Facebook Email Follow-up

My post about how Facebook altered my displayed email address to one routed to their servers has garnered a certain amount of attention. I just did an interview with NPR for “All Things Considered”, which I think will be broadcast today.

In the interview, I said that one question this raises is “who controls my online presentation of myself – me or Facebook?”

I was led down this line of thinking because I’d recently read an article by one of the pastors of my church, Tim Chester. He has been blogging about Facebook and about the relationship between our online presentations of ourselves and our true identity. Article 2 in the series is particularly relevant:

Celebrity culture pores over the minutiae of the lives of the rich and famous. Facebook, blogs and Twitter allow us all to be celebrities with our lives on show. It blurs the public and the private. The world becomes my audience. On Facebook you do not have a conversation, you have an audience. Your life takes place on a stage and you are your own playwright, creating or recreating yourself through your words.

If this piques your interest, here are links to the entire series, titled “Will You Be My Facebook Friend?”:

Some of the points Tim makes are other reasons (than privacy) that I am not a heavy user of social media.

Facebook MITMed My Email

I prefer email to social media. I do have a Facebook page, but I don’t post anything there, and I made sure that my primary personal email address, gerv[at]gerv.net, was displayed in the profile so that people could contact me directly.

Today, I happened to visit my Facebook profile, and noticed that they had changed the displayed email address to gerv.markham[at]facebook.com! The old one was still in the database, but it had been hidden. Email to the Facebook address is forwarded by Facebook to the other one, so it ends up in the same place. [Update: I now think this is not correct. The email instead goes to my Facebook inbox, and I don’t get a notification email to say it’s there. Which is, IMO, even worse – they don’t just pass it through their servers on the way to where it would have gone, they keep it, and fail to send me a copy!]

In other words, Facebook silently inserted themselves into the path of formerly-direct unencrypted communications from people who want to email me. In other contexts, this is known as a Man In The Middle (MITM) attack. What on earth do they think they are playing at?

The Bikeshed Effect

Although discussion can meander in any topic, the probability of meandering goes up as the technical difficulty of the topic goes down. After all, the greater the technical difficulty, the fewer participants can really follow what’s going on. Those who can are likely to be the most experienced developers, who have already taken part in such discussions thousands of times before, and know what sort of behavior is likely to lead to a consensus everyone can live with.

The principle that the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic has been around for a long time, and is known informally as the Bikeshed Effect.

— Karl Fogel, Producing Open Source Software

MediaWiki “Help”

MediaWiki’s Help page, at least on the Mozilla Wiki, is far too complex. One of the first topics it covers is the occasional need to do a dummy edit to refresh the internal database caches. I suggest this is unlikely to be uppermost in the mind of most people visiting that page. How to do a link is on the 5th page down on my large monitor, and how to emphasize text is on the 8th page.

Here’s Help:Me, a much simpler page which attempts to show the most important things by example. Do let me know what you think.