Social Media: Beyond Pain?

My recent piece on Social Media has created a little bit of discussion, frustratingly — but almost predictably — this has happened not here but across a range of disparate social media platforms.

This has prompted me to think some more and to ponder whether there might be alternatives for us to explore in the future that might be, well, a little less painful!

First off, an apology is in order. I think I was maybe a bit too charitable to Path in terms of its desire to not operate through advertising media — I just don’t know. Certainly Path is a refreshing free of clutter at the moment; long may it stay that way. I might have ben confusing Path’s approach to that of Glassboard, but more of that later.

We — the consumer — are stuck with the usual problem of standards. Wouldn’t it be nice if we have common protocols that enabled us to not worry about the brand of the platform we are using? Of course, there is a naivety about but this but over the lat century or so we have seen many battles over standards. Sometimes these are won quite inefficiently with the losers having wasted a fortune in developing something that didn’t stick. And sometimes standards are imposed through governments, even through nationalisation.

Facebook sees itself as being the cross standard platform for the sharing of data, experiences and conversations, real or otherwise. They are banking on the non-techie masses. Yes, you could use Skype for video conferencing but why do that when everything is available through good old Facebook? You could use any number of instant messaging services, but why bother when you have Facebook? Why use SMS when you have Facebook Messenger?

You can see what they are trying to do but somehow I don’t think it is gong to work. The ingeniously Facebook find ways to put our transactions on a cash basis the more annoyed we will become, not I suspect because of the principle of payment but more on the intrusive way in which it is done.

Maybe Apple has got it right. They are looking to make it easier to deal with social media by integrating Facebook and Twitter into the OS. (Presently they don’t do this with Google + but as that grows it will be interesting to see how they respond.) My OS can manage my accounts and notify me when there is an incoming message. I can reply from within the OS but this just means I am taken to the Twitter or Facebook web pages and I’m stuck with whatever they war to hit me with there.

There is something very odd, to me, about the wisdom of internet development models. The mantra for startups is, just get the user base. Once we have millions using us then we can work out what to do next. In some ways this is not that much difference to tactics used in other industries, for example giving away free promotional copies of newspapers and magazines prior to a real sales launch, But the scale of this internet approach is min-boggling. I do worry about their sanity. Facebook has been giving billions of people a service for free (at one level) but can even this giant avoid problems as we realise the extent to which they are prepared to mess us all about?

Maybe you are happy with all of this, but … Before floatation I might have agreed but the sheer scale of Facebook’s investment challenge means that quality and subtlety will take second place to the need to just get in the cash. Some industry commentators see Facebook as a big bubble just waiting to explore.

If the idea of a Facebook bubble seems fanciful to you just consider what we have seen after floatation. Floatation has brought in billions of investment for the  company to play with. But as Apple knows it is sometimes difficult to spend the money. What have we seen from Facebook in terms of recent innovation? Video messaging? Come on. Still, Facebook is Facebook’s problem. I suspect the Facebook era may be one that is seen as quite short over a longer term.

Are there solutions? Well, perhaps there are. But consumers will have to realise that they have to pay for things!

Glassboard is one company to watch. I’ve mentioned Glassboard here before and have been using it with a few hikers through our Photo Glassboard.

Glassboard start by recognising that there is a problem:

Glassboard has no privacy settings — because everything is private. It’s that easy

And you never have to worry about the rules changing.Unlike Google, Facebook, and Twitter, we don’t mine your data to sell advertising. We don’t do ads. You are our customer — not advertisers.

These are clearly people who know what the problem is.

Glassboard aim make their money in a more conventional way. Glassboard is accessible through both IOS and Android Apps for phone and through a web interface. The mobile device apps look a little like the early Facebook Apps. These Apps are free to use as is the basic service, but there is a premium service with a cost on it.

I first came across Glassboard through René Ritchie of the Canadian iMore website. When the iMore team is at a major show or conference the team members keep in contact with each other through the company’s Glassboard.

Glassboard costs $50 a year for the premium version but for a company or enterprise this is remarkably little for a dedicated and private service.

The Photo Glassboard that a few of us have created uses the data space limited free service. We can message each other, conference, share photographs and so on. We decided to upgrade to Premium if we needed to but we seem a way off from that. So for us, at the moment this is a free service but — and this is the key point to me — we know at which point we have to start spending money and how much it will cost.

Glassboard isn’t as swish as, say, Path but it works.

Glassboard I suspect many of Gassboard’s premium customers are IT companies but they certainly have lots of potential for expansion for those who don’t want to be flooded with friend requests from Natasha in Lithuania or adds for all kinds of nonsense. Th IT community also have a Twitter alternative, of course, App.Net which shares Glassboard’s philosophy.

It is easy to see how Glassboard can be used by a company but it can also be used by a more defined community, indeed that is how the Photo Glassboard project is working.

I could imagine a company using to chat to and network with its customer. I can even see a magazine such as TGO using Glassboard to create a more dynamic online community than they have so far. Why isn’t Outdoors magic looking to move more to mobile? But, I suspect, a lot of people would look at Glassboard and say, why should we pay (even $50) when we can do this for free on Facebook?

Such a development will come over time and I’m pretty convinced that Glassboard will have the space, in the meantime to develop a great product.

An extended community like the outdoor hiking community could use Glassboard now. Our problems would really be organisational like how to we set the thing up, promote it and moderate it?

I can’t see something like this happening anytime soon, but I’m increasingly confident that something like this will happen in the end.

My greatest frustration comes from looking back a bit.

20 years ago I used to use an internet conferencing system known as CIX. CIX was a UK system that most people accessed over phone line modems and was founded in 1987. CIX was a text based system although the quality of interaction could be made easier by a number of off leone reader programs or clients. CIX offered private email and the ability to set up discussion groups or conferences. Conferences could be closed or public. Private conferences could be listed allowing people to ask for membership, or they could be kept hidden to preserve maximum publicity. Conferences had File Areas where all manner of computer files could be lodged for common access. At the same time Compuserve was doing something similar but was less flexible. Any CIX user could start a conference while on Compuserve the developed services were created by commercial interests. I used both services _ and to be fair Compuserve was also a data service gateway — but CIX was a more useful system.

The web kind of did for CIX although it still exists. It is — as it always was — a paid service and will cost about the same price as Glassboard for 12 months. CIX has dedicated software for Windows, Mac and the iPad but so far hasn’t made it to phones and is probably not quite as personal use orientated. Still, the web version now allows photos, videos and the usual stuff to be integrated as you would expect.

Maybe the future belongs to the Glassboards, the App,nets and even the old kids such as CIX. I would like to think it might. What we are lacking is the catalyst that would make a critical mass of us go in a certain direction. Cost is unlikely to be the barrier rather such as move is made unlikely by our own culture.

But as Facebook and Twitter continue to struggle with commercial growth (and the need to even break even) who knows? Maybe in the next the years we will have all minted to something more sensible!

What is inherently dressing for me is that, twenty years on, I still haven’t found a conferencing system as good as CIX was (is).



Photo Glassboard — more details about this can be found here.


  1. The thing about the net is that its pretty easy to migrate from one social media site to another. As long as someone is offering services for free, that is where children/young people tend to go – its a huge factor in their choices. Most people just follow the herd around. The line seems to be whether sites are ad-supported or not – you can have the same product for free if you put up with ads. However, increasingly I don’t notice ads any more. Technology can wipe out most of them!

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