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Craig Pilcher

Facebook's friend problem

1 min read

In the following days, even a passing meeting guaranteed that a friend request would pop up the next time I logged on to Facebook. I felt popular and informed, at all times abreast of what my hallmates, friends, and peers were up to each day....

Facebook's friend problem
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Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Streaming Music Throwdown

6 min read

I have been experimenting with the various streaming music offerings, since it is the future of music consumption.1 Due diligence seems to be the only way to differentiate these rapidly-changing and -improving services, so here we go. Time for another table post.

ServiceGoogle All-AccessRdioSpotifyPandora
Price/month $10 $10 (decreases for multiple accounts) $10 $3
Import ability Upload (available for free) Matches2 Matches N/A
Radio recommendations Seemingly random Ok & adjustable Sparing Repetitive
Last.fm integration Third party3 Yes Yes Third party
Ads on free version No Yes Yes Yes, lots
Desktop No Basically a browser window Yes No

Current champ

Google's music app is pretty great, and when the All-Access part was released it seemed like the perfect complement to complete the service. In my opinion it is no longer doing what the All-Access part is meant to do - helping me discover new music. I guess in the most basic sense, I have heard some songs on there that I had not heard before (not memorable enough for me to bookmark them or add them to a playlist though).

The major feature of Google Music is that you can upload your own library of songs, but people forget that this is not part of the paid service; you can do this for free. Paying just adds the ability to play songs that you did not upload, and roll them into its sub par4 radio stations. Regardless of whether I keep the All-Access service, the music locker facet is invaluable and the best implementation I have seen.

Dark horse

Spotify is probably the biggest player in this space right now (I admit I did not give it a lot of credit on the first draft of this post), but it seems like a mess. I still cannot figure out how to add songs to my library without putting them in a playlist. This must come from years of managing a large library, but I do not want to organize my collection this way. Their radio offering seemed just OK - I tried it again for this first time in months (my starred playlist station) and hit the same 2 albums 5 out of the first 6 plays (The Suburbs and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but still).5

Also-ran

Pandora is kind of in a different boat, but I have used it several times over the past year. The algorithmic muscle of Pandora is great but the idea has yet to be fully realized. The fact that it can only pull from a library of 900k tracks6 limits its usefulness as a recommendation engine. The ads are a bit frequent, but not quite enough to warrant paying.

And the winner is...

Rdio seems like the front runner to me. It has many of the same top-flight features as the other two services, but with a little more attention to detail. The design is fantastic, and the organization is much more straight forward than Spotify. It feels much more social within the service than GMusic, but hitching to a Facebook account is optional rather than mandatory7. The radio recommendations can be adjusted between "familiar" and "adventurous," depending on what you feel like listening to.

There is one feature Rdio has that GMusic and Spotify definitely do not: the queue syncs between devices. This means when you start listening on another device, you are on the same song in your playlist or station. This detail by itself is nearly enough reason to switch.8 You can also mark items for download to your mobile device from the web player, which I know Google can't do.

The only gripe I have seen about Rdio is that it does not advertise its bitrate. Spotify and Google stream at 320 kbps on wi-fi, and Pandora is something like 160 kbps unless you buy a subscription. My argument is that if I hear something that I like but is low quality (on terrestrial radio or over a cellular connection), I am going to purchase it in a high quality format (CD, FLAC, vinyl - audio quality is a rabbit hole in itself). Things that are in a low bit-rate that I don't need to hear again are not a problem. Moot point.

So there are my thousand-plus-word thoughts on the state of streaming music (Beats Music not included, because it is too new). TL;DR: Google Play's best feature does not require the paid version, and Rdio is the intuitive, good-looking underdog with a can't-lose attitude that wins my pick for best streaming music service available.


  1. The second footnote of this link mentions Plex, and while they have a media server, it doesn't support some basic music player functions, like playlists. I am sure this will be remedied in the future, but until then it is behind all the rest of the services listed here. 
  2. Matching with Rdio requires WMP or iTunes, which sucks because I actively avoid both. I don't think Spotify is as strict on sources. 
  3. This basically means no for Android. The only last.fm scrobblers I have tried read from the system audio player, which then catches all the podcasts I listen to as well. It would get the job done, but it is also really annoying. 
  4. The quality of the radio is a function of the feedback you give it, and only gets better over time. It did get better, but the quality definitely plateaued much sooner than I would have liked. This could be a function of what I listened to on the service, but Rdio and Pandora are both still improving their suggestions in my opinion, with roughly the same amount of feedback. 
  5. It does not help that their web player seems to be blocked at my place of employment. Desktop player is (or was) fine, but I have never successfully started their web player.  
  6. The largest library for comparison belongs to Spotify, which has over 20 million tracks. Google and Rdio are not far behind. 
  7. The best social analogy I have heard is Spotify : Facebook :: Rdio : Twitter. Yes, I have lots of friends on Facebook, but there are few that share my music taste. 
  8. Last.fm integration is more that enough reason to switch, with this kind of history

Craig Pilcher

'Virtuous' circles of software

8 min read

I started a list several months ago of iOS-first applications that had everything to gain from launching on  but seemingly just decided not to. Far from complete, and probably like the third post I had ever written on anything, but it was a start. Anyways, this morning on All About Android I heard about this guy who tried to elucidate the point in probably the most smug way possible. The tone makes me feel like he would carry hand sanitizer around just in case he accidentally touched an HTC One. So here is my attempt to FJM this whole thing.

photo: Andy Ihnatko via Compfight

1. "In the US, iOS market share is still extremely strong (even pre-iPhone 5s launch data showed Android having peaked, so Q4 data will be interesting with Apple’s refresh)

Well, since you aren’t going to bother with data, I guess I will: Android covers 52% of the US market to iOS’s 40%. But, if you want to go anecdotally too, I know someone who is dropping iOS entirely because of a gamebreaking iOS7 bug that neither AT&T nor Apple has remedied. This makes me doubt that will make up that 12% gap in Q4.

 Since the vast majority of innovative mobile startups come out of the US, Apple’s stronghold domestically has an absolutely massive impact on developer mindshare

Yes, there are a lot of US startups, because there are a lot of US VCs with a lot of disposable income. Apple’s “stronghold” doesn’t impact developer mindshare, it impacts VC mindshare, because they fall into iOS’s affluent demographic. It is a status symbol to them. That doesn’t make it better or easier to develop for.

2. All of my conversations over the past year with Android developers…  building and releasing on Android costs 2-3x more than iOS.

Ok, anecdotal again. Here’s an anecdote: Any.DO (just featured on The Verge for inspiring the design of iOS7 you love so much) started… on Android! DUN DUN DUN! It built up the hype there before hitting iOS, and I would say it worked out well for them.

3. The effort required to build and release an app is severely gated by capital-raising…

4. These structural limitations around capital raising for venture-backed companies…

*yawn* First world problems. You don’t even use the word ‘mobile’ (let alone ‘iOS’) until #5.

5. To build a mobile app with $1M in capital, a startup can roughly afford to hire one designer, one client developer (iOS or Android) and one back end engineer

Here is the bias. You know who had more than one of each of these (and definitely more capital)? Twitter, after buying Vine. They had nearly 3 months to at least add viewing capability for their Android client before its public release, which was already iOS-only anyway. But maybe that is a bad example. Again, Any.DO shows that you can do Android just as well with the same ‘constraints’.

6. Almost zero startups are going Android-first under these constraints. Why? Because founders know they have an extremely high bar to prove traction on the primary platform, before they can raise additional financing and accelerate into two platforms

Again, this is a fallacy - see my answer to #2 again. Unless you think the “extremely high bar” is somehow lower on iOS. And it might be, when you have (generally) affluent guys paying (generally) affluent guys to create an app for a platform used by (generally) affluent people. It would be hard to get that kind of ‘vision’ to sync across stages of development on platforms with a more diverse base of users.

7. So it’s well known in tech circles today that seed round sizes constrain app development to a single primary platform.

Ok, that may be a point. My broken-record answer of Any.DO did start on only one platform, and most others start on the other platform. But in general, I would ignore any sentence featuring the phrase ‘it’s well known in tech circles’, much like ‘quantum mechanics.’

image

And startups are choosing to go iOS first not only because development is cheaper and easier, but also because money for in-app purchases and advertising is overwhelmingly skewed toward iOS 

This may be true. Once again, I will do your research for you, instead of relying on ‘tech circles’ - Play Store revenue is up to 35% of global app revenue market share, leaving Apple with a huge advantage. It may never be on par with Apple here, but it is hard to compete with an install base of (generally) affluent (generally) white users.

In fact, a recent study of Facebook ads shows ads were 1,790% more profitable on iOS. This is extremely incriminating for Android and is the worst kind of news for Google.

What do Facebook ads have to do with anything? I see Facebook ads on my Galaxy Note 2, and they suck because they are not relevant to me, so I don’t click on them. I only see them in the Facebook app, which is not made by a startup, and probably launched on both platforms as quickly as humanly possible. It is not bad news for Google, it is bad news for Facebook on Android.

You want incriminating? Ad revenue generated on iOS has fallen 11% in market share since last year, while Android has remained steady. I didn’t even have to use a ridiculously large number from a third party that has nothing to do with my overall point.

8. Since iOS better supports startups’ ability to prove metrics requisite for raising Series A rounds from institutional investors, the earliest most innovative services are almost always available first on iOS.

The metrics you gave in #3 were: significant traction, repeatable user acquisition strategy, early ideas toward monetization, etc. What do those have to do with platform at all? Download counts and active users are easily found in the Play Store and its developer console. User acquisition is definitely platform agnostic, and if anything, Android users can get the word out about a new app they are using with the built-in share menu that is light years ahead of iOS. And - repeat - see #2 to show it can be done.

9. … often these startups become acquihires for the top mobile acquirers (FB, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Dropbox, etc). Because they are almost always shutdown at acquihire, big companies often have some of the most talented iOS engineers and product people in residence for a 1 to 2 year earn-out period. Without a doubt, these employees skew toward iOS when they join internal projects or think up new ideas. And when they eventually leave, there is a good chance they’ll stick with iOS again. There is no doubt this forms a sort of virtuous circle of iOS-first talent in the startup community.

This is a symptom, not a cause. You can substitute Android for iOS in that paragraph, and it would be a symptom of Android-first, not the cause of it. And why is this ‘virtuous’? Did you mean to type ‘vicious,’ but your iPhone keyboard autocorrected it? A little Freudian if you ask me.

While in theory Android provides a very modern platform for mobile development,

Gravity is also a theory.

Startups simply cannot afford to bypass iOS and go Android out of the gate. One could even argue the gap is widening.

The gap is widening only in the minds of people like you. You perpetuate this stereotype, and this is the reason companies that are not startups, like Nike, completely skip over half the mobile market in favor of the first choice among the (generally) affluent ‘tech circles.’

The reality is that software innovation at the app layer is accelerating, and converged hardware / software development costs a lot of money.

It is accelerating because there is competition. And starting on a certain platform before moving to another does cost money, but that is not a reason to start on the same platform every time. The startup issue is a chicken and egg scenario, and nothing is going to change until VCs start laying their eggs on the other side of the proverbial fence.

Craig Pilcher

Off the beaten Path

3 min read

I will start off by saying I am a Path apologist. I love the app; it is my go-to for sharing moments from my phone. The design is cutting edge, and the concept works well. I began using it around their second major release (found out about it here) before their last privacy kerfuffle. This was serious, but they fixed the issue almost immediately. They ended up paying an FTC fine for accidentally collecting this contact data from minors (which, again, it immediately deleted).

Path went on its merry way, creating new ways to interact for to copy (see: Path’s search and Graph Search, launched in beta a month later). But when the only major story about you has been a privacy issue, that seems to be all anyone remembers. This past issue frames new attempts at growth in a bad light, which is why the tech media is accusing Path of spammiing users’ contacts.

The “spam” in question, which, albeit annoying, is far preferable to whatever other monolithic networks are doing without telling you. Furthermore, it is most likely due to user error. I have never heard any of my contacts complaining about spam from Path (contacts - please correct me if this assumption is wrong), and I know from use that there are 2 prompts to go through before Path gets any of my contacts’ info. It invited a couple family members, but only when I specifically told it to do so. Path’s biggest issues here are occasional lag time (which is probably why these “spam” messages were sent after this guy uninstalled the app) and selecting everyone for invite by default. It is a little uncouth, but it is an easy fix - last I checked (after the latest update), the “Invite Friends” list left my contacts unchecked by default.

I realize that some people see this as a second strike on privacy, but the team at has shown that, while they make a few sloppy mistakes every once in a while, they are committed to fixing those mistakes and keeping users’ trust, not alienating them as the tech media seems to think. No matter how douchey the CEO might be, people should soon realize Path makes a product they would enjoy greatly, and is FREE TO USE. They occasionally accidentally use your data to contact people you know, and then fix it when they realize the mistake. In my book, that always beats selling your data to people you will never meet.

via Tumblr

photo: Wally Gobetz via Compfight

Craig Pilcher

Facebook Break, Part 2

2 min read

So, I hadn’t been on Facebook directly for about a month until a couple nights ago (not counting one post from Spotify, where I tried to post to Twitter instead of FB but did the opposite - stupid share buttons). Man, the nostalgia wave was intense. I enjoyed my sojourn into the internet wilderness for a month, but this one relapse visit just made it feel lonely.

My renewed interest was piqued by their announcement of Facebook Home. It is an intriguing concept. The cynic in me knows they just want to put one less layer between you and them (and their ads). The pragmatist in me knows that Android has been dying for some kind of integrated messaging ala iMessage, and this looks like a great solution (until Google announces their own at I/O next month). It is another great way for them to leverage their user base and practically inevitable since their introduction of their own app system. Facebook is the only social network robust enough to attempt something like this. I will try it out of morbid curiosity, and will probably start sharing things there more often. At least until I want control again.

But, that aside, it was very easy to function without Facebook. There was more time to read important things, like literature. My phone locked up less often, honestly. I could find updates in other places if I needed to know how someone was doing.

Coming back was even easier, though. One picture posted, 5 likes by the end of the night. Churning out content is fairly easy, but without a built-in audience, what is the point? I guess when the average user is ready to drop out of there and go somewhere else, I know that I will be ready too.

via Tumblr http://craigpilcher.tumblr.com/post/47205579648

Craig Pilcher

...then what are the lists for?

2 min read

Tweetdeck AndroidTwitter dug itself into a deeper hole with its power users last night when it axed the non-web versions of Tweetdeck. It is somehow both totally uncalled for and long overdue. Twitter purchased Tweetdeck in mid-2011, when it was easily the best mobile Twitter client and arguably the best Facebook client at the time as well. As the picture illustrates, Twitter updated Tweetdeck only once, to remove its native picture sharing service, and it has languished in the Google Play Store ever since. In that time, Twitter has moved to a newer, locked-down API and has a new official app on most platforms. However, Tweetdeck arguably still has a better interface, as well as far more features.

I cannot make sense of this. I don't think I would be mad if they integrated Tweetdeck's columns into the default app's interface, because it would greatly improve tracking conversations. Twitter has list functionality, but on mobile they are buried so far down they are practically useless. And why did Twitter sit on this app for a year and a half if they were just going to shut it down? They could have updated it, or just removed Facebook from it if that was the issue. Pushing an inferior version of your own product just to get people to look at ads is not the way to win the tech crowd.

Anyway, they already pushed me over to app.net, where I am hoping that someone will resurrect the Tweetdeck client in spirit.

Craig Pilcher

Facebook Break

3 min read

I finally uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone about two weeks ago, mostly because it sucks. I checked back a few nights ago via the browser, and I had not missed much of anything (except an old friend getting engaged - congrats!). The next logical step is to stop sharing things on Facebook. For the better part of a year, I have prided myself on doing my sharing almost exclusively through third-party avenues (because I want control over my data, and I am a social network hipster), and the only step left is to stop.

Why do I go back, even to share? Because everyone else is there. Facebook has been around for eons in Internet Time. In the beginning, it functioned more like an actual "face book", which people did not update daily. However, it was still people you actually knew and wanted to keep up with. Those roots continue to reinforce themselves over time as you build a digital archive of yourself, but what is left is a gargantuan filter bubble. It is much harder to break out of a filter bubble of people you know IRL, which Facebook knows. That is why the point of the site was lost somewhere between the immediate, actual, meaningful connections and "Your friends like Diet Coke, you should too!" (Of course, this could all change in a week.)

The laundry list of things Facebook actually does is pretty impressive until you consider that several other places offer the same service, usually better. General status updates work very well on Twitter; if it is longer than 140 characters, get a blog. Dropbox, Flickr, and Picasa all offer picture storage and sharing, with the added bonus of export. Instant messaging can be done with GTalk, iMessage, or the mother of all internet communique: email. Link sharing and other content curation are Tumblr's forte. Foursquare has check-ins locked down. Personal moments meant to be shared with only close friends and family can be set up easily in Path or Google+. In fact, G+ does pretty much all of this, and shares it more intuitively than Facebook.

Lifehacker beat me to it, but the way Facebook has adapted their advertising is annoying, albeit nefariously intuitive. Ads themselves are not all that bad. The service has to make money somehow. Google is basically an advertising company, but aside from the search results page it is generally unobtrusive, and the service is good enough that it warrants forgiveness. Almost all the services mentioned are ad-supported, and the alternative to that is paying your own way with something like App.net.

So, for those visiting from my Facebook link, welcome to my page. You may see it pop up occasionally on my FB feed in the future, but independence has to start somewhere. One last cleanup of various outdated likes and other personal details, and I will be on my way. This is a break, not a full-on deletion (because how else will I occasionally use Spotify?). And if they change and improve somehow, I will gladly eat these words.

Craig Pilcher

How to Share Online

2 min read

I keep wrestling with when and how to leave Facebook (and actually have a long draft in progress for when I finally do). But where does one go now? What are the other options?

Well, Twitter was my first thought. But I have almost always used third-party clients to access Twitter, and they have been dicks about that lately. In fact, the developers of my favorite Twitter clients (Falcon Pro and Carbon for Android) held a G+ hangout just yesterday to discuss the token limit situation. I hardly ever tweet from the desktop, but even that is better with third-party apps like Tweetbot (I'm not counting Tweetdeck, which was awesome until Twitter bought it and then totally neglected the Android client).

Google+ is another possible outlet. It manages to have all the features of Facebook (and does a few of them better) without the squicky feeling that they will always step on my privacy. That is an implicit issue with Google, but that has always been their modus operandi: fantastic services in exchange for advertisement. However, Google+ also feels like an endpoint. It is a place where items I share can end up, but I can't take them and move them elsewhere, like Wordpress.  Twitter and FB suffer from this as well (I haven't investigated Tumblr as much, but I fear the same).

But then yesterday's App.net news came, and it is starting to sound better and better. Smaller community, great global stream, built-in storage, developer friendly, and user-first. It hits all the right buttons. I may have to give this a try.

There will come a time when we all host our own data and are able to share it however we choose. Until then, I will continue being a social network hipster.

Craig Pilcher

Privacy

2 min read

The amount of people that do not (or even choose not to) understand modern technology and the internet is bewildering. I see it day to day at work (my company thinks it is a "tech" company! Cute) and from the people elected to make laws. I remember a TA in a software engineering course tell us about an internship he had in which he automated all his work in the first couple days using a few Python scripts. This gave him a free summer to goof around. Menial tasks can generally be avoided these days.

I guess that is why CISPA bothers me. It seems like a step in the right direction from SOPA, but that step mostly benefits the intermediaries handling user information, not end users themselves. Internet communication is (generally) free speech, and expecting to know who can see your data seems reasonable enough. But the people writing the laws do not see this perspective; they see terrorists and scofflaws (always wanted to use that term) that must be stopped at all costs, and the internet as a readily governable entity. If you can't obtain a warrant for that information, then why do you need it?

The bottom line is just understanding what you are getting into when you are sharing data online. Microsoft keeps calling out Google for this, and the only reason it gains any traction is from the personification of Google reading your email. Putting any rational thought into that renders it absurd (how many people would they have to hire to read every Gmail account?). Part of the reason I started this blog, besides having a place for longform thoughts, is that I don't really trust Facebook with my data that much to begin with. Ever since they went public, they have seemed a little desperate about finding new ways to monetize my data. I would like to use that data to interact with people instead of with more computers. And if I would like it to be private, it should be private.

Craig Pilcher

Path

2 min read

Facebook is causing me major hipster backlash. I wasn't there first, but I was damn sure there before they let just anyone use it. It was such a different place when you actually had a Wall, and the big addition was uploading pictures.

It has evolved into a hideous amalgamation of all the things you do on the internet, or at least it is trying to do that. I admit that this is the only way I use it now, but I'm almost ashamed to still use it, even in that way. People on Twitter are more interesting and up to date, and people on Google+ are more engaged. Foursquare does its one thing better than everyone else. Tumblr handles memes and things far better, and you can make it your own.

But Path is different. It is what people initially put into their Facebook profile before it spirals out of control. Poignant and personal. No more or less information than you need. Limits on your connections force you to choose who you share with. Its focus on design is so great that Facebook has no problem copying it outright.

I still do not have the courage to drop off of Facebook, but I am close. Shareholders and the new drive to monetize everything I put into it make me wary of putting anything else into it. But I am trying to find a reason past sheer disgust. I want others to share that disgust and subsequently make their own exodus. If they are worth it, I will find them wherever they end up.

Update (2/5): Looks like I wasn't far off.