Facebook made a tweak to its Events system this week, adding a little embedded forecast that shows projected weather on the day of the event. It’s a small change, but part of a big shift in computing.
The new feature, described by Facebook in briefings with individual reporters, pulls forecasts for the location of the event from monitoring company Weather Underground and attaches it to the Facebook pages of events happening within the next 10 days. The data is also shown while the event is being created, helping organizers avoid rained-out picnics and the like.
The change makes Facebook more sensitive to contextual information, data like location and time of day that the user doesn’t even have to enter. Facebook rival Google has drawn big praise for its own context-sensitive application Google Now, which, depending on your habits, might show you weather and the day’s appointments when you wake up, traffic information when you get in your car, and your boarding pass when you arrive at the airport. Google Now was so successful on Android smartphones that Google is reportedly porting the app to Apple’s iOS.
Apple’s own stab at contextual computing, the Siri digital assistant, has been less successful, but that seems to have more to do with implementation issues – overloaded servers, bad maps, and tricky voice-recognition problems – than with the idea of selecting information based on location and other situational data.
Hungry as Facebook is to sell ever-more-targeted ads at ever-higher premiums, expect the social network to add more context-sensitive features. One natural step is putting the Graph Search search engine on mobile phones and tailoring results more closely to location. Another is to upgrade Facebook’s rapidly evolving News Feed, which already filters some information based on your past check-ins, along the same lines. Done right, pushing information to Facebook users based on context could multiply the social network’s utility. Done wrong, it could be creepy on a whole new level.