Facebook IPO brings memories of coulda-been contenders

Myspace's strength is in music promotion, but its social media model fell apart.

Of course it’s interesting watching some social media service that some college student dreamed up in his dorm become a multi-gazillion-dollar company with stock and everything. But with Facebook’s usage near the billions and other online companies hitting Big Casino on Wall Street, it was bound to happen.

Facebook didn’t popularize the Internet, and it wasn’t even the first social media site to show up. Half a decade ago it was trying to catch some crumbs dropped by Myspace. It was just another Web presence.

But Facebook, despite its security holes, privacy issues and the creep-azoid aspects of friending and poking other people, must be doing something right. Whether that sticks now that it’s gone public, well, that question won’t be answered for another few years.

While Facebook was negotiating out its initial public offering (IPO), an article came out in Mashable! about some of the other Next Big Things on the Internet. These are companies that had a great deal of popularity, broke some new ground, and fizzled. These are the companies that, if this was a boxing movie, would be telling you “I coulda been a contender.”

America Online: AOL is still around, though it’s hard to tell sometimes. The days of the free AOL demo CDs that will hook you up to the Internet for free as long as you give them a credit card number are gone. AOL was huge during the dialup days, but couldn’t gain traction as DSL, broadband and Wi-fi took over. But AOL was more than just a way to get online and drain your bank account; they were a community. The first real “walled garden” in Internet parlance. Members could get into various chat rooms and read news that was unavailable to everyone else. AOL’s Instant Messenger was revolutionary in itself, and a lady friend even considered having the (now defunct) AIM logo tattooed on her butt. Despite a disastrous merger with Time-Warner, AOL stayed alive by shifting gears. It’s now in the news business, with national (Huffington Post) and hyperlocal (Patch) up front. AOL is now in the content generation business and finding new ways to lose money.

Friendster: We’re talking late 1990s, early 2000s here. Friendster was one of the first social media sites and for a while, the biggest. I understand they still exist as a social gaming site, although I’m not sure anyone really cares.

Myspace: This was the first truly successful social media site until it collapsed under its own weight. Literally. Users were encouraged to load their pages with all sorts of gingerbread, and it often took forever for a page to load. Facebook, with its slimmer, one-size-fits-all design, ate Myspace for lunch. Myspace is still a favorite site for bands because it’s easy to upload music files, and the thing that may save the company’s butt would be to specialize in that. It’s changed hands several times and the purchase price reflects its fortunes; NewsCorp bought it out for $580 million in 2006, and later Specific Media purchased it for $35 million. Ouch.

GeoCities: Back in the early 21st Century there were several online companies that allowed you to build your own Web page to a pattern. GeoCities’ social aspect allowed users to link their Web pages by interest, so in effect writers could get together under the GeoCities network. GeoCities no longer exists, which probably means the experimental web site I threw together under its banner probably doesn’t either.

sixdegrees.com: A short-lived social site tracing the I-know-someone-who-knows-someone thing. Is it true everyone’s only six degrees (layers of friendship) from Kevin Bacon? The web site is still there, open to members only. I never bothered with it.

Second Life: Fantasy meets technology. Caught virtual fire when folks realized you can be anyone you want online. I’m sure Second Life got as much blame for divorces as Facebook does now. Second Life currency became as good as the real thing in some circles, and somehow dealing in stolen Second Life credits became a cottage industry for some unlawful types. Some of these Second-Life-based businesses kicked off its decline, along with issues with unstable servers. It still exists, if you’re interested.

Orkut: This Google company now has 66 million users, but you’d have to go to Brazil to find them. But back in the day Orkut was a social networking site with serious Google gravitas behind it. But Google does have a history of trying new things and abandoning them when they don’t pan out (see: Buzz, Wave), and the search giant is proving once again with Google+ that social media isn’t as easy as it looks.

Coulda been.


Leftover computer files, programs: Are they a problem?

A look at your hard drive may be a real blast from the past. Not just all your old files, but programs you’ve downloaded, tried and forgotten. It’s easy to clutter up a hard drive.

But is it a problem? TrendLabs seems to think so. Check out the story in Baling Wire and Duct Tape:

I have programs I haven’t used in ages, .iso files to old operating systems I’ve experimented with, notes for projects that (thankfully) died early, and aborted drafts to old blog posts. If you wish to see a profoundly disturbed mind in action, just take a look at my hard drive … “The best way to get rid of clutter is to throw it out,” TrendLabs advises. This means programs that are no longer used … good reason for that, according to Trends: “Unused programs are often left unpatched, retaining vulnerabilities that bad guys can exploit. It’s important to always patch and update programs that you decide to keep. The same applies to your OS.”

It might be a good time for spring cleaning. Unload your old programs or update them. While you’re about it, check out your social media sites for any clutter there … and please, PLEASE, delete any photos of you with Nancy Pelosi if they’re from a frat party.


If you’re a fugitive sex offender, watching porn at McDonald’s will probably put you back in jail

But at least the wireless connection was free. Folks, I can’t make stuff like this up. http://consumerist.com/2012/05/if-youre-a-fugitive-sex-offender-watching-porn-at-mcdonalds-will-probably-put-you-back-in-jail.html

The ol’ tried-and-true Facebook worms are still around

Watch out for Facebook weirdness.

From what I get, ol’ Koobface is still around.

An anagram of a popular social media site, this multi-platform computer worm is still hanging around in all its variants and wreaking havoc after all these years.

There are plenty of hoaxes and urban legends circulating around this piece of malware (like the hoary tale that it’ll burn up your hard drive), but there’s enough truth that shows what a contentious bugger Koobface really is.

In a rare show of anger against the folks who produce malware and security threats, the Facebook folks even calling the Koobface gang out. Naming names, all that good stuff.

But Koobface is still around, as you can see by checking the comment dates in this McAfee post. Some things, like pyramid schemes and chain letters, are not going away anytime soon ’cause they’re successful, right?

This came to my attention about a week ago when a friend got word of this creature through his Facebook account. What he got was a link to the Snopes site, and when he forwarded it to me (at my request) I had a look at it and immediately recognized the M.O.

For those who forgot, you might get a provocative-looking picture on your Facebook feed. When you click on it, you’ll be asked to download a viewer for the accompanying video because the one you have is allegedly out of date.

When you click on that, the fun begins.

I experienced something like this a couple of years ago. Like an idiot I clicked on a picture that showed up in my timeline via a friend, a picture that this friend never would have put up in a zillion years. Got the opportunity to download some program called flvdirect.exe — which triggered all sorts of weirdness:

  • The video was automatically sent to many people on my friends’ list.
  • The .exe file to the viewer sat in my /home/download file. I noted the name and ran a Google search. The program in question, flvdirect.exe, is billed as something that would help download torrents but is actually spyware. It’ll do all sorts of nefarious things on your hard drive and it monitors your surfing habits.
  • For the next hour or so, I heated up my high-speed Internet line. Running Google searches on the offending software. Firing instant messages back and forth with a Facebook (actually a real) friend who also got the video — from me. Posting my findings on Facebook. I finally got to bed at 2 a.m., exhausted.
  • My conclusion: Spreading malware sure is hard work.

Myself being the impulsive type, I shut down my Facebook account and started looking for other ways to communicate. It wasn’t until a year ago that I opened another account.

I’m a lot more cautious these days, steadfastly saying no to all those app requests. Third-party applications are the fastest way to screw up your Facebook experience, so I’m keeping my account an app-free one. Every so often when the app requests get heavy I’ll put up an announcement to this fact — a rude one, but not as rude as some I’ve seen:

I stole this off a friend's Facebook timeline; hope she doesn't mind.

With that thought in mind, enjoy your social media. It’s fun, a great time waster and all that. But there’s no reason to let it take your computer over.

Watch out for bugs.







New quit-Facebook move has wealth envy at its core

There are lots of reasons for a person to want to quit Facebook, but objections to how insanely rich it made its founder isn’t one of them.

But as the social media behemoth prepares to go public and make what could be a record-shattering IPO (that’s “initial public offering” for those of us who put our money in CD’s of the Miles Davis and Willie Nelson variety), folks appear to be storming the exits. There’s even an I’m Not On Facebook Twitter feed and website, though it appears the people behind thee site are more interested in hawking T-shirts than anything else.

But the objection is that Mark Zuckerberg used to be one of the guys; now he’s a porcine one-percenter. He’s committing the grevious sin of making a pantload of money from Facebook.

OK, what’s the problem? More power to him.

I have my own negative feelings about Facebook and did shut my account down for a year before restarting it. It can be a colossal waste of time. By its very nature it shoots your privacy out the window. The user leaves himself to be flamed, cracked, stalked and generally violated with just a few mouse clicks. You have to use filters to screen the good information from the usual junk. Many third-party apps are malware just waiting to happen. And each new innovation puts your life a little more out in the street — like what’s that option that allows you to share everything you read online?

But it’s still fun and somewhat useful. Many of my friends use Facebook as the only way to communicate, eschewing even anachronisms such as email. There are some real blasts from my past among my Facebook friends, including old running mates from decades ago, former co-workers, kinfolks, some old girlfriends (awkward), even an ex-wife (tres awkward). Many of my blog readers come from my Facebook ranks, and the whole thing is good for business. I won’t knock that.

So Mark Z can probably buy WalMart instead of shopping there. Anybody have a problem with that?

Facebook isn’t my go-to social media site, though. Not even close. I spend more time on Twitter than any of the others, and tweeted incessantly during the last few minutes of the Super Bowl (a barnburner of a game — I tweeted that the game was so nerve-racking, if there was a toilet on the 50-yard line the players would be using it). I use Linkedin for professional contacts and get a lot of mileage out of the groups. I enjoy Google+ and picked up some story ideas from Quora.

But come on! So Zuckerberg won’t ever have to work at a WalMart as long as he lives; he might be in a position to buy the whole schmeer. Like who cares? Get a life! He came up with a product that at the time was far better than anything remotely similar (remember how long it took to load a Myspace page?). People like his product. He’s created value, whether real or perceived, and the users number almost into the billions. Apparently he’s doing something right.

I was once accused of wealth envy because my computers run Linux instead of Windows. Ain’t necessarily so. I have no problem with gazillionaire Bill Gates. I just find Linux meets my needs and allows me to really customize my system and use free software. It’s funny hearing some Mac users decry Gates and his billions, though the late Steve Jobs could afford to buy his black turtlenecks by the shipping container. But I digress.

I don’t mind the one-percent gang. I wouldn’t mind working for some of them. With those folks I stand a better chance of making my exorbitant asking price. I won’t have to worry so much about whether the guy is going to vanish come billing time, or whether the check would bounce. Instead, it’s a straight value-for-value transaction, and a rich guy (i’m talking self-made here; I don’t count the trust-fund brats in this equation) would understand this concept better than anybody.

Ditch Facebook because of the malware. Junk it because you don’t like to put your business out on Front Street. Shut it down if you’re wasting time instead of rainmaking. Kill it because it has no value for you. Scrap it because you can’t stand the third-party games, the inane postings, the fact your significant other is making time with a former flame, because those pictures of you lying unconscious in a puddle of what you hope is beer are messing up your chances of a promotion …

But quitting Facebook because it’s printing money for Zuckerberg is the wrong reason. Spin again to find another excuse.


If your phone goes off and it’s nobody, you’re not alone

One of the things that took some getting used to was how active my Android phone gets. It makes noise and vibrates when I get a phone call, an email or a text message. Considering my own online/offline activity — not even counting all those alarms I set to keep my ADHD self on track, that’s a lot of vibrating.

So you can imagine my surprise when I felt my belt vibrate over my right hip, and when I checked it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for anybody. It didn’t ring or vibrate at all. The phone sat inert in the belt pouch, and I only imagined the vibrations.

Welcome to the phenomenon called “phantom vibration,” which a study by the University of Worcester suggests is a sure sign you’re getting goofy about your phone.
It’s akin to those phantom pains amputees talk about, where a nonexistent foot itches or develops muscle spasms. Purely psychological stuff, and hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.

Shoot, I feel enough like an idiot when someone else’s phone rings and I’m sure it’s mine. I’ve experienced enough of that to realize I get a little obsessed about that phone.
But when there’s no phone ringing anywhere near me, that’s when I know things are bad. What’s even worse is when I feel that vibration over my hip — while the phone is in my hand.

Turns out I’m not the only one who experiences this. I brought the subject up over dinner with a few good friends, all technophiles who would sooner leave the house without their pants than forget their phones. And all of these friends nodded knowingly when I mentioned phantom vibrations. The discussion became a heavy confession time for a few, and you’d swear a recovery group broke out right then and there. Lots of sympathizing but no solutions, but that’s normal. Like they say in recovery groups, we’re not trying to fix anything.

This study, as cited in the UK Telegraph, says workers who are issued a smart phone for on-the-job use, especially feel the stress that seems to trigger these phantom vibrations. They feel they’re not checking their messages often enough.
Psychlogist Richard Balding of the University of Worcester (why is it the British get to do all the cool research?) says it’s a stress thing — stress if you’re getting messages, and stress if you’re not.

According to the Telegraph:

” … this became a vicious cycle in which the more stressed people became, the more they compulsively felt the need to check their phone, the study showed … Balding, who led the research, said employers should seriously consider the burden that smart phones put on their workers … ‘Smart phone use is increasing at a rapid rate and we are likely to see an associated increase in stress from social networking,’ Balding said.”

(Note to employees everywhere: If your company issues you a smart phone, run like your hair’s on fire. Or negotiate a massive salary/wage increase. Your life is no longer your own.)

Others who use their smart phones as their link to social media may also feel the stress of always being “on,” or the anticipation of another message. Hey, if you get a text from Publishers Clearinghouse saying you’d won a few million bucks, you sure don’t want to miss it.

It’s crucial I stay in contact with the outside world. I do some social media stuff but it’s not a big part of my life. It’s not job-related, at least not related to my day job. But as I try to build something of a business on my own, contact is essential. It might not exactly be Ed McMahon calling from whatever realm he’s hanging out at these days, but potential customers and contacts have me keeping an eye on the phone. My own obsessive nature doesn’t help much either, but we won’t discuss that here.

Whoops. My phone is vibrating, and it’s nobody.



How much does the Internet know about you? (besides a lot)

How much does the Internet know about you?

Probably enough.

You’re surfing your favorite sites, and the ads seem to be for places that are awfully close to where you live, and for products/services you are interested in.

Like the man said about the Thermos bottle that keeps your coffee hot or your sweet tea cold, “how do it know?”

It’s almost accurate to say the Internet is stalking you. It sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. It probably knows what sites you surf, and what you’re using to surf these sites.

Check out these graphics, and tell me they don’t creep you out:

(Signs by Danasoft – Get Your Sign)

These goofy graphics aren’t anything new. I had these up for a long time on my old blog, and I’ve been meaning to put them up here for some time. Now’s my chance.

Syndicated tech columnist Kim Komando recently ran a piece on this, along with a link to a site that is powered by ip2location.com. When you click on the button below, it’ll bring you to the site with some really interesting information. OK, the linked site has the Kim Komando brand all over it, but … well, admit it, she’s not half bad to look at.

Anyway, click this graphic to find out all the gory details:

See What They Know

I copied/pasted the results from when I ran this test myself. For the record, I was using the wireless Internet system from my day job, running my Acer Aspire One with Bodhi Linux and Google Chrome:

* * *

Here’s what They Know

Your location as guessed from your IP Address

As I linked this into a social media site (Google+), I saw some of the values in the above box change. I don’t know if it will keep my information or read back yours. Probably the latter.

* * *

Below is from my own readout, and I excised some information that y’all probably didn’t need to know:

REFERRER (who told you to come to this page)
Default Browser 0
Mon Jan 09 2012 13:18:36 GMT-0500 (EST)

Sites you’ve visited

Hmmm… We were not able to detect any social networking sites that you’ve visited recently.

Sites must exploit a Web feature to see your history. By default, browsers display links you’ve visited in a different color. And sites can see how a page looks on your computer. If a link changes color, the site knows you’ve visited that link. Using special code, a site can check more than 25,000 links per second!

This page only checks to see if you’ve visited a handful of sites. If nothing is listed above, you haven’t visited one of the sites we checked (or you recently cleared your browsing history).

* * *

If you check the ip2location site itself, you might also find it quite interesting.

I saw that Net Speed entry on my readout (it says DSL) and this probably explains a bit. The wireless connection at work is really poky. But it’s a decent fringe benefit.

I will take the rest of the Komando readout to mean my computer is more secure than most. Unknown operating system, default browser, no history of sites browsed. Very good. Excellent, in fact. The more “unknowns” your readout has, the better.

You put enough of your business out there as it is.



Blog comment shows how online writing went wrong

It's enough to make a writer want to quit and herd sheep instead.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even bothered running it. Blog comments of this type are usually deleted as soon as they come to my attention, and they’re marked with a spam tag to block the sender. I don’t fool around.

This comment had all the please-delete-me earmarks to it. It had absolutely nothing to do with the blog post’s subject matter. There was no indication the commentor actually read my post. It carried a link to a site that I cannot endorse. It insulted the professional writer in me.

But I kept it because it indicates exactly what is going on in the writing world. It shows where online writing went so terribly wrong. It begged for a snarkier-than-thou response, and I was only too happy to oblige.

To a short post about technical matters, I received a comment. OK. I love comments. Please, bring ’em on (keeping in mind the caveats outlined in the second graf). I prefer dialogue to monologue, so fire at will.

In this case the commentor asked if I needed any help in producing the blog, and offered a solution. Through his website he advertised a stable of third-world writers, all willing to string words together for $1 per hour. With the SEO treatment, meaning my Web content would be structured to goose the search engines, direct more eyeballs to my sites, point fingers toward the cool advertising I have, and make me a pantload of money.

Or something.

It wasn’t too long ago that the gold standard for freelance writing was better than $1 per word, and even hire-out work started at around $20 or $30 per hour. That is and always has been an on-paper number, though. We writers — in fact artists in general — are a funny lot, cognizant that “getting your foot in the door” is the common practice.

I’m doubly blessed in the creativity department, or maybe doubly cursed. Not only am I a writer, but I’m also a musician. I’ve done both for money for at least a couple of decades. While I’m not near this so-called “big time,” I have enough of a reputation in both fields that folks know I mean business. But writing and music — and probably the other arts — a practitioner has more opportunities to work for free than any of the so-called “legitimate” professions.

Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Sure, you may do an apprenticeship or spend time tuning brake drums at a community college, but you’re not going to work for free. You don’t work for exposure. You don’t work for love. You work for that stuff that makes your checking account giggle. If you’re a doctor, you’re not going to rip out some guy’s appendix for free. Sure, the money may come from someone else’s wallet — the taxpayers instead of the patient — but you’ll still get paid. In cash, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

OK. Part of an auto mechanic’s rates, and certainly a piece of a doctor’s fee, helps to make up for that apprenticeship/schooling time. This makes sense. But a musician spends many hours mastering his instrument, breaking guitar strings, buying CDs so he can learn some technique. A writer buys books, computer software, maybe some space in a few writer’s conferences, and if he’s an old guy like me has probably burned through many typewriter ribbons and reams of paper. The apprenticeship is done in low-paying gigs to hone the chops, some pro-bono work, and — yes, working for exposure.

That’s the background. Here’s the deal: While the buck-an-hour markets are still there, a distressing amount of work falls far below that. A well-known online phenomenon among us writers is the thing called the “content farm.” There are many of these: eHow, Demand Media Studios (which owns eHow), Break Studios, Textbroker, Examiner, and a handful of others. Some, like Demand, will pay a writer as soon as a piece is published. Others, like Examiner, do what is called “revenue share,” which is a nice way of saying they won’t pay you, but if they make money (through advertising), the writer makes money too.

Of the content farms, Demand Media Studios is probably the best I’ve seen. And I’ve written for them. There’s no great trick in burping out 400-500 words for between $15 and $18; do enough of those per week and you’ll make a decent wage. For a spell I made it my main means of support, and financially didn’t do too badly. But there’s something wrong with the equation here.

A typical $15 eHow piece, checking in at 500 words, will get you three cents a word. A 400-word piece at $18 per article in one of Demand’s better content channels, still comes down to less than a nickel a word. Which, last I looked, isn’t even close to a dollar per word.

There’s more. Check out some of the job ads in writer’s online publications and job boards, and you’ll see even more depressing rates. I’ve seen prices as low as $1 for a 500-word article, and the customer wants these articles in mass quantities. Now, there are people in third-world countries that may find these great wages, and easy to pull off if you write in your native tongue and run it through a translator. All the keywords Google recognizes may be there, so the search engines (which don’t read) love ’em. Readability, though, that’s a whole ‘nother deal.

This drives down the price of words in all forums, and it gives the customer the idea that writing is nothing more than typing real fast. Not so. There’s brain work involved, and brain work does not come cheap.

Anyway, here’s the original blog comment, with the website name altered only slightly:

John says:

Admin – could you use help with your website? Through our site you can find Outsourced Workers starting at $1/hour. They speak English, work flexible hours, and pride themselves on doing a quality job. There are Article Writers, Web Designers, Virtual Assistants, Email Response Handling, SEO Workers, & more. If interested we invite you to check out wescrewwritersgood.com . Thanks :)

And here is my response. Boy, did I have fun writing it. I felt all kinds of better after hitting the SEND button:

Eric Pulsifer says:

John — No, I’m not interested. The only reason I didn’t spam/delete your comment (or charge you for advertising space, as is my other option) was because I felt the need to reply. It is “services” like this that drive the price of freelance writing down to never-before-seen levels, and I will not be a party to that.

I guess there will be a market for wescrewwritersgood.com, though. There are plenty of folks who need cheap copy, maybe with lots of SEO to game the search engines, and really don’t care whether the copy gets read by human beings. Don’t count me among them, though.

Probably not good practice to encourage idiots like this, but it needed to be said, and it was wonderful catharsis.

Working for peanuts, or even for free is all right if you know about it beforehand. I’ll do pro-bono work in writing or music for a nonprofit that I would donate to anyway. I’d consider it for a literacy organization, animal rescue or something in mental health advocacy, for example. But don’t expect me to do free work for something like the American Civil Liberties Union. If the ACLU was crazy enough to call me up with some work I’d have to gut them. I’m talking about hourly rates that would scare a trial lawyer.

It’s true I’m working cheap when it comes to this blog. I don’t make anything off it. But I own every word I write (in contrast to the content farms where the writer signs off on all rights if he’s paid by the article). The Web domain, likewise mine, bought and paid for (thank you Mom and Dad, that Christmas gift check paid for it). I’m building a platform with this work, getting exposure on my own terms, creating an online portfolio. Any advertising revenue helps offset my miniscule expenses. Job offers have come from my blogging. And if I should choose to repackage some of my better blog entries in an ebook format to sell, all I need is the author’s permission and he’s easy.

This blog may be little more than a content farm at this juncture, but it’s my content farm. But I don’t need any dollar-an-hour help.



Facebook and privacy? Only if you’re using the branded shower curtain

Facebook isn’t exactly known for its stringent privacy practices, so I found this a real hoot.

According to the tech-and-trends aggregator Mashable, you can get a shower curtain with a Facebook page design.

Look, merchandising with online and social media brands isn’t exactly new. Some years ago a lady friend contemplated getting a tattoo of the little AOL Instant Messenger guy; how dated is that?

But now you can wash up, lather, rinse and sing off-key, knowing your privacy is protected by the Facebook brand.

Gee, I feel better already. How ’bout you?

Here’s the link: http://feeds.mashable.com/~r/Mashable/~3/HtmHQgiA4N4/


Breaking stuff, bringing it back up

Thought I’d play around with this blog a few hours ago and install a new theme. Everything was fine until …

… until I blew the whole thing up.

Had a server error pop up, and could not get into my WordPress installation. Couldn’t fix it, couldn’t get in.

But Google is my friend. The WordPress Codex is likewise my friend. Filezilla became an even bigger friend.

  1. Downloaded Filezilla.
  2. Fed in the parameters to the blog. This took a few attempts until I got the syntax right.
  3. Stared at the list of files within the WordPress directory stored on the server.
  4. Scratched head.
  5. Refilled glass of sweet tea (doing this at a Mickey D’s, using their wireless signal).
  6. Found the directory of the theme I had just installed (and where the problem began).
  7. Hit Delete.

This coming just hours after my last post on heart pacemaker batteries and DIY surgery, I had this sick feeling I was doing it wrong. That I had completely b0rked the process, that I was doing surgery with a chain saw using myself as a guinea pig again.

Fired up the blog — success!

I’m back up.

So if you couldn’t get into the site for a couple of hours, try ‘er now. (Gee, I sound like the aircraft mechanics at New Bern Airport in North Carolina … try ‘er now!)


Breaking stuff is fun.

Fixing stuff is even more fun.