Where are your Facebook privacy settings?

Just in case you have lost track of where all Facebook’s privacy settings are hidden, the New York Times has crated an awesome infographic to shows just how well they are squirrelled away in different corners of the site. It illustrates beautifully just how difficult it has become to manage your privacy in Facebook, showing all 50 settings – which have over 170 options – spread over 10 different pages. Apparently, the company has had an emergency company-wide meeting to discuss the problem. Fingers crossed that some common sense prevails.

Twitter followers don’t equal influence

A few of us have been saying this for some time, so it’s good to see that Meeyoung Cha’s research backs us up! From Scott Berinato on Harvard Business Review:

Cha called her paper, “The Million Follower Fallacy,” a term that comes from work by Adi Avnit. Avnit posited that the number of followers of a Tweeter is largely meaningless, and Cha, after looking at data from all 52 million Twitter accounts (and, more closely, at the 6 million “active users”) seems to have proven Avnit right. “Popular users who have a high indegree [number of followers] are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions,” she writes.

Berinato’s interview with Cha in that post is also very interesting, and whilst some of her conclusions might just be confirming our existing gut feelings, it is very good to have some proper evidence upon which we can build.

Reading the comments to Berinato’s piece, however, leads me to think that some people are misinterpreting Cha’s conclusions. She’s not saying that social media has no use, she’s saying that follower numbers are not the right metric to measure influence (just like traffic stats for blogs don’t always correlate to their influence). The baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater.

Is Facebook dying under the weight of its own complexity?

I’ve never been a big fan of Facebook, not just because of their cavalier attitude towards their members’ privacy, but also because the UI stinks. Thomas Baekdal takes a detailed and interesting look at the reason he thinks Facebook is dying. Some key excerpts:

Facebook is really big, it has a ton of features. But, it is also turning into the worst case of complexity overload the web has seen in years. There are so many inconsistencies that it is hard to believe – or even to keep track of.


On top of the complexity and inconsistencies, we have a growing problem of privacy issues. Facebook has a long track record of ignoring people’s privacy. As I wrote in “The First Rule of Privacy”; You are the only one, who can decide what you want to share. Facebook cannot decide that, nor can anyone else.

But, Facebook seems oblivious to this simple principle, and have started sharing personal information with 3rd party “partners” – continuing a long line of really bad decisions when it comes to privacy.

If you are on Facebook with a personal profile this is a must read. If you’re on it for business reasons, you might want to read it even more closely and pay particular attention to the various privacy changes Facebook have made. And on that note, the EFF has some great advice and information about Facebook’s now very confusing privacy settings and interface changes.

Cultural inertia is the biggest problem for tech adoption

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, told the Better World conference at the end of April that the main barrier to technical change is cultural inertia:

Don’t gauge the rate at which you will be an instant success by how quickly you can develop the technology,” he told would-be entrepreneurs. “I would gauge how long it takes the collective culture–any culture–to give up something, even if they are frustrated or unhappy with it, and accept something different. The rate of emotional, intellectual, cultural, and regulatory inertia of the world is very high. It used to be much lower in this country, but even that is changing.

Whilst Kamen was talking more about hardware, exactly the same problem befalls software and webs services.

This is, in part, because of the cognitive biases that we all suffer from. Joshua Porter discussed some of these at dConstruct in 2008. He explained that we value things we own “approximately three times more than is rational” – that’s ownership bias. But entrepreneurs “overvalue software that they’re offering by about three times” – that’s optimism bias.

But the net effect is that there’s a nine-times disparity between the person who is the potential user of the software and the person who’s offering the software. So there’s this huge gulf between the desire of the potential user and desire of the person offering the software.


The initial product adoption is one of the largest problems facing almost every web-design team in this day and age. So, I think, looking at it from this standpoint, at least we know what we’re kind of dealing with. It’s a huge barrier.

So it’s not cultural inertia in the sense of people just being too lazy to think about how they can improve their experience, but a much more ingrained behaviour controlled by a set of psychological short-cuts that our brain takes without us realising.

In short: Adoption is hard and we have to think very careful about how we can overcome these barriers.

Further thoughts on the effects of air travel disruption

A couple of weeks ago I surmised that the travel disruption caused by the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull might force businesses to rethink how they manage their long-distance relationships. It might, I posited, force businesses to be more open to teleworking, teleconferencing and the use of social media for geographically dispersed teams.

Eyjafjallajökull is showing no signs of stopping. A reduced ash plume combined with favourable winds and a change in the aviation industry’s policy towards acceptable ash levels allowed air travel to restart, but the last couple of days have seen Ireland and Scotland forced to close airports due to renewed ash threat. The volcano became “more explosive” with a higher, denser ash column that was swept towards Ireland and Scotland by a southeasterly wind.

I think it’s reasonable to say that we may see further disruption in the UK and across Europe as this eruption continues, so it seems like a good time to remake the point: Start planning now for your business to be affected by further flight bans, especially as the holiday season creeps towards us, increasing the risk that staff may be able to get out of the country but unable to get home. Start introducing collaborative technology now. Don’t wait for disaster to strike, but get your staff up to speed with new tools whilst you still have the luxury of not being in the middle of a crisis.

Harold Jarche points out that working online is different, and it takes some getting used to:

[I]t’s not about the technology. The real issue is getting people used to working at a distance. For instance, everything has to be transparent for collaborative work to be effective online. Using wikis or Google Documents means that everyone can see what the others have contributed. There is no place to hide.

And Ethan Zuckerman makes a great point that we don’t notice how much we rely on our infrastructure until it has gone. I like Ethan’s definition of ‘infrastructure’:

Infrastructure is the stuff we ignore until it breaks. Then it’s the stuff we’re stunned to discover we’re dependent on.

He then goes on to point out how ridiculous our dependence on air travel has become, to the point where we expect to be able to fly in, do a 20 minute conference presentation and fly home again. I’ve even done that in one single day, and it’s not fun. But, Ethan says:

It’s possible that Eyjafjallajökull could change this. If a 24 hour trip to London has a significant risk of becoming a 5 day trip to London, the calculus changes. As much as frequent travellers gripe about delays and cancellations, they’re pretty infrequent, and mass delays like the ones currently being experienced are downright rare. If they become commonplace, I personally would expect to say no to travel lots more often and do a lot more appearances via Skype and videoconferencing.

From meetings to conferences to team-building events, unreliable air travel changes how we think about long-distance travel. It should also change how we think about working over long distances, and, thence, how we work with the people who sit right next to us.

And for anyone who thinks that this is all a big fuss over nothing, here are a couple of thoughts:

Firstly, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in December 1821, she did so in fits and starts, with two weeks of activity followed by nothing until June 1822 when she erupted again. Ash fell intermittently for months and activity continued into 1823. In June of 1823, Katla, her neighbour, erupts for four weeks. We are likely to see lulls in activity from Eyjafjallajökull, but we shouldn’t interpret that to mean that the threat is over.

Secondly, by implementing social media, encouraging collaboration and discouraging unnecessary travel your business will become more efficient, more effective and will waste less money on travel. Even if Eyjafjallajökull stops erupting, you’ll still be better off for having prioritised better collaboration practices.

How to start a movement

Brilliant video here from Derek Sivers, who discusses with real insight what would otherwise have just been an amusing video of a guy dancing.

This makes me think a couple of disparate thoughts:

1. Nurture your early community members: They are the ones who will bring in new people to your community.

2. That explains why the early social media leaders are mainly now eclipsed by followers: later followers don’t follow the leaders, they follow the early followers. That says something strange about human nature, but I’m not quite sure what!

Hat tip to Johnnie Moore.

Involving your community

I just spent five or so minutes reading Randall Munroe’s fascinating blog entry about the colour survey he recently ran. Randall writes and draws XKCD, “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” which is a pretty popular amongst geeks.

XKCD’s popularity gave Randall a rather large pool of people to draw upon for his survey: In the end, “over five million colors were named across 222,500 user sessions.” That’s not bad going and certainly produced some interesting data to chew over. I rather liked this chart of dominant colour names:

Randall’s survey is a great reminder that your community, whether internal or external, are an amazing source of information that you can easily tap into. Services like Poll Daddy or Survey Monkey let you ask questions of your community, through which you could potentially be learning a lot about your business, your community’s needs, topics of interest… possible areas of enquiry are limited only by your imagination.

Well, in truth, you are limited by your imagination, your relationship with your community, and its size. There’s no getting away from the fact that if you have a tiny community, you won’t get a big enough response for the results of your survey to be meaningful. Equally, if your relationship with your community is poor, they won’t feel inclined to take the time to answer your questions. But if your survey answers questions they have themselves, taps into a vein of curiosity or, as in the case of Randall’s colour survey, provides a novel way of procrastinating, then you are much more likely to see success.

It’s worth having a think before you put any survey together on how best to do it. You have to get it right first time, because you can’t run the same survey twice and expect people to engage the second time round. I have learnt the hard way that you can read and read and read your questions over and over, and there will still be errors. So make sure you have time to do some test runs with friends and colleagues so that you can locate and fix errors. I’d also say that it’s important to understand how you’re going to analyse the answers before you formulate the questions. Services like Survey Monkey allow you to automatically create graphs to visualise your data, but if you get your questions wrong, the graphs won’t save you.

There’s so much potential for businesses who enter into dialogue with their customers and staff, and surveys/polls are just one way to realise some of that value. It just surprises me that more businesses aren’t nurturing their communities and collaborating with them to gather useful information that both parties can then benefit from.