myspace Tag

Snapchat Appeals To Kids For The Same Reasons Myspace Did. But Can It Escape The Same Fate?

Remember Myspace? (I have to say that now when I intro myself to new people — my years working there are still a key part of my career history).

More importantly, can you remember the countless millions of teenagers who learnt HTML so they could ‘pimp’ their pages?

Kids Were Coding on Myspace!

That is unbelievable in retrospect. We got kids learning to handle (if not completely write) code just so they could make glitter fall down their page and have sexier buttons in their ‘contact box’. They knew how to open style tags, albeit simple ones like <b>, and then close them</b>.

Parents of course thought they had finally lost their young. They were witnessing their kids type and paste pure gobbledegook into boxes in some very confusing admin panel. Kids made their Myspace profiles resemble a sort of digital bedroom wall, plastered with a mess of everything they were into, and everyone they were associated with.

Confusing to ‘Olds’

The more I work with Snapchat (in my capacity running London creative digital agency Harkable), the more I’m struck with how this is the first platform since Myspace to appeal to kids largely because it bewilders and even scares their parents.

Even at my tender age I can still remember the sheer confusion the first time I used Snapchat. This of course was closely followed by a more composed, professional criticism of the UX (user experience).

The Thrill of the Dangerous

Just knowing you could send absolutely any kind of photo or video to anyone on Snapchat is in itself exciting.

Everything there is out of the gaze of authority. Seeing their parents’ horror just makes it all the more fun. And so it was on Myspace, you could be anyone and do anything. There were serial killers and sex offenders but we all accepted that the entire human spectrum was represented there, before everyone left for Facebook that is.

Is Snapchat Destined for Decline?

So the big questions looms. Can Snapchat avoid the fatal death spiral that Myspace disappeared into so rapidly? Ultimately the odds aren’t in their favour.

The only reason Facebook and Twitter have stuck around is because:

  1. their general utility — messaging, groups, events, photos, news
  2. their unprecedentedly high levels of adoption across all demographics — i.e. your grandparents use it, people in places with less access to technology use it
  3. integration across the web and the wider media landscape — Facebook ‘like’ buttons on websites, hashtags in TV shows etc

Will my Mum really get on Snapchat before the youth leave for something new? Will it replace current forms of private messaging like email and WhatsApp? Can it really become woven into our other media experiences such as surfing the web and watching TV?

Seems unlikely but then the entire premise of the app would have sounded bonkers five years ago, so don’t write them off completely.

So Many Users, So Little Money

The big challenge for them will be monetisation. They are the classic example of the social media startup having boomed in user numbers, only to be faced with the task of turning that into a profitable business.

They currently sell vertical video ads (portrait video as opposed to the traditional landscape) which are inserted in between Stories and Discover, kind of like TV ads. They trialled sponsored lenses — augmented reality animated overlays for selfie photos and videos — but have discontinued that for now. There’s no self-serve ad buying platform, and agencies are struggling to justify significant media spend because of the lack of any robust analytics, other than reports on views and reach.

Snapchat’s Future Is Not In Mass Market

They’ll need to bring a much more rounded advertising offering with the ability to target ads and report on exactly what the money achieved.

But like Myspace failed to do, they’ll need to keep its core users interested. And rather than trying to attract that wider demographic, it might mean keeping mum and dad a little bit scared of it.

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Why I Quit Foursquare and Gowalla (And You Will Too)

I recently had a look over my profiles on Foursquare and Gowalla (the latter always being my favourite on aesthetic grounds) and seeing my patterns of behaviour spelt out in check-ins made me feel a bit uneasy.  Even though I was always careful to never check in at home, or any locations near home I could instantly see that every Saturday I go to the same organic deli. Once or twice a week I take a train from the same mainline train station. I’m the ‘mayor’ of the MySpace UK office and have made it clear which places in proximity to work I hang out at. Basically I’ve made it incredibly easy for people to find me. People who I do not know.

I get a lot of friend requests on Foursquare and Gowalla, all from people who are listed by their supposedly real names like Alex Hunt or Jenny Vergara, to take two random examples from my Gowalla friends. Despite the reality that they’re no less of a threat than if their handles were ‘s3ri4lki11er’ and ‘SocMedManiac666’ it feels fairly harmless to accept their requests because one imagines that they, like me, are just trying out this cool new thing and if they have iPhones and are into new social media fads they must be pretty harmless, right? Well, far be it from me to demonise the internet but we all know that the online revolution has been to paedos, murderers and stalkers what the advent of the chainsaw was to lumberjacks and whilst I can’t even say for sure what the real risks are to me of releasing this data, it just feels too much. And for what payoff?

People often ask me about social media, and the most common question, usually delivered in a fairly incredulous tone, is “why?”. When it comes to Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Tumblr etc the answers are easy because these services have such obvious benefits which when explained and demonstrated can fill even the most staunch Luddite with dumb wonder. My sister recently asked me why I use location-based services Foursquare and Gowalla. My honest reply was that location is a factor which is playing an increasingly significant role in social media so it is in my interest to know everything about it so that I may wield this new technology to further my own projects. Outside of this reason, I could not find any purpose for it whatsoever. This is not to say that I think LBS (location-based services) have no use or future, I think you can do amazing things with geodata such as The Museum of London’s ingenious ‘Street Museum’ app which, using the iPhone’s built in GPS and compass, can tell exactly where you are and which direction you’re facing and overlay old photographs from their archive over the physical scenery before you. You could expand that idea and have a location-based content-sharing network so people could leave media in places, or dump files. The possibilities in that area are endless and very exciting.

Now I do understand that the ‘check in, get points to beat your friends, get badges’ mechanic taps into what we call ‘game theory’ which dictates that if you give people things to do and rewards (even ones without any real value) they will have a natural compulsion to complete the tasks and collect the rewards. That’s great for Foursquare, the mechanic is getting people using their service in droves. But to what actual end? What use is any of this to its users? When I’m on my deathbed am I going to think to myself “what was this life all about? What did I do for the world? Oh, I got the ‘Douchebag’ badge and ten others on Foursquare! I wonder if I can check in at heaven’s gates… Byeeee!”. Probably not. You might of course be tempted to level this sort of trivialisation at tweets, blogs and shared photos or videos, but content and information sharing has some indubitably genuine value. It educates, informs, entertains and drives the effort to make the world a smaller, more accessible and hopefully democratic place. This, which was once referred to quite sincerely as ‘Web 2.0’, has truly driven a human revolution. Is checking in at McDonald’s this afternoon and earning the ‘Super Size Me’ badge supporting a crucial pillar of this step-change in human history?

OK, so I hear you thinking “what’s the alternative? How do we pull together groups or conversations around a geographic location?”. Call me old-fashioned but in my mind a tweet saying “having coffee at Frank’s café, a guy just walked in with a cat on a lead twitpic.com/xxxxx” is of more value than a check-in through Foursquare from that same place. Not only is Twitter a bigger, more established network and easier to access and use but you can now geotag tweets if you so wish. It’s first and foremost about the content, which is after all the important stuff, with location being one of several optional identifiers, or meta data, attached. Conversely the LBS is firstly about location and has barely begun to start implementing content-sharing. Furthermore, the hashtag is yet to be written off as a great way of stringing tweets together. Nothing beats it for conferences and events as it’s very easy to track, search for and generate RSS feeds from. So seriously, if anyone reading this can provide a solid explanation outlining why we need Foursquare and Gowalla I will literally check in at my own house with an attached photo of my stretched, Gowalla-branded scrotum.

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My Week Offline

I’m back online after a whole week off work and without any tweets, blog posts, photo uploads or much action between me and the internet at all.

If you’re curious to know what it’s like to live without Facebook, Twitter, iPlayer, Digg or whatever it is that keep you stuck to your laptop in bed, at the dinner table, on the sofa, on the train and at work I urge you to give it a go. It really made me realise that amongst other things…

  • Social media is a means, not an end. I’ve always maintained this when referring to people who make social media their life, going to wanky conferences and ‘tweetups’ to try and talk to people who know less than them because it makes them feel better about their insignificant lives. But really stepping away from it for a week and seeing that it had no negative impact on my life drove the point home for me.
  • Making stuff with your hands is what we humans are designed to love doing. To my shame I’ve not really created much in the physical world in recent years. In my week off I redecorated my house (well, half of it) and was reconnected with the primal joy of just making stuff with my bare hands.
    Of course there was the odd “should that tile be 3 pixels to the left?” and “can I buy some #ffffff paint please mate? Actually make that #f7f4ea….er… I mean magnolia” moments but I didn’t miss the certainty and consistency of virtual objects and processes, run perfectly every time and rendered on a pixel-perfect LED screen. Now I see why men hit their thirties and start wanting to build their own house.
  • Email will never die. There are people who see email as a relic from phase one of the internet, soon to be usurped by messaging tools provided in social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. I see that messaging functionality within other services as a passing trend, particularly with the increasing security concerns that are being aroused by the likes of Facebook. When it comes down to it, you can’t beat email and phone (or Skype).

This doesn’t mean to say I’m ditching social media in any way. The week has merely served to recalibrate my use of it. I will be resuming service on my Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, willfrancis.com, Tumblr and the rest from the minute this blog post goes live 🙂

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Why Best in Class is Best

It always strikes me as odd that in the constant battle for online supremacy, the big companies like Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL etc habitually make the mistake of over-diversification. Because the competitive landscape of the internet is as volatile as a shed full of fireworks, with new trends and ventures taking off into the stratosphere every week – not to mention the vast majority who achieve no more than expending their thrust against a brick wall before falling the short drop to the ground – the opportunities seem too good to miss. No-one in business likes to feel that they’re missing a big trend. When a start-up is attracting positive attention, the online behemoths take a look and think “that’s great, but with our massive platform we could blow their impressive figures out of the water”. Not so easy.

Countless major sites and companies have tried to follow the trend of social networking. UK music retailer HMV recently closed ‘Get Closer’ only a year after launching the music-based social network. Google, the perceived leader in the online game who garner nothing but high praise aren’t immune either. They launched Orkut, a social network which is big in Brazil but failed spectacularly in most other territories when compared to MySpace and Facebook.

Twitter’s hype continues to burn bright over a year after it first started to attract mainstream attention. It’s a very simple product that does one thing very well. Their status as a major player was confirmed when the world’s 5th biggest website – Facebook – took its first cue from Twitter in March 2009, followed by a series of changes mimicking the trending micro-blogging service during 2009 which saw Facebook risk the alienation of users and app developers alike. This didn’t go down well with the Facebook crowd and rumours of further changes continue to circulate.

It can work the other way too. For years MSN Messenger (now called Windows Live Messenger) has offered voice and video chat along with their dizzying plethora of social products and functions (can you name all the things that come under the Windows Live brand? I can’t!). Look at how relative newcomer Skype took that and refined it, focussing their entire business on that one key function and making it a top product.

So why don’t companies learn? What many forget is that being on a website is not like being in a shop, to leave one website and enter another takes no more than one click on the bookmarks bar, quite possibly easier than navigating to another part of the site they’re already on. And more importantly, users are happy to use ten different websites regularly, they don’t necessarily want everything all on one site. All we care about is whether the site is performing the function required at that moment and that it’s the best at what it does.

I know what you’re starting to think – “doesn’t this guy work for MySpace? Helloooo!!”. Well, yeah. We’re slimming down the site a lot and have realised all of the above and more thanks to our shit-hot new executive team so expect to see some truly great stuff coming out of MySpace in the near future :) This is not an official MySpace communication, it is my personal blog, but need to say that in the interest of context ;)

Let me know what you think about best in class web products and if the big sites’ failures are just part of the process of building a portfolio of great products.

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