The downside of a “smarter” life

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Note: This post is more personal and reflective than my usual ones. If that is not what you are looking for, skip this post and do come back for the next one which is will be more in line with my usual posts.

As most of my readers and friends know, I am a gadget freak who loves to surround himself with the best. In addition, I love to keep myself in the know of all things tech (and hence the blog). I have and love my iPhone 3GS and use all  the cool apps on my smartphone. I have enough and more to keep me occupied- online or offline until the battery runs out. And I am starting to pay the price for all this. You might wonder what and if there is a downside to such an up-to-the minute data filled life. Yes, there is.

As my apps have increased, so has my time on my smartphone. And this has taken a toll on my eyes. They hurt by the end of the day. Even when I was hooked for 8 hours on my computer in the past, they didn’t hurt quite as much. Now it does. The small screen kills. Really. Every second I think I am free, I am gazing on my Twitter feeds or reading about the latest Android superphone on Engadget. I am pretty sure my face-contact time in elevators and corridors is starting to drop. Not to mention the time at home where the laptop barely gets any time unless its for serious work. I am not alone. I just finally admitted to it. I am sure many of you are going through a similar experience or see others in the same place. At least I dont read my emails at traffic lights. Something I see so much in the Bay Area signals every day. I hope people realize that there is a downside to the content and information overload at our fingertips before its too late.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. The next is to take concrete steps to fix it. I plan on dramatically reducing my app time to a fixed duration every day. In addition, the daisy-chained-apps (as I call the ones which have embedded links leading you to other web pages) will not get any face time but for lunch and later in the evening. The phone will remain in the pocket while in the car and I plan on greeting every single person I see in the corridor and in the elevator. I fully believe the problem is under control and hope to be my pre-smartphone self very soon.

I dont believe that smartphones are to be blamed for where we are today. Its a combination of high speed cellular networks, affordable data connections, affordable and well designed mobile devices and our thirst for knowledge that has caused us to be where we are. Its all good as long as there are limits to the consumption. So instead of taking the dramatic step of downsizing to a feature phone, I will work on my ability to limit my use of my smart phone.

I apologize for the rare personal post here. I truly believe a lot of us are facing a similar problem and I wanted to use this forum to illustrate it. Ill be back to my usual posts with the next one. If you think you have some ideas to combat a situation like these, please feel free to share it for other readers.

Social Network Integration may not be for everyone.

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Let me preface this by saying I enjoy Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook allows me to share personal moments with family and friends, LinkedIn allows me to keep in touch with my professional colleagues – past and present, and Twitter gets me the news as it happens. That said, I would like to keep them separate. Individually, they are awesome. Together, they could cause a lot of confusion and pain and potentially scary situations.

Last fall with Facebook on the cusp of global domination, the Facebook single sign-on program started expanding to cover all other aspects of our internet life. The purported motive was to allow a single sign in access to all websites of interest. Soon enough, websites were supporting the Facebook single sign on method. Little did everyone realize that Facebook now had access to parts of our life that were until then, ours.

Now everybody wants to be a part of the social network paradigm. Twitter and LinkedIn also wanted a piece of the action and soon enough there was social integration left, right and center. To be fair, all of these are options one can disable but the lure is still there for unsuspecting public to want to link up their private lives with their work and their public interests.  Everybody from Microsoft to Google to Facebook to LinkedIn to Yahoo/Twitter is pushing for it.

There is a lot at stake here starting with the user’s data and preferences. By integrating your social lives, these networks have access to everything about you ranging from your favorite restaurant to your best friends to where you work to your past employers to your son’s school. By hooking all these up in one place, we are exposing ourselves to huge ramifications if this data were to be shared with the wrong audiences or worse still- be hacked.

Microsoft just announced their Outlook connector which integrates your Outlook Inbox with your Facebook friends. Just imagine the kind of ways things could go wrong. With that thought, Ill end this post. If this topic interests you, there is an excellent (but long) Slideshare presentation titled the Real Life Social Network, from a developer at Google talking about the future of social networking. Note that Google has an active role in this so read about it with that perspective.

One more Facebook post- Zynga partnership and Facebook 0

May 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

I promise I’ll take a break from posting about Facebook after this one.

Two different pieces of news caught my eye and I wanted to share them here. The first one concerns Facebook and Zynga, the topic of an earlier blog post. Speculation was rife that Zynga was planning on starting its own game network dubbed Zynga Live. The fallout was being attributed to notifications, royalties and what not. Surprising one and all, and taking the most obvious route for both parties concerned, the two giants patched up and signed a five year agreement today.

What does it mean for Facebook?

Facebook will continue to draw all those casual social gamers that are hooked on Zynga published games (all 300 million of them). They will also start earning royalties (rumored to be 30%) on in-game micro-transactions when a user wants to buy the latest super fertilizer for their farms. A definite win for Facebook. If Zynga had left, not only would Facebook have lost some users at this critical time for the company, it would have also lost some credibility with other social game developers using its platform.

What does it mean for Zynga?

When the problems between Zynga and Facebook surfaced, there was a lot of speculation about the future success for the game company since much of its growth has been attributed to Facebook. Zynga definitely had a lot more to lose than Facebook if it left the latter. The deal means that there will be a drop in revenue for Zynga as Facebook will now claim its royalty share but it can count on more users to beef up the bottom line. The deal definitely means more to Zynga than Facebook and in a sense this deal was a very smart and practical move for them.

What does it mean for the users?

More games, more notifications, more addictive hours. What else did you expect?. A Treasure?

On a completely unrelated note, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook zero, a data charge free version of the social network for mobile users in emerging markets. This is definitely a good move whereby Facebook can rack up more users more page hits to garner more ad dollars. Further more importantly, it also gets them more user data for whatever they choose to do with it. It will be interesting to see the uptake in the coming months, but I expect it to be huge in India which already boasts a big Facebook user base. This might warrant a new post sometime in the coming months.

The Future of Facebook

May 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

Facebook is at the thick of things again and for all the wrong reasons. From Zuckerberg’s past to the Zynga brouhaha, every bit of news about Facebook these days is negative. Now, with the privacy issues getting so much attention, it is time to examine it in more detail. For a objective timeline depicting the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, see this excellent compilation by Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Two recommended readings on the topic are here and here. It has become so big that Facebook is rumored to be holding an all hands meeting to address the firestorm. Now there is talk of a new wave of Facebook deactivations [1] [2][3] that is starting to make it trendy to quit Facebook. Big and influential blogs are calling for users to quit Facebook [1][2][3]. And did I mention about privacy groups and senators gunning for Facebook. To complete the circle of defamy, there is now a high profile trendy open source alternative to Facebook that is getting a lot of attention called Diaspora.

Now admitted that this could all be dismissed as growing pains for one of the biggest Web sites (if not The Biggest) in the world. Didn’t Microsoft and Google have to go through similar pains in the form of antitrust filings and privacy violation accusations. The Google Buzz privacy issues are still raw in our minds. But this time it seems like there is a growing problem with the ever changing, ever complicated privacy policies of Facebook. As time goes by, it seems like more and more information is being made public by default and it is also getting harder and harder to keep things private.

So where does it leave us?. Out in the open as always. Privacy as a necessity is dead. It seems to be getting more and more optional by the day. To quote Mark Zuckerberg, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” . He may be singled out for the scope of this article and in view of the current situation but his opinion is really no different from most Web 2.0 companies. The consumer, your, data is no longer yours and it is extremely valuable.

So what can we do?. For starters, revisit our Facebook privacy settings and tweak it to our personal choice. It would also help visiting the page every once in a while to keep pace with policy changes which are forever changing. It would also help to manage what is being shared in Facebook. I am guilty of sharing more than I should and I have started making remedial changes. Facebook is awesome when it comes to sharing photos and thoughts and links and ideas with friends and family. The only problem is there are far more people watching than you think or want to. Think about it.

Update: Now WSJ has an article saying that “how to delete Facebook account” is starting to trend high in Google Search.

Facebook and Zynga heading for a divorce? – or not…

May 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Update on May 18: Zynga and Facebook made their peace and signed a 5 year deal. Seems to be a win for Zynga and a WIN for Facebook. See full press release here.

When I first read this last week, I thought it must be a mistake or just another rumor. Since then, I have read multiple online sources [1][2] confirming the bad blood between the two powerhouses and with the impending launch of Zynga’s own platform, there will be an official divorce. The TechCrunch article which seems to be the reference du jour on the subject matter seems to indicate that Facebook wanted  Zynga to route its micropayments through its Facebook Credits system for a 30% fee which wasnt something Zynga wanted. Other skirmishes on message control and such were also making it hard for Zynga to continue expanding its games that way it wanted on Facebook.

The post here analyzes the potential business implications for the two parties. It definitely sets the stage for trying to figure out who loses more: does Facebook lose number of page visitors (and thus ad revenues) from leaving Zynga players and also credibility with Facebook app developers or does Zynga lose a *LOT* of revenue and customers by leaving its largest platform. Only time will tell the result of this battle. Zynga has been rumored to be developing a Flash-free version of its games for the iPad which could expand its market but there are only a million or so iPads out there compared to the 300 million plus Facebook users of whom 80 million of them are active Farmville players. Currently, users of Apple’s mobile platform play a gimped version of Zynga’s games and if that changes, it could mean a new and probably higher margin revenue stream for Zynga.

The first bullet has not been fired as yet, but it could come anytime now. Until then, for all those millions waiting to seed their next plot or rescue a unicorn, what are you waiting for?

Update: Zynga is bleeding users. And this is without any public announcement of a move away from Facebook to its own rumored Zynga Live platform. This is getting interesting by the minute. Will Zynga capitulate and agree to staying on Facebook?. Or will then take a pantheon spot in Apple’s upcoming casual game platform on the iPhone/iPad/iTouch.

Location, location, location – should we care where you are?

May 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I first heard about a location service startup called FourSquare. At that time. LBS was one of my research topics at work and I read all about  FourSquare and Gowalla trying to convince the aGPS-enabled-smartphone toting Web 2.0 user to do. I dismissed it as a cool idea that had no practical value.

A few weeks ago, rumors had it that following a cool SXSW demo, Foursquare was being pursued by venture capitalists falling over their heels to want to fund the company while Yahoo was doling out a reported $100-$150 million to buy it. Meanwhile Gowalla was getting critical acclaim for its solution over the one offered by Foursquare.  I thought the sky was falling.

Now with the news that our newly minted Web behemoth Facebook, hooking up with McD (yup, you read that right – it is good old MickeyD) for a location signup service, things are getting very interesting. At this point, I am willing to concede that there is something about these location services that seems to hold enough promise worth $100 million or more. I am not yet willing to concede that it makes complete sense to me and am not sure what is the point in broadcasting to friends and the world where I am, when I am.

Much of this, like so many other mobile web 2.0 apps owes its success to the iPhone and subsequently the Android handsets, By making aGPS a necessary component rather than a luxury, they have spawned a new generation of location based applications post the Yelp! and Maps introductions.

I am not sure how companies will monetize the Location Services meaningfully. Bear in mind, we are not talking about the traditional Location Based Services (LBS) domain which is very valuable for targeted advertising. Location Services offered by FourSquare and Gowalla is not LBS, or atleast not yet. Much of the application is dependent on the “Pushing” of location info by the user to the database rather than a forced pull. So a lot of its success depends on how willing the regular smartphone user to check-in every time he or she is in a new location of interest. I could see it getting boring very soon if not to begin with. Add to this the very obvious privacy and security concerns of beaming where I am every time I want to, there are enough significant stumbling blocks to derail the location services startups at their infancy.

Proximity based advertising where a combination of your coordinates from GPS and other short range radio techniques like bluetooth or IR could potentially be combined with FourSquare/Gowalla like services to make things interesting. But it could as well be done without these applications with plain vanilla LBS. With indoor positioning evolving into a more robust technology, things will take a different direction. Another Valley startup Booyah has about 2 million users participating in a unique game that mixes real world locations with a virtual game titled MyTown.

If not anything else,  it will make for an interesting case study to see location services try to make it past its incubation phase into a value added service of some sort in the near future.

Update:

The only person left from the party just crashed it. Google announced an expansion to its Latitude platform which allows users to track friends who sign up for it, to now check-in. So get ready to know where every one of your friends are, even if you dont care. Maybe you should…

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