‘Uncategorized’ Category

 

Ditching the clutter on Facebook

Facebook’s new look manages to squeeze the stuff I care about into a small central section of the page, with navigation down the left and a stream of promoted junk at the right.

Here’s how you can make it a bit more tolerable, if you’re a Firefox user. First grab the Stylish Add On for the browser. You’ll need to restart when it’s been installed.

Next head to Facebook and your main news feed page. Click the S drop down added by Stylish, and choose “Write new style” followed by “For facebook.com” You’ll see a window like this appear.

Give it a name, like FB Tidyup, and add some custom CSS. This is a quick and dirty fix, but I don’t care about that right hand column, which handily has the ID rightCol, and so can be hidden with this code:

#rightCol {
 display:none;
}

The main part of the page can be widened; I chose 800pixels, as it’s a little nicer, though of course not everything scales perfectly. Use this css

#contentArea {
 width: 800px !important;
}

Put that all in the box and the results should be like this:

Click Preview to check you like the results, and then Save if you’re happy. The end result is your news feed looking something like this:

FBtidied

Like I say, this is quick and dirty, but an improvement, I think.

 

 
 
 

Xmas gift guide

The first of a few pieces I’ve done for The Register on tech gifts for christmas is now online.

 
 
 

Test page for a widget

Most of you don’t care about this. Testing a widget. More details at http://bluf.com/api/calplugin.html

 
 
 

Affiliate scam on a dating site

Yesterday, I came across an interesting scam on a dating/contact site. I received a message from someone that contained this text

Hi! I find your photo on this site:
http://tinyurl.com/m9e3xrt

This is your site ? You looking for new people… :-)

Generally, in my experience, when people on sites like this (it’s GayRomeo in this case) send a message with a link, they are almost always a faker. They’re trying to persuade you to chat with them elsewhere, either to grab customers for another site, or to scam you; anyone who’s spent much time on sites such as these will be familiar with the huge number of messages from people in Ghana, for example, who seem ever so keen to find love in the UK. (Interestingly, a friend who organises academic conferences tells me they get lots of applications from Ghana for those too, so it’s not just dating sites. Nor, of course, is it just Ghana, or people pretending to be from there; other countries host scammers too, and the sender of this message claimed to be in Massachusetts).
So, of course, you want to know what happens when you click the link. Well, when the message was sent to me, it redirected to what appeared to be lfm.freehpsite.com, and it was indeed a photo of me, with a message above saying that I was looking for fun, and a link underneath to ‘View my private photo and video profile.’
My photo, but certainly not my page. It's an affiliate scam

My photo, but certainly not my page. It’s an affiliate scam

Needless to say, I have neither, certainly not on such a shoddy looking page. So, what happens when you click the link? You get directed to a site called GayPartners.com, which I have never heard of before. It appears to be owned by a corporation based in the British Virgin Islands, operated by a subsidiary in Cyprus.
A closer look at the URL suggests that it’s an affiliate link:
http://gaypartners.com/aff.php?dynamicpage=find_gp&a_aid=f0c413c4&a_bid=19e8291e#fform
And a quick search for details of the scheme suggests that the site may actually pay $4, presumably per sign-up, via an affiliate network called CPATrend.
So, I decided to look a little more closely. In fact, the address that the short link redirected to wasn’t just the freehpsite.com URL, unadorned as it looked in the screen grab. Typing the first part into my browser’s address bar revealed the full link I’d been sent to was
http://lfm.freehpsite.com/?p=0677b791db47fecde3c8a31292&r=0.832786826545163
And a look at the source of the page revealed that the image hadn’t been downloaded, it was simply being plundered directly from the GayRomeo server:
<img src="http://s.gayromeo.com/img/usr/0677b791db47fecde3c8a31292.jpg">
So, clearly the first parameter (p) is substituted in the page to give the URL of the image to display; I’m not sure what the second one does, as I couldn’t see anything else in the code that it seemed obviously related to. You can get the URL of one of someone’s images on GayRomeo (and many other sites) simply by right clicking. It’s a moment’s work to take that and create the fake short URL, which will make it look to many people as if their photo is being used by someone else, and they’ll naturally click the link.
Whether just doing that is sufficient to generate an affiliate fee from GayPartners, I don’t know; the victim may have to sign up, which I didn’t try doing, and though there certainly are paid subscription options mentioned in the terms and conditions, I don’t know if you can sign up without giving any payment details.
I must stress that I have no information to suggest that GayPartners themselves are in any way involved in what looks like a systematic attempt to lure users of GayRomeo to sign in to another site. I write this post purely to let people know how it’s done.
If you get sent a short link by anyone on a dating site, my advice is not to click it. And my advice to sites like GayRomeo is to tweak your servers so that members’ images can’t be included in other sites. That’s not foolproof, but it would mean that instead of a simple script, the scammers behind this would have to download each image first, and then host it elsewhere.
 
 
 

Facebook’s communication surcharge

Read some of the reports around the web, and you’d be forgiving for thinking that Facebook has decided to charge people to send messages to celebrities. And, you probably think, that doesn’t bother you because you’re not the sort of person who does that.

But what they’re really doing is charging for communications to people who aren’t in your friend lists, and that has rather wider reaching implications; I responded to a blog post on the Which? website, and this is an edited version of my comment there.

I believe this is a dangerous precedent, and one that can make Facebook – and especially its ‘groups’ functionality, a lot less useful for a lot of people, especially small clubs, groups and organisations.

I run a club, which is a free organisation, with no membership fees. As well as a forum on our own website, we also have a closed group on Facebook where our members can also discuss and share information.

To ensure that it’s not full of spam, we approve each member who wants to join the group, and the details of the group indicate that people should message an admin with their membership details. However, the way the facebook groups interface works means that’s not terribly visible, and many people don’t. So, we’re often left needing to contact them.

One reason for that is that, by the nature of the group, many people may not be using the same name or email address on Facebook as they do on our private site. And, with a few thousand people in our club, there will be many whom we don’t know personally.

It is, of course, possible to simply add people as Friends – though Facebook has limits on how many times you can do that, especially if people don’t respond. Just as I might not recognise some of those wanting to join the group, because of a different name, they may not necessarily recognise me when I send a friend request. After sufficient people have turned down what may seem to them to be random friend requests, you end up blocked from sending any more, which isn’t helpful if you’re trying to verify membership of a group.

Another reason why we don’t want to become friends with everyone just to message them about group membership is the inevitable cluttering up of timelines, which then necessitates setting what stuff you want to hear from each person, and dealing with the almost inevitable further requests that you play some annoying game that they’ve decided to share with everyone. In short, it would create a lot more work for people trying to simply control who can and can’t join the group that we have on Facebook.

So, a consequence of this new policy, spun as if it’s only going to affect those who want to message celebrities, is that more and more, we as admins of a group, will be expected to pay to send someone a message to verify their membership of our club; I’ve had this message pop up a couple of times already, and my reaction has been to ignore it, and with it the Facebook member’s request to join the group.

I’m sure I won’t be the only person in this situation. Talking of it as a fee to message celebrities may well get headlines, but in fact like many such stupid ideas, the biggest effect will likely be felt by small organisations who will be penalised a bit at a time for wanting to reach out and contact people, whether over things like group memberships in my case, or because they want to contact someone who may be knowledgeable and able to help with a problem.

Yes, it is, so far, a small fee, but if I have to pay to message just one in six of our members, to verify they should be allowed access to our closed Facebook group, that would cost the same as several months of the hosting fees for our main web site.

This is, for many small groups, likely to be an annoyance, and drain on their funds or time, that goes one little step further towards making Facebook less useful as a way of keeping in touch with people, rather than more.

 
 
 

London to Berlin by train

BerlinE6-1-03BerlinE6-1-06BerlinE6-4-23 - Version 2BerlinE6-4-24 - Version 2BerlinE6-4-29 - Version 2BerlinE6-4-32 - Version 2

London to Berlin by train, a set on Flickr.

Over on Flickr, you’ll find a few photos and notes about my recent trip to Berlin by train. It’s slightly off-topic for this blog, but if you enjoy travelling and hate flying, as I do, you might find some of the information useful.

 
 
 

So long, Google Plus

I have a Google Plus page; like a lot of people, I don’t tend to go there that often, because I’ve not yet found anything compelling. And, thanks to the latest changes that Google has made, giving it a new look, I’m even less likely to go there in future.

Because Google has made it just too much hassle to log in to their site.

I have a couple of Google accounts; the one that I use most is the one for my AdSense account, but my GooglePlus page is actually a different account, with my Gmail address; I can’t remember exactly why that happened – I think at the time it was open only to Gmail addresses, or something like that. Anyway, AdSense is on my ‘real’ email address, and I seldom use Gmail anyway.

Until the recent change, this didn’t make much difference. I tend to be signed in to the AdSense account most, but when I go to Google Plus, there used to be, alongside the offer to create a G+ account with the account I’m signed in as, the option to switch to another account. I could click that on the dropdown, select the Gmail account, enter the password, and I’d be in.

Not any more. This screen is what I see when I try to go to Google Plus now, when I’m signed in to my AdSense account:

No sign out button; the new G+ start screen makes it just too much hassle for me to bother logging in

The only thing I’ve done to that screenshot is blur the email address; there are no links off the page that I’m hiding. In case it makes a difference – but G+ isn’t so crucial I’m going to change my browser to find out – I’m using Firefox on the Mac.

What’s missing? There’s not only no switch account option, but there’s also no sign out link. Google knows I’m signed in to an account that doesn’t have a G+ profile. It wants me to create one, and that’s the only option. The About Google+ link tells me how wonderful it is, and has more links to information about G+, and to Google’s main pages. But certainly within a couple of clicks, I can’t get to a page with a signout link.

So, what I have to do instead is go back to my bookmarks, or the address bar, and navigate back to AdSense, then click Sign out. And then come back to Google Plus, and type the Gmail address and password for the account that I used when I created my Google Plus page.

And, frankly, that just makes me think, “Why the hell should I bother?”