First//Look: Yahoo! Mash (beta)

Picture 7.pngFor big media companies, social networks are like lawyers. Everybody has one. The newest company to release a dedicated social network into beta is Yahoo. It's interesting to note that Yahoo has had all of the pieces of a truly engaging social network platform for as long as I can remember. Message boards, Answers, Flickr, MyYahoo!, etc. all operated independently of each other in the past. Yahoo has recently made moves to consolidate properties and is leveraging it's Yahoo ID system as a single sign-on for all of the sites.

Mash is still in beta. That being said, it has a way to go to catch up to the interactivity and personalization of MySpace and Facebook. This beta is hard to personalize, doesn't pull in RSS feeds with consistency and has few plugins from developers (because it is in beta). I would love to see Yahoo use some of it's own UI tools to make the experience better all around. Right now it appears very stripped down way (not in a good, Facebook-esque way).

Yahoo's long-term property acquisition and convergence strategy should help this network gain traction. They will need to determine what a user's forward facing presence is in the system and then let people build on that. For example, I have a Mash profile, MyYahoo profile, Flickr Profile, etc. That's too many for one entity and I could see Mash serving as a mid-range solution for doing some consolidation to make user's lives easier.

Check out my First//Look at the Mash beta:

[Feed readers please click through to the post for the video.]

Key takeaways:


  • Enable people to do cool stuff and get out of their way!
  • Find out where your target audience is and focus there (Facebook, MySpace, Mash, etc.) - don't get sucked in to the hype of one network over another
  • Try to add value to each and every interaction
  • Personalization is key. Let people feel like they own the space and make doing this as easy as possible
  • Leverage user generated content sources within the partner network to add more value (something that Yahoo/Google are better positioned to offer vs. Facebook and to some extent MySpace)

Related Videos:


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In search of the best, or why Google and Yahoo may not win the war

iStock_000003985556XSmall.jpgThe idea of universal search is a hot one in the online marketing world. If you're not familiar with the term, it's basically the joining of multiple types of content into one cohesive result. For example, if you go to Google right now and search for "apples", the main listing that returns to you are text links to text content (sometimes photos and video are added in-line). They are including blogs and other social media, but it's all text based. If you want to expand your search to video, photos, pro message boards, etc. you have to click another link and you get another set of independent results. Universal search combines everything you need into one set of results.

There are a couple of sites (experimental and otherwise) where companies are playing around with this idea. Ask.com is leading the pack with their current integrated solution as Google and Yahoo play around with the idea in beta (here and here respectively).

Here is a screenshot from Ask's result page. Note the images, Wikipedia and news items pulled into the right column to supplement the text results

Ask.com search results

If you look at the text results from each of these services, there is little differentiation. Different algorithms give different priorities, but for the most part you get the same results at Google, Yahoo, Live search or Ask. Wikipedia is universally accessed as are dictionary.com and sites like Amazon.com.

The difference comes when you look at the unique properties that each search company owns. Take a look at the following, ultra-simple diagram.

webinabox.png

[Click to enlarge]

My main question here is can Google win at search if Yahoo owns the best photo content? Can Yahoo win if Google owns the best user-generated video content?

Right now there is almost no sharing between them, so if you do a Google image search, you will not get Flickr images in your result and the same goes with searching for video on Yahoo as you won't get the best YouTube results.

Some questions for you to ponder and share:


  • Should the companies open up all of their content to one another for the benefit of the end users? Or will they start blocking access?
  • If you were Google would you sacrifice the content in the Yahoo network to make sure they can't access your content?
  • Would they be violating each other's terms of service since they both make money selling ads based on the results?
  • If it's not Google or Yahoo or Ask or Microsoft, who will emerge? Could it be a human-powered option like Mahalo?
  • Are people getting enough from their search engine of choice that they don't need a new option?

I can't wait to hear what you have to say.


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Inside//Out: del.icio.us

delicious_logo.gifAccording to a recent Pew Internet Life, 28% of internet users have tagged content with 7% tagging content every day. One of the most popular tagging sites out today is del.icio.us (although it's not the only one). I personally use it to a) help me remember content that I want to revisit later, b) provides collective intelligence information and c) share relevant information with my readers.

Here is an Inside//Out look at del.icio.us.

Getting set up on the service is really straight forward and it easily integrates into the normal browsing experience. Clicking a link can tag the information, share it with the community and tell you how popular the content is.

Here are the keys to understanding tagging sites:


  • Very focused design puts information and usability first
  • Tags are keywords (yes it's that simple)
  • The tags are stored to your profile so you can reference them later from any web browser
  • Tags are shared globally so you can see related content from the entire network
  • You can create networks that feed aggregate content from all users and share
  • Popularity is gained by having something tagged multiple times in a shortened time frame
  • Great source for research, trend spotting and keeping the industry's pulse
  • Content is easily shared to blogs and other websites as well

If you have any questions or suggestions for a future Inside//Out post just email me or leave a comment on this post.

Click here to see past Inside//Out segments including Twitter, Mahalo and Second Life.




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Metrics shape our perceived value; why the formula matters

iStock_000003339307XSmall.jpgOkay marketers. Let's say you are prepping to run an ad campaign for a mass, commodity good and you have to rank your ad buys over the top content networks. How would you rank the following and what metrics would you use? Go ahead and try it.


  • AOL
  • Ebay
  • Fox Interactive Media
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • MSN/Windows Live
  • Yahoo

Would you have ranked them by total audience knowing that you could reach a more robust and accurate subset with targeted ads? Or, would you have opted for total page views thinking that the more pages served the more eyeballs will take a look? Better yet, did you opt for the new Nielsen-suggested standard of time on site knowing that time leads to engagement and better eyeballs? You may be surprised at how different these results are.

Nielsen.jpg
Source: Nielsen/NetRatings,
U.S., home and work, May 2007
Take a look at the chart to the left. The first chart shows each network based on total unique audience with Google in the lead. It is followed by Yahoo, MSN/Live, Microsoft and AOL. Remember AOL's last-place position in this chart for later. There is a gap of roughly 20 million people between first and last place.

But you may not have wanted to go with total audience, instead you want to use page views as your metric. Well, in that case Yahoo is your network of choice. Yahoo is followed by Fox (including MySpace), Google, MSN/Live and EBay. In this case there is a roughly 20 billion page view difference.

However, you may be detered by page views and total audience and find yourself looking at total time on the site. In that case AOL comes out of nowhere to take a firm lead (remember they were last in total audience). They're followed by Yahoo, MSN/Live, Fox and Google who drops like a stone. There is a difference of roughly 17.5 billion minutes between AOL and Google.

So what the heck does this mean to you? Let's look at each network to see what the metrics tell us.


aol_logo.jpgAOL - The AOL network is where to go if you want people who spend a lot of time there, but they are not generating a lot of page views in that time. There are an estimated 90 million people in the audience.


ebay_logo.jpgEbay - EBay pops up only in the page views metric as you would expect. Each listing is a page and visitors crank through them quickly. Total audience is lower as is the time on the site.


logo_fox.gifFox Interactive Media - The Fox network, while not large, generates quite a few page views and stays engaged with that content longer when you consider its size. I think MySpace has a large part to do with that summary. as people stay engaged, but constantly churn through pages of friends as well as adding content.


logo-Google.gifGoogle - Google is still the king of search so if you're looking for SEM and you want the volume, this is your stop (according to 2007 April figures from Nielsen//NetRatings, Google has the largest share of U.S. based web searches at 55.2% (Google Acquisitions), Yahoo is second at 21.9%, MSN is third at 9.0%, AOL is fourth at 5.4%, and Ask is fifth at 1.8%). The downside of Google is that people are coming for a specific task and jumping off hence the low engagement times and high audience.


microsoft logo_qjpreviewth.jpgMicrosoft - The Microsoft audience is large as you would expect, but that's where the company's advantage ends. They don't show up on the total time on site or the page views metrics.


250px-MSN_(logo).pngMSN/Windows Live - MSN represents Microsoft's consumer facing entity and their Live search function. Live has been picking up some momentum in total search volume, but they've a long way to go to catch Google. MSN comfortably sits in the middle of the pack on almost every point. They dip below when it comes to page views. It's a large audience that spends an average amount of time on fewer pages.


yahoo-logo.jpgYahoo - Yahoo comes out the best of any network when you look at each metric. They have the second largest audience, the most number of page views and the second most time in minutes. This should be an attractive combination to marketers especially in targeted display ads. Yahoo still lags behind Google for SEM where there is still a 30%+ gap.


In the end, no matter who you are or who you are marketing to, it comes down to a few key factors:

  • Find your audience. If they're not using Google then you're wasting your money
  • Relevance is key. Making hyper-targeted ad buys will help make sure relevance is there and waste is minimal
  • Nobody likes iterruption. The last thing I want is to have my visit to a network interrupted by your ad. Give me some value and be relevant to what I am looking at. If I'm in the auto repair section, don't offer me camera equipment.
  • Think outside the banner. Look at sponsorships or creating value-add programs to hook users.
  • Think social. Engaging with the community on a social level will lead to more success. Think about shifting dollars to social/conversational media. You may get more bang for your buck.

What do you consider when you run ads? Have you started shifting dollars to digital? Are you shifting those dollars to social media? Let me know in the comments.


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Inside//Out: Mahalo

mahalo_logo.pngAs the sheer amount of information explodes on the web, there is opportunity for new companies to capitalize on the filtering and organization of data. Mahalo is just such a venture. Started by Jason Calacanis of Weblogs Inc. and Netscape fame, Mahalo is a people filtered/built search engine.

This has interesting implications for marketers. Where traditionally SEO and SEM practives have mattered, they're made irrelevant on Mahalo. Mahalo's guides choose the best content from the web no matter if they're Google rank is high or not. The guides create search engine result pages (SERPs) which act as landing pages for each search term. The SERPs are flexible and can adapt to their subject.

[Note I had some lag on this video (my fault), but the audio is perfectly clear so enjoy.]

[Feed readers please click through to the post for the video]

While Mahalo is not the first people filtered search engine (Yahoo did this first), the SERPs are new, however, and they may well be the first to create this feature (although it looks a lot like About.com result pages to me). Nevertheless, with Calacanis behind the project pushing it forward and getting press, it may well take off. Some people want guides to filter their information for them and this is a great service for those people.

Personally I would love to see hooks into networks like del.icio.us or Digg to pull in related items since those are people filtered as well. I'd expect to see more and more engines like this that are powered by people in the future. It surely makes people doing SEO/SEM to look at the quality of their content vs. quality of their optimization.

[Update] Jason Calacanis found this video and links to it from a post here. I've also received emails from other members of their team. Kudos to them for being very actively engaged in the conversation.


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Why is Ask.com selling the drill bit?

ask-logo-13518.gifOne of the earliest bits of marketing knowledge that was imparted to me was the lesson of the drillbit. The saying is along the lines of "people don't buy a 1/4 inch drill bit, they buy a 1/4 inch hole". The focus on the end result and the benefit over the feature has stuck with me over time.

When I started seeing the new ad campaign for Ask.com, this lesson came flying back into my mind. The ads are mostly unbranded placements that focus on their algorithm. My immediate thought was "I bet Google is doing this", not good for Ask. Secondly I thought "who cares about the algorithm?". If you have not seen the messages, here are a couple pulled off of Flickr:


Photo by johntrainor

Photo by stan

Photo by mil8

Photo by mlinksva

Here is a TV ad in the same campaign:

Feed readers click here.

If you are not a computer scientist or an engineer at a search company, why should you care about the algorithm? I don't think most Americans know what an algorithm is, much less how it benefits them.

I don't envy the position Ask is in. They are a smaller player in an industry with a LOT of very well funded competition. This campaign, however, is not helping their cause. Selling the algorithm is the equivalent of selling the drillbit. What I'm really after are better search results. That's the hole they should be selling. That's the need I have that needs to be filled and is currently filled well by Google. Tell me how you do that in plain English and I may listen.

Their new TV campaign does have more focus on the benefit even if the over-the-top, broadway-esque production detracts from the message. He got what he was looking for. They need to expand on this point with new ads that reach more people.

Feed readers click here.

Search is a game that extends well beyond the browser. I interact with my search engine of choice from my global search on my desktop, from the toolbar on Firefox, from my OSX dashboard widget and they touch my life in many other ways too. Ask needs to tell me why I should make those moves and dislodge my current option. Their new 3D search is a start, but it's not really much different than what Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are doing. The results seem about the same too.

My question is why should I switch? I asked, now I'll wait for the answer. What would make you switch? Are they doing enough with these ads to make you try them out?


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Google is stalking me, but what does it mean?

crystalball.jpgI wish I had a crystal ball to see where the online landscape will be in 5-10 years. The only thing I know for sure is that it will look very different than it does now. Google's invasiveness in my life will certainly change, but it's not a bad thing right now. They are adding value to my life and making my day easier. They're friendly and colorful and people go out of their way to evangelize their products and services. But this may not always be the case. I can think of a couple other companies who are/were this invasive.

Hindsight is 20/20 the old saying goes. I see parallels between Google's current path and a couple other companies that go by the name of Yahoo and Microsoft. Each of those companies attempted to be and, in each case, had a chance to become what Google is today before taking a back seat.

To read the rest of my article click over to The Madison Avenue Journal.

Click here for the back-story of how Google is stalking me.


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Buzz Friday (week of May 4)

buzz_listen.jpg
Here is a look at what is happening across a couple of sites I keep an eye on. Let me know if there is anything you would like me to add on.

 

 

Items I think are interesting:

Top Five Technorati Blogs
**This doesn't change so this is the last week I will feature this item**


  1. Engadget
  2. Boing Boing
  3. Gizmodo
  4. Techcrunch
  5. The Huffington Post

View Top 100

Top 10 Technorati Searches


  1. galilea montijo
  2. youtube
  3. myspace
  4. joost
  5. silverlight
  6. next07
  7. digg
  8. britney spears
  9. pandora
  10. shoppero

Top Five Web2.0 Movers of the Week (using Alexa data)


  1. SmugMug
  2. Newsvine
  3. Flixter
  4. Woot!
  5. Revver

More

Top Five Web2.0 Sites (using Alexa data)
**This is also not changing so I will discontinue it and find a new item to include**


  1. YouTube
  2. MySpace
  3. Orkut
  4. Wikipedia
  5. hi5

More

Top Ten Marketing Blogs from Viral Garden
**Expanded to include top 10 to show more change**


  1. Seth's Blog
  2. Creating Passionate Users
  3. Gaping Void
  4. Duct Tape Marketing
  5. Marketing Shift
  6. Daily Fix
  7. Converstations
  8. New School of Network Marketing
  9. Drew's Marketing Minute
  10. The Viral Garden

View the top full top 25

Top 5 "Viral" Videos This Week


  1. Oh Nine, Eff Nine
  2. Happy Feet Trailer
  3. David Hasselhoff Intoxicated
  4. Linkin Park What ive done original clip 2007
  5. Web 2.0 ... Beyond E-text (2nd Draft)

More


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Buzz Friday (week of April 20)

buzz_listen.jpg
Here is a look at what is happening across a couple of sites I keep an eye on. Let me know if there is anything you would like me to add on.

 

 

Items I think are interesting:
  • If you don't know who Lionel Messi is, he is an Argentine soccer phenom playing in FC Barcelona. Check out this video. Fantastico! (This is a shout out to my friends in Buenos Aires.)
  • I added a link on my blog below LinkedIn to a service called MyZiki. You go on and create a profile for yourself and it aggregates all of your media (posts, photos, comments, twitters) in one place. They also buy the keywords for your name in major search engines so you come up at the top of the list. Go ahead and search for 'Matt Dickman' in Google and Yahoo. You'll see my Ziki ad show up at the top.
  • Nikon's PR force launched a blogger focused campaign for the D80 (the camera I personally use). It's gotten mixed feedback, but certainly has generated plenty of buzz. Check our Mack's post and the comments for more thoughts.
  • Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agenct asks a question that I've been curious about. Is LinkedIn working for you? Hop over there and join the conversation (agent).
  • Speaking of LinkedIn, Mario Sundar (LinkedIn's new Customer Evangelist) has a couple great posts from the Web 2.0 Expo on the topic of Community Evangelism.
  • Seth Godin had a post on his Dip Blog last week asking for a list of quitters. I sent mine in and was chosen by Seth to receive a signed copy. I devoured it and will post more here when the book becomes publicly available on May 10. I recommend you go ahead and put your order in now.
  • In a hilarious twist of irony, Microsoft is urging an anti-trust review of the DoubleClick merger. There is even Microsoft conspiracy theory saying that MS intentionally ran up the price on DoubleClick and then lost on purpose.
  • Lots of new competition heating up in social tagging systems. MySpace announced a Digg-like service and Google announced a service close to StumbleUpon.
  • Coke announced a new venture in Second Life that has everybody talking. Done by Crayon, Virtual Thirst is an innovative move to invigorate the SL space after much doomsday talk in past weeks.

Top Five Technorati Blogs


  1. Engadget
  2. Boing Boing
  3. Gizmodo
  4. Techcrunch
  5. The Huffington Post

View Top 100

Top 10 Technorati Searches


  1. joost invite
  2. cho seung-hui
  3. virginia tech
  4. ismail ax
  5. youtube
  6. myspace
  7. sanjaya
  8. ubuntu
  9. web 2.0 expo
  10. messi (Argentine soccer phenom)

Top Five Web2.0 Movers of the Week (using Alexa data)


  1. Geni
  2. 37 Signale
  3. Bolt
  4. Ze Frank
  5. Frappr

More

Top Five Web2.0 Sites (using Alexa data)


  1. YouTube
  2. MySpace
  3. Orkut
  4. Wikipedia
  5. hi5

More

Top Five Marketing Blogs from Viral Garden


  1. Seth's Blog
  2. Creating Passionate Users
  3. Duct Tape Marketing
  4. Gaping Void
  5. Marketing Shift

View the top 25

Top 5 "Viral" Videos This Week


  1. Gol de Messi al Getafe 18/04/07
  2. The Zimmers "My Generation"
  3. The Landlord
  4. Alanis Morissette "My Humps Video"
  5. Gangsta Happy Feet Remix

More


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Google, Yahoo testing next generation search

Within the past two days I have come across new, early beta versions of both Google and Yahoo's next gen search. Yahoo's alpha and Google's SearchMash are serving as test beds for new features. The two are notably similar in interface and content (who copied who I wonder?) and show a clear direction from both firms moving toward a more integrated search experience. The content is pulled in through AJAX-like technology so the user doesn't need to surf to view related content.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of each engine:

Google SearchMash home page
Picture 5.png
Yahoo alpha home page
Picture 6.png
Google SearchMash results page
Picture 3.png
Yahoo alpha results page
Picture 7.png
Google SearchMash integrated content
Picture 4.png
Yahoo alpha integrated content
Picture 2.png

Similarities: Besides the interface, the results formatting and the type of information included in the related content are similar. Both have videos (Note: Yahoo even pulls in Google's YouTube content), Wikipedia entries and images (Flickr on the Yahoo side).

Divergences: Google singles out blogs (even though they're included in the main results) and Yahoo pulls in News and Answers information. I would look for Google and Yahoo to add in all of their properties over time (groups, shopping, etc.).

What does this mean for marketers? It means that more content is going to be presented to the user with higher importance. For example, right now most marketers probably don't pay attention to the images that may be tagged to their company name. With this new search, consumers will be able to quickly see image information (like your CEO dancing at the Christmas Party) on the main landing page. On the flip side, images can be powerful marketing vehicles and special attention should be paid to making sure they are tagged appropriately.

The same can be said for video. Video search is just starting to get traction, but the marketing potential (both up-side and down-side) is tremendous. Users will be one click away from information that now takes them 2-3 extra clicks. This will put a higher weight on that content. We need to prepare now for this change as I'm pretty sure this is not too far off.

Go to both of these sites and use them. Get acquainted with the format. Then think to yourself, what can I do today to make sure all of my content is search-ready tomorrow?


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OpenID and why you should care

1148194262.pngIf you are a regular web user like myself, you probably have passwords and usernames scattered across hundreds of sites, spanning the past 8-9 years of your online life. Does your online banking username and password resemble your login to your wacky aunt's baby photo sharing site? Or does your password arsenal need NSA top-secret-clearance-carrying cryptologists to help you uncover the right combination of characters? How do you store those usernames and passwords? More importantly, what helps prevent other people from claiming to be you?

Wouldn't it be nice to have them all in one place and have a third-party verify that you are who you say you are? This has been tried before, but by partial companies. Microsoft's Wallet centralized e-commerce application failed miserably and Google's new checkout application may follow in the same footsteps.

What you need is an open, decentralized, free system for digital user-centric identity. It just so happens that is what OpenID is. First and foremost OpenID is not a trust system. The system is an identity verification system. Trust is only given by users once they determine if it's warranted.

Let's use the example of two bloggers leaving comments on one another's posts. In the diagram below, each person is using a different publishing system and they want to interact with each other through comments. OpenID works where I go to your blog and enter my blog URI. Your blog checks back to my ID server (behind the scenes) and authorizes that I am who I say I am. Your blogging system then populates my comment information on your form. I enter my comment and it comes into your queue. You look at the comment, click back to my blog and decide if you trust me (if I am a new commenter). If you do decide to trust me you approve the comment, if not, you delete it. The same thing happens when you come to my blog and submit a comment. My system validates your identity through your ID server. I then determine if I trust you.

openID.png

OpenID saves time for Internet users and centralizes the storage of identity information. The decentralized nature of the verification keeps people honest. If someone lies about their identity, they can be reported and when they interact in the future they would be flagged.

The biggest reason to care about OpenID is the fact that Yahoo and Microsoft have thrown their support behind the system. Those two powerhouses are validating the concept and the fact that this type of system should be independent of corporate influence.

For an awesome take on this, check out the following video done by identity 2.0 maven Dick Hardt of Sxip Identity. It's a marvelous presentation and shows the challenges of identity 2.0.





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Tracking online trends and buzz

There are a couple of sites I use to track trends and buzz. One of those is BuzzMetrics BlogPulse which tracks keywords in blog posts across the Internet. I was curious, given Vista's recent launch, what the level of buzz was in comparison to the iPhone release.

It isn't even close. You can clearly see in the chart below the blue spike is the release of the iPhone and the orange spike is the Vista on-sale. This goes as much to Apple's tight secrecy on the device versus Microsoft's 3 year death march toward Vista's release.


vista_iPhone buzz.png


Trends like these can give you a window into your users and popular culture. You don't need an expensive buzz tracking service to get an idea of what's happening. Use the following sites (my favorites) to keep your fingers on the pulse of your business or industry:


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Yahoo playing advertising catch-up

yahoo-logo-735610.jpgYahoo's long-delayed new advertising system, code named project Panama, is in the process of launching. Yahoo has been trying to catch up to Google and Microsoft for quite some time and Panama is expected to bridge the gap.

Yahoo needs this project to be successful in order to increase its revenues and lift its stock prices. The next step is for Yahoo to try to gain ground in the search volume race. Right now the change in model doesn't mean a lot without more volume and more impressions. For media professionals, it's just another disparate system to learn, for Yahoo this could determine their relevance as a search powerhouse.


More:


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The Yahoo-ization of Flickr

flickr_logo.jpgYesterday, Flickr (the popular Yahoo! owned photo sharing social network or which I am a Pro member) announced that they would be placing some new restrictions on accounts. The first is a 3000 contact limit per account and the second is the requirement that all users login after 2/15 with a Yahoo! ID. Thomas Hawk (via Scoble) has a really good recap of the conversations going on about this.

Flickr has every right to enforce these decisions, but in what spirit do they make them? The claim is that these changes will increase overall system speed and increase security respectively.

First, the system speed on browsing (which is where they claim is effected) isn't slowed down by contacts. Flickr is also a very graphically light system so it tends to load fast and respond quickly and contacts are deeper inside user profiles.

On the Yahoo! ID, I understand the rationale. Yahoo! wants to expand their user base and push more services to Flickr users, but Flickr is a very independent, irreverent, spirited community of dedicated people. Making a bunch of non-conformists (which most artists are in some regard) conform to something like this is a little off-putting especially through brute force (as of 2/15 you must have a Yahoo! login).

Lastly, I wonder if Yahoo! has other plans in bumping up the graphic load on Flickr (read advertising) and that's the push for data limitations. More importantly, however is the issue this raises on the oversight of social networks. Who controls things like this? Should it be the masses of paying customers making the decisions or at least weighing in? Social networks are fragile and full of dedicated, fickle people who could use that same network to revolt (bad press or loss of members).

So, where does this stop? What are the future limitations that Flickr may impose? Better yet, what entrepreneurial photo sharing network will offer Flickr's pro members (the people who pay) a free, comparable account and the automated import of their Flickr photos? Flickr's API allows pretty good access to make this happen. Zoomr are you listening?


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Free speech on the Internet

shush1.jpgI came across a post on Threadwatch titled 'Google and Other Internet Giants to Create a Code of Conduct'. My first instinct when I read this was one of a tempered mix of interest and dismay. Basically Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Vodafone are working with a couple of national rights groups to make sure that companies are held accountable when helping to suppress free speech or commit human rights violations.

A couple of points here are important. Yahoo! has already widely been accused (multiple times) for giving up information on a Chinese bloggers which led to their arrest and imprisonment. Google and Microsoft have been accused of enforcing censorship within China as well. Vodafone is the only company of the four which has escaped accusations on the internet. I wonder if these previous rights violators and perpetuators of censorship will adhere to their own rules.

Now, I hold some personal admiration for these companies. They're creators of incredible solutions which have led to personal empowerment and brought terabytes of information  to millions of people. The bigger question here I think is why these companies should be allowed to create any such code (other than them wanting to). Is this like allowing felons to write new laws on the crimes they've already committed. What's the penalty if they're found in violation of the policies? Who monitors it? Who makes sure that small companies are protected? Who makes sure the people of the world are protected?

I am not saying this policy is not needed. It is. This could, and I hope it would, work for these big companies. This is a serious matter which is central to what the Internet is all about, freeing information and voices.

But why not have the internet community participate in this discussion and democratize this process? The people own the Internet. We're talking about a set of global operating principles here that reach far beyond US borders. Could a wiki be created to allow Internet users to weigh in and help to craft the guiding laws which will effect them and their children? It surely seems possible.

What are your thoughts on this? Are these companies trying to do the right thing or is this a PR move plain and simple? The outcome is vital to freedom of speech around the world.

 

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