If you find yourself flocking to Twitter when you need a quick update on what's hot online, you may soon be checking Facebook as an alternative. According to The Wall Street Journal (via PCMag), Facebook is currently trying out a "trending" box of its own.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen an explosion of social networking services that cover almost every facet of human interest. As these websites become more intertwined with our lives and relationships, there are bound to be a few... missteps along the way. Yet despite the fact that we’re nearing the end of the aughts, people’s abilities to judge what is appropriate (read: not completely and horrifically embarrassing) to post in a public forum does not seem to be improving. As proof of that fact, and perhaps to serve as a cautionary tale going into 2010, here are my favorite social networking snafus of the past year.
I was at the Game Developers Conference a couple of years ago, and Jane McGonigal, who has done a lot of work with alternate-reality gaming, was giving a keynote speech about how game designers should be using their work to make a difference in the real world (Listen to a similar discussion here). In the time since then, I’ve thought a lot about how the line between our (meatspace) world and the virtual gaming space is blurring.
A new crop of Internet properties have emerged that offer point and achievement-driven interactions (not unlike what we earn on Xbox Live or Steam) as rewards for completing real world activities. Though these points aren’t always transferable for physical goods, they do often give people a sense of accomplishment, not unlike finishing a boss fight in your favorite video game. And while these sites may not save the world, they might just encourage you to try something new or get out of the house for a bit!
Here are four of these online services worth checking out.
Since most of the projects and jobs I work on are online, that’s where I tend to pick up the most feedback. About a week ago, I came across a blog post where the author was musing on whether or not I was abandoning one of my shows, and I chimed in on the comments to clear the air. To my surprise, some of the other people who commented started pontificating on if I had “Googled” myself to find the blog post. Wait, haven’t we moved past that stigma? I mean, who doesn’t Google themselves these days?
That last question is a little unfair; clearly there are people in the world who haven’t bothered to set up a Google alert in their RSS reader for their own name, nor have they spent any time on the Technorati blog search page. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible for that to be a feasible way of finding information about oneself online (I’m looking at you, Will Smith). As our lives move increasingly online, the benefits of knowing what information about you is being put on the public internet are huge. When “Googling” has become a verb, we’re past the point of concerning ourselves over a vanity search here and there.
Some changes are coming to Twitter that the microblogging site hopes will help curtail the amount of spam that flows through its Trending Topics area, the social networking site announced in a blog post.
"As Twitter grows and the number of tweets each day continues to astound us, we’ve noticed an increasing amount of clutter in the public timeline, especially with trending topics," Twitter noted. "Trends began as a useful way to find out what’s going on but has grown less interesting due to the noisiness of the conversation."
Twitter's solution is to start experimenting with ways of ranking retweets, though the service didn't say how this would work. If we had to guess, we'd say it would be based on some kind of algorithm that gauges a user's popularity, among other factors, rather than a manual approach.
According to the blog post, any initial changes will be minor and "the improvement won't be very noticeable at first."
If you’re anything like me -- someone who spends 95% of their days sitting in front of a computer -- the idea of planning a vacation can be daunting. The unfamiliar ideas of “relaxing” and “going outside to do something fun” are stressful enough, not to mention, you know, actually figuring out where to go. But fear not, my fellow keyboard lurkers! We can plan our days off in the bright sunshine without ever leaving the cold, blue glow of our monitors.
Step one, of course, is figuring out where in the world you want to go. Orbitz and Expedia tend to list some good deals on vacations packages, so if saving some money is high on your list of vacation priorities then those may be some good places to start. However, listings are limited by their partnerships, so the number of options aren’t going to be extremely varied. However, if you’ve got some ideas about the kind of vacation you’re looking for, then using a site like TripBase or TripAdvisor can help whittle the choices down.
What is it that makes single-serving sites (a webpage with a dedicated domain name that exists on this planet to serve only one purpose) so damned appealing? Whatever the secret sauce may be, single-serving sites have been around longer than you may realize -- since the inception of the web, even -- although it’s only been in the past couple of years that netophiles (like Jason Kottke) have placed them into a genus all their own.
While there could be some argument about what exactly constitutes a “single-serving site,” a few facts remain true across the board: the user’s “need” (and I use this word loosely) must be met without requiring them to click to any other page or website for more information on the subject at hand. Personally, my favorite sites include nothing more than single word or phrase, which usually directly relates to the URL: examples include Is Twitter Down? and Going To Rain. The less effort one puts into getting the answers to these questions, the better.
Some of my favorite early Internet memories came from visiting chat rooms: I started out using Microsoft Comic Chat and graduated to AOL chat rooms early on. When the Internet was young (and there wasn’t as much to do), it was pretty easy to become entranced by the number of random topics in which one could instantly discuss in real time. It was all honest fun, but I won’t lie, there was definitely that underlying sense of “OMG, I can totally lie about who I am, and no one will be the wiser.” This, of course, being a choice that many Internet users make to this day.
Having grown out of AOL, I moved on to vanilla IRC, where everything changed. Finally, an actual sense of community (and that desire to please the channel ops for some mod privileges). Yet somewhere along the line, ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger came along and usurped IRC by simply establishing presence: if you wanted to talk to someone, you just sent them an IM -- no more waiting around in the chat room to see if they’d pop in.
But the chat culture that we once knew and loved hasn’t disappeared completely, although its shape has changed significantly. IRC is still widely used, but these days it tends to be a tool too raw for use outside the geek set, where it’s frequently employed in conference “back-channels” or listener discussions for podcasts such as This Week in Tech. IM has become a de-facto mode of communication amongst friends and co-workers, so ubiquitous Google has begun to merge it with email (first with Gchat, and now with Google Wave). But for that random and serendipitous sense of discovery, where can the chat-hungry turn?
“This new feature is available in the U.S. and Japan. We hope it will help you keep up with everything there's to know about the latest trends online. No more being out of the loop at your office watercooler,” Google wrote on its blog. It also announced that the number of search terms listed on the Hot Trends homepage has been cut down to 40 from 100.