Wednesday, January 06, 2010

"Dude, Where's my Followers?" New Feature to Prevent Drunken Tweets

A new feature will soon be available to prevent embarrassing tweets, morning regrets, and mass unfollows.

"Between the failwhales, the Service Unavailable 503 messages, and the new RT feature, Twitter has already covered most of the bases to make the service as confusing as all hell to the inebriated user," said a trusted inside source who refused to be identified.

But now, there will be an extra layer of protection. Excessive Typos, repeated use of the backspace key, and prolonged moments of inactivity while the drunken user stares at the screen trying to decipher his or her unintelligible text will now trigger a new algorithm requiring the user to enter a two-word, case-sensitive Captcha before the tweet will be posted.

The algorithm will remain active in the associated account for a period of six hours or until tweet quality dramatically improves.

"The ultimate intention is to keep the twitstream relatively sober," the insider said. "Plus, it'll help reduce all the late-night @replies @Alyssa_Milano gets from guys saying how hot she was in junior high. It really puts an incredible strain on the servers."

The new feature will be rolled out very, very slowly.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Hacking Humanity: how viruses REALLY spread

I'm sceptical about pretty well the entire internet, and out of an abundance of caution, I suspect just about every link. Computer viruses can be nefarious things, so I'm very careful about where I click. I try to satisfy myself as to the link's authenticity before I dare click, and I have to admit I'm sometimes downright paranoid about shortened Twitter links.

Because of the popularity of online communication and social media, a great number of viruses appear to come from good friends. Worse, the message triggering the virus is usually something designed to look real and go unquestioned by the recipient.

The term "virus" is used loosely here - the same principles can apply to most any program, script, or other malicious code. But almost all have one important thing in common: the user usually has to do something to get infected, even if simply clicking a link or opening an attachment.

Whatever its form, malicious code is famous for its ability to promulgate through exploits of security vulnerabilities. Sometimes these are due to flaws in an Operating System, or in a software program such as a web browser.

The code takes advantage of the flaw to take over, creating another version of itself, and both then continue to seek out new victims. New exploits are being reported all the time, but the software vendor is usually quick to release a patch that seals up the exploit and protects you, and the hackers who release the program are getting quite creative. Some new variants of exploits even masquerade as anti-virus or anti-spyware programs that flash warnings of infection which lull the user into a false belief of being protected, while the malicious software carries out its purpose, whether spam, porn, or identity theft.

(I'm still waiting for a creative hacker to release an exploit that uses the victim's computer resources to surreptitiously contribute to scientific research via projects like BOINC or http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/.)

Patches only work, though, if you hunt them down and apply them. Keeping up-to-date on security releases is very important, but what's most important is to exercise common sense.

Most of the viruses people seem end up with are spread through email or IM, and usually involve some sort of social engineering. And what is social engineering, you ask? It is simply tricking you into doing something innocuously and unconsciously, so that you probably don't even notice the results, and nothing registers on any conscious radar screen as being dangerous.

Say Alice signs on, and a screen pops up from Bob, suggesting that Alice check out pictures of her. She clicks, and is whisked away to some decoy site while the code safely ensconces itself within Alice's hard drive, curling itself almost inextricably around her operating system, so that the two now operate as one. And it all happens so slick that Alice doesn't even notice, until a couple of weeks later she gets a phone call from a friend who tells her to run a virus scan already because her friend is sick of getting ads for teeth whiteners from her.

Sound like a realistic scenario? Naming off the dozens of examples you've seen yourself? Almost got tricked by one, or did and are too ashamed to admit it? This is how these viruses are spread; they rely on the trust of the user.

The more reliable the message seems, the less likely it is to raise any red flags. Social engineering is used in these cases to exploit natural human tendencies as a means to promulgate the virus, whether it's unleashed by a bored teenager on a weekend with nothing to do, or spread as part of a major billion-strong foreign botnet.

Fortunately, many of the IM and email viruses that rely on tricking the user are not usually too sophisticated on the software side of things. Removal is usually as simple as identifying what variant is at fault and searching for the proper removal instructions.

Searching the name of the virus and "remove tool" might bring up a handy little program that you can download, run, and have it scrub your machine free of all trace. By this time, though, hopefully you've learned to approach links with scepticism, and you don't automatically download the first thing you come across. Discernment is crucial; be careful where you click.



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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Twitter Weekend of Terror

Halloweens all seem to be pretty much the same. Whether you go to a bar or a party, what you're going to run into are a bunch of slightly-to-severely inebriated people wearing semi-passable costumes explaining to everyone they meet what they're supposed to be dressed up as.

This year, I just don't have the energy for it. I've decided to stay in, and get the jump on a bunch of work-related projects and assignments; not only work relating to the legal field, but also some writing projects that I've had on the backburner for considerably way too long.

Work has been rather demanding lately, and I'm almost at the point where I've got everything caught up, but the demands of the past few months have really impacted on my ability to particpate on Twitter. I feel in some ways like I've been neglecting a best friend. I've been around a little more frequently the past couple of weeks, but still, there's no comparison to the times a few months ago when our group would regularly end up "in #twitterjail" for having posted too many times in an hour.

So, while discussing halloween plans with Verleen, we decided... why not haunt our favourite haunt? Why not spend the evening creating mayhem and raising cain, just like we used to, on Twitter? Seems like the perfect night for it!

And so begins the inagural Twitter Weekend of Terror. Join us - @verwon and @Lurquer - for a fun-filled time of screams and riots! And watch out for #twots!



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Monday, October 19, 2009

Lists Add Value... and might just threaten Apps

Twitter's new Lists feature has opened up a whole new level of functionality. Not only does it allow tweeps to provide more value to visitors, it just might threaten tweetdeck and some of the other twitter clients out there, too.

Twitter's Web interface has shown a lot of improvement since I actively started using the service in March 2009. The site feels less clunky, loads a lot more smoothly, and is a lot more responsive than I remember at first. Its clunkiness was what sent me searching for an alternative, which I found in tweetdeck.

One of the reasons I liked using tweetdeck was because of the Columns feature, where you could create groups of users and have the tweets displayed in different columns on the screen. While tweetdeck has improved on that feature in its various software updates, Twitter's new Lists feature opens up a whole different world.

Following a lot of cat lovers? Put them together in a Cat Lovers list. You can choose to group users by area of interest, geographic location, language, political views, or any topic you wish. You will benefit by being able to load a customized page that shows all of those related tweets together.

But the Lists feature isn't just a handy way to organize tweets. Properly used, lists can also add value to your Twitter profile. Visitors can see your public lists and even choose to follow them. You can therefore give the twitterverse new ways to access new sources of information by creating lists of tweeps with similar interests, while at the same time giving the visitor insight into the things that you yourself find interesting.

You have the option to make a list public or private, and you can change the settings later. You can make a public list "on the fly" by making it public initially, or set it as a private list until it's reached the level of completion you prefer, since changing from private to public is a simple toggle on the edit screen.

Building a list also gives you the opportunity to promote the people you respect and admire, paying homage to their contributions to the twitterverse by including them. Visitors inevitably will review your lists, and your friends will gain new exposure as a result.

With that in mind, here are some things to keep in mind when constructing your various lists.

  • Make a private lists if it's geared for your personal use only. Make public lists for groupings that might appeal to a broader audience. Personal lists are great for organizing casual groups where conversation is more social and not as content-driven.

  • Keep your list collections manageable and relevant. Given that only a few of the included users will show up on the follow list at a time, visitors are bound to lose interest After a couple of pages. 50 is probably a good maximum, although you might want to aim for half of that.

  • Be discriminate and selective. Don't include tweeps just because they're friends. Include them because they make worthwhile contributions to the list subject. If one of the tweeps in the list is a prolific poster, that person's messages might drown out all of the others on the list. That person might be more appropriately placed in a list with more frequent posters to balance out the ratio between contributors.

  • Use good descriptions in your list titles. Choose words that adequately and aptly reflect the content of the collection of tweets and tweeters. Vague descriptions likely won't encourage visitors to visit the list in the first place, let alone click through to the listing of tweeps.

  • Check your list pages to see how the final result looks. Would this list be more appropriate as a private list? Is one person's tweets dominating the display? Is the follow list unwieldy and unmanageable? Does the list title properly describe the result?

Keeping the above points in mind will allow you to create lists that are relevant and useful, and will create additional value for your twitter profile. Get into the habit of using the lists yourself, too. You might find yourself relying less on your app of choice and simply hitting up the Web for a quick check on a particular topic. Before long, you might be wondering why you're using an app at all.



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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Twitter Tools: Tweaking your TwitList

If you are a twitter user who believes in reciprocal following, there are a number of tools available to help you manage your lists. As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to each. Here are a couple of tools that will take the pain out of managing your TwitList.

Important Note: While there's a wide selection of twitter-helper "follow" tools available on the Web, many require your username and password to access your data. These types of sites tend to use your API allotment, which is limited to 100 per hour. (API means "Application Programming Interface" and is the protocol that lets third-party applications access twitter's servers.)

If you use up all of your available API, you are then forced to wait about an hour until your API limit is reset. This means you also have to wait to be able to tweet with applications like Tweetdeck or Seesmic Desktop.

Important Note: Because you are only allowed 100 API accesses per hour, you can quickly burn through your allowed API usage with some applications and end up hitting your hourly limit within minutes. TwitterKarma, for example, is a very popular tool designed to help manage your lists, but it does utilize API. In addition to affecting third-party applications like TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop, it also becomes unwieldy if you either have an especially large number of followers or are following a very large number of people. While TwitterKarma is handy for Tweeters with small lists, it quickly becomes cumbersome and unmanageable with larger twitter lists.

Fortunately, there's a simple solution. Two invaluable sites, http://FriendorFollow.com and http://DoesFollow.com, can be used together to help maintain your follow lists, even if you are dealing with large numbers of followers. These sites allow you to easily find out who is not following you back, and you can also find the people who are following you but you're not yet following. Because these two particular sites do not use your API allocation, they will not affect any third-party applications you happen to use.

http://FriendorFollow.com/ compares the people you're following with the people who are following you, and does not require that you give your password. At the main screen, simply type in your user name, and click on the "submit" button.

The site then grabs your follow lists and breaks down the information into three categories, which are accessible by choosing the appropriate tab at the top of the screen. The choices are:

  • A) the people you're following who aren't following you back,
  • B) the people who are following you but you're not yet following, and
  • C) the people you're following who are also following you back.

Each section appears with its own tab at the top of the table where the information is displayed, making navigation quick and easy.

The follower/following data itself is presented in a graphical format which displays the picture or avatar of the user. When you hover your cursor over an individual's picture, a little pop-up window tells you the user's name, username, the number of people the user is following, the number of people who are following the user, the date of the user's last tweet, and the date the user joined twitter.

The default display shows the users in alphabetical order. By using the pull-down menu at the upper right corner, you can change the display to sort by Username, Name, Location, Number of Followers, Number of people the user is following, the date of the users last tweet, and the date the user joined twitter. Clicking on an avatar opens the user's twitter home page in a new window, where you can then choose to follow or unfollow, depending on which FriendorFollow tab you are viewing.

Important note: The information presented on the FriendorFollow results page is not necessarily current. Some of the content is cached, so the actual stats may vary. It is a good idea to refresh the list periodically by going back to the main screen and re-entering your username to conduct a new query.

Remember that the FriendorFollow information is not always current, so it's a very good idea to verify whether someone is following you back before you remove them permanently. This is where http://DoesFollow.com/ comes in handy. This site lets you type in two user names to see if one is following the other, and using this resource will keep you from accidentally unfollowing someone who is actually one of your loyal followers.

These two tools should help make your follow list management effortless and easy. If you have found any other twitter resources that have helped you manage your followers, please leave a note in the comments section below, and I will post a review of them once I have had a chance to check them out. Thanks in advance for your input, and happy tweeting!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

new pic: Lurq hard at work at the office!

A quick pic for all my new twitter friends... snapped March 24th 2009. Just about as current as they come!

Yup, that's me, working hard at the office... and yes, that's a bluetooth headset in my ear, but I *am* happy to see you..

I can't remember if the bluetooth was on at the time; mostly I keep it in my ear so I don't lose the darned thing or have it accidentally turn itself on in my pocket - a pocket is a dangerous place to keep it, because it has this annoying tendency to connect and call people at random. Maybe it looks goofy hanging off of my ear, but.. I just don't care =)

Still looking for some site/app that will run on my Windows Mobile 5.0 Treo 700wx.. the mobile IE browser will NOT load the mobile twitter site, nor can I log into twitter proper using the phone.. any advice greatly appreciated! If you can help, twoot me a tweet @Lurquer =)

Thanks!

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