Bypass Firewalls by getting websites emailed to you

This trick is only good for public pages and you do need to know the URL if you’re already stuck behind the firewall. But how many URLs of public sites do you know? Probably a few.

  • Web2Mail – Either subscribe to a page you want to watch for changes or email www@web2mail.com with the URL in the subject and it will email you the site within 5 minutes
  • WebInMail also sends websites to you. Email browse@webinmail.com with the URL in the subject. Easy!

Don’t forget you can get old snapshots with Wayback Machine or Google Cache. However, these snapshots are probably too out of date for your daily needs.

Feeding Facebook – About those bloody Twitter updates

Image Credit: MagerLeagues

Right. Time to get stuck in to a topic that hits a lot of nerves: Why some people import Tweets into Facebook. I’m not trying to start a debate here, rather to cast light on why some choose to do this.

Firstly, I’ll mention that due to Facebook changing the news feed, Twitter and Google getting friendly and Twitter introducing lists, both services are currently undergoing a bit of change. This means that users of both (especially those sending tweets through to Facebook) will be making adjustments. For starters, tweets get indexed by Google and Twitterers might have more luck keeping track of their real friends (thus also negating two of the main reasons for things like “Daily tweet” digests).

Anyway, there’s plenty of people wondering about the differences between the two services and what sort of status update goes to where. Danah Boyd also had a rant recently about the difference in status updates between Facebook and Twitter status updates. There are definitely differences between the two in regards to audience and conversation.

When I tweet it goes to thousands of people – some who are followers, some who see RTs and some who are searching hashtags or words. That audience is largely professional in nature. It’s public, immediate and it’s instantly part of a larger conversation. Twitter is about what’s happening throughout the world. It’s about news, thoughts, ideas, conversation and random funny things – but it’s also about everyone. You see humanising snippets of lives that remind you that you’re talking to real people. It’s the world talking to the world. People dip in and out as it suits them, talking to whoever is interesting or on-topic while they’re there. You miss some things and you catch others – It’s not important. When I’m online I see Twitter updates via Growl, constantly showing me interesting new stuff. Twitter is ubiquitous information gathering. Twitter is ephemeral. Twitter is about NOW.

Facebook is, due to the reciprocal friending practices, all about friends. Real friends. Yes, some people have also friended contacts and networkers as well as their friends. But largely, it’s about real friends. It’s like a one-stop shop for friend info. Facebook seems to be trying to branch into the worldwide-info market as well, but that’s not the point. For now, Facebook is the go-to place when you want to find out what your real friends have been up to.

I have no idea what you’re up to these days – you never post to Facebook.

I have to admit, when I first saw people bringing tweets into Facebook I was thinking “You’re doing it wrong!”. It still irks me that the Twitter app doesn’t work like it used to any more. The official Twitter app used to bring your tweets into your wall sweetly with a little Twitter logo. It was part of the news feed and if people didn’t want to see it they could just hide stuff from that app. But the app doesn’t work like that any more and none of the current working apps seem to do that – they all post as a status update. So, it was a big decision to cross the line and become an evil Twitter-Facebook crossposter.

Now, across many social networks I maintain separate information. Each network serves its purpose and has a different audience. I wanted to keep Facebook as a separate social network and not to replicate information – duplication is annoying! But the point is, Facebook is different for two very important reasons. Firstly, because information created in Facebook is largely stuck in Facebook (unless you can find the magic RSS feed) – it’s a walled garden. That doesn’t encourage people to create original content in Facebook. Secondly, because it really is the one-stop shop for friend info. Not many of my Facebook friends bother to follow RSS feeds – especially not now that Facebook is the place to go for friend info. And why would they go to Friendfeed and set up an account there, when they really want to see everything in Facebook with everything else? So, it’s up to me to make sure that all the stuff they might like to know about me is in Facebook where they’ll find it. In that respect, I’m treating Facebook as a lifestream. In goes a selected stream of stuff I do online, picked for relevance to my real-life friends. This is the general mentality of the people importing tweets and RSS feeds into Facebook. We have simply started to see Facebook as more of a lifestream for friends.

I’m actually quite glad that so many of my Twitter friends import their more interesting tweets into Facebook. If they didn’t I’d probably never see them. Even when I’m actively following Twitter I tend to miss things said by my own friends. This makes sure I don’t.

As for content, I guess it’s a constant adjustment to ensure just the right stuff is coming through. Twitter can get pretty chatty and it would be crazy to update your Facebook status that often. Some speak of Twitter as a mind-state versus Facebook as a life-state. That’s true for some. And for some, it’s only true sometimes. Humans are a pretty diverse mob. But for me, whether it’s something interesting I thought, saw, read or did, the final decision to send it to Facebook is largely about whether I think any of my friends will be interested. Also, since I don’t yet have an iPhone (or in fact a phone with internet or email access), I can’t update my Facebook status when I’m out and about. I can, however, send an SMS to Twitter and have it go through to Facebook if it’s relevant to my Facebook friends. So, Twitter is essentially the best path to get information from me to the internet at large. In that sense, things that I might have posted purely to Facebook are travelling through Twitter as well.

If you’re reading this and still all riled up that your friends are posting things to Facebook and it’s all just getting too much, I have an idea for you. Create a Facebook friends lists for “People I don’t follow elsewhere” and filter out the noise. Or just follow them via Facebook.

The point of all this is that there are many people out there who have realised that Facebook is where people go to find out about friends and that if we’re to supply these friends with the information they’re looking for then it’s best put on Facebook by us. There’s no point expecting people try to keep track of their own friends – we just have to take the information to where they’ll read it.

Image Credit: MagerLeagues

Lifestream me

I’ve been messing around with social networks for a long while now, so I was quick to see the need for a lifestream before most of my friends. In fact, most of my friends still don’t see why they would want one. Because of this, I thought I’d delve into some thoughts on why having a lifestream is useful and then explain which ones I use and why.

The comprehensive picture

The main reason I can see people wanting a lifestream is to be able to supply any interested person with a comprehensive picture of you via your activities online. Sure, it’s never going to be quite like meeting you in person, but it’s far more accurate then them viewing just your Twitter or Delicious links alone. And when you stretch out and find networks with the perfect niche for each of your interests, you find yourself drawn into interesting discussions or collecting unique data which you might then want to display to all the people who are generally interested in you. Rather than repeating yourself (or expecting them to visit your niche network), it’s far easier to use RSS feeds to collect that information and display it in the one place.

Loic Le Meur posted a fantastic post about why he needed a lifestream (with diagrams and video) when he suddenly realised that he had reason for one. Lea Woodward explains in her post that lifestreams are invaluable when maintaining relationships internationally and building relationships with clients online.

Image Credit: Christhomson

Why not just use Facebook?

The main reason most of my friends don’t compile their own lifestream is largely because they use only a few social networks and their only intended audience is their close friends. For these purposes, Facebook is usually enough for them. Facebook is a sort of lifestream – there are lots of ways to get information into the system and it does then give an overview of who you are. But, it’s very limited – only one RSS feed can be imported into the notes (if you have multiple blogs you can pre-mix them together using Yahoo Pipes – but you have to be the sort of person to think of that). Applications can be used to import more things, but most people are then limited by the applications available (not many people really want to write their own app just so something will work on Facebook). And then Facebook controls the layout and you’ll probably find no-one will see what you want them to see anyway.

But that’s not even the most important part – it’s about having something public. Due to privacy issues, people are locking down their Facebook profiles and generally sticking to friending people they actually know. That means your professional contacts aren’t able to quickly look at a page which gives a nice overview of you and links to relevant networks where they might find common interests and interact with you further. You need to create that yourself and do it somewhere public.

So, what can I use to lifestream?

There are lots of lifestreaming services out there. Yes, you can go to the effort of creating your own lifestream, but most people won’t bother or don’t have the skills. It’s far easier to use a ready-made lifestreaming service.

There are two different sorts of lifestreams available: Pull or Push. Both have their merits, and technically I use both. Pull lifestreams are where you can collect all the RSS feeds of stuff you do online and display them in a pretty page for people to see, like Friendfeed, Plurk or Soup. These are great for people who are active on lots of social networks and blogs.

Push lifestreams are a one-stop shop. You post directly to the site and it will sort your content and send it on to the various networks for you. These are great for people who want to have a presence in a lot of places, but don’t have the time (or don’t want to navigate the tools) to visit or use each network individually. They’re also great for people who are mostly offline and want to be able to update the various services they use via email (even if those services don’t directly support that) – they’re similar to services like Ping.fm. I’ll talk more about surviving offline in another post. A good push lifestream example is Posterous.

Steve Rubel has a great post on the difference between push and pull lifestreams and he’s got some easy-to-understand diagrams which tell the story very clearly. You can easily use a combination of both types of lifestream. In fact, most lifestreaming services are their own social network, lending even more confusion to the whole thing. In the end, all you have to do is decide where to send people when they want the full picture. Which service has the best picture for you? Do you want customisation? Do you want people to connect with you? Do you want to host it yourself?

Posterous is very customisable and can be hosted anywhere. Also, the content goes back out to the networks, so if you’re cunning you can pull that back in to a ‘pull’ lifestream as well. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t.

Friendfeed is gaining in popularity and is a great way to connect with other people. Customisation is fairly limited, but exposure is high. It’s like a fleshed-out Twitter. People can follow you without you needing to follow back and people dip in and out of following as it suits them. Members can filter who they follow into lists, which means people can be selective about their viewing. There are also Friendfeed groups, which you can add RSS feeds to if you’re an admin, but member content needs to be re-posted to the group (which I personally find to be annoying).

To fill this niche is one of my favourites, Soup. This little gem is relatively unheard of, which is a great shame if you ask me. Soup allows you to customise your lifestream entirely. The available themes, however, are generally good enough for most people as they look great. Soup’s groups work in a slightly different way to Friendfeed’s groups. Feeds can be set up by admins and content can be pushed by members (same as Friendfeed). But the joy comes from the ‘member’ tab, which supplies a comprehensive mix of everything each member imports into their own lifestream. This is GREAT for clubs and small groups of people (like families). Each member can set up their own lifestream as they wish and the group display can show what everyone is up to. If you want an example of Soup group ‘member’ tabs in action, see my soup, my family soup and the LabF soup.

So, uh, what?

Okay, so I may have just confused the issue further by giving you too much choice in the way of lifestreams. The point is that they’re all different – They achieve different things. But no-one said you had to use just one service. Join Friendfeed for exposure (if that’s what you want) and so your friends can find you. Then pick (or make) at least one lifestream service that looks and behaves the way you want it to and call that your landing page from now on.

Image Credit: Christhomson

A guide to teaching on Twitter

Classroom
Image by James Sarmiento

In the next year, Twitter will likely see a huge boom in useful educational content. Users, sick to death of reading RTs (retweets) of motivational quotes and breaking news, will want to follow Tweeps who can deliver unique, interesting, useful information in bite-sized chunks.

In my own quest to learn French, I found myself searching Twitter for a Twitterer who would just teach me random French words. In particular, I wanted to follow a Twitter account which would just give me the information in the tweet, not require me to click a link to a website. I couldn’t find any such thing, so in the end I created one myself – @Frenchmot. I’ve since found a few more dedicated French learning twitter accounts, which I highly recommend French learners follow.

What I learned in this process was that there aren’t that many Twitter accounts out there who dedicate themselves to teaching a particular topic. Or, if they are there, they’re not very good at advertising themselves. It took a chat with my husband for me to realise that perhaps some people just don’t know how easy it is to run an educational Twitter account.

Before setting up @Frenchmot I really thought for a long time about whether it was something I could commit to regularly. Now that I’ve been running it for a while, I’ve realised it’s very, very easy to stick to.

Firstly, it has to be something you are interested in learning or teaching. It’s best if you have a fresh source of information to provide. For me, I am usually trying to read French newspapers and books. Whenever I don’t know the exact meaning of a word I look it up, cross reference and reverse translate. When I’m sure the translation is accurate I write the tweet. This can take a little time, but I’m learning from the process. So, it’s good for me and the people following me. Plus, it feels good to share something just because you can.

Learn, check, tweet.

I’m pretty sure this approach could be used by just about anyone who had to learn multiple small pieces of information by rote. It could be used for all sorts of topics, medical terminology, physics formulae, tips for DIY.. anything. Can you imagine how good it would be to revise for exams with regular tweets (from lots of other students) reminding you of all the little things you need to learn?

So, you’ve got an idea what you can teach people? Here’s how to set your own educational Twitter feed up.

  1. Set up a new dedicated Twitter account for your topic. Don’t use your normal account. You can always tell the followers who you really are in your bio and your Twitter background.
  2. Start an account with Tweetlater so you can schedule your tweets into the future. This will keep you sane. When you’re motivated you can schedule a tweet per day for several days ahead. Then when you go away for the weekend no-one will know. It’s not too hard to nose your way around Tweetlater. Make sure you set your current timezone, then when you Tweet make sure you choose when you want it to be posted.
  3. Make sure you tag your tweets with relevant hashtags so that people searching the topic can find you. Make sure the same keywords are in your bio.
  4. Sign up to some of the Twitter directories, eg. Wefollow or Twellow.
  5. Keep your tweets on topic, interesting, reliably correct and numerous (keep the stories about your lunch to your normal Twitter account).
  6. Try to stagger (using Tweetlater) your Tweets to co-incide with the workdays of all timezones that speak your language, eg. English, American and Australian workday.
  7. In order to find other educational Tweeps, try searching Twitter for hashtags of your topic (or try the user directories).
  8. Occasionally promote similar Twitterers to your followers. It will help your followers to learn more and it might gain you some Twitter karma.

Now you’re ready to share and learn cool things from your fellow Tweeps. Do it now – it’s easy!

PS. I’m @smange on Twitter. Feel free to follow me!

(For more teaching ideas, take a look at Interesting ways to use Twitter in the Classroom)

Image Credit: James Sarmiento

Twitter says “Hello Mikeyy”

Watching Twitter at the moment is quite interesting as the Mikeyy worm is going around for the fourth time. TechCrunch has an update on how to get rid of it, but the gist is “Change your url, bio & hex colours, then log in/out and clear cache/cookies. To avoid infection, don’t look at people’s profiles in Twitter. Don’t follow any shortened links as they often point to infected profiles. “

Sadly, for the people who have an infection in their username, they are probably going to lose their username if they change their url. I hope they can get their names back later.

There are other interesting things afoot. Mikeyy very recently posted his phone number and said Twitter should hire him. Perhaps this is true – it can be very sensible to hire the people who know how to hack your system. But Twitter users are starting to suggest calling this number en masse as a form of internet vigilantism. Could get messy.

But, what I find really interesting is that Twitter can’t seem to fix this in any hurry. Mikeyy obviously isn’t malicious. He has power over a lot of accounts right now and isn’t doing anything too nasty (yet). But he has the potential to turn nasty and wreak havoc for Twitter. But, Mikeyy is just the warning. I bet a whole heap of nasty people are watching this worm with glee and planning their evil takeover.

Worse still, what if the super-nasties make their worm look just like Mikeyy? What if the response is a lot of people going “Don’t worry, just log out and clear your cookies” when it’s actually a far more serious threat?

Socialmoth is now SpeedDate? WTF?

It’s Christmas day and all of a sudden I get an email to say that my Facebook profile shows me as having a dating app on my profile. Seriously, how many people do you think will have a hard time explaining this to their spouses?

Thanks for using Socialmoth Secrets. We are excited to announce that, as of next week, Socialmoth Secrets’s name and functionality will be changed to SpeedDate. Data entered into the original app won’t be used anymore. Soon you’ll be able to try SpeedDate, the fastest way to meet new people, so stay tuned!
Thanks,
Socialmoth Secrets

P.S. If you want to opt-out of this app, instructions can be found here.

By the time I received the email the SpeedDate app was listed as one of my apps. It looks like what they’ve done in reality is to subscribe all Socialmoth users to their new app, SpeedDate, and then plan to delete the SocialMoth app in the next week.

I think Facebook should have a few more rules about what an application is allowed to do. Especially when it comes to changing the name and/or the fundamental nature of what the app is about. Socialmoth (which was kind of like Postsecret for Facebook) just changed to SpeedDate. Hell, Facebook doesn’t let people change the names of groups – even if they spell something wrong! Why should an app be allowed to change so drastically? Facebook should make apps stick to the same strict rules as groups.. or at least have their name change approved by Facebook.

The trick of subscribing all current users to a new app should also be banned.

Seriously.

I believe that by changing the name and nature of the application from SocialMoth to SpeedDate they have falsely represented themselves. I think this counts as a violation of the Facebook Application Developer Terms and Conditions. I strongly recommend that anyone who was a Socialmoth user reports both SocialMoth and SpeedDate.

Obituary for Pownce

Pownce
Image via Wikipedia

A celebration of the life of Pownce, the niche social network which has now lost its battle for survival.

With Pownce officially leaving us for good on the 15th December, I thought it was time to share my thoughts on the life of Pownce.

Pownce was a quirky, geek-oriented social network. We loved it for its concentric circle theme and elegant simplicity. With privacy options that really worked, we adored that network with all our hearts.

We all believed that with Kevin Rose (of DIGG) at the helm it was destined for great things. But, alas, its life was cut short by a convenient sell-out.

Life really got exciting for Pownce in the middle of 2007, when Mashable ran a glowing feature article about the network. With further exposure, this period of time was the highlight of Pownce’s brief, glorious life.

The fans will certainly mourn the loss of such talent for years to come.

Pownce is survived by Vox, the preferred social network of Pownce’s parent Six Apart.

In lieu of flowers, please take the time to visit Vox and nurture the surviving sibling.

The net you need to know

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