Facebook’s ‘New’ Privacy Settings

I’m sure many of you are aware of Facebook’s ‘new’ privacy settings (take note of the inverted commas) that were rolled-out a couple of days ago. Facebook, understandably, was in a very compromising position back then, holding secret meetings, while Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, made something of an effort to appear in photographs, sweating profusely and looking quite unhinged, wherever possible. Whether he’s genuinely going insane, or this is just a display to show that he genuinely cares about the privacy of his users, is subject to debate.

So, what do the ‘new’ settings actually do? Not much, to be honest. They seem to be more of a clarification of Facebook’s existing settings, this time with the addition of ‘recommended’ settings for those who don’t have the time to safeguard their privacy online. Shame on you. More alarmingly, from a PR standpoint, the page neglects some key messages that Facebook should be placing front and centre. The admission that Facebook doesn’t share profile data with advertisers isn’t exactly comforting (instead Facebook are assuming the role of would-be advertising arbiters, which is just as bad) but is something that they need to definitely shout about more. Copywriters and content strategists everywhere are simultaneously spontaneously combusting, I’m sure. Also, their bit about protecting minors that is squashed in at the bottom of the page? Please.

Shiny, right? This should make modifying privacy settings as easy as cake!

I don’t really think this ‘major rehaul’ counts for much. Unless you’re going for the ‘recommended’ settings (which you shouldn’t), everything is exactly as it was before, only tarted up with a fancy new page which lets you access different groups of privacy settings. Facebook, and Zuckerberg said earlier on this week that they wanted to make customising settings as easy as possible. Sure, they let you clearly see what settings you’re currently using, but changing them is a completely different matter. I thought the page that’s depicted on Facebook’s new ‘privacy guide’ would be clickable, letting you change your settings then and there. This would have been intuitive. Instead, if you do want to modify anything, you’re led to Facebook’s old, unfriendly page of drop-down boxes. To be honest, I’m disappointed. I expected more, even from Facebook.

WRONG! Good one, Facebook! You almost tricked us there.

Whether people agree with, or like the ‘new’ settings remains to be seen. Quit Facebook Day is still going ahead. However, I think that Facebook have missed a chance to address a key problem: decentralisation. Decentralisation is a good, nay, a wonderful thing in most cases. With the proliferation of Facebook mania, with things such as Facebook Connect, which has lead to users creating content independent to Facebook, under their Facebook identity, which Facebook themselves have no control over. The implications of this have yet to be seen, but it is worrying knowing that Facebook have masterminded such a scheme to get people to share online (a very good thing) while implying, through association, protection over these new content streams (not a good thing). Am I suggesting that Facebook further police all content produced by its users? Hell no. It just needs to be a lot clearer about its jurisdiction in these matters.

All that’s left is to wait and see what happens.

What do you think of the ‘new’ privacy settings? Do leave a comment and let me know!


Facebook, Interests, and Privacy

I’ve just been on BBC Radio Solent, speaking to the lovely Steve Harris about my views on Facebook and privacy.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date, you’ll know that Facebook have been having something of a hard time, recently, what with Quit Facebook Day fast approaching. They’re set to announce new, simpler privacy settings this evening, and I’ll be keeping my ears open. I think Facebook have certainly been abusing their position as a makeshift Information Commissioner, for those familiar with the Data Protection Act.

Something that I think has flown completely under the radar, however, is Facebook’s radical redesign of its users’ ‘Information’ pages; a former space where you could write to your heart’s content about what you’re interested in, in whatever format you desired. All this changed a few, short weeks ago, when Facebook essentially catalogued each one of these ‘interests’ as fan pages. Essentially, you can no longer like anything without ‘Liking’ it. I think this is bad for two reasons. Firstly, it removes any notion of individualism from the site, as users are now defined by the connections that tether them to a predetermined set of interests. Confusing, right?

For example, say I like The Beatles. I don’t think this would define me absolutely, as there are many types of Beatles fans. This is obvious. I could, say, insist that I like their ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but not their later psychedelic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. That little difference is what defines me as a certain type of Beatles fan. It’s what signifies me as myself. Under Facebook’s new information regime, I wouldn’t be able to just type that in the ‘Music’ section of my Facebook profile. I’d only be able to include that I’m a fan of The Beatles, which doesn’t really say anything about me at all. It’s these differences in opinion, expression, and even syntax that define me as a person. Instead, I’m now forced to live my life as an all-encompassing Beatles fan. I’m forced into a convenient pigeonhole, where I define myself through a predetermined list of interests. The network has lost its dynamicism, which is a very sad thing.

Why have Facebook done such a thing, then? To move on to my second point, to further exploit us as commodities to advertisers. Thanks to this new hierarchy, Facebook now (potentially) can map out advertising reach a lot easier, by saying to advertisers, ‘Look, we’ve got X number of Beatles fans that you can advertise to!’ The new system will clearly make number crunching a whole lot easier to sell us, and our information, which some of us are unwittingly giving away.

My main gripe is that Facebook has lost its focus. When I first discovered the social network back in 2006, I was attracted to its simplicity and uniform layout, as opposed to MySpace. When Applications arrived, I balked. Slowly, Facebook has turned its users into commodities, which we can see clearly now, and we’re very, very angry.

I’m very eager to find out what Mark Zuckerberg comes out with this evening. I’ll be listening intently, probably along with the rest of the world.


Super Mario Galaxy 2’s YouTube Campaign: Nintendo know how to do content well.

Desire is a strange word. The OED defines it as a notion of requirement. If you desire something, you require it. While there are varying degrees of requirement, the OED also describes desire as an indicator of craving something. So, if I am to understand things correctly, if you desire something, you both crave and require, want, or need it.

Right now, I desire to get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy 2. Bear with me, if you will. I know this has been a recurring theme in this blog, as of late, but Nintendo have done a superb job of building, or manufacturing this desire within me, over the past few weeks, with its YouTube campaign leading up to the game’s release on Sunday.

I’m a huge Mario fan. That’s a given. I enjoyed the first Super Mario Galaxy a great deal, and was looking forward to its sequel, to some extent. I wasn’t craving it to the extent of hopping across my room with excitement whenever I see or hear anything new of the game, however. Nintendo have done a brilliant job of drip-feeding information about the game to its public, and they’ve done so fantastically.

If any of you are unaware of the current campaign going down on Nintendo’s YouTube channel, a new ‘transmission’ (from planet Mario, I assume) is uploaded every other day, which is a minuscule snippet of in-game footage, never longer than a minute or so. At the start of each video, you’re shown a ‘progress bar’, made up of planets, which denotes every trailer leading up to release. Instantly, you can see how much content you’re going to receive over the course of the campaign, which is already a good incentive to check back. The trailers themselves are brilliant, never showing too much, or too little; just enough to whet your appetite. Each trailer shows off one new gameplay element, such as a playable Luigi, various new power-ups, new level designs that incorporate 3D and 2.5D cleverly and seamlessly, and the return of Yoshi, and his functionality as character. The latest trailer was absolutely fantastic. To quote my recent tweet, “I almost just crapped my pants with excitement” on watching it. Quite.

Any fan of Super Mario 64 will instantly see what I mean, when I say that this made me excited.

Nintendo have created a cunning way of enticing Mario fans, old and new, into finding out about Super Mario Galaxy 2. By not releasing all the information gleaned from these brief trailers all at once, they don’t overload you with information, and deliver their content in a way that is much more exciting than a boring old ‘Info’ page on a website, that no one really reads in great depth anyway. These videos sort of make me feel like I’m piecing together a puzzle, which is exciting. That, I think, is something you don’t see enough of in advertising today, in my humble opinion.

I talk an awful lot about control on this blog. Control of expectations, but also control of emotions. Nintendo have made me want this game in a way that not even Rockstar have managed, with their imminent release of Red Dead Redemption tomorrow (in the UK). Red Dead Redemption is a game I’m also very excited about, but in giving me an almost daily reason to want their game, Nintendo have succeeded in making me truly crave Super Mario Galaxy 2. Good on you lot.


Diary of a First-Time Blood Donor

Despite having been registered for a year or so, I’d never actually given blood before. I tried in the past, when the blood van had previously visited my university, but had never been able to donate, seeing as how prolific students are in their commitment to giving blood. This is excellent.

The blood patrol has recently started doing its rounds of Southampton once more, and owing in no small part to the convenience and lack of hassle of the NHS’ appointment booking system, I managed to arrange an appointment today at the Swaythling Methodist Church, without any problems.

As I stepped into the church, I saw chairs, and some screens to my right, and a collection of beds to my left, where donations are given, along with an area for post-donation refreshments. After a brief stint of queueing, I was checked-in by a kind lady, who was very forthcoming with thanks for my being there. I was then sent to fill in a questionnaire, with some silly (but nonetheless important) questions about whether or not I’d sold my body for money at any point in the last 12 months. With this completed, I went and sat down on the chairs, sipping on a cup of complementary water, before I was called to a table by a lady sitting in front of a laptop. This was to confirm my address. Ironically, to do this, I had to give her my address as verification that I am who I say I am. With this done, I went back to the chairs, for some more water, before being called to another table behind a screen, where I was again asked to verify my name, address, and date of birth. I had some blood taken from one of my fingers, which was dropped into a green vial. Apparently I was good to donate, so I returned to the chairs once again, to watch others lying on the beds spread out across one half of the hall, rabidly clenching and unclenching their fists.

Soon, it was my turn to donate. I jumped up on one of the beds, and was told that blood was going to be taken from my right arm. Name, address and date of birth were requested. My arm was strapped up and compressed with a blood pressure gauge. After some (literal) poking around, I was told that we were going to use my left arm instead. Then, after some more poking, I was told that we’d actually be using my right arm. The poking continued, but the woman poking me didn’t seem satisfied. A nurse was called. Name, address, date of birth. After examining both of my arms, she confirmed we’d be using my right arm. Once it had been strapped up, the nurse got out a quite menacing-looking spike, which I assumed would be going in my arm. I was right, although it didn’t actually hurt that much. I was told that because I have small veins, the donation might take ‘longer than usual’, but wouldn’t take no longer than 15 minutes; the time-limit they impose on donations, as the blood would begin to clot if the donations took any longer. I was told to clench and unclench my fist, to help the blood along, and that an alarm would sound if my donation overran the allotted 15 minutes. Clench I did, and it seemed to work. No alarms, no pain, and no discomfort.

Afterwards, my arm was freed, and I was asked if I felt okay, which I did. I then moved to the refreshments table, for orange squash, crisps and biscuits. Magic. I even made friends with one of my fellow donors, an engineer who also played rugby in his spare time.

Overall, the entire experience took a little over an hour. I would definitely do it again, and contrary to what I was told before, I felt absolutely fine afterwards. Next time, I just need to remember to wear a sticker exclaiming my name, address and date of birth.


Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing: An opinion

Before I begin this entry, let me first say that I love Sonic, and love Sega. What I don’t like, are games that do their best to go out of their way to emulate another game. I think Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (quite a mouthful, no?) is an example of this. Let me also say now that I’m basing all of the opinions here on the game’s demo. For all I know, the demo could be a dumbed-down version of an absolutely epic game. What’s I’ve seen, though, leads me to believe otherwise.

Mario Kart has been around for as long as I can remember, and has established itself as (arguably) one of the best multiplayer racing experiences around. I believe, like most titles under the ‘Mario’ banner, that this is because the series keeps it simple, like I’ve already expressed in a previous blog entry. You instantly know where everything is, what all the powerups do, how the majority of the characters play, and it all makes you feel wonderfully right at home. Because of this continuity, tactics are transferable, to a great extent, between games in the series. In short, Mario Kart is awesome.

Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing is a shot at the Mario Kart crown, and in my opinion at least, falls far short of it. Don’t get me wrong, the game is very pretty, and the characters seem faithfully recreated, but I just didn’t enjoy playing it.

Samba the monkey, and one of the Super Monkey Ball crew battle it out.

The game instantly hurls confusing design choices at you, right from the start. The opening trailer showcases the majority of the racers available to play as, but I was left wondering if some of the characters on the roster are Sega all-stars, or even all-stars at all. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Shadow make appearances, as would be expected, but they’re joined by a somewhat eclectic and questionable bunch of characters, from throughout Sega’s history. You’ve got Beat, from Jet Set Radio (later Jet Set Radio Future, on the Xbox), Billy Hatcher, from Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, which enjoyed fleeting success from a single Gamecube release. You’ve also got Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter, who are hardly Sega all-stars, and Amigo the monkey, from Samba de Amigo, a rhythm game for the Dreamcast which involved shaking maraca peripherals that were supplied with the game. Great fun, but it still enjoyed only a single Dreamcast release. Not what you’d call an all-star, then.

The one thing that got me most excited about this game is the inclusion of Ryo Hazuki, from the Shenmue series, as a playable character. For me, this is huge news, as the Shenmue games, whilst not commercially successful, gained a huge cult following. Unfortunately, the series was cut short after the release of Shenmue II on the Xbox, but that hasn’t stopped gamers speculating when, and if the final game in the series will ever appear. Hit up the link, and you’ll see the furore created by Ryo’s inclusion in S&SASR.

It’s a terrible thought, but I think it’s probable that the eclectic character roster is nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick. Hardcore fans, like me, willing to do anything to see characters from their most beloved games again, will most likely buy a game in which said characters are included. I know that Shenmue fans everywhere are wondering if Ryo’s appearance means the possibility of Shenmue III appearing soon, and in some cases, I’d guess, are launching campaigns to mass-buy the game to show Sega they’re still faithful to the Shenmue series. I’d imagine this is the same for hardcore followers of Jet Set Radio, Samba de Amigo, et. al.

My only complaint is that Ryo is not driving a forklift truck.

Back to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, which certainly is an intriguing name. It appears that Sega are trying to boost the worth of the title with the inclusion of the Sonic moniker in the title. Call it co-branding, brand-dilution, or whatever you want, but it seems as if Sega are trying to boost the title through its association with the Sonic brand. This is not right, and I’d imagine is partly why Sonic the Hedgehog has fallen on tough times recently. You can’t expect one character to sell an entire game, and the fact that the game has been heavily discounted since release leads me to believe there’s some truth in this.

The game itself seems like an ordinary racer, with an emphasis on ‘drifting’ around corners, which gives you intermittent boosts when you do so successfully. The full game incorporates courses from many Sega titles such as Sonic, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio Future, and House of the Dead, interestingly enough. The demo is restricted to one level: ‘Lost Palace’, which is from some Sonic game I haven’t played. I hate to say it’s uninspiring, but it felt a little unfulfilling. You drift around corners, boosting into corners that follow shortly after, you hit boost pads, and that’s about it. The most exciting part of the level was the choppers (remember the mechanised piranhas from just about every Sonic game ever?) that jump out at you as you hop over various jumps. The ironic thing is that you’ve got to avoid them, and the inherent nature of a racing game means that you can’t time your jumps. Clever.

The power-ups are confusing, too. You get some familiar Sonic staples, like his Speed Shoes to speed you up, but everything else is a bit of a mystery at first, including a cone-shaped proximity mine, a flying boxing glove, and a rainbow. In Sonic’s words (straight from the loading screens), “The Pocket Rainbow can be dropped to block a racer’s view with colorful [sic] goo.” If running into one results in a goo explosion across your screen, then why call it a rainbow? Surely something like ‘goo bomb’ or ‘gank mine’ would be more appropriate. Sort it out, Sega.

SONIC, LOOK OUT!

There are also ‘special attacks’ that when used, do something character-specific. Sonic’s transforms him in Super Sonic (which is admittedly very awesome) and Banjo-Kazooie’s (the other playable character on the demo, go figure) grants Kazooie the ability to wave around her voodoo wand from Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and make giant jigsaw pieces, or ‘jiggies’ fall from the sky. This does seem a bit gimmicky, and I would have liked to see something more innovative than, say, Amigo’s ability to make GIANT MARACAS appear above his car, which don’t really seem to have any logical use, but seem to work nonetheless.

One thing that really bothered me is that instead of letting you win most of the time and making you feel awesome (indeed, I believe that the point of a demo is to sell a game), the demo’s default difficulty is set to ‘Expert’, which is extremely difficult! I didn’t finish above fourth place, before I gave up. I’ve also failed to mention, up until this point, the annoying announcer who insists on narrating everything as irritatingly as possible; especially the fact that you’re losing. I do hope there’s an option to turn him off (ala Burnout) in the full game.

Overall, I’m unimpressed, but I think the game itself raises some good questions about Sega and its franchises, and suggests plenty of improvements to this end. Such as not including all your most beloved characters in mediocre racing titles. Boom.


Iron Man 2: What I Thought

So, Paramount and Marvel have come at us with a sequel to their original ‘Iron Man’ film. Was it any good?

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark. He wears sunglasses some of the time.

Tony Stark is definitely back, which is great, as he quite literally makes the Iron Man series. He’s still unable to keep his mouth shut, and suppress his own suave brand of arrogance, but it all adds to the endearment of his character. He’s still a relative jackanape, but it’ll certainly appeal to you. He swaggers his way throughout the film, really without any regard for anyone around him, which makes for some fantastic destructive set-pieces, in some cases.

This time around, he’s up against Sam Rockwell, who plays Justin Hammer, head of a munitions company hoping to steal Iron Man’s secrets and exploit them for monetary gain. There are also a couple of Russian fellows involved, who happen to be gifted physicists, and are also determined to see Iron Man obliterated. A strong word, but it’s quite apt. There are a lot of explosions in this film, and a great deal of special effects, and it’s quite fantastic. The merry bunch also are joined by Don Cheadle, who assumes the role of Rhody, to those who were paying close attention during the first film. Without spoiling too much, there are some quite spectacular mech fights, which are all very shiny, and on occasion make you want to punch the air with childish glee. I did feel that the final battle was over too soon, but I guess that’s what you get for going up against a superhero.

The film explores Stark’s relationship with Pepper in more detail, and also delves right into his history. The character of Howard Stark (Tony’s father) is fleshed out to a far greater degree than in the first film, as the plot is mostly driven by his history. I’ll leave it with that ambiguous nugget. Suffice to say, by the end of the film, you’ll have a greater appreciation for Stark, and the lore of the Iron Man series, if that appeals.

So, as we’ve discussed, there’s lots of history, much conspiracy, some amazing fights (mech fights especially, I cannot stress this enough) and an ass-kicking Scarlett Johansson, who I need not comment on. That’s pretty self-explanatory, and speaks for itself. Need I say more?

What’s the score on the Epic ‘Would You Watch It Again’ meter? I’d definitely watch it again in cinemas, given the chance. This is the type of film that you could very easily satisfy yourself in killing a couple of hours with. I’m not sure it’d warrant a DVD purchase, however, but the film is definitely awesome. Shiny, too.


Why I love Super Mario.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first game I ever owned. I was four, and failing to know what else to buy a hyperactive four year old, my parents bought me a NES for my birthday which had the game bundled with it. This seemingly random event spawned a life-long love affair with the cheeky Italian plumber, and the eclectic world of the Mushroom Kingdom in which he resides. Since then, times have changed, and computer games have progressed in leaps and bounds, but Mario seems to be a mainstay that never tires, or becomes boring.

I can happily say that I’ve never played a bad Mario game to date (that being said, I never did play the ’92/’93 ‘edutainment’ title, Mario is Missing). Mario games are generally awesome, and reek of the high quality Nintendo magic that we’ve come to expect from the developer. Indeed, where others have tried, and failed in the past, Super Mario has stayed strong, innovated, to keep with the times, and has throughout the years won over our hearts, and developed into a much cherished part of the gaming canon.

Courtesy of Gamestop.

Super Mario, circa 1985.

I’ve very recently turned 22, and briefly before this event , when asked by a friend what my favourite games were, I started reeling off the names of titles I enjoy. When I hit ‘Super Mario’, I was met with surprise. Why? I assume it has something to do with the fact that I’m no longer a child (which I most often do regret), have long hair, and maybe, to some, look like I should be riding the icy Nordic seas aboard the longship of true metal. I don’t think I give off the impression of someone who’d get a kick out of again, what to some, might seem like a childish series of games. I love it, though, and love them. I’m sure that many others, of similar ages and dispositions, agree with me.

Why do I love Super Mario, then? Simple. Because Super Mario games are great, and consistently deliver an enjoyable and expected experience. I feel this is a very important part of the Mario proposition. Where other major titles and series’ have been destroyed by over-complication, and what I think is a bastardisation of the original formula that made these games such a success (I am, of course, referring to Sonic the Hedgehog here), Mario has stayed true to his roots. While Sonic games have ‘evolved’ (for lack of a better word) to the point where the origins of the series can hardly be glimpsed, Mario is still doing the same old song and dance. Sega’s most recent addition to the Sonic catalogue, Sonic Unleashed, has the speedy rascal transforming into a were-hog, at times. There have also been numerous other additions to the series’ character roster, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what is, and has recently been taking place on planet Sonic. On the other hand, I can tell you exactly what Mario is up to at this point in time. Saving the Princess.

Courtesy of 1UP.

Were-Sonic? No thank you.

I think Mario’s success lies in the fact that all Super Mario games are vastly similar, yet all very different at the same time. They all follow the same format. Bowser, king of the Koopas, steals Princess Peach. Mario then needs to recover her from his clutches by jumping on things, to a great degree. Since Super Mario 64, the element of ‘power stars’ has been introduced, where to progress, Mario has to collect said stars by completing ‘missions’, as it were, but his focus is still the same. Mario games never overburden you with a complex plot, which makes the games ideal for jumping in and out of the action, even months apart. As a result, our expectations are controlled, which is really quite vital in producing and maintaining a winning series of games. We know exactly what to expect (perhaps, however, not how to expect it), and for this reason, I’d wager the majority of people are supremely satisfied with each iteration of the Super Mario saga. Each Super Mario title involves, amongst other things, a great deal of jumping. You pick up different caps, which each endow you with a different ability. You stomp on a generally well-established cast of enemies. You also know exactly where you are, all the time. I mean this in more senses than one. All of the enemies, and indeed, most of the characters in the games are instantly recognisable. This also applies to the power-ups (you know what a 1UP mushroom looks like and does, or even what a 1UP mushroom is), and to a large extent, the music. True, the signature title theme has been pushed off the title screen, into other areas of the most recent games, but generally it’s a delight to hear new, revamped versions of the tunes that accompanied our goomba stomping right from the start.

Courtesy of 1UP.

Luigi returns, along with Yoshi, in Super Mario Galaxy 2. How awesome does this look?

That’s not to say that the series has gone stale, which is nonsense. Every successive Super Mario game seems to develop the wonderful Mario formula in some way, most recently sending him into space. The thing I’m actually most excited about in the impending Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the return of Yoshi, who we haven’t properly seen in years, not counting the strange, juice-vomiting yoshis of Super Mario Sunshine. Even with rampant innovation, the core elements that made the series a success still remain, however, and this is something that Nintendo realised very early on. It’s also something that all developers could learn from. If you’ve got something good going for you, stick with it, please.

That’s why I love Super Mario.

If you haven’t seen Nintendo’s awesome YouTube channel already, which is updated regularly with mini-trailers for Super Mario Galaxy 2, in anticipation of its release, then take a look!