The evolution of social networks

Social networks have been around for about 10 years. Yes, there were communities, forums and chat services before, but that’s not what people have in mind when they speak about social networks.

If you follow the evolution of network sites and the progress that today’s big players like Facebook, Google or Twitter are making, you can clearly see three different phases that the social networking world went through until today.

Let’s have a closer look at those three evolutionary steps of social networks:

Step 1: Walled Gardens
This first evolutionary step lasted pretty long, let’s say from the beginning of the new century until 2006/2007. In this phase many services evolved and started to woo users. It was during this period that many of the social sites appeared that later became huge, like Friendster (started in 2002), MySpace (started in 2003), Netlog (started in 2003), Hi5 (started in 2003) or Bebo (started in 2005). Even Facebook was founded during that first period, though it was open only to students of Harvard University students in the beginning.

The first evolutionary step was characterized by so called “Walled Gardens”, that means destinations which were totally separated from the outside web, with no interaction between the service and external websites. The competing sites aimed at getting as many registered users as possible to reach a critical mass. That was important to leverage “network effects”, which are necessary to reach exponential growth.

Even here in Sweden, a bunch of social networks launched during this first period which actually was initiated earlier than in most other countries. One reason for that was that Internet access became common in Sweden very early. Sites like LunarStorm or Playahead launched under different names already during the late 90s and became huge gathering places for mainly young Swedes around the turn of the millennium. Another big Swedish community, Bilddagboken, started a bit later, in 2004.

Step 2: Platforms
In May 2007 Facebook presented its developer platform. The social network which at that time had about 25 million users encouraged external services to become part of Facebook by launching applications within the platform. This led to something like a “gold rush” since each and every web service wanted to be present on Facebook.

The launch of the Facebook platform can be seen as the beginning of the second evolutionary step of social networks. Now every relevant site wanted to become a platform and to open up to external developers. That doesn’t mean that Walled Gardens had become history. No, they still existed, but at least they made it easier than before for others to leverage the user’s social graph. Thanks to an increasing number of API’s, it was even possible to export some of the content posted within a social network, like status updates which you c0uld access through external tools.

During this phase, every big player tried to open up and to embrace developers. Google launched its own platform initiative called OpenSocial, which aimed at standardizing applications so that a developer could push the same app into several participating social networks.

In 2006, there was a late comer to the social networking party: Twitter. Certainly you can argue if Twitter actually is a social network, and there obviously are some differences between Twitter and the rest of the sites mentioned in this article. But I don’t think the service should be absent from this analysis anyway.

Unlike most other sites which needed at least a few years to evolve into platforms, Twitter made this step almost instantly, in fall 2006. In fact even earlier than Facebook. As of that moment, developers were able to connect to the Twitter API and to create apps using the company’s infrastructure. Unlike Facebook, MySpace and other sites, Twitter’s approach was to provide only basic functionality and to let external apps do the rest – a strategy that seems to change a bit considering the recent acquisition of the popular iPhone app Tweetie and the launch of official apps for BlackBerry and Android.

While Swedish social networks were among the first ever, they struggled in competing with the increasingly popular and advanced international sites, losing their users to cooler, more international services, primarily to Facebook. LunarStorm has lost many of its active users, as well as Playahead that was closed down a few weeks ago. Still remaining on the Swedish market and pretty successful is Bilddagboken, which focuses on photos as its differentiation point. Bilddagboken is owned by the same company as LunarStorm.

Step 3: Embracing the web
The third evolutionary step is one that only a few dominating players were able to make. And it’s progressing at full speed right in front of our eyes. While the second phase was characterized by platforms on top of destinations that tried to appeal to as many external developers as possible, now the social networks want to encourage other websites to become a part of the platform outside of the networks own destination.

Again it was Facebook which initiated the third phase by launching Facebook Connect in late 2008. Facebook Connect made it possible for external sites to add basic Facebook features so that visitors could carry their Facebook social graph and Facebook identity around even when they were not on facebook.com.

Google’s answer was “Google Friend Connect“, which did more or less the same thing, but with the main difference that Google haven’t had the same success with the whole social networking thing. Still, thanks to Gmail and Google Talk, many people have lots of Google contacts, so it nevertheless fulfilled some people’s needs.

Another approach of several social networks with Google involved is XAuth, which also aims at giving users the option to log in to external websites with their identity of participating social networks.

Even Twitter is working on becoming more present around the web with its @anywhere platform. The new feature provides website owners with easier tools to integrate Twitter streams and Twitter functionality into their sites.

Conclusion
The third evolutionary step of social networks would not have been possible if those services wouldn’t have become a mass phenomenon, gathering hundreds of millions of people, making it almost impossible for content sites and other destinations not to connect with this audience. That’s the reason why they are now willing to integrate the social network’s features and to help it gather information about user behaviour and preferences on “foreign territory” – something that especially in the case of Facebook recently has led to a lot of criticism among open web advocates, Internet journalists and bloggers who see the risk that Facebook is pushing the boundaries too far. A conflict between the user’s and the social network’s interest is coming up and right now it’s impossible to anticipate how it will be solved.

(Foto: stock.xchng)

/Martin Weigert

5 strategies to make money by blogging

Among the Twingly users a rather big number of people runs a blog. The total population of bloggers around the world is estimated to be somewhere between 100 and 200 million. How many of them are dreaming of earning money by blogging?

We don’t know, but for sure it is more than a minority. Most users (hopefully) know that they won’t become rich by blogging, but it’s definitely possible to earn some cash to go to a nice restaurant or to buy a new gadget from time to time. A few bloggers even manage to make blogging pay all their bills. In the end, it’s up to each and every person’s talent and determination.

There are several ways for a you as a blogger to create a revenue stream. Here are five strategies to make money by blogging.

1. Ads (pay per click, pay per impression)
This is the most boring and probably least effective way of monetizing your blog, but it is the one that costs you very little time. By signing up for an advertising program like Google AdSense, you can integrate ads (text or display) into your site, based on what content you are generating. Each time an ad is clicked or viewed, you earn a few cents, depending on the program.

While almost every site can join, the outcome is usually pretty low, especially if your blog doesn’t have many visitors. Furthermore, despite different targeting techniques, those ads are not always properly matched with your content, and often they don’t look that nice either. Still, it might be worth a try.

2. Affiliate
Affiliate is another category of online advertising, where you are not getting paid for impressions or clicks, but for actions, like when somebody buys a product or signs up for a service. At a first glance that might sound unattractive to you, but for some sites, affiliate marketing works out pretty well.

The potential of affiliate is dependent on your blog’s content. Do you write about things that are being sold, like for example books or cameras? Then you could sign-up for an affiliate program and use affiliate links in your blog posts to get a commission every time a visitor from your site buys something after following a link.

3. Sponsoring
Let’s say you blog about a very specific niche topic where you are a real expert in. Even though you maybe don’t have many visitors, the people that are coming to your site are highly passionate about your content and engaged in comment discussions etc. Instead of putting ugly irrelevant ads on your page that no one pays attention to, you could try to get sponsored by a company that is interested in reaching out to your highly specific target group. Even though you only have a few hundred visitors per month, the sponsor knows that each of those is part of the target group and therefore potentially interested in the company’s product/service.

This approach will cost some time since you need to get in touch with companies and offer them a sponsorship of your blog. But if you find a company willing to pay you a monthly amount for in return getting their logo on your site, it could help you earn some money and will make your blog look really professional.

4. Syndication
If you are a good writer and an expert in your area, there might be other content/news sites that would benefit from getting your articles on their site. This is called syndication and not that common yet among blogs. But since newspapers are faced with declining ad revenues and have to deal with budget cuts, it’s not unlikely that more of them will try to get affordable content from bloggers in the future. Keep your eyes open for possibilities!

5. Consulting
This is an indirect way of monetizing your blog. Instead of getting paid for what you publish at your blog, you get hired for external consulting in the field where you have proven that you have smart things to say. This approach is very long term oriented and requires a lot of patience and persistence, since you first have to build a reputation. When you feel that you are ready to take your blogging career to the next level, watch out for consulting opportunities and make it easy for your readers to get in touch with you. You could also write a blog post informing your readers that you are available for consulting or speeches in your specific area of expertise.

Conclusion
As you see there are different ways of earning money with your blog. All of them have in common that you need to be good. You need to be quality-focused and you should be passionate about the things you write about. This will increase your chances of success tremendously.

Do you want to share your experience of monetizing your blog?

/martinweigert

photo credit: stock.xchng

6 web based tools you really need to know

The cloud is the future. Thanks to faster broadband connections, more powerful web programming techniques, better browsers and cheaper online storage and traffic, the number of web tools that let you do tasks online is increasing at a rapid pace. Here are 6 awesome web applications that could help you to get rid of your old and expensive desktop software.

Presentations: Prezi
Prezi has dusted off the boring concept of static presentations based on PowerPoint. The service lets you create beautiful, dynamic presentations directly within the browser. Upload your own content such as text, images or video files, set the order for the content to be shown, and you’re ready to impress the audience. You can run your presentation in the browser or download it to your hard drive.

Image editing: Pixlr
There are many image editing tools out there, with different feature sets and complexity. One of the nicest ones is Pixlr. Going to www.pixlr.com/editor presents you with an interface that looks pretty much like Photoshop, and that offers you all the basic image editing tools you need. It’s free and really quick. And like Twingly, it’s from Sweden. Alternatives to Pixlr are for instance FotoFlexer, Picnik and Photoshop.com.

Mind mapping: MindMeister
If you are the visual type, you might like creating mind maps for structuring ideas, tasks or lists. In this case you should check out MindMeister, the ultimate web based mind mapping tool. You can create and manage mind maps and you can share them and collaborate with others in real time. MindMeister also offers an iPhone app.

Office: Google Docs
Even though Google Docs has existed for many years, way too many people still don’t know that Google is providing everyone with a free and versatile online office suite to upload, edit and collaborate on text, spreadsheet and presentation files. Although Docs is missing a few of the more advanced functions you find in Microsoft’s Office products, it’s more than sufficient for most of people’s daily office needs. It comes especially handy if you are working with different machines, since you skip transferring files from one computer to the other. Another similar service is Zoho.

Diagrams: Lovely Charts
Do you find yourself creating diagrams occasionally, or you would like to do it but don’t know how? Lovely Charts allows for browser based creation of all kinds of diagrams and charts, like flowcharts, site-maps or organizational charts. Here is a screen cast that shows you how you can use Lovely Charts.

Audio editing: Myna
Aviary are the makers of an awesome suite of browser based creativity tools. One of their apps is called Myna, a basic audio editor in the cloud. With Myna, you can edit audio files in a variety of formats, you can merge and mix samples and you can even record with your computer’s microphone. Myna also has a neat SoundCloud integration. If you are into music, Myna could be a great little helper.

What are your favourite web based tools?

/Martin Weigert

Green is the new blue-yellow

The Swedish national colours are blue and yellow. Thanks to IKEA, one of the worlds biggest and most valuable brands and a company with roots in Sweden, that’s probably a pretty well known fact among most people.

But let’s just assume you don’t know IKEA and you are online quite often: Then you might not associate blue and yellow with the Scandinavian country, but green. How come? There are a hell lot of Swedish web services using green for their logotypes.

Well yes, one of them you might know, that’s our very own Twingly. We probably don’t need to introduce you to our service. The logo looked slightly different when we started Twingly in 2006, but still, it was green.

Then of course, have a look at Spotify, the popular music streaming service that amazes everyone who once had the chance to try it, and that makes people queue for invites. Although Spotify’s application is focusing on greyscale colours, the company is using green for their logotype and as part of their corporate design, for instance in their marketing material or for their mobile apps.

Let’s move on to Bambuser, a video streaming service from the south of Sweden, which not only sports a green logo but is also using green as its default colour for links. Gone are the good old days when a link had to be blue.

But that’s not all: Enter SiteVision, the developers of a portal and content management system used by more than 300 customers in Scandinavia. SiteVision’s logotype is partially green, as is their own website design.

We shouldn’t forget Saplo, a Swedish company that is developing technologies for automatic text analyses so that machines are able to understand the meaning and context of digital texts.

Last but not least there is Binero, a web hosting company from Sweden. Although Binero is using green for their logotype in a rather sparingly way, the green “dot” is actually the first thing you seen when only taking a quick glance. Speaking about Binero: They recently published an interview with Anton Johansson from the Twingly team. Check it out if you understand Swedish.

By the way, if we would want to cheat, we could also mention KaZaA, the notorious peer-to-peer file sharing application that was founded by the Swedish Niklas Zennström and the Danish Janus Friis. They also chose a logotype with the green colour inside. Later they sold the service, founded Skype, and became unfaithful to green.

Still , it’s more than obvious: There has to be a connection between innovation, success and the colour green. So our advise to you: If you are planning on starting a web company, use a green logotype and you will face a bright future. Well, at least you would have been mentioned in this article.

Which Swedish web companies with green logotypes did we forget?

Update: We got two additions! Peter Sunde told us via Twitter that even Flattr, his and Linus Olsson’s upcoming micropayment service for content sites and blogs, does have parts of green in its logo. That of course qualifies Flattr to be part of this list.

And Mats informed us on Twitter that even Daytona has a green logotype. Daytona is a successful Stockholm based agency for website and online advertising campaign creation. So it is not really a web service, but let’s not be too bureaucratic today!


The state of location based services: Gowalla vs Foursquare

There has been a lot of buzz recently surrounding location based services (lbs). The more people carry a smart phone, the more are starting to try out applications that make use of the phones integrated GPS, that present you locations around you, and that let you check in to those locations to show your contacts where you are hanging out.

Although not the first location based services around, Gowalla and Foursquare are the two start-ups that caught most of the social web crowds attention in recent month. Their user numbers are still low compared to huge social networking giants like Facebook or Twitter – Foursquare is said to have 600.000+ users, Gowalla has even less – but the huge media attention they are getting and the loyalty of existing users can be a sign for a bright future for these and other location based services.

The functionality of Gowalla and Fousquare is very similar. You use their mobile apps or sites on iPhone, Android or BlackBerry phones to check in at locations near you. The more often you do that, the higher you are ranked in the leader board, and the more badges you get giving you higher status. You can also see which other users recently did check in at a specific location, and at Foursquare, the one with most check-ins becomes “mayor” of that location.

The more actual friends you add as Gowalla and Foursquare contacts, the more fun it is to use the services, since you can also get notified through push messages when your friends are checking in somewhere. Then, these location based services show their real power by making it easier to meet up spontaneously with a buddy who might sit in a bar just 100 meters from where you are.

In the US where Gowalla and Foursquare have their origin, the companies already have started to partner up with retailers, bars and media companies to offer people with a lot of check-ins discounts, freebies or other incentives.  Obviously these location based services open up for a range of new marketing possibilities for vendors, helping them to get new customers and to reward the existing customers loyalty.

In Europe, Swedish grocery chain ICA was one of the first retailers to use Gowalla for promotion purposes, when recently encouraging people to check in at their new store in central Stockholm and promising an iPad for the person with most check-ins.

Overall, the differences between Gowalla and Foursquare are minor ones and mainly regarding the user interface. Except for one major aspect: Gowalla only lets you check in at locations where you actually are, whereas Foursquare doesn’t have this limitation – and thus can be easier gamed. Foursquare says it is working on that.

The similarity of the services has led to a situation where quite many people are using both apps for now, making it necessary to check in twice at each location, one time with Gowalla, and one time with Foursquare. Fortunately, check.in, a new mobile service developed by Brightkite, another location based social network, has come up with a solution for this problem by allowing users to check in at Gowalla, Foursquare and Brightkite simultaneously.

It’s not clear yet which of the two apps eventually will win the location race, or if it will be Brightkite, LooptRummble, or one of the many other competitors in this space. However, location is undoubtedly already one of the biggest web trends this year, and it’s going to become much bigger when the majority of people will swap their basic or feature phones for multifunctional smart phones.

Next time you see people pulling out their phones after arriving at your favourite bar, they could be checking in.

kino.de & video.de – Film-Bloggers’ Paradise

From now on the German movie and video portals kino.de and video.de connect with film-blogs!

kino.de (“Kino” = German for “Cinema”) is currently Germany’s biggest film-portal, providing you with all the latest details about movie releases as well as  stories and facts about your favorite actors. You can also check what’s on in which cinema right now and discuss hot film topics in their community.

video.de is the little brother of kino.de and gives you the latest updates about new movies to be released on DVD.

So don’t be surprised to see traffic coming to your blog from these sites.

Embrace it and continue linking to these so that your opinion can be part of the latest movie- or DVD review!

If you are interested in showing up on kino.de or video.de, just don’t forget to ping us so that these two sites can find and display your reviews on their pages!

Connect! europaportalen.se opens up for debate!

europaportalen.se is the leading, independent platform for the Swedish debate about everything concerning the European Union (EU) and Europe.

They relaunched their entire site today with lots of new features, all designed to make it even easier for users to join the ongoing discussions and debates, thus connecting people and Brussels with each other.

Twingly is very proud to be able to contribute to this effort by helping to connect bloggers to europaportalen.se via Blogstream.

Every time you comment on European topics on your blog and link to europaportalen.se, make sure you ping your posts to us. That way your comments will be shown connected to their articles and let you join the debate where it actually happens.

You want to get involved even more? Then try their great new video channel YouEurope where you can ask questions directly to members of the European Parliament. No worries, they do not use Chatroulette for that 😉 .

Now, off you go and heat up the discussion!

Welcome, Expressen!

Today we have the pleasure to give a very warm welcome to a longed-for addition to the Twingly Family!

This morning Expressen.se, one of the leading Swedish news sites with over 2 million unique visitors per week,  launched Twingly Blogstream. And Blogstream can not only be found on Expressen, but also on their editions for Gothenburg and Malmö GT.se and Kvallsposten.se.
The content of Expressen.se seems to be engaging for many of us in the blogosphere. During the last month as many as nearly 3000 blog posts linked to Expressen.se.
So if you are one of these bloggers writing about your views on a story like this, don’t forget to “twingla” from now on and share your views with Expressen’s readers!

Read also  Thomas Mattsson’s comment on “Bloggen om Expressen”, he is Expressen’s Editor-in-Chief.

Update: There is now also a nice Expressen-article about the Twingly launch today!

Twingly Live goes Webciety

The Webciety is a digital conference that takes place from the 2nd to 6th of march in Hannover during the world’s largest IT-fair CeBit in Hannover, Germany.

Lots of discussions and events will take place there, taking into account all the different aspects of our digital world and how that affects the way we do business.

These are the WebCiety-sessions and you can follow all tweets via Twingly Live in real time at the conference on the big screen.

On their website you can watch all sessions with their live-video-stream . In conjunction with Twingly Live this allows you to get involved in discussions on the panel even from afar! A lot of the sessions are in German, but there are also some pretty cool international ones in English.

Have fun following and get engaged!

Twingly Live at Stora Bloggpriset

Tonight one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, Aftonbladet, is rewarding the most popular Swedish blogs at the award show Stora Bloggpriset. We’re of course attending this exciting event, but we are also providing a Twingly Live-channel that you can follow at Aftonbladet.se. So if you are tweeting about the awards, just use the hashtag #bloggpriset and your tweet will show directly at Aftonbladet.se. Dont hesitate to get in touch if you want to use Twingly Live for your event, either on screens at the venue or on your website.