Dreaming of a single digital home

Mansi made an interesting comment on one of my posts, about where the web is heading:

‘instead of having multiple social stops, we’ll all have one social home, so we don’t have to leave. ever.’

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and though that is logically where we should be heading, I wonder if it will be possible in practice. I’m thinking of a service that is like FriendFeed and houses all your social presences in one place, but it should have one crucial difference: users should be able to control their privacy levels. So something along the lines of Facebook from the privacy point of view, but it should allow asynchronous following of people, like on Twitter. Currently Twitter offers only two options: on and off (via protected updates). Facebook is simpler from that point of view but requires approval when anyone ‘friends’ you in order to have them in your network. Another key issue in the service I’m talking about would be needing to use only one password to access everything, instead of having to remember multiple passwords for every site you log in to. 

Of course, single sign-on would need to work, and that can only happen when one company owns all the sites in question. Google is the closest so far. Yes, it does beg the question of monopoly – power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

So maybe all this is just a pipe dream, and someone needs to invent a smarter way to save passwords, which automatically gets updated when you change them on any of the multiple sites you use – which will in turn need a password of its own! 

I can’t stop thinking of the potential of the single web home idea though. It will be like your digital passport – the only document you’ll need online.

PS: Read this really informative post by Tim O’Reilly on the subject of the coming War of the Web.

Interesting stuff from Interesting

Interesting-2009

Some interesting things I learnt at Interesting 2009:

1. Arthur Jefferson, father of Stan Laurel, had a mission to bring culture to the working class by setting up or managing theatres all over the UK, the largest of which was the Metropole Theatre in Glasgow. (It’s amazing how litte clear information there is about him on the internet, Cait Hurley must have spent a lot of time in libraries to get her presentation together!)

2. Facebook has its own Konami cheat code, which results in a lens flare on your screen. I tried it and it works – awesomeness. Toby Barnes took us through a number of video game cheat codes, I wish I’d noted down the rest!

3. What the word teratogenic means (teratology is the study of abnormalities in physical development).

4. There were books that spoke about ‘appropriate’ behaviour for women way back in 1475. Like these, I assume. 

5. Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin was a slightly mad man behind such brilliant efforts as trying to perform arithmetic by smell, creating a beauty map of the UK (yes, plotting where most good-looking women in the country tended to be found – London, in case you were wondering, with Aberdeen having the least beautiful!), and the measure of fidget (or how you can find out when people are bored). I mean, what can you say when hear about genius like that?!

6. What electroporation is.

7. What heimat is.

8. The fact that there is a place in the UK called Havant

9. That a ‘shaw‘ means a small wood or thicket. 

10. The Great American Streetcar Scandal, where apparently General Motors was at the centre of a plot by private companies to get trams off US streets and replace them with buses so they could make a profit.

11. German style board games, which aim to keep all players in the game till the end and are less dependent on chance than regular board games. 

12. That May 1st is International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day.

And this quote by Jack Handey regarding sunsets made me laugh: “Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he’s carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he’s carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you’re drunk.” (!!!!)

Thanks Russell – and all the speakers of course!

How Spymaster pulled me back into the game

This morning, I awoke to find an SMS on my phone which sounded very cryptic for all of two seconds: ‘The Directorate needs your help. We’ve given you 100 Directorate points to ensure your safe return to the agency.’ Then I figured it out: I hadn’t been playing Spymaster for a while now, and they were inviting me back. I was struck with novelty of it. Spymaster is just a game, linked to Twitter, but because I’ve supplied Twitter with my number, they were able to reach me even at a time when I was not near my computer. I did go back to Spymaster, even if it was just out of curiosity. (If you’re interested, they’ve made a lot of improvements to the game).
Imagine if brands did this in a useful way. Will Twitter ever open itself to brands like this? Wouldn’t that be a way for them to make money? Of course, commercial messages would need to stick to certain rules which Twitter could specify, and limited to a certain number per day, the way Facebook only allows a certain number of status messages to be posted from Twitter on Facebook profiles. Hmmm.

Protesting via Facebook

I noticed this on Facebook today. Following the Mumbai attacks, people are going around tagging friends in photos of the mishap taken off the internet. Someone has put the images all up on a Facebook album that is open to public view, and is encouraging everyone to tag friends as a sign of ‘protest against terrorism’. I read recently of marketing spam on Facebook in exactly the same vein. 

I don’t know how much actual change an act like this will achieve. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that this act – like becoming a ‘fan’ of something on Facebook – is merely an expression of emotion. You become a fan of something if you like it. The people who are tagging friends, similarly, are doing it to show support for the National Security Guards and police, anger and sadness about the death and destruction caused, and frustration with the administration. If it is picked up by the Indian media, for example, the people who are part of this will actually have had some sort of impact. If it isn’t picked up by the media, then it remains a form of protest. A digital protest. And any protest against an atrocity is a sign of an active, thinking society, which is important, and in a democracy like India even more so.

Today’s election coverage

Today is probably the most important day in American election history that many will see in their lives. As we all wait with bated breath to see who will be revealed as the next President of the most powerful country in the world, here are a few things I’ve noticed about today’s election coverage by three websites and social media platforms: 

For one, the New York Times has a great video providing an overview of the elections so far. I would have embedded it, but as is usual with the New York Times, they aren’t very sharing-friendly. I think that is perfectly ridiculous, because it’s a very good video and any site that doesn’t proactively encourage link love is only doing harm to themselves. I hope someone is listening out there and changes that aspect of the site. 
Two, Facebook has done a Google and is encouraging everyone to go and vote with a notification on their main page. Conversely, Google, who usually come up with very inspiring logos for events not half as important (the first day of Fall and the Persian New Year, for example) have remained mum on the issue – there’s no change to the regular Google logo today.

Three, Twitter is going full-steam ahead with their coverage of the elections. Everyone knows by now that it can boast the presence of both @barackobama and @johnmccain, and that Barack Obama is way more Twitter-savvy than McCain. (Latest case in point: Obama’s last tweet was 7 hours ago but McCain’s was October 24th – as of 11.25am UK time today). More importantly however, Twitter is powering Current TV’s election coverage later tonight with live tweets, co-hosted by Digg, with a video from 12seconds.tv and a DJ set by Diplo.
4 years ago, George Bush and John Kerry weren’t half as spread over the internet the way McCain and Obama are today. It means a lot that these candidates can reach out to people – Americans who are not resident in the country, for example – in a way that they couldn’t and wouldn’t even have thought of last time. Technology and the growth of social media will also most likely result in way more young people voting than last time – and that means a greater number of people voicing their opinions. Essentially, that means a stronger democracy, and (fingers crossed) a better world for all of us.

Ruminating on Facebook

Facebook has officially crossed the point of being just a social network. It is now a topic of research and debate. Yesterday, I came across two articles that spoke about Facebook’s effect on different demographic groups: one spoke about Facebook creating a ‘friendship addiction’ in women – essentially because women get their self-worth from ‘adding’ friends. The other spoke about Facebook ‘destroying the nuclear family’, but in a good sense, because we are witnessing more and more people over the age of 30 joining Facebook with the sole aim of keeping in touch with their family. This is true – I’ve noticed a lot of parents, even grandparents, of some of my friends joining Facebook and commenting on their status messages and photos. Mine are not on it so far, thank goodness!

I was also thinking of how I am not in touch with ALL of my friends from university, but my cousins who are currently studying have ‘friends’ in the high hundreds, most of them being people who go to school with them. When they finish studying and move into the working world, they will have that many more people to tap for jobs, hobbies and the like. I envisage a world where Facebook will ping you to tell you if any of your friends are in a five-mile radius, so you can meet them in person (apparently there is some similar application not related to Facebook that already exists – can’t remember what it’s called). Our next generation will not even know what a non-Facebook world looked like. I like to think of that as a good thing, unless of course you and your family choose to live on a remote island cut off from society (good luck to you). There will be problems of course, psychological and non-psychological, like stalkers, but there are ways to control the negatives – it’s why every network has privacy options you can control. There’s more to be done on that front yet. Women who have self-worth issues will need to find other ways of validating their existence, that’s all. 

Are you being counted?

There are many reasons why Facebook’s registered users now number a 100 million across the world. One of them is the fact that apart from social networking and giving corporates the ability to reach out to ‘fans’, some useful applications are being created that can have an impact on the current state of world affairs.

Like BeCounted. It is a college voter registration application in the end stages of development. It will provide young students with all the information they need to be able to make an informed decision, allow them to request absentee ballots, and will also allow them to decide how and where to vote – whether it is the state they live or study in, if those two are different.

Impressive.

[via TrendCentral]

Facebook Lexicon

OK – so one more trend-tracker, like Twist and Googlefight that I mentioned here. This one is Facebook’s Lexicon, and it (obviously) tracks the occurrence of words on Facebook. I think this one has a little more potential as a trend-tracker than Googlefight or Twist. Googlefight scours a search engine (and therefore web pages rather than actual conversations) for terms, so it is not really user-relevant. Plus, of course, it isn’t even run by Google. Twist is a decent comparison tool because it tracks usage of terms on Twitter, which is powered by users (roughly over 1 million by now, according to TechCrunch, but there is a caveat).

However, Lexicon is at this stage the most useful because it tracks usage of terms on Facebook, which even in January this year had over 70 million users. So, if you’re a brand looking to track how you are doing versus your competitors, this may point you in some (however vague) direction. I did one comparison using Nokia and the iPhone and this is what came up. You’ll notice a spike in the iPhone’s occurrence as a term in December 2007 and one in Nokia’s in January 2008. But overall, obviously the iPhone trumps Nokia.

The technological equation of my social interaction!

Whoa. So there is hell of a lot going on in the social media world. It’s like starting this blog has opened up a whole world that I knew of only from the sidelines. It makes me all the more glad I did, because it is all so fascinating.

This post is likely to be long, but I have tons of thoughts and information that I’d like to put on the table.

I’ll try to keep the focus on three things: Facebook, Twitter and Qik, and I’m going to briefly mention another: tinyURL, which I touched upon yesterday.

Given the scale of Facebook’s impact today, I don’t think it is unwarranted for me to admit I’ve been following Zuckerberg’s his words closely. It’s a fascinating website socially and culturally, even if I have some suspicions about it. It’s never been easier to follow a person’s actions than it is today, thanks to social media applications and platforms, so I am able to track what he thinks of Facebook reasonably carefully if I keep myself plugged in online.

Robert Scoble tweeted sometime last evening about Zuckerberg’s desire to have a re-do of his SXSW interaction with the public. I caught that video on Qik because Scoble posted it as it happened (or soon after). (Qik is a website that allows you to stream videos from your phone).

So Twitter became the starting point for my being able to listen to Zuckerberg. I got to know some interesting things about Twitter yesterday, when I listened to this interview with Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, Rob Pegoraro, columnist with the Washington Post, Holly Willis, professor of media studies at the University of Southern California and Robert Scoble, about Twitter’s impact on the world. The interview was last year but the issues are as relevant now. I’m not going to get into all of it (it was a 1-hour interview) but some of the topics under discussion were how Twitter is basically an extension of Facebook and MySpace, where people broadcast their actions to their friends – and others – in the hope that it is interesting, about how it is voyeuristic in a sense but it is a construct of who we are, about how people are therefore willing today to have that level of surveillance of their lives. Also, however, platforms like Twitter create a culture of synthetic closeness (this phrase, coined by a caller who had some questions for the panel, was fascinating) and potentially alienates some people because users no longer feel a need to go out and meet people as they are meeting them online and are satisfied with those interactions.

Yesterday, the second time round at SXSW, Zuckerberg took questions only from the audience – a very wise thing to do. I’m going to mention some of the issues I found interesting (these were Zuckerberg’s responses to questions from the audience):

  1. What happens when all relationships online become social relationships, as often happens with Facebook? You don’t really know or want to know, say a thousand people, but many people do. Zuckerberg mentioned the concept of Dunbar’s number in response, which basically says that a person can have stable inter-personal relationships with about 150 people – he thinks most people, while they may have a huge number of people on their list, ultimately stick to 150 for reasonably close relationships.
  1. Facebook has become so much about games now, and games allow people to connect socially though they may not otherwise. When Facebook started, the thought of games becoming such a big factor in Facebook’s success did not even strike him vaguely. Zuckerberg himself said that there were many people on his own list who he does not communicate regularly with except for the times he plays Scrabulous with them! He went on to mention that the great thing about these platforms is that Facebook does not have to play an editorial role at all, because the market will sort out what is successful and what isn’t.
  1. Facebook’s plan to share information with other countries: While Facebook wanted to allow as many people as possible to use the site, Zuckerberg recognized that there are certain countries like China, for example, that maintain high levels of data policing. They could deliberately slow down servers if they don’t like what is being transmitted, or if Facebook decides to host servers themselves then they may arrest the administrators of the servers. Keeping people’s private information private is crucial to them, and it is an issue they are working on with regard to expansion to other countries.
  1. Another interesting bit of data that I gleaned from the video is that apparently Robert Scoble, who runs a popular blog himself (I heard someone sitting next to him call him part of the ‘blogerati’!!), was kicked off Facebook in January this year for attempting to ‘scrape’ information off Facebook. Basically he ‘scraped’ information of more than 5,000 of his friends off Facebook for import into a new feature being run by Plaxo which allows users to import Facebook information. This violates Facebook’s service agreement so his account was disabled, but subsequently reinstated when he contacted their Customer Service division.

Just think about all of this. There is so much going on online that makes this world clearly one that is going to be almost debilitated without recourse to social media in the years to come.

Back to what I started off talking about: this is how I got the data I have – Scoble used tinyURL to create a succinct link of his Qik video of Zuckerberg talking to insert into his Twitter feed, which I then clicked. So

Qik=>tinyURL=>Twitter=>Facebook video

The technological equation of my social interaction!