Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Crowdsourcing the Design of Facebook's "Facephone"

By Dennis D. McDonald

Were I in charge of designing the Facebook smartphone, I would absolutely love what’s going on now on the web. Folks are weighing in on all rumors, founded or unfounded. In the process they are generating a huge number of product feature ideas, marketing themes and messages, potential use cases, and — my favorite — objections to the very idea of a Facebook smartphone. Just do a Google or Bing search and you’ll see what I mean.

The common theme seems to be that a phone makes sense for Facebook since they need a mobile advertising platform, without which thay cannot possibly justify their insanely high stock valuation.

Let’s assume that’s the case. While I no longer use Facebook myself and personally see Facebook as becoming another AOL, I think a Facebook smartphone makes great sense for them, but only if they are really creative about what it offers.

Here are a couple of ideas.

First, make it a Facebook-only phone. That is, make it possible only to send and receive calls among active Facebook members. By “active” I mean people who actually use Facebook, not people like me who, following Facebook’s instructions for how to do so, deleted my account last year. I discovered I’m still a member recently when I logged in using my old credentials. I suspect there may be a few more “inactive” members like me that shouldn’t be counted as eligible for Facephone service (or whatever they’re going to call it). People like me will just have to suffer.

Second, take advantage of realtime voice analysis to analyze message content to serve ads. As it is now, Facebook analyzes clicks, likes, demographics, and other behavioral cues to serve ads. With the Facephone they should monitor all calls and, using modern voice processing software, gather additional keyword data for realtime ad delivery. For example If you call your mom using the Facephone and ask her for advice on cooking, an onscreen window could be generated that, even before you hang up, displays cooking related ads tied to your location. An added bonus would be an audio ad that, should you listen to it, awards you valuable points for listening to the message. These points could then be used as the basis for a Facebook-based online economy. Another bonus: voice processing adds the possibility of using “sentiment analysis” to tag conversations as stressful, romantic, friendly, unfriendly, confrontational, or even matter of fact. Advertisers will pay handsomely for access to this type of data!

Third, how about an Instagram type service that, instead of letting you add cheesy visual effects to shareable pictures, lets you adopt, for a price, an audio personality to use when talking with friends and acquaintances? When making a call, for example, you could be presented with a list of personas ranging from historic to entertainment figures, e.g.,

  • If you’re a guy dumping your girlfriend, sound like Clark Gable when Rhett Butler says bye-bye to Scarlett O’Hara.
  • If you’re a girl trying to  romance a guy, sound like Kathleen Turner as Jessica Rabbit.
  • If you’re trying to creep someone out, sound like Mercedes McCambridge’s voice for Regan from “The Exorcist.”
  • If you’re having a technical discussion involving very large numbers, sound like Carl Sagan narrating “Cosmos.”

You get the idea. Such a Facephone service would have the added benefit that, no matter whose number and picture are being displayed, you’ll never know who the call is really coming from! And that by itself would be a unique product feature!

Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald.

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