Tag Archives: Facebook

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…

Am I a Lifestream Junkie?

So I’m now trying out a third Lifestream utility – well fourth or fifth if you include the people bar on Flock or the solution I cobbled together using Facebook applications. Thanks to an article on TechCrunch this morning, I’m trying out a beta release of SocialThing! alongside FriendFeed and Plaxo Pulse.

I have to say, I didn’t set out to run three in parallel. I tried out FriendFeed to use as a replacement for the multiple applications on Facebook. The big problem with those was that not all of them updated automatically – thanks to limitations in the applications, some of them often needed a kick to get updates to be registered. FriendFeed takes feeds from all of the sites I use day to day, and posts them eventually into my Facebook feeds. Thanks to the way FriendFeed works – using RSS feeds, plus the vagaries of updates to the Facebook mini-feed it does sometimes take a little while for updates to get through.

The Plaxo Pulse account came as a side effect of my having given Plaxo a go for trying to get my address book and calendar details transferred to home. Again this is using RSS feeds for updates so is a bit slow.

Having said that, whilst both sites bring together all of my own updates, they don’t bring together all my friends updates unless they also sign up to the relevant site. FriendFeed has a couple of contacts, as does Plaxo, but on my people bar on Flock there are massively more people. The other annoyance with Flock is that the people bar is totally independent on each of the different computers that I am running it on.

This is the particular advantage of SocialThing!. Unlike FriendFeed and Plaxo Pulse it isn’t working on RSS feeds – instead, in much the same way as Flock it uses the various API’s provided by the supported sites to link all of your information together. Again as with Flock this limits the number of supported third-party sites, however it does mean that it gives me a complete view of all of my friends in one place without them having to sign up on the SocialThing! site.

SocialThing! have a new little FAQ document which explains the differences between what they are trying to do and FriendFeed. Whilst I can see from the explanation how they’re different, my thought is that to the man on the street the difference is pretty subtle, FriendFeed, SocialThing! and Plaxo Pulse, along with a number of other sites are all doing essentially the same thing, and certainly a good few of them are going to fall by the way side.

Having said that, on initial impressions if SocialThing! can get things into the Facebook mini-feed and also support my blog, that would remove the need for FriendFeed… Equally if FriendFeed can pull in all my friends from various services automatically in the same way as SocialThing! has done, then I could go with FriendFeed – and of course the same applies to Plaxo Pulse. They are all doing slightly different things, which if combined would offer me the solution I wanted. Until then, I guess I’m going to continue looking like a Lifestream Junkie…


Scanning Through my Photostream with Pic Lens

I know, I’m a total sucker for glittery user interfaces, but isn’t this 3-D flyby of my Flickr Photostream just a really cool way to browse through the pictures?

The tool that is producing the interface is called PicLens and comes in flavours for Mac and Windows, and supports the major browsers on both platforms. It’s also not limited to working with Flickr – it can do the same party trick on Google searches, Facebook galleries and a load of other sites as well, and you can even set it up your own site to show slide shows of your own pictures using the same effect.

Social Graphing

Friend Wheel

It has to be said, although there are loads of Facebook applications around, very few actually seem to do something with the underlying social data, which to some extent is the most interesting aspect of the social networking phenomenon – especially if you’re in marketing.

For a while I’ve had one, Friend Wheel, sitting on my profile, that simply puts all your Facebook friends as points around the edge of a circle, and then connects together any of your friends that know each other. It produces a pretty pleasing effect, as you can see from the picture, but from the point of view of looking at how your friends connect with each other, it’s not overly clear. What is actually needed is a more fluid way to position your contacts.

There are two other applications that do that. The first, TouchGraph actually runs almost separate from Facebook, but using data from Facebook to do some clever things. I’ll talk about that in a bit. However, the other is called Connection Cloud and is intended to sit within your profile.

Connection Cloud

The second image pictured was created using Connection Cloud from my connections on Facebook. It’s a lot easier to see what’s going on in one of the larger versions – the colours indicate the sex of the person represented, red for female, blue for male and black if the information isn’t on Facebook. It’s pretty easy to spot where Beth is on the graph, as she is the red dot in the centre that connects together a lot of the other contacts. Below that is a big pile of connections which represent part of Beth’s family, so are all interconnected to each other. Interestingly there are also a couple of floating contacts, or groups, who are generally work contacts – the algorithm that produces the graph will place these groups and singles further from the centre. What the graph clearly shows though is that there are certain key contacts that link distinct groups together, but also that there are distinct groups of friends. If you look at this blog posting by the author of the application you’ll see that his social graph has two very distinct major groups, with little connection between the two.

Moving on, I passed over TouchGraph – but that’s mainly because it does rather a lot more. The basic concept is similar to Connection Cloud – indeed the author of Connection Cloud admits that he wanted to write something to put the cloud idea in TouchGraph into his profile. Where TouchGraph goes further is that it includes network information – so if you’re in a city network it will link in to that – and also works on photographs. What that means is that if you are tagged in a picture, it will find that too, indeed will track on from links in the pictures to find other people. It does all of that in a fluid constantly changing diagram that expands as you click through the links. It’s maybe not as interesting if you’ve got limited pictures, or if like me the pictures are elsewhere, but for visualising how your contacts connect it’s a really great little application.

What is worthwhile remembering as you click through is that TouchGraph is not doing anything much more than retrieving information from peoples Facebook profiles, and if you’ll forgive the pun, joining the dots. When you factor in that if you’ve filled out a lot of the interests questions, Facebook applications can retrieve that too, you can quickly see quite what a powerful tool the whole social graph that Facebook is building up can be to marketing departments.