Last of the Cynics

I was one of the guest panel at the first
Melbourne Facebook Developers Garage last Friday. I thought I might try and jot
some notes about what I said. As always I ran out of time – trust me to
disappear off on a tangent.

I deliberately took a slightly cynical tack
to start with. But I feel justified. As far as I’m concerned with Facebook, the
goldrush is still on. We saw some early land grabs – and a few of those who hammered
in their stakes early on have made good money. And there’s a small group of developers
who are making ok money. But it isn’t a diamond mine quite yet. The early millionaires
have been minted, the rest of the world is still casting around for a business model.

A reality check would be good:

  1. New features cannot remain viral indefinitely. “It is likely
         that as more and more companies develop applications for Facebook, the
         signal to noise ratio will become overwhelming for the users to spread
         applications by word-of-mouth.” (Monetizing Facebook Applications)
  1. Totally dependent on Facebook. Their Beacon advertising system
         showed their inability to always understand their operating environment.
  1. Who’s to say the platform won’t change? Facebook might change
         its policies regarding affiliates, referrals and advertisements by cutting
         in on the profit, or even worse, deciding to develop their own competing
         applications. We’re seeing this already with Facebook’s own social ads,
         they’ve got their own advertising inventory to sell. Or their move in the
         past week or so to throttle the amount of invites an app can send to each
         user and eliminating the practice of forced invites. Hopefully measures
         like this will force apps to sharpen their focus, and weed out the poor

Based on our experience, success is derived
through long term, recurrent transaction history with loyal customers.

I was always cautious of the early
generations of social networks – I called them stepping on your friends for
personal gain. Then again, I thought virtual gifts were stupid.

 “There is a fundamental flaw in the overall
state of Facebook applications. The issue as I see it is that for a venue with
as much potential Facebook, the apps built on its platform have no real use
(other than diversionary). It seems as though almost every Facebook app is
something irrelevant, some way to compare friends or some ridiculous game
(there are some exceptions).” (Facebook Platform: The State of the Apps)

“Half of Facebook applications have under
350 installs. There are 16,000+ apps. So only half get any kind of minor
traction. When designing a Facebook
strategy for apps you need some very compelling reasons to make users CARE. It
needs to do something for them that they find useful, entertaining, share
worthy or compelling. Most apps are missing 1, 2, 3 or all 4 of these critical
aspects. Thus they effectively remain in the dustbin of application minutia on Facebook.
Lack of strategy guarantees lack of performance.” (Half of facebook apps have
under 350 installs

There’s a time and place for everyone for
everything. The problem with sites like Facebook is they want to intersperse
themselves into many parts of peoples’ life. You can’t change human behaviour –
well, it’s blinking hard. Have we conditioned users so much to the time wasting
and silly, that it will be hard to sell them real value? And is Facebook the
environment in which to do it, given their propensity to use it as a
work-avoidance mechanism?

FB caters to the now generation, but I’m
not convinced about the next generation – my ten year old will write her own
Facebook, not want to work within the confines of an imposed structure.

Facebook will have negative cash flow in
2008, despite projecting doubling it’s revenue – because it’s going to have to
double its cash flow, and spend $200m on infrastructure. Hence it was kind of
handy having some venture capital injection. (Chatty Zuckerberg Tells All About
Facebook Finances

Here’s where I think the opportunities lie:

  1. I’m fascinated at the concentration on advertising driven apps,
         and not transactional. Everyone seems focussed on page impressions and
         advertising networks. Yet we can’t even rely on the official statistics.
         Why aren’t more people selling stuff? Even if it’s the eBook rubbish, it
         would be a transaction. Personal services – outsourcing your PA to Mumbai.
         Information and content subscriptions. Job seeking. Sure you can make
         money from advertising. But you need a big, constant audience. And only a
         few FB apps have that audience. Unless you’re happy scrabbling around
         making a few hundred a month on Google Ads or Adonomics.
  1. Developers need to focus more on augmenting the methods in
         which Facebook members connect, rather than simply creating workplace time
         wasting diversions. You still really only meet people via the original
         Facebook invite system.
    (Facebook Platform: The State of the Apps)
  1. Games – real ones, thoroughly thought out, requiring actual
         player input. Just avoid copying brands (Scrabulous), make them socially
         addictive, and socially looping.

But hey, I’m a Gen X, what would I know. I’m
completely the wrong demographic:

 “There are 2 distinctive 2.0 audiences –
Gen Y social networkers and the older mostly male geeky TechCrunch reading 2.0
audience. One is scalable and foreshadows future behavior while the other will
try anything 2.0 for 2 weeks and maxes out at somewhere around 300K users. The
Facebook crowd is the former.

They don’t read techcrunch

They don’t blog

They don’t use most of the 2.0 apps out

They’re mostly female

They’re mostly 18 – 24 and 25 – 34

They live on Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, etc…

They don’t hang out on Linkedin”

(Web 2.0 has 2 very different audiences,
only 1 is scalable










Which bank?

Snapped this on a tram stop outside the Childrens’ Hospital this morning. It’s a poster for the Commonwealth Bank. It says “Dtermined to be better than we have ever been”. Which could mean lots of things, amongst which ” We know we’re terrible, and we’re trying to do something about it” springs to mind. It’s a bizarre marketing tack – create the impression that the company knows it’s on the nose. And make a non-specific, completely general, and probably unsupportable claim, that the company’s going to do something about it. Bizarre.

Coca Cola Rips off Young Children

There’s no other way to describe it – Coca Cola (or which ever piss poor promotions company they’ve hired this week) couldn’t give a monkey’s left ball about their young customers. The evidence is clear.

Our 10 year old daughter was at the local Southland Shopping Centre a couple of weeks ago – 25 January. I wasn’t with her, but Coca Cola had some promotion going on. It involved having your photo taken – ‘Summer Huggin’. She was handed a card with the date etc, and told to check the web site to see her photos. Here’s the card:

Each day we checked the web site, but nothing. There were photos from Southland on 23 Jan, but nothing for the 25th.

So on 29 Jan I tracked down the contact form on the web site and sent off a note saying it was pretty disappointing for a young child to be told her photo would be online, and then to find this was not true.

Next day back came a clearly ‘canned’ answer:

“Dear David,

Thank you for your recent contact regarding our Summer Huggin promotion.

Coca-Cola Amatil is committed to producing enjoyable promotions and we appreciate your interest our current campaign.

We are currently in the process of uploading Hug Photos to our Summer Huggin website, however due to the large amount of images there has been a delay in this process.

We thank you for your patience in this matter and for taking the time to contact us.

The Coke Webmaster

Please do not reply to this email. For further enquiries visit or call us on 1800 025 123”

We continued to check the web site. As of today, 4 Feb, still nothing. But they HAVE managed to find time to upload photos from another shopping centre on 31 Jan.

How hard is this? My 10 year old manages her own web sites, shoots and upload dozens of photos, and writes in her blog. But one of the largest companies in the world can’t get its shit together and stick a few dozen photos on their (crap) web site.

And my daughter is STILL asking about when the photos will appear. Looks to me like they’ve lost the photos but don’t have the balls to confess. If they have the photos and still can’t find 5 minutes to upload them, then shame. What a rip off.

Yet more reasons why we hate Vista

When we set up a new office for our business last year I did the usual thing – rang Dell and ordered a bunch of whichever PCs were on special, plus copies of Office Pro. It didn’t even occur to me that of course Windows XP had been superseded, and so we came to hate Windows Vista.

The best summary of my frustrations can be found in this extremely fun review of a chap ‘upgrading’ to Windows XP from Vista.

Then yesterday I enjoyed reading Charles Wright’s Bleeding Edge article in the Age Green Guide about him helping a friend downgrade from Word 2007 to Word 2003, and Charles’ quite justified criticism of the totally unhumanly sympathetic Word 2007 (article doesn’t seem to be online).

And also yesterday I was reminded of yet more quirks in the new Office. We use QuickBooks, on a Vista machine (just getting QB running on Vista was a pain, there was no QB for Vista when we bought the PC, then they finally issued an upgrade, but even now we can’t open any of the online help pages).

I regularly export from QuickBooks to Excel – it’s an excellent way to get my hands on financial data to play with, and was easy and smooth process. Actually it still is – click the Export button on a QB report and up pops Excel with my numbers.

But there’s a trick, and it took me a moment to work out something was amiss. I deleted a column – and wondered why the machine had locked up for about 5 minutes. After this happened a couple of times I poked around, and discovered the Excel file size was 4meg. I copied and pasted the cells with the data into a clean Excel file and saved – 24k. The inevitable conclusion – QB and Excel 2007 creates huge files. And another light bulb went on. When scrolling down the Excel sheet I realised I could scroll forever – every cell of all some 65,000 rows had some kind of data attached – even if the cells appeared blank.

Hence my trouble. When I asked to delete a column, it was a column 65,000 rows deep, no wonder the PC was taking time.

It’s a huge annoyance and I can’t find a way around it except to copy and paste the numbers to a fresh sheet – whereupon I lose most of my formatting. I even tried saving the file back down to 2003 format and opening it on another machine that runs XP and Office 2003. Same problem.

This is a brand new problem – never happened in QB on XP with Excel 2003. It’s an activity I perform almost every day – and it’s now completely stuffed.