Category Archives: Social Networks

How social media and technology have changed the election process

Disclaimer: I realize this is a technology website, and while I have my own political opinions, I am not in any way attempting to push any sort of belief, or support either candidates in this post. I tried to be fair and balanced, and in no way intended to spark a political debate. Technological debate only!

Technology has changed our lives in more ways than can possibly be written about in one article. It has probably changed more things than we can even realize, and the fact that it is all around us is starting to be taken for granted. Recently, while reading various news articles about the latest debate and how people perceived the candidates, I finally realized just how much tech and social media has impacted something as important and life changing as the presidential election.

The Spread of Information

Undoubtedly, the biggest impact that technology has had is through the way that we spread information. In the past, things had to be looked up in an encyclopedia, or you had to find someone who was knowledgeable in the subject so that you could ask them some questions. Today, virtually every piece of information known to man is available literally at our finger tips.

Think about our daily interactions:

“Who played in that movie?”

“Let me check IMDB.”

“How tall is the tallest building?”

“Let me Google it.”

“How do you build a house?”

“No problem, let me find a how-to video on YouTube!”

These things drastically change the speed of information, and this is most evident in the current presidential elections. In the past, elections could be completely decided by how strong the physical campaign was for the candidate. It was relatively simple really: if you visit more places and speak convincingly, more people will be willing to vote for you.

Now, the political landscape is completely changed by social media and the easy access we have to all sorts of information. All of a sudden, the information asymmetry that candidates were counting on simply is gone. This has had a huge impact on how we perceive the candidates, and I believe, how we vote.

The Debates

One of the biggest examples of the effects of social media during this election is in the presidential debates. In the past, debates were somewhat downplayed, and people thought that it ultimately could not sway the results of an election. Many people thought that while opinion may change slightly, it wouldn’t affect the outcome of the election unless one candidate flat-out humiliated or dominated the other one. Then, of course word would spread.

However, spreading the word in the age of the internet is infinitely easier than it was ten years ago. This means that people can tweet, post status updates, or send friends messages instantly to say what they feel about the presidential debate. Instead of being alone or with a group of friends/family watching the debates, we are now in groups of thousands and millions where tons of opinions are being thrown around. This also means that instead of forming your own opinion, you are more likely to be swept up in others ideas long before you realize what it is you want. In some cases this may be a good thing, but it can also be terribly destructive to one of the candidates depending on how the flow goes.

Fact Checking

My favorite aspect of this tech impact on the elections is the “fact checking” websites that have popped up all over. The idea that they’re out there has a very positive effect on the elections, and on politics in general. In the past, candidates could spew lie after to lie to the general public, and if they were convincing, that was all that mattered. While this is still true in some situations, the fact that you can jump on your smartphone or laptop and check to see if what you were told was actually true really shifts the power away from crafty words and convincing personalities. Of course, you are often still left with how you feel about the person and how convincing they were, but if a point you really identified with was found out to be a lie, then you are much more likely to change your opinion.

Naturally, there is still some bias in these websites and articles that check the facts, and while campaign parties realize that it is out there, they still do their best to avoid telling the absolute truth. What seems to be a “win” these days is telling something that isn’t a lie, but isn’t 100% true. By staying neutral, and usually skipping the parts that you don’t want to bring up, it is much easier for the people who read about it to simply think of it as “strategy” instead of lying.

Social Media

Something that I find extremely interesting, and that I think has a strong impact on the elections, is the social media that is used to discuss the candidates. For example, during the political conventions and the debates, live tweets were displayed in real-time on the screen so that viewers could get an idea what others were thinking about debate. While this may seem harmless, and even collaborative, it can really change the impact and the perception of the discussion. Tweets that are discussing what is currently happening in discussion effectively decide where the attention is being focused during the talk. Something as harmless as “Why does Biden keep smirking?” can lead to millions of people ignoring the words and only looking at facial expressions.

Another huge impact that these sites have, is how much people have been taking quotes or pictures from debates and campaign events and positing them online with funny twists. Places like Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter are hotbeds for pictures and quotes that are edited and changed for a funny purpose.

One glaring example, and the one that really made me think “Oh wow, technology really is changing the elections” is the Mitt Romney and his “binders full of women” comment. Something that was seemingly an innocent statement was picked up in minutes and had a Twitter hashtag, a Facebook account, a website called bindersfullofwomen.com, and a Tumblr page full of memes about Romney and his stance on women. If you ask viewers what they took away from the debate, you may get a mix of answers, but if you ask them if they heard about “binders full of women,” most anyone will say yes.

Similar things have been done against the Obama campaign, and it isn’t hard to find similar Tumblr pages or YouTube parodies that tear apart the Obama administration and try to take statements that he has said and put them in a negative light.

Future Elections

While I believe that all of these things have drastically changed public perception of candidates, it hasn’t altered the process enough to completely change politicians themselves. They still lie, they still say half-true statements, and they still do their best to manipulate the public. The smart ones are jumping on the tech wagon and using these things to continue to perpetuate the lies and the propaganda by taking to social networks or posting viral videos. The bindersfullofwoman.com site that I mentioned above? It was created by someone who is an avid Obama supporter and is linked with the campaign funding channels. Things like this that are seemingly funny and innocent, are pointedly political and calculated attempts to tear down the image of the other candidate. We will see much more of this in future elections, and it will continue to be hard to tell whether it was an innocent joke or a focused attack.

As technology continues to be more pervasive in our lives, more people will get their information from channels on the internet. Be it Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or even a blog that you regularly read, these places are quickly and effectively changing the minds of many citizens who regularly access them. I would like to believe that in the future, this will lead to more truths being told, and less lies being allowed, but I am not so sure.

The internet has long been a place where facts are overruled by opinions, where stories that have no real base are picked up, and entertainment trumps anything related to sense and responsibility. There are many tools that are available to greatly improve things in the election process, but it remains to be seen whether these tools are used more by people who make positive changes or ones that take advantage and use them negatively.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Twitter takes control with new API rules, plans to limit access for third-party clients

We all knew this day was coming after reading Twitter’s fairly recent blog post on the company’s future plans, but now it’s been made official, and traditional Twitter clients should watch their backs. In another blog post earlier this week, Twitter’s Vice President of Product Michael Sippey outlined exactly how the company plans to control the user experience of its product.

For starters, large Twitter clients using Twitter’s API will have to obtain direct approval from Twitter in order to function. If a developer plans to create an app that requires access to a user’s timeline, direct messages, etc. (which are most traditional Twitter clients), they must seek Twitter’s permission if they plan to cultivate a user base over 100,000. The social media giant isn’t completely unreasonable, however, and won’t limit those applications already sporting over 100,000 users until their user base grows by 200 percent.

Twitter's chart of desirable and undesirable apps

As you may have guessed, “traditional Twitter clients” like Echofon and Tweetbot (both named specifically by Sippey in the article) are in the most danger. Sippey went into a lot of detail regarding the types of applications Twitter approves of and those it would rather not cater to, even creating the graphic above to illustrate his point.

Basically, the apps that fall in the upper right corner are being discouraged, while Sippey would like to see the number of applications grow in the remaining quadrants. Sippey used Klout as an example of a successful application geared towards the consumer and social analytics, an area that Twitter approves of.

Sippey said the changes would take effect “in the coming weeks” and regardless of their effect on existing Twitter applications, developers will be glad to finally hear some specifics after the somewhat foreboding letter to developers that was published a couple months ago.

The first indication of Twitter’s new cut-throat nature came with its decision to drop out of a partnership with LinkedIn. Then, of course, it followed that up with the announcement of high-profile partners like The Wall Street Journal and TIME for its new Twitter Cards.

Twitter has made it crystal clear it’s ready to take business a lot more seriously, and it’s up to developers to keep up to Twitter’s increasingly complex and challenging demands.

Spice Up Your Twitter Profile with Themeleon

You no doubt have come across Twitter pages that capture your attention immediately you see them. Users, businesses and organizations can customize the feel and look of this important social network to not only reflect the company or business brand, but use it as a vital marketing tool. So, how do you turn your Twitter page from being just average to having a great-looking visual that accentuates your brand or personality?

Introducing Themeleon.

Themeleon is a tool that allows you to create customized and sleek Twitter profile pages. It’s the official Twitter profile design extension that resides directly under Twitter’s selection of themes. Themeleon has dozens of themes that can be browsed and previewed with just a single click.

If you are not satisfied with what Themeleon has to offer on Twitter, you can browse their website and find dozens of additional layouts. Themeleon offers different ways of personalizing your backgrounds by adding patterns, images, colors and layout palettes, making it possible to come up with a sleek and entirely unique design from the patterns at hand. Plus, Themeleon has a huge creative community that continues to grow, which means more and more color palettes and seamless patterns are becoming available.

After signing up for the service, you automatically become part of the community and have access to everything. From here, you can create a palette, choose a member-created pattern palette and color it the way you want with your own spin to it. Using the Seamless Lite pattern maker, you can design your very own tiling pattern templates with a simple drag and drop. What’s even more interesting is the fact that you can make it publicly available to the community and allow members to help you create your pattern templates.

Whether you are looking to make a sleek, clean Twitter page to market your business or just looking to create a brightly-colored graphically-intensive representation of your personality, Themeleon can be your go-to solution.

Facebook or Fakebook – It Doesn’t Matter

It was recently revealed that Facebook doesn’t have as many users as the official figures would suggest. Within the 955 million monthly active users the social networking site boasts are millions of bogus accounts, made up of duplicates, misclassifications, and undesirables.

The thing is that although this “news” made it on to technology websites around the world, no one could have been surprised by the figures, and even less could have cared about them. Because it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

Bogus Facebook Accounts

As Craig Lloyd previously noted, Facebook IS fast approaching 1 billion users, with 955 active on a monthly basis. This is up from the 901 million recorded in April, showing that despite a slowing in the rate of growth, Facebook is still expanding. We know the size of Facebook’s userbase thanks to the company’s quarterly filing (via Indystar) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. With Facebook now being a public company we’ll be able to track its growth and other statistics more easily than was previously possible.

Facebook is also now required by law to include in the filing any factor that could impinge on its future success. The idea being that shareholders need to be able to make more of an informed decision whether to hold on to or sell their shares in the company. Hence the revealing of an estimated 83 million bogus Facebook accounts.

The 83 million is made up of: 45.84 million (4.8 percent) duplicates where one person has set up two or more personal accounts; 22.92 million (2.4 percent) miscategorized where a person has created an account for a pet, child, or organization rather than a page; 14.33 million (1.5 percent) undesirables dedicated to spamming or other improper use.

Everybody Knew – Nobody Cares

I guess the news here is that Facebook itself is fessing up about the number of bogus accounts it has, but the manner in which the mainstream tech press lapped this up you’d think it was a shocking revelation. It isn’t at all.

Everyone with even the slightest notion about how Facebook works knew its numbers were off, and that there is a sizable proportion of bogus accounts. Hell, I am myself responsible for one of them, having created a Facebook account for my cat. What can I say, I was bored and lonely.

And really, who cares? Shareholders, of course, but then seeing as (at the time of writing) they’ve seen the value of their Facebook stock fall by 50 percent I’d say they have bigger concerns over Facebook’s future than the existence of some bogus accounts.

To sum up, a significant percentage of Facebook is actually Fakebook, but it really doesn’t matter.

Google+ Will Succeed By Integrating Everything

Google+ has been with us for a year now, having been launched at the end of June 2011. Over the past 12 months it hasn’t exactly set the world alight. It’s nice enough, especially after the recent redesign, and some of its core features and functionality are better than those of the competition. But its biggest claim to fame so far is the influence it has had on its nemesis, the big bad, ubiquitous Facebook.

These two social networks are locked in a battle of wills. Since Google+ launched, Facebook has nudged ever closer to boasting a user base of 1 billion people, and has finally gone public with its IPO. That didn’t go too well, but it still achieved its aim of becoming a public company worth tens of billions of dollars.

Facebook > Google+

Right now, Facebook bests Google+ in almost every department. The number of users, engagement levels, apps, games, photos shared, etc. Google is playing a severe game of catchup in the social networking arena, one that it’s not going to win easily and without pushing hard and fast into enemy territory.

But there is one way in which Google+ could succeed. It’s a strategy that would at the very least start eating into Facebook’s huge lead built up over the past eight years. It’s all about integration.

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate!

Google offers so many services that it’s often easy to forget how many of those services most of us use on a regular basis. From Search to Maps, from News to Docs, from Gmail to YouTube, Google has its tentacles spread far and wide across the web. Some of these services have already been integrated with Google+ to a degree, but that integration could be tighter across the board.

I firmly believe that if Google does head down this route of aggressively and progressively integrating all of its other services into Google+, people will turn away from Facebook. It already feels as though people are looking for an alternative. Facebook is now too mainstream and too old in the tooth for the zeitgeist-seeking, internet-savvy youngsters, but Google+ has yet to tempt them away in any great number.

Google+ > Facebook

After all of the other various free Google services are integrated into and inextricably linked with Google+, it will be a viable and valid alternative to Facebook — one which offers users the chance to choose the social network on which they can check their email and collaborate on Google Docs together all from one central locale.

At that point in time Google would hold all the cards, and Facebook could be left facing an exodus of users fleeing for fresher social networking pastures.

Facebook Approaches 1 Billion Users

Facebook recently disclosed that they have 901 million users.

Nine. Hundred. And. One. Million.

They dropped this little statistic in their amended S-1 filing earlier this week, along with other small statistics such as that Facebook users post 3.2 billion comments per day and upload 300 million photos per day as well. They also lay claim that 125 billion friendships have been formed so far on Facebook and 526 million of the 901 million users (over half) were described as daily active users in March. If that doesn’t get your pot stirring, note that 488 million users used Facebook on their smartphone and/or tablet during March as well.

Gregory Lyons, a senior analyst at iCrossing, predicted that Facebook would hit one billion users by August. Now that they have reached 900 million, one billion seems like a plausible number to hit by summer’s end. However, based on the most recent trends, I believe it might not be until October when we see Facebook hit one billion users.

In February, Facebook said they had 845 million users when they filed their IPO paperwork. They now have just over 900 million. So in almost three months time, the social network gained over 50 million users. Based on this, it will take Facebook roughly six months to gain 100 million users and hit the one billion mark, which would be around October of this year.

To give you an idea on just how massive Facebook is and to clarify their stance as the largest social network, Twitter (the 2nd-largest social network) currently has over 560 million users, but as of March, they say that only 140 million of those users are regularly active, compared to Facebook’s 526 million regularly active users.

You can read Facebook’s amended S-1 filing in its entirety here, but be warned: it’s really long.

Instagram goes from $0 to $1 billion in 17 months

Instagram, the incredibly popular free photo-sharing app, launched in October of 2010. Within the first week, the app had almost 200,000 users. That number jumped to 1.75 million in February 2011 and three months later there were 4 million people using the app. Of course, 4 million isn’t anything to write home about according to today’s standards, but it was certainly a respectable number.

On April 10, Facebook acquired the San Francisco-based startup for a whopping $1 billion. At the time of the acquisition, Instagram’s iOS app has been downloaded over 30 million times. The Android app, which was recently released, saw over 5 million downloads in six days.

One of the interesting tidbits of the acquisition is that a week before Facebook bought Instagram, the startup was valued at $500 million. So in a week’s time, the value of Instagram apparently doubled.

The $1 billion price tag has definitely raised some eyebrows, and for good reason: The company is only 17 months old and has a measly 13 employees. They also haven’t generated any revenue whatsoever. Some people even compared Instagram’s worth to the New York Times, noting that the 116-year-old national newspaper company is worth less than a 17-month-old photo app. It’s also worth noting that, in the same year, Kodak filed for bankruptcy while Instagram gets bought for $1 billion; the times they are a changin’.

Large Silicon Valley acquisitions aren’t uncommon, but it is indeed strange for such a small company to be offered ten figures. Then again, we kind of knew what Facebook was really acquiring: Instagram users — 30 million of them. The extremely large user base is what Facebook really wants (and I suppose the resources and features of the Instagram app don’t hurt either).

In any case, the Facebook acquisition has not stopped the influx of new Instagram users, even though many current users are jumping ship now that the social-networking giant has a hold on the app. The iOS version hit the number one spot in the iTunes App Store for the first time ever this week.

It’ll be interesting to see what Facebook does with the photo app. Will they leave it as is? Will they use the visual-filter features on their own photo-sharing web interface? Will they completely shut it down like they did with Gowalla (probably not)? We’ll have to wait and see.

What Twitter’s Acquisition of Posterous means for Bloggers

The internet industry is abuzz with Twitter’s latest acquisition and hiring of Posterous and its employees. The details of the deal are shrouded in mystery; neither Twitter nor the Posterous team is willing to share how things will move on from this point onward.

As a professional blogger, it is good to know that the acquisition does not mean deactivating the present Posterous services for its million users. Both the brands promise retaining the services, but for how long – no one can predict that either!

What people are not discussing is the question: how will this acquisition change the way we, the bloggers, look at blogging and content sharing?

Posterous Platform

In the last four years, Posterous built a formidable brand based on easy content development and sharing. Undoubtedly, Twitter is going to utilize this product with its own tweeting services to enhance its user services.

What about Bloggers and Marketers?

As a professional blogger and an online marketer, I am inclined to think the following outcomes are likely from this acquisition:

1) With the combined services of Twitter and Posterous, blogging acquires tremendous power. Not only will bloggers be able to create, post and share their content, they will utilize the Twitter platform to enhance social media popularity.

2) Perhaps Twitter acquired Posterous to build a unique news sharing platform with the help of its new #Discover tab. Won’t it be wonderful if Twitter users can use the #Discover tab to “discover” informative and unique blog content from their Twitter follower list?

3) It is also a possibility that Twitter is planning to revamp its current brand image and might shift from the 140 characters criteria to include longer tweets. In many ways, tweeting content is restrictive. Posterous can change that.

4) Even though both Twitter and Posterous representatives announced that they have no plans to discontinue its present services, it will be good for Posterous Spaces bloggers to think about shifting their domain hosting to something else.

The Posterous acquisition announcement clearly states that users will be notified way in advance if any major changes are to take place, which means something is up the anvil. Beware Posterous bloggers! Make sure to back up your blog daily.

People and Technology

Industry experts have criticized Twitter for this acquisition. Its motto of “people and technology”, says the CEO of Tamar.com, Tanya Goodin, seems more like a “people” buyout than cutting edge technology. She further comments that with this acquisition, Twitter has laid its hand on some top Apple talent – a strategy to tightly compete and overcome competition from Apple.

Others like Adrian Goodsell of Steak Digital see no point in acquiring Posterous when WordPress and Tumblr are way ahead in the blogging race; Jonny Rosemont of DBD Media believe this to be an acquisition of both “talent and technology” which can counteract the rise of Tumblr.

The next few months are crucial. We can merely expect to draw the best out of this deal as users.

Would you trade in your social media passwords for a job?

The practice of employers looking up social media profiles of prospective employees is nothing new. It’s a great way to learn a lot about a person from the things that they choose to broadcast to the public. However, there comes a point where this all may go a little too far — specifically when a potential employee’s profile is set to private.

Associated Press reports that some job seekers have been asked during the interview to hand over their Facebook passwords. Justin Bassett, a New York statistician, was asked to disclose his Facebook login credentials to the interviewer. Bassett withdrew his application.

Others weren’t directly asked for their passwords, but they were asked to log in to their Facebook account so that the interviewer could have a peek.

While most job candidates would decline to give out their passwords, there are some job seekers who are so desperate for a job, they have no choice but to hand over such information to the company.

In 2010 a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was asked for his login information so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. The security guard handed it over saying, “I needed my job to feed my family.”

Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor says that this practice is “an egregious privacy violation” and “it’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys.”

Surprisingly, this is all completely legal, but legislation is being proposed in Illinois and Maryland, with more states possibly joining in later.

Personally, I have nothing to hide when it comes to my social media profiles. If an employer wants to look at my Facebook profile, they can do so, but I will never give my password away to anyone. However, I probably wouldn’t mind logging into my Facebook and letting them surf around for a bit while I at least watch (as long as they were just looking at my profile and not digging into my settings), although that does sound extremely juvenile and definitely says something about the maturity of the company.

What about you? Would you let a potential employer have your password or at least log in for them so they can look around?

Two Sites that Generate Tweets on your Behalf

As a person who frequents the social status-updating platform Twitter, I have always pondered if there will come a time that, like the annals of history itself, my tweets will eventually become cyclical and redundant in nature.  As a human being, I thrive off being a creature of habit and learning from past experiences, so it would make sense to argue that the more I tweet, the greater the possibility that I will either repeat myself or become void of concentrated thought.

So to counteract the days that I feel disconnected with my tweeting realm, I decided to consider two non-stressful “tweet generating” options to fill in the gaps: That can be my Next Tweet and Automatic Tweet Generator.  And yes, by “tweet generating,” I mean that they generate the tweets for you.

That Can Be my Next Tweet

That Can Be my Next Tweet is a site by Monokai in which takes the repetition of Twitter statuses to the level of personalized tweet mashing.  Essentially, one places a Twitter account name into the text box, and once “get your next tweet” is pressed a fancy computer algorithm (black magic) cuts, copies, and pastes words and phrases from your tweeting history (also known as tweet DNA) to give you an aggregate, individualistic tweet that theoretically should be similar to what you might normally tweet about.

Now unfortunately (or fortunately) for everyone, it is not perfect in its responses.  Most of the time it creates fragmented, grammar abused tweets with hilarious content, but if you give it a little time it does produce some that could pass 10th grade English.

Here are some funny examples of both situations based off three different Techerator celebrity’s accounts:

Me:

I might actually say something like that

Kevin Schulte:

Evan Wondrasek:

I hate when that happens...

This site also comes in an Android and iOS mobile app so that one can generate doppelgänger tweets on the go as well.  The mobile app also allows for two Twitter accounts to be entered so that even more conjoined tweets can be created with humorous results.

Automatic Tweet Generator

If one feels that their Twitter account already is already saturated with personalized thoughts, an alternative is to have this website (known as the Automatic Tweet Generator) create a random, topical tweets for general purpose tweeting.  This site goes off the same principles of the Video Game Name Generator (which I highly recommend trying if you have a few hours to spare), where a database of generic phrases, celebrity names, and words (with some profanity and reference to drug use) are accessed to form complete and utterly random tweets to potentially post.

Here are a few to consider:

Those darn vegans and their bikes...

If one finds the grammar and topics still not humorous enough, you can suggest to the creator ideas and topics for them to add, thus helping the random tweet generating odds.

Conclusion

So if you are a concerned, repetition-fearing person like myself, take comfort in fact that these two tweet generating sites provide a quick way to keep those tweets coming (with entertaining results).  After all, no one wants to be like the Invasion of Russia.

(Many Thanks to Evan Wondrasek and Kevin Schulte for letting me humorize their Twitter Accounts)