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.

Interesting Thought : Our Social Network Is Becoming an Agent for Us

Link: Discussion I got into on an article about automatically feeding your google+ content out to twitter and elsewhere

I’ve thought along these lines a bit, but it is an interesting idea to flesh out sometime. As we build ever more complex automated actions flowing out of our social network activity we will begin to form an agent that interacts on our behalf. This is already happening but it’s mostly static. Sites like and others are starting to have more logic. One of the huge impacts that widespread computational thinking in the population could enable is the ability to create services that describe loops, functions and recursion on our activity and and build or grow agents that behave ‘like’ us even beginning to carry out conversations on our behalf. It sounds like wild Singularity thinking, but each step along the way is not nearly as impossible as it used to seem. Worth thinking about.

Project: Evolution in Action

Project: Evolution in Action | RocketHub

ScienceFund is like Kickstarter for Science! Pitch in money to help researchers collect and analysis data like this important work on analysing the spread of bacteria.

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.

Canada 2.0 – Way to go Canada!

Update on my recent interest in seeing Twitter go Canuck. Good going Canada! It looks like more people are setting their locations because I’ve been seeing more and more Cancon in the Trending list on Twitter. Last night 4 of the top five words were the names of hockey players as Canadians chimed in on the big Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs trade.

This morning I have seen for the first time a number one trend that isn’t just an echo of  a us hashtag game. The tag is #followamuseum which asks everyone to follow their favourite museum (some ideas of museums to follow listed here). If you look at the regions where this is trending right now (10:30AM PST Feb 1,2010) its very interesting:

#followamuseum Trending #followamuseum Not Trending
San Francisco
Washington DC
UK (number 3 overall in UK)
Canada (number 1 overall in Canada!)
New York
United States

What’s interesting about this list is not where people care about museums or not. Trends come and go all day long and could be because of other local stories.  The interesting part though is that most Canadians are talking about this trend even though the overwhelming majority of Tweeps worldwide are not.  The trend does not show up on the worldwide list or the US list. So that means the Canadians who saw it and made it a trend here by retweeting or commenting must be watching the Canada trend topics (or the UK).  This is very exciting, as now Canadians can trust that our voice can make it through the defining din of Twitter.

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