Posts about facebook

Bizarro identity

I’m still trying to get my head around Facebook’s moves to become the king of identity online. Hell, if Leo Laporte couldn’t quite figure it out on yesterday’s taping of This Week in Google, then I’m not capable. But here’s where I am. Help me advance this….

I think my problem is this: I want the exact opposite of what Facebook did. I want the Bizarro Facebook. Instead of Facebook controlling my identity, I want to be able to control and publish and set access to and rules for the use of my identity online, allowing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, anyone access to it under my terms.

When I tweeted that, ad man Rishad Tobaccowala tweeted: “you are right. What we want closed (our data) they want open. What we want open (create and transfer) they want closed.” He then added: “When it is so easy to “like” is it really like? A profusion of “liking” will soon be like… Noise.” Agree.

My identity already exists online. It is my name, my email address(s), my URL(s) (for my blog, work, etc.), my Twitter account, my Flickr, my YouTube, my reputation culled from various services, and more. It is distributed. I have control over most of that.

What’s needed versus the present? Three things, I think:
* Organization. As Google organized our information, the war here is to organize us.
* Verification. No one, I hope, wants to verify as passports do. But Facebook has a leg ahead of everyone else on nearly verified identity simply because of how its service works: fake identities tend to be ejected from the bloodstream because they are irrelevant and irritating; Facebook is about real identities and real relationships and the one feeds the other.
* Connections. That, I think, is what Mark Zuckerberg means when he talks about making things social, about the social graph. He wants to link us to each other and information and that enhances our identities (what do I like and do and think….).

Fine. But I don’t think Facebook approached that opportunity asking first, “What can we do for the world of users online,” and second, “How can Facebook benefit?” If Facebook adds value, I have no objection to it benefiting, just as I believe Google should benefit by organizing our information and creating platforms; it’s what makes that benefit sustainable. But Facebook clearly asked the questions in the wrong order: It figured out what would benefit it most and then we get a few dividends: we get to tell our friends what we like and find out what our friends like.

But in the process, Facebook controls our identities with no relationship to our true identities online — that list above from email addresses to blogs to photos. Indeed, I’d argue that Facebook separates us from our true identities, for that is in Facebook’s favor; it gives Facebook control.

Far better and more experienced minds than mine are trying to get their heads around this. Dave Winer likes the idea of liking but also won’t put all his eggs into Zuck’s basket and so he suggests:

So perhaps there’s a compromise? Let me implement my own Like feature and have it connect up to Facebook through a feed. And let it connect up to Facebook’s competitors just as easily. I’m sure the smart guys at Facebook could figure out how to do this, perhaps they already have? I’m willing to do a little extra work to keep the web independent of any one company.

Right. Don’t all the identity standards and structures already exist openly. This is what irked Kevin Marks, who has done a great deal of work on identity, much of it while he was at Google. When he complained about this false openness last night, I said and he retweeted, “Open Graph is open as in ‘open your underwear drawer.'”

But as Swom_Network tweeted as I was tweeting about all this today, “Yep. but who is to do it?”

That’s really the question. Openness and standards are wonderful but if they don’t add up to applications that accomplish things, then we only open the door for companies to step in and seize the opportunity. Perhaps that’s inevitable. And I can live with that.

But we, the people, aren’t going to build these new applications and systems then we at least need to hold those who do to a set of principles, which means we need to have a set of principles to point to (and I’ll point to mine again).

Facebook’s Open Graph, I think, does not give us full control over our data and identities; it is not built to open standards; if it were, I’d be able to do what I want to do because others could build competing applications atop those standards. Then I’d be able to publish my identity on my own or through Facebook or through Acme ID Inc. and anyone could come along and verify my identity and publish that and developers would be able to come along and offer services based on that identity. But that works only if it is built to standards and principles, if it’s distributed and open. Open Graph is not.

As Dave Winer also says in his post, this is about more than identifying us. This structure leads to identifying places, sites, data, information. We will add a tremendously valuable layer of data atop the world — what we look at, what we like, what our friends like…. That is the wisdom of the crowd. Who owns that wisdom? No one but us. If you add value to it, you can extract that value (that’s what search engines do). But if you own the crowd’s wisdom then isn’t the crowd screwed?

Or that’s what I think I think. What do you think?

: MOMENTS LATER: As soon as I tweeted this, I saw that Rick Klau, a good guy at Google, is the new PM on Google Profiles and he suggested talking about it. I’ll think out loud first:

Google could build the open system I hope for … could. It has profile. It has the stuff around ID Kevin Marks showed me when I visited the company. It has lots of knowledge about our distributed identities.

What it doesn’t have is that close link to an almost verified identity. Sure, I can go and build a Google Profile page. But the problem with that is that it doesn’t really interact with the world the way my Facebook page does, so it lacks the opportunities for verification through relationships, right?

What could Google do about that? It could create a value-added service to verify identities (as Twitter has begun to do with the famous) but we’d find value in that only if others used it to some good end: if we could use it to publish comments on sites or make transactions. Is that enough?

Maybe Google can create the algorithmic authority (and identity) Clay Shirky dreams of: rather than verifying manually, it gives our identities a score and that increases our value in other transactions.

I still don’t know what to think.

Google.TV

I had fun this week taping an episode of Press:Here, a Silicon Valley show on the NBC station in San Jose, talking with host Scott McGrew, Forbes’ Elizabeth Cororan, and reporter of many hats Sarah Lacy.

Also on: Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelley talked about the week’s kerfuffle. Corcoran and Lacy said they thought that involving all Facebook’s users in a constitutional convention of sorts was mob rule. I said it was Googley to be listening.

The quality of friendship

The Guardian’s Anna Pickard issues a rousing endorsement of online friendships on Comment is Free:

The friends I’ve made online – from blogging in particular, be they other bloggers or commenters on this or my own site – are the best friends I now have. And yet, when I say this to people, many times they’ll look at me like I’m a social failure; and when surveys like this are reported, it’s always with a slight air of being the “It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy world!” item last thing on the news. Some portions of my family still refer to my partner of six years as my “Internet Boyfriend”.

Call me naive, but far from being the bottomless repository of oddballs and potential serial killers, the internet is full of lively minded, like-minded engaging people – for the first time in history we’re lucky enough to choose friends not by location or luck, but pinpoint perfect friends by rounding up people with amazingly similar interests, matching politics, senses of humour, passionate feelings about the most infinitesimally tiny hobby communities. The friends I have now might be spread wide, geographically, but I’m closer to them than anyone I went to school with, by about a million miles.

For me, and people like me who might be a little shy or socially awkward – and there are plenty of us about – moving conversations and friendships from the net to a coffee shop table or the bar stool is a much more organic, normal process than people who spend less time online might expect.

Depending on the root of the friendship, on where the conversation started, the benefit is clear – you cut out the tedium of small talk. What could be better?

See also Leisa Reichelt’s seminal post on ambient intimacy. And also my column in the Guardian on how constant connection will change the nature of friendship. And here’s what I said in the last chapter of my book on the larger impact of Google and the internet:

I believe young people today—Generation Google—will have an evolving understanding and experience of friendship as the internet will not let them lose touch with the people in their lives. Google will keep them connected. . . .

Thanks to our connection machine, they will stay linked, likely for the rest of their lives. With their blogs, MySpace pages, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Seesmic conversations, Twitter feeds, and all the means for sharing their lives yet to be invented, they will leave lifelong Google tracks that will make it easier to find them. Alloy, a marketing firm, reported in 2007 that 96 percent of teens and tweens used social networks—they are essentially universal—and so even if one tie is severed, young people will still be linked to friends of friends via Facebook, never more than a degree or two apart.

I believe this lasting connectedness can improve the nature of friendship and how we treat each other. It will no longer be easy to escape our pasts, to act like cads and run away. We will behave with this knowledge in the present. More threads will tie more of us together longer than in any time since the bygone days when we lived all our lives in small towns.

Today, our circles of friends will grow only larger. Does this abundance of friendship make each relationship shallower? I don’t think so. Friendship finds its natural water level—we know our capacity for relationships and stick closest to those we like best. The so-called Dunbar rule says we end up with 150 friends. I think that could grow. But remember the key insight that made Facebook such a success: It brought real names and real relationships to the internet. It’s about good friends.

I just asked Anna to be my Facebook friend.

Guardian column: Facebook’s choice

My Guardian column this week (a last-minute substitution for the BBC Newsroom column, which delayed to the next time because of an overdose of BBC news) is about Facebook’s momentous choice — control v. openness — and how Google maneuvered them into it.

Snippet:

That is the essential choice Facebook faces: openness v control. That quandary is not unique; every media company is now facing the same choice in the Google age. Google values openness so it can search you and send audience to you.

Whoever succeeds in mapping the social graph will better understand how society operates: who is friends with whom; who is influential; what we like; what we do. The winner in the social war will understand how we behave and interact and it can bring that knowledge to commerce, advertising, media, even government. That is the real prize.

@Facebook @Shark: jump?

I have been the greatest fan and booster of Facebook but I have to wonder whether they are leapfrogging the shark by cutting off Google Friend Connect — not because it is evil but because it is closed, limiting, wrong, and not in their own self-interest, a key and possibly fatal strategic mistake.

The essential question for Facebook is this: Do you want to be a closed site or an open platform? Do you want to be a closed social network or enable the open social network the internet already is? Clearly, it is better to be the platform. But Facebook is being strangely blind to that.

At the same time, I’ve become less addicted to Facebook because there isn’t enough there. That could be because I hang with old farts, who’ve cooled on the fad. But it’s more likely because Twitter has become a more meaningful platform for keeping in touch with friends (though that, too, could change). Though Facebook still has more functionality enabling me to organize those friends, Twitter is better at distinguishing acquaintances (the followers) from friends (the followed). That is, whereas on Facebook, I have — I’m sorry to say — 1,030 ignored friend requests, on Twitter, I have 1,765 followers. Twitter has learned from Facebook’s mistakes. So has Google.

Facebook should have asked — pardon the plug for the book — WWGD? If they had thought like Google, they would have tried to figure out how to use what they had built — an organizing system for friendship — and turn that into a platform we can use — and control — anywhere on the internet.

Google has quite cleverly done that as they explain on their code blog. They used Facebook’s API by all appearances legitimately. They give us control of how we use our data (and our friends are our data). They also kluged it a bit so they don’t retain data (which also means that other sites can really manipulate it, losing some potential functionality but keeping Google on the safe site of the line).

People find the relationships they’ve built on social networks really valuable, and they want the option of bringing those friends with them elsewhere on the web. Google Friend Connect is designed to keep users fully in control of their information at all times. Users choose what social networks to link to their Friend Connect account. (They can just as easily unlink them.) We never handle passwords from other sites, we never store social graph data from other sites, and we never pass users’ social network IDs to Friend Connected sites or applications.

Google is only doing what Facebook should have done: open up to be more useful across the entire internet. Now Google is giving Facebook the opportunity to do that — the dare to do that — and Facebook is chickening out. Big mistake.

I wrote back in 2006 that the internet is the social network. The winner will be he who brings that — to use Mark Zuckerberg’s own words and credo — elegant organization.

But the truly valuable network, the network of networks, the unbreakable bubble of bubbles, will be the one that manages to bring people together wherever we are, not just on MySpace (read: RupertsSpace), not just in Flickr or Del.icio.us, and not even just in the blogosphere, but everywhere. The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all: The Google of people.

I’m no mathematician or scientist, so I have to express this in words, but here’s the way I calculate the value of networks:

The Law of Open Networks: The more open a network is, the more control there is at the edges, the more the edges value the network, the more the network is worth.

The business lessons from this: Any choke point of control, via ownership, decreases the value of the network. Enablers increase the value of the network. The network will abhor and find ways around choke points. The network will value enablers and that is the point at which value may be extracted from the network. The value in networks in the open future is not in ownership and control but in enabling others to control.

Facebook put a chokehold around our data about our friends. Huge mistake. As Steve Gillmor said in his excellent Techcrunch analysis:

Facebook finally has a real problem to deal with – an exceptionally rational and well-thought-out strategy by Google that puts the leading social media cloud in the path of a wave of angry users. The only thing Facebook has going for it is that said users don’t yet know they’re angry.

Umair Haque has been purposefully over-the-top calling Facebook’s act “evil” (a few Twitter folks said his language gets in the way). But when you dig down, Umair, as is his habit, finds a brilliant and new law at work here:

What’s really going on here? There’s a massive tectonic shift rocking the economic landscape. All these players are discovering that the boardroom’s first and most important task is simply to try always and everywhere do less evil. In the dismal language of economics: as interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.

Let’s repeat that and dub it Haque’s Law: As interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what Google is really talking about when it promises not to be evil. It is not a campaign pledge (“Yes, we cannot be evil!”) or a geeky Bible lesson about good and bad (open unto others as they would open unto you) but a cold, calculated business rule:

When the people can talk with, about, and around you, screwing them is no longer a valid business strategy.

Be warned, cable companies, airlines, insurance companies, real estate agents, ad agencies, and governments: choke points are evil and evil is bad business.

This is — sorry for the second plug — at the heart of my book. Interaction turns control over to the public and that fundamentally changes business and society. Oh, I know, that drives various curmudgeons, cynics, and polemicists nutty but I do believe it is true. Google has found (not created but exploited) a new economy and only a fool would not try to learn from that and follow its lead if at all possible.

And I can’t believe that Mark Zuckerberg is a fool. I’ve said in the past that he makes mistakes, but he makes mistakes well — listening, learning, and changing quickly. Well, he’d better change quickly on this one. And the lesson here is no different at all from the lessons he learned with the botched announcements of Facebook’s news feed and ad program: It’s about control. We want control of our data.

But there’s a bigger lesson here: It’s about being a platform instead of a service (or portal). Last year, I disagreed with friend Scott Heiferman when he said that Facebook was the new AOL — and, indeed, Scott quickly disagreed with himself. But Zuckerberg may be proving him right after all. If he tries to build his business by attracting us to his garden and then fencing us in, if he doesn’t give us control and let us use Facebook and our identity there as a platform for our lives, then he is turning it into the next AOL when it could be the next Google. And that would be tragic. Tragic.

This is the critical moment in Facebook’s history. This is the moment when they realize that they have to give control to us and to the internet and become a platform. If they do, I’m likely to use my Facebook identity as my key identity only because it is tied to my social network; that is precisely what makes it more valuable than others. I don’t think that Twitter will be that but it may be the best second choice and it is tied to more dynamic information from my friends. Whether friend or follower, I want to link with people online. Who will help me? Who will stop me? He who helps, wins.

: More from Fred Wilson, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble.

: LATER: The irony of Google, of course, is that it’s open when it’s fighting closed systems (advertising, media, Facebook) but its instinct is closed. They wouldn’t even let the NY Times give them harmless publicity for their Lego logo. Don’t need it, they say. Would rather hide in a dark room.

: LATEST: This is why I don’t bet against Zuckerberg. Already, he says he wants to meet with Google and work it out. Smart.

Ambient intimacy

Leisa Reichelt says that the syncopated updates we share publicly with friends and followers in Twitter (and blogs and Flickr….) add up to what she called “ambient intimacy.”

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

Who cares? Who wants this level of detail? Isn’t this all just annoying noise? There are certainly many people who think this, but they tend to be not so noisy themselves. It seems to me that there are lots of people for who being social is very much a ‘real life’ activity and technology is about getting stuff done.

There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.

Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catchup with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.

Right. I argued in this post and column sometime ago that these functionalities — plus our ongoing connectedness on Facebook and our searchability via Google — will have a profound impact on friendship and our relationships. I said there that they will keep us in touch longer and so we can’t just lose people anymore. Reichelt says they also change our current relationships and I agree. It’s quite an insight that this causes a new kind of intimacy: We see the things we wouldn’t see in others’ lives unless we were damned near living together. For some people, I couldn’t care to know that much. For others, she’s right, it is a handy way to catch up, to be in touch.

I’ve mentioned here that I’ve found and been found by friends I haven’t seen in decades (more than I’ll admit) thanks to one or the other of our Google shadows. I’m about to meet up with one of them and we’ve been doing this catchup dance via email, which is also new and fits under Reichelt’s umbrella, I think, for it’s just a cold technological tool that makes it easy to update and catch up. If I’d been catching up via Facebook or Twitter or blogs all that time, the possibilities and definitions of friendship would be different.

Reichelt also talks about the flipside of this, ambient exposure: the publicness that makes this possible but also creates some vulnerability. And each force us to define our societies, the people we want to share with: one person on an email, a few people in a chat, a defined group in Facebook or Pownce, a group we don’t define (if we’re public) in Twitter, anyone at all in a blog.

What a great time to be a Reichelt writing about this or a Danah Boyd studying it or a Tara Hunt living it.

From organizing parties to protests

The Wall Street Journal reports on Facebook being used as a tool of dissent in Egypt.

The activism on Facebook is part of larger efforts by youths across the Arab world to use technology — from blogs to cellphone text messages to YouTube — to challenge their governments and push the envelope on dissent in ways older generations didn’t know. In parts of the Middle East such as Beirut and Tehran, local governments immediately jam cellphones if there is civil unrest, to prevent it from spreading.

In a sign the government is taking the challenge seriously, Egyptian security forces last month arrested a young woman, Esraa Abdel Fattah, after she had formed a Facebook group to promote a strike on April 6 over inflation.

A Jersey app – yagottaproblemwiddat?

My friends at the Star-Ledger have opened a $5,000 contest to create a great Facebook app for New Jersey. They’ve offered up their feeds but using them is not required; they just want a great Jersey app. If Tony Soprano ran Microsoft… (well, they do bear similarities). The judges are Barista Debbie Galant, Winegod Gary Vaynerchuk, Ledger visionary John Hassell, and none other than my son, Jake Jarvis. So what makes a great local app?