Aug 102014

On the web, no-one likes being forced into downloading a new app. That could be the main lesson from Facebook’s splitting messenger into a new app.

Users aren’t happy and it shows in the product reviews as Mashable reports. Across the world the new Facebook Messenger app is getting the thumbs down in App Store reviews.

Which goes to show how the public now have the power to strike back when they believe a corporation isn’t behaving fairly.

The ball’s now in Facebook’s court to win back trust with an app that delights users. If they don’t, there’s always another disrupter on the horizon.

Aug 072014

“Everyone’s a critic” is the old saying. Today this is truer than ever as anyone can post a review online.

One of the notable things about business in the internet age is how sensitive people are to criticism.

A good example of this is a story going around the web this week of a Dallas chef, John Tesar, who had a magnificent breakdown over a review of his restaurant in the local newspaper.

This set off a chain of claims and counterclaims including some truly bizarre pieces on various blogs about ‘chefs winning the war against critics.’

Probably the strangest thing with this whole debacle is the review by Leslie Brenner in the Dallas Morning News is actually quite constructive and certainly no AA Gill style demolition of the establishment.

This silly little spat illustrates how business people, not just temperamental chefs, have glass jaws. Another story going around the web this week is of Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, that fines guests for bad reviews

Tesar’s response is pretty typical of many business owners – attack the critic instead of addressing the problems. Given Tesar threw the Twenty Rules of Social Media – which apply to businesses as much as social media – out the window, he was lucky not to find his reaction backfiring horribly on him.

What business owners have to understand is that you will get criticism, unfortunately most of it you will never know about as unhappy customers tell their friends and relatives.

If you get the opportunity to hear that criticism, then you have the opportunity to fix the problem.

This is something business owners need to understand about review sites and social media; it’s an opportunity to get some honest feedback about how things are going.

So start listening to what your customers are saying online and stop being so defensive.

Jun 292014

The revelation that a Facebook research team lead by Alan Kramer experimented with users’ emotional states is a disturbing story on many levels, the immediate consequence is a further erosion in the public trust of social media services.

Facebook, like many social media services, has received a lot of criticism in recent times as the company tries to make enough money to justify its $160 billion valuation.

Most of that criticism has been around the re-arranging of users’ feeds with Facebook’s algorithm deciding what information should be displayed based upon a user’s history with a liberal sprinkling of advertising thrown in.

The Kramer research though takes Facebook’s manipulation of users’ information to another level, along with raising a range of ethical issues.

One of the most concerning issues is the claim that the experiment’s subjects had given informed consent by agreeing to Facebook’s Terms of Service. This is dangerous ground.

The dangerous ground, apart from the gross overreach of customer terms of service this behaviour risks losing the market’s trust; once Facebook or other social media and cloud computing services are viewed as untrustworthy, they are doomed.

For Facebook it might be that the abuse of user trust is the biggest social experiment of all: How far can the company push the public?

We may soon find out.

Jun 102014

Today I spoke about online safety to the Australian Seniors’ Computer Clubs Association about staying safe online.

Hopefully I’ll have a copy of the presentation up tomorrow but what was notable about the morning was the concern among the audience about security and safety of cloud services.

The ASCCA membership are a computer savvy bunch – anyone who disparages older peoples’ technology nous would be quickly put in their place by these folk – but it was notable just how concerned they are about online privacy. They are not happy.

Another troubling aspect were my answers to the questions, invariably I had to fall back on the lines “only do what you’re comfortable with”  and “it all comes down to a question of trust.”

The problem with the latter line is that it’s difficult to trust many online companies, particularly when their business models relies upon trading users’ data.

Resolving this trust issue is going to be difficult and it’s hard to see how some social media platforms and online businesses can survive should users flee or governments enact stringent privacy laws.

It may well be we’re seeing another transition effect happening in the online economy.

May 242014
e-commerce giant eBay head office

One of the paradoxes of the modern tech industry is that while its leaders preach openness and collaboration, their own businesses are mysterious unaccountable black boxes.

This website has often looked at how the Silicon Valley business model leaves users and partners exposed to arbitrary enforcement of vague policies and indifferent customer service.

A good example of the black box business model is eBay’s major security breach where it appears millions of users have had their personal and banking details compromised. Instead of informing customers immediately, the company’s management hid the problem and hoped stonewalling inquiries would make the problem go away.

Lacking accountability

In the black box business model, not being accountable is the key – we see it with Amazon’s bullying of book publishers, Google’s high handed identity policies and Facebook’s puritan censorship.

Those high handed attitudes to customers’ and users’ rights is born out of arrogance; all of these company’s managements, and the corporate bureaucrats who enforce the policies, believe their hundred billion dollar businesses are untouchable.

Such arrogance might though be ill-founded as each of these businesses is less than twenty years old and, while they themselves have deeply disrupted existing industry models, there is no reason why their own market dominance and huge cash flows can’t be usurped by new technologies or challengers.

In age where trust is the greatest currency, hiding beyond a block box of algorithms and impassive customer support may not turn out to be a successful management strategy.

Apr 262014

The announcement that Vic Gundotra, the executive responsible for Google+ at the search engine giant, is leaving the company has lead to the widespread assumption that the troubled social media platform is dead.

It’s not an unreasonable assumption that Google Plus is dead; the company’s trait of corporate attention deficit disorder means the project is likely to die of neglect without a top level executive supporting it.

Should Google Plus be dying, this won’t be bad news for some of the company’s other products, the enforced integration with the social media service irritated users, –particularly on YouTube — while reducing functionality for platforms like Google Places.

Google Places, or Google Plus for Business as it was clumsily renamed as part of the integration, could be the great beneficiary of removing the distraction of the social media service with renewed focus on local search.

Regaining focus

Losing focus on local and mobile search has been the most damaging effect from the Google Plus experience and renewed efforts in those fields will take on Facebook while filling a gap in the market.

It’s also unlikely that the entire ‘identity service’ will live on with those features permeating through the company’s products.

Of course, it could be that Google Plus isn’t dead at all; we’ll have a better idea of where it’s going to go when we see the level of commitment from senior management towards the product, although the appointment of a relatively junior executive doesn’t seem to be good news for the platform.

Moving on from Google Plus is an opportunity for the company to refocus on neglected niches, it could be a good result for the company’s shareholders.

Apr 202014

Could liking a brand’s Facebook page cost you your right to sue?

The New York Times has a story on how corporations are subtly changing the wordings on websites and social media pages in an effort to make it harder for customers to challenge the business in court.

It’s quite cheeky attempting to strip people who ‘like’ a Facebook page of their rights to take action against a company, it even strikes at the heart of building an online community around a brand.

The whole point of accumulating real life followers behind a brand’s social media presence is to create a band of fans; by creating suspicion, business destroy the goodwill behind that exercise and possibly render it useless.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook react to this behaviour as intimidating users and discouraging them from liking brands is a direct threat to their business model, it’s hard to see them not changing their own terms to make this corporate behaviour a breach of their own terms of service.

For consumers though it’s a reminder that corporations, at least those who operate on twentieth-century mass market principles, aren’t really their friends.

Update: Since posting this piece, General Mills has backed down on its policy but the point still remains that unfair and over legalistic terms and conditions threaten social media platforms.