Facebook’s proposed policy changes: VOTE

Your voice. Your vote.

Facebook has proposed a number of policy changes to their “Data Use Policy” and their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” (SRR). Users have been given the ability to vote on whether they want these proposed changes to go ahead or not. The result of this vote is only binding if at least 30% of all of Facebook’s over 1 billion active users vote, otherwise it is only “suggestive”.

Unfortunately, Facebook has made it difficult to see what exactly the changes are. The only way is to actually read through all four documents: the proposed and current SRRs, and the proposed and current Data Use Policies. To help you make an informed decision in your vote, I’ve gone through them both and highlighted the important changes for you.

If you wish to read these documents yourself:

Facebook’s current Data Use Policy

Facebook’s proposed Data Use Policy

Facebook’s current SRR

Facebook’s proposed SRR

If you want to go and vote on the decision, and I strongly encourage you to do so, then please go to The Vote Page by clicking here. Make sure you do so before 10th December, 2012, because that is the deadline (12:00 PM PST, or 20:00/8:00 PM UTC). Do it at some time on the 9th or earlier to be safe.

The first, and in my opinion most important, change made is the removal of the following statement that was present in the original SRR. A similar removal was made from the Data Use Policy.

If more than 7,000 users post a substantive comment on a particular proposed change, we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives. The vote shall be binding on us if more than 30% of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote.

This means that future changes would not be subject to a vote in the same way that this one is.

They have also removed some of the control over Facebook email, and who can control what gets sent. In the following quote, all but the first sentence was removed (the part struck out did not exist on the proposed document).

Your Facebook email address includes your public username like so: username@facebook.com. You can control who can start a message thread with you using your “How You Connect” settings. If they include others on that message, the others can reply too.

The following few quotes were added in which seem to simply clarify practices already undertaken by Facebook, rather than actually changing Facebook policy.

When you hide things on your timeline, like posts or connections, it means those things will not appear on your timeline. But, remember, anyone in the audience of those posts or who can see a connection may still see it elsewhere, like on someone else’s timeline or in search results. You can also delete or change the audience of content you post.

And

But remember that people can still find you or a link to your timeline on Facebook through other people and the things they share about you or through other posts, like if you are tagged in a friend’s photo or post something to a public page.

And

As described in the what your friends and others share about you section of this policy, your friends and others may share information about you. They may share photos or other information about you and tag you in their posts. If you do not like a particular post, tell them or report the post.

In addition, they are now more clear about which pieces of information—which you have already provided them—they may use in order to show you more relevant ads.

If you indicate that you are interested in topics, such as by liking a Page, including topics such as products, brands, religion, health status, or political views, you may see ads related to those topics as well. We require advertisers to comply with our Advertising Guidelines, including provisions relating to the use of sensitive data. Try this tool yourself to see one of the ways advertisers target ads and what information they see at:https://www.facebook.com/ads/create/

Other clarifications regarding users who violate the terms of service:

We also may retain information from accounts disabled for violations of our terms for at least a year to prevent repeat abuse or other violations of our terms.

Finally, they add new information about Facebook “affiliates”, which include Facebook-owned properties like Instagram, Facebook Inc., and Facebook Ireland Ltd

We may share information we receive with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Facebook is part of, or that become part of that group (often these companies are called affiliates). Likewise, our affiliates may share information with us as well. This sharing is done in compliance with applicable laws including where such applicable laws require consent. We and our affiliates may use shared information to help provide, understand, and improve our services and their own services.

I hope that this summary of the changes helps you to make an informed decision on whether you believe the proposed changes benefit Facebook or not; and regardless of whether you prefer the current documents or the proposed changes, I hope that you will vote for your preferred choice. Please share this information with as many people as you can in order to try and reach the immense goal of over 300 million votes and make this referendum binding.

Click here to go to the voting page and cast your vote!

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The benefits of publicness

My YouTube videos and comments now show my real name.

My YouTube videos and comments now show my real name.

I recently made the move of switching my usernames on various websites to be my real name. Previously, many websites I went on used the name “Zagorath”, or some form of it, like LOTRzagorath which I used on YouTube. Most notably, I linked my YouTube with my Google+ so that it is now using my real name for comments and uploads, and I changed from @zagorath to @jimcullenaus on Twitter.

But why would I go to the effort of making the change, potentially losing recognition among the few people that have come to know me (a few smaller YouTubers, particularly, on whose videos I regularly comment), and gaining a longer Twitter name?

For me, the main reason is simply consistency. I have a Google+ account tied to my real name, and I wanted the benefits of linking my YouTube account to that. In addition, I liked the idea that people could see my real name on both, so it was immediately clear that they were the same person. This second reason is also part of the benefit of changing Twitter along with them. Previously many of my accounts online could be split into two categories: those where I used my real name, and those where I used the handle Zagorath (or some variation thereof). Facebook, email, and Google accounts were probably the only ones that fall into the former category, while most others used Zagorath. However, even for this latter group, it has always been easy to find out my real name because in many cases that same account had my real name entered into another field. The best example of this is my Twitter account, where my real name has always been visible along with the handle.

Other than that, I believe that by using my real name people will be able to trust in what I have to say. By knowing this is a real person attaching their real name to what they do, I believe people will be less inclined to subconsciously discount or devalue what I have to say because of my anonymity.

Over time, I’ll see about changing over what I haven’t already changed (this blog, for example—Wordpress does not allow you to change your username, although you can change the URL), but for the moment I’ve made the changes on the majority of the accounts that I use regularly that I would wish to change

After I had drafted most of this post, I realised that this was something journalist and advocate of openness Jeff Jarvis (who I know from the This Week in Google podcast he co-hosts weekly on the TWiT Network) probably had something to say about, so I did a quick search and it turns out he’s done a post with the exact same title. His post is a far better one at actually describing the general benefits of being public and open. It’s a brilliant read, based on a chapter from his book “Public Parts” which—from what little I’ve read about it—looks like a really enlightening book. That post brings up some great benefits to publicness in a more general sense, and talks about being public not necessarily (or, not only) with your name, but with sharing information and knowledge in a public and open way. It’s a sentiment I can definitely agree with.

I definitely see the advantage of anonymity. It can allow people to express unpopular viewpoints without fear of potential retribution—social, political, or otherwise—but for me personally I think the benefits of publicness outweigh the negatives.

Learning the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

This is a brief instructional blog post on how to switch to the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, an alternative to the standard QWERTY keyboard layout used by most English speakers. The advantages are that it is much faster than QWERTY, and it involves far fewer hand movements, making its users less susceptible to RSIs like carpel tunnel syndrome.

First thing I would recommend: DO NOT buy stickers for your keyboard, or a keyboard with the keys in a different layout. These will help you short-term, but will be a serious hindrance in the long-run. By not having the keyboard layout visually correct, you will be unable to look down, and will be forced to learn to touch type. I know that myself, even though I could mostly touch-type QWERTY before, I still looked at the keyboard a lot. Now, I don’t need to do it at all. This allows me to type a lot faster than I could before, even ignoring the advantage inherent in the Dvorak keyboard.

A good idea would be to print out a copy of the Dvorak keyboard (linked directly below this paragraph), and place it under your monitor, where it can be easily seen. Draw lines under the U and H, just like on the F and J on a QWERTY keyboard, to help give you a visual reference.
http://www.theworldofstuff.com/dvorak/dvorak.png

Then, go to the keyboard preferences, and install the Dvorak keyboard. Let me know your Operating System and I can provide more detailed instructions on how to do that, but it’s quite easy. No CDs or downloads required.

Next, you should find somewhere you can take lessons online. I’ve posted two of the sites that I used when I made the switch.
http://www.powertyping.com/dvorak/typing.html
http://www.typingweb.com/tutor/

Now comes the key point: type in Dvorak as much as you can. Let your friends know what you’re doing, and tell them to expect slow responses on Instant Messengers and Facebook, etc. Only go back to using the QWERTY keyboard in times where you really need to type fast.

Two extra pages that can be really useful, are
http://www.theworldofstuff.com/dvorak/
http://www.theworldofstuff.com/dvorak/compare.html

I hope you can keep in touch and let me know how it goes! Comments on this blog are appreciated, and if you Reddit, then consider joining /r/dvorak
Good luck!

What is the greatest invention of all time?

My school recently ran a discussion on what is the most important invention of all time.

Portrait of Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur, courtesy of Wikimedia

Before I jump to what my answer was, and why, I just want to provide some context. Last term, they ran a similar debate where people had to vote for what one famous person in history they thought was the most important. On this list were such horrible examples as Alexander the Great, Ho Chi Minh, at least one British queen, and a past US president (I think Washington). There were also better examples, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. These people I ruled out early in my selection process because although they did great things, their achievements were largely limited to a particular demographic in their effect. While it was incredibly important for that demographic, and therefore humans in general, it couldn’t really have the same effect as same of those that will come later.
My top three were Steve Jobs, Louis Pasteur, and one other person who’s name I unfortunately have forgotten, as I didn’t actually know it at the time. I looked it up, and found that their contributions to medicine were astounding. I ended up knocking out Steve Jobs relatively easily compared to the other two, but finally decided on the unknown person. When the school’s votes were tallied, Steve Jobs won. While I’m not surprised at this result, I am disappointed. I defend my position in putting him in third place by saying how much of an indirect effect he and Apple have had on technology, which I’m sure many of you probably already know (but I’ll go into more detail if anyone asks). Not just through Apple products, but nearly all computer-type devices today, from the traditional desktop and laptop computers, to smart phones and tablets. Not to mention the music industry.
However, I definitely don’t think that these achievements trump pasteurisation, germ theory, and the rabies vaccine (all Pasteur’s discoveries); and again, you have to take my word that I thought this third person’s medical discoveries trumped even that, at least in my opinion.

So, fast- (or not so fast) forward to the current discussion. I saw a poster about the debate on what is the greatest invention of all time, and decided to hop online just to make sure people weren’t voting for the iPod. It turned out they weren’t, but a couple of other interesting things came up.

The first was simple, but fundamental to the question. What is an invention? How does one distinguish between an invention and a discovery. I’m sure anyone would agree that we discovered fire, or that we invented the computer. But what about the wheel? The argument was that round objects exist in nature, and it may have been observed that they could be useful for various human purposes. Other things suggested that can’t really be considered inventions include language, mathematics, and steel. All of these, in my opinion, are things that either existed naturally or were developed in an organic and natural way, rather than being specifically invented.

People also suggested refrigeration (which I would consider a discovery), the Internet, contraceptives, electricity. These all have their advantages, but for various reasons I would not consider them as important as my suggestion, which is (finally…)
The printing press.
The printing press allowed, for the first time in human history, mass availability of information to anyone who wants it. It made learning to read so much easier, and allowed people to be more informed about what was going on outside of their immediate area. I believe that this spread of knowledge is a crucial part of the long-term scientific and cultural advancement of the human species. Let me consider each of those points one by one:

Easier education

The printing press made the supply of books cheaper, which in Economics is a shift of the supply curve to the right, and results in a higher quantity supplied at a lower price. This means that more people can get books, and it is cheaper for them to do so. Whereas previously only the most affluent few could afford books, as a result of the printing press nearly anyone can afford to own a book today.
Because they are able to have books, they are then able to use them to learn. First to learn to actually read, which is arguably the most important step in primary education, and then to use that ability to read to get more comprehensive education in all areas.

Spread of information

A printed book

From the Flickr Commons

The printing press made it possible for written information to easily be spread to further areas. Because a written work could now be produced in large quantities, that written work no longer had to be kept carefully in the area which it was most relevant to. Because it can be spread information like this, people could, for the first time, learn about things that were happening thousands of kilometres away. The printing press made it possible to have newspapers that could be spread around the general public. For the first time, the general population was able to learn about events in faraway places such as politics, natural disasters, and scientific discoveries. This last point, in particular, is key. It makes it easier for new discoveries to be built upon old ones. Newton’s work on gravity was based upon the previous work of Kepler. Without easy access to this work, Newton not have so easily been able to form his theories. Every major advancement in human history has been built upon previous ideas. Because of the printing press, written information can be copied and sent to different areas, to make it more readily available to people hoping to build upon it.

Freedom of speech

The printing press was perhaps the ultimate symbol of freedom of speech and freedom of press in its time. The printing press greatly increased the availability of a wider variety of information, as it was relatively easy for one to obtain a printing press and distribute media. A great example of this is in the 1983 French film “Danton”, starring Gérard Depardieu. In it, the titular character, Danton, runs a publication that the local government disapproves of, which he is able to distribute widely thanks to the power of the printing press.

What about the Internet?

Map of the Internet

A map of the Internet, from Wikimedia

Sure, the Internet has been an even greater tool in promoting the spread of information and in promoting free speech than the printing press. It gives a much wider degree of anonymity, wherein people can speak out even against governments that may otherwise attempt to persecute them. Danton ended up being executed, but had he been distributing his message via the Internet, that likely wouldn’t have happened.
The Internet is also a much more effective way of spreading information. With the printing press, we can have multiple copies of the same work sent out to various areas, but they must still be carried there by hand. The Internet allows instantaneous availability of content anywhere in the world.
The reason I decided against choosing the Internet is that I feel its philosophy is a direct descendant of the printing press. In my opinion, all these great benefits of the Internet came about directly as a result of the philosophy of the printing press, allowing freedom of press and the easy transference of information.
Another factor others considered for why the Internet should not be the most important is that it’s not a tangible item. I personally don’t think that this matters, as it is nevertheless something that had to be invented.

There  you have it, my opinion on the greatest invention of all time. What do you think? Are there any important points I’ve missed out? Do you have another invention that you think trumps the ones I’ve mentioned? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.