What should social media be like

The best thing about the Internet is that it’s an open network. You can just connect your computer, open your browser and see any website you want -except if you are using some versions of Internet Explorer. You can open your email client or web-mail service, and email anybody you want as long as you have their email address. And of course you can create your own browser or email client knowing that, following the existing standards, it will work.

This quality of the Internet, its openness, is so important we fight fiercely against any attempt to kill it (SOPA, PIPA, Ley Sinde, Hadopi… you name it). Yet we are letting social media destroy the openness of the Internet by creating closed platforms that get so big you can’t just leave them.

Imagine that you could only call or send and SMS to those friends who have the contracts with the same provider than you do. Or that Gmail users could only email Gmail users. That’s exactly what happens with most social media platforms: you need to have Facebook to interact with your Facebook friends, WhatsApp to talk to your WhatsApp friends, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Skype, Google+, Messenger, BBM, iMessage… there is even a whole business of services like Hootsuite or Sproutsocial just to manage all your profiles from one place!

Think about it. How much time do we waste keeping all those profiles up to date and checking if any friend posted something somewhere? How many people would like to quite Facebook but can’t because all their friends and literally 10 years of their life are already there? What’s the point of uploading all your pictures and tagging everyone if sooner or later that platform is going to be done, closed and forgotten? How on Earth are you going to try something new if first you need to convince all your friends to try it too so it actually makes sense to use it?

I believe the need of supreme power and control that companies like Facebook or Google feel is killing our relationship with the Internet. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have your personal profile in a way that you can do whatever you want with it? Just think of a supercharged email system. Some kind of standard format to keep your digital history (posts, links shared, images posted, profile picture, contacts…) in one place, and do whatever you want with it. So if I like Facebook but you are done with it and want to try Google+ we can still be friends and talk to each other without both having to keep two accounts in different places.

This system would also be tremendously beneficial for new businesses. Instead of having to steal millions of users at once from other platforms you could go ahead and create your own system, conquering users one by one. Platforms focused on design and customization, platforms based on ease of use and strong privacy settings, platforms supported by advertising, platforms where users have to pay to keep their accounts…. we could have specialized platforms for small niches with specific needs, something that currently is just unthinkable because it’s not a sustainable business -and because it doesn’t make sense if you can’t talk with everybody else.

In brief, the idea is that with a standardized social media environment the possibilities would be endless. As they always have been with the Internet, and as they should always be.

What do you think?

Duckduckgo for iPhone

Since I decided to open myself to search engines other than Google, I have fallen in love with Duckduckgo. Not only because of the privacy features that high rocketed its popularity after the NSA scandal, but also because of the nice layout, the customizable settings, the lack of advertising of other Google services and the fact that the logo is a weirdly drawn duck. So I was really happy to find the free Duckduckgo app for Android and iPhone. What I didn’t expect was that the app would be so well conceived. I guess I expected just an option to set Duckduckgo as the default search engine (I momentarily forgot that I now have an iPhone and can’t really change things), but this is much more.

duckduckgo app

Duckduckgo app – homepage

When you open the app you get a search bar and a feed of popular articles from a wide list of sources that you can manage. You won’t be able to add new sources, but you can toggle on and off which ones you want from a long list planned to keep you in the loop. To give you an idea, this is what I have activated right now: CNN, BCC, AlJazeera, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, New York Times, The Guardian, several Reddit feeds, The Atlantic, Medium, Digg, MIT, Slashdot, Ars Technica, Lifehacker, Smithsonian, The New Yorker and The Verge. All these sources are categorized in technology, news, sports, politics, lighthearted, business and a few other categories so you can easily choose what you want to read about. You can also suggest new sources that might get included in the list.

Now, what is really cool about Duckduckgo as a news aggregator is the social factor. What you’ll see from all these sources is their most popular stories: most shared, more active, more emailed, those that reach #1, etc. It really gives you the pulse of what is going on in the world, plus it has a neat option to boost stories related to one region (I set it to “Canada, english”). You can also save articles to read them later, share them straight from Duckduckgo via SMS, email and Twitter, and you can also copy the link or open it in Safari.

In brief, Duckduckgo for iPhone is a complete search, browser and news aggregator app. It makes me feel Internet portals might be back, because it made me realize how much of a pain is to keep jumping from one app to another to read, search or share information when using a mobile device.

Why you need to go mobile. Now.

next-billion-internet-users

In Europe or North America we have had Internet at home since the late 90s and the early 2000s. But although we had it (and were already addicted to a few websites), it hasn’t been until the arrival of mobile devices that the Internet has really become an integral part of our lives. Mobile connections allow us to play games, buy airplane tickets, talk to friends, find our way to any place, consult the Wikipedia and read anything from books to blogs while we wait for the bus. If you think about it, social media wouldn’t be anything without the possibility to share pictures and statuses from wherever you are and whenever you feel like it.

This trend is going to keep growing. In the infographic below, internetserviceproviders.org estimates that next year mobile browsing will overtake desktop browsing. It’s a huge milestone that is going to have huge consequences in the tech industry -and in any industry. Because no matter what your business is, you need to go mobile. If all those engaged followers on your Facebook page are using their phones when they click on the link you share… don’t you want your website to look good? At 3VL we don’t even ask about it anymore, and we just make all of our designs responsive to ensure the final result is works great in any screen size.

So get ready for the next billion Internet users.

The Next Billion Internet Users: What Will They Look Like?

My take on the copyright mess

yorke spotify twitter

Thom Yorke’s criticism to Spotify has set the blogosphere on fire and stirred up the debate about copyright, technology and new business models for artists. But while I understand Yorke’s criticism (artists should get the biggest bite from the benefits generated by their work), I don’t think Spotify is the one to blame here. Spotify has, like Netflix and iTunes, succeeded in creating a business model where users are willing to pay for what they can always find for free all around the Internet. Kudos to them, and the same way I believe artists should get the biggest share from the benefits I think it’s fair that Daniel Ek (Spotify’s founder) and the people behind these platforms get a good chunk of money from their work.

So, if we users are willing to pay and the platforms’ creators are getting rich, I think it’s obvious that the problem is somewhere between the platform and the artist. And who is there? In the music industry, the record labels. The “Big Four” (Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, EMI Group and Warner Music Group) own the copyrights of most of the songs, and surely the most popular ones. If Spotify or any other platform wants to give users the wide catalog for which we are willing to pay, they have to deal with the “Big Four” and pledge to their conditions, which sadly means that only those offering large catalogs of popular songs really benefit from being on Spotify. So yes, morally Spotify should have stood for the artists rights, but business wise it would have meant shooting themselves on the foot: no songs, no users, no money for anyone.

And the thing is that you can apply all this to the whole entertainment industry: music, TV shows, sport events, movies… you name it. They try to convince us they are embracing new technologies, when they are not. Copyright issues always get in the way. Here are a few obvious examples:

  • Spotify is not available worldwide: you can’t create your account from any country, and your payment method must be from the same country you set your profile to be from. Why? Because different countries get access to different catalogs thanks to different copyright agreements per country.
  • Netflix has a great catalog… in the US. Here in Canada the list of movies and TV shows available is way smaller and kind of outdated. And it’s again because of copyright agreements: producers sell the rights to Netflix only in the US so they can still sell them to other agents in other countries. This is supposed to maximize the producers/distributors benefits… but it doesn’t, because you can download/stream the same content for free, or use one of the many services to hide your IP and make the system think you are in the US.
  • Something similar happens in the film industry: movies don’t hit theaters at the same time in every country. Why would Europeans wait a month to go to the theater and pay for their ticket when the movie is available online for free hours after it premiers in the U.S.? Sometimes it’s just impossible to dodge all the spoilers in blogs, newspapers, forums and social media, so you feel forced to watch it before it arrives to your country.
  • Same with TV shows: they are not aired on the same day world wide. Sincerely, fans don’t care who is broadcasting the TV show, we just want to get our dose as soon as possible.
  • From some countries you have no options to watch sports and major events other than out-of-the-system streaming. If I’m in Spain, I can watch basketball games online for free and legally from the national TV channel. If I’m outside of Spain, I can’t use their streaming because they sell the broadcasting rights to different channels in each country… but hey, It seems no one in Canada is willing to pay for that and let me watch it on-line. The same happens with major events like The Oscars, but thankfully during the London Olympics someone thought about this and the official streaming was available for free worldwide.
  • Downloading songs and movies can cost as much as buying the CD or DVD, while the production and distribution costs are reduced to a minimum. Is not that users are not willing to pay, it’s just that we know that creating, storing and transporting a CD/DVD to the store where someone has to be to manipulate the cash register is more expensive than uploading a file to a server and sharing a link to it.

We have the technology to access more content worldwide, and business models that prove that users are willing to pay for this content, but the copyright owners keep putting up walls to retain most of the benefits. They are not interested in giving the audience what they want, and they are not interested in giving the artists what they deserve. They are the first ones to complain about how things are going, but it’s obvious they are the ones with the power to change it. The other option? Get them out of the equation, as they did with the Veronica Mars movie.