Posts Tagged ‘mySpace’
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…
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.