You know when you’ve been Scobled

So to join in with the chain-reaction that is Robert Scoble being wiped off the Facebook of the Earth.

Disclaimer: First off, I’m on Scoble’s side, though I am prepared to see that there are two sides, and consider that there is a justification that I haven’t thought of. I’m on the fence, but my legs are both on the Scoble side. 🙂

As you may know, he was banned for running a script that would pull his social graph from Facebook, which apparently is a violation of their terms of service. While it may be a violation of TOS, those TOS are fundamentally broken. Despite this, it’s become a topic of much debate, and I can see why it’s a difficult one to judge.

While I’d personally like to be able to pull my data from Facebook whenever I like, I can see a few reasons they might use to justify their TOS (these aren’t my justifications, just possible reasons/excuses for the TOS):

  1. They don’t want millions of people killing their servers with scripts
    Okay fair enough. But the easy way round this would be if the provide/brought back an export facility that does the export on their terms.
  2. They reckon they’re protecting your friends’ data by not allowing scraping
    Your friends are entrusting you with their data, to do with as you wish. So what if Facebook is the medium they choose to provide it to you with? It’s your social graph, and you can still get it via the website, so what difference does scraping it make?
  3. Some kind of state law (same as 2?)
    I can’t comment here, I’m not a lawman, but I suppose there’s a legal thing somewhere, maybe to do with corporate liability insurance or something?
  4. They want to lock you into their platform and make it hard to go to the competition
    Well this is the most likely reason for it, but surely disabling your account is cutting their nose off to spite their face? Disallow the behaviour, tell the user it’s a problem, disable the account and let them know what’s happened, and get back to them when they explain what was going on. If it was a malicious script the user didn’t know about, that’s great, otherwise, let them get on with it.

I commented on Scoble’s blog with the following:

Hope they get you back on. It’s a hard one this, deciding who owns the data. Technically your friends own their data, but on the other hand they’ve trusted you to have it. The only reason Facebook don’t have an export function is probably a competition/lock-in thing. Maybe they’re also worried about denial-of-service as a result of people running scripts?

Heck, even Gmail has an open API for getting contacts from it.

Only to get this reply:

@NeilBarnwell – It’s not hard at all, *you* own your own social graph. It’s not so much the people or even data about them that makes it special its the relationship between them thats special, and again, yours.

I think I understand the point, but I don’t think I stated mine well enough in the first place. My point is that Facebook might have thought they were protecting data or the responsiveness of their service, and just didn’t explain it or deal with it very well.

Facebook aren’t going to go under just yet, but things like this, which are getting so much press, will be damaging to their already tarnishing reputation.

Oh, and the term “Scobled” isn’t mine, I saw in the comments on Scoble’s blog:

I’m coining a new term: Scobled

As in “you’ve been scobled dude”: terminated, waxed, disabled, vaporized, eliminated, banned abruptly and without warning.

Comment by Jeff Crites – January 3, 2008 @ 6:38 am

What Twitter is not

I love Twitter.  I think it’s a great tool for keeping in touch, though I’m still in the middle of trying to convince friends and colleages to use it (it’s considered a bit geeky I think).

However, I just removed my first “follows”, because that well-known person was simply regurgitating links to articles on Truemors.com.  If I wanted to know what was on Truemors, I’d add a feed to Google Reader, but I don’t, so I haven’t.  What I want to hear on Twitter is what people are thinking, ideas they’ve had, not mindless link propagation linking to something I could add a feed for.

There is an excellent article by Chris Pirillo on 10 ways to Eliminate the Echo Chamber.  Which is well worth a read.  Blogging (and Twitter is a form of blogging) should be you posting about your own experiences and ideas, with links as appropriate to add value and context.

I also don’t want to listen to one-half of a conversation they’re having with someone else.  I want that stuff out of the main feed, and either displayed as a thread, or hidden altogether.  I don’t want Twitter to become a chatroom.  We have chatrooms and newsgroups for that, which are real-time, allow everyone to participate and can be indexed by Google for searching.  If you want to get me on the SMS/mobile aspect, then I’ll let you have that.  Even then, with 3G and widespread commercial Wi-fi coupled with devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch, that could soon start to change.

I’ll stop now, I’m getting way too big for my boots, but I really like Twitter, and what it could do if it doesn’t become polluted, as Facebook as been.  I’m worried about it, is all.

What do you want Twitter to be?

How useful are newsgroups?

I think tech blogging might have overtaken newsgroups. Not in terms of quantity, but definitely quality.
Consider this comment I just saw moments ago (thus prompting this post):

> is there a good, easy and safe way to:
> – put all threads into a ‘wait until I tell you to continue’

Yes, don’t use assynchronous processes that have to be synchronized.

I don’t need to explain here why it’s wrong, but it is. This is the inherent danger of using newsgroups to get help on software development topics.

There was a time a long time ago when I spent a lot of time on VB newsgroups answering people’s questions on how to things or solve problems they were having, but I gradually found less and less time to do this, especially when carefully thought-out replies were lost in the midst of things like this. Now I find that CodeProject or even MSDN itself are often better places to find accurate information. Moderated newsgroups that only experts (so not me) could post answers on might be better, but that introduces a raft of problems, not least of which, defining “expert”.  All these things are voluntary, and real experts have only the same hours in the day as the rest of us.

Could something like Twitter help here?  It would be lovely to build a community of respected “answerers”, where you could choose those users whose answers you generally find useful, and filter out the detritus.  If you could post a question somewhere, it pops up on an RSS feed, and if someone knows the answer and has a few minutes, they post it.

Am I missing something?

One status to rule them all

I’ve literally today really got into Twitter. You can find me as nbarnwell. I think it’s because I’m such a fan of the status updates on Facebook. I love the idea of a simple phrase that says what I’m thinking or doing at any time. I love the idea that I can update it easily, too.

To start with, I was using the Facebook webapp itself, but then I found that I hate Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a social network site that connects me better with friends and family, I just hate the dross of so-called “applications” that have sprung up and now all but smother the very thing that makes Facebook so good.  I’ve blogged about minor points of Facebook’s usability nightmare, and I’ll blog again soon on the subject.

I wanted to get away from the clutter. The first thing I did was to knock up a small application using some code I obtained from ZapTheDingbat to update my status with a local application that takes a command line (I tried using the Facebook developers toolkit, only to find the API sorely lacking in functionality). Put that together with Launchy, and hey presto, I can update my status with no mouse clicks, no waiting for browsers to open, nothing.

So that took care of telling people about me, but what about finding out about my friends? Well fortunately, Dave Winer found the answer, and it lies in RSS feeds for status updates.

So this is all well and good, but I find myself outgrowing Facebook status updates. I think I might want to be micro-blogging properly, so I’ve signed up for Twitter. I still want to update my Facebook status (after all, that’s where my friends are at the moment), so wouldn’t it be cool if it updated with my latest tweet? Yes it would, and I happened on the easiest way to do it:

  1. In Facebook, search for, add, and logon to the Twitter application.
  2. Once it’s up and running, and you’re on the “What are you doing?” page, you’ll see a blue box containing the text “Want Twitter to update your Facebook status? Click here!”.
  3. Click it and follow any instructions.
  4. Stick a tweet on Twitter, and hey presto!

So that’s it. I’m now updating my Twitter “status” and Facebook status in one go, and I see Facebook friend updates in Google Reader along with all my other feeds, while tweets I’m monitoring using IM (Google Talk) and the Twitter website.

Now I just need to contact my mobile operator to see what the cost would be if I used SMS to post tweets more often; Twitter say:

Though you’ll never see a bill from Twitter, it depends on your text messaging plan; standard text messaging rates (such as international text messaging fees) do apply. Consult your service provider to ensure that your text plan covers your Twitter usage. Give your provider the Twitter phone number you’ll be using to see if you’ll incur extra charges. If you’re using Twitter from outside of the US, please consult your carrier to find out if you’ll incur international charges using Twitter numbers, as every provider has a different policy.

So I need to be sure before I rack up a huge bill (and I think I could get addicted to this…). Either that or I use GPRS and use the m.twitter.com site, but that still costs a fair whack on my current call plan, and is much slower than a simple SMS.

Nearly there…

Proofreading is hard to do

Proofreading is an essential part of everyday life. I’m pretty anal about things like that, and constantly go over and over almost everything I write. The trouble is, I still notice problems with my posts after they’ve “gone to print”, despite the check-and-double-check approach I tend to take.

More worrying is when you spot a WTF in code you wrote some time ago, or yesterday. This happened to me today – while going through some code in a peer-review, I noticed that a method parameter was not being used in that method. So simple (and, I might add, in this case fortunately not an issue) and easy to miss.

I know what you’re thinking:

“Hah! If you’d written a unit test you would have found this much quicker!”

but I know already, and my point isn’t really limited to writing code. Blog posts, emails, letters forum posts, comments, you name it. How often have you only realised your mistake after clicking “Publish”?

How long is a piece of string?

Or a blog post? Should we be optimising not just our web applications, but our content, to be more digestible on the latest PDAs/iPhones/Feed readers? I’d like to post more images on this blog, but since it’s hard to find images relevant to the text, I prefer to leave them out rather than clog up my readers’ bandwidth with irrelevant content

How do you go about self-editing on your blog? Do you say what you want, or read it over and over until it’s as finely optimised as that Towers of Hanoi application you created at college?

Hello world!

This is to be yet another programming and development techie blog, so it seemed appropriate that the first post would be the classic “Hello World”. Here I’ll be posting on various topics based mostly around C# and ASP.NET development where, after much wandering in the wilderness, I’ve decided to settle down.

And so it begins…