New Facebook: Consistently Inconsistent

So after much impatience, sarcasm, and self-doubt, I finally got the updated Facebook look sometime while I was driving home from work yesterday. And you know, after all that, I’m somewhat underwhelmed.


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 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.


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.)


Twitter & Facebook: An Uneasy Marriage

When I first really started paying attention to Twitter in late November 2007, I succinctly lamented the lack of a Facebook connector. Twitter was, after all, a status tool, and it would only make sense that I could keep the two in sync. Facebook Mobile was not yet the most developed thing on the planet at that time, and I thought it would be nifty to send a service a text message to keep my Facebook friends up to date.

Then a funny thing happened; I started using Twitter as a microblog, with more frequent updates than pithy status messages on Facebook. I also thought the connector’s “is twittering” — a limitation of Facebook status then was that it was required to start with the word “is” — was kind of lame as well. So, I decided to stop synchronizing Facebook status with Twitter status and let the two run their course.

However, more and more Facebook friends started populating their Facebook status with their tweets, even though they may send many, many tweets a day (as I do). I got to thinking about perhaps reuniting the two; after all, I still have maybe 10% of my friends using Twitter, which means a majority of my friends are missing out on my wit. ;) I’d been tossing this idea around for a few weeks when the other day I ran across this provocatively titled Inquistr article by Duncan Riley. In the article, Riley notes that his response rate on Facebook has been more substantial than he ever thought possible. That was it; the one that pushed me over the edge, in essence.

So, Monday, the experiment resumed: I re-linked my Twitter and Facebook statuses. And the response? I’ve seen some decent response rates. But the mess? Oh, the mess. It speaks for itself:


First, that’s a lot of status updates. In my deliberation of whether to relink, I’ve said that Facebook is a “slower” service, as it’s not intended to be something that one would run in the background as a real-time application (though the function is available). It’s something people check and then generally head away from. Services like Twitter or FriendFeed, though, are predicated on the idea of near-real-time interaction. Thus, bombarding Facebook with Twitter updates — generally, any update not intended as a reply to another Twitter user is published in the News Feed — doesn’t really fit with how I perceive the service. Additionally, “Jared I can’t help but wonder…” does NOT make grammatical sense. Facebook’s status system intends to maintain the integrity of a complete sentence in its updates, and doing less really looks funny. (Thus, as crazy as it sounds, Plurk’s structured status updates make far more sense for synchronizing to Facebook.) Certainly, I could start my Twitter status updates as incomplete sentences, but that’s not how I construct messages on that service. This is one of those “irreconcilable differences” that my writer self is struggling with. Finally, people not used to the noise could be tempted to un-friend me (much as I’ve sustained many unfollows on Twitter over the last year because of my verbose nature).

However, I can’t argue that there’s been results. Some tweets have touched off some neat conversation, and the goal of getting those tweets out to those people who may never read them did indeed work. Indeed, it’s a double-edged sword.

In a perfect world, Twitter’s Facebook app would give me the option to insert tweets into the News Feed on its own without changing my Facebook status. I do want Facebook people, after all, to have easy access to my Twitter updates as they’re a huge part of my online presence. In lieu of Twitter-specific News Feed items, I’d like to at least free the box holding my Twitter status from the Boxes tab and place it prominently on my Wall tab. Unfortunately for months I’ve gotten this failure message when I’ve tried to do that (and yes, I have reported it). This has to be fixed. I am very judicious about what displays on my Wall tab, and Twitter status I consider too important of an item to be confined to a Boxes tab that nobody but the most bored will click.

In the end, I’ve decided to once again separate Twitter and Facebook. Links to my Twitter profile are pervasive throughout my profile if they want to get at it. My Twitter timeline is also available, with comments and “likes,” on my FriendFeed tab. The clutter and spamminess of the whole thing just did not sit well with me and how I use the service, and thus it’s best to keep this separated for at least a while longer, in my mind. Here’s hoping that some of the alternatives I’ve laid out can come to fruition, as I feel very uneasy keeping these services in silos. Of course, these are purely my perceptions. Some of you out there won’t care about grammatical correctness or News Feed overload. What’s been your experience? Why have you — or have you not — linked your Twitter to Facebook?

Update: Andra Watkins does a great job explaining the benefits of synchronizing status. She makes some great points, especially when noting that people can, in fact, turn down noise from specific folks in the News Feed. (I forgot about this feature, as I generally like to have everything there.)

Observations Technology

Where Facebook’s Student Exclusivity Rocked

Editor’s note: It’s so nice to write a non-hurricane post. I bet it’s even better for you to be able to read a non-hurricane post. :)

I’ve been preparing for the restart of classes this week, and I got to thinking about an old Facebook feature that I found incredibly useful for scouting out who was in what class of mine: Courses.

Back in the good ol’ days when Facebook was a students-only kind of thing, there was a Courses feature that, true to what one may expect, let you put in what classes you’re taking (including the section). Once you entered that information, you could then click on the course or specific section and see who else entered the same information. It was cool for getting a general idea of who’d be in my classes; maybe I’d have a friend in a class I wasn’t aware of. It was also an incredibly useful tool for finding folks for notes and other things in situations where I had to miss and maybe didn’t know folks yet. People were usually really, really cool about those messages (I was, when I received them) and helping out where the need arose.

Then, a couple funny things happened: Facebook went mainstream, and opened up the Facebook API. That combination effectively nixed the Courses feature. Unlike features like Photos and Videos and such, Facebook never officially reimplemented Courses, leaving it to the community to implement it. And implement it, it did — there’s like a bajillion different apps now to manage courses. I’m giving Courses 2.0 by a shot, which I actually have four friends using. However, it took work to hunt down and find the application, authorize it to steal my soul, and then start throwing courses in. The older Courses feature was built-in; thus, more students were actually likely to use it, as it required less work to get going. This is not to say that apps like Courses 2.0 aren’t nice, though; it displays a graphical breakout of my schedule, allows the input of ISBN numbers for textbooks, and is compatible with the new Facebook format by permitting the addition of a tab (which I have done). Again, though, I had to seek it out — something I know a lot of students just won’t do.

It’s for this reason that I suspect there could once again be a market for a closed social network for college students. Facebook’s original tools for managing academic as well as social relationships were actually quite useful, and it’s a shame that they’ve been farmed out, and as a result, become less useful and, unfortunately, siloed.

If you’re using one of these apps for academic networking, which one are you (and your friends) using?


The New Facebook

Facebook is publicly beta testing a drastic redesign of their site to try to allay a lot of complaints that the site has become extremely cluttered with applications (oh, has it ever). While reactions seem mixed, I think this new design has a potential to be a real winner. I, personally, can’t go back to the old look now.

As Per Whatever

I am a Facebook Spammer

Facebook says I am a spammer

I saw the above screen after writing on my friend Trevor’s Facebook wall, wishing him a happy birthday. I apparently need to stop doing that, as I am clearly abusing their system…because the only time I have to write on walls these days are to write people and wish them a happy birthday. That’s what you DO on Facebook. (I even suck about that, and I know I’ve missed some peoples’ days, and for that, I humbly apologize.) For reference, here’s my wall post frequency, per my News Feed.

I hit my profile a couple times a day, and largely lurk. I don’t use Facebook chat, and I generally lay low regardless. I only come out of the woodwork for birthdays. Something is seriously wrong here. Two of my followers on Twitter have also had issues with Facebook labeling them as abusers, so I’m wondering if their detection mechanisms have gone out of whack. (For the record, I was able to make a different wall post to another friend with no problem.)

Two things here have struck a serious nerve with me. One, the outright “you are spamming Facebook” line. That’s ludicrous. The wording is combative and doesn’t offer the user much hope of reaching a resolution, as it deposits you on an FAQ page that just says “stop spamming” without giving somebody the opportunity to clear their name. Second of all, their rate limits aren’t advertised. I’ll take some of the mystery out: it apparently is sending more than one “Happy Birthday” wall post to more than one friend every two weeks. This is very Comcastian in nature, where you can be shut down for hitting an arbitrary rate limit that they won’t put in writing a la Dave Winer.

The “guilty until proven innocent” crap just has to stop. I understand wanting to shut down spammers, but some of these measures have put a real chill in how I’m going to use Facebook from here on out, which is to say not much at all. The tendency in society to put a serious chill on things has really gotten on my last nerve, but that’s a post for another day. I’ve definitely taken a decentralizing approach with much of their services: Flickr for photos, FriendFeed can help me keep up with what people are up to, and I have Twitter for far better status. Oh, and good ol’ fashioned e-mail is much more effective than the Facebook messaging system. Yeah, I don’t have “walls” to write on but I suppose that’s what good ol’ fashioned phone calls are for. If Facebook is going to continue to try to chill usage of their service with a wayward abuse detection system, then I have to say, my repeat traffic numbers are going to go way down. This is Shark Jumping 101 right here. It’s about as effective as suing your customers (see RIAA); it doesn’t work.


Political Discourse In America

We all know that I’m not a fan of immunity for telecommunications companies that helped the government in its (at best) legally-questionable warrantless wiretapping program. (Which, thankfully, the House grew some backbone and stopped on Thursday! :) ) Today, Facebook and ABC News asked about telecom immunity in its latest poll question, and I jumped in a bit. I like talking about this topic; it’s gone fairly unnoticed with all the election hubris, and it’s a pretty pivotal deal in terms of rule of law in America.

At first, the debate was level-headed, a quiet discussion of the facts in the situation and a respectful exchange on both sides.

Then enter M, who clearly takes a cue from Sean Hannity or other hate radio purveyors, with gems like this, a happy wish for those who oppose warrantless wiretapping:

To those of you who believe that it’s wrong of the government to be doing this, it’s my every wish that a terror attack affects your family.

Thanks, M. I’ll be sure to pass your wishes along to my family, who also read my blog.

After another post by him telling me that he didn’t want to “die for my stupidity,” I pretty much let him have his soapbox. He then mentioned that he didn’t know what good things Truman did as President and that there should be a separate country for liberals. He was then fed to the virtual equivalent of rabid lions.

I love the Internet(s), and I love this country, because despite how nasty it may be, he has the right to state that opinion. There’s nothing in the Constitution about decorum in free speech, after all. However, it’s unfortunate that we still have to deal with the poison in our public discourse, particularly over the Internet. It’s not about calmly bringing issues to the table and debating their merits anymore; it’s about shouting, name-calling, ad hominem garbage that drives traffic and ad revenue. Both sides do it. It’s plainly obvious where our divisions come from; the fringes have mobilized very well on the Internet and began their shouting, which is so loud that the moderates are largely drowned out (Joe Gandelman & co. being an exception). And I think, despite what the fringes want you to think, that a majority of America is still moderate and understands the value in a calm debate of the issues.

Or maybe I’m just being idealistic, young, and foolish again.

As Per Whatever

I’d pay for Twitter

Twitter’s business model is the big topic today. I won’t rehash the details — Dan does a good job of rounding up the situation — but in short, the enthusiasm for Twitter seems to grow on a daily basis, and I think there would be more willing to pay for upgraded features than we might think.

During my vacation, Twitter caught such a foothold with me — the Public Timeline is just downright fascinating — that I’m now spending more time with it on an ongoing basis than Facebook. Facebook is still useful, don’t get me wrong, but as an ongoing conversation and alerts tool, Twitter is much more useful to me. I like that I can keep up with local bloggers and get breaking news (I’m following CNN and Techmeme among others) in the same stream. It’s the ultimate News Feed — in comparison, Facebook’s feed is pretty much useless in a sense of actual “news”. With the ecosystem exploding in growth around it, Twitter has real staying power — and real value in a marketplace.