Category Archives: social media

Hi! Click here to stop from getting phished on Twitter

Today, Twitter finally started rolling out dual-factor authentication for its users. Twitter will allow users to use text messaging to a mobile phone to confirm their identity upon log-in.

In a post and accompanying video on the company blog, Twitter product security team member Jim O’Leary (@jimeo) explained how Twitter’s version of 2-factor authentication will work:

…when you sign in to twitter.com, there’s a second check to make sure it’s really you. After you enroll in login verification, you’ll be asked to enter a six-digit code that we send to your phone via SMS each time you sign in to twitter.com.

To get started, visit your account settings page, and select the option “Require a verification code when I sign in”. You’ll need a confirmed email address and a verified phone number. After a quick test to confirm that your phone can receive messages from Twitter, you’re ready to go.

Twitter has lagged behind Google, Microsoft, Facebook and institutions that allow online banking in providing this additional layer of protection. It’s showed: Twitter has been plagued by phishing scams for years.

Recently, however, high profile hacks of Twitter accounts at the Associated Press, the Financial Times and The Onion have put more focus on adding this feature. As Twitter adds more e-commerce deals and becomes more integrated into politics and business, improving security will only become more important.

Today’s announcement is a much-needed improvement. Here’s hoping it gets rolled out quickly to the hundreds of millions of users who can’t get someone at Twitter on the phone after they clicked on the wrong link.

Hat tip: The Verge

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Yahoo buys Tumblr. Keep calm and reblog on?

Yahoo buys Tumblr. Keep calm and reblog on?

Yahoo’s board has approved a $1.1 billion all-cash deal to buy Tumblr, a New York City-based technology company.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tweeted that this is the first acquisition announced by an animated GIF and promised “not to screw it up,” keeping the team in place and offering support and integration, not re-invention. Yahoo famously acquired delicious, Flickr and Upworthy, amongst other hot online properties, only to let them moulder. Many users still haven’t forgiven Yahoo for its 2009 decision to close Geocities, an popular online community from the 1990s, without archiving it.

Tumblr CEO David Karp tumbled the news and sought to allay user concerns: “We’re not turning purple,” he wrote. “Our headquarters isn’t moving. Our team isn’t changing. Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission – to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve – certainly isn’t changing.”

$1.1 billion dollars is a lot of money for a (re)blogging network with tens of millions of users but scant revenue but it buys Yahoo a foothold in mobile social networking and, at least for the moment, many more young users — as long as the community doesn’t flee.

That’s likely one reason that both CEOs took such lengths to be reassuring this morning. Mayer joined Tumblr and has been posting cheeky animated GIFs that allude to seamier side of the social blogging service.

In the months ahead, Tumblr users will see more ads — “native ads” and dashboard ads from Yahoo’s ad network and perhaps in-line ads on the mobile app — much as Facebook users do. That’s no surprise, although finding the right mix of relevancy, frequency and intrusiveness for mobile advertising will be a delicate dance.
Mayer says that the two companies will work together to create “advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance user experience.”

It will be interested to see if that means more sponsored posts and advertorial from “brand journalists” and corporate media writing for business tumblrs. John Battelle’s looks at on displays, streams and native advertising concludes that this move gives Yahoo “an asset that its branded display sales force can sell as sexy: native, content-driven advertising at scale.”

In an attention economy, ads need to be independently entertaining on their own to avoid the click away or being tuned out by the glazed, jaded eyes of young people exposed to an unprecedented bath of media before adulthood.

That’s a dynamic that WordPress founder Matt Mullenwag alluded to in a comment on his post on “Yahooblr“:

In an advertising business a lot of it comes down to attention: how much and where advertisers spend to get your attention usually lags 3-5 years from where people are actually spending their time, and when that gap closes it can be very impressive. Of course it doesn’t happen for free, there are lots of organizational changes needed to execute on that opportunity, and probably as many people screw it up as get it right.

I believe there is also an even-larger-than-advertising opportunity around subscriptions and products. The big shift from older forms of media is that people aren’t just passively consuming as they might in front of a TV, they’re creating. It’s a hobby and a passion, not a vice. In that context I think subscriptions are more aligned with users than advertising, and that’s the direction Automattic is pointed in.

The big question most technology pundits and business analysts will be asking today is whether this makes sense for Yahoo and puts them on a stronger course. The initial market reaction put Yahoo stock up nearly 1% at 11 AM.

On a personal note, I expect to keep tumbling, though I find WordPress to be a superior blogging platform. That said, my attention is spread across many different social platforms and media organizations, not to mention my inbox and iPhone.

If I’m confronted by too many ads on the Tumblr mobile app, I’m going to spend less time consuming and creating there. I’m sure I’m not alone.

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May 20, 2013 · 11:00 am

On unwiring


For the last decade, I’ve thought about going offline like Paul Miller. Turn off, drop off, tune in to life offline.

I’ve never done it. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve been fully offline more than a month since 1999. I do periodically unwire. A night out here, a long bike ride there, a long weekend in the woods.

The last time it truly happened for more than 24 hours was in January in Anguilla, where I took long hikes, paddles, swims or went sailing without a connection. (I didn’t attempt a tweet during my kite boarding lesson.) Or last August, up in Cape Cod. Vacation is now virtually defined for me as being offline, without commitments. Before that trip, the last truly offline time was my honeymoon, in Greece, where, again, there was (often) no connection to be had.

I may still choose to share my experience and stay connected while I’m on vacation, or “paid time off,” as my former employer calls it, but doing so was always on my own time, at my own choosing. Each time I disconnect, I’ve learned something valuable about myself, both in terms of the person I’ve always been and the man I’ve become.

I’m glad Paul Miller did this and shared his experience. I think such reflection is important and the insight derived from it has always helped to shape and guide my subsequent choices about using technology.

In particular, his shift to finding other distractions, from games to television, was a reminder that we have agency in our own lives. We can choose whether and how to maintain our relationships, our minds, our bodies and our professional, intellectual or recreational pursuits, whether we’re connected or not.

It’s tempting to blame “the Internet” for poor choices or bad habits — and there are reasons to be cautious about how games or social networks tap into certain innate aspects of human behavior — but my personal experience with the network of networks has been enormously empowering and uplifting.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

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The White House is tumbling further into social media

Earlier today, the White House officially joined Tumblr. A short initial post and a hand-drawn infographic explained what the 100 million or so active members of the social blogging platform what to expect when they visit whitehouse.tumblr.com:

We’ll post things like the best quotes from President Obama, or video of young scientists visiting the White House for the science fair, or photos of adorable moments with Bo. We’ve got some wonky charts, too. Because to us, those are actually kind of exciting. But this is also about you. President Obama is committed to making this the most open and accessible administration in history, and our Tumblr is no exception. We want to see what you have to share: Questions you have for the White House, stories of what a policy like immigration reform means to you, or ways we can improve our Tumbling. We’re new here, and we’re all ears.

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The move onto Tumblr is only the latest in the progression of the White House establishing beachheads on the most popular social networks on the planet.

Over the past several years, the White House digital team has used unprecedented scale of its connections on these networks to try to influence national debates on proposed laws, policies and rules, applying public engagement to politics with mixed results. Now the team will be  as well as tweeting, blogging, liking , pinning and plussing.

The White House had already joined other popular social networks over the years, including:

While the conventions of Tumblr will mean the way that the staffers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue communicates will be different than 140 character tweets, White House Hangouts or holiday pinning, the overall strategy is the same: use new media tools to go directly to the public. For a fun twist on that strategy, look no further than the White House joining Vine on the day of the White House Science Fair.

Tumblr’s culture lends itself to infographics and pictures, particularly animated versions of images in the Graphics Interchange Format. (Animated GIFs were a big deal in Election 2012, if you missed it.)

The White House clearly understands that context, given the nod at the end of today’s initial post: “…yes, there will be GIFs.” So, apparently, does the staffer running the Twitter account of First Lady Michelle Obama:


I can only imagine what might have been if these tools had been around two decades ago.

One detail in the first tumblr post shouldn’t go unnoticed: the White House is asking users to send them posts using Tumblr’s submission tool.

If they’re anywhere near as daring with resharing submissions as they’ve been with retweets at @WhiteHouse on Twitter, many political reporters will soon be adding “reblog does not equal endorsement” to their Tumblr profiles in the days to come.


Postscript on Pronunciation: At Buzzfeed, Ellie Hall noticed another detail embedded in the graphic accompanying today’s inaugural Tumblr post: the White House weighed in on the pronunciation of GIF, coming down on the side of the hard “G,” like “gift.”

As she correctly reports, however, the creators of the GIF format have long held that the correct pronunciation of GIF with a soft “G,” like “gem.” That’s how Compuserve employees pronounced it as well, back in the late 1980s.

Who’s right? The GIF Pronunciation page comes down hard (er, soft?) on the side of “jif.” As noted in Wikipedia, however, where such contentious debates never fully expire, the Oxford English Dictionary[5] and the American Heritage Dictionary.[6] accept both pronunciations as correct. Good luck successfully navigating this debate, Mr. President.

Post-Postscript: The White House made good on its promise quickly, publishing an animated GIF of President Obama brushing his shoulder off prior to his appearance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner to Tumblr last Saturday.

Other posts include three pictures, in keeping with Tumblr’s visual style, including links to the White House blog and video of the President’s comedic set from the dinner.

Post-Post-Postscript: After a mechanical engineer named Claudio Ibarra commented on a Google+ thread linked to this post that he thought that staff making animated GIF was a “waste,” I explained why the White House be spending time making animated GIFs.

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Tweaser: noun — a movie teaser cut into a 6 second Vine video and tweet

I never expected to associate a “tweaser” with The Wolverine. (I assumed Wolverine’s healing powers would always extrude any splinter.)

That changed yesterday, when James Mangold, the director of the most recent cinematic treatment of the comic book hero’s adventures, tweeted the first “tweaser” of the new century. He used Twitter’s new Vine app to share the short clip, a tightly edited 6 seconds of  footage from the upcoming film. You can watch Vine’s big moment in tweet embedded below.

Twitter certainly has come a long way from txt messages. As Lily Rothman quipped at Time, the emergence of a 6 second tweaser that can be retweeted, tumbled and embedded gives “new meaning to the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.”

Jen Yamato has the backstory behind 20th Century Fox’s debut of a 21st century tweaser over at Deadline, including credit to Fox executive Tony Sella for the coinage:

Last week FilmDistrict was the first studio to use Twitter’s new looping app as a marketing tool. Here’s an even buzzier use of Vine: A 6-second “tweaser” (that’s Twitter teaser, or “TWZZR”) previewing Fox’s July 26 superhero pic Wolverine.

I suspect that at least a few of the tweasers that go flickering by on Twitter, Vine and blog posts will lead people to do what I did: become aware of the upcoming and film and look for a longer version of the teaser trailer elsewhere online. If a tweaser comes with a custom short URL, so much the easier.

To that point, If you want to watch a higher quality “full-length” version of the teaser, there’s now a teaser trailer available on the iTunes Store and a YouTube version:
… which, it’s worth pointing out, can also be embedded in tweets.

Hopefully, history remember will remember “The Wolverine for more than being the subject of the world’s first “tweaser.” Then again, our attention spans may not be up to it, particularly if the length of the interactive media we consume continues to shorten at this rate.

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Can journalists change their social media avatars to political symbols?

Nisha Chittal asked a number of journalists (including me) about where they stand for on using same-sex marriage symbols on their social media profiles.

Here’s what she found: “The answer is a multi-layered one: it depends on the journalist, the outlet they work for, the social media platform, and whether the journalist is covering this week’s Supreme Court hearings.”

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I was honored to see that Nisha gave me the “kicker quote” at the end. If you’d like to weigh in on your stance on this ethical issue, comment away.

Here’s the statement I submitted to her inquiry:

In general, the consensus answer amongst the journalists I respect is that changing your avatar to a symbol like this is not OK, based upon the ethics policies of places like the AP, WSJ, NYT, PBS or NPR.

I think the capacity to demonstrate support for one side of a contentious social issue like this varies, depending upon the masthead a journalist is working under, the ethics policy of that masthead, the role of the journalist and the coverage area of the journalist. Staking out positions on a reporter’s beat is generally frowned upon.

Opinion journalists who regularly take positions on the issues of the day as columnists have often already made it clear where they stand on a policy or law. Advocacy journalism has an established place in the marketplace for ideas. Readers know where a writer stands and are left to judge the strength of an argument and the evidence presented to back it.

If a reporter takes on overt, implicit position on an issue that she is reporting on, however, will it be possible to interview sources who oppose it?

On the other hand, there are a number of social issues that may have had “sides” in past public discourse but have now become viewpoints that few journalists would find tenable to support today.

How many journalists were able to remain neutral or objective in their coverage of slavery in the 1860s? Womens’ suffrage in the early 20th century? Civil rights in the 1960s? Child slavery, sex trafficking, so-called “honor rape” or the impression of child soldiers in the present?

Interracial marriage was illegal in some states in the Union, not so many years ago. That is not the case any longer. It seems to me that gay marriage is on the same trajectory. The arc of the moral universe is long indeed, but I tend to agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on its trajectory: it bends towards justice.

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Want good online comments? Create communities and moderate them.

I’ve been clear that about why I value blog comments before. If you’ve spent any time online, however, you know how bad many comment sections are. Why is that the case? Read Bora Zivkovic on commenting threads, in easily one of the best posts on the topic that I’ve ever read. It’s a long post, but it’s well worth your time. Zivkovic links to a forthcoming paper [PDF] that anyone in charge of comments should read, regarding how the tone of comments affects readers.The short version is that unmoderated, acidic comment sections polarizes readers and can lead them to believe in science less.

I discovered the post through NYT Journalism professor Jay Rosen, when he tweeted it:

Zivkovic, who is the blogs editor at the Scientific American, did nail it. I guessed that the answer to Rosen’s tweet was a lack of active participation by a moderator/author, and that’s more or less what I took away from this post. (I suspect he may have been directing his tweet at journalists who don’t — or can’t — spend the time moderating blog posts and social media profiles, along with the editors and publishers who employ them.) Rosen explained more about why he thought the post was important on a public post on his Facebook profile:

Nothing gets people pumped to denounce the Internet for destroying reasoned discourse like the state of online commenting. And it is difficult to deny that many comment sections are sewers. Also, it’s not true that to be a smart, web-smart publisher you MUST have comments. It’s a choice. There will always be good reasons not do have comments, and good reasons to have comments. But as to *why* the comment sections are sewers, we actually know a lot about this. We also know a lot about how to make them better. But many online publishers and newspaper journalists don’t want to know because they are looking for a “set it and forget it” solution that does not exist. Bora Zivkovic covers all of this and more in one of the best posts you will read about online commenting. Well worth your time.

I think good comments require persistent identity (not “real” identity), moderation tools and active moderation. Without that mix, you get the toxic stew that is pervasive across far too many forums online.

Agree? Disagree? Hey, let me know in the comments!

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I Heard It Through The App Vine

After surfing around a bit tonight, I’m not sure yet whether the new Vine App will be to video what Instagram is for pictures. (Vine went live last Friday, when I was on vacation in Anguilla.) The amount of buzz I’ve found upon returning from vacation suggests at least a few of the people I follow and read think it’s possible.

It sounds like the initial launch was a bit buggy for some users, though I had no issues when I downloaded and installed Vine tonight. I found it quite easy to join, find friends from Twitter and my address book (if not Facebook) and then to create and share a 6 second spot using the app, which I promptly deleted.

Vine is Twitter’s first standalone app, like Facebook’s Poke or Messenger. As is the case with tweets, vines have their own permalink and play in embedded tweets, like Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s tweet that shows how to make steak tartare:

A mobile social network that’s built around mobile sharing of videos from iOS devices and integrated into other media, particularly tweets and blog posts, could have legs online — along with many other body parts. Tonight, posts on multiple outlets suggested that Vine has a “porn problem.”

I’m not sure if this revelation will not shock many long-time observers of people’s behavior online, when faced with webcams. Exhibit A: Chatroulette. I instantly thought of Avenue Q’s classic assessment of what the Internet is for.

(With a little help from Twitter, I was able to source the quote to Ethan Zuckerman’s 2008 talk at ETech on the cute cat theory.)

I tend to agree with Joshua Topolsky’s assessment at The Verge: it’s Apple that has the porn problem, not Twitter or Vine. We’ll see how Apple responds. Steve Jobs was clear in 2010 when he wrote that Apple has a “moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Apple does not, however, censor the websites or, critically, user-generated content (UGC) on them when users access them through the Safari mobile Web browser. Treating UGC platforms like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ like Web browsers might make more sense to users. (I don’t know how that approach would sit in Cupertino or the Federal Trade Commission.)

Regardless of the larger issues surrounding Apple’s policies as a powerful gatekeeper for app makers, parents take note: letting young children search raw Twitter feeds or Vine apps for #porn is going to turn up media that’s NSFW, much less NSFK(ids).

While there’s certainly porn to be found, I didn’t see any when I watched the automagically randomized selection of vines at Vinepeek, which I found thanks to a tweet from Mitch Kapor. Despite inevitable flashes of crudity and banality, I found many of these glimpses of shared humanity endearing, just as YouTube can be at its best.

There are many other ways Vine can be used for business or other less salacious purposes, however, as Chris Brogan pointed out on Friday. Given my interest in cooking, I think creative spots that show how to make different recipes, like the one Costolo filmed, could be particularly interesting. While there are plenty of possibilities for media creation, for I’m not sure whether journalists will wholeheartedly move to quickly adopt Vine professionally, although there were certainly plenty of early adopters on Instagram.

I remember the idea of a social network of video shorts when it first floated to the top of my social stream: it was called Seesmic, and Loic Le Meur shuttered it in 2009. That said, the context for Vine is different, given the tens of millions of iPhones and iPads in people’s hands today.

I think Vine will be worth watching, so to speak. If Vine does catch on, expect “vining” and “vines” to become part of the tech vernacular.

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Are online petitions the next step in e-democracy or an e-exercise in futility?

At noon today, I’m going to be on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, DC’s local NPR station, to talk about the power of online petitions.

What do you think of them, in general? Have you signed one or more? Why? What outcomes have petitions created at Avaaz or Change.org had? What about White House e-petitions? What about e-petitions in the UK or in other countries? If you have comments on these questions or relevant research, please let me know in the comments or email me at alex [at] oreilly.com.

On one of those counts, I’ve linked up some relevant reading below on the White House e-petitions platform, “We The People,” which has been getting much more mainstream media attention in recent months. (The response to an e-petition to build a Death Star, at least, was epic.)

1. Jim Snider, White House’s ‘We The People’ Petitions Find Mixed Success, NPR’s All Things Considered, January 3, 2013.

2. Micah Sifry: How We The People could help form a more perfect union, TechPresident, 2012

3. Jim Snider: The White House’s We The People Petition Website: First Year Report Card, Huffington Post, September 23, 2012.

4. Jim Snider: The Case of the Missing White House Petitions, Huffington Post, October 31, 2011.

5. Nick Judd: Is the White House doing enough for We The People?, TechPresident, November 2, 2011.

6. Jim Snider: What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?, Huffington Post, October 20, 2011

7. Jim Snider: The White House’s New We the People Petition Website, Huffington Post, October 31, 2011

8. Alex Howard: White House launches e-petitions, National Journal, September 10, 2011

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“This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For”

The official response from The White House to the epetition to create a Death Star is, in Internet terms, epic.

By turns geeky, funny, informative about U.S. space programs, and unabashedly supportive of science and technology education, the response to a popular petition on the “We The People” e-petition platform instantly entered the annals of online government history this Friday night.

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” wrote Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it. 
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets. 
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” 

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser– roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

When White House director of digital strategy Macon Phillips replied to a tweeted question about an outstanding petition on open access, he proved his Star Wars bonafides with a echo of Yoda’s unusual grammar.

This Star Wars fan is glad to have hilarity to share on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on the power of online epetitions on WAMU next Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Noel Dickover, Carving the Death Star Pumpkin

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