I have a message between two people who aren’t me (and aren’t known to me, don’t worry!) sat in both my Facebook Inbox and Sent Messages. The message was sent at 3:04 pm today, apparently.

This does not appear to be the problem mentioned in The Register recently, whose symptoms were that people would see whole pages belonging to other users. I can see my Inbox with messages people have sent to me, but I can see a message between these two people in it. I’ve sent them a message to ask whether they meant to message me, but right now, that looks unlikely.

A while back I wrote about some of the advantages of centralisation for keeping out spam and making new features available quickly. The downside, as livredor pointed out, is that Facebook is a single point of failure.

Could this happen with standard Internet email? Yes: I could mis-address the mail (less likely if I use an address book rather than typing an address by hand), or the recipient’s server could mis-deliver it (usually, if my outbound server hands my mail to the wrong remote server, the remote end will reject it). Are popular mail servers more reliable than Facebook? Almost certainly, I’d say. Lots of people are on Facebook, but I reckon the volume of Internet email is still orders of magnitude greater than that of Facebook messages. The email servers handling that volume are so reliable that I’ve never heard of a case of mis-delivered (as opposed to mis-addressed or lost) email. Google Groups doesn’t seem to have done so either, or at least, the evidence is uncertain. The Usenet postings I found talking about mis-delivered mail seemed to be explained by the little-known fact that Internet email is like a letter: there’s an envelope destination address used to deliver it, as well as the “Dear Fred” saluation you see in the To: header or Cc: header. I had a friend at university who used to send out party invites which looked as if they been addressed to president@whitehouse.gov and god@heaven.org. Anyway…

Don’t send anything sensitive in Facebook messages, will you?

Edited to add: The message has gone again now. I’ve used the help form to tell Facebook about it, so we’ll see what they say.

I look up potential interviewees on Facebook (as well as Google, obviously). Unlike the proctors at Oxfrod, I don’t care whether you’ve been photographed covered in flour or shaving cream, as long as you look like someone who’s smart, and gets things done.

livredor recently posted an entry in which she talks about online privacy, linking to Charlie Stross’s essay on the subject. I think Stross has this article on teenagers and online privacy in mind when he talks of a generation growing up with the idea that you have no privacy online and it doesn’t matter anyway. livredor is coming to the conclusion (which I share, see my replies in the comments) that she “should just make everything open and take care never to post anything that I could be ashamed or embarrassed about”.

As the comments on her posting point out, the problem is working out what you could be embarrassed about. The problems mentioned in the Times article are partly the result of a generation gap between people who aren’t surprised that some of their peers have put their lives online, warts and all, and the staid elders who are shocked to learn stuff that proctors, employers and parents didn’t previously find out about. I suspect that absence of evidence of shaving cream was never really evidence of absence, but it’s going to take a while for the elders to work that out. It seems sensible for the younger people to be a little circumspect in the meantime, so it’s not surprising that many existing Facebook users are tightening up their privacy options. Relying on privacy settings is another risk, because you’re trusting your e-friends and the site you’re using, but at least you’re keeping your embarrassing university antics out of sight of indexers and archivers, and you’re not assuming that the elders cannot join the site you’re using.

livredor also mentioned the possible problems which might be caused by people migrating away from email to the messaging systems offered by sites like Facebook. Gervase Markham has some thoughts on the subject. Conventional email is a lot less slick than, say, Facebook’s internal messages, and faces a greater spam problem, in part because email is distributed but Facebook has centralised control. These proprietary systems have their downsides too, of course: balkanisation, and a single point of failure when Facebook gets shut down by a law suit.

I think there’s some mileage in building an email system which is a bit more like Facebook’s walled garden. When I say spam in its current form is a solved problem, what I mean is that you can solve it by only accepting messages from well-behaved parts of the Internet. What I mean by well-behaved is stuff like not being in space given to cable modems and the like (Spamhaus PBL, checks on the presence of reverse DNS and that the hostname does not contain some variant of the IP address), not being a known baddie (Spamhaus SBL and XBL or your own email providers local list of scumbags), and not sending bulk email except by prior arrangement (DCC with whitelisting for mailing lists).

Alas, not all badly-behaved emailers are spammers, some of them are just managed by incompetents. Sometimes these incompetents work for large companies who aren’t going to change, so you have to start making holes in your garden wall to keep your users happy. However, an inbound email gateway for a hugely popular site like Facebook could enforce these restrictions by fiat without losing anything, since their users are using the internal system to send each other messages anyway, so anything else is a bonus (you could also make a nice interface for whitelisting legitimate bulk senders by requiring them to produce a Facebook application, say). If Facebook does take over the world, it needn’t mean the death of email. It might just bring the incompetents into line, we can but hope.

So, Facebook have opened up their site to allow third parties to do stuff, namely put stuff on consenting users’ profiles, stick items in the feed, and embed an interface to a third-party site inside Facebook. I eagerly await:

I’m quite faint with excitement.

But srsly, this is an interesting ploy for world domination by Facebook. Why bother starting your new knitting, kitten appreciation or dating site if you can start one within Facebook and make use of (I’m fighting the urge to use the word “leverage” here, Dawkins help me) their existing users? You do need somewhere to host your application, which might mean big hosting bills if it became popular, but if you’re not writing something which needs lots of state available on the network, it looks like you could also do interesting things from the user’s desktop, or even from their browser with things like Greasemonkey scripts or browser add-ons.

Personally, I’m interested in online CDC Top Trumps. A port of that 100 Million Spiders thing looks like a win, too: it’d be funny, and some I noticed that some members of Facebook are already complaining that they can’t put “Alice is in a dom-sub poly pirate-ninja conglomerate with Bob and Eve” on their profile using Facebook’s existing relationship options (they’re complaining by forming a Facebook group, naturally).

Finally, CNN’s in-depth report on the changes solves the mystery of what Facebook’s “poke” function is for. Apparently It even still has a feature which enables you to “poke” another member – something most people interpret to mean a sexual come-on. So now you know. Lord knows how you interpret the sort of poke war that lots of Facebook users get into.

I guess most people on LiveJournal saw their proposal to turn LJ into MySpace (lj_dirtycache is particularly good fun for anyone who’s ever looked at bands’ sites on MySpace). What’s funny about LJ’s effort is that LJ clearly understand what is going to provoke their users to apoplectic rage until they realise they’ve been had. By comparison, Facebook was a bit lame, merely offering to send someone round to physically poke the people you “poked” on Facebook. They should have announced some variant on the Facebook feed to get all the “OMG UR HELPING STALKERS” people up in arms again.

Google announced TISP, their IP-round-the-U-bend service, as well as Gmail Paper, for those who prefer their email on paper. Slashdot had a collection of unconvincing stories. Poor show.

Disappointingly, the IETF don’t seem to have done anything very exciting lately, at least nothing to match the seminal Standard for the transmission of IP datagrams on Avian Carriers.

Finally, robhu announced he’d reconverted to Christianity. It initially seemed he’d converted to a fluffy sort of Christianity in which God is a metaphor for the good which, in a very real sense, is in us all. However, in the discussion thread which followed, it soon became clear he’d reverted to his old evangelical habits, informing me that I was blinded by the devil and was “just as much of a fundamentalist as Richard Hawkings“. His later post contains the de-brief, in which it is revealed that I was in on it from shortly after he’d posted the entry. robhu used some excellent observational humour to convincingly impersonate evangelical responses to my ultra-atheist straight man.

In summary, burr86 and robhu jointly win the Internet. Tonight, we dine in Hell.

In the pub, it turned out that some LiveJournalists and Facebookers hadn’t seen these. So here are some links to some fun things on YouTube:

The Facebook Skit, a reworking of that well-known rumba Hero to explain what sammagain does on Facebook.

Baby Got Back – Gilbert and Sullivan Style. So wrong, yet so right.

The Mr Deity videos. George Lucas is God, apparently. The earlier ones are good, there’s a dip in the middle, but the Ten Commandments one is a return to form.

Roy Zimmerman has some funny songs, my favourites being Defenders of Marriage and Jerry Falwell’s God.

I’ve just updated LJ New Comments, fixing a bug pointed out by legolas and adding some code to make it try harder to draw a box around the currently selected comment (turns out I’d had the latter sitting around in my CVS repository without letting the public benefit).

While we’re on the subject of Greasemonkey, InYOFaceBook is an amusing hack to show full size profile images when you mouse over a small one, even for people who’ve been boring enough to hide their full profile. Hurrah for Stalkerbook!

While casually browsing my website’s logs for hits from people looking for CICCU, rocking backwards and forwards and crooning “Soon, my precious! Soon!”, I noticed that some people from Facebook had been talking about the Losing my Religion page.

Coincidentally, Varsity recently interviewed one of the admins (PDF, look on page 7) of the Cambridge University mail server, hermes. The article mentioned Facebook, so I suppose it’s where the hip kids hang out these days. The article’s a bit odd. It’s one of those “the young people always think they invented it” things: apparently, email began in 2003. That’s more than just too late, for me, but I’m pretty sure that back in 1994 there was the joy of Pine and the anxiety of using finger to see whether New Hall girls had read their email (oh good, I seem to have navigated that sentence without saying “fingering”). There was none of this webmail nonsense. Things were starkly terminal based on the frontier of the Information Prairie, the bleached bones of our text lying on the dark surface of my wildly mixed metaphor. There was a greater awareness of the fragile underpinnings of it all, a rough justice needed to preserve order in our fledgling society: I got a sternly worded email from the man who became the author of Exim, telling me to stop pissing about sending myself mail from god@heaven. And we liked it.

So, Facebook. I joined. It seems to be a gentrified version of Myspace. There’s the bit where you can leave people messages and look at the pictures of them looking pale and interesting, but the residents’ committee has clamped down on the flashing purple text on a black background and the humourous cross-site scripting attacks. I didn’t have the de rigeur photo of myself exhibiting Internet disease (warning: Encyclopedia Dramatica is rarely safe for anything, although there’s nothing specifically worthy of summary dismissal on that page at the time of writing), so I just used the one off my website. I wandered around and laughed at the community called “FUCCU”. It’s all harmless fun I suppose. I’ve e-friended some of you on there, just cos: I’m not sure of the etiquette of friending on Facebook, so friend me back if you like, but don’t do it just because I know where most of you live.

I never did find out what people were saying about the religion page, the referrals were people following links from private messages. I expect it was the CICCU people wondering when I will actually overtake their official site in Google’s rankings. Soon, my precious, soon.

Anyone up for Isolatr? It’s where the cool people aren’t.