Facebook has summoned the press to its headquarters and scheduled a live video stream to announce...something. No one knows what it is yet, but we'll find out at 10:30 AM PST. We'll be providing up-to-the minute text coverage and commentary here on ReadWriteWeb.
Speculation so far is that Facebook may be announcing a big user profile update, a Facebook email system, or a partnership with Skype. What do you hope or think the announcement might be about? Stay with us this morning for the best coverage of the announcement, whatever it is. Announcements have begun and they are pretty interesting - particularly the creation of semi-automated lists and groups of friends. Read on for details.
It seems odd to me that in the lead-up to the event, Facebook doesn't have some staff on camera chatting people up. Randi Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg's sister and head of marketing at Facebook, often does interviews before events. Right now we've just got people milling around.
The room is filling up. Perhaps employees and attendees are talking about TechCrunch coverage this morning of the new, broad patent granted to Facebook for location-based check-in activity! That just sounds wrong, and if Facebook uses that patent to go after any small startups in that space, it will be even more wrong.
10:36: Audio is muted and the stream seems a little sputtery. Hopefully this new in-house Facebook Live streaming video service will work well. It was born in August and has already been put to good use, most notably in the big announcement of Facebook Places.
10:41 A Facebook designer just tweeted, according to TechCrunch again, "We'll be announcing a new organizing principle for the social graph in just a few minutes."
10:42 And we've begun.
Video quality is bad, but Zuckerberg comes on stage and says the company is just coming out of a 60 day lock-down period of intense work. Chat in particular got a big overhaul.
Zuckerberg says Places is already the biggest location app on the market. Sorry, Foursquare. It's also much less interesting than other products.
The company has "a bunch more releases coming out over the next month."
Three things they want to talk about:
- Download your information
One click and the company will email you when all your wall posts, photos and more can be downloaded as a .zip file. That's pretty cool.
- Apps that you use dashboard. Shows all the apps you use, what the last time they asked for your info and you can manage permissions.
Open web leader David Recordon has now come on stage to talk about the .zip download. Data export is a big step. The feature was built to be useful to normal people, not developers.
Friends lists, events you've RSVP'd are also included. The feature will be rolled out later today. This reminds me of the informal group at Google called the Data Liberation Front, though that's not as end-user oriented.
Former Apple engineer turned social graph hacker Pete Warden says of this: "It's both great on principle, gives more ownership of their own data to users, but also makes it a lot easier for competitors to give new users a good experience by reusing their existing Facebook information. One of the big barriers to competitors is the fact that they have to get users to re-enter all their information and social graph. This should avoid the Terms-of-service tangle. It'll be just like exporting your contacts from Outlook and loading them into gmail."
10:56 App management dashboard.
Zuckerberg is back on stage and talking about personas, basically. Different contexts for different groups. This is great. Zuckerberg says it's an annoyance problem more than a privacy problem. Do I want to bother my friends who don't like running with the update that I just had an awesome jog in the morning? Probably not.
This is vindication of the primary critique we've offered of Facebook's privacy settings - we've called for contextual integrity of communication and it seemed like Facebook was intent on going the opposite direction. Towards full site broadcast in every case. It's great to learn otherwise.
11:05: In reality, almost no one wants to make lists, Zuckerberg says. Even with heavy promotion, no more than 5% of users make Lists. Is Facebook going to automate the creation of Lists, groups of Friends? That's what it sounds like.
Facebook built out a system called Coefficient that makes an index for each relationship that helps users know across different interfaces who you're likely to be close with and to find clusters of friends.
There are limits to algorithms though. You might share a carpenter with a friend, and you're both corresponding with him, but that doesn't mean you want a group that's made up of you, your friend and your mutual carpenter. Girl you're flirting with plus ex-boyfriend? Not good, it's complicated.
There is no exact, precise definition of who is a close friend of yours on Facebook, Zuckerberg says. You get to mediate that yourself, but if we came up with the perfect algorithm, it still wouldn't be what you wanted.
11:11: If this was an interface problem, or an algorithm problem, Zuckerberg says, some other company would have solved it. But it's a social problem, so Facebook will solve it. Whatever that means. Through social engineering?
It looks like you'll be able to share groups created by other people, the small number of people who go to the trouble of creating groups. Hot.
11:15: Justin Shaffer, formerly the CEO of Hot Potato, which Facebook just recently acquired, is the Project Manager for a New Groups product.
Shared spaces for groups. Those groups will live in the left navigation of the page. You'll see it all the time. This is a shot at Yahoo and Google Groups. The groups work like a drop-in mailing list, Shaffer says.
Shared Docs, wiki-like group editable documents.
Schaffer says this is "really, really high-signal communication, in these groups." Indeed, we have called the general concept of groups the secret weapon in the social web.
Chris Cox, Vice President of Product at Facebook, says this is a new experience, group communication, that will require new language, new interfaces. He's talking about human-computer interaction.
11:23: The official Facebook announcement is up on the company's blog.
Just like language translation, Cox says, the interactions of people with the product, effect the experience other people have with the product. This is very smart.
"It would look like a Space, not like a filter on your News Feed," Cox says. The company is really diving deep into the contextual integrity of conversation in groups.
11:28: Question time:
Zuckerberg says the New Groups feature will be built into the News Feed composer, it's built into the Graph API, your groups will be usable and your activity segmentable all over the web. More control means sharing more across all these different contexts.
How will unwanted people be kept out of groups? When someone is invited in, the whole group will be notified about who invited them.
New Groups feature may have name similar to old groups, but is built from ground up brand-new.
Can brands use New Groups? Zuckerberg says this is optimized for small groups, rarely even as big as 200 people. Group chat breaks down, for example, at that point. Pages is the product best for brands, but Zuckerberg says they'll keep an eye on user behavior.
11:34: Robert Scoble says on Twitter that, "Adding people to Facebook groups is far more frustrating than adding them to Twitter lists. You can't just run down and categorize people." Likely that this was intended as a very different kind of product.
XPrize blogger Mark Krynsky tweets: "Nice to see that groups is exposed in the graph API. Race for clients to implement. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Hootsuite GO!"
Zuckerberg says the math is good but it will take months to play out the adoption and coverage story.
On information overload: you can turn off notifications from Groups. The groups you actually use will float to the top of your interface.
On the privacy of your group memberships: Three privacy settings: open, closed and secret. Who can see the members of the group and who can see the content? Open means both are open. Closed groups you can see the people but not the content. Secret group is secret on both accounts. Apparently that will be determined by the Group administrator? Your membership ought to be similarly manageable.
Ok, that's more or less the end of the news today. Stay tuned, we'll be doing analysis with experts from around the social web beginning in the next few minutes.