: views from the Hill

Friday, December 01, 2006

Online Personas or somethingorother

As I mentioned in a prior post, we were at a Commonwealth Club meeting 6-8 p.m. yesterday for a panel discussion titled, Online Personas: Defining the Self in a Virtual World. The meat of the panel discussion, of course, didn't live up to the title of the discussion, but it was interesting/entertaining, nonetheless.

Discussants were (as placed L->R up in front)

ROBIN HARPER, Vice President of Community, Second Life
SHAWN GOLD, Vice President of Content and Marketing, MySpace (owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, although that was never mentioned last night)
MARK ZUCKERBERG, Founder and CEO, Facebook
REID HOFFMAN, Founder and CEO, LinkedIn

Or as some wag put it "in order of reality ... from Second Life to LinkedIn."

Moderator was David Ewing Duncan.

The event was sold out and started late as we waited for some folks not to show up so the people on the waiting list could get in.

The average age of the audience hovered around the mid-twenties, I think.

Duncan opened with, "If you could be anyone you wanted in a virtual world, who would you be?"

Harper, Second Life, says she's just herself on Second Life, albeit with a different name. (Duncan mentioned he'd seen someone who was a dragon the night before. Short discussion of avatars. ...) Gold said he'd be Will Rogers and there was some larking around with ... but Will Rogers is dead. Zuckerberg said he didn't know. Duncan tried to cajole him into saying something but no deal. Hoffman says he's himself because LinkedIn depends on people being who they say they are.

Good start, eh?

The discussion ranged. I don't know what I expected but I know I expected something more focussed, some ah-hah! moments, something I could carry around in my head for days after, but no. The following are my notes from the evening.
  • [chitchat before panel] Sony lady mentioned in previous post talked about eacademy, which she says is a UK social networking application where you add twenty things that you're interested in that other people might search to find people with similar interests. ("Like, for me, maybe 'travel', 'cooking' ..." "You mean like tags?" said one of the twenty-somethings nearby, listening in, helpfully. "What are 'tags'?" Sony lady asked.)

    So I've been searching to try to find this UK app named something like eacademy (I even asked her if that was the way to spell it and she said yes). I've searched eacademy and e-academy and /UK social networking/ and all sorts of other things. Did find an interesting San Francisco-based app called bebo that I'll check out later. The search for eacademy, though, was a bust. If anyone knows anything about it, give me a shout.

  • [chitchat before panel] Sony lady again (iirc) said that the highest rated YouTube vids seem to clock in at about 22 seconds. Be interesting to know if this is a true factoid. I'm wondering if YouTube users in general aren't looking for meat and potatoes and are looking for amusing quick takes. Maybe.

  • "network" (as in "social network") was a term coined by social anthropologist J.A. Barnes back in 1954 when he studied a small fishing community in Norway. He wrote that the maximum number of nodes in an effective network tends to be about 140-150, which, amazingly enough, is the average number of "friends" people seem to have on Facebook.

  • MySpace is #4 on the most busiest sites list. Facebook is #7.

  • Second Life has 1.7-2m users.

  • Facebook started out covering the students at Zuckerberg's school. Then students from other higher ed campuses wanted in, so he recruited his roommate to help out. After hooking up the college campuses, they turned to high schools. Then friends started graduating, so they added companies and regions. (Zuckerberg dropped out Harvard somewhere in the midst of all that.)

  • LinkedIn has 8m users. Facebook 12m. (I found that last stat myself 'cause I was curious.)

  • Average age of users: SecondLife - 32; MySpace 18-25; Facebook 21-27 21-22; LinkedIn 39.

  • There are thousands of smaller social networking sites out there, including sneakerplay, a site dedicated to folks who are "avid sneaker enthusiasts, collectors, artists, designers, boutique owners, and photographers." (Invite only)

  • Social networking is all about relationship maintenance. Make it easy to keep in touch, get back in touch.

  • Zuckerberg says Facebook is not looking so much for users to spend loads of time on the site. They do want users to come back again and again, daily, multiple times during the day. Zuckerberg claims Facebook has a 60% retention rate, which he defines as people coming back to the site again and again and again, daily, not just signing up and checking in once a month.

  • Facebook is now 50% college age but all age brackets are at 60% retention rate.

  • Gold says MySpace was allzasudden getting lots of 38-year-olds signing up and they couldn't figure it out until they realized ah-hah! these were folks heading to or coming back from their twentieth high school reunions.

  • Harper says they analyze their users stats and have found that the top 10% of their users are using SecondLife an average of eighty-four (that's 84!) hours a week. You have to remember, though, she says, that some people are making a living, a real living, on SecondLife.

  • MySpace gets ~ 320K new members a day.

  • Gold claims that MySpace looked at what Friendster was doing wrong when they went about designing MySpace. e.g. Friendster was booting people off who were setting up Fakester profiles. MySpace encourages people to do whatever they'd like with their profiles, even [gasp] fib, if that's what they want to do.

  • Gold said that MySpace is 99.93% pure and that a few bad apples are acting up. They are working on the problem. They are trying to educate folks about what it means to put all that information out there in public. He tells people to tell their teenagers that they want to have the Web address for their MySpace page and give them twenty-four hours to clean up anything they wouldn't like their parents to see.

  • Gold said MySpace took about a month for initial development. Zuckerberg said Facebook took far less time than that.

And that's about all I cared to write down. Some of the stories and stats were interesting. (84 hrs/week ?!??)

Fun to see Mark Zuckerberg in person and sitting next to and in such sharp contrast to Reid Hoffman. Robin Harper was nothing like I expected. I don't know what I expected.

Shawn Gold, btw, is dead cute and funny. Sharp. Mark Zuckerberg seems sharp and smart and incredibly shy up in front of a crowd of people, answering questions posed by a moderator. Reid Hoffman was about as far toward the business side of things as Robin Harper was toward the opposite.

Update: SFGate/Chron Tech Chronicle writeup.

Fun evening. The Q&A took far longer than expected. We were set free for wine and noshies about 7:55 p.m. We had a dinner reservation at Palio at 8 p.m. and had to forego the schmooze, networking and wine to hoofie over to Palio, alas. We were at Palio by 8:10 p.m. and settled in for a simple, delish dinner.

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