Facebook, Google, Twitter, and all those other services that sell ads want to know as much about you as they can possibly find out. Consider for example Facebook’s Like button that is part of most web pages: even if you don’t click it, Facebook knows that you have viewed that page. How can they know? Since you have logged in to Facebook before, they have stored a cookie in your browser. And the Like button’s image is loaded from Facebook’s servers, so that cookie is sent to Facebook, together with information about the page that you’ve just visited. (My blog does not contain any tracking codes, not even Google analytics.)
So how can you avoid this? You could delete all stored cookies every single time you log out of Facebook (and Twitter and Google and…) but that’s not really convenient. Fluid is a small browser for Mac OS X (based on the same WebKit engine as Safari), but with a twist: instead of using the application to browse the Internet, you create specialized browsers for specific websites. I’ve set up a number of them: one each for my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts plus a couple more for accounts that I help maintain for my historic railway club.
Since these specialized browsers all store their cookies seperately from each other, I can use my main browser without ever having a Facebook or Twitter login. For those services, I appear as some random surfer, not connected to my actual profile.
Of course, this little trick is not perfect. WIth advanced analytics that all the ad networks employ, some information is still gathered about me (such as when I click a link in my Facebook browser that takes me to a different website), but I still feel a lot better about not giving away all my browsing history all the time.
So I’ve plunked down 100 bucks for an early bird developer account at join.app.net, a new social network. So why would anyone pay for something like this, if Facebook and Twitter and everything else is free? Because it isn’t.
Facebook and Twitter live off selling their users to advertisers. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that more and more, they choose to implement features and control the user experience to maximize value for the advertisers. What the users want and how they would like to be treated becomes less important. And third-party applications and their developers make things complicated, since they do not help generating ad revenue, so more and more, they’re shut out or severely restricted.
Dalton Caldwell was annoyed by that, decided to do something about it: create a new social media platform, but instead of financing it through advertising, have the users pay for it. At least in principle, it aligns the interests of the platform company with that of the users, since happy users will generate more revenue. Right now, it’s an experiment (but it’s looking like it might get very successful, with over 12.000 paying users signing up in less than two months). Right now I have the bragging rights to be the first among my friends to have signed up, but that mainly means that none of my friends are on app.net yet. We’ll see if that changes within the next 12 months.
Which brings me to the second service: if-this-then-that, or IFTTT for short. I now have a plethora of social media accounts, and distributing the various thoughts that I sometimes find worth publishing can become tedious. IFTTT helps with that: it monitors your account on any of 30 or so services (you decided with ones), and then cross-posts new posts from one service to any other one of your choosing. You decide which service to monitor and what to post where by settings up simple recipes: if I publish a new blog post, take it’s title and URL and post it to app.net, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve just started using it, but from what I can see from my friends using it, it looks like a very useful tool.