Enough with the Omnibus Petitions

I’m getting really tired of online petitions that act like omnibus bills. The title says “Stop X” and I happen to think “Stop X” is a darn fine idea, but then you get to the actual text and it’s “Stop X, Build more Y, Change Z, and unionize everyone”.

That’s one less signature for “Stop X”, right there. We hate it when legislators pull this crap, maybe you should consider not doing the same thing in your petitions. Stick to a single issue.

How You Can Fix Facebook Right Now

How You Can Fix Facebook Right Now

Facebook like. Credit Sean MacEntee (Flickr) CC-SAMany people have noticed that they’re missing the posts they’d like to see on Facebook. This is because Facebook has implemented an algorithm for “Top Stories” that uses their version of what you want to see instead of yours.

This algorithm is heavily influenced by “likes” from people in your social network, but it’s also biased toward content that you are more likely to interact with, favouring Pages updates with images over text-only ones (see Socialmedia Today).

There are several problems with this. Most critically the algorithm can bury the human interactions that attracted people to Facebook in the first place; a closed cycle of “likes” can cause a news feed to become more and more focused on a single viewpoint by not displaying information that challenges “liked” content; and pages you are interested in may never show up if your network doesn’t share the same interest.

Facebook offers a “most recent” sort order that looks like it will address this, but that too is broken. First, it’s most recent activity on a post, so if someone adds a comment to something originally posted in 2010, there it is at the top of your feed. Second, it’s still filtered for things you’re likely to interact with!

Why is this the case? Revenue. If a brand (or even a person) wants to ensure they show up in their feed, they can just pay to have it bumped. There’s an excellent explanation of this on YouTube.

But the good news is it can be fixed, at least until the folks at Facebook determine that too many of us are using it and find a rationale for turning it off: Interest Lists. This is how you set it up:

Facebook InterestsOn the left hand side of the web interface you’ll see a little-noticed heading for “Interests”. click on “Add Interests”.

This will take you to a page that lists a number of preset interests. But up in the upper right of the centre column, there’s a “Create list” button:

Create list button

Click on everything you want to actually see. Each selected page will be highlighted with a box and a check mark. Tip: this is a great time to not select all those pages that you have no interest in but felt compelled to like because a friend sent you an invite; they’ll never know.

Pages selection in interest list

Do the same with the Following and Friends lists, then press Next. There’s no way to do a select all, so this can take some time. This gives you the save panel. Give your list a name, set the visibility to “only me” (unless you want to see which friends/pages you ignored; probably not a good thing).

Interests save panel

Now your new list shows up in the “Interests” section. Click on it, and voila! You now have a Facebook that reflects your interests, not the posts that make them the most money.

Props to my long time friend Mark Leenders for discovering this technique!

Are LinkedIn Endorsements Useless?

Are LinkedIn Endorsements Useless?

One has to give linkedin-pen_flickr_sheilascarborough_180x180LinkedIn credit for trying to be more than just a network of vague business connections. They have a difficult challenge: Investors and advertisers value them more on membership numbers than on the quality of the connections in the network, yet the quality of the network is the primary value for those members. (more…)

Wine Writers Behaving Badly, the Natalie MacLean Story

Let me start this with full disclosure. Although I am not a member of the wine writing community, I have close ties to it. I have a business relationship with two of the writers who have complained about theft of their content, and I know several more personally. Additionally I have business and personal relationships with several small wineries and winemakers.

I’m also a wanna-be writer, although not in the field of wine journalism, or more accurately in the field of writing about wine. I say that because calling some of this “journalism” would be an insult to the word, even the watered-down definition that has emerged in the Internet age.

Natalie MacLean stands accused of appropriating wine reviews from other writers, reproducing excerpts without permission or acknowledgement. The details can be found on this article from Palate Press. Interestingly, another set of allegations emerges in the comments, but that’s for others to pursue. (more…)

Six Degrees of Redirection

This is a story of feature creep. We started with an idea that was truly useful: link shortening services. These services allowed people to take bloated SEO-laden links (like the ones on this blog) and reduce them to compact links under 20 characters. Perfect for pasting into an e-mail, even better for a length-limited Tweet.

But link shortening isn’t rocket science, and I’m guessing even the US Patent and Trademark Office thought the idea too obvious for a patent (I mention this only because that in itself is an anomalous achievement, but I won’t digress into another patent rant here). So competitors emerged pretty quickly. How do you distinguish yourself in the link shortening business? Simple, add statistics! (BTW “statistics” is the plain old boring word for “analytics”, which is a made-up crapword designed to fool marketers into thinking they’re not doing math).

Then after statistics, some brain cell thought up the idea of loading the target window in a frame, adding a “value-added” toolbar. Not that the value add was provided to the user, who got to lose a little screen space and not see the actual target URL, but for the person providing the link, who presumably could track minutiae like how long you spent on some page.

Next, services hopped onto the bandwagon. Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed aggregators and others all started adding a link-shortening, information gathering layer to any links posted on their sites.

So now we have a link on Twitter that goes to a short link generated by the author of the tweet. The author of the tweet has copied a link found on Facebook, which then redirects to a short link to a blog aggregation that goes to the bloggers short link that then goes to the post.

Six degrees of redirection. Each one making the web more brittle, more subject to the loss of an intermediary, less permanent, less connected. Every time one of these services goes out of business, hundreds of useful connections between content will get lost forever. None of this is good.