The Facebook Phone is here, except it’s not exactly a phone – the real product is Facebook Home, a suite of Android-based apps that take over your handset and turn it into an all-Facebook-all-the-time device. Think this is just the next iteration of the Facebook app? Think again. With Home, the social network is leveraging its enormous platform to look further down the road, into the age when our every action and engagement are being created and consume with the help of the virtual world. While that might sound like a dystopian dream world, we’re inching – really, galloping – toward it every day. But is Home how Facebook will get us there?
The power of real time
Right now, we update Facebook with things we’ve done. Take a look at your News Feed: It’s full of links to stories your friends have read, profile pictures they changed, cover photos they updated, photos they’ve shared, photos they’ve been tagged in. Everywhere you look, you see the past tense.
Facebook’s certainly trying to change that. The status update bar’s “What’s on your mind?” prompt is trying to get you to respond and share in real-time. The location check-in feature is certainly helping matters, but apps like Foursquare and Yelp are still the location heavyweights, and when it comes to real time, Twitter obviously is cleaning up.
Facebook knows we aren’t engaging enough, and when we are, we aren’t doing it as things are happening to us. Reminders to share what we’re doing or thinking have been popping up, because Facebook wants to know now. The mobile push it’s made has inarguably helped boost our real-time interaction; we’re posting more pictures as we take them, we check-in more, we post updates about we’re doing as we’re doing it. But it’s still not enough, because the social market is expanding into some new, 24-7 territory, and it’s all about real-time.
The idea of lifecasting is essentially what “social media” is quickly evolving into. The term has been around for awhile, but it formerly was generally implied to people livestreaming their every activity. But it’s just now beginning to mean something else. We’ve been updating our various social accounts with our thoughts and photos and links and locations, but we aren’t quite doing it as it’s happening. There are these split seconds between something happen and when you post it, and the social market wants these seconds.
This is partially what’s driving the influx of social-mobile-local apps appearing over the last year or so. Apps like Highlight, Glancee, and even the genre’s cursed predecessor Color are trying (or tried, in Color’s case) to create ambient, flexible social networks that change as you change. They might have been the butt of the post-SXSW joke last year, but the concepts behind them are the inevitable, unavoidable future.
Devices like Memoto and Google Glass prove as much: They are enabling us to d live our actual and digital lives simultaneously. The idea is to break down the walls between what we want to post online and what we actually post online; that distinction might sound trivial, but plenty of market players have spent innumerable hours making the things separating our online and real lives smaller and less noticeable.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it himself today: Our future generations will be using devices to interact and share and communicate that don’t look anything like a computer as we currently know it. Facebook wanted to bump us from the desktop to the smartphone, and now it wants to bump us from the Facebook smartphone app … to the Facebook smartphone experience.
All Facebook everything
It seems like Facebook has already managed to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, and Home wants to increase this. Home is, more or less, a way to transform your phone into a one-stop-Facebook-shop. While you can use other functions we’re traditionally familiar with, you can also do everything you could possibly need to through a Facebook-made feature. That essentially means is that you’re living your mobile life through Facebook and on its terms.
When you make you make calls or text message or search for something, Facebook Home is the bridge you’re using to get there, and all of that real-time data is fed into the network. Plus, having Facebook as your home screen and lock screen (not to mention the constant feeding of Facebook updates to these locations) is fully intended to get you to engage and interact with the network more often, and more immediately.
A recent study showed that we’re checking Facebook via smartphone as many as 14 times a day. I don’t know about you, but I use it more to monitor than anything else. Now, the immediacy with which all things Facebook are brought front and center makes it harder than ever to ignore … or just harder than ever to ignore until you get home and open up your laptop. You see it now, you’re more likely to respond now. And thus, an actual timeline of your life is being created and recorded.
The present is the future … man
Facebook tends to get design right, and Facebook Home is no exception. The demos we’ve seen are beautiful and inspiring – sort of like Timeline’s were … but that didn’t mean users loved it. The pressure is on for Facebook to drive us to mobile, and to get us to do everything in that space. Home sort of feels like a two-handed push and a “jump on in, the water’s fine!”
And that begs a lot of questions about whether we really want to live our lives on Facebook. Decreasing engagement with the social network would suggest we’re growing weary of it, that maybe we’ve outgrown it. But Home is a pretty intense departure from how we’re currently experiencing Facebook; it’s trying to put what’s inside of Facebook front and center and peeling back the branded-wrapper around it. It’s more like an augmented-reality experience that just happens to be running on this device we call a smartphone, or at least that’s the attempt. Just take a look at how different Facebook mobile as we know it is from Home.
It’s more difficult than a simple survey to see if this is what we want. We are a culture increasingly comfortable with living our lives online, with real-time creation and consumption, with devices that will automatically, seamlessly record and broadcast our actions. Home is how Facebook is weaving itself into this; it’s been stuck in the past – literally, collecting our past – but now it wants to be a very intimate part of our present.
Because the present and what’s happening now, that’s the real future of social.