Social Networks or Data Repositories?

Last.FM, Flickr and Delicious. Three of my favourite sites that I use weekly if not daily. Use being an interesting word. I have scrobbled over 17,000 tracks into Last.FM, I have bookmarked over 5,000 URLs in Delicious and I have uploaded around 8,500 photos into Flickr. My usage of these actual sites though seems to be dumping and storing data. These once shining beacons of web 2.0 have been tarnished a little recently as they are surpassed by newcomers and/or left to stagnate by their corporate overlords. Maybe the reason for their lack of buzz/so called demise is that they are no longer really social networks but are becoming data repositories.  Maybe that is just the way I use them but I have a feeling I am not alone. Also is that a bad thing?

Each of these sites have social features built in to varying degrees;

Last.FM – Friends – people you follow, Groups – communities of users with similar tastes this then powers a radio station of those choices, Neighbours – People with similar musical tastes to you, Liked tracks allow you to share your love of a single track both inside and outside of Last.FM (strangely you can’t like an album but can share the album with social networks). With music what you really want is recommendations for new music and Last.FM does a pretty good job of this with its radio and recommended bands features.

Delicious – Allows me to see what the hottest bookmarks are right now, See which users saved the link, from a social point of view I can build up a network of users and then view what they are reading, I can also make bundles from that network (like Google+ Circles). I can notify my network about specific links but apart from that not much else from either a social or a discovery point of view.

Flickr – The Explore section has a rich source of content based on what Flickr decides is interesting to photos from specific places in the world. You can also create a network of contacts and see what they have been uploading at the Your Contacts page. There are also groups that can be created that typically bring together similar types of photos/photography.

Now I will admit that I hardly use any of the basic social features listed above.  I have had a little play but they fail to grab me. I have a small network of contacts on all three services but I rarely look what they have been listening to, photographing or reading. Not because of a lack of interest but due to the fact it is so hidden away.  I think there needs to be a specific call to action or event to visit these places. These networks don’t provide those either. They are just dumping grounds for data.

Timoni West, A designer at Flickr, wrote a wonderful post on how the most important page, the uploads from your contacts, on Flickr is failing. It lists some of the major problems with the page e.g. Inability to see all a contacts recent uploads, you have to visit a users photostream to see if you have seen all their recent photos.  There is a wonderful line in the post that I think sums up the missing social elements from all the services I have mentioned above:

‘The page fails on a fundamental level—it’s supposed to be where you find out what’s happened on Flickr while you were away.’

When you return to a network/service you want to know what you have missed. You want to see what your friends have been doing while you were away. ‘What your friends are doing while your away’ can easily be curated and aggregated and displayed or shared on a network that you visit more frequently.

Another element that I think is missing from all three of these services are social objects. No great sharing elements exist from these sites to link activity to other more social spaces such as Twitter/Facebook/Google+. You can manually share a single or set of photos, like a track and share it wider or share a link from Delicious. The problem being that these things are again manual and the sharing of these things have been improved on by other services. Link sharing is obviously an integral part of Facebook and Twitter and as such sharing directly from source will win over sharing via Delicious as it adds a needless step. Sharing photos from Flickr is fine but other services are surpassing it. Facebook is the biggest photo repository in the world simply because you can tag your friends. They are all on Facebook they are not on Flickr. This is then shared into the users news feed. The fact you can’t tag Facebook friends on Flickr is a failing of the federated social web rather than Flickr but a problem for Flickr none the less. The most used camera on Flickr is the iPhone. The most used app on the iPhone is Facebook. You also have so many photo sharing services designed for mobile and designed to link straight back to Twitter e.g.  TwitPic, yFrog and Instagram being just a few examples.  All these things mentioned above are single entities, a photo, a link or a track.

Can these repositories offer something unique worth sharing? A call to action tailored to that user? The thing that data repositories can easily generate are stats. Everyone loves stats. Especially if they are in pretty graphs or in small digestible formats.  I think Last.FM are really missing a trick with stats. I use a service called tweekly.FM. This simple service looks at what I have listened to on Last.FM then tweets once a week my top 3 artists. It has lead to quite a few conversations about music. Many more than I have had because of Last.FM. How easily could Last.FM implement this service? Very. Could they offer much more detailed weekly/monthly/yearly stats pages? Yes. Look at their blog for some of the great things they can do with data? They just need to make that more personal and shareable. Another favourite Last.FM related service is LastGraph. This service creates a visualisation based on your listening history. Here is what I have listened to in the last 6 months.


Last.FM have some wonderful data as they cover on their blog but again it is hidden away ( Finally to get people visiting a music site how about giving people the option to DJ. Turntable.FM have done just that. A bit more interactive than the radio channels i.e. the person is on the site now spinning their favourite songs. Go and listen.

What about the photos? Well the current hot photo site is Instagram. An iPhone only social network built around sharing photos. They have 4 employees and 6 million users. The close integration with the service and Twitter has certainly helped it grow.  It has made photos social objects and I must admit I find myself visiting multiple times a day unlike Flickr where I only go when I have something to upload.  instagram recently launched an API and now we are seeing lots of interesting things being built on top. Just like Flickr when they launched their API. One great use of the Instagram API is Statigram. A beautiful set of stats/graphs about your Instagram usage. Shows data on your photos but also who you interact with the most. Instagram would do well to implment these kinds of features into their web app if it ever appears.  Flickr would do well to emulate this to beef up their own stats pages and make them more useful and shareable.


These sites have all this interesting data about a person. Show them what you make of that data. Allow them to share what you have shown them about themselves.  Why not go one step further and allow them to create something physical based on all this data like the lovely Xmas Decorations that RIG made a couple of years ago.

I think these three sites have to accept the fact they are data repositories for most people. They have hardcore users who are highly active in groups. What they need is to convert more of the packrats into more engaged users. Allow the engaged (and the packrats) to link outwards to the areas of the web designed for social e.g. Twitter, Google+, Facebook. Bring people in and design rabbit holes to allow people to truly explore and decide how far they want to go.

I am not sure if being a data repository is necessarily a bad thing, there are plenty of business models around that. Some sites should just realise what they are and make the most of that fact.

Not really sure where this post came from it was just bumbling around in my head. It took me a while to finish and it made me think that my superficial use of these sites is not really the fault of the site but more my laziness. I want to get more out of these sites but they seem to make it difficult or is it the classic case of you get out what you put in (as long as you put in more than just data). The other thought that bumbled around was how does this apply to online banking. They are certainly data repositories and they certainly don’t design for sharing, discovery or making new connections. Along with Flickr, Last.FM and Delicious should they be doing more or are they fine as they are?

Social CRM – I still don’t know what it is

Way back at the beginning of May I was lucky enough to attend yet another conference. This time Social CRM 2011 in London. A day of talks on the burgeoning topic that is a bringing together of the almost ubiquitous word social and the ever so exciting acronym for Customer Relationship Management. It replaced the previous moniker of CRM2.0. Neither of these tags define exactly what it is (just like web2.0 and social media never have and never will).  It is widely regarded that Paul Greenberg has provided the most complete definitions of Social CRM. I hoped that a day of excellent talks on the topic would help clarify things for me. it did not. It did however give me some great insight on what it might be and how the term does not matter one bit.

I find the main lure for conferences is the people speaking i.e. the people I have heard of/follow/am inspired by irrespective of the topic. Sometimes a conference manages to align with speakers and topic but most of the time it does not matter (especially in banking as the conferences on that topic are few and far between).  Social CRM had a pretty strong line up of speakers I wanted to hear on a topic I want to know more about.

First talk of the day was by Brent Leary.  Someone whose work I have followed for a few years now and as well as being an expert on Social CRM he also has pretty good taste in music as evidenced by his regular weekend mixes which feature some of the finest old skool Hip Hop known to man. He began by using the example of Norton (makers of fine computer security products) who have moved pretty much all of their website to Facebook. They feel they will get more engagement from users on THE social platform (750,000,000 users etc) built on top of the web (Will replace http://www.? God I hope not). His other starting example was the beer seller at the Seattle Mariners baseball team. Instead of walking up and down the steps of the ballpark looking for people who want beer he has set up a Twitter account so people can tweet their beer orders. The two examples showing Hyperlocal vs Hyperglobal which JP Rangaswami covered recently when I saw him speak ‘There is no ‘National’ anymore just hyperlocal or hyperglobal if you fall between those then you will fail’. Brent covered a hell of a lot more and his (90s style 😉 slides can be viewed here

For me the best speaker of the day and the one who most looked like comedian Simon Day was Esteban Kolsky.  He started strongly by sharing some analysis he had done with the people tweeting in the room. Apparently their was only one Brazilian currently doing a Masters degree present. He shared the 90s style slide design that Brent had shown to great effect earlier but a passionate and knowledgeable talker will always make up for that.  Esteban focused on the data. The amount of data available is only going to grow. Huge torrents of data from social channels of which 98% is probably going to be noise. There will be an even greater need for smart analytics tools and humans to operate them/make sense of them.  The other thing Esteban was keen to point out was the need for social tools i.e. to allow conversations to take place to be used both inside and outside and to also where possible move towards a hybrid model allow internal and external to meet.  This ties in perfectly with the classic ‘If you are 1.0 on the inside then don’t try to be 2.0 on the outside’ which was excellently covered by Lee Bryant a while back.  Esteban’s beautiful slides are here

Esteban on the right obviously

The prettiest slides and most intriguing use cases of the day came from Catriona Oldershaw of Synthesio. This was not your usual event sponsor presentation it did feature the product quite heavily but did so with very relevant and interesting case studies while not being too gratuitous. Take note dull sponsors/vendors *cough* Salesforce *cough*. Catriona also go the biggest laugh of the day be referring to the Pippa Middletons Bum Twitter account which sprang up after the Royal Wedding. One of Synthesio’s clients is Regaine (the hair growth product) as such they were monitoring social media around the Royal Wedding and they had serious chat with Regaine about doing some adverts relating to the wedding because there was so much chatter about Prince William needing some! In the end they decided they could not react in time and that the brand mentions they were getting were good enough. It did highlight how monitoring needs to be treated with importance in an enterprise  and not just a couple of people watching. If it was built into their processes could Regaine have got an advert out in time e.g. 12-24 hours?

Another interesting case study shared was around the use of Synthesio by a certain hotel chain who were trying to link comments made online via Twitter/Trip Advisor and through their feedback channels to actual rooms in the hotel. So if customer x commented on the cleanliness of their room (room 316) on Saturday the 2nd of July they could check the room, work out cleaning rotas etc. Real actionable feedback. Catriona’s slides are here

My final favourite from the day was a talk by Richard Hughes on ‘Why your company needs a managed Social CRM platform’. Now this presentation was for a vendor selling products that allow you to host your own community instead of using all the free(ish) ones out there such as Facebook & Linked In so I was not expecting much. My scepticism however was short lived as Richard made a very well reasoned and entertaining argument. He used a classic quote to exemplify his thoughts ‘It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.’ Lynden B. Johnson famously said this of J. Edgar Hooover and the point being that it may be worthwhile providing a platform for conversation in areas that you own to help you at least have some control of the situation. Although you can’t exert too much control. Richard gave excellent examples of Apple and how they exert a little too much grip around their online community (banning people from talking about beta fixes/releases, responding as little as possible etc.) leading to people seeking other forums to get richer sources of information. I would love to see banks have open support forums on their sites but would they be able/willing to let users talk freely? Richards slides are here

Should we have our own communities or use those outside our control?

My takeaway from the day was that the main focus for Social CRM is customer service via so called social media channels. I think this is the obvious starting place but it is what comes next that is of real interest. The linking into existing operational systems and business processes is where the cool stuff should happen providing it is changing those systems and processes for the better. There must be a view to two way dialogue not just broadcast marketing. It is still very early days for Social CRM and I am not sure a useful definition of the term will arrive. The one I am working towards is around actually talking and listening online to customers because that is what will get things moving and make change happen. Paul Greenberg managed to boil down his definition from 18 paragraphs to 71 characters ‘The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation’. Companies will increasingly be measured based on the types of response they make. Let’s see how that pans out.

What are the social objects of banking?

I am on a train, I am not a fan of trains. Many people think the same. This is a very basic example of a social object. A simple yet powerful concept that can bring two or more people together to share and discuss their thoughts and experiences.  To make connections with people we try and put some context around the person to enable the conversation to start and hopefully flow  ‘Where do you live? I know someone who lives there. What football team do you support? I prefer the other team in that city.’ These are social objects and they bring people together. The concept of the social object was brought to my attention a while ago by Hugh Macleod who produces social objects in the form of his artwork. He also writes about them and I urge you to check out his work.

You will no doubt have seen his work in countless social media presentations ‘If you talked to people the way advertising talks to them they would punch you in the face’ and his most famous piece is probably Blue Monster where he challenged Microsoft to ‘change the world or go home’. His work is designed to be used in presentations and Hugh encourages people to print out his work and display them in their work space. He has a name for these things ‘Cube Grenades‘ little messages designed to say something about your attitude to work, life what ever to maybe act as a conversation starter (or killer). If you are richer than I then you can even order a nice print of them or if you are really rich/less of skinflint than me you could even commission your own work from Hugh.  I myself have had a few (unpaid printouts) displayed on my desk to give me a smile/little bit of reassurance on those dark days.  These social objects got me thinking about what the social objects of banking are?

Banking as it stands is a fairly private and solitary experience. Your financial situation is discussed with your nearest and dearest and maybe some experts on financial issues e.g. branch staff, an IFA etc.  Data about your financial life seems to be as private for some as your health records. Should this be the case? For some it will always be the case for others I am not so sure. We may discuss at a high level some of our financial lives down at the pub or over dinner. We may get given a great stock tip from one of our savvy friends or an in the know cab driver. At first glance there may not be much else.

Without a doubt the biggest social object in the world of banking at the moment is banker bashing. The financial crisis and its ongoing ramifications have made banks and bankers figures of hate. From constant coverage in the media of the bonuses handed out to ‘Those bloody bankers’ to the protests against them by groups like UK Uncut. The world can come together and discuss how and why they hate banks very easily.  While a lot of the action around the financial crisis is justified and needed to ensure changes and cuts do not go too far it needs to be made clear that not every banker is the same! Certainly when I tell people what my bonus was this year they are somewhat confused when they realise it is barely enough to take my family on holiday and that I am not ordering a new Lamborghini and buying a holiday home in the south of France. Another concept of Hugh’s is the social marker a way of adding context to certain social objects. It could be thought of as a statement that defines in its purest terms what the object is about. The financial crisis has a very powerful social a social marker which frames the conversation by realting it very closely to a person. That person is Sir Fred Goodwin. Fred the Shred. He is the ultimate social marker in this regard but do some social markers add too much context to an argument or frame it in a closed way e.g. tar us poor bankers with the same brush?

The other classic social object for banking is charges. People love charges. Love them. OK maybe not. The sharing of charges made by banks is again something that is needed to ensure what the banks do remains fair. Some charges are justified some are not and are onerous. Sharing publicly more about these charges can help people see which organisations charge fairly and which do not. This maybe an area that banks are not keen to get involved with but the world is a place designed for sharing so they need to get used to it and behave accordingly. The bank that most openly shares their charges may well be seen as the most thoughtful and caring bank.

The sharing of financial data from financial systems is notoriously difficult for various reasons such as it is deemed to be risky (rightly so) and organisations might not be so keen to share it with other organisations. In my opinion at some point the ability to do so will become common place if not even a regulatory requirement, as it is in Germany.  If we can make sharing of this data safer for both the customer and the organisation then the creation of social objects around banking will become much more widespread. So here are a few real world examples I have found on my online travels.

Blippy, a social network built around sharing what you had bought, recently declared they were on life support and were close to pulling the plug.  Sharing what you have bought is a classic social object ‘Oooh I love it I must also buy one! Dear God you paid how much for that?!’. I personally think Blippy died not because people were not keen to share what they had bought but because there was no safe way to do it (I have spoken before about the anti-password problem in banking) and because no one wants a social network just to talk about that one thing but if you input ‘I just bought’ into Twitter search I bet you get a high number of results.

BillGuard is another startup looking to get people to share what they have bought but instead of to discuss the item this time they want people to crowdsource safe/bogus transaction. Post a worrying looking charge on your credit card and people in the community can confirm whether they have also had this charge and are worried or other people can confirm what it is.

Instead of focusing on what you have bought the opposite is also a perfect social object, what you are saving for. SmartyPig in the US have implemented this perfectly.  A quick search for #SmartyPigGoal on Twitter reveals what people are saving their hard earned cash for. A list of dreams, desires etc. etc. Saving for my dream wedding or 2013 Glastonbury tickets. If you so desire you can contribute to your friends savings goals to help them on their way of reaching their goal. Now if that is not a conversation starter I don’t know what is. Or how about eToro Open Book a community that shows what currencies people are buying and selling the act of trading becomes a social object.

What about those in financial difficulty? The natural reaction maybe shame at getting into such a state but by hiding this away it can only make things worse. A problem shared is a problem halved. Money Saving Expert have created a fertile safe haven for people to share their debt situations and get advice from a community of strangers to help them out. By building a community around the saving of money from vouchers for money off to detailed guides on how to batter down the cost of your mobile contract or car insurance, Martin Lewis and staff have created the biggest, and most viewed financial community in the UK. The website alone is the most viewed site in the UK about financial matters. The forum is second. Third is the Financial Times. His weekly deals email is subscribed to by over a million and a half people. It is full of social objects. it is itself a social object.

Another form of social object is the person to person loan. Kiva provides a platform for people to request funding for small businesses in remote places. The social object is the desire for someone half way round the world to start a business. The other side of that social object is the desire to help someone out. I think the successful social objects around banking need to engender that desire to help or offer advice based on your own experiences.

HSBC ran a huge global campaign back in 2007 called Your point of view. Adverts splashed across the worlds airports, global press etc. featuring a set of images and a caption that worked on both images. Perfect conversation/thought provoking fodder.  It was backed up by the usual microsite (now sadly closed) but did not really capitalise on the social objects it had created in the fact that they were not easily shared and there was no easy way to have a discussion around them. That being said the campaign managed to be excellently parodied as part of a spoof edition of the New York Times to commemorate the end of the Iraq War so it was obviously shareable enough.  The Financial Brand did a nice writeup on the your points of view campaign.

Another example of things that organisations could make more of by making them social objects is the PDF report. Usually the byproduct of some glossy brochure/report that has been created with the primary function of being printed and sent to corporate or premium customers. Some of these are published online but just as PDFs and as such are not that shareable. A perfect example would be the recently published (and updated from 2009)  future of business report by my employers. You can find the document along with others on the HSBC Business Publications page. What more could this have been? What elements that make up this report could be social objects in their own right? What about the raw data could it be published and shared? And what about the interviews that made up this report? Surely the super cities definition and how they were chosen could be a great source of debate, I mean it does not have Sheffield down as a super city and as everyone knows this is incorrect. (Disclaimer: I may be a tad biased on the Sheffield front)

These are just a few examples of the kinds of social objects I have seen but I am interested in what social objects will continue to arise and what social objects people would like to see from banks? The advice given in Hugh’s piece is to be able to clearly define what your social object is. I am not really sure there is a definite social object for banking but looking at the verbs most readily associated with banking (spend, save, earn, invest, sell, advise, transact etc.) we can see where they might appear. So what do you see as the social objects in banking? Should there be more or should there be less? Should finance be a private thing best left to experts or something that should be shared and discussed on a global scale? Let’s see if this social object can lubricate some conversations.