The Web began dying in 2014, here’s how

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Before the year 2014, there were many people using Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Today, there are still many people using services from those three tech giants (respectively, GOOG, FB, AMZN). Not much has changed, and quite literally the user interface and features on those sites has remained mostly untouched. However, the underlying dynamics of power on the Web have drastically changed, and those three companies are at the center of a fundamental transformation of the Web.

It looks like nothing changed since 2014, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic.

Internet activity itself hasn’t slowed down. It maintains a steady growth, both in amount of users and amount of websites…

Pay To Post

I see that Facebook is experimenting with allowing you to pay a nominal fee to make sure that your posts end up “highlighted” over those of your friends’ other friends. That’s a whole new level of crazy… or is it?

A screenshot of Facebook's new "Highlight" feature.
A screenshot of Facebook's new "Highlight" feature. For about a quid, you can push your wall posts to the top of everybody's list.

I’m not on Facebook, but I think that this is a really interesting piece of news. The biggest thing that makes Facebook unusable (and which also affects Twitter) is that people will post every little banal thing that comes to their mind. I don’t care what you’re eating for your lunch. I don’t want to read the lyrics of some song that must have been written for you. I really can’t stand your chain messages (for a while there, after I hadn’t received any by email for a few years, I hoped that they’d died out… but it turns out that they just moved to Facebook instead). If you’re among my friends, I know that you have some pretty smart and interesting things to say… but unless I’m willing to spend hours sifting through the detritus it’s buried in, I’ll never find it.

Social Media Citation. The littering fine tickets of the digital generation.
Social Media Citation. The littering fine tickets of the digital generation.

But this might work. If the price sweet spot can be found, and it’s marketed right, then this kind of feature might make services like Facebook more tolerable. When you’re writing about a cute picture of the cat you’ve seen, that’s fine. And when you write something I might care about, you can tick the “this is actually relevant” box. You’ll have to pay a few pence, but at least you know I’ll see it. And if I want to churn through reams of “X likes Chocolate” (who doesn’t?) and “Y is… in a queue for the bus” then I can turn off the “only relevant things” mode and waste some time.

The problem is that the sweet spot will vary from person to person, and there’s no way to work around that. Big Bucks Bob can probably afford to pay a couple of pounds every time he wants to push some meme photo to the top of your feed, but Poor Penniless Penny can’t even justify ten pence to make sure that all of her friends hear about her birthday party.

Google+ tries to use heuristics to show you "top" content you might be interested in.
Google+ tries to use heuristics to show you "top" content you might be interested in. It feels less insidious than charging you, as Facebook will, but it still doesn't quite work.

It’s a pity that it won’t work, because a part of me is drawn to the idea that economic theory can help to improve the signal-to-noise ratio in our information-saturated lives. Turning my attention to email: of all the cost-based anti-spam systems, I was always quite impressed with Hashcash (which Microsoft seem to be reinventing with their Penny Black project). The idea is that your computer does some hard-to-do (but easy-to-verify) computational work for each and every email that it sends. But in its own way, Hashcash has a similar problem to Facebook’s new system: the ability to pay of a sender is not directly proportional to their relevance to the recipient. If my mother wants to send me an email from her aging smartphone, should she have to wait for several minutes while it processes and generates an “e-stamp”, just because – if it were made any faster – spammers with zombie networks of computers could do so too easily?

Yes, I just equated your social network status, about what you ate for your lunch, with spam. If you don’t like it, don’t share this blog post with your friends.

hashcash token: 1:20:120511:

Hello, Facebook; Goodbye, Facebook

Well, that was a farce.

tl;dr: [skip to the end] I’m closing my Facebook account. I’ve got some suggestions at the bottom of this post about how you might like to keep in touch with me in future, if you previously liked to do so via Facebook.

The Backstory

A little over three weeks ago, I was banned from Facebook for having a fake name. This surprised me, because I was using my real name – it’s an unusual name, but it’s mine. I was interested to discover that Claire, who shares my name, hadn’t been similarly banned, so it seems that this wasn’t part of some “sweep” for people with one-letter names, but instead was probably the result of somebody (some stranger, I’d like to hope) clicking the “Report this as a fake name” link on my profile.

Perhaps somebody clicked their way through to this page, and claimed that I was not a "real person".

There are many, many things about this that are alarming, but the biggest is the “block first; ask questions later” attitude. I wasn’t once emailed to warn me that I would be banned. Hell: I wasn’t even emailed to tell me that I had been banned. It took until I tried to log in before I found out at all.

The Problem

I don’t make much use of Facebook, really. I cross-post my blog posts there, and I keep Pidgin signed in to Facebook Chat in case anybody’s looking for me. Oh, and I stalk people from my past, but that’s just about the only thing I do on it that everybody does on it. I don’t really wallpost, I avoid internal messages (replying to them, where possible, by email), and I certainly don’t play fucking FarmVille.

Once, one of my Facebook friends invited me to FarmVille. They're not my Facebook friend any more.

So what’s the problem? It’s not like I’d be missing anything if I barely use it anyway? The problem is that my account was still there, it’s just that I didn’t have access to it.

That meant that people still invited me to things and sent me messages. My friends are smart enough to know that I won’t see anything they write on their wall, but they assume that if they update the information of a party they’ve Facebook-invited me to that I’ll get it. For example, I was recently at a fabulous party at Gareth and Penny‘s which they organised mostly via Facebook. They’d be forgiven for assuming that when they sent a message to “the guests” – a list that included me – that I would get that message: but no – it fell silently away into Facebook’s black hole.

The Farce(book?)

Following this discovery, here’s how I spent the next three weeks:

  1. Facebook gave me a form to fill in when I tried to log in, explaining their “Real Names” policy and asking me to fill in my real name and explain “what I use Facebook for” (“Ignoring friends and stalking exes, same as everybody else,” I explained, “Why; what do YOU use Facebook for?”).
  2. It then asked me to scan and upload some government-issued photographic ID, which I did. It still wouldn’t let me log in, but it promised that somebody would look at my ID soon (and then destroy their copy) and re-enable my account.
  3. I periodically tried to log in over the next few days, without success: I was to wait, I was told.
  4. After about a week, I received an email from “Rachel” at Facebook, who explained the “Real Names” policy and asked me to provide my REAL name, and a scan of some photographic ID. I replied to explain that I’d already done this once, but complied with her request anyway.
  5. Another few days passed, and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I filled in the Contact Forms in the Help section of Facebook, asking to have my request processed by an actual human being. I provided by ID yet again.
  6. Another few days later, I received an email from “Aoife” at Facebook. It was pretty-much exactly the same as the earlier email from Rachel. I replied to explain that we’d been through this already. I supplied another pile of photo ID, and a few sarcastic comments.
A real person, with a real name, holding two examples of his real government-issued photographic ID. I wonder how long it would take a smart person to look at a scan of that ID and say, "Yeah, this person's real enough to be allowed to post pictures of cats on his wall, again."
  1. Another couple of days passed, so I dug up the postal addresses of Facebook’s HQ, and Mark Zuckerberg‘s new Palo Alto house (he’s tried to keep it secret, but the Internet is pretty good at this kind of detective work), and sent each of them a letter explaining my predicament.
  2. Yet more days passed, and we reached the third week of my ban. I replied to Rachel and Aoife, asking how long this was likely to take.
  3. Finally, a little over three weeks after the ban was first put in place, it was lifted. I received an email from Aoife:

Hi Dan,

Thanks for verifying your identity. Note that we permanently deleted your attached ID from our servers.

After investigating this further, it looks like we suspended your account by mistake. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. You should now be able to log in. If you have any issues getting back into your account, please let me know.


User Operations

The Resolution

So now, I’m back on Facebook, and I’ve learned something: having a Facebook account that you can’t log in to is worse than not having a Facebook account at all. If I didn’t have one at all, at least people would know that they couldn’t contact me that way. In my situation, Facebook were effectively lying to my friends: telling them “Yeah, sure: we’ll pass on your message to Dan!” and then not doing so. It’s a little bit like digital identity theft, and it’s at least a little alarming.

I’ve learned something else, too: Facebook can’t be trusted to handle this kind of situation properly. Anybody could end up in my situation. Those of you with unusual (real) names, or unusual-looking pseudonyms, or who use fake names on Facebook (and I know that there are at least a dozen of you on my friends list)… or just those of you whose name looks a little bit off to a Facebook employee… you’re all at risk of this kind of lockout.

Me? I was a little pissed off, but it wasn’t the end of the world. But I know people who use Facebook’s “single sign-on” authentication systems to log in to other services. I know people who do some or all of their business through Facebook. Increasingly, I’ve seen people store their telephone or email address books primarily on Facebook. What do you do when you lose access to this and can’t get it back? When there’s nowhere to appeal?

And that’s how I came to my third lesson: I can’t rely on Facebook not to make this kind of fuck-up again. No explanation was given as to how their “mistake” was made, so I can’t trust that whatever human or automated system was at fault won’t just do the same damn dumb thing tomorrow to me or to somebody I know. And personally, I don’t like Facebook to seize control of my account and to pretend to be me. I come full circle to my first realisation – that it would be better not to have a Facebook account at all than to have one that I can’t access – and realise that because that’s liable to happen again at any time, that I shouldn’t have a Facebook account.

The Conclusion

So, I’m ditching Facebook.

Goodbye, Facebook.

None of this pansy “deactivation” shit, either – do you know what that actually does, by the way? It just hides your wall and stops new people from friending you: it still keeps all of your information, because it’s basically a scam to try to keep your data while making you think you’ve left. No, I’m talking about the real “permanent deletion” deal.

I’m going to hang around for a few days to make sure I’ve harvested everybody’s email addresses and pushing this post to my wall and whatnot, and then I’m gone.

If you’re among those folks who aren’t sure how to function outside of Facebook, but still want to keep in touch with me, here’s what you need to know:

  • I like email! Remember email? I’ve always preferred it to Facebook messages anyway – that’s why I always reply to you by email, where possible. My email address is pretty obvious – it’s my first name @ this domain name – but if that’s too hard for you, just fill in this form to get in touch with me. If you’re up for some security while you’re at it, why not encrypt your email to me.
  • I like instant messaging! I may not be on Facebook Messenger any more, but we can still chat! The best way to get me is on Google Talk, but there are plenty of other options too. Here’s how you do it. Or if you’re really lazy, just check at the top of my blog for the little green light and click “Chat to Dan”.
  • I like blogging! Want to know what’s going on in my life? I never updated my “wall” anyway except to link to blog posts – you might as well just come look at my blog! Too much like work? Follow my RSS feed and get updated when I post to my blog, or keep an eye on my Twitter, which usually gets links to my new blog posts almost as soon as they go up.
  • I like sharing! I’m not on Google Reader any more, but when I find fun things on the Internet that I enjoyed reading, I put them in this RSS feed. Subscribe and see what I’ve been looking at online, or just look at “Dan is Reading…” in the right-hand column of my blog.
  • And I’m not opposed to social networking! I’ve just reached the end of my patience with Facebook, that’s all. Look me up on Google+ and I’ll see you over there (They also have a “Real Names” policy, which is still a bit of a problem, but I’m sending them a pre-emptive “Don’t ban me, bro!” email now)!

Ironically, the only Facebook accounts I’ll have now are the once which do have fake names. Funny how they’re the ones that never seem to get banned.

I’m banned from Facebook for having an unusual name. Any suggestions welcome!

This self-post was originally posted to /r/self. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

I have an unusual name: I’m pretty sure I’m the only person with my name in the world. It’s not the quirkiest name in the world – I have two names, the first one is pretty common, the second one is unusual but isn’t a swearword or “Elephanthead” or something, it’s all in the Latin alphabet, etc. – but it is a little strange.

Three weeks ago, Facebook blocked me from logging in. I wouldn’t have noticed except that my phone failed to log in to Facebook Chat, and told me that I needed to log in on first. When I logged in, I was shown a form that stated that “Facebook is a community where people use their real names,” and that I had to “Supply my real name, as it appears on government-issued ID.” So I did.

Then it asked me to upload a photo of said ID, so I did.

After a week, Facebook emailed me to remind me of their real names policy and asked me to tell them my real name and to send them proof, as before. So I did so. This time I sent not only my driving license but also my passport.

Another week goes by, and they email me again with exactly the same text. I email back, asking if they actually read my last email at all. This time I provided photos of my passport, driving license, and carefully-censored pictures of my bank card, work ID, college ID, medical insurance card, etc.

Another few days go by, and they send me the exact same email again, asking for the same information yet again. I’ve tried to contact them by email and through their help system to ask how long this is going to take, and whether a human being is ever going to actually read my emails, but haven’t heard anything back.

I wouldn’t care, if I could at least delete my account: but I can’t, because I can’t log in to do so. They’re holding my data captive. My account still “looks” like it’s fine, so my friends try to contact me, invite me to things, etc., and I never hear about it. It’s a good job that I don’t use Facebook to log in to anything (that I’m aware of), or else I probably wouldn’t be able to use that too.

What do I do, Reddit? Is there some trick to actually getting Facebook to listen to you, or at least some way to delete your account without being permitted to log in to it?

tl;dr I’m banned from Facebook for using a fake name, but I’m not using a fake name. They’ve asked me to prove it, and I have (three weeks ago), but they just keep replying to ask me to prove it again.

Edit (screenshots): the screen I first saw when trying to log in after submitting their form, the screen I now see when trying to log in, and an example of an email I’ve received from them (I’ve got several of these, now, each signed off with a different name).

Banned From Facebook

Apparently I’m too cool for Facebook.

The message I see when I try to log in to Facebook. Sadly, I'm also prohibited from using Pidgin to connect to Facebook Chat, which is just about the only thing I use Facebook for these days.

Okay, that’s not what that message actually says, but that’s how I chose to read it. It turns out that my name isn’t real. I went through their forms to tell them that “no, really, this is my name”. They also asked me “what I use Facebook for”, to which I – of course – answered “chatting to friends and stalking exes, same as everybody else – why, what do YOU use Facebook for?” But when I submitted the form, it just ran me back around in a circle back to where I started.

Also: Facebook! Is that exposed HTML code in your message? Dear me.

I’d be less frustrated if I didn’t just send them a copy of my driving license earlier this year, in order to prove that my name was really my name. I guess that the media claims that Facebook keeps all of your information indefinitely aren’t true, and in actual fact they have the memory of a proverbial goldfish.

I’d be more frustrated if I actually used Facebook for anything more than pushing blog posts out to people who prefer to see them on Facebook, and occasionally chatting to people, thanks to the wonderful pidgin-facebookchat plugin.

So on average, I suppose, I’m pretty indifferent. That’s the Facebook way.

A New Way to Be Creepy on Facebook

This week, I discovered Breakup Notifier, a whole new way to be creepy on Facebook. I mention it because I just know that there are some of you out there who were waiting for this tool to be invented (and we’ll know who you are because you’ll be the ones to try to keep a low profile by not commenting to say “ugh; that’s creepy”).

Breakup Notifier: "You like someone. They're in a relationship. Be the first to know when they're out of it."

The idea is, as it says on the site, that you can tell Breakup Notifier which of your friends you’d be interested in, if only it weren’t for the fact that they’re in a (presumably closed) relationship. If their relationship status changes, you get an email to let you know, so you can be the first to take advantage of the new situation. Like Ted in The Window, an episode of How I Met Your Mother: which if you’ve not seen yet, you should try.

I think that the developers of this site are missing an opportunity, though, to make a little cash on the side. All you have to do is to be able to buy “priority access” on the people you’re interested in. If you’ve paid, then you get notice of a breakup in advance of other people who are interested in the same person but who haven’t paid. The amount of advance notice is based on the difference in your bids: so if I’m stalking watching Alice, and so are Bob and Charlie, but I paid £10 and Bob paid £2, then maybe I’ll get a notification 8 hours before Bob, who get a notification 2 hours before Charlie. It’s all relative, so if I’m also interested in Eddie, who’s also being followed by Frankie and Graeme, but we’re all on the free package, then we all get notified together.

As far as marketing’s concerned, that’s easy: just tell users how many others are watching the people they’re interested in! I suspect that more money would be made if you don’t tell them how much the others have paid, but the whole thing’s as sociologically-complicated as it is skin-crawling. What happened to the good old days, when you’d just keep pressing refresh on your crush’s MySpace page until they hinted that things might be rocky with their significant other?

Facebook Annoyance Of The Day

(rambling, ranty; I saw something on Facebook that pissed me off, and ended up ranting about the whole social media scene – no offence meant, and I’ve deliberately picked no examples from anybody I know or care about)

It’s not as bad as setting up a Facebook group to recover your friends’ mobile numbers after losing your phone, which I’ve complained about previously, but there’s a particular bit of behaviour that I’ve seen a few times on Facebook that really pisses me off.

Yes, in a world of geeks complaining about Facebook, I’m the geek who complains about Facebook users.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Let’s have a look what’s happened here. Person 1 wants Person 2 to do them a favour: a little household chore: putting something in the post for them. So they went to Facebook, logged in, went to Person 2’s wall, and wrote about it there. What?

I’ve put together a quick list of other possible ways that Person 1 could have passed on this message:

  1. Facebook Message – If you really were logged in to Facebook already, and even you were already on the page of the person you wanted to send a message to, it would only have been one more click to send a Facebook Message. This would have given you more options, in case you needed them, and would have meant that you didn’t have to tell every single one of Person 2’s friends about the mindless dull minutiae of an event that matters to (at most) only two people.
  2. E-mail – Remember that? It’s fast, it’s simple, and it doesn’t involve filling your friend’s friends’ news feed with crap that has no relevance to them (or, in fact, to anybody).
  3. Text message – There’s almost nobody left without a mobile phone, and I’d hope that you had your (presumably) housemate’s number: why not drop them a text. It’s typically even faster than the previous two suggestions, and you don’t even have to open a web browser. Hell; if you’re going to go that far, why not make a phone call (we can still do that, you know, even on modern mobiles).

I suppose that this mini-rant is actually a roundabout way of answering a question I get asked from time to time: Why can’t I post to your Facebook wall? I get asked this question about once every three or for months, and the answer is related to my complaints about the poster, above. Not being able to write on my wall isn’t part of the half-dozen or so layers of privilege I group my Facebook contacts into: writing on my “wall” is deliberately something that only I can do, no matter who you are.

And that’s because I don’t see the point. Why do I want a medium to which my friends can post messages specifically to me in full view of the rest of the world? I can fully understand why you’d want to write on your own wall – hey, it’s not that dissimilar to blogging – but what possible motive can you have to want to say something to me “in front of everyone”, except if perhaps it’s more important to you to be seen to be saying something than it is for me to hear your message?

If you have something to tell me, then tell me: call me, text me, instant message me (I’m on basically all of the networks), e-mail me (encrypted, if you prefer), or even fill in the form on my web site: I’m a really easy to get in contact with. If you have something to tell the world, or all of your friends, then put it on a blog, Tweet it, put it on your Facebook wall, or something. I can’t see any legitimate use case that I care about where you’d want to leave a message specifically for all of my friends.

I suppose while I’m full of rantyness I ought to explain my stance on Twitter, too. I had a Twitter account, once. I get it; I see the point. Microblogging; yeah, that’s a clever idea: sharing clever snippets of information, URLs, and whatnot without the hassle of having to type in your blog address and put it there. It’s not much hassle, but you sometimes feel a little like a cheater when you write a blog post of only a couple of sentences (but that hasn’t stopped me doing it from time to time). So I signed up for Twitter, found my friends and followed them, and gave it a go.

I read what my friends wrote, and I wrote about what was of interest to me.

Maybe it’s just my friends, or maybe it’s just that blogging works because it takes effort, but most of the tweets I would see fell into only a couple of categories. The first category are those tweets which are actually interesting, and are incredibly rare. The next category is those tweets which are half of a conversation about which I don’t care – a friend of mine talking to somebody I don’t know about something that doesn’t matter to me: you know, the thing I really hate about the way that people use their friends’ Facebook walls. The third category, and the most numerous for some of the people I followed, is tweets that surely have no value or interest to anybody at all. I don’t care that your bus is running late or that your boss has a new haircut. Why are you telling me this!

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair. Some of my friends produce consistently clever and interesting stuff on their Twitter feeds. Although these also tend to be the same people who write interesting things on their blogs, or who talk to me regularly, or who share fun stuff with me on Google Reader, and who generally otherwise keep me posted with what’s cool and interesting in their lives.

I’ve heard people say to me that my complaints about Twitter are invalid because I use Facebook (thereby carrying the implication that it’s just as bad). And it is just as bad – about 50% of the folks I know on Facebook type such drivel into their “walls” that I just don’t read them. But the difference is that I don’t have to. I can still use the useful Facebook features (contact details sharing, photo sharing, stalking) without having to get into the shitty “what my cat ate for dinner” stuff that seems to be the entirety of what the Twitter experience is about.

Me; I like blogs. A well-written blog post (with a sensible title: I’m looking at you, LiveJournalers) is something that I can read now, or later, or skip. Skipping tweets isn’t the same experience at all, because you’ll soon find yourself at “Oh no! That made the cat throw up!” and wonder what you missed (hint: fuck all). So I think I’ll stick to reading folks’ blog posts, logging into Facebook every couple of weeks, and checking a handful of my friends’ Twitter feeds once in a blue moon. Is that how it’s supposed to be done? I’m not sure, but it’s the only way that I’ve found that works for me.

Or perhaps I’m missing something.

What Not To Do When You Lose Your Mobile

Maybe this is just a pet hate that is exclusively mine, but there’s something that really gets on my nerves and it’s happened under one of the two scenarios below at least three times within the last month. It’s as if the very second you let people loose on social-networking site Facebook they immediately lose all common sense.

Here’s the scenario: you lose or break your mobile phone – I’m sure it’s happened to us all at some point or another – and as if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re stupid enough to not keep a backup of your contacts (virtually every phone can do this now, so there’s no excuse for the vast majority of people). Well, fair enough: like I said, this could happen to anybody, although you’re already due a talking-to by me about keeping your information backed up, and if it’s been stolen I’d quite like to know what information you had about me on there at the time. But in the most part you have my sympathy… so far.

How’re you going to get all those carefully-collected numbers back in your phone? Well, here are two wrong ways to do it. I’ll explain why later:

  1. Send a bulk Facebook message out to everybody you know.
  2. Create a Facebook group.

So why are they wrong?

Bulk Facebook Messages

The first and biggest reason that either of these methods are wrong is pretty fundamental, though: you’ve lost my mobile number, that’s your problem, so why don’t you make some of the effort to fix it. My mobile number is on my Facebook profile. I put it there so that you wouldn’t ever have to e-mail me if you wanted it. It’s there because improving connectivity between and sharing personal information with friends is entirely what Facebook is for. So next time you misplace your address book – which you failed to back up – why don’t you do some of the leg work and actually go to my profile and look it up for yourself.

If you can’t see it on my profile, it’s invariably because I’ve used Facebook’s (now-quite complex and powerfu) privacy tools to hide it from you because I don’t want you to have my mobile number. So there you are. If you’re on my Facebook friends list you should never, ever need to send me a Facebook message to get my mobile number.

Secondly, sending a bulk-Facebook message is wrong because it almost always leads to retards “following suit” like this:

I don’t mind getting James’ new mobile number over a Facebook message. That’s fine. I shan’t be responding, because he ought to be bright enough to get my mobile number for himself, considering it’s only one-click away. But by bulk-sending it to everybody he knows, he’s underestimated the stupidity of his other friends. About 50% of the people he sent it to sent their mobile numbers back to the list by using “Reply All.”

Reply All is the only option available, and so a new Facebook user could conceivably make this mistake. But then a handful of James’ other friends make the same mistake, having seen one of them do it already. Wait, did I miss something? Are these people all patients at some mental hospital that James used to volunteer at, or something?

I don’t know who any of these people are, aside from the fact that they’re James’ other friends. I’m only permitted to read the profile of one of them, and he isn’t sharing his mobile number with me there, so I can only assume that they don’t want me to have their number. But then they’ve just turned around on that idea and given it to me. What?

I’m half-tempted to set up a handful of fake Facebook accounts just so that I can send a message back to each of the idiots like this:

I Need All Your Mobile Numbers

Between You, An Identity Thief, A Stalker, Somebody You’ve Never Met, Their Ex-, Every Man, and His Dog.

I’ve lost my mobile (again!) and can’t be bothered to look up your numbers on your profiles or contact you individually. Please use the “Reply All” form below and tell me and all the other people in the list above exactly how to contact you and harass you whenever we get bored.

Facebook Groups

The other, even more irritating way that people handle this self-inflicted (let’s face it, paper and pen is a backup if there’s no other way) tragedy is by creating a Facebook group exclusively for the purpose of re-harvesting their friend’s numbers. I’m sure you’ve all seen this happen at least once.

And it happens a lot: log in to Facebook and search for “lost mobile” in the Groups list. You won’t ever find out how many idiots do this, because Facebook only lists the first few hundred results. But there are lots. Lots and lots.

The first thing that’s wrong with this approach is an issue which I’m sure I’ll be one of very few people to care about, but it’s not the biggest problem: Facebook “Groups” are, by definition, according to Facebook’s own documentation, collections of “people with similar interests” and “places for discussion.”

I’ve never joined one of these “I’ve lost my mobile!” groups, because:

  • I’ve never lost my mobile.
  • Even if I had, I wouldn’t realy say I have an interest in lost mobiles. I have no intention to discuss what having lost a mobile is like, or even what my friend having lost their mobile is like. And I’m pretty sure that isn’t what they want, either.

Not only is creating a Facebook group a mis-use of the service – this isn’t what groups are for! – but they suffer from all the same problems as Facebook bulk-mailing all your friends (i.e. if they reply, they all see each others’ numbers) but even worse. Most people create these groups but don’t make them “secret,” so anybody can join. Want a few hundred numbers to sell to an SMS-spammer? Just browse Facebook for awhile. Worse still, these groups don’t disappear until (after) every single member has left. So your phone number, which you stupidly put in the group description (if you’re the idiot who lost your phone) or on the wall of the group (if you’re one of their even-bigger-idiot friends), will be visible to pretty much any Facebook user, indefinately. Give yourself a pat on the back. I suggest using an ice pick.

What Little Timmy Should Have Done

Never let it be said that I’m overly negative when I criticise morons. I’m more than happy to educate them and I won’t even demand the right to use a heavy, blunt object to help the knowledge sink in.

Here’s what you should be doing in order to show off your uncommon sense. You can start today!

Back Up Your Mobile Phone

Just stop and think for a moment what your mobile phone is worth. I don’t mean the cost the insurance company will pay when you drop it in a pint of cider a week on Friday, I mean the value of the data inside it. How long would it take you to put all those numbers back in? If you’re a heavier user of the geekier features of modern phones: what about all the photos, e-mails, text messages, music, and the carefully-tweaked settings that make the icons have a purple background and that Crazy Frog video ringtone?

  • Most modern mobiles can be connected to a PC by a cable (which sometimes comes free with the phone) or by Bluetooth, and free software (often from the phone manufacturer’s website) will let you make a backup copy of everything on your device. It’ll take seconds, and doing it as infrequently as four or five times a year will save you a universe of hassle. Just look for a feature that will enable you to read all the data from the screen of your PC if you need to – for example, if your replacement phone isn’t compatible with the data from your broken old handset.
  • Pretty much every mid- or high- end Nokia, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson handset and some LG and Siemens handsets support a technology called SyncML (there are links to lists of compatible phones at the bottom of that page). Using this technology and a free on-line provider like many of these ones, you can back up your entire address book to a safe online repository over the Internet. Sure, if you’re on Pay-As-You-Go you’ll pay a few pence to do an Internet upload, but isn’t it worth it even if you just consider that the price of insuring your data?
  • Even if you’re using an ancient handset, consider keeping a paper backup (little black books are very affordable) or a typed-up list in a spreadsheet (Google Docs provides a free online spreadsheet). Or, if virtually all of your friends are on Facebook or another social networking site that allows the exchange of contact details, encourage them to keep their mobile numbers on their profile; suitably locked down to “friends only” (or even just to specific friends), of course.

What To Do When It All Goes Wrong

Everything goes tits-up from time to time. Suppose you lost your phone in a house fire that destroyed the PC the backups were on, too. Or maybe your phone got stolen and the new “owner” was so malicious he used your SyncML connection (if you’d saved your password on the phone) to overwrite all of your online backups with pictures of Lolcats. Or perhaps you didn’t keep backups at all (so long as you promise to keep backups next time, it’s not so bad – we all have to learn the hard way once, I’m sure, how important backups are). What should you do?

First: take responsibility. There is always something you could have done to keep a better backup. Therefore, it’s your job to do as much of the legwork of getting your numbers back as you can. Don’t make it your friends’ problem. Go through your friends’ Facebook profiles and retreieve as many phone numbers as you can before you start bothering them.

Second: get numbers in a sensible way. If you have a few close circles of friends, it’s pretty trivial nowadays to Bluetooth/MMS/Infared hundreds of contacts from phone-to-phone, and this can be a great way to get yourself re-connected. Call up Barney, and say “Hey, Barney; let me buy you a pint tonight and take a copy of everybody in your address book – I’ve been an idiot and I didn’t keep a backup before I lost my phone the other week.” Barney’ll drink his pint and press some buttons on his phone while saying things like, “Do you know Robin? Marshall? Lily? Have you met Ted?” and these people will magically appear in your address book.

There’s almost certainly be people you can’t re-get the numbers for in this way, but you can still be sensible about it. Send messages individually to those few people and ask for their numbers, but not before double-checking that you actually need them. If you can’t think of a reason you’ll ever call them within the next year, why are you carrying around their number anyway? Unless they’re somebody you’d call “in an emergency” you can always look them up when you need them. That way, you won’t spend you entire time with a number in your phone that could go out of date (people change numbers all the time) and you’d never know until you came to phone them, six years down the line, and you’d have to look them up anyway. Save yourself (and them) the bother and keep them out of your book. It’s a liberating experience to tidy up your contacts list.

And finally: if you get a new mobile number with your new phone, drop a text message to everybody who might want to know it, but make sure you say who you are because you won’t be in their address book with your new number, yet. The number of text messages I’ve got in my life from a number unknown to me that read “Hey there! This is my new number! Bye!” is staggering.

Some people are just too stupid to be allowed mobile phones.

The Danville Public Service Announcement

I don’t visit Facebook often. In fact, I usually only log on once or twice a month to clear out the billions of requests to install applications (and block those applications) that people don’t seem to have noticed that I never accept, or to check up on a mis-placed phone number or e-mail address for some infrequently-contacted friend. But in any case, I’m not up-to-date with what’s commonplace on Facebook any more. But this unusual bulge in my list of friends amused me for a moment:

That’s four friends, in a row, who all set their “statuses” to something resembling the lyrics of a well-known song. Kieran may well be the colour of the wind, of course, but he’s still a ginger. I’m not in a position to comment on Owen’s body odour, and I’m doubtful that Adam is the one and only (although it’s genuinely possbile that there’s nobody he’s rather be). And Gareth’s apathy is… well, pretty much standard.

But it doesn’t seem so regular that a block of people adjacent to one another on my seemingly-randomly-sorted (I assume there’s some kind of clever hashing going on at the back-end for speed, or something) would all independently (none of them know one another, to the best of my knowledge) choose to have their statuses inspired by songs. Nobody else on my friends list is demonstrating this.

Perhaps I’m seeing patterns where they don’t exist, like seeing the face of Jesus in a balding dog’s back, or something. Just thought I’d share.

It’s been a busy week or so. Last Wednesday I went out to the first night of the Ship & Castle‘s real ale festival with Penny and Ele, on account of the fact that (a) Yay! Dozens of cask-conditioned beers! and (b) I hadn’t seen much of either of them for an aeon or two. The pub was completely packed, but that didn’t stop us from sampling a good selection of the beers and ciders on offer. Once one became available, I stole a stool to sit on.

Now it seems that some strange wizard must have enchanted that stool on some previous visit to the pub, with a mysterious spell of popularity, because it suddenly appeared that every fucker in the pub wanted to talk to me. The folks I knew (one or two more turned up), the folks I barely knew (“I’m sorry, but I can’t remember how I’m supposed to know you?” territory)… even strangers seemed to know who I was or, failing that, want to. Two people said “hey, you’re that guy with the blog,” as if that in some way cuts it down in this town (abnib disagrees). One woman waved as if I’d known her for years but I can’t place a name to her face. Another chap – his flirtatiousness outdone only by his drunkeness – almost coerced a blush out of me with a particularly charming compliment. And it just kept on going, and going…

When the pub finally kicked us out (and we’d added Lizzie to our party), we hunted for another pub but without success, and so we scooped up beer and wine and took the party to the living room of The Cottage, where we talked all kinds of bollocks, drinking and listening to music – and joined for awhile by Tom, who came in looking drunk and stained with ash, drank half a bottle of beer, urinated in the back yard, and left again – until it was getting close to 4am and I thought it really ought to be time for bed, considering my planned early start at work the following morning. How Penny survived (she started work even earlier) I haven’t a clue.

A major difference between being in your late twenties and being in your early twenties, in my experience, is not one of having less energy for a late night (or early morning) of drinking, but one of responsibility. As a 27-year-old, I’m quite aware that I can still survive an all-night party (although it’s getting harder!). But when somebody spontaneously suggests something like “Let’s stay up and party and watch the sun rise,” instead of saying “Yeah!” I say, “Hmm… I’ve got work in the morning… maybe…” It’s easy to be made aware of this distinction when you’re in a student town, as I am, and it’s easy to be made to feel even older than I am. On the other hand, it helps to give every opportunity to pretend I’m less aged than I actually am.

So then Thursday was the anticipated long day at work, followed by a quick dinner before a rush up to the Arts Centre to see Steeleye Span, on JTA‘s recommendation. Steeleye Span are a “proper” folk rock band: y’know, they’ve had every single member replaced at some point or another and still keep the same name, like Theseus’s ship, and they’ve written songs that they don’t play any more, but that other folk bands do. That kind of definition. They were pretty good – a reasonable selection of songs from the usual slightly saucy and sometimes unintelligble varieties that they’re known for, and a particularly strong finish to the concert with a rousing sing-along rendition of All Around My Hat (which, I later discovered, they played as an encore the last time my dad saw them, about a decade or more ago – I guess that’s the third characteristic of a “proper” folk rock band: that your parents have seen them perform, too).

By now, I was getting to a point where I was tired enough to not be making much sense any more when I talked (as if I ever do), and I slept well, although not for long, because I had to make an even earlier start at work on Friday morning to make sure I got everything I needed to get done done before travelling up North in the evening.

So yeah: Friday evening we travelled up to Preston and had pizza with my folks, and then on Saturday morning I found myself taking my sister Becky‘s place in the BT Swimathon. She’d been suffering from a lung infection for a week or more, now, and had to pull out, so – despite having barely swum at all for several years – I pulled on my trunks and a swimming cap and contributed 1750m to the team effort. And then dragged my body out of the pool just in time for Claire and I to rush off to Formby for her godmother’s funeral, which is what we’d actually come up to the North-West to do.

Oh yeah, and I got a medal, which I’ve been wearing ever since.

I can’t say much about Claire’s godmother’s funeral, because I only met her once, and then only briefly. Her husband – she’d been married for 52 years; they’d been teenage sweethearts – was quite obviously finding her death difficult, yet still managed to deliver a beautiful and moving eulogy for his dear departed wife. Apart from the religosity of the service (not to my taste, but I suppose it wasn’t really there for me anyway) it was very good, and the church building was packed – this was obviously a popular woman.

Her body seems to be going “on tour”: she’s having a second service – the actual funeral – in Norfolk today. I wonder if it’ll be as full. Not many people get two funerals. Perhaps the popularity will wane after the first. On the other hand, you might get groupies… seems to be what Claire’s doing, as she’s down in Norfolk now and presumably went to the second funeral, too.

Later, we found ourselves in Manchester. We’d hoped to go guitar-shopping (Claire’s looking for a new one), but ended up there just barely in time to eat some noodles and go to meet my family, and each of my sister’s boyfriends, at the Odeon IMAX cinema to see Shine A Light, the Rolling Stones concert film/documentary. The film was… better than I would have expected, and the resolution of the IMAX filmstock really showed during long pans and high-detail closeups on the band in concert, although I wasn’t particularly impressed with the editing: too many cuts, too much crossing the line, and (on a huge screen) almost nauseating thanks to the bumps and bounces the cameras made. It was also a little too-much concert and not-enough documentary, perhaps because the band have never really interviewed very well. In one old BBC clip, Keith Richards is asked what has brought the band it’s initial success, and he simply shrugs. In another – in the early 1970s – Mick Jagger‘s only answer about the band’s future is “I think we’ve got at least another year left.”

A few games of Mario Party 8 with my family later (one of which, amazingly, my mum won!), and we were back on the road. Claire dropped me off at Birmingham New Street station so I could catch a train back to Aberystwyth, as I needed to be back at work this morning, and she carried on to Norfolk to visit her dad and to attend the other half of her godmother’s funeral.

My journey back to Aberystywth was pretty horrendous. Trains are cancelled between Shrewsbury and Aber right now, and replaced with a bus service, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a less pleasant bus journey in my life. Five-seats wide, I was squished into falling half-off my uncomfortable seat even sat next to somebody as small as Matt P (who I’d happened to bump into on the journey). There was barely any knee-room, and the air conditioning only had two settings, neither of which was particually pleasant but for reasons of completely different extremes.

We finally got back to Aber just in time to join in at Geek Night, where Ruth, Penny, and Rory were just finishing a game of Carcassonne. JTA arrived, too, and the six of us played the largest game of Settlers of Catan I’ve ever played. We also managed to have a couple of games of Hypercube Hop, Ruth’s dad’s first board game published under his new Brane Games label. For those of you that missed it, I’m sure there’ll be an opportunity to give it a go at some future Geek Night.

Then today I posed for topless photos for Ele. But that’s another story and I’ve got to go and eat dinner so I’ll leave it at that.