Rob Cottingham's blog

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How to make friends on social networks

Making friends in the real world can be hard. You need to overcome issues of trust, intimacy, vulnerability and, sometimes, conflicting loyalties. But the payoff matches the effort: a good friend is invaluable.

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Apparent hoax hits Facebook

An ominous warning has been popping up from several of my friends on Facebook, suggesting the social networking site is suddenly selling your personal information. (It's been showing up as a "note", a blog-like feature the site offers.) Sounds serious – but it bears several hallmarks of a now-thankfully-dying breed of hoax email, especially the lack of any proof of the allegation, and that little viral bit at the end.

Here's the text of the note:

Apparently Facebook has started SELLING user information (surprise, surprise!) to third parties. They call it the "Facebook Development Platform."

To restrict use of your information, do the following:

1. Click "Privacy" on top right.

2. Under the "Facebook Platform" section click "Edit Settings".

3. Scroll down to the bottom and UNCHECK ALL of the items under facebook platform.

Most creepy is the inclusion of photographs!
(Do your friends a favor and repost this as your own note.)

Now, you still may want to follow those steps. But all it appears that you're doing is preventing members of your networks from accessing that information using external applications; it's nothing they can't already see using the site.

I asked Facebook if they could shed any more light on this. Here's what Facebook's director of corporate communications, Brandee Barker, told me (and kudos to them for getting back to me on the same day):

Yes, this message circulating on Facebook is false, thanks for checking. Facebook is not selling user information to anyone. In fact, Facebook Platform makes other applications — that users choose — an easy extension of their Facebook experience. Users log in to those applications the same way they do on Facebook through the safe, secure Facebook login page. Only a user’s friends and people in a user’s network can see his or her information, and everything is subject to the same privacy controls. Applications built on Facebook Platform are not allowed to store or collect user data, and again, Facebook certainly isn’t selling user information to anyone.

A cursory search hasn't turned up any previous Facebook hoaxes, so this could be a first. (Update: Way too cursory; there've been a few – see one recent example here – but I still haven't found anything viral.) Whether this was a deliberate attempt to sabotage Facebook's extension into the world of open APIs and third-party apps, or just a misguided bit of paranoia on someone's part, it points to the vulnerability of a new (or new-ish) medium to this kind of hoax.

Just as it took years for email users to look skeptically on modem-tax chain letters and the like, Facebook members will have to start adding a dose of scrutiny to the messages they receive on the site, as a flood of new, not always benevolent, users arrives.

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Risk and social media: the podcast

Three things:

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Check out Six Pixels of Separation

One of the real treats of speaking at the Canadian Marketing Association's Word of Mouth Marketing Conference last week was meeting Mitch Joel, President of Twist Image and the guy behind one of the best podcasts on the Internets.

It's called Six Pixels of Separation, and it focuses on the leading edge of marketing with a strong emphasis on social media. It's spontaneous, engaging, fun and always informative. And it gives you a glimpse into Mitch's fine, fertile and fascinating mind.

I'm a fan, which means life doesn't get much better than this: Mitch and I sat down after a great dinner (yes, fellow Vancouverites, there is great sushi to be had in Toronto, when you have Jennifer Evans hunting it down for you), and he broke out his voice recorder.

For the next eight minutes, he asked really challenging (that's as opposed to aggressive) questions about very big issues. We talked about change, marketing ethics, social trust and the prospects for humane capitalism. It was great, and it was also some of the hardest work I've ever done in an interview; I found myself mulling over the ideas we discussed well into the wee hours that night.

Check out the episode here – and then do yourself a favour and subscribe to Mitch's podcast if you haven't already.

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What I'd like to do on Facebook tonight

Someone I care about a great deal just had her heart broken. (Memo to self: never forget just how profoundly high school can suck.) We wanted to send her something a little more substantial than Facebook's collection of little cartoon gifts.

Here's how it could have gone down:

I'd click the "Send a gift" link, and then the (currently existing only in my fevered imagination) "Facebook Gift Partners" link. I'd click the iTunes icon, select "gift certificate" (my other option would be "Launch iTunes Store"), fill in the amount, write a mawkishly whimsical little note and then click send. My credit card – information already on file – would be billed, and someone would get our note and the certificate in her Facebook inbox, along with a little music icon on her Facebook Gift Box.

Maybe this happened (here's where we enter pure fantasy) without Apple ever receiving either my info or hers. Or maybe it was an Amazon bestseller. Or a box of fair-trade chocolates. Regardless of what gift I was sending, the cool thing would have been doing it in a few clicks, without having to dig around in an address book and fill out YAFCIF (Yet Another Contact Information Form).

You could also see this working on a site like LinkedIn, helping to ease the exchange of those gifts that enliven business relationships. (Did I mention we take deliveries here between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.?)

In a less mercantile vein, let's go back to my broken-hearted recipient. Maybe I do give her one of those Facebook cartoons... but it's the $5.00 Facebook Fix-A-Heart teddy bear. And the note comes pre-filled-in (I can edit it, of course): "Hope this helps mend your broken heart... just like the donations from the sale of this teddy bear are helping to fix the hearts of kids at Vancouver Women and Children's Hospital."

Social networks do a marvellous job of bringing people together. But their reach is still nearly completely confined to virtual spaces. There are opportunities (and e-commerce is only the most mundane) to transform our relationships in the offline world as well.

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High-speed organizing on Facebook

30 Days of Sustainability's Turn It Off campaign grows participation with Facebook

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When online communities attack! Keeping your site hate-free

A campaign of attacks on a much-loved blogger (click here for the background) has reignited a long-running debate over civil online behaviour. One leading voice in the social web has gone so far as to call for a blogger code of conduct.

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Risk and social media: the Canadian Marketing Association's Word of Mouth Marketing Conference

I just wrapped up a panel with David Jones of Fleishman-Hillard and HarperCollins' Steve Osgoode, ably animated by Scotiabank's Michael Seaton. Very smart people, these folks.

The subject was whether it's possible to market in social media and virtual worlds. But one theme kept coming up again and again: risk.

What if users say bad things about us on our blog? What if nobody shows up to participate? What if this flops?

Here's where I come down on those questions:

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Share | becoming a launch platform for great ideas

Just as you can never really tell if an online community will really take off, you also really don't know what form that success will take.

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Work Smarter with Evernote

Get more out of Evernote with Alexandra Samuel's great new ebook, the first in the Harvard Business Press Work Smarter with Social Media series!

Available on Amazon, iTunes and HBR.

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