ok, so even after all these announcements about data portability, no one seems to understand what the hell i keep talking about re: using email & IM messaging data stores to improve targeting & make friend lists work better. i admit it's a bit inside-baseball, but it's actually pretty simple.
[UPDATE: Yahoo just joined Microsoft (via Windows Live Contacts API) & Google (via Google Contacts Data API) in enabling 3rd-party programmatic access to contacts in the Yahoo mail address book accessible via API. now all 3 just need to enable filtered access using messaging frequency & keyword relevance, and we'll finally be getting somewhere... who's gonna step up first?]
the thing is, i actually DO believe we're on the verge of something game-changing here. i DO believe that the social gestures & interactions pioneered on Live Journal & then Facebook & now Google & MySpace are slowly going to migrate over to the rest of the web, and energize all of our normally boring websites with social cues & viral behaviors.
HOWEVER: i'm really friggin' tired of a popup with 50 of my 1000 friends (whose names all seem to begin with 'A') or being asked to upload my address book (over 2000 contacts, many of whom are email lists or people i don't know) to use as a viral distribution method.
so here's the skinny homeboy:
I HAVE WAAAAAAY TOO MANY DAMN "FRIENDS" IN MY SOCIAL NETWORK. I GOTZ THOUSANDS OF DONT-GIVE-A-F*#K "CONTACTS" IN MY ADDRESS BOOK. BUT DON'T ASSUME I'M GOING TO SPAM / UPLOAD / INVITE ALL OF THEM TO CHECK OUT YOUR CHEAP-ASS, NON-MONETIZING, PRIVACY-RAPING, BUTT-UGLY DESIGNED, RETARDED UX, PO-DUNK WEBSITE OR FACEBOOK APP.
In other words, i don't trust [most of] you.
just cause i've accepted an invite to be your friend, or happened to find you on a website, or in a forum or group i've passed by in the online version of a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am-for-the-one-night-stand, DOES NOT MEAN i want to know what you had for dinner last night, who you knocked boots with lately, or if your new social networking startup for Retired Dread Pirate Roberts or website for exterminating Rodents Of Unusual Size is worth bazillions.
on the other hand, there probably IS a small subset of crazy peeps who i DO want to share your shit with, but it's probably only ~10 people in my potential network of 1000. and i want to figure out how to choose 10 targeted people quickly & easily out of my random network of 1000. (and probably only 1-3 of those folks will really take a look, but those are the ones you want).
so let me state that more clearly.
PROBLEM: when i'm on a website or social network or social app, it wants me to help refer other people / help with some lame-o viral marketing scheme. however, i'm only gonna do that for a select few who really share my context / insanity, not everyone in my network (unless my name is Robert Scoble).
what I DO NOT WANT:
- select from a god-awful list of 100 faces in your pop-up face listbox
- upload my entire address book of 2000+ contacts for you to spam the world
- wait for your data-loading / selection function to crash horribly, after taking forever to load
what I DO WANT:
- popup the MOST RELEVANT 5-10 peeps who meet certain key criteria
- use an intelligent combination of shared interests & messaging frequency to figure out who these "TOP" friends are (for the given context)
- let me select 1-3 of them to invite & checkout an awesome [video game | baby stroller | new book | really good pr0n] i just found
SOLUTION: let's see now. WHERE? can i find an easily accessible data store with info on how frequently i contact other people, already-indexed relevant keywords for conversations i've had with those folks, and provides a built-in distribution method for sharing further information & content?
ANSWER: why, it's EMAIL! you stupid mofo. and also your IM client, and your SMS history on your cellphone, and nowadays your photostream & Facebook wall & tweetstream & everything else related to the Centralized ME.
Now, WHO has the largest collection of email / IM data on the web? Well i'm guessing the order looks something like this:
- Yahoo (~400-500M email users, ~10 years of data)
- Microsoft (~300-400M email users, ~10 years of data)
- AOL (~100-150M email users, ~15 years of data)
- Google (~100-150M email users, ~5 years of data)
note for the record, MySpace & Facebook also have a shitload of this data, as do other social networks, altho like Google they're a bit newer to the game than Yahoo, Microsoft, & AOL who've been collecting all that data for over a decade.
ditto for cellphone carriers, especially in geographies where text messaging is more prevalent (= non-US, altho we're finally catching up). except you don't really have to worry about these guys, since they're even more clueless than the big web platform dinosaurs.
so now recently, Facebook & MySpace & Google have all rolled out offerings to demonstrate off-network profile access, friends list, & other social network platform services infrastructure to enable any other 3rd-party website to provide Facebook Platform-style services & apps. previously Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, & AOL have created authentication & contact APIs to enable use of login infrastructure & address book services on 3rd-party sites.
NOW i'm not sure what this is so damn hard for people to figure out, or why it's taken over a decade for Microsoft, Yahoo, or AOL to get their ass in gear, or why Google didn't do it in the last 5 years, and why Facebook Platform (which was built in barely a year?!?) blew past them all to become the first legitimate Web OS (walled garden or not).
But now that everyone has FINALLY woken up, the next step is to put all this shit together & make it useful for everyone else OUTSIDE the walled garden. In short, that means:
- Use 3rd-party acct infrastructure to provide "no login rqd" single sign-on
- Use profile data for landing page customization & campaign targeting
- Use email data for friend lists, filtered by msg frequency & keywords
- Use all of the above to enable viral distribution on the non-social web
- Use payment info (after MSFT/GOOG buy AMZN/EBAY) to buy stuff
Platform vendors -- at the very least Google & Microsoft, hopefully Yahoo & AOL too -- should be offering these enhanced services for any 3rd-party sites that utilize the above infrastructure. Perhaps it will take further consolidation to make this happen. My guess is one camp eventually is Microsoft + Yahoo + Facebook + Amazon, and another is Google + AOL + MySpace + eBay, but those parts could fit together slightly differently. Regardless, once you combine portals + search + social networks + messaging + commerce, you get a very very interesting & quite lucrative combination of assets.
Those assets SHOULD be utilized to create a Web Operating System which in turn drives the implicit web that accelerates user acquisition, improves activation & retention, energizes referral, and eventually drives substantial increases in revenue for a whole new wave of web 3.0 startups.
Of course i've already covered all of that in Startup Metrics 101.