Recently in Social Networking Category

Facebook, Inc.

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I'm always fascinated with the stuff people data mine about others. It is not surprising that FBOOK can harvest this sort of information. Why should anyone else be amazed? In the wilds of the Interweb, anything is fair game. This is particularly true when folks give their ish away for the sake of convenience. I suppose when it comes to ad revenue everybody is evil.

According to Zuckerberg, privacy is a thing of the past. Well kiss my ass ;-)
My suggestion has always been to be mindful of what you share and be very clear about who really owns the data. Even if you've unknowingly hired an ad broker (aka GOOG), or photo curator (aka flickr) or you've decided against learning basic HTML so that you could quickly host a webpage and share pictures with friends (aka myspace and facebook)... You give up your rights almost immediately.

Facebook Confessions

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Foray into Y! Pipes

pipes.png

Ordinarily I don't talk much about webdev, as I simply see much of the so-called web2.0 stuff as mere tools to get jobs done. Additionally, much of the so-called web2.0 stuff tends to deal with nasty vendor lock-in, albeit disguised as ease of use or data brokering. As much as GOOG and flickr and the vast majority of social networking tools espouse to bring people together, I have found that they work very hard to profit off your data and make it very difficult to control your bits.

Case in point, I have become a class rep for my beloved BTHS. We have a reunion coming up fairly soon. As a result we have to communicate all of the events and raise money to support activities for our classmates. The challenge is that we have a very disjointed group of alumni. People on other continents and various regions in the US. Interestingly a fair amount of our high school classmates have found their way to FBOOK, but we also have a group albeit quite small using Y! Groups.

So, my initial task was to help fellow class reps collaborate more effectively and suppress all the annoying email that generates from tasks and scheduling. Email is perhaps the worse means to communicate with a large group. I don't care about email lists and email clients which can generate threaded discussions. When you are dealing with time-sensitive data, email is a very poor communication tool. You can't even archive and share group email easily without setting up some sort of mailing list. IMHO, it would have been overkill to setup a mailing list for a 4-5 month project time horizon. What to do?
Enter the wiki, more specifically tikiwiki. It was fairly trivial to install on my server. Nothing more than PHP and mysql, simple building blocks. I didn't even need to setup accounts or create special directories for data archiving, as tikiwiki provides a means to use the database as a virtual file repository. Once I provided the team with a brief overview of wiki use and its origins, they quickly understood the value proposition. Whenever you have disparate groups that must collaborate to solve problems wikis can be great tools. Since we're not slinging code, versioning is not so much of an issue. To be clear, the wiki does handle file locking and timestamping quite well. So versioning is not so much of a problem. GIT or subversion not required ;-)

Now that I've digressed from the topic, allow to get to point. As stated previously, we have a large number of classmates using FBOOK. Our class reps will be spending a significant amount of time using the wiki to communicate, and if any of them are lazy like me.. Well they will probably get tired of visiting both the wiki and FBOOK on a regular basis to check for new content. The obvious solution is RSS, but here is where the lock-in or walled garden bites you in the ass. To my knowledge, FBOOK does not generate RSS feeds for any of its content. In fact, GOOG bots or other agents scarcely crawl the content that lies therein.
So they've got your data and you can't get it and syndicate it for your use. Enter Y! pipes..
I know the web2.0 shills discovered it long ago. I suppose I first learned of it about 3yrs ago, but I never saw the value. It didn't scratch an itch of any sort. I don't use technology for technology sake, I'm all about application. Y! Pipes allows you to splice disjointed data patterns for repurposing. I suppose a loose analogy would be the venerable and uber useful Unix pipe.
The resulting pipe can be shared as a RSS feed, but the pipes engine is 100% owned by Y! Make sure you read and understand the TOS.

Now, I have feeds for the FBOOK groups, which can then be imported into our wiki for general consumption.

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Brand CampU '09

I spent the majority of my last Saturday at LTU. I was there to partake in a homegrown 1-day conference called Brand CampU. BCU is the brainchild of my buddy Hajj Flemings. In fact, the 2009 conference was the 2nd in a series of annual events. In truth, I had wanted to attend the '08 event, but I simply could not get away from previous obligations.

Nonetheless, I was able to attend this year and was quite glad that I did so. In a nutshell BrandCamp is social media discussion with a slant towards entrepreneurship. Hajj is very passionate about building the personal brand. There was also a fair amount of inspirational conversation which served to cajole people on the proverbial entrepreneurship fence. I am sure that I came away with a firm belief that I could also achieve greater heights. The only limitation is fear of the unknown or paradigm shift.

I was able to observe three talks:

  • Ken Brown - McDonalds Franchisee
  • Scott Monty - Global Digital and Communications Manager
  • April Holmes - 2008 Paralympian Gold Medalist

Ken Brown's conversation was very down-to-earth. He reminded me of an ordained minister. Certainly was a crowd favorite, and really wanted to impart memorable one-liners. The use of acronyms was hysterical. I really appreciated is personal story of struggle and triumph.


Scott Monty's discussion centered around large companies engaging non-traditional media outlets. For obvious reasons, I found this topic very intriguing. What troubled me most about the dialogue was the persistent use of transparency. While I understand that large Fortune 100 have "discovered" the value of social media, very much in the way they discovered the World Wide Web (aka global interweb). I still think discovery does not translate to competence. Flavor of the month thinking is not sustainable in the long term. Regarding the use of transparency.. Methinks that for a company to be truly transparent, you must risk being unpopular. Some might even suggest that you must be unafraid to "lift up your skirt" and share the dirty laundry. I'm not sure that people really understand this fact. Though it's cool for a CEO to understand that Twitter exists. However, it is a totally different matter to have customers share design ideas with Product Development engineers. This is the place where true discovery takes place. More on this later. When I think about this particular discussion, I like to reference a very good text entitled, "The Cluetrain Manifesto - The end of business as usual". I remember Doc Searls talking about markets as conversations. If folks are unwilling to have meaningful and frank discussions about what is right and wrong about their business, no progress will ever be made. I could talk about this ad-nausea, but I will hold my tongue in cheek :-)

The last talk was perhaps the most inspiring. April Holmes is a world class athlete who happens to be a paralympian. She shared a tremendous a painful story that was quite poignant. If there was a means to move folks to action, I believe her Olympic dream was a classic.
Aside from her supreme struggle, I was also very impressed with her use of the crowd sourcing. Specifically utilizing her brand which is two-fold. The gold medal that she earned at Beijing is very much part of her successful personal brand. For instance, she purposely shared her gold medal with all of the conference participants. Clearly, most if not all of the attendees had neither wore nor been photographed with an Olympic gold medal. Of course, while medal was being passed around the conference hall people were taking photos or capturing a quick video for YouTube of their 5minutes of fame with an Olympic gold medal. In a clever use of social networking, her personal brand was advertised for free via flickr, Twitter, and whatever other social media conference attendees were utilizing during their stay at BrandcampU 2009. Very impressive indeed. I was happy to learn that she also collaborated with the Air Jordan brand. It will certainly help cement her status as mainstream business woman. She is clearly well-coached and very astute business person.

Definitely, enjoyed my first BrandCampU, it helped me understand the idea of personal branding in the context of social networking. I am clear that I could be doing more for my personal brand. First matter is defining where I wish to take my brand. Where is my digital footprint most popular? Who recognizes my expertise?

Additionally, it also helped me observe that while large companies might be "getting it", there is a fine line between adoption and true transparency. I like to think that you can't put on an afro and slacks and then say you've got soul. It takes hard work and much substance to really embrace social networking. In my mind blogging will always be the cornerstone, well after Facebook and Twitter disappear. I also think blogging and IRC will be the most functional and grassroots aspect of social networking (at least for me).


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Twitter Experiment Ends (Revisited)

Image representing identi.ca as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Well my account was restored about 3 weeks ago, but I've not posted anything new. This is due in large part to my discovery of indenti.ca Actually, there is only a lone post under my profile there too. Go figure. Anyway, I thought it would be humorous and perhaps helpful to explain what occurred and ultimately why I will not be using twitter very much anymore.

Below is an excerpt from the Twitter help desk with their rationale for suspending my account.

Hi there,

Your account was suspended because it posted updates that indicated that your account was in actuality compromised. Updates may have been indicative of the Koobface virus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koobface) or indicative of you giving your username and password out to a 3rd party website that promised "more followers fast!" Unfortunately, the vast majority of these third party sites are actually fronts for phishing and have already been implicated in the selling of usernames and passwords. As a result, we are taking precautionary measures and notifying you that you've been sending out updates that you may not have wanted to sent out. Some of these sites also have downloaded Koobface onto users' computers.

Your account should now be unsuspended; please only reopen this ticket if you encounter further issues. It is, however, extremely important that you take the following actions:

a. Scan your computers for viruses / malware, especially if
unauthorized tweets continue to be posted in your accounts even after
you've changed the password.

b. Use a password that you don't use anywhere else and never use the
former password on a compromised account. Create a new and difficult
password unique to Twitter that consists of both letters and numbers

c. Check the Connections page at
http://twitter.com/account/connections and revoke the access
privileges of any third party applications that you do not recognize.

d. Avoid providing your username and/or e-mail and password to
untrusted third-party sites.

e. Remove any updates that you did not post personally; leaving these
updates can result in your account being re-suspended.

I did not bother to reply to the help desk. After reading this I immediately gathered that the help staffers are part-time folks, likely working from home. I received identical replies from different admins. The reply is a classical scripted response. The admins made the mortal mistake in that they assumed I was using M$ windows. Secondly, they assumed that my machine had been compromised and assimilated into a some weird bot net.

All wrong assumptions. I have been using Linux since '96. None of my machines have ever been 0wned or have I ever seen any malware on my LAN.

Now that Twitter has been poking in the dark with assumptions. I'll tell you what likely happened. I utilize a proxy which kills ads and also helps mask browser client information. Pairing this software with TOR, my network traffic is scrubbed and fairly sanitized.
Apparently, Twitter spends its cycles tracking client IP addresses and will suspend an account that appears to be using different IP addresses in real time. So, once they observed this behavior they _assumed_ that my computer was part of a malicious botnet.
Hilarious, but quite annoying. Anyway, I have discovered identi.ca and the alpha geeks live there :-)

Like other social networks, once they become mainstream they become crap. If Oprah is using it, I probably shouldn't be there.

You can follow me at my new identi.ca account.

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Yet Another Social Network

Last week I received at least four requests to join RRU. These days I resist and have actually scaled back my activity on FBOOK and twitter. I have found that some particularly chatty followers can reak havoc on your wireless bill. Turning off notifications is essential, but that is a subject for another entry.

The idea of wisdom of crowds can be a bit overstated at times, but nonetheless I did visit RRU. First, my decision to peruse the landscape was simply due to my admiration and love for my alma mater. Yes, I am a Rattler. However, I am not certain that the folks that built that site are attempting to garnish the collective might of alumni to help a struggling institution. My eyes tell me that it is simply a place to be virtually seen ;)

Because I fancy myself as a technology dude, let's pontificate on the chosen architecture. Shall we. It seems that they are using the Ning the site framework. Marc Andreessen seems to have made quite a large nest of cash with this project. What surprises me is the Ning API seems to provide a decent toolset. Particulary SSL, REST, Open ID, and hooks which could provide meaningful mashups. At a minimum it would make sense to equip RRU with basic SSL capabilities so that your not asking people to sign-up with clear text passwords. Methinks RRU has set up the NING environment as another walled garden to collect data and be disconnected from your other social networking properties. It is worthwhile to note that Andreessen is a fervent advocate of this "Open Social" movement, and the Ning API explicitly supports hooks into the other dozens of social networks. They are missing from RRU probably due to the folks unfamiliarity of the platform. I would imagine that this will change over time.

Judging from the people that I have peeped on the site, many of them are first generation social network participants. Hence, they have no reference point to compare tools and access. Moreover, the allure is the allegiance to your alma mater and the hope that you can reconnect with people that you have chosen not speak to in probably 10 yrs :)

Don't get it twisted. I luv my school and it would be cool to reconnect with some headz, but I know how to get at them outside of another proxy service. It would be great if they were seeking to use the interest level to re-invigorate the alumni. Actually, I don't know what they are trying to achieve. The about page on RRU is rather sparce.

As and aside: I suppose my undergrad experience was different than most, as I was already grown. So, it was more like a job than playland or self-discovery. All I really wanted to do was graduate and begin to make loot. Heh, high school now that was a different story.

Too many social networks.. I'm full now. I'll play the sidelines on this one..

SMS as a tool for observing social networks

I have been fascinated with the proliferation of SMS as a tool for communication. Just the other day, someone in my peer group suggested that SMS was a teenage thing. I sometimes forget that I traverse a different world than most, so I was a little taken aback by that response. How many people have the same opinion about text messaging? How many people know anything about smartphones?
More on this later.. The premise of this post, is the idea that SMS can be used as means to observe social behavior of disparate networks. Studies would suggest that you can actually link these disparate groups via the common activities of their SMS traffic.

Researchers have begun to study this behavior on the continent of Africa. What I find most interesting is the idea that assumptions and analogies can be drawn from traffic shaping. The by-product of these assumptions can be quite surprising.

As I have stated previously, the mobile device is often the first computing device used by people in developing nations. So it is not hard to imagine GSM cell phones being available at little or no cost. If you can divorce yourself from the US wireless carrier billing model, and the current wireless carrier silo (vendor lock-in) model. It would not be difficult to imagine that a SIM card is often free in other countries. Here in the US there is a cost to use the SIM card (regardless if the device is locked or unlocked). I do not believe that we have a pre-paid SIM model. If I am wrong someone please correct me.

The EPROM project is an example of the ongoing research in the mobile phone space. I'm not surprised that Africa was chosen for this research, as it seems that everyone has always wanted to study Africa. To his credit, EPROM head, Nathan Eagle used Harvard undergrad students as guinea pigs before taking the research to the continent of Africa.

Product features lost in the translation..

Recently a friend in my LinkedIn professional network quizzed me about spurious messages which landed in his LinkedIn inbox. The natural reaction to spurious, unsolicited mail is to treat it as spam. I explained to my friend (with great detail) that these messages were not spam, but instead a new feature offered by LinkedIn called Answers. Unfortunately, this confusion could have been mitigated if LinkedIn marketing or product team would have advised its users of new features in the pipeline.

I am not picking on LinkedIn, as many companies are challenged to provide clear communication, especially in the social networking community. Features seem to be added each day (ie Facebook), and if you do not use the application regularly, it is easy to miss something. Having said this, what recommendations could be offered to prevent this problem in the future?

Well it appears that LinkedIn has a product blog and the LinkedIn application does make use of RSS feeds. Perhaps there could be a method to push down news to its end-users? This sort of strategy is common in Open Source space. For instance, Last.fm, 6-Apart, and Facebook offer inline widgets that include upcoming product feature enhancements. This information would clue people into the new changes coming on the horizon. Maybe the end-user could be given the chance to opt-out if they did not wish to participate?

I happen to like the Answer feature because it allows me to leverage my network to resolve concerns or technical problems. It essentially gives you access to subject matter experts within your network or outside your immediate network. I suppose if you did not know about the feature, one could easily misconstrue the information as spam. Dunno... Perhaps the message collection design should not be named 'inbox' as it immediately reminds people of email. These are good use cases for LinkedIn developers to explore. Hopefully they re-evaluate these issues before they go public with their forthcoming IPO.

Bottom line, though it is commonplace for end-users to discover new features on their own. Methinks companies should bear the burden of educating and informing the user community about feature enhancements and possible repercussions. It may not be advantageous for people to discover by accident. Especially if their first introduction to an application is not a favorable one. Not sure but it is possible, that my friend may never appreciate the LinkedIn Answers utility due his first impression.

Perhaps the broader question is how many other people in my LinkedIn network thought I was sending out unsolicited spam??

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