Facebook Connect gaining momentum

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m a big fan of Facebook Connect. It’s easy for end users to understand and use, and relatively straightforward for developers to implement also. I’ve been working on adding Connect support to ShareEdmonton, and haven’t run into any major roadblocks yet.

Recently, I started looking for information about other sites that have integrated Facebook Connect. Here are some highlights:

And most recently, I found this very interesting post about Citysearch, one of the first websites to integrate with Facebook Connect:

In the four months the site has been testing Facebook Connect, 94 percent of reviewers have published their reviews to Facebook, where an average of 40 people see them and 70 percent click back to Citysearch. That has translated into new members: daily registrations on Citysearch have tripled.

That’s fairly impressive – every item shared through Facebook generates 28 unique visitors! Though I’m not quite sure how they got those numbers, so take them with a grain of salt.

I fully expect Facebook Connect to keep gaining momentum!

Can Facebook become the new default?

I find Facebook incredibly useful, if not particularly exciting. My usage reflects that – I like to add people on Facebook in order to maintain connections, and I like to keep my profile looking fresh, but I rarely surf Facebook like I used to. Yet there’s no escaping Facebook. The numbers tell the story. Check out these statistics compiled for a recent Fortune article:

  • 175 million members
  • 3 billion total daily minutes of use
  • 850 million photos uploaded each month
  • 15 million who update their status daily
  • 24 million pieces of content shared each month

Very impressive. Also in the sidebar, Fortune looks at the race to 150 million users. That feat took Facebook 5 years, versus 7 years for the iPod, 14 years for the cell phone, 38 years for the television, and 89 years for the telephone. Obviously it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but you get the idea (and notice how other technologies such as Google or Windows are left out).

With numbers like that, it’s not hard to listen to Mark Zuckerberg and actually think he’s got a shot at achieving his new goal:

"We think that if you can build one worldwide platform where you can just type in anyone’s name, find the person you’re looking for, and communicate with them," he told a German audience in January, "that’s a really valuable system to be building."

In the article, author Jessi Hempel positions Facebook as the new phone system, but I think the new email system is perhaps a more reasonable comparison. I think the “default” right now when you make a connection is to get an email address. You collect business cards at events and they all have phone numbers and email addresses but how many people actually pick up the phone? Email is the default.

What if Facebook could become the new default? Clearly, that’d be a big deal.

Already I think Facebook is the default platform for events, and most people seem to think it’s the default for photos. Can it become the default for communication in general? As I’ve said before, I think Facebook Connect is a step in that direction.

Happy 5th Birthday Facebook!

Today is Facebook’s 5th birthday. Hard to believe it has been around that long, actually. Over 150 million people have joined since launch, and Facebook is now a household name. I remain a regular user of the site, though I’m not nearly as active there as I once was. I guess you could say the buzz eventually subsided for me.

I am continually amazed at how many people have Facebook accounts. Almost my entire family does – even my Grandma, who just joined last week! And it’s more than just having an account. My parents are very active on the site, far more active than I am. This is important.

Why? Because of Facebook Connect. I’ve been playing with it recently, and I’m impressed with how easy it is to integrate into a website. Essentially Facebook Connect is a single-sign-on service. Instead of creating a new account at a website, you can just login with your Facebook credentials. Additionally, the site can publish stories to your feed if you allow it. It’s pretty slick.

Facebook Connect needs lots of active users to be successful. It also needs participating websites. Though there aren’t very many yet, I expect adoption to pick up. It’s easier to decide on Facebook Connect than on something like OpenID because you don’t have to explain what it is, and chances are your users already have a Facebook account anyway.

It’ll be interesting to see how Facebook changes over the next five years. I’d bet that Facebook Connect will play a big part in any changes.

For more on Facebook’s 5th birthday and some up-to-date statistics, check out Hitwise and VentureBeat.

Brightkite is now public, but still seems empty to me

brightkite I first wrote about location-based social network Brightkite back in May. At that time the service was still in invite-only private beta. Today, Brightkite went into public beta:

Invitations are no longer required and sign up is now open everyone. In addition, you can now invite your friends to join Brightkite without restriction.

Even though we are announcing the public beta today, keep watch over the next few weeks for a significant iPhone update, additional mobile support, additions to our API and a host of new features and improvements.

Ignoring the fact that they’re still calling it a beta, I think this is good news. I hope it means that more users will join the service, because it still seems pretty empty at the moment, at least for an Edmontonian like myself! Looking at “People Near Me” page shows only seven people in the area (4000 meters) and only three of them have been active in the last day or so.

Maybe opening up to the public won’t be enough to get people to join though. Perhaps Brightkite should add support for the newly launched Facebook Connect? Or heck, maybe Twitter should acquire and integrate Brightkite. That would make me happy!

My favorite way to use Brightkite at the moment is via the relatively new iPhone/iPod touch native app. It’s fast, and works quite well. The only way it could be better is if it ran in the background and could check me in automagically.

The issues I noted in my previous post still exist:

  • SMS doesn’t work in Canada, so I can’t update with a text message.
  • Mobile email is picky about format, both subject and body.
  • I can see all the places I have visited and how many times I have visited each one, but I still think it would be neat to see a route for a given period of time.

That said, they’ve got a pretty good API now, they support Fire Eagle, and they’ve made a bunch of nice improvements to the UI. Brightkite seems to be growing and improving, albeit slowly.

If you’re curious, I’d invite you to sign up and give Brightkite a shot. Be sure to add me as a friend when you do!

Facebook's virtual gifts – money well spent?

In a post at VentureBeat yesterday, Eric Eldon shared some estimates that suggest Facebook’s revenue from virtual gifts this year will be in the range of $28 million to $43 million. That’s a serious amount of coin for nothing more than an image on a web page.

Gifts are priced at $1 each, and the study found that an average of 470,000 are sold each week.

Facebook introduced the gifts feature in February of 2007. A gift is simply an image of something, like a heart, a flower, or hundreds of other options, that when given, shows up on a “gift box” in a user’s profile. If the gift is public, then the recipients’ friends can see it, too. If it’s private, only the recipient and the giver can see it.

I think the key there is “simply an image”. This is definitely one of those things where you can’t help but think “why didn’t I come up with that!”

Clearly, gifts are a good source of income for Facebook. I wonder who buys them though. Why are people so happy to pay $1 for a bunch of pixels on a web page?

Surely that $40 million could have been spent on something better?

The New Delicious

delicious On July 31st, the new Delicious.com finally launched. I consider myself a fairly heavy user of the service, with over 4200 bookmarks and 3700 tags. It’s something I use on a daily basis, so I noticed the new version almost immediately. My first reaction was “wow” but after using it for the last few days, I’m not so excited about it anymore.

What it all comes down to is that there just isn’t anything new, besides a fresh coat of paint. At least the Delicious team didn’t try to hide that in their post about the changes:

The new Delicious is just like the old del.icio.us, only faster, easier to learn, and hopefully more delightful to use and to look at.

They dropped the dots, cleaned up the UI, and made the backend faster. I appreciate all of those changes, but I’m somewhat disappointed that there’s nothing new and exciting for me to play with. The “new” domain has actually worked for a long time now, and the old domain will continue to work, so that’s not much of a change. The new layout and UI can be best described as “long overdue”. I guess I’m happy about the performance improvements, and I have definitely noticed it, especially when searching.

Apparently the changes will allow the team to make improvements faster, but only time will tell if that is actually the case. I think Delicious could definitely use some work around the social networking aspect of the site – starting with allowing me to specify a profile picture! They could also probably do a lot with recommendations and trends, to help me find things I might be interested in.

Even though the new Delicious has launched, I feel like I’m still waiting.

Ping.fm helps you post to many sites at once

ping.fm I’ve been using a new web application called Ping.fm for the last couple weeks. It’s a really simple service that helps you post to multiple social networking sites at the same time. Instead of updating Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, Tumblr, etc. separately, you can do it all at once with Ping.fm.

The best part about Ping.fm is that they expose a number of different interfaces for updating. That means you don’t need to have a browser window open in order to post! In addition to the website, there’s a mobile web app, an iPhone web app, a Facebook application, an iGoogle gadget, an API for developers, and IM support for AOL, Yahoo, and Google Talk. I find that I use the Google Talk and iPhone interfaces most often.

When you setup your services, you can assign them to three categories: Statuses, Micro-Blogs, and Blogs (for example, I have Twitter in Statuses and Micro-Blogs). Then when you post a message to Ping.fm, you choose which of these categories to update. Additionally, you can setup “custom triggers”. For example, I have #t setup. If I post something that starts with #t it will update Twitter, Tumblr, and Identi.ca. Finally, you can update specific services with “service triggers”, like @fb for Facebook.

The current list of supported services is: Bebo, Blogger, Brightkite, Custom URL, Facebook, FriendFeed, hi5, Identi.ca, Jaiku, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Mashable, MySpace, Plaxo Pulse, Plurk, Pownce, Tumblr, Twitter, and Xanga. Three of these (Custom URL, FriendFeed, and Identi.ca) have been added in just the last ten days or so. The Ping.fm team is obviously very actively adding functionality based on user feedback.

Another thing I like about Ping.fm is the API. I recently requested an application key, and while I haven’t really played with it yet, I intend to replace some existing update code I have with calls to Ping.fm. I suspect there will be quite a few third party tools and services that make use of Ping.fm’s API. Having an API is key for a service like this.

I’m really happy with Ping.fm, but it’s not perfect. Here are a few wishes and things I’d like to see improved:

  • None of the checkboxes work in Opera. I’ve never seen this before on any other website, and it’s really annoying.
  • I’d like to be able to set a “prefix” for Facebook. By default, my updates are just mashed together, as in “Mack Tempted to take a nap :)” but I’d like to specify a prefix of ” – ” to get “Mack – Tempted to take a nap :)”. Same goes for LinkedIn.
  • I really wish Ping.fm had an SMS gateway. Then I could update via text message. I wrote my own code with Twitter’s API to accomplish this for now.
  • Would be cool to have a setting to turn off URL shortening by default.
  • I’d love to see OpenID support too.
  • Support for IM statuses as services would be wicked – Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Skype would be at the top of my list.

I’ve seen a few people write about Ping.fm, wishing that it had a way to aggregate your friends messages at all of the supported services. I hope they don’t go down that route – that’s what I use FriendFeed for. I’d rather Ping.fm stay focused on posting, not reading.

If you’d like to give Ping.fm a shot, use the beta code “pingyoulater”. I think these codes change from time to time, so if that doesn’t work, search Summize for a new one.

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.

Brightkite is cool so far

brightkite The latest shiny-new-toy that people seem to be playing with is Brightkite, a location-based social network. You can think of it as a sort of Twitter for location information. I’ve been using it for the last few days and so far I like what I see.

Brightkite started as a TechStars startup, and they recently closed a round of funding. CNET posted a decent writeup on the company today which includes some good background information, so check that out if you want to learn more about them.

To get started with Brightkite, you need to “check in” at a location. You can do this by specifying an address, business, or a “placemark”. Placemarks are like saved locations, so you could create a placemark called “Home” with your home address. In my testing thus far, searching for addresses is excellent but searching for businesses never returns anything.

Once you’ve checked in, Brightkite will show you people who are near you, and you can look at people who have visited that location in the past. You can also post notes (like a status update) and photos at your location. In case you’re wondering, Brightkite actually has really excellent privacy control options, so you can choose who can see your location and to what level of detail.

Like Twitter, I think Brightkite is something you need to use to truly grok. Here are my favorite things about the service thus far:

  • I think they’ve nailed the basic concepts. Placemarks make sense, and checking in at a location isn’t as cumbersome as you might think.
  • They use Twitter and Satisfaction for customer service. They’re also bloggers.
  • Just yesterday they launched a wicked iPhone interface. I love it!
  • I find the main web interface friendly and easy-to-use.

Of course, Brightkite is far from perfect. Some things I’d love to see improved:

  • The SMS interface doesn’t work in Canada. Brightkite would be a million times more useful if I could update via text message.
  • You can update via email, but it’s really picky about not having signatures and other content in the body.
  • Brightkite will show you the places you’ve visited and how many times you’ve visited them, but I think what would be really useful is the ability to see your routes on a map.

Another huge item for me is an API, and the only reason I left it out of the list above is that I know they’re actively working on it. I think Brightkite usage could explode if they do the API right, a la Twitter.

Of course, a social network is really only useful if there are people on it and that’s definitely one thing that is keeping me from truly experiencing Brighkite. There are a few Edmonton people on the service, but not enough that I’ve been close to anyone yet! I have four invites left if you’d like to join 🙂

I am eager to see how Brightkite improves and grows. With a few more features and some tweaking, it could become extremely useful for me. There are a bunch of location-based services out there, but so far Brightkite is the first one I’ve really liked.

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!