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September 7, 2010

My Last Paperback?

A couple of years ago, my brother bought me a first generation Kindle for my birthday. At first I used it quite a bit, but then in 2009 I started reading a series of books I knew I’d want to highlight the heck out of and physically share with others (Here Comes Everybody, Community, Groundswell, What Would Google Do, You Are Not a Gadget, Switch, etc.), so I switched to print reading.

It wasn’t as conscious a decision as that summary makes it sound. Both of us in the house wanted to read them, so buying for the Kindle just wasn’t practical. All of a sudden, months had gone by and I realized I hadn’t used the device in quite a while, so I pulled it back out. I was also feeling a pull to go back to using it because of Will Richardson’s post about kindle.amazon.com, explaining how I’d finally be able to get my highlighted text out of an ebook.

One thing that post made me realize is how print has become a barrier to my blogging about books I’m reading because I don’t have time to transcribe the passages I’d want to refer to in my writing. And like others, I was worried that buying a book in Kindle format meant I’d lose it if I ever stopped using that particular device. Luckily, though, Amazon finally figured out it needed to make its books software-based instead of hardware-dependent, so I feel like this is less of an issue now that Kindle books live on multiple platforms.

my highlighted text from "Hamlet's Blackberry"
I have 347 highlights from “Hamlet’s Blackberry” that have automatically been transcribed for me!

 

(Side note to publishers and bookstores: you still need to move to a universal format. This doesn’t let you off the hook for working this out.)

This left one major barrier to a complete conversion to ebooks, one I thought I was still struggling with – the sharing. But when I read Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus and realized I’d have to manually type all of those interesting quotes… well, that’s when my personal practicality started to tip the scale away from print towards electronic. In fact, my desire to share those passages widely has actually trumped my traditional love of sharing physical books locally.

This revelation astounded me. I knew my desire to share content was the prime driver of the format I was choosing, but I didn’t realize how quickly it was shifting in the opposite direction. I now want to share one-to-many, not one-to-one, and I just don’t have the time or resources to transcribe everything I want to share. It makes me sad to look at that long list of print books I’ve read over the past year that I likely won’t share here because I can’t copy and paste.

Around this same time, I realized I wanted to take a fiction break, and I knew exactly what I wanted to read – Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End – a book Eli Neiburger had recommended to me as the most realistic picture of libraries and information in the future (boy was he right, but that’s a discussion for another post). I’ve wanted to read it for quite a while, but I’ve been trying to move my fiction reading to ebooks, and this particular title isn’t available electronically.

I really needed that fiction break, though, so I broke down and bought the paperback. I get in most of my reading on the train to and from work, and while hardcovers aren’t exactly a convenient format, this paperback was even less so. It’s obviously been a while since I’ve read a paperback, because I found myself thinking the format was awkward and annoying. If it had been a different story, I might have even given up on it, but it made me realize this was likely my last such purchase. I might still buy a print book here and there for the pictures or for the trophy shelf, but I’m not sure what would make me buy a mass market paperback again. (Apparently I’m not alone in this opinion.)

So I’m back to using my Kindle, remembering what I loved so much about it at the beginning, to the point where I’ve even ordered a new third generation version because I love the focused nature of a dedicated ebook reader. That may change in the future, but for now I’m definitely a specialist, enjoying how the device lets me focus on reading without distractions. (That first generation Kindle can’t ever leave the family, because Cory Doctorow was kind enough to sign it two years ago, so I’ll be keeping it for pretty much ever.)

However, I’m also recognizing new benefits I hadn’t picked up on before. I’ve had a couple of serious bouts of insomnia in my life, which I finally cured by reading like crazy until I fell asleep. The unfortunate side effect of this solution was that I trained myself to fall asleep when reading books. The rhythm of the train doesn’t help either, and by the end of the week I’m so tired that I usually drift off on the train ride home, regardless of how much I enjoy the book itself.

Interestingly, though, I don’t fall asleep on the train quite as often with the Kindle, although it does still happen. Apparently a book is a print book is an ebook to my brain, but electronic ink seems to keep me awake a tiny bit better (but not too awake to be a problem at night). I just finished reading Hamlet’s Blackberry, and I found that I read more of it at a time because I stayed awake. I’m also reading faster on the Kindle than I was in print, which I don’t remember noticing before. Finally, I tend to highlight more, knowing that it will all be searchable in the end.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but I think I’ve finally crossed over to the ebook side. I’ll have to go to bookstores and the library just to touch new books for old time’s sake. Only time will tell if there’s a “feature” of print books that can draw me back. My reasons for converting are definitely an edge case, and I haven’t been a heavy user of print resources in libraries in quite some time, but I can’t help but wonder how this type of shift will affect libraries. I see more and more ereaders on my commute every day.


August 13, 2010

It’s, Like, So Confusing

Following up on last week’s post about how Facebook is changing the meaning of “like” online, I’ve been noticing more disconcerting behavior on Target’s Facebook page.

Until yesterday, Target hadn’t posted anything to its wall since July 26th. It wasn’t clear if they were building a strategy internally, but the new post makes it obvious that they’ve decided to ride out the storm by ignoring it and letting their customers duke it out on their wall. The new post links to specials for college students and makes absolutely no reference to the controversy. As of this morning, there are 303 comments on that post and 367 people “like” it.

Target clearly isn’t going to mention the issues, respond, or engage in a conversation on Facebook. Interesting strategy, and we’ll see how it plays out. But as I’m watching this case study develop, some themes are emerging and raising some problematic flags.

As one might expect after what seems like an eternity online, the commenters are no longer mostly people upset with Target’s actions. And predictably, as seems to happen with so many discussions about politics and homosexuality, the discussion is devolving pretty quickly. Some users are flagging each other for bad behavior, just because they disagree with the person’s opinions. Some are insulting other commenters, and the whole wall is becoming a referendum on a political issue. I haven’t read every comment, but I’m confident Godwin’s Law is proven there somewhere.

None of this is new behavior to be sure, but has this happened before on such a mainstream company’s page, especially while the company itself is ignoring it? The fact that it’s Target makes for some interesting issues.

For example, if you read a sample of the comments closely, you’ll find a potentially worrisome information literacy problem. If you go back to the beginning of the comments thread on the August 12 post, there are some users whose entire comment consists of, “If you don’t like Target, why do you ‘like’ this page?” or “If you don’t like Target, why did you become a fan of them?”

It’s unclear to me whether these folks realize that users have to like the page in order to comment or if they’re just being snarky about it. Even though these folks had to “like” the page themselves in order to leave their own questioning comments, I’m leaning towards believing that they truly don’t realize that “like” now means “comments enabled.” As David Lee King said on my previous post, “it looks like the ‘Like’ but­ton is really an entrance fee/ticket, or the ‘door’ to the event….” But there’s a large group of people out there that don’t realize that “like” now has subtext and is loaded with new meanings and requirements. I worry that they truly don’t understand that the boycotters have no choice but to “like” Target if they want to participate in the discussion.

"Why are you guys even a fan?"

Other commenters honestly can’t seem to understand why someone who is upset with Target would be posting on the company’s wall in the first place. It seems that there’s still a disconnect between “a company’s web presence” and an interactive, community.” Heck, this is true even for Target, which continues to ignore the community and treat its page as a one-way announcement channel. A lot of folks participating in this thread haven’t made the mental leap from “Just Target” to “Target + Others” as a new norm, even though they’re able to scratch their heads in the comments themselves.

"I just wanted to 'Like' a Target page...."

Close reading of the threads also makes it clear that quite a few Target fans didn’t know anything about the controversy until they visited the Facebook page and saw the comments. This further confirms the ongoing switch from a small number of “official,” mainstream news sources to personal news streams on social networking sites. More and more people are getting their news online from their networks, not from newscasters. (Incidentally, if you need to make a case for why your library should be on Facebook, this is a pretty good reason – in order to be part of your users news stream.)

"What did Target do?"

Overall, there’s a lot going on here, and I encourage you to keep tabs on Target’s page to see how it plays out. It can be difficult to dip into the emerging incivility and disrespect, but it’s educational, especially for any organization that has a Facebook presence. These types of cases are illustrating how the shift from us going out to find information to it coming to us, filtered through our networks, will have an impact on organizations. They also expose a whole host of other issues, from information literacy gaps to privacy concerns. For example, I was going to erase the names of the commenters in the screenshots, but technically it’s all public information, so why hide it? Do the people leaving rants and invectives on the Target post/wall truly understand that those comments are completely public?

On Facebook, 831 people “like” confusion, but I’m not sure anyone really likes it in the Target context.


12:35 pm Comments (2)

August 3, 2010

When Like Doesn’t Mean Like

Subtitle: Or, Using Like to Target Target

If you’re watching the Target Facebook page right now, you’re seeing another social media disaster on par with Nestle’s debacle back in March. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, but it’s another great case study for us about what not to do online.

Hint: don’t set your page to show only your posts first and then abandon it when controversy arises. If you’re not familiar with the current controversy, you can go here to read about Target’s donation to a homophobic gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. Be sure to click on “just others” on Target’s wall to see the angry, former customers and pornographic spam.

When Like Doesn't Mean Like

I’m sure they’ve spent the last few days bringing in consultants to come up with a strategy for how to deal with this, but it’s surprising that someone hasn’t already said, “We need to at least post *something* on our Facebook page and acknowledge what’s happening.” So far, Target doesn’t seem to be learning from others’ past mistakes, so don’t fall into the same trap if this ever happens to you.

I think that’s the biggest, immediate takeaway for libraries and nonprofits (well, for everyone, really), but personally I’m more fascinated right now by how people have been forced to give the term “like” different meanings in different contexts because of the box Facebook has forced them into, which this situation illustrates so well.

We first saw this type of attempt to subvert the term “is” in Facebook’s early years. Long-time users remember when your status update automatically included the word “is” so you were forced to use adjectives, present progressive tense, or future tense. Nothing could happen in your past unless you were creative in your use of language, which some people went out of their way to be. Others just started ignoring the “is” and writing whatever they wanted. You might also remember the petition many of us “signed” asking Facebook to remove the “is.” It all seems so quaint now, but those two letters went from being a new way to describe ourselves to being too restrictive pretty quickly.

Now we’re running into another limit that the Facebook one-size-fits-all box forces on us – “like.” We’ve all seen, and maybe even written, “dislike” on a friend’s status update when they say they have a cold or something bad has happened. And yet we still go ahead and click on “like” in order to signify some type of solidarity, even though the term is wholly inaccurate. Sometimes we specifically go out of our way to add a comment “I don’t really ‘like’ this” or “liking even though I don’t like.” But we don’t really have any other options, do we?

When Like Doesn't Mean Like

And even though Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook might someday add a “dislike” button (which it won’t out of fear users’ “dislike” of companies will drive advertisers away), that wouldn’t really cover it, would it? My range of emotions doesn’t run the gamut from A to B, but instead includes a million shades of grey in between, just as I don’t always talk solely in the present progressive tense.

So when an issue like the Target controversy comes up and I want to leave a comment on Target’s wall saying I’m now boycotting them and why, I have to first “like” Target in order to leave that comment. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I can then add my thoughts and if I want to show support for other protesters, I can “like” their comments, which I do (some more than others), but “like” probably isn’t the word I would have chosen given my shades of grey.

The only satisfaction I can really get is when I leave my comment and then “unlike” Target, but *that* update doesn’t get posted to my wall – only the “like” does.

When Like Doesn't Mean Like
“I do not think that word means what you think it means”

I recently read Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget, which for the most part I loved. I wrote a little about Lanier’s take on the future of authorship, but it also made me think about the way websites force our lifesize selves into one-size-fits-all templates. (Sorry I can’t quote a relevant piece, but I’ve lent my copy out, so I don’t have it handy – a blog post for another day.) At least software like WordPress lets bloggers choose from a variety of templates and even edit them, but it made me glad that I’ve personalized my own site to be truly unique, just like me.

However, Facebook now has 500 million users, most of whom don’t have their own websites as a unique presence for themselves online. Instead, we have hundreds of millions of average users who all look the same and conform to Facebook’s interface constraints as their major representation on the web. If it wasn’t for the picture, it would be difficult to tell one John Doe FB profile from another in Google’s search results.

The lowest common denominator used to be a yellow page listing, but now it’s become Facebook’s profiles. At least a Facebook user can personalize the text in her profile, but we’re all stuck with “like.” That word is taking on a lot more responsibility since we have to figure out ways to use it to convey other meanings. How do we indicate when “like” means don’t like, favorite, bookmark, agree, disagree, support, bummer, share, read this later, funny, and more?

Facebook eventually wised up and removed the “is,” but how will it route around advertisers to provide the spectrum beyond “like?” It’s boxing itself, as well as us, into a corner, which I definitely don’t like.


June 7, 2010

My foursquare “Aha” Moment

You remember your first time, right? The moment you realized email was more than just cool? Or the web, or blogging, or Facebook, or cellphones, or or or – take your pick. There’s always that moment where you realize that this shiny, new thing actually has value for you, and that’s when you really buy into integrating it into your life.

I’ve been using foursquare for a while and having fun with it, but my “aha” moment finally came last month on a trip to Washington D.C. Foursquare (and services like it) use GPS built-in to your smartphone to locate you. They show you venues nearby and let you “check in” at a specific one. Foursquare treats this like a game, and if you check in often enough at a specific location (and more often than anyone else), you become “the mayor” until someone else has more check-ins there than you do. Foursquare also allows businesses to offer “specials” to those checking in, such as discounts or free items. Other services, like Gowalla, BrightKite, and Loopt, mostly just show you where your friends are, which can be handy if you end up near each other and don’t know it. In general, you can also broadcast your location on Twitter or Facebook, and sometime this year Facebook is supposed to implement its own location-based check-in service.

I'm currently the Mayor of ALA

Sure, it was fun when I was the original mayor of MPOW, and I got a glimpse of how useful a location-based service could be during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston in January, when I could see friends checked in at the convention center or a nearby restaurant. But let’s face it – it wasn’t difficult to become the first mayor of ALA, and you expect to see specific types of checkins at a conference. It’s really the unexpected moments that result in a “whoa” or “aha.”

I had two of those on the D.C. trip. The first happened when I checked in at the National Building Museum and foursquare showed me that “Fiesta Asia Street Fair” was a nearby trending place. This piqued my interest, so I looked it up on the web and found out it was actually the National Asian Heritage Festival, which was happening just a few blocks away on Pennsylvania Avenue. I changed my plans, headed down there, and found music, food, vendors, and more. I had a great time, and I wouldn’t even have known about the Festival if I hadn’t checked in on foursquare at the right time in the right-ish place.

I caught another glimpse of the power of information plus location when we went to dinner that night. I checked in at Rosa Mexicano and got a little popup with historical information about where we were courtesy of The History Channel. I’d read about THC’s campaign using foursquare, but surprisingly I only ran into two factoids twice while in D.C. This first one noted we were at the spot where Samuel Morse opened the world’s first telegraph office.

History Channel factoid that popped up during dinner

The second one popped up when I checked in at the National Portrait Gallery. Unfortunately, we’re still at a point where “location” can be a little geographically-challenged, so even though I was precise about where I was checking in, the factoid that displayed was for the nearby International Spy Museum. It was also worded in a way that implied the information was about the Portrait Gallery, which is unfortunate. It’s a good heads up that if you end up writing these kinds of descriptions for a local history tour or other orientation to your town, be sure to be explicit in naming places in the description.

History Channel factoid about the International Spy Museum

Still, it was pretty cool to have information displayed to me based on my location with very little effort on my part. And while I’m calling this my “foursquare moment,” it’s really my location-based services one. It could have happened on any of them, although foursquare seems to have the most critical mass (I very rarely have to enter a venue anymore) and the “trending places” feature has been unique for me so far.

That said, I’m very interested in Gowalla’s trips feature, which lets you create a tour or itinerary for friends. I’m very intrigued by this, and I believe it could be a great opportunity for libraries to offer local information, but Gowalla didn’t click for me on this trip the way foursquare did. I did dual checkins to both services, and while I think I picked up a couple of random “items” on Gowalla, I also had to enter a couple of venues myself, a sign that it doesn’t have the same adoption rate. I had hoped to find some good D.C. “trips” to consider following, but unfortunately the Gowalla app doesn’t show nearby trips, which sorely limits the utility of the service. Every time I checked nearby trips, I got the same list of national ones, even though the Washington Post recently created one specifically for D.C., as did National Geographic.

I expect to see a lot more use of both services during ALA’s Annual Conference in a few weeks. If you’re attending, make a note of the Gowalla trips ahead of time, because you won’t find them serendipitously via the app. If you’re using foursquare, help us make the conference hotspots trending places. And if you have a smartphone and aren’t using either of these services, you might want to give them a try onsite to see if you have your own aha moment.


April 30, 2010

Broken Boxes

This has been one of those weeks in which everything I’m reading seems related and is clicking for me. It’s got my mind churning, and I’m still not sure what to think of it all.

The first is from Will Richardson and is titled The End of Books (At Least, For Me?), a provocative statement to be sure. Don’t panic – it’s not really about the end of books, just print books for his own use.

“Turns out my iPad Kindle app syncs up all of my highlights and notes to my Amazon account. Who knew? When I finally got to the page Ted pointed me to in my own account, the page that listed every highlight and every note that I had taken on my Kindle version of John Seely Brown’s new book Pull, I could only think two words:

Game. Changer.

All of a sudden, by reading the book electronically as opposed to in print, I now have:

  • all of the most relevant, thought-provoking passages from the book listed on one web page, as in my own condensed version of just the best pieces
  • all of my notes and reflections attached to those individual notes
  • the ability to copy and paste all of those notes and highlights into Evernote which makes them searchable, editable, organizable, connectable and remixable
  • the ability to access my book notes and highlights from anywhere I have an Internet connection.

Game. Changer.

I keep thinking, what if I had every note and highlight that I had ever taken in a paper book available to search through, to connect with other similar ideas from other books, to synthesize electronically?…”

Honestly, I didn’t know about this, either, and I’m now seriously considering going back to reading nonfiction on my Kindle, something I had stopped doing when I couldn’t get at my highlights and free them. As far as I was concerned, they were bricked text. But I logged in at http://kindle.amazon.com and sure enough, there were the highlights from the three nonfiction books I’d read on my Kindle.

On the one hand, this is incredibly appealing, to have all of the excerpts I’ve highlighted as interesting to me accessible, searchable, and remixable. Really appealing, and the fact that I can now get text out of Kindle books makes it a platform I may be more willing to deal with again, although the inability to share a book with a friend is still causing some hesitation.

As I began contemplating this, I read Steven Johnson’s recent post, The Glass Box and Commonplace Book. It really resonated with me on a number of levels. First, Johnson revives the idea of the “commonplace book.”

“Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, ‘commonplacing,’ as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing.”

He then goes on to talk about a major problem with the iPad, the way it locks down text (including public domain works) in a way that prevents users from creating their own commonplace books.

“[when you try to copy a paragraph of text] …you get the familiar iPhone-style clipping handles, and you get two options ‘Highlight’ and’“Bookmark.’ But you can’t actually copy the text, to paste it into your own private commonplace book, or email it to a friend, or blog about it. And of course there’s no way to link to it. What’s worse: the book in question is Penguin’s edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is in the public domain. Those are our words on that screen. We have a right to them.”

Johnson then goes on to describe (in a much more articulate way than I’ve been able to) what bothers me so much about the iPhone and iPad.

“We can try to put a protective layer of glass of the words, or we can embrace the idea that we are all better off when words are allowed to network with each other. What’s the point of going to all this trouble to build machines capable of displaying digital text if we can’t exploit the basic interactivity of that text?… Yes, the iPad makes it easier to carry around a dozen books and magazines, but that’s not the only promise of the technology. The promise also lies in doing things with the words, forging new links of association, remixing them. We have all the tools at our disposal to create commonplace books that would astound Locke and Jefferson. And yet we are, deliberately, trying to crawl back into the glass box.

…When your digital news feed doesn’t contain links, when it cannot be linked to, when it can’t be indexed, when you can’t copy a paragraph and paste it into another application: when this happens your news feed is not flawed or backwards looking or frustrating. It is broken.

The force that enables these unlikely encounters between people of different persuasions, the force that makes the web a space of serendipity and discovery, is precisely the open, combinatorial, connective nature of the medium. So when we choose to take our text out of that medium, when we keep our words from being copied, linked, indexed, that’s a choice with real civic consequences that are not to be taken lightly.”

And that’s a huge dealbreaker for me. Make no mistake – apps are just software. I’m lucky enough to have the entire internet at my fingertips, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy an interface to it for which one company controls what software I can use to access the great, big, beautiful web (in this case, Apple, but there are other products with this same problem). I don’t take that lightly at all, especially when I read things like David Lankes’ brilliant take on what networked text could be like. Of course, your mileage may vary, and you may not have the problem with these closed systems that I do (and it’s not just with Apple), but that’s my personal value. Johnson would fully support Will Richardson’s right to create his commonplace book, as do I.

While synthesizing my reactions to both of these posts, I started reading Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget. I’m only a few chapters into it, but it’s already extending how I think about Facebook (a subject for another post) and the iPhone/iPad.

One of Lanier’s concerns is how decisions made in the design of our digital tools lock us in to behaviors that reduce – and even remove – our humanity. For the ebook context, an alternative title for his book could have been “You Are Not an App.” It’s really tough to quote excerpts from the book without losing a lot of context and his supporting arguments, but the following excerpts are a glimpse.

“We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence. (p.5)

Lock-in makes us forget the lost freedoms we had in the digital past. That can make it harder to see the freedoms we have in the digital present. Fortunately, difficult as it is, we can still try to change some expressions of philosophy that are on the verge of becoming locked in place in the tools we use to understand one another and the world.” (p.14)

Lanier takes an opposite approach to where Richardson is headed. Will is going to end up with Johnson’s commonplace book in digital form, and that’s extremely appealing to him. I totally understand why, and it’s great if that works well for him. However, it’s interesting to read how Lanier worries about this kind of future and the impact it will have on all of us and our very humanity. What might we lose in the process of digitizing every book and making the content available as unanchored bytes?

“If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mashups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will be only one book. (p.46)”

It’s not an argument for a closed system, just better and more thoughtful options, interactions, delineation of authorship, etc., and I can’t disagree with that. What will the civic consequences be of Richardson’s commonplace book (or mine, if I go down that path)? Can text be too networked? Are there any clues to this in how we currently use our full text databases, where we’ve already digitized every bit and made it remixable?

Overall, I don’t agree with 100% of anything any of these gentleman have written (although I come pretty close with Johnson). They’ve all contributed to a very thought-provoking week for me and I really appreciate that. I’m still trying to work through a lot of this in my own mind, and other than the fact that I’m against devices that lock me in to their vision of the internet, I’m still not sure where I really come down in this whole thing.

And what’s the significance for libraries? I’m not sure how much Will Richardson uses libraries now, but what does it mean when he can network the text from his Kindle but his library can’t circulate any content to it? That’s also a design decision (made by publishers) with very specific civic consequences.

Johnson ends his post by calling on journalists, educators, publishers, and software developers to fight for common places (not glass boxes) and connections. What responsibilities do libraries have to prevent the civic consequences he describes? In the pages I’ve read so far, Lanier encourages developers to think carefully about the behaviors their products lock people into – does that include libraries? How can we help maintain commonplace books in a world of digital text while still maintaining the edges of authorship? Do we as librarians really want to promote the iPad’s lock-in, especially if we’re not explaining those civic consequences to the next generation of readers and content generators?

At this point, I have a lot more questions than answers.


April 24, 2010

How to Use Facebook and Still Be Completely Private

I’m one of the many people who doesn’t like some of the recent changes to Facebook’s default privacy settings, and I agree completely with Anil Dash that if those defaults aren’t good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, then maybe they should be changed.

However, I think I’ve discovered a way to participate on Facebook with my friends and still be completely hidden from the web, even more so than in the past, but I need your help to figure out what’s going on.

my public Facebook profile has disappeared

A couple of days ago, by pure chance I noticed that the public version of my Facebook profile had disappeared from Google’s search results completely. If you’d searched for me in the past, you would have gotten a link to my public profile, which displayed my name, picture, friends list, some groups I belong to, and (I think) some pages I’ve fanned.

After this week’s changes to Facebook’s defaults, however, that profile no longer comes up at all in a search on Google or Bing. In fact, if you’re not logged in to Facebook and you click on a link to my profile with my personal URL (which I assure you does still exist), you’ll get a “page not found” error.

I’ve confirmed this with others, even people who I’m friends with on Facebook. If you’re logged out, there’s no way to get to my profile. My theory is that one of two things is causing this to happen.

  1. I’ve always been wary of providing Facebook with too much information, so I never filled out any interests.
  2. A couple of days ago, I went to Facebook to read my feed and got a popup window asking me to link my profile to one of the pages for my high school, college, graduate school, and my city network. I didn’t want to do that, so I clicked on the “ask me later” button, which should mean I’m not part of any networks right now.

I’m sure Facebook thinks it’s punishing me for not participating in its new advertising system, but this is a pretty sweet spot for me to be in because my Facebook account is one of the very few that I truly keep private and where I’m only adding “friends” now (as opposed to anyone who friends me). I get to participate with my friends the way I always have and don’t have to deal with all of the new “like” crud and privacy issues. And I think any true friends can still find me, as I believe that anyone logged in to Facebook can still find my profile. In fact, I think I’m still showing up on other peoples’ “recommendations” sidebar, because I’m still getting friend requests from people I don’t really know.

This is great, and I’m very happy with this setup, inadvertent as I think Facebook meant it to be. I’m also not willing to change it to test what’s causing it, so this is where I need your help. I don’t want to add any interests or link my profile to a network in order to find out if that changes anything, because I may not be able to undo the change. So I’m asking for your help in answering the following questions so that we can all figure out what’s going on. Hopefully those of us who want to be private on Facebook can truly do that now. It would also be helpful to have this information so that we know if/when Facebook figures this out and changes it.

Please leave answers in the comments, and thanks for your help!

  1. If you’re logged out of Facebook, can you see my profile? http://facebook.com/shifted
  2. If you’re logged in to Facebook, can you see my profile?
  3. If you’re not friends with me in Facebook and you can see my profile, what do you see? Please be specific in listing which pieces (eg, name, picture, groups, etc.)
  4. Does your public profile display in search results?
  5. If your public profile displays, either when others click on it or in search results, do you have interests listed in your profile?
  6. Can you completely remove your interests from your profile?
  7. Have you seen the popup window asking you to link your profile to specific pages/networks?
  8. If your public profile displays, is your profile linked to any of these pages/networks?
  9. Can you remove your profile from being linked to any of these pages/networks?
  10. If you go through these steps of removing interests and links to pages/networks, does that remove your public profile altogether, the way it did mine?
  11. I’ve also unchecked the box to allow personalization in my privacy settings. If your public profile isn’t displaying, have you done that?

Addendum: I think Polly found the actual answer (noted in the comments below). There’s a setting in the privacy –> search settings that may finally remove your profile completely from public view.

"public search" setting in Facebook

Make sure you uncheck the “allow” box, and if you want even more privacy, change the “Facebook search results” setting to “friends only.” I should also note that I know for a fact this setting either wasn’t there or wasn’t working properly last month, as I had a debate with someone about privacy and looked at my public profile while not logged in, so something definitely changed recently to allow for this level of privacy. What I’m unsure of now is whether that “allow” box is checked by default or not (question #12?). I have to say that if that box is not checked by default, I’m pretty impressed with Facebook’s new stance.

And as Phil noted in his comment, make sure you change the pri­vacy –> pro­file infor­ma­tion set­tings to man­age what your friends can share about you. That’s a really impor­tant one.

The big deal: It looks like Facebook has indeed changed its stance on privacy and has defaulted the “allow” in the search settings to opt-in, rather than opt-out. I think this is new, and it’s very welcome in my opinion, especially since you can further narrow the “Facebook search results” setting. Has anyone seen that “allow” box checked by default?

If this is true, profiles have disappeared from Google, right? Is this a preemptive move on Facebook’s part to take over people search from Google? I don’t know, but it seems like something has changed.


12:28 pm Comments (24)

March 30, 2010

Living in My Cloud

This weekend, I did something really cool (for me). I got to watch a March Madness game on my TV that CBS wasn’t showing in my local market on my TV, without paying the cable company. Life is full of short victories, and this is one of mine. More importantly, I realized I’m living in the heavenly jukebox I used to talk about in my presentations years ago.

I’ve been actively building my cloud for the last six months, but I’ve been building towards this for the last ten years. The caveat is that the way I’ve built this setup works for me, and one-size definitely doesn’t fit all. I’m lucky to have the resources to build my cloud, and I know most people won’t go to these lengths to get more media. It should all be easier and work better than it does in 2010, but there’s no one really great solution yet (that I know of).

Why a cloud?

It started last August when I decided it was time to investigate a centralized backup solution, a way to listen to our music collection from anywhere, and the ability to listen to different music in different rooms of the house. In my ideal world, I also wanted similar access for video, a way to easily watch internet video (eg, YouTube, Hulu) on my TV, and the ability to stream Netflix to my TV. The offsite storage is important to me (I used to backup to Mozy, but I also want to own my data, and the idea of replicating sensitive documents on servers owned by companies focused on the bottom line (Dropbox, Microsoft Live, etc.) wasn’t very appealing to me.

I did a lot of research and couldn’t find anything that let me do everything, but Windows Home Server software came close, so I purchased an HP Mediasmart EX485 server. As the name implies, the Mediasmart series is designed to give consumers access to their media from anywhere. It comes with Windows Home Server software pre-installed and out of the box, it’s supposed to do the following things:

  • Backup all of the computers on your network automatically on a schedule you set. This includes differential backups and restores.
  • Periodically grab media from all of those computers and copy it to the server.
  • Maintain your router and DNS settings so that your server is accessible from outside of your network.
  • Give you access to all of your documents, files, music, and video from anywhere.

I say “supposedly,” because I’ve never been able to get the media collector to work consistently, and the interface to the music collection is under-described by the term “sucks.” I had to rip most of my CDs for the first time at a higher bitrate, so I just ended up copying files to the server manually in big chunks. I’m also the main person in the house who purchases music, so I can maintain that routine pretty easily.

My Jukebox in the Cloud (so named by Deanna)

The interface problems and lack of functionality were bigger issues, though. For example, there’s no way to get details about songs, rate them, or create playlists, all of which is pretty unforgivable in a product designed specifically for consumers. After further research, I installed Orb, which is some pretty cool, free software that does a big piece of what Windows Home Server does. It gives you remote access to files, music, pictures, and video on the computer where it’s installed, plus you can manage internet radio stations, favorite songs, rate songs, create playlists, and create a dashboard view. Did I mention it’s free? If you have a computer you always leave on, you can emulate some of my setup for free using this software.


My music library in Orb

Where Windows Home Server beats Orb is in its ability to update port forwarding on the router automatically, backup all of the computers on your network, and offer a RAID solution for that storage. I have 400GB+ of files, music, pictures, and video on one 750GB drive, but I was able to drop in a second drive, and the software automatically started mirroring files to it for redundancy. That part was pretty amazing, and I can access all of those files remotely, whether that means at work or in different rooms in the house. Pretty sweet.

Connecting the server to the home system

That was all well and good, but I also wanted to play music without having to queue it up on a laptop first, which meant we needed a way to get the server content to play through the home theater system. Plus, we wanted to start streaming Netflix videos to watch on the TV, as opposed to our computers. I again started doing research, which led me to the discovery that the Xbox 360 that was just sitting on the shelf (we play more Wii than Xbox) was actually a solution waiting for us to recognize it.

Because the server and Xbox are both Microsoft products, they talk to each other pretty easily. This opened up a whole new world for us, because now we could show any picture and play any music or video from the server on the big HDTV and the sound through the audio receiver and 5.1 surround-sound system without the need for a computer in between. In addition, the Xbox gives us that desired access to Netflix, Pandora, and even Last.FM through the existing system. I can also create my playlists in Orb via a web browser and play them through the Xbox. More sweetness.


Watching “Battlestar Galactica” via Netflix’s streaming service through the Xbox on the HDTV

My biggest complaint about this setup is that the Xbox isn’t designed to be a media center, even though it has all of that functionality built into it. This means the interface isn’t very good here, either (no playlists, incomplete display of metadata, long lists to scroll through), but I didn’t have to buy any additional equipment, so that was a big plus. If Microsoft ever decides to spend time working on interfaces, it would have some killer products for the consumer market.

More video

This setup does almost everything on my original list, but I still wanted to be able to watch Hulu through the existing system, and I didn’t want to have to manually download YouTube videos to watch them on the TV. Looking around, I came across the amazing PlayOn software ($40), which was the final piece of our puzzle. By loading this software on the server, we gained the ability to watch Hulu, YouTube, and some custom PlayOn channels for The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and NCAA March Madness games on demand. Really sweet! This piece was a little bit more difficult, but it all works if you follow the instructions.


Picking an episode of “Modern Family” to watch from Hulu via PlayOn through the Xbox to the HDTV

Making it all easier to use

I then tied everything together with a hand-me-down Logitech Harmony remote to make it easy to manage all of the various pieces. The “watch TV” button turns on the TV to the right input, the audio receiver to the right input, and controls the cable box. The “watch a movie” button turns everything on with the right settings to watch a DVD, but pretty much everything else except the Wii runs through the “listen to music” button, because that’s what starts up the Xbox. This is especially helpful because without the universal remote, I’d probably be the only one in the house who’d be able to turn things on and off for different activities. Another big plus is that we can control the Xbox with easy-to-understand buttons, rather the game controller that came with the console. I can’t recommend a Logitech univeral remote highly enough.

Conclusion

For the most part, this is all working very well for us. We listen to our music a lot more, including at work, and sometimes the internet video piece really comes in handy (like during March Madness). We especially like streaming Netflix (which can also be done through the PlayOn software if you don’t have an Xbox). At this point, the biggest issue is that I still need a way to backup the server offsite, but I can’t find a reasonably priced service for this (most companies charge business-level prices because they haven’t yet recognized there’s a growing consumer market). Someone’s going to make a killing offering a consumer backup service for media, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. I’m looking at other workarounds right now, but I haven’t found an ideal solution. (Have you? Leave a comment!)

It’s been a long road to get to this point, but it’s exciting to have all of this geeky functionality working. In the future, I hope to get rid of a lot of paper by scanning it to the server, and I may investigate adding a TV tuner to record programs directly to the server and setting up printing over the internet to our home printer.

How you can do some of this

This is pretty geeky stuff, although most of the process was easier than I thought it would be. It’s also a Microsoft-centric approach, somewhat by accident. I still think Microsoft needs to do a better job with its interfaces before its home server/media center products could go mainstream. However, there are ways to do pieces of all of this easily, without Microsoft products, and sometimes even for free.

  • If you have a computer that you leave on all the time, you can stream music and video or access files from it for free by installing Orb. You can even hook up an external drive to that computer if you need more storage. (It works on Macs, too.)
  • If you have an old computer lying around or can pick one up cheap, you can purchase Windows Home Server for $99 and convert that machine into a home server. I only paid the $500 for the HP Mediasmart server for the convenience factor of having it pre-installed with the software and a 750GB hard drive. If I’d had more time, I might have built it myself.
  • You don’t need an Xbox to get content from the server to the TV/home theater system. Internet TVs and DVD players are on the market (everything will have access to the internet built-in eventually), and there’s middleware like the Roku. Because I was able to get the Xbox working in about 10 minutes, I didn’t investigate which of the other options might be best. Interestingly, TiVO is entering this market with its new TiVO Premiere box, but it’ll still require a monthly fee, which I wasn’t willing to pay. I don’t think it provides access to the user’s collection, although it does bring in all of that internet content.
  • There are also other ways to stream sites like Hulu and Netflix to your TV. You can install the PlayOn software on a regular computer (as opposed to a server) to watch those channels, but you’ll still need the middleware to get the stream to the TV. Of course, you can also just install PlayOn on a computer and watch the channels on that computer, or hook it up to a TV using an A/V cable. That’s what I used to do, but I wanted to be able to use my laptop while watching “TV.” Note that PlayOn will also work with a Nintendo Wii or Playstation 3.
  • Jason Griffey has written about using the Drobo system for backups. I probably would have gone this route if I didn’t also want the remote access to my media files. However, if you’re looking strictly for a backup solution or if you aren’t backup up your data, this is an excellent option.

What else have you tried? How are you building your cloud?


6:54 am Comments (6)

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