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The GoAnimate song April 19, 2009

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, User Experience, Web 2.0.
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It’s my first time blogging about something directly related to my current job as product manager at GoAnimate.com. I am not sure why I did not do it earlier… Working at GoAnimate allowed me to switch from being an uninvolved consultant advising people to being in the “pit” fighting to make the website a success not only in terms of user experience and interaction design, but also more generally as a company.

One major realization I had while working is the power of the community. I have been humbled by what and how users have been using the platform. We first designed it for people to create short funny stories, and we now realize that quite a number of users are now using the platform to create whole animated episodes that sometimes last more than 10 minutes. We also see amazing thing happening in terms of users sharing their creations and the content they upload to the platform. Overall it is amazing to see the dedication and passion of the users on the platform.

Passion that sometimes expresses itself in some strange ways, as the following video shows:

There is no question the Internet is magical in the ways it empowers people to express themselves in such diverse ways… for better and for worse. ;o)

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Tim Berners-Lee: The next Web of open, linked data March 15, 2009

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, TED Talks, Trends.
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I got back to watching some TED talks and the talk from Tim Bernes-Lee felt like a good one to start with. In his talk he reveals his vision for the evolution of the Web, moving from sharing documents to sharing raw data. The presentation is very visionary and somewhat scary I would say.

Watch it below:

If I get the idea well, Linked Data means that when browsing the Web “tomorrow” instead of looking through documents (web pages), the search engine (or whatever is used to browse) will look through raw data. So, I guess one could type a question like “How many friends does Nicolas Lassus have?” and get results from many different places/databases that would answer that question.

Personally, I see quite a number of huge hurdles to overcome before something like that could work. The first thing is something faces by Wikipedia everyday. How do you ensure that the data is accurate and legitimate? Even if people are not trying to manipulate others, there are so many ways to calculate something that just providing raw data can be totally unusable. For this to work, everything around the world would have to be entirely standardize. For example, the way unemployment rate is calculated in different countries is different because of each country’s specificities (or political agenda). Theoritically speaking standardization would be great, but is it realistic?

Another problem is that data is actually a huge business. The open source concept is great, but gathering good data is actually a very time-consuming and tough job. How do we “reward” the people who bring the data to the masses? Personally, I am not a big supporter of the free economy and I believe things that are free today, may not be free tomorrow anymore. Somebody at some point in the supply chain has to pay for things.

The last problem is privacy. If people are able to post data about other people on the web. How do we control that? Facebook and other social networks are testing the limit of this on their side and it will be interesting to see where things go… (I’m reading some articles on the topic and will try to write a post soon about that).

This said, Linked Data can definitely have great applications in some fields. All the fields where data standardization has been happening really fast in the past like financial reporting, corporate social responsibility, etc. Linked data in that field would be a great advance. As I worked on CSR a bit, I really feel that all these reports corporation work so hard on producing should be replaced by Linked data. Something that allows people to easily compare and analyze what companies are doing to make better informed decisions about their purchases or which brands they supports. This standardization has already started and there is just a very small step to make to actually make Linked Data a reality… whether something like that could spread to the whole Web will be interesting to witness.

Black Swans and Web Start-ups January 28, 2009

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, Start-ups, User Experience.
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The Black Swan

The Black Swan

I have just finished reading The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The book is a great read. I already found Fooled by Randomness by the same author very interesting and this one goes further by applying similar ideas to fields outside of finance. Black Swans are basically very improbable events that are impossible to predict and that have major consequences on their environment. There is no need to look very far to find a Black Swan, as we are in the middle of one with this financial crisis (although some could argue it is a “Gray” Swan as it might have been predictable).

For me, the main lesson I get from the book is that we need to face uncertainty as it is (unpredictable) and should not let unsound theories or stories (especially success stories) fool ourselves in making wrong or too risky decisions. Most articles out there try to rationalize things with checklists, qualities of the successful entrepreneurs… stories that transform successful entrepreneurs into semi-gods who somehow possess a magical potion to make any idea successful. One of the last such article I read had: “The product does not matter” in its checklist for a successful social network. After a short state of intense anger reading this few words, I came to wonder. Is that true? Does the product really matter? Or maybe not…

As a guy focusing on user experience and being a product manager right now, I am in a totally biased position. But I will anyway try to give my personal vision of the start-up world, focusing on the people in this world. There are two main types of actors for web start-ups. The investors (Venture Capital, Angels,…) and the actual entrepreneurs (I am lucky enough to be an employee in the start-up where I work, so I may have a clear vision on entrepreneurs). Both of these parties are aware of the role of Black Swans in their business. They somehow know that only a very small portion of companies make it big.

But which one of the two has the better position? Which one is the fool in the relationship? (after reading Mr. Taleb’s book I feel that there must be fools everywhere…)

When I look at all these articles and all the press only talking about the winners in the start-up world, I definitely see a massive survivor bias (the fact that you never hear about failures) phenomenon. Talking to entrepreneurs it also appears to me that only a few are aware of the real probability (or more accurately the total uncertainty) of their business being successful. While this is good to ensure entrepreneurs have the drive and put as much energy as possible in their business, it makes them the fools in this relationship. Investors know of failures. Most of their investment are failures and that knowledge makes them better equipped to not be fools.

So, what do investors do?! Well. They are looking for Black Swans. They invest in many companies and push these companies to put themselves in a position where they have a chance of being hit by a Black Swan. Usually, this results in a total reluctance to look at cash flow and profits and only focus on expanding the community and promoting the site (the product does not matter).

What is the result of that?! Well, many companies die as a result of this, but the investors still do okay as in the lot of companies they invest in, they only need one successful one to reap a lot of return and erase all their losses. They increase their chance of facing a Black Swan by having many companies under their umbrella and pushing them into the right direction.

But, what about entrepreneurs?! For that entrepreneur who hit it big, that’s great. But for all the ones facing failure (the immense majority), not good. Their companies could have done great by taking a more product centric approach with slower development but producing returns. Their growth would have been slower, their return (in case of success) would have been smaller, but they could have built a lasting business.

So the conclusion is: As an entrepreneur, it is important to know which group you want to belong to. Being a fool can be good, but only if you knowingly put yourself in this situation. For all the entrepreneurs who prefer not to be fools… the road is longer and tougher, but it may provide more chances of success in the end. And on that road, the product does matter.

Alrite. That was my 2 cents on the issue. I am sure that all over the web it is possible to find much better articles about this (I am just an employee after all). I just felt like putting some thoughts down as I was reading “The Black Swan”.

The end of User-Generated Content? March 8, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Innovation, Newsweek, Social Networking, Trends, User Experience, Web 2.0.
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The end of user-generated content? Really?! With social networks, blogs, wikis and more new similar applications appearing every day, who would defend such an idea? It is at first glance what Newsweek seems to be doing with their article: “Revenge of the Experts” (found through Putting People First blog). But is it really what they are saying?

Revenge of the ExpertsThe debate is not really about whether user-generated content will disappear or not. People will continue to generate content. And with the increasing power of applications and tools we have within our grasp, we will continue to generate more and more content. But it is the role of this content that we generate that will be changing. With all the excitement brought by “Web 2.0” (for lack of a better word) about common user doing the job of experts and companies using them to build a business model, we forgot that experts did not appear out of nowhere. Experts are here because, well, they are experts! They are much better at doing something than other people, and they should be rewarded for that. The tools that we now have available helped closing the gap between real expertise and perceived one, but the difference remains nevertheless.

The fact that blogs exist for example does not mean we can all be good reporters or journalists. It only means that we can all publish stuff. The fact that we can now comment on articles on most of the major magazines and newspapers, does not make us more expert than the person writing that article. And actually if we go beyond the facade of user-generated content, we discover that most content, as highlight in the article, is generated by a very small group of people. In the end, to create quality content to all can refer to, you need experts. Wikipedia just showed that an amazing tool could be created by offering a place where experts from a wide range of fields could aggregate all their knowledge, but it omitted to include a clear accountability review on the quality of each contributor.

In every such discussions I have these days everything boils down back to the word “good”. In the recent discussion on the use of personas, the conclusion basically is that if the person is “good” then personas are great. In this case it is the same. If a person is good, or an expert, then we can trust his or her judgment. This means that we need expertise, and we need ways to identify who has that expertise. After all the excitement, we could very well see more old fashioned business model that we thought were dead make a come back.

Airgini launches private Alpha… January 23, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Airgini, Hong Kong, Innovation, Mobile, Social Networking.
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AirginiAirgini has just launched its private alpha version. Airgini is a Hong Kong born mobile social networking application. It is great to see product innovation and development in Hong Kong. There are too few of those.

So, all the best to the Airgini team!

Wikia Search and HAPPY NEW YEAR! January 8, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in BusinessWeek, Innovation, Social Networking.
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After some time away from my blog. I am back, and if my resolutions for 2008 are to be trusted I should be a good boy and post more often on my blog (objective once a week).

This quick post to highlight the launch of Wikia Search, a project from Jimmy Wales (read Wikipedia) that is supposed to bring an alternative to web search by bringing a human touch to the whole thing. More information can be found in the next two links:

I will not comment on the fact that this early version does not actually include any human touch to web search, but wanted to comment on the whole concept. It appears strange to me to think that people interested in searching for information will take the time to “rate” search and thus help the search engine do a better job. It seems to me that from a user perspective it defeats the whole purpose of a search engine, which is supposed to help us make sense of the whole Internet mass (not the reverse).

I don’t know how the people behind this project search, but in my case and the case of people around me, I don’t want to spend time searching for information. I want to spend time reading relevant content. If I cannot get the content I want the first time, then I will not use that search engine. And user reviews and rating takes time to make sense. With new websites, blogs and so on being created everyday, how can user rating keep up with all this.

Anyway… that was just a quick post on this. Will try to give me some more thoughts soon. Also a review of Zotero plugins for Firefox should come soon (I think I am going to get addicted to that thing real quick).

Update: One more article about Wikia Search on BusinessWeek. When your product is far from making a difference, is more press coverage good… or bad?

Social Networking: The growth dilemma… November 25, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Hong Kong, Social Networking, Strategy, Trends, Web 2.0.
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I recently did some work for a mobile social networking start-up here in Hong Kong helping them with their interface and their user experience in general. Although my focus was on the interface (and the project very short as usual) we happened to talk quite a bit about strategy. In fact, I always find it hard to focus on user experience and user interface without poking my nose into the overall strategy behind them (I’d like to spend more time on that, but it is not the point of this post… maybe for a later one).

Anyway, it seems to me that there is a tough dilemma when building a social network. The problem is that the number of users and the amount of interactions going on in the network is everything. Indeed for most social networks (excluding a few business-related or referral-based ones), the networks do not have a clear revenue model. As everything is advertising-based the indicators to get funding and be recognized in the industry are basically number of users and page views. Unfortunately, these indicators in some cases go against user goals and go against the long term survival of the network.

We are now all used to this. We grow a social network and at first all is going well. We have our close friends there and we are having fun exchanging news, pictures, videos, etc. However after a while, our network grows, previous friends, former colleagues, people we actually met via our social network gets added and all goes out of control. Indeed the whole concept is based on encouraging users to “make” more friends. Games are put in place to push them to add people to their network, and simply when somebody asks sombody to be his or her friend it is really hard to say no. It feels like a no return kind of decision. Even though we might never meet the person in real, we just cannot say no to people that easily. And once they are added to our network, we have little control over what they do with their access to our information, thus the beginning of the end and often users drop-out from the network.

Although it means taking more time to grow the network it seems to me that social networks should learn from real life more. Instead of just facing a “friend” or “not friend” situation, users should be able to grow relationships slower and keeping them under their control without feeling like they are making others feel bad (or having themselves the perception that they could make the other person feel bad). It works in this way in the real world. When we meet somebody for the first time, we do not usually invite them home to look at our family pictures or read our private diary. It is just normal that relationships take time to build. It should be the same online. It is of great convenience to be able to exchange information with friends online, but users should not pay the price of this by losing their right to privacy… and if social networks do not realize this, they will all sooner or later face the fact that when the hype is gone, people will choose privacy over convenience.

With all this said, the problem still remains. In a short term focus world like the one we live in, we demand quick results and a slow growing network just does not make sense… or does it?

Privacy with Web 2.0 October 1, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in France, Social Networking, Trends, Web 2.0.
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Privacy RedefinedSome time ago Times reported (I got the link through the blog “Putting People First“) a virtual suicide on Facebook; a lady whose former boyfriends would send “flirty” messages on her “wall” (public notice board where anybody can write or read about you). That was bound to happen. One of my friends had a similar case although she did not commit “virtual-suicide” just yet. She is in China, her boyfriend in England. She parties sometimes and some of her friends post pictures on Facebook… “tagging” her on them. So, if you look at those pictures, it looks like she is partying all the time and tagged by many different people… the boyfriend is not pleased. The solution: now she “untags” herself from people’s pictures, as quickly as possible.

Isn’t the Web supposed to make our lives easier? I think there is something big happening today. Our private life is less and less in our control and the rules of the game are yet to be clearly defined so missteps are unavoidable.

On a really insightful report (in French) on mobile phone usage in France (obtained again through “Putting People First“) the researchers also compared habits from adults and teenagers with their mobile phone, a tool that is considered our very own private safe box. The study reveals that teenagers now use their mobile phones as a way to share things more than to keep them away from others. Mobile phones are ways to share pictures, songs, movies and much more; they are thus passed on from people to people and not the best place anymore to keep secrets.

For adults on the other hand, mobile phones are regarded as keepers of secrets. For example a boyfriend or girlfriend keeping his/her mobile phone away from reach is seen as a very suspicious behavior, sometimes for good reasons.

So what is happening with the new generation? Is it just that during teenage years one has less secrets to keep away? Or do teenagers just care less about the private side of their own self? Or is it that new ways to keep our private lives are going to be developed to replace the tools the “old” generation used?

I personally think that soon we will see tools appearing and getting mainstream that will allow us to keep our personal life away from other people. What about a “This is top secret” button on emails, phones, basically anywhere, that can allow us to send stuff to a virtual black box of which only us have the key? The so-called Web 2.0 is about sharing, but in the long run do we really want anybody to be able to see, comment and edit our privates lives?

Hey! Nielsen – Corporate Social Networking September 25, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, Trends, Web 2.0.
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There was a post yesterday on Web Worker Daily about Hey! Nielsen, a new social networking place on the web… yet another one. Hey! Nielsen has been launched by the Nielsen Company behind ACNielsen and Nielsen/NetRatings.

The idea of the website it seems is to leverage on all the people who would like to participate in Nielsen research and let them voice their opinions online. Participating in research cannot be done on a voluntary basis as this would go against random sampling of participants. Nevertheless, people who leave insightful comments on the website may then be asked to participate in some research. As they state on the Nielsen website:

Furthermore, users who give rich, insightful, and frequent feedback may be asked to participate in other surveys and webcam interviews for tv, movies, and commercials.

On the social networking side, this website could work, although in the end the incentive to leave opinions is rather limited. If it gains traction and gets recognized as THE place to leave opinions, then it could work. The fact that Nielsen is behind the website can surely help in that respect.

On the other hand, in terms of research, the website is really scary. Opinions are very personal and it will be very hard to build a coherent whole out of everything people write. For example you need an important number of people to react on an opinion to make that opinion relevant.

Moreover and most importantly, this is a website. Let’s say I really want to participate in Nielsen research, what will stop me from leaving opinions there and ask my friends to react to these opinions so that I would be selected. I was thinking people could even organize competitions with their friends: “Guys, the first one who gets on a Nielsen study wins!!!” This would terribly bias the results and may lead Nielsen giving too much weight to some non-significant reactions.

To me, although the concept is interesting and appealing, opinions on the website will be way too out of control to be of any use to Nielsen’s clients. Maybe the company knows that and just wants to use to website to gain more awareness and create a buzz. If that’s the objective, then it could very well be a success.

Below are some reactions about Hey! Nielsen itself…

Hey! Nielsen

Cyberslacking… problem or not?! September 12, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Human Resources, Innovation, Social Networking, Strategy.
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An article in the South China Morning Post last Saturday, September 8th 2007, discussed cyberslacking, or how people waste time in the office by going online. Although the word cyberslacking has in itself a negative connotation, the article argues that not all kind of cyberslacking is armful to companies. For example, if people can perform online transactions or activities that would normally require them to extend their lunch hours to complete, then it could be good… yes, but at the same time, if they can do it online, they could do it from home as well, no?

SCMP Article title

Anyway, the author provides quite a number of examples of how employees can spend time online to explore new horizons or just “waste” their time. A 10-point list is provided:

Slacking is nothing new I guess. Before the Internet, people would be wasting their time in the office as well. In France we had the “ten coffee breaks a day” rule (I may exaggerate a bit here). It is impossible to ask an employee to be 100% of the time working in the office. Nobody can do that, and it is even harmful. Our brains just can’t handle non-stop working. I’d say that working 80% of the time is not bad already…

It seems to be that the most important part in the word cyberslacking, is “cyber”. Not that cyberslacking is hard to resist, as the whole world is opened up to you, like the SCMP article mentioned above argues, but “cyber”, as having no contact with real people! Slacking or coffee breaks before were opportunities to chat informally with other employees, thus getting to know co-workers, building a team spirit. However cyberslacking is one person with his or her computer screen well hidden from others.

In that respect, it seems to me that intranets or corporate social networking could be a solution to that. The corporate culture has to be right of course, but if the Internet can be used to make employees interact more among themselves, then cyberslacking could be a powerful tool. Could we call that “social cyberslacking”? But then there is the danger of falling into the Facebook trap, where it is so easy to waste entire hours with no purpose even though you come into contact with other people.

Once again the answer to better efficiency is like in all the business books we can read. You just have to hire great people, have a great corporate culture, assign challenging jobs, and do all that happily… That’s easy, no?