Twitter – Stay N Alive

With New API, Twitter Attempts to Kill Autofollow Apps

Just this last week Twitter retired their long-lived 1.0 API for developers. This API was the first “versioned” release, a breath of fresh air in many ways for developers that were tired of API updates breaking their code. On June 11th, Twitter forced all devs to upgrade to their 1.1 API however, breaking many developers’ apps in the process (mine included). What hasn’t been said yet is that autofollow apps (apps that automatically follow people that follow you) seem to be out of luck with this new update, and no word yet from Twitter.

The problem with 1.1 lies in a new set of rate limits. Developers are allowed to make a certain number of calls per API method, meaning each method can only be called a certain number of times within a given time frame. This, I’m sure, is freeing up all kinds of resources and money on Twitter’s servers.

However, for apps relying on regular updates to a person’s social graph (their followers or friends), this reeks havoc on those apps. The rate limit currently for just getting the ids of a single user is 15 API calls per 15 minutes. Here’s the problem: you have to make a single API call for every 5,000 friends or followers that user has. Twitter’s API requires apps to “page” through a user’s friends and followers 5,000 at a time. This is great if a user has under 75,000 friends, but once you make that API call over 15 times to get a user’s friends, you’re stuck waiting another 15 minutes to get the rest of their friends. Now imagine if that user or brand has over 100,000 friends or followers! Or what about over 1 million! It’s impossible for an app that is trying to evaluate a person’s social graph to always know a person’s followers or friends in that rate limit, rendering apps like auto-follow, or even simple social graph analytics, impossible.

When you think about it, this might make sense per Twitter’s current business model. For users and brands with over 75,000 followers, I’m willing to bet Twitter would love to have them as customers. Many of those can afford an account rep that can take care of custom requests. In addition, Twitter now has their own analytics to track a user’s social graph growth over time. So maybe Twitter is discouraging these types of apps. I’m fine with that as long as they are open about it.

If this is the direction Twitter is going, I have to say I’m used to it. To be honest I haven’t been putting much effort into my own service that has focused on the social graph of Twitter users, SocialToo, because of it. In many ways it has just become another “hole” filler in Twitter’s API history. As a developer though, this is certainly discouraging, and even further driving me away from Twitter’s developer platform.

I hope I’m wrong. I’ve asked in the Twitter developer forums with no answer yet. Is there another solution I’m missing? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do another post showing how to do it.

The Fight for #Conversation – Will There be a Migration From Twitter?

There’s no doubt that Facebook launching hashtags is a big thing, especially for marketers, but I think for users too. Now you can add a simple keyword prefaced by a pound sign (#) to any post or comment and immediately let others click and see the entire conversation around that particular keyword. This is really what defined Twitter – it was the ability to have organized conversations through hashtags that made Twitter a breeding ground for conversation.

Now Facebook launches hashtags, bringing the same breeding ground for larger conversations to a massive, billion+ active user network and now you’ve got a serious conversation on your hands. To me, this makes Facebook 10 times more valuable than Twitter in terms of the larger conversation, and it really makes me wonder – will people have as much motivation to use Twitter as they get used to hashtags on Facebook?

On Twitter I know of many that use hashtags to start large conversations and bring attention to a particular topic. Occasionally these conversations trend and other users chime in. While Facebook doesn’t yet have trending terms, they are rumored to be launching those soon. What happens when these larger conversations move over to Facebook where a majority of the “local” conversations are happening? Will people have reason to use Twitter any more? If I were Twitter I’d be worried when both Facebook and Google (through Google+) are offering this feature. Twitter’s competition is just too big.

Add to hashtags the other features Facebook provides, namely:

  • Privacy controls
  • Rich, embedded images
  • The inclusion of your closest family and friends in the conversation (that may be a plus or minus)
  • Events
  • Threaded comments
  • No character limit
The list goes on… I think you’ll see more and more people using Facebook for these conversations and ending their use of Twitter. I always hesitate to declare “the death” of anything. I do think Twitter should be concerned though, and I hope they continue to define themselves and staying away from the areas Facebook clearly has the upper hand in. The conversation, through hashtags, especially now, is definitely one of those.
Are you a big Twitter user? Now that Facebook supports hashtags will you use Twitter as much as you used to? Feel free to discuss in the comments.

"The Chappys": How a Utah Construction Manager Built His Own Trending Awards Show on Twitter

I’ve talked before about how growing a Twitter audience is simple. It turns out it’s even more simple than I thought – The Deseret News (owned by the company I work for) wrote today about a local Utah construction manager who created his own Twitter awards show called “The Chappy Awards”. In his “virtual award show” Dustin Chapman awarded various celebrities and media “Chappy Awards” on Twitter, and before he knew it, #2013Chappys was a trending term on Twitter and hundreds were all getting in on the fun.

Chapman, who created the awards show to (according to the Deseret News) “encourage the media. When something happens, I’m on Twitter following reaction. I’m more likely to turn to news stations and media sources that post things regularly on Twitter than not.”

And encourage the media he did. Awarding several local news celebrities a Chappy Award, he got numerous positive reactions from the award out of excitement (hey – who doesn’t like to win something?). They posted to their Twitter feeds their excitement for the award, and their some times much larger audiences would then learn about the Chappy Award and Chapman’s account @itschappy in the process. His Twitter account grew significantly throughout the day.

So if you’re looking for more followers on Twitter, start your own awards show. Create a hashtag, pick some well-known people, and boom-instant followers as they thank you for your kind gesture.

Some day I too will win a Chappy…

Check out the Deseret News article by Landon Hemsley here!

Where is Your Audience?

Google+ is all the rage right now. For those that can get in, it’s all they can talk about on Google+. For those that can’t get in, it’s all they can talk about outside of Google+. Or so it seems – that’s what the people I follow and pay attention are doing. It doesn’t mean that’s what the people in your network are doing, and in fact, there are many people out there that don’t even know what Google+ is at the moment – I would predict that’s the majority right now.

Google+ is all about “Circles”. We all have different types of “Circles” of friends. Each of these “Circles” is a different audience and each of them probably talks about different types of things. I have an entire circle of hundreds of LDS friends (I work for the LDS Church) on Google+, and their conversations are much different than the Circle I have of Tech bloggers and influencers. At the same time I have circles that aren’t even on Google+. My family, for instance, minus one or two, are all over on Facebook – that’s where I go to talk about family related stuff, and you’ll probably find a much more personal “me” over there. In fact, if that’s your audience, come see me over there.

At the same time, I have certain “circles” over on Twitter that don’t exist on Facebook or Google+ – for instance, I’ll hear a lot more about what my Twitter employee friends are up to over there. Or, on LinkedIn, I have “circles” of professional friends – if I ever want to hire, or have a professional-related question, you better bet I’ll go to LinkedIn for such. The way I met people like Robert Scoble and Chris Pirillo was on Friendfeed of all places.

Did you know that Myspace is still one of the most popular networks for kids age 13-18? Now, that’s quickly diminishing as kids move over to Facebook, but as a marketer, I’d consider going to Myspace if my audience is 13-18 year olds. That would be a major part of my business strategy.

The future of “Social Networks” aren’t social networks at all. The fact is, and Charlene Li at Altimeter Group has said this numerous times, social networks will “be like air” in the future. They will be integrated into everyday “circles” that you participate in.

For instance, at work many of use use Yammer to associate with other coworkers. It makes much more sense to participate on Yammer than Google+ if I’m to communicate with coworkers – there are many networks like this. The future will be full of these types of branded “circle” networks.

Imagine branded social networks for your company, or the ability to collaborate in a social way via your High School or College’s website with your classmates. You’ll never have to go to a site like Facebook or Google+ or Twitter to communicate with those closest to you, and they’ll all talk with each other. Or what if a site like or enabled families to communicate better with each other in a branded way, just for families? There would be no need to go to Facebook to communicate with family members any more.

As social networks are able to communicate better and better with each other, and more and more standards are built to federate the different circles you participate in, you won’t go to or Google+ or Twitter. You’ll go to the brands and the areas you’re most familiar with and your friends and family will “just be there”. Those are where your real “circles” are.

The fact is no social network is going to be a “Facebook killer” or “Twitter killer” or even “Myspace killer” (remember the stat I shared above?). If anything kills any of these it will be branded experiences that make it easier for you to communicate in the environments you’re most comfortable with. In the end, it’s about where your audience is, who you want to communicate with, and the best places to do that.

This will be different for every person out there – every individual, every professional, every family member, and every marketer. We all have different audiences and it’s up to you to decide which environments are the best places to reach those audiences.

Twitter is Just The Launch Partner. Will There Be "One More Thing" for iOS 5?

The blogosphere is abuzz about Apple’s announcement that iOS 5 will come bundled with built-in Twitter support. I admit I scratched my head that Apple chose Twitter over Facebook. Twitter, having only about 30-40 million active users, vs. Facebook, with near 600 million active users, seemed like the least likely choice for a service Apple’s customers would use (which one would your mom use?). Some are blaming Facebook’s reluctance to sign to Apple’s Terms on Ping. Maybe that’s it, but I don’t think Twitter’s inclusion is the full story. I think Twitter is just the launch partner for something bigger, and after playing with it myself in a developer build, I’m beginning to think Apple’s about to release something even bigger for developers, of which Twitter is just the included example.

If you look at the Twitter integration in iOS 5, it’s all part of the Twitter app. In fact, it doesn’t even work until I authenticate Twitter in my settings under the actual Twitter app itself. Then, when I view photos and other media I just hit the “share” button and I see a new “Tweet” option at the bottom of all the other share options that used to be there. I’m pretty sure that “Tweet” button is just part of the Twitter app as well. The way it’s laid out though seems to be something that could allow other apps to also add their own sharing functions.

Here’s what I think is going on: Twitter was given access to a private API Apple has provided that gives them access to that screen, and allows them to provide the interface for what happens when people want to share that item. Twitter has been given various integration points within iOS, which they can make API calls and provide interfaces that users can rely on, and other apps can tie into. Apple did not build this. Twitter did, and they’re using unreleased APIs to do so.

So what happens when Apple makes this interface available to other developers? Then, it doesn’t matter if Twitter comes bundled with the phone (they still get the first mover advantage). Facebook can create their own experience that automatically integrates with that experience when you install the Facebook app. Instagram could immediately send photos to a filtering page that then shares it on Instagram. Other social networks and entrepreneurs could create their own experiences as well which tie into that.

I’m beginning to think that Apple is onto something much bigger here with the inclusion of Twitter in this launch. I predict we’ll see APIs for this released, either in this release, or a future version, which will allow other apps tie into this interface, and you won’t have to have a special deal with Apple to do it.

Mark my words (I was right so far on my iCloud prediction after all)…

(btw, this is my 1,000th post)

With Lack of True Stats Twitter is Losing Trust of Its Users

I’m reading the MarketingPilgrim article, “As Twitter Slips, Potential Competitors Close in” – there seems to be an increasing negativity towards Twitter lately, and I only fear it will get worse. I’ve warned of this before. Twitter has been consistently reporting numbers in the hundreds of millions of users when stats of the several million member cache of users on my own servers are showing that only a fraction of that number are actually active. In fact, MarketingPilgrim agrees with me. They are claiming that “90% of the Tweets come from 25% of the people” on Twitter. The worst part is they are making it look like these numbers are comparable to Facebook’s. Intentional or not it’s going to backfire on them if they don’t start getting honest with their numbers.

In my own cache I have consistently shown 30% of users that have more than 20 Tweets in their timeline – of course, my cache is only a segment of the entire Twitter user base but I’m hearing similar from other Twitter developers that keep even larger caches than I have. The fact is Twitter is reporting correct stats. They’re just not reporting the same stats as their competitors, and that’s a huge illusion, creating confusion as it was intended to.

Here’s the problem. I’m sure Twitter is purposely reporting the higher number – the total of their stats – in order to sound like they are bigger than they are. I don’t blame them for this.

What I worry however is that users will catch on, and as a result, users will never be able to trust the numbers that Twitter releases. When Twitter releases a big number in the future, there will always be a question in the back of users’ minds on whether the number Twitter is releasing is the same number being counted by any one of Twitter’s competitors. Let’s face it – I heard a rumor from a former Facebook employee that if Facebook were to count its entire user base like Twitter is doing they would easily be in the billions of users. Does Twitter really want to play this game?

Let’s go ahead and compare this further with Facebook. Since almost the beginning, I have been able to go to Facebook’s Press page and get open, honest stats about the service. Facebook shared these numbers since they were under 100 million. I know because I shared it in my first book, way back in 2007. Not only that, but they have always been clear that the number being shared is active users – not total users, and that 1/2 of those active users log in to the site at least once daily. Sure, we could argue on Facebook’s definition of active, but we do know that at least half of the  number Facebook is reporting is indeed active users. Twitter can’t even vouch, or isn’t even vouching for that.

That’s a stark contrast to the 25% of the people being reported by Marketing Pilgrim. Perhaps Marketing Pilgrim is wrong. Perhaps my stats are wrong. We’d never know though because Twitter isn’t being honest from the start.

If your competitors are sharing active user counts and bloggers are reporting active user counts of that competitor, you too should be honest and share the same. That would be the right thing to do, and I’d then be able to trust Twitter when they share their numbers.

Twitter, regardless of numbers, is a force to be reckoned with. As a social strategist, I know, even though Twitter has smaller numbers and not as significant an engagement rate as Facebook, it still has huge value to me and the brand I represent in terms of how public the network is and the ease it is to learn about what others are saying about me and my brand. The sheer size of Twitter isn’t what makes Twitter valuable to me. It’s the openness of the network. That’s why I don’t understand why Twitter can’t take the brave move to gain its users trust and let us know the real numbers.

I would really like Twitter to step out and share their real numbers. What is their active user count? How many log in through any Twitter client daily? Let’s start there, and when they get to 100 million of those, then we can start comparing them to Facebook and the others. Until then let’s accept Twitter’s value for what it is. Let’s also accept that Twitter’s not Facebook, nor is Facebook Twitter. They are 2 different sites, and I really want to trust both of them when they share their numbers.

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, enter your details, and click “Register”.  Log in, and you’re set!
  2. Create your Facebook Page. You can do this at  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 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 (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
  • 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 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 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

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

Privacy is Not an On and Off Switch – "Do Not Track" is Not the Answer

Victoria Salisbury wrote an excellent blog post today on “Who’s Creepier? Facebook or Google?“.  I’ve been intrigued by the hypocrisy over criticism of Facebook’s own very granular privacy controls when sites like Google, Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter, and others have an all-or-nothing approach with some things (location and email in particular) that are even more private than anything Facebook is currently making available at the moment (if you want some good examples read Kim Cameron’s blog).  The fact is that Facebook, despite the amount of private data available, will always be my last resort as a hacker when I want to track data about an individual online due to the granular control of data available, and lack of default public data.  However, despite all this, even Facebook isn’t at the ideal place right now in terms of privacy. The fact is my private data is still enclosed on Facebook’s servers, and with that, there will always be some level of risk in storing that data, no matter where it is.  So what’s the solution?

Browsers such as Mozilla and Chrome are now beginning to implement “fixes” around this problem of tracking data about users across online services (note my article on how even Wall Street journal is tracking data about users), called “Do not track.”  The extension, or in some cases native browser functionality, seeks to give users the option of completely turning off the ability for sites to track a user around the web, removing any personalization of ads and in some cases the removal of ads completely from the browsing experience.  This experience is fine and dandy – it gives the user an option.  But as my friend Louis Gray puts it, “all it does is ensure off-target ads with a crappy experience.”  It is clear an on and off approach is the wrong approach, and I fear those behind these extensions and browser integrations are missing out on an important opportunity.

So where can we go from here if “Do Not Track” is not the answer?  The answer lies in the problem I stated above – the problem being that individual user information is being stored on 3rd party servers, without the control of users and assumed risk of relying on a 3rd party.  We saw this as Facebook made a temporary mistake earlier in 2010 when they launched Instant Personalization on 3rd party websites along with other 3rd party website features, but in doing so accidentally opened up a majority of their users private information with little notice to users (I did get an email warning of the change, however).  Facebook quickly fixed the privacy problem with even better privacy controls than before, but by that point the damage was done.  It was proof positive that there is huge risk in storing private information on 3rd party websites.  The advice I give to customers and users and news organizations in interviews I give is, “if you’re not okay sharing it with the world, don’t share it at all, regardless of privacy controls.”  It’s an on or off solution at the moment, and I’m afraid there are no better choices.

There is a solution though.  Chrome, and Firefox, and IE, and every browser out there should be working towards this solution.  We need to take the granular controls that sites like Facebook provide, and put them in the browser.

Awhile back I spoke of a vision of mine I call “the Internet with no login button.”  The idea being that using open technologies (we already have Information Cards, for instance), the more private information about users can be stored in the browser, reducing the risk of that information being shared by accident with 3rd party websites.  Rather than something like Facebook Connect (or Graph API), for instance, a browser-driven version of OpenID would control the user authentication process, identify the user with a trusted provider (Facebook, Google, Religious institutions, Government institutions, you choose), and then be able to retrieve private information about individuals directly from the browser itself.

The fact is I already use tools to do some of this.  1Password, for instance, allows me to keep a highly encrypted store of my passwords, credit card, and other data on my hard drive and provide that data, as I choose, to the websites I visit.  A browser-native experience like this would make this process automatic.  I would specify which sites I give permission to have my data – name, address, phone number, email, location data, etc. – and I would also be able to choose what users have access to that data.  I could then choose to store my more public data on services such as Facebook and elsewhere, with the same option to still store it on my own hard drive if I choose.  With such a fine-tuned integration my more private information is completely in my own control.  My browser controls access to the data, not any 3rd party website or developer.

At the same time keys could be given to 3rd party websites to store my data on their servers.  In order to render that data, they need my computer’s permission to render the data.  The solution is not quite evident yet, but some how a trusted, separate service should be able to provide the permissions to render that data, and when that permission is revoked, all data, across all 3rd party websites, becomes disabled.  Or maybe just a few sites become disabled.  The goal being control is completely handled by the user, and no one else.  Maybe sites get disabled by my browser sending a “push” to the sites, forcing their data of mine to delete completely off their servers (or render useless).

Chrome and Mozilla have a huge opportunity here, and it’s not to provide an on or off switch for privacy.  I should be able to decide what information I want to be able to provide to ads displayed to me, and that data shouldn’t come from Facebook, Twitter, or Google.  My browser should be controlling that access and no one else.  Privacy belongs on the client.

I’m afraid “Do Not Track”, in the browser or by government, is no the answer.  There are better, much more granular solutions that browsers could be implementing.  It is time we spend our focus on a dimmer, not an on-and-off switch, for the open, world wide web.  I really hope we see this soon.

Miss Those Old Style Retweets on Try This Kynetx Extension

One of my biggest annoyances with the new Twitter API has been the migration to the new “retweet” structure where clicking the retweet button pulls the person’s Tweet into your own stream, with the person’s name and profile picture attached to it.  The problem with this method is that it is not near as visible, especially on many clients that do not fully support this.  Using the old style, “RT @soandso such and such” is a much more effective medium in most cases, and, in my experience, results in many more people sharing and seeing your message.  Evidently I’m not alone, as Mike Grace, a developer for Kynetx, wrote his own extension for Firefox and Chrome, which adds a old-style retweet link next to the new-style retweet link, giving you more options in retweeting your friends’ Tweets.

The extension, built on the Kynetx platform, is just one of many useful extensions (including my “like” button extension) intended to bring more functionality, using a single extensions (and event-driven) platform to the sites you browse on the web.  According to Grace, “I got really sick of doing the copy and paste dance so I built a Kynetx app that adds the “RT” functionality that I want.”

So, if you’re looking for old-style retweets on top of, head on over to Mike Grace’s blog and download the extension.  I think it’s a pretty nifty extension!

Disclaimer: I have no ownership or interest in Kynetx other than I think they’re a really cool, Utah-based, technology startup that gets us much closer to the web with no log in button.  Oh, and they have great free lunches they offer to the public on Fridays – you should come!