Author Archives: Judith Townend

Will Google use email contact lists to build a new social network?

Rumours of Google’s new social network are flying this week. The BNET Technology blog has some thoughtful speculation about its form here.

What will it look like? What elements of existing Google products will it incorporate? And how much control will users have over their profile information and data?

But what’s of interest to me was captured in a tweet by Adam Ostrow, editor-in-chief at Mashable – journalists and anyone interested in protecting email contacts data should take note:

Google’s supposed new social network will be doomed unless they start over from scratch on the contact/friends list.

Another Twitter user, Marshall Haas (@marshallhaas), asked him why it was a problem; Ostrow answered:

“Same problem as Buzz … Gmail’s contact list isn’t an accurate definition of who my ‘friends’ are. At all.”

He’s talking about automated ‘friend’-making systems, in which Gmail contacts (i.e. email address book data) are automatically connected to you in a new system – as originally happened with Google Buzz.

Many users were not happy to see private email connections made public via Buzz; an issue Google quickly addressed. When developing its new connection tools for the new social network, Google would do well to remember the furore it faced over auto-friending in Buzz.

On a related topic, a few months ago Journalism.co.uk examined the practice of address book importing, in which social networks use members’ email address books to make connections between users and issue invitations.

As we reported, tools used by social networks to harvest new members can threaten the privacy of confidential sources and put journalists’ careers in jeopardy.

We tested out various services we showed that by using someone’s email address book data, a social network can link users publicly, risking source exposure.

Facebook, the social network on which we focused most of our attention, concerned us with its use of users’ data and descriptions of systems were muddled. We called on Facebook to make their systems clearer.

Facebook’s European policy director Richard Allan later told us: “[I]f somebody were a journalist with a professional [contacts] list, it would make sense for them clearly not to use any of these address book importers at all”.

In subsequent email correspondence with Facebook’s public relations team, I was told that for some users (who wish to import an email address list, but not reveal certain contacts): “… it may be better to upload your contacts from an Excel sheet or similar so you can remove ones you don’t wish to upload”.

While concerned about Facebook’s unclear and potentially misleading settings around address book importing and recommendations, we were impressed by the effort they made to answer our enquiries and we’ll be watching to see how they develop their systems.

Interestingly, this week I received this message from Twitter, in my inbox:

XXX knows your email address: YYY@googlemail.com. But Twitter can’t suggest you to users like XXX because your account (@YYY) isn’t configured to let users find you if they know your email address.

It then provided a helpful button to allow me to: “Review & confirm your settings”.

To explain: a friend (XXX) has shared her address book and Twitter has matched my email address to an unused Twitter account I hold (@YYY). I am then given the option to connect with this person, or open up my account to email address matching. i.e. I have to opt *in* to her sharing of email address book data.

It’s curious because in the past, I’ve received follows from people in my email address book to this same Twitter account – an account, I should add, that’s not in my name. I’m surprised therefore they found it without importing their email addresses, but I don’t know this for certain. With only four followers to this account, it seems unlikely two of them should be in my address book!

Anyway, in my case, it wasn’t important whether they followed me via this unused account or not, but anonymous bloggers out there (public service workers or political dissidents for example) should be careful to *never* use their real email addresses when registering social network accounts. Even if the account is in a different name, and the email address is private, the connection can still be made.

For a journalist, Twitter’s new alert system is good news. Twitter may not have answered any of Journalism.co.uk’s numerous enquiries about its address book importing methods, but at least it is developing techniques to allow users to make informed choices about who and how they connect with contacts with whom they have exchanged emails.

Has Twitter changed its ABI system? Did it read Journalism.co.uk’s initial enquiries outlining our concerns? I’ve sent the press people a line, but I’m not holding my breath.

I also contacted Google to ask about the rumoured network and whether Gmail address book data will be used for building membership. The spokesperson’s comment? Simply: “We do not comment on rumour or speculation”.

Radio 5 Live’s Big Mexican Wave digital project

England fans might be desperately trying to sell on their World Cup tickets, but there’s still time to join a Mexican wave in support for the remaining teams playing in South Africa.

BBC’s Radio 5 Live is building an online Mexican Wave, as its special Twitter account advertises:

Join the mother of all Mexican Waves with BBC Radio 5 Live for 2010 World Cup! Dizzee Rascal, Miley Cyrus & Richard Hammond are in, are you?

To be included, users upload need to upload a photo as described at this link. This generates a Mexican Wave video containing the user’s photo, and photos of Radio 5 live and Radio 1 presenters and celebrities; the user will also be included in the 5 Live Mexican Wave.

The latest news? @bigmexicanwave says the former morning doyen of Radio 2 might be making an appearance too:

There’s a rumour we’ve got the godfather of radio, Mr @terry_wogan to do a #bigmexwave. Watch this space!

Financial Times searches for subscription building ideas – via crowdsourcing

The Financial Times has commissioned South African company Idea Bounty to help it source new revenue-making ideas. The creative mind with the best idea will win US $5,000.

As the tech site MemeBurn reported, the newspaper, which operates a tiered paid content/registration system, is searching for ideas for “how to increase the number of new subscriptions to its website FT.com.”

Idea Bounty, a project that connects clients with creatives, has launched this project on its site, ‘We Live in Digital Times’:

We are looking for digital marketing ideas which will increase the number of new subscriptions to the Financial Times online offering FT.com

The overall winner will win the cash bounty, but cleverly enough, ten runner-up prizes “will take the form of a full annual subscription to the Financial Times”.

The FT confirmed its partnership with Idea Bounty, but did not wish to comment further, when approached by Journalism.co.uk.

Owni.fr: The mainstream press has a 17 year old rival

Owni, a French site specialising in digital journalism, reports on Federico Pignalbert, a 17 year old citizen journalist giving the mainstream press a run for their money. The media should be careful, warns La Republicca journalist Vittorio Zambardino, “these little journalism geniuses hold the future in their hands”.

I have recently come across the work of a (remarkably) interesting journalist, who has mostly focused on the appeal trial against Senator Marcello Dell’Utri (Freedom People, Silvio Berlusconi’s party) indicted for his relations with the Sicilian mafia.

(…) Federico Pignalberti writes for Agoravox Italia, a citizen journalism website founded and managed by young people. Also, he has been following the trial whilst studying in the comfort of his home. And he’s only 17.

I passed Federico’s work over to a colleague, an expert on judicial news. Such was his reaction: “This is outstanding! I’m going to keep his articles since I couldn’t follow the trial myself“.

Indeed, I am not the only one to be impressed by Federico’s work. Aside from his age, Federico’s articles are edited and published by a group of 27/30 years-old journalists working in Paris (in the French Agoravox HQ) i.e. people that in traditional Italian newsrooms would be nothing more than interns.

Full post at this link…

Mumbrella: Fairfax Digital responds to online video complaint

Fairfax Media, one of the main newspaper groups in Australia, has been taking external YouTube video and re-publishing it in their own media player, says Tim Burrowes of Australian marketing and media site, Mumbrella.

When the YouTube content is embedded on other sites, it’s a benevolent little ecosystem – the site gets free content, YouTube gets revenue and the creator gets revenue. So it’s a shame that Fairfax Digital’s answer to this is the sort of thing that gives traditional outlets a bad name – lifting the content.

Since Mumbrella raised the issue, Fairfax has responded and says it is looking into the complaint. In the meantime, it has changed the video clips noted by Burrowes, and is now using the embedded YouTube player.

Full post at this link…

BuzzMachine: ‘The importance of provenance’

Jeff Jarvis has a good piece on process, sourcing and trust, initiated by a Washington Post piece about the McCrystal case that cited unnamed complainers.

…[E]ditors at the Washington Post and everywhere else must learn that it’s no longer good enough to think that the buck can stop at them, that they can be the validators of trust, that we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about where their news comes from. This is why we, the readers, must get better at accepting and valuing the results of more openness and be proficient at judging sources for ourselves. This is why companies must understand that they will be expected to open up their processes.

“Provenance is no longer merely the nicety of artists, academics, and wine makers. It is an ethic we expect,” says Jarvis.

Full post at this link…

The Media Blog: Mail falls for fake Steve Jobs tweet

Daily Mail managers might need to invest in some social media lessons for their journalists. If  you haven’t already noted the paper’s impressive Twitter fail, in its research for a misguided article about the iPhone 4, read this.

Mashable also has an account; read it here.

The Daily Mail reported this morning than an iPhone 4 recall is underway, but don’t believe it; the UK publication’s source was a tweet from a fake Steve Jobs Twitter account. Apple hasn’t announced any plans to recall its new phone.

The original story (headline captured by Journalisted here) seems to have disappeared from the Mail’s site.

Nieman Journalism Lab: Clay Shirky’s ‘Cognitive Surplus’

Nieman Journalism Lab has a review and analysis of media theorist Clay Shirky’s latest book and concept. ‘Is creating and sharing always a more moral choice than consuming,’ asks reviewer Megan Garber.

Cognitive Surplus, in other words – the book, and the concept it’s named for – pivots on paradox: The more abundant our media, the less specific value we’ll place on it, and, therefore, the more generally valuable it will become. We have to be willing to waste our informational resources in order to preserve them. If you love something…set it free.

Full post at this link…

#newsrw: Follow the tweets at news:rewired

This liveblog will pick up the tweets tagged #newsrw at Friday’s news:rewired event. Follow here, or via news:rewired.com.

Guardian.co.uk: Gaurav Mishra on digital activism

Ahead of  its Activiate 2010 conference, the Guardian has published a Q&A with Gaurav Mishra, CEO of 2020 Social. Mishra, who helps build and grow online communities, talks about some interesting projects and sites with which he has been involved:

In the first paradigm of digital activism, you work with a disadvantaged group that suffers from limited access to even the most basic information and tools for self-expression. So, you use simple-to-use digital devices like Nokia mobile phones and Flip video cameras and simple-to-use digital technologies like text messages and online video to enable them to access basic information and share their own stories. Frontline SMS, Ushahidi, Freedom Fone and Video Volunteers are good examples of the ’empowering with information’ paradigm of digital activism.

In the second paradigm of digital activism, you work with a group that is anything but disadvantaged. This group is at ease with using always on internet and mobile devices, both for instantaneous access to information and for self-expression and social interaction. Here, the digital activist isn’t trying to solve a crisis of capability, but a crisis of caring. Here, the aim is not to empower with information, but to engage with inspiration. Move On and iJanaagraha are examples of the ‘engaging with inspiration’ paradigm of digital activism.

Full post at this link…