I love Facebook Mobile via text messages

facebookBuilding a mobile application that works really well is hard. In general, I think we put up with sub-standard mobile applications simply because they offer convenience, not because they blow us away. The iPhone is definitely changing things but for the most part, I still cringe when I need to use most mobile apps. Especially ones that claim to work over text messaging. There’s only one SMS app that I really like – Facebook.

I think Facebook has absolutely nailed the text messaging experience.

Use it for a while, and you’ll realize that the SMS functionality of Facebook is so much better than everything else. Take Twitter, for instance. One of its original claims to fame was that it worked well over SMS. Except that compared with Facebook, it absolutely sucks.

Here are a few of the reasons why Facebook over text messaging rocks:

  • You can do many different things. You can update your status by prefixing your message with the @ symbol, or write on someone’s wall by prefixing the message with “wall Name”. Similarly, you can send messages by prefixing with “msg Name”.
  • Facebook will ask for clarification. If I send a message prefixed with “wall Kim” it will ask me which Kim I mean if it can’t figure it out automatically.
  • Context! Let’s say someone sends me a Facebook message, which I have set to come to my phone. All I need to do is reply, and it will send a Facebook message back. Same goes for wall notifications. I don’t need to specify the “msg” or “wall” because Facebook understands the context.
  • Taking that to the next level, Facebook over text messaging is “multithreaded”. By that I mean, there is more than one number. If I get two messages, they’ll come from different shortcodes, so that when I reply Facebook knows which one I am replying to.

The key difference between Facebook SMS and other applications, is that idea of a session. The way that my reply to a notification is not isolated – Facebook understands some of the context around it. It makes the whole experience so much better.

Another major plus with Facebook over text messaging is that it’s both fast and reliable…unlike Twitter. I’ve never had any problems with it – it just works.

If you don’t already make use of Facebook Mobile, I encourage you to give it a shot. You can learn more about the SMS features here.

Facebook's new profile design

facebook Last week Facebook reiterated that profiles will soon be redesigned. They’ve been working on the changes for quite some time now. On Wednesday they held a press event for reporters and bloggers:

Earlier today we had a small press event where we walked a few reporters and bloggers through the upcoming changes to the profile. We got to reiterate our intention of making the profile cleaner and simpler, and more relevant, while still giving you control over your profile.

If you head over to http://www.new.facebook.com you can see the new profile design in action. You can also check out the Facebook Profiles Preview Page for more information, and the ability to submit feedback on the new design.

My initial impression is that the design is very devoid of color. The pages are extremely white! I like that all of the application crap has been moved to the “Boxes” tab, and I like the focus on the feed (reminds me of FriendFeed). I’m not sure it makes sense to have the “Wall” entry form at the top of the page, considering the wall isn’t even visible. On the whole, it feels very rough to me. Not sure I like it.

Why Messaging via Facebook Rocks

facebook Facebook has a ton of interesting features, but one of the most boring is increasingly becoming my favorite – messages. The wall is what most people think of when communicating via Facebook, but private messages are the way to go when you’d rather not have everyone reading what you have to say.

Here’s why I like messaging via Facebook:

  1. There’s no need to remember someone’s email address. There are lots of reasons that people get new email addresses, such as when they graduate, switch jobs, or switch ISPs. Unless you converse with someone regularly, keeping track of their email address can be a bit of a pain. On Facebook, all you need to know is a name.
  2. There’s no need to manage an address book. One solution to the above problem of remembering email addresses would be to create and maintain an address book. That can be quite a bit of work though. On Facebook, everyone is responsible for keeping their own information up-to-date, so you don’t have to worry about it.
  3. Receiving a message via Facebook is contextually appropriate. When you receive an email, it shows up in your inbox alongside messages for work, bacn, and spam. With Facebook however, you’re there specifically for communication, so you’re in the right frame of mind to be receiving messages from others. And so far, there’s no spam.
  4. It works on your mobile phone. You can setup Facebook to send your messages to you via SMS. You can also send messages to others by prefixing your text message with “msg firstname lastname”. Sure you can do something similar with some email providers, but it’s never simple to setup, and you often need a smartphone of some kind.
  5. Profile information is just a click away. When you receive an email from someone, you see their name, address, and message. If you’re lucky, they’ll have a signature with other information, but don’t count on it! On Facebook, simply click on the person’s name and you can see all their relevant contact info, their status, friends, and more.

It’s often the simplest features that are the most useful!

Facebook Instant Messaging

facebook If there’s one thing the world needs, it’s yet another instant messaging service. Okay, that was sarcastic! What we really need are better ways for the existing IM services to work together. Anyway, TechCrunch reported today that Facebook is getting ready to launch its own instant messaging service:

Our understanding is that the service will be built into user’s Facebook pages and allow them to web chat with their Facebook friends.

Also, just to be clear, I have not heard that Facebook intends to launch any desktop software around this.

I’m not sure who this is intended for. Everyone I would talk to on instant messaging I already have on Windows Live Messenger. And WLM is an excellent piece of desktop software! I’m not sure if you’ve used meebo, but I have, and while it is cool, it’s just not the best experience for IM.

Maybe they want to add this just to try and move more communication onto Facebook, as Nick O’Neill wrote about today.

Would you use Facebook IM? I think I’d definitely try it, but I doubt I’d start using it regularly.

Read: TechCrunch

Coming soon: Clean up your Facebook profile

Post Image Apparently Facebook is gearing up to release a "profile clean-up" tool that, if enabled, will only keep a user’s top 12 applications on the main profile page, and will move the rest to an extended profile. They say they are implementing this feature in response to user feedback:

As time has gone on, we’ve received increased complaints from users that friends’ profiles are getting too cluttered, and that people are having trouble finding the information they are looking for on their friends’ profiles. On the other side, users are complaining that their own profiles are cluttered, and they have installed so many applications that it has become overwhelming to un-clutter it.

I can see how this fixes the latter problem, but how exactly does this help the user looking for their friend’s wall? As I understand it, the clean-up tool is an optional thing, meaning that unless a user cleans up their profile, it will still be overloaded as hell. I can think of more than a few friends who desperately need to get rid of their thousand applications. I don’t visit their profiles anymore, because it has become nearly impossible to do so!

What I’d really like is a "hide all applications across the site" button. Not that they’d ever give me that, but I can dream can’t I? Heck, while I’m at it an "automatically ignore all application requests" button would be nice too. Get on that will you Zuckerberg? And let me know when it’s done – kthxbye!

For more, check out ReadWriteWeb and FaceReviews.

Read: Facebook

I'll say it until I'm blue in the face

Post ImageThere is no privacy on the web.

Early this morning, Robert Scoble’s Facebook account was disabled because he violated their terms of service by scraping data from the site. That caused a flood of a posts from people saying that either Scoble was wrong or that Facebook got what it deserved. Most people siding with Scoble said that as he owns his data, not Facebook, he was in the right. He should be able to do with it whatever he wishes. Except that he doesn’t own all the data. Would his friends be happy to find out that he was taking their data elsewhere without their knowledge?

Not that it matters. It should be a non-issue. If everyone realized the truth – there is no privacy on the web – no one would be up-in-arms about the whole situation.

Sure there is something to be said about Facebook only sharing data when it makes good business sense for them to do so. Some might say that’s evil, others might say that’s business. Either way, it all boils down to privacy. Facebook gives you the impression that your data is secure, but it really isn’t.

There is no privacy on the web.

Scott Karp rightly points out that data is power. He suggests a war will be fought over control of data. I wonder though, if such a war can ever have a victor? Does Scoble own the data in his account? Does Facebook? What about his friends, don’t they own some of it? What about advertisers, surely they own some of it? Other companies? I think it’s a pointless battle. There’s far too much entanglement.

Forget trying to control the data. Let it flow freely. Forget trying to keep things secret. If there’s something that must be kept private, don’t post it on the web.

There is no privacy on the web.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re safe. With each passing day we give up a little bit more privacy than the last. The bottom line is that we almost always choose convenience over privacy, whether we know it or not. There’s a reason that concepts like identity theft didn’t really exist a hundred years ago. We share more information about ourselves now than individuals did back then, and we think nothing of it. Of course, accessing and distributing that information is easier than ever too, thanks in large part to the Internet.

Everything you think you know about privacy in the physical world is meaningless in the virtual world. The rules of the game are completely different.

There is no privacy on the web.

Read: Techmeme

Facebook dropping "is" from status updates

Post ImageI knew something was up! For the last week or so, all text message updates I have received from Facebook say something like "Kimberly Male is is eating dinner" – note the double "is". Also, I got a strange message from Facebook saying that texts were being turned off because I hadn’t sent a text to Facebook in the last 30 days. I had to go into my account and turn it on again, twice, before it started working.

The point is, they’ve been tinkering.

And now it appears the grammatically inflexible status updates feature is finally going to be fixed. Ding dong, the "is" is dead!

My sister gave me the heads up tonight that she could backspace the "is" from the input box, and then type whatever she wanted. I just checked it out, and I can do the same! Looks like the mobile site still contains a hardcoded "is" however.

The removal is obviously not yet complete, but hopefully it will be soon. Keep an eye out here, here, and here for updates.

Read: Facebook

Fortune fires up the photocopier for PayPal story

Fortune published an article today about "the hyperintelligent, superconnected pack of serial entrepreneurs" who left PayPal for bigger and better things; a group of individuals they have dubbed "the PayPal mafia". Founded in 1998, PayPal itself is fairly interesting, but the people behind it are downright fascinating!

As I was reading the article, I had the strangest sense of déjà vu. It was like I had read the article already! A quick search revealed that I had, over a year ago, at the New York Times. I just gave it a quick re-read, and it’s really amazing how similar the Fortune article is to the one that appeared in the Times last October.

Here are a couple examples. From the New York Times article:

Since 2002, when dozens of employees left PayPal after it was bought by eBay for $1.5 billion, those workers have gone on to start or join a new generation of Internet companies and other ventures. They have remained a tight-knit group, attending each other’s parties, helping to shape each other’s business plans, backing each other’s companies and recruiting each other for new projects.

Silicon Valley was largely built by networks of people and companies whose interlocking relationships help to spawn new start-ups. But the PayPal alumni have been unusually prolific…

And from the Fortune article:

Most of PayPal’s key employees left eBay, but they stayed in touch. They even have a name for themselves: the PayPal mafia. And the mafiosi have been busy.

During the past five years they’ve been furiously building things – investment firms, philanthropies, solar-power companies, an electric-car maker, a firm that aims to colonize Mars, and of course a slew of Internet companies. It’s amazing how many hot web properties can trace their ancestries to PayPal.

Again, from the New York Times article:

The company was losing millions each month. It was besieged by hackers who used technological trickery to siphon off huge sums from the company’s coffers.

And the Fortune article:

Meanwhile, PayPal losses were multiplying. It battled Russian fraudsters who were filching millions by cribbing credit card numbers.

See what I mean? Both stories follow the exact same formula, and touch on the exact same points. Of course this happens all the time in the media, but over a year apart? Seems kind of strange to me. Granted, the Fortune article does go into a bit more detail, but still.

It’s an interesting story, even if it has been written twice now. I was going to pull out the list of companies that former PayPalers have been involved with, but it has already been done at Wikipedia, of course. Facebook and YouTube are the heavy-hitters.

Both articles do a good job of detailing the tightly-knit group of individuals behind PayPal and many other startups. The topic I wish they’d follow-up on? How to break into that group.

Read: Fortune

In The Crosshairs: Facebook

Post ImageThe tech industry really amazes me sometimes. Everyone knows that it moves fast, but I don’t think the average person realizes just how fast. The status quo can change overnight. I’m guessing Facebook knows this better than anyone or any company right now:

Google may have just come out of nowhere and checkmated Facebook in the social networking power struggle. MySpace and Six Apart will announce that they are joining Google’s OpenSocial initiative.

Here’s the big question – Will Facebook now be forced to join OpenSocial? Google says they are talking to “everyone.” This is a major strategic decision for Facebook, and they may have little choice but to join this coalition.

Essentially what Google is trying to do is make something like Facebook’s Platform available across the entire web. If you build an application for Facebook today, it only runs on Facebook. If you build an application for Google’s OpenSocial, it will run on any site that supports it – and so far, that’s almost every social networking site except Facebook.

Erick Schonfeld is absolutely right – the ball is in Facebook’s court now. They could handle this very well and come out on top, which is what I think they’ll do. My guess is that they will support OpenSocial eventually. Or they could handle it very poorly and screw up everything they’ve got going for them.

OpenSocial has been the hot topic for the last couple days, and there’s a ton of stuff up on TechMeme if you want to read more about it. This post from Dare Obasanjo will definitely make you stop and think, so make sure you read it:

In thinking about the Google OpenSocial Announcement I realized how much some of Google’s recent moves remind me of Microsoft of old [for some undeclared definition of old].

The five reasons Dare suggests all make sense to me. Still not sure what to make of that.

UPDATE: After thinking about this some more, it occurred to me that the headlines streaming across the web today would probably confuse the average Internet user. I mean, the average user probably uses both Google and Facebook in a (mostly) mutually exclusive way. Google is for search, Facebook is for wall posts. A headline like “Google vs. Facebook” would seem somewhat strange to that user. Or am I not giving the average user enough credit?

Read: TechCrunch

Facebook Day – $15 billion!

Post ImageTo my knowledge there is no "Facebook Day" but that seems like a fitting label for today. Until the company eventually goes public, today is probably the most important day in Facebook’s (incredibly short) history. Today Microsoft announced that it would pay $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook, which means:

The investment values the three-year-old Facebook, which will bring in about $150 million in revenue this year, at $15 billion.

“We are now stepping outside what is typically a business decision,” said Rob Enderle, the founder of the strategy concern Enderle Group. “This was almost personal. I wouldn’t want to be the executive that’s on the losing side at either firm.”

Yes, Facebook is officially worth $15 billion. I wrote in February that Facebook missed the boat by not selling to Yahoo, but also pointed out they’d get another shot. Turns out I was wrong on the first part, and right on the second. All of a sudden Mark Zuckerberg looks like a genius for saying "no thanks" to Yahoo’s paltry offer of $1 billion.

Microsoft and Google were said to be fighting over the deal to the very end, with Microsoft having the slight advantage thanks to a previous ad deal with Facebook. This deal is all about positioning – Microsoft couldn’t afford to let Google cozy up to Facebook’s growing network of eyeballs.

There’s a ton of commentary on this story in the blogosphere, so I won’t rehash that here, but there is one thing that seems odd to me: the amount. No doubt $240 million is a lot of money, but I was expecting an announcement in the billions today. Something more in line with Google’s purchase of YouTube or Microsoft’s purchase of aQuantive.

On the other hand, a smaller piece of a big pie is better than no pie at all.

Read: NYTimes.com