It was a holiday weekend here in the USA, so many people were sharing photos and videos of their parties, fireworks, kids, and more on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. I was no exception, throwing up some firework slo-mo videos and a few shots from my Phantom 3.

I was posting and liking content on both my phone and laptop, on mobile and wi-fi, in two states and 3 cities. It was all fine until I went to add a new friend. Somewhere in a Facebook data center, an alert was probably set off and I was temporarily banned from Facebook. This is first time this has happened since I created my account in 2005 – you know, back when you had to have a college email address to join.

Yes, blocked from using Facebook. They said I had “suspicious activity,” and I could not log in. People who tried to visit my profile got a 404.

Facebook’s solution to get my account unlocked: i was told to upload a picture of myself to prove my identity. Here’s the prompt:

Facebook screen asking for a photo of myself

I found a selfie I took this weekend and uploaded it. And waited. There was no feedback from Facebook on why I had been locked out, possible causes, or the timeline for having the photo I uploaded reviewed and my account unlocked.

When I would try to login to my account, I received this message:

Facebook's photo saying user cannot log in

I waited. I took a walk and enjoyed the beautiful weather. I checked Instagram. I waited some more. Folks on Twitter weighed in:

A few hours later, I attempted to login again and was allowed in with no issues. I never received any feedback or email messages from Facebook telling me my account was reinstated or saying why I had been locked out.

I’m not mad at Facebook. Their systems saw something out of the ordinary, such as multiple logins from multiple devices in several locations, and followed security protocols as developed. My concern is with the lack of communication and method they offered to unlock my account.

I don’t know why I was not emailed at any point during the process. Facebook is quick to email me when a friend tags me in a comment or post, or when a friend goes live on video, so it’s strange they would be silent during a major account issue.

Google image Search results ImageSecond, I think the method of uploading a photo doesn’t seem terribly secure and easy to spoof.

There are photos of me all over the internet, and as you can see, when you google me, there’s plenty of photos. Facebook collects my email and mobile number, I’m not sure why they didn’t make me verify by code sent via email or text, like many other services do.

Did a person check the image, or was some super-secret Skynet AI responsible for seeing it was me in the photo and unlocking my account? Was the image actually deleted from Facebook’s servers once the check was complete as they said it would be?

Regardless, once I was back in I made sure to check what apps had access to my account (not many) and what privileges they had to access my data (not much). I don’t think one of them triggered the block, but it’s better to be safe with third party websites you give access to your Facebook account. If you do those quizzes and content generators that post on your behalf, you have given those random apps full access to your info, your friends, and more. That gives me a bad feeling, but that’s a post for another day.

If there’s a lesson here to be learned, it’s keep a photo of yourself handy in case you need to upload it to Facebook.

 

i was struck today by this tweet from Deborah Edwards-Onoro:

I thought I’d take a moment to share the story of how I learned to do web stuff.

I know I’m dating myself, but while attending college in the mid-90s, the web was new and exciting. We had no clue what this new Mosaic program was on the computers in the lab.We started to see these very long strings of characters that we could type into that program and it would give us information from around the world.

I was hooked. I wanted to make these new “web pages.” But it was 1995-1996, and there weren’t courses in it. I read a little online about how to make pages, but I had no server to share my creations on.

One department on campus did possess this power, this magical ability to host web pages: the Math and Computer Science Department at Duquesne University. They had a Sun Sparc server that was setup for their students to create some pages. I wasn’t a Compsci major though – so it took a few passionate emails to faculty members in the department asking, nay, begging, them for an account on their system so I could make web pages.

They relented and I got my account. I think the URL was something like:

http://www.mathcs.duq.edu/~mrichwal

Now that I know a lot more about managing servers, I know that adding a new user takes about 10 seconds, but for me, it was huge.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that small action changed the course of my entire life. I’m serious. I don’t know who the department managed accounts on that server in 1995/6, but thank you, either Dr. Thomas Keagy or Dr. Donald Simon.

Success. I had my account. I was ready to make web pages.

One challenge stood before me. I had no idea what I was doing.

That weekend, my girlfriend and I went one of the malls in Pittsburgh to a bookstore. Remember bookstores? Remember malls? They were all over back then. We were on a mission. I was on the lookout for the holy grail that would help me create web pages.

My career in web and marketing literally began that weekend when I bought HTML for Dummies.

Yes, HTML For Dummies. This book changed my life.

I tore through it in a few days. I was making pages. Making links. Making stuff blink (back when it was still OK to do that.) Tables. Frames. Bold. Italics. Images. Imagemaps.

That knowledge led me to get a work-study student job in Duquesne’s New Media Center, making web pages and interactive multimedia projects with faculty. That led me to be hired full-time as the University’s webmaster 3 months before I graduated.

That led me to a bunch of jobs in and out of higher ed doing web, marketing, and creative things. I’ve spoken at conferences, worked at 2 other institutions of higher education, and now work guiding a marketing team that’s spread out around the globe.

I owe all that to a simple account on a Math and Computer Science server and a copy of HTML for Dummies.

Were the pages I made at first good? Absolutely not, but you have to start somewhere. After getting a pretty good handle on HTML and how it works, I jumped into the world of interactive pages. Once I started my full-time job doing the website at Duquesne, I jumped into Cold Fusion and learned over a weekend how to write code that will query a database, and converted what was a printed, broad-sheet newspaper into an interactive website.

That site has been mostly erased from the history of the University, but even after not working there for 18 years, I still show up in site searches at that school. Proof:

You know what’s great – that Duquesne Times site is still running! It’s moved to WordPress now, but its still a thing! How cool is that – something I started back in 1998 is still going strong.

I say all that to say there’s no shame in learning how to do web sites and applications in Dreamweaver, even if I do make fun of my best mate and business partner Adam for using it.

If you learned on your own, in school, with a book, watching YouTube videos, it doesn’t matter. You learned it. You are still learning it. The tools have never been better or more accessible. There are undergraduate and graduate programs everywhere, coding bootcamps, online programs, and so much more.

Oh, one final thing. The girlfriend who took me to get that book? We got married and our oldest son just finished his first year of high school, where he took a digital marketing and multimedia class this year.

It’s all come full circle.

 

A QR Code generated by WeChat

A QR Code generated by WeChat

Since I switched jobs last year, I’m now managing a marketing team with team members in the UK and one in China. It’s been very interesting to learn about marketing in China and what works and doesn’t. It’s been a big shift from higher ed, but one I’ve enjoyed learning about. I’ve only scratched the surface so far, and I know I have much more to learn over the coming months and years.

What has surprised me is that with the rise of social mega-services like WeChat, one technology that never quite caught on here continues to explode there.

That’s right, our friend, the QR code.

The sad, maligned QR code. The things that’s had books written about it.

What’s been at most a novelty here, is serious business there. It’s not just for social either, QR codes are everywhere in Asia, and China especially. If anything, the demand for them is rising.

We’ve been using them for awhile, but they are a key part of our messaging in that region of the world. We put them on some printed materials, and we made favicards at Jakprints this year with a QR code that takes users to our brand’s WeChat page. Jakprints even tweeted them out:

Last night, my father sent me a picture from a McDonald’s in China where he’s travelling for business. Yes, the self-ordering and payment kiosk could be a post about the coming change in employment due to automation, but also pay attention to the QR codes prominently displayed on the side graphics. I don’t know where that QR code leads, but they’re not going away in China anytime soon.