Monday, December 01, 2008

Facebook Past its Prime

Random Musings

It seems like every week there's more and more stuff to talk about, even on a holiday week like last week! I hope you all survived shopping this weekend as I bought more DVD/Blu-ray discs than you can shake a stick at, but also got some useful stuff: like a small Christmas tree with decor with some new jeans (finally!). By the way, any other Seattlites notice all the cool Holiday decor around the city? I love the giant star on the Macy's that's on Pike Street. Anyway, I think I'll be getting Prince of Persia this week though, so hopefully I can post some impressions of it next week. I think I'm also going to be getting Iron Man and Wall-E on Blu-ray, my 3rd and 4th Blu-ray purchases ever, but I may delay that to two weeks from now depending on how much time I get to watch them. Without further ado though, let's get to the news.

Oh, and for the record, I really hate the BCS system. I also hate the Big 12 for subscribing to the BCS's nonsense in breaking ties. I can't believe that OU is going to play Mizzou in the Big 12 Championship Game when UT has beaten both teams before in the regular season! It's really sad that we obliterated A&M last week whereas OU struggled against Oklahoma State but we drop a spot in the rankings and they go up one. I know that Texas Tech beat us and OU beat Tech, but Texas Tech also almost lost to Baylor, a team that we beat 45-21. We only lost to Tech because we were exhausted from having to play so many ranked teams in a row, we had a much harder schedule than OU! Anyway, as great as OU is this season I still hold that Texas is a better team and would do much better in the national championship game against Alabama. Oh well, hopefully we'll get a good consolation bowl and whoop whoever we have to play with a vengeance.

Facebook Fails to Acquire Twitter

Last week, Facebook offered $500 million of stock in itself in exchange for ownership of Twitter, but Twitter's board wisely refused. First of all, this offer is probably more like $150 million given Facebook's valuation, but it would be crazy for Twitter to accept strictly stock from a company with an uncertain future that has had trouble trying to monetize its own business, let alone Twitter's. More importantly, Twitter is fairly young. I think it made sense for them to hold out for a while and try to improve and figure out a good business model.

I think that the move made Twitter look stronger and Facebook look weaker since they could not muster up a cash offer, something that Twitter supposedly inquired about and could only get $100 million. The reason I think that Facebook is a little past its expiration date though is not because of this, but because they're still experimenting with ad revenue models and not getting a lot of traction. We're in an economy where business are cutting their advertising budgets, and while they're not cutting so much from their online budgets they haven't been excited about Facebook so far. Big media companies, likes of Fox, Comedy Central, NBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and MTV, have done little more than dabble in Facebook and haven't really shown an interest to do much more. The whole "digg" concept of Facebook's right sidebar of ads is not that impressive, in my opinion. It just exposes their customers to the fact that they're not sure what advertising works, so they want to crowdsource that responsibility. Sometimes their ads are downright insulting, with divorce ads for people who are listed as being married on their profile.

Then there's the fiasco of their decision to offer the option of having your application "verified" by Facebook for an annual fee of $375 that it is trustworthy and useful. This has the effect of giving an advantage to developers with deep pockets, not those with great applications. This is on par with the concept of net neutrality: it sidles out innovation in favor of greed. I don't think that this is the way to address having a sea of applications, many of which are crappy. Of course, developers could start charging people to use their applications to help subsidize this fee, but why would anyone pay for a Facebook application anyway? Which leads to my next point: a lot of them are irritating at this point (less so than before, albeit, thanks to the UI re-design), so what was the point of creating that platform? To create an app store like the iPhone one? The only real use I could see is just keeping people on the site as their main portal for the Internet so that they garner more eyeballs for advertisers, but I can't see them realistically doing that. I only use Facebook maybe once a week nowadays whereas I used to use it all the time in college. It has started to lose its appeal to me, and if that's a trend for people who graduate from college (I've personally seen it a lot just anecdotally) then they lose the buying power of an audience with real disposable income as opposed to college students who scrounge for money to pay tuition.

I'm not saying that Facebook is done for, but I think that they're past their heyday and really need to innovate and be smart if they intend to really make money. Winning a lawsuit against a spammer is a great way to help start a war against spammers, and maybe that'll make people feel better about using Facebook if it has less spam, but that doesn't stop frightening social engineering scams involving names of someone's actual friends for a dash of false legitimacy. This economic downturn is a great time for them to step back from being the Web 2.0 darling and really figure out a game plan because what they've been doing over the past couple of years really hasn't been cutting it.

UK Doesn't Fancy the iPhone 3G Ad

Remember a while ago when I railed on the iPhone's 3G ad for being misleading regarding the speed of the actual iPhone 3G? No? Ok, well I promise I wrote it. Anyway, the Brits have also taken notice by banning the ad. A California resident noticed also and slapped a verbose $5 million lawsuit on Apple and AT&T for the misleading advertising, including the fact that 3G is only available a fraction of the time. The cornerstone of Apple is its marketing machine, so it should be no surprise that people get frustrated when they release ads fraught with lies. I don't think that anyone will sue for the "I'm a Mac" ads because they don't result in products that don't deliver, but I think it's a real concern. Apple is no longer the little guy in the corner. It's time for them to answer for these claims they continue to make to ship units quicker. I know that it may not be as unfair as some of the anti-competitive practices that Microsoft has engaged in, but they got heavily burned for that so I think it's definitely Apple's turn now.

Joost on the iPhone

While YouTube quietly rolled out a widescreen player for its content, semi-competitor Joost had something else in mind. They released a free application for the iPhone to enjoy Joost content on your iPhone as long as you're on WiFi. I know, it sucks that you can't do it on 3G but that's the fault of AT&T's rules and not of Joost, so don't blame them for it. I talked about Joost a long time ago when it was in beta and how I was excited about what it could do to marry old media and new media by providing an easy way to watch streaming TV on your own time without compromising on video quality, but the standalone application you had to use was really clunky and though they're now running out of your browser they still lacking in quality content. I think a great move is to be able to have this mobile application (and hopefully an Android one, eventually) to make their content more ubiquitous and put itself in better competition with YouTube. In an ideal situation (i.e. a city blanketed in free or cheap WiFi), I'd love to be able to start watching a movie or TV show on the bus with Joost and then come home to resume it from where I left off on my computer or home media PC. I hope that Joost continues to survive, I really am pulling for them.

Shaky Security

It looks like there's never a lack of interesting security news! This week I want to start out with airport WiFi, which is even less secure than you may have previously thought. A white hat hacker (i.e. a hacker who hacks to test the security of systems for further improvement) has visited some of the nation's biggest airports and discovered glaring flaws. For one thing, the networks on which vital airport functions were open and poorly secure. So I can't bring hair gel on my carry-on but I can log on to an airport wireless network and compromise their systems? He also logged into an American Airlines flight's WiFi and could access the data of other passengers. Then there's the fake hot spots set up in these airports by phishers hoping to find a patsy. How about the Department of Homeland Security does something useful and get cracking on this?

Another strange prospect to me is that Lenovo has a service that will allow you to disable your laptop with a single text message. My first hunch was that someone could send the message maliciously just to screw with you, but I think that more harmful is the false sense of security. While it may successfully lock down the computer, couldn't a hacker either wipe it clean for re-use or steal un-encrypted data from the hard drive if this security feature is in the BIOS (software installed directly on the processor)?

The last article I have to scare you is that anti-virus software is ineffectual against botnets. I guess this isn't really surprising, but it's still noteworthy. A botnet, as I've mentioned before, is a network of machines infected with the same worm that gives a third-party the ability to force them to execute certain commands, as in spamming or helping bring down a web server for extortion. Apparently, only 40% of current security software can detect the problem by the time it peaks in danger to the host machine and other computers. If its discovered after that point then what does it matter? The machine will be discarded and the hacker will already have moved on to new infected bots. So how can you stay safe? Anti-spyware solutions like SpyBot and Ad-Aware will help keep you clean (especially with SpyBot's immunizations), but having a hardware firewall (a router with WPA2 security enabled) and a software one (like ZoneAlarm) will really go a long way for attacks that just scan ports on random IPs to look for a way in.

The Exploding Offer

Joel Spolsky has a great post about the infamous exploding offer, and since I've come in contact with it (and fallen for it), I feel obligated to speak to it. This offer is named as such because much like the messages in the Mission: Impossible movies they are purported to disappear if you don't act fast enough. This is just like those stupid infomercials on TV except that you're playing with your career instead of Grandma's cash birthday gift. I took an offer with Texas Instruments my sophomore year of college in January because I was afraid I wasn't going to get any better offers since I had no previous technical experience, which won't get you in the door at a lot of companies and they were a big name. I didn't push them on their time line (that I remember) so I fell for the trap.

I don't think it's unethical for a company to tell you when they'd like to know your response on an offer by, but it's worse when they refuse to budge on it. Read this again and again: any company that tries to strongarm you into an offer does not truly value you. It's important to be humble while in the interviewing process with an air of confidence for selling yourself, but it's also important to realize that your career is worth much more than the commission they get for recruiting you or the feeling that you didn't disappoint them. They may sound pissed when you turn them down, or ask them for more time, but they're not your hiring manager. If they are your hiring manager, then you don't want to work for anyone who doesn't value you enough to let you make an educated decision and it shows that they're not confident that they're better than their competitors. That's a really bad sign. That means that they either can't afford you or they're just cheap and want to pay as little as possible for you.

I'm not saying you should be crazy and turn down companies left and right because they won't extend their decision deadlines, but it's not terribly unethical to turn the tables and use their weapon against them. Accept verbally and then just renege later if a better deal comes along. Yes, it does suck and you may be burning a bridge with them, but it's not a particularly good bridge if they can't give you a reasonable amount of time to explore your options. If they really had something good to offer, they'd be ethical about it and they wouldn't have to worry about other companies being better workplaces.

Holiday Shopping

I know that Black Friday is over but that only means that Holiday shopping has just begun! Read Write web has a great roundup of gift ideas for nerdy kids, and I think even nerdy adults, to be honest. I wouldn't care about brewing my own root beer or perfume, but who wouldn't want this programmable robot?

Some people may need new computers and consider buying one in the midst of deals trying to clear out inventory for next year's hottest models, but there's an important distinction to be made between notebooks and netbooks. A netbook is a small (like 8 or 10-inch small) computer designed for quick and easy Internet and e-mail usage and is not very powerful. So other than sites like YouTube, you won't be watching a whole lot of video on it. Plus, the computer will struggle to render Flash-heavy sites. However, they handle word-processing quite well with cheap or free alternatives to Microsoft Office and can be a great way to get work done without your work computer. And while you can't really edit video on a netbook, you can do your day-to-day photo editing just fine. It's a great and exciting new sector of the computer market for when you're on-the-go (maybe to a Cafe or a book store or something) or for when you're in the kitchen waiting on some water to boil, but it definitely doesn't supplement a standard notebook or desktop computer. What it lacks in processing power it makes up for in portability and price, but it probably won't meet all your needs. So keep around your normal computer if you decide to buy one and realize its shortcomings before you impulsively offer up your credit card.

Gizmodo has a really great article about gadgets you shouldn't skimp on that may be a bit pricey, but how you can save money elsewhere. For example, don't fall for crazy price cuts on third-rate GPS devices when the best ones on the market belong to the Garmin nuvi series. My nĂ¼vi 660 has its shortcomings, but it navigates like a pro even optimizing well around traffic. They also have a really excellent article explaining what the different types of HD TVs are all about and what to look for when buying one of your own. By the way, don't skimp on buying your HD TV. If you're going to buy one, go for quality and realize that its cost should be amortized over the 10+ years you use it for. I love my 40" Samsung and don't regret buying it in the face of Black Friday deals because it serves me so well. The quality is only bested by larger Samsung LCD TVs, in my opinion.

The Rest

Per usual, there's a number of articles I don't have time to talk to in depth, so I'm just going to spit them all out here real quick.

Tech Crunch questions eBay's acquisition of BillMeLater in the face of an economy reduced to shambles from a credit crisis, and I agree. The company seems to only supplant credit cards for people who have terrible credit, so this is like giving a slot machine to a gambler rather than getting him into rehab.

Virgin now has WiFi on its flights without censorship, though there is traffic shaping so that you can't hog bandwidth unless no one else is using it on your flight.

If you buy The Dark Knight from Amazon, you can watch it at Amazon Video on Demand for free! This means that you have an online streaming version of the movie that you can watch whenever, wherever. The digital copy on the 3-disc edition isn't really necessary since Video on Demand videos are hosted by Amazon and just associated with your account. This is really cool and I could totally see it being a trend with movie studios promoting pre-orders of movies with codes for free digital copies.

Computer World has a cute editorial about a Firefox man and his fling with Chrome. It's a funny read if you're like me and tried Chrome only to come running back to Firefox with arms wide open.

I usually don't post about lists of cool images, but I really enjoyed this one of optical illusions via street art and strange architecture. I mean how unbelievably cool is this one?

Time for bed (finally)! Have a great week everyone and Happy December!

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