social networking

On journalists' & pundits' attitudes about new media: It's the privilege, stupid!

Plaque for Common Sense

For years now we've seen people entrenched in, married to, paid by or validated by old media attack new media, "those bloggers," Twitter, Facebook … the Internet in general. It's been fading lately as publishers especially have started to embrace and integrate new media into their publishing strategies. But there are still holdouts, many of whom seem not just ignorant but willfully ignorant.

Malcolm Gladwell's weak dismissal of "weak ties"

Gladwell's New Yorker article was the buzz on Twitter. One excerpt:

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.

…proving that old media journalists are as adept as anyone in the straw-man rhetorical technique.

Gladwell's main argument seems to cling to the notion that things like the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s could not have happened in new media. The thing is he seems to think that this is a notion that all of us "evangelists of social media" cling to. His is a rant against ghosts and phantoms to make a point, not an investigative exercise.

I love Gladwell's books, especially Blink. But this column is more an expression of his attitude towards social media rather than an insight into social media. It's a tract for dismissal, not a lesson towards understanding.

In a Guardian article on Gladwell's thoughts, journalist Tim Adams, who, by the way, describes us all as "insects":

The twitterers have responded to his provocation by swarming on to blogs and websites to protect their uniting belief: that the future belongs to them.

…does end up revealing a truth behind Gladwell's views:

The New Yorker, for which Gladwell is a stellar correspondent, sees itself as the spiritual home of a kind of reading and writing and engagement that could seem threatened by the attention overload and surface concerns of online skimming. I spoke to Gladwell a while back about his use of computers: he never spent much time on the internet, he said: "I run out of things to look up really quickly."

So Gladwell in fact doesn't even know much about social media, doesn't have a use for them, and doesn't even find the internet of much use. Obviously he's not interested in what other people might have to say. Why would he? He has his saying machines (The New Yorker, his books, his occasional appearances on television). What could anyone possibly offer to a man on top of the literary heap?

So why would Gladwell even bother to take on a subject of which, he admits, he knows little? Because he's a writer for The New Yorker, and that in itself makes his views relevant? I not only like Gladwell, I love The New Yorker (as a subscriber for years). But his taking on social media strikes me as hubris at best, enabled by the blindness of privilege.

Syncing into oblivion

There were hoods over the parking meters. All parking near the building was reserved for special permit holders. My meeting was in two minutes and suddenly I was having to go hunting for parking in downtown Boulder for a meeting on the University of Colorado campus. This could take a while.

So naturally I wanted to call to say I would be a few minutes late. I pulled over and dug out my Droid. But when I opened up my contacts, I realized I had a problem.

Android 2.2, or the Twitter app I had installed, had synchronized all my Twitter contacts into my Contacts directory. That is thousands of people. And of course I don't know most of them personally, so all these entries had were avatars. What's more, when I found the contact I was looking for, the useful information — phone numbers, email addresses — was missing. Here I was pulled over, barely out of traffic, looking for a phone number and my "helpful" device had synchronized me into oblivion.

Thankfully the email app remembered his email address, so I dashed off a quick note that I would be late, and drove off to park.

Are more connections better? When Google Buzz decided to make all my email contacts into Buzz contacts, that was not helpful. These were different worlds that Google decided I should have mushed together. No thank you! When I tried to enjoy the convenience of XMarks to synchronize my browser bookmarks across browsers and machines, I ended up with a cascading mess of multiple copies of all my bookmarks, replicating over and over and over with every sync-up. I'm still trying to clean up my bookmarks, and can't find anything I had anymore.

Today a CU student told me that Facebook is not a good way to promote things because everybody's doing it, and it's so much noise that everybody just ignores it. She even unfriends people who promote too much. Merging business-world marketing into social-context social media does not work for her or her friends. (And they "hate" Twitter.)

First we had a proliferation of community sites. Then we had a proliferation of social networks. Having to register for each and every one — and fill out profiles over and over — was a pain, so the sharing of contacts and content across systems has an appeal. But when the social networks decide how to do that merge, it can become a mess — due to technical glitches or simple misunderstanding of what users want.

I found the setting to disable contact sync with Twitter in my Droid settings, and the option to remove all those useless contacts … which promptly crashed my phone. Now my Contacts don't work at all, and I get warnings that "phone storage is low". No shit.

Google Buzz and contacts silos (and privacy and spam)

Updated below.

So today's buzz is about Buzz, Google's new Friendfeed-kind of thing announced just an hour or so ago. Jeremiah Owyang blogged some quick thoughts, including this:

For consumers, the risk of privacy will continue to be at top of mind. Although the features allow for sharing only with friends or in public. expect more consumer groups to express concern. Overtime, this will become moot as the next generation of consumers continues to share in public.

Setting aside his prediction that privacy will become "moot" — which I don't believe is necessarily true, given that we're still in the bedazzled phase of experiencing social media's integration with our daily lives — as I look at my own use of Google, Twitter, etc., Buzz could turn out to be the means towards breaking down my contacts silos.

Right now, my Twitter contacts are pretty much separated from all other media I use. My Flickr contacts are separated as well. Frankly, I'm building contacts in different media via varying criteria. For example, just because I follow someone on Twitter doesn't mean I will find his or her Flickr photos particularly interesting. My Address Book contacts are separate on my computer. I sync them via MobileMe, which was handy when I was using my iPhone.

It's when I adopted the Droid that Google nudged me a bit to maybe consider consolidating my contacts silos. Until that time, I did not have many contacts in Google. I use Gmail pretty much just as my spamable address, good for listservs, discussion boards, web services registration.... not for interpersonal communication. I just find Gmail too unusable, and its spam filtering too handy. But the Droid syncs with your Google contacts, so after a moment's pondering opted to add Google sync to my Address Book settings in Snow Leopard.

Now Google has Buzz, which pushes towards even more contacts integration, breaking down the Twitter silo. Jeremiah writes:

Content will be aggregated, and then prioritized based upon the people you already email with, Harry McCracken and I call this a social graph based on history, “Historical social graph” or HSG. Secondly, this Google Buzz feature will rate and rank content based on activity and interaction within your social group.

For me, people I email with are not part of my "Historical social graph" because my email world is my real world — clients, friends, colleagues, associates, family — and my social media world is more open, more ephemeral, more casual, more about ideas and news and interesting stuff. While there's certainly a degree of overlap between my real world and my social graph world, for the most part they define different areas of my life. And I consider this a good thing. I like following people I don't know but who are interesting and do or talk about interesting things. And I like interacting with friends, clients, associates on a more personal basis even though I may not find their public social media life particularly interesting.

Previewing Google Wave and Twitter Lists

One of the wisdoms in web application development is "Release early and often."

Google and Twitter have both released software "tests" to select hundreds of thousands of users, both with the idea that there will be problems, but let people try them out, and then improve the software iteratively, based upon real-life user experience.

This is my first blush impression of these previews I've been privileged to explore this week.

Get on my Wave!

I've been trying Google Wave for this past week now. It's been a bit hard, since hardly anybody I know is on Google Wave, and of all the people I invited, only two have received invites so far. (I got 8 "invitations" that turned out actually to be "nominations" once sent. Sorry, Google, but invitations and nominations are different things.) So I've had only limited exposure to what Wave might offer. One on one, it's pretty much a glorified instant messenger.

Google Wave public waves

Then I was tipped to searching for "with:public" ... which brings in results every wave that has been posted for the public. There I found all kinds of waves on all kinds of topics.

Popping into random, seemingly interesting waves reminds me of the early CompuServe days, wandering around chatrooms, communicating with random people. Wave does afford the opportunity to get more in these wave connections than you might in a text-only IRC-style chatroom, but it takes time to engage. Do you have an abundance of time? I don't.

The biggest user experience change in what people might be used to is that you can see other people typing their messages in real time, as they type. You learn quickly can type and who bumbles around, who can do stream-of-consciousness and who is constantly editing every few words.

Shira Abel (whom I met on Wave) likes this real-time aspect:

And while some people would hate seeing what someone is writing while they are typing I’ve actually liked it from the few conversations I’ve had on there. It allows you to see the thought process – how fast or slow someone is typing shows how strongly they feel about something. Whether they take something out before pressing enter shows even more. Seeing the typing while it’s happening is the tone of the message. However, I would recommend that Google make the option to not see the typing for the Robert Scoble’s of the world – but please keep it for me. Living in Israel so far away from many of the people I collaborate with, having that little extra bit of psychological insight is actually very helpful in my opinion.

One of the biggest problems with Wave is getting drowned in wave after wave of threads (or "waves"). You have to create folders to organize them or you'll just get lost.

And call them waves all you want, it's pretty hard to surf them. Linking to other waves involves finding the other wave and drag-and-drop.

Google's help docs are their typical weak, uninformative obviousnesses that don't really illuminate much of anything. Embedding waves outside of the wave system is, so far, an arcane procedure I have not yet discovered yet. I'm still wondering how to install a robot. Maybe I'm not enough of a geek for this preview?

Bonnie Sandy seems to have made more headway:

Extending the functionality…

Could I have my stuff back, please?

In the beginning, the world was offline. The past was just what we could remember. Conversations faded. Introductions to others slipped into the realm of unnamed faces and disconnected anecdotes. Jokes were heard and forgotten. Photos bleached out and negative film turned to dust. News clippings crumbled. Documents misplaced were unfindable. Address books lost were irreplaceable. What happened in Las Vegas really did stay in Las Vegas.

Then there was the Internet and all that began to change. The World-Wide Web came to be, and we all became potential publishers. With few exceptions in the larger-business realm, the first websites were no more than billboards. Then they were brochures. Then in the late '90s blogging began. In the '00s, walled-off chatrooms siloed off within services like AOL and Compuserve were replaced by more open communities ... and then social networks. (Walled-off social networks like Facebook opened up into full-blown social networks.) Before we knew it, we were emailing, chatting, shopping, researching, bookmarking, socializing, podcasting, showing videos, sharing, advising, asking, boasting, laughing, crying, raging, raving online.

And as far as we knew, what happened online stayed online ... where we could find it. (And if not, there was always the Wayback Machine.)

In recent weeks, that widespread confidence — complacency? — has been shaken. Maybe it started when it was announced that Facebook was buying Friendfeed.

Robert Scoble himself made noises about quitting Friendfeed. But what to do with all the content he had shared, all the connections he had made there?

I responded thusly:

on Facebook acquisition of Friendfeed

If you don't control it, is it really yours?

When we talk about where the "web" is going, we're asking the wrong question. It's not just about the web, it's about our connections with the people and information in our lives. The rapidly evolving web is but one part of that. We also have to consider things like the ongoing exponential increase in computer power, evolving applications and new apps that leverage that power and the power of the web in new ways, changing social mores, increasing expectations about access, privacy and control of information — not to mention the shifting economic tides and business agendas pursuing what investors are finding the most appealing financially.

The last part is where we find ourselves being led through affordance into new behaviors. Our connections are what marketers are after, because presumably our attention in that context is more valuable to advertisers. And of course there's always the data mining.

We do it gladly because we enjoy the benefits. And because we love experiencing new things that don't seem to be immediately threatening. The payoffs can be enriching, transformative. Thus: Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Gmail, LinkedIn, Google docs, and so on.

So the Facebook/Friendfeed deal got people's attention. Did they really want to leave their conversations, their connections, in the hands of the fickle, unpredictable hands of Facebook?

Then, the url shortening service, announced that they were shutting down. What would happen to all those link references people had created in to tweet, plurk, etc.?

Brave new world? The creepy "clowd" and the loss of privacy

I got a chill reading this post from Seth Godin:

So, very soon, you will own a cell phone that has a very good camera and knows where you are within ten or fifteen feet. And the web will know who you are and who your friends are.

What happens?

What happens is that you have no privacy. Seth sees a big upside.

See a dangerous driver? Send a video snippet to the clowd. The clowd collates that with a bunch of other shots of the same driver... busted.

And the clowd also knows where you are, camera or no camera. So it can tell you when your old friend is just two gates away from you, also wasting time at the airport waiting for her flight. Or it can do Zagats to the ten thousandth power by not only suggesting the best nearby restaurant (based on your food circle of friends) but can also integrate with Open Table and only recommend restaurants that actually have room for you. Or it can let restaurant owners do yield management and find you a table at a good enough restaurant at the best possible price...

This is going to happen. The only question is whether you are one of the people who will make it happen. I guess there's an even bigger question: will we do it right?

If you do what he describes, can it be "right"?

Imagine the feeling of going to the doctor for that private medical condition, and everybody knows. Imagine being stalked by an admirer or resentful ex while you go about your day. Imagine broadcast spam being pushed at you via phone where ever you go. This adds a whole new meaning to the term "cyberbullying."

The drunk driver scenario? On one level, it's a description of being guilty until proven innocent. Everything you do is under scrutiny.

And of course, not all scrutinizers are equal. It's quite obvious that the government and big business will have more scrutinizing power than your snoopy neighbor. Is that the life we want in a free society?

There at least should be a toggle-able opt-in/opt-out, yes? Or are we to live in the Matrix, plugged in with no option, doing our duty by exposing our entire lives to the machine?

To me, the real possibility of this new age is the empowerment of the individual. That's the power of free (as in freedom) exchange of information. That's the power of open source. That's the power of collaboration, mash-ups, crowdsourcing. Empowerment, not simply a cooler, sexier sublimation to the System. Isn't that the real dream? Isn't that the un-tapped economic and cultural goldmine?

Plurk, and the value of a website without much webapp support (or people)

I confess: I like Plurk. I like the timeline. I like the serenity of the GUI. I'm not sure how it would work with a lot of messages, but let's face it, Twitter's river of tweets can seem like a laundry list of random thoughts.

But there are two things that make Twitter better, despite its persistent performance problems and downtimes:

1 - Twitter has apps. I joined Twitter early last year, but I don't think I would be Twittering at all anymore if I didn't have Twitterific or something similar. I don't like to have to live on a website for high-traffic content. Now if Plurk had a nice desktop app -- preferably not requiring the clunky Adobe Air....

2 - Twitter is where the people are. Plurk has a nice GUI, but will people come? I've discovered some new people, but I don't know many people on Plurk. Cool GUIs don't quite make up for the lack of "social" in a social network app.

Still, I think Plurk is onto something. It's distinct. There are several web apps that could be called "Twitter alternatives" but they're pretty much the same, or very similar.

How free is "free"?

Is the future really free?

It seems we've entered an age where there's a land-grab happening for personal data and attention time. Look at all the web start-ups backed by venture capital. They aren't investing out of philanthropy. There's value there. YouTube is "free" but Google paid over a billion dollars for it. Why?

Here's a hint: It's not about the Tube.

Chris Anderson's Wired article was quite bold in its proclamations:

You know this freaky land of free as the Web. A decade and a half into the great online experiment, the last debates over free versus pay online are ending. In 2007 The New York Times went free; this year, so will much of The Wall Street Journal. (The remaining fee-based parts, new owner Rupert Murdoch announced, will be "really special ... and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive." This calls to mind one version of Stewart Brand's original aphorism from 1984: "Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive ... That tension will not go away.")

Once a marketing gimmick, free has emerged as a full-fledged economy. Offering free music proved successful for Radiohead, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and a swarm of other bands on MySpace that grasped the audience-building merits of zero. The fastest-growing parts of the gaming industry are ad-supported casual games online and free-to-try massively multiplayer online games. Virtually everything Google does is free to consumers, from Gmail to Picasa to GOOG-411.

The rise of "freeconomics" is being driven by the underlying technologies that power the Web. Just as Moore's law dictates that a unit of processing power halves in price every 18 months, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. Which is to say, the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero.

One of the old jokes from the late-'90s bubble was that there are only two numbers on the Internet: infinity and zero. The first, at least as it applied to stock market valuations, proved false. But the second is alive and well. The Web has become the land of the free.

Has it?


There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

The idea behind this is that there's always some sort of exchange happening, even if it's not in cash. If I buy you lunch, I'm getting something out of it -- the pleasure of your company, a chance to boast or commiserate, an opportunity to share a new restaurant discovery, freedom from an otherwise mundane meal, relief from a spiritual debt acquired when you bought me lunch last week, whatever.

And yet when I buy you lunch, it does not imply that you now are entitled to inspect my purse, or peruse the messages in my iPhone, or rummage through my dresser. Those things are considered private to most of us, right?

Chris Anderson's entire perception of the "free" present and future seems to depend upon the assumption that not only our time and attention have no value, but that our privacy has no value ... that is, no value to us.

Those things certainly have value to the companies offering the "free" services.

Last year, Yahoo announced that Yahoo Mail, its free webmail service, would provide unlimited storage. Just in case that wasn't totally clear, that's "unlimited" as in "infinite." So the market price of online storage, at least for email, has now fallen to zero....

What's that nesting on your desktop?

Shelley Powers on discovering that Google Desktop has managed to install itself on her computer "like a benevolent computer virus":

Ew! Ew! Get it off me! Get if OFF me!


Cyberbullies and Community Standards

It has taken me a few days to recover from the intense energy and excitement of attending, participating in and speaking at the OSCMS 2007 (and sundry adjunct events of equal intensity and delight), and so I've been publicly quiet so far about the obscene and possibly illegal cyberbullying that has happened in the past several days regarding one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra.

If you've somehow had your feedreader in the sand this past week, here's a brief snippet of what Kathy wrote about it on Monday:

We all have trolls--but until four weeks ago, none of mine had threatened death. (The law is clear--to encourage or suggest someone's death is just as illegal as claiming you intend to do it yourself).

At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics' Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called At first, it was the usual stuff--lots of slamming of people like Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Maryam Scoble, and myself. Nothing new. No big deal. Nothing they hadn't done on their own blogs many times before.

But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as "Joey") commented "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."

The horror gets worse. For more background on this, I refer you to Kathy's own post on the thing, and these various excellent posts on BlogHer here, here, here, here, here and here.

On a couple of email lists, I've expressed the feeling that to respond to trolls is to feed them -- to give them the validation they so crave. They're online terrorists, in effect, who behave the way they do to get attention, and in general I believe it's counterproductive to elevate their status to some sort of Public Enemy, for that gives them exactly what they want, and has the unfortunate effect of elevating them to your status. My sense was that with regard the Mean Kids garbage, the best response was to respond by ignoring these depraved individuals, encouraging the prompt deletion of such content, and moving on.

Mine was not the popular sentiment. In fact, there has been an incredible groundswell of push-back against the Mean Kids trolls, to the point of declaring today, March 30th, as Stop Cyberbullying Day. For better or worse, and I prefer to think it's for the better for now, what has happened to Kathy, and untold other women and men who've been subjected to this kind of online abuse since USENET days, cyberbullying has become the topic of the day.

It's an essentially important subject in this "web 2.0" world of online communities. How do we "police" (for the lack of a better word) such patently offensive and possibly illegal behavior while at the same time while keeping the internet free?



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