Monthly Archives: October 2008

“Global Network Initiative”

Thanks to Veronica I learned about the “Global Network Initiative” a few hours before it hit my RSS feeds coming from all over the web.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, it is a consortium of universities, NGOs, and industry players (noticeably Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo) that teamed up to suggest a code of practice to protect free speech as the flow of information becomes more global and more complex.  Here is what they wrote on the initiative’s website:

“From the Americas to Europe to the Middle East to Africa and Asia, companies in the information and communications industries face increasing government pressure to comply with domestic laws and policies that require censorship and disclosure of personal information in ways that conflict with internationally recognized human rights laws and standards.

The Initiative is founded upon new Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy – supported by specific implementation commitments and a framework for accountability and learning – that provide a systematic approach for companies, NGOs, investors, academics and others to work together in resisting efforts by governments that seek to enlist companies in acts of censorship and surveillance that violate international standards.

For me, this announcement triggered a couple of thoughts.

First, I think this is an interesting example of the centrality of information in social and political processes.  It is also a good example of the complexity of relationships between politics, law, and business on a global scale.  International corporations acting in the field of media and information are caught in a situation where they have to navigate between the global nature of their business; the political, social, cultural, and legal characteristics of their country of origin (US in many cases); and the same characteristics and demands of the localities they are acting in.  This is definitely not a simple task.  There is also little doubt that initiatives such as this one reinforce (Western) principles of freedom of speech and privacy in debates with governments that do not necessarily approve those.

Second, I wonder what is the business interest of commercial entities in this initiative.  Of course there is a chance that they join the initiative for ideological reasons, but I doubt they would do it if such a move would compromise their long-term strategic objectives.  In Israel, in the 1960’s the journalistic community established the Israeli Press Council (HE), which since then focuses on two main issues: (1) guarding freedom of expression and (2) observing ethical behavior of its members.  One of the main reasons behind establishing this voluntary organization was a preemptive strike against the political apparatus making ethical principles into laws.  In other words, the media chose to regulate themselves instead of being regulated from outside.  So, following this story, I wonder if there is a similar sentiment behind the “Global Network Initiative” – the companies volunteer to self-monitor themselves according to a set of values that they decide on (in consultation with other like-minded bodies), before they are forced to adhere to some sort of external regulation whether on the local or the global levels.

What do you think?

November 1 update:

Here is Micael Zimmer’s take on this initiative.

Digital inequalities and politics 101

I gave a guest lecture today in an intro Comm class I am TAing this semester for Bruce Lewenstein.  For about a week and a half we have been discussing communication and politics in light of the upcoming US presidential election.   As a result, the 50 minutes class I led, focused on digital inequalities and their political repercussions.  It was a very general talk, yet preparing for it helped me clarifying some of my own ideas and made me see that there is uniqueness in my take on things.

I am posting here a PDF of the presentation.  I am not sure how informative it is without the actual talk, but you can probably get the gist of it.  I removed some of the illustrative-only slides and added some of the more informative ones, so I hope it’ll help.  Also, it has some of the recent statistics about internet penetration in the US and worldwide, which may be useful for some.

You thoughts and comments are welcome!

[link to the PDF]

Reading blogs #3

Here is another digest…

I added new category dedicated to this activity and I figured that having subject titles would help readability ( wonder if those will evolve into something sustainable).  What do you think? I have two specific questions: (1) Isn’t it too long?  Would you prefer shorter, but more frequent posts? (2) As of a few days ago Israel also entered into election cycle, which I assume I will follow – would you be interested in getting snippets of Israeli media (my short translations from Hebrew) on the subject?

Comments and questions are welcome!

Interesting event

Russia online” – A wiki of a conference organized by Columbia University and Harvard’s Berkman Center on social media in Russia. It is already over, but the website still has some very interesting titles and abstracts, (unfortunately few full papers).

Thoughts

Lets Use the Global Information Infrastructure to Create a Portal Providing Knowledge for Poverty Alleviation” – from John Daly.

More from John – “Musing: The Global Recession Will Be Very Hard on Science for Development

Open Networks” – Some thoughts on what the infrastructure should/could look like from BuddeBlog.  What do you think?

Digital Divide

HU: Parliament votes for closing digital divide” – More of puzzle to me at this stage as the article does not list any concrete steps they are going to take, most of the listed action items are more of a declarative character… any ideas about what I am missing here?

‘Broadband for all’ scheme unveiled as usage limits criticised” – Another interesting take on the digital divide as it is faced in UK.

Still in the same region, here are some efforts in the EU community to use technology for the benefit of visually impaired people – “Enabling the blind to find their way

Economic crisis and MICT

Continuing a “thread” I’ve started with bits of information about the current financial crisis and its potential relationships to MICT, here are a number of interesting items.  “The financial crisis and the mobile device industry” – making similar point to my earlier post.  “Financial Crisis the effects on European Communications” – a short analysis making a similar point as before, but this time for Europe, plus some financial repercussions for the telecos.  A slightly different take on things from the same source – “Global financial crisis It’s not such bad news for unsophisticated economies” – which keeps me thinking about the role of the “global” village in the “global” aspect of the current crisis, or in other words if we can extand the unsophisticated also to telecommunication markets/infrastructure.

Here is another interesting analytical piece on the subject – “Is The Economic Crisis Affecting European Startups At All?

Interesting reports, numbers, and visualization

New PEW report “Networked families” – some interesting trends and motivations in technology ownership by US families.  Speaking of which, here is an item about an interesting attempt to capture the traditional TV viewing experience in the online world – “CBS creates ’social viewing rooms’ for online programming“.  Here is also a summary of the PEW report on the ITU website.

More mobile penetration trends – “Turkey – Annual Growth at Lowest Ever Level“.  “Nigeria has achieved 80% phone penetration” but at the same time “Nigerian ICT companies fail to conquer rural connectivity market“.  Also on Africa – “Portugal Telecom Reports 12.1 mil. African Subscribers by End-Q2“.

Telecoms growth in Asia set to continue” – snippets from another BuddieComm report.

Booming telecoms in Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine” – some trends and a few numbers from that region.  And here is another region we don’t hear about a lot – “Australian Broadband Market Statistics” – not as much numbers in the post (they have to sell their reports after all), but some interesting information.

Also booming is the online advertising in the US – “US: IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report Shows First Half of ”08 Up 15.2% From Same Period ”07

World Map of Top Social Networks” – I think the title talks for itself.

Look at the Size of U.S. Nukes, and Other Things Too” – Another map-based visualization of some international statistics.

Thanks to John Daly’s post, here is an interesting interactive map of the debate over the current financial crisis.  I need to spend more time looking at this tool as it seems really interesting.  And speaking about interesting textual analysis, here is another one from “Flowing Data” blog – a lexical analysis of the presidential debates in the US.  And here is a good graphical comparison of the S&P index behavior in the current and some previous crises (NY Times).  Finally, and I actually think I’ve metnioned it before, NY Times has launched a website with some really intersting visualizations.

Another post from John Daly’s blog summarizes – “Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries” – it looks to me that the original report should be very interesting.

MICT regulation

Broadcasters lash out in fear over FCC support of white space” – The debate surrounding the white space issue in the US seems to become really interesting.  If you have not heard about “white space”, here are a couple of popular explanations:

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Here is a response of National Association of Broadcasters to that initiative.  And more buzz in the blogosphere – “FCC under fire for Google-backed spectrum release plan

MICT controversies

I wrote in the past about the ongoing attempts to filter internet in Israel.  Here are some recent news from another part of the world – “Australia trials Internet filtering – what happened to personal choice?

Technology and US election

Ad Wars” – This is not exactly a blog, but a NY Times page dedicated to the US presidential campaign ad-wars.  Pretty interesting – thank you Laura for sharing this!  More  election related stuff – “Rivals’ Visions Differ on Unleashing Innovation“.

Also, in the last “Reading blogs” I posted a link to an item about Barak Obama advertising in computer games.  Here is another item on the same subject, which I find fascinating – “Barack Obama presidential campaign comes to Xbox 360

Also related to the elction, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, has recently hit the headlines with his endorcement of Barak Obama and speculation about whether or not he will (or wants to) be the first US CTO – “Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt throws support behind Barack Obama“, “Schmidt for Obama“, and “Google CEO Wants to Be ‘President’ Obama’s Tech Chief?“.  I find this story pretty interesting.  Also intersting is the fact that “access to the internet” is again mentioned as one of the pivots (if not the pivot) of the entire debate.  And here is an opportunity for you to voice your opinion regardng who would make a better CTO for the US.

The Election That Has the Whole World Blogging” – a WP article about grassroots coverage and analysis of the US election.

Talking about buzz, there has been a lot of it regarding a customized video in support of Barak Obama produced by moveon.org.  Here is a post from Statistical Modeling blog showing what are the actual chances of your individual vote to be decisive for the election, provided the state you are voting in.

OLPC

One Laptop features on stamps” – Nice… but apparently this is an old news.

Simply cool stuff!

This is slightly futuristic, but cool! – “Robotic ants building homes on Mars?

NY Times has a photostream of people and their avatars – check it out!

How To Photograph an Atomic Bomb” – some really amazing images.

Credibility of a blog

If this is not your first time reading my posts, you know that a while ago I started posting digests of interesting things i spot while reading (primarily) blogs and some other resources.  Given my interest in telecom policy with a particular focus on developing countries, it is not surprising that one of the blogs on my RSS feeds is called “IT News Africa“.  I started following it a few months ago as I thought it brings interesting and relevant information.  However, the more I follow this blog, the more doubts I start having about its credibility.

My main problem with this source is that it never links back to its sources.  Many times it looks pretty clear that the article is re-posted from elsewhere, which is a common practice, but there is no link back.  Sometimes they would even mention the source (like Business Africa Daily, but would still provide no link to the original.  Sometimes the post would be signed by ITnewsAfrica.com Reporter, but if you check out the about page, it does not have any reporter on staff, which raises questions.  In fact, I even tried contacting them once, asking for the source of one of their items, but I have never heard back.

The “about” page is also weird.  It has a very concise description of the project, which boils down to the fact that they syndicate their content across various platforms, and a list of names with titles.  There are no bios and no other information about the people behind the project, which does not add at least to my level of trust.

I think I’ve reach a point where I feel I should finish that semi “trial period” with this website and I am left with a few thoughts and concerns.  On the one hand, I wonder how people judge the trustfulness of individual blogs.  To what extent people are concerned with crediblity of information they encounter online.  Specifically, how do they establish what blogs to trust and to what extend?  On the other hand, I wonder if there are really good information sources about telecom news from the African region and other parts of the world that are less covered by the mainstram media in the US.  Any ideas?

Pod-Cars – Good? Bad? or Ugly?

Now, after circulating the local press for about a month, it made to the New York Times – Ithaca is trying to be the first US site to have Pod-Cars. Pod-Cars, or Personal Rapid Transit, are little wagons that can carry 2-8 people to a destination of their choice, as long as it is on the route of monorails these cars are running on.  Kind of a personalized little light train that also uses clean energy.

Pod Cars picture from NY Times

The initiative has generated a lot of positive buzz.  Being a liberal and environmentally conscious hub, the impression i am getting from the media (and some of my Facebook contacts) is that people are eager to have little white trans running around Ithaca.  After all it is cleaner than the cars, it is safer, particularly for those nights when the students are going out and drink, and it is supposedly faster than a personal car.

Sounds great… but somehow i have doubts.  Imagining a network of elevated monorails running all around Ithaca, across its gorges and waterfalls, really blocks my excitement with the environmental and safety benefits.  I do wonder if Ithaca with its rush-minutes (a much shorter version of rush-hours) and maximum 60K people (including students) needs such a public transportation system that will tremendously change one of its main assets, the looks?  What do you think?

Google’s roots

Recently Google published its quarterly reports, showing 26% growth in profit, which is particularly impressive in light of the escalating economic crisis (more here).  The primary reason for such growth is attributed to strengthening of Google’s brand among advertisers and its growing (advertising) market share.  For example, AdSense alone generated revenue of US $1.68 billion.  Very impressive!

Ironically, Veronica was reading the very first (and I don’t know if the only) article Brin and Page have published about Google.  It is available here and you are welcome to read it.

Why is it ironic you ask?  Well, if you go to Appendix A in the article, they write:

“advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers”

and they continue:

“Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious. A good example was OpenText, which was reported to be selling companies the right to be listed at the top of the search results for particular queries [Marchiori 97]. This type of bias is much more insidious than advertising, because it is not clear who “deserves” to be there, and who is willing to pay money to be listed. This business model resulted in an uproar, and OpenText has ceased to be a viable search engine. But less blatant bias are likely to be tolerated by the market. For example, a search engine could add a small factor to search results from “friendly” companies, and subtract a factor from results from competitors. This type of bias is very difficult to detect but could still have a significant effect on the market. Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results. For example, we noticed a major search engine would not return a large airline’s homepage when the airline’s name was given as a query. It so happened that the airline had placed an expensive ad, linked to the query that was its name. A better search engine would not have required this ad, and possibly resulted in the loss of the revenue from the airline to the search engine. In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines. However, there will always be money from advertisers who want a customer to switch products, or have something that is genuinely new. But we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.”

So yes… very critical take on online advertising in 1998 (including siting Bagdikian!) and $5.54 billion revenue primarily from online advertising in 2008.  Ironic, isn’t it?  I am of course not suggesting that Google is taking money for promotion of companies to higher search results, but at the same time, I don’t think we can deny Google’s proactive role in shaping our current advertisement industry and commercialization of the internet.  In fact, this is a great example of the Structuration Theory, but that is for a different post.

P.S. Today in Google if you are based in the US and you search for cellular phone, the first thing you get are Google.news results, followed by a Wikipedia article, followed by T-Mobile website…

Reading blogs #2

Here is the second digest of “stuff” from around the internet…  Enjoy!

Commercial Air Traffic Seen Around the World” – a really cool visualization of 24 hours in the life of global commercial air traffic.  In general, the blog it is coming from is really interesting.  Speaking of visualization of data, here is an interesting post at Scholarly Kitchen about a new tool for social data visualization created by people behind babynamewizard.com teamed up with IBM.  And here is just a fun post about visualization of the length of rivers and height of mountains in the 19th century.

Top 5 social lending sites that knock out the bank middle man” – I am hearing about this idea for quite some time now, but have not formed a clear opinion about it…  anyhow, the name of the first website mentioned in that post is rather funny and does not have the best connotations in this context for any Russian speaker.

Has technology deepened the financial crisis” – I don’t think i agree with the entire idea, but i did start wondering a little while ago about the role of media, information, and communication technologies in the current financial crisis.

More on the crisis and MICT.  “Latin America – the financial crisis and its impact on the telecom market” – a short analysis of repercussions of the financial crisis on the developing economies; the telecom part of it is not as well developed however.  An here is another take on the crisis, or more so a way to fix it – “Jeff Jarvis uses Google models to fix the world economy” – but that one, i think, requires a more careful read on my side.  Here is another article about the financial crisis reaching the IT industries in developing countries – “World economy crisis hit Kenya’s IT sector“.

More on the mobile phones around the world – “Nigeria assumes telecoms giant status in Africa & Middle East” – it has some interesting numbers. “Emerging Markets Mobile Penetration to Rrise from 46% in 2008 to 95% by 2013” – a summary of “Tariff Consultancy” report on predicted mobile penetration (I wonder why ITU do not provide links to the originals/sources of the data… it would be nice if they did).  Another one to the pile: “Argentina records 44.4 million mobile lines by August-end“, and another one: “Romania wins the mobile penetration growth race in EU in 2007“, and another one for Brazil, South Africa, Spain.

On the other hand, there are some less optimistic news as well: “Lower Handset Sales in South Korea” and “Pakistan Cuts Off Over 10 Million Mobile Phone Accounts“.  As well as – “Nokia sees sales and profits slump in Q3” – and – “Turkey – Annual Growth at Lowest Ever Level“.

And here is another interesting article about mobile phones and their innovative uses linked to socioeconomic development – “Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?” – thank you Uzair for sharing that.  Here is also a related Ted talk given by Iqbal Quadir, co-founder of GrameenPhone.

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More on mobiles: “Silent mode” – Remember when Lenovo bought the laptop division of IBM? I would not be surprised if at some point another Chinese company, ZTE, will buy Ericsson, Nortel, or Lucent.  The most fascinating aspect for me is that most of their revenue is coming from selling “equipment that is cheap, reliable and unobtrusive” in the developing countries… reminds me of my earlier post.

Global Broadband Sub Growth Remains Strong” – Some number about global penetration of broadband.

Define blogging without mentioning technology” – a nice, short, and provocative post on “Online Journalism Blog”; of course what really interesting are the comments left by users trying to answer this challenge.  I would probably answer this quest borrowing (and slightly altering) from Technorati’s latest “State of the Blogosphere” report: interconnected communities of writers and readers at the convergence of journalism and conversation.  What do you think?

Blogging journalists” – report of a rather interesting survey of journalists who also blog; I haven’t read it all, but it looks promising.

State of the Blogosphere 2008” –  an interesting report from Technorati, which may raise more questions than answer that it can provide.

FCC moves toward wireless Internet plan despite carrier’s pleas” – that is interesting…

2008 Corruption Perception Index” – this is also very interesting, particularly provided the “perception component”.

An Optimized View” – not exactly a blog, but a Washington Post review of the “Born Digital” book by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.

Mobile Mozilla Public Alpha Due Soon” – I was indeed wondering where the mobile version of FF is.

Giant database plan ‘Orwellian’” – Thanks to Sol for sharing this BBC article on the controvercy of storing user communication data for government agencies.  I posted other links on the topic in the previous digest and here is another reference to it.

Blog Action Day” – An interesting initiative I’ve learned about too late for this year action.

The online battles for president” – I’ve seen a lot of buzz about McCain’s semi-legal battle with YouTube regarding removing his videos, but this is the first time I read about Obama placing political ads in video games.

“Deletionists” vs. “Inclusionists”

I followed Eszter’s post about a rather heated debate on Wikipedia on whether or not “Joe The Plumber” deserves an entry in the online encyclopedia.  It led me to a page with a long list of opinions ranging from “speedy delete” to “speedy keep”.  I, however, found the heading of this page particularly interesting:

Joe the Plumber debate on Wikipedia

What do you think?

P.S. For those of you who are not familiar with the case, Joe became “famous” thanks to the last night presidential debate.  Here is the moment:

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And here is the actual encounter they refer to:

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P.P.S. On an unrelated note, while searching for the YouTube videos I noticed a new, personalized, layout of the YouTube homepage.  Ironically it introduced me with a bunch of videos about Wal-Mart.  That probably happaned because i searched for videos about Wal-Mart for a presentation last week, but at the same time it disregarded my entire history with YouTube, which is weird…

OLPC vs. Virtual computing

A post with the following title has recently landed on my RSS reader: “California firm undercuts $100 laptop scheme“. Apparently it was not a single instance of similar reporting.  The “Silicon Alley Insider” titled their article “Take that OLPC!“, “Forbes”, with a title “One Virtual PC Per Child” was more gentle, and there were others.  In most instances however, there was a subtle finger-pointing at OLPC as a failure.

The story is of NComputing, which produces terminals that distribute resources of a single PC across numerous terminals, which from the user’s side supposedly operate as a stand alone computers.  The company just signed a deal with the Indian government to sell 50K of its units, which are supposed to be used in 5K schools reaching 1.8 million children.  The cost of a “seat” at the terminal is US $70, which makes it rather attractive ($30 cheaper than yet to be achieved goal of OLPC).  This is probably why just about a year ago NComputing sold 180K of its devices to Macedonia.  And apparently the rivalry, particularly rhetorical one, between NComputing and OLPC is not new.  However, i think the critics are missing a point here.

Although looking at the numbers, it looks like NComputing’s solution is more attractive.  In fact most of the discussion surrounding OLPC has been around the costs and distribution (here is a really interesting and thorough post on the subject).  I tend to agree with a lot of criticism of the project, but not with the idea that is an obsolete idea.  I wrote before about the contribution of OLPC to developing the market for ultra small and cheap laptops aimed at education.  Yet it took me to listen to Matt Keller, Director for Europe, Middle East & Africa for OLPC, at the last ITU Telecom event, to realize the substantive philosophical argument this project is struggling to make.

In the articles I read about the NComputing story, OLPCs response to the deal was presented as an excuse.  Negroponte claimed that the two projects are incomparable as they are addressing different issues, but I am not sure that his point went through.  Indeed, the idea behind OLPC (and I sincerely wish they would do a better job communicating it), is for the child to make laptop an integral part of his or her learning.  Learning in this class does not include just sitting in front of a computer in class and following the teacher’s instructions, but to be able utilizing this resource anywhere this child goes.

For example, one of the particularly interesting and under-studied aspects of OLPC in my view is what happens when the children bring those devices home.  My intuition tells me that there are important repercussions on the ways knowledge and information are generated and distributed in OLPC families.  Although it is an empirical question, I think it is an important component in trying to compare the true value of OLPC vs. a centralized and non-mobile solution such as NComputing.

Using the so-much “liked” terminology I think on a conceptual level NComputing solution vs. cheap laptop solution (OLPC and potentially others) is the difference between 1.0 and 2.0 education.  In first version we indeed familiarize people with technology and socialize them into particular ways of using it focusing on how to perform tasks.  Having limited and segmented interaction with technology leaves little room for innovation and creativity, since the entire activity is taking place in the formal setting.  At the same time, owning the technology (which also has been found in research as correlated with “digital literacy”) allow more natural interaction with it, thus leaving room and opportunity to go beyond the institutional boundaries of the fixed model.

Abdul-Muyeed Chowdhury, the director of an organization working to build subsidized cyber cafes across Bangladesh,is cited in Forbes article as saying “If we could afford to buy one computer per child, we wouldn’t be a poor country.  In a country where people make $1 or $2 a day, it doesn’t make economic sense for everyone to have their own computer. It makes sense to share them.”  Indeed, the sharing model worked with the mobile phones (see GraminPhone as an example), but I think the remaining question is what’s the purpose of deploying that technology.  However, I think we should remember that the purpose of simply providing access (even providing access with a focus on creating business opportunities) is different from the purpose of educating.  It seems to me that the government officials who are making decisions as to whether spend $70 or $100 per education of a child in their country (or more precisely $200-$300 or  $400), should consider the long-term value and the indirect effects of these $30 (or even $100).

What do you think?

Do social networks have a business model?

As the economic sky is getting covered with clouds of financial crisis and deepening recession, people start questioning the web 2.0 oriented business models, or more so the lack of thereof.

Recently I read about Mark Zuckerberg making statements suggesting that growth is the primary goal of Facebook at this point, and not revenue.  They do a pretty good job with the former (even though it is becoming harder), but at the end of the day it is the latter that matters.  Basically what he said in an interview to (German newspaper/site) NAZ.com is that Facebook has yet developed a business model, which is really mind boiling provided the amount of investments the receive.

In this light, I started thinking about the different approaches the US and the Russian social networking enterprises are taking.  And I wonder if at some point, Facebook and others will try to adopt some of the methods they Russian counterparts are using.  I think that Russian enterprises are not as “spoiled” in terms of investments and in terms of their investors’ patience.  Yet, there are social networking websites in Runet and they are rather blunt and creative in the way they are making money.  I have some degree of familiarity with two of them – Vkontakte.ru and Odnoklasniki.ru.

Vkontakte“, which is a blunt rip off Facebook, is rather mysterious.  It does not have any ads (but does have a lot of spam) and it is not clear at all how it is funded (to a degree that some conspiracy theories suggest that it is a government project aimed at spying on Russian citizens).  Yet, it seems to be the most popular social networking website in Russia these days.  Some suggest that it has cloned FB’s business model, but I could not see the exact parallel.  They do allow you to buy virtual gifts in Vkontakte, but I have not seen a single add.  The last fact actually attracted some English-speaking people who miss the old FB or cannot access it from work.

I find “Odnoklasniki” more interesting in the sense of monetizing on social sentiments of their users, even though it is not as popular as Vkontakte (and it probably appeals to a different demographic, but that is for another post).  To start with, they have a pretty horrible interface design.  FB (and as a derivation, Vkontakte) have done a significantly better job in making a useful and interesting website (or should I say “platform”?).  Odnoklasniki is very simple and not very intuitive, but apparently it works.  In addition to (supposedly contextualized) ads, Odnoklasniki is experimenting with making money off the very basic human needs that bring people to use their website in the first place.

For example, Odnoklasniki has a very different view of privacy and unlike FB, it always shows you who and when viewed your profile.  Yet, they understand that as much as we want to know who is looking at us, we don’t want others to know that we are looking at them.  So, if you would like to remain invisible as you visit other people’s profiles, they can offer you this service for just a little bit over US $4 a month.  Apparently it works!  You know that because even when an “invisible” user visits your profile, you still see that there was a visit, you just don’t know from whom.

Another example is the picture rating system they use on the website.  Odnoklasniki allows its users to rate other users’ pictures on a 1-5 scale.  This is of course another socially sensitive issue.  On the one hand, you would probably like to complement people you like by giving them the highest rating possible.  On the other hand, it is a social networking website, so it has a little bit of a beauty contest component to it.  In other words, you want your pictures to have high ratings, as this probably signifies popularity.

Odnoklasniki are using (or shall i say exploiting) both sentiments.  On the one hand, for a little bit over US $4 a month, you can get an ability to give out a 5+ mark to other people’s pictures (5+ vs. 5 is like A+ vs. A).  On the other hand, you can insure one picture at a time in your collection from getting low ratings.  When you apply this service, the system will automatically add 1 point to any rating below 5.  Surprisingly, this service is free, but it is “sponsored” by an insurance agency, which proudly advertises itself when you are trying to insure your pictures and I assume once you apply this insurance.

These are just a couple of examples and some of the serveices are rather new.  I don’t know how viable the business model of Odnoklasniki is, but I do find it fascinating that they are trying to monetize on the social aspects of these networks, which is why people people are using these domains in the first place.  What do you think?  Can/should FB think about other aspects of the platform they’ve developed?  Should they view it not just as an advertising platform?  Can/should they try making money out of it?