Archive for the ‘Social’ Category

Archive Your Social-Network Life With ThinkUp 1.0

A few of the things ThinkUp can do for your social-network life

ThinkUp, the web-based data-liberation and analytics application from former Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani, has just released version 1.0.

Social networking is often very ephemeral: You post something, a few people respond, and then the conversation just evaporates, disappearing into the ether. One of ThinkUp’s goals is the give your social-network posts a longer life and ensure that you’ll have a way to refer back to those conversations years later.

ThinkUp is a web-based app that pulls your data out of social silos like Facebook or Twitter and stores it on your own server. You control your own data, and have a record of your conversations potentially long after Facebook, Twitter and the rest have become mere footnotes in the history of the web.

“The conversations you have online are worth capturing, keeping, and referring back to over time,” writes Trapani on her Smarterware blog. “In fact, the things you share and the conversations you have about them gain weight, perspective, and importance over time, not just the moment you post them.”

The backup and archiving features alone would make ThinkUp a worthwhile app to have, but the real analytical power of ThinkUp comes after it has a local copy of your data. That’s when ThinkUp starts slicing, dicing and pulling together your data to reveal things about your online activity that you’ve never considered before.

For example ThinkUp can pull conversations together, plot them on a map, reveal which of your posts are the most popular, which are the most replied to and even track all the links your friends have ever sent you.

We took a detailed look at the software back when the beta was first released. Now ThinkUp is out of beta and ready for prime time with a 1.0 release.

The first step to using ThinkUp is installing the app on your server. The requirements are modest and installation is automated — if you can install WordPress, you can install ThinkUp. Of course not everyone is comfortable installing WordPress so ThinkUp takes a page from Dave Winer and offers a ThinkUp instance running on Amazon EC2. Just follow the link, sign in to your Amazon account and you’ll have ThinkUp running in no time (the first year is free for new EC2 users, $15/ month for the rest).

Once ThinkUp is installed you need to point it to your accounts. I tested it with Twitter and Google+ and had no problems importing data. One nice touch that’s been added since the beta release is a secret RSS feed for running the ThinkUp updater. Sure, you can add a cron job if you know what you’re doing, but for novice users the RSS feed is an ingenious tool — just add it to your favorite RSS reader (for example, Google Reader) and the reader will periodically scrape the feed, triggering the update.

The Twitter Dashboard in ThinkUp

Because ThinkUp pulls in your raw data it can show you useful stuff you won’t find on the social networks themselves. This is particularly noticeable with Twitter, which really shows very little beyond the most recent few tweets from your friends. ThinkUp takes the same data Twitter has and actually puts it to good use, showing, for example, your most replied-to posts, your most re-tweeted posts and, my personal favorite, conversations you have with other Twitter users. It also tracks everything your followers do as well. For example, ThinkUp catalogs all the links your followers have posted, displaying them all in one place. There’s also an excellent search function for tracking down old tweets.

While ThinkUp puts a tremendous amount of data at your fingertips, it manages to keep the interface simple enough that the data is never overwhelming.

ThinkUp also now makes it possible to host your conversations at a permalink on your site. It’s a feature that’s particularly useful if you frequently ask your Twitter followers for advice or suggestions. For example, here’s a page where Trapani asks her followers which iPad apps they recommend.

ThinkUp is already in use on several popular Twitter accounts, like, for example The White House (Steve Martin is also a fan) and in my testing it worked without a hitch. If you’re comfortable setting up basic software like WordPress, installing ThinkUp should be a snap and if you’re not confident around a server there’s always the Amazon-based version.

If you’d like to see more of what ThinkUp has to offer, check out the video below:

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File Under: Social, Web Services

Businesses, Brands Invade Google Plus

Google has released a new Google Plus feature dubbed “Pages,” which allows brands, businesses and even Webmonkeys to join the company’s social network.

To get started creating a Google Plus Page for your company or brand, head on over to the new Google Plus business page.

Unfortunately, while Google Plus Pages look just like regular Google Plus profiles, there are some notable limitations that leave this early incarnation of Google Plus Pages wanting.

Among the list of things Google Plus Pages can’t do are basic Plus features like giving webpages a +1 or receiving notifications when others interact with your page.

More limiting for larger brands, in their current form Google Plus Pages are tied directly to one (and only one) “normal” Google+ profile. That is, whomever sets up a company’s Page is the only person that can ever post to the Page. In order to actually be useful for most brands Google Plus Pages need options for administrators and a way for multiple contributors to post.

Google seems aware of these shortcomings and, as is typical of the company’s launch-early-update-often approach, is promising users that “many more features [are] planned for the coming weeks and months.”

For now most businesses appear to be on a land grab — staking a claim on Google Plus before anyone else can.

Curiously, considering how aggressive Google has been about forcing real names on Google Plus, there seems to be zero verification for Pages. I set up a Webmonkey Page without once being asked to verify in any way that I was actually associated with Webmonkey. In fact, had I not already done it, anyone could have set up a page for Webmonkey and claim to speak in its behalf, which does not bode well for businesses that are slow to create Google Plus pages.

Google does offer a badge that can be used to link your page back to your actual website. In its current form it isn’t used for verification (though it certainly could be), but it does unify your +1 count in Google’s search results. That way any +1 from your Google Plus page, your website, and from Google search results are all tallied together and appear as a single total in search results.

Also part of today’s announcement is a new way to search using the “+” sign. Once an advanced search operator, adding a plus sign to your search will now take you to the relevant Google Plus page. At the moment it only works for select partners, but look for the “+” features to be extended in the future.

Google Plus is still in beta and the new Pages effort feels more like an alpha release, but if you’ve got a business or brand (or even just a website) that you want to have a Google Plus presence we strongly suggest staking your claim before someone else does.

That’s exactly what we did. Never one to miss a great internet land grab, Webmonkey now has a Google Plus page you can +1 (or follow or like, depending on your social network orientation).

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File Under: search, Social

Your Facebook Comments, Coming Soon to a Google Search Near You

Mind what you say in Facebook comments, Google will soon be indexing them and serving them up as part of the company’s standard search results. Google’s all-seeing search robots still can’t find comments on private pages within Facebook, but now any time you use a Facebook comment form on a other sites, or a public page within Facebook, those comments will be indexed by Google.

The new indexing plan isn’t just about Facebook comments, but applies to nearly any content that’s previously been accessible only through an HTTP POST request. Google’s goal is to include anything “hiding” behind a form — comment systems like Disqus or Facebook and other JavaScript-based sites and forms.

Typically when Google announces it’s going to expand its search index in some way everyone is happy — sites get more searchable content into Google and users can find more of what they’re looking for — but that’s not the case with the latest changes to Google’s indexing policy.

Developers are upset because Google is no longer the passive crawler it once was and users will likely become upset once they realize that comments about drunken parties, embarrassing moments or what they thought were private details are going to start showing up next to their names in Google’s search results.

For now most of the ire seems limited to concerned web developers worried that Google’s new indexing plan ignores the HTML specification and breaks the web’s underlying architecture. To understand what Google is planning to do and why it breaks one of the fundamental gentleman’s agreements of the web, you first have to understand how various web requests work.

There are two primary requests you can initiate on the web — GET and POST. In a nutshell, GET requests are intended for reading data, POST for changing or adding data. That’s why search engine robots like Google’s have always stuck to GET crawling. There’s no danger of the Googlebot altering a site’s data with GET, it just reads the page, without ever touching the actual data. Now that Google is crawling POST pages the Googlebot is no longer a passive observer, it’s actually interacting with — and potentially altering — the websites it crawls.

While it’s unlikely that the new Googlebot will alter a site’s data — as the Google Webmaster Blog writes, “Googlebot may now perform POST requests when we believe it’s safe and appropriate” — it’s certainly possible now and that’s what worries some developers. As any webmaster knows, mistakes happen, especially when robots are involved, and no one wants to wake up one day to discover that the Googlebot has wreaked havoc across their site.

If you’d like to stop the Googlebot from crawling your site’s forms, Google suggests using the robots.txt file to disallow the Googlebot on any POST URLs your site might have. So long as you’re surfacing your content in other ways — and you should be, provided you want it indexed — there shouldn’t be any harm in blocking the Googlebot from POST requests.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to stop the Googlebot from indexing any embarrassing comments you may have left on the web, well, you’re out of luck.

[Photo by Glen Scott/Flickr/CC]

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File Under: Identity, privacy, Social

Facebook Wants Your Past, Present, and Future On Open Graphs and Timelines

Facebook will soon allow its users to integrate all of their music, media, and lifestyle actions and interactions with their profiles, Mark Zuckerberg announced at Facebook’s f8 conference yesterday. Connecting profiles to services like Spotify will allow users to fill out their own curated “Timeline,” so friends can see each others’ media activities both as individuals and aggregated over their entire network, a move that will explode the amount of content on the site.

The new arrangement is part of two new Facebook initiatives, one of which is the Timeline. Users can fill in their Timelines with both content pulled in from other services — say, an article “liked” on Ars Technica or a game played — as well as “real world” activities like photos or status updates. The real world content can be filtered by date into the timeline, so users can fill in their backstory on the site with everything that happened before Facebook existed: moves to a new city, first words as a baby, or every single relationship breakup pre-2004.

Once in place, the timeline will be the new News Feed, with friends’ updates streaming past. But not everything will make it into the Timeline: small updates, like what music friends are listening to, may be relegated to the Ticker, the integrated online friends/status update bar rolled out Wednesday. Users will be able to choose which activities are significant enough to appear in their timelines.

Zuckerberg also placed emphasis on the new use of verbs in timelines, which will allow people to sort their friends activities in different ways. For instance, with a status update reading “Casey Johnston is watching Veronica Mars for the millionth time,” users will be able to click both “watching” to see what else friends are viewing at the moment, or “Veronica Mars” to see a list of other friends who like Veronica Mars.

These updates will feed into the second new feature, Facebook Open Graph, which collects and ranks the the activities or items that friends are interacting with. Apps that integrate with Facebook will be sorted in Open Graph based on popularity with a user and his or her friends, including Spotify, Hulu, Netflix, Foodspotting, Vevo, and Nike+, among many others. Open Graph is intended to help with app discoverability, showing users what their friends are doing without flooding their feeds every time a friend kills a mobster or plants a new crop of corn.

When Timeline was introduced, Chris Cox, director of product at Facebook, noted that “there is nothing we love to summarize more than time itself,” stating that with the new features it would be possible for users to create months or years in review.

Of course, Facebook’s entire motivation isn’t just for friends to become more intimate with each others’ past and present. Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO, spoke briefly at the conference, and noted that “because our [Spotify's] playlists are social, they [users] are more engaged. And because they are engaged, they are more than twice as likely to pay for music.” For Spotify, which boasted 2 million paying members worldwide as of Wednesday, the exposure to the better part of a billion Facebook members could mean big bucks.

The new completionist Facebook is a significant departure from what Facebook’s most avid competitors, Google+ and Twitter, currently offer on their sites. If Facebook can get users to buy into putting their whole life histories on the site, the amount of content there will explode, and create an investment and representation of self users won’t be likely to abandon. And with more content comes more opportunities to target ads.

The beta for Facebook’s timelines begins today, with availability being rolled out gradually. Neither Zuckerberg nor any of the speakers mentioned a timeline for the new version, but we expect it will be sooner rather than later.

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

File Under: Social

Google+ Adds 9 New Features, Opens to the World

Look out Facebook, here comes Google+. After three months as an invite-only service, Google+ has thrown open its door to the world and rolled out a slew of new features. The announcement comes just days before Facebook’s annual f8 developer conference and seems clearly aimed as a shot across the social network giant’s bow. Let the social wars begin.

Of course Facebook has already weathered at least one of Google’s attempts at a social network, the now marginalized Buzz (two if you include Wave). But this time around Google has done more than roll out a Facebook clone. As part of Google’s attempt to carve a unique spot for Plus, the company is rolling out several new features, including mobile support for the Google+ video chat feature known as “Hangouts.”

One part Skype, one part Apple FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts now allow users to video chat with up to ten people. The new mobile support for Hangouts means that you can chat on the go and start up hangouts from any device that supports Google+.

In addition to the mobile support, Hangouts have some new features like screensharing, so you can show off your vacation photos while you’re chatting, or tap your inner artist with the sketchpad feature, which allows collaborative drawing and doodling. There’s also support for Google Docs if you’d like to write or edit documents during your video chat.

To go along with the new features, Google has released a new Hangouts API for building applications on the new Hangouts platform. The API builds on the early preview version of the Google+ API released last week.

There’s also a new broadcasting features for Google+ Hangouts, dubbed “Hangouts on Air.” Hangouts on Air expands Google+ Hangouts beyond just video chat to video broadcasting, which, though limited at the moment, might eventually let anyone broadcast to a large audience without the infrastructure overhead.

The new On Air feature works just like regular Hangouts, start a hangout, and you’ll see a new option to broadcast and record your session. Once you’ve started your hangout up to nine people can join your hangout (just like regular hangouts), but now anyone can watch your live broadcast.

For now Google is limiting the number of broadcasters that can use the new On Air feature, which means that, while the On Air feature has potential to be more than yet another celebrity mouthpiece, at the moment that’s exactly what it is. The first On Air hangout will be with will.i.am on September 21 (details can be had on will.i.am’s Google+ profile).

Far more useful for those who are already heavy Google+ users are the new search tools, which bring search to Google+.

Google also has a slew of Android-specific improvements available in the updated Google+ app for Android. Similar improvements are coming soon to an iOS device near you.

While Google still refers to many of the new features as experimental (read: beta) clearly the new open door policy means that Google thinks its social network is ready to take on its rivals, Facebook and Twitter. With a slew of interesting chat features that go well beyond what Twitter or Facebook offer, Google+ at least now has something different, something it can claim as its own. Whether that translates into mainstream success or means Google+ will go the way of Wave and Buzz remains to be seen.

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