Posts tagged ‘Social Media’

“You should be on Facebook”

As I’m preparing to leave Switzerland, a lot of my friends have tried to pressure me to join Facebook so they can keep in touch. This isn’t going to happen due to privacy concerns I’ve mentioned many times before. I’d additionally like to counter a couple arguments people keep making in Facebook’s favour.

The most commonly voiced conviction is that “Facebook is so convenient,” or in the case of certain overly excitable individuals, “Facebook is soooooooooo convenient.”

I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but if Facebook were truly convenient, they would provide tools to send me a message or invite me to your events even though I don’t have an account with them. One obvious way to do this would be to integrate the Facebook messaging system with e-mail. Then you’d be able to communicate with me and anybody in the world who has an e-mail address. Facebook may connect over 800 million users (depending how many of those accounts are actually bots trying to harvest your data), but e-mail is able to connect around 2 billion people, and I am one of the 1.2 billion that are not on Facebook.

Of course, Facebook could be even more convenient if they allowed you to keep in touch with your Grandma who doesn’t know how to use a computer. Perhaps they should also support an option for mailing a letter via conventional post.

There is also no reason Facebook shouldn’t allow you to invite me to events by sending e-mails to people who do not use their service. It’s not hard to implement a non-member RSVP service; I’ve done so myself for two different client projects. The fact is, Facebook is deliberately restricting these conveniences for their own benefit.

The second argument I often here is that if I join Facebook I’ll “get to” keep up with all my friend’s lives. It is always worded as though I am missing out on some sort of privilege or basic right.

This is a bit more personal than the convenience argument. The truth is, since the adoption of the Internet, it has become trivial for absolutely anybody to author absolutely anything. Written information is a basic commodity. This puts the power in the reader’s hands, instead of the author’s.

In short, the reader has the privilege of choosing what they will read, and whose written information they will consume. The author is not granting privileges to the reader (despite the “all rights reserved” designation we still see on formally published articles).

Most people are not very good authors, and I’m sorry to say, most of the information disseminated via Facebook (that is not also available elsewhere) is simply not of interest to me.

I’m not saying my friends aren’t interesting, nothing could be further from the truth! But I prefer personalized messages in which we discuss things that are of mutual interest. I acknowledge that most of the stuff in my life is not of interest to any one of my friends. However, for those topics, facts, or events that I know you are interested in, I am happy to spend the time crafting a message meant for your eyes only in which I discuss those things I know you will care about. I won’t discuss Canadian politics if you live in Europe. I won’t discuss complex technical topics unless you’re as fascinated by them as I am. I won’t send you links to my sketches unless you’re interested in art. I would appreciate the same care from you; please don’t send me stupid cat photos, I’m not interested. I don’t care about celebrity or even local gossip. I’m not interested in the latest viral Internet meme.

Google has made an effort to address both these concerns with Google Plus. They have integrated Plus with Gmail, Google Talk, and SMS services so you can still keep in touch with me even though I have deleted my Google Plus profile. The whole Circles architecture is designed to address the second issue, although in my opinion it has failed to do so.

In summary, as I covered in my last post, Facebook does not provide such “convenient” services that they are worth the extremely high value of the data they wish to take from me in payment. If you choose to restrict your personal interactions only to the portion of the population who is active on Facebook, that is your prerogative. In turn, I will choose to keep in touch with those people who are willing to use services that I find more convenient.

Paranoia and Google Plus

After two weeks on Plus, I’ve decided:

* They have the best online photo upload and management system I’ve ever used.
* When deciding who to share content with, I usually discover that what I wanted to share wouldn’t be of interest to anybody and keep it to myself.
* Stuff that other people share is not interesting enough to warrant checking the stream.
* Google, (plus 1 buttons, analytics, chrome), Facebook (like buttons), and Twitter (tweet to your followers buttons) all have a disturbingly accurate record of my browsing habits. About 90% of the sites I visit have at least one of these buttons on them, they all execute scripts on the page, most of them set cookies.

It’s making me a bit paranoid, I already use https and noscript and selectively accept cookies, but it’s not enough, I don’t feel safe.

Google Wave Re-evaluated

Several months ago, I posted an evaluation of Google Wave that wasn’t too positive.

Since then, the Wave interface has had several minor, but very important improvements that make it much more pleasant to use. If there were more people using it, I would definitely view it as a viable alternative to e-mail and possibly even instant messaging. It still needs some serious usability engineering (it will never become mainstream unless they overcome the modal editing, for one thing), but I believe Google’s wave client has promise.

However, I no longer view wave as an alternative e-mail and IM. I’ve been considering it lately, as a replacement for HTTP. That’s right, the entire web. The current version of the web is highly interactive and realtime. HTTP was not designed for this. It was designed as a set of static resources intertwined with links. Then Javascript came along, and AJAX. The latest is a host of HTTP push technologies such as Comet.

These technologies allow the server to send information to the client without the client having to request it. A clever hack keeps an HTTP connection open for long periods of time so incoming data can be pushed across it without the client having to make a new request. Does this sound brilliant or what?

You’re doing it wrong! If our applications are now highly interactive systems that need to both push and pull data to and from the server, HTTP is not the protocol to use. In my opinion, these push technologies are messy. No, not just messy, but dirty, filthy hacks intended to force a system to be used in a way that is the opposite of what was designed.

No, if we are developing web applications these days that require two-way communication pipes (and we are), we need a two-way protocol.

Enter Google Wave. The Wave federation protocol is exactly that: a set of extensions to the two-way XMPP protocol. Wave is not a terrific solution for hosting static content, but static content is a rare commodity these days. Wave provides an ideal platform for most of the common activities people interact with on a daily basis. It already gives us chat, wiki, document editing, and e-mail like functionality for free. With a bit of effort, it can give us a blogging type of functionality (with comments), using public waves.

A couple of simple robots could replace Twitter. Wave doesn’t have support for “following” a user. You have to be added to specific waves. However, it would be trivial to write a robot that a user adds to any waves they want to have subscribed followers added to. “Retweet” functionality should also be fairly easy to implement. And this would be implemented on a distributed system, so there would be no more of those extremely irritating “twitter over capacity” messages.

Wave even solves the mighty facebook privacy issue. Only share your wave with those people you explicitly want to view it. Current policy is to post your ideas on Facebook public to all your friends. But a massive paradigm shift is occurring, as more and more people accidentally include their parents, employers, or spouse in conversations that were meant for other audiences. People are clamoring for Facebook to make it trivial to SELECT who we share information with. Guess what? Wave already does this.

In spite of all this, I’m still not on the Wave bandwagon. I don’t insist or even suggest that anyone should start using. The current browser-based client is complicated and intimidating and has a large learning curve. In today’s world, people expect things to be as easy to use as Google Search or Twitter. Wave is not. The currently available wave client is more complicated than e-mail or instant messaging. It’s not going to take off.

I believe there is potential for simpler clients to be designed. I’m finally understanding why Google has focused on solidifying the wave server and protocol, rather than improving the public facing client. They are the kind of technologies we should be looking to in the future, not HTTP. Google Wave may never take over the world, but at some point, something will have to replace the static HTTP protocol. Maybe wave, maybe HTTP 2.0 will have extensions for two way communication, maybe an entirely new protocol yet.

The way things are vs the way they might be

The stereotypical use of Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz and similar services is to share things with everyone. Either everyone in your friends list, or possibly, everyone in the world.

The group of people clamoring for better “privacy” are asking to change this to a service in which we share things with exactly those people we are interested in sharing them with.

I believe most people would continue to share with everyone by default. Indeed, Facebook already allows sharing with specific groups, but do people really use this feature much? The reason is, it’s easy to publish to “everyone” and hope someone might be interested. It’s much harder to publish to “specific people” and wonder if those people would really be interested in what you have found or what you have to say.

From the other side, it’s much easier to ignore something that a friend has shared with “everyone.” We simply assume that friend had other people on their list that would be more interested. On the other hand, if someone explicitly shares something with me, I immediately wonder why. Why did they think I would find it interesting or entertaining? Further, if I don’t find it interesting or entertaining, it is harder to ignore, because my friend has made a special effort to share it with me, I should express interest.

Facebook doesn’t facilitate easier sharing of information. We had that already, via e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, blogs, websites, and countless other services. Facebook allows us to easily ignore information. That is it’s charm; to imagine that we are being heard, without having to listen to anyone else.

The Face of Social Media

Yes, this topic has been done to death in the past couple weeks, but I’m one of the numerous people signed up to quit Facebook at the end of the month, as proposed at http://www.quitfacebookday.com/. I have all the same reasons as other people; privacy and control. My main one is that I don’t like the centralized model that Facebook engenders. No one company is supposed to be in control of the Internet. It should also not be an oligarchy. Data should be distributed.

This is why I’m excited about the Diaspora project at http://joindiaspora.com/. What interests me most is not what this project intends to do, but their business model. Find a need, a niche on the web. Generate venture capital by asking people with that need to donate funds. Fill the niche. This is like applying the open source model to business. I’d like to see much more of it in the future. I hope the project is implemented intelligently; if it is, I’m looking forward to migrating to it when they make their first alpha release.

In the meantime, I’m looking for alternatives to Facebook. I primarily use Facebook for two purposes: publishing and consuming content. I don’t play the games, and I don’t use their (extremely bad) messaging framework.

The Facebook News Feed is extremely useful, getting an aggregate of all my friends’ activities in one place, be it status updates, blog posts, new links, or photos. But I can find ways to get this information myself. The thing that I lose out on is the ability to PUSH my data to my friends.

I signed up for Twitter. I really don’t like it, although I can’t put my finger on why. It is also a centralized service, and it has been down a lot. I think it could be used for my purposes; I can post links and status updates directly, and link to photos on Flickr or a similar service. But I don’t like it. Further, most of the people I interact with aren’t on the service, and I don’t want to encourage them to use it.

I’ve also considered RSS. I have a blog with an RSS feed already; I could develop a simple feed for a status update service as well. Then people could subscribe to the feeds and get whichever notifications they want. This is really the way the Web SHOULD have been done, but it seems that normal people don’t use RSS. It’s also very public; I can’t choose who to share what status updates with. Like most of the world, the majority of my updates are mindless drivel that only make sense to my friends and family. I don’t want them on an indexable feed.

I’m also considering Google Wave as a platform for this kind of communication. In theory, I could create a wave with a short status message and add whichever people I want to see that message to the wave. Or I could make the wave public. Either way I could embed it in my own website. The Wave protocol is actually well-suited for this kind of interaction, but the default interface Google provides is not.

The problem with all these and other options is that they require people interested in my thoughts to go through a certain initiation phase, registration for twitter, wave, or Google Reader, for example. Rather than do this, most people will say, “why not use Facebook?”