September 2007

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Yes I Know...

  • 4:45 AM

You have a friend request from Lord J. Christ (no network)

Jesus loves me, yes I know,
Because the Facebook tells me so.

Currently on the front page of Digg is a link to a YouTube video of Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor exhorting fans to steal his music. The back-story can be found in this Herald Sun interview from May:

…the first thing I did when I got to Sydney is I walk into HMV, the week the record's out, and I see it on the rack with a bunch of other releases. And every release I see: $21.99, $22.99, $24.99. And ours doesn't have a sticker on it. I look close and 'Oh, it's $34.99'. So I walk over to see our live DVD Beside You in Time, and I see that it's also priced six, seven, eight dollars more than every other disc on there. And I can't figure out why that would be.…

Well, in Brisbane I end up meeting and greeting some record label people, who are pleasant enough, and one of them is a sales guy, so I say "Why is this the case?" He goes… basically it's because we know you've got a core audience that's gonna buy whatever we put out, so we can charge more for that. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy it. True fans will pay whatever". And I just said "That's the most insulting thing I've heard. I've garnered a core audience that you feel it's OK to rip off? F— you'.

A good story to keep in mind next time you hear the record labels crying foul over the fact that Apple won't institute variable pricing on iTunes.

My universal theory of social networks goes something like this.

There’s some deep part of your brain that instinctively wants to make connections with other human beings. Even when you do something as superficial as click a button on a website to confirm that somebody you’ve already known for ten years is your friend, that bit of your brain experiences a little ‘ping’ of happiness.

This is why social networks like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook work. Once they’ve tricked you into signing up, you have to find everyone else you know who is also on the service and connect to them. When you run out of people to connect to, you have to tell everyone you know to get an account so you can connect to them again. Because it’s fun. And it’s fun because people are fun, even if they’re people you see every day, and have no need to interact with over the Internet.

Eventually you run out of real friends to add. At this point you have three options:

  1. Find some other feature of the site to keep you logging in
  2. Gradually lose interest, returning every month or two to see if anyone else has added you
  3. Radically lower your standards

You can pretty much chart the mass-desertion of Friendster’s initial userbase on these axes. Lacking a compelling application beyond building your network, Friendster’s initial population became divided into those who were just wandering around looking for complete strangers to add to their friends lists, and people who were deserting the service in droves because it had become nothing more than a way for strangers to bug them.

A social network without a compelling reason to bring people back to the site will have a massive churn rate, relying on a constant influx of new blood still in the network-building phase. As such, social networks are prone to huge and sudden shifts in demographic as trends in which site is ‘hot’ change unevenly in different areas. (See also, Orkut)

(For a year or two, I maintained a Friendster account with two friends, just because I feel obliged to at least try out every new net.trend. Recently I instituted a new policy of logging on every so often and approving any new request I’d received. This process has led me to understand that the population of the site is now heavily skewed towards South-East Asian jailbait)

Therefore, for social networking sites to maintain a stable population, they have to find some compelling application beyond just building a network.

The good news is that there are a trillion such applications. Some of them are so compelling that there are entire websites built upon them — I’m thinking of Flickr, Livejournal, or even Instant Messaging as a whole — where the social networking aspect is secondary to the application itself. Conversely, it’s no coincidence that at all social networking sites include some form of support for blogging, short text messages and photo sharing1.

Social networks are graphs of interest and trust. As such they are natural conduits for the flow of information2. Anyone looking to write social software has to either build their own network from scratch, or build on top of someone else’s. This is why Facebook’s API is such a smart (and successful) move. Facebook give away access to a valuable resource, their users, and in return third party application developers provide more reasons for users to keep coming back to Facebook’s site. Sure, 95% of the applications are dinky little toys, and the implementation sucks in so many ways3, but overall it’s the only thing that can stave off Facebook’s otherwise inevitable crash.


1 On the other hand, I could write an entirely new essay explaining why the core application provided by LinkedIn provides neither practical nor entertainment value, and the site’s popularity can only be the result of a mass delusion.
2 And like any public information flow on the Internet, they are ripe for abuse. The first, clumsy social networking hacks are already being exploited, and it’s only a matter of time before some spammer cottons on to the simple fact that if someone is listed as your friend on MySpace, you’re more likely to read an email with their name in it.
3 Firstly it encourages my friends to spam me, which is not really a good way to maintain a friendship. Secondly, I can’t interact with an application on someone else’s profile without signing up to the application myself, and most of the time I’m too curmudgeonly to do so.

Twenty-four hours ago, I'd never heard of 2Clix, an Australian company that writes accounting software. Neither, one would assume, had most of the rest of the Internet.

Someone at the company had a dastardly plan to change all that. Annoyed, it seems, by the fact that the two of the front-page Google search results for their company name pointed to negative comments on the Australian broadband discussion site, the company lawyered up, and sued the forum for damaging its reputation.

At time of publishing we have:

And so on.

What started as the opinion of a small number of commenters on a medium-traffic Australian forum site is now a portrait of a corporate bully trying to silence critics, splashed over the entire Internet. This picture will live on in search results for the forseeable future.

On the Internet, the only correct response to speech you disagree with is to address it directly with your own plain speech. Trying to fix the problem with lawyers will only bring massive attention to whatever it was you were trying to suppress in the first place.

The bizarre thing is that people keep making this mistake over and over and over and over again.

The media narrative of the moment is that John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister for the last eleven years, is seeing his leadership of the party challenged in the face of opinion polls predicting a crushing election defeat. What seems to be being missed in all the analysis is that you'd have to be nuts to want the Liberal leadership right now.

The Liberal party is running low in the polls because it has an unpopular leadership and unpopular policies, and is up against the simplest tidal force of politics: the sins of any government are cumulative, and eventually they build up to a critical mass.

Who'd be mad enough to take the party leadership under those circumstances? One of the old guard -- a Costello, Downer, Ruddock or Abbott -- would take the leadership at the cost of further destabilising the party, but without presenting any real alternative to the last eleven years of government. The tidal force for change would sweep a Costello government out of office just as surely as it would Howard.

A fresher face could promise to rebuild the party, but simply wouldn't have time to make any substantial changes or gain the confidence of voters before polling day. At the same time such a move would cancel out the one thing the Liberal party were counting on as an electoral advantage: their experience in government and economic record.

Anyone who takes the mantle of the Liberal leadership right now is most likely looking at a landslide defeat on election day, a permanent blot on their record, and a loss of that leadership soon after. At best it might make a neat full-stop on somebody's career, allowing someone to put "Prime-Minister" on their official bio even if it was only for a month or two.

The iPod Touch

  • 9:37 AM

I have an iPod Nano because the tiny form-factor makes up for it not holding all my music. I also have an iPod Classic for those times I want to have all my music with me, form-factor be damned. The Touch combines the worst of those worlds, and hopes to make up for it by adding cool new Internetty features.

The problem is, public WiFi in Sydney is rare as hens' teeth, and when you do find it you have to give your credit-card number to yet another dodgy provider who will then proceed to charge you several trillion dollars a byte. As such, the iPod Touch would likely be able to get online only at places I'd probably have my laptop out anyway.

(Actually, since I bought a 3G modem, my laptop will be able to get online from far more places than the iPod.)

If I wait a year, the iPhone will be out in Australia. Hopefully by then they'll also have bumped up the flash capacity and added 3G connectivity.

If I keep repeating this to myself, I may just be able to resist the urge to buy one.

Police State

  • 9:56 AM

This sign is just down the road from my apartment. Dear Asia-Pacific. You can have your world leaders back now, we don't want them.

Police State (1)