The Social Network and Skype Video on Facebook

Facebook Video Calling - Get Started
Image by stevegarfield via Flickr

Last night I watched the Social Network. I really enjoyed it but it left me with a few questions about some of the intricacies of the story of facebook, and it also got me thinking about what they’ve been doing lately.

The Skype Video on Facebook rumour was around for a long time before it was finally announced. It’s one of those things that initially you think is going to change the game completely, but then on reflection you start to wonder how many people will actually understand and use this new function.

If Skype are providing most of the back-end for this service, I’m not entirely sure how it helps them in the long run. They must have some sort of financial deal with Facebook to make this tie-up commercially viable, but it must also extend towards further integration which could include using skype’s paid services within the Facebook site itself, which would open up Skype’s paid offerings to practically everyone in the world where before it was a more niche product.

Obviously, now they’ve been bought by Microsoft (still would have prefered Google or Facebook) they don’t have to worry about money, but even so, I’m sure they want to prove to their new owners that they are very much self-sufficient and worthy of the big money takeover.

The newest version of Skype that I just downloaded includes even more Facebook integration. Now, rather than simply being able to read your newsfeed and call people who make their phone number public, you can actually instant message your Facebook friends directly from Skype. It sounds interesting, but from my quick experiment, it seems to override your group settings so you’ll appear online to everyone whenever you’re on Skype, and that’s hardly ideal especially for people with a ton of “friends”. I like the idea though, and surely the next step is to add cross platform video calling, as the technology is surely there now to do it. Unfortunately, this new version of Skype is riddled with bugs and is unstable, so I’m kind of wanting to go back to the previous one.

It’s going to be increasingly tough for people who aren’t particularly comfortable with appearing on video chat to avoid it. This technology will become more and more mainstream, what with the inevitable growth of services such as facetime and other mobile video chat clients. Then again, no one’s going to chain anyone down and force them to use it, so I say bring on the revolution.

Email Use Plummets in 2010 Among Teens

This is hardly surprising. As I recently wrote in a blog post, I’m relying on facebook more and more for my communication with friends and family.

I do still email my Dad and other family members as they don’t have facebook accounts. I suppose I could tell them my facebook email to do it that way but email works fine for that purpose and any change would only cause unnecessary confusion.

It really depends on how separate you want to keep your personal messaging and your business, news, online shopping and account management emails.

Either way, I can certainly see why this is happening. Facebook, not to mention text messaging which is the real culprit here, are just so much more instant and personal, and that’s what people want now. I would mention IM too, but it’s been around so long now that I doubt it’s contributing to email’s decline in the last year or so.

Texting too has been around for a long time, but it’s become so cheap to get practically unlimited texts for low fees that teens especially are sending huge numbers of texts every day.

Via The Huffington Post.

New Facebook Messages

Facebook logo
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been excited about this new service since the team announced it a while back. In short, they decided to simplify the service, integrate it tightly with chat, email and SMS and it works well. You get given an @facebook.com email address based on your FB username which is a nice touch, especially if you were quick to reserve your name when that option was made available some time ago now.

The whole object of the messages product has been rethought and made to feel like one long conversation with someone. There are no subject lines any longer and all of your previous subjects are now shown in bold at the top of the individual messages. In my personal experience, most of my subject lines have been either no subject or something non-descriptive like “hey” so I completely endorse this idea. The no-subject simplicity also applies to email sent from the site and to the recipient will look very similar to traditional fb message alerts. Regular email this is not.

All the messages you’ve ever sent to someone will now be in one long thread which you can scroll back through and is searchable. You have the ability to delete individual messages as well as the whole thread if you like, as well as archive threads until you receive a new message from that person.

The SMS function is really just an expansion of how it always operated but is now more visible for users to see who might not have realised the function was available before. You used to be able to set your phone up to receive notifications if someone messages you, but now you can specify as the sender whether or not you want it to go to the recipient’s phone or not. You also have the option of nudging someone to suggest that they activate SMS if they haven’t yet done so.

For people living in the same country, this isn’t a big deal as most people have many inclusive texts per month on their plan anyway. For people communicating between countries, this could potentially save a lot of money, as texts to FB should be free for most. Even at normal national rate, they should still be less than half the cost of an international SMS. You can also of course text from the browser for absolutely nothing when you have a computer to hand. The issue is that not all countries and carriers support Facebook’s text notifications. It may also be a complex thing for some users to grasp at first, but it is quite straightforward in the end and definitely worth putting the time in to fully understand.

The email aspect is a welcome addition. Of course, practically none of us actually need another email address. We all need one to be able to sign up for a Facebook account in the firstplace. Even the most un-tech savvy people will have a hotmail, yahoo or ISP address at the very least, even if they haven’t yet graduated to Gmail.

Email in Facebook doesn’t work like traditional email and it’s not intended to replace your Gmail account, as mentioned earlier. It’s very simplified and really only designed to allow Facebook users who prefer messaging people through the site rather than by email to connect with non-facebook users in an easier way than was possible before. It’s all about convergence and ease of use. Of course, if you did want to use it to receive newsletters, sign up for services and so on, you could do that, but by this point in time, I don’t think many users will want to confuse themselves by doing this when they have an effective method already.

Other additions include the saving of your FB chat history in messages as well as an option for quickly replying by just pressing enter. These features really help to reinforce the idea of the constant conversation between two people. You can also attach files of any type to messages unlike before when you were limited to photos or video. It all adds up to a very substantial improvement over what it used to be. It’s powerful yet simple at its core, and makes a lot of sense for communicating with your friends and close ones.

iPhoto ’11

IPhoto
Image via Wikipedia

I wasn’t really planning to pick up iPhoto 11, as I felt that this year’s iLife wasn’t a big enough step forward for the suite of applications to be worth the full price tag for all of them. However, because of the App Store and their A la carte method of selling apps individually, I was able to purchase just iPhoto on it’s own for a very good price.

At first I didn’t think the changes would be that huge. From what I had seen during the Apple event where it was first announced, I didn’t get the sense that this was a major overhaul. While it’s true that it isn’t a major change, they have made a lot of small improvements to make the experience much better. Small things like layout changes, better full screen modes, better social sharing options and more.

In their information released, Apple only really mentioned the Facebook improvements, which are useful, but for someone who uses Flickr constantly for uploading and organising my photos, there are some small but very welcome changes to that integration as well. You can now opt to upload a photo directly to your photostream rather than a set, for times when you just want to upload a lone photo or two on their own. The upload interface is also much simplified and easier to understand. You simply click share and a pop-up menu appears which allows you to share your current selection, whether it be one picture, an album or more with the aforementioned services as well as by email, mobile me and also allows you to order prints.

From there, you are presented with a visual selection of your sets or albums, with the ability to post to your wall / photostream or create a new album or set directly from the menu. It used to be confusing and messy in the previous version to see your uploaded photos. They appeared as a list of sets in the main navigation menu. Now, you simply have a list of your activated services, and when you click on these, your sets open up in the main screen. You can even download photos from the services directly into your iPhoto library. This is great if you’ve had  a computer failure or upgraded, especially if you back up your entire library in actual size to Flickr for example.

Another new feature in iLife 11 which is a trend in Mac OS Lion applications is the addition of a full-screen mode. Some people will complain that it’s un-intuitive and confusing how they’ve added this functionality due to the interface being inconsistent between modes. However, you only really have to adjust to the main functions in the sidebar moving to the botton of the screen and losing a couple of options from there, including access to the trash. It’s hardly a big problem but these few losses do mean you can’t spend your time using iPhoto in full screen mode exclusively.

Overall, the tweaks to the interface, the addition of more technical information in the photo info panel and the improved sharing options definitely make this a worthy £9 purchase, especially if like me, you use iPhoto constantly to organise, upload and share.

One final point is that I think it’s important to show Apple you support their App Store pricing by buying this app if you will benefit from it. Far too often in downloadable software and especially games, you don’t get the correct discount by buying digitally and Apple are doing the right thing here, so people need to vote with their wallets to encourage Apple and others that this is the correct pricing strategy for downloadable desktop apps.