Facebook, Google, et al: It’s Not The Data, It’s The Context.

ContextsDylan Curran recently published Are you ready? Here is all the data Facebook and Google have on you – an article which should open the eyes of anyone who uses Facebook or Google.

It’s a good article, and it shows how much data people give up freely – who doesn’t have a Gmail account or a Facebook page these days? – but it’s lacking something that most people miss, largely because they’re thinking of their own privacy or lack of it.

I requested my data from the sites – Facebook had 384 megabytes on me, and my Google Data I will get on April 7th since I opted for 50 gigabytes. All this data, though, is limited to what I have done.

It lacks the context. We are all single trees in the forest, and these companies aren’t so much in the habit of studying trees by themselves. They have the data of the forest of trees. That context, those interactions, you can’t really download. The algorithms they have derive data from what we hand over so willingly because it costs us nothing financially.

So, while they can give us our data, and some companies do, they can’t give us someone else’s data – so we only get the data on that single tree, ourselves. We learn only a small amount of what their algorithms have decided about us, and while Facebook has a way to see some of what their algorithms have decided about you, they are not compelled to tell you everything about your digital shadow. Your digital shadow has no rights, yet is used to judge you.

What’s your context? That’s the real question. It’s what they don’t show you, what they have decided about you from your habits, that they don’t truly share. That is, after all, their business.

Know that, be conscious of it… and don’t be an idiot online, no matter how smart you think you are. Everything you do is analyzed by an algorithm.

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The Introverted Network

Introvert / ExtrovertHidden in one of his posts (Measuring your real net worth) John Hagel welcomed some thoughts:

“…I would welcome advice and insight on how introverts (and others) can be more intentional about cultivating the kinds of personal networks that I’ve described above…

 

As a round peg that fits in many square holes, I do have a few things of value I can toss out there. John later mentions writing – writing has always been an asset for me. Photography came into play later on. Speaking for myself, with my own unique set of circumstances, I have certain guidelines for my networks I have created over the years that I still adapt to.

My guidelines are largely for attenuating my network, squelching noise and finding actual signal out there. In some ways, I feel like SETI.

Authentic.

My. Word.

In an age where everyone can communicate, it’s disheartening to see how many people aren’t authentic – they are showing who they want to be; these are the people who wash their cars and don’t do maintenance or have it done on their pretty little machines.

To find someone who is authentic is difficult enough…

Interesting?

I’m someone who ‘lives’ at intersections, always bridging one thing to another. I look for people who are not just specialists – in a world full of specialists – but also generalists and people who have something to offer other than something regurgitated from a newsfeed.

Thoughtful?

I appreciate a thoughtful read, particularly if it opens me up to a perspective I am unfamiliar with that is communicated in a thoughtful way – not the hollow expertise that has become rampant in even the most modern methods of communication. And when communicate back, I expect a level of thoughtfulness in the replies. If the response boils down to, “because I said so” or something similar, I’ll show my way out.

Cross-cultural?

This has become more and more important to me – and while it derives from ‘thoughtful’, it is a true gem to find. When people can communicate effectively across cultures, first they reach a larger audience with what they are saying. This, unfortunately, also means wrong information can spread across that cultural bridge – but oddly, I’ve found that most information I get from people who live at these intersections is pretty well thought out and open to discussion – even, sometimes, starved for it as someone gives voice to things and is heard.

Lines.

I draw lines.

First and foremost, if people get into my personal ‘space’ for no real good reason, I tend to squelch them. This is completely alien to some people and I understand that, but understanding that doesn’t mean I need to tolerate intrusions into my space (I call it my wa, or harmony). But what is this personal ‘space’?

The first time, people typically get a message from me that I’m not one for chit-chat; that I appreciate it all in one message. That usually does the trick. Usually.

The annoying ding of a message that just says, “Hi.” From this, I extrapolate that this will be a tiresome and largely unproductive communication that leads to multiple messages where one message alone would do. When I communicate, I lay it out all in one message.

And yes, I absolutely hate twitter for this. Absolutely. Twitter is good for sharing larger messages encapsulated in a link.

My second line is that if someone has an odd fetish that they post about all the time – for example, if they don’t ‘like Trump and post about Trump all the time – I squelch them. I learn nothing from that. The inverse is true for me as well. That is a form of intellectual masturbation I gave up a few decades ago, and while I appreciate that some have an odd predilection for it, I don’t feel like being near it.

Money

For a certain amount of money, to be negotiated, people can pay me to put up with the above. Never the other way around.

Decisiveness.

I probably could have networks exponentially larger than I have now had I not squelched things. Larger is not my goal. I view a network as something everyone in feeds, and something that feeds everyone.

My Own Counterculture

The typical SEO/social media expert will tell you that you have to put on the Disney smile for everyone. I suppose this is important for corporations who want to appear authentic and alienate as few people as possible. I have never subscribed to this thought for myself, and only over the last decade have stopped trying to make excuses for it or apologizing for it. There is only one me, I am who I am and I am no more and no less.

This is not for everyone, of course, and if you’re paying social media experts to broaden your reach, you need to understand that your reach also has to be managed – and success in this regard can result in cataclysmic failure. Speaking for myself, I deal with the world as I can, and increasingly, as I demand. I see this as a factor of having grown up before the Internet became a ‘thing’, of having dealt with it since it’s inception and having made a living off of it, through it and around it.

Lastly, social media is only that. Real connections with real people trump social media connections. Social media can offer real connections, and I’ve outlined the general rules of how I cultivate those.

Self-Defeating Social Media

Grunge Warning Sign - Do Not Read This SignActivism is very trendy on social media and in social networks. Someone in your network, I’m sure, is intent on saving something – be it trees, wildlife, the environment, some poor misunderstood politician, or something else. Everyone.

It gets to be too much and borders on defamation (or jumps solidly on it) at times. For example, imagine a posting of the rear of a car with accompanying text, “This person threw a bag of kittens on the ground and drove off!”. Horrible, right?

Now imagine that the pictured car is yours. “Wait!”, you’ll say, “But I didn’t do that!” And social media will roar back, “No, no, you did, you’re being dishonest!”

Let’s assume good. Let’s say it wasn’t you. Not very brilliant of the person who started that meme, was it? We forget to question what we see and hear on social media, we refuse to ask questions, and we go with the flow. A few of us unpopular folks take a moment and make a decision whether it merits sharing, but most people don’t seem to have enough brain cells to have that conversation in their brain.

People have died over that stuff when it comes to bombings and other things. I’m waiting for the lawsuits to start rolling in.

In Trinidad and Tobago, there are people posting about hunting out of season, selling animals illegally, etc. The system is allegedly corrupt – I don’t know firsthand, so I say alleged because I have to be responsible for what I write and share. That reporting to authorities has not netted any arrests is frustrating, I imagine – but, too, there’s a lot of frustration about crime and what is popularly seen as the inefficacy of law enforcement.

Be that as it may, it has become trendy to re-post things where people appear to be doing things illegally. Selling monkeys, for example. In a perfect world, one would send that to the authorities and the authorities would do their jobs… and people would get arrested. This, allegedly, is not working, so instead this stuff gets re-posted, shared across networks…

And of course, everyone’s upset, and the only thing that can compete with cute animal videos is what people are upset about. Now take a moment. This guy, because people are upset with him, got his post to go viral. Speculation – if he had monkeys to sell, he was more likely to find a buyer. And, if he has a brain, he’ll learn not to post such things where authorities might start paying attention and prosecuting people.

If authorities do actually want to do something, they’re now trying to find someone who may well know that he’s been made. With just enough brain cells, he ducks it and learns his lesson.

In so many ways, re-posting things can be counter-productive to the intended result.

Think first. Post later.

Having good intentions is not enough, and never will be.

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Social Media

Grim JoyI used to be heavily involved in social media; some might think I still am when I’ve simply become more efficient and have sculpted my networks. In all, though, I rate myself a curmudgeon – a ‘a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.’

This is not to say that I am a curmudgeon, but I imagine that there are some people who send me things who now believe I am a curmudgeon. Wishing people happy birthday on social media with a click is silly. A deluge of images of politicians leaves me feeling dirty in ways a shower cannot cure, a stream of people who believe Putin masterminded everything from the Presidential Election in the U.S. to their lost sock makes me roll my eyes, watching building blocks of uninformed opinion become representative of otherwise intelligent people is the intellectual equivalent of being assaulted with gift wrapped feces.

David over at Raptitude figured out that he could have more time to do things with his experiment. Yet even as a curmudgeon, I have to point out that social media, social networks and the humans that use them are a part of our lives – we just don’t need to exist on their plane; they need to exist on ours.

What that means is we should understand that it’s typically not very important, and we should be OK with telling people not to send us crap on WhatsApp, Facebook messenging, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever crackpost (that was a typo but I like it) network that people use as echo chambers to feel good about themselves.

We shouldn’t have to think of ourselves as curmudgeons to do this.  We can control what we take in simply by telling people what we don’t want to spend our time on –  be it the stale joke networks on whatsapp to the in depth discussion on doomed men’s fashion, from the cute puppy videos to the insane amount of posts about adopting animals, etc. In my spare time, I don’t want that to be what defines me.

No, I’d rather define myself than be molded into an acceptable image of what society likes. We are society.

Eschewing the Networks Of Noise

Social Media Signals

On one side is the gigantic internet, a miracle of fine articulation, which turns out the tabloid newspaper: on the other side are the contents of the tabloid itself, symbolically recording the most crude and elementary states of emotion.

I wish that I had written that but I didn’t. I simply switched ‘printing press’ with ‘Internet’ on a quote of Lewis Mumford (Technics and Civilization, 1934).

Someone mentioned that they would add me to some Whatsapp group this morning, but I didn’t have a smart phone – and they did so in a way that hinted at me being some stick-in-the-mud. I have no doubt that they see me as such, but as I responded, “If it weren’t for all the shit being posted, I might bother with it.”

“Yadda yadda yadda”

Case in point. Nothing of worth but implicitly saying, “I don’t care what you think”.

There’s only one suitable response to that, and they got it.

The signal to noise ratio of networks all over bugs me. I suppose part of that is the way that I grew up when minutes on a landline were a cost and thus one got the most value that one could. I suppose that my time in the military reinforced that, where you didn’t waste time in communication – and in dealing with ambulances from the Emergency Department in a Naval Hospital, where communication had to be clear, concise, and devoid of noise. I suppose it was reinforced even more with the SOAP notes that we wrote – quickly, accurately, no noise, anticipating what the reader would be looking for and making those things clear so that a month later you wouldn’t be asked questions about it.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a value to ‘noise’, I won’t disagree, but there is no value when it crosses a certain threshold. This threshold varies between people, and I’ll admit that I have a lower threshold than most that has increased with age.

A perfect example was using Whatsapp group to organize a Hindu funeral. It worked out fairly well despite only fragments of information being shared, and I used my own old smartphone on a wireless network to participate. Towards the end, though, it became a place where people were playing. Jokes inappropriate for a funeral were being posted, and other nonsense that didn’t pertain to the subject of the group were being posted.

Others on Whatsapp were interrupting my day with ancient memes I’d already seen on Facebook and Twitter. They meant well, but to me, what was it? Noise.

During all of this time, I was thinking of getting a smartphone here in Trinidad and Tobago – a period of months, and maybe soon enough I will, but right now I don’t want one because I don’t want to pay more to get less through both phone and service.

Am I the only one that feels this way? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t really care right now. I see children walking around with smartphones, and when I see that I wonder who is teaching them how to communicate clearly and concisely? If 20 and 30 somethings – much less 40 year olds and upward – can’t communicate clearly, do we wonder at the confusion that has become social media – a place of poorly communicated emotion, of poorly communicated ideas?

Society, with all the wonders of technology so well dressed in the palms of their collective hands, seems to be more interested in communicating the tabloid rather than the textbook, and while the tabloid most certainly has it’s place, we need more textbook in my opinion.

After all, competing with it has infected ‘news’ media…

Language And Tech (2014)

tweet

It’s official, for better or worse: ‘Tweet’ is now recognized in the Oxford dictionary despite breaking at least one OED rule: It’s not 10 years old yet.

Big Data‘ also made it in, as did ‘crowdsourcing‘, ‘e-reader‘, ‘mouseover‘ and ‘redirect‘ (new context). There’s a better writeup in the June 2013 update of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) that also dates the use of the phrase, “don’t have a cow, man” back to 1959 – to the chagrin of Bart‘s fans everywhere, I’m sure.

As a sidenote, those that use twitter are discouraged from being twits and ‘sega’ is actually a dance from the Mascarene Islands.

It’s always interesting to watch how language evolves and sometimes it’s a little disturbing. I honestly don’t know how I should feel about ‘tweet’ making it in as the brand ‘twitter’ is based on the word ‘twit’… see above link… but hey. Oxford says it’s ok and twits and tweeters everywhere can now rejoice.

Image courtesy Nancy L. Stockdale and made available through this Creative Commons License.

Crisis Informatics

DisasterPeople who have known me over the years know I’ve always had a passion for responding to disasters. I can’t tell you why it is that when most people are running away, I have a tendency to run in – something I did before I became a Navy Corpsman (and learned how to do better because of). Later became a stab on what this is about by first enabling the capture of the data itself by enabling the communication. I even worked a year at a company that does weather warnings and other emergency communication, and was disappointed at how little analysis was being done on the data.

Years later, I now read ‘The Data of Disasters‘. Some folks have been working on some of the things that I had been thinking about and working on as I had time, and they seem to have gotten further. I’m excited about since the Alert Retrieval Cache was necessarily closed and didn’t gain the traction I would have liked – and open systems present issues with:

  • Context: A post may be about something mentioned prior (a.k.a. ibid) but not tagged as such because of size limitations.
  • Legitimacy: Whether a source is trustworthy or not, and how many independent sources are reporting on something.
  • Timeliness: Rebuilding a timeline in a network full of shares/retweets can pose a problem because not everyone credits a source. If you go by brute force to find source date and times, you can pull on threads – but you’re not guaranteed of their legitimacy in unit time.
  • Perspectives: GIS allows for multiple perspectives on the same event in unit time.
  • Reactions: When possible, seeing when something at a site changes when all of the above can change in unit time.

It gets a bit more complicated from there – for example, languages can be difficult particularly with dialects and various mixes of languages (such as patois in the Caribbean, where I got into all of this). There’s also a LOT of data involved (big, quick and dirty data) that needs to be cleaned before any analysis can happen.

This is all why I envisioned it all to be a closed system, but the world believes differently, interjecting pictures of food with actual information of use. Like it or not, there’s data out there.

The expansion of data from a source over unit time, as mentioned in their paper on Crisis Informatics , is not something  I had thought of. I imagine they’re doing great work up there at the Department of Information Science in the College of Media, Communication and Information at CU Boulder.

I’ll be keeping an eye out on what else they publish. Might be fun to toss a beowulf cluster at some data.

6 Things To Answer Before Posting You Need A Website

Avdanced Web Design I don’t want to do your website. I’m posting this because it bugs me.

I’m going to tell you what so many people are doing wrong on websites like Upwork, Thumbtack and others when it comes to, “I need a website done” postings.

These are good sites, and if you need something done, they’re pretty awesome. Need a room painted? Need something fixed? Get a bid. Move right along.

When it comes to websites – and I’ve been watching a few of the postings on sites like this – the postings tend to be horrible. Here’s what you need to have if you’re going to post that you need a website.

1. What Does Your Business Do?

This could be a personal site, but let’s approach it like a business.

What do you expect of this site? What sort of expectations you have are very important to get a real quotation.

For example, if you just want a placeholder site – with your contact information, maybe a copy of your resume and/or portfolio – say that.

If you want to be able to process credit card transactions for selling those magically painted seashells, say that – and if you plan to do it not now but in the future, say that as well.

2. Do You Expect To Need Maintenance?

This is almost always a ‘yes’, though most people don’t seem to understand it. The internet is constantly evolving and your site will have to as well. You’re looking at a recurring cost. What will that be?

3. Do You Have Content, including Logos?

If you’re asking someone to generate content for you as well as do the website, know that these are separate tasks. Sure, there are people out there that claim to both – but their catch-phrase may be, “All Your Site Are Belong To Us”.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is almost always an issue here unless you want no one to find your website. What do you want to be found for when people search?

Further, if you are doing a website and don’t have a logo, you shouldn’t really expect a web designer to do it. Logos should be done by graphic artists, and a lot of thought has to go into them. Are they going to be on stationary? Are they going to be registered trademarks?

Do you have your own photographs?

4. Do You Want To Post Your Own Updates?

This is a magical question. If you do, and you are willing to invest a little time to learn, WordPress.com presently takes $99 of your money and register your domain name (MyAwesomeBiz.com might be taken) – and has a pretty easy to learn interface… which you may have to learn anyway after you find out that when you thought you needed maintenance and so on, you do. (See #2).

5. Social Media?

How are you planning to use your site with Social Media?

6. Are You As Certain As You Were When You Started?

These questions – real questions related to a real web presence – may have you going back and revisiting your website. And if they do, you should:

 Don’t waste your money going off half-cocked. If you do, you’ll end up spending more and getting less.
If you really need help defining what you want, drop me an email. If I have the time and you are willing to pay a fee for my time, I’ll give you worthwhile advice. If you’re in the Daytona Beach/New Smyrna Beach area and catch me at a local coffee shop, I might even do it for free.

Social Networks Don’t Make Sense To You?

3D Social NetworkingI was sitting by myself eating lunch, with only my Kindle as company, when I heard from a voice from another table say that they didn’t understand how to use LinkedIn.

A few other people agreed. One or two shook their heads in not-so-mock consternation. Having overheard this group before – beware solitary people with Kindles eating lunch – I knew that these were business folk. Marketers. Salespeople. And while there was a part of me that wanted to say something, I decided to be quiet and consider what they said.

After all, they’re right.

They don’t understand it. They owned that. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t a failure – social networks are hardly transparent in how they work, and they do allow people to think that it’s about the members of the community when the bottom line says it is not. There’s no shame in not understanding how social networks work, or don’t. There’s no shame in that at all, and coming to that conclusion within a moment or two, I listened some more.

I mean, really, social networks suck. They almost always show us things that we don’t want to see while somehow failing to show us what we need to see. Renowned sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, said that social networks are traps – and largely, they are.

This leads us to the first thing you need to understand.

Social Networks Are Not About You

I know, I know, we all would like to think so as we impress upon each other our politics, our perspectives and our silliness – not to mention kittens.

Follow the logic:

  • The social network belongs to a company. =>
  • The company isn’t altruistic, it needs to make money. =>
  • The company makes money based on advertising and selling what they find out about you. =>
  • You are the product that buys and whose information is sold.

An antiquated perspective would say, “Well, then we’re in charge!”. The idea that you could control what is bought of you and sold to you is a bit naive at best; at worst it’s a simple matter of giving yourself away in bytes.

So then we like to think that, like a casino or lottery, we will come out the winner when no one else is beating the house. A few do. The majority will not. Despite your best efforts, you’re likely to be a part of the majority rather than the minority.

If that sounds bleak, well, shucks, I apologize for being the guy who gives you the news, but I do expect you to thank me at some point when it sinks in.

Now that we have established that it isn’t about you, you’re ready for the second point.

Social Networks Are Not Designed For You.

Wow, I’m just pulling down your worldview. It’s a bummer, I know, but someone pretty intelligent said to me recently, “the person who reads the reports makes the decisions, not the one who uses the user interface” (take a bow, M.E.). That summarizes it quite well.

The people who pay for your data and who pay the owner of the social network to sell you stuff are the ones who drive the interface. You’re just a statistic. They might tell you that they’re warm and fuzzy human beings, but that warm and fuzzy goes away fast when the black line falters.

And yet, I must make the final point.

Social Networks Can Benefit You.

When you realize that you’re just a squirrel in their world trying to get your nut, you learn how to gather your nuts by paying attention.

The first rule of being popular on a social network – something I’ve never tried to do except professionally – is not to be like everyone else. Your posts need to represent what you want your digital shadow to be seen for.

If you have a business, you should stand out not just with better products and services – what do you mean you don’t have those? Go get them and then finish reading this– you have to stand out. The best and easiest way to stand out is to be yourself. Don’t just post things about your company. Post things that people find interesting, and if you have good salespeople and marketers, they can give you input so you can at least fake it to the demographics you’re looking for.

If you’re an individual, take the risk of being yourself. Don’t post pictures of your food. Don’t use a professional network to explore your love life candidly. Use the funny shaped thing inside your skull, equidistant between your ears.

You may not be popular.

You’ll have a presence, and really, that’s the only way to leverage a social network your way. Be interesting, or as close to interesting as you (or your company) can abide.

I encourage you to read this LinkedIn post as well:

Your Personal Brand and LinkedIn