Beginnings and Ends

Well, it’s the last blog post that will be posted on forever.

So I guess it’s only fitting for me to start where I began.

Let’s look at what Facebook has become — not what it is, but what it means to us as humans and what it means to as a society. Facebook is not simply a social network, it is The Social Network, with capital letters. It is much more than the sum of its parts – more than just Profiles and Wall Posts and Pictures and Likes and Pokes. It has become almost necessary in society and has become an expected staple of our lives. If all of Facebook’s servers were to suddenly blow up and Facebook were to vanish, I’m pretty sure that the world would just fall apart. This is why I joined the class.

Because Facebook has finally succeeded where traditional forms of communication like mail or phones have not: it has succeeding in connecting us in something greater without depending on the real world. Before, you could talk to people through a variety of mediums. You could mail someone, and send physical object from one person to another. You could call someone, bridging miles or even thousands of miles instantly. There even was this new emerging technology found in the World Wide Web and email. But the problem with these forms of communication was that it was relationship-based. In other words, it was a conversation between two people, not a recreation of a group of people interaction, not of a society.

Sure, there were many attempts to try to raise societies in the communications world. There were forums, imageboards, forwarded emails, Myspace, Xanga, IRC, newgroups, and listservs. But outside of certain localized communities such as certain gaming communities, they never accurately created a society. There was never one single form of communication that could connect many people from many places. Take forums for example. Like Facebook, it has a bunch of people together on a site discussing and taking and fighting and joking around. But it was more like a conference call than a society.

The difference Facebook had was that it plunged you into the flurry of activity from friends, family, and acquaintances. All you have to do is type “” in the url bar and hit enter and you enter a virtual world where interactions between the people you know flow around you. People interacted with each other now, able to declare things to the world with status, express their likes with “likes”, and talk to each other.

Whether by intention or by accident, Facebook’s connecting power has changed our world forever. We see other communities such as Twitter and Reddit spring up, creating communities of their own. We even see attempts to emulate Facebook’s connecting power in other realms as the buzz word “social” visits every intellectual corner known to humankind. Video games today must have a social aspect. New web startups try to incorporate “social” into everything they do. Even site such as Grockit tries its hardest to be social and create a community centered around standardized test prep.

And on top of all of the common rabble stands Facebook, the originator and the most powerful and most encompassing social network. And because it revolutionized modern society, it hold a certain responsibility to the society it helped shape. And it was this responsibility we looked at in class.

You know, I could go ahead and begin to look at everything we learned this semester and explicate all of our blog posts and readings and ignite presentations. But who am I kidding. How could I ever cover a semester of work along with last flood of information from all of you, my peers? I would have to talk about Facebook experiments, about federal policy, about gamification, about the Facebook IPO, about good app design, about RenRen, about a million more bits of information. What we have learned has gone beyond what a mere 500 words can express, especially when I’m already approaching 700.

So I leave this here, as a note of endings.

This blog was the work of FRS 101, under the guidance of our two awesome mentors, Professor Ed Felten and Stephen Schultze.

Thank you.

How Facebook Changes Privacy

We always talk about privacy and Facebook — about how Facebook violates privacy laws, how it ignore’s user’s basic right to privacy, how they should change the default settings to facilitate user’s privacy beliefs.

But what we don’t realize is that Facebook is slowly drawing privacy back. It’s not even sinister.

At it’s root is people’s perception of privacy.

It’s almost cliched now that old fogies will complain about the lax privacy attentiveness of young people today. “Kids today” they said, “They have no shame. They post their diaries, their phone number, and every single photo for the world to see.”

You can see it yourself. Take a look at any teenager’s Facebook and take a look at their parent’s. The teenager’s (roughly generalizing here) will be filled with status about their day to day goings, photos of every single possible thing ever, and an ever-continuous flutter of conversation from wall to wall. The older person’s will have status about vacations, about marriages  about the big things.

This can be partially attributed to the fact that younger people are more impulsive. We think less about what we post online and more about what we can let our friends know. We think not of the logical process of filtering out information for privacy and instead about the emotional reward for posting it.

Facebook has especially facilitated this change by making it possible to let people know the play-by-play of your life. They have made it possible to let your friends instantly know how life is and stay in contact with them. Who doesn’t want to keep in touch with your friends?

But this alone would not shift people’s ideas of privacy. Otherwise, the older generation would be much more comfortable with how the younger generation treats it.

The second key is that Facebook has made it acceptable to pay for products with personal information. It has made an amazing product that connects the world only for the low price of personal information. The users get to use Facebook and Facebook get to know everything they would ever want to know about a person short of medical records and credit score.

This has now become standard for the younger generation. It has become expected that free things require some private info to be given up. This ability has devalued the worth of personal information for users and made them more willing to give it up.

Because of Facebook, we are seeing the start of a shift in views on privacy.

repost this if you are a strong princeton student who don’t need no

So I was stuck trying to figure out something to write for this blog post when I stumbled upon this recent Gawker article:

(Intresting tidbit: This article was written by Adrian Chen, the same guy who outed Reddit user Violentacrez)

Basically, some guy called Nolan Daniels posted this picture on his Facebook page.

Yes, that is the winning Powerball ticket. You are looking at a man holding a $239 million dollar ticket. In his ecstasy, he even posted “Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!” 185,032 shares and many comments saying “I shared it!” later, Gawker got a hold of the story.

All’s well and fine except for one small thing: that isn’t a real ticket. Unlike real Powerball tickets, the numbers weren’t in numerical order. Its a fake, a phony, a Photoshop. You didn’t even need to look at the pixels.

But what makes this interesting isn’t the fact that some bored dude made a fake lottery ticket and posted for the world to see, but how others respond to this picture. Although we generally see Facebook as private, every once in a while, we some some meme start flooding pretty much every profile. Right before this was the privacy notice. Before that were “Repost this status to help this twelve year old girl pay for cancer!”. And this phenomenon isn’t even localized to Facebook. On Youtube, you would have comments like:

“PLEASE DON’T READ THIS. You will get kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However, if you don’t post this comment to at least 3 videos, you will die within 2 days. Copy and paste this, to be saved”

or even:

╔════════════ ೋღ☃ღೋ ═════════╗
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Repost this if ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ you are a beautiful strong black woman ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ who don’t need no man ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
╚════════════ ೋღ☃ღೋ ═════════╝

This existed even before in email where people would sent each other sob stories about burn victims and tell people to forward them to help raise money.

Why do people do this, though? Not a single dollar is going to be raised for cancer victims if you copy and paste the status nor is some man you’ve never seen before in your life going to hand you a million dollars (and pay a hefty gift tax for doing so).

This simple act of copy and pasting makes people feel like they’re doing something or part of something. For people, its essentially a quarter of a second investment to do something that might benefit the world or put themselves in a better position. If more time was required, say if the Youtube chain letters told you to write 500 word blog posts in order to avoid death and find your life partner, then people would no longer be so willing to follow the instructions. The investment is no longer worth the trade off.

It’s the same concept as procrastination: the short term benefit (taking .5 seconds to copy and paste a status for a .00000000000001% chance of giving a dollar to charity) is valued way higher than a long term benefit (taking 3 months to organize a fundraiser and have an 80% chance of raising $5,000 to a charity).

This is how humans function and have functioned from the beginning of time. We’ve been hardwired to prefer short term benefits since long term benefits don’t mean anything if we don’t survive the short term.

And, long story short, this is why you see the obviously phony reposts flood your friends wall from time to time.

The Age Limit

Both Zheng and Gabriela explored the idea of underage children on Facebook earlier in the year. Zheng discuss the benefits of allowing pre-thirteen year olds access to the social network ( and Gabriela wrote about the laws that prevented Facebook from allowing preteens to use their services (

Let’s explore how Facebook prevents kids from joining the network.

The first line of defense lies in the signup. On the form, Facebooks asks you for your First name, Last name, Email, and birthday. This birthday form serves to screen out underage users. The same technique is seen in other places on the Internet too, such as when signing up for a Gmail account (which incidentally does not allow kids under 16 to join) and when buying a M rated video game online. If you enter an age less than 13, the page tells you that “Your request cannot be processed” and does not let you register until you reload the page.

But there’s a tongue-in-cheek cartoon describing the Internet and the people who use it:

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

On the Internet, you can be anything. You can be a drag queen. You can be a 29 year old, single, gay rocket scientist working at NASA. You can be human. You can be over 13 when you’re actually not. When I was 13, I do not think I knew anyone who actually used their real birthday or birth year on the internet. My internet self back then was always born on January 1, 1980.

An interesting related statistic is that 93% of Steam (a popular video game distribution platform) users are born on January 1.

So really, the birthday request does nothing to stop people from pretending to be older than 13. Some kids may even enter birthdays making them over 13 by pure habit.

The second line of defense lies used the be requiring people to specify their network. When I first signed up for Facebook, I had to pretend that I was a member some High School to join. However, Facebook had gotten rid of that feature.

The final line of defense is Facebook’s decision to delete any account they discover belongs to a pre-thirteen year old. It works, somewhat. Sometimes a kid complains online that their Facebook got deleted and that they had to remake their account. Out of 7.5 million underage users. (Sorry Zheng. My source). It’s like fighting a forest fire with a little handheld spray bottle.

In short, Facebook just doesn’t care. They go through the actions of getting rid of underage users, but don’t actually spend the resources on combating the problem. And, to be honest, underage users are good for Facebook — it pretty much prepares a new generation of people to use Facebook.

The question is, should we care? Many don’t. Many do. But, should we pass more legislation like COPPA and prevent underaged children from access from services like Gmail and Facebook for good?

Competition is Healthy

Competition is healthy. This is the idea that capitalism is or or less based on.

The idea is that if there are two companies competing for customers or sales, they’ll keep on trying to out do each other — in the end giving the consumer the best possible result Of course, not everything quite works out the way its planned. There’s trusts, there’s price fixing, and there’s a million other things wrong with an Ayn Randian capitalism.

However, the basic idea still applies — competition will help keep the companies in a field innovative and and on its toes. The lack of competition allows companies to rest and to possibly provide a less-than-optimal produce. The companies, however, would like nothing better than to have zero competition and not have to worry about anyone else stealing their customer. The average person, though, should like competition.

So the problem with Facebook, and social networks in general, is that the nature of the businesses tend to stifle competition. People are attracted to the networks with the most people and tend to avoid the networks that have less people, thus maximizing their chances of finding friends that use the network. This difference in attraction just keeps on snowballing until, finally, one network dominates the others. We see this today with Facebook and how everybody uses it while relatively few people use other networks. In addition, the snowballed difference makes it hard for other people to get into the game. We saw this when Google Plus flopped, despite it having many solid features that rivaled that of Facebook.

The question is, is it possible to make a online social network that can encourage competition?

This would be greatly beneficial for the consumer in that Facebook would have to be more careful in the changes they push out and force them to continuously try to out do their competitors.

One way to encourage competition is to have all the potential social networks share common data about users — that is, the website we visit would become merely different skins for a unified set of data. It is somewhat similar to email in that the protocol is all the same, but we can use the technology through many sites.

Thus, your photos, your friends, and your personal info will all be stored in some universal form, allowing all your friends using different front-end websites to see your profile.

This idea even has the added benefit of allowing researchers an easier way to gather and use data. Of course, it has the downsides of possibly being more vulnerable to privacy issues and forcing social network sites to find a new revenue streams.

It turns out, there was actually an effort to do a similar thing earlier. OpenSocial. Unfortunately, it seems that it never really got off the ground, possibly because Facebook was already too popular.

You can find more info about open social here, at their

Deleting Facebook

So its the first free day after all my Midterms.

Back in high school, during Midterms, people would sometimes “delete” their Facebook page in order to concentrate on their studies. I put quotations around delete because, as we know, clicking delete doesn’t actually delete your page.

In fact, people “deleted” Facebook all the time. When a friend’s boyfriend in Fuji (long story) un-facebook official’d her, she had me change her password — effectively deleting her page until she decides to send herself the password reset email.

It’s becoming more and more common now — somehow deleting Facebook removes and insulates you from the world at large. Don’t want to know how all of your friends were accepted into college while you weren’t? Delete Facebook. Have millions of papers due tomorrow? Delete Facebook.

But, you know, most everyone returns sooner or later.

It’s pretty much like the internet — while we could live for a couple weeks mass without stepping into the world wide web, we cannot afford to be cavemen for the rest of our lives. While we could be electronically friendless, no one really wants to be. It’s merely a temporary measure — to just let you focus when you need it.

It’s an interesting dynamic we have go on.

On one hand, we recognize that Facebook is unnecessary and perhaps even harmful to our abilities to focus and to work at peak efficiency. We realize that, sometimes, its better to force unplug ourselves from this frankly addicting social network and remove the distraction from our lives. We didn’t need Facebook before it existed and we certainly don’t   now. In fact, after deletion, we don’t get huge urges to log on to Facebook or feel like we are completely disconnected from human civilization. In this sense Facebook is merely a pastime and something that is fun to use and play with.

On the other hand, most of us still choose to reinstate our accounts, hinting that perhaps Facebook isn’t as expendable as it might seem. Despite not really getting huge craving for Facebook during the times we need it deleted, many of us would also feel somewhat weird not accessing the social network after the time we needed it deleted is over. Without fail, we will reactivate our accounts after the period we needed it gone is over.

Perhaps this is the difference between Facebook and all our other Social Interactions. With Facebook, we have more control. We can choose to simply turn it off temporarily and all will be OK. However, at the end of the day, Facebook is something we end up going back to.

What Facebook is Worth

I was recently reading a CNN Money article about how two NYU business school professors are advocating that Facebook pay users for the right to sell personal info to companies. This, the article argued, would allow Facebook to pull out of it’s stock market slump and “jolt its business.”

Supposedly, this would give Facebook a new revenue stream, give users some extra pocket change, and let Facebook be much more clear about their stance on privacy.

The question is, is your data worth $10 a month?

Let’s take Facebook out of the equation for a bit. Would you sell your photos, your birthday, your current location, your likes, your interactions with friends, and a list of all the people you know for $10 a month?

No, I wouldn’t. And I’m sure not many people would.

Why do we use Facebook, then? Essentially, Facebook can partially utilize the information they have about us without having to pay $10 a month. . . yet I, and many others, will gladly give the right to use our photos, our birthdays, our current locations, our likes, our interactions with friends, and lists of all the people we know for the right to use Facebook. I would say that Facebook’s worth to me is easily worth $100/month. I would have to be paid $100/month to stop giving away my info to Facebook in order to use their service.

So this brings us back to the $10 dollars a month. Would this help Facebook?

The $10 dollars a month would allow Facebook to actively sell info.

I really don’t think this is a good idea.

I use Facebook because it’s a valuable service and I’m willing to put up my information for us of that valuable service. I don’t put up that information for use of the $10. Of course, I would enjoy some extra pocket money, but it doesn’t change Facebook’s worth to me.

However, by monetizing personal info, Facebook will have been re-branded as a service that sells personal info for $10 a month, not a service that collects info in exchange for access to the Social Network.

I want to leave you with two questions. How much is Facebook worth to you, and do you think the NYU professors’ ideas are good?

Gaming on Facebook

Recently I’ve been in a Tetris mood.

You know, sometimes you just want to fit blocks together. Sometimes, you just want to watch the world simply fall into place.

Back in the day, I would play in I wasn’t especially good, but I was good enough to put up a more-or-less decent fight against my friends. So, when I decided to start again, I had at least a few tricks up my sleeves.

But this time, I started with Facebook’s Tetris Battle.

Now, with Tetris Friends, there was a special game mode — Battle 2P. In this mode one player had to clear lines and send them across to the other player.

Playing against my Honorable Opponent Jazzy551.

Tetris Battles on Facebook also had the same mode, but this version looked a lot different.

HELIN PIEDRA…, my worthy adversary.

Now, both games were developed by the same publisher, Tetris Online, Inc, so it’s really not surprising that they seem very similar. However, the differences are much telling than the similarities.

Tetris Friends is essentially what a Tetris fiend expects when playing Tetris — five preview slots, a hold slot, and nothing else. No frills and no additional things to worry about.

But look at the Tetris Battle.

I’ve boxed the differences for you!

First off, let’s look at the bottom of Tetris Battle. Most prominently, there is the friend bar, asking poor, lonely, Edward Martrain to invite his friends. All of a sudden, Tetris has become a social thing — like Farmville. You can see all your friends and see how good they’ve become at Tetris, and even send them little gifts. Such a thing simply does not exist for Tetris Friends.

Next, you see the Shop and the My Stuff buttons. These people, Tetris Online, Inc, have managed to monetize free Tetris. To monetize it. They’ve introduced special items that give you an unfair advantage (the stack of three squares on the left) and have locked the preview boxes (Stack of four boxes on the right). And then, they give you the option to buy these items and unlock these preview boxes.

On the top you can see exactly how to buy things in the e-shop — with the coins and cash you earn as you play. Now, you can gain them in a couple of ways. The first, is the “Buy Cash and Coins” tab. Pretty self-extraordinarily, you buy in game currency for real world money. Next is the Earn Tetris Cash tab. Essentially, you sign up for various services and gain Cash for doing so.

Wow! Cash for FREE!

The last way to earn is to invite friends and have them sign up and possibly buy some cash.

The last difference is the blue energy bar at the top. Every game you play spend five energy. When you run out, you’ll have to wait for your energy to recharge before you can play again. Or alternatively, you could buy more energy.

When Tetris was Facebook-ized, it was also Farmville-ized. It was gimped and monetized and a million other things’d. If Tetris Friends was the valedictorian of online Tetris, then Tetris Battle is it’s cripple of a brother. Tetris Online, Inc clearly thinks that Facebook users would be satisfied to play a Farmville version of Tetris. Tetris Online, Inc believes that people would be happy to pay for what they get for free, in the return for the ability to see friends online.

And it seems like they are right. With 11 million users, Tetris Battle is in no way small.

The question is, why does this succeed? Every single game on Facebook is the same too — following Zynga’s pay for online cash strategy.

The question we should ask ourselves is why this happens. Why would Tetris Friends and Tetris Battle be so different? What is so different about the Facebook population that makes Tetris Online, Inc know they can monetize it so much more?

Gone Fishing

Today I decided to go fishing for Facebook scams.

But like, any good fisherman, I had to have the equipment.

First and foremost, I had to have a Facebook account — the metaphorical worm all the hackers would presumably come swimming up to. Of course, it couldn’t be my own — I certainly don’t want a group of Indonesian hackers to know what kind of dog my best friend had, among other, more sensitive information.

So I created one. A Mr. Edward Martrain, one who was lucky enough to get the email I also made a Facebook account for him. Unfortunately he doesn’t have any friends yet (you guys should totally make fake friends for him so he isn’t lonely).

Poor, lonely Edward.

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Colossus 2.0

Last week, I wrote about the past — Myspace (My_______) — and how it gave way to the new kid on the block — Facebook.

Back then, Myspace was the ruler in the world of social networks. It blew away all other competitors and had the most users by a huge margin. And then it died. Almost just vanished as everyone migrated to Facebook.

Will Facebook do the same? Will it simply vanish away, all but completely forgotten in a few years?

Of course, today’s Facebook is leaps and bounds better than the Myspace of yesterday. It looks better, it integrates better, and most importantly of all, it works better. Even in the very beginning it was a better than Myspace. Perhaps then, that’s why people started migrating from Myspace: Facebook was simply better.

Where Myspace had horrid user-made pages, Facebook had unified and significantly less clustered pages. Where the user-made pages expressed personality they also made it impossible to find any information about someone. You’d have to look through the virtual snowstorm and the weird cursors and the flourescent marqees to find anything. Facebook just made it easy.

Perhaps a social network would simply have to be better than Facebook in order to beat it. Just as Facebook beat Myspace by being better, perhaps the next social network would just have to be better designed.

It turns out that this isn’t so easy. Though Facebook isn’t perfect, it’s pretty darn good. It would be very hard to make something significantly better than Facebook, and only settling with something that is only a little bit better than Facebook will not work. We can look at the recent example of Google + to see how something that was better than Facebook failed. It had everything: amazing multi-way video conferencing, uncompressed pictures, even a cool new way to control who sees your content called Circles. However, it flopped, not able to convince Facebook’s users to make the move to Google+.

Perhaps, then, privacy issues will eventually bring Facebook down. Just as the accusations of facilitating the distribution of pornography caused users to shy away from Myspace, perhaps the frequent perceived privacy violations will cause people to start moving somewhere where their rights are better respected. But then, we run into the same problem: unless the privacy violations are flagrantly ridiculous, people will not go through the hassle of changing their entire way of connecting with others.

It seems to me that, short of terrible business decisions on Facebook’s part, Facebook will not really be “overthrown.” The only thing I believe will work is a slow, creeping sneaking up. A social network entrepreneur must work from the bottom up, becoming a discussion platform of choice for a core group of people (say Beiber fans), and slowly reach out from that core group. It must essentially follow the steps of Facebook (targeting college students and slowly moving out) in order to beat it.