Monthly Archives: January 2009

Unfriends forever

Today the New York Times, in its role as the paper of record, investigates one of the most pressing questions of this point in history: the etiquette of deleting people from your Facebook friends. This seems to be prompted by Burger King’s recent promotion wherein the fast food chain invited Facebook users to remove ten friends in exchange for a free Whopper. Contrary to normal Facebook procedure, but better for spreading the promotion, the ex-friends would be notified that they had been dropped for 10% of a burger.
Personally, I thought this was awesome, and was halfway tempted to do it even though I had no interest in actually eating at Burger King. However, apparently the Whopper Sacrifice has been axed by Facebook, who seem intent on keeping the act of unfriending as silent as possible.
So the correct approach, apparently, is to quietly drop people from our lists and hope they don’t notice. This works until it’s brought to their attention by, say, a mutual acquaintance using the “suggest a friend” option. This actually happened to me (as the unfriendee, not the unfriender), although rather than being offended by the realization I just laughed at the fact that someone had made the suggestion—this was a case where it was pretty clear why I had been unfriended.
On the other hand, in some situations a message about the reason for the removal may be justified, and even helpful. This is the case for one of the best reasons for deletion: irritating status messages. These come in many forms: the all-caps shout with twelve exclamation marks; the incredibly pedestrian messages that get updated every five minutes; the message that gets reposted every day but is essentially the same. If you unfriend someone because of their status messages, be sure to tell them why so they might stop annoying the rest of their friends. I was impressed by the person in the Times article who said this:

“I believe it was based on a passive-aggressive update of yours to which I sighed, kinda shook my head and pressed ‘delete from friends,’ ” she confessed by e-mail. “I find negativity a bit tiresome and don’t have the patience for it.”

This is excellent and we should all follow her example. In fact, there should be a “delete from friends” button next to every status message so that the option is readily available. This might even make people think twice before posting something lame. As they say, an armed society is a polite society.
Wait, no, this is the internet. Here, an armed society is the Hobbesian war of all against all. Maybe Facebook’s quiet deletion policy really is for the best…

Internet ads are annoying

Internet ads are always annoying, of course, but some ads are more annoying than others. I hardly notice the Google text ads to the right of my e-mail, but I’ve had to restrain myself from putting a fist through the monitor when those Circuit City flash ads spawn directly on top of the page I’m trying to read. Happily, they went bankrupt, and it serves them right.
One of the webcomics I read had an ad running for a while (for another webcomic) that was so visually irritating that I seriously considered buying up the ad space to displace it. Since the space in question was managed by the Project Wonderful service, the cost of doing this was displayed right below the ad, and seemed like a completely reasonable amount to pay to clean up the page.
This strategy would require rather more funding to take on the current plague of the Internet: the ads for the “one rule to a flat stomach” diet. While these started out as innocuous Google text ads themselves, remarkable only for their questionable grammatical choices, the initial campaign must have been successful: I think sometime last week they succeeded in buying up every ad space on the Internet. (Since then they’ve scaled back to only about half of all the ads I see.) Too bad they didn’t use some of their advertising money to hire an actual marketing firm; instead the ads remain amateurish and off-putting, mostly consisting of shoving large, grainy pictures of exposed stomachs into our faces.
The usual impact of these ads is for me to navigate away from the page as fast as possible. But a better strategy might be to actually click on the ad. After all, charging for click-throughs is a pretty common pricing scheme in internet advertising, and since I’m not actually going to buy whatever snake oil these people are selling, every click from me is a small loss for them. It’s even tempting to write a script to repeatedly hit their ads, but it seems like this could get me in trouble. My best hope is that nobody buys their product in the middle of a recession, and their advertising binge sends them the way of Circuit City, but unfortunately I suspect the insatiable demand for miracle diets will keep them in business for a while.
So I guess I have no choice but to endure it, and spend my time contemplating which of their ads is the most appalling. Is it the one with the badly-animated jiggling flab? Or the one which shows a normal, healthy woman in the “before” picture who then looks like a famine victim in the “after”? It’s a tough choice.

Games of New York

I was walking along Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village today when I was surprised to spot someone running a shell game. Not some metaphorical shell game with sketchy accounting practices, but an actual shell game. With soda bottle caps. Maybe it’s just my naivete about the Big City, but I always imagined that while shell games probably went on in old-timey New York, the con artists moved on to a new scam once the phrase “shell game” entered the language as a synonym for cheating. But there it was, and Wikipedia confirms that shell games are still run “at locations with a high tourist concentration.”
Still, I’m shocked there are people who don’t know this is a scam. Maybe it’s a sign of the dire economic times: 50-billion-dollar Ponzi schemes are out, shell games played on a cardboard box are in.