Monthly Archives: July 2014

What We are Learning About Internet Privacy

You probably heard of Facebook’s experiment testing and how its users were affected by the emotional content on their Facebook news feeds. The experiment, from a sociological perspective, was quite interesting. 600,000 Facebook users had their news feeds manipulated by the Facebook system to show certain types of content to specific people. Facebook then monitored how the statuses of the chosen individuals changed over the course of the experiment.

A portion of the users began to see a prevalence of negatively charged statuses, while another portion saw statuses that mostly expressed happiness, joy, excitement, or other positive emotions. By the end of the experiment, the Facebook users who had been exposed to negative posts were updating more negative statuses themselves, reflecting their more negative emotional state. Similar results were seen in the other half of participants, with statuses growing more positive after being inundated with other positive updates.

While these results are hardly surprising, they do have interesting implications for how strongly people are affected by the perceived emotional states of those around them. Many Facebook users, however, neglected to see the interest of these results when learning that Facebook had attempted to actively affect the emotional state of its users.

Christian Rudder, the founder of dating website OKCupid, recently published a blog post in which he explained his views on the subject: Anyone using the internet is likely going to be the subject of some type of internet social experiment. He went on to explain several of the experiments that OKCupid had conducted on its users and the results of those experiments. Some of them were more manipulative than the Facebook experiment.

Whether or not internet users object to being the subject of experiments, it is unlikely to make a difference. The websites need only add a line in their Terms and Services to gain legal permission from users to include them in the experiments. Ethical committees cannot penalize the websites in any discernible way, and the experiments continue to provide valuable information. Unless a major change is forced upon websites, then it will be business as usual.

Is it Possible to Use Social Media for Work Collaboration?

Any follower of tech blogs knows the value that web 2.0 brought to the end-user on the web. Greater communication, ease in sharing data, and giant social networks like Facebook and Twitter are just some of the major changes that occurred over the last 10 years.

It’s hard to imagine using the internet without these social platforms. However, most businesses and work places never experienced a rapid and massive shift onto the social web. People still rely on the tried and true e-mail and other internal methods of communication at their workplace. Is it time for more companies that rely on cooperation to start using or mimicking social media platforms to improve collaboration and effeciency?

According to James A. Cooke at DC Velocity, social media can be used to “facilitate business communication” in a number of ways. What sort of benefit would implementing this kind of system have for business? When an issue or problem arises, posting or sharing it for employees to see means that everyone has an equal ability to post and share their opinion, regardless of position or skill. This helps avoid problems associated with strict hierarchies and skill differentials. The social “stream of conversations” can help people find the answers to their problems.

You might be wondering how a big company could use Facebook or Twitter since they are social platforms designed for individuals. You’d be right to wonder. Cooke suggests that companies can and should create their own basic social media solutions based on Web 2.0 technologies that serve the same purposes. Ultimately this would be through software and dashboards specifically designed for inter-company communication and intranets.

As the younger generation that grew up with the social web advance in their careers, it’s likely that more companies will adopt similar communication solutions. Right now only a few companies are utilizing web 2.0 ideas to facilitate communication and problem solving. Do you think it’s a matter of time before more join the party?

There’s More to Mobile Web Design than a Responsive Site

These days, anyone with business aspirations knows you have to create a web presence to succeed, and that inevitably begins with a website. Since the advent of web 2.0 and its ongoing evolution, web design has become more involved. This has only been compounded by the addition of new consumption devices like smartphones and tablets. As the newest mobile devices function at the same level of performance as most current computers, the line between mobile and non-mobile computing is swiftly disappearing; yest, we still need to make appropriate concessions during the design process to facilitate the differences that do exist between these differing modes of access.

Enter the responsive website myth. Most designers know that creating a website without a compatible mobile version is equivalent to not having a website at all. Most designers are well aware that we need to make sites that deal with mobile quirks; however, simply creating a design which adapts to different screen sizes is no longer enough.

Each time a device accesses a website, it should receive all the same content; however, the structure and presentation of that content will be different depending on the kind of device used by the visitor. Also, when creating a new website, design it for mobile first. This way, no matter what platform the site is being viewed through, all of the content is approachable and easy to follow.

Testing the sites responsiveness should merely the window resizing capacity when viewed in different browsers. Check the site from multiple types of devices (as well as browsers) to get a more accurate picture of how it shapes up. Also, Javascript is your friend. Used wisely and responsibly, Javascript can produce loops which create conditional loading, a feature that prevents the wrong version of your content from displaying. Javascript is also a good work around for creating responsive images.

For more tips and a deeper look into responsible responsive web design, take a look at Maximiliano Firtman’s article on the subject.



Facebook Experiment: A Dark Side to Web 2.0?

Facebook is one of the quintessential platforms that helped the Web 2.0 movement take off in the early 2000s and into today. The platform brings over a billion people to the web to connect socially, sharing their feelings, personal information, and more with friends, family, groups, and corporations. With all of this at stake, Facebook faces a great deal of scrutiny. This week Facebook is once again in the news and not in a very positive light.

Despite their best intentions, the company has again been caught messing with its users’ privacy and data. Whenever Facebook makes changes to its privacy settings or the public learns more about how their data is used, it almost always ignites condemnation. This time Facebook may have gone too far.

In an effort to understand Facebook’s impact on users, the company secretly went about tweaking the algorithms of hundreds of thousands of users to see if they could discover how much of an impact what a user sees on his or her feed has on their mood. The theory is that the more happy posts a person sees, the more likely they will be to share happy posts themselves. The opposite is likely true as well.

TIME Magazine recently published an article addressing an aspect of this story which hasn’t been discussed in great detail by critics or supporters. Author Janet Vertesi takes issue with the very idea of a private corporation conducting research in what has previously been the task of the social sciences.

Ultimately at issue for Janet is the changes in social science funding and the fact that corporations should not be at the forefront of this sort of research. She writes: “Facebook isn’t manipulating its users any more than usual. But the proposed changes in social science funding will have a more lasting effect on our lives both online and offline.”