Tags: cognitive bias, fake news, Security
As people shift more and more to getting news and information from the web, there’s an important detail we might overlook. While we may know a paper is conservative or a station is alternative, the web behaves differently. Many of the larger sites automatically filter content to favour our apparent interests. For example, you’ve probably noticed that if you watch a cat video on YouTube, it will automatically “recommend” more of the same. Many large sites do much the same.
While this may be convenient and help keep us on the site (and seeing ads), it narrows our view of the world by creating a bubble of information. A few years back, I posted a TED talk on the subject.
The recent US election has brought the subject to the fore, along with issues of “fake” news. Facebook is denying it’s news feed had an influence on the election. But the Wall Street Journal has done an interesting mock-up that illustrates the issue in action. You can see how very different the 2 feeds are for a subject. Keep in mind this is not just true of Facebook.
Friends have tested search engines similarly. Test the same search on 2 different computers – one in the financial district and the other in a poor part of town. Completely different results. Multiply this across many sites and it can affect your sense of the world.
The key – diversify your sources and pay attention to reputable international news sites that bring an out-of-country perspective. You can also use a tool like DuckDuckGo to search Google while reducing some of the tracking.
Tags: desktop, phone, sync
Perhaps you’re a little old school like me – you prefer to use an email client like Thunderbird to manage your mail, contacts and schedule rather than using web tools. While webmail is great for traveling, it has serious limitations if you’re managing several email accounts and a lot of traffic.
You may also not be a fan of sharing your entire life with web tools that browse your information for marketing hooks. Yet it would be nice to have your Contacts and Calendar synced with your Android phone. While Google and similar tools make doing that easy, it’s always under their watchful eye.
The solution is to sync your computer and phone directly. Recently I ran into a nifty little tool called MyPhoneExplorer. Originally developed for Ericsson phones, they added Android support.
It allows syncing your address books with your phones, includes a Calendar view for various desktop calendars, and allows browsing your text messages, call logs, file system and various other more geeky things. It also allows syncing to multiple phones. (feature summary)
The focus of this article is syncing Thunderbird Contacts and Lightning Calendar with your Android phone Contacts and Calendar.
You can connect with your phone via USB, WiFi or Bluetooth.
My Desktop doesn’t have bluetooth.
I routinely connect my G4 via USB to download pictures. However, this requires 2 extra things:
– An ABD driver but these have signing issues with recent versions of Windows.
– turn on Developer Options in Android. This is now somewhat hidden. For example, on the G4, it’s Settings, General, About Phone, Software info. Tap Build Number 5-6 times (it offers a countdown). This turns on Developer Options in the General Menu. Theres a switch to turn it off again inside the above. The FJSoft forum has links for other phones, drivers, etc.
Thus, in my case, the easy choice was Wireless.
I didn’t find detailed instructions for this Setup so I thought it worth going over what I did here.
Best to back up your phones contacts and Thunderbird before you do this, in case anything goes awry.
1) Download and install MyPhoneExplorer for your PC.
(There’s a portable option during setup but this doesn’t have the desired sync abilities)
2) In Play Store, install MyPhoneExplorer Client on your phone. The maker mentions it may install with first use of the desktop software, but I’d recommend this approach.
3) In Thunderbird, install the MyPhoneExplorer extension in Tools, Add-ons.
It has one setting, if you use Event Categories.
4) On Android, connect to WiFi (with the same router and subnet as your PC)
5) Start the client app on Android. Add a wifi pin # when prompted.
review Settings for syncing (turn off Google sync, for example)
6) Start the desktop app on you PC. Enter the PIN when prompted (it asked once). Review File, Settings. Autodetect worked fine for me.
Review Settings, esp in Sync:
For Contacts, set to Thunderbird, then click Advanced. Select the Address Books you want synced. For example, you may NOT want Collected Addresses on your phone.
The => symbol marks the default Address Book where new Phone Contacts will be added to Thunderbird. You may want a new address book for that purpose.
The program automatically loaded some Contacts from Thunderbird right away but not always what I wanted. Thus I set it to Sync Thunderbird > Phone only at first. After setting which address books and resyncing, it cleaned up the ones I didn’t want. Before it syncs, review the changes being made. Don’t let it delete phone contacts you want, etc. Select the contact to see the 2 options.
After it synced the right Address Books, I changed it back to sync both ways. I found there was a little cleaning up to do. A few of my Thunderbird Contacts didn’t have First & Last Names, for example, so didn’t display right on the phone. And I use Groups in Android Contacts. Not all of those where set per the Thunderbird Address books. Finally, Android has a Main phone number setting not used by Thunderbird, so that doesn’t sync. Change those to Work or whatever and all will be well. After a little back and forth and resyncing, I had them matching and synced.
Again, set Thunderbird and click Advanced. You can sync Events and/or Tasks. Again as a test, I synced to phone only at first, then both ways.
Tune the sync range. You probably don’t need years of events on your phone. Time Period allows you to control it. You can also set if private events are synced.
Thereafter, Connect & Disconnect the phone using F1 on the Desktop
Then select Contacts or Calendar and click the Sync button. Review the changes and OK.
Now you have your Contacts matching and have your Calendar with you.
You’ll find the best results by entering most data in Thunderbird and syncing. Android apps are simplified, so will do things like put the entire street address on one line. But it’s still handy to save new phone numbers and sync those with the desktop.
I began micro-loaning with Kiva in 2008 and have written various articles on the subject. I’ve now given 24 loans in 17 countries. In one case, the local lending organization failed, impacting the loan repayment. In another, there was a small loss due to currency exchange values. But the rest of the loans have been doing fine – farmers, students, grocers, groups, and more. A small infusion has kept the process going and slightly expanded the number of loans I can make. The cost for me has been tiny compared to the impact. As the funds are repaid, I reloan them.
Kiva has recently released a video showing their history. It also gives a sense of it’s impact. This is a better repayment rate than in the west.
Tags: privacy, Security, settings, upgrade, Windows
If you’re using Windows 8, the free upgrade to Windows 10 is an obvious choice. Some describe it as what Win8 should have been in the first place. Windows 7 is a bigger jump but unless your hardware isn’t up for it, upgrading while it’s free may be a good idea. I waited for the dust to settle and the bugs to be fixed. But now, the end of the free upgrade period is coming July 29. Experts say it’s unlikely to be extended. If you’re considering it, it’s time to make your move and avoid a last-minute crunch.
If you’ve already upgraded, you may find the Protection section and below worth reviewing.
Usually, I install a fresh version of a new operating system so I’m starting from a clean slate without historical problems. But this requires reinstalling all the software and making all the settings changes from scratch. Because Win10 is a smaller change and my Win8 installs are newer, I opted for the free upgrade.
You first want to update Windows fully.
And update your major software to ensure it’s current & compatible with Win10. You may find PSI useful. I had a problem with several things hanging after the upgrade. Turns out I needed to install a new version of my Antivirus tool. I had thought it’s version was current but it turned out not to be.
Next create a full image of your operating system – the update gives you the choice to revert but if something goes wrong, you want to be able to get back to where you started. I had trouble with Windows backup on my tablet. It wouldn’t accept any of the media options that where available. Macrium Reflect (free) allowed me to choose a large thumb drive and get the job done.
For Windows upgrade, you can download the tool to start the upgrade process here. This is preferable to using the “Get Windows 10” tool Microsoft has pushed on many computers.
If you’d like a fresh install, you can get the media creation tool here. It has DVD and thumb-drive options. But you’ll need a prior Win10 activation. To get that, you first have to Upgrade to Win10, then Activate, and then you can wipe the drive and install fresh. When you come to activate that, Microsoft will recognize a valid install on the same system. Fred Langa goes into details here. (paid content)
The install software first spends time checking your system and downloading the upgrade files. This can be done while you continue to work. When the time comes for the actual upgrade, a lunch break would be optimum.
I upgraded a hybrid tablet and a custom desktop system. Both went smoothly and retained most of my customization and settings.
As the install is completing, it will ask you to log in to your Microsoft account. If you had been using a PIN or similar, be sure to have your original password ready.
Next you get the “Get Going Fast” screen – don’t. Click the tiny Customize link in the lower left and review some of the default settings. If you want some privacy, you’ll want to turn a lot of the initial settings off. Also the default apps if you already have programs you prefer.
After more processing, it will bring you to the desktop. Most of it should look about the same.
If you were using a third-party start menu, it will probably have been turned off. Microsoft told me twice Classic Shell had been “removed” but it wasn’t uninstalled, just tuned off.
For some reason, System Protection is turned off by default. In Control Panel, System, System Protection, turn on System Protection for your boot drive, set the space at about 2% and create a Restore point. Details. This gives you the ability to roll back if an update causes trouble. Windows Updates are now only automatic so this is important.
Windows key-X will give you a quick menu to access various admin functions, including Control Panel. Or right-click the Start menu icon.
Three areas that need attention are the new variation of the Start menu, Search, and Settings. We’ll look at Settings first.
Continuing in the trend of Win8, Windows 10 has settings in 2 places – Control Panel and the Settings app. The second is accessed by the Gear icon in the Start menu. You’ll want to review each area as some of the default settings are less than desirable.
If you travel a lot and want to share settings across devices, want to use mostly MS products, and want to share everything with Microsoft and the world, you may be happy with the default settings. If not, spend a bit of time reviewing them. This will also give you a better sense of what Win10 offers and what you can control.
Most in here are fine. You may want to review Notifications.
Offline Maps may be useful for you if you need map access where Internet service is lacking. But the maps are large files. If they don’t finish downloading before you reboot, you have to start again.
By default, it has Windows manage your default printer, based on the one you used last. I turned that off. My printer was off during the update and was not on the list. When I turned it on and asked it to search for new printers, it said there was none but added the printer meantime.
It’s notable Windows now tracks your data usage like a cell phone.
If you have wireless, in WiFi, Manage WiFi settings, turn off the automated connection options. You want to manage what hotspots you connect to, not your Contacts, etc. And why would you want where you connect being shared like this?
I found that Windows retained my prior settings but the accent colour didn’t look as good.
You may want to tweak the Local Screen settings.
Start is where you adjust the Start menu. If you use default Windows locations for your music and such, you can control which folders are displayed.
If you don’t plan to sync settings on multiple devices, turn off Sync. Key to understand here is it’s all synced through your Microsoft account on-line. That’s not exactly privacy.
You will need to keep your MS account but can add and use a Local account so you’re not obliged to sign in to Microsoft (and be connected to the Internet) whenever you’re using your computer. Of course, the later is required for some features.
To create a Local account, go to Family and Other Users: look for ‘I don’t have this persons sign-in’ and add a User without a MS account.
For security, it’s not recommended you do regular computing in an Admin account. One way to avoid loosing your personalizations is to create a new Admin user, then log into it and change the original account to Regular. You’ll need the Admin password to make changes but it prevents malware from running accidentally.
It was also recommended to create a 2nd Admin account as backup, in case the first gets corrupted.
Time and Ease
Worth browsing to see what’s here.
This is the big one. Your Advertising ID? There are a series of sections to go over, including which apps can access your personal data. If you don’t use the App, you can turn it off.
Updates are always automatic in Windows 10 Home. In Windows Update, Advanced options, change the setting to Notify. Otherwise it may reboot your computer to update while you’re working.
Some have suggested you can control updates by setting your connection to Metered. But that’s canceled whenever you connect to a new network.
Click Cortana in the Taskbar (by the Start menu), then the Settings icon and turn off online. Otherwise, everything you search for on your computer is also searched on Bing and tracked. Don’t know about you, but I don’t expect to find my work files on the Internet. I also find it more useful to use a browser to search on-line. I can also then use the search engine of my choice. You may want to turn off Cortana reminders at the top too.
You can also change the space it takes – an icon may be fine. For that, right-click the Taskbar, select Search, and then box, icon, or hidden.
As usual, there’s some junk in the Start menu to unpin. I prefer desktop programs over almost any of the apps. Once you clean out the “Get Office” etc, the right side is more manageable. You may also find you can make the tiles smaller. If you’re not on a touchscreen, the big tiles just take up space.
I find the lack of a Programs folder view annoying. The All Apps alphabetical view is much less useful as I group related programs in folders. But I was happy to see you can right click and Uninstall the undesirables.
At first I found some weird things on the list, like program Help links rather than just executables. But that seems to have sorted itself out. However, if you open folders, it shows everything in all the sub-folders together, including files like “legal” & “readme”. It doesn’t show which program they’re associated with. They apparently assumed no one organizes their Start Menu.
You can browse the alpha list and Pin your more commonly used programs, or create a folder with shortcuts for them and make that a new Toolbar (from the Taskbar). Woody shares many other tricks here.
I’ll have to decide how I will organize the Start menu – break programs out of groups? That will make the list vastly longer and require I remember the right name (Office? Microsoft Office?). Or use a third-party Start menu? The free Classic Shell still works for Windows 10 and is great for hierarchical menus. The exploration continues.
I’ve been a fan of the Android smartphone platform, partly because of it’s roots in Linux. But I have to say that Google’s behaviour has me questioning that, treating their users as a commodity to be monetized. Not that the other platforms are above this. Some of the worst aspects of the modern Internet have become concentrated on the cell platform. The “swiss army knife” of telephones becomes a Truman Show experiment.
Google is in a major conflict of interest around advertising. Junk web sites have proliferated with their ad model and they highlight them in search results. Ads get more hits but search results get much less useful. Witness the growth of services like DuckDuckGo that allow you to use Google with less of the manipulation.
But on Android, you’re in Google world so it’s everywhere. When you browse apps in the Play store, the “Recommended” free ones can be some of the worst offenders and there’s no way to filter them out. Reviews are almost useless and some are gamed.
I’ve found myself adding apps like QuickPic (photo gallery) and AIMP (music) to avoid the pushy Google apps you can’t remove.
In the history of computer games, there has been a long record of shareware, trialware and freeware. The last became almost ubiquitous on Linux. But in the Android variant, it’s all about advertising. On the PC platform, it would be called Adware, considered by some to be malware.
This became highlighted for me when I installed a paid anti-malware app on my cell phone, the mobile ESET. ESET includes a review of app security. I was surprised by some of what I’d OKed. One of the worst turned out to be a flashlight app – evidently many of them are rife with user tracking. For a high-rated flashlight?
Apparently, as a way to promote development on the Android platform, Google has been promoting advertising for income. It is certainly fair for developers to earn money for their work. But the implementation has often been at the expense of the user and their experience. A great program spoiled by pop-ups and appalling ads. Part of the game becomes where to click to close the latest interruption. Not to mention reporting your cell phone activity.
On the web, I don’t mind advertising such as you see in magazines and print (aside from “native advertising“). But they didn’t leave it there – many sites went over the top with pop-ups, pop-unders, flashing text, video, and sound. The ads are often obnoxious or inappropriate and they load tracking beacons. I was obliged to turn the deluge off with Adblock Plus and related browser plug-ins. But turning down the volume is not so straightforward when it’s built into the platform.
To add insult, all of this cell advertising is using your paid data. When the ads include video, they can soak up an amazing amount of bandwidth. If you’re using a basic plan, you really DON’T want your apps using up your data.
Sure, some (but not all) will use wireless if available. But generally, I’m using games during a commute, in a waiting room or some such where wireless is not an option. And if it is, do I want to go to the trouble of connecting to a public hot spot just for the ads? And further, you’re now sharing user information on a public network.
This kind of activity also uses your battery charge up much faster than simply playing the game. Pretty lame to have your phone die over ads.
In summary – some of the motivation against using ad-supported free games:
– low quality ads: obnoxious and inappropriate ads the feature nudity, violence and fake warnings. It surprises me legitimate companies put themselves into this mix.
– heavy data usage by ads, especially video
– heavy power usage by ads
– gamed reviews – app reviews are largely useless and some apps game them by asking you to recommend them after a few levels, then they turn on all the crap.
– Play Store “recommended” apps are some of the worst offenders
– tracking of user activity, data, and calls – just watch those permissions when you install. Does this app need access to your call records, etc? Just say no.
– hidden payware where you have to pay to continue the “free” game
I’m sure many of you have experienced other tricks too
If you’re looking for high quality games to play as a pastime, I’d suggest looking for real reviews and buying them. But if you’re looking for a few apps to amuse you while waiting somewhere, you want simple and ad free.
Here is a list of free games I’ve found that are currently free of ads and obnoxious permissions. Quality is a little mixed but I enjoy a few of them. You can find them in the Play store.
Frozen Bubble (bubble matching)
OpenSudoku (you can download other games free)
ShokoRocket (maze game)
Simple Missile Defense
There was a great Solitaire game I used to use but they went advertising badly. Not aware of one now.
If you have any of your own suggestions, let us know in comments. No promotions, please.
Tags: ebooks, editing, writing
Writing a book or other long form project isn’t just the writing. It’s also the editing, the publishing and the marketing. Few who start a book project ever produce a complete manuscript. And fewer of those get through the next hurdles. There’s a good reason why many never get it out there.
In these days of self-publishing and ebooks, many more have the chance to get their works published in some form. But without a publisher, too many are skipping some of the steps. Too many titles have gotten into distribution channels without decent editing. That brings down the whole market.
While word processing software has spell and grammar checking built in, this is not “editing”. It only handles some basic kinds of typos.
Traditional publishers will take a manuscript through 4 or more rounds of editing specialists. But you at least want a Substantive Editor to look at the structure, flow, and the coherence of the work and a Copy Editor to take a closer look at word use and proofread the niggly details. You may also need fact checking.
Recently, more advanced editing software has become available that can help with copy editing. You have to go through each suggested edit to make sure it’s valid, but it can cover a lot of the worst mistakes before you have real eyes on the work. That can make the copy editor’s job much easier.
Most of these tools are web services with a subscription model – you pay annually for access via the web. Sometimes, the tools have Word or other add-ins that bring the interface into your software. Some work only with Word.
A few also offer plagiarism services that check if you’ve copied off outside sources. In other words – a really bad idea. Checking has become easy and cheap so always quote your sources. It can also flag if you have potential sections where you might run into similarity problems later. Plus, the tool may help source your quotes.
I looked at various articles and reviews. Many pointed to a batch of similarly priced tools.
Grammarly often topped the pack but there was sometimes overt advertising influence. Personal reviews were more mixed and there were a lot of reports of unresolved over-billing or being billed for the free trial. Plagiarism checking is included.
WhiteSmoke seemed decent but the setup wasn’t as useful for me. Their web site looks to be infected, so I’m not linking them. One reviewer linked instead to another supplier, suggesting a long term problem.
CorrectEnglish looked decent. But all of these tools are over $100. That can become competitive with a copy editors rates if your primary need is one work.
Then I found a couple of writers blogs like Karen’s that suggested others. Further research showed all where positive about them.
The key one: ProWritingAid – you can actually use their on-line tool for free for a batch of smaller works but you have to manually make the suggested edits in your work. I ran a recently posted article though it and was surprised how many mistakes it found. Doh! For $35 a year, you can do longer works and edit right in the text, then transfer the updates back. If you use Word or Google Docs, they have an add-in to edit right in the doc. WordPress too. For $5 more you get plagiarism checking.
They also have a decent blog talking about the industry, even inviting comparisons with similar products. And their Twitter feed is full related links, author articles, etc. They’re clearly into it.
Karen’s link above also mentioned the free (in beta) EditMinion. It only does small parts but does catch slightly different things. She suggested you use this first, then ProWritingAid.
She also mentioned a great tool if you’re writing non-fiction. WritingHouse gives you a free tool for assembling a Bibliography in the right format with all the little details.
Note that you have to resist the urge to get into fancy formatting of your work prematurely. That can get butchered by the editing process. Formatting comes after you have a polished draft. Plus the style of formatting will depend on your eventual publishing medium. Default word processing format is usually for 8.5 x 11″ paper. That’s useful for a PDF at best. Book formatting is quite distinct and digital ebooks and web publishing are each their own worlds. A carefully formatted print PDF looks terrible on an ebook reader, for example. Ebooks have to be able to flow into their viewing container.
When you get to this point, I’ve found the book Zero Cost Self Publishing by Stephen Norton useful. It’s a step-by-step how-to for print and the primary ebook distributors. And then there is the exploding world market for ebooks in other languages. Why stick with N. America when you can be a best-seller in China?
Long form writing, whatever the final output, is quite the process. We can all use a little help at different parts of the journey.
Douglas Coupland, the GenX author and artist recently had a “wildly popular” art show at Vancouver’s premier gallery, the VAG. It’s full of cultural memes, explored with some humour. This included a giant cast head of himself, onto which the public was invited to stick pieces of gum.
(not sure that exactly encourages respect for public art but…)
Google has memorialized it in their “Collections” and sent in a Street View team… On this site, you can browse some sample images to the right, click Exhibits for more of an explanatory slide show or, on the left, click Street View and browse the galleries themselves. A virtual gallery walk. Keep an eye on the left map to help with directions. I can’t say the directional controls were as intuitive as a usual Street View, but it’s an interesting application of it.
The top menu bar also allows you to browse over 600 other galleries collections, plus some “User Galleries”, apparently assemblies of artwork by users.
There is a new service developing in Canada called Koho. They’re a “technology company delivering a banking experience” rather than being a bank. Yet the money is deposited with a credit union, so is secured and insured in the usual way.
They use a debit-style prepaid credit card, processed through a credit union. But unlike cards like the BMO one I discussed here, this one will have no fees. (other than for things like cheque processing) They’ll use the standard merchant transaction fees to support the business, much as Interac does.
They’ll also donate to chosen causes from your transaction activity automatically. It’s targeting young people with web and mobile apps for saving and managing money. They describe it like Mint, but with the functionality built into your account.
If you’re used to a full-service bank, it may not be your style. But if you have an active life that is technology-supported, it may be a big improvement. They suggest they’ll be the most affordable banking in Canada.
Check out the FAQ page for details. Pretty interesting.
The only downside I can see is it means signing for transactions, unlike a true debit card. In fact, it cuts the non-profit Interac (debit) system out of the loop. But I’ve certainly found using a travel card much simplifies those kinds of transactions.
Social media is an interesting bird. On the one hand, it’s connecting us globally as never before. It has helped facilitate the Arab Spring and Occupy movements plus many flash mobs. It reconnects us with old friends and makes distances and differences grow smaller.
On the flip side, it’s no replacement for a social life. It depersonalizes social connection and creates false communities. Facebook discovered that users watching “friends” all-positive feeds were getting depressed. They ran experiments to manipulate users moods with fake friends data.
Many free services are funded by advertising. Companies discovered that with better user tracking, they could offer their advertisers more targeted ads. The experiment has largely been a failure but rather than backing off, there has been a sharp increase in the level of tracking. More and more services are being cross-linked and more and more companies are sharing their user data to enhance tracking. While companies have to respect your email address by law, they can do what they like with your activity data. It makes big news when hackers breach security on your purchase data but when they announce another massive data sharing agreement you didn’t approve, you don’t hear a peep.
Another trend is to consolidate services such as at Google, Microsoft, and Apple. This is being driven by the desire to consolidate user data from all services. They’re not interlinking YouTube, GMail, Search, Calendar plus your various accounts for your convenience. If you also use the Chrome browser and have an Android phone, I think you’d be a little startled how much information is being gathered about you. It’s much the same with other services. Facebook invites you to “friend” businesses so your purchasing activity gets added. They actively share info with data consolidation businesses. Did you also let them load your address book? There’s a big reason the government is making record requests of such businesses for user data.
Myself, I don’t think it’s a big deal if a web site knows a little about it’s visitors. Most sites, including this one, track what pages visitors view and how many things they click. Did you look at 3 pages or 5? If you make a comment, they record your IP address. (do you really think comments are anonymous?) Many also subscribe to get notices of new articles. But those are typically managed separately. Subscribers are not tied to page reads or comments here. Newsletters similarly track opens and clicks to see what people respond to but they don’t track web activity.
It may not seem like much when you talk about your dog here, chat about work there, put up a dating profile here, share pictures there, and so forth. But taken together, there is a massive library about many people on-line. It becomes information you often no longer own or control. Plus it can be used against you in court.
If you check out archive.org, you realize a lot of it never goes away even if you close your account or shut down your web site. The Wayback Machine now stores almost half a trillion web pages, including the first version of my original web site and comments I made on a tech site over a decade ago. Facebook doesn’t delete closed accounts. And so on.
The issue arises because this user data is not being used in a respectful way. And it’s being kept. Users are seen as objects to be manipulated. Government efforts to access this data, that they can’t legally collect themselves, is encouraging a new trend – moving the data off-shore to avoid local regulations. The players all have vested interests in expanding the collection.
It’s most prolific form is now on smart phones, the leading edge of device proliferation. Thousands of apps for your phone and many of the recommended ones want excess permissions. Why does a game need your address book and call list? User data.
And this brings us to a new feature of this site.
As I discussed back in the Plug-in section of setting up a blog, there are three types of social sharing on a typical blog:
1 – Feeding new articles to your social media sites
2 – Offering the buttons to connect with you through the social media sites you use
3 – Offering the buttons to share your article with the social media sites readers use
The last is often the most visible. Below, beside or above many articles is a row of sharing buttons. These allow users to easily click the service of choice and share your article with others.
However, the tools used to provide this sharing are of 2 camps. On one side are services that simply refer the user to their account on the social site. On the other are services that track this process. In other words, they make money from tracking your site visitor activity in exchange for a free service. The shady part is they don’t usually bother to tell you that.
Unlike other features on my main site, social sharing has been one of the more problematic. I’ve tried quite a few tools but they’ve all typically had issues.
Such tools require constant updates due to regular changes to various services. The simple ones I tried often lacked many services, were out of date and thus partly broken, and/or tended to have bugs. The ones that were updated and working well typically included tracking – that’s how they’re funded.
For example, the service I originally used had many service links, was low key and promised no tracking. But with no budget, it gradually went down hill. The next one was was simple and lightweight but wasn’t getting updated or fixed. I couldn’t configure it how I was supposed to be able to and support questions went unanswered. Another very popular one is prone to bog down your site.
During another round of research, I tried another decent one but it was showing in places I didn’t want and it uses a List item structure (even though not a list). This caused it to inherit the themes List settings inappropriately. Again, no fix available.
I then discovered the potential of AddtoAny. It allows you to select the number of displayed icons, select a range of looks, and has a sub-menu with dozens more social media services. When I made suggestions to improve a recent update, they quickly came back with an even better option.
In checking it’s background, I found they also offer the service for web sites and many other platforms like Blogger, Typepad, Joomla. The big surprise though was one for free WordPress.com, like this site. The free WP.com doesn’t have a plug-in architecture so few such services are available for it. You get what WordPress offers. In this case it adds a few settings to Settings, Sharing. It lacks the customization of a full plug-in and it appears removing all enabled services would be the only way to “remove” it. But it’s a pretty big improvement for a free blog. The only bug I’ve seen so far is its not showing on the most recent posts. Just ones a bit older. Odd, that.
The big issue it raises is user tracking. The full plug-in shares data with your Google Analytics but the company itself tracks much more. Some of these sharing services even track activity on your site, even if a reader doesn’t click on a share icon. Just loading the plugin does it.
While they don’t bother to tell you this, it becomes very obvious if you use a browser plug-in like DoNotTrackMe. Personally, I found the plug-in overzealous and it blocked too much functionality, but it certainly gives you a sense of how much user tracking is going on. You might be surprised how much tracking your own web site is doing without your knowledge. Larger sites commonly have numerous entities, all tracking users.
This page offers another illustration of how far it’s gone. It will show you how many member companies are tracking you. And this is only member companies. They check the tracking of hundreds of companies on your computer in a few minutes. The irony is that if you use an Ad Blocking plug-in (like AdBlock Plus), you don’t see the ads (whew) but they’re still tracking you. I talk about other safe browsing tools here.
Advertising does support many free services but targeted advertising has been crossing a line. They say they’re not tracking user-identifiable information but often that’s bullocks. The more they track and the more they compare notes, the bigger the picture they have of you. Would the government be asking them for records if there wasn’t traceable data?
In the meantime, it’s a balancing act. Providing the service and convenience on the one hand and trying to mitigate the abuse on the other. You can’t really avoid it. If you’re going to use the web and email and social media, you’ll be interacting with others who are being tracked.
Be aware and safe surfing.
In a recent article, tech author Fred Langa pointed out an issue you may have run into. Search engines like Google rank web sites partly by popularity. Pages with a lot of incoming links often show higher in search rankings than others.
We might assume this is because they contain the best information. However, I’m sure you’ve noticed junk sites on the first page of your search results. Some of this is from useless sites cross-linking each other to increase Google ad hits. Google is trying to fight that now, creating problems for other sites that cross-reference each other through Guest posts and promotions. But that’s another subject.
There’s another surprising way sites rise in the ranks – bad reviews. For example, if you alert people to a scam, fraud or other questionable kind of business, those links will improve that sites search engine ranking over time. That will increase the number of people being exposed to them, defeating the point of your calling them out.
DoNotLink is a creative solution. If you want to link to a site that has issues, paste the link into their web site and they’ll give you a short URL. A short URL that is not tracked by search engines. (using server settings)
It’s a free service like other URL shorteners. If you ever want to share a link that you DON’T want to promote, DoNotLink is the easy fix.
And of course you never want to link to sites with infections. Naming them is quite enough.