Sunday, February 28, 2010

Google's Nearby Search Function Adds Strength to Its Online Review Service

Last Friday, Google released the “Search Nearby Me” function in its search options panel. This new search function helps people find relevant search results based on their real-time geographic location instead of solely searching based on key words. I vaguely remember at sometime point last week, when I was Googling something, a toolbar box popped up asking me if I wanted to disclose my location to Google. Sure, I clicked. Now when I try to use this new function to find Chinese restaurants, a bunch of restaurants near my default location (you can set custom locations too) pop up, along with local Chinese restaurant information from popular review sites like Yelp and

What I found most handy from this function is that it also pulls in the combined information of local Chinese restaurants that have registered with Google's Local Business Center, with their locations showing up in the Google Map. The scary part of this is that once you click into any of these restaurants, not only are their location, hours, price and other useful basic information displayed, but like an octopus, Google has also compiled a list of ratings and reviews of that restaurant from other review sites. And if you sign in with your Google account, you can write a review of it right away on the spot. So far I have seen reviews pulled from couple websites like 10best, Trip Advisor, Yahoo Local and Urbanspoon, but I have not seen any reviews directly pulled from Yelp. Does Yelp not allow Google to aggregate their reviews? What is the deal here?

With this Google Nearby search function, the pace of local businesses building their presence online may only accelerate. Having a profile registered with Google’s Local Business Center will soon become a must for any business that wants to be searchable and survive the intertwining offline and online world.

The Google Nearby location-based search function shows how aggressively Google is in approaching the local business review sector pioneered by Yelp. Google has encroached upon the property of traditional media’s online content and news, then pulled in social media feeds (via Google's recent incorporation of the social media feeds into its search results), and now they are reaching into the reputation-review systems that was mainly supported by online review sites. Right now, I think the biggest weapons that review sites like Yelp can use to fight back against Google are the communities inhabiting their sites, whose users passionately contribute their reviews there instead of on a broader Google review platform. Google’s services are almost too ubiquitous. Users with Google accounts hardly view themselves as valued members of a “Google community”, thus Google can hardly enjoy the stickiness brought by the social side of a community. But in the long run, with Google's efforts to build a giant system that covers every aspect of people's online activities, it is likely that Google may still win in these aspects of web services due to its overwhelming scale.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reputation Bank Yelp's Problem With Its Own Reputation

(image from Internet Deformation Blog)

The recent legal dispute between Yelp and a veterinary hospital in Long Beach has once again highlighted the clash between local business review site Yelp and local business groups under an intense media spotlight, because this is not the first time Yelp was accused by businesses of manipulating reviews for financial gain. Yelp, as a business, is thriving by providing an objective account of local businesses’ reputation, and has thus has become a trustworthy “reputation bank”. It stores and spreads the impact of reputation with new social media technology. And we all know that among all businesses, the business of banking is one that is based fundamentally on reputation. In this sense, there is no doubt that as a "reputation bank", Yelp itself should be much more cautious about their own reputation, and handle their monetization process with more care and thoughtfulness in the future.

The objectivity and fair treatment of people's reviews is a promise Yelp has made with its large army of volunteer reviewers. As stated by Clay Shirky in his book Here Comes Everybody, this kind of mutual agreement and mutual expectation between the website and its users, called a "bargain", along with the promise and tools provided, are the three essential elements that make an online communities work. The founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales has made a bargain with Wikipedia’s contributors that the wiki platform will forever be free and available source of knowledge for people, and he later adopted the GNU Free Documentation License to reassure contributors of this original bargain.

I can totally see how Yelp began with a legitimate promise to its reviewers that the site would summon the collective strength of all its Yelpers to improve the services of local business and hold them accountable; it also utilized a set of effective tools, such as open online forums for public comments that other users could quickly jump into and contribute to, and features that established social ties and recognition between members, thus encouraging contribution to the community. The bargain was also legitimate: Yelp would objectively use its Yelpers' contributions for a good cause, and even though Yelp is a profit-driven firm, this implicit expectation of them to place this cause as their top priority above pure financial gain was also a bargain written into their original "contract" with users.

Yelp was doing a good job in the past and built up their good reputation as a trustworthy destination for reviews of local businesses by keeping up with the three elements. But if it decides to breach this bargain with its users, and place their financial goals ahead of objectively displaying reviews, that would likely ruin Yelp's credible reputation, and could lead to catastrophic consequences if contributors and users who base their decisions on trusting Yelp feel that trust has been breached.

At the same time, this fierce and public collision between local businesses and a reputation-storing/spreading bank like Yelp has also called much attention to how local businesses should handle the impact of this new generation of reputation-rating. Where prior e-commerce ratings by customers on sites like Amazon and eBay only affected other e-commerce participants, buyers, and sellers, Yelp’s reviews are directly impacting businesses whose primary day-to-day transactions occur offline and didn’t necessarily choose to participate in e-commerce. In the next blog post, I will discuss how local business should respond to this new wave of impact from the electronic reputation storage and spreading system and actively build their positive reputation in the virtual world.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Four New Media Journalism Forays Into L.A.'s Local Communities

In the past two months, I have been lucky to sit in on four Annenberg noon seminars that have all explored a common theme: how journalism equipped with new media technologies could better serve local communities, and what opportunities new communication technologies have brought to many previously media under-served communities in the Greater Los Angeles area. I was glad to see that even though new media has, to a large extent, facilitated the globalization process and shifted people's focus to a bigger scope, yet under this globalization context, our local communities are not being ignored but are instead being injected with vitality through the innovative usage of new communication technologies.

Alhambra Project

This project is under the umbrella of the USC Annenberg Metamorphosis and Intersections project. The project’s early research of the media supply in the area revealed a lack of common storytelling networks that bridge local ethnic groups together, thus leading to a low civic engagement rate in the area. The project thus will focus on building a shared multi-lingual storytelling network for Alhambra's diverse ethnic local residents, and hopes to increase the low civic engagement rate in Alhambra and also explore a new model for supplying media in culturally diverse local communities in the United States.

AOL's Patch:

AOL’s has committed $50 million to build a nationwide network of hyperlocal news sites. At the seminar, Marcia Parker, the west coast editorial director of, claimed that the site is robustly growing and opening more and more branches in many cities, so L.A. is a new battle ground. They are also currently scouting for community reporters who are rooted in L.A.'s local communities and will bring 100 percent community-flavored news to their site and to their audience.

Radio Bilingue

Through L.A. Public Media Service Radio Bilingue's research data, they found out currently in L.A. there are over 1 million minority ethnic groups that are undeserved with news information. They are very aggressively ready to jump into fill this gap with information. Also, they would take a multimedia platform approach to bringing their news and content online and deliver to mobile channels! Talent needed!

The South Los Angeles Report

This one is another USC Annenberg Metamorphosis and Intersections project. This very cool project works on increasing local citizen's media advocacy to help them produce news for themselves! By conducting workshops in South Los Angeles communities to equip local citizens with basic journalist report skills, the USC South Los Angeles Team has inspired many local residents to produce interesting content for The South Los Angeles Report website. Definitely check out this great piece of video news, What Our Tax Dollars Pay For, produced by South LA resident Delores Kelly after she attended one workshop. It is a fairly raw piece, but you can not miss the authenticity and advocacy power conveyed by it!

The Current and Future of Gaming

Today a friend of mine who studies gaming design at USC showed me two very cool game trailers, the first one is the next generation of a famous Japanese game franchise called Final Fantasy (yes, of course it is a Japanese game), which he describes as delivering the best graphics design the current video game industry can achieve. The second one is a preview for Xbox’s Project Natal, which will be launched later this year. As an amateur video game player who has only been into Super Mario all these years, I was very enticed to play these two games after watching the two short films about them. What will the future of gaming be? Just combine these two games in your head, and you would see a picture that in the near future everyone of us will be projected into a sophisticated video game world, controller free!

Final Fantasy XIII

Project Natal Xbox 360 Announcement

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Family Relationship-Based Social Network Sites

USC Annenberg's Center for the Digital Future Director Jeffery Cole brought up a hypothetical scenario in our first APOC class: What would happen when your parents started to comment on your Facebook page? Most people probably will agree with the answer Jeffery came up with: just image what young people would feel if they ran into their parents in a night club! Yes, as social network sites, which started with young adult demographics, begin to penetrate a broader audience, the "night club" door is opening more and more to parents now! What would you do?

There is no doubt that many people feel, just as they would for their real-world social circles, that they do not want a mix or clash of their online social circles either. That is why so many interest-oriented or profession-oriented niche social network sites have emerged to provide different venues for people's different social circles, like and But what about a place online that mainly designed for people to network with their family members, as if they have not networked enough with them in their offline lives? Believe it or not, there actually have been many family relationship-based social network sites out there trying and thriving, both in China and in the U.S..

According to their focus and functionality, these family relationship-based social network sites can be divided into the following two categories:

1. Providing a private space for family members to share and collaborate with each other, document their lives, and reconnect with out-of-touch family members. This type is especially useful within large families with their members spreading across long-distances. Sites like this include:,,,,,,,,,,, and Some of these sites have their own special traits like helping you find people that might be related to you within the network, but in general they all focus on internal connections within the family. They all include basic functions like photo and video-sharing, blogging, commenting, event planning, calendars and reminders, world maps, profile and updates, and family tree-building. Some of these sites allow members to import their family trees from or to link to their Facebook profiles. The content on these sites provide rich material for genealogy study. One site called is actually a public genealogy wiki for people to contribute and assist researchers in this field.

2. Providing a community for people to socialize as a family unit and connect with other families to create a network of families. Sites like this include: and Disney's These two are both focusing on sharing parenting skills between families. A notable site in this category is also, it is " a social network for English-speaking families living in Japan", and its main purpose is for families to discuss: "Raising kids in Japan, babysitters or daycare centers, schools and activities for kids, and the ultimate family getaway." Also, another very popular family relationship-based social network site in China called encourages mothers to share parental skills and document their babies' growth. These SNSs truly remind me of a comment made by a friend of mine studying sociology. He said that in our modern lives, the biggest opportunities for people to meet someone new mainly occurs when they are taking kids out or walking their pets in public places like parks. These sites prove that this is also true in the virtual social environment, kids are the new glue that brings families together.

Among all these family relationship-based sites, security and privacy are the most addressed important issues. By sociology measurements, there are two kinds of social capital existing in our society: bonding capital and bridging capital. The first category of family relationship-based social network sites provides bonding capital to its members, helping them develop deeper relationships within their existing social circle, while the second kind provides its members bridging capital by facilitating their outreach to new families. It is hard to weigh which kind of capital is more useful to these families, and maybe the perfect case is combining and balancing the two functions into one site.

Practical issues like how many members of a family would be active online due to varying ages and interests, and to what degree people would feel comfortable to share their family content with other people might determine the fate of these family relationship-based social network sites for now. But at the very least we can rest assured that family relationships have been taken into considerations and addressed by the social network sites. I also hope to see how these sites evolve and gain more traction with the upcoming "born digital" generations.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"I just met you, but I love you already!"

Do you still remember the cute dog in Disney-Pixar's movie "Up", which had an automated collar that could translate his thoughts into human languages? When he first met the little boy in the movie, he looked at him with a waving tail and happy tongue, saying: "I just met you, but I love you already!"

That was the cutest scene I remember from that movie, and now with the help of a new piece of technology designed by toy company Mattel, your doggie can "tweet" to you.

Here is an excerpt from "Mattel taps into social media craze with Puppy Tweets" from the L.A. Times:

"Tapping into the social media craze, toy giant Mattel Inc. is preparing to release Puppy Tweets, a high-tech toy that will allow dogs to publicize their everyday activities on Twitter via a sound and motion sensor.

Attached to a dog's collar, the plastic tag randomly generates one of 500 canned tweets when it detects barking or movement and automatically posts an update to Fido's own Twitter page.

A round of woofing could lead to a tweet of "I bark because I miss you. There, I said it. Now hurry home." A frenzied run through the backyard might garner "I finally caught that tail I've been chasing, and . . . OOUUUCHH!" "

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww, dog lovers, how cute would that be? Real-time conversations with your doggie, even when you are apart!

Another bit of light-hearted news I came across earlier today (well, considering the nature of the news, maybe light-hearted is not the right word, so please take a moment for a silent tribute and farewell if necessary...after you've brushed off the amusement you get from the news) was about people's response to the imminent death of Internet Explorer 6.

In a report by Techcrunch, a funeral for IE6 will be held by Aten Design Group on March 4. Of all the news I heard recently about the leaving of IE6, this one conferred the most dignity to the departure of this internet veteran that has been with us for almost a decade. Techcrunch cited the following text from the site

"Internet Explorer Six, resident of the interwebs for over 8 years, died the morning of March 1, 2010 in Mountain View, California, as a result of a workplace injury sustained at the headquarters of Google, Inc Internet Explorer Six, known to friends and family as “IE6,” is survived by son Internet Explorer Seven, and grand-daughter Internet Explorer Eight."

IE6, please rest in peace.

Monday, February 22, 2010

News from China: Youku: A Leading Web Entrepreneurs in China

Last week, I briefly introduced the fast-growing Chinese Social Network Site's eye-popping growth story. This week, I’d like to highlight another Social Media star in China:

Launched in December 2006, has grown to become the most successful video sharing site in the country. As the company has reported, " delivers more than 150 million daily video views as of June 2008 and total user time spent exceeded 30 billion minutes per month." Traffic ranking company Alexa has ranked as number 10 in China and number 52 in global traffic. According to the Alexa traffic stat graph below, in the past 30 days, Youku has also run far ahead of its main Chinese video sharing competitors, and, in terms of daily traffic.

Calling all these video sharing sites “Youtube clones” is not exactly correct. Even though they brand themselves as site for user-generated content (the videos and comments are submitted by the users), there is also a lot of professionally-produced content there, like hot TV shows and movies, due to holes in enforcing intellectual property policy in China. At this very moment, looking at the Youku front page, about 90% of the featured videos on the front page are professionally produced content. So it is really more like a Chinese Youtube/Hulu hybrid. You can basically find anything on it, even some pirated versions of newly-released movies. Besides user-submitted professional media content, as Youku gains more traction with its users, it has also attracted many professional media groups, like TV stations, to set up pages and upload full length versions of their programs sites for users to watch.

An editorial focus on professional content is probably a major reason Youku has separated itself from its competitors in China. Unlike its competitor Tudou, which put emphasis on user-generated content and feature them on the front page, Youku acquires traditional broadcast news channel contributions, and usually selects and features current event news clips from authoritative news stations like CCTV on its front page. For many people who have gradually abandoned TV in their lives, Youku has jumped in to fill that spot perfectly. it does not only provides professional entertainment, but also editorially-selected daily news content.

According to Youku, until July 2008, it has received 80 million dollars in funding from international venture capitalists including Bain Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures, Farallon Capital, Maverick Capital and Chinese Venture Capitalist Chengwei Venture.

Youku has also launched a program called Daily Buzz to report its hottest videos, along with an introduction of background stories in English. It could be a great source for foreigners to access the hottest online buzz in China. Kudos to Youku for providing a window for the outside world into all the social dimensions of China. Below is a teaser I put here for you to visit the buzz site at Is your interest piqued for starting your own web venture in China now? Then check out this detailed guide from Read Write Start: Never Mind the Valley: Here's Beijing

"Uploaded on: February 5, 2010 Total Views: 688,693 Thumbs Up: 5.6% Comments: 5,283

Feng Jie (凤姐) is really short at just 1.46 meters, with buck teeth. Yet she considers herself very pretty and smart. What piqued the, um, interest of millions of Chinese gentlemen are Feng Jie’s requirements for a future husband: must be a graduate from either Peking University or Tsinghua University (the two most prestigious in China), and — she’s very specific on this — needs to have majored in business or management. Her other requirements? International vision, height between 1.76 to 1.83, no child, a residence permit for an eastern coastal city, and age 25 to 28. A classic quote from Feng Jie: “I started reading when I was 9 years old; my knowledge reached its peak at 20.” You can’t fault a girl for reaching high, right?"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jeremiah Owyang: Web Strategy: How To Evolve Your Irrelevant Corporate Website

Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang published the article Web Strategy: How To Evolve Your Irrelevant Corporate Website in his blog Web Strategy three years ago with great foresight. Today as the online community has proven to be the epicenter for online conversations and interactions, more and more web technologies and companies that provide these services, like KickApps, have emerged to help companies revolutionize their website to be more community-friendly and "relevant" to their customers.

POM Wonderful is one of the pioneers in transforming their company website from a static information center to a dynamic “pomegranate-lover” community. Another great examples is Dell's IdeaStorm project: customer ideas to improve products prompted endless inspiration to Dell's product development teams, which would in turn help them better meet the needs of their customers. After all, who else could be a better person to turn to for advice on better serving your customers than the consumers themselves. They congregate and speak up ardently about your products in these online communities. No matter if these opinions are positive or negative ones, they are all valuable ones for the company to listen to. This kind of listening was once done by small and expensive focus groups, but social tools and online communities have largely reduced the transaction costs and afforded companies many more channels to listen to invaluable opinions from much larger and passionate groups in a real-time setting.

Also, letting these conversations happen at “home” is better than letting it happen elsewhere, because by providing a place for consumers to voice their opinions on your own website, not only does that generate valuable customers insight for you, but also shows your real respect and care for your consumers.These actions invite them to truly be owner for your brand and build the brand with you.

Since social network sites started to take off in China 3 years ago, they have undergone exponential growth and their traction among Chinese netizens has subsequently made these sites the new battlegrounds for Chinese companies to connect with customers. Now, these companies are just one step away from bringing these users and conversations back to their company websites by incorporating social media functions on these sites. I have translated Jeremiah Owyang's prescient article into Chinese, hopefully helping it reach more people that would find it of great value. Thank you Jeremiah Owyang.

Jeremiah Owyang









很多网络市场营销者都有这种印象,那就是网络营销之战只在谷歌(Google)搜索引擎以及 企业的网站里上演。但是在现实生活中,网络市场营销已经散布到许多别的对话产生的领 域:社交网站,评分网站,网络聊天室,甚至博客中。就这个话题,我撰写了一篇独立的博 文进行探讨:为什么网络市场营销不只发生在两个网络领域中。



















From Google Wave to Google Buzz... or Vice-Versa?

Google Buzz has been around for about two weeks now, and some of my tech savvy friends on Buzz have already mastered it like they did for Twitter, using it as a broadcast tool to create word-of-mouth effect for their brands or events. Many websites like Mashable have also become early adopters of Buzz, actively promoting it alongside the ubiquitous “follow us” Twitter and Facebook buttons. For now, I am still resisting the urge to Buzz my contacts, in contrast to my continued usage of Twitter as a public announcement tool, because I do not feel like being force fed by Buzz messages (Susan discussed this problem in length here), thus I am also very hesitant to possibly force feed my friends.

Another serious issue with Buzz is its privacy problem. Because the default opt-in settings disclose people's close contacts to the rest of the world, this has irritated many people as an intrusion to their privacy. But through my conversation with a friend who has been using Google Wave, he brought up an interesting point that the opt-in existing contacts function in Buzz might be a lesson Google learned from their experiment with Wave. He thinks that the reason Wave has so far failed (relatively) as a social networking/messaging platform is because the nature of its "closed Beta" means each user does not immediately have enough existing contacts to connect with and keep the momentum for the Wave experience going. This might be a universal problem for any closed beta platform, but it is extremely disruptive for a social network platform. He thinks Google probably wanted to avoid the same problem with Buzz, so by default it opted in a user's existing circle of friends so people could immediately connect and communicate.

Considering the pressure Google is facing from other Social Network Site, this opt-in is an understandable business move to quickly connect users. But in relation to Google's recent threats to leave China over protecting its users' privacy and freedom of speech, this action may seem a bit self-contradictory. Georgetown University Research Fellow Evgeny Morozov commented in his blog Net Effect:

“I am yet to hear a Google executive mention privacy as one of the values that are constitutive of the freedom of expression. Whenever they talk about the latter, they always make it very clear that privacy inhabits a completely different universe. I think they operate on a very flawed logic, which makes all their other efforts on this front look very insincere. Moreover, I think it is likely to cause Google much more damage in the long run: what's the point of protecting the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists if you tell the rest of the world who those people are talking to?”

Google is on its way to building an empire of free flowing information, but the huge amount of data and immense trust it receives from people also places a great burden of responsibility on its shoulder. This responsibility will only grow heavier in the future when its new products will face similar choices, especially between its business gain and people's personal privacy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Third Place In Online Communities

As Oldenburg described in his book The Great, Good Place other than our home and work place, the third place where people can meet others and relax, for example the local coffee shop or local bookstore, is much needed and essential in human social relationships. There, people can relax from many responsibilities from their regular lives and dive in to a casual environment to enjoy social ties with other people, and maybe even be a different person for a while. This literature, which was published ten years ago, has many implications for today’s computer-centric communities, as these online communities are indeed serving the need of a “third place” for people, and provide a public place for people to meet and interact.

Among all the online “third places” like forums or Wikipedia, I am most interested in the third place in social networks. As we all know, at the center of popular social network sites like Facebook or Chinese social network Qzone are people’s personal profile page, where people manage their contacts and post personal updates. They interact with their friends mostly through wall posting and messages; this personal profile page serves as the “home” function in these SNSs and people occasionally go to their friends’ “homes” to visit and say hi. Besides the profile page, there is also a Home page, which is fed with news and updates from people’s friends, and it functions more like a information center.

The real third place for people on these SNSs to socialize with each other and especially to meet people outside of their current social circle actually lies elsewhere: they are the online game spaces and public pages created either by commercial groups or other institutions. After more and more people settle into their homes in these SNSs, these public third places as the “cafes and bars” start to appear and take off. When people are gathering in poker rooms in Chinese SNS Q-zones’ online game space to play poker with each other, or when people are pouring their love or hate of a product onto a brand’s Facebook page, they interact with each other outside their “home” and outside their usual social circle. In these third places their social need for more causal ties with other people is satisfied. People are also willing to pay these third places for the functions they provide, for example, paying for virtual plant seeds in a Farmville game is essentially the same as paying for a bottle of beer to start a conversation in a bar, right? This might explain the rosy business prospects of virtual goods in the SNS world, because in these third places, people are willing to pay for the social capital they gain. Building good third places on social networks for people to hang out and interact with each other is just as essential as building good third places in the real world to sustain people’s needs for a community.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Don't American Teenagers Fancy Twitter?

I recently read an article on USA Today about a survey from Pew Internet & American Life Project that revealed that teens in the U.S. are not as interested in using Twitter as most people expected: only 8% of 800 American teens ages 12 to 17 who took the survey reported using Twitter, while social networks like Facebook have penetrated this demographic with a 73% high rate. These results seemed counterintuitive to me since common sense tells me that teens are usually the first adopters of new technology trends, especially in social media.

While reading about the perception of Twitter by teens in the report, who described it as “lame” and “feeding the beast”, I think this phenomena of teens preferring social networks could be explained by the entry cost, exit cost and voice theory discussed in Professor William's class last week. The theory states that the higher the entry cost and exit cost is to participate in a community, either online or offline, and the more a participant feels their voice is being heard, the stickier the community is.

For the Twittersphere itself as a community, the entry cost to this community is definitely very low, it only takes a simple registration process that has been simplified to just a user name, email address and password, especially compared to Facebook’s more established profiles that rely on your pre-existing real-life social network to join online. Once you join Twitter, because everybody’s tweets seem to flood at you with little organization, it is so hard to manage any real conversations. Your own voice may be difficult to hear by followers, even if you have hundred followers, they might each be following another hundred people. The exit cost for Twitter is also very low. Twitter is simply providing a venue for public speaking, and people do not leave much information like personal photos and conversations with friends like they would on social networks like Facebook. Twitter’s genes of low entry cost, difficulty in being heard, and low exit cost mean Twitter as a platform can not achieve the same penetration rate as social networks have among teenagers, who prefer tighter, more controlled communication. Twitter does not seem to be as sticky in people’s lives as social networks are, not just for teenagers' group. It is undeniable Twitter has its own unique advantages; But without addressing these shortcomings, it is not impossible that one day Twitter may be replaced by other newcomers in the real time communication field like Google Buzz or its old foes like Facebook and other social network sites which continue to strengthen this "Twitter"-like function on their sites.