Archives For Facebook

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Whatsapp has successfully capitalized on the messaging market by changing some old habits around SMS and chat applications.  Slack now is attempting to do the same with email.  In a way, we could look at Facebook and say it is just one giant mailing list after all!  And yet, when we talk to the users, they find their experiences with Facebook or Whatsapp to be “different”.  One of my friends the other day argued that sending something on Whatsapp is a lot easier than sending something over SMS.  When we parse this step for step, it only saves steps when the messages are to a group, since Whatsapp has a persistent notion of groups. When pushed to explain, my friend was unable to really say why.  I’m sure all of us have found that sharing a photo to Facebook is a lot easier than sharing it over email.  Once again, quantifying this is hard.

I have recently become a Slack user and I find it significantly easier than email threads.  It’s still early days to draw conclusions on this, but so far, it seems to be simplifying my collaborations.  One could argue that conceptually, it is not really all that different from discussion boards or forums or even email threads at the core of it.

So, why are these new world apps doing so fantastically well on age old problems?  It is really important to understand the difference between creating products that have “differences” from existing products and creating those that are just…, well, “different“! In fact, you need the perception of being different!

In his book, “Hooked”, Nir Eyal states that one way of creating successful products and changing people’s old habits is by taking a problem, creating a solution and then taking away steps from it until you are left with just the bare minimum steps to solve the problem.  Let’s take the case of sharing a status over Facebook, for example.  You are able to write something and post it – there is no need to select a mailing list or a group to share stuff with, let alone handle the creation and management of such aspects.  A select few will whine about how they don’t want the entire world (which seems to be roughly equivalent to the set of friends we have on Facebook these days) to know about their status.  In reality though, algorithms and the users have been getting smarter at this – algorithms figure out how to bring you the key updates of relevance to you and the users are getting better at tuning out what they don’t really want to see.  It is really the same thing that Whatsapp has done with messaging.

The lesson here is very simple and yet hard to do – revolutionary products do not always need green field problems.  Revolution in products can simply be about taking an existing problem and approaching it from a user centric perspective.  Building products with incremental differences, especially in a field where some habits have been established, is not going to be useful.  However, showing that your product is different (in a simpler way!), even if it were only in a single (but important) dimension, could make all the difference!

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Disclaimer: All thoughts are my own and does not reflect the views of my employer in any way. 

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Telegram saw 8M downloads the day Whatsapp was acquired by Facebook.  This is not new.  When Parse was acquired by Facebook, the blogs rushed to write about why this is great for their rivals. Stackmob accelerated its Parse migration pipeline and came out with it in just a weekend! There was outrage when Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo!.

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There are, of course, several reasons for such reactions and in each case, it is slightly different. Early adopters get so entrenched in their favorite platforms that there is a sense of ownership – when a drastic change occurs, it feels like their trust has been misplaced or that they have been betrayed.  But, beyond all this, there is another challenge here that we are seeing, such as in the case of the Whatsapp-Facebook situation – why should Facebook have all my data?  This alone causes a split market in terms of data ownership.

When Facebook published its recent upgrade to the Android app, it asked for permission to read SMS.  As much as I like to be on top of the world of mobile apps, I said no to the upgrade on my primary phone.  I had enough secondary devices on which I don’t use SMS to try out the new app!  To this day, my Facebook remains at v3.9 on my primary phone!  The thought of Facebook reading my text messages just did not sit well with me.  Of course, now I’m faced with the challenge of using or not using Whatsapp!  (Just to remove any ambiguity, I fully plan on continuing to use Whatsapp, unless Facebook decides to mess with it like LinkedIn did with Pulse!).

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Recently, a friend that I recommended SwiftKey to said that he did not agree to SwiftKey learning from his GMail – they had no business knowing the content of his emails!  My reasoning around the benefits of personalization that can shave off minutes in typing a single email did not manage to convince him.

So, what exactly is behind these strong feelings about who can or cannot read the various parts of our data?  Mostly, just personal principles.  For most people, when it comes down to it, as long as the data is “secure” and “private”, this means nothing and they only stand to benefit from all the personalization it can enable.  However, there are two problems – we don’t always believe it is in fact, “secure” and “private” and we have our biases in which companies we love and trust.

But the knee jerk reaction to these acquisitions tells a very interesting story.  In reality, we are faced with this particular challenge:

Do I want to give more of my data to the bigger companies that can aggregate various types of data to learn all kinds of crazy things about me? Or, do I want to give my data to a small startup that has no resources to even consider implementing security correctly? 

This is a very difficult conundrum, particularly because, “implementing security correctly” is a non-trivial task, that most developers are quite bad at by default.  When you are big, you have a responsibility to keep the data secure – way more so than we can imagine.  When you are small, there is no real upside to spending the time on security.  It slows down the development to think about it from an architectural perspective and get the pieces right. All the security holes in Snapchat and other small apps are testimony to this. Security gaps happen even in big companies, where this is taken seriously and experts are hired to ensure correctness. One can imagine why it is more or less just “winged” in the smaller ones. This is not a reflection of anything in particular – it is often just a lack of resources to focus on everything, when you are a startup.

I don’t particularly have an answer to this conundrum.  But, as a user, convenience trumps everything – which means that I will use an app from a small startup if it does the right things to make my life simpler.  That said, I generally have less issues with giving up my privacy to the bigger companies – the value that personalization can bring is huge and I’m looking forward to it!

I like my Android device the way it is.  I did try out Facebook Home to get a feel for it, but I won’t be going back to it anytime soon!  You can read my full review on Quora here.  In brief, it introduces a delay in all the important things I’d use my phone for.  If you need to make an emergency call, forget it – you can like and comment on Facebook news feeds while your phone is locked, but getting to the dialer for an emergency call will take a few steps! A number of the normal Facebook frustrations on the mobile are now available on all our apps!

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All in all, I uninstalled after giving it a good shot and trying out various operations.  I’m all for a contextual future – but, my contextual envelope happens to be beyond Facebook!

ImageI blogged on Quora about how I don’t expect to be dazzled by the Facebook phone!  I won’t get it to it all here again, but, the essence of it is that Facebook just hasn’t demonstrated that it gets mobile.  But, one thing the upcoming Facebook Phone is doing is endorsing Android as the platform of choice.  “iOS first” is fast becoming a mantra of the past.  The shift is not only in the developer community, but also among the users that are starting to discover the benefits of cool customizations!