Envisioning the future of Facebook Groups.

I have a ton of respect for Facebook’s product team, they consistently launch innovative products that pull their users, often kicking and screaming, into more engaging experiences. This requires two key skills:


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1. Vision: predict what your customers want before anyone knows they’d use it. The next big thing looks like a toy.

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In my opinion, Zuckerberg, Cox and others on Facebook’s Product team should be given the inaugural Henry Ford award. Facebook delivers what it’s customers actually want, despite their lack of knowledge that they want it. This is daily occurrence for fb: Closed Networks, NewsFeed, Profile Redesign, Open Graph, Platform, Pages, Internationalization, Chat, Privacy, Groups — and the list goes on.

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2. Know when your customers are ready for the next bite-sized part your vision. Without this part, you aren’t successful, you are ahead of your time.

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Facebook’s location patent was filed years before the launch of places. The “Awesome Button” (now Open Graph’s Like button) was built, to a launch ready state in November of 2007.

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With that history in mind, I watch new product updates with fascination, and each new release inspires me to think about what might be next.

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After the jump, reposted from Involver’s comprehensive post on Facebook Groups, is my take on what could be possible in the future.

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Facebook could integrate Groups, Events, and Places to create a rich experience for users, with compelling value for brand marketers, business owners, and event hosts.

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——–

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How Would Facebook Integrate Groups, Events and Places?

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Two weeks ago, I was in Lee’s Summit, Missouri visiting with my grandparents. I happened to be there during the town’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, which featured a Ferris wheel, several rides, and concessions. This was a natural event to check out with my close family members, but also one that made sense to invite a larger group of family and friends to.

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With the new Groups feature engaged through a mobile device, I could have simply opened the Willis Family Group and created an event — which would in turn automatically invite my family members. After that, I could also have invited additional local friends individually.

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At the fairgrounds, I could have taken out my mobile phone and checked-in on Facebook Places. Facebook would know I was at the Octoberfest event and would automatically create a type of group that allowed me to use chat to co-ordinate with my friends there, ask them questions or share photos and updates.

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These items would then be shared with my friends who were either invited to the event or were currently there and would let us create and keep memories around the experiences of our life in a shared way with the people in our group. After the event, our group would persist as a means to store that experience and be another shared connection for all of us.

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There’s no guarentee that Facebook will build this product, but if you recall the example shared by Chris Cox (Vice President of Product) at the Places launch, it certainly seems like it might be on their minds:

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"Technology does not need to estrange us from one another," Cox said, imagining a scenario of a person going to a bar and being able to see anecdotes from friends’ earlier visits. "The physical reality comes alive with the human stories we have told there.

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Stories are going to be pinned to a physical location so that in 20 years our children will go to Ocean Beach and their phone will tell them this is the place their parents had their first kiss, and here’s the picture they took afterward, and here’s what their friends had to say," Cox said. [source]

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This would be a fantastic product for users, but it would be welcomed equally by event hosts and place owners… [read more on Involver's blog].

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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