Privacy – Security versus Simplicity


flickr. from rpongsaj.

I have two Twitter accounts.  I have two Twitter accounts because on Twitter there is no distinction between public and private.  So if I want to restrict something to just my friends, I can’t.  It’s all or nothing.  I know that chances are you don’t really truly care what I tweet about.  But considering how easy it is to dig up information about someone, I think it’s prudent that I reserve a portion of my online presence for just those who know me in real life. Of course the primary difference between my two accounts may just be whether or not I share what I ate for lunch, but I think that’s okay.

For Twitter, the privacy feature is simple.  Off or on?  Public or private?  Open or closed.  Facebook, on the other hand, isn’t so simple.  I have complete flexibility in terms of who can see what content and if they can comment on it.  I can lock down as much of my profile as I want, or I can let anyone with an internet connection take a look.  It’s up to me (and you).

Privacy on Facebook is complex.  Then again Facebook itself is complex (at least when compared to Twitter), so this makes sense.  As a result, Facebook has a tool that lets you look at your profile as if you were someone else:

Privacy has to be at the core of any internet service.  Users need to feel protected otherwise they probably aren’t going to want to participate.  They may not always recognize how protected they are (consider the modern day urban legend of embarrassing pictures on Facebook costing someone their job).  But that sense of security and trust remains important, even if it’s only in the minds of the users – although it should be forefront in the minds of the service providers as well.  We don’t even have to go very far back for examples.  The Google Buzz launch.  Facebook’s own recent changes to privacy settings.  Concerns about Foursquare leading to robbery.

But as social sharing services grow more and more complex, do privacy controls need to be scaled to match?  If Twitter decides to add more features, will they have move away from the private/public dichotomy and make things more complicated?  And what happens when another social platform rises up to join Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in what will then be the “big four” of the social networking space (insert your location based service of preference here)?

Obviously I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a third model for privacy on social media, one we haven’t even considered yet.  I guess I’ll be dual-tweeting till that happens.  What about you? How do you deal with the different privacy settings across the social platforms you use?

Do Numbers Equal Value?

Every so often, someone new starts to follow me on Twitter.  Most of the time I look at the e-mail, click through to their profile, and decide whether I want to follow them back.  But every so often I get a follower notification that I just delete immediately.  More often than not it’s spam.  But not this time.

Here’s what Twitter told me about a certain “person” who just started following me (names omitted to protect the not-so-innocent):

Does this seem kind of ridiculous to anyone else?  What sort of earth shattering revelations must be in this person’s 99 tweets that over 40,000 people are following him?

Let’s take a look…

I decided to take a slightly scientific approach to this.  Here’s a few vitals:

  • According to When Did You Join Twitter?, this person joined Twitter on March 25, 2009.
  • I looked the handle up on Twitter Grader, where the account scored a 98.
  • I then used Twitterholic to get historical data on friends, followers, and updates.  Then I graphed the results:

To give myself a sense of perspective, I ran a number of other users through Twitter Grader as well.  Guy Kawasaki’s, Justine Ezarik’s, Drew Olanoff’s, Evan Williams’, Biz Stone’s, and Jack Dorsey’s accounts all scored a 98.2.  I plugged in another 15 or so users (not all celebrities), and only four of them had scores lower than 98 (sampling biases include following them and finding them interesting).  Only one had a score lower than a 90.

It’s absolutely obvious that this user is gaming the system.  They’re using any one of the hundreds of ways out there to increase their follower numbers, probably by agreeing to follow everyone back.

So?

We’ve come to use following/follower numbers as a measurement of influence or value.  But it’s simply not true.  I don’t care what rationale you have, 99 tweets in 270 days can’t enrich the lives of 40,000 people.  It’s just not possible.

Numbers have become a heuristic for the social web.  We have a mental shortcut that says that higher numbers are better than lower ones, and we use it to judge authenticity or likability or popularity or any other number of traits.  But we can’t keep on using numbers as an indicator.  This user that I’ve featured here shows us that it’s much too easy to fake them.  And if you don’t believe me, consider that there are 15,740 experts on Twitter according to Mashable (Pete Cashmore scores a 100 on Twitter Grader by the way).

What else is there?

There’s a lot written on how to sell social media to your boss, and almost everything will at least mention return on investment.  And ROI is always going to be measured based on numbers – whether it’s sales, cost per thousand (CPM), click-throughs, subscriptions, or customer surveys.  It’s a numbers game, sadly.

But maybe, together, we can come up with some better numbers.  What do you think?

Squidoo, Followers or Friends, and Twitter on the TV

So this is the first of my experimental series of mini-posts; just a few thoughts on some things I’ve come across recently.  As/if I write more detailed entries, I’ll insert links.

Squidoo Internship

Remember that Squidoo internship I wrote about a little while ago?  Happy to say that I was selected for it and have been working on it for the last few weeks or so.  There’s five of us; we’re a mixture of experienced Squidoo lensmasters, bloggers, left- and right-brainers.  We’re putting together a few different things now, and while they’re still in the planning phase, stay tuned!  I personally find what we’re doing is really exciting, the people I work with are incredibly engaging and remarkable, and I’m looking forward to seeing our efforts grow over the course of the next month and a half (the internship ends mid-October).

Followers versus Friends

Brazen Careerist has chosen a follower model for their (somewhat) new social network.   Instead of becoming “friends” with someone, you become their fan, and as a result all of their activity across the site is added to your feed.  It’s an interesting choice, and one that many new social networks must make.  In a follower model, you may end up with all sorts of skewed network dynamics (some might say weak ties if they span interest groups) due to the single sided nature of the relationships.  On the other hand, you have the reciprocity principle driving people to follow back and complete the two way relationship – something that defeats the point of establishing a one-way relationship network.  Brazen Careerist is not LinkedIn, and it of course serves a different function.  But I wonder how Brazen Careerist’s network will grow given this one-way relationship, and what we will be able to learn from comparing it to LinkedIn.

Fringe “Tweet-peat”

I watched the “Tweet-peat” of Fringe on Fox last night (I happen to like the show), and it’s an interesting concept.  They had a number of producers and cast members responding to viewer questions and providing thoughts throughout the show, which they both broadcast on @FRINGEonFOX and over the airing of the episode on the TV.  It’s an interesting blending of new media and old.  I’ve seen this done before, like with Current TV’s election coverage, but it’s nice to see the larger networks hopping on the bandwagon.  One thing though: they only broadcast the tweets of the producers and cast on the TV, so it was like listening to half a conversation.  It would have been much better had they put the questions and answers up, so we could follow along.  Or better yet, they could also have had a streaming version of the episode so we wouldn’t have to watch two screens to get the whole picture – it was a bit distracting.  There’s another tweet-peat tonight of Glee, which I actually don’t plan on watching, but I wonder if they’ll take the lessons they learned from last night and apply them tonight.

Cross Platform Integration

Cross platform integration can be a great thing.  Promoting and sharing content from one network to another can improve the quality and spread of information, and it can invite new perspectives on a discussion.  But there are definite downsides.  Let’s take this whole Twitter/Facebook and FriendFeed/Facebook integration mess that’s going on right now.  As far as I can figure out, what’s happening is that individual’s Twitter and FriendFeed posts are being mass pushed to Facebook, even if they didn’t turn on that feature.  It’s probably because of a change in the Facebook apps that integrate those services.  I feel comfortable saying this because it’s happening to people with both their Twitter and FriendFeed accounts connected to their Facebook.

Chances are, some behind the scenes change to the way the Facebook applications get data from Twitter and FriendFeed has led to this.  Or maybe it’s some changes they’ve made to the settings on status updates has overridden the application’s settings; if I remember correctly you can display the apps in your profile but not update your status (not sure because I don’t use these apps).  I don’t know for sure – I’m not a computer programmer, so this is all just possibilities and a little bit of common sense.  Either way, there are a few lessons we can learn from this I think.

  • If you’re a platform, please test changes before you go live.  This seems obvious, but “testing” when you have a userbase of 250 million like Facebook does means a lot of variables have to be considered.  I don’t want to be critical of Facebook –  let’s cut them some slack, and recognize that they can’t test every scenario, and things like this will happen (as much as they’d prefer they didn’t).
  • If you’re a developer, remember that you’re not working in a vacuum.  If you use the Twitter or Facebook APIs, you have to remember that you don’t own them.  Expect that changes will be made, and be willing to be flexible.  Plan accordingly, and build in contingency plans if you can.
  • If you’re a user, recognize that you use different platforms for different purposes.  I use Twitter for public stuff and Facebook for friends only stuff.  I hardly use FriendFeed (sorry FriendFeed, I just haven’t worked you into my routine).  It’s cool if you want to mix them; I don’t.  Either way, think about how you integrate all of your services across the web.  Keep in mind that those services are all created by different companies and have different goals.  Just because you want to send one unified message doesn’t mean that you should hook as many services into one another as possible.  Instead, keep in mind that each channel is different and deserves a slightly different approach.  This applies to companies too – would you use a radio ad on television?  Of course not!  So should you really be using a Facebook campaign on Twitter?  (Note: not a rule, just a suggestion).

Anyway, things like this are reminders that social media is still a new space.  Sure, Facebook has been around for years, and the White House uses Twitter as part of its communication strategy now.  But we still play and work in this fluid, dynamic environment that is subject to change – and we must be prepared to accept issues like this one, and be patient until they are resolved.

In the meantime, here’s how to block the Twitter and FriendFeed apps on Facebook – just click “Block Application” on the left. (This issue has been resolved).  And why don’t you leave a comment and let me know what you think while you’re at it?

EDIT (7.30, 8:30 AM EST):  I was reading the two articles at Mashable about this, and scrolling through the comments, I saw many negative responses to the whole situation.  Can someone please explain this to me?  Do we really expect social media companies to be perfect in everything they do?  It’s not like Facebook started putting everyone’s information on the Internet….they just posted a public feed somewhere it wasn’t meant to go (on another public website).  I don’t really get it.

Twinterns Anonymous

Hi, my name is Jed, and I’m a twintern.  This is my story.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed a lot of posts tagged with #career lately.  No, I haven’t suddenly become an expert on careers (far from it really) – I’m twintering for Careerealism.  Founded by J.T. O’Donnell, Careerealism is a blog/discussion forum focused on offering advice concerning the shifting concept of “career.”  I first came across Careerealism as my graduation was approaching, and I started searching Twitter for career advice.  Careerealism runs a “Twitter Advice Project” that lets a number of career experts answers reader’s questions via Twitter, so that was something I quickly stumbled across.  And as I followed Careerealism’s tweets, I noticed that they were looking for twinterns.

Now I do have a day job.  I’m not going to talk about it here (ever), but as I was thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation, I decided to go ahead and apply for this internship with Careeralism, because, well, why not?  It’s not really something I’d ever done before, and since I am pretty interested in social media, it’s right up my alley.

So what do I do as a twintern?  I tweet.  The whole idea is to help grow Careerealism’s brand awareness and to spread links to and articles on the site.  It’s marketing on Twitter.  J.T. has really embraced social media with the entire program, including in how she communicates with us – meetings occur via Justin.tv and a private Ning network, where we discuss what we’ll be tweeting about during the week, how we’ll be increasing the brand awareness of Careerealism, and also career advice (it wouldn’t be a website about careers if we didn’t).

The twinternship is a ten week program, and we’re about half way through at the moment.  It’s actually quite an interesting experience, because while I’ve been using Twitter for over a year now, it’s always been as an individual.  Tweeting for a brand is…..different.  I’ve already written a bit on how I like to use Twitter, which probably is not how you like to use Twitter (that’s the whole point by the way).  And it’s certainly not how a brand “should” use Twitter.  For example, I started unfollowing people who annoy me recently.  Is that a good thing for a brand?  Probably not, as reciprocity tends to rule the day on Twitter, and as there are a number of services that will follow and unfollow people for you automatically, unfollowing people is a good way to lower your own follower count.  This, of course, is not ideal, so long as we carry traditional advertising metrics like impressions and clickthroughs over to the social media space.  But what if we don’t?  What if we focus instead on the quality of the relationships we build online?

I’d like to thing that building relationships and letting brand awareness and trust build organically is more effective than pushing a brand upon people – I know it is with me.  Then again, I’m not an expert, and I’m pretty new at the whole tweeting for a brand thing (something I hope to write on in greater detail soon).  In the meantime, why don’t you tell me what you think?

Is My Twitter the Same as Your Twitter?

Before we start, you should probably read How Twitter’s Staff Uses Twitter (And Why It Could Cause Problems) at Read Write Web.  You might also want to read How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live at Time for some background, but that’s up to you.

All done?  Good.

Now here’s my question: who says that the so-called “power users” of Twitter are using it the right way?  For that matter, is there even a right way to use Twitter?  Here’s what Read Write Web says:

What if the people working at Twitter Inc. aren’t using the service the way many of its power users are, though? … This could be cause for concern among power users who depend on the service as it exists now, much less for those hoping it will be developed for even more powerful use cases.

What I want to know is who set the rules?  Who says that we all have to follow them (no pun intended)?   Who decided that reciprocity rules the day when it comes to followers?  And who decided that power users are the ones I should be seeking to emulate on Twitter?

Continue reading “Is My Twitter the Same as Your Twitter?”

Twitter, the Psychology of Reciprocity, and Self-Reinforcing Micro-Networks

As I get this blog off the ground, I thought that now would be a good time to take a look at something that I’ve noticed lately on Twitter.  Now I’m sure that just about everyone reading this has at some point heard something about Twitter and the psychology of reciprocity.  Basically, the argument is that if I follow a whole bunch of people, then a certain percentage of them will follow me in response.  The reciprocity principle has been proven to have an effect in many situations; it’s why some non-profits send you those little address labels when they ask you for a donation – it actually increases their donation rates because people feel like they should pay the non-profit for the labels (see Robert Cialdini’s work if you don’t believe me).

Now I’m not arguing with this.   Continue reading “Twitter, the Psychology of Reciprocity, and Self-Reinforcing Micro-Networks”