Monday, September 23, 2013

Instant Church Directory - A Rant

Our church is doing a new pictorial directory using this service called Instant Church Directory. The service makes pictures and addresses available through a mobile device app. Using your smart phone, or a tablet, you can scroll through the pictures and find the person you’re looking for. But what it doesn’t allow you to do is to access the information from a website. Okay, that’s not exactly true. What they will allow you to do is download a PDF, which most people will be able to use if they have Acrobat Reader installed.

Okay, it’s great that they implemented it as an app, but what about people who don’t have one of the supported devices? Have we reached the point where those of us who prefer to use a PC are the dinosaurs of the technology world? Is the PC dead?

No, an here’s why. If you do a lot of typing, you’re going to want something more than a phone or a tablet. If you are doing graphics of some kind, you’ll want a larger screen, and maybe two or three. If you are doing processor intensive operations, you’ll want a high powered processor. High power equates to a lot of heat, and that means you need extra room in the case. If you are doing video processing, you’ll want a lot of hard drive space and you’ll want some fast optical drives. When you start talking about that kind of stuff, the desktop is king.

In short, phones and tablets work when mobility is the most important thing. Desktops work best when power is needed. But what does that mean in terms of Instant Church Directory? In my mind, it means Instant Church Directory falls short of what they need to be. It is great that you can pull out your phone and find information about a fellow church member. But as the church webmaster, I want more than that. If I’m working on a page that refers to one of our members, I want easy access to their picture, so I can include it on the web page. Being able to access it via a phone doesn’t allow me to do that. Neither does access to a PDF. Extracting an image from a PDF is problematic because PDFs are optimized for displaying information for the printed page.

Instant Church Directory also falls short in terms of protecting member information. While trying to find more about Instant Church Directory, I find a PDF file posted on another church’s website. I opened the file and found names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. And unscrupulous person could easily send information to all the church members and give the appearance that he is someone they know.

Granted, Instant Church Directory does show some ways to password protect a PDF file, but then there is the question of whether we want only one password that people will pass around freely, or if we want user ids and passwords to discourage the sharing of the password. Presumably, we want user ids and passwords, but then there is the question of providing a secure login. Why couldn’t they have just provided a secure web link to the directory? A website would show the same information an app would, it would work on all web enabled devices, and it would work on a PC.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Understanding Facebook Spam

Check you’re e-mail and you’re likely to find a few spam messages. We’ve come to expect it and when the spam filters let some of it through, most of us hit the delete button and away it goes. Or maybe we don’t read our e-mail at all because most of it is stuff we don’t want to see. Many of us communicate more through Facebook than we do through e-mail. Unfortunately, Facebook has its own problem with spam. Worse, many of us perpetuate it without realizing what we are doing. Let’s take a look at how Facebook spam works.

Troll Linking

One of the most obvious forms of spam is the work of trolls and can result in click-through profits for the troll. It works like this: first, the troll finds a Facebook page that has several thousand followers. He then adds a comment to the page along the lines of “That’s interesting, but you should check out” The people curious enough to follow the link will be taken to a site advertising some product and the person who placed the link will be credited with redirecting traffic to that site.

Everyone Needs to See This

Some Facebook spammers are able convince unsuspecting users to do their dirty work. Instead of directly posting the link on a Facebook page, theses spammers rely on chain sharing. A classic version of this is that the spammer will post a picture of a child with a disfigured face. A recent version of this stated, “This child has skin cancer!!!! FB decided 2 give 1 dollar per every share Ur one share can save his life please dOnt ignore…..” The reason I saw it was because one of my friends had shared it with the statement, “Just in case this is true.”

That’s the reason this type of spam works. People recognize the power of social media and don’t want to be the break in the chain, “just in case this is true.” They don’t want to be the one who doesn’t help a child with cancer. If someone posts, “I found a camera with this picture on it, share to help me find the owner,” they don’t want to be the person who doesn’t help. If someone posts, “97% of Facebook users won’t repost this. Jesus is Lord,” they don’t want to be seen as a heathen for not reposting it.

What’s really going on here is that the person who originally posted these things is trying to drive traffic to their corner of Facebook. In some cases, they are just trying to see the numbers rise. In other cases, they are hoping to gain likes that they can use to push their product at a later time.


For a long time, people have noticed misspellings and grammatical errors in spam of all kinds, including Facebook spam, such as in the example above. Some people have attributed it to foreigners generating the spam. While that is a possible reason, it is much more likely that the people generating the spam speak fluent English. Some may have a college degree. Many times, the misspellings are intentional. If you notice in the example, “Ur” is used to replace “your” not “you are.” And “dOnt" is used to replace “don’t.” Only a person fluent in English would think to make these substitutions.

The reason spammers make substitutions like this is to get around spam filters. If the spam filter is looking for “your one share” then it might not pick up on “Ur one share.” If it is looking for “please don’t ignore,” then it might not pick up on “please dOnt ignore.”

How to Avoid Sharing Spam

First, consider the value of the information. Is this something your friends would want to see? If you see a funny picture or video and want your friends to see it, there isn’t much harm in sharing it. But if the main reason for sharing it is to encourage your friends to pass it along, then maybe you shouldn’t.

Second, consider the accuracy of the information. Can you find evidence to back it up? Does it make sense? Why, for example, would Facebook agree to pay money for the number of times a photo is shared?

Third, consider the source. Was the original information posted by someone you know and trust or is it coming from a page you can’t associate with anyone you know?