How social media gets users to do cataloging for them

Hi Everyone,

With social media websites like Facebook, YouTube & Flickr gaining ever more popularity online, taking a look at how they organize and keep track of all their data is of special interest to us as Web Developers.  One of the key methods these social media sites use to keep track of their content is with tagging.  Tags represent the key terms that users search for when they search for a video or an image or any piece of content online.  However, with social media sites it is not tagging in traditional sense, because the content is generated by the users themselves, they are also the ones asked the assign their own tags.  So why do social media websites use these kinds of tagging mechanisms?  Why is it important to allow self-generated tags on user content?

Well the answers to websites run into two basic issues one of practicality and that user participation or control over the content they add to a website.  From a practical standpoint the simple fact is that a user creating and uploading their own content will have a much better idea of the kinds of tags that will be relevant to their content.  Once users create the first several tags it then becomes possible for the service to begin suggesting additional tags that it has identified as being somewhat related to those the user initially entered, which helps their content appear under a broader range of searches than it would have otherwise appeared under.

However for all it’s cost effectiveness and opportunities for user engage a folksonomy does poses several weaknesses, as highlighted in this New York Times piece, “grass-roots categorization, by its very nature, is idiosyncratic rather than systematic. [It] sacrifices taxonomic perfection but lowers the barrier to entry. Nobody needs a degree in library science to participate.”*  It’s because of these low entry barriers that the average user will be willing to add their own tags to content.  It makes sense for a social media sites such as YouTube to be willing to accept less accurately user-generated tags on uploaded content because forcing great accuracy would likely mean a more cumbersome user experience when uploading a video; which would probably dissuade large numbers of people from tagging their uploads at all.

So one of the chief weaknesses of using this type of tagging that users generally are pretty lazy when it comes to organizing their information.  This has the possibility of leaving user generate content not adequately tagged so that people will be able to easily find it.  Worse still it also opens up the possibility of completely false and misleading tags being added to content.  This was especially true for a phenomenon that became popularly known as a ‘Rick Roll.’  Where users would be directed to a video on YouTube after being told either by the tags or thumbnail image that the video was about one topic only to be treated in reality to a video of Rick Astley singing Never Gonna Give you Up instead.

* Link to Times Article quoted:

So everyone and their Grandma seems is getting hacked these days…

Hi Everyone,

I just saw in the news the other day that cloud based note and document storage service Evernote was recently hacked into and potentially as many as 50 million user’s account details compromised.  While Evernote has since responded that no sensitive password or financial information was taken it did decide that the potential problem was large enough to force all users of the service to reset their passwords, (I reset mine yesterday).  It also joins a growing high profile list of companies that have had their security compromised in the several weeks and months including, Microsoft, Apple, The New York Times, Facebook & Twitter.  So what the heck is going on here?

Well in several of these high profile hacks over the last few months the companies involved have claimed that Chinese bases hackers with connections to the military have been targeting their networks for the purposes of attempting to suppress investigative reports into alleged financial dealings by family members of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. (Original report here)

While stories of possible cyber espionage like those alleged to have taken place against the New York Times are extremely troubling because of the potential chilling effect on free speech when dealing with issues surrounding China, more immediate threat for web developer in the commercial space comes from organized crime.  There are several pieces of information that hackers to a commercial website will attempt to lay their hands on, the first and most lucrative are customer’s credit card details.  The next stop on the priorities list are personal account details such as user names, passwords email addresses & any other personally identifiable information.  This information is often then packaged up and sold onto others that will use the personal information they obtain to apply for fake identification, apply for credit (posing as the victim).

So while all of this might seem a bit on the gloom and doom side of things (reaching for the tin foil hats) I want to end on a positive note, so what can we as developers do to lessen the chances of client data being compromised?  Well remember that the type of security your clients will need will greatly depend on the information being stored.  For myself I prioritize client data as follows: Highest, financial information, very high account accesses (usernames & passwords), pretty high, personal information such as names, emails date of birth etc.  While it may not be possible to defend against every conceivable type of threat out there in the wilds of the internet a properly designed hierarchy to security can prevent an annoyance for users like needing a password to be reset from turning into a disaster; getting a phone call from your bank saying you have no money.