Category Archives: Social: Facebook/Twitter/Other

The More Appreciated Phone Graph

One thing the WhatsApp demonstrated – this week – is the power of the PSTN address graph, and its ability to threaten Facebook’s social graph that has taken ten years to build.  Lots of potential for those of us building different things.  Benedict Evans today:

What they almost all have in common, though, is that they use the PSTN numbering system but never connect to the PSTN. That is, they look at your phone book and use your phone number to identify you and see which of your friends have it, but they don’t actually make phone calls or deliver any SMS. So for these apps the PSTN is a social graph but not a piece of infrastructure. Add things like home-screen icons and push notifications and one sees that the smartphone is a social platform, in a way that the desktop web never was.

Moreover, why should it only be explicitly social apps that access the phone address book to find my friends? Why shouldn’t a retailer’s app tell me that I have 8 friends using it, and let me share products with them rather than emailing them dumb, untracked URLs or even, quite probably, screenshots of my smartphone with the app open?

Cracked Eggs

Likely score-settling, but Nick Bilton’s book on Twitter is riveting.  An excerpt in the NY Times magazine.  If that’s indicative of the books as a whole, Jack Dorsey is the target:

While it was clear for years that Twitter was going to be huge, it wasn’t clear until very recently — as many Twitter employees privately confessed to me — that it wasn’t going to be the next Myspace or Friendster: great ideas that became great failures on account of bad management. For many, that only began to change when the company felt like just that, a company. It’s unclear what responsibility Dorsey can take for this. As one former Twitter employee has said, “The greatest product Jack Dorsey ever made was Jack Dorsey.”

The Kids Are Doing It

While Facebook started with teenagers/young adults and spread to adults, Twitter is growing in the opposite way:

Adults started with it, and now it is growing among teenagers.  As related in the FT:

Twenty-four per cent of online teens surveyed by the Pew Research Center now  use Twitter, up from 16 per cent in 2011, and higher than the 16 per cent of  online adults who use the site.

“Adults were the first to colonise Twitter,” said  Mary Madden, one of the authors of the new report. “However, teens are now  migrating to Twitter in growing numbers, often as a supplement to their Facebook  use.”

Despite its popularity, maintaining a Facebook account is sometimes seen by  teens as an obligation or even a burden, while newer services are more  appealing, in part because they are “less social” or because parents are less  likely to be there.

“Yeah, that’s why we go on Twitter and Instagram,” said one 19-year old  survey respondent. “My mom doesn’t have that.”

China Versus The Net

I have blogged about how I think “real names,”i.e, a widespread comfort-level of pushing your identity on the net, marks one of the big divides between Web 2.0 versus 1.0.  Moving from anonymity and pseudonyms to real names opened up a new era with social, as a new generation was at the vanguard of inculcating  a comfort level with being outselves on the Internet.

But the thing is that anonymous versus real names is neither unidirectional or unipolar.  Having and retaining the choice is critical, allowing for different comfort levels at the intersection of user and content.

In China, we have a potentially profound move in the other direction.  More than any country, weibo or Twitter-like networks such as Sina, Tencent, Baidu, and Sohu have led to a spread of information under the cloak of pseudonyms about the state, scandal, and corruption unlike anything else, with hundreds of millions of people spreading and receiving information in this way.

Now, the Chinese have enacted a new law that forces internet companies to require those signing up to use their real names in a bid to tamp down the spread of information and opinion that anonymity enabled, making it easier for the state to censor and punish disfavored content.

As a further footnote, this is an expansion of an existing policy that prevented the publication of certain types of content,  As the FT reports:

In 2000, legislation was adopted requiring internet companies to censor the content users published on their sites. A long list spells out the many kinds of posts internet companies must spot, erase and report – ranging from information that threatens national security to that which violates ethnic harmony.

Sina, Baidu and their peers complied by hiring armies of censors. The authorities also started adding their voice to the online cacophony, signing up freelancers with the job of making comments in favour of the government.

We should note with interest that the way a government accomplishes a policy of state censorship in the Internet age is through a distributed network method, by putting the burden on the services themselves to censor in exchange for permission to operate.


A consequence of the size of Facebook — and the hope for its platform for advertising — is that “fake Likes” are worthy of a FT article.

Inflated circulation numbers have been at the roots of magazine/newspaper scandals over the year.  Social mistakes are even more problematic with not just advertisers, but actual users having their backs raised by being seen to unwittingly endorse products:

Whatever the reason, artificial Likes can have wide-ranging consequences for users once their names and identities become affiliated with certain corporations or political groups, and these are tensions Facebook will have to manage as it balances the need to boost advertising sales.

“When you say you Like something, it frequently gets scraped and stored by other websites and you can never fully delete it from the internet,” Mr Ghosemajumder said.

What particularly annoys users is when these Likes are used in ads placed in their friends’ newsfeeds with their names attached as endorsements. One user did not know she had Liked Duracell Batteries until an ad showed up in two of her friends’ newsfeeds saying she Liked Duracell Batteries.

He started noticing unlikely brand endorsements from friends for Walmart, Shell, and Gap. One friend told him he remembered Liking Gap a year or two ago, but never meant for his name to be used to endorse a 30 per cent off sale there this month.

“I find that to be a very loose way of playing with your customers,” Mr Taylor said.

Facebook liking FourSquare?

In BusinessWeek, there is a profile of Mike Schroepfer, the CTO of Facebook and his current vision of the mobile future of Facebook.

The thing is that it sounds a lot more like FourSquare’s vision for a whole long time now…

This line of thinking stretches to include people using their smartphones to glean more information about the world. “You might see that your friend is in town, or you might be on vacation in Paris and see that your friend Peter visited Paris two years ago and said the duck was great at a particular restaurant,” Schroepfer says. “The question is if we can get to a point on a very regular basis where people are having amazing, serendipitous experiences because of Facebook. I think the more we can make your life be like that and not be boring and lonely, the better.”

Is he talking about Facebook…or FourSquare?

“if you didn’t get a picture, it’s like it didn’t happen”

This New York Times article about today’s “going out scene” in college is strangely revealing to me.  Somehow, the universal American college pursuit of drink, sex, and more, reveals the issues for the rising adult generation.

Think about “..if you didn’t get a picture, it’s like it didn’t happen” and ” Now you have to spend, like, an hour untagging photos” in the context of hiding your Facebook profile from med school admissions officers; privacy issues inherent with pictures and automatic tagging, and photos driving social networks, including a billion dollars for Instagram.

“You could have this really amazing night, but if you didn’t get a picture, it’s like it didn’t happen,” said Ms. Parr, 22, a senior at Gettysburg, whose friends often order designer outfits from the Rent the Runway Web site because incessant documenting makes wearing anything more than twice taboo. “It’s crazy how much pictures consume our lives. Everyone knows how to pose and how to hold your arm and which way is most flattering, and everyone wants the picture taken with their phone.”

But no matter where the drinking is done, the morning after is often the same. Tracy O’Hara, 21, a Cornell senior, said: “I can’t imagine what it was like before Facebook when you could just spend the morning after a big night out recovering. Now you have to spend, like, an hour untagging photos. And then you read your texts and you’re like, ‘Oh, so that’s what I did last night.’ ” (It’s job-recruiting season, which means even most students who can drink legally untag every photo, she said.)

Giving People Superpowers

A recollection of Dennis Crowley as a bonus from the Clay Shirky interview from the last post.  One of the things that stands out about Dennis is how he has been obsessed with the same issue forever, manifesting itself in two companies, one which is continuing to evolve.  Here is Shirky’s perspective on that.

Wired: Dennis Crowley was a student of yours at NYU. What do you remember of him?

Shirky: Dennis was on fire when he got there. I mean, most students I meet because they sign up and show up in one of my classes. Dennis I met because in the middle of his first semester there he built as part of a one-week long project for a class a database for students to characterize their interests and skills to one another. It was a full on social application built in 2001, 2002, prior even to the launch of Friendster.

So I said, “Who is this guy?” So I went and met him and we had coffee. It was clear that the guy was going to take whatever we had to offer and just use it in ways that were more interesting than the stuff we could have been thinking of ourselves. He has always been outgoing, he has always wanted to meet new people, he introduced people he knows to each other, and I think his native interest is in taking the social possibilities that adhere particularly in city life and making them work better. Dennis is in the business of giving people superpowers. You use, first Dodgeball, latterly Foursquare, to literally see through walls. I am standing here, and my friends are 55 yards in that direction. It’s hard now to remember, when mobile social software and geo-located X are all just part of the background noise of using our devices, but he built that shit in two thousand and three!

Liking “Like”

The textbook instance of what I have dubbed the routine rite is Facebook’s “Like” button.  Justin Rosenstein describes the deceptively simple, and consequently powerful nature of this gesture:

Following the lead of early Internet sharing services such as, Zuckerberg then created a button that would allow users to signal an endorsement on Facebook, and eventually on other websites, of a video, picture, article, or even a brand. Other engineers wanted to call it the “awesome” button. Zuckerberg decided to name it the “like” button. “It sounded bland and generic,” said Justin Rosenstein, an early Facebook engineer who went on to found Asana, an online collaboration tool, with Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. “I feel foolish in hindsight to have missed the genius: Facebook has managed to take concepts as basic as ‘friend,’ ‘event,’ and ‘like’ and co-opt them.”

Brian Lamb For The Internet Age

As long as I am on my run blogging politics right now, here is an im chat I was having with a friend a few weeks ago:

me: relatedly, you know what would be a cool project — is a crowdsourced structure to get draft bills read in real-time. one of the most disturbing turns that american democracy has taken is that no one (i.e. legislators or citizens) reads the bills, and we only have a sense of what’s in the bill by some often inaccurate headline provided by the proponents. often what we find is that there are all sorts of nonsense — intended and unintended — that has been hidden into the bill.
someone should get that started and win a genius grant for doing so

friend: yeah
that’s a great idea
it would also help
with calling out
sneaking shit into bills
at the request of lobbyists

me: it’s an internet age c-span — a transparency maker

friend: there’s no mechanism for that now?
it probably doesn’t happen in real-time
but there’s no place to go to get the full explanation for legislation?

I hope someone is doing this or does it soon.