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A bit late, but Facebook finances

Oh God! I'm talking shop again. Probably not very coherently.

Oh well. Speaking as someone who has had to fight, for years, because the benefits of community based applications / functionality within web sites are not primarily indicated in the short term ad revenue results, it is not without a sense of "...and the news is...?" that I read about Facebook's leaked results . Shock news! For all of Facebook's desperate dissection of the advertising based model, based on their amazing, intimate knowledge of their customers..., there's not much cash in it. Social networking, that is.

So, this will be the herald to another slump in interst in "UGC", and this year's bling concept will turn all the marketing and advertising heads away on to some other 'shiny-shiny'. Someone had better come up with some more phraseology, quick, to get their attention. Oh! Ot's the semantic mobile web, you see? It's the targetted breakdown of web 4.5! mobi-web to go! API driven data flows to local social... no, damn, said the social word, I mean it's all about localisation 5.7. We haven't done that and pissed it to death for a couple of years, have we? No, it's new wave, 21st century "push". Multi-surface outputs over a never ending profile of new end-to-end devices!

...etc, etc.

What people in the "UGC" rush failed to hear, from their in-house social people is that social has 2 sides to it. The voyeur, and the participator. The latter constitutes what, 10% of the overall figures? So when only x thousand people per day join your new fangled, pointlessly Ajaxed interface, no focus of attention, SN "me-too" product, you may be shocked to find that it does not offer you a cash cow to retire onwithin 5 years. If you're very lucky, like FB, you may capture a zeitgeisty moment for a while, after which the actual product is so tedious, the customer base will settle down to a steady growth curve, and a monthly interaction level which is even steadier, and involves far, far fewer people than you would like. Without a differentiator, you're screwed. Luckily, FB, although it's differentiator is "we're posh, and boring looking, compared to the anarchy of Myspace, so you probably won't get bothered by the screaming hordes", does have alternative differentiators, handily built for it by external people (such a magnificent strategy - despite all their privacy issues and continual need for improvement, I take my hat off to them). For that reason its membership will continue to rise, even if its usage figures begim to flatten out (within a continued growth pattern, if you see what I mean).

Meanwhile, the voyeur does boost your advertising figures, but, BUT! Who the hell are they? Other than what they last looked at" unless they've registered and logged in, you're just looking at bulk run of site type advertising, with a bias toward the page their looking at. Unless the Google model is used, but even then, it's all a bit random.

The point is, they're visiting, but they're not buying clothes and music. You offer a free model to attract an audience, it *is* attracted so you have to invest in growth, and then you find that their ARPU is pathetic.

Differentiated products which have a niche, which do it very well, can pitch a pay-for subscription as a massive benefit to your use of the product. Step forward Flickr, obviously. Would people pay to not have to see advertising on Facebook? Some, maybe, but it's a major shift away from existing policy. Personally, if they really want FB to spew money in the way that all the analysts, being stupid, thought it would, I think it's not a bad idea. It already has the "We're a bit posher than you" profile against the competition. Offering really decent service amends for a monthly / annual fee would mean for example, you could remove advertising, but you could keep the customer data in your extrapolations. You still get to maximise that person's potential in ways other than MPU's and banner ads. 

Making mobile networks cough up some of the revenue they're making from data charges to your favourite SN is the other way to go - but given mobile data is becoming cheaper and will end up as un-differentiated as home-based broadband this is a short term hit.

But what all this is missing is, the core reason for SN's, for community, and for social applications is that they're human. They glue people in, even if it's only for 6 months, until the next shiny shiny comes along. Community will always be worth investing in, because even the voyeurs will think twice about leaving. They may not jump in every day, but they'll be hacked off if you remove their username and password through lack of use. Because people like to feel embedded, and they like to know they belong somewhere. As mobile connectivity in particular starts to increase, more and more people will find themselves bolting in to niche communities, for sometimes micro-interactions, on an irregular basis. But if you offer them a decent, interesting, differentiated way of doing the thing they love, and of meeting the people that they like, then a different part of your budget will be quids in, and for a long time, too.

Hopefully, the second wave of enthusiasm for community won't end up flat as a pancake, as before (6 Degrees, anyone?) but they'll remember to partner with people-providers and downgrade their financial expectations to a slightly more sensible level.

I always caveate my stream of consciousness  rambling if only* because actually saying anything always freaks me out a bit, given so many of you lot are also in the same profession. I'm a useless blogger in this respect. Unless it's about how much I hate religion. In which case I reserve the right to spout any old bollocks, whenever I feel like it.

*if only because I'm so hilariously insecure, I think you'll find. Erk.

Revelations chapter 17/1/36

So I was walking home from the bus the other night, and I had a delightful confluence of thoughts, which can only come from a wilfully underinformed ex-philosophy student.

There's a religious bookshop of the Christian variety on the junction where there are two churches on the corner of the High Road at Streatham. This happens to be right at the end of my road, so when I get off the bus, I have to walk past this idiots' parade of tripe in order to get to the road I live on.

I think this was pre-Rowan Williams' idiotic nonsense. I was walking down the road and musing on the nature of the core lessons that preachers around whom religions were built (by other people, on the whole) tended to focus on. I don't know enough about Mohammed, or Siddhartha, frankly, but I would be willing to bet money that the core focus of their beliefs, or the ones that have come to define their core messages are based around a single theme: Love.

Musing of course on the structural nature of religion, which, certainly in ancient religions were created by people around the themes of the preacher, as opposed to by the preacher, I'm feeling pretty pissed off by all of the power structures / authority nonsense / dispicable nature of expansionism which religions can't seem to avoid as I walk down the street, when a whole bunch of interesting thoughts struck me.

Love is a genetic necessity. Without love, children wouild not survive. Without love, the human race would not seek long term partners and remain on loose or close knit family groups. It is Love that has powered the human race in evolutionary terms  and has caused us to form bonds as communities - the precurser to everything we know today.

...and as such, the human physical need for physical closeness and the spontaneous joy of the feelings which are described as love must be venerated as a core part of what has set us on the path toward civilisation. Not that we're there yet, and  the way we're going, we've screwed ourselves before we're going to get there.

But what was interesting to me was, here, this was a basic tenet of what ancient, but venerated preachers were shouting about - their big message. And how many creators and thinkers have returned to this theme over the years. I'm not about to try and guess it in thousands. In more recent times, the hippies in the sixties came under the influence of various Indian preachers who again, reinforced what is in fact a very pure message. The world, we... "us". We are made better, and more wonderful by the recognition of love as the emotional core of what makes life and community meaningful.

And in fact, if you think about it, it's the most natural thing in the world.

James' words (as opposed to words that James says)

Harhub = hoover (???!!!)

Bub = bus

Bogger = Iggle Piggle! This came about because of a book called "Dogger" by Shirley Hughes (great book, by the way).

Pookey = Monkey (our cat). this is sung in a delightful sing song.

Bar-bar = Bye bye.

Gegeg = Daddy

Marmar = Mummy.

I'm really beginning to see why people say that kids should start school later. Nora, to be honest, could start school now. She's very like I was - happier with older kids, confident and loves being stretched, as it were. James intelligence is not in question. "Dogger", the book mentioned above, is a dense story with complex goings on, but he completely gets it, and loves it. He understands everything you say to him, and uses a reasonably complex personally derived sign language! However, he is comfortable not talking, and does an awful lot of meaningful hums and Ahhhs. If you put 22 month old James against 22 month old Nora, he's vastly less mature than she would have been at the same age. She was almost fully formed at 18 months, and has been taking vast leaps ever since acquiring conversational language on top of single words. I don't doubt that James is a smart wee lad, it's just that he will learn things in a slightly different way to Nor. The one size fits all school system may let Nor down because she's far too ready for it even now, and may let James down because it'll hit him too early.

Given that McK will be at home, I wonder if we could keep James out of school for the first year... no, no it doesn't work because he needs to be around other kids, really. But I was thinking - he'd learn vastly more at home with McK anyway, but in an easy going, mess about-y way, which may be what he needs.

Hmmm. Well. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

A little unhappy about making a mistake with James

James does not say sorry. He will not say sorry. He is stubborn as a mule.

I got myself in to a head to head stupidnes with him the other night, because I put myself in a position where I'd asked him tosay "Sorry" too many times to be able to back away, and he needed to know that he was being naughty. Ugh, it's so painful this kind of stuff. He's the most gorgeous, sweet little boy but he has a large streak of my brother Stephen in him!

So I had to keep asking him, and asking him, and guiding him toward it for about 25 minutes, not letting him wander off, and in the end, he burst in to tears, he was so upset. Oh, christ, what a stupid, stupid thing to do.

He does know, I mean he really does get that he's supposed to say it. He could say it - he can say a... 'reasonable' number of words now. But engineering a confrontation with a little boy who is only just coming up to 2? What the fuck was I thinking? The trouble was, I didn't think when it started, and I certainly didn't imagine we'd be sitting there for nigh on bloody half an hour.

So - lesson learned (I made myself cry coming back from work thinking about what a stupid thing to do that was), and we'll be sticking with "James kiss to say sorry" for a while, I think.

Ugh. I don't, thankfully, make that many obvious mistakes - well, not ones that i'm conscious of. But that was one of them.

Rowan Williams & Sharia law

So we know the story, don't we. Arch Bishop Rowan Williams, trying to be all inclusive says we must face the facts and include some Sharia law in our legal framework.

Fine. I'm all for that, in as much as, if people train for the requisit amount of time within English law, practice, become Judges then law lords, and are then of the opinion that case law on any specific subject could do with amending in order to reflect modern circumstances... or, someone becomes a cabinet minister, and administrates a change in the legislature to reflect modern circumstances... then if any of those changes tend toward any aspects of law which are also, coincidentally, acceptable from a Sharia standpoint, then I have no qualm with law change.

If he genuinely beliefs that we should single out one of the many different religious communities we have in this country, and say "ok, well some bits, but not all, your own religious law is equal to the British legislature, where no other religious groups' laws are" then the man's a bleedin' idiot.

If we looked at strict Christian law, then where would we be - an eye for an eye? Equally spurious, and equally ridiculous.

Wait... no, weight!

You see how good I'm being this week? Do you see?

Meanwhile, in the even less predictable world of reality, and actual physical objects, I appear to have inexplicably lost some weight recently. I've got so used to be overwighght of late that I've nearly managed to disguise what is in fact an unhealthy dose of body-loathing by simply being used to feeling shuddery horror at the jelly that seems to have taken over my abdominal region (for example).

So today, completely surprisingly, that jelly seems to have diminished. Albeit by just a bit, but still. A short which to my horror a few weeks ago I could no longer wear for "pulling open at the buttons when seated" reasons suddenly has a decent handful of material going spare at the front. The reason? My new, patented "Habit changing" diet. So far i have changed, er, I don't kmnow. A few habits. There was the muffin in the afternoon habit, the "I'm going to drink enough wine to be awake half the night, even in the middle of the week" habit, and the "I'm not happy unless there's at least 1 bar of green & blacks 85% in the cupboard" habit.

There's the other habit, which is to eat frozen food when coming home from work. Frozen food that I've made myself, of course: bean/vegetable stew or the-most-delicious-soup-ever (lentils, pudding rice, stock, coriander, black pepper, cumin - then a big fat squish of lemon juice just before serving). Frankly this is my tea most dats atm.

Oh yes, and my other habit. I'm still London Transporting in to work due to having to work on the tube/bus - so I'm striding up the4 stairs, not the escalators, even if I don't want to (because you only really realise how horrible you feel about half way up, by which time you can't really give up and go back down again - you have to carry on).

So, I shall begin my new book. "The habit forming diet" tomorrow, and millions (of gullible suckers) await!

W.Somerset Maugham

For the first time in about 2 weeks I was able to read on the train!

Maugham is a strange old card - his writing style straddles Victorian and well... not modern in the Joycean sense but the 20th century, and change. He writes from the upper middle class about the upper middle class, and all their stupid notions, but he also writes an extraordinary array of short stories from a vivid imagination. I inherited various stuff from my Grannie Todd when she died many years ago now, including more than several books. a 'Folio society' type edition of Maugham's short stories, collected in 3 volumes, and arranged, not in date order, but Maugham's own theme order. The first short story in the set is one of a Missionary, who rapes a prostitute and kills himself!
Not quite what you expect at the beginning of the story - thr style is at once stuff, but expansive, and visual. He nails the characters in the first story superbly.

So I managed to read some more, after 2 or 3 weeks of solid work every hour of the day. What a bloody achievement.

And the new router arrived last night! That means new routing, plus new Mac capabilities - providing the external hard drive memory thing arrives today - 250 gigs, enough for all my CD's and Mackay's, and wireless shunting over to the stereo. Now all I have to do is perduade him  to get a new amp. Whilst we're on an economy drive. Hmmm. That's a problem.

Google / Microsoft.. you know. All that stuff

Yes, I still live. Been real busy doing work stuff plus my router entirely borked (still) but! Managed to remember to buy a new one on friday which should be with me today /tomorrow. So back to the usual procrastinating rubbish  shortly.

Meanwhile, whilst I rarely comment on industry matters, purely because there's enough of that guff splattered over the wires already, the astonshing audacity of MS's move last week re: Yahoo is just too juicy not to talk about.

I'm actually laughing my head off at a quite from Google as described in this BBC news article: "Google troubled by Microsoft move", which should have come with the accompanying prefix "Shock news!", to instantly turn it in to an 'Onion-a-like' article.

I mean, really. do they really think anyone is going to believe the following? "In a blog, Google said the tie-up could unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors' email and instant messaging services".

I'm reminded of a spat between Amazon and, er... Barnes and Noble, I think, which happened way back when. Something about cross-American-distribution chains  being bought by one of them, in order to 'non-deliberately' fuck up their distribution / making it more expensive. It ended with B&N issuing a 4th press release full of legalise, whining about amazon's growth inhibiting their existing market and limiting new players, blah blah. Amazon's response was to issue a press release saying "Oh." That's it. Just one word. Genius.

There was barely any point to that aside other than it's an amusing business story, but the ground has shifted so much now that we have behemoths fighting it out in the gladiators' arena, trying desperately to kill or be killed, whilst aborbing the superpowers of the fighters they manage to kill along the way. The bare faced cheek of Google, to whine about limiting competition, or, here for example, "While the internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies - and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets," is astonishing. Google's not evil? Piss off... no, really. This is ridiculous. 3 huge players in the market is limiting, monopolising and limiting customer choice,. Two players is worse, but Google want 3 because they know they're winning! I am not in any way suggesting that Microsoft's past isn't littered with small companies which they've absorbed and then spat out the existing personnel from, but tell me that Google isn't beginning to do the same thing. I'm not pro-Microsoft, but I am pro-competition. Google need competition, and so does everyone else.

I'm not sure what I think about the actual proposed sale. It involves three companies whose inbuilt arrogance and cock-surety deserve to be a little battered. Unfortunately, Yahoo, who have on a small scale been doing really sensible and beautiful little things recently (unfortunately, emphasis on small, beautiful and early adopter) are the ones who weren't really as big as they thought.

...but if I think about Microsoft owning Flickr... FUCK OFF!

Ah well.  Drummond did have the answer  there though. Innovate.