Facebook. If you’re not on it, then do you really exist? It’s a question that for most journalists doesn’t arise. Because they’re all on it.
If you haven’t – really haven’t – heard of it, here’s the elevator pitch. It’s a site where you can describe yourself and ‘link’to friends, and are gently urged to tell everyone all about what you’re doing, and to answer slightly daft questions (‘What are you doing this weekend?”) or play Scrabble and make the usual crossing-geographical-boundaries connections with people you’ve just about heard of.
Anyone can be anyone’s ‘friend”, which of course slightly devalues the currency. But even so, millions are doing it. Private and public messages are swapped. Life goes on.
As a result, people are emailing me to offer features ‘about Facebook’by the dozen. This to me is the signal that Facebook is sooo over. I don’t mean that it’s going to wither and die; nothing with millions of users disappears overnight. At its peak in 2002, AOL had more than 30 million users. Now it has less than half that – 11.9 million at the start of the year, making it the third-largest ISP in the US.
And rather like AOL, it’s pretty hard to get anything out of it once you’ve put it in. Message to someone? Lives in Facebook. Someone’s details (including phone number)? Lives in Facebook.
You have to register to use it before you can even look someone up. No matter – tonnes of Fleet Street diary stories are being written on the strength of who’s joined which no-point group today.
One such group was called ‘If 100,000 people join this group my wife will let me call our second child ‘Spiderpig'”. Eventually 100,000 people did sign up.
And it turned out – well, let me quote one of my friends’ remarks: he was gutted that the Spiderpig group was ‘a big joke”.
If you can’t trust strangers on Facebook, who can you trust?”
Obviously, it was a remark on Facebook.
Those old enough will recall Betamax v. VHS: Sony’s Betamax lost the video format fight to Matsushita’s VHS format. (People disagree about the reasons: many insist it was because VHS got porn first, though I’ve heard Clive James suggest it was because VHS could be fixed more easily).
They’re at it again: high-definition DVDs come in two formats – Sony’s Blu-ray (sic) v. HD DVD, backed by, oh, various people.
The fun here is that Sony is losing pots of money by trying to make the PlayStation 3 a Trojan Horse for Blu-ray, by including a Blu-ray player in every PS3. Trouble is, nobody’s buying them.
Now Paramount (which has hits like, er, Transformers and Shrek 3) has said it will go with HD DVD. This is a war to watch: it’ll confuse consumers like mad this Christmas, and a winner could take another two years to emerge.
If you’re on a publication that is trying to cut its costs – that would be all of them, then – you might be wondering whether making internet phone calls would be a good idea.
It could be: your publication likely has a fast broadband connection, and all you need is some (free) software. Such as Skype (skype.com) which will even let you make calls to normal phones.
It’s cheaper than a normal phone, does things like voicemail and recording and lets you have a destination phone number, and the sound quality can even be better than a normal phone. If you’ve got a grotty line on the normal phone.
However, the other week Skype had a major problem: for hours people couldn’t log into their accounts. People who rely on it couldn’t use it.
So many people were rebooting their computers and trying to log in that Skype’s network (which is all its users’ computers) disappeared, yet at the same time they were all trying to join that same network.
Conundrum. Skype’s been full of apologies, but it’s a little reminder that technological nirvana hasn’t quite been achieved. Internet telephony can be a cost saver, but it’s at best only as reliable as the internet.
Digital rights management
Heard of DRM? It’s not a tailor’s. It’s ‘digital rights management’– the system by which companies that create music and films prevent people doing naughty stuff like making a copy. Or a million copies.
DVDs you buy in the shops have DRM (which is quite easily defeated); films you buy online have it for sure. Google however showed the problem with it by killing its video store, which meant that DRM-protected videos previously bought from it won’t work any more.
Interestingly, EMI and now Universal have started selling music online without DRM, replacing their earlier insistence it should be used on all tracks sold that way. It’s good old MP3, the format which will play on pretty much any music player (not just Apple’s iPod).
Will that mean that iPod sales fall? Apple’s actually rubbing its hands – though Universal is refusing to sell its non-DRM songs through Apple’s iTunes Store. (Apple and Universal love each other like two cats in a bag.)
By the end of the year, we’ll probably see the other three major record labels selling non-DRM music too.
Which will mean they’ve caught up with all the pirate networks, where MP3s have been swapped since 1999 in MP3 format.