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There is a piece by author Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books that has been going around on the Internet the last few days. It starts as a review of The Social Network and then becomes a critique of Facebook in general. That it’s largely being spread by vocal quitters of the world’s most successful social networking system (SNS) gives you a clue to her conclusion.
It’s a very, very long piece (it’s taken me two days to wade through it) and while she frequently approaches some keen insights, she quickly gives in to hateful generationalism of GenYs instead. It was my great fear that this would be the take Fincher and Sorkin would go with the film; instead they delivered a masterful origin tale. So I was very surprised to find myself reading a piece like this. Take this passage:
When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.With Facebook, Zuckerberg seems to be trying to create something like a Noosphere, an Internet with one mind, a uniform environment in which it genuinely doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you make “choices” (which means, finally, purchases). If the aim is to be liked by more and more people, whatever is unusual about a person gets flattened out. One nation under a format. To ourselves, we are special people, documented in wonderful photos, and it also happens that we sometimes buy things. This latter fact is an incidental matter, to us. However, the advertising money that will rain down on Facebook—if and when Zuckerberg succeeds in encouraging 500 million people to take their Facebook identities onto the Internet at large—this money thinks of us the other way around. To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos.
Is it possible that we have begun to think of ourselves that way? It seemed significant to me that on the way to the movie theater, while doing a small mental calculation (how old I was when at Harvard; how old I am now), I had a Person 1.0 panic attack. Soon I will be forty, then fifty, then soon after dead; I broke out in a Zuckerberg sweat, my heart went crazy, I had to stop and lean against a trashcan. Can you have that feeling, on Facebook? I’ve noticed—and been ashamed of noticing—that when a teenager is murdered, at least in Britain, her Facebook wall will often fill with messages that seem to not quite comprehend the gravity of what has occurred. You know the type of thing: Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have LOL! PEACE XXXXX
When I read something like that, I have a little argument with myself: “It’s only poor education. They feel the same way as anyone would, they just don’t have the language to express it.” But another part of me has a darker, more frightening thought. Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?4
She identifies as a superior “Person 1.0″, where Facebookian’s are “People 2.0″, the online generation. (Sidenote – I am so over this use of versioning.) Continuing in the long tradition of the elders wanting the kids to get off her lawn. OK, let’s grant the versioning.. Facebook is just a stepping stone; a sure to be primitive version of life online (that great Transhumanist dream), adopted by the masses. En masse; one giant Eternal September. It’s far from perfect.
As Cory Doctorow has frequently said, contemporary SNSs function like Autistics – requiring every bit of personal data to be explicitly stated, impossible to infer because they lack the onboard social software that provides this. As the film so accurately protrays, right from the beginning, Zuckerberg himself appears to be a high-functioning autistic. That this is what it took for a widely successful SNS, an outsider divining the workings of inter-personal relationships and capturing that with software, perhaps speaks more about it’s users, than it’s developer(s). Maybe we get the SNS we deserve.
Now, I’ve advised caution with online personas many times here. Using an alias, for instance, is a great idea. If Facebook is a virtual nation, then as citizens we can protest for great rights and improvements to our conditions. And they do appear to listen, and get the hint eventually. After all, though Zuckerberg is an on-paper bazillionaire, that will fade to nothing once a better SNS comes along and everyone immigrates to that superior nation. And that will happen. This is just an initial step.
Again, Smith approaches this in her review section:
Watching this movie, even though you know Sorkin wants your disapproval, you can’t help feel a little swell of pride in this 2.0 generation. They’ve spent a decade being berated for not making the right sorts of paintings or novels or music or politics. Turns out the brightest 2.0 kids have been doing something else extraordinary. They’ve been making a world.
Now I don’t agree that Sorkin wanted our disapproval. The strength of this movie is (like Facebook) that they’ve distilled the subject matter down to it’s key elements. She’s drawn her own conclusions and it putting this forth as the one-true-fact. Everyone I’ve spoken to about the film seems to find sympathy with different characters. (Personally, the only character I liked was the internet rockstar take on Sean Parker.)
Software may reduce humans, but there are degrees. Fiction reduces humans, too, but bad fiction does it more than good fiction, and we have the option to read good fiction. Jaron Lanier’s point is that Web 2.0 “lock-in” happens soon; is happening; has to some degree already happened. And what has been “locked in”? It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)
Here we witness Smith cherry-picking from Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, to bolster her arguments. Again, note the dismissive tone – GenY is stupid and does not like The Right Stuff, unlike superior Zadie. Frankly, how fucking dare she. Now, I have Laniers book still on my to-read list so I can’t comment on that, but.. BUT.. if Zadie had better researched her piece she’d know that, just for starters, blaming the blue’n'white layout on Zuckerberg’s colorblindness is insulting to anyone with a CompSci degree, or a modicum of knowledge; blue and white is infact the best colour scheme on the eyes – perfect from keeping the attention glued on the screen without distracting strain pain. So yes, Facebook is kinda a little bit evil like that. No physical nation-state we live in so is far perfect either.
You can give up and go live in a cave or fight to make it better. Blanketly dismissing an entire generation is no way to do either. Shame on you Zadie Smith!
I was very disappointed with the recent Futurama ep Lethal Inspection, in which Bender learnt he was created without the online backup unit that made all other robots immortal. To me, this would’ve been the perfect opportunity to rip on mind-uploading; have Professor Farnsworth mocking Ray Kurzweil’s head-in-a-jar, asking him what happened to that Singularity of his.
So when this most recent episode of Futurama, The Prisoner of Benda, did some genuine SF for once, exploring the relationship between body and identity, I thought it deserved props. Also, because it was hilarious, and peaked with this insane scene (SPOILER):
|Futurama||Thursdays 10pm / 9c|
|Leela and Fry’s Mutual Attraction|
In other Identity news, Orkut (the SNS that we are constantly told is “huge in India and Brazil”) are now letting you split your personality; or more accurately easily control what aspects of your life you share to different groups of ‘friends’.
Facebook have a clumsy implementation of this, but Orkut seems to be the first to tackle this big problem in Social Network design properly: do you want your boss, co-workers and friends getting the same information? More details over on Read Write Web.
Will the real Facebook killer please stand-up? Diaspora is the latest hat being thrown in the ring to save us all from the evils of Facebook and it’s privacy-busting, corporate-favouring, people-hating walled garden.
Especially as many people, following this Gizmodo post, have jumped that wall and are looking for an alternative.
Here’s the two videos that have been circulating, if you haven’t seen them already:
It’s a little thin on exact details. All they really say on their site is that “current implementations include GPG encryption, scraping Twitter and Flickr.. and the initial stages of connection infrastructure (“friending” other Diaspora instances).”
UPDATE: This video explains the basic idea of their service in more depth:
You have to admit this is pretty fucking future though. A crowd-funded, open-source Facebook-killer perfectly timed to ride the backlash wave against it’s um, evolving, notion of privacy. Making the Kickstarter campaign quickly go viral and reach over 1000% of their target.
Still, I can’t help remembering the buzz around the launch of identi.ca. Equally open-sourced and federated, this Twitter-killer was created back when Twitter was falling down on a regular basis? (Wait.. what do you mean it still is?) Identi.ca? Anyone..?! Exactly.
And given recent events, things could get messy quickly if they try to import data from Facebook in a manner they take exception to.
Nonetheless, I’m crossing my fingers for this project’s success. I’ll even go so far as to say I’ll happily pay a subscription fee if they include data hosting; my subscription fee for a pro-account with flickr is coming up and I’d much rather scrape that clean and store everything in my own cloudlet.
From Technology Review:
..building a meaningful relationship with a robot may soon get easier if Nikolaos Mavridis and pals from the Interactive Robots and Media Lab at the United Arab Emirates University have anything to do with it. They say the key to building a longer, meaningful relationship with a robot is to become embedded in the same network of shared friends and together build a pool of shared memories that you can both refer to. Just like a real friend.
So the team has created the world’s first robot that does both these things–it has its own Facebook page and it can use the information it gathers from this social network in conversations with “friends”.
They’re planning to implement their programme in a humanoid robot called IbnSina (see picture), that they have developed at their lab.
CareerBuilder found that 22 percent of the 3,100 employers it surveyed now use services like MySpace and Facebook to research candidates, up from just 11 percent in 2006. An additional nine percent of responders said they don’t conduct such research but intend to start doing so. Of those managers who did screen potential employees, just over one-third of them—34 percent—said they had found information that led them to dismiss candidates from consideration. Listed reasons include:
- 41 percent of candidates disclosed incidents of drinking/drug use
- 40 percent posted provocative photos or information
- 29 percent had poor communication skills
- 28 percent badmouthed a previous company/employer
- 27 percent lied about qualifications
- 22 percent made offensive statements about gender, race, religion, race, etc.
- 22 percent used an unprofessional screen name
- 21 percent were linked to criminal behavior
- 19 percent shared confidential information from previous employers
Not that you even need SNSs to demonstrate your n00bitude. Back in the day, you know, when email was cutting edge, a co-worker sent an email to her friends back home about how much she’d lied to get the job, how much she was being over-paid, and how little work she was doing; only she sent it not just to her friends, but to the entire company.
So never use company email for personal purposes, and, as the article ends with:
If your MySpace, Facebook, blog, or LiveJournal contains information you don’t think an employer should see, it should be kept in “Friends Only” mode.
An aesthetician assessed each woman’s face and devised a treatment plan — a quick chemical peel, say, or an injection of a wrinkle-filler. Or maybe, for a bridesmaid with age spots, a series of Fraxel laser treatments over months, allowing for recovery time.
And let’s not forget the pictures of college roommates-turned-bridesmaids quickly posted to Facebook. It is no longer sufficient to hire a hairstylist and makeup artist to be on hand the day of. Instead, bridal parties are indulging in dermal fillers and tooth-whitening months before the Big Day.
Becky Lee, 39, a Manhattan photographer, declined when a friend asked her — and five other attendants — to have their breasts enhanced. “We’re all Asian and didn’t have a whole lot of cleavage, and she found a doctor in L.A. who was willing to do four for the price of two,” said Ms. Lee, who wore a push-up bra instead.
Marie Scalogna-Watkinson, the founder of Spa Chicks on-the-Go, a mobile spa, said she receives five to seven calls a month from brides seeking Botox or Restylane for their bridesmaids. Five years ago, collective makeovers were unheard of, she said.
Dr. Jessica Wu, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills who advises coming in three to six months before the big day. “We do a trial run of Botox about four months ahead of time. Then, two weeks before the wedding, we do that last treatment.”
Ms. Meyer of TriBeCa MedSpa suggests that a bride contact her the minute the question is popped. “Brides really appreciate the fact that we put everything in a regimented schedule for them,” she said. Since February 2007, she has staged more than 30 bridesmaid parties and has 18 planned so far this year. “If you have to do eight treatments, six weeks apart, that could take up to a year,” she said.
Two weeks ago, Health Travel Guides, a medical tourism company, exhibited at the Dallas Bridal Show for the first time. “We received 30 requests for quotes among the bridal show attendees — mostly for plastic surgery such as liposuction and breast augmentation,” said Sandra Miller, the company’s chief marketing officer. “But also many for cosmetic dentistry and inquiries for providing quotes for bachelorette getaways that will feature beauty treatments.”
This just cements Twhirl as the desktop client of choice, since it already supported not only Twitter, but Friendfeed and Seesmic accounts (not to mention allowing broadcasting to Jaiku and Pownce).
So what is indenti.ca? As they explain on the Twhirl blog:
identi.ca is a very young service, just a few weeks old. So please keep in mind that it does not support all functionality you are used to from twitter. For example, it does not allow to send private, direct messages, so everything you post is visible to everyone.
Not to mention no text-messaging support either! So why bother integrating it? Because it is built from the ground up to be far more stable and scalable!
…the Twhirl client won’t have to ping the Identi.ca servers to get updates; instead, updates will be sent directly to the Twhirl client. This makes nanoblog conversations more live–you can have a back-and-forth without hovering over the “update” button. It also means that your Twhirl client doesn’t have to be hitting the Identi.ca servers every few minutes for updates, which reduces the load profile on the service, theoretically at least.
So how is this win-win for both Twhirl and identi.ca? Twhirl gets a more robust alternative (ie no FailWhales) to Twitter, something that will keep people using it’s software. identi.ca gets to tap into an existing user-base, something that will help give it momentum, and encourage developers to extended its feature-set to be a true competitor to Twitter. How they solve the Web->SMS problem though, I am very keen to see.
Right, the best for last. Rumor has it that integrated time-lines are in Twhirl’s immediate future; ie one time-line, multiple services. If they would just switch Pownce and Jaiku from broadcast/cross-posting to full integration we would be just about there.
(Apparently, I really like Twhirl…)
From Mail Online:
Would-be revellers are using satellite images on the internet to find houses with swimming pools – and then turning up uninvited for an impromptu dip.
The craze involves using the Google Earth programme, which provides high-quality aerial photos of Britain and other countries.
Once a target is chosen, the organisers use social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo to arrange to meet, say police.
The rules of ‘dipping’ often include wearing fancy dress and participants are urged to ‘bring a bike’ to escape if discovered.
There are fears that the craze could spread across the UK as the weather improves and pool owners leave their homes unattended while on holiday.
Ok, we’ve been reading about RFIDs here for a while now. So it’s probably no surprise to learn that University of Washington researchers are busy ‘prototyping the future’; namely mucking around with RFID tags and getting paid for it.
Yes, clearly I wouldn’t mind that job. However, they’re not just running around tagging things. This is where it gets interesting:
They created an application called RFIDDER that lets people use data from radio tags to inform their social network where they are and what they’re doing. The feature can be used on the Web and on a mobile phone, with a connection to the social-networking service Twitter.
Borriello can let Welbourne, the project’s lead graduate student, see where he is all day, or he can modify settings so Welbourne can only see where he is within 15 minutes of their scheduled meeting. The system is transparent, so each can tell if the other has checked his whereabouts.
The lab’s Personal Digital Diary application detects and logs a person’s activities each day and uploads them to a Google calendar. Users can search the calendar to jog their memories about when they last saw someone or how, where and with whom they spent their time.
That’s freaking excellent. A service that is constantly and automatically answering the question “Where Am I?” (as opposed to Twitter’s “What Am I Doing?”).
For starters, that makes an awesome addition to one’s personal lifelog.
And that information is conditionally shared with the members of your network? Nice.
Because you’re going to need a lot of control to prevent information overload. Just as most of us disable replies in Twitter for those we don’t follow, so would we really not care where person-X is all the time.
I’m thinking something like notify me when:
And throw in a broadcast mode for good measure; just so you can say look at where i am!
But why else would you want to be constantly updated whenever your Buddy goes to the toilet? Unless you’re uber-stalking person-X. Or they’re your child or something.
Of course, all of this is nothing compared to massive ambitions of that South Korean experiment, New Songdo City . But it’s still pretty neat.
This comes with the news that Seesmic will now be integrated in a future version of Twhirl.
And not only that, another reason for buying it was that:
Twhirl not only posts on Twitter but also on Pownce and Jaiku, with more services coming soon
More services! Yes, this continues to position Twhirl as the most powerful microblogging client out there. I’m just hoping that the new version also allows selective updates to each service, rather than just broadcast mode.
Sadly, this news is tempered by scuttlebutt in the Twitter’verse suggesting that the latest version of Twhirl is rather broken. So maybe don’t upgrade or adopt it just yet.
Straight from the Twitter blog, here’s two more useful tools for playing with Twitter.
Firstly, Quotably - a threaded interface to Twitter. (Think GMail vs email).
It makes following all the @replies much simpler, and better visualized.
And, for an added bonus you can correct where the @replies go.
Just login and have a look.
Secondly, Tweetburner‘s Twurl – YetAnotherUrlShorteningService; the twist for this being that it also tracks how the URL propogates through the Twitter’verse.
Perfect for all those automated blog announcements, and – just in time for April 1 – pranking all your Followers.
It even maintains a Top5 list of your most ‘famous’ url’ed tweets. Handy.
The latest build of Twirl is nice enough to let you plug in your log-ins from Jaiku and Pownce (two popular competitors) in order to cross-post whatever you’re Tweeting about. Yes, there were ways to do this before, but this involves no such RSS hackery, and lets you tweak either of those two external accounts in one place. And for those of you who have more than one Twitter account, you can add in as many as you’d like (I successfully added six).
Oh, that’s a great way to be Present on all three services. But what getting all your replies? Sadly:
The one crucial thing that’s missing (and such a tease) is the inability to pull in feeds from the other two services. While it’s nice to send out your message to three places at the same time, it’s a one-way street. It’s also worth noting that Pownce and Jaiku differ distinctively from Twitter in making replies from other users more of a public experience, which might get a little hairy when all three are getting the same message from you.
But, it’s definitely a start; a step in the right direction towards the creation of a true unified microblogging client.
From the Zannel Press Page:
Today Zannel (zannel.com) announced that it is launching an open API (www.zannel.com/developers) that will allow developers to leverage the power and functionality of Zannel’s Instant Media Messaging™ (IMM) platform to create media-rich mobile applications, widgets and mashups. With access to the IMM™ platform, developers can take advantage of a rich messaging system that can deliver text, picture, and video messages across SMS, MMS, and email systems and format them for web browsers or mobile devices.
So it must nearly be time to for something akin to Pidgin; one client to rule them all.
Wouldn’t it be great to have one unified time-line of your social network? Annotated with pictures, videos and mp3s?
This is my lazy-web request of the day. Whisper about it to your OpenSource hacking friends. We need more simple but powerful tools.
If, like me, you’ve been having issues receiving your Twitter notifications in IM you might want to follow to steps that the dev. team have just advised:
It’s well worth following @twitter_status for this reason. Though they seldom foreshadow the intermittent breakages Twitter still seems susceptible to, they at least generally manage to tell you when things are fixed again.
Reader Brenna Zedan writes in to let us know about GetWickd, yet another solution developed to solve the problem of talking to strangers in bars.
Then, when you’re out and about, looking stylish, but unapproachable, a prospective mate (who also has the GetWicked app on their phone) can scan your code from afar and initiate contact from the safety of their mobile.
What also interesting here is that it focuses on the mobile-web. Apart from the initial setup, all interaction is via the phone. The profile only let’s you link to your other mobile profiles – YouTube, Facebook, MySpace.
This also let’s you get to the know that person you’re staring at across the room a little better; you can see what they’re into before even talking to them.
So, in essence, by wearing the GetWickd clothing, you’re also wearing you’re online Identity.
thanks for the tip-off Brenna!
Attention Conservation Notice: This is a long and heavily detailed step-by-step guide to creating your own digital personal-assistant that will let you keep tabs on your distributed presence across the internet without having to log in to each site on a daily basis.
In an earlier post I wrote about Presence, giving some tips on how you can link websites together to get the maximum benefit out of all the online communities out there. Hopefully now your content is flowing through the internets, gathering more eyeballs and helping to spread the Grinder message.
But that’s only half the picture. What’s the point of being present everywhere if you can’t respond to all the comments you get?
Once again, you can either login to every site all day long and check your messages or find a simpler way.
So now I’ll guide you through the creation of your very own digital personal-assistant, one that will notify you almost instantly when someone comments on your posts, pictures or videos.
We’re going to do this using Twitter, because it can notify you when you’re online, via IM and offline, via SMS.
A quick side-note: if you’re using Twitter, but aren’t getting notifications for everyone you’re following OR aren’t following everyone that follows you then make sure you track your own username. It’s literally just sending “track USERNAME” to Twitter, then you’ll never miss those @replies again.
Moving right along.
The first thing you want to do is go to Twitter and create a new account. This is your digital personal-assistant. Choose a cool name and give it a pretty user-pic if you want.
Now set it to follow your twitter account, then logout and login to your twitter account and set that to follow your sexy new assistant.
Lastly and most importantly, log back into the assistant account and check the Protect my updates box; the tweets it will generate are for your eyes only.
Now get on over to Twitterfeed to create an account there. This is how your assistant’s tweets will be generated.
If you have a Livejournal, Vox, WordPress, Blogger or Yahoo account follow the instructions to login.
Otherwise you’re going to have to create yourself an OpenID – do that and then login.
Now you’re ready to start plugging in RSS Feeds and get your instant notifications on. Almost.
As we’re about to learn, not every site has an RSS Feed for you comments. But every site has email notifications. And thanks to MailBucket you can convert your emails into an RSS Feed. (thanks MailBucket!)
First you need to choose an account name. MailBucket is pretty basic in this regards; there’s no duplicate username notification. So you have to use trial-and-error to see if the account name is free or not.
Just enter http://mailbucket.org/MAILBUCKET_USERNAME.xml into your browser and if it says “No messages are stored for this address” then you’ve got it.
Now add http://mailbucket.org/MAILBUCKET_USERNAME.xml to your Twitterfeed account.
The email address used to populate the RSS Feed is MAILBUCKET_USERNAME@mailbucket.org. But here’s where we add just one more layer:
I think this will work best if you use your Gmail account’s Filter functionality to auto-forward your emails to your mailbucket address.
This is for two reasons: 1) it will give you a backup archive and 2) it will give you a fall back in case MailBucket dies in the future.
Go to Settings→Filters→Create New Filter in your Gmail account.
Here’s the trick: in the To Address field you add GMAIL_USERNAMEfirstname.lastname@example.org and set it to Forward to MAILBUCKET_USERNAME@mailbucket.org, and to Archive them – you won’t need these emails appearing in your InBox, but they’ll still be there and be searchable.
GMAIL_USERNAMEemail@example.com is now your email2rss address.
Side-note: If you don’t have a Gmail address and/or don’t want to bother with another email account then don’t stress. You can create a Gmail account in minutes, do the above, then create another Filter to forward any all emails to your preferred email account. Or you can just use MAILBUCKET_USERNAME@mailbucket.org as your email2rss address.
OK, we’re nearly there.
This last part is pretty repetitious, but remember we’re doing all this now to make life simpler in the future.
Go to your blog’s front page. Look in your sidebar or at the bottom of the page, depending on your theme layout. Or you can just search for Comments RSS. Grab that url and add it to your Twitterfeed account.
Login to Flickr. Go to You→Recent activity on your photos. There’s your feed at the bottom, add it to your Twitterfeed account.
Login to Zannel. Go to Account. Go to manage account→edit and update it to use your new email2rss address. Then, go to alert settings and select yes for when I get a comment on my zannel and when someone comments on my updates.
Login to VIBR. Go to Account/Settings→Account Info and update it to use your new email2rss address. Now, go to Account/Settings→Notification Settings and check all the boxes under Comments.
Login to MySpace. Go to Edit Profile→Account Settings and update it to use your new email2rss address.
Login to YouTube. Go to Account→Email Options and update it to use your new email2rss address.
That’s it really. You should be good to go now. No longer do you have to log in to each site to see what activity there’s been on your posts.
One last thing, changing your email address on all these accounts may seem weird; especially if you’d already been getting the email notifications. The intended benefit here is to streamline all the comments you get into one place. And to move from a browser-based email account, to a thin-client IM/SMS setup.
I hope these tips help you to manage your Presence online.