Category Archives: consumer

We’re all consumers.

Twitter and Social Networking

Five weeks ago I started using Twitter. I didn’t know what to really do with it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. After five weeks, I’ve realized that I enjoy Twitter far more than any other social networking site. I always had a strong dislike for MySpace. It seemed pointless and obnoxious. I normally am an advocate for letting consumers do what they want with a product, but I don’t think I go out on a limb too much to say that it was a mistake of MySpace to enable millions of pre-teens, teens, and young adults with zero design sense with the power to control almost all aspects of a site’s color palette and media content. I’m not sure how many eyeballs have melted due to poorly “decorated” MySpace pages, but I’m sure it’s a very high number. Facebook always seemed rather pointless to me but at least it wasn’t obnoxious (until all those bleeding apps started popping up). However, I just never got into Facebook. Fundamentally it was boring. I generate new cyber-connections with people I already know, some of them who I haven’t seen in years, but that’s about it. Beyond the novelty of being discovered by old friends and following status updates, Facebook offers very little for me. Facebook did always have that perplexingly simple feature: the poke. I’m still not entirely sure what the acceptable use of the poke is except to start a poke war with somebody. I’ve been engaged in one poke fight for nearly a year.

I’ve always been skeptical of the longevity and the business model of social networking sites. Sure the big sites are worth lots of money and have a high number of users, but they barely turn a profit. The most mature (in a business sense) site, MySpace, barely made a profit last year, and most people are saying MySpace’s growth is getting cut by Facebook. Which highlights the main problem with making money out of social networking sites: the primary user base is young, fickle consumers with little money. Not only does it take a lot of bandwidth to keep these user’s eyeballs on the page, they are also probably going to be less likely to buy anything and will move on as soon as there is a new hotness to play with (c.f. Facebook’s meteoric rise which most likely comes at MySpace’s expense). The only thing these sites have going for them is they are a marketing gold mine. It’s tens of millions of users telling large corporations exactly what they are doing, what they like to do, what movies they watch, what music they listen to, how old they are, where they live, and at what stage of life they are in. It’s like Google’s AdSense on roids. Maybe this ability to do surgically precise advertising will save the social web behemoths, but I’m skeptical. Anyway, I’ve drifted off topic.

So, back to Twitter. Twitter is actually interesting. Interesting to the point that I go out of my way to somehow get my Twitter fix. Luckily, Twitter makes it easy for me since the main purpose of Twitter, reading and writing tweets, is available to me by nearly every piece of communication technology I use throughout the day: text message, IM, web site, and mobile web site. I have to be completely cut off from technology and wireless signals to not be able to get my Twitter on. The mere fact that Twitter is capable of getting me to adjust to it makes me think it is on to something (I’m not the only one). And though I have a goal of at least one tweet a day, I’m no hardcore Twitter user. Twitter is just so much more engaging (to the point of vowing to use it daily). I come back to the little text blurbs that my followees generate much more often than I go to Facebook, despite Facebook’s much more robust feature set and media capabilities. I generally go to Facebook either out of sheer boredom or because I haven’t updated my status in over a week. With Twitter, I’m constantly either refreshing the page or reading my RSS feed. I may even start having most of the updates sent to me via text. To be fair Twitter is still new to me so maybe my interest will wane, but I was never this interested in Facebook, except for maybe the first day I made my profile. All this being said, there is a critical mass problem with Twitter. Not a lot of people are using it currently, and even fewer are active users. So, most users have difficulty finding an “audience” or people to follow. And it’s not just following people, but finding interesting people to follow. If you don’t have interesting people with whom to interact, then Twitter largely loses its value since it’s significantly less about self-promotion. I personally enjoy following people as they share their thoughts, progress on projects, and life in general. That may make me sound creepy and lonely, but I think the rest of my life demonstrates the opposite.

iLoveit

The iPhone is a stunning device. It’s astonishing to me that not only does the iPhone live up to the majority of the hype but also that Apple got it so right on the very first try. Handset manufacturers everywhere better be very very embarrassed. Some have been making phones for 20 years, and their phones still lag far behind Apple’s Jesusphone.

The iPhone has many virtues the most important is it’s user interface. The interface! The pure slickness of the interface is superb and smothered in smooth GUI butter. The brilliant, colorful, clear display makes the whole phone look like one big candy bar of sweet silicon-based goodness. It’s a marvel to see. There are other fine features too such as the multi-touch and the intuitive yet surprising implementations in many of the apps. For example, you just need to play with the maps application. It’s slicker than anything else I’ve seen.

Sure, there are some flaws and shortcomings on the iPhone, but I think most of them can be fixed with minor and inexpensive hardware additions or software updates:

  • I’m just not convinced that the touchscreen virtual keyboard is going to hack it for power users. There’s not enough tactile feedback to give the user the confidence to whiz through a text message. Though there are audio cues when a keypress is logged and Apple smartly made it so the keystroke registers when the finger is lifted (rather than pressed), it’s still an inferior functional experience than a normal button-based keypad. I do have faith that Apple can improve this, but it may take a lot.
  • Limits on communication flexibility. No MMS, no multi-recipient SMS, and no IM (what?!). My guess is all of these will be resolved by Christmas.
  • Weak external speakers. When it rings, it just doesn’t sound as clear and nice as it should. It was easy to get the speakers to distort the sound.
  • Weak camera. “So, what complements an awesome photo viewer and top-notch screen? Oh, I know, a sub-par camera! Stick one of those suckers on there.” It seems that was the design philosophy at that stage of iPhone development.
  • Proprietary speaker jack. The user is forced to use official earphones rather than any hundreds of other normal headphones. This is a mistake (though a very profitable mistake) that many other handset manufacturers are finally figuring out. It’s lame to see Apple, who is so user focused, start down the wrong path right out of the gates.
  • Closed system that only allows approved 3rd party apps and web-based apps. This is fine just as long as Apple has the coolest stuff out there. But there are a lot of functional apps that will never make it to the iPhone because Apple chose to lock everything down. I believe Apple will lose this fight and will eventually switch to a more open development environment. This will probably occur either when a very competitive phone comes out that’s more open or the consumer mind-set finally sees the mobile phone as a computer in his or her pocket. I think we’ll see the former scenario first, but the second is inevitable and ultimately will be a more powerful force in the market.

All of this being said, would I buy an iPhone if it could be reliably unlocked? Almost definitely. The thing is amazing and will hopefully revolutionize how mobile phones are made.

Oh, and here’s some irony for you. UGH.