Fakebook — what would you put in?

I working on a site (which I can’t reveal yet, it might not even see the light of day) that is basically a fake social-network, populated by characters that don’t exist. The main point of it will be the feeling and story generated by the characters and thier interactions, but it’s important to get the look and feel right.

I’m using WordPress and a theme called “facebooked” by Justin Tadlock, it’s very well done but is only intended to give a blog an appearance of Facebook (which I’ve tweaked to be FB-ish, but not exactly the same). So I’m adding stuff in, by judicious use of plug-ins, page templates and custom fields. I’ve managed to generate workable status updates, friendships, groups and events as well as profile pages — but what else does a social network need?

I threw out the question on twitter and Anthony Herron suggested adverts, which is good. Not only would you normally see them, but it will help to fill gaps.

But I’m open to suggestions — not for what you’d like to see in a social network, but for what you wouldn’t believe one could work without.

Twitter engagement for organisations

This post is prompted by the Birmingham twitter “community”‘s reaction to what some saw as unethical and “anti-social” behaviour on joining twitter [edit: as the guys from Artsfest say in the comments below, it wasn’t an official account. It’s now gone.] by the local council’s yearly arts festival, um, artsfest. In short, upon (laudably) starting a twitter account, they (either by bot or someone with a sore mouse finger now) started aggressively following people starting with locals, and it seems radiating out through their contacts lists.

They ended up with around three thousand followees (many very unlikely to be interested in a UK-based arts event) — the sort of thing that gets you a high ranking on twerpscan (this a screengrab of Pete Ashton’s):

Skitch.com > peteashton > The company Artsfest is keeping
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!
Twitter users, and the early adopters of Birmingham as well, will tend to jump on these things — it’s a form of comunity policing, although I sometimes think that it can border on the haranging.
That said, the people behind the artsfest twitter have misunderstood, at least, the nature of social media conversation — conversation being the right thing, broadcasting your PR message being the wrong thing. Here’s a few more general points that come out of it for me:
  • Following thousands of people (people unrelated to your niche especially) is not only pointless (you’ll get blocked by people that otherwise might have followed you, your message is useless to many of those people) , but will get people’s backs up. Not a great first impression.
  • Even if the twitter account is for an organisation (anonymous, or multi-authored) people need to see that it has personality. Bot-like behaviour isn’t useful — if those thousands of people followed you back, could you hold meaningful conversation with them?
  • Twitter is made up of mainly tech-savvy people, pushing your PR message (that they could get from your blog or other channels if they wished) at them is SPAM-y behaviour, it’s shouting, duplicating and attention grabbing. Although there are many people that autopublish their blog links to twitter, the sort of people that will follow your tweets will normally be able to follow your blog on its own — what twitter is great for is additional more ‘personal’ information, nuggets that are exciting or interesting, but not worth a blog post.
  • Re-tweeting your main message after each @reply (or aside) is wrong — those following you will get that message repeatedly, SPAM. Very few twitter users will find themselves at your page on twitter, and the tweet at the top is not your “most important message” it’s just the most recent.
  • You need to interact, if people send you an @message or a direct message you should respond. Can you listen to thousands of people’s tweets? No, of course not, so don’t follow people unless you need to interact with them. (Using a bot to auto-follow people who follow you could be a time-saver tho’).
  • Use tools like summize hashtags.org or tweetscan to keep an eye on conversation about your product, organisation or subject area (you can get RSS feeds of all of your search terms). This isn’t eavesdropping, it’s all publicly shared information, and if you see conversation (negative or positive) then you have a conversation opener with those people talking about you. You may learn some really useful things about how you are perceived — and be able to genuinely help people (always popular!).

Choice, power and sticks

I’ve just come back from The Big Debate (part of the New Generation Arts Festival), a cosy couple of hours listening to talk on the subject ‘Digital Uptopia — more power or powerless?’. As is the way of these things the proposition was skirted round by most. The lack of a digital naysayer on the panel might have warned the organisers that it wasn’t to be a heated discussion, I think that the twitter/liveblog backchannel (albeit composed by the local digerati, who ought to be on the ‘power’ side really — the digerati in the room were hampered by failing wifi tho’)  tried hard to counteract that but still…

Two of the panel, Anthony from the BBC and Doug from BT, would have had be commenting on the live blog like mad during their opening addresses. Anthony, who works on the iPlayer, seemed to confuse “choice” with “power”,  I was waiting for the payoff where he reconciled the two concepts but it never came. How the choice to watch the same stuff on TV (by other means) at different times equates to ‘power’ I couldn’t grasp — the day they let people chose what is made rather than transmitted would be when iPlayer effected power at all.

Where as Anthony seemed not to have got hold of the right end of the stick, I’m not sure Doug was even in the same building as the stick. He talked (again, again it seems to those of us that follow discussions of this nature — something picked up on the live blog) of the history of media and how people hadn’t looked at the problems of what he wants to call “shape shifting media” yet. Shape shifting media seems to be an IPTV version of “chose your own adventure books”, and there was much online grumbling that the 30 odd years of video gaming has been addressing exactly that. “Not quite a game, not quite a film. Somewhere inbetween.” was one of his phrases. I’m not sure that this has anything to do with power (power to be entertained in a slightly different semi-interactive way?), and I’m not sure this is anything like a laudable aim (anyone remember the pretty but boring Don Bulth games?).

There are sort of two threads to the discussion that work for me, one is whether the ‘democratising effect’ of social media does mean more power in the hands of the individual, Jo had a few good points on that from the standpoint of local ‘traditional media’, but apart from that it wasn’t overly discussed. Again I think because the panel were all of the mind that there was more power, (but think about privacy for example) — oh for a member of the No2ID lot on the panel.

The second topic, and a secondary thread to the first, is whether (accepting that internet access is empowering) there really is a “digital divide” and if so how is it best dealt with. There were interesting points from the audience on this, “was the divide one of motivation, or economics?” and if economic who should pay? A great discussion, but not one there was enough time for here.

Really, for me at least,  the true digital empowerment of the digital age for me has come at the expense of events like this. Apart from Joanna Geary, whose opinions I have come to trust though her writings and actions, the panel had to work very hard to make their points to me. In the pre-internet age, the opinions of panellists, debaters, those “selected” where the only ones heard and would be automatically given credence, but now unless the reputation of the speaker precedes them I can think of twenty people I regularly communicate online with who would tear the discussion apart with wit and experience.

It’s those voices that I want to hear and online is the only real way to get them all together.

Lifestream, but don’t tell me twice

With people barely having a thought we don’t in some way publish to the interweb there’s continuous chatter about information overload. I’ve always been of the opinion that I’d rather have all the information there was, leaving it up to me to pick what I wanted and what to ignore. It’s this that leads me to never ever getting my feed reader down to less than 2000+ unread items (most of these are flickr photos tagged “cat” or various vanity searches for my projects).

So, given that the background noise is of my own making, why would I complain about too much information?

Well I’m not complaining as such, I just think there needs to be a solution to the problem of getting the same information twice from different places. A technical one may do, but I’d rather a sort of moral code.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, with people pushing their blog posts through their tumblr or twitter accounts, or into their Facebook posted items – this is information that I want, but I’ve subscribed to the blog I’ll find it there. It would be fine if the sources were just different ways of receiving the same content, but there’s other unique stuff mixed in – I like my contacts personal tweets, or their randomly tumbl’d web content, so I get the blog posts again. You end up skim reading everything, so I’m sure I miss things I’d like to have known.


I signed up for FriendFeed this week, more to claim my online identity there that through any desire to use it at the moment, but is it just another way to push the same content? ReadWriteWeb listed 35  ways to stream your life, albeit that some of them are rather hazy, I’m just thinking that I’d rather cherry pick what I care about from different people.

BBC profiles on Facebook

It’s understandable that companies want to use Facebook to promote stuff – it is after all very big – and with almost a half of BBC staff on there, it’s obvious that they should use it to promote services, programme and events.

What is annoying is when people who don’t understand social networking blunder in. Facebook has worked so far because of its “honesty” (real names, needing verified email addresses to become part of some networks) – it’s ceded to demand for entities other than people by the creation of “fan” pages/profiles, and has for a long time had groups and events.

So it’s annoying to find our national broadcaster (or well-meaning, but ill-informed staff therein – they have to have verifiable BBC email addresses to be in the network they are) creating fake person profiles for services or other stuff. Here are just a few I’ve found by just a quick search (after I stumbled across a few in friends’ profiles):

Fake BBC Profiles

When the Beeb gets the social web right (Backstage, Flickr stuff, plenty more I’m sure) it’s a great thing. Letting people think it’s okay to create all this “white noise” on the social web isn’t.

I’m sure many other organisations have done this too – I just think the Beeb should set an example.

Discalimer: I used to work for the BBC (although I’d have been just as annoyed about it when I worked there – and would of been able to tell the people more easily).

Bebo, the social drinking website?

With the current news story about the two young tennis pros suspended over their social networking profiles, it struck me as odd that: the basic tenant of not putting stuff online you aren’t happy for anyone to see hasn’t got through and they they were using Bebo.

Danah Boyd did some interesting thinking on social class and social networking, based on particularily US soldiers and Facebook and MySpace. Basically she put forward the theory that the “officer class” used FB and the others MySpace. Does Britain have a third divide?

Stephen Ireland the Man City footballer has been revealed recently as calling himself “Daddy Dick” and saying “football is shit, why did I end up doin[sic] it?” – again on a Bebo profile.

Bebo seems to be statistically popular in UK (old ref I know), but it seems to exist under the radar of the media. MySpace is for bands, FB for the media and Bebo for who?

When your mum joins Facebook

Facebook ‘parent’

Along with politely declining requests to grow gardens, throw sheep or cause upset by ordering disparate friends and acquaintances by strict order of preference, I now have something else to worry about when it comes to Facebook – that my mum will get a direct feed of everything I mention or do.

Facebook seemed to reach a critical mass when it filled up with everyone from the BBC and the Guardian, but something else must have happened off my radar as now my not-exactly-tech-literate extended family all have profiles and are bombarding me with stupid app requests.

I’m fairly careful about what I say on the internet anyway, both for professional reasons and the fact that I’m nice and don’t want to upset anyone, so it’s not as if I have anything to hide – but somehow I liked social networking better when it wasn’t full of people I see all the time. All mothers get confused and worry, so now I have not only got the pressure of coming up with a status update that’s: witty, true, immediate, in the right tense to deal with the crappy ‘is’, and somehow impressive without being boastful but I’ve got to worry about how my mum’s overly literal brain will interpret it. Out will go any obtuse references to TV programmes, films, books and music as I don’t fancy having to explain them all, out will go even vague nods to being upset, angry, or even annoyed as mum will be on the phone wanting the low-down.

Oh, and don’t worry – she hasn’t quite ‘got’ blogs yet.

You can’t have it

Where as I say “gowan then” to people who ask to use my Flickr pics, there’s a certain type of people that seemingly don’t want you to even see theirs. D_morton (who probably doesn’t want the link ; ) ) always puts “You may not use, copy or print my photographic image files without my permission.” in the description of the hundreds of photos he uploads – usually candid shots of people in Brum and Walsall.

While anyone is entitled to do that – and there are licensing settings and other tools to prevent that on Flickr (although the only safe way would be not to put them on the ‘net) – it seems overkill and for some reason it annoys me when I see the photos in one of my RSS photo feeds. Rant over, I wonder if it’s possible to do exclusions by username for Flickr RSS – yahoo pipes perhaps?

EDIT: Yes it is, annnnd relax.