Tag Archives: Facebook

Is there Life after Everpix for Online Photo Management?

Over the past year or so I’ve been using an online service called Everpix to automatically store every picture taken on all our iOS devices, automatically synchronise pictures from the iPhoto libraries on both our iMac and MacBook, and automatically suck in and keep updated all the pictures I had on a variety of other services such as Flickr, Instagram and Facebook. Having pulled all these pictures in it did a really nice job of detecting duplicate pictures highlighting when the same picture was on multiple sites, and allowed me to browse through all the thousands of digital pictures I’d built up over the years. Daily it would send an e-mail highlighting old pictures taken on that day in previous years. They had a free service that stored only your most recent pictures, but for a reasonable $5 monthly charge they stored unlimited pictures.

However it wasn’t to last – last month Everpix announced their closure, as they weren’t going to be able to pay their hosting bill. If you have a read of this article about the closure in The Verge you can easily understand why – whilst they were paying to host loads of pictures for the free service, not enough of those had converted into paying customers. So I, like other Everpix users started the search for an alternative.

After a bit of a look around it seemed like there were plenty of options. Services like Dropbox and Google+ offer photo storage as part of their offering, and of course there are the specialist photo hosting sites such as Flickr, SmugMug and the rest that can store pictures. There are also services very similar to the Everpix offering such as PictureLife, ThisLife, MyShoebox and Loom with a variety of similar features but various pricing models. The arena is also starting to attract the interest of the big boys, with Adobe having retired their previous online hosting and sharing service in favour of  which is supported by the latest versions of Photoshop and Premier Elements, alongside a suite of other Adobe applications.

First though, if you’re just looking for a secure way to backup your pictures and nothing else, I wouldn’t waste time and money on any of these, just make use of one of the many online backup services and just backup the whole computer. Personally I’ve been using the excellent Backblaze for a while, which has a dead simple per computer pricing model so for $3.96 per computer per month I have a complete copy in the cloud. It operates much like Time Machine on MacOS X, and software like Acronis TrueImage on the PC in that you can set it up and forget about it. It continuously backs up your computer to the cloud, fully automatically and without any need of intervention. Basically the only time you need access it is if you need to restore a file. If backing up your pictures is all you’re worried about, stop reading now and head over to Backblaze! If your house gets hit by lightning and it scrambles all the electronics in your house, as happened to a friend of ours recently, having an off-site backup like Backblaze is worth the small monthly outlay.

Anyway, if you’re still reading, you’re probably looking for something more than just a straight backup.

Looking at all the services I had a bit of a list of important points to consider before spending the large amount of time uploading all my pictures to the service, the main points included (in no particular order):

  • Ease of uploading both from mobile devices and computers
  • Cost of the service – what is the monthly cost going to be now and how much will it go up as the number of pictures grow
  • How does it handle duplicates – this is especially important if you are paying for space as a lousy deduplication algorithm will leave you paying twice for the same picture.
  • Long term service viability – is this a small startup for which this their only product or part of a bigger offering from a large company.
  • Other bells and whistles – are there any additional features that are attractive.

When considering all of this, this is for our combined photo and video library which runs to over 30,000 pictures and videos stretching back over a decade, size wise running to over 250Gb of data.

Starting with Dropbox and Google+ whilst the iOS apps work pretty well sucking every picture off, there is no real desktop integration with iPhoto for example, and both have significant limits – Google+ to 15Gb, whilst Dropbox is limited to 3Gb unless you put down $10 a month to lift that limit to 100Gb. Flickr and SmugMug are possibilities, Flickr especially now it offers 1Tb of space for free, however they are very clearly designed to be used as sites to present your best images, not as general storage for a large photo collection, so in particular neither offer the set up and forget synchronisation with a desktop that Everpix offered. There is also one major concern with Flickr as they have in the past shown a tendency to permanently delete accounts for arbitrary violations of their terms of service, and even when they have admitted they were wrong to do so have been unable to restore  the accounts. If this is going to be a main backup of your photo collection a service that could potentially do that is not particularly attractive!

Looking at the services that are more similar to Everpix, over the past month I’ve had trial accounts with all four, and even paid out for a month to give PictureLife and ThisLife a good workout. The big fly in the ointment for PictureLifeThisLife and Loom straight off is the price. I don’t for a moment blame them, but for a collection the size of ours the storage cost mounts pretty quickly. This is made worse by the services having duplicate detection that is not nearly so good as their promotion might suggest. A big problem is to do with the way iPhoto deals with exports in that it rarely if ever exports the original image. Even if you load a picture from your iPhone into iPhoto and export it immediately to Flickr, iPhoto will re-encode the picture, so at times I was getting three, even four versions of a picture once edits and other uploads had been taken into account. For any service where you’re paying for space this is an expensive issue!

In terms of features PictureLifeThisLife and Loom are pretty good. PictureLife will even suck in your albums from iPhoto (although it fails to detect when those albums have been uploaded to Flickr which results in loads of duplicate albums), and ThisLife has a really excellent facial recognition system that once trained does a pretty good job at working out who is in a particular picture. Another really nice unique feature with ThisLife is the joint account feature that allowed us to pull together pictures from all sorts of different sources. Ultimately though with the numbers of pictures we have, the killer with all three of those services is the monthly cost, which is only going to go up. However nice the services are the poor deduplication coupled with the monthly outlay for a non-essential service means they weren’t my long term choice.

I’ve deliberately separated out MyShoebox (not to be confused with Shoebox from Ancestry), because unlike the others it is following a more Everpix like pricing model. The main difference is that rather than limiting the time period that can be uploaded for the free account it degrades the resolution. Like Everpix it’s another startup, this time running out of Toronto. It’s not as feature rich as PictureLife or ThisLife, in particular lacking any of the linking to third party services online, and lacks a bit of the polish of Everpix, however it does what is says on the tin. I was not overly impressed with the desktop synchronisation client which on the Mac seemed to be a wrapper around a web based uploader and certainly wasn’t as nice as other services. It also pops up a really annoying “are you sure you want to exit” type modal dialog whenever you try and close the website. In terms of special features it includes some nice analysis of the pictures through scanning the metadata. Certainly it scores on price, and will be even more attractive if they improve the desktop synchronisation, but with the Everpix experience, is the pricing sustainable?

That brings me onto the big boys offering, . In terms of longevity, Adobe have been in the game for a very long time, so in terms of a secure bet for a company to do business with they seem a good choice. The pricing is also really attractive. For the first month you can upload as much as you want for free, from then on you can remain on a free account, but you are limited to uploading 50 photos a month, alternatively they have a pro plan for $6 or £4 a month which gives you unlimited uploads. There are no costs for storage, Adobe will basically take as much as you can throw at them. You can upgrade online, but they also offer a subscription option on iOS devices through which you could potentially pay just for a month if for example you were going on a big trip, then drop back to the normal service limited to 50 uploads.

Adobe are coming at this from a slightly different angle, essentially Revel is acting as a central repository for all your pictures and videos. The latest version of Elements Organizer that ships with both Photoshop Elements 12 and Premiere Elements 12 has a background agent that will synchronise your entire Elements Catalog into Revel. If you’re not wanting to buy into the whole Elements ecosystem they do a free Revel app for the Mac, iOS devices and Windows 8 which include limited picture editing features alongside upload and synchronisation features. A number of other Adobe apps such as Photoshop Express, Grouppix and Videobite also hook up to Revel. Revel will also pick up on all the metadata associated with pictures although you’ll need to be using Elements as a Revel client to gain access to a lot of that.

Certainly in terms of the offering, I’ve found Revel the most attractive. Although limited, the apps on iOS and Mac are polished and stable. If you are an Elements user on the Mac, one big gotcha is that the Elements Organizer, being cross platform doesn’t talk directly to the Revel application, so you will definitely end up with two copies of your Revel library locally if you have the option turned on in Revel to store pictures locally as Elements will try and download copies of all your pictures into it’s catalog. However with the subscription option means that you won’t be tied to a monthly cost, which if you don’t pay will result in all your pictures being wiped, and Adobe is a big enough company that they’re not going to collapse in a mountain of debt as a startup might.

After all of that, there really isn’t anything yet that compares to Everpix in terms of what it did and the polish, whilst I’m using Revel to store pictures, it lacks a lot of the connectivity that Everpix had – essentially with Revel you’re getting unity by signing up to the Adobe way of doing things, rather than the way Everpix tries to bring it all together. If you want a lot of the Everpix like features to explore your photo collection, and you either have a limited sized photo collection or money isn’t an issue I’d certainly look at PictureLifeThisLife and Loom, but for any large collection beware of how much it might cost in the long term. Ultimately though if you’re wanting a secure backup of your pictures, get something like Backblaze to keep your data safe, and consider services like this as an added extra, not you only form of backup.

On Instagram the Users are the Product

The outpouring of rage over the upcoming change of terms and conditions at Instagram, the mobile based photo sharing application snapped up by Facebook for $1bn earlier in the year, has been so big that the story ended up on the main news bulletins here in the UK. But is the change really a surprise?

The Guardian explained what has happened:

Instagram this week changed its terms of use to make clear that it will be able to display your “username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take” in connection with advertising without you being notified or reimbursed.

The entire legalese is, like the finest legal writing, somewhat vague and ambiguous. But essentially it means that Facebook, as the owner of Instagram, can use your pictures to promote anything from famous landmarks to food brands or festive onesies without asking your permission each time.

But think about it for a moment. On Instagram, as on Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, the users aren’t paying anything for the service. These services have to make money somehow in order to pay their employees, pay for their servers, pay for any other costs involved with running a business. With Foursquare the company is building a database of locations across the world – users are encouraged to leave tips alongside check-ins or take pictures, so for example other applications can buy access to this Foursquare data for their own location aware applications.

With Facebook and Twitter the model is advertising. Regular Facebook users will notice adverts coming up in their feeds, sometimes associated with their friends. Based on pages you have liked, Facebook will show your friends adverts paid for by the owners of the liked pages but with your name alongside it, so be careful what you like!

Other photo sharing applications and sites try to make money through selling additional filters or photo storage – for example the excellent Camera Awesome charges extra for filters, but is also trying to encourage users to make use of the SmugMug photo sharing site that the application developers also own. Similarly the grandfather of modern photo sharing sites Flickr makes it’s money through paid options for photo storage, alongside targeted advertising.

Alongside news of the change, the Guardian presented details of some of the options for people who want to switch.

Having accounts on Instagram, Flickr, plus a couple of other photo app sites like EyeEm it has been interesting watching what has been happening the past couple of days. A rather unscientific look at what has happened with my contacts is that aside from a couple who have appeared on EyeEm those people who are switching are going for Flickr. I’ve had ten contacts in the past couple of days open Flickr accounts and in a lot of cases dump all of their Instagram pictures across before in some cases closing the Instagram accounts.

Instagram has always been able to cross-post pictures to Flickr, so in my case most of the shots are on there anyway. As yet I haven’t decided whether to switch, but longer term the Flickr model of paid storage seems a lot more sustainable that putting pictures on a free service. The fundamental point to remember is that if you’re not paying for a service you’re providing something else to the owners that they are able to sell. Instagram may have rolled back from the latest change, but they have to make money some how. If you want to try out Flickr instead of Instagram check out this set of ten tips for their excellent new iPhone app.

Does the Church of England Need a Social Media/Blogging Policy?

Over the past few days there has been rather a furore over some comments by the Bishop of Willesden, Rt Rev’d Pete Broadbent (@pete173).

He’s most definitely a republican, as many people in the Diocese of London already know. He made a throwaway comment on Twitter when the impending Royal Wedding was announced about booking a trip to France on the day, which was then duplicated onto his Facebook page and kicked off a discussion where he made a number of other comments. All of this is on a Facebook page that is viewable by anybody. Comments included describing Prince Charles and Princess Diana as “Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll”, and the impending wedding as a bit of “national flimflam” and added in various other comments about the monarchy in general, and in particular their previous track record with marriages, and gave this marriage seven years.

Whilst it was public on the Facebook page it took a couple of days before it went beyond that, unfortunately what then happened was the Daily Mail found the discussion and wrote a front page article on it , and that article was picked up around the world. The Bishop issued a full apology on Monday, which many thought would draw an end to the matter. However he was absent from General Synod this morning and shortly afterwards his boss the Bishop of London, a personal friend of Prince Charles and rumoured to be a possibility for taking the wedding issued a statement saying that despite the apology he had asked Bishop Pete to withdraw from public ministry until further notice.

There has been much outrage online over the response of the Bishop of London, many feeling that he has overreacted, but is that justified?

The situation is not new, indeed the Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) and Shel Israel (@shelisrael) book Naked Conversations : How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers talks about exactly these kinds of situations in a corporate context. If you look at the Church as a corporate structure, Bishop Pete as a senior manager described the son of the Chairman of the Board (the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England) as “Big Ears”, poured scorn on a number of their marriages and was just downright rude. In any corporate situation he would be sacked, no question about it. As a senior representative of any organisation there is an expectation that even if you have some latitude to publicly express personal opinions, you publicly represent the organisation and are expected to act as such.

The real problem is that again like many corporations the Church doesn’t have a formal Social Media and Blogging policy – many organisations don’t get one until something like this happens.

My current employer now has such a policy, under which I can’t say who it is I work for. The policy was introduced amongst other things as a result of a newsworthy event that I blogged about here, but was subsequently asked to remove the post. Employees were also discussing working for the company on Facebook and elsewhere. As a result the most recent revision of the internet guidelines introduced a blogging and social media policy that banned employees from blogging about or talking about the company on social media. Hence I cannot say who I work for or give any details as to what I had posted about and was asked to remove.

The church has no such policy but plenty of members, clergy and several bishops blogging and actively using Social Media, Bishop Pete being only one such example.

So does the Church need a social media and blogging policy? I don’t think so. Whilst Bishop Pete is a high profile case, up to now there hasn’t seemed to be much need, the Church of England is so broad that there is always a breadth of opinion on many topics, and a good deal of debate goes on online. Whilst a policy would maybe give clearer lines for those of us blogging within the Church and on Church matters, up to now common sense has seemed to prevail. As a Bishop there is that same expectation of common sense, as someone who is supposed to be a uniting figure it is obvious that there will be a diversity of opinion amongst the people he represents. Whilst there are many who agree with his opinion of the Royal Family, equally there are those for whom the Royal Family are an important part of both our country and the Church of England, a Bishop sometimes has to put aside or restrain his personal opinions for the good of the whole. Probably the most high profile example of this is Archbishop Rowan who much to the frustration of many on the more liberal wing of the Church is steering a path for unity rather than following the agenda one would expect given some of his previous writings.

So was Bishop Pete fairly treated? It may not be a popular choice, but I think he was. He’s kept his job which is more than someone in business would have, indeed some were calling on him to resign anyway. Cranmer explains in much more detail the vows that Bishop Broadbent took, and as a senior representative of the Church of England whether or not you think it is right that church and state are so closely intertwined, having taken those vows it is quite right to expect that he should uphold them. Swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors, doesn’t really sit well with referring to one of them as “Big Ears”. When you accept the post of a Bishop you give up some of your freedom to express your own opinions, you become a Bishop of the Church of England, and there is an expectation that you’ll toe the line. You have a lot of latitude to express your own opinons, but it’s not unlimited.

Finally, if anyone in the Church, particularly someone senior is considering becoming active in the blogsphere or social media, should this put them off? I’d say not, but it is a salutary warning. You need be aware of what is public and what is private. Certainly in any public forum you need to be watch what you say, it’s very easy to relax into thinking that you’re having a private conversation when in fact anybody in the world can see it – that is precisely the trap Bishop Pete fell into. You can bleat about how unfair it is, but ultimately people know what the British press is like. Certainly there is an argument to be had over controlling them but it’s very difficult to argue that from a position where you are under attack by them. I’d also recommend having a read of Naked Conversations, the book has plenty of examples of bloggers, Scoble included publicly disagreed with their organisations and survived, but also plenty who didn’t. Ultimately it all comes down to common sense, know your role, and know what your superiors will accept, and stick to it. By all means try and push the envelope, but referring to the next Supreme Governor of the Church of England as “Big Ears”? Not a good idea.

Facebook Knows Best

n27233634858_8547As the Facebook management continues their ongoing march to make up for failing to buy Twitter by copying features from Twitter and FriendFeed, there seems to be a grim inevitability about the way each new change is greeted.

First off there is usually a cheery posting on their blog explaining how they’ve made it a whole load easier to use the site, this is usually swiftly followed by loads of complaints, and protest groups. However, this is generally to no avail, the changes stay, as do most of the people complaining – which is after all what Facebook and their advertisers are interested in.

So what is the change this time? They’ve updated the friend pages to make it even easier to group your friends into lists, which you can then use to filter the home feed. The problem being that in doing so they’ve taken out two tabs that showed recent status updates, and which a lot of people used to get a quick overview of all the statuses of all their friends. Neither Twitter or FriendFeed have such a page, so obviously Facebook doesn’t need one either.

The Facebook argument is that you should be getting this information from the home feed – the problem of course is that the home feed is so full of application spam that you can barely find status updates, and whilst you can spend time going through the filters to try and get a simple status list it’s not nearly as convenient as a single page list of everybody.

What is bizarre about the whole thing is that in terms of numbers, Facebook far outstrips Twitter and FriendFeed (even combined) in terms of users – users who like the Twitter or FriendFeed ways of operating have set up accounts over there. Trying to turn Facebook into one of those services, sacrificing popular features and annoying large numbers of users in the process seems nonsensical. Whilst the changes thus far haven’t produced a wholesale exodus, it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that if they keep doing this they will.

Facebook claims they are listening to their users, but the fact is that the vast majority of their users aren’t the ones who participate in feedback groups. Essentially it seems they are following a minority who want a Twitter clone, at the expense of those who want Facebook as it is. If they had any sense Facebook would be looking at how the average user uses the site through their stats – it seems that there are a large number of users who come in and used to go straight to the recent status updates page.

A Week of iPhone 3G

I’m just coming to the end of my first week with an iPhone 3G. Unlike some I didn’t sample the whole queuing and activation chaos last Friday. I managed to get one of the limited stocks that O2 had available online last Monday by getting in within the first hour before they had all sold out. That’s not to say that getting the phone out of DHL, the courier O2 used, was without incident. Beth was in Reading anyway, so said she would pick it up on the way home, the key thing being that she didn’t have the card as she wasn’t going home first. No problem, all she needed was the parcel number which we could get off the tracking site, and then we looked up on the DHL site and got the address of their depot over in an industrial estate near the Madejski Stadium, and looking at their opening times they were open until 7pm. So Beth went in on the way home, and handed over the parcel number – “Not this depotâ€? came the response, all the inland deliveries go through a separate depot on the Basingstoke Road, and that one closed at 6pm. Beth had just enough time to nip across and pick it up, and brought it home.

If you’ve been reading the computing sites you’ll I’m sure realise that activation was a bit of a problem, and it was much the same here. Although I could connect to the regular iTunes store the special activation service was totally snowed under, as a result activation had to wait until Sunday when we were back from our weekend away, where it connected first time. The one final part of the jigsaw, porting my number across from 3 was pretty painless too, although there was the inevitable attempt to try to tempt me to stay despite me repeatedly saying that I was moving for the iPhone 3G, not because of their prices. The number swapped over smoothly on Wednesday, and seems to work fine for incoming and outgoing calls.

So what is the iPhone 3G like in general use? I can’t really compare it with the original iPhone as I’ve never used one, my primary comparison is with my old Nokia N73. The expectation was that the iPhone 3G would be a similar experience to browsing on my iPod Touch, which it is as long as you can get good reception or a Wi-Fi hotspot. The internet experience is streaks ahead of what was possible on Nokia N73, and is actually usable for more than just simple page browsing. For example I ran through the Royal Mail parcel redelivery site on the iPhone 3G this afternoon and everything worked fine – I doubt you’d be able to do the same on the Nokia N73! Phone call wise the iPhone 3G is fine, although if you were making a lot of calls I suspect some sort of proper headset would be essential. Text message wise it is pretty good too, giving you an iChat style conversation screen. Although the touch screen puts some people off, having got used to it with the iPod Touch, I haven’t had any problems and certainly have no issues doing what I need. If anything the lack of the keypad gives the screens much more space to use making them much more straightforward than the usual nested menus that have to be navigated with up/down cursor keys on a more traditional phone.

Stability wise the iPhone 3G is way better than the old Nokia N73, which even after a couple of firmware updates still crashed or locked up with depressing regularity. So far with the iPhone 3G the only problem I have seen is one which the iPod Touch exhibits from time to time whereby the browser crashes.

But what about the new features? The App Store and the GPS? Taking them in reverse order, it is important to note that this is an Assisted GPS – as such it’s not going to replace a proper specialist device like a Garmin eTrex – it occasionally has problems getting a fix, and there is precious little feedback compared to a specialist device. Accuracy wise on some informal testing it managed to place me pretty accurately in our back garden, although not exactly. Trying it out at the church it was also in about the right ball park, but not spot on. Having said that, it does what it is intended to do, and allows location based apps such as Vicinity to come up with it’s local information – great if you’re in a strange town and need to find a convenience store. I’d be intrigued to see how a full blown navigation system works in a car – my thought is that the reception isn’t good enough to work accurately enough.

This brings me quite neatly to the applications, and certainly from what I’ve seen there are some good little applications around. The aforementioned Vicinity is certainly recommended, especially if you’re often on the move and need to find your way around a strange town. Another fabulous little app that makes use of the Assisted GPS is Exposure Premium (also available in an advert supported version) which provides a nice interface to access Flickr pictures, but it’s real party piece is the way it uses Assisted GPS to pull back pictures taken close by.

Various established services have provided free applications to access their services, so we have a nice little Facebook application, versions of Shozu and Shazam, and a version of the fantastic Evernote that will quite happily allow you to photograph documents with the camera on the phone and then search the text in it – handwriting included!

There are one or two novelty applications amongst the freebies too. Check out iPint which uses the accelerometers in the phone to simulate a pint glass. Another novelty is one for all the budding JediPhone Saber – which turns your phone into a light saber. Both are pointless but fun, and do show what can be done with the accelerometers in the device.

Not all the freebies are novelty applications. Apple themselves have produced a little tool called Remote that gives you remote control over either your copy of iTunes or your Apple TV. There are also some free games, Tap Tap Revenge for example will be familiar to fans of Guitar Hero

Gaming wise, the accelerometers are seeing a lot of use. Some, like Cro-Mag Rally use them a simple game controllers. In others, such as Motion-X Poker they are being used to simulate a real experience, in this case throwing dice. Finally you have games like Trism which takes a familiar puzzle game concept, and turns it on it’s head – literally – by the addition of monitoring which way up the phone is being held.

So was it a good upgrade? Definitely. As a phone and mobile internet device it is fantastic, streaks ahead of anything else in usability, especially for mobile internet. The addition of the App Store really opens things up and shows what can be done with the platform – certainly putting it up there as one of the best mobile application platforms around.

Imitation Is…

Back in February, a group of former Google employees launched FriendFeed, a site that allowed users of multiple social networking sites to aggregate feeds of their data from those sites into a single stream that could be shared with their friends, so for example my account on FriendFeed aggregates my blog and my Google Reader shared items along with feeds from BrightKite, Del.icio.us, Facebook, Disqus, Flickr, LinkedIn, Pownce, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Twitter, Upcoming, Vimeo and YouTube. Thanks to a handy Facebook application, I could also pull the contents of my FriendFeed feed into my Facebook account, bringing in those friends and family whose social networking only reached as far as the walls of the Facebook walled garden.

Then back in May, Facebook added a new feature, importing data from third-party sites into the mini-feed – albeit with a much more limited selection of sources (hence why I’m still using FriendFeed).

One the big draws of FriendFeed – and ironically one of it’s biggest controversies, is that it provides the ability for other FriendFeed users to comment on items in the feed. This results in conversations taking place initiated by the posting/sharing of an item. The reason for the controversy is that if the initial item is a blog posting there is quite often a separate conversation going on back on the blog, and whilst there are ways to link the two, some bloggers do not like the separation of feedback on their content. Anyway, a month on from the first set of Facebook mini-feed changes, this week Facebook announced the addition of mini-feed commenting, leading to accusations that they are copying FriendFeed. Again from my point of view it’s not up there with the FriendFeed implementation due to the lack of services it is aggregating, and the fact that it is all within the walled garden of Facebook.

Having said that, FriendFeed isn’t all conquering either. Although I quite often use the site, the feature where it shares FriendFeed items liked by people I am following quite often throwing up some gems, I’m still regularly logging on to SocialThing! The two are subtly different in what they set out to achieve – fundamentally SocialThing! is aggregating feeds from my contacts on social networking services, rather than aggregating my feeds for someone else to subscribe to. The big downside of FriendFeed is that if a particular friend I have from a service such as Twitter is not on FriendFeed I have to manually create what is called an imaginary friend in order to be able to view their feed in FriendFeed. Whilst that may seem fairly straightforward if you consider the number of services and the number of potential friends you could have on each service the size of the job starts to grow rather a lot. Over on SocialThing! if I add a new Twitter feed or Flickr account their content just starts appearing in my account without any further intervention from me. There are some third-party solutions around, but fundamentally with FriendFeed if you expand your social circle, you end up having to duplicate the addition if that person is not already on FriendFeed.

So who is going to win out? Facebook has a big advantage in terms of numbers, but how many users really know about the aggregation and commenting features? Since Facebook is very reliant on having a captive, easily target-able user base, it is important for them to try and keep up to stop people going elsewhere – in their world they’d rather you didn’t post your pictures and videos somewhere else, but it seems they’ll now let you link to them to keep you using their service. However much like their photo and video applications, the mini-feed aggregation is not nearly as good as the specialist services like FriendFeed and SocialThing! FriendFeed has a burgeoning user base, and the current reliability problems at Twitter are starting to push conversations from there onto FriendFeed. SocialThing! is still in beta, and whilst it lacks some of the conversation features of FriendFeed, is a lot easier to handle, and certainly enhances using the other third-party services rather than bringing in another.

The Facebook Redesign

As Facebook has evolved from a social network designed for college students, towards the much larger audience of members it has today, increasingly it has become apparent that the original design needs some tweaking. The most obvious changes will start to be seen in the next few weeks, and were discussed with an group of bloggers at the end of May.

However there are a couple of other changes that are going to have an impact. The first has already produced some rumbles amongst the avid users, which is that they are going to get rid of network pages. Whenever discussions of Facebook pop up, network pages are one of the highlighted privacy issues with the initial settings. In the initial concept, your network was usually your institution, however for non-students your network is usually based on a geographic area, so there are network groups for London, Portsmouth and Plymouth to name three. The big problem is that firstly the networks are limited, so most people in the South-East of the UK end up being pointed at London, meaning that for groups like London, these are really big, with the London network being one of the biggest with a membership that even last July was heading for a million people. (See this CBC story bemoaning the fact that Toronto had lost the top spot as the largest network…) The big problem is that if you aren’t careful with your privacy settings, you can end up sharing rather a lot with hundreds of thousands of other network members. As a result, Facebook is taking out network pages pointing people towards the usually a lot smaller and more targeted groups, bringing people together through shared interests rather than geography.

The other big change that is coming is going to be a pretty fundamental change in the way the Facebook Platform operates. Currently, in order to use an application, a Facebook user has to install it, even if they only want to take a look at what it does. The usual routine is that a friend on Facebook invites you to use an application, at which point it will ask for permission to install, and also have access to all your information. In addition it usually requires permission to stick a box on your profile page, and dump stories into your news feeds. If you then decided you don’t want to use an application, you then have to actively go to the applications page find it and remove it, something that many people don’t actually do – one of my friends currently has over one hundred and fifty applications installed on their profile. The big change that is coming now is that users will no longer need to install an application to use it, a move that is part of the ongoing process to cut down on applications that effectively spam a users friends in order to boost application installation metrics. Applications are going to be relegated to a special tab away from the main profile, and in future to add an application to this tab will require the user to make a conscious decision to install it there, over and above the regular use of an application. Having said that, as the Techcrunch article points out this move isn’t going to affect existing applications nearly so much as it will affect new ones – my friend with their one hundred and fifty applications will automatically have all the applications shifted over when the profiles change, so applications that have spammed their way up the metrics will stay where they are.

Interestingly, whilst I’ve seen a lot of complaint – including petitions – amongst certain friends over the loss of networks, there has been no discussion of perhaps the bigger change to how applications will work – I guess that will come when the change becomes obvious…