Early Thoughts on the (Latest) New Facebook Re-Design

The latest new Facebook re-design has been public for a few weeks now, and of course it's been accompanied with the usual chorus of complaints. I for one actually really like the updates that they've made. It's a short sample set, but I feel like this new format is instigating a lot more interaction. Since the "News Feed" is curated with Facebook's secret algorithm (a combination of your interaction habits and the breadth of connections you share), the stories I'm seeing on the front page really seem to be ones I'd want to engage in. Also, because they stick around longer more people seem to jump into the conversation around a piece of content, which is pretty cool. And when I want to take more time to browse my larger social graph, it's a quick click over to the "Live Feed", which even tells me how many stories I've missed since last checking.

Also now there's more useful utility above the fold in the sidebar - suggestions for interaction with lost connections, visible birthday reminders again, both things that lead to re-engagement with the broader friend circle. All together the site seems impressively more optimized for consistent interaction with your closest friends and assisted re-connection with your extended network. And really you can't overlook how important this is; Each day we add more connections and share more content inside Facebook. People already complain how much I share and I'm fairly conservative when it comes to social media hyper-users. Without aid from platforms like Facebook there is no scale to the future of social media. That's why Facebook is constantly trying out new methods of organization and optimization. I hated the previous move that turned the front page into a Twitter rip-off, but I'm liking this more Friendfeed-esque layout so far.

So what does everyone think? What was your first reaction, and if it was negative, is it growing on you? Or do you hate change? And if so what else do you think Facebook could do to prepare us for the future?


Review: The Android G1 vs. the iPhone 3GS

It’s been a month since I switched to the iPhone 3GS from the Android G1 and it seems worth giving my reflections. When I had the G1 I loved it. The Android operating system is awesome- Google’s effort in opening up the mobile phone is very impressive, and they’ve proven over the last year they’re committed for the long haul. Here’s what it does well: The interface is great, much more like a computer operating system. Simple things like an information bar, which makes it more like Windows, may seem unnecessary to Apple but the reality is status updates like new email & text message alerts are important and often lost on the iPhone. Also, the Google apps integration is fantastic, and for the world outside of work (i.e. Microsoft Exchange) that’s much more exciting. You can sync Gmail and Google Calendar to iPhone, but it’s not native and it kills some of the reasons I joined Gmail in the first place, like threading. Also Android lets 3rd party apps plug in to the OS, which is important for things like taking a picture with the camera and then having your choice of where to upload to, rather than on the iPhone where you have to pre-select which program you are going to use to upload even before you take the picture (or after you exit the camera all together).

Other features of Android like desktop widgets are cool but I don’t really find them necessary. iPhone lets apps do small updates through the icons, and leaving widgets on the G1 had two huge side-effects- it killed the battery life, and slowed the OS significantly. This is also my feeling on multitasking; in most cases, you really don’t need it. If iPhone apps were a little better at holding your place when exiting and re-opening them, and there was a normal info bar for push notification & other message alerts, I can’t see many reasons I’d need multitasking, especially considering the likely trade-off between that and battery life.

So what the iPhone 3GS in the face of this? Well as much as I loved the G1, I really haven’t turned it on since getting the new iPhone. There’s a lot to love about Android, but the 3GS is by far and away a better phone. First a caveat, it would definitely be fairer to compare the new iPhone to a more modern Android phone, but I don’t have that luxury. So after a month of using an phone that is all together faster in every way, from using applications to browsing the web, I can’t imagine having it any other way. Also for all of the suckiness of OS lockdown, it’s amazing how beautifully consistent every experience is on the 3GS. Every time you open an app loads just as quickly, and the usability of many applications is also comforting. What I really miss the most about the G1 is the keyboard, which in all honesty I’d take on the iPhone in exchange for a bit thicker phone. But the iPhone’s typing auto-correction is actually pretty impressive, making onscreen touch-typing much more functional than on Android.

So in the end it comes down to this. From my experience, the iPhone 3GS does the things I care about the most significantly better than the G1. That probably means that Android needs to be installed on a phone that’s worthy of its breadth of functionality, which it looks like the upcoming Verizon Droid will do. If that happens, then Apple needs to take the iPhone OS to the next level to compete. If not, then I’m sad to say I’ll take less functionality for an overall better experience, as much as I didn’t want to come to that realization.


A Huge Day for the Big Web Players

It's been a huge day for the major web companies, news pouring out every hour, so I thought I'd recap and offer some thoughts:

  • Facebook users will soon be able to gift each other songs, web-streaming copies for 10 cents or downloadable DRM free files for 90 cents, powered by lala.com (paid thru Facebook credits)
  • Google is expected to unveil a music tie-in next week that lets users stream songs and potentially purchase them right from the search engine, powered by i-Like and lala.com
  • MySpace will now be housing a full library of music videos from the major music labels, and also providing Artists with deeper analytics of how fans engage with their content
Clearly this all points to one thing - multimedia content is rapidly becoming available everywhere. The entertainment industry is learning the only way they can fight piracy to offer easy access at fair costs. Also, I think the ability to gift Facebook friends songs could be a huge money maker for all parties if it's easy for the user and the music is easily played back as a library. And I want to see if users buy their own songs to house on their own profile for easy listening. Also, its amazing a full mp3 is cheaper than the virtual gifts people can send now. Finally, it's impressive that Lala was able to get themselves into both the Facebook and Google music deals, taking them from relatively no-name to top-tier player in a matter of hours.
Myspace's announcement is them trying to hold onto their claim as the best place for Musicians to set up their home-base website as they watch more and more of the grassroots marketing move to Twitter & Facebook. They're doing a pretty good job as an Entertainment portal, but this helps them with actual artist relations.

Social Search
  • Microsoft cut deals with Twitter and Facebook to incorporate their content streams in real-time into their Search index. Microsoft unveiled an early beta of their Twitter search engine at http://www.bing.com/twitter , which not only shows recent updates but popular links being shared around a search term
  • Google announced a similar deal with Twitter (no Facebook for now), but hasn't yet incorporated the content fully, with more details expected in a few weeks
  • Google announced a separate product called Social Search which will enable users to search their own social graph for content. Google will create a personal index of content for a user based on the social profiles attached to their Google profile, helping users surface content such as friend's Flickr photos and profile info
The social search space, also known as the real-time search space, is heating up big time. The major search engines Google and Bing are realizing that more and more users will start their web searches with their social graph and want the latest information that their social graph is highlighting as valuable. Microsoft's early search site shows how it will try to take on the memetrackers and the real-time search engines at once, a space that's currently being owned by new web start-ups Tweetmeme and OneRiot.
It's clear Google will jump into this space as well, but their personalized social search product is separately very interesting. Helping users to unearth their own personal information from their own individual social graph is potentially even more important than a broad real-time search engine. The key here though is what content Google will be able to index - given that Facebook especially is behind a wall. The great thing about FriendFeed was that you could add RSS feeds to supplement the content that was already being indexed, a way to overcome the Facebook walls. Will Google be able to do this?

  • Flickr announced people tagging on their photos similar to Facebook's features, but with more privacy controls. Users can choose who exactly can tag them in photos.
This is a feature that's made sense for a long time, but I don't think by itself it will matter much. Not enough people have Flickr profiles for it to matter, and because of the upload caps not enough people will ever choose to upload to Flickr. If this was done through Facebook connect it would be totally different (similar to PolarRose's offering). Also I would really like to see some integration with Apple's iPhoto, since they are working on syncing their products already and I've invested the time in tagging my friends on my desktop computer. This would be a good rivalry to the sync'd tagging of Picasa and Picasaweb. Finally, since serious Flickr users have been stockpiling photos for years, Flickr really needs to integrate Facial recognition on the site - both to keep up to par with competitors, and to make tagging less daunting of a task.


Foursquare Will Be a Big Deal, Trust Me

I don't think I've hyped anything in a while, so here I go: That Foursquare thing I've been talking about? It's going to be big. And this isn't like Twitter, where I'm asking you to take my word for it. Foursquare is taking the best attributes of mobile, social networking, and gaming and rolling them into one, and it's making it all really easy at the same time. But the real reason it's going to be big? Using Foursquare is going to be loaded with incentives. Not only does it help you find your friends, but it also tells you what's great to eat at a new restaurant, what's cool nearby, and starting now offers discounts at places you could go to next (seeing the screens above when I checked in to Foursquare yesterday made it clear ot me that Foursquare is going to be a big deal). Foursquare takes social media and lays it out onto the physical world in a simple and valuable way.

Let's look at why Foursquare is so addictive and potentially incredibly valuable:
  • Foursquare is basically status updates, but it tells your local social graph something useful - where you are and what you're doing that they could be doing too
  • Foursquare i actually mostly worth while from your phone, which is much more accessible more often than your home computer
  • Foursquare lets you add and review 1-line tips for locations such as what food to get or when to arrive so it isn't too busy, which while not as thorough as Yelp is much easier to contribute to and browse for suggestions
  • Foursquare is now letting restaurants add deals for players, so when someone checks in to a nearby location they are served a "deal" that they could take advantage of if they visit another place after
  • Foursquare is an oddly addictive game, showing you where you rank in points weekly, where points are generated from visiting places, adding places no one has been to, and completing challenges that unlock badges (like visiting 3 bars with photo booths in them)
Mobile social networking has been a buzzword for about 5 years, but nothing has picked up. It just didn't seem simple enough or valuable enough for people to want to use it. But gaming, reviews, and discounts are 3 things that people really enjoy, and with Foursquare making it really easy for everyone involved it's only a matter of time before it's huge.

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