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.

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.

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 |
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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!

P2P Intelligence and Monetising Media

Creative Commons License photo: Alex // Berlin (Stay in Madrid)

One interesting element of writing this blog is seeing how old posts are viewed. For example, last year I wrote about bugs inside my LCD screen. Since then, the post has been getting a couple of hits every day as people find it through Google and other search engines.

Over the last 3 or 4 days, traffic to that individual page has increased ten-fold. This coincides with the warm weather in the UK over the last few days. So obviously the fact I’ve been getting so much traffic on that page indicates that a lot of people have had problems with bugs inside their computer monitors lately.

It’s certainly an interesting piece of information or a trend that I’ve discovered by looking through my logs.

And it looks like media companies are finding their own sources of intelligence by looking at downloads on peer-to-peer sites. According to The Economist, 20 times as many tracks are exchanged on peer-to-peer sites than through legitimate stores.

Of course, sharing music on peer-to-peer sites is illegal. P2P sharing of music is not restricted to country borders and there is an infinite supply of it (since it’s free). That makes it dead useful for the media companies to discover where music is popular. For example, they can see where the music is popular even if it hasn’t yet been released there. And by finding out what other kind of music fans are listening to, especially in the younger generation which uses P2P, record companies can better organise supporting artists for tours.

Red iPod Nano
Creative Commons License photo: Andrew*

The dilemma for the record companies is of course that P2P file sharing is illegal and that means they are very reluctant to use data from it.

There is of course a middle ground. For example, Deezer is a legitimate music service which combines freely-available streaming music with a social network. Deezer spreads well through viral methods such as MSN Messenger, blogs and forums. Deezer can use cookies to link together all the different songs and artists you like. And when music costs nothing upfront, people are more willing to listen to new music. That means Deezer knows the music that you’re interested in: iTunes only knows what music you’ve purchased from them (and most people probably don’t buy all their music from one place).

Google Adsense transformed content on the web by showing relevant advertising. Amazon has transformed the way many of us shop by analysing what we buy and suggesting we buy them together. Instead of fighting piracy, I wonder whether these two approaches could be combined to align the goals of ensuring artists are properly rewarded with allowing people to discover new music organically and virally.

TestFreaks: Product Review Aggregator

TestFreaks is a new breed of technology product review website (still in beta). It is very easy to use and aggregates information from all over the world and all over the web. You’ll find both expert (from selected magazines and websites) and user reviews. There are also forum discussions, images and videos aggregated from both YouTube and Google Video.

According to the TestFreaks website the site utilises the following sources: “User reviews, professional reviews, prices, blog posts, forum threads, news, rumors, manufacturers descriptions and specifications, manuals, videos and more.”

Products are categorised tidily and logically and you’ll find everything here from new TV and DVD player to a new webcam for your computer. Under each category, it’ll tell you the most popular product and also the website offering the product for the lowest price.

There is a feature to compare the specifications of products side-by-side as well as the price on different online shops. Scores (“FreakGrades”) for each product are calculated from user reviews. Given the strong pound, more and more British consumers are buying gadgets abroad so it might have been nice for TestFreaks to have an option of looking at non-British stores (although they do have a US website).

Finally, TestFreaks also has their own forum to discuss consumer gadgets. It seems quite quiet at the moment but TestFreaks is still a young site and I can see a community developing around the website as it begins to gain more users.

An easy-to-use and powerful website which can save you a lot of time and money – I know I’ll certainly consult TestFreaks next time I buy a gadget.

Deezer – Free Music

For those of you who haven’t already heard of Deezer, it’s a fantastic and free way to discover new music and to share it with your friends. It’s a eclectic mix of a music community, a jukebox where you can listen to music online, a Pandora-like “SmartRadio” service and a range of community features such as news and games.

It is a French website and the site is (as far as I know) fully licensed and legal in France and other countries. Certainly Deezer seems to have been around for a very long time, is fairly popular and hasn’t been taken offline so it would seem to be totally legit. The site is supported by advertising.

When Pandora closed it’s doors to listeners out of the UK, it had a big effect on me. I loved listening to Pandora on the computer because it played the music that I liked and without any adverts. Deezer’s SmartRadio does exactly that. I’ve discovered a lot of new music through Deezer and what’s great is that you can go back and listen to it at any time through the search feature.

You can also link to and embed songs into your webpage. e.g. Check out Utopia by Goldfrapp.

Deezer gets my seal of approval!

Social Capital and Social Networking

Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay
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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.

Proof of Concept: Using Facebook as Identity on a Blog

Please accept my apologies for the third successive post about Facebook!

I wanted to show off a proof of concept I’ve developed of using Facebook as an identity system for your blog. The proof of concept doesn’t run on a real blog system – that is simply to keep it simple and because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time with the ins and outs of WordPress. I can see no reason why it couldn’t be adapted to integrate with WordPress/Drupal or whatever.

How does it work?

  • You’re on the blog page and you wish to make a comment.
  • You click on a link which takes you to the Facebook webpage.
  • If you haven’t before used your Facebook identity on this application before, you’ll be asked to give permission for it to access your personal information.
  • You are returned to the blog page, now logged in with your facebook identity.

Total development time was about 1 hour, took about 50 lines of code. If anybody is interested, I can open source the PHP source code.

As far as I can see, it follows the platform terms of use. The only information which my proof of concept has access to is your name and the URL of your Facebook avatar. This information is not stored except with your expressed consent (e.g. you post a comment).

Pop over to the proof of concept and feel free to login or to post a comment to try it out.

School Alumni Facebook Experiment Results

Halls Of Horror
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On Sunday I introduced my experiment with building a community through Facebook for a school alumni group. I’m pleased to be able to say that the Facebook application was complete yesterday and I can now discuss some of the results.

First of all, a little about the target audience. We are looking at sixth form college students in Britain (between 18-19 years old). In grand total, there are 200 students in total and that’s the total number of people we are aiming at. I would estimate that about 25% of the target audience doesn’t use the internet on a regular basis so the target figure of course is about 150.

We’ve had two attempts at creating a community around the school alumni group.

Attempt 1: Drupal

The first attempt involved using the open source Drupal CMS. The community featured forums, latest news and so on. The community was advertised primarily through real world posters and presentations. There was also a small campaign online to promote it via e-mail.

After one year, we managed about 50 registrations (33% of the target) of which about 5 are active. This means the community is actively used by about 4% of the target audience. In total, about 30 messages were received on the forums in the one year the community has been active.

I believe the main barrier to the success of this online community is the difficulty in creating an account. You need to set up yet another username, password and validate your e-mail address. That means people have to go to a lot of effort to join the community and the lack of active members in the community also limits the usefulness (more on this later).

Attempt 2: Facebook

This is the new alumni community which I launched yesterday lunchtime. The community has various features which are similar to the first attempt. The community again was promoted through real world posters and presentations, as well as online via email and messaging. This time, viral marketing also took place through various Facebook channels.

After just 24 hours, the community reached 75 users. That means we’re already half way towards the target of 150. Are people engaging with the application? We received 30 messages in just one day. According to Facebook statistics we received 1,100 page views in just the first 12 hours. For me, that’s astonishing growth – through a Facebook application we achieved the same results in under a day as it took a year to achieve on an external Drupal-based website.

From my perspective, the amount of work that it took to promote the Facebook application was much less than that of the external community.


Bright Atlanta
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A sceptic will point out that this is an unfair test because the two communities were obviously different in their designs and feature sets. I will say that when it came to launching the second community, I was much more experienced at creating and designing online communities so I was able to create a much more engaging community. But it is the fact that we opted for a Facebook application which allowed us to develop these engaging features. Many features have a critical mass of users below which it would not be useful.

The growth of community is proportional to its size. The constant of growth (k) depends on various factors:

  • The proportion of users who are active in the community
  • The proportion of users who engage in the community
  • The proportion of users who will let their friends know about the community
  • The conversion rate (invites to registrations)

I would say that Facebook applications have a much higher growth constant than other communities, for several reasons:

  • Easy to access; no additional URL, username, password to remember
  • There are additional communication channels through Facebook
  • It is much easier to build engaging community features through Facebook
  • Facebook has an invite system for users to share their favourite apps
  • Users already have Facebook accounts meaning the “barriers to registering” are almost zero: all they have to do is to tick a box granting an application access to their personal data.

Of course, it depends on the demographic of your userbase. This experiment was run with British teenagers, many of which have Facebook. Across other demographics, I believe implementing OpenSocial or OpenID could lead to similar benefits for online communities.

I’m very pleased with the results of this experiment and I would say it has confirmed some of the suspicions I had when I wrote my previous post. Of course, it’s something you can rip apart but I believe it’s well worth a think when you come to create your next online community!