Archive for the 'Social Networking' Category

Why Facebook and Google are buying into drones

[link] Sunday, April 20th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column.

Back in the bad old days of the cold war, one of the most revered branches of the inexact sciences was Kremlinology. In the west, newspapers, thinktanks and governments retained specialists whose job was to scrutinise every scrap of evidence, gossip and rumour emanating from Moscow in the hope that it would provide some inkling of what the Soviet leadership was up to. Until recently, this particular specialism had apparently gone into terminal decline, but events in Ukraine have led to its urgent reinstatement.

The commercial equivalent of Kremlinology is Google- and Facebook-watching. Although superficially more open than the Putin regime, both organisations are pathologically secretive about their long-term aspirations and strategies. So those of us engaged in this strange spectator-sport are driven to reading stock-market analysts’ reports and other ephemera, which is the technological equivalent of consulting the entrails of recently beheaded chickens.

It’s grisly work but someone has to do it, so let us examine what little we know and see if we can make any sense of it…

LATER: Seb Schmoller, struck by my puzzlement about why Facebook had bought Oculus Rift, sent me a link to an interesting blog post by Donald Clark, who has experience of using Oculus kit.

I’ve played around with the Oculus for some time now – played games, roared around several roller-coasters, had my head chopped off by a guillotine, walked around on the floor of the ocean looking up at a whale and shark, floated around the International Space Station using my rocket pack.
Why do I think it matters? It’s possible, just possible, that this device, or one like it, will change the world we know forever. It will certainly revolutionise the world of entertainment. Flat screen TVs have got as big and sharp as they can get. It is clear that most people do want that big, panoramic experience but there’s a limit with 2D. Climb into that screen, which is what the Oculus allows you to do and you can look around, upwards, over your shoulder. You can them move around, do things and things can be done to you. It’s mind blowing.

The problem that Oculus has is getting to market quickly. Kickstarter was fine, for starting. Sony is right on their shoulder with project Morpheus. With this money they can accelerate R&D, have a massive marketing push and keep the price right…

His conclusion:

This is not only a ‘game’ changer, it’s an experience changer. It will change the way we spend our time, expand our experience and acquire skills. I’ve seen the effect it has with children, teenagers, adults and pensioners. It’s an experience, even at low resolution that can change your life, as you know, when you’ve tried it that it’s coming and when it comes it will be all-embracing. Facebook already has the world at its feet with 1.5 billion users, it now has the world on its head.

Translation: maybe the acquisition make more sense than I though.

Why Snapchat is interesting

[link] Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

As usual, danah boyd nails it:

Snapchat offers a different proposition. Everyone gets hung up on how the disappearance of images may (or may not) afford a new kind of privacy. Adults fret about how teens might be using this affordance to share inappropriate (read: sexy) pictures, projecting their own bad habits onto youth. But this is isn’t what makes Snapchat utterly intriguing. What makes Snapchat matter has to do with how it treats attention.

When someone sends you an image/video via Snapchat, they choose how long you get to view the image/video. The underlying message is simple: You’ve got 7 seconds. PAY ATTENTION. And when people do choose to open a Snap, they actually stop what they’re doing and look.

In a digital world where everyone’s flicking through headshots, images, and text without processing any of it, Snapchat asks you to stand still and pay attention to the gift that someone in your network just gave you. As a result, I watch teens choose not to open a Snap the moment they get it because they want to wait for the moment when they can appreciate whatever is behind that closed door. And when they do, I watch them tune out everything else and just concentrate on what’s in front of them. Rather than serving as yet-another distraction, Snapchat invites focus.

Furthermore, in an ecosystem where people “favorite” or “like” content that is inherently unlikeable just to acknowledge that they’ve consumed it, Snapchat simply notifies the creator when the receiver opens it up. This is such a subtle but beautiful way of embedding recognition into the system. Sometimes, a direct response is necessary. Sometimes, we need nothing more than a simple nod, a way of signaling acknowledgement. And that’s precisely why the small little “opened” note will bring a smile to someone’s face even if the recipient never said a word.

Snapchat is a reminder that constraints have a social purpose, that there is beauty in simplicity, and that the ephemeral is valuable. There aren’t many services out there that fundamentally question the default logic of social media and, for that, I think that we all need to pay attention to and acknowledge Snapchat’s moves in this ecosystem.

My idea of a perfect blog post. It’s insightful, thought-provoking and beautifully written.

Aw shucks!

[link] Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


Aw, isn’t that nice: a new follower! Wonder if it has anything to do with this?

Facebook @ 10

[link] Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

My piece on Facebook’s first decade.

In fact, the most significant question is not whether teenagers will abandon Facebook, but whether its adoption by huge numbers of adults will result in the fulfilment of Zuckerberg’s vision of owning “the world’s social graph” – the network of humanity’s online social connections. If it does, then our society’s move into completely uncharted territory will be complete.

The reason for this is that, in a strange way, Facebook’s business model is analogous to that of the US National Security Agency. Both need to use surveillance of both intimate and public online activity to make inferences about behaviour. The NSA claims that this enables it to spot and thwart terrorism and other bad stuff. Facebook’s implicit – but rarely explicitly articulated – claim is that intensive monitoring of what its users do enables it to both tailor services to their needs and provide precise targeting information for advertisers.

The difference is that while it’s impossible to know whether the NSA’s surveillance is a cost-effective way of achieving its mission, there’s no doubt that Facebook’s monitoring of its users is paying off, big time – as evidenced by its quarterly results, released last week. The company had revenues of $2.59bn for the three months ending 31 December – up 63% from the same time last year; and for 2013 as a whole it had revenues of $7.87bn, up 55% year-on-year. Its profit last year was $1.5bn.

All of which is pretty good for an outfit created by a Harvard undergraduate in his dorm room 10 years ago. What then of the next 10 years? As with most internet ventures, it’s impossible to say. On the one hand, permissionless innovation might spring another surprise on the world. After all, software is pure thought-stuff and there’s no shortage of geniuses in the profession. This is why many online moguls have Andy Grove’s motto – “only the paranoid survive” – engraved on their psyches. The future of Facebook will be determined by the outcome of a struggle between Metcalfe’s law and the capacity of the net to spring disruptive surprises.

Even our grunts could be monetised by Facebook

[link] Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

As Mark Twain observed: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” And that was a long time before the web. Which brings us to a meme that was propagating last week though social media. Its essence was an assertion that Facebook monitored – and stored – not only the stuff that its subscribers post on their Facebook pages, but even stuff that they started to type and then deleted! Shock, horror!

Read on…

Instagram, Youtube and the astonishing stats of photo uploads

[link] Monday, November 11th, 2013

Benedict Evans has an interesting blog post about the way social media and user-generated content is changing. His statistics for photo-uploads are particularly intriguing. Excerpt:

Facebook’s latest disclosure is that 55m photos are shared a day on Instagram, and another 350m on Facebook itself.  But 350m a day are also shared on Snapchat, and 400m on Whatsapp. And we don’t know the numbers for Line, or WeChat, or the next half-dozen services to be launched that we haven’t seen yet. Meanwhile Instagram has 150m monthly active users but Whatsapp has 350m and there are close to a dozen others with more than Instagram. 

So as it turns out, Facebook did not solve the unbundling problem by buying Instagram – even in photos. It bought just one of many mobile social products, and not even the biggest. 

All of these new services are driven by the fact that smartphones have characteristics that remove most of the defensive barriers that Facebook has on the desktop:

The smartphone address book is a ready-made social graph that all apps can tap into

The photo library is open to all apps

Push notifications remove the need to check multiple sites

Home screen icons are easier to switch between than different websites

The fluidity with which you can move between these apps seems to be breeding very fluid use cases. The original analysis was that these were unbundling Facebook in a semi-coherent way – most obviously, Instagram was taking photos, a core Facebook use case, and moving them to a different, specialised app. But it doesn’t seem to be as clearly defined as that.

Interesting that Flickr is just an also-ran in this arena. But that may be because Flickr users see themselves more as photographers rather than online socialites.

What is Facebook for?

[link] Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Answer: Facebook’s purpose is to perpetuate Facebook. Forget all the crap about connecting people, etc. It exists simply to perpetuate itself, like a malign organism.

This thought was triggered by a terrific essay by Paul Ford on the essence of Facebook, as revealed by its Android cuckoo, Facebook Home. Finishes with this memorable summary:

The moral vision of the Dynabook posited that people would use technology to manipulate code and data, to create models of the world—as many as they needed in order to understand it. In contrast, Facebook has a single model of the world, unapologetically monolithic: the canonical graph of the relationships between more than a billion human beings. If the company is to grow, it must insert itself between people and their smartphones; there are still simply too many moments spent watching things, or reading things, or making things, that it does not own.

Has Facebook peaked?

[link] Friday, May 31st, 2013


As the guy noted in his copy of the Old Testament, “Important if true”. It’s from Mary Meeker’s latest ‘State of the Internet’ presentation.


The Facebook pathogen

[link] Sunday, April 14th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Infectious diseases, says the World Health Organisation, “are caused by pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi; the diseases can be spread, directly or indirectly, from one person to another.” Quite so. Just like Facebook addiction, which also spreads from person to person and has now reached pandemic proportions, with more than a billion sufferers worldwide.

The Facebook pathogen doesn’t kill people, of course, for the good reason that dead people don’t buy stuff. But it does seem to affect victims’ brains. For example, it reduces normally articulate and sophisticated people to gibbering in the online equivalent of grunts. Likewise, it obliges them to coalesce all the varieties of human relationships into a simply binary pair: “friends” v everyone else…

Politician makes elementary schoolboy error

[link] Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Verily, you couldn’t make this up.

A Conservative councillor is being urged to resign after he branded coffee shop staff ‘bone idle bitches’ who ‘needed a good beating’.

Peter Chapman took to social networking site Facebook to complain after he received slow service in a Costa Coffee.

He posted a message slating the members of staff at the branch in Dorchester, Dorset.

His message read: ‘Terminally slow (and bad) service from the bone idle bitches at Costa Dorchester today, they all need a good beating.’

Visitors to his personal Facebook page were horrified by his remarks and are now urging Mr Chapman to resign from Weymouth and Portland Borough Council.

Mr Chapman, who has been a councillor for five years, has since tried to back-track from his comments which he said were made in jest.

He said: ‘My Facebook status is private and that comment was not made in public.’

Repeat after me: anything published on a social network is public, no matter what your settings say.