Category Archives: Facebook

On Facebook’s New Features, Privacy And The Near Future Of The Web

Quite a bit has been made recently of the changes to Facebook’s default settings, an extensive expansion of how Facebook shares data with other Web sites, and how all that works within the traditional expectation — if not the fundamental understanding — most people have about privacy.

Facebook’s recent change to, by default, share public user information with partner Web sites — namely, Microsoft’s Docs.com, Internet radio provider Pandora and city-based business review site Yelp — is “building a largely closed, alternative version of the Internet,” or, in plainer language, “a power grab.”

This argument is further (and ironically) strengthened by Facebook’s announcement at the recent f8 developer conference that it is switching from its proprietary Facebook Connect login system to OAuth, the soon-to-be-a-standard, open Web site authentication protocol. In so doing, the fabled idea of the “single sign-on” for all Web sites becomes less pipe dream and more within reach — with Facebook the linchpin, and by inference, the one link that can’t be removed from the chain.

In other words, Facebook is a 1998-vintage AOL that doesn’t suck.

That’s not a bad thing. Actually, it’s a great thing.
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Three Web Sites That Make My Online Life A Lot Easier

I spend several hours every day reading / viewing and retransmitting Web content. For the longest time, that meant a lot of visits to a lot of places; it also meant some places got forgotten along the way, or not as fully appreciated as they should be.

That is, until I discovered Google Reader, The New York Times Skimmer and Ping.fm. The three of them make my online life a lot easier to manage. I’d like to explain what each of them is, and how I use them to streamline and crowdsource my daily Internet viewing.

Google Reader is an exceptionally powerful RSS feed reader. (For those who are new to the blog, an “RSS feed” is basically a way to transmit content from one Web site to several others; be it text, pictures, audio or video. Google Reader, and other RSS feed readers, are ways to combine several RSS feeds into one place.)

Reader provides most of the features you’d expect from an RSS reader, plus a lot more:

  • Feed aggregation (that is, you can read several feeds at once);
  • the ability to group feeds;
  • tagging of individual items;
  • a “like” feature, which helps Reader suggest other feeds you might like, based on the articles you like;
  • a “star” feature, that you can use to easily find items you want to revisit;
  • and by far the most valuable feature, a “share” button, that allows you to re-aggregate content — that is, it gives you another feed of the items you share, and presents it as an Atom feed, a static Web page attached to your Google profile, and a JavaScript widget you can easily add to a blog (check the upper left-hand corner for mine).

I currently subscribe to feeds from Slashdot, Lifehacker, The Daily WTF, Wired and a few NPR blogs / podcasts.

Another great thing about Google Reader is Play, which is basically a visual way to find new things on the Internet. Your Facebook friends will think you’re the cleverest person around, just because you repost things you find in Play.

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It’s Time For Facebook – Or, At Least, Someone – To Vet Third-Party Applications

It’s no mystery to anyone who’s been on Facebook for more than a week that one of its biggest boons — and, in the finest Zen tradition, one of its most nagging banes — is the plethora of third-party applications that leverage its data.

Virtually all the value in Facebook is crowdsourced — that is, users generate all the content, they create all the connections, they drive interest in whatever direction it may flow, they create scores of memes every hour.

Since Facebook’s primary business model is driven by collecting data about usage, this means that opening its use to the creators of new social media tools makes tremendous success.

Why bother taking Microsoft’s old-school tack — create a standard, then ride it into the grave — when, instead, you can provide users, and let others give them reasons to stick with you? Why bother even taking Google’s approach — create lots and lots of things, in the hope one of them proves popular — when someone else can assume all the risk, presenting you with the opportunity to buy or duplicate his success with your framework?

How many people, do you suppose, would have stopped using Facebook after a few days, had it not been for Mafia Wars, Farmville or Bejeweled? That’s my point.

But every day, there’s also a new crop of the outright obnoxious third-party applications that promise to do the exact opposite: Drive users out for fear of their privacy and security.

Take, for example, the recent spate of “see who’s stalking your profile” applications. As The Register notes, all of them are at best cash-for-clicks scams; at worse, open invitations to load malware onto the computers of tens of thousands of unsophisticated users.

I’d like to expand upon a central tenet of a blog post offered by Rik Furguson of Trend Micro, from which The Register drew its article: That it’s high time Facebook employed some sort of vetting process for third-party applications.
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The Future Of Web Programming: From Artisan To Assembly Line

Sent to me via e-mail from Billy, a frequent commenter on this blog (that is, for as infrequently as the blog gets comments, Billy is often one of those commenting):

I was wondering if I could get a small interview, just one question, for a term paper. I have 15 bibliography cards to do and I need sources and I was going through websites, found three good ones about career prospects in the programming/web development and design fields and that was it. I was thinking about people I could ask questions to and thought about you. I basically needed to know what you think the career opportunities in the programming and web development fields are and what you think they’ll be years on down the road. If you’re too busy I understand. Thank you for your time.

Billy:

I’m no industry analyst; my prognostications are usually limited to American football, and more often than not turn out wrong. (Quoth I, just before kickoff of Super Bowl 44: “The Saints are a great story, but this is gonna be a rout. Indy’s gonna annihilate them.”)

But I do have opinions about what programming and the Web will be like in 20 years, formed as a result of listening to others’ opinions, the history of the neolithic, agricultural and industrial revolutions, and my own experience of seeing how the Web has changed over the roughly 15 years I’ve been working in programming it.

The Web and computer programs we have today are, in a lot of ways, very much like the horse plow, rail fence and punch-card looms of antiquity. Today’s Web technologies and desktop programs are not primitive, but they’re largely second and third drafts of technologies that are changing fast.

The first Arab to tend a garden didn’t envision ConAgra; Adam Smith would probably have laughed at the notion of a Chinese economic juggernaut as he wrote The Wealth of Nations. The same will hold true of Al Gore and Tim Berners-Lee: What they thought they were making, at the time they were making it, is markedly different from what we have today, and will result in something far different, further down the road.
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