Category Archives: Tools

IFTTT 101

IFTTT Screenshots: homepageIFTTT Screenshots: servicesIFTTT Screenshots: Grant Alerts

I’ve been asked about how I use IFTTT (IF This Then That). which is an app for connecting digital devices and streams in creative and interesting ways. Basically, it allows you to automate ways different tech things can talk to each other, or, as they describe it, ” helps your apps and devices work together in new ways.” Actually I think the real question was about how I use social media, broadly, but this was part of the question, and it’s way easier to answer, so I’m going to start here, with an overview of some interesting recipes, followed by how to find them, and how to make them.

ComputerWorld (2019): What is IFTTT? How to use If This, Then That services
With 11 million users running more than a billion applets a month, IFTTT hopes to become a service that connects pretty much everything — though some users say it still has room for improvement.

RECIPES AND APPLETS

These are some IFTTT recipes and applets that I either actually use, or wish maybe I could. (Hey, I can’t afford all those fancy-schmancy smart home devices!) These include things that streamline some of my work, help me keep up to date, manage my work-life balance, support accommodations for health issues and safety concerns, keep me in tune with hobbies and interests, and more!

Notice that there are often multiple recipes to accomplish what looks like the same task. These are usually made by different people. Sometimes they refine an earlier idea to make it better (like shifting from “remind me to drink water” to “remind me to drink water when I’m not asleep”!), sometimes not so much. If you forget you already have one recipe going for a task, you can end up with duplicate emails or Flickr posts or things like that. And be accused of spamming your Flickr followers. Sometimes you want to try both out to see which one works better. Some of the Instagram to Flickr recipes only work for one image at a time, or one a day, while others are more flexible and robust and will capture everything you do. There are dozens of recipes to help you remember to take your medicines or vitamins at a particular time of day. At least one of them will actually trigger your device to speak aloud to remind you! There are several to send alerts if there is a new clinical trial on diabetes, or asthma, or skin cancer, or …

You get the idea. The basic message is “BUYER” BEWARE. Test it out, try it out, and be prepared to turn it off if it doesn’t do what you expected. Also, watch for unexpected side effects. There have been the occasional report of an IFTTT recipe that, maybe, sends email AS you instead of TO you, just as an example. Another example was someone who used a device to automatically lock their door when they weren’t at home, set up a recipe to verify the door was locked if the door saw an unfamiliar face, then forgot about the recipe, and had trouble trying to UNLOCK the door when it didn’t recognize him. So you want to be careful. Also, just because I link to a recipe below doesn’t mean these have all been vetted or tested. These are examples of the kinds of things you can do with IFTTT, and I have tested SOME of those listed here.

Alert: Reminder to drink water every hour unless you’re asleep (I actually use this as a reminder to take a 3 minute exercise/movement break each hour)

Clinical Trials: Get an email when ClinicalTrials.gov publishes a new trigger or action

Grants: Get an email when there’s a new education-related grant
Grants: Get an email when there’s a new grant that mentions your state or city
Grants: Get an email when there’s a new health-related grant

IFTTT: Get an email when a new service is published on IFTTT

Instagram: Post your Instagram photos to Flickr

NASA: Get a notification when the International Space Station passes over your house
NASA: Receive NASA’s Image of the Day in your inbox
NASA: Did an astronaut exit space? Get a notification
NASA: Did an astronaut enter space? Get a notification

News: Get an email from the New York Times whenever there is breaking technology news
News: Get a weekly email digest of new Pew Research technology articles
News: Automatically tweet updates from Pew Research

Safety: Get yourself out of an awkward situation (International)
Safety: Google Home Find My Phone (“When you ask Google home to find your phone it turns the ringer to 100% and places a VOIP call through IFTT.”
Safety: Ok Google, call my device
Safety: Hey Alexa, call my device

Self-tracking: Log how much time you spend at specific locations like the office or home in a spreadsheet
Self-tracking: Track your work hours in Google Calendar
Self-tracking: When I buy a coffee, log calories to iOS Health

Smart Home: Call me if Roost detects a water leak
Smart Home: Turn on/off your lights with one tap on your phone
Smart Home: Turn on Smart Life device at sunset
Smart Home: Get your Hue Lights to colour loop when it’s Christmas

Twitter: If Twitter #HASHTAG, Then IF Notification

WHO: Get alerts if there’s a disease outbreak news from the World Health Organization

WUnderground: Rain tomorrow? Get a mobile notification
WUnderground: Get a notification and an email if there’s going to be snow tomorrow

YouTube: Add songs from videos you like to a Spotify playlist

Highlighted collections from IFTTT

DISCOVERY: Finding IFTTT Recipes to Meet Your Needs

How do you find these? I usually browse the “Discover” section of the IFTTT app, but I also search for keywords and browse other people’s recommendations. The metadata is dependent on the person who created the recipe, so the words in the title can be really weird sometimes. It helps to get really creative with related words.

IFTTT: Discover: https://ifttt.com/discover

The Ambient, Smart Home (2019): IFTTT essential guide: The best IFTTT Applets for your automated smart home

PC Magazine (2019): The 25 Best IFTTT Applets: If This Then That (IFTTT) integrates activities across your digital services and devices. Here are some of our favorite combinations, or applets.

ComputerWorld (2017): 41 cool and useful IFTTT applets: Want to automatically save articles you’ve liked on Twitter to Pocket? There’s an IFTTT applet for that – and for a lot of other things, too.

Trusted Reviews (2016): 35 amazingly useful IFTTT recipes to simplify your life

Lifehack (2013): 35 Super Useful IFTTT Recipes You Might Not Know About

DIY: Making Your Own IFTTT Recipe

The next question for me, and something I haven’t done yet, is, hmmm, what about all those journal alerts? And search strategies? Or Google News alerts? I wouldn’t want a phone alert for everything, but there might be some where I’d like to know. I can imagine that some of the faculty medical librarians support might like to have something set up for grants in their field, new publication alerts on the topic of their most recent systematic review, or even if someone cited their articles. I don’t know how hard it would be to do this, but I can certainly imagine that we might want to! So, here is an article about how to get started.

How to create an IFTTT recipe https://support.meshprj.com/hc/en-us/articles/213717818-How-to-create-an-IFTTT-recipe

#ADA25! Tech + Touch + Targets: Part Two, “Our New Technology”

#ADA25 Amtrak New Accessible Technology #a11y

To continue the series on “what I did for #ADA25,” I’d like to talk about the very exciting event here in town last week, in which Ann Arbor sets the stage for a national high speed rail system, and access for persons with disability is at the core of making this possible.

#ADA25 Amtrak New Accessible Technology #a11y

AMTRAK

The event was the ribbon cutting for the new disability-accessible platform at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station.

“New disability-accessible platform opens at Ann Arbor Amtrak station” http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/07/new_disability_platform_opens.html

The event started out with the mayor, Chris Taylor, describing the importance of the University of Michigan Health System and hospitals in providing advanced health care to the residents of the State of Michigan, and how critical accessible rail transport is for supporting this.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley noted, “Acceptance & awareness are important, but inclusion is a game changer.”

Richard Bernstein, Judge of the Michigan Supreme Court, waxed eloquent, clearly joyful and delighted with this innovation. You can hear his full remarks on Soundcloud.

Joe McHugh (Amtrak’s Senior Vice President) described this as “the flagship of our new technology,” continuing with the vision and possibilities that would come from this.

Joe really meant technology, too! The new boarding platform is retractable, and extends toward the train when in use. The Amtrak press release describes it as “The platform mechanically extends toward the train, bridging the gap created when a level-boarding platform is needed. This next generation of passenger-focused technology will allow America’s Railroad® to deliver a modern passenger railroad that is accessible to all.” That wasn’t the limit of the tech, either. In addition to designing the platform, the interactive portions of the tech, they also had to design manual tech to support the process in case of problems with the automated portions or for situations that require special extra support.

#ADA25 Amtrak New Accessible Technology #a11y

As with all ribbon-cutting events, the actual story started long long before. Or stories, I should say. This event sprang from the intersection of many stories, many people’s experiences. There are the local folk who fought for a better way to take the train, and helped make people aware of the reasons why it should start HERE. There were wheelchair passengers who complained about being put on a jack, hoisted into mid-air, and left dangling in the rain while the station staff try to get the logistics sorted out. There were the Amtrak staff who helped people with luggage, moms with strollers, elderly folk climbing the narrow stairs into or out of the Amtrak cars.

The story that resonated most powerfully with me was told by Richard Devylder, the U.S. DOT’s Senior Advisor for Accessible Transportation.

#ADA25 Amtrak New Accessible Technology #a11y

Richard was born without arms or legs. The combination of his experience, his intelligence, his connections with the community of persons with disabilities all help to inform his position and influence change. And when the opportunity presents itself, he absolutely will go for the brass ring.

That’s kind of what happened one day a few years ago. Richard described a room full of transportation higher ups. He asked, “Well, do you want to see high speed rail in the United States?” Yes, yes, yes, they all did. The next thing Richard said? “Then you have to find a way to let people like me board the train in less than 15 minutes.” BOOM.

That was one story. He had another good one. Richard described one day when he was trying to get on the train, and a ramp had been set up to allow him to board. But he couldn’t even get on the ramp because it was so crowded with people. Elderly with walkers. Parents with strollers. People with heavy rolling bags of luggage. Part of him thought, “Hey, why are all these people blocking my ramp?” Immediately he realized it is because all of them also needed a ramp, and the one provided for him was the only one there. BOOM #2!

We need ramps for boarding trains absolutely as much as we need curb cuts. The next ADA25 story I’ll be telling is about a group of people in virtual worlds. They were pretty impressed when I told them about this new Amtrak platform. Then they asked, “But why did it take 25 years? And why is there only ONE in the entire United States?” More on that in the next post.

The actual ribbon cutting, with Gary Talbot as the honored local person who pushed the hardest to make this happen.

And then people could board!

#ADA25 Amtrak New Accessible Technology #a11y
#ADA25 Amtrak New Accessible Technology #a11y


Updated to include Gary Talbot’s name.

#ADA25! Tech + Touch + Targets: Part One, “I couldn’t type a hug.”

Screenshots from the White House video of President Obama Celebrating ADA25

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the signing of the American with Disabilities Act. I want to describe three technology events that happened around the theme of celebrating this milestone! These three stories include high speed rail, robots, assistive communication devices, virtual worlds, web accessibility, exoskeletons, 3d printing, and more. That’s the tech. But the touch is just as important, if not more so, and the question of what’s left that needs doing is the idea of defining and meeting our targets. Let’s get started.

WHITE HOUSE

First, President Obama celebrated, of course, with many people. One was Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of the Harvard Law School. The President would type words to talk with her, and she would listen with her hands on a machine that translated the typing into Braille. “I couldn’t type a hug,” he said.

Screenshots from the White House video of President Obama Celebrating ADA25Screenshots from the White House video of President Obama Celebrating ADA25

Alice Wong, of the Disability Visibility Project, attended the event through her telepresence robot, and wrote about it later, here.

Screenshots from the White House video of President Obama Celebrating ADA25

The White House has made available both the highlights video (under 3 minutes) and the complete event (about 1.5 hours).


President Obama Celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the ADA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZCQT-DYVNY


President Obama Speaks at the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUI-TUFlteU

Towards the end of his remarks, President Obama described the how his father-in-law’s experience with multiple sclerosis helped to shape his passion for reducing barriers for persons with disabilities, and his awareness of how access to necessary resources can help people grow into their potential, and how that helps all of us.

“And just an aside on this, for a long time, he would not get a motorized wheelchair because he had gotten this disability at a time when they weren’t available and it was expensive, and they weren’t wealthy, and insurance didn’t always cover it. And it just gave you a sense of — Michelle and I would talk sometimes about how much more he could have done, how much more he could have seen — as wonderful as a dad as he was, and as wonderful as a coworker as he was, he was very cautious about what he could and couldn’t do — not because he couldn’t do it, but because he didn’t want to inconvenience his family and he didn’t want to be seen as somehow holding things up.” Remarks by the President on The Americans With Disabilities Act https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/20/remarks-president-americans-disabilities-act

Tech Trends VIII (#mlanet15)

Part 2 of a series of blogposts I wrote for the recent Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.


#MLATTT #MLANET15

The event so fondly known as MLATTT is a gathering of a panel of medical librarians who describe new and emerging technologies in what has become, by a kind of traditional, highly entertaining and engaging ways. For many, it is a not-to-be-missed highlight of the annual Medical Library Association meeting. This year was no different, and if anything topped previous years for sheer blistering hilarity. When the video becomes available, this is a must watch. I plan to watch it again, and I was there!

#MLATTT #MLANET15

Eric Schnell gave a talk that had the older members of the audience guffawing with laughter as he extolled the pleasures of emerging technologies from the perspective of the 1980s and 1990s. There were some younger folk asking, “Mosiac? Atari?” It was extremely well scripted and supported with links and images, and delivered completely deadpan.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

The quantified self section presented by Jon Goodall was great fun for me, and I particularly enjoyed how he engaged the audience in reviews of some of the highlighted technologies. It was interesting to see who had used various tools, and whether they worked for them or not.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

Kimberley Barker was incredibly dynamic, personable, and knowledgeable, as she sprinted through a rapidfire, high energy delivery of examples of tools, technologies, and trends relative to what’s happening with the Internet of Things.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

Jason Bengtson gave a candid, rollicking walk-through of some of his thoughts and experiences while creating the engaging information skills tutorial, Zombie Emergency. I was really impressed with how clearly he described the challenges of integrating education goals and content with gaming. Rachel Walden expressed well what I was thinking, when she commented on how impressive it was that Jason coded this, and is giving away the code for free in Github, as CC-licensed. You can find the actual quotes in the Storify, listed at the end of this post.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

J. Dale Prince might have been last, but far from least, as he wittily recounted his tales of being a new Apple Watch owner, pros, cons, and maybes. By the way, if you decide to buy a gold Apple Watch, Dale is willing to trade. 😉

Here’s the Storify, with much much more detail.

An archive of the tweets is available here, through Symplur. Almost 400 tweets in one hour?! That should tell you how much fun folk were having!

http://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/mlattt/

Emerging Tech, Healthcare & Comics for World Book Day #WorldBookDay

Bedroom Books, Unread, Part 1

One book, two books,
Red books, blue books,
Fat books, thin books,
Old books, new books.
This one has a gold leaf spine,
This one sings a little rhyme.
I could read books all the time!
(a Dr. Seuss parody by yours truly)

Let’s just say I sometimes WISH I could read books all the time. And a great deal of my house looks like the photo. For today, World Book Day, I want to just mention a few (a VERY few) books I’ve been reading lately which may be of interest to readers of this blog.

First off, some that connect directly to healthcare social media, emerging technologies, accessibility, disability, and health literacy — some of my favorite topics!


Digital Humanitarians
Digital Humanitarians, by Patrick Meier: http://www.digital-humanitarians.com/

I love the #SMEM community and #SMEMchat. SMEM stands for Social Media Emergency Management. Think of it as how we use social media for disaster and crisis response. I’ve touched on these topics here before, and will again. When I saw that a book had come out specifically on this, I was delighted. And it had even more — the roles of open data, open source software and tools, citizen science, and crowdsourcing. So HUGELY exciting. I couldn’t wait for the library to get a copy, I had to borrow it interlibrary loan. Then I listened to the webinar with Patrick, hosted by NNLM. Then I didn’t want to give back the copy I’d borrowed, so I had to buy a copy. And then I made SURE the library bought a copy. Well worth reading, in case you haven’t guessed.


Digital Outcasts
Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward Without Leaving People Behind, by Kel Smith: http://digital-outcasts.com/

I’ve been raving about Kel Smith’s book, Digital Outcasts. Kel does a brilliant job of not just look backwards at the intersection of disability, accessibility, and technology, but looking forward. He forecasts new technologies arising and some of the new ways in which they will create barriers to access for people. This one the library has, and they have it electronically.


Conquering Concussion
Conquering Concussion: Healing TBI Symptoms With Neurofeedback and Without Drugs, by Mary Lee Esty & C. M. Shifflett: http://conqueringconcussion.net/

Another one I bought for my own collection is Conquering Concussion, which got a rave review from Kirkus and then was listed as one of the top indie published books of 2014. Let’s just say that I have had enough concussions of my own for this to be personally relevant. Then it turned out that the authors are friends of a friend. Small world. Good book.


The Guide to the Future of Medicine: Technology AND The Human Touch
The Guide to the Future of Medicine: Technology AND The Human Touch, by Bertalan Mesko: http://themedicalfuturist.com/

Berci and I have known each other through social media since he was a med student. And now he’s NOT a medical student anymore, is a world recognized expert on emerging technologies and social media use in healthcare, a highly sought after public speaker, and he writes books. This one I bought as an e-book, because I wanted to highlight like crazy, and be able to download all my highlights in a nice tidy lump (something made much easier by reading the book on a Kindle!).


Last but not least, I’m brainstorming how we might make a webcomic about health literacy skills. Sounds like a really boring topic, eh? But the books I’m reading to do research on the idea are anything but boring.

Wrinkle in Time, Graphic Novel
A Wrinkle in Time, a Graphic Novel, by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson: http://www.hopelarson.com/portfolio-item/a-wrinkle-intime/

This one isn’t remotely medical. Instead, it’s a book I’ve read over and over throughout my life, for which I own multiple editions in various formats, and Hope Larson went and turned it into a graphic novel (ie. comic book). You would not believe how much trouble I’ve had wrapping my head around how to tell a story in a comic. It’s not like I don’t read comics. It’s more like, well, brain freeze. This book got me over the first hurdle. Because I know the book so well in other forms, I could more easily understand how the story changed and stayed the same as it morphed into a more visual format.

On Purpose
On Purpose, by Vic Strecher: http://www.dungbeetle.org/

I’ve known Vic Strecher professionally for many years, probably almost as long as I’ve been working here at the University of Michigan. When I heard that Vic’s daughter had died it was like a punch in the gut, even though I’d never met her. I couldn’t imagine. I’m a mom, and there is no more terrifying thought than that something like this might happen to one of my kids. When Vic wrote a comic book about his experience, and how this became, for him, an opportunity for personal growth, I had to get a copy. And this book is what helped me see how a personal story can become a universal story. Seeing how this transformed into a comic book / graphic novel helped me to see opportunities in my own life for stories that could possibly be transformed into comics.

Oh Joy, Sex Toy (review)
Comic Reviews: Oh Joy, Sex Toy (by PF Anderson) http://www.graphicmedicine.org/comic-reviews/oh-joy-sex-toy-2/

Last month I was asked to review a copy of Erika Moen’s new nicer-than-average comic book on sex toys and sex education. You know. Oh Joy, Sex Toy? Trust me, most of the college age folk already know about it.

Erika Moen
Erika Moen

You can read my review for the basics about the book (which is printed with nice ink on absolutely gorgeous paper, if you’re into that sort of thing). For me, the most exciting part of the book was in the appendix, where Erika did a funny little comic about one day in her life, sketching one panel for each hour. LIGHTBULB! Now, I can see how all the pieces fit together: comic formatting, personal experience, and story telling. Next, I’m hoping to find time to actually make one. I’m nervous. Wish me luck! And inspiration!

Ebola and Emerging Technologies

Ebola & Emerging Tech

Ebola & Emerging Tech: http://www.mindmeister.com/485610588/ebola-emerging-tech

Our local Cool Toys Conversations group had asked to have a discussion of emerging technologies and Ebola, and “could we please have it before the holidays when everyone will be traveling?” I had tried to get this up early last week, but life happened, and so it is coming to you now.

When we started looking at this topic I was surprised to find so much! I probably shouldn’t have been — Ebola is big news. It seems as if everyone doing anything in tech and emerging tech is doing something interesting related to Ebola. Well, except Apple. And that surprised me, too. There were so many links, so many topics, I could have EASILY done a month of daily blogposts just on this topic. Once we started, we kept finding more. The collection of links was getting overblown, random, chaotic, confusing. I decided to organize them all in a mindmap, and doing that took a while. Mindmeister kept saying, “Too many topics at one level!” This is why it is broken down into 4 section, but don’t take those sections too seriously. They are more an artifact of the process than seriously meaningful. Each major topic probably has minor topics and links that could easily belong in another section. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to give an alphabetic list here of what’s included in the mindmap (which is also where you’ll find all the actual links – hint? Click on the little arrows).

I have so many favorite projects and resources I can’t possibly highlight them all. If life and time permit, I’ll try to throw together a slideshow with screenshots of some of them. Just as teasers, here are just a … a smidgen, a teeny tiny sampling. Tim Unwin wrote a great overview of exciting ways in which emerging technologies are being used in the Ebola crisis. Biosensors, wearable tech, open everything, code repositories, data, genetics, DIYbio, mapping and tracking, apps (tons of them), reverse innovation, open source pharma, gaming, cryogenics, … the list goes on and on. You already know how completely enchanted I am with the maker movement right now, and this is no exception. Makers Against Ebola designed flash sensors and proximity alarms to help prevent contamination while working with patients, pull tabs and zipper extenders to make it easier to get in and out of the Personal Protective Environments (which you might recognize better as hazmat suits). The DIY Ebola Challenge came up with a great variety of open source hardware solutions for scientific equipment, in efforts to design a kit they couple bundle and share at point of need. So far they have centrifuges in all sizes, PCR thermocycler, gel electrophoresis, spectrometers, multichannel pipettes, and more. Other folk are using tools like the Raspberry Pi and Beaglebone Black to design inexpensive syringe pumps and diagnostics. And then there’s robots! Robots to decontaminate, robots to intercede between people and create a distance than may contain the disease (like a social firebreak). The ways in which people are using tech to highlight the personal aspect is also awe-inspiring. From citizen journalism to ebola MOOCs to the WAYout Ebola Song, with every social media tool you can name, someone is doing something to try to help share important stories and information. There is a lot more in the mindmap, with links for everything. There’s even a section on open access images about Ebola to use foe teaching, training, and education. Check it out — here’s an outline.

GENERAL

Articles
Collections

PEOPLE DRIVEN

Advocacy
Citizen Science
Citizen Journalism
Collaboration Tech
Communication (Challenges: Misinformation & Hype, Stigma, Weaponized; Solutions: Education & Training, Ebola Information, MOOCs, Information & Health Literacy, Wikipedia
Social Media
Research
Crowdfunding
Crowdsourcing (Challenges)
Makers & DIY
Open (Open Access, Open Images, Open Data, Open Government, Open IBM, Open Source Code Repositories, Open Source Pharma, Open Sources Wearables)
Reverse Innovation

SCIENCE DRIVEN

Arxiv/bioRxiv
Biohacking / DIYbio / SynBio
Data (Data modeling, Data visualization
Open Data
Diagnostics
Genetics
Mapping / Tracking
Nanosilver
NASA

TECH DRIVEN

3D Printing
Apps
Biosensors
Biotech
DARPA
Biocontainment
Cryogenics
Diagnosis
Gaming
Geolocation / Geotagging / GPS
Hackers
IBM
Mobile
Robotics (Asepsis, Telepresence)
Telemedicine
Wearable Tech (Biocontainment, Personal Protective Environments)

Anonymous Social Media Overview, Part Three: The Whisper Controversy & Beyond

I had said in Part Two of this series that I was waiting to talk about the Whisper Controversy because it was still unfolding so dramatically. Things are starting to wind down, and so last night I put together a Storify mapping out my perspective of the timeline of how this has all been happening.

Briefly, Whisper was trying to do a good thing, but it seemed to go wrong.
Guardian called them out on issues related to privacy & user tracking.
Story exploded.
Whisper defended themselves (mostly via Editor-in-Chief).
More explosions.
Guardian gleefully expanded on their original story.
Yada yada.
Whisper tries to regain trust (mostly via CEO).
Editorial team “laid off” pending investigation.
And now the clean up work starts.

Check the Storify for more details and specifics.

Meanwhile, Whisper is not alone. Far from it! Snapchat was hacked. Snapchat is probably the most famous anonymous social media app right now. Before they were hacked, all sorts of people were making tools (1, 2, 3) to “break” Snapchat’s rules about keeping copies of deleted pictures without permission. (The same sort of thing is happening on other ‘anonymous’ social platforms, like Tumblr with KnowAnon. And people posted private sex tapes on YikYak, which is also infamous for cyberbullying and violence and threats.) And the Federal Trade Commission is investigating some of the problems with Snapchat. People still trust and use Snapchat. And there are apps designed explicitly to, well, invade your privacy on an opt-in basis, like PeekInToo. This post has focused on the privacy issues, but violence, dishonesty, and cyberbullying remain significant issues in many online spaces. So, that’s the bad news. In the next post, I’ll look at some of the good things being done with social media.

Anonymous Social Media Overview, Part Two: Selected Anonymous Social Tools

Anonymous Social Media Overview

I find it a little ironic that the big blowup with Whisper happened this week, while I’m in the middle of this series about anonymous apps (Part 1). Oh, you didn’t hear about that? Well, the gist of it is if you think you’re anonymous, you’re not; if you think they aren’t tracking you, they are; and that the only place that really destroys your usage information completely after you’re done is probably your public library, and even that is becoming iffy. But that is a topic probably best suited for the NEXT post in this series, since the conversation around the exposé is still expanding dramatically. Here’s just the intro piece.

Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe. Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users. The Guardian Thursday 16 October 2014 11.35 EDT. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users

What I wanted to do in this post was simply walk through a quick introduction to some of the more prominent tools and services in the anonymous social media space. What has struck me is that while many of these are general, others target fairly specific audiences, such as high school students with YikYak, youth with Snapchat, and corporate with Confide.

TOOLS & SERVICES

Cloaq http://www.cloaq.co

Confide https://getconfide.com

Ello https://ello.co/beta-public-profiles

Peek https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/peek-for-iphone/id722634039?mt=8

Peek In Too http://www.peekintoo.com

PostSecret http://postsecret.com

Rumr http://rumrapp.com

Secret https://www.secret.ly

Six Billion Secrets http://www.sixbillionsecrets.com/top
Six Billion Secrets on Tumblr http://sixbillionsecrets.tumblr.com
Six Billion Secrets on Twitter https://twitter.com/6BillionSecrets

Snapchat https://www.snapchat.com

Sneeky http://www.sneekyapp.com

Social Number http://socialnumber.com

Spraffl http://www.spraffl.com

Spring (formerly Formspring) http://new.spring.me/

StreetChat http://www.streetchatapp.com

Tumblr https://www.tumblr.com/

Whisper http://whisper.sh

Wut http://www.wutwut.com

YikYak http://www.yikyakapp.com

Anonymous Social Media Overview, Part One: Context, Risks, Benefits & Opportunities, Best Practices

CONTEXT

Following on the heels of Monday’s post about suicide prevention as it intersects with anonymous social media, I thought it might be helpful to have an overview of some anonymous social media apps, and the current state of the conversation around their risks and benefits. One of the reasons this seems to keep coming up is the NYMWARS (or, as Danah Boyd puts it, The politics of “real names”). While this issue arose originally in 2011, it never seems to really go away. Today’s Twitter feed for the hashtag #nymwars gives evidence of this.

There is a lot more where that came from. Danah described the issue as being one of power and control.

“When people are expected to lead with their names, their power to control a social situation is undermined. Power shifts. The observer, armed with a search engine and identifiable information, has greater control over the social situation than the person presenting information about themselves. The loss of control is precisely why such situations feel so public. Yet, ironically, the sites that promise privacy and control are often those that demand users to reveal their names.” Comm ACM 2012 55(8):29-31.

There are many who believe that requiring transparency (as in ‘real name’, as in the name on your birth certificate) of all users helps to protect the community from bullying and rudeness and other uncivil behavior. This is debatable, and there is supporting evidence on both sides of the debate. At the same time, forced transparency endangers others in the community (anyone at risk or in a marginalized population) at the same time it undermines identifying anyone who uses a pseudonym as their primary identity.

Facebook is enforcing its “real names” policy, insidiously outing a disproportionate number of gay, trans and adult performers — placing them at risk for attacks, stalking, privacy violations and more. Facebook is strong-arming LGBT and adult performers to use their legal names, telling these at-risk populations that it is to “keep our community safe.” Facebook nymwars: Disproportionately outing LGBT performers, users furious

While there is an acknowledged emphasis in the current fuss over Facebook names on excluding LGBT persons, the problem is much broader, and also effects many people with unusual real names. Chase Nahooikaikakeolamauloaokalani Silva is one recent example, but it is so common that Facebook has a section of their help site devoted to these incidents.


Facebook says my name is fake. It is real. https://www.facebook.com/help/community/question/?id=10151790248568209

Unfortunately, when this happens to people, Facebook will only consider correcting the problem when supplied with a copy of a legal government ID, such as a passport, drivers license, or birth certificate. Sometimes, those aren’t good enough, which REALLY annoys people. If it was me, I would not be happy or feel safe supplying a copy of my government ID to Facebook or via electronic means. That entire approach is not only an invasion of privacy, but a strategy that would seem to place the victim at risk of identity theft. It just makes me really nervous. When this arose back in 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation distilled the concept of NYMWARS as an important trend for that year.

EFF immediately advocated for the right of users to choose their own names on social networking sites, whether they’re women or minorities concerned about their privacy, activists in authoritarian regimes who want to speak out without the threat of government harassment, or users with persistent nicknames or pseudonyms they’d used online for years…. EFF had been loudly opposed to Facebook’s “real names” policy for years, pointing out that community policing of real names silences some of the people who need this protection the most—people with unpopular opinions—because opponents can easily have their accounts suspended by reporting them as pseudonymous. 2011 in Review: Nymwars.

My favorite piece, and the best short distillation I’ve seen was posted to Facebook a little over a week ago by one of my favorite people in healthcare social media, @DrSnit. It is substantially excerpted here with permission.

Requiring a “legal name” is problematic for the following: 1) counselors and therapists avoiding a stalking client 2) physicians avoiding patients seeking medical advice 3) Attorneys dealing with angry criminals with a vendetta 4) women (like me) dealing with abusive partners & leaving abusive relationships. Those people who are being stalked or have been stalked WHO DO NOT WISH TO BE FOUND BY THEIR EX’S OR EX’S FAMILY & FRIENDS 5) Gender queer people, butch lesbians, and trans people who use different names than the names they were given at birth. 6) Stage performers, writers, artists who use different names for their art and their family / friends 7) People who use their middle names or nick names from birth or derivatives from birth. (This is off the top of my head – not exhaustive list).

Legal names are good for: stalkers, abusers, ADVERTISERS

FB claims it is to keep stalkers and abusers from taking fake names to harm people – but stalkers are REALLY GOOD at what they do and use nefarious methods to deal their damage. FB isn’t protecting anyone. They are harming people who CHOOSE to use different names because because it messes with their advertising analytics. Don’t let them. You don’t NEED FB bad enough to be harmed by their policy. If anyone you know has been hurt or stalked – let FB know and if they don’t change their policy – use other social media that is more women and safety friendly.

Let me repeat the most important line.

Legal names are good for: stalkers, abusers, ADVERTISERS

So, with that as context, perhaps the explosion of anonymous social networks may be, at least in part, a reaction to the forced transparency of other social networks. I have friends who have always used a “fake” name on Facebook. It is their real identity, and it sounds and looks like a normal name, and Facebook has never given them any trouble about it. I also know of those who are using their legal name, and getting hassled about it. The upshot is that anonymous networks are a justifiable response, but they carry their own risks, and their own benefits. Let’s take a quick look at some of these.

RISKS

There are a lot of nasty words tossed around about the bad side of anonymous online services. The big ones seem to be that (1) they are not really anonymous; (2) people are mean (bullying & more); (3) you can be victimized in many different ways. Here are some of the types of words used in articles that describe the risks of anonymous social media and social networks.

abuse
bullying
character assassination
hacking
harassment
identifiability
falsehoods
lies
not anonymous
prejudice
racism
rape
sexism
sexting
sexual predators
solicitation
stalking

BENEFITS / OPPORTUNITIES

Safe spaces for persons who need anonymity to be safe or to be treated equitably, such as
– Battered wives,
– Persons who are part of a marginalized or abused community,
– Celebrities,
– Whistleblowers,
– Political minorities,
– Political dissidents,
– Crime witnesses.

Suicide prevention & outreach.

Crime prevention

Therapeutic benefits of engaging for those with social anxiety.

Reaching out to those who suffer from shame.

Free speech on unpopular issues without fear of reprisal

Domestic violence support groups or outreach

Advice channels / threads / tags

Therapeutic channels / threads / tags

BEST PRACTICES FOR ENGAGING (MAYBE)

Don’t ask / Don’t tell (personal information).

Don’t identify yourself.

Don’t use your name.

Don’t use a known pseudonym.

Don’t use a friend’s name.

Don’t ask others to identify themselves.

Don’t describe your location, appearance, or other identifiable characteristics.

Don’t give your email address, street address, phone number, or other direct contact information.

Ask others you trust if they’ve had good or bad experiences there.

Post harmless stuff while testing.

TEST IT OUT!!

MORE SOURCES

(1995) Rigby, Karina. Anonymity on the Internet Must be Protected. http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/classes/6.805/student-papers/fall95-papers/rigby-anonymity.html

(2002) Dvorjak, John C. Pros and cons of anonymity. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,801688,00.asp

(2011) Bayley, Alex Skud. Preliminary results of my survey of suspended Google+ accounts. http://infotrope.net/2011/07/25/preliminary-results-of-my-survey-of-suspended-google-accounts/

(2011) McElroy, Wendy. In Defense of Internet Anonymity. http://mises.org/daily/5541/

(2011-2014) Geek Feminism Wiki. Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy? http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Who_is_harmed_by_a_”Real_Names”_policy

(2013) Santana, Arthur D. Virtuous or Vitriolic: The effect of anonymity on civility in online newspaper reader comment boards. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17512786.2013.813194