Social Software

“You have an Angry Mob invitation!” mock-up

For the second time in a week, a group of Canadian Facebook users may have broken the law by publishing the names of youths charged under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act. This law puts limitations on the publication of the identity of people charged under it; the basis for this is that revealing their names would be detrimental to rehabilitation and to public safety. The publication ban also applies to the identities of victims and witnesses in cases where people are charged under the act. There are exceptions to this gag order, such as in cases where the crime is transferred to adult court or if the youth court has found the accused guilty and imposed an adult sentence.

It happened with the first homicide of the year here in Toronto, in the case of a 14-year-old girl who was murdered on New Year’s Day. While newspapers, TV and radio stations and their associated websites complied with a 24-hour ban forbidding the publication of the victim’s name, some Toronto Facebook users created a memorial group in which both the victim and her two accused killers — a 17-year-old boy and 15-year-old — were named. The group was created by a 16-year-old who said “felt entitled to ‘pay attention’ to someone who was special to him and who had no idea he might have been violating the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

It happened again, this time in Alberta, where the names of four teenage boys accused of microwaving a cat to death were published in a Facebook group. Reactions were (understandably) harsh, with posted comments like “I think people like that should be shot”, “They will all get their faces smashed in by January 6th” and ” would say these monsters should be tortured, let society at them”.

These appear to be cases where technology has entered a grey area with the law. Referring to the case of the 14-year-old murdered in Toronto, a Toronto area constable said that “It’s a very good question if the people who post things on Facebook are actually breaking the YCJA. I guess it all boils down to whether Facebook is eventually determined by somebody that it is a publication.” In the story on the Alberta boys who accused of killing the cat, a British Columbia lawyer is of the opinion that the YCJA was broken and — as even someone at their first day of law school will tell you — ignorance of the law is no excuse.

My own opinion is that posting things online, whether in a blog, social network site, wiki or any other public online forum, is publication, even if you’re not doing it professionally. If online publishing gives you at least the same potential audience and reach as a city newspaper, then as an online publisher, you also have the same legal and ethical responsibilities that a city newspaper has.

Luckily for me, I worked at Crazy Go Nuts University’s main student newspaper, where we got brief on Canadian law and journalism and benefited from having one of the Globe and Mail’s lawyers do a regular Q&A session with us. I may not be able to quote chapter and verse of Canadian journo law, but I think I’ve can do a decent job at “sniff testing” to see if a posting will get me in legal hot water. I think that a number of bloggers — people who post articles on a regular basis — have made themselves familiar with the legal aspects of blogging, although I’m sure a number haven’t. Things can get hairy on online forums like Facebook, which is made for people who don’t publish regularly but do want some kind of online presence. On these places, users probably don’t think of themselves as publishers and might be unaware that they’re opening themselves up to charges of libel, defamation or violating the YCJA.

Paging Canadian lawyers who specialize in the internet — fellow neighbourhoodie Rob Hyndman, and friend-by-correspondence Michael Geist, I’m lookin’ at you! Do you know of any places where a Canadian blogger or Facebook user can find out more about the law and online publsihing?

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Unwitting Facebook Spokesmodels

by Joey deVilla on January 2, 2008

If you’re going to become a fan of a business on Facebook, you’d better make sure that your profile photo is a good one — you might end up as that company’s unwitting spokesmodel!

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Can Social Networking Co-Exist with the Workplace?

by Joey deVilla on December 19, 2007

I’ve filed it in my “to read” list and forwarded it to a number of other people at TSOT (we make social software): a ZDNet article titled Can Social Networking Co-Exist with the Workplace?.

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Cover of the book “RailsSpace”Today marks the start of my fourth week at TSOT, a Toronto-based startup that develops custom social networking software in Ruby on Rails. The company’s first two products are FraternityLive and SororityLive, which as you might imagine are targeted at fraternities and sororities, with future plans for creating similar apps for other fields.

I was hired primarily for my tech evangelism cred and broad development experience (Visual Basic, Python, PHP, Director and Java from the rough-and-tumble Java 1.2 days) rather than for experience with Rails, on which I’d done only a little spare-time noodling. This means that a good chunk of my time during this first month on the job has been split between getting familiar with Rails as well as TSOT’s apps.

Just before my first day at TSOT, I went down to Boston to join my in-laws for American Thanksgiving. While there, I decided to take advantage of the strong Canadian dollar and Thanksgiving weekend sales to do a little job-related book shopping. Although I had the PDF edition of Apress’ Practical Rails Social Networking Sites, I was pleased to stumble across another book on building social networking apps in Rails: Addison Wesley’s RailsSpace: Building a Social Networking Site with Ruby on Rails. I figured that if I find a book that covers the sort of development work that I’m about to start, I should buy it on the spot (after a quick skim of the book while in the store, of course).

Of all the books I’ve read on Rails development, this one’s my current favourite. Yes, there’ll always be a special place for Agile Web Development with Rails, but I have to say that I like the pacing, ordering of topics and the presentation of material in RailsSpace a little bit better. I like the way that authors Michael Hartl and Aurelius Prochazka take a slightly different approach to teaching Rails, from going with a social networking app rather than a “store” app to their clever visualization of Rails’ directories as a pie chart, shown below:

Rails directories, laid out in pie chart format
Graph adapted from RailsSpace
and borrowed from Weblog of Fernando Reig Matthies.

So take it from a guy who’s paying his rent by working on Rails social networking apps: if you have some development experience under your belt and are looking to pick up Rails in a hurry (or if you’re looking for a gift for someone who needs to learn Rails in a hurry) I recommend:

Here’s what other folks have to say about the book:

  • Review at Amazon.com by Charles Harvey: My favorite of the Ten Ruby and Rails Books on my desk — “The authors’ programming style(s) are easy to read while following and teaching the Ruby/Rails community practices. The book uses output examples after each snippet of code so you can follow along not wondering if what you just did worked.

    The example app you produce while working through RailsSpace is not YASNS (Yet Another Social Networking Site) rather a (LBERBPS) Learn by Example Rails Best Practices Site. It was fun for me as I was tired of shopping cart, and book/music store examples.

    I don’t know how to put it into to the right words, but this books code flows.

    I always enjoy the rare book that sets a standard of excellence, and that is what puts this book at the top of my Ruby on Rails Library.”

  • myCATs: An excellent Rails tutorial for the intermediate Rails Programmer — “This book is just plain fun. As the title implies, the focus is on building a social networking site using Ruby on Rails. The depth of knowledge of the authors, Michael Hartl and Aure Prochazka, is evident right from the first chapter. The examples are relevant and well explained, with clean, consice, well-tested and correct code.”
  • Nate Klaiber: RailsSpace review — “I may seem cynical about social networks, but this truly book pays attention to the small details. Building a social network is a great tutorial that covers many aspects of Rails and building your own application – no matter what it is. It has several callout boxes that give more explanation where it is needed. It discusses the importance of testing. It shows the importance of refactoring. All of this comes together to make a great reading experience and knowledge gained. If you are a Rails professional, there might not be a whole lot new for you, but if you are just beginning Rails this is an excellent full-blown tutorial. Even if you don’t want to create a social networking site, the foundation and principles set in this book will give you the knowledge needed to start building your own application.”
  • ComputerWorld: RailsSpace hits the Ruby on Rails learning sweet spot — “…if you’re already a proficient OOP developer — or a beginner who prefers learning by example — RailsSpace offers useful insight into what the Ruby on Rails hoopla is all about.”
  • A.P. Lawrence: RailsSpace — “I liked also that the project paid attention to both looks and ease of use without clouding up with too much detail. The design is simple, but with enough attention paid to presentation to understand how to accomplish that in ROR, and the same is true for niceties like data validation: they do enough to show the concepts without burying us in it.

    The authors also included deliberate mistakes – that is, design deficiencies which you might notice before they get around to pointing out the problem. That’s good too, because often the best way to understand why you need to do something this way is to see what happens when you don’t.”

  • WebChicanery: RailsSpace – The Book — I’m somewhat skeptical of these “build a project and learn” type of book, but this book may be one the the handiest book on Ruby that I’d had a chance to read. The authors approach it was a very pragmatic and structured standpoint, all while explaining some neat steps and additions they’ve thrown in along the way.”

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It’s Complicated

by Joey deVilla on December 10, 2007

Here’s the most recent XKCD comic:

“Couple” comic from XKCD (December 10, 2007)
Click the comic to see it at full size on its original page.

It reminded me of an idea I had for a simple Facebook app. It would go through your entire list of friends, and send a “please explain” message to anyone who had their relationship listed as “it’s complicated”.

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Want an Invitation to Join Pownce? I’ve Got 10.

by Joey deVilla on July 29, 2007

Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose sitting on a couch with their laptops, drinking beer.
Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose, two of the people behind Pownce.
Photo taken from the New York Times.

“JUST now, the hottest startup in Silicon Valley — minutely examined by bloggers, panted after by investors — is Pownce,” says the New York Times article A Social-Networking Service with a Velvet Rope, “but only a chosen few can try out its Web site.”

If after reading the article, you have that empty feeling inside — a feeling that can be filled only by a Pownce membership — I may have just what you need. I’ve got 10 invitations to Pownce! Be one of the first ten people to email me at joey [at-sign] globalnerdy [period] com with a request for a Pownce invite and I’ll send one to you after I come back from dinner tonight.

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Your Boss Has “Friended” You. Confirm or Ignore?

by Joey deVilla on July 10, 2007

Would You Like to Confirm Your Boss as Your Friend?

Facebook friend request from “your boss” (played by transgender Jakon Nielsen)
Transgender Jakob Nielsen isn’t my boss, but he thinks he is.

If it’s not one boss, it’s another. If you’re not freaking out because your mom “friended” you on Facebook, there’s still the chance that your boss might, meaning that he or she may be privy to your extracurricular indiscretions. The Wall Street Journal looks at this dilemma in OMG — My Boss Wants to ‘Friend’ Me On My Online Profile.

What you may want to keep in mind if faced with the decision of whether or not to “friend” your boss is that the openness works both ways:

Paul Dyer was always able to hold off his boss’s invitations to party by employing that arms-length response: “We’ll have to do that sometime,” he’d say.

But when his boss, in his 30s, invited Mr. Dyer, 24 years old, to be friends on the social-networking sites MySpace and Facebook, dodging wasn’t so easy. On the one hand, accepting a person’s request to be friends online grants them access to the kind of intimacy never meant for office consumption, such as recent photos of keggers and jibes from friends. (“Still wearing that lampshade?”)

But declining a “friend” request from a colleague or a boss is a slight. So, Mr. Dyer accepted the invitation, then removed any inappropriate or incriminating photos of himself — “I’d rather speak vaguely about them,” he says — and accepted the boss’s invitation.

Mr. Dyer, it turns out, wasn’t the one who had to be embarrassed. His boss had photos of himself attempting to imbibe two drinks at once, ostensibly, Mr. Dyer ventures, to send the message: “I’m a crazy, young party guy.” The boss also wore a denim suit (“I’d never seen anything like it,” Mr. Dyer says) and posed in a photo flashing a hip-hop backhand peace sign.

It was painful to watch. “I hurt for him,” says Mr. Dyer.

My Own Situation

My boss, Leona Hobbs, is my friend on a number of social networks, as is my old boss Ross Rader. The powers that be at Tucows are aware of my blog and read it every now and again; in fact, a lot of the credit to my getting hired has to go to a number of personal blog entries of mine at The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century. Everyone here is aware of my blogs and the goofy stuff I sometimes put in them.

I’m reminded of what someone at the DefCon conference back in 2000 told me. He was a guy who worked at a U.S. military site but whose major was in Marxist Studies. I asked if having how he managed to get a job like his with a degree like his, and he replied by saying that they hired him because he was open about it. Had he tried to keep it a secret, someone could use that secret to blackmail him. I suppose the moral of the story is that if you’ve got a reasonably open-minded boss (and proclivities that aren’t too far out there), openness might be the best policy.

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