Are Online Services EVIL?

I’ll be giving at talk at WordCamp NYC this month, so I thought I’d explore some of the ideas I’ll be touching on in blog form. I’d love your feedback below to further my research.

The topic of my talk is: “WORDPRESS, YOUR WORLD, YOUR DATA”

Too many companies provide social services for “free,” quite literally banking on your data. WordPress is unique in that it charges (quite minimally) for the services it provides, and YOU own YOUR data. I will explore various tools and paradigms — existing, and in the works — to develop and leverage your WordPress site as a central hub for your social data.

I have nothing against online services. But let’s let them remain services, and not give them sole propriety over all our data just because it’s our default way of sharing…

You should trust no one with your business success. You should build your business around the most open platform in the world: the open Internet.

– Jason Calacanis

This is as true for your business as it’s true for your life.

I like being able to control how and what I share, I like remixing data and sharing it in different ways. Google is notorious for closing down projects that aren’t doing well. Why would I invest giving a product all my data when it will be closed down, then I have to worry about whether I’ll ever get that back again… Remember when Yahoo closed down Geocities?

How much would it hurt your social life if you got locked out of your Facebook account?

I’m not being paranoid, just realistic. These things really do happen.

On the other hand, WordPress isn’t going anywhere. The WordPress foundation, responsible for the core code, is an open source foundation. Since its infrastructure powers ~25% of the internet, even if it did dissolve, your site wouldn’t be effected, and within days someone else would have a way to import your site to a new technology.

Hell, there already are ways to migrate your site. You can export your data TODAY, and create an exact replica of your site on your own host and do whatever you want with the code.

Sure I use Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Instagram. I try out pretty much every service that sounds interesting that comes out, and I keep using the ones I like.

But let’s be honest, it’s a give and take: we get free services, and receive benefit. The services gain customers, which they leverage with some business model. If it’s a free service, then the business model is your data… and sometimes the government forces their hand, or they just cooperate, or maybe they just believe in radical transparency…

Is that evil? I don’t think so, and you do like free things, right?

<aside>I’ve been critical of Facebook’s privacy policies in the past. The truth is I was still feeling raw over how their transition from a walled garden to a platform for everyone went. Since then, I was convinced by reading “The Facebook Effect,” and speaking with insiders, that they truly do care about users feeling their privacy concerns are met.

I would not share things about myself on Facebook that I don’t want to be public. But that has nothing to do with Facebook. They need a business model, and ultimately, if you embrace their advertising model, you may find it beneficial.</aside>

But know, you should NEVER EVER EVER share ANYTHING you deem too private to be public. Period. But you knew that already.

A paradigm I’d like to explore, is what you can do, on top of your own personal site.

Who says your blog needs to be solely a blog?

Who says you can’t have private notes, for yourself, or between you and a few other people?

Why not save ideas, links, files and locations for later, on your site? It’s yours. It won’t be mined, profiled or resold. If you care for it, it won’t be lost.

Thoughts? As always, I’d love to hear them. Discuss below!


SharePulse Relaunched

I am happy to announce the relaunch of SharePulse. (From the site)

Relying on hit counts simply does not reflect the impact of your posts. SharePulse finds and ranks your site’s posts that have the greatest social impact. The stats are gathered from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook as well as your own site’s most commented posts measuring actual engagement. SharePulse lets you display these posts in your site’s sidebar showing off your posts which have had the greatest social impact over the past day, week, month year or for all time. Each post is displayed with the total number of tweets, shares and comments.

This version was rebuilt from the ground up. It now uses more reliable stat counters and was built lean and with stability in mind. While it’s version 3, it is in alpha. It’s stable enough for a production server, but I decided to tag it as “incomplete” because of all the features I have planned.

So please, use it on your site, enjoy it! And I’d love your feedback.

I May Be Ridiculously Good Looking, But It’s My Choice If I Want To Be Seen Naked

Walking down the street, no matter how ridiculously hot you are, you can expect that you can keep on the clothing you choose to wear. Even if every passer by wants to see you naked. You may choose to wear long sleeves or a tank top. That is your choice.

If you go to a house of worship you’ll probably dress more respectfully, if you are in a private institution you may be asked to put on a jacket (you may leave if you don’t want to wear it), and when you go to the beach you might wear a bikini or speedos.

What you choose to cover up or reveal is a choice you make based on your comfort level, the context of where you are, and your beliefs. But you expect that what you choose to wear, may not be liked, but that choice will be respected.

If you are in a private home or institution, the owners have a right to ask you to leave if they don’t like how you are dressed. But they don’t have the right to force you to take off your clothing without your consent. That is assault.

If you would like to go into a public institution there are fears that you may be trying to smuggle contraband in, and you may be searched. In that situation your privacy is being compromised; however, being part of society you are relinquishing that right to an extent to ensure everyone else’s safety. It’s part of the Hobbesian social contract. That is with the assumption that you are giving up only what is necessary and you will be searched with the minimum necessary violation.

We feel so violated by TSA because our privacy when traveling is being violated wantonly, with unnecessary excess. The same goal could be reached with smarter, better trained, better paid individuals, and less abuse.


When I joined Facebook it was like a trendy club that all my friends went to. I dressed accordingly. I sought out my friends, and the people I wanted to become my friends. I dressed my sexiest. And acted accordingly.

Then Facebook announced that the footage from the security cameras in the joint would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Now I still visit Facebook, because everyone I care about is there. But it’s more like going to your third-cousin’s wedding, to which you have no idea why you were invited, and neither do they.

Sure there are many people there that you know and love dearly. But there is also that distant great aunt who rented you her apartment and upped the rent 40% year over year. Oh yeah, and that lying tattletale colleague is there too. Didn’t you notice? And everything you do or say will be used to SPAM YOU.

I went to the club I so enjoyed called Facebook, and It turned out I was inappropriately underdressed.

That was Facebook.


“What do I have to hide?” they said, when Prism was leaked. “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

What if I don’t want to walk down the street naked? I don’t fear it, I AM ridiculously good looking. But I like wearing clothing.

I like sending an email to a specific person, and know that it is going to them, and not to prying eyes.

The NSA will claim that their surveillance to falls under the protection of social contract. But that is only true in theory. The fact that some talented high school dropout contractor can look up anyone tells me they did not build the tech with proper checks, regardless of who formally has to sign off.

There is clearly no consent when everything is placed under a gag order, and everything is collected. That isn’t protecting us, it’s straight out abuse.

Facebook Refugee Unplugs From Social Media : NPR

Katherine Losse, Facebook’s 51st employee, has recently left after spending five years at the company. Rising from customer service representative to ghost writer for Mark Zuckerberg, she’s recently left Facebook to live on a farm and write a book: The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network. I haven’t read it yet but found the interview — Facebook Refugee Unplugs From Social Media : NPR — upsetting enough.

LOSSE: Yeah. I think that one thing people should understand about any kind of technology is that these are constantly evolving technologies. The products change all the time. And so I think that’s one of the tricky things for users, is that the product can change. And so you might have put your – you know, posted information when it – the product looked one way, and then the product changes, and the user has to adjust.

I think that’s a difficult thing for users to deal with sometimes, because sometimes it means that the privacy settings end up being slightly different than what they anticipated. And that’s just sort of the nature, I think, of how these things develop. And it’s something that users should be really conscious of as they’re contributing to the system.

This is a very diplomatic way of saying that Facebook doesn’t really care about what it says its settings will do. It can redefine them at any time. I think it’s ridiculous to blame users claiming that technology is evolving so therefore it’s okay to expose sensitive information. If Facebook would like to know why no one really trusts it anymore. This is why. When a privacy setting describes that it will do X then it stops doing that that is a breach of trust, not evolution of a product.

A caller, Alex, expresses his concern that corporations are buying his personal information…

LOSSE: Yeah. I mean, it’s – that’s a tricky thing. You know, the company has to make money to run the servers and grow, but also, it needs to keep in mind that users want their experience to be, you know, protected and respected. So I think that’s something that is going to be really tricky for any of these companies as they become, you know, big and seek out profits.

This is the other reason why people don’t trust Facebook. It may be noble to not want to charge for the service, but I think that users would prefer paying for a better service over having their information bought and sold. The major difference between Google ads and Facebook ads are that when people use Google their intent is to discover products and services. To learn things. When people are using Facebook, the user intent is very different. There is a lot of power knowing your customer’s demographic, but honestly the products I “like” now are no clear depiction of my demographic. The only things I really “like” are products of friends, to show support. Honestly, because I saw how Facebook clearly did not respect my privacy, by changing the settings, I didn’t trust them to not share my personal information with companies that I “like”.

Honestly, today, I rarely share on Facebook. I use Facebook as a glorified address book, mostly because of the points above. I stopped trusting them. LOSSE is not to blame for what I discuss above. What shocks me most is how she diplomatically explains these things, as she herself has left the social network and is critical of it herself, but doesn’t seem to hear quite how bad these explanations sound.

Why Automattic Should Buy Path

Alternate Title: How WordPress Can Fix Social

I went to the breakout NYC PandoMonthly Event this by Pando Daily past week. It was a pleasure watching Sarah Lacy (@sarahcuda), doing what she does best: interviewing one of my heroes Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) all about WordPress, how he got started, the future of WP, social networks and distributed work environments.

During the conversation, which I recommend y’all watch as soon as it’s posted, Matt discussed how WordPress has only skimmed the surface of social, and how the little they’ve tried has reaped 40x normal engagement.

I first heard about Path from Jason Calacanis (@jason) on TWiST and then several months later when he was talking about how people don’t trust Facebook anymore. He said that he trusts Path and that means a lot to me but honestly, who wants to sign up for yet another social network? I usually am an early adopter of tools and services, I like exploring new ideas. But… another… social… network? I finally tried it out because the rockin’ Noni Cavaliere (@missversatile) told me that I have to.

Path ROCKS in many many ways. It has a beautiful interface. It’s really really easy to use. And it lets you pass your post on, frictionlessly, to any of the other rockstar networks you’d want to share with. The idea is that you add to your Path network your close friends and family — the people you want to share your life with — and if there are some things you want to share further, it’s really easy to do.

This solves one of the adoption issues. Because of its beautiful interface, you want to share things, and since you can share to all the places you’d want to share to, it becomes your go-to app for social sharing.

My problem with Path is, ultimately, that you have to trust it in the end.

When I started with Facebook it was the perfect walled garden. I could share my life on it without worrying about being judged. Sure, whatever you put online you have to monitor, but Facebook today makes you feel like a product. Bacteria in a petri dish, where their scientists throw all sorts of things at us to see what we osmose. That’s their business model. We are the product, marketers are the clients, and Facebook sells our information to them. Ultimately, you’re just a number to everyone… but it still makes me feel… Icky. Things on Facebook may look peachy but are they really?

And that’s the problem with Path. Here’s a scenario: Path takes off, everyone adopts it. Then the VCs come in and say: “How will you monetize?” Then Path goes to milk its greatest asset… Us. Again. So why would I want to go through that all over again?

The space in social that is wide open for the taking is the safe social space.

I want to own my own content. I want to know that I can hide it, take it down, delete it, do whatever the fuck I want with it… because my life is MINE. And I don’t want anyone else owning it, using it in ads, selling it, without my explicit knowledge and control. I don’t want my privacy settings changed behind my back and if I wanted to be posted in ads all over the place I would have become a model. There isn’t real privacy today. And maybe that’s a problem.

This, I really truly hope, is why the centralized social networks will die eventually.

Diaspora had the right idea. They did a great job jumping on a wave of privacy discontent. What they got wrong was ease-of-adoption. Only a hacker can really use it in its full de-centralized glory.

WordPress understands user trust. They are about as transparent as you can get. Anyone can dig into the codebase and see exactly what they’re doing with your information. At any time you can export your account  and spin your own self-hosted flavor…. and BOOM! You’re in complete control. Even Jetpack, the new integration of tools between the self-hosted flavor and hosted site, is a plugin that you can open up and dissect.

The ideal social network needs to work like this. Which is why Automattic — the company — should buy Path.

The ideal social network would give you the ease-of-use and ease-of-adoption of Path, with the transparency and control of WordPress. Even the concept that Path sells — Path should provide you with the simple way to keep a journal, or “Path,” of your life on the go. — fits perfectly with the WordPress model… and is ultimately what I want my personal private blog to be.

…and if Automattic doesn’t feel like buying Path, perchance Path will consider building a spinoff platform on WordPress that hooks into the Path network…

As always, I love your input. Please comment below and let me know what you think.