Monthly Archives: January 2013

Facebook’s New Social Search

Last week Facebook unveiled it’s newest product, or what Mark Zuckerberg called Facebook’s newest pillar: Graph Search.

Using natural language, users will be able to search within Facebook for things like: “friends who live in Seattle,” or “friends who listen to Kanye.” It’s very similar to how we use Google. The upshot, of course, is that Facebook is filled with all kinds of personal data that is not accessible to Google’s indexing and the wider internet.

Using our “social graph,” Facebook’s nerd language for the online networks we’ve woven together, Zuckerberg and company will offer a personalized search. Rather than use complex algorithms informed by people’s online behavior (like Google), Facebook will run it’s custom query using our friends and jobs, the things we’ve “liked” and the places we’ve been.

As I’ve written before, this is exactly what the new Foursquare is doing.

While many tech observers see “social,” “local,” or “personalized,” as the future of search engines, there are reasons to avoid the quick embrace. For starters, Google works pretty damn well. Secondly, if I’m looking to a trustworthy friend to recommend a restaurant or a mechanic, wouldn’t I just text that person?

Another issue mentioned by many reporters is that most people don’t use Facebook or Foursquare the way power users do. So while, in theory, a personalized social search may be more valuable to me it’s also a lot more limited in scope. How many of your friends actually rate their music and movies and then post online? (Usually it’s just that crazy handful of people who blow up your news feed.)

Facebook’s promo vid makes this kind of information culling look like an enriching experience. While I’m very skeptical, I’ll wait for the roll out before I become a full on naysayer.

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Journalism Worthy Of Web Culture: Syria Deeply And The Single Story Website

Nieman Journalism Lab

Nieman Journalism Lab

In reporting war and conflict, the traditional news article can often be a detriment to understanding. By sketching narratives that any reader can understand, journalists often state and restate basic facts and storylines, leaving layered back-story or relevant tangents unwritten. New names, battlefields and rising death tolls are reported, but these are mere additions, extra sentences slapped on at the end.

What if instead, complex subjects were reported in an innovative way, using interactive timelines and maps where readers decide how “deep” they want to dive into a subject?

Lara Setrakian, founder of the website Syria Deeply, writes on the success of such a journalistic endeavor:

It is part news aggregator, part interactive backgrounder, part original reporting space. Most importantly, it aims to fuse all of the kinds of content that have become critical to this crisis: professional reporting, citizen journalism, and social media. We wanted to visualize more, convey greater nuance, and focus on civilian stories, rather than just emphasize the big shots and the battle action that normally lead our headlines.

And here is the actual site: Syria Deeply

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Even If It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected

In it’s 2nd social media report, the National Labor Relations Board aims to protect employees’ rights to speech.  The memo “covers 14 cases, half of which involve questions about employer social media policies…The remaining cases involved discharges of employees after they posted comments to Facebook.”

Writing in The New York Times, Steven Greenhouse goes through some of these cases and helps explain what kind of things employees can say online and what things can rightfully get someone fired.

The labor board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.

Greenhouse also mentions that California and Illinois recently joined 4 other states in preventing companies from forcing workers to hand over their social media passwords.

The author quotes the president of the National Workrights Institute, Lewis L. Maltby: “No one should be fired for anything they post that’s legal, off-duty and not job-related.”

These rulings do not apply to public sector workers, however. And as Greenhouse reminds us, the internet speech of teachers, police officers, corporate execs and college students falls into a bizarro grey area that we are only beginning to grapple with.

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How To Measure Influence?

Darcel Dissapoints - NYTimes

Darcel Dissapoints – NYTimes

Even as social media collect an increasing amount of data about our personal preferences, quantifying taste is exceedingly difficult.

The tech journalist Stephen Baker, writing in the NYTimes, frames the recent paradigm shift in advertising like this: Where clever humanists, “Mad Men” advertisers like Don Draper draw from the liberal arts to predict and guide our shopping behavior, search technology like Google has recently enabled a more quantitative approach.

Baker writes:

In the last decade however, those numbers people have rocketed to the top. They build and operate the search engines. They’re flexing their quantitative muscles at agencies and starting new ones. And the rise of social networks, which stream a global gabfest into their servers, catapults these quants ever higher. Their most powerful pitches aren’t ideas but rather algorithms. This sends many of today’s Don Drapers into early retirement.

While this narrative may lead one to believe that advertising on social media is the next frontier, Baker provides evidence suggesting otherwise.

Corporate advertisers are devoting only a modest 14 percent of their online budgets to social networks. According to comScore, a firm that tracks online activity, e-commerce soared 16 percent from last year, to nearly $39 billion this holiday season. But advertising from social networks appeared to play only a supporting role. I.B.M. researchers found that on the pivotal opening day of the season, Black Friday, a scant 0.68 percent of online purchases came directly from Facebook. The number from Twitter was undetectable.

Interestingly, Baker goes on to suggest that perhaps social media’s ineffective marketing is merely a function of firms measuring the wrong things.

Baker points out that while Facebook and Twitter may not lead to direct sales, their likes and retweets are potentially valuable, in nudging our inclinations. He writes, “The impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past.”

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