Category Archives: technology

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.

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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.

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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”)

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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.

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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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As screens become more ubiquitous, how people use them becomes more important

This weekend, the Sunday New York Times Magazine published a new feature that made a bold assertion: “human contact is now a luxury good.” (I tweeted out a thread about it, but it merits being a blog post.)

Honestly, before we accept an underlying premise, I’d like to see hard data that supports this article’s conclusion about how wealthy people live today, including:

  • how much screentime “the rich” spend daily vs everyone else
  • whether they’re on computing devices versus TVs
  • what they do on those screens (consumption, production, management)

It’s possible that wealthy people spending more on experiences versus on consumer technology reflects a cultural shift and their deeper understanding of the “secret to happiness.” It could also be that cohort already has big TVs, smartphones, tablets, & computers in 2019.

Minimizing screentime in favor of human assistants or meetings is one thing, but I’d like to read more about how, exactly, the wealthy have “opted out” of having their data and their attention sold as a product. Who has been able to leverage their wealth to do this, where, and how?

For instance, how much does Uber know about how some of the rich, more powerful people in the world move around DC and when? Have “the wealthy” opted out? Or what does Google know about their interests? Have they blocked data brokers compiling a profile? And so on.

I don’t doubt many wealthy parents have altered personal tech use themselves & academic use for kids in response to growing evidence of negative impact. We all should be. That’s why I wish NYT had linked to the NIH study on screen time, not a CBS News report on it.

Parents, teachers, principals, and legislators all need to be even more involved not just in crucial access issues (like whether a school has a broadband Internet access or a computer for each child) but also their use. Are kids gaming, watching and consuming? What? How often? At what ages? Or coding, writing, or creating? Are teachers showing them videos on their personal devices?

But education tech aside (the most important part of this piece, to me) I think the assertion that “human contact is rare” for poor people also needs more data behind it, particularly as the result of tech companies intending to confuse themes.

If you don’t have money, you can’t pay for someone else’s time. You can’t outsource a task or errand. You trade time, labor, & even health to earn money. For some parents, work means letting kids watch TV or phone isn’t as much of a choice.

The NYT reporter talked to Sherry Turkle about this, who compared screentime to fast food. It’s…an apt comparison! People know it’s unhealthy, but it’s cheap, accessible, ubiquitously marketed, & can be comforting. Behavioral addictions mediated by tech have parallels to other public health problems.

What’s missing is the extent to which tech use and human contact is mediated not just by wealth but by power, as I discussed with Turkle years ago. It’s implicit, but bears discussion. I suspect it’s only a “status symbol” to be device-free within tiny wealthy and/or highly educated cohorts.

As technology is integrated more into every profession & industry, who has to be connected & when is only the start of a conversation implicating not just workers’ rights but civil liberties & human dignity. Consider who has to wear GPS anklets after they serve their sentences in prison, or the explosion in workplace tracking and the expansion of the “employer surveillance state.”

The NYT article ends not by interrogating this dynamic between wealth or power, or disparities in screen use across class, race or gender, but exploring how tech connects humans in nursing homes, enabling remote workers interact with bed-ridden seniors, the impact of which could be its own followup story.

Some research I’ve seen (and the New York Times has published) suggests technology is not driving us apart, but connecting us.

How, where, when, who, and to what effect remain questions I hope we all keep asking.

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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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The Sounds of Email

Over on Twitter, Amie Stepanovich shared adapted lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” to email.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I helped finish the song there yesterday, and thought it was worth pulling together today. You can listen to an excellent version from their concert in the park in the embedded video below, if you’d like some voices in your head as you read.

The first verse is hers, the rest are mine. I shared a lightly edited because I enjoyed the writing exercise & it made me smile. Perhaps reading will do that for you, too.

Hello email, my old friend
Don’t think that you’ll ever end
Because an inbox that is heaping
Keeps on growing while I am sleeping
And the unread that are waiting in the cloud
Are disavowed
To be met with the sound of silence

In restless dreams I browsed alone
Narrow screens of Apple phones
‘Neath the halo of a desk lamp
I moved my fingers as they were cold and cramped
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a laptop light That split the night
And heard the sound of email

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand emails, maybe more
People writing without speaking
People reading without listening
People sending spam that servers never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sound of email

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Email like a cancer grows
DM me so I might teach you
Text my phone so I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the bowels of email

And the people refreshed and prayed
To the smartphone gods they made
And my inbox flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the screen said, “The words of the spammers
Are written on Facebook walls
And firewalls”
And whispered in the sounds of email.

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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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Filed under blogging, journalism, open source, social media, technology

On Moderation

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making laws abridging the freedom of speech and generally has been interpreted to apply to state and local governments. In my experience, it does not provide untrammeled rights for an individual to say anything, at any time, in any context. The First Amendment also does not apply to a community on Facebook which was created and maintained by a private individual.

There are many public spaces and contexts in America where moderation by judges, speakers, teachers and other community leaders leading discussions can and must make decisions about speech.

To put it another way, moderation is not the antithesis of open government.

Many parliamentary procedures are based upon Robert’s Rules of Order, which require whomever is leading the meeting to effectively serve as a moderator, wielding a mighty big gavel.

Courtrooms are moderated by a judge, who maintains order in the court. Town halls are conducted by mayors, councils and/or media, all of whom serve as moderators. Classrooms and libraries are moderated by teachers and librarians, who lay out rules for participation and use that enable all students and members of a community to have the opportunity to learn and participate.

In each context, there are rules and consequences. People in a courthouse may be held in contempt after sufficient outbursts. If someone keeps making off-topic comments at microphone at a town hall, for instance, a town councilor running a meeting might ask him or her to answer the question that was posed or to cede the space. Students who insult other students or the teacher, interrupt a class, answer questions with off-topic subjects or threaten others with violence are asked to leave a class — or even suspended or expelled.

In online forums, I think a team of moderators who rotate and adjudicate decisions based on a transparent set of rules would be appropriate. I generally think of the blogs and communities I maintain as classrooms and moderate accordingly.

As the creator and moderator of the Google Plus Open Government & Civic Technology community, I’ve been faced with decisions every week since I clicked it into life, including removing posts or, unfortunately, sometimes banning users. Spam has been an ongoing challenge. I’ve shared my own standards for communication moderation online, which inform how I handle comments on social media and blogs in general

It’s critical for online forum creators and moderators to be clear about the expectations for members of a community, from topical focus to frequency of postings to commercial content to behavior towards others, and to act transparently to address the concerns of those communities. It’s not easy, as we’ve seen on Wikipedia or Reddit or blog comments, but if we’re going to have any hope of fostering civic dialogue online, it’s critical that we all figure it out together, building better tools and models that neither amplify the loudest voices in the chat room nor chill voices speaking truth to power than need to be heard.

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