It's all relative

thoughts on technology, the internet, and people

by Tyler Gold

Facebook releases Mentions, an app that only verified users can use

Facebook released Mentions today, an app designed to help verified Facebook users interact with their fans. This isn’t really a big deal, except that Twitter also uses the word “mentions” for one of the most important parts of Twitter.

I’m not a verified Facebook user so I can’t try the app, but Ellis Hamburger of The Verge did:

With Mentions, users can see a somewhat Twitter-like stream of posts that reference them, and they can find trending topics that they might want to engage in for (presumably) brand-building purposes.

Yup, sounds just like Twitter Mentions to me.

It’s interesting that Facebook’s app for celebrities is named after a Twitter feature if only because of how tightly celebrities play into Twitter. Celebrity accounts have been a huge part of how Twitter works for years — remember when Ashton Kutcher beat CNN in a race to a million followers?

Facebook has really been focusing on its verified pages lately. It seems like the only things that I see in my News Feed these days are posts from celebrities or brands. I rarely see posts I care about from friends.

Doomed to Repeat It

Paul Ford talks about why programmers are perpetually reinventing the same things, like email and todo lists:

Perhaps my favorite part about this post, though, is when Ford references this video of Bret Victor discussing the future of programming back in 1973. Victor’s predictions are uncannily accurate and totally worth spending the 32-minutes watching.


on repeat repeat repeat.


May the 4th be with you.


May the 4th be with you.

Real talk: the new Snapchat brilliantly mixes video and texting

Putting the snap in Snapchat, everyone’s favorite ephemeral sharing platform now supports IM-style chats that disappear when you leave the conversation. When both participants are texting at the same time, you can start a spontaneous, one or two-way video call by holding a button, like how you view regular Snapchats. Love this bit about why Snapchat did video calling the way they did:

To Spiegel, the reason none of his friends video call each other on a daily basis is because “calling” was born of an era where software needed to emulate real-world tools. “What does a phone look like without a ringer?” he asks. Skeuomorphic metaphors have always been a part of computing, Spiegel says, because that’s how we all learned to use computers. “But,” he says, “the biggest constraint of the next 100 years of computing is the idea of metaphors.” Spiegel, who was once described by a colleague as monk-like, recites the line as if he’d memorized it from an ancient philosophy book.

Lots of awesome stuff in this look at Snapchat’s latest and greatest update from The Verge.

Facebook's friend problem

Great editorial about why people are leaving Facebook, by Ellis Hamburger: 

When people say, “I hate Facebook,” what I think they’re really saying is, “I wish my real friends would post more stuff so my feed wasn’t full of randos.”

Strange coincidence that I wrote an essay about Facebook the day before Ellis published this. 

Also, this perfectly sums up why I post so often on Facebook:

I still share on Facebook because it’s the simplest way to reach all my friends and family in one fell swoop, despite the collateral damage I might be incurring by being seen as an over-sharer by some.

Why don’t people interact with Facebook posts as often as they used to?

On 8 April 2014, Twitter announced that profile pages would be getting a pretty massive makeover. Being a big fan of Twitter — I first joined in 2009 and have been tweeting regularly since 2011 — this is news that’s particularly relevant to my interests. I shared a link on Facebook to an article posted on The Verge about Twitter’s new profile changes. I was proud (for lack of a better word) of my caption for the Facebook post, a reference to a popular internet meme involving the rapper Xhibit


I’ve observed that I’m more prolific with my posts on Facebook than the majority of my friends are. If I find something that I think is relevant to my interests or my friends’ interests, I’ll often share a link. I’ve been doing this since high school, and recently, I’ve noticed several changes in the dynamic between my posts and the reaction to them. The particular post that I’m looking at here had seven “likes” and zero comments. I have 930 friends on Facebook, some of whom I’ve known since middle school — that doesn’t mean I still talk to them, though. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that they see my posts, and even more interesting that they “like” them, especially considering the fact that I haven’t spoken to these people in years. Eli Pariser speaks to this in his TED Talk “Beware online ‘filter bubbles.‘“It turns out, Pariser says, that “Facebook was looking at which links I clicked on, and it was noticing that, actually, I was clicking more on my liberal friends’ links than on my conservative friends’ links. And without consulting me about it, it had edited them out.” Facebook decided that Pariser cared more about links and posts from friends who talk about a particular topic, despite the fact that he still wanted to see posts from his other friends regardless of their political beliefs. One reason I believe these people “liked” my post — three of whom I haven’t spoken to in over three years — is that they follow pages that post content similar to the (usually tech related) topics that I do. My post could have been pushed to their feeds because their Facebook “filter bubbles” overlapped with mine.

As Facebook has evolved and grown to play an increasingly vital role in our daily communication habits, the way that my generation views and uses the social network has changed. Posts that get “likes” or comments are highly visible thanks to the way that Facebook’s news feed algorithms work: the more interactions a post has, the longer it will stay in the news feed and the more people it will be displayed to. I believe that, in some situations, this has lead to people straying away from liking posts — any interaction on Facebook is highly public. Facebook increasingly reminds me of a one-way mirror where the person sharing the information can only see their reflection. There could be one or 100 people on the other side of that mirror, but you’ll never know unless they “like” or comment. When someone does interact with a post, it’s like they’re coming out from behind the mirrored glass. danah boyd speaks to this in her “Networked Privacy” essay. Because there is no “preference panel” for social situations, taking control of a public social interaction like a Facebook post is more difficult than taking control over a technological situation, boyd writes:

It’s not about being able to manipulate privacy settings on Facebook or limit who can see what piece of content. That would be what Alessandro Acquisti calls “the illusion of control.” Control over a social situation means having a deep understanding of the social situation — who’s looking and why — as well as an understanding of what the norms and boundaries are. In public spaces, it can be challenging to get such control by default so people try to carve out a way of achieving control. They whisper to create privacy in public. Or they try to do things that can’t be seen, like passing a note under the table. But all of this requires understanding the affordances of the space and carving out a space for privacy.

This makes people more picky with what posts they like. On several occasions (enough for me to write about it in an academic paper) I’ve had people mention to me something that I posted to Facebook or Twitter in offline interactions rather than interacting with the post online. This is exactly like what boyd says: people are trying to take control of their sense of privacy by only mentioning that they saw my post in a private, more controllable, face-to-face situation.

I’ve noticed that since the rise of in-the-moment social networks like Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat, people have strayed away from Facebook, which is more permanent and memorable. Even though everyone is constantly checking it, posting to Facebook has practically become taboo to some people I know. I think this is because of a combination of the reasons that boyd and Pariser talk about: Facebook is a highly public forum. Maybe my caption just sucked (I doubt that all 930 of my Facebook friends are familiar with that Xhibit meme), but even if that’s the case, this is still a topic that’s highly relevant to anyone who uses Twitter — this is a major redesign of how Twitter profiles look. I think that several more people read my post and clicked the link than just the seven who “liked” it.

As the networks we use to connect change and evolve, the ways that we use them will too. This is probably why my Facebook posts would regularly get 20 or 30 likes when I was in high school, but now they only tend to average around five to ten — even though I’ve added over 300 friends since then. If anything, Snapchat has emerged as a more preferable way to share things — it takes the opposite approach to the mirrored window metaphor I made earlier. The person sending the snap is the only one who knows the all the recipients, while on Facebook, the person creating a post is blindly blasting it out to everyone. As social networks and the way we use them to interact progresses, I think that we’ll see more of this type of sharing: more ephemeral, intimate, and catering more to the sender than the receiver.


This essay was originally written for my Structure of Information class during the Spring 2014 semester at Rutgers University. There are a few edits here (this version is a little more colloquial) but this is more or less the same essay that I submitted for class. Hope you enjoyed it!

  • "Don't mistake my kindness for weakness."

Rutgers alumnus develops RU Maps, NJ Rails transit apps

This week’s #TechTuesday for The Daily Targum, brought to you by @NisFrome

While working as a full-time database engineer in Pennsylvania, [Rutgers alumnus] Mark Novak spent his nights and weekends teaching himself mobile app development for iOS.

“Instead of students having to ask strangers for directions constantly, I figured I’d make a mobile app,” Novak said.

some very quick thoughts on Facebook Paper

Facebook Paper was released today. I’ve been using the app all day, and I like it. It’s clearly inspired by the iOS 7 design language but adds its own unique style.

The name bothers me, though. Why did Facebook choose to name the app Paper when Paper by FiftyThree is one of the best iPad apps out there — and has been out there for years? Despite the obvious error on Facebook’s part, the CEO of FiftyThree politely handled the matter in a blog post: “We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story.”

I’m not sure if I’ll end up using Paper as a way to read news (instead of just checking Twitter), but I agree with Ellis Hamburger’s review: this is definitely the best Facebook app ever.

Students give advice on landing internships

Last week’s tech column for The Daily Targum, written by Nis Frome and I about the nuances of landing an internship at a tech startup.

The internship application process is often complicated, grueling, and even when you do get the job, it probably won’t be easy. We interviewed some students who’ve had luck with internships in the past to figure out their success secrets — and their warnings on how to avoid failure. 

“Don’t make a ship in a bottle”

Carl Zimmer, NYT columnist, on how to report and write well.

It took me a long time to learn that all that research is indeed necessary, but only to enable you to figure out the story you want to tell. That story will be a shadow of reality—a low-dimensional representation of it. But it will make sense in the format of a story. It’s hard to take this step, largely because you look at the heap of information you’ve gathered and absorbed, and you can’t bear to abandon any of it. But that’s not being a good writer. That’s being selfish. I wish someone had told me to just let go.

via Tim Carmody

Money Is a Terrible Way to Measure the Value of a College Major

This is a refreshing take on how to pick a college major. Really love this part right here: 

One reason English majors tend to earn less than business majors, for instance, is that many lit-loving 18 year olds  aren’t particularly motivated by money, and want careers in, say, PR or journalism (or even teaching!) that are short on pay, but meet their interests. Saying business majors earn more only because of what they studied is like saying having lots of Nike running shoes in your closet makes you a faster runner. No. People who care about their mile times and love to run are more likely to have more running shoes, in the first place. Business majors tend to be more salary-focused than poetry majors. It’s a classic self-selection bias.

 oh man this is so great. Taylor Swift attacked at Grammy’s. 

via reddit