Category Archives: Social Media

The Twitter Graveyard

Someone (not of the internet generation) asked me about Twitter recently, and whether it’s a good company to “invest” in. I could have brought up Friendster but it would fly completely over their heads. Years ago, my initial objection to Twitter years ago was that there’s no way anyone could have a conversation in 140 characters. However, it held great promise for interacting with celebrities where an average person can tweet at someone like Donald Trump and have him respond.

It seems that recently, Twitter has gone down the censorship route in the name of “Trust and Safety” which frankly sounds like some sort of department from the book 1984. Their stated goal is to “ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter.”

None of the organizations in their “council” (as of this writing) are dedicated to free speech and free expression. I strongly believe that ideas need to be expressed, critiqued, and if necessary condemned, but never censored. It’s a tough road to follow, especially for a publicly traded company focused on profit.

Further research has shown that Twitter has abused their verification policies by “unverifying” gay conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. As a company, the powers that be at Twitter are free to do what they wish, but discouraging bloggers to post on Twitter because they go against the political beliefs of their executives is a surefire way to join the graveyards of Myspace and Friendster. It’s clear that they don’t care about impartiality and have decided to view thoughts they don’t like as unsafe.

I personally don’t agree with a lot of things, but I believe you have a right to say them. And I have a right to ignore them 🙂 Besides, if your ridiculous ideas get banned, how can I make fun of them? If you’re a legitimately bad person, I want to know so I can stay far, far away. Sunlight, disinfectant, you know?

It’s even worse when you’re a publicly traded company whose core technology can be easily duplicated by more financially stable companies who can stay focused on their primary product.

How about you fix your timeline algorithm instead?

This. Or how about you fix your broken news feed algorithm instead?

The advice I gave regarding Twitter stock had nothing to do with censorship. I said to stick with concepts that they know and interact with regularly, since they had no idea what a tweet is. I have a feeling that 20 years from now, nobody will have a clue what a tweet is either.

Facebook Stifles Diversity of Opinion

I’ve started to take my own advice and am reducing my activity on the social network Facebook. Recently, I’ve noticed that Facebook intrinsically promotes a homogenization of opinion — posts about the same kittens, sunsets, food, and other inoffensive, bland material. The problem is two-fold: context and validation. Let me explain.

Context: When I joined Facebook 10 years ago, it was called “TheFacebook” and limited to 30 college campuses. Your peers generally had the same cultural interests, usually: studying, parties, and “random play”. When a friend posted about an event on campus, it was relevant, it was interesting, and you’d scroll among the comments to see if someone you liked was attending. The context and cultural background were similar. It was fun.

These days, Facebook circles encompass a wide variety of people. Your old college friends, coworkers, people from conferences, drunks from a night out, and your grandparents. The cultural similarity between these groups is nil. These people don’t know each other. But Facebook forces them all to interact within the same structure which assumes everyone knows each other with the same familiarity.

This interaction is forced when people who don’t know each other, but know you, interact on your Wall or in Groups. This interaction is forced when Facebook shows what you post to your friends on other people’s newsfeeds.

Here’s an example, inspired by actual events but modified for privacy:

Conservative Friend 1 posts on newsfeed: Obamacare is terrible. rabble! rabble! rabble!
Me: I feel you. I’ve spent hours on hold with Covered California only to be disconnected. This blows!
Liberal Friend 2, on his newsfeed, sees me post on Conservative Friend 1’s wall even though he is not friends with Conservative Friend 1
Liberal Friend 2 (based on previously expressed views) thinks: Eww. Republicans are selfish and evil. The ACA is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Liberal Friend 2 blocks me.
Me thinks: ??? I’m just commiserating with a friend!

It need not be about politics. I have an Australian friend who uses the word “cunt” as equivalent to an “LOL”. Generally this would be considered offensive, but because I know him and know he means no disrespect, I don’t feel the need to blow up when he calls me that. Of course, if he were to post on my Wall and a third party–especially a feminist who didn’t understand the context–saw that, she would likely erupt in a frothy rage. The subcommunication between the two of us is invisible to the third party. And to water down your communication by making it accessible to the lowest common denominator essentially leads to talking like a politician — saying everything but meaning nothing.

So, what is the solution? Post bland, inoffensive content like pictures of your Westie, Siamese, or special edition Pliny the Younger. Or maybe some reshares from George Takei or some inspirational platitudes. The real solution is to get off Facebook and use a platform more suited to interaction…such as a blog (where previous posts provide context), or better yet, a coffee table (where context can be spoken).

Validation: It’s rare that people consciously realize this. If the average person doesn’t consciously notice how their behavior is being subconsciously shaped to promote bland, boring content online, then how does it happen?

The infamous “like” button!

FB Thumb

Let us assume you have 100 friends:

  • 40% of your friends like kittens (meow)
  • 30% of your friends like food (yum)
  • 20% of your friends like Ron Paul (screw quantitative easing!)
  • 10% of your friends like veganism (have you seen those factory farms?)

Let us also assume the following (these won’t add up to 100%):

  • 1% of your friends HATE** kittens (puppies are the one true pet)
  • 2% of your friends HATE** food (possibly on a diet)
  • 15% of your friends HATE** Ron Paul (those friends are government employees)
  • 10% of your friends HATE** veganism (medium-rare steak, cast iron pan, a little Montreal seasoning, butter…mmm I’m losing my impartiality)

**to the point where they block or unfollow you

Given these hypothetical statistics, what you get the most positive feedback for posting over time? Politically correct, boring, inoffensive, G-rated, bland content. Such content will generate the most “likes” and the least amount of blocks/unfollows. Most people don’t consciously pay attention to this, posting whatever strikes their fancy. However subconsciously, the behavior of an average person is shaped to seek validation. This can be demonstrated by the increase of those resharing pre-packaged viral content from Buzzfeed/Upworthy/etc.

But being attracted to a blog such as this one, you might be considering yourself above-average. There is an exception to this validation cycle, I found in those whose entire identity is polarizing to the point they draw in numerous supporters and an equal amount of haters. Examples I have seen include vegan or paleo advocates, religious conservative figures, radical capitalists or communists, men’s rights advocates, spiritual energy workers and other “against the grain” types. They have a singular focus — their “cause” — and anyone who detracts from it has no place in their lives whatsoever. If this applies to you, consider forging onward and viewing your haters, blockers, and unfollowers as small victories (people who were exposed to your truth and couldn’t handle it) rather than annoyances.

Should you blog under your real name or a theme (pseudonym)?

I’ve owned the domain name for over a decade, and have used it in the past to write personal blogs and projects, using the name Elemental, since ElementalDreams was too long. Within the past year, my real name was available as a domain name and I purchased it. Eventually, I had to decide whether to move everything over and blog under my real name or keep things the same. There were several points in my analysis:

Focus vs Connection
By using a pseudonym or theme, it forces you to stick to a particular topic. Case in point, there are various travel websites featuring themes like World-Traveller or Super-Digital-Nomad or Wandering-Gypsy or Young-Backpacker-Partying-It-Up-In-South-America, etc. After being locked in to a particular pseudonym and theme, you’re not suddenly going to talk about knitting.

By using your real name, you create a connection with your readers. People will actually recognize you at conferences and strike up conversations. This leads to greater social opportunities, interviews, and fun times. It’s also easier to handle one set of social networking sites instead of two.

Own your words; The legal aspects are overblown
Unless you’re writing an article on a hosted WordPress account generated by a disposable email address via a proxy server, chances are you’re not *really* anonymous. But then again, does it matter? In this day and age we have bloggers blogging about their sexual exploits, drug use, infidelity, past criminal activity, and other frowned-upon-by-society topics. Face it, unless you start using your blog to write death threats, nobody really cares. Everybody’s seen it before. You’re not that special.

In fact, you’re better off owning your issues publicly instead of avoiding them (but that’s for another post).

Why not try both?
You don’t have to choose one or the other, you can do both. You can have a theme, but also prominently display your real name.

You can also have the exact same website available via multiple URL’s. This works well for branding purposes, if your audience is influenced by such trivialities  I tell people whom I meet whatever URL they’re most likely to remember.

In order to do this for your own website, perform the following steps:

  1. Using cPanel, click on the “Addon Domains” button and add your secondary URL as a addon domain. The Document Root should be exactly the same as your primary URL (the one you originally installed WordPress on). If it’s not already listed below, use /public_html
  2. Install and configure the following WordPress plugin: Multidomain

This plugin will allow WordPress to recognize your secondary domain and rewrite internal links to make them work properly. The following might sound confusing (but future plugins might make this easier): Within your WordPress admin panel, click “Edit” on the plugin and use the config.php as a basis for modification for your real site. If you edit this incorrectly, you’ll need to delete the plugin via FTP and try again.

Step #2 is totally optional. There is an upside and several downsides to using Step #2:

  • Upside: You’ll notice that the internal links keep the same domain name; that is if I am on the internal links to other pages don’t suddenly become
  • Downside: The plugin can be confusing to configure; I mean who directly edits .php files these days 🙂 If you didn’t understand the paragraph above, I don’t recommend doing it.
  • Downside: Search engine rankings: If you have two different URL’s for accessing a website, people will link to you using one or the other. That means that your backlink traffic will be split, and may negatively affect your search engine results. Also, unless you set one of your domains as “canonical”, Google will choose one of your URL’s to index for you. You’ll need to modify the header.php of your theme to set that.

Consider testing this on a temporary basis, and if search engine rankings affect you, have one of the URL’s permanently redirect to the other one (by deactivating the WordPress plugin I previously mentioned, and keeping the addon domain active in cPanel). That means that all your visitors will be forwarded to your primary URL, without any loss of traffic or search engine results.

I personally am using Step #1 only, so I have the benefit of 2 different domain names without any search engine hassles.

Want another opinion? Steve Pavlina’s article mentions that he started his blog using his real name instead of a personal development URL, and ultimately concludes branding doesn’t matter.

Don’t Marry Your Web Hosting Provider (or: backups for newbies)

You may or may not have noticed (probably the latter) that I haven’t posted anything in the last few months. It’s not because I had nothing to say, it’s because the account running this blog was hacked and I needed to migrate to a new server.

I kept my WordPress installation up-to-date, kept my plugins up-to-date, and used strong passwords (randomly generated letters, numbers, and symbols). Then one day I received an email from my webhost saying my account was suspended for spam.

Shocked, I discovered that scripts were running on my account which (in the webhost’s words) gained access to my cPanel account and were using that to send spam emails. Even more annoying, I was on vacation at the time and couldn’t do a whole lot about it. Try configuring websites from a cell phone, it’s more annoying than you think 🙂

These days, it’s not enough to assume that keeping everything up to date will save you from security breaches. You have to assume that someday, you’ll need a backup copy of your website. It could be a breach at the web host administration level, not via your account. It might even not be hacking, it could be that your hosting provider goes out of business. It could be that you end up at the front page of and need to set up a mirror somewhere. In any case, it’s best to have a backup copy in your possession, and not rely on your webhost, though you can use that in addition to your personal copy.

As a side note: It’s best to purchase your domain names from one company, and your hosting from another company. That way you retain control of your domains in case of any disputes. If you do online business such as selling products or web design consulting, it’s likely to happen eventually 🙂

What good is a warning without a tutorial? If your hosting provider uses cPanel, here’s how you back up your WordPress (or other) web site:

  1. Log in to cPanel. You should be greeted with a screen similar to the following:

  1. Click on that button that says “Backups”

3. Click on “Download a Home Directory Backup”, then click on “Download a mySQL Database Backup”. You’ll have to click each database separately.

4. Click on each individual link under “Download Email Forwarders” and “Download Email Filters”.

5. Copy the files you’ve downloaded to a safe place. I personally use Dropbox since they’re stored both on my computer and a separate online location.

6. Every week, download the Home Directory and all mySQL databases again. I recommend you put a repeating reminder in Google Calendar to do this.

You might wonder why I suggest downloading each part individually instead of “Generate a Full Website Backup”:

  • Your Home Directory and Databases will change constantly, as you upload new posts (with pictures) and users comment on your site. It’s rare that you constantly add Email Forwarders or Filters, so you only need to back them up when you edit them. Also those generally don’t get hacked, unlike the first two.
  • Second, having them as separate files means in the event of problems, you can restore what you need by clicking those “Upload” buttons to the right.

I recommend keeping multiple versions of your backups, in case your account is compromised and you don’t notice it for a while. Assuming you haven’t upgraded WordPress or changed themes since, you can compare files (diff) to see what has changed.

I’ve been designing and maintaining websites since 1996, and my average time with a good web hosting provider is 3-4 years, with a bad one it’s a few months. Sometimes the good providers eventually get bought out or sell their company, or raise their prices. But hey, as long as you can restore your sites from backups, why worry about that?

Please excuse the horrible image annotations 🙂

Tired of Facebook? Try Blogging!

Once upon a time (okay, the year 2000), I ran a blog. Back when WordPress and other point-and-click tools weren’t very popular, and I ended up hacking together a weblog and commenting system using php3. But then I stopped writing.

What happened? Xanga, Livejournal, and eventually Facebook. The ease of writing without having to worry about comment spam or technical things. A built-in friends “list” that ensured that people would see my posts without having to worry about RSS readers (heck, even in 2012 people don’t even know what those are). Shorter “status updates” meant I didn’t have to post anything meaningful (cultural junk food, yay). So I let this blog die, and joined the crowd.

But then the complaints started. Facebook opened up to the general public beyond college campuses. Your mommy friended you. You’ve collected 1500 friends and you don’t even remember who half of them are. You realize that you can’t see your friends statuses because Facebook filtered them out thinking they were “unimportant”. Privacy settings don’t stick, or have gotten so fine-grained you can’t stalk* that cute girl’s pictures anymore. The interface has gotten so convoluted you stopped caring. Fucking Timeline.

*As an aside, looking at someone’s profile, even repeatedly, doesn’t constitute “stalking”. If it’s posted it in a public forum, it’s there to be read. (Someone told me the exact same thing while quoting my posts in 2001).

So what would you do? Google+? Sure, if you like talking in an empty room.

I’ve gone full circle, returning to the medium where I first started. What are key advantages of blogging instead of Facebook:

  • You have full control over what you choose to post. There are no ads on your site, and nobody’s making money off your “profile”. By the way, I suggest putting fake info in your Facebook profile to “fool” the data miners. I wasn’t born in Detroit, but Facebook thinks that.
  • You can post longer, more meaningful things, instead of short status updates or “notes” nobody ever reads because they get drowned by pictures of your hotter, more popular friends.
  • Your data is your own, and can never be destroyed. Hey, whatever happened to all your info on Friendster?
  • You can choose a theme or even a different identity for your own site. No my name isn’t Elemental, but here I want the message to stand out more than the messenger.

Of course, there are downsides:

  • If your friends don’t know how to use RSS readers, they probably won’t visit your site that often. Big deal, my friends can message me for a “status update”, preferably over steak and beer.
  • You’ll have to manage comments. There are blog plugins and external services for that, which I’ll cover later.
  • All  your posts are public. Then again, all your posts on Facebook are public anyway. What, you have nicely organized “friends lists” and  you switch privacy settings for each post? How cute, just give a mutual friend a reason to post on someone’s wall in your presence (invite her to a party!) and assuming they’re on different “lists”, you can see what was hidden to you before.

Also, relying on Facebook to defend your privacy is pointless, as if you get involved in a lawsuit, any half-competent lawyer can force you to log into your own account (therefore bypassing any privacy settings) and record everything as evidence in a trial. So, you might as well post publicly anyway, being more cognizant of what you say.

So now that you’re convinced (let’s assume the sale), you have two tasks ahead of you:

  • Create a blog — It’s not hard, go to Blogger or WordPress. If you want to create your own website (for even more control), I’ll cover that in a future post. Ideally, you’d be installing WordPress software onto your own server.
  • Exchange addresses of your blogs with your friends. Add all of their sites to a RSS reader like Google Reader. Consider helping promote them by adding them to a links section of your site. Speaking of which, I’d be happy to swap links if I know you.

Society is a joke. Live accordingly. It’s one of my key beliefs in life. Taking control of your own social networking is just one of many ways to do that.