Another tradition of theorizing offers
an explanation of why so many YASNS ultimately fail Bruno Latour Yrjö Engeström Lev Vygotsky Pierre Bourdieu Karin Knorr-Cetina Actor-network theorist Activity theorist Psychologist Sociologist Sociologist 1947- 1948- 1896-1934 1930-2002 1944-
Hello, my name’s Jyri Engeström. I joined Google and moved to the Bay Area when Google acquired, Jaiku a social address book & microblogging platform I co-founded with my partner in Finland. Unlike many Googlers my background’s not in CS; I’m trained as a sociologist. And I’m going to talk about social objects, the reason people come together in real life and on the Web.Over the course of the conference we’ve heard a great deal about how to market products online. We’ve been told the loudspeaker’s been turned around and that the best way to attract customers is to have whuffie.
For example, yesterday Clara Shih declared that we’re now in the Facebook era. This makes it sound like it’s a done deal. The game’ over, and we know who the winners are. I’m here to tell you the game’s not over. And the next winner? It could be someone in this audience. It could be you.
What I ask you to do is join me on a journey back in time to the early days of the Web when email contained no spam and online social networks were still called virtual communities. Firefly, SixDegrees, Friendster... what next? MySpace.
What factor do they all have in common? Firefly garnered 2M users, was acquired by Microsoft and shut down because if failed to turn a profit. SixDegrees garnered 3M users and folded in the dot-com crash. Friendster grew to millions in just a few months and is at over 90M registered users but usage especially in the US has been declining for a while. What about MySpace?
Here are this morning’s stats as recorded by Alexa.com.
So why do so many YASNS fail?
I want to turn our attention to something we don’t talk about often at these conferences: the very idea of social networks. Because underneath every human action there’s some theory about how the world works; including Web sites. This quote is from Wikipedia’s definition of a social network.
Here’s the basic diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term ‘social network’
Now, the problem with social network theory is that it’s good at representing people and the links between them, but it doesn’t explain why they connect with those particular people and not others
An alternate approach to understanding sociality
Imagine kids playing ball on a beach. Everyone’s eyes follow the ball; more children join, no one needs to be introduced, everyone’s connected as if by magic. As soon as a parent takes the ball away the magic’s gone.
Sometimes the object’s not as apparent. A congregation of adults in a barn somewhere in Italy, engaged in discussion.(This case is from the John Thackara’s recent book “In the Bubble. Designing in a Complex World”. The MIT Press, 2005. I’m grateful to John for letting me borrow the example!)
The objects that are the reason why those people are there, are potatoes. They have grown tired of the poor quality of potatoes in supermarkets, and have decided to grow their own potatoes instead.
What if the brainpower spent on marketing, targeting, and ads went into making the objects better? Next I want to compare & contrast a few examples of well-known successes and less-well known startups. The point is that the game’s not over. If you think it is, just recall what happened to Firefly.
What other common verbs around a product? Own, want, like, make, swap, borrow...
Satellite image of Arecibo observatory, located in Puerto Rico. It is the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, with a collecting area of 18 acres.
Linda Stone recently drew our attention to this illustrative YouTube clip that the British comedy trio Idiots of Ants aired on BBC.