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Feb 2011

Is it possible to build a website with Facebook’s success?

Posted in Social Media, Web 2.0, Web Design and Usability | 0 Comments

Watching The Social Network on DVD the other night, my first experience of the award-winning portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to fame and financial success at the head of Facebook, I knew once it had finished that I wanted to watch it again. Probably another ten times after that.

It wasn’t the glamour of success, the money, the vapid groupies, the slick, suited yes-men, that drew me into the film. It was watching him code. The first hour of that film was, in my opinion, by far the most satisfying. I wasn’t anywhere near as interested in the people surrounding Zuckerberg as the little tech-wizard himself. Misogynist, traitor, socially inept, self-centred – call him what you will, but ultimately the fact he created one of the most impressively addictive and comprehensive online experiences in his early twenties, becoming a billionaire in the process, demands respect.

His motivations for building the first version came from a dark, spiteful, sexist place. This can’t be denied – the blog he writes in the film is taken, word for word, from Zuckerberg’s own LiveJournal. But I couldn’t help but marvel at how fast he put the site together, how quickly other people cottoned on to what he was doing. Such an impressive mind, and one that locked onto an idea so firmly that it was impossible to even gain his attention until he needed cash for a server, immediately securing ownership of his site beyond the average hosting deal.

It made me think about the possibilities of sites that immediately start to generate a huge community. Of course, they’re all built on the same fundamental idea – people are nosy. We all want to know where you were, who you were with, and most importantly, what you thought about that particular event, even as we throw our own judgements around our subconscious. The ability to explore someone else’s life, someone who’s ever-so-slightly different to you, is so addictive to most internet users, most people in fact, that we had no hope of resisting Facebook.

But how do you build a website based around this idea? How do you find the one niche that will hit the sweet spot in hundreds of millions of people, like Facebook, or Twitter? There’s no more avenues for social media sites, not any more. Facebook and Twitter have the market sewn up, and the few variations on their ever-popular theme have already been designed and launched.

Sites that can engender conventions are always worth a go – Penny Arcade proved that if enough people form a community around your site, and the industry you commentate on respects your judgement, to some degree, getting them to put a ton of booths up at a huge venue and selling tickets is going to make a lot of money, regardless of whether the money goes into the bank accounts of the owners, the company, or a charity.

Have any of you ever tried to build up a website that makes money solely through the traffic generated by a loyal and ever-expanding community of users? You’ll need some real USPs to get it going, and it’s not going to be easy. In fact, at first, it’s going to be a nightmare to get someone to sign up unless they knew you prior to the site’s inception, and even that’s a chore, sometimes. But keep slogging away. You’d be surprised at how many people have seen major financial success via the web simply by never giving up. Now, either watch The Social Network to inspire yourself, or don’t, and then go be one of those people. I wish you the very best of luck.

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Aug 2010

Are businesses really embracing free advertising?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

I’m sure everyone’s read this week that there’s a distinct likelihood of The Social Network, the Facebook film, being swiftly followed by a film about Google. Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, the book about the company penned by one Ken Auletta, has been optioned for the silver screen by producer John Morris.

I can’t help but wonder how the CEOs and employees in question feel about these films. Sure, they might not be representing the most positive view of the company, but surely any press is good press? I know no one needs to call attention to Facebook and Google – that’s a done job, being the two of the most popular online destinations on the internet.

But why not make a statement? Embrace the fact that the films are the talk of the town? I’m looking forward to The Social Network and the drama and controversy that the film aims to convey. Mark Zuckerberg, the film’s protagonist and arguable founder of Facebook itself, doesn’t think the film will hold to the truth. However, doesn’t he realise that Facebook’s saturation of the planet’s population means hundreds of thousands of people are going to see the film anyway?

Google’s film, however, may be far more interesting. Google is, like Facebook, a monopolistic online entity. Their market-share hovers at around 95%, they’re rapidly spreading into every digital market and medium, from their search engine to books, television and domain management and registration. I have an account, a homepage, a domain, a YouTube account and a browser, all done by Google and used by me on a daily basis.

But the end of the world? Is this really bad market for them, or is it an opportunity for Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to show off their PR muscle and demonstrate they’re serious, business-minded entrepreneurs whose determination meant they were able to place themselves at the centre of the internet. How many companies can lay claim to inventing a verb?

It’s an interesting, online-focused Russian doll concept to consider; the film’s advertised on sites, some of which using domains sold to them by Google, to talk about a Google movie that people will research using Google. No other company can claim to act as such a seller of information, and they could raise or sink the film depending on the complex, secretive algorithms they use to determine what comes first in their search engine – the excited Google critic, or the excited Google fan.

Both Google and Facebook have had their fair share of third-party controversy – Facebook has stalkers, kidnappers and rapists, and Google’s safe-search features aren’t always as “safe” as they proclaim. But what other companies will we now see drifting into the limelight? McDonald’s PR staff must’ve had minor aneurysms after Super-Size Me was released to the public, and they’re the most dominant fast-food chain on the planet – I discovered only last night that if you’re visiting the pyramids of Egypt and fancy a Happy Meal or a Big Mac, it’s only over the other side of these sacred architectural relics.

It begs the question; are you really coping with your critics as well as you could be? Everyone releases statements, denial-esque press releases, and product changes to respond to critics without actually responding. But what if Google’s founders sat down, tomorrow morning, and used Google Video to release a vlog of them discussing what they’d love to see discussed in the film. It calls attention to a film that could be dangerously critical, while making them seem involved in how they’re perceived by the public.

As with all the major shifts in the online sphere, time will tell on this one, but hopefully we’ll get a Google film that pulls no punches and stays neutral. The Social Network seems fun, but a little dramatic. An adaptation of a critical work of non-fiction about a company with monthly online visitors numbering in the billions deserves to be taken seriously, and the company should take the opportunity for a little serious marketing of their own.

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