Why Facebook’s mobile apps suck: A developer’s view

I’ll admit it: Contrary to my own expectations I’ve grown to  use Facebook much more than I thought I would have — mainly because it’s the most common point of connection across my many social and interest circles. And I use it more despite Facebook’s persistently horrid user interface.

But Facebook is especially horrendous on mobile. For instance, the Facebook Android app won’t let me share items from other people’s streams, the way the Facebook standard website does.  Also, on the Facebook Android app I can’t tag someone in a status update (like saying “Joe Schmoe loves this kind of sushi.”) — I can only indicate whether I’m “with” someone, which often isn’t the case.

Argh. Gah….

Anyway, today while I’m researching and writing about Facebook’s various mobile problems, I found Kevin C. Tofel’s May 15 GigaOm post: Does your Facebook mobile app suck? here’s why

He summarized findings published in the Mobtest blog. These only looked at problems with Facebook’s iOS app, but they’re interesting even though I’m an Android user. In a nutshell, Facebook’s app relies heavily on web technology (HTML) to deliver content.  There are good reasons for this, but on iOS devices it causes problems.

Here’s how Mobtest summed it up:

Why would Facebook use HTML technology inside a native iOS app?

HTML is easier for displaying fluid content. Objective-C really sucks when it comes to fluid display. An image with text around it, buttons with varying text labels are really hard to create yourself in Objective-C as you have to calculate dimensions and positions of all elements yourself. In particular for a timeline HTML will be much easier.

Creates code that can be shared across different platforms. iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone are all different technologies and a developer’s nightmare. Sharing some content/functionality in the form of HTML makes sense.

HTML is much more in line with Facebook’s continuous deployment process. FB developers are responsible for their own QA, and part of that is to push code out to a limited set of servers, see results and then push it out to more and do this each day if not more often. With Apple taking as least a week of review, rolling back a code change is a nightmare.

They can get away with it. Yes Facebook is not a bank, there are no other iOS FB apps out there and we will still use the service as it has a virtual monopoly on social networking with 900 million users now. We just have to suck it up.

Feature phones is where growth is. A very high percentage of iPhone and Android users already have the Facebook app installed. The next frontier is feature phones, in particular in non-western parts of the world. These new users will first encounter Facebook on their mobile, and it will not be a shining iPhone.

OK, that doesn’t explain the boneheaded lack of key features in Facebook’s Android app that I noted, but it could help explain some of the poor performance I’ve experienced — slow load times, lagging updates and push notifications, and lots and lots of crashes.

Tofel, an iPhone user, closed his GigaOm post with this observation:

…For the time being, I’m going to switch to m.facebook.com in my smartphone browser. I did some testing this afternoon and the experience is far faster, up to date and generally offers the same features as the native mobile app.

 

Facebook “likes” on your pages? Don’t count on them.

If your site includes Facebook “like” buttons to encourage people to share your content, be careful about how you use those numbers — or how seriously you take them.

Clint Watson writes in  Facebook Like Button Count Inaccuracies:

The Facebook “like” buttons you see embedded on websites incorrectly report the number of “people” who “like” something. Specifically, the button can inflate the displayed count of people.  While this is fine when all you want to do is track some general level of “engagement” with a particular item, it was not accurate for the use I needed – counting each “like” as a vote in our BoldBrush Online painting competition.

What I needed is a way to get the number of actual people who “like” something.  And there is a way to retreive that information from Facebook, but it is often a different number from what is shown on the “like” button itself.

If you are a geek – here’s the bottom line of this post:

If you’re using the Facebook “Like” Button Social Plugin and you need an accurate count of the actual number of people who have clicked the “like” button, you can’t rely on the number reported by the button itself.  You need to retrieve your URL’s “fan count” number via Facebook’s Open Graph API.

Hat tip to Zach Seward for bringing this to my attention.

Yet another reason to make your site mobile-friendly: disability access

I just wrote this post for the Knight Digital Media Center at USC:

Got accessibility? Mobile-friendly sites also help disabled users

It was sparked by a new Pew report on problems that people with disabilities have with accessing the net. I found a couple of interesting twists.

1st: US DOJ has proposed new ADA regs for web sites, including “public accommodations” (hm, could include news sites?)

2nd: Making a site mobile-friendly goes a long way toward making it more accessible.

This subject is near and dear to my heart since one of my best friends, who is mostly blind, has faced significant struggles in getting access to services, information, education, and opportunities online and elsewhere. That has definitely hurt not only his quality of life, but his health. And he’s fairly tech-savvy! This is a problem that needs to be solved, and going mobile-friendly is one main way to start.

How Facebook Apps Can Compromise Your Privacy, & How to Fix (Maybe)

I never liked Facebook, and I still don’t, which is why I don’t use it much. My main gripe has always been its badly designed interface which always leaves me confused about where to look and what to do.

But now I have an even bigger gripe about Facebook: How it compromises your privacy via its application programming interface (API).

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Experiment: Great Live Event Coverage for Hire. What do you think?

As I mentioned in my previous post, today I’m liveblogging and tweeting a daylong Las Vegas event by Metzger Associates: Social Media for Executives. It’s a small event for a select group of executives representing several types of companies.

I’m doing this as a pilot test for a new professional service I’d like to start offering: Great live event coverage.

In my experience, most online event coverage isn’t so great. A few folks will be tweeting or blogging in several places, some hashtags will be used, but it’s all rather confusing and inconsistent to follow. Also, a lot of people tend to tweet items like “Jane Doe is speaking at this session now.” Uh-huh… AND….?

Liveblogging/tweeting has turned out to be a real strength of mine — I’m good at it, and I enjoy it. I’ve also had the good fortune to collect a sizable Twitter following among folks whose interests in media, business, and other fields overlap with mine — and who enjoy my particular blend of reporting, analysis, and attitude. (Or at least I guess they do, because every time I do live event coverage my Twitter posse swells noticeably and those folks tend to stick around afterward.)

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter and CoverItLive. For instance, earlier this month for my client the Reynolds Journalism Institute I liveblogged/tweeted J-Lab’s Fund My Media Startup workshop at the 2009 Online News Association conference.

So, being a longtime entrepreneur always on the lookout for new opportunities, I’m looking for ways to offer live event coverage as a service for my clients. Today’s event is an experiment on this front.

I want to figure out how this service could work in a way that would appeal to my Twitter posse, maintain my integrity and independence, and provide value to clients who’d pay for it.

Here are some of the issues I’m wrestling with, that I’d welcome your thoughts on…

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Why blocking news aggregators is dumb and won’t work

DALLAS - MAY 1:  Owner of the Dallas Mavericks...
Mark Cuban: This is your media on crack. Any questions?
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The apparent crack epidemic sweeping the executive suites of media organizations across the U.S. has claimed another victim.

Mark Cuban loves the news business. Over the years he’s done and said some smart things in media. But on his blog a few days ago, he took a big ol’ nose dive straight into the shallow end of the pool.

In his Aug. 8 post, My Advice to Fox & MySpace on Selling Content – Yes You Can, Cuban exhorted news sites to start blocking access to links to their content coming from aggregators. So, for instance, someone might encounter a Newser summary of a USA Today story — but if USA Today blocked inbound links from Newser, someone who wanted to learn more from the full story would click the link and go nowhere.

Here’s the key point for news orgs to grasp: The audience would NOT view Newser as the problem there. Newser has already provided value with the story summary — and they were trying to provide the audience with even more value through a direct link to the full story.

Instead, the news organization would be spoiling its own reputation by presenting itself as an obstacle. The blocked aggregator link in effect says “We don’t want your attention unless you come to us our way, even though we’re not providing the kind of easy summary through aggregators that obviously meets your needs and attracts your interest.”

To which the audience would more likely respond, “Yeah, screw you too. I’ll take my eyeballs elsewhere, thanks.”

Not exactly good for the news business.

The sad and scary thing about Cuban’s post is that a lot of news execs will probably listen to Cuban right now, and maybe even follow his advice, because they’re scared and he’s playing to their fears, prejudices, and weaknesses. It’ll be sad to watch.

Perhaps the one bright spot in this mess is that it may be technically simple to get around aggregator link blocking…

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Safari iPhone bookmarklets: Clunky setup, but very useful

The new Apple iPhone
iPhone apps are cool, but sometimes bookmarklets are helpful, too. (Image by Victor Svensson via Flickr)

As an avid iPhone user, I love my apps! I use several of them daily, including Omnifocus, GroceryZen, Twittelator Pro, Google Mobile, iBART, and Google Maps.

Apps are not enough, however. First of all, some online services I use (like Gruvr or My511, nudge nudge) don’t yet offer iPhone apps. (This is especially annoying if they also don’t default to mobile-friendly site layout upon mobile access, grumble…)

But also, several very cool and useful online services are meant to play nice with the rest of the web.

For instance, I get value from my preferred social bookmarking service Delicious because I can use it to bookmark, tag, and comment on any page I happen to be browsing. And on Twitter I often tweet links to pages I find online. For these services, I want their functionality integrated with my iPhone’s Safari browser (since you can’t run two apps at once on the iPhone, and since the iPhone also doesn’t yet allow cut and past, grumble…)

That’s when Javascript-based iPhone Safari bookmarklets can come in handy…

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