I hate the word homophobia.
It is not a phobia.
You are not scared.
You are just an asshole.
Yesterday Facebook ‘upgraded’ my chat to include their new sidebar. In the process, I discovered it changed my chat status from ‘offline’ to ‘available’. Now I’m not a big fan of chatting online so naturally I turned it off and then proceeded to so some research. At the time I found nothing to suggest it was anything other than a one-time deal. I still felt it was inappropriate, so I sent Facebook a suggestion informing them of what happened in the hopes that they’d fix it for the next person. Mission accomplished, I promptly went about my business and forgot all about it. Until later that night that is, when I had logged in again and found that my chat status was again changed to ‘available’.
Needless to say, I was not happy. I turned it off, and went about some more research. I found a few Facebook ‘help’ pages that wasn’t very helpful, and in the meantime, the chat turned itself on again. To make a long story short, the chat kept enabling itself every time I loaded Facebook in a new tab, with is often. I’m the sort of person to load a link in a new tab and close it afterwards instead of loading it in the parent tab and then hitting the back button. Obviously this sort of behavior frequently results in multiple Facebook tabs open, and with each new Facebook tab my chat had turned itself back on. I tried creating an empty friend list and limit my availability, however since I could still see my online friends I suspect that that did not work.
Finally, after spending around an hour fighting with this (and nearly throwing my roommate’s computer across the room in the process), I found this Facebook topic. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Even worse, the topic was started on Monday, which was five days before. This is unacceptable. Surely someone would have submitted a bug report about this before now, and there is no excuse for deliberately continuing to roll out a feature with such an obvious privacy issue. Anyway, since Facebook obviously hasn’t had ‘enough complaints’, I went through the help menu again and submitted a bug report this time, not a suggestion. In it I reiterated the privacy issues, and added the sentence, “FIX THIS NOW.” I then changed my status to inform my friends that the situation was getting worse, and until Facebook fixed it I would be staying away.
Now for some good news. Against my better judgement I check it the next morning, and it was fixed. The sidebar was gone, and the chat was no longer turning itself on. I can only assume that someone at Facebook got my bug report and panicked when they read my (justified) accusation of violating my privacy. But this is a sour victory, as I wasted a lot of time fighting with this. There is no reason why I should need to submit a bug report in order to maintain control of my privacy, especially for a problem that is at least five days old.
If there is one thing we should take away from this, it’s that I suspect my Facebook days are numbered. I finally got a Google+ invite recently, and if Facebook continues to degrade my experience with incidents like this I see no reason to keep using it. I know I had concerns about how well Google+ could compete in the current social environment, but I now believe I underestimated the average person’s frustration with Facebook. Meanwhile I recommend that everyone with this issue should file their own bug report. Keep it clean, but make sure your displeasure is unquestionable. Also be sure to include that having the chat turn itself on is a privacy violation. Hopefully they’ll get the message soon.
Well, honestly, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve seen the demos, and they look cool, but that doesn’t mean much. Which brings me to my point, as the rest of the world understands that too. This is Google’s third attempt at entering the social network scene, and honestly I don’t see it succeeding. (warning: somehow I have a lot to say on this subject, despite knowing quite little about the actual working details of Google+.)
There are two serious problems here. The first problem is that for a social networking hub to work, it needs a large user base. This of course has several smaller issues associated with it, but they all revolve around the fact that most people won’t want to use more than one social networking hub. And no, I’m not counting Twitter as a social networking hub. It may be great for following celebrities, but it’s horrible for communicating with your actual friends. So with that distinction in place, we see that if you truly want to be ‘sociable’ online, you need a site like Facebook. And Facebook is a great site. Yes, there is a lot of hate being directed at it, but at the end of the day most of that hate is falsely placed. A classic example was the recent bitching about Facebook claiming ownership of our photos, when all they claimed was permission to distribute those photos: a.k.a. what we asked them to do. So while the media can generate some extra visibility in the short run about Facebook’s newest ‘anti-American’ scheme, eventually saner heads will prevail in the court of public opinion.
And to top it off, Facebook works. You see, Myspace really wasn’t really a social networking site either. It was a personal webpage that your friends had limited access to edit. Facebook introduced us to the news feed, and that is what makes a social networking hub functional. Now you can check on all of your friends on one page, instead of having to manually visit each and every one of them. And by time Myspace finally got around to adding a news feed, it was too late. Core Myspace users hated the new feature, while those who could care less migrated to Facebook under the philosophy of, “Well they’ve been doing it longer, so they must be doing it better too.” (disclaimer: I had already abandoned Myspace by then, so I’m relying on Google to inform me that Myspace did indeed get a news feed feature at some point.)
So you see, Facebook rose to the top of the social networking scene in an era that didn’t have any real competition. Google+ does not have that luxury. In order for Google+ to succeed, it needs to take users away from Facebook. And quite frankly, that will be a difficult task to achieve. Like I said, Facebook had established itself without any competition. And now that it is established, everyone is using it. I’m exaggerating of course, but only slightly. My parents might not have Facebook pages, but my siblings do, as do all of my friends. To my knowledge I have yet to meet a person between the ages of 18 and 40 without a Facebook page since joining myself. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get these people to join Google+ when all of their friends are still using Facebook. And as I said before, people don’t want to spend the time maintaining more than one social networking site. They want one site than can do it all.
And to make matters worse for Google, people are already turned off at the idea of giving Google control of their social media. The Wave failed because Google wouldn’t let enough people join it quick enough. This still depresses me, because it was a unique enough concept that it could have gained momentum without a direct competition with Facebook. And the Buzz… well, even though I still believe that for the most part the privacy issues were over-hyped, they were still real. The problem was that in an effort to learn from their mistake with The Wave they gave Buzz accounts to everyone with a Gmail address, essentially turning a private messaging system into a public social network. I still don’t know how they expected it to not turn into a public relations disaster.
And finally, now that we’ve exhausted the serious factors concerning Google’s difficulty in gaining subscribers for Google+, we move on to their second serious problem, which is the possibility that they will succeed. And despite all that I’ve said here, they do have a chance. From what I’ve seen Google+ seems to offer more user control and inter-connectivity than Facebook allows. Integration with Gmail will be a nice feature, as I’ve already complained about Facebook’s halfhearted attempt to take on e-mail. And importing files from Google Docs will also be nice. Finally, being able to separate my friends into different circles will be especially handy, as I currently know of no easy way to routinely limit specific status update to particular friends. So yes, Google+ has a chance. It just might make a name for itself in the social networking scene. And then suddenly Facebook will find that in order to stay competitive it’ll have to start copying from Google+. And I’ve already commented on how poorly that went for Myspace, and how it’s killing Firefox. If that happens then Google will suddenly find itself in control of a social networking monopoly.
Look, I think most of the antitrust investigations against Google are ridiculous. But we’re not talking about an easily distracted public here. We’re talking about small groups of powerful people with an agenda. Saner heads might not prevail, because sanity simply isn’t required in politics. And ‘monopoly’ is one of those catch phrases that seem to ignite an irrational fury about ‘anti-American’ policies. Never mind that Google hasn’t really abused its so-called ‘monopoly’ like other companies have, because facts aren’t required in politics either. All it takes is a small mistake or minor error of judgement, and suddenly a witch hunt is on. And Google has made its share of mistakes.
So really, this is a lose-lose situation for Google. I’ll give Google+ a try as soon as they open up the doors, but I just don’t see a lasting future for it. Which is sad, because I really think Google has a winning formula here.
I’ve been putting this off long enough, but the recent disaster about Firefox 4’s 3 month lifespan finally pushed me over the edge. Every time I turn around, it seems like Firefox is copying more and more from Google Chrome. So I figured that if Mozilla really wants me to use Chrome that badly, I’ll go ahead and use Chrome.
But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Look, I’m not a big fan of anti-Google propaganda, but it doesn’t take a genius to see where their market strategy is heading. Chrome is not a browser to them: it’s a portal. Specifically, a portal to our own fucking data. Just look at the new Chromebook and try to convince me otherwise. Google wants our data on their servers so that we can’t access it without looking at one of their sponsor’s ads. That’s what Google wants, that’s the agenda Google is pushing with Chrome, and frankly, I don’t want any part of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘the cloud’. When it works that is. But the internet is not 100% stable, nor will it every be. Google’s had its fair share of outages in recent years, some of which have affected me. But not seriously, because I know better than to become dependent on ‘the cloud’. The most important thing I use Google Docs for is my Dungeons and Dragons campaign plans, and even there I’m looking into a program that’ll automatically sync my files for me. The few important documents I’ve edited with Google Docs are already manually copied onto my local hard drive.
So how does this affect Mozilla? Well, in one respect it shouldn’t. Mozilla doesn’t get its money from advertising, it gets it funding from donations. Admittedly, Google is their main donor, but Mozilla more than pays them back by making Google the default search engine for Firefox. Which brings us to how it does affect Mozilla, as that deal is set to expire this November. According to Wikipedia, Chrome has 16.2% of the market share as of May 2011. Now, for the most this hasn’t been at the cost of Firefox’s market share, however if we scroll down on that Wikipedia article we see that Firefox’s market share peaked in November 2009 (according to StatCounter). And while its marker share is still larger then when Chrome entered the scene, it is looking at its lowest scores in a long time.
Clearly, Mozilla needs to avert this trend. However, copying Google’s strategy is not the answer. Firefox’s main strength has always been its add-ons, which often break with the start of each major release. And while many of them are probably the result of an arbitrary version string check, the average user should not be expected to solve those problems themselves. Meanwhile Asa Dotzler, the director of Firefox, has promised us that we’ll have this same problem in another 3 months, as seen in the comments section of this article. Further down he’s also on record as saying “I don’t care about making Firefox enterprise-friendly.” Does he not see how wrong that strategy is? Mozilla needs to do everything in its power to maximize market share, especially in the business sector. Even if Google does renew its deal with Mozilla (which probably will happen, at least for the next three years) it’ll be under the implied assumption that Firefox has enough market share to make control of its default search engine worthwhile. Alienating its core users is bad, alienating businesses is worse, and alienating both is unforgivable.
(Let us not forget, add-ons aren’t Firefox’s only major selling points. User control is also a key factor, something that isn’t easily available with Chrome. Firefox users are used to having control over when they upgrade, and will resent being forced to upgrade every three months in order to stay secure.)
So here I am. Firefox no longer has a future, so like a rat I’m leaving this sinking ship. In the next few months I’m expecting Internet Explorer to start gaining market share back as businesses embrace Microsoft’s promise to support their products for years, not months. Meanwhile, the average the home user (like me) will begin to wonder what’s so great about Chrome that every other browser needs to copy from it. And we’ll bitch about the upgrade process, or trapping our data on the cloud, or whatever it is we want to bitch about, but in the end we’ll accept it. Because a Chrome upgrade is treated more like an update. Because Chrome isn’t actively upsetting its core customers by breaking their favorite extensions every 3 months.
And because, at the end of the day, it’s a choice between Google Chrome, or Mozilla Chrome. And that’s really no choice at all.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Facebook succeeded in annoying me the other day. Now, I’m not one of those people who freak out whenever Facebook changes the smallest thing, but lately I’ve been noticing some questionable decisions. My latest concern involves their new messages system, which I was recently encouraged to upgrade to. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for upgrading it. And I do appreciate having a Facebook e-mail address. But there is one thing I must take issue with, and that is the removal of the subject line.
To say this displeases me is putting it mildly. To top things off, it makes no sense to me either. I think I’m speaking the obvious here when I say that Facebook is trying to become the primary information hub for the internet. The fact that they’re giving us e-mail addresses for our messages inbox only strengthens that point. And yet, from their own help center:
“The new Facebook Messages is more informal than other messaging systems. Now your messages are included as part of ongoing conversations, which means that some aspects of traditional messaging systems (such as subject lines and the Sent messages folder) are no longer part of your experience. This makes your conversations easier to read, especially when your messages are mixed with your chats and texts.”
Um, first off, no, it’s not easier to read. Suddenly, all of my messages with a single friend are condensed into one message thread, regardless of the fact that they encompass multiple subjects. And sometimes, not all of those discussions proceed at the same pace. This can make for a very confusing read. And their “search messages” function is simply not as helpful for sorting through these messages as Facebook would like to believe. But the heart of the matter is the idea that I should be limited to one conversation per friend. Not only am I offended by this idea, it’s one that I thought had died out with the invention of e-mail.
And on that note, how exactly does this “informal” attitude behind the new messages system fit in with the addition of an e-mail address for our Facebook account? By removing the subject line, Facebook also removed an important feature to any e-mail system. As such I still need to use my G-mail account if I want to send e-mails for a formal or professional matter. If Facebook really wants to take market share away from traditional e-mail systems they need to do a better job of it.
All this comes at a time when I was seriously reconsidering my dependence on Google as my primary information hub. A recent Facebook poll asked what page people check first when they get on the internet, and most of my friends had answered “Facebook”. At the time iGoogle was set to my home page, and it still is. However, I’m finding more and more of my information via Facebook, and the vast majority of my e-mails are Facebook notifications. Now, I wasn’t prepared to abandon Google completely: at the very least, I need a non-Facebook e-mail just so I can receive notices when a new computer logs into my Facebook account. But I’m at the point in my life where Google’s goals and mine are diverging, and my internet usage is reflecting that.
At the end of the day, this is hardly the worse tech issue I’m facing. Mozilla’s abandonment of Firefox 4 is far more serious, and one that’s left me feeling lost and abandoned. But I can’t help but wonder if Facebook has a clear goal in mind for the future. One one hand it want us to become more dependent on its services, but on the other hand they’re also taking away the tools needed to organize them in a professional manner. So naturally I’m feeling a bit confused about all of this, and hope they sort out what they want soon enough. In the meantime, if you start to send a message on Facebook and you see a notification about their new message system, think carefully before you upgrade. There’s no going back.
Yesterday was not a good day for me. Part of it is probably the blood pressure medication I just started, but the majority of my issues had to do with incomprehensible decisions by Mozilla and Facebook. We’ll save my rant against Facebook for another day and focus on my issue with Mozilla, which is the real antagonist to my blood pressure (Facebook is as Facebook does after all). In particular, I am concerned with their decision to abandon Firefox 4. Apparently, instead of providing a security update for the 3 month old program, Firefox 4 users were instead given the option of upgrading to Firefox 5. Or, so the theory goes. Some Firefox 4 users did not get this message, despite having their auto-updates enabled. I know this for a fact, because I am such a user.
I shouldn’t need to point out how bad this is. A marker share in the business sector is a must for open-source companies like Mozilla. And no company is going to want to invest in a program whose practical life span can be measured in months. Even if every Firefox 4 user got the upgrade message, there’s still the concern that administrative authorization is needed to upgrade to Firefox 5. Honestly, does Mozilla think that tech support people around world have nothing better to do than to upgrade Firefox every three months? This is simply unacceptable in a world where Internet Explorer 6 still has a 4.6% market share. That’s one in 22 computers. Let us not forget: IE6’s noticeable market share is often attributed to a lack of available time available for upgrading and retraining. So if we restricted our observations to computers that came out before Vista made IE7 the new default, we’re looking at a significantly larger percentage of computers that no one has bothered to upgrade properly.
So how does this affect the future of Firefox? Simply put, there isn’t one anymore. In a world where companies still use 20 year old programs in spite of known security issues, there just isn’t a place for a program with only a three month life cycle. Especially if not every user is informed of the need to upgrade.