Today a friend invited me into a social network site called Multiply. It has some nice features, like photo albums, review sharing, and even a built-in journal. But the incentive isn't there for me to use it, because for it to be useful I have to get some critical mass of friends on it. The ones that aren't already on Friendster or Orkut are probably averse to the whole idea of telling a computer who their friends are. And the ones that are on Friendster and Orkut are unlikely to want to re-enter all that same data onto some other site, in hope that more of their friends will come. The barriers to entry are so high that any new entrant to the market has to do something really novel, or the market leaders have to really, really suck.
It's easy to see the logic behind an endeavor like Multiply: if we build services that are greatly enhanced by a social network, people will join the social network. Unfortunately, since people can't see the magic of your services until the social network exists, each potential user has to solve a frustrating chicken-and-egg problem. This exact problem will be pervasive in the social networking tools market until standards for data interchange are worked out.
Frassle escapes this problem. Because of RSS syndication, you don't need to convince a dozen friends to switch blogging platforms in order to use frassle's magic on their content. Because of OPML subscriptions import (it will be in the next version, I swear), you can easily try out frassle's aggregator on your familiar subscriptions list.
Now here's the kicker: I bet I can leverage this flexibility to work around the lack of a standard in the social networking space. I don't expect thousands of users to flock to frassle—and I couldn't support them if they did. But I do think that frassle will support a social network system that delivers more value, in easy-to-sample, titillating increments, than other systems.
Consider the procedure for getting value out of yet another social network system:
- Sign up
- Paste in email addresses of a dozen friends
- Wait for them to join; probably 3 of them do
- Wait a few more days for them to invite some friends
- Assuming you know a lot of their friends, you have a social network with 10 people in it. Unfortunately, this network doesn't map to any real-life community; it's an arbitrary grouping based primarily on how bored people were.
- Now you can realign your friendships based on how capable people are of using Yet Another Social Network SystemTM. Over time, those 10 people might become a coherent community of friends, so that YASNTM might make sense.
Needless to say, I don't think many people will have the naievete or wherewithal to restructure their actual network of friends based on YASNTM. Therefore, Friendster and Orkut have a great deal of lock-in because they have a mass of users.
Worst of all, even if you've entered this data into another social network tool, you have to re-enter it. Later, you have to maintain the same information in two different places. This is ridiculous, but none of the companies that have the power to change this situation actually want to, because it would reduce their lock-in.
Now, contrast the steps it takes for a new user to get value out of frassle's social features. Note that most of these features are in the design phase right now—they don't yet actually exist. But they
- Sign up
- Upload an OPML file from your aggregator.
- Right away, get access to related content in feeds you haven't seen using the taxonomies of blogs you read.
Register your blog's RSS feed.
- Frassle will make up a random number and ask you to put it inside of a blog entry. Once frassle sees this number in your feed, it knows you are in control of that feed—much like how some sites verify your email address. You can then delete that blog entry, if you like.
- Right away, you can browse all of the content inside frassle via your own categories. You didn't have to type them in to frassle.
- If a frassle user has already subscribed to your blog, you're in luck! Not only are we likely to have hundreds of entries from your blog, rather than just the latest ten, but there are probably lots of recommendations in frassle, just waiting for you to show up and read them!
Right away, you can enrich frassle's understanding of your categories by categorizing other people's posts. You get to use frassle's excellent categorization interface, and categories in your RSS are automatically copied into frassle—no need to re-enter data.You can also re-syndicate data from frassle, so your data is never just stuck. Frassle gives you RSS for everything and helps you put dynamic data on your own web pages.Keep on using the blog and aggregator tools you're comfortable with, and frassle will keep on
- finding relevant material for you
- supporting personalized search
- tracking emergent communities of interest based on what you write about and categorize
- using your content to support these enhanced services for other frassle users and readers of your blog.
For someone who already has a blog and aggregator habit, not only does frassle eliminate redundant data entry, it also gives you more deeply personalized information—and all in fewer steps!
And that's why, even if frassle doesn't make it, someone will figure out how to support all of this. And they will finally bring us a social network system that's not only nice in theory but also, and more important, feasible.