My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and 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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correcting Marc Canter’s perception of my views

I was a bit miffed to read Marc Canter’s perception of my views:

danah thinks we should treat these relationships more seriously.  Or somehow believe that by calling someone a ‘friend’ in an explicit social networking environment – actually means something.

I am not interested in what users SHOULD do; i’m interested in what they do do. That said, i truly believe that early users help construct the social norms for any given environment. In “Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do,” Scott Feld talks about how people’s understanding of how may friends they should have is constructed by their friends.

Marc – i don’t believe that users should take these relationships more seriously; i believe that YOU should. Users will do whatever they damn well please, and i think that we should learn from them. But out of respect to the creators of these systems, many of whom are our friends, i truly believe that we should respect their goals and not engage in behavior that disrespects their intentions. Furthermore, i believe that we should never be the exceptions on any given service, the ones who push the boundaries. We are not average users. We should sit back and watch what average users do, not try to top them. By engaging in disrespectful behavior, we make it much harder for our friends and colleagues to execute their business plans as they’re busy policing us.

This is about ethics and respect, not about any false notion that these networks actually mean something. This is about business models, strategy, and scalability, not research.

[Lago: i definitely realize that it's a game; i'm sorry that you thought otherwise.]

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13 comments to correcting Marc Canter’s perception of my views

  • From danah:
    > But out of respect to the creators of these systems, many of whom are our friends,
    > i truly believe that we should respect their goals and not engage in behavior that
    > disrespects their intentions

    Amen!

    I’ve written a pretty lengthy rant about my distaste for the behaviors of those who try to ‘break’ systems in ways that may negatively impact others, either out of (IMHO) misguided curiosity, out of immature rebelliousness (“let’s stick it to Da Man!”), or plain cluelessness (“But everyone in the world is my friend! Really! Peace, bro!”)

    I have agreed with the majority of your complaints about orkut, danah, and indeed, have found myself also disappointed in what I feel is the lost opportunity (so far) for what Orkut (the guy) and Google (the company) could have set up from the get go. They have the means, the finances, and so on to have set up a truly sophisticated and thoughtful social network. I still optimistically think that orkut.com will amount to something impressive (useful and/or just damn fun) someday, though I wish the structure had been more sophisticated from the beginning.

    With that said, I do have to agree with what I read from someone else recently (apologies — the specific source is escaping me!) about how perhaps the ambiguity and unsophisticated structure of orkut.com is intentional… letting members shape things as they go along, almost as folks might build a sim-city from the ground up.

    Perhaps. And perhaps not. I don’t know.

    Anyway, I’ll continue to use orkut.com until it’s either no longer fun and useful for me, or I feel it has no hopes of BECOMING fun and useful. At that time (and probably before), I’ll be airing my concerns privately to the orkut.com team and publicly on my blog… but I’ll maintain my respect for Orkut, orkut.com, Google, and the service terms to which I agreed to when I signed up.

    I wish others would do the same.

  • Well stated, Danah. Friends are friends, for God’s sake. Friendship is at the core of those human qualities that make life tolerable.

    Friends are not something you collect in order to run up a really high score.

    I have a lot of friends, but I’m pretty scrupulous about not calling a stranger a friend until he’s actually become one. I try to stick to this principle, whether online or offline.

    To do otherwise would cheapen the currency of friendship, my central asset.

  • I do think that friend can mean different things to different people. Some people have 3 friends, some people have 12, some people have 150 and some people have 1000. I think the biggest problem with Orkut is that it isn’t clear what they mean by friend and they put the most befriended people on the top of the list and amplify the “more friends the better” thing. The “more friends the better” thing adds to virality, but it lowers quality. I think that this is inherently the dfficulty with trying to run these friend things as businesses. Promoting viral behavior and keeping the quality high seem to be opposed.

    I don’t mean any disrespect, but to me Orkut is a still a toy. So although I agree with Barlow that “Friends are not something you collect in order to run up a really high score,” I think that if you want people to behave that way, you shouldn’t force everyone to keep score or encourage that sort of behavior with the interface.

  • joe

    I’m more intrigued by the “what is a fan?” question and who sends invitations to whom elitism… I’ve only sent one invitation out and that person is in the Doctorow-leave-me-the-fuck-alone camp.

  • joe

    This got me thinking… how can I destroy Orkut’s invitation elitism but not cheapen the idea of a friend? Answer: invite anyone I want to and, if they are not a friend, immediately delete them from my friends network.

  • joe

    sorry for the shotgun emails, dmb… as a follow up to my last comment:

    1) Orkut will not add anyone with an email address that is already in their system (so, for example, I can’t add myself using an email address that I’ve already supplied to orkut in my profile). I just ignores these requests.

    2) You can’t invite a friend and then immediately delete them… there’s a time lag for the invitation email to be sent.

  • Danah, when I first read this, I thought of something else.

    When I saw the word “YOU”, I was thinking of myself and Marc Canter as developers. I’m not currently involved in developing Social Software, but I come from the developer mind set.

    “WE” developers “should take these relationships more seriously”. That means that although our users will game, will play, and stretch the system, we should design it as seriously as possible those who are serious, concerned, and value their relationships. “Calling someone a friend” should mean something — something important.

  • Followup on Orkut

    I’ve read of emails, Orkut messages, and blog postings since my post yesterday, so I thought I would share some with you….(pointers and commentary to several of Dahah Boyd’s blog entries, and other blogs and emails follow)

  • Followup on Orkut

    I’ve read of emails, Orkut messages, and blog postings since my post yesterday, so I thought I would share some with you….(pointers and commentary to several of Dahah Boyd’s blog entries, and other blogs and emails follow)

  • Scott Moore

    I popped off about being thankful for people who abuse systems in beta elsewhere, and I’d like expand on it while agreeing with Christopher. I read danah’s “YOU” the same way. My opinion on seriously designing social systems is that the gamers and abusers should be taken seriously as part of the design. When considering any feature where people interact, my first thoughts are – how can I use this to harrass and annoy someone and what interaction am I willing to compromise.

    Attempting to hold a public beta while protecting the system from abuse is a lot like throwing a wild party and not expecting someone to get drunk and knock over your priceless antique. Think of the possibility ahead of time and work it out the best you can – then let people in.

  • You was directed at Marc. That’s why i began the sentence with his name. It was a public statement to Marc.

  • Scott Moore

    But you, danah, got us thinking and that’s not a bad thing.