Black Friday Is Almost Over: What Will You Be Spending Your Money On Next Year?

To quote Dwight Hansen, I do know a thing or two about a thing or two and as such I’m allowed, sometimes, to prognosticate. Even as we thrust our fists into the air triumphantly when we snag the last tattered box containing a Kung Zhu hamster value bundle, the IT industry never sleeps and, like a shark, it must keep moving to survive. Based on what we’ve seen this year, let’s take a look at what we can expect to see next year when we once again fall into the Black Friday Breech.

Chrome OS Laptops and Tablets – We know that Chrome OS is coming in 2011 and I wouldn’t be surprised if early versions start appearing at CES. Why is this important? Because Chrome OS is an OS for the everyman. It is “just” a browser which means, in theory, that the problems related to many OSes won’t be a problem here. It will, in short, be the ultimate “default” OS for beginning users and it will save us all from the Microsoft and Apple “taxes” simultaneously. If Android is any guide, the first versions will be garbage but by November 2011 they should be in the second release (Peanut Butter Cup or whatever they’ll call it).

Blackberry Playbook – We’ve been pretty hard on the Playbook because Matt and I don’t think Blackberry can make non-keyboard devices for a general market. The Storm, if you’ll recall, was a piece and the Storm 2 wasn’t much better. But a brand is a brand and a Blackberry device will sell. Best Buy even wants to sell it, which can make or break a device. Also look for an upcoming Palm OS slate from HP.


Impressive Playstation Phone – This came out of left field but it seems quite interesting. Sony Ericsson is working on a new phone designed for game players. It appears to be PSP compatible (we aren’t sure yet) and it will launch in February. Our own tipster told us that the screen and game playing experience were “incredible.” If they can pull this off and offer great games in the Android store SE will finally have a winner.

iPad 2MG created a speculative history about what would happen when the iPad 2 drops and it sounds pretty exciting. First, you’ll definitely get a front facing camera and a nicer screen and, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be running it on Verizon.

Google TV Powered Cable Box/DVRCable isn’t going anywhere, even with the rise of a la carte and general TV piracy. That’s why Google TV needs to end up in more devices and that’s why it needs to be integrated more deeply with a general set top box experience. If there’s one thing I enjoy about the Logitech Revue it’s how it plays quite nicely with the DISH box. However, if all of that were integrated into one uniform UI, you might be able to sell the device to more than just hard core geeks.


Nintendo 3DS – This year’s hot toy will be the Kinect. Next year’s will be the Nintendo 3DS. Like the Kinect, the 3DS is kind of a gimmick but it will breathe life into the DS platform and give Nintendo another piece of hardware to sell until they come out with a new console in about 2012.

The Kackel Dackel – Sorry. I just had to put this in here.


The Address Book Wars Continue: Facebook Contact-Scraping Chrome Extension Taken Down


This is just getting silly. Yesterday, we reported on a new Chrome extension created by a developer that allowed you to scrape your Facebook contact information. Called “Facebook Doesn’t Own My Friends,” the extension provided a workaround to import your friends contact information on Facebook into Gmail and CSV files. As we noted in our post, the extension was taken down shortly after our story went up. The exporter is still down, and it’s unclear who has actually taken the exporter down, but the implications are clear. The only companies that will provide these technologies are Facebook and Google, and this will probably involve a peace treaty of some sort.

So what got us to this dark place where ten minutes after the workaround was posted on TechCrunch, it was taken down? Nearly a month ago, Google began blocking Facebook API access to download Google contacts. Facebook hacked its way around that, and Google subsequently issued a statement that they were “disappointed”. Facebook Platform engineer Mike Vernal then responded in the comments of one of our blog posts about the slap fight, defending Facebook’s policy and calling it “consistent”.

A few weeks ago, Google started posting a warning to users who tried to import their Gmail contact to Facebook, effectively saying that your contacts information will be effectively trapped inside Facebook without the ability to re-export the data. It seemed that the message was somehow blocked because the “warning” subsequently disappeared when you tried to export your Gmail data.

Then last week, Facebook started removing the Gmail option from the list of third party email providers on “Find Friends.” The Gmail option was also removed on Facebook-owned FriendFeed.

What’s so confusing about this back and forth, passive-aggressive brouhaha is that it’s unclear which company is initiating each action. Both companies have remained fairly tight-lipped about the issue.

The key part of all this is reciprocity—Google feels that since they are providing the ability to export Gmail contact data to Facebook, Facebook should allow Gmail users to do the same.

The thing is that reciprocity is an issue that affects relationships between major countries. Whether it be over tariffs, law enforcement or immigration policies, countries and states deal with reciprocity daily. Often times, agreements are finally made through treaties.

For now, this rigmarole has continued for nearly two months-is it time for a peace treaty between Google and Facebook?


11 Or 13? Today, Both MacBook Airs Cost The Same

A recurring refrain in my Twitter feed is the coded question, “11 or 13?” Despite it’s religious overtones, this is not a reference to passages in the Bible. It is a question familiar to any Apple-obsessed consumer: Should I get the 11-inch MacBook Air or the 13-inch?

If you’ve been asking yourself the same question, today the price difference will not be the deciding factor. Although the cheapest 11″ MacBook Air is still $999, a Black Friday deal on the the 13″ models makes the lower-end one with a 128 GB flash drive the same price as the higher-end 11″ model with the 128 GB flash drive. It is actually a dollar cheaper, $1,198 versus $1,199, and the battery lasts longer.

Apple has other Black Friday deals, most of them rather meager, but this is the one that caught my eye. The MacBook Air replaces the hard drive with flash memory, and as a result is a lot faster for many tasks than even more powerful MacBook Pros. You can read MG’s loving review for more details.

If you are thinking about getting one today, the only reason not to get the 13″ MacBook Air is about half a pound of extra weight.


Associated Press (Or CBS) Surrenders Their Dignity

A lot of people out there still seem to think that all blogs do is riff off of major media content. Reblog it, or just plain plagiarism. Most people know that most major news is now broken by blogs, but the prejudice is still out there.

One thing we abhor is “the unattributed rewrite,” When some publication takes a story that was broken by someone else and simply rewrites the same story in their own words without any attribution to the source of the story. It’s just not done by reputable sites, whether they’re blogs or mainstream media. A simple “the story was first broken by the Associated Press,” or whoever, is the honorable thing to do.

Speaking of the Associated Press, they’ve stepped in it again.

We’ve been critical in the past. They have ridiculous rules around the quoting of their work. Rules they’ve broken themselves multiple times. They still owe me $12.50, for example, and there’s the more recent Woot story. Then there was that whole Obama thing. And the legendary story about AP Threatening their own affiliate for embedding an AP YouTube video.

We love them so much for their hapless foray into the Internets that we’ve banned them for life. We’re not sure exactly what that means, but we’ll figure it out over time.

Now there’s this.

On November 18 we broke the news of the MySpace/Facebook surrender in a post titled Hell Freezes Over As MySpace Fully Surrenders To Facebook. Everyone covering the story read ours, simply because we were hours before the news officially broke.

The AP later that day published their own version of the story. And they used “Surrender” in the title. See MySpace to Facebook: OK, We Surrender.

Even that isn’t cause to complain. I mean, they were surrendering after all. But their choice of picture for the story – the surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, is just too much of a coincidence. There is no way that story was written and that picture added as a completely independent beginning. They should have chosen a different picture, or they should have given us credit for breaking the story.

And so for that, AP, we must respond. As of this moment, you are on double secret probation, and we ask that you exit the tech news business in an expeditious and orderly fashion until you can behave like non-evil, non-lazy citizens again.

Update: Jason Kincaid says that CBS may have chosen the image and even the title, not AP. See here for the same article without the picture and with various titles. If that’s the case I apologize to AP and revoke the double secret probation. Insert CBS above instead. We’ll update if we hear more from either organization.


Google Checkout Now Offers Black Friday Deals

 


Last year, Google Checkout debuted a holiday savings promotion in time for Cyber Monday, the monday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It looks like Google has gotten a slight head start this year, and is now offering Black Friday promotions for Google Checkout promotions.

 

According an email sent to consumers from Google Checkout, Google will offer exclusive discounts of $5, $10, or $20 when you use the payments system for purchases on Buy.com, BlueNile, and others. You can find participating e-retailers on the deals homepage here.

Black Friday spending is expected to exceed that of last year, and as more and more consumers flock to the web for their holiday shopping, it makes sense for Google to offer lucrative discounts in return for using the search giant’s payment system.

It’s worth noting that Google Checkout competitor and online payments giant payPal debuted its holiday deals a few weeks ago.


Google’s Internal Chrome OS Netbooks Codenamed “Mario” And “Andretti”?

So, it appears that the first Chrome OS netbooks are set to launch in the next few weeks. And it now appears that the first ones will be Google-branded versions, built by a third-party manufacturer. And you can be sure that Google is already testing these internally, as they do this for basically all of their products leading up to launch. And a few more hints about them may reside in the Chromium issue tracker.

For several months, Google has been internally testing Chrome OS on a wide variety of netbooks. These have included Asus Eee machines, Lenovo machines, Dell machines, and a few others. How do I know? Because they’re often listed under “Type of computer” in bug reports. But more interesting has been the numerous references to “dogfood” machines. “Dogfooding” is the name given to the process of internally testing your own product. Again, Google has been doing this for months.

But a “dogfood” machine could be anything. Perhaps it’s just one of the brands mentioned above slightly modified. But recently, the number of bugs referencing “dogfood” machines has seemed to give way to two new types of machines: “Mario” and “Andretti”.

For non-IndyCar fans, Andretti is basically the Michael Jordan of the sport. He’s often referenced as the fastest driver on the planet. And that’s important because Google has made it very clear that perhaps the main key to their Chrome OS netbooks is that they must be fast. They must boot in seconds. Basically, instantly. They must be like Mario Andretti.

Obviously, it’s just a guess. But given the number of references to “Mario” and “Andretti” machines, I’m thinking these may be the nicknames that Google has given to their dogfood Chrome OS devices that they mean to release next month. The names didn’t start appears in the logs until mid-October, and since then, references have increased in the reports.

Further, more detailed reports list the OS version as “Indy” (the platform is “Chrome OS”). Cute, Google.

If my guess is right, the next question is if it will be “Mario” or “Andretti” that crosses the finish line next month and gets released? Or perhaps both will? Fasten your seat belts.

[photo: flickr/Thomas Duchnicki]


Inevitable! Google Chrome Extension Exports Your Facebook Contacts


Well look what we have here … Last time we checked in on the Facebook/Google slapfight, Facebook had removed the option to import your contacts from Gmail and was still holding strong on the whole “denying contact info access to Google” rigamarole that started the fight in the first place. Up until now many had no other choice but to use Yahoo Mail if they wanted to mass export their Friends data from Facebook into Google. Well Happy Thanksgiving data reciprocity fans! A third party developer has decided to build “Facebook Doesn’t Own My Friends,” a Chrome extension that lets you easily export your Facebook Friends’ contact information.

Whoever built this is pretty vehement about whose side they’re playing on. Take a look at the sarcastic tone of the “About” description.

“Despite what Facebook says, if someone is your “friend” and you can see his/her email address on his/her Facebook info, they are probably OK with you emailing them.

Facebook doesn’t let you export this data, so they expect you to click on each of your friends’ pages, copy their email address (or other contact information), and paste it into your email client. Kind of ridiculous? Yes.”

I just tried it and it works, scraping and exporting your contacts into both Gmail and CSV files even though it might take awhile and multiple tries if you’ve got hundreds of friends. And while the extension is not officially affiliated with Google (or Facebook), it going to be exciting to see what happens to it after this post.

Since this is a Chrome extension it might be harder for Facebook to block, as browser extensions can make scraping seem indistinguishable from actual users clicking in their browsers. It looks like the Berlin Wall of data portability has started to crumble, so hurry up and export those Friends contacts while you still can.

Update: No confirmation on whether this is an intentional block from Facebook’s side but users are reporting that the extension stopped scraping about 10 minutes after this post went up. I’ve contacted both Facebook and Google for more information and will update the post if I hear back.


Google VP: Chrome OS Coming To Tablets & TVs; Windows And Sys Admins Going Down

Chrome OS draws near. Last night brought perhaps the more surefire sign yet: Google is openly talking to The New York Times about it. Perhaps that is in response to rumors that it was being delayed into next year. While details are still scant, NYT reports that before the end of the year, Google will release a lightweight netbook running Chrome OS. It will likely be branded as a Google product, but built by a third-party, similar to what the search giant did with their Nexus One phone, says the report.

This is in line with what we’ve heard and were told recently. While a full-scale roll out of Chrome OS has likely been pushed into 2011, Google is still saying that they will release something before the end of the year. Based on messages in the open source Chromium forums, it would seem that this will be a beta version of the OS. One that yes, will be running on their own device that they’re currently dogfood testing (testing within the company).

But what may be most interesting in the NYT report is what Linus Upson, Google’s Vice President of Engineering in charge of Chrome, had to say about the new OS:

But Mr. Upson said that Chrome OS would be a computing platform stretching to hand-held devices, tablets and TVs. “We are starting with laptops and we will expand in both directions,” he said.

This seems opposed to what Google CEO Eric Schmidt said last week at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. When he was asked if Chrome OS and Android would compete with one another, he said that they current felt that Android was better geared towards touch surfaces, while Chrome OS was better for devices with keyboards.

Obviously, Android is currently Google’s OS for handheld devices, tablets, and TVs (it is what Google TV runs on top of). Upson’s comments suggest that the Chrome OS will eventually go head to head with Android in those areas. Further, mock-ups done on the Chromium website show Google’s current line of thinking for how the new OS could work on such devices.

And while Google says there is no conflict between the two teams building each product, it’s clearly a bit of a confusing situation for both consumers and for Google executives as well.

When Google co-founder Sergey Brin was asked about the co-existence of the two earlier this year, he stated another belief: that the two would eventually merge. Essentially, the line of thinking seems to be that apps are needed right now as pure web technologies like HTML5 aren’t quite where they need to be yet. As those technologies mature, it would seem as if the idea behind Chrome OS is more in line with Google’s mission than Android is. That is, all you need is the web.

This mentality comes across in Upson’s comments as well. “When people look at Chrome OS, they’re going to be like, ‘It’s just a browser, there’s nothing exciting here.’ Exactly. It’s just a browser, there’s nothing exciting here — that’s the point,” he told the NYT.

He goes on to say that 60 percent of businesses could immediately replace their Windows machines with Chrome OS machines. Yes, 60 percent!

He also apparently said that he hopes the new OS will put corporate sys admins out of their jobs because everything will just be updated automatically over the web. Something tells me Google may be wishing he phrased that differently.

Chrome OS: one giant pink slip for sys admins.

Obviously, Upson’s comments are likely an overly optimistic view of what could go down when Chrome OS is released. But I, for one, am extremely excited for it. I would estimate that 95 percent of everything I do on a computer in a given day is now in a web browser. And several of the things in the other 5 percent — like taking notes — I could do in the browser, I just don’t for whatever reason.

Media management remains a big issue, but Google is working on taking that online as well. (Though it may not be going so well.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m essentially already using Chrome OS, it just happens to reside inside of OS X right now. If Google can cut out that middle man in the name of making an even faster and more seamless computing experience, I’m in.


Puralytics CEO On Cleaning Water With Light, Winning The Cleantech Open

The Cleantech Open— a prestigious annual competition for U.S. tech startups that protect, restore, and reduce the negative impact of humans on the environment— announced its 2010 winners this week. Puralytics, a clean water startup from Beaverton, Oregon, took first prize.

The Puralytics team invented and sells a nanotechnology-based, photochemical water purification system that, in comparison to other available systems, can purify water more quickly, remove more impurities from it, and requires less electricity to do so. With 15 percent of the world’s total estimated 6.5 billion population lacking freshwater enough to live a healthy life today, companies with promising water technology are in demand, and could help abate a global water and humanitarian crisis.

The executive director of the Cleantech Open Rex Northen said, “Puralytics stood out because they have developed something that will have a tremendous environmental and social impact. Their technology lets you use LED light or sunlight as a mechanism to clean water, and it lacks the toxic output many others have. The team was also very strong.”

Puralytics’ chief executive and founder, Mark Owen, is a serial entrepreneur and inventor whose thirty-some successful patents (according to his own calculations) have generated over one billion dollars in revenue for companies he has worked for and founded.

Owen spoke with TechCrunch about winning the Cleantech Open 2010 National Business Competition, and how his latest innovation cleans water with light. An edited transcript of the conversation follows below.

TC: What environmental problem does your company solve?

MO: Purifying water has been a dirty process using filters, membranes, cleaning chemicals and mercurcy lamps. The systems in use today waste most of the water they’re trying to purify, and require a lot of electricity. With reverse osmosis systems, for example, about 80% of the water that could be purified goes out into the sewer.

We have a different way to purify drinking water or water for light-industrial and commercial use. Our system processes all the water, using half as much electricity, and doesn’t require you to produce anything toxic. It also removes things from the water that others cannot, like pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

The EPA just released a list of 169 endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) that they will track from now on in domestic drinking water. These are things that even in small quantities can cause health problems for some people [and animals] including caffeine. Our system removes them from the water.

TC: How does Puralytics’ technology work?

MO: If I was explaining Puralytics to a classroom full of kids, I’d say, “There are little things in your water that may not be good for you. We use a special light to make those go away.”

We use LEDs to illuminate a nanotechnology coating we’ve developed, that’s on a mesh where the water flows through a main system. This technology is not filtering at all. What it is doing instead, is creating a chemical reaction that causes molecules to break apart and break down in the water.

The right wavelengths of light and this nanotechnology coating cause five photochemical processes that work to pull contaminants out of the water onto the surface of the mesh, then dump the energy of what’s been absorbed into the molecules to break them apart.

Most organic molecules are lots of carbons, hydrogens, and oxygen and a few other things. Essentially we break a long molecule apart, all the way down, and reform it as CO2 and water and minerals. We actively destroy contaminants in the water, but leave the minerals that are good for you in it. Other treatments take out minerals that are good for you. But ours does not.


TC: Can you see the process?

MO: It isn’t really visible. You see a kind of purplish light. If you could, you might see something that looks like water turning into steam and dissipating in the air. Something is changing form in there.

TC: Where did you get the idea for this?

MO: My previous company was Phoseon Technology. I’m still a director. We actually make light emitting diode (LED) drying equipment that can dry inks, coatings and adhesives very quickly using little energy. If you have any Ikea furniture, they spray on the coatings to make it look good, and make it durable, and Phoseon lamps dry it in about three seconds.

I got to thinking about what else I could do with LEDs. The original idea was to replace mercury lamps that are used to kill germs in hospitals and in water with an LED array. It didn’t turn out to be efficient. There are other good solutions to killing germs, I learned. But there weren’t efficient solutions to take out chemicals and heavy metals and other things of concern from water.

Another thing that inspired me was a building I saw in Japan, within Tokyo’s Expo City. It had been sprayed with a coating that kept it from getting dirty. Sun activates the coating to break up dirt and chemicals on the surface, so it mostly stays clean. I asked myself if instead of making the building clean, you could make the water clean.

I brought together a team— experts in chemistry, optics and physics— and we started figuring out which wavelengths of light were optimum, what kind of nanotechnology we could use, what kind of coating was optimum, and all the other things that could commence this idea around 2007.


TC: Do you have customers already? Who are they?

MO: We began shipping to customers in 2009. The majority have been industrial process customers. They need water that’s ultra pure for use in the lab, or in processes they use to make their products. Tap water isn’t clean enough. We are useful to pharmaceuticals, biotech and semiconductor manufacturers, and coffee franchises alike. We have several Fortune 500 clients.


TC: What’s next for Puralytics?

MO: I told you about our primary product, the Puralytics Shield, which uses LEDs to purify water for light industrial and commercial use. We have another one called the Solar Bag. It uses the same technology but without the LEDs. So, you have a nanotech coated mesh inside of a bag. You fill the bag with water, stick it in the sun, and the nanotech purifies the water over the course of several hours instead of a few minutes. This is going to be important for getting clean drinking water to people without access in the developing world.

One of our partners, Hydration Technologies humanitarian water division, is helping us sell the Solar Bag to nonprofits that can distribute it. We also work with different aid organizations around the world— including one in Kenya, and another one in Bangladesh— to supply our technology in developing world applications. We’ll be figuring out how to do more of this.

We’ve been funded by four government grants, a seed round, and now some prize money. We’ll be using that develop a next generation product and expand our market presence. But we’ll also be looking to raise growth capital, soon.

[Editor’s note: The national competition prize included $150,000 worth of business services, and $100,000 in the form of a seed investment from a consortium of investors: Wilson Sonsini Investment Company, Stiefel Family Foundation, and the Cleantech Open.]

Images courtesy Douglas Schwartz Photography

More information about the 2010 Cleantech Open National Business Competition winners is available via the competition’s winners site and competition’s Youtube Channel.


Gillmor Gang 11.25.10 (TCTV)

The Gillmor Gang almost didn’t happen today, as technical problems tormented the hastily assembled pre-holiday hoedown. Will Kinect save Microsoft? No, says Robert Scoble. Will Facebook and Apple destroy our freedom as they capture our identities and lock us behind a pay wall of our own choosing? Yes, says identity leader Dick Hardt. Gillmor had other ideas, but spent much of his time below decks trying to wrangle Kevin Marks’ up and down Skype connection. This is a long show, about as long as it takes to set up Apple TV and the new iOS version 4.2 on a chain of iDevices, but in the end something about it works. Enjoy while you’re waiting for the turkey to cook, and a Happy Thanksgiving from the Gang.


TechCrunch Scores An Interview With Santa Claus. And Yes, His Epic Beard Is Real.

I’ve come across quite a few Santa Claus imposters in my time. Most of them were easy to spot: there’s the funky smell that has more in common with aftershave than cookies; the squeaky voice that would make any reindeer snicker; or, most often, the fake beard that looks like a giant cotton ball and droops in all the wrong places.

But last Tuesday, I met the real Santa. Big as a house. Able to list off a dozen varieties of cookies in one breath. Six foot, eleventy-three inches tall. Smelled like candy canes. And a voice that was somehow both jolly and booming at the same time. So, of course, we grabbed a camera and asked him what makes St. Nick tick. Be sure to stay tuned until he discusses the tension between real and ‘designer’-bearded Santas.

The visit was made possible by the goofy folks at Microsoft, who have partnered with Southwest Airlines to place Santa Clauses in over 20 airports across the US this holiday seasons. Kids will be invited to snap a photo with him, which they can then upload using Microsoft’s photo and email services. Pretty neat.

You social media fiends should be happy too: this awesome Santa, who goes by ‘Walter’ during the off-season, maintains a presence on both Twitter and Facebook. You can book him for parties at Santa4events.com, and he’s also part of the Santas of Northern California Club. Watch the video for more on these clubs — there’s apparently quite a large community.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Santa said that while I’ve had a few blips on the ‘naughty’ meter this year, my needle is currently pointing toward ‘nice’. Let’s hope I can keep it together for another month.

And Happy Holidays from the TechCrunch Team!


Are You In A Foodpickle This Thanksgiving? Get Your Cooking Qs Answered In Realtime.

As everyone is getting their turkeys into the oven and putting the finishing touches on Thanksgiving Day meals, a lot of questions come up. What should the internal temperature of a turkey be to know it is done? How many mashed sweet potatoes would make 3 cups? How do I soften hardened brown sugar? The answers (165 degrees, 3, and microwave it) can be found on Foodpickle, a crowdsourced Q&A section of the foodie site Food52.

You can ask a question on Foodpickle itself, or tweet it to @foodpickle. Answers are tweeted back at you. Foodpickle also accepts text messages to 803-380-FOOD (3663).

And if you are lucky, your question might even be answered by food writer Amanda Hesser. Food52 is her site which she is using to crowdsource her next cookbook with Merrill Stubbs. It attracts a very active community of cooks. Anyone can answer a question on Foodpickle, and the best answers are voted up. If you stil have any last-minute cooking questions this Thanksgiving, give it a try.


Can Anything Stop The Facebook Juggernaut?

So. Facebook. $35 billion valuation; 600 million users; 25% of all US Web traffic — and all that with fewer employees than Google has job openings. The inventor of the World Wide Web recently warned that the web may be endangered by Facebook’s colossal walled garden. A Google engineer was recently paid $3.5 million to not jump ship to work there. Facebook seems an unstoppable juggernaut. And I kind of want them to die.

Not because of their policies. They’ve been reasonably sensitive to their users’ wants, and willing to admit when they were wrong (remember Facebook Beacon?) There have been worrying signs of late, for example, their two-faced attitude towards data portability and their trademarking of the word “Face”, but I don’t (yet) object to what they do.

I dislike Facebook because they’re mediocre. They have a platform and opportunity unlike anyone else, ever—and what have they done with it? Nothing. None of their so-called innovations are actually even remotely so. Copying Twitter was smart, but hardly new; ditto Foursquare. They called Facebook Groups an innovation; it’s a basic feature they should have implemented years ago. Now they’re laughably trying to claim that integrating email into their messaging system is a world-shaking revolution.

As usual, William Gibson put it best: “Facebook feels like a mall. Twitter feels like the street.” (Which I suppose makes Zynga the mall’s arcade.) It’s one thing to shop there occasionally, but quite another to be a full-fledged mallrat—and according to the stats, that’s what we have collectively become. I want to believe that eventually we’ll wake up, and grow up, and realize that new and interesting things mostly happen elsewhere.

And so, I speculate hopefully: what if Facebook is the new LiveJournal?

You might not remember LiveJournal, a now-moribund social-blogging site, but Mark Zuckerberg does: the second scene in The Social Network depicts him liveblogging a hacking jag on his LiveJournal. (Unlike much of the movie, that scene is mostly true-to-life.) I was on LJ too, back then, mostly to keep track of my California friends while I was bouncing around the planet. Now their accounts add up to a ghost town—and while most have moved to Facebook, they’re far less active there. They’re not alone: LJ’s own stats indicate that while their userbase has grown, total user activity has actually declined.

What if LJ’s decline is a warning bell for Facebook? What if the natural human tendency is for people to initially get all excited and obsessed about social networking—but eventually, after a few years, they grow increasingly bored with it, and begin to slowly drift away?

This is a testable hypothesis. The key stat is the relationship between how long one has been a Facebook user and how much time one spends on the site. Only Facebook knows those numbers, though, and they aren’t talking. Until they do, I could cling to that hope . . .

—but here’s the kicker; it doesn’t even matter. Facebook still can’t be stopped.

Even if my apocalyptic prophecies of a global surge in enlightened self-actualization come to pass, and our collective Facebook obsession begins to fade, it will remain a mighty titan. For Mark Zuckerberg remembers LiveJournal too, and he and his braintrust have already ensured that Facebook will remain indispensable even if their users begin to lose interest.

It isn’t just a site any more: like Amazon or Google, Facebook has become a utility. That’s not a metaphor. The number of apps and sites that rely on Facebook Connect and its Graph API is skyrocketing, according to all the startups/developers I know (and, heck, here’s some actual data too.) Even once-mighty MySpace surrendered to Facebook Connect last week. Google’s half-hearted attempts to forestall them are too little, too late.

Facebook has become to the social web what Microsoft is to the desktop: mindbogglingly gargantuan, relentlessly mediocre, and almost inescapable. Like Microsoft twenty years ago, they will succeed because a bad standard is better than none: and like Microsoft ten years ago, they “innovate” by clumsily copying—and then trying to squash—the real innovators.

So let the backlash boom! Maybe it will finally spur Zuckerberg & Co. into doing something genuinely interesting and innovative with their invincible machine.


An iPhone App For Your Business For Just $39 A Month? Bizness Apps Raises Funding

Bizness Apps CEO Andrew Gazdecki checked in to tell us that they’ve joined the admittedly very crowded market of DIY iPhone app development platforms, but says they can do it from start to finish for just $39 a month, obviously a highly competitive price.

The fledgling company has just scored an undisclosed round of seed funding from two angel investors, namely Build.com CEO Chris Friedland (see his reasons for investing here) and founder and CEO of Collegescheduler.com Robert Strazzarino.

I’m not entirely convinced every small or medium-sized business should have its own iPhone application, but hey, your mileage may vary. At a rate of $39 a month, it sure becomes affordable for a lot of companies that wouldn’t otherwise spend money on native iOS applications.

Obviously, the applications that one can build with Bizness Apps won’t exactly become the most sophisticated ones available, but it’s not that they come completely void of useful features, either. The company doesn’t charge a setup fee, and gives business owners control over the creation, editing and management of their very own iPhone app.

Every iPhone app is custom-made for businesses, submitted to the App Store and regularly updated with new features and improvements by the Bizness Apps team.

Available features include turn-by-turn GPS directions, sharing capabilities that play nice with Facebook, Twitter and email clients, in-app messaging and push notifications, check-in and couponing capabilities, calendering options and more.

The company makes money from monthly support and maintenance fees, but also offer custom iPhone app development and design services.