Archive for December, 2011

Almost famous: Suit over Facebook’s Sponsored Stories could cement your celebrity

December 21, 2011


With apologies to Tears for Fears, everybody does not want to rule the world — too much responsibility. Counting Crows were probably closer: Everybody wants to be famous. What else would explain “Fear Factor”?

And thanks to social networks, we can be. Yes, for better or for worse, a viral message can catapult you onto the celebrity stage, be it for 15 minutes, or for a career. With a gratuitous Double Rainbow reference out of the way, this post isn’t concerned with that, however.

This post is concerned with the celebrity bubble within our bubbles: How your daily me shapes your daily you shapes your friends’ daily me. How you compete to see and be seen online, even among a, on average, on Facebook at least, small circle of 130 people.

If everybody wants to be famous, I have good news for everybody: Everybody wants you to be famous, too. Everybody involved in a noteworthy Facebook lawsuit, at least.

If you haven’t heard much about the suit yet, you likely will. Don’t let Mark Zuckerberg suing Mark Zuckerberg distract you. This case, in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., Fraley v. Facebook, Inc., deals with the essence of Facebook: You “liking” stuff and Facebook selling advertising based on those “likes.”

PaidContent, among other commentators, says the legal challenge, which last week survived a motion to dismiss, threatens the social network’s Sponsored Story strategy. Introduced in January, Sponsored Stories are paid ads featuring your name, likes, and, well, likeness. For example, if John Doe “likes” a Facebook Page called “Widgets,” one of his friends could see an ad featuring John’s profile picture and the copy “John Doe likes Widgets.” For now, the ads are relegated to the right rail, but, just announced, they are coming to the Newsfeed early next year.

Angel Fraley, a 40-year-old Seattle woman, is suing Facebook on behalf of all California users registered before January 25, 2011, the day Sponsored Stories started. Seeking to stop the ads and recover damages, Fraley, who registered for Facebook under the name Angela Frolicker, alleges that by profiting off the unauthorized use of users’ testimonials, Sponsored Stories violate user publicity rights and unfair competition laws in California, where Facebook is based.

Which brings us to everybody wanting you to be famous.

The plaintiffs want you to be famous because they need to establish standing, which, among other things, requires that they demonstrate they were harmed — something that’s derailed similar lawsuits. To do this, referencing statements by Nielsen and Facebook itself, they first assert that Facebook gains from using users’ likeness because ads containing friends’ endorsements are considered more effective and therefore more valuable than traditional ads.

They then state, according to the judge’s ruling on the motion to dismiss, that the use causes economic harm “in the same way that celebrities suffer economic harm when their likeness is misappropriated for another’s commercial gain …”

The ruling continues (emphasis mine):

“Plaintiffs allege that they have been injured by Facebook’s failure to compensate them for the use of their personal endorsements because “[i]n essence, Plaintiffs are celebrities—to their friends.”

The people behind an already disruptive lawsuit against one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world say you’re famous. Go adopt yourself a chihuahua.

Facebook wants you to be famous because it would help make your actions newsworthy, and therefore exempt from misappropriation claims. Facebook offers, again, according to the ruling (again, emphasis mine), that “Plaintiffs are ‘public figures’ to their friends.”

One of the richest and most powerful companies in the world says you’re famous. Go buy yourself a tiara.

Even the judge wants you to be famous, if only to be consistent. In questioning Facebook’s newsworthiness defense (content published for commercial instead of journalistic purposes, however newsworthy, is not exempt from the publicity rights law), U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, happily for you and your new dog, endorses both parties’ “famous” arguments.

Koh writes, in part (emphasis added):

“… the Court agrees that Plaintiffs’ assertion of their status as local ‘celebrities’ within their own Facebook social networks likewise makes them subjects of public interest among the same audience…”

A sitting federal judge says you’re famous. Go buy your chihuahua a tiara.

Whatever the law has to say — Gigaom explores the potentially wide-ranging legal ramifications in a post of its own — we’re already acting like celebrities: Competing for attention, curating public and private versions of our lives, stalking, hawking and gawking for photos. How does this affect our view of and expectations for interpersonal relationships? Are these new personal publics bringing us together? Or are they pulling us apart?

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Storm Crypt


#NewNewTwitter, ProPublica responsive design and New York Times election app move mobile toward unified Web

December 9, 2011

There is no mobile Web and desktop Web. There is just the Web.

As our favorite content follows us to new and smaller screens, it’s a refrain you’re like to hear more and more from webdev pundits.

If you ask me, it’s semantics. Whether or not it’s technically accurate, given the differences between who tends to access (young, minorities) content on mobile devices versus desktops and laptops and what users can do (call, text, geolocate), can’t do (often, javascript and/or Flash) and like to do (make decisions, multi-task, kill time) once they get there, “mobile Web” is a useful term.

That out of the way, there were three developments this week in the mobile-news-social sphere indicative of the desktop Web and mobile Web merging closer together.

Come Fly with us (on mobile first)


The first, most recent, and certainly the one making the biggest splash, is #NewNewTwitter, playfully branded with the tagline “Fly.”

Not only are the design and functionality of Twitter’s desktop Web, mobile Web and mobile app versions becoming more synchronized, there’s also a cognizant effort by Twitter to get desktop-only users spending time on its mobile platforms.

This push became evident last spring when Twitter placed pretty direct messaging on’s log-out landing page: “You’ve signed out of Twitter. Now go mobile.”

Just as aggressive was rolling out #NewNewTwitter to and iPhone and Android apps first and letting those who download one of the apps get the revamp early on desktop as well. The smartphone prop at the beginning and end of the promotional video likewise encourages a cross-platform experience.

Responding to multi-platform challenges and opportunities


While the average user’s browser needed some time to catch up, responsive design, essentially using CSS media queries and HTML5 semantic elements to accommodate varying screen sizes, has been around for a while. That it’s suddenly getting so much attention (I’m thinking foremost of the launch) as a silver bullet for publishing to multiple platforms – it’s not, there are no silver bullets – has perplexed me.

One of the best of the new nonprofit journalism enterprises out there, ProPublica, explains the advantages of responsive design well in this post about its recent website redesign. Two of the biggest are that developing adaptive websites is less intensive than the user agent sniffing and native app alternatives and that, unlike apps, it connects content to the full, open Web. This has strong SEO, link economy and user experience benefits, but it also, ProPublica astutely points out, reduces the level of engagement required to get users using in the first place:

We think this explains a phenomenon we’ve noticed – that though we’ve had huge uptake of our mobile apps, we don’t see very much day-to-day usage compared to the number of people who come to our site on their smart phones. It’s our hypothesis that it’s because people have to remember to open up the app to see what’s new every day.

One native app, under Apple, but a Web version for all


The New York Times’ new Election 2012 app, available as a native app only for iPhone, is turning heads for its heavy and prominent aggregation. The Gray Lady also deserves a nod for publishing a Web app version at accessible on Android and BlackBerry smartphones and even more basic devices.

Perhaps this is a cost-saving measure. Or maybe they ran out of time to build out more native verisons – the Iowa caucuses are less than a month away. I’d offer, however, that for an app built around links, it would be foolish not to have a version on the open Web. A version users can search to. A version users can share (here’s the deets on my home state’s primary!). A version the aggregated (and others) can link back to.