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November 13, 2007

It's Live! New JCMC on Social Network SitesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

It gives me unquantifiable amounts of joy to announce that the JCMC special theme issue on “Social Network Sites” is now completely birthed. It was a long and intense labor, but all eight newborn articles are doing just fine and the new mommies are as proud as could be. So please, join us in our celebration by heading on over to the Journal for Computer-Mediated Communication and snuggling up to an article or two. The more you love them, the more they’ll prosper!

JCMC Special Theme Issue on “Social Network Sites”
Guest Editors: danah boyd and Nicole Ellison

Please feel free to pass this announcement on to anyone you think might find value from this special issue.

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

November 3, 2007

Race/ethnicity and parent education differences in usage of Facebook and MySpaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In June, I wrote a controversial blog essay about how U.S. teens appeared to be self-dividing by class on MySpace and Facebook during the 2006-2007 school year. This piece got me into loads of trouble for all sorts of reasons, forcing me to respond to some of the most intense critiques.

While what I was observing went beyond what could be quantitatively measured, certain aspects of it could be measured. To my absolute delight, Eszter Hargittai (professor at Northwestern) had collected data to measure certain aspects of the divide that I was trying to articulate. Not surprising (to me at least), what she was seeing lined up completely with what I was seeing on the ground.

Her latest article “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites” (published as a part of Nicole Ellison and my JCMC special issue on social network sites) suggests that Facebook and MySpace usage are divided by race/ethnicity and parent education (two common measures of “class” in the U.S.). Her findings are based on a survey of 1060 first year students at the diverse University of Illinois-Chicago campus during February and March of 2007. For more details on her methodology, see her methods section.

While over 99% of the students had heard of both Facebook and MySpace, 79% use Facebook and 55% use MySpace. The story looks a bit different when you break it down by race/ethnicity and parent education:

While Eszter is not able to measure the other aspects of lifestyle that I was trying to describe that differentiate usage, she is able to show that Facebook and MySpace usage differs by race/ethnicity and parent education. These substitutes for “class” can be contested, but what is important here is that there is genuinely differences in usage patterns, even with consistent familiarity. People are segmenting themselves in networked publics and this links to the ways in which they are segmented in everyday life. Hopefully Eszter’s article helps those who can’t read qualitative data understand that what I was observing is real and measurable.

(We are still waiting for all of the JCMC articles from our special issue to be live on the site. Fore more information on this special issue, please see the Introduction that Nicole and I wrote: Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.)

Discussion: Apophenia

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

August 2, 2007

history of social network sites (a work-in-progress)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

As many of you know, Nicole Ellison and I are guest editing a special issue of JCMC. As a part of this issue, we are writing an introduction that will include a description of social network sites, a brief history of them, a literature review, a description of the works in this issue, and a discussion of future research. We have decided to put a draft of our history section up to solicit feedback from those of you who know this space well. It is a work-in-progress so please bear with us. But if you have suggestions, shout out.

history of social network sites (a work-in-progress)

In particular, we want to know: 1) Are we reporting anything inaccurately? 2) What are we missing?

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

July 26, 2007

responding to critiques of my essay on classEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

One month ago, I put out a blog essay that took on a life of its own. This essay addressed one of America’s most taboo topics: class. Due to personal circumstances, I wasn’t online as things spun further and further out of control and I had neither the time nor the emotional energy to address all of the astounding misinterpretations that I saw as a game of digital telephone took hold. I’ve browsed the hundreds of emails, thousands of blog posts, and thousands of comments across the web. I’m in awe of the amount of time and energy people put into thinking through and critiquing my essay. In the process, I’ve also realized that I was not always so effective at communicating what I wanted to communicate. To clarify some issues, I decided to put together a long response that addresses a variety of different issues.

Responding to Responses to: “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace”

Please let me know if this does or does not clarify the concerns that you’ve raised.

(Comments on Apophenia)

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

June 27, 2007

knowledge access as a public goodEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Over at the Britannica Blog, Michael Gorman (the former president of the American Library Association) wrote a series of posts concerning web2.0. In short, he’s against it and thinks everything to do with web2.0 and Wikipedia is bad bad bad. A handful of us were given access to the posts before they were posted and asked to craft responses. The respondents are scholars and thinkers and writers of all stripes (including my dear friend and fellow M2M blogger Clay Shirky). Because I addressed all of his arguments at once, my piece was held to be released in the final week of the public discussion. And that time is now. So enjoy!

(Comments at Apophenia)

...continue reading.

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

June 24, 2007

viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Over the last six months, i’ve noticed an increasing number of press articles about how high school teens are leaving MySpace for Facebook. That’s only partially true. There is indeed a change taking place, but it’s not a shift so much as a fragmentation. Until recently, American teenagers were flocking to MySpace. The picture is now being blurred. Some teens are flocking to MySpace. And some teens are flocking to Facebook. Which go where gets kinda sticky, because it seems to primarily have to do with socio-economic class.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate this division for months. I have not yet succeeded. So, instead, I decided to write a blog essay addressing what I’m seeing. I suspect that this will be received with criticism, but my hope is that the readers who encounter this essay might be able to help me think through this. In other words, I want feedback on this piece.

Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

What I lay out in this essay is rather disconcerting. Hegemonic American teens (i.e. middle/upper class, college bound teens from upwards mobile or well off families) are all on or switching to Facebook. Marginalized teens, teens from poorer or less educated backgrounds, subculturally-identified teens, and other non-hegemonic teens continue to be drawn to MySpace. A class division has emerged and it is playing out in the aesthetics, the kinds of advertising, and the policy decisions being made.

Please check out this essay and share your thoughts in the comments on Apophenia.

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

May 31, 2007

HBR Interactive Case Study: "We Googled You"Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In my last post, i shared my case study response to the Harvard Business Review Case Study “We Googled You.” Since then, thanks to a kind reader (tx Andy Blanco), i learned that HBR made this case study the First Interactive Case Study. This means that you can read the case (without the respondents’ responses) and submit your own response.

You are still more than welcome to read my response, but i’d be super duper stoked to read your response as well. I found this exercise mentally invigorating and suspect you might as well. HBR wants you to submit your response to them, but i’d also be stoked if you’d be willing to share it with us.

Feel free to add your response to the comments on Apophenia or write your response on your own blog and add a link to the comments. Either way, i’d really love to hear how you would handle this scenario in your own business practices.

(Note: the reason that i use comments on Apophenia is because they notify me… i don’t get notified here and i find it easier to keep the conversation in one place.)

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

May 30, 2007

cribs and commentary, oh my!Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I have recently uploaded a bunch of talk cribs, a new book essay, and a case commentary for your enjoyment.

Harvard Business Review Case Commentary

The Harvard Business Review has a section called “Case Commentary” where they propose a fictional but realistic scenario and invite different prominent folks to respond. I was given the great honor of being invited to respond to a case entitled “We Googled You.”

In Diane Coutu’s hypothetical scenario, Fred is trying to decide whether or not to hire Mimi after one of Fred’s co-workers googles Mimi and finds newspaper clippings about Mimi protesting Chinese policies. [The case study is 2 pages - this is a very brief synopsis.] Given the scenario, we were then asked, “should Fred hire Mimi despite her online history?”

Unfortunately, Harvard Business Review does not make their issues available for free download (although they are available at the library and the case can be purchased for $6) but i acquired permission to publish my commentary online for your enjoyment. It’s a llittle odd taken out of context, but i still figured some folks might enjoy my view on this matter, especially given that the press keep asking me about this exact topic.

“We Googled You: Should Fred hire Mimi despite her online history?”

Cannes Film Festival

At the Cannes Film Festival’s Opening Forum on “Cinema: The Audiences of Tomorrow,” i gave a keynote about youth, DRM, remix, film, MySpace, YouTube, and other such good things. Check out: “Film and the Audience of Tomorrow”

BlogTalks Reloaded

Last fall, i spoke at BlogTalk Reloaded. They’ve turned a bunch of our talks into full papers packaged and published as a book titled: BlogTalks Reloaded. My piece is The Significance of Social Software. I look at the culture surrounding, technology of, and practices embedded in social software.

Personal Democracy Forum

At the Personal Democracy Forum, i argued that politicians should reach out and shake virtual hands with young people rather than just putting up flat profiles on social network sites. Check out the crib: “Digital Handshakes on Virtual Receiving Lines.”

Internet Caucus Panel

The Internet Caucus recently held a panel in DC called “Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization.” David Finkelhor (Director of Crimes Against Children Research Center), Amanda Lenhart (PEW), and Michele Ybarra (President of Internet Solutions for Kids) all presented quantitative data while i batted qualitative cleanup.

panel video and audio | YouTube video | PDF transcript

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

May 8, 2007

social network sites: public, private, or what?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Over at Knowledge Tree is a recent essay i wrote called Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What? For many who follow my blog, the arguments are not new, but i suspect some folks might appreciate the consolidated and not-so-spastic version. At the very least, perhaps you’ll be humored to see my writing splattered with the letter ‘s’ instead of the letter ‘z’ (it’s an Australian e-journal). There’s also an MP3 of me reading the essay for those who fear text (which is very novel since y’all know how much i fear audio/video recordings of me, but i did resist trying to sound funny while pronouncing the letter s instead of the letter z). And here’s a PDF of the essay for those who wishing to kill trees.

In conjunction with this essay, there’s a life chat at 2PM Australian Eastern on 22 May. This translates to 9PM PST on 21 May and midnight New York time (which is where i’ll be so hopefully i won’t be too loopy, or at least no more loopy than i am feeling right now).

Enjoy! (Comments at Apophenia)

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

April 3, 2007

Incantations for MugglesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I love Etech. This year, i had the great opportunity to keynote Etech (albeit at an ungodly hour). The talk i wrote was entirely new and intended for the tech designer/developer audience (warning: the academics will hate it). The talk is called:

“Incantations for Muggles:
The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life”

It’s about how technologists need to pay attention to the magic that everyday people create using the Web2.0 technologies that we in the tech world think are magical. It’s quite a fun talk and i figured that some might enjoy reading it so i just uploaded my crib notes. It is unlikely that i said exactly what i wrote, but the written form should provide a good sense of the points i was trying to make in the talk.

I should give infinite amounts of appreciation to Raph Koster who took unbelievable notes during my presentation, letting me adjust my crib to be more in tune with what i actually said. THANK YOU! I was half tempted to not bother blogging my crib notes given the fantastic-ness of his notes, but i figure that there still might be some out there who would prefer the crib. Enjoy!

(PS: If you remember me saying something that i didn’t put in the crib, let me know and i’ll add it… i’m stunned at how many of you took notes during the talk.)

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

March 18, 2007

Tweet Tweet (some thoughts on Twitter)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

SXSW has come and gone and my phone might never recover. Y’see, last year i received over 500 Dodgeballs. To the best that i can tell, i received something like 3000 Tweets during the few days i was in Austin. My phone was constantly hitting its 100 message cap and i spent more time trying to delete messages than reading them. Still, i think that Twitter and Dodgeball are interesting and i want to take a moment to consider their strengths and weaknesses as applications.

While you can use Dodgeball for a variety of things, it’s primarily a way of announcing presence in a social venue where you’d be willing to interact with other people. Given that i’m a hermit, i primarily use Dodgeball to announce my presence at conference outtings and to sigh in jealousy as people romp around Los Angeles. Dodgeball is culturally linked to place. I’m still pretty peeved with Google over the lack of development of Dodgeball because i still think it would be a brilliant campus-based application where people actually do party-hop on every weekend and want to know if their friends are at the neighboring frat party instead of this one. When it comes to usage at SXSW, Dodgeball is great. I know when 7 of my friends are in one venue and 11 are in another; it helps me decide where to go.

Twitter has taken a different path. It is primarily micro-blogging or group IMing or push away messaging. You write whatever you damn well please and it spams all of the people who agreed to be your friends. The biggest strength AND weakness of Twitter is that it works through your IM client (or Twitterrific) as well as your phone. This means that all of the tech people who spend far too much time bored on their laptops are spamming people at a constant rate. Ah, procrastination devices. If you follow all of your friends on your mobile, you’re in for a hellish (and every expensive) experience. Folks quickly learn to stop following people on their mobile (or, if they don’t, they turn Twitter off altogether). This, unfortunately, kills the mobile value of it, making it far more of a web tool than a mobile tool. Considering how much of a bitch it is to follow/unfollow people, users quickly choose and rarely turn back. Thus, once they stop following someone on their phone, they don’t return just because they are going out with that person that night (unless they run into them and choose to switch it on).

At SXSW, Twitter is fantastic for mobile. Everyone is running around the same town commenting on talks, remarking on venues, bitching about the rain. But dear god did i feel bad for the people who weren’t at SXSW who were getting spammed with that crap. One value of Twitter is that it’s really lightweight and easy. One problem is that this is terrible if your social world is not one giant cluster. While my tech friends who normally attend SXSW moped about how jealous they were upon receiving all of the SXSW messages, my non-tech friends were more of the WTF camp. Without segmentation, i had to choose one audience over the other because there was no way to move seamlessly between the audiences. Of course, groups are much heavier to manage. Still, i think it’s possible and i gave Ev some notes.

I think it’s funny to watch my tech geek friends adopt a social tech. They can’t imagine life without their fingers attached to a keyboard or where they didn’t have all-you-can-eat phone plans. More importantly, the vast majority of their friends are tech geeks too. And their social world is relatively structurally continuous. For most 20/30-somethings, this isn’t so. Work and social are generally separated and there are different friend groups that must be balanced in different ways.

Of course, the population whose social world is most like the tech geeks is the teens. This is why they have no problems with MySpace bulletins (which are quite similar to Twitter in many ways). The biggest challenge with teens is that they do not have all-you-can-eat phone plans. Over and over, the topic of number of text messages in one’s plan comes up. And my favorite pissed off bullying act that teens do involves ganging up to collectively spam someone so that they’ll go over their limit and get into trouble with their parents (phone companies don’t seem to let you block texts from particular numbers and of course you have to pay 10c per text you receive). This is particularly common when a nasty breakup occurs and i was surprised when i found out that switching phone numbers is the only real solution to this. Because most teens are not permanently attached to a computer and because they typically share their computers with other members of the family, Twitterific-like apps wouldn’t really work so well. And Twitter is not a strong enough app to replace IM time.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all teens would actually like Twitter. There are numerous complaints about the lameness of bulletins. People forward surveys just as something to do and others complain that this is a waste of their time. (Of course, then they go on to do it themselves.) Still, bulletin space is like Twitter space. You need to keep posting so that your friends don’t forget you. Or you don’t post at all. Such is the way of Twitter. Certain people i see flowing 5-15 times a day. Others i never hear from (or like once a week).

There’s another issue at play… Like with bulletins, it’s pretty ostentatious to think that your notes are worth pushing to others en masse. It takes a certain kind of personality to think that this kind of spamming is socially appropriate and desirable. Sure, we all love to have a sense of what’s going on, but this is push technology at its most extreme. You’re pushing your views into the attention of others (until they turn it or you off).

The techno-geek users keep telling me that it’s a conversation. Of course, this is also said of blogging. But i don’t think that either are typically conversations. More often, they are individuals standing on their soap boxes who enjoy people responding to them and may wander around to others soap boxes looking for interesting bits of data. By and large, people Twitter to share their experience; only rarely do they expect to receive anything in return. What is returned is typically a kudos or a personal thought or an organizing question. I’d be curious what percentage of Tweets start a genuine back-and-forth dialogue where the parties are on equal ground. It still amazes me that when i respond to someone’s Tweet personally, they often ignore me or respond curtly with an answer to my question. It’s as though the Tweeter wants to be recognized en masse, but doesn’t want to actually start a dialogue with their pronouncements. Of course, this is just my own observation. Maybe there are genuine conversations happening beyond my purview.

Unfortunately, i don’t know how sustainable Twitter is for most people. It’s very easy to burn out on it and once someone does, will they return? It’s also really hard for friend-management. If you add someone, even if you “leave” them, you’ll get Twitteriffic posts from them. This creates a huge disincentive for adding people, even if you welcome them to read your Tweets. Post-SXSW, i’ve seen two things: the most active in Austin are still ridiculously active. The rest have turned it off for all intents and purposes. Personally, i’m trying to see how long i’ll last before i can’t stand the invasion any longer. Given that my non-tech friends can’t really join effectively (for the same reasons as teens - text messaging plan and lack of always-on computerness and hatred of IM interruptions), i don’t think that i can get a good sense of how this would play out beyond the geek crowd. But it sure is entertaining to watch.

PS: I should note that my favorite part of Twitter is that when i wander to a non-functioning page, i get this image:

How can that not make you happy?

(Conversation at Apophenia)

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

March 17, 2007

fame, narcissism and MySpaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

When adults aren’t dismissing MySpace as the land-o-predators, they’re often accusing it of producing narcissistic children. I find it hard to bite my tongue in these situations, but i know that few adults are willing to take the blame for producing narcissistic children. The issue of narcissism and fame is back in public circulation with a vengeance (thanks in part to Britney Spears for having a public meltdown). While the mainstream press is having a field day with blaming celebrities and teens for being narcissistic, more solid research on narcissism is emerging.

For those who are into pop science coverage of academic work, i’d encourage you to start with Jake Halpern’s “Fame Junkies” (tx Anastasia). For simplicity sake, let’s list a few of the key findings that have emerged over the years concerning narcissism.

  • While many personality traits stay stable across time, it appears as though levels of narcissism (as tested by the NPI) decrease as people grow older. In other words, while adolescents are more narcissistic than adults, you were also more narcissistic when you were younger than you are now.
  • The scores of adolescents on the NPI continue to rise. In other words, it appears as though young people today are more narcissistic than older people were when they were younger.
  • There appears to be a correlation between narcissism and self-esteem based education. In other words, all of that school crap about how everyone is good and likable has produced a generation of narcissists.
  • Celebrity does not make people narcissists but narcissistic people seek fame.
  • Reality TV stars score higher on the NPI than other celebrities.

OK… given these different findings (some of which are still up for debate in academic circles), what should we make of teens’ participation on social network sites in relation to narcissism?

My view is that we have trained our children to be narcissistic and that this is having all sorts of terrifying repercussions; to deal with this, we’re blaming the manifestations instead of addressing the root causes and the mythmaking that we do to maintain social hierarchies. Let’s unpack that for a moment.

American individualism (and self-esteem education) have allowed us to uphold a myth of meritocracy. We sell young people the idea that anyone can succeed, anyone can be president. We ignore the fact that working class kids get working class jobs. This, of course, has been exacerbated in recent years. There used to be meaningful working class labor that young people were excited to be a part of. It was primarily masculine labor and it was rewarded through set hierarchies and unions helped maintain that structure. The unions crumpled in the 1980s and by the time the 1987 recession hit, there was a teenage wasteland No longer were young people being socialized into meaningful working class labor; the only path out was the “lottery” (aka becoming a famous rock star, athlete, etc.).

Since the late 80s, the lottery system has become more magnificent and corporatized. While there’s nothing meritocratic about reality TV or the Spice Girls, the myth of meritocracy remains. Over and over, working class kids tell me that they’re a better singer than anyone on American Idol and that this is why they’re going to get to be on the show. This makes me sigh. Do i burst their bubble by explaining that American Idol is another version of Jerry Springer where hegemonic society can mock wannabes? Or does their dream have value?

So, we have a generation growing up being told that they can be anyone, magnifying the level of narcissism. Narcissists seek fame and Hollywood dangles fame like a carrot on a stick. Meanwhile, technology emerges that challenges broadcast’s control over distribution. It just takes a few Internet success stories for fame-seeking narcissists to begin projecting themselves into the web in the hopes of being seen and being validated. While the important baseline of peer-validation still dominates, the hopes of becoming famous are still part of the narrative. Unfortunately, it’s kinda like watching wannabe actors work as waiters in Hollywood. They think that they’ll be found there because one day long ago someone was and so they go to work everyday in a menial service job with a dream.

Perhaps i should rally behind people’s dreams, but i tend to find them quite disturbing. It is these kinds of dreams that uphold the American myths that get us into such trouble. They also uphold hegemony and the powerful feed on their dreams, offering nothing in return. We can talk about reality TV as an amazing opportunity for anyone to act, but realistically, it’s nothing more than Hollywood’s effort to bust the actors’ guild and related unions. Feed on people’s desire for fame, pay them next to nothing and voila profit margin!

Unfortunately, union busting is the least of my worries when it comes to dream parasites. When i was trying to unpack the role of crystal meth in domestic violence, i started realizing that the meth offered a panacea when the fantasy bubble burst. Needless to say, this resulted in a spiral into hell for many once-dreamers. The next step was even more nauseating. When i started seeing how people in rural America recovered from meth, i found one common solution: born-again Christianity. The fervor for fame which was suppressed by meth re-emerged in zealous religiosity. Christianity promised an even less visible salvation: God’s grace. While blind faith is at the root of both fame-seeking and Christianity, Christianity offers a much more viable explanation for failures: God is teaching you a lesson… be patient, worship God, repent, and when you reach heaven you will understand.

While i have little issue with the core tenants of Christianity or religion in general, i am disgusted by the Christian Industrial Complex. In short, i believe that there is nothing Christian about the major institutions behind modern day organized American Christianity. Decades ago, the Salvation Army actively engaged in union-busting in order to maintain the status-quo. Today, the Christian Industrial Complex has risen into power in both politics and corporate life, but their underlying mission is the same: justify poor people’s industrial slavery so that the rich and powerful can become more rich and powerful. Ah, the modernization of the Protestant Ethic.

Let’s pop the stack and return to fame-seeking and massively networked society. Often, you hear Internet people modify Andy Warhol’s famous quote to note that on the Internet, everyone will be famous amongst 15. I find this very curious, because aren’t both time and audience needed to be famous? Is one really famous for 15 minutes? Or amongst 15? Or is it just about the perceived rewards around fame?

Why is it that people want to be famous? When i ask teens about their desire to be famous, it all boils down to one thing: freedom. If you’re famous, you don’t have to work. If you’re famous, you can buy anything you want. If you’re famous, your parents can’t tell you what to do. If you’re famous, you can have interesting friends and go to interesting parties. If you’re famous, you’re free! This is another bubble that i wonder whether or not i should burst. Anyone who has worked with celebrities knows that fame comes with a price and that price is unimaginable to those who don’t have to pay it.

How does this view of fame play into narcissism? If you think you’re all that, you don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it… You think you’re above all of that. When you’re parents are telling you that you have to clean your room and that you’re not allowed out, they’re cramping your style. How can you be anyone you want to be if you can’t even leave the house? Fame appears to be a freedom from all of that.

The question remains… does micro-fame (such as the attention one gets from being very cool on MySpace) feed into the desires of narcissists to get attention? On a certain level, yes. The attention feels good, it feeds the ego. But the thing about micro-celebrities is that they’re not free from attack. One of the reasons that celebrities go batty is that fame feeds into their narcissism, further heightening their sense of self-worth as more and more people tell them that they’re all that. They never see criticism, their narcissism is never called into check. This isn’t true with micro-fame and this is especially not true online when celebrities face their fans (and haters) directly. Net celebrities feel the exhaustion of attention and nagging much quicker than Hollywood celebrities. It’s a lot easier to burn out quicker and before reaching that mass scale of fame. Perhaps this keeps some of the desire for fame in check? Perhaps not. I honestly don’t know.

What i do know is that MySpace provides a platform for people to seek attention. It does not inherently provide attention and this is why even if people wanted 90M viewers to their blog, they’re likely to only get 6. MySpace may help some people feel the rush of attention, but it does not create the desire for attention. The desire for attention runs much deeper and has more to do with how we as a society value people than with what technology we provide them.

I am most certainly worried about the level of narcissism that exists today. I am worried by how we feed our children meritocratic myths and dreams of being anyone just so that current powers can maintain their supremacy at a direct cost to those who are supplying the dreams. I am worried that our “solutions” to the burst bubble are physically, psychologically, and culturally devastating, filled with hate and toxic waste. I am worried that Paris Hilton is a more meaningful role model to most American girls than Mother Theresa ever was. But i am not inherently worried about social network technology or video cameras or magazines. I’m worried by how society leverages different media to perpetuate disturbing ideals and pray on people’s desire for freedom and attention. Eliminating MySpace will not stop the narcissistic crisis that we’re facing; it will simply allow us to play ostrich as we continue to damage our children with unrealistic views of the world.

(Conversation at Apophenia)

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

March 16, 2007

web 1-2-3Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’m often asked what “Web 3.0” will be about. Lately, i have found myself talking about two critical stages of web sociality in order to explain where we’re going. I realized that i never succinctly described this here so i thought i should.

In early networked publics, there were two primary organizing principles for group sociability: interests and activities. People came together on rec.motorcylcles because they shared an interest in motorcycles. People also came together in work groups to discuss activities. Usenet, mailing lists, chatrooms, etc. were organized around these principles.

By and large, these were strangers meeting. Early net adopters were often engaging with people like them who were not geographically proximate. Then the boom hit and everyone got online, often to email with their friends (and consume). With everyone online, the organizing principles of sociality shifted.

As blogging began to take hold, people started arranging themselves around pre-existing friend groups. In this way, the organizing principle was about ego-centric networks. People’s “communities” began being defined by their friends. This model is quite different than group-driven structures where there are defined network boundaries. Ego-centric system are a (mostly) continuous graph. There are certainly clusters, but rarely bounded groups. This is precisely how we get the notion of “6 degrees of separation.” While blogging (and to a lesser degree homepages) were key to this shift, it was really social network sites that took the ball to the endzone. They made the networks visible, allowing people to put themselves at the center of their world. We finally have a world wide WEB of people, not just documents.

When i think about what’s next, i don’t think it’s going more virtual, more removed from everyday life. Actually, i think it’s even more connected to everyday life. We moved from ideas to people. What’s next? Place.

I believe that geographic-dependent context will be the next key shift. GPS, mesh networks, articulated presence, etc. People want to go mobile and they want to use technology to help them engage in the mobile world. Unfortunately, i think we have huge structural barriers in front of us. It’s not that we can’t do this on a technological level, it’s that there are old-skool institutions that want to get in the way. And they want to do it by plugging the market and shaping the law to their advantage. Primarily, i’m talking about carriers. And the handset makers who help keep the carriers alive. Let me explain.

The internet was not made for social communities. It was not made for social network sites. This grew because some creative folks decided to build on the open platform that was made available. Until recently, network neutrality was never a debate in the internet world because it was assumed. Given a connection (and time and literacy), anyone could contribute. Gotta love libertarian idealism.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for the mobile network. There’s never been neutrality and it’s the last thing that the carriers want. They want to control every byte and every application that can be put on the handsets that they adopt (and control through locking). In short, they want to control everything. It’s near impossible to develop networked social applications for mobiles. If it works on one carrier, it’s bound to be ignored by others. Even worse, the carriers have a disincentive to allow you to spread bytes over the network. (I can’t imagine how much those with all-you-can-eat plans detest Twittr.) Culturally, this is the step that’s next. Too bad i think that inane corporate bullshit is going to get in the way.

Of course, while i think that people want to move in this direction, i also think that privacy confusion has only just begun.

(Conversation at Apophenia)

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February 13, 2007

Facebook's little digital giftEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Last week, Facebook unveiled a gifting feature. For $1, you can purchase a gift for the person you most adore. If you choose to make the gift public, you are credited with that gift on the person’s profile under the “gift box” region. If you choose to make the gift private, the gift is still there but there’s no notice concerning who gave it.

Before getting into this, let me take a moment to voice my annual bitterness over Hallmark Holidays, particularly the one that involves an obscene explosion of pink, candy, and flowers.

The gifting feature is fantastically times to align with a holiday built around status: Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is all about pronouncing your relationship to loved ones (and those you obsess over) in the witness of others. Remember those miniature cards in elementary school? Or the carnations in high school? Listening to the radio, you’d think Valentine’s Day was a contest. Who can get the most flowers? The fanciest dinner? This holiday should make most people want to crawl in bed and eat bon-bons while sobbing over sappy movies. But it works. It feeds on people’s desire to be validated and shown as worthy to the people around them, even at the expense of others. It is a holiday built purely on status (under the guise of “love”). You look good when others love you (and the more the merrier).

Of course, Valentine’s Day is not the only hyper-commercialized holiday. The celebration of Christ’s birth is marked by massive shopping. In response, the Festival of Lights has been turned into 8 days of competitive gift giving in American Jewish culture. Acknowledging that people get old in patterns that align with a socially constructed calendar also requires presents. Hell, anything that is seen as a lifestage change requires gifts (marriage, childbirth, graduation, Bat Mitzvah, etc.).

Needless to say, gift giving is perpetuated by a consumer culture that relishes any excuse to incite people to buy. My favorite of this is the “gift certificate” - a piece of paper that says that you couldn’t think of what to give so you assuaged your guilt by giving money to a corporation. You get brainwashed into believing that forcing your loved one to shop at that particular venue is thoughtful, even though the real winner is the corporation since only a fraction of those certificates are ever redeemed. No wonder corporations love gift certificates - they allow them to make bundles and bundles of money, knowing that the receiver will never come back for the goods.

But anyhow… i’ve gone off on a tangent… Gifts. Facebook.

Unlike Fred, i think that gifts make a lot more sense than identity purchases when it comes to micro-payments and social network sites. Sure, buying clothes in virtual systems makes sense, but what’s the value of paying to deck out your profile if the primary purpose of it is to enable communication? I think that for those who actively try to craft a public identity through profiles (celebrities and fame junkies), paying to make a cooler profile makes sense. But most folks are quite content with the crap that they can do for free and i don’t see them paying money to get more fancified backgrounds when they can copy/paste. That said, i think it’s very interesting when you can pay to affect someone else’s profile. I think it’s QQ where you can pay to have a donkey shit on your friend’s page and then they have to pay to clean it up. This prankster “gift” has a lot of value. It becomes a game within the system and it bonds two people together.

In a backchannel conversation, Fred argues with me that digital gifts will have little value because they only make people look good for a very brief period. They do not have the same type of persistence as identity-driven purchases like clothing in WoW. I think that it is precisely this ephemeralness that will make gifts popular. There are times for gift giving (predefined by society). Individuals’ reaction to this is already visible on social network sites comments. People write happy birthday and send glitter for holidays (a.k.a. those animated graphical disasters screaming “happy valentine’s day!”). These expressions are not simply altruistic kindness. By publicly performing the holiday or birthday, the individual doing the expression looks good before hir peers. It also prompts reciprocity so that one’s own profile is then also filled with validating comments. Etc. Etc. (If interested in gifting, you absolutely must read the canon: Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift”.)

Like Fred, i too have an issue with the economic structure of Facebook Gifts, but it’s not because i think that $1 is too expensive. Gifts are part of status play. As such, there are critical elements about gift giving that must be taken into consideration. For example, it’s critical to know who gifted who first. You need to know this because it showcases consideration. Look closely at comments on MySpace and you’ll see that timing matters; there’s no timing on Facebook so you can’t see who gifted who first and who reciprocated. Upon receipt of a gift, one is often required to reciprocate. To handle being second, people up the ante in reciprocating. The second person gives something that is worth more than the first. This requires having the ability to offer more; offering two of something isn’t really the right answer - you want to offer something of more value. All of Facebook’s gifts are $1 so they are all equal. Value, of course, doesn’t have to be about money. Scarcity is quite valuable. If you gift something rare, it’s far more desired than offering a cheesy gift that anyone could get. This is why the handmade gift matters in a culture where you can buy anything.

I don’t think Facebook gifts - in its current incarnation - is sustainable. You can only gift so many kisses and rainbows before it’s meaningless. And what’s the point of paying $1 for them (other than to help the fight against breast cancer)? $1 is nothing if the gift is meaningful, but the 21 gift options will quickly lose meaning. It’s not just about dropping the price down to 20 cents. It’s about recognizing that gifting has variables that must be taken into account.

People want gifts. And they want to give gifts. Comments (or messages on the wall) are a form of gifting and every day, teens and 20-somethings log in hoping that someone left a loving comment. (And all the older folks cling to their Crackberries with the same hope.) It’s very depressing to log in and get no love.

I think that Facebook is right-on for making a gifting-based offering, but i think that to make it work long-term, they need to understand gifting a bit better. It’s about status. It’s about scarcity. It’s about reciprocity and upping the ante. These need to worked into the system and evolving this will make Facebook look good, not like they are backpeddling. This is not about gifting being a one-time rush; it’s about understanding the social structure of gifting.

(See Apophenia for comments)

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February 6, 2007

about those walled gardensEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In the tech circles in which i run, the term “walled gardens” evokes a scrunching of the face if not outright spitting. I shouldn’t be surprised by this because these are the same folks who preach the transparent society as the panacea. But i couldn’t help myself from thinking that this immediate revulsion is obfuscating the issue… so i thought i’d muse a bit on walled gardens.

Walled gardens are inevitably built out of corporate greed - a company wants to lock in your data so that you can’t move between services and leave them in the dust. They make money off of your eyeballs. They make money off of your data. (In return, they often provide you with “free” services.) You put blood, sweat, and tears - or at least a little bit of time - into providing them with valuable data and you can’t get it out when you decide you’ve had enough. If this were the full story, of course walled gardens look foul to the core.

The term “walled garden” implies that there is something beautiful being surrounded by walls. The underlying assumption is that walls are inherently bad. Yet, walls have certain value. For example, i’m very appreciative of walls when i’m having sex. I like to keep my intimate acts intimate and part of that has to do with the construction of barriers that prevent others from accessing me visually and audibly. I’m not so thrilled about tearing down all of the walls in meatspace. Walls are what allow us to construct a notion of “private” and, even more importantly, contextualized publics. Walls help contain the social norms so that you know how to act properly within their confines, whether you’re at a pub or in a classroom.

One of the challenges online is that there really aren’t walls. What walls did exist came tumbling down with the introduction of search. Woosh - one quick query and the walls that separated comp.lang.perl from came crashing down. Before search (a.k.a. Deja), there were pseudo digital walls. Sure, Usenet was public but you had to know where the door was to enter the conversation. Furthermore, you had to care to enter. There are lots of public and commercial places i pass by every day that i don’t bother entering. But, “for the good of all humankind”, search came to pave the roads and Arthur Dent couldn’t stop the digital bulldozer.

We’re living with the complications of no walls online. Determining context is really really hard. Is your boss really addressing you when he puts his pic up on Does your daughter take your presence into consideration when she crafts her MySpace? No doubt it’s public, but it’s not like any public that we’re used to in meatspace.

For a long time, one of the accidental blessings of walled gardens was that they kept out search bots as part of their selfish data retention plan. This meant that there were no traces left behind of people’s participation in walled gardens when they opted out - no caches of previous profiles, no records of a once-embarassing profile. Much to my chagrin, many of the largest social network sites (MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, etc.) have begun welcoming the bots. This makes me wonder… are they really walled gardens any longer? It sounds more like chain linked fences to me. Or maybe a fishbowl with a little plastic castle.

What does it mean when the supposed walled gardens begin allowing external sites to cache their content?

[tangent] And what on earth does it mean that MySpace blocks the Internet Archive in its robots.txt but allows anyone else? It’s like they half-realize that posterity might be problematic for profiles, but fail to realize that caches of the major search engines are just as freaky. Of course, to top it off, their terms say that you may not use scripts on the site - isn’t a bot a script? The terms also say that participating in MySpace does not give them a license to distribute your content outside of MySpace - isn’t a Google cache of your profile exactly that? [end tangent]

Can we really call these sites walled gardens if the walls are see-through? I mean, if a search bot can grab your content for cache, what’s really stopping you from doing so? Most tech folks would say that they are walled gardens because there are no tools to support easy export. Given that thousands of sites have popped up to provide codes for you to turn your MySpace profile into a dizzy display of animated daisies with rainbow hearts fluttering from the top (while inserting phishing scripts), why wouldn’t there be copy/pastable code to let you export/save/transfer your content? Perhaps people don’t actually want to do this. Perhaps the obsessive personal ownership of one’s content is nothing more than a fantasy of the techno-elite (and the businessmen who haven’t yet managed to lock you in to their brainchild). I mean, if you’re producing content into a context, do you really want to transfer it wholesale? I certainly don’t want my MySpace profile displayed on LinkedIn (even if there are no nude photos there).

For all of this rambling, perhaps i should just summarize into three points:
  • If walls have value in meatspace, why are they inherently bad in mediated environments? I would argue that walls provide context and allow us to have some control over the distribution of our expressions. Walls should be appreciated, even if they are near impossible to construct.
  • If robots can run around grabbing the content of supposed walled gardens, are they really walled? It seems to me that the tizzy around walled gardens fails to recognize that those most interested in caching the data (::cough:: Google) can do precisely that. And those most interested does not seem to include the content producers.
  • If the walls come crashing down, what are we actually losing? Walls provide context, context is critical for individuals to properly express themselves in a socially appropriate way. I fear that our loss of walls is resulting in a very confused public space with far more visibility than anyone can actually handle.

Basically, i don’t think that walled gardens are all that bad. I think that they actually provide a certain level of protection for those toiling in the mud. The problem is that i think that we’ve torn down the walls of the supposed walled gardens and replaced them with chain links or glass. Maybe even one-way glass. And i’m not sure that this is such a good thing. ::sigh::

So, what am i missing? What don’t i understand about walled gardens?

(Conversation at Apophenia)

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December 15, 2006

on being virtualEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Lately, i’ve become very irritated by the immersive virtual questions i’ve been getting. In particular, “will Web3.0 be all about immersive virtual worlds?” Clay’s post on Second Life reminded me of how irritated i am by this. I have to admit that i get really annoyed when techno-futurists fetishize Stephenson-esque visions of virtuality. Why is it that every 5 years or so we re-instate this fantasy as the utopian end-all be-all of technology? (Remember VRML? That was fun.)

Maybe i’m wrong, maybe i’ll look back twenty years ago and be embarrassed by my lack of foresight. But honestly, i don’t think we’re going virtual.

There is no doubt that immersive games are on the rise and i don’t think that trend is going to stop. I think that WoW is a strong indicator of one kind of play that will become part of the cultural landscape. But there’s a huge difference between enjoying WoW and wanting to live virtually. There ARE people who want to go virtual and i wouldn’t be surprised if there are many opportunities for sustainable virtual environments. People who feel socially ostracized in meatspace are good candidates for wanting to go virtual. But again, that’s not everyone.

If you look at the rise of social tech amongst young people, it’s not about divorcing the physical to live digitally. MySpace has more to do with offline structures of sociality than it has to do with virtuality. People are modeling their offline social network; the digital is complementing (and complicating) the physical. In an environment where anyone could socialize with anyone, they don’t. They socialize with the people who validate them in meatspace. The mobile is another example of this. People don’t call up anyone in the world (like is fantasized by some wrt Skype); they call up the people that they are closest with. The mobile supports pre-existing social networks, not purely virtual ones.

That’s the big joke about the social media explosion. 1980s and 1990s researchers argued that the Internet would make race, class, gender, etc. extinct. There was a huge assumption that geography and language would no longer matter, that social organization would be based on some higher function. Guess what? When the masses adopted social media, they replicated the same social structures present in the offline world. Hell, take a look at how people from India are organizing themselves by caste on Orkut. Nothing gets erased because it’s all connected to the offline bodies that are heavily regulated on a daily basis.

While social network sites and mobile phones are technology to adults, they are just part of the social infrastructure for teens. Remember what Alan Kay said? “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” These technologies haven’t been adopted as an alternative to meatspace; they’ve been adopted to complement it.

Virtual systems will be part of our lives, but i don’t think immersion is where it’s at. Most people are deeply invested in the physicality of life; this is not going away.

Update: to discuss this post, please join the conversation at apophenia.

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December 5, 2006

Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sitesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

My new paper on friending practices in social network sites is officially live at First Monday. Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites

“Are you my friend? Yes or no?” This question, while fundamentally odd, is a key component of social network sites. Participants must select who on the system they deem to be ‘Friends.’ Their choice is publicly displayed for all to see and becomes the backbone for networked participation. By examining what different participants groups do on social network sites, this paper investigates what Friendship means and how Friendship affects the culture of the sites. I will argue that Friendship helps people write community into being in social network sites. Through these imagined egocentric communities, participants are able to express who they are and locate themselves culturally. In turn, this provides individuals with a contextual frame through which they can properly socialize with other participants. Friending is deeply affected by both social processes and technological affordances. I will argue that the established Friending norms evolved out of a need to resolve the social tensions that emerged due to technological limitations. At the same time, I will argue that Friending supports pre-existing social norms yet because the architecture of social network sites is fundamentally different than the architecture of unmediated social spaces, these sites introduce an environment that is quite unlike that with which we are accustomed.

I very much enjoyed writing this paper and i hope you enjoy reading it!

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November 12, 2006

social network sites: my definitionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I would like to offer my working definition of “social network sites” per confusion over my request for a timeline.

A “social network site” is a category of websites with profiles, semi-persistent public commentary on the profile, and a traversable publicly articulated social network displayed in relation to the profile.

To clarify:

  1. Profile. A profile includes an identifiable handle (either the person’s name or nick), information about that person (e.g. age, sex, location, interests, etc.). Most profiles also include a photograph and information about last login. Profiles have unique URLs that can be visited directly.
  2. Traversable, publicly articulated social network. Participants have the ability to list other profiles as “friends” or “contacts” or some equivalent. This generates a social network graph which may be directed (“attention network” type of social network where friendship does not have to be confirmed) or undirected (where the other person must accept friendship). This articulated social network is displayed on an individual’s profile for all other users to view. Each node contains a link to the profile of the other person so that individuals can traverse the network through friends of friends of friends….
  3. Semi-persistent public comments. Participants can leave comments (or testimonials, guestbook messages, etc.) on others’ profiles for everyone to see. These comments are semi-persistent in that they are not ephemeral but they may disappear over some period of time or upon removal. These comments are typically reverse-chronological in display. Because of these comments, profiles are a combination of an individuals’ self-expression and what others say about that individual.

This definition includes all of the obvious sites that i talk about as social network sites: MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Cyworld, Mixi, Orkut, etc. Some of the obvious players like LinkedIn are barely social network sites because of their efforts to privatize the articulated social network but, given that it’s possible, I count them (just like i count MySpace even when the users turn their profiles private).

There are sites that primarily fit into other categories but contain all of the features of social network sites. This is particularly common with sites that were once a different type of community site but have added new features. BlackPlanet, AsianAvenue, MiGente, QQ, and Xanga all fit into this bucket. I typically include LiveJournal as a social network site but it is sorta an edge-cases because they do not allow you to comment on people’s profiles. They do however allow you to publicly comment on the blog entries. For this reason, Dodgeball is also a problem - there are no comments whatsoever. In many ways, i do not consider Dodgeball a social network site, but i do consider it a mobile social network tool which is why i often lump it into this cluster of things.

Of course, things are getting trickier every day. I’m half-inclined to qualify the definition to say that the profile and articulated social network are the centralizing feature of these sites because there are tons of sites that have profiles and social network site features as a peripheral components of their service but where the primary focus is elsewhere. Examples of this include: YouTube, Flickr, Last.FM, 43Things, Meetup, Vox, Crushspot, etc. (Dating sites are probably the most tricky because they are very profile-centric but the social network is peripheral.) But, on the other hand, most of these sites grew out of this phenomenon. So, for the sake of argument, i leave room to include them but also consider them edge cases.

At the same time, it’s critical to point out what social network sites are most definitely NOT. They are NOT the same as all sites that support social networks or all sites that allow people to engage in social networking. Your mobile phone, your email, your instant message client… these all support the articulation of social networks (addressbooks) but they do not let you publicly display them in relation to a profile for others to traverse. MUDs/MOOs, BBSes, chatrooms, bulletin boards, mailing lists, MMORPGS… these all allow you to meet new people and make friends but they are not social network sites.

This is part of why i get really antsy when people talk about this category as “social networks” or “social networking” or “social networking sites.” I think that this is leading to all sorts of confusion about what is and what is not in the category. These alternative categories are far far far too broad and all too often i hear people talking about everything that allows you to talk to anyone in any way as one of these sites (this is the mistake that DOPA makes for example).

While it’s great to talk about all of these things as part of a broader “social software” or “social media” phenomenon, there are also good reasons to have a label to address a subset of these sites that are permitting very particular practices. This allows academics, politicians, technologists, educators, and others discuss how structural shifts are prompting different kinds of behaviors. (What happens when people publicly articulate their relationships? How do these systems change the rules of virality because the network is visible? Etc.) Because of this, i don’t want the slippage to be too great because people are using terrible terms or because people want their site to fit into the category of what’s currently cool.

Of course, like most categories, there are huge issues around the edges and there’s never a clean way to construct boundaries. (To understand the challenges, read Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.) Just think of the category “game” and try to come up with a comfortable definition and boundary for that. Still, there are things that are most definitely not games. An apple is not a game. Sure, it can be used in a game but it is not inherently a game. Not all sites that allow people to engage in social activity are social network sites and it is ridiculous to try to shove them all there simply because there’s a lot of marketing money to be made (yet i realize that this is often the reason why people do try). For this reason, i really want to stake out “social network sites” as a category that has meaningful properties even if the edges are a little fuzzy. There is still meaningful family resemblance and more central prototypes than others. I really want to focus on making sense of what’s happening with this category by focusing primarily on the prototypes and less on the edge cases.

Anyhow, this is a work in progress but i wanted to write some of this down since i seem to be getting into lots of fights via email about this.

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social network site historyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

When i started tracking social network sites, i didn’t think that i would be studying them. I did a terrible job at keeping a timeline and now, i realize, this is important information to have on hand. I’m currently in the process of trying to go backwards and capture critical dates and i need your help. I know a lot of you have a lot of this information and can probably help me (and thus help everyone else interested in this arena).

I have created a simple pbwiki at (password yasns) where i’m starting to make a timeline. Can you please add what you know to it? Pretty please with a cherry on top? A lot of this information is scattered all over the web and in people’s heads and it’d be great to get it documented in a centralized source. (I know that there is some info on Wikipedia but it’s not complete; as appropriate, i will transfer information back in their format.) Note: i didn’t include citations because i often don’t have them but if you have them, they’d be very very welcome.

Please let others know about this if you think they might have information to add. Thank you kindly for your time.

(PS: i have a new academic paper coming out shortly. Stay tuned.)

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October 10, 2006

comScore misinterprets data: MySpace is *NOT* grayEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Read the ComScore press release. Completely. Read the details. They have found that the unique VISITORS have gotten older. This is not the same thing as USERS. A year ago, most adults hadn’t heard about MySpace. The moral panic has made it such that many US adults have now heard of it. This means that they visit the site. Do they all have accounts? Probably not. Furthermore, MySpace has attracted numerous bands in the last year. If you Google most bands, their MySpace page is either first or second; you can visit these without an account. People of all ages look for bands through search.

Why is Xanga far greater in terms of young people? Most adults haven’t heard of it. It’s not something that comes up high in search for other things. Facebook’s bimodal population pre-public launch shows that more professors/teachers are present than i thought (or maybe companies are more popular than i thought? or maybe comScore’s data is somehow counting teens/college students as 35-54…).

Can someone tell me exactly how comScore measures this? Is it based on the known age of the person using a given computer? Remember that many teens are logging in through their parent’s computer in the living room. Is it based on reported age? I kinda doubt it but the fact that there are more 100+ year olds on MySpace than are living should make people think about reported data. Is it based on phone interviews? How do they collect it? This isn’t really parseable into English.

My problem is that all of these teen sites show a heavy usage amongst 35-54. I cannot for the life of me explain how Xanga is 36% 35-54. There’s just no way. I don’t get how the data is formulated but it seems like an odd pattern across these sites to see a drop in 25-34 and a rise in 35-54. Older folks aren’t suddenly blogging on Xanga. So what gives? My hunch is that comScore’s metrics are consistently counting teens as 35-54 across all sites. My hypothesis is that because comScore is measuring per computer and teens are using their parent’s computer, comScore can’t tell the difference between a teen user and a parent user. If so, maybe all this is telling us is that parents have definitely listened to the warnings over the last year and are now making their teens access these sites through their computer?

Finally, when we talk about data, we also need to separate Visitors from Active Users from Accounts. The number of accounts is not the same as the number of users. The number of visitors is not the same as the number of users.

All this said, there is no doubt that more older people are creating accounts. Parents are told that they should check in on their kids. Police officers, teachers, marketers… they are all logging in to look at the youth. Is that the same as meaningful users? Some yes, some no.

From my qualitative experience, the vast majority of actual users are 14-30 with a skew to the lower end. Furthermore, the majority of the accounts are presenting themselves as 14-30. To confirm the latter (which is easier), i did a random sample of 100 profiles with UIDs over 50M (to address the “last year” phenomenon). What i found was:

  • 26 are under 18
  • 45 are 18-30 (with a skew to the lower)
  • 10 are over 30 but under 70
  • 1 is over 70 (but looks less than 18)
  • 6 are bands
  • 11 are invalid or deleted
  • 1 is complete fake characters (explained in descript)
A few more things of note…
  • 18 have private profiles
  • Of those over 30, only 2 has more than 2 friends (one has 3 friends; one has 5)

This account data hints that the general assumption that approximately 25% of users are minors is correct. Of the remaining, the bulk is under 30. Qualitatively, i’m seeing the most active use from those under 21. Given account practices, i don’t think that i’m off in what i’m seeing.

I do suspect that MySpace is holding strong at being primarily for younger people but that older folks have definitely been checking it out a LOT more. Still, i’m still suspicious of the fact that 35-54 are common across all youth sites. I’d really like to see comScore’s data on something that we can check. Maybe LiveJournal?

(I’d really really really love to be proven wrong on this. If anyone has data that can provide an alternate explanation to the comScore numbers, please let me know!)

Update: Fred Stutzman and i just jockeyed back and forth to find something we could agree on wrt the comScore numbers. Here are some ways of making sense of the data of VISITORS:

  • Xanga is more of a teen-flavored site than MySpace, Facebook or Friendster
  • Facebook is more of a college-flavored site than MySpace, Friendster or Xanga
  • Friendster is more of a 20/30-something flavored site than MySpace, Facebook or Xanga
  • Of users going to these four sites, MySpace does not swing to any one group; it draws people of all ages to visit the site.
  • A greater percentage of adults (most likely parents) visit MySpace than any of the other social sites

This is all fine and well and confirms most intuition. The problem is that what we CANNOT confirm via this data is that more adults visit any of these sites than minors. Again, intuitive but the comScore data seems to indicate that adults visit each of sites more than their key population. This is really visible in their “total internet” users which seems to suggest that the vast majority of visitors to all of these social sites are adults. I cannot find a single person who works for one of these companies that believes this.

I’ve spoked to numerous folks since i posted last nite. Most believe that comScore gets this data by running a program on people’s computers. Young people are supposed to use a separate account than their parents. This data seems to indicate that comScore is wrong in assuming that people will do so. Most minors probably use their parent’s account to check these social sites. So, if we assume that, Xanga is obscenely a teen site, Facebook probably has nearly as many high school users as college users and MySpace swings young but is used by a wider variety of age groups than most social sites.

Finally, it’s all nice and well that Fox Interactive spokespeople confirm this data but i’ve watched over and over as FIM has confirmed or said things that were patently untrue in public. I don’t know if this is because FIM (the parent of MySpace) doesn’t know what’s going on on MySpace or if it’s because they don’t care whether or not they are accurate publicly. I don’t honestly believe that FIM has any clue about the age of its unique visitors. They know the purported age of people who have accounts and it would be patently false to say that 35-54 dominates account holders.

Frankly, i’m uber disappointed with comScore but even more disappointed with all of the press and bloggers who ran with the story that MySpace is gray without really looking at the data. This encourages inaccurate data and affects the entire tech industry as well as policy makers, advertisers, and users. I’m horrified that AP, Slashdot, Wall Street Journal, and numerous respectable bloggers are just reporting this as truth and speaking about it as though this is about users instead of visitors. C’mon now. If we’re going to fetishize quantitative data, let’s at least use a properly critical eye.

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

September 8, 2006

Facebook's "Privacy Trainwreck": Exposure, Invasion, and DramaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Last night, i asked will Facebook learn from its mistake? In the first paragraph, i alluded to a “privacy trainwreck” and then went on to briefly highlight the political actions that were taking place. I never returned to why i labeled it that way and in my coarseness, i failed to properly convey what i meant by this.

When i sat down to explain the significance of the “privacy trainwreck,” a full-length essay came out. Rather than make you read this essay in blog form (or via your RSS reader), i partitioned it off to a printable webpage.

Facebook’s “Privacy Trainwreck”: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama

The key points that i make in this essay are:

  • Privacy is an experience that people have, not a state of data.
  • The ickyness that people feel when they panic about privacy comes from the experience of exposure or invasion.
  • We’ve experienced the exposure hiccup before with Cobot. When are we going to learn?
  • Invasion changes social reality and there is a cognitive cap to being able to handle it.
  • Does invasion potentially result in a weakening of meaningful social ties?
  • Facebook lost its innocence this week.

Please enjoy this essay and forward it on to both technology folks and Facebook participants. I would like to hear feedback!

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

August 7, 2006

number games and social softwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Over the last month, i’ve been driving Mimi’s Hybrid on and off. One of my favorite things about the Hybrid is that it tells you how many MPG you’re averaging over time. I find myself driving around town trying to maximize that number, getting uber excited when it goes up and super sad when it goes down. It reminds me of when i used to try to maximize my miles per hour when going from Boston to New York only this is more environmental. Yet, it’s not the environment that i’m concerning myself with - it’s all about number games in the same way that people obsess over every pound on the scale or the calories in every bite.

Then i was thinking about Tantek and Jason raving about Consumating. I love the fact that it’s a lot of cool geeky people but i can never get over the lameness that i feel when i log in and look at my score. And yet, i can’t be bothered to answer the questions that make me feel all uncomfortable in the hopes that someone will like my answers and rate me higher. It’s a catch-22 for me. Yet, i totally understand why Tantek and Jason and others absolutely love it and why they go back for more.

And then i was thinking about the people on Yahoo! Answers who spend hours every day answering questions to get high ranks. It’s very similar to Consumating only it’s not all embarassing because it’s not really about you - it’s about the answers. There’s no real gain from getting points but still, it’s like a mouse in a cage determined to do well just cuz they can.

This all reminds me of a scene in some movie. I can’t recall what movie it was but it was about how you just want to be the best at something, anything… to have something to point at and say look, i’m #1! The validation, the proof of greatness! Even if that something is problematic attention getting like being the #1 serial killer. (Was it Bowling for Columbine?)

I started wondering about these number games… They’re all over social software - Neopets, friends on social network sites, blog visitors, etc. Who is motivated by what number games? Who is demotivated? Does it make a difference if the number game is about the group vs. the individual, about one’s self directly vs. about some abstract capability?

Are there some number games that work better than others in attracting a broader audience? I’m thinking about Orkut here… if the game is to get as many Brazillians on the site as possible, you only need a few obsessives to be the rallying forces; everyone else is part of the number game simply by signing up. So there are tons competing in the number games but only a few invested.

Does anyone know anything about how these number games work as incentives?

[Also posted at Apophenia]

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

July 18, 2006

from architecture to urban planning: technology development in a networked ageEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Last week, i had drinks with Ian Rogers and Kareem Mayan and we were talking about shifts in the development of technology. Although all of us have made these arguments before in different forms, we hit upon a set of metaphors that i feel the need to highlight.

Complete with references to engineering, technology development was originally seen as a type of formalized production. You design, build and ship products. And then they’re out in the wild, removed from the production cycle until you make Version 2. Of course, it didn’t take long for people to realize that when they shipped flaws, they didn’t need to do a recall. Instead, they could just ship free updates in the form of Version 1.1.

As the world went web-a-rific, companies held onto the ship-final-products mentality in its stodgy archaic form. Until the forever-in-beta hit. I, for one, love the persistent beta. It signals that the system is continuously updating, never fully baked and meant to be organic. This is the way that it should be.

Web development is fundamentally different than packaged software. Because it is the web, there’s no vast distance between producers and consumers. Distribution channels cross space and time (much to the chagrin of most old skool industries). Particularly when it comes to social software, producers can live inside their creations, directly interact with those using the system, and evolve the system alongside the practices that are emerging. In fact, not only can they, they’re stupid to do anything else.

The same revolution has happened in writing. Sure, we still ship books but what does it mean to have the author have direct interaction with the reader like they do in blogging? It’s almost as though someone revived the author from the dead [1]. And maybe turned hir into a kind of peculiar looking Frankenstein who realizes that things aren’t quite right in interpretation-land but can’t make them right no matter what. Regardless, with the author able to directly connect to the reader, one must wonder how the process changes. For example, how is the audience imagined when its presence is persistent?

I’m reminded of a book by Stewart Brand - How Building Learn. In it, Brand talks about how buildings evolve over time based on their use and the aging that takes place. A building is not just the end-result of the designer, but co-constructed by the designer, nature, and the inhabitant over time. When i started thinking about technology as architecture, i realized the significance of that book. We cannot think about technologies as finalized products, but as evolving architectures. This should affect the design process at the getgo, but it also highlights the differences between physical and digital architectures. What would it mean if 92 million people were living in the house simultaneously with different expectations for what colors the walls should be painted? What would it mean if the architect was living inside the house and fighting with the family about the intention of the mantel?

The networked nature of web technologies brings the architect into the living room of the house, but the question still remains: what is the responsibility of a live-in architect? Coming in as an authority on the house does no good - in that way, the architect should still be dead. But should the architect just be a glorified fixer-upper/plumber/electrician? Should the architect support the aging of the house to allow it to become eccentric? Should the architect build new additions for the curious tenants? What should the architect be doing? One might think that the architect should just leave the place alone… but is this how digital sites evolve? Do they just need plumbers and electricians? Perhaps the architect is not just an architect but also an urban planner… It is not just the house that is of concern, but the entire city. How the city evolves depends on a whole variety of forces that are constantly in flux. Negotiating this large-scale system is daunting - the house seems so much more manageable. But 92 million people never lived in a single house together.

[1] Note to Barthes scholars: i’m being snippy here. I realize that the author’s authority should still be contested, that multiple interpretations are still valid, and that the author is still a product of social forces. I also realize that even as i’m writing this blogpost, its reading will be out of my control, but the reality is that i’ll still - as author - get all huffy and puffy and try to be understood. Damnit.

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May 25, 2006

MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (with Henry Jenkins)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Henry Jenkins (Co-Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT) and i were interviewed by Sarah Wright of the MIT News Office about the proposed Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). Although they only used a fraction of our interview in the MIT Tech Talk, we decided to publish the extended version online. We feel as though our response provides valuable information for parents, legislators, journalists and technologists. It summarizes a lot of what both Henry and i have been trying to get across when interviewed by the media.

Discussion: MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act

Please, feel free to share this. You are also welcome to re-publish this interview (or portions of this interview) with proper attribution.

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

May 11, 2006

anti-social networks legislationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Earlier, i spoke about how the MySpace panic was likely to cause legislation proposals. Today, Congressperson Fitzpatrick proposed legislation to amend the Communications Act of 1934 “to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.” This legislation broadly defines social network sites as anything that includes a Profile plus an ability to communicate with strangers. It covers social networking sites, chatrooms, bulletin boards. Obviously, the target is MySpace but most of our industry would be affected. Blogger, Flickr, Odeo, LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace, Facebook, AIM, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Spaces, YouTube, eBaumsworld, Slashdot. It would affect Wikipedia if there wasn’t a special clause for non-commercial sites. Because many news sites (NYTimes, CNN, the Post) allow people to login and create profiles and comment, it might affect them too.

Because it affects both libraries and schools, it will dramatically increase the digital divide. Poor youth only gain access to these sites through libraries and schools. With this ban, poor youth will have no access to the cultural artifacts of their day. Furthermore, because libraries won’t be able to maintain separate 18+ and minor computers, this legislation will affect everyone who uses libraries, including adults.

This legislation is horrifying and culturally damaging. Please, all of you invested in social technologies, do something to make this stop.

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

May 3, 2006

innovating mobile social technologies (damn you helio)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

The next step in social technologies is mobile. Duh. Yet, a set of factors have made innovation in this space near impossible. First, carriers want to control everything. They control what goes on a handset, how much you pay for it and who else you can communicate with. Next, you have hella diverse handsets. Even if you can put an application on a phone, there’s no standard. Developers have to make a bazillion different versions of an app. To make matters worse, installing on a phone sucks and most users don’t want to do it. Plus, to make their lives easier, developers often go for Java apps and web apps which are atrociously slow and painful. All around, it’s a terrible experience for innovators, designers and users.

This headaches have a detrimental effect on the development of mobile social software. Successful social technologies requires cluster effects. Cluster effects require everyone within a particular social cluster to be able to play. If 20% of your friends can’t play because their phone/carrier won’t let them, the end result is often that NO ONE plays. Of course, there’s a tipping point where people buy a new phone or switch carriers, but that tipping point is hefty and right now, it’s for things like SMS not neuvo apps. Switching carriers is even uglier - it requires a huge drop in price.

Being able to get to basic cluster effects is the baseline for a mobile social app to succeed. This alone won’t make it work, but you need that to even begin. There are lots of other limitations, especially when the MoSoApp depends on geography. Take a look at something like Dodgeball. It was utterly brilliant at SXSW because 1) everyone was able to use it; 2) huge clusters were on it; 3) everyone was geographically proximate. There was a curve of use so that a fraction checked in all of the time, most checked in occasionally and a fraction never checked in. But that’s the ideal distribution for cluster effects. Still, because everyone could use it, it was used.

Over and over, i hear about cool technologies that involve multimedia sharing, GPS applications, graphical interfaces, etc. In theory, as research, these are great. Unfortunately, without clusters, you cannot even test the idea to see if it would make sense to a given population. :(

There are only three phones out there with cluster effects right now: Crackberry, Treo and Sidekick. Even still, the killer app for each of these (email or AIM) connects them not to each other but to a broader network because of non-mobile technology. Plus, each of these clusters has issues when it comes to developing for them. Crackberry appeals to the business world who is on leash to their boss. Productivity-centric apps could be helpful to this crowd, but it will not be fun and most of these ideas involve privacy destruction. The Treo is central around the business tech world but most of this population socializes with people who are trying out every new phone on the planet; this group is too finicky and besides, they want everything OPEN. Then there’s the Sidekick - it has penetrated the hearts and minds of urban street youth. Sadly, few designers are really interested in thinking about black urban culture. ::grumble::grumble::

When i heard that the Helio was going to launch with MySpace on board, i got super super excited. Like IM and email, MySpace is a perfect application to bridge web and mobile interactions. Sure, it only would include the communications messages and not really take advantage of the mobile issues with social networks, but it would be a good step, no? The target would inevitably be 16-30, an ideal target for dealing with mobile sociability. I was anxiously awaiting the launch, figuring that if anything could push youth to center around a technology, it would involve MySpace. From MySpace, you could actually start innovating with youth networks, location-based activities, image sharing, etc. Opportunity!

And then they launched. What marketing asshole chose the prices? $85 a month minimum on top of a $275 phone??? Has anyone not noticed that the target youth market is using the free generic phone and a $40 a month plan? You need to lure them away from their T-mobile/Sprint/Verizon plan and entice to come over. You need to do this en masse, with enthusiasm. You cannot do this for $85 a month on top of a $275 phone. ::sigh:: Opportunity lost.

There are two ways to get mobile social applications going:
1) A population needs to have access to a universal interaction platform which (except for SMS and dialing) means being on the same technology;
2) Carriers/handsets need to standardize and open up to development by outsiders.

The latter is the startup fantasy and i don’t see it happening any time soon (stupid carriers). The former is really hard because it means enticing people over away from their contracts. Plus, it means moving against gadget individuality, which is something that people have really bought into. The only way to do that is for it to be super accessible and super cool. This is unfortunately an oxymoron because cool in gadgets equals expensive which means inaccessible. While the trendsetters will all opt-in, you need the followers to come along too for cluster effects to work.

There is a third option: destroy the carriers. The possibility of WiFi phones (following blanketed WiFi) means that you just have to deal with multiple handset makers but, right now at least, they are better about openness. At least then, you’d just have one development roadblock. Unfortunately, this is probably a long way off because the telcos are in bed with legislators who are being extremely slow about universal WiFi and are all about protecting dying industries.

I hate when innovation is jammed up by bad politics and stupid forms of competition. One of the hugest challenges of convergence culture is that traditional competition doesn’t work. We’re not competing for who can create the coolest toothbrush design anymore. We’re now competing for who can build the biggest roadblocks in convergence. Today, innovation means figuring out how to best undermine the roadblocks without getting into legal trouble. Talk about a buzz kill.

So what should be done? Oh carriers, handset makers, innovators, venture capitalists, legal people… Is the goal to innovate or to control? What should be done to push past these roadblocks? (And for all of you in favor of control, remember that there are other markets besides the US/UK/Japan where innovation will occur and laws will not protect.)

Update: I want to clarify some things around youth purchasing. The youth market is 14-28. The 14-21s get their phones from their parents and are on their plans. The 21-28s get their own plans. The 14-21s are stuck with whatever free phone they get unless they can beg and plead for a cooler phone for their birthday. They also get shit plans, although many have been able to convince their parents to support SMS these days. This segment of the youth population is key because they are hyper active and this is when they are setting their norms for phone use these days. The way to get to them is to either make a phone that is so cool that they beg and beg for their birthday (and it fits into their parents’ plan) or to make a package so cheap that they can convince their parents to get them a separate plan because it’s economically viable. The 21-28s have more flexibility but they are still strapped for cash and are quite cautious with their plans, but if they’ve gotten used to SMS they don’t give it up. They are also more likely to take the free phone unless they are the trendsetters (because they now have to pay and begging doesn’t work). The exception to this is actually working class teens who tend to buy their own phone starting at 15/16 - they buy cooler phones but still have shit mobile plans. This is why the Sidekick worked so well in this demographic. (Note: these observations and this post are based on what i’ve seen hanging out in youth culture, not any interactions i’ve had with mobile or tech companies or any formal data i’ve collected for my dissertation. In other words, i may be very wrong.)

Also posted at apophenia

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

March 21, 2006

Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

People keep asking me “What went wrong with Friendster? Why is MySpace any different?” Although i’ve danced around this issue in every talk i’ve given, i guess i’ve never addressed the question directly. So i sat down to do so tonite. I meant to write a short blog post, but a full-length essay came out. Rather than make you read this essay in blog form (or via your RSS reader), i partitioned it off to a printable webpage. If you are building social technologies or online communities, please read this. I think it’s really important to understand the history of these sites, how users engaged with them, how the architects engaged with users, and how design decisions had social consequences. Hopefully, my essay can help with this.

Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?

I do want to highlight a section towards the end because i think that it’s quite problematic that folks aren’t thinking about the repercussions of the moral panic around MySpace.

If MySpace falters in the next 1-2 years, it will be because of this moral panic. Before all of you competitors get motivated to exacerbate the moral panic, think again. If the moral panic succeeds:
  1. Youth will lose (even more) freedom of speech. How far will the curtailment of the First Amendment go?
  2. All users will lose the safety and opportunities of pseudonymity, particularly around political speech and particularly internationally.
  3. Internet companies will be required to confirm the real life identity of all users. At their own cost.
  4. International growth on social communities will be massively curtailed because it is much harder to confirm non-US populations.
  5. Internet companies will lose the protections of common carrier which will have ramifications in all sorts of directions.
  6. Internet companies will see a massive increase in subpoenas and will be forced to turn over data on their users which will in turn destroy the trust relationship between companies and users.
  7. There will be a much greater barrier for new communities to form and for startups to build out new social environments.
  8. International companies will be far better positioned to create new social technologies because they won’t have to abide by American laws even if American citizens use their technology (assuming the servers are hosted outside of the US). Unless, of course, we decide to block sites on a nation-wide basis….

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (3) | Category: social software

March 13, 2006

glocalization talk at EtechEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Last week, i gave a talk at O’Reilly’s Etech on how large-scale digital communities can handle the tensions between global information networks and local interaction and culture. I’ve uploaded the crib for those who are interested in reading the talk: “G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide”.

This talk was written for designers and business folks working in social tech. I talk about the significance of culture and its role in online communities. I go through some of the successful qualities of Craiglist, Flickr and MySpace to lay out a critical practice: design through embedded observation. I then discuss a few issues that are playing out on tech and social levels.

Anyhow, enjoy! And let me know what you think!

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

February 26, 2006

AirTroductionsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I spend too much time in airports and i can’t imagine i’m alone in this crowd. While i often like to get work done, i also like interesting interactions… or at least sane seatmates. Social software should be able to help but there are so many barriers to this. You need to articulate too much and who has time? Still, as broken as they are, i’m interested in exploring the tools that might lead to entertaining interactions or at least to the development of better systems to do so. One of the ones i’m curious about is AirTroductions. Yeah, it kinda has dating overtones to it, but i’m still curious if it’d ever work. At the very least, who else is en route to Etech or SXSW or IASummit when? I have to imagine that lots of folks i know will be passing through the same airports in the next month. Anyone else willing to give it a try just to see?

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

February 21, 2006

the significance of MySpaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

While MySpace has skyrocketed to success beyond any of the other social technologies on the web, too few folks in the industry talk about it, participate in it or otherwise pay attention to it…. mostly because it’s particularly populated by teens, musicians and other folks who are nowhere near connected to the tech industry. Much of what’s discussed is the culture of fear put forward by the mass media. This is quite unfortunate because there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there.

At AAAS this week, i had the opportunity to present the first phase of my findings in a talk called Identity Production in a Networked Culture. If you want insight into what teens are doing on MySpace and why, check it out.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (3) | Category: social software

December 17, 2005

Wikipedia, academia and SeigenthalerEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

For the last couple of weeks, i’ve been watching the Wikipedia bru-ha-ha. As folks probably know, i got really upset a while back when folks were talking about Wikipedia being the essential collection of knowledge, meant to replace school books and other refereed knowledge containers. I still strongly believe that Wikipedia will not be that. But Jimmy Wales reminded me that Wikipedia is meant to be an encyclopedia, not a library replacement. It should be the first source of information, not the last. It should be a site for information exploration, not the definitive source of facts. This convinced me and i developed a great deal of respect for the project and its intentions. Of course, i still get annoyed with Wikipedia obsessives who promote it as the panacea to all knowledge problems.

So, when i heard about Seigenthaler, i rolled my eyes. Welcome to being a public figure - people will say mean things about you on the web. None of it is guaranteed to be true - it’s the web. (Of course, my view probably stems from being a native web kid - no one likes the meannies but we’ve gotten used to it.) Wikipedia is better than most of the web because YOU CAN CHANGE IT. And if you inform them that someone is acting in a malicious way, Wikipedians will actually track it to keep it neutral. Can you even imagine Google doing that for every webpage out there? Ha ha ha ha ha. Try getting an article that is libelous removed from the Google index, like a mean-spirited blog entry. Not going to happen (unless you’re Scientology).

Seigenthaler had a very reasonable conversation with Wikipedia, telling them of the troubles. Wikipedia, in Wikipedia-form, acted immediately to remedy the situation, even volunteering to remove the history. I applauded them. And then Seigenthaler wrote a rather mean-spirited, anti-Wikipedia opinion piece in the USA Today. He went around calling for the end to Wikipedia. Uncool. I was outraged.

What pissed me off more was how the academic community pointed to this case and went “See! See! Wikipedia is terrible! We must protest it and stop it! It’s ruining our schools!” All of a sudden, i found myself defending Wikipedia to academics instead of reminding the pro-Wikipedians of its limitations in academia. I kept pointing out that they wouldn’t let students cite from encyclopedias either. I reminded folks that the answer is not to protest it, but to teach students how to read it and to understand its strengths and limitations. To actually TEACH students to interpret web material. I reminded academics that Wikipedia provides information to people who don’t have access to books and that mostly-good information is far better than none. Most importantly, i reminded academics that the vast majority of articles on Wikipedia are super solid and if they had a problem with them, they could fix them. Academics have a lot of knowledge, but all too often they forget that they are teachers and that there is great value in teaching the masses, not just the small number of students who will help their careers progress. Alas, public education has been devalued and information elitism is rampant in an age where we finally have the tools to make knowledge more accessible. Sad. (And one of the many things that is making me disillusioned with academia these days.) I found myself being the Wikipedia promoter because i found the extreme academic viewpoint to be just as egregious as the extreme Wikipedia viewpoint.

And then, as if i couldn’t be more cranky, i watched Internet Researchers take up the same anti-Wikipedia argument. I was floored. These aren’t just academics, they’re the academics who study the web. The academics who should know better. But they felt as though it was a problem that Wikipedia would allow for a man to be defamed. As the conversation progressed, someone pointed out that Wikipedia’s policies and platform supports Seigenthaler’s concern that “irresponsible vandals [can] write anything they want about anybody.” Much to my complete and utter joy, Jimmy Wales responded with a fantastic structural comparison that i felt should be surfaced from the mailing list and shared to the world at large:

Imagine that we are designing a restaurant. This restuarant will serve steak. Because we are going to be serving steak, we will have steak knives for the customers. Because the customers will have steak knives, they might stab each other. Therefore, we conclude, we need to put each table into separate metal cages, to prevent the possibility of people stabbing each other.

What would such an approach do to our civil society? What does it do to human kindness, benevolence, and a positive sense of community?

When we reject this design for restaurants, and then when, inevitably, someone does get stabbed in a restaurant (it does happen), do we write long editorials to the papers complaining that “The steakhouse is inviting it by not only allowing irresponsible vandals to stab anyone they please, but by also providing the weapons”?

No, instead we acknowledge that the verb “to allow” does not apply in such a situation. A restaurant is not allowing something just because they haven’t taken measures to forcibly prevent it a priori. It is surely against the rules of the restaurant, and of course against the laws of society. Just. Like. Libel. If someone starts doing bad things in a restuarant, they are forcibly kicked out and, if it’s particularly bad, the law can be called. Just. Like. Wikipedia.

I do not accept the spin that Wikipedia “allows anyone to write anything” just because we do not metaphysically prevent it by putting authors in cages.

All too often we blame the technology for problematic human behaviors. We fail to recognize that technology makes them more visible but the human behaviors are rooted in larger issues. In turn, we treat the symptoms rather than the disease. The solution is not to bandaid the problems by taking away or limiting the technologies, but to make the world a better place from the inside out.

I am worried about how academics are treating Wikipedia and i think that it comes from a point of naivety. Wikipedia should never be the sole source for information. It will never have the depth of original sources. It will also always contain bias because society is inherently biased, although its efforts towards neutrality are commendable. These are just realizations we must acknowledge and support. But what it does have is a huge repository of information that is the most accessible for most people. Most of the information is more accurate than found in a typical encyclopedia and yet, we value encyclopedias as a initial point of information gathering. It is also more updated, more inclusive and more in-depth. Plus, it’s searchable and in the hands of everyone with digital access (a much larger population than those with encyclopedias in their homes). It also exists in hundreds of languages and is available to populations who can’t even imagine what a library looks like. Yes, it is open. This means that people can contribute what they do know and that others who know something about that area will try to improve it. Over time, articles with a lot of attention begin to be inclusive and approximating neutral. The more people who contribute, the stronger and more valuable the resource. Boycotting Wikipedia doesn’t make it go away, but it doesn’t make it any better either.

I will be truly sad if academics don’t support the project, don’t contribute knowledge. I will be outraged if academics continue to talk about having Wikipedia eliminated as a tool for information dispersal. Sure, students shouldn’t be citing from Wikipedia instead of the primary texts they were supposed to have read. But Wikipedia is a stunning supplement to most texts and often provides pointers to other relevant material that one didn’t know existed. We should be teaching our students how to interpret the materials they get on the web, not banning them from it. We should be correcting inaccuracies that we find rather than protesting the system. We have the knowledge to be able to do this, but all too often, we’re acting like elitist children. In this way, i believe academics are more likely to lose credibility than Wikipedia.

(also posted on apophenia)

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November 11, 2005

round-up on MySpace and culture of fearEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’ve been thinking a lot about how anti-MySpace propaganda has been rooted in the culture of fear. Given that youth play a critical, but different, role in social software, i suspect that folks might be interested in how MySpace is getting perceived as a scary, scary place.

Growing up in a culture of fear: from Columbine to banning of MySpace looks at how mainstream media is inciting moral panic around youth participation in public spaces. The article is framed around the ban of MySpace in certain schools. MySpace blamed for alienated youth’s threats follows up on this, looking specifically at how Columbine-esque situations are still not being addressed for their core problem: youth alienation. Instead, we’re still blaming the technology.

Comments (53) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

October 24, 2005

Friendster publicationsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Various folks have been asking me about my Friendster publications and i thought i’d do a simple round-up for anyone who is trying to learn about Friendster. Below are directly relevant papers and their abstracts (or a brief excerpt); full citations can be found on my papers page. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

“None of this is Real: Networked Participation in Friendster” by danah boyd - currently in review (email for a copy), ethnographic analysis of Friendster, Fakesters, and digital social play

Excerpt from introduction: Using ethnographic and observational data, this paper analyzes the emergence of Friendster, looking at the structural aspects that affected participation in early adopter populations. How did Friendster become a topic of conversation amongst disparate communities? What form does participation take and how does it evolve as people join? How do people negotiate awkward social situations and collapsed social contexts? What is the role of play in the development of norms? How do people recalibrate social structure? By incorporating social networks in a community site, Friendster introduces a mechanism for juxtaposing global and proximate social contexts. It is this juxtaposition that is at the root of many new forms of social software, from social bookmarking services like to photo sharing services like Flickr. Capturing proximate social contexts and pre-existing social networks are core to the development of these new technologies. Friendster is not an answer to the network question, but an experiment in capture and exposure of proximate relations in a global Internet environment. While Friendster is not nearly now as popular as in its heyday, the lessons learned through people’s exploration of it are increasingly critical to the development of new social technologies. As a case study, this paper seeks to reveal those lessons in a manner useful to future development.

Profiles as Conversation: Networked Identity Performance on Friendster by danah boyd and Jeffrey Heer - 2006 HICSS paper on how Friendster Profiles become sites of conversation

Abstract: Profiles have become a common mechanism for presenting one’s identity online. With the popularity of online social networking services such as, Profiles have been extended to include explicitly social information such as articulated “Friend” relationships and Testimonials. With such Profiles, users do not just depict themselves, but help shape the representation of others on the system. In this paper, we will discuss how the performance of social identity and relationships shifted the Profile from being a static representation of self to a communicative body in conversation with the other represented bodies. We draw on data gathered through ethnography and reaffirmed through data collection and visualization to analyze the communicative aspects of Profiles within the Friendster service. We focus on the role of Profiles in context creation and interpretation, negotiating unknown audiences, and initiating conversations. Additionally, we explore the shift from conversation to static representation, as active Profiles fossilize into recorded traces.

Vizster: Visualizing Online Social Networks by Jeffrey Heer and danah boyd - a 2005 InfoVis paper about visualizing Friendster data (including arguments about using visualization in ethnography and recognizing the value of play in visualization)

Recent years have witnessed the dramatic popularity of online social networking services, in which millions of members publicly articulate mutual “friendship” relations. Guided by ethnographic research of these online communities, we have designed and implemented a visualization system for playful end-user exploration and navigation of large-scale online social networks. Our design builds upon familiar node-link network layouts to contribute techniques for exploring connectivity in large graph structures, supporting visual search and analysis, and automatically identifying and visualizing community structures. Both public installation and controlled studies of the system provide evidence of the system’s usability, capacity for facilidiscovery, and potential for fun and engaged social activity.

Public Displays of Connection by Judith Donath and danah boyd - a 2004 BT Journal article on how people publicly perform their social relations

Abstract: Participants in social network sites create self-descriptive profiles that include their links to other members, creating a visible network of connections — the ostensible purpose of these sites is to use this network to make friends, dates, and business connections. In this paper we explore the social implications of the public display of one’s social network. Why do people display their social connections in everyday life, and why do they do so in these networking sites? What do people learn about another’s identity through the signal of network display? How does this display facilitate connections, and how does it change the costs and benefits of making and brokering such connections compared to traditional means? The paper includes several design recommendations for future networking sites.

Friendster and Publicly Articulated Social Networks by danah boyd - a 2004 short CHI paper staking out what Friendster is.

Abstract: This paper presents ethnographic fieldwork on Friendster, an online dating site utilizing social networks to encourage friend-of-friend connections. I discuss how Friendster applies social theory, how users react to the site, and the tensions that emerge between creator and users when the latter fails to conform to the expectations of the former. By offering this ethnographic piece as an example, I suggest how the HCI community should consider the co-evolution of the social community and the underlying technology.

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

October 13, 2005

Web 2.0 and Many-To-ManyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

So, when this blog started, it was intended to capture various aspects of social software. The hype has kinda gotten taken over by Web2.0. But what is the relationship between Web2.0 and social software? And what about Many-To-Many?

Over on my personal blog, i’ve written two long posts on Web2.0 that i think are pretty interesting for those invested in social software:

It’s pretty clear that social software has become essential to Web2.0 - social networks, communication, identity production, etc. But how do we discuss social software as something separate from all that? Have we gotten to the point where that concept has escaped us? I look at my co-bloggers here and we’re all still doing our thing but yet, are we all still talking about social software? We’re certainly doing a terrible job at blogging, or at least here. There’s something funny about group blogging around a topic. What about when things change?

The thing about a personal blog is that it changes with you because you don’t feel so compelled to stick with a topic (much to the chagrin of some readers). I know it sounds like a broken record, but i’m still always at a loss over when to cross-post to M2M. Consider this pair of recent posts:

These are certainly at the center of Web2.0 and at the center of culture and sociability. But is it about social software? Quite a few folks have asked me to repost these here, but i think it’s weird that i don’t think of it as the core to social software.

Herein lies the problem with all of this… Our lives have started to escape categories. And topical blogs are categories. Hmmm…

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (2) | Category: social software

September 6, 2005

web2.0 and glocalizationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I just wrote a rather lengthy essay on glocalization and Web2.0 that discusses the socio-technical aspects of Web2.0. Most M2M readers are interested in social software; this essay is important if you are interested in understanding how social software is being taken to the next level, building a broader paradigm. I argue that the key to Web2.0 is not technology but a process of designing with glocalization in mind.

Because of its length, i have not copied it to M2M.

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

September 5, 2005

Emerging Tech Call for ProposalsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Each year, O’Reilly hosts the Emerging Technology Conference where geeks gather to discuss the latest innovations in technology. Although a lot of folks don’t realize it, they have an open call for proposals where people can suggest talks and topics that will provide new insights for the tech geek community.

Conferences are typically word-of-mouth events where people attend because their friends are attending. I would really like to attend E-Tech this year but i really want to be blown away by talks and topics that are not part of the echo chamber. Thus, i have a request for you dear reader. Think about the people that you know and the people that they know. In the comments, suggest people and/or topics that you don’t think will be addressed at E-Tech, things that i don’t know about. Bonus points for the inclusion of innovations that are occurring outside of the US/UK. Also, pass on the CFP to people who you think might not know about it. Please help expand the diversity of this conference by including diverse topics and people. And please, if you’re working on something that fits into emerging technologies, consider submitting a proposal, especially if your voice is not typically heard at the various O’Reilly conferences. The broader the network of people, the more enjoyable the conference.

Proposals are due September 19!

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

August 24, 2005

apophenia round-up: posts that slipped throughEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’ve been doing a terrible job at posting to M2M because i’m never quite sure what fraction of my posts belong here and what tone is appropriate. I’ve been actively posting to my personal blog apophenia and looking back, i realize that some of what i’ve written this month might be interesting to M2M readers. So here’s a listing round-up:

If you, dear reader, have an opinion on what you think is appropriate for M2M, i’d love to hear it in the comments because i’m definitely struggling with it. My personal blog gives me freedom to post whatever, but i don’t want to abandon M2M since i know many of you appreciate what we post here.

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

August 8, 2005

the biases of linksEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I have a hard time respecting anyone who believes that science or technology is neutral. Unfortunately, even when people consciously know that they are not, they give credence to the biased outputs without questioning the underlying assumptions. This is why i’m an academic - nothing gives me greater joy than to think about what biases go into the creation of a particular system.

After reminding folks at Blogher that there are gender differences in networking habits, i decided to do some investigation into the network structures of blogs. Kevin Marks of Technorati kindly gave me a random sample of 500 blogs to play with. I began coding them based on gender (which is surprisingly easy to do given the amount of personal information people put about themselves) and looking for patterns in links and blogrolls.

I decided to do the same for non-group blogs in the Technorati Top 100. I hadn’t looked at the Top 100 in a while and was floored to realize that most of those blogs are group blogs and/or professional blogs (with “editors” and clear financial backing). Most are covered in advertisements and other things meant to make them money. It’s very clear that their creators have worked hard to reach many eyes (for fame, power or money?).

Here are some of the patterns that i saw*:

...continue reading.

Comments (29) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

July 23, 2005

social networks and drug networksEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Rule #1 for studying social culture: pay attention to the sex and drugs.

When it was reported that Orkut is being used as a drug networking tool in Brazil, my immediate response was duh.

I have interviewed subjects who distributed cocaine in Baltimore via Friendster. (To my knowledge, they were never caught which makes it different than the situation with Orkut.) Other subjects have told me ways to find drugs on and MySpace. Obviously, i am not willing to disclose how or who. But this is definitely not unique to Orkut nor to social networking in general. For example, in college, people used to buy drugs on eBay.

Give people the ability to distribute information and they will distribute drugs. Tis just as obvious as if you give people access to attractive people, they will date. So, i find it very entertaining that people get up in arms about this.

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

July 18, 2005

MySpace -> News Corp.Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’ve been waiting for a mega-media company to buy MySpace and sure enough, it happened. News Corp bought Intermix Media (the half-parent of MySpace). Unlike the other YASNS, the value of MySpace comes from the data on media trends that is the core of what people share on that service. You have millions of American youth identifying with media and expressing their cultural values on the site. Marketers who want to understand the constantly shifting youth trends are often looking for a perch from which to be the ideal voyeur. And with MySpace, they found it. Here, youth are sharing media left right and center and forgetting that they are doing so under the watchful eye of Big Media who are certain to use this to manipulate them. Because youth believe that MySpace is a social tool for them, they are not conscious of how much data they’re giving to marketers about their habits.

Really, it’s a brilliant move for News Corp. (assuming they can stay out of the courts and that the RIAA is nice to them). I’m just not so certain how good it is for youth culture.

Comments (23) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

May 27, 2005

podcasting: connecting directly via naming and practiceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

So, when podcasting first emerged and people told me that it was the answer to blogging, i rolled my eyes. I have zero interest in listening to random blogs. While i’m happy to scan across large quantities of text, there’s no way that i have any desire to listen to blogs or produce a podcast. None.

From the beginning, i said that i would like podcasting when NPR was podcasting, when electronic music was podcast and when it was otherwise adopted by people who know how to turn voice into an art. In theory, amateurism is interesting to me; in reality, i don’t want to listen to it.

This morning, i woke up to the word podcast coming out of NPR every few seconds. ABC is podcasting. Wow… i’m impressed. Podcasting is not that old but it has already reached mainstream news. But this actually make sense. They already produce large quantities of media ready-to-go for mobile listening. Why not just deploy it in a new way? This makes complete sense. They are doing their own TiVo for radio (and for TV). The practice is already there. While audio-bloggers have to develop a new practice, radio and TV folks have this medium down. Podcasting does what i’ve wanted Audible to do wrt radio for a while. And it is simpler and quicker.

Second, think about the value of the term “podcast.” What was the number one device sold at Christmas? iPod. The term “pod” is hip, cool and yet mainstream as hell.

I’m super super stoked that the mainstream media has taken this and ran with it - this is impressively fast adoption. There’s only one problem… how are they going to feel when we forward through the ads and NPR’s annoying requests for money? Are we going to see the same TiVo fights on podcasting? Are deals going to be made such that podcasting is limited to just the mainstream folks or iPods are created to not allow forwarding? Goddess, i hope not. As much as i have no interest in listening to any audio-blogs, by all means, let those who do relish in it.

What are the costs of mainstream adoption during the early adopter phase? What does it mean when it fits so well with a practice and yet, allows for a different form of it?

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

May 8, 2005

The Significance of "Social Software"Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’ve been meaning to write a paper on “The Significance of ‘Social Software’” for some time, but… In the meantime, i’ve written an abstract for public criticism.

In 2002, Clay Shirky (re)claimed the term “social software” to encompass “all uses of software that supported interacting groups, even if the interaction was offline, e.g. Meetup, nTag, etc.” (Allen). His choice was intentional, because he felt older terms such as “groupware” were either polluted or a bad fit to address certain new technologies. Shirky crafted the term while organizing an event - the “Social Software Summit” - intended to gather like minds to talk about this kind of technology.

Although Shirky’s definition can encompass a wide array of technologies, those invited to the Summit were invested in the development of new genres of social technologies. In many ways, the term took on the scope of that community, referring only to the kinds of technologies emerging from the Summit attendees, their friends and their identified community.

The term proliferated within this community and spread on all fronts where this community regularly exercises its voice, most notably the blogosphere and various events, including the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference (Etcon). These gatherings, most notably the social software track at Etcon serve to reinforce the notion that social software primarily refers to a particular set of new technologies, often through the exclusion of research on older technologies.

Although social software events include only limited technologies, people continue to define the term broadly. Shirky often uses the succinct “stuff worth spamming” (Shirky, 10/6/2004) while Tom Coates notes that “Social Software can be loosely defined as software which supports, extends, or derives added value from, human social behaviour - message-boards, musical taste-sharing, photo-sharing, instant messaging, mailing lists, social networking” (Coates, 1/5/05).

Given the emergence of blogging over the last few years and the large audiences of many involved in the community of social software, this term and its definitional efforts have spread widely, much to the dismay - if not outrage - of some. The primary argument is that social software is simply a hyped term used by the blogosphere in order to make a phenomenon out of something that always was; there are no technological advances in social software - it’s just another term that encompasses “groupware,” “computer-mediated communication,” “social computing” and “sociable media.” Embedded in this complaint is an argument that social software is simply a political move to separate the technologists from the researchers and the elevate one set of practices over another. Shirky’s term is undoubtedly political in that it rejects other terms and, in doing so, implicitly rejects the researchers as irrelevant.

While the term social software may be contested, it is undeniable that this community has created a resurgence of interest in a particular set of sociable technologies inciting everyone from the media to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists to academics to pay attention. What is questionable, and often the source of dismissal from researchers, is whether or not the social software community has contributed any innovations or intellectual progress.

...continue reading.

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

April 1, 2005

techno-ethics (what is "evil"?)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

We can all come up with ways to justify even our worst behavior. This is why i’m always a bit wary of “don’t be evil”-esque mantras. Evil on what terms?

When i heard about Wordpress’ questionable practices, i couldn’t help but sigh. I totally agree with Waxy’s request that we not engage in angry mob justice. That said, i’m very concerned that folks are justifying, defending or explaining Matt’s decision (ex: 1 2). He is a nice guy - i totally agree. And perhaps we should all be very defensive of nice guys who are friends or friend-of-friends. But he did fuck up. And he did use our collective social capital for his personal gains.

I don’t want to talk about should’ves but i want to talk about what ethics we are promoting and what happens when we drag companies/enemies through the coals for similar behavior….

...continue reading.

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

Sixfoo! 660Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Sixfoo! 660: “Finally, a way for social networks to stay connnected to other social networks, and meet interesting social networks like yourself.”

Look at their sample page; they mock many of the main social networks out there with fabulous photos and descriptions based on stereotypes (LJ=goths, Orkut=Brazilians, etc.). ::giggle::

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

March 24, 2005

initial impression of Yahoo 360Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Today, Yahoo invited a handful of “influencers” to have early access to their new product 360 degrees. Apparently, i’m one of them so i got to sit around a table at Yahoo, learn about the product and speak my mind. I have to say that i’m impressed that Yahoo folks wanted to hear all of our crankiness head-on rather than waiting for it to appear in our random ramblings online. Even better: they didn’t make us sign any NDAs so we can blog all we want. I lurve that.

So, the tool comes out in like a week. I don’t know how final the version that we saw today is, but i thought i’d offer some impressions based on what i saw since i know folks out there are curious.

360 will be invite-only but they are not seeding through employees, rather, they are seeding through active Yahoo users. This is actually very important because frankly, 360 isn’t meant for people like me (or like you). It’s meant for your average not-technically inclined individual who is scared of blogging but wants to share their thoughts, photos, and recommendations with their friends. Thus, before we all get into a blogizzy, it’s important to remember the target.

The feature set that i saw included integrated YIM, a blogging tool, a recommendations engine (linked to local), photos (linked to Y photos, not Flickr) and a social network. It’s all very integrated and emphasizes Yahoo products (although they were talking about connecting it with other products and they are doing some RSS stuff). Throughout all of this are heavy controls for privacy/publication, although it is all strict categorization schemes where you can make things available to groups (think: LJ).

Of course, it has all of the social problems of bi-directional, articulated social networks (nothing solved there). And the controls are really overwhelming. In fact, a lot of the product is overwhelming for the not-technically-savvy and i think that this will be their major problem unless they figure out how to slowly expose things (one of our strongest recommendations). For the techgeek, it will feel like they didn’t go far enough, didn’t have enough features, etc. That’s actually a lot easier to solve than the overwhelming problem and i expect they’ll build new features soon so i think that the techgeeks should wait. But i’m really worried about the novice user because it has many of the problems of blogging, privacy and social networks rolled into one big problem. Plus, you really need to be heavily integrated into the Yahoo network for it to really make sense.

Frankly, i think that they should take the word “blog” out of the picture entirely. While the service allows you to share your materials with layered groups of friends, the term ‘blog’ is intimidating to the mainstream who see it as publishing or otherwise uber-public. Since Yahoo isn’t requiring uber-public, i think that they should get rid of the term. We’ll see what happens.

I also think that it makes much much more sense connected with photosharing and i really wish that they would wait on this product until Flickr is connected with them - there’s going to be so much overlap and confusion :( Plus, while there are huge problems with Flickr’s system of privacy management, there’s a lot that they have going for them interface wise. For example, you don’t have to click stupid edit buttons - you can edit while consuming. This is soooo cool. I wish more folks would have fun with javascript.

Anyhow, my general impression is that i’m wary, but i don’t think that this is for me and i think it will be nice for the heavily integrated Yahoo user.

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

March 20, 2005

flickr -> yahooEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Although probably the worst kept secret in social software’s history, Flickr finally announces that Yahoo! will be acquiring them.

If done right, this can be quite beneficial for everyone, especially if, as reported, Yahoo! doesn’t try to swallow it and turn it into Yahoo! photos. Yahoo! has the resources to deal with backend stability which would allow Flickr to focus on iterating based on its users - a skill that i’m very in awe of wrt Flickr.

On a completely selfish note, it is my hope that the gang will finally move to San Francisco where they belong.

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

March 17, 2005

why sxsw? part 2Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I also attended SXSW and not Etech and i wrote an extensive post about why and what needs to be done.

In short, i believe that you can’t acquire diversity at SXSW or Etech simply through a CFP. These are networking events where there’s a large body of people who are working in those spaces that don’t even know about it, let alone attend. People come to it because they heard about it from their friends the previous years. Social networks are homophilous which means that the less diverse an event is, the less diverse it will continue to be over time. And to counter that, you can’t expect marginalized populations to suddenly appear because you ask them to apply - you have to be active to shift the downgrade in diversity. Read my full post to hear out the logic in various arguments. Blind review is not the answer - the problem is far more systemic.

People want answers. Here are some.
  1. Diverse committee (along multiple axes).
  2. Diverse advisory board that will help you brainstorm who to invite.
  3. Active recruitment of diverse populations working in the field.
  4. Identity-driven BOFs or panels if appropriate.
  5. Bring diverse voices to the smaller events too - integrate them into the community because they’re not represented at all levels of the social network.

Please note: i love the members of the Etech committee - some of them are my friends. This is not a problem with them nor should it be read as an attack. It is a systemic problem that affects all of us; perhaps many of you reading this are dealing with it in your own domain. The reason that Liz and i are not being quiet is that we believe that change should happen and we believe that folks like the Etech committee are allies and will work with us to make change if we make it clear that it’s a problem and that there are ways to fix it.

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

March 9, 2005

trying to get my map (a response to Clay)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’m not sure i fully get the map-based model that Clay is espousing, but i can buy that we view the world from a different point of view. It’s also no accident that i claim my primary identity as an academic and Clay, while at an academic institution, does not. Perhaps it’ll help if i try to clarify some of my model and situate it in Clay’s mapping.

Part of how my model works, and i think that this fits into Clay’s Cartesian map, is that i don’t care if a new artifact is better than an old artifact. In other words, i have no interest in comparing Wikipedia to the encyclopedia. Grr to them both - they don’t solve the underlying problems that bother me. It’s like telling me that PPOs are better than HMOs when i want a health care system that universally helps people. I also can’t even fathom factoring out anything that is still bad from Point A to Point B, particularly when they are the most salient features of the problem. To me, framing it in the world of encyclopedias is about doing horizontal moves. And i definitely get frustrated when people get so excited about horizontal moves because they stop putting energy into moving vertically, into truly solving the underlying problems that are salient.

But Clay’s right - i like research and i’m interested in solving big problems even if it takes a while. I don’t like doing incrementalism because it takes so much cultural and cognitive energy to make any shift that i’d rather see people not expend the energy for each new little advancement - we all got sick of joining the next social networking service. Now that we’ve burnt out on horizontal, there’s very little energy to actually solve the vertical problems.

Of course, unlike other pure academics, i do actually have an appreciation for the tools that emerge out of incremental change or that are pretty darn flawed. I do appreciate Wikipedia. I do appreciate the social networking services. I do appreciate blogging. I mostly appreciate them for the cultural shifts that happen though, not for the technology itself. Many of my colleagues are stuck on the fact that there’s no radical technology shift. That said, i refuse to believe that it’s THE solution to anything and i don’t want energy to be lost congratulating each other when there are still big problems to solve - technologically and socially.

My love of cultural change first and foremost is what makes me appreciate social software at a core level. And one of the reasons that i only have so much patience for research is that i want to see things deployed and creating shifts. But, i always want to take it a step further, i always want to go deeper. I want to see huge waves of social change and then take a step back and make another huge wave, not a bazillion duplicates that burn everyone out to make a buck or follow a trend. Boring. So the canonical tools, the ones that make the first wave of huge change - these are the things i follow. To understand the wave.

Oh, given that others have assumed that Clay and i are vicious enemies, i would like to affirm my admiration and love for him as well. We bicker because we love each other to bits and we’re both invested in knowledge even when we think the other nutso.

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

March 6, 2005

situating WikipediaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I continue to get painted as anti-Wikipedia which couldn’t be further from the truth. I want to clarify a few things and i think that the latest BoingBoing entry on Wikipedia helps.

It is presumed that the data contained in a dictionary is ‘true’ but scholars have pointed out that there are ‘inaccuracies.’ There are two issues at play here. First concerns the truth-value of any record - when is there truth and when is only interpretation possible? I’ll leave that one alone for now. The better question concerns who has the authority to say whether or not something is ‘true’ where truth refers to presumed collective knowledge. The article that BoingBoing cites tells us explicitly that it is ‘scholars’ that have such authority.

Herein lies my primary complaint with Wikipedia - the lack of known authorship. (Note: i have the same problem with encyclopedias and dictionaries too, but i don’t see the Wikipedia arguments as boiled down to paper references vs. digital references.) I want to know that what part of the Wikipedia entry the Jane Austen scholar wrote and what was edited out by others. I want to know that the Jane Austen scholar looked at the entry that a 14 year old wrote and thought it was perfect. I want to know the investment level of the authors. I don’t think i’m alone on this one.

Secondly, i may be a scaredy-cat but i’m not afraid of Wikipedia. Like Clay, i firmly believe that students should cite their sources; nothing is more gut-wrenching than throwing a line of someone’s paper into Google and finding it on the web. My concern with academic citation is metaphorically concerned with citing Cliffnotes. Don’t tell me what Wikipedia tells you about Benjamin’s essay - tell me what Benjamin says and tell me your critique. If you want to use a third party’s critique to contend with, great, but that’s rarely what students do. Wikipedia’s interpretation may or may not be accurate and if you haven’t read the primary source (which is often the problem), you don’t know. There is no doubt that this is a problem with a broader variety of sources but the efforts to legitimize Wikipedia as better than an encyclopedia wreaks havoc. This is not because i want students using the encyclopedia - they’re far more likely to read the 10 page essay than hike up the hill to the library to find an encyclopedia that may or may not give them a clue about what’s going on. Encyclopedia citations are rarely my problem but Wikipedia as Cliffnotes is. I want students to be critical thinkers, not just piece together the varying levels of supposed critical thought that they find on the web. And if the web is useful to them, it should be as an interlocutor for argument’s sake, not a source of authority.

In both of these cases, comparisons to other media can be made and the problems that manifest are not necessarily new. The problem that i’m having with the Wikipedia hype is the assumption that it is the panacea for it too has its problems and those problems must be acknowledged, addressed and situated. It certainly has great value, both as a tool for information and as a site of community. But there are limitations and i believe that the incessant hype is damaging to being able to situate it properly and to recognize its strengths and weaknesses.

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

March 3, 2005

Friendster blogs (powered by Typepad)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I have no idea when Friendster launched Friendster blogs because i’ve been pretty far out of the loop, but Charlie noted them this morning. They are powered by Typepad and there’s a free option available (with ads of course). They’re all branded with Friendster’s logo at the top and have the Friendster domain. To update your Friendster blog, you have to log in. Plus, all Friendster blogs have easy links to your Profile.

Check out my new Friendster blog.

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

February 25, 2005

CFP - Social Software in the AcademyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I am helping organize a workshop on social software in the academy along with Sarah Lohnes. Todd Richmond, Mimi Ito, and Justin Hall. It will take place at USC’s Annenberg Center on May 13-14.

We are currently looking for papers, panels and demos on all aspects of how social software affects and reflects academia (deadline: March 31). Please check out the Call for Participation for more information.

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February 14, 2005

cultural divide in IM: presence vs. communicationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd


  • There is a cultural divide between different groups of users of IM, namely the always-on’rs and the just-came-to-chat folks.
  • The divide is due to a recognition of IM as a presence tool vs. just seeing it as a communication tool.
  • The just-came-to-chat folks assert a power differential between peers by demanding that the always-on’rs pay attention to them when they appear.
  • IM exacerbates power-differentials by implying that there is equality in participants, as though it is an equalizing context.

This is brought to you in synopsis of a brain candy rant on apophenia.

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January 30, 2005

questions of classification (a response to Clay)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Clay’s right - i’m a huge skeptic, although i don’t attribute it to the academy at all. My first reaction to hype is and always was critique (unless, of course, i’m doing the hyping). This has resulted in me always ::raising eyebrows:: over everything from the best bands to “i just met the best girl in the world” stories.

I’m not actually in disagreement with Clay about classification - i am, after all, in a librarian school. My first indoctrination was “classification is impossible - here are a bazillion techniques that we use to try to get better schemas.” So, when i critique folksonomy, it is not in comparison to formal structures of classification. My critical reaction comes from any and all concerns that folksonomy is the panacea to hundreds of years of librarian woe. I know that formal systems are screwed, but i think that folksonomy has its own set of problems.

While i acknowledge the comparisons that can be made about the problematic similarities between folksonomy and formal classification, i also think that the effort towards ‘accuracy’ is actually clouding a few major differences. The differences are not that surprising, but very important. It comes down to benevolent dictator vs. crowd behavior. Sometimes the benevolent dictator goes way wrong, but also, sometimes crowds are scary.

There’s a problematic feature to crowds - they like to homogenize. Yes, the guy with the mohawk can assert his independence, but folks might trample him. Or he might be left to his own planet. Should he be given more attention than others because he is different? Should a classification schema be concerned with frequency/popularity or the full range? What does it mean to classify things that are rare viewpoints? Who gets to decide? That’s a heavily contested domain in classification.

Folksonomy isn’t asking the questions about the implications of collective action classification. Who benefits? Who becomes marginalized? What priorities bubble up? How does pressure to homogenize affect the schema and the people involved? How are some people hurt or offended by decisions that are made? Should moderation of classifications occur? If so, what are the consequences?

I totally appreciate the just-do model that is often espoused here, but i don’t subscribe to it. I believe that you have to go into the doing with the questions always at hand and always in check. What makes formal classification interesting is not its end result, its “technology” but the huge discourse around it, trying to figure out the implications of any and all decisions. Those questions have been around for years and i think that it’s important that we use those questions, those concerns, not for comparison but as a guideline for our hyping.

In short, i love tagging and folksonomy. But once it is taken serious and people are talking about ‘accuracy’ and being offended, questions that must be asked despite the hype - “folksonomy is better” is not good enough for me.

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January 28, 2005

issues of culture in ethnoclassification/folksonomyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I love the conversations that have emerged recently on folksonomy/ethnoclassification/tagging/ontology (see tag folksonomy for a good collection of them). Of course, i’m particularly a fan of skeptical posts that raise the social consequences flag (thank you Liz and Rebecca). I wanted to bring up a few things about culture that i feel haven’t been really addressed yet. (My apologies if i’ve missed them.)

First, don’t forget Lakoff’s Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. Classification schemes are always culturally dependent based on how people organize information. There is nothing universal about the terms that we use, the relationship between those terms and the meanings behind them. Many terms are contested, used differently by different populations for different reasons and otherwise inconsistent. (Take a look at Raymond Williams’ Keywords if you want to see how different socio-cultural terms are employed over time in Western culture alone.)

What makes the tagging phenomenon utterly fascinating is that there is a collective action component to it. We love to see how people will come to common consensus on relevant terms. But part of what makes it valuable is that, right now, most of the people tagging things have some form of shared cultural understandings. The “in the know” groups using these services are very homogenous and often have shared values and thus offers valuable related links. This helps explain why Rebecca Blood is concerned about the MLK tags - they signify a lack of shared common ground. In tagging, quality is not just about ‘accuracy’, but about what cultural assumptions dominate. This is also the problem that motivated my earlier post on digital xenophobia.

The translation problem alone offers insight into the problems of collective action tagging (see Benjamin). There are tons of words that cannot be simply translated literally both for linguistic and cultural reasons (such as my colleague’s favorite - ohrwurm from German or any number of metaphors). And there are tons of words with multiple and conflicting meanings. This is why reading a translation of something is never the same - it’s not just a matter of linguistic translation, but cultural translation. That’s almost impossible.

Flipped around, the culture of the people tagging says a lot about how they use language that is quite valuable. We might want to see everything with a particular tag using the sense that we mean.

There is also a perspective problem. Think about the tag ‘me’ on Flickr. This is fantastic when we’re organizing stuff for ourselves, but such a tag is inherently dependent on perspective.

These questions have been raised as ones of ‘accuracy’ but they’re not. They’re about perspective and culture. Accuracy is only meaningful if we share the same cultural assumptions. Ironically, we know that culture matters at some level, if only via our collective choice to discuss FOLKsonomy and ETHNOclassification.

Given that we’re dealing with culture and structure, we must also think through issues of legitimacy and power. How are our collective choices enforcing hegemonic uses of language that may marginalize?

Design questions then emerge. How do we deal with conflicting cultural norms as more people are engaged in the act of tagging? How useful are tags across cultures? Do we only gain value from collective-action tagging amongst groups of shared values? If so, how do we implement that? And what are the social consequences for explicitly delimiting culture online?

[Also posted on apophenia]

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January 8, 2005

On a Vetted Wikipedia, Reflexivity and Investment in Quality (a.k.a. more responses to Clay)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In response to Clay, i definitely do not believe that Wikipedia should be ignored and i definitely do not believe that Britannica is better - just different. When i said that Wikipedia will never be an encyclopedia, i am definitely referencing the current definition (although being flexible on the fact the definition does state book form). Whether the definition will expand, who knows but i don’t think it matters. Both encyclopedias and Wikipedia are knowledge resources and they will always be different. If legitimacy requires a definitional change, i’m worried. Why does it have to be an encyclopedia? Why can’t it simply be Wikipedia?

In this (long) entry, i want to make 3 points:
1) A vetted Wikipedia can have complementary value;
2) Reflexivity would be of great value for entries that interpret (not necessarily for entries that are about empirical facts);
3) Authority has to do with knowledge, investment and risk.

...continue reading.

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January 5, 2005

If Six Apart acquires Live Journal....Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

As Ross noted earlier, there is gossip in the air that Six Apart will acquire LiveJournal. I’m concerned about the cultural effects of this, some of which i’ve addressed in a rather verbose entry entitled The Cultural Divide Between LiveJournal and Six Apart. This may be of interest those of you invested in cultural maintenance of social sites.

I’ve turned off comments here so that they can be connected with the entry itself.

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thoughts on last.FMEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’m never quite sure when some of my more random posts are of value to Many-To-Many readers so i don’t always post everything here. That said, i’ve written three entries as of late concerning Last.FM and i think that collectively, they may be interesting:

- music networks (from apophenia - 12/29/04)
- music genres and moods (from apophenia - 12/31/04)
- Music-Driven Networking (from Operating Manual - 1/5/05)

I discuss issues such as the role of music in social networking software, tagging in connection with moods, and how publicly visible behavior data results in behavior changes.

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January 4, 2005

Academia and WikipediaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

[In direct response to various points in Clay’s K5 Article on Wikipedia Anti-elitism which responds to Larry Sanger’s Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism]

First, let me acknowledge that i have excessive privilege in this lifetime. That said, i’m not convinced that academia operates solely on an aggressive exertion of privilege nor am i convinced that any institution in the United States can be discussed without an assertion of privilege. But that’s another story.

I would argue that many librarians, teachers and academics fear Wikipedia (not dislike it) because it is not properly understood, not simply because it challenges their privilege, just as most new systems and media are feared by traditionalists of all sorts. Have we not had enough conversations about blog fear amongst journalists?

As a contributor to and user of Wikipedia, there is no doubt that i have a deep appreciation for it. All the same, i roll my eyes whenever students submit papers with Wikipedia as a citation. This is probably a source of much Wikipedia dislike amongst academics.

Wikipedia appears to be a legitimate authority on a vast array of topics for which only one individual has contributed material. This is not the utopian collection of mass intelligence that Clay values. For many non-controversial topics, there are only a limited authors and we have no idea what their level of expertise is. Hell, i submitted a bazillion anthropology entries while taking Anthro 1 based on my textbook and most of them remain untouched. My early attempts to distill anthropology should definitely not appear as legitimate authorities on the topics, yet many students take them as such.

On topics for which i feel as though i do have some authority, i’m often embarrassed by what appears at Wikipedia. Take the entry for social network: “A social network is when people help and protect each other in a close community. It is never larger than about 150 people.” You have got to be kidding me. Aside from being a patently wrong and naive misinterpretation of research, this definition reveals what happens when pop cultural understandings of concepts become authorities.

I have extreme respect for those who seek to define concepts such as those who craft the dictionary and encyclopedias. It is extremely challenging to define a term because you are trying very hard to capture and convey excessive amounts of information in an abbreviated fashion that cannot be misinterpreted. This takes talent, practice, precision and a great deal of research. Consider, for example, the difference between a good science writer and a bad one. Not everyone can convey large bodies of research in an easily accessible manner.

This does not mean that i dislike Wikipedia, just that i do not consider it to be equivalent to an encyclopedia. I believe that it lacks the necessary research and precision. The lack of talent and practice mostly comes from the fact that most entries have limited contributers. Wikipedia is often my first source, but never my last, particularly in contexts where i need to be certain of my facts. Wikipedia is exceptionally valuable to read about multiple sides to a story, particularly in historical contexts, but i don’t trust alternative histories any more than i trust privileged ones.

My concern - and that of many of my colleagues - is that students are often not media-savvy enough to recognize when to trust Wikipedia and when this is a dreadful idea. They quote from it as though it cannot be inaccurate. I certainly distrust many classic sources, but i don’t think that an “anti-elitist” (a.k.a. lacking traditional authority and expertise) alternative is automatically better. Such a move stinks of glorifying otherness simply out of disdain for hegemonic practices, a tactic that never gets us anywhere.

I don’t believe that the goal should be ‘acceptance’ so much as recognition of what Wikipedia is and what it is not. It will never be an encyclopedia, but it will contain extensive knowledge that is quite valuable for different purposes. If the fuss dies down, i’d be exceptionally worried because it would mean that we’ve lost the ability to discuss the quality of information.

Alternatively, i too would love to see a vetted version of Wikipedia, one that would provide a knowledge resource that is more accountable and authoritative.

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November 27, 2004

announcing "Operating Manual For Social Tools"Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Oops! I just realized that i announced Operating Manual For Social Tools on my blog (with some commentary) but forgot to announce it here.

Stowe Boyd, David Weinberger and i are exploring critical issues to consider in the process of building social tools. This is a topically-driven blog that is sponsored by ZeroDegrees. We will be covering material relevant to the social tech space and this may be of interest for many of you.

For my own participation, i will be trying to write a new mini-essay at least once per week on the topic. I am trying to tease out salient points from my research and discuss them. If you’ve heard me talk too often, some of this will not be new to you, but you might enjoy it all the same.

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digital backchannelsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

At CSCW earlier this month, Joe McCarthy and i organized a panel called Digital Backchannels in Shared Physical Spaces (of which Liz was a panelist). In the panel, we discussed a variety of different pedagogical and cognitive issues, research directions and tools for enabling digital backchanneling in the classroom, at conferences and in other shared physical spaces. This was the first year that CSCW had blanketed wireless access so many of the attendees witnessed backchannels in conferences for the first time. For me, this was a great opportunity to bring a discussion topic from the tech space into the academic sphere.

Based on this panel, USA Today wrote a story called Digital note-passing gains respect among adults, covering aspects of the panel.

This article made me wonder - does anyone know who coined the term “digital backchannel” (since i know it wasn’t us)?

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October 14, 2004

the term social softwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Christopher Allen does an excellent job of tracing the history of the term ‘social software’ - a resource for us all.

Of course, i still despise the term (sorry Clay) and its (ab)usage.

The term bothers me because the software is helping the hardware mediate between two people engaged in a social interaction. I’ve always loved ‘computer mediated communication’ (CMC) because it describes the action and then we can talk about CMC hardware/software and CMC behavior. In CMC, the focus is on the communication with the computer and its role as mediator being a description to the primary activity: communication. With social software, the adjective is describing our focus: software. I know that the term is used by technologists who build things instead of dealing with social interaction, communication or even hardware, but it still bothers me. I feel as though the term allows us to emphasize the technology instead of the behavior that it supports.

Its usage has grated me because folks use it as though a revolution has happened. We’ve been building software that can be labeled as social software for a long long long time. Why are we acting like giddy children who just found a new toy? Worse: it’s either far to inclusive or exclusive. Is SMS social software? What about MMORPGs? I guess retrospecticely, we’d call them that, but for the most part, we just focus on YASNS, blogging, wikis, social bookmarking and other recent developments.

Anyhow, it’s not like i have a better term. I tend to talk about social technologies or social media and i tend to use the term CMC. The problem is that CMC isn’t describing the new wave of behaviors which aren’t always about communication. Perhaps i need to use computer-mediated social interaction.

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October 10, 2004

a culture of feeds: syndication and youth cultureEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I just crafted a long essay on feeds and youth culture over at apophenia. I’m interested in how youth are consuming feeds very differently than adults and how the differences seem to be connected to the IM/email division. Feed madness rang through the halls of Web2.0 and i wanted to reflect on how different consumption cultures are going to take this up and what the implications are for design. I don’t have any answers, but this is my first pass at thinking through this issue.

I chose not to re-post it here since it’s long and i would like to keep the comments connected. That said, if you’re interested in feeds as an emerging trend, please take a look at this entry and challenge me on what i’m missing.

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September 30, 2004

digital xenophobiaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In checking my email this morning, i was really disturbed by a message on a mailing list that i lurk. The question was simple:

Is anyone worried about the community being diluted with non-geeky type people?

My first reaction was one of insult. There’s nothing like digital xenophobia to get my goat early in the morning.

First, this is the problem of all online communities. What draws people to them is homophily - birds of a feather stick together. Folks are ecstatic when they walk into a community where everyone’s like them.

In theory, people want to espouse the liberal value of tolerance and love of diversity. In reality, most people are anything but that. Ask the anti-Brazilians on Orkut. We have the language to criticize the neo-Nazis on Friendster, but how different are the anti-nongeeks? We really only know how to talk about racism, sexism and homophobia. You can’t really say “we don’t want any girls here” and get away with it now (although you may think it). [Of course, one contemporary approach is to allow a handful of token women in, but maintain the male dominance…]

Unlike the more politicized phobias, xenophobia and classism often go unchecked. It is even more culturally acceptable to want to maintain a community of others like the original community and to reminisce about when the community was closer, had more in common and when there were less problems.

Of course there are more problems in a heterogeneous community. People don’t speak the same (actual/conceptual) language. Diversity brings divergent opinions, values, ideas. Diversity requires us to broader our perspective, appreciate things where we are not superior and realize that not everyone comes about an issue from our perspective.

With community tools popping up daily, everyone’s talking about how this tool can be used by everyone in the world - won’t it be great? Yet, as soon as multiple communities use the tool in different ways, everyone flips. No one actually knows how to manage diverse communities with different values. Why? It’s a really hard SOCIAL problem that doesn’t have a simple technological solution.

[I’ve got lots more to say on this topic, but until next time…]

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September 15, 2004

Digital Street GameEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Digital Street Game is a mobile social gaming project conceived by two graduated of NYU’s ITP program - Michele Chang and Elizabeth Goodman:

Digital Street Game is a hybrid game of misadventure set on the streets of New York. It’s a battle for turf, a contest of wills - in short - an excuse to explore the city. Players compete for turf by performing and documenting “stunts” on the physical streets of New York in order to claim territory on a virtual map. Stunts are comprised of a random combination of 3 elements: 1) an object commonly found in the city (e.g. bodega) 2) a street game (e.g. stickball) and 3) a wildcard/urban situation (e.g. happy hour). Players interpret these elements as they wish, then stage and photograph their stunt in order to claim a spot on the map. The more stunts players perform the more turf they claim. But of course some players may want to compete for the same territory. In order to hold on to territory, players’ stunts must score high with the rest of the game community.

If you live in New York (or are visiting), check it out. It is a fun way to mark turf and engage in a collaborative social experiment!

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August 16, 2004

CFP: Representations of Digital Identity (CSCW Workshop)Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

At Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) this year, i will be teaming up with two of my favorite colleagues (Michele Chang and Liz Goodman) to organize a workshop called “Representations of Digital Identity.”. We want to bring together interesting people working on how people represent and manage identity in a digital environment. We are looking for designers, technologists, theorists and other invested individuals.

A workshop of this type is where people working on the same problems come together to brainstorm and tackle confounding issues. For this workshop, we are asking people to submit sketches representing digital identity and discuss those in the context of the issues that interest them the most.

If you’re interested:
- Read the Call for Participation
- Check out the Proposal we submitted
- Ask questions or send submissions to cscw04-identity AT googlegroups DOT com by September 20

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August 15, 2004

i-neighborsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Keith Hampton, a dear friend and colleague, just put together a site called i-neighbors. Keith is a sociologist interested in neighborhood communities (and their online equivalent) and this site is dedicated to supporting physical neighborhoods in the States and Canada.

Signing up for the site made me contemplate what it means to be in a neighborhood. I live near Folsom and 24th in San Francisco. I firmly identify as living in the Mission. My version of the Mission is quite a bit different than the one inhabited by my friends who live at Guerrero and Liberty, but we both identify as Mission residents. There are gangs in my neighborhood. The cut-off appears to be 21st. Do the two different gangs both identify as living in the same neighborhood? What about my Mexican neighbors - do they identify with the shi-shi folks on Liberty? My neighbors are obsessed with our block and keeping the meth addicts, homeless drunks and gun shots far away.

What constitutes a neighborhood in a city? How does class, race, religion and ethnicity play a part? Do i really live in a neighborhood bounded by zipcode or is my neighborhood also bounded by education level and transience? Of course, i’m guessing that this is exactly the boundary that Keith wants to tear down.

[Conversation on said topic already occurring at apophenia]

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July 29, 2004

The New BlogocracyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In an effort to further elucidate my thoughts on the comparison of bloggers and journalists at the DNC, i wrote an op-ed for Salon - The New Blogocracy. It’s a follow-up to my earlier blog entry called Demeaning Bloggers.

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July 26, 2004

Demeaning bloggers: the NYTimes is running scaredEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Blogging has terrified mainstream media for a while now. Journalists want to know if blogs are going to degrade their profession, open up new possibilities or otherwise challenge their authority. This also means that whenever the press writes about blogs, one must critically consider what biases are embedded in their reporting. This morning, the NYTimes took their bias to the headlines:

Web Diarists Are Now Official Members of Convention Press Corps

As i’ve written before, blogging is rhetorically situated between journalism and diarying. Most often, people label blogging as one or the other in order to degrade it. The NYTimes pulled this act today because they have a professional interest in portraying convention bloggers as “low-brow” and unworthy of reading, while the NYTimes will present the real “high-brow” convention story. By framing bloggers as diarists, the NYTimes is demanding that the reader see blogs as petty, childish and self-absorbed. They further perpetuate this view by pasting a picture of a youth on the front of the article to suggest that bloggers are all inexperienced and naive, further implying that their reports will not have the value of the more “adult” perspective of “real” journalists.

The entire spin of the article focuses on how bloggers are like children in a candy store - naive, inexperienced and overwhelmed by what is now available to them. The article focuses on the minutia of blogging, emphasizing that bloggers won’t really cover the real issues, but provide the “low-brow” gossip. (I somehow suspect that the NYTimes is far more likely to cover what various attendees are wearing than the bloggers.) The article does proceed to share its stance on bloggers through the voice of one subject: “I think that bloggers have put the issue of professionalism under attack.” (Not Jason Blair?)

I am horrified by this article. Not only does the NYTimes reveal their naiveté about blogging, but they use their lack of clarity to demean a practice that they perceive as threatening. No wonder their professionalism is under attack.

[Also posted at apophenia.]

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July 1, 2004

blogging is trapped in a metaphorEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

I’ve been trying to sit with some of my frustrations about sociable technologies lately. I’ve been trying to work through them in order to understand why Liz’s frustration with blogging research resonates and why i start twitching every time people put together panels that pit blogs against “big” journalism. I wanted to let go of my boiling anger over the fact that YASNS do not look like “real” social networks.

I realized that all of these concerns come from a common root. Sociable technologies are all built on metaphors. They are often an attempt to model a set of practices already known in everyday life. Yet, as models, the technologies are not the same as the metaphors on which they are based. The result is an entirely new form that encourages entirely new practices.

...continue reading.

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June 26, 2004

Friendster is desperate; viral marketing failedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Friendster realizes that it has lost the attention of its earliest adopters. This morning, Friendster sent a message to a select number of people that they labeled as “SuperFriends.” It’s a usability survey where they are asking for users’ advice on an email campaign. There are four different potential emails that they sent out as screen shots. Here’s a sample one:

Subject: Friendster Now

So you’re working. Who cares? You have a lifetime to work. What you’ll really regret coughing and wheezing on your deathbed is not looking up all the old high-school friends, college buddies, summer camp alums, Burning Man acquaintances and ex’es who are just hoping you reach out and find them. And discovering new hiking partners, book groups and jam band fans. And setting up that person you really would date yourself if you were single. There’s oh so much to do.

Seriously, you should go to Burning Man. It’s pretty cool. The jam band stuff we understand if you’re not into. We just needed an example there.


Oh, to make sure you keep getting these vaguely sarcastic emails, please add Friendster to your email address book now. If for no other reason than it will look cool to have Friendster in your address book.

The tone of these messages is desperate, begging for attention of the original early adopters - the ones that Abrams told me were ruining his system. One focuses on Burning Man types; one mocks the old Power Point COO; one charges non-users with harming children; one is a desperate love poem. They’re hyper American-centric, SF-centric, white collar, wannabee hipster, intentionally attempting sarcasm (and clarifying that below) and complete with 80s references.

I guess Friendster isn’t happy with the majority of its users being young and from Asia. Does this mean that Friendster has its tail between its legs about its early egotistical behavior? Apparently, viral marketing isn’t working well enough anymore.

Anyhow, you have to read the full message that these SuperFriends got. It has had me ROFL for hours.

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June 25, 2004

Autistic Social SoftwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

At Supernova, i gave a talk entitled “Autistic Social Software.” For those who couldn’t attend, i uploaded a crib of my talk. The premise of this talk emerged from my post from MPD to Asperger’s.

I reflected on the connection between sociable media, science fiction’s human psychology and the mainstream media discussion around mental illness. I also discuss why it is essential for developers to understand what their (potential) users do. Finally, i channel Douglas Adams’ How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet.

It’s an imperfect talk, but i’d love feedback.

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June 19, 2004

BlogOn: The Business of Social MediaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

UC-Berkeley will be hosting BlogOn: The Business of Social Media. An all-star cast of speakers are coming to talk about blogs, social networks, syndication and whatnot. Basically, it looks like a great gathering for those interested in social media.

Furthermore, they have discounts for bloggers and i’m very psyched to announce that they have scholarships for students and economically-disadvantaged bloggers. I wish more organized events recognized the importance of getting bright minds involved who don’t have the economic freedom to usually participate in these conversations.

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June 16, 2004

TribeCast: when YASNS meets blogrollsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Did you ever stop to think that blogrolls are awfully similar to YASNS friends? Apparently did too. They just released TribeCast where bloggers and anyone else who owns a website can display their Tribes or Friends. This is a fantastic bridge of two bodies of software that are quite similar.

Of course, the first thing that i did when i saw my image amidst Mark’s list of friends was change my photo on Tribe. The picture was so out of place in that context. I’m not sure how i feel about seeing my picture, location and number of friends re-broadcasted. With a little effort, this data is very accessible, but there’s something different and more peculiar about seeing it published on someone else’s blog. Why should my login habits be displayed there? It’s a complete context shift and it makes me feel awkward. Collapsed contexts… Somehow, i want to be in control of how my image is displayed around the web, even though i know that’s not feasible. But when i signed up for Tribe, did i assume that i signed up to be re-broadcast everywhere?

Anyhow, i’m not completely sure how i feel about this, but i thought i’d throw it out there for others to ruminate.

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May 9, 2004

Friendster's plethora of high school studentsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

Recently, i've been getting lots of SMS-style emails from people about Friendster. Usually, this means that they're teens. So, i went in and did a search in Friendster for ages 61-71 in California with pictures within 3 degrees. Almost 1000 hits. Doing the same search in Singapore, i found over 600 hits. All teens. They're all underage (and it seems as though the most popular age to choose these days is 69). What surprises me is the emergence of Fakester High Schools (in order to collect all of those from the same HS). I'm stunned that Friendster was so vigilant in going after Fakesters because it was ruining search and they weren't viable customers, but they ignore the Fakesters that could open them up to hefty legal suits. I also got a great report from Singapore that students are creating images of their HS teachers to write testimonials about how horrible they are. Looking at a few of them, interests include things like "Shouting at ppl, Confiscating balls especially soccer balls, Catch students who are late for school." Testimonials include things like "_|_ u sux! may ur dick not be wif u!" A quick perusal of Friendster produced more Fakesters than i saw in the Fakester hayday. I find it utterly ironic - fakesters and teens everywhere and the early adopters are no longer participating. It seems as though their efforts to configure the users didn't work so well. (Of course, today's apathy is easy to explain... the Fakesters and teens aren't nearly as visible to the friends and FoF of those in the Valley as they were 9 months ago.) [Also posted to apophenia]

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May 6, 2004

Vizster: beautiful YASNS visualizationsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

For his visualization class final project, Jeff Heer created Vizster, a visualization tool for online social networks. The tool allows you to explore the network and color-code the data to make easy comparisons. It's built on top of Jeff's toolkit called Prefuse. (PS: Vizster is not currently available for download and Jeff is on a well-deserved vacation so don't bug him until June. But definitely check out his other projects)

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May 3, 2004

social technology: from MPD to Asperger's?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

When i first read the cyberculture literature from the late 80s and early 90s, i was left with an impression that early social technology was all based on the assumption that everyone had multiple personality disorder. Worse: if you didn't have it, it was going to give you MPD. There were even references to the idea that everyone was partially MPD. This was all wrapped up in the rhetoric of be whoever you want to be - race, sex, sexuality does not matter. I found it horrifying and my repulsion grounded my demand to separate between digital fragmented identity and the process of maintaining a faceted identity. I have a funny feeling that social technology is back to developing software based on disorders and instigating new ones in people. Only, we've move away from schizophrenia and onto autism. Did you ever get the sneaking suspicion that this new wave of "social software" is not really making social life easier, but permitting the kind of social awkwardness that is recognized in Asperger's? I wonder if this is intentional or a by-product of the tech culture. I've been fascinated to see a strong increase in the publicity of autism and Asberger's lately and an even more noticeable increase in the number of people mocking others' autistic tendencies with respect to the lack of social appropriateness. [also posted to apophenia]

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April 16, 2004

The ickiness factorEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

In the process of unpacking my frustration with privacy issues (in the context of Gmail and A9), i started addressing a a key concept that i believe applies to all social software: the ickiness factor. Ickiness is the guttural reaction that makes you cringe, scrunch your nose or gasp "ick" simply because there's something slightly off, something disconcerting, something not socially right about an interaction. The interaction may involv a person, a situation or a piece of technology. The ickiness factor is tightly coupled with issues feeling vulnerable or getting the sense that someone else is vulnerable because of a given situation. (Think sketchy guy or the feeling that you get when you've been asked for far too much invasive data.) The thing about the ickiness factor is that either it fades (if the feeling of potential vulnerability disappears) or you completely avoid the situation that causes it. As designers, we are so numbed by familiarity that we're unable to experience the associated shudder of ick. This is where a process of 'making the familiar strange' is necessary in design. In order to do this, it's imperative to consider how a technology will affect various relevant social groups. Will any aspect of the technology incite the ick factor? For whom? If the answer is 'yes', a deep understanding of why is necessary. Applying one's own values onto others won't work (a.k.a. "they should just get over it" never works). This is one of the key reasons that we, as designers, must get out of our tech bubble if we want to design things that sit well with everyone. We're too acculturated to technology, too particular about how we react to things. In other words, we're not the norm. Usually, when i think about how designers attempt to configure the users, they're trying to force users to deal with their ickiness feeling by inserting foreign values into the mix. This will always be problematic.

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October 29, 2003

Friendster: is the honeymoon over?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

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October 28, 2003

designing social softwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

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October 13, 2003

faceted identity != multiple personasEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

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October 9, 2003

notions of 'public' and emailEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

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October 8, 2003

contextualizing a social network websiteEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

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October 5, 2003

sociocultural concerns about skypeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

...continue reading.

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October 2, 2003

the value of urban tribesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by danah boyd

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

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