MediaFile

Facebook’s Timeline: A catalog of nothing

We have seen the past, and it doesn’t work.

Over the past few weeks, Facebook has been rolling out Timeline, its effort to remake its members’ profile pages into scrapbooks that, like nearly everything published on the social web, is told in a reverse chronology. While redesigns always inspire grumbling, the discontent seems particularly strong this time — 70 percent of users surveyed say they just don’t like it, and Facebook’s own blog page announcing Timeline is filled with complaints in the comments.

At first glance, Timeline looks interesting — a retrospective of an online life. But soon enough, there’s plenty not to like. And the biggest problem isn’t that Facebook scrapped the elegant sparseness of the old profile page for a cluttered interface, or that many users will — yet again — need to reset their privacy settings, or even that, once you switch to Timeline, you can never go back to the old page.

No, the biggest problem with Timeline is that it feels like a mean prank Facebook is playing on its users. It confronts them with the unpleasant reality that the sum total of lives preserved by social media is not just mundane but inauthentic, devoid of what gives meaning to the very thing it’s meant to catalog: life.

The press billed Timeline as a kind of scrapbook. But it actually couldn’t be further from one. A scrapbook preserves symbols of moments with deep emotional value. Facebook is an accidental diary of our procrastinations — the games, political rants, lolcats and memes that distract us in the moment but lose meaning even after a few days. If a scrapbook holds the memories of our lives, Facebook preserves the background noise. Timeline makes this all too painfully clear.

Facebook, however, has big plans for Timeline, which is why it’s not letting anyone escape from Timeline’s clutches. Timeline is the front-end user interface for Social Graph, Facebook’s grand plan to create a social platform for the Web itself. Users will share and discover video, music and other content on any number of websites and mobile apps, and their Timelines will act as a central clearinghouse for all of it.

Five 2011 tech earthquakes

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

Pick a year: It’s easy to look back and convince yourself That Was The Year That Was in tech, partly because the pace of change is so rapid and partly because we so readily embrace and then quickly depend on things that are completely different. Consider this: When the class of 2012 was applying to college, there was no iPhone. Until those students were just about at the end of their  junior years, there was no iPad. Both of these nascent devices now define the mobile Internet, which is where all the action is.

But 2011 had some pretty remarkable advances that seem to be the start of inexorable things to come, as well as some surprising and sad examples of demise, whose impact will surely be felt for years to come, in ways that are currently near-impossible to predict.

Some may argue that 2011 was the year of the tablet (redux), because of the spritely launch of Amazon’s Fire and Barnes & Noble’s reboot of the Nook color. I say, it was bound to happen, and that the only really interesting thing is that content companies are giving Apple a bit of competition, and not the hardware bigwigs.

Tech wrap: D.Telekom may be forced to play with Sprint

Deutsche Telekom may be forced into a tie-up of its sub-scale U.S. wireless unit with Sprint Nextel after a $39 billion deal with AT&T collapsed.

AT&T said on Monday it had dropped its bid for T-Mobile USA, bowing to fierce regulatory opposition and leaving both companies scrambling for alternatives.

The collapse of AT&T’s deal to buy D.Telekom’s U.S. wireless unit may be welcome news for network equipment makers, as money earmarked for the merger will be freed up for investments.

A more controlled stumbling with StumbleUpon channels

It’s been two-and-half years since online social media service StumbleUpon hit the eject button from eBay, its one-time corporate parent.

Since then, the company has grown its users and its staff. The San Francisco-based company now has 100 employees (25 percent of whom are former Googlers, the company says), up from 30 employees at the time of the eBay spin-off.

And the service, which lets users discover interesting Web content that has been flagged by friends and people with similar interests, now counts 20 million registered users, compared to 10 million about one year ago.

Congress plans Facebook “hackathon” to boost engagement with public

Top legislators on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Thursday they will work with Facebook engineers and independent developers to make it easier for the public to engage with lawmakers and follow the legislative process.

The first-ever Congressional Facebook Developer Hackathon will take place Dec. 7 at the Capitol, bringing together lawmakers, academics and developers to find ways to make Congress more transparent and accessible.

A hackathon, a term coined by computer programmers over a decade ago, generally refers to a meeting where new programs and applications are collaboratively developed.

IBM knows a thing or two about shoes. Retailers, take note.

By Nicola Leske
In the fickle world of fashion, the skill to predict what will be en vogue next is invaluable to retailers around the world.
While some will argue that it takes style and expertise to predict what customers will want to wear even before they know it, IBM begs to differ.
It comes down to science, specifically IBM’s analytics software.
Take shoes for example, in particular the height of heels.
“We used IBM software to identify those who are the influencers online by searching the web for blogs about shoes,” said John Buscemi.
“We found tens of thousands and narrowed it down to those who were linked to a lot and who in turn linked to a lot of other people…if you had a map they would sit at the center of the social network,” Buscemi said.
According to that analysis, heels are coming down.
“Key trend-watching bloggers between 2008 and 2009 wrote consistently about heels from five to eight inches, but by mid 2011 they were writing about the return of the kitten heel and the perfect flat from Jimmy Choo and Louboutin,” said Trevor Davis, a consumer expert with IBM’s Global Business Services.
IBM said the data could be used by shoe manufacturers and retailers looking for insight into the kind of shoes to manufacture and sell in the coming season — and could potentially put fashion consultants out of business.
By the way, high heels have traditionally been linked to a falling economy — think high heel pumps during the Great Depression and stilettos following the dot-com bust a decade ago.
But this time the decline of the heel may not be a sign of an economic upturn but a grudging acceptance of a long road ahead best to be taken on more modest shoes.
“Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up – as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape,” Davis said.
“This time, something different is happening — perhaps a mood of long-term austerity is evolving among consumers sparking a desire to reduce ostentation in everyday settings.”

Perrier wants to tell you where to go out tonight

By James Ledbetter
The views expressed are his own.

Last year on a drizzly Seattle morning I visited the corporate headquarters of Starbucks to talk about social media. At the time, Starbucks had about 2 million of what were then called “fans” on its Facebook page. That audience was both large and engaged enough, a company representative said, that Starbucks had recently been approached by another firm that wanted to advertise specifically on the Starbucks Facebook page. Starbucks declined the offer, but only after serious consideration. “We had to decide if we really wanted to be on that side of the publishing business,” the representative told me.

It’s a striking reminder that in the Twitter-and-tablet age, not only can anyone become a publisher, but for big consumer-facing companies, the real question is: how much of a publisher do you want to be? The question carries an added weight when you consider how many traditional publishers these days are trying to exit that business.

Non-publishers becoming publishers is not new. For twenty years, the Italian clothing retailer Benetton has put out a magazine called Colors. Richard Branson had a buzzy launch for his “Project” magazine/app last year. One of the more ambitious and technologically sophisticated efforts of recent years has been American Express’s Open Forum which — in addition to aggregating (usually small-business-related) content published elsewhere — has commissioned videos from traditional media outlets and then distributed them through a Web ad platform. (I made a few such videos at a previous job.) The advantages are obvious: unlike an ad placed in a magazine or on TV, the company gets to control how much or little integration with the content it wants to have, or even control the content altogether.

The Cain mutiny

Everyone is now calling Herman Cain toast because of poorly-handled revelations that the apparent GOP presidential front-runner was the object of a couple of sexual harassment lawsuits that were apparently settled back when he was a lobbyist in the 1990s.

This, of  course, comes on the heels of everyone saying Cain has no chance because, well, he’s Herman freaking Cain, who has no organization, no apparent campaign strategy, sports a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat and hired a chief of staff who doesn’t think twice about puffing a cigarette in a web ad for his candidate.

In other words, this is a guy who the political establishment didn’t ever take seriously. Some Republicans are as scared (I would think) as some Democrats are craving the prospect of a Cain presidential nomination. It’s just like when some damned with or without faint praise other Tea Party favorites like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry in the secret (or not so) hope that someone who actually could appeal to a wider electorate would get the nod (hint: Mitt Romney) without getting too beat up by allies before enemies had their opportunity.

How to generate media value: Fire your CEO

Some outfit called General Sentiment has set about the task of evaluating the media value of top global brands and then ranking those companies accordingly. Some brands made their way up the list because they ousted their head honcho.

To compile the rankings General Sentiment monitors the news, blogs, tweets and other social media for a brand’s “buzz” — negative or positive — to calculate the estimated cost to generate the same media exposure through traditional advertising.

For the latest list, Google claims the spot as the “top brand” with $917 million worth of media value during the third quarter ahead of Apple

Facebook makes us embrace creepy

By Kevin Kelleher
The opinions expressed are his own.

Sean Parker was looking edgy. Maybe it was because he was sitting in for Mark Pincus, who bowed out of this week’s Web 2.0 Summit because of Zynga’s pre-IPO quiet period. Or because this was a chance to show a large gathering of his peers that Justin Timberlake, no matter how smooth, could never be a Sean Parker. Or maybe it was just because he was Sean Parker.

He shifted nervously on a black leather sofa as he was asked about Facebook’s new power, a power that leads many to see the company as fearsome and a little creepy. His posture hunched, his expression murine, his black wardrobe gothic porn, his eyes shifting around the room as he hunted for the precisely evasive word. Parker’s reply finally came in the form of a couple of sentences that might stick with him for some time: “There’s good creepy and there’s bad creepy,” he said. “Today’s creepy is tomorrow’s… necessity?”

It sounds so unpalatable coming from Sean Parker, but it’s true. After all, more people are sharing more information on social networks than they were a few years ago. In a way, Parker was just channeling Zuckerberg, who said in early 2010 that people will grow more comfortable with sharing information about themselves; and more recently that people will want to share more of their lives as each year passes, and that “it’s going to be really, really good.”