The more things change…

Here’s a quick summary of this week’s Facebook user interface changes, particularly those apt to affect the Facebook for AAUW document that may be useful to AAUW members across the country who want to introduce Facebook to attendees at their state conventions this spring:

  • The icons to access various Facebook applications have moved from the lower left to the left hand column (where they used to be). They replace the “quick links” to show the news from subsets of friends.
  • The “notifications” icon has moved from the lower right to the upper left (and is now almost invisible). I’ve yet to see any notifications come in, so I don’t know if it will be move visible when it’s active.
  • The only thing left that uses the bottom of the screen is the chat application (which also appears in the left hand menu). I don’t use that, so I’m not sure if there are other changes.
  • The confusing News Feed/Live Feed options are still there — but can now be accessed on the upper right of the main content window as “Top News” and “Most Recent”.  By default, as before, Facebook shows the “Top News” chosen by some proprietary algorithm that no doubt uses some metric about how “close” you are to a particular friend and how many other friends have commented on the post. If you want to see everything, click “Most Recent”. [There used to be a way to make “Most Recent” the default. If I find out what that is, I’ll post here.
  • Access to your list of friends has changed from the top menu to a topic in the Account menu (at the top right). That’s where you’d go to search for new friends, edit your friend lists, etc.
  • The friend lists that used to appear in the left hand column are now a click or two away under the Friends link in that column.

With gajillion Facebook users feeding data to the Facebook developers, I have to believe that these changes were based on usage patterns. For instance, it’s possible that few people “found” the icons at the bottom of the page, and that few people actually used the prominent access to friend lists in the left hand column.

Obviously, change is unsettling — we all have other things to do with the energy it takes to adapt to these changes. But since all gajillion of us do use a single interface, our choices are to adapt as Facebook solves problems that no other company has ever had, or go off and start our own networks where we have more control (and have to spend considerably more energy on the information architecture, user interface, recruiting participants, and other issues). My choice is to stay here — where there’s a much greater probability of finding the folks I’d like to talk to.

For more on the reasons behind the changes, see the Facebook blog.

If you want to help update that “Facebook for AAUW” document, please contact me or one of the other folks listed in the document.

Getting info from Facebook pages

Here’s a quote from the comments of

[I]f you are fan of a lot of Pages, the ones you never made a comment or a “like”, there are good chances you never see the updates in your News Feed

In my experience, this is at least plausible.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are coming to depend on Facebook for updates on your friends and family, you can also start getting information about organizations, businesses, candidates, and more that interest you. What are the steps?

  1. Find a Page and click the “become a Fan” button.
  2. Then, engage, people: If you see a post that you like, simply click the “like” link underneath the post. If you have something to add, make a comment!

In other words, in this brave new world we call web 2.0, you have a vote as to what information you see. The way Facebook implements it (analyzing your actions even after you subscribe to content), you can continue to say “yes, this really interests me” even after you make the initial “subscription” decision. It can tell what content “grabs” you and it tries to show you more of the same. This is so much better than the old “check back often to see what’s new” and I encourage you to make the effort to see how it can simplify your information gathering life.

[Of course the pages I’d like to see you engaging with are the ones for AAUW and AAUW NC.]

Profile aggregators

At an STC meeting earlier in the year, I heard a presentation that mentioned Naymz. It sounded like too much work to keep yet another professional profile up to date, particularly since there was a “popularity contest” or “feeding the virtual pet” aspect to the whole thing, so I passed when a couple of other folks at that meeting invited me to join that network.

More recently, it appears that there are networks popping up that will pre-populate your profile with info gleaned from the web. You then may be stuck between a rock and a hard place: join to make sure the site’s picture of you is accurate, or ignore it and hope that it will either fade away or that the AI engine behind it will pick a reasonable representation of you. If you’ve been careful about maintaining a public web presence, and if your contacts are intelligent in filtering info they find on such sites, there’s probably not much incentive to put effort into correcting/enhancing these profiles.

Two that have popped up recently:

  • – I don’t even remember how I tripped over this. My profile’s relatively rich. In a search for my college roommate, I found she was quoted in USA Today earlier in the year. Who knew?
  • – there has been a fair amount of traffic about this on the ISF mailing list (see, e.g. zenofnptech). I must admit I was really surprised to get a “trust invite” from Cyber-Yenta Deborah Elizabeth Finn who barely knows me and who was quite clear about her policy of “don’t expect me to accept your LinkedIn invite unless I really can vouch for your work.” It turns out that Spock is one of those sites that’s fairly promiscuous about using any address info you provide and sending invites to others on the site even without your permission will use information, including contacts’ e-mail addresses in ways you don’t expect. The community seems to be hoping it dies a quick death. If someone as smart and ‘net savvy as Deborah can be spoofed here, ordinary mortals need to beware.

But since we’ve been arguing for Open APIs and all data on the ‘net is subject to remixing, these sites, for good are ill, are here to stay.

Be careful out there…

Clarifying edits added in response to comment.

Facebook vs. LinkedIn

Last week I was in a meeting where a “choice” of social networking sites came up. I said I’d found Facebook more engaging than LinkedIn. Another participant said that she didn’t see value in Facebook, but found herself spending lots of time on LinkedIn.

Now our approaches to social networking sites are quite different. I work out of the house and don’t mind a bit of “chatter” about personal lives seeping into the networking discussion, particularly since my “persona” in Facebook is as an AAUW leader encouraging engagement among members from across the country. She has a small business (where she gets enough of that “chatter”) and is using LinkedIn to recruit new employees, and so it’s the professional information that’s important to her.

Here’s an attempt to compare/contrast those two platforms, and move towards an understanding of what goals are met by participating in one or the other or both.

  1. It’s easier to approach strangers in Facebook.
    • In LinkedIn you cannot send a message to someone new without using an “introduction” through one of your connections or through a group in which you are both members. Almost no one posts an e-mail address or other contact information that is visible to the public.
    • In Facebook you can message anyone who hasn’t explicitly chosen to stay “unreachable.” In the Facebook culture, almost everyone stays open to connections from strangers, so if you find someone with a common interest, it’s possible to communicate with them, even if you (or they) do not choose to establish a “friend” connection.
  2. It’s easier to integrate nonprofit goals in Facebook
    • There’s a richer set of applications (e.g. causes,, changing the present), that integrate with Facebook profiles and encourage friend-to-friend information sharing about nonprofit goals.
    • While memberships, board service, and other non-profit activities can be listed on LinkedIn profiles, they aren’t supported in the same way as on Facebook
  3. There are different ways to find people by skill/interest
    • Both systems encourage users to list profile information. Facebook’s default is skewed to the personal, not professional, but it does have extensions that cover resume-type information, though it’s not clear how that information could be searched.
    • In Facebook, it’s easy to set up skill/interest based groups and it’s possible to find people by their contributions on those groups.
    • LinkedIn’s Q&A setup may serve some of the purpose of the Facebook groups in identifying people by their participation patterns.

I’ll add more as things come to me. Please comment or contact me if you’ve got other thoughts.

Changes in the Social Networking Landscape

My head hurts… You’d think that after 25 years of working with open source software, I’d be accustomed to change in software environments, but this Social Networking stuff is just crazy.

In the last couple of weeks, Google announced that they were getting into the game in a more serious way, Microsoft bought a stake in Facebook, and Facebook changed its model of advertising (just when I thought I understood the old one). If you even partially accept that social networks will serve some of the role provided by operating systems in the past, watching the 100 pound gorillas fight it out will be interesting.

I’m still not sure what Google’s strategy means for us chickens. Out here on the “I just want to use the stuff” edges, it’ll take some application developers to be the intermediaries before we “get” it. On the other hand, Facebook’s changes (discontinuing the relatively simple flyers and replacing them by “social ads” and “pages”) seems to make their platform even less user-friendly for the purposes of nonprofits and such.

Differences I’ve noticed between flyers and social ads –

  • Flyers could be directed to networks. Ads are directed to cities/town. For relatively amorphous areas like the Triangle in NC, this seems awkward.
  • Ads have a really restrictive editing window: c. 135 characters, no line breaks, can’t have more than one punctuation mark in a row (e.g. no Read more …) I created a couple of flyers and don’t remember it being quite so hard to craft legal copy.
  • Ads do give you some feedback on the size of the population targeted by the ad. For instance, if you select Raleigh NC, it says there are about 151,340 subscribers. If you then say you want to target those 25 and older, it says the audience size is about 33,740.
  • Be careful not to overspecify your audience. For instance, if you check all possible political views, you’ll cut out a significant portion of the audience (about 2/3 in the case of Raleigh) — those folks who didn’t list a preference or said something other than Liberal/Moderate/Conservative.

That said, I’ve just posted an ad for the Raleigh/Wake County Branch’s Interpreters Directory. I targeted those 21 and over living Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and a few smaller cities in the area. I offered $.25/click with a $5.00 max per day. If we get a volunteer/dollar it’ll be well worth it. I’ll let y’all know how it works out. [Placing an ad put a new application on my left-hand sidebar in Facebook — but I need to download the latest Flash player to actually use it. Ah, well.]

As for “pages” — I’m not sure they make much sense. A fellow member of the AAUW Facebook Strategy group checked out Facebook pages, and decided to go back to groups. Groups offer “news”, “posted items” and “related groups” that don’t seem to have comparable features in “pages”. And it just seems odd to ask folks to “become a fan” on a page rather than “join” a group. But, as I said at the outset, things change quickly and perhaps features will be added to pages (RSS feeds anyone? general access to the applications that individuals can put on their own pages?), or perhaps not.