Unfriending Facebook

So, I finally deleted my Facebook account. This was something I’ve been batting around for what seems like years, but after about 6 months of having my account deactivated, I pressed the button earlier today and it felt good. So, why did I pull the plug?

In my opinion, Facebook is bad for our society and I didn’t feel comfortable remaining on the site any longer. My departure probably won’t keep Mr. Zuckerberg awake at night but getting out of that ecosystem makes me feel better, and it’s far more productive than scrolling through misinformation, arguments and conspiracy theories every day. Groups of Americans have always disagreed and argued about politics but typically you’d find ways to discuss issues or focus on things that you mutually wanted to discuss. Now people shout their craziest beliefs into the void with no regard for what it might cause or who might read it, all the while demonizing people who don’t agree with them. Fun fact: folks agree on far more than we think we do, but our time on social media pushes us further into camps while demonizing those who are different than we are on the edges.

There’s little we can do to change folks minds on social platforms that feed people more and more polarized and inflammatory content, but by leaving we might be able to further marginalize Facebook as a place people want to spend their time. It’s important to think about what you put in and what you get out of a site like Facebook or Twitter and what it’s doing to our society and relationships. We’ll all land at different conclusions there and that’s fine, but hopefully you’re using it because it makes you happy and is the best way to connect with friends. But honestly, I doubt that’s happening.

About 6 months ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. I wanted to take stock of what things I’d be missing before dramatically pressing the delete button, so I did a quick audit of what I’d be missing out on:

  • Facebook Messenger. I scanned the conversations I’d had on the messenger app in the past 6 months and I had everyone’s phone number with the exception of one. I messaged that person and let them know I’d be leaving and exchanged numbers. Easy.
  • My neighborhood Facebook group. While 99% of it is folks complaining or arguing, there are some occasional announcements or useful tidbits that emerge from the neighborhood group. That said, I was spending less than a few minutes a week looking at those posts and usually had a lesser opinion of my neighbors than I did going in. I’ll take the risk here. Plus, I can always ask my wife to post on there if need be!
  • Staying connected with friends and seeing their posts. I wasn’t really looking at those anyway, so things won’t be any different than they were before. I’ll just try harder to reach out to folks via other methods like text, FaceTime etc.
  • The traffic Facebook sends to my site via the (now closed) Facebook page for this site. Since shutting that page down, I’ve seen about a 15% drop in traffic. I’ll live without it.

The one thing I didn’t mention above was Instagram. I still maintain an account there for now and the reason is that I view Instagram as a generally positive place that doesn’t have many of the same echo chamber & argumentative problems that Facebook has. That said, they have the same leadership and it’s entirely possible I’ll have to revisit that decision if (when?) they make changes that turn that place into a cesspool of humanity as well.

I’m hopeful that over time we can continue to move to smaller-scale sharing of content with family and friends. Things like iCloud photo sharing, text message groups and Slack groups bring me much more happiness than social media ever has. Even if you do stay on Facebook, I’d encourage you to unfollow brands™, political news sites, meme accounts and the like. You’ll be a lot happier if you do.

The M1 Macs

From Daring Fireball:

What you need to understand is that the best aspects of these Macs aren’t benchmarkable. It’s about how nice they are. The cooling system never making any noise doesn’t show up in a benchmark. I suppose you could assign it a decibel value in an anechoic chamber, but silent operation, and a palm rest that remains cool to the touch even under heavy load, aren’t quantities. They’re qualities. They’re just nice.

So far it appears that the new M1 Macs are a performance, efficiency and UX win. They’re an improvement in nearly every way, yet within the same enclosure as before.

The webcams still stink, however.

Overall, this is a great review of the entire experience of using  these new Macs and it has me very excited to upgrade whenever I end up buying a new machine.

Turning the Page

The past week has felt like a year, but we’re finally at a point where we can start talking about the future. Trump has been voted out of office, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be leading the charge.

Biden’s speech last night was workmanlike. He hit all of the right notes about being a president for all Americans, fighting Covid head on so we can get back to normal life, and turning the page on the division of the past 4 years.

I’m hopeful, but I also realize we have a ton of work to do in keeping our elected officials accountable to work together on things most Americans want – action on climate change, investment in infrastructure, common-sense reforms to healthcare access, and finding ways to create and keep great middle-class jobs amongst other things. One person isn’t going to solve every issue the country faces, especially when both parties have different priorities. However, it’s in Biden’s DNA to try to broker deals and help make the Senate work together. While the runoff in January here in Georgia for 2 open Senate seats is extremely important, it’s just as key to push our representatives across the country to do their job and govern. Find things to work on together and make our lives better.

I’m not interested in dunking on anyone who voted for Trump but I am equal parts disappointed and curious to understand where the middle ground is now. On some level, I can understand someone that wanted to try something new 4 years ago and take a chance on Trump. Hard for me to wrap my head around, but I kinda get it. However, after witnessing the last 4 years and especially the last 9 months, for someone to take stock of all of that and still pull the lever for Trump tells me that this country is more broken than I imagined. It really makes me sad that many people put party affiliation above country and competence.

Trump is directly responsible for so many deaths (as of this writing, we’re above 240k), and a lot of his voters appear to be more concerned with culture war issues rather than things our elected officials should be working on. But you know what? The bottom line is that the country rejected Trump, and made him a one term president. He’s the first one-term president in 28 years. Biden got more votes than any other candidate, ever. However, roughly 70 million people still voted for Trump, despite everything that’s happened in the past 4 years. I think Biden is right to say he wants to be president for all Americans, and to try to find the places we do agree and get to work there. I hope Republicans give him a chance to prove that out.

I really do worry about the division in our country over the past 10-15 years, though. It’s not a left vs right debate, it’s a debate of people who consume various news sources vs those who live in a Fox News / Facebook bubble. Social media and cable news are helping tear us apart. Trump isn’t the cause, but instead a symptom. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see the sources of information a lot of my family and friends consume. I also worry about the cracks in our system that have been laid bare recently. We need to continue to push for democratic reforms that allow states to still have power but don’t ensure minority rule continues.

I feel infinitely better than I did 4 years ago, when Trump was elected and I felt truly scared about the future of so many things that make this nation great. A lot of damage was done, and it’s going to take a lot of work – sustained, consistent involvement – to take us where we want to go. But today, we begin to turn the page on the Trump presidency.

Google discontinues its Google Nest Secure alarm system

From The Verge:

Google isn’t totally out of smart home security, though. It still sells video doorbells, security cameras, smoke alarms, and more.

For now.

Unless you’re using something that is absolutely mission critical to Google, prepare to have the rug pulled out from under you. Good on them for continuing to support the platform for now but you can already see the “sunset” blog post 12 months from now.

The HomePod Video

I’ve owned a lot of smart speakers in the past few years but I think the device I’ve enjoyed the most is the Google Nest Hub (I think that’s what they’re calling it this year). It does a few things really well:

  • Music playback control
  • Smart home controls
  • Can be a video casting target, also can play a few video services natively
  • Passive photo slideshow when not in use
  • Good visual timer countdown
  • Google image search – the kids love this

The major downside is that I’ve mostly moved on from Google smart home stuff with the exception of the Nest hub and one Chromecast for travel.

Apple announced the HomePod Mini yesterday, and it looks pretty compelling for $99 if you’re deep in the Apple ecosystem like I am. However, I already have a Sonos One + HomePod setup at my house so I don’t anticipate buying any of those at this time – but I could see myself adding a few as “cheap” Airplay 2 speakers down the road.

However, one device that wasn’t announced yesterday that I long for would be a “HomePod Video” device.

Features I’d like in a “HomePod Video”

  • A basic Siri interface to control music playback, HomeKit, etc. My only real expectations are to work as good as the HomePod.
  • An always on display that can control HomeKit scenes
  • Airplay 2 target to allow users to play videos in the kitchen or wherever this device lives.
  • A way to show off photos from my iCloud Photo Library, ideally by choosing an album or two to rotate through.
  • A decent speaker – something a step down from the HomePod (I’d assume the same hardware as the HomePod Mini) but still good enough.
  • UI tweaks for things like notifications, timers and communication.
  • Ability to do FaceTime calls.

You can cobble together something like this with an iPad mini, external speakers and a stand of some kind but I’d love to see Apple continue to invest in the home ecosystem like they appear to be with the HomePod Mini. Maybe next year. I think Apple could charge roughly ~$200 for a device like this and it’d really tie the room together.

Battle for the Soul of the Nation

This is one of Biden’s better speeches I’ve heard in some time. He’ll never be mistaken for the great orators of this or any generation but it’s so refreshing to hear someone earnestly speaking about how to heal the divisions in our country and represent all of us.

Safari 14 Extension Icons

Yesterday, alongside all of the iOS/iPadOS/tvOS/watchOS releases, Apple released Safari 14 for the Mac. The headline features are under the hood performance, tons of privacy enhancements, better tab management, tab start page improvements, site translation, and WebExtension API support. These are all great and so far I’m quite pleased with the features I’ve run across.

However, I really hope there’s a way to disable the blue tinted extension icons for 3rd party extensions. This is extremely distracting:

Maybe this is only on Catalina and it looks much more at home on Big Sur. But I’ve been scouring Twitter for a plist hack to get these all back to one color with no luck so far.

Bundled ‘Apple One’ Subscription Announced

From Nick Heer @ Pixel Envy:

I have reservations about how this will be promoted. I can see many push notifications, modal banners, and emails in my future telling me about how, for the same price I pay now, I can also have Apple Arcade. Or, for just a few dollars more, I can get News Plus and Fitness Plus. Thanks, but no thanks.

This is the thing that gives me the most discomfort about Apple’s services offerings. When you offer service tiers (Apple News and then a “Plus” service on top of that, etc) along with a bundle, your incentives as a company become misaligned. The marginal cost for Apple to throw in a banner or notification pushing their own content or services is extremely low as it is their platform, and therefore they’re way more likely to slip one or two of these in to push newer services in particular. Once that pattern is established, it will slowly find its way into every part of the OS. From a blog post by Steve Streza earlier this year that has a ton of great screenshots showing how bad this is getting:

Apple wants to grow their services business with drastic increases year-over-year. This means they are going to aggressively push more services into more places (including deeper into macOS and tvOS, which are also slowly having adware trickled into them). Apple TV+, News+, Arcade, and Card are all new this year, and are already strongly advertised in iOS. Apple Music has existed for a few years, and its level of advertising in the app is pervasive. As time goes on, these ads are going to get worse, not better.

I’m an Apple Music and iCloud subscriber currently and have tried a few of their other “Plus” offerings over the past year or so as they’ve come online. I actually like most of the services they offer and might try out this bundle as my kids get a little older and could make use of Arcade more. What bugs me the most is that there’s no way to fully disable the “Plus” experience if you’re not interested in Apple Arcade, News+, and now Fitness+. I don’t begrudge Apple for wanting to build on their platform to make it more sticky and a better overall integrated experience for their customers – I do begrudge them for prioritizing growth over respect for users who may not be interested.

Project Connected Home over IP Connectivity Standard Developing Into Reality

From the Zigbee Alliance blog:

When we set out in December 2019 to create a unifying standard for the smart home industry, there was naturally a lot of excitement — and of course, questions. Would this global consortium truly be able to bring this new standard to market? How long would it take? What products would actually emerge? Would we be able to pull off our promise to unify a fragmented industry under a single connectivity standard that would help companies focus on creating experiences over “plumbing”?

Eight months later, we are indeed executing on that vision as our progress has garnered global recognition and strength in membership, participants and technology. We are on track to deliver a draft specification by late 2020, and continue to drive towards our goal of releasing the standard in 2021.

I’ll be skeptical that companies like Nest and Ring ever fully adopt these standards but I’m hopeful. The fact that the Connected Home Over IP initiative made it past the introductory blog post is progress, I suppose. In an ideal world you can buy most any of the standard light bulb, thermostat, speaker or sensor products out there and get some functionality out of the box.

Apple’s App Store Issues

If you’ve been under a technology rock, you might have missed the kerfuffle Apple’s been in for the past few months. We’ve seen a few high-profile dust ups over Apple’s control of what goes on the App Store (HEY, Microsoft’s xCloud, Fortnite). The arguments vary for each of these but the common issue is that Apple seeks to control how developers build their apps, wants to take a cut of all revenue coming into their apps regardless of how much value the store provides, and restrict many types of apps based on what tend to be arbitrary standards.

There’s a good read in Stratechery about this same issue but from an economic / antitrust angle that I recommend you check out for more detail.

If Apple isn’t careful, they’re going to wade into antitrust regulation that could potentially strip the company of a lot of control over their store. If they get ahead of it, they can set the terms. Here’s what I wish they’d do:

Reduce App Store Commission

Reduce the cut for iOS purchases. You would see fewer complaints about other problems with the App Store if the cut Apple took was closer to 10-15%. I doubt that will happen without government intervention, but one can dream.

Sideload apps

Apple should allow users to sideload apps like on a Mac. Here’s what a user sees in the security panel on MacOS:

Apple could require all apps to be signed to maintain a level of “break in case of emergency” control. Even if iOS required users to plug into a computer and load an .apk rather than a more seamless TestFlight-like experience, that’d solve for apps that are categorically not allowed (xCloud), apps that want to do their own thing payment wise (Fortnite), and fringe jailbreak-like apps.

Clearer Rules

Next up, Apple should revamp their rules to reflect the world of 2020, not 2007. Clearer rules for developers with an escape hatch to side load if push comes to shove would make most folks happy. As it currently stands, many developers are fearful of investing time and money into app development that may be rejected on a technicality.

In-app Links

Apple should allow apps like Netflix, Kindle and Fortnite to send users to an in-app webview that would allow you to purchase in-app content or sign up for the service. Apple would not get a cut of these purchases. Let the better experience and safety of Apple’s IAP compete to win out over a popover web view.

Will Any of This Happen?

I don’t anticipate they’ll do any of these unfortunately, especially the commission cut. I do worry that Apple is stifling innovation on their platform and if they do it enough times you could see a situation where entire categories of users start to choose Android over iOS because there are important things they just can’t do on iOS. Most of the things Apple has gotten into hot water for lately are not policies that put customers first. Instead, they are things that solidify Apple’s ability to make money, protect their interests or keep things “simple”. Given the push to present the iPad Pro as a computer, their limitations on the types of things that are allowed on iOS make me reconsider how much I’d like to invest in iPads or iPhones.

Even Apple’s privacy push could have an unintended outcome. A lot of apps rely on advertising to make their money and if Apple makes it prohibitively difficult for developers to monetize their apps, they may choose to slow or stop development on the platform. It is a difficult tightrope to walk but I trust that Apple can do it. Whether they will is another story.