How much will you pay to be listened to on Facebook?

Facebook is having a Red Barn moment. If you ever played Farmville you’ll know what I mean. Farmville was fun for the first little while, planting, pulling in friends to pet your cows or whatever they were doing. Then at some point you realize the game has a limit beyond which you need to pay to do better. You can’t get the red barn unless you put down some actual real world dollars.  It’s a great way to make money if people like your game enough but it breaks your whole idea of what the game is, that if you play better you will do better than others.

Of course, Facebook isn’t a game, right?  Facebook is an ongoing, cacophonous discussion of the things going on in our lives amongst friends. On the sides of that discussion we have grown to accept that there are targeted advertisements trying to grab our attention. Increasingly, these advertisements are even within the stream of updates itself. But these ads are marked as promoted and they are easily identifiable as such. We can click on them or choose to ignore them.

Well, apparently now Facebook wants to turn itself into a kind of game, and just like Farmville you’ll need to pay to play well at it.

Facebook just rolled out their ‘promote’ feature to everyone. It was already available to Pages and brands but the way it is implemented now is kind of strange.  Up until now, a Page which you follow (sorry, _subscribe to_, in Facebookese) could pay for their status updates, marked as “Sponsored”, to rise higher in your feed. But now anyone can sponsor updates. So if a politically active acquaintance that you added to Facebook has some extra cash they can ‘promote’ posts from their favourite political party or their own personal status updates with links to news articles. Any updates at all can be promoted.

Is this what we want? The power of the market is great and all but this is weird.  What Facebook is doing with this one change is changing the very nature of their Social Network.

Last week Facebook was a place where you chatted with friends and tried to ignore adds coming from corporations, charities and political parties. Today it is a place where the very conversations you hear are influenced by money put up by normal people you follow in order to be heard above the clamour.  Do we really want to monetize conversation to the extent where it becomes normal to be expected to chip in a bit of cash to get our voices heard? Shouldn’t our thoughts rise up to prominence because many people find them compelling rather than because we have extra money to spend on having people hear us on Facebook?

The more I think about it the more disturbing this is. This is a subtle conversion of the entire meaning of what a personal Facebook update is.  It’s like that moment in Star Wars I where Qui Gon Jinn mentions midi-chlorians.  It has no connection to anything else that came before and actually changes the entire meaning of the story. Is the Force a benevolent, mystical energy permeating the universe or is just it a physical field extruded by parasites inside us? Now, every time we see updates from someone we don’t talk to so often we’re going to look closer to see if they chose to ‘sponsor’ the update. What will it mean if someone does that? How will I judge them?

We’ll see how this plays out, maybe people won’t use it. But if I start seeing a lot of this I mark start marking all of it as spam.

Timeline Lords

Milestones are part of the new Facebook Timeline feature which is rolling out to everyone now.
There are a lot of people who are upset about this feature and for personal accounts I can understand why, it requires more careful attention to your privacy settings.  However, I also think that Milestones have the potential to be a really useful and fun feature for people and pages if it were surfaced more easily for viewers.

Careful With That Timeline

Facebook privacy controls aren’t the easiest to manage at the best of times, but Timeline basically requires you to pay attention to your privacy levels and the privacy level of all your posts and ‘likes’ in the past. This is because the timeline makes it incredibly easy for people to go back over your history and see what you said in the past or what link you clicked on. If this is worrying you then I suggest a few steps:

  1. Look up some good articles on Facebook privacy settings (Mashable has an excellent one) and spend an hour with it to make sure everything is set the way you want.
  2. Go back through your timeline (just click on your name at the top left in facebook) and make sure there is nothing there that you wouldn’t want others to see. To do this click the settings icon and choose “view as…” then you can enter the name of anyone on your friends list to see how they can see you.
  3. Now more than ever always follow the golden rule of the Internet.

“Once you’ve typed out your latest inspiring thought, before you hit enter, consider: If someone finds what you said tomorrow, next year or in twenty years when you are running for president, would you stand behind what you are about to send out into the ether? Are you sure? If not, then delete the text and go watch a cat video to get your mind off it.”

Relevant History

Milestones allow you to create specific historical events in your life and enter the date, location, explanatory text and pictures. This is just the sort of fun sharing feature Facebook wants to use to get more information about users so it’s probably not the greatest thing for the users. It has it’s place, I’m sure for a baby’s early life achievements it will be very exciting for the whole family. Just consider sharing these milestones only with a specific friends and family list so that they aren’t part of the greater ether of the Internet for no good reason.If you are thinking of having some historical fun with your timelines then you’ll find quickly, as I did, that one of the unfortunate design points of milestones is that they are limited to events within your lifetime. So it’s kind of like Quantum Leap, you can go back and add fun historical events you could have been a part of you can do that but you can’t talk about your previous lives or work in how you have really interacted with events in the distant past due to your future invention of time travel. Short-sighted design on Facebook’s part I think, but who am I to criticize? I definitely didn’t help Einstein work out the theory of relativity…otherwise it would be on Facebook timeline.However, pages do not have this restriction. A page can have it’s start date as any date after January 1, 1000 C.E. This could be fun depending on your page, but it could also be useful. On this pageI run, for example, I am adding in interesting historical moments relevant to Canadian democratic and reform. Currently these milestones will be interspersed with other posts and links to blogs or news. This can give a way for brands or any organization to provide an interesting and interactive picture of their history in the context of other news and updates all in one place. It might not be as clear and useful as a reference as a simple table of dates on your website, but it’s an engaging way to interact with your followers about your organization’s history. Each milestone has the ubiquitous Like and Comment buttons so your followers can engage with the history you provide right in place.

Feature request: If any at Facebook is listening, to make this Milestones for Pages features really useful it would be great to have a filter that showed only Milestones and no other news or links to allow people to explore the history without other clutter.

Moral of the Story

Whether you are managing a brand for an organization or you are just a regular person who likes staying in touch with your friends and making the occasional public comment, the new age of interconnected information you need to take control of the information being stored about you and consider how it is presented.  The Internet never forgets, but that doesn’t mean you can’t control have some control over how it is presents what it remembers.

Choosing sides in the Social Network War

I just wanted to chime in on the current huzzbabuzz about the new social network on the block, Google+.
Access to the network is filtering out slowly from the social circle of Google employees, so at the moment G+ has fairly nerdy content. There is also a lot of excitement amongst these early adopters and some people are saying they will delete their Facebook accounts and never go back because G+ is so much better. I agree it’s better but I’d like to argue for a cool down period before people start drawing lines in the sand and pressuring others to switch.

I think you should think of social networks as if they were cities.
There are a lot of these cities and towns right now all with very different cultures and populations:

  • LinkedInPark
  • Gplussopolis
  • FacebookCity
  • Tumblrtown
  • Stumblessauga
  • QuoraCommune
  • MySpaceVille
  • Yahooburgh

Many people ‘live’ in multiple cities and this is as it should be since they all offer quite different experiences. The thing with G+ is that it is more general than most of these services and in particular it seems that the goal is that very soon more  features will be added so that G+ will completely subsume the features of Facebook and Twitter. So, you know, it is war in fact.

But keep in mind it is war between the companies running these services, the populations don’t need to get involved.

We probably all have a home city, a social network we live in more than others. For most people that’s Facebook. It’s like the suburban heartland megacity of social networks. Its pretty much where everyone is, its good, could be better, it’s full of drive-thrus fast food, highways and casinos; but it’s hard to change things now because its so damn big.

For other people their home is Twitter.
Twitter is so cool you don’t even need to talk, you just exchange compact, knowing glances and handshakes. Its Seattle, Montreal or the Village; it doesn’t need you and your paragraph length diatribes.
But now we have G+. It’s cool, technically savvy, fast and connects everything. It’s San Francisco and all the nerds are moving over and proclaiming in their old haunts how much better everything would be if all your pleebs just switched over too.

Just because you move to a new city and like it better doesn’t mean you abandon the old one entirely.  You still know alot of people in the old place, people you care about, one would assume. Hassling those people to come live in your fancy new city, even saying you’re just not going to call or visit the old place because it so out of date, well, that’s kind of rude.  You wouldn’t threaten to cut all contact with people just because they refuse to move to another city in the real world, so why do it in the virtual world? (I know its not exactly the same, since you probably will still email or meet these people in real life, but there is a personal tone developing to the community you use which seems unnecessary)

Some people just don’t like moving and may never move. When it comes down to it, these social network cities are about the people in them, not the technology we are using. So I’m still in FacebookCity and I’m going to stay,  or at least keep visiting, as long as I have lots of friends there, which will be for a long time I expet.

But lets just say I’m not buying a new house there anytime soon and I’m spending a lot of time visiting the shiny new metropolis. So if you want to stop by, I’ll show you around.

The First Annual Holiday FFriend Shout Out

Cross-posted to Pop The Stack

This is the time of year  when we all make a little effort to send a gift to our family and close friends.  Other friends get maybe card and no gift and that’s fine too, we aren’t all made of money and getting  good gift for people we know really well is hard enough.  But these days we also have a lot of ‘friends’ who may miss out on that card for whatever reason yet still deserve something.

Maybe you haven’t actually met and talked to them in years, or ever. You don’t even have their address but you see them on Facebook from time to time and you even chat once in a while or comment on their status or a link they posted.  They are more than acquaintances, you feel a connection. But they aren’t the friends you hang out with, at least not right now.  Let’s call them ffriends.

What is the proper way to let them know what they mean to you?  A broadcast post on your Facebook  wall is too little. It makes no distinction between family, friends,  ffriends and real acquaintances who you don’t really know but have ‘friended’ for whatever reason.

An individual e-card or Facebook message is too much, maybe you don’t really have enough to say to each ffriend individually and there could be lots of them.  But you do have some kind of connection. You like the occasional news about your ffriend’s lives. You like chatting with them and you maybe you hope that someday they become (or return to being) friends rather than just ffriends.

So here’s the idea. Sometime this holiday season put up a wall post something like the following:

My family and close friends get all the attention. But I just wanted to let you all know, that even though we don’t see each other much in the real world, haven’t met in years or have never met at all, I appreciate the connection that we do have and hope it grows in the future: @bobwhatisname @thatguyfromstarbucks @amyfromhighschool @louthemechanic @ericmythirdcousin @guyfromlastjob

Merry Holidays

Wouldn’t that be nice?  You need to do it right. Think about the wording and think carefully about the people you put on it.  Someone who thinks you are best buds in real life may not appreciate this, but then again, if its done with a positive tone maybe it will clarify a relationship.  You also don’t want to be too restrictive, go through your friend list and add everyone who isn’t an acquaintance and then take off people who you are sending a christmas card.

For me, there are loads of people I’ve got in touch with on Facebook who I haven’t seen in years.  We don’t actually talk that much but I appreciate them and hope to see them in the real world if the stars align properly.  Then there are other people I’ve never even met before. I know them as an issue or idea that we have in common, from a  discussions in a groups or through mutual friends.  These people would be pleasantly surprised to be added to an explicit list of people in this way. It would just be nice to give them all a nudge and say,

‘hey, you know, I notice you and I’m glad we’re having the connection we are having. Even if it is limited right now. Maybe, someday it will become more.  But either way, have a nice holiday. ok?’

Twitter actually has something like this every week.  Every friday tweeters post a #followfriday message, something like:

These are the ones, great tweeps #ff @mrawesome @msawesome @erictheguy @mikethedude @nancythefancy @jillthethrill

I have actually been arguing that follow friday needs to become more selective because many people just post multiple tweets with lists and lists of everyone they feel any connection to whatsoever.  This makes follow friday more of the shout out rather than the original intent of helping people find good tweeps to follow.  On follow friday I always try to limit myself to one person who was extra great that week as advice for anyone who cares to consider following them.  But my suggestion for the First Annual Holiday FFriend Shout Out is pretty much exactly how #followfriday works right now on twitter. But just once a year.

So, you know. Go do that.  If you like.  I think I will, now that I’ve suggested it and everything.

Democracy in Canada 2.0 – Twitter

I my first article in my series Canada 2.0 I introduced the idea that social media technologies, Internet 2.0 or social media, are beginning to reach a critical mass in Canada that can enable a transformation of our democracy and society as a whole. Those who want to take part and shape this future need to understand what is happening and how to take part. Twitter gets a lot of coverage in the media as the current ‘in’ thing. And its impact in the Iran elections and Barack Obama’s victory in the US cannot be dismissed. But there is one thing that pundits and commentators often miss when applying this to Canada. No one in Canada is on Twitter. Well, statistically almost no one.

Unlike FaceBook, which has around 14 million Canadian users, thats about 42% of the total Canadian population, twitter has a measly 1% pop covereage. This means that everything Canadians say on twitter is bound to be drowned out by their American and even British peers. Canadian Twitter accounts make up about 5% of Twitter. When something shows up as a trend on twitter (which means its one of the top 10 most popular phrases showing up in all current 140 character messages on Twitter) it pretty much means a lot of Americans are talking about that topic.

But if you look at stats at politwitter.ca, which aggregates Canadian political discussion on Twitter, you’ll see that there are tens of thousands of active Canadians tweeting about politics and following national leaders. That’s not nothing.

A Canadian Voice

So what about little ‘ol us? Last week there were huge national protests and everyone I know was tweeting about it with common tags #noprorogue #CAPP and #cdnpoli.
Some part of me hoped, that just for an hour one of those words would show up on the venerated trending topics list. But it was not to be. Then I looked into it a bit and found the stunning 1%. Add to that the fact that many people register for twitter, don’t get it, and never use it again, so 1% is probably high. Twitter is not as easy to ‘get’ as FaceBook. It doesn’t seem useful to jabber on in short bytes with people you don’t know. But sometimes it can be really powerful. FaceBook is much easier for everyone to udnerstand, you link up with freinds from the real world, chat, play games and generally just keep up to date with their life.

So why is this knowledge important for activities in Canada trying to gain awareness for their cause and rally people and media attention? Its important because the media doesn’t know this, or is too enamored of simple stories to use this information properly. If the reporters and pundits see something trending on Twitter, they’ll see a big thing, Twitter is big right? That’s a story. So how does that help? Well…

Twitter just recently, this week, added a new feature to their website that lets you view trending topics by region. Now, if people can choose to view trends from several countries or large cities. Canada is one of the countries although no Canadian cities are present yet. Right now the trends look pretty much the same as the Worldwide trends except for the presence of the word ‘Canadian’ and ‘Tim Hortons’. Since Canada is such a small group of users (hundreds of thousands rather than millions) that means that getting topics to trend in the Canada view should be much easier than in the default Worldwide view. But for this to happen, Canadians need to add location information so that Twitter knows they are in Canada. I suspect the trends are the same now because most Canadians haven’t put their location down, this may even explain the 1% being so low. Well it turns out now that it really is useful to tell Twitter that you at least live in Canada, even if you don’t want to give more info. This way we can all use the Canada trending topics view to find out what Canadians are really talking about rather than continuing to listen in to our neighours to the south. We’ve listend to them long enough, I think we know what they’re talking about by now.

Instructions on Setting your location in Twitter:

  1. go to Twitter.com and sign in
  2. Click Settings at the top right
  3. You will be on the Account tab, go down to Location and enter Canada
  4. Go the bottom of the page and click save

That’s it. Now if you click “Change” under the trending header on the right hand side you can pick the country or city you want to view and your tweets should be included.

Can’t wait to see what we’re talkin aboot.


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