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I used to think Facebook trending topics were clearly better than Twitter, but the World Cup has changed my mind

When Facebook decided to copy Twitter and launch its own version of trending topics, I was all whatever about it. Then I noticed the brief but absolutely helpful context Facebook offered in its version. It reminded me of the short-lived Twitter client Brizzly which I used mostly because it explained what the fuck people on Twitter were talking about. Just take a look at Twitter's trending topic (left) list vs. Facebook (right) to see why this is helpful.

But then the World Cup (like it did for vuvuzelas) changed everything. Without a doubt the Twitter mobile experience of the World Cup is superior to what Facebook offers through a full browser.

Facebook basically gives you non-prioritized feed of crap related to the current match, which is something Twitter used to be known for -- feeds of crap. Facebook also offers recent match results and a countdown timer to upcoming matches. The latter is useful and interesting, but doesn't come close to what Twitter provides. Here's the Facebook World Cup page:

Facebook's inferior curation of World Cup-related Facebook content leaves much to be desired. 

Meanwhile, unlike the noisy and confusing generic trending topics list, Twitter has bothered to organize your experience of the World Cup on mobile. The main screen says "Get instant updates and all the behind-the-scenes action from World Cup 2014," then offers three tabs: Tweets, Photos, and Matches.

When you go to Matches, like Facebook you see the score of any current match, and you see the upcoming time for the next three matches. Most interesting, you can click on a match and just look at Tweets and Photos for that match. Bonus offer is the "People" tab under a single match which shows and gives you the option to follow accounts related to either team. Here's what that People tab looks like. 

Twitter shows you how it's done when offering deep social coverage of a live event series.

The World Cup really drives home the differences in what Facebook and Twitter offer. For a surface level understanding of a trending topic list, Facebook wins hands down. With Twitter, you're left wondering, "WTF is #5SOSTheAlbum, and why should I care?" Facebook solves it with a caption, and if you click on a single topic, you get actual news stories that are relevant and not just a bunch of Blieber wannabes declaring their love.

But when it comes to depth of coverage for a live event, at least one on the order of a World Cup, Twitter shows you that it can truly help you make sense of that event and bring you closer to it by bringing you the images and people involved. 

Now I just have a few demands of both companies:

  • Twitter, please copy the Facebook/Brizzly model of offering a 60-100 character explanation of what the fuck is going on in your left column from a trending topic perspective.
  • Facebook, please copy the investment Twitter has made in the World Cup. You've got too many users across the planet to not help them all make more sense of what's happening. Do a better job of integrating, packaging, and segmenting all the bits. You'd be much better if you simply copied the Twitter build, but given your size and relationships, you could integrate media (especially video) and my friend network in more interesting ways. Just at "see which of your friends gives a shit about the World Cup" would be valuable and might lead to some un-friending of folks who can't be bothered with the greatest event series in world history.
  • Twitter, please don't limit your organization of the chaos to the World Cup. I would love to see this model applied to other major shared events like the Super Bowl, Oscars, Presidential Debates, and more. It helps if the event is more than a few hours, so the NCAA Tournament seems especially worth it, but long term I'd love to see it applied to anything truly newsworthy, as opposed to just popular-among-children-who-neither-vote-nor-know-anything.

That seems to me a pretty humble request, and as an active user on each of your platforms within the first year of your existence, I feel justified in saying, come on let's get to it! 

Kyle Kinane vs. Pace Salsa Is Really About Failed Product Language And Design

"You're Doing It Wrong" by  Peter Dahlgren via Flickr

"You're Doing It Wrong" by Peter Dahlgren via Flickr

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: None of this happened. Skip to end for update. Overall point is still interesting so read for that. Or don't because maybe this blog post doesn't exist. Maybe I'm not real. Maybe I'm just another dumb Internet meme sucking up your time)

Ross Luippold over at Huffington Post Comedy has a great replay of the Twitter interactions between comedian Kyle Kinane and Pace Foods that went down this weekend. The exchange centers on the fact that Pace was auto-favoriting tweets mentioning its product, and that made for the favoriting of pretty ridiculous tweets. 

It all started when stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane, who counts the likes of Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron as fans, noticed that the Twitter account for Pace favorited a 10-month old tweet insulting their salsa.

 

Left unsaid in Ross's overview and underpinning why such exchanges were funny in the first place are two basic problems in the design and architecture of Twitter. Allow me to elaborate/rant at length.

First, "favorite" has always been the wrong term for that Twitter action.

"Favorite" implies enjoyment and endorsement of content that stands out above the rest for being not just noteworthy but good. Orange is my favorite color. Kale is my favorite vegetable. Non-conflicted black republicans are my favorite non-existent political group. However, people don't actually use the Twitter feature to mean this in all cases. Often we're just remembering, marking, saving, flagging, storing, bookmarking or otherwise more neutrally noting a tweet. We are long overdue for Twitter to change the verb from favorite to something more neutral.

Know where else we've seen the misuse of verbs in social media? Facebook. "Like" needs to become something else. I don't "Like" when a friend posts that his uncle has just died. I empathize. I feel. I support. I don't like. It's especially problematic with Facebook Pages. I don't like Mitt Romney. I chose to follow his page to keep tabs on what he was up to (someone had to). A like is not an endorsement. 

And don't get me started on "friend." Facebook has done more to destroy the meaning of the world "friend" than all the rumor-spreading, backstabbing, and two-faced behavior of the world's people combined.  

There's something odd about these social platforms being so neutral in so many of their operations (seemingly) in that they don't endorse movements per se; they want to get out of the way and let users express themselves. Yet they force a non-neutral stance on every user when they make language choices such as favorite, friend, like across a set of interactions that can and do mean so much more than that. Facebook takes the cake because it has forced us into "liking" brands then goes back and sells our likeness in an ad for that brand saying we actually like the brand! Way to juke the stats, Facebook.

Second, favoriting activity is public and social if your Twitter account is public. This is overly simplistic and bad.

In the Security and Privacy section of your Twitter account settings, you're allowed to make your entire account private. You can also choose to conceal the location of your tweets and determine if people can even find you on Twitter based on your mobile number or email address. Twitter could, and I think should, add an option to keep your favorites private. There's a role for you keeping a secret file of tweets you want to come back to. No doubt part of the decision to keep this activity public is to drive more activity. Favoriting is an entirely new category of interaction the company can track, report, and use to populate activity streams. Many people use Twitter in a read-only mode. Favoriting lives in the gray area between true lurker behavior and posting tweets like an addict (aka me). The added twist is that while the word and button design of Favorite on Twitter has remained the same, its meaning has changed dramatically.

Favorites used to only be visible for folks who visited your profile page and explicitly clicked on your favorites. They were technically public but practically hidden if not invisible. Now they act more like a mention, proactively alerting (snitching to?) the party whose tweet you've favorited about what you've done. 

The activity of people favoriting my tweets now shows up in my Twitter experience. Twitter be snitchin yall. 

The activity of people favoriting my tweets now shows up in my Twitter experience. Twitter be snitchin yall. 

That's what happened with Kyle. In a sane and less noisy social world, he should not have even known that Pace had marked his tweet.  Twitter created a social interaction where none was intended. They changed the meaning of the word favorite when they launched the feature then changed it again to make it a form of communication. 

Who does this the right way? Instapaper, sort of. Your "likes" don't have to be publicly exposed. What I don't like is how they couple this choice with people finding you through connected services. Those are not connected choices.

Google Chrome.png

There should be an experience of these services that doesn't force blanket meaning on our actions, or if they do, they do so with the lightest possible meaning and the clearest possibly explanation of consequences. When I like or favorite the first few times, the service should explain to me what that means and where this action lives on. "Like" sounds innocent, but it isn't. "Favorite" is innocuous until you're caught favoriting something offensive or dumb (like U.S. immigration policy).

There should be an experience that doesn't force our actions to be both public and social as well because in so doing they force us to answer for behavior that has largely been implicit or passive or silent or all three. We're pouring so much of our lives, our business, our politics into this machinery, but we're still learning how the machinery changes those lives and businesses and politics. 

Just consider the physical books and magazines you've read. What if when you folded a page or highlighted a passage or placed a bookmark, that book reported your activity to the author and the publisher and told them that "Baratunde Is Over The Moon about page 43 in Mein Kampf" because "Is Over The Moon" is the way they've chosen to lable the action. That's what UX can do when it's done wrong, and a much much milder version of that is what happened to Pace. 

I love Kyle Kinane. He's super funny and had a great and creative way of handling his exchange. He was performing. He was doing real Twitter comedy--not just tweeting out standup bits over Twitter as a transport layer, but using the native interactions of the platform to inspire creativity. He was speaking the language. However, in a world where social platforms use the right language and give us control over both the public and social settings of our actions, this incident would never have happened. 

Update @ 17:39 2nd December 2013

Love this question from @HumorCode, and I tend to agree. I've re-read the above, and it's slightly more categorical and absolute than I intended. Twitter is fun. New types of interactions aren't always a problem. They are interesting and create new opportunities for expression and communication. I'm for all that. 

More than a restriction on user interactions, I think what I'm calling for is clarity. I'm pretty sure (and certainly hope) that Pace might have set their auto-bot differently had they known it would proactively alert the users whose tweets it was favoriting. 

Good followup point @HumorCode. 

While we're at it, what substitute words could social platforms enable to replace these generic overly broad forced meanings? 

Instead of Favorite and Like, I nominate

  • Goddamn Love
  • Hug
  • Grind Up On
  • Flick
  • Pinch
  • Stash
  • Stow
  • Tuck
  • Fondle

What say the rest of you? 

Update 17:52 2nd December 2013

Yes yes Bart. The well-funded Pace Foods corporation should have invested in humans and machines that knew better. That's the least interesting part of the story for me, but it's a valid point. Dear Internet, stop making valid points which expand and occasionally shift but never quite undermine my main point!

Update 18:01 2nd December 2013

Well ain't that some sh*t. The entire thing was a hoax pulled on Kyle. Pace account was fake. Life has no meaning. None of this matters. Nothing matters.

That's annoying to say the least. So strip out the part about Pace, and my overall point remains valid and interesting, I think. Favorite and Like are the wrong verbs. We need more understanding of our how actions ricochet through the digital ether. 

I'm going to go burn something now. 

The UK Defence Ministry thinks terrorists will dance with you, have tea with your mum and babysit all thanks to social media

This is pretty amazing. The Telegraph has the story of the MoD warning servicemen and women (and their families) about the potential dangers of posting information to social networks. The videos are well done and do actually lead you to think before you post. However, they have conclusions which lead to far more important lessons.

Take the video above. Toward the end, as the tension builds, I'm expecting the sailors to get attacked, kidnapped, beheaded or something. Instead, the closing shot is of the servicewomen dancing with a fully-masked, fully-armed, presumed-terrorist. This begs much larger questions than "Did these ladies overshare on Foursquare?" Questions such as:

  1. What sort of security is the nightclub operating under? Maybe the MoD should do a public campaign about the dangers of shit bouncers?
  2. What sort of British sailor spots an armed terrorist and chooses to dance with him? Granted, a lot might have happened off-screen. Maybe the terrorist threated to murder every single club-goer if these sailors didn't dance with him. Maybe that's what he really wants in life, not money, not the release of a political prisoner. Maybe he just wants to feel sexy for once in his life.

There are a total of four full scenario videos in the series. Here's my absolute favorite.

I mean, that's just brilliant. If terrorists are providing free child care, we need to rethink this entire War on Terrorism thing from the ground up!

"I made a Facebook ad telling women the things I wish somebody had told me!" - @TeteSagehen

Have you ever felt confused, annoyed, offended or angered by a Facebook ad? If so, you're going to love this story.

Teresa Valdez Klein is one of my favorite people. I first met at a conference she organized in December 2007 in Seattle. It was all about Facebook, and I spoke on a Facebook Curmudgeons panel. Since then, Teresa and I have remained friends and shared conversation on topics big and small. I just checked out her Ignite presentation about subverting Facebook ads, and with the strongest endorsement, I urge you to do the same.

The Problem:

Teresa was feeling pressured by the hyper-targeted, often sexist Facebook ads rubbing her nose in the fact that she wasn't engaged or married, that she needed to lose weight and that she was doomed. Here's a sample

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Solution:

With the democratization of marketing made possible by Facebook's self-service ad model, Teresa made her own ads targeting women. She describes them as ads "telling women the things I wish somebody had told me." Here's a sample.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Presentation.

It's five minutes. Watch it. 

 

Conclusion:

As someone who has done a fair amount of media hacking myself (Twitter Swine Flu, Foursquare mayoral campaign, etc), I'm already a fan of the method, but the message itself is so worthwhile I can only express my utmost pride and respect for Teresa's work. Well done!

You can see Teresa's post on Feministing Community as well

Citysearch Censors "Suck" "Blow" And "Sex" But "Oral Intercourse" Is OK

Look, I don't spend my time testing the language filters of user review sites. I was actually playing with Facebook Connect to see what it was capable of. Citysearch has a beta site where you can log in with your Facebook account, so I did. I wanted to see how Citysearch interacted with my Facebook profile. What I found instead was an overly rigid, nonsensical and outdated language filtering policy.

Step 1: Write movie review

Testing Facebook Connect On Citysearch Beta

Step 2: Have review blocked for use of the word "suck" despite the fact that I was saying nice things about the movie

Citysearch Doesn't Let You Say The Word "Suck" In A Review

Step 3: Test the system by replacing "suck" with "blow"

Citysearch Doesn't Let You Use The Word "Blow" In A Review

Step 4: Find out how far Citysearch is willing to go in suppressing my expression. Try replacing "blow" with "perform oral sex" ...only to have "sex" blocked

Citysearch Doesn't Let You Use The Word "Sex" In A Review

Step 5: Success!! Scientific descriptions are OK. "Perform Oral Intercourse" is acceptable to Citysearch.

But Citysearch DOES Let You Use The Phrase "Perform Oral Intercourse"

Step 6: Make sweeping conclusion. So what's the lesson in all this? Fuck Citysearch.

MySpace Begs Users To Log In With Threats Of Cancelled URLs

Oh how the mighty have fallen. I just got this email from MySpace
You're losing it, Baratunde Thurston! Your MySpace URL is about to be taken away, so you may lose it forever. This is the unique URL you chose for yourself (such aswww.MySpace.com/Tom) It’s been some time since you’ve logged in and used your MySpace URL. You're holding a very valuable piece of MySpace real estate, which is the URL you chose. Since it doesn't look like you're an active user on this account, we will be resetting your username/URL so that someone else can use it. How do you keep it for yourself? Simply login to your account right now by clicking: www.myspace.com/losingyoururl3. That’s it! While you're there, check out the new feature that lets you automatically find people you may know. Just click the link:http://www.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=peopleyoumayknow NOTE: We are only resetting the URLs of inactive accounts. We will *not* delete your account. We are simply trying to free up the username/URLs for people who actually want to use them. Thanks!
No, you're losing it, MySpace!  What happened to poor MySpace? Under the guise of helping me preserve my myspace.com/baratunde URL, MySpace is pushing an immediate boost in active accounts by using threats to force people to log in. Oh, and while I'm logged in, did I know that I could find other people I might know??? How pathetic. Here's a hint MySpace. If your service has to resort to threats to get people to log in, it's no longer useful.  I've always had a tolerate-hate relationship with MySpace, but as a comedian, it used to be king of the hill for me. I posted videos and blogs, networked with other artists and got lots of fan correspondence in the form of emails and comments on my photos, blogs, videos and wall. However, the past six months or so have seen MySpace become virtually abandoned. I still get friend requests, but the interaction died off a long time ago. No more comments, very few emails. I never liked the calendar and group systems, but I don't even get get spammy requests from bands and hot chicks anymore. God, how I miss ignoring communication from crappy bands and wannabe porn stars! I use ping.fm to update my MySpace status now, but the entire MySpace newsfeed is a poor imitation of the actual interactive feeds of services like Facebook and Friendfeed. Every few weeks I'll check my friend requests and the few messages that await me, but overall I really don't have a reason to log in to MySpace. Until now. Because now, MySpace is threatening me. Now is a good time to let you all know where I do hang out online. My most active haunts in order are Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed. I'll see you there. Or else.

Facebook Page Activity Hits The Feeds!

Thanks to a conversation with Jon Pincus, I just found out that Page activity (beyond becoming a fan) will hit the facebook newsfeed for the following actions: commenting on video, posting to discussion board, posting to wall, posting a fan video.

What doesn't hit feed: inserting a posted item.

The big aha: if you are the admin of a page, your own activity on the page will not hit your feed. I had to de-admin myself to get this activity to show. Have a friend be your page admin

Facebook Privacy Violation: Secret Group Activity is Public!

I have also posted this inside a facebook discussion forum

this is a warning/plea for help

i created a secret group which means
"The group will not appear in search results or in the profiles of its members. Membership is by invitation only, and only members can see the group information and content."

THIS IS NOT TRUE

I posted to a discussion forum and to the wall in this group. In both cases, the fact that I posted, the topic of my post and the name of the group were all revealed in my minifeed on my profile page. I confirmed that all this information is visible by friends of mine who are not members of the secret group.

What's the point of making a group secret, if your activity in it is blasted to the public? Does FB not know what secret means? This is a terrible violation.