Monthly Archives: December 2009

(I Don’t Care About) Facebook and Privacy

I’m puzzling over the recent brouhaha regarding Facebook’s changes to their privacy policy. To be clear: I’m not puzzling over the changes (though they are confusing to the user who just wants to use the service instead of thinking about its internal minutia) – I’m puzzling over the concern about them.

computer-privacy.jpg Blogs are 100% public. Twitter is 100% public. Posting on newsgroups and forums is 100% public. The web in general is a public space. I’m wondering WHY there are such dramatically different expectations on Facebook than everywhere else. Fine-grained control over exactly who gets to see exactly what? All of this comes down to a single problem: Millions of people apparently want to have a web presence and yet be private at the same time. Everywhere else online, it’s one or the other.

For me, it’s simple: If what you have to say shouldn’t be said to the whole world, then don’t say it online. In other words, the basic assumption is wrong to begin with. Facebook is trying to give you the sense that you can post online and control your privacy at the same time. It doesn’t work.

Actually, this problem isn’t limited to the web. When you walk down the street, you’re on public display. You don’t pick your nose in public because… well, you just don’t. You don’t need to be told that that’s something you do in private. If you have something private to say to someone, you whisper in their ear, or you call them. Or you email them. Don’t post it where others can see it.

The idea that I should be able to play online but not have to worry that my thoughts are completely public just seems… unrealistic. How many stories have you read about people being fired or worse over comments they’ve made on Facebook? Did their privacy settings protect them? No – things get out. The problem is not Facebook’s new privacy settings, but an epidemic of oversharing. It’s a problem that should be solved the same way we solve it in the real world – by being discrete – not by adding more dials and levers to our interactions.

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Then there’s the question of reach. In general, people want to be heard. They pay close attention to the number of Facebook Friends or Twitter followers they currently have. Bloggers watch their traffic logs obsessively. Why? Because they want their thoughts to be heard as widely as possible. Guess what gives your thoughts the widest possible reach? Completely open platforms with no concept of privacy, like Twitter, blogs, and forums. In those spaces, it’s up to the user not to broadcast things they don’t want the whole world to see.

I’m personally glad that Facebook is gradually nudging users to share more content publicly, putting the brakes on this expectation that people can post online but not be public. When was the last time a Facebook post showed up in your Google search results? OK granted, I wouldn’t want most Facebook posts polluting my search results (there’s a whole lot of noise out there), but there’s also a lot of great content locked away behind the “privacy” firewall that really should be part of the public web — which is built on concepts of openness and transparency.

The fact that only people who “friend” me can see my content on Facebook is an annoyance to me, not a feature I cherish and wring my hands over. My dream “privacy” preference for Facebook would be a simple checkbox option reading “I acknowledge that I’m writing stuff on the web. Treat my content as such.”

Update 01/04: In an interview in front of a live audience, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says if he were starting all over again, he’d make everyone’s information public. Because that is the “social norm.”

Please Remember Victor Jara

For Stuck Between Stations, Roger Moore has an excellent new post:
Please Remember Victor Jara, “the Chilean singer-songwriter and pioneer of the nueva cancion movement, who was tortured and murdered with many others following Pinochet’s CIA-supported 1973 military coup on September 11, 1973.” Jara’s name is little-known in the U.S., but he was canonized in the Clash’s track “Washington Bullets,” when Strummer intoned “Please remember Victor Jara, in the Santiago stadium.”

Silver Balls

Accidental team effort: A while ago, we ordered a set of super-magnetic BuckyBalls from ThinkGeek. Miles soon discovered he could stick them to the nails in our wooden floor, and stack them up in delicate little towers. Amy, with her amazing eye for detail, saw something beautiful in the scene and started taking pictures – close up, and with a very short depth of field. She accidentally left the camera’s light temperature sensor set to Tungsten, which caused this gorgeous bluish cast.

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Remembering that ThinkGeek has a section attached to each product in their catalog for “Customer Action Shots,” I submitted the image alongside their BuckyBalls product entry. Next day, amazed to discover we had won this month’s user submission prize!

I’m totally in love with Amy’s shot — and with Amy. And with Miles.

Happy New Year everyone. Love to all.

Five Teenagers

J-School students have been doing amazing work this semester on a trio of hyperlocal news sites: Mission Loc@l, Richmond Confidential, and Oakland North. I’m particularly moved by their multimedia feature piece, Five Teenagers, which takes a look at “Teens On Target or TNT, an after-school program based at East Oakland’s Castlemont High School. TNT trains students to teach violence prevention in the city’s middle schools.”

The video above is excerpted from the piece, but be sure to visit and check out the whole package, which interviews five teens, breaks down some chilling numbers, and provides an embedded map of regional homicides thanks to Oakland Crimespotting.

I was also impressed by the lack of Flash in this piece – everything is done with JQuery. Multimedia journalism and Flash go hand-in-hand (just surf through the projects listed at Interactive Narratives and count how many are done in Flash vs. standard methods). But slowly, multimedia journalists are beginning to realize that the downsides of Flash that we web standards geeks rant about are real, not just theoretical. At the same time, the quality, reliability, and ease-of-use of Javascript libraries like JQuery really are making it possible for non-programmers to put packages like this together.

Great work, guys!

iTunes Remote Control

bragg.jpg Scenario: Music collection on an iMac in the office on one end of the house, pumping music over Airport Express to stereo in the living room on the other. Need to be able to remotely navigate collection and control playback from a laptop in the living room.

Seemingly perfect solution: iTunes Remote app for iPhone, connecting to the office Mac via wi-fi. Close, but not quite. At first, iTunes Remote app seems like the perfect remote control, complete with album covers. But a real remote you can pick up and operate on a moment’s notice, no strings attached. The iTunes Remote app, on the other hand, takes around 10 seconds to re-connect to the remote library every time you want to use it. You wouldn’t accept that kind of delay from any other remote control, so iTunes Remote gets annoying fast.

Alternative 1: Enable iTunes Sharing on the office Mac, then launch a copy of iTunes on the living room laptop and access the shared library. Configure iTunes to send music from the laptop directly to the AEX. Problem solved? Not quite. I rely heavily on the ability to rate tracks as they roll through. 1 or 2 stars for the tracks I can live without, then periodically cull duds from the collection based on ratings. Tracks with 4 or 5 stars form the basis for my best playlists. Unfortunately, when connecting to a remote library in this way, you have read-only access, and no way to rate tracks on the remote box. Bzzzzzt, deal-breaker.

Remote_iTunes_Logo_1.jpg Alternative 2: Third-party software. There are a few shareware packages available in this niche, but the only one I found that worked reliably was Jonathan Beebe’s open source Remote iTunes. The interface is a stripped down clone of iTunes itself, but its remoting ability includes something iTunes does not – the ability to authenticate as an admin user. Enter the IP of the office Mac, a username and pass, and give it a few seconds to pull across the music library index. Once connected, it stays connected, and you get the ability to rate tunes on the remote system. It’s not perfect, but close enough for jazz.

I’d love for iTunes itself to grow this ability so I’d have access to all iTunes features. Alternatively, I’d kill (not literally) for a desktop version of the iPhone Remote app. But Remote iTunes gets the job done with less pain than anything else I’ve tried.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Recently at Stuck Between Stations:

Roger: Reasons To Be Cheerful

… on how a new biography and forthcoming film may signal an Ian Dury renaissance.

As the missing link between Benny Hill and Bertrand Russell, Dury had ingenious ways to find the sublime in the ridiculous. His backing band, the Blockheads, stayed tight and funky in an era better known for its sloppy chaos.

Scot: Auto-Tune This!

… finally learning what the mysterious term “auto-tune” means, just as the meme heads for the dustbin.

Scot: So Messed Up, I Want You Here

Would Iggy Pop approve of this modeling school for girls rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog?”

Roger: Blues for Dracula: An Impromptu Halloween Playlist

If you’re George Clinton, every day has been Halloween for the last 68 years.