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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Many-to-Many

June 19, 2006

Wiki Symposium 2006Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

The international symposium on wikis is taking place in Denmark in August this year.

The invited talk lineup is excellent: there will be talks by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Angela Beesley (“How and Why Wikipedia Works”), Doug Engelbart and Eugene Eric Kim (“The Augmented Wiki”), Mark Bernstein (“Intimate Information”) and Ward Cunningham (“Design Principles of Wikis”).

Like the first year, there’s a research paper track, panels (“Wikis in Education” and “The Future of Wikis”), and workshops. There will also be an Open Space track throughout the meeting.

Today (June 19) is the last day for early registration. The chair, Dirk Riehle, informs me that “you can register but don’t have to pay right away. So even if you are waiting for travel permission from your boss, you can already register and pay later (or cancel with no hassles).” Which I’m going to do right away, as a matter of fact. :) The registration page is here.

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

March 14, 2005

Web personalization, and how TiVo learnsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Michael Pazzani gave a course on Web personalization at UC Irvine this winter, and has made allsome of his slides available online. Topics covered include user profiling and collaborative filtering. Recommender systems such as Amazon and TiVo are examined. There’s a link to an interesting paper by Ali and van Stam describing the TiVo collaborative filtering system.

[via Daniel Lemire]

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

March 3, 2005

2005 International Symposium on WikisEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

WardCunningham2.jpg I’m helping to put this first international symposium on wikis together. It will be held in San Diego in October. Ward Cunningham, the inventor and host of the original WikiWikiWeb, will present the opening keynote.

Anyone who is involved in using, researching, or developing wikis is invited to participate. We are seeking submissions for research papers, practitioner reports, demonstrations, workshops, and panels.

The deadlines vary according to the type of contribution. (See the official call for submissions for more details.)

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

March 1, 2005

Popularity Slider: Diving into the long tailEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

The general idea of a recommender system is that it asks for a few examples of things you like and then gives you more things it thinks you might like, based on its knowledge of other people’s preferences.

One problem you can often run into when using a recommender system is a bias towards popular items, which are not really that close to what you like but have the favor of many users because of their high visibility. For instance, based on my subscriptions, the Bloglines recommender keeps suggesting that I have a look at Slashdot, always putting it near the top of its list of suggestions. The effect of designs like this, of course, is is to reinforce the “short head” (as opposed to the “long tail”) by directing users towards the roads well traveled.

An easy way to mitigate this is to selectively decapitate the recommendation engine’s results. Last year I blogged about Andrew Grumet’s “Similar Feeds”, which implements this. I just came across a music filtering site that makes the feature more prominent and intuitive by putting a nice, fat “popularity slider” right at the top of recommendations pages. Try playing with the slider on this page to see how it works.

I like how things like this underscore the idea that “this is popular” is not the same as “you’ll like it”.

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

February 23, 2005

WWW2005 Workshop on the Weblogging EcosystemEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

This workshop will take place during the WWW2005 conference in Chiba, Japan. The deadline for electronic submission is March 4, and the papers from the previous workshop of the same name can be found here.

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

February 10, 2005

CiteULike and Connotea: Linklogging and Tagging Go AcademicEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Academics often use hand-rolled systems to keep track of and (less often, sadly) share literature references. I have used my personal wiki to that end for a while, but it wasn't the ideal solution.

Now, the rapidly-developing CiteULike looks quite interesting. It borrows from del.icio.us' simple interface and social software features, but it is tailor-made for academic papers that are available online. It lets you build a "personal library" (here's the one I just started), recording bibliographic information and enabling you to tag papers for future retrieval and group sharing. For instance, here is an ongoing stream of papers on blogging, collected by various individuals. Development is very much alive, as you can see from the development journal and the discussion list.

Because so much of the literature is still stuck behind subscription walls, surfing CiteULike can be frustrating if you're not on a university network, as you can very often be denied access to anything beyond the abstracts (even if you are, digital bouncers are legion and you're bound to bump into one of them sooner or later). This highlights how nice it would be for the public to have open access to the published research it has often paid for out of its own pocket. (The general web-unfriendliness of academic production is a pet peeve of mine - it hurts the impact and dissemination of research findings, and obviously deprives academia from influence on the "real world". How ironic that the Web was originally built in a research lab, to share results...)

(A similar service is Connotea, but I haven't done a thorough comparison between the two. And Alf Eaton's pioneering Biologging has been providing a similar service for biomedical researchers for a while now.)

(cross-posted to my personal weblog)

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

January 26, 2005

Visualizing the collective brainEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Following a suggestion I made on my personal blog, Alf Eaton has built a visual interface to the tag landscape that is collectively produced by del.icio.us users, basically feeding the “related tags” listings from del.icio.us into a TouchGraph browser. Here’s a screenshot I made, showing the current “lay of the land” around social software:
(layout hint: you can right-click the background to fiddle with the layout to get a clean capture)

SocialSoftwareMap.png

Alf’s tool lets you navigate around tags, expand topics you want to explore in more depth, and access the corresponding del.icio.us and Technorati tag pages. I think this could be a quite useful tool when you’re feeling your way into a new topic area and want to benefit from the knowledge of other people who have been around there. Think “Okay, so what is this newfangled “folksonomy” thing all about? Does it relate to anything I’m already familiar with?”

Subscription mapping

And for something completely different, Paolo Massa then asked Alf for a social network map based on users’ del.icio.us subscriptions, which wasn’t too long in coming. Because users can subscribe to tag feeds (you can recognize those because they start with an asterisk), people and topics are also connected, yielding a “Who and What” map showing both types of objects in the same graph. Because tag subscriptions are uncommon, it might actually be more illuminating to connect people and topics based on tagging habits rather than subscription.

This social visualization tool works wonders in the way of revealing implicit information that is otherwise hard to see. For instance, if you start with Liz’s subscription network, and then double-click the “sebpaquet” node, you’ll immediately see that we are both tracking links from Howard Rheingold, Joi Ito, Jay Bibby, and Clay. The advanced options let you do things such as displaying only nodes that are no more than, say, two degrees away from the node you last clicked, letting you get a sense of the immediate neighborhood of a person.

(for related prior art, see also the Touchgraph LiveJournal browser, which operates on a dataset that is at least an order of magnitude larger)

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

January 12, 2005

TaggregatorEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

No Taggle just yet, Clay, but getting closer: the Taggregator, which generates a side-by-side view of recent del.icio.us and flickr input with a given tag. Try pattern. (via Alan Levine)

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

October 18, 2004

Social Software: What's NewEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

With permission from Adina Levin, here’s a terrific recent post from her weblog that highlights and articulates some of the things that are new about social software. - Seb


The question underlying Chris Allen’s valuable essay on the history of social software is, why do we need a new term? Is there anything new going on, or is there just a new generation of people discovering the same old thing, like each generation of teenagers discovers sex?

People who’ve been pioneering online collaboration say that they’ve seen this all before: on Plato, in MUDs, on the Well, in Usenet, in academic writing for decades.

Is there anything new about what we’re doing now? Chris Allen’s question prompted some reflection. The answer, I think, is yes. And the measure of the answer is the internet and the web.

...continue reading.

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

July 6, 2004

BlogTalk 2.0 underwayEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

The second edition of the European conference on weblogs is underway and, as you can imagine, it’s a total social software geekfest. This blog post by Oliver Wrede provides a good entry point. This is clearly not a group tied to one technology - there’s a cocktail of blogs, wiki, TopicExchange, IRC, and even the odd collaboratively annotated map of the host city (courtesy of Mikel Maron and Johannes Gruber).

Comparing what’s happening online now to what it was like just a year ago it seems that there’s been an evolution - not so much in terms of technological innovation but rather evidenced by the degree to which the tools have been culturally assimilated. People seem to be more fluent overall, and the general idea of collaborating with strangers in public doesn’t seem to generate as much awkwardness as it used to.

As Ton Zijlstra has just remarked to me on IRC, last year’s experiments become this year’s prerequisites. It’s fun when things happen quickly like this - though it should be kept in mind that we’re looking at a self-selected group of tech enthusiasts.

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

June 11, 2004

Collin Brooke Summarizes the MEA PanelEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

The panel on weblogs took place this afternoon. Collin Brooke has a faithful write-up on his blog. Thanks Collin! The illustrated post Lilia Efimova offered yesterday on weblog networks as social ecosystems complements the picture we gave very nicely.

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

June 2, 2004

Who owns a weblog's content?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

For a year or so the Invisible Adjunct weblog has provided a forum for academics to (mostly) discuss issues relating to campus politics and working conditions in academia. Last March the anonymous author decided to leave the profession and sign off from her weblog. The only problem is that over time a real community has gathered around that weblog, and those people clearly want to continue talking - as the 200-odd comments on the sign-off post attest. I figured some of them would rather switch boats than go down with the sinking ship, so I created an Invisible Adjunct channel on the Internet Topic Exchange to aggregate relevant posts from members of the community. Much to my pleasure the channel has been put to good use by interested parties: about a hundred posts have appeared on the channel so far. But another threat is looming on the horizon - the IA is planning to take down the site a week from now. This means all the content will vanish. The site hasn't been indexed by the Internet Archive since June of last year. (Ironically, the last post that shows on the Wayback machine is precisely about the loss of archives!) And the IA hasn't allowed mirroring. Of course many participants wish to preserve the memory, but it is unclear who's calling the shots at this point. Who wrote the site? Granted, the IA wrote all the front page material by herself, hundreds of posts. But there are also thousands of comments in there that have been contributed by readers. A commenter raises the issue in those terms:
I believe the comments form the bulk of the site overall (correct me if I'm wrong), and that much of the value comes from the conversations that took place under IA's supervision. In some sense she's not the "author" of the site, but rather the caretaker of an online community.
I have no idea what's going to happen to that content, but I guess the moral here is "use caution before you invest significantly in a site that you don't control". A lot of commenters might now find themselves wishing they had commented on their own site so that their words wouldn't go down with the rest.

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

May 28, 2004

Nancy White gets started bloggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Long-time online community expert Nancy White has finally started her own weblog (did she hear my plea ?). The online community toolkit that she’s been building for years is chock-full of great material, which I suppose she’ll do us the pleasure of introducing bit by bit.

A recent post reports on an experiment I’d been meaning to try but had yet to find the right conditions for: having group of chat participants listen the same music while chatting - much as would happen at a party - as a means of creating a shared atmosphere and giving participants a better sense of togetherness. Apparently it turned out very well… I’ll really have to try it. Webjay could make it quite easy.

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

May 26, 2004

Communities Tied to One TechnologyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

For the most part, members of online communities usually rely on one dominant communication channel - be it a mailing list, a forum, weblogs, a wiki, or IRC - even when alternate channels would be helpful for certain purposes. Communities like open source development networks and the international, never-sleeping Joi Ito posse, who use multiple modes, are the exception rather than the norm. I've been wondering about the factors that somehow work to inhibit or facilitate the use of multiple communication channels, and the interplay between those channels. Now there's a discussion underway on that topic over at the lively Community Wiki, on the page Community Tied to One Technology. Among the potential explanations that are brought up for sticking to one channel: inertia, lack of technical acumen, the fragmentation/critical mass problem, and the lack of integration between modes. My hunch is that as the "software that does less, well" pattern and the concomitant "mix and match tools" user philosophy that we've seen develop in social software become dominant, we'll see multiple modes become relatively widespread relatively quickly. (I should point out that the incredibly prolific Dave Pollard touched upon this topic a while ago.)

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

May 18, 2004

Famous for fifteen peopleEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Gordon Gould sparks an interesting discussion on what success in blogging means or ought to mean. He basically says that it follows from the power law argument that people will blog for fame, not fortune, but fame of the fifteen-people variety.

For the average blogger, fame-as-success model needs to become pride in publishing on what is effectively the new refrigerator door. It needs to move away from being stack-ranked against bOING bOING and become much, much more socially localized. We need to encourage the concept of micro-fame among one’s peers, friends, and families. This is both a technical infrastructure change and a social redefinition.

A concise and well-articulated entry.

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

May 4, 2004

A Compendium of Online Community Deviant BehaviorEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

I just followed a link from Sunir Shah's page to John Suler's "The Bad Boys of Cyberspace", an extremely detailed look at problem behavior in online communities and the ways of dealing with it that have been developed over time. It's based on Suler's early field research on the Palace avatar chat communities, so some of it is fairly specific, but there's a metric boatload of insights in there. The whole thing basically reads like a chat wizard's handbook. Here are a few section headings from the table of contents to give you a taste of what's inside:
3. More Complex Social Problems Revolutionaries Freedom Fighters and Other Tenacious Debaters Bible Thumpers Identity Theft, impostoring and Switching Detecting Impostors -- Intervening with Impostors Genuine Identity Disturbances -- Depressives Pedophiles -- Scam Artists Gangs -- Banning the Gang [...]
The colourful jargon used makes it rather enjoyable, especially when read literally. This from the section on intervening with Bible Thumpers:
[Wizards] may encourage the Thumper to move to another room (or another Palace site) where there may be members who are more interested in their ideas. If Thumpers refuse to stop accosting other members, wizards may follow the procedures for gagging. The other users in the room also should be reminded about the "mute" command. Experienced wizards recommend that Thumpers never be killed.
"The Bad Boys" is actually part of Suler's vast online book, "The Psychology of Cyberspace":http://www.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/psycyber.html. I recommend you have a look, but be warned that once you dive in you may not emerge for quite a while...

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

May 1, 2004

Orkut spams in your nameEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

After a few quiet months, all of a sudden I'm getting a new spurt of Orkut invitations from friends whose invitations I thought I had already declined. I was wondering why, until I found this explanation on Scott Allen's weblog:
Apparently, Orkut took it upon itself to re-invite all the people I had put in as friends who hadn’t joined yet. Bad enough that they did it. Worse, they did it in my name. That’s right — they resent my original invitation!. 90 days later! This is horrifying to me. A serious academic in the space and a CEO both were polite enough to reply to me saying they weren’t interested. I have no idea what the various major journalists, etc., must think. I end up coming across as a petulant nuisance, and I don’t even know it’s happening!
I guess Orkut is trying its best at following the trend of socially inept YASNS behavior, though I have to say it falls short of being as craptacular as "ZeroDegrees' prior art":http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/04/15/how_to_achieve_zero_degrees_of_separation.php.

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

April 21, 2004

Nico Macdonald on the Future of WebloggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Nico Macdonald has written a forward-thinking article on weblogs highlighting some of the challenges that he believes this writing environment faces at this point in time:

  • It needs more journalists;
  • It needs to be more externally focused (less concerned with blogs);
  • It needs more people writing “second drafts”, closer to knowledge than opinion;
  • It needs better tools to navigate and visualize the infoglut that its expansion is creating;
  • It needs categorization and reputation management;
  • It needs publishers to offer reciprocal links to at least some of the commentary it offers.

Macdonald’s considerations are interesting, but they reflect his conception of what blogs are about (journalism and serious thinking) and thus chiefly apply to those weblogs that aspire to public intellectual leadership. This space is actually large enough that the term itself is becoming highly ambiguous; I wouldn’t dream of asking LiveJournalers to write according to those standards - and nor should they strive to.

Some weblogs are in a fuzzy position, between the public and the personal, and I realize it is causing a tension. For instance, in my personal weblog I tend to use first names to refer to people with whom I have private exchanges and collaboration relationships - here for example. I count many of these people as friends even if I have yet to meet them.

In the frame of reference that Macdonald uses, this is inappropriate and may reinforce cliquishness, but at the same time the tone of my weblog is conversational and it doesn’t feel quite right to refer to these people as I would for instance in an academic publication. Lab conversation is the “real-life” context that matches best for me, and referring people by first names was the rule in the labs I’ve been in; including a link enables people who are not in the loop to determine who I’m talking about.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 18, 2004

Dibbell earns $47k annualized in Ultima OnlineEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Journalist Julian Dibbell managed to bring in nearly $4,000 (US no less) in his last month trading nonexistent (okay, virtual) goods in the multiplayer online game Ultima Online. There's an article on the accomplishment in Wired News and the discussion is underway over at Terra Nova. The downside of this is obviously that, at the end of the day, the experience feels more like work than play. Says Dibbell:
"I did start this thinking, 'Could this be a new career?'" he says. "And I found it's a job like any other, and who I am is a writer and not a businessman."

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

April 8, 2004

Ideal Intellectual CommunitiesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet


Janet Tokerud suggests that Academic Blogging is a Must, eliciting a comment that links to a post on Household Opera about "Ideal Intellectual Communities".

Features of such a community: "people who aren't competing with each other for funds, status, recognition, or employment"; "wouldn't be limited to the traditional options of journal article and monograph"; "mixture of academics and nonacademics"; "enough room for idiosyncrasy".

Janet comments on local intellectual communities:
[...] there are lots of interesting and gifted people around, we just don't know the right ones - locally. As blogging and other tools that (a) expose the brilliance and interests of those around us and (b) give us ways to engage with each other get better, I think we'll find and cultivate IICs in our communities.

Can't wait for that to happen. It's already started in places like San Francisco. Use the GeoURL, Luke. (Special plea to Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournalet al.: take a cue from deviantART - make geotagging ridiculously easy and users will love you for it.)

(link via del.icio.us/mathemagenic/researcherBlog)

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

April 2, 2004

Social software research blogs directoryEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

This week's Social Computing Symposium has brought a number of new bloggers to my attention and to help keep track I've started a wiki-enabled directory of social software research weblogs. If you're doing research on social software and your weblog is not listed, please edit the page (link's at the bottom) and add yourself. And why not throw in a picture while you're at it? It's all fun, and ridiculously easy. (For links to other research blog directories see this post on scholars who blog.)

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

March 26, 2004

On the root of k5's woesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Three posts below, Clay describes the civility problems that have grown over at the kuro5hin community as being a result of unhealthy scaling, invoking Shirky’s Law — “The advantages of anonymity grow linearly with the population; the disadvantages grow with the square of the population.”

Actually, Shirky’s law probably doesn’t explain what’s happening there. The active population at k5 has arguably declined, as traffic is down about 40% from last year.

Rusty, the site’s founder, writes, “we simply aren’t the only game in town anymore. There’s a lot more personal blogs, niche communities, and overall things like K5 than there were before.” I think this is a more convincing pathway to an explanation.

This commenter hypothesizes that a change in demographic is actually responsible for the problems, which makes sense if you assume that the more mature/experienced users will eventually gravitate towards more autonomous modes of publishing.

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

March 24, 2004

Interview with Ken JordanEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

On the venerable nettime mailing list, Geert Lovink interviews Ken Jordan, one of the coauthors of the ambitious Augmented Social Network white paper. Jordan and collaborators have been thinking about the issue of self-representation online for a long time, and he highlights quite clearly many of the key issues in this area.

The ASN is a blue sky vision for the future of online community. It stakes out some conceptual territory, presenting a civil society vision of how the Internet could evolve — particularly addressing the issues of Identity and Trust (two packed terms that have a pretty specific meaning in this context). It provides a clear alternative to the dangerous direction the Internet may well be heading in — a corporate/government panopticon. But it’s not enough to stand against digital disempowerment and control; we need to stand for something. The ASN shows that by coordinating the writing of standards and protocols between several different, previously separate technical areas (persistent identity, interoperability between community infrastructures, matching technologies, and brokering) you could add a layer of functionality to the Internet that would be greatly in the public interest.

Jordan enumerates shortcomings of current social networking systems such as Friendster:

  1. They are non-interoperable walled gardens.
  2. Profile info is thin, not nuanced; it isn’t context sensitive (the boss and mother problem).
  3. The profile information is static, not effected by your actions elsewhere.
  4. You have limited control over your own profile information (“It calls for a new class of services: identity brokers”; you also want a “digital bill of rights” that enables you to exert control over access.)
  5. The sites are exclusive, invitation-only clubs. [Note: I believe this is the exception rather than the norm].

I can’t help but notice how close weblogs come to fitting the bill - apart from restricting you to a single context and making it difficult to control acess, everything is in there. (See Dina Mehta and Lilia Efimova on blogs as SNSes .)

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

March 23, 2004

Onlineness and TruthfulnessEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Here’s a short NYT essay by Clive Thompson that presents evidence and speculation regarding the thesis that people are actually more honest online than in person. The article makes two observations that may help explain why: first there’s the feeling of being on the record (“On the Internet […] your words often come back to haunt you.”), and second, cyberspace seems to bring about disinhibition (“There’s something about the Internet that encourages us to spill our guts, often in rather outrageous ways.”).

Thompson seems to really believe in the thesis, and towards the end of the essay foresees the emergence of a reputation society: “As more and more of our daily life moves online, we could find ourselves living in an increasingly honest world, or at least one in which lies have ever more serious consequences.”

While I’m not sure that things are quite so simple as “The internet makes you more honest”, the online world certainly makes it difficult to say contradictory things, even across contexts (assuming that you tie everything you say to a single identity, which not everyone does).

It’s a chewy question. I wonder if the “online vs. in person” aspect is essential. Couldn’t the whole issue be simply reframed as one of writing versus talking?

(link via Cynthia Typaldos )

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

March 1, 2004

Is it OK to publish Orkut-harvested datasets?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Alex Halavais’ blog is home to an interesting discussion of the privacy / information property issues around the Orkut geomap we wrote about two weeks ago : part one, part two. It’s worth noting that Rolan (the datapimp / Orkut mapper) participates in the discussions. Jill Walker voices the clearest objection:
For me the problem is the (open) publication of my name in relation to data about me that I gave out in a different context than that in which it’s been published. I voluntarily gave out information in Orkut, but yes, although that is on the web (OK, I wasn’t specific enough there) it’s password protected and access is limited to others who have also voluntarily shared information about themselves. There’s a mutuality there, and I do experience a site like Orkut as a more closed form of publication than putting something freely on the web. I think this happens in email lists and places like MOOs, too, although anyone can join most of these communities, what is written there is meant FOR that community not for the general public.

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

YASNS in a BoxEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

According to the product page, AlstraSoft's E-Friends is "an online social networking software that allows you to start your own site just like Friendster and Tribe.net." (They surely haven't tested it at that scale, though.) It sells for $280 with a year of updates, and they've got a demo up.

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

February 26, 2004

Orkut.com turns out to be a master's thesis project?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Todd Boyle on the reputation mailing list tips us to this revelation (not sure what the original source is [hoax warning: be sure to read this post til the end]):
Orkut.com, a popular social networking Website which has attracted the attention of the some of the Internet's biggest names, was revealed today by its creators to be an elaborate "reality Internet" project to form the basis of a master's thesis. "We figured we couldn't keep it secret much longer anyway," said Orkut Buyukkokten, after whom the distinctive blue-colored meet-and-match site was named. "I didn't think we could do it this long in the first place, actually."
This of course explains Orkut's much-maligned terms of service:
"We had to have something pretty clearly worded or [the thesis author] wouldn't be able to publish the findings after everyone found out," said Buyukkokten. "I'm actually amazed that more people didn't completely refuse to use the service." Now that the secret is out, what will happen to the service? "Oh, we're expecting a lot of attrition, but the bills are paid until the end of March, so what the hell? Anyway, I have my data." The thesis author added that all the data will be anonymized, "I promise."
[Update: turns out the "original source" is Mark Schalofski's fake news site, HACT. Thanks, "Anita":http://www.anitarowland.com/ !]

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

February 25, 2004

Similar FeedsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Andrew Grumet has built Similar Feeds, a neat demonstration of collaborative intelligence that uses the Share your OPML development interface to reveal which feeds are also popular among readers of a given feed. The handy 'tweak results' feature lets you filter out the most popular feeds in case you're looking for something you might never have seen but that relates to a given feed. Compare the first link above with the results at level 2000. _(via Lilia Efimova: http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2004/02/14.html#a1084)

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

talkr.net: proposal for a distributed identity systemEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Erik Benson proposes to build upon Ludicorp's flickr services to enable - among other things - much-needed comment authentication, single commenter login, and blogs or feeds of a user's comments across participating Movable Type sites.
talkr will be a distributed identity system that ties Movable Type to Flickr's authentication service via an MT plugin, and allows people to comment on talkr-enabled blogs through their Flickr account (see, I wasn't joking). This will allow you to maintain your identity in one place, while also enabling a couple much dreamed-about features such as:

  • Get notified of new comments on posts that you've commented on
  • Watch what your friends are talking about on other sites
  • PGP sign your comments without tons of hassle
This is reminiscent of Drupal's (2+ year-old) distributed authentication system, though I haven't looked into either long enough to make a proper comparison.

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

February 22, 2004

Social Software for ChildrenEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Foe Romeo, who leads identity product development at BBCi, has put the slides for her presentation at ETech online: Social software for children (pdf). I especially liked the slides about kids' motivations for, and concerns about, participation, which change significantly with age. As Liam writes in this comment, "It's refreshing to hear someone talk about social software for kids and put their online safety before tracking their habits to better market products to them."

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February 21, 2004

ELF Social Networking MeetingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Next Wednesday the Emergent Learning Forum will hold an event in Menlo Park on "Social Networking, Relationship Capital and Expertise Management". Speakers from Spoke Software, Tacit Knowledge Systems, and Intel have been invited. (You can attend remotely using a Flash player.)

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February 12, 2004

Two Boyds on YASNSesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

First up is the crib of danah boyd's "Revenge of the User" presentation at the O'Reilly emerging technology conference, which offers a quick rundown of relevant sociological research then dives into an excellent illustrated tour of the issues and traps that await technologists who architect social software. It's lengthy but she doesn't waste space.
Social behavior doesn't have a technological solution. We're all involved with social software because we see needs that technology can solve. Yet, by building the technology, we don't simply address or fail to address those needs; we create new realities. At this point, we need to think in a new way. We need to think about what new realities we formed, what new problems evolved, what new needs happened. Then we need to iterate.
Second is Stowe Boyd's notes on an event bringing together five executives of social networking system companies. Rather hard to summarize - just go read it.

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

February 11, 2004

Capturing a conference using social softwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

A quick link to Lee Bryant who's at the Emerging Technology conference and enumerates some of the social software-powered parallel channels that are being used by participants. Many-to-many indeed.
Various people around me are tapping away on keyboards blogging the event in real time, and like most others I am also monitoring a disjointed and fast-moving chat session on two simultaneous channels, as well as having occasional one-to-one chats via Apple's Rendezvous technology. Oh yes, and then there is SubEthaEdit, which is a tool that allows Rendezvous-enabled people in the room to take collaborative notes. This is perhaps the most practical tool we are using - one person will cover the current points, whilst another backfills the detail of the previous point and others go off and research references and links that get added to the document.
(see also Stephen Downes on online conference discussions, which mostly deals with asynchronous modes of interaction.)

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

February 9, 2004

Richard Tallent: Nextgen SoSo ideasEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Richard Tallent offers an interesting list of desirable features for second-generation social software. I want all that too!
The big three in my opinion: contacts (address book), audiovisual media (music, family photos), and personal writings (blog/wiki/journals/email/work). Why is this? Because social software has to first be the place where I organize my own stuff. If it isn't, then (a) I'll have some other inaccessible silo and (b) I won't have time to organize my stuff just to share it with someone else.

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Do online communities need reporters?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Lee LeFever is thinking about the potential benefits of having a weblog inside (or outside) an online community of non-bloggers.
The combination of a weblog and normal community tools (discussions, member profiles, etc.) makes for an impressive set of resources for the members. The weblog can act as a filter for the various discussions occurring on the site and provide members an easy way to find the most interesting or provocative discussions. Plus, being recognized on the weblog could be a incentive for thoughtful participation. Another way to look at this is making an online community's weblog a public resource, but making the community private. In this way, the weblog pulls members into the community membership based on what they see on the weblog. I guess you could call it weblog-based PR for the community.
This is an interesting idea. For some time I've been thinking that wiki communities might also benefit from having a journalist or two to help others make sense of what's happening globally. An RSS feed of recent changes just isn't meaningful enough. Back when Wikipedia was starting out, I recall founder Larry Sanger used to write weekly reports on what had been going on in the 'pedia and I found that useful. Howard Rheingold's Brainstorms community does have an internal volunteer group-edited newsletter called "the Brainstorms Scoop", which helps locate the interesting recent action in the huge volume of messages that the community produces. In terms of enabling outsiders to be aware of what's going on inside a community and perhaps drawing some of them in, I think a good blogger could do wonders.

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February 5, 2004

Stowe Boyd, Dave Pollard on the evolution of social softwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Arguments in favor of rethinking social software with an eye towards decentralization and interoperability are in the air, though it is far from obvious at this point who will do the hard work of building standards and consensus. Here are two strong recent pieces that touch upon that theme. Boyd, in "The Barriers of Content and Context":
The immensity and complexity of converging and managing relationship content from private and public sources argues strongly for a federated and standardized representation of relationship, a la FOAF. My bet is that social networking services will resist standardization until they see the benefits of converging all sorts of private and public network information, and realize that no one company can create and manage all of it. At this point, in an immature and segmented marketplace, we are unlikely to hear anyone admit that they can't do everything all by themselves, thank you very much. But at the point of market maturation, everyone will climb aboard that bandwagon.
Boyd follows with considerations on the tricky issue of managing one's multiple contexts - a central theme of (lowercase) boyd's research. Pollard insists on the user-centric perspective in "What's Wrong with First-Generation Social Software". He proposes a four-word mantra which I like: Simple, Personal, Decentralized, Just-in-time. He takes care to point out that, for all its faults, the current generation of social software helps us see where the grass has been worn away, making it possible to lay sidewalks with much more confidence that the effort is appropriately directed. (I should point out that all this obviously ties into recent discussions of distributed social software.)

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January 30, 2004

LiveJournal hits 2MEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Mike Percowitz writes:
According to this LJ status post, livejournal has passed 2 million users, half of which are active "in some way". they hit 1 million only 9 months ago (and for most of the intervening time, new memberships were throttled by the invite code/pay requirement). That's a lot of people.
I wouldn't be so quick to equate one journal to one person, but I have to say the number is impressive. (More detailed stats here, and don't miss the evocative chart here) And we're not counting clone sites such as DeadJournal. The page linked in the quote above gives signs of an upcoming unbundling of the "friend-of" relationship in the system:
One of our big goals for February is to split up the overloaded concept of "friends", turning it into separate categories relating to who you read on your friends page, who you trust to read your entries, who you know in real life, etc.
(And speaking of milestones, it's worth noting that the English Wikipedia is steadily inching towards 200,000 articles, double the size it was last year.)

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

January 29, 2004

Eric Gradman: Distributed Social SoftwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

From USC computer science student Eric Gradman comes a paper titled "Distributed Social Software". This is an ambitious, high-level description of how social software should really work in order to scale, preserve consistency, provide flexibility, and prevent fragmentation of the user base. The design could be summarized as "center the architecture on the individual user throughout". While I think it seriously needs fleshing out, the underlying philosophy seems right. I'm not convinced that preventing fragmentation follows directly from the scheme, though, because different open standards compete against one another and there's no guarantee that users will all embrace the same standard. Here's the abstract:
For many years email and usenet news constituted the majority of the Internet's use as a tool to facilitate communication among individuals. The last five years have given rise to a number of novel applications in this domain--which has come to be known as ``social software.'' Notable among these are instant messaging systems, weblogs, and services like Friendster and Tribe which exploit the concept of ``six-degrees of separation.'' These services generally employ centralized client-server architectures. These architectures are failing to adequately scale with the growing user-base. These services do not rely on open protocols; the user-base is fragmented among competing service providers. Users use numerous service providers to get the features they want, but have no easy way to maintain the consistency of their information on each. This paper summarizes the ever changing state-of-the-art in social software, and presents an alternative to this ``service-centric'' view of social software. The novel user-centric distributed social software model outlined in this paper overcomes many of the limitations of the current model by drawing from ideas from the Semantic Web.
I think making things happen in this way might require many more well-coordinated, idealistic developers than are available right now. But one can always hope... Compare: Leonard Lin's "Next-Generation Distributed Social Software Networks: Designs and Applications" presentation.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 25, 2004

YASNS OpportunityEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Guess it had to happen sooner or later... yes my friends(ters), you can now buy a social networking site on eBay. (link via Charles)

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

January 23, 2004

Visualizing Friendship DynamicsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Thomas Thurman has developed Joule, a nice application that tracks "friend-of" relationships over time on LiveJournal and displays a user's friendships over time in either tabular or graph format. Note that LiveJournal features an integrated aggregator; friendship there is roughly equivalent to subscription in the weblog world. JouleScreenshot.png Update, Jan 27: also found LiveJournal Connect, a service that will find a path between you and another user.

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

January 22, 2004

Weblogging Ecosystem Workshop @ WWW2004, New YorkEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

There will be a "Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem: Aggregation, Analysis and Dynamics" at the WWW2004 conference in New York, mid-May.
The "Weblogging Ecosystem" workshop will provide a forum for presentation and discussion of research into the dynamics, sociology, and mining of the blogsphere. Topics of interest to the workshop include: * Mapping and visualization of the blogsphere * Weblog taxonomies: automatic and/or manual construction * Automatic classification of weblog entries * Weblog search engines * Aggregate measures over the blogsphere * Weblog mining and applications * Dynamics of information flow across the blogsphere * Methods for weblog census * Weblog lifecycle * Influence of blogsphere on the information landscape * Alternative blog forms (radioblogs, photoblogs, etc.) * Sociological studies of blogging * Knowledge sharing applications of weblogs A secondary goal of the workshop is to discuss the sharing of weblog datasets for use in research studies.

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January 21, 2004

Link propagation and "discovery credit"Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

William Blaze has a post up on Abstract Dynamics titled Amplification and Stratification, tracing the linkflow in blog space in which he analyzes how a link to Linton Freeman's article, "Visualizing Social Networks" in the Journal of Social Structure, was passed from weblog to weblog until it had reached quite a few eyeballs. He cites it as an example of blog-enabled amplification but points out that some things were lost in the process. As a result, credit to the original publisher of the article, to the source of the link, and to the blogger who originally dug it up didn't propagate widely along with the link itself. (Go read the post.) I agree with Blaze that this is an instance of a general problem, and this connects to recent discussions of fairness in weblogs. For instance, as he points out, within the "political economy of linking" there can be incentives not to point to one's sources. While there's a general norm of bloggers linking to sources, the practice is not universal and few chains of credit go all the way, with the unfortunate consequence that promising sources can remain obscure for longer than they would otherwise. Unlike chains of oral gossip, however, blogs are on the public record, and this is another area where blog crawlers can perhaps help a little bit. For instance, the Technorati page for the link in question enables us to trace it back to William's post (but unfortunately no further). A few questions spring out from this. It is generally accepted that giving credit for creation is important; is it the same for "link discovery credit?" Will (should) the practice of linking to sources of links come to be taken very seriously by bloggers, out of a shared concern to keep things fair and transparent, in a similar manner to standards of citation in academia? Should one link to the immediate source or make an effort to trace links back to the original source? (Is it always clear which is "the" original source?) [Addendum, by Clay: It's worth noting that the Freeman link appeared on many-to-many after I found it on del.icio.us, not on a blog as Blaze surmises. More on this here.]

Comments (17) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 20, 2004

LiveJournal studying itselfEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

In the course of my ongoing foray into LiveJournal (making friends and all :-), I keep discovering journals I really should have known about for a while. This hadn't happened mainly due to the fact that I have so far very rarely come across links into (or backlinks out of) LiveJournal (look up Ross's informal survey from last year on this phenomenon). But it turns out there are social software tinkerers and thinkers in there as well. Exhibit 1 is the recently founded LiveJournal research community, and exhibit 2 is the Sociology of Online Journals community, both of which aggregate posts from a number of individual journal authors and seem to be host to fairly active conversations. I haven't dug deep into them yet, but wanted to highlight the finds.

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

January 14, 2004

Adolescence goes publicEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

The New York Times Magazine has a good article on teenagers who keep online journals. The author observes how the uptake of journaling among teens opens up new windows enabling everyone to peer into the experience of adolescence:
A result of all this self-chronicling is that the private experience of adolescence -- a period traditionally marked by seizures of self-consciousness and personal confessions wrapped in layers and hidden in a sock drawer -- has been made public. Peer into an online journal, and you find the operatic texture of teenage life with its fits of romantic misery, quick-change moods and sardonic inside jokes. Gossip spreads like poison. Diary writers compete for attention, then fret when they get it. And everything parents fear is true. (For one thing, their children view them as stupid and insane, with terrible musical taste.) But the linked journals also form a community, an intriguing, unchecked experiment in silent group therapy -- a hive mind in which everyone commiserates about how it feels to be an outsider, in perfect choral unison.
Rather than forming a single, interconnected network, journals form a multitude of relatively closed worlds:
Blogging is a replication of real life: each pool of blogs is its own ecosystem, with only occasional links to other worlds. As I surfed from site to site, it became apparent that as much as journals can break stereotypes, some patterns are crushingly predictable: the cheerleaders post screen grabs of the Fox TV show ''The O.C.''; kids who identify with ''ghetto'' culture use hip-hop slang; the geeks gush over Japanese anime. And while there are exceptions, many journal writers exhibit a surprising lack of curiosity about the journals of true strangers. They're too busy writing posts to browse.
I wish I could learn more about those journal writers who are indeed curious towards strangers and the role that communities of interest play in satisfying that curiosity.

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

January 11, 2004

Evaluating YASNSesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Christopher Allen has posted a comparison of social networking services based on his experience with each. He points out that those services all present barriers to entry and suggests that the usefulness to cost ratio might not be sufficiently high, at least in his case. A followup post offers a number of worthwhile replies and pointers. And over on Meatball, Christopher has recently begun identifying Wiki design patterns.

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January 8, 2004

Memetics meets GranovetterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Jim Moore:  A theoretical note on why blogs matter. I loved this explanation of how weblogs can prove to be influential on society at large, in spite of a low overall blogger density; this connects with some of my own thinking on information routing in knowledge networks. Let me quote extensively (emphasis mine):

...continue reading.

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December 22, 2003

We-Learning: Social Software and E-LearningEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Part 1 of an overview article by Eva Kaplan-Leiserson on how social software is used for learning. Too short, but high-value links are included. I especially liked the following juxtaposition of theories on why social software is booming. I think all three of the causes mentioned actually reinforce one another's effects.
The sudden popularity of social technologies Boyd attributes to the increase in low-cost tools and the critical mass of millions of people who are now connected to the Internet. Others, the authors of “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know” in Internet journal First Monday, say that because of the swift pace of organizational change, workers are relying less on traditional company structures and more on their own personal social networks. A third theory, described by the founders of online interaction consultancy Headshift, is that people are searching for a feeling of community that’s been lost as many “third places” (not work, not home, but a third place where people congregate and interact) have closed down.
_(via "Stephen Downes":http://downes.ca/)_

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December 10, 2003

Reports on the London eventEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

"Lee Bryant":http://www.headshift.com/archives/000746.cfm and "David Wilcox":http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2003/12/blog_clusters_t.html have reported on last week's "Social Software event in London.":http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2003/11/21/selling_social_software_event_in_london.php Writes Lee:
It went a bit like this:
  • Will Davies provided some theoretical background and indicative examples of the ideas behind Social Software relate to individuals, organisations and markets (Presentation link)
  • I chipped in with a brief survey of what is going on right now and some ideas about how businesses might use these techniques in the future (Presentation link)
  • Louise Ferguson looked back at historical problems with computer-mediated communication and collaboration to remind us that this is all easier said than done. (Presentation link)
Paul Birch, a founder of Ringo.com, which was recently acquired by Emode, shared some of his business building insights for online social networking ventures.
David Wilcox:
The consensus seemed to be that big and expensive IT-driven knowledge management systems weren't working well; the future lay (partly) with more bottom-up systems of blogs and email; and the place to start was with people's motivation (or not) to share; the dynamics of groups, and the culture of organisations. Unfortunately - for the commercially minded - you couldn't make any money out of the software (mostly free or low-cost), though probably lots of consultancy for organisational development folk, if they can get to grips with the DIY tech.

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

December 9, 2003

SoSo-flavored workshops @ CHI2004Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

The CHI2004 conference will feature a few interesting workshops. One of them focuses on Human-Computer-Human Interaction Patterns:
“Patterns” were defined and named by architect Christopher Alexander in 1977. They espouse an approach to design – codified in the patterns --- focusing on interactions between physical forms and personal and social behaviour. At the CHI 2004 workshop, we elicit patterns describing human–computer–human interaction. Areas of interest include collaborative workspaces and intelligent environments, multi-player games, collaborative web-sites, interaction among mobile users, collaborative learning, and peer-to-peer applications. The role of patterns in these areas should focus on users. As with Alexandrian patterns, patterns of interest should shift emphasis from developers to end users and from computer system internals to usage and interaction.
Another has a whuffie ring to it. It is titled "Considering Trust in Ambient Societies", and is organized by my colleague Steve Marsh and others:
The ubiquitous technology explosion, and its natural extension as Ambient Intelligence (AmI), will ensure that technology is embedded into human society in deep and pervasive ways. As a result the parameters of information exchange will be fundamentally changed. There will be very few boundaries.This raises questions about how those boundaries may be created and maintained. How will individuals in the Ambient Society manage their information flows, in and out? How can they know whether to trust the information that is given to them? What freedoms can they give their devices to trust others, and how will they manage that process? It also raises questions of interaction design to allow people to truly understand and control their personal world, and it raises questions about how trust itself works and can work in such a society.
*Update*: danah mentions another one on Online Personals.

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

December 8, 2003

To review, or not to reviewEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Lawrance M. Bernabo (currently Amazon reviewer #2, with 6700+ reviews under his belt) has written a funny poem that encapsulates a lot of the ups and downs that hardcore reviewers go through while working their way towards the top of the Amazon rankings. Excerpt follows.
To review: perchance be voted: Yeah, there's the fun; For in those votes for reviews what ranking may come Whence we may achieve a cute little badge, Must make us crazed: such obsession Surely makes such big time fun of reviewing life; For who would bear the wit and scorns of posts, The counter review, the second page oblivion, The pangs of negative votes, posting delay, The insolence of edits and revisions The steady rise of the unworthy reviewer, When anyone might their ascension make With some extra accounts?

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November 27, 2003

Forums and light bulbsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

How many forum members does it take to change a light bulb?. Gives a sense of why the ability to refactor discussions in wikis is such a relief. (Though it's often a lot of work [link dead - see comments.]) (via Martin Dugage)

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danah boyd in the NYTEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

danah boyd is profiled in today's edition of the New York Times. The article focuses on her work around Friendster, and highlights how, instead of being an outside observer, danah is immersed within the object of her research, which brings advantages and challenges at once. I believe this kind of action research is generally a better approach to take in the area of social software. It's quite difficult to understand what's going on without being a participant yourself.

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November 21, 2003

Selling Social Software Event in LondonEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Selling Social Software: December 3rd in London.
All pivotal internet technologies move from being the preserve of a small, committed, technically literate subculture towards mainstream cultural acceptance and commercial exploitation. With over a million users and rising, blogs are well on their way along this road. But can social software realistically be employed to serve commercial ends - or does it, by its very nature, resist being harnessed in this way?
Speakers include Will Davies, Lee Bryant, and Louise Ferguson.

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November 3, 2003

"It's The Other People, Stupid"Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Christopher Lydon interviews Meetup founder Scott Heiferman (a 5.7 Mb mp3). The part I found the most interesting is around 19 minutes into the interview, when Heiferman explains how abstracting away from any particular issue or topic actually turned out to be beneficial in terms of the impact of his service:
I can tell you what Chris, if I cared too much about politics, we wouldn't have made such an impact on politics. We sort of stay agnostic of what this platform will be used for because if we were that smart, if we were smart enough to know exactly what the right applications of this Meetup are, or were, how it's gonna evolve, then we would have screwed the whole thing up, because it's up to the creativity of the masses to figure it out.
Score one more for stupid social software - software that doesn't presume to know what people will do with it.

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October 21, 2003

Communication Is ContentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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


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

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

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

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

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October 20, 2003

Online mysteries and communitiesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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

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October 17, 2003

SoSo job openingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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

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Online Community SummitEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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

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

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

A nice overview.

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October 16, 2003

Experts and novicesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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

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October 3, 2003

HeadCloud: Telepathy of SortsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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

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

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

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October 1, 2003

A World of Broadcasters?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

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

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

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

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September 25, 2003

Jerry Michalski on YASNSesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Also on Red Herring, Jerry Michalski offers a well-thought-out critique of the current crop of social networking services, many of which "give [him] the willies". Don't miss. [via Marc's Voice]

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September 23, 2003

Patterns and viral rulesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

"The Structure of Pattern Languages", by mathematician/architect Nikos A. Salingaros, offers a quick overview of the pattern idea. There's a neat riff on the interdependence of patterns in the electronic and physical worlds:

On top of the existing path structure governed by Alexandrine patterns (Salingaros, 1998), we need to develop rules for electronic connectivity (Droege, 1997; Graham and Marvin, 1996). To define a coherent, working urban fabric, the pattern language of electronic connections (which is only now being developed) must tie in seamlessly to the language for physical connections. Already, some authors misleadingly declare that the city is made redundant by electronic connectivity. Such opinions ignore new observed patterns, which correlate electronic nodes to physical nodes in the pedestrian urban fabric. The two pattern languages will most likely complement and reinforce each other.

(If you feel like digging further into this connection, be sure to check out Marc Demarest's excellent Cities of Text, which is chock-full of parallels between human settlements and intranets.)

I liked the part towards the end called "Stylistic rules and the replication of viruses", where Salingaros describes how arbitrary rules sometimes drive the widespread adoption of superficial features for no good reason. I see a connection here to Clay's ideas on process as an embedded reaction to prior stupidity. and to Joel Spolsky's "Talent Doesn't Scale" argument. Successful recipes get replicated out of the context in which they were relevant; the outcome is often less than ideal.

[found via the social_software channel]

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September 15, 2003

On K5 et al.'s PullEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Further to the Escape from Kuro5hin post: protagonist Lion Kimbro wrote on MeatBall about his "passage from K5 to Blogs, and Beyond":

I was once a 1 community man. I lived and died by KuroShin. To be sure- I dabbled in other sites. I occasionally pulled my score 5 on Slashdot. But largely, I was a K5 man. This went on for maybe 3 years.

Then one day, something changed. I decided I was curious about the subscription service. You pay a few dollars with paypal, and get a months worth of advanced features.

Wow! What a change! Suddenly, I could subscribe to other peoples' diaries. When I saw someone interesting, I subscribed to their diary, and then I was notified whenever they posted. Why was this so amazing? Because the signal to noise ratio went through the roof! Suddenly, (and it was sudden,) there was a sense of continuity, clarity, and quality, whereas before there was an unconscious noise.

That month quickly expired. Did I renew? No, I did not. Because, amidst the clarity, I learned something from another K5 participant- I learned from Dare Obasanjo that there were things called "Aggregators", that did the same thing as the K5 subscription "watch" feature, for free! But what's more, with the aggregators, you weren't just limited to K5; You could aggregate most anybody's thoughts on the internet.

I tried it. It worked. Not only did it work- it exceeded my imagination.

Not only could I aggregate blog updates, but I could also aggregate wiki changes. That solved the problem of being tied to one wiki at a time!

The stronger the community, the easier it is to remain in its gravitational pull. Kuro5hin is one of those well-designed places that is so full of interesting people that it's tempting to stay there and turn inwards once you've built a bit of social capital. Though there are surely many more interesting people outside K5 than there are inside, few of the active participants link to them. Hence the self-sustaining inward perspective.

Ironically, last year I got a story published on that very site that extolled a particular virtue of online communities. In short, the argument was that the online nature made it much easier for people to belong to several groups at the same time, and that because of that, these spaces would naturally attract innovators and creative people.

What I didn't see at the time was that there existed inexpensive software out there that made it easy to stand on your own, without having to plant your feet inside one particular community or another - and without having to worry about the occlusion caused by the surrounding walls.

That was my last story on K5.

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September 4, 2003

Escape from Kuro5hin?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

This one strikes a chord with me, being a Kuro5hin expat. Here's a discussion among k5 users who have come to see the community as a walled garden and realize how the centralized architecture of the site limits the use they can make of it.
"Right now, we're all constrained by K5 mechanisms and K5 borders. K5 is the AOL of the blogging world."
As I wrote a while ago, "rigidity and tight coupling is going to be a hindrance to the growth of communities like k5 in the long term. Intelligence and freedom need to be at the ends, not at the center." As the tools available to individual users progressively become more widespread, easy to use and powerful, I'm tempted to predict an erosion of community diaries by independent blogs, and wouldn't be surprised to see a similar effect at work between centralized (i.e. Ryze, Friendster) and decentralized (i.e. FOAF) online social networking architectures.

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Wikis are Ugly?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

After seeing what Matt just did, I think this will give hope to the Liz's out there. Interestingly, my first impressions were "But this isn't a wiki! It's not ugly!". The RecentChanges link gives it away. (Thanks Todd for the pointer.) *Update, sept. 5:* Janne points to Integral Business Solutions' corporate website, which is another instance of a decent-looking wiki. (This one is based on the JSPWiki flavour.)


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Social Network Analysis in Corporate SettingsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Martin Roulleaux Dugage anticipates employees' concerns about using social network analysis in a corporation. He writes,
Employees will necessarily feel uneasy, to say the least, about answering questions about who is knowledgeable about this, and who is meeting with whom. – Why would the management want to analyze the social fabric of the company anyway ? Whose business is that ? Is that another trick for downsizing ? etc. I challenge the willingness of employees to participate in systems which coud be used to minimize the impact of their own eventual layoff!
It seems to me that some employees may actually feel easy about becoming "internal reporters" while others may not. Just as politicians want to know when journalists are around, the latter will surely want to know who the former are. Is the first group going to be mandated to wear shirts like these?

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May 24, 2003

Don't blog me, I'm real !Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

I'm currently attending Blogtalk in Vienna. Some 100 people are here, including quite a few livebloggers. Lots of great thoughts bouncing around, both in voice and in cyberspace. I think the level of discussion is very good and the audience is diverse. Not everybody likes being liveblogged, though.

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May 13, 2003

Will social software encourage polarization?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

A good post and a fascinating discussion over on Don Park's blog on the potential adverse effects of social software, starting from his observation of how the Internet affected people in his home country:

Korea is emerging as one of the most advanced Internet nation in the world.  Young Koreans, in particular, live and breath Internet, each belonging to large number of online communities.  One would expect them to be well informed and objective, yet they are not.  Their views are warped and often radical.  While all the world's information is at their fingertip, they consume information subjectively and produce misinformation biased by their views.  Adding highly effective social software to this is frightening to me.

[...] In a sense, social clusters form gravity wells which has its own local physical laws and is difficult to escape from.  Social softwares make it easier to create and grow such clusters.

...continue reading.

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Blogmatcher: kick-ass automated blog matchmakingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Ryo Chijiiwa's BlogMatcher will take a weblog's URL as input, perform a link analysis, and produce an ordered list of weblogs that feature a similar set of links. This is a pretty neat tool for matching people with similar tastes - in my view a very relevant problem, as the expanding blogosphere is full of people who ought to know one another.

Similarly to Google, this service demonstrates the unforeseen benefits that can be derived from many individual people's linking activity. (Read the FAQ if you're curious to know how it works.)

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May 12, 2003

Software for synchronous group communicationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Internet Audio communication for second language learning: a comparative review of six programs.

This review of Windows and Mac software - namely, AOL Instant Messenger (www.aim.com), Yahoo Messenger (messenger.yahoo.com), MSN & Windows Messenger (messenger.msn.com), PalTalk (www.paltalk.com), and iVisit (www.ivisit.com) - should be useful not only to people with an interest in learning new languages, but to anyone who's interested in videophoning or throwing multiparty conferences / happenings / what-have-you over the Net at low cost.

Note that the authors pay particular attention to how well each of these services solves the matchmaking problem - that is, putting people in contact who do not already know one another and might be interested in talking. Mileage does vary across tools. (See Alf Eaton's ridiculously easy thought sharing service for another take on this problem.)

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May 5, 2003

Smarter, Simpler, SocialEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by Seb Paquet

Smarter, Simpler, Social: An introduction to online social software methodology is the title of a recent, lengthy article by Lee Bryant. Bryant collects a wealth of observations on the current shape of the social software landscape and reflects on where things are / ought to be going.

While I feel the article lacks a well-defined structure and spreads itself in too many directions at once, most of those directions - emergent networks, social network analysis, knowledge sharing, and social capital, to name a few - highlight significant aspects of the theme. There's a large and worthwhile set of links throughout the text, as well.

The strongest part is at the end, where Bryant discusses methodology for implementing and deploying social software. The following quote nicely summarizes his position, which I find quite sensible:

Instead of imposing centralised one-size-fits-all software and then using a combination of coercion and marketing to encourage people to use it, we should be building smaller, more modular and adaptable software services around the very people who will use them, and they should be simple to use, ideally transparent to the user.

All in all, a nice fly-through.

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