Reconsidering Facebook

I’ve been a lot less active online for the last couple of years, and in December 2011 I deleted my Facebook account. I had grown sick of the privacy problems, and Facebook changing their policies and how the application worked without notice or documentation, and I strongly had this perception that they were selling people’s data to third parties.

Continue reading

Testing out some WPBook

Just a heads-up that I’m testing out a new plugin, and it’s not all shiny right now. Subsequently, some functionality might be a bit off for the next few days while I query the plugin developer and try to figure out what’s wrong.

For years I’ve been wanting to find a way for Facebook and WordPress to share comments. I have all my blog posts import into Facebook as “Notes” to make it easier for people to subscribe to my blog, but with some people commenting there and some commenting here locally, the discussion is all broken up. I’d rather everyone comment in the same place; ideally, they could comment in both places and see all comments.

WPBook aims to do just this, and so far it looks marvelous. There’s only one problem: when you post a comment on Facebook, it redirects you to my home page and the comment never shows up. Kind of defeats the purpose.

So, for now, commenting via FB is down. There is a new Facebook app that goes along with this, though, which you can find at http://apps.facebook.com/silverpenpub. If I’m able to get this working, I think it’ll be pretty cool, but we’ll see. My last two tries at this resulted in me undoing, uninstalling, and deleting everything that would have provided Facebook integration and going back to the straightforward Notes import.

PS Facebook has gotten so jacked up with their latest round of UI and Privacy changes that the link to stop Notes importing no longer exists as it should. I found it in a help file that was linked from an FAQ, but that help file says, “Go to this one place and click on this link,” and the link is no longer in that place. Thankfully, they had the link directly in the Help file, but I’m not comforted. A few months ago they removed the ability to close comments on Notes, and now I run into this. Facebook, I’m not a fan.

Connecting Facebook and SilverPen Publishing

As a blog author, I have a variety of goals when writing and posting an entry. I want to help or inform people, and I also just want to write for the sake of writing. But there is most assuredly a part of me that wants feedback, community, and discussion, primarily in the form of comments on individual entries.

This has been happening regularly on Facebook, which imports all of my blog entries as notes, and that’s great. Unfortunately, those comments can’t be moved or copied from Facebook to my primary site, so the conversation happens there among a small group of my Facebook Friends while general visitors to my site never see them. I’ve only had a few hundred comments on SilverPen articles here locally, but that number would easily double or triple if comments left on Facebook were added in.

Because of all this, I have been seeking a solution to the Facebook-Comment issue. My initial desire was some sort of plugin or API hook to simply copy comments left on Facebook notes to their corresponding entries on SilverPen, but this has been tried and failed. Facebook’s API changes too often, and though it has opened up some in the last year or so, it is still pretty walled off. Comments simply can’t be taken out reliably.

Therefore, my desire became channeling people from Facebook to my site, so they comment here instead of there. To do that, I needed to integrate my site with Facebook.

To this end I have employed the built-in Facebook Notes Import feature in Facebook and the WPFacebook-Connect plugin. My original intent had been to use the WordBook plugin and stop using Facebook to grab my RSS feed, but upon attempting to publish this post it failed in a horrible, fiery way. Shocked and dismayed, I looked at some other options and then hit upon an idea that seemed both elegant and simple. I will have Facebook keep importing my notes through RSS, turn off commenting on Facebook notes, and modify my Feedburner Feed to add a comment button to the end of each post. Nearly the same end-result with one less plugin and a lot less fidgeting and work. I’m a bit disappointed I hadn’t thought of this to begin with, to be honest.

The next step was far more complicated and cumbersome, but I thought it important that Facebook users who are being forced to go to another site to comment be able to do so pretty effortlessly. WPFacebook-Connect allows single sign-on between my WordPress blog and Facebook, so Facebook users can connect to their Facebook account with a single click and then comment.

Of course, a fair few modifications had to be made to SilverPen for this all to work.

Login Page

Login Box

When you first install WPFacebook-Connect, your login page may look pretty janky. I have a custom login page (designed by the same genius who did my theme, Ryan Burrell) and it broke badly when the “Connect” button slapped itself on there, so I had to style it a bit.

Unfortunately, this button is the same one used in the blog comment area, so modifications here affect those pages as well. In addition, it’s not immediately obvious how to style this. The div tag used for this button isn’t listed anywhere other than the common.php file and there is no corresponding CSS to modify–by default, it is unstyled. Add something like the following to the fbconnect.css file in the /plugins/wp-facebookconnect folder.

.dark {
 position: relative;
 float: right;
 margin: 0 19px 0 10px;
}

The div in question is simply .dark (for reasons I don’t quite understand, though I appreciate the terror some might experience when connecting to Facebook), and the above code floats it to the right so it doesn’t break anything and then lines it up with my login boxes.

Comment Area

Connect Box

Because the stupid button is styled off .dark and is used on both the login page and for the comment form, you can’t style them differently. I went round and round about this, trying to figure out how to do it, and came to the conclusion that the button would have to be duplicated in the code and one set up with a different style. This seemed like it might break some functionality and I wasn’t confident enough to give it a go, so I decided to work around it.

The above code meant my button on the comment page was off-set to the right, rather than being properly centered inside the border I created for it with:

.fbc_connect_button_area {
 float: right;
 border:2px solid #D5D5D5;
 color:#417378;
 width: 160px;
 text-align: center;
}

Note that width element, though. I decided if I couldn’t beat it, I’d work around it, so I just centered the text and tweaked the box size until the button looked centered. /smug

The float: right up there is to move the whole thing over to the right and not break anything. If you’re curious, I placed the FBConnect code (per step 2 of the instructions for WPFacebook-Connect) right after the else statement in my comment.php, a la:

<li><strong>Logged in as <a href="<?php echo get_option('siteurl'); ?>/wp-admin/profile.php">
<?php echo $user_identity; ?></a>. <a href="<?php echo wp_logout_url(get_permalink()); ?>"
title="Log out of this account"> Log out &raquo;</a></strong></li>
<?php else : ?>
<?php do_action('fbc_display_login_button') ?>
<li>
<label for="author">Name <?php if ($req) echo "<span>(required)</span>"; ?></label>

Profile Header

Facebook Profile Box

When someone is connected through Facebook, it adds a little box to the top right of your WordPress blog with their name, picture, and an option to log out. Of course, you can move this anywhere you like, but I chose to leave it up there. In addition, per Ryan’s recommendation, I styled it with Facebook’s colours so it would actually make sense (instead of looking ugly and out of place–by default it has a white background, the font is browser default, and the font colour is dark blue).

.fbc_profile_header {
 text-align: right;
 padding-top: 10px;
 padding: 5px;
 border:2px solid #8B9DC3;
 background: #3B5998;
 color: #fff;
 width:160px
 font-size: 0.5em;
}

What all this unfortunately means is every time the plugin is upgraded I’ll have to go back and make these changes again. Thank goodness I have it all documented in a handy blog post ^_^

Conclusion

Though the process was a bit tedious (due mostly to my own ignorance), I learned some new things about both PHP and CSS by implementing this, and I’m excited to see it work decently because I would like to use this same setup for the new Help Desk website I’ve been working on. We’d like people to be able to comment and interact with us using the accounts they already have, so knowing how to connect Facebook and WordPress is going to be a big help.

My next curiousity is to see how people interact with the new comment-redirection from Facebook notes and the ability to connect SilverPen Publishing and Facebook. Will you comment and give it a try?

I Tweeted

There is more openness to new words these days than there once was. People seem more apt to jump to the argument that, “Hey, if I understood what he was saying, then it works!” and worry less about proper words or grammar. Whether the cause is a failure of the public school system or the rise of the Internet and text messaging, the general populace (and of particular note is the inclusion of those with some or total completion of a degree in higher education) are coining new words regularly that gain such traction they enter the popular lexicon. Dictionaries have added google as a verb and are considering lol. It’s only a matter of time.

As for me, I resist these trends. I continue to say that “I searched for something on Google,” and I avoid using acronyms in everyday conversation whenever possible. When I send a text message, I type it properly, character count be damned. Despite my best intentions, though, Twitter has broken my will.

I love this stupid little service, and it has been invaluable to me. Whenever I post a blog update, my Twitter status is updated. My Twitter updates are pushed to my Facebook status, and I have been able to follow a great many people attending the Penny Arcade Expo so I can communicate and connect with them. It has helped me professionally as I have received assistance on technical issues, and it has certainly increased the feedback I have gotten on life events and writing. In general, it has helped my communication with others online.

With a limit of 140 characters per message, though, space is at a premium. I realized early on that if I had something to say, or wanted to make note of something important (say a news article I had read), it was better to write about it on my blog and have Twitter post a link to my site. This not only earned me more traffic, it cut down on Twitter spam as compared to some people who just post message after message. In addition to this realization, however, I have also been working on concision in my messages and learning where I can cut unneeded words and characters. I maintain writing proper sentences (most of the time), but certain phrases are creeping into my vocabulary.

Hence the title of this post. For months I have kept on with the phrase, “I posted on Twitter,” or, “So-and-so posted on Twitter,” but I just don’t have the space for it anymore. Modern technology and its emphasis on concision and time-savings is wearing on me, and I must bend to its will.

I haven’t decided how this will affect my other writing yet. I lean towards concision as a general rule and don’t think a book need be 500 pages to be considered a novel. My rule of thumb is to shoot for 100 pages, and most blog posts are around 500 words where once they were over 3000. I focus on keeping things shorter and to the point, but will I take it even a step further and cut things down more? Only time will tell.

False Dreams, False Memories

Though it wasn’t a major component of my dream last night, I knew as I slept that my ex-girlfriend had committed suicide some time in the past. The knowledge wasn’t a shock, gut-wrenching and eliciting tears, but rather the feeling was one of an old sadness. I thought of her and was sad that she had died, and by her own hand.

When I awoke, this knowledge lingered and I continued in my sadness. As sleep fell away, however, I began to examine the memory, confused by my reactions and thoughts. If she had died, why hadn’t I called her husband to offer my condolences and assistance? Why didn’t I remember writing about it, and why hadn’t I attended the funeral?

The first place I turned for answers was Facebook. Surely if she had really committed suicide there would be a long list of posts from people on her wall wishing her peace and offering prayers for her family. Of course, what I found was nothing of the sort. She had taken some sort of quiz recently, and posted some new photos.

There are dreams that strike us, that shake us with a fear and horror that refuses to dissipate upon waking. Instead, I am left with this quiet sadness, all the more poignant for all the true memories of death and suicide that likewise refuse to leave.

I don’t begrudge that sadness–I think it is an important part of being human and capable of love. I do wish it could be restrained however, and kept from spilling over where it is not needed.

Say it Softly

The Internet has often been observed as being a double-edged sword in regards to content publication. Yes, it has reduced the barriers to entry and allowed more people than ever the ability to get their work to The People, whoever and wherever they might be. This egalitarian spirit has ensured that every voice can be heard, provided that voice has a compy and a connection, or at least a local public library, and this is a Good Thing.

Unfortunately, this also means that anyone and everyone can publish, which increases the volume. Because there’s so much out there, finding the good stuff can be difficult–it’s like taking one of Beethoven’s symphonies and turning up the noise on all channels. Finding the melody becomes impossible, and just the same, it is hard to find all the content on the ‘Net that’s worth finding. What’s more, it is hard to get your voice heard. Yes, it was difficult to get published in The Past, but once you were published, you were there. You were assured of getting noticed. The status quo has been flipped on its head, so now you can get published but no one will even care.

So people shout. They send spam emails and mass Facebook messages, get Twitter accounts to update voraciously, and climb to the tippy top of Babylon to make sure they can project as far as possible. If the noise has been turned up, it seems reasonable that one must overcome the noise to be noticed.

This logic isn’t necessarily flawed, but it must be moderated. The problem is twofold: 1) people shout too much and that’s a turn-off, and 2) they’re often shouting for no reason.

Volume is important, as both a quantity of space and in regards to sound, and it’s true that if the noise drowns you out then you’re simply drowned. You’ve got to find a way to rise above that noise, like a fish leaping from the water, so someone will notice and follow you (if I might borrow Twitter’s chosen word, which has grown on me quite a bit). However, if you keep shouting, getting louder and louder, chances are you’ll be tuned out. People will only take so much of it before they turn away.

Regardless of your volume though, you’ve got to have something to say or none of it matters. If what you’re trying to get people to notice sucks, then shouting won’t do a bit of good. They’ll come and look, yeah, but then they’ll leave. What’s more, they’ll tell others, and eventually even your first-visits will decline. There’s not much to gain from shouting about nothing, so you’ve got to make sure you have something at least decent to offer if you’re going to draw people’s attention to it.

Hulu makes commercials quiet, and it forces me to sit up and listen. This is an old trick used by public speakers, one that is proven to work well, and I similarly recommend it for web communication. You’ve got to say something, and you’ve got to say it loud enough to be heard, but don’t go beyond that. I send out Facebook mass messages, but only to people who have joined the SilverPen Publishing group, so they’ve essentially opted-in to that service. And even to those people who have agreed to receive such messages, I try to keep the quantity as low as possible (so far this year, I think I’ve sent three). I post on Twitter, but not generally to drive people to my site–I prefer to use that as a way to communicate with people I find interesting, and to post things I similarly think are interesting (though I’m probably mistaken). I make sure my site is optimized for search engines and that I write interesting and somewhat unique things so they show up high in search rankings. The trick is first to be heard, and then to get people coming back.

In public speaking, if you’ve got your audience’s attention, even just a little bit, and you lower the volume of your voice, it will cause them to unconsciously lean forward to hear you better. Then you’ve got them hooked–their eyes are on you, their chins are up, and they’re rapt. They want to know what will happen next.

Be loud when you need to get attention, but don’t shout all the time. Respect your fans, even the ones who haven’t heard of you yet, and the rest will take care of itself.

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

I recently responded to a list of essays on Facebook to which a friend of mine linked. These essays were titled, “Proving that the Bible is Repulsive,” and are posted on godisimaginary.com. I took his linking to this site without commentary (beyond stating that he had only read the first few so far) as tacit approval of the site’s content, and this impression I received filled me with sadness. The arguments I found on godisimaginary.com were shallow, stereotypical, and oversimplified. That anyone would buy into them fills me with sorrow, but my belief that a close friend was leaning towards this rubbish was greatly disappointing.

His first response to my comment ((“No offense intended, but it’s written by an unbeliever for other unbelievers to help them feel better about their views. In skimming a couple, there’s a lack of nuance and study as well as a subscription to either straw men arguments or oversimplification. Similar to The Skeptic’s Bible, it highlights a lack of complete understanding of the subject, and the author then translates their lack of understanding into ‘therefore, it is wrong.'”)) was rather flippant, remarking on his amusement that I had gotten my feathers ruffled. I replied that I had experienced no such ruffling, just sorrow.

My friend then explained at length that his posting of the link did not indicate approval but rather served as an indication of what he was thinking/experiencing at the moment.

I post a quote that I just read and it caught me, I post a new song because that’s what I’m listening to. Then I post an article that I’ve been reading and it’s stimulating my thought process.

I have no problem apologizing when I am wrong, and I was certainly glad to be wrong this time around. Unfortunately, just as I was returning to my work, his girlfriend commented about how she had left Christianity due to its ambiguity and extensive use of metaphor, lack of evidence, and the suffocation she felt under Christianity. This left me rather melancholy.

It is part of the reason I want to write about Christianity, particularly for college students, because it seems like these questions should have been answered by now. We’ve had millenia, but for some reason the information isn’t getting to people. There are answers for a lot of the questions, even if they’re just different interpretations of the text… but none of it’s new. I’ve learned things about the Old Testament in just the last few weeks that have been around for over fifteen thousand years, but those lessons, interpretations, and facts haven’t made it into the main stream. We don’t hear about them. We’re not taught them.

I’m not here to shove my ideas down people’s throats, but if someone’s looking for answers, it breaks my heart when they can’t find good ones. When the mockers and scoffers are louder than us, not because there are more of them, but because we have remained silent.

Don’t take my words as attacks, because they aren’t intended as such. What’s more, I don’t really want to speak in the first place. It’s scary to put myself out there and respond to attacks on Christianity, because I’m afraid I won’t be able to respond to the questions or, really, I’m afraid that I’ll get made fun of. But I know that I would be doing a disservice to people if I didn’t respond and let them know the truth of God’s love. I am compelled to speak on his behalf. I just pray that it comes across all right.

If I seem edgy I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has it’s problems and I get my share
And that’s one thing I never meant to do
Because I love you

Oh, Oh baby don’t you know I’m human
Have thoughts like any other one
Sometimes I find myself long regretting
Some foolish thing, some little simple thing I’ve done

But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood