Not as private as you may think

Are you a Facebook user?  Do you like posting photos and status updates?  Do you enjoy posting on people’s walls and having them post on your wall?

One of the main issues that I have with Facebook is the illusion.  You log in and you are presented with your news feed.  Over on the left you see the smiling faces of your friends that are online, and your feed is full of them telling you about random stuff.  And see all this friend-centered stuff and you think, “Hey, I’ve got something to say, let me update my status and share it with my friends…”  Who can really see that?  If you’ve gone into your privacy settings then it might just be your friends.  More likely, it’s your “Friends of Friends” or even “Everyone”.

You might have heard that horror story about someone who bitched about their boss and the boss saw it and it got them in trouble, so you haven’t friended your boss.  However, you are unaware that your boss actually went to high school with someone who is your friend.  You’ve got your status updates set to “Friends of Friends” which means your boss, who is a friend of your friend, can see that you just called him a twat, so maybe you don’t get that raise or promotion.

That photo you posted of your girlfriend meeting you at the door when you got home, naked with a beer and a steak… sure, the plate covered all the naughty bits, but you just posted that to your Mobile Photos album (since you uploaded it from your phone) and that album is marked visible by Everyone!  That’s on the Internet now.  Tagged and cached, for-ev-ver.  The next time your girlfriend goes looking for a job, someone just might Google her name, see that photo and decide her future based on it.  Maybe she doesn’t get the job… or maybe she does and her new boss treats her like a girl willing to have half-naked photos of her posted on the Internet… or maybe it doesn’t matter…

I prefer to err on the side of thinking that it matters…

A caution about privacy and the Internet might seem odd coming from a guy who blogs and mentions his real life now and then, but know that every tidbit of information I put into a blog post is carefully considered.  I ask myself, “Do I mind if everyone knows this?”  I have over 1,100 posts here and I’ve probably put just as many in the trash bin.  It’s actually common for me to come here, write out a diatribe on the latest frustration at work or amongst friends, let it sit in draft form for a couple of days and then delete it.  It’s one of the reasons I love blogging and haven’t been a huge fan of most social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, because they are immediate, there is less chance for careful consideration.

So, my Monday morning bit of advice this week is to go to your privacy settings in Facebook and make sure all your sharing is at levels you are comfortable with.  At the very least, be aware of who can see what you say…

Lifetime Subscription Realms

At launch, I was a big fan of Free Realms.  It was a nice looking, well crafted game, and it was free.  I played it a few hours a week right up until they moved the velvet rope.  Originally, some professions were fully open up to level 20 and other professions were closed unless you paid.  I really liked this because it allowed you to see the game from the bottom to the top, at least in part.  The new model allows you to get up to level 5 in every profession, with further advancement behind the pay wall.  Because of the switch, I quit shortly thereafter, because frankly, even though I was enjoying it, it wasn’t worth $5 a month to play.

Right now and until August 2nd, SOE is running a special, $30 lifetime subscription for Free Realms.  Due to a few freebies and other gifts I’ve gotten over the last year, I had accumulated 2800 Station Cash points, and the store said I could buy the lifetime subscription for 2999 points.  I cracked open the wallet, bought $5 worth of points and bought my lifetime membership.

Sadly, this means that Free Realms technically doesn’t belong in the Freeloading category anymore, so this will be my last post on this game under this heading.

I think the game is totally worth $30.  Especially if you have kids.  Sure, there are still many items in the cash shop, and so your spending days may not be over, but the game will have no fixed costs, which is nice.  And you can always dole out Station Cash as allowance and/or rewards.  Personally, I like the game for the same reason I still like Puzzle Pirates – I like short arcade-style mini-games, but I love that doing them contributes to an overall game and world.  Sure, I could play Bejeweled or other matching games over at Popcap or on Facebook, but they don’t earn me anything.  In Free Realms, when I do well at mining I get ore which I can smith into weapons that I can use in my fighting professions and so on.  Plus, I like running around in huge worlds and seeing stuff.

Now, the only issue I have with Free Realms is their silly 1024 x 768 minimum resolution limitation that prevents me from being able to play on my 1024 x 600 netbook.  Puzzle Pirates is still the winner on that device…

Deciphering the Message

And the Internet was once again safe!  Blizzard backs down!  But did they?  Let’s take a look at the message and see what it’s really saying:

Hello everyone,

I’d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games.

So far we have a standard greeting and then the first sentence and I’m already going to step in…  Once again, RealID is being framed as a tool to make the game better, which we all know (or should know) by now isn’t the real reason for it.  They want to build a social network they can leverage for advertising, just like everyone else, and clean forums, if that even happened, was just a side effect they trotted out for PR.  If they really desired to make the forums a better place, there are at least a dozen things they could have done other than revealing real names.  This sentence exists to set up the wall they are about to blame you from.

We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

And there it is.  Your feedback, your concerns, our forums, and they’ve decided at this time not to use real names.  Notice the clear marketing speech.  Real Names are still on the table, because that is the ultimate goal.  Our feedback and concerns have simply caused them to adjust the time table.  They’ll come back to real names later, when they’ve thought of a less explosive way to work it in.

It’s important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games.

Again with the framing.  This whole thing is about the forums, right?  Nothing else.  No social network, no advertising money, nothing.  All of this is for YOU, to make the forums awesome for YOU.  Please look at the right hand and ignore what the left one is doing.

We will still move forward with new forum features such as the ability to rate posts up or down, post highlighting based on rating, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

See?!?!  Forum stuff!  This was never about anything else, just forum stuff.  Oh, and we decided to implement a unique account ID system that doesn’t reveal your real name, which will give us all the accountability we needed over our current system of letting people troll with any character name they wanted and doesn’t let people find out where you live unless they want to spend a few days or weeks at it instead of 20 minutes.  To me, that someone can find my information on the Internet isn’t an issue, it’s out there, I know that.  To me, it’s a “heat of the moment thing”.  Say I go to the forum and read your post about “The most awesome hunter spec EVAR!!!!” and say, “You are being obtuse.  While this build certainly doesn’t suck, it is also clearly not the best build because it lacks…” and now you are pissed because I called you fat (I didn’t), I would like any revenge you suddenly plan about visiting my house and punching me in the face to show me who’s fat (again, no, obtuse, not obese) to take a while to execute, so that you have a change to realize (and maybe visit it might not be the best idea (because you are fat, and I’d kick your ass) rather than actually be in your car with the GPS telling you how to get to my house in less than half an hour.

I want to make sure it’s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II.

Our plans are separate… sure.  Except for the part where they are all tied to the same Real ID and the social network we are building.  The real point of this sentence cannot be fully understood until you read the rest of the paragraph.  So, shall we?

We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you’ll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.

Notice what is missing here?  I’ll give you a hint, it is the focus of this entire uproar.  That’s right, real names.  Yes, the forums won’t display your real name, but in order to use these other features of Real ID you have to have your real name revealed to others.  Maybe I’m an outlier, or maybe a lot of people are too new to MMOs and the concepts of RPGs, but I’ve been part of a community from EverQuest for going on eleven years now.  Originally it was all based around the game server and the IGN/Vault forum for that server, but around 8 years ago we moved off to a privately run message board due to some heavy handed over-moderation.  There are many people in this community I would call my friends.  I would happily use a system with them that allowed for cross-game and cross-realm chat and being able to see all each others characters and for a good sized chunk of those people I don’t know their real names (they could probably find mine, because, you know, my blog isn’t exactly a secret and my name is all over this thing).  We didn’t need real names to build friendships or a community.

Oh, and before I forget, see that last sentence?  Yeah, this isn’t over yet.  Real ID is going to continue to evolve and real names on the forums are being backed off of at this time.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters, ( ) and we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so passionately about our games. We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players, which has been a key to Blizzard’s success from the beginning.

And in closing, I want to point out that I almost believe him.  Until this move, I totally believed that Blizzard was run by and run for gamers.  They got us.  They delivered games only when they were ready.  But they aren’t alone anymore.  Activision owns them, and Bobby Kotick has said time and time again, he’s not in gaming for the games, he’s in gaming for the money.  The Blizzard that cared, to whom Every Voice Mattered, doesn’t exist anymore.  The honeymoon is over.  Knowing that Real ID is still there, that the social network and partnership with Facebook are still the plan, that real names are only off the table at this time, that’s why I don’t believe him.  This is just an appeal to the past, “Hey, remember when you loved us?  You should still love us!  We haven’t changed!  Except for some stuff, but I assure you, that stuff isn’t what matters.  What matters is that we make good games, and you love our games, and our games will keep being good… even if you have to jump through hoops and become a part of a giant marketing machine and social network to enjoy them.  We promise, it won’t hurt… most of you.  And hey, those are some good odds.”

For me, I’m still out.  Starcraft II pre-order cancelled.  Diablo III pre-order cancelled.  Cataclysm pre-order cancelled.  There is another shoe or two around here, and I’m going to wait for them to drop before I get back in bed with Blizzard.  That said, I’m still a fan of Blizzard at this time.

Real Issues with Real ID 2

Continuing from here and in light of Blizzard’s decision to tie real names to forums posts…

It is frightfully easy to find information on people.  You can only control so much of the data.  Sure, you limit your Facebook and what you put out there, but the government, the phone company and so many other places have public records that you are not invisible (unless your name is so horrendously common that you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone with the same name).  Go to Spokeo or Zabasearch, put in your name and see how long it takes to find you.

But… we are talking about an MMO.  A fantasy world where you get to be someone else.  Of course, we’re also talking about World of Warcraft, which has gone to great lengths to tell us their game is about levels and loot, and the world it happens in is just window dressing.  Want proof?  Just look at the sheer number of real world jokes crammed into the game.  WoW is a playground, not a virtual world.  And still, people go there and play characters that aren’t them.  Women play men, men play women, the meek play strong, the social get alone time, shut ins make friends, all possible without the “limitations” of their real lives.

Sure, we all want to reduce the number of asshats that make the forums a cesspool, but much like the other features of Real ID, this could be achieved without your real name.  The real problem with the WoW forums is that you post as one of your characters, which you select, so you get people who create a level 1 character on a server they don’t really play on as their posting persona, and they troll.  It’s the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.  Instead of real names, make them pick a forum name, which they can’t change, and when they post provide a link to a list of all their characters.  Or make the forums smart and under the forum name put the name of their highest level & longest played character.  If you have a 3 year old level 10 and a 3 month old level 80, the level 80 is posted, if you have two level 80s, the oldest one is used.  Posting in a class forum?  The name of your highest level of that class is posted, or if you don’t have one it will say “I don’t have any characters of this class”.  Or, you know, hire more moderators.

There are many many solutions that would work equally as well for removing trolls.  But… there is a greater thing at work here.  See, Blizzard has all your information anyway (most likely).  Your name, your address and billing info, email, and so on.  They can’t do anything with it though because it is privileged information, it’s private.  However, once Real ID makes certain items public, it becomes sellable data.  Facebook, much to the ire of it’s CEO, lets you keep a number of items private.  However, one thing they absolutely do not allow you to hide are your “likes”.  The reason is that what you like is the most marketable item about you.  At the heart of this whole Real ID situation is a partnership between Blizzard and Facebook.  In the end, Real ID isn’t about cleaning up the forums or even making it easier to communicate with your friends and find them in game.  Real ID is about money.

I quit playing World of Warcraft a while ago because I was bored with it and wasn’t finding what I wanted (strong community) within the game anymore.  I was actually looking forward to Starcraft II.  I participate fairly heavily in a number of smaller, tight knit communities.  I don’t need another bland “everyone is connected to everyone” social network, so I’m going to opt out in the only way Blizzard allows – not to play at all.

Facebook wants to turn you inside out.

This is a post I started about a month ago and had left sitting in the draft bin, but due to yesterday’s post and topic, I decided to dig it up and polish it…

Most people, unless you’ve grown up entirely in the Internet enabled world, think of “being social” as joining groups.  You play sports.  You have a book club.  You form a tabletop gaming group.  You go to a party.  You sit at a lunch table.  You go to the company picnic.  Your kids play at the same park.  And so on.  Being social involves joining people doing something.

When I first joined Facebook, it was all about joining groups.  Your college, your high school, your jobs both past and present.  Groups still exist on Facebook, but just barely.  When people post things in the groups I belong to it doesn’t show in the feed, in fact it doesn’t show anywhere unless I go look at my list of groups.  Groups are a thing of the past, now everyone are “friends”.

Facebook is all about getting all your “friends” together from every activity and dumping them all into one place.  Of course, people in general don’t really function that way, and it has caused issues for many folks as they have dived into the “social web”.  Work friends and other friends used to be separate groups, and with a lot of work on your part they still can be on Facebook, but by default they are all the same.  Facebook doesn’t want you talking about things in groups privately among your friends, they want you to put everything in your feed where everyone can see it (unless you’ve taken the time to protect your feed and group your friends).  Facebook wants to take your segregated group, integrate them with the whole and put them on a stage, and they want to put ads on the page in the column next to it.

Facebook, Real ID and other such efforts are slowly eroding privacy.  Is this a bad thing?  Not everyone cares, especially younger folks, but many of them haven’t run into an issue where something they said on Facebook or Twitter or some other forum has cost them a job yet.  Maybe they won’t.  Maybe by the time it matters for them, the people doing the hiring and firing won’t care.

I can see the draw, I really can.  I grew up watching Cheers on TV and singing alone with “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name” and the social web feels like that sometimes, it feels like this intimate group of people who you can talk to, who you can trust.  But can you?  Once you’ve racked up over a thousand “friends” on Facebook that includes former coworkers and employers, current ones, old friends from a decade ago, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, and all the other random people who’ve come into contact, can you really trust them all with that thought that just ran through your head, down your fingers and spilled out onto your keyboard?  Do you want that random thought to exist on the Internet forever?  I know I actually consider everything I put out there before I hit the publish button here.  I’ve scrapped entire posts because I didn’t feel comfortable with the content, and others I’ve hacked up and removed specifics to keep a level of separation.

What the hell am I getting at?  I don’t know… perhaps I’m just an old man yelling at the kids to get off of his lawn…


I’ve been a smartphone user for a few years now.  The funny thing is that about 90% of the features of a smartphone I don’t care about.  Here is the list of things I don’t need my phone to be able to do:

  • Play music/MP3
  • Play video/watch TV
  • Play games
  • GPS navigation
  • Make fart noises
  • Twitter, Facebook and 99% of the Internet

Now, here is a list of all the features a phone needs for me to love it:

  • Make/receive phone calls
  • Text messaging with a full keyboard because I 442833 trying to type with a 12 key phone pad
  • Sync my contacts with other sources like Google or Exchange over the air

That’s it.  Really.  So simple, and yet no one does it.  At least not that 3rd point, unless you get a full blown smartphone and pay $70-$100 a month for service.  Sure, a camera on the phone is nice, but I don’t need it and use it so rarely that I wouldn’t miss it if it were gone.  But its the contact sync that is the deal breaker.  Every non-smartphone I’ve owned could sync, but you have to buy software and connect it to your PC to do it.  Lame.

I could be wrong.  Maybe there is a phone out there that does just what I need and doesn’t require a large monthly payment for service.  But if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

Putting the Game in Facebook Game

After quitting FarmVille I went I on to play a number of other Facebook Games, and for the most part, they all play the same.  On one hand you have FarmVille, where you plant things and then wait for harvest.  On the other hand you have Hero World, where you have an energy stat and you can click on things until your stat runs out and then you wait for the stat to recover.  At best, the only real “game” there is in strategically deciding what to click before waiting.

Just yesterday, I decided to give SOE’s The Agency: Covert Ops game a try.  In some aspects, it is the same as a bunch of other games: you click, you wait, etc.  But in addition to that, as Darren posted about today, there are some actual games.  Just in the few minutes I played, I was given a nifty game where a computer screen is asking for an access code and I am shown which letters on the keyboard have fingerprints and I have to guess the word.  For example, the access code is a 5 letter words and the keys with prints are E, R, V and N.  I type in N-E-V-E-R, success, and move on to the next word.

So, now I’m on the hunt for Facebook Games with actual Game in them rather than just clicking, waiting and spamming.  I’m open to suggestions…

Movie Round-Up: April 30th, 2010

Furry Vengeance:

I have to admit, since I’m a Brendan Fraser fan, I have a slight inclination to see this film.  But seriously, unless I had a gaggle of kids to entertain, there is just no way I’m paying to see this in the theater.  One day when it shows up on Netflix Instant, I’ll watch it, and it’ll probably be funny as long as I don’t think too hard about what is going on.

A Nightmare on Elm Street:

In 1984, slasher flicks were nothing new.  Jason was making abandoned summer camps unsafe, and Michael was making Halloween a little scarier, but with Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger even sleeping in your own bed became a place you couldn’t hide.  And since Jason and Michael both got a reboot in recent years, giving Freddy a new start was a no-brainer.  Thanks to 43kixAtlanta, I got to see a screening of the new Nightmare this week.  What they’ve done here is to take the original film, push the characters around a little (just nudges, nothing huge), clean up Freddy’s make up (it looks like burns now and not pizza) and excise most of the one-liners.  The new film is darker and more serious.  Freddy’s origins are altered a little, and I think with good effect.  Overall, the new film is fun and scary.  It lives in the same neighborhood as the original, but under a broken street light.  If you like horror films, and you aren’t so in love with the original that you plan on hating a remake just on principle, I recommend going out to see it.

Are You Secure?

Continuing in my annoyance with and dislike of certain aspects of Facebook gaming (as previously seen in these three posts), a recent case study shows that 24% of social gamers have insecure friending habits.

As I’ve said, the design of many games is to have as many friends as possible.  Lately, I’ve been playing Zombie Wars.  Decent game, I enjoy it, but I’m stuck.  I need 20 people in my colony to move to the next area.  I have 13.  I have sent invites to most, if not all, of my 149 friends, but can’t get another 7 of them to start playing.  The game is dead to me.  I could, however, go to the Zombie Wars fan page and find people who also need more colony members and friend them in order to get moving.

This is where the insecurity comes in.  By default in Facebook, a “friend” has access to everything on your profile, unless you’ve specifically gone in and denied access to a particular piece of info.  You can restrict someone’s access by making a group, denying access to that group, and then adding that person to the group.  This is cumbersome and not obvious.  And if you engage in adding people for the sole purpose of progressing in a game, you are likely to accept a friendship of someone saying, “Hey! Add me for Zombie Wars!” even though you don’t know them.  Those people might not even be real.  They could be a phishing profile, looking to get at your personal data that is hidden behind the “friend barrier” and if you let them in without restriction they’ll get it.

I hope the way Facebook games work evolves.  In the meantime, I hope people start to pay attention to how they use Facebook, because they could be risking more than they know.

Movie Round-Up: April 2nd, 2010

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too:

Jason’s I’m Not Going To See This Tyler Perry Movie Either.

The Last Song:

I’m usually a Nicholas Sparks movie fan.  As pompous and arrogant as he is, he does write a good love story most of the time, and they generally translate to film well.  But his last, Dear John, was a let down.  In that movie, the father-son relationship was great but the romance was stilted.  The Last Song is much better.  I got to see a screening of it thanks to Movie Jungle.  Here the father-daughter works in addition to the romance, so we get a whole movie instead of half of one.  Miley Cyrus isn’t the world’s greatest actress, but she does alright, however Greg Kinnear and Bobby Coleman steal the show.  It makes for a pretty good date flick.

Clash of the Titans:

I actually saw the original in the theater as a child.  I’m a fan of Ray Harryhausen’s work.  That said, I agree with David Jaffe that remakes aren’t evil, and in fact are needed to keep stories alive.  As proof, the wife saw the original for the first time this weekend, and after seeing current fare like Avatar, the old stop motion stuff just looks… old.  No kid born after the release of the original is ever going to really like it unless they are a huge fan of old stuff, and keep in mind that “kids” born after the original might be almost thirty years old.  Anyway, I was excited to see the new film.  Thanks to 43kix and Gofobo, I got to.  This isn’t the same film.  There are some parallels, but it deviates as much as it stays the same.  This is both good and bad.  For me, this was fantastic, because it means I could watch the film and not feel like I had to compare the new stuff shot for shot with the old stuff.  For some people, this will be bad because what they want is a shot for shot remake of the old one.  I’ve heard some people say the new film lacks character and depth, but I felt it actually added character and depth to what was a fun yet fairly cardboard plot.  In any event, I recommend seeing it.  I had a blast watching it.  A word of warning, however, don’t pay the extra money to see this in 3D.  Totally not worth it.  The 3D (added to the film after the fact, it wasn’t filmed for 3D) is flat and never adds anything to the scenes.  In fact, it makes watching the film more annoying because of having to wear the glasses.  See it in 2D, I promise you aren’t missing anything.