Tag Archives: social networking

LiveRail Obtained By Social Networking Power House Facebook Inc.

Facebook, the social networking corporation currently categorized as the second most valuable internet company online, is acquiring program broadcasting organization LiveRail, for an undisclosed amount of capital. Facebook has been searching for a way to incorporate video advertising into the already extremely well-liked computer social networking system.

LiveRail is a media producing internet program for online television, which was founded in April of 2008 and is located in the San Francisco region of California (United States of America). Mark Trefgarne is the ongoing Chief Executive Officer and Andrei Dunca is the current Chief Technology Officer at LiveRail.

Update: Facebook spends upwards of four hundred million dollars in the acquisition of internet video advertising business, LiveRail.

A Brief Primer on Human Social Networks, or How to Keep $16 Billion In Your Pocket

1. Listen to social scientists. 2. Don’t reinvent sociology 101. 3. … 4. Keep $16 billion in your pocket

Over at The New York Times, Jenna Wortham wonders whether Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp points to a resurgence of small social networks. The article is titled “ WhatsApp Deal Bets on a Few Fewer ‘Friends’” and she asks a lot of good questions:

In buying WhatsApp this week, Facebook is betting that the future of social networking will depend not just on broadcasting to the masses but also the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate with your family and closest confidants — those people you care enough about to have their numbers saved on your smartphone. … Facebook has long defined the digital social network, and the average adult Facebook user has more than 300 friends. But the average adult has far fewer friends — perhaps just a couple in many cases, researchers say — whom they talk to regularly in their real-world social network. ..

Whether the two kinds of social networks can coexist and thrive remains to be seen.

tl,dr: The “two kinds of social networks” of primary and secondary ties can and will coexist and thrive because they have always co-existed and thrived.

For details, read on.

Let’s start by unpacking the word “friend” here because Facebook’s use of the word of “friend” to describe everyone to whom you connect with on Facebook has caused a lot of confusion in this space. We all know that a “friend” is not a “friend” is not a “friend,” so let’s not use one word.

In fact, sociologists have long known and talked about “two kinds of social networks,” and refer to them alternatively as primary and secondary ties, or weak and strong ties. The concept can be found in every introductory sociology textbook because it is foundational to human social interaction. When I used to teach introduction to sociology, it would come up in the first or second week of the class.

Humans are embedded in social networks, and always have been. In fact, research on hunter-gatherer tribes shows that even those early social networks have resembled ours. Human social ties, however, come in a range of strength and intimacy, and always have and always will.

Technology will not alter these basic realities because technology doesn’t make us into new kinds of humans; rather, it just alters the environment in which we act.

Primary social ties, or strong ties, refer to the close, often face-to-face (though not necessarily in today’s world) connections of close, intimate and strong relations with other people. These are the people whose shoulder you expect to cry on in difficult times, and perhaps the first people with whom you share good news. Without primary ties, people tend to feel lost and isolated. Such ties are of great importance to many aspects of a person’s health and well-being. In general, weak ties, no matter how numerous, cannot make up for lack of primary ties. (This is not to be confused with the statement that weak ties are unnecessary or irrelevant. The point is that these are not either/or).

Secondary or weak social ties tend to be the ties that form the larger social networks that humans are embedded in. (Theses are not to be confused with bridge ties, which connect otherwise disparate social networks and tend to be weaker ties but are not the same concept). In the modern world, these can range from workplace acquaintances to former and current classmates, to more distant kin and other non-kin. As far as we can tell, even hunter-gatherers had such weaker ties in their social networks, so these have always been with us. Weaker ties are important for a variety of reasons: they provide people with company, information, access to resources in other social networks, entertainment, and a pool from which one can draw stronger ties. Research shows that weak-tie networks are essential in many regards, including access to information and opportunity.

At this point, you might be wondering whether the so-called Dunbar’s number, positing a theoretical upper limit of about 150 people in natural human social networks, refers to weaker or stronger ties. Neither, actually. Not in the modern world, at least.

Dunbar’s number is a conjecture about the natural upper bound on the unassisted cognitive processing of information about reciprocal relationships in a social network by the people in them. Dunbar’s calculation is based on the relationship between the size of the primate neocortex and primate group sizes projected onto human social networks. It is an important insight but one that has been applied too widely without understanding what it actually means.

Maintaining a social network requires a lot of heavy cognitive processing. To whom do you owe favors, and who double-crossed whom last? If you grab that fruit from that ape, who will come to his aid, and who can you count on to come to your aid? Who had responded positively to your attempt to flirt and who was your competitor? Remember, the information you need to keep in your head is exponential to the group size: in a group of five, you potentially have five factorial (5!) or 120 groupings. Just double that to a group of 10 and now you potentially have 3,628,800 groupings. Of course, in reality, not every grouping makes sense, so the numbers in practice are much smaller; but the point is that as groups get larger, the information entropy grows very fast. It’s harder to cooperate, scheme and thrive effectively in larger groups.

Dunbar’s key insight is that as human social networks grew in size, human language (which other primates don’t have) likely developed for us to better keep track of such complexities of group interaction (derided as “gossip” but key to survival in a social group—call it “group informatics” if you want to avoid the judgmentalism). That’s why Dunbar’s seminal book is called “Grooming, Gossip and Language.” (Grooming is how other primates interact to convey social information —they are not really after eating each other’s lice, it’s a social behavior—while we, as humans, talk, or gossip if you will).

Dunbar also predicted that the size of our neocortex, in comparison with other primates, means that we can likely keep track of a maximum of 150 people and the relationships between them all in our head—if (and this is a big if) our social cognitive processing works the same way as primates. As you can see, there are a lot of ifs and constraints in his proposal that don’t necessarily apply universally. Dunbar’s number is a conjecture about a world without writing, let alone modern technology, both of which aid in social network maintenance. It should be clear to anyone that tools such as Facebook make it easier to keep in touch with larger social networks, as did postal letters and the telephone. Dunbar’s number is best thought of as a suggestion about the size of a social group that has to function together to get something done—say, a company in the military—rather than an upper limit to the size of human social networks in general.

In fact, research finds no such small upper limit on human social network size in the modern era. However, research also finds that most of us are truly intimate with only a few people. Hence, my interpretation of research in this field is that primary social network size is fairly constant for most humans throughout history and is in the single-digits, while weak-tie networks in modern era show a much greater variation than posited by the Dunbar number and likely did for millennia. Research suggests that modern Americans’ total social network size can be as big as 500-600 people.

Finally, weak and strong ties are not in some binary dichotomy, opposed to each other and necessarily displacing each other. Tie strength is a continuum, and not all weak ties are equally weak. Neither is tie-strength static: some weak ties will become closer over time and some strong ties will drop from circles of intimacy. Such is life, and has likely been the case even in hunter-gatherer tribes. All that said, of course, there is more variation and fluidity to social networks with industrialization, migration, urbanization and globalization.

Finally let’s come to the final quote:

Chiqui Matthew, 35, who works in finance, said he preferred services like WhatsApp. “I fear all communication in the digital age is being reduced to shouting in a crowded theater,” he said in an email. “Everything is absolute, declarative, exclaimed, public and generally lacking in the nuance of face-to-face conversation. I like the digital version of a ‘cocktail party whisper.’ An intimation meant to be intimate.”

What this person is getting at is that our communication needs change depending on the type of tie. An engagement or a new baby may well be best announced to a large group of weaker ties, whereas most day-to-day conversation is carried out with our smaller, primary social networks. (Yep, Facebook newsfeed versus WhatsApp). This is not an either/or statement. Both types of conversations and interactions are primal, important and central to human social interaction.

Facebook’s key problem for many people has been what academics sometimes call “context-collapse,” which is the sense that Facebook sometimes feels like an extended Thanksgiving dinner where everyone you have ever known is at the table. This is an identity-constraining environment as it’s hard to know how to address such a large crowd at the same time. People have been grappling with this for a long time and have come up with a variety of solutions, including fleeing to Twitter & Instagram and, yes, Whatsapp.

Social scientists have long been trying to communicate this to technology companies: it is normal, natural and healthy to have different communication needs at different levels of one’s social network. One wonders if, early on, Mark Zuckerberg had listened to social scientists rather than declaring “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”, would he now have $16 billion more in his pocket?

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Business As Usual In The New Silicon Valley

Next Story

Now here is one spectacular tale. A company, with little PR or marketing, grows in just a handful of years to connect half a billion people around the world through a simple messaging app. The company gets acquired for a hefty sum; in this case, the largest sum ever in the history of venture-backed startup acquisitions. Billionaires and millionaires are created almost out of thin air.

And yet, the story is so banal.

There were, of course, interesting threads in this particular version of the tale. We have a thread about immigration and secret police forces behind the Iron Curtain. We have a rags-to-riches tale of a founder moving from food stamps to the uppermost strata of wealth. And we have a story about rejection and later finding the ultimate redemption. But beneath these human-interest stories lies a far more simple message: the Silicon Valley of the past, which developed the awesome technology we use everyday, is simply dead. And it isn’t coming back.

My friends in Palo Alto and Mountain View have often groused to me about all those social media companies up in San Francisco. I can still hear the echoes in my head of the “idiots” who “waste their time” building social networking apps, instead of working on deeply technical products in areas like in-memory databases, advanced wireless technologies, or genetic analytical tools. There was, of course, always an air of intellectual superiority in these discussions, which is now deeply ironic, since those same social networking companies are now getting acquired for billions, while my friends are still grinding at their products.

Venture capitalists have long ago discovered that social media is where the money is. Facebook remains the largest technology IPO of all time, and WhatsApp is the largest venture-backed acquisition of all time. And they are hardly exceptional. In the last few years, we have had Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Viber, with more potentially on the way (Snapchat, Whisper, maybe even Secret). WhatsApp’s acquisition is simply business as usual in today’s Silicon Valley.

The attraction of these kinds of startups is not just their enormous exits though, but also their risk profile. Communications apps are not particularly challenging products to manage, given that their features haven’t changed all that much in the last two decades. They don’t require a lot of recruiting, since engineers enjoy scaling advantage given that these products have such limited features. The messaging category is evergreen, because there is always going to be a novel way to communicate or a new device that needs its core communications app. And these products have definitional virality that makes user growth practically free.

For VCs, these companies are like shots of cocaine. And we need our next hit.

In all honesty, how can a founder of any “hard technology” startup look a VC in the eye and talk about the benefits of working on a difficult challenge when the money can be made so easily somewhere else? I know founders trying to solve cancer, improve medical records, develop next-generation databases, and invent new 3D-printing tools who have had an enormously difficult time finding backers for their startups. Yes, there are VCs and others who will invest out of interest, but they are few and far between, particularly in later funding rounds where financial performance is prime.

Historically, we are walking in new territory. Just take a look at the earliest investments of prominent VC firms. Kleiner Perkins’ earliest investments included Genentech (which pioneered recombinant DNA technology) and Tandem (which developed fault-tolerant computers for finance). Sequoia Capital’s included Apple (which invented the personal computer), Cisco (which developed network routers), and Atari (which popularized video games). All of these were smash hits, and helped define entire product categories.

One of the problems here is that the cost of building a great company has increased – approaching an average of $200 million for the typical $1 billion valuation business. Why embark on a project with prodigious levels of technical risk and work and then end up making fewer returns?

In this way, I am distinctly reminded of Hollywood, where the creativity of the big studios has taken a back seat to remakes of popular franchises. Have you seen the top 20 highest-grossing films of all time? Sixteen of them are sequels or part of multiple movie franchises, almost all of them from the last decade. Hollywood has tended to become more conservative with blockbusters due to the ever-increasing costs of bringing a feature film to market. Sound familiar?

But there are other lessons to glean from WhatsApp’s acquisition than just how quickly companies can make billions in the communications space. For all the talk of design in Silicon Valley, it is interesting how little WhatsApp paid attention to such flourishes.

Its logo is boring, its name uninteresting, and its basic chat theme quite unappealing. In some ways, WhatsApp is more typical of the Silicon Valley of the past than the current incarnation that is obsessed with pretty pixels. Even more, the WhatsApp team appears to be dominated by engineers who actively shunned the limelight and focused on pure utility. That focus is perhaps why they had an 11-digit offer in the end.

While the classic Silicon Valley may have died, it doesn’t mean that innovation is going to just disappear. On the contrary, I think that Silicon Valley’s addiction to these sorts of companies offers the best hope for other regional innovation hubs like Austin or Boulder to thrive. There are wide markets out there that are underserved due to the way that the Valley conducts its business, and any one of these markets could form the basis for a strong startup ecosystem.

For Silicon Valley though, we have to take a moment and pause at this achievement. Even in a world of clones, WhatsApp was far and ahead of the pack. The team has built something truly remarkable, with a product roadmap that will be interesting to watch over the coming years. Now let me open XCode and get going on that email app.


Cory Doctorow: Social Pariahs Will End Facebook

We’ve had our own opinions about the potential dangers that lie ahead for Facebook, but in a post on Information Week Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow (pictured right) has put forth another theory. The crux is simple — the more people get involved in social networking, the more users are likely to encounter people they’d rather avoid. Doctorow goes on to theorize that the more often this happens, the more likely people are bound to abandon a site.

His argument may be simple, but it’s genuinely tapped in to how people communicate. “That’s why I don’t worry about Facebook taking over the net,” he explains. “As more users flock to it, the chances that the person who precipitates your exodus will find you increases. Once that happens, poof, away you go — and Facebook joins SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on the scrapheap of net.history.”

As Facebook’s hype reaches an all-time high, Doctorow may be proven right. After all, the same social politics that exist in high school lunch rooms and work cafeterias are in play on sites like Facebook. Users typically have a favored group of individuals they socialize with, and a group of people they’d rather avoid — like former lovers and Doctorow’s example of creepy ex-co-workers. To further complicate things, most users even have people that they’re comfortable socializing with (i.e., family members) who may just seem out of place within the same network.

Therein lies the rub. Just because users are granted a common social space doesn’t mean it’s fit for all types of interaction. This is why rival site MySpace is looking to roll out separate profiles (work, family, etc.) for its users. But will Doctorow’s theory prove true and sink Facebook? It’s hard to say, especially since the company can roll out ‘work’ or ‘personal’ profiles just as easy as MySpace. One thing is for sure though — users aren’t going to continuously kill time (and click ads) in a socially awkward environment.

Photo: Flickr/CalEvans


Some Productivity Hacks for a Better 2014

To start off the year on the right foot.

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
M. Scott Peck

Every year, during the holiday season, I think I’m not the only one reflecting on the year that’s ending, wishing I was a bit more productive in order to get a little more time to spend with my friends and loved ones, or simply get more things done.

So I thought it would be interesting to give you this lightweight list of 10 of the best productivity hacks I know and try to apply every day:

  1. Do not get sucked into unnecessary meetings.
    We all know that time is the most important asset in life. It is very tempting to meet as many people as possible for networking purposes but you risk to loose sight on what really needs to get done. Learn to prioritize and to choose what meetings to refuse. Spending more time on the most important meetings is one of the keys to success.
  2. Create to-do lists.
    Write down everything important that goes through your mind. Don’t believe you can remember everything. You can forget crucial elements that could have been translated into an enormous success. This only takes a few minutes a day and helps you understand what’s really important or not and create your game plan.
  3. Forget conventional wisdom if something else works better for you.
    Make your own rules and processes. You are the one who knows yourself the best. This has significantly increased my own productivity. You should try it.
  4. Delete emails without fear.
    And classify the rest as soon as you read them. You will save a lot of precious time.
  5. Simplify your information stream.
    Spend some time going through your twitter account, newsletter subscriptions etc…and edit aggressively. Think about what really matters and delete the rest. You can always go back if you really miss something.
  6. Put your phone/tablet away when you really need to get things done.
    Unless you are working on them of course. In this case, turn off notifications. This is one of the rules that work best for me.
  7. Don’t overestimate what you can achieve.
    It often leads to disappointment and bad time management. Every evening, think about the three most important things you need to get done the next day and prioritize accordingly.
  8. Choose and stick to a recreational activity.
    And make it a routine, preferably at the same time each day. Of course, going to the gym or a daily jog are great activities that will also keep you healthy but it can be anything: writing, arts, learning a new language…this will help you refocus and be more productive. The best ideas or solutions to problems often come up during those recreational moments.
  9. Work on one thing at a time.
    You may feel better about yourself and more productive while multitasking but avoid it as much as possible. Focus on one thing at a time and do it well. You will achieve much more that way.
  10. Outsource everything you can.
    Look into solutions like Fancy Hands for example. Focus your time on what really matters and delegate the rest.

and don’t forget :

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Tech entrepreneur / Kilimanjaro climber / Enjoying life in crazy Moscow with @theshaginian


Listen To The Silence

Quiet, Empty Road in Munnar

Quiet, Empty Road in Munnar

Why Do We Only Appreciate The Value of What Was When It No Longer Is?

Just over two years ago, my world changed!

Our home is in a quiet residential neighborhood, with wide, tree-lined avenues, little traffic, and an overall peacefulness to it.

Overnight, all that was altered.

Fifty meters parallel to our street is a primary arterial highway. On it, an overpass was to be constructed. In typical style for Indian government projects, the decision about it was taken with no warning, no preparation, and apparently no thought.

We woke up one fine morning to find our street clogged with hundreds and hundreds of vehicles. Two years later, we still wake up to the same scene every day.

It’s insane! The noise. The incessant rumbling. The house-shaking shudder every time a truck passes by. It feels like we’re in a never-ending earthquake zone.

Tomorrow is Deepavali, one of the biggest Indian festivals.

Today, schools have declared a holiday to let students celebrate. Businesses granted employees leave, so that families could travel back to their home towns. And last night, there was an exodus from the city.

This morning, I woke up… to something strange.


For a minute, my woozy brain couldn’t figure out what was ‘wrong’. Then, I walked to the window — and stood there for a long time.


Typically, the clamor and cacophony would pierce eardrums and shatter the morning quietude. Today, there was an unfamiliar calm.

A silence.

No college buses, horns blaring in discordant competition. No motorcyclists racing their powerful engines in a tearing hurry. No herd of uncouth drivers, ruthlessly rushing to get ahead in a race to the nearest stop light.

The rarest of rare sights greeted me — an empty road!

I enjoyed the moment. It was refreshing. Nostalgic, even. This is how things used to be, oh so long ago.

And then, I wondered…

How often had I cared to notice, enjoy and appreciate this peace and calm when I had it every day?

We take so much for granted.

Barely pay attention to things when we have them.

Health. Family. Friends. Youth. And more.

All ignored. Or only noticed in passing. Brushed aside in the rush for something else.

Until they’re gone.

I’m going back, to listen to the silence.

Enjoy it. Appreciate it. Respect it.

Because, now that it’s gone, I know how precious it really is.

Further Reading

#point 7

 — Narcissus

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Believing in a future where every child in the world has access to affordable, high quality heart healthcare. @drmani on Twitter http://www.DrMani.net


Fight Fair

A “Social Contract” for your Social NetworkingDebates

If you’re anything like me, you are experienced in the art of “keyboard warrior Facebook fights.”
And if you’re even further like me, you know that Facebook is as much to a formal debate format as Apple Jacks is to Apple Orbits off brand cereal.

And you’ve probably noticed, these Facebook feud “debates” stem from the stupidest sources. Take for instance, someone posts a picture of your childhood male golden retriever, wearing a pink santa cap, getting caught drinking out of the tree’s water bowel and then your good ole’ Uncle Chuck (or your family’s equivalent) makes a comment like:

“Dog on get dat dog out of that pink cap there, he a boy, whatcha thinkin’?” (minus the punctuation I inserted for the most trivial aid in understanding…)
And now, we know it, deep down, ‘just leave it be, you can’t change Uncle Chuck…’ But we can’t help ourselves. We comment.
“Uncle Chuck, why do we have to associate pink to a non male denotation?” Besides, the dog’s color blind, he won’t care…” [smiley face] (We insert a smiley face to show it’s a friendly non argumentative comment.)

…It does not work…

Out of nowhere, like a war flashback, Uncle Chuck goes to his keyboard in a word casserole of expletives, assumptions, conspiracy theories, talking about how ‘the south will rise again,’ calling me a “Commie trader” and comparing me to the Al-Qaeda…

But, for those of us with a little hope, (Sorry uncle Chuck…) I propose a “Social Contract” of social networking. I love me a good debate, but I’ve had the advantage of having been on actual debate teams, where a very formal formatting is followed. Social Networking debates don’t need to be structured to that extreme, but understand what is fair game and what is off topic will help nurture more intelligent and sanity worthy communication between two people who share different views.

I will share a very recent disaster of a “debate” I just experienced. I’ve removed names and pictures from the other person (please respect privacy and don’t try to find this person…) I was talking with and will use it to show where it went “unfair and off-topic” (and why, ultimately, they left feeling agitated because, while they won’t admit it, their deferring tactics ended up hurting them.)

Here was the initial post that started it all:

Now, before I continue, this person and I have a history. So, knowing I can’t change certain views, I go for the ones I feel I might have a chance at for making my claim. (And this is a good strategy for your debating too, don’t argue a point you know they won’t hear. Approach it from a Socratic Method type of argument: find their argument and use it against them.)

Here’s my first response:

As you can see, I played to his fight, instead of addressing the racist undertones to his post, I showed the impracticability of half-mast honors to all fallen troops. In debate, that is the “formal” challenge to his “thesis.” I follow that up with my own “counter” argument about solider benefits.

Here’s his response:

Now, this is a sloppy reply from him, but not horrible at retaining decorum. He stays on topic (mostly) with his original thesis argument, now bringing in specific examples (i.e. Janet Jackson, and then the solider, Chris Kyle.) That’s good debate strategy. Again, I’m not going to argue to his racist comments, because knowing him, it’s a lost cause not worth spending time on.

Me again:

Here, I stay on topic, arguing my main point again, showing how weighing one “war hero” over another is going to open a can of worms.

His next post:

First off, I address this in a post I’ll put after this, but he goes to counter my “solider benefit” argument here, but confuses it with an argument about welfare as a whole, not what I was talking about.

I give him benefit of the doubt, and correct that to steer the topic back on track.

This is where I call out that he is no longer on topic and making assumptions about my political standing (when he mentions [stop defending the president’s every decision…])

He briefly agrees with me, but then makes another assumption about what he thinks I will respond to [Bush’s fault comment]without me even having the chance to go there. Which is a bad debate strategy, you are basically preventing yourself from pinning me by letting me know ‘don’t bring this up as your counter…’ After that, he goes completely off topic on his assumption claim.

I try to move it back onto the original topic:

And the he moves to the last frontier: personal attacks

Also here, he pretty much proves my point [not every soldier can get buried at Arlington] but then goes to contradict himself by saying [lack of patriotism by saying Chris Kyle doesn’t deserve that] (Which I didn’t even say…) but, like the realities that not every soldier can be buried in Arlington, not everyone can get half-mast honors.

And then following another racist comment and a personal attack, I decide I’ve had enough and refrain from going further. Which I reccomend. No wants a shouting match (in person or over the internet) and you don’t want to say something you’ll regret. So, just leave it be when it goes this route.

But as you can see, when he deflected or changed topics, it really ended up just hurting his own arguments.

Now, I’m not posting this for you to go out and trump all your family, friends, and strangers in arguments. (You may lose all your friends & family if you do that…) But I can honestly say, learning how to think this way helps you when having more civil disagreements or arguments with your significant other or a good friend and can strengthen a relationship and open up healthy communication. By being able to look at what someone else is really saying (or what they are saying by not saying certain things or deflecting) you can see where their intent is and try to understand them better.

So, no more below the belts, know your audience, admit when you’ve “lost,” and most important: know when a “debate” just isn’t worth it all together.

*I am not a “professional” debate teacher (or student really either…) Feel free to leave a note where you disagree or think up something I missed. Oh, but keep the notes in line with the “rules” we just went over. =)
If you liked this, here’s some more stuff where I pretend I know political stuff: https://medium.com/law-of-the-land/8403e658b428

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Just your typical humdrum, socially awkward, introverted, twenty-something -year-old undergrad undergoing the self seeming mandatory quarter-life crisis.