Everything old is new again: Facebook and AOL

Steve Rubel: Five Incredibly Useful Things You Can Do Without Ever Leaving Facebook. “I am discovering that it’s becoming a one-stop shop for many of my day-to-day activities,” he writes.
The post strikes me as a retrograde observation. Not because Steve Rubel is any kind of Luddite, but because the online industry has, for more than 20 years, been trying to create a one-size-fits-all website. It still is. Indeed, it seems every big site aims to recapture the glory days of America Online.
In the 1980s, Compuserve and Prodigy and the like created online dialup communities. The winner in this space, of course, was AOL, which dominated for years. It became a destination for users and businesses alike. Every company in America needed an AOL presence and someone who could code in Rainman.
As the web’s ubiquity overtook AOL, websites began cropping up that attempted to reinvent the paradigm by … emulating AOL. Yahoo and MSN (and many smaller peers) created integrated online presences where features and options abounded and stickiness became the prime measurement.
Then search came to prominence and splintered people’s site use. Google’s success as an ad platform allowed Google Labs to create dozens of experimental services, all of which served to make Google more of a catch-all, and more like … the old, closed-wall AOL, just with outbound links.
Which brings us to 2009, where Facebook has captured the exact same mindspace as, yep, AOL. What makes Facebook interesting these days? Basically the same things that made AOL a star a decade earlier.

  • private messaging without an external email client: just like AOL!
  • live chat: just like AOL!
  • integrated games and shopping: just like AOL!
  • every company feels a need to be there: just like AOL!

And here we are again, with consumers converging on a single site and companies clamoring to capture their attention.
AOL was eventually done in by a lack of openness and charging for options that were free elsewhere. So far, Facebook has avoided those mistakes. It will be interesting to see what social and economic forces drive its future–and whether it ultimately becomes something other than The Next AOL.
This is a cross-post from aiaio.

It’s not you, it’s the feed

For some unknown reason my most recent links post, which is pushed to my blog from delicious.com/werty once a day, won’t stop posting. I went so far as to turn off the notification stream this afternoon, but it’s still showing up. Apologies to folks whose RSS feeds are choking with my repeats.
I’m not sure how to fix it–suggestions are welcome (@djacobs, hint hint).

Startling U.S. healthcare statistics

I really don’t know what to make of the healthcare political arguments as they happen, but I am firmly in the system-needs-fixing camp. Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times clarifies why.

The data he cites is so startling, it bears repeating. According to recent surveys by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

  • the United States ranks 31st in life expectancy, tied with Kuwait and Chile
  • the U.S. ranks 37th in infant mortality and 34th in maternal mortality–an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland
  • a child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden
  • an African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy than the average person in Vietnam or Honduras
  • Americans take 10 percent fewer drugs than citizens in other countries–but pay 118 percent more per pill that they do take

Read the entire piece for more detail and context. (Bullet points above are quotes from the editorial.)

On trendiness

Nathan has this new coat for fall that Amy picked up somewhere. It’s a hip brand, and a nice coat, all corduroy and fleece and fluffy soft and cute in its big-people-style-little-people-size way.
Of course, distressed clothing is in these days, and Nate’s coat is skidded with white. On both sides of the front of the jacket, and covering most of the back, is a big, pale streak.
This, we’ve discovered, is the end limit for distressing clothes. Because while we know it’s intentional, other people think it’s, well, shmutzy. “Did Nate sit in paint?” is a line we’ve heard more than once. Concerned looks become a different kind of concern when we say, “No, that’s the style.”
Oh well. He’s warm and he’s still cute. But now I know why I’ve never wanted to buy jeans with a hole in the knee.
(As an aside, I love Rafe’s thoughts on modern aesthetics, which have stuck with me for a long time.)