Saturday, January 28, 2012

Could Timeline Be the End of Facebook?

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I have a long history of complaining about Facebook. The reason is that more than any other web site it seems to me that Facebook has become progressively less and less useful over the years. There was a change to the profiles in January 2011 whereby one's status update was no longer displayed at the top of the page. In September 2011 Facebook changed the news feed so it could not be read in reverse chronological order (a change that was so unpopular that Facebook back pedalled on it two months later). Now come 1 February Facebook is making mandatory something that they had introduced last September: Timeline. It seems to be upsetting users as much as, if not more so than, the change they made to the news feed last September.

Essentially, Timeline is a new sort of profile that, in Facebook's words, "...lets you highlight the photos, posts and life events that help you tell your story." With Timeline one or one's friends can more easily check out one's activity on Facebook at any given time. Perhaps because of this there have been concerns expressed in the press over privacy. The fears expressed in the press are that Facebook will apparently share too much of one's information. That having been said, I do not think this is the case myself. Having tried  Timeline on a test profile, I did not notice that it changed my privacy settings at all. What was always visible to friends was still only visible to friends and what was private was still private. Nor have I heard any of my friends who have switched to Timeline complain about privacy concerns.

Related to the concerns over privacy, the press has expressed some concern that Timeline could unearth some past embarrassing activity for users on Facebook, but I honestly do not think this concerns the average person. I think most of us over the age of 16 know better than to post anything that might come back to haunt us later on a social networking site. Besides, once Facebook switches one over to Timeline, it gives him or her a seven day grace period in which to clean up any dirty laundry. I honestly think that the press is wrong with regards to concerns over Timeline seriously affecting user's privacy. Indeed, I haven't heard any of my friends panicking over the idea that now old posts will be more easily found.

Instead, the majority of complaints I have heard about Timeline (and it is one I have myself) concern its layout. Quite simply, unlike the current profile, Timeline is not laid out in a linear fashion. Instead it is laid out in two columns and appears to be meant to be read from left to right. Many users (including myself) have complained that this layout is downright confusing. Indeed, it took me a few weeks to make heads or tails out of my friends' profiles who had switched to Timeline (and keep in mind I consider myself more tech savvy than most). In addition, the layout is not particularly attractive. It is as if Facebook has all of a sudden forgotten the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and turned into MySpace in its later incarnations. Indeed, instead of Facebook, Timeline looks like some sort of strange hybrid between Facebook and MySpace--"Spacebook" or "MyFace." Now I do know a few people who have changed to Timeline and like it. And I know even more who prefer the old profile, but do not mind Timeline too much. That having been said, these cases seem to be the exception to the rule. The majority of people who have changed to Timeline seem to hate it. And I do mean, hate it.

With users upset over Timeline, I really must say that I don't understand why they simply did not take it out for retooling shortly after the first complaints emerged in September . After all, I will say there are things about Timeline I do like, namely the ability to easily go to any month in any year to look at one's posts. That having been said, I think this functionality could have easily been combined with the current profile. People woudl still have their wall that could be read in linear fashion, but they could jump to say, December 2007 if they wanted to. Indeed, had they gone that route I do not think people would be nearly so resistant to Timeline as they are.

While most users have gotten upset over many of the changes Facebook has made over the years, they seem to be more upset with the switch to Timeline than anything except the aforementioned changed to the News Feed. I have known a few users who have said that they will stop using Facebook if Timeline is forced upon them. If one looks at any post regarding Timeline on Facebook's own official Facebook page, one will find several posts from people wanting to know how to change back to the old profile or begging them not to go forward with Timeline. What is more pages protesting Timeline have popped up on Facebook. A page called "I Hate Timeline" has over 6000 members. Another page called "Remove Timeline" has over 10,000 members. Yet another page named more succinctly, "Timeline Sucks"," has over 13,000 members. A simple Google search reveals several different petitions demanding that Facebook does not go forward with Timeline or does away with it completely.

Now admittedly, this sort of outrage has happened every time that Facebook has introduced some sort of change, but after the whole brouhaha over the change to the News Feed, I have to wonder that Facebook users do not mean it this time. The simple fact is that over the past three years Facebook has introduced more changes than most web sites have in ten, often against the wishes of its users. I rather suspect that users were tired of the constant changes two years ago. Indeed, is it any wonder that Facebook is now the most hated company in America? That's right, people actually hate Facebook more than the airlines or the telephone company. In the past Facebook could afford to force changes on its users, despite how angry it would make them or how much people would hate Facebook for it (this is not their first time on the Ten Most Hated Companies list), because they were more or less the only game in town. Even with the changes Facebook would make, they were still better than their competitors (MySpace, Orkut, MyYearbook,  et. al.).

Now I am not so sure they can afford to ignore users' complaints about a change. The simple fact is that for the first time in Facebook's history, they have a viable competitor in Google+. Google+ has grown in leaps and bounds since it went public on 20 September. Just this week Google+ crossed the 90 million users mark--something it took Facebook four years to do. And while I know of those who have tried out Google+ and didn't like it, most people I know actually prefer it to Facebook. The reason? It's simple, easy to use, and Google is much more responsive to its users than Facebook ever has been (not only are the Google employees on the site who can answer your questions, but they have handy a feedback link right there in plain sight). I do not think it is much of a stretch for me to say that if Facebook goes forward with Timeline, they might find users fleeing Facebook for Google+, much the same way users fled MySpace for Facebook years ago.

That having been said, I do not think it is too late for Facebook. They have back pedalled on changes they have made before (the aforementioned change to the News Feed). And as much as I have complained about Facebook in the past, it remains a very useful site that is superior to all of its competitors except Google+. If Facebook called off making Timeline mandatory for everyone now and if they gave those already with Timeline the choice of returning to the old profile, I think they could save themselves. Sadly, I do not think that is going to happen, as Facebook has a long history of ignoring user complaints to simply do what it wants. If that is the case and Facebook does not back pedal on Timeline in the months after making it mandatory, we might well be talking about Facebook a year from now the way we talk bout MySpace now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

James Farentino and Robert Hegyes R.I.P.

James Farentino

Prolific actor James Farentino passed on 24 January 2012 at the age of 73 after a lengthy illness.

James Farentino was born on 24 Feburary 1938 in Brooklyn, New York. He trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He made his debut on Broadway in The Night of the Iguana. In 1962 he made his television debut in The Naked City. He made his motion picture debut in 1963 in Violent Midnight. He appeared extensively on television in the Sixties, in such shows as The Defenders, 77 Sunset Strip, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ben Casey, Laredo, The VirginianThe F.B.I., Run For Your Life, The Fugitive, and Ironside. He was a regular on The Bold Ones: The Lawyers. He appeared in such films as Ensign Pulver (1964), The War Lord (1965), The Pad and How to Use It (1966), Banning (1967), Rosie! (1967), Me Natalie (1969), and Story of a Woman (1970).

In 1973 he returned to Broadway in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire and in 1975 in a revival of Death of a Salesman. In the Seventies he appeared on such TV shows as Rod Serling's Night Gallery, and Police Story. He was a regular on Cool Million. He appeared in the film The Final Countdown (1980).   In the Eighties he was a regular on Dynasty, Blue Thunder, Sins, and Mary. He appeared in the movies Dead and Buried (1981) and Her Alibi (1989). In the Nineties he was a regular on Julie. He appeared on the shows E.R. and Melrose Place. In the Naughts he appeared in the film Women of the Night (2001).

While Mr. Farentino had a troubled personal life, he was a fairly good actor. He played a wide variety of roles, ranging from hard working lawyers to abusive husbands. He did all of them convincingly.

Robert Hegyes

Robert Hegyes, best known for playing Epstein on Welcome Back Kotter, passed on 26 January 2012 at the age of 60. The cause was a heart attack.

Robert Hegyes was born 7 May 1951 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey. He received a degree in speech, theatre, and dance at Glassboro State College in Glassboro, New Jersey. After college he moved to New York to pursue a career in acting. He was performing in an off Broadway play, Don't Call Back, when he was cast on Welcome Back, Kotter. He appeared on the series for four years. In the Seventies he also guest starred on The Streets of San Francisco and Chico and the Man. He appeared in the film Just Tell Me You Love Me (1978). In the Eighties he was a regular on Cagney and Lacey. He appeared on the series Lewis & Clark and CHIPS. He also appeared in the movie Underground Aces (1981).  In the Nineties Mr. Hegyes appeared in the movies Bob Roberts (1992) and The Pandora Project (1998). He appeared on the shows L. A. Heat, NewsRadio, and Diagnosis Murder. In the Naughts he appeared in the films Pupose (2002) and Hip, Edgy, Sexy, Cool (2002).

He also taught at Venice High School in California.

Robert Hegyes created two memorable characters on television. Epstein on Welcome Back, Kotter was a teenage Sgt. Bilko with a penchant for forging absence excuses. Manny Epsoito on Cagney & Lacey was a freewheeling detective who took a somewhat informal approach to his job. That people remember both characters, that Mr. Hegyes was mourned a good deal on both Twitter and Facebook, is a tribute to his career as an actor. While his career was not necessarily long or prolific, he accomplished something only a very few actors did. He left a lasting mark in the lives of many fans.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dick Tufeld Passes On

Voice artist Dick Tufeld, best known for providing the voice for the Robot on Lost in Space, passed on 22 January 2012 at the age of 85.

Dick Tufeld was born on 11 December 1926 in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in Pasadena, California. As a child he was fascinated by radio dramas such as The Shadow and The Green Hornet. He studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, majoring in speech. After college he moved to Los Angeles, where he found employment in radio. Starting in 1949 he was the announcer on The Amazing Mr. Malone, Falstaff's Fables, and the radio version of Space Patrol.

It was through Space Patrol that he first worked in television, serving as the announcer of the television version of the space opera starting in 1953. He also served as the announcer on the Fifties series Annie Oakley and Surfside 6. In the Sixties he was the announcer on the TV series The Gallant Men and The Judy Garland Show. It was in 1964 that he first worked with producer Irwin Allen on the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, serving as a the announcer on that series. It was in 1965 that he received his most famous job, one courtesy of Irwin Allen, as the Robot on Lost in Space. Memorable for the line (not quite uttered every episode) "Danger, Will Robinson," the Robot was easily the most popular character on the show alongside Dr. Smith (played by Jonathan Harris). He also served as the announcer on the Irwin Allen show The Time Tunnel.  In the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties he served as an announcer on cartoons such as The Fantastic Four, Spider-Woman, Thundarr the Barbarian, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Garfield and Friends, and Histeria. He reprised his role as the Robot in the 1998 feature film version of Lost in Space and in 1998 and 2004 episodes of The Simpsons.

Dick Tufeld also voiced many commercials over the years. He voiced commercials for Mr. Bubble bubble bath, Gallo wine, and Zenith television sets. He also narrated The Wonderful World of Disney and the trailer for the movie Mary Poppins.

While not everyone might recognise Dick Tufeld's name, the majority of the population might well recognise his voice. Even if he had not been the voice of the Robot on Lost in Space, his voice was ubiquitous on television from the Fifties into the Sixties. The reason was that he was one of the great voice talents of his generation. Mr. Tufeld's voice was mid-ranged and very easy on the ears. He could convey excitement without seeming bombastic or overblown. What is more, his voice was such that he could convey emotions very subtlety, whether it was excitement, solemnity, or sorrow that was called for. It is little wonder, then, that he should have done so many television shows and commercials, or that the Robot on Lost in Space is remembered to this day. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Late Great Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson, perhaps best known for his role as Merlin in the movie Excalibur (1981), passed 16 December 2011 at the age of 75. The cause was oesophageal cancer.

Nicol Williamson was born 14 September 1936 in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. When he was still young his family moved to England, where young Mr. Williamson attended Central Grammar School in Birmingham. He left school at 16 to work in a factory run by his father. He later attended the Birmingham  School of Speech and Drama. He regarded his time there as a disaster, dismissing the school as "...nothing more than a finishing school for the daughters of local businessmen” He spent his National Service as a gunner in the Airborne Division.

Following National Service Nicol Williamson became part of the Dundee Repertory Theatre. There he appeared in 33 productions. He made his debut at the Royal Court in 1961 in That's Us. He had his first big success in the theatre with Inadmissible Evidence on the West End in 1964. In 1966  Inadmissible Evidence moved to Broadway. Mr. Williamson won a Tony Award for his performance. Nicol Williamson's stage career would include performances in such productions as Hamlet, Plaza Suite, Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, Macbeth, and Jack: A Night on the Town with John Barrymore.

Nicol Williamson's film career began in 1956 with an uncredited part in The Iron Petticoat. In the Sixties he appeared in such films as The Six-Sided Triangle (1963), The Bofors Gun (1968), the film adaptation of Inadmissible Evidence (1968), The Reckoning (1969), Laughter in the Dark (1969), and Hamlet (1969). He appeared on such television shows as ITV Play of the Week, Z Cars, Teletale, Six, and The Wednesday Play.

In the Seventies appeared in such films as The Jerusalem File (1972), Le moine (1972), The Wilby Conspiracy (1975), Robin and Marian (1976--in which he played Little John to Sean Connery's Robin Hood), The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1976--in which he played Sherlock Holmes), The Goodbye Girl (1977), and The Cheap Detective (1978).  On television he appeard on such shows as Thirty Minute Theatre, Late Night Drama, and Columbo. It was in 1981 that he appeared in his best known role, as Merlin in Excalibur. During the Eighties he appeared in such other films as Venom (1981), I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982), Return to Oz (1985), Black Widow (1987), and The Exorcist III (1990). He appeared on television in the mini-series Christopher Columbus and Lord Mountbatten--The Last Viceroy. In the Nineties he appeared in an episode of Chillers and the movies The Advocate (1993), The Wind in the Willows (1996), and Spawn (1997).

Nicol Williamson was as well known for his temperament as he  was his talent, and both were considerable. Very few actors over the years could play characters with the intensity with which Mr. Williamson did. Indeed, in many respects Nicol Williamson could be compared to Richard Burton or Marlon Brando, although arguably he had more consistency in the quality of his performances than either of them. Indeed, Mr. Williamson did not simply give great performances in classics such as Excalibur (playing the quintessential Merlin), but good performances even in films that were somewhat less than classics (Cogliostro in Spawn). Although often known for his somewhat fiery temperament, it will be for his talent that he will be remembered.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Robert Dozier Passes On

Film and television writer Robert Dozier passed on 6 January 2012 at the age of 81.

Robert Dozier was born in 1930 in Hollywood, California. His father was producer William Dozier, who would later gain his most lasting fame as producer and narrator on the TV series Batman. Mr. Dozier graduated Beverly Hills High School and attended Brown University for a brief time. During World War II he served in the United States Army Signal Corps, where he made documentaries.

Mr. Dozier started out in television writing episodes of Studio One. During the late Fifties he would go onto write for the series Four Star Playhouse, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour,  Front Row Centre, Thriller, Have Gun--Will Travel, and G.E. Theatre.  In the Sixties he wrote the story for the film I Could Go On Singing, and the screenplays for The Cardinal (1963) and The Big Bounce (1969).  He wrote episodes of Espionage, Dan August, The Lieutenant, and Batman. In the Seventies he wrote episodes of Harry O., a series which he also produced. In the Eighties he wrote an episode of The Devlin Connection and produced the series The Contender.  He retired in 1989.

Robert Dozier was a very good writer whose teleplays often portrayed the downtrodden. For instance, one of his scripts for Have Gun--Will Travel centred on an elderly man who believed himself to be Don Quixote, still hoping for knighthood. Mr. Dozier's script for Thriller centred on a young boy who has been neglected by his father. Mr. Dozier wrote "Deal a Blow" for Climax, which dealt with the relationship between a son and his overbearing father. It was later adapted as the motion picture The Young Stranger in 1957. Throughout his career Robert Dozier wrote many fine scripts which upheld the underdog. It's for that he will be remembered as a television and movie writer.