How Fast Is Facebook?

We’re all generally aware that the web servers of social networking platforms like Facebook are capable of processing data very quickly. But do we really comprehend how quickly?

Until recently, I didn’t really comprehend data processing speeds at all. But then I signed up for a new Facebook account. Although I originally opened a personal account many years ago, I deleted it after becoming frustrated at the platform’s constant modifications to its privacy controls. Frankly, I didn’t see why I couldn’t simply instruct the service that “only I should be able to post items to my account pages” once and once only.

But after a colleague convinced me that the platform’s social networking capabilities might warrant a second look, I ventured onto Facebook’s home page and reviewed the sign-up instructions.

I was asked for my name, an email address, and two or three other brief items of identification. That seemed reasonable to me! I was then asked whether I wished to give Facebook access to the electronic address book that is associated with my email account, so that the social network could help me locate my friends. Thanks, but no thanks! I declined that offer.

After a brief moment’s delay, I logged into my new account. And to my astonishment, I was immediately presented with a list of people whom (according to Facebook) I might know, and whom I might wish to “friend.”

Why was I astonished? Well, most of the names on that list were recognizable to me. They ranged from good friends whom I contact often, to total strangers whom I briefly contacted for business reasons on a single occasion many years ago.

For a while, I was flummoxed. How could Facebook know so many of my past and present contacts, across such a broad range of personal and business relationships, if I declined to open my electronic address book to the service? And then the answer struck me.

Although Facebook didn’t have access to my address book, it did know my email address. And if many of Facebook’s existing users had opened their address books to Facebook when they first signed up for the social network, the algorithms could have searched through many (or perhaps even all) of those address books for my email address.

So quickly, though? During that single brief moment while I signed up for the service? Apparently, Facebook is fast. Really fast.

Of course, it might be worth pondering a couple of follow-up questions. Do most of the individuals who open their address books to Facebook when they sign up for accounts really understand how the social network plans to utilize that access? And is it really fair for Facebook to ask for access only once, and then to utilize it forever without ever asking again?

Reasonable minds may certainly differ over the answers to those questions. And yet there is one impressive fact that is not debatable at all; namely, once we permit Facebook to access our personal information, it can make very fast use of our data.

The Worst Password Ever

Are you feeling a bit insecure about the strength of your online passwords? If so, then you’re certainly not alone. Most of us don’t use the random strings of capital letters, small letters, numbers, and punctuation marks that security experts always recommend. Likewise, most of us don’t bother to change our passwords on a regular basis.

But if you’re worried that one of your choices might have earned the title of Worst Password Ever, please banish that concern from your mind. That particular title appears to have been earned by — of all people — Mark Zuckerberg, the Chief Executive Officer of Facebook.

Why? A few years ago, Zuckerberg established the password dadada for his LinkedIn account. Then he used the same password for at least three other major social media accounts. And he never updated that choice, even though LinkedIn subsequently announced that the passwords of more than six million users were accessed by cyber-hackers.

How do we know this? Because someone recently used his LinkedIn password to take over his accounts. The hackers did no damage, other than embarrassing the founder of the world’s largest social media network.

Even if his LinkedIn password had not been stolen, a password like dadada would have been easy to guess. After all, Zuckerberg and his wife have been eager to post photographs of their new children on Facebook. A hacker could easily surmise that these children might call their father dada.

So what insights can be gleaned from this news story? The obvious one, of course, is that we should all take password security very seriously. Especially those of us who haven’t changed our LinkedIn passwords for several years!

But a more subtle insight involves the inherent insufficiency of our internet security system. If it is so burdensome that one of the world’s most successful internet entrepreneurs cannot compel himself to take it seriously, what chance do any of us have to manage it well?

Nevertheless, for most of us, a password based security system is our only option. So perhaps, every once in a while, we might choose to take a moment to update a password or two.

When should we start? Well … why not right now?

Social Media: Hubs and Spokes

Is this scenario familiar to you? An organization decides that it needs a social media presence. It polls its constituents and identifies their preferred platforms. Then it begins to post press releases, and a few employee photographs, on those platforms.

But the limitations of the platforms make them ill-suited to showcase the organization’s strengths, and thus the content looks shabby … or, even worse, downright awkward. The constituents ignore the postings, and the entire initiative collapses as a complete failure.

So what went wrong? The key mistake, ironically, was the organization’s decision to follow the preferences of their own constituents. That strategy cannot make any sense if — as is usually the case — the factors that drive the constituents to prefer certain platforms are different than the needs of the organization to communicate with them.

Web surfers, for instance, might prefer Facebook or Twitter because of their desire to share colorful photos of their children and grandchildren. Those same web surfers might also be readers of the New York Times’ online articles. But that doesn’t mean that the New York Times would be well advised to publish its entire online newspaper on Facebook or Twitter.

Instead, the Times maintains its own web site as its online hub, and establishes company pages on Facebook and Twitter. Most of its postings and tweets contain links that carry readers back to the online hub. In other words, the Facebook and Twitter accounts act as spokes that distribute the content to the preferred platforms of the readers, while bridging the distance between those platforms and the hub platform.

With this example in mind, what advice shall we provide to our beleaguered organization? Well, that depends on the nature of the organization and the preferences of its constituents. If the organization is a photography studio and its constituents are photographers, the organizational hub might reside on Instagram. There would be no need for spokes if all of the photographers also maintain accounts on Instagram.

However, if the organization is a literary club, it might make more sense to establish a hub on a blog platform. After all, blogs are explicitly designed to host essays of hundreds, or even thousands, of words. Then, if many of its members happen to be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, it can establish spokes between its hub blog and those other services.

The key insight, counter-intuitive as it may seem, is that organizations should not necessarily post their primary content on platforms that are heavily utilized by their stakeholders. Instead, they should establish hubs on platforms that are optimally suited to showcase their content, regardless of the preferences of their constituents. Then, and only then, should those organization establish spokes to convey their content to the preferred platforms of their readers.

Does that sound complicated? Perhaps it does. But hey … the online world is a complex milieu. Organizations should expect to require complex strategies to navigate it.