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October 29, 2003

Friendster: is the honeymoon over?

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Posted by danah boyd

Articles on Friendster have focused on the tool, the business, Fakesters and the less-than-kind portrayal of Jonathan Abrams. But today, the press took a new twist: they finally critiqued the underlying theoretical model on which Friendster depends. Oh, and they used the best bi-line yet: "Friendster's inspiration -- online matchmaking via friends of friends -- has been a runaway success. Human nature may be the only bug." The critique is dead-on. 1) Are friends of friends better partners? 2) Can your friends really do you justice in connecting you to their friends? 3) What happens when that relationship fails? [Oh, and since i didn't post it before, click here to read a workshop paper i wrote: "Reflections on Friendster, Trust and Intimacy"]

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: guests

Paglia Pans Blogging

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Posted by Liz Lawley

Camille Paglia lets loose with a barrage of cultural criticism in a new interview on Salon.com. She's got lots to say on politics, from Bush to Dean and inbetween. But if you didn't make it to the last page, you missed her diatribe on blogging.
The Web has also dealt a fatal blow to the culture of stardom because isolated types can now instantly express and exhibit their conflicts and find fellow sufferers around the world through the Web. But e-mail is evanescent. And the blog form is, in my view, the decadence of the Web. I don't see blogs as a new frontier but as a falling backwards into word-centric print journalism -- words, words, words!
Followed by:
Blog reading for me is like going down to the cellar amid shelves and shelves of musty books that you're condemned to turn the pages of. Bad prose, endless reams of bad prose! There's a lack of discipline, a feeling that anything that crosses one's mind is important or interesting to others. People say that the best part about writing a blog is that there's no editing -- it's free speech without institutional control. Well, sure, but writing isn't masturbation -- you've got to self-edit.
The line that set me most to thinking was this one: "No major figure has emerged yet from the blogs -- Andrew Sullivan was already an established writer before he started his." Now, I seldom agree with Paglia's conclusions on anything, but I still find some of the points she raises to be worth thinking about. There's a tendency within the community of active bloggers to see blogging as an extraordinarily powerful medium. And, in fact, I would argue that it is--but only within that community. Are the lives of many bloggers significantly changed by their participation in the medium? Absolutely. But these are micro-level effects, not macro. Even when blog coverage has larger external impacts--as in the much-touted Trent Lott affair--it's true that no lasting visibility for blogs or bloggers has been sustained. Will that change as more people write--and read--weblogs? I'm not so sure. Usenet certainly didn't become more influential through increased participation. It's easy for communication media to become victims of their own success.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

Doing Management

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Two great Knowledge Management practitioners just posted great insights about how Enterprise Social Software transforms the practice into Doing Management. Dave Pollard contributes a paper on the Future of Knowledge Management. He addresses the primary failings of traditional KM, the rise of new tools and the need for line worker productivity converging towards a Social Software approach for KM.
I believe that if KM hopes to save itself from imminent extinction, it needs to acknowledge and act upon the truth of Drucker’s assertion [greatest challenge to business management in the 21st century is, and will be, improving the personal productivity and effectiveness of front-line workers doing increasingly complex and unique jobs], and the following two principles that reflect what ‘improving personal productivity and effectiveness of front-line workers’ means with regards to knowledge: 1. Knowledge is most effectively and efficiently conveyed to front-line workers by other front-line workers or outside experts, one-on-one, just-in-time, and in the context of solving a specific business problem... 2. Front-line workers have a large array of tools and technologies at their disposal, but rarely know how to use these tools and technologies competently, and when they do, they often find that these tools and technologies force them to think and work in ways that are not intuitive to them, interfering with rather than helping their work effectiveness...
KM is in desperate need of a new monkier, given the costly failings of the previous top-down approach. The bottom-up approach enabled by Enterprise Social Software puts doing things first -- because doing things socially and openly can be more productive, with social capital and institutional memory as postive by-products of effort. The new emphasis on doing can by found in Jay Fienberg's post on recommendations for an enterprise system that encourages collaboration in a public sphere. He describes a set of activities that are ideal for wikis, weblogs and other forms of micro-content ranging from meetings, documents, metrics and reports, individual and group uses. Notice the focus isn't on specifically identifying experts or more valuable content -- but activities that if done openly using simple and flexible tools yield lasting benefits. From theory to practice we are seeing Enterprise Social Software being considered not as knowledge management, but as a better way of doing management. The knowing-doing gap is closing, but not as we expected. Facilitate doing in a social context and you gain learning and insights in social context.

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October 28, 2003

designing social software

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Posted by danah boyd

I had the awesome privilege of attending the Intimate (Ubiquitous) Computing workshop at Ubicomp this year. The attendees grappled with issues of intimacy, the relationship between people and the impact of technology on intimacy. These issues are so relevant to social software, but so rarely addressed. For example, what is the impact of social software on intimacy? How does it affect our mechanisms of relating to people? It's so easy as social software developers to think about people's hypothetical needs and design towards them, without really processing what impact we've had. Yet, the structures we create fundamentally affect how people interact, both offline and online. How are we changing people's ability to engage offline because of their digital presence? How are we changing our understandings of the public sphere? Ubicomp made me reflect on how easily we slip into a technocentric point of view. It's so easy to assume that there is a perfect set of technologies, that they will solve all of the world's problems and that they will produce nothing but good. My take-away from the whole thing was to remember that we must think about the domains that we impact. We as social software developers/designers have the opportunity to dramatically impact social behavior. But we must approach this cautiously because if we fail to consider our impact, we could cause more harm than good. [Remember: guns don't kill people; people kill people. But they *use* guns and those guns were designed by people, and designed to kill.]

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October 27, 2003

iCan for the Public

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

The BBC's iCan is in public pre-beta, a social software project to foster social capital and democratic participation. I posted on M2M about the project back in May. (Just a little before that we were having the same power-law inspired discussion of weblog modalities we are today). Matt Jones speaks of the project's mission:
Its all about the tail was one of our mantras during the early stages of iCan. When we were talking with people from News and other involved divisions in the BBC, we used to use the power-law curve so beloved of the blogosphere to give an analogy of the connection between the 6/7 major national or global stories that feature on the 30-minute evening news programme and the 100s or 1000s of personal, local issues that people could feel empowered to act on. 3 or 4 times a year at least, one of those personal, local issues will propel itself up the power-law curve to become a national or even global story. For instance, the fuel protests in the UK of a few years ago. iCan was about trying to increase that number, by recognising and supporting the continuum that exists between the tail and the top. Even if not every story, issue or aspiration for change makes it to the top, the community and resources of the tail will provide support, information and inspiration for each new inhabitant of the tail...

...continue reading.

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October 25, 2003

GameSpy on MMO Societies

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Posted by Clay Shirky

GameSpy is running an interesting series on multi-player online games, and they've just posted their entry on the challenges of managing social issues in MMOs:
"Nothing galvanizes a community like an external threat," says Near Death Studio's Green. It's no surprise that combat forms the basis for a lot of the social structures in an MMO (one MMO, Sony's Planetside, is built around nothing but combat). Green recalls the balancing act required to work player vs. player combat (PvP) into the game. At first, there were only two factions, but as one faction started to attract more and more powerful characters, there was a snowballing effect. 3DO essentially bailed out the underdog by creating a third faction, which balanced things out.
Worth a read. (Paging Tom Coates: maybe something for Everything in Moderation

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October 24, 2003

Defining Publish and Broadcast

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Posted by Clay Shirky

In the comments in Jarvis and Spiers on Weblogs, there is a conversation about the meaning of the words "publish" and "broadcast" in the context of weblogs. This is a hard question, of course. If you are writing about technology, you can use English words, but you have to deal with the multiple meanings that come with them -- "community" has a dozen meanings, making it very hard to write about clearly. This problem gets worse when you are also writing about media, as you get overloaded meanings from pre-internet patterns, where "publish" is for print and "broadcast" is for TV. This can be confusing in a world where both the NY Times and MSNBC have web sites. The alternative, though, is to use existing jargon or invented terms of art, which is often worse. My usual strategy has been to try to write in English, and to situate words with slippery definitions in context, but reading the comments in the earlier piece makes me think it may be worth defining the terms explicitly. For the record, and as a way of trying to start a conversation on these patterns, here are my definitions of publish and broadcast.
*Publish* -- A pattern where the recipient of a message or piece of content does not have access to the same audience or message format as the sender
A publishing vehicle privileges one author over other participants, in other words. By this definition, email lists, whether via CC line or mailing list software, are not publishing media, since any recipient of a message can reply in the same format and medium, to the same audience. Most usenet groups are not publishing media, for the same reason. By contrast, mass email to the BCC line, or *.announce usenet groups, _are_ publishing media, since I can send you a message in those media, and you can't reach the audience I sent it to. This is why I contend that weblogs have publishing as their first-order pattern. If it's your weblog, you post to your audience, but your audience can't post to one another through your weblog. Even if you have comments on, those are less visible, and obviously separate from the main posts. Only you enjoy the full control of the publishing capabilities. (Contrast the evenness of messages and replies on mailing lists and usenet.) Publishing can support conversational patterns, of course, if a group of people publish to one another, but even in tight clusters of people who read one another's work, the audience isn't shared, If you read my blog and I read yours, and one day your audience doubles, mine does not. (Again, contrast what happens when the number of subscribers on a mailing list goes up.)
*Broadcast* -- A pattern where the sender of a message or piece of content has minimal or no interaction with the recipients
Broadcast is the one-to-many pattern, where readers or viewers at the edges take in content from the center, but where the publisher at the center takes in almost nothing from the edge. The broadcast pattern is a subset of the publishing pattern, in other words. Broadcast requires publishing, but not all publishing is broadcast; as in the weblog world, some publishing can be conversational. Broadcast also does not require scale; publishers can chose not to interact with their audience even at scales, as with the bore at the dinner party. (Note that this definition clashes with the idea of broadcast vs. narrowcast, where audience size, rather than topology, is thought to be the distinguishing characteristic.) However, scale does require broadcast; beyond a certain point, a publisher cannot maintain a meaningful interaction with even a fraction of their audience, because of the limitations of time and attention. Even if Oprah loved each of her 10 million+ of viewers, and even if a single minute of her time constituted, for them, a successful interaction, and even if she did nothing Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 but talk to members of her audience a minute at a time for a solid year, she could still only reach 1% of them. Publishing, in this view, is a technological pattern. Broadcast is a choice at small scale, and a forced move at large scale. Small clusters of friends on LiveJournal publish conversationally to one another. Dave Barry, by contrast, does not have that choice with his weblog -- of necessity, he both publishes and broadcasts.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

Misbehaving.net

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

The tag line for a new blog on women and technology:
"Well-behaved women seldom make history." --Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Putting the miss back into misbehaving is an all-star cast including our very own Liz Lawley: danah boyd, Caterina Fake, Meg Hourihan, Liz Lawley, Dorothea Salo, Halley Suitt, Gina Trapani and Jill Walker Subscribe or be ignorant.

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October 23, 2003

Ernie Calls Me Out on Grimes and The Grocery

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Posted by Clay Shirky

In the comments to my post on Zagat’s, Grimes, and their respective judgments about the restaurant Grocery, Ernie calls me out, correctly, saying:
Clay, although you make your point, it is not always true that one person’s judgement is inferior to that of a mob.
This is right, and I overstated the case earlier. Expertise is not going away, to be replaced by collaborative filtering in all cases. Here's what is happening: experts are being exposed to previously buried contradictions in their jobs.

...continue reading.

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October 22, 2003

Jarvis and Spiers On Weblogs

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Jeff Jarvis goes on that list of people I think of as an outboard super-ego -- when he writes something I disagree with, it makes me re-examine and often alter my own views. In all the conversations we've had, and from all the posts on buzzmachine I've read, I've only found one issue where we truly disagree: the nature of interactivity in weblogs. In a post titled Interactivity, Jarvis says
So Bill O'Reilly, Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Dan Rather, Paul Krugman, John Podhoretz, Stephen King, Charlie Rose, Oprah -- and, yes, even Andy Rooney -- you should all start weblogs to interact with your audiences. If Dave Barry can do it, so you can.
The problem with this exhortation is that it distorts the idea of interactivity. Once you cross some threshold of readers (I put it someplace between a thousand and ten thousand), you cannot interact even with the subset of them that want to interact with you. The fact of scale has turned them into an audience. Weblogs are a publishing platform. Interactivity is a second-order choice on that platform -- comments or no, trackbacks or no, link to the people who link to you or no -- and the larger the imbalance between people who read you and people you read, the harder it becomes to make and support that choice. Dave Barry is in fact the perfect example. Dave Barry publishes a column online, using weblog software as his publishing platform, and his mode of 'interacting' with his readers is no different than his printed columns: readers send in funny stories, he mentions the stories, and credits the readers. This is publishing, and it does the same kind of violence to the language to label this interactivity as it would for Staples to call its customers an "office supply community." In this same vein, Jarvis points to Elizibeth Spiers who makes the same error, even more dramatically, when talking about John Markoff's attitude towards weblogs:
If Markoff thinks all (or even most) bloggers are keeping diaries online, then Jarvis is probably right: he doesn't read blogs—which seems ironic, given that he's the technology reporter for the Times.
Markoff is a jackass for cloaking himself in a sniffish distaste for the democratization of publishing, but at least he gets the numbers right: Most webloggers _are_ keeping diaries online. LiveJournal alone is bigger than blogger and Typepad put together, and the churn rate is lower. Most _readers_ cluster around a small number of popular blogs (which is what Spiers evidently thinks of as blogging's mainstream.) Most _writers_, however, have very few readers, and the pattern of those weblogs is online diary. Spiers unconciously illustrates her bias by saying "most weblogs" when she means "the few weblogs with the most readers." (Note to Spiers: go to Livejournal.com, click Random User, and keep reading 'til you get it.) There may have been a day when most weblog readers were also weblog writers, and where the imbalance between reader and writer distribution was only a couple of orders of magnitude. Those days are long gone -- if Glenn Reynolds is to be believed on his traffic numbers, we are now at an imbalance that crosses _seven_ orders of magnitude. At some point the talk about interacting with your audience is going to give way to the recognition that weblogs have a publishing pattern and a conversational pattern; that the former does not automatically create the latter; and that the split between those patterns caused by scale is increasingly important as the weblog ecosystem continues to grow.

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The Connectors

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Wired News: Meet the hypernetworked nodes who secretly run the world. The Tech Node: Our very own Clay Shirky The Tokyo Node: Our dear friend Joi Ito

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October 21, 2003

Socialtext 1.0 Launch

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Congratulations to our own Ross Mayfield for the launch of the 1.0 version of Socialtext Workspace, and the simultaneous release of their open source wiki product, Socialtext Kwikspace. (Kwikspace is built on Brian Ingerson's Kwiki, the perl wiki module. Brian now works at Socialtext, so their commercial and open source products couldn't be in better hands.) It's worth a look for anyone tracking the merging of collaborative patterns -- Socialtext has been thinking hard about what's good about wikis and what's bad (as Ross says in his launch post "As a wiki, it's dangerously close to being, well, pretty."), and about how to integrate other technological patterns (post into the system via email, publish out of the system to a weblog) and how to customize it for particular social patterns (controlled membership, event-focused use). Congratulations to everyone at Socialtext for the 1.0. Now get some sleep.

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Blogs, Curves, and Grades

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Posted by Paul B Hartzog

Rather than deciding whether to post in the comments of my original post, or Clay's rebuttal, or Seb's follow-up, I'll add yet another top-level node. I didn't really see my original post as particularly "venomous," nor did I name Clay specifically--but apparently the mere mention of "power laws" is now equivalent to invoking his name. ;) In fact, my negativity surrounding the power law characterization hasn't been based in a rejection of its accuracy, or in any sense that the emergence of an "A-list" is a bad thing. It's a result of my frustration with the sense that on some level, people are equating large audience with quality or success. The language we choose is important in this regard. "A-list" vs "C-list" has strong metaphorical connotations, as does "head" vs "tail" of the curve. Intentional or not, they shape our perceptions and understanding of the data presented. At any rate, I think we have a definitional problem. On the one hand, we want to describe "blogs" as part of a single phenomenon, and study them as such (plot them on curves, describe their "typical characteristics", etc. On the other hand, we want to distinguish among different modes, defining the "broadcast blogs" as qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from the "diary blogs," etc. The whole "A-list" idea is one that I'm fascinated by in this context, really. My anecdotal experience is that most people don't particularly want to be on that list. It comes back to the balance between public and private that's so central to the whole concept of blogging. The more public one becomes (through increased readership), the more pressures the author feels regarding his or her writing. Relative anonymity provides a greater (though not necessarily more accurate) sense of privacy and community.

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Communication Is Content

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Posted by Seb Paquet

Richard MacManus is not resigned to describing C-list blogging (i.e., one-to-few, by far the most prevalent mode in the blogosphere) as mere "communication":


I think there is a comparison between some C-List bloggers and student radio stations, or pirate radio stations. We have a limited audience, perhaps even no audience. But we're broadcasting because we believe that our ideas have some inherent value.

Which is more reminiscent of the attitude of 19th-century pamphleteers than of that of a bunch of teens in the food court.

There is indeed a qualitative difference between blogging and conversing among friends as we are used to doing it: the conversation is persistent and strangers may peek in, sometimes in the middle of the conversation, sometimes months later, following some obscure link or a lucky Google query. Linkable conversations enable new interested parties to connect the way ordinary conversation simply doesn't.

So how should we frame the activity? By considering the audience, or the author? If we take the intent of the author as the starting point, "broadcast" may be the appropriate term - even given a nano-audience.

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October 20, 2003

Power Laws and Weblog Patterns

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Liz, pointing to Weinberger's great piece on weblogs operating at large scale, says
The problem I’ve always had with the “power law” view of weblogs is that it treats all weblogs as the same sort of medium…
For the record, my original Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality essay, from February of this year, said
At some point (probably one we've already passed), weblog technology will be seen as a platform for so many forms of publishing, filtering, aggregation, and syndication that blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity. The term 'blog' will fall into the middle distance, as 'home page' and 'portal' have, words that used to mean some concrete thing, but which were stretched by use past the point of meaning. This will happen when head and tail of the power law distribution become so different that we can't think of J. Random Blogger and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit as doing the same thing.

...continue reading.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

The Critics Are The First To Go

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Anyone playing bingo cards reading "Smart Mobs v. Experts" or "How Distributed Intelligence Changes Journalism" will want to look at this pair of food articles from today's New York Times. The basic story goes like this: the 2004 Zagat's Guide is out today, and right in the middle of the Great and the Good of the Manhattan restaurant world, clocking in at #7 in overall rankings, is a small Brooklyn restaurant called the Grocery, run by a husband and wife team who happen to cook really really well. The Times coverage is unintentionally hilarious. Zagat uses cumulative anonymous ratings from diners who send in their opinions of various restaurants. The Times journalist, Florence Fabricant, goes on and on about how these ratings draw on as few as 100 people, obviously casting about for some way to explain how a 30 seat restaurant in Brooklyn could be rated above Alain Ducasse, where a bowl of soup will set you back almost forty dollars, while never noting that the alternative method of judgment -- the impressions of a single restaurant reviewer -- are a more limited sample. This is not to say that Fabricant's criticism of Zagat statistics is flawed -- it is non-existent. She makes not the slightest attempt to critique or even explain statistical sampling. She simply takes it as self-evident that a rating system that values anything other than the gilded charm of Manhattan's most expensive establishments must be wrong. Her story is accompanied by a William Grimes re-review of the restaurant, which he previously gave one star, and the poor guy nearly gives himself a hernia back-pedalling on his earlier review. While noting that everything Grocery does they do perfectly, he also busies himself defending the idea that it is better to dine at Le Bernadin, no matter what those anonymous dopes who contribute to Zagat's might say. This is all standard fare: an expert like Grimes, once brought to book, must find a way to change his mind without being seen to do so, because even more important than any actual opinion he might hold is the need to defend the idea of expertise itself, a pattern we've seen before. "Oh sure," went the story in 1998, "Google is interesting for quick and dirty searches, but if you really want to understand the Web, you have to use Yahoo. They have a real live ontologist on staff." Oops. And of course the third (and unpublished) part of the story is the one that really matters: the most important restaurant reviewer in the country was called to revisit an opinion because his earlier work was so at odds with the judgment of an anonymous and distributed group; he had to admit that yes, on sober reflection "The Grocery deserves a nearly perfect score"; and having made that admission, it is obvious to anyone who cares about food that the NY Times is now an also-ran compared to Zagat's in terms of tracking quality over time. I forget if it was Enver Hoxha or Billy the Kid who said "Come the revolution, the restaurant critics will be the first up against the wall", but truer words were never spoken, and with coordination costs of smart mobs so dramatically lowered, aggregate judgment continues to challenge expertise in an increasing number of arenas.

Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

Toontown Online

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Posted by Liz Lawley

This weekend, my kids came home and announced that they _had_ to have subscriptions to Disney's new Toontown Online game. At $10/month for a subscription, it seemed wise to have them go for the 3-day free trial first, and then make a decision about the expense. Much to my dismay, Toontown works only on a PC. Going there on my Mac gave me this:
Using a Mac? This system is not supported by Disney's Toontown Online. Disney's Toontown Online requires a PC running Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, or later.
Feh. However, my kids have been using their free trials on my husband's Windows-based machine, and they're totally entranced by it. This is their first exposure to a MMORPG, and clearly Disney's done something right--from plugging it hard on the Disney Channel, to making it easy enough for my 7 and 9-year-old sons to use and enjoy. I did some poking around today to find out how long this has been around, and what other people are saying about it. There are reviews (with screen shots, which I appreciated since my OS of choice has been shut out of game play) at GameZone.com and Review Outpost. Both were written in June, but I'm pretty sure the advertising campaign has just begun. It will be interesting to see if game-makers follow suit, creating adapted versions of existing MMORPGs for the pre-teen set (G-rated Everquest, maybe? or a kid-friendly Game NeverEnding?). I hope so, because I _really_ don't want to spend $10/month per kid on a game that locks us into a platform-specific OS and browser.

Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

Weinberger on "When Blogging Gets Big"

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Posted by Liz Lawley

David Weinberger has a thoughtful, interesting post today on what's going to happen when (he says when, not if) blogs get _really_ big. The whole post is good, but this item caught my eye in particular:
The distinction between the big, high-traffic blogs and the rest of the world of blogging will be increasingly sharply etched. The "tail" will gain more and more value as the number of high-traffic blogs necessarily grows much more slowly. At some point, the "A-List" bloggers won't even seem like bloggers because what they're doing is so different from what the rest of us are doing. By analogy, when I receive some massive-circ email newsletter, I don't think of it as being like email I receive from a friend, even though both are using email transport. (This doesn't mean the high-traffic blogs will be of less intrinsic value. It does mean they'll be of less value relative to the increasing cumulative value of the lower-traffic blogs.)
The problem I've always had with the "power law" view of weblogs is that it treats all weblogs as the same sort of medium...when in fact, there's a big difference between the blogs at the top of that power law curve, the ones in the middle, and the ones at the tail.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

A Social Network Monster

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Monster.com launched a Social Networking Service today according to the WSJ (sub. req.) and News.com:
The career Web site (www.monster.com) hopes the subscription-based service will help both job seekers and employed people who want to exchange information about jobs or goals. Monster says that the networking product will enable the site to re-engage its 40 million members, many of whom are well past the typical six to nine month initial period of activity and merely have resumes in the Monster database. "What happens is someone gets a job, and we're looking for ways to maintain that member," said Jeff Taylor, founder and chairman of Monster, a unit of Monster Worldwide Inc. of New York. "What we're able to do now is to provide an instrument of introduction or assist in an introduction to other people in their professional network."
Monster's approach has several challenges. Top-down deployment of a social networking service results in fragmented graphs. Reccomending connections is one way of bridging graphs. Similarly, without an organically developed culture, its difficult to see how their target users with abandoned profiles will be drawn to connect with others let alone participate. Its easy to understand why Monster is entering this market. The Profile Database Market ($281m this year, $483 by 2006 according to Forrester) is the most directly under threat by new models that provide more value than uploading resumes. The subscription model is an attractive business model because it imposes constraints on joining the network rather than its information flow. But it is uncertain whether Monster users will see utility joining a mass advertised network of uncertain value compared to one their friends invite them into. It also seems prone to information pollution.

...continue reading.

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Online mysteries and communities

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Posted by Seb Paquet

Two and a half years ago a set of web pages from an alternate reality started popping up on the web, referring to fictitious people, such as Bangalore World University researcher Jeanine Salla, who lived in the year 2142. The pages seemed to have been planted there to provide clues to some ill-defined puzzle. As Paul Cox reported, the Cloudmakers community soon emerged to enable wide open collaboration in solving the mystery. It became apparent that the whole thing was an elaborate game that was designed to promote the Steven Spielberg movie _"AI":http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0212720/_. Interestingly, the ability of the collective pushed the game's designers to dramatically increase the difficulty of the in-game puzzles, to the point that playing alone became simply impossible. Collective Detective is another community that was inspired by this collaborative effort. At any given time members are working on a number of "Cases", including _Metacortex_, a new one I just learned about on Bryan Alexander's weblog. This one is the hidden game for the upcoming movie _Matrix Revolutions_. Bryan has been following the game quite closely. Here are excerpts his first post on that new game:
You can dive in by exploring the mysterious pieces of the game which have surfaced in collaborative exploration. There's the Metacortex company home page (note the spelling of the URL), a firm specializing in a variety of cyberproducts. Metacortex employee-of-the-month Beth McConnell has her own personal/research site, where you can read about her interest in the paranormal. Metacortex publishes MetaOffice Suite, and is soon to roll out a new virtual reality tool, MetaVRX, while also developing a new personal productivity/knowledge management product, Metadex. [...] How is this developing? Interesting people explore the sites, much like a mystery novel or interactive fiction, piecing together clues. New information emerges, which leads explorations forward: passwords and logins are guessed and tests, phone numbers called, emails sent, characters discovered, Web site source code studied, literary references considerd, terms googled, images studied in painstaking detail, Flash movies decompiled, a screensaver scrutinized, Perl scripts written, changes to Web pages monitored, and several languages translated.
Gotta love the idea of online games fueling the development of collaboration tools and practices. This pushes so many of my buttons at the same time...

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October 17, 2003

SoSo job opening

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Posted by Seb Paquet

Got this in my inbox, and thought it would be appropriate to spread the word from here.
Note: This is from a member of the Planetwork community who has set up a mailbox for responses to this message. Please email planetwork@neotera.com --jim I'm looking for an experienced Java developer who is familiar with Java web application architecture (JSP, custom tags, opensource application frameworks) for applications that have relational database back-ends (mySql, Oracle). Understanding of scalability issues and data modeling would be good. This is for a social software project related to online social networking, so an interest in those types of systems would be good. Here is a description in "job description" format:
Position:
     Senior Java developer or application architect
Responsibilities:
     Implement Java web application and database-related functions for a
     social interaction / on-line community / collaboration-oriented web application
     Implement core application capabilities as needed
     Design and implement application administration functions
     Contribute to system architecture for scalable deployment
Requirements:
     Experience with Java development and OO design
     Experience with relational databases and data model design
     Experience with JSP, Servlet, Custom Tags and opensource frameworks
     Experience with RDBMS-based applications (e.g. mySql, Oracle)
Company:
     early-stage "social software" startup

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Online Community Summit

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Posted by Seb Paquet

Lee LeFever shares notes on Jim Cashel’s second
Online Community Summit, which featured among others Microsoft's resident sociologist Marc Smith, and people from Meetup and epinions.

Much of the buzz was from the initial success of new social networking communities like Friendster, Tribe, LinkedIn, etc. While this type of community wasn’t the focus of the summit, they provided great fodder for discussion. It was apparent that these communities signify a resurgence in the power of the two-way web.

In asking, “Why now? Why are these networks so popular all the sudden?” Many concluded that the technology is nothing new- it is the widely-held perception of meeting people online that has changed. It is now acceptable for the average person to meet and work with people online. This change in perception bodes well for the future of online communities of all sorts.

A nice overview.

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October 16, 2003

Experts and novices

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Posted by Seb Paquet

I just stumbled across this interview with Joe Cothrel about social software and online communities. There's an interesting observation on how weblogs enable popular/recognized people to "be in public" without getting swamped by interaction with great numbers of interested individuals.
How do you manage the "significant few"? You reward them with recognition, or special privileges, or in some cases even money. [...] It's kind of a truism that the many want to talk to the few, but the few only want to talk among themselves. I think that's one thing that blogs manage very nicely, enabling interaction at a very high level among the few, without shutting out the ability of the many to read and even comment. Similarly, in the online community space we've seen an increase in online discussions which feature a panel of invited participants, and where other visitors to the site can read the discussion and submit questions which are presented to the panel by a moderator. I'm not arguing that these are superior to other ways of doing this; just that its useful for us to continue to create formats in which both the few and the many get what they need.
(Related: Ray Ozzie's The Rebirth of Public Discussion.)

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October 14, 2003

New Site on Community Moderation

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Posted by Liz Lawley

Tom Coates of plasticbag.org has just launched a new site entitled Everything in Moderation, which is intended to provide "Creative ways to manage online communities and user-generated content." In his welcome post, he talks about why he started the site:
Moderation systems are a particular subpassion of mine. In the abstract, people can think they sound bland, technical or intimidating, but fundamentally moderation is really about all those parts of an online community that stop it just being a place where people stand and shout randomly at each other. They're about finding the structures and the mechanisms, the techniques and the sensitivities which will help a community form out of a seemingly random clumps of individuals, which will help that community defuse unpleasant situations without killing each other and protect that community from attack.
Looks like an excellent resource for people interested in or involved with online communities.

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O'Brien on Public, Private, and Secret discourse

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Posted by Clay Shirky

_Brilliant_ Danny O'Brien post about the difference between public, private, and secret speech, and how the internet creates a loss of private speech, leaving us only a choice between public and secret speech.
On the net, you have public, or you have secrets. The private intermediate sphere, with its careful buffering. is shattered. E-mails are forwarded verbatim. IRC transcripts, with throwaway comments, are preserved forever. You talk to your friends online, you talk to the world. This is why, incidentally, why people hate blogs so much. My God, people say, how can Livejournallers be so self-obsessed? Oh, Christ, is Xeni talking about LA art again? Why won't they all shut up? The answer why they won't shut up is - they're not talking to you. They're talking in the private register of blogs, that confidential style between secret-and-public. And you found them via Google. They're having a bad day. They're writing for friends who are interested in their hobbies and their life. Meanwhile, you're standing fifty yards away with a sneer, a telephoto lens and a directional microphone. Who's obsessed now?
Absolutely required reading.

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Department of Defense Weblog Experiment

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Posted by Clay Shirky

The Department of Defense is experimenting with weblogs to speed procurement and testing of hi-tech products, in the first round of projects selected for their Rapid Acquisition Incentive Net-Centricity (that'd be the RAI/NC to you, soldier.) There's not much information in the RAI/NC PDF (I loves me some acronyms), but the weblog portion says
Pilot Summary: Test & Evaluation Weblog (T&E BLOG) proposes implementing a BLOG for the T&E community. A BLOG is similar to a Community of Interest (COI), but applies multi-role security needed to freely communicate about proprietary technologies among different industry partners on the same team. Pilot will use a software solution from Traction to build the BLOG. The focus will be on the Liberty Project, night-vision technology, bringing the Services together with Ford Motor Company & New York City Police. Key success metrics will compare T&E cycle times for planning, executing and document test results. Overall Netcentric Value: T&E BLOG supports all three Net Centric goals: data is populated from commercial and other services and shared appropriately in order to get cutting edge technology to DoD before it is commercially available to our enemies. Thus, it in close alignment with majority of net centric architectural tenants & investment areas: data posting before processing, users pulling information, and collaboration between experts on an as needed basis. Proposal also supports the Government-Wide Initiatives in the President's Management Agenda. The increased collaboration with industry provides expanded electronic government services that allows the government to make decision faster regarding their investments according to project performance.
Participating organizations include the Naval Underwater Warfare Center, the Army Night Vision Lab, Ford, and the NYC Police They've selected Traction as their experimental platform, one of the first weblog platforms designed for business use. Traction has an interesting matrix of read/write/edit and user/group/world permissions, allowing for e.g. the board of a company to read the weblog from the sales department, and to add comments that only other board members can see. The trial is scheduled to last 4 months.

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October 13, 2003

Marlow's Explorer

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Got a peek at Cameron Marlow's SocialNetworkExplorer at Foo during his talk with Dave Sifry. He is developing a directional graph of blogs, with a clean way of explaining the context of a given blog. For each blog it lists Friends (people who link to the blog and the blog links back) and Fans (people who link to the blog) and Favorites (people the blog links to). The choice of the word Fan is actually quite appropriate for popular blogs, who may have thousands of followers, but max-out at 150 friends -- as they are only human.

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Salesforce.com on Social Networking

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

IBDN, in preparation for an event on Social Networking hosted by Rafe Needleman, posts a short interview with the CSO of Salesforce.com on Social Networking:
TAXICAB INTERVIEW | Cary Fulbright, Chief Strategy Officer, Salesforce.com on Social Networking IBDN: Is the social networking space another bubble waiting to burst? Is it a fad, feature, or a real market opportunity? FULBRIGHT: It's not a bubble waiting to burst or a fad — many of us in the business world have been using social networking for years as part of our everyday life. The evolving technology specifically created to make social networking easier and faster can only help take us to the next level. It also helps people who aren't adept at public networking for the first time. IBDN: Do you think social networking companies will make money with the current business model? Or are they perfect targets for acquisitions? FULBRIGHT: In the long term, social networking technology is not a stand-alone application. It will become a feature of other applications where it makes sense to include it. You've seen it for a few years in consumer and personal applications. You will see it more explicitly in business applications such as our own CRM application. The technology itself is not rocket-science, so companies that are currently offering products limited to social networking will need to broaden their application to be more widely useful. IBDN: We know that consumers will pay to find a date, but will they pay to find business contacts? FULBRIGHT: Yes, one name for them is "leads," and sales and marketing organizations pay thousands of dollars for leads today. Leads are the life-blood of every business. Another type of paid business contact is called "candidates," and again companies have been paying recruiters or internal referrals thousands of dollars for great candidates for at least 50 years. Especially now, with tight budgets, businesses must run more efficiently and want to find the right contacts to meet their needs, in as streamlined a manner as possible. To the extent that businesses can start with warm leads instead of cold leads, and an existing pool of candidates when they have an opening, they will save millions of dollars.

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Pollard on saving email

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Dave Pollard takes on saving email with an idea for transient subdomains, essentially a formalization of the "migrate to a new email address when your old one becomes useless" process (and an analog to the biological defense of changing the surface of a cell, so that viruses that bind to the old shape can't bind to the new one.
What do we do now when we get too much spam in a mailbox? We trash it and set up a new one. It's a one-step-ahead-of-the-enemy approach, but it's extravagent. Suppose instead of just assigning people an e-mail address, we assigned them an e-mail domain, with the ability to set up an infinite number of subdomains (or channels, if you prefer), each with a short and finite life. Example: Let's say my e-mail address is dave.pollard@hotmail.com (it isn't -- I use my real e-mail address sparingly in public because of spam etc.) Instead of junking this address when the spammers overwhelm it, suppose instead I had an e-mail domain: dave.pollard@hotmail.com/ and could create any subdomains I want, and abandon them when they've lost their value.

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faceted identity != multiple personas

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Posted by danah boyd

At FooCamp, i realized that many people have been misreading my pleas for contextualization of identity presentation. I have regularly argued that people facet their identity and present different aspects given the context. Although i've argued against the multiple personality approach that emerged in the 1980s' cyberculture research, my statements keep getting re-read as promoting multiple personas. The easiest way to talk about how people facet their identity is by talking about dualisms. Unfortunately, this segmentation creates confusion. It also creates the assumption that people are always hiding one aspect of their identity from groups of people. Additionally, this approach seems to indicate that only a small fraction of the population reads context into their identity presentation. In fact, we all read context into our presentation of self. The vocabulary choices you make are dependent on the audience you are speaking with. You speak to your child differently than you speak to your lover; you use different vocabulary when talking to someone with shared expertise than you do to someone whose doesn't know the terms common in your field. Depending on shared history, you provide a different level of background information. Depending on perceived shared interests, you magnify your favorite interests differently. We constantly alter what we are presenting depending on to whom and in what context. This is not about deception; this is about contextualization. When i speak of faceting one's identity, i am not speaking of the ability to explicitly segment a manageable number of identity components; i'm talking about the ability to constantly adjust what is being presented, to whom, and in what context. Without this ability, people rely on the least common denominator. (This is why the majority of personal webpages out there read like a resume - the aspect of one's identity that one is most readily comfortable sharing with everyone.)

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File-sharing Goes Social

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Posted by Clay Shirky

I just published this month's entry to my Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list, called File-sharing Goes Social, about the move towards more socially bounded file-sharing tools in the light of the RIAA's attacks on Kazaa.
A critical factor here is the social fabric -- as designers of secure networks know, protecting the perimeter of a network only works if the people inside the perimeter are trustworthy. New entrants can only be let into such a system if they are somehow vetted or vouched for, and the existing members must have something at stake in the behavior of the new arrivals. The disadvantage of social sharing is simple -- limited membership means fewer files. The advantage is equally simple -- a socially bounded system is more effective than nothing, and safer than Kazaa.

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Powazek on Moderation and Secrets

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Posted by Clay Shirky

I missed this last year, but Derek Powazek of Designing for Community wrote a piece on the design challenges of moderation systems, and the way such systems can actually encourage users to game them. He goes into some detail about the way Slashdot's numbered karma system led to rampant karma-whoring, where users treated slashdot not as a forum but as a kind of social pinball machine, where the goal was simply to make the karma number go up. (His understanding of the system's weakness pre-figured slashdot's eventual move to named karma categories -- Good, Excellent, etc) He also contrasts the positive and negative aspects of slashdot with MetaFilter and Kuro5hin, and ends with an assertion about the need for social secrets in moderation systems (something I've been wondering about vis-a-vis Nutch):
Still, it's important to remember this essential truth: Any complicated moderation system that makes its algorithms public is eventually going to fall victim to gaming. So my advice is, if you're going to use a community moderation system, make it as invisible as possible. No karma numbers, no contests, no bribes. Rely on social capital and quality content to get your community talking, and develop a system that helps you moderate without a lot of fanfare. The bottom line is, if you take away the scores, it's hard to play the game.

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October 10, 2003

Buzz & Social Networks

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Virginia Postrel writes about Buzz, conversations about preference within social networks, pointing to a study The Influence of Social Networks on the Effectiveness of Promotional Strategies and the work of Yale's Dina Mayzlin and Harvard's David Godes. The research tracked memes in Usenet discussion groups during 1999-2000 and how they effected TV ratings with some interesting conclusions:
First, they discovered that online conversations did help predict which shows would succeed — a somewhat surprising result in itself. Usenet participants are not necessarily typical TV viewers. The Usenet discussions may have directly influenced new shows' reputations or, perhaps more likely, the online comments may have reflected offline conversations. (Negative comments were relatively rare; three-quarters of the postings in a subsample were either positive or mixed.) In either case, this result suggests that marketers can tap Internet forums to see how their products might fare. Second, the study found that how much buzz a show gets does not predict much about how it will do. Who's talking matters more than how much they talk.
Jeff Jarvis builds upon this to make the point that its not how large blogspace is, but: First, bloggers capture buzz...Second, bloggers are influencers talking to influencers...Finally, bloggers will create buzz. The paper, a great read on promotion and memetics, specifically explores linear network structures (lattices, paths or chains) and where to employ agents to promote a message. These granular network elements of a unidirectional paths, bidirectional paths and bidirectional circles are essential building blocks that are easier to analyze. Small world networks that follow a power-law distribution are not part of the study, but ironically mass advertising is contrasted as an investment option. When the promotion decision is binary between mass and buzz, mass out performs. But when both methods are employed, buzz yields greater influence. Mass diffusion provides context for a decision, buzz diffusion enables it. I say ironic because the more connected nodes, especially in blogspace, are more like mass than buzz. Its interesting that within the granular paths a meme can take who you influence matters, and it shouldn't suprise people that information travels faster within these strong ties. Hubs are obvious targets for diffusion, Sarnoff's law prevails, but the weak ties the message passes can at best provide context for influence. A strategy of influence would then address both the peak and the skinny tail of the power-law distribution. UPDATE: Kevin Buzzes about Nokia's buzz project

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microphone tapping

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Posted by Liz Lawley

It's interesting to me to see how people approach blogging. The disjoint between the public and the private. The wondering about the audience. The exploration of a new space for writing. The acknowledgement of its social context. My first post, just short of a year ago, was entitled "...is this thing on?" In it, I wrote this:
I'm fascinated by the potential of this medium. Not so much the personal publishing per se, but the interconnections among blogs, and the nonlinear concept-based path you can take through content once those interconnections are well-established. And the reputation/value issue--as more people link to your thoughts and comments, the more people who want to read them, and in turn want to read the blogs of the people you link to. Distributed processing at its very best. The "TrackBack" concept of cross-linking sites is really intriguing.
My friend and colleague Elouise Oyzon had this to say back in June when she began:
Like standing on the beach, I test the waters with a toe. How cold? How deep do I go? [...] How seductive to send words out on the tide like messages in a bottle. How cold? How deep? How far?
And her brother Beau, who began his blog only a few days ago, writes:
it's private thoughts for public use.
What was _your_ first post about? -- Side note: I've changed the style sheet for this site, which should result in the quoted sections above appearing in a bordered box; if that isn't happening on your browser, try loading the style sheet directly first, then returning here.

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October 9, 2003

notions of 'public' and email

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Posted by danah boyd

I finally got around to reading the Wall Street Journal article about the government posting Enron's email on the web. This policy brings up some very interesting (and not regularly explored) privacy issues. By now, many people are aware that their email is the property of their company. Yet, in a professional setting, even the best employees direct the tone of their messages as the recipients. They are likely to think that their messages might be monitored by their employer and that they could be admonished locally for abusing their digital privileges. Yet, this is *very* different than thinking that all of your work messages will be published to the web for posterity. The voice that we use on blogs is very different than our email voice. Our posts are directed at the great beyond (or at least at our colleagues in general with an eye for persistence). In an email, our tone and assumptions are constructed based on the perceived audience - the recipients. How will this kind of activity affect people's willingness to use email, even in legitimate corporate contexts? Who out there would change their work email habits if their messages were immediately posted to the web?

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socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Jason Calacanis has made social software one of his earliest launches in his Weblogs, Inc. effort, with a blog named (duh) socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com. The coverage is fairly business focused, with several entries on the flow of investment money going to social software firms. The most recent piece is on BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin announcing a BoingBoing Tribe on Tribes.net. BoingBoing previously dropped their "Discuss" link to their articles, in order to stem the problem of anonymous spam, tolls, flamebait, etc. (It's all about social membranes.) (10/10/03: Update, after Cory's comment.) I've known Jason for the better part of a decade, since the Silicon Alley Reporter was stapled instead of bound, and he has a genius for calling things as they break, so the blog will be worth watching.

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Police Reaction to Flash Mobs in Bombay

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Posted by Clay Shirky

After India's first Flash Mob, police are taking steps to make sure no more happen in Bombay, in light of crowd control rules put in place after the recent bomb attacks. I don't have a URL for this yet, so here's the wire copy:
BOMBAY, Oct 9 (AFP) - Flash mobs will not be seen again on the streets of the western Indian city of Bombay following a police crackdown on public gatherings, organisers said Thursday. A flash mob -- a group of people mobilised by email, who materialise in a public place and then fade away -- had appeared for the first time in the city outside a shopping mall on October 4. A group of 70 people, known as "mobsters," suddenly appeared, talked loudly about stock prices and danced for a few minutes outside the mall, disappearing before bystanders or security guards could react. The craze caught on in the United States earlier this year and Bombay organisers were planning more gatherings. But the police have introduced stricter security measures following a series of bomb blasts in the city, including two bombs on August 25 which killed 52 people and left more 150 injured. "Due to prohibitory orders in Bombay, there cannot be such large gatherings of people," said Bombay joint police commissioner Ahmad Javed. "Secondly, in case a group of people are meeting for a common cause, they have to take police permission." "There will be no more flash mobs in Bombay," said flash mob organiser Rohit Tikmany. He said a senior police officer had contacted him and asked him not to organise any further acts. "The police say that any gathering of more than five people needs prior police permission. This goes against the very concept of the flash mob." He said he was now supporting similar mob events in other cities, particularly the capital New Delhi and IT hub Bangalore. "Apart from these two cities, I am getting calls from practically every city in the country to support such flash mobs," he said. Tikmany said the mob gathering was coordinated over the Internet "to do a predetermined act that will shock people." "The key aspect of flash mob is that the participants are total strangers. We remain strangers at all times and then disappear immediately after the act. It's a yuppie, simple, fun act."

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October 8, 2003

contextualizing a social network website

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Posted by danah boyd

Recently, i've heard people moan about having to maintain multiple profiles and social networks on the myriad of YASNS. I totally understand the hassle. In real life, i seem to do fine with one faceted social network and i only have on identity, right? Unfortunately, the problem is that the sites actually play a significant role in shaping what we present. The clearest separation is between Friendster and LinkedIn. When people have accounts on both, they tend to put forward their goofy side on Friendster and their professional side on LinkedIn. Plus, while you may be able to recommend your party buddy as a date, could you properly recommend her in a work context? The sites provide the context so as to encourage a fracturing of the social network and identity presentation. This is not identical to our offline behavior. In RL, we own our identity; we live it; it is who we are, not some articulated presentation of self maintained by a third party. Thus, the context shifts as our interaction shifts. But online we turn Goffman on his head. The context is stable; each site has a clear look, feel and purpose. Thus, we articulate and give up ownership of a constructed snapshot of our identity to each given site. We choose the contexts based on where our identity fits. By restructuring the context-driven identity presentation model, we create new dilemmas. Do we really want to collapse the different networks? To do so would mean a collapse of contexts. Isn't this fundamentally the concern? Each site is trying to make its niche by targeting a specific population with specific contextualized needs. Of course, in my ideal world, we want to restructure these social networks to more closely resemble the offline behavior. Personal ownership of one's social network with properly faceted social networks and presentations of self. (Note to FOAF folks: build in faceting, please.)

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October 7, 2003

People Are the Problem

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Mark Gibbs doubts if collaboration technologies make us more productive:
...Sure, some technology is so complex, overbearing and rigid that people find it hard to use it effectively (just consider how few companies use Lotus Notes as the total enterprise information solution it was intended to be). But underlying the limitations of technology is the biggest problem of all: people. ...This is because we, as human animals, are intrinsically problematic when we are collaborating...So mix all those human attributes with new ways of communicating and you are guaranteed to have problems. People will use these tools poorly because they don't know otherwise and their drives are usually unchecked by training or feedback.
He faults a lack of management for productivity failings (training, policies, monitoring):
...Most crucially, if corporate resources are being wasted or abused, the organization has a responsibility to fix the problem. And if that requires monitoring and correcting or even disciplining users, how bad is that? Surely that counts as a mature, commonsense solution to a serious problem?...
I am tempted to go off on a "its not that your dreams didn't come true, its that you dreamed the wrong dream" rant, but lets take another angle. Mark is right to first to fault usability and false constraints imposed by collaborative systems. He is right that it is a problem, the company's problem, it needs to be addressed and with most tools this is a reasonable step. But in every problem there is an opportunity. IT doesn't improve productivity, people do. Systems are an opportunity to gain social agreement and move forward together. To date, collaboration has focused predominantly on getting people in line with process. This is a fine thing, but as our environment becomes more turbulent, knowledge work is less process than practice. With the right tools, teams get on the same page. Behavior is best improved through feedback from peers, especially on such soft issues rather than from the top-down (Mike, stop spamming the the company or I'll dock you a week. Mary, according to our monitoring software you are interrupting people 5 times more than your weekly IM allotment, etc.). Toning down the noise requires social agreement on use, reflective transparency and continuous social feedback.

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October 6, 2003

Nutch: Are some social secrets necessary

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Posted by Clay Shirky

I just checked in on Nutch, the attempt at an open source search engine. There's not much visible movement on the project, or at least not much that can be gleaned by browsing the Sourceforge project page. Though projects go inactive for all sorts of reasons, I have always wondered if Nutch was doomed from the start. After seeing an unbelievable /. thread where a proud father was looking for advice on skewing Google searches to improve the PageRank of his baby pictures (no, really), I wondered if this might be a place where the 'special sauce' that drives search ranking might have to be closed, in order to prevent exactly this sort of social gaming. People only complain about Google searches when their placement falls, but the fact that they have no recourse may be an advantage. The incentive to manipulate search rankings is very high, and if the algorithm behind such searching were published, I wonder if it would be self-defeating? It may be that to manage a world of selfish actors, there needs to be the online equivalent of the Muslim family that keeps the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, since none of the Christian sects can be trusted not to lock one another out. Do we need someone ot keep the key to search away from the people who have the most interest in abusing it?

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HP Labs on "When can I expect an email response?"

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Last week, I posted about David Gelernter's discussion on the effects of legitimate email volume, including his observation that the inability for the sender to know when they would receive a reply was damaging the medium. I just came across a paper from Josua Tyler and John Tang, from HP's staggeringly prolific Information Dynamics unit, called When Can I Expect an Email Response? which concerns exactly those dynamics. The overall answer to that question is (duh) "It depends", but Tyler and Tang documented what it depends on:
We found that users:
  • display typical patterns of response behaviors
  • maintain a responsiveness image
  • take advantage of contextual cues to explain responsiveness
  • use email with other media
  • use email peri-synchronously when quick replies are expected
  • reciprocate the email behavior of others
  • often experience apprehension when contacting a new email correspondent
  • Interesting reading for anyone contemplating replacing email.

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    October 5, 2003

    Perseus on Weblog churn

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    Posted by Clay Shirky

    Perseus has published a much-blogged survey of weblogs, estimating that the churn rate for weblogs is roughly two-thirds, calculated by the number of weblogs that have not been updated for two months. The other thing that caught my eye is that LiveJournal has a below-average abandonment rate. Though they do not interpret this finding other than to note it, my hunch is that the Friends feature (best people-link idea EVAR!) creates a social expectation and a social reward for continued involvement, unlike blogrolls. It's great that the survey finally tries to put even a rough number on churn (the elephant in the room for most discussions of size and shape of the weblog world), but I do have two quibbles: First, a methodological complaint: they make demographic assertions about gender and age, and then note that much of the data comes from LJ, which skews young and female. It's not even that we can say Perseus's demographic figures are wrong -- they are simply uninformative. Second, an interpretive one: they call the now familiar power-law curve an iceberg, with the most famous weblogs are the tip, and go on to a lot of interpretation of the normal weblog writers experience being nanoaudiences. This is true, of course, if the object of analysis is the weblog writer. For the weblog reader, on the other hand, the most popular weblogs are the normal ones. Both views are true, once the choice is made about whether to focus on writing or reading, but the Perseus study silently assumes that the normal weblog experience is writing a weblog, and so ignores the view from the other side of the browser. Both of those are minor complaints, though, compared to the major milestone of having a benchmark for churn published, and, more importantly, for having the issue put front and center in discussions about the nature of weblogging in general.

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    sociocultural concerns about skype

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    Posted by danah boyd

    Two weeks ago, Clay posted an entry about Skype. Since then, i've been trying to process my skepticism. I'm a huge fan of P2P - i believe that it destabilized power in a valuable way - but sociocultural concerns make me wary of Skype. Three primary concerns come to mind: 1) IM is valuable because it is semi-synchronous. 2) Voice is disruptive to semi-public environments, which is where the majority of (non-business) users participate on computers. 3) Cell phone penetration and the mobility that this permits discourages any audible interactions tied to a networked machine. [details inside]

    ...continue reading.

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    October 4, 2003

    3d17.org: Another stab at communal editing

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    Posted by Clay Shirky

    Ian Clarke, of freenet fame, has lauched 3D17.org, a Web-based tool for creating communal documents. 3D17 _isn't_ a wiki. Though most of the documents up now are tests, it's already clear that 3D17 differs from wiki logic in 3 ways:
    • requires login (though some wikis have added this function through the web server)
    • revisions are only _proposed_ by subsequent users, preserving a formal distinction between authorship and emendation
    • revisions are only made to the original after a vote, and only the top voted revision in any group of proposed revisions is accepted
    Its too early to tell anything from adoption or use patterns, but it will be worth watching.

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    October 3, 2003

    HeadCloud: Telepathy of Sorts

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    Posted by Seb Paquet

    Alf releases the code for HeadCloud, and provides his best description so far of the ridiculously easy thought sharing service it enables:

    HeadCloud is a Napster-style service, where people connect to a central hub, send a list of the thoughts they want to share, and search the database of other people's thoughts to see who they want to connect to. It's called HeadCloud after the original vision - being able to walk down the street and see little clouds above people's heads that showed what they were thinking.

    I haven't gotten around to using it, as I have yet to embrace Instant Messaging. (Gosh I feel old.) I could see it being useful for a tribe-sized cluster of users who already know one another, though. For instance, it lets you think out loud about a movie that just came out and that you're curious about; if someone else happens to also care (e.g. has seen it/is thinking about seeing it), the two of you can connect easily using the title as a bridge. Hey, (paging Stuart...) something like this might come in handy for Skypers, too.

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    October 2, 2003

    the value of urban tribes

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    Posted by danah boyd

    This week, Ethan Watters' book "Urban Tribes" hits the bookstores. After the popular reception of his New York Times article "The Way We Live Now: In My Tribe," Watters started documenting different forms of "urban tribes." These collectives are often comprised of tightly-knit groups of overeducated, unmarried, 25-39 year old friends who came together in cities to provide support and companionship. Watters argues that the power of these collectives allows people to postpone marriage as the primary support networks are embedded in the tribe. He also argues that Robert Putnam's theory of "Bowling Alone" fails to take into account these new formations which encompass many of the community behaviors that Putnam argues are missing in contemporary culture. While it's primarily a generation book, Watters' ideas are fascinating, as they blend academic ideas, journalism and personal anecdotes. Plus, he is pointing at a phenomenon that is quite relevant to the emergent YASNS phenomenon. I would posit that if you look at the structure of how the Friendster meme spread, you will be able to see the role of these tribes. Peer pressure in the densely knit tribes required participation and the bridges between tribes generated the spread. Normally, this type of spread is common in colleges or other environments with strong clustering; Friendster suggests that clusters do exist in the post-college urban world.

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    Ozzie on Us on Email

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    Posted by Clay Shirky

    Ray is picking up on the thread of the brokenated horrorfulment that is email, and advocates migration to more bounded collaborative workspaces:
    People who use Groove today, and people who used Notes in its early years (before most enterprises locked down the creation of databases), understand the personally-empowering feeling of doing work in "collaborative workspaces". What, you might ask, is the big deal?  It's actually quite simple: When you have a space (a workspace) online to do your work with others that truly feels more effective and more convenient than eMail, you start relying less and less on eMail for critical work processes.  In Groove, for example, once you start experiencing the swarming aspects of work within its workspaces, you're hooked.
    Unlike Ray (or Ross, for that matter), I love email. Love it, love it in the way it allows for what Fukuyama called 'spontaneous socialbility', a thing workspaces reduce. However, I also have the same pit in my stomach about email in 2003 that I did in 1997 about usenet. I loved usenet as well, too literally and too well -- in the early 90's, I poured two years of my life into that sink. But by 1997, I could see that the twin pressures plaguing usenet -- volume and spam -- had no easy solution. That's how I feel now about email, and what makes it worse is that its starting to be how I feel about openess. Open systems allow for innovation, because you don't need to convince anyone else that something will be a good idea before you try it. Innovation creates value, and value creates incentive and if that were all there was, it would be a virtuous circle, because the incentive would be to create more value. But incentive is more neutral than that. Incentives also create distortions -- free riders, attempts to protect value by stifling competition, and so on. And distortions threaten openess. This is the process that led to the overgrowth of usenet, and its what's threatening email now. And the thing that makes me sickest is that I may already have lived to see the high water mark of openess in my lifetime. Email's loss (and in some ways its already happened, so enormous is its current debasement) is both tragic in and of itself, and possibly a warning about the future.

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    Castronova on Shadowbane's Inflation

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    Posted by Clay Shirky

    The game Shadowbane seems to be suffering from hyper-inflation, caused not by an increase in the money supply by the "government" but by duplicating of money by players. As a result, SB is shutting down the worlds contaminated by bad money, forcing the players in those worlds to move to new ones, without any of their possesions from the old world.
    Patching together the comments of disgruntled players and the sequence of events, this feels like a fairly sophisticated attempt to clean the bad gold out of the economy. Come up with a new server with a new map (and presumably a dupe fix); wipe old servers whose economy had been affected by the dupe; gradually move the player base to the new, clean worlds. Of course it only works if you completely disenfranchise everyone along the way.
    First virtual law, now virtual refugees.

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    The Onion Weighs In on Info-overload

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    Posted by Clay Shirky

    The Onion has an article, 48 Hour Internet OUtage Plunges Nation Into Productivity, that echoes some of the points John Caudwell of Phones4U made when he banned staff use of email:
    Shortly after office workers found their web, e-mail, and instant-messaging capabilities disabled, reports of torrential productivity began to reach corporate offices nationwide. "My first thought was 'My God, this has to be some kind of mistake,'" said Prudential Insurance executive vice-president Shane Mullins of San Francisco. "My e-mail wasn't working. Nerve.com wasn't working. I eventually found out that the company web site wasn't working, either. But by that time, my inbox was filling up like you wouldn't believe." "My actual physical inbox," Mullins added. "It's this gray plastic thing on my desktop—the top of the desk I sit at."

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    October 1, 2003

    Kids and Social Software II: Neopets

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    Posted by Stewart Butterfield

    If you are interested in kids and social software (or the future of persistent worlds, or the internal economics thereof) then Neopets is something you can't ignore. With, at the time of this posting, over 61 million registrations and almost 92 million pets created, it is by far the biggest web site that most non-parent adults haven't heard of. (According to their press kit they are the fourth most trafficked site among Americans, after only Yahoo, eBay and MSN, and have by far the longest time spent on the site per user.)

    ...continue reading.

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    The End of the Web as We Know It

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    Posted by Ross Mayfield

    David Hornik from the RVC Softedge conference sees the death of email as a sea change, the end of the web as we know it:
    ...According to this scientist, SoBig and other spam bots, which he argues were designed to overwhelm spam filtering software, have so confounded AOL's email infrastructure that it has left the future of email in jeopardy. The volume of spam being sent by these autonomous spambots around the web is so great that, according to the scientist, AOL's email infrastructure has been brought to its knees this past Saturday, Monday and again today. As my source told me, AOL was ultimately forced for the first time to call upon others at the key choke-points around the web for assistance in solving this problem -- a problem which led the head of AOL's infrastructure group to state "the walls are falling in around us." Just how bad is it? According to my source "it is the end of the Web as we know it." Despite massive efforts to trace SoBig and its progeny back to their source and to unravel the code necessary to turn these spam machines off, neither AOL nor other interested parties around the web have had any success and may never. If that is the case, the sheer volume of spam as a percentage of overall Internet traffic will make untrusted email communications completely unviable as a form of communication. Spam filters will necessarily be overwhelmed but email traffic without those filters will be impossibly unmanageable and therefore useless. ...It will also have a serious impact upon the world of Venture Capital. Innumerable businesses upon which we are pitched each day and hundreds of which we have all funded are premised upon the viability of email as a communication tool (be it for knowledge management, collaboration, etc.). While a new frontier of trusted web communications will undoubtedly create numerous opportunities for technology funding, it will also leave a whole world of technology orphaned. Like any fundamental shift in technology infrastructure, this could leave a path of corporate roadkill in its wake.
    Yes, email is dead.

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    Fortune Magazine on SNSs

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    Posted by Liz Lawley

    David Kirkpatrick of Fortune Magazine has an interesting column out today called "I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends of Friends of Friends." It highlights LinkedIn, and Joi Ito (LinkedIn's most-linked-in participant, who not coincidentally invited Kirkpatrick into the system). He raises the Big Question: "Where's the money?" And at least one VC, Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital, _assures_ him that it's there, saying "Free e-mail like Hotmail had viral marketing but not increasing returns. I see both in this social-networking thing. As the network gets bigger and bigger, there's more value to incremental users." Hard to disagree with Gurley about the value to users as the network increases, but we're a long way from evidence that the value to users will be sufficient to drive a business model. (Via Joi Ito)

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    A World of Broadcasters?

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    Posted by Seb Paquet

    Richard MacManus asks, why would normal people want to publish to the Web?

    Accurate observations in there. I honestly believe blogging as we currently know it will never become mainstream. The reason is that it is a poor fit for anyone who isn't the (hyper)text-driven, infovore kind of person.
    However, that doesn't mean that the more general practice of broadcasting information of personal relevance will not become mainstream. My vision of the future in this respect is closest to what Marc Canter's been pushing under the moniker of "digital lifestyle aggregator"; this also seems to be where Meg Hourihan is heading with the Lafayette project.

    Think about restaurant/show reviews, recipes, pictures. The Web is already full of user-contributed stuff like that; most of it currently resides on centralized sites like Amazon. The individuals who help build those sites do so most of the time with no reward other than a high local profile that is generally non-transferable (how many Amazon reviewers are on your blogroll?). I'm willing to bet that many of them would prefer keeping control over their contributions and putting themselves at the center of their content if systems were available that made that easy.

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    Gelernter on email overload.

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    Posted by Clay Shirky

    David Gelernter has an essay on the problems of email _even if we assume the spam problem gets solved_:too much legitimate mail, and the attendant damage on our ability to manage conversational contact:
    Here's how it works. You get an email (maybe longer or more complicated than average, or from someone you don't know); you have no time to respond right now, but you mean to answer--but other emails stack up, and you answer those first--but you still plan to reply--but more emails keep arriving. . . . Meanwhile the sender is wondering: Is he ignoring me on purpose? (I'll cross him off my list and forget about it.) Did he mean to reply, but has since forgotten? (Resend my message.) Or does he still mean to reply and just hasn't gotten around to it? (Don't get mad or resend.) All three possibilities are real, and happen all the time. As volume rises, more email conversations trail off into nothing for unknown reasons, the medium is devalued further, and the problem gets worse--people set even less store by a mail message, send one out on even less provocation, volume rises, more email conversations trail off into nothing for unknown reasons, the medium is devalued even further.
    He also proposes a pair of rules for dealing with the overload problem (the ACKNOWLEDGMENT rule and the RESEND rule) and software for implementing those rules.

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