Secret, Whisper, Snapchat : Anonymity IS Free Speech

Faceless2If you think about it, apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat and even Twitter (assuming that you didn’t share your personal details in your profile or with Twitter – or even create a fake persona), are not only perfect for our new age of outrage, they are the true embodiment of real free speech. Free speech has basically disappeared from the net, as fear of retribution has pushed people away from using their real and true persona to speak freely.

Isn’t it great when you can anonymously slam a public figure for being a jerk (or not a jerk, depending on how you feel about the following), whether it be Justin Beiber (jerky Canadian brat who thinks his fame lets him get away with anything), Anatoly Pakhomov (jerky Sochi Mayor who, I’m sure erroneously believes that there are no gay people in his city), or Jared Padalecki (who had the temerity to voice an opinion – God forbid we let people do that – on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) with no fear of retribution. Isn’t it great when you can vent your anger and frustration and outrage at someone anonymously, and no one can get back at you for it.

Back when we first started talking to each other – we pretty much we had to speak directly to each other. Sure, we had ways of hiding speakers identities, like anonymous letters, through messengers and other ways. When you were outraged back then, you could write a strongly worded letter, or show up at the council meeting, or wherever you wanted to air your grievances and be heard. Of course, back then there was also a pretty strong filtering system which decided whether or not to actually broadcast your message. You had no choice in the matter – either the editors saw merit in your letter and printed it, or they didn’t and didn’t. I’ll bet that most of the anonymous letters received by newspapers back then never made it to press, unless it supported the same opinions as the editorial staff.

Human beings want to speak out. They want to be heard. But for the longest time, they haven’t had that option. But now we do.However, we are still used to an ephemeral world – where things live and die. We write something down on a sheet of paper, when we want to destroy it, we shred it or set fire to it. We are used to being able to destroy things when we don’t need them anymore – or they will affect us negatively later on.

We also love to vent when we feel strong emotions – its very therapeutic – and I’m sure that there are plenty of schools of psychology that support the outpouring of emotion onto paper. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an ephemeral world.

That world is over – and only now are we catching up to that fact. Most likely every single thing that you do online is being tracked and recorded somewhere. Even if you delete these tracks, my guess is that they are probably cached somewhere at whatever place you did whatever you did at – be it Facebook, Google, or any of the big 5 sites. Being able to just destroy what you did is almost impossible now – and we are only just coming to grips with that.

And not only is the online world no longer ephemeral, so is the offline world. Just using your smartphone to buy your coffee, or a credit card – creates an indelible, permanent stamp that you were in that place at that time. Just try to delete that record – you don’t even have the rights to it – its owned by the credit card company. As the internet of things grows, less and less of our lives will be ephemeral – everything that we say and do will be permanently recorded somewhere.

Look at wearables like Google Glass. If not Glass, probably in the next, oh say two years, the wearables form factor will take off – I’ve said so myself. These devices will be so useful in our lives that we will allow them to record all of our lives. And these previously ephemeral bits of our lives will be logged and stored forever.

Now on the one hand, this is not a bad thing – as we age and get more and more dependent on our machine sides (BTW, I did say that we are already cyborgs, didn’t I?) all of that memory in the backup brain will be very useful.

But on the other hand, do you really want that alcohol laced rage-fest about your last boss blogged to the world the afternoon after you were fired out there – I mean – at all?

We now get it – everything we do or say is out there – forever. And this is one of the reasons why apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat are so hot – people need to speak – but at the same time – they want the ephemeral nature of the old world to keep those thoughts from hurting them in future.

Based on my Whisper research, I can tell you that the anonymity – even if its not real – does allow one to speak freely – and that free speech, for some – is truly therapeutic in a world where many people have lost their way – on the one hand giving up any guidance from something like a religion, but on the other hand not feeling strong enough to be the master of their own destiny (I guess they never read Ayn Rand in high school)

So now that we know that – and we know that people want to be able to choose to make things go away – it should be very simple to add those attributes to your product – blog posts that disappear after a certain period – images that go away – as well the the ability to be timeless  but anonymous.

My sense is that going forward, apps who force an identity requirement will become less and less prevalent, and those who allow a sense of anonymity will prevail.

So get anonymous people – your users want it.


Facebook: The Good, Bad & Ugly

facebook-like-butonAs one of the 5 sites most people use to experience the internet, Facebook has really strayed from its original purpose. Now, I’m all for a company making money, as a miniscule shareholder I applaud that, but on the flip side, it’s made using Facebook, at least for me, pretty excruciating.

The Bad : The News Feed

I have 402 friends as of this writing. A modest amount I’m thinking, I’ll bet there are plenty more our there with a lot more than me. I find that as a way of letting me know what my friends are doing, its pretty damn useless now. Here are my main issues with the news feed:

  1. It feels like its more full of sponsored posts than actual items from my friends. My wife says it feels like about 20-30% of her feed is sponsored posts, to me it feels like 50%
  2. I can’t tell you how many times I open up the app on my iPad and see something interesting immediately from one of my friends, for about a split second. It then immediately updates and I lose that post, having to dig and dig through a tons of other updates and attempt to find it again
  3. Some of my friends are really prolific – others not so much. I seem to get so much more from the prolific friends than anyone else. Please, Facebook, implement some algo which allows me to tone down some people and amplify others. I know I can mute people but with all of the smarts back there, you’d think they’d be able to at least do one thing: put anything from your significant other (as indicated by you being in a relationship with) front and center. I can’t remember the number of times my wife asked me “did you see that thing I sent you on Facebook?” and I missed it because of all the other junk
  4. IMHO, the news feed is the core of FB. It needs to be awesome. And at the moment, it isn’t

The Good : Chat

I’ve used the messaging on FB very effectively. My wife uses it to keep in touch with her friends from all over. That’s one thing that works very well.

The Ugly : Ads

OK, so like I said, I can’t fault them on trying to make money but the ads are terribly targeted: I get ads for single things even though I plainly state that I’m married, plus I get all sorts of ads for games (which I never play) so I can’t imagine why they think I might start. I understand that some of this is the advertiser picking an audience, but still, FB needs to have some overrides in place in order to continue to provide me with RELEVANT ads. I’m sure that they could improve both their click through rate, their revenues and make their customers and users much, much happier if they targeted better. Its not like its impossible, Google has been doing much better than this for a while, and they know way less about me than FB does. Please, FB, leverage all of that great data to give me ads that I can’t help but click on, not reams and reams of irrelevant crap.

Got your own story of Facebook love, hate or indifference? Let me know below…

Making Games & Social Networks Useful

GirlGamerI used to play games all the time – even though I enjoy gaming – I haven’t had a chance to play anything for the longest time (used to be a huge World of Warcraft player – still have a level 66 Paladin I haven’t seen in a while) – i just find that spending time doing something which ultimately does not actually generate anything at the end, other than really just kill time (I know some of you out there are going – what do you mean – thats the whole point of gaming!). I suppose if I was the kind of person who could spend hours entertaining myself with no result other that the amusement during play, then I’d be playing more often.

There has been a lot of focus on gamification lately – adding a gaming aspect to things in order to  drive people to use them more – for example, you can gain points and badges from reading your corporate intranet, following people etc. In an attempt to connect with some kind of internal competitive instinct in people, all sorts of apps are now adding gaming aspects.

Most of the aspects are just bolt on – underneath the gaming aspect, you are still undertaking the tasks which the developers would like you to do – you are now a rank of “innovator” because you read 50 articles, contributed to 10 conversations and followed 20 people. Which is cool for some people. That’s a topic for another post.

When it comes to expanding the universe of gaming, you are always going to come up against the “time suck” window. Actually, this is not just a gaming thing, many people I know have dropped out of social networks like Facebook and Twitter because they find that they aren’t getting as much back from the amount of time they are putting into it. I smell an opportunity here.

We have been focused on adding gaming to more useful tasks in order to drive more people to perform them. Has anyone thought about the reverse – adding “usefulness” to gaming in order to make the play more useful, to actually generate results from it? I know that there is likely a huge swatch of the population who stay away from gaming and social networks because of the time suck aspect – if they could get something useful out of it then they would be more likely to use it.

Case in point – while I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, I do check into LinkedIn much more often, and I can probably say the same for many. People I’ve discussed this with admit that the reason they prefer LinkedIn is that its a “useful” social network – it can help your sales, your career etc. It seems to me that LinkedIn can provide a more defined upside.

So here is my proposal – how can we make gaming and social networks like Facebook and Twitter more “useful” – I know that I would probably play more Warcraft or spend more time on Facebook if I were getting back a more concrete result which will help me in my life – other than the amusement of play? Are there ways in which we can augment gaming so that useful tasks are being performed while the user is gaming?

Happy Facebook Day: Why Is There No “Unlike” Button?

Happy Facebook Day

A little something for Facebook Day…Will YOU be buying the stock today, hoping for a Google like win?

Soon after the Like button was launched, calls for an Unlike button began to resound. I was even one of those calling for it – I joined the chorus, asking some of my friends who had left Yahoo! for Facebook. Though I got nothing useful in response, there have been many writings on this topic. I tend to favor (and like ;) ) the thinking that most of the “mainstream internet” just like the mainstream media, likes to be nice. To treat each other well. To be positive in most things. Saying to “like” something is a positive statement, where saying that you “unlike” or “don’t like” (which is of course more grammatically correct) is such a negative thing. This kind of thing just pisses me off. It’s like when you always use postivie reinforcement on children or pets to influence behavior – not only does it not work, it usually backfires. Every one knows – or at least should know – that learning requires both positive and negative reinforcement.

The internet is just a tool. It’s a communications medium. And that medium can be used for good and evil and even neutral – which is sad but true. More and more, people are living their internet lives in these walled gardens, either spending all of their time on Facebook, Yahoo!, Huffington Post or only wading through the first page of Google search results.

Facebook, is filtering the internet the way that it is doing so, is cutting millions of people off from very cool content that they might appreciate, in the same way Google is doing it. They, like the mainstream media, are applying their worldview, and only giving you what they think you should see. In that worldview, everything is either great or neutral. Where is the bad? If you really want to experience the internet properly, don’t use Facebook. Or at least  minimize using it.

So I implore Facebook, once you’ve gone public, get a little more edgy. Allow an unlike button. Let more of the interesting parts of the web through. Add some random bits which aren’t filtered by the social graph. Although I doubt it – if anything, going public will make Facebook an even more happy place, and I expect that it’s decline into something like AOL or Yahoo! will begin tomorrow as well.

Ah well. It was interesting while it lasted. On to the next bubble.