Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Facebook unveils simpler new privacy controls

Well, the Facebook guys have unveiled their new privacy settings -- the simpler, more common-sense ones aimed at answering their many critics who accused them of trying to move too much personal information into the public realm.

Facebook heard, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement on the company's blog, and now Facebook is taking action. He rolled out a three-point plan. It says, in essence:

--There will be a single control to set who can see content you post. It will apply to new products Facebook launches going forward, so no need to have to figure all this out again. (Hallelujah!)

--They're reducing the amount of basic personal information that must be visible to everyone, and they're removing the connections privacy model, which automatically linked personal information like your hometown or work history or hobbies to other public pages on those subjects.

--They're creating an easy control to turn off all third-party applications. That includes turning off the "instant personalization" feature that stirred so much fuss. That would have allowed other sites, such as radio site Pandora, to look at your Facebook page and use your personal information (hobbies, habits, tastes) to customize its offerings to you.

Unless I missed it, one important thing the blog post doesn't seem to say: whether the most restrictive privacy settings will apply by default in all cases, allowing you to go to greater openness only if you so choose.

Without that, it would seem Facebook is leaving out one critical piece of the puzzle. Just my initial thoughts here. Read Zuckerberg's blog post and let me know what you think. Are they doing enough to satisfy your concerns?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Waitress fired for Facebook rant says no more publicity

Well, my little story in Monday's paper about former Charlotte Brixx pizza waitress Ashley Johnson sure did cause a stir.

The article about Johnson, who got fired after ranting about a bad tipper on Facebook, seems to have touched a nerve with readers. Well over 300 commented online. Some said she shouldn't have vented about her employer on Facebook. Others said Brixx's action was too drastic.

They weren't the only readers interested. The story seems to have gone viral, running on sites ranging from the Boston Herald's to Australia's Sky News to London's Daily Telegraph. Fox News and Inside Edition have asked to interview Johnson, not to mention several local TV and radio stations.

But Johnson, who initially contacted the Observer about her firing, told me in an e-mail last night that she has been stunned by the publicity and is reluctant to say anything else. She seemed a little hurt by some of the negative things people have said about her.

"I don't want to address the situation anymore," she wrote. "I'm getting more bad publicity than I ever dreamed of."

It seems with Facebook becoming a part of daily life in the digital age, everyone with a job and a boss fears writing the wrong thing in an unguarded moment. Johnson's story, I think, resonated at least in part because of those reasons. As one lawyer told me, it's best to think of your Facebook posts the same way you'd think of standing on a street corner with a sign and a Sharpie. If you wouldn't write it on the sign for fear of your boss hearing about it, don't write it on Facebook.

Note: Johnson's not the only waitress who has vented about bad tips online. Facebook has an entire page devoted to just that, with wait staff dishing out horror stories (and insults) aplenty. Warning to the faint of heart (or wallet) -- some of it's pretty brutal stuff...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can 'startup culture' catch fire in Charlotte?

Ben Vandgrift, a software developer, has done the Big Company thing.

He worked for IBM and Sun Microsystems. He even worked for the Charlotte Observer. But a few years ago, he decided to go solo. His current project, a dating website called Flowmingle, hasn't exactly put on the run, though. He's considering revisions.

Though life as a tech entrepreneur has its headaches, he doesn't sound like he's going back to Corporate anytime soon.

"It's so incredibly liberating," he said. "Once you get bitten by that bug, where instead of working on other people's vision you're working on your own, it's very hard to shake."

And these days, with big companies shedding employees, many smart people are finding themselves with skills in search of a market. Often, they turn to freelancing. Vandgrift is hoping he can help people like that through his latest venture, Start Charlotte (@StartCLT on Twitter).

He and his partners are taking an office space suite at the Area Fifteen business incubator in Optimist Park and turning it into a membership-driven co-working hub. They hope to attract freelance Web designers, software developers and other creative tech types. It's still a work in progress, but he hopes eventually he'll have enough members to leverage the kind of discounted group rates corporations enjoy for services such as health insurance or accounting.

That, he argues, would leave the members free to create and collaborate, and hopefully, form the kind of startup culture that breeds innovative companies like Google or Facebook. Beats working from home, he says. "Some people can handle working off of the couch for eight hours a day. I can't."

Interested? Drop by Area Fifteen at 15th Street and North Davidson on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., when Vandgrift and his collaborators will be holding an open house. Or you can visit the Start Charlotte's website or e-mail Vandgrift at

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why black folks love Twitter

Study after study keeps showing it: African Americans love Twitter. One of the latest comes in the form of an Edison Research study of more than 1,700 people. The study says about 25 percent of all Twitter users are African American. That's nearly double the percentage of black people in the nation's general population.

Translation: the Twittersphere is disproportionately black. But why? The Business Insider blog offered a few ideas:

  • Blacks and Latinos are more likely to access the Internet from mobile devices, and Twitter lends itself better to mobile usage.
  • Black celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal and P. Diddy use Twitter heavily, and rank among its most followed accounts.
  • Twitter's most popular among 25-34 year olds, and the median age of African Americans is 30 years old (at least according to the 2000 Census).
Those are just some thoughts. I'm going to do a story on this for the newspaper, and would love any thoughts, feedback or insight you guys might want to offer. Shoot me a tweet or e-mail me at