The New Facebook, Twitter, and Streaming Status Updates: The Internet’s Newest Marketing Fool’s Gold

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Normally, I’m the type of person that makes fun of people that can’t seem to handle technological changes.  My knee-jerk response to a complainer is to say, “Get over it.  Change is inevitable.  You’ll get used to it.”  Last summer, when Facebook went through the first major overhaul of its website, I not only ignored all of the group invites to the “1,000,000 STRONG TO BRING BACK THE OLD FACEBOOK”-type groups, but thoroughly praised the changes as a check on the preponderance of applications in order to ensure the site didn’t become bombarded with trashy graphics like MySpace.  It made for a cleaner website that focused upon what I believed to be Facebook’s true drawing power: it’s a place to easily connect with people that you actually know in real life (as opposed to trying to meet people online a la MySpace or other forums).  Eventually, the Facebook users stopped complaining and actually embraced the new functionality in general, while the addition of new users vaulted the site past MySpace in terms of number of members.

As the World Wide Web turned, though, Facebook underwent another significant overhaul in March, with the changes geared toward providing a stream of information on each user’s home page.  However, while Mark Zuckerberg tried to sell me and hundreds of millions of other users that the “New Facebook” would be an improved experience, it has been a complete boondoggle on numerous fronts.  I could understand why Facebook had previously wanted to differentiate itself from its main competitor of MySpace, but I was at a complete loss as to why it believed that it would be good idea to copy (at face value) its new competitor on the block of Twitter.  Pretty soon, I would feel my blood pressure boil whenever I saw a comment from that tiny fraction of users that for some reason liked the new changes with the same retort that I used to throw out myself to others: “Get over it.  Change is inevitable.  You’ll get used to it.”

After over a month of using the New Facebook, I’m still not over it or used to it.  The entire crux of the problem is NOT about how the site looks (which is what most of the “get over it” contingent seems to believe people are complaining about).  While the home page appeared to be designed by someone that got smoke some potent peyote, opened up his Twitter account, blew chunks on his computer screen, and then figured that it would be a nice new user interface for Facebook, I can get over the fact that I personally don’t find the site as aesthetically pleasing anymore.  However, it’s the taking away of extremely useful functionality that has been abhorrent to a large portion of the site’s users (including me).  I’ll refer to some other well-written and coherent posts (not from the “1,000,000 STRONG TO SAY THE NEW FACEBOOK SUCKS DONKEY DUNG” crowd) here, here, and here that explain fully just how many useful tools were stripped away.  These writers are far from people that can’t handle change.  Instead, these are Facebook users that are in the tech and marketing industries that know full well constant change is vital to survive on the Internet, but don’t understand why particular changes were made that were completely unnecessary and removed options from users.  (Note that Facebook engaged in a half-assed attempt to “respond to feedback” from users, but pretty much missed the point on all fronts.)

While Facebook’s changes and the removal of useful functional tools have been well-documented from a technological user standpoint, what I’m trying to get to the bottom of is how exactly Zuckerberg and Co. thought such changes would improve the site’s chances for profitability.  Obviously, the powers that be thought that these changes would result in a better advertising model for the company – that’s the real reason why any website makes a change to its format.  As a person that is about as far from a commie pinko rabble rouser as you can get (I majored in finance in college and have spent most of my legal career representing high tech companies), I’m perfectly fine with Facebook examining ways to maximize its revenue since I know Microsoft didn’t pay $240 million for a piece of a charitable institution that it valued at $15 billiong.

At this time, there appears to be a monolithic group think forming among a lot of business and technical people that online streaming a la Twitter is the going to be the advertising model of the future on the web.   The theory is that in an increasingly mobile world, streaming will allow marketers to instantly connect with potential customers via cell phone or regular computer Internet use in a highly targeted fashion.  Of course, Twitter itself acknowledges that it essentially doesn’t really know how it’s going to make money yet.  At the same time, the problem I have with the supposed efficacy of online streaming as a business model is that virtually every supposed category killer in terms of web advertising has failed to come anywhere close to expectations (if not downright failed) since Internet usage became ubiquitous in the late 1990s.  In the beginning, click-on ads on websites were supposed to be a treasure trove for marketers, yet the click-through rates have turned out to be so abysmal that newspapers, for example, are dying en masse due to the loss of ad revenue online compared to physical papers despite the fact that their articles are actually being read by literally millions of more people than in the pre-Internet age.

For an almost identical comparison to the current tulip bulb craze over online streaming, look to your own email account.  Substantively, receiving alerts on Twitter is no different than receiving email alerts, where choosing to “follow” a person on Twitter is just like signing up for an email alert (whether it pertains to news links, coupons, products, etc.).  For most people, and certainly in my own personal case, there was a tipping point where my email inbox became filled up with more email alerts than emails from actual people and I simply started ignoring around 99.9% of such email alerts.  I’m not even talking about spam in its true form: these are email alerts that I pro-actively signed up for at one point but the sheer volume of them over time made it all into white noise that I don’t look at anymore.  When anyone has an email account that gets to that point, an email alert becomes an almost completely ineffective marketing tool.

As of now, Twitter is in its relative infancy, so the media has been regaled with anecdotal stories of businesses that have expanded rapidly because of a presence on the service.  Of course, the simple fact that Twitter allows for accounts to be created that are not for real life people mean that it will be sooner rather than later that the average Twitter user is going to be inundated with more follower requests from businesses and products than friends and family.  This was the fate of MySpace, where I had to delete my page on that site because my inbox was completely filled with friend requests from random musicians and porn stars.  As a result, MySpace, which was widely proclaimed to be the future of the Internet as the social networking giant back in the ancient days of 2005 (spurring Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. to shell out a whole lot of coin on the company), is now losing members and just pushed out its founders a couple of weeks ago.  (Tom, I hardly knew you!)  Any business success on Twitter is going to be short-lived once marketers populate the website en masse.  For the average person that isn’t constantly looking at his or her Twitter account, there are only so many Tweets that one can read through before it all becomes white noise just like email alerts and MySpace before it.

Please note that this is not meant to be a bashing of Twitter.  I have a Twitter account and find many Tweets very useful, such as updates on Metra delays so that I can plan for my commute or following the intense ramblings of Ron Zook.  Frankly, the only way that I can figure out where my sister is traveling at any point in time is to follow her daily litany of Twitter messages.  However, following lots of people and/or entities can quickly become a blur even if someone that has a fairly high tolerance to changes on the web.  Imagine how it is for people over, say, 50 years old that have a lot less web exposure.

I think the lesson of the web is that people really don’t like being overtly marketed to for random products.  When web advertising has been successful and profitable, it’s been tied to environments where people are searching for a particular product, with Google’s paid ads coming up in searches as the prime example – that is, the consumer is driving the process as opposed to the marketer.

At the same time, like almost any business whether it’s on the web or in the bricks-and-mortar world, Facebook needs to remember what it’s actually good at.  As I noted before, its hook is that it’s the simplest and most efficient way to find and reconnect with people that you know in the real world.  For some reason, there are business people and techies out there that believe that this is a liability for Facebook, where they look at the ineffectiveness of Facebook to meet and search for people that you don’t actually know in the real world as a constraint on its growth.  Of course, I consider this to be about as solid business thinking as (a) granting large shares of ownership in GM and Chrysler to the UAW members that did everything in its power to disallow those companies to make the necessary changes to make them competitive in a new global economy or (b) Kanye West foregoing being one of the best rappers on the planet in order to sing ballads with a vocoder.  (Why, Kanye?  Why?)  Almost every single website, blog, forum, and chat room on the Internet is designed for people to meet virtually – that market is completely loaded with millions upon millions of Internet sites.  The last thing that most people need is a place where they can meet virtual friends.  The difference with Facebook is that it’s one of the few mass market places on the web where people can actually feel safe and secure enough to use their real names, post real pictures, and submit real information.  (Whether this is a completely false sense of security is another topic for another day.)  That is the Facebook’s unique advantage and it made me believe that it would become one of the few social networking websites that could legitimately have some long-term viability.

I understand that Facebook needs to make money somehow in order to stay in business.  In my opinion, the best way for Facebook to become profitable is in small and relatively non-intrusive micro-targeted ads based on each user’s individual interests, where the aim is more informative on its face (in the same manner as, say, a magazine or newspaper ad) rather than interactive or click-through in nature (i.e. if someone notes on his profile that he’s a basketball fan, then a small ad on his Facebook home page appears with the match-up and time of the NBA playoff game that evening on TNT) .  This may not be a grandiose game changer that turns Facebook into the new marketing power of this generation, but it’s a reasonable aim to make money without making the same misguided mistakes of so many other websites, where they incorrectly believed that their user bases were so loyal that they could blatantly turn them into ad farms.  The greatest asset that Facebook has is the treasure trove of personal information of its users, but it must strike a delicate balance in using that information for marketing purposes.  Unfortunately, history says that any website can’t help itself when it has such information and ends up killing its long-term prospects for short-term ad gains.  If Facebook crosses that imaginary fine line where it becomes more of a marketing site as opposed to a social networking site, then it will end up not even having a market for those simple ads since people will either leave or stop using the site in droves.  With the new Facebook emphasis on trying to connect its users with marketers in a less-than-subtle manner (for instance, products and celebrity fan pages are now showing up in the “People You May Know” box), the website is putting itself at great risk of being another one of those white hot Internet brands (i.e. AOL, Friendster, LiveJournal, MySpace, etc.) that flames out after a few years.  I don’t want to see that happen since Facebook has reconnected me with multitudes of long lost friends, but I’m not nearly as bullish on the website’s long-term viability as I was a year ago.

(Image from Laurel Papworth)

Double Goose Egg and Frank the Tank’s Football Parlay – 10/17/2008

I was on a blissful vacation last weekend, which means that I thankfully didn’t have to watch a horrific couple of days of football from the Illini and Bears.  Therefore, I’ll direct you to Illinitalk and Blog Down Chicago Bears for their respective rants.  Onto this week’s parlay picks (home teams in CAPS):

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PARLAY

(1) NAVY MIDSHIPMEN (+2.5) over Pittsburgh Panthers – I have few rules in life, but one of them is that a Dave Wannstedt-coached team is not allowed to be ranked for two weeks in a row.

(2) Miami Hurricanes (-3.5) over DUKE BLUE DEVILS – The mighty might have fallen a bit in Miami, but they’re still light years ahead of Puke football.

(3) ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (-15.5) over Indiana Hoosiers – The bookies are absolutely KILLING me with another double-digit spread in favor of Illinois for the second week in a row (and we know how that turned out against Minnesota), especially with the Hawaii-style defense (as in no defense) that the Illini appear to be utilizing lately.  Still, WTF was I thinking in picking Indiana last week after they put up an embarrassing performance against Iowa?  I should have known better than to choose those Satan’s Spawn enablers.  Let’s hope that the Minnesota game was the equivalent of the Iowa game last year – a Zookian brain fart against an inferior team.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 2-3
Overall Season: 11-9-1

NFL FOOTBALL PARLAY

(1) GREEN BAY PACKERS (+2) over Indianapolis Colts – The bookies have essentially made the Packers into my anti-Illini for gambling purposes this year, where I’m pretty sure every spread involving Green Bay so far has been within a field goal.  They’re way too enticing again, especially at home against an Indy club that largely running on reputation this season.

(2) CAROLINA PANTHERS (-3) over New Orleans Saints – You know that the spreads are FUBAR this week when I’m including this game, which involves two scarily inconsistent teams.  I’m still in denial that we are entering a world where the Dolphins are a favorite against the Ravens and Vegas is spotting double-digits to Brian Griese versus a Mike Holmgren-coached team.

(3) CHICAGO BEARS (-3) over Minnesota Vikings – The fact that the Bears have the same record as the Vikings right now is a complete abomination.  The New York Times pointed out that the difference between the Bears being 6-0 as opposed to 3-3 is a swing of a total of 8 points in an aggregate of 4 minutes at the conclusion of their 3 losses.  Meanwhile, the Vikings needed a questionable pass interference call to pull out a win against the pathetic Lions.  This really ought to be a double-digit spread for the Bears on paper, but Vegas correctly recognizes that there are still plenty of ways that we can pry defeat from the jaws of victory in the fourth quarter.

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Bears Games for the Season: 1-41
Overall Season: 6-9-3

FIRST BULLS RANT OF THE SEASON

On a final note, if Larry Hughes starts another Bulls preseason game instead of Derrick Rose (yes, I’ve been watching preseason basketball – there’s some serious b-ball withdrawl on my end), I will personally see to it that Vinny Del Negro’s rims are ripped off his car and sold off on Maxwell Street next Sunday.  In a remarkable turn of events, Stacey King actually stated something worthwhile on Tuesday’s broadcast by noting that the rest of the Bulls need to adjust to Derrick Rose’s game as opposed to the other way around.  My gawd, I think he’s got it!!!  There will be a justifiable fan mutiny if we continue to hear crap that Rose needs to be coddled into the lineup.  I agree that all observers need to temper expectations for production out of 19-year old rookie point guard, but he needs as much time on the floor as possible since this team needs to be built around his talent and skills instead of trying to wedge him into a rotation with 18 other undersized guards.  The regular season hasn’t even started yet and the presence of Larry Hughes is already making me twitch – this isn’t a good sign.  At the very least, I need to be able to take in the sight of two of my man crushes in Rose and Deron Williams going at each other in a special exhibition game at the Assembly Hall in Champaign on Friday night – I’m officially getting all tingly right now.

Go Bulls, Go Deron, Go Illini, and Go Bears!

(Image from ESPN.com)

Frank the Tank’s Football Parlay – 8/29/2008

College football season began in earnest last night, which means that it’s time for me to start making foolish predictions again that you all will make fun of by Monday.  This year, we’re kicking the predictions up to another level with a weekly parlay, which is essentially an experiment to show how much money I would lose if I went to Vegas every weekend.  I’ll pick 3 college games (always including the Illinois game) and, once the pro season starts, 3 NFL games (always including the Bears game) each week against the Friday morning spread shown on Yahoo! Sports.  The level of analysis every week will solely depend upon how much time I have to write that particular post (and in the case of this week, with little to go on other than gut feelings with the first games of the season, this blog’s credo to be “entirely logical” will go out the window).  So, as we concurrently celebrate Chicago’s exorcism of Jay Mariotti, let the season of gratuitous pictures of Ron Zook begin (home teams in CAPS):

(1) CALIFORNIA (-5) over Michigan State – This pick is less about any confidence in Cal and more that I will never trust Michigan State any farther than I can throw Sparty’s costume.  Taking Utah with 3 points over Michigan was enticing, but despite last year’s Appalachian State debacle, you bet against the Wolverines in the Big House at your own peril.

(2) Alabama (+4 1/2) over Clemson (neutral site game at Atlanta) – The money has obviously been going toward ‘Bama since the line is rolling in the Tide’s direction (no pun intended) and I think it makes sense.  The Georgia Dome crowd is probably going to tilt to the Alabama side and Clemson can’t help but screwing itself over within the first couple weeks of the season (particularly when you consider the ridiculously high expectations this season for a program that has largely done jackshit).  Therefore, I like Alabama with the points.  The most powerful coach in sports has to earn his keep somehow.

(3) Illinois (+9) over Missouri (neutral site game at St. Louis) – Alright, so all of you think this is a homer pick, particularly when Mizzou is coming back with its team from last year largely intact and Chase Daniel is leading an offensive attack with a physique that rivals our favorite neckbearded quarterback.  But seriously – a 9-point spread for a matchup that a year ago resulted in Mizzou squeaking out a 40-34 win with Juice Williams getting knocked out of the game in the first quarter?  (I’ll just ignore the fact that I have no clue what our running game will look like without Rashard Mendenhall, but Juice himself can run like he’s avoiding the wrath of Amy Winehouse.  Right?  Right???)  I’m not arguing that Illinois is better than Missouri this year or that the Illini will win (even though I very much hope that will be the case), but this high of a point spread for two ranked teams at a neutral site is suspect to me.  So, take the points and GO ILLINI!

(On a side note, please pour out some Cris for the passing of the Metra bar car today.  The long commute that I once had when I lived in Libertyville felt a lot shorter in the bar car – I was hoping this concept would expand to the Burlington Northern line to Naperville as opposed to being entirely eradicated.  R.I.P. to the “train friends” that were easily made during rush hour.)

(Image from Deadspin)

Awful Football Weekend and Land-o-Links for 10/17/2007

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After having a beautiful double revenge of the FIBs over the Badgers and Packers last week, it was followed up with one of the worst football weekends in the Frank the Tank household in awhile with the Illini and Bears both losing games that were more than winnable.

I noted last week that the road trip to Iowa City for Illinois was going to be a proverbial trap game since Kirk Ferentz just seems to have our number and that proved to be more than correct in an ugly 10-6 loss. The Hawkeyes kept our running game in check while we had virtually no passing attack until Eddie McGee came in to close out the game. Despite the fact that McGee threw a poor interception in the red zone on the final Illini drive that probably would have turned the outcome of the game the other way, his passing skills to even get Illinois into that position (as well as a gem of a throw to Joe Morgan – who has always thought that Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar could never hold a candle to him as second basemen – for an 82-yard touchdown that was called back on account of an illegal formation penalty) is forcing Ron Zook to start out all of his press conferences with a “Juice is our quarterback” speech.

Speaking of the Zooker, the recipient of a new contract extension from Ron Guenther made a few calls that must have had Florida Gators fans giggling by choosing to accept penalties on third down as opposed to declining them to force fourth downs not once, but twice. The first time backfired into the only touchdown by either team in the game, while the second time resulted in an Iowa first down conversion. This made me flashback to last year’s game against Indiana when Zook decided to go for a 2-point conversion on the first touchdown in the first quarter of the game for absolutely no reason at all, which we subsequently failed on (and we of course lost the game by 1 point). Now, I love that Ron Zook has brought Illinois back to football respectability way ahead of schedule, but these calls are just simply off-the-wall – it isn’t even about overall technical game strategy, but rather plain-old common sense. Anyway, the Illini are still in line to get to a pretty good bowl, but in order to make the Rose Bowl now, we’re going to have to win out for the rest of the season (which means beating Michigan in a monster prime time game next week and #1 Ohio State in Columbus). The fact that this is still a possibility shows how far Illini football has come over the course of the year, yet it’s still tough to stomach that we lost a very winnable game on Saturday.

The Bears, of course, couldn’t help but to pile onto that frustration on Sunday. Ever since the Vikings selected Adrian Peterson in the NFL Draft last spring, I’ve been telling everyone that would listen to me that Minnesota is the team that scares me the most in the NFC North since he’s such a special player. Well, he backed my thoughts up and then some by just shredding the Bears’ defensive and special teams units.  Honestly, I believe that Peterson is better situated to become an NFL superstar than even Reggie Bush since the former Sooner has the size and strength to pound the ball inside as an every down back as well as having breakaway speed to the outside and past the line of scrimmage.  I have no clue as to why Minnesota is still having him split carries with Chester Taylor.  While Devin Hester did everything he could to keep the Bears in the game with yet another touchdown return and finally getting an offensive pass play call for him that worked perfectly for another touchdown (I’m pretty sure that the Bears can just have Hester sprint down the field all day and he’ll burn anyone that’s on him), the rest of the team just couldn’t contain Peterson.  This season just has a bad feeling to it – the Bears  improbably stormed back with two touchdowns against the Vikings in four minutes to tie the game only to blow it within the final minute and a half.  Can the Bears go 8-2 the rest of the way to get to the 10-6 level that will probably be required to make the playoffs?  Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in that (and even more unfortunately, I’ll continue to watch since I’m a glutton for punishment).

Let’s get off of the depressing news with some links:

(1) And Simpson Makes Four! (Mark Tupper Weblog) – After a year of continuously grim recruiting news for Bruce Weber and Illini basketball, this past weekend saw oral commitments to Champaign from four high-profile recruits.  Will this answer all of the concerns about Weber’s recruiting skills?  Let’s hope so.

(2) Indiana Punishes Sampson Over Recruiting Calls (ESPN.com) – Speaking of old oral commitments from recruits to Weber, have I ever told you how much I hate Satan’s Spawn?

(3) Local Recruits Infuse Illinois with ‘Swagger’ (Washington Post) – The Washington Post takes a look at how D.C. recruits have catapulted the Illini football program.

And finally…

(4) Can Anyone Explain Dane Cook to Me? (Freakonomics Blog – New York Times) – If University of Chicago economists can’t figure this out, there’s no hope for the rest of us.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

The Way Kathy Lee Needed Regis That’s the Way I Need Rejus

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Alright – I’m officially excited.  When I wrote my college football preview a few weeks ago and predicted a Motor City Bowl appearance for the Illini (which plenty of people at the time thought was a monster stretch), I didn’t think in my wildest dreams that they would do so well that the most important football game between teams from Illinois and Wisconsin this past weekend would end up taking place at Memorial Stadium in Champaign as opposed to Lambeau Field in Green Bay (the Bears are slowly redeeming themselves, but that’s a post for another day).  Now, I’m clearing out my holiday calendar with the real prospect of Illinois making a top tier bowl.  While we are a long long way from legitimately talking about a Rose Bowl with games against Michigan and Ohio State still coming up, let’s just say I’ll break the bank to make it to Pasadena if that ever happens.  Honestly, next to an Illini national championship in basketball, watching the Illini in the Rose Bowl is my top sports wish – as much as I love the Bears, White Sox, and Bulls, seeing Illinois finally finish at the top would mean the most to me personally.

What I love about how the Illini are playing right now is that these are anything but fluke wins.  I got to witness the victory against Penn State a couple of weeks ago in person, which meant that I also got to attend the coming out party for my favorite athlete in the world today outside of Devin Hester:  Arrelious “Rejus” Benn.  I’m not sure how Ron Zook is getting top recruits such as Benn and Vontae Davis to come from Washington, D.C. to Champaign, but it needs to continue.  Rejus is the type of guy we would always see across the line in a Wolverine or Buckeye uniform before – a huge wide receiver who will also burn the best cornerbacks (and also in the case against the Nitanny Lions, the best special teams units) out there.  Anyway, considering that Benn is only a month into his college career, he has a pretty good chance of becoming the best athlete that I have seen in an Illini uniform for either football or basketball (even more so than Deron Williams) if he keeps up this pace.  The only thing with having such a talent is that he may have a short stay in Champaign he could very well be a top ten NFL draft pick after playing the minimum of two years in college.

As starry-eyed as I am with Rejus, it’s Rashard Mendenhall and the Illinois running game that’s really the team’s catalyst in rolling over teams.  Sure, Wisconsin might have been the second most overrated number 5 team in country this season (after our good friends at the University of Michigan), but can you believe that we put up another 289 yards on the ground against them?  I was brought up on old-school smash mouth Chicago Bears and Big Ten football, so there’s nothing more beautiful to me than watching the Illini just ram the ball down people’s throats.  Quarterback Juice Williams might still be throwing the ball as if he spent the summer at the Rex Grossman Passing Clinic, but the boy (along with his backup Eddie McGee) can still run like he stole something.

So, it’s going to be the middle of October and Illini football is still relevant.  There’s the proverbial trap game next week atIowa – as bad as the Hawkeyes might be playing this year, Kirk Ferentz seems to have our number – and if we survive and advance there, it makes the prime time game against Michigan into the biggest game in Champaign since, well, the most horrific sporting event that I have ever attended in person.  When we’re six weeks into the season and we’ve already won more games in 2007 than the past two years combined, Illini fans are entitled to some irrational exuberance.  I know I’m there.