This is my old blog. I've moved to, which features new content, the archive of the Spoonful blog and the archive of PRNeededHere blog. So please visit, bookmark or grab the RSS, and come back often.

In our hectic, public social lives, there's always Facebook, a gated community where you can let it all hang out with your friends. What you say or show on Facebook is safe from those outside forces that might otherwise ruin the experience: your parents, your students, your ex, and yes, search engines.

But Facebook is rapidly becoming more public. It's important that you understand how public your data on Facebook has become under new privacy settings. One of these days, your Facebook session will be interrupted with a request to update to the new privacy settings. 

When you go through the new privacy screen, you'll notice that the "recommended" settings are more public than before. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice post on the subject

I recommend you don't take the default, more public options. For now, keep your data more private. In the next few days, think about what Facebook says about who you are. Go through some photo albums and some old posts. Upon reflection, you may be fine with the new settings. But remember: at the end of the public road lies Google. 

Your Facebook posts are ephemeral, like bubbles. You blow them, they float beautifully, then they pop and are gone. But as public data, they're more like a tattoo. Do you want Google to permanantly attach them to your public persona?

It's a big question.

Foursquare.pngSo what's hot in social media today? Location, location, location! That's right, location-based services appear to be gaining critical mass. This trend is driven by the proliferation of handsets with built-in GPS receivers, including the iPhone, Android devices such as the Droid, and the BlackBerry, as well as the proliferation of social networks.

I often marvel that my iPhone is smarter than my computer. This is because the phone knows where it is. On the iPhone, a Google search turns up local options at the top of the list. The iPhone knows which buses go by this street, and when they arrive. When I'm traveling, I can pull off at exit 275, and the phone knows which hotels are nearby, making it easy to find the best deal for the night.

Marketers are licking their chops over this. It's one thing to have a thousand friends on Facebook. But businesses want customers. They want to drive transactions. Location-based services close the gap between relationships online and IRL ("in real life").

Any discussion of location-based services must include Twitter, even though Twitter is not directly a player in the location-based services marketplace. What Twitter does bring to the party is the largest mobile social network, real-time data and the open API that breeds third-party invention and reinvention. Most location-based services seamlessly integrate with Twitter.

Twitter has added geolocation to its database (to turn it on, log in to your account, and go to settings > account). While Twitter does not post your location, third-party applications can now access it. Twitter is essential for the growth of location-based services because it is by far the largest mobile social network as well as the also the largest real-time network.

Today, the hottest location-based service is Foursquare, which Mashable's Pete Cashmore has called "Next Year's Twitter."

Foursquare links to your Twitter account, and broadcasts your location and comments to people in your network. As you visit places, you "check in" and in the process unlock badges. The highest badge, Mayor, entitles you to discounts and other offers. Foursquare was developed by some of the team from Dodgeball, an earlier company that was acquired by Google. While Google has a location-based service (Latitude), the company doesn't appear to have done much with Dodgeball.

Foursquare functions as a "Saturday night leaderboard," for friends across the city. It helps answer the question, "Where is the fun tonight?" Soccer moms use Foursquare to arrange play dates.

While this sounds fun (and also trivial), it's important to think about this important characteristic: on Facebook, we talk, but getting together is an abstract concept. Foursquare drives interaction in real life. Think about your last visit to a coffee shop, with all those autonomous individuals in their own little bubbles, typing away on their netbooks. Foursquare has the potential to link those people together. Definitely a good thing.

Foursquare has just published its API, which means that programmers will be taking the code, mashing it up and creating new applications. This is exactly the same sort of innovation that has driven the success of Twitter, so give it some time and pay attention to how the service changes. The next killer app could be in here somewhere. 

Foursquare has also just expanded to new cities. To see a complete list, visit Foursquare's home page and look on the bottom right of the screen.

Foursquare and Latitude are but two of many emerging services that wrap up social features with real-time data and geolocation. Also in the mix are Loopt, Gowalla, Layar, Whrrl, Brightkite and Buzzd. Can you say shakeout?

While these emerging services may seem like silly uses of such powerful technology, I urge you to try one or two, and think about how they might evolve given the right mix of people, hardware and imagination.

We'll revisit location-based services and discuss some of the players in future posts.
Wiffiti is a tool for capturing a feed and displaying it in a dynamic screen, which can be published in a variety of places.

The National Communication Association is currently meeting in Chicago. Attendees are using the Twitter hashtag #NCA09. A screen based on this tag could be pushed to flat panels throughout the venue as a way to publish distributed intelligence about the event.

Here's a sample Wiffiti screen made using the #NCA09 hashtag:

The Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff famously said, "In Soviet Russia, TV watches you." Today, he might say, "on Internet, Google watches you."

Indeed, Google is like Santa Claus: it sees you when you're sleeping. It knows when you're awake. It knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake.

But you don't have to be bad in order to want to protect your privacy. Plenty of good people mistrust Google. An entire culture has grown up around being skeptical of Google's informal motto, "Don't be evil." To catch a glimpse of that culture, check out the paranoia - and hilarious cartoons - at Google Watch.

This context is helpful in understanding Google's latest privacy product, Google Dashboard.

Here's what Google says about it:

In an effort to provide you with greater transparency and control over their own data, we've built the Google Dashboard. Designed to be simple and useful, the Dashboard summarizes data for each product that you use (when signed in to your account) and provides you direct links to control your personal settings.


The Dashboard covers more than 20 Google products, including Reader, Gmail, web history, YouTube and Blogger. Over time, Google will add other products, such as Analytics, that are not yet included.

But a close look shows no new features, no new control for the end user. Dashboard just puts all of Google's existing privacy settings in one place. A convenience, yes, but not a breakthrough.

What could Google have done? Plenty, according to critics:

According to John Simpson at Consumer Watchdog:

If Google really wanted to give users control over their privacy it would give consumers the ability to be anonymous from the company and its advertisers in crucial areas such as search data and online behavior," said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. "The Dashboard gives the appearance of control without the actual ability to prevent Google from tracking you and delivering you to its marketers.

"What the Dashboard does is list all the information linked directly to your name, but what it doesn't do is let you know and control the data directly tied to your computer's IP address, which is Google's black box and data mine," said Simpson "Google isn't truly protecting privacy until it lets you control that information."


And here's David Sarno, information technology reporter at the LA Times:

... and though much of the concern about Google's data storage revolves around precisely how and what the company does to analyze and profit from user information, the Dashboard offers little insight into those domains. It does not specify which services keep user data, or for how long. Neither does it alert users that, for instance, their Web search histories and e-mails are constantly scanned for the purposes of selling products to them and others.


While you're waiting for a more open approach to privacy, there are some easy things you can do:

  • Don't rely exclusively on Google products. Today, you often have a choice; you can use WordPress instead of Blogger, for example. A healthy diet includes a variety of foods; use this pluralistic approach when choosing internet services;
  • Log out of your Google account when you're not using Google services;
  • Reset your browser occasionally; this wipes cookies and browsing history. Or use "private browsing" settings.

You can further manage your privacy, but it will require some effort. Here are two articles that provide specific tips.

6 ways to protect your privacy on Google, by Robert L. Mitchell, Computerworld

Online Privacy: How to Hide Your Google Search Trails: Eight steps for keeping your search-engine data private, by Amit Agarwal

Or, you could just move to a "remote mountaintop village," as suggested in this Onion satire:

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village
netflixlogo.jpgThis week Netflix announced a winner in its contest to improve its movie rating software. A team of seven computer engineers, statisticians and machine learning experts, Bellkor's Pragmatic Chaos, won $1 million for creating an algorithm that improves the current software by more than 10 percent.

Some context: Netflix wants happy customers who see the value from its movies-by-subscription service. If its customers love their movies more, they're likely to remain customers longer, tell their friends to sign up, or spend more on the service.

There are two key takeaways here. First, by crowdsourcing the contest, Netflix gained access to the intelligence of a large community of experts. The prize is cheaper than the cost of developing the software in-house. Multiple teams from across the world participated, including a team of 20 that created the same result but demonstrated it just minutes after Bellkor's Pragmatic Chaos. Darn that coffee break! Darn that crosstown commute!

Second, the teams all worked from the same data - the API, or application programming interface, was provided by Netflix. An API generally consists of a ball of data, coupled with rules about how to access and process it. This trend is increasing. A large part of Twitter's growth is linked to its open API and the constant reinvention that accompanies it. For example, Twitscoop uses the same data as Twitter Search, but delivers a graphic interface, tag clouds and other enhancements.

Kudos to these newspapers. Inside the API lies all the goodness of traditional journalism, which is desperately trying to establish a sustainable business model. Opening the API makes possible the kind of reinvention that we've seen with Google and Twitter.

Who will save newspapers? Perhaps it's time to look past the usual suspects like journalists, investors and foundations. Let's see what the programmers can do. 
copyright.gifIt's a new semester, and that means students everywhere are jumping in to digital publishing, either for fun, self-expression or as part of a classroom assignment.

While student work may seem to have limited scope, at some level it's no different from a page at If it's published online, it is a public document and can potentially reach a worldwide audience. So it's essential that students respect copyright.

The bulletproof way to avoid copyright liability is to create all the information yourself. Your words, your images. If you're writing a blog post, shoot your own photo or create your own illustration.

But there are sources of images that you can use and avoid copyright liability. You can search the Wikipedia Commons for an appropriate image. The terms of use are generous, but not unlimited, so be sure to read the guidelines for use

Under Section 105 of Title 17, which covers copyright law, the United States government does not hold copyrights, so you can generally use images from government websites. 

Copyright has a "safety valve" called Fair Use, which allows people to incorporate copyrighted works into other works. This allows a book reviewer to reproduce a passage from a novel, for example. But be careful - the boundaries of fair use are uncertain. Case law only provides a set of general principles, which include: purpose and character of the use; nature of the copied work; amount and substantiality of the use; and the effect upon the work's value.

A newer concept for protecting intellectual property rights while accepting that we live in a "Remix" culture is the Creative Commons License. Under this model, online content can be shared under conditions that the author permits. For example, you might be able to use someone else's photograph on your blog, provided that you credit the source and link back to the original. You can learn more about finding licensed work on the Creative Commons website. The photo sharing site Flickr has a "Creative Commons" filter on its advanced search page to help you find sharable images. 

In the end, no matter the source of your words, sounds and images, responsibility for their legal and appropriate use is yours. So inform yourself, and choose wisely. This prudent practice will also help you avoid trouble when you're creating messages for an employer.

Additional resources to help locate copyright-free images:

books.jpgHere's an excellent piece by ReadWriteWeb COO Bernard Lunn on the future of the book publishing business. Think about the forces at work in this swirling vortex: traditional publishers, distributors and bookstores; mega-distributors like; eBooks like Kindle; Google, with its aggressive digitization programs; and self-publishing. 

Do books have a future? Indeed they do. There will always be a place for deep content and ideas that endure. I have books on my shelf that have outlasted my last six computer systems. They have never "checked for updates" or crashed on me. Their very presence is a comfort to me. They smell good.

Take a moment and give books their due. Quoting Henry Ward Beecher: "a little library, growing every year, is an honorable part of a man's history. It is a man's duty to have books."
posterous_logo1.pngYes, I'm writing this article on Posterous using my traditional blogging tool, Movable Type. The irony is not lost on me. And no complaints about MT - it's easy to use, stable, and very well behaved.

But Posterous is innovative in some important ways. If you have held off on blogging because it just seemed like too much work, or seemed too limiting, you may want to jump in with Posterous.

Here are some of the cool things you can do with Posterous:

You can blog via email. Just attach a photo, write an email and send it to Posterous. It magically appears on your blog. The subject line is your blog post title. The body content is the entry. The photo is sized automatically. Full links are clickable.

You can blog on your mobile device. Let's say you're at an event with your iPhone. You take a picture, write a cutline, and email it to Posterous. You're liveblogging, now, baby. Grab an iPod Touch and blog your way across Europe. As Ram Dass might say, "Blog Here Now."

It's rich media friendly. Email an MP3 to Posterous and the tool knows to wrap the file in an MP3 player. Record a voice memo on your iPhone and send it. Email a YouTube link and it embeds automatically.

Posterous lets you scrape the web. Drag the Posterous toolbar to your browser. Then, when you find content online that you want to blog, click and it opens a window. Choose from available images on the page, write a title, write your comments, and click - you've blogged it, and you're back to your web trawl.

Posterous ignites your networks. Your post is auto-magically distributed to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, or any other popular network you choose.

You can still blog the old-fashioned way from a control panel - useful if you want to clean up a mobile post, for example. Some other features: It's easy to point your Posterous blog to your web domain, if you wish. You can install Google Analytics with one line of code. And Posterous has a Tumblr-like network feature that keeps you in touch with other Posterous bloggers.

I do have some concerns: Posterous accelerates our "Remix" culture, and probably runs over some copyrights by making it ever-easier to repurpose protected content. From a design standpoint, Posterous is clean and effective, but there's just one theme. I have to believe the service will soon allow its customers to reskin their sites.

I first learned of Posterous when Steve Rubel moved his work (formerly Micropersuasion) to the tool. He's changed his blogging style since the switch; shorter posts, more web scrapings, more frequent updates. More interactive. As he says, it's lifestreaming, a bridge between Twitter and a blog.

Here's a nice guide on using Posterous, courtesy of Old Media, New Tricks.