In a world where being able to connect with old friends, family, co-workers, and connections is now the “norm” it surprises me when we start to see backlash as we are with Facebook recently. Especially when these are FREE services. However, everyone in the Internet age has been foregoing bits and pieces of their privacy for the convenience of connecting with each other and interacting in a social way online.
The thing is that when we interact online we are always leaving a little digital signature of who we are, where we came from, what we did, etc. Part of this is an aspect of the Web in general through cookies and GPS coordinates. Another part is just by virtue of how the Web works and how analytics are tracking site behavior. While Web sites may not know who you are specifically (unless you log in), they will certainly get a good idea of what you like and deliver better content next time.
Free sites have to make money. Running Web servers, development costs, etc all costs money and no investor or venture capitalist is going to invest in a company without the potential to get their money back. So for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, (insert name of cool website with free service), they all have the same issue; how will they make money? For many, it will be in online advertising. Google does this with most of its products from Google Search to Gmail to YouTube. Facebook does it with ads and virtual gifts. Even LinkedIn does it with their online recruiting (job board), research arm, and advertisements. However, nobody really seems to care about it when it is advertising because most often it is what keeps the service free to use. Do you remember when Google first rolled out ads that were contextual to your search, or your email messages? Everyone was outraged, yet millions of people still use those services. When you go onto Amazon and you see products that are based on your behavior, your information you have shared and more. No matter what we do online, the more we want convenience of personalized information and use of free services we will have to give up a piece of our privacy. When you check-in at a restaurant using Yelp, Foursquare or Gowalla, you are sending out your location over the web. “I’m here!”
The easiest way that Facebook, and other social networks, are integrating your personal information is via their authentication tools. In Facebook?s world this is Facebook Connect. It allows you, the user, to log into another website with your Facebook credentials. In some cases, like a registration for a site, you can populate certain fields and share your activity with this new site with your Facebook friends. This is where everyone is getting their arms up air over this privacy invasion. But if you want the convenience of not having to remember dozens of usernames and passwords, using one, like what you use for Facebook becomes convenient.
The other big discussion is around Facebook?s social widgets. These are actually less intrusive as one might think. They are what we call iframes, which means the ?Like? button that they just rolled out is actually a page within a page. The Web site that the ?Like? button is on actually doesn?t get any information about that person. So for me, I have the ?Like? button on this blog post. If you see other people who ?like? this post, I get none of that data. It doesn?t go into a database of mine, or into an email to me. Zip. Nada. What makes them attractive to Web site administrators, like me, is that it provides a level of personalization that I couldn?t achieve otherwise. And because Facebook is 500M strong, the chances are of that personalization working on my Web site is pretty good. The same goes for CNN and thousands of other sites which have integrated these new features into them.
The next time you think about your privacy and where your information is being shared, or even sold, think about he conveniences you have online when you use Web sites. You are giving up your privacy every day, but you are also willing to do so. In fact, if you really want to know who else is using your personal information just look into the fine print of the following:
- Your Bank
- Your Credit Cards
- Your Loyalty Cards (Grocer, Movie Rental, Book Store)
- Google Account (Oh, how quickly we forget about them)
- Professional Association or Trade Association
You may be surprised on what you read.
Recently the BlackBerry device was delivered two important apps for business users to their app store, Twitter and LinkedIn. For the last year the iPhone has been the dominant device for most major app development with Android becoming a distant second. BlackBerry devices seemed to be falling by the wayside. Which strikes me as odd seeing how BlackBerry devices are very dominant in the business world and growing in the consumer phone world as well. I know the easy answer is that the touch screen and just plain sex appeal of an iPhone is better than owning a BlackBerry (myself included), but I think these two apps will start to change that thinking. The reality is that the BlackBerry codex is more complicated and thus the apps cost more to make. However, as a business user, my BlackBerry rules and I need apps for it. After I recently had my BlackBerry upgraded to the Curve 8900 I started to look at apps not only to see what they looked like and how they worked with an eye to something we might build for my organization, but also just to see what was out there. Not much existed. While there are plenty of apps, nothing was ringing the same way my friends who have iPhones would talk about their apps. Hey, if we “bump” our phones together, we can share contact information. But maybe that was the point – the BlackBerry market is just different than the iPhone market.
I know that BlackBerry is more complex to write an application for. It has a different user interface and that can’t be simple to compensate for a lack of touch screen as an input (well there is the Storm(2). But I’m hoping these two apps start a push; a push for more apps to be developed. The Twitter and LinkedIn apps are important to me because I use them for professional purposes. And while I like looking at Facebook updates on my BlackBerry, I really have ignored my professional network on LinkedIn…until now. This app is a much needed upgrade from their mobile site, allowing me to do much more to monitor or share with my professional network. This is good.
Before upgrading to the new Twitter app I was using Über Twitter. Uber Twitter was nice at the time because it did more than just going to the mobile site of Twitter.com. However, it had ads that I found annoying, even if they were minimal intrusion. Now that Twitter has an official BlackBerry app, I’ve bailed on Über Twitter. I have to try the official app. According to the BlackBerry site, Twitter for BlackBerry features include:
- Get your Direct Messages as soon as they arrive
- Reply to tweets, re-tweet and send Direct Messages
- Post a link from your BlackBerry® Browser
- Take a funny picture and upload it
After a few days of use, I like the interface. I find the integration into my inbox for notifications useful. One of the downsides right now is that you can’t integrate multiple Twitter accounts or access them without logging out. The latter is something I like about Über Twitter. Also, you can’t edit a re-tweet in the official BlackBerry app. I will live with these two cons for the additional pros of accessing trending topics and overall Twitter search. Right now I have to find a balance between monitoring my Twitter accounts when I’m at my desk vs. on the go. Desktop monitoring is done via TweetDeck, which doesn’t have a BlackBerry app yet. The jury is still completely out on the official app, but it is a good first step.
LinkedIn is a different beast in and of itself. Similar to Facebook, but also not. LinkedIn is really the defacto profession network. While specialty networks will still arise, like MH Connected for lawyers, LinkedIn really addresses the business world as a whole, no matter what industry you are in.
Again, according to the LinkedIn blog, the app features:
- Network Updates. View and share crucial business intelligence and updates with your network. Perfect for those spare moments between meetings.
- Search. Search across over 60 million global professionals, and get the answer back in seconds. We’ve implemented a unified search across both your direct connections and the entire LinkedIn network.
- Connections. LinkedIn is your address book in the cloud. Get quick access to any of your connections to get their up-to-date profile information, and the ability to send them a message immediately.
- Invitations. Why wait to get back to your desk? Accept outstanding invitations immediately.
- Messages. Messaging is one of the reasons that BlackBerry owners love their devices, and we’ve worked hard to integrate your LinkedIn Inbox.
- Reconnect. You can’t leverage your network if you don’t build it. This module brings suggestions for new connections to you anytime. Now you can build your network from anywhere, in seconds.
These are great features that I have started to use. It reminds me a lot of the Facebook for BlackBerry app, but better.
Taking Advantage of the Platform
According to the announcement blog post, the LinkedIn app also takes advantage of several native BlackBerry applications. These include:
- Contacts. Integrate your LinkedIn connections with your BlackBerry address book, and view the profile of any contact directly on your BlackBerry.
- Messages. LinkedIn invitations and messages will now appear in your BlackBerry Inbox, just like any other email. You can also view the LinkedIn profile of the sender of any email you receive.
- Calendar. You can now view the LinkedIn profile of any attendee of a meeting on your BlackBerry calendar.
I can’t stress the importance of integration with the native features of BlackBerry OS. If you are going to use these third party networks, integration is key and this is one of the great aspects of the LinkedIn app. Going from the mobile site which was really basic and clunky to this app is like going from a pinto to a corvette. Nice job.
Overall the BlackBerry market needs to get a kick-start. Mobile professionals, while migrating to the iPhone and probably the Droid phones now too need apps for the BlackBerry. I’ll be frank in saying the pure interface of a BlackBerry is one of its biggest challenges. Whether it is the roller ball, the touch pad, or even the touch screen in the Storm(2), developing for the BlackBerry can’t be as easy as the Android and Apple devices. But here is to hoping. Hoping that more business applications come out that support good business use on the BlackBerry device.