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Can Facebook Really Bring About A More Peer-to-Peer, Bottom-Up World?

This post originally appeared on Techdirt

Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to shareholders included in Facebook’s IPO filing contains a pretty bold vision for Facebook to not just connect people and enable them to share, but to fundamentally restructure the way that the world works:

By helping people form these connections, we hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information. We think the world’s information infrastructure should resemble the social graph — a network built from the bottom up or peer-to-peer, rather than the monolithic, top-down structure that has existed to date. We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring.

We have already helped more than 800 million people map out more than 100 billion connections so far, and our goal is to help this rewiring accelerate. [emphasis added]

That sounds pretty lofty, but if you recognize that Facebook provides a social networking service that hundreds of millions of people use — but forget for a moment that it’s Facebook — it’s quite a bold “social mission.” And there are many examples of how the service has been used as a key tool in affecting change on everything from opposition to the Canadian DMCA to the Arab Spring. There’s no doubt that the service makes it easier for people to organize in a more bottom-up way.

But, once you remember that it’s Facebook we’re talking about, the vision sounds more problematic. Could Facebook ever truly bring about a peer-to-peer, bottom-up network? The notion seems to be an inherent contradiction to Facebook’s architecture — as a centralized, proprietary, walled garden social networking service. Facebook may enable a more bottom-up structure, but it’s a bit disingenuous for Zuckerberg to decry a monolithic, top-down structure when Facebook inserts itself as the new intermediary and gatekeeper. As a centralized, proprietary, walled garden service, Facebook is a single point for attacks, control, and surveillance, never mind controversial policies or privacy concerns. Facebook may enable a more bottom-up and peer-to-peer network compared to many things that came before, but there is something fundamentally at odds with a truly distributed solution at the core of its architecture and its DNA.

To realize the full potential of bottom-up, peer-to-peer social networking infrastructure, we need autonomous, distributed, and free network services — the sort of vision that StatusNet/Identi.ca or Diaspora have tried to bring about. Rewiring the world to create a more bottom-up, peer-to-peer network is a bold vision for Zuckerberg to put forth — and one that Facebook has advanced in many ways — yet it’s fundamentally at odds with the reality of Facebook as a centralized and proprietary walled garden.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

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Thumbs Down for “Like” Culture

When the “Like” button was first introduced on Facebook, it was a useful alternative to leaving a comment, another way to show you were paying attention, but it crept from posts to comments and pages, and it now permeates every aspect of the Facebook experience and defines the entire ethos of the site. What was at first a secondary option to conversation has been enshrined as the primary and defining characteristic of Facebook. Not only is it often a superficial way to interact with someone else, by just hitting “like,” but it also influences and shapes what people post and share.

Just as stand-up comedians are trained to be funny by observing which of their lines and expressions are greeted with laughter, so too are our thoughts online molded to conform to popular opinion by these buttons. A status update that is met with no likes (or a clever tweet that isn’t retweeted) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewritten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.

Now, we rarely “show our true selves” offline either, but it’s not self-presentation that impairs authentic social interaction. It’s when automated, superficial interaction becomes the dominant mode of communication. A “Like” or +1 may be better for Facebook or Google than a comment — a simple binary value is easier for their algorithms to tally — but that’s not the kind of human interaction that drew me to social media.

There is so much more value in online social networking than the popularity contest, than merely pressing digital levers, like lab rats looking for pellets of social affirmation. Social technology can enable intimate and in-depth conversations where time, space and fate might otherwise not allow. Ambient awareness can maintain ties that distance and a loss of common circumstances might otherwise break. The ease of organizing can enable groups and communities to thrive where, offline, they might be dispersed. Yet, I’ve seen less of this in the evolution of Facebook and other social media, and more encouragement of the lab rat lever-pushing type interaction. Deep, rich, intimate and profound interactions — expressions of love, nostalgia, unity, shared memories, the meeting of minds, bonds of friendship or common experience — these are much harder for an algorithm to make use of than a binary +1 or “Like.”

Don’t let thumbs and plus ones be substituted for authentic social interaction online.

When the “Like” button was first introduced on Facebook, it was a useful alternative to leaving a comment, another way to show you were paying attention, but it crept from…

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Facebook Suggests Celebrating My First Wedding Anniversary With a Facebook Message… Or Divorce

A week before my first wedding anniversary, Facebook started to remind me and suggested I celebrate by… sending my wife a Facebook message.

Thanks for the reminder, I guess, but I wasn’t exactly planning to spend my anniversary on Facebook. This brought up some similar stories from friends:

When I removed my “In a relationship” status […] all the targeted ads changed from ‘Buy Engagement Rings Here’ to ‘ARE YOU SINGLE AND ALONE?’

The barrage of wedding ads my wife and I received once we were engaged only subsided when we got married — then, she immediately started receiving ads for baby stuff. As my friend put it, “Facebook is like a really pushy, suggestive relative.”Watch 1916: The Irish Rebellion (2016) Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

My wife got the anniversary reminder too, but the next day Facebook stepped up its game and served her a divorce ad.

An hour later, the divorce ad and anniversary suggestion appeared on the same page.

… was it because I didn’t send her a message? Well, there’s yet another reason to move away from services like Facebook

A week before my first wedding anniversary, Facebook started to remind me and suggested I celebrate by… sending my wife a Facebook message. Thanks for the reminder, I guess, but…

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Four Criteria for Free Network Services

I’m increasingly critical of network services — software that you use on someone else’s server to do your own computing. We rely on computers more and more for our work, social lives, civic engagement, health, education and leisure, and more and more that means relying on networking services rather than our own personal computers. There are serious trade-offs to living as a tenant online, rather than a property owner. I’ve been reconsidering the network services I use and rely on, especially in the shift to mobile computing.

The work of Autonomo.us has heavily influenced my thinking. Also of note is Stallman’s essay on software as a service (though he does more to identify the problems than recommend solutions). I essentially agree with the Franklin Street Statement from Autonomo.us. As a user of network services, I’ve narrowed it down to four major criteria to look for when deciding whether to trust a service on freedom and autonomy.

  1. Free (libre) software
  2. Control over data
  3. Privacy / Encryption
  4. Distributed Systems

Note: This is more of a working list than an attempt at a formal definition. For example, I’m not sure that #3 and #4 should be required, even though I believe they are important. Feedback is welcome.Roblox HackBigo Live Beans HackYUGIOH DUEL LINKS HACKPokemon Duel HackRoblox HackPixel Gun 3d HackGrowtopia HackClash Royale Hackmy cafe recipes stories hackMobile Legends HackMobile Strike Hack

1. Free (libre) software

Free (libre) or open source software licenses designed for network services, like the GNU AGPL, help guarantee the software will respect users’ freedoms. The arguments for software freedom have been addressed at length elsewhere, but the freedom to run the software yourself is particularly relevant here since, unlike desktop software, you often have the choice of letting someone else run the software for you. Even if you don’t run the software on your own server, having the freedom to do so ensures that you can still run the service in the event that the service provider shuts down — a frequent concern with proprietary web startups after acquisition or failure. And, even if you can’t run the software yourself, with all four freedoms, chances are someone else will. The broader case for software freedom is made at length elsewhere.

Network services should respect users’ freedoms. LibreProjects.net has a good list of free web services and alternatives.

2. Control over data

If users want to leave a service provider, can they take their data with them? Open standards are important. Open standards allow other software to read and understand your data. Open standards also allow you to mix the software you use on the client and server or across multiple devices more easily. Not only does this make migration more realistic, but it makes transitions smoother.

Google’s network services aren’t often free (libre) software, but Google does have a strong commitment to open standards and making your data easily available. I’ve used many Google services from non-Google clients: Gmail from Thunderbird, Evolution and Modest; Google Calendar from Lightning, Evolution, and my N900; Google Reader from Liferea and grr; Google Talk from Empathy, Pidgin, and my N900, etc. I’ve been able to switch my client-side software before changing the back-end. This makes it possible to transition to new services gradually, in smaller steps, with less disruption.

Facebook has a download feature, but it’s slow, and it just chucks all of your data into a giant zip file rather than putting it into formats that other software or services could understand. Facebook has also actively blocked services that export your data to other providers. Your data is available for download, but not in a very useful way.

Migrations are not always planned. On your own server, you have the master key. With a service provider, if you lose access to your account because it’s cracked or cancelled suddenly, will you also lose access to your data? Or will you have an up-to-date copy locally? Open standards often help make it possible to keep a local copy up-to-date, but this isn’t always the default way we use these services. A synchronization service will typically maintain a complete local copy of your data, but services intended to be accessed through the web often require additional client-side set up
on the user’s part to make this happen (e.g. using Thunderbird or OfflineIMAP to keep a local copy of your Gmail email, or using Google Sync to keep a local copy of your calendar and contacts). Or, the services may only offer data dumps as backup. Does a service let you keep a complete local copy of your data easily in your everyday usage? Even if you primarily use the web interface, setting up a desktop client for regular use can help maintain a local copy of your data without having to consciously download backups.

Lastly, public data that is intended to be shared should be available under a free and open licence. Identi.ca uses CC BY for public user data. Libre.fm focuses on freely licensed music. This gives control over public content to the community, rather than just the service provider.

Network services should let users control their data, using open standards to give users control of their personal data and free licences to give the community control over public data. Despite having a very mixed record on other criteria, Google is a good example of open standards done right. Free (libre) and open source tools are also usually good with open standards. Identi.ca is a good example of licensing public data freely.

3. Privacy / Encryption

My concern with privacy isn’t so much what a service provider’s policies are, but who has access to the data in the first place.

With the launch of Google+, I’ve been quite relieved that I’ve moved a lot of my important data out of Google over the past few years. It’s one thing for Google to have my email or my social graph or my documents, but the volume of data that would be in one place using all of Google’s services is astounding. Google is generally a well-meaning company, but I wouldn’t want any single organization to have everything that Google might have: my email (love letters, job applications…), address book (contacts and their private information), documents (budget, resume, business plans), calendar (activities, habits, regular whereabouts), RSS feeds (passions, interests, and political, intellectual, religious leanings), instant messaging (chat logs with friends, lovers, co-workers), my social graph (strong ties, relationships), my phone calls (the ability to recognize my voice from Google Talk or Google Voice), my photos (facial recognition and identification of my family, friends, colleagues) — nevermind all of the revealing personal information contained in web searches! There are lots of questions regarding each type of data and whether or not you’d want to trust it with someone else, but the aggregation of all of it into a single account is a more noticably bad idea. It’s a recipe for disaster in the event of a privacy leak or breach, oppressive government actions, a supeona, the loss or revocation of your account, etc.

Furthermore, some things I simply don’t want on someone else’s computer ever. I’ve felt comfortable trusting service providers like Google with my email in the past, but I’ve never been comfortable trusting them with my entire address book — that’s not just my data, but other people’s private information too. Similarly, I would never want my personal journal on someone else’s computer — that’s just too private.

However, Mozilla does a fantastic job of handling private data. With Mozilla Weave (i.e. Firefox Sync), not only is it free (libre) software that you can run on your own server, but your data is encrypted on the server. A user has two passwords — one to authenticate with the server, another to encrypt the data locally. Since encryption happens locally, the server only sees the encrypted data and never sees your second password. Mozilla doesn’t even ask for the information to decrypt your Firefox Sync data. You can use their server to sync your data across computers, but it’s only ever decrypted on your computers, not the server. If you use Mozilla’s server instead of your own, Mozilla still won’t have access to your data.

I wish more services providers would do this. I understand it doesn’t work for services that are meant to be accessed directly on the server through the web, but at least for synchronization services it seems like a privacy no-brainer. Funambol, for example, is a great libre software data synchronization server for mobile devices, but I don’t think their gratis service at my.funambol.com encrypts your data. I suppose they have a web interface on their server, but I’d rather run my own Funambol server in the absence of Weave-style encryption, whereas I don’t mind using Mozilla’s Firefox Sync service at all.

Encryption of data in transit is another concern. Does a network service or web application offer encrypted methods of communication? Or is your private data being transmitted out in the open? Gmail now offers HTTPS by default. Facebook and Twitter offer an “Always use HTTPS” setting. The EFF has developed a Firefox add-on that uses HTTPS wherever possible. I’ve started using basic StartSSL Class 1 certificates, which are available at no cost to individuals, in order to encrypt traffic on my home servers.

A good network service should take privacy seriously, and offer encryption wherever possible. I’m not sure that this should be a requirement for a free network service, but it’s an important consideration before using a service hosted by somebody else. However, a service that may fail to adequately protect your privacy as a hosted service could still provide an acceptable self-hosted solution.

4. Distributed Systems

Email is a common example of a distributed set of protocols. If Bob uses Hotmail and Sally uses Gmail, they can still communicate with each other. Telephony provides another example; Bell customers can phone Rogers customers, and vice versa. This is the ideal — choosing a service provider independently from the people with whom you want to communicate. Distributed systems strengthen the Internet, creating fewer points of failure or censorship, more opportunities for expression and innovation, more freedom and autonomy for users. This isn’t always relevant for network tools or synchronization services aimed at individuals or small groups compared to social network services and communications tools.

Most online social networking services are walled gardens. Facebook users can only talk to other Facebook users, MySpace users can only talk to other MySpace users, etc. In this environment, social pressure has negative effects on freedom and autonomy. You might not feel comfortable using Facebook, but if that’s where your social circles are active, you’re faced with the choice of being left out or using a service provider with which you’re uncomfortable.

Google Talk makes it clear that it doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than developing their own proprietary walled garden instant messaging service, Google used the open standard XMPP (aka Jabber) for its chat service. With XMPP, you can chat with people on other servers. I have a Jabber account on my own server (and there are dozens of public Jabber servers), and I can still talk with (or call) people on Gmail Chat. I’ve left Google Talk, but I’m not cut off from Google Talk users. Compare that to Skype, which has so far relied on a proprietary VoIP protocol that only lets Skype users call other Skype users (short of bridging to traditional telephony).

In the social networking space, there are efforts like GNU Social/StatusNet and Diaspora to develop distributed solutions. StatusNet has already had some success implementing an open standard for distributed status updates. I’m curious whether Google+ might advance the cause of distributed social networking services (even slightly), given Google’s commitment to distributed systems and open standards elsewhere, and their development of new standards like OpenSocial.

Social network services should be distributed, allowing users to communicate across service providers. Email, traditional telephony, XMPP/Google Talk and GNU Social/Diaspora are all good examples of this. I’m not sure that this should be a strict requirement for a free network service, but the freedom to run the software on your own server is pretty useless for some social applications if you can’t communicate with people on other servers.

Conclusion

Identi.ca, the flagship StatusNet site, is a perfect example of a free network service. It’s free software (AGPL), implements open standards and documented APIs for accessing your data, they’ve pioneered an open standard for distributed networking, and public updates are licensed freely. I’m happy to use Identi.ca.

Mozilla’s Firefox Sync is a good example of a free network synchronization service. Data is encrypted, it’s free software that can be run on another server, and bookmarks are stored locally in a format that other applications can read. I’m comfortable using Mozilla’s service for Firefox Sync.

AGPL network sync services like Funambol and Snowy are also libre services (free software, open standards or documented formats), but in the absence of Mozilla-style encryption, I’d prefer to run them on my own server. The FreedomBox Foundation has been working on an easy way to run libre services from a home server, and make them available to others. I currently use a combination of always-on GNU/Linux home computers available remotely and some dedicated servers that I manage. Even without your own server, you can use free (or more freedom-friendly) hosted services like riseup.net for email, jabber.org or others for instant messaging, my.funambol.com for mobile sync, Mozilla Firefox Sync for bookmarks and browser data, Identi.ca over Twitter, Voip.ms (SIP) over Skype, Libre.fm over Last.fm, etc. If you’re looking to try out some of the self-hosted services, I do have Snowy, Funambol, and Tiny Tiny RSS running on my home server — contact me if you’d like an account to try them out.

The process of disentangling from proprietary network services can take some time, but it’s well worth it for the sake of freedom and autonomy, even when it may be challenging in the short-run. If you can’t leave a proprietary service right away, recognizing where it fails to meet these criteria can help you take some important steps in the meantime.

I’m increasingly critical of network services — software that you use on someone else’s server to do your own computing. We rely on computers more and more for our work,…

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The Temporary Web and Digital Histories

Jeff Jarvis recently voiced some concerns about the temporary web:

Twitter is temporary. Streams are fleeting. If the future of the web after the page and the site and SEO is streams – and I believe at least part of it will be – then we risk losing information, ideas, and the permanent points – the permalinks – around which we used to coalesce. In this regard, Twitter is to web pages what web pages are to old media. Our experience of information is once again about to become fragmented and dispersed.

My own worry is that I’m twittering more and blogging less. Twitter satisfies my desire to share. That’s mostly why I blog – and that’s what makes the best blog posts, I’ve learned. I also want to store information like nuts underground; once it’s on the blog, I can find it. But when I share links on Twitter, they’ll soon disappear. I also use my blog to think through ideas and get reaction; Twitter’s flawed at that – well, I guess Einstein could have tweeted his theory of relativity but many ideas and discussions are too big for the form – yet I now use Twitter to do that now more than this blog.

I don’t relate very much to the idea that the temporary web destroys the ability to read and write in longer form. Maybe it’s because I started blogging only shortly before I started microblogging, but I can still be pretty long-winded. Jarvis notes that Twitter conversations have the “half-life of a gnat,” and that they “go up in smoke.” Sure, that’s a limitation, but it’s also a lot like regular in-person conversation. I think it has just as much to do with the nature of informal conversation as it does with the fact that Twitter lends itself towards that type of communication, yet we don’t worry about day to day conversations going up in smoke. That’s why we have other types of communication. I get Jarvis’ point, and it’s important and useful to be aware of the nature of the medium, but it doesn’t bother me too much.

What does bother me about “streams” is memory. I’m a digital pack-rat. I have important MSN conversations saved from the past 8 years (which is nearly forever for someone who hit the age of reason 10 years ago). I have tons of long emails with close friends filed away (and backed up) for safekeeping. I don’t take the ease of record-keeping with digital communication for granted. Memories of important and meaningful phone conversations fade, but I take advantage of the fact that I can revisit a conversation that happens online.

Except, Twitter is lousy at that. Ever try digging for a message you posted a year ago? Facebook has become the same way since it adopted a stream-like interface. I get the focus on real-time, but it drives me nuts that results disappear from Twitter’s search engine after only a few months. Real-time can be the default, but what about offering a sort of search that taps into the history of conversation, rather than solely what’s trending?

I welcome the move to a more stream-like web, but what about taking advantage of our ability to store and access our history? Real-time is cool, but sometimes I’d like to search the past.

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Student On Probation For Expressing A Negative Opinion About An Instructor On Facebook

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

A student at the University of Calgary was put on academic probation for making the following post on a group titled, “I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with [instructor’s name]:”

[Instructor’s name] IS NO LONGER TEACHING ANY COURSES AT THE U OF C!!!!! Remember when she told us she was a long-term prof? Well actually she was only sessional and picked up our class at the last moment because another prof wasn’t able to do it .. lucky us. Well anyways I think we should all congratulate ourselves for leaving a [instructor’s name]-free legacy for future [law and society] students.

It’s pretty hard to see how this isn’t just an expression of opinion, but the university thinks it qualifies as non-academic misconduct. The problem is, it’s not at all clear how. The only part of the definition that doesn’t involve injury, damage or theft is “conduct which seriously disrupts the lawful educational and related activities of other students and/or University staff.” It’s hard to see how a Facebook post of this nature “seriously disrupts” much of anything (until someone gets put on probation and the Streisand Effect kicks in). But there’s a nice little “includes but is not limited to” that makes the definition non-exhaustive, which is likely what university officials are relying on. You’d think that other instances of misconduct would be similar (hurting people, breaking stuff, stealing, “serious disruptions”), but apparently “expressions of opinion that we don’t like” can qualify…

A computer science professor interviewed said the posts “can be compared to putting up notices all over the university campus” (quoting the article, not the prof). But this is more like putting up a notice off campus (albeit in public). It may not have been nice, but it’s pretty troubling that a student’s right to express an opinion (free speech much?) on a third-party site is overridden without a clear policy violation.

I’ve had direct experience with this sort of thing. A couple years ago, friends of mine at another university were sent ominous emails and hauled into their department head’s office over some comments about a professor on Facebook (jokes, e.g. “crazy drunk [instructor A] is better than boring stoned [instructor B]!”). The department heads argued that the comments were “visible to the community” (similar to the “notices on campus” argument), but they clearly didn’t understand the context (wall post or message? profile or group?) or privacy settings, and they couldn’t even locate the comments on the site (someone had copied and pasted them into an email). They, too, failed to specify how any policies were actually violated (or even which ones), yet they’d gone ahead and notified the professor of the students’ comments and identities (while there was still grading to be done). We convinced them to back down and apologize, but it took a solid week, mid-semester, to deal with the mess.

Universities should understand and develop policies about social networking sites before they take action against students. If they can’t be clear about what qualifies as misconduct, how can students expect to know? What’s the difference between a Facebook group and study group? An email and a Facebook message? What difference do privacy settings make (hopefully some…)? How was this post on a Facebook group different from a review on RateMyProfessors.com? What’s the difference between off-campus speech and speech on non-school websites? Before policing student speech off-site (problematic in and of itself), universities should at least ask these questions and develop policies first. It doesn’t seem like many of them have. It’s pretty ridiculous to just throw social networking under the ambiguous “but not limited to” umbrella.

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UK Online Protest Finds Success In Just 48 Hours

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

Using social networking tools to organize political protests is nothing new or surprising, but online protests have been growing increasingly efficient, especially on Facebook. In Canada, for example, a group protesting copyright legislation caught the attention of federal parliament last summer, and another opposing strict restrictions on young drivers had the Ontario Premier considering Facebook consultations in the fall.

The latest story comes from the UK where, in a mere 48 hours, a campaign run through Facebook and TheyWorkForYou.com by mysociety.org helped stop legislation that would have exempted MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act (via the Search Engine). Thousands of emails were sent in the two day period, reaching 90% of MPs, before the opposition parties turned and the government backed down. It’s not so much the scale that’s worth noting, but the sheer speed at which the campaign was successful. The legislation was scrapped before most snail mail would have had time to arrive. Now, the online protest likely wasn’t the only factor, but it played an important role in spreading the message. It seems to be getting a lot harder to sneak stuff through the legislature (though that doesn’t stop people from trying) when it only takes a couple days to build an opposition.

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Hired via Facebook? Fired via Facebook

This article originally appeared on Techdirt.

We’ve seen stories of people being fired over email and even text message before, but now there’s a story of a Canadian spa worker fired via Facebook (via Michael Geist). The woman still got dressed and went to into work that day because she thought it was a joke. Using Facebook seems rather harsh, though she admits to being hired over Facebook and the firing was done via private message (as opposed to a wall post…), but it’s no real surprise that a common method of communication eventually gets used this way. That doesn’t mean it’s not cruel, but I wouldn’t expect it to be an isolated case (we’ve already seen legal papers served via Facebook). It’s got to make you wonder what’s next though, fired via Twitter? “@unfortunatesoul btw you’re #fired sry”

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Facebook Artist Pages Still Have A Long Way To Go

When Facebook first launched music pages back in November 2007, I predicted a shift away from MySpace. A couple months later, I created a MySpace profile for myself, ending a self-imposed boycott. It was stupid of me to ignore the community (MySpace is simply where musicians are, unfortunately), but beyond that, Facebook Musician Pages are still really awkward.

Music Player

It’s obvious that Facebook wasn’t designed with musicians in mind just by taking a simple glance at the music player (take my page for example). I’m a fan of simple, but there’s a difference between elegant and lacking. There isn’t even a way for artists to order the tracks in the playlist, nevermind enable downloads or include lyrics or album art. It was just a few weeks ago that Facebook began providing stats on audio (and video) plays in the Page Manager application, but you can’t even tell which songs people have been listening to. I’m the last person to obsess over meaningless profile stats on MySpace, but a simple play count is fundamental feedback.

Relationship with Fans

On Facebook, you don’t friend a musician, you become their fan. Now, I wouldn’t want everyone who’s interested in my music to become my Facebook friend (that’s one of the annoying things about MySpace), but the alternative Facebook has chosen is very impersonal. You don’t message fans, like you would members of a Facebook group, but you send an “update.” You can’t reply to an update. It’s faceless, one-way. If someone wants to get in touch with you, they can post to your wall or discussion board and hope that you notice.

The relationship of “fan” versus “friend” is technically more accurate, but it gets in the way of forming a real relationship. The artist is a distant and mysterious figure, hiding behind some “wall” (har). Facebook was right to rethink MySpace’s approach, but they need to do much better.

Part of the problem is they’re using the same tool for corporations as they are for artists. It’s okay if a giant brand is faceless because it has a different type of face. Even if Facebook would just add some privacy settings, that could go a long way to allowing different uses, such as letting artists connect to their fans if they want to (e.g. “can fans send you a message in reply to an update?”, “should page admins be visible to fans?”).

Relationship with Other Artists

How about “none.” MySpace wins hands down here. The only thing remotely close that Facebook offers is the ability to “favourite” another artist page. If you want to find or communicate with other artists, you need to do this with your personal Facebook account. Or on MySpace.

Events

This has been poorly thought out. There is no simple way to list upcoming shows! An artist must create a separate “Facebook Event” entity for every single show — that means guest list, photo, address, etc. Again, MySpace’s approach is riddled with problems, but at least you can have a simple upcoming events listing on your profile page without making a big deal of every event.

Plus, there are lots of problems with Facebook events in general that are magnified here. What if multiple artists are playing a show together? Do they each create separate events? How else can an event be listed on each of their pages? What about mutual fans — do they get multiple invites?

I’ve been experimenting with a “shell” event solution lately, creating an event for every show but (a) disabling extra content (posted items, photos, videos), (b) hiding the guest list (so I don’t have to send or monitor invites all the time) and (c) providing the basic details but linking to other Facebook events when relevant (here’s a recent example). I play a lot of shows with other songwriters, so when they setup their own Facebook events, I’ll create one of these “shell” events on my page that carries the core details but links back to their original event, and I’ll use their event to invite my friends.

Third-Party Apps

A lot of these shortcomings offer good opportunities for third-party applications, but it’s not that simple. As far as I know (and I’d be happy to be wrong), third-party applications don’t have access to Facebook Insights (the stats Facebook shows you about your page, which are always about five days behind). Sure, you could use/create another audio player or calendar, but then that application has to maintain its own stats, and all of the sudden you’re looking in three different places every time you want to check on your Facebook page (nevermind MySpace, YouTube or your own website…). For example, I’ve chosen to use a Flickr app instead of uploading my photos to Facebook, and as far as Facebook is concerned, no one has ever looked at a photo on my page. Third-party apps are second-tier when it comes to stats.

I still think Facebook Musician Pages are an important tool for artists and I have hope that the improvements will keep coming (if I wrote this two weeks ago, I’d be railing on them for the lack of any stats on audio plays). But, despite the clumsy and mostly incompetent design behind a MySpace profile, they’ve got the core things right about music. The fact that music is an “oh yeah, that too” on Facebook shows — one size doesn’t fit all.

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Are Facebook Groups the New (and Improved) Online Petitions?

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

There was a time when online petitions were pretty common, but they never were that effective at actually lobbying government, mainly because there’s no easy way to validate signatures. The concept was ported straight from the analog world to the digital, but it’s interesting to see how government lobbying has evolved online. The Ontario government recently backed down from proposed restrictions on young drivers in the face of a significant backlash, which included a Facebook group that gathered over 150,000 members. The Premier, Dalton McGuinty, mused about conducting consultations through Facebook and, though that never materialized, the group was cited as one of the major indications that the government had “stepped in it.” Earlier this year, another Facebook group, Fair Copyright for Canada, had caught the attention of the national parliament in Canada.

What is it that Facebook groups have that online petitions don’t? First of all, 150,000 members in a Facebook group is not the equivalent of 150,000 signatures on a (real) petition. A portion of this group’s members are probably not even from Ontario (though at least Facebook provides some assurance that most members are real individual people). But, in the same way that 150,000 signatures isn’t the same as 150,000 people at a rally outside the legislature, you take the context into account. It’s a pretty significant number for getting a sense of a public reaction — the government definitely hit a nerve here. A Facebook group also contains associated debate and discussion, links to other efforts (websites, YouTube videos, etc.) and a means for members to coordinate further efforts online and offline. It’s more about organizing protest efforts than simply presenting a list of names.

Obviously, there are other relevant services besides Facebook (and there are lots of silly Facebook groups), but the Facebook example serves as an interesting illustration of how this sort of political activism has evolved from the digital attempt at petitions to a more involved hub of activity. In Canada, we see examples of politicians now beginning to pay attention, but to get involved — like McGuinty suggested through consultations and like the Obama team has demonstrated through a campaign — would take things to another level.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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