Tuesday
Feb012011

The future of search...facebook?

I've decided to write this post off the back of something Kevin Rose said last week, suggesting that Facebook will become a rival to Google in the search market.

You’ve probably never linked Facebook with internet search, but have a think about it. When you search for something on Google and get the results, how do you know if the results are accurate and reliable? You don't. You have a look around, make your own mind up and move on. But what if these search results had been voted up or down depending on its accuracy or relevance by millions of people?

Facebook already has a voting up system with the infamous 'like' button. If a search result is what you were looking for, then click 'like'. The more a link is liked then the higher up it'll appear in search results. A voting down system could be implemented, but that would probably be open to abuse, with sites voting down their rivals en masse.

Google already have a similar feature where results can be voted up, but Facebook can go further. Facebook knows an awful lot about you; not just your age and location, but your job, what films you like, which celebrities you admire etc etc. Whatever you say or ‘like’ on Facebook could be added to the algorithm used to provide your search results.

Recent comments could also be included, giving a quick review of if the link is relevant to your search or not.

Yes, it's completely open to abuse but so was the system Facebook used to translate their site into other languages, but the process of letting the users say what is the correct and incorrect translation worked so well that complete new languages were added to the site in mere days.

Facebook Search could make searching more accurate. Instead of searching for 'restaurant in Surbiton' and getting a random list, you'd get reviews and ratings, with the most popular restaurant appearing at the top. Link it to your own Facebook friends and their mentions of restaurants in Surbiton could also appear.

This personal, human search would grow incredibly quickly. Facebook has 600 million active users and half of these visit the site every day.

 

Eric Schmidt said this week that the future Google “will just know” what you want to search for, and while we maybe some time away from mind-reading, we’re definitely heading in the right direction.

 

Your mobile phone knows where you are, and once logged into Facebook it knows what you like, what you’re friends like. Now enter a to do list into your phone. ‘Buy new jeans’ might be on your list. Your phone – using data from Facebook about what brands you like, and any recent sales mentioned or purchases made by your friends – could prompt you when a relevant shop is nearby.

 

Yes, this sounds like a mobile phone that stalks your life, but I think it could be useful. The whole idea of crowd sourcing information is exciting; getting real, recommended search results instead of what Google thinks you want could be huge. The quantity of data we give Facebook is vast and this has already led to very targeted advertising. I think a targeted, useful search could be Zuckerburg’s next plan.

Monday
Jan312011

Facebook Deals launches in the UK, gives you free stuff

Facebook Places on the iPhone app always seemed a bit pointless. You could check in to places, telling your friends where you are and who you're with. Great for stalkers, bad for loners who see you having a whale of a time while they're at home with their mums.

Anyway, Places just got a lot better today, with the launch of Facebook Deals, which promises to offer incentives, discounts and free offers to anyone who checks in at a certain place.

Say you go to Starbucks, you check in, and now you're given the chance to claim a free coffee by showing your iPhone to the staff. Obviously Deals will live or die on the range and quality of participating companies.

Alton Towers theme park is offering an exclusive day out for anyone who checks in on February 18th, and you can take three friends with you for free! YO! Sushi is giving away masses of free food to customers who check in at their stores.

I really love this idea and it take Facebook right into the firing line of Foursquare, the checking-in app that has offered incentives to its users for some time. If offers of free drinks and sandwiches at the likes of Starbucks continue, then I'll definitely be checking in a lot more than I currently do.

It's not just about giving away free stuff, Argos and Benetton have pledged to give £1 and £2 respectively to charity every time someone checks into their stores on Facebook.

Deals is free for both customers and retailers, while Facebook says it won't be taking any revenue from the service. Being free, I can see a lot of retailers getting involved with Facebook Deals, maybe offering incentives or a sort of virtual loyalty card to frequent customers.

Deals could be huge for Facebook, as according to the BBC, a third of the social network's 650million members access the site on a mobile device. 

I can't wait for more companies to embrace Deals

Sunday
Jan302011

Dear The Media, you're not as helpful as you think

Couple of interesting stories from the Sunday papers today, both involving the media and their responsibility.

First up, senior ministers are backing a change to the law that would prevent the media from reporting the names of criminal suspects until they are charged. This might be a headache for reporters and 'the suspect did this....the suspect did that' might not provide great reading, but I like the proposal.

Can you imagine being wrongly accused of rape or murder? The media circling you like hungry vultures, obtaining your name, address and job, and printing every little detail of your life for all to see. It must be awful. Sure, once you've been proved innocent you'll probably disappear from the media shitstorm as quickly as you entered it, but your name and face is still lodged in the public's memory.

Go for a job interview, the boss thinks he recognises your face and ah yes! You're that bloke who was accused of that crime last year! Wonderful.

There probably shouldn't be a blanket ban on naming the accused before proven guilty. Maybe censor the names of those accused of serious crimes, not petty theft or similar? Or should there be a complete ban? It's a tough one.

Of course I could play devil's advocate and say 'well, if you're innocent and have nothing to hide then why should your identity be protected?' Perhaps a valid point, but the general public gain nothing from knowing the name of the accused, whereas the accused has the shame of having their innocent name printed for all to see.

As you've probably guessed, I can't really form a strong argument one way of t'other, but this story caught my eye and I'll be interested to see where it goes. 

 

Next up in my browse of the Sunday papers is a story stating that security chiefs are calling for live TV news to be delayed by 15 minutes, saying that this could 'save lives'. Live TV is, for the most part, boring and endlessly repetitive. But then someone blows themselves up or a plane crashes, and suddenly we're glued to the TV like there's no tomorrow.

We see unscripted reports shouting into cameras from the scene, helicopters circling and interviews with shaking eyewitnesses. During these events TV news is like a budget disaster movie that you can't turn off. Great, we get to see things as they happen and it's exciting, in a slightly weird way.

But it's not just us watching the live feed of a hotel siege or whatever, so are the bad guys. While we see armed police preparing to enter a building, the baddies are watching too, before running in the opposite direction, leaving the coppers' scuppered.

Home Office officials believe that the live TV footage of the Mumbai Hotel siege helped terrorists discover the movements of security personnel as they prepared to rescue hostages.

Alright then, this is makes sense, so let's have a 15 minute delay. Does 15 minutes really make a difference to our viewing experience of global disasters and terrorist situations? No, it doesn't. But TV execs argue that this live footage actually saves lives, by directing the public away from any disaster hotspot.

Nope, sorry. I'm not buying that. TV news is never on the scene quickly enough for a 15 minute delay to make a difference. And anyway, 15 minutes after a terrorist attack or similar I'd imagine that, if I was nearby, I'd be able to tell something was wrong, so I'd probably not go there. I don't need the TV to tell me that.

How valuable is the 'Live' icon on our TV sets? That's what this all boils down to and I can't see TV stations backing down and removing it anytime soon.

Friday
Jan282011

Why I sold my iPad. And didn't regret it

I’m a bit late to bring this up, but I sold my iPad a few months ago. I, an Apple obsessive, sold my iPad. I made a healthy loss and I didn’t even buy anything to replace it with.

 

Here’s why.

 

I queued up on the morning of the iPad going on sale in the UK. I parted with my £429 and adored the shiny slab of metal and glass, with it’s games, apps, portability, epic battery life and substantial coolness. I bought way too many apps and took out a Times newspaper subscription while my MacBook cried quietly in the corner.

 

Then I realized something. It didn’t let me do anything that I couldn’t already do. It didn’t really replace anything and using it at university instead of a laptop sucked. I carried it to class in my laptop bag, for God’s sake. Then, after a day of writing notes on it and getting suitably flat fingertips for poking at the glass screen, I had to email everything to myself, then continue working on my Mac. Pointless.

 

Playing games was fun. Browsing was, for the most part, easy and very usable BUT SO WHAT? I could do all this on my MacBook Pro, or phone (HTC Desire at the time).

 

What about reading? Well I already had a Kindle, which was lighter, smaller, had a better battery life and was much more friendly on my eyes with it’s e-ink screen. Having a newspaper subscription on the iPad was nice, but I pass at last five shops on my walk to class where I could buy a newspaper.

 

I once caught myself using the iPad as an iPod. Seriously, I was sat on a coach listening to my iPad, when I had a phone in my pocket that could do exactly the same thing.

 

You may point out that I only had the Wi-Fi version, and with 3G I’d be connected everywhere and find the tablet more useable. Nope. I have Wi-Fi at home and at university, and why would I get my iPad out on the bus? To do some browsing on the 10-minute journey? I could use my phone, or just wait until I got to class or the library.

 

I’m being flippant, yes, but for me the iPad had no specific use. Yes, I have a laptop, smartphone and Kindle, so the iPad was always going to have an uphill battle, and in the end it lost. I sold it on eBay for a loss, along with my phone and bought an iPhone 4, which did everything I ever did with the iPad, with the handy benefit of being a phone.

 

I’ve since bought an 11” MacBook Air – the Pro is getting sold – and this machine fills the iPad void better than anything. It’s light, portable, has a great battery, and above all else, it’s a proper computer.

 

And it has Angry Birds.

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