by the Facebook page name.

There is no reason for anyone with any chops online to be remotely involved with Facebook, except to peruse it for lost relatives. So, next time you log on, remember it’s really AOL with a different layout.
Welcome to the past.

In broad qualitative strokes this seems about right. I’ve been hearing the Facebook-is-AOL analogy for years, and there are obvious similarities. I do have a Facebook page, but I don’t use it for much. If I want to say something that’s not substantial enough for a blog post, off to twitter. If I want to throw a few thousand words at a few thousand people, well, you know where I’m going to go with that. And of course, there’s if someone wants to find/contact me.

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MORE ABOUT: Facebook

Goodbye Delicious

By Razib Khan | December 16, 2010 2:36 pm

Delicious is shutting down. Since I use it a fair amount, can anyone recommend alternatives?

MORE ABOUT: Delicious

Collapse, stagnation, and explosion – Myspace, Yahoo!, and, Facebook

By Razib Khan | December 6, 2010 1:30 am

A tale of three firms via Google Trends. I’ve been checking in on Facebook’s numbers in Google Trends for years to see if I can see evidence of plateauing. Not quite yet. Interestingly all three companies were drawing similar search traffic on Google at the end of 2008, after which Myspace began its long descent, while Facebook had an inverted trajectory, and Yahoo! kept muddling along….

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Tech Trends

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