Saturday, November 25, 2006

7th Week: on the Facebook Development Platform

There seems to have been a lot of controversy of late surrounding the mysterious and seemingly-misunderstood Facebook Development Platform. Is this a secret plan to sell your personal data to the highest bidder? Is it some way for people to view and steal your profile information? (For those who don't know, Facebook is one of these social networking sites - you know, the "I've got 17 more friends than you" type places. It's a complete waste of time, but (or possibly therefore) is brilliant.)

Let's look at what the FDP actually is. Above all things, it is for developers - computer geeks like me who like to write programs, and would like to integrate them with Facebook.

Here's a note that I found someone had posted:
Hey Kids, So apparently Facebook has started SELLING user information (surprise, surprise!) to third parties. They call it the "Facebook Development Platform." To restrict use of your information, do the following...
The same note goes on to make up "quotes" from the Facebook Terms of Service and Privacy Policy (Really! Go and look yourself, if you've seen the original note!). Facebook's own FAQ deals with this issue directly:
Facebook respects your privacy. We don't distribute your user information to marketers or spammers. We also do not allow crawlers from search engines on our site.
In fact, far from selling information, the FDP is free to make use of - anyone on Facebook can sign up and make use of the API in their own applications. The important point to make about this is that, in order to use applications that use the Facebook API and access any information, the user needs to log in to Facebook. At no point do they gain access to information they couldn't have gathered from the Facebook site.

The issue was raised again about an hour ago, when a friend of mine invited me to join the group "People Radar is an abuse of information on Facebook". People Radar, recently renamed from FaceRadar (because Facebook apparently own the copyright to the word "face"), is one of the myriad applications that make use of the Development Platform and its API. The basic premise of the site is: you go through and rate members of your preferred sex on how "hot" they are. You can also check your own rating (for some reason, mine seems to be 1. Maybe an overflow error?).

While I in no way think that this is a particularly brilliant idea (far from it), I disagree with the group's statement that it is an "abuse of information". Facebook is a site designed for sharing information. Any information you put up, you expect to be shared - and FB duly gives you control over how this information is shared.

The group also suggests changing your privacy settings to prevent your data being used for the FDP. This, though, is rather like using a nuclear warhead to kill an ant (Note to any American President reading: this is a Bad Idea). PeopleRadar itself has an opt-out, and I would recommend that instead of the kill-all approach. If everyone took this route, then some genuinely interesting, some intriguing, and maybe even some genuinely useful ideas would be rendered useless. (An extensive list is available.)

As a developer, I say that would be a shame.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

4th Week: The Legendary St. John's Fireworks

...were slightly disappointing this year.

Maybe it was the hype I was desperately trying to inject into the evening; recounting countless tales of previous SJC fireworks displays, from when they set fire to one of the trees encircling the Great Lawn, to last year's near-horizontal firework launch towards the crowd. Perhaps it was the fact that (mostly to prevent a re-occurrence of the aforementioned) a professional was called in. I mean, who wears a helmet when putting on a fireworks display? Perhaps it was the final two fireworks: Wheeeeeeeeee.... put. put.

Or maybe it's the fact I got to bed at about 3.15am last night...