A few years ago, Duke engineer Henry Petroski wrote, "The history of [X] design has been one of incorporating nonessential features that subsequently became indispensable." Which brings me immediately to Facebook and Skype's announcement that the latter will now be embedded in the former. From now on, you'll be able to videochat with Facebook friends from within the comfy confines of the Internet's biggest mall.
Facebook's announcement follows the rollout of Google Hangouts, which my friend Jenna Wortham raved about over at the New York Times' Gadgetwise blog. And, of course, Apple released FaceTime, which allows you to make video calls over WiFi, along with the iPhone 4.
Everyone, it seems, wants to bring you into the exciting world of videochat.
Let's return to Petroski, who wasn't talking about social networks, but the incorporation of stuff like cupholders into automobiles. Neither has much to do with the operation of the vehicle, but they've become a selling point for the car companies. Or to make a finer point: cupholders are a defense against a competitors' cupholders. They exist not because we're going to use them all the time or even that we want them, but rather because at some point we may need one. So, a car without one would somehow seem lacking relative to a car with one, even if that other car might be marginally better at the real business of being driven from one place to another.