SitePoint Podcast #148: All Aboard the Facebook Train

By Louis Simoneau
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Episode 148 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week the panel is made up of Louis Simoneau (@rssaddict), Kevin Dees (@kevindees), Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves) and Patrick O’Keefe (@ifroggy).

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Episode Summary

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Host Spotlights

Interview Transcript

Louis: Hello and welcome to another episode of the SitePoint Podcast. We’ve got a full panel today for the show, Patrick, Stephan and Kevin are all on the line with me, except for one slight difference, we only have two actual phone calls going on because Kevin and Patrick are cuddling (laughter).

Patrick: That’s right, getting up close and personal here in Apartment of Kevin Dees.

Kevin: I wouldn’t call it cuddling; if I need to grab a pillow and put it here between us, I can do that.

Patrick: We’re not really touching, we’re just sitting on a couch podcasting, don’t read anything into that (laughter and train sound).

Kevin: And, hey, there goes the train (laughter).

Patrick: I’m actually here in person to experience the old 7:15 from Albuquerque.

Kevin: That’s right. Is it the 7:15, everyday at 7:15?

Patrick: I don’t know, but there it is. Oh, boy.

Louis: Awesome (laughter and train sound). That sounds even louder than usual.

Stephan: That’s really loud.

Louis: Alright.

Kevin: Welcome to Orlando.

Patrick: Kevin is in downtown Orlando.

Louis: Alright, cool. There have been as usual some developments in the Web world of late; who wants to go first with a story?

Kevin: Alright, so I have a very controversial story involving 37signals who happens to be also redesigning their main product, Basecamp, which we can’t actually get into today, but today’s subject is the copying of 37signals Highrise application. So a company called Curebit, I guess this is how you would pronounce it, it’s C-u-r-e-bit if you go to their website, I found this article on TechCrunch and basically this company has gone in, and in some cases a designer will go in and find inspiration from a design or they’ll look at some code and take a snippet away, well, this company went in and took everything, images, everything, CSS style sheets, HTML, and 37signals found out about this because they even left like the long destination links inside of what they copied, so 37signals was having files downloaded from like this Curebit’s website. So, basically 37signals comes out and calls them out on it and now it’s on TechCrunch, and so I thought this would be an interesting story to examine, not only from what’s going on here with 37signals, but also to get maybe your opinion on how you feel about inspiration versus copying when it comes to web assets, web designs, and also programming languages, and maybe even content for that matter, like how much can you copy from somebody else, if, sighting, that kind of thing. I’m sure it’s been covered before, but I think it’s always good to circle back around to these kinds of things when something like this happens in the news.

Louis: Yeah, absolutely. I mean design is one of those things that’s tricky, and if it had just been sort of it kind of looks the same, it would have been a lot harder to demonize them as clearly because there’s a lot of that on the Internet, right, anything you look at will draw some inspiration from either Facebook comments or overall look and feel of some of the 37signals stuff; obviously Apple’s design has had a huge influence on the way a lot of web pages look; people were doing those sort of Apple-like reflections and shadows on all their sites for a long time, and I don’t think anyone got all too upset about that, I think that’s a pretty normal process for design, people follow trends, right. And 37signals especially, right, they had a big impact on the way a lot of people did this kind of web application because first of all Ruby on Rails came out of 37signals, so a lot of Rails designers, or Rails developers, sort of looked to 37signals for design cues, and they also made some really, really nice, simple, easy-to-use applications. And that’s another thing to remember here is that 37signals from a design standpoint there’s not a lot of flash there, right, there’s not a lot of colors or textures; it’s not super obvious that you’d be copying it because a lot of times it’s just sort of text on a page laid out in a certain way, right.

Kevin: Right. Exactly.

Louis: So that’s one thing. So design is one thing, and I think that’s probably I wouldn’t have even noticed this story if it had just been design. Copying bits of HTML and CSS, now there’s another thing, right, so I don’t know about you guys, but people who have been on the Web for a long time it happens pretty frequently that I think especially in the early days of CSS and JavaScript where you’d see a cool page with a cool effect and be like oh how did they do that, you know, you flip open the view source, you look at the CSS and you might take a little snippet and use the same effect on your own site, right, I don’t think that’s weird. Obviously when you make a web page all the code is out there in public sort of by definition, and that’s the nature of the Web and I think it’s one of the things that makes it really easy for new designers to get into the game is to be able to look at how things are done behind the scenes, right. Obviously when you get into hotlinking images or wholesale copy pasting of huge chunks of CSS which includes like, you know, logos that people have made and little icons that people have made, and those are actually hotlinked because you haven’t even bothered to create your own images and go through the CSS, you’re not doing work, you’re just stealing. So in this case it’s cut and dried, but I think in this you really have to go this far for me to get upset about it personally.

Stephan: Was the point of them copying it to make money? I mean are they trying to create the app to compete with 37signals, or what were they doing? because I’m reading the article and it doesn’t actually say

Louis: Well, at the top of the article it says that Curebit just got a 1.2 million dollar round of funding, so they’re clearly a commercial enterprise. As to what their product actually is — a social referral platform, “Get your customers to refer their friends.”

Stephan: So basically they stole the design to use for something else.

Louis: Yeah.

Stephan: Yeah, okay.

Patrick: Moreorless. I mean they copied, pasted code, they made some adjustments, they changed a logo, but of course the damning stuff is the stuff that’s easily attributable like images that are left in the code that are hotlinked to the 37signals servers.

Kevin: Correct, yeah.

Stephan: Yeah.

Kevin: Wow.

Louis: Right. If there ever was a smoking gun (laughter).

Patrick: It’s like their domain name is still in the code (laughter). Not even a ‘replace all’ was achieved here.

Kevin: Do you feel like this might have been a publicity stunt, Patrick, like maybe they were trying to get some bad press? In a circumstance like this where it’s like you’re a company and you make a product, you’re not dumb, you’re not stupid, you know what I mean, you know what you’re doing is wrong if you do this. Could this perhaps been seen as a way to — 37signals is no small company, so in a way if you tick them off they’re gonna talk about it, other people are gonna talk about it, and you’re going to get — like I never even heard of Curebit before until this happened.

Patrick: You know that’s a good point, I had never heard of them either, and, you know, the way Louis’ talking I don’t think he had heard of them either, so he doesn’t know what they do, and I still don’t know. You know, yet I could see that, I mean people do that; now me personally I would never do that, I think that’s a very stupid strategy, I think that getting known and being known favorably or known infamously are two very different things, and obviously Curebit has a bit of a negative that they have to come back from to have a successful business, because they’re a young company, and things like this can kill young companies I think, a lot of bad publicity. So, not to say that they’re done with, not to say they’re over with, that’s fine, but you know that they did this just speaks poorly of them and speaks poorly of the people who made the decision to do it. And you know you say that you know it’s wrong, I mean the tough thing is that a lot of people probably don’t think this is wrong; hotlinking is something I’ve disliked for a long, long, long, long time, and it’s something that I work to prevent on my communities in the spaces I manage, but a lot of people don’t understand that. I mean the reality is that most people who don’t understand it tend to be non-techie people. The scary thing here is that it was in the code for a service that is run by techie people, and I’m sure it was left in accidentally, but that they didn’t take care of those details, uh, speaks to their, I don’t know, lack of techie-ness, their lack of attention to detail that they didn’t clean it up enough to remove those traces. But I think they’ve certainly paid a penalty, I’m not above accepting an apology and moving on, obviously they responded to it poorly at first and didn’t take it seriously enough, but to fix it, to come out and apologize, I think they can come back from that, but it doesn’t change the fact that they have some work to do to salvage their reputation in this kind of techie space.

Kevin: Yeah, I don’t know what I think about it personally, I mean I feel like it’s a little bit of publicity stunt just because anybody in our space knows that you just don’t copy code, I mean you just don’t copy things.

Patrick: You speak very well of our space.

Louis: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s as true as you think it is because this stuff seems to just happen non-stop, I mean we’ll all remember this was several years ago now, but there was a famous instance of hotlinking images and pranking when I think the John McCain website had hotlinked images that were on servers controlled by Mike Davidson, do you guys remember this story?

Stephan: Yeah, and then he replaced the hotlinked image.

Patrick: I don’t remember it.

Louis: Yeah, so obviously the thing is if someone else is serving images from your servers if you just put any other image there with the same filename and have your servers updated so that your code is using a different filename, you can put any image on their website, right. And in this particular instance a few years ago the images used were distasteful to say the least, and that drew a lot of attention to the idea that, ooh, you know, not only is hotlinking unethical but it’s also really dangerous, right.

Patrick: Right.

Louis: Because it gives someone else the ability to arbitrarily display whatever images they want on your website, and personally if I had been in David Heinemeier Hansson’s shoes at 37signals and then discovered this hotlink, my first thought would not have been, oh, I’m gonna call these guys out on Twitter, my first thought is, hmm, what can I show on their website.

Patrick: Right, right.

Stephan: I think I’m a little overly sensitive to this, and Patrick will understand why. I recently had an image taken from me, my own intellectual property being used as someone else’s on another website, a fairly large website that makes a decent amount of money and is a big deal here in the state of Texas. And when I called them out on Twitter and then email, the response I received was we don’t really care, it’s not a bad thing to steal; they didn’t even use the word ‘steal’, to ‘borrow your image and use it on our website’. So, I don’t know, I think we’ve just gotten complacent, or other people have gotten complacent, and people are so passive about it now that it’s so easy to Google something and do a search and then save that image and then put it on your own website that people are becoming used to it where it’s no longer a big thing for people to steal. I mean I just don’t understand that I guess, how people can say I’ve done this work — like I don’t understand how people can say I’ve done this work and they put it out there and then someone else takes it and they’re like, oh, that looks cool, we’re just gonna use that ‘cause that’s useful to us, like how lazy are you?

Patrick: Right. And you know in your case, so it was a publication that is pretty good size publication, gets good traffic, has paid staff, you know, this is a real operation, this isn’t some random kid in high school or some once off blog, this is a serious publication. And they just randomly took a photo from the Web that was related to their story and put it in the story, and it’s more common than you’d think I guess, and Paul Carr over at PandoDaily made an interesting point about this particular story. Basically he said that copyright theft is bad when it happens to people that we like, especially in the tech space; in this case you had 37signals and Mr. Hansson going at Curebit, and in a case that — I’m with him, I don’t fault him at all, I’m totally with him on this, and I’m not totally with anyone who is saying it’s inappropriate for Curebit to do this. But the point that Carr makes is that the tech space, obviously it’s a diversified space, lots of people, the space doesn’t feel one particular way, there’s a lot of people in it, but a lot of folks in this space don’t necessarily care all that much about copyright or intellectual property unless it happens to them or it happens to someone that they like. So you have things in Hollywood and what happens to content and things produced by Hollywood, for example, or for any number of industries that maybe they wouldn’t care about, a lot of people in this space wouldn’t care about, but when it’s 37signals and it’s a beloved company that’s in this space we all care about, then it’s a big deal and it’s off with their head and they shouldn’t be forgiven, and on and on. So, I think with some people there’s a double standard in this area with the tech scene where if copyright is enforced in some areas it limits innovation, but if it’s the tech space and a company we like then, oh my gosh, we need to go after those people.

Louis: Yeah, I mean without wanting to get into too much of a debate, because I know from experience reading Patrick’s thoughts on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ that we don’t exactly have the same viewpoint on this. I feel that it’s probably not just the issue of it being the tech community and people we like, I think there’s definitely an issue of — and like Stephan was saying when his image was used, this is a serious publication, right, this is a business, and if you’re a business you can make your own stuff and sell your stuff, and I think there’s a difference or a line to draw, I think Stephan, I mean correct me if I’m wrong, but if the same image had been used on some kid’s blog that wasn’t trying to make any money and was just trying to make a goofy point or if there had been some stupid caption on it, or whatever, you might have been a little bit less incensed, right?

Stephan: More than likely, yeah. I think had it been someone, you know, I may have sent them an email saying, hey, you know you’re using my image, you mind at least linking to me or something. If it wasn’t a business, if it wasn’t someone who was making money on, and had ads and things on their page where my picture was being posted, then yeah I don’t think I would have had as big of a problem with it, but it still would have been a problem.

Louis: Yeah. Anyway, so that’s kind of where I fall in this case, because they’re a business and because they’re clearly you know they have developers in-house, I mean it’s not outside of the realm of their abilities to just do the work and get the stuff done, and to be so lazy and disrespectful obviously is just stupid. Unless as Kevin said it’s a publicity stunt, in which case it’s despicable.

Kevin: (Laughs) it’s true though, is it not true?

Louis: It’s either lazy and stupid or unbelievably evil (laughter).

Kevin: It’s like going and shooting somebody in the kneecap just to get on the news, right.

Stephan: Yeah, that’s —

Kevin: Maybe not.

Louis: I guess it’s exactly like that.

Patrick: Yeah, I mean just to frame I guess what I was trying to say was actually Jonathan Bailey at Plagiarism Today made an interesting point where he said, “For the first time in history almost everyone is both a massive consumer and a massive producer of copyrighted work, so everyone now lives on both sides of the imaginary fence. We’ve seen both the power of file sharing and the frustration of having our posts scraped by some Russian spammer,” so all of us are kind of copyright craters and also consumers, so when we talk about the issue it really affects all of us in both ways, not just as consumers but also as programmers or creators of content ourselves, so it’s interesting to frame the discussion in that way and always understand that.

Kevin: Yep.

Louis: Indeed.

Kevin: I think we’ve beat this one down.

Patrick: And I’ll be copying Louis’ articles and posting them on my blog, I’m sure he won’t give a damn.

Louis: We can keep beating this horse.

Kevin: Yes, we can (laughter). Should we drown it next?

Louis: (Laughs)

Patrick: Nay (horse sound)

Louis: Awesome. Cool. Let’s do it. I actually have a story that’s somewhat related, albeit indirectly. This happened about 10 days ago as we record, so it’ll be about two weeks when this is published, but on the Ruby on Rails blog, Rails 3.2.0 was released, and obviously the relationship there is that the lead Dev on Rails is David Heinemeier Hansson who was involved in this controversy with Curebit. So, anyone who’s into Rails have a look, there’s some cool stuff in 3.2, and one of the most notable things is they’ve done some big performance improvements in developer mode, so when you’re working on your own site in development which used to be a little slow because it had to try and reload all of your files, it wasn’t caching anything, now it’s being a bit cleverer about caching, and the routing is also much, much faster. So if you have a lot of links on one page, whereas before trying to figure out where all those links should point to would be something the Rails engine would struggle with a little bit, that’s been made a lot faster. And there’s a lot of other cool things as well, so check out the blog post and hop onto Rails 3.2 if you’ve got a project in development.

Stephan: Are you a Rails developer, Louis?

Louis: I am sort of, yeah, so at Flippa we’re in the process of sort of migrating our application from a sort of custom PHP framework over to Rails, so about half the work I do on a day-to-day basis is Rails; for every new feature we’ll develop in Rails, and the old stuff gradually moving across.

Stephan: Oh, cool. Okay, because I haven’t jumped into it yet, so I’ve seen it and I know a lot of people use it, I just — I never have.

Louis: Hmm, well, it’s definitely — I mean for us at Flippa it’s been fantastic, I was very skeptical when the other developers on the team suggested that they were going to start moving, you know it’s a mature application, hundreds of thousands of lines of code, and thinking of migrating that entire thing sounds just incredibly daunting. But now seeing like the ones we’ve ported over a given feature, subsequent maintenance updates to that feature a lot faster because it’s just a lot easier to work with and we wind up with a lot less code. We port a feature that was a two thousand line file in PHP and we wind up with three or four hundred lines of Rails because so much of the stuff is handled behind the scenes.

Stephan: Oh, cool.

Louis: I’ve been a big fan and, yeah, looking forward I don’t think we’re on 3.2 in development yet, but definitely have a look. And that means that as of now the master branch of Rails on GitHub is targeting Rails 4.0 which will require the latest versions of Ruby, so all of the development is now going to be focused on the 4.0 branch, and definitely look forward to seeing what’s coming in that.

Stephan: Cool.

Kevin: Yeah, I think your story is actually really interesting, Louis, just because I’m starting to see that this, and it’s been going on for a long time now, especially with things like WordPress’ content management systems, where you see less and less companies actually developing or using their own proprietary system, you know, using that to sell to clients or to develop their own in-house application. And I think this is a good move because it puts you in not only an open source environment where you contribute and gain from that open community, but you can also have those updates coming in, and so you don’t have to worry about developing that next feature that’s going to be more compatible with not only legacy systems but future systems as well, right, because you want to be able to update your software on your server and your server’s hardware, so whether using Ruby on Rails as a framework or you’re using WordPress or you’re using CakePHP, whatever system that is I think it’s really helpful.

Louis: Yeah, definitely, and it’s good to be able to — I mean you know we’ve experienced this a lot, I mean it’s true working with just about anything because PHP is open source and most of the libraries in PHP are done open source, but in terms of something like Rails or like Cake where you’ve really just got a full stack framework that’s really focused on helping you make web applications it does make it easier to get out there, and if you run into a problem you get on the message boards or on the community and either someone else will have encountered a similar issue and come up with a workaround, or just from the fact of talking about it someone will be like oh that’s interesting, I wasn’t aware that that — and you know a couple people get to looking into it, and then you do another test case, and then eventually you wind up with a fix and you’ve given something back.

Kevin: I agree, I mean when you look at something like an open source piece of software or a framework, as in the case of Ruby on Rails, you can run into a situation where you might be concerned about security, right, because the code’s out there for anybody to use, anybody can exploit it when something’s discovered, and I think that is a false assumption in open source because those things are normally patched really quickly when you have a popular framework like Ruby on Rails, right, or WordPress. So, while those concerns are there, it affecting you in a major way is I think minor, number one because the best security plan is simply to back things up and make sure that you have redundancies in different places, because it’s not a matter of if you get hacked but when you get hacked, right.

Louis: Yeah, quite possibly. Yeah, I think that’s definitely a concern. I mean when you’re talking about security it’s really interesting because we did have one, it wasn’t even a real security issue, but one thing that happened to us when we upgraded to the latest version of WordPress for our blog we came up against this weird issue where we’re doing — I have a WordPress plugin that I wrote for Flippa where if you’re logged into the Flippa web application you’ll automatically be logged into the blog when you go over to the blog, right, so that does an OAuth request, finds your user and then creates a new WordPress user if there isn’t already one with that name. And when we upgraded to the latest one at some point I don’t remember, someone was doing something, and then they found out they were logged in as this old admin account that hadn’t been used in forever, and there was no explanation to why this happened, and it turned out there was something deep in the new version of WordPress where when you tried to get a user from the database and it returned an error object, that error object would be passed down the chain as if it was the user’s ID, and because of some weird typecasting in PHP it treats that — it was trying to cast it to an integer, and any object casted to an integer was coming out as a one, so it was getting the user with the ID of one.

Kevin: Interesting.

Louis: And it took about — one of our developers who was active on the WordPress core team way back in the day posted this to the message board like hey this is weird, we found that if for some reason the database goes away for a split second and you get an error trying to load the user it’s possible you might wind up with the first user by accident, and that was patched and rolled into WordPress within I think 24 hours. So, like you said, when you’ve got this thing that everyone starts using and is playing around with, and this was a really weird edge case where we were doing something unconventional, it required a failure in the database, and it only happened intermittently, so a really hard thing to find, and yet still it got fixed with 24 hours on WordPress.

Kevin: Right, exactly. I think that is probably one of the biggest like fights or arguments that people have against systems like that, and at the end of the day security is important but, you know, like you said, these things get patched quickly, and I don’t mean to sound kind of like a cliché when I do say it’s not if you get hacked but when you get hacked, but I mean it’s absolutely true, I mean if somebody really had it out for you they could find a flaw whether it’s in WordPress or some other user on your even server level, right.

Louis: And more importantly, whether or not that’s actually true, whether or not it’s true that you will eventually be hacked, it is totally reasonable to behave as if that was true.

Kevin: Right.

Louis: And if you have the kind of preparedness where you know that even if someone tomorrow gained full access to your production database you could still recover your application quickly and be back online in a new secure environment quickly, and then that’s what you need to be ready for and to be able to handle. I don’t know how we got from the new version of Rails to worst-case security scenarios, but it’s good traveling down these roads with you guys.

Patrick: Good discussion.

Louis: Who’s the next story?

Stephan: So I came across a blog post on Slate’s Moneybox by Matthew Yglesias, and about kind of the trap of Google and these recent privacy changes that they’ve rolled out and you’re having to read the email now of what the privacy changes are. And is it really a problem, and is the cost of free now your privacy and your data? And if that’s the cost of free is it worth it? And the argument he makes is, he actually links to another blog post by someone else named Kevin Drum, and Kevin points out that Google’s kind of got us in this space now where you can walk away from their service if you want, you know, unless you have an Android phone or if you’ve been using Gmail for six years or however long it’s been around, or YouTube, and you can go use a new platform, but are you really gonna do that? And so it’s an interesting discussion, and I thought it’s worth talking about here.

Kevin: I think Google has a very quality product, so it’s harder to walk away from something when it works and it’s good and it meets your needs, and, of course, it’s free.

Patrick: Right. And the thing about this, it’s a great point, is if you’re using something for free what is the actual cost, because there is a cost and when it comes down to it how websites make money is going to be one of two ways, you can bring it down to one of two things, either you’re going to give them money or people who want to reach you are going to give them money; it’s one or the other and there’s a lot of subdivisions between those two things.

Louis: Well, there’s this old aphorism, it’s probably not really an old aphorism because it’s only been around for a few years, but if you’re not paying for it you’re the product, right.

Stephan: Yep, yep.

Patrick: That sounds right. Yeah, it’s a good point, it’s a good way to say it, it’s a more attractive way to say it than what I just said. So, there is this sort of thing with Google about do no evil and the privacy settings and how that plays in with one another, kind of the bigger story or one of the stories in this kind of wave of privacy news is that Google’s consolidating it’s privacy policies, because it had like privacy policies for each product or across different platforms, or whatever, and now it’s going to consolidate those into a more simple document that you can access in I guess one simple place. I saw the email, I actually got multiple emails, so it’s probably more then one person did if you have more than one Google account or more than one YouTube account, or whatever it is, I’m sure you got an email. And, yeah, I think Kevin makes a good point about it being a quality product because you can stop using Google, like Google isn’t — Google’s not like it’s a right, it’s not like breathing, there are other services out there, the question is will you. And even then would you pay for Google, I think the answer for most is probably no depending on the service; a lot of people would pay for Gmail based on functionality that was provided, but no one’s going to pay for Google search I would think for the most part, you know, it depends on the service and the offering, and that will determine whether or not anyone would pay for it. And if it’s put that way to you, to the average person, that you could pay and have privacy, it’s not probably an attractive sell because a lot of people feel like they should have privacy by default, but when you go out into the public Web, so to speak, and you use these services, I don’t know how much privacy you’re really entitled to, it’s a tricky question, and I think there are competing services out there that will provide you with the level of privacy you want, but then you come back to the question of quality and if they can actually compete with Google on the question of offering and what they’re actually providing to you.

Kevin: If privacy is that important to you more than likely you’re going to be using an app on your computer, because anything on the Web by its own nature is not that private, I mean you’re on the Web, you’re sending bits across a wire, it’s not like you can sniff those out in a network if they wanted to, you know, whereas if it’s on your computer you’re a little more isolated, you can unplug completely if you need to.

Louis: I also think it’s fair to note that if you really wanted to be private it would be entirely possible if you didn’t have a Google account, for example, and you were just using the search and start viewing videos on YouTube, if you were being careful using your browsers in their anonymous modes and using anonymous proxies, I think you could get yourself pretty close to untraceable without great amounts of technical expertise or difficulty.

Patrick: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Louis: So it’s possible. I mean obviously in this case, like you mentioned, or like Stephan mentioned, a lot of these services are so attractive the integration of Gmail and YouTube and especially if you have an Android phone, you know, it all comes together very nicely and it’s a very slick experience if you have a Google account because everything sort of follows you around. And I do think for me anyway it’s similar, I don’t think their privacy policy, even the new one, is any worse than what Facebook is already doing, and I kind of prefer the Google experience because it’s just sort of there in the background as the infrastructure to my web browsing, whereas Facebook tries to be the entire Web, right, and you know when you click on a link to leave Facebook it’s like ‘are you sure?’ the Web out there is big and dangerous!

Patrick: Don’t talk to strangers.

Louis: (Laughs) don’t talk to companies that aren’t Facebook. I don’t know, obviously it’s a tricky issue. I actually saw a story about the same thing, oh, it’s actually a little post that Tim O’Reilly wrote on Google+ recently sort of talking about his opinion of this whole reaction to Google’s changes in privacy policy, and sort of saying he thinks it’s overblown and that collecting data isn’t really evil, and that there’s a lot of — it would be potentially what they do with the data; if they start doing something unethical with that data down the line that would be evil, but right now all they’re doing is collecting data and making links for their own analytical purposes, which we can’t really decry on principle, especially as you noted using these services voluntarily.

Patrick: I think that’s a fair point. As someone who runs a service that people use voluntarily, and obviously you’re involved in those services, and so we have that perspective. And when it comes to monetizing a website or even — there’s a lot of uses for data, let’s just not say it’s money, right, because that’s part of it, we use that data for AB testing, if we don’t serve ads we use to find out how to get you to buy faster or how to get you to completion faster, but, that data’s also used to improve websites in other ways when it comes to usability and design and functionality, you know we base how we target our sites, what geographic regions we target them to, what times of day we update; all those things are sometimes targeted based upon the analytics we collect when you visit the website to put together research, to make smarter decisions. So it’s not just if you want to think money’s evil, it’s not just the evil pursuits of our organizations that use data, it’s in a well-organized company, it’s all facets of the organization that use that data.

Kevin: It makes for a better web. I would almost argue that we want Google to invade our privacy just a little bit because if it didn’t I mean the Web really wouldn’t — or Google wouldn’t be what it is today, I can’t say that the Web wouldn’t be what it is today, it’s too broad or a sweeping statement, but yeah.

Louis: It’s interesting to see because in some senses it is sort of a gradual erosion, right, because I remember when Google first started running ads, or contextual ads alongside Gmail, right, where the ads that you see on the right side of your Gmail would be contextually related to the content of the emails that were being sent, right. I don’t know if you guys ever heard anything about this, but I remember some people were like, ooh, that’s kind of creepy, I mean Google is, you know, or Google’s computers anyway, are reading the emails and serving ads related to that, but then that just sort of became background and nobody really worries about that so much anymore. And I do kind of wonder if it’s easy to move the goalposts of what is considered normal gradually like this, you know, what is the point at which — is there a point at which people will be like whoa, whoa, whoa, now we’ve actually gone too far, or is it all just sort of gradually become normal.

Kevin: Yeah, I think the thing that concerns me most is like, for example, the email situation that you’re talking about, it’s whether or not these services or in general people associate you with what they’re talking about, right. So, if you send me an ad for something I’m cool with you sending a company information about what it is that’s in my email as long as you don’t tell them it’s me, because people already know that these things are out there, if you understand what I’m saying.

Louis: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Obviously it’s a matter of how they treat that information; because I use Google services voluntarily I understand that Google will be using the data in here to decide what ads to show to me, but then when I click through, for example to that advertiser, what kind of information do they have, and what kind of information is Google providing to these third parties, and how personally identifiable is it, because that’s a place where I think everyone gets a little bit on edge talking about the idea of providing this or making this data available easily to advertisers.

Kevin: I think it’s interesting. And you know Google isn’t the only one facing these issues, I mean this is also companies like Facebook.

Patrick: Everyone. I think everyone who runs a social platform or an online community or anything that has people signup for accounts especially is facing these issues. On the more basic level if you use that data for the things I discussed you could get that from guests, so everyone’s being collected from whether you’re logged in or not. But, Louis, I actually wanted to ask you something; are you still in your Facebook hiatus?

Louis: Uh, sort of. My really strong objection to it, it was actually just a couple of apps, sort of the passive sharing ones that they introduced.

Patrick: Right, yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about, like the Washington Post app where you have people saying they’ve read this article, but if you click it then it’s go through these steps, install this, and you can’t get to the article directly.

Louis: Yeah. So there was particularly the Washington Post and The Guardian were the ones that were really annoying.

Patrick: Right.

Louis: So I guess I haven’t really posted updates to Facebook in a long time, I don’t really —

Patrick: No, you haven’t. I was just on your profile and it’s basically all me (laughter).

Louis: Yeah, it’s you tagging me in things, and it’s sometimes I’ll tick the box when I’m checking in on Foursquare to share it on Facebook because I figure some people might just be looking at Facebook and be able to come out for a drink or whatever. But, yeah, I’ll occasionally check in just to see what some people are doing who aren’t on other services because a lot of my friends especially from back home don’t use Twitter or Google+. Yeah, I don’t like it, I’m still — I still feel kind of icky going in there because of the way they sort of put a little bit too much attempt — too big an attempt to control the way I use the Web, and the ability to just share a link really is the fundamental interaction mode that I want out of a social network.

Patrick: Right.

Louis: And right there they’ve sort of broken the ability to share links from some sources because they’re being intercepted by these apps. And basically it’s the basics of social recommendation for me, right; I want to recommend something after I’ve read it.

Kevin: But doesn’t that architecture fall apart on itself, I mean eventually they’ll stop doing this because people are going to react in an adverse way to the way whatever company it is that makes the applications that do this, right. So, it’s kind of a, I would like personally, it’s a situation that fixes itself over time. So Facebook wouldn’t necessarily have to go in and critique how they say people have to make applications, I mean they can, which would make Facebook better.

Louis: You know it’s possible that things will just get better, but from users sort of rebelling against these things, but that doesn’t, like we said, that doesn’t happen a lot; most of the time people just sort of grow accustomed to something and treat it as the new normal.

Kevin: This is true.

Louis: A little bit too easily in my opinion.

Kevin: Yeah, things like IE6 that sit around way too long (laughter).

Patrick: It’s gone now, okay, can we stop! (Laughter)

Louis: It is gone instead.

Patrick: What’s that; let the dead rest?

Stephan: Let sleeping dogs lie.

Patrick: Whatever it is, yeah, whatever it is just leave it.

Kevin: You mean rest in peace, RIP?

Louis: It’s not just sleeping, it’s dead and buried.

Patrick: It’s like don’t dig it up. So, speaking of both Facebook and dominating services, the last story of today is the world map of social networks, this is from Vicenzo Cosenza, who’s an Italian Digital Strategist, and I picked this up through The Next Web in a story by Nancy Messiah, basically Mr. Cosenza tracks social networking use in various countries throughout the world.

Louis: Oh, my God, the train is back (laughs).

Patrick: (Laughs) the train is back! Zuckerberg?

Kevin: No, Zuckerberg just doesn’t want us to talk about this topic.

Patrick: But, yeah, so he tracks 136 countries and 127 of them have Facebook as the most popular social network. And it’s important to put this data in the right light; the data is in care of Alexa and Google transfer websites traffic data for December 2011.

Kevin: You have to speak louder, Patrick.

Patrick: Yes, thank you. So, basically he trends it over time, right, from June 2009, I believe, through December 2011 he has a map of the world that makes it really easy to visualize, it’s based on colors, Facebook is obviously blue and the color blue is in the countries where it’s most dominant, and you can see over time how Facebook has become more popular throughout the world. There are still a few holdouts for Facebook’s dominance, at least at this point, one of which is Latvia, another is Russia, and then there are China which is a holdout and a couple others, but mostly it’s Facebook around the world, the world is pretty blue right now. Of course there are some differences here and there based on the country you’re in, but overall Facebook is the most popular social network globally in most countries where this sort of data is tracked. And I guess this isn’t that deep of a story, it’s a fun map to look at and to consider, you know we talk about Facebook and some of the minor things, or major things in some cases, with Facebook that we don’t like; is this a good thing or a bad thing, does it matter, is Facebook becoming the Google search of social networks where eventually they’ll have 90+% market share of the world, or is this just a trend, is Facebook going to eventually go the way of platforms that came before it?

Kevin: I don’t agree with the democratic world that Facebook is painting on this map, but I think that Facebook kind of has a, like Google, right, it has a lock on — like Google has a lock on the Web as information, right, you can now search almost anything on the Web and have some result for it unless you’ve been blacklisted, or whatever, where Facebook has a connection like it’s built a platform of people in their connections. So you have Google which is the connections between information and documents, and then Facebook which is the connections of people and their lives. And I think that once you have something like a web that big it’s hard to step out of because it’s your personal life, right, it’s your investment. And like I just said, it is your investment; you’ve put a lot of energy into a service like Facebook.

Patrick: Right, there’s a deep data investment, and also the connections that you have built up over time. Louis?

Louis: Yeah, I mean it’s interesting to watch this; you’ve got an animated version of this map where you can see the spread. It’s interesting because there are a couple — most notably for me is Brazil where Orkut was dominant for a long time and it was one of the things, it was one of those places where this social network that sort of didn’t catch on anywhere else was hugely popular in this one area, and I see that in the latest iteration of the map, so just recently December 2011 Brazil went from being pink to being blue all of a sudden. So I see a couple of longstanding holdouts, so namely Brazil and I think Mongolia was one of the last ones to switch as well away from, what is that, hi5 over to Facebook being the dominant one. Yeah, so it’s interesting watching it wipeout, and it’s interesting, it draws for me a parallel of sort of any kind of big multi-national, say, retailer or restaurant chain having a similar effect on local businesses. I know a lot of these social networks might not be local to those markets, I think the Russian one is, so Russia’s still — is still a holdout, and I think China as well, and I think both of those networks are indigenous networks. But, yeah, it does feel kind of a little bit disappointing for me because it feels like you kind of want to root for the underdogs, right, you want those smaller local networks with a strong regional focus to remain active. But at the same time if Facebook can provide all of the same benefits through translation, I know they put a lot of work into internationalizing their interface, but also give the advantage of being able to network with people throughout the rest of the world, then that might be a good thing.

Patrick: I agree with what you said, Louis, and I think it’s important to recognize the difference between say the social network of kind of the Facebook model or the MySpace model, or whatever model you want to put it on, the Friendster model, but it’s important to separate that from other types of online communities and platforms, because Facebook is great at certain things that Facebook does. What Facebook is not so great at is let’s say you want to interact with a group of people that you don’t already know in a specific state or city or region or even country, you know, you want to build up or talk about what’s going on in that country, Facebook isn’t really the platform for that unless you have a huge following of people, unless you have tons of friends or a popular fan page. I mean if you want to discuss with people in the country you’re going to go to a community and a platform that is focused at that country. Facebook is more about personal aspects, personal connections, not so much connecting around a topic or an interest.

Louis: Yeah, that’s a good point because even a good Facebook fan page with a lot of interaction it’s very timely, right, you’ll see a post on something and people will comment on it, and then the next day it’s sort of gone and it’s even hard to find these older discussion threads.

Patrick: Right.

Louis: Whereas on software that’s a little bit more focused around the idea of discussions, and that could be, you know, whether it’s in person stuff like what you get on or forums or the kind of software question and answer type things like Stack Exchange. There are all kinds of software that’s maybe better at certain types of discussion, definitely. So, I don’t know, maybe it does make sense to have this one underlying network that anyone can use to connect with people throughout the world and just keep in touch. For me, I use Facebook kind of as a phonebook, right; everyone I’ve met is sort of in there, and if I ever need to contact them and I don’t have their email, or whatever, I know that I can find them on Facebook.

Kevin: I mean I know people that don’t use Facebook, but it’s a rare occurrence and usually it’s for reasons, I don’t know, personal beliefs, but more of a boycott than anything, you know.

Louis: Yeah.

Patrick: Just like there are some people who aren’t listed in the phonebook.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly.

Louis: Man, I just got a stack of Yellow Pages delivered outside my apartment; why are we still getting these things, sorry, I have to go on a rant about phonebooks, but nobody’s even picking them up anymore.

Stephan: They just leave them out.

Kevin: Right.

Patrick: Right, a lot of people aren’t using them.

Louis: Like not a single person has taken one, it’s the same stack that’s been sitting there for two weeks.

Patrick: I mean I’m not so much — I don’t think they should stop producing them as much as they should maybe make it upon request.

Louis: Yeah, I agree with that.

Patrick: Yeah, because I know some people who use phonebooks, but I know myself, I mean if the power is out I suppose it might be interesting because the phone would still work, so I don’t know, that’s the like case where it would be useful to me, but that’s like an edge case, so otherwise I won’t use the phonebook.

Kevin: Now, you can correct me if I’m wrong, and I’m probably wrong here, but I think that advertising model for the phonebook is when you buy an ad in the phone book you’re buying an ad for so many prints, not for so many deliveries.

Patrick: I don’t know; I mean you’re making a good point that advertising is a part of why they produce phonebooks.

Kevin: Right, so even if they don’t give any of them away, because you pay for your ad they still have to print that number of books. Now, again, I could be wrong but I think that’s why.

Louis: Well, see, this is another example of old, broken advertising models.

Kevin: Right, exactly.

Louis: And it’s the same reason why we still have like pagination on website articles, it’s just an old advertising model where they want to drum up impressions, and it makes no sense, the advertiser’s paying for the same person to see their ad a few times in a row which is a waste of money, but this is how they’ve always done things so they can keep spending money. That was my rant, it had nothing to do with anything (laughter), I’m just annoyed about getting Yellow Pages, alright.

Patrick: That’s the podcast; it’s not to do with anything.

Louis: (Laughs) speaking of not to do with anything, spotlights; Patrick you can go first since yours is the most likely not to have anything to do with anything.

Patrick: I’m the king of that. But I think tonight I’m going to be a disappointing king, I’m going to be a king you want to overthrow because it’s not directly related but it’s related enough. So my spotlight is WPLateNight which is a new WordPress-focused podcast that is co-hosted by our old friend Brad Williams of the SitePoint podcast, formerly.

Kevin: It’s a good show, I’ve listened to it.

Patrick: Okay, cool, yeah. I haven’t because I don’t listen to podcasts (laughter), but — but, no, Brad is co-host with Ryan Emil of WPCandy and Dre Armeda, and it is hosted by WPCandy,, and we’ll have a link to the show directly in the notes. They’ve only released one episode, so partly kicked it off, it’s a video podcast, not just audio but also video is available, so if you’re interested in WordPress at all definitely check it out, it’s a good group of guys, and I’m sure that Brad will bring his insights to that show as well; just don’t forget where you honed your skills, Brad.

Louis: Alright. Stephan, you want to go next?

Stephan: Yeah, so I have a bookmarklet, I shouldn’t say it’s a bookmarklet, a little application that converts your bookmarklets to Chrome extensions, it’s pretty neat, you just put in a name, description, and you drag the bookmarklet into this box and it generates an extension and you’re good to go, so, kind of cool, kind of useful.

Louis: Yeah, that’s really useful. So we’ll drop a link in the show notes, is it — it’s a link that’s hard to say.

Stephan: Yeah, it’s, so yeah, we’ll put a link.

Louis: We’ll put a link (laughter). Cool, my spotlight for this week is at, they’ll be a link in the notes. What it is is this really nicely designed page which aims to be a showcase of the best typefaces from the Google Web Fonts Directory. So most people will be familiar with the Google Web Fonts Directory, it started — we talked about it on the podcast just when it started, it was at the time maybe I think a dozen or so fonts that were made available by Google, hosted on Google servers, that you could just drop a link to a style sheet file and then use that font in your CSS, and it started with only, like I said, a few fonts, but apparently there are currently 404 typefaces in the Web Fonts Directory, so it’s grown pretty impressively over a short period of time. Of course a lot of those fonts aren’t great, but this is a webpage made by a type designer who wants to highlight the really good ones, and they’ve done sort of these little compositions, typographic compositions, showing off some of the better fonts; they’re really all nice compositions, so even if you’re not interested in using these particular fonts it can be cool to just have a look and see how they’ve played with type and done these interesting little things, and it also gives you pointers to which of the fonts are really good and can be used in really interesting ways.

Kevin: Awesome. My spotlight is an excellent little JavaScript-like manipulation cool plugin thing, if that describes it properly, it’s called List.js, you can check it out at, and if you go to the site you can check out some of the examples that basically gives you a lot of cool features, if you have long lists on a website it allows you to sort those by category, by name, you can do searches against them, edit, add or remove, you can start paging them, you can add some performance, I mean there’s a lot of things added in there that make this specific little script very happy to be at your website, if that makes any sense.

Louis: Yeah, it looks cool. I’d have to have a longer play around with it to see what it’s really up to, but I like the way the pagination works. If you go to the pagination page and you’re on page one and then it’s got the ellipsis, and if you click on two and then three and then four, the ellipsis kind of moves across and then eventually it ellipses before where you’re at and after where you’re at, so it’s pretty clever, definitely nice if you’ve got lists of things on your website, and most websites have lists of things on them.

Kevin: Right. I could see this being really helpful if you have like a list of people maybe going to a conference, like if you run a conference you could use this for like the registry, so you could search to see if your friend’s going to it without having to scroll through a really long list, and because that data is relatively small when you list things out on a website like that, you could pump that data out and just sort it using JavaScript which would be much faster and less requests as far as your web server’s concerned.

Louis: Right. Is it based on jQuery, does it require jQuery, or is it standalone JavaScript?

Kevin: Yeah, so the examples on the site are built using jQuery but it’s not required.

Louis: Oh, that’s cool, good to know. A lot of newer libraries tend to sort of sit on top of jQuery as a plugin, but it’s nice that this is library agnostic.

Kevin: To have something that you can use outside of something like jQuery I think it’s a good thing because that’s one less thing you have to download if that’s all you really want, right, so it helps support a smaller web, not in that the Web should be smaller, but the Web should be less bytes.

Louis: It should be fewer bytes or it should be lighter, we should say we want a lighter Web.

Kevin: A lighter Web, a lighter Web.

Patrick: Yeah, so when you’re taking a byte out of it you don’t gain as much weight. Bah-dum-bum.

Louis: Okay. (Laughter) I think that is a clear indication that we’ve run our course for this week, so let’s give it a run around the table.

Kevin: Right, so I’m Kevin Dees, you can find me at and on Twitter as @kevindees.

Patrick: I am Patrick O’Keefe for the iFroggy Network, I blog at, on Twitter @ifroggy, i-f-r-o-g-g-y.

Stephan: I’m Stephan Segraves, you can find me on Twitter @ssegraves, and I blog occasionally at

Louis: And you can follow SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom, that’s sitepointd-o-t-c-o-m, and you can follow me on Twitter @rssaddict. Go to to keep up with all our shows, you can find our previous episodes, leave a comment and you can also subscribe to the RSS. You can email us at, and of course we are available on iTunes as well. Thanks for listening.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

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