A year without Facebook

It's been about a year since I left Facebook, and I'm still glad I did. (I guess there were those thirty years before Facebook existed that I somehow managed without it, too.)

Some observations:

People in my circles generally continue to assume that I've seen their event invitations and life updates on Facebook, and so it's still a regular occurrence that I find out about something well after everyone else, or not at all. This is most annoying when it's something really time sensitive that I would have liked to have been a part of.

Some of my published writings have been shared extensively on Facebook, generating hundreds or even thousands of views on my various websites, but I don't have a way of knowing where that activity is coming from or what kind of conversation it might be generating there. I've had people tell me in person that they saw and liked something via Facebook, which is nice, but of course I wish they'd leave their likes and comments on my site where it's closer to the original writing, visible to the world, and not subject to later deletion by some corporate entity. (This comes up for any social network, not just Facebook, but it tends to be the one generating the most traffic for me.)

I won't make a claim that the hours I've saved by not looking at Facebook have freed me up to accomplish some amazing other thing. I will say that I felt a nice release from the self-created pressure to keep up with my interactions and profile there, and that in turn has contributed to an increase in my overall creative energy for other things.

I had one time where I needed to use the Facebook sharing debugger for a work project. I signed up for a new account to do this, but Facebook clearly found my lack of interest in populating a real-looking profile to be suspicious, and closed down the account soon after. In the end it was faster to ask a colleague with an active account to do the debugging for me and share the results. As I've said before, I think it's ridiculous and irresponsible that Facebook doesn't make that tool available to logged-out users.

I'm still surprised at how many organizations and businesses use Facebook as their one and only place for posting content; some even do it in a way that I just can't see it as a logged-out user, and others don't seem to realize that they're giving Facebook 80% of any screen real estate on the links I can see. I am now much more likely to avoid doing business with or offering my support to these entities if they don't bother offering non-Facebook ways for me to engage.

I've accepted that people will not necessarily seek out the open version of the web on their own. Being off Facebook has reinforced that there are big gaps to close in the user experiences that other tools and services offer (the WordPress/blogging ecosystem not least among them). My own efforts to migrate my content that still exists on other services like Flickr into a digital home that I fully control are slow-going, so I don't expect other people to even bother. Facebook is still the path of least resistance for now.

When the actions of Cambridge Analytica were in the news, it was tempting to feel smug about not being an active Facebook user. But I know they still have tons of information about me that is of value to advertisers and others, and that even as I use browser plugins to try to prevent Facebook from accumulating an even larger profile of my online activity, it is a losing battle until there are larger shifts in the culture and business models of technology companies.

Slides: Growing a Distributed Team

Last night I gave a talk at a local meetup of tech folks about tools, processes and culture involved in growing a distributed/remote team, and how those might help organizations regardless of their structure.

Regular readers of this site would have recognized my remarks as derived from various posts here. It was neat that at least half of the folks in the room were also working remotely for their employers, so we had some good discussion and exchanging of best practices.

The slides from my talk are below. Thanks to everyone who joined in!

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OMG, Best. Post. Evaaar.

HyperboleThese days it feels like hyperbole has completely taken over the world.

Err, that is...well, let me explain.

There's a lot of information being thrown at us all the time (news, entertainment, advertising, status updates), and a near-constant drive to try to make that information compelling, interesting or just weird enough to stand out from all the rest (think cable news, YouTube videos, all of the people making a living on various forms of marketing, political rhetoric).

It's a bit understandable, then, that in our daily communications we are tempted to exaggerate and embellish things. How else will our commentary about how life-changing this bowl of soup is stand out against all of the other commentary about how earth-shattering that coffee drink is or how vitally important that cute baby animal video is??

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Distorted reality

Zilla van den Born's friends and family were enjoying following her trip to South East Asia via her posts on Facebook. Exotic restaurants, temple visits, snorkeling - they all looked like so much fun!

Except they weren't real, and neither was the trip.

“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media, and that we create an online world which reality can no longer meet."

Most people don't work this hard to present a patently false version of reality to their online connections, but social media culture often encourages us to present the best, shiniest version of our reality. (Even reading my post from yesterday about how I spent the last week, I'm realizing that I presented a pretty idyllic narrative when of course there were things that were less than ideal along the way.)

In the midst of sharing silly, fun, whimsical things, it feels important to find ways to make sure our online connections trend toward authenticity and sincerity. And in the cases when online tools don't facilitate genuine connection (whatever that looks like for a given person), maybe we shouldn't invest as much of our time in them at all.

I'll think about that while I ride my unicorn around the rainbow today. Photos coming soon.

Facebook messages autoresponder

I went looking today for tools to create an autoresponder for Facebook's private messaging functions. I try to avoid using Facebook's messaging whenever possible, but that doesn't stop someone who I'm connected to there from sending me a private message, which then most often sits unreplied for weeks or months. Having an autoreply that encouraged message senders to email me instead would save me some time and help make sure the contact attempt got through in a timely manner.

The bottom line is that the options are very limited and I may need to build my own if it feels important enough to pursue. In the meantime I thought I'd post my findings here in case there are others looking for the same, or who have new ideas to share.

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Creating effective proposals

Over the years I've gathered some notes and reminders for myself about what makes a proposal effective, and I thought it might be useful to dump those out here.  This info is mostly geared toward business proposals (pitching to a client, convincing a co-worker, justifying an expenditure, etc.) and other professional uses, but it might be useful for other scenarios too.

Plan

Before you start writing, make sure you have a plan for what you're creating:

  • Approach: is a formal proposal the right approach for this task, or would the people involved benefit more from a more iterative/collaborative/informal approach?
  • Audience: who are you writing the proposal for? What do they already know about the topic? Are they already "on your side" and just need some details worked out, or are you persuading them to change their minds? What other audiences might also see the proposal?
  • Goals: the primary purpose of a proposal is to get your audience's approval. Are you clear on what you're trying to get approval for?
  • Scope: what does your audience need to hear to give their approval? What kinds of information do they NOT need to hear? What will their reaction be?

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An odd jobs list for staff and volunteer engagement

SwansWithin any given business or organization, the ideal is (probably) that everyone working or volunteering there will not only take on all of the tasks and projects that are clearly a part of their recognized role, but that they'll also work on things not necessarily assigned to them but that are still useful to the overall goals of that organization.

If everyone shares the same vision and goals, and everyone participating is sufficiently empowered and inspired to work toward those goals, this ideal can be easy to realize.  There is almost certainly always something else that can be done to support or further the mission of the places we work and volunteer; if there's someone who regularly ends up having some "down time" with "nothing to do" then there's probably something else wrong - with the person's mindset, the structure they are working within, or the organizational culture overall.

In practice, I've found that people have different personalities and personal/work backgrounds that lead them to respond differently to this idea of "working on things that weren't necessarily assigned to me."  For some, it's a no-brainer and they can jump right into that mentality.  For others, it represents a threshold of riskiness and potential for failure that they may not be willing to cross: "If it wasn't assigned to me and I do it wrong, I don't want to be responsible for the outcome."  For still others, it can just be the challenge of imagining tasks or projects outside their job description or previously assigned duties; the inertia of working within familiar problem spaces is hard to overcome.

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Blogging about economic development in Wayne County

I'm excited to see that Valerie Shaffer, the new President of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, has started a blog about her activities in that role.  The blog is complemented by a "frequently asked questions" section on the EDC website, which tries to address some of the common questions (and misperceptions) about the organization.

Whatever your take on the EDIT Tax, the EDC and their role in economic development efforts, this is a new and welcome level of transparency.

Shaffer's posts so far are authentic and to the point, bypassing some of the marketing spin that it might be tempting for an organization of the EDC's prominence to engage in when they know site selectors are looking.  She links to related resources, encourages questions and feedback, and makes repeated commitments to opening the lines of communication between her office and other voices in the community.

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