August 2011 – Stay N Alive

"Relative Finder", Using, Shows the Future of Social Genealogy

Family History, or Genealogy as it is also known, is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. There’s something fascinating about learning whom your ancestors are and where you come from. In a way, we all want to figure out how we’re linked together as a world. Imagine if you could index the entire, living, human family tree. If a new app on Facebook gets its way, you may just see this some time in the near future. The Facebook App, “Relative Finder”, seeks to do just that by searching family tree data provided by a new beta of (owned by my employer), and find out which of your Facebook friends are related to you based on the family trees of those individuals.

The new beta is currently limited to congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some select test audiences, but allows for individuals to type in simple information of their immediate relatives, and if a tree exists for those individuals it automatically links your existing family tree with that of other people in the database. So in essence, much of the family history research for many of your friends, and yourself, is already done, and will be available to everyone on the site to use in due time, according to the what FamilySearch says on their site.

Relative Finder, written by a group of BYU Computer Science students working on a class project, takes advantage of this data, and uses your social graph on Facebook to scan your friend list and go into the family trees of each on, identifying the relatives found in the FamilySearch database. It then gives you a list of your friends that are related to you, and tells you how far you are related. For me, most of my friends were between 7th and 10th cousins, but I found out very quickly a couple of my Facebook friends that were actually 3rd and 4th cousins. The great thing is, unlike apps like Geni or FamilyLink or others that rely that you manually upload your data to match living relatives, all of this happens automatically because of the data provided by FamilySearch!

Right now Relative Finder requires each of your friends on Facebook to authorize Relative Finder through Facebook before it identifies them as relatives (as far as I can tell). I’m unsure though why they require this (maybe for load balancing purposes?). If they wanted, with Facebook API they could retrieve the same data about your friends by just authorizing you, and not requiring your friends to authorize. If they did it that way, then I could find out how many of all of my friends I am related to, instead of just those that authorize the app and have a beta account. Regardless, this is truly revolutionary, and shows the tremendous potential for indexing the entire family tree of every living individual on this earth. Can you imagine the world-changing potential to find out how we are all related?

At the moment only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the most part, will be able to use this app due to the limitations of the new FamilySearch. However, as soon as the new beta opens up to the public (it says “look for a future announcement” on the website), everyone should be able to use this feature. Once we do, can you imagine how fast an app like this will grow?

To me, the future of Genealogy is social. In many ways, the future of Social is genealogy. In the end this is all about finding out how we’re all related, what our common connections are, and how we can work together better as a society based on those common connections. My hope is that other sites, like Facebook and Google+ also realize this connection, and can find ways to integrate technologies like this into their own platforms so we can all learn more about each other, and share through common connections (I’m happy to make introductions if anyone at either company is interested).

Relative Finder has really exposed the tip of the iceberg in what social genealogy could look like. I really love this app, and can’t wait for everyone in the world to be able to start using it. I’ll include some screen shots below.

Disclosure: is owned by my employer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I don’t work directly with them I do occasionally talk to them. I have not talked to them or consulted with them specifically about this though, nor have I had any participation with Relative Finder, produced by a group of BYU students (BYU also owned by the Church). This is just really cool technology that, no matter where it came from, I thought needed to be shared!

Facebook to Google+: "Hey Look, We Have This Too – It’s Right Here!"

Facebook announced an expected update to its service today that is scheduled to be released on Thursday. It’s a simple one, which brings to the forefront features that Facebook has had all along and Google+ has been getting all the attention for lately: The ability to target posts and elements of a person’s Facebook profile to specific audience, and see what it looks like to that audience as a whole.

I wrote about the release of Facebook Friend Lists back in 2008 when Jason Alba and myself launched my first book, I’m on Facebook–Now What??? Soon after, Facebook made it possible to finely target posts to just those audiences – I use this feature often, although up until this Thursday, it has been buried under an interface that didn’t seem to put privacy and the realization of privacy at the forefront of the experience. For a network focused and invested in privacy and private social graphs, I always thought this was quite odd.

On Thursday, along with each post to your friends, you’ll be encouraged to select an audience for that post. That audience can be to public (there is no 100% “public” option on Facebook that search engines can see, with the exception of Facebook Pages), friends, and “customize”. It’s much more a part of the experience now, and with each post you share it will be abundantly clear who that post is being shared with. It is basically just an interface change from the functionality they had before.

Facebook has always had the ability to view your profile as other people (Google+ likely learned this from Facebook). It was just buried deep in your privacy settings (Account->Privacy Settings->Connecting on Facebook/View Settings->Preview my Profile). However, with the new change this button will be right on your profile page, just like the Google+ interface, in a nice, easy to find location. In addition, you’ll be able to click next to individual elements on your profile, much like Google+, and change your privacy settings right on your profile.

The only really new thing Facebook is rolling out with this launch is the ability to preview photos and posts you are tagged in before they appear to your friends or in the posts and photos themselves. This in and of itself is a very big change. However, the majority of changes, while very welcome changes in my opinion, are just user interface updates.

Google reacted to Facebook’s poor (yet still robust) privacy interface by launching Google+. Now Facebook has responded back by improving that interface, as I’m sure many expected. It seems as though Facebook is responding to Google, not with many new features, but a “Hey look, we have this too – it’s right here” response. Indeed, those features are there, and it will be great that everyone can finally find them and enjoy what has been my favorite feature of Facebook for the last  3 years.

To see what it looks like, you can view the screenshots below. Also, see this article on for a great overview of the new features. Here are all the new features being released on Thursday:

Mitnick’s "Ghost in the Wires" Will Hack Your Mind With Real Life Adventures in Hacking

When I was just 16 years old I got my Ham Radio license. It was then, one of probably 3 Hams my age in the school nerdy enough to care about radio wavelengths, antennas, and electrical engineering, that I gained a fascination for communication. I was fascinated that I could wirelessly tell my mom where I was over patch radio. I was fascinated that I could access the internet over Packet radio even though my parents couldn’t afford an internet connection. The world had little knowledge of the power I had at my hands in that little 2 meter radio.

It was these experiences that made me relate to the stories of Kevin Mitnick in his new book, “Ghost in the Wires” (Foreword by Steve Wozniak). In his book, he begins talking about his childhood as a ham radio operator and having the same fascinations and passion around communication I did. This fascination is what brought him into the world of hacking and social engineering, eventually making him the most wanted man in America by the FBI, landing him in a justice system at a time no one really understood computers or hacking.

Mitnick’s book takes you on a journey through his experiences in social engineering, making you realize that his secret wasn’t cracking passwords as you envision a traditional hacker, but rather becoming a master at hacking people. Every experience in the book is suspenseful, and kept me turning the pages wanting to know what happens. Every experience in and of itself could be an entire blockbuster movie. The real life experiences Mitnick faced are the works only a fiction writer could think of.

In a world where building relationships and learning to work with people through means of social networks and other tools is so important, Mitnick shows how easy it is to manipulate and “hack” the weaknesses of people to get what you want. In this book he shows his real life experiences that allowed him to satisfy a curiosity of determining whether he could conquer challenges that normal people couldn’t fix. It seemed to me he was able to always conquer every one (like the time he hacked the jail phone system while a guard was sitting right in front of him).

Constantly 5 steps ahead of the FBI, Mitnick proved that an ordinary man can outsmart the system through very simple means. This book helped me realize that none of us are truly secure, and what might be secure in our computer systems may not be secure in our minds and psychology. I also found myself sympathizing with Mitnick in many cases, realizing as a man trying to outsmart the system just to see if it could be done, the system had no sympathy for him, nor any understanding of how this man could help him. In the end, the system ended up learning and Mitnick is now one of the world’s top security experts.

If you get a chance, buy the book, “Ghost in the Wires” and read it. I find it rare that I can’t put a book down. This book was one of those rare exceptions, and I found myself embracing every page. In a time where phone tapping and hacking is vividly in the news, this book couldn’t pick a better time to come out. You’ll truly understand how insecure any system is to hackers like this, and it will put you on the defense through the real life experiences of Kevin Mitnick to be sure you yourself don’t get manipulated or hacked. I thoroughly enjoyed “Ghost in the Wires.” I hope they make a movie out of this.

Authors note: I found it fascinating that the one company Mitnick had the most difficulty getting through to (he ended up giving up due to the risk) was Utah’s own Novell. Mitnick gives strong Kudos to Shawn Nunley, Novell’s head of Security at the time and now works for FusionIO here in Utah with Steve Wozniak. Kevin and Shawn, so I’m told by Shawn, are now good friends.

Disclosure: Mitnick’s publisher sent me a free, pre-release copy of the book. The book is now available to all in book stores and

I’m a Dummy (again)! Writing Google+ For Dummies, Portable Edition

I’m proud to announce that as of this week I am going to be writing Google+ For Dummies, Portable Edition. This follows my last Dummies book, Facebook Application Development For Dummies, and will go back to my original roots (through the book I wrote with Jason Alba, I’m on Facebook–Now What???), writing easy to understand books that help people new to social networks understand how to make them productive and useful environments. It will be one of the very first books on Google+ produced by a major publisher.

Google+ For Dummies, Portable Edition will begin as a short, easy to read e-book, and expand to a print version shortly after. We did this instead of a full Dummies book because of how new Google+ currently is and its likelihood to change in the short term future. It will cover everything currently available to Google+ (and anything they release in the next month or so), and I hope to bring out the best tips, tricks, and little known secrets about the service in a jam packed, easy to read, 150 or so pages. It will likely have many more editions and will eventually compliment a much larger Dummies book on the topic.

Please stay tuned to my Google+ feed, my Facebook Page, and this blog and I’ll keep you updated on release dates and more. We hope to launch this in the next month!

In the meantime, please like the book’s Facebook Page to get updates on the launch, or you can just follow me over on Google+!