I Found Out on Facebook…

In the past two months I’ve learned of two pretty big news items on close family members…via Facebook.

And I recognize that I’m not alone in my experience. As we continue to share more and more of our personal lives via social media, plenty others of you are undoubtedly in the same boat.

“Did you hear so-and-so was expecting?”

“No, that’s great! Did they call you?”

“Nope, I read it on Facebook.”

It’s become commonplace, almost expected that formal announcements that were once reserved for pen and paper, and then replaced by phone calls, now happen on Facebook. The thought struck me as I reflected on all of this, “Wow, how incredibly special it is to receive announcements such as these via mail. Imagine how special it will be in two years? Ten years?”

The Big Picture

In a larger sense, it’s interesting to wonder if consumer behavior and economic forces will collude to drive print media toward higher-end, luxury formats. Think Wired magazine with its beautiful spreads and high-quality paper versus Reader’s Digest.

From a marketing perspective, it’s an interesting time to be looking at print media. With people receiving so much less mail, your piece may actually rise above the clutter and be read.

As for me, I’ve decided to set a goal for myself to draft a personal, hand-written letter at least once a month to a friend or family member. (I know, it’s sad that once a month is daunting in its ambition.)

We’ll see how it goes…

Facebook, Spokeo and the End of (Online) Privacy

So I received a chain email that’s been going around warning people about Spokeo, a website that aggregates public information on people. (If you search for yourself, you’ll probably find your name, address, maybe even your home value and a few relatives. Spokeo isn’t new, and there are others out there, so I’m unsure what prompted the alarmist chain email in the first place.)

But the email did prompt a discussion amongst me and some family members regarding how much information is available about people online. Basically, Spokeo left quite a few of my family members spooked.

Of course, all of the information that Spokeo finds about you is already public. Your phone number and address were in the phone book. Your home sale price is on record at your county clerk office. You get the idea. Spokeo just pulls it all together and puts it at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection.

The problem with blaming Facebook…

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla in the room of online privacy. As the conversation evolved, I found myself defending Facebook for two reasons: first, people join Facebook and divulge personal information freely, and, second, the trend I’m seeing toward sharing more information isn’t unique to Facebook and, therefore, I’d rather be on Facebook framing my own personal narrative rather than allowing other people to share information about me without my knowledge.

Then again, I live and breathe digital media for my day job, and long ceded any semblance of online privacy by joining every social network I could and starting a personal blog. So it was interesting to hear the perspective from people who can say, with all honesty, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

To use the Spokeo example again, that website specifically, as well as others, haven’t done anything illegal, unethical or in any way suspect by providing the information they aggregate. Rather, the Internet in general has completely redefined the concept of “public information.”

And the $64 million question is…

So are we comfortable with that? Is our society better off for it? Is that a price that we collectively pay to enjoy the numerous benefits such openness provides (easier access to information in education, better accountability in government, the ability to do my Christmas shopping a month in advance on Amazon in my pajamas)?

I don’t have the answers, but it did inspire me to check my Facebook privacy settings again.

Facebook Privacy Course 101

I recently helped a friend (whose name I shall not mention) sign up for Facebook, and walked said friend through the process of setting up an account.

It occurred to me (through observations among friends and colleagues) that the most recent wave of Facebookers in the U.S. are by definition those who are late to the game, and therefore are least comfortable with the idea of ceding some of their privacy for the benefit of increased connectedness with friends and family.

Here’s a great tutorial that walks through recommended privacy settings on Facebook, although it’s a little outdated. My tips are below:

Privacy settings, privacy settings, privacy settings

Walk through these as soon as you sign up, and make sure you’re comfortable with the amount of information you’ll be sharing with your friends. Here’s an article (with a cool graph) that indicates how few Facebook users visit the privacy settings.

If possible, sit down with a friend who is already on Facebook and have them walk you through it first before you even sign up.

“I just want to be friends…”

You’ll have the option to share a lot of your information on Facebook with your friends, their friends, your entire network (school, city, etc.) or anyone on Facebook. When in doubt, choose “only my friends.”

Better to pick that one by default, because the immense growth of Facebook means that the other options offer ultimately no control over who sees your stuff.

Crawl before you walk…

In general, pick the most limiting privacy settings first. If you’re uncomfortable with an option, opt out. If you’re not sure you want to share something, don’t.

You can always add more later, adjust your privacy settings or upload more information. Better to start prudent and open up more down the road.

Got any more tips to add…?

Feel free.

Someone forgot to tell the Malaysians that Friendster isn’t cool anymore

And while in the U.S., Friendster can’t touch Facebook, the opposite is true in Malaysia. Although Facebook numbers are steadily rising there, Guan says this is mainly among more westernized Malaysians and American expats. Friendster’s dominance in Malaysia is due to its early market entry and more importantly, offers the Bahasa Malayu language which is the primary language used in Malaysia.

Audience.

What’s the most effective way to organize online?

(I’m targeting this query primarily at my friends involved in the space of social networking, attempting to glean insights ahead of a speech I’m giving on the topic.)

Is it a Facebook group? Is it Twitter? Is it a more targeted approach, like listing something on ThePoint.com? Is it good old fashioned e-mail?

There’s no one size fits all

I realize this. That’s why I’d like to learn what specific ways you’ve tried to organize people online, and how that affected what tool you chose to do so.

Thanks in advance.

Watch out for the ‘Fanebook’ Facebook forgery

Do not give your login information to Fanebook.com.

I received two e-mails from ‘wallmaster+f_444za6@facebookmail.com,’ which, through the glory of gMail, just showed up as “Facebook” in my inbox, informing me that a friend had left a message on my wall.

The messages looked downright phishy (“lol this vid is so crazy and funny! check it out http://facebook.com.vids.myspacevds.com”) and here’s a screen shot of the Fanebook clone below:

As you can see Fanebook looks identical to Facebook, but you can see the slightly different URL in your browser. I didn’t have time to look at the source code this morning, but apparently it’s all in JavaScript, according to a few folks who dug through it over the weekend: Weblog.com.np, hem.com and Pi’s blog.

If you’ve given your password and account information to Fanebook, you might want to see if you can still log in to your account. If you can’t, make sure that other sites you use (for online banking, etc.) don’t use the same password.

Does Facebook’s ‘friend limit’ thwart the ability for mass organization?

A friend of mine sent me the following story of a Canadian union organizer banned from Facebook for making too many friends:

CUPE organizer/Labour Start correspondent Derek Blackadder’s foray into labor-related social networking was rudely interrupted by a warning from Facebook saying that he was making too many friends.

Facebook LogoHe then asked me, “Does this thwart the potential for organizing through Facebook?”

No, I said. And here’s why:

Obviously, if you want to get a message out to organize a protest, a prayer service or anything else , you’ll get that message out most QUICKLY by having a lot of friends, say, more than the 5,000 limit. Note I said most QUICKLY. (This is the equivalent of broadcasting a message through a traditional one-to-many medium).

But not necessarily most EFFECTIVELY, nor most SUCCESSFULLY, if the barometer for success is how many people take the desired action you’re hoping for.

Here’s the key

Successfully organizing on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean one person broadcasting a message to 5,000 people. If anything, that message is going to be watered down for broad appeal, less relevant to each specific person, and prompt the least (percentage wise) action.

The KEY is getting 50 people to each tell 50 people to teach tell 50 people, etc., etc., etc. (Or, really, 5 people to tell 5 people, etc., etc., etc.) Each message then becomes a relevant, targeted message, and a message that the recipient of which is most likely to pass on.

And that’s what gives social networking sites, such as Facebook, such a great potential for organization.

So you sort of have two issues: 1) crafting the right message and 2) getting that message to the right people.

Obviously what I’m describing here is simply viral marketing in theory (the practitioners of which will tell you in reality is anything but simple).