Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Facebook’ Category

Google joins battle for soul of the Internet with Google Plus

Google launched a limited beta of their new social networking service last week, and was quickly overwhelmed with traffic as eager alpha geeks rushed to find something, anything that would liberate them from Facebook.

Love it or hate it, Facebook has now become the Internet. It’s the most popular site in the world, a one-stop shop for personal messaging, public discussion, political activism and link swapping worldwide.

Google’s new service is called Google Plus, and if you followed Google’s previous attempts at social networking, I won’t blame you for being skeptical. Google Buzz was a disaster and Google Wave broke my heart. Google Plus is starting with a better design philosophy than Facebook did, but even if they do everything right, it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way.

The Internet is basically entering its third evolution now, as expectations become more complex and the last few stragglers make it part of their daily lives.

Phase One was just about finding stuff. In the early days, Yahoo could fit the whole Internet in a series of link lists. Early users jumped on the Internet to find news, trade tech articles, and fight with a self-selected group of early adopters on Usenet.

Phase Two was about sharing stuff. Google made search engines reliable and fast, so the Internet became more about connecting with people and sharing links with friends.

Google won the battle for Phase One and Facebook won the battle for Phase Two.

Now we come to Phase Three. We know how to search and we know how to share, but now we’ve got so much crap coming at us 24 hours a day, even moderate users are drowning in status updates. We’ve got so many “friends” interacting with us in so many different contexts, we can’t just lump them all into one stream anymore.

Phase Two was about making connections. Phase Three will be about managing them.

Google Plus is built around the concept of Circles. Every friend you add to the service must be added to a circle. Plus starts with a set of recommended categories: Friends, Family and Acquaintances. Most people will immediately add a circle for work, then they’ll make a circle for “Super Friends” – the eight or nine people in the world they can share everything with.

This is the function I’ve been waiting for, the function I’ve been screaming about in this column for the past two years.

Facebook is great but modern people don’t just have one face. I follow about 300 people on Facebook and each one of those people follows me for a different reason. Some of them like the columns, some of them like my political rants, some of them knew me in high school, and some of them have known me all my life.

But the people who like the columns don’t necessarily care about politics, and the people who knew me in high school don’t necessarily like what I write. I always feel a little guilty when I post to Facebook because I know any post that appeals to ten people is likely to annoy ten others.

With Google Plus I get to make the choice, and since everybody else is free to make their own categories, too, they can choose what box to put me in. This concept is so simple, I can’t believe Facebook has botched it so badly. Facebook has lists and sharing restrictions but they’re almost impossible to use.

Human interaction occurs in context, but Facebook’s one-stream-fits-all approach encourages people to ignore that context, leading to embarrassing, even disastrous consequences. The people who follow my column are nice, but they don’t need to see status updates when I go on vacation.

My friends love me, but they don’t all agree with my politics. A link that would be catnip for economics nerds might seem boring or even insulting to them. Forcing your political opinions on strangers isn’t just rude; it’s dangerous.

Interactions in the workplace occur in a very specific social context. It was bad enough when all we had to worry about was offending people, but now the things you share at work may be a violation of federal law. In this climate you’re not just protecting yourself when you segregate your social networks, you’re protecting your boss and your co-workers from things they really don’t want to know.

Google and Facebook have just entered into a steel-cage death match for the soul of the Internet. Can Google Plus gain market share before Facebook copies their best feature? My instincts say no. I think it will be easier for Facebook to add Circles than it will be for Google to steal its users.

I think we’re up against the Grandma Factor. Facebook has become so ubiquitous, even Grandma is using it. Will parents and grandparents be willing to follow their kids to a new platform?

I’m guessing no, but maybe that’s a Plus for you.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 1, 2011 at 02:56

Posted in Best Of, Facebook, Google

Sympathy for the Monster – Why we’re all gonna miss Nick Denton

The New Yorker ran a profile of one of my favorite people on Monday and the whole Internet is talking about it.

No, that’s not true. A subset of media-obsessed digerati are talking about it, and I’m following about a hundred of them on Twitter. So I have seen a thousand posts about Nick Denton this week and I expect to see people quoting this article for years.

Ben McGrath has written an awesome piece here — a (relatively gentle) biography of a transformative media figure. It’s not a puff piece or a hit piece; it’s just journalism – an honest portrait of a guy who has taken the “mean and mysterious” thing about as far as it can go.

I’ve been following Denton for years, since Gawker was just a cheeky blog about New York. I always thought he was creating the future of journalism, but this piece has showed me something else. Gawker is still the future of journalism, but that future will never quite arrive.

Any minute now Gawker will experience a perfect nanosecond where they are the world standard for digital journalism; then, an eyeblink later, some other site will leave them behind.

Nick Denton is one of those people who seemed destined to change the world; but the world does not change for nice people. McGrath’s article makes him sound like a charming sociopath, like there’s an alternate Nick Denton out there somewhere, collecting victims in the back of a white van.

Denton is an agent of change, like a forest fire burning away dead wood. And if your reputation gets caught in the blaze, well, that’s just what fires do.

A random quote from Denton reminded me of something in my favorite book. A mentor figure in “The Diamond Age” is devoted to the cultivation of subversiveness in the young. He’s worried that the children in his society have become too comfortable, too complacent, too accepting of authority.

He wants to create an educational program that will encourage the development of entrepreneurs — a new class of subversives who will create a better world by tearing the old one down. Nick Denton is the ultimate subversive – a natural subversive who revels in the destruction of old media, even as he craves attention from the giants who came before.

The most surprising thing in this piece is the sense that it’s all getting away from him. Gawker has become so successful, it can’t really be about New York anymore. Denton created this empire by pandering to his audience, giving them exactly what they want and ruthlessly rejecting anything that didn’t bring in traffic.

But Gawker’s new national audience doesn’t really care about New York anymore. The media figures that Denton loves to provoke are just a bunch of “Old White Men” to them. Denton’s latest attack on New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman got 6,000 hits. Candid photos of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg got 300,000.

Nick Denton is the Rupert Murdoch of digital media, but he can’t indulge personal obsessions on Gawker anymore. The readers are in charge now, and Nick is just along for the ride.

This is the real difference between old media and new media. People aren’t afraid of Nick Denton; they’re afraid of his readers. Old media is about what readers should want. New media is about what they actually want. And what they want is so raw, even Nick Denton sounds overwhelmed by it.

McGrath says, “Denton’s own writers live in constant dread of diminishing word counts and the inevitable dumbing down of the culture.”

“How things show up on Twitter, these days, matters more than the full text,” Denton says.

Nick Denton may be a monster, but he’s not the real enemy. He was just the first guy to see the shape of this, selling news to the invading army of Internet users, hungry for snark, gossip and celebrity flesh.

Denton’s successor won’t be a ruthless Brit with a soft spot for Spy Magazine. The next Nick Denton won’t even be human. The next generation of gossip sites will be soulless collections of algorithms and keywords, sucking in readers with laser-targeted bursts of text, precisely measured to match their attention spans.

I’m tipping my hat to the monster here because I remember what really made Gawker great; the one thing McGrath leaves out of his profile. Nick Denton built his empire on voices. Gawker conquered the Internet because Nick Denton has the best “ear” for writing talent that I have ever seen.

The profiles treat them like interchangeable parts, but Denton’s empire was built on the writing talents of people like Elizabeth Spiers, Choire Sicha and Alex Balk – writers who brought the snark but kept that tiny bit of humanity that let you know you were still reading a real person. That personal touch is the difference between news and blogging and it’s that personal touch that kept readers coming back.

Denton has abandoned that strategy now. He doesn’t even measure repeat visitors anymore. There’s no time to form a personal relationship with a writer; no time for any of that sentimental nonsense, in this brave new world of big ads and unique visitors.

Nick Denton is at the mercy of his readers, and now so are we, as the “golden age” of blogging makes way for a new kind of industrial revolution.

People love to hate Nick Denton, but we’re gonna miss him, when word counts shrink to character counts and writers are replaced by blade servers running Microsoft Snark.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 11, 2010 at 04:53

Internet Security 101

Here’s a quick overview of things you can do to make your computer safer. No computer on the Internet can be 100% safe, but following these basic guidelines will protect you from the majority of threats.

1. Buy a Mac — I’ll start with this one to avoid obvious jokes in the comments. Macs aren’t immune to security threats but most viruses are written for the PC, so Mac users are still safer, on average, than Windows users.

2. Get the latest Windows updates — Most Windows machines have these enabled by default, but it’s still worth a check. Check your Start Menu for an icon called “Windows Update” and make sure they’re set to automatically download and install updates as they come in. For example, I set my machine to check for updates and install them every morning at 3 a.m. Don’t worry about Optional updates, just let your system install everything that’s recommended.

If you haven’t done this before, you may have a long wait, as your system downloads all the big security updates and Service Packs. Don’t worry about it. Just let it run. It’s not hurting your system and it’s not uploading your email to Microsoft.

The bad guys are out there every day scanning for people who still have unpatched operating systems. Enabling Windows Updates is the first thing you should do to protect yourself, and surfing the web with an unpatched OS is the quickest way to get in trouble.

Those “Zombie computer” victims you hear about on the news? Most of those are people who didn’t update their operating systems.

If you haven’t let your computer get updates from Microsoft since you took it out of the box, you’re asking for trouble.

3. Get an antivirus program — Again, Windows is a lot better at this than it used to be. Windows Firewall is enabled by default and Windows Defender will protect users against the most common threats. But there are a dozen free and easy ways to upgrade your protection. Norton and McAfee still make good products but they tend to be expensive, invasive and complicated. There are some great free alternatives available now, and one of the best actually comes from Microsoft.

After 20 years of dubious efforts, Microsoft has finally aquired an antivirus solution that’s ready for prime time. Microsoft Security Essentials is simple, free and surprisingly effective. It runs quickly and doesn’t “take over your system” like Norton and McAfee.

Don’t get hung up on which antivirus program is the “best.” Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses and the title of “best” changes every few months. Just remember that something is better than nothing, and don’t try to run with more than one antivirus solution active at a time. If you try to install a new antivirus program before you uninstall the old one they’ll go to war with each other and screw up your system worse than an actual attack.

4. Stay out of bad neighborhoods — Internet security is a lot like real life security. If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t hang out with criminals and don’t walk around in bad neighborhoods after dark. Most Internet security measures are common sense. If you’re worried about keeping your computer safe, don’t go to porn sites and don’t download pirated software.

Illegal software has to be “cracked” to get past the copy protection and many of these cracks contain trojans and spyware. Media files are generally safer than executable programs, but some media files are “containers” that may try to install extra stuff or direct you to questionable web sites.

If you’re worried about security, play it safe. Buy your games and movies from reputable sites and don’t be seduced by the lure of free stuff. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

5. Stop forwarding junk emails — This is a touchy subject but it’s time for some tough love. You know that VIRUS WARNING you just got in the mail? It’s probably a hoax. Don’t forward it to your kids. Just make sure you’ve updated your antivirus software and trust it to do its job. If you’re worried about it, go to Snopes.com and type some keywords from the email into their Search box. Nine times out of 10 Snopes will have an update that will explain what’s really going on.

I encourage everyone on the Net to bookmark and read Snopes.com. Sadly, 9 out of 10 forwards you see are lies. Virus warnings, patriotic speeches, political rumors — most of it is misleading, misattributed or simply made up out of whole cloth.

And frankly, mass forwarding email is kind of rude. Your friends and your kids are too polite to tell you, but most of us are overwhelmed by email and don’t appreciate having our work interrupted by another quote from Chicken Soup for the Soul. Consider moving that stuff to your Facebook Wall, where your audience can control when and how they see it.

Most of us have our email forwarding to mobile devices these days and we can’t tell the difference between an urgent message and a frivilous one.

6. Change the way you share links — If you’re worried about security and email spam, count to 10 and think carefully before you give your email address to anyone. Any time you click “Email this” and use a form to send someone a link, you’re giving that site permission to send you (and the recipient) advertising.

Even if the site is reputable and promises not to give your address to a 3rd party, the site itself can still send you advertising and make deals with “partners” that may not be so careful with your address.

Best to avoid that risk entirely and learn to cut and paste web addresses into email. Just go to the web site you want to share and right click on the address. Select “Copy” from the right-click menu and paste the address on Facebook or onto a fresh email.

It takes a bit longer, but you’re not giving away your email address, or anybody else’s, to someone who may abuse it.

For people who like to forward news stories, Facebook has a new feature that can simplify the process. All the major news sites now have Recommend buttons. This provides a great compromise for people who want to share news with friends without spamming their inboxes.

Putting links on your Facebook page is a great way to share stuff without forcing it on people. And using the Recommend button keeps the interruption to a minimum. But make sure you only do this on reputable news sites. Bad guys are already finding ways to hijack the Facebook buttons.

7. Manage your junk mail — Clients have gotten a lot better about containing spam lately, but it’s still a problem. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, consider setting your Junk Email protection to “High.” You can find “Junk Email Options” in the Actions menu.

Be sure to keep an eye on your Junk Email folder for a few weeks after that. You may have to fish some people out and add them to your Safe Senders list, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

If you’re using Yahoo or MSN consider switching to Gmail. Gmail’s spam filter is the best on the market right now and Yahoo just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’ve had a Yahoo account for years, but recently I’ve seen a lot of dangerous stuff get through.

8. Protect your banking information — Never go to your banking site by clicking on a link in an email. Ever. I have never had a Paypal or a Chase bank account but I get emails every day pretending to be from Paypal and Chase asking me to log in and “verify my account.”

No matter how official the email looks, don’t click on these links. Instead, type the address of your bank directly into the browser or make a bookmark to it. A good email client can help protect you from these “phishing” links but smart attacks can always slip through.

As I said, most Internet security is common sense. I’ve been all over the Net, on all kinds of sites in the presence of all kinds of threats and I haven’t had a virus in 20 years.

Just keep your PC updated, run some basic antivirus software and stay out of bad neighborhoods. That should protect you from the worst of it.

If you’ve got your own security tips, or if you thought of something I missed, please share it in the comments.

Update: And before I forget, let me make sure and plug Glass Houses with Bert Knabe, who blogs about security for the A-J. Bert keeps up with the latest trends and talks about current security threats. I particularly like this recent one, “Is social media safe for work?

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 5, 2010 at 10:52

Farmville 2.0?

Buddy in my office just came up with a great idea.

Was listening to This Week in Tech #267 and heard that Farmville moves a Petabyte of data a day. They’re buying 1,000 new servers a week.

I mention this to my officemate and he says: Do you think this annoys real farmers? They need to come up with a drone system where you can do flyovers of actual farms. Issue commands to irrigation robots, get data from soil samples, juggle market prices, etc.

Made me wonder if Farmville is sparking interest in real agriculture. Are people being inspired by Farmville, to the point of looking into Agricultural Science programs?

Could I ask that question of a real Ag Science advisor without getting punched in the face?

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 29, 2010 at 09:26

Posted in Facebook, Games

John Perrin Facts

[I THINK most of these are original, but don’t be too hard on me if I accidentally “repurposed” a Chuck Norris.]

John Perrin once beat Deep Blue at chess. But first, he taught it how to cry.

When he was 13, John Perrin challenged the Devil to a riddle contest. So any sins committed after 1994 are your own damn fault.

With a single handshake, John Perrin can determine the exact moment of your death, or change it.

Every morning, John Perrin composes a symphony, cooks a gourmet meal, and makes three crucial stock trades. On October 17, 1987 he overslept.

John Perrin is on 58 distinct government watch lists, but not as John Perrin.

John Perrin doesn’t browse the Internet. He remembers.

John Perrin is not the 14th Doctor. Yet.

John Perrin didn’t cause the flash crash, but something in his pocket did.

John Perrin knows an antidote to global warming, a limitless energy source, and a cure for cancer. The first one’s free.

John Perrin made a mistake once, but the dinosaurs forgave him.

No one knows John’s real last name. But his first name is “The.”

More at: I Don’t Believe in Luck – I Believe in John Perrin

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 18, 2010 at 17:02

Posted in Best Of, Facebook

It’s time to kill Twitter and Facebook

Hats off to Michael Arrington from Techcrunch for his awesome interview with the Google Wave team.

You can find video and a transcript of this interview at Techcrunch.com but I wanted to take a minute and hit the highlights here.

My favorite moment comes toward the end of the interview when Michael asks them if they’re building “a Twitter-killer.”

He pitches it like a joke, but the question is dead serious, and the reaction is priceless.

Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra actually shakes his head and says, “Michael, Michael, Michael…”
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 12, 2009 at 14:13

Twitter, Facebook and the Internet hype machine

Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand Twitter.

Most of the people hyping it now don’t get it either. Twitter has been picked to be the Next Big Thing. It’s a legitimate phenomenon, but after a while buzz turns the corner into hype and the media beats it to death.

These Web sites start out as hip, cool communities that attract early adopters. College students and young professionals join. Links to the service are passed around the blogosphere and the first news stories start to appear.

News coverage builds for a couple months and some producer decides to put it on CNN. The service gets a flood of 30- and 40-something users and (more often than not) suffers catastrophic failure due to high traffic.

The service buys better hardware and the hype machine kicks into high gear. Cable networks devote longer segments to the service and technology columnists start writing “how to” pieces, making sure to remind readers about the “scoop” they wrote about the service six months ago.

The demographic profile of the service starts to shift as bored GenXers and net-savvy Boomers start playing with it at work. Bloggers see their parents and their shift managers sign up for the service and start writing “Is Facebook over?” posts.

Cutting-edge bloggers notice the backlash and immediately cancel their accounts, telling everyone that they’re just “too busy” to keep up with MySpace/Facebook/Twitter right now.

Somewhere in a Cupertino basement, three friends with a laptop invent a replacement for the current hot service, adding one or two new features and clearing all the useless junk off the home page. In the dead of night, they launch and send an e-mail to 20 friends.

Your Mom signs up for Facebook and starts sending you pieces of flair.

Facebook burst its hype bubble last year and is now on a slow downward slide. The replacement for Facebook is sitting on a developer’s laptop somewhere, waiting for its big break. Facebook has been taken over by boring old people (like me) who use it to waste time at work. Their status feeds are clogged with cooking advice and pictures of their kids. The 20-somethings are ready to leave but have nowhere else to go.

Here’s the basic rule of Internet hype: When your product appears on the Today Show, it’s over.

Twitter is at the apex of its hype bubble now. Everybody’s heard of it but normal people don’t really know what it is. The old people have invaded Twitterspace but they haven’t quite ruined it yet.

None of this is inevitable, but Facebook has stumbled over privacy issues twice now and the application gimmicks are starting to crowd out the core functionality of the site. There’s no serious competition for Twitter yet, but it won’t be hard to copy their core idea and merge it with something else.

Twitter is “buzzword of the month” right now, the word everyone in the business world is dropping to convince people they’re hip. “And of course our strategy includes Twitter.”

But the Twitter backlash is picking up steam. I saw my first anti-Twitter video yesterday. Critics are trying to dismiss Twitter streams as a bunch of narcissistic yammering. Normal people hear about the 140-character limit on messages and can’t imagine anything substantial being passed along like that.

But 140 characters is plenty of room to post a Web link or a photograph, or to announce an event. It’s also the perfect size for snappy comebacks and one-line jokes. My favorite quote this week comes from comic book writer Warren Ellis.

He wrote, “Things comics writers don’t get to do: Earn money. Gain respect. Experience dignity. Have friends. Have sex. Stop crying.”

That quote swept through the Twitterverse yesterday. The humor of Twitter posts comes as much from who is writing them as it does from what they say.

Here’s Newt Gingrich yesterday: “I got to hold a penguin at the Omaha zoo, its desert tropical (sic) and nocturnal buildings are world class.”

Not world-shattering news by any means, but a cute image to have skitter across your desktop on a lazy afternoon.

My Twitter feed is a stream-of-consciousness Bob Newhart impression. Yesterday I pitched an idea for Watchmen 2 and asked a poster named @practicalwitch about the availability of heavy duty raincoats.

I won’t be headlining a comedy act at UCB any time soon, but the Internet provides a home for people like me. If you’re funny and photogenic you can post your stuff on YouTube and become an Internet video star. But what about the rest of us? The class clowns. The almost-funny. The Frank Stallones of comedy?

Less than .01 percent of the U.S. population appreciates my sense of humor, but now those people can find me and enjoy my ramblings throughout the day. I can’t actually hear them laughing, but I can imagine them laughing. And if Twittering sucks up 15 or 20 minutes of my productive time, at least I’m not running across the office anymore, testing this stuff on guys at work.

Written by Michael B. Duff

March 20, 2009 at 18:29

Posted in Columns, Facebook, Twitter

Facebook offers faster ways to ruin your marriage

This Facebook widget crap has gotten out of hand. It caters to the lowest instincts of the Internet user — the doodad-collecting, quiz-taking, LOLCAT-worshipping masses.

And now they've found a new way to ruin your marriage.

I just got a news flash across my Facebook feed:

“This HOT OR NOT user wants to meet Greg Wharton!” This appears beside a microscopic picture of a girl who appears to be posing in tight shorts.

Which I read as, “Greg Wharton is about to cheat on his wife with THIS WOMAN! Sign up, and see if she has a sister!”

There is an alternate possibility. The girl in the picture may actually be Greg's wife, in which case they're just bragging.

Either way, this is more information than I needed.

Do they already have a status dropdown for this?

Michael is cheating on: his wife/a test/his taxes.

There has been an invasion of corporate execs on Facebook lately. Executives from our parent company have popped up with these cute, sanitized “my boss made me join Facebook” profiles and started adding rank and file employees from the A-J.

There's nothing quite like the cold chill you get when you find out a corporate VP has added you to his Friends list.

Like getting a LiveJournal comment from your dad.

I can already see the emails. “Hey Duff, I saw those pictures on your Facebook. I didn't know they made leather pants in your size, ha ha! Can we blow that up for the Christmas party slideshow?”

Facebook must be stopped.

UPDATE: And if all that's not bad enough, now Facebook is ruining Christmas.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 21, 2007 at 12:08

Posted in Facebook