Drifting away from Facebook

Version 1.7.2 of Facebook for Android, released on October 5th, was apparently trying to update my location in the background, using the GPS. Was, because I’ve downgraded to 1.7.1 and may completely remove the application from my handset. Oh! I know that every time Facebook introduces something new, people criticize before congregating in even greater numbers. But somehow, this time, it feels different.

This is another disappointment, and could well be the proverbial straw that will break my back. I cannot understand why FB’s developers would want to track me when the app is inactive. If they were sophisticated, it could suggest that FB is planning on using such data to fine tune targeting, but activating the GPS in the background, even if the application has not been called once during the day, is anything but sophisticated, accounting for close to 50% of battery drain!

In the meantime, the desktop interface is moving in odd directions. If I can understand the value of some recent innovations, I would also want basic features to work: but messaging has remained primitive; I still can’t resize and/or pop the chat window; search is not working.

I once really hoped that FB would provide a great solution to manage social interactions. Not anymore. Sigh….

Trois podcasts

J’ai fait référence à trois podcasts qui pourraient intéresser les étudiants du cours de marketing responsable.

1) Robert Frank (sur EconTalk) élabore sur une version darwinienne de l’économie. Nombreux arguments sur le rôle que joue l’État. Mais ce qu’il faut surtout retenir, je pense, est l’importance que Frank attribue au phénomène de comparaison sociale. Frank parle des morses mâles qui sont devenus énormes, au delà de leur intérêt individuel, parce que la masse physique constitue un avantage dans le combat qu’ils doivent engager pour pouvoir s’accoupler. La prospérité des membres de notre espèce s’appuie peut-être sur des mécanismes plus sophistiqués, mais les principes fondamentaux sont très voisins.

2) Alex Rosenberg (sur EconTalk) se penche quant à lui sur le statut des sciences économiques, qui ne progressent pas au même rythme que les sciences de la vie parce qu’enfermées dans une philosophie contraignante qui ne favorise pas l’apprentissage inductif. Un peu comme si les météorologues s’appuyaient sur un élégant modèle de ciel pour construire leur modèle plutôt que d’accumuler des données en visant le développement de meilleures prédictions. La perle de l’entrevue est, quant à moi, l’explication de l’importance des sciences économiques (minute 17)

3) Craig Venter (sur Ideas) est une figure dominante de la génomique. Nous sommes dans une école d’administration, relativement ignorants de ce qui se passe de vraiment intéressant et qui va très probablement nous amener à repenser profondément ce que nous croyons être les limites de notre développement économique et social. Un débat fréquent porte sur les aliments génétiquement modifiés. Monsanto et le maïs à la round-up, vs l’interdition de vente sur les marchés Européens. Venter va beaucoup plus loin. À écouter absolument. De préférence du début à la fin. Et s’il faut un encouragement, ce fragment de trois minutes qui décrit une expérience invraisemblable, où Venter dira que : « Life is a DNA software system. You change the software, you change the species. »

La France et le réchauffement climatique

Dans le cadre du cours de marketing responsable, je parlais de l’utilisation de l’Internet pour suivre l’évolution des conversations sociales. Trends.google.com est un outil qui permet de suivre l’évolution du nombre de requêtes faites sur un sujet donné.

Par exemple, en cliquant ici vous verrez l’évolution du nombre de requêtes portant sur « global warming » et « economy » aux États-Unis ou au Canada.

Pas vraiment de surprise. L’intérêt pour le réchauffement climatique a touché un sommet peu après le lancement du film « An Inconvenient Truth », puis la récession a frappé et les yeux se sont tournés vers l’économie. Si on regarde plus en détail, on voit les cycles estivaux (moins de requêtes), des tendances lourdes (économie en lent déclin côté requêtes 2004-2007), explosion de la couverture médiatique sur le thème de l’économie depuis la fin de 2007.

Bel exemple de l’utilisation de l’Internet pour prendre le pouls de la société.

Quelqu’un peut m’expliquer ce qui se passe en France?? J’ai demandé à mes contacts de me confirmer comment on parle de réchauffement global dans l’hexagone tellement les courbes sont surprenantes.

Nexus one in Canada. It works. Very well thank you

It's been less than 48 hours. My mobile life was lived on an humble but reliable, extremely well designed, but somewhat archaic Nokia 6301. I loved the form factor (small candy bar). I loved the pragmatic layout one could achieve. I loved the affordable data plans offered to a so-called "feature phone". Gmail, Google maps, Opera mini for just a few $ per month. But it took 20 seconds to get from zero to Gmail's first page. Probably as long for a map. No Gps. Eyes straining on a QVGA screen. WiFi capabilities restricted to UMA…

My wife has an iPhone (no link needed here) and is very happy with it. Several years ago I talked to audiences saying that this phone would revolutionize the mobile industry. Yes, but not for me. The iPhone is locked — I spend months abroad and cannot fathom the idea of roaming. It is extremely expensive (easy to run bills in excess of $1,000 per month without any video or heavy mapping). It is uncouth to ask your foreign partners to call long distance if they want to reach you. So I had to have an unlocked phone. Jailbreaking an iPhone is not fun. Plus, there is the battery issue. you can't swap batteries in an iPhone (I carried 2 spares for my N6301). And the screen has too few pixels. So I wasn't frustrated nor jealous of iPhone users. Great device, just not for me. (Berries are worse on the run; Nokia's N900 is just too large. Might as well carry a laptop.)

Just so I make it clear: for me the Nexus One has four definite advantages making it the dominant choice:

1) it is available unlocked. Telephony works on any GSM network. Data on any GPRS/EDGE and most non Canadian 3G. EDGE is good enough for me — I do not care about video streaming.

2) it runs on 480×800 pixels. That is roughly five times as many pixels as my N6301's QVGA and twice as much as the iPhone's 480×320 screen. Reading a pdf file that was not formatted for a mobile is not easy, but feasible on a WVGA screen. Hell, this was the laptop's screen not so long ago. Reading on an iPhone is ridiculous. Impossible on a feature phone.

3) batteries can be replaced on the fly. This may sound trivial, but power is a major issue for the smarter phones. Not so much the CPU, mind you, but those 400,000 pixels or so are a major drain. The usual home-work-home routine is not a problem, but the occasional out-of-town activity requires more care, and the transcontinental journey means that you must use your phone sparingly, until you get to your room. No music/podcast, no catching up on reading, no planning of your trip, no editing of your expense records. Spare(s) are a dealbreaker for me. I used to carry up to three on some occasions (i.e. a week's autonomy)

4) it is reasonably small. Very thin, it disappears in your shirt, pant or vest's pocket.

You'll read excellent reviews all over the Internet, so let me share just a few (initial) thoughts

A) Form factor is above expectation. I dreaded replacing my N6301 with a "puck-like" device. The small candy bar shape of feature phones is great for texting. Easy to keep in your hand when you walk (typical scenario — I send an SMS and walk phone in hand wating for the reply). The larger iPhone is too conspicuous for my tastes. Same with the Nexus one. But the feel of the casing and the way the edges are rounded makes this transition less annoying than expected. Plus, the Nexus one feels a tiny bit slimmer than the iPhone (11.8mm vs 12.mm — I guess I am like the proverbial princess and the pea🙂

B) I walk from home to the office. It takes the better part of an hour, during which I like to listen to podcasts (CBC's Ideas, TVO's Search Engine, UChannel, and so on). I would carry and iPod, synced to my podcast's base. BeyondPod on Nexus One is arguably a better solution. I've subscribed to a few sources and automated the downloading process (at night, when the phone is recharging and can connect to a WiFi access point). Which means one less gizmo to carry.

C) I've read negative reviews wrt the Nexus One's trackball. Well, I like it. How else to move the cursor to fix a typo (most people seem to have to backspace all the way) or click on a tiny link? You may try to use your finger to relocate the cursor, but my fingers are too clumsy. Plus, the trackball glows to provide a visual cue for notifications. Very useful as I often miss the audio signal.

D) Entreprise-grade security for WiFi access. I can connect at the office, meaning that my data usage on the phone network is quite light.

E) Great push and sync. GMail pushed eMail. Notifications can be audio, visual or both. Same for calendar; same for Facebook. Out of the box, took less than a minute to set up. If I sit at my desktop, like now, mails are notified just as fast on either device. The best thing is that messages read on the computer will deactivate the notification on the phone. Again, may sound trivial and obvious, but most devices I know will keep notifying you until you activate the application.

F) The motion sensor can be used to silence ringtones during a meeting or at night. Place the phone face down on the desk and an app will shut-out the audio. Which brings me to my first gripe.

G) I haven't figured out, yet, if or how one can set profiles. I was used to Nokia's "normal", "meeting", "silent", etc. profiles. Very useful because you could change several settings at once and more importantly, set an expiration time. It quickly became some kind of an habit for me to set the meeting profile at the start of a meeting, for the duration of the meeting, which meant that it was easy to program an alert at the end of a meeting so we'd all realize that time was up; or more importantly, that I would not forget to turn the ringer back on at the end of the meeting.

H) I often miss the reliability of a phone hardware keypad with T9 predictions. I work in French Canada, where we use a qwerty layout and often correspond in English. The Nexus one, if configured to French language, uses the azerty layout. To make a long story short, I was probably a more efficient typist on my N6301 than on the Nexus one. There is probably a learning curve here. I'll eventually update. I see no real solution as I would no go for a slider (too thick) nor a split face with small screen/small keyboard combo.

I) the voice search command pops out of nowhere from time to time. I'd like to completely disable this feature that I am very unlikely to use. I wonder if there is a hidden (to me) trigger or if this is a bug. I'd guess the first, but since the system appears to lag (unfrequently), it could well be a bug.

J) and could someone explain to me what was the idea behind the "Amazon MP3" application, that one cannot disable unless one wants to root the OS? I would have understood that Android's marketplace promote this aggressively, but an embedded store like this looks like a very lame iStore to me. No mr. Google, I will not purchase the latest hit from Amazon, and if I did, it would not be from a mobile.

For a little while I felt anxious, after purchasing "by mistake" (I was, after all, just testing the bidders in preparation for my "real" bidding🙂. Reviews on the N1 are, how to put it, disconcerting. Most dedicated sites would write that this is the "best android handset by a mile" but not a "game changer", and that one would go iPhone if embedded in Apple's echo system and N1 if embedded in Go
ogle's. And I could not not notice the dismal sales figures (80 000 sets during the first month vs 1M for the iPhone). And the complaints about multitouch and 3G, and the fact that the 3G antenna might not work here nor there…

This device does its thing with minimal effort, if by "thing" we
mean calls, mails, SMS. And it can do much more and this requires some
trial and error.

All in all, I am extremely satisfied with this device.

Mon expérience Facebook

Surprenant tout de même. J'ai longtemps dit que je ne comprenais pas Facebook. Et maintenant je compte "tout" y faire.

Je voulais dire que je ne comprenais pas (et j'ai encore de la difficulté à comprendre) ce que les gens y font présentement. Histoire de génération, de situation personnelle et de personalité.

Mais j'ai aussi observé, comme tous, l'évolution absolument remarquable de cette plateforme qui est en passe de devenir la première destination www. Déjà Facebook est pratiquement ex-aequo avec Yahoo! et se rapproche de Google qui domine.

Mais 350 millions d'utilisateurs ne m'auraient pas tenté de laisser la blog conventionnel, le micro-blog et les réseaux tout-de-même-un-peu-sérieux comme linkedIn. Ou pire encore, de fragmenter l'intégration de mes interactions courriel.

Mais il y a d'importants signes précurseurs de consolidation.

Facebook Connect

Juste histoire de mémoire — 60 millions d'utilisateurs selon le Washington Post; MySpace adopte Facebook connect (!!!); Yahoo! adopte Facebook Connect.

Facebook Connect a été lancé il y a à peine 1 an, jour pour jour. Au même moment que Google. Or vous connaissez quelqu'un qui utilise google connect (ou google social).

Facebook connect c'est le début de la possibilité d'avoir un identifiant authentique parce que, pour le moment du moins, les utilisateurs de Facebook ont un incitatif à utiliser leur véritable identité. L'expérience facebook n'est pas la même si vous utilisez un ou plusieurs pseudonymes, ce qui était pourtant la modalité dominante il y a quelques mois…

Facebook connect est un signe énorme. D'abord d'une grosse bagarre remportée par la plateforme qui a le vent dans les voiles. Mais surtout parce que ça pourrait accélérer la consolidation du web. Un connecteur unique va faire en sorte que bien des gens vont se demander pourquoi utiliser des tas d'identifiants/mots de passe. Puis pourquoi utiliser des tas de services tout court.

La puissance de la plateforme

Outre la pression du nombre (j'en reparlerai) et celle de la facilité (on Facebooque en moins de 2) il y a la puissance de la plateforme. On peut créer des listes, des groupes et des pages, on peut cibler des contenus à tous, a des groupes, à des sous-ensembles disjoints (un billet sera vu par tous les étudiants du cours de eMarketing, mais pas ceux des années précédentes) ou à des individus particuliers. On peut gérer les notifications pour qu'elles soient acheminées par courrier ou SMS. Sur pratiquement tout ou sur absolument rien.

L'éventail des possibilités est remarquable. Complexe et souvent mal foutu et avec des choses qui énervent ou effraient ou déroutent. Mais vraiment remarquable.

Il y a Wave à l'horizon. Mais voilà. À l'horizon. Alors que Facebook est ici, maintenant.

Mais il y a aussi des doutes. L'éthos Facebook, c'est la camaraderie. Je me suis fait dire par pratiquement tous que quand on va sur Facebook, c'est pour se détendre, pas pour travailler.

Pas si sûr. Déjà, en quelques jours, parti de rien, Facebook est devenu utile pour favoriser le travail avec mes étudiants.

Alors voilà. Mes billets publics seront écrits à partir de Facebook et visibles sur "mon site web" dans la colonne de droite. Certains seront poussés sur Twitter. Je vais inviter mes contacts professionnels à se connecter via Facebook (progressivement, pour pouvoir les intégrer dans des listes de contact.).

Je ne comprends pas vraiment ce que les gens font sur Facebook, mais je parie comprendre ce qu'ils y feront.

Seeing red because of Orange

I just cannot believe it. Orange, a large French mobile operator, is advertising its "Internet Everywhere" (3g USB modem) with "reasonable" rates that are not available once you connect.

I spend quite some time in Europe every year. Locating Internet cafes or hotspots that actually work is no fun so I was very pleased when 3G USB modems were aggressively promoted by various operators. So far the best deal that I know of is in Italy where iWind offers 50 hours, unlimited bandwith, for just 9 euros (must be used within a month).

Last Spring, Orange offered prepaid rates that were much higher, but still quite reasonable. You could get as much as 12 hours for 35 euros. While these rates are still advertised today (see here; archived copy here). I've purchased a stick last week and when I connect all I can find are 1h passes for 8 euros of 1+1 for 10 euros. Notice that the limited time offer (24h for 10 euros, valid for a single day) is expired since last March.


I've waited half an hour in an Orange shop. Nobody knows where I can buy a 12h/35 euros pass. It is impossible to find a way to get in touch with customer service online — you need to subscript to a monthly plan to have the privilege of sending a webform. A salesperson at the FNAC, a large and well respected department store for books, CDs, DVDs and consumer electronics, seemed to know about this bait and switch but added that there is little we can do. Little we can do!! Am I dreaming of there would obvious cause for  a class action if not immediate action taken by the regulators if such practice were happening in Canada?

I have never seen such abysmal marketing by a large scale organization. 

On the positive side, Orange's network does deliver Internet everywhere. If only they could get their act together…

Let’s get the ball rolling

I am working with Yan Cimon and Serge Kablan on a research project about Internet accessibility. By this we do not mean having some sort of connection to a network. We are looking at ways that would improve… cognitive access to what many of us take for granted.

As you may know, Internet usage statistics show that 70-80% of the population has access to the Internet or has used it in some way. This is much less than for TV where penetration is almost universal. And in fact, 70% could be too generous an estimate. Sources such as Pew and the Internet report that roughly half of the population is either a non or an occasional user.

These figures are somewhat similar to what is reported by the literacy studies which conclude that close to half the population does not have the cognitive skills that are required to function properly in our information age.

In the physical world, we do not tell people with limited mobility (ex: in a wheelchair) that they should try harder in order to climb stairs — we build access ramps.

How do we break barriers in a digital world? Our first intuition is that the mobile phone is a key device, because it can blend voice interaction with other forms of representation — if someone can verbalize his/her needs, it should be reasonable to expect that a smart phone can input voice and output a richer, yet easy to use, content such as videos, schematics, "augmented text", texts aimed at third parties etc.

Our first step is to look at what is currently being done, either by hardware/software manufacturer (Yan), or by the civil society (governments, NGO, etc.) (myself). Serge will review the informed consent issue.

If you stumble across this post and want to steer us towards some source or idea, feel free to leave a comment or drop a line (here)