My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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a real life buzz kill

In addressing the upcoming Fakester Revolution protest, Clay provides too very good points:

1) The real person behind a Fakester is never as much fun as the character. “Did these people never see the Wizard of Oz? Never let them see behind the curtain — the creator is much duller than the creation.”

2) At this point, Friendster will gain nothing by reverting its policy on Fakesters. The buzz kill has already happened.

I would love to disagree with Clay on the latter point, but i think he’s dead-on. At the same time, i think that there are fundamental lessons for social software creators embedded in this battle. Fundamentally, a successful digital space for social interaction must allow a diverse set of uses and personalities.

By creating a rigid “public” environment and controlling the types of social activity that go on, you inherently limit your audience and weaken your product. Just as in RL, there is value in having a “public” environment where a vastly diverse population can just live and let live. Diversity makes the world go round.

Secondly, play is really important. With play comes humor and creativity. This is the glue the helps connect people, the motivation for doing serious activities. Life is like a treasure hunt – it’s about finding those more subtle awe-inspiring moments. Connecting with people is not a dry mechanical task and to turn it into one will inevitably demotivate people.

One year from now, i suspect that the current incarnation of Friendster will have faded from people’s memories, a fad that was fun to play with and to find people. For the next evolution of said software, it’s going to be essential for designers to figure out how to provide an environment where people have freedom, while simultaneously empowering people to ignore segments of the population. In effect, they need to figure out how to model the variety of a good city. Social software must learn from social environments, not try to artificially construct them.

[Ever since Many-to-Many killed comments, i feel compelled to respond to posts there here… Yet, it feels like an odd form of disconnected dialogue.]

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8 comments to a real life buzz kill

  • Abe

    Welcome back dana!

    I’m getting more and more skeptical of the notion that Friendster will fade and be replaced by something “better”. Obviously it will within a larger timescale, but I’m thinking more and more it will be long term… Its all in Metcalfe’s Law [ http://www.mgt.smsu.edu/mgt487/mgtissue/newstrat/metcalfe.htm ], the value of the network increase exponentially as the members increase. And Friendster has the network already, no one else has really pulled that trick yet. I still unlock waves of lost social networks every few weeks on Friendster, friends from old music scenes, high school, college, graphic design…

    The value is in the density of the network and rebuilding it will be extremely hard. Getting people to migrate to Tribe was a complete failure, it has its own little scene, but it doesn’t hold my history the way Friendster does.

  • Abe

    oops, sorry for mispelling the name…

  • Scott M

    “By creating a rigid “public” environment and controlling the types of social activity that go on, you inherently limit your audience and weaken your product.”

    If you are talking about reaching huge numbers of very diverse groups, you have a point. However, I don’t think this is a rule for fostering social spaces (off- or online).

    Online are medical support groups (“public”, yet rigid in topics encouraged or discouraged and the kinds of social activity allowed). Offline, I’ll point to Burning Man which is public (yet ticket price and location limit participation) also has limits on acceptable behavior that might be otherwise the norm elsewhere (notably, commerce). In these cases, limiting the audience actually strengthens the product.

    Likewise Friendster, the feel of it will change. This is, I think, fairly normal. “This isn’t the way it used to be.” must be nearly a universal gripe across generations and locations. It’s not different online.

    I agree with your conclusion, however, that social software still has a lot to learn from many other social environments when trying to model something similar online.

  • Hey, just dropping a note to say comments will be back, much improved, very soon.

  • The protest was an interesting mixture of success and failure – few showed, but press were there!

    I agree that in person we’re not neccesarily as compelling as our online manifestation, but we are not without merit as “real” people, and at least I can articulate my case well in person. As far as our media campaign goes, a public appearance is the only thing that gets TV cameras to come, and we couldn’t have accomplished that online. Most importantly, the protest was an experiment, which brings not success or failure, but results to be examined after the fact. And we (especially myself) learned a lot from it. I don’t think I would be inclined to do it again.

    I’m annoyed that I cannot reply to Shirky on the Many-to-Many board, because he’s getting on my nerves talking about things he knows nothing about. When he says, “(Private to MC: Its not that I think the Fakester rally today is going to be a waste of time, its that I think that their goals are incoherent. The Faksters don’t understand what made the Fakster thing work, so while they are talking revolution, they are walking revenge.)” it’s just so much uninformed bullshit and armchair quarterbacking. We know exactly what makes the “Fakester thing” work, and that’s why we’re pissed. And revenge isn’t the motive here, but assertion of our creative expression and the right to form community in whichever fashion we choose. I don’t see Shirky trying to run a revolution himself (there’s no instruction manual for what we’re doing), and just like any critic, it’s so much easier to complain about the work of others than create something oneself — he sounds like the worst kind of bystander when he says things like that, and I really want to like the guy after reading his “A Group is its Own Worst Enemy” essay, which is very astute.

    When he says: “The only real event worth watching for is whether the mass tampering with the organic ecosystem of Friendster as it existed with Fakester’s damages Abrams’ business. That would get the attention of people building future generations of YASNS software,” then he’s on the right track. Clay, what else do you THINK we’re trying to do?

    Most importantly, we’re having a lot of fun, and don’t take ourselves too seriously — this is an art action as well as a protest. If all of this were to end tomorrow, we can take satisfaction in the fact that we HAVE impacted people’s thinking through our actions. Due to extensive press coverage (we send out press releases) more people out there now know the term “Fakester” than the name Clay Shirky, so who has made a bigger impact upon public consciousness? This isn’t bragging, it’s a fact. Of such facts are small victories made, and we take what we can get.

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