Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

Tumbling in the search for search semantics

January 3, 2013

Thanks to Google Trends, anyone can know what everyone’s searching for. Or even what health news Marylanders were searching for last month. But no one can know why they are searching.

Without knowing users’ intent, observers shouldn’t assume that search trends mean something is or isn’t trendy.

The Atlantic Wire and others surmised that the term “blog” might be outdated, and that “Tumblr” may be becoming the Kleenex to its tissue, now that the latter has passed the former in search term popularity. Especially since a search for “Tumblr” gets processed so fast Google doesn’t even display the time, not so fast my friend.

Since search is one of the most common ways Web users learn about unfamiliar things, one could just as easily spin the data the other way to say it reflects the generic blog’s increased popularity — or at least familiarity.

The average Web user today, I’ll hypothesize, is more likely to know what a blog is than the average Web user in Spring 2009, when “blog” peaked in the Google Trends chart that inspired the Wire’s post. While it’s long been a household term in techie spaces, “Tumblr” is still a new name for many a Internet user. Or, perhaps someone’s heard it a lot, but isn’t exactly sure what it is.

Another factor likely at play is users’ using search as a navigational tool, a habit ReadWriteWeb learned about the hard way in early 2010. Since it was the top news result, and hence atop all search results, users mistook its article that talked about logging into Facebook for the actual Facebook login page!

Mobile, with its cumbersome typing interfaces and narrow address bars, and search being baked into most address bars, further encourage users to use search as a shortcut for typing out the full URL. “Tumblr” surely benefits from these navigational applications, but “blog” — other than a caveman, maybe, who’s trying to go to just “blog”? — not so much.

Bottom line, it’s difficult to compare generic and specific search terms. The Google Trends data certainly document the rise of Tumblr, but not necessarily the fall of “blog.”


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

Privacy gripes lie with law, social norms, not tech, Jeff Jarvis tells Big Head Baltimore

October 19, 2011

Online sharing isn’t changing human nature, it’s merely enabling it.

In a livecast chat about his new book on the virtues of digital publics, journalist Jeff Jarvis paraphrased Mark Zuckerberg to frame a fundamental point: It’s not the technology, stupid.

When privacy watchdogs say technology goes too far, the City University of New York professor told participants in the Greater Baltimore Technology Council‘s first monthly Big Head Baltimore talk, the real problem is that our legal system or social norms have come up short.



Take the digitization of health records. In “Public Parts,” Jarvis, who has blogged — in intimate detail — his battle with prostate cancer, envisions a health care system where every page of everyone’s record is publicly shared.

The knowledge that could be gleaned from such a large, accessible dataset would save billions of dollars and potentially millions of lives. Who wouldn’t want that? (The principle is being applied on a much smaller scale and involving information about pharmaceuticals instead of people in effort to improve drug manufacturing.)

But fears about how insurers, employers and peers might treat us if they knew our full medical past and prognosis quickly flip the equation. Who would want that? 

Legitimate concerns, Jarvis says, but don’t make technology the scapegoat. If someone denies you coverage or fires you because of something they saw in your file, the problem is that the law let them. If you’re ostracized because of your condition, the problem is the stigma society attaches to illness — something, incidentally, that sharing can help overcome.

Jarvis — who qualified that he does not expect open health care records or many of the other ideas presented in his book, such as The Radically Public Company (Chapter 10), to become reality —  is the first to admit that he approaches technological change from a utopian point of view. If we’re to realize the full benefits of interactive tools, he argues, we must first conceive them.

It’s difficult to disagree. If nothing else, like perfect competition in economics, perfect sharing, even if it never naturally occurs, is still instructive to study.

As tweets streamed by on audience members’ iPhones and on a screen off-camera in Jarvis’ office, the author offered a favorite rejoinder: There’s no such thing as over-sharing, just over-listening. Don’t like it? The unfriend or unfollow button is just a click away.

It is your choice. Your choice to share. Your choice to listen. Isn’t it? Well, to take the dystopian point of view, increasingly not.

Whether it’s peer pressure all but forcing us to share, an algorithm telling us what to listen to (Jarvis addressed this) or an unseen network of interconnected devices doing both, we’re losing some of our curational agency. Take that away, and is what we hear as meaningful? Is what we say even properly called sharing?

What Happens to Our Online Lives After Death?

November 2, 2009

Death. Taxes. Button rollovers. There are few certainties. But those are three of them.

On Friday, I aimed for a fun blog post. Today’s Monday. As good a time as any for a morbid one. Despite its inevitability, death isn’t something online companies and users consider as fully as they should.

A reader recently wrote the blog The Consumerist complaining that she had been “asked twice this week to improve the Facebook existence of someone who passed away this summer, despite e-mailing them several times to alert them of this person’s untimely demise.”

The Consumerist notes that setting the deceased’s profile to memorial mode would prevent others from receiving such suggestions. But this option is available only to persons close to the deceased.

In other online spaces, the bereaved are fighting to access and preserve their loved ones’ online property, which, given how much of people’s lives play out online these days, can hold as much sentiment as material belongings.

An article in today’s New York Times detailed how Yahoo, citing terms of service privacy stipulations, prevented the family of a solider killed in Iraq from accessing his account.

The newspaper also interviewed a widow who lost the Second Life island she lived on with her husband — whom she met in the virtual world — after deciding she was unable to afford the maintenance fees.

As the line between people’s real world and online identities gets blurrier, it is the shared responsibility of users and companies to adopt procedures to avoid situations like these. Though no one likes to think about death, what happens to their online holdings after they pass is something users will have to confront. And as legally convenient as it is, it’s in poor taste for companies to hide behind their terms of service and deny the bereaved control of their loved ones’ spaces.

A technology law professor the Times quoted suggested users name a digital executor to receive their log-in information after they pass. But he cautioned that using this information without the service provider’s knowledge could be considered fraud. As the Times observes, this is a “murky legal realm.”

They’ll Assume You’re a Social Media Expert. Prove Them Right.

October 21, 2009

In no other marketing arena are messages born, spread and adapted as quickly as they are in social media. Reputations can be bolstered or broken in a few clicks.

To whom do firms turn to navigate this volatile landscape? Very often, young people.

In Elon University’s School of Communications, nearly every summer internship student this year reported completing social media-related tasks such as creating Facebook and Twitter accounts or blogging.

Young people, it’s assumed, know social media. That they at least have a better grasp of it than their older colleagues is generally a safe bet. The median age of a Facebook user is 26, a MySpace user 27 and a Twitter user 31, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But what exactly do young people know? Do they know how to monitor what customers are saying and exploit opportunities and put out fires? Or do they just know how to post mundane status updates and write clever captions?

The Elon interns, who had already been blogging and studying reputation management in their classes, were better positioned than most. The communication school’s internship director wrote to faculty and staff that in many cases supervisors were impressed enough by students’ skill level to extend to them opportunities not offered to other interns.

But what about those without any formal training? Young people who on their face seem social media savvy may in fact be practicing some very bad habits. Friending everyone and their brother regardless of their character merely to increase their own perceived popularity. Posting embarrassing photos of themselves and their friends without regard for what potential employers may think. Not the kind of quality control you want in the business world.

Furthermore, behind the technology bells and whistles, strong social media marketing comes down to strong writing. And, while the opposite argument is also made, there is concern among educators that electronic communication’s carefree spelling, lax punctuation and grammar and acronym shortcuts degrade writing quality, also according to Pew.

Students or young workers may read this and get defensive. “We can write.” “We can and do use social media responsibly.” And I hope they do call me out. Because, what an opportunity. If you know social media tasks are probably going to be part of your next job — or are part of your job now, why not do a little homework and learn how to use social media to grow a brand, not just grow your friend count? You’ll differentiate yourself from your peers and just might get that promotion a bit sooner.

Social media blog Mashable’s How To section is a good starting point. It’s a gold mine of concise primers, some geared toward general social media literacy, but many also geared toward business applications.