Archive for February, 2009

Should We Trust Facebook Apps?

Last week facebook changed their terms of use and it caused a lot of stir on the Internet. Immediately there were blog posts criticizing facebook’s actions, and some (myself included) were thinking about giving up their facebook account, and disgusted that quitting facebook would not free them from the facebook terms and conditions. At the time I was wondering how much we should trust our personal information to services like facebook, but I had already done a lot of sharing of my inner self, including posting pictures of my family and writing the 25 random things about me (which took a little soul-searching). I gave these things freely to my friends, thinking my privacy settings would protect others from seeing them, but when the terms of facebook changed, it appeared my privacy settings were no protection. Fortunately, facebook changed their terms back to the previous version, but it still left me a little unsettled and got me wondering how trust issues like this affect users in general. 

facebook-trustThen one of my good friends commented on my post 11 things I learned from myFarm–she is reluctant to accept the gifts I’ve sent her on facebook because she doesn’t want to give the application permission to access all her information. That got me wondering:

  • How much access do those facebook applications really have?
  • What are they allowed to do with people’s information?
  • What restrictions are placed on applications to protect users’ privacy? Are there any? Should there be?
  • Why do they need access?
  • And the big question: should we facebook users put our trust in facebook apps?

If you just go from the message that is displayed, facebook apps have access to:

  1. Your facebook profile (gender, birthdate, relationship status, religious views, political views, activities, interests, favorite music/TV/movies, etc., contact information, e-mail address, phone number, IM name, address, web site, education, work)
  2. Your photos (all the photos you’ve posted on facebook)
  3. Your friends’ info (Does that mean my friend list? How much info about my friends do they have access to?)
  4. Other content that it requires to work (What does that include? Haven’t they already given the app every bit of personal information they have about me and all my friends?)

So basically, facebook apps have access to everything you’ve shared on facebook other than perhaps your Notes and Posted items, but it’s not clear that those are off limits either.

Now to give facebook a little credit, they have posted “Guiding Principles” for applications to follow; however, there is nothing that forces application builders to adhere to these principles. Guiding Principle #2 is:

Applications should be Trustworthy. …

  • Secure: Protects user data and honors privacy choices for everyone across the social graph …
  • Respectful: Values user attention and honors their intentions in communications and actions …
  • Transparent: Explains how features will work and how they won’t work, especially in triggering user-to-user communications …

Read the guiding principles here.

But we know not all facebook apps follow these principles. Some facebook apps apparently load adware to your computer.

Last November, facebook launched an application verification program, but when browsing facebook applications, I don’t see any verification information on any of them. Okay, I only spot-checked a few apps, but it makes me wonder: Is this really being implemented? I see no positive comments from the developers, who appear to be afraid of paying an exorbitant fee to get verified.

I was hoping some good news would come out of this investigation, but I really couldn’t find any good reasons for people to trust facebook apps–or to even know which ones to trust and which not to. If you are one of the people who was scared off by the warning message, perhaps you’re one of the smart ones!

The best advice is probably not to share anything on facebook that you don’t want to be shared publicly and to be careful about which applications you choose to trust. Read customer reviews and the application description, and take your best guess at how trustworthy they are.

A Wish list for Axure

wish-listI’m in the midst of prototyping a virtual credit card terminal in Axure and some of my most fervent wishes are resurfacing, so rather than sit here and stew about it, I am going to put my wishes out there so perhaps Axure will hear them and do something about it? Don’t get me wrong–I love Axure and am so thankful to have it. It makes life so much easier. But man, if it could only …

Some of this might already be done in a newer version (that I don’t have yet), but gosh I wish it would do the following:

  1. Allow me to select a word or two and make them a hyperlink like real web pages do. It’s such a pain to have to put a box over the text I want to hyperlink. (Take some lessons from WordPress!)
  2. Make mouseover effects easily–like change the color of a table cell or some text when moused over to indicate its clickability. Right now to change the color of a table cell, I’d have to overlay a dynamic panel and try to align it perfectly with the table cell and manage the states by going to separate windows. And then when the table cell changes size or shape, I’d have to realign everything and change all the states and … it’s just too much work. I have a lot of pages to do and I’m in a hurry to get this prototype done.
  3. Put controls such as radio buttons and images IN a table cell like you can on a real web page. So if the table cell moves (like it tends to do when you’re wireframing), the control or image moves with it and you don’t have to go realign everything.
  4. Change the look of the buttons–and allow for a few different types of buttons.
  5. Use real cascading style sheets (CSS) like real HTML pages do, so I could import my style sheet and use the styles from my own CSS–and have them in the resulting prototype as real CSS styles. Wow that would be nice.
  6. Make cleaner, more usable HTML, so we don’t have to have someone go back and recreate the HTML page from scratch and end up with a different look and feel than the wireframe. (Using real CSS would sure help.)
  7. Not make a new image if I copy and paste an image from one spot to another. It’s the same image, folks! Why have a billion different images that look exactly the same? In fact, why not use an image library in a common images folder shared across pages (like, um, WordPress allows you to do) so if you want to use the same images on several pages, you can.
  8. Allow me to set an action for several elements at once. Say I want the user to be able to select a row in a table, for example. Right now I have to go to every cell in the table and set the action for that individual cell. If the table has a lot of columns, it takes quite a while just to set the actions for one row.

If you use Axure and agree with my suggestions, let Axure know or leave a comment here so that they know that it’s more than just one user’s wishes.

Back to Usability — how about a checklist?

download checklistOkay, enough sidetracking to Facebook, time to get back to usability.

There’s a very good 25 point web site usability checklist on usereffect.

Checklists won’t make your site usable–it’s best to usability test your site with the target audience and really sit back and watch what they have trouble with–but a checklist will help you avoid the most obvious mistakes so when you sit down to a usability test you’re not completely embarrassed that they can’t even tell what your web site is for.

11 things I learned from myFarm on Facebook

myfarm1I admit it, I’m hopelessly addicted to the myFarm game on Facebook. I myself call it a silly game, and yet I cannot keep away from it. I find myself stopping by myFarm several times a day. So to give myself (and the rest of you myFarm addicts) a little credit, I think there is some redeeming social value to be gleaned from myFarm-ing. (Other than by playing you are supporting a good cause.)

Here are a few things I learned (or re-learned) by playing this “silly” game that has become my virtual zen garden:

  1. Tending virtual plants and seeing them grow, flower, and produce fruit can feed your need for color through a dismal, cold, and very gray winter.
  2. The more you give, the more you receive and the richer you will become.
  3. Being rich with friendship is better than being rich with money.
  4. Know who the true farmers are in your circle of friends, and only send farm gifts to them. They are the ones who will appreciate them most—the others will see your gift as a nuisance.
  5. Sending gifts to someone who does not give back is like loving someone who only takes and never gives. It can drain you of energy. Give to all your farm friends, but give more to those who give back. As in friendship and love, a circle of positive energy feeds both souls.
  6. Sometimes the changes you make don’t take the first time. It’s okay. Just keep trying until it does.
  7. Savor the moment, and save the best for last. My favorite color is purple, so I save the plum trees to harvest last so I can savor the color of them for a few more moments. It’s a small thing, but life is so much sweeter when fed with small moments of joy.
  8. Tend to ALL the important things in your life. Escaping to the farm is good, but there is more to life than myFarm.
  9. Have patience. Do not be too hasty to act. Wait for the button before you click it.
  10. Beware of advertisers who wish to steal your attention away from your purpose.
  11. Watch your bank account, but don’t be fanatical about it.

Trackthis integrates package tracking into social networking

If you twitter or facebook and you order things that you have shipped to you, you’re gonna love this: TrackThis figured out how to take those hard-to-crack shipping APIs and let you track your packages via facebook or twitter.

I was all excited to try it, until I went to Facebook and discovered:

This application cannot be added to your Pages. Facebook applications for Pages can be specialized for certain Page categories (e.g. Restaurants or Bands). Either you have no Pages that fit the category of this application, or you have already added this application to your eligible Pages.

What kind of Facebook page do I need to be able to add it? That’s really confusing and is not making for a very good user experience. (Um, well, it’s denying me from even having a user experience! Hate that!) 

Well, maybe I’ll try it on Twitter.

Hey, I wonder if TrackThis would like to share some of their shipping API expertise with our comment-ers who are having difficulty integrating the buggers? See the comments on my shipping API post.