Is the Facebook v Google battle about to get interesting?

Google vs Facebook imageThis weekend the rumour mill went into overdrive at SxSW as Google once again refused to comment on their plans to take on Facebook with a social product. A Google spokesperson told The Next Web blog “We do not speculate on rumor and speculation”.

But despite the lack of any firm information it’s looking more and more likely that a big announcement will happen this year’s I/O developers’ conference in May.  Back in September Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed that a “social layer” was coming to all of their products  and we’ve seen this start to materialise as search results become more social and location based reviews are added to Google Maps.

We at the Levels are very excited by the possibility to this launch if the rumours are correct.  It’s thought that the product will be called Google Circles and that it is being developed in line with the thoughts of the ex-Google social technology researcher Paul Adams.

In a number of essays and presentations Adams says that what’s wrong with Facebook and many of the other social networks is that there’s no context given to your contacts and the information you publish.  We all operate in life with many different personas; work, friends,parent etc but when it comes to social networking all of our friends are lumped into one bucket making it impossible to target messages and communication to different social groups.   If Google find a solution to this, letting us publish and share with our different Circles of friends it will be a major step forward both in terms of use but also the privacy of information held within social environments.

After the failure of Buzz and Wave Google must be hoping that this will be third time lucky for them.  They need to crack the nut primarily in order to maintain their advertising revenues but we at The Levels would like to see an alternative to Facebook that’s driven by respect for privacy and a greater understanding of the complexity of human relationships.

What has been Facebook’s response to this? Well Mr Adams now works for them!

To read the article at The Next Web http://thenextweb.com/google/2011/03/11/google-reportedly-to-launch-google-me-in-may/

For Paul Adams presentation The Real Life Social Network go to http://www.slideshare.net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2

Foursquare gets a make over but will it make a difference?

Foursquare imageIt’s been 2 years since Foursquare was launched and after obsessively checking in where ever we went & “making life a game” we Levellers pretty much lost interest in this social media service that asked for a lot yet seemed to give little in return, especially here in the UK.

Now, according to a company blog post of late last night, Foursquare is finally getting a make over and a whole lot more functionality. The aim of the game is to drive engagement and loyalty and stop the churn that’s been a big problem for the service in the past.

So, what are the new features?

1. Discovery – The new “Explore” tab aims to deliver recommendations to you based on your past behaviour, the behaviour of your friends and your loyalty to certain places.  The recommendations also include a bit of sophistication around time of day & day of week targeting. This information is driven by check ins, so arguably the more the check in the better the recommendations will become.

2. Encouragement – The concept of “Life as a game” has always been central to the Foursquare concept and this makeover sees a dramatic change in the leaderboard functionality to encourage us all to play a little harder.

The old leaderboard (and its simple points system and Sunday night reset) is replaced with a sliding 7-day barometer of you and your friends. Check-ins now trigger points for dozens of different types of actions – everything from discovering new places, trying new types of restaurants, visiting new cities, getting groups together, hanging out with old friends, and a few things you might not expect.

In their own words “From the early days, we’ve heard stories of foursquare’s game mechanics being a subtle motivator for trying a new restaurant or venturing a little further away from your local haunts. We’re excited to see how some of the new elements we’ve added will encourage people to actively explore the world around them.”

3. Loyalty – To self centred and materialistic folks like us, what we get back from a service that asks for as much input as Foursquare does is pretty important in getting us to use it.   So, Foursquare have introduced a whole lot more functionality aimed at merchants and businesses that are looking to reward our loyalty.  They’ll now be able to offer Specials to groups of friends, regulars, new customers, Mayors or simply anyone and everyone.  As users we’ll also be able to see Specials nearby, so it’s easier to find places that reward foursquare users.

So, in short a whole load of new stuff that aims to get us playing more but importantly rewarding us for doing so.  Will it get us back in the game?  Well, in our case, if the rewards are good enough, then the short answer is yes.  But will this be enough to drive global expansion of the service and compete with the likes of Facebook Places?  We’re not so sure it is.  To our minds Foursquare remains the domain of the hipster urbanites who can actually get value from the service but it’s difficult to see this rolling out to a more general population.  But good luck Foursquare, any social media service that tries to take a little bit back from Facebook is a good thing.

The new functionality rolled out on Android and iPhone last night, so get updating!

To read the blog post in full http://blog.foursquare.com/2011/03/08/foursquare-3/

An app to please the music moguls. Welcome to FanTrail.

Fantrail logoSome may argue that the music industry only has itself to blame for it’s current ill health and lack of sustainable revenues. Clinging on to a past of the Sunday night Top 40 and the promise of wealth from the sale of singles to adoring teenage fans did nothing to future proof this industry that is now almost extinct on the high street at least.

Social networking sites have played a huge part in the discovery of new talent and the promotion of signed artists but the majority of labels still feel very uncomfortable about an environment that they can’t control and can’t directly commoditize.  So, when news of the launch of FanTrail (www.fantrail.com) hit our screens we knew that this would make a lot of moguls very happy indeed.

FanTrail is an iPhone app that allows artists / bands and their fans to connect but crucially provides a space their management to track and understand fans behaviour, purchase patterns and demographic profiles.  It’s free for both the artist / band and their fans.

FanTrail’s being launched at US music & entertainment gathering SXSW in Austin Texas next week and is a lovely piece of work.  It allows bands and artists to control and better still, start making money from their social networking space.  There are loads of cute innovations inside the app, but in short bands and their management can start of segment their fans by location, dedication and activism.

So what does this mean?  If an artist is up and running on FanTrail and they have some new material to test out they can send out an invite for a private gig to only their most active fans (the ones that buy the most music say) in a specific location, rewarding these guys with a money can’t buy opportunity.

The app also has the ability to release short sound bites, interview, samples of tracks etc to fans and once again this can be targeted by activism or location.   Fans score points by buying music through the app (& iTunes) and by checking in at gigs and concerts.

We think that there’s a rosy future for FanTrail.  The labels will love it as it has the ability to make them money, the management will love it because it makes their life just a little bit easier and the artists themselves will love it as it’s a lovely little app that allows them creativity.

So all you wannabe rock stars get yourself over to FanTrail and tell us what you think. (www.fantrail.com)