I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to Facebook anymore!


Image inspired by Peter Finch in Network.

There have been a number of things about Facebook’s treatment of its users that have irked me over the years, from its cavalier attitude towards privacy to its attempts to “use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising”. However, the latest debacle over its experimental manipulation of what a person sees in order to determine the effect on a user’s behaviour has pushed me to consider my future as a Facebook user, or rather, my future as a non-user of Facebook.

I can only imagine the furore that would have ensued amongst users if I had decided to control the posts being displayed on the popular After Hours forum on boards.ie in my admin heyday by applying sentiment analysis or emotion detection algorithms and then hiding or promoting some posts to certain users, while measuring the resulting changes in subsequent posts. As an academic, I am sure I could have produced an interesting and possibly highly-cited research paper on this, but I could not know in advance that my tinkering wouldn’t have a drastic effect on the real-world behaviours of individual users exposed to the more negative posts.

(My colleagues at DERI, now Insight at NUI Galway, have created a system to examine the health of online communities, providing observations at a macro and micro level. Along with tools like the Text Analysis API from Irish-based AYLIEN, these insights into clusters, user roles, topics and content could be used to help administrators direct the future development of a community, but in a transparent manner and not after the fact).

While I couldn’t say that I am a power user of Facebook (most of my content is propagated from Twitter), I have made a significant investment in the platform, both in terms of time and money. I bought my username from a namesake, have run various targeted ad campaigns, and I’ve acquired a diverse 600-plus-strong network made up of a mixture of family, friends, colleagues and peers. I’ve been a member since the end of June 2007, so breaking up after seven years is hard to do… I also know a bunch of people who work at Facebook, both here in Ireland and in the US – they’re nice people, not evil corporate drones. However, it doesn’t change the fact that at times the company has displayed really poor judgement, and it has alienated a lot of people this week to the point of leaving the website.

Quitting from Facebook isn’t straightforward. There are two options: delete (permanently) and deactivate (temporarily, for as long as you want). You can find the deactivate option fairly easily through the Settings menu, but they deliberately make it difficult for users to actually go through with it, either by applying psychological pressure around supposed soon-to-be abandoned friends or because of a user’s administrative ties to created pages or applications.

For me, they failed in the former, because by showing me photos of a bunch of influential users in my network with captions like “X will miss you”, they probably chose the people least likely to worry about my insignificant ramblings. Will Pat Phelan, Patrick Collison or Donncha Ó Caoimh really miss (or even remember) my posts about Lego or how Galway is the best place to be for tech? No, Facebook, they probably won’t: they’re too busy rolling out fantastic products of their own to millions of users.

They tripped me up somewhat in the latter. I was the only admin for three out of my 10-15 Facebook pages, so I had to manually add some backup admins for those before I could deactivate. When it came to the nine or ten Facebook applications I had created, it told me that I had to add a new owner to each or delete the application before I deactivated. To be honest, I suspected that many of them were unused but I bailed out at this step as I didn’t have the willpower (or perhaps the courage) to delete them.

Before I started the deactivation process, I realised that the primary reason that I wanted to hold on to my Facebook account at all was so that I could administer various official or community pages when necessary. Deactivating my account would make it difficult to do this any more, without creating a dummy account in its place. So what was the alternative?

I decided that I could still choose to not make any new posts, to turn off access to future posts, to not allow others to post to my timeline, and to restrict new friend requests so that my account would be all but dormant. I also turned off the Facebook Platform, which disables third-party apps (like Twitter integration) and stops them from auto-posting content or doing other stuff to your account. You can also turn off access to all historical posts, but the system warns you that access can only be turned back on again on a post-by-post basis (a bit time consuming if you change your mind!). Facebook only lets you go so far with some of the privacy or access limits: some can be changed to “Only Me”, but many are at the “Friends of Friends” or “Friends” level.

It isn’t easy to port your content to another platform: Facebook does have a facility to download your content, which is straightforward and emails you a link to download a HTML dump that can be easily browsed offline. It doesn’t conform to data portability or interoperability standards, but a ScraperWiki script or something similar could achieve that pretty quickly. You can also add a trusted contact who can assist you with access to your account if you lose it, but you need to add at least three people, and I could only think of one.

On the plus side, by keeping my account active but dormant, I can still use my profile image and cover photo to make a statement. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to Facebook anymore!”, “Follow me instead at http://twitter.com/johnbreslin”, or “Go use Google+/Diaspora*/[insert platform name here] instead…”

I haven’t done that just yet, but I have effectively disconnected from Facebook, removed the app from my home screen, changed my password to something that I can’t easily remember, and logged out all of my active Facebook sessions on other devices. How long will I last, and how long do you think you could last? Do you want to make tomorrow, July 4th, your “Independence from Facebook Day”?

You can listen to us discuss the Facebook news feed experiment in the latest Technology Voice Show.

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A Selection of Interviews from the StartApp Competition

On the 3rd and 4th of June in Belfast and Dublin respectively, Irish Startups were given the chance to pitch their products at StartApp Competition. A group of VCs and investors were brought over from the United States to view their presentations in a Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank scenario.

Phil McNamara (in blue shirt on left) emceeing the presentations during the StartApp Competition at the Wayra in Dublin. A similar event took place in Belfast the previous day.

Tom M: Why are we dong this? Why are we here?

Phil M: We are doing this because we love helping startups and it’s also good for business. What
Voxpro
does is help U.S. companies that are expanding and growing in Europe. We help them with their contact centres in Ireland. We also love working with other startups. Big startups like Google and Airbnd and Nest…
What we are doing here is we’re encouraging U.S. investors to come to Ireland, meet with some of the best Irish startups and then enjoy kite-surfing in Achill Island, in the West of Ireland.

Tom M: Kite-surfing, is that what they get at the end of all this? Can you give us a sense of the temperature of the event? How it’s going down? What’s the response been like?

Phil M: So, it’s going really, really well. We are sold out completely in the event in Achill Island. We’ve had a lot of really, really good startups apply. We’ve had over 200 startups apply from all over Ireland — both North and South. So it’s an all Ireland event.

We had a winner announced in Belfast last night — which was Plotbox. And we are in the midst of the startup event here in Dublin in Wayra. And we are looking at some very hot startups now.

So, people are really excited about it. They are very interested in the prize. The prize is a very, very good one. it’s a month’s accommodation with Airbnb in San Francisco. We’ll give them mentoring. We’ll give them introductions to VCs. We’ll also give them car hire to use, a phone, introductions to Y Combinator, to all the biggest startups and three months in RocketSpace. So it’s a really, really good prize.

Tom M: I can see why you would do this for fun. Because it’s obviously entertaining to have all these people together in one room discussing their projects. But on a more serious note, do these Irish companies really need this sort of help or encouragement or invitation?

Phil M: I really think they do. It’s really, really tough to build a global brand out of Ireland and by having them encourage them to come to the U.S., especially Silicon Valley, they’ll get access to more capital, they’ll get access to more customers. It’s a much, much easier place to do business. it’s more competitive but it’s a really, really good thing to be able to pull them out of here for a couple of weeks or a few months…explore Silicon Valley, help them to see there’s a huge market out there and get them thinking in a more Silicon Valley way.

Clare Fitzpatrick is the Financial Controller of Wayra in Dublin

Tom M: What do all these people do here normally?

Clare F: Normally, we have ten startups in here and they come in for a period of nine months. We put them through an incubator program. We invest in them and take a share in them.

And then, before that they get mentoring, they get access to the Telefonica markets and so they get to pitch their projects into the Telefonica corporate, if they’re fit.

They spend nine months here. Over that period they, I guess, grow. We support them with individual support depending on what they need. They would also benefit from being part of the eco-system and learning from each other over that period.

Tom M: Do these products have to be destined for telecommunications?

Clare F: No, not necessarily, we have a very wide range of products from fashion apps to fashion supply chain software…
OptiWi-Fi which would be one which…actually puts wi-fi structure in…but it’s not restricted to that at all.

Tom M: Why do we need something like this? What prompted people to start it?

Clare F: I suppose Telefonica saw a need for innovation and to be in that space and, I suppose, to gain from startups. As in, we take a share of them. Why not be a part of that? If a startup can get a corporate like Telefonica to sign up as a customer it gives them validation moving forward.

They only need one — they make that big sale to corporate and then they can use that as validation to move forward.

But, believe me, it’s a commercial, it’s a commercial reason to be in it too.

Tom M: Engineers and startup people tend to not be the most financially attuned so what would people have to do to prepare for coming here or to prepare to launch their own app?

Clare F: I guess, from a financial perspective they are savvy enough. They mightn’t know the detail but they are savvy enough. They need to have cash coming in, in order to have cash coming out.

I think they need to understand the speed at which the money goes and then understand how necessary it is to get it in. So that’s the balance they all need to achieve.

Neal O’ Gorman (on the right in the picture) who along with his Co-Founder, Eric Risser (on the left) were the winners of this year’s StartApp competition

Tom M: And the winner today is a happily smiling Neal O’ Gorman from…

Neal: Artomatix

Tom M: And what is Artomatix?

Neal: Artomatix is solving the problem that art creation costs too much and takes too long, particularly in the video games and movie industries. We solve it by automating, semi-automating the creation of art based on the examples that artists have created.

So, we solve an industry problem by solving an artist’s problem. Artists are creating pieces of art that aren’t very creative. They start with something creative but then they have to iterate, and iterate and iterate.

And we’re saving the drudgery or pain…We are optimising, we are insuring they are more efficient with their time.

Tom M: So who are your customers?

Neal: Our customers are video game developers and movie studios along with art out-sourcing companies. Particularly in Asia, there’s a bunch of companies that have a very large number of artists whose sole job is creating new art…

Tom M: You were here in a Dragon’s Den or a Shark’s Tank pitching away today, how was it? Would it be something you’d recommend to other startups?

Neal: It’s part and parcel of being in the startup world. For me it was a little bit easier. My Co-Founder who’s the more natural presenter presented. But if you’re not comfortable presenting and pitching you shouldn’t be here.

Tom M: What are you going to do when you get to San Francisco?

Neal: For us, lots of the game developers and movie studios are there so we will be talking to investors but we’ll also be talking to customers too.

The interview with Bill Tai took place after a speech he gave at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin at a reception following the StartApp Competition which took place in Belfast and Dublin at the beginning of June.

Tom M: Why have you come to Ireland?

Bill T: I am here for a couple of reasons. One is, as I mentioned, startups are blossoming all over the world. And I have heard so many great things about the startup entrepreneur, the quality of startups and start up entrepreneurs in this area that I wanted to come out.

And Phil McNamara, he’s a good, dear friend and he’s been so high on what’s happening here he just convinced me I really needed to come out and give it a look myself and look for interesting investing opportunities. Along with that, of course, is quite a healthy contingent of kite-boarders in this part of the world and everyone who knows me knows that I love to kite-board. And I wanted to check out Achill Island as well.

So, in combination with the StartApp Competition we are doing a Mai Tai gathering in Achill Island.

Tom M: So how do the startups compare with startups you see back in the States?

Bill T: Ah, well, you know they are pretty comparable. What’s been happening in the States – the trend line has been for the average age of entrepreneurs to be coming down year after year. So, what that’s done has created a sort of normalising effect around the world. Where it used to be fifteen or twenty years ago if you were doing something in hardware you needed somebody that was sort of on their fourth generation of product at a well established company because they knew the subtleties of what those are.

What’s happening now is you really need to look for people that are young enough that they don’t know any better, and they think things should be a certain way and they’re not, so they set out to do that.

And what that’s down is, kind of, allow young people everywhere in the world, they don’t have to be young but oftentimes it is the younger people who are a little more disruptive in their thinking because they don’t understand why the existing infrastructure is the way it is.

So, I think the startups are not that different.

Tom M: You spoke about disruption there and there are a lot of Irish companies that are very similar companies so where do you see the gaps? Where should Irish companies be looking to develop ideas?

Bill T: As I mentioned, I think there is a lot to be done on interesting web services that can be delivered by mobile that are very low friction to access. I think that all the kinds of existing things what we’ve seen that are pervasive behaviours, whether they’re communications through messaging and email, to ways to shop, to ways to access financial date or whatever you want to do.

Those are areas that are constantly evolving with every generation of people and the mechanism for delivery, because it’s gone mobile so quickly, has just created new opportunity sets for a lot of people.

So, I think those are kinds of things that are, kind of, happening now. I think as we go forward, data science is going to become more and more important because the companies that are the winners in their respective segments of the web are the ones that understand their data and understand what’s happening with their users because they are recording, and measuring and analysing.

And that type of applied data science is going to move from just the web world, where it is predominately, to every type of business that is a bricks and mortar business on the planet.

So, I think there is an enormous wave of opportunity there.

Technology Voice Podcast Episode 11-“Big Brother is Manipulating You”

00:00 Start
00:13 Introductions: John Breslin @johnbreslin
Marie Boran @pixievondust
Jack Harty ie.linkedin.com/pub/jack-harty/15/92b/1b9
Andrii Degeler @shlema
Fergal Gallagher @gallagherfergal
Tom Murphy @tom_murphy
01:23 Credit FlirtFM @flirtfm wwww.flirtfm.ie
01:43 Facebook – Unethical Experimentation
10:50 Social Mirror http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/news/rsa-launches-tablet-application,-social-mirror
12:54 Youtube Fan Funding http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaymcgregor/2014/06/27/youtube-announces-60fps-video-fan-funding-and-new-music-show/

16:08 Teaching unions ban coding to be taught in Irish Schools due to bigger fight about Junior Cycle reform.
http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/junior-cert-students-will-study-coding-30383449.html

22:09 Interview with Leigh Graves Wolf – Progam Director of Master of Arts and Educational Technology
#GREAT14 NUI Galway, New Engineering Building, July 15 1pm-4pm

Save the Date! #GREAT14 Galway, Ireland July 15, 2014

30:26 Aereo Loses case https://www.aereo.com

37:27 Yo! http://www.justyo.co

40:54 StartApp Competition report http://www.startappcompetition.com
Featuring:
Phil McNamara – Voxpro http://www.voxprogroup.com/news/
Clare Fitzpatrick – Wayra http://ie.wayra.org/en/academia/dublin
Neal O’Gorman – Artomatix http://artomatix.com/about
Bill Tai – VC http://about.me/billtai

50:14 Tech Finance with Jack Harty
Cash Burn
CEO vs Non-Executive Director
Difference between Cash & Profits http://www.investopedia.com/articles/analyst/03/122203.asp

60:51 Amazon’s Firefly http://gizmodo.com/firefly-lets-fire-phone-scan-just-about-anything-and-bu-1592717776

61:00 Startup Galway – http://startupgalway.org

62:00 Wrap up and thank yous