Bing Struggles to Keep Up

Sebasteean De With:

Designing a search engine is a humongous task. What’s equally or even more humongous is the opportunity in reinventing an online experience we have taken for granted for so long. Bing’s current strategy seems to be simply following behind Google, copying them every move. It’s a perfect recipe for irrelevance.

You can say that again. For kicks, I gave Bing another try lately to see how they have come along. It’s better than it was a year ago, but it feels like it is stuck in the summer of 2011; it already seems dated in the recent redesign. I think I’ll stick with DuckDuckGo for now. 

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Nexus 7 Branding Copycats Apple’s Branding

Apple’s website has a distinct look and feel. The way their products are photographed, laid out, and the text orient around them was unique to Apple for many years—not to mention the soft colors, lots of white… Well, not anymore.

This is a screen shot of Google’s new Nexus 7 Android tablet webpage. It doesn’t look much like the iPad’s webpage on Apple.com from June 2012, but it does reflect the design and layout Apple used in 2011. The sub-navigation menu is just about in the same place. the three widgets of floating text beneath the featured image and “the playground is open” headline is very similar. Even the way the tablets are standing up together with fading reflections below them is straight up from an Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad marketing banner. Read more »

How to Permanently Quit Facebook

I quit! sticky noteFacebook is always loosing and regaining users. I’ve had five friends this year that all said they were quiting Facebook once and for all. They deleted their accounts to take affirmative action. Of course, it’s never easy to dump Facebook if it is primary source for online social interaction. All frive of my friends eventually returned to Facebook. I’ve had another friend that has deleted his account and returned to it more than six times.

So if you’re serious about quitting, let me help you. And, if you decide after you kill your Facebook account that you still want social interaction, let’s review your options.

Why You Should Leave Facebook for Good

1. It’s the Not-Cool Party Without a Purpose

Let me use a metaphor: Facebook is a never ending hangout in your friend’s loft, but there is a good chance he’s not even at the party, and other strangers come and go at will. All the while, you came to the hangout because you thought you would see that one friend there, but, alas, that’s not the way this party works.

Then, while you’re hanging at this party, you begin to realize the overwhelming variety of people who are in your midst: there are your distant relations, your immediate family, coworkers, acquaintances and total stranger are all surrounding you, and there to “party” together. Then, because some stranger sees that you know this mutual friend, he friend requests you. Even so, you don’t know more about this guy than his head of red hair.

2. Ads, Ads, Ads, And More Ads.

Facebook fosters ads catered to you, which is scary—like big brother. Ads are everywhere you go. And when it’s not an ad popping up in your face, it is sometimes a pointless built-in app that wants to absorb more of your time just so they can collect your personal info and spam you later.

3. Always Hearing the End of Conversations

On Facebook, you see the latest baby pictures, and the cool motorcycle trip video your distant relatives are taking. But you didn’t even know they were pregnant until the baby was born, and you can’t appreciate a vacation crossing the country when cousin Larry forgot to mention where he’s at in the video. So you’re wondering where those mountains in the background scenery come from while Uncle Larry is too busy cruising to tell you for the next three days.

In this way, you are endlessly hearing the end of a conversation on Facebook. At best, you then hit the rewind button and search through the annals of your friend’s Facebook walls to find out when they knew they were pregnant in the first place. And guess what: they forgot to mention it because they thought the grape-vine had already spread the news far and wide.

4. The Loft Itself is Boring

Your friend told you that the loft would look cool, and that’s why he through this party. But now that you see it, there’s nothing that makes the loft all that interesting to see. Likewise, Facebook is a bland site, and one that you visit not because you like the way it works and looks, but because “all” your friends are there.

5. You’re Usually No Happier When You Leave

So you ultimately leave the hangout in the loft tired and frustrated, wondering “what just happened?” As best as you could tell, you were playing catchup with others’ lives, but not actually enjoying a relationship with them.

You were reporting to each other, and claiming that what you had to share was interesting; like reading, yet again, a “cool” quotation your intellectual friend shared; then there is that news headline dissing Obama for the 12 time today because all of your friends are re-sharing the same article. Few on Facebook know how to intelligently introduce and keep up a good conversation that the public can join without a moment’s notice.

So that’s Facebook’s problems. And if you have left Facebook for reasons like these, and possibly other great reasons (like you were wasting too much time on Facebook), then let me give you some reasons to join another significant social network.

Why You Should Turn to Twitter or Google+ Instead of Facebook for Online Vicarious Relationships

If you leave Facebook it will most likely leave a void in your life. Most people want a social network—they just want something better than Facebook. Have you honestly tried Twitter or Google+ lately? You might be pleasantly surprised by how they have come along in recent years. They are not lesser versions of Facebook. In many ways, they are superior. So, believe it or not, here’s why the party at Twitter or Google+ is way cooler:

  1. Limited to practically no ads that are not as noticeable.
  2. The instant messaging and video hangouts are far more efficient and well-designed.
  3. The whole user interface is 3 times more aesthetically pleasing than Facebook’s.
  4. You login to Gmail anyway, and you’re already set in Google Plus. Cut your logins in half.
  5. Less is more. Both Google+ and Twitter cut a lot of the crap out. There are far less spamming apps, and less annoying strangers that care to bug you.
  6. It’s a smaller community, which means there is far less noise. People aren’t talking about new babies. They’re discussing engaging subjects (no offense to the newborns,) and the new topics roll in at a rapid pace if you know who to follow and converse with.
  7. The privacy settings are based on advice Steve Jobs gave Google before he passed away. He told them the privacy controls on Facebook were not in the interest of the users, and if Google wanted to survive/differentiate themselves they would need to excel in the privacy controls. Based on various reports, it would seem that Google is taking his advice to heart (at least when it come to G+).
  8. Facebook is often caught up in the old. It’s looking to the past, and struggles to find the new and make sense of it. The other networks are almost always about the new; a new frontier, expansion… what’s on the horizon at the top of your Twitter feed. Subjects usually relate to what’s about to happen, or what people are cooking up for tomorrow, or the latest timely happenings in culture.
  9. Facebook assumes your friends have something to say. G+ assumes you want to find people who have something to say, then that you want to add to the conversation because you actually have common interests (which you probably don’t have with 90% of your Facebook friends).

Wrap-up

Of course, Google+ doesn’t serve the same reasons you thought you would use Facebook. Not many of your immediate friends are there, per se, and you will have to search for new online connections based on interests you have in common with the people on Twitter or Google+.

Twitter and Google+ are a mashup of slightly different services, so don’t expect them to be a glorified carbon copy Facebook-like experience.

A Phone is the Beginning of Facebook’s Downward Spiral

Who wants a Facebook phone? Facebook does, apparently.

Hopefully the Facebook phone will not look like thisTalk of a dedicated Facebook phone resurfaced this weekend with a report from Nick Bilton in the New York Times that said the social network “hopes to release its own smartphone by next year” and has been hiring hardware engineers and developers—including several from Apple (AAPL)—as part of that effort. According to the sources Bilton talked to, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg sees the mobile-phone project as something crucial to the future of the company, which just went public in a somewhat rocky IPO.

Facebook is a social networking company. With a phone of their own I can see teenagers and housewives that have not already adopted their first iPhone will be attracted to Facebook’s alternative, but let’s get serious…

A Facebook phone will be for play. The phone will be about social gaming, popular news feeds, birthday announcements, and the occasional photo album of a ski trip.

But a good smartphone needs to appeal to all users—not only Facebook’s fans. The iPhone works for a lot of people because it’s so useful for businesses, friends, and family interaction. It’s useful for social and so much more of import. Facebook is the distraction we seek. A Facebook smartphone won’t work because smartphones are about much more than distractions to everyday users.

“Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms.”

Um, that’s already happened, and even when Facebook offers their own device, won’t they continue to support apps for Facebook on others’ devices? I suspect this Facebook employee isn’t the right spokesman for this new phone venture.

If people tease Apple’s products for being consumer and not business friendly, then what do you expect people will make of Facebook’s phone?

And if Facebook really wants to make a wave with this phone, then they will not make it, because they are not appealing to businessmen. No one wants to use Facebook for all their business needs. And if Facebook tried to market itself with new features and provide utility in their smartphone for professional users, they would hinder the interest of fun-loving consumers.

I just don’t see how this would work to Facebook’s long-term benefit. It will be an embarrassment, not a success story.

In many ways, the battle to control the mobile experience is a logical extension of the walled-garden building that both Facebook and more recently Google have been engaged in—that is, an attempt to control almost every interaction with users and thereby convince (or force) them to spend more time within the company’s ecosystem, where more data about them can be harvested. That was the rationale behind the launch of Google+, and it has been Facebook’s primary motivation for virtually everything, including the development of the “open graph” platform. Business Week »

Hey, isn’t that one of the reasons Google lovers despise Apple? Don’t they dislike the “walled garden?” I don’t like playing the part of critic, but this appears hypocritical of these companies. Google and Facebook have said they are in favor of open source for developers, but if they are really interested in control, then they are attempting to use several moves from Apple’s playbook.

DuckDuckGo Pro

My favorite search engine just keeps getting better and better. It’s a joy to know that Google doesn’t have every corner of my life in their database—especially the significant corner that is my web search engine.

DuckDuckGo has been around for a few years now, and it’s just about every month now they are getting better and more renown. It’s actively improved—whereas, smaller competitors of Google search can’t keep up, they seem to manage well. DDG is a simple yet powerful search engine alternative for Google[1]. If you don’t want a log kept on all that you do on the web through the assistant that is Google search, and if you don’t appreciate personalized advertisements, then check into DDG. I find DuckDuckGo is satisfactory in about 90% of my web searches. The other 10%: Wikipedia 5% and Google Images 5%.

Click to enlarge

One thing DDG has figured out is a method to customize the results and appearance of users’ search pages to their unique tastes and preferences. Google has a very limited and impersonal search experience. Whereas, DDG makes it your own if you care to customize settings for the appearance, search results per page, etc. What’s really cool is how you can customize the settings of DDG completely anonymously, then sync your customizations across devices. I find it fascinating that I can customize a search engine experience and then use those settings on any or all my computers and they all keep in sync anonymously. Brilliant.

If Google wanted to prove to me they are as transparent as they say, I’d like them to offer a privacy settings. Even Facebook has them (in their own special way), but there really isn’t any for Google. If you want to privately search with Google, be certain you are not logged into any Google web service. This includes YouTube. I find it especially user unfriendly to not offer users the anonymity if it really matters to them. It’s not like it would really hurt Google at this point if the less than 1% that care could privately search via Google. Because they do not offering privacy, I have lost a lot of respect for their company.

I remember when I contacted the developer, Gabriel Weinberg, and he sent DDG stickers. Great guy. I’m glad to support such a formidable startup as a search engine in a world ruled by the big Google empire. All the more power to startups and their noble products.

Footnotes:

  1. Not that I have a strong feeling against Google, but they were not especially friendly when I visited their headquarters. :-) Pixar, Facebook, and especially Apple were—Google and Adobe were not. But in all seriousness, I agree with David Sparks about Google. I know in our times it would be very tough for many productive people to switch to services other than Google’s, and that’s why “dumping” isn’t for everyone. However, there are several valid concerns. So, check out  the Mac Power Users episode 077 on Google here, and see why Katie and David discuss what is going on with Google and alternative services if you are ready to jump ship.