Apr 292008

Ringside Networks has released their Social Application Server’s second beta release, which includes pricing plan provisioning for social applications (amongst other great things). What this means is that Facebook application developers could begin charging their users monthly subscription fees for access to one or more levels of value added application features when deployed on the Ringside Social Application Server. The implementation of end to end payment is not yet complete, but the video below will give you a better feel for what’s coming (click the image to see the movie).

Provisioning Pricing Plans Demo

Apr 262008

Every Wednesday I leave work at 4:30pm to go to school (I’m going for my MBA at Rutgers). When I get there, the first thing I do is get my $4 latte. Sometimes I stop by a different Starbucks on a major highway on my way to work. When I look around, people are hosting job interviews and business meetings in the seating area of the store. For years, my wife and I have frequented the Starbucks counters that are inside Barnes & Noble stores for a coffee after a dinner out (which was the case this evening). When I look around, people are reading, working on their laptops, or just enjoying conversations together while sipping their lattes.

The point is that Starbucks has found a way to make itself part of people’s lives, and has done so successfully for years. These days however, Starbucks is facing a recession, new competition, and the loss of customers. But not to worry, I have an idea: Starbucks should focus on making themselves part of the online lives of their customers, particularly in a social way.

Starbucks could build applications that enable users to publicize their favorite Starbucks drinks to their friends, to rate drinks (existing and new), or even to send their friends a latte, virtual or real. They could tie their social application to a Starbucks loyalty card…I can foresee a ‘buy five, give one’ type of program that could potentially bring new customers into the store, or into Starbucks’ social network. And these applications are just the tip of the iceberg. Regardless, Starbucks could increase customer engagement with the brand, tap into the viral nature of social networking to attract new customers, and increase brand loyalty by providing a high quality, fun online experience to its customers and their friends. Oh, and let’s not forget, such a solution would be yet another valuable channel for market research.

Starbucks is a very, very strong brand. Everyone knows Starbucks, and they know what they stand for. Therefore, Starbucks shouldn’t settle for a social networking solution that lives behind someone else’s branded look and feel, such as Facebook or MySpace. Nor should they have to invest millions of dollars for a consulting company to build a custom social networking solution on their behalf. Ringside Networks has already provided a starting point, and better yet, the software is free. For little expense (maybe 1-3 consultants) and in a short period of time, they can stand up their own Starbucks branded social network that immediately taps into the Facebook community, and within months the Myspace and Orkut communities as well (pending Ringside’s implementation of OpenSocial support to be delivered in June).

In my opinion, such a move by Starbucks is a no brainer. Customer acquisition is currently expensive, and a social solution, particularly one that requires minimal investment, is likely to have a return on investment that is off the charts.

Apr 162008

I was reading through my feeds this morning and came across an article about how H&R Block is using social media. Basically, they’re using twitter as a mechanism to see what people are saying about them and responding to those people. Additionally, they’ve got a couple of applications on facebook – a tax return estimator and a financial quiz application.

This is pretty interesting on a couple of fronts. First, if I twitter (twit? tweet?) about H&R Block and get a response from them, I imagine that would be pretty impactful, particularly if the message I get back is helpful. From the perspective of H&R Block, that interaction is valuable, at least for now. People will probably receive it well until every single time they mention any brand they get a message from that brand. I can see people starting to censor themselves regarding brands when they share something on twitter.

As far as H&R Block’s applications, I haven’t tried them (and won’t), but they don’t seem all that social. What is social about a tax return estimator? My taxes are between me and Uncle Sam. And Uncle Stan (my spontaneously created name for New Jersey – you like that?). As for the financial quiz application, yes, that one is more social. I still don’t think it’s very useful or valuable though. Granted, its users are getting more H&R Block brand messaging just by using it, which does have some value for them, no doubt.

I just thing they could do better. I propose “BlockNet”. H&R Block should build their own, branded social network that ties in with Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, and all of the others. This network could consist of H&R Block customers, tax preparers, and/or people interested in finance and tax information. Brand “BlockNet” as a financial social community, brought to you by H&R Block, of course. They could very easily convert their regular customers to be users of this branded network directly. They could expand their market by bringing users in from financial based web sites like fool.com, smartmoney.com, etc. And every single user could have the ability to be social regarding financial applications across all of their networks via Social Identity Mapping.

So they’ll probably need some software to help them with this…perhaps Ringside Networks could provide it, and free at that!

Apr 092008

A couple of weeks ago I saw the news that MySpace had opened up it’s developer platform, so I went to have a look at it. I like to have a beer after work from time to time, so I added the beer application that I found in the MySpace application directory. I went into the application and identified some of my favorite beers.

Then I got to thinking: some of my current and former coworkers are beer aficionados, and I’m friends with those people on Facebook, not MySpace. So I went onto Facebook and searched for beer applications, and wouldn’t you know it? The most popular beer application was made by the exact same company. So I added the application in Facebook.

Well, it didn’t take very long at all for me to be annoyed with this situation. I already spent five or ten minutes on MySpace adding beers; I sure as hell was not about to do it again on Facebook. The application should enable me to “claim” my data that I entered from MySpace.

This is where I see the Ringside Social Application Server coming into play.  If the beer application was hosted on a Ringside server, it would be able to leverage the cross network identity mapping capability.  Users could then login to the beer application through MySpace, Facebook, or even directly with the beer application where it is hosted.  Regardless, the application would enable the user to say, “I’ve used this application before”, and then login to the account where they used it.  The beer application then maps the user’s identities.  In the end, this means my beers are my beers regardless of what social network I’m on.

The implications of this capability are pretty important.  First, it makes the experience better for application users.  Second, the application extends its reach to more users and improves the quality of its data (since users wouldn’t recreate their data for different social networks).  If I’m the beer application developer, the quality of my data is very important since there are many, many brewing companies who might be interested in gaining access to this data for marketing purposes.  Another benefit from the beer application’s perspective is that it can draw users into its own niche social network of beer drinkers, where they would create profiles.  This, yet again, improves the quality of my data, relating beer information and ratings to demographics.

As more and more applications take advantage of these capabilities (and the coming payment support – but more on that later), some might wonder what the effects will be on the social networks.  I think in the end, the offering from Ringside expands the market.  If I’m Facebook, I can’t just assume that all users will come to me first.  Maybe hard core beer aficionados will go to beerapplication.com first, and find out about Facebook from there due to the application’s integration with Facebook.  Look at this across many niches, and I think you have to assume that people will get to them through search engines, and then end up in MySpace or Facebook as a result of their new knowledge of those services from the niche networks.

Anyway, I can’t wait to bridge the gap between my social networks via this new kind of data portability.