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.

 

Making digital advertising accountable for impact (or not)

Recently I was telling a group of publishers that, unfortunately, much of the business that has supported journalism (advertising) has always been smoke and mirrors. Advertisers took it mostly on faith that they were getting what they were paying for (i.e., increased sales or influence). I don’t doubt that they got some of those benefits, but probably never nearly as much as the people selling ad space promised.

That’s a problem: If integrity is supposedly what you have to offer your audience or community, then it’s bad business to shaft your customers (the advertisers).

Then along came the age of digital advertising, and finally some direct evidence of advertising’s impact started creeping in to the picture: clickthroughs, etc. These metrics were flawed and digital advertising mostly sucked (but then again, so did most print and broadcast advertising), but it was a step toward accountability, at least theoretically.

And then there was a development that purported to go even further toward helping advertisers and marketers ensure that they were spending their money usefully across all media, digital and otherwise: the demand-side platform. Wikipedia currently defines this as:

A system that allows digital advertisers to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface. Real time bidding for displaying online ads takes place within the ad exchanges, and by utilizing a DSP, marketers can manage their bids for the banners and the pricing for the data that they are layering on to target their audiences.

DSPs are unique because they incorporate many of the facets previously offered by advertising networks, such as wide access to inventory and vertical and lateral targeting, with the ability to serve ads, real-time bid on ads, track the ads, and optimize. This is all kept within one interface which creates a unique opportunity for advertisers to truly control and maximize the impact of their ads. 

Sounds good — except that DSPs can be mostly smoke and mirrors all over again, just with more data attached.

Check out Confessions of a Demand-Side Platform Salesperson, from Digiday this week:

Anyone that has not worked at a DSP or a trading desk, consider yourself lucky. It is the cesspool of our industry, with the DSPs racing towards an acquisition or IPO and the trading desks trying to validate themselves as valuable within the holding companies. It is a sweatshop environment on both sides, with workers who are bludgeoned from the top down.

I think it is time for the major advertisers to get in and take responsibility for how their dollars are being spent. There is double-dipping within many agency/trading desks, and your advertising dollars are not as impactful as they have been. The tires need to be violently kicked at a trading desk before agreeing to allow your dollars to go through there. 

Also, the big publishers need to man up, regain their integrity and pull out. Madoff pulled off his scheme under the watchful eye of the SEC. You think the same thing isn’t happening under the oh-so frightening eye of the IAB?

 

PR fail: World’s dumbest news embargo

I cover technology for CNN.com and elsewhere, so I get a lot of pitch e-mails from PR folks. Some of these are very useful and well targeted. Most are rather “meh.”

…And a few are utterly stupid.

Here’s one such e-mail I received today, in its entirety. Name of the PR person, PR firm, and client are removed to protect the guilty:

I’m writing today on behalf of [LINK TO CLIENT] a leader and innovative provider of device-centric, [TECHNOLOGY] solutions. They wanted to offer you the opportunity to receive some news which is under embargo until 9 a.m. CET on Monday, Feb. 27. If you are open to receiving news under embargo and agree to this embargo time, I would be happy to provide you with the news.

Seriously: I never heard of the company, I don’t know what this might be about, and I have no way to gauge whether their news is important or interesting enough for me to check out at all — yet THEY want ME to agree to an embargo in advance, before I have any idea whether they’re potentially relevant?

Folks, you always have to prove your information or news is worth somebody’s time. Just tell me why I should care, why this is relevant to me or my work. Always. There is no point in being coy.

And no, I’m not going to click the link in your e-mail to find out more about the company. I don’t know you. This looks like spam.

So I flagged this message as spam.

Associated Press opens North Korea news bureau, they’ll fit right in!

No, really:

Associated Press opens news bureau in North Korea | World news | guardian.co.uk.

…As if the news business wasn’t already Kafkaesque. Well, AP is an appropriate choice for this. 

Having done some critical coverage of several boneheaded AP strategies in digital media over the last few years, I think they see eye to eye with NK regarding the dangers of criticism, and how to respond to it.

I’m not kidding: See the response from Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations, to a 2010 KDMC story I wrote about the controversial AP News Registry program

Doing my part to undermine Rick Santorum. You can too!

When you Google for "Santorum," this is the top search result. (Click to enlarge - but only if you're not too squeamish.) You can help keep this brilliant effort working.

It’s time to use my power for good.

Yesterday NPR reported on how the batshit crazy social conservative former US senator Rick Santorum is pulling ahead in Republican polls for the presidential race.

Santorum has always annoyed and amused me. But with this, he’s officially scaring me.

Today, Marketplace Tech Report reminded me about Rick Santorum’s Google problem — so I decided to take action.

So here I am linking to SpreadingSantorum.com, a Google bombing page that writer Dan Savage set up in 2003.

Furthermore I encourage everyone else to do likewise.  Especially if you’ve had your own web site or blog under its own domain name for several years. But even if your only online presence is via a third-party service like Facebook, WordPress.com, or Tumblr (where you don’t have your own domain), I still encourage you to post a link to SpreadingSantorum.com.

Talk about a long-term investment in search visibility that is REALLY paying off! Here’s how it works…

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Facebook, Yahoo: just let me follow the damn link

I’ve noticed on Facebook that if someone shares a link using Yahoo’s Facebook app, I can’t just follow the link. They seem to expect me to install that app just to follow the link!

Case in point: Here’s a screenshot of a link that one of my Facebook friends shared, which I tried to click on:

Click to enlarge.

When I tried to click that link, here’s what I got:

Click to enlarge

No, I don’t want to install that stupid app. But this request gave me no option to just follow the link — neither in this window, or when I hit “cancel.”

#sharing #fail

Why won’t Google let me reorder locations on my custom map?

UPDATE 9/15: There is a workaround. Basically, as long as you leave the top item on the list in place, you can reorder other items and the map will save and retain that order. So just consider the top item on your list a placeholder, and list the “real” items in the order you want below that. Kinda clunky, but I’ve tested it and it does work.

Recently Google maps changed something, I don’t know what, and it’s broken a feature I use a lot. Very annoying.

I keep a custom google map where I mark the locations I need to be for upcoming appointments and events. I list them in date order. This has worked great for me, with all the running around I do, for the last year — especially via mobile.

BUT… Sometime in the last couple of weeks, Google maps stopped respecting the order I specify for places on my map. It’ll let me reorder locations in my map, and save them — but that order only last the session. When I reload the map, all my newer locations are back down on the bottom of the list!

There’s a Google Maps Forum thread on this, but so far no help.

Does anyone know how to fix this problem or get around it?

It’s even more annoying because Google Maps’ “starred places” function doesn’t let me add notes, or specify a custom order. So that’s not really a solution for me.

How NOT to do media relations: Fake-friendly pitches

Just because someone posts something personal online doesn’t mean it’s OK to use that to manufacture a faux-personal connection in order to persuade them to do you a favor.

Case in point: Yesterday a clueless media relations professional whom I do not know sent me an e-mail with the subject line: “I sent a poem to a wannabee crotchety old bitch.” He was alluding to my recent birthday post, in which I reflected on aging.

The comment this person attempted to append to that post — which I did not approve — was the poem When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. That was in itself a mistake, though not a fatal one. If ever there was an overused, reflexive cliche response to any woman who mentions aging in a positive light, that poem would be it.

So this PR guy e-mailed me to let me know he’d tried to post that comment. Here’s the start of his message, and where he really screwed up…

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I don’t feel so bad about my e-mail inbox now (Or: tips for using e-mail well)

One of my favorite podcasts is Get It Done Guy, by Stever Robbins.

He just did a blog post that addresses one of the banes of my existence: e-mail overload. I hate e-mail for the purpose of sharing links, collaboration, coordination, or keeping up with tasks and project. But I can’t seem to wean from e-mail the people I need to connect with on that stuff. Everyone uses different tools and services to manage their own processes, and too often the lowest common denominator is e-mail.

In Inbox Zero and the Critical Mistake That Saps Productivity, Stever writes:

“I believe that an empty inbox just means you’ve ceded control of your thinking and priorities to everyone who emails you. They control the volume, order, and substance of your attention for the time you’re processing your email. It *feels good* to have an empty inbox, but it also feels good to gorge on Oreo ice cream cake. That doesn’t mean that Oreo ice cream cake is good for you, only that it feels good. Inbox Zero has the extra sugary bonus that since *some* email is an essential part of our job, it’s easy to believe (with no evidence at all) that therefore it’s useful to spend some time on *all* email.

“Rather than striving for inbox zero, I advocate learning to identify the truly relevant emails very, very quickly, with an absolute minimum of cognitive load or context switching.

Whew! I don’t feel so bad now about the nearly 1000 items in my Gmail inbox…

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