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Google Buzz: your digital life thrown into a blender

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Finally got Buzz activated on my Google account yesterday and wanted to drop a quick post about it, because I’m seeing all this “Ooooh Google’s coming after Facebook and Twitter!” posts and I think there’s a larger point being missed with all this. The implications of Buzz are farther reaching than just these two services (which encompasses a wide swath of social networking activity already) — Google has already eaten everybody’s lunch. Here are two major points:

  • It’s about the mobile, stupid! Try using Buzz on and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. On the plus side, you’ll notice, because it has your location, it recommends places around you, shows them to you on the “Buzz map”, nibbling on Yelp and Foursquare’s lunches. On the minus side, it does the same thing with people, ie, it shows you “public” conversations of people right around the corner in your neighborhood. This is one of those times where engineering making interaction design decisions turns out not to be such a great idea.

    Engineer: Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to see what “buzz” is being generated in your vicinity? We can do that since we know all the Gmail users in the area! Sweet! We are SO smart!!!

    Unfortunately, what this “buzz” amounts to is some seriously embarassing (and unwitting) privacy violation:


    I have no idea who Brent is, except now I gather he is somewhere in my zip code and I probably brush by him at the grocery store, and now I know he’s going to have a HOT date night with his friend, Kate, who will be wearing her black stilettos and swilling Hennessy! Gross.

  • Asymmetrical following: yes this is Twitter’s lunch. The difference is it’s a less relevant given that a) the following isn’t voluntary per se since Google takes the liberty of adding people you supposedly send lots of Gmail to and then b) shows you the conversations they are having with other people (most of whom are perfect strangers). This is weird and creepy, far from the interestingness you get from Twitter’s opt-in asymmetrical following model. (I’ve seen some inane, offensive, childish, and incomprehensible bickering that I really didn’t need to see.)

They know where you live, they know where you are right now, they know what you’re talking about, they know what you’re thinking, they know your all dirty little secrets. And if you’re not careful, you’re publishing everything for the world to see, all in the name of “sharing”! Happy Buzzing!

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Trust Networks (part 1)

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

I have been following the #iranelection hashtag on Twitter for the past two days, and I’ve been noticing a few things about online trust.

Two users in particular have surfaced out of the din of that particular stream (not sure whether naming them will expose them to further harm, so I will call them Pyramus and Thisbe) and watching their posts throughout the past 48 hours, and the true power of asymmetrical following proved itself as they told their stories in real time to me through my own Twitter screens (private through relative obscurity), and simultaneously to the rest of the world. If you didn’t know whom to trust, or didn’t choose to, they would be just another pair of green faces in the crowd.

But how did I come to trust these two voices in the midst of this utter chaos? (This question was posed to me by Ted on Facebook.) Trust is built out of so many intangible things, online and off, and many people trust and distrust for different reasons. I am a very trusting person to begin with. I used to say that everyone I meet starts with 100 points and over time, with each questionable or untrustworthy interaction I will deduct points. For me, it’s easy to lose points and hard to gain them back. Other people have an opposite philosophy in that they distrust everyone from the beginning, and over time, people will do things to earn trust points over time. Same mechanism, different directions.

The first and most critical step in determining trust online is establishing identity. But this particular case demonstrates how easy (and difficult) it is to determine if someone is who they say they are. Pyramus’ Twitter profile says she is an “Iranian Student”. That is an unverifiable piece of data, but coupled with the content of her posts over time, I believe her. Identity is who you say you are, and the way you say things. And when.

If you have ever seriously tried to date online, you will know this to be true. On the other hand, you will also know that another’s identity can be completely constructed in your own mind out of the same tiny clues, inflated by what you want to see.

But again, how did I come to trust Pyramus and Thisbe, out of all others, and decide to follow them as trusted sources reporting from ground zero? Not sure, but it was some combination of Farsi name-dropping, citation of landmarks that were later verified (IRIB for one), quality of reportage, and the underlying tone of posts. Oh, and not to be overlooked, sometimes misspellings and alternate translations of place names (“Valli Asr” for “Vali-e-Asr”). There are myriad other incalculable hints that I’m not even conscious of, but after listening to this person’s voice through these little messages long enough, you just begin to trust that they are genuinely who you think they are, they don’t have to ask you to trust them (they don’t have time for that), there is an urgency that comes through both the breathiness of Twitter and the odd little mis-typings that signal a human touch.

I can almost see them as night falls over Tehran, preparing for the ensuing battle, ready for the Baseej to come breaking through the glass and the doors, typing out messages to the rest of the world and posting them before the censors block their connections to the internet, making every single 140 character payload worth more than life itself…

Be safe, Pyramus and Thisbe.

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Roundup of #iranelection, 5:15pm 6/15/09

Monday, June 15th, 2009

This is my quick informal summary after having watched the #iranelection thread for the past day.

* Channel 4 (UK) footage of Basij Islamist Militia shooting into crowd and killing at least 1 (up to 7 casualties have been reported).

* @persiankiwi (not sure of gender) reports that more than 100 students missing from Tehran University dorms, reports of several dead from last night.

* @change_for_iran ( is also riveting.

* Twitter is going down for maintenance for 90 minutes tonight. Many on the thread are pleading for them (the powers that be at Twitter) to hold off, showing just how essential this service is at this moment.

* Incredible photos here:
* The Iranian Government are obviously locking down all media which might facilitate dissent and incite more rebellion. All mobile phones are down. They are blocking most major media outlets and websites, and there is a cyberwar going on as well. Some are trying a DoS (Denial of Service) attack on Iranian Government websites.

As part of their blockage of internet sites, they are blocking the range of IP addresses that originate from Iran. This effectively shuts out people posting from the scene using Twitter and other micro-blogging services. Some Iranian Twitterers on the ground are requesting that proxies be set up by any on the outside for use which will allow them to continue to use the internet to communicate what is going on to the rest of the world.

Wikipedia: FreeGate is software that enables internet users from mainland China, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and UAE, among others, to view websites blocked by their governments

* Here is one tweet from @Change_for_Iran:

“using freegate now, nothing else working. no power in most of the buildings & cellphones & land lines are out again. #iranelection”

* There is an interesting dilemma on the thread because some people (@stephenfry) have been answering this plea by posting the IP addresses for new proxies on #iranelection, and others are saying not to post proxies on Twitter because they are being exposed and shut down.

“If the news is important, it will find you.”

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Converting the Stimulus Bill to HTML

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I’m sure someone else is doing this as well. I just couldn’t find anything out there. There’s lots of artifacts from the ridiculous Word-to-scanner-to-PDF conversion that render it unreadable. This tiny bit of typesetting took me the good part of my Saturday morning. Anyone else out there want to help out?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Stimulus Bill, 1/15/09)

See Also:

Download the 1/15 Stimulus Bill Part 1 here

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