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Second impressions on Facebook UI changes (Facebook un-screws advertisers)

Facebook Activity Feed Advertising Changes

 

1) Facebook just screwed advertisers over by making the ‘friendfeed’ hover over the ads when you scroll (Expect ad CTR to fall – why Facebook didn’t make the ads hover with the friendfeed as well I have no idea)

2) Edgerank optimisation of page posts seems less important now – with all news posts being shown most recent first (unless you can make that coveted top most relevant post position)

3) Looks like the experience will be best enjoyed by those with a Dunbar ‘normal’ 150 friends or so – those with large networks will be swamped with updates.

The changes are definitely aimed at Google+, which is more information sharing centric (in order to power Google’s social algorithms behind the main search engine results) – and is key to Facebook making the move to ‘social search’ and taking the battle to Google proper.

Overall I don’t mind the changes (but will have to adapt to them still), what are your thoughts?

[UPDATE] Second Impression: Looks like Facebook listened to advertisers – now the entire right hand column/activity feed/ads hover as you scroll down the page – keeping the ads visible, i’d be interested to see whether this actually improves CTR with the ads now visible the entire time people are looking at their news feed. (if anyone has any numbers – I’d love to see them)

Telstra Desire – Not an iPhone killer

I have been given a HTC Desire handset by Telstra free of charge to review. The comments below expressed by me reflect my user experience and personal opinion.

After a week of playing with the Telstra Desire I’ve made some summary conclusions, the phone is awesome, but definitely isn’t the iPhone killer reported by many media outlets.

Why?

Despite trying to soften Android’s image with SenseUI and make it appeal more broadly, the Android interface is still relatively convoluted and the management of applications in the background from using battery is too complicated to appeal to the iPhone users who just want to jump in and out of their favorite app.

Essentially, the two phones are competing in the same broad (smartphone) market, but have different targets. Android is great once you spend some time customising it and setting up the widgets and learning how to get the best out of the HTC Desire’s battery life, but is slightly bewildering at first where some of the advanced settings hide to tweak certain non-obvious options.

That said, the problem with managing application settings is mostly due to the HTC Desire’s battery life, which once the device is optimised (try the video here for tips) is fine for casual to moderate use but heavy use will require more than daily charging.

After my daily tweet-heavy commute (even while listening to MP3’s at the same time) which lasts about 75 minutes in the morning I’m left with 70 percent battery life, by 5pm I’m down to 60 percent and if I keep up the tweeting on the way home am down to 30 percent. This has improved on initial performance, suggesting the battery needs to go through a few charge cycles to get up to speed.

This battery life is generally acceptable, though once long life extended batteries are available after-market I anticipate purchasing one.

Why?

The HTC Desire is an extremely powerful device, but in order to get acceptable battery life one needs to wind back all the awesome features, sure I can selectively turn them on as needed, but that level of granular control should be unnecessary. I want the phone to go all out with background data and services all the time.

Battery issues aside

The HTC Desire rocks, but takes some getting used to (about 48 hours till I was around most of it), I came from Windows Mobile (HTC Touch Pro) which also had its own version of SenseUI installed using the latest WinMo 6.5.3 Rom’s. While there are certainly some elements in navigation carried over SenseUI is more or less a completely new beast on the Desire.

Most difficult to come to grips with was the reliance on the ‘back’ navigation element, once accustomed to it it makes a lot of sense, with applications designed using a hierarchical structure with screen taps opening up into new windows to the right of the application, with the back button taking you up (or to the left) a level in the navigation (or back to the original application if another had been launched.. for example clicking links from Twitter opens the browser, back returns to the Twitter client).

This differed from Windows Mobile’s reliance on hacked task manager applications to emulate an equivalent of a desktop task-bar. It’s an improvement, but I still like the option of viewing all currently running applications (possibly via the notifications bar) and switching between them rather than fishing around for the application’s shortcut on the home screen (is there an App for this? I haven’t looked too hard..).

Applications are plentiful, of generally high quality and have all the necessary bases covered, so I’m not left wanting for anything not covered in the Android Market.

The included browser is great, flash-lite integration works well, opening videos in the integrated player. Streaming works well on NextG but isn’t perfect while on a moving train, and overall the NextG network performs better than my home ADSL connection (which is unfortunately 1.5Mbit) when using the speedtest app.

Conclusion

HTC’s Desire hardware is awesome, battery life needs work, especially if you want to take advantage of all the advanced Android features. HTC’s SenseUI more or less just gets in the way of Android, but It isn’t necessarily worse, just different.

Would I recommend the HTC Desire to you?

Depends who you are, if you just want a mobile phone that does all the latest cool stuff that all your friends are talking about without worrying, iPhone is probably for you. If you are willing to spend some time getting used to and setting up the device so it best fills your needs, you will be better served by the HTC Desire.

Having a community of #telstradesire reviewers also going through the process with me at the same time certainly helped however, as tapping into that communal resource over niggles I was having certainly eased the transition.

I anticipate exploring the opportunities for hacking the #telstradesire and replacing the stock Telstra Android ROM on the device after the review period (we are asked to keep the devices unmodified during the review) so hopefully I can better comment on the full potential of the device once exploring this possibility at a later date.

Welcome your comments!

Twitter has a problem, they fail at their own use case.

Twitter has always struggled to communicate what its use case was. Not being an IM application, or a social network in the ilk of MySpace of Facebook. It has flirted with a few concepts as to what Twitter is and what benefits a user could expect to get when using the service.

At first, it was a tool to notify your friends via SMS and the web as to what you were doing.

Twitter’s second use case was pitched to us as a service that provided access to a direct line to allow everyday people to communicate to the celebrities they admired. The publicity around Oprah Winfrey joining was a significant draw card that brought massive growth to the Twitter platform. People though were disillusioned after signing up when the celebrities they signed up to communicate with either treated the service as a one way press release syndication tool, or (simply due to the number of people tweeting them) were not able to meet the communications demands their followers were asking of them.

This lead to a re-branding of the Twitter site, to focus on the sites potential to tap into the pulse of the globe at this very moment. Changing the question posed by Twitter to users from “What are you doing” to “What’s happening” is a very important evolution in the psyche that powers the Twitter universe. Additional to this has been location based twitter trends so users can tap into the up to the minute news and hot topics from locations of interest.

This is a great step to realising the true potential of Twitter as a service. There is a problem however, which is that if Twitter is positioning itself to be the pulse of the world. That when significant events occur, the service needs to be able to handle the additional load on it’s systems that major world events can put on it.

On Wednesday 20th of Jan, an aftershock measuring 6.1 hit Haiti, almost immediately after. Twitter was unresponsive for 90 minutes, suddenly the use case of Twitter, that of connecting us to what is happening right now fell to pieces, and showed us that depending on Twitter to deliver on the use case pitched at us is not wise, and raises questions over the services long term survival if hey cannot deliver on the core of their business.

The official word is that there was a “failure” somewhere (possibly hardware) behind the outage, however it is entirely possible that the outage was triggered by the surge in tweet volume after the 6.1 aftershock. Twitter already has trimmed the number of tweets it will cache significantly for search.twitter.com results citing performance issues, so it is reasonable to assume that a considerable spike in traffic might be enough to tip Twitter over the edge.

Regardless of whether this outage was caused by a hardware fault or capacity limitations, if a service pitches itself as being the pulse of the globe as Twitter does, it simply cannot be unavailable for a significant period of time during a crisis like this.

This tells us,  that in its current form, Twitter can not deliver the service required to meet their own use case to us. This undermines the brand, and until Twitter can iron out the bugs and capacity issues they face, they need to re-examine their use-case message and branding to users.

After you #brokereplies we were promised friend recommendations, so where are they Twitter?

It seems like an eternity ago, but in May 2009 Twitter made what they described in their blog as a “small settings update” to their service unexpectedly and in doing so ‘broke’ an option for how @replies worked for a small percentage of their users. Now it just so happened that the 3% of users who were affected were a vocal lot and managed to create a significant amount of noise on twitter with the #fixreplies hashtag (that is still in use today). The level of noise was disproportionate to the number of users affected, as many users were upset at twitter removing the choice that was available to them previously without warning.

The unexpected change in Twitters service was arguably the right move from a consistency of service perspective. Now users are guaranteed that @reply tweets they send are visible only to people who are following the person in question and not confusing people who aren’t close enough to the conversation stream. That said, an important aspect that was noted in the initial post highlighting the service change on the Twitter blog is “The Importance of Discovery”, many people who were fans of the option to view all @replies used the option to discover new and interesting people to follow who people they followed were interacting with. Essentially the people you were following, when they interacted with others were giving you an implicit cue that this person was worth following too. This act of discovery was important and has not yet been replaced with a suitable option by Twitter despite assurances that this would occur:

“We’re hearing your feedback and reading through it all. One of the strongest signals is that folks were using this setting to discover and follow new and interesting accounts—this is something we absolutely want to support. Our product, design, user experience, and technical teams have started brainstorming a way to surface a new, scalable way to address this need. “

If you have been reading this blog before, you would have no doubt encountered by belief that Twitter holds some advantages over Facebook but when it comes to new user discovery this is one area that Facebook has it in spades over Twitter with its Friend Suggestion feature. Now Twitter does have a suite of tools comparable to Facebook’s Friend Finder tools, but these are limited to finding users who you already have existing relationships with (ether in person, via IM/Email etc). Twitter offers a  Suggested Users page, however this is nothing more than a glorified list of celebrities and news outlets, how is that useful?

It wouldn’t be hard to create an algorithm to examine the relationships you have on twitter and create a list of suggestions based on you you already follow on twitter. The only issue is having access to the dataset and a few CPU cycles to mine through it. This could be offloaded to an external party through the  Twitter API, but involves more data than is feasible to be sent to a third party for processing. (If I follow 1000 people who each follow 1000 people, the API needs to return 1000 x 1000 contacts for cross matching and comparison, which is unfeasible for a third party service.

With Twitter sitting on this gold mine of data, what is stopping them of releasing a user discovery/recommendation engine? The code necessary to create such a feature work is not impossible, just potentially computationally expensive. Twitter has already revealed that the original @reply options meant the service was potentially going to hit a server capacity wall that it could not overcome (A combination of it’s original design and trouble scaling due to Ruby on Rails) is this why? Twitter has grown by 1444% over the last year and this obviously has it’s own set of problems, not only do new users put a strain on the system, but the number of individual interconnects (followers/following) in the network increase the activity of the system. In addition to this, as users increase the number of their followers there is a correlation showing that this increases the average number of tweets per day further putting strain on the servers of Twitter.

It seems like an obvious and relatively straightforward feature to implement, one which Twitter assured us would be forthcoming after they #brokereplies. But is there more to this delay in implementation than Twitter are telling us?