Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Facebook

01 Jul

By

Google+ First Impressions

July 1, 2011 | By |

It’s time to drop some off-the-cuff punditry. (Kidding.) I’m sitting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for boarding one of a long series of flights, on a trip that’s been going on for the better part of a week. So when I got my Google+ invite, I hardly had time to check it out – besides through the mobile app on Android.

And I have to say: I’m impressed.

Disclaimer one: As we see a lot of bashing on one, and hyperbole on the other end of the spectrum, I’ll try to stay clear of all that. If you don’t like moderate blog posts, skip this one. Disclaimer two: I once worked on a small project for Google, and I’ve been (on and off) a member of the Google-initiated Internet & Society Collaboratory in Berlin (a multi stakeholder initiative, unpaid).

So! Is Google+ a Facebook killer? Nonsense, of course not. There’s a time and a place for Facebook, and the level of convenience as well as the incredible reach that Facebook has reached makes it unlikely to go away anytime soon. However – Facebook has been feeling stale and old for quite some time, and they have fumbled privacy so many times it’s hard to imagine that they really tried. Whatever their agenda is, protecting their users doesn’t seem to be part of it. If we’re lucky – and I must say I hope so – then Google+ might help nudge Facebook just that tiny bit closer to become more like MySpace: still around, but really, really irrelevant.

G+ is, however, the first serious and promising large scale attempt to offer a serious alternative to Facebook. While I’ve been really crossing my fingers for Diaspora – and it has become relatively neat over time – it’s not a very lively space.

The way Google has connected all the dots and learned from all the ways other platforms as well Google themselves were criticized is quite impressive. It’s obvious that a lot (!) of thought and resources have been poured into G+. Even the awkward loose ends like “+1″ and their other social near-failures seems to fit right in. And while of course only time will tell how protective of our privacy G+ will be, there are a number of interesting and very promising paradigms at work here. For one, sharing is much more granular – the “circles” metaphor works well. Group chat (“huddles”) works smoothly.

The mobile app is fantastic, and the notion of separating between a stream for your circles and “nearby” conversations happening allows for temporary local networks. Imagine you’re at a conference or concert, and instead of doing the awkward hashtag thing, you just see what people around you are saying. This could change quite a bit.

And one thing is certain: Since Google dropped G+ right into the Google navigation bar (along with mail, calendar etc) shows it really prominently whenever you have a touchpoint with another Google webservice – if you’re a knowledge worker these days, that means basically all the time. The integration with the other services, as far as I could tell, works very smooth, too. Google has managed to connect all the dots, and a very decent picture emerged.

Maybe it happened at random, but the fact that Google Calendar and Gmail also got a new, freshly designed interface just makes Google look that much more attractive than just a few days ago.

Of course, we’re seeing only the beginning of what will probably a long iterative process. The not-yet-quite obvious effects are hard to grasp at this point, where the beta users are only trying out what exactly it is that Google+ is even capable of. But besides becoming another big social network (which I’m sure G+ will become very quickly), I expect Google search results to become a lot more relevant.

When G+ will be available on iOS I don’t know. But Google has at least proven one thing: That despite their reputation they actually know how to do social. They’re a bit late to the game, but with G+ they put a stake in the ground.

This is going to be interesting to watch.

ps. For a very decent overview and analysis, this WIRED article is a must read.

08 Jun

By

Facebook launches facial recognition, screws users (again)

June 8, 2011 | By |

Goopymart

Facebook has done it again: The company enabled a new feature that uses facial recognition to prompt your Facebook connections to “tag” you in photos they are shown. In other words: It recognizes user faces in photos, then shows them to their friends, encouraging them to identify the user by putting a name to the image.

Sounds useful? Yeah, right.

Consider this: A user does not get the option to pre-approve of photos of themselves being published. As you might know, I usually go for a share-all approach. This case, though, is another notch in Facebook’s bedpost of privacy violations. As so many times before, Facebook defaulted to share personal information instead of to protecting it. Again, they went for an opt-out model (where the user has to become actively involved to protect their privacy) and – to top things off – decided to hide the option to disable this “feature” way down in the privacy settings.

This is beyond bad style. Here’s how you disable facial recognition on Facebook.

I can’t wait for a truly privacy-conscious social networking service.

mystery cat / goopy mart / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

25 Nov

By

Diaspora Alpha is live, looks good

November 25, 2010 | By |

Diaspora has launched its consumer-facing alpha (as opposed to the last release that was for developers and tinkerers only). The privacy-conscious social network was off to a bit of a rocky start since it was profiled (in the media, on the web) enthusiastically as The Facebook Killer – a level of expectation that led to huge crowd-funding on Kickstarter as well as completely overwhelming expectations no one could possible live up to.

Fast forward half a year to now. The dust has settled, the first release is out. The “alpha” isn’t in the name to look more cute, it actually is a very early release with likely a lot of bugs and certainly only very basic functionality.

However, it does seem to work, and after the first few pokes at the service it looks quite good to me. A few screenshots:

Diaspora

The blog, just because I kinda like the logo.

Diaspora

The Diaspora dashboard is clean and minimalistic. Works fine for me, but it’ll only really become clear how usable it is once more contacts are linked to my profile.

Diaspora

To handle privacy and granular sharing, Diaspora uses the metaphor of “aspects” of your identity. An aspect could be your friends, your family, your work life: you can choose granularly which of these groups sees what you post. In Diaspora’s own words:

Diaspora lets you create “aspects,” which are personal lists that let you group people according to the roles they play in your life. We think that aspects are a simple, straightforward, lightweight way to make it really clear who is receiving your posts and who you are receiving posts from. It isn’t perfect, but the best way to improve is to get it into your hands and listen closely to your response.

At a glance this makes a lot of sense. Again, time will tell if it holds up.

Diaspora

On your dashboard you can also always see with whom you shared what kind of information.

Diaspora

Status updates and photos can also easily shared with external services. So far (ironically) this is limited to Twitter and Facebook. You cross-post by simply ticking the “make public” box.

Diaspora

User profiles are very minimalistic as of yet – for example you can’t put in a link to an external website. The age indicator is one of the less charming ones – never before have I actually felt old using a social network ;)

Since Diaspora is positioned as a more responsible social network than Facebook, data export and deleting your account is a simple enough task:

Diaspora

It’ll take a little while to test it all in full, and to gather a bit of a crowd on Diaspora to check out all the interactions. But at a first glance, despite this being very clearly alpha ware, it looks very promising. Another half year, maybe, and this may be a F… no. I’m kidding. This has nothing to do with Facebook, or being a Facebook killer – but it really doesn’t have to. This looks great by itself.

02 Jun

By

Diaspora, an open Facebook?

June 2, 2010 | By |

IMG_4567

A few weeks ago, four recent NYU graduates announced – to the background noise of the latest (of many) major Facebook privacy fail – that they intended to build a privacy-focuses, decentralized, open-source alternative to Facebook. A social network, installed on a server of your choice, the data controlled by you alone.

Their fundraising period just ended. Instead of the $10K they had planned to raise, they got some $200K in pledges on Kickstarter.

There are several interesting points here: (1) these four young guys seem fairly inexperienced, yet they are a main focal point of hope for a large & growing number of privacy concerned web heads, including myself, so they get all the attention and are in a very interesting place right now. (2) After their initial announcement and the following hype (both on blogs and traditional media) they fell practically silent for several weeks. Which didn’t go down to well with many including myself, but others are more forgiving that way. (3) How can they match the expectations? Is there even a clear consensus about where the road should lead? Can they manage to pull of the first steps towards a prototype and open source quickly enough to engage the community, including some of the veterans of this field like Chris Messina and David Recordon (who both work for big companies now)?

As of yesterday, the Diaspora website is relaunched and also offers the Diaspora roadmap (PDF). Looks like late summer is still the first big milestone. From the (very top-level) roadmap, and with my very limited knowledge about the technical background of social networking and distributed computing, the project seems to be sensible. I really hope the four of them manage to pull off the first steps quickly enough to get more people and support on board.

This is potentially huge. But so is the chance of screwing up. And they just put a lot of stuff on a plate that’s growing by the day.

Image: IMG_4567, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from nearnearfuture’s photostream