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March 6, 2007

thoughts on twitterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’m completely fascinated by Twitter right now—in much the same way I was by blogging four years ago, and by ICQ years before that.

If you haven’t tried it yet, Twitter is a site that allows you to post one-line messages about what you’re currently doing—via the web interface, IM, or SMS. You can limit who sees the messages to people you’ve explicitly added to your friends list, or you can make the messages public. (My Twitter posts are private, but my friend Joi’s are public.)

What Twitter does, in a simple and brilliant way, is to merge a number of interesting trends in social software usage—personal blogging, lightweight presence indicators, and IM status messages—into a fascinating blend of ephemerality and permanence, public and private.

The big “P” word in technology these days is “participatory.” But I’m increasingly convinced that a more important “P” word is “presence.” In a world where we’re seldom able to spend significant amounts of time with the people we care about (due not only to geographic dispersion, but also the realities of daily work and school commitments), having a mobile, lightweight method for both keeping people updated on what you’re doing and staying aware of what others are doing is powerful.

I’ve experimented a bit with a visual form of this lightweight presence indication, through cameraphone photos taken while traveling. A photo of a boarding gate sign, or of a hotel entrance, conveys where I am and what I’m doing quickly and easily. But that only works if people are near a computer and are watching my Flickr photo feed, and that’s a lot to ask.

I also use IM status messages to broadcast what I’m doing. My iChat has a stack of custom messages that I’ve saved for re-use, from “packing” and “at the airpot” to “breaking up sibling squabbles” and “grading…the horror! the horror!” But status messages have no permanence to them, and require some degree of synchronicity—people have to be logged into IM, and looking at status messages, while I’m there. Because Twitter archives your messages on the web (and can send them as SMS that you can check at any time), that requirement for synchronous connections goes away.

Blogs allow this kind of archived update, of course—but they’re not lightweight. Where one might easily post a Twitter message along the lines of “on my way to work”, a blog post like that wouldn’t be worth the effort and overhead.

I’ve heard two kinds of criticisms of Twitter already.

The first criticizes the triviality of the content. But asking “who really cares about that kind of mindless trivia about your day” misses the whole point of presence. This isn’t about conveying complex theory—it’s about letting the people in your distributed network of family and friends have some sense of where you are and what you’re doing. And we crave this, I think. When I travel, the first thing I ask the kids on the phone when I call home is “what are you doing?” Not because I really care that much about the show on TV, or the homework they’re working on, but because I care about the rhythms and activities of their days. No, most people don’t care that I’m sitting in the airport at DCA, or watching a TV show with my husband. But the people who miss being able to share in day-to-day activity with me—family and close friends—do care.

The second type of criticism is that the last thing we need is more interruptions in our already discontinuous and partially attentive connected worlds. What’s interesting to me about Twitter, though, is that it actually reduces my craving to surf the web, ping people via IM, and cruise Facebook. I can keep a Twitter IM window open in the background, and check it occasionally just to see what people are up to. There’s no obligation to respond, which I typically feel when updates come from individuals via IM or email. Or I can just check my text messages or the web site when I feel like getting a big picture of what my friends are up to.

Which then leads to one of the aspects of Twitter that I find most fascinating—exploring clusters of loosely related people by looking at the updates from their friends. There are stories told in between updates. Who’s at a conference, and do they know each other? Who’s on the road, and who’s at home. Narratives that wind around and between the updates and the people, that show connections. Updates that echo each other, or even directly respond to another Twitter post.

There’s more to it than that, but I’m still sorting it all out in my head. Just wanted to post an early-warning signal that I see something important happening here, something worth paying (more than partial) attention to.

(cross-posted from mamamusings; since comments have been unreliable here, any comments can be posted there)

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

November 2, 2006

tagging vs folksonomy?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Is this a reasonable statement to make?

  • Tagging is the process of adding descriptive terms to an item, without the constraint of a controlled vocabulary
  • Folksonomy is the aggregation of tags from one or more users

Yes? No?

(Full disclosure: You’re helping me prepare for a tutorial on folksonomies that I’m presenting at the CSCW conference in Banff this weekend.)

Update: Over on mamamusings, one commenter raised the issue of whether a folksonomy requires multiple items to be tagged.

Can a folksonomy exist around a single item (e.g. a bookmark)?

My assumption has always been that a folksonomy involved tags for multiple items…but perhaps it’s a set of tags describing multiple items, ora set of tags from multiple users, or both.

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

April 25, 2006

great facebook guidelines for administratorsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

While preparing for a panel on “Blogs, Wikis, MMORPGs, and YASNS: Shaking Up Traditional Education” at the Milken Institute Global Conference, I stumbled across Fred Stutzman’s post “How University Administrators Should Approach the Facebook: Ten Rules.” Great stuff. I particularly liked #9:

Since you can’t make Facebook go away, and even if you tried to, you couldn’t, you might as well accept it and deal with it. The fact of the matter is that students need to understand the long view, and they need to understand the importance of the written record. They’ve spent their entire lives online, and they are completely comfortable posting information about themselves online. Now that they’re 18, economic motivations step in, and it is our obligation and duty to protect them. Telling them not to say anything controversial, or forcing them to use privacy settings just won’t cut it - remember, the students who are on the Facebook want to be found and listened to. What they need to understand is the context. They have to understand the need to act now on behalf of the person they’ll be in 4 or 5 or 6 years. Give them that context. Explain to them the value of maintaining a self-image they can be proud of down the road. Work with them on this, not against them - it may be your only chance.

That advice should be going to parents and teachers, as well—not just administrators. Thinking about the “long view” of these media—blogs, wiki editing history, social network site profiles—is a skill that we need to be teaching kids.

Comments (18) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

February 8, 2006

an open letter to blizzard entertainmentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

[Editorial Note: The following letter, which is also being posted on the Terra Nova weblog, is not intended to be seen as an “official stance” of either TerraNova or Many-to-Many. It is simply an open letter authored by a group of authors and scholars who also have affiliations with one or the other of these weblgogs.]

Open Letter to Blizzard Entertainment—Speech Policy for GLBT guilds in World of Warcraft

Recently, Sara Andrews, a player in Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft (WoW) recruited for a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transexual (GLBT) Friendly guild in the general chat channel on the Shadowmoon server. She was reported to a Game Master by another player, and subsequently sanctioned for “Harassment – Sexual Orientation”. Under the Terms of Use of WoW, it is forbidden to transmit offensive material, including abusive or sexually explicit material.

Ms Andrews was given a warning not to undertake this again. She assumed this was a mistake, but Blizzard confirmed that the sanction and the punishment would stand. An official from Blizzard responded:

“To promote a positive game environment for everyone and help prevent such harassment from taking place as best we can, we prohibit mention of topics related to sensitive real-world subjects in open chat within the game, and we do our best to take action whenever we see such topics being broadcast. This includes openly advertising a guild friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference, to list a few examples. For guilds that wish to use such topics as part of their recruiting efforts, our Guild Recruitment forum, located at our community Web site, serves as one open avenue for doing so.”

As a result of public comments about this issue, Blizzard has reversed its decision and has privately communicated to Ms Andrews that no punishment will stem from this incident. It also has privately indicated that it is reviewing its sexual harassment policy. It has issued no public statement about the issue.

We write this letter as educators, journalists, writers and players interested in the development of virtual worlds like World of Warcraft. We congratulate Blizzard on the courage to rescind its initial decision, and urge it to make a formal announcement that they were wrong to make it. The decision to sanction and punish Ms Andrews was wrong as a narrow matter of interpretation, and as a general principle of policy for WoW and other virtual worlds.

...continue reading.

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

December 28, 2005

blurring boundaries between virtual and real worldsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled “The Horde is Evil,” in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are “on the whole evil,” and that this has moral implications for avatar choices:

I’ve advanced two controversial positions: that avatar choice is not a neutral thing from the standpoint of personal integrity, and that the Horde, in World of Warcraft, is evil. Nobody agrees, but it’s been suggested that the community could chew on this a bit.

So here’s my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil. But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

I don’t agree with Castranova (my horde character is a Tauren, a peaceful bison-like creature that lives in a Native American-inspired cultural context), nor do many of the commenters—but the issues he brings up are powerful and interesting, and the lengthy discussion in the comments is well worth reading.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between “real life” and “game life,” since I have personal and/or professional relationships with most of the people in my World of Warcraft guild, including both of my children. Castranova’s argument, in which he bolsters his argument by citing his 3-year-old’s reaction to his undead character, relates directly to those boundary-crossing issues.

When I was playing online on Monday, Joi Ito said that he thought World of Warcraft was becoming the “new golf” for the technology set. I think there’s some truth in that, but it brings with it all kinds of additional social pressures and complexities, of which avatar racial choices are only the beginning. I think there’s some fertile ground for research in that boundary area, the crossover between the real and game worlds, and the extent to which they influence each other.

(cross-posted from mamamusings)

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

October 19, 2005

seattle mind camp, november 5-6Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

In the grand tradition of bar camp, web 2.01, and other creative, self-organizing tech events comes Seattle’s first Mind Camp. It will be held from noon on Saturday, November 5th through noon the following day.

Take a look at the sidebar to see the people already committed to being there—Chris Pirillo & Ponzi Indharasophang, Julie & Ted Leung, Beth Goza & Phil Torrone, Nancy White, Shelly Farnham…

(did you notice all the cool women on that list? w00t!)

Registration is open (and free), but the event is capped at 150—so act fast if you’re planning to attend.

See you there, I hope!

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

October 18, 2005

seattle social computing event - october 19thEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’ve been planning to post an announcement here about an upcoming event in Seattle, but kept forgetting. (Well, that, and I tend to be reluctant to self-promote, but the organizers kept asking…) As a result, this is rather short notice.

This Wednesday night, I’ll be one of the panelists at an MIT Enterprise Forum dinner event titled “Two Degrees of Separation - How Social Network Technology is Connecting Us for Money, Jobs, and Love. It will take place at the Bellevue Hyatt. Doors open at 5:30, and there will be dinner and a chance to network with other attendees before the panel itself.

I’ll be joined on the podium by Konstantin Guericke, co-founder of LinkedIn, Bill Bryant, CEO of Mobile Operandi, and our moderator Mike Flynn, publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal.

You can register online or at the door—the $40 price includes dinner, of course.

If you’re in the area, it would be lovely to see you there. Be sure to come say “hi”—it’s always nice to meet people who actually read the blog. :)

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

August 2, 2005

blogher from afarEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I was very disappointed not to be attending BlogHer, but I’m delighted to see the level of discourse that it has been generating online. That’s an excellent sign of a good conference, and was one of the stated goals of the organizers.

Among the post-conference posts that caught my eye was Mary Hodder’s discussion of creating a community-based algorithm to address some of the problems and frustration surrounding current blog “ranking” mechanisms (like the Technorati 100):

After 45 minutes of intense anger and frustration from many audience speakers in the room toward Technorati link counts and top 100, I suggested we create a community based algorithm, based on more complex social relationships than links. It’s something I’ve been working on for few months, trying to frame, about what this problem is and how we might solve it. But it’s a complex issue and I’m also busy. So it’s taken a while. However, my blog post is almost done, and I do plan to put it up in the next day or so.

I loved Halley Suitt’s comment about the Q&A sessions at the conference:

During Q&A — and this will shock you too — the people asking questions aren’t standing up to hog the mike and show off for the most part. The people at Blogher who asked questions actually wanted answers, wanted to be educated and were happy to be educated by anyone in the room who could educate them. The speakers deferred to others in the audience who could answer questions better than they could.

It reminded me of someone once telling me about an academic conference where an unoffical award was regularly given for “best statement phrased in the form of a question.” Anyone who goes to tech conferences (or academic conferences) is well aware of this phenomenon, where someone who believes they know more than the presenters steps up to “ask a question” but instead uses the microphone as their personal soapbox.

For a visual assessment of how Blogher was different, take a look at TW’s “Blogher Vs Gnomedex:

There was one thing I really wanted to comment on. Look at the pictures on Flickr tagged Gnomedex vs those tagged for Blogher. These are totally different sorts of pictures. Pictures of PowerPoint projections at Gnomedex. Pictures of women, their FACES at BlogHer. (as opposed to the backs of heads at Gnomedex. It speaks to what women value.

Particularly gratifying to me is the fact that it’s not just the women who are talking about the conference and its participants. I loved this post from Christopher Carfi, who attended the conference. Here’s an excerpt:

This problem has deep roots, and a number of them. How did it come to pass that “number of links” became a surrogate for “quality?” It’s a result of a number of factors that lie in the technical underpinnings of how we currently “discover” new things online, namely PageRank and related algorithms. If a lot of people link to something it must be good, right? Well…sort of. The concept of “a link is a vote” is a blunt instrument.

Read the whole post. It’s good stuff.

And finally, Evelyn Rodriguez has a great roundup of quotes and highlights from the conference, including this great observation:

Although Marc’s heart is in the right place, his suggestion that BlogHers create our own list, our own companies and tell the guys to fuck off…is ultimately simply playing the game by the same old (tired, not wired) rules. (Guys aren’t the real issue; it’s the metaphors we unconsciously live by, the worldviews embedded in the games.) Marc’s Implicit Assumption much like August issue of Wired: You only change the world when you are on a list. You only change the world when you are heading a company. Bigger is better. Louder is more impactful. Celebrity matters.

Go forth and read the posts I’ve linked to, and the posts they link to, and the posts that link to them. Scan the blogher tag in Don’t just dip your toes into the stream of conversation. Plunge in, and learn. There’s a lot being said that’s worth listening to.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

May 3, 2005

korby parnell asks: 'when will you stop be[r]ating your colleagues?'Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Gotta love a setup like this. Korby Parnell frames his recent discussions with me about the backchannel this way:

Liz Lawley me on my indignant, gut-level reaction to back, back channels: those secret cabals where the “popular kids” congregate in virtual space to bitch and bemoan the sophomoric inadequacies of everyone else. Liz, I’m holding my ground: social software should enable, but not by default, the creation of back, back channels. IMO, the back, back channel is as anti-social as it is social. This issue is very relevant to a project I’m working on… When you and your family make the move to Redmond ;-), we should meet at Victor’s Coffee or on campus to debate this issue in greater detail. Congratulations on your new job! JFYI, as a member of the Redmond Planning Commission I will be happy to provide as much information as you’d like in deciding whether to locate here, especially with regards to neighborhoods, parks, schools, natural features, and planned development, both now and 20 years into the future.

My response: Huh?! The “popular kids” in whose book? (If you’re talking about last year’s MS symposium, some the people in that back-back-channel were among the least well-known of the participants.) By whose account did you determine that the people in the backchannel “bitch and bemoan the sophomoric inadequacies” of their colleagues? (Probably not anyone who’s actually participated in one.) Gol-lee, I wouldn’t like a place like that either, Korby. (And you know that!)

You’re setting up a straw man here. You’re assuming that private is necessarily elitist, and that anything people don’t want made public is necessarily mean-spirited. At the symposium, I asked you why you saw IRC as different from other contexts where people can break off into smaller, private groups. Are private, friends-only LiveJournals (which are as easily enabled in LJ as “back-back-channels” are in IRC) something you find as distasteful? Are a group of friends sitting together at a dinner elitist? Should we assume that if two people walk out into the hallway to talk that they’re bitching and moaning about the sophomoric inadequacies of those they left behind?

Of course people can use IRC to say mean things about each other. They can also use IM, email, hand-written notes, and whispers to do the same. So, why does this particular technology evoke such a strong reaction? (Not just in Korby, but in many people I’ve spoken to.) That in and of itself is something worth understanding.

(An up-front disclaimer: Korby is smart and funny and delightful to spend time with, and I’m not trying to pick a fight here any more than I was at the symposium!)

5/4 Update: Let me clarify that what Korby is talking about is not the public, open backchannel that’s increasingly becoming available at conferences and symposia. He’s talking about side conversations that break off from the main group, and that aren’t publicized. He feels that the software should “announce” private meetings that form in that way, and I disagreed. There’s value in allowing people to meet and talk privately, I think, and “calling them out” by default strikes me as invasive. I’m also troubled by the underlying assumption that private is more likely to be negative or “anti-social” than public.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

March 23, 2005

acquaintance spamEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I spoke last month at the National Voluntary Health Associations Innovations Conference on social network media, a conference organized by Randal Moss of the American Cancer Society. Randal did a great job, and I really enjoyed participating.

Once I returned home, however, I discovered that I had suddenly been added to the “KM Cluster” mailing list. The reason? John Maloney from Colabria (hmmm…I’m starting to like the nofollow thing already…), another of the speakers at the conference, had added my email address to mailing lists used to advertise books and upcoming workshops. In fact, my name was added twice three times; once with the address on my card, once with the address provided to attendees as part of the participant list, and once with the form of my address that often appears in my return address.

This isn’t the first time someone has done this—taken my contact information from a conference attendee list and put me on a mailing list without my permission. And it drives me totally nuts. To me, that’s a serious breach of conference etiquette, one that will drive people to stop providing their contact information to new acquaintances.

When I complained, politely, to John, he informed me that I could simply follow “common practice” and click the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the messages. But as many of you know, that’s often a tool used by spammers to determine whether the email addresses they’re using are legitimate. It’s not, and shouldn’t be, “common practice” to have to opt out of a mailing list that you never chose to be added to.

I’ve also received a spate of messages from Plaxo recently, asking me to update my information so that the person using the system—typically someone I don’t even remember meeting—doesn’t have to go to any personal trouble to ask for my current contact details.


I’m sick of acquaintance spam. It’s not that I’m not willing to be contacted by people I don’t already know. It’s just that I think it should be a personal contact. Don’t add me to a mailing list without asking me. Don’t set up an automated system to harass me for contact info. (Plaxo even sends a “I noticed you didn’t respond to my earlier request” message if you try to ignore it!) This strikes me as such a basic rule of etiquette, whether the contact is personal or professional. Relationships begin with and are maintained through personal interactions. Don’t screw them up by trusting them to software.

Update: John Maloney has responded via email to this post. He feels I’ve misrepresented him, and wants me to “correct” the post. Read on for his take on this….

...continue reading.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

March 16, 2005

why sxsw?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

This year, two tech conferences directly related to social computing—SXSW and Etech—were scheduled so close together that many of us with an interest in these topics had to choose between the two. Clay and David and Ross are at ETech. danah and I were at SXSW.

Me & Molly @ Blogger PartyWhy did I choose SXSW? The biggest factor for me was the gender balance. Increasingly, I’m finding that I want to be in places where there are women I respect and enjoy to spend time with. It changes the nature of the conference experience for me. I feel more at ease, more relaxed, more like I belong.

This year’s Etech is perhaps the least diverse yet. Of the twenty featured speakers on the main page, one is a woman, and none are people of color.

At SXSW, in contrast, strong and wonderful women were everywhere. I don’t recall seeing a single all-male panel. When I hung out in the hotel bar, my companions were mostly women. When I went to the evening parties, everywhere I looked there were other women.

So Many Great Women at SXSWThree of my co-authors here on misbehaving—Gina Trapani, danah boyd, and Caterina Fake—were there. Fabulous women like Molly Steenson and Molly Holzschlag and MJ Kim and Cecily Walker Kidd and Adina Levin and Mary Hodder were there. Not all the faces were male. Not all of them were caucasian. The voices were rich and varied. The vibe was open and warm. There were more conversations than there were pontifications. (SXSW doesn’t call panel participants “speakers,” either, which I like. We’re panelists. A subtle distinction, but one that makes a difference.)

Many of the topics being covered at ETech are things I’m interested in. Ideally, I would have gone to both. But O’Reilly made a decision to move ETech up this year and place it in competition with SXSW—splitting the audience and forcing too many of us to have to make a choice. MJ at Gawker PartyFor me, conferences are far less about the presentations and far more about the people and the connections. And I chose SXSW because it offers me a far richer environment for those connections than ETech.

I’m reminded of a quote from Tom Melcher, formerly of, that I use often in presentations: “If you build a place that women love, the men will follow. The reverse is not true.” Perhaps more conference organizers need to take that line to heart.

(Update: David Weinberger posted about why he’s at ETech, and an interesting dicussion about the gender balance there is brewing in the comments of his post.)

(Update 2: Trolls will be disemvowelled. Keep it civil, please.)

Comments (20) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

March 14, 2005

sxsw: daniel pink on "a whole new mind"Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Daniel Pink starts out this session by saying that he’s giving the whole audience a copy of his new book A Whole New Mind. The publisher won’t let him sell copies ‘til next week, but he can give them away…and he wants the buzz that SXSW attendees can generate. Very smart!

Says that brevity, levity, and repetition are key to good talks. (And my snap judgment here? He’s an entertaining and interesting speaker.)

His key thesis is that the future no longer belongs to analytical professionals—the linear, logical knowledge people (the “SAT people,” he calls them, pointing to his article in today’s USA Today on the SATs). It belongs instead to creators and empathizers.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a metaphor can be worth a thousand pictures. Talks about the hemispheres of the brain—left vs right hemisphere. The future belongs to the right hemisphere—wholistic, empathic, big picture.

...continue reading.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

sxsw: malcolm gladwell keynoteEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

This is the talk I’ve been looking forward to for months, but I’m a bit worried. How could the talk live up to the book(s)? That’s quite a challenge.

Gladwell opens with a story from his latest book, Blink, about a woman auditioning for the Munich philharmonic, not realizing that the director really only wants men. She auditions from behind a screen, and thinks she’s done terribly. She’s despondent, begins to leave for Italy. Audition is a classic example of a snap judgement—the maestro has already decided that she is the new first trombonist of his orchestra. When she’s introduced to him, he’s astonished to find that she’s a woman.

(Turns out that Gladwell is as wonderful a storyteller in person as he is in his book. Maybe better. This talk is worth the trip to Austin.)

...continue reading.

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

March 13, 2005

sxsw: leveraging solipsismEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Unfortunately, two of the original three speakers for this panel—Stewart Butterfield and Peter Merholz —couldn’t make it today. Jeff Veen is moderating, and Tantek Çelik, Don Turnbull, and Thomas VanDerWal are the participants.

Jeff Veen starts by framing the context, since the title is…well…somewhat oblique. He points out that tools that help us manage information are becoming more socially aware., for example, which allows you to discover people as well as information, and to discover information based on people rather than simply topics. Last year social networks were all the rage; but he felt that tools like Friendster were like yearbooks—fun and useful for showing off who you know, but that’s a short term activity that doesn’t sustain long term interest. It gains ongoing attraction once you add in the kind of value-added media that tools like Flickr (and, I’d add, provide.

He makes an important observation—what’s most interesting here is the blending of public and private. That needs more elaboration, I think it’s a key concept. He also talks about the need for more interoperability between these systems. Can travelocity, for example, know where he is and share that information in useful ways with other systems I’m on (like flickr, for instance).

Thomas VanDerWal is up first, and discusses personal views of information. Too much online information is ephemeral—so we end up emailing things to ourselves, copy and pasting into new documents and losing context. We need a way to get back to information we’ve seen. (Reminds me of Microsoft Research’s “stuff I’ve seen” approach to searching.)

He says that we “get lost early” in the information around us, and ask how we can get to “findability” in our own information spaces?, for example, allows us to name things in ways that make sense to us. But how do you tie different personalities together? How do we jump between disciplinary vocabulary boundaries?

Our current tools don’t support us well. (His slide is titled “that synching feeling”) Synchronization frequently makes mistakes and overwrites inappropriately. We need a “mothership of information” to tie together our various devices and collections of information.

How do we build a “personal infocloud”? Many requirements. It has to be portable (or ubiquitous), the access appropriate to the context, organized in a way that makes sense to the user in the context they’re in.

External storage and management is important. We need smarter aggregation, attention.xml for everything on your own hard drive as well as the online sources we’re following. What’s important? What should I be focused on? Need standard formats for being able to pull information in and organize it. Aggregation only works when information is in a recognizable format.

(“Unbolding” as a constant activity; great term.)

The next speaker is Don Turnbull from UT Austin’s School of Information. He opens with a great line: “I’m from the university, and I’m here to help.” Launches into an interesting discussion of tagging and folksonomy issues.

Turnbull poses some key questions related to folksonomies:

  • How do you get people to cooperate?
  • How good can the tags be? Can you find things you wouldn’t have found? but more interesting, can you browse through categories you never would have thought of (like the “me” tag, or “whatsinyourbag”)
  • Is there a point where we stop tagging? where we feel we don’t need to tell the system anything else about us? (for example, he himself has tagged thousands of movies on netflix “mostly because I go to a lot of faculty meetings and we have wireless access…”; is there any point in tagging more?)
  • What about changing interests? You buy a gift for someone on amazon, and your recommendations are skewed towards it for a while. How can you tell recommender systems “I’m not interested in that any more?” [my note: handles this pretty well]
  • There are still lots of people not using these systems; this is a small slice of the information world

He raises some issues related to tagging, as well, such as the potential for spamming and gaming, the inherently explicit nature of tags (not always a good thing), and the value of tags being easy-to-parse and analyze plain text.

Then he moves on to social and community issues related to tagging and sharing of data:

  • Who controls the sharing? And who controls those controls??
  • anonymity vs community (and privacy issues related to this)
  • free riders—people who never tag, just browse
  • what constitutes a community? are personal relationships necessary? do they grow out of the information sharing, or define with whom you share information?

(Ack! I want his slides! I’m missing a lot!)

Talks about all the implicit metadata that could be added to explicit tags, such as “i bought this,” “i own this,” dwell time, clicks, chatter, etc.

He ends with the concept of “don’t fence me in” - we need tag mobility across systems, (flickr, email box names, amazon ratings), a common api for tags, and the ability to move between desktop and server-based views of our data.

The last speaker is Tantek Çelik from Technorati. This is a much less theoretical, much more “look at our cool Technorati tags” presentation.

He says “Anybody can be their own delicious.” — But this misses the point, I think. the value of delicious isn’t just your own bookmarks or even your own tags, it’s the collaborative filtering and discovery. He says that technorati’s approach allows you to own your own data—but the user owns his or her own data on server-based sites, too; it’s easy to import/export and backup. The value to me is in cross-user data, and new ways of thinking about things.

A questioner mentions open space technology—how can we do that virtually? How can we extend the conversation in this room beyond the borders. Panel member (can’t see who) says “that’s why I maintain a blog.”

Tantek says that things like using the technorati tag for sxsw2005 in a blog entry provides “unprecedented” aggregation, but this is exactly what trackback provides. O’Reilly did this last year by allowing people to trackback to conference session pages.

A few more questions, and I’m off to eat. I’m starved! More later from the Malcolm Gladwell keynote this afternoon.

(A meta comment about sxsw: it’s hard to get called on to ask a question; that’s where IRC really helps, but it’s surprisingly underutilized here. Too bad.)

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

sxsw: eric meyer on emergent semanticsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I arrived at SXSW/Interactive last night, and am starting the conference today with Eric Meyer’s talk on “Emergent Semantics.”

He starts with a laugh line—that his talk’s title is “so buzzword-compliant it almost makes me sick.” Then goes on to say that this is a fancy way of saying ground-up, grassroots, evolutionary semantics. “Semantics” (I’m uncomfortable with this use of the noun form; I think perhaps he’s talking about semantic relationships) are created on an ad-hoc basis, and evolve over time.

He talks about microformats for solving specific problems, generally expressing a human-understandable semantic definition using xhtml markup (e.g. rel=nofollow). Then he uses the example of colleges paving well-worn walkways (“pave the cow paths”). Acknowledges that there’s an opposing view, but dismisses it as wrong. But I’m not sure that “herd mentality” always derives the best possible answer. (It’s not hard to find examples to support my concerns in current politics…) I think he should acknowledge that there’s a need for deriving patterns from trusted networks, not just global populations.

The specific examples he provides include not only nofollow, but also CC license link annotation, and XHTML Friends Network (XFN) “metrolling,” Technorati “VoteLinks,” and hCard.

I’m baffled by the lack of discussion of folksonomy in the context of emergent semantics. That’s genuinely emergent, as opposed to the examples being provided here. Most of these strike me not as emergent, but top-down, created and implemented by a relatively small group of people; the fact that they’re not coming from a standards organization doesn’t make them any less deterministic.

Why the emphasis on “met”—this strikes me as a not particularly useful thing. And it prioritizes geographic proximity and, to a large extent, wealth. If you can’t afford to travel to conferences, you become excluded from the “met” network, and marginalized if that becomes a significant factor in trust.

Ah…a brief reference to what he’s calling “free tagging,” but goes back to Technorati, saying that rel=”tag” provides a necessary definition of tagging. But why should Technorati be defining meaning in this space? Again, that’s the antithesis of emergence.

An audience member asks about how to make large collections more accessible (like library books). This is exactly where free tagging makes so much sense, but he goes back to seeing this as a format construction issue.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 20, 2005

it's the social network, stupid!Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Seems my post on folksonomic flaws is getting a lot of reading. Now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it, and read other people’s comments (including the annotations, which I often find interesting—given only a line or two to comment, what will people pull out?), I’ve had a few more thoughts on the issue.

One of the things that I’ve tried to emphasize every time I’ve talked to people involved with search engines is the growing uselessness of ranking algorithms that take the search and linking habits of the whole world into account. I don’t want to know what the average eight-year-old calls an image. I want to know what my friends and colleagues call an image. Or a link. Or a photo.

Flickr and work so well for me not because they aggregte the world’s tags, but because they allow me to aggregate my social network’s tags, links, and photos. I don’t want to see everybody’s links on productivity, but I do want to see Merlin Mann’s. I don’t want to see everybody’s links on blogging, but I do want to see danah’s. I don’t want to see “research” resources from a molecular biologist, but I do want to see them from a sociologist studying online social networks.

Seb alludes to this is in his response to my piece. We need multiple ways to get at content. Global tagging and aggregation is great if you’re a non-expert trying to find resources on a subject where you don’t know the jargon. But what I want are tools that let me tap into my trusted network. That’s why the inbox is such a beloved tool, and it’s why I suspect that far more people on Flickr look at photos from their contacts than photos from everybody.

It takes me back to voice and authority again. This is why anonymous wikis are inherently problematic for me. It matters to me who wrote something. The more specialized your information needs, the more important trust and reputation and authority become. And while I value collective authority and reputation, in most information-seeking contexts I value it more when that collective is one that I’ve chosen, or that has self-selected around a specific topic or concern.

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

social consequences of social taggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

So, if my inbox is any indication, the blogosphere has been abuzz lately with opinions and commentary on “folksonomy.” It’s interesting stuff, no doubt, especially for those of us who come to social computing from a library and information science background.

Unfortunately, too many of the paeans to tagging that I’ve read have completely ignored some of the key social and cultural issues associated with public and collaborative labeling of content, opting instead for a level of technology-driven optimism that I see as overly naive. I think folksonomy has incredible value—the two web sites that I use most heavily right now are Flickr and And I understand that this is something that can’t be stuffed back into the bottle. Nonetheless, I don’t think that means we have to accept it with an uncritical eye, or adopt every new implementation of tagging without consideration.

...continue reading.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (2) | Category: social software

January 3, 2005

New Pew Report on Blogging ReleasedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a new report on blogging (PDF) yesterday, with some remarkable numbers:

By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture. Two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November established new contours for the blogosphere: 8 million American adults say they have created blogs; blog readership jumped 58% in 2004 and now stands at 27% of internet users; 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online; and 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs. Still, 62% of internet users do not know what a blog is.

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

December 21, 2004

D-Lib Article on RSS in Science PublishingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Tony Hammond from Nature Publishing Group just sent me a pointer to an article he wrote with two colleagues entitled “The Role of RSS in Science Publishing: Syndication and Annotation on the Web,” which was published in this month’s D-Lib Magazine (“a solely electronic publication with a primary focus on digital library research and development, including but not limited to new technologies, applications, and contextual social and economic issues”).

Here’s the introduction to the paper:

RSS is one of a new breed of technologies that is contributing to the ever-expanding dominance of the Web as the pre-eminent, global information medium. It is intimately connected with—though not bound to—social environments such as blogs and wikis, annotation tools such as [1], Flickr [2] and Furl [3], and more recent hybrid utilities such as JotSpot [4], which are reshaping and redefining our view of the Web that has been built up and sustained over the last 10 years and more [n1]. Indeed, Tim Berners-Lee’s original conception of the Web [5] was much more of a shared collaboratory than the flat, read-only kaleidoscope that has subsequently emerged: a consumer wonderland, rather than a common cooperative workspace. Where did it all go wrong?

These new ‘disruptive’ technologies [n2] are now beginning to challenge the orthodoxy of the traditional website and its primacy in users’ minds. The bastion of online publishing is under threat as never before. RSS is the very antithesis of the website. It is not a ‘home page’ for visitors to call at, but rather it provides a synopsis, or snapshot, of the current state of a website with simple titles and links. While titles and links are the joints that articulate an RSS feed, they can be freely embellished with textual descriptions and richer metadata annotations. Thus said, RSS usually functions as a signal of change on a distant website, but it can more generally be interpreted as a kind of network connector—or glue technology—between disparate applications. Syndication and annotation are the order of the day and are beginning to herald a new immediacy in communications and information provision. This paper describes the growing uptake of RSS within science publishing as seen from Nature Publishing Group’s (NPG) [6] perspective.

It gos on to provide an excellent overview of what RSS and syndication are and how they work, as well as relevant uses and implications for publishing. Well worth a read.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

a little late to the partyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’ve been reading about and Audioscrobbler for a few months now, and was intrigued by what I’d heard. But I didn’t totally understand it, and I didn’t have time to explore it—the last thing I needed during these last couple of months was another computer-based time sink.

But now that the Lab’s gone live, and the holiday break has begun, I’m getting a chance to try it out—and I’m totally delighted with it. It’s a brilliant idea.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You sign up for a free account with
  2. You download a free Audioscrobbler plugin to work with your music player of choice and configure it with your login info
  3. You play enough music for the system to learn about your tastes. (I put iTunes on “party shuffle” and let it play continously for a while, turning off the sound when I didn’t want to listen.)
  4. You go to the site and click on the “Profile Radio” button near the top of the page. The system finds people with musical tastes similar to yours, and starts playing music from their collection. (This is all legal, btw…read the FAQ for details.) If it plays a song you love, click the “love” button and it gets ranked higher in your profile; if you don’t like it, click “skip” and it goes to the next song. Hate it? Click “ban” and you’ll never hear it again.

How cool is that? A personalized radio station that (a) learns what you like, (b) lets you skip songs you don’t want to hear, and © doesn’t play music you’ve said you don’t like.

There are other social features built in—you can add friends (people you like, who are different from “neighbors” that share your musical tastes), chat with people, participate in forums, etc. But the beauty of this for me isn’t in the explicit social behavior, it’s in the implicit recommendation and customization process.

Which got me thinking about definitions of social software and social computing. Most of the ones I’ve seen have focused on direct, intentional communication between two or more people. But what about systems where the communication is implicit, where the social component is the emergent information that comes from multiple users, rather than any direct exchange between or among those user? Food for thought as I work on the LSC wiki.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

December 20, 2004

New Lab for Social Computing at RITEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I don’t often write here about things going on at RIT, because until recently we haven’t been doing a whole lot with social software. However, that’s about to change. Our college (the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences…) has just established a new Lab for Social Computing, of which I’m the director.

This lab is my baby, and I hope to use it to start creating a degree program in our IT department that focuses on social computing applications, leveraging our relatively unique combination of strong technology development skills and knowledge of the human interface issues associated with that technology. We already have several degree programs well-suited to students interested in studying in this field—our BS and MS degrees in Information Technology, and our MS in Communication and Media Technology (all of which are described and linked from the Academics section of the LSC web site).

I’ll be working with a lot of great faculty and students here at RIT, in both the computing departments (Info Tech, Computer Science, and Software Engineering) as well as the College of Liberal Arts. We’re also exploring partnerships with other universities for research initiatives and grant funding, as well as businesses for real-world projects and financial support.

(I should point out here that if your company is looking for a way to make an end-of-year fully tax-deductible donation to the Lab, we’ll be happy to facilitate that! RIT will allow you designate a gift for a specific unit, and even for specific uses in that unit—say, to support faculty research or student employees, or to purchase equipment or software. We’re also more than open to gifts of software and/or hardware! Contact me directly for details…)

We’ve lined up an all-star industry advisory board to work with the Lab and help keep us focused on topics that are important in this increasingly important market sector. Board members include Stewart Butterfiled, Elizabeth Churchill, Joi Ito, Simon Phipps, Howard Rheingold, Linda Stone, and Mena Trott. I’m really honored that all of these people have agreed to be advisors to the LSC!

Our first major project is a new wiki on social computing and social software, which we’re hoping will serve as a clearinghouse for research, tools, and information about social computing. Right now it’s mostly just a collection of links to empty pages, but we have begun populating the lists of industry research labs and researchers in the field. We welcome your input and involvement in this new collaborative site.

(By the way, we know the site is pretty bare-bones right now in terms of visual design. Not to worry…I’ve got six teams of students in my web design class competing to give it a new look and feel by the end of winter quarter!)

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

December 13, 2004

"You don't know me, but...": How did I miss this?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

A post by Scoble led me to a post by Will Davies, which in turn led me to Will’s 2003 report for iSociety entitled “You Don’t Know Me, but… Social Capital & Social Software.” After taking a quick look, I figured that one of my colleagues here at M2M must have already blogged it last year, but I can’t find any sign of it in our archives.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

‘Social Software’ expands on the social capabilities of web browsing and email, but without making false promises about utopian online communities. After the hysteria that surrounded the first decade or so of the web – hysteria which included everything from ‘virtual communities’ living on a ‘cyber frontier’ to a ‘New Economy’ fuelled by ‘ mania’ – the debate has now come full circle to focus in on everyday people in their everyday social lives. In short, new types of software are being developed which are much more adept at helping groups of people organise themselves in their day-to-day lives. The expression ‘Social Software’ only really entered circulation during 2002 to characterise a significant increase in group applications. But by the time of the April 2003 O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in Santa Clara, ‘Social Software’ was becoming the key concept for anyone interested in the social possibilities of the internet. A new and more level-headed optimism has emerged, the fruits of which could render some of the more pessimistic social analyses of the internet redundant.

Only the first chapter is available as HTML, alas—to read the whole thing you have to download a PDF. Which I’ve done, and it’s on my “to read” list for this week.

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

December 4, 2004

Ballmer Gets Blogging ReligionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer seems to have suddenly become blogging’s biggest cheerleader. Here’s a quote from yesterday’s Detroit Free press:

“Blogging is huge,” [Ballmer] said. “It brings together the three biggest Internet trends: communicating, sharing and socializing. It started with e-mail and instant messaging and music sharing, and it’s getting bigger each day.”

It’s probably not coincidental that Ballmer’s enthusiastic embrace of blogging comes on the heels of this week’s release of MSN Spaces, Microsoft’s new foray into blogland. Spaces is an interesting social application space, which provides users with a free web environment that includes a blogging tool, as well as a photo album section, a music list, a link list tool, and other features I haven’t yet had time to explore.

I set up an account there today (and was required to use my Microsoft Passport, which didn’t thrill me). My first impression was generally positive. The blogs support trackbacks, a notable omission in Blogger. They also have RSS feeds, which is good, but no Atom, which is disappointing. The built-in photo album is a nice touch, though it doesn’t hold a candle to Flickr. There are a range of themes to choose from, some of which are quite lovely. However, the site warns me that without Internet Explorer (for the PC, natch), I can’t take advantage of the full range of customization options. (To their credit, the site works well in Firefox on my Mac.)

The response time on the server is pretty sluggish this evening, which is a bit of a concern. And in general, I’m always nervous about having my blog posts hosted on a central service that I don’t control—I like having my text on a server that I can back up whenever I’d like. Not to mention that I feel pretty strongly about having my blog at my own domain name, free of ties to specific hosting services or tools.

All in all, I found Spaces to be a very credible and more fully-featured alternative to Blogger for users who want to set up a blog quickly and easily, and don’t want to spend money doing so (or learn a lot of technical skills to accomplish it). From accounts I’ve been reading lately, Blogger has been increasingly slow and unreliable—not ideal qualities at any time, but particularly not when a big-time competitor has just unleashed an alternative.

Anybody else tried Spaces yet? What do you think?

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

December 1, 2004

materializing the question, not the questionerEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to be on a panel at ACM CSCW on digital backchannels—danah boyd and Joe McCarthy invited me to participate, along with Elizabeth Churchill, Bill Griswold, and Melora Zaner-Godsey (who couldn’t make it due to a family illness, and was replaced most ably by Richard Hodkinson).

Others have blogged the panel already (from both sides of the podium—see Joe danah, Richard, and Jack Vinson), so I’m not going to replicate that. I do, however, want to mention one thing that I heard that’s really stuck with me.

During his presentation, Bill Griswold was talking about how he’s using chat environments in the classroom. He observed that using the backchannel to allow questions from students “materialized the question, not the questioner.” More than anything else I heard during the panel, that one line made me really stop and think about implications of the backchannel, and why it is that I find it to be so attractive a medium.

I was reminded of that moment this week while sitting in a faculty meeting, watching a faculty member impatiently hold his hand over his head while someone spoke, waiting to be recognized to speak. I can remember years ago being advised that it was rude to hold one’s hand up while someone was talking, because it indicated that you were more focused on what you were about to say than what the person speaking was saying. My experience has been that it also causes disruption for the people in the room, who are split between the attention-getting visual mechanism of hand-raising and the current speaker. And in many cases, it creates expectations (often not accurate) on the part of both the audience and the speaker as to what the questioner is about to say.

When I was at CSCW, the only way audience members could ask questions or make comments was to queue up in front a microphone in the middle aisle and wait patiently for a turn. It’s hard to describe how nerve-racking this is for someone who’s new to that community. You’re standing in the middle of a big room, with the audience and the speakers staring at you, trying to listen to what’s being said while being intensely aware of your position.

This is where a formally acknowledged/sanctioned backchannel can really shine, I think. It allows members of an audience (whether the group is as small as a faculty meeting or as large as a conference presentation) to ask a question and have the question itself—not the questioner—be the subject of focus.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

November 11, 2004

on the academic/technical divide in social computingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’m on my way home from the 2004 ACM CSCW (computer-supported collaborative work) conference in Chicago, where my M2M and co-conspirator danah boyd invited me to participate on a panel entitled “The Use of Digital Backchannels in Shared Physical Spaces“—a topic near and dear to my heart (more on the panel, and the backchannel, in a later post). This was my first time at a CSCW conference, though I’ve read work by many of the people who are active in the organization, and remembered others from early days as a doctoral student studying communication and information studies. One of the things I noticed immediately was that many of the topics on the program had a familiar ring to them—because I’d seen similar titles and topics at my first Emerging Tech conference (ETCon) last spring.

This gave me a chance to compare and contrast the experience of a new participant at each of these conferences. In both cases I was there as a presenter, and while I’d never been to the conference before, I was aided by pre-existing strong ties to people who had been there. (I should note that in both cases, the strong ties were almost entirely a function of connections I’d made through my personal weblog mamamusings, not through traditional academic or business channels.)

...continue reading.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

November 5, 2004

fear and loathing in the academyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Last month, I moderated a workshop on “social software in the academy” at USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication. The attendees were primarily Annenberg faculty and graduate students, along with a few industry representatives and some academics from other institutions who had experience implementing social software tools (weblogs and wikis, primarily) in classroom contexts.

One of the topics that we didn’t have an opportunity to explore in as much details as I would have liked was the issue of power, control, and authority in higher education, and the destabilizing effect that social computing tools can have in these domains.

Then today, via Heather James, I found this disturbing post (and I really hope I’m not putting him at risk by drawing attention to it):

Anyway, the University I work for employs one of the two big ‘Courseware Management Systems’ as it’s central teaching and learning technology. It may surprise some people that I’m actually pretty cool with this. Over the last few weeks I’ve interviewed over 90 students and they love it, it’s great for lecture notes, talking to the lecturer / tutors and getting extra information & links.

However, there are lots of things I believe it doesn’t do so well, such as facilitate effective communication (see my paper of a bit back) . And several that it doesn’t do at all, such as allow people to collaboratively create documents, chat using IM, email etc. So, as part of my research interests, working entirely through 3rd party software & hosting providers and mostly on my own time I’ve been working with several academics investigating the uses of wikis, weblogs and other technologies in educational contexts. With this CMS as the main, focal, authenticated important area which leads to these.

Last Tuesday I received a memorandum from a manager cc’d by am exec. director instructing me to cease supporting and promoting weblogging, wikis or any other technology not officially supported by the University. The basic reason given being that I have, anecdotally, not used the CMS (this isn’t true, I always use it) and that ‘commentary’ on the issue of CMSs (quoted I think from this blog or another I set up for a course) is unacceptable. A set-up for disciplinary action should I not follow instructions.

So I’m gutted. I’m not going to go into the arguments here, I guess that’s not appropriate at the moment, but I am going to reply internally and in essence beg that as part of my academic research agenda and in the best interests of the University I be allowed to continue my work.

I’d like to say that I’m shocked, but I’m not. I am, however, surprised that we haven’t seen more stories like this.

At my institution, administration has not tried to shut down new technologies for pedagogy—in fact, we’ve just signed a site license for MovableType, and I know of several professors beginning to use wikis in the classroom. But at the same time, I had to fight my own senior colleagues last year on the issue of whether faculty should be allowed to bring their laptops to meetings—the sense was that the growing use of backchannel was “unfair” and/or “rude” and had to be stopped. (It wasn’t, but not for their lack of trying.)

We can’t pretend that these tools are neutral additions to the academic environment. Wikis, for example, have a powerfully destabilizing effect on voice and authority, two things that have traditionally been under the control of instructors in higher ed. Ubiquitous networking and portable devices provide a backchannel environment that changes discussion in the classroom in a profound way. I’m not preaching technological determinism here—simply saying that we need to be aware of the destabilizing power of the tools, and to begin to address those effects directly in our thinking and writing about educational technology.

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

November 3, 2004

technorati vote linksEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I probably shouldn’t be writing anything at all on a day when I feel this curmudgeonly, but the unveiling this week of Technorati’s “vote links” has spurred me to finally post here again.

It was close to two years ago that I first heard this idea surfaced in a discussion related to emergent democracy. Then, as now, I agreed that Google’s approach to PageRank—in which all links are created equal, regardless of context or intent—was flawed. But I argued then, and still feel now, that using the terminology of “voting” was equally flawed. I’m deeply uncomfortable with reducing everything to a binary vote, and with tinging every link with an explicit or implicit stance.

Not everything is an election. Not everything is a “for” or “against.” Suppose, for example, I come across an extremely well-written article that I don’t agree with. Am I “for it” because I think it’s worth reading and considering? Or am I “against it” because I disagree with the content?

Yes, PageRank and its cousins are flawed. Yes, we need a better way to be able to link to something without boosting it. But no, I don’t think this is the way.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

September 20, 2004

Pasta is YummyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Maciej Ceglowski, who partnered with Joshua Schachter to create LOAF, has just announced a new tool for users of Joshua’s social bookmarking system.

Pasta allows you to create a web page using pasted-in text, and then add that newly created web page to your bookmarks. This allows you to use to quickly create public bookmarks to material that isn’t already on the web, but that you’d like to make available. (Examples Maciej provides are “a text message, some class notes, a recipe, an email.”) Brilliant.

The rules are simple:

1. 100K length limit
2. No more than 10 posts per day
3. Don’t be abusive
4. Everything is public
5. Everything is permanent
6. May go down at any time
7. Do not taunt pasting service

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

August 25, 2004

Udell on Social Software ToolsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Jon Udell's got an excellent Infoworld column on social software. Closing paragraph makes a killer point:
Armed with such powerful tools, people can collectively enrich shared data. But will they? The success of Flickr and won't necessarily translate to the intranet. You can import the global-hive mind, but you can't export the local-hive mind. That asymmetry defines the challenge we face as enterprise knowledge gardeners.
Read the whole thing, for a good analysis of what makes both Flickr and powerful tools. Udell is one of the few technology pundits I know who has a true inner librarian (that's a _good_ thing, btw).

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

July 1, 2004

Into the BlogosphereEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

The University of Minnesota has just released a collection of essays on blog research, entitled Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. It’s edited by Laura Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff, and Jessica Reyman. I haven’t had a chance yet to dive into the articles, but it looks like a great collection, with articles from some excellent scholars and bloggers.

The entire collection is online, so you can get some instant gratification in terms of reading, and they’ve enabled comments and trackbacks for the articles (which are also blog entries). Color me impressed!

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A Conversation on Blog ResearchEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Elijah Wright of Indiana University contacted me earlier this week about my blog research post, and raised some interesting issues. I replied to him via email, but asked him to consider posting his comments on his blog, so that the conversation could include others.

Happily, he did exactly that. Our email conversation is now available verbatim on his blog. I would encourage those of you interested in research in this area to read the three messages in order: his first message to me, my response to him, and his follow-up.

In the interest of pulling the threads together, I’d encourage people to comment here rather than on the individual messages, since that will reduce fragmentation of the discussion. (One of the great weaknesses of blog-based conversations is the difficulty in tracking cross-blog conversations effectively…I know that’s something Lilia has written about).

Thanks, Elijah, for being willing to make this a public discussion.

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

June 24, 2004

blog research issuesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

During the several hours that Seb, Jill, Clay, Alex, and I spent in the coffee shop at the RIT library before our panel at MEA, we talked a bit about our frustrations with current academic approaches to social software, particularly blogs.

My first experience with listening to an academic take on blogs was at AoIR in Toronto last October, where Alex had put together a wonderful panel on weblogs. The first set of speakers included Alex, Cameron Marlow (of Blogdex fame), Matthew Rothenberg, and Thomas Burg—academic bloggers, all. They had some wonderful insights into weblogs, and they left me feeling very excited about the potential for interesting research in this space.

Unfortunately, that initial glow faded fast—the rest of the presentations related to blogs that I saw at AoIR were given by people who had little or no personal experience with blogs, and who were clearly unfamiliar with the nuances of the form, This most often manifested itself as a tendency to lump all blogs together as a single form—as I pointed out in our MEA panel, that’s about as useful as trying to lump all books together as a single form. Sure, you can make some general observations about books—they tend to be made out of paper, to have page numbers, to have a cover and a title page, etc. But those descriptive elements are hardly the stuff that interesting and useful analysis is made of.

I had an overwhelming sense of “blogger as other” in the presentations at AoIR, which was echoed at the MS symposium I attended. There’s some value, of course, to an outside perspective on the “culture” of blogging and bloggers—that kind of ethnography is done all the time in social science research. But when anthropologists and sociologists study a “foreign” culture, they generally make a significant effort to understand their subjects—not just to take a series of snapshots from afar, but to live amongst them, participate in their daily activities, observe the cycles and rhythms and rituals of their lives, and identify the differences as well as the commonalities. I haven’t seen that same level of immersion in the blog studies that have emerged thus far.

So, what do I wish was happening instead?

...continue reading.

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

June 15, 2004

MT Licensing vs ShutdownEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’m confused. Really. Like Michael Pusatieri, I just don’t get it.

Last month, Six Apart changed the terms of their software licensing, for a new product. Public reaction was swift and scathing. Hundreds of users tracked back to Mena’s announcement of the changes, most of them outraged by the lack of warning, and the impact on current users. (I was one of those who expressed concerns.) From what I can tell, SixApart has been working hard to address the problems in the proposed licensing, and I’ve heard rumors that some significant improvements are about to be announced. And, as many people pointed out, their announcements had no effect on existing sites, which continued to run under the original license.

In contrast, this past weekend, Dave Winer pulled the plug on ~3,000 weblogs that had been hosted on the server. He did this with no warning to the writers involved. All links to those sites now point to this page, which has only an audio file from Dave to explain the reasoning decision—meaning it can’t be quoted or searched (or even accessed at all by those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or unable to listen to sound files on their computer). The response from the blogosphere has been less than deafening.

So, why the differing responses? I suspect that part of it is the difference in the scope of impact. The MT changes affected several more than an orders of magnitude more bloggers than the decision. And the MT changes directly affected (and caught by surprise) some of the highest profile bloggers using the software, while Dave cleverly exempted the highest profile blogger on, Doc Searls, from the unannounced shutdown.

(I suspect that another factor is the differing behavioral expectations that the blog community has of the Six Apart crew versus Dave Winer; no one who knows all the parties involved needs much explanation there.)

The important lesson to be carried away from all this, however, is something that’s been said many times before. Don’t put all your data in someone else’s basket, no matter how much you like or trust the person (or company) holding the basket. Use your own domain name, keep your data in a form that can be repurposed, and always (always, always!) keep a regular backup of that data in a separate location. As Jerry Lawson of says, “plan for success,” and build your infrastructure to support that by reducing your dependence upon the kindness of strangers.

Update: Brad deLong has a nice musing on the expectations issue:

it’s a free service, a free gift that he gave, and he has no obligation to provide notice or warning or anything beforehand before discontinuing it.

But people using—and people using other free and open-source internet services—may have different expectations about persistence and warning and notice and graceful shutdown, expectations that may well be very naive. But without those expectations of persistence and warning and notice and graceful shutdown, it’s hard to see how anyone can justify building a system around free and open-source components. An internet in which open-source and free software are routinely used as building blocks is one in which expectations of persistence and warning and notice and graceful shutdown have to be validated. An internet in which you can expect persistence, et cetera only if you pay for it is a quite different animal

One Last Update
James Grimmelman on LawMeme has written an insightful essay on expectations, obligations, and credibility. Well worth reading.

Comments (15) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

June 10, 2004

M2M Authors on ParadeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Well, maybe not “on parade,” exactly, but three of us are speaking as part of the same event tomorrow.

Those of you in the Rochester area might want to attend the panel on “Weblogs and Cross-Disciplinary Communication” being held Friday from 4:30 - 5:45 on the RIT campus (it’s part of the Media Ecology Association Conference.)

I’ll be chairing the panel, and the other participants include fellow M2M authors Clay Shirky and Seb Paquet, as well as Jill Walker from the University of Bergen in Norway, and Alex Halavais from SUNY Buffalo.

It will be held in RIT’s Liberal Arts building, room 06-A205.

Hope to see you there!

(Campus Maps | Directions to Campus)

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

May 25, 2004

On Fornication And Genetics in The Breedster AgeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I just received an email from the creators of Breedster, pointing me to the proceedings of a recent symposium.

It’s well worth a visit.

Proceedings from the Second First Zero Content Symposion 2004 (2004-05-22) hosted by alt0169 trendbeheer.

1. Opening remarks
2. The copulogram as a means of visualising the social network: We are not our maps
3. The toroidal universe: New data, new debate
4. Meaningfulness and motivation: Microcommunities and mobs
5. Paranoia, hubris and hatred in the post 4/21 era
6. New ~insights in the epidemic potential of pathogenic causative agents in heterogeous communities through outbreak investigation by fluorescence spectroscopy
7. Q&A, Adjourn

Panel members:,,, and

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May 15, 2004

MT 3.0: Backlash and TrackbacksEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’ve spent most of the afternoon and evening reading through the literally hundreds of trackbacks to Mena Trott’s announcement of Movable Type 3.0 and its new pricing structure. It’s a pretty amazing process to watch. And if I didn’t like the folks over at SixApart so much, I’d enjoy watching this process unfold a lot more.

As I write this, there are already 547 trackbacks to Mena’s post. The vast majority of them are from MT users who are upset about the announcements—many of whom are actively pursuing alternatives, and posting URLs to other blogging platforms and instructions for migration.

This is certainly not the first time that a company has badly misjudged its customers (remember New Coke?)—but it may be the first time that a company whose customers are all online publishers has done so.

The real problem, as both Simon Phipps and Jason Kottke have pointed out—is that the personal license pricing is disastrous. And by making the personal licenses so unpalatable, they’ve alienated the very users that made them so successful.

They’ve also left a number of academic users with serious questions about how this pricing model will affect them. From the University of Minnesota UThink project to my own MT Courseware, academics who’ve vested significant time and energy into customizing MT are now pondering what their options will be. There does seem to be some encouraging news on that front, however. I’ve spoken with Anil Dash about the “significant educational discounts” that are referenced on the site, and the answers were reassuring. I’m not going to post specific numbers, because they want to work out details on a case-by-case basis—but I’d strongly encourage academics interested in upgrading to contact SixApart directly to find out what the cost for their specific installation would be.

People already running installations of MT 2.x don’t need to panic—what they have now is covered by their original license, so unless they want to upgrade there’s no reason to be concerned about the fees. Unfortunately, that wasn’t well communicated in the announcements, so a lot of folks are unnecessarily worried. (Yes, I checked this with them before writing that.)

This post from DrunkenBlog has a nice analysis of the economic issues at play in this process right now. What seems clear is that this announcement has created a significant change in how people perceive the blogging tools playing field. The folks over at pMachine have started a “Make the Switch” campaign; they’re offering free copies of their new ExpressionEngine software to the first 1000 “switchers,” and promise a competitive upgrade price to follow. Shelley Powers, Slashdot and MeFi have pointed a slew of users to WordPress and TextPattern.

On top of those “install it yourself” options, SixApart is also now facing competition on the hosting front from a much-improved new Blogger (complete with integrated comments!), and the final release of Tucows’ BlogWare.

I think we’re watching a significant moment in weblog history. Justified or not, the anger among MovableType’s users will push many of them to new tools, and has permanently changed the perception of SixApart by its customers. The users have spoken, and the landscape has shifted.

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

April 27, 2004

wiki roles and etiquetteEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Heather James has posted her early thoughts on the application of Jenny Preece’s work on online etiquette to wiki behavioral and social norms.

Wikis don’t offer technical solutions to social problems; rather, wiki technology encourages or even forces the contributers to define and manage their rules of etiquette and behaviour. Through this process of consensus building, a culture is created that allows for a more complex set of interactions which is neccessary for people to manage and construct mutual understanding.

The post is motivated in part by an article by Preece entitled “Etiquette online: from nice to necessary” that appears in the April 2004 issue of Communications of the ACM; unfortunately, the article is not (yet) available on her site. With any luck she’ll put a copy up there soon for those who don’t have access to the ACM Digital Library, as she did with her 2002 CACM article “Supporting Community and Building Social Capital.”

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

April 6, 2004

New M2M AuthorsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

We're delighted to announce that the newest guest author here on M2M is Joshua Schachter, developer of tools like GeoURL, Memepool,, and LOAF. In addition, danah boyd has agreed to join us on a permanent basis, so we've added her name to the list of regular contributors.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 5, 2004

UThink: Blogs for All at Univ of MinnesotaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

It seems that the University of Minnesota Libraries have unveiled a campus-wide blog hosting initiative they’re calling UThink.

UThink is available to the faculty, staff, and students of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. All you need to login and start blogging is your U of M Internet ID and Password. You can create as many blogs as you want, and attach as many authors to those blogs as you want. A faculty member could have a blog for every class he or she teaches, and attach the students in those classes to his or her blogs as authors to encourage discussion and debate. A student could also have a blog for every class, or just use blogs to express opinions and viewpoints about world events. A student could also create a club blog, or a blog for his or her friends, and also attach as many authors to those blogs as he or she deems necessary. Faculty could also use the blogging system to track a research initiative, or even publish the drafts of papers they are working on. Other colleges and universities across the country are already making use of this new publishing tool, and the Libraries are excited to finally offer it at the U of M.

This should be fascinating to watch. Kudos to the library there for taking the lead on this project!

(Via Clancy Ratliff)

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

BreedsterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Stewart Butterfield points out Breedster (subtitle: “Ingestion, Defecation and Fornication”). Alas, he has not yet produced enough eggs to extend invitations (Stewart, I want one of your eggs!), but I’m totally entranced by the “about” page:

Breedster organizes all your acquintances in the cutting edge Copulogram®. It doesn’t just show your personal network, it gives an accurate depiction of all your relations.

Update: Caroline has granted me larval status, and I’m happily ingesting and defacating while I wait to mature.

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

April 4, 2004

Social Networks and Academic CommunitiesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’ve been thinking a lot about social networking tools in the context of campus-based communities lately. It started when a lot of my students and colleagues joined Orkut, which was the first YASNS where I’d seen them actively participate.

Then Clay wrote his essay on situated software, using an NYU-generated and targeted site as his example.

And tonight I read an excellent post by Alex Halavais entitled “Social networking at the end of the university.” Here’s an excerpt from his post:

One of the ways to get from where we are now to where we want to be is by leveraging the existing communities that are built on campuses to create a more lasting environment of continual intellectual engagement. I think we see the edge of this already, but I don’t think it has been exploited as much as it might be. What would such an environment look like? How much central organization would it require? How would it provide a space for unexpected encounters? The irony, of course, is that these places exist as intentional communities only in so far as the administrators hope(d) to establish a venue through which accidental communities would emerge. They differ markedly from intentional communities, in which individuals actively pursue community goals. We do hear talk of this on the university campus, of course, but the people who interact in such a way are often fiercely individualistic. Doesn’t it seem as though the variety of social technologies that are being created every day could help to support such accidental communities? How do we foster those spaces?

Great questions. Food for thought for those of us in academic settings, where we seem often to be among the last adopters of new technologies, and even then are held hostage to bloated, proprietary systems like Blackboard and Prometheus.

(Alex will be joining me, Clay, Seb, and Jill Walker on a panel at the Media Ecology Conference in June, entitled “Weblogs and Cross-Disciplinary Communication”.)

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 1, 2004

Thoughts on Academic Blogging (MSR Breakout Session Notes)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

On Tuesday afternoon at the MSR Symposium, we divided up into small groups to talk about focused topics—my group was nominally about “small-scale publishing,” and included David Weinberger, Gina Venolia, and Susan Herring. (A nice mix of academic and industry expertise.) Because we had limited time, we narrowed our focus down to academic blogging, and we had an amazingly productive discussion on that topic. (As an aside, it was interesting to see that the backchannel at the conference went absolutely silent for the entire duration of the breakout sessions and the reporting back of results; I know this because I left it running in the background in order to capture anything said, but found a whole lot of nothing when I returned.)

This is my take on our group’s discussion; keep in mind that we had only about half an hour to talk, so this is almost all stream-of-consciousness material. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth sharing—and I promised that I would.

...continue reading.

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

Learning From (and About) the BackchannelEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

My personal post on the backchannel at the Microsoft-sponsored Social Software Symposium I just attended is already yielding a range of reactions. Not surprisingly, some of those reactions are critical. The idea of a backchannel can be pretty damn scary—but my sense is that the fear comes most often from people who haven’t participated in one, and therefore are likely to both overestimate its negativity and underestimate its value.

I’ve written before about the modes I’ve observed in the backchannel at conferences, but I don’t think I’ve done a good job of talking about the benefits that accrue to participants in these channels as a result of their participation, or the benefits that “leak out” of the channel both during its existence and afterwards.

...continue reading.

Comments (18) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

March 30, 2004

blogs in the mediaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Over on Crooked Timber, Eszter Hargittai has posted an updated graph showing use of the words “weblog” and “blog” in English-language daily newspapers.

“Blog” outpaces “weblog” in 2003, 687 to 389; that’s a big change—in scale as well as preferred term—from 2002, where the respective numbers were 270 and 274.

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

March 28, 2004

Aggregators: Pro and Con, Present and FutureEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’ve caved.

After all my rhetoric about reading blogs au naturel, I’ve switched to using an aggregator. But while I’m pleased as punch with my new setup, I still have serious reservations about aggregators as tools for “the rest of us”—at least right now.

After reading Cory Doctorow’s description of Shrook—in particular its ability to display a post in the context of its original web page, using the Safari rendering engine to show it with all accompanying styles and presentation—I decided to give it a try.

The result? I’m hooked. There’s no question that it’s streamlined my time online, reduced my at-times overly obsessive checking of favorite sites, expanded the number of sites that I’m able to monitor for interesting ideas, and improved my ability to search for, mark and return to thought-provoking items rather than losing track of where I saw them.

...continue reading.

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

Assumption, Interrupts, and InteroperabilityEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Stuart Henshall Dave Pollard asks:

Skype was one of the Top Technologies of the Year in Business 2.0’s list, and it’s wonderful, and free, so why isn’t everyone using it to extend the relationships they develop on blogs?


Why do so few people take up my (and others’, from what they tell me) invitations to call them, Skype them, IM them, to allow the iteration (back-and-forth) that is the essence of true conversation?

While I agree with Stuart’s Dave’s overall message in the post—that we need to find more seamless ways to interconnect our various communication tools (blogs, IM, email, etc)—I’m always surprised when I see people making these kinds of assumptions about what the “best” tools are for individual communication. And the “why aren’t people using Skype” question seems like a no-brainer to me.

...continue reading.

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

March 27, 2004

MS Research Social Computing Group BlogEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Just found a relatively new blog—Raindrop— being maintained by members of the Social Computing group at Microsoft Research. Interesting posts from some really smart folks. Worth watching.

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

Microsoft Blog Search ServiceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

This is the kind of thing that makes me very nervous about the future of blogs as a “grass-roots” information medium. From the San Jose Mercury News comes this announcement of a forthcoming blog search service from Microsoft:

Microsoft became the first big Internet company Friday to say that it would create a special search Web site just for Weblogs.

The company said MSN Blogbot will debut in the first half of the year, along with MSN Newsbot, a search site devoted to news.

The service will not index all blogs, just the ones that MSN determines provide the most useful information, a company official said.

“We will look at credibility and popularity to get people the information they’re looking for,” said Karen Redetzki, a product manager for MSN. “There are some blogs that may not be relevant to people. Those blogs we may never index.”

Somehow, the idea of Microsoft—or any other corporate entity—deciding for everyone what blogs are “relevant to people” is not reassuring to me. The potential for marginalization of interesting, provocative, or unique voices is enormous.

Why not simply index them all, and let relevance be decided through filtering mechanisms? Either algorithmically, a la Google PageRank®, or via real-world intermediaries (like, say, librarians) who provide a selection of recommended sources based on situation-specific user needs.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

March 15, 2004

backchannel modesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

So I’m one of those people that conference speakers hate. I sit in the audience, 17” Powerbook open in my lap, with IRC windows, AIM chats, blog entry screens, and web pages drawing my attention away from their faces.

The thing is, they really don’t have any less of my attention than they used to, before I started multitasking in meetings. It’s just more visually obvious now.

Believe it or not, I really can type and listen at the same time. And often the typing is directly related to the listening. I’m taking notes by blogging the session, or I’m asking questions about the presentation of the conference IRC channel, or I’m pulling up web pages that the speakers are discussing.

...continue reading.

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

March 12, 2004

blogs, creativity, audiences, and academicsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

During lunch today with Ben Shneiderman and some of my colleagues (yes, I dragged my sorry, sick self out of bed, dosed myself with cough syrup, and selfishly risked infecting them all), we had an interesting discussion about blogs and academics. I asked Ben if he had any plans to start a blog of his own, and he cited two reasons for not doing so.

...continue reading.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

February 17, 2004

geomapping of orkutstersEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

This is cool. Very, very cool. orkutmap.jpg Someone has apparently scraped Orkut for name and city data, and mapped the results to a satellite map application. You can put in a latitude and longitude, or a zip code, and see all the Orkut users who've listed that as their home.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 25, 2004

Orkut Launch: The Good, The Bad, and the UglyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Like Clay, my mailbox has been filling up quickly with Orkut invitations and confirmations. And I've been spending a good bit of time this weekend (when I _should_ have been grading student websites) mulling over the system and its strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, Orkut has gotten a number of things right. They've got the warm-and-fuzzy photo aspect of Friendster (see Adam Greenfield on Friendster), and reduced the emphasis on dating as the primary social mover. The interface--thought perhaps still "dorky"--isn't nearly as offputting as what they've got over at Tribe (a site I've been entirely unable to develop an affinity for, despite my lemming-like willingness to follow friends into YASNs). But Orkut has also incorporated one of Tribe's greatest strengths--ridiculously easy group-forming, something Friendster totally rejected. On the bad side, there are plenty of UI issues, and even more security flaws. There's been a slew of friendspam over the past 12 hours, as people have discovered the ability to send broadcast messages to everyone on the system. And over in the "Anti-Social Networks" community, a number of folks have pointed out serious security flaws in the technical implementation. Which brings me to the ugly part. It appears that Orkut sysadmins are silently _deleting_ messages that point out flaws and problems with the system. If you're logged into Orkut, you can look at this thread, and this one for some discussion. Unless, of course, those are deleted as well... They also appear to be starting on a Friendster-like program to delete "fakester" identities. A dubious character by the name of "Gregg Something" who tried to add me as a friend disappeared without a trace this morning. At first, I thought he'd just withdrawn his request, but a quick search revealed that he had vanished from the system without a trace. I think there's a lot of potential here. There are a lot of discussions already starting to form around how the various inputs--number of links, karma points, etc--could create a "FriendRank" construct (again, you need to be logged into Orkut for that link to work. I think the combination of a complex, multifaceted FriendRank system with some creative visualizations (beyond the current "Network" view) could make for a really interesting tool. Bottom line for me? I think Orkut has the makings of a really interesting environment, melding the best aspects of other YASNs, and giving it the Google brand of respectability to help it go mainstream. But the silent deletion of users, communities, and posts could be deadly. I'd hate to see the site fall on its own sword this early.

Comments (19) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 10, 2004

Trackbacks vs ReferrersEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Over on Daring Fireball, John Gruber has a lengthy entry on why he doesn't particularly like, or want to use, trackback. In place of trackback, he's chosen to add a list of recent referrers, which he says provides comparable information, without the barrier to entry (essentially, a trackback-enabled CMS) of trackback. I think he's wrong. Gruber's argument that the referrer approach is better because Trackback is too hard baffles me, as well, given the complexity he describes in his referrer tracking system. Is trackback as harder than, say, building a snowman? Sure. Is it harder than writing HTML by hand? I would say no, having spent a great deal of time during the past ten years teaching people to do just that. It's a _whole_ lot easier to point them to TypePad, or Radio, or any of a number of other Trackback-enabled tools and say "just turn on autodiscovery" than it is to teach them how to embed a dynamically-generated referrer list on their site. But more importantly, while referrer information is similar to trackback, there are some extremely significant differences between the two. Right now, for example, the referrer list for the entry of his that I linked to above has 477 entries, and the only information provided about any of those sites is their URL. Immediately, you can see the problems. First of all, the "right now" that I had to preface the last line with. If you check the page a month from now, the list will be very different. It's showing "recent referrers," not all referrers, and the information is therefore ephemeral. Second, the information provided is much too sketchy to really be useful to me as a reader; I don't know the author, the title, or the content of the referring page. And perhaps most importantly, I have no idea if the "referring page" really has _any_ relevance at all to the original site or post, or even contains a link to it. The beauty of trackback, and the reason that many have embraced it, is the way that it creates what Shelley Powers has called "sticky strands" among sites. In her discussion of why she uses Trackback rather than culling her referrer logs, she wrote:
Rather than using Trackback, I could scan my referrer logs and pull referrers, but I've never been happy about this approach. I wanted to incorporate into my Threadneedle strategy a deliberate interest in being part of a conversation, and this occurs with Trackback -- you have to enable it, ping me, or at least turn on Trackback auto-Discovery. No accidental tourists here.
The point of Trackback isn't really to help me, the author of a post. As John points out, there are lots of tools out there for that. I can check my referrer logs, I can check my Technorati Cosmos, etc. The point of Trackback is to help my _readers_ to see new directions that conversations on my blog have taken. I think a referrer list is a poor tool for that purpose. (BTW, I found John's entry because Clay linked to it in his bookmarks. I continue to be mightily impressed by that site's versatility.)

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

January 3, 2004

intra-family imEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

If my 9-year-old son had to choose between email and IM, there's no question that he'd opt for the latter. I'm guessing he'd choose IM over a browser, if it came down to it. Increasingly, it's his communication tool of choice. It's not unusual for him to IM me on a regular basis. And not just when I'm at the office...even when I'm downstairs. "Hi Mom! What are you doing?" (Stick-in-the-mud that I am, I've told him I will not respond to messages written in IM-speak; he has to use standard written English if he wants me to participate.) At the same time, I've been teaching _my_ mother how to use IM, and using it not just when we're apart, but also to enable private conversations when we're in the same house. According to the New York Times, we're part of a trend. There's an article today by John Schwartz entitled "That Parent-Child Conversation Is Becoming Instant, and Online."
And now, as families own more than one computer, the machines spread beyond the den and home networks relying on wireless connections become increasingly popular, instant messaging is taking root within the home itself.

Although it might seem lazy or silly to send electronic messages instead of getting out of a chair and walking into the next room, some psychologists say that the role of the technology within families can be remarkably positive. In many cases, they say, the messages are helping to break down the interpersonal barriers that often prevent open communication.
Both of those paragraphs raise interesting issues. The first is the effect of changing in-home technology--more wireless, more mobile, more personal--on uses of social software. My son's--and my mother's--growing use of in-house IM has been fueled by their acquisition of wireless-enabled laptop computers. The second is the way computer-mediated commmunication can _enhance_ communication rather than inhibiting it, something that's often not addressed in the "real versus virtual" debates. These are topics worth thinking about in other social software contexts. If you can make tools that are attractive for up-close-and-personal use, there's a much larger market there for you to tap into.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

December 30, 2003

matt haughey floats some interesting ideasEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

In a new feature on his site, Matt Haughey has posted a series of interesting social software ideas. Geographic components figure heavily among them, including a user-annotatable mapping system ("MeFi meets Mapquest"), a geographic opinion rating system ("what do folks 'round yonder think of that there grocery store?"). I think he's right to see geographically-linked services as a key direction for new social software tools--my new year's prediction is that we'll see more activity in that realm than any other this year. Other ideas floated in the article are some reputation management tools, and better ways to share playlists (and booklists, and movie lists, etc) with your friends. (Via Anil, who always seems to find the best stuff first!)

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

December 2, 2003

media ecology conference proposal deadline extendedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

The deadline for proposals for the Media Ecology Association conference has been extended to December 15th. The extensions announcement has details on the conference and the kinds of proposals they're looking for. Weblogs and social software are an area the conference organizers are particularly interested in. One panel proposal that has been submitted (and I suspect has a good chance of being accepted) is one that I'm chairing on "Weblogs and Cross-Disciplinary Communication." On the panel with me will be M2M co-authors Clay Shirky and Seb Paquet, along with Jill Walker, and Alex Halavais. That alone should be reason enough for you to want to attend (or, better, yet, to propose your own presentation). Here's our abstract:
While weblogs have been touted as an emerging publishing medium, academic weblogs are often used more for communication and dialog with other scholars and interested readers than they are for traditional broadcast publishing. Unlike mailing lists, weblogs combine broad accessibility (unhindered by subscription requirements) with clear authorial voice on the part of the weblog writer(s). The panel will discuss the opportunities and problems presented by weblogs as a tool for cross-disciplinary communication and collaboration.
And while Rochester's weather may be the moment, in mid-June it's quite wonderful here.

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

November 25, 2003

Communication vs GadgetsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a survey this week on the "tech elite," in which they note the growing importance of social technologies for that ~31% of the population:
This elite comprises three distinct sub-groups of Americans who are the most voracious consumers of information goods and services in the United States. * The Young Tech Elites make up one-fifth of the technology elite. The average age for this group is 22 years. * Older Wired Baby Boomers make up the remaining one-fifth of the technology elite. The average age for these baby boomers is 52. * Wired Generation Xers (GenXers) make up most of the technology elite (about 60%). The average age for this group is 36 years. Technology elites in the United States have more than just a lot of technology, although they have plenty of that. For this group, the Internet, cell phone, digital videodisc player, and personal digital assistant are commonplace; many of them access the Internet wirelessly and are starting to pay for online content. What is distinctive about them is that new electronic communications technologies come first. They would rather do without their wireline telephone than their computer. For the Young Tech Elites, the cell phone is more important than the wireline phone, and email is as important as telephonic communication. For the Young Tech Elites, the Internet is a regular source for daily news and an indispensable element of their entertainment experience.
The report is based on a survey from October 2002, which means it preceded some of the recent hype on weblogs, YASNS like Friendster, and the like; it will be interesting to see how much some of these numbers have shifted over the past year. Of particular interest to me, of course, was the discussion of gender in this space. The typical media/pop culture image of the "tech elite" is male, but in fact the [insert Richard Dawson voice here] survey says:
Substantial numbers of women in the United States are active and enthusiastic consumers of information goods and services. In fact, 46% of the tech elite are women – whether among the Young Tech Elites, Wired GenXers, or Older Wired Baby Boomers. Comparing tech elite women to their male counterparts reveals some interesting contrasts within this most tech-oriented segment of the population. In very broad terms, tech elite women seem more enthused about the information technologies that enable communication and perhaps less enthralled with the latest hardware.
Excellent fodder for my O'Reilly presentation, I think.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

November 16, 2003

rediscovering the familiar strangerEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Anne Galloway pointed me to the Berkeley Intel Research Lab's Familiar Stranger Project. The concept of the familiar stranger is described on the project site:
The Familiar Stranger is a social phenomenon first addressed by the psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 1972 essay on the subject. Familiar Strangers are individuals that we regularly observe but do not interact with. By definition a Familiar Stranger (1) must be observed, (2) repeatedly, and (3) without any interaction. The claim is that the relationship we have with these Familiar Strangers is indeed a real relationship in which both parties agree to mutually ignore each other, without any implications of hostility. A good example is a person that one sees on the subway every morning. If that person fails to appear, we notice. Familiar Strangers form a border zone between people we know and the completely unknown strangers we encounter once and never see again. While we are bound to the people we know by a circle of social reciprocity, no such bond exists between us and complete strangers. Familiar Strangers buffer the middle ground between these two relationships. Because we encounter them regularly in familiar settings, they establish our connection to individual places.
In presentations at conferences (and to students) lately, I've been talking about the importance of technologies like zero-conf networking, particularly as evidenced in OS X Rendezvous-enabled tools like iChat, iTunes, and SubEthaEdit (formerly Hydra). Until I looked at the Berkeley project site, however, I hadn't really put those tools together with the "familiar stranger" concept.

...continue reading.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

November 2, 2003

Comments, Aggregators, and Broadcast ModelsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

After reading through an argument in a comments thread on Julia Lerman's site on posting behavior and aggregators, I'm reminded of the old adage "When you assume..." In those comments, Sam Gentile says:
Comments are irrelevant. Blogging is one to many, not a usenet forum or mailing list. There are better technologies for discusssions like Wikis, Groove, mailing lists, usenet groups. People don't read web log sites. They read in the aggregator and when there is too many it overloads everything. [...] Of course, a blog is personal but is very well established that if you don't have a RSS feed you just don't get read. I don't what world you two are in but that is a well established fact by now. The majority of blog readers read blogs through RSS feeds in aggregators. Thats the whole point. No one has the time to go to 100 separate web sites versus one window with 100 feeds. This is so established that I am not going to even debate it. Nor am I going to debate the comments. The tiny amount of commenting that goes on in the blogging world is so small that its insignificant. Most blogs don't even have comments and if they do you see very little if ever leading to the conclusion that most people in the blogging world read feeds and "comment" by blog posts not commenting systems.

...continue reading.

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

October 29, 2003

Paglia Pans BloggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Camille Paglia lets loose with a barrage of cultural criticism in a new interview on 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

October 20, 2003

Toontown OnlineEmail This EntryPrint This Article

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 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"Email This EntryPrint This Article

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

October 14, 2003

New Site on Community ModerationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Tom Coates of 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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October 10, 2003

microphone tappingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

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 " 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.

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

October 1, 2003

Fortune Magazine on SNSsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

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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September 27, 2003

TAFKAH HydraEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Due to legal problems, Hydra (the well-received multi-author editing program for OS X) has apparently changed its name to SubEthaEdit. Can't quite place where you've heard that before? It's from Douglas Adams:
The Guide was compiled by researchers roaming round the galaxy, beaming their copy in, which was then instantly available to anybody to read. Over, believe it or not, something called the SubEthaNet. [...] I really didn't foresee the Internet. But then, neither did the computer industry. Not that that tells us very much of course - the computer industry didn't even foresee that the century was going to end. But I did have the inkling of an idea that a collaborative guide, one that was written and kept up to date by the people who used it, in real time, might be a neat idea.
So far as I can tell, it still lacks the one additional feature I'd really like it to have, which is for it to retain information about all the authors even after the collaborative work is over. (However, since it's 8am EDT, it's hard to find someone to test that with...)

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September 25, 2003

the blog channel?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Okay, raise your hand if you've ever sat and watched the Weather Channel for more than 30 minutes. (I know you're out there. Try Googling "weather channel addicts".) If so, you may also find Mikel Maron's project "The World as a Blog" (and its sister site, "weather as a blog") fascinating, as well. Using a combination of update pings and geo-URLs, the site shows you information about blogs around the world as they're updated. Like TWC, it's oddly hypnotizing. (Or maybe it's just me.) (Via Lightbody)

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

September 21, 2003

Ross 2, Cynics 0Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Back in May, I made a side bet with Ross that when his bet with Clay concluded, fewer than 10% of the people in the first 500 under "Internet" would be women. Well, Ross won his bet with Clay. And it turns out he won the bet with me, as well. When I counted today, 58 of the first 500 people were women. As I suspected, fewer toward the top than the bottom of that range. Only 6 in the first 100, and 9 more in the second 100. I don't know that there's much to rejoice about in those numbers, but I'm still glad to have lost the bet.

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September 19, 2003

Public WiFi as a Public Good?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Over on Crooked Timber, Maria Farrell has a thoughtful post (kinda goes without saying on that blog, I suppose) on the implications of broadly available public WiFi. I'm particularly intrigued by her discussion of WiFi as a "public good":
This raises an interesting question - to what extent is a wifi hotspot a public good? It’s neither purely indivisible nor is it, depending on registration requirements and network monitoring capability, entirely non-excludable. Bandwidth is finite, so it is to some extent a rivalrous good. It all depends on who owns the system and how it’s set up of course. But, over time, the trade off between network efficiency and user convenience may also tend toward registration requirements which will provide a means to prevent bandwidth hogs doing their thing.
So much of the current discussion of WiFi availability focuses on technical and economic issues and obstacles, rather than sociological issues. But Maria's assessment of WiFi potential ends with a much more social scientific prediction:
At least in the early days of wifi, the technology probably will be used by early-adopting criminals (amongst others). Forget infrastructure and rollout costs. Liability, risk, and the expense or impossibility of insuring against them are the most likely candidates to smother wifi at birth.

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September 17, 2003

Social Networking: Is There an Educational Model?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Here at RIT, some of us keep tossing around the idea of a social-software-focused curriculum. But the question that plagues us--and that has to be answered before we can move forward--is whether the need we're trying to address actually exists. If Tony was right, and what's happening right now is the "the beginning of something huge, the point at which Internet 2.0 finds its metier," it would seem that there might well be an emerging market for skilled workers in this domain. So, what do _you_ think? (Particularly those of you who are exploring the business model for social networking, and thinking about hiring as your businesses grow.) Is there a need for an undergraduate program in this area? For a graduate program? If there were such a thing, what skills would you want students to gain during their study? And would you recruit graduates? (Don't worry, these are non-binding answers!)

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

September 16, 2003

media ecology conference call for papersEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

The Media Ecology Association has put out a Call for Papers for its 5th annual conference, Digital Environments and the Liberal Arts. The conference will be held in Rochester, NY (on my stomping grouds, the RIT campus) in June of 2004. Doug Rushkoff will be one of the plenary speakers. Organizers are looking for papers in some of these areas: * Hyperfiction and games * social software * gaming communities * online misbehavior * digital identities * Internet art * PDA & handheld devices * literature in ditigal environments * digital poetry * blogs and digital journalism Paper proposals are due by December 1st.

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September 15, 2003

The Standard-That-Must-Not-Be-Named?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

In the comments section of his own blog, Russell Beattie writes:

Atom has been stalled. It doesn't have a name, it doesn't have a spec that anyone agrees on. And zealots who hang out on the Wiki 24-7 have hijacked much of the process. When I see a named spec published and supported by 1% of the aggregators/websites out there I'll change my mind. But we won't see that for at least another year.

My curiousity was piqued by this, so I stopped by the !Atom/!Pie/!Echo wiki, where I discovered that there's a "Final Vote" for a name going on right now. None of the well-publicized options seem to be there...Atom, Pie, and Echo were all booted for legal reasons (though it's worth noting that the Pie problem is moot, since the trademark application was abandoned).

...continue reading.

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September 14, 2003

Codifying RelationshipsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

One of the problems that plagues the "YASNSes" (as Clay calls the growing number of social networking systems) is how to define or codify relationships. On the one hand, trying to make all relationships equal and bidirectional, as Friendster and LinkedIn currently do, is clearly problematic. As I wrote on Joi Ito's LinkedIn wiki page:
I'd also like to be able to differentiate between (at the minimum) two types of contacts--those whom I'm willing to receive referrals from, and those whom I'm willing to have make referrals on my behalf. There are far more in the first category than the second. I'm more than happy, for example, to have Meg Hourihan or Anil Dash send someone to me. But since I don't have extensive working relationships with either one, I'm not sure I'd want them to be the first line of introduction for me to someone else--for that, I'd be more comfortable with someone like Joi or Clay Shirky or someone I've worked more closely with.
But today I was playing with a pre-alpha version of a new system that does in fact allow me to define types of relationships, and as others have pointed out, that has its own set of problems. In the system I was looking at, I was given the following options: * I am a close friend of this person * I am a friend of this person * I am an acquaintance of this person * I know this person (by reputation) * I know this person (in passing) * I am related to this person * I would like to know this person I was trying to categorize my relationship to another system user, a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur. I've met the person at a party, and had a brief conversation, but I have no idea if the person remembers me. I'd like to get to know the person better. So...I _might_ be "an acquaintance," I do "know the person in passing," I definitely "know the person by reputation," _and_ "I would like to know this person" better. What do I choose? (I ended up giving up, btw, and not choosing anything.) This is where David Weinberger's concerns about making the implicit explicit become most relevant for me. Relationships are complicated. Expressing them algorithmically is terrifically difficult. Reducing the complexity takes something important way from the relationship. And forcing users into these choices without a clear and compelling payoff for doing so (payoff for the users, that is...clearly the marketers and demographers get a payoff!) seems doomed to failure.

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September 13, 2003

Back and Better Than Ever!Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Surprise! While you were sleeping, we were switching. Not just to a new hosting service, but also to a MovableType back end. As a result, you'll see _lots_ of improvements around here. Because it's MovableType, of course, we've got integrated comments and trackback capability at last! We've got real permalinks individual entries, not munged monthly files. (Though we still have monthly archives available.) We've also got author-based archives, so that you can read all the posts by a specific person. We haven't yet finished converting all the past posts, but with any luck that will be done by the end of the month. (April, May, and September are all done...June, July, and August still need to be converted.) Older permalinks will still be supported, because the old archive files have been retained. Now that we've got the technology to support it better, we're also reviving our guestblogging process, starting with Stewart Butterfield this month. Guest posts will be mixed in with the rest of our content, but offset with a different background color so that they stand out. You'll be able to see all the posts by a specific guestblogger using the menu on the left sidebar. Regular readers will note that Jessica Hammer has dropped off the byline. We hope she'll still be joining us from time to time as a guestblogger, and her earlier posts are available through the guestblogger menu. We've changed our design pretty dramatically, as well. We've shifted from 3 to 2 columns to reduce screen clutter, and cut way down on sidebar contents for the same reason. We've dropped the blogroll, and put a lot of material into drop-down menus rather than lengthy lists. Author names now appear next to the post titles (and I'm working on making the same change in the RSS feeds), so that as you read the post you'll be able to better put it in the context of the author's "voice." Speaking of RSS feeds...because I don't have access to the server that the old feed was on, I have no way to easily redirect from that feed to the new ones (shown on the left sidebar). I'm hoping that the people who read us via aggregators will stop by here to find out why their feeds have gone dead! As the primary architect of the redesign (front and back-end), I certainly hope our readers find the changes helpful. At the very least, the improved CMS environment will bring me back into the fold as a much more frequent participant!

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August 5, 2003

History, Personality, and WikisEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

On Tim Bray's blog there's a follow-up to yesterday's story about the Pie/Echo/Atom project ("Battle of the Blog"). Tim talks about the reporter's attempt to get him to focus on the personality politics in the story--and Sam Ruby reports a similar conversation in his blog. Tim goes on, however, to say the following:
You can't understand the real story--ever--without understanding the personalities and who said what to whom and when and why. Marxism had an alternate theory of history: that it was all predetermined by socio-economic forces and that the individual was not a factor in the story. There's a word for that theory: wrong.
Contrast that with Clay's posting here last month on the topic of the project wiki:
But there is a second reason, under the surface but possibly more important -- wikis denature personality. Echo exists not because there are things wrong with the RSS markup -- there are, but they could be easily fixed. Echo exists because there are things wrong with the RSS process. RSS is having not a technological crisis but a constitutional one, where who decides what concerning RSS is not clear, and will never be clear, because the people doing the deciding don't even see themselves as being part of a decision making body.
Are there times when "denaturing personality" is useful? Sure. But Tim's points bring out for me where my greatest discomfort with wikis come from. I believe it matters who said what, and when. That context provides enormous "metadata" for me personally. And the wiki explicitly strips that. I understand why, and I do recognize its benefits. But I'm still uncomfortable with it.

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August 3, 2003

Wiki Backlash?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

There's an interesting thread on Phil Ringnalda's blog today regarding the naming process for the !(echo/atom/pie) syndication format project. Sam Ruby, who maintains the wiki for the project, asks in the comments why Phil feels unable or unwilling to re-open "Pie" as a naming option. He wonders whether it's the tone of the wiki name vote page that's keeping Phil from doing so.

...continue reading.

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July 24, 2003

Step Away From the PodiumEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Ross blogged the NY Times article on backchannels first, it seems. But I’m not interested in quoting it…I’m more interested in talking about its implications, and the responses it seems to generate from speakers.

Two of my friends in the social software world, Stewart Butterfield and Anil Dash, are speakers who find the backchannel annoying. (Stewart says so in the article; Anil agrees in his annotated link.)

I feel their pain. For six years, I’ve been teaching undergraduate students in information technology, and I’ve become accustomed to their constant multitasking in the classroom. I don’t always like it—in fact, when I’m trying to get a key point across in lecture, I’ll often ask them to turn their monitors off so I can be sure their attention isn’t focused on the screen. Conference speakers don’t have the luxury of pedagogical power to back up those requests.


...continue reading.

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June 30, 2003

IM Robot FriendsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

As I get older, I'm getting used to being "scooped" on new technology by my students and my kids. Today's discovery comes via one of my students' blogs (thanks, David!). David wrote about getting a weather forecast via AIM, using SmarterChild. Since I know he, like me, uses a T-Mobile Sidekick phone, I was intrigued. AIM is much faster and less bandwidth-intensive than the web, especially on a GPRS data connection, so it seemed worth exploring.

...continue reading.

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June 12, 2003

The Power of OverlapEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

A lot of people have asked me what I think the real value of social network mapping tools like Friendster and LinkedIn are—what use is there beyond the initial novelty? Since both of these services want to make money eventually, and thus their success depends on people being willing to pay for them over time, I’ve been asking myself what, exactly, I’d be willing to pay for from such a service.

Increasingly, I’m realizing that I’m always looking for overlaps. What do I mean by that? Well, if a colleague at work recommends a book, I might look at it, or I might not. The same holds true if the author of a blog I read recommends a book. But if both a colleague and a respected (by me) blogger mention it—well, it’s a lot more likely to end up on the top of my Amazon wish list.

...continue reading.

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Update on the LinkedIn BetsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

As a follow-up to my bet on gender distribution in LinkedIn, I browsed through the first 100 contacts in my network--which has 3081 people now--and found 9 women, most of them in the last 3 pages. None in the top 40. The first woman in my list (at position #42) has 27 connections, but most have fewer than 20. As to Clay's power law bet, here's how the number of connections looks on the first page of my network: 1. 291 2. 225 3. 145 4. 123 5. 112 6. 95 7. 70 8. 68 9. 63 10. 63 As I suspected, the curve is there, but it's not quite as steep as Clay predicted. The #10 position is currently at ~22% of the #1 position, rather than 15%. Still, it's a striking distribution.

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June 11, 2003

AULA "Meeting of Minds" 2003Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Readers of Howard Rheingold's recent book Smart Mobs may be familiar with the Finnish group AULA. This weekend, the group is sponsoring a "Meeting of Minds" in Helsinki on media and technology--and it looks like there will be a lot of social software topics on the agenda. Speakers include Joi Ito, Dan Gillmor, J.C. Herz, Cory Doctorow and Matt Jones, among others. Apparently AULA plans to put out a book (entitled Exposure) based on the proceedings. Hope it's not priced too high for my academic pockets, because it sounds as though it will be quite interesting for those of us interested in social software.

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June 8, 2003

Jabber and DecentralizationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Joi Ito has been working on a tool that blurs a number of boundaries between various social software tools. His TechnoBot is a python script that grabs his Technorati cosmos every ten minutes, and then adds new links to his blog, as well as notifying him via email, Jabber, ad IRC. This got me thinking about Jabber. I consider myself to be a reasonably technical person--an early adopter of many technologies, and an enthusiastic user of most of the social software tools I've happened across in the past fifteen years. But I still find Jabber baffling. I understand iChat. I understand Rendezvous, and AOL, and ICQ (I even have a five-digit ICQ number). But every time I've tried to find and use a Jabber tool, I've ended up frustrated. (Is there a _Jabber for Dummies_ site out there anywhere that faithful readers can point me to?) The problem, I think, lies with the centralized vs decentralized approach to tools. On the one hand, centralized tools tend to be easy to use. It's clear where you register for them (AOL IM, for example), and the interfaces are consistent. On the other hand, centralized systems have built-in flaws--users are often hostage to the designers' view of the system, for example (Friendster and LinkedIn are good examples), and scaling results in eerily predictable problems (like the Fotolog controversy that Clay wrote about recently). I'll be attending the Supernova conference in DC next month, and it looks as though some of these tensions will be discussed. In the area of social software the tension is already evident, and it will be even more important as we move towards things like digital identities.

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May 19, 2003

Silicon Valley Network Analysis ProjectEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Mark Granovetter's 1973 article "The Strength of Weak Ties" is widely referred to around the blogosphere (see this on Joi Ito's blog, for example, or Google "weak ties"), and forms the basis for much of the interest in and excitement about tools like Friendster and LinkedIn.

Granovetter is now chair of the Sociology department at Stanford, and his current research includes the Silicon Valley Network Analysis Project. According the the materials provided at the site, the researchers are attempting to systematically map the social networks of Silicon Valley "insiders" (company principals), but Granovetter and his colleagues also plan to map the connections outside of those players:

As with any industry, it is also necessary to track how networks of individuals literally outside the industry but playing a vital role, articulate with and sometimes become "insiders". The most obvious such groups are venture capitalists, lawyers, headhunters, engineers and their associations and trade groups.

The site also includes useful links to a variety of software tools for network mapping and visualization, as well as background materials on current research.

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May 18, 2003

"socially aware" software?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

In a post about Roger Benningfield's new JournURL "community content management system," Shelley Powers writes:

I think Roger's software is one of the most 'socially aware' examples of social software I've seen, and not because it uses lightspeed technology, or AI, or even RDF (horrors!). It's because he's done something I've seen few other social software people do -- look and listen to the people who are going to use it.

The specific feature that triggered her post was the ability of moderators in the system to move a hotly debated thread into a "Hot Issues" section, thereby allowing the debate to continue without forcing other users into the fray. She quotes Roger's explanation of this feature:

...continue reading.

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May 13, 2003

A Little Side BetEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

While Clay and Ross battle it out over the likelihood that LinkedIn will demonstrate classic power law distributions three months from now, I'd like to propose a little side bet.

I contend that when their bet concludes, three months from now, less than 10% of the participants in the top 500 hits of Clay's "Internet" search will be women. Why do I think that? Several reasons.

First, purely anecdotal evidence. None of the women I've shown the site to have had any interest in using it. Almost no women have commented on it in their blogs, and the few who have weighed in with comments on other blogs (my own included) have expressed puzzlement over its appeal.

...continue reading.

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May 7, 2003

Commentary Roundup on LinkedInEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

You can't release new social software these days without an immediate pile-on of commentary. So the (as Clay notes, viral) release of LinkedIn yesterday has already spurred some interesting discussion.

  • Adam Greenfield weighs in on LinkedIn vs Friendster, and the potential (which he thinks is still unrealized) for these types of systems
  • But Anne Galloway disagrees about that potential
  • The conversation at Joi Ito's site continues, with some interesting viewpoints--most of the defenders appear to be people who know the developer, and knew about the system before it launched, while most of the naysayers are looking at it without any foreknowledge...
  • Marc Canter is enthusiastic. But even his invitation to me implied he was trying to find ways to use the system that the developers hadn't intended.
  • Frank Boosman likes its polish and sees great potential
  • And I've got a longer discussion of my impressions of the system on my own blog.

I'm sure there'll be more, but that's a pretty good start. I still find it amazing to see how quickly a web of public, participatory discussion and debate can form with blogs as the medium.

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May 6, 2003

face timeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

When people say "face-to-face" communication in the context of social software, they're usually talking about in-person as opposed to computer-mediated interactions. But given the direction that tools like Friendster and Apple's iChat are taking us, I'm increasingly convinced that face-to-face communication is an important part of new social software technologies.

Everyone--really, everyone--I've shown iChat to has liked it. It's immediately appealing. Why? I suspect it's the faces. When I'm chatting with my friends, I see their faces. It makes me smile. The context for the words is real, is connected to my sense of them as real people as opposed to disembodied words on a screen. (Think about that word, even. "Disembodied." It immediately has a negative connotation associated with it.)

Similarly, there's been a lot of discussion lately about Friendster. From TerboTed's rant (which Clay pointed to recently) to the discussion by Adam Greenfield that I mentioned, one of the things that seems to come across over and over again is the fact that people using Friendster really like seeing their friends' faces.

...continue reading.

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May 2, 2003

Where's the missing M2M blogger?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

If you're wondering what's happened to Seb Paquet, our fifth author here on Many-to-Many, here's a quote from his blog earlier this week:

My Ph.D. thesis defence is scheduled for Friday, May 2, at 2 PM, in room 5340 of Pavillon Andre-Aisenstadt (see picture) at Universite de Montreal. The title of my thesis is "A Socio-Technological Approach to Facilitating Knowledge Sharing Across Disciplines", and my talk (in French) will chiefly be about the interdisciplinary knowledge sharing problem and how such tools as weblogs, wikis, and ontologies may help alleviate it. Everyone is welcome to attend!

Seems like a good reason to go AWOL on us, really. But I fully expect that congratulations are in order right now...and that Seb's being social right now in a software-free environment!

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April 26, 2003

Why I Don't Like WikisEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

I’ve tried. I really have. I installed phpWiki on my own server, and used it for a curriculum development project that it was well suited to. I’ve participated in the wiki-based development of content hosted at Socialtext for the emergent democracy and social software groups.

I love their functionality. I really do. It’s very very cool to be able to do “ridiculously easy” collaborative document editing.

But…let’s face it. They’re ugly.

I’m not a shallow person. Really. (Well, maybe a little shallow. But that’s not the point.) I do, however, respond better to web pages that are well designed and pleasant to look at. And wiki pages aren’t. Even with phpWiki, which lets me choose from a variety of layout schemes, I can’t do anything to make them better without changing everything on every page. I can’t apply styles selectively. I can’t put things in fixed-size divs so that they don’t spread all the way out across the page.

...continue reading.

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April 23, 2003

Welcome to Many-to-ManyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Liz Lawley

Why the name? Two reasons. First, it’s a good descriptor for the group writing this. We felt a multi-authored weblog was an ideal environment to talk about a medium that is defined by its multiple voices. Second, it’s a key characteristic of many (if not most) of the technologies we’ll be talking about.

So, what will we be talking about? The term “social software” has been getting a lot of attention in technology circles these days. From the Social Software track at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference to the newly-formed Social Software Alliance, people involved with developing and deploying new technologies are increasingly interested in this topic. (Stay tuned for a post—or a few posts—on definitional issues.)

The growing popularity of blogging as a tool for ad-hoc journalism, academic discourse, and just plain thinking-out-loud has been one of the drivers of this trend. So has the development of new P2P and group-forming technologies—IM clients like Jabber, group-forming web sites like Friendster and Ryze, collaborative document editing tools like Wikis, multiplayer games, and old stand-bys like mailing lists and usenet groups.

...continue reading.

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