Facebook should build a phone: Henry Blodget will be proven wrong just like iPhone naysayers before him

Is Facebook capable of building a phone? Almost certainly. Should they? Yes. That's why Henry Blodget is so wrong about how Facebook shouldn't build a phone. It reminds me of a 2007 article by Matthew Lynn for Bloomberg, declaring that the Apple iPhone would fail as a late, defensive move

I am one of the biggest fans of Apple, and the iPhone and iPad are by far the best computing experiences I've ever had. But I'm not particularly happy about the current state of computing. Great user experience comes at a cost, but the cost these days is higher than I care for. The trains run great in a totalitarian state, but is that worth the loss of developer freedom?

Blodget says that building hardware is hard -- but if we remember correctly, Apple was a disaster of a place just 12 years ago, floundering at hardware, software, and most everything else. In 2000, the idea that an American technology firm would be the most dominant electronics brand in the world in 2012 was absurd. Apple built its abilities from a place of great weakness -- really near death.

Facebook's biggest asset is its ability to hire and attract the best talent in the world. This was also what Apple has executed on perfectly since its return to prominence. At both places, there is a strong hacker culture and a true belief that what they're doing is the most important, society-changing work in the world. 

The "ability to build hardware" is not some esoteric magic. It is a knowhow embedded in the brains of smart engineers -- engineers who have skills so valuable that they are mobile and they will seek places where they can have maximum impact. Great products are built by talented human beings who will go where they know they can change the world. Outside of startups and a few great companies like Apple or Facebook, there are few places where "change the world" is really something you can wake up to. 

The stakes for tomorrow's computing paradigm is incredibly high. I, for one, hope Facebook does have a phone in the works, and a damn good one too. They've got a visionary founder who is young and in charge and can ship great technology. They're one of the only companies who have the capital, talent, and capability to do it. 

Facebook newsfeed rollups: Attention hoarding behavior

Noticed this on my minifeed recently: 

94 items from Twitter? This may well be an unintentional consequence of rolling up message updates per Facebook Application. Lord knows there are a lot of apps out there like Farmville that produce an incredible amount of noise. The natural way to limit the impact of other apps on the overall Facebook experience is to collapse these.

But at the same time, it is quite a profound way to greatly limit the effectiveness of other apps on the platform. 

Facebook is well within its rights to do this. It certainly isn't new, too. It is advantageous behavior. Facebook activity is regarded as premium and gets more attention. As Twitter consolidates power and cuts out third parties from the attention stream by telling people not to create twitter clients anymore, it makes total sense that Facebook incentivize use of its own authoring tools. 

Anytime attention is pooled together, there's value. Like water in a desert, creators of apps of all kinds will seek that attention anywhere it can get it. Whether it is after a Google Search or on a habitual reload of a StumbleUpon page, cmd-tab to Twitter App or dopamine-seeking Facebook visit.

It is a profound metaphor. As app creators, we seek this attention, and to pool it, to divert it, and to control it... Attention, like water, as life-giver. Attention, like water, as enabler. Attention allows us to create our cities and charge rent on the whole thing. 

It so happens that some of the nicest cities to spend time in are created out of the public good (Craigslist and Wikipedia), while others are twisted up corporatocracies (examples left as an exercise for the reader). 

Terry Gilliam's totalitarian post-apocalypse in the contemporary Internet age

Terry Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil was a groundbreaking work of dystopian social commentary. One of the names Gilliam wanted to give to the movie was actually 1984 1/2 -- a nod to both Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 and Fellini's 8 1/2. The main character is Sam Lowry, a clerk in the Ministry of Information's Records department. Like 1984's Winston Smith, love impels this forlorn everyman into the gnashing teeth of the machine.

As with Blade Runner, It is hard to date Brazil as a film over 25 years old by any means. It seems to hold a certain timeless quality. However unlike Blade Runner, a film 3 years its senior, Brazil is dark in tone and worldview instead of just visually. There is a certain crushing insanity of the crass bourgeois commercialism, whereas in Blade Runner things appear merely bleak but rational.
In one of the scenes, there is a long road into town lined with ads. Unfettered commercialism in action. I couldn't help but think of the kind of content sites that proliferate the Internet today. Just utter saturation of the mentalscape. Ad impressions for miles, and nobody really cares.
Brazil is really the logical conclusion of anti-computer ideology of movies like Desk Set from the 50's, along with its anachronisms of forms, stamps, and physical paper reports. Viewing this from our contemporary Internet-obsessed lens, it seems laughable that a future Ministry of Information would need rooms full of paper-pushing clerks next to huge printers and computer terminals, sending information about in the form of an elaborate network of pneumatic tubes.
If anything, we now know that the workplace of worker bees in the hallways of records and information probably look more like the hallowed grounds of Google or Facebook.
(Aside: Notice the common use of bicycles as instant office hipster cred. Awesome. Must use for Posterous office photos.)

The rise of the personal computer and the Internet has been moreso about freedom of information. Yet our fears for Facebook, Google, and other players in the Information Age are couched in dystopian wording and imagery. "Dreams of world domination."

Brazil's main theme is that of information control, where the state tightly controls information through bureaucracy and process. Multiple characters submit to this system and go to both banal and extreme lengths to obtain the information they need. Jill, the female lead, witnesses the arrest of an innocent father (result of a clerical error, fittingly), and selflessly fights to find out his whereabouts on behalf of the family. But she is sent from one department (Records to Information Retrieval) and back for the appropriate stamps of approval. Death by bureaucracy. Sam Lowry, the main character in Brazil, must even switch occupations entirely and transfer to a department of higher rank (Information Retrieval Dept) to get access to classified and inaccessible dossiers. All this under a specter of terrorism that never proves itself to be real.

In contrast, the ongoing battle waged by angry bloggers against Facebook around privacy is actually over the an enforced *freeing* of information by the allegedly monolithic /  Facebook. This is not a part of what the science fiction predicted.

But we don't live in works of fiction, now do we?

Facebook Connect / Facebook API's are a total mess. Some tough love by the blogosphere.

Facebook has a rep for attracting good talent, and their products are really, really popular, and yet, from my perspective, whether it's missing, disorganized, or just broken, Facebook's work (not just Facebook Connect) is consummately subpar.

The Facebook API and Facebook Connect continue to have tremendous potential. And the teams behind them are still pushing out some pretty great stuff regularly.

But as the angry blogger above complains, the Facebook API teams need a thorough attitude adjustment to start acting like hungry startup guys again. Maybe there needs to be a true crack-the-whip sort of reorg there. No new features until old bugs are fixed. Each developer does support on their own features, and bugs on those features must be at ZERO before they are allowed to check in. At Microsoft, we called this bug jail.

Also, if the developer who created the feature has to support it day-to-day, you get a bunch of positive behavior where the creator will optimize for ease of use and ease of documentation, which is super advantageous if you're making an API for mass consumption.

I hate to rail on a free service, but as the blogger above mentions -- tough love is better than coddling.

Please don't coddle us -- tell us what you hate about Posterous and we'll fix it. How do we know if it's broken if you don't let us know? =)

ConnectU guys made out like bandits -- a cool $65 million settlement with Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Also, are ideas worth 3.25%?

Either someone just got paid off for being a real litigious nuisance with otherwise baseless claims (unlikely) or Zuckerberg really kind of was over a barrel with respect to his previous business partners (likely).

Perhaps this also settles the age old question of how much an idea is worth vs. execution. At $65 million, and assuming Facebook has a valuation of at least $2 billion (very conservative estimate), that would put the idea at around 3.25%.

EDIT: My roommate Alex reports "Actually the gloating is worth 65 MM... there was literal IM text from Zuckerberg to others bragging about how he ripped the idea and did the execution better and how stupid these twins were, etc."

The power of twitter search: A rice cooker just added you.

via Twitter

Earlier that day, div_conspiracy tweeted something related to Posterous and it appeared on my tweetdeck: "tumblr or posterous? I don't have room for both. I see that tumblr just rev'd today." Moments later, I fired a quip back, "posterous.com revs every day." He then tweeted offhandedly about rice cookers, and Eugene suddenly got added by a twitter ricecooker. All within the span of a few minutes. People are definitely listening.

I wonder if people will tweet less often if they know people are watching. Perhaps some will. But I doubt it. At the risk of pontificating about twitter vs facebook (that most egregious and trite of Web 2.0 blog offenses), I'd say that's the what makes twitter significant. Facebook is all about communicating with your friends and people I already know, but Twitter lets you talk about anything publicly. And that's the point.

Someone told me once that online action is all about appealing to baser instincts -- greed, lust, thirst for fame, and the like. That's where Twitter fits in. Every time you tweet, you have a chance to expand your circle of influence. It's compelling because it is public. Psychologically, this results in a hedonic ramp of wanting to get more followers. People won't admit it, but subconsciously people want to become Internet famo (aka Web 2.0 famous, or almost not really famous). Hell, there's even a class at Parsons New School for Design called Internet Famous, on how to spread your work to the widest possible audience online through the 'online attention economy' of blogs, social media, etc.

The same famo principle is at work with MySpace as well. Much has been made of the socioeconomic class divisions of social networks. But maybe those poor huddled masses of MySpace users are more likely to admit they want to be famous. Heck, it worked for Tila Tequila. How many services out there have made people famo? Twitter and MySpace. Others?

To paraphrase the Hacker Manifesto: I am a twit, enter my world. The world of the electron and the tweet, the beauty of the blog.

When you look at two choices and can't tell immediately which one you want, the choices don't matter.

I love facebook. They have a great design aesthetic. Overall, the new design is awesome. I like how it opens the page up, and I think it'll do wonders for their ads.

OK, that being said, can someone please tell me why this UI exists?

Unfortunately it's the equivalent of the Vista Shutdown bar -- don't give me these options. One-line, small, large? I do not care how big this story is. I care about my post and my friends' comments and that's it. Every choice you give the user is a decision they have to waste precious brain cycles on.

Paul Graham from YCombinator says that when you look at two choices and can't tell immediately which one you want, it's either that the two choices are too similar, or they don't matter... or most likely, BOTH. This applies perfectly in the UI shown here. As Sachin and I work on Posterous, one of the most important things we can do as designers and engineers is to make sure we actually take away choices that don't matter. We internally talk about how we want to be the Apple of blogging. How do we do it? Just make a decision and move on. We hate preference panels.

Be opinionated, as 37signals so aptly notes. And I quote: "The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they're not just looking for features, they're looking for an approach. They're looking for a vision. Decide what your vision is and run with it."

It's such a trip to be giving product feedback on another product now that I see the emotional impact of feedback on the creators of whatever feature. On the one hand, it makes me want to lighten how strongly I deliver my feedback since creating user experience really is quite an emotional process. You can't even make decisions without emotions (they've done studies on this!), so really whenever someone challenges a design decision you've made, you're really just thrust into the same tumult of choice that forged the decision in the first place. On the other hand, harsh feedback is the only feedback that matters.

Got something to say about posterous? Would love to hear it -- garry [at] posterous dot com