Monthly Archives: November 2003

Buying and Selling the Little Black Book

Somehow, i failed to blog that Esther Dyson has a great article on the YASNS sphere.

Can you count your friends? Better yet, can you organize them in a database? There’s a lot of buzz about a new breed of software tools that can help people manage their contacts — or, to make it sound more serious, leverage their social capital.

It’s an educated warning to developers, investors. She brings up brilliant challenges to the hype

irritated beyond belief


It was annoying when Friendster was slow. I got over my sighs when Friendster went offline. I can even deal with Bulletin Board messages going down every once in a while. But, this has me outright angry:

Profile is unavailable

Your connection to this person is temporarily unavailable. Please try again in a few moments.

Every time i try to surf to someone; every time i try to bookmark someone; every time i try to figure out who a person is that sent me a message… Every time i get that. So, i have to sit there and reload, reload, reload until i get annoyed and quit. The problem is that i’m trying to write notes down on “configuring the user” wrt Friendster and i need to be able to get to the primary text for analysis. Thus, i’m bloody pissed.

It’s one thing to have slow servers… it’s another thing to make a technical nightmare out of something that was working. I don’t think that i’ve ever so actively watched as a piece of software degrades so consistently over time. Classic software engineering problem. Throwing more coders, more money and more hardware at something dreadfully broken and already patched doesn’t work. Even Macromedia knew went to re-write Director. And it wasn’t even this broken! ::steam::

Tell me, Nielson, is this impacting the return user numbers as much as i’m hearing it is? I know no one who is willing to surf through this many barriers.


friendster by hand

Last week, David Weinberg blogged about Friendster by hand. In order to explain why Friendster makes no sense, he describes a Friendster scenario that is laughable when translated to real life.

His post made me think of a paper that i wrote a few years back called Sexing the Internet. It is really common for us to introduce ourselves to people in real life through a series of rituals. At the core, you’re asking “what do we have in common?” but to do so, you ask where the person is from, who they might know that you might have in common, what the person does, etc. You are trying to find common ground. This type of behavior is easily translated to the digital world and even a query so simple as A/S/L is about more than the questions “age? sex? location?” At the core, you’re asking if you have enough culturally common ground to speak and hopefully the answer will provide you with fuel for a pick-up line as exciting as “Oh, i lived in Boston once!”

The thing is that the ritual of finding common ground is not so much about the answer as much as it is about the pattern of asking/responding. When we create profiles, we privilege the answer. This makes the response all the more awkward. Suddenly, “Oh, i lived in Boston once!” translates from trying to find common ground to “i’ve stared at your profile and i think you’re hot but we have absolutely nothing in common and i have nothing interesting to say so i’m going to react to your location and hope that you’re so desperate that you’ll respond positively to my sketchy pick-up line that’s even more offensive because i appear to be stalking you.”

Reacting to a profile is just 10x more socially odd than small talk. And unfortunately, the profile itself takes away one’s ability to engage with the standard “what do we have in common” questions. Thus, the lurker gets that far and then they have to find something meaningful to say without the ice breaker. Given this, it’s such a miracle that profile-based dating ever works.

Of couse, that’s the trick, right? It only works when both people are actively looking or when one person brings something brilliant to the table that goes far beyond small talk.

as we may think

I’m re-reading “As We May Think” with a careful eye in preparation for exams and this time, a quote stuck with me that i think is really important given some conversations i’ve been having lately:

His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.

On one hand, this assumes that perfect memory is always valuable. Perhaps “the privilege of forgetting” allows us to not face the nitemares or other elements of our imperfect lives that limit our ability to move forward and live. I think of the people that i know who cannot forget the negative. What would it be like to always have it on hand? Would you always play it in a masochistic kind of way? Perhaps forgetting certain things is the only way to evolve.

I will never forget the monks who came to visit me when i was younger. They spent a week building a beautiful work of sand art only to destroy it upon completion. Sometimes, life is about the ephemeral process, not any precise moment or end result.

NYTimes -> Friendster requests

The NYTimes says that i have 278 Friendster friends. The thing about this number is that i actually know all of them and only 3 of them have i never spent extensive time with in RL (research friends who i have had deep interactions with online, but not offline). Most of these people share significant bonds with me and i’ve been pretty vigilent about sticking to the “desired” Friendster behavior in this way. (Basically, i have no desire to be killed since i need this account for research.)

I actually maintain multiple accounts. One of them, with my real name, is not linked to anyone. I created it in case old friends wanted to find me. Ironically, all of the requests to that account have been subjects, people who have answered my survey or others that i don’t know at all. Since the NYTimes article came out, i’ve received over a dozen Friendster requests from people who i don’t know at all (in addition to the emails of people asking me to be their friend and the 1 request via my used Friendster account).

Frankly, given this, i’m amazed that anyone can think that Friendster is an accurate portrayal of social networks. To many of these people, i’m just another name in the paper, one that’s known to have a large network. Thus, they link to me. I’m the perfect candidate to expand people’s networks, right? So strange.

seeing love play out

My friend C is madly in love with this boy D. C lives in NY; D lives in Santa Cruz. When Thanksgiving was being organized, C couldn’t come out but everyone invited D anyhow, wanting to get to know him better. It was great – he’s a sweetheart and *perfect* for C. The two of them have this great relationship where they connect on so many levels and the treat the world like a playground. It’s so awe-inspiring.

C decided that she must see him so she arranged something perfect. Another friend of ours put together a set of missions for D to complete, running around San Francisco on a treasure hunt to find clues that would finally lead him to a home where C would be waiting, having flown in immediately following her turkey dinner.

I spent the turkey evening with D, hanging out and talking and it was sooo refreshing. His love for C just overflows from within him. But things in the mission plans got a bit screwed up. His mission was supposed to be found in one place, but it was mistakenly placed elsewhere. Thus, he didn’t know the details of his mission. I was supposed to drop him off at a friend’s house last night but that friend passed out so i took him home to my couch (and my book collection, which he dove into immediately). I woke up at 1, knowing that the mission was supposed to start then. I started preparing to take him back to the original location, hoping to find clues for how the mission would start. But behind the scenes, one friend had taken to mission instructions to the house where D was supposed to sleep last nite. That friend hurried them over to my place.

When i gave D his mission, he looked at me and was like “Are you all in on this?” I laughed and told him that all of our friends adore him and we wanted him to be part of the family and this was his initiation. It’s funny how much we’ll all do to support their love and passion. Off he went, seeking his mission… by now, he’s found his love waiting for him. How perfect!

nielsen data on Friendster

In their latest report on Friendster, Nielsen/Netratings reports that average theFriendster user (who logs in) spends nearly 2 hours per day on Friendster, but that they are not yet up at competitive levels with other dating services regarding number of unique viewers.

Anyhow, fascinating data. I truly wonder what Friendster looked like over time. Is the average user spending more time on Friendster than in June? Is the percentage of people who return changing? Are earlier users not loggging in as much? So many interesting data questions…

visualizing the internet

Check out the Opte Project:

This project was created to make a visual representation of a space that is very much one-dimensional, a metaphysical universe. The data represented and collected here serves a multitude of purposes: Modeling the Internet, analyzing wasted IP space, IP space distribution, detecting the result of natural disasters, weather, war, and esthetics/art. This project is free and represents a lot of donated time, please enjoy.

what motivates people to be mean?

So, i just checked email today (oh dear me). There were so many fun notes from friends and from folks that i don’t yet know – silly congrats, intriguing questions, business proposals, etc. It’ll take me forever to sort out my email, but it was still such a nice little moment to be thankful for. Of course, i can’t help but emotionally react to the one cruel email:

Subject: sociologist?

Dear ‘Ms.’ Boyd,

I would certainly agree that you are a geek among sociologists, so-called, or maybe just simply a geek. And a Yupster of course. Have you ever read any real sociologists, of which Max Weber is arguably the paradigm? Ever study Nietzsche, where all serious modern discourse begins, if not ends? (There is Heidegger, of course.)

A rebel from Lancaster PA might explain a lot. You and the people you allegedly study should “get a life,” it would seem.

(Try some Joan Osborne rather than Ani Defranco — all of you spaceshots spell your names wrong, it would seem, or have ones that should be dumped at least: Shulamith Firestone?)

Ed W. – PhD., Chicago; Dok. Rer. Nat., Freiburg im Breisgau [that’s in Bavaria, btw]

First, there’s no doubt that i raise my eyebrows about being called a sociologist. Sure, many of the tools that i currently use for studying Friendster come from sociology (and i’ve even drawn from all 3 aforementioned philosophers in various arguments i’ve made). Still, i think that my advantage in the academic sphere is that i draw from such a variety of methods and theories and come up with new ways to bridge them all together. That said, i never take issue with people labeling me as a sociologist (or an anthropologist or even a computer scientist) even though that doesn’t quite describe what i do. Still, people need a category.

But aside from that point, i just don’t understand what motivates someone to read a profile and write a scathing note to the person profiled in an attempt to discredit her. What satisfaction does this man derive from the knowledge that this note got through? What is so offensive about such a profile? Is it not valid enough because it is not written in discourse speak or littered with references to academics that most of the audience would not recognize? In my many conversations wtih Michael, i constantly referenced different academics, explaining what their foundational contributions were, but i totally understood that he had no reason to publish them. But it’s clear that this man took the time to reference what i present digitally in order to write this note.

It reminds me of what a friend of mine once told me… he said that you finish your PhD when you hate your advisor, you hate your topic, you hate your life, you hate everything. Apparently, this man never stopped hating. So weird.