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The unbearable lameness of web 2.0 (koehntopp.de)
215 points by kgarten on Nov 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

Very valid points - but I suspect the main barrier to this kind of thing is that every single "social" site out there wants to be the aggregator and sees others only as potential input for its own service.

Smart aggregation would require some degree of collaboration and standards, and anyone supporting it risks making their own service a subordinate source.

Even though this kind of thing would be extremely useful to users, companies will only embrace it if the added value helps driving users to their own service more than to others.

In other words: if you're the current market leader (FB), then there's no reason to support other social graphs.

How would that even work in practice? What's the use case that's not already possible via http://graph.facebook.com (besides hoovering up emails).

Besides, if they did somehow integrate further you'd all be crowing about how Facebook was doing an embrace / extend / extinguish maneuver.

Yes, and even this is a more complicated problem than simply stating it would make it seem.

Imagine a solution that was open and allowed anybody to utilize its social graph. In theory this would allow other sites to build off the original and feed it back, maintaining equilibrium between every service. But in practice, this only holds until somebody decides to make a proprietary graph, because then users have nothing to gain by using any service other than the proprietary top level with the extra functionality.

And why would we do something like that other than greed? Well, perhaps we want to implement some unique system that's not streamlined or practical, but which we need for a particular plan we have. So we create a system that contains that extra, proprietary data, which is proprietary because making it open would simply make every other service messy. Or perhaps it's that what we want to do would take too long to implement in an open solution, and we'd rather be advanced than be consistent. But the more we build on, the harder and harder it is to move back to that original openness.

Similar to an environment like Flash, for instance, which lets developers implement functionality that's vastly beyond HTML (or, was vastly beyond, and still to some degree is), but which then ruins engines that rely on HTML's open format to work. Either you develop to be open, and sacrifice potential features, or you use something proprietary and lose that connection, and further place yourself in the hands of a third-party developer.

There isn't a single optimal solution, unless you consider using multiple platforms an optimal solution. (Which I do. I don't feel frustrated at using four sites to monitor my various friends/feeds/updates. I just be careful to delineate all four so that each item appears in the right place, and so that my own updates get pushed to the right places.

I don't think that social media is a zero-sum game. I mean, it doesn't really matter how many pageviews your competitors are getting as long as it gets you more. The point of business is to build businesses, not to destroy other peoples'.

If we were selling cars, then preventing competitors from selling cars would likely mean that you sell more cars. However, if I view an article on reddit then I'm not really taking anything away from digg (except probably a view of that exact article).

It most certainly is a zero-sum game to a considerable degree because the time available to spend on social media by any one person is limited. How many people really use both digg and reddit intensively?

From the article: "my ass has round corners too" ... priceless.

If you do web design work in an Enterprise, you pretty quickly run into people who don't understand that there are fundamental differences between web apps and desktop apps.

What Web 2.0 does is it lets us get around some of those limitations. When Web 2.0 is done right, the Ajax is going to mean that they can work on an 'online app' without loading pages all the time (or rather, without appearing to load pages all the time).

Combine that with some of the database in a browser capabilities, and, in theory, you could get around even more of the limitations. E.g. user closes the browser window before hitting submit means the data is lost = annoyed users = poor usability. But if you use the offline storage to save the fields then it isn't lost after all. Hooray!

But yes, Facebook is retarded. Build a better one I dare you. ... Please.

> From the article: "my ass has round corners too" ... priceless.

Interestingly, in the German, he used a completely different example:

"What the devil is the whole web 2.0 crowd doing all day? I mean, other than sitting around in St. Oberholz [1], sucking down Bionade [2] and Twittering their brains out?"

[1] Berlin equivalent of Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View

[2] Trendy organic fruit soda

Yes, I did not know how to translate that concept properly into US english, because it references Berlin-specific things. Thanks for the help!

Not as topical, but the ass reference was the best sarcastic comment to date about the proliferation of rounded corners since people really started complaining about them 7 years ago.

This is not a problem with a simple solution. People can handle Twitter (one-way subscriptions); people can handle Facebook (reciprocal friendship.) But they are annoyed at having more than one service. Which one is the winner? Which one replaces the other one? If I drop one then I abandon all my contacts on the other! Argh!

The easy technological solution is a site that offers complex, configurable relationships, but can people handle it? Probably not, or at least, not yet. So we have reached the current equilibrium of multiple services, with Facebook the winner, and a minority of people choosing integration or choosing to manage accounts separately on more than one service.

Perhaps the day will arrive when people are ready for more sophistication in managing relationships on a social networking site. If Facebook times it right and adds relationship configuration options at roughly the right pace, they can stay on top and supplant Twitter entirely for social networking. Or perhaps the current situation reflects the limit of what people want to cope with. I'm sure Facebook is researching the question and deciding which way to bet.

The main point of this article is that it's possible to do the filtering without having a single social network.

"Yes, it is possible. Each of these services has an API, and I have to authorize them against each other anyway. So could these services use their APIs and offer useful filtering preferences to me, pretty please?"

I think this, along with the ability to show what pieces of information are most important, would be a killer features. The network that could implement this would do a lot of the elimination of noise that plagues using multiple social networks.

Has anyone actually done some studies about what the best predictors of interestingness are? We tend to assume that if our friends like something that we'll like something, but is that really the case?

That was precisely what I was thinking while reading the article. Facebook already does a bit of multidimensionality, e.g. 'So and so and 12 others like this.' The problem is, being in Utah, a huge portion of the social scene is Mormon. So vast swathes of my social graph jumped on board the LDS fan page, with the result that I get PMs and ads from Mormon.org. A lot. Perhaps I am an outlier here, and everyone else's social profile coincides nicely with their own personal interests. But I doubt it. Freelancers end up friending their clients, employees friend their coworkers, tenants friend their landlords, and we expect all these varied interests to work as predictors for one another?

The problem with using our friends' activities as predictors of interest is that Facebook has no way to distinguish between strong and weak friendships[1]. There is a marked difference in my life between Facebook friends and meatspace friends.

[1] - Sure, they can determine which of my friends I spend the most time talking with on Facebook. But that says more about our relative Facebook activity than the quality of our friendship.

What about click-through rate? I'm pretty sure Facebook uses this in determining what to show on your newsfeed, and it's a percentage, so it's not based on quantity.

Click-through rate might be slightly more accurate than simply pushing everything, but it's not an ultimate solution because it too makes assumptions about your usage. The one assumes you want everything equally; the other assumes that your desires can be perfectly correlated to your clickthroughs. But that's not true for anybody; what's worse, the reason why it's false is different for everybody. (What if the people who interact with me are more active than the people I actively seek out, and Facebook misinterprets my responses as active interest? What if I'm simply innocently stalking a girl obsessively but actually find her updates bland and individually unworthwhile? One must think of the stalkers, especially if one is hoping to make money on the Internet.)

The real issue is that cases like those of anthuswilliams above you are unique and difficult to replicate. That's one of the noted problems with music recommendation services like Pandora too: What matters isn't what users tend towards but why, and why is a question that can't be effectively computed. It's more freeform.

I think the real solution would be a site that actively helps a user be responsible for himself. Something that doesn't simply indicate what features are available, but why users might want to use them to sort out their friends. Contrary to what the OP says in his blog post, that is possible today, but it requires responsibility on both the parts of the reader (who must sort his inputs neatly) and the publisher (who must figure out where to publish what). And web sites presently don't feel it's worth their time to help you with that task.

Interesting question! A quick Google search for "predictors of interestingness" shows that several studies were made to see what makes something interesting, and on different areas. For example, what makes a piece of text interesting, what makes a picture interesting, what makes a song interesting, etc...

Now, interesting is different than "like", which is different than passion or love, which are all different than studying for school or work, or an obligation.

But anyway, a very good question, you gave me inspiration to delve on this topic and come up with lots of different approaches to determine what people will thing it's interesting.

Interestingness is quite complex, and those studies seem to be about absolute interestingness. I wonder what predictors would determine relative interestingness. For example, given a set of articles that a person found interesting in the past how well could you predict that some new article will be interesting to that person? How well could you predict that given articles their friends found interesting? What about articles that came from a source that produced interesting articles in the past, or articles that were tagged with the same words, and so on.

Furthermore, what algorithm would be best? A type of Bayesian filtering is really effective at separating spam from non-spam, would it be effective at filtering interesting from non-interesting?

There is the TANGENT algorithm: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~zha/CSE8801/CF/p657-onuma.pdf

Applied to a social graph, it would (hypothetically) find content that is both recommended by friends and probably new to you.

None of my facebook "friends" ever write anything remotely interesting. It's all the social crap. That's why I barely use facebook. I don't even know why I really use it. Most interesting stuff happens on hacker news and reddit.

Very interesting article... The point on Languages is a major pain point for everyone in Europe and, probably, for everyone that lives outside english speaking countries (and probably for some of them too). I find amusing that nobody approached it more seriously... I understand it's not an easy task...

Language detection is faily easy to do: Help yourself to my word frequency by language data files at: http://www.knowledgebooks.com/determine_language.jsp

That's very interesting. Thank you very much.

I am continually amazed at the quality of Google Translate. That translation was incredibly readable with maybe two or three errors. This used to be black magic just a few years ago!

If you refer to the translation in the lower part of the article: That's a rather free translation of the upper part of the article that was done by me, the original author.

I am a native german speaker.

You probably read the author's own translation into English, not an automatic one.

Was it machine translated? It was my understanding that it was the work on a nonnative speaker.

Which says a lot about Google Translate, or my reading comphrehension; I am not sure which one.

Twitter and google are indeed aware of the importance of tends and context. They may not be where the op would like to see them yet, but there's clearly work being done in that direction.

Facebook, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to be doing much with its data. But it does have an extremely powerful API, so, maybe someone could try taking this matter into their own hands.

This is one of the reasons I started Qwerly (http://qwerly.com/), so the web would have portable contacts between sites and a meta-graph across all platforms.

This guy makes some interesting points... it would probably not be too hard to extend qwerly into that direction and make it very immediately useful... "meta-follow people across networks, with de-duplication"...

Is this a finished thing?

You might wanna take a look at Summify (http://summify.com) It aggregates, de-duplicates and ranks your streams.

My6Sense (http://www.my6sense.com/) does something similar.

Really like the design of Summify and how easy it is to setup. Now trying it out.

Should be titled "The unbearable lameness of Google." Google has all the technology needed to implement what he wants, including autotranslation, but Google doesn't know a human interface from a hole in the ground. Wave was incomprehensible to mere humans. When they hold the contest for most boring social network design on the web, Buzz will win hands down.

Social networks don't really need to filter content by languages, as the author suggested. A better alternative is to integrate a translation service like Google Translation API to remove the language barrier.

I think I'd prefer Chrome's approach to have the content translated in the browser. That way I know that the content is being machine translated and it can be undone.

See the author's post above about how the rounded ass corners line originated for a simple example of why that isn't enough.


In the real life, friends rarely go through the formal notion of "accepting the other as a friend" (aka send/accept friend requests). Friends are those who I talk to gladly and often. Simple as that.

The symptoms reminds me of FriendFeed. Every "friend" is over-sharing and dumping duplicated and trivial stuff into a main stream. The overlay problem became so huge that everyone abandonded it.

I wonder if Web 3.0 will miss Silicon Valley.

I've found that the less technical and "webby" people are, the more they understand Web 3.0

A lot of that is that, in Web 3.0, perhaps 70% of what's necessary for Web 2.0 is superfluous... Perhaps nice to have, but frankly, the next generation systems need a community the same way that "The Terminator" needs people.

Twitter has never called itself a social network.

Since it's that easy, build it yourself.

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