Categories
Communication Technology

Why Google wants to stop me blogging

If you are posting original content on Facebook or Twitter, you’re stupid.  No polite way to put it.   You’re an idiot.   Every day I see great thoughts, photos and other inspiring original content posted on Facebook and it makes me cringe.   It is like cooking an interesting organic and original meal and then giving it away to McDonald’s to sell for you.   It is also inexcusable because there are so many easy ways around it.

When blogging started it was just that.   Blogging.   Horrible aesthetics for web logs= very rough diary like things.   But now you have Tumblr and all sorts of prettier choices.   You can put your stuff in your website and then get it to automatically update Facebook, Twitter or almost anything else you want.   But you control the environment in which your content lives and breathes.   You organise it as you want it presented, not as Facebook deems best in its latest incarnation.

Yeah, even those witty one liners you are posting on Twitter.   Post them in your world and then think where you are distributing them.

There is however a larger picture on this issue.   And that is that even Google is keen to stop you blogging.   The demise of the blogger.com platform is intentional.   Because if you are controlling a “castle” of a blog with all your information and all it’s unique traffic, they can’t make money out of it as easily.   You might even start to want to sell banners yourself!  Facebook and Google+ or Twitter are in effect using you as slave journalists and content producers.   They make the interface and the media chanel, you provide the content.   Sure, loads of it is rubbish, but even rubbish provides really useful data about how you, and your friends, think.   What they like, what they shop, where they go.

Blogger isn’t one of Google’s failures.   It was useful when it started and now it is purposely being winded down.   They don’t completely cancel the service as it provides useful information.   And WordPress would simply be too powerful if left unchecked.    But now they want most of you to start working for them for free on Google+…

 

Categories
Communication Technology

Interface time (again) – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

You know that something is changing when Google talks about a “beautiful interface”…   As the world tries to figure out how to keep their day job and still find time to check up their facebook, twitter, linked in and Google Plus accounts, it seems we are going full circle to the operating system debate again.   Whether it is thin clients, cloud computing, mobile or whatever.

Google and Microsoft have shown which way they are going, trying to make it all “seamless“.   Same buttons at more or less the same place.   Get used to it.  Literally, that is an order:  “Get used to it!”  and then “buy our stuff, not the competition!”   That is what the interface wars are always about.   More than a decade ago I publicly predicted Nokia’s demise based on the premise that their interface couldn’t make the upgrade to a smartphone world.   Even things that seems minor, like the way Google real time operates, quickly become addictive, our brains just demand them afterwards.

And now I would put my money on…Wordpress!   Not the interface so much (yet, though they are improving) as the design of a personal publishing platform.   I don’t want Facebook to organise the presentation of my information.   Nor Google or Microsoft.   Tumblr is very pretty and visually entertaining but no, I want a no-nonsense environment in which to make decisions about the stuff I care about.  I don’t want folders of Google Docs.   I need what comes when you put together the dynamic development rates of wordpress.org with the user friendliness of wordpress.com with…all that social stuff.   I don’t want comments from my friends to be in Facebook OR Google plus OR anything else.   I want them under my blog post where I can collect them and control them.  Without having to log in and out of ten different systems or hope that Hootsuite will get it right.

My nieces just started a blog, just for the family, all about their holiday in Greece and what they are doing in the three weeks they are over from the U.S.   Nope, they couldn’t do it on Facebook, they don’t have accounts and I don’t think they should have accounts in a social network at their age anyway.    I have used WordPress for collaborating with just one other person (writing a kids book) or for a group of people on a work project which ended up running for more than a year and now has more than 150 very useful posts; it has become an internal resource to them.    To me it is testament to my skills as a consultant.   Beats a powerpoint presentation on many levels and it is alive.   But it couldn’t be done without Worpdress.   It is the business model as much as the technology.   You can start up a free personal blog one day for fun and end up at whatever other side of the publishing world the next.   I put some basic FAQs about electric bikes simply because I was tired of people stopping me to ask the same questions.   A few months later it is the No1 resource (and any Google search in Greek on the topic will get you there) for ebikes in Greece!  It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious:

Mary Poppins:  “You’d better use it carefully or it may change your life. ”

Bert: “For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl’s my wife!”

Sure, there are other platforms which do some of this stuff well.   But I will be looking at “My Dashboard” on WordPress.com with renewed hopes that if “there can only be one” interface, these guys will get it right.

Categories
Communication Technology

Do evil: using social media to destroy competitors. Or anyone you don’t like

Social media failures are fast becoming a part of my daily entertainment.  Large and small corporations suddenly naked and unarmed, it is the stuff of slapstick comedy.   We all see that long ladder swinging around except Hardy and…bang!  Laurel knocks him down.   The fun part is that – just like in social media – the stars getting injured often don’t even know what is going on.

Fun, that is, until it comes to your doorstep.   Because what the iPad wielding crowd of advertising cracks won’t tell you is that many things can go wrong. The problem is essentially that Facebook, even more than Google, tends to change everything around with no notice.   They don’t even tell us what exactly they have changed.   It is “magic sauce”.   So you are putting your marketing on a platform which you don’t control.   At all. The analogy I came up with is that you are making public the name and contact details of every lead coming in.   I can see on your wall every “friend” commenting or posting and I can contact him or her.   How bad is that?

It all started as I was writing about social media failures on a Greek branding blog.  A summary of common or famous mistakes, anything from rogue employees to Boeing not responding warmly enough to fuzzy kids drawings.   Incoming message was about a social media conference in Athens and one of the topics was “how Lacta got to have the biggest Facebook brand page in Greece”.   (You can watch it here.)   Maybe I was in a bad mood, maybe I just didn’t appreciate the tone, mostly for fun I put up a picture on their wall.   Their brand of chocolates but they fell out of the bag roughly in the shape of male genitalia.  Only if you have a dirty mind of course, I noticed the snow and the scenery personally of course.

Whoops!   Three hundred thousand fans of the chocolate saw it.   If I was Osama Bin Laden this would be the equivalent of CNN giving me a five minute interview to express my views. It is as if Lacta spent all this money and energy to build a wall, a media platform on which I can shout anything I want.   And they can’t stop me!  In fact a junior person in the team even clicked “like” from their own brand on it!   The picture attracted more likes and was on the wall for a while before they pulled it off.   Of course the photo remained in the “Photos” section of their Facebook page for several days.   I did another post, they read it and eventually pulled it off from there too.   I talked about useful paradigms from technology, well here is a great one for social media: this is just like the way we explore security vulnerabilities!

I can think of hundreds of awful things to do to a brand with social media which won’t even cost much in time all of which have a pretty good chance of enabling a negative backlash.   As I explained in another post today, it will happen even without your competitors hiring me.   As soon as you reach a critical mass of people that like you and express it publicly, you can be sure that a new group of people, negatively charged will appear.   And some of them will want to hurt you.

You can patch a software vulnerability and it is final.   Negative publicity however is much harder to deal with.

Categories
Business Technology

Facebook ads don’t add up: how I proved they are cheating

“So why don’t you cheat?”  It took me a while to recover.   My father has always been my moral compass.   He has stood through many decades of doing business with absolute integrity refusing to bribe anyone in a country where this is unheard of.   He didn’t fall for the trap of taking funding from the European Union or going to the stock market when all other tech companies where making a quick buck.   He is almost a saint in the way he helps everyone and anyone he meets, often without them even knowing about it.

We were discussing a recent client of mine, a difficult case.   It is still in the early phases and I haven’t quite figured out how to work my social engineering magic in order to bring them clients. What my father was really asking is “how will they know that it is real customers clicking on their website and not some click farm?”   The man is a born business person and goes straight to the heart of a problem even though he has never used Facebook or any social media.

The answer is simple.   Anyone with a slight knowledge of how to use web site analytics will see right through it.   And – more importantly – it just won’t make any business sense medium term as they will not be getting new customers and new business.   Which is what I promise them.   But this is not what Mark Zuckerberg promises my customer when he entices them with Facebook advertising.   He is simply selling clicks to ignorant business people.

Most of my customers have already used Facebook ads before I start with them.   They are all perplexed. “I saw a big spike in traffic but then…nothing.” It isn’t just that the traffic disappears the day you stop paying for FB ads, it is that all that traffic seems to amount to …nothing.    Are you paying $50 a day?   Funny how you get a completely stable amount of hits during those days.

This bothered me on a methodological level initially.   “What if my customers’ budgets are all spent on ‘early morning’ type people?” I worried.   So I begun to set up experiments. I split the day into particular time segments that seemed to make sense to me based on experience with status updates, Likes and such.   I am the Greek Dan Zarella after all.     Women checking Facebook between 6.30 and 8.30 are quite a specific bunch.   Organized!   Men online between 11 and 12.30 another.   Lazy!   I have even discovered a niche of females that do a “facebook lunch break”.   So all I had to do was set up the same advertisement and shoot it out to different demographics.   And then monitor it every hour to see what is happening.   (Yes, you need big monitors to handle the big spreadsheets without getting dizzy!)

It was amazing.   “Boy, these guys at Facebook must have some really clever algorithms” I mused.   They somehow seemed to be spreading the clicks around the day.   It made no sense.   Humans are highly unlikely to be so consistent.   As the day closed the clicks trickled and everytime by midnight Facebook had managed to get the campaign to the exact daily target.   “Wow, hiring all those geeks from Google must have paid off” I thought.    “They have build something that even Google AdWords can’t do.”

And then, somewhere near midnight, in between stats, being more online on Facebook than I think is healthy because of this project, it appeared.   Right there, in front of me, on top of the other adverts was one of my test ads.   I left the tab open and scrambled to the summary to triple check.   Yes, this one was clearly targeted to men aged 45-64.   I double check my profile.   Yes, Facebook knows very well that I am male but only 41.  So what is it doing?

It is bending the rules! If “The social network” showed the whole world something is that someone who cheats and lies once, will probably do it again, given the chance.    The people at Facebook know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would discover this trick.   After all most people only have one profile.   Unless you specifically set out to prove them wrong, your website analytics will be hard to monitor for such small variance in age of visitors.   And all too many advertisers on Facebook are only using it to funnel people into their Facebook page where the analytics are even worse.

I have criticized Facebook advertising on many levels, ranging from the pathetic demographic information they provide (outside the US it is much worse) to the kind of clicking you usually get from it.   But this is different.   They are wasting what can soon become a powerful tool by rushing to capitalize on it by cheating.   Judging from their rate of improvement in search they have the brainpower to do a proper job.   They have the network to make something more powerful than GoogleAds.   They should just focus on what is unique about this new advertising medium rather than trying to bolster up the numbers to impress investors.

10/3/2011 Just discovered an even worse thing Facebook is doing.   There are charging above the set limit!  (Article and screen grabs in Greek here.)

Categories
Business Communication

Personal Communications Advisor: better than golf

Yes, yet another acronym.   I am now officially a PE.C.A.   I coined the term because it is going to become a popular profession.   Not for me personally.   I only got involved and am developing the know how in order to assist corporate clients.   The problem is that the personal branding of their top brass is important.   Really important.   And they have no clue how to properly use their social media.

Top CEO easily accessible via Facebook?   Not a good idea.   His or her personal information available?   Most high flying execs have no idea just where and how the stuff they post online might be accessible.   So, most of them avoid it all together.   Also not a good idea for many.   (Depends what business you are in and what your overall company communications plan is.)

So, they need to be online, trendy and creating buzz but aren’t sure what exactly the latest Google, Facebook or LinkedIn policy change means.  In comes the PE.C.A.!   Setting targets, measuring results, checking what the reactions are.   Somebody has to be online to check that a storm isn’t brewing.   The CEO isn’t going to be signing in every five minutes…

For many up and coming entrepreneurs or other business people social media is a valuable way of getting up in life in terms of connections.   I was once advised to take up golf in order to meet “the right people”.   Unfortunately it is true that many a major business deal has taken place between swings.   (And – in my experience – this nonchalance often leads to catastrophic results.)  But by projecting the right message, the CEO can get the equivelant of golfing contacts online.

Take your best swing!

Categories
Business Society Technology

How to really beat Facebook or Twitter either as a competitor or as a legislator

The whole privacy debate around Facebook is a joke. I mean literally, Zuckenberg must be laughing privately about it. While it avoids the real issue, he rests assured that legislators have no idea what Facebook is really about: lulling you into a false sense of security so that you will unwittingly give away private information in the wrong context. If that sounds too devious to you then you probably don’t use Facebook a lot. Or you use it and don’t think. Which is exactly what it wants you to be like.

Www.Personaldna.com was a great idea and it offers an intelligent, possibly automated solution to this privacy problem. I used it at work to build teams’ awareness of the different characters, strengths and weaknesses and team dynamics. It is a shame it hasn’t developed at all but this is probably because the people that made it have been hired by Google. Which is the only company that understands what this article is about. Personal DNA built a psychographic profile of you based on multiple questions. It is accurate and, better still, you can invite someone to take the test and see what he or she think you are like. This is also very accurate and offers valuable insights. And it is a million times more useful than trying to clump your friends into categories like Facebook pretends to suggest we should do.

When you post a status update, you can select that “Everyone” sees it. Or “Friends” or some category of friends. Only the first two make any sense. If you select “everyone” or you have forgotten status update in “everyone mode” Google and various tools we social engineers use be able to easily see what you are up to in real time privately. If you select “friends only” Facebook has fooled you. Because what sort of homogenous bunch of friends is the correct forum for this message you are about to deliver? That picture of you in a swimsuit on the beach. You want your uncle to see it? Might your ex boyfriend take it the wrong way? And what about that ex co worker who now works at a company you are hoping to get a job but is a bit conservative? Think before you post it.

“No, don’t think.” Facebook’s interface is like the little cartoon devil that sits on your shoulder to make you forget all these complicating factors. Privacy is either on or off. “Don’t think” it echoes like a ghostly voice. “We want the world to be more open” says Mark as if privacy is like piracy. “Information wants to be free” and other mindless, out of context slogans are catchy.

Privacy, the ability to choose which contact see which information is in fact the basis of all human interaction, probably the reason our brains are as big as they are in our social state of being homo sapiens. And this is how I, a bunch of psychologists, sociologists, programmers and enough funding, can beat Facebook within two years.

All it takes is a few Facebook apps that we will sneak past them. One will monitor everything you post and make a double check for you by throwing random people in front of you as a pop up window. “Before you post that status are you sure Mary Johnson is someone you want to see this?” followed by a few possible reasons. Based on this information it will build the intelligence of PersonalDna over time. PersonalDna actually exists on Facebook as an app but it is way to much like hard work to spend half an hour filling it in.

We would have to invent smarter interface tweaks to keep you interested while getting useful psychographic information off you. I won’t give them all away here. But every time you do something on Facebook, every “like”, every comment, every YouTube video you post, we will be intentionally collecting data about you. Facebook can’t stop me doing this because if worse comes to worse, I can do this as a virtual friend. You will befriend my personal psychologist and I will send you my advice.

The whole thing will hinge on the presentation of the information to you and I will borrow know how from the astrology industry. We will tell you how likely you are to score with that boy or girl you are poking, before you actually poke. We will tell you who in your network to try and impress to get a job. Other applications will tell you which groups to join or leave to improve how your profile looks to specific friends. We will make it all fun, free and cheerful. And accurate.

If it is too accurate it will be scary. That is the whole point of Facebook’s deception in it’s current design. So we will make it accurate enough and fun enough at the initial level of contact. If you want to go to the next level you will have to read a lot and think a lot, so you probably won’t go there unless you are serious.

Of course this platform I will build is much, much better than either Facebook or Google at serving advertising content. Because I will not just know what your are interested in. I will know how you like content served. And which of your friends are likely to buy the product or service too. With much much greater degrees of accuracy.

The accuracy of a self respecting homo sapiens in 2010 and true human development.

Categories
Business Communication

“The majority of people who stayed in this room are reusing towels at least once during their stay”

I don’t like Facebook ads. In fact I have played the game of clicking them away and giving Facebook my reasoning (Misleading! Insulting!) just to see if their targeting gets any better. (It doesn’t.) But I see why Facebook advertising can do so well.

The phrase in the title is famous as producing a 54% compliance rate in a hotel room. All other facets of the experiment were controlled and identical. Only the tagline differed. It had started with the common “Recycle and do it for environment” which was the control message, producing just 38% compliance from the hotel guests in those rooms. Other variants actually did worse, especially those with an emphasis on the hotel’s interest in the economy. Unless you have a cause which people care enough about, they don’t want to know about your running costs or administrative issues! “Cooperate and join us” got only 36% because of this.

What was missing was the sense of collective behaviour. “The majority of guests are reusing towels at least once during their stay” produced 46% guest compliance. Which is pretty impressive. But double check this article’s title. Spot the difference? “…who stayed in this room…”! Four words, 8% performance difference!

At first look, the sentence is too long and clumsy. It wouldn’t get past most ad execs. Not catchy enough. It would get stuck at the graphic design level. Too long. But it works. Because we don’t only want to know that many people do something. We want to feel we are similar. Though a pretty long shot, “the majority of people who stayed in this room” is the best connection you will get under the circumstances. And perhaps the intimacy of a hotel room adds some zest to the thought. You are after all about to take your clothes off and have a shower in the same shower with all the guest before you.

So if they reused their towel, what the hell, I will too!

Now look at the signs around you, all of them trying to get you to do or not do something. “No Parking”? What you really wonder as you stop to do some quick shopping is how likely you are to get a ticket. So how about a sign saying “95% cars parked here without a valid coupon, got fined after just 4 minutes”? And take a careful look at that next Facebook ad. “Your friends Bob, Sue and Peter liked this product” …shucks maybe I should stop clicking those ad boxes away!

Categories
Technology

Open sourcing privacy: my master plan

The advances in neurology are fascinating right now. MRI scans no longer limit themselves to one brain.  It is the interaction of people which ups the ante.  How do my mood changes affect you?  If you don’t want to get bogged down in mirror neurons and spindle neurons and the detailed science of it all, I thoroughly recommend “Social Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.    Snap judgements on whether or not we like someone or a product are well worth analyzing because the same principles are even more important online.

I famously wrote that I would sacrifice one of my hands for access to the raw data of Facebook or Google.  Well, I just thought of a good way of keeping all my hands and still getting those invaluable insights!  While the media suddenly get excited about privacy online, projects like Diaspora are a good idea.  Yes, I don’t like the idea of giving away my personal information, my thoughts, photos or anything else to someone else.  Of course they will try and make money out of it!  But what if we could establish a research cause worthy of being a part in?

Remember when everyone installed SETI screensavers to help crunch data from alien-looking observatories?   Or the global appeal to help process human genome analysis?  (The idea was we would help discover solutions to global diseases, turns out we just helped pharmaceuticals get richer!)  But we can use the same principle, that same altruistic sensibility to get people’s personal data.  Heck, we can beat Facebook at it’s own game!

Here’s how it would work: a set of totally trustworthy institutions throughout the world, something like the United Nations, runs the show.  OK, we don’t really trust anyone and we all think that once data is digitized it can and will go anywhere, but we will have to settle for the best available trust levels.  Then we get widgets, could be in the browser, could be anywhere else on your computer or mobile phone, that monitor what we do.  Facebook, Twitter, email, whatever we feel comfortable sharing.  Here’s the catch: the data is whitewashed of our names and other personal details from the beginning.  I may choose my data to be shared as “a guy in Greece”.  In fact I, and many others I suspect, would be more willing to give really private information to such efforts, stuff I would never put online otherwise.

Open privacy policy from the beginning because the whole point of this tool is to help you understand how much information you are giving away with everything you do.  (Yes of course Symantec or some other security company could attach it to their antivirus but it wouldn’t be the same, read on.)   And here is where I get my data at last:  universities or other researchers from private or public institutions can apply for access to your data.  They write up a proposal, what they will do, what they will look for and what insights they will give us.  Maybe they will give whoever gives their data up more detailed information to make it worth participating.  So in fact, I won’t even have to do the research, I will just install the browser plug in and choose whichever scientist makes nice proposals!  Then they will give me their findings to mull over.

We will effectively be breaking the monopoly that large institutions like Google or Facebook have over user data this way.  Sounds hard to sell but simply getting the academic community involved would be a huge leg up; in fact they would sell it for me as they would all need the platform to get their research done.   We could even make sneaky Facebook apps for it!

Categories
Communication Society Technology

Self organized criticality in our brains (and media consumption)

Example of a small world network from Mathaware website

There has been a lot of work done on the way human organise their social activities.  (Here is an excellent summary)  From Einstein to Aristotle, these are serious questions regarding just how many people we “know”.  With our global markets steaming along and more and more people trying to decipher Facebook and other such phenomena the questions are more pertinent than ever.  If nothing else because we are reaching the limit of what our brains can handle.

And brain research indeed is what has helped me move ahead on this issue.    John Beggs at Indiana University has done some groundbreaking work to show what we always suspected:  our brains are tittering on the brink of chaos!

If we had a regular network of neuron operation we would be too slow.  If it was random it would again not be the most efficient way of dealing with our environment.  Small world network organisation fits perfectly with all previous work on the topic.

And it also explains “aha” or “eureka” moments.  Our brain works like sand on a beach.  The wind piles it up and then suddenly it crumbles.  (Here some recent research on this in relation to sudden realisations or discoveries.)  You can apply the model to natural disasters or avalanches.  What is interesting is that Beggs figured out how to test (and prove) the theory in our brains.

It is the changes between a calm state and a flurry of activity that defines intelligence in many ways but that is not what is interesting for social media.   In many ways, people using them will reflect similar patterns.  And if you want to use them you will have to adapt.

The reverse side of this coin was proved in an interesting experiment with believers and atheists.   It showed that believers’ “deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities”.   ie to accept religion your brain actually switches off critical parts of it’s functionality.

The slogan “TV is dead” is simply not true (as proven by increased consumption of television globally) exactly because it is a great way of doing something similar.  We (well some people more than others!) need a method of “switching off” and relaxing like trash TV.   It is just a shame that so many people do it through passive soap opera and reality show consumption instead of just getting out for a walk.

Categories
Technology

An insane privacy bug in Facebook for Blackberry

So I am at  party and someone is really interested in an event I heard about on Facebook.  In fact she is so keen she wants to go asap.  She insists and we are in the middle of nowhere so she logs out of her Facebook account on  her Blackberry and hands it to me.  I log in, find the event, send her the info and log out myself.   Seems straightforward.   We continue the other discussion and she shows everyone how cool it is that her brand new Blackberry shows up pictures of her friends when one of her friends calls.  “It did it all by itself!”

Two days later I log in to my Facebook account and I am greeted by a message.  Facebook noticed that I have been using Facebook for Blackberry.  Would I like to import my contacts?  What contacts?  Her contacts!   All I did was click “yes” and all her Facebook contacts came to me!

I realise that for any American reading this I am already way off the mark.  This shouldn’t be a blog post, this should be a law suit already!  (OK, it is all documented with screen grabs etc just in case I change my mind…)  With the amount of negative publicity they are getting these days about privacy problems, this could make me a fair amount of money.   It is almost a media frenzy right now without adding one of the most popular mobile platforms for accessing Facebook to the mix.

The beauty of this one from a litigation point of view is that nobody can escape the blame.  I looked over the technical aspects of setting up Blackberry Enterprise Server and the options for social networking integration and sure, we could blame Vodafone (the service provider) for anything mistakenly set up in her account.  But then it was the Facebook application on my computer that offered me her contacts!  And she had done everything “properly” by logging out before handing it to me.

But no, I won’t add to the calls for everyone to delete their accounts from Facebook.  Yet.  In fact I just started a second Facebook account for myself in English.   I will just be more careful not to post any information more personal than I do on this public website.  And for sure I won’t be handing my Blackberry to anyone at parties…