Don’t forget to set up your Facebook page ASAP

I’ve talked to a few business lately that ended up finding squatters on their ideal Facebook URL.  Yeah, it’s the new “AOL Keyword”, but it’s just expected these days.  Same thing with your twitter name.  It’s just not as simple as securing your domain name anymore.  But there are more reasons to start early on Twitter and Facebook than just avoiding squaters and beating competitors… Here is the first mistake I made with KickoffLabs and Facebook:

Facebook does not have a way to associate URLs with pages. 

This means that http://kickofflabs.com can never really be tied to http://facebook.com/kickofflabs.  There are separate likes, fan counts, and facebook insight reports. 

When I initially published the landing page for kickofflabs.com I set the Facebook like button to the kickofflabs.com URL.  I’d also set the following meta-tag in the page header to “link” our page with our domain:

    <meta content=’200576366633574′ property=’fb:page_id’ />

Along with other Open Graph protocol information.

The assumption was that this would tie the URL to the domain.  But that’s not the case. As of today you have a choice:

1. Have people like your URL and manage the interaction there.  Which is more complicated… but you can do this and have your URL publish stories to Facebook just like it’s a Facebook page itself. 

2. Have people like your Facebook page and publish stories from your URL.  This option is much more user friendly if you are just getting started… but keeps the relationships tied to the Facebook URL instead of  your site. 

You can use the URL linter on Facebook http://developers.facebook.com/tools/lint/ to see what’s going on by entering something like http://microsoft.com and comparing it to http://facebook.com/microsoft.  They’ve push most of the fan activity to the facebook page…but over 5k people have liked the microsoft.com URL directly and generated social activities with it.

So what did we choose:

Since we had the Facebook page http://facebook.com/kickofflabs  we decided to just have our like button link to that instead of our own URL.  The upside is that it’s easier to manage publishing content to fans on facebook.  The downside is that the facebook insights on our domain (for liked blog entries, visits, or someone just sharing a URL directly by posting a link) are now separate and we have to look at both of them if we want aggregate data.

Back to the moral of this story… before you get too many people sharing your URL you want to decide if you want them liking that or your Facebook Page.  So secure your Facebook page ASAP and you can push people to congregate there.  Thankfully only 14 people had shared our URL when we made the switch and most of them had also liked our Facebook page. 

Defining user perception of social applications

image I’ve been thinking about the differences between developing social and traditional applications. What’s the difference, for example, between developing Word and Facebook? The obvious difference is that one is social and one isn’t. But what does that really mean?

It means is that the user experience in social applications is defined, in large part, by the combination of the user themselves AND the network they keep around them. To elaborate on this thought… If both you and I use Microsoft Word we experience almost same thing. Sure, we each have our “lenses” that effect our perceptions of MS Word (user history, similar apps used, etc) and our experiences may be slightly different, but are still consistently defined by one persons perceptions as shown in figure 1 where arrows represent the inputs and outputs that feed the interaction.

Figure 1: Traditional Application

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But your experience using a social application is defined by a combination of the application design, your personal lens, and the social network defined within the application.  Adding the social network has several effects:

1. Application design is magnified because interactions pass through multiple user lenses on their way to you.  Lets call this the “social lens”.  This partially explains the rise in popularity of “Simple first” design of systems like Twitter that has a simple single purpose. That single purpose doesn’t get as watered down the interactions pass from user to user.  This changes the above image to look something more like this. There is now a lot more IO defining one users experience as shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: The Social Lens

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2. The user experience is defined by the nature of the relationships with the people in their social network. Your experience is going to be different based on how you relate to the people around you and how those people choose to relate to you.  In life this is nothing new, but when it comes to application design it really forces you to think more carefully about user personas and personality types.  An everyday college student and their friend group are experiencing very different things than an Internet celebrity with 10,000 5,000 friends that all want to get on their good side.

Figure 3: The Social Lens + Relationships

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3.  A users network size also defines their experience. Does the user loosely or tightly couple? If the user is someone that slowly collects a low number of really close friends the interactions are going to be less flighty and more intense because that’s how they, and likely their social network defines them.  Twitter is a great example of this. With 10 friends its a tremendous presence application. At 100 friends it’s the modern AOL chat room.  At 5,000 friends it becomes your personal soapbox and network computer.  The same application with a different network size is perceived very differently by it’s users. 

That this means, for anyone that works in the “Web 2.0” space, that a whole new set of complexities were introduced that you have to consider when thinking about designing systems that are dependant on each users social graph.  It seems obvious, but if it was important when building classical applications to think about user personas then it’s just as important now to think about the personas + the effect on perception when interactions are filtered through a users social network. 

The reason for your low click through rates

If you manage a community or sell ads online you’ll be shocked varying levels of quality found in ads submitted by advertisers to pitch your community.  You may then have then had a conversation with some of these advertisers about click through performance. 

Sure, you could give them raw data that shows other ads in that spot perform well, but who believes raw data… how about truly democratizing ads?  I saw this recently on CNET…

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No, I’m not talking about the fact that Apple turfed the Microsoft section, I’m talking about the little feedback link that takes me to…

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Unfortunately this is a good idea that’s just poorly implemented. Why not just borrow from digg style simplicity and simply have a Thumbs Up/Down above ads that registers votes? 

Lets take that one step further up the chain. What could you do with the data you collected about ads?  I know what I would do on my community. 

I’d want to give advertisers that reach a certain threshold of thumbs up more impressions and penalize the ones who get thumbs down. This way the community gets to help choose how they are pitched to.  Crazy?