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(frustrated laptop user) Well, that was a total waste. I just thought of an idea that's too long for Twitter, too short for Google+ and too smart for Facebook

The beast must be fed

The beast must be fed published on No Comments on The beast must be fed

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

Yes, yes, the Internet is killing old media companies. But every once in a while, they take their revenge. They put us through agony over the threats of god-awful legislation like SOPA, currently before the U.S. Congress. They cackle as Canucks and other non-Americans grind their molars to dust every time we click on a video, only to see those dreaded words, “This video is not available in your jurisdiction.”

But their sweetest vengeance, the schadiest of schadenfreudes has to be the moment when it dawns on each of us that, having created a blog, Twitter feed or YouTube channel, we have to feed the damn thing with content.

If you start taking this stuff seriously, then the voraciousness of the content beast can be all-consuming. That struck home in Larry Carlat’s essay in last week’s New York Times magazine, about how his Twitter addiction cost him everything.

None of his symptoms resonated until this one: “When I wasn’t on Twitter, I would compose faux aphorisms that I might use later.”

Gulp. Oh, god. Yeah, I’ve done that. Worse, I’ve been the jackass who stops after saying something in a conversation, and then says out loud that I should remember to tweet that.

Apparently offline conversations and relationships aren’t just fodder for online content streams, just as cats and accident-prone children aren’t just props for mad-viral YouTube videos. They serve other purposes as well.

And as soon as I find out what those purposes are, I’ll tweet them.

* * *

The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog is a terrific source of news and commentary on comics and cartooning. And they’re looking for nominations for your favourite webcomic.

If you have one in mind (cough, cough, modesty forbids), just leave a comment on their blog post.

Don’t make me come in there.

Don’t make me come in there. published on No Comments on Don’t make me come in there.

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

This one was prompted by a conversation in Google Circles about how certain people weren’t circling certain other people, and how scandalous that was.

Oh, for god’s sake. As Shortpacked! cartoonist David Willis would put it, this is so babies.

If a friend of yours hasn’t circled you, and it’s bothering you, how about asking them why? Write an email, pick up the phone, ask them to coffee.

Apart from “They don’t really like me, and are just pretending they do, and oh, Christ, it’s high school all over again,” here are five reasons people you know might not have circled, followed, friended or buddied you yet:

  • They’re just getting started, and haven’t systematically added their friends yet. Including you.
  • They’re being very systematic, and they’re only adding their closest friends so far. Or a few folks from work.
  • They’re using this network for a specific purpose, like keeping in touch with family, or colleagues.
  • They did follow you, but the network dropped you from their list. Twitter’s notorious for this.
  • Your posts on this network have put them off for some reason. Hey, it happens; you can’t please everyone. (See comment threads on ReadWriteWeb for confirmation.)

Points one and two just need you to have a little patience. Point three, acceptance. Point four, a polite (private) inquiry can do the trick.

For point five, look back at your last several posts to be sure they really do reflect the kind of value you want to offer your friends and followers; if not, adjust as necessary.

And if you’ve never considered what kind of value you’re offering people, get used to wondering why they aren’t following you.

Anonymously ever after

Anonymously ever after published on No Comments on Anonymously ever after

With all the recent discussion over identity and anonymity online, I suppose this is probably the right time to tell you that I am, in fact, not Rob Cottingham.

He and I met shortly after he completed his journalism studies in 1988. I was, at the time, being pursued by creditors who were in the, let’s say, unregulated financial sector.

Our paths crossed in a campus bar, where we remarked on our uncanny resemblance to each other. After a few drinks, I was able to persuade him it would be kind of a lark to switch identities just for a few days; I told him I was an audio hobbyist and could finish a radio piece he was working on in no time, and that he could take on my daytime job of reviewing luxury hotels.

He jumped at it, not realizing that my job was – of course – a complete fiction. The last I saw of him, he was leaping from the roof of one OC Transpo bus to another, pursued by three large men with crowbars. I understand he was living under an assumed name in Bucharest a few years after the fall of the Ceaușescu regime, but apart from that I have no idea how he made out.

I suppose that, from now on, you should call me by my real name, George Clooney.

Ahh. Feels good to get that off my chest.

We are all in Witness Protection

We are all in Witness Protection published on 1 Comment on We are all in Witness Protection

It’s not just that some social networking platforms make it almost ridiculously hard to find the “delete” button on your profile. (Enough people are searching Google for how they can delete their Facebook account that it’s actually making news headlines. I want you to think about that for a second: the popularity of a search engine query is now newsworthy. Truly, we live in the future.)

It’s that they make it emotionally painful, too. Facebook throws up faces of your nearest and dearest on its confirmation screen, asking, “Are you sure you want to do that? Really? YOU WILL NEVER SEE THESE PEOPLE AGAIN.” (I’m paraphrasing. Facebook’s language is far more manipulative.)

Here’s one clue that your platform may not be delivering the value to your users that it ought to: you need to take hostages to get them to stay.

Your friend just sniffed you! Sniff back? (y/n)

Your friend just sniffed you! Sniff back? (y/n) published on 7 Comments on Your friend just sniffed you! Sniff back? (y/n)

This cartoon is an updated look at my original Facebook dogs, who kicked off Noise to Signal as the first cartoon under that name. And they are, of course, a reference/homage to Peter Steiner‘s iconic New Yorker cartoon.

This hasn’t been a good past few weeks for Facebook. Growing concerns over what Facebook’s deliberately doing to your privacy collided with news about what Facebook’s doing accidentally with your data.

There are two upcoming ways you can protest: by not logging in on June 6, or – if you’re ready to finally cut the umbilical cord – quitting altogether on May 31. So far, while they’re getting press attention, neither initiative is showing signs of snowballing yet, with registered followers numbering only in the hundreds.

That’s not to say the discontent is limited to net activists and privacy advocates. “How do I delete my Facebook account” is suddenly a very popular search on Google.

Which I actually find encouraging, and not because of hostility toward Facebook. (Not that I’m happy with its privacy practices, or its approach to the open Web, by which it seems to mainly mean a Web that’s open to driving data into Facebook. And not that I side with the “your-privacy’s-dead-anyway-so-shut-up” crowd, either.) If so many people are at least thinking of voting with their feet, then maybe there’s at least some awareness among regular users that our privacy, attention and data are all worth something. And maybe, just maybe, that awareness could coalesce into a market force that rewards openness and accountability, and punishes arbitrary, high-handed behaviour.

Otherwise, well, I likely won’t quit this year. But there’s always May 31, 2011.

This user has been suspended

This user has been suspended published on 3 Comments on This user has been suspended

Facebook has become an 800-pound online gorilla… or, actually, a 400-million-active-user gorilla. And with half of those users logging in on any given day, Facebook claims a massive share of the English-speaking web population, and recently outpaced Google itself in traffic.

The problem is, they operate with neither accountability nor transparency. I’m finding stories like this are becoming way too common:

The folks at Social Media Today have an active Facebook presence, using a Fan Page. And they’ve recently been posting a link to that page twice a day. A few days ago, when they tried to post a link, they received a message from Facebook:

Block! You are engaging in behavior that may be considered annoying or abusive by other users.

You have been blocked from sharing web addresses (URLs) because you repeatedly misused this feature. This block will last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. When you are allowed to reuse this feature, please proceed with caution. Further misuse may result in your account being permanently disabled. For further information, please visit our FAQ page.

The problem, apparently, was they were posting links too often.

So how often is too often? Facebook won’t tell them. How do they need to change their behaviour to get link-sharing reinstated? Facebook won’t tell them.

Now, I understand that Facebook is a private company, not a public utility. They’ve built an enormous user base because they’ve built a compelling platform, and because they’re run by savvy businesspeople.

They’re also spectacularly unaccountable: a closed organization given to apparently capricious decisions. And that’s not a great fit with the Cluetrain era that Facebook is supposedly helping to usher in.

There’s an arguably even deeper issue. With so many people engaged with each other on Facebook, it starts to take on the role of civic space… where a lack of accountability and a Star Chamber mentality have larger social ramifications.

Whether that begins to make the case for some form of regulation – maybe along the lines of consumer protection legislation – is up for debate. But if Facebook’s lack of openness becomes an irritant for the broader user community, and not just social media professionals, then government intervention would be the least of the site’s concerns.

“Be my friend… Godfather.”

“Be my friend… Godfather.” published on No Comments on “Be my friend… Godfather.”

What is it about the mob that makes me think “social media”? Is it the opening scene of The Godfather, where Don Corleone forces Bonasera to ask him to be his friend? Is it the resemblance of most Terms of Service to loan shark agreements? Is it just that the incessant torrent of Mafia Wars advertising has finally taken its toll?

Whatever the reason, here y’go. For the first time in a while, this one was drawn with an actual pen on genuine used-to-be-a-tree paper. And then shot on an iPhone.

30. Soon to be replaced by “redisunfriend”

30. Soon to be replaced by “redisunfriend” published on No Comments on 30. Soon to be replaced by “redisunfriend”

See the full year-in-review on YouTube!

That’s what friends are for

That’s what friends are for published on No Comments on That’s what friends are for

A while back, a friend of mine wondered about LinkedIn‘s somewhat limited options for indicating how you know someone. (“I vomited on their shoes at the office party” isn’t on the list, for example.) We had a back-and-forth on her blog, and I came up with a list of some potentially useful additions to LinkedIn’s categories.

That’s delegation

That’s delegation published on No Comments on That’s delegation

We call it GulagNet

We call it GulagNet published on No Comments on We call it GulagNet

(two women talking) He's the kind of guy you'd like as a Facebook friend, but not as a friend friend

Friend friend

Friend friend published on No Comments on Friend friend

Cyberdog

Cyberdog published on No Comments on Cyberdog

This, of course, is an homage to this.

2007-06-05-facebook-election

2007-06-05-facebook-election published on No Comments on 2007-06-05-facebook-election

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