Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2013

It’s the end of 2013, and that means it is time to look at my most popular posts of the year. Without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

The run away winner this year, and up from number 2 last year, this article still seems to be hitting the spot. I still get comments and emails around the subject, as it seems that nothing has changed – the number of people still searching for ‘Scribd Facebook’ on Google has not decreased.

#2 – RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

Last year, when this rolled in at number 1, I said:

“When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.”

I’m extremely glad to say that Season 3, which finished a couple of months back on UK terrestrial, was the best yet. It had a strong story-line, plenty of zombies, and some very fine moments between the Governor and our band of survivors. How I’m managing to keep away from reading Robert Kirkman’s original comics, I have no idea…

#3 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

In this follow up article to the original, I looked at how the rest of Facebook’s launch partners for ‘Instant Personalisation’ had fared. The quick answer? Not very well.

#4 – The album that saved my (musical) life

I’m glad this is still in the top 5. Pixies are a group that I hold close, they’ve had a massive impact on my musical direction. Without Pixies, I can’t imagine that I would ever have ended up listening to my current favourites: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Tame Impala, and Radiohead. This look at how they were using old content in refreshing new ways across social channels to engage with the next generation of fans was a pleasure to write.

#5 – Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Rounding out the top 5 for 2013 is this product review of Testimonial Monkey. I don’t write a lot of reviews, but once in a while I get approached and asked to look at new products, services, or books. If you’ve got a product that you would like to put forward, please let me know using the contact form on the About Me page. Testimonial Monkey simplified the process of getting customer feedback and had some nice features, so it was a good review to write – it’s always more difficult if the product or book isn’t as good as you had hoped. Luckily, I haven’t had many of those.

Thank you!

Many thanks to all of you who have read my articles this year, whether you left comments or not; I hope they were useful and informative. I hope to see you all again in 2014.

Cheers, James.


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Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2012

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It’s the end of the year, so alongside the rest of the blogosphere, that means it is time for a retrospective look at my most popular posts of the year. For those of you who have taken the time to read my articles this year, guest posts or otherwise, a heartfelt thanks. I hope you found them useful and informative; I’ll do my best to make 2013 just as productive.

Now, without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 – RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.

#2 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

Unlike my rant at the Walking Dead, this was an article that had some substance beyond the personal. Scribd’s use of Facebook Instant Personalisation hit all the wrong notes and deserved to be pilloried.

#3 – Unfollowing those who don’t follow back? You just don’t get it…

Another rant, this time at the misconception of some Twitter users that you should only follow someone if they follow you back. Poppycock, I say! You should follow people who you think add value, not just for the sake of a followback.

#4 – What is… Groupon

Groupon has had a tough year and is no longer the poster-company for the IPO generation. For those of you who are still unsure of what Groupon is, and what the fuss is about, here’s a starter guide.

#5 – The album that saved my (musical) life

The Pixies truly did save my musical life! They are also a great example of how to use social media channels to reengage an audience, both new and old. Old in my case…

Thanks again, and see you in 2013.

Cheers, James


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Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

Back in June I discovered that ‘Social Reading’ site Scribd had been using Facebook to personalise my user experience, but in all the wrong ways.

It’s three month’s on and I was reintroduced to the subject through a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below). It seemed that Scribd wasn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything. Not good.

As a result I decided to look a little further into the Instant Personalisation program.

Is this as far as it goes?

Instant Personalisation launched in 2010 with eight partners in tow. The eight were:

  1. Scribd
  2. Bing
  3. TripAdvisor
  4. Clicker
  5. Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Docs.com
  7. Pandora
  8. Yelp

A year on, I though it might be good to see how things had worked out for them.

Scribd

Hmmm…. I think we know about this one.

Bing

There was much fanfare about the launch, but as of today, I don’t get any Facebook personalisation. I can find the ‘Social Search‘ page, but when you try to connect to it, I get the following message:

Bing and Facebook - not working right now

Maybe it’s a UK thing, but I’ll take that as a ‘not working out right now…’

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor - home page menu

I can sign in with Facebook on TripAdvisor, but there’s no ‘instant personalisation’ going on as far as I can see. Another one that hasn’t worked out.

Clicker

Clicker - home page menu

Again, I can log in with my Facebook account, which all seems pretty sensible, but there’s no personalisation on accessing the home page. Scratch that one.

Rotten Tomatoes

Yep, we know about this too.

Docs.com

Docs.com - home page menu

At Microsoft’s Docs.com site, there’s a Social Plugin displaying activity from the Docs.com Facebook page and the ability to log in via Facebook Connect. No instant personalisation though, maybe it’s catching.

Pandora

Sorry, I can’t check this one, as it’s US-only. If someone could give me an update I’d be happy to publish it.

Yelp

Yelp - home page menu

Wow! This is a good one. At Yelp it seems that Facebook never existed. Not only is there no mention of Facebook on their home page, but when you try to create an account there’s no option to use your Facebook account. That’s a quick turnaround: launch partner to estranged relative in just 12 months.

6 out of 8 isn’t bad

So it looks as if the majority of the launch partners have seen sense. I have to say that I’m glad. I’ve got nothing against using my Facebook credentials to create a more social experience on the web, but it has to be my choice, not some faceless organisation’s.

Maybe it’s time Facebook updated the Instant Personalisation page at http://www.facebook.com/instantpersonalization/.

Scribd Screenshot


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Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

Scribd – Where the World Comes to Read

Scribd is the world’s largest social reading and publishing company. We’ve made it easy to share and discover entertaining, informative and original written content across the web and mobile devices. Our vision is to liberate the written word, to connect people with the information and ideas that matter most to them.

Or, alternatively:

Scribd – Where the World Comes to Look at Your Facebook Data.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a post about how data was the future – and the past – of the internet, and how it could be used to really improve the user experience. Sods law states that just days later I’m faced with an example of how to use it to destroy the user experience.

I read articles every day, everything from white papers to blogs to news stories. It was only a matter of time until the document I wanted to read was hosted on Scribd. I don’t have a problem with that, and initially it all seemed pretty good. Yes, I needed to log in to get hold of the document, but Facebook Connect was available and that should have eased the process. All cool so far.

It was here that things seemed to take a stroll downhill.

First, there was the odd policy of having to upload a document before I could download a document from the site. At this point I didn’t have anything ready to share, so I declined and decided to read the document online instead. A bit like SlideShare. Odd, usually you would give users an opportunity to try a service before deciding to participate in it, but not a problem.

Scribd – I get a few emails

Then came the emails. 9 emails. All telling me that I was being followed by someone. Impressive I thought… for approximately two seconds. My next thought was ‘unlikely’. Unlikely that two of my Facebook friends happened to be online at the same time and had both seen me join the service. My spider-senses were tingling.

An hour later they were deafening. Especially as my wife was following me on Scribd. She is on Facebook, she also writes a blog, but she most definitely wasn’t on Scribd. Being inquisitive, I clicked to view her profile. Apparently she joined in January 2011 – before I did.

Scribd – Julie’s ‘profile’ – note the joining date

So not only is Scribd grabbing my friend’s information from my profile, its also creating accounts ready for them. It’s just plain wrong. That’s their data, not mine, and they haven’t given permission for Scribd to hold their data; I’ve given Scribd permission to hold and use mine. And yes, I do see their name and picture being used in conjunction with an account as being a breach of that trust. They are associating their service with someone who they don’t know and have not had any interactions with.

And at no point have I had the option to opt-out of this happening.

Being kind, very kind, I can see a reason why they might act this way. After all, if you’re a Facebook Partner for the Personalisation product, you want things to look good. But if your service only has a small user base then the chance of a group of people you know stumbling across your account  – or even more unlikely, a group of people you don’t know stumbling across your account – and choosing to follow you, is very small. I can imagine the product brainstorming meeting that morning: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea, let’s just create a load of accounts every time someone logs in using Facebook! Brilliant! That’s thinking out of the box!”. Unfortunately, yes, it is out of the box, and for all the wrong reasons.

I’m not the only one who has had a similar reaction to this behaviour. Rohit Mishra made similar points in his blog post in February; although he found out what was happening in a different way. They’ve also got called out in Wired last September. You would have thought that they had learned their lesson by now, but obviously not.

Data sharing – executed correctly – has the ability to create immersive and rewarding social experiences. I think we should all take a look at Scribd so we know exactly how not to do it.

**** UPDATE 29th September 2011 ****

It was brought to my attention by a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below) that Scribd isn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything…

If you want to read more about this, I’ve looked further into Facebook Instant Personalisation here.

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