February 2011 – Stay N Alive

Like ’em or Hate ’em, Paypal May be the Best Checking Account Alternative for Business Banking

Most of you know my relationship with Paypal. They sent my wife away in tears on a recent Ebay transaction, and their customer service can be horrible at times (I’m now out $230 of my own money because of it, and because supposedly they can’t trust me). At the same time I’m on their Developer Council and I love ’em to death, because as a developer I feel I have a voice with them. Regardless, when compared to my bank, I see Paypal in an entirely different light than the situation with my wife. Without a doubt, Paypal is one of the most innovative banking solutions out there right now, and that’s hard to ignore. I wonder, could Paypal be a decent replacement to my business checking account at my bank? I’m starting to think it could very well be.


Let’s start with their biggest strength. Paypal is by far one of the most innovative banking platforms on the planet right now. They are entirely set up to work virtually. They were one of the first to set up online money transfers. With just an email address I can send money to someone. I can set up, and take credit card transactions, entirely online. I can scan checks with my cell phone and they go into my Paypal account. They’re attached to Money Market funds that produce interest on my checking account. I was even able to order a debit card online, and now I can withdraw actual cash from my Paypal account.

Let’s add to all the additional payment services I can use and set up, all online. I can add, just by copying simple HTML, a payment widget to my website if I want to take payments. I can set up shopping carts with ease. I can integrate to payments, deposits, and more, all through a developer API. My banks can’t do that.

With my bank, especially my business account, my options are limited. I don’t yet have online check deposit capabilities on my business account.  I don’t have an API to access payments. Heck, for many business checking accounts you don’t even make interest on your accounts! Granted, my personal account situation is much better – I use USAA, whose services are second to none, but let’s stick to business for purposes of this post.

Customer Service

As I mentioned, Paypal customer support sent my wife away crying because we just happened to throw away our shipping receipt for an Ebay transaction that went bad 2 months after the fact. However, if I contrast that with my business banking account, that’s not so bad. With them there is no leverage – if you make a late payment, you get a fee, no leeway. I have to travel somewhere to get any sort of personal service, and calling them takes long waits on the phone. My bank is constantly trying to find new ways to charge me more money. At my bank I have very little protection if someone makes a fraudulent purchase from my bank account. I just don’t see that as much from Paypal. Compared to my business banking, Paypal looks pretty good!

Maybe my experience is different than yours. For my banking solution I have to have a multi-state banking solution that has offices in Delaware, considering my business is a Delaware LLC and my business is almost entirely virtual. So I guess my options are limited. However, Paypal is starting to seem like an awfully good solution to me right now to replace my business checking account. True, they’re not FDIC insured, but is the FDIC even viable any more? I’m starting to think my money may actually be better protected with a solution like Paypal, vs. the FDIC.

What do you think? Are there any better solutions for business banking out there? Should I consider moving my business accounting entirely to Paypal? I’m starting to think that may be a good option.

How to Replace Twitter With Facebook

I just wrote about how Twitter is becoming much less necessary for me.  In this post, I’d like to show you how, with just a few steps, you can get exactly what you’re getting on Twitter and more with just a Facebook account and a Page you administer.  It’s actually really simple now.  Here are the steps:

  1. Set up your Facebook Account. You’ve probably already done this, but if not, just go to Facebook.com, enter your details, and click “Register”.  Log in, and you’re set!
  2. Create your Facebook Page. You can do this at Facebook.com/pages.  I also cover this in detail in Facebook Application Development for Dummies soon to be released.  Create one that mimics your Twitter Profile.
  3. Go to your Facebook Page, and click “Use Facebook as (your Page name)”. You’ll see the options on the right change to “Use Facebook as (your Profile name)” when this has worked.  Also, note that if you already have a Facebook Page, just go to the new Page, upgrade it to the new profile, and you should also have these options.
  4. Click the big “Facebook” logo in the upper-left. You’ll now be presented with a news feed, just like the one you would normally see on your profile.  Looks familiar, doesn’t it?  It probably doesn’t have much information in it right now though.  Now you need to make that News Feed valuable.  You’ll do that with step 5.
  5. Find interesting Facebook Pages, and click “like”! On the right you should already be presented with some suggestions for Facebook Pages.  Click “like” on those if you like them.  Or, find friends and brands that you like via the search box and click “like” on those as well.  The more you click “like” on, the more you’ll have appear in your feed.  Looks a lot like Twitter, huh?  In fact, you could create multiple Pages, and use those as “lists”, each one following accounts that are relevant to just that Page.  Click “use Facebook as (Page Name)” for each Page, and you’ll get a new view of different types of users to follow on each.  Scoble ought to like this one 😉

Replacing Twitter Search

At the moment I’ll admit, Facebook Search isn’t quite as granular as Twitter search.  However, you can get search results from status updates, as your personal account, or as your Page.  Just type in “facebook” into the Facebook search box as an example and click on “See more results for Facebook” in the drop down.  Then, click on “Posts by everyone”.  You’ll immediately see a real-time stream of updates from people, that updates in real-time, of people and Pages posting in public about “facebook”.  Try it with other terms, like “Scoble”, for instance.

There’s also another, more advanced, way you can search.  It’s sort of a hack, but definitely possible, and something I also show you in Facebook Application Development for Dummies.  By calling https://graph.facebook.com/search?q=scoble&type=post in your browser you should get a parseable result set back from Facebook with all public Profile and Page results mentioning “scoble”.  You could technically call https://graph.facebook.com/(id) (replacing id with the id of the user or Page) on each post and look to see if the object type is a user or a Page.  Or maybe it doesn’t matter.  I imagine Facebook will get more granular with these results in the future though.  You can also, with some advanced magic, get back all the posts from Pages your Page subscribes to that match “facebook” or “scoble”.

What’s Missing Still

  • Search. Of course, Facebook still needs more search options compared to Twitter for them to be an exact parallel.  Twitter’s search was built to index and retrieve granular data at the user level, and you can subscribe to each resultset as simple RSS.  Facebook just doesn’t have this yet, although I wouldn’t doubt they see the power in this.  After all, Facebook’s CTO, Bret Taylor, founded FriendFeed, and they have perhaps an even more granular (when it’s working) search than Twitter has.  I have no doubt Facebook recognizes the value in this.
  • Lists. With Facebook, even before Twitter, you could organize your friends into lists of users you can follow and organize by list.  This is yet to be released for Pages.  While, as a user, you can organize a list of Pages, a Page cannot yet create its own lists.  Where a Page is more comparable to a Twitter account, adding list support, and public list support (which others can subscribe to) would significantly increase the value Facebook has compared to Twitter.  Public lists are one of Twitter’s crown jewels right now.
  • Firehose. Twitter charges for this as a whole and actually makes it very accessible compared to Facebook.  Right now I’m pretty sure you can get access to Facebook’s firehose if you have money and the right contacts and reasons to do it.  However, Facebook doesn’t make this very easy.  Maybe it’s rightfully so in that only a few developers and companies can be capable of even handling such data, but Twitter does make this pretty easy to access via services such as Gnip.  I argue this is an advantage Twitter has over Facebook right now.

What else am I missing?

Some Things Facebook Has That Twitter Doesn’t

While Facebook still misses some elements that Twitter provides, there are still features Facebook has, that, IMO, make it an even more valuable solution than Twitter, namelyI:

  • Insights. Facebook provides very granular data on how well each post is doing, demographics that are visiting the Page, growth of the Page over time, and much, much more.  Twitter has been rumored to be making a similar analytics suite, but has yet to release anything comparable to what Facebook provides.  (I wouldn’t count Twitter out of providing one in the future, though)
  • Richer, inline content. Facebook shows photos, videos, links, and more that a Page has posted.  You can also view the same, all inline, with the News Feed view of those accounts you’ve liked.  With Twitter, you have to click on each post, and only occasionally that content appears on the right column of Twitter.com.
  • Viewing Wall Posts of Other Users. On Facebook, as a Page admin, I can enable the default view of my Page’s Wall to be posts to the Wall by other people that have “liked” the Page.  This is an interesting strategy if your brand has a devoted audience, as it’s a great way to show people that are interested in your brand and show that you have a loyal following.  It’s also a great way to maintain a positive perception of your brand.  With Twitter there is nothing even close to this.
  • Events. Each Page can create its own events, that other users on Facebook can RSVP and have their friends see they RSVP’d.  This is built into Facebook, making it an integrated part of the experience, and a very viral tool for getting information out about a particular event occurring surrounding yourself or your brand.
  • Customization and Branding. With Twitter I get a background and a profile picture.  While Facebook doesn’t allow background images, it does allow a default, full HTML view, for every Facebook Page that chooses to do so.  Therefore, I can set it so the first time you visit my Facebook Page you are presented immediately with a welcome message from me and any other relevant information. This is very powerful!  (I show you how to do this in Facebook Application Development for Dummies)  You can’t do this with Twitter.
  • Advertising. As I mentioned earlier, frequent requests to promotedtweets@twitter.com return no response (others are tweeting me saying they’ve seen the same, despite spending millions on Facebook).  There is no interface to create ads for the common user.  It’s almost impossible to advertise on Twitter.  On Facebook, it’s as simple as visiting http://facebook.com/ads and following the instructions.  In fact, I can see close to exactly how many impressions I’m going to get through my ad on Facebook.  Facebook has been pretty transparent in this.

What else am I missing?

There’s no doubt Facebook is making it harder and harder to justify Twitter any more.  For many, this article may actually convince you.  My hope is that a) Twitter realizes this and adapts to compete, or b) Facebook realizes this and closes the final missing pieces to remove all needed functionality that a Twitter account can provide.  There are actually very few of those missing pieces any more!

If you haven’t yet considered a Facebook Page or the possibilities it can provide, now may be the time to start considering if you’re on Twitter.  Assuming Twitter does get acquired, or Facebook does continue competing the way it has, you’re going to want an audience on Facebook just the same as you have on Twitter.  More importantly, build your own presence and blog so it doesn’t matter any which way what network you’re on!  2011 will be an interesting year, that’s for sure.

With Facebook’s New Page Design, Do We Really Need Twitter?

(Alternate Title: “Twitter: 3 Years Later and Nothing’s Changed”)

Talks of acquisition, deprecation of whitelisting, charging for API access – Twitter’s doing all they can to reduce cost and become more profitable.  It’s actually a typical story for them.  I’ve written the same post several years in a row – about 4-5 years strong and Twitter still hasn’t changed.  Yet, it seems Facebook is always changing, and they’ve been around for almost the same time.  I’ve been looking for the excuse for years now (remember when I quit Twitter, and came back?) to be able to reduce my usage on Twitter.  The fact is I’ve got almost 30,000 followers on Twitter, and it’s a great megaphone for me to get word out and share.  I’m not required to have a 2-way relationship, and people can just click “follow” and they’re immediately getting my updates in their stream.  Until recently, Facebook made that really hard – it was hard to be a brand on Facebook, follow others, and build real relationships as a brand.  However, Facebook changed that recently, when they started allowing brands to “like” other brands and Pages and follow them in a stream, just like a normal user’s account, with their new Facebook Page redesign.  Now, I can “Use Facebook as (my page)” and see other public, more anonymous, accounts just like I do on Twitter.  There really isn’t much difference!  And I get more features!

Twitter has much fewer active users (they quote in the hundreds of millions, yet when I look at my sample of that data, only 30% of Twitter’s users have more than 20 updates total!), much less engagement, and it’s much harder to organize the conversation.  Let’s add to the fact that as a brand I’ve sent numerous email requests to the company asking to advertise with no response back.  On Facebook it’s much easier to represent yourself as a brand, it’s much easier to network, and there are so many more integration points to share and get into people’s conversations!  I have weekly conversations with my Facebook account rep.  I get Insights telling me how well my posts are doing.  I have a self-serve ad interface where I can get real-time stats on how many people my ads go to.  I have accounts with hundreds of thousands of users as an audience.  I have APIs and Search APIs and Real Time APIs to all these public accounts as a developer.  I’m really starting to think, is it really worth using Twitter any more?

In an era where the competition is fierce, has more features than you do, and is more appealing to brands, where the money is, I’m afraid it might be the time to sell for Twitter.  I’ve suggested before that Twitter would end up in an acquisition and I fear if they can’t start competing faster and better, they’re going to get left out in the dust, with a lower and lower value.  I hope they can prove me wrong, that they can accomodate brands better, and start competing with the likes of Facebook, but I’m afraid Facebook’s recent move makes Twitter an even less necessary platform for brands than ever before.

Maybe I’m wrong – can you share with me why you think Twitter is still more valuable than Facebook for users, developers, and brands?  I admit I’m now out of options.

Image courtesy http://www.chaaps.com/facebook-vs-twitter.html

UPDATE: See my latest post, “How to Replace Twitter With Facebook” if you want to know how to do this.

Families Can Be Together Forever

I hope you’ll forgive this diversion from tech so I could share something that touched me.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (my employer, and Faith) just released this video and I just had to share it.  It’s based on a song I’ve sung since a kid.  In my faith this carries a particularly powerful message.  It’s called, “Families can be Together Forever”.  Here are the words:

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.

Families can be together forever,
through Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family
and the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me how I can.

Be sure to watch the video below:


You can learn more about what Mormons believe about family on Mormon.org.

"Super Indexing Sunday" Breaks World Record With 2 Million Records Indexed in a Day

Facebook has quite a database with 500 million active users, and rumored total users in the billions.  There are few that can relate to the types of problems engineers and architects encounter with a database of that size.  FamilySearch.org is one of those, with a claimed database size of over 1 billion individual records, and possibly comparable numbers in associated documents and files.  Their Facebook Page claims over 400 million records indexed since 2006, and a goal to do half that number in just 2011!  Today FamilySearch.org broke another record, with an organized “Super Indexing Sunday”, claiming over 2 million records indexed in just one day, breaking their previous record of 1.9 million.

What is Indexing?

For those unfamiliar with Family History or Genealogy research, “Indexing” is the process of taking scanned in images and putting them in searchable, text form that others can easily find.  Similar efforts are going on in smaller scales with Archive.org, the Gutenberg project, and other organizations, but FamilySearch.org seems to have mastered this technique (arguably, Ancestry.com is pretty good at this as well).  With modern technology, FamilySearch has found ways to quickly and efficiently scan in records, then use its army of 400,000 volunteers (over half of those aren’t Mormon, the LDS Church being the parent owner of FamilySearch.org) to index those records for searching and attaching those records to applicable individuals in users’ Family History.

Example records indexed are Census records, Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Civil Registrations, and Marriage Certificates.  With such a worldwide effort it is becoming easier and easier for individuals around the world to prove their lineage and ancestry, and know more about their ancestors.  See the video below for a glimpse at what goes on to make this happen.


“Super Indexing Sunday”

That’s why today is particularly important.  Today, as others were watching the Greenbay Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl, potentially hundreds of thousands of people were participating in breaking a new world record in the number of records indexed in a day.  The event “Super Indexing Sunday” was organized by a person not affiliated with FamilySearch.org, Ken Sisler, a Family Historian who lives in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.  It was a grassroots event started on Facebook, and spread to hundreds or even thousands on Facebook as all rallied around this event.  I’m sad to admit that despite my employment at the LDS Church, I had not even heard of this until the event was over.

This evening the FamilySearch Indexing Facebook Page announced that over 2 million records had been indexed in a single day.  Assuming the 1.9 million record from before is correct, that would make this a new world record, and goes to show that Family History and Genealogy are things that aren’t going away any time soon.  To me this is an amazing feat!

If these types of efforts continue, FamilySearch.org is going to have no problem growing by almost half its size in indexed records for the year.  As the world’s largest database for genealogical information, I think they could easily say that they could compete for the title of one of the largest databases of individual data in the world.  To me, this makes FamilySearch.org one Web 2.0 website that is worth paying attention to.

You can participate in the FamilySearch Indexing effort at http://indexing.familysearch.org/.

Disclosure: FamilySearch.org is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my employer.  While I am employed by the Church, the statements herein are my own opinion and do not constitute official word or doctrine from the Church or its counterparts.  To be clear, I have not recently talked to FamilySearch.org and the information contained is all information I gathered from publicly available resources – I have no insider information.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s cool technology and something my readers might be interested in.