Facebook’s new privacy and sharing defenses (they are quite nice)

Mark Zuckerberg is the smartest social thinker I’ve met on my journey through life. He’s frequently misunderstood because he’s, well, generally too far in front of us. I remember meeting Doug Engelbart, the guy who invented the mouse (and showed it to us back in 1967 — way before Apple shipped the first consumer machine in 1984 that used it).

Engelbart got kicked out of the research lab (SRI) where he developed the mouse because, well, his ideas were too weird for the time (Engelbart told me that he was kicked out because his fellow researchers couldn’t grok that everyone would have a computer in their pockets eventually). Zuckerberg will also be judged that way. He saw a world where everyone would need a social graph. I remember when people made fun of Facebook employees for saying that.

But one thing I admire about Zuckerberg is he’s a great learner. When people bashed him for being too far out in front of us, he drops back and does what people want before pushing ahead again. Today is such an example.

Zuckerberg understands that the use case of Facebook is for folks to talk to their PRIVATE families and friends. Most people who love Facebook are like my wife. Just want to talk to their friends and family and post a bunch of kid photos, or life photos. That user doesn’t understand, or care about, folks like me who want to build a public brand and find people around the world I don’t really know who are interested in the same thing I am. Yes, there are a lot of those out there, as this post on Google+ demonstrates, but most really don’t want to do that, they just want to talk to a small group of friends and family. I see this as my dad joined Facebook earlier this year. He doesn’t understand why anyone would use Facebook to talk to strangers or why anyone would want to post stuff to the public.

So, what did Facebook announce this morning?

Several things that will greatly appeal to its user base:

1. They greatly simplified their UI so folks can figure out groups a lot more.
2. They are giving users a lot more control over what gets on their feed, particularly when they are tagged in a photo.
3. You now can see what a profile looks like to another user.
4. A much simpler privacy page.
5. User education to help users figure out privacy settings.
6. It is very easy to figure out the groups each post, photo, or video is shared with.

Google+ users will recognize three of those features (the simplified “circles” UI, the nicer posted and shared with UI, and the profile preview one), since they’ve had them for six weeks. That’s why I like competition in this world, keeps teams motivated and working on making sure users don’t have any reasons to switch to each other (Editorial aside: Google will do well if it focuses on capturing the interest graph but will never capture the social graph — as long as Facebook keeps matching Google’s best features, like they did today, there’s no way most of its users will switch).

So, let’s move through these new features and what they mean to users.

1. Content tag review.

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

and

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

This is my favorite new feature. I’ve been seeing spam on Facebook as people tag me in photos that I’m not in. This lets me be in control of what gets onto my wall. Here’s how. Each tag is held in moderation until I approve it. It’s easy to figure out and it’s easy to approve the tags I want to.

Even if you make a mistake and approve a tag that doesn’t make sense, or say, later you want to remove yourself from all of your ex-girlfriend’s photos or ex-wives’ photos, you can. Just go to the tag and click X to remove the link between you and her.

This is far superior to how Google+ allows tags. For instance, here’s a photo I just was tagged in on Google+. Notice the complete lack of these kinds of controls.

Also, on Facebook each tag is now attributed to the person who made the tag. Google+ is way behind here.

2. View profile as.

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

This lets you see what your profile looks like, to, say, your best friend, or some total stranger. That way you can make sure that your private photo of you getting drunk at that bachelor party last weekend actually is only viewable by your best friends and not by people you don’t want to see that photo, like maybe your boss or your wife.

3. Easier to figure out who is able to see each piece of content.

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

Google+ users have had this since day one, with the UI that shows which circle each post is shared with, but now 750 million Facebook users have the same thing. Underneath each post now you can see who can see each item. You can even change this after the fact. Just click on this icon and change the setting.

Those are the three screen shots Facebook shared with me. You’ll have to wait for the features to be turned on on your account (they say these features should roll out throughout the userbase “pretty quickly” — they didn’t want to give me an exact timeframe, since last time they announced major feature changes they took many weeks to hit all the users). But in my briefing they showed me a much simpler privacy page. Dramatically simpler. No longer do you have long lists, but just a few settings to figure out. Also, they showed me a page which is aimed at newer users, that will explain the consequences of each privacy page.

So, add all these things up, and I’m sure lots of journalists will say that the threat from Google+ has been largely neutered because of these changes. That is absolutely true. Users are freaked out about privacy and, because of Facebook’s public image, many have spent a lot of time making sure that their accounts are locked down and that they aren’t sharing info to people who might be able to use that stuff against them.

I think these settings may have the opposite effect. It might get Facebook users to relax a bit and start sharing SOME items with a wider group of people, which would improve that service a lot and could help it stave off the very real threat that Google+ does still represent: that some other company will build out the more lucrative interest graph before they do. But Google hasn’t demonstrated that it is able to keep up with the features of Facebook and it hasn’t turned on real-time search, noise filtering, sifting, or, tons of other features that are needed yet, so the race is on. Who will get there first? Google or Facebook? Today’s announcements show that the race is gonna be interesting at minimum.

By the way, I’m discussing this on both Google+ (here) and on Facebook (here)

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HP’s 2,000 webOS patents and how they could reshape everything

HP Palm Veer

Last night I was talking with a VP who works at HP on the former Palm team. He told me they have 2,000 patents for webOS, smart phones, and TouchPad.

Now remember, Google paid $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobile, mostly to get their hands on the 17,000 patents that Motorla held. Now, if you just price HP’s patents at the same price, you come out with $1.48 billion. HP paid $1.7 billion for Palm. So that gets you pretty close to even.

But this VP told me that these patents are almost ALL for modern smartphones, while the Motorola patents included a lot of old stuff that isn’t relevant anymore. So, this patent portfolio could get a premium of, say, 2x what the Motorola patents did. That gets you up close to $3 billion.

And that’s JUST for the patents. They have a few other assets as well:

1. The team is still mostly intact (at least this weekend) and has many talented engineers who used to work on Apple’s iPhone (including the VP who was talking with me).

2. They have lots of UI expertise. webOS is still ahead of all the other smartphone UIs in terms of usability and multitasking ideas. My best friend, Luke Kilpatrick, who works on social media team at VMware, keeps showing me his Palm phone and making fun of my “old school” iPhone.

3. They were working on a 7-inch tablet, and a variety of other things.

So, in the war between Apple, Google, and Microsoft (really the others don’t matter too much to the future) how could the Palm teams reshape the mobile market?

Well, let’s assume Microsoft plonked down the $4 billion to buy this team and patents. They would rejuvenate their mobile team with fresh engineers, and give them even more patents to go after Google with.

What if Apple plonked down the cash? Same thing, only much of this team has already worked at Apple so knows the culture and could fit right in.

Google? Google could benefit the most because its UI is still the worst out of the three major players and it might benefit the most from the additional insurance of the patent portfolio.

One other thing, there was a report that said webOS ran twice as fast on an iPad than on HP’s own hardware.

He said that, while somewhat true, that was only a part of the OS and only some of the times. What they were looking at is the kinds of optimizations that Apple did to its graphics subsystems. He said that while working at Apple they did a ton of work on lots of small graphics areas, which is why the UI feels so “smooth” there. For instance, he said they spent a ton of time just getting a list to scroll at 60 frames per second. That was VERY hard to do, he said, and used it as an example of the kinds of optimizations that very few people outside of the engineers at these big companies understand and that even the press that reports things like “runs twice as fast” don’t understand.

It’s that kind of engineering that is about to be let loose on the world and the other companies know it.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook from recruiters,” he said, while saying that most of his buddies on the team will hang at HP until at least October to see what happens. He knows there’s still deep economic value in the patents and the people who are working on webOS and that if they band together they might get rewarded well.

But the clock is ticking and it’ll be interesting to see what the management does and how they shop around this team and patent portfolio.

One question: what if Facebook bought the team and Google bought the patents?

Now wouldn’t THAT be a hoot? Facebook needs more mobile engineers and could use a team of great UI and expert mobile engineers to build tablet and mobile apps.

We also talked about how the team could transform the TV business. “We were already thinking about that,” he told me. Seems the Google TV business would be rejuvenated by a bunch of new blood who knew how to make good UIs and fun hardware (even though they were always late to the market with the hardware there still is a lot of expertise on that team).

What do you think? Already there’s a crazy set of comments going on Google+.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 wins in HP’s surrender of webOS but will users support Windows tablets?

HP execs announce TouchPad
Reprinted, in part, from my post on Google+. (Lots of comments over there).

HP announced today that it is withdrawing the TouchPad from the market, which calls into question the future of webOS.

First, so far Dieter Bohn has the best article on how HP failed that I’ve seen so far.

The photo I put on this post is of Todd Bradley, HP executive vice president, and Jon Rubenstein, of Palm, at the announcement of HP’s tablet.

But, there is something else that I haven’t seen yet discussed.

This is a HUGE win for Windows 8.

Why?

Well, when I was listening to the HP announcement I thought that it was a huge snub in the eye from HP toward Microsoft. It was. HP clearly wanted to be free of the Microsoft ecosystem and wanted to have an OS it controlled and that it didn’t need to pay Microsoft $40 to $200 for.

Seemed like a bold move at the time. Today, though, it is clear that strategy did not work.

Now HP has to wimper back to Microsoft for meetings with Steven Sinofsky, who runs Windows, and say “we’re sorry, we’re back to help make Windows 8 rock.”

I don’t see HP having many other choices at this point.

But there’s another part to this story that I’ve been repeating all year. “No apps, no sales.”

If you want to be a leading platform today you MUST get third-party developers on your side. To rub that in a bit, today I was hanging out with Photobucket’s CEO, Tom Munro. I asked him what he thought about the HP news. You can listen in on that conversation here.

Don’t know why Photobucket is relevant? They have nine billion photos. Flickr only has five billion. They just made a deal with Twitter to become the photo sharing system underneath Twitter. Twitter made a deal with Apple to become the official social network for iOS. IE, he’s now the official photo sharing guy for Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Developers like him keep telling me “Apple is first in my mind, Google is second, and I don’t have time for #3, but if I do, looks like Microsoft has the best future.”

This is quite consistent around Silicon Valley. Even Tom told me that growth on RIM is “flat, going down.” Android, he says, is growing fastest.

This matches what most other CEOs who build apps tell me.

So, can anyone disrupt this? Can anyone sell a Tablet that doesn’t have an Apple logo?

Let’s look at who can:

1. Microsoft still is hot with Xbox, and is struggling with mobile, but Windows 8 at least looks freaking awesome. Yeah, the pundits will dig into Windows and find it isn’t as nice an experience once you dig in, but consumers who see this on TV will be wowed and Microsoft still has lots of fans.

2. Android tablet makers are struggling, except for Samsung, which has built a brand that consumers like. One question mark, though, is how Samsung will deal with Apple’s patent suits. But even Samsung hasn’t sold gobs of a 10-inch tablet, which is where the sweet spot is for tablets.

3. Amazon could change everything. Why? I can see Amazon subsidizing a tablet to lower its price to $200. I also keep hearing about a $99 Kindle coming soon. Having a “one-two-punch” is going to be interesting. Amazon, unlike other tablet makers, can build an ecosystem. Already I’m hearing from SIlicon Valley’s startup world that they are EXCITED by Amazon and are already working on apps for an Amazon tablet. I never heard that about the HP tablet.

The major problem for Microsoft is that its computing brands are starting to look old and crappy and Windows 8 won’t come out until next year. You better believe that Steve Ballmer will be at CES pulling out all stops. One problem for Ballmer, though. Steve Jobs is already planning iPad 3 and will probably announce that right on top of CES. If the iPad 3 really does have a killer screen, like my friends say they are working on, then it’ll be hard for Microsoft to deal with Apple.

Or, maybe, is that where HP comes in? Does HP have something in its research labs that will let it get back into bed with Microsoft? Could HP buy a company like Nanosys which makes a new screen technology that could help get me excited by a Microsoft tablet?

Well, yes, but it’s clear that for now Apple has no competition in the 10-inch tablet space.

No apps, no sale.

Which makes me wonder, what will the users do?

Will they all go iPad? Or will the market split into Apple vs Google, like it is today on smartphones? I can see that happening next year, but I wonder if Microsoft has the right stuff to disrupt Apple and Google?

What do you think?