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Archive for June, 2012

Why Facebook Changed Your Email

June 26th, 2012

Facebook automatically updated the default email of most of its users today without warning. Even if you didn’t create a Facebook email account, a randomly assigned email address is now your new default email in their system.

So what gives? Facebook knows that no one likes it when the company alters user data. Facebook also knows that no one, and certainly no one’s friends, is likely to adopt a random new email for their personal use at this point. So why would they risk consumer ire by pushing what seems like an inconsequential email system?

Well, it turns out that this new email address could be of major consequence to Facebook’s future value even if you and your friends never actively use it for any interpersonal communication. Even if you never tell a soul that your new email is jimmy.joe.555@facebook, the truth is that you will give out this email over and over again: every time you use Facebook Connect to sign into a third party site.

The nagging fear bubbling deep in the gut of every Facebook exec is that, however unlikely it may seem at this point, the use of Facebook as the default social graph for most of the web might just be a temporary fad. Any day now, another social contender — maybe one of the usual suspects or maybe some startup lurking on the horizon — could waltz in and replace Facebook as the social dance partner of a thousand websites and apps. Facebook Connect may be ubiquitous today, but as long as the sites using it are able to collect your real email address from Facebook, they could ditch Facebook and easily retain you as a customer. Meanwhile, on Facebook’s end, the river of information about your web usage would begin to slow to a trickle. Game over for Facebook.

That’s where this little email gambit comes into play. For most Facebook users, it would never even come to mind to go into the settings panel and start cleaning up. So, as long as Facebook is able to quietly replace their default email, a funny little Facebook address is all that will be exchanged when these same users sign up for Instagram, Pinterest, or Words With Friends using their Facebook credentials. The email that no one wanted suddenly makes Facebook itself an indispensable link in the chain of contact.

While this seems sneaky and perhaps a bit dismissive of the accepted definitions of respect for the user, you could also see it as a positive; Third party sites will no longer get access to your private email address. This could mean less spam coming in to your primary inbox. That’s a good thing, right?

The gamble for Facebook is that if third parties are no longer able to communicate with their customers without Facebook getting in the way, they may be far more hesitant to offer Facebook Connect as a user credential system. The gamble for users is if they use Facebook to sign up for a bunch of other services, they might feel shackled to their Facebook account even if they fall in love with another social network.

Anyways, the net net is that this move brings into question, once again, the nature of Facebook as a product. The more it turns itself into a privately owned web utility, the more dangerous its ubiquity becomes. All of the moves Facebook is making are great utility moves, but let’s not forget that Facebook is now a publicly traded company with obligations not just to users, but also to shareholders. The further Facebook goes down the ubiquitous utility path, the more they will need to eventually be regulated.

Note: If you wish to change this setting back to your real email, just follow these instructions.

Digital

Apple to Offer Ultra Subscription?

June 1st, 2012

In contrast to the popular mantra of ‘Make it Smaller‘ that has appeared lately in specialty, community-run, and anti-conglomerate grocery stores, banks, and retailers, tech companies have been trumpeting the benefits of the large. For example, Apple’s huge app selection and Facebook’s established network are touted as the primary arguments against going with a competitor. Well, if the biggest tech companies have their way, I would expect an even more extensive merger of power and services in the near future.

Apple could be very close to being able to control virtually every aspect of your digital experience. You’ll drop your phone and cable provider. You’ll ditch Netflix and Spotify. Instead, you’ll pay Apple one monthly fee to get it all, and it’ll be delivered exclusively to your growing library of Apple devices. Setting aside the inevitability of a mountain of antitrust lawsuits, this is the direction Apple could very well take, and here’s how they’ll pull it off…

The Pieces

1. Apple already owns virtually every piece in the puzzle in the creation of their devices – from the silicon to the hardware to the operating system to many key software titles. Cutting out the army of partners needed to create most other digital devices allows Apple to offer high-quality and fully customised products at prices that are hard to match.

2. In addition to pushing their own SIM card designs, there have been reports that Apple may be looking to offer its own mobile phone/data service exclusive to their devices. If this is true, consumers would be able to ditch AT&T, Verizon, and the like, and pay Apple directly to supply mobile service. With the additional money gained from these highly profitable subscriptions, they could even afford to offer their devices free to users that sign up.

3. The FCC has been considering the redefinition of what types of companies get to call themselves ‘multichannel video programming distributors’, or MVPDs. This legal definition, currently applied to cable companies such as Comcast or TimeWarner, gives a distributor the right to carry certain TV channels and responsibility to carry others. Effectively, an expansion of the definition to include online distributors would mean that Apple could stream many more TV shows to consumers without having to negotiate rights with the channels individually. Since these negotiations are one of the biggest practical barriers for Internet television services, the MVPD designation would make it much easier for Apple to mirror the offerings of today’s big television providers.

4. Apple purchased streaming music service Lala several years ago, and has lately seen their iTunes Store lose customers to increasingly popular subscription services like Spotify, Rdio, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. I find it hard to believe the current a-la-carte iTunes service will remain the only path to music, movies, and books in Apple’s ecosystem. Apple needs to put those giant data centers they keep building to good use, and a subscription streaming media service would certainly fit the bill.

5. Apple has been slowly building their own exclusive pathway not just to the Internet, but to a growing Internet of Things. They’ve been doing it one portal at a time, with their offering of an Apple-approved and iOS-exclusive collection of apps. Instead of supporting a much more open web-app environment — one that would have been accessible by other devices — Apple has championed their own proprietary development platform. Because of how Apple devices feature these apps, many companies have chosen to create iOS apps as the portal to their services instead of creating web apps. This has effectively created a second, more exclusive internet — one only accessible through Apple devices. This has been surprisingly non-offensive to the same people that champion net neutrality and routinely complain about service providers throttling certain websites or putting a cap on data usage.

The Holy Grail of Subscription Services

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture Apple stringing these services together and tying them into one monthly subscription fee; The data and voice service, TV shows, streaming movie and music, book lending, and access to an exclusive library of apps, all part of a single monthly subscription. This universal subscription would tether a user to an iCloud full of all the media they could ever want, and it would be accessible from any Apple device they own. This type of unified digital experience would be the realization of a dream and a sort of nightmare at the same time. The potential for gatekeeper abuse would be staggering, but it would oh-so-conveniently packaged and easy to use. Can it really be wrong to be so right?

What do you think? Would you subscribe to an Apple Universal Subscription? How much would you pay to consolidate all these services into one shiny package? Would you be able to resist if you got the hardware for free as part of the deal?

Design, Digital, Gadgets