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fbmess.pngFacebook have just pushed out an update to their Facebook Messenger app for iPhone - and have included a new feature for group messaging.

They're clearly making a big push - it has been given its own tab on the Messenger app. The plan appears to be to create permanent group conversations - perhaps to act as a constant "backbone" for communications amongst a group of people.

Anyone who has messaged multiple people simultaneously knows how useful it can be for everyone to see the same stuff - its like texting everyone, but keeping everyone informed in one go, and is one of the reasons that WhatsApp (recently purchased by Facebook) has proved successful.

For example - if you have all of your work colleagues in the same group, it could be used a bit like Twitter but privately and for that specific group - essentially replacing business software like Yammer. Similarly, if you're meeting a bunch of people in town, you don't need to text them all individually to update on your location.

What the new idea does is formalise the existing groups, enabling users to "pin" them to the group page, add a photo to represent them and rename them.

Other new features include the ability to mute chats for set periods of time - options being to mute for an hour, until the next morning or until you switch it back on. Brilliant for ignoring noisy friends.

It's a neat idea - and another value-add to further tempt people away from boring old text messaging.

The only real question is how long are Facebook going to remain in the bizarre position of offering essentially three separate-but-similar messaging services: not only this, but they also have WhatsApp and Instagram. Surely consolidation will come at some point?

Massive and shocking news this evening as it has emerged that the VR headset company Oculus Rift have been bought by... Facebook. Yeah - that Facebook. And they spent $2bn on the company too. What on earth are they thinking? Here's five questions we're asking now the deal has gone through.


1) Why?

This is the question that currently has pretty much everyone scratching their heads. There doesn't appear to be any obvious "synergies" to use an awful business-ism. Usually when companies by other companies, they think that the two companies working together can provide some benefits. Say, less competitors, or cheaper components, or better distribution. In the case of this deal, Oculus is a pioneering virtual reality headset company that is currently building a headset designed for gaming. And Facebook is... well... Facebook.

Gaming-wise, Facebook don't currently appear interested in the sorts of blockbuster games that a headset would entail - hardcore Call of Duty games is where the headset would appeal. Unless Facebook have bizarrely grand plans for Farmville... this still seems a little odd.

2) Umm.... Why?

The only clue we have so far is a statement from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which was released following the acquisition:

Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps that help you share with the people you care about. We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we're in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences.
This is where Oculus comes in. They build virtual reality technology, like the Oculus Rift headset. When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you're actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it's different from anything they've ever experienced in their lives.

So that sounds pretty intriguing. Outside of gaming, there have been a few interesting examples of the Oculus being used more 'social' uses - like the below video showing an app where you can sit in a virtual theatre and watch a film together - in sync - with other users.

Does Zuckerberg think that this is how we'll live in the future? Rather than simply transcribe all of our lives to Facebook, is the expectation that our lives will simply become Facebook?

3) Er.. Seriously... Why?

The acquisition of Oculus was pretty much inevitable. It's probably the first company to actually have a decent chance at doing "VR" right after decades of expectation, and it has been infused by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, demonstrating massive support amongst actual real people.

Given Oculus was a stand-alone start up, as soon as things started looking tasty, it is no surprise that one of the big firms got the chequebook out and paid - the only surprise here is that it is Facebook and not... say, Microsoft (who could use a VR headset of their own to match Sony's recently unveiled Morpheus headset - which like the Oculus Rift, is still in development).

Similarly I can only imagine that tonight the CEOs of everyone from Apple, to Intel to Samsung are all going to bed kicking themselves that they didn't manage to buy Oculus first.

4) C'mon, this is a joke, right?

Seriously - this actually happened. Who knows where it could lead. Could we reach a point where it now feels like you're actually inside all of those tedious wedding photos?

Slightly more seriously - my prediction, which I'm posting on TechDigest so that I can link to it on the off-chance that I'm right - is that Oculus will be kicked around by Facebook for a couple of years with not much to show for it... before being sold to someone more relevant, like Microsoft - for many billions more than Zuckerberg paid for it.

A bit like Google's Motorola acquisition for instance - they bought the entire mobile phone division, hoovered up a few interesting patents, and then sold it off again to Lenovo, which is a much more natural home.

5) So what's the only reasonable explanation for the acquisition?

What's particularly interesting is the speculation on how it could have happened. As former Slate blogger Matt Yglesias noticed, though Mark Zuckerberg now owns less than 50% of Facebook - there's a quirk in Facebook's corporate governance which means that his votes on the board of the company account for 57% of the votes. So basically... what he says, goes.

So this makes me wonder... is the Oculus acquisition less the result of clever corporate strategy - of which we lowly peons cannot possibly understand, and more Mark Zuckerg essentially practicing a hobby?

Let's face it - Zuck is a 29 year old nerd - just like you or me, he's going to be thinking that the Oculus Rift looks pretty cool. Maybe he just wants to have a go? Maybe he just wanted to buy a development kit but ended up buying the whole company? Either way - he's got something new to play with.

Let's hope Mark Zuckerberg is in his safe room. Facebook have just started rolling out their latest changes to the user interface and as with all of these things, we can probably expect a torrent of anger to follow.


The changes appear to be mostly cosmetic - bringing the icons and logos in line across multiple platforms. For example, there are now tiny icons to denote whether a notification is notifying you of a Like, a Comment or a Tag. This also appears to have affected the Facebook mobile app - without an update having to be downloaded. Groups have also had a new icon added.

And in-line with the mobile app, Facebook have also added an unread updates count to the blue bar at the top for your news feed - so if you're busy browsing around people's walls or photos, you'll know when to check back for new content.

In what will no doubt madden users, they've also switched around the position of the search bar and the notification icons - putting the notifications, messages and friend request icons to the right. It's going to take users some getting used to - especially when your eyes are trained to dart to the top left when hearing the notification sound.

The other big change on the full size version of the website is a question of scale. In perhaps what is an example of "less is more", the font size appears to have been given a boost, and comments have been expanded more dramatically (rather than having to click to see more).


All changes to websites inevitably unleash waves of horror as users learn to adapt to them - so expect this backlash to be no less fierce than... umm... well... the last ten Facebook redesign. But before you post a status attacking him, spare a thought for Mark Zuckerberg, crying himself to sleep over the reaction - with only his billions of dollars to comfort him.

5 Questions now Facebook have bought WhatsApp

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BIG news in the tech world as Facebook has acquired messaging app WhatsApp for an astonishing $16bn - which apparently works out as paying between 0.1 and 0.15 cents for every WhatsApp message sent to date. So what does it all mean? Here's five questions we're asking following the deal.


1) Are Facebook are bricking it over messaging?

Maybe. The received wisdom in tech now is that the traditional text message is dead - with apps like WhatsApp and BBM replacing it. The benefit of these new platforms is that they don't cost the user per message (like how text messages used to cost 10 pence), and that multimedia content can be more easily embedded without too much hassle. Remember how awful sending an MMS photo used to be? That's no longer a problem.

It also further takes power away from the mobile operators - who used to be able to charge for messaging separately, allowing them to charge loads. Now it's all handled by apps and regular internet data, the mobile operators have become just a fat data pipe to exchange data on with less power to act... which is good news if you're a big digital player like Facebook.

More broadly - messaging has become an increasingly bigger deal. It seems rumours of the death of instant messaging with the advent of social media were exaggerated, with consumers now looking for a new private means to converse with contacts outside of the gaze of the Facebook wall or public Twitter profile.

All of the major players have come out with their own attempts to capitalise on this: (Facebook owned) Instagram recently launched direct messaging, Twitter have made DMs in their apps more WhatsApp like (you can now send photos as DMs) and even Facebook have launched their own Facebook Messenger app, which for all intents and purposes works just like WhatsApp, but uses your Facebook contacts instead. The big threat to Facebook is that with Messaging becoming popular, it gives companies like WhatsApp an opportunity to get in on what they consider to be their turf - breaking their previous stranglehold on communications.

Which I guess is why they've paid a cool sixteen billion to knock-out the competition.

2) Does Facebook now own messaging?

Not by a long shot - as mentioned above there's still options available from Twitter and of course, Apple iMessages and Google Hangouts, to replace the traditional text message. Oh, and don't forget the Snapchat behemoth - who's owner turned down a $3bn offer from Facebook.


Perhaps more importantly, its worth remembering that WhatsApp isn't big everywhere in the world - whilst it has found dominance in the English speaking world, very similar apps like Line and Viber Messenger are the default option in other countries. So perhaps we can now expect the big tech companies to start bidding wars for the remaining messengers on the market.

3) Are Facebook worried that the kidz are abandoning them?

Maybe. Despite reports earlier this year that kids are abandoning Facebook, it later turned out that the study sample it was based on was tiny and unrepresentative. This said - its definitely wise for Facebook not to be resting on its laurels as these emerging messaging platforms are certainly appealing to younger people.

Perhaps more crucially, WhatsApp is very much a "mobile first" proposition. Whilst Facebook was conceived and initially developed to be a website accessed on a full size computer, mobile is increasingly becoming the primary way of accessing online content. So apps built around mobile are always going to be more attractive than clunky old Facebook. With this is mind, buying access to another icon on everyone's homescreen seems like a very good idea.

4) How much control will Facebook exert?

Here's a thought: Now they own WhatsApp, Facebook now own three independent messaging platforms, that save for minor variations, are all rather similar. There's Facebook Messenger, Instagram (with Instagram Direct capabilities) and now WhatsApp.

Though Facebook have said they're not planning to change WhatsApp and want to keep it running 'independently' from the main Facebook site, surely sooner or later they'll have to deal with this bizarre situation?

The slightly awkward situation for them too is going to be that in figuring out how to mesh it all together - do they take the gamble and kill WhatsApp, sending users to Facebook Messenger? Or lose brand consistency and inexplicably call Facebook's chat services "WhatsApp", which is essentially meaningless?

5) Could Facebook become more of an identity platform than a site in itself?

Here's a thought: the purchase can also be viewed as a landgrab for space on users' homescreens. Facebook have been buying apps and releasing separate apps: there's Facebook proper, Facebook Messages, a Facebook Photo app, they've just released an app called "Paper" which is supposed to compete with the likes of Flipboard, and the company have also gobbled up Instagram and now WhatsApp. That's a lot of icons and space that Facebook have deliberately chosen to own on the homescreen - rather than just run it all through the Facebook app.

Could this eventually lead to a situation where Facebook becomes more of an identity service? Facebook's core functions are already strangely disparate: on the main Facebook site you can now manage events and upload photos, and post on walls... for everything else, you need an app. Maybe eventually we will reach a point in which your Facebook login becomes your identity, and how you define what people you know and how you're connected to them... and then all of the other stuff: photos, messaging, events... pretty much everything else you do online, will be handled by other distinct services, with Facebook handling the logins?

Whatever happens, interesting times are ahead. Don't be surprised if Google and Apple are eyeing up Snapchat as we speak.

facebook-logo-thumb.jpegSure, you lot are all like "man, I'm quitting Facebook, this new news feed sucks, there's too many adverts, blah, blah, blah". But the numbers tell a different story: over half the UK population are now active Facebook users.

Revealing the latest UK-specific user data, the breakdown is as follows:

Monthly Active Users Total: 33 million
Daily Active Users Total: 24 million
Monthly Active Users, Mobile: 26 million
Daily Active Users, Mobile: 20 million

As Facebook point out, the platform now has "a daily reach which exceeds many platforms' monthly user figures."

The data also shows that increasingly UK Facebookers are using mobile devices to post their latest cutting Breaking Bad status updates and drunken party snaps. For a site that began life as a desktop service only, it's mobile offering has evolved into a robust platform that will likely overtake its desktop counterpart before long it seems.

like-button-top.jpgTwitter co-founder Biz Stone has stated that he believes Facebook should offer a subscription plan for those that wish to use the social network without having to endure adverts.

Recently returning to Zuckerbreg's service after a length of absence as a user, Stone says he found the adverts highly irritating.

"In general, the ads on Facebook don't seem particularly useful or engaging," said Stone on Medium, the open editorial blog.

"However, ads on the service are universally tolerated because that's what makes Facebook free and free is nice.

"Anywhoo, now that I'm using it and thinking about it, I've got an idea for Facebook. They could offer Facebook Premium. For $10 a month, people who really love Facebook (and can afford it), could see no ads. Maybe some special features too. If 10% percent of Facebook signed up, that's $1B a month in revenue. Not too shabby."

Stone uses the example of music streaming service Pandora, whose Q1 2014 financial results show that the largest growth area for revenues for the company to be paid-for subscriptions, rising 114% as users begin to note the benefits of ad-free music streaming offered by a premium account.

However, ads that interrupt a string of tunes versus ads that can be scrolled past are two very different annoyances. We'd argue that interrupting music playback and wrestling control of songs from a user is much more of an intrusion than Facebook's ads. Facebook has always promised to remain free for everyone, though running a subscription model parallel to a free version wouldn't necessarily be a reversal on that policy, providing the free serves maintained parity with the paid-for version aside from advert serving.

With Google Reader closing its doors on July 1st, it seems Facebook will be the next company to try to pick up the RSS Reader's marooned following.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Mark Zuckerberg's team will be targetting mobile and tablet users with a reader app that will ape the visually-rich Flipboard news aggregating application.

Zuckerberg is said to be working directly on the application himself, with the new Facebook service going by the unimaginative "Reader" name.

Most interestingly, Facebook have been said to have been working on the service for well over a year, long before Google announced they would be calling time on their own RSS service.

With Facebook recently adding searchable hashtags to the social network, it seems the company are keen to jump on the trending news wagon. And with so many RSS users set to be searching for a Google Reader alternative in the next few days, the social network will be well placed to attract them.

In case you haven't heard the news Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has launched a video recording app that is set to take on the Twitter owned Vine. Yes Vine remember that? The six second video app? In case you've forgotten here is a classic Vine to jog your memory.

However it looks like Instagram has monitored Vine very carefully and learned some key lessons, and its offering is way superior.

In terms of ease of use there isn't a huge amount to chose between them, but in other key areas Instagram massively scores over its rival.

1 You get longer to shoot - With Vine you have to cram the video into six seconds, Instagram gives you fifteen. I have always thought that six was too short, 15 feels about right.

2 Instagram is better in low light conditions - Vine frankly is very poor when the lights are low. At least with Instagram it adjusts focus and exposure to optimise the picture no matter where you are shooting it.

3 Instagram has those famous filters - Yep you get 13 of the filters that you know and love which you can use to add a little retro quality to your video.

4 It also has a post shooting image stabilisation option to reduce the camera shake on your vid.

5 Instagram is available for Android users from day one - With Vine it felt like a bit of an afterthought.

It isn't just us who prefers the newbie

"Vine is like fast food, while Instagram video is more like eating in a nicer restaurant," said Ovum analyst Jan Dawson.

However I am sure it won't be long before Vine has more advanced features to rival Instagram. But by then will it be too late?

See our first Instagram video here (a clip of our dog jumping onto a trampoline!)

Article originally published here

Thumbnail image for logo_facebook.jpgAdding photos to a Facebook comment thread has just got far easier, with Zuckerberg's gang adding the ability to upload an image directly inside replies.

Before this update landed, users had to post a link from a photo hosting site, or the direct image URL in order to display their finely crafted memes and selfies, leaving behind an unnecessary URL as part of the post. Now, it's simply a matter of uploading the image directly from your computer.

"When I'm talking with a friend, sometimes showing a photo helps me tell a story much better than words alone," explained Facebook engineer Bob Baldwin in a blog post.

"If we're hanging out in person, I can show a photo from my phone, but on Facebook I'd have to post a link to a photo. Now, you'll be able to attach a photo directly when posting a comment."

The update comes hot on the heels of Facebook's introduction of hashtag searching through the social network, adding Twitter-like functionality to the service.

samsung-galaxy-s4-lens-thumb.jpgThere may be more Samsung Galaxy handsets than you can shake an oversized stick at, but it seems those holding out hope for a Samsung galaxy Facebook model shouldn't hold their breath. The company have revealed they have no intention of making a Facebook-focussed phone while their own TouchWiz UI is on phones shipping so impressively.

According to the Korea Herald, Facebook top dog Mark Zuckerberg met with Samsung's heads on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a "Facebook-friendly" phone. However, following the meeting key Samsung executives Lee Jay-yong and Shin Jong-kyun indicated that it was not an avenue they were considering pursuing any longer.

The tepid response to the Facebook Home software that the social networking giant released earlier in the year seems to be the most obvious cause here.

With no monetary value associated with implementing the software, Samsung has no need to introduce Facebook Home, especially when it can promote its own services more comprehensively through TouchWiz. Likewise, Samsung have their own Tizen operating system on the back burner, which would prove far more valuable to them if it could be used to shake off the shackles of Google's Android OS.

As for Facebook Home, it still continues to struggle. Available to only five Android devices (with an average Google Play customer review score of just 2.4 stars), sales of the HTC First handset it initially launched with have proved disastrous, with rumours the handset has now been axed and that international launches have been cancelled.

Photos shared on Flickr.jpg

Remember when you printed out photos to bore your friends and family with at leisure? Well it seems those days are virtually over.

One in five of us now take photos purely to share via social media and many of us do so within 60 seconds of taking the original image.

Research from Samsung for the launch of its wi-fi enabled NX300 camera reveals that Brits take on average 1.86 billion photos a month, with more than half of those surveyed (52%) stating they share their shots online within a week. 

And it's not just the volume of shots that they are taking that's staggering. It's the speed at which they share them. Every 60 seconds in Britain 749 photos are shot and shared immediately. That means 1.1 million photos a day (1,079,046) are 'gone in 60 seconds'.

Nor does the shooting and sharing photos in the UK show any signs of slowing down - 7% of under 35 year olds now share their shots online within 25 seconds according to the Samsung survey. However, Britain is surpassed by the likes of Spain and Italy when it comes to the speed of shooting and sharing. Research reveals that 1 in 4 Spaniards shoot and share their photos within a minute.

The Italians were a close second with 1 in 5 of those surveyed shooting and sharing online in less than 60 seconds (compared to 1 in 10 Brits). The leading online destination for our photos in the UK is not surprisingly Facebook, used by 53% of those surveyed to share their photos with their friends, followed by Twitter 11%, Instagram 7%, Flickr 6% and Pinterest 2% with only a quarter of people (23%) admitting to still using a traditional photo album. Among 18-24s Facebook's dominance is even stronger - used by 70% to share shots compared to Twitter 29%, Instagram 16%, Flickr 3% and Pinterest 2%.

Says Simon Stanford, Vice President of IT & Mobile Division, Samsung UK & Ireland: 

"People are taking more photos than ever before and with more than 91% of adults regularly using social networks, they naturally want to be able to share their pictures instantly with their friends and family. The Samsung NX300 camera was designed with this in mind - thanks to its Wi-Fi connectivity, it's possible for people to capture fleeting moments in stunning quality and then share them instantaneously."

Interestingly though one in three of us (34%) do not download and share any photos online, meaning at least 631 million memories a month are kept as private records or lost forever. Across Europe, Germany has the highest attrition rate of digital memories with at least 949 million 'lost' photos.

The research ws conducted by OnePoll on a sample of 3,000 people (500 in the UK) on behalf of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd
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htc-first-slide-03.pngThe HTC First, the affordable Android smartphone that puts Facebook front and centre by coming pre-loaded with the Facebook Home operating system reskin, is reportedly selling so badly that AT&T are considering discontinuing sales of the handset.

Launching on April 12, the HTC First has been sold just 15,000 times as of last week, according to BGR, with AT&T supposedly now preparing to send the remaining stock back to HTC.

This is despite AT&T's best efforts, with the US network cutting the handset price to a mere $0.99 (£0.64) on two year contracts. But even that hasn't been enough to inspire a sales rush, with AT&T now just waiting until an in-store display contract on the handset expires before pulling the plug.

The HTC First is the first (and so far only - and likely it seems to stay that way) handset to come with Facebook Home pre-loaded, revealed onstage by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in April alongside the unveiling of Facebook Home.

However, despite being downloaded over 1 million times by Android users with compatible handsets, it has not proved universally popular, sitting with just a 2 out of 5 star score on the Google Play Store. Facebook Home's focus on the social network actually necessitates a drop in functionality for the Android OS, which has put off many potential users.

facebook-home-2.jpgFacebook Home, the social networking giant's biggest push yet into mobile software, is proving quite successful on Google's Play Store for Android apps.

Though only available for download to five devices (the Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy Note II, HTC One X and HTC One X+) and coming pre-installed on the HTC First, Facebook's latest big launch has already been downloaded over 500,000 times, just over a week since launching.

Considering Facebook has over 1 billion active users, the numbers may seem small. But given the device restrictions in place and the intrusive nature of the app (which acts as a layer on top of Android, giving Facebook access to data from your apps and giving the user an experience completely centred around Facebook), it's not a bad start.

What's likely to be more troubling for Facebook in terms of attracting those that aren't early adopters is Facebook Home's current rating on the Google Play Store. With only two out of a possible 5-star rating, users are complaining over Home's effect on battery levels, and the way it restricts access to a user's system notifications.

Exact numbers of Facebook Home downloads have not yet been revealed, with Google's Play store only revealing figures in fairly wide increments. The app currently sits somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million downloads.

Facebook Home will be expanding to new devices in the coming weeks, while the social network's executives have also begun talks with Apple in the hopes of bringing a version of Home to iOS devices like the iPhone.

facebook-home-iphone.jpgFacebook have revealed that they are in talks with Apple to see whether their recently launched Facebook Home software could ever makes its way on to iOS devices.

Launching last week on a range of Android handsets, Facebook Home acts as an optional UI reskin, putting Facebook notifications, chat and other social interactions at the forefront of the interface, and driving all user data gathered back to Facebook in order to improve their advertising systems.

Apple have traditionally been cautious when it comes to allowing such software onto their platform; whereas Android is open, allowing for such interface overhauls, iOS is closed and does not allow for deviations from Apple's own designs. Furthermore, Apple are reluctant to share the data Facebook would be intending to mine, preferring to keep the information to furnish their own coffers.

"We've shown [Apple] what we've built and we're just in an ongoing conversation," Adam Mosseri, Facebook's director of product, told Bloomberg.

"It may or may not be Home. We could also just bring some of the design values to the iOS app. That might be how it ends up. Or we could build just the lock screen. Maybe then it's not called Home, it's called something else."

COO Sheryl Sandberg echoed Mosseri's comments:

"We are going to continue to develop for both [Android and Apple]. It is true that Android is enabling us to provide a more immersive Facebook experience than we can on other operating systems. Home is based on the openness of Android. It allows users to customise in ways that Apple does not."

Facebook Home's Chat Heads have already leaked into the iPad and iPhone Facebook apps, so it's possible that what's really likely to happen is that the iOS Facebook app eventually will share the same design ethos as Facebook Home. We'd pretty much rule out a full iOS reskinning right now.

The Facebook Home marketing campaign is now in full swing, having launched officially on the Android Google Play Store for US social networking fans.

And with the launch comes this new advert promoting the service, starring none other than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He's usually a bit camera shy when away from Facebook's F8 conferences, but he's front and centre here, and comes over pretty well, even if he is upstaged by a goat.

Another tidbit of advert trivia? The supporting cast are all real members of the Facebook development team, and it's all being filmed in Facebook's real, industrial-looking HQ at Menlo Park, California.

As it stands, Facebook Home isn't available in the UK, but there are work arounds to get it working if you're keen to give the Facebook-centric Android UI a go. You'll need to be using one of the supported devices (HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, and Samsung Galaxy Note II, with the HTC One and Galaxy S4 getting support with future updates), and have the latest version of the standard Facebook app and Facebook Messenger apps installed. You'll then need to download and install the Facebook Home APK from this link, and activate Facebook Home from the standard Facebook application's settings tab.

For getting the interface on unsupported devices, check out this guide from MoDaCo.

olympic-tom-daley-ios-game.jpgHow much would you pay to get the ear of one of your favourite celebrities? Facebook are banking on it being a pretty penny, today beginning the roll out of their pay-to-message-celebs program to UK users too.

Launching initially in the US back in December, it's now letting users in 36 other countries pay a premium to send direct messages to notable persons.

Celebrities will be graded on their popularity and have an appropriate per-message price set by a Facebook algorithm. The cost to message Olympic diver Tom Daley for instance has been set at £10.68, while author Salmon Rushdie costs £10.08. Paying for a message has your correspondence sent to the celebrity's main inbox, rather than be relegated to the dreaded "Other" inbox into which few dare to venture.

"It is being tested among a very small percentage of users," a Facebook rep told The Guardian.

"There is no set timescale. It depends on what happens, what feedback we get as to whether it is rolled out nationally. We are testing a number of price points in the UK and other countries to establish the optimal fee that signals importance. This is still a test and these prices are not set in stone."

Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg clearly think his time is worth top-dollar; it costs $100 (£61) to message him using the new service.

facebook-home-top.jpgFacebook Home, the social networking giant's Android user interface takeover that was revealed last week, is set to be officially released on April 12 to the Google Play Store. But, if you're courageous, you can give it a try today!

A beta version of the mobile software has leaked online today, with MoDaCo publishing the beta APK today. Click here to grab it.
facebook-home-2.jpgInterestingly, the software can be added to a wide range of Android handsets beyond those specified as compatible by Facebook themselves, including the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7.

All that's seemingly required is that your Android device has a maximum resolution of 1280x768.

As an unofficial beta release, there are a few features not fully working, such as the much-vaunted chat heads, as well as a number of bugs that still need ironing out. Indeed, for the time being, download and install at your own risk, or hold out until April 12 for the official release.

facebook-home.jpgBy Ashley Norris, Shiny Shiny

I assume you have all caught the Facebook news from yesterday. If not go here. Suggesting that apps were a legacy from the PC age Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new wrapper for Android 4.0 handsets called Home that is embedded in a six handsets - three each from HTC and Samsung - and will be available to download via the Google Play Store.

The wrapper's customise the home screen of an Android phone enabling notifications, images and messages to appear on the main screen of the phone.

Its nearest cousin is the way in which Amazon has wrapped its content around the Kindle Fire Android powered tablets.

It is an interesting move but is it enough to make you want to run your phone via Facebook? Or do you think it is all a step too far?

Whatever your views, it is a shift in emphasis that Facebook needed to make. It has to get more people using Facebook on their mobiles so it can present mobile advertising to them.

Zuckerberg said."The home screen is the soul of your phone. It sets the tone. We feel it should be deeply personal." And: "It's putting people first in your phone."

So in order for consumers to let Facebook lodge on their home phone the company needs to deliver a pretty compelling set of features.

Well slowly but surely over the past year or so that is exactly what Facebook has been doing.

Want to make a call? Well Facebook recently introduced its free Messenger calling service in the UK. So if you and your Facebook buddy both have the service live and a Wi-Fi connection you can chat without paying.

Want to listen to music? Well don't bother firing up your Spotify app you can listen to your tracks on Spotify via Facebook. Image - well they have Instagram. Want to read the news - well several sites have Facebook apps.

You get the picture. It has always been the stated aim of the company for Facebook to be the internet for people and with Facebook Home on the mobile it could mean that people spend more of their time using the company's services.

What I think Facebook are hoping for is that Home goes viral. In that users download it and show it off to their friends outlining all the benefits, who then go and download it. It is fair to say that with Android they have good chance too for even though the OS is highly customisable a lot of phone owners barely tweak their home screen at all.

The next question for Facebook then is getting the Home feature to work on iPhone or Windows handsets. It is not a move that you can't see Apple freely and readily making, but if Home becomes massively popular on Android it may have no choice.

It looks like Facebook has an interesting year ahead.

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facebook-messenger-top.jpgFacebook are today set to activate voice calling and voice messaging on their Facebook Messenger app for iPhone.

Already available in a testing phase in the US and Canada, it now seems that Zuckerberg's empire are ready to roll the features out to other territories. Technically still in testing, there may still be bugs with the app, with Facebook using this new roll-out opportunity to hunt down any remaining issues.

With the new features, Facebook Messenger can effectively be used as a replacement for standard 3G calling, providing the user is in range of a Wi-Fi network and their pals also use the app, much like Skype. Even if the recipient doesn't have the app, leaving a voice message should allow them to pick it up later through the standard Facebook messaging system.

Available for free from iTunes, we'll keep you posted if the features eventually roll out to the Android and BlackBerry versions of the app too.

facebook-news-feed-2012.jpgBig changes are coming to the Facebook News Feed, the social networking giant revealed in a press conference today.

The Facebook News Feed (the area of the site that holds all of your friends' and Liked pages' posts in a stream) will be given an overhaul, with a new interface that's "mobile-inspired" in its design that will turn Facebook into a "personalised newspaper", according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The aim is also to further align the look of the desktop version of the network and its many mobile variants.

The changes will reflect and take advantage of the growth in visual content being shared on the site, and will also work to make clearer differentiation between posts from real-world friends and those of brand pages and celebrities.

Photos and albums that appear in the News Feed will now appear larger, looking similar to the style already adopted in users personal Timeline pages.

Articles from "Liked" websites and publications will also be expanded, giving more space over to their pictures and synopsis. Third party content from sites such as Pinterest and linked apps will also be made more attractive.

Facebook will now also recommend outside content based on your Liked pages. The example being given that if you Liked Taylor Swift's Facebook page, content from apps and groups that post about her (seemingly even if they are links to outside websites) will also optionally appear in your News Feed.

As this is a developing story we'll have more on the changes as we find out. As ever with Facebook updates, expect the roll-out of the changes to occur gradually across the globe.

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