Tag Archives: Facebook

The Buzz Factor

This post was first published on the Idealware Blog in February of 2010.



Long time readers of my ramblings here are aware that I drink the Google kool-aid. And they also know that I’ve been caught tweeting, on occasion. And, despite my disappointment in Google’s last big thing (Wave), I am so appreciative of other work of theirs — GMail, Android, Picasa — that I couldn’t pass up a go with their answer to Facebook and Twitter, Buzz.

Google, perhaps because their revenue model is based on giving people ad-displaying products, as opposed to selling applications, takes more design risks than their software-developing competitors. Freed of legacy design concepts like “the computer is a file cabinet” or “A phone needs a “start” menu“, they often come up with superior information management and communication tools.

What is Buzz?

Buzz, like Twitter and Facebook, and very much like the lesser used Friendfeed, lets you tell people what you’re up to; share links, photos and other content; and respond to other people’s posts and comments. Like Facebook, Friendfeed and Twitter (if you use a third party service like Twitterfeed), you can import streams from other services, like Google Reader, Flicker, and Twitter itself, into your Buzz timeline.

Unlike Twitter, there is no character limit on your posts. And the comment threading works more like Facebook, so it’s easy to keep track of conversations.

How is Buzz Different?

The big distinguishing factor is that Buzz is not an independent service, but an adjunct of GMail. You don’t need a GMail account to use it, but, if you have one, Buzz shows up right below your inbox in the folder list, and, when a comment is posted on a Buzz that you either started or contributed to, the entire Buzz shows up in your inbox with the reply text box included, so that continuing the conversation is almost exactly like replying to an email.

The Gmail integration also feeds into your network on Buzz. Instead of actively seeking out people to follow, Buzz loads you up from day one with people who you communicate regularly with via GMail.

Privacy Concerns

Buzz’s release on Tuesday spawned a Facebook-like privacy invasion meme the day that it was released — valid concerns were raised about the list of these contacts showing up on Buzz-enabled Google Profile pages. A good “get rid of Buzz” tutorial is linked here. To Google’s credit, they responded quickly, with security updates being rolled out two days later. I’m giving Google more of a pass on this than some of my associates, because, while it was a little sloppy, I don’t think it compares to the Facebook “Beacon” scandal. Google didn’t think through the consequences, or the likely reaction to what looked like a worse privacy violation than it actually was (contact lists were only public on your profiles if you had marked your profile “public”, and there was a link to turn the lists off, it just wasn’t prominently placed or obvious that it was necessary). Beacon, in comparison, started telling the world about every purchase you made (whether it was a surprise gift for your significant other or a naughty magazine) and there was no option for the user to turn it off. And it took Facebook two years to start saying “mea culpa”, not two days.

Social Media Interactions for Grownups

Twitter’s “gimmick” — the 140 character limit — defines its personality, and those of us who enjoy Twitter also enjoy the challenge of making that meaningful comment, with links, hashtags, and @ replies, in small, 140 character bursts. It’s understood now that continuing a tweet is cheating.

Facebook doesn’t have such stringent limits, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that to glance at it. It hasn’t shaken it’s dorm room roots; it’s still burdened by all of the childish quizzes and applications; and, maybe more to the point, cursed by a superficiality imposed by everyone having an audience composed of high school buds that they haven’t seen for a decade or two, and who might now be on the other side of the political fence.

But Buzz can sustain a real conversation — I’ve seen this in my day and a half of use. Partially because it doesn’t have Twitters self-imposed limit or Facebooks playful distractions; and largely because you reply in your email, a milieu where actual conversation is the norm. This is significant for NPOs that want to know what’s being said about them in public on the web. I noted from a Twitter post this week that the Tactical Philosophy blog had a few entries discussing the pros and cons of Idealistshandling of a funding crisis. But Twitter wasn’t a good vehicle for a nuanced conversation on that, and I can’t see that type of dialogue setting in on Facebook. Buzz would be ideal for it.

The Best is Yet to Come

This week, Google rolled out Buzz to GMail. Down the road, they’ll add it to Google Apps for Domains. The day that happens, we’ll see something even more powerful. Enterprise microblogging isn’t a new idea — apps like Yammer and Socialcast have had a lot of success with it. I’m actually a big fan of Socialcast, which has a lot in common with Buzz, but I was stumped as to how I could introduce a new application at my workplace that I believe would be insanely useful, but most of the staff can’t envision a need for at all. What would have sold it, I have no doubt, is the level of email integration that Buzz sports. By making social conversations so seamlessly entwined with the direct communication, Google sells the concept. How many of you are trying hard to explain to your co-workers that Twitter isn’t a meaningless fad, and that there’s business value in casual communication? Buzz will put it in their faces, and, daunting as it might be at first, I think it will win them over.

Things You Might Not Know About…

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2009.

…or you might. I find that, in a 25 year IT career that has always included a percentage of tech support, human nature is to use the features of an application that we know about, and only go looking for new features when a clearly defined need for one arises. In that scenario, some great functionality might be hiding in plain sight. Here are a few of my favorite “not very well-hidden” secrets. Share yours in the comments.

Google Search Filtering

google options 1.png
Have you ever clicked the google options 2.png “Show Options” link on your results page? Do a search for whatever interests you and try it (it’s located right under the Google logo). This will add a left navigation bar with some very useful filtering options. Of note, you can narrow to a trendy real-time search buy clicking on “Latest” under “Any Time”; choose a date range,filter out the pages that you’ve seen, or haven’t seen yet – how useful is that for finding that page that you googled last week but didn’t save? The funny thing is that Google has an “Advanced Search” screen, which, of course, can do many things that this bar can’t (such as searching for public domain media).

Microsoft Outlook Shortcuts

If you use Outlook, you know how simple it is to find your mail and calendar. Other common folders are conveniently placed in your default view. Outlook shortcuts 1.pngBut if you’re the slightest bit of a power user, or you work in an environment where users share mailbox folders or use Exchange’s Public Folders, than keeping track of all of those folders can get a bit tedious. Outlook Shortcuts 2.pngThat’s what the Shortcut view is for. Buried below the Mail, Calendar and Task buttons, you can move it up to the visible button list by right-clicking on the bar area (in the lower-left hand corner of Outlook 2003 or 2007’s screen) and choosing “Navigation Pane Options”. Highlight “Shortcuts” and then click “Move up” enough times to get it in one of the first four positions. Click OK, then click on the “Shortcuts” bar. From here, you can add new shortcuts and, optionally, arrange them in shortcut groups. You can rename the shortcuts with more meaningful titles, so that, if, say, you’re monitoring a norther user’s inbox, you can give it their name instead of having two folders named “Inbox”. One tip: to add shortcuts to a group, right-click on the group title and add from there.

Facebook Friend Lists

Nothing makes Facebook more manageable than Friends Lists, and, with the new security changes, this is more true than ever. If you’re like me, your connections on Facebook span every facet of your life, from family to childhood friends to co-workers. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to send links and messages to all of your co-workers but not your friends, or vice-versa? Click on “Friends” from the Facebook menu, then all connections. If you’ve become a fan of a page or two, you’ll see that Facebook has already created two lists for you: Friends and Pages. To make more, scroll through your connection list and click to “Add to List” option to the right. You can create new lists from there, and add friends to multiple lists.

facebook friends.png

When you share a link, note, video or whatever, you can choose which list to send it to by clicking on the lock icon next to the “Share” button and choosing “Customize”.

There Are More

Did you know about these features? Are there other ones that you use that make your use of popular applications and web sites much more manageable? Leave a comment and let us know.

Useful Tools and Tips

This post was first published on the Idealware Blog in June of 2009.

Interesting things pop up on the web all of the time; here are a few things I think are worth sharing:

Twitter Results in Google

Even if you will never tweet, it’s obvious that Twitter is a source of useful information, and, in some cases, a more timely source than traditional search engines and media. If you use Firefox as your main web browser, and have the popular Greasemonkey add-on installed, which serves as a kind of macro language for the web, then the Twitter Google Results script adds some real power. Any Google search you perform will also search Twitter, posting the top five relevant results. Why is this useful? Well, when we heard rumors that a bomb had gone off somewhere near our Bozeman, Montana office, the Twitter results had current info and links that weren’t indexed by Google yet.

One Stop Web 2.0 Sign-up

Namechk checks for your preferred username on a slew of Web 2.0 sites, from Bebo to Youtube. I found this useful to reserve peterscampbell at a few sites that I want to use but hadn’t signed up for, and to learn that some other guy named peterscampbell had already grabbed it at Youtube, where I had used a different loginname… snap!

Make Friend Lists on Facebook

This is a tip, not a tool – if you’ve been stymied by Facebook’s recent changes to how it handles updates, you can make a lot more sense of it by making lists of related friends, and then filtering the updates by group. Click on Friends and the “Create New List” button is at the top of the screen. I have lists for family, nptech, Boston friends, SF Friends, and a special one called “no tweets”, which filters out everyone who cross-posts all of their Twitter updates to Facebook (my default view). Keeping up with all of this info is always a challenge, so the ability to filter out the echoes is a must.

Exhibit Your Info

Exhibit is a web site that lets you upload spreadsheets, maps and other data to an information rich, filterable, active web page that can then be shared. If your org works with a particular environmental cause, seeks a cure for a disease, or supports a particular community, you can share data about your cause dynamically and expressively with this amazing site.

Google Voice is on the Horizon

Google revolutionized email with GMail, the first email platform in decades to question the basic assumptions about how email should work (by filing important email into folders). They’re about to do the same thing with Voicemail. A year or two ago, they purchased Grandcentral, a service that allowed you to route multiple phone numbers to one shared voicemail box. A few months ago, they opened the revamped Google Voice to existing Grandcentral customers, and, surprise, it looks a bit like GMail.

When I look at GMail, Google Voice, and the recently announced Google Wave, a real-time communication and collaboration platform, and then picture these all integrated into a Google Apps account, it becomes clear that our phone systems are moving into the cloud as fast as our servers are, and, while it is always that controversial proposition of Google giving you stuff in return for the right to market to you based on all of your data, it still looks like they are poised to offer one of the most powerful, integrated communication platforms that the world has ever seen.

Have you run into any awesome things lately worth sharing? Leave a comment!

Feed Fight

LinkedIn has Facebook envy, and Facebook has Twitter envy. Ignoring MySpace (my general recommendation), these are three big social networks that, sadly, seem to be trying to co-opt each others strengths rather than differentiate themselves.  Per Readwriteweb, LinkedIn is jealous of Facebook’s page views, and is looking for ways (like applications) to keep users connected to the web site.  More noticeably, Facebook’s recent failed attempt to buy Twitter was followed up by a redesign that makes Facebook much more like Twitter.  Al of this inter-related activity has created some confusion as to what one should or shouldn’t do where, and a question as to whether this strategy of co-opting your neighbors’ features is a sound strategy.

My take is that each of these networks serve different purposes, and, while I am connected to a lot of the same people on all three, they each have distinct audiences and the communication I do on these networks is targeted to the individual networks.

  • LinkedIn is a business network. This is a place where potential employers and business associates are likely to go to learn about me.  Accordingly, I sparingly use the status update feature there, and never post about what movie I took the kid to or how funny the latest XKCD strip was.
  • Facebook is a casual network where I have some control over who sees my posts; it’s also the place where I find the most old friends and family. So, given that my potential employers and business associates aren’t likely to see my profile unless they have a personal or more collegial relationship already established with me, this is where I’ll give a status review of the Watchman movie or post a picture of the kid.
  • For me, Twitter is the business casual network, where my nptech peers gather to support each other and shmooze.  I am mindful that my tweets paint a public picture, so I keep the ratio of professional to personal tweets high and I don’t say things that I wouldn’t want my wife or boss to see on the web.

The multiple, overlapping networks create some issues in terms of effective messaging.  One is the echo chamber effect – it’s ridiculously easy to automatically feed your tweets to Facebook and LinkedIn.  The other is the lack of ability to do more than broadly address numerous audiences.  I mean, my Facebook friends include co-workers, business associates, childhood friends and Mom; you’re probably in a similar boat.  For some people, this creates the “I really didn’t want Mom to hear about the party I attended last night” issue.  For most of us, it simply means that we don’t want to bore our old friends and family with our professional blogging and insights, any more than we really want our co-workers to see what sort of hippies we were when we were 17.

So I manage some of this by using Tweetdeck as my primary Twitter client, because the latest version lets me, optionally, send a status update to Facebook as well as Twitter, which I do no more than once a day with something that should be meaningful to both audiences.  What I won’t do (as many of my Facebook/Twitter friends do) is publish all of my tweets to Facebook — that’s cruel to both the friends who don’t need to see everything you tweet and the ones who are already seeing what you tweet on Twitter.

At first, I thought the idea of Facebook incorporating Twitter might be a good one.  Facebook has a big advantage over Twitter.  It’s hard to be new to Twitter; the usefulness and appeal are pretty muted until you have a community that you communicate with.  Facebook starts with the community, so it solves that problem.  But, for me, the amount of control I have over the distribution has a lot to do with the messaging, and I like that Twitter is completely public, republishable, and Google-searchable.  I communicate (appropriately) in that medium; and if you aren’t interested in what I want to communicate, I’m really easy to drop or ignore.  But my Mom is probably far less interested in both non-profit management and Technology than my Twitter followers, and I don’t want her to unfriend me on Facebook.  So I’d rather let Facebook be Facebook and let Twitter be Twitter.  Just because an occasional beer hits the spot, as does an occasional glass of wine, that doesn’t mean that I want to mix them together.

Now that Mom’s on Facebook…

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in March of 2009.

…here’s what I want to write on her wall:

Dear Mom, welcome to Facebook!  I’m glad you’re here, because we don’t talk enough, and this is an opportunity to be a little more present in each other’s lives.  Mind you, it won’t, and shouldn’t, replace any phone calls or visits.

Facebook is a bit like taking the big, wide, Internet, and narrowing it down to just the stuff that your friends would show you.  It’s nice because we get to catch up with a lot of old and new friends in one place, but that same convenience also makes it a bit superficial.  Since almost everything you say on Facebook is shared with all of your friends, you’ll be saying things that you don’t mind everyone hearing,  That puts a bit of a filter on some of the meaningful exchanges that are so much a part of our true friendships.

Another big thing about Facebook is that it is the product of a private company; not a big, amorphous set of connections like the Internet at large.  And, since it’s “free”, the business model is advertising.  So Facebook is a business that makes money off of your interests and relationships. If that doesn’t sound just a little bit scary to you, I think it should.

So here are some great things to do and some things to avoid on Facebook:

  • Connect with people you know (ignore requests from people that you’ve never met!
  • Share links to useful information, but stop short of sharing stuff that says more about your personal interests than you would want the world to know.
  • Ignore most of the applications.  Our friends and family are, in general, serious and active people who don’t have time to speculate on which of their Facebook friends they would like to be trapped on a desert island with.  I routinely ignore all of the non-existent gifts and requests to do things that I really don’t have any time to do, and, fortunately, my friends take the hint and stop bothering me with them.
  • Keep in mind that, every time you include a friend in an application invite, you’re telling the company that made the application about them.  So it’s not just that so many of these things are insanely trivial — they’re also potentially nebulous.
  • Don’t go crazy joining groups.  Every time you join a group, you open your profile to all of the members of that group.  It’s better to try and contain your exposure to people that you are fairly certain you would want to know.
  • Finally, you have my email address – send me personal mail there, not via Facebook’s mail.  While the mail is useful for establishing communication with people you reconnect with, and the wall writing is fun because you share it with others and can start conversations, I much prefer keeping our personal communication in my regular email.
  • To my mind, Facebook is a fun place to catch up with old friends and share things with my community, but if I only know someone on Facebook, let’s face it, they’re not really a friend.  Friendship implies a level of intimacy that shouldn’t be subject to broad peer review and data mining for advertisers.  And Facebook should not be a place that you can’t forget to visit for a week, or more, without risking offending someone.  Used moderately, with moderate expectations on the part of youa nd your Facebook friends, it has its rewards.

The world is coming to Facebook – it’s not just my Mom; it’s also my Dad, sister, brother-in-law, co-workers, grade school friends, and an assortment of people from everywhere in my life.  What do you want to say to the people you’re connecting with?  Leave a comment!

Media and Mediums


This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in February of 2009.

Those of us who actively create internet content — which includes many nonprofits, at this point – were fairly blindsided by a small, subsequently revoked change in Facebook’s terms of service this month. The earlier terms allowed Facebook to use any content that a user publishes to the site in a variety of ways, as long as the user kept the content on the site. The change extended Facebook’s rights to use beyond it’s time on their system. They could keep using it after the user removed it, and they could even keep using it after the user cancelled their account. Facebook’s defense of this action, in a blog post by Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, was that the intention was to insure that people whom you shared information with, such as emails, links or notes, didn’t lose access to that information if/when you removed it. But, since the policy didn’t isolate that use example from the broader uses, such as Facebook advertising their services with your content, or providing it to third parties, the reassurance left a lot of us cold. A use policy on a social networking site should establish, clearly, what will and won’t happen with the content that you post to it, not leave it open ended to this extreme.

This incident prompted a fascinating post by Dr. Amanda French, comparing the license agreements of a variety of popular social networks. This is an important read, but the upshot is: Google services and MySpace have pretty clear terms; Facebook and LinkedIn claim a broad range of rights to content that we publish on their systems.

To me this is a bit like the separation of church and state. I expect that a social networking site, like an ISP, is a medium that I can use to communicate and share things, including things that i create and hold copyright to; not a magazine that licenses and retains ownership of works that I submit. If that’s not the case, then I want to know that and be very careful about what I’m putting up there. In my case, I’m trying to protect my works and personal reputation; a nonprofit should be just as concerned about how a business like Facebook might portray them as they repurpose their content.

There is media — content, that we create — and there are mediums, and in the print world the issues of content ownership are very clearly outlined in contracts. Facebook and their ilk should be applying the same standards, maybe even more so, since they are publishers on a much more massive scale than, say Ms. Magazine or Popular Mechanics.


This week has brought some pretty blizzardy weather on the Facebook front, so thick that I’m in a real quandary as to how I should navigate through it. Understand that, when it comes to Facebook, I try and keep my visits to the neighborhood to a minimum. Short story: I like the ability to keep up with people, but hate the annoying, incessant and spammy applications. I would have no use for Facebook if everyone would simply accommodate me and use LinkedIn and Twitter instead. But, as you might have noticed as well, the whole world apparently got Facebook for Christmas. I now have triple the old grade school/high school friends to connect to, and people from every social group I’ve been associated with for the last 40 years are popping out of the virtual woodwork. It creates a few challenges.

1. Should my Facebook community include everyone I know from work, professional circles, friends and childhood acquaintances? That’s a lot of communities slammed into one. I already wrestle a bit with the fact that most of what I talk about on Twitter is probably not interesting to some of the family and non-nptech friends who follow me. My online persona is my professional one. I’m not pretending to be someone else — the personal things that come through are authentic — but I really don’t want to bring every aspect of my life and interests online.

2. One of the main things that I dislike about Facebook is the applications. I keep pretty busy, with a demanding job; my family; active blogging/writing/presenting and volunteering duties; friends and relatives; an appreciation for movies, music and television; an unhealthy addiction to news, culture and technical info; and a love of crosswords. I’m not sure how I do all of this — and sleep — in the first place. So filling out Facebook movie comparison quizzes (and the like) does not qualify for a spot on my schedule. If you are connected to me on Facebook, and you’re hurt that I haven’t responded to the numerous gifts, games and trivial pursuits that you’ve invited me to, please don’t be. If you message or email me directly you’ll get a reply!

3. I think the people who run Facebook are unabashedly doing it in order to mine marketing info from the membership. And, since the main thing that you do on Facebook is connect with old friends and family, they’re using some fairly extensive personal history and interaction as fodder for their advertising streams. This is the nature of the net, of course, as I have Google ads in my email and a slew of ad tracking cookies no matter how often I clear them. But Facebook manages to be ten times creepier than any other web site I visit when it comes to this stuff. I just don’t trust them.

I’ve seriously considered doing whatever it takes to delete my account. I even emailed everyone and warned them of that intention at one point. But it’s getting to the point where deleting Facebook is kind of like boycotting food — you might have good reasons, but you’ll probably hurt yourself more than help, particularly since there is real value in having the place to connect, and, sadly, it isn’t LinkedIn that’s grabbed the zeitgeist.

Losing Facebook

Where do you live? Where do you hang out? Does your social life revolve around a particular location? Presumably, your social life is only as geographically restricted as your travel budget allows. You can meet your friends at a coffee shop, mall, park or home. You don’t always meet them at the same place; and you don’t go to that place to call them.. So why should your online social life be any different?

This week, Google announced that their internet portal page, iGoogle, would be incorporating widgets, or, as they call them, Gadgets that perform the type of social networking functions that online social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace provide. This comes at a time when Twitter, the group chat/micro-blogging tool has been rising up the social staircase and getting a lot of new users and attention. Twitter, unlike the more established social networks, is more commonly accessed through third-party, desktop applications than the twitter.com web site.

I like this trend. My primary social networking site isn’t Facebook or LinkedIn — it’s GMail. Twitter is the first thing to challenge that. Because, for me, it’s not about the brand – it’s about communication. So Facebook has it’s ouvre, it’s demographic market, and, like everyone else, it’s mission to learn everything there is to learn about my network’s shopping preferences, and the slow website and constant “spam your friends” requirements of their tools really puts me off. LinkedIn has a cleaner, more professional aesthetic that I find a lot less annoying, but my favorite new feature of theirs is the ability to subscribe to the feed of my network updates in my RSS reader (something Facebook doesn’t provide). So I’m rooting for the destruction of the social networking brands, and the ultimate incorporation of powerful social tools into my my desktop, RSS Reader and email.

At that point, I’ll be able to take advantage of the powerful interpersonal tools that the web enables. I’ll still travel to my friends and associates web sites; and I’ll still visit the Ning and Drupal communities that matter to me. I won’t need a middle man like Facebook or MySpace. That will be a happy day!

Shlock and Oh! Facebook’s social dysfunction

I am not a luddite. In fact, I’m a big advocate of most of the concepts of social networking, and a long-time participant. But, about a month ago, A persistent friend roped me into joining Facebook, which, as you no doubt realize, is about the trendiest web site on Earth right now, basking in more than it’s fair share of memespace. Man, am I hating it.

Facebook is decidedly social. You fill out your profile, connect to your friends, and, from that point on, every time that you or a friend do anything on Facebook, the rest of your community knows about it, as a constantly updating scroll of alerts keeps you up to date. I know that Scott won a Disney trivia quiz, that Holly is now friends with Heather, and that Michelle has been experimenting with Trac, my favorite source code repository software. That’s a lot more info than LinkedIn tells me about my associates when I log on there. I also know, or have good reason to suspect, that a co-worker of mine broke up with his partner recently, because he updated his profile to note that he’s single. That was more info than I really wanted to know…

Most of what can be done on Facebook involves using the custom apps that programmers and pseudo-programmers (like me) can easily develop for the platform. The problem is that the majority of these apps are astoundingly trite in nature. There are hundreds of apps to let you poke your friends and compare your pop culture acumens. But there’s little of substance. I know that what drew the bulk of my friends to this platform was the promise of using it as a mission-marketing and fundraising tool for our non-profit orgs. There are plenty of apps that support that, but I’m pained to see where this is a very effective tool for it, unless donating to something meaningful makes people feel a bit better about themselves after six or seven hours of online tickling, poking, and otherwise engaging in remarkably trivial pursuits.

Social networking takes a lot of forms on the net, from the little “people who bought this also bought that” notes on amazon to the web-based communities around games and mobile devices to the whole hog social networks. The latest educated speculation is that Google and Yahoo will start adding social networking features to their email platforms, and Firefox 3 will act as an aggregator, pulling data from multiple social sites into the browser interface. If nothing else, this tells me that I can choose to join Facebook or Myspace today, but next year the challenge will be opting out.

Slam the blogosphere if you want, but the social interaction there starts with someone writing something they care about. And if you read a blog entry that speaks to you, you can engage in a focused conversation via the comments. Or, as I’ve done a few times in the past, roundtable discussion among related blogs. Something about the trivial level of automated discourse on Facebook almost knocks out the potential for meaningful interchanges, and when something more real pops up — like someone changing their profile to reflect a very real change in their life and who they are — it’s awkward to see it scroll up, sandwiched between the latest flixter movie showdown and the news that some friend of yours is bored with their commute. This almost moves the level of discourse between my friends and myself about three steps closer to spam. The Facebook brand of social networking is far too dominated by the fact that, even for an internet junkie like me, the majority of things that I can do on Facebook are not that interesting, meaningful or real.