Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Wall Street Journal published a breathtaking revelation (yes, the sarcasm is thick) that some information on Facebook is not private, even with the strictest privacy settings enabled:

Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

Unfortunately, many legitimate news organizations including The Washington Post, The LA Times, Bloomberg News, and Forbes have propagated the fear that your information is not yours, and that Facebook is to blame. These news organizations are either attempting to drive traffic through fear mongering – or worse – they have no idea how the internet really works and are just simply trusting  a “credible” source like the Wall Street Journal because they are uninformed and lazy.

Here is the truth about everything you do online : It is NOT private. A little article in TechCrunch today starts to paint the picture:

We’ll put aside the fact that no mention was made of the Wall Street Journal’s sister company and Facebook competitor MySpace….

The way this is being done is via referrer URLs (99% of the general population just got lost on what those are), which can contain profile IDs. Which can then be used to look up users. And whatever information that user has in his or her public profile can then be scraped and added to a database.

And then…well, nothing. It’s in a database. And theoretically can be used to target ads to you.

So, in laymen’s terms, when you sign up to use a third party Facebook app, you give them a little information about you so they can target advertising to you. If it is not plain and obvious to you already, nothing is free on the internet (not totally free). If you read content, play games, watch videos, do the social networking thing, or shop for anything, you are giving a little piece of yourself to the sites you visit. Most of us WANT this. Let me say that again in case you missed it. Most of us WANT the sites we visit to remember what we like – it prevents us from entering data over and over again. It prevents me from getting advertisement for women’s perfume. It lets my bank know that I do most of my banking online, and it does not treat me like a new customer but as an existing customer. It tells YouTube that I like kitten videos. You get the picture.

Further, if you operate on the web believing that you can do it privately, you are a fool. My educated guess is that less than 5% of people that use the web today have the technical skills needed to truly surf the web totally anonymously. And of those 5% that know how, most of us don’t care.

So, my advice? Do as Robert Scoble does (he’s part of that 5%):

How do I handle the privacy issues Facebook is having? I changed all my settings to “as public as possible.” That solved a few things.

1. It made it easy to figure out the privacy settings.

2. I won’t be shocked if something leaks into public view because now I’ll expect it.

3. It lets me move on with my life and make fun of all those wacky pundits who deleted their Facebook accounts.

In other words, expect your information to be public – only post things that you are okay with your boss, kids, spouse, friends, bank, congress, and your mom finding out. If it needs to be private, save it for email and the telephone (if you are paranoid or working for the NSA, perhaps you should stick to in person conversations in a brick room with no windows)

One last word on this – nobody (besides the people that make money selling you stuff) probably cares about your “private” information. Seriously, stop being so narcissistic and get over yourself.

5 years ago we were building “Rich Internet Applications” using flash alone. We were odd birds in the development community. Outcasts. We didn’t have Flex, we had Colin Moock’s book and Grant Skinner’s fabulous components. What separated the good flash developers from the greats? Footprint. Our file sizes were small. We took pride in the fact that our rich applications were drastically smaller than their antiquated and un-sexy HTML counterparts. When IT pros said “don’t use flash because the file sizes are huge” we laughed and easily proved them wrong. It was good times.

Fast forward 5 years. 80% of households have high-speed internet. Mobile data is faster than most home connections were “way back then”, and wifi almost everywhere that matters. Bandwidth is plentiful. It’s like living in the Wonka factory and all the chocolate is free. If your app is 10 megs, it downloads in seconds. If it’s 100, minutes. We just don’t have to worry about file-size anymore. Right?

I’ve been spending the day doing what I call “iMaintenance” – organizing my iPad/iPhone content and apps and updating all the apps that needed updating. I noticed that some of the apps I was updating were monsters. 213 megs for Real Racing, 12 9megs for Texas Holdem, 47 megs for iFish Pond. Most of the games and utility applications were well over 10 megs. And some of my favorite applications, Adobe Ideas, Open Table, WSJ, Food Scanner, Word Press, and New York Times were all smaller than 2 megs.

Some would argue that the content is driving the file size higher – and they are right in some circumstances. But I would argue that most developers have failed to respect the elegance of thinking about the foot print. Yes, there is something Zen about developing a very small application. But there is also a discipline that is created when you obsess over file size. Applications that are smaller should take less memory, should perform better, should be easier to maintain, and should only do the things that the user actually needs. Thinking about how to most elegantly and simply solve a problem makes an application better. Not just better for better’s sake – it actually makes the app more valuable.

First, I should say I am a big fan and customer of  Express. Their fitted MX shirts are the only shirts that fit me since I’ve been working out, they are not crazy expensive, look great, good quality, and they offer a fantastic selection in all of their stores. I received a direct mail piece from them today to entice me to shop online with them (I almost never open a DM piece anymore, but since I’m a loyal customer I thought it was a great way for me to pick up a few more shirts at a discount).

The offer was $30 off a purchase if i shop online with them… I went to and landed here: 10/7/2010

There are thousands of wanna-be ux experts in the world that love to pick on the design – it is easy to be a critic. But I think this site epitomizes the issues I have had for quite some time with how retailers approach their online experience.

My primary issue with the site is that it does match not their brand. If you walk into an Express store, you notice that it is clean and a bit modern – not over stated. It has a slightly pretentious decor with european house music softly playing in the background, white walls, clothes meticulously folded and stacked. The site however tells me their brand is all about spamming me and offering me discounts. It is what I would expect from a store that sold neon lights and bar stools.

Most of their site is dedicated to signing up so they can send me more marketing stuff – if their emails are as thought through and targeted as their home page, why would I want more of it? It is the equivalent of a man standing outside of their store holding a megaphone shouting “give me your email address and I’ll give you 15% off in this here place”.

I came here to buy something (which I assume most people who navigate to do). How much room did they dedicate to that activity on their home page? 10%! I guess the second reason I would go to their site is to find a location – all of 2% of their site is dedicated to FIND YOUR STORE.

I would wager this site is the frankenstein of decisions by committee and mis-guided customer feedback. A VP said “we need social networking” and the facebook & twitter badges appeared. A few vocal customers in a focus group said “is the site secure?” and the McAfee badge was added. Someone in marketing said “we need more email addresses” so they popped up a modal email window the second you hit the site. Someone said “we need to increase sales” and coupons and discounts appeared. Someone said “people like our music in our stores” so the Express Radio appeared.

This site is a clear demonstration of what can happen when you do not take the time to really understand what your customers want from a digital channel and mapping a strategy and rules of engagement to those user needs.

I wish I could say that this site was unique. They they are making mistakes nobody else is making. Unfortunately, etail sites are incestually bad. They all steal their bad ideas from one another instead of looking to their customers to create something meaningful.

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