post Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Is’s glass for SMBs half full (of lemonade)  or half empty?  I borrowed the lemonade metaphor from Venturebeat’s post announcing’s new Contact Manager offering for (very) small businesses.

On second thought we should use orange juice as a metaphor – as in disappearing orange juice, by Tropicana which offers less juice in a redesigned pitcher for the same price, and even tries to sell it as a benefit to consumerssmile_angry “pulled a Tropicana” with the announcement of their $9 Contact Management edition, and the funny thing is, nobody seems to have noticed it. No, the media duly buys what PR sells, welcoming the new edition as “giving something back to the little guy” , “breaking through a price barrier”, “making it affordable for SMBs to get in the Cloud”.

Nobody bothered to do some fact-checking, which would have unveiled that in the new Edition is in fact offering less for the same price, a’la Tropicana. has pulled off a price increase and it went largely unnoticed.

sforce1Prior to this announcement the lowest-priced edition of Salesforce CRM, the Group Edition was priced at $9 per user per month, and it is now increased to $35.   The few media outlets that noticed this refer to it as temporary promotion for August, that has now expired.   Let’s see just how temporary it was: the “promo” started not in August but in June, and not in 2009, but 2008.


This promotion was supposed to expire in July of last year, but it did not – and I correctly predicted it would transition into a permanent price-cut, without much fanfare.  Indeed the $9 pricing lasted over a year.  And just for the record, prior to dropping the price to $9, CRM Group Edition had cost $20 – so the $35 new price is definitely not just ending a promotion, it’s a price hike of several notches.

But forget history, let’s look at value: having a Contact Manager functionality is certainly useful, although I suspect Google Apps (which is integrated with this offering) will also offer enhanced Contacts functions.   Still, nice – for 2 users only, as that’s the maximum number  allowed for this edition.  Talk about 2-person companies, let’s remember that used to offer a free single-user Personal Edition CRM.  I’ve just checked my dormant account, it’s still working – but the offering is no longer available for new users.

So let’s see: from free CRM for one user, later $9 CRM up to five users, we’ve gone to $9 Contact Manager for two users.  Quite an improvement.smile_sad

Now if you have 3 users, the lowest entry point to is now Group Edition at $35 per person = $105 vs. the previous price of $27.   And if you have 6 users, you no longer qualify for Group Edition, your entry point now is Professional Edition at $65 per user.

Oh, well.  Math lesson over, it’s a nice sunny morning, time for my glass of OJ ( not half full, not half empty – just full.smile_tongue)

(Disclosure: I’m Editor of CloudAve, a group blog sponsored by Zoho.  This article is cross-posted there.)


Your Digital Friends: Less is More

It’s almost two years ago that I “cleaned house” at LinkedIn, dropping from 500+ connections to about 300.

I had no clue about Dunbar’s number ( the maximum number of people one can maintain active, stable social relationships with, estimated at 150 by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar), I simply felt I had been to open accepting invitations from unknown people, and as a result, I barely recognized names on my LinkedIn contact list. I thought the very idea of LinkedIn was that it should be an online reflection of my real-life relationships.

Fast-forward two years, now we have FaceBook, Plaxo Pulse, Twitter, and a zillion of other places, and get inundated by friends request from new and new “social networks” never heard of before. Perhaps the rules changed a bit – people do “befriend” each other in cyberspace, without having met first. I can accept that to a certain extent, but I still think Dunbar’s number has merit, even in today’s world. Of course it’s not fixed at 150, for some it may be 80, for the uber-social ones 3-4-500? JP Rangaswami, blogging at Confused of Calcutta, (also pioneering adopter of social software as former CIO at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein) thinks his digital Dunbar number is higher than 150:

I’ve sensed that I have a Dunbar number of around 300 in the digital world, and I’ve been delighted to find I know most of the steady ones. Over the years I’ve actually met most of the community of readers, usually at conferences. The face-to-face contact, in turn, leads to a deepening of the relationship, and we land up creating and developing links in FaceBook and Twitter.

JP is wondering if there’s a trend here, and asks his readers:

How many FaceBook friends do you have, how many regular readers of your blog, how many followers in Twitter, do you see a correlation between the three, if not why not, and so on. Do you tend to meet a core of this number on a face-to-face basis, if not why not?

I’m not a regular reader of JP’s blog – discovered this post via Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily, but even if I was a subscriber, I would not consider myself a “friend”. I might want to follow his ideas on Twitter (if I was twittering at all) but that’s still passive mode. I think this commenter to Anne is right:

I don’t think that “following” people on Twitter would be considered “stable social relationships”. A social relationship implies a two-way street, and in my book, one that I value with some significance. That’s not to say that online social tools can’t be part of real relationships, but you can’t just add up all the numbers and think it means anything.

Now, if I commented on JP’s blog several times, and he responded, we’d establish a form of conversation, which, over time would allow us to get an insight into each other’s mind – i.e. getting to know each other to some extent. Perhaps at that point it would be appropriate to “befriend” each other on FaceBook. (Not that I actively use FaceBook, which is increasingly becoming an advertising platform, and even before that I had found it somewhat of a time-waster.)

I still don’t think we’d be ready to become LinkedIn contacts, because that network is all about trust, and recommending / referencing “friends” in a business context. Call me old-fashioned, anti-social, but I think that level of trust requires more of a real-life relationship, so my LinkedIn numbers would be close to my Dunbar-number, the number of active social contacts I am able and willing to maintain.

Before they cracked down on them, LinkedIn got polluted by contact-hunters, so-called superconnectors who amassed thousands, in a famous case 16,000 contact records. Note the emphasis on records. It’s just that. Data records, not real relationships. FaceBook (possibly learning from LinkedIn) limits the number of contacts to 5,000, which some users, including Robert Scoble find inadequate:

I think it sucks because it isn’t scalable and falls apart at 5,000 contacts. It pisses me off more and more every day because of that scaling wall.

Robert is a celebrity, and the 5000 or so are in his fan-club. Just like the Twitter example above, he has followers, not active friends. Hyper-social or not, he also has a Dunbar-number. It may be in the higher hundreds, but not in the thousands. For the rest of us, non-celeb types, I still believe less is more, and our online networks should reflect our real-life one, instead of being an inflated collection of data records. (This line became Doc Searls’ Quote du joursmile_teeth).

Finally, somewhat off-topic, here’s an observation from JP’s post: he’s using to ClustrMaps to monitor and illustrate where his readers come from. I understand the concentration in Europe, and also in the US, but what I am amazed at is the picture inside the US: what is this magical East / West divide? How come his readership drops so significantly in the Western half of the US?

Update (5/29/08):  How Many Friends is Too Many? asks Josh Catone @ ReadWriteWeb .