iLike – – MOG Facebook Smackdown!

It’s been about 10 days since Facebook debuted its applications and the clear winner is iLike, which has well over a million users. It’s taking turns with the Mobile platform at the top of the most-users list:

picture-3.png, who lost a week while getting their app ready to go, are rising quickly but far far behind with just over 40,000 users:


If you’re REALLY bored it’s kind of fun to spend a couple of minutes looking at the ‘most used applications’ list. You can refresh continuously and watch the numbers climb. Last night was picking up about 5 users per refresh while iLike was picking up around 20.

MOG’s application which launched the same day as iLike’s, meanwhile, is floundering. It peaked at just over 20,000 users and now seems to be losing users at a rapid rate. This morning Facebook says it has about 5,400 users. Ouch Update: In comments David Jennings points out that there are 2 MOG applications, and the one that had 20,000 users now has around 22,000. My error. Sorry and thanks for the catch David!


I wondered what implications the success of a Facebook application has on the website itself. So I bopped over to Alexa. I don’t trust their numbers very much in an absolute sense, but as a means of comparing one site to another at least most of the biases are going to be comparable (though I wonder about the international distribution of Alexa’s data points and how that affects this). Anyway, it’s the best data we’ve got I think, flaws and all.

When you compare these three sites over the last three months, it looks suspiciously as though all those new users on Facebook might be pulling users away from itself. Below are the comparative graphs for iLike,, and MOG in terms of reach and rank. You can see that is higher than the others (though the difference is much less than it used to be), but look at what happened to iLike in recent days. Not only does it seem to be dropping dramatically, MOG has overtaken it in rank.



As a social scientist I know better than to conflate correlation with causality. There could be several interpretations of these figures. But it certainly makes me wonder if iLike users are switching to using the application within Facebook rather than going to the iLike site. Some sites, like ReverbNation, have designed themselves to be most successful when spread throughout the internet. Is iLike such a site? What are the implications for destination sites if integration with other destination sites means loss of their own traffic?

I think we will see more and more of this sort of merging of multiple sites into one at user discretion. Pageflakes, iGoogle, and other start pages are doing this. I waxed about my dream of doing this (only better) here. But it requires new ways of thinking about what it means to be a successful internet company.

Fanfic trouble at Live Journal

Yesterday, someone pointed me to this Boing Boing post about LiveJournal purging some fanfiction and related accounts, causing quite a stir. The matter was brought to Boing Boing’s attention by Madeline Ashby, a writer, cyborg theorist, blogger, soon-to-be-grad student, and (recent) LJer. Knowing she reads this blog, I asked her to explain what’s been happening. The result is long, but very interesting.

[Update: A lot of LJ fandom folks have been coming by to read this and I'd love to hear your perspectives in comments (yeah, I know you've been writing about this all over LJ and maybe you're tired of explaining it to outsiders, but in case you aren't, I'm all ears. Or eyes.)]

Q: Can you give us a snapshot of Strikethrough 07, also known as the LJ Purge? What’s the situation?

A: If I had to sum up this entire event within a single metaphor, I would say that what has happened is that certain individuals have treated LiveJournal like Baghdad. In trying to find a few very harmful, dangerous people, those individuals have done a broad sweep of the population, identified a few widely-shared characteristics, and suspended privileges — some might even say rights — with the goal of stopping crime. And like Baghdad, the situation has turned explosive. Residents are unhappy. Some of them were guilty, but most weren’t. Now what remains is the opportunity to find a new, smarter strategy.

To understand the LJ Purge, you have to go back to Friday, May 25. That day, I was preparing for my role as a panelist at Anime North. I didn’t see what LJ user Liz Marcs called “the perfect storm” on the horizon. She describes it excellently at this post. In her post, she attributes the perfect storm to three factors:

1) The controversial statuette of Mary Jane Watson, which ignited outrage on the part of female comics and media fans and earned fandom lots of attention in the process

2) The swirling vortex around FanLib, a for-profit website that a) purports to have invented fanfiction (a piece of misinformation that the women at the Feminist SF blog take great issue with), and b) to syndicate fanfiction from other sites without the author’s permission. For more information, check out Henry Jenkins’ interview with the CEO, and some response to it.

3) A rumour that LJ was being pressured by an outsider group to purge certain journals based on content. Said content might include fanfiction of an illicit nature. Although members of the Abuse team at LJ scoffed at such threats, the rumor persisted. Here’s a link.

As it turns out, the rumor was true. An online group called Warriors For Innocence had contacted advertisers who work with LiveJournal, alerting LJ to content they found offensive, specifically that relating to incest, pedophilia, or child rape. WFI claimed that according to LJ’s Terms of Service, LJ had the mandate to eliminate those journals and communities who listed “incest” and such terms in their interest field. LJ promptly suspended journals and communities without warning, with a total of approximately 500 sites affected — the count is ongoing. However, LJ’s understanding of context proved lacking. Along with actual child pornography sites, several fanfiction communities, legitimate LiveJournals (including those belonging to survivors of incest and child rape), and literary discussion groups were suspended or deleted.

Needless to say, news of the purge spread through LiveJournal like wildfire. Fannish users were warned to change their list of interests, lock down their fanfiction, and close ranks. The “it’s a raid!” meme spread, with a huge amount of backlash. LiveJournal communities were established to fight what many saw as an infringement of civil liberties at worst, or an unforeseen reading of the Terms of Service at best. Reaction was mixed: Many fans felt betrayed by what they saw as LJ’s cave-in to corporate interest, and a subsequent denial of the American First Amendment right to free speech. These fans felt targeted by a bizarre anti-fanfiction Kristallnacht, as though WFI had chosen to throw bricks through the gleaming windows of “Wincest,” (Supernatural) “twin-cest,” (Harry Potter) “Elricest” (Fullmetal Alchemist), “Paire” (Heroes) and other fandoms.

Still others thought that it was unfortunate, but predictable. LiveJournal is owned by the corporation Six Apart. Corporations have no obligations to customers, only to their shareholders. If users have a problem with the way LJ does business, these users argued, there are other services. Moreover, they argued, this is not a First Amendment issue. Rather, it’s part of the complicated relationship between corporations, customers, and special-interest groups. It’s unfortunate that some users suffered, but it’s nothing worth going to war over.

Chairman and CEO of Six Apart, Barak Berkowitz, has since apologized for the snafu, saying “we really screwed this one up.” His apology says that “attempt to clean up a few journals” has “turned into a total mess.” When speaking about WFI, he says: “Even idiots can be right about some things.” His answers have proved remarkably unhelpful for some fans because they do not clearly elucidate what Six Apart or LJ define as “appropriate” and do not outline a plan to protect fans and other users who are not breaking the law:

Further inquiry has occurred at BoingBoing. As a regular BB reader, I suggested the story upon first hearing of it because I thought it might interest co-editor Cory Doctorow, who recently wrote a defense of fanfiction in an editorial for Locus Magazine. Co-editor and NPR contributor Xeni Jardin picked up the lead and ran with it. At the moment, the tech-savvy readers at BB are conducting a homegrown investigation into who exactly is behind Warriors For Innocence. WFI’s spyware-infested site is run on a proxy server through, which leads some readers to believe that they have something to hide. Other LJ users allege that WFI is run by Christians of the homophobic variety.


On the buyout

I woke up this morning to gobs of emails and PMs telling me that CBS Corp has bought In a comment on my last post I said I didn’t think users would really care that much. But I’ve just been reading the user feedback and I’m going to heavily qualify that statement. There are 2 main spots to see user feedback: the blog (about time they got that launched!) and this forum thread. The tone in blog comments is considerably more congratulatory, no doubt due to the sense of talking directly to founder RJ, who goes to some length to calm fears in the blog post. The tone on the forum thread is vicious: filled with anger, disappointment, and certainty of the forthcoming worst, with only a few congratulations sprinkled in.

I am of a few minds myself. It’s been apparent to me for at least a year that a buyout was inevitable, it was just a question of who was going to do the buying. I’m not sure any buyer would have been an obvious “yay! it was them!” although it would have been cool to see what Google’s search capabilities could have added to the site. There are certainly some companies I am glad did NOT buy it. And if anyone deserves to get rich on the Web 2.0 bubble its the brilliant minds that came up with

Sure, I would have liked to see really be a collective by and for the users, but it hasn’t been that for ages if it ever was. Despite their community-centric rhetoric, I have never been convinced that the site’s development is truly user-driven. ( team, please feel free to prove me wrong!)

On the other hand, I don’t see any automatic need to assume that this really changes anything for the worse and I can see some ways in which it could make it better. I can certainly imagine ways it could make the site worse, but I also see plenty of indie sites like Facebook doing things that I’m not comfy with, and I don’t think that corporate ownership necessarily dictates more evil than independence. It’s a lot like when an indie band signs with a major label. Sometimes the music starts to suck, sometimes they get screwed then dumped, but lots of times they just go on doing their thing, but with better funding and access to markets they couldn’t reach before.

But back to the user response… they are clearly going to lose a chunk of devotees. And they will need to roll out new subscriber benefits quickly if they want to keep subscription as part of their business model given that most subscriptions to date seem to have been done in the name of small donations to help build the site. But I still think that in the long run the disenchanted user chunk is going to be tiny in comparison to those who won’t pay much attention. Afterall, how many gazillions of users rely on the evilest media empire of them all in their daily devotion to MySpace?

Update: Now the forum thread has taken a congratulatory turn as users are pointing out that Google didn’t kill YouTube, other sites have been bought out and stayed good, and corporate ownership could result in more resources that would benefit users. But the fear of forthcoming “soullessness” continues and is a challenge the team will be wise to attend to in the coming weeks.

Why Ought to Love its Fans

As long as I’ve been paying attention to, I’ve been fascinated by what a loyal fanbase they have. Not userbase. FANbase. People who will bend over backwards to defend the site’s developers against disgruntled users. And now, people who will pick up the slack when they miss important boats.

As everyone knows, last week Facebook opened its doors to outside developers, letting them develop applications that can be integrated into Facebook profiles. competitors iLike and MOG were on the scene immediately. In no time, iLike catapulted to the top with over 500,000 users (seems to me they’re picking up on the order of 100,000 iLike Application users a day on Facebook) making it by far the most popular application. MOG’s application does not seem to be having as much success.

And where is, the most popular music networking site of them all? MIA. Says Russ, one of’s top devs:

We are working on it, however Facebook gave our competitors several weeks’ head start over this, which they perplexingly didn’t give us.

But not to fear, because in the meantime, fans have wasted no time in buiding their own applications to integrate data into Facebook profiles. Among them: Charts which is very sweet as it lets people stream your most recent listens (well, at least 30 seconds of some of them anyway)


xat’s plugin which I’d like more if it would refresh.

Fortunately, did know to say thank you:

Thanks for the interest guys — we’re doing our best and will have something pretty cool for you soon.

Then we’ll be relying on you all to spread the word. May the best music revolution win! ;)

On a related note, I’ve been using Facebook for a little over a year, ever since David Silver said something to the effect that people who teach college students about the internet are negligent if they aren’t on Facebook, leading to one of those hard cold moments of shameful recognition of the truth that sent me scurrying to create an account ASAP. But until recently, there’d been nothing for me there. Sure I can see pictures of my students (too often with alcohol in hand) and I like being able to follow my favorite students after they graduate through the site, but the few peers I had on there weren’t really using it to communicate with each other, if they were using it at all.

But in the last 2 months something really changed. Maybe it was Richard Smith creating a group for the Association of Internet Researchers’ fall meeting in Vancouver. Maybe it was just critical mass. But suddenly the joint is hopping with so many of my honest-to-goodness friends that it’s become the Must Visit spot on my daily internet rounds.

Meanwhile, on yet another related note, I’ve started a group for scrobblers who study the internet. If you’re one of them, please join us here.

But if what they say is true, what’s with Facebook leaving out of the loop? That’s not right.

Update: Official App is now out and fine as the user-generated ones were, it’s way way better than them.

ReverbNation Street Teams

Yesterday I wrote about ReverbNation’s approach to helping bands spread themselves across the internet by providing an easy means to create distributable resources and track how those resources were employed and with what success. Jed Carlson, CMO, gave me a guided tour of the site recently, and in this second part, I want to discuss their view of fans, Street Teams, and the business model on which they’re banking.

They view fans as a funnel. At the widest end are the people who listen to the music. Then there are those likely to buy (converting ‘fans’ to ‘customers’ is one of their missions). Then there are the “promoters,” those who place widgets around the net and spread your music on your behalf. ReverbNation gives the bands easy ways to give fans what they need to be promoters and to track which fans are doing the most and the most successful promoting.

They see Street Teams as the narrowest end of the funnel. Fans can sign up to be on a Street Team. Band can launch ‘missions’ (spreading the music, promoting shows, recruiting new fans, driving traffic, and spreading the word offline are the five mission types built into the interface). Bands can build in rewards (e.g. backstage passes for the five team members who bring the most hits). Street Team members can choose whether they want to join a mission or not, and on their site, the mission and those who have been most active in accomplishing it are displayed. In contrast to a site like FanCorps, they have very limited means for Team members to talk to one another – no chat rooms or forums. Instead, the focus is on the bands.

Right now the Street Team piece is in Beta. Four bands are testing it, and it is set to go live no later than mid-June.

I asked where the money is to be found for them in all of this since all of these services are free for the bands and the fans. They have three primary revenue streams. First, the pages have ads (which I think are rather discreetly tucked into the corner) and artists share 50% of the revenue that views of their pages generate (in other words, the more page hits a band gets, the larger their share of ad revenue will be). Second, the artists can sell their music on the site using SnoCap and ReverbNation takes a modest cut. Finally, they offer bands some “premium services” for a prices. These include what they call “Fan Reach” which allows bands to do highly targetted fan contacts (like: send an email to all the fans in Ohio), and the ability to have the ReverbNation resources appear without ReverbNation branding.

What I like about this scheme is that there are no built-in motivations to screw either the bands or the fans. The more money the bands make, the more they make, and the less the bands make, the less they make. If they don’t put the bands and their needs first, they won’t make money. That’s a powerful incentive to remember their own mission.

Update: Fan Reach is free, not a premium service.