Monthly Archives: January 2011

Facebook: Social Contexts

I went to my roommate’s girlfriend’s beerpong get together about two weeks ago. It was a very fun event. We played beer pong, flip cup, kings cup and never-have-I-ever. All great fun! Of course, that was the main course, but we got appetizers in between games where we would just mingle with others. As it so happens I met someone that I hadn’t met before and as it is common in today’s world, I Facebook’d her.

I don’t really care for looking at my own profile but I think I was looking for some video I had posted in the past and I ran into something quite interesting. Facebook is now qualifying how we met people. They are adding context to our friend requests.

I don’t think most would find this interesting but I sure do. I can see Facebook aggregating information about what percentage of event-goers friend each other if they go to the same party. Maybe they can compile and compare profile information to find out what kinds of people tend to Friend Request each other (and what kinds of people will actually accept that request). I like that Facebook is recognizing how people meet and why they have accepted a request. It’s not enough for people to add each other in a vacuum, adding social contexts adds richness to the data.


It’s late as hell but I’m watching tennis.

I’m watching the Federer-Djokovic match on ESPN 2 right now and it’s such a great game. I decided that I should write this only because I haven’t written a blog post in about 6 days! That is just way too long. In my past attempts to keep a blog active I failed because I would forget about it and not keep it up. This can’t happen again. I wont let it. I want a record of my thoughts. I want to have the ability to look back and find out what I was thinking on a certain day. I want to be able to read what sort of ideas I had a week, month or year. I want to be able to read that I was watching tennis on 01/27/11.

Oh, how we grow up…

In the past three years, I have learned a lot about being a “grown up”. I definitely don’t feel like one but I definitely have the responsibilities of one. It’s a great combination. I get the freedom of being independent together with the creative freedom and playfulness of childhood. Something that has really stuck out is how I see my relationship with my parents. When I was younger (possibly as near as 3 years ago) I thought my parents were dopes. Who were they to tell me what was right? How do they know? You know, teenage angsty stuff. At around the time I started going to college, I started to change my mind about my parents. They didn’t go to college, they don’t quite have my cultural background, and a whole slew of other things that we differ on. However different or “stupid” my parents had been in the past, I saw it then in a new light. They were giving me advice that made sense. It was my lack of life-experience, not theirs, that blinded me. The more I thought about my relationship with them the more I thought about a quote by Mark Twain.

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

When we’re young we have a way of reacting to our parents decisions and ways. It’s interesting how leaving the home lets you understand more clearly what it was your parents were telling you.

On a side note, I’m not sure the quote is wholly applicable to me. Twain seems to assume that most people will not realize that it is s/he who has grown much smarter and not their parents. I think he is right in his assessment, but he is also correct in that we, as kids and teenagers, don’t see the bigger picture our parents were pushing for.

You Are IP: Comprehensive Profiling

Internet technology is becoming an important part of everyone’s life. I hardly know anyone, young or old, that doesn’t have a Facebook profile. If this is an indication of anything it’s that the world is moving towards a dual citizenship; one life is lived in the physical, the other in the virtual. This metaphor is too simplistic and divisive because your virtual life will become more and more like your physical life.

The virtual mirroring the physical the key to what I call a comprehensive profile (CP). As these online systems get focused on mirroring and helping manage physical life, they will be better at profiling who you are (i.e. you’re logging your relationships, your intentions, your purchases etc.). I’ve mentioned this sort of idea in the past. As we get more information into these systems we will have a better idea about large scale and individual human behavior. However, as my friends like to point out, not all technology is used for good.

There have been instances when services like Facebook, Google, Zynga, you have it, have violated some sense of privacy. In a sense, they are violating your privacy right now. When you clicked on this link via Facebook or Twitter, the re-route is sent back to their servers and logged. They now know that you’ve visited my page. How can this lead to something bigger? What would you say if one of these services had every website that you’ve viewed in the last month? The last year? The last 5 years? That may not seem like a big deal but the reality of the matter is that they don’t just have your websites. They have location information (pre-Facebook places et. al ), shopping information, interaction information. Sure, it’s not aggregated in one place, but I think that it wouldn’t be too hard to that.

If this were to happen, this would be a comprehensive profile. What concerns me is that this might be so powerful as to create something called an CP Fingerprint. A CPF is a pattern that arises from all the different information logged by you. That is, my CPF ≠ your CPF. I’m not sure if this sort of thing exists but something tells me that Ad Networks sure as hell wish it did. Finding that CPFs are real would be the holy grail of Advertising. Ads would be super targeted.

I’m of the opinion that super targeting might be helpful to us. They might make our lives much more pleasurable. Especially if it were integrated with real-time location information. CPFs would help networks aggregate more information from us. Imagine that computers could play 20 Questions and find you. What do I mean? Let’s imagine that you are an active member of the interwebs and have been for the past 5 years. The amount of information you have created is immense. Let’s also suppose that CPFs are real. What would happen if you decided that you wanted to start anew? You get a new computer, you leave your spouse and kids, you leave your job, you change internet provider and you create new service accounts under a new name. A clean slate.

Or so you think. What if these computers check new users or accounts and track them in search of a pattern. In this case, the system will have more than 20 questions. It may have thousands upon thousands of data points at week. What if it could compare profile trends to its past and current profiles?

I’m not sure if there are technical or theoretical ideas that reject the possibility of CPF’s existing. I can think about some difficulties but I think they are being resolved due to new mobile devices. If a whole family is using a computer it might be hard to create a CPF. It would be a family CPF. However, as more amore people are gravitation towards login services and mobile devices, this problem begins to disappear. Something tells me that they are or will be possible to construct and that these data companies are trying to create them. This could be holy grail in terms of information technology. Just as we like to think we are individuals in the physical world, we are individuals on the web. Just as we can leave fingerprints in the physical, we may be leaving virtual fingerprints.

Never Say Never

Why would anyone say that video chat will never take? That seems like the most absurd thing to say! In Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace thinks that this is the case. He gives three reasons for this being the case: stress, vanity and “a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech” (whatever that means).

I think that video chat will catch on and further, that it’s already on its way up! But let’s look at the first two reasons because the third is incomprehensible (if you have an idea, let me know).

DFW’s thinks video chatting is stressful because when you’re on the line with someone you can pick your nose, pick your teeth, make fun of the person on the line to a friend next to you, etc. whereas on a video call you cannot. The stress seems to come from the fact that you are now forced to focus on this screen and your undivided attention must be given to it. The problem with this train of thought is that we already do this in the real world. Sure, you can’t insult the other person without them noticing but you certainly can doodle, clip your nails and other things while talking to them.When having a conversation with someone, how many times do you find yourself checking your phone, watching tv, eating and doing things other than looking at the person’s face? We already don’t focus on people’s faces just because there are other things to do. The problem is that we are new to the technology. We’re older and feel the screen is something sacred. I’m sure the younger generation will be much more comfortable talking to people on screen.

As for vanity, I think the argument against DFW is in the same vein as the last. The screen, to the older generations, is something specials. Video chatting is so new and, in a sense, niche that we treat it as special. People are worried about how they are going to look on screen. We do this in our real life interactions as well and somehow we’ve continued having those. As the technology becomes more ubiquitous friends will chat with friends with out having to dress up. Love birds will probably still continue to get pretty because it’s what they do in the real world.

In any case, I think that DFW is incorrect in thinking that video chatting will not take off. It is already on it’s way up (look at numbers) and as the technology becomes more ubiquitous, it’s usage will match the may we have face to face interactions. I’m not saying that video chatting will take over voice calls. Voice communication certainly didn’t take over physical (or even written) communication. They will each have their own place in our society. However, it will be more common than he likes to make believe.

Further, as one last point, I like to point out that there is vanity in our voice conversations as well. People will not use their day-to-day dialect when they are being interviewed or are under the watchful eye of some authority. People will wear their normal clothes (or in my case pajamas and bed hair) with friends and suits and ties with their co-workers and bosses. Contexts matter.

Reddit Part I: Frontpagedom

On Thursday at about 5 am an image I posted on Reddit went front page. This was the first time that one of my links has gone big. There isn’t much to brag about, I suppose. I’m sure there are people that have their stuff go front page often, but this was my first time. I’m excited and want to be on that front page again. There is something just so exhilarating (more about this feeling in Part II) about knowing that people are not only voting on your submitted content but liking it. Very quickly, in this post I just want to do some quick analysis about the growth of the story.

01.13.2011; 5am: 155 adjusted up-votes

01.13.2011; 7am: 445 adjusted up-votes
01.13.2011; 9am: 1112 adjusted up-votes
01.13.2011; 11amish: 1526 adjusted up-votes

First of all, I talk about adjusted up-votes (AUVs) because it does not account for all votes. The story got a total of 9746 votes; 5638 were up-votes and 4108 were down-votes. AUVs are the overall positive votes. I wish I could have taken hour by hour or even half-hour by half-hour data points but it was late. When the story hit front page (5am) it was at about 155 points. 2 hours later (7am) it shot up to about 450 points. That’s a 300 point increase. Another two hours (9am) and the number of AUV had gained about 600 points. That’s double the point increase as compared to the first 2 hour interval. We were at about 1150 points. At this point the story stated to fall out of the front page ending finally at around 11am and going on to the second page.

What is interesting is that I found that the story fell out of the front page when the up-vote/down-vote dynamic (UDD) hit below 60%. If you look at any of the top stories on Reddit, you’ll see that none of them are below a 60% threshold. You will also find that they will not go onto the front page unless the story hits the vote threshold. I have found that this vote threshold is very close to 40 or 50 AUVs with ≤60% UDD. This is probably something that experienced Redditors already know. In my case, I have only been on Reddit 6 months and only moderately active. Next time I place a piece of content on Reddit, the minute I see it gaining traction I will take better analytics.

Managing Society in a Digital World

Information about people is being collected by private companies every day. Whether you know it or not (if you’re a casual users, you probably don’t) they are tracking your every online more. They track what friend’s you going to, what sites you’re looking at, what check-out method you choose, etc. It’s all stored in large server farms all over the world. What’s more important is that your online identity is starting to connect with your offline identity. You upload pictures about things you have done, you check into locations, you mention how you feel etc. Mobile devices have made this sort of information much easier to create and collect. It seems like the government, in an effort to grow online commerce, wants to create a verified online identity for you.

What does this mean? What it means is that it will become much harder to commit online fraud. There will be a database of identities that will help corporations and consumers understand that they are both authorized sellers and buyers. This will be revolutionary. It will also create a great amount of information that companies can use to personalize and socialize the web.

This authorization system can even be expanded into “scarier” areas. With the coming of NFC chips in phones, we will see credit cards disappear. People will make mobile payments via their phones. This is not scary in itself, but the idea of a whole credit profile scares people. You’re naive if you think your credit card company doesn’t already have a profile on you now. This online identity could be expanded to other mobile and cloud services. Imagine your ID or your social security tied to this database and by proxy, your mobile device. I can see stores IDing and charging people all at the same time. Imagine walking up to the register and waiving your phone at an EasyPay station and having that information being sent to the database where your credit information is cross referenced with your ID. That is, only 21 year olds will be sold alcohol. Interestingly enough, a check-in could be added to the profile. This could happen when you go to bars as well.

I think people don’t realize how much information they already give out and aren’t concerned. This is the evolution of the internet. Information will be shared with private and public entities and it will make the world a much better place. It will be harder to sell alcohol to minors. We can track criminals via their phones [the database will keep a record of the phone IMEI and their name and a whole host of other information].

This is all a good decade away, but managing society will become easier when we allow personal information to pass freely between trusted entities. On the other hand, it might become harder to be bad and a once trusted entity may not be so in the future.