30 October 2012
Not to make light of the disaster in NYC caused by Hurricane Sandy, but consider the following conflicting tweets (first and last one in this screenshot):
In one case, you have a “man on the street” report claiming that there’s a fire at Coney Island Hospital. In another, you have what appears to be FDNY claiming no fire. Which one is right?
On the Internet–and especially Twitter–no one knows who you are. Really. I could claim to be anyone, anything, anywhere. No one would be the wiser. Misinformation could easily be propagated by well-meaning people. Clearly they wouldn’t have propagated it if they didn’t believe it to be true, right? Suddenly, misinformation becomes fact.
Social Media is by far not the only place this happens. I love how Curry and Dvorak mock “on the scene” reports of various sorts on No Agenda (in the morning!). They’re just a couple of guys dicking around and they can–on the fly–make authentic-sounding reports from, say, the scene of Hurricane Sandy, or a war-torn battlefield in Afghanistan. Imagine what trained professionals with more money, time, and an agenda can do!
Everywhere–especially in Social Media–there is a lot of noise. A lot of it. It’s up to you to find the signal–the real message–amongst the noise. No one is going to do it for you.
14 October 2012
I actually did something I didn’t think I’d do at this point: sign up for an account on app.net. You’ll find me there as, unsurprisingly, phoneboy.
For those of you who have lived under a rock, app.net is a social networking service started by Dalton Caldwell as a response to all the various social networking sites to date, which are mostly funded by advertising dollars to various degrees. app.net is funded directly by developers, who pay a yearly fee to be permitted access to the APIs (currently $100/year), and users like me who pay a monthly ($5/mo) or yearly ($36/year) subscription fee. In fact, the service “started” after a successful $500,000 Kickstarter campaign.
One of the things I’ve learned from years of listening to No Agenda is that anytime you are consuming a product or service you didn’t pay for, you’re more than likely the product. As a result, those that are paying, namely the advertisers, often get their way–to the detriment of the users. I’m starting to see that now with Twitter as they try and make money. Facebook has been notoriously problematic.
The app.net service is similar to Twitter circa 2006. That’s not entirely true since app.net employs many of the same concepts like a timeline, replies, reposts (similar to Twitter’s retweet), hash tags, searches, starred posts, and asymmetric following (i.e. someone can follow me, but I don’t have to follow them back). There are third party apps–not nearly as many as exist for Twitter–but the list keeps growing. You also, unlike Twitter, have a limit of 255 characters in a status update.
The reason it feels like 2006 all over again is the users. At the moment, there’s about 25,000 users. Clearly the “masses” aren’t there yet. The subscription price, and the lack of users, will likely deter people for the time being. It also doesn’t help that the third party apps for app.net are a bit more expensive than the Twitter clients.
That said, I look at subscribing to app.net as an investment in the future of social networking–a user-center future, rather than advertiser-centered one. I’m currently following a handful of people, only a small number of which are updating their app.net account regularly. I am hoping that will increase in the coming weeks as more people pony up the cash and try app.net for themselves.
21 December 2009
It must be time to clean out the old inbox once again, which this time also includes random observations and other things that aren’t necessarily in my inbox.
Google Chrome: I’ve started using Google Chrome on my Macs and Linux boxes. I have to say, it’s quite peppy! I’m still waiting for extension support on the Mac, though I can always run Chromium, which does offer it. Google already pwns all my data, so I’m not too concerned about using their browser
CallGuard for Nokia Devices: The folks over at SymbianGuru have a neat little app that provides a whitelist and blacklist for calls at specific times. Calls from certain people can be “rejected” complete with an SMS to the number or ring through as you configure the app. I haven’t had a chance to try this out, since I primarily use an iPhone these days, but it’s worth checking out. 10 days to see if you like it, if so, pay $12.95.
HiDef Conferencing Beats Holiday Stress: While I do appreciate the reduction in mental processing that occurs when you have a conversation over a wider band medium, such as provided by HiDef Conferencing service, I find conference calls themselves stressful. Granted, they tend to take less time than the typical business trip, but there’s only so much one can do over the phone. As stressful as those business trips are, they are necessary.
TruPhone Cuts The Price Of Calling This Holiday Season: If you’re a TruPhone user, or are looking for an excuse to try out this calling service on your Nokia, Blackberry, iPhone, or Android), here’s a nice offer. From Christmas Day until the 5th January 2010, calls made on Truphone to 30 popular destinations worldwide will be charged at 50% off the TruStandard rate – allowing friends and family to talk longer for less this holiday season. In addition, calls to all listed destinations will be free of charge on New Year’s Eve (or rather 12:01 pm GMT New Years Eve to 11:59 am GMT New Years Day).
TextPlus 2.1 Launches With Personal Communities: I’ve always thought SMS was a ripoff. The operators charge way too much for too little. Several applications on the iPhone look to reduce or eliminate your dependence on SMS by pushing your short messages through their service. The only one I find compelling is TextPlus by the folks at Gogii. The main reason? It interoperates with regular SMS. People not using TextPlus on their iPhone (and soon the BlackBerry) can send messages through the short code 60611. TextPlus also allows you to do “group” messaging, sending the same message to up to 50 people. And yes, that feature works with folks not on TextPlus (yet).
VoIP Supply Reclaims Your Old VoIP Gear: This is a bit like taking your old video games down to the GameStop or similar store, trading them in for new games, or getting some cash. Except this is with VoIP gear. Maybe I should send them my list of VoIP gear and see what they’ll give me. I suspect it will be like GameStop does for old games, you won’t get as much as you’d like, but you’ll get something. At least the equipment won’t end up in a landfill somewhere.
Tweetings: I ran across this client on my Twitter stream for the iPhone and I have to say, it’s quite good. It looks a lot like Tweetie, actually, but it’s slightly cheaper ($1.99 versus the $2.99 for Tweetie 2), and for that price, it even supports push notifications of @ replies and direct messages! It’s also the first Twitter app I’ve run across that actually uses oAuth, which theoretically means you don’t have to give the application your password! However, you still need to enter your password into the app anyway if you want to use any of the media sharing services (or push notifications, for that matter).
1 November 2009
Much has been made over Twitter’s new “lists” feature they have been rolling out over the past several weeks. Instead of the tyranny of Twitter’s own “suggested user list,” users can feel free to create their own, add whomever they want, and share the list with others. A nice feature long overdue, if you ask me.
Of course, all we’re doing is trading one tyrant for another. Instead of relying on Twitter’s opinion about who to follow, you rely on someone else’s. That’s ok, if you agree with who they want to follow. Or even know the person exists, let alone their lists. How do you find lists to follow, anyway?
For me, I hardly see the point. I started using Twitter over three years ago, back when the service was SMS only and had no vowels in the name. I built my follow list organically, by meeting people talking to people I was following or whose blogs I was reading. Or even met in person.
I don’t need a list to tell me who to follow. I am already following the people I care about. I continue to add people to my follow list based on meeting new people either in person or through others on Twitter and elsewhere. I follow people that follow and engage me.
I don’t particularly care if the so-called “big” influencers are following me. They don’t know me from Adam, and, quite frankly, I don’t know them, either. I might get bigger follow numbers by appearing on one of their lists, but those followers don’t know me, either. Am I going to be able to realistically influence those people? I doubt it.
In the end, the number of followers doesn’t matter anyway. The right person has to be reading your tweets at the right time to be influenced. Sure, you might increase the odds a little by having more followers, but at what cost? How many people can you realistically engage on Twitter and still maintain a meaningful, two-way dialog with your followers?
This past week, I’ve been on the Check Point Security Tour up in Western Canada talking about the Dangers of Social Networking. The basis of the presentation was actually something I gave to Check Point employees in Redwood City back in August on the benefits of social networking. I added the “dangers” part after I was asked to present in this tour
This topic seem quite timely as this past week, several of my followers on Twitter got bit by the latest attempt at hacking Twitter accounts. At least three of my followers sent me direct messages on Twitter that were a little suspicious:
this youz ? ? http://is.gd/4H1qh
lost a ton of weight and feel better here http://ringys4u.com
hi. i lost excess fat with http://loseweight.asdjiiw.com it works…
These message looked suspicious. I didn’t click on the links and I immediately warned the affected individuals to change their passwords.
Of course, Twitter is not the only place this happens. In fact, these kinds of messages have being sent out as long as email spam has been around, which have been going on at least as long as I’ve been on the Internet.
Nothing New Under The Sun
I’ve been at this “social networking” thing a while. Aside from starting out on computer bulletin boards in the late 1980s (you know, the kind you used your computer modem to dial into), which is one of the earlier forms of so-called social networking, I’ve participated in IRC, instant messaging, USENET, mailing lists (also ran my own for 9 years), online forums, blogging (phoneboy.com has been one since 2005), and of course use the “current” social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook.
The main thing that differentiates these service from one another is the interface used and whether or not the services permitted real-time communication with others. Beyond that, they all fulfill a fundamental human need–the need to be heard and understood by others.
The Value of Social Networking
By this point in time, I think most of us understand why social networking is valuable. It’s great for making new connections with people, strengthening existing connections with people, being part of (or starting) a conversation, and sharing ideas and things you’ve created.
For business, it can even be more powerful. Connecting with more customers more often can mean more sales. It can also allow you to get better visibility into what’s going wrong with your business, for example customer service snafus. Businesses have to accept that they cannot control the conversation about them. However, they have a fighting chance of guiding it in the right direction by actively participating in the conversation.
Where Email and “Social Media” Tools Differ
It’s relatively easy to send an unsolicited email to someone. All you have to do is find their email–or guess it–and send them an email. Furthermore, it’s relatively easy to “spoof” an email. I figured out in the early 1990s how to send an email from someone appearing to be from “firstname.lastname@example.org” by talking directly with the email server. While mail servers have gotten smarter about these things over the years, it can still be done relatively trivially.
The newer social media tools make this a bit more challenging as a “friend” or “follower” relationship is required. For example, I can only send someone a direct message on Twitter to someone that is actually following me. Facebook requires the person to be a “friend.” This severely limits who can send you a private message and you can be fairly certain who sent the message to you.
Despite these controls, I still see “spam” on Twitter and Facebook. And yes, like what happens with email from time to time, it appears to come from a “friend.” But unlike email, where your identity can be easily spoofed, something more nefarious has to happen.
Prior to Twitter, there was not a huge called for so called URL Shortening services, which take a long URL and make it shorter. tinyurl.com is one of the oldest such services. However, the limited message size of Twitter and the increase in URLs shared over the service necessitated the use of these services in order to allow for text to accompany the URL and, of course, allow for URLs that might be longer than 140 characters
URL Shorteners are great for exactly this reason–they make long URLs shorter. They also provide other services as well, such as the ability to see who clicked on the link and when. However, they are also bad because they mask the original URL, which, if you could see it, might cause you not to click on that link. For example, would you click on a link for either of these URLs?
You can tell by looking at these URLs that something is up. However, Look at these two URLs:
Can you tell what evil might lurk behind these shortened links just by looking at the link?
How Do I Get Spam From My Friends on Social Networking Sites?
With friends sending you benign looking links via direct message, we have ourselves a perfect storm for the spreading of spam. Theoretically, these messages came from someone you trust, causing you to let down your guard and think it’s ok to click on the link. The link leads to a website that contains a piece of malware that, without your knowledge or consent, either steals your Twitter credentials stored on your computer, or hijacks your existing Twitter session and sends out similar links to your friends. Or much worse.
While that can and does happen, the other possibility is that you were flat out tricked into giving your Twitter credentials to a third-party that either looked like the Twitter site or purported to do something of benefit to you (e.g. help you gain more followers). While not all third-party sites that ask for your Twitter credentials are bad, some are.
Speaking of information disclosure, there are plenty of other opportunities to disclose information on social networking sites that, under a different context, you might not disclose. My buddy Kellman has a great post on those “quizzes” that make the rounds from time to time and what great sources of information they can be about you. While some of the questions are truly innocuous, some “key” questions could be sprinkled in there that, when used in the right circumstances, could easily be used to “reset” an account password or gain access to an account.
The dangers in social networking aren’t new at all. They’ve been there for at least a decade. Fortunately, the ways to protect yourself aren’t new, either, though far too many people forget the basics.
Careful With That Link, Eugene: Like links you receive in email, particularly unsolicited ones, all links on social networking sites should be carefully evaluated. Since the links themselves are often shortened URLs, look at then text around it. Usually that text is a huge clue as it contains misspelling or contains “spammy” looking text. Your account could be sending those same kinds of messages if you’re not careful about what links you click on.
Use Different Passwords, Change Them Often: Each of your social networking sites as well as all other important websites should have different, complex password assigned to them, and they should be changed regularly. Since people often use the same password on multiple sites, one compromised account could easily lead to compromising other accounts.
Don’t Blindly Give Out Your Credentials: There are a lot of third party web-based services out there that make use of your social networking services. In the past, the only way for this to occur was to give your credentials to these services. This works, so long as these third party services weren’t somehow compromised, or worse, the services were not what they seemed to be. The one benefit to using something like OAuth (which Twitter does) is that you can revoke a web applications permission quite easily. It doesn’t prevent the third party web service from being compromised.
Keep Your Operating System, Browser Patched: Ensure you have applied all the latest patches from Microsoft, Apple, or whomever supplies your computer’s underlying operating system. Ensure you are using the latest version of your web browser. If you are using Internet Explorer–especially if you are using Internet Explorer version 6, as is standard on Windows XP, try using a third party browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome.
Browser Plugins Can Help: If you are using Firefox, there are plugins that can help expand those “short” URLs so you can see where it is they will take you. LongURL is a good example of this for Firefox.
Security Software: Windows users should ensure they are running an up-to-date set of security tools that cover anti-virus, anti-malware, and protection from browser-based attacks. Microsoft puts out a free anti-virus/anti-malware tool which is quite good, as does a few other companies. Their free tools do not protect against browser-based attacks. Something like ZoneAlarm ForceField or ZoneAlarm Extreme Security (which includes ForceField and other security features) can be effective protection against these kinds of tools. (Disclosure: I work for Check Point Software, which publishes ZoneAlarm).
Nothing Is Completely Private: Even if you protect your updates on Twitter or are very careful about whom you interact with on Facebook, note that all communications, even so-called “direct” or “private” messages, are not entirely private on social networking services. Accidental disclosure can and does happen, thanks to actions by you or your so-called friends. It’s not always intentional, of course, but it does happen. And yes, those “quizzes” you might take may contain a so-called identity question that could be used to take over one of your other accounts. Just be careful.
Some Final Thoughts
Social networking has been, and continues to be, quite pervasive in the civilized world. The tools used for this have and will continue to change over time. What hasn’t changed is that there are people out there who do not have your best interest at heart. And while nothing is entirely safe and secure, with a little vigilance, we can spend less time being victims of the latest scam and more time doing what we’re supposed to do on these social networks: communicating and sharing.
6 September 2009
Back when I was in college, I had a stereo with a dual cassette recorder and a CD player. This was fairly common back in the early 1990s. The king of “personal music devices” back in those days was the walkman. Bulky by today’s standards, but if you wanted music on the go, that was it.
I still have my last walkman from those days. Not sure when I bought my last one, to be honest, as I used it into the early 2000s. It’s not a Sony, but it got the job done.
Another thing I have from those days is my collection of mix tapes. For those who are either too young or too old, a mix tape is a collection of music from different sources put onto a personal cassette tape that you listened to in your car or your walkman. The desire to make mix tapes was one reason people opted for dual-cassette stereos, not to mention outright copying of other people’s tapes
Mix tapes were typically on ninety minute cassettes, which meant two forty-five minute sides. Cassettes are not random access, either, they are linear. And decent cassettes weren’t cheap, either.
Because of these limitations, not to mention the fact you actually had to play a song all the way through to record it on a cassette tape, it took some work–and time–to come up with a decent mix tape. The end result was, dare I say it, a work of art in and of itself.
The limits of a cassette tape seem silly today. Carrying literally thousands of songs on something smaller than a cassette tape is not entirely uncommon. I can’t imagine carrying around a walkman and cassettes anymore like I used to back in the day.
How does this relate to Twitter? I’m glad you asked.
Twitter has some seemingly arbitrary limits. The two most often complained about are the 140 character limit per status update and the lack of threaded conversations. There are others, of course.
Within those arbitrary limits, some interesting things have emerged:
- Conversations. @ replies were not part of the original specification for Twitter (e.g. using @phoneboy in your tweet to indicate a response to me), but as users used Twitter, this was adopted as the standard.
- URL Shorteners: Tinyurl.com had been around pre-Twitter, but the development of these services took off once people started sharing URLs on Twitter. Anything to get more content in 140 characters.
- Picture sharing services: These have been around forever, but a number of new ones were created since Twitter and other similar services started taking off.
- RSS Reader, anyone?: Because people share URLs on Twitter, for many people, Twitter has become their RSS reader. Instead of following 100+ blogs, just read the URLs that come off of your followers on Twitter. I personally do a mix: follow a smaller subset of blogs and use my Twitter stream for the rest.
- Other apps that use Twitter for signaling: Phweet is one example, but there are plenty of others that I can’t think of right now.
- The re-tweet: If you like something someone else said, you re-Tweet it. However, you want to give the person credit who originally said it. If you want to make tweets that can be re-tweeted easily, you have to make the tweets shorter than 140 characters (say, 120).
Me? While I make use of these services just like everyone else, I do find the 140 character limits liberating in a sense. Whereas on a blog post, I have an infinite slate to work with, in Twitter, I have 140 characters. I have to get right to the point. Sometimes crafting those 140 characters takes time, just like the mix tapes used to.
The point is: limits aren’t entirely bad. Sometimes it’s those limits that are necessary to unleash creativity. Meanwhile, I’m working to bring my mix tapes into the 21 century.
14 July 2009
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I’ve had my Apple iPhone 3GS about a week now. While I’ve been generally happy with the experience so far, there are a few apps that don’t have quite have an analog on the iPhone, or don’t operate quite the same way. They have required a change in how I do things. Here are the top three areas outside of multitasking itself.
Aside from the lack of multitasking, which I still think is a fair trade for a much more stable phone, the single biggest change to my workflow is how Podcasting works on the iPhone. On most recent Nokia handsets, I can use the not-perfect, but serviceable, built-in Podcasting application. I can manage and download podcasts right from the phone, whether I am using WiFi, 3G, or EDGE. Granted, the experience could be a bit more integrated with the built-in Music Player, but it worked fairly well.
On the iPhone? If you want to be able to listen to podcasts and be able to listen to them in the background, you’re pretty much stuck with using iTunes on your PC or Mac. They recently added the “download more episodes” link, but that takes you to iTunes–a separate application from the iPod–and you are prevented from downloading podcasts over 3G when the MP3 file is over 10mb.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that: RSSPlayer. It is an application that allows you to search for podcasts or enter in an RSS URL. It will download podcasts right to the phone and allow you to manage the podcasts–something you can’t do with the regular iPod app. However, it maintains a separate database from that which was synced with iTunes. And, perhaps more importantly, due to the lack of multitasking, the podcasts downloaded with RSSPlayer can’t be played in the iPod, thus listening to podcasts is a foreground-only process.
Gravity is the best Twitter app on Nokia handsets, hands down. It’s so good, I bought it for 3 different handsets. Jan Ole Suhr is constantly upgrading and tweaking this application, adding new features such as the ability to post to ping.fm, forward tweets as SMS, and send information and pictures via a number of third party services. That and the app looks as good as any iPhone app out there.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of Twitter clients on the iPhone. I have used the free TweetDeck, and not-free Tweetie and Birdfeed. I have settled on Birdfeed because it handles working offline and gives me an idea of where I left off in reading my tweetstream. It also allows me to read a tweet on one of my accounts and respond to it using another.
You would think that the lack of multitasking would be a problem if I wanted to, say, read a link that was tweeted. The way Birdfeed handles this is that it opens a web browser right in the application itself, presumably using the built-in Safari engine. I can read the article and easily get back to Twitter. It’s elegant.
Right before I bought my iPhone, the folks from Audials sent me a review copy of their Audials Mobile for Nokia devices. Think of it like the service blip.fm, except you have to pay for the application (roughly 8 GBP). On the plus side, the app actually downloads the songs right to your phone for later playback, in unencrypted MP3 format.
The app does exactly what it says on the tin and is fairly easy to use. You use the app to search for the artist or genre you want. You select the songs you want, they download, you listen. I recommend using the plugin pack to find even more music.
Aside from some minor usability niggles, like you can only play one song at a time, I have found songs to be not labled correctly. For example, the Escape Song (e.g. If You Like Pina Coladas) was not by Jimmy Buffet, but Rupert Holmes. Also, you’re not always sure what version you’ll end up with. All in all, though, it’s worth the money (if I had to pay for it).
Given that this app essentially bypasses iTunes, you can be assured this app–or one like it–will never show on the App Store. One can use any number of other applications to find new music, but it’s streaming and doesn’t play in the background like it would on Nokia handsets.