Twitter

Privacy, geo-location, and over-sharing

There has been plenty of discussion already on privacy settings on Facebook and how our approach to sharing personal information on social networking sites has changed over the years – and I’m not going to repeat any of that. However, the recent growth and considerable hype around geo-location, location-based services, and location-sharing on social networks has taken over-sharing to a whole new level.

Applications like FourSquare and Gowalla, who let users earn badges or awards for checking-in when they visit a restaurant or other location are now often linked to Facebook or Twitter. People post their travel plans on services like Dopplr and TripIt. Facebook itself added the Places feature recently. And Twitter has captured the location of each tweet for quite a while already, provided you use a Twitter app on your GPS-enabled smartphone or allow your browser to determine your location based on your IP address.

Now this all sounds really cool and for a while apps like Foursquare are indeed a novelty and fun to use. In fact, I like to experiment with new things myself and will admit to even becoming the mayor of 25 places on Foursquare, before I quit.

The problem with all of that geo-location information is, of course, that it is more widely available than you would imagine – and sometimes it is even publicly available, e.g. when you connect other geo-location services to Twitter, or when you use the geo-tagging of tweets on Twitter itself. Keep in mind that by default all tweets are public, unless you restrict them to only your followers.

PleaseRobMeConcerns about this issue have been voiced by others before, e.g. the web site PleaseRobMe.com was launched in early 2010 and displayed aggregate information from Twitter and other sources to publicly show when a person was not at home. It was a stunt to draw attention to this problem, and the site no longer shows that info, but it was an effective theoretical experiment.

This experimental threat has now become reality. Last week, police finally caught up with a burglary gang in New Hampshire that had robbed multiple homes this summer, where the homeowners had announced via Facebook that they were not at home, on a vacation, or provided some other information that could be used to infer that the house was going to be empty.

So what about using privacy settings to make sure only your real friends can see this information? That may sound like a good approach at first, but keep in mind that once you share that information with any app or social networking website, it is stored in a database somewhere – and once it is stored somewhere it can be found and abused by someone. In fact, just this week Google fired one of their engineers for stalking teenagers, whose information he had obtained from the kids’ GMail and chat accounts.

solution_thedevice We use GPS ankle-bracelets to track sex offenders and other criminals in our criminal justice system. As a free citizen, why would we voluntarily want to provide anybody with the same tracking information about our personal life and whereabouts?

So here is what I did this weekend to end my own over-sharing of geo-location information:

  • I deleted my FourSquare account and the FourSquare app from my iPhone
  • I deleted my Gowalla account
  • I deleted the Twitter app from my iPhone
  • I changed my Twitter settings to turn off “TweetLocation” and deleted all location information from my past tweets:
    TwitterCapture
  • I deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone
  • I adjusted my Facebook privacy settings to hide all Places information, to not allow others to check me into Places, and to never include me in “People Here Now”. I also tightened down all the other privacy settings to the maximum.
  • I deleted my Dopplr account
  • I decided to no longer post any messages on Twitter or Facebook that would reveal my travel plans (“flying to Las Vegas tomorrow”), current location (“family dinner at Asahi – awesome sushi here”), or my whereabouts (“I’m on the boat”)

And I’m not even sure I got all the places that I may have signed up for in the past, so cleansing my digital tracks and removing all geo-location information and ending past over-sharing will be an ongoing process…

Get Twitter and Facebook results (and much more) in your search

OK, so the news are abuzz in recent days about Google adding real-time Twitter data to their search results and there is also a lot of blogging going on about Microsoft adding Twitter search to Bing. But the real news has been totally overlooked by the majority of tech blogs and news media until now: earlier this week kikin announced the start of their public beta on their blog by posting “we are live!

KikinLogo I’ve long been following kikin and was lucky enough to be one of their early testers, so I’ve been using the service for several months now – and I wouldn’t know what to do without it anymore. Kikin does one thing that neither a Google nor a Bing native Twitter or Facebook search can do: it gives me personalized and relevant search results from my feeds and my favorite websites right within the standard Google or Bing results and it lets me customize and select those personalized results in a very intuitive manner.

For example, since I shop on Amazon a lot, when I search for “Marblehead” on Bing, kikin will display personalized search results above the normal bing results that are relevant for me – in this case I find a great book by Ulrike Welsch that captures Marblehead in awesome photos:

KikinBingAmazon

As you can see, kikin has added these results above the normal search results, so you don’t have to change your browsing or surfing behavior or use a different search engine. There are several tabs that let you pick from which source you want to see relevant results, for example if I do the same search in Google and click on the Facebook tab in kikin, I see results directly from my Facebook news feed (i.e. only results posted by my friends on Facebook):

KikinGoogleFacebook

And obviously, if I click on Twitter, I can see relevant results only from people whom I follow, or I can even go a step further and only see relevant results that are directly addressed to me on Twitter:

KikinBingTwitter

By default, kikin only takes up very little space, so you still see your natural search results below, but if you want to focus on more results from one of your sources, you can expand the kikin box by clicking on the green plus sign in the lower right corner:

KikinGoogleFacebookLarge

The truly remarkable thing about kikin is that it is non-invasive. If there are no relevant results in any of your feeds or favorite websites, then it won’t interfere and will just display the natural search result. Even if that is the case, kikin still adds tremendous value to that result, because it has a built-in video player enhancement that lets you watch every video you find within the natural search result directly within your result page rather than having to click through to the site:

KikinVideoPlayer

So how does kikin do all of that? Kikin is a free browser plug-in that is currently available for Safari (on the Macintosh), Internet Explorer and FireFox (on WIndows). You can directly download and install the kikin plug-in from their website. Once you’ve installed the plug-in, you can use the Settings page to connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts:

KikinConnect

In all my recent testing I’ve found kikin to be invaluable in unearthing highly relevant content that is otherwise hidden in my social stream: by augmenting every Google or Bing search with results from my social media interactions, I find valuable information that would otherwise remain hidden, or would only be accessible if I repeated my search in three places.

And it is this deeply personalized addition to the search results that makes kikin so valuable. All those newly announced Search partnerships between Twitter and Bing or Google may be great, if you want to search the entire public stream for information (e.g. ski conditions in Colorado), but the results are not going to be as important to you, as results specifically from your actual friends on Facebook or information from people you follow on Twitter or from other websites you frequently visit. That is the true power of kikin: to augment search results with highly relevant and deeply personalized content.

So is kikin perfect? Of course not, it is just the first public beta version and I’m sure that they’ll iron out some minor issues over the next several months as they get reported by users. My only two complaints about kikin at this point in time are (a) that is doesn’t work with Chrome yet (but they’ve already announced that Chrome support will be coming) and (b) that if you use multiple browsers or multiple computers you have to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts separately for each installation. I would probably have preferred to create one account on the kikin website, connect with my other social media accounts, and then just provided that one account login for each installation.

Sign of the times: different media used to relay birthday wishes

It is perhaps a sign of these times that birthday wishes are being relayed through different media than before and social media is clearly the winner in this. I did indeed celebrate my 42nd birthday yesterday, and just for fun I kept track of how the birthday wishes arrived:

  • 19th century technology (and earlier)
    • Postal mail: 1
    • Telephone: 3
  • 20th century technology
    • E-Mail: 14
  • 21st century technology (mostly social media)

What I find interesting about this is the huge difference between Twitter and Facebook – especially since I have 3,310 followers on Twitter vs. “only” 583 friends on Facebook. So on Twitter a total of 0.2% of my followers sent birthday wishes, whereas 9.3% of my friends on Facebook did. I guess the terms “follower” vs. “friend” are indeed quite accurate in describing the actual relationship on these two sites. Oh, and it does, of course, help that Facebook has this birthday reminder feature built-in…

While Twitter is getting a lot of buzz these days in the media, and while I really like it for news information, rapid dissemination of important links, and other trending topics, there is no doubt that the real winner in terms of where the actual social interactions are happening is Facebook.

In either case, if you are not yet on Twitter or Facebook, I highly recommend that you try and use both. And when you do, feel free to connect with me: afalk on Facebook / @afalk on Twitter.

Impressions from PodCamp Boston 3 (#pcb3)

DSC04154 I was at PodCamp Boston 3 yesterday and wanted to briefly share a few impressions here. The funny video is at the bottom, so if you have no patience and just want to hear Chris Brogan, you may scroll down a page or so... :)

The event was held at Harvard Medical School and was completely sold out. Bloggers, Audio and Video Podcasters came together to discuss and present all aspects of Social Media in a community-oriented style.

Even though there was a schedule of formal presentations, a lot of the real action happened in the hallways, coffee breaks, and in several impromptu sessions.

I found most presentations to be very good (e.g. Stever Robbins aka the Get It Done Guy), but some were also a disappointment and I walked out - only to run into people in the hallway and strike up a great conversation. One panel discussion was almost putting me to sleep.

DSC04165 Being a rather podcasting-oriented event you could always find people in the hallway being interviewed by others, and in some cases the interviewer and interviewee would trade roles after a few minutes - it was actually pretty funny to watch.

One thing that was pretty amazing during the event was to observe others in the audience during the presentation sessions: about half the people were working on laptops during the presentation, the rest was on Blackberrys, iPhones, and I saw one person even working on a PSP. I also noticed one person holding an old-fashioned paper-pad. Most laptop and iPhone users were on Twitter reporting live from the event, or looking up whatever the presenter was talking about on Wikipedia, Google, etc. and taking notes.

DSC04167 Probably the best session I was a part of wasn't a scheduled presentation at all. As I took a quick break in the cafeteria, an impromptu event formed (and was promptly twittered about) where a couple of people came together and started a discussion on Old Media vs. New Media. It was a lively discussion that encompassed everything from advertising, journalistic styles, different ad sales strategies and staffing levels, to how Social Media is affecting the way we consume media, respond to advertising, and making purchasing decisions. Several people were recording the session with high-quality video equipment, but then stopped after a while - I guess their memory cards must have been getting full by then.

So I whipped out my trusted old Sony DSC-T50 digital camera and recorded about 20 minutes worth of raw 640x480 video. Not a quality that video podcasters would aim for, but sure enough in those 20 minutes I captured this great statement from Chris Brogan:

I apologize for the bad audio-quality (since I only used the built-in mic), so if you are having trouble hearing it, this is Chris Brogan's insight: "Wait a second. I buy my media. And I watch ads for free. Hmmm..."

The other conclusions reached during the discussion were:

  • that Social Media actually causes large companies to lose control of their brands - and some even argued that they are only losing the illusion of ever having been in control of their brand;
  • that Social Media actually forces companies to focus on creating a great product, because anything less than a great product will be exposed very quickly;
  • that any Old Media company who doesn't "get it" will soon be reduced to irrelevance.

PodCamp Boston 3 is still going on today, but I unfortunately can't make it into town due to the new puppy. If you are also missing the event, you can follow live updates from PodCamp Boston 3 using Twitter Search (aka Summize).

Talking of Twitter, if you'd likee to follow my updates, you can do so here...