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Facebook and T-Mobile Launch Bobsled. With Huge Privacy Glitch. Or is it By Design? Skype, Google Voice and Telcos Beware, Anyway…

Out of left field, T-Mobile and Facebook launched Bobsled, a VOIP service that allows voice calls to anyone on your Facebook list for free.  At this moment the entire blogging world is busy writing about it, so I skip the basics… and just run to some funny experience while testing it.

First, here’s how you call from your Chat list: click the phone button.. then voila!:

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As it happens, none of my contacts pick up my test call – I suppose the feature is too new, nobody knows where the funny sound comes from or how to react.  They will get used to it.  But here’s the real surprise: it has VoiceMail.  To the World.  Literally:

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Could Fake Steve Jobs Go to Jail?

Online impersonators could be fined up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail according to California Senate Bill 1411, which Governor Schwarzenegger has just signed into law.   The new law is  meant to protect victims of cyberbullying, malicious impersonation – says  Senator Joe Simitian, the Bill’s author on his homepage:

“E-personation,” said Simitian, “is the dark side of the social networking revolution. Facebook or MySpace pages, e-mails, texting and comments on Web forums have been used to humiliate or torment people and even put them in danger. Victims have needed a law they can turn to.”

A recent New York Times story, “As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up” (December 5) provides a disturbing example. A mother, distressed by her son’s emotional withdrawal, learned he was being ostracized at school because “the kids say I’m saying all these nasty things about them on Facebook.” Though he hadn’t created a Facebook page, his mother found a page with his name and picture. “Someone had forged his identity online,” the Times reported, “and was bullying others in his name.”

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Foxmarks, Xmarks, LastPass, Xpass, LastX, X%^&% Quick Rant

lastpass-xmarks-225Warning: I think I’m becoming a curmudgeon – except that title has until now been reserved for somebody else Smile.   But I still have doubts about the recent transaction: LastPass acquired Xmarks.

I really liked Xmarks – when it was Foxmarks.  A simple bookmark synchronization service that would keep your Firefox up-to-date no matter where you logged in.  Essential Cloud Computing when we’re no longer enslaved to one computer only.

Then it became Xmarks, started to offer password sync and several other services, including “enhanced” Google Search – i.e. adding a social layer to Google’s algorithm. I opted out of password sync, sticking to the basics.

LastPass, on the other hand was a solution for the password conundrum – so good, that Ben was ready to dismiss his usual concerns.  The transaction probably makes sense for both parties: Xmarks was going down the drain, having experimented with business models and running out of cash.  LastPass picks up millions of users.

So why am I ranting?

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Virtual Nonsense All the Way Down the Drain. A Twisted (?) View of US vs China

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I don’t often recycle older posts in full – but sometimes I get all worked up, want to “blog it out of my system” only to discover I’ve already said it all. That’s how I feel about the explosion of virtual goods.  So there it is, vintage July 2009, still valid, except this time I’d be using Facebook, Zynga, Playfish, PlayDom, CrowdStar, FoolDom (Ok, I made up the last one).

<rant>

Virtual Worlds, such as World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin and Second Life grew 39% in the second quarter of 2009 to an estimated 579 million members, reports The Guardian.

A good chunk of these virtual worlds is owning virtual goods, that cost no-virtual, but real money:  GigaOM reports that the virtual goods market is estimated to reach $1.8 billion this year.

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What Happens When You Abandon Foursquare…Twitter… Facebook…etc.

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Missing | Agent-X Comics

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Facebook Big Mac Attack – Not For Me, Thanks. Top 10 Reasons to …

Burger Fat Kid Oh, just what the Doctor has ordered: more junk food coming your way, left and right, from the social network that’s taking over the Internet: Facebook.  McDonald’s will be the first advertiser taking advantage of Facebook’s soon-t0-be-releasing location feature.

The first reaction from most is this will kill leading location-based services: Hey Foursquare, Time To Close That Round Of Funding Before Facebook Chops Off Your Head.  Yes, probably true, but now I am more worried about Facebook users – all of us – then businesses, and not just as a defender of healthier diets.  Greasy or not, it’s not the ads that worry my, it’s yet another level of thoughtless surrender we’ll soon be committing: broadcasting our location every step of the way.

Yes, I realize there may be social benefits from bumping into friends via Foursquare Facebook, but have you really considered the danger of letting the world know where you are every step of the way?   While you think about it, also consider just whose hands you leave all that data in: not exactly the champions of privacy.

The Relationship Between Facebook and Privacy: It’s Really Complicated says Mathew Ingram @ GigaOM this morning, and I strongly disagree.  There is nothing complicated about it.  Facebook does not give a *** about privacy: it’s a concept CEO Mark Zuckerberg finds obsolete, simply does not believe in at all. Now, in reality, even Facebook caves in  to demands of privacy, but they are either careless or incompetent, or both, plugging one security hole after another.

Three strikes and you’re out – I guess Facebook is exempt from that law, now that they are becoming the New Internet.

But people are actually worried about privacy implications to consider quitting Facebook entirely: 10 Reasons To Delete Your Facebook Account.  It’s a post worth reading in full, here are just the headings:

10. Facebook’s Terms Of Service are completely one-sided

9. Facebook’s CEO has a documented history of unethical behavior

8. Facebook has flat out declared war on privacy.

7. Facebook is pulling a classic bait-and-switch

6. Facebook is a bully

5. Even your private data is shared with applications (you are no longer trusting Facebook, but the Facebook ecosystem).

4. Facebook is not technically competent enough to be trusted.

3. Facebook makes it incredibly difficult to truly delete your account.

2. Facebook doesn’t (really) support the Open Web.

1. The Facebook application itself sucks.

facebook internet 2040I must admit for all my grumpiness I have not deleted my account, and I likely will not (not that it would be easy ).  I resisted joining Facebook in the first place, was probably a year or so late, and even when I joined, I created a separate email account just for FB, and disallowed saving any Facebook cookies (remember Beacon? ). But resistance became just too inconvenient… so now I am in. That said I am not particularly active on Facebook, hardly maintain my profile and generally my presence there is a mess (this is where my marketing friends can jump in chastizing me for the lost opportunity).  I’m only sticking around because Facebook has proven to be too pervasive, it is everywhere and (almost) everyone is on it.  So yes, it is great to find long-lost friends and even discover some new ones.  But that’s all for me, and I seriously suggest you all reconsider the level of your presence.

And even if you are very disciplined in your Facebook usage (are you?) read #5 above again.  Just yesterday I was setting up my shiny new Android phone: I decided to enable location information, for the benefit of Google Maps and other really useful services.  But… but..but … I am also tweeting and communicating in a zillion other ways from that same device, and although I will try to be careful about reviewing the permissions of every single app, it’s likely I will slip sooner or later.

So think about this: in this API-driven intertwined ecosystem of mobile and web services, just how certain can you be that Facebook (and others) won’t get information you never intend to give them in the first place, no matter how careful (you think) you are?

Updates:

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Splitting Up the US – How About the Rest of the World?

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That’s the map of the US based on Pete Warden’s analysis of Facebook profiles.    So I live in Socialistan – oh well, I grew up in a Communist country, if this is Socialism, I can handle it :-)

But what about the Rest of the World?   I thought it was a good time to dust off the good old World Map – admittedly not based on scientcific research :-)

P.S.  to potential flame-throwers: pls. look up the meaning of irony.  Or sarcasm:-)

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Startup Bloodbath in Social Media?

Image credit: Evil Fish Google announced their own URL shortener. Great.  But some startups may be panicking.  The TechCrunch title says it all: Bit.ly Just Got Fu.kd: Facebook And Google Get Into The Short URL Game.

Of course bit.ly is not the only possible casualty, but they are the dominant one in the URL shortening space – or at least they have been so far…

But what most commentators haven’t noticed is another feature from Google: FeedBurner social, which might very well kill TwitterFeed.  Yes, why bother with an intermediary when we can now have FeedBurner send our blog post to Twitter directly?  Check out the URL for this very post on Twitter: it’s the shiny new goog.gl variety.

And it’s not over yet.. just as we’re absorbing what all this means, here’s news of Twitter testing business features, including the ability of multiple users posting on behalf of one organization..  Somehow I don’t think CoTweet, HootSuite and a bunch of others are too happy about it.

Are they all doomed?  Not necessarily – right now they all offer additional features (multiple accounts, scheduling, stats..etc), but nevertheless, it must not be very comforting when the Ultimate Giant enters their space…

Oh, yeah, I know … we’ll soon see the statements from all these startups welcoming Google, validating their markets…etc. :-)

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Tweet Blender Wins Over Twitter’s Own List Widget – For Now

CloudAve readers can now follow the contributing bloggers’ twitter stream in a sidebar, thanks to a cool widget called Tweet Blender.   Finding it was not easy: I combed through at least 100 plugins / widgets, all doing essentially the same: follow a person, or do keyword search.  Either or.. not both.  And definitely not a selection of users.

Tweet Blender came to the rescue (before Twitter Lists): it allows to follow any combination of users and keyword searches. Smart!   But just days after I installed it along came Twitter Lists … so the writing for Blender was on the wall.

Not until Lists got supported in widgets though.. which is what we’re seeing today.  Twitter introduced their List Widget. I quickly replaced Tweet Blender with the new widget, if only for testing at Enterprise Irregulars, another group blog I am editing, thinking it might help with a major problem I have with Twitter API limits.

Here’s the gist of the problem: Every time the widget refreshes, it eats into my API allocation – and it bites big: one API acces per user followed. Over at Enterprise Irregulars we have thirty or so authors on Twitter, so 5 refreshes and I am out of luck (and API).  But the author of Tweet Blender came up with a smart caching solution, turning all blog readers into API contributors:

As of this writing, Twitter allows only 150 connections per hour from a single IP address.
Since TweetBlender works in user’s browser, this means 150 connections from the user viewing the page on your site.
For each screen name in the list of sources there is one connection made. For hashtags and keywords, they all bunched into one search query and only 1 connection is made.
This means: if you have 30 screen names – every update makes 30 connections; if you have 30 hashtags – every refresh makes 1 connection. If you have 30 screen names AND 30 hashatags – every request makes 31 connection.
If you set TweetBlender to refresh every 10 seconds and you have 50 screen names in sources then after the 3rd refresh the user viewing the page would reach the connection limit – i.e. in 30 seconds they will be done and would have to wait for 59 minutes and 30 more seconds before fresh tweets become available.
The more screen names you have – the quicker the limit is reached.
To deal with it, caching is added. When user A gets fresh tweets in his browser they are sent to your server and stored there. When user B gets fresh tweets in his browser (against his own 150 limit) they are also updated on the server. All users that view your page keep the cache fresh.
Once user A reaches his limit TweetBlender switches to cached mode and instead of going directly to Twitter, starts getting tweets from your server. If user B is not yet at the limit then his updates will help user A see fresh content.
The more users view your page and the more evenly the traffic is spread out – the less chances of reaching the limit. All visitors to your site will keep cache up to date and help each other

An absolutely smart solution – but what if I don’t have the API problem at all?  This is what I expected to test with Twitter’s own solution.  But what disappointment…  If you look at Enterprise Irregulars, you probably see the tweet stream – I don’t.  All I see is a blank frame. Sam on Scoble’s blog.  Or Mashable. Or Brian Solis.

I’m out of Twitter API allocation (or so I assume – could not confirm yet).  But while Tweet Blender uses a cache, in fact a collaborative smart cache, Twitter’s own Widget just throws up.  Yuck.  Tweet Blender is the absolute winner.  For now.

I’m writing this post as a tribute to Kirill, Tweet Blender’s developer, also in recognition of his outstanding responsivenes. Read the Facebook threads – he investigates individual installations, comes up with bug fixes overnight – exemplary Customer Service from a one-person team.

But he has just become endangered species.  With gazillion $ in funding Twitter has the resources, and will no doubt come up with a solution to the API / caching problem.  But let’s not write the little guy off just yet:  his product still has more / better features… and I have no reason to believe he will sleep on his laurels. :-)

Update: my assumptions just got confirmed:

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ToonDooSpaces: Comics-based Social Network for School Kids

Zoho is mostly known for their Web-based productivity and business software, but sometimes they venture into … hmm… unproductivity.   In the past year or so close to a million cartoons were created @ ToonDoo, and that number grows by 3-4 thousand every day.  (Hey, even I contributed onesmile_wink)

Today they have announced  ToonDooSpaces, private comics-based collaborative space for classrooms, be it school or kindergarten level.  (Remember when FaceBook – actually TheFacebook at the time – was strictly limit to the confines of actual colleges?)   What can you do @ ToonDooSpaces?  Here’s how the kids at one of the pilot schools explain:

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Even before this launch, ToonDoo has been used at hundreds of schools including Auburn High School, US, Totino-Grace High School, US, Leawood Middle School, US, Korea International School, Korea, Mount Scopus Memorial College, Australia, Lake Superior College, US and many others -  apparently all the way to college level.  That said I think ToonDooSpaces will be most favored by the younger ones.  Here’s a detailed review by Kevin Hodgson who has been using ToonDooSpaces in his class for months:

All spring, my sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) were fully engaged in the use of our ToonDoo Spaces site. They would walk in the door and immediately ask: Are we going to make comics today, Mr. H? And they give a little shout of “Yeah!” with a fist pump when I say “yes” (after we do whatever other work we have planned).

Here’s an interactive video showing off more of ToonDoo’s features:

 

But hey, I’m writing a business / technology blog, so let’s get serious here. smile_wink   I often talk about Freemium (more here), and I think this is a perfect showcase.

toondoomatrix

Remember, Freemium takes patience – in this case ToonDoo has been available for over a year, attracting hundreds of thousands of users before the launch of the “premium” version, Spaces.

And here’s something else: I guess the inner child must have died in me a long time ago, how else do I have the most fun on the Pricing Page?  The fact is, we often talk about the need for transparency, and how SaaS should be easy not only to learn, use, but to buy, which includes price information, without having to endure lousy sales calls.  Well, it doesn’t get any easier:

 

Move the cursor along the users / months axis, click anywhere, and voila! – there’s your price quote.   SaaS companies, take notice: you can get rid of the kiddie appearance, but should offer a pricing tool this easy.

Now I am off to create a cartoon(doo). smile_shades

(Disclaimer:  I am Editor of CloudAve, a Zoho-sponsored group blog.)