Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’
I was interested to read Cory Doctorow’s musings on the Digital Economy Bill in yesterday’s Guardian, ‘Why does Mandelson favour the analogue economy over the digital’. The Digital Economy bill is indeed as pernicious a piece of legislation as we’ve seen from the present government, but to reduce it to a simple analogue vs. digital argument is overly simplistic in my opinion. It also begs a comparison.
Disco of Doom
It is well known that business controls government in none too subtle a fashion. When push comes to shove, fear of lost tax revenue delayed the banning of smoking in public places, costing hundreds of thousands of lives as governments on both sides of the Atlantic dithered in the face of industry pressure and published falsified data designed to obscure the link between smoking and cancer. We see similar pressure being exerted on our government by the music and film industries now, as instead of embracing new delivery channels, they seek to preserve their crumbling analogue monopolies by legislation. The irony here is that the one person in the music industry who has displayed a flair for innovative thinking has chosen to use it not to promote music, but to generate vast quantities of personal power and cash. Simon Cowell, whatever else he may be is not a force for the good of music.
X-Factor is effectively a monopoly. It determines the number one single in a way that is unprecedented. Simon Cowell promotes the show, profits from the show, signs the acts, profits from their recordings and spits them out when he’s finished. Unpleasant as that may be, it’s not in itself any different from music business as usual. What is different is that he has found a way to use TV as both a marketing vehicle and a ‘talent’ pool. It’s not the dismal quality of the acts that bothers me – it’s the power of the monopoly. It worries me because I’m seeing it elsewhere and in Cory Doctorow’s simplistic reduction of Mandelson’s bill to digital vs. analogue I’m seeing something that worries me a lot. A blinkered assumption that Digital = Good, Analogue = Bad.
Two years ago, I said that social software was opening up new opportunities, enabling new ways for human beings to connect, fostering the exchange of ideas across continents and cultures. I think it does deliver on all of these points, but Cory Doctorow’s throwaway remark about homeless people scavenging discarded netbooks actually stopped me in my tracks. Because the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is getting wider, not narrower.
We have an underclass out there who are unable or unwilling to embrace the digital world and are finding themselves progressively more alienated and more unable to cope with the simple transactions in life than ever before. Booking holidays, Banking, Borrowing, everyday activities that digitally enabled, deliver freedom of choice on an unprecedented scale to the digerati.
So, where is the problem? Well, the problem is right there in front of us. We are creating freedom of choice in a digital world, but in exploiting our right to choose, paradoxically we are closing our options down. The digital economy is ruthless and it has resulted in prices being driven ever lower. We have seen in recent weeks, Borders the bookseller bankrupted because most people now prefer to buy their books from the supermarket at knock down prices, or from Amazon.
We have seen, as recently as this week, MySpace announce a radical change in their delivery model to enable it to retain an audience that has been stampeding towards Facebook. Bebo…do they still exist? We have a single messaging solution, Twitter, enthusiastically embraced by celebrities, politicians, sportsmen…the world. And it’s good. No doubt about it. We have new opportunities for consultancy as business strives to compete for the attention of their target demographic. While we focus on ‘leveraging our mecosystems’ © , the monoliths that make up the digital universe are getting bigger and more powerful in a way that will ultimately prove to be limiting – we are not creating bests of breed, we are instead complicit in the all conquering power of the organisations with the best business model. Facebook, Twitter….This is not always a good thing. X Factor? Big Brother? The producer of Big Brother was recently heard to say that ‘British Television has never been more innovative’. I wonder what Dennis Potter might have to say on that subject.
The Invisible Tweet
And so here is the question that irks me about the social software monoliths….what happens to somebody if they are excluded from one or other of these monoliths? That only happens to other people right? Well no, it can happen to you, or me. In fact in a small way it has happened to me. I run a music blog, Chimera Musica and have set it up to send one line reviews to Twitter. A harmless enough activity and who knows, perhaps the recommendation of a song might brighten somebody’s day. It’s unlikely to make it worse! At any rate, one day last week I was logged in to my personal account and decided, out of curiosity, to look at my music blog’s Twitter profile. So I typed the name into the search – no results. Hmmm, odd… I thought. I typed a couple of other searches – name of song and act that I had recommended – no results. It’s worth noting at this stage that these tweets do not contain a link to the blog. To cut a long story short, Twitter reserve the right to block from their search listings, any user that they suspect of anti-social activities such as spamming, from their search engines. So apparently, recommending music is deemed to be anti social….well ok, I have questionable taste, but anti-social?
The point of this is not to rectify the issue with Twitter, actually I couldn’t care less about the invisible tweets, the real point is that I don’t have a choice – there is no equivalent social network with the same reach that I could use for the simple recommendation of a song.
Monopolies come at a price. That price is nowhere more evident than it is online. As Murdoch readies himself to take on Google, one thing only is for sure. We, the consumers will end up poorer. I am now, at least as far as Twitter is concerned, a digital derelict. Look out for your netbooks…
Futurology is notoriously ‘hit or miss’, we generally fail miserably with specifics, even in prosperous and optimistic times, so in this new dawning of recession and strife, not forgetting famine, plague and pestilence, it seems more appropriate than usual to turn to the generalists for advice. We live in interesting times!
The Chinese astrologer Han Teen See has these observations on the new year:
2009 The year of The Ox will be a very intense year. The many significant incidents that occur will be sudden and deadly. The year will be filled with many more wars, military engagements and terrorist atrocities compared to previous years. Military forces worldwide will be more aggressive and active which will signify the greater likelihood of wars and military engagements in selected regions of the world……
…..People will generally be more aggressive, impulsive and quick-tempered with such behavior spreading quickly like wild-fire. Direct conflicts, arguments and disputes will occur more frequently…..
…..There will be an increase of both organizations and individuals adopting unethical or illegal methods to benefit themselves this year. It will imply that corruption, evasion of proper business practices, tax evasion and fraud will be on the rise.
Companies and businesses that have expanded too rapidly and have done so without taking into account their cash flow and resource management will suffer badly this year. Furthermore, those companies and businesses that have not been giving fair value to their customers and clients will be badly affected as well. This is because, both customers and clients alike will be more selective in their choice of products and services and will choose those that give them fair value….
And so to The Edge. For those unfamiliar with this organisation, The Edge is a forum, drawing together some of the brightest minds in a spectrum covering science, the arts, education, and asking once a year, a question germane to the time. The annual question for 2009, perhaps picking up the theme of relentless gloom and despondency was ‘What will change everything?’
Brian Eno, offers this as his answer: “The feeling that things are inevitably going to get worse” ! The point he is making, is that the history of progress has been founded on a certainty that better things are around the corner. Optimism and hope have been practically hardwired into the psyche of the western world. What happens when that optimism and hope is removed? When we start to see the walls closing in, the world shrinking? Well, in Eno’s view, something remarkably similar to the predictions of Han Teen See. The emphasis will be on short term gain, once survival becomes a driver, selflessness becomes a distant memory and in politics and business, global initiatives fail because trust will fail – the moral framework breaks down and law and order quickly follow….Cormac McCarthy – The Road becomes the new reality. As an answer to the question, Eno is undoubtedly right – this is root cause.
So pestilence and plague it is then…or is it? This is one of those points in time where we have a choice, as individuals and collectively. The choices we make today may very well set the tone for the next hundred years. These are my predictions for the year.
This is a year where the buck stops. I fear for the bio-technology industry, as an occasional investor I headed for the safer havens of mainstream technology six months ago – and still lost more than I care to admit. More than any other sector of technology, bio-tech depends on research money, government projects etc etc. It has never been profitable and in current economic conditions, unless the model is substantially revised, I expect to see the sector struggle.
Web2.0 is a set of technologies, desperately short of a profit model. for all it’s targeted advertising, has anyone ever actually bought anything via Facebook? These applications are fabulous, revolutionary even, but unless somebody works out how to make money from them, we can expect to see turbulence ahead. My tip for survival – Vox. A hosted blogging application including many of the social software favourites such as file sharing, music, photos etc. It is aimed at the smaller community, organisations and families, and in so doing provides a sense of identity that could be converted into a selling point. The difference between Vox and Facebook is that Facebook encourages mass socialisation, and in so doing exposes its members to the scrutiny of strangers. Not everybody is enthused by this model. Vox encourages privacy and this could turn out to be a differentiator worth paying for.
More generally, I’d expect to see businesses and governments start to prepare themselves for the new reality. This is a time for strong vision and fearless leadership. At government level we should expect to see an upsurge in technology mediated education – we’ve been talking about it for long enough, let’s see action! Dare we also anticipate an upgrading of the IT infrastructure such that fast broadband is achievable in every home?
The motor industry is one to watch – Toyota posted a loss for the first time in fifty years? Ford, Chrysler and General Motors had to be bailed out by the US government. The message is modernise or fail. We should see these companies ruthlessly stripped back to fighting weight, better use of technology, resulting in better knowledge retention and less waste.
I expect to see customers demand value for money – the first green shoots are beginning to appear already. I was able to negotiate a discount of 20% before Christmas, on designer clothes purchased in the high street. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Services will be more realistically priced because there are so many alternatives. The wild fluctuations in transport pricing should start to level out – my favourite recent example being the purchase of a flight from Edinburgh to Belfast for less than £1 + airport taxes, the next day, being asked by Virgin Rail to pay more than £250 for a rail ticket from London to Manchester. I decided not to travel that day. If the UK government wants to get people to use the trains instead of the roads, then we need to regulate pricing. The excuses being trotted out by Virgin and their ilk (passengers paying for the running of underused services) are the same excuses used in the sixties, before the rail networks were nationalised. They simply don’t wash a second time. Businesses who are seen to be exploiting their customer base are at risk. That’s all there is.
In the end, 2009 is an opportunity. It’s my hope that governments, businesses and individuals start to make the right decisions, to enable freedom of movement globally, to encourage global cooperation and trust and in so doing enable a return to prosperity. It is my darkest fear that they won’t.
So as everybody surely noticed, Facebook has been migrating its users to the new layout over the last month or so. This week has been particularly trying, with menu items disappearing, switching positions, links failing, and most mysteriously applications evaporating…
We seem to be experiencing design by committee and there is a danger that we end up with a dromedary. Some of the changes are hard to fathom, some are probably driven by disgruntled application providers, some may be driven by user feedback. Certainly all the symptoms of a project not being thought through are present and correct!
The migration has caused a degree of consternation in the user population, as the new design represents a fairly major paradigm shift and ushers in a user experience that further differentiates the ‘book from its competitors.
There is an underlying theme – Facebook is looking like a more mature and businesslike application, and in this Facebook is playing to its consumer base. If we take a sample of the major social sites, and align them to their user bases, you get a spectrum that puts LinkedIn at one extreme, Bebo at the other and positions Facebook and MySpace somewhere in the middle. Facebook has steadily carved out a niche as the creative professionals preferred site, leaching users from LinkedIn in the process – MySpace has similarly captured the up and coming musicians and teenagers. The new Facebook consolidates this positioning and will continue to polarise the user base accordingly.
The new look takes Facebook further into Portal territory – instead of a single page, infested with useless crap whimsical applications, the default profile and home layouts divide the users domain between a number of different tabs. The default home page is the Feed, with items filtered into Status Updates, Photos, Posted Items, and the default News showing a judicious mix of all three – the user can choose to see more or less items from any individual. this I think is a major improvement and offers the user some control – the noisiest people need no longer dominate the space.
The Profile is the area that seems to be causing the most pain to the users, and by messing about with the navigation, ‘in flight’ Facebook is trashing one of the fundamental rules of GUI design – consistency has been abandoned in recent days as menu items shed functionality and swap places with all the orchestration of a vexatious gibbon. One wonders for example why they found it necessary to switch the position of the Home and viewable Profile (Chris Wright) links?
When the new look was first unveiled, the first thing I did was jettison a whole slew of applications that had accumulated like paperclips on my profile, the default tabs offering Wall, Info, Photos and the imaginatively titled Boxes (applications). An extra tab makes it possible to add an application with it’s own tab – however it is sadly not possible to create a tab and move a bunch of similar applications into it. ‘Reading’, ‘Writing’, ‘Listening’ for example.
For a few weeks it has been possible to add applications without assigning them to a page, a fabulous idea which I wholeheartedly approve of, software on demand! Access was possible via the Applications Bookmark. This promised a clutter free environment and a laudably usable navigation. Unfortunate then that this is now restricted to the Wall, the one place I didn’t want applications to appear! The ready access to application bookmarks via the Applications tab has been replaced by an apparently unconfigurable bottom bar which ushers in a new low (sic) in pointless and unusable navigation facilities. So if I want to use or view an application today, I have to navigate to the page that it lives on – how tedious, and so last year! I suspect that the application providers were behind the rethink, perhaps reasoning that a visible application will get installed by more people. Shame.
Facebook has dropped another clanger in restricting the tabs to a single application – let’s explore an alternative: I am a voracious reader and writer – I have installed many applications that are connected by this behaviour – for example, the peerless ‘Just Three Words’, Visual Bookshelf’, ‘WordPress’ etc. I’d like to be able to group these under a single tab, or at worst to be able to nest my tabs. This is not possible today, and worse, some applications don’t support pages, so there is no option but to place them in ‘Boxes’. This capability has been around in portals for several years, so I wonder why Facebook are making such a mess of it?
So in keeping with my theme:
No user controlled Nested Tabs
Ever ‘improving’ top level navigation
I have no doubt that the coming weeks will see more improvement and perhaps even stability. I’m optimistic and actually, despite moaning horribly about the many implementation issues we are being subjected to, I prefer the new look. I expect to be updating this post – the sooner the better!
The application list in the bottom left hand corner is now configurable – reorder by dragging. applications also appear on profile – box mid-right.