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November 17, 2008

Imbedded Social Networking

The Facebook/MySpace model is wrong for most groups, we all agreed; it's inside out. We is VC and blogger Fred Wilson, FeedBlitz CEO Phil Hollows, Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg, and me. The venue is a panel at a Return Path sponsored event at the Museum of Natural History in NYC.

Phil Hollows took our conclusion to heart. He went home and changed the FeedBlitz interaction with readers so that interaction occurs inside the context of the publisher's site rather than on the FeedBlitz site. FeedBlitz (which I'm an investor in) turns blogs and online newsletters into double opt-in email and tweets and other things; the email gets through spam filters. FeedBlitz is part of how publishers communicate with readers so it make sense that it appear on the publisher's site rather than lead readers away. Here's what Phil wrote on his blog:

"One of the challenges of using third party services on your site is that when a visitor needs to have a meaningful interaction with that service, they're transported away from your site and onto that service's site. Often the point of adding a third party service, widget or script is to add value to your own offering, but all too often the first thing these services want to do is take those visitors (and their advertising revenue potential) and park those visitors where the plug-in vendor's value is increased, not yours. Great for them, but for you? Not so much…

"So I'm delighted to announce an API-free embedded email subscription form that allows you to keep your subscribers on your site while they go through the initial subscription forms…"

Granted that we want the users of our service or the readers of our blog to form a community which interacts around the service or the content of the blog. We want and they demand that their interaction be horizontal as well as vertical – with each other as well as with the service provider or the author. In fact customer and prospect events in the real world. like the Return Path one we were speaking at, have long provided a forum for such interaction. But, in the online world, we send our customers to Facebook or MySpace to interact around OUR service; we send them away from our website; we fragment them according to what social network they happen to belong to. That's nuts! The fact that companies DO send their customers off to Facebook is evidence of how important the social networking function is – and of the fact that there is no good alternative.

Many large sites do support their own bulletin boards and chat services; this is particularly true where tech support is involved. My prediction is that these capabilities will end up imbedded in medium and small sites, even blogs, and that these services will usually be provided via third parties like FeedBlitz who understand that their brand is NOT the one that comes first for your users. Social networking will be in the context of sites and services, not the other way around.

Of course I have to take my own advice so I implemented FeedBlitz' new capability on Fractals of Change – it took about five minutes. When people click on the "subscribe me!" button at the top of the left sidebar of my site, they get the FeedBlitz signup form between MY sidebars -see below or click here for an example.

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