Facebook-Kodak Deal: A First Step Toward Social Networks Infiltrating Everything

Last Updated Jun 10, 2010 6:28 PM EDT

Facebook has partnered with Kodak (EK) to bring the social-networking service to photo kiosks. Pay close attention, because this is much bigger than it might look on the surface. Social networks have begun to break out of the artificial confines of computers and into a bigger context that will transform how people use them, and how quickly they could leave traditional competitors for audience -- such as Google (GOOG) or Yahoo (YHOO) -- behind.

On first glance, this seems like a gimmick. Log into your Facebook account on the touch screen display and only your photos appear, with no other information, posts, or friends' virtual farm animals in public view. Go into a photo album, choose a picture, and print. According to New York Times writer Rik Fairlie, the image quality leaves something to be desired:

Facebook photos, as sharable as they may be, are compressed to consume less space on the company's servers. That means the resolution is reduced to a maximum of 720 pixels, horizontal or vertical, depending on layout, and you'll see degradation in image quality. I printed a few photos from my Facebook account, and they were a bit flat with noticeable artifacts. If you have photos on Picasa and Kodak Gallery, you'll be able to use higher-resolution originals to get crisper prints.
However, that doesn't matter, because the important point is that social networks have broken computing's fourth wall: the display built into a monitor, laptop, or tablet. To my mind, this is like the Microsoft Kin, which tries to turn handsets into social network devices.

Up until now, the popular social networks have relied on computers of some form, whether a desktop or a smartphone, to run a specific application. But companies have clearly begun to think differently. If a handset can directly pump photos and videos into social networks, or a kiosk can pull down photos as another manifestation of sharing information, here are some other possibilities:

  • Share passages of a book from an e-book reader
  • Cue a friend in to a funny scene -- hosted on YouTube or Hulu -- of a new movie from a portable DVD player
  • Receive directions to someone's house directly into your car's GPS system
  • Collaborate on getting food ready for a party with others using a screen built into a refrigerator
The potential outlets are everywhere: watches, still cameras, video recorders. It won't happen by tomorrow, but it's already catching on. There will be some amazing business opportunities, and the social networks could become the commercial glue that binds vast amounts of technology together.

Image: RGBStock.com user Stephen, site standard license

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.