How Facebook & Twitter Comments Are Changing Commenting On The Web

For those of you familiar with WordPress.com you know for sometime now the website has been allowing readers to comment on online articles using their Facebook and Twitter accounts.  For Facebook commenting this was made possible by integrating the Facebook Comments plugin with their website. Posting comments on an article via Twitter was made possible in a similar manner using a separate plugin enabling Twitter users to post comments. These features allow users to post comments on articles across the Web.

These features certainly make online commenting a simpler process but for those who may think there is nothing wrong with the Facebook Comments feature letting users comment on online articles there are those who would argue it is not as innocent sounding a feature as some would think. You see Facebook has a real name policy that worries privacy advocates and some consumers. The lack of anonymity for users commenting on online articles via their Facebook accounts is a cause for concern. Twitter doesn’t care what your real name is though so using Twitter to comment on online articles is not as worrisome as using Facebook.

It’s also worth pondering what if any impact Facebook Comments may or may not have on the filter bubble phenomenon critiqued in Eli Pariser’s book “The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You” that I’ve discussed in the past. So far I’ve found no problems using Twitter to post comments on a WordPress.com article or other online article but using Facebook Comments certainly has its risks. Of course you don’t have to use Facebook or even Twitter to comment on articles there are other options to do so but for users of these social networks they will certainly be the two simplest ways for doing so.

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Thirty Fifth Blog Entry Mon Sep 5

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The moment Apple launched the first iPad print media companies like The New York Times and Time Inc., started jumping onboard with digital apps for the tablet available in Apple’s App Store and started offering in app content that users will have to pay for to access and consume. Now a new trend though is emerging with some criticizing Apple’s control and choosing to erect pay-walls on their own sites and develop HTML 5 web apps to access that content in browsers like Safari so iPad users can still access content but not through Apple’s App Store. The recent news of new features in iOS 5 to make the online reading experience on iPads and other mobile devices by Apple more enjoyable is interesting. No doubt the companies protesting Apple’s control will opt to not make their content available for Apple’s News Stand app. However, there will be plenty of other companies that choose to continue offering content via the App Store and will do so through News Stand.

The iPad tablet is becoming more and more an e-reader as Apple adds features like Safari Reader and Reading List to mobile Safari to improve the online reading experience of their mobile devices and introduces their News Stand app in the App Store as a new way to get readers to pay for content. As I have stated earlier Apple is gunning for Amazon’s Kindle business of e-readers and e-books that currently lead the market. This competition could be good for consumers as long as prices of e-books continue to go down to reflect the reality that publishers can sell e-books for less than printed books as there are no manufacturing costs for e-books and still make a profit. However, with reports of Apple and some book publishers being sued for scheming to raise e-book prices it is yet to be seen whether Apple’s entrance in the e-book market is good for readers. No doubt new features that make reading on iPads more enjoyable will be welcomed by some users but the concern of Apple and publishers scheming to raise prices may worry some users.

Twenty Fourth Blog Entry Mon Sept 5th

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As you can tell since yesterday I have been very busy blogging away on WordPress having added a number of new posts discussing everything from the monetization of content and alternative compensation models by Readability to AT&T’s T Mobil merger being denied. I’d now like to reflect though on the democratization of content using social networks like Twitter. Unlike Facebook and Google+’s Circles which have unfortunately ushered in the era of personalized filter bubbles Twitter has a democratizing effect on content and could be a positive force for good benefiting users and democracy itself.

You see while Twitter is a social network it is not a part of the filter bubble so it does not filter out information but presents us with the diversity we should expect on the Web.  This is what makes Twitter even better than Facebook or Google+. A number of news companies and other organizations utilize Twitter including the New York Times, HuffingtonPost.com, open source web developer Mozilla and even corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook have Twitter accounts. Personally, I maintain both a public and a private Twitter account, with users wanting to follow my private account having to request and get my permission to do so. Nonetheless, Twitter can be a positive force for good. My next article will touch on the benefits of a non personalized open Internet.

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Twenty Third Blog Entry Mon Sept 5th

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As I have stated earlier it is my hope news companies faced with the rise of online distraction free reading services to bypass ads won’t erect pay walls on their websites or exclusively decide to put their content behind Apple’s App Store pay wall but use alternative compensation models like those from Readability to monetize content. Of course the decision will be each company’s to make but I hope they will do right by online readers. No doubt some will choose to put all or most of their content behind a pay wall as the New York Times has done but hope plenty of others won’t resort to such measures to protect  their online content.

Intellectual property theft of content whether its music, movies, books or television shows is wrong. However, media companies using proprietary technologies to cripple fair use and render media useless would also be unacceptable. Likewise for newspapers to  put information online behind a pay-wall as I’ve stated is also wrong. The solution would be to use alternative compensation models like those provided to publishers by Readability. Readability being the service that offers readers distraction free reading by enabling users to strip out or bypass online advertising in articles.

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Nineteenth Blog Entry Sun Sept 4th

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Now here’s some cool news regarding Google’s OpenSocial platform launched a few years ago to provide application programming interfaces (API’s) for interoperable open source social networks to compete with Facebook. A new specification named OpenSocial 2.0 has come to light that stresses greater social media interoperability. Could the possible rise of OpenSocial coded social networks pose a serious challenge for Facebook? Will OpenSocial add to the filter bubble problem like Google+’s Circles or will it help solve the problem by not having automatic personalization enabled by default. It is worth pondering for sure.

Also in the Facebook era is blogging on sites like WordPress and Tumblr really worthwhile or is sharing content on Facebook more appealing? It’s worth considering and discussing this in depth. I hope that blogging tools will continue to improve in quality and we can have more open source social networking tools. What will become of the Open Web if personalized filter bubbles get in the way of our accessing and sharing great quality content with others across the Web. At least Twitter is one social network with a democratizing effect on information. Having discussed personalized filter bubbles and open source social networking now extensively I think it may soon be time to move on to other topics but these topics are still certainly worth discussing if you haven’t already.

Eighteenth Blog Entry Sun Sept 4th

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I believe in an Open and Participatory Web enabling free flow of communication, information and commerce online that makes it easy to share great content with others. Having written about personalized filter bubbles, open source social networks like Diaspora and Altly (now Anybeat) that are more respectful of user privacy than Facebook I wonder how Google’s Open Social web platform for such social networks will work out? Is Google using Open Social for Google+? If not why not considering Open Social was Google’s salvo against Facebook a few years back in the social networking world.  Will Facebook’s new privacy changes giving users more control of their content prevent user defections from their proprietary web platform or could it already be too late to prevent some users from leaving? These are some interesting questions to ponder. What’s better for users open source social networking sites like Social@Mozilla, Diaspora, Alltly (now named Anybeat) or the closed proprietary online services and web based platforms like Facebook for publishing and accessing information? Considering My Space used to be dominant in the social networking arena and was overtaken by Facebook just as My Space defeated Friendster earlier it is very possible for a Facebook alternative to come along and displace Facebook as king of social networking.

So what are your thoughts about social networks? Share your thoughts by posting to the comments section of this post. It would be interesting to know more about what other users think of each of these social networking websites. Certainly open source social networks that lack automatic personalization features may help reduce the threat of personalized filter bubbles ruining our democracy and depriving us from accessing worthwhile content.

Tenth Blog Entry Sat Aug 20

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I just discovered a cool new user script called Facebook Friends created by a guy named Jeremy Keeshin who got curious about how Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm which is used by Facebook to determine what friends you interact with most and only show their posts in your News Feed. His user script called Facebook Friends lets you find out your personal friend ranking. All you need to do to use it is first create a bookmark-let named Facebook Friends  in your browser’s bookmarks toolbar using the following code provided at the end of this article for the bookmark-let’s address. Once the bookmark-let is created, login to your Facebook account if you have not yet done so and make sure secure browsing is turned off for your account. Unfortunately, this script does not work if your accessing Facebook using HTTPS. You can temporarily disable Secure Browsing in Facebook to use this script by going to Account Settings, Security Settings, Secure Browsing just make sure though when your done using it to re-activate the Secure Browsing feature.

Having turned off Secure Browsing temporarily and created the book-market open Facebook and click the bookmark-let. A list will appear over your Facebook profile ranking all your friends. The results might not seem too surprising but may seem personally embarrassing to you. The results might also be a bit off. For example, lets assume there are two friends in my top ten who I rarely interact with. I may assume that Facebook has them high in  my EdgeRank  because they recently posted vacation pictures that I scrolled through. So yes I clicked on their pages a lot lately but that would be an anomaly. Should Facebook infer that they are good friends? Try it out for yourself and sound off in the comments whether Facebook’s results are on or off mark for you. As promised here is the javascript code to use for the address of the bookmark-let:

javascript:(function(){var%20script=document.createElement(‘script’);script.type=’text/javascript’;script.src=’http://thekeesh.com/js/edges.js’;document.getElementsByTagName(‘body’)[0].appendChild(script);}())

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Ninth Blog Entry Fri Aug 19

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Liberal author and online activist Eli Pariser said at the TED conference that he was looking at Facebook one day when he noticed something peculiar. On his news feed where he usually enjoys reading through his friend’s comments and links he realized there was something missing. “I’ve always gone out of my way to meet conservatives” said Pariser “So I was kind of surprised when I noticed that the conservatives had disappeared from my Facebook feed.” Apparently, Facebook had quietly scrubbed the feed clean of anything right wing so nothing conservative was getting through. So what was going on? “It turns out” says Pariser “that Facebook was looking at which links I clicked on. And it noticed that I was clicking more on my liberal friends’ links than my conservative friends’ links. And without consulting me about it, it edited them out. They disappeared.” In other words Facebook decided that Pariser’s conservative friends weren’t relevant to him. It didn’t matter that he liked to  occasionally hear their point of view, because he clicked on their links less frequently they had been exiled from his online world.  In his new book it is this world Pariser calls the “filter bubble” where hidden code decides what you cannot see.  It is certainly a troubling phenomenon and have written extensively about his book in previous posts even reporting on small solutions individuals can use to pop their filter bubbles.

The problem Telegraph Writer Will Heaven points out in his article is that Mr. Pariser seems to think that with the Internet we were supposed to be able to remove the gatekeepers to the world’s news and information. Furthermore, the new gatekeepers in the online world are far worse because these new algorithmic editors lack the embedded ethics of the human editors in our old media. Thus, Pariser suggests apart from revealing what is personally relevant to us that this hidden code should be programmed to also show us what’s important, uncomfortable, and  even challenging towards our point of view.  Now Telegraph writer Will Heaven admits that Eli Pariser’s plea for transparency from our algorithmic editors is commendable but finds Pariser’s idea of adding ethics to our algorithms troubling. Mr. Heaven raises a good question whose duty should it be to embed civic responsibility into these codes and exactly what idea of civic responsibility would be imposed. To him Eli Pariser’s idea of adding ethics to our algorithms shrieks like the thought police. He concludes by saying that certainly Google and Facebook deserve Pariser’s thorough treatment but if the alternative to the filter bubble is an Internet edited by the New York Times he’d like to opt-out.

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Eighth Blog Entry Fri Aug 19

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Previously, I have written extensively about the filter bubble phenomenon described by Eli Pariser in his book “The Filter Bubble: What The Internet is Hiding From You” and how personalized filter bubbles can be bad for democracy. Well today I’ve discovered a new perspective on the subject by an author that agrees that the filter bubble can prove troublesome for democracy and users but criticizes Pariser’s solutions to the problem. The article starts off by summarizing what Eli Pariser said about filter bubbles and Facebook at the TED conference that there is a shift in the way information is flowing online and if we don’t pay attention to it, it could be a real problem. This is where the article suggests that Eli Pariser’s solutions would make things worse saying that it is not always a problem. In fact the algorithmic editing or hidden code at work on some websites is reasonably harmless.

For example, if your shopping on Amazon.com and looking at books written by Malcolm Gladwell and biographies by Mozart Amazon’s algorithm engine might recommend you to read books by Alex Ross in their more items to consider section. They do this because Alex Ross writes about the history of music and like Malcolm Gladwell also writes for The New Yorker. Using their algorithms Amazon fills in the banks for you so you don’t have to. However, if you do a Google search for Egypt on your PC and a friend in another town or state does the same on a MacBook Pro you would expect to still get the same results. Surprisingly that is not the case at all. Google’s website can tell where you are, what browser your using and even what computer you have then using these signals it can provide you what it thinks is the best result.

So when Eli Pariser compared the Google search results for “Egypt” from two friends he was shocked. Apparently, one saw information about the political crisis and the protests in Tahir Square but the other only got a list of travel agents and fact books about the country. Here in the political sphere Telegraph writer Will Heaven agrees with Eli Pariser that invisible algorithms have disturbing implications. Websites like Yahoo News are already “personalizing”  their coverage and others like Huffington Post.com are apparently flirting with similar technology. Suppose your researching information on President Barack Obama from an impartial news site but it knows you just visited his campaign website so even if you don’t realize it you may end up receiving biased results. News websites will get to know what you want to read and spoon food you more of the same. As a result you will only get to access information these websites think are personally relevant to you. Anything that challenges or broadens your world view won’t be visible. So the only information you see will be the information you want to see not what you need to see.  In my next article will discuss Eli Pariser’s comments at the TED conference about Facebook’s News Feed and filter bubbles in more detail.

Seventh Blog Entry Fri Aug 19

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In the previous article some tips were provided for how users can pop their personalized filter bubbles so they can access and view the neutral, unfiltered web. This article will provide details on how to prevent Facebook from filtering out posts from friends or pages in your your News Feed. Previous articles have discussed the unintended and possible dangerous consequence of having personalized filter bubbles online showing us information web companies think we want to see based on our previous purchases, clicks and searches online not what we have to see. The previous article noted while there was no magic bullet to do so there were some individual things users can do like deleting browser cookies, enabling private browsing and if their browser has a do not track feature turn it on to prevent tracking cookies from being installed on your computer. It also provided instructions for how to access and delete the cookies for Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, how to erase the Web History in your Google account and turn off instant personalization in Facebook for partnered sites.

Before providing instructions on how to change the settings in your News Feed to prevent posts from friends and pages you have not clicked to “Like” or “Comment” on will provide some  background information on why they would do this and how Facebook filters the News Feed.  Having done so will also use examples provided by Eli Pariser of how some of his friends have disappeared from his News Feed and then provide the instructions needed on how to resolve this problem in the following paragraphs.

In a lecture on the filter bubble Eli Pariser gave at the TED conference he mentioned an interesting discovery he had made about Facebook’s News Feed. A video of this lecture is available by the way on YouTube titled “Beware online filter bubbles” for anyone wanting to see it. Anyways in his lecture Mr. Pariser mentions that although he is a liberal he has conservative friends and likes to know more about how conservatives think and what they write about so he often friends conservatives on Facebook. So Mr. Pariser was surprised one day when he discovered all his conservatives friend’s posts had been automatically removed from his News Feed. What had happened was that Facebook without consulting him had automatically started filtering those friends out of his News Feed because he did not click on links to their posts in his News Feed and interact with them very often.  Now one could argue having such filtering might be a good thing if you have liked too many public pages on Facebook whose posts appear on your News Feed and/or have too many friends for the News Feed to show all those posts it could result in an information overload with your News Feed becoming cluttered with too much information. However, if you have friends you’ve not recently interacted with whose posts you want to be able to see in the News Feed it would be a good idea to edit the settings for your News Feed so Facebook can’t filter out posts by any of your friends.

Facebook will filter out content from your News Feed from friends you’ve not recently interacted with. In order to disable filtering of your News Feed in Facebook there is a very simple solution. Scroll down to the bottom of your News Feed and click the Edit Options link. A window will popup allowing you to edit the settings for your News Feed.  On the window that pops up notice the option “See posts from” and click to change the settings for that option. By default you will notice the option is set to show friends and pages you interact with most. What this means unfortunately is that if you do not “Like” or “Comment” on updates from a friend or from a page over a certain period of time  then updates from those friends and pages will stop appearing in your News Feed.Now one might argue that Facebook activated this feature for the News Feed by default to make the News Feed more personally relevant to you. After all if you are interacting more with certain friends and pages it would make more sense for you to see their posts.  However, one might think that this is what the Top News link in your News Feed should be for but unfortunately this default setting also affects your Top News. The good news is the solution to resolve this problem is very simple. All you need to do is change the option from show friends and pages you interact with most to all of your friends and pages to prevent Facebook from filtering out posts from your News Feed. Well there you go you can now browse the neutral un-filtered web without any personalized filter bubbles getting in your way.