Facebook Home: Is That a Feature or a Threat?

| Particle Debris

Addiction is Free and Fun for All Internet Zombies

Facebook continues to fascinate us with its ability to tap into the psychological mechanisms of human beings, the need for a human connection and the need to share -- even if what's shared is not so great. FaceBook Home has refined that technique such that it has transitioned from worrisome to treacherous.

I can certainly appreciate the need for human beings to reach out. In our own American society but also in other countries, isolation can be frequent and depressing. The desire to be connected and appreciated is an enduring human trait. All of us who write, create or perform for a living know that.

And yet.

There is something creepy about a company that so cleverly taps into that need, while making itself very rich, that that we occasionally shake our heads, convulse into awareness, squint with curiosity, shiver with concern and ponder what we have become.

If everything that we crave is all that we care about, then all we would ever eat is cupcakes. Let's call it what it really is: addiction.

While Facebook Home will be eagerly embraced by hundreds of millions, there is something to be said for taking a step back from the edge and pondering our fate. I offer thoughtful analysis by others:

1. The first author of note is Yoni Heisler at Networldworld. He is one of several legacy Facebook users I've quoted who have come to have misgivings about the service. In this case, Mr. Heisler's concerns about Home are wide ranging. He has particular concerns with Home's chat heads, a feature that cannot be turned off. It sounds like the recurrent theme from Scifi -- the computer that's so powerful and intelligent, it denies you the ability to turn it off. Responding to this feature, the author asks, "Is that a feature or a threat?" From which I drew this week's title and to which I give generous credit.

2. The next author, Om Malik at GigaOm, raises serious questions about privacy. The concern is not about giving up a little bit of absolute privacy in order to connect with people. Rather, the concern is that users are blissfully unaware of the motives behind penetrations into their lives to the point where the act has become a dangerous violation, an accumulation of knowledge that controls and debases the "customer." Remember, if the service is free, you are the product.

3. The third and final article I'll point to is by E. Werner Reschke at T-GAAP. Mr. Reschke astutely points out that Steve Jobs would not allow third party software (like Flash) to come between the platform and the developer. "If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features."

And yet, that's exactly what Facebook Home aims to do. It creates an immersive environment that pushes aside any other bits and pieces of apps, creativity, utility or manufacturer's ingenuity in order to become, itself, the overriding platform. This is akin to the old days when users who signed into AOL thought they were on the Internet, when in fact, they were in a nicely decorated prison that suited AOL's ends. Mr. Reschke's conclusion is that this Facebook functionality can only serve to harm Google and Android -- which I agree with.

And now, Google, we know why controlling your own platform is so important. Perhaps this is on their mind already. It's like the executive control function of the human brain as well. We need addiction-free control of our own lives so we can enjoy addiction-free life on the Internet.


Tech News Debris for the Week of April 1

One of Apple's explicit core markets is the creative professional, listed in the Markets section at the bottom of Apple's Mac page. So, if Apple is making a big push at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) meeting with renewed commitment to Final Cut Pro, what does that suggest Apple might be up to with the tool of the creative pro, the Mac Pro? Jonny Evans offers some intelligent speculation "NAB: Apple's Final Cut push hints imminent new Mac Pro launch."

Back on Feb 15th, I speculated about wearable computing devices. For example, is a wrist pad like the kind shown a better idea than a smartwatch? There are technical and ergonomic issues that come into play, but we're, so far, not privy to the best thinking on this. But what if a wrist pad is a better idea? Rob Enderle, in one of his moments of lucidity, speculates that the wrist pad might be a better, more wearable, more flexible and usable approach. "What the iWatch Could Be if Apple Still Had Guts."

Unfortunately, Mr. Enderle muddies the technical waters by suggesting that it boils down to the personality of Mr. Cook, that he's not gutsy enough to be a risk taker. The assumption, then, is that the technical issue is solved and the wrist pad is the better solutions for all, not just the military. That hasn't been proven yet, so, again, Mr. Enderle has arrogantly jumped the gun. Still, I recommend the article because the author explores what others with iWatch blinders have not.

One of our enduring dreams (or nightmares) is that, someday, machines that have been designed by humans, running software code and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) principles, will be able to, in turn, write new code. When that happens, many things happen. The pace of development becomes too rapid for humans to keep up, and we no longer have any visibility into what the new code is trying to achieve. Ray Kurzweil suggest that there could come a time when things will change too rapidly, akin to a mathematical singularity. It's an interesting concept. (It's also a race: will the planet kill us off before we can do it ourselves?)

Profanity Warning. PG-13. Okay, time for another sip of coffee and some CTTN humor. [VIDEO] "Here’s Why You Hate Your Cable Company." Apple, won't you please save us? Please hurry.

In an interview, Alan Kay expresses doubts about whether the iPad embodies the full intellectual concept of the Dynabook. Here's a thought provoking interview by David Greelish. "An Interview with Computing Pioneer Alan Kay." Mr. Kay, who at one time was employed by Apple, is always worth listening to.

Have you heard of the "second screen" effect? It's when we watch the big HDTV with a smartphone or tablet in our lap -- for supporting information. Or to keep us busy during a commercial break. Here's a discussion at Business Insider . "Here's Why The 'Second Screen' Industry Is Set To Explode."

An iPad is an Internet device. It craves a backing ecosystem. But it can be used without the Internet. This next article is written with the educator in mind. "10 Ways To Use Offline iPads In Education."

Finally, Dan Frommer has put together a chart that shows the evolution of U.S. smartphone subscriber share. The conclusion? "Microsoft’s Mobile Comeback Isn’t Happening." It raises the question: with the Surface not setting sales records, Windows Phone languishing, how long can Microsoft survive with just Windows 8 and Office and not have a major stake in mobility?

Credit: Dan Frommer, SplatF. Data from comScore.


Zombie via Shutterstock.

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Lee Dronick

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate thinks that Facebook Home is a threat to Apple.


John Martellaro

Lee:  That’s a good article at Slate by Farhad Manjoo, and I recommend it for all.  The bigger question is, what happens if the competition’s vision is strong, addictive and more compelling to young people than Apple’s?

Lee Dronick

The bigger question is, what happens if the competition’s vision is strong, addictive and more compelling to young people than Apple’s?

Of course that is assuming that Apple and youth both maintain their present courses.


how long can Microsoft survive with just Windows 8 and Office

Even deeper, Windows 8 is enough different that is breaks legacy systems. I’ve just finished testing it at the company I work for and we have told our computer vendor that we are only to receive Windows 7 systems. windows 8 is a mess.
Which brings us to Office 2013. It not only breaks legacy scripts and the hooks that several of our critical apps use for reports, it’s deeply tied to SkyDrive. You can’t even install it without setting up an online account. Even if we go through several steps to disable this function, which must be done per user, there’s always going to be a risk that confidential company data will post to the cloud. At best it will be lost, at worst leaked. We have just bought several copies of Office 2010 to hold in reserve.
I seriously doubt that our company is alone. Microsoft has seriously shot itself in the foot with these packages, further damaging their long term status and viability. Today I heard the engineers discussing dropping Windows on the next generation of our products for Linux.

As far as FaceBook Home is concerned, I don’t have a FaceBook account because for me they crossed the line into “creepy” some years ago. Everyone I’ve told about it, including those that love FaceBook think it’s a bad idea.

As far as FaceBook itself, I keep remembering the quote from Elenore Roosevelt: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. Facebook is all about people. Facebook is shallow. I prefer Tumblr because I can browse ideas and topics. I’ll take a Tumblr feed about Palaeontology, or Technology, or Theater, with posts from a million people to a FaceBook feed from a small group of people gibbering about each other.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Child, please. Two sentences about the magic of Facebook:

1. My 90 year old grandmother is on Facebook and has a great time keeping up with family and old (well, relatively “young” in her case now) friends.

2. I reconnected with three people from my younger life who were very important to me but not important enough to hire a detective agency to track down.

If you call that creepy, you’re missing the plot.

Lee Dronick

I am with Brad on this, Facebook has some good aspects not the least of it is keeping connected with family and old friends thousands of miles away. Also a lot my Facebook friends are the types who discuss ideas, history, art, and such.

MacObserver is a social network of sorts.


“Farhad Manjoo over at Slate thinks that Facebook Home is a threat to Apple.”

I disagree. Apple doesn’t have anything to worry about. Statistics have shown that the majority of people who buy iOS devices USE them for a wide range of purposes. iOS has become what it is due to the fact that it works, works well, and works as expected across all devices. This is proven in the customer satisfaction and retention rates.

A Facebook phone will appeal mostly to users who mainly use their phones for Facebook-ing. (Basically the same type of people that made the Sidekick so popular.) This isn’t going to finally “unify” the Android experience, it’s actually throwing yet another “experience” onto the pile. It’s another rebranding of Android. There will be many more of these types “experiences” in the future.

Next up… Google updates their Nexus line as Google+ devices. Then Samsung unveils their own. And so on, and so forth.

Marc Blaydoe

This nothing more than an opportunity to further monetize your personal information. Now that the Zuck controls your phone, he knows who you call and text and has all kinds of new visibility into your life. Install this on your Android and you are Zucked!

Lee Dronick

Michael, that is what I was thinking when I made in my statement about youth staying their course. Eventually they will need to use their smart phones in their work, as a parent, and such. Not to say that they will no longer be using Facebook, but that it will not be their focus. On the other hand Apple could cater to younger people while still offering things that appeal to older people, the World comes in colors.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Silliness Marc. The paranoia about this has to be half-born from not understanding how Android works. An average user can uninstall or deactivate this Facebook Home stuff in a minute. S/he can install alternatives. If anything, that is exactly what will keep this from becoming the creepy thing you all seem to fear.


I was on Facebook for a couple of years. I connected with family who posted pictures of their babies throwing up because they thought it cute, and others posted religious crap I had less than no interest in. My nieces and nephews wrote about how drunk they got at the party the night before and who wore what to school that day.  I had one person from high school try to contact me via Facebook. I didn’t like him then and saw no reason to renew anything now. Plus, the people I wanted to connect with, weren’t on Facebook. I just came to the conclusion that didn’t need to waste my time with any of that. Finally in the summer 0f 2010, due to lack of anything interesting or enjoyable and FaceBooks increasingly aggressive and obtrusive data mining activities, (I noticed that I’d post something and within a day I’d start getting SPAM about the same subject), I closed my account and haven’t missed it at all. I have other ways of keeping on contact with family thousands of miles away. Ways that have a little more filtering and a lot less data mining. Plus my SPAM has dropped of dramatically.

I stand by my statement. I like places where facts and ideas are discussed. I prefer places where my personal information is not sold before I even leave the page. Because Facebook is people-centric it just never gave me much of anything I was interested in. I’d rather have an interesting discussion with a stranger where I learn something, than a long conversation with a relative about the weather in Minnesota or what pestilence their children contracted this week. On FaceBook I found the latter far far outweighed the former.  I’d rather post to a forum among people I don’t know but where the discussion is interesting and viewpoints are shared, (such as TMO) than somewhere where I know everyone, their attitudes, and opinions before they type a word.

FaceBook is where you are a commodity and FaceBook home is a pernicious extension of that.



Please explain… how exactly does Android work?

It’s my understanding that Android is as locked down as the vendor wants it to be. It’s not as “open” as Google’s PR machine likes to pretend it is. You can’t be sure that phones with Facebook Home preinstalled will allow users to remove it or replace it with something else. That’s entirely up to the OEM or carrier to decide. Sure, for those that choose to download and install Facebook Home on their phones, they’ll have the option to remove it, but for phones that come with it preinstalled, who knows?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Michael, please name an Android device with Google Play that’s locked down so that you can’t replace the home screen. The closest anything got was early on (about 3 years ago), AT&T tried to sell a phone that didn’t allow side-loading. They gave up on that. A completely locked down Android phone won’t sell. No competitive advantage whatsoever.

Better yet, Michael, name and Android device that you’ve owned and used. Because if you have, you know how silly your hypothetical actually is.


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Lee Dronick

Geoduck, I have some people set so that I don’t see them in my Timeline though I can still go to theirs and see what’s up. On the other hand I am sure some friends are ignoring my posts. But yeah, I have been looking around for alternatives to Facebook, including maybe rolling my own or at least doing more with website.

Now check out yesterday’s Joy of Tech comic about Facebook’s “home.”




I understand that you are an Android cheerleader and expect nothing less from your comments, but please clarify your statements when you make them. You originally said “Android,” not “Android with Google Play”. As I stated, vendors are free to lock down Android as MUCH AS THEY WANT. In fact there are Chinese companies that have taken Android and completely stripped out the Dalvik machine and replaced it with something else making it completely software incompatible with other Android devices. It is not up to Google to decide. Android is only truly open to OEMs and vendors. NOTHING you can tell me or anyone else is going to make that statement any less true.

If I’m not mistaken, you cannot change the home screen on the Nook or the Kindle… both of those run Android.

By the way, you still haven’t explained how Android works. Funny. That.

P.S. I haven’t owned any Android devices. I’ve used many trying to help others figure stuff out who were new to smartphones… I’m very happy with my iOS devices and the people I’ve known who switched to iOS are much happier as well.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Michael, I could tell that you haven’t owned an Android device just by how you posed the question. You are right in a book sense. Vendors can do what they want. In a practical sense, they don’t, because the costs of getting to market are higher the deeper the customization, and the market reception when your device doesn’t work like other Android devices will be lower. Amazon has been the most radical, and they have to supply a store with thousands of apps and allow side loading to thrive. B&N Nook has been a small niche.

BTW, here is an article[/ur] on changing the home screen on a Kindle. I knew it could be done and how to do it, because it’s easy, but since you’re more adept with book knowledge, I tool 10 seconds to Google it for you.

Now, if you’d like understand how “Android works”, I’d suggest a throrough reading of the developer API.  [url=http://developer.android.com/reference/packages.html]Start here.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I’ve given this a few more minutes of thought to try to figure out what Michael is missing so as to want to ask a bunch of bizarre questions about how “Android works”. The answer here goes back to a fundamental difference between Apple and Google. Apple works by control. Google works by influence.

OEMs are free to put whatever they want on their devices running Android. If they’d like to provide their customers with access to hundred of thousands of third party apps and Google services, they make arrangements with Google. Amazon offers its Appstore to vendors too. There are two results of Google’s open approach:
1. There is a plethora of great, modern Android devices (phones, tablets, TV media streamers, etc.) retailing for under $300, non subsidized.
2. If you’re concerned about how Google makes money without strict control, they’ll always get some large X% of a fast growing market, because of their position of influence.

The whole of the Android market is very organic and very dynamic. I know that befuddles people who can’t imagine a world without one wizard in charge and can’t imagine what people would do with the freedom to innovate as they like. But that’s how it “works”.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

One more thing. This is a really interesting point, going back to something I suggested in comments to an article Bryan wrote when people were just speculating about the Facebook phone. My biggest fan, RonMacGuy, will be hear shortly to document this particular prediction that came true because NOBODY believed it. Ready…

It is actually stock Android Jelly Bean. No HTC Sense. You can activate the stock home screen by clearing a couple settings.

(Drops the mic.)



“You are right in a book sense”

I am right, period. That’s the way it works. Plain and simple. Whether OEMs choose to do whatever they want is entirely UP TO THEM. You can argue until you’re blue in the face over whether they have or haven’t. The FACT remains that OEMs can do whatever they want with Android. If however they want to use the “Android” name, they have to follow a set of guidelines set forth by the Open Handset Alliance, that restrict them from making certain changes to the operating system, most importantly, not stripping out the Dalvik VM. Furthermore, if they want access to Google Play, they must keep Google’s services in tact.

Android was designed to be “skinned” so that OEMs can differentiate their products. Carriers can even further customize Android by pre-installing apps, restricting services, deactivating hardware features, etc.

From there, the user is free to do whatever the OEMs and carriers allow them to do.

That, in a nutshell is how Android works. What you keep explaining is basically the outcome of all that in a general market wide sense. And being able to “hack” changes is not the same an “option” the average user can choose. If that were the case, iOS is completely wide open, because with a simple visit to a web page, I can jailbreak my iPad and have complete access to the system and do whatever I want.

“I know that befuddles people who can’t imagine a world without one wizard in charge and can’t imagine what people would do with the freedom to innovate as they like.”

So I’m not really sure where that statement comes from? Do you really believe Apple is going to control your life if you use one of their products? Do really believe their products - the products used by more artists and creative people than any other - suppresses your ability to create and innovate?

Typical Android user… “I use Android because I don’t want Apple taking over everything.”

Someone actually told me that.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Michael, jailbreaking your iOS device relies on it having a crashing bug that is a security issue for everything you have on your phone. Hackers can take the same code on that jailbreak website and create another website that tricks you into giving up the naked pictures your cousin sent you, your bank account information, the texts with your neighbors wife. That’s a feature?

Typical iPhone users: “I can jailbreak my phone with a visit to a website. It’s just as open as Android.”

Someone actually just wrote that.



Some truly worthy and educational picks this week. Congratulations.

Circumstance has afforded me little time for recreational online reading, but let me share just one brief comment. In contrast to Dan Frommer’s chart, Ed Bott (you know Ed Bott) has taken issue with the ‘MS doomed’ riff that has made its way around the blogosphere and has used the occasion of a Gartner report to not only rebut that theme http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-google-and-apple-which-one-faces-doom-in-2017-7000013637/ but to coin a term I hadn’t heard before. He has crowned the period 2013 - 2017 ‘the Window 8 era’. No wonder MS don’t acknowledge the post-PC era, we’ve only just entered the Windows 8 era. Sociologists and historians alike have noted that, at least in the short-medium term, the victors of war win the opportunity to write history (until real academicians come along and ruin beautiful myths with ugly facts, but I digress), so all MS have to do now is win this platform war (it’s more than about an OS or hardware war configuration) and they can dub it the Windows 8 Era for time and eternity (or until an academician comes along).

While I’m dispensing such insightful gems as posts from Ed Bott, let me toss out another that I do think is worth a thought, given the fascination with Facebook’s first foray into phone-dom, in which Jason Perlow predicts further forking in the Android fiefdom http://www.zdnet.com/why-facebook-home-will-blow-android-into-smithereens-7000013549/, in which he likens FB’s Home for Android to a fragmentation grenade in want of de-pinning. I also like his analogy, whether one agrees with it or not, to the Android ecosystem inexorably being balkanised (and thus de-Googled) into fiefdoms controlled by powerful warlords (Amazon, Samsung to name just two already showing signs of legitimate forks).




I should add, Bott makes a legitimate point about ultra-mobile PC sales and how they should figure into projections. However, he then conflates projected future sales and adoption of Windows 8 - not the same thing at all; and thus the future for MS remains uncertain and, from the present vantage point of lagging Surface sales and weak Win 8 uptake, sub-optimal.

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