Category: Internet

Jan 15 2009

Facebook Pulls a Whopper

A few days ago Burger King posted an application on facebook allowing someone to win a coupon for a free whopper if they removed 10 friends from their profile. The app would then notify the 10 friends that they had been removed, and give them a chance to install the app (and re-add the friends if they wanted) for their own free whopper. The app was subsequently pulled from Facebook for violating policy.

I obviously have a very skewed perspective on this, having worked heavily in policy enforcement just about everywhere I’ve ever worked, and specifically in application policy at MySpace, but I also think I have a very educated opinion as a result.

The app was a very cute, original idea, and I am one of many who installed it and removed friends for my free coupon (I’m curious to see if I actually get one). At the time, I was slightly uncomfortable with notifying people that I’d removed them from my friends list, but hey – I’ll take a free whopper.

Days later, Facebook pulled the application down for violating their policies. Of course it’s not ok to tell one user another removed them as a friend, that’s just asking for an argument to start “why’d you remove me, don’t you like me anymore?” It’s why people add friends on twitter, then mute them, they don’t want to offend anyone.  Violate policies, get your application yanked. Period. But…

Why was an application that violated policy live in the first place? There’s a pretty simple answer to that, and while I can’t claim I know it’s right, I’d bet that sales was heavily involved in this. The violation in this case was so egregious there’s no way people didn’t know it was violating policy (certainly, at some point, everyone everywhere has approved something to go live where they honestly missed a policy violation). But in this case someone specifically had to have said, “I know this is breaking the rules, but we should put it live anyway,” both on Burger King and Facebook’s side of things. People have let Burger King off the hook for this, but come on, they’re not stupid. I fully believe they were well aware they were breaking policy. It’s not a policy unique to facebook, after all, “don’t tell one user when another deletes them as a friend” is policy on pretty much every service on the internets.

The question for me, anyway, is why did Facebook take it down after allowing it to go in the first place. I personally didn’t hear any kind of outrage over the app breaking policy, most of what I read about the app was exceptionally positive. I really was waiting for some story somewhere to point out the very obvious violation in the application, but most people aren’t quite as much of a policy nut as I am. The media blowup didn’t happen until after Facebook pulled the Burger King app.

So…why risk the PR mess and yank the app? There’s something to this story that we don’t know, and I don’t know if we ever will. But I can’t imagine Facebook deciding to take the app down after it had received so much pickup unless something happened, somewhere. Someone realized it was violating policy, someone threatened them over the privacy issues, Burger King beat Facebook at foosball….something. Enough people had the app installed, and it had gotten so much press attention that there was no way it could be pulled without tons of people noticing.

Ultimately, I’m glad it was yanked, and don’t believe it should have been approved at all. Companies need very clear, very specific policies about this sort of thing, and they need to enforce them. I kind of equate “waiving privacy policy for dollars” to “bribing a cop to get out of a speeding ticket.” Wouldn’t you question why a cop let a guy go who was driving 90 mph, and ticketed you for driving 45 in a 40? There isn’t all that much difference in my mind.

Just play nice with each other. Sites need to make the rules clear, and developers need to follow them. I’ve had people say to me more than once “but the rules don’t apply to me, right?” Rules are rules, no matter who you are or how large your pocketbook is. Until everyone gets to that point (and facebook’s hardly alone at this), this is going to keep happening.

Nov 01 2008

Blogging’s not what it used to be

I feel like I should say something profound, it being November 1st and the beginning of this whole “blogging for 30 days” month. I’m not good at profound, though. So some ramblings on blogging.

I’ve been blogging for a long time. My LiveJournal creation date is in early 2002, but I’d kind of started a bit before that in a different form. Like many people, whatever personal webpage I was working on at the time had an “about me” section. The “about me” would turn into a personal blog, entries in reverse order and all, and was updated almost as regularly as the rest of the site.

Before that, I had a .plan file on my VAX account. The updates there were closer to status updates on Facebook/MySpace, or Twitter blabberings, but even there, I would put basic info like “in class.” I didn’t keep the old entries, though (which is technically required to hit the definition of a “blog”).

Over the years my blogging has become much less personal, I’m sure in large part due to the fact that just about everyone’s online these days. I mean…my mom reads my Twitter. Weird, right? Not bad, just strange. The Internet was my world.

The majority of the entries in my former blog would be locked to friends-only, and would be extremely personal at times. I was a master of friend lists, and would post to different people depending on the topic. I trusted that privacy. I don’t anymore.

I very rarely see people blogging like we used to. It’s a necessary thing, of course, we were regularly talking about things we didn’t want the world to know. Not a good idea to put private information online these days.

I do miss it, though. I was friends with every single person who read my blog, and truly valued their comments and feedback. These days, I have nearly 1,000 followers on Twitter, and damn if I know half of them.

Our tiny Internet community exploded. It’s different, sure, but I’m very happy to welcome everyone on board. This is just the start – the next five years online are going to be amazing. And I for one can’t wait to see what happens.

Nov 18 2007

Blowing Bubbles

There has been a lot of whispering in the industry lately about whether or not we’re entering into, or already in a new bubble.

I worked for a small dot-com during the last bubble, and I loved it. I loved the startup atmosphere, the dedication everyone had, and the sheer fun that I had on a daily basis. We clearly had a solid idea – we were creating video podcasts ten years before the term existed – but we were fully lacking a business model. Without revenue, nothing can survive.

The world then was filled with small companies run by young people with amazing ideas. If you were over 30, you were probably too old. The power was truly in the hands of the young.

That aspect of the bubble has returned, in a large part thanks to open platforms, and the ability of independent developers to easily get their work in front of millions of users.

A large part of my job is talking to these developers, and for a little while, anyway, it surprised me how young many of them are. Until I realized it was the same thing happening all over again…with a twist.

Yes, there are VC’s throwing money at application developers. There are multiple multi-million dollar funds with grants available just for them. But there’s one big difference between the funds now and those in the 90’s. I strongly suspect these funds are only going to give money to developers already making money. After all – you really don’t need funding to get an application up and running.

There are multiple sites that will help you build an application. There are even more sites that will host an application for you. There is an amazing amount of documentation and tutorials online for whatever language you’re writing in (I’m learning Ruby at the moment, and have found the online help better than any book I have). And it’s all free.

Anyone who has an idea and wants to create it can. If the idea’s good enough, and the developer has just the right amount of smarts to get it in front of the right people (which truly isn’t that difficult these days), the VC’s will come running. A teenager in school doesn’t need millions in funding, or to generate millions in revenue a year. But a couple hundred thousand? That’s certainly possible now.

This isn’t a bubble. This is just a shift in power. It’s not only the young jumping on this trend, of course, it’s also little baby companies. A “company” consisting of one person programming in their living room after work, or five friends with a good idea setting up shop just to see if they can make it work. It astonishes me how many of my friends have left larger companies to go start their own…and how many of them are successful. Of course, I love to think it’s because I just have awesome friends (had to be said :D ), but it truly is much easier to turn a good idea into a solid business these days. You don’t need millions in funding to get started, which means you don’t need the big guys.

Got an idea? Do it. You can do it all for free these days. If it doesn’t work out, you probably lose a few weeks of your life to the computer. But you also could end up changing your life.

This is just awesome to watch, and I’m so excited to see how it all plays out.

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