Monday, December 24, 2012

Facebook says, Poke You

Last week, Facebook launched a new iOS app called Poke which lets people send photos, videos, pokes, or text Facebook messages to their friends that expire after a few seconds. This app has raised many eyebrows because of the way it unabashedly copies the popular texting app, Snapchat. Mark Zuckerberg, is said to have coded the app himself and the entire app was developed in just 12 days, thanks to Facebook's "Hacker Culture".

The Poke app lets Facebook users to send messages with a photo or a short video(up to 10 seconds) that self-destructs after 1,3,5 or 10 seconds. When a user has been 'poked' they get just a notification in the web-version. On mobile, if the Poke app is not installed, a link to the Apple App store is displayed in the Facebook app from which the users can download the app and see who/what poked them. While the app by itself does not bring any additional value to the table but ephemeral messaging seems to the next hip thing and Facebook wants a piece of it. The initial reviews of the app mentioned it as being slow which is not surprising considering the short development duration it had. So hopefully things should get better soon once the app gets some traction.

So a lot of people are wondering why Facebook built this app, the answer probably lies in the fact that users are no longer bound by the desktop and if you need to engage users, then mobile is the way forward. Also Facebook could have built the app to just 'show off' that it can indeed pull it off and also to sound a clear warning to any other competitor who might be planning to build a rival app - Poke You!

Though Facebook is late to the mobile game, having bet on HTML 5 earlier(which flopped) but now it has switched gears to native app development and has made quite a few leaps with recent app releases which include the revamped Android app, Facebook Messenger app, Facebook Photo-Sync feature and now Poke. The common emotion that Facebook evokes among people is 'privacy concern' and considering the fact that Snapchat has grown in popularity because the service is used mostly by teens to share racy snaps, some kids might want to keep their personal lives private from uncle Zuck's all pervading eye. But that has not stopped the app from claiming the top spot in iTunes store toppling Google Maps to the second place. Also another consoling fact for the privacy paranoids is that all Facebook pokes are encrypted and the keys will be deleted in two days and even this is to facilitate abuse reporting. So you can breathe a sigh of relief and give this already popular app a spin.

Mobile has long been the sore thumb for Facebook and the only way for the company to grow is to monetize its user base on the mobile platform and for that it needs to get its apps in as many hands as it can. So all the best to Facebook with that!

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Instagram is not evil, you are just acting crazy

Image Credit: Instagram
Every time a major online service provider makes a change to their of Terms of Service, privacy pundits raise a great hue and cry over how evil corporations 'steal' user's data and make money off them. Even before you know it, all hell breaks loose and the users start ranting and whining about their paranoia. If only everyone took a few minutes to actually read the fine-print before clicking on the Accept button. The latest service to come under the privacy breach radar is Instagram, the billion dollar baby of Facebook.

Instagram recently updated their ToS to

"[Y]ou hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service. [...]
Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."
On first glance, it definitely looks like Instagram was hatching an evil plan to sell all your photos and make money from it. This even 'worried' parents, who wondered if their kids' photos would be used in advertisements. Seriously? If you want to keep all your data safe, then do not to upload it anywhere on the Internet! First of all how many people do actually know that there is an option to make photos as 'Private' in Instagram. Only followers who are approved by you can view the photos. Even if yous hare the link on any social media site like Facebook or Twitter, even then only the approved users will be able to view it  (Worried parents, please use this option to share your kids photos with just your family and friends and not the Whole Wide World). Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram wrote a blog post to address the concerns of the users; he clearly mentions that Instagram does not intend to sell user photos. He also mentions that even after the ToS come into effect, photos classified as Private will not be used for any advertising purposes.

The basic problem with us is, we have been spoiled to expect 'free services' all the time with 100% up-time. But the truth is all these services require a lot of money to operate the data centers, maintain the operations and above all pay the team which build and maintain such wonderful products. The only way for such online service providers to make money is by displaying ads based on our preferences or charge the users for the services. Would you pay? It is not like you upload a picture of yourself on a beach and you end on a Kingfisher Calender the next year (but I guess you will secretly hope so)!

Most of the fear about privacy seem to arise not because of Instagram's change in policies but because of its parent company Facebook. When Facebook purchased a photo sharing site with no business model for a billion dollars, it was quite evident that they will attempt to monetize it somehow. It was just a matter of time. If you are really worried about privacy then I suggest you close your Facebook account first. Compared to the frivolous options called as Privacy Settings which lets almost anyone see or share you content, at least Instagram is clear about what it intends to do with your photos and it definitely is not as scary as you imagine it to be.

If you are still not convinced about Instagram, then backup your photos to your personal cloud account and delete your account. And keep your phone off the dinner table and enjoy the food for a while.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Flickr of hope for Yahoo

flickr app
The revamped iPhone Flickr app
Its not just Santa, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer has some gifts for Christmas too - the revamped Yahoo! Mail and the slick Flickr app. Ever since Marissa Meyer took over as CEO, there has been a lot of speculation over how she planned to rescue the troubled web giant. She made it clear months ago that mobile was the way to go and she has held on to that promise by launching the two best and most used Yahoo! products.

At Google, Marissa was responsible for maintaining the spartan look of the search engine home page and preventing it from being spammed with ads like the current (cough) Yahoo! homepage. Well at least for now the Yahoo! Mail has been given a beautiful makeover and it looks simply......stunning! Despite the viral growth of social media sites, people still use email ... a lot. (Remember the confirmation emails you get when you sign up for a new account on any site). Yahoo's previous mail web app was riddled with way too many distractions to get any work done at all. The new designs comes as a whiff of fresh air and what's great about it is - it is tailored for every platform be it the web, Android, iOS or Windows 8 and it looks gorgeous in all each of its avatars. Unlike social media platforms where the goal is to get more people to sign up, the strategy with web mail is to retain the existing customers and leverage them to up-sell and any new product (the way Google pushed Google+ to all its users with a Gmail account, irrsepective of whether they asked for it). And I do hope Yahoo's new efforts pays off as well.

Marissa  Meyer pulled out a few more goodies from her christmas bag the next day - the all new revamped Flickr app. The latest war among online tech giants is for user's photos and filters, as was seen in the case of Twitter-Instagram battle. The Yahoo! CEO kept her prmoise to make Yahoo! a mobile-first company by launching a revamped Flickr app for editing and sharing photos from iPod Touch and iPhones (Hopefully we will get some Android love soon). The initial reviews of the app applaud the amount of hard work put in by the talented team at Yahoo! who have delivered a fantastic app that brings the some of the latest features like full Groups capabilities, which was previously only available through the service’s website. 

Overall, Yahoo! seems to be getting back in the game and we always love the underdog who topples the Goliaths and emerges victorious. Looks like its going to be a merry Christmas for Yahoo! after all.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, December 10, 2012

iTunes Store hits Indian shores

Apple has finally launched the iTunes store in India close on the heels of upgrading the iTunes software itself. Considering the fact that there are hardly any legal way to purchase music online in India, save for the Flipkart Flyte, it seems like there is not much competition for Apple but is that compelling enough to woo the price conscious Indian consumer.

It doesn't get simpler than this
Like all things Apple, accessing the iTunes store and purchasing songs are quite simple. Create an Apple ID and enter your credit card information, that's it. The interface is quite good and its easy to discover songs. The preview feature lets you listen to about a minute of the song. It is quite useful before you decide to buy a song. My latest hobby has been previewing songs :P

Competitive pricing
Apple has priced the tracks quite competitively. For a recently released Bollywood movie, each track costs Rs.12 and the entire album is yours for Rs.96. I believe this is about the same as the cost of purchasing the original CD. So why go all the way to shop, buy a CD, rip it, upload to iTunes library and then sync with an iDevice when you can do all this with just a click. Thanks to iCloud, songs purchased from iTunes store can be synced across the entire Apple family of devices automatically. All these convenience come with a clause, thou shalt not stray from thy iKingdom as all thou files are DRM protected (Update:Apple has stopped DRM protection on its songs since 2009). It might not sound like a deal breaker if you own a lot of Apple products but for the general population it might. (There are ways to bend these rules a bit, but you might have to google them up for yourself!)

Flipkart does not not allow to preview the songs before you buy or does not allow to buy individual tracks. However, the same bollywood album was sold for Rs.72! Plus, the songs are not DRM-protected, so you actually own the songs you pay for. Ta Da! So it was a no-brainer for me and I finally purchased Dabbang 2 album from Flyte. You can either download the files one at a time directly or use the Flyte Download manager for bulk downloads. But the latter didn't work for me so I went ahead and downloaded the tracks individually. There are options to select the bitrate for each song. I naturally chose 320 kbps - maximum bang for the buck. Now its all Fevi Fevi Col se...Fevicol se :)

So what do you think about the iTunes India store and the pricing which definitely makes more sense than the $0.99 per track pricing (as in US). Is it better than Flyte or are there any other better online music store in India apart from these, drop in your comments.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Facebook launches new mobile messaging app

Photo Courtesy: Engadget
 For the past one week, Facebook has been getting a lot of attention. First, for the anticipated acquisition of WhatsApp, a popular cross-platform mobile messaging app that lets users send messages across various platforms like Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone. This has elicited trade pundits to share their gyaan on why Facebook shouldn't buy WhatsApp and should invest more in building its own mobile app, which has been quite an Achilles heel for the social networking giant. However, all these rumors were soon quelled by the folks at WhatsApp officially denying that they were in talks with FB to sell the company. Rumors are no fun if they come to an abrupt end so soon :(

The latest news doing the rounds is about a new mobile messaging app launched by Facebook that does not even require a Facebook account! Yup, you heard it right. All you need is a name and a phone number and you are all set to text. The app is similar to WhatsApp; it pulls the contacts from your address book and lets you send messages to contacts who need not necessarily be on Facebook. Currently it is available as an Android app and Facebook has launched it in select countries like India, Indonesia, Australia, Venezuela and South Africa.

Facebook has decided to kill two birds with a single stone by launching its app in the emerging markets where it does not yet have a stronghold and by choosing to release its app first on Android platform, which is probably the most dominant smartphone platform especially in the emerging markets. Though some might argue that Facebook has passed on a golden chance to enroll more users by not making it mandatory to use the app, I believe it is a clever bet.

The biggest concern with users for not using Facebook is privacy. By making the app available to all, Facebook is essentially planning to get its app into as many hands as possible. If Facebook manages to pull it off and the messaging app comes out as a considerable alternative to the current popular messaging apps like Nimbuzz, WhatsApp or ChatOn it will give Facebook a much needed foothold in the mobile arena. The success of this app will be two-fold:
  1. Ads: Though the current version of the app is ad-free, I am sure Facebook will consider targeting users with ads soon. Given the fact that a Facebook knows everything about us, the friends we are chatting with and what they like, the ads will be quite 'personal'. Though this may not appeal to some privacy advocates, there are some who might thank Facebook for reminding them to buy a gift for their friend's anniversary.
  2. More users: Once the users like the messaging app and are willing to create their Facebook profile, it will add a few more users to the ever-growing billion plus social network.
Either way it looks like a win-win for Facebook. Well, all that droidfooding seems to have done some good after all. Its too early to decide if this mobile bet will pay off or not. Have you tried the new messaging and if so, what do you think of it.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Google+ is not Facebook

When someone sees me using Google+, I am usually asked what is it and after I tell them that its a social networking platform, they say "Oh, it's like Facebook". My reply is "No, its not like Facebook" and I deliver a long sermon about what makes it different. So here are a few takeaways.

Sure, Google+ may look like Facebook because it has a profile page, a news feed, like(+1), share and all the bells and whistles that will be present in any social networking site, but that is where all the comparison ends. I read this post on CNET how Google+ can thrive alongside Facebook. It is a well-written post that clearly tells apart the two different networking platforms. Just as Pinterest's popularity has not spelled death for Facebook, the same logic applies for Google+ too.

I have been an active user of Google+ ever since it launched in 2011 and I use it differently than Facebook. To me, Facebook is a closed social network that I use to keep in touch with my friends. By 'friends' I mean people whom I went to school(or college) with, my colleagues or in short, (only)people whom I know in the real world end up in my virtual world friend list. I neither send friend requests to strangers just because we have 5 mutual friends nor do I accept friend request from random strangers, even if it is from some beautiful girl. Fine, I made up that one. Gosh, I never get such requests, damn it!

On the other hand, Google+ is more like Twitter + Google Reader put together. I do not use it to socialize with my friends (well hardly any of them are there on G+) but rather to as a source of getting the latest tech news. Posts by guys like Mike Elgan, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, Verge,etc are awesome and some write exclusively on Google+. Though Twitter is also good for following trends, sometimes 140 chars seems too less to convey anything meaningful. Also another cool feature of Google+ is, it allows to share an entire blog post as a single status update, so it saves me the trouble of having to click the link and open it in a new window. So much work, Phew! Google+ introduced the feature to 'circle' a person to receive their updates without having to be their friend, something similar to the Follow feature in Twitter. This 'inspired' Facebook to introduce a Subscribe feature that lets people who have subscribed to see your public posts. But compared to FB, Google+ has better privacy controls about what information is shared. Also the interface is clean and ad-free (at least as of now) compared to the cluttered Facebook experience.

So, if you have not used Google+ till now then go ahead and give it a spin. It can be used to follow a lot of topics not just tech and might in fact let you discover your hidden passion. For the die-hard FB fans, there's a fair share of cat videos and rage comics circulating on Google+ too, so you won't miss your daily dose of humor. So give it a spin and let me know what you think.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).