Friday, December 7

Saving Face, Sort Of: Mark Zuckerberg

Everybody likes talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. And what’s not to like?

As a Harvard student in 2004, Zuckerberg founded the online social networking Website Facebook. As a young entrepreneur in 2006, he passed on a $1 billion offer from Terry Semel, then CEO of Yahoo! A year later, Microsoft infused $240 million into the social network, putting the 23-year-old on the fast track.

Never mind all that other stuff. Never mind the old ConnectU controversy; it was tossed out, um, for now. Never mind the lawsuit against the Harvard alumni publication for invasion of privacy over an article (irony). Never mind he basically lied to Louise Story of The New York Times about opting in to Beacon, which gathers up information about you on Facebook and away from Facebook.

Never mind. Never mind, because Mark Zuckerberg is sorry.

He’s sorry because “the problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.”

In other words, he’s sorry that you, and me, and probably Louise Story are too stupid to opt-out on his terms and that’s much more important than what he told The New York Times anyway. After all, Facebook, by slurping up our online lives, is only trying to make it easier for us to share with our friends, Facebook, and anyone who might happen to ask. If only we would all see it his way.

Most people do see it his way. Even Brian Solis, who I read regularly, seemed to take one look at Zuckerberg, smile and write “His words, most notably, his apology, humanize the company.”

Sure, Solis also noted the apology was less than perfect, but this sentiment represents how badly people want Facebook to be what it could be and not necessarily what it is.

Solis is not the only one. According to Forbes, everyone from MoveOn, which called the change "a big step in the right direction," to Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who said "Facebook is learning that privacy matters. It's signaling that it does care about how it's viewed and how important trust is to online businesses," has accepted.

But, what did Zuckerberg really do? If he were a pickpocket, the Beacon fiasco might be likened to stealing a Jackson from your wallet and giving you back a Lincoln with a song, dance, and smile. Zuckerberg is one of the few who can get away with it.

Why? Because many people feel that they need Facebook more than Facebook needs them. And as long as this “feeling” remains, and some people treat Facebook as if it is the air we breathe, then we can expect more creepy than cool for a long time to come.

Far, far fewer people have put any real thought into what is actually occurring beyond the apology. Wendy Grossman is one of them. Brian Oberkirch is another. Jack Flack is yet another.

But in the great game of public relations, where perception and reality don’t always intersect, a few voices can often be outweighed by the many. And that means sincerity matters less than presenting yourself as people expect you to.

So when it comes to Zuckerberg, it seems to me that the world expects everything, except for Facebook being a responsible corporate citizen. Thus, as long as the traffic continues to surge for Facebook, “sort of” sorry will be good enough. Hmmm … no wonder Zuckerberg usually sports a boyish smile.

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Thursday, December 6

Confusing Authorities: Masked Citizens

As the old saying goes, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and maybe doubly so online. Two anonymous identity stories have played out very differently in recent weeks; they are dramatically lopsided and in the wrong direction.

Lori Drew Escapes Responsibility And Meier Harassment Continues

Authorities struggled with charging Lori Drew for anonymously harassing 13-year-old Megan Meier to the point of suicide. Enough so that Megan’s mother Tina Meier urged a group of north St. Louis County lawmakers and city officials to push for Internet harassment laws.

"Nothing you can do," Tina Meier told the St. Louis Post. "Nothing on the books. It doesn't fit in the box. Too bad, so sad. They get to walk free."

For all her loss and effort, Dardenne Prairie (Missouri) has since passed a law making online harassment a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. These charges do not apply to Drew.

And yet, the Meier family continues to be harassed. Someone claiming to be Drew has set up a new blog called Megan Had It Coming, which seems authentic enough that some are speculating it might be real.

James Buss Gets Locked Up For Criticizing Spending

James Buss, a high school chemistry teacher in Milwaukee, left an anonymous comment on Boots and Sabers and was promptly arrested after authorities insisted the blogger give up the anonymous poster’s e-mail address. Buss was arrested.

The comment was reprehensible, praising the Columbine High School killers and saying they “knew how to deal with overpaid teacher union thugs.”

According to the Associated Press this morning, Buss won’t face charges because it was unclear whether the comment advocated violence against teachers, and even if it did, its language was not likely to incite others to act.

However, one wonders how authorities in one part of the country can take swift action on an apparent inappropriate comment and yet authorities in another take virtually no action after the death of a 13-year-old girl who was maliciously plotted against. And, no action has been taken as the Meier family continues to be harassed.

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Wednesday, December 5

Sharing Acts Of Kindness: Bloggers Unite

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” — Mark Twain

There is something to be said for this often cited quote from Mark Twain, which is why there is something to be said about the newest Bloggers Unite challenge led by BlogCatalog members. On Dec. 17, bloggers will share stories about varied generous acts of kindness that they performed in the days and weeks leading up to the event, many of which are occurring around the world right now.

It doesn’t really matter if these “acts of kindness” are simple, smart, quirky, silly, serious, or something in between. Individually and collectively, they mean something; at least they do to me, and I hope to you too.

You see, a single act of kindness or doing the right thing, whether great or small, always takes less effort and produces greater results than struggling to be right as some people often do. As one of my favorite stories illustrates …

A myriad of bubbles were floating on the surface of a stream. “What are you?” I cried to them they drifted by.

“I am bubble of course” nearly a myriad bubbles answer, and there was surprise and indignation in their voices.

But, here and there, a lonely bubble answered, “We are this stream,” and there was neither surprise nor indignation in their voices, just quiet certitude. — Wei Wu Wei


Sure, most people are content to fight to be right and place their mark on the map of social media with as much indignity as they can muster. There’s nothing really wrong with that, except it is equally worthwhile to remember that compassion is effortless.

For the last few days, some bloggers have taken the day off to sign on to Bloggers Unite, with each act of kindness to be shared in a post, photo, or video on Dec. 17, adding value to the world online and off.

For our part, we’ll be adding our own story to the stream this Dec. 17 and have joined with BlogCatalog to assist in judging hundreds of submissions. More than 20 bloggers receiving prizes and recognition for their work. We'll also profile the top three submissions in each subcategory — post, photo, and video — beginning in Jan. 08.

See? Effortless. For details, visit the Bloggers Unite mini-site. Or, just do something nice today — even an unexpected compliment might go a long way.

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Tuesday, December 4

Communicating Change: Blogger Hits The Fan

If you want to read about tracking Santa, you can read about it on the Google blog. If you want to know about blogging from YouTube, you’ll find on it on Blogger Buzz. But if you’re a blogger with a blogspot blog wondering who dramatically altered how your blog comments function, well, happy hunting.

The new rules of communication for Internet conglomerates seem to be: if you have a great idea, host a press conference. If you aren’t really sure, bite your tongue, flip a switch, and see what hits the fan. BLOGGER!

Sure, it’s a tactic most people have come to expect from Facebook, but only because it needs a mom. We saw it when Yahoo! merged MyBlogLog accounts too, but that was just being a fast company. And now Google via Blogger has joined a new school of thought that suggests passive communication is best when you just aren’t sure if what you are doing is a good idea.

How passive? Here are a few ways a blogspot bloggger might have learned about the comment changes that affect their blogs:

1. You happened to click “Known Issues” on the dashboard help section of Blogger because it's something you like to do, um, just because.
2. A group member happened to open a case study discussion thread on BlogStraightTalk.
3. Maybe you stumbled onto the discussion at BlogCatalog, where many bloggers have vowed to migrate.
4. You happened to catch it on Twitter, either mine or Dave Delaney’s followup.
5. You happened to read one of several blogs or help groups that had less than flattering things to say.
6. Someone you know, maybe your mom, happens to know someone who knows someone who reads Blogger In Draft daily, on the off chance that it is updated, which is about every three months or so.

Okay, sure, right, communicating change is never easy. But what will it take before Internet companies come to the conclusion that viral marketing is not the best way to communicate change? Flipping the switch and seeing if anything hits the fan is nothing more than non-communication.

So what happened? Blogger removed the URL field for unauthenticated comments, which is their way of aggressively supporting OpenID. OpenID is a fine idea, which allows people to "sign" your comments with your own URL while “preventing others from impersonating you.”

The tradeoff in using the new OpenID comments seems to be the steep division between the choice of allowing anonymous posts without allowing any link backs or choosing OpenID to allow the link backs to other blogs but eliminating anonymous comments. Of course, the anonymous can always create an fake Blogger/Google ID that they’ll forget about a few weeks later, which is why I decided to flip the switch on this blog’s comments for now (use the pull down menu).

However, in the interim, Google/Blogger proves once again that most communication challenges occur from the inside out. But maybe that is part of the purpose of OpenID anyway. Migration becomes easier and exodus more likely when Internet companies fail to communicate change before springing it on their members. Hmmm … now that’s something Internet folks seem to get.

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Monday, December 3

Approaching Journalism: Tips For Bloggers


While listening to a panel discussion called “Being Opinionated in America” from the University of Berkeley that featured Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman (available for free download at iTunes), I noted that Friedman was particularly transparent in his approach to writing foreign affairs columns for The New York Times.

Five Points Gleaned From Thomas L. Friedman

• Writes fact-based commentaries that are reasonably objective
• Does not write to make friends and not doing so has no impact
• Consults with a brain trust of five people; reasonably transparent
• Fact checks for accuracy; seeks outside sources; no oversight
• Does not discriminate between the level of expertise and value of the insight

In drawing comparisons between his approach and that of bloggers, there seem to be some relatively minor distinctions, with most depending on the specific blogger.

Five Common Distinctions With Bloggers

• Some bloggers do write fact-based commentary, but most advocate specific ideas and share or debate points around their area of interest.
• Most bloggers do write to make friends, because nurturing these relationships can potentially increase their presence, reach, and perception of expertise.
• Some bloggers are influenced by select influencers, and the level of transparency is as varied as columnists. Some bloggers are also influenced by others who they never mention.
• Most bloggers do not fact check for accuracy or seek additional sources beyond what they can find available on the Web.
• Many bloggers do discriminate between the level of expertise and value of insights, often giving more weight to those who have a perceived expertise.

From me, these distinctions are especially important when considering the continuous debate whether bloggers can be journalists. I generally feel it truly depends on the blogger, always noting that some journalists are bloggers too (blogging is activity, not usually a professional designation). And, of course, many bloggers have no interest in becoming journalistic, which is fine too.

However, I do believe that bloggers can strengthen their content by adopting some journalistic approaches as outlined by Friedman.

• Never be afraid to seek offline sources to enhance the quality of the content; it’s often refreshing to read blogs that bring in ideas from non-bloggers.
• Never underestimate the value of any insight, regardless of the perceived level of expertise. Experts have an equal opportunity to be wrong.
• Authenticity is more important than transparency; meaning that disclosure is most warranted when it is relevant or directly influences the piece.
• And always be careful in pursuing online friendships for popularity so that these relationships do not hinder your ability to be honest with yourself and your readers.

The last point is often the most difficult for bloggers. For example, I generally encourage disagreement and debate while discouraging the shouting down of opposing viewpoints or diatribe, as sometimes happens when people support popularity over purpose.

I appreciate it sometimes sizes me up as someone who doesn’t much care what people think. At least that is what one of my friends told me last week. But that isn’t exactly so. I care wholeheartedly what people think; I just don’t always care a whole lot about what they might think of me for a certain point of view or working to remain objective.

There’s a big difference. In fact, it provides columnists like Dowd and Friedman the voice they need to make people think through issues without polarizing them along party platforms. Sometimes, this comes at the expense of their own popularity, if not, likeability. And personally, it’s something I hope to see more of in new media.

After all, the true test of any relationship is never when we agree, but when we disagree. Yes, we need some more of that in social media.

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Saturday, December 1

Overlooking Stories: Social Media Successes


Sometimes the greatest social media stories go overlooked.

Most people have heard how fans banded together and convinced CBS to reverse its decision to cancel Jericho, a post nuclear terrorist attack survival drama, with 20 tons of nuts (among other things). Many know that Jericho is now set to be highlighted in 2008 as one of the few shows with any episodes for the new season.

Much fewer know that fans have since raised funds to support Greensburg, Kansas, after it was hit by devastating tornados and later created an effort to support the troops. They’ve also been increasingly active in supporting the writers strike. (It makes one wonder if CBS appreciates the fans it has for a show the network under supports.)

But this story isn’t as big as all that. And perhaps for that reason, it shines twice as bright.

On Mon., Nov. 26, popular Jericho blogger and dedicated fan Jane Sweat put out a plea to fellow fans that she was desperate and needed help. Her 11-month-old retriever, Boo, had been housed at a shelter, waiting to be adopted after Sweat had moved from her home with plans to sell it.

But when no one adopted Boo, Sweat had no choice but to retrieve her beautiful labrador retriever/beagle despite not being able to provide a home. On Tues., in less than 24 hours, fans not only created a campaign to find Boo a home, but one of them also volunteered to become a foster parent. Other fans donated money to help offset the cost of transportation. By Friday, the new foster family for Boo had driven from Indiana to Alabama to save Sweat’s beloved dog.

You can read Sweat's heartfelt thank you to them as Monster Fans of the Week here. (Their avatar names include: Kestral, Maybei, Terocious, Briairpatch, Lisibee, DBlacer, K4ist, Flutterby, Welcome2CHO, and perhaps others.)

“I believe they created a miracle and that miracle has changed my life as well as me,” Jane wrote in a comment to me on her blog. “I'm not the person I was when this journey started. At the end, though, I'm a much better person.”

Not so, Jane — like many people, you were always a "better person," perhaps just in need of a place to share it. This has been obvious to me for some time.

You know, I sometimes hear social media opponents claim that the general public need not be on the Web without controls because they don’t have anything substantial to lend, share, or say. One of them even labeled me as one head of a mythical hydra because I supposedly sometimes instill a false sense of hope in people that they might make a difference as equal to any so-called expert.

What will they lend, share, or say? This single story of kindness seems to go a long way, at least for me. Social media can be astounding; you just need to look in the least likely but right places — like a Jericho blog where you can find the story of someone, recently displaced from her home, making the effort to save her best friend, and the fans who made it possible. Amazing.

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