April 2010

The last week has been full of news about Facebook's new moves. Expanded product offerings, rampant privacy violations and the like. The big question is whether Facebook can get away with statements like this:

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," Zuckerberg said at a technology awards show in January. "That social norm is just something that has evolved." (via The LA Times)

FALSE. Objectively. Some people are comfortable, but many / most are not. The question is, can Facebook dictate that norm to the web by making business-first decisions now, worrying about the consequences after? Increasingly I believe the answer is yes.

I hear many people say that Facebook is destined to go the way of MySpace, and be superseded by the next big thing in social networking. But I don't believe that anymore. There was Lycos and Altavista and the crew, and then Google came along and people thought the next thing would be along soon. Even in the last few years, there were the people who predicted that Bing or Cuil, or Powerset, or Wolfram or whatever would be the next big thing. But no one's stealing Google's market share on search (although Bing is doing ok…). Google has become a standard, and it will be very hard to shake.

Well, I think Facebook is moving towards that same position. Facebook's idea this past week has been to explode its walls. Facebook wants to be the social graph that powers the web. There will still be new, cool sites for users to get involved in, but why re-invent the wheel? Facebook will allow these sites to slice off a part of the Facebook graph for their users and populate it with their own content. All the while, of course, Facebook is keeping track, expanding its own graph, making a mint. Facebook knows things are going this way, and so this week they slapped down their trump card and said "just you try and stop us!"

We've seen a pretty big backlash in internet terms, but nothing strong enough to lead to anything but minor concessions on Facebook's part. The only things that will stop them at this point might be action from Congress or the courts. At least a few folks in Washington seem to be paying attention.

In the meantime, I think the kind of protest, resistance we're seeing is useful and necessary. I'll be interested to see if Facebook really takes notice. I'm guessing no. So for most of us, our real decision is whether to accept a public life with Facebook, or log off for good. As for me, I'm not thinking of logging off yet, but only because I always assume information about me is public and widely shared without my knowledge. I decided long ago not to put anything on Facebook (or elsewhere) that I wouldn't want to share with the world. But that's me. Facebook allows me to manage my privacy the way I'd like by default. But it should do the same for others too, rather than forcing them into potentially dangerous and uncomfortable choices.

Via The Null Device Blog

Fire! Brimstone! Hyperbole! An unpopular opinion! Apple is not really doomed. But they're in trouble. Yes, the iPad just came out, and the internet had a giant geistgasm. There's no denying, it's a sexy device.

Here's the problem – who wants it? Right now, Mac fanboys (and girls). Soon, a few others who will convert once it's on to v2 with some of the kinks ironed out, next OS version (multi-tasking!!), and the inevitable camera. Kids will love it. Ok, so that's kind of a crowd. Remember, people, this post is about hyperbole! God! You're all so dense!

So, Apple may expand its market a bit, and bring in a few converts who have a need that the iPad matches. But here's the problem. There are two reasons why Apple's introduction of the iPad is a big step backwards for the company:

  1. Apple has always been good at opening genres. They pick a niche – mobile music, smart phones, slates, and they knock v1.0 out of the park. That's what the Cupertino brand of perfectionism and attention to detail in user experience and hardware will get you. In the case of the iPad, they didn't just crack the door on a new genre, they kicked it wide open. And many, many, many others will come pouring through. Soon there will be lots of cheaper, faster, more feature-rich competitors that will run a wider variety of software. So some people will buy an iPad, but others will wait for the HP Slate, or whatever comes next. This was true for the iPhone too, but it took a *really* long time for anyone to rival the iPhone experience. But now we have Android, and soon we will have Windows 7 Phone. Whatever you think of those two OSs, take away the app. store (which is Apple's ace-in-the-hole), make this about devices and OS, and iPhone is not so clearly better. It won't take nearly as long for all the slates to make their way to market. Just a few months from now we'll see them hitting stores, and in a year we'll see what Apple has really gained.
  2. But here's the bigger issue. The ideological issue. Just like Kim Jong Il, Apple has a viciously tight ecosystem, built on secrecy, that has draconian and seemingly arbitrary policies that they enforce through code. Also like Kim Jong Il, they'll tell you it's all for your benefit, comrade user. It makes for a better experience, it allows Apple to make the perfect society… err, phone and keep it that way, free of the imperialist influences of free markets and free culture. That's all good and well, except… well, except that the biggest opportunity for the iPad to open a new market for Apple is in the education space, but those are the very people who will hate the North Korean strategy. Apple is locking out competitors and enforcing arbitrary limitations on free speech, and this is probably just the beginning. It's the Apple way, or the highway. Well, educators, educational activists, parents won't stand for that. Why would they? Oh, they could just join the enterprise developer program or what have you and circumvent Apple's process. But that will limit educational innovations to private, circumscribed groups. And why get involved with a company that might endanger your ability to teach what you want when you can get a cheaper, faster device that has none of those restrictions? Apple shot itself in the foot. It had a chance to release a groundbreaking device and capture a new market. But that chance is slipping away, further and further each time they do some crazy shit. Apple, you make me so crazy. If you'd only open your fist I would take your hand!!

Update: Wow! This post has generated some angry response (see below). A few responses:

    1. Note that the entire post is tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, which I admit and joke about in the very first sentences. Some people seem to have taken it very, very seriously!
    2. Yes, I compared Apple's policies to Kim Jong Il and Apple to North Korea (see #1). That's name calling. But while I said extreme things about Apple, many of these commenters are saying them about me. Guys, you don't know me. Control yourselves! I'm just a blogger than no one reads! Strange what the internet does sometimes. Grr! You criticize Apple! Me criticize YOU!
    3. Many folks seem to have missed the entire point of my post, which is: (1) the iPad will face serious competitors with equal or better hardware and OS much more quickly than they did with the iPhone, and (2) Apple had a chance to open a huge new market with the iPad, but is shooting itself in the foot with its draconian policies.
    4. Cool out, people. Writing these serious, angry diatribes makes you look a little silly, detracts from the good arguments you write.