Thing 11: RSS

(Thanks, ByteLove)

When I first started Livejournal, people explained the site as a blog website with “friends page” that was like an RSS feed for your buddies. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew that it was an online thing I could use to keep in touch with friends that had already (gasp) graduated high school. So why not use it?

Turns out RSS feeds are actually pretty useful, even though I’ve only just begun using them (and, actually, incorporated them into my livejournal friends list.) I hadn’t even been paying attention, but it’s what added writer/creator Warren Ellis to my list, as well as the comparatively mild Questionable Content for all my hipster comic needs. It’s also useful for friends who have moved to other blogging sites (like the DreamWidth beta, for one) that I want to keep up with. In that way Livejournal allows me to post my own content and have a one-stop-page to check my other LJ friends, non-LJ friends, and non-friends. (I would call Warren Ellis my friend except I have never met him and he scares me.)

But what about an actual legitimate RSS reader? I just went to Google’s, suspecting that I wouldn’t even have to register, and I was right. Since I already have a Gmaila account, I just entered in my username and password for that, and bam! I had my own Reader. Not only that, it was suggesting five people that I might want to ‘follow’. How did it know? Because those five people are on my Gchat in Gmail. Interconnected much?

But actually, what do I need to put in this thing? I’ve got Livejournal for friends’ blogs, and I’ve got Facebook for friends’… faceposts. And each of those is already a little interwoven with the blogosphere, pulling in a few internet celebrities and webcomics here and there. Maybe Google Reader would be a more comprehensive hub for non-friend stuff. Maybe it would be redundant. Upon checking, I could use it to check in on my livejournal communities. Okay, that’s definitely recursive. Hmm. Well, at least I can plug in a few news sites that I’ve been meaning to keep up with but always forget about. That could be a…

…wait, Helen Thomas retired indefinitely?

Okay, I found a use for this.

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Thing 10: Tagging

As I look at the tag cloud right now, which sits nicely in the upper left hand corner of this very blog, there are three phrases which are biggest, indicating they are the most used:

-terrible people

Two of those are kind of redundant, I guess, but it’s terrible people that surprised me. Clicking on it, I realized I used that tag both for talking about Facebook execs and for for Andrew Wakefield. Well, that makes sense. And since I have fewer than a dozen posts, something used twice would be biggest. As the blog grows, those words will probably shrink to medium size as other stuff comes along. (Comics will probably stay big. I work comics into my blog posts as often as possible.)

I stopped using back when it was, well,, and I can’t even remember why. Since then my biggest tagging experiences have been when I finally broke down and started using them on my personal journal. Livejournal had just added the feature a couple months ago, and it helps if I’m trying to find a link, story, or conversation that happened more than three weeks ago. My sense of time is vague at best. It’s way better to click through a list of concepts like “university”, “family”, “writing”, “awkward turtle” than trying to remember if that thing that happened a month to three months ago was on a Thursday? Maybe? Or a Friday? Something ending in day.

I’ve got 108 tags on that journal now, and while it sounds out of control, about 3/4 of them are for writing. I found that if I tagged stories I wrote with the genre and all the characters, I could go back later and search by character to see how much I’d written on somebody and what was missing. Excellent.

What I really admire, though, is a community called ONTD_Political. The name comes from an earlier community called Oh No They Didn’t, or ONTD for short, which posts tabloid-like stories about celebrities. ONTD_Political isn’t completely the same in that it’s not scandal-based, but rather globally focused and concentrates on, well, everything.

How do they organize it all, you ask? By tagging religiously. There are, at current count, 1,097 tags that the poster can employ, often using several at a time for one news article. Immigration has 133 uses. The RNC has 32. Zimbabwe has 19.

And this is a community where I have seen some hardcore tag enthusiasts. A recent Malawi couple’s story became the source for a lot of empathy and sadness, but also lividness as the community commented that not only was the general media misidentifying a transgendered woman as a gay man, but that ONTD_P itself was . Who knew internet tagging could get so political?

Signing out, and double-checking my tags before I publish.

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Blog Post 3: Social Networking

(XKCD‘s most recent comic is relevant to our interests)

As of today, if you do a Google search for ‘facebook scandal’, you will get 14,000,000 results. While I’m sure that some of those stories refer to individual instances (which we’ll talk more about later), a great number of those have to do with huge TOS changes and infringements that have been going on as far back as early 2008. The biggest scandals aren’t between individual parties on Facebook so much as between Facebook and its users as a whole. People are upset about everything, but perhaps most reasonably about assumed privacy. The idea that manually opting out of having our information sold to private parties — and that taking care to make certain information, posts, pictures, and other media private or restricted only to a select few is actually meaningless if the interested party is willing to pay cash up front — seems dishonest if not actually illegal. It doesn’t help that Zuckerman has been quoted saying some less than advisable things about the intelligence of people willing to trust him with their personal info. This is driving several users to make statements by removing their content completely.

Quit Facebook Day is happening on May 31, 2010. The specially dedicated website offers reasons why people are quitting, options for interested party, and a counter in the right column that (as of this post) numbers at 12526. That’s almost 13,000 people.

Therein lies the problem with this whole debacle. To Facebook, its advertisers, and its investors? 13k users is a drop in the bucket. Hell, if that number reaches 30k by the end of the month it still wouldn’t have anybody changing policies that are clearly so profitable. According to OpenScandal (linked above), here’s their financial breakdown of 2009:

# $125 million from brand ads
# $150 million from Facebook’s ad deal with Microsoft
# $75 million from virtual goods
# $200 million from self-service ads

Facebook is rolling in money. Rolling. In it. The online journaling site Livejournal was recently outed for allowing pop-up ads with embedded adware that they almost definitely knew about, and did not remove once they were explicitly informed. And why would they? As a business model, most members of the site, whether they pay for extra features or simply ‘pay’ by seeing the ads at the tops of their screens, don’t understand what they’re giving up… or don’t care enough to switch to a less popular service that has more honest policies. Until or unless the customers unite more effectively and use their buying/ad-looking power to strong-arm these companies to look at something other than profit, we’re going to see these headlines over and over again.

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