Monday, April 26, 2010

Facebook : Coming soon to a website near you

I had lunch a while back with two friends of mine. I'll call them Tom and Larry.

Tom says he refuses to sign up for Facebook. Just too much information to put out there on the Web. Besides, it's just people talking about what they had for dinner anyway.

Larry, a creature of habit, can barely bring himself to try a new restaurant for lunch, much less venture into Web 2.0. Social networking's a waste of time, he declares. Twitter's for twits, in his not-so-humble (and oft-restated) opinion.

These guys came to mind as I read about the big changes Facebook unveiled last week. The good folk at Facebook, it seems, are interested in a whole lot more than just recording people's musings about last night's super-tasty lasagna. Facebook wants to rule the Web.

The social media giant last week rolled out a bunch of major changes, including one that would let the networking functions of Facebook (and the personal data it collects on your likes and dislikes) travel with you as you cruise the Web. When you go to the online music site Pandora, it would know any music groups you'd already told Facebook you liked. You could also connect with your Facebook friends on those sites.

More sharing with friends sounds great. But people are understandably nervous about the chance that non-friends and nosy corporations might see a lot of our personal information, too. Senator Charles Schumer of New York says he's written a letter to federal regulators pressing them to create privacy guidelines for Facebook and other social networking sites. He's ticked -- and rightfully so -- by the fact that Facebook is requiring people to opt out of the new changes, rather than letting them opt in.

(Here's a handy primer from the Mashable blog on how to opt out).

As these moves make clear, Facebook, as a social force, as a business entity, is no joke. No business that gathers 400 million people in one space will be content simply curating cocktail party blather.

So, Larry, Tom, you'd better pay attention, if even you don't join. If you won't come to Facebook, Facebook -- in some way, shape or form -- is intent on coming to you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The digital age accelerating at dizzying pace

I need new carpet. So I called around for estimates, and two guys made appointments to come and take measurements.

The first guy arrives in a weatherbeaten pickup truck. He carries a sturdy, good-quality tape measure and a dog-eared notebook. He looks to be about 50-ish, with a friendly smile and tan lines in the wrinkles around his eyes. He takes about 15-20 minutes, spooling and unspooling his tape measure and scribbling notes. Unlike mine, his tape measure never buckles or sticks. I'm envious. He says hi to my kids on the way out.

Second guy comes couple days later. He's late 20s, early 30s, all business, driving a sedan. Instead of a notebook, he's carrying a tablet computer with a touchscreen and a special touch-sensitive pen. And instead of a tape measure, he whips out what looks like a chunky TV remote and aims it at my dining room wall. A red laser dot appears on the wall (I think the thing beeped) and he moved on to the next wall.

Master of the obvious that I am, I ask him if that's a digital tape measure. Yep, he says. The readings automatically flow into the tablet. Ten minutes later, he shakes my hand and exits, leaving me marveling about our increasingly digitized society.

The first place I'd noticed that kind of tablet in use was at my doctor's office a couple years ago. Now my carpet installer's getting in on the act. One more sign of how rapidly digital technology is permeating every aspect of our lives. Everybody says it's progress, and I don't doubt it is. But sometimes it seems technology's moving faster than our ability to process all the social, cultural and ethical implications (See: Google's botched rollout of Google Buzz).

I love all the shiny new toys as much as the next gadget freak. But I sure hope we can all still keep an eye on the macros -- the big-picture ways they're changing the way we work, play, communicate, buy and sell.

One other difference I should note between the two carpet installers: the guy with the manual tape measure arrived on time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A peek into our wireless future

I strolled over to the Hilton this morning to peek in on the N.C. Technology Association's semi-annual conference and got there in time to hear a fascinating presentation by Chris Hare, a Raleigh-based executive for Sony Ericsson.

Many of the association's members are IT executives for major telecommunications companies, and sponsors included Time Warner Cable and Cisco. So it was interesting to watch as Hare, a wireless industry heavy hitter who helps brief Congress on the digital sector, frankly acknowledged that he's not sure where the ever-evolving field is headed either.

"Emerging technology -- it's only clear once you've missed it," he said. "You've got to take some gambles. You've got to make some bets."

He said his company did some research and got insights from the people who have the most say about the future: teenagers. Some of the points that emerged:

  • Everyone will be socially networked
  • No one will ever lose touch with anyone
  • There will be no privacy. And no one will care
  • Media content will be very rich and diversified, making viewers more narrow-minded (watch only sports, or music, or film).
Interesting guy (and the cool British accent doesn't hurt). Want to hear more of his thoughts about our digital future? Click below:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Facebook tries to head off safety complaints

Monday, Facebook executives were taking flak from British child protection officials who want them to embed their Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center's "panic button" on all British Facebook pages.

This morning, Facebook is rolling out what it's calling a major overhaul of its online Safety center, including a quadrupling of the safety content available and cleaner, easier-to-navigate interfaces.

A coincidence? We think not. Good enough? We'll see what the Brits say. They've been hounding Facebook in the wake of last month's sentencing of a 33-year-old British serial sex offender who murdered a 17-year-old girl after befriending her by posing as an attractive teenage boy on Facebook.

The British child protection center contends such cases might be avoided if Facebook would embed the center's "panic button" on the pages of all British users, allowing children who feel threatened to notify authorities with one click. They said it'd also serve as a visual reminder to criminals that authorities are always within easy reach. Facebook, in a meeting Monday with the agency, declined to embed the button, saying its safety system is already comprehensive and robust.

The button does show up in the new Safety Center -- in its "Safety for Teens" section.

"It's not just about a button," Facebook official Richard Allen told Sky News. "There need to be a safety net, and each Web site does it in the way that works for them."

Let's hope the way that works for Facebook is the right one.