Monday, November 09, 2009

Facebook Cons

The Latest Facebook Scandal

What is it about Facebook that gives it such a celebrity status among tech journalists? It seems to get a lot of coverage despite at its core merely being a platform to communicate with friends and post embarrassing pictures of your friends. The problem with being in the spotlight is that you get at least as much negative press as positive press (unless you agree with the adage that any press is good press). Typically, Facebook is bitten by UI changes or some critical privacy discrepancy at least once every 6 months. This time, the big news is a bit off the beaten path.

Techcrunch was probably first to the scene here with an expose from an insider who used to be a part of spreading spam on Facebook. It turns out that there's a whole seedy underbelly to the world of Facebook Applications. Facebook users typically aren't fans of buying stuff on Facebook, but it turns out that they are gullible enough to do things like download toolbars or give up personal information when prodded with the right incentive, which leads to conning them into paying the shady company money. Computerworld has a blogwatch compiling quotes from other articles weighing in on the scams calling out Farmville and Mafia Wars and decrying the offenses of virtual currency and hidden ponzi schemes.

So what happened? I guess this was really inevitable. You have a network that's growing like crazy, has an open platform, and users seem to put a lot of misplaced trust in. Facebook is a believer in small government and so they have tried to be hands off, which is an even better situation for scammers looking to make a quick buck. Now they're locked in an arms race as advertisers are finding more creative ways to cheat the system. It's not a very hopeful situation right now, but it's possible that legitimate advertisers will become more prevalent on Facebook and edge out the shady ones. In my opinion, Facebook still needs to make a more active effort to police these shady application owners. I hesitate to recommend a vetting process because we don't want another iTunes App Store situation, which is irritating despite being successful, but Amazon and eBay and many other sites have whole teams that work to expose fraud, why can't Facebook? If they already do have such a team then they may need to make it bigger because this is going to hurt the long-term growth potential of Facebook (the little they have, in my opinion) if people trust Facebook less and less.

Google Feature Bonanza

Last week really demonstrated how big Google has become as they managed to release 3 new features/products.

The smallest additions were options to allow more text to show up in your search results and/or thumbnails from the pages in the results. Some people went so far as to create Firefox extension to simulate this functionality so there was clearly a demand for them, though I've never felt the need for either feature.

Arguably the biggest thing to come from Google was Google Dashboard, which brings together all the data attached to your Google account into an easy-to-use interface. It is kind of cool, but I don't think it's especially useful and is creepy in a way. While it does force you to login again before using it, like when you try searching your history, it tells you stuff like how many calls you've made in Google Voice and the last video you favorited in YouTube. It's more a frightening reminder of everything Google knows about you than a great utility. However, the fact that it does give you this view of what Google has on you may encourage you to clamp down on areas you're more sensitive about.

The last thing Google announced was Commerce Search, which is a cloud-hosted search appliance targeted at retail websites. While it's not a bad idea I definitely question their ability to turn it into a successful product given that people barely remember that Google Checkout exists nowadays.

Selling Software With One Hand, Laying Off With the Other

Microsoft has sold a few copies of Windows 7 since it's launch a couple of weeks ago to the tune of 234% more copies in its opening week than Vista's opening week, and 84% more revenue. Despite the strong sales of Snow Leopard it's clear that Windows 7 came out on top as it already has more market share than Snow Leopard or all distributions of Linux combined. Granted, that's only 2% of the market but the other 89% of the market is Vista and XP. Still, not too shabby for its first two weeks.

Unfortunately, it's not all good news in Redmond: Microsoft announced that they would conclude the layoffs they began at the beginning of the year with 800 more layoffs. I'm guessing that some of these laid off employees can transfer to other teams within the company, so it may not be as bad as it sounds, but I'm sure that more than a few will have to look for work elsewhere.

Maybe they can find work at a much-criticized Microsoft retail store. The first one has opened in Scottsdale, AZ, which somewhat makes sense since there's not much to do in Scottsdale but shop. It doesn't look much better or worse than it has in the leaked documents but who knows, it could be a runaway success.

It's All About Android

Even though the iPhone still rules the smartphone roost (at least in America), Android 2.0 has turned more than a few heads. It turns out that it has more cool features than just Google Navigation, and Tech Radar has a pretty concise rundown of what's new. Some of the highlights are contact sync with external services, Microsoft Exchange support (took long enough), multiplayer gaming via Blueooth, and a much enhanced camera application. If you want a more in-depth look, Gizmodo has a pretty well-written review but be forewarned that they sneak in feedback of Droid in there since it's the only device you can get your grubby hands on running Android 2.0 so who knows if the sluggishness would be better on a better processor. What I'm disappointed in is that only certain devices can get this upgrade. I can understand if there are hardware limitations, but some of these features shouldn't be so tightly coupled with the hardware. It creates a world like Windows Mobile where you have different versions floating around where someones experience with an older version makes them think that the newest version is just as bad because they don't understand they're different. Or maybe Android users are savvy enough to understand this (no disrespect to Android users, but it's not likely that they all realize this).

Meanwhile, Verizon launched the HTC Droid Eris last Friday, which will actually run Android 1.5.

I think it's a pretty nice-looking phone, but it's really just a reworked version of the HTC Hero made compatible with the Verizon network. I understand that they want this phone out there to fill out their line some more for the holiday season, but, as I cited above, it's going to cause customer confusion having two different Android phones running two different versions of Android that are both brand new to the Verizon network. They ideally should've released Droid Eris earlier or delayed it until Android 2.0 was ready for it.


Just a few brief stories left...

Apparently there's a new format already in the works to follow HD called UHD, or Universal HD. A resolution of 3840 x 2160 sounds downright crazy, but I'm sure in the year 2023 I'll be eating my words when we all have a UHD set.

For those of you living in the present, Sound and Vision Magazine has a pretty cool guide to LED.

Joel Spolsky put up a blog post I liked that starts out explaining warning signs that you should quit your job and ends selling a product I'd endorse if it does what he says called Stack Overflow Careers. It's basically a simplified LinkedIn for getting your resume out there. It's not a bad idea.

The forthcoming version of uTorrent stops competing with ISPs' packet shaping strategies and cooperates with ISPs to adjust download and upload speeds for clients according to network congestion. Apparently, this will affect upload speed more than download speeds and is supposed to end up resulting in faster downloads overall. Very cool stuff.

In the October browser market share statistics, Firefox has finally bested Internet Explorer 6, which has more market share than IE7 or IE7 so technically Firefox as a whole has more users than any single version of IE.

Have a great, illness-free week everyone! *cough* Time for some TheraFlu...

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