Tag Archives: facebook

Where’s the Love?

Little-known fact: I started the MBTA fan page on Facebook. Why? Because I’m a fan (lowercase F) of the MBTA. It was just after fan pages were introduced, and I thought the goal was for users to create, well, fan bases around specific ideas or entities.

Silly me. That line of thinking is pretty outmoded nowadays, at least by Facebook’s standards. While in the real world, being a fan means showing passion and independent initiative around an idea or entity (as I did with the MBTA fan page), being a Fan on Facebook (uppercase F) is a much more passive, reactive, push-driven proposition. Sure, anyone can still create a fan page, but Facebook is definitively shaping it as a professional marketer’s tool.

Now, Facebook is moving away from the “fan” vernacular to the all-purpose “like” on both fan pages and advertisements for fan pages. When Facebook rolled out “like” a little over a year ago, unabashedly taking a cue from FriendFeed, it added another level to the hierarchy of engagement with content on Facebook. You can comment, like and, as of recently, share. (Google Reader offers a similar hierarchy — for any article, you can like, share, or share with comment.) Either way, on Facebook, the acts of liking or becoming a fan sign you up for a subscription to all activity around that content.

With this new move, Facebook is extrapolating the concept and language of “liking” something from individual pieces of content to whole entities. And the subscription model still applies — though with a fan page (soon to be known as a brand page ), you as a fan (soon to be known as a connection) are signing up for a longer-term commitment than you get when engaging with an ephemeral status update. Naturally, there will be user confusion, especially because Facebook has apparently already decided that user education about the change in terminology is unnecessary. MediaPost also points out the possibility that this change will blur the distinction between people and brands in the eye of the users.

But more importantly, what does it mean to “like” something now? Is it less of a handshake and more like a grazing of shoulders in the hall? How much stake do we put in something that is “liked”? To me, it seems that homogenizing everything into a culture of like (much like a community of “friends“) devalues the engagement. Basing everything on a tally of “likes” creates an easy, appealing metric. By moving the language away from “fans” and more toward “connections” and “brands,” it becomes less of a personal space and more of a business space.

And that’s fine. And it’s no surprise. We’ve seen things moving in this direction for a while. Facebook can develop an economy of like, and I’m sure it will be successful for them.

But where’s the love? This isn’t middle school, where you either liked or like-liked somebody. I’m talking investment, commitment and affection that lasts longer than homeroom. That has an important place in the mix, as well.

The love, I believe, is in the niche. It’s in curation and creation. It’s in feverish pockets of devotion to a specific topic or idea. It’s in the nurturing of a community, an idea or a collection of content. It’s in the human factor. It takes a little more time and work to get there, but it’s worth the effort.

It’s not that a line is being drawn in the sand between the two levels of engagement; both are a necessary part of the landscape. But as the economy of like is poised for ubiquity, let’s not forget about the currency of love.

UPDATE 4/2: Looks like Facebook is adding a new wrinkle, introducing a feature called Community Pages (distinct from Official Pages) designed to accommodate people who want to, well, create pages akin to what I initially thought “fan page” meant, as well as pages around concepts like “Can this pickle get more fans than Nickelback?” I guess it’s time to see how long it takes for the MBTA to come calling for their fan page 🙂

Photo by richkidsunite/Flickr Creative Commons

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Can’t See the Forest for the Tweets

Over the weekend, I was reading coverage of the slow-motion PR nightmare that is Tiger Woods’ car accident/domestic drama/etc. Of course, being me, I’m not really concerned about why his wife was wielding a nine-iron or why he was peeling out of his driveway in the middle of the night. I’m more concerned about this graf in the Associated Press’ story from Saturday:

Aside from occasional criticism of his temper inside the ropes, he has kept himself out of the news outside his sport. In an October posting on his Facebook account, Woods wrote, “I’m asked why people don’t often see me and Elin in gossip magazines or tabloids. I think we’ve avoided a lot of media attention because we’re kind of boring. …”

Curious, I looked up Tiger Woods’ Facebook “account” (read: fan page). It’s a fairly active and well maintained (not by him, obvs.) presence, with 1.2 million fans. Like many fan pages, it pulls in content from external sources. And in this case, the above quote actually came from one of those sources — the “Dear Tiger” fanmail section of Tiger Woods.com. Thus, the AP story misrepresents the source of that quote — which has been widely published and republished in print and on the web by AP subscribers.

This is not a grievous offense, but it does speak to the pervasive problem of social media illiteracy in the mainstream media.

One of the first things you learn — in high school, much less j-school — is the difference between a primary source and a secondary source. In this case, with the fanmail page including first-person responses from Woods, I believe that can be considered a primary source. In this article, the author, AP sportswriter Fred Goodall, failed to make that distinction by attributing the content as belonging to Facebook.

There is a semantic difference between “posting” and “sharing.” If you describe something as a “posting on his Facebook account,” you are — according to the lexicon of the medium — attributing primary source characteristics to the content on Facebook, when in fact all Facebook is serving as is a conduit for sharing the content. For all intents and purposes, it might as well be a wall in a common area where a printout has been tacked up. In a research paper or newspaper article, would you cite the wall?

Why is it hard for someone like Goodall to do this basic assessment of his sources? Is it because it’s “cooler” to cite Facebook postings in your story? If so, you’re not only misleading your readers, but your misrepresenting Tiger Woods as someone who posts personal updates to a Facebook account, much like you or I (or Chad Ochocinco) might. Woods’ Facebook presence is an online outpost of his athletic industry, not a personal mouthpiece, like Ochocinco’s Twitter account. And that’s fine. But in reporting, the distinction is increasingly important, especially if we’re going to start throwing attributions and citations around.

In a way, it’s hard to blame Goodall. He’s a sportswriter, not David Pogue. Should I expect him to know the different between a webpage and the posting of a link to that webpage on Facebook? Between a tweet piped in from Twitterfeed and someone’s own words?

The answer, actually, is yes. After all, I would expect him to know the difference between talking to the police spokesperson and talking to some guy who spoke to the police spokesperson. It’s a little different here — you can make the reasonable assumption that the same entity that maintains Tiger Woods’ website manages his Facebook profile. But I’m reaching that assumption with some level of savviness — the same savviness that led me to ascertain that Tiger Woods’ Facebook fan page was an official presence. Does Goodall have that savvy? Do his editors?

This is about understanding the context of information, and with new media, that context is changing. There are certainly instances when the sourcing is a little muddier, since imprints like Twitter’s verified accounts are not yet the standard (and there does not yet exist such confirmation for Facebook fan pages). We may not realize it, but in this space, we are relying a lot on savvy to help us assess the content we’re viewing. Savvy is great, but it doesn’t have its own AP stylebook.

In this new world of blended media, retweeting and link sharing, reporters should be able to do a basic parsing of content to determine its origin. There are many celebrities and organizations who do use Facebook and Twitter as direct mouthpieces to the public, breaking news and posting exclusive information via those channels. As those outlets continue to proliferate, and thus merit reporting by mainstream media, an understanding of the differences — between Facebook fan pages and profiles, managed presences and personal ones, and all of the many ways personalities and brands may use social media platforms — will be critical. Even for Fred Goodall.

Photo by monado/Flickr Creative Commons

Family Ties

At the risk of turning this into a Facebook blog, I need to share a realization I just had.

I was reading a Facebook wall post from my half-sister in response to my query about a drink they serve in the bars at the University of Manchester, where she attends school. My husband and I recently hosted a friend of his for a few days who also goes to Manchester but is staying in the U.S. for the summer, and we were talking about the official drink of Manchester, a vile/amazing (depending who you ask) concoction called the Green Monster that involves blue curacao, cider, schnapps and probably anything other liquor you have handy. She described them as “fairly vile, but in a good way.”

As I finished reading her comment, something struck me. Through Facebook, I have been able to stay in touch with my siblings and cousins in England that I rarely get to see (and, in the case of the cousins, just met for the first time this past spring). My father is on Facebook, but only nominally since he doesn’t have time to keep up with it. My brother, of course, is on Facebook, and so is my sister-in-law.

Over the past week, independent of one another, the last two pieces of the puzzle came together. My husband, compelled by some high school buddies of his he got together with last week, finally signed up for Facebook. “It’s how we all stay in touch with each other,” his friends said. Then, on Sunday, I brought my mom my old laptop. She recently got Verizon FIOS — upgrading from dial-up — but her computer’s Windows 98 wouldn’t work with the hip new connection. My old Thinkpad, however, does the trick. With a proper internet connection, she was finally able to get on Facebook in a meaningful fashion without unnecessary frustration.

And, well, that’s everyone. I know it might sound hokey, but it’s comforting for me to finally see everyone in one place, for the first and only time ever, even if that “place” is just a series of tubes where they’re not even all interacting with each other anyway. However virtual the gathering place is, for me, it’s a place all the same.

I mean, I have to take what I can get. There will never be a family reunion. There will never be awkward moments between mom’s side of the family and dad’s side of the family. No weird rivalries or jealousies, embarrassing moments or whispered observations. No “Meet the Fockers.” No competing for my affection, jockeying for my favor.

These people are quite different from one another, separated by geography, culture, upbringing and a host of other contexts. But the one thing they all have in common, strange as it is to believe sometimes, is me.

How Facebook Made My Name a Dirty Word

In the programming world, my name could be called a unique identifier. As much as I don’t like my full name, Georgiana, I am pleased that my nickname, Georgy, is relatively unique and iconic. (But if you spell it with -ie, you’re gonna be in for it.) About the only other folks who have my name are Russian, so stateside, I’m set.

Of course, I’ve gotten ribbed about my name over the years. There is, of course, the nursery school standard, “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry.” What does that even mean anyways? Well, since I’ve never kissed any girls, and no one I’ve kissed has ever cried, who can say? (I do, however, like both pudding and pie.) And let’s not forget that horrible song by the Seekers, “Georgy Girl,” which my husband still hums under his breath when he feels like getting under my skin. (At least they spelled it right.)

But, man, I thought that was bad? When sexual awareness hit at age nine or ten, and people realized that the last four letters of my nickname spelled — and thus, my name rhymed with — the word orgy, they were beside themselves. Hardy har har. Comic gold! Yeah… that got old quick.

When Facebook announced vanity URLs, I figured some crafty Russian would probably seize facebook.com/georgy, and I quickly came to peace with that. I figured I would still be able to snag some permutation of my nickname and my last name, even though exhaustion wouldn’t let me stay up until midnight last night for the big land grab.

When I woke up this morning and tried to grab my vanity URL, however, I was thwarted at every turn. georgy, georgy.cohen, georgyc, even my online handle radiofreegeorgy — all unavailable.

lastfourletters

But when I went to those URLs, they did not redirect to profiles — I simply got the Facebook 404 page. I briefly puzzled over this until I remembered the accursed last four letters of my nickname — O-R-G-Y. I checked the Facebook username FAQ to search for an explanation or some recourse:

My username was not available.

You may not be able to claim a username for several reasons. Usernames can only contain alphanumeric characters (A-Z, 0-9) or a period (“.”), for example — john.smith55. Usernames also must be at least 5 characters long. Usernames are not case sensitive. Facebook also prevents certain words from being included in usernames. It is not possible to copy a username that someone else has already claimed.

If Facebook has indicated that your username cannot be claimed, you will need to select a different one. You will see a green checkmark indicating that a potential username is available before you actually claim it.

Emphasis mine, of course. That’s it. It’s the only explanation. Facebook is denying me my own unique identifier because of the last four letters of my nickname. Because so many years ago, I picked -y over -ie. But what about someone like, say, Dick Cheney? What if he wants a vanity URL for his Facebook profile? Well, facebook.com/dickcheney appears to be taken, but…

dick

Harumph!

So, while I don’t know for sure that I am being denied my top choices because of my last four letters, it’s the only conclusion I can reach. Additional suggestions welcome. In the meantime, I am going to drown my social media sorrows in some pudding and pie.