Category Archives: blogging

New Facebook Beta shows the company’s pivotal priorities are Stories, Video, Commerce, Groups, and Messaging

Facebook beta

On September 22, Facebook nudged me to try its beta. (I asked on Twitter if anyone else got a nudge. So far, no confirmations.) When I finally got around to it, today, the white space and minimalism in the redesign reminded me a bit of new Twitter!

Facebook-fresh

That aside, Facebook’s pivotal priorities are clear in this beta: user-generated interactive stories, video, commerce, groups, and messaging.

Facebook - fresh - home

There’s still a big display ad on the top right, with Birthdays & Contacts below. New “Stories” from your friends are shown across the top of the newsfeed, as before.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Groups___Facebook-new

But the key changes are in the elements shifted from the old vertical menu in “Facebook Classic” to the new horizontal one in the Facebook Beta: marketplace, messenger, watch, & groups.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Alexander_B__Howard___Facebook-beta-home

The Pages and Groups the world’s largest social networking company knows you use most remain on the top left in the beta, below the Facebook logo and search field. Below those fields, the Facebook Beta has Friends, Events, Memories, Saved, and See More.

Facebook-side-menu

Tapping or clicking “See More” opens up a lonnnnng menu of options which reflect how many areas Facebook has moved into over a decade of expansion, acquisition, and adaptation: Ad Manager, Buy & Sell Groups, Crisis Response, Fundraisers, Games, Gaming Video, Jobs, Messenger Kids, Most Recent, Movies Notes, Oculus, Offers, Pages, Recent Ad Activity, Recommendations, Town Hall, Weather, Help & Support, Settings & Privacy.

Facebook-menu-left-2

At the very bottom of this menu is a footer with a tiny font with links to Privacy, Terms, Advertising, Ad Choices, Cookies, and More, which opens up About, Careers, Development, and Help.

Facebook-left-menu-bottom

(“Privacy” notably links to Data Policy, which isn’t “redesigned for Facebook Beta yet”)

Facebook-data_policy_not_for-beta

I saw no sign of the much-ballyhooed News tab in this Facebook Beta. (I suspect whether Facebook puts that tab in the top menu or the (long!) vertical menu (likely?) will have an impact on adoption and repeat use.)

I also saw no sign of Facebook Dating in the Facebook Beta on desktop, which rolled out in the US two weeks ago on the newest version of its mobile apps. (It may be that Facebook, taking a queue from competing dating apps, considers that solely mobile app experience, but it’s a notable absence.)

The choice to put Video, Groups, Marketplace and Messaging in the core user interface of this Facebook Beta graphically shows Facebook’s priorities after its “pivot to privacy, which close observers have had good reason to maintain some healthy skepticism about this year.

What this Facebook Beta means, and why it matters

What it pushes to consumers in our newsfeeds will also show those priorities, whether it’s nudges to register to vote and donate to disaster relief, key life updates from the friends and family closest to us, or updates on its own features or products, news and entertainment from the outlets and creators we “like,” or town halls hosted our elected representatives or debates between candidates in this year’s campaigns.

What the world’s largest social networking company shows and to whom can literally reshape the course of human events, which is why transparency matters so much for civic features, particularly around democratic processes.

Introducing “FaceRank” for authors?

Whenever that News tab rolls out, expect which stories are prominent and which outlets are featured to be the subject of extreme scrutiny, along with how and when layers of friction are added to disinformation eleswhere across Facebook’s platform. There will be bogus cries of ideological bias mixed in with legitimate criticism of which stories get prominent placement, resulting the attention and traffic relevant to ad revenues and more subscriptions.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Settings___Privacy___Facebook-linked-publications

On that count, I found something that Facebook called new: a linked publications section in settings. Facebook is urging folks who publish articles to build our readership by adding publications and encouraging them to add us so that our bylines are associated. Despite reports that Facebook Authorship has been deprecated over the years, this could be  a big deal for several reasons.

First, a news tab could indeed build readership, which means socially connecting writing to our profiles or pages could build followers and Likes. That’s a big carrot.

Second, if Facebook gives different publications or authors weight in the Tab or newsfeed for different areas or search, watch for how it weights validated contributions from verified authors who have added publications and displays them. There may important cues for readers that are directly relevant to trust.

Publication_Linking-no-sunlight

On that count, I found that it was only possible to add a publication if it has a Facebook Page and if Facebok recognized it as one: no options pre-populated for TechPresident or the Sunlight Foundation. (Old gatekeepers, meet the new boss?)

Everything I wrote about why journalists need to pay attention to Google Author Rank applies here, albeit within the universe of Facebook’s walled garden instead of Google’s search results of the Web.

Keep an eye on this space.

In the meantime, there’s a Facebook Beta to keep kicking the tires on.

If you’ve used it, please weigh in using the comments below, find my profile or Page on Facebook, or contact me directly.

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A new texting project to make sense of the zeitgeist

"I_Am_Not_an_Advocate_for_Frequent_Changes_._._."_at_Jefferson_Memorial

This spring, I’ve started a new experiment to connect to people with ideas and, perhaps, to one another: a text messaging newsletter about democracy and technology.

Here’s my basic pitch: Emerging technology has the power to make democracy stronger or weaker.  For $2 every month, you’ll get a mix of news, ideas, projects, proposed laws, and analysis about how technologies are changing our democracy – or vice versa.

Understanding where, when, and how that’s happening is the hard part, as I’ve learned over the past decade of covering this space as an independent writer, digital governance expert, and open government advocate based in the District of Columbia. Figuring out why is often the most difficult, and it’s there that I hope to hear back from people, too: a distributed audience has always made me smarter.

I haven’t decided on how often I’ll send updates, but I’ve been trying a daily practice, to begin. I will be paying close to attention how people respond and what they want. If this interests you, I hope you’ll consider subscribing.

If you’re wondering how the financial side works, by the way, here’s the deal: a subscription cost $2 every month. Of that amount, Stripe will take 5%, data fees will take 5%, and Project Text (which is part of Advance Media) would take 10% of the remainder (18 cents), which would leave me with $1.62 per subscriber.

I should note that I have no plans to stop sharing public insights online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, articles,  interviews and talks. It’s just that it’s important to me professionally to keep growing, trying new things, and seeing if people are willing to pay a little bit for my insight.s

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Image: Wikimedia

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On the Internet

The World Wide Web is a proper noun, as is the Internet.

Lowercasing Internet implies that more than 1 decentralized global network based on TCP/IP exists.

While it’s fair to say that there are networks of networks within other countries or within government agencies, the Internet is a distinct way of connecting servers and other devices together.

As long as we cannot point to multiple internets, there can be only one.

“The internets?” Nope. The AP is as wrong today as they were in April. :)

I know that it would be hard for the AP to walk this back, but I think it suggests a profound misunderstanding of what makes the Internet different, how it works or why.

Given the profound respect I have for the AP and its staff, I remained disappointed about the decision, along with what it will mean for thousands of journalists who take their lead (or lede) from their style guide.

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On Comments

August 23rd was the last day for comments at NPR‘s website. Given limited resources for moderation, a relatively small cohort of readers that comments and the growing scale of interactions across social media platforms, it’s understandable that NPR made this decision.
 
As I told NPR’s former ombudsman, as a life-long consumer of NPR news and programs, I’m saddened that one of the world’s great public media organizations is backing away from investing in creating and maintaining a healthy forum for the public to discuss the news on a platform owned by the public, not private technology companies.
 
On the one hand, this decision frees NPR staff from moderation duties, lifting the weight of battling trolls to adjudicating disputes or enduring abuse and allowing community managers to focus on moderating social media discourse. On the other, if NPR and other public media houses back away from hosting the conversations and shift them to social media platforms, the data and relationships represented in those people move with them.
 
Getting online comments wrong is easy. Building a healthy online community is hard, but outlets like TechDirt and forums like MetaFilter show that it’s not only possible but sustainable. Good comments are valuable in their own right. At their best, they’re improvements upon the journalism they’re focused upon, but they require convening a community and investing in editorial moderation and tools. At their worst, online comment sections are some of the most toxic spaces online, not only turning off readers but causing damage to public understanding of science or technology.
 
Ideally, comment sections provide valuable forums for people to share their thoughts on the issues and decisions that affect them, but the technologies and strategy that create architectures of participation need to continue to improve. Given political polarization, the need for public spaces that reward meaning participation and foster civic dialogue instead of shouting matches is critical to our politics.
 
Communities across the country rely upon public media to report on local government and inform us about what’s being done in our name. Social media and smartphones offer new opportunities for journalists and editors to report with communities, not just on them.
Like Margaret Sullivan, I think news organizations should fix comments, not abandon them. That’s why the Coral Project matters. I hope that as that effort matures, it will demonstrate the value of comments done well. If so, it should be adopted by NPR to host conversations with the people formerly known as its audience on public media webpages again.

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To Be An American

I love visiting the U.S. National Archives. I’m humbled every time and honored to talk with David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, when there’s an opportunity.

In July, I reflected upon how the national creed preserved there belongs to all Americans.

To be an American is to know our history, from slavery to civil war, and honor the patriots who defeated fascism to extend equal justice to all.

To be an American is to know that our rights can never be taken for granted, nor can injustice to one be tolerated lest it be extended to all.

To be an American is to know we have always been a country of immigrants, of second chances, of parents sacrificing to give children their shot.

To be an American is to embrace self-government of, by and for the people, which requires requires more of us as citizens than a biennial vote.

To be an American means putting aside party for patriotism, whether we serve with those who put out fires, heal the sick, or mete out justice.

Our shared history also includes racism, rage & ignorance. Social fabric can be ripped and undone by demagogy. Civil rights suspended by fear.

I am proud to be an American because we have overcome fear and injustice in the past. I’m humbled to stand with all who protect and serve today.

Our times ask more of us than apathy. Be informed. Be engaged in a community. Be kind. Volunteer. Serve. And vote.

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Yes, it matters if senior staff at your institution use social media. Here’s why.

Over at GigaOm, Mathew Ingram asks whether it matters whether some editors and reporters at the New York Times tweet or not, riffing on the “Twitter graveyard” that Charlie Warzel dug up at Buzzfeed. As Warzel notes, dozens of Times staff are dormant or are “eggs,” with default accounts. My answer is simple: yes, it matters, and as I clarified to Patrick LaForge, a long-time, active Twitter user who I think uses it quite well, this isn’t about how they tweet but whether they do it at all.

Full disclosure: I gave the Times a much longer, richer answer regarding social media when their researcher interviewed me for the innovation report that leaked earlier this year. I was constructively critical then and will try to be now, as well.

It’s true that Twitter is being actively used by a smaller percentage of American adults online (19%) than other platforms, like Facebook. While I think that underbills Twitter’s influence and reach, I would be interested to see Charlie Warzel or a media reporter audit the NYTimes use & participation on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+ Hangouts with readers, Reddit, or comment sections. That would be more representative of total commitment and action on reader engagement, as opposed to a Buzzfeed post that may feel like a potshot to people internally. As someone who has watched and participated in discussion about Times content on all of those channels, I can say with some certainty that there is a gradient of demonstrated use & active listening. As long as @deanbaquet is silent, though, folks at 620 Eight Avenue should be prepared for negative comparisons to Alan Rusbridger (@arusbridger) at the Guardian and external analysts wondering whether he understands how the top editor acts sets the bar, high or low, for a media organization. Reasonable editors can differ, as Lydia Polgreen does:

I’ve consulted for a number of people on this front over the years and done internal training at past gigs. Showing you are listening with a favorite or retweeting a reply that advanced a story is valuable; it’s the first step to ‘tweeting your beat.’ For instance, for Baquet, retweeting a different reporter sharing her or his big story once every day would demonstrate that he was reading his own staff and using the audience that he has accumulated to amplify stories would be a safe approach. From where I sit, leading a media organization now includes a profoundly public component, and as the “sources have gone direct,” top editors are ceding ground by not using social media to get their perspective into discussion; posting a press release online or emailing statements is a limited and limiting approach. As for whether someone can lead a newsroom effectively or not without paying attention to Twitter, knowing what your staff or those you respect in the industry are saying about you or your leadership, or how they are responding to public critique or your journalism, is relevant to understanding what their challenges or needs are.

I don’t understand some arguments I see elsewhere online that engaging with readers, across platforms and email, doesn’t make the product better or make someone a better editors. The best reporters I know have active inboxes, busy phones and are constantly vetting stories with sources. The idea that products and services don’t get better through exposure to the customers, clients, readers, buyers or users and listening to their responses goes against the grain of everything we’ve learned about iterative, user-centric design over the last decade, in media organizations or out. I find that many comments, @replies, email or calls I get about my journalism makes it better — not all, by any stretch, but a lot, particularly by people who do research in the space, who do what I’m describing, who report on it or are affected by it. If you don’t think so, that’s fine. It’s been my impression that Margaret Sullivan (@sulliview) is a great public editor because she is an active listener online, not just in her inbox.

I understand that some people may still feel that Twitter is dumb, inane, hobbled by a character limit or not a valuable place for senior staff to spend time. In response, I would suggest looking at how another executive editor at a towering media institution in the United States that’s also working to transform from a print-centric model is handling Twitter: Marty Baron, at the Washington Post: @PostBaron. It sure seems like Marty Baron has quite similar working conditions and roles and constraints as Baquet, and yet manages to approach public communication in a different way.

Time is not the issue at the Times or elsewhere. It’s culture. It takes 10 minutes a day to log on to Twitter, read replies, search for responses to your stories (just put in URL) and send a tweet and RT another one. Anyone in government, media, academia or nonprofits who portrays doing that as a bigger time commitment is being disingenuous, perhaps because they simply don’t want to use the platform, given years of negative media reports about how people act there. It’s certainly true that building and engaging an audience takes time, training or experiential learning, but it’s also worth noting that former Timesman Brian Stelter reported his heart out daily and managed to balance building large, engaged social networks. This isn’t the false dichotomy that I keep seeing, where it’s either you report or you use social media: it’s both/and.

Creating an account on a two-way platform and then walking away, ignoring people talking to you, is like going to a cocktail party with strangers and spending your time looking at your phone and ignoring people — or occasionally saying something at dinner and ignoring what people around the table say in response. It may be better strategically, from my standpoint, not to create an account at all than to do so and then abandon it. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.

UPDATE: Folks who said critiquing the lack of tweets by Dean Baquet wasn’t reasonable, take note: the NYT executive editor responded to Steve Buttry, writing that “the fact that I have made so little use of Twitter is fair game for criticism.” I’d take this as tacit acknowledgement that it’s fair game to critique other folks in the media, too. (In other news, I should have asked him for comment on this post, too.)

As Steve notes, though, Baquet adds an observation that I suspect will create more concern than it tamps down:

“One of the biggest criticisms aimed at my generation of editors is that we created a priesthood, that we decided who was a journalist and who was not. If you hadn’t done cops and courts you weren’t a journalist, etc. That characterization was right on. We deserved the hit.

As I observe the criticism nowadays, you will forgive me for noting that it sounds like a new priesthood is being created, with new rules for entry. Don’t take that as saying I should not tweet more. I should. Just a warning that each generation of journalists seems so certain they know what it takes to be a journalist.”

As it happens, the metaphor is one I know well: Back in 2009, when I met Arianna Huffington for the first time at the FTC, she asked me to write up our conversation for her site. So, I did. Its title? “Is Journalism Going Through Its Own Reformation?

Maybe I’ve misread the criticism of Baquet that I’ve seen elsewhere, but my view is exactly the opposite: the smartest young journalists coming up and the Generation X-ers (ahem) that preceded them, along with their wise elders, understand at visceral level that social media, online video and smartphones have shifted how newsgathering works, democratizing publishing to all and enabling any connected person to report and commit acts of journalism.

The people formerly known as the audience, per NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, certainly know and experiences this during every breaking news situation, with all the confusion and misinformation it creates For much of the public, a top editor publicly choosing not to participate in the hurly burly of online conversation, even to the point of not contributing, much less demonstrating listening or acting as a hub to redistribute confirmed reports, might look like he or she is remaining aloof, choosing to preach from in front of the cathedral, not minister to a circle of friends.

Personally, I look forward to Baquet joining these conversations. I have faith they will be better for having him in it.

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Twitter opens analytics platform to public [TL/DR: images get more engagement]

I briefly logged into Twitter’s free analytics service again today, prompted by a conversation on (you guessed it) Twitter about the demographics of an account’s followers and the news that it was now open to all.

Today, any Twitter user can log in and access the online dashboard and see what Twitter says about how people are interacting with your tweets, among other insights.

I was glad to see that dashboard is definitely working better now than when Twitter first gave me partial access. (I could see follower demographics but not impressions). I know that some people may see these stats as fake-ish numbers, but I wish Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram & Google+ offered similar free dashboards for their users — certainly, it would be great if Facebook did for people who turned on the Follow feature.

What did I learn?

digiphile-Twitter-follower-demographics-august-2014First, looking at the highest impression number (155,000 impressions on this tweet) I was reminded that the concept of “free speech zones” remains controversial in the United States, and that tweeting about them can result in a different kind “engagements” than RTs or Favorites: angry @replies from lots of strangers.

This is particularly true if combined with a journalist embroiled in controversy over a misidentification of ammunition and the #Ferguson hashtag.

Second, the gender numbers in the demographics of my followers continues to be heavily skewed toward men (81% vs 19%), a situation that has endured more or less ever since the beginning of 2010, when Twitter began recommending me to new users in its technology vertical.

I invite and welcome any and all women who like to follow me to do so here, if you’re interested in the sorts of things I tweet about, just as I do on Facebook or other social networks.

digiphile-engagement-twitter-august-2014Finally, what Twitter Media and News staff had already told people who are listening is backed up by what they’re showing me: including pictures, maps and graphics in your tweets will raises your “engagement” numbers, at least as measured by people resharing tweets, favoriting them, @mentioning or @replying to them.

I’ve intentionally done that more over the latter half of August, and it shows up in the data.

It takes longer to find the right image for a tweet but the effort can pay off.

Adding that to the process reminds me of how I described Twitter back in 2008: a distributed microblogging platform.

While a few tweets may still be produced and received as simple, humble text messages, as in 2006, many more are much more complicated, and have been for some time.

Back in 2010, the map of a tweet already looked like this under the hood, with some 30 lines of meta data.

raffi-anatomy-of-a-tweet

Years later, updates to the platform are much more complex, with integrated cards, videos and pictures. As Twitter rolls out e-commerce from within tweets, I wonder if better dashboards for sales, subscriptions and other conversions might be on the way for the social media company’s customers, if not, perhaps, all of its users.

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