The Social Network

28/05/2012 //

There’s a flurry of activity around Facebook these days. They just bought Instagram for a cool billion, went public (its stock tanking) and is rumored to be sniffing around Opera Software. They’ve also been hiring engineers who worked on the iPhone (though strangely, not Android cough), making the rumored Facebook phone seem, more or less, a fait accomplit.

A New York-based designer made some mock-ups of what the Facebook phone UI could look like, which at least the people at The Verge seem to like. In my humble opinion, they look pretty much like the old Facebook app (seen here) with one of the stock iPhone backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong: I like the mock-ups more than the current app, which I don’t find very appealing at all, but still.

I understand that Facebook wants to make sure they remain relevant, and grow beyond being “just” a social network. But the thing is, at the moment, Facebook is just a social network. The biggest, certainly, and one that will be around for a long while yet, but still a social network. (Of course, Google started out as a search engine and look at them now.)

I like new gizmos, so I’m not about to dismiss this thing out of hand, but these phones surely have more functionality than just being plugged into Facebook? Unless they’re extremely cheap, who would buy a single-app phone except attention-starved teens and possibly Julia Allison?

Would it be another Android fork, following on Amazon’s lead? That would certainly appear the easiest option; building another ecosystem from scratch seems downright foolhardy. Microsoft’s new Windows phone line hasn’t exactly set he world on fire yet, though its marketshare will surely grow. (From what I’ve seen, it’s really good) And Facebook isn’t Microsoft.

But my biggest fear is that the rumor that they’re buying Opera should turn out to be true. I love Opera and have used it for years. It’s quick as lightning and very customizable. The built-in email client is also great, and where Chrome is like a crowbar to Ubuntu’s head on my netbook, Opera takes flight like The goddamn Rocketeer. The idea of Facebook buying Opera, sticking a blue shell on it and running ads and shitty Zynga games in the sidebar, all while broadcasting “Christian just checked into” in the timeline, is infinitely depressing. I understand that Opera needs to make more money than they do now, but I really hope they get another investor.

Maybe I’m being too negative, but this is the age of crass avarice, breakdown of privacy and corporate global takeover, after all. Hubris and megalomania are traits to admired, while subtlety and quiet purpose need not apply. Not now, maybe not ever again.