Meerkat and the social graph debate

Meerkat Source: iTunes app page

Meerkat
Source: iTunes app page

Friday, after I finally capitulated to the overwhelming evidence that Meerkat was more than just a fad, Twitter yanked the social rug from under Meerkat’s feet by pulling the plug on access to its social graph. Twitter’s spokesperson told Buzzfeed: “We are limiting their access to Twitter’s social graph, consistent with our internal policy… Their users will still be able to distribute videos on Twitter and log in with their Twitter credentials.” What it does mean that new users will need to build their own connections on Meerkat as opposed to using their existing Twitter ones.

Analysts were buzzing over the weekend trying to analyze Meerkat’s survival chances, especially as Twitter had cut off access right before the SxSWi conference started. Mark Suster wrote a great post debating both sides of the issue and, while he would have liked Twitter to compete on product (they had just bought a live video startup called Periscope,) he ended up saying that Twitter did what it needed to do strategically. It might not be best for the user, but it is best for Twitter.

Then,  Hunter Walk wrote a short post about the pros and cons of using another network’s social graph to build a new product. He defined a “fast graph” as “bootstrapping off another social network…you get quick set of connections but they aren’t specific to your use case.” The “slow graph” approach “uses find friends, contact list, etc but makes user choose who to follow. Slower growth but a graph native to the service.” Mr Walk thinks that products might bootstrap faster with a “fast graph” but in the long run, experience more growth and user commitment with the “slow graph.”

There are two points I’d like to add to the slow/fast debate:

  • The onboarding process. Onboarding needs to be a painless process, one that takes the user from zero data to full set-up as fast as possible. As I review apps for this blog I realize that onboarding is crucial and that users will take their attention elsewhere if an app takes too long or is too cumbersome to set up. The outcome varies, of course, if “everyone is using it” that popularity and network effect can overcome a slow onboarding process. But it isn’t guaranteed. Twitter is an example where so many users create an account but an amazing number of them (44%) never write their their first tweet. Snapchat is an example where creating a social graph seems agonizingly difficult yet because of other product benefits, it has not served as a deterrent to growth. I mention this because if Meerkat,or any app, will not or can not use another network’s social graph it will need to create its own way to speed up the onboarding process.
  • The uniqueness of Twitter’s social graph. I talked about this a bit on Friday when I said that I like that Meerkat chose to use Twitter’s social graph as opposed to Facebook or my contacts, because I have already put together a great list of people I follow on Twitter. Benedict Evans said it better:

This is true. The thing I like most about Twitter is that I can follow and engage with people who I have never met, in my industry and outside of it. In fact, if I had to rely on the people in my personal address book to share on Twitter and on apps like Snapchat and Meerkat, all would be extremely boring experiences. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what apps choose to use Twitter’s social graph, what choose to use contacts what choose to use Facebook’s, and what choose to build a new graph, all their own.

Going back to Mr Suster’s post, he mentioned that Meerkat was smart to start by testing Twitter’s boundaries with its use of the social graph. I agree. Meerkat started off with the “fast graph” approach, added many new users, and gained traction. Now that Twitter pulled the plug, it will need to change the product. It’s an interesting approach in that it shows that the slow vs fast graph decision can be made more than once. In Meerkat’s case, it took advantage Twitter’s graph while it could and now needs to settle down to a period of slower but steadier growth.  If nothing else, it got everybody talking about it this weekend.

 

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