Category Archives: Observations

General observations about society or life in particular.

Tantric’s new album, Mind Control, is incredible

It’s pretty rare when a band pumps out albums in back-to-back years. It’s even more rare when it’s a band that I like that does that. Well, Tantric has delivered with Mind Control, the reconstituted band’s followup to The End Begins, released last April.

The End Begins was a second debut for Tantric, which had a whole new backing band with only Hugo Ferreira remaining from the original lineup. I liked The End Begins, but I could tell at times where I would miss former guitarist Todd Whitener’s licks and harmonies. (Whitener’s harmonies were incredibly apparent on the underrated After We Go album, and you could tell he was missing on The End Begins.) It was a band in adjustment, getting a fresh start.

Mind Control strikes me as a much more cohesive effort. It’s a heavy, aggressive album — and a coming of age for this new Tantric. You really feel the aggressiveness in tracks like “Coming Undone” and “Kick Back,” which is my favorite song on the album and is quickly cementing itself as one of my five favorite songs this year (the chorus is simply incredible, triumphant-sounding). Hugo Ferreira sings in ways I’ve never heard him sing before, with an aggression and grit perfectly suited for his baritone, and it’s great.

I didn’t think the guitar work on The End Begins was anything too incredibly special, which was a letdown after hearing Todd Whitener’s work on two albums (and the unreleased Tantric III songs, which were all aborted after he left the band). Joe Pessia, Tantric’s guitarist (and friend of Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt) completely stepped up his game on Mind Control, though. In fact, he absolutely kills. For crying out loud, there’s an instrumental on this album called “Intermezzo.” I haven’t heard an instrumental on a modern rock album in a long time, it seems like, and Pessia just totally makes it work. I completely dig that, as it seems like introducing an instrumental piece seems like such a gamble these days.

This album deserves to be heard and deserves to make it big. This incarnation of Tantric has bonded, figured each other out, and put out a damn good rock record. Go get it at Amazon MP3 for maximum compatibility, 256-kbit, DRM-free goodness.

Escape from Disneyworld

There are a couple interesting but unconnected conversations in Charleston taking place, and the intersection of both intrigues the hell out of me. Let’s try it! Here’s the rundown:

The intersection, of course, is bringing that talent together in an attractive fashion to additional talent, to kick off those businesses — and the co-working space is a great place to architect an escape from Disneyworld.

Continue reading

More on Twitter authenticity (or: backing up and punting)

First, a note to myself to step away from WordPress when in an emotional moment regarding social media topics (such as, say, trust on Twitter).

After careful consideration and a good conversation with Patrick earlier, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some flaws in how I’d implement the authentication of Twitter accounts.

The biggest flaw which came out is that if big companies and celebrities were given the option to “certify” their accounts, would that make “normal folks” such as myself automatically invalid? Because, if you think about it, authenticated accounts — one that have been verified by Twitter as “legit” — could unintentionally create a class of “better” users than the standard accounts. The credibility lent those accounts could potentially diminish greatly from a standard account — and after all, there’s a strong sentiment for Twitter to remain a level playing field (all it takes is a search for the Suggested Users feature to see the passion on both sides of that argument).

The second biggest flaw? How in the world would Twitter implement such a system to authenticate users when it can’t keep its system stable? When the basic functionality of Twitter, including updating and following, is more often than not a crapshoot, those required fixes take priority. Period. Twitter doesn’t have the capacity to properly serve up tweets at times, much less authenticate users.

The solution? If you’re a company conducting business on Twitter, or perhaps a celebrity, make sure your Twitter account is referenced somewhere on your website, so we at least know it’s really you rather than an imposter like the false Jerry Rice or the guy who was pretending to be LeVar Burton (which eventually caused the real LeVar Burton to join the service). With this in mind, it’s utterly mind-boggling that Comcast doesn’t reference their Twitter contacts on their Contact Us page — or, for that matter, anywhere on comcast.com. Again, Comcast’s efforts are well-documented in the media, but what if I’m a user completely green to Twitter, who logs on for the first time, mentions Comcast, and is reached out to by one of the agents? The Comcast site doesn’t give me the option of making sure the Comcast Twitter agent is who he says he is. Users are increasingly becoming smarter, and they may be more resistant to outreach efforts if the company’s Twitter presence isn’t noted on their website.

Oh, and I was wrong on @cnnbrk too. Apparently CNN has been working with that account, just in a consulting capacity, over the last couple years, and only recently acquired the account. I still think it’s odd that the account acquisition was just this week, considering it’s been around for a long time, but the fact that CNN was aware and working with the account makes me feel better. I have far less of a problem with something done in good faith than something done to intentionally defraud people.

Clearly, it’s time for a break from WordPress already, and I’ve only been back to writing regularly over the last few days. Jeez. :P

The good ol’ days are over

We can’t trust social media anymore.

How is it that the most-followed Twitter account, @cnnbrk, wasn’t even run by CNN until a recent acquisition? Seriously — how many of you out there thought CNN ran it? I know I did. Some folks have claimed to have known the truth behind @cnnbrk for a while, but I consider myself up on social media news and this comes as a saddening shock to me.

Why saddening? Because the trust factor that endears us to social media has been shattered.

Twitter needs a mechanism to authenticate a true identity now. Not in six months, not in a year, but post-haste. Otherwise, how can we truly know that accounts performing customer service over Twitter, such as Zappos or Comcast, are legitimate? When we DM account information to a representative of a company, can we really be sure they are a representative? Are we giving our information to Comcast, or are we giving it to a phisher? It’s well-documented that the Comcast representatives on Twitter are indeed authorized agents of the company, but how can someone new to Twitter know this for sure just by looking at the Twitter site? This CNN thing really hurts any company that wants to perform customer service online, because it underscores the fact that tomorrow, I or anybody else could start an account like “@AcmeCares” and phish Wile E. Coyote for his credit card information over DM after reaching out to his reports on Twitter that his shipment of dynamite didn’t catch the Roadrunner.

We are very fortunate that @cnnbrk was not abused, and that’s likely why James Cox, the person who started the account, is not on the other end of a landmark trademark infringement lawsuit. (Because this is, in every sense of the world, a textbook case of trademark infringement. Also, I’m willing to bet that CNN’s failure to act on this sooner could be interpreted as failure to defend their trademark in a reasonable time, which could have serious legal repercussions down the road.) But this whole ordeal underscores the critically urgent need for an authentication system to be implemented. Otherwise, I will now have serious concerns over any company wishing to engage over Twitter, because there is no way to be sure that they are who they say they are — and that’s sad, because as Comcast has proven, Twitter is phenomenal for customer outreach.

#amazonfail demonstrated the new rules of crisis communication

Almost three years ago (it’s been that long?), I went to a seminar on crisis communication put on by College of Charleston’s Communication Advisory Council. During the seminar, we broke into groups and acted like we were PR for Firestone, charged with cleaning up the mess brought about by the tire blowouts that caused several high-profile Explorer accidents some years ago. The key takeaway? Present a united front, and get it right the first time.

Now, keep in mind that all this happened in the age before social media came about. While the fundamentals we learned that day are the same, Amazon’s current #amazonfail plight is demonstrating that the rules of crisis communication have changed.

Continue reading

Brief thoughts on the new FriendFeed

After a week and a lot of tweaking by the FriendFeed team, I’m finding that the new FriendFeed beta is pretty great. Its landmark front-and-center feature is its default real-time stream. At first, it was entirely too fast and made me reach for my filters (which, by the way, have been ridiculously enhanced in this new FF) and the Pause button, which stops the real-time stream. However, the FF team made some changes to how the real-time system works and now my stream is a bit easier to keep up with. I subscribe to 283 folks, which makes for a fairly active stream at times (but certainly nothing like Robert Scoble’s 14,000+).

It’s taken some time, but the new FF’s really grown on me. I’m getting more and more comfortable in it, and have just scratched the surface of the filtering functionality, which really cements FF’s reputation as a power-user social media tool. I see a lot of concern that FF can’t break into the mainstream and all that because it’s “too hard.” You know, I’m okay with it not doing that. Perhaps there are some additional things that FriendFeed can do to make it a bit more accessible, but it absolutely should not compromise its power user features for the sake of gaining more folks. FriendFeed does beautifully at what it does and astounds me at how it adds features to cut through the noise to the signal. Plus, its basic features are simple enough — you already use them on Facebook, after all. I encourage you to give the beta a shot and subscribe to my feed if you dare.

Yes, I’m doing it wrong: A blog about blogging

So the conventional wisdom is not to talk about a medium using the medium that is being discussed; i.e. you’re not supposed to tweet about Twitter, you’re not supposed to blog about blogging…whatever. These people who tell you this are the same people who tell you that auto DMs on Twitter are a good thing. Thus, I categorically reject this conventional wisdom, because we don’t break any ground with conventional wisdom ANYWAY.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but over the last couple months, I’ve more narrowly focused the blog on social media topics. There’s a lot about Facebook. There’s a cubic crapton about Twitter, all intermingled with some Brightkite, FriendFeed, and identi.ca. Sure, I’ve written about the Super Bowl, but I’ve kept the topics pretty narrowly focused. This is a side effect of my using Twitter; items that I might have posted as “asides” here often end up there because of its sheer convenience. Another thing I’ve discovered: FriendFeed is a stellar way to micro-blog, especially if I need more than 140 characters. It can offer instant feedback and viral promotion via “likes,” and the conversation there is tough to top right now. It’s not just using different services, either. Two of my big topics here of late have been Serious Business show notes and weather, and I’ve shifted both these items off to their own sites in order to let them flourish.

So where does that leave the ol’ homestead? Scrambling to adjust, and reacquire its voice. Continue reading

Facebook Reverts TOS (Temporarily)

Saw this on top of my Facebook homepage this morning:

Over the past few days, we have received a lot of good feedback about the new terms we posted two weeks ago. Because of this response, we have decided to return to our previous Terms of Use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

It’s the prudent thing for Facebook to do while they weigh the ramifications of the terms. Kudos to them for recognizing a mistake and taking steps to fix it.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

It’d been a while since there was a good Facebook controversy, but there was plenty of chatter on the Twitters in response to a Consumerist article that brought a revision to the Facebook TOS to the forefront. I’m not going to rehash the intimate details here, but here’s the gist: When you upload something to Facebook, you give them a license to use it in a lot of different ways. Previously, the license would expire if you terminate your account; this revision removes that expiration-upon-termination provision. So, there’s uproar. Mark Zuckerberg once again plays firefighter and says that the TOS change was due to the way Facebook stores data; he likens it to e-mail. I personally think that their licensing provisions are way over-reaching and do need some narrowing and further clarification. This point I will not dispute. There are legitimate concerns for anybody who uses Facebook for anything resembling serious business; lots of businesses with Facebook Fan Pages definitely have reason to be skeptical. Even folks like myself who use Facebook as more of an aggregator should still be troubled by these changes, according to Jacobson Attorneys.

Certainly, it’s another round of Facebook Fail because these changes simply need to be communicated more clearly. This is a company that routinely finds itself in damage control mode about once every four months, whether it be design changes, Beacon, or now this TOS change. Certainly we’ve seen that Facebook has not completely learned its lesson in good communications with its user base; this in turn leads to a reputation of being kind of shady (which was really cemented with the Beacon incident). Facebook’s also the poster child for “walled garden” — thus, something like this will (rightfully) raise the ire of folks who care deeply about the ownership over their own data.

So, content creators are left with a tough call: Spend time and money on self-hosting — including the technical requirements, promotional materials, and the time getting content into their own system, or use a platform like Facebook to publish faster, with all the technical handiwork in place, but with the understanding that in return for these services that the content creator is likely to surrender some of their rights and have to play by the service’s rules. The best strategy for a content creator is a hybrid: Use Facebook to draw people to their content hosted off-site.

Why would anybody do anything resembling serious business besides promotion on Facebook directly, anyway? If one is serious about content creation, they always host the good stuff within their own domain, knowing full well that the copyright statement on the bottom reads “Facebook” and not their name. Facebook has been so clear that they use the data submitted to their site in a variety of ways. For example, have you seen Lexicon? It searches an index of Facebook walls to track the frequency of a term throughout the social network. Here’s a hint: They weren’t really interested in investing a lot of time in building a tool that could track how many times someone said “thunder” on a Facebook wall simply for an engineer’s pleasure and amusement. Really, this should come as a surprise to nobody who’s serious about the ownership of their content. Call it a case of blind idealism, but I’d like to think that people who are dead serious about their content do due diligence before they start spreading it in new locations. And if they don’t, maybe this is a call to bring some of that practice back? Tough to say. There’s a lesson to be learned here, though: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s all give and take; for the convenience and access to the vast Facebook network, there’s a sacrifice involved. Do I like the level of sacrifice? I’m not a fan of it, and I suspect most businesses won’t be, either. But that’s how it is on any service, not just Facebook. These issues have to be considered carefully in this cloud computing boom time.

To their credit, Facebook is taking feedback about the changes. They don’t have to do this, but they are, and that’s a sign that they’re at the very least trying to listen and allay concerns. It’s a good PR move — now, the question is, will they follow through? On issues of privacy and openness, history’s shown that they have been extremely attentive to concerns and acted on them. I have a feeling the TOS will see another tweak before it’s over — stay tuned.

Update: Here’s an absolutely damning comparison of Facebook’s TOS versus Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. (Hat tip to @mashable.)

Anatomy of a WordPress Hack

So I’ll set the scene for you:

Disgruntled College of Charleston fan, home after witnessing a loss to Elon of all teams, wants to sit down, sip on some Gatorade, and work on his Facebook “25 Random Things” meme post because seven of his friends have now tagged him and he just wants to END IT (and terrorize additional people with said meme).

So, he sits down and begins writing his post, when he wants to refer to a post on his blog for some of the answers. He finds a strange white space in his layout that makes zero sense whatsoever. He goes and checks the source code…and OMG. Keywords. Lots and lots of keywords. Viagra, tablets, medicine — you name it, it was there. Site: Compromised.

Oh, and that guy? That was me. Continue reading