Facebook goes LastFM, creates Über-Napster

At F8, Mark Zuckerberg showed off Timeline Facebook’s neatly displayed version of “I know what you did last Summer (and in case you forgot you can look your life up here)”.

Facebook's Timeline: diving deeply into your private data parts.

But the really big step happens in the background. The ubiquitous Like-button introduced an explicit way to write some information into Facebook’s Open Graph. You like a piece of content – press this button. That’s one way to fill your Timeline, and a fairly cumbersome one.

The new social apps expand this collection of user specific data. Instead of having to press a button, the social apps rely on implicit submissions. Last.fm pioneered this approach with their audioscrobbler technology. As soon as you started listening to music, last.fm collected all relevant meta data, building up a data warehouse which could deliver recommendations based upon real usage. A powerful tool.

Facebook puts this sniffing technology onto a new level. Instead of filling a single container (dubbed: music), Facebook collects data from all over the place. Listening to music on Spotify or Mixcloud adds data as well as watching a movie via Netflix or reading some news on the Guardian app.

This massive data hoarding is combined with the most powerful recommendation mechanism in the world: endorsements by people you know. As Spotify’s Daniel Ek points out: this is like Napster. Not the still existing empty brand name of today, but the original  p2p powerhouse started by Sean Parker, and who had played an important role in the early days of Facebook as well.

The old Napster opened up the hard disks of fellow music fans, who happened to share a digital copy of a song you were looking for on their PCs. The real fun started by browsing what else was in the directory. Was it just a fluke, that this guy shared Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”? Or, maybe, some other strange music I never heard of might be something I like to hear download as well. Which was of course completely, utterly illegal, and the music industry preferred to commit collective suicide instead of working with this altered reality.

Facebook’s open graph enabled (music) partners are of course going the legal way (that’s why you won’t get Spotify or Netflix or … in this or that region or country). But, compared to the old Napster, they can combine the power of content neighborhoods with real life relationships. What happens with a social app looks more or less like this:

  • A friend listens to some music.
  • The apps share the titles automatically, and write it into the listeners open graph. That’s the “scrobbling”-part
  • But now, the app posts this information immediately into the Facebook tickers of the listeners Facebook friends.
  • If you happen to like (or maybe, you like him or trust his tastes), you just click, and you can listen as well.
  • Or have a look what else this person likes to hear … or read … or watch … or where they run … or what they cook … or …

But be careful: as long as you app is Facebook-enabled (be it on the web, your iPhone, an Android handset, a smart TV …), everything can will be shared. So you better keep Facebook’s privacy settings manual at hand.

Paging Dr. House! Outbreak of Appendicitis Pandemia on TV sets!

I’m so glad the Internet wasn’t invented by some crazy Korean hardware manufacturers, collaborating with American cable guys. Just calling a device smart and adding some clickable icons doesn’t add any extra intelligence.

Compare the smart phone with the smart tv. The first makes your typical phone tasks a bit easier, simply by adding a smooth user interface. It puts some networking and computing power in your pocket, adds some extras like GPS, and offers even financial incentives for developers to do some great, new things. Thank you, smart phone.

How about the smart tv? The main task of the tv set is being a window to another world, constructed by mostly really large corporations. The last three inventions making your viewing task a bit easier were the remote control (you don’t have to stand up for your right to choose), the VCR/DVD (buy or rent whatever you want) and the PVR (you don’t have to be on time to meet you favourite tv star).

Compared to those three game changers, the smart tv is still a rather weak contender. Yes, they’re selling well. Because it’s hard to find a tv set with a decent screen and no built in internet access. But people aren’t really using the “smart” part. So why would that be?

Let’s have a look at the idea of the app. Most of the apps on my iphone are just easing up things I could do as well on a browser. But hey, the phone’s processor is rather slow and its screen a midget. Apps make life easier for me, because they shrinkwrap a task so I can hold it in the palm of my hand. Even more important: Where or when do I use it? Only, if there’s no larger networked screen with sizable processing power around. (The ipad app use case fits just in between. You’ve got the extra space to handle the slightly larger screen. But you’re not schlepping around a powerful laptop.)

Now, let’s compare those use cases to the current promise of the smart tv. Assume, you’re just two people watching CSI. Wouldn’t it be kind of rude to overlay parts of the screen with your personal Twitter stream? The tv app does not add anything to tv’s core use case: watching tv. It’s either watching tv or app watching. Even more important: you bear with the tiny screen of the smart phone, because you’re on the road. Sitting on your couch, you surrounded by a wifi cloud and you have the choice between laptop, ipad, smart phone – and the tv remote. For all task and things not connected to watching tv, the smart tv loses (no privacy, meager screen resolution, cumbersome data entry …). And smart manufacturers now even get rid of the dumb remote, and stuff it as an app in your phone or tablet.

One of the rare tasks where a smart tv makes sense is finding stuff to watch. But even here, we should look more into well constructed back end systems, than watching out for appy eye candy. To be sure, displaying static information on a tv set is quite a challenge. But the real value does not come out of a grid display of tv shows currently on. The value is in the meta data, the ability to get any video content you want (hello, generation YouTube), starting from a single point of entry. Which could be an app on your tv screen, your tablet, a web browser, whatever.

See, from it’s heritage, the tv is a window to an outside world. Or, technically speaking, a rather dumb displaying device. Will stupid evolve into something like a fully capable large screen ipad on the wall – or more likely resemble the screen attached to a desktop PC?
I guess the interesting part starts in the grey area in between: how much smart will do good?

Upcoming: there’s a rotten app in my smart fridge and where’s the app store in my Smart (as in car)?

O Sony, where art thou?

Remember Sony, inventor of mobile music (the Walkman, if you’re generation iPod), makers of shiny gizmos and all things transistorized? Yesterday, I spent one hour at Sony’s press conference T IFA Berlin, where all manufacturers and lovers of home electronics gather since the days when television was the next big thing and very much black and white.

What’s the big deal? Sir Howard Stringer smoothely presented the vision of the wholly integrated media and entertainment empire. Hardware, content, and distribution, all under one roof. Now, what’s missing here? Right: Software. Entertainment hardware is almost a commodity. The differentiator is software and the User Interface. Why? Look at your smartphone, your tablet, your smart tv: big shiny screens, with slightly different form factors.

The new Sony tablet has a nice new form factor. But turn it on, and it’s an Android device. The new smart TVs look definitely nice. Turn it on, and it’s an Android device. Boot a Sony PC: hello Microsoft Windows. Start the Playstation: it’s a Sony.

Sure, you still could find a way to combine all those different worlds. Integrating all battling units into one large consumer unit sounds like a smart and ambitous move.
But the press conference mostly proved, that running a vertically and horizontally and however else integrated empire is not a silver bullet. One hour with three talking heads, from smoothely presented CEO vision to well rehearsed droning on features of products with gripping names like XYZ-123 is definitely nothing I would expect from a media empire with a gazillion tv, movie, and music superstars in their employ. Text to speech in front of a smurfish-blue background does not substitute for an entertaining event. And I won’t start to compare this hour with the product presentations of a certain Man in Black.