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August 2012The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Social Media

Some sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are becoming very popular web sites for people to use. Individuals who don't have a web site of their own and don't know enough about the web to even consider creating their own site can easily sign up for one or more social media sites and post all sorts of things there. They can link to their friends and share things specifically with those people while not sharing it with anyone else.

These social media sites provide all sorts of incentives for people to visit their site frequently. You need to go there to keep your friends up to date on what you are doing and to find out what your friends are doing (rather than simply visiting them or calling them on the phone). Many people now spend so much of their time on one or two media sites that they forget that the rest of the web exists.

In some ways this is similar to when the web was first introduced when many of the other facilities for sharing information over the internet effectively disappeared because the web was so much easier to use than most of the alternatives (email perhaps being the most obvious exception). These social media sites make it so much easier to share than other web sites do that some people are forgetting that anything outside their chosen media site exists on the web. For some people it is reaching the point where Facebook is the web, Facebook is the internet.

The problem is that while the web was as free for anyone to use as those other parts of the internet that it replaced, the same is not true of these social media sites. Anyone can set up a web site of their own and use it for whatever they want a web site for. Each web site owner has control of the content of their web site.

The same thing that gives individual web site owners complete control over the content of their own site (whether provided directly by them or posted by others) means that you don't have control of your own content when you use a social media site. Social media sites are just like any other web site and the owners of the site have full control over how their site is used.

Prior to being able to post any information on a social media site you will have agreed to certain rules defined by the site owner. These rules will have granted certain rights over the content that you publish to the owners of that social media site. It is they who have full control over whether or not your material is allowed to be displayed and the form in which it is displayed. Once you post something on a social media site you give up at least a part of your rights and control of that material to the owners of the web site.

Unfortunately many people seem to treat their account on a social media site as if it were their very own web site where they have control over what they publish. Many only discover when it is too late that they don't have as much control over what they publish on social media as they thought that they did - either through something being deleted that they wanted to publish or through being unable to delete something that they published by mistake.

The important thing to remember when publishing anything on a social media site is that you are giving that content to the owner f the social media web site and granting them certain rights over what they can do with that content (as defined in the rules that you agreed to at the start - that most people don't bother to read). Publishing anything to social media is not the same as publishing on your own web site as in either case it is the owner of the web site that has the control.

Perhaps the most worrying thing as more and more people move to these social media sites and discard the rest of the web is that they are effectively handing over control of all their information to the owners of the social media site.

Knowledge is power and the more people who give their information to a social media site, the more powerful that social media site becomes. If a social media site gains too much control of what people see then they gain the ability to control what people can find out about in a way that the newspapers could only dream of. Where a newspaper could present a biased view of politicians and so hope to influence an election there would be another paper offering a biased view the other way and those reading the papers would generally choose the one that corresponded closest to their own views. Web sites in general present the same choice only more so because instead of just two or three newspapers being sold in a given area people have access to thousands of web sites presenting alternate viewpoints. The problem with the social media is that there is not a huge amount of competition with each site dominating a particular niche. Should Facebook decide to control what is published in a way that presents a biased viewpoint then there is no alternative in that niche with anywhere near the same popularity that could present an alternative viewpoint and everyone would be presented with the same biased view. This could influence enough people to give Facebook control over an election.

Note that I am by no means attempting to single out Facebook here as the other social media would have similar control in their own specific niches. Also I am not attempting to suggest that any of these companies would set out to present a biased viewpoint, just that they could. In giving these social media sites more and more control of the content of the web people are giving them the potential to have a greater and greater influence over what people read. I certainly don't believe that it is the intention of any of these social media sites to do anything other than allow people to share data in accordance with their stated rules but if these sites effectively become the web then the web effectively switches from its current situation which is effectively a democracy where everyone can have their say any no one else can stop them and becomes instead a benevolent dictatorship where the social media companies have control over what everyone can say but still allow people to say pretty much whatever they want.

The biggest problem with a benevolent dictatorship of course is that you don't have any say in who will take over in the future and no way to ensure that it remains benevolent.

We need to be very careful about just how much control we allow individual companies to have over the web. Of course such worries are not just limited to the social media sites. Were a single search engine to gain too great a dominance then it too would have the potential to control the web although not quite in the same way as the social media sites could - while a search engine doesn't have control over what is posted on various web sites, it does have control over which web pages it returns in its search results.

On Site

Quite a few new pages this month as well as a few updates to older ones. It is now twelve months since I stopped writing for About Inc. They still have all my pages available and don't appear to have found anyone to take over writing about JavaScript for them but I don't know how long this will continue for. In any case a lot of my scripts there are getting somewhat dated and so I am continuing to publish updated versions on my own site. You can expect to see lots more updated JavaScript over the coming months but i hope to be able to include a variety of other information as well.

What's New

The following links will take you to all of the various pages that have been added to the site or undergone major changes in the last month.

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