Showing all posts tagged social:

Privacy? on the Internet?

Periodically something happens that gets everyone very worked up about privacy online. Of course anyone who has ever administered a mail server has to leave the room when that conversation starts, because our mocking laughter apparently upsets people.1

The latest outrage is that Facebook has apparently been messing with people's feeds. No, I don't mean the stuff about filtering out updates from pages that aren't paying for placement.

No, I don't mean the auto-playing videos either. Yes, they annoy me too.

No, it seems that Facebook manipulated the posts that showed up in certain users' feeds, sending them more negative information to see whether this would affect their mood - as revealed, naturally, through their Facebook postings.

Now, it has long been a truism that online, and especially when it comes to Facebook, privacy is dead. The simplistic response is of course "if you wanted it to be a secret, then why did you share it on Facebook?". This is, of course, a valid point as far as it goes. The problem is that the early assumptions about Facebook no longer hold true.

Time was, Facebook knew about what you did on Facebook, but once you left the site, you were free to get up to things you might not want to share with everybody. Then those "Like" buttons started proliferating everywhere. Brands and website operators wanted to garner "likes" from users to prove their popularity, or at least the effectiveness of their latest marketing gimmick ("like our site for the chance to win an iPad!").

It turns out that on top of tracking what you actually "like", Facebook can track any page you look at that has a Like button embedded. Given that the things are absolutely everywhere, that gives them probably the most complete picture of any ad network out there.

Then Facebook changed their news delivery options. It used to be that "liking" a page meant that you would see all their updates. Now, it means that about 2% of the people who "like" the page see the updates - unless the page operators choose to pay to amplify their reach... Note that these pages do not necessarily belong to brands and advertisers. If your old school has a page that you "like", in the expectation that you will now receive their updates, you're out of luck. Guess you'd better arrange a fundraiser at your next reunion to gather cash to pay Facebook. On the plus side, you have a built-in excuse for poor attendance at the reunion: "ah, I guess they were in the 98% that Facebook didn't deliver the notifications to".

And now Facebook have gone whole-hog, not just preventing information from reaching users' feeds, but actively changing the contents of the users' feeds - in the name of Science, sure.

This is far beyond what people think they have signed up for. There is a big difference between being tracked on Facebook, and being tracked by Facebook, everywhere you go. The difference is not just moral, but commercial. After all, tracking users across multiple websites has been standard operating procedure for ad networks for a long time now. If you've ever shopped online for something and then seen nothing but ads for that one thing for a month thereafter, you have experienced this first-hand. It's mildly creepy, but at this point everyone is pretty well inured to this level of tracking.

Being tracked by ad networks is different from being tracked by Facebook in one very important way. So far, nobody seems to have figured out a good way to make money with content on the internet. A few people do okay with subscriptions, but it tends to be a niche thing. Otherwise, pretty much everything is ad-funded in some way. Now, banner ads can be annoying, and the tracking can get creepy, but at least the money from the ad impressions is going to the site operator, who provides the content that keeps us all coming back.

The "like" button subverts this mechanism, because it's just as creepy and Big-Brotherish, but none of the money goes to the site's operator. All the money and data go only to Facebook, who are even now trying to figure out how to modify your feed to make you want to buy things. Making you feel bad was only step 1, but not everyone goes straight to retail therapy as a remedy. Step 2 is hacking our exocortices (hosted on Facebook) to manipulate the "buy now!" instinct directly.

If you enjoyed this article, please like it on Facebook.

  1. If you don't know what I'm talking about, let's just say I really, really know what I'm talking about when I say you shouldn't send credit card numbers in the clear, and leave it at that. 

I have come not to bury Twitter, but to praise it

Last week the Atlantic published [a eulogy for Twitter]( "A

Eulogy for Twitter" ), which of course was widely reshared via... Twitter.

Uhoh, This content has sprouted legs and trotted off.

Then the reactions started coming in. I think Slate is closest to getting it right:

Twitter is not a social network. Not primarily, anyway. It’s better described as a social media platform, with the emphasis on “media platform." And media platforms should not be judged by the same metrics as social networks.

Social networks connect people with one another. Those connections tend to be reciprocal. […]

Media platforms, by contrast, connect publishers with their public. Those connections tend not to be reciprocal.

I have some conversations on Twitter, but mainly I treat it as a publishing medium. I publish my content, and I follow others who publish there. The interactions on Twitter mainly replace what used to go on in various sites' comments.

The value of Twitter is in making it easy to discover and share content. The "social", meaning Facebook-like, aspects of the platform are entirely secondary to the value of the platform. The more Twitter tries to be Facebook, the worse it gets. It should focus on just being Twitter.

Skype for Teams

I wrote a howto on using Skype for my team, and then thought that others could probably take advantage of this too, so here it is. Shout if you have any questions, comments or additions!

These days, most companies above a certain size have some sort of official internal IM/chat solution. In most cases, that solution is Microsoft Communicator or its newer cousin, Lync.

The problem is, the blasted thing just doesn’t work very well, at least on a Mac. Lync goes offline spontaneously at least once every half-hour or so, and it crashes several times a day. It crashes predictably when the Mac resumes from sleep, but it also crashes randomly whenever it feels like it. Finally, Lync is only useful within the company.1 If you need to talk to customers, partners, or contractors, you need an alternative solution.

With that in mind, and in a spirit of Bring Your Own Solution, here is a guide to using Skype for team communications.

Using Skype for basic one-to-one communication is simple enough. Add your team-mates to your contact list, and you can IM or voice chat with them at any time. I would recommend adding team members to your Favorites so they are always available. You can do this by clicking the star icon on each contact, or by right-clicking on their name in the contacts list and choosing "Add to favorites".

Where it gets interesting for a team, though, is that you can set up multi-user chat just as easily. When in a voice or video call, press the plus button in a speech balloon below the contact, and select "Add people…" from the pop-up menu.

You can do the same in a text chat by selecting the plus button and adding people to the chat. Note that history is persistent, so it might be better to start a new group conversation rather than dropping new people into an existing chat session.

In a conversation, it is also possible to share your desktop. Simply go to the “Conversations" menu and choose "Share screen…". This will allow you to do real-time group edits or share a presentation with other participants in the call, much like WebEx and its ilk.

Skype is not just useful for calling other Skype users. One of the banes of my existence is conference calls which only have US toll-free numbers. Even if I’m in my home country, calling the US from a mobile gets expensive fast, and it’s much worse if I’m roaming. If I can get on wifi, I use Skype to call the US toll-free number. This is free and does not require Skype credit, although performance will depend on your wifi connection. It’s fine for listening to a call, but if you are a primary speaking participant, I would not recommend this approach.

With that caveat out of the way, all you have to do to dial national (not just US!) toll-free numbers with Skype is to bring up the Dial Pad, either by clicking on the little telephone icon beside the search field, or by going to the “Window" menu and selecting "Dial Pad".

Here you can dial as normal: +1 for the US (or the correct country code for the number you are calling), and then the number. Unfortunately DTMF tones do not work during dialling, so you can’t save conference numbers and PIN codes directly; these have to be dialled each time. Not all conferencing systems seem to receive DTMF tones from Skype even during call setup, so if it’s the first time you are using a particular conference, dial in with time to spare and have a plan B for how you are going to access the call if Skype doesn’t work.

There are mobile Skype clients for all major platforms. They work fairly well, but synchronisation is not guaranteed to be real-time, so if you move from one device to another, you may not be seeing the latest updates in your IM conversations. Also, if you send a message to an offline user, they will not necessarily receive it immediately upon signing on. Anything time-sensitive should go through another medium. At least the delivery receipts in Skype will tell you whether the message reached the intended destination.

I hope this guide has been helpful! Please share any additional tips that you find useful.

  1. It is technically possible for IT departments to “federate" Lync installations between two companies, but that requires lots of work, sign-offs, and back-and-forth to achieve, and anyway only works if both participants are using Lync. 

A face full of palm

It has long been clear that users of TrueTwit did not understand social media. On the other hand, everyone had assumed that TrueTwit themselves did understand social media. In other words, that they were not misguided, but actively evil.

We neglected to consider the possibility that they might be both evil and misguided. Exhibit one:

By the way, this is why you should not auto-favourite and auto-retweet content. You never know what your robot might slurp up and spew out for the whole internet to mock.

The social net

I was interviewed a little while ago about how I used social media at work. I had been meaning to expand upon that post for a while, and today I finally got around to it.

I use social media a lot, because I live in a small city in northern Italy, so it would otherwise be impractical to try to keep up to date on what is going on elsewhere in my industry, let alone trying to join in that conversation. The thing is, there are many different media and different ways to use them. Here is how I do it.




Find me on Twitter: @dwellington

Twitter is undoubtedly the power tool of social media. It’s good for talking shop, but also for just messing around. You can have conversations or flamewars, get help, get support, or be told to get lost. However, Twitter also has a fairly steep learning curve for first-time users. When you get started, you have an empty feed, and the initial suggestions of people to follow are unlikely to be helpful.

My suggestion is to find people you know in real life or from other media, and follow them. As you see what they post and who they interact with, you will branch out and start following others - and probably unfollowing some of your early follows. Don’t be shy about joining in conversations, either. Twitter is inherently public. However, don’t necessarily expect everyone to answer your @-mentions, especially at the beginning.

The value of Twitter builds slowly over time, and in proportion to the effort you put into it. As you prune the list of accounts you follow, watch hashtags, and build yourself lists, interesting content will start coming to you. If you have sufficient presence, people may also start bringing things to your attention proactively.


Find me on LinkedIn

Many people consider LinkedIn as the online equivalent of a CV, updated only for major promotions or job changes. In actual fact there is a lot more to the service than that. You have the opportunity to build yourself a public track record of engagement on particular topics, which can be much more valuable and differentiating than simply having had a certain job title for a period of time. Share content that is relevant to your area, whether you wrote it yourself or found it online. The engagement from your network of contacts (likes, re-shares and comments) will tell you whether you are hitting the mark or not.

LinkedIn also lets you follow companies so that you keep up to date with what is going on at your prospects or competitors. The Pulse tool will give you a good idea of what’s hot right now across your network.


Find me on Google+

Google+ is an odd case. You can’t ignore it because it’s Google and so it’s searchable everywhere and what-not, but at least for me, there is little value there. Visually-oriented people seem to like it, so if that’s you, go nuts. For me, I find the text snippets to be exactly the wrong size for browsing, and the community is a bit lacking. However, especially if you blog, you will want to share your posts via G+ purely for the SEO value.

Find me on @dwelling was supposed to be the hip alternative to Twitter once Twitter was over-run by civilians. Initially it was only available for pay, which definitely gave it a clique-y atmosphere. Eventually it opened up a free tier, which I signed up for, but I have to admit I find its value extremely limited. If they decide to close down my free access, I won’t pay to be able to stay on.

To me, Foursquare and Facebook are exclusively for personal stuff, but I’m listing them for completeness.


Foursquare is a location-based social network which allows users to check in to locations. I use it mainly as an aide-memoire, so that when someone asks me several months later “what was the name of that cool café in Istanbul?", I can just scroll back in my check-in history and find out. I also use it to keep track of tips people give me, saving recommendations to the built-in to-do list.


Facebook is private, for friends only - so no link. I’m in enterprise software, so my work content is not in the least relevant on Facebook. I use it to keep in touch with distant friends, and that’s pretty much it. If you’re doing something consumer-oriented, your mileage may vary.



Buffer is a useful little tool that lets you share posts to a variety of social networks at once. I use it to cross-post, typically to Twitter and, plus one of LinkedIn or Facebook. I generally have short sessions of social media use in between other tasks, so Buffer lets me distribute shares over time instead of having a spurt of activity followed by silence. Buffer also lets you schedule your posts for specific times, so you can target posts for times when e.g. people will be awake in Silicon Valley, or whichever time zone is relevant.


Find me on Newsle

Newsle lets you follow people and get an alert whenever they’re in the news. It’s a good idea to follow prominent executives, founders, VCs, and the like to keep up with what is going on in the industry. You just set it and forget it; Newsle will e-mail you when there’s a match, and only then.


Evernote is a fantastic cloud-based note-taking tool. If that doesn’t seem useful, you have a much less complicated life than me, for which I envy you. I use Evernote all the time and across all my devices. It lets me take notes immediately, it tags them automatically with locations and such, and lets me search past notes for context. It lets me set actions and reminders for follow-up directly in the note. It syncs to the cloud so the quick note I dash off on my phone can be edited at leisure using a proper keyboard on my MacBook Air and then reviewed on my iPad on the flight home. Sign up for a free account with the link above and we both get extra space.

As well as its main apps, available on any platform you care to name, Evernote also has a slew of related services which sync with its notebook and tag structure. Skitch is a drawing app for quick sketches which also lets you annotate PDFs. Hello is a business card scanner: take a picture of the business card with your iPhone, and it OCRs it and searches LinkedIn for matches. You can also enter notes for the conversation and be reminded of it in the future. The Web Clipper is a browser add-on that lets you send clips or entire web pages straight to Evernote. Finally, is a blogging service which links to an Evernote notebook. To create a post, simply create a note, edit it as normal, using Markdown if you want to get fancy, and then tag it with “published".

Basic usage is free, but premium gets you all sorts of extra features which are well worth while. Put simply, Evernote is my go-to platform to organise my life.


Newsblur is the RSS reader I settled upon when Google Reader went away, taking with it the various services it underpinned. It gives you 64 sites for free, but I paid for the upgrade to get more sites, full-text posts, and other services.


Instapaper lets you save web pages for offline reading without formatting. That’s all it does, but it does it very well. Someone sends you an article that looks interesting but you don’t have time to read it right now? Forward it to Instapaper, and next time you’re in a queue or in the lift or whatever you can read the article on your phone. If you don’t finish it, you can pick it up from the same point on your iPad at home.

It can also be worth while to forward pages to Instapaper that have a reader-unfriendly presentation, since it strips out all extraneous formatting.

Nowadays Instapaper also supports video, further extending its usefulness to me.


In line with what I said earlier about interesting content coming to you, Flipboard is a magazine that is dynamically assembled for you on your iPad based on your interests. Give it your Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, add some specific sites that interest you, and let it do its magic. After a bit of training, it’s pretty much guaranteed to have several interesting reads for you every time you open the app.

I hope this will be helpful for someone. Ping me on any of the networks mentioned above if you want to continue the conversation.

Image by Chris Sardegna via Unsplash