So facebook is launching new features. Too bad I never really bothered to learn the old features, that might make it harder to appreciate these. The jist I get so far is that sites can add a little 'like' Facebook button so that people can click on it and it gets added to their Facebook 'feed' and shared with their friends. Okay, that seems a lot like all the other sharing buttons that showed up on "web 2.0" (shudder) sites a while ago. You know: digg, stumbleupon, twitter, technorati, del.icio.us... there's more.
There's probably more to it than just pasting another share button on every site out there. I think I read that you can see a list of items on the site that your friend liked. Okay. Forgive my lack of excitement. This smacks of the same feeling I got when Apple announced its new iAd platform recently. GREAT, tremendous, revolutionary new features... for companies, but really not much change or improvement on business as usual for the users they're excited about leveraging.
I guess maybe that's not true. For people who use Facebook to share articles and web pages with their friends, this is a streamlined improvement over copying the url, opening a tab for facebook and pasting the link in their stream. But for the rest of us it seems like just another button littering the edges of every post. (at least on sites that add it)
I wonder why every site needs to code Facebook integration for this type of interaction. Its the user who wants to connect Facebook with the site, why can't they add something (maybe a plugin) to their browser that enables this for any site they're viewing. Then they wouldn't be at a loss when they happen across a site that hasn't rewritten its code to accommodate Facebook. This would also enable users to choose any service they want to share items of import with their followers; it could be a blog, maybe a twitter, a google reader stream, whatever they want. And we wouldn't need to add 200 little thumbnail logos everywhere.
But maybe that's my problem with how Facebook (or twitter) is approaching the "social web" to begin with. They obviously envision themselves as the central hub around which all information is traded. They can do this because we've all given them our social maps and they haven't given us a way to take them back (or somewhere else) so we stay. But the Internet isn't a wheel in which all spokes lead to Facebook; its more like a "web" where people and sites interact directly or through various proxies. There's no need to send everything back to a central repository.
Sometimes it seems like some people (and companies) forget that there is an Internet underneath all these social sites. They rush to create their pages and claim space on Facebook's internet, forgetting that they own real URLs and real websites that don't need to hook into Facebook. You could send an email to your friend instead of a FB message. You could use one of hundreds of instant messaging clients instead of Facebook's. You could share your 'status' and 'feed' updates via RSS, or Atom on countless publishing platforms instead of Facebook and Twitter that are dominating media coverage.
In fact, the greatest single impetus for joining Facebook is to interact with the people on Facebook. They've introduced a lot of people to useful communication concepts but kept them in a subset of the real system. A subset where we all have to be on the same site to exchange information with each other and users on a different site are out of the loop. That's great for its users, as long as everyone they want to interact with keeps joining, but its really great for growing Facebook.
This is coming across as awfully anti-Facebook, which I'm not. It is a useful-looking site for a variety of users and aggregates Facebook data very nicely. I am against everyone in the world using, or needing to use Facebook. It seems very reasonable to me that I could use one site on the Internet, where I have a profile and a feed etc, to interact with the profiles of contacts at Facebook, sharing articles, commenting on stati, sending messages and invites, whatever else you kids do on the Facebook.
It seems reasonable because that's how the rest of the internet works. You can send email from yahoo to earthlink or aol or bob'semail.com and it works just fine because they all conform to a public standard. Its not some API that links back to one giant database owned by a single company. Imagine how amazing it would be for Facebook's users if suddenly everyone using a social platform could communicate. It would be as important as connecting together telephone exchanges around the world. But as far as I can see Facebook is not interested in improving their users' experience in a way that would reduce the rate of new inductees funneling in. They're more focused on developing an API that channels social information that's happening on the Internet into their own private system.
So this is a bit of a plea, no you don't have to stop using Facebook if you love it so much. Just be aware of what's really going on behind the scenes. Technology is in the state it is today because of diversity, competition, interoperability and consumer choice. I'm wary of a company who strives for a captive user base. Make no mistake the move to place a Facebook tentacle on every website is a land grab. They acknowledge that their users frequent other sites to read and interact, but they want a way to bring it all back home to their own constantly hungry data collection centers. So far they haven't decided to monetize this information in truly userous ways, but some day they will and you'll discover that data you thought was yours is actually theirs.
And the app store fragmentation continues. I imagine as the platform splinters apple will have a harder time holding everything together as it works now. I've felt the sting of alienation as their focus moved swiftly past my year old device when operating systems and hardware changed. Apps take advantage of microphones and bluetooth and cameras, things that my hardware was now suddenly lacking; somehow I didn't miss them when I bought it.
Apple's own prolific gadget releases are at odds with the concept of a simple computer that just plain works great. Each release is billed as the GREATEST THING EVER, and so it is. Until 6 months from now when the next GTE comes out and the people who want a simple experience that just plain works need to get that one.
It will be more complicated to write a piece of software that runs on all these different devices; moreso when apple releases iPhone 4 and iPad 2. And either publishers will put in more work and charge everyone more money (plus apple's 30% slice), or they'll leave behind the slackers who haven't upgraded their device in the last 8 months. The article is right, 99 cents seems an appropriate price for an "app"; maybe even $1.99. No sweat to shrug off if it was an ill advised purchase. But when you're pushing 10 or 15 bucks, that my friend is a full blown program. Frankly I'd rather have real programs on a real computer; though ironically enough most of my real computer software is open source. Real programs tend to be especially pricey if you're going to get the next GTE and have to re-buy all the apps that get re-released for it.
I was shocked at how much more cash I gave apple after I bought my iPod touch. They make it so easy and gratifying to fork over time and time again. You probably won't notice for 6 months, but iPad buyers prepare to spend as much on apps and media as you did for your device, possibly much, much more. And make sure to relish the early adopter rush and special sparkle your iPad has right now, because I promise apple is doing its best to wash it away.