Social Instincts

It's funny - but last night I was measuring and blogging about the social instinct of bees, at the same time watching the live annoucements from the Facebook 2011 F8 developers' conference - the main theme, of course, the social graph.

There are interesting times ahead.

The social graph, in a nutshell, is a conceptual map of all the people and things that are socially connected to each other. The people you friend with, the brands you follow, the things you 'Like' all build out this graph. It's unique to you and some would argue, it pretty much defines you.

Over the years, behind the scenes Facebook has been building out ways for this graph to grow, by increasing the range of things that can be added to it. At first it only contained people - "Friends". The big change was to introduce the "Like" concept - now status updates, announcements, media, "pages", brands and so on could be added to your graph. It exploded.

Sadly, while Facebook was plotting world domination of social information, it wasn't paying quite as much attention to the user experience. Access to these features were being bolted onto the user interface bit by bit in a myriad of apparently disconnected functionality. The latest additions to the facebook experience, the "live stream" window alongside the "news feed" seems to have tipped the balance in terms of user horror; for every one person I hear say they like it, I hear four say they don't. Ouch.

Fast forward.

Behind the scenes Facebook has continued plotting its world domination of social graph data, starting from the ground up with a taxonomy that allows them to model and capture the data in many more orders of magnitude. In simple English, this means they'll be able to let you not just "like" things, but capture data about any activity you do, such as watch you read, listen to, watch, eat etc. You can see where this is going. The apps and applications that you use to go about your daily life with be "socially" connected and have the ability to log everything you do.

You are either going to love it or hate it or be completely scared by it, but it's going to happen.

This mass of data on the input side needs a way to be viewed and this is where Facebook have finally put some deeper thought into the user exerience and, I think, played something of a trump card.

First, they are encapsulating all the data about you as a person - your profile - in a timeline. A dynamic, living timeline that can extend back to the year you were born. It's organised in time order so that you have (if you want) a complete story of your life, based on all the things you do and document (from the trivial to the lifechanging), all the photos you upload and so on. Importantly, it can be curated easily, so that you can keep the important stuff and remove the things that shouldn't be seen.

What's more, applications can be embedded in this timeline. For example, I have electronic weighing scales that automatically capture my weight data and store it online where I can see my history and progress. The viewer application for these scales could be embedded in my timeline in a small window, so that at-a-glance I, or anyone I choose to share it with, can see the chart of my last year's weight loss. While you may question how useful this is, it serves to illustrate the concept and demonstrate how connected and "social" our worlds can become.

That, of course, is only half the equation - the timeline is a view of the profile, and the profile is an inward looking view of one person. The other half is the outward looking view of who and what that person is connected to. This is where some of the latest concepts Facebook has been rolling out come into play.

Social data will need to be classified into importance and relevance. This is a huge challenge to automate, although Facebook has continually been attempting it and will continue to do so. My weight data is pretty unimportant and irrelevant to most people, except me. It shouldn't be appearing in their stream everytime I get on the scales, even if it is logged to my profile. But other status updates are highly newsworthy: moving house, getting married, births, deaths, career successes and so on.

Facebook will (and is) splitting data into two types of stream.

First: the transient, real-time, 'socially' generated data - such as what I'm listening to right now, what I just photographed, what I'm watching. It's calling this "serendiptious" data and sticking it in the "ticker" that appears along side the main stream. This gives users an unobtrusive view of realtime activity of friends and (here's the new bit) the ability to join in. You might, for example, see your friend playing a new music track you've not heard, click on it, and immediately start listening in sync. In fact, for music, this concept is being touted as the next big thing to drive music discovery and grow the music industry.

Second: the newsworthy, interesting, 'sticky', non-realtime information - such as news stories, important events in people's lives, updates on items of special interest. This is your more-classic "wall" or news-feed, designed to filter out all the low-level noise. You'll be able to control what type of things you see in there (as indeed you can to a degree now) and as you extend your social graph (e.g. by liking and interacting with things), Facebook will get better at learning what it should show you.

The future

When you look at all these components in totality, you can see that Facebook has been dabbling round the edges with this, trying to patch up its broken User Interface/Experience and get to grips with these concepts. Finally, it seems to have taken a step back and started from the ground up to build the next era of social connectedness.

There are definitely some exciting concepts in there that not only play to the apparent social desire in human beings, but perhaps to a degree drive them too, by encouraging users to connect all their activity back to the Facebook "mothership". Certainly this will continue to raise alarm bells for those concerned with privacy and Facebook's attempt to monopolise this whole space.

For me, however, I'm delighted to see that a whole load of design thought has gone into the underlying concepts, information architecture and (if the presentations are to be believed) the user experience. It even helps just to understand the motivation and aspirations of what Facebook is doing here in order to get a handle on what you can expect to do with it and how to be able to use it. I think to date much of that has been lacking.

Whether you consider this as radical and groundbreaking as the pre-hype led us to believe is a moot point, but it is certainly taking our social instincts to the next level. Is that good or bad? Like all things, I suspect that is going to depend on how you use it.

The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers

The stunning success of Web 2.0 applications is forcing telecom service providers around the world to speed up their next-gen service plans, leading to the deeper integration of Web-based technologies with telecom application servers, according to a major new report from Heavy Reading (, the research division of Light Reading (

The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers examines the effect of Web services on next-generation telecom application servers, identifying the techniques, protocols, and hardware configurations that network operators must include in their purchasing criteria. The report profiles and analyzes 28 leading suppliers of Web and telecom application servers, assessing their products, development plans, and technology strategies.

The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers includes a case study of the BT 21st-Century Network (21CN) initiative to capture the strategies, decision points, and variables BT considered in plotting its transition strategy. The 67-page report provides a complete and detailed view of the emerging next-gen application server market, including:

  • The evolution path of the telecom application server and the most likely future course for application servers
  • The challenges network operators face in delivering Web 2.0 services, including the impact of alternative carriers such as Vonage and Skype
  • An assessment of the relevant application program interfaces (APIs) and programming languages used by application servers
  • An analysis of the various types of application servers, the services they enable, and their functional roles as detailed in industry standards
  • An evaluation of Telco 2.0 and Web 2.0 services integration
  • A detailed competitive analysis of the products, overall vision, market strategies, and long-term prospects of next-gen application server technology suppliers

"After more than a decade of parallel development as clearly defined separate entities, Web servers and telecom application servers are now becoming much more closely aligned," says Jim Hodges, senior analyst with Heavy Reading and author of the report. "The momentum of Web 2.0 services is driving this closer relationship. For example, it is now possible to purchase, from vendors such as IBM and BEA, combined SIP and HTTP Web servers that from a hardware perspective represent a converged telecom/Web application server."

One factor that is preventing a faster convergence of Web 2.0 and application server technologies is the reluctance of vendors on both sides to compete head on, Hodges notes. "Both sides recognize that their skill sets are not as well suited to competing in different markets, and the R&D costs are prohibitive – meaning that telecom vendors will not develop Web servers and Web vendors will not develop telephony features," he explains. "Still, this separation is showing clear signs of dissolution, such as the decision by Web vendor Oracle to internally develop telecom features to support VOIP and Virtual PBX applications."

Other key findings of The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers include the following:

  • The success of the Web 2.0 business model is motivating application server providers to integrate more Web 2.0-type capabilities into their platforms. Vendors delivering new application servers with Web 2.0 features include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Nokia Siemens, Nortel Networks, and Sonus.
  • Hardware differentiation among telecom application servers is now virtually meaningless. Most suppliers of telecom application servers have migrated to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) server configurations, such as BladeCenter T, which are essentially carrier-grade Web servers. This means vendors have relinquished the ability to differentiate products at a hardware level. Telecom application server vendors are shifting their focus to delivery of high-quality modular software that maximizes the scaleability of the base platform. Accordingly, while telecom vendors such as Genband and Avaya sell software-only solutions today, at least one major vendor is considering the adoption of this approach in the second half of 2008.
  • Renewed interest by major vendors in the development of application server products will likely lead to further consolidation among suppliers. The consolidation and rationalization that occurred in 2007, with the merger of Aepona and Appium and the acquisition of Ubiquity by enterprise-based Avaya, will continue apace. The most notable move this year has been Oracle's announced acquisition of BEA.

Equals Party LineTM Application Calls on Voxeo Platform to Bring Voice to Social Networking

[nik's note: yet more disruption in the voice market - I love it! :-) ]

Voxeo Corporation announced today that Equals ( has selected the Voxeo Prophecy Platform for the development and delivery of its new Party Line™ application on Facebook.
Party Line adds voice to social networking by enabling group phone chats that can be instantly launched with a single mouse click right from Facebook. Facebook members can alternatively dial 877 4 BUZZ ME (1 877 428 9963) from their mobile phone and Equals will dial out and add the other users to the Party Line. Users can create an unlimited number of Party Lines ranging from movie and dinner friends to golf buddies -- with each Party Line consisting of up to five people. The application is free, set up is easy, and there are no software downloads, conference bridge numbers or passcodes to remember. [click heading for more]