Mimesis and Violence

Book Autopsies
December 29, 2007, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Art

I can’t get over how cool Brian Dettmer‘s book autopsies are.

Book Autopsy

See also: this bio, this gallery, and this gallery.


What’d I Tell You?
December 19, 2007, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Internet, Privacy, Security, Technology

NyTimes has a piece about academics using Facebook as a source of sociological data. Turns out that one group of researchers is tracking 1700 students without their permission.

See also: Ed Felten’s Lessons from Facebook Beacon, and my Just one lesson from the Facebook Beacon debacle.

Just One Lesson From The Facebook Beacon Debacle
December 10, 2007, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Internet, Money, Rants, Technology

Ed Felten just posted a piece over at Freedom to Tinker entitled “Lessons from Facebook’s Beacon Misstep.” Basically Ed thinks those lessons are about the nature of privacy online and how companies can find it hard to predict user reactions to new features that appear to change the model of Facebook-privacy.

Ed makes a good point when he notes that Beacon “wasn’t a privacy accident,” that Beacon was (and is) a purposeful business decision on the part of Facebook. But I disagree with Ed that Facebook could not be expected to predict the backlash to Beacon. It seems pretty clear from the record that Facebook execs anticipated the backlash and expected us to “fall in love” with Beacon eventually.

I’m gonna put my neck out and say that Facebook could have and should have predicted the backlash to Beacon. There have been numerous privacy/feature scares over the course of Faceook’s lifetime – the “OMG employers are looking at my Facebook page” scare, the “OMG high schoolers can join Facebook” scare, the “WTF is a news feed” scare, and the “Oh God! Oh God there are OLD people on Facebook” scare – that have played out in similar ways. It’s hard to look at Facebook’s history and believe that Beacon was anything other than a purposeful business decision to sacrifice users’ interests on the altar of cash.

Cue long apparent non-sequiter that’s actually related…

One of the most interesting things about the internet is that it allows companies not just to participate in markets, but to build markets of their own. Prior to the web it was the exceptional firm that could structure a market on their own terms – the exceptional firms wrote the rules of engagement and the unexceptional followed. Ford famously structured the automobile market by leveraging the assembly line to build the Model T and setting expectations for the quality, reliability, reparability, and price of commodity cars. When it opened in 1948 McDonald’s set consumer expectations on how fast and how cheap (and how salty) food should be. Burger King and Wendy’s followed suit, but simply played Ronald’s game. Microsoft essentially created the business of selling corporate operating systems when it bundled DOS with IBM computers. Plenty of firms have tried to play Microsoft’s game (Novell) and rough times have been had by many. Apple made it’s name selling well designed consumer software bundled with well designed consumer hardware and when Microsoft moved into consumer software with Windows 3.0 they “borrowed” several design features from Apple’s work.

If there’s one thread that ties all these pre-Internet market-makers together it’s that you’ve heard of them. Online, however, every site is essentially an island. Just as Amazon serves the long tail of book buyers by selling titles too unpopular to merit shelf space at your local Borders the Internet serves the long tail of users’ interests by making it easy for sites of all sorts to get their message out. Each site can decide of its own accord how it will structure it’s relationship with it’s users, whether users will need to create an account and sign in to use their services (Facebook) or just hit the site and poke around (Google search), whether it will charge users for services rendered or products sold (Match.com, Jdate, True, Amazon) or try to make money off of advertising (OKCupid.com, PlentyOfFish), whether they will sell advertising through an open auction (using Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo) or at fixed prices to individual advertisers, etc. Each site can be a market-maker for it’s own (often small) market.

So here’s where I get back to the point: the way in which a particular site structures it’s relationships with its users is often different than other comparable sites. This structure is easily observed (we all have Internet connections) and it tells us a whole lot about the companies in question.

Beacon is a perfect case in point. Every piece of Beacon was built with an eye towards Facebook’s bottom line and an all eyes away from users’ interests. Not only is Beacon opt-out rather than opt-in (in contrast to all of Google’s privacy-sensitive features) but until recently users needed to opt-out on a per-advertiser basis. There was not a “Don’t allow any websites to send stories to my profile” checkbox until very recently. Worse yet, recent analysis of the Beacon Javascript code reveals that Facebook sends purchase data back to their site regardless of whether the purchaser is logged into Facebook at the time of purchase.

As far as I can tell the inevitable lesson from Facebook’s general history and from the Beacon debacle in specific is this: Facebook doesn’t care about their users at all. There was virtually no thought put into creating a pleasant user experience in the design of Beacon. Basically Facebook expects us to complain a little for a while but eventually swallow their medicine whole.

Now think for a second about all the stuff you’ve posted on Facebook. Your interests, your relationships, your posted items, your friendships and friend details, your sexuality, your pictures, your wall posts, your favorite quotes, the applications you’ve installed, etc. Even if you lie it’s informative – if your Facebook religion is “Pastafarianism” you are probably not too serious about your real religious heritage. That’s all information that you’ve explicitly volunteered to Facebook.

Now think for another second about all the information that Facebook has about you that you that you didn’t give them. All those posts on your wall, photos tagged and untagged, comments on said photos, notes in which you are mentioned, the people who’ve blocked you or set you to limited profile, etc. This stuff is often even more informative (and sensitive) than the stuff you volunteered and you never really intended to give it to them.

Give me just one more second and think about what Facebook has done to earn your trust. They’ve habitually redefined the scope of privacy and appear to give employees access to your personal data as a ‘job perk.’ Do you think that any of that sensitive information is safe in their hands? Maybe we should all think about spending less time logged in to Facebook.

It’s Got What Plants Crave!
December 1, 2007, 2:11 pm
Filed under: Internet, Products, Ridiculous, Video

Brawndo (the thirst mutilator) is coming to stores in 2 weeks!

(Don’t get it? see Idiocracy)