Opt out of being in Facebook Ads

If you’re a regular Facebook user, you might have come across adverts where their friends are included in the advert. If you’ve got a Facebook application installed or you’ve become a “fan” of a corporate Facebook page, you consent to your name being used to endorse the company in adverts on the Facebook website.

Some people won’t like the fact that their name and photo is being used to endorse a commercial product without their express consent. If you belong in this group, opt out of being in Facebook ads.

Go to Settings -> Privacy -> News Feed and Wall -> Facebook Ads -> Appearance in Facebook Ads and select “no one”.

Thanks to reader Ryan for the tip.

Judging someone by their Facebook Profile

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New Scientist reports this week on a study which looked for a correlation between how “friendly” somebody was percieved to be and how “friendly” their Facebook profiles page appeared to be.

University students considered likeable by people that met them in real life have been found to make a similar impression on people who view their Facebook profiles.

“People who were expressive in tone of voice and facial expression were also socially expressive on Facebook. They posted a lot of pictures, they posted photo albums, they seemed to have a lot of conversations with people,” says Max Weisbuch, a psychologist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts who led the study.

I suppose it’s interesting to quantify, but not particularly surprising. People don’t make things up on their Facebook profile because their network is full of people they know well.

It would be interesting to see whether the same relationship could be seen from somebody’s tweets or their Myspace profiles. I suspect that the relationship is stronger for Facebook because it’s based around keeping in touch with people you know – as other social networks have more of an emphasis on meeting new people, people may be more tempted to portray “idealised” versions of themselves.

Sick of Quizzes and Application Spam on your Facebook News Feed?

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I’m sure it’s not just me who is beginning to get sick of “quiz spam” on Facebook. By this, I mean when you’re greeted with other people’s results from pointless quizzes such as “What Pokemon are you?”, “What does your name really mean?” and “What is your IQ?”.

Not only are these tests pointless, they are inaccurate. I’ve seen IQ tests where everybody I know has had a IQ above 130. I don’t believe it’s accurate for a second but application developers know that if they massage your ego then you’ll be more likely to tell your friends about the application.

These applications have absolutely blossomed over the last few months because they force you to invite dozens of friends before you can view results. Additionally, jumping onto the whole user-generated content theme, there are now Facebook applications that allow anybody to create their own quiz applications. The result is an exponential growth (but decrease in quality) of quiz applications and the associated news feed spam.

Regular reader Ryan asks how long it will be until Facebook goes the way of MySpace – the answer is probably not too long unless Facebook does something about this problem.

Users of Firefox and Greasemonkey can take issues into their own hands, however. The Facebook Purity Greasemonkey script removes all messages on your Facebook News Feeds from quizzes and other external applications. It’ll only leave behind status updates, wall posts, links, posted items, photos, notes and videos. Very, very useful.

Facebook leads to lower grades!?!

'Red Spiral'
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In what must be one of the most ridiculously alarmist and inaccurate articles I’ve read in a while, career website Milkround is claiming that Facebook users could risk having lower grades as a result of their usage of the social networking site. Unfortunately, it looks like another instance of a journalist falling for the “correlation implies causation” fallacy.

According to Milkround:

Researchers at Ohio State University found students who enjoy communicating via cyberspace spend less time studying and risk getting a whole grade lower than their peers as a result despite more than three quarters of Facebook users claiming their interaction with friends on the site didn’t interfere with their work.

The study claims Facebook users averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

By implication of the article and study, a typical student would do 4 times more work if they didn’t have Facebook and on average would achieve one grade higher.

College Football
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Here’s an explanation which is much more likely: More extroverted people who go to more parties and get involved in more societies are much more likely to use Facebook. The people who constantly work 24/7 are the people who are more likely to refuse to get a Facebook account or will have little use for a Facebook account. The likelihood of a student having a Facebook account depends on his participation in college life and how hard working he is.

Of course, students do use Facebook as a procrastination tool – I won’t argue with that. But correlations prove nothing. As a more rigiourous technique to test this hypothesis, we’d need to compare student’s results before they signed up to Facebook and results after signing up to Facebook (assuming a constant level of how hard-working or social the students are). Alternatively, you’d need a control group of people who are social and roughly as hard-working as the Facebook group but don’t use Facebook (good luck finding one).

Being Facebook friends with your boss could be worth an extra $6,500 per year

James, I think your cover's blown!
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BBC News’ dot.life blog reports on a study by IBM and MIT entitled the “Value of Social Network”. The study looked at the networks of 7,000 volunteers over three years and tried to give a financial value to these relationships.

Researchers found that having strong connections to managers (yes, sucking up to the boss) can boost the bottom line. On average, it adds up to $548 (£365) in extra revenue a month.

This conclusion is based on data and mathematical formulas that analysed e-mail traffic, address books and buddy lists of 2,600 IBM consultants over the course of a year.

So it would seem that there is a connection between being Facebook “friends” with your boss and your income.

Of course, correlation certainly doesn’t imply causation. Whilst networking is certainly great for your career, equally those in better paid jobs could be more dispensed to spend time networking and to have access to more networks. Something to ponder anyway.

Integrate Facebook Identity & Comments into your Blog

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If you run a blog or a website, you might have heard about Facebook Connect and the possibility of using it with the WordPress blog system. Basically, Connect is Facebook’s attempt to spread their identity system across the rest of the web. By integrating connect, you can use Facebook’s user system, comment system, etc. on your site. You give a lot of power and leverage to Facebook over your website but it could make interacting with your site a lot more attractive and easier for users.

Their first widget allows you to use Facebook Connect to add commenting functionality to your site or blog. Here’s some Facebook developers explaining it all…

A quick tutorial by Facebook engineers on how to create a Comments Box social widget quickly and easily for iframe applications and websites.

I made a proof of concept of something similar about 8 months ago.

As far as I can see, this is a very easy way to add commenting functionality to your site without needing to have your own user, moderation system, etc. Comments made on your site will appear on the news feed on Facebook which can be good advertising. But the problem of course, is that your comments are not accessible. Google will never be able to index it and anyone with Javascript turned off won’t be able to see it. And when all the useful discussion, knowledge and information is tied up in comments in Facebook’s system, it’s a lot less open and less useful for everybody.

The Facebook User 2.1billion Bug

We all remember the Y2K bug back in the millennium when the clocks changed from ’99 to ’00. The Y2K bug (although it never did really materialise) resulted from computer programmers storing years as two-digit numbers. 99 was the biggest possible value, and after that, the year reset itself to 00.

Creative Commons License photo: barnoid

A similar bug is the Year 2038 bug. In computing, times are often stored as the number of seconds which have passed since midnight on the 1st January 1970. This allows time to be stored as a single integer in computers. At the moment, times tend to be stored as 32-bit integers. For signed 32-bit integers, only values between −2,147,483,648 to +2,147,483,647 can be stored. Hence, computers with 32-bit times cannot store any date more than 2,147,483,647 seconds after 1st January 1970. That occurs on Tuesday, 19 January 2038. We’ve still got 29 years to prepare for that eventuality, but we’re going to see a bit of a taste of the 32-bit integer bug with Facebook soon.

Facebook user IDs are often stored as 32-bit integers – thats a problem when there are more than 2.1 billion users on Facebook. In a message to Facebook Application developers, Facebook wrote on their platform status page:

With the addition of features like internationalization and Facebook Connect, we have seen a significant increase in user growth and engagement. As a result of this growth, we’ll start to issue uids greater than 2^32 in a few months. We wanted to remind developers that uids should be stored using 64-bit integers, as documented at http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/User_id. Since all current uids passed to applications are less than 2^32, developers may have inferred a 32-bit uid format. We are making this announcement so that any such developers have time to migrate code and databases before the first 64-bit uid is sent to applications.

Creative Commons License photo: cosmonautirussi

Essentially, we’re being warned that users who sign up to Facebook after the date which Facebook hits 2.1 billion could find themselves running into issues accessing sites and applications which integrate with Facebook. I’m not sure how close to 2.1 billion Facebook are – one of my friends who signed up a month or two ago had a user ID of 1.64 billion. I’m not sure how quickly Facebook is gaining users and when they’ll hit 2.1 billion but Facebook have told us developers that we need to upgrade our applications now to ensure that they work for everybody.

My User ID is in the range of 710 million which is still larger than 84% of my friends; indicating I was a bit late to Facebook. I don’t know of anybody with a user ID smaller than 500 million. I wonder if small Facebook IDs will become one of those future status symbols.

Sociologists describe Facebook "Ambient Awareness"

As a blogger and an avid user of social networking and new forms of web-based communication, I find it absolutely fascinating how they are changing the ways in which we communicate and live.

| apple-command |
Creative Commons License photo: arquera

It’s just passed the second anniversary of the introduction of the Facebook “News Feed”. For people who don’t use Facebook, the News Feed keeps you up to date on what’s going on in your social circle: new photos, wall posts, relationship statuses, events and parties your friends are attending and so on. I must admit that when I first signed up to Facebook I found this really scary. To me, it seemed really strange that a) instead of email, people would send communique to me by writing it on my wall which is publicly readable and b) these “wall posts” and my conversations would sometimes appear on the front page of Facebook for some friends of mine, who would then be provided with a link to view our entire conversation. When the news feed launched two years ago, 750,000 students protested against its launch.

Since the launch of news feed, Facebook has grown from 15million active users to 100million active users. It’s now become an integral part of the site, and the upcoming profile redesign makes the feed even more prominent throughout the site.

After two years of news feed, sociologists now describe an “ambient awareness” of friends. There is a fascinating article over at the New York Times about this:

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

Look Up
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The article goes on to describe microblogging where people post small and short updates throughout the day of their activities (e.g. Twitter or Facebook)

For many people — particularly anyone over the age of 30 — the idea of describing your blow-by-blow activities in such detail is absurd. Why would you subject your friends to your daily minutiae? And conversely, how much of their trivia can you absorb? The growth of ambient intimacy can seem like modern narcissism taken to a new, supermetabolic extreme — the ultimate expression of a generation of celebrity-addled youths who believe their every utterance is fascinating and ought to be shared with the world.

The article goes on to describe further research. At the end, Thompson concludes:

This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business. Young people at college are the ones to experience this most viscerally, because, with more than 90 percent of their peers using Facebook, it is especially difficult for them to opt out.

Certainly I think it’ll take a bit more time to see how Facebook changes the dynamics of society in the short run. At the moment, it’s impact is very limited to people at college and university. Perhaps it’ll be a welcome thing in our celebrity culture – where Paris Hilton and Wayne Rooney seem to be more important than issues such as climate change and where we feel we know celebrities better than our next door neighbours. Perhaps it’s a cool that’ll lead to a more responsible society.

Enquire Within Upon Everything
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It’s just like living in a village, where it’s actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already,” Tufekci said. “The current generation is never unconnected. They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we’re going back to a more normal place, historically.

Psychologists and sociologists spent years wondering how humanity would adjust to the anonymity of life in the city, the wrenching upheavals of mobile immigrant labor — a world of lonely people ripped from their social ties. We now have precisely the opposite problem. Indeed, our modern awareness tools reverse the original conceit of the Internet.

Certainly the subject of some interesting research. What’s more, browsing the internet on our mobile is still something most of us seldom do. Here in the UK, various mobile companies have been advertising free Facebook access on your phone and new phones such as Android and iPhone make mobile internet access something which is much more palatable. We’ve definitely got more of this coming our way.

Facebook Connect can make any website social

Way to the future right now
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In June, I posted a proof of concept which allowed you to log in to an external website using your Facebook identity: in effect taking it around the web with you. The proof of concept worked by utilising Facebook’s Applications system to pull certain pieces of information (e.g. User ID, name, profile pic) passing it on to an external webpage.

There is a more elegant solution which has now opened up to developers called Facebook Connect. It promises to allow you to seamlessly integrate Facebook identity into your website, manage your privacy and to be able to take your friends list with you around the web.

The fantastic thing about this is you no longer need to create a Facebook application and to rewrite and “force” your webpage into a Facebook application in order to utilise Facebook’s range of viral promotional channels.

I’ve downloaded the sample application (view a live demo here) and it certainly doesn’t seem too tricky to integrate and build social features around.

Unfortunately you can’t launch your websites with Facebook Connect just yet. It’s just for developers at the moment, but Facebook claim that you can open your social websites up to the public some time late summer.

As I’ve blogged before, I’ve had some considerable results building Facebook-based communities. Facebook Connect is a very exciting product launch and I believe will be a significant milestone in building the social “web 2.0”. Well worth playing with!

Social Capital and Social Networking

Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay
Creative Commons License photo: *L*u*z*a*

There is some fascinating research from Michigan State University about the use of online social networking sites by college students and the effect on their social capital. For non-economists, social capital is one of the three types of capital or “wealth”. The other two types are physical capital (what you own e.g. a computer, machines, money) and human capital (skills, experience). The third type of capital is your social connections – or social capital.

The study found that Facebook allows people to keep in contact with communities more efficiently, hence increasing their social capital. The authors of the study wrote, “Social capital has been linked to a variety of positive social outcomes, such as better public health, lower crime rates, and more efficient financial markets.” In addition, there was a correlation between Facebook usage and psychological well-being.

Of course, Facebook started off as a social networking site for college students only. Hence, it encouraged people to develop their relationships with people within their local college communities and people who they know offline which is more useful social capital than that which would be gained through forums and sites such as Digg.

Creative Commons License photo: Kate_A

The study goes on to look at two different types of social capital: bonding (cementing networks of homogenous groups of people) and bridging (social networks of socially heterogeneous groups of people). The argument is that some types of social capital are bad: criminal gangs, racist and extremist groups have high levels of bonding capital. The study found that Facebook tends to generate the good type of social capital: bridging.

Perhaps my criticism of the study is how it can be shown that Facebook causes an increase in social capital. To me, it seems pretty likely also that people with greater social capital will be more likely to sign up to Facebook.

But it’s certainly an interesting study. There certainly hasn’t been much study in the general area but I think it’s an area which needs studying: just as the web allowed us to enhance our human capital by learning more about different kinds of things, the social web will allow us to enhance social capital.

The “social web” may have drastic implications for our society and economy.