The Reality of Social Networking [make sure your kids see this video]

I’m one of the last people to raise the paranoia flag, but as a social networking enthusiast and social software trainer, I have a certain obligation to investigate the privacy issues around such web sites. Recently, I’ve been talking with folks, reading, and thinking a lot about privacy.According to a colleague (and a character in the latest episode of House), privacy as we define it today is “a recent invention that started with urbanization.” In other words, when we all lived in small communities, personal and family privacy was impossible; everyone knew everything about everybody else.

Now, we can go from our house to the garage to our car to the garage at work to our cubicle…and reverse that in the evening. Hence, the “expectation of privacy” most people have come to demand. With the advent of social networking web sites, blogs, Twitter, and the rest of the read-write web, we have seen this model challenged, however. Technology has enabled us to broadcast aspects of our lives in myriad ways.

I think social networking sites offer the potential for everyone to maintain and develop relationships they would not have been able to before. But I also have four kids who will only know an internetworked world and “Internet of Things” (hey, I encourage all of the kids to play with my iPod Touch and get on the Web…under supervision, of course).

But allowing children – or, in many cases, parents and grandparents – free reign on these sites without helping them understand the implications of their action is irresponsible.

Leave me a comment after you watch the video about how you protect yourself and your friends and family online. And you may want to revisit your Facebook privacy settings just in case…

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Best web apps for Internet Neophytes? [your help needed!]

Picture this: You’re in a room filled with very smart, very talented, very knowledgeable individuals. You’re teaching them about the latest in Enteprise 2.0 tools – wikis, blogs, RSS, social bookmarking, social networking. You’re explaining the advent of “Web 2.0,” the rise of the prosumer, and how all these tools have changed the way people interact and the way we capture and retrieve knowledge. You get head nods, some skeptical looks, and some glassy-eyed individuals who, as you get into the technical how-to of the first tool asks…

“What’s a URL?”

Oh, OK, so you’re not familiar with web technology (that’s over a decade old)… I can explain that…

“Exactly what does a ‘web browser’ do?”

Hmm, now I’m getting a bit worried. You’re not familiar with what a web browser is? OK, deep breaths, we’ll get through this together...

“What’s a right-click?”

<groan> Uh-oh. Better step back and take this a little more s-l-o-w-l-y.

That’s the position I was in recently. Working with obviously smart folks who had been so consumed by their areas of of expertise (or management), that the world of technology had passed them going 100MPH. For some, that happened five years ago, for others, ten. These are folks who still think one wrong keystroke is going to crash their computer, that computers are “scary” and fragile, and hard to use. These is the digital immigrant crowd which is a far cry from the four digital natives I come home to (ages 8 mos to 6 yrs) who, in a matter of minutes, learned how to use my iPod Touch as well as me.

I’ve watched as the browser has become the key (or only) “application” you need to launch, as more applications move to the web, and as user interfaces for these various systems becomes more intuitive, friendly, and consistent. But I’ve been watching. The students in my classes haven’t.

And so it was with relief when the lightbulb went off that I needed to create an 3 hour introductory hands-on web workshop to help students become familiar with what many of those reading this post would consider mainstream or even passe. This would help them understand the nature and capabilities of the collaborative tools on the intranet.

Because the very nature of the Web is that of an ebb and flow, deciding which sites to highlight is difficult and has changed frequently in the short time I’ve taught the class. So I need your input…

What are the absolute, essential, can-not-miss web sites/applications you feel an “Internet N00b” should be familiar with? I’m not talking the latest-and-greatest (though services like Google’s Buzz could be considered). Below, I’ve listed the ones we currently teach to, but I encourage you to critique this list in the comments.

Social and Collaborative Web Sites for the Internet Neophyte

  • Gmail. Arguably, the most popular and best email service on the web.
    • Key points: ISP-independent email address; integration with other Google Apps (one account, many sites); lightweight
  • Google Maps. Once a rival to Mapquest, has become the de facto standard for getting directions.
    • Key points: Free maps, integrated with Android mobile operating system, allows users to add photos, create custom maps, and recommend changes.
  • Google Docs. Online creation and storage of common files. Don’t worry, we’re just getting warmed up with this Google fan-boy love.
    • Key points: Creating sharable documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; work collaboratively with other authors; create web-based forms that feed data in Excel-exportable spreadsheets.
  • Wikipedia. Accuracy arguments notwithstanding, this pinnacle of crowdsourcing is still enviable.
    • Key points: Anyone can edit, uses MediaWiki which is open sourced, grew bigger and faster than its predecessor Nupedia.
  • Flickr. The go-to photo sharing site for many.
    • Key points: Anyone can upload photos; tags link photos with similar photos; users can subscribe to get updates from users or albums.
  • YouTube. Like Flickr, but for videos…
    • Key points: Similar to Flickr, anyone can upload; tags help you find similar videos; users can subscribe to other users, tags, channels; videos can be embedded in blog posts.
  • Google Reader. The power of RSS and subscribing to web content so it “comes to you.”
    • Key points: So much new content, RSS helps you filter and “dial in” the information you want to get; integrated with Google Translate, which automatically translates web sites in foreign languages.
  • Twitter. Still the king of microblogging/messaging.
    • Key points: Used to transmit links, thoughts, “lifestreaming”; unlike Facebook, Twitter is asymmetrical; can use GPS location data; integrated with Google Translate to convert “tweets” into your language; URL shorteners are handy, but you need to exercise caution lest a rogue user (or hacked account) links to a malware site.
  • Facebook. The monster of social networking sites for the US, despite changing privacy settings recently and removing…privacy.
    • Key points: A quick way to connect and maintain “weak ties”; set your privacy settings appropriately; be careful of what you share and who you friend.
  • Delicious. Store all your web bookmarks on a web site instead of inside your browser.
    • Key points: Allows you to access from work, home, anywhere!; tags provide more flexibility than folders; tags provide for maximum discovery; use RSS to keep track of all new bookmarks saved by¬† another user or saved to a tag.

Your turn! Which of these should I dump or replace and which ones need to go on the agenda?

Cleaning up your Friends and Fans in Facebook [tutorial]

In a previous post I detailed how to go about setting your Facebook privacy settings. A question I received from someone who went through that post was “How do I quickly view and edit the people I’ve friended and pages I’ve become a fan of?”

That leads us to today’s post: How to quickly unfriend people and unfan pages in Facebook.

The truth is that Facebook hides this (intentionally or not) very helpful function. To access your list of Friends and Pages, select the Edit Friends option in your Account drop-down menu in the upper right:

Next, select either Friends or Pages under the “Lists” heading on the left navigation menu (for this tutorial, I chose Pages, though the page listing your Friends works the same way):

Finally, to delete the page, simply click the X. You can also add the page to a list of individuals you’d like to be able to know that you’re a fan of that page. (Note: I tried this and it didn’t seem to work. Hence why I’m not devoting more attention to it here.)

I mentioned lists/groups in my previous post and I’d be willing to expand on this idea if someone asks…

Happy Facebooking! Let me know in the comments if this helps!

Facebook “privacy” settings [tutorial]

If you’re a Facebook user, you’re undoubtedly concerned about the recent (and seemingly ongoing) changes in the privacy controls the site offers. And if you’re not among the whopping 35% of users who bothered to adjust your settings, you should be. Social networking sites are increasingly providing opportunities for security incidents.

In fact, Mark Zuckerberg himself has been quoted as saying:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

Whether or not you agree with Zuckerberg’s assertion, take a moment to check your privacy settings. The following tutorial shows the settings I made to ensure I controlled the information I could and reduced the information I can no longer control.

NOTE: I have invented a profile for the Lord of the Rings character Gollum to use as a humorous example for this tutorial.

Limit who you friend

First things first. You are the first and best source of security; privacy starts with your own choices about who to friend. Just because someone initiates a friend request, doesn’t mean you have to accept it (that’s why Facebook offers an “Ignore” button!). Before you click “Accept,” think about why you’re friending that person. And be confident that it is, indeed, them.

I was recently contacted by someone I barely knew in high school. When I sent a message to him explaining my security concerns with Facebook and asking how we knew each other, he promptly responded with details that only he (or a determined and creative impersonator) would know.

If you’ve already gone “friend crazy,” consider un-friending people who you don’t really intend to keep up with. It’s okay, Facebook won’t even tell the person you’ve unfriended!

If you are someone who friends people from different circles (e.g., personal and professional), you should consider setting up groups in Facebook, too. This will help you, for example, share personal information with personal contacts and not your work colleagues.

Now let’s dig in to the privacy settings.

Profile Information Settings

Your Profile Information settings control who can see the information you add to your basic Facebook profile.

Start by going to Settings, Privacy Settings in the upper right of Facebook.

Next, click on Profile Information.

Depending on the choices you made during Facebook’s last round of changes, your profile information may have defaulted to show the world your account. To see what non-friends see when they search for you on Facebook, click “Preview My Profile…“. Check this periodically as you make various changes to see the impact of your changes.

As for your Profile Information, I would recommend at the very least changing each option to “Only Friends.” This at least limits who can view your profile information to those you’ve already accepted into your network. Alternatively, you could choose “Custom” and choose only certain groups of friends.

Contact Information

Your Contact Information settings control who can contact you (and how) via your Facebook profile page.

Click on “Privacy Settings,” then on Contact Information.

Like the previous settings, change most of these to, at least, Only Friends. The exceptions I made here are for “Everyone” to see my website address, and the “Add Me as a Friend” and “Send me a message” links.

Applications and Websites

The Applications setting controls what your friends can share about you via applications they use.

Back at Privacy Settings, click on Applications and Websites.

In this section, you only need to adjust What your friends can share about you. Click Edit Settings.

As you can see, I am fairly restrictive about what my friends can share about me through applications they use on Facebook. Use your own judgment as to what information you want your friends to be able to share about you.

Search (Public)

Your Search settings control what, if anything, search engines and Facebook users can see in your profile.

Back at Privacy Settings, click Search.

Again, notice how restrictive I make my settings. I only allow Friends to find me on Facebook. Ultimately, though, I can’t prevent someone from viewing my profile via one of my friends profile pages.

I also unselect the Public Search Results checkbox. Click the see preview link to see what search engines will gather about your profile if you leave the box checked.

The following image shows what a search engine would catalog about Gollum. Notice the list of friends? This information is shared by default for every user and cannot be changed. This is the main reason I chose not to activate the Public Search Results setting.

Profile Page Tweaks

Think you’re done? Not yet! Head to your profile page to fine-tune what people can see there.

On the left-hand margin, locate the Information box and click the pencil/edit icon. This will give you a list of items you can choose to show on your profile page. Note that I’ve omitted items like birthday, hometown, and political and religious views. That way, users who view my profile from my friends’ pages will only see the information I want them to see.

Scroll down and locate the Friends box. Click the edit link and uncheck the option to “Show Friend List to everyone.” This will ensure that anyone who views your profile via your friends’ profile pages will not see your friends list.

The following is what someone viewing Gollum’s profile page would see if they weren’t a friend. One way to see this for yourself is to create a fake alternate Facebook account and not friend yourself and find your profile page (unfortunately, Facebook actually frowns on creating multiple accounts).

Limit Fan Pages

In the image above, notice how the profile page shows the “Pages” Gollum is following. For this reason, I recommend you be selective about which bands/movies/products/etc. you “fan.” More and more, prospective employers are rejecting applicants based on their profiles on sites such as Facebook. What does your profile say about you?

Account Settings

Now that you’ve adjusted your privacy settings, it’s time to check your account settings, primarily to ensure your personal information doesn’t appear in Facebook ads.

The only settings you need to worry about here are on the Facebook Ads tab. Again, I took the conservative path on this one, setting both options to “No one.” This means that none of my personal information will show up on ads anywhere on Facebook.

Application Settings

Similar to my precaution about who you friend, I encourage you to limit which applications you authorize to access your account. Second only to the social engineering risks inherent in accepting friend requests, Facebook applications open you up to unnecessary security vulnerabilities. I mean, do you really want to annoy everyone with your Farmville and Mafia Wars activity?

When you land on the applications page, change the drop-down selection to “Authorized.” This will show you all of the applications you have granted access to your account. Now is a great time for you to easily axe all of the applications you don’t actually use. Simply click the X to delete that application.

For those applications that are left, you can specify the particular security settings by clicking Edit Settings.

A Pain in the A**, but “Set it and Forget It”

I realize this is an extensive list of security settings and there’s no guarantee that it won’t change next month (if it does, I’ll try and post an update). But if you’re serious about maintaining control of your personal information, take the few minutes it takes to adjust your settings. Then you can go back to posting updates, photos, and other information knowing exactly who is able to see your activity.

A memory-catching pensieve for Muggles

My wife and I had the pleasure of watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the other day. We were disappointed by a couple of the previous films in the series, but this latest installment on DVD redeemed the franchise for us.

During the movie, Harry has the opportunity once again to use a pensieve to peek into the memories of Albus Dumbledore, his mentor and the longstanding headmaster of the Hogwarts school. If you’re not familiar with the Potter world of magic, the Potter wiki aptly describes it thusly:

The Pensieve is an object used to review memories. It has the appearance of a shallow stone basin, into which are carved runes and strange symbols. It is filled with a silvery substance that appears to be a cloud-like liquid/gas; the collected memories of people who have siphoned their recollections into it. Memories can then be viewed from a third-person point of view.

Seeing Harry experience Dumbledore’s memories made me wish for the ability to chronicle and review my own memories weeks, months, and years into the future and be able to share them with others.

Then it hit me: I do have this capability… and you’re looking at it!

My blogs, both personal and professional – combined with my Facebook and Twitter posts – form what is essentially my own pensieve. I can search back through thoughts, experiences, and resources (that I’ve linked to) with relative ease. I can also share my posts with others, allowing them to peek into my thoughts whenever the need arises. While not nearly as easy to create (to deposit a memory into the pensieve requires a flick of a wand whereas writing even a post as short as this requires a non-insignificant amount of time.

In addition to retrieval, however, the pensieve is often used by Dumbledore to “relieve the mind when it becomes cluttered with information.” (Wikipedia entry). I subscribe to the Getting Things Done (free resources) approach to productivity created by David Allen. One of Allen’s key tenets is to write tasks down rather than trying to keep them in your head. This frees up your mental space for working on problems rather than trying to remember what you needed to do next. I use tweets and draft blog posts towards this purpose: to capture my thoughts in a searchable record before I forget them.

Some may argue that a two-dimensional written record is not the same as an immersive 3D world where you can review details about a memory (that you might not even have noticed the first time around), and you’d be right. But until we can download our memories – perhaps even by using a fiber optic braid like the Na’vi – social media is a much better repository than my own faulty synapses for recalling my memories.

Have compassion for neo-Luddites during the holidays

3005591006_8b62706d43Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I ran into an issue that I haven’t had to deal with for a long time: blatant hostility towards technology. Since I work in a tech field, most of my daily encounters are with the geek crowd. And when I get home, my wife is very sympathetic to geek-kind (or at least she pretends really well!).

Here’s the scene: I’m out with some family members (who shall remain nameless) at a restaurant and I’m having a great time. I decide to update my Twitter (and Facebook) status from my mobile phone. Later, at a nearby coffee shop, I do it again, for a total of three digital distractions during our visit (technically, one didn’t count since I was showing one of my family members how an application worked on my iPod Touch).

A bit later, one of my family members asked what I was doing on my phone earlier. When I told him/her (anonymity is crucial here), he/she asked me, “Well, could you not do that while you’re visiting with us?”

Wow. I didn’t really have a response to that. I was taken aback due to two things: 1) this individual is relatively tech savvy and 2) social media is so integrated with what I do that being asked not to do it seems downright rude.

After thinking about him/her a bit more, however, I realized that “tech savvy” is not the same as “digital native.” This individual is someone I’d call a “neo-Luddite” in that he/she is comfortable with technology as of about five years ago: using a PC, email, and general Internet searches. But when it comes to the increasingly integrated nature of technology in our lives, this person just doesn’t get it (yet). He/she still has the misguided idea that as long as he/she doesn’t do much on the Internet, that his/her privacy will be guaranteed.

In fact, later I learned that this individual prefers not to have any identifying photos or content posted about him/her on the Web. Whoops. For years, I’d been posting photos of him/her and his/her entire family on my personal web site’s photo gallery.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, though, I realize that I need to be a bit more sensitive. I began to think that just as I wouldn’t drink alcohol around a friend who is a recovering alcoholic or serve peanut butter to someone with a peanut allergy, maybe I should be proactive about finding out about the technology preferences for those around me. Especially when it concerns posting photos of them or their kids on my web site, Facebook, etc.

This will be especially important when, in a few weeks (I hope) I start using an EyeFi card in my digital camera (courtesy of this awesome deal from Google). I’ll need to be vigilant of how I set up this card to avoid posting photos publicly until I’ve had a chance to sort through and filter which ones I want to publish.

What do you think? Will you be around anyone during the holidays who might prefer that you “check your tech at the door” or even be offended if your use of tech encroaches on their life? Leave your stories and suggestions in the comments!

The new Facebook privacy settings suck

If you haven’t heard by now, Facebook recently modified the default privacy settings for all accounts. I paid this little heed, since, when I was prompted to, I merely accepted my previous privacy settings. Which were pretty good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that Facebook had removed some items out from my control. The one that bothered me the most is that I no longer have an option to control who sees my friend list. Now, I’m no paranoid recluse, but I think this change is an affront to my privacy. Plain and simple.

Fortunately, the “crowd” was there to help. A quick Google search led me to hundreds of pages of people asking the same question:

“With the new privacy settings, how do I prevent others from seeing my Facebook friend list?

A short and sweet comment on Yahoo! Answers gave me what I believe is the only solution under the current privacy rules. On your profile page, scroll down to your friend list. Look for the pencil icon and click it. Modify the settings to suit your privacy needs (the screen capture below shows what I decided was best for me).

new fb privacy friend settings

What’s a shame about having to do this is that now nobody (even friends) can see my friend list. This eliminates the ability for one of my friends to find new contacts based on my friend list. But this is a necessary casualty of what I hope are temporary limits on Facebook’s privacy controls.

Update: I also discovered that CNET published a blog earlier today with similar instructions.

Do you mentor using social media? [call for help]

I have been asked to provide a one-hour talk on the potential uses of social software for mentoring in September. I’ve come up with a few talking points, but I’d love to get input from “you” about ways you’ve impacted (or been impacted by) the use of technology in formal or informal mentoring relationships.

My tentative speaking points…

  • Overview and demonstration of social software: Wikis, blogs, profiles, bookmarks
  • Discussion of applications to mentoring: Traditional, reverse, group, “stealth”
  • Generational, cultural, & technological considerations
  • Creating a strategy: Choosing the right tools, piloting the idea, integrating with existing strategy

What am I missing? What examples can you provide that support the benefits and challenges of using technology to enhance mentoring programs?

The strangeness of social marketing passe

I’m as much about leveraging social media as any social media enthusiast, but I had an odd experience opening the mail the other day. As I rifled through the coupons, I snagged one for Baja Fresh, one of our favorite eats. And there, sandwiched between the locations and the coupons, was the following line:

“Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!”

At first, my reaction was “Cool! Baja Fresh is on board with social media!” But then I experienced a moment of mixed emotion as I realized how flippantly many brands are throwing around their social media presence. Especially after a brief search on Twitter revealed a couple of local franchise accounts, but no central “Baja Fresh” account. And there’s no mention of any social media presence anywhere I could find on bajafresh.com. What gives?

I think perhaps the mainstream media emphasis on engaging on sites like Twitter and Facebook might have some companies scrambling to “get on board.” But this strategy can only lead to embarassment as it is frail at best, as my simple experiment proved.

If you’re involved in initiating a “social media strategy” (or are helping a client do so), which is better: Get a small presence in order to not fall behind the competition or stay away until you can fully invest in it?

For those who wonder where “mrmerlot” has been the past month or so, I’ve been taking care of my family after welcoming our latest addition on June 30. Our newest baby girl joined her three sisters and the whole family is doing well. Now that the dust has settled, I’m able to get back into the social media flow again!