From the category archives:

Classified Advertising

Would Mark Zuckerberg be asked for the password to his Facebook account?

Here’s a trend that seems outright outrageous: asking for a job applicant’s social media passwords.

It’s been in the news for the past few years, off-and-on, especially during the past few weeks. Today, the Toronto Star has an article about a candidate for a law enforcement job who was asked to share his Facebook password with the recruiter. He wasn’t just asked to “friend” the recruiter, and when he offered to show his profile on the laptop in the interview room, the recruiter insisted on receiving the password.

The article in the Star came in reaction to a flurry of reports in the U.S. and U.K. about the occasional use of this distressing practice. Asking for an applicant’s password for a job with the police seems to be the most common – Bloomberg BusinessWeek cites examples from Virginia, Montana and Maryland – while The Telegraph writes about an online retail company employee in the U.K. who was asked to hand over his login details after his employer went trolling on Facebook and couldn’t find any personal details on the worker.

Facebook itself is up in arms about the practice. The Telegraph received a response from Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, who wrote:

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords. If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. … That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

The ACLU warns that employers or recruiters asking for social media passwords are entering a legal gray area that may potentially open them up to both privacy and discrimination lawsuits. And if the employer is the government, “they may be violating your Fourth Amendment rights,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU, told BusinessWeek.

Canadians may have it better than job seekers elsewhere. The Canadian publication TechVibes quotes Paul Cavaluzzo, a Toronto-based labor lawyer, who says that laws in Canada are more stringent than in the U.S. with regards to protecting private information. In an interview with CityTV he noted that, while there aren’t yet laws dealing specifically with social media, Canada has “always respected privacy rights.”

Cavaluzzo adds that “if an interviewer demands your password, feel free to call them out. Or just ask them for their house keys in exchange; the differences are negligible.”

A version of this article appeared yesterday on the AIM Group blog, a publication I write for regularly.


AIMGroup LogoLast week, I published 15 links to articles I wrote for about the the classified advertising business which I covered for five years. I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups to established classified pure plays.

Here is part two of my list. And if you want to know more, visit for the latest headlines and analysis.

Atlanta newspaper: turn your computers off on Sundays and read us in print!

10 reasons you’ll miss print newspapers (parody).

Most people wouldn’t care if their local newspaper folded. Oy!

Tips from WSJ on how you can charge for content online.

Tweet your notes to the Western Wall.

YouTube is bleeding money – can it survive?

Survey: surfers don’t mind pop up ads…much.

Columbia University J-school head thumbs nose at social media.

Using social media when the news is bad.

Hearst sourcing content from Helium.

How to get people to pay for online? Black out all web news for a week.

Nine tips for alternative business models for struggling newspapers.

The future of the Internet in 2010 according to Pew.

How much time are you wasting online An irreverent new website tells you.

Car dealers upping Internet marketing spend as sales continue to drop.


AIMGroup LogoFor over five years, I covered the classified advertising business for I was the beat reporter for real estate and automotive, and I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups such as Zillow and HotPads – to established classified pure plays including, and

We covered social media extensively, but the main story was how newspapers had let these online competitors, not the least of which was Craigslist, decimate their classified advertising business, (hence leading to the dire straights print papers are in today) and what they could do to recover.

An often told if somewhat apocryphal story is how the Boston Globe once had the opportunity to buy recruiting powerhouse but declined, saying in essence “hey, we’re the big bad Boston Globe, we don’t need that little pitzkele site.”

If watching the classified advertising shake down is of interest, I recommend you visit In the meantime, I present you here with links to some of my more evergreen blog posts for the site over the last couple of years.

There are a lot of links, so I’ll publish these in two posts – here’s part one.

Thanks for permission to post these from my erstwhile editor Jim Townsend and publisher Peter Zollman.

If the NYTimes dropped print and distribution and gave all its subscribers e-Readers, it would actually save money!

Short attention span theater: new data – 10 percent of viewers leave an online video within 10 seconds.

85% of Gen Y-ers participate in social networking. Do you?

“Digital immigrants” vs. “digital natives” – with Facebook, you’ll never have to “get back in touch” again.

Google to newspapers: “grow up” (it’s not that hard to block Google indexing).

Profile of 2 Israeli startups shaking up writing and news: Iamnews and WeBook.

10 tips on how to make hyperlocal work.

If you want to trash your ex online, do it in Texas, not Colorado.

Teens don’t tweet. How come? Here’s what a teenage analyst has to say.

Consumers will pay 62% of what they pay for a print newspaper to access online news sites.

Why international users are draining Facebook’s coffers.

Creepy hookups – Google Maps and Craigslist personal mashup.

Social networks trump email for content sharing.

It’s not the newspapers, it’s their owners for print’s problems.

The first all-tweet newspaper – social media vanity press? Meanwhile, blog-to-print newspaper fails.

More next week…


Image from Mary Lindsay's blog

Image from Mary Lindsay's blog

When the web first started becoming paramount in how people consumed news, there was a lot written about the dangers of information “narrowcasting” and how it would result in a populace that knew little about what happening outside their own limited sphere of interest. Traditional print newspapers and magazines were lauded because by their very nature they enable readers to serendipitously stumble across news they might not have searched for on Google.

An interesting interview on a recent episode of NPR’s On the Media with Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center, and Clive Thompson, a writer for Wired and The New York Times Magazine, suggested that – surprisingly – social media could be an answer.

Thompson cited the research presented in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” about how many people someone can actually have as friends or colleagues. The number, says Gladwell, is 150; human beings can’t really keep track of more than that. But on social media, that number jumps to the hundreds (and in some cases, particularly on Twitter, the thousands).

I have over 600 Facebook “friends.” Do I know all of them well? Certainly not. But something interesting happens when it comes to learning about news. The more “friends” we have, the more likely it is we’ll learn something about a topic we didn’t expect to and likely wouldn’t have searched for either.

And if enough of our friends share or re-tweet on a particular subject, we will come to think this is “important” (even if it’s really about some ludicrous boy in a balloon). More seriously, the tweets emanating from Iran during the recent mini-revolution definitely opened many new eyes.

Admittedly, most of our friends are “like us” in terms of educational backgrounds and socio-economic standards. But some of those friends may have a wider circle that includes one or two more exotic colleagues. And I have not been terribly discriminating about who I “friend” – when I have a question that I need answering, I then have a wider circle to whom I can publish.

The issue of serendipity in social media has come up recently with one of my clients. The client has a particular organizational focus, and most of what we post relates to that topic. But sometimes we also publish links to articles off-topic which we feel will be interesting to our readers. It’s a way of keeping the site timely and relevant. But it also has the effect of populating our fans’ activity streams with news they might not have seen otherwise.

So, if part of the product management services you provide your clients includes preparing and executing on a social media “content plan,” keep in mind the serendipity effect. It can help establish you more as a destination site within the social media universe…and it’s good for the world too.

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Matt Richtel 2We all feel like we’re addicted to email sometimes. Now along comes someone to tell us why.

New York Times reporter Matt Richtel, interviewed on the NPR program On The Media, explained that in psychological terms, there is something called “intermittent reinforcement” – “that’s this idea that if you put a rat in a device where a food pellet only comes out of a hole periodically, the rat’s going to be checking that hold all the time because it never knows when that food is available.”

The same thing happens with email, Richtel said. “Most of the stuff we get is plainly unimportant. But occasionally, something really important comes along. So what does that do? It randomly reinforces us to be checking all the time.”

In other words, we are not that much more evolved than the common rodent…at least when it comes to checking our iPhones ten times an hour. And it’s not just email – Facebook status updates, SMS, chats – they’re all part of an addiction that, apparently, gets physical as well.

Richtel again: “when you check your device, you basically get the equivalent of a dopamine squirt. Well, if you get that little candy when you check your email and you check your phone, in its absence you start to feel bored.”

And when you feel bored, you want a new squirt. So what do you do? You send out a text or an email or a Tweet, or you initiate a Facebook chat, all in the hope that you’ll get a response. It becomes an endless loop.

What does all this mean for Internet advertisers and publishers? Perhaps this: If you want to get your message out, steer clear of banner ads and choose more interruptive media. Build up your social media fans and followers. And keep them guessing as to when the next big announcement will arrive in their inboxes.


The interview, by the way, was part of a larger discussion on “distracted driving” amid new laws forbidding texting while behind the wheel – see Matt’s articles here. The implications for advertisers when it comes to potentially fatal social media behavior are far more ominous.

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BullseyeFollowing up on my previous post, it appears that consumers are not so happy with behavioral tracking on the Internet. According to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Berkeley, two-thirds of Americans object to being tracked by advertisers. And if those consumers learn exactly how they’re being followed, the percentage increases even more.

The study, reported today in The New York Times, was conducted by telephone not via the web and included 1,000 adult Internet users. Some of the highlights:

  • Tailored ads in general did not appeal to 66 percent of respondents. More important: 55 percent of those in the 18-24 group were opposed to being tracked (somewhat of a surprise given that anecdotal evidence says that Facebook users don’t mind handing over personal information).
  • When the respondents were told that part of that tailoring was tracking what they were doing on specific websites, an additional 7 percent said those ads were not OK.
  • And when they learned that tracking was also being done on additional websites, another 18 percent were upset.
  • The worst: when respondents learned that advertisers could track them offline, the percent of disgruntled consumers jumped an additional 20 percent.
  • On the other hand, 51 percent said it was OK to follow them if it meant customized discounts and 58 percent didn’t mind getting tailored news.

The survey is bound to fuel the legal ambitions of lawmakers looking to score points with privacy ravaged Americans. Representative Rick Boucher of Virginia and David Vladeck, head of consumer protection for the FTC, say they both are looking at data privacy issues closely.

On the question of laws, the survey found that:

  • 69 percent of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
  • 92 percent agree there should be a law that requires “websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so.”
  • 63 percent believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their Internet activity.

Marketers of course argue that, without advertising, free content couldn’t exist online. There’s no debating that. The issue, as I posed in my previous post, is that consumers have a right to know – and to opt out – of being followed without their knowledge during their travels on the net.

Would that there was such a backlash at the casinos.

You can download the full 27-page report from The Times website.


Mark Potts, co-founder of the defunct hyperlocal citizen-journalism experiment BackFence, shared some thoughts on lessons he learned during his tenure at the company. While “some of BackFence’s problems were internal and self-inflicted,” Potts is still “very optimistic that a similar model can and will succeed.

We’ll summarize Potts’s main points here, but the full article, published in 2007, has timeless advice.

Potts, by the way, has already moved on and started an ad-services group aimed at helping hyper-local and vertical/niche sites generate more revenue. GrowthSpur, which includes an impressive team of ex-newspaper execs, is focusing on technology, training and ad-networking to improve ad sales.

— Engage the community. “ It’s not about technology, it’s not about journalism, it’s not about whizbang Web 2.0 features. It’s about bringing community members together to share what they know about what’s going on around town,” Potts says. “A top-down, ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy absolutely does not work.”

— It’s not journalism – it’s a conversation. “The magic of hyperlocal sites is that they provide a forum for community members to share and discuss what’s going on around town.”

— Hyper-local content is really mundane – at least to outsiders looking in. “But for residents of a particular community, it’s very relevant. Mundane is a competitive advantage.”

— Trust the audience. BackFence never became a nasty free-for-all due to a number of tools – required registration to post comments, profanity filters, “report misconduct” buttons on every page. As a result, the need for BackFence to take down content “happened just a handful of times over two plus years.”

— Focus on strong, well-defined communities. “We chose them because they had a strong, well-focused sense of place and community pride—I live here, I don’t live over there.” Don’t try to cover too large a geographic area.

— Leverage social networking. “The rise of MySpace, Flickr, YouTube and the commercial version of Facebook—virtually all of which have happened since Backfence launched more than two years ago—demonstrates the power of social media.” Backfence, Potts says, never took proper advantage of social media.

— Local advertising is robust. “Local advertisers are eager for new online advertising vehicles. We sold ads to more than 400 advertisers, more than any other similarly sized hyper-local effort that I’m aware of.”

— Keep costs down. “The BackFence formula averaged about one staffer per community site, and in retrospect, that probably was too rich.”

— Piggyback on a print or broadcast partner’s existing community relationships and marketing power. “It’s very, very difficult to start from scratch in a community and get to critical mass without help.”

— Hyperlocal is really hard. “ Anybody who’s run a hyper-local site will tell you that it takes a couple of years just to get to a point where you’ve truly got a vibrant online community. It takes even longer to turn that into a viable business.” Backfence failed essentially because, although it raised $3 million, it couldn’t sustain itself long enough.

Ultimately, Potts says that he believes that at the core, “user-generated hyper-local citizens’ media is sound. If there’s anything I’ve learned from BackFence, it’s that the power and potential of local communities still is waiting to be tapped.”

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


Publishers who want to more widely distribute their content should pay attention to new data from AddToAny. According to the firm, more people use Facebook to share links than any other service, including e-mail.

Facebook accounts for 24 percent of uses of a widget created and marketed by AddToAny to share links to articles, videos and other content. E-mail came in at only 11.1 percent.

Yahoo’s properties, which include Delicious, Yahoo Bookmarks, Yahoo Buzz and Yahoo Messenger, came in second at 14.4 percent. Twitter came in third with 10.8 percent.

The results from this report are important. Most newspapers distribute headline and breaking news via e-mail, but how many have a regular publishing strategy focused on social media applications? Yet that’s where the sharing, re-publishing and re-tweeting is happening, not with forwarded e-mails.

The data isn’t all that surprising. Already in March, a Nielsen report, “Global Faces and Networked Places,” found that by the end of 2008, social networking had overtaken e-mail in terms of worldwide reach. According to the report, 66.8 percent of Internet users across the globe accessed “member communities”—social networking or blogging sites—compared with 65.1 percent for e-mail.

Nielsen also found that social communities accounted for nearly 10 percent of all Internet time.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


YouTube is Embracing Hyperlocal

July 30, 2009

Hyperlocal is coming to YouTube. The Google-owned video-sharing giant has invited the more than 25,000 news sources listed on Google News to become video suppliers. The site is also promoting videos from ABC News, The Associated Press, Reuters and other outlets. YouTube’s hyperlocal trick is to match your location with news from your area (in […]

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Tweets Come to the Western Wall

July 23, 2009

Have you ever wanted to place a note in the Western Wall but couldn’t afford the ticket to Jerusalem? Now you can tweet it. It’s traditional to place short notes in the cracks of the Western Wall stones asking for health, livelihood and other personal requests. Now, a new Israeli Web site launched two weeks […]

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