On Facebook News Feed Censorship

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Facebook is repressing my posts, people aren’t seeing them, OMG Facebook is censoring my news.

Good I say.

Here’s the thing, if you’re on Facebook you’ve probably “liked” a lot of things, from your favourite TV show, to your friends pictures, to your local community library. All those people and things have updates and they all want your attention. Chances are you don’t want to see them.

Now I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that Facebook isn’t evil, but they are (with some notable exceptions) doing what’s best for the users and censoring the news feed to show you things that you are interested in[1].

Chances are that the things you are interested in on Facebook are things like your friends announcing their baby, your mom posting a picture of her new cat, your college friends’ updates, and that sort of thing, not Drobo posting a new blog post about why their RAID technology is the best, the photographer that you follow posting a new image to his portfolio, or a website announcing a new contest (“like us and follow us on twitter to enter!”). The thing is, everyone feels like their posts are important, especially those companies, who would love to have you see everything they post. These are (in general) the ones that are complaining that “Facebook is censoring me, make sure you click our page and select ‘add to interests'”.

If you’re friends or have liked with more than a few people on Facebook, seeing everything on the news stream is going to be overwhelming, and you’ll scroll down three or four pages just to see the last hours updates, which would make the Facebook experience tiring to say the least. Facebook is very smart about retaining engagement with users, and know this, so they have sophisticated algorithms (or at least I assume they do) that let them track what gets your attention and what you do see and engage with, and show you more of that and less of the contest to win a new DSLR (“Just like the page and share this post to enter”).

The thing is it seems that most of the people up in arms about this are companies and journalists, beating the drum that their posts and publications posts aren’t being seen. I have yet to hear a user or friend actually complain about this, unless they’re just parroting back a post about it.

So I say good for Facebook for keeping my news stream (mostly) clean of posts, and good on them for taking money from people who aren’t engaging enough with people to get “real” attention and exchange it for giving them more visibility (even if it is really annoying as the user to see the promoted posts popping up).

Recently the big new Facebook news is the revamped news feed which actually does go to some extents to “fix” the “censorship” issue. Part of the new design is to let you see everything in order (i.e.: no more missed items, but you see everything) as well as separate pages for friends only, companies only, etc.

[1] The exception here is of course the sponsored posts, ads, “8 of your friends like allstate”, and so on that are obvious marketing and ads jammed into your feed.

How You Should and Shouldn’t Treat Your Customers

Two starkly different experiences with customer service today.

First the Good:
Pretty simple here.  I have been looking into online backup services and had let the 14 day demo of CrashPlan lapse without actually testing it out.  Not only are the support people watching their @crashplan twitter account fast and helpful, but they were happy to hook me up with a re-up for my free account before I (inevitably due to their support in no small part) sign up for real.

Last the Bad:
This was an approximation of a call to MasterCard today to ask a quick question about extended warranty extensions with the version of the card I had.  However their automated system and it’s lack of usefulness really drove me crazy.
ringring*
MC: Welcome to mastercard blah blah.  For service in english, press 1, for s
beep
MC: For blah press 1, for account blah press 2, for member blah press 3, blah 4, blah 5, blah 6, blah 7, blah 8 [I’m not kidding here], and if you wish to speak to a customer service rep, press 0
beep
MC: Please enter your MasterCard number
beep beep beep beep .. beep beep beep beep .. beep beep beep beep .. beep beep beep beep
MC: Please enter the primary card holders month of birth, for example, for janu
beep beep
MC: You entered blah, please press 1 to confirm or 
beep
MC: Please enter the primary card holders day of birth, for ex
beep beep
MC: You entered blah, please press 1 t
beep
MC: Please enter the primary card holders 9 digit social insurance number
beep beep beep .. beep beep beep .. beep beep beep [Luckily I somehow have this still memorized]
MC: Thank you, please wait while we connect you to a customer service rep.
ringring* [granted a very quick connection]
MC Dude: Hi there, this is John, can I please have your MasterCard number?  [Emphasis mine]
audible sigh

Now if I’ve just gone through 5 minutes of dealing with a robot with a huge array of questions and entering a ton of different numbers, you’d think that the system would be considerate enough to pass on the information.  But no.  I had to re-confirm my address, SIN number, etc with the guy again (who did apologize mind you, after I made a comment about “didn’t I just spend 5 minutes punching that into your system?”).  And yes I know I probably could have just hit 0 a few times in the phone call, or yelled into the phone, but I didn’t at the time, and ended up pissed off enough at the inefficiency of their system (and impressed enough with the CrashPlan way of doing things) that I got off my lazy ass and typed this post up.

My Massive Apple Support Fail

OK, this is going to be long and ranty I think, so I apologize in advance.

About a month ago I bought a set of “premium” apple headphones for use with my iPhone. The default iPhone headset had been the victim of being crushed under my laptop, and the microphone/clicker wasn’t clicking properly. I figured why not. Two days ago the clicker and microphone on the new, premium, expensive headphones stopped working. Aside from the fact that this is the same issue as before, I was a bit perturbed. So I call the store that I got them from. First they told me I’d have to go through apple, but when pressed (as in “I bought them a month ago and they’re not working, why the hell can’t I just bring them back for exchange?!”) they said I could bring them back, but they were out of stock. I told them to order them in, but that I would deal with Apple and if they could help me, that’d be fine.

Based on my previous Apple support experience, I figured this would be a quick 5 minute call which would end up in waiting a couple of days for boxes to be delivered to the right places, and all would be fine.

This is where my troubles started.

Continue reading “My Massive Apple Support Fail”

Things to Fix on the Web Part 3 – Native Video

Not a huge deal, but another thing that came to mind while watching this screencast on the new features in Mozilla Firefox 3.1. Depending on what video sharing site you go to, be it YouTube, Vimeo, etc they all have different embedded video widgets, with different controls, different ways of reacting, etc. Why not a standard, or at least a standard toolkit to deal with video?

The one thing I’m not sure about is the new Firefox 3.1 native video is using Ogg Vorbis as the default video format. I’m all for open standards and all, but I don’t see camera makers switching from .mov and .avi formats.

Still, being able to just upload a video to my own site and sticking it in a <video> element and have it Just Work would be pretty awesome.

Things to Fix on the Web Part 2 – Location

Half the random videos that see posted are on Youtube (which is fine) and the other half seem to be from either Hulu, The Daily Show or Comedy Central. If you go to the former, you get a page which is then eclipsed by a big ass popup saying basically “you’re not in the US, sucks to be you”. The latter will redirect you to the Canadian site for the Comedy Network, but not if someone posts a video…. if I view one of those I get a 3 second clip telling me “you’re not in the US, sucks to be you (and go to the comedy network Canadian site)”.

This is stupid.

This is really stupid.

Being that 80% of the programming I watch on TV every night is from the US, with no such restrictions, half the rest of the media I watch/view/read is from the US, why the hell does this affect me watching embedded videos in my news feeds?

This is yet another thing I’d love to see go away, and another thing that in 5-10 years just go away. In 2015 I see no reason why things like geography should matter. The point of the Internet was a global network, unrestricted by borders or lines on a political map.

Well, that’s my idea of the Internet anyway. Seriously, string a network cable from Abbotsford, BC a couple of kilometers south to Sumas, WA, and your bits and bytes will flow as easily and unrestricted as they would from Mission, BC to Abbotsford, BC, or from Wala Wala, WA to Riverside, OR. Companies and service providers go to great length, and no doubt cost, to ensure that their content is restricted to only certain countries that they choose, by looking up the IP of the requesting user. Stupid, stupid stupid, and easily circumvented, if you care enough. There are a ton of open proxy servers you can use to get Hulu content (for example), from Canada, Iraq, or Norway if you so choose.

I look at this two ways… if there are two competing companies (ie: Comedy Central (US) and The Comedy Network (CA)), and one country isn’t allowed to see the others warez, then you’re diluting the brand. Also you’re pissing off users. What possible differences between the two sites is going to be so huge that it’d scar the delicate eyes of Canadian viewers?

Secondly, well, I forget my second point, I was probably going to re-iterate again how dumb it is. If people could just get along, this would all go away….

You can read Part 1 – Downloads as well.

Things to Fix on the Web Part 1 – Downloads

Thought I’d start a quick little series of posts about things that bug me about the web today, and things that I’d love to see fixed and resolved in the next 5-10 years. Chances are these things will actually get worse and not better, but I figure I’d better start my wish list now.

First thing seems pretty simple… downloads.

The Problem
Remember back in the bygone days of the web when someone had something to download that wasn’t a link (ie: game, music, video, program, update, patch, etc) they’d create a link in their HTML page that looked something like this:

<A HREF=”/files/update-1234.exe”>Download update 1234 here</A>

You (the user) would click the link and lo and behold, the file would download.

It’s been ages since I’ve seen one of those on any “major” site.

What happens more often than not these days is something I bitched about in 2003, except it’s gotten worse I think. First of all, bandwidth costs money, so no one hosts their own files. Second of all, if a user just clicks a link and the download starts, there’s no opportunity to put ads in front of their eyeballs.

So these days the scenario goes something more like this… Click the link, go to a second site run by a third party which shows you the sites you can download the file from (ie: filefront, fileshack, etc). You click on one of these links and are taken to the file download site and their list of mirrors. East coast, west coast, listed by country, capacity, usage, etc. Clicking on one of those should give you the file right? Nope, now you’re on a page telling you that you can be cool and either login or register for your uber/gold/platinum/premium/monkeybum membership which lets you bypass this page and get files really fast, or you can continue on as an unwashed swine of a user, shunned and using the “free” servers.

Well, sometimes, other times you get one of the services which doesn’t allow you slacking freeloaders to download without paying, and if that’s the case you have to go back and start all over again.

So now you’ve selected the free servers you get your file right? Nope, now you more than likely get a page with a slow counter on it, forcing you to wait 30 seconds, 60 seconds, maybe a minute and a half to get your download. This isn’t them making you wait until a download “slot” is available most of the time, it’s simply to entice you that maybe the $9.99 a month would be worth it to pay to justfuckinggivememyfilenowdammit. Should you decide to wait though, when the download counter finishes you need to now (finally) hit the link that it gives you. If you get bored watching the ads (did I mention that every page so far has been splashing ads at your eyeballs as much as possible?) and switch to do something else, you might not come back to the page until your download has “timed out” and you have to start the whole stupid dance again.

Even worse, because of the glory and beauty of AJAX, javascript and similar webdesigner magic, the link you do finally get to click to get your file (remember we’re now 5 or 6 levels deep to download our game patch) isn’t a link at all, but some fancy JavaScript call which returns right away, but your browser just sites there for a while as remote servers pull themselves out of their slumber and think about actually sending a file in your direction. The ads being plastered at you work well though.

So that’s the problem, from the end user perspective of course. From the web designer point of view it’s even worse. You have to coordinate with another company or companies to host your files, deal with all the extra coding that’s not the simple “A HREF” to figure out where to send clicks on the ‘download patch’ link, etc.

Thing is, what to do about it?

The Solution
The thing that worries me about this particular niggle I have is that it’s a hard one to fix from the point of view of the internet model that users and advertisers have now.

  • Companies can’t afford to host files and pump out the terragigabits of speed and bandwidth needed to send their 1.8G patches out to thousands of users.
  • Companies are somehow making money from blasting ads at eyeballs
  • Companies are making money getting people to upgrade to the gold/platinum/premium download servers
  • Users are used to advertising and probably feel odd clicking a link to a file that just downloads (a virus! must be a virus!)
  • For users hard drive space and bandwidth are getting cheaper and cheaper

So from all of this I had a couple of ideas.

My original thought was that a new tag could be added to HTML, say something like <DOWNLOAD>. This would have configuration to allow the designer to give the user one link to click on, and that link would magically figure out how to get to the file, and the user gets the end experience of clicking on a link and a file starting to download, but on the backend server loads are checked, and the user request is automagically routed to a server in a pool in their area with the lowest use.

Great idea for the user if I do say so myself, but there’s so much advertising done now, and people are so used to getting things for free how could that satisfy the monitary needs of the publisher and ancillary companies they work with (distributor, game company, etc).

Some games now are almost completely self contained for updates. Systems like Steam are making it so that users don’t have to go anywhere to download patches or updates, they just sit down and know their game is up to date. There are others that do similar I’m sure as well.

Course, in some ways Steam isn’t much better than the old “guaranteed virus free” Active-X download programs from the days of yore, it’s got the upside of auto-patching, and being able to download demos and even buy new games right from within the interface, but still manages to toss lots of ads and more importantly, UI cruft at you (it helpfully pops up a window on start with “news” about new games for example).

Much as I’d like it, I don’t see online advertising getting any less online, and as with many things, making it easier for the user generally means making it less profitable for the companies.

I really hope that something does happen to make downloading files (and large files) something that “just works” for the users.

Dear Pizza Place

Dear Pizza place…
When you send people here to bring me a round pie of meaty goodness, please ask them not to sell me on their MLM pyramid schemes instead of taking their money, ample tip, and leaving me with a pizza to go with my beer and TV watching.

The conversation at the door went something like this (I answered the door while listening to a podcast):


  • Pizza Guy: Hey cool, that an iPod or something?
  • Me: [gives money] yea, my iPhone.
  • PG: Wow, cool, I’m jealous!
  • Me: Uh huh [please just give me my pizza so I can go]
  • PG: So what sort of work do you do?
  • Me: [go for the vague answer, instead of detailing how I’m an OS Developer for a company that does business communications hardware and software security solutions] Computer stuff.
  • PG: Cool, you interested in making some money?
  • Me: [oh god, he wants me to program a website for his kids soccer team or something] Not really, see, I have a bunch of stuff on the go right now, I’m really not wanting to get into anything….
  • PG: No, I mean some real money.
  • Me: [oh oh, I’ve heard that before, I know what’s coming next] Ok, give me the 20 second pitch. [I’ll be open to new things, just give it to me fast]
  • PG: How about I just give you a card, go to this website and check it out. [pulls out a home printed card whose ink still smeared]
  • Me: Uh huh.
  • PG: [random mindless talk about how “it really works” and how “you have to check it out”]
  • Me: Uh huh. [if you’re rolling in dough why don’t you buy your own iPhone?]
  • PG: [more random mindless talk]
  • Me: Ok, I’ll check it out. [please please please let me go]
  • PG: Ok, have a great night.
  • Me: Uh huh. [Close door, lock door, go back to beer and TV]

Just for shits and giggles I did check out his site. It was at least a real URL (his name) but had only a picture of him, a link to a video and a link to a PDF. The video was completely content free (no shock there) and consisted entirely of people talking about how [company] was awesome, they were all driving Lexus’s and their golden showers actually involved gold. It ended without any indication of what the company did, or how these people were able to pull off these financial miracles.

Oh, and searching for information on the company had the second suggestion from google as postfixed by “scam”. I won’t give them any juice by even linking to it here.

The PDF file consisted of two pages, one was nothing but a guy standing in front of a Lexus with a inspirational saying, and a second page with more of the same “blah blah company is awesome blah blah amazing blah financial freedome blah blah”.

Sigh

At least I got my pizza 🙂

I’m Writin’ Mad

I admit that sometimes I go off on rants here, and they are mostly good natured, in jest, in kinda-jest, or not in jest at all, but completely irrelevant to anyone at all. Today though a couple of things irked me to the point that I’m going beyond ranting on a website, but will also be writing letters (well, emails at least) to those involved.

  • First is the fact I had to step over a bum walking to my car from the train this afternoon. I have sympathy for the down and out, I really do, and I have enough guilt that I put probably more money than I should in the various hats, cups and plates stuck under my nose on a daily basis. It’s really not just the fact that some guy was asleep stretched out over most of the stair on the walkway from the train station to the parking lot. It’s that, plus the guy asleep under the walkway last week (same guy maybe?) and the groups of kids who commonly gather without regard for the commuters coming home after a long day of work who may not want to navigate through their gaggle of “look at us, we’re cool rebellious teens!” in the walkway. It’s also the graffiti that’s all over the walkway and station, which used to be cleaned up and painted over before the city gave up, and that three of four different occassions in the last year a plate or two of the no doubt very expensive glass was broken by (I’m assuming) kids horsing around and doing damage just for shits and giggles.

    I (vaugly) remember what it’s like to be a kid and no doubt did all sorts of stupid things in my youth (none of which I’ll detail here as my parents make up at least 1 of the 4 readers of this page). I grew up in a small town and no doubt got just as bored as people in mission do when you’re young and have nothing to do.

    I’m proud of this town. I’ve lived here four years and enjoy the small town feel, good environment (for the most part anyway) and overall “good feel” of the town. However, the train station though is the first thing that a lot of visitors see when they visit the city, and I’m embarrassed that the first thing they should see is a bum sleeping on the stairs, or a bunch of kids rudely blocking their path. I hope I find the proper outlet to vent on (probably by phone as there isn’t a mayoral email address I can see).

  • ICBC. F-n IC-F-n-BC. Argh. So after my little fender bender the other week I got a letter from ICBC saying “you’re 100% at fault.” OK, sucks to be me, so I call them and put in an impassioned plea and appeal the decision. I give a statement to a nice lady (Nice Lady #1) with all the details that I could.

    Fast forward a week or three. I get a call from another nice lady (Nice Lady #2) saying that she’s looked over my statement and feels that I shouldn’t be 100% at fault, and that the file needs to be sent to some internal process, or higher up the chain (or something) for review and will (most likely, I understand there’s no guarantee) come back with a “not 100% at fault” decision. This costs $50 to me, but that will be waived if the 100%-my-fault decision comes back changed (which again, she thinks it would be). At this point it sounds good to me, $50 is way better than the loss of some of my safe driver discount and all that other stuff.

    Fast forward another week or so, now last thursday or so. I get a call from now a different nice lady (let’s be original and call her Nice Lady #3), who I presume is calling to get information about the case, or review things, ask questions, something like that. She starts talking about sending case notes to me for review, which confuses me a lot (not hard to do). After a fairly confusing phone conversation I’m able to gleam that the “internal review” is for ICBC to look at things and see if they did their job right, and also an opportunity for me to have the case reviewed by a third party (a lawyer I guess?). She also tells me that if Nice Lady #2 thought that the decision was wrong, she had the opportunity to change it right then and there, and there was no need to send anything off for any review, which is for some other reason (I think). The conversation ended with Nice Lady #3 saying she was going to talk to Nice Lady #2 about this (and from her tone of voice, rip her head off) and get back to me.

    So now it’s another few days later with no word from anyone. Maybe I can get a “no fault” decision by default, or ICBC incompetence?

Allow Me To De-Fanboy A Bit (Linux)

First of all, I love Linux. I discovered it in 1994(ish) right around the time that kernel 1.0 was just about to come out. The fact it was a home brew system, that it was a rebellious band of freedom fighters coming together as a community to create something great, and that anyone could contribute with ease all tickled my heart.

One of the great things about linux is that there is a real feeling that the community actually listens. I have no idea how you’d submit a bug to Microsoft or Apple, I really don’t. I don’t know if I need to be an MVP, an Gold level partner, a ACG (Apple Certified Genius(tm)(r)(c)) (actually I just totally made that up), or what. With Linux distros, desktops and major (and minor) projects there’s generally a way to submit bugs or get support via bug tracking sofware of some sort, and more often than not you get a response. You can even submit suggestions and there is a good chance that it will actually get implemented or fixed (I believe a bug I reported to the Mozilla browser got fixed, go me!).

However there are now three bugs that I’ve reported and recently got updates about that pissed me off a bit.

[Bug 145524] Show emblems from Nautilus

In the main file manager for GNOME there is some inconsistancy with the “emblems” you can apply to folder icons… seems like a simple fix to me, but I’m not a GTK coder. The only real activity this has gotten over the last 4 years is people agreeing with me that it’s a bug, showing examples of it, asking about the status, doing the classic OSAM (Open Source Asshole Move… I totally just made that up too) of “well you write a patch then!”

[Bug 85973] no drop down box for “find” in groups

This is another simple (to me anyway) omission when Pan (my newsreader of choice) got rewritten from the GTK 1.x to GTK 2.x toolkits. Basically the whole thing was re-written and a few minor details were missed. No biggie I guess. Except that in six (6) years this hasn’t been done. It was re-prioritized around 2004, a suggestion made in 2006, and then in 2008 the commenter from 2006 was reproached for the way they did a OSAM.

[Bug 123796] hiding a panel with dual monitor moves panel to other monitor

This was an issue I got probably around the time I first got a dual monitor setup in 2003, 5 years ago, with an easily reproducible issue regarding panels and dual monitor setups. The only activity it’s gotten in 5 years is people reporting that it’s still happening.

These are the sort of things that turn people off to FLOSS and the community, which is sad. If you’re not a coder with a good knowledge of the guts of the system the main ways you can contribute is to write documentation and report bugs, and people asking “how can I help” are constantly told this. But when those contributions are ignored for months and years, well, why bother? To put things in perspective, the last bug was reported on GNOME 2.4, the current version is 2.22, that’s 9 releases (assuming that they did actually go all the way from 2.4, 2.6, 2.8 .. 2.22).

From the developer perspective of course, I’m sure it’s tough dealing with an army of demanding whiners complaining that some incidental bug on some hardware or software set up that you may not have complaining that you’re not fixing at the same time as you have a day job and put out software in your spare time for free, and not doing anything to help you along other than mention that it’s still not fixed…. still not fixed…. still not fixed…..

Course, at least I don’t have to pay Microsoft $99 per incident to be told it’s not a bug, it’s a feature, and it’s my fault anyway. Well, that’s how I imagine it is anyway. A search for “How to report a bug to microsoft” has the top results either dead links (requiring me to login with a live.com / hotmail.com email address), outdated information or articles saying how it’s impossible to submit a bug to Microsoft. Submitting a search for “report a bug” from the front page of Microsoft.com crashes Firefox!!!

I don’t know if it’s better to not be able to report bugs, or report them and have them ignored… 🙂

Update:

Seems people have been going and updating old bugs lately…. the following just got an update:


[Bug 113556] META Refresh does not update back history as expected


This is the oldest bug in the list, one I reported to mozilla in 2001… looks like mozilla is doing a big bug-triage and this bug is being shuffled around.

Why Do People Like Summer?

In this week’s heat wave I am really wondering what all the hype about this “summer” thing is? I can’t sleep at night because it’s boiling hot, when I do wake up my allergies almost immediately start bugging me, and heaven help me if I go outside at all…. if I take my crappy and ineffective allergy meds and do make it outside I’m immediately alit upon by about 30 blood sucking mosquitoes, meaning that when I go back inside to hide with the air conditioning and fans (which only do so much against the 32+ heat) I’m itchy and my arms and legs look like I have some sort of horrible rash.

If I hide from the mosquitoes and heat by going for a drive in the car with the windows down, then it’s just like having someone blow hot air on my face instead of the non-moving hot air in the house.

Bah, humbug.