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March 15, 2009


Facebook unzipped

by brainoids

So, the release of the “new new” Facebook, arguably another step down from the “old new” Facebook, makes it painfully obvious that these good folks just don’t have the User Interface gene, and maybe never will. My Facebook page is increasingly looking like the drawer in the kitchen in which random tools, bits of fluff, balls of wax and spare tacks end up, and that’s not a Good Thing. Facebook needs to bite the bullet and leave the UI up to the innovators and professionals.

My solution would be to break free of the overly-constraining web page chrysalis completely. More shortly. First, let’s take stock of what Facebook’s core assets are:

  1. Installed user base. Huge, apparently exponentially growing, and, some argue, an unsolved problem for their basic (and TBD) business model (incidentally, here’s a fascinating analysis of their early success factors). This makes anything Facebook has to sell attractive to the Big Boys (Microsoft, Apple, Goggle).
  2. Underlying connectivity and APIs. Whether elegant or not, this is its core technology, and the Thing To Sell.
  3. Modular content. Each UI re-hash, as well as mobile iPhone/Crackberry apps, prove that each component piece of the Facebook hairball is a separate data entity and can be routed/placed/rendered independently. This creates the possibility of a huge and thriving “aftermarket” in the form of UIs.
  4. Unique “space”. This one’s less obvious. One of the reasons I actually like (love) Facebook for social networking is that, well, frankly, email has been “poisoned” for me as work-related drudgery. Replying to a friend’s personal email after work always carries just a little tinge of “task on the to-do list”, inherited from the medium itself. Facebook creates a “designated safe space” that one enters to be social, and only social. Hugely important motivationally.

I think the next step should expand on #4, and, following on the model of Apple’s Time Machine or Dashboard, CoolIris, SecondLife, etc; hijack the OS windowing interface completely, to immerse the user completely in the social space. BumpTop would be a pretty good starting point, although may be a little more feature-rich than is needed – the icons below would have to be much more visually intuitively hooked to Facebook modular content.

Arguably this is actually a much better visual metaphor than the one cobbled around Time Machine, Dashboard or CoolIris. I don’t necessarily need or want a sandbox space to manage my desktop, backups, look up trivia, or browse news. All of those tasks are still pretty well tied to the activities I do in my normal windowing environment. However, when I’m being social, I’d like to forget about all the rest.

This is where the modular piece is so powerful. I can easily envision a “place” in which friends, applets, conversations, etc live in separate, widget-like clusters or piles in a slightly-3D immersive space. They could glow, pulse, jiggle, whatever to designate new content, and appropriate mouse-overing could enlarge them and bring them front-and-center. (I particularly like the cluster and pile approaches, as this allows for self-organization of the system, akin to toys like FriendWheel and TouchGraph, and giving them something to do other than make pretty pictures.)

Frankly, I think the only reason Facebook still lives in a web page is that this is the only environment in which they can force-feed the spamvertising that is the foundation of their business model.

Opening, and licensing, access to their underlying modular interfaces to 3rd party UI developers (Apple, Microsoft) could slowly wean them off the advertising business model (initial licensing could require, e.g., that a pile of advertising widgets always live in the immersive space). Perhaps Facebook Connect is a first step in this direction.

Alternatively, licensed interfaces could ditch the spamvertising completely. Linux might be a bigger problem until advertising is gone completely, so some form of legacy web interface would have to be maintained (but that’s the point – it’s the content that counts; layout and organization is an overlay and afterthought).

It’s time for the butterfly to emerge.

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Apr 18 2009

    Hmmm; Fidgt seems to have a leg up on this already:


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