Rocket fuel

Twitter busted through the 500 million registered account mark on Wednesday, just as we predicted. We built a neat dynamic graph where you can go and see whether you were an early adopter, or a hapless laggard.

Fcommerce is F*****

We've always been a bit sceptical about using Facebook pages to deal with complex interactive tasks, like shopping. Especially since one could use the Facebook API to build interesting applications, using all of Facebook's power, on your own terms, with a bespoke and fit for purpose user experience. So news that many brands are shuttering their Fcommerce sites comes as no surprise.

Social commerce is not dead

A new service not unlike Pinterest, Fancy, is turning Ecommerce on its head. Says CEO Joe Einhorn: "The way that commerce works up until today is that buyers buy products and tell customers what we’re allowed to buy, how much it costs and how to buy it. Merchants and brands will be able to come into any post and bid to sell against the demand right there." And interestingly, unlike Pinterest its majority is male.

Pinterest is a window into the soul

In the WSJ Katherine Rossman explains the not so obvious charms of Pinterest. "It hadn't occurred to me that such an online service also would be a window into me for my husband who sees me every day." Could it be a window into The US's Army’s world? Well, it has launched a Pinterest page specifically to attract women (Econsultancy). But the most interesting Pinterest story this week is by Social Media Examiner and how the site can be used for market research.

Still unclear about what Pinterest is about? As the Havard Business Review argues – the only real way to assess something in the digital world is to use it. And this means spending enough time dorking around to get the hang of it.

Poor bloggers and attention seeking brands

"Why don't you just go get married already?!" asks SEOMoz arguing convincingly (not to mention in depth) why Link buying and other SEO techniques would not be as cost effective as buying succesful blogs.

The west is getting smart fast

In the USA, two thirds of 24 – 35 year olds now own smart phones, while in the UK and Spain more than 50% of the total mobile using population also does.

Google+ brand pages out growing Twitter's new brand pages

A Social Bakers report that the top Google+ pages are outperforming that on Twitter. Burberry added 65,000 on Twitter for example, while on Google + it added 280,000 in the same peroid.

Even better than the real thing

A recent study claimed that the picture we present of ourselves on Facebook is – contrary to popular perception – actually a rather accurate picture of who we are. Now a RWW article says this is not so. We are even more of who we are on social media. Social networkers show "unusual acts of kindness and generosity," which is known as "benign disinhibition."

Long read – but a goodie

Two weeks ago we debated Evgeny Morozov's eulogy to the “cyberflâneur” – who in web 1.0 surfed, or strolled, anonymously the pristine frontier of cyberspace. In Arcades, Mall Rats, and Tumblr Thugs, Jesse Darling goes for the jugular: "…the flâneur remains ever a bourgeois male figure…" and "Morozov even waxes lyrical about the golden days of the dial-up connection, as though remembering the swathe of the plough in the field. Where this all once was grass, he laments, the information superhighway now runs through the middle; pity the snotty Tumblr thug who will never know the wholesome pleasure of strolling endless dreaming fields of Euclidean space with his own handmade code as map and compass." Ouch!

Creative of the week – Emilio Gomariz

Sure, most creatives have a Mac and use all kinds of software to help them make amazing things. But Emilio Gomariz uses the operating system itself as his toolbox. Gomariz is a digital artist who creates interesting animations by manipulating the actual OS X interface. He doesn't use code, which means his pieces take quite an effort: his piece 'Folder Type' for instance included more than 22,000 items. More info in Creative Review.

As you might have noticed, Twitter just went past the 500 million user mark. We had a dynamic graph plotting the process live, but given the limited realtime data that is accessible from Twitter, our graph lagged by a few minutes.

The question then remained: what was the exact time Twitter went through the half billion mark?

To get this after the fact was, however, quite easy. We merely pulled user number 500 million from the Twitter API, and looked at the exact time of registration. This came down to:

22 February 2012 18:06:05 GMT

Ok, but that’s not the interesting part. The real interesting question is: who is this user number half billion?

Piotr Janicki

Piotr Janicki is a predominantly male name, so our user is most likely male. He hasn’t tweeted yet, and is from Warsaw (or at least from that time zone). He follows 6 people, and 11 people follows him back (including us). He’s probably completely oblivious of the fact, but his Twitter ID has a huge amount of geek value!

We’ve contacted Piotr via @message on twitter, to see if he’s up for an interview. If he responds, you’ll be the first to know.

Steve Jobs visionary
Focus groups are excellent tools to get feedback on things your sample group can clearly imagine, they are terrible at dealing with abstract concepts. So says Zoe Tyndall of Britainthinks – a market research firm based in London.

This chimes with my own experience of conducting focus groups for web services, and seeing creative concepts subject to them.

In other words, if somebody put a mobile phone in the hands of the focus group it could be very useful to ask about their impression about how it makes them feel.

If however you came up with a concept for a creative brief, or an application like Twitter, without a working prototype, you won’t get meaningful feedback from a focus group. In fact Twitter is a fantastic example of how nebulous an interactive human driven service – most new digital services – can be: Many users have to try and use them multiple times before they get it. If Twitter’s future had been dependent on the approval of a focus group of people that had not used it, it would have been dead in the water.

In political polling the pollster will always frame the question, “if you could vote tomorrow”, precisely because of the need to focus the mind on an outcome which is imaginable, says Tyndall. If the polls tell you that the public thinks there is no alternative to austerity, that does not mean politicians should take it face value and not seek other solutions. A major policy shift that could be received very well, might just be out of the groups frame of reference in the present.

But – making decisions without these crutches are hard. It requires insight and vision. And courage.

So whether you are a product developer, pitching a creative concept or an activist politician. Remember – focus groups can never replace an informed vision if you want to do something out of the ordinary.

In January, Twopcharts estimated that Twitter would break through the 500 million user mark some time on the 25th of February. But now it looks like it will happen 3 days sooner, this Wednesday the 22nd.

We’ve created a graph that plots Twitter’s exact number of registered users over time, dynamically. In other words, you can follow it as it happens.

Twitter Growth Stats

How did we arrive at this graph?

Each tweet on Twitter has a rather big collection of user data embedded in it. From your bio, to your profile background and much more. Which is why Tweets are so much bigger in data terms, than SMS. But for our purposes two of these data fields are of particular interest: the time a user has joined Twitter, and a numerical user identifier.

We noticed that the user id’s always increased when time increased, and wanted to check if they are assigned one after the other, in a linear way. This means the total amount of users at the time when a user joins Twitter, is a function of the user id the user gets assigned. In other words, in its simplest form, the first user got id 1, the second user id 2, and so forth.

We captured hundreds of thousands of Tweets as they flew by in real time. And with the Tweets we got users’ information, and plotted the user ids on one axis and the time the user joined on the other. We then compared these with a few “known points” – points where Twitter actually released their stats.

Not only did this cross-check across all the known points, it also yielded the coefficient we had to multiply the user id with to get the total amount of subscribed users at that point (this happened to be one, by the way – in other words, the user id numbers are dished out in straight forward sequence).

Al that remained was to make the graph dynamic (it collects more data as we speak, so will always stay updated), and write a function that continuously weed out the extra data we don’t need (to stop the graph from becoming slower and slower over time).

Woody Harrelson gets massacred on Reddit


One of the often repeated things about Pinterest is that it is Reddit for females. So what is Reddit? In some ways it is the new 4chan (the arnachic community site said to have spawned anonymous). Other comparisons is with tech news community Slashdot. In other words a mixture of irreverence and in-depth technology discussions. They were the main driving force behind the January 18th anti-SOPA Internet blackout, and as a result, got thrown into the spotlight. That's probably why Woody Harrelson's PR team decided it would be a good idea to let him do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, promoting his new movie, Rampart. An AMA is kind of like a mass interview, with one main difference. Anything goes. And this is the point mr Harrelson's PR team did not quite research. It did not go down well. After being flamed to bits for only answering questions directly related to the movie, he was accused for gatecrashing a high-school prom after party, taking a girl's virginity, and never phoning her afterwards. Mr Harrelson, Rampart & Co. are still picking up the pieces of a shattered Public Image. Social Media pays, but it is powerful, and can blow up in your face if you don't do your research properly …

Clash of the weak tie titans

There's a reason why Twittter is so compelling. It's because it's a weak tie network (that is – not for close friends and family), which allow us to discover new stuff, interesting people and perhaps even sexual partners. But Twitter is threathened by the dramatic rise of both Google Plus and Pinterest, both of which are weak tie networks themselves. Pinterest has an added trick up its sleeve. It is tilted in favour of sharing (curation) rather than creation. Creation is much harder than curation. And a new study shows that 80 percent of all pins are re-pins, meaning that an overwhelming majority of content shared on site is recycled between users. To top that off, Pinterest retains and engages users two to three times more efficiently than Twitter did at the same time in its history. Yikes!

Trojan Tweets

But it's not all bad news for Twitter. The latest is that Apple will extend its integration of Twitter – which is already baked into iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods), into the Mac operating system. That's not all – Vimeo and Flickr will also come along for the ride.

Pinning down Pinterest


We know Pinterest is big among women in particular. But like Twitter (and bicycling), if you have not done it, you can explain the action, but not how it works and how it makes you feel. Here is the best explantion we could find so far:

'Pinning' by any other name is something we all do every day. We clip out recipes, we bookmark blog posts, we note the cut of the jacket of a passerby, we take a mental picture of a neighbor's living room layout, we marvel at the colors in a photograph on the gallery wall, we read a passage we like somewhere and save it for later.

And Pinterest is much better placed to monetise its content:, an online crafts marketplace with 50,600 Pinterest followers, is using Pinterest's price display feature. When Pinterest users "pin", an Etsy chair on a board for their followers to see, the image of the chair will automatically include the chair's title, and a banner showing the price.

Apple reacts to AddressBook-gate

Last week we wrote about Path's PR predicament, after uploading users' address books to their servers. The news was barely out, or other services started popping like popcorn, admitting that they've been doing it too. Including Twitter. Apple realized that the problem should be solved on platform level, and announced that they're going to restrict access to the Address Book in a near future iOS release, prompting users for permission before giving an app access to the Address Book. Interesting, on a technical note, is that all of this could have been prevented if developers used proper cryptographic hashing to protect the uploaded information. We're going to be flamed for this, but this is why the "closed" Apple approach, regulating developers' access to the system, makes sense.

Instagram fiddling while Rome pins

Instagram updated their iPhone app interface, added a filter and knocked one of the reasons to use the popular Camera Plus app – sharpening – on the head. But with Pinterest's mobile app including a camera and rudimentary editing settings, would their time not be better spent rolling out an Android, and even a web interface?

Popping on Instagram

popping on instagram

A few weeks back we featured a story by Dirk Singer of Rabbit on Instagram subcultures and group 'popping'. This week, thanks to Dirk, Wessel was invited into one of these closed groups for two pop sessions. At an alloted time, the group posts their photos, and they cross-like and comment each others pics. If this happens in a short enough space of time, your pic appears on the Popular page, giving you a lot more exposure, and your picture literally Pops with likes! Pop sessions developed amongst Instagrammers as a reaction when pics of celebrities, cats and girls started to dominate the Popular Page. Wessel never managed to Pop, but got a fascinating insight, none the less, into how Instagrammers organise.

Creative of the Week: Alex Allmont


Normally we discover our Creatives of the Week online. This week is different. Someone who works with us went to the Kinetic Art Fair here in London, and discovered Alex Allmont, a brilliant kinetic artist who builds amazing mechanisms out of Lego. From exquisite musical clockworks like this, to this automatic plaiting machine, his works are truly inspired.

Valentine's day in Startup Land


So, what are you planning this Valentine's day? Top this: Instagram founder Mike Krieger's girlfriend, Kaitlyn Trigger, built him an app for Valentine's day. Without knowing how to code! She started last December, learned Python and then built Lovestagram. She noted in the end, as most programmers know, learning how to code was really easy. How to put everything together … that was the hard part. Heart warming!

Numbers flock to the Social Network newcomers


Have you noticed how many people have started following you on Google+ lately? It's no coincidence, and frankly, it's not only you. Google+ is absolutely exploding, to the point where it now has half the unique visitors that Twitter has! One caveat to take note of: Twitter is constantly undervalued in this area, as much of its traffic comes from mobile apps, not counted by web stats. Another relatively new network, Pinterest, is the fastest stand-alone website ever to hit 10 million monthly unique visitors. On top of that, the average pinterest user spends 98 minutes per month on the site! If you're still in the dark about what Pinterest is good for exactly, check out mashable's board of top Superbowl ads. Nice, eh?

Pinterest is not only popular, they're also very sneaky

More cheating: On Pinterest, there is a strong use case for brands to link pictures (or "pins") of products to their online shops. Pinterest enhances this use case by presenting users with a "gifts" tab, where product pictures are sorted by price, with the price displayed prominently on each picture. It simply gets this price from your pin description. This is very nice of them, but it's just surfaced that they're not exactly doing this for free. Through affiliate-links partner Skimlinks, they're earning themselves a bit of money off your purchases by modifying the links to your products. This is all fine, except, they didn't tell anyone about it … and by doing so, they have quite a few users very hot under the collar.

P&G signals shift to digital & social

Top news this week is that Proctor & Gamble has laid off 1,600 employees, shifting budget to digital and social. To quote their CEO, Bob McDonald:

In the digital space, with things like Facebook and Google and others, we find that return on investment of the advertising when properly designed, when the big idea is there, can be much more efficient.


Sky prohibits journos to Retweet, break stories on Twitter

Stonewalling: It's a difficult one for broadcasters. Both Sky and the BBC has tried to reign in and regulate how their journalists share information on Twitter. These social tools raise the profile and shift power to individual journos at the expense of their institutions. But curtailing journos' actions on Twitter will only leave them hamstrung and at a disadvantage to other users. Already there is talk of Twitter users refusing to Retweet Sky accounts.

Retailers and the mobile threat

mobile and retail

More Stonewalling: Retailers have reason to be worried about mobile. Why? In increasing amounts, customers check product reviews while in shops, and compare prices on online stores. What to do? Econsultancy has an in depth post outlining some of the options and possibilities, including mobile coupons – well worth a read. In related news, Google announced that it is opening its first physical shop, following Ebay's lead.

Turning action into advertising

Facebook will soon introduce more social advertising formats. This time they will allow advertisers to sponsor user actions. In other words, when a friend listens to Moderat on Spotify, the message telling you of this fact can be sponsored by a record label. Or a similar sounding, less known band.

The Death of the Cyberflâneur

Arguing: Before Paris got its grand boulevards, it had little nooks and crannies where anonymous flâneurs could just leisurely stroll and discover the unexpected. Internet critic Morozov wrote this week in the New York Times how social sites like Facebook has killed the flânerie of the early web. Zeynep Tufeckci was not convinced:

…the social web has greatly increased exactly this quality of the Internet – encountering the unsearched and the unplanned … connectivity through people – the social web – yields more diverse and surprising encounters than mere connectivity through topics or information

Creative of the week – Colin Pinegar


How many of your Facebook friends are 'real friends'? American design student Colin Pinegar used that very fundamental question as the starting point for a striking piece of design/art called 'Best Friends'. Based on a set of simple questions (like "Do I know this person's phone number?") he scored his online friends. That range of scores got plotted on a colour spectrum and then turned into a series of wax sculptures of his own face. It's a simple, but thought-provoking visualisation of a very interesting issue.

Pinterest – the middleclass, personal, profiled, curated, storefront network

Growing like a weed: Pinterest is a wildly popular social network, that we know. But what is it exactly, and why could it be so significant? Well, this post argues that it can enable hyper-optimised supply chain management, how it has created a new particular interest graph (like Twitter) and why bricks and mortar shops have another existencial threat to cope with. All of which rings true. To top that, news just in that at present Pinterest drives more traffic than Google Plus (but less than Twitter). We know that the majority of Pinterest users are female, but what is it's ethos? Well, a huge spat on the network over a rather mild picture, is rather revealing.

The rising importance of the audience with an audience

Twitter has just switched on the ability to see exactly how many Retweets a tweet has received, via their API (the website still only shows up to 50). This of course, is facinating for marketers, social scientists and anybody interested in the new ways information travels. We did a few quick tests via the API on momentous tweets from the last year. Interestingly the tweet that first ignited speculation that Osama Bin Laden had been killed was 'only' retweeted 1776 times, while this Lady Gaga tweet sent yesterday got 8550.

Some tweets are more equal than others

Lady Gaga is about to become the first Twitter user that breaks through the 20 million follower mark. A new top 20 Twitter user list is out and it is dominated by female celebrities. Keith Urbahn who sent the Osama Tweet, on the other hand had just less than a thousand followers (at the time). Voila: Banal tweets by popular celebrities travel further than the hottest news on the planet. Brian Solis identified marketing to users with influence as one the major trends for 2012. But there are pitfalls. Was last week's Jordon and Rio Fernand Tweets not only poorly executed but illegal?

When will I, I be famous?

So you're an ordinary mortal like most of us. How do you build a Twitter following? New data driven research is actually rather spot on. People want to be informed and entertained. The best Tweets do both simultaneously. And a study on what posts work on Facebook for journalists have found much the same.

Did Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest kill the blogging star?

Tired of studies yet? Hope not. Another new study shows that corportate blogging is down – by quite a margin – all over the Fortune 500 list of companies. Blogging is notoriously hard and time-consuming to do well. Curation of other's content on the other hand can drive as much traffic and takes less time. Our take: For professional services, tech and other companies with complex products it's still a must. But make sure your blog is easy to update.

Brands struggle to get people to engage with them

Psst pssst… we have a err… another new study that shows that most brands only average a 1% 'Engagement' rate on their Facebook pages (you get that simply by deviding the Likes by the Talking about figure). Fashion and Lifestyle brands, and brands that have hired tallented content creators, tend to do much better than that.

Two steps backward, three steps forward?  

Last week we were in a bit of a tiz about Twitter's new censorship policy. Zeynep Tufekci has however made an excellent argument that we were misguided. Says Tufekci: "Twitter has done everything it can do to help free-speech advocates around the world except deliver coffee and bagels in the morning." Importantly, in the past when Twitter did receive take down notices, the impact was universal. Now it will be only in the territory in which the request was made.

Creative of the Week – Scott Garner  

Simple, but cute. That's how we would describe Scott Garner's Still Life project. Referring to the noble art of still life painting, Garner developed an interactive image fit in a motion-sensitive frame, which gives a tongue-in-cheek new meaning to the term 'still life'. In short, a not so still life.