Monday, April 15, 2013

Facebook Home, Skins, and Future Social Mobility

Facebook home released and is officially available for a variety of Android devices. Like with most Android applications it is unofficially available for any device with a compatible Android OS. Leading up to the announcement there where plenty of rumors about a forthcoming Facebook phone along with speculation that Facebook was moving into hardware. In such a dynamic space I would never rule anything out but it does seem sensible for Facebook to "Play" (pardon the pun) to their strengths.

A couple of things I find interesting:
  • Facebook a serious player in the skin game?
  • Who else will jump on board?
  • What's next with this social stuff?
Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the world used by a very wide audience. If anyone has the reach and software skills to make a skin successful it is Facebook. However the skin game has never had a huge degree of success in the past. Hardware manufacturers and telcos have traditionally provided skins to phone Operating Systems for branding, user information, loyalty, lock-ins, etc. The tech community would always cry foul and try to find a way around the skins and this noise (citing poor performance, lack of flexibility) would often filter down to the general user community.

Similarly in the desktop space the concept of a skin sitting above the Operating System has never had wide success. Unlike iOS most desktop operating systems allow quite a degree of easy access for users to change the look and feel. Many in the tech community would argue that what makes Android great is its flexibility. The Android OS for mobile phones defiantly allows a wide degree of user customization compared say to iOS. However how many users really change more than the background picture and layout of the icons? With more focus on user devices in enterprise the ability to tinker is of course a mixed blessing. Don't get me wrong the quest for better user experience is important and experimenting with skins, overlays, and changes to operating systems are to be commended. After all you could argue that the Windows GUI was a skin on top of DOS.

It's been reported that after Facebook, Linked-In is the next most popular social networking service. In my experience Linked-In tends to have a more business focus. Will Linked-In build a corporate friendly Android skin? If they can bundle features that both corporate and social net-workers want together they could get some real focus. For example they could combine separation of work/personal space, added security layer, and social networking.

Other players that everyone will look to for a similar concept are of course Google+ and companies like Line. One feature that both of these offer is the groups or circles concept that allows controlled sharing of information to specific audiences. While I really like this concept I don't think many enterprises will risk an employee accidentally sharing a proposal or costing with the wrong group. This degree of control needs to be built into the core of social networking.

So in future Social Networking for Enterprise I would like to see secure sharing of information socially with low risk. Allow me to share documents and chat with my colleagues from my work-space/phone/internet device without the ability to accidentally share content with non-approved contacts. A system of this kind would encourage participation by using familiar tools and enable merging the consumer and enterprise social aspects. A secure social framework would be a good launch pad for collaboration ideas such as Gamification.

To enable this vision there probably needs to be a social networking standard or protocol for ubiquitous sharing of contacts/messages/content/likes (and the like). Upon this kind of foundation plugs-ins could then easily merge say Microsoft communicator with Facebook, Google+, and Linked-In. Contacts could be common across different platforms and the user would be empowered to chose a context specific interface depending on their circumstances or needs.