23 July 2010

One login to rule them all: The Facebook Hegemony

Author's Note:  I've dusted off and polished up this old post in light of the rumored Facebook IPO. 

"Here's a fun fact: Like every other online community before it and every one after it, Facebook will eventually lose favor with its users and wither. Will it reach a billion users? Maybe, but probably not."
--From "Fun facts about Facebook's half-billion users" Comments

     Comments on articles and articles themselves prophesying the demise of Facebook from the Internet like 6-Degrees and  MySpace before it are as common as articles prophesying the imminent demise of a certain Cupertino-based computer company. However, there's one element of the page linked above that puts the lie to this prophecy: the button at the top of the comments section that reads "Connect with Facebook" (02Feb2012: and the now ubiquitous "like" button, which is slightly outside the scope of this essay, but must be acknowledged).

      Facebook is no longer just a social networking site, it's become an Internet Utility* a la Google for search, iTunes for music, or Amazon for books (and music, and even the kitchen sink).  It's become the Kleenex or Vaseline of social networking sites, much to the chagrin of those who didn't figure it out (see above) and those who just can't get it right (Google+ what's up).  For awhile now people have been pushing for a universal login a la OpenID, but that lacked the right PR, the right spice, and it didn't also come with pictures of old High School friends that make you feel bad about yourself.  Facebook has all of those things, and it enables you to log in somewhere to post comments without having to remember another password.  How much longer before you can pay for a "Facebook Premium" login that guarantees your security and rivals PayPal for online payments?  I think it's coming (02Feb2012: Facebook Credits, anyone?).

     The user base for  Facebook is going to continue to grow (02Feb2012: and has) because you can "Like" articles and sites, and just as the MacWorld article above demonstrates, who wouldn't want to simply click a button that confirms their Facebook login (mmm, cookies) to comment on an article rather than having to deal with the hassle of registering on that site, and then remembering that password.  Why not just have one login to rule them all?

     Personally, in the realm of website comments I'm all for it and I'm willing to bet a shiny James K. Polk Presidential Dollar that a significantly greater number than 500 million people will be, too (02Feb2012: 800 million+ if we're talking about all Facebook users).  Now before you get your privacy knickers in a twist, I recognize the need for anonymity on the Internet, and I also recognize the danger inherent in centralizing all that information about yourself, which is why I'm glad this sort of thing exists for rival sites like Twitter, Google+, etc.  I can think of any number of ways to anonymize yourself even using a Facebook login to post comments on articles, or do other things online (pay for stuff, see above), and it's up to us to make sure that we're never in a situation where such a thing becomes a problem.

     The 18 months that have transpired since I originally published this essay have only strengthened my point, and with a looming IPO, the reality is that Facebook isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  There's no reason it can't be used responsibly and there's every reason for us to remain vigilant and ready to call foul every time they do something stupid, but there's no use in wishing it away or ignoring it completely, because just like you blow your nose with a Kleenex, and you Google something on the Internet, soon you'll Facebook something or other.

*Has this been coined?  I want credit if it hasn't.

19 July 2010

In which I review "Inception", but do not summarize the plot

WARNING: Like with every movie review, I assume you've seen the movie, or don't care about spoilers. If these are not true, then go see it and come back to read.

I had an aversion to Leonardo DiCaprio when he was first famous, mostly from a misplaced sense of jealousy to how women reacted to him. No longer; I realized that he's become one of my favorite actors, because I believe him as the character, and don't spend entire movies distracted by who he is like I did when I would pay money to see Tom Cruise in a movie. The entire run of the film all I could think was 'that's Tom Cruise, that's Tom Cruise, that's Tom Cruise'. Thing is, "Inception" is not a great film because of Leo, not entirely. Yes, his performance is one important part, but "Inception" is a great film because it parlays each of its components so masterfully into a big-budget work of art that is rare in our contemporary film-culture of franchises. You know how "Avatar" is all visual with a transparent plot and 2 dimensional characters (how's that for irony)? "Inception" is like that, only with a good story and good acting; it makes you think, and I like movies that make me think. If you aren't paying attention it is easy to become lost in the multi-layered world that director Christopher Nolan creates for us with the driving soundtrack, afore-alluded stunning visuals, and amazing performances.

First I want to touch on the soundtrack, what I feel to be the only weakness in the film. Even then its weakness is not from quality, but from originality. It sounded a lot like my memory of the Nolan "Batman" soundtracks, both that I feel were perfect for the "Batman" movies. Much like Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, the reason for this sonic similarity is that it is the same composer who wrote the music for "Inception", the estimable Hans Zimmer. The point I ultimately want to make is that no matter how perfect the soundtrack was when it was called "Batman", it sounds like it was waiting to be re-written for "Inception". The driving beat, the blaring horn, the way the clock-ticking sound appears at certain intervals (to me this made me think that every time we heard that you were inside a dream), the film would not be the triumph it is without the soundtrack. Even if Batman had it first in an earlier incarnation. The music never distracts but enhances, especially the action scenes. In doing my research for this post (looking up Hans Zimmer on Wikipedia) I realized that he's written a LOT and some of my favorite films ("Lion King", "Crimson Tide", "Sherlock Holmes", the aforementioned Nolan "Batman" films) have been scored by him. Is it Nolan's influence that generates the similarity? It works, so maybe I shouldn't be so quick to complain or call it a weakness, but more of an observation.

There is a scene in the middle-level of the 3 explicit dream states our team are in where in dream level 1 they are in free-fall and therefore there is no gravity in the hotel. The zero-g fight scene felt inspired and fresh to me, in the same way that every fight scene after "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" felt derivative (I'm looking at you, " Charlie's Angels"). All the action sequences in our explicit dream worlds felt only partially contiguous, with characters moving from A to B faster than we would consider possible, and no clear tracking along a physical path. "Duh, Rob", you say, "it's a dream". 'I know', I reply, 'that's my point'. If you've seen the movie, you know of what I speak. The zero-g fight scene really stuck out for me, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in particular. I wonder how much of that was him versus CG versus stunt doubles?

Gordon-Levitt's overall performance was outstanding, beyond the fight scene. I know he's been working, but I don't recall watching him in anything since "3rd Rock from the Sun", and that was a few years ago. I'm easily entertained, but bad acting ("Twilight", dear God in heaven, "Twilight") can ruin a movie for me. Everyone in "Inception" was fantastic. Ellen Page is legit, folks. I'm still not sure why Cisco chose her to be their spokesperson, but she was good in this movie, by which I mean believeable. I bought who she was and what she was doing. I've already commented on how good DiCaprio is, and I'd be remiss without name checking Ken Watanabe. The rest of the supporting cast are all spot on as well. Tom Hardy is finally redeemed in my eyes, the stink of "Star Trek: Nemesis" nowhere to be seen on him. And Michael Caine! Nolan likes him some Michael Caine, folks, and we are all the richer for it.

The use of the top as plot device was masterful, our attention drawn to it without feeling beat over the head with the toy, and the closing scene truly feels like something the entire film had been leading us to, all tied to that damned top. How many takes of that top spinning did it require to get the wavering motion without falling down? Is our man Cobb still dreaming? Is this world real? I don't know. What I do know is that "Inception" deserves to win awards, or maybe I am still dreaming?

Oh! I remember what I wanted to add! They'll just let ANYONE run the machine that actually puts them into the dream state, won't they? Random Asian kid, Flight attendant ... People integrated with the macguffin; Does Dom Cobb look like a bitch?
Then why you tryin' to...

UPDATE 17 August, 2010:

Looks likes there is more to the score than I had at first realized.  Nicely played, Hans & Christopher, Nicely played.

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