August 23rd, 2010 by Mike Fulton

When I started using Facebook regularily last year, I started playing several of the various games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars.  The main reason was that they seemed to be popular attractions for many of the old friends I was reconnecting with and playing seemed to be a means of continuing that reconnection.

The various “games” on Facebook seem to fall into several basic categories.  The first of these is the theme-based “WAR” games like Mafia Wars or Pirates!  Then you have the build/decorate games like FarmVille.  Casino games like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker are also popular.

It’s War!

In most of the theme-based “wars” games like Mafia Wars, you start out at level 1 with a fixed amount of “energy” and a fixed amount of “health”.  You advance by doing “jobs” or pulling “heists” or whatever else the theme in question might specify.  Each job uses a fixed number of energy points and rewards a certain amount of experience points that go towards earning the next level.  When you reach the next level, your energy and health is reset to maximum, and you’re given additional points to distribute between your maximum health value, maximum energy value, and other various offensive or defensive attributes.

In order to keep holding your attention just a wee bit longer, your health and energy regenerates over time, so that if you just sit at the computer another few minutes, you’re able to do another mission and maybe reach that next level.

Another aspect of these games is the “send a gift” mechanism whereby you can send some virtual item to Facebook friends playing the same game.  The recipient gets a message on their Facebook home page that they’ve been sent an item, and then they accept it, which brings them back into the game.  These items may provide some in-game advantage or they maybe purely decorative.

The other social component to these games is that you and whatever Facebook friends also play the same game form a team of sorts.  The games generally feature some sort of “combat” where you can attack another player or be attacked by another player.  When this happens, it’s actually your team versus theirs.  Both the size of your team and all the various attributes of the individual players are combined in some fashion to see who wins.

Game or Software Toy?

We keep referring to these things as “games” but many of them are nothing of the sort.  They’re really more like software toys.  You might call them an “activity” but “game” is not really all that accurate.  It may be mostly semantics, but there are several attributes of being a “game” which don’t apply to many of these Facebook applictions. Here’s a few of the reasons why I would say that something like FarmVille is not a “game”

  • There’s no particular goal.
  • You can neither “lose” nor “win”
  • There’s no particular skill required, no real strategy involved, or an element of chance, either.  All you really need to do is put in the time.
  • You can advance your standing by spending real money to obtain game items.

Think of traditional games like “Monopoly”.  There’s a clear goal: collect the most money and property while the other players go bankrupt.  When that happens, the game ends.  There are different strategies that affect your success… like when and where you should improve your properties — do you buy a hotel on Broadway or a bunch of houses on New York Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood?

By comparison, FarmVille has no particular goals other than reaching the next “level” and buying more stuff with which to decorate your farm.  There’s no particular combination of “stuff” that’s inherently more desirable than any other and nothing you do will ever cause the whole thing to end, other than to stop playing.  (In that case some might say YOU’RE THE WINNER!)

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August 6th, 2009 by Mike Fulton

I first signed up for Facebook a couple of years ago. I don’t remember why, exactly, except that someone was telling me over and over that I needed to get signed up. It was probably my niece, the same way as with MySpace. So I signed up, but I never really got into the habit of logging in, and until a few days ago I never logged in more often than perhaps once every several months or so. I had a total of 4 people on my “friend” list: my niece, two people I knew from playing World of Warcraft, and a single friend from high school.

Anyway, last week I was browsing through some old photos when I decided to break out to check my email. One of my incoming messages was from, the school-alumni site. Classmates is a decent site in some ways but I think they charge too much for their memberships. This particular message happened to come right on the heels of another message that mentioned Facebook, and the combination of events got me wondering how many of my old high school classmates might be lurking around on Facebook.

So that night, I logged in and started doing searches for some names. The first result was a reminder that most names aren’t very unique at all. Even names that seem like they’d be fairly unique can easily be shared by another 20 or 30 people across the country.  And since most Facebook users keep most of their profile information set to be private to people that aren’t in their friend list, it means you can’t always easily figure out who’s who.

Then I figured, maybe the best way to start this off was to let someone else do the work. The one old friend already on my list, Pat Pepper, had been on Facebook awhile, and we’d had a lot of friends in common back in high school. So I went to his profile and started looking through HIS friend list. As I suspected, there were a few familiar names. Next, I looked at the friend lists of THOSE people, and found even more names. Before I knew it, I had a few dozen friend requests sent out. Next, I searched for a few people that used to be co-workers and repeated the whole process. Before the night was out, I’d sent out something like 75 friend requests.

What really surprised me, however, was how quickly I got responses. I was used to something like a friend request taking anywhere from several days to weeks on other websites, but on Facebook I got something like 50 responses within the first 24 hours! Over the next few days, more responses trickled in, and I started getting incoming friend requests from old classmates I’d not yet discovered for myself.

I also heard from a few people that they had sent me friend requests in the past, but that I’d never responded.  That was because I wasn’t logging in at all, I guess.

Facebook Groups

As I was browsing through friend lists, I noticed that there were a fair number of my old high school friends from the Cypress High School Photo Club.  I also noticed that while there were groups for the class of ’81, the class of ’82, and so forth, there was NOT a group for the photo club.  So I created the “CHS Photo Club Alumni” group and started uploading old pictures to the gallery and inviting people to it.  We have 13 members so far.  That’s not bad for the first 5 days.

Old Photos

One thing that’s very popular on Facebook is posting photos taken “in the good old days”.  Just about anybody who knows me is aware that I have quite a lot of photos from the good old days.  Once I started uploading images to Facebook, I started hearing from school friends asking for more old school pix, old Atari friends asking for more old Atari pix, and so forth.

A few years back, I scanned the majority of my old slides and negatives into the computer.  There’s still a lot that haven’t been scanned, but I’ve probably done something like 85%.  So I’ve been going through the ones from school and work events where I took pictures and finding ones to post.

I’m trying to do just a few images at a time every couple days or so, but I’ve got dozens of good pictures already selected and literally hundreds more good candidates that I haven’t really looked at yet.

What I’ve Learned

This experience has taught me several things so far.  First of all, I note that a much greater percentage of female classmates are on Facebook than male classmates.  However, it can be harder to find them, since they are generally going by their married names.  Facebook does have an “alternate name” feature that can be used to hold a woman’s maiden name, but not everybody uses it.  I find that a lot of women are doing the hyphenation thing or just putting their maiden name in the middle.

The games on Facebook seem to be a very popular attraction.  Two in particular that seem to have caught the eye of many of my classmates are Mafia Wars and Farmtown.  Both games tie into the whole Facebook setup so that you can send items to friends, ask for their help, and otherwise interact with each other.  I’ve been playing both myself, and Mafia Wars in particular has captured my attention.  One of the nice things is that it really only requires a few minutes at a time here and there.  And since I spend a large portion of my day in front of the computer anyway, it’s easy to pop over and play a few turns every now and then.

The Facebook Experience

I don’t know how long Facebook will hold my attention, but for now I’m having fun uploading pictures, commenting on other people’s pictures, and just generally reconnecting with people I’ve not seen in a long while.

I think a lot of people who don’t get the point of Facebook are probably doing exactly what I did at first… they sign up and then they don’t bother trying to hook up with anybody.  Or maybe they just add one or two people.  The result is, with such a small network of friends, whenever they do bother to login, they probably won’t see anything that captures their attention.

Creating a good network is crucial to the Facebook experience.  If you don’t create a network of friends who are active on the site, then you’d be entirely justified in thinking “what’s the point”.  On the other hand, if you do put together a friend list of people who are posting status updates, uploading pictures, playing games, and so forth, and you spend a little time to participate, then Facebook can be an awful lot of fun.  Check it out!

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April 9th, 2009 by Mike Fulton

The Web 2.0 Expo trade show happened last week at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.  I had not originally planned to attend, but while watching Tekzilla on Wednesday night, they said that the next episode would be taped live during the expo the following day.  That sounded like fun, so I went to the expo’s website and discovered one could still sign up for a free exhibits-only pass.  So I did.

Tekzilla is a videocast hosted by Patrick Norton and Veronica Belmont, with occasional guest appearances by other people from Revision3.  If you haven’t ever watched it, you really should go to their website and watch an episode or two.  You can also pick it up in the “Podcasts” section of iTunes.  There are actually two versions of the show.  The first is a weekly show, about 40-ish minutes per episode, with tech news & tips, product reviews & comparisons, and so forth.  They also do a “Daily Tip Show” that’s just a minute or three and which features a single quick tip.

Thursday afternoon I arrived at the show about 90 minutes before the Tekzilla event.  I figured I’d walk the exhibit hall for awhile first.  I wasn’t quite sure to expect as far as exhibitors were concerned.  The exhibit hall is one of the main reasons I attend trade shows like this, and that uncertainty is why I hadn’t planned originally on attending this show.  I do enjoy some of the conferences when I go to them, but access to most of the conferences requires a different, and usually much more expensive, registration.  So I don’t usually plan to go to a show unless there are particular exhibitors that I expect to see.


At a show like MacWorld, the exhibitors are mostly showing off physical products that work in conjuntion with one of Apple’s products.  But “Web 2.0” is really more of a broad concept than a particular product, so I was interested to see what sort of exhibits would be on hand.  As I walked the show floor, I discovered that the exhibits fell into three broad categories:

  1. Companies with some sort of physical product to sell.
  2. Companies whose product is basically whatever website they do.
  3. Companies offering a service, such as web hosting, marketing, etc.

Certainly there is some overlap with some exhibitors, but generally most fell into one of those three categories.

The companies with physical product included O’Reilly Books, a regular tech expo exhibitor who had several new titles on display at a show special price of 30% off.   I picked up a new title covering the Twitter API that I’m especially looking forward to reading.  I also grabbed a book titled “Everything You Know About CSS is Wrong!” that talks about the emerging CSS 3.0 specification.  It’s small, but packed with good information about the new features in the new spec.

Another physical product, hereafter known as a “physprod” (Can I do that?  Coin a new word right in the middle of a blog like that?  I think I can, so spread it around!) was Adobe’s Flash.  Strangely, Adobe didn’t seem to be showing Dreamweaver, Photoshop or other apps.  Given how these are the basic tools many webmasters rely on, it seems an odd omission.  On the other hand, it may also be a sign at how some companies are scaling back what they’re willing to do for trade shows like this.

Microsoft was showing off several interesting things.  They had Windows 7 on display, and you could pick up a beta DVD to take home with you.  They were also showing off the developer functions of the new Internet Explorer 8.  In many ways, IE has always lagged behind other browsers like Firefox when it came to helping developers figure out what was what when problems arise.  That all ends with IE 8, which has a variety of new functions that will help web developers solve problems quickly and easily.

Microsoft also showed Silverlight and Expression Blend 2.  I’d previously not paid a lot of attention to Silverlight.  My initial impression, as with many other people, was that Silverlight was nothing more than Microsoft’s attempt to do something like Flash.  In large part that may be true, but the way they’ve integrated later versions with the .NET platform has some interesting implications.  I plan to read more about Silverlight in the near future.


Companies whose product is basically their website included Facebook and  There are a few other companies where the website is the mechanism for delivering their product… If the previous category was about physprods, then I guess one would say these companies are pushing virtprods (virtual products… there I go again coining new words).  Many of these companies have websites that are basically online tools for creating other websites.  Squarespace is the main example that comes to mind here.

Squarespace looks like an interesting setup.  At the risk of oversimplifying it, Squarespace looks similar in broad concept to WordPress, except with a web-based GUI for creating page designs, themes, and content.  I’ve only played around with it for a few minutes, so I’m not going to say much more at this point except that if you’re looking to create a website you might want to check it out.  I’ll be writing more about it in a future column.

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