Every Stupid Thing You Ever Do Will Wind up on the Internet

December 5th, 2008

Until I saw the recent story about a New England Patriots cheerleader fired over pictures posted on Facebook I wasn’t aware of people actually losing their jobs over things posted on the internet.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

In the past week I have seen stories about a woman disqualified from an education degree program because of a photo she posted of her teacher-mentor (though it sounds like that may have been the last of many problems), an entire Virgin Atlantic flight crew fired for posting on Virgin’s Facebook group page that planes were full of cockroaches and passengers were white trash (or the English equivalent) and incoming White House speechwriting candidate Jon Favreau embarrassed by a photo of himself groping a lifesize cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.

The latter article points out that the Obama administration’s screening process includes questions about applicants’ social network profiles, copies of all writings, including blogs or comments on blogs, or sent emails, text messages or IMs that could be a source of embarrassment to the applicant or the administration.

The purpose is clearly to bring out as many skeletons as possible, but the scope of the questions points out the futility.  Drunken camera phone photos will emerge, and in another 20 years they may be pictures of candidates themselves rather than lower-level job applicants.

What I find most interesting is the comments on the education degree article cited above.  A number of readers seem to feel that people should be free to post whatever they like without impact to their professional lives.  I don’t agree- the things a person chooses to post publicly speaks to his/her judgment.  At the same time, context is everything.  Everyone does stupid things from time to time and people shouldn’t be judged solely on them.

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Twitter’s First-Mover Advantage and Disadvantage

August 2nd, 2008

Fred Wilson’s tumblog pointed me this morning to a post about why Twitter has been so successful and is so well loved despite all its problems and downtime.

Why Twitter Still Wins | chrisbrogan.com

Chris makes the point that Twitter’s openness has saved it.  He says:

One way to win in software is to make your application fertile for building upon. Open your API. Give people tools to build an ecosystem around it. And it becomes a lot harder to pull away and go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, in Twitter’s case the last sentence should be followed by the phrase “no matter how badly the service behaves”.  Twitter has definitely become successful despite itself.

A commenter on Chris’s blog made an even better comment.  Michael Durwin points out that Twitter created something completely new. This struck a chord with me.  I attended a social web event put on by Niall Kennedy in late 2006 or early 2007 where Twitter presented.  The company was still focused on Odeo, the product it launched around.  Biz Stone talked about staffers inside the company thought it was funny when people posted clever notes in their IM status- “hung over” or “shouldn’t have eaten the whole burrito” instead of merely “busy” or “available”.

The point is that Twitter arrived on the scene when the idea of micro-messaging was embryonic at best. (On hearing Biz’s talk my own response was that Twitter sounded like the dumbest, most narcissistic thing imaginable, and I continued to feel that way for about 8 more months until I completely fell in love with the service)

The title of this post is about Twitter’s advantages and disadvantages as a first mover.  As Michael Durwin points out, Twitter created a new genre of communication.  its advantage is that it is the first and best known product in its category and has the most users.

On the other hand, Twitter’s problem is that its developers had no idea how micro-messaging would grow.  Its architecture was apparently not designed to accomodate many of the things people would like to see, like threaded messaging, photos, video and comments.  Newer entrants in the field such as Friendfeed can use all this knowledge to build more flexible platforms (taking note as well of why rivals such as Jaiku and Pownce have largely failed to captivate). 

So to sum it up, Twitter’s situation today is basically this:

Advantages: best known, well developed community/social graph, lots of great third-party extensions

Disadvantages: needs to rebuild platform now that we know what people want from micro-messaging platforms

I’m rooting for Twitter.  I sure hope they can rebuild fast enough, but people aren’t going to wait forever.

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Twitter is My FriendFeed

June 6th, 2008

I don’t totally get the point of FriendFeed- or maybe I just don’t like it. I consider it a meta-social network because it doesn’t do a lot that is totally new. It aggregates my contributions across the web (and those of people I follow), but there isn’t very much to actually do on the service.

At the same time, I would love a social web “home base”- a place I where I could both aggregate and contribute. I use Twitter and Brightkite a lot, but one friend might post often to Flickr and another to Yelp. Home Base would be a single place from which I could both keep track of my friends’ activity, and also interact with their photos, tweets and reviews.

Friendfeed lets me post to Twitter, but still isn’t as dynamic as that platform and it ends up being just another place for me to check, but not to post from.

In the end, it comes down to where most of my friends are. I have the most contacts on Facebook currently, but interact with people less there than any other other social network I’m on. That’s just me, I know. Plenty of people have entirely fulfilling internet social lives on Facebook.

I’ve realized that the place I interact with friends the most is Twitter. In addition, many other services feed into Twitter easily, so I can add a new service and not have to rebuild my social graph there before it becomes useful.

I’m close to the point of putting my Twitter ID on my email signature because it’s such a good way to get in touch with me, but at the same time I’m afraid of getting any more attached to Twitter because of its reliability problems. It’s really a shame. The service is so easy and so valuable. I sure hope they can overcome their “we built the wrong platform at the outset” issues and become the powerhouse they deserve to be.

twitter.com/park3

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I’ll Take My Metadata to Go, Please

February 9th, 2008

OpenSocial, OpenID and the rest of the shared-social graph ideas are promising, but they are starting to make me channel Rodney King and ask “can’t we all just get along?” Everyone seems to love the idea, but no one knows how to manage the details.

Meanwhile, I use Zimbra on my Mac. My wife uses Yahoo and Outlook. I want to share my calendar with her, but can’t figure out how to do it. If there is a cross-platform calendar sharing utility I definitely have not found it.

In a similar vein, I use Last.fm, Pandora and occasionally Hype Machine and Seeqpod (whose days seem sadly numbered) to stream music, and Sonic Living for event updates. They should all talk the same language so I don’t have to enter my favorites over and over- or at least work from the same starting point using my iTunes listening habits. I understand that each site’s “secret sauce” is its music-recommendation algorithm, so by all means wow me with great picks. Just don’t make me tell you again and again what I like. Is that really so difficult? Apparently.

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Forget Open Social Graphs. Let’s Just do Something Useful Together Online

October 12th, 2007

UpdateLinkedin apparently agrees with me.  They just announced a developer-API program to create widgets that allow “business functions like conference organization or travel planning”.  But no superpokes.

There’s been lots of talk about walled gardens in social networks. Plenty of people seem to be asking for “network portability”- the ability to move one’s social graph of contacts and connections across platforms. Given that the revenue stream for most social networks depends almost entirely on advertising, which depends on page views, I am starting wonder if that puts the cart before the horse.

Also like many people recently, I have been thinking about how I and my friends really use social networks. My conclusion is that they are a nice adjunct to offline communications- they can help me deepen connections with people I don’t see regularly- but they don’t actually *do* much.

For example, my Facebook news feed is almost entirely full of “___ became friends with ___” and “___ added the ___ application” updates. Do people actually do anything meaningful other than friending, adding applications, joining groups and updating status?

What about “___ beat __ in scrabblicious”, or even “Brad Fitzpatrick nailed his 95 theses on the opening of the social graph on Facebook’s door”?

Facebook seems to be mostly a tool for casual, superficial interactions and ways to show off one’s interests and affiliations- joining groups, marking favorite movies/music/books, showing where one has been, etc.

I’d love to see the platform and the feed represent real activity, not just connection-forming. Maybe the “next Facebook” (which may or may not be Facebook itself) will be the one that lets us really collaborate and not merely connect.

The next question, though, is on what we want to collaborate. I suspect it is probably different for different people and groups. That thought leads me back to the open social graph issue- maybe the open social graph is the horse after all and useful (as opposed to entertaining) applications are the cart. Oh dear, thinking in circles again. Time to quit.

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