Ways to moderate Facebook’s influence in your life

Well, for starters, of course, you can just not use it. But if it’s a useful online watering hole/neighborhood pub/back fence, here are some ideas. I’m not an expert, but some of these are actually based on experience.

  • Do your writing on a blog and post the links on Facebook instead of writing in the posts. You can either customize or automate an excerpt or teaser to get people (hopefully) to go to your blog to read it.
  • And speaking of that blog, if you aren’t paying a webhost for it, that means there’s probably advertising on your blog that you may or may not have any control over, and which the blog host is using to make money off of you and your visitors.
  • Join some other social networks and do the same thing there (post links to your own hosted content).
  • Get your news from a news organization. If it is online, be prepared to pay for it.
  • If you see great information or entertainment (on Facebook or elsewhere), take the time to go to the original source and share that link on Facebook. If you are not already familiar with the source and confident in its veracity, try to confirm the facts first (or, you know, just don’t share it).
  • Don’t use Facebook to log in to anything that gives you an alternative.
  • Don’t imagine that Instagram is where you will go: it is owned by Facebook.
  • Google Plus is at least in the business of using your personal information for its own benefit, but don’t depend on it not  selling your information to others.
  • Always remember that if you are not paying for it, you are the product, not the customer. Keep asking who benefits and where the money is going.
  • Recognize your own role in whatever you think is a problem. Learn how to set your privacy settings; be skeptical; unfollow or unfriend people and pages liberally; remove the app from your phone. (If you can’t stop checking Facebook, that’s not Facebook’s fault, that’s something you need to figure out a way to deal with. /end cranky old man mode)
  • Don’t engage on Facebook with things you don’t want promoted. Facebook does. not. care. if you think something is funny, untrue, outrageous, or awful. If you respond in any way, it just increases the likelihood that your friends (who might never otherwise have seen it) will see it. If you share it, even to ridicule or debunk it, you are just helping to spread it around.
  • Look for other, niche social networks that will meet some of your needs. I am on a very quirky, obscure platform called Plurk (seemingly popular with teenage Korean girls), which is an outpost for groups of people from Second Life. One of the original attractions was that it didn’t police identity or names.

Thank you, Google

(This post is starting in the middle of a conversation. It’s in response to Google’s account name policy for its new social networking service, Google+. In brief, Google has conflicting policies about what you can call yourself and is implementing them inconsistently. Try an internet search for “real names policy” or #nymwars.)

Ha! I cleared out my gmail accounts (one for “suttonkenneth” and one for “otenth.paderborn”), and so I also figured I’d clear out my contacts. That resulted in erasing all the people I had in G+ circles. Oh well, that’s probably for the best. I’ll put back in only the people I want to communicate with via G+ (which may end up being vanishingly few, after all).

As of tonight, I’ve found a replacement for Google Reader (I’m using NewsBlur); I’ve set up an Otenth email account on my own internet host as well as a “use this email when some website requires one” account (as I should have done long ago), cleared out the gmail box, and set up a “vacation” responder on the Otenth one with no end date; I’ve deleted all Google docs that were mine alone, leaving some Radio Riel shared docs that I’m just not sure what would happen if I wipe them (I’m happy using Dropbox to share files); I’ve deleted my YouTube account and will carefully assess whether I “need” to have an account; turned off or deleted analytics, and several other arcane services. I’m no longer staying signed in to Google when I leave a Google service, so that if I want to use Google search it’s not getting all gummed up with whoever Google thinks I am or thinks I know.

I’ve turned off Gchat, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit with a tiny handful of people. I haven’t set up any replacement, but there are lots of alternatives.

That leaves only the AetherChrononauts calendar created with my otenth.paderborn gmail account as the unresolved, not easily replaced service. I *have* fully shared permissions with my “real name” self, should anything happen to the pseudonymous account.

Time will tell if Google plus becomes something irrelevant to my life, or if they manage to articulate (and practice!) a coherent policy on account names that will allow any of us to feel secure using their services. I had a thriving, nascent community of online friends for the first couple of weeks I was in Google+. Almost all of them are either gone or ignoring it now.

On a side note, all the attention to Internet safety and good hygeine made me take a closer look at Facebook’s settings, too. I’ll no longer be playing a couple of games I quite enjoyed, because they “require” permission to get information about my friends that they have no business having. (I may be willing to give them my [now fake] birthday or my political or religious affiliations [which are blank], but I can’t justify handing over my friends’ information just so I can play Scrabble.)

So, thank you, Google, for showing me how foolishly I put so many of my eggs in your basket, for opening my eyes to my ignorance about the risks of internet identity theft, and for making me an advocate for pseudonyms.

OK, if he doesn’t want us to read his papers

[Rupert] Murdoch plans to put News Corp content, including from UK newspapers such as the Sun and the Times, behind a paywall and has threatened to remove it from Google’s search index and Google News. (“Google to allow publishers to limit free news access”)

A paywall is fine, if he thinks that will work for his company (I have my doubts), but if the stories don’t show up on Google I won’t ever read them. The newspaper sites I go to daily are the Guardian, Aljazeera, China Daily, and the Imperial Valley Press, and I get a daily email of headlines from the New York Times, but I also read other newspapers when I am searching for coverage of specific news. In that case, I typically use Google as my search engine.

It’s certainly an interesting time for journalism. I’m eager to see what new business models arise from the ashes. Let’s all hope that the dross is what is cut away and that incisive, insightful reporting and investigation in the public interest is what survives.

More journalistic evolution

Steven Berlin Johnson has a similar take on the evolutionary process of changing the way journalism is done:

So this is what the old-growth forests tell us: there is going to be more content, not less; more information, more analysis, more precision, a wider range of niches covered. You can see the process happening already in most of the major sections of the paper: tech, politics, finance, sports. Now I suppose it’s possible that somehow investigative  or international reporting won’t thrive on its own in this new ecosystem, that we’ll look back in ten years and realize that most everything improved except for those two areas. But I think it’s just as possible that all this innovation elsewhere will free up the traditional media to focus on things like war reporting because they won’t need to pay for all the other content they’ve historically had to produce. This is Jeff Jarvis’ motto: do what you do best, and link to the rest. My guess is that the venerable tradition of the muckraking journalist will be alive and well ten years from: partially supported by newspapers and magazines, partially by non-profit foundations and innovative programs like Newassignment.net, and partially by enterprising bloggers who make a name for themselves by breaking important stories.

Now there’s one objection to this ecosystems view of news that I take very seriously. It is far more complicated to navigate this new world than it is to sit down with your morning paper. There are vastly more options to choose from, and of course, there’s more noise now. For every Ars Technica there are a dozen lame rumor sites that just make things up with no accountability whatsoever. I’m confident that I get far more useful information from the new ecosystem than I did from traditional media along fifteen years ago, but I pride myself on being a very savvy information navigator. Can we expect the general public to navigate the new ecosystem with the same skill and discretion?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that we can’t. Let’s say it’s just too overwhelming for the average consumer to sort through all the new voices available online, to separate fact from fiction, reporting from rumor-mongering. Let’s say they need some kind of authoritative guide, to help them find all the useful information that’s proliferating out there in the wild.

If only there were some institution that had a reputation for journalistic integrity that had a staff of trained editors and a growing audience arriving at its web site every day seeking quality information. If only…

Of course, we have thousands of these institutions.  They’re called newspapers.

Journalistic heavy lifting

Well, everyone else seems to be blogging Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, so I may as well, too. I think there’s a lot of sensible points for us to consider at work with our quarterly membership periodical. The take away? We need to do something different. We don’t know (and can’t know in advance) which something different will work. Try lots of things.

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

. . . there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.

Journalism has always been subsidized. Sometimes it’s been Wal-Mart and the kid with the bike. Sometimes it’s been Richard Mellon Scaife. Increasingly, it’s you and me, donating our time. The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can’t be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. . . .

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

Social media smack-down

I admit it, I am an early adopter. I love to learn new things and to tinker. So I’ve tried Plurk (abandoned it); Friend Feed (it just chugs along; I’m not sure I remember everything I set it up to do); Linked In (I link only to people I really know, keep some semblance of professionalism); Facebook (it’s growing on me, and I’ll “friend” all sorts of people; I ruthlessly refuse application invites from friends); MySpace (I have begun using it for what it has become: a place to keep track of musicians); Delicious (sigh; basically a gigantic assembly of “this would be great to look at some time” links); and Twitter (you can look me up under my online avatar name, Otenth; I also have Twitter feeds for my cats).

But here is a brilliant take-down of some of the things that are wrong with social media: Social Media “Experts” are the Cancer of Twitter (and Must Be Stopped). And to complement that, a good, sensible approach to using social media: 6 Steps for Creating a Social Media Marketing Roadmap & Plan.

(Hat tip to Lactose.)

Community funded reporting

As a sometime-participant in community-supported agriculture, I don’t find the idea of community-funded reporting entirely oddball. I even think it’s a creative idea. But I want to see how it works out.

Spot.Us is a nonprofit project to pioneer “community funded reporting.” Through Spot.Us the public can commission investigations with tax deductible donations for important and perhaps overlooked stories. If a news organization buys exclusive rights to the content, donations are reimbursed. Otherwise content is made available through a Creative Commons license.


The Typealyzer got my actual MBTI type for both my blogs.

INTP — The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.