Monday, June 30, 2008

Social Web Market: The Long Tail, Skinny Head, and Beefy Middle

I read an interesting article by Chris Anderson entitled "Debating the Long Tail". In it he responds to an article by Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School associate professor, who challenges his long tail theory's predictions.

The difference of opinions arises from the fact that they have different perspectives on where the head ends and the tail begins...which actually dovetails nicely with how I've been explaining to people where Ringside Networks fits within the Social Web Market Landscape.

I start off by drawing the standard long tail diagram. In my diagram, I refer to the Skinny Head which is where the "blockbusters" reside that Anita Elberse writes about. We also, of course, have the Long Tail which is where the large volume of niche offerings exist. I add a section, however, between the two that I refer to as the Beefy Middle.

The Beefy Middle changes some of the debate of where the head ends and the tail begins since it provides an area between the two. Let's look at a diagram of the Social Web Market Landscape to get a better feel for what the Beefy Middle entails. The # of Sites is on the X-Axis and the # of Profiles (i.e. registered users) is on the Y-Axis:

The Social Web's Skinny Head is the domain of the large social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, and LinkedIn. It also houses the most popular social applications such as YouTube, Flickr, Delicious, and Digg. These represent the major hubs of the social web.

The Social Web's Long Tail is the domain of personal blogs, websites, and simple social web widgets and gadgets. Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect define the far left of the Long Tail since they are designed to bring social capabilities to the long tail of simple websites.

This leaves the Social Web's Beefy Middle. This area is where most corporate websites reside. This is the market area that Ringside Networks is focused on as well as solutions from companies such as Acquia (i.e. Drupal), Jive, and Lithium.

The websites that reside in the Beefy Middle already have their own database of registered users (thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands) along with some semblance of profile data (i.e. credit card info, newsletter registration, etc.). It is usually NOT desirable for these websites to create a social network that is separate from and does not reside on their existing web property. These companies want/need to integrate their existing users within a larger social context.

Moreover, these companies have their own systems that manage their own content and data which is further reason for using a social web solution that integrates well with their existing systems.

Finally, these sites typically have web applications (or are planning web applications) that they would like to enhance to have a social context that enables the applications to connect to and run on multiple sites including the major social networks like Facebook.

The market requirements of the Beefy Middle are challenging since it is almost a given that the existing registered users are already socially represented on two or three of the Skinny Head sites as well as countless sites across the Beefy Middle and Long Tail.

This means that these companies need to define a social web strategy that enables their website to operate as a spoke that can easily plug into the major social web hubs. They also need to give their registered users the ability to map their social identities to the social hub(s) of their choice. This minimizes duplication of profile data and maximizes the ability of users to quickly and easily engage their broad network(s) of friends.

So there you have it; the Long Tail, Skinny Head...and Beefy Middle. My guess is the term "Beefy Middle" won't be as widely used as "Long Tail", but hopefully it helps illustrate the portion of the market that Ringside Networks is focused on serving.

UPDATED: Seth Godin recently posted "The Long Tail and the Dip" in which he describes an area that exists between the Head and the Long Tail. He refers to it as "the second pocket" which is where successful, profitable niche products exist. It's cool that Seth sees the need to discuss this region of the market...but hey's called the Beefy Middle! :-)

If you'd like to learn more about how Ringside Networks addresses the needs of companies in the Beefy Middle, please check out the Social Business section of the Ringside Networks website for a range of examples and articles related to the rapidly moving business of the Social Web.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Social Window Shopping

Back in the stone ages (i.e. before the Internet), people would get together with their friends for a day of window shopping.

Going from store to store, comparing and contrasting the alternatives, placing items of interest on layaway, and ultimately making a purchase based on the input of friends.

The web, of course, has changed this dynamic by making it very easy to shop online. Sites like have User Ratings and Reviews applications that allow any member to post their thoughts on a particular item. They also have Wishlist applications that enable people to set aside items that they are considering for purchase.

While these applications provide a great source of information to the shopper, they are still missing the crux of what made window shopping so powerful; namely the input and social camaraderie of friends.

Why is this important? Well, if you look at the chart below from Forrester's "Data Chart of the Week: Who Do People Trust?", you will see that the opinions of friends or acquaintances who have used the product or service is what people value and trust the most.

How much online North American consumers trust sources of information about products or services

With the advent of the Social Web, we are at a point where e-commerce websites can start to bring the power of social interactions back to the shopping process.

Social Window Shopping Example
Let's look at an example where you are shopping for running shoes on You've narrowed your search down to your top three choices by reading all of the anonymous reviews and ratings. It's time to kick it up a notch and get your friends involved!

While you already have some friends on Sneaks4Geeks, you also want to get the opinions of your running friends on Facebook and the Nike+ community.

Sneaks4Geeks uses this really cool Social Window Shopping application that enables people to interact with and get shopping advice from their friends on a range of social sites. The Window Shopping application developers had the mentality of "write once, social everywhere" when they created the application, so they chose Ringside Networks to help them achieve this goal.

So on Sneaks4Geeks you add your top three running shoe choices into the Window Shopping application and reach out to your running friends on Sneaks4Geeks, Facebook, and Nike+. You include the note: "Help me choose! I'm considering the following running shoes for the Broad Street Run in May. What's your favorite?".

Since the Window Shopping application is also integrated into Facebook and Nike+, my friends across all of these sites can respond to my request from within the Window Shopping application available on their particular site. They place their vote for one of the running shoes and provide an insightful comment back.

After a little while, you tally the votes, read the comments, and make your purchase based on the input of your network of friends. For those friends who responded with an opinion, the Window Shopping application automatically thanks them and shares the results of your purchase.

You happily trot off with a new pair of running shoes, and your shopping experience reminds two of your friends that their running shoes are getting pretty worn out...maybe it's time for them to get some new running shoes from Sneaks4Geeks!

For any Social Web initiative to succeed, it is important to find the area of passion that will truly drive social engagement. In the example above, enabling people to shop and interact with friends for their thoughts and opinions touches on a critical area of passion for many people.

Please visit the Social Business section of the Ringside Networks website for more articles on the Social Web and to learn more about how Ringside Networks helps facilitate scenarios such as the Social Window Shopping example covered above.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Social Web Tip: Start With Passion

In my past two posts, I wrote about two very successful social web communities, the Jeep Community and the Nike+ Community.

What do these communities have in common besides well known and established brands?

Just look through all of the pictures and videos posted by the Jeep community to get an idea of how ravenously passionate they are about their Jeeps. Similarly, the Nike+ running community just loves getting together for running events, talking about the latest running gear, etc.

Jeep and Nike are big companies with established brands and healthy, growing communities.

How about we look at an example where the seeds of passion are just being planted?

I recently caught up with a friend of mine who has launched a new site called Greenthumbr:

Bob McWhirter loves gardening and while he has only just started building the Greenthumbr community, the world is definitely full of people who love everything green too. So he has fertile ground upon which to grow a thriving membership.

Passion comes in big and small packages. Moreover, passion can start relatively small, but with the help of the social web, BIG things can happen!

Look at Barack Obama's rise to prominence as a perfect example of how the social web can amplify passion. While some people knew about Barack Obama 18 months ago, his website as well as his Barack Obama Facebook page have attracted and energized millions of active and passionate followers.

So, my social web tip for you is to find the PASSION in your community and feed it, nurture it, encourage it, revel in it, wallow in it. And before long, you just might see the strong roots of a thriving social web community take hold.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Social Web Example: The Nike Plus Community

In a prior post, I provided a definition of social web. Some may read that post and ask the question: "But are real companies actually embracing the social web?"

The answer is an unequivocal: Absolutely!

I have already illustrated how the Jeep Community is an extension of that engages its passionate community directly as well as promotes the large number of Jeep communities that exist on social web sites like Facebook, Yahoo, etc.

The Nike+ Community is similar in that it engages its passionate member community directly from its own website. It is different in that it does not overtly interlink with other Nike communities that exist on other social web sites. At least not nearly as much as the Jeep Community site does.

The picture below shows the entry point for runners to track their mileage. A cool feature is the Community mileage counter that is constantly counting up the collective mileage posted by the Nike+ community. Kind of reminiscent of the McDonald's "100 Million Served" counter. Neat touch.

The next picture shows the entry point for finding and sharing events that the Nike community would be interested in. Nike clearly wants to encourage their community to run together and interact.

Nike also provides an information-rich blog entitled "Inside Nike Running". They have experts writing on a range of topics. So for the community members who primarily like to read and listen, they have a great resource. Nike also provides a Forum for members who are more vocal and want to share their own thoughts.

While the site is a little over-polished for my tastes, it absolutely provides a branded way for Nike to engage its community around an area of PASSION.

I searched on Facebook to get a feel for how Nike is expanding its Nike+ community by engaging with Facebook members directly. While there are a variety of Nike+ groups created on Facebook (ex. the "Nike+ Challenges" group), none of them appear to have a lot of momentum which may be due to the fact that the Nike+ website already has a lot of engaging content.

I really like the "Nike+ Running Monitor" Facebook application and how it connects Facebook and Nike+ website members.
"The Nike+ Running Monitor is connected to the Nike+ website, giving you the ability to share your running information with the Facebook Network.You have the ability to add your profile summary, runs, goals, challenges and much more so you can show off how well you are doing and to keep you inspired!"

Nike clearly has a great strategy for engaging its passionate community with useful information and tools that enable them to feel part of the larger community. If you look at each of the screenshots above, you will also see how Nike makes it easy for community members to find their running products and learn more about them. It's a great noninvasive way to market/advertise to people who actually care about the products.

What's the bottom-line benefit to Nike? Customer loyalty, word of mouth referrals, increased brand equity, and increased sales. They also likely have a much higher ROI on their product-related advertising since they are engaging well qualified customers directly.

Further Reading:
Why Build Social Applications into a Website?
Why Develop a Facebook Application?
Social Media: Rent or Own?
Search Advertising vs. Social Applications

You can find even more recommended reading in the Social Business section of the Ringside Networks website.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Web Example: The Jeep Community

In a prior post, I provided a definition of social web. Some may read that post and ask the question: "But are real companies actually embracing the social web?"

The answer is an unequivocal: Absolutely!

Let's take a look at the Jeep Community for example. Jeep has devoted a section of their website to engaging their passionate member community via the social web and doing so in a wide variety of ways.

Scrolling down the page reveals much more:

In the above pictures you can see that Jeep enables their community to interact with a wide range of social applications: picture sharing, video sharing, games, special offers on merchandise, Jeep event calendar including marketing events such as “Jeep King of the Mountains”, and a ton of links to Jeep groups on Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo, Flickr, YouTube, etc.

Jeep is clearly a posterchild for how to effectively engage a community via the social web. Their Jeep Community site is effective since it enables their community to rally around their PASSION. And Jeep has done this in a way that increases the value of their own web property ( as well as taps into the power of the large social networks such as Facebook.

What's the bottom-line benefit to Jeep? Customer loyalty, word of mouth referrals, and increased brand equity.

Further Reading:
Why Build Social Applications into a Website?
Why Develop a Facebook Application?
Social Media: Rent or Own?
Search Advertising vs. Social Applications

You can find even more recommended reading in the Social Business section of the Ringside Networks website.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Social Web Defined

There's lots of talk about social networks like Facebook, social applications like FriendFeed, social computing and the socialization of the Internet.

All of these exist within the world of the "social web".

As I see it, the social web is all about sprinkling "social" magic pixie dust onto every website, yielding something like this:

...where the orange elements in the "Your Website" item represent social applications (ex. a ratings/comments application) that people and their friends interact with. These social applications can/should also be accessible via the big social networks such as Facebook, but that's a topic for a future post, so let's get to a definition.

While the term "social web" is being used more and more, there's not yet a good definition out there. Wikipedia's definition of social web was pretty anemic, so I updated it with the results of the following as well as my thoughts on the 7 Key Attributes of Social Web Applications.

For lack of a good definition, I went through the thought process below to see what I could come up with:

So, my proposal is:
"Social Web is defined as people interlinked and interacting with engaging content in a conversational and participatory manner via the Internet."

These may or not be the right words, but I wanted to start somewhere in order to get the conversation started. My goal is to make it both descriptive and simple. Too many definitions get too deep into the underlying technology or provide comparisons to the semantic web...which is still a fairly esoteric concept for the average person. It should be interesting to see how the definition on Wikipedia evolves over time.

So what do you think? Is the above definition too confusing? Can you come up with something simpler?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Facebook Counters Google's OpenSocial With fbOpen

A week ago the rumors heated up that Facebook would open source its platform.

And today Facebook made good on the rumor by launching the Facebook Open Platform (fbOpen). On the Facebook Open Source Projects, they list fbOpen and the other open source projects (Thrift, MemcacheD, ...) they are involved in.

What is fbOpen? According to the website it is:
"a snapshot of the infrastructure that runs Facebook Platform. It includes the API infrastructure, the FBML parser, the FQL parser, and FBJS, as well as implementations of many common methods and tags."

Or put more simply:
fbOpen is an open source reference implementation of the Facebook platform.

This is a similar statement to:
Apache Shindig is an open source reference implementation of the OpenSocial specification.

In my "Social Networking Big Dog: Facebook or Google?" post, I draw a comparison of Google and its OpenSocial Foundation to Sun and its Java Community Process.

I'll extend that comparison further by equating fbOpen and Apache Shindig to be logical equivalents to the J2EE Reference Implementation. The primary difference between these two efforts, of course, is that OpenSocial provides a specification for the Apache Shindig reference implementation, while fbOpen is simply a snapshot of code from the already implemented, deployed, robust, and successful Facebook Platform.

So this news begs a couple of questions:

  • Does it matter that fbOpen is not based on a specification but is simply "a snapshot of infrastructure"?
  • Does it matter that implementations like Apache Shindig have a common specification (OpenSocial) to base their efforts on?
Before answering the questions, you should consider the success of open source projects like Hibernate and the Spring Framework, both of which did NOT implement the predefined J2EE specifications. Instead, they both defined new and better ways of doing things. Good technology trumped agreed-upon specification.

One final note. I expect that all or parts of these reference implementations will be leveraged by a wide range of people and companies interested in extending them to suit their specific market/product needs. Similar to how companies like BEA, IBM, Sun, Oracle, and JBoss all created their own J2EE application servers that implemented the specs as well as included piece parts of the reference implementation.

This matches what Ringside Networks has been doing by integrating and extending Shindig in order to provide a production-ready implementation of OpenSocial. Moreover, since our open source social application server already provides extensive Facebook platform compatibility, we'll look at fbOpen to see how we can leverage it so we can spend less time implementing Facebook compatibility and more time on our unique value add.

I'll elaborate much more on the Ringside Networks product strategy in upcoming posts.

  • Only time will tell if Facebook launched fbOpen in time to slow or stall the momentum of Google's OpenSocial Foundation.
  • Open code is better than closed code; but open does not necessarily translate into vibrant community.
  • Only time will tell if Facebook's community will be open and vibrant enough to generate significant momentum (and code) of its own.