Monthly Archives: May 2006

blog production/consumption musings

I’m not very good at reading blogs. Let me clarify… i’m not particularly good at reading blogs that are good for me. I check in on Brangelina is the new pink gossip daily, consume cute imagery until i’m overloaded, depress myself with what happens post secret, and read the living journals of close friends who share juicy stories. But when i think about reading blogs about tech industry, my research area or other arenas that would actually be helpful, i go into anaphylactic shock. There’s too many, it’s too overwhelming, i can’t cope, eek! I can’t even stomach blogs written by dear friends who i will talk with for hours about professional or intellectual ideas (unless they embed the nutritious material in the sugary gossip stuff). I don’t even think i’d read my blog given its content if i weren’t the one writing it.

It’s not that i don’t want to be engaged with meaningful conversations, but somehow, the popularity of blogging and the amount of content that people produce flips the all or nothing bit in my head. And then i started talking to some of my friends who maintain big blogs… I was startled at how few of them actually read blogs these days. They too had hit some wall; apparently, i’m not alone. They also rely on people to email things that are of particular interest. They also use things like Technorati to ego-surf not for validation, but to keep abreast of what conversations they’re supposed to be engaging in. There’s something reassuring about realizing that my peculiar blogging consumption practices these days are not unique. Of course, it doesn’t alleviate all of the guilt that i feel about being a blogger who doesn’t read many blogs.

But then i started thinking… Here i am producing random ass content for god knows who to read. Most of my close friends don’t read me so i can bet that most of my readers are relative strangers. So when i post questions to readers, mostly i’m posting them to strangers. More interesting though is who sends me links. For the most part, it clusters around two groups – close friends who don’t blog and strangers. My blogging non-consuming friends aren’t reading enough to inform me of things and if it’s particularly interesting, they’ll blog about it and assume that i’ll read it. (This brings back the guilt.)

Is what i’m hearing from my friends a larger trend amongst a particular population? If so, what does it mean for blogging discourse if there’s a consumption/production divide in blogging? Are (non-professional) bloggers with more readers less likely to read blogs than bloggers with fewer readers? What kind of peculiar power hierarchy emerges if bloggers who are read more read less and depend on readers more? Are those who read less less involved in the dialogue or are they simply bridges dependent on sharing? How might this relate to the fact that such bloggers are constantly getting pressure to blog about XYZ? Does lack of reading affect posting patterns? Does it signal a de-involvement with blogging culturally? (Any more than WoW addiction?)

I still haven’t seen a good study on the dynamics of massively public blogging, the cycles that bigger bloggers go through and the power implications involved, but i’m very curious about how consumption and production interconnect and affect the networked public nature of mass blogging. I’d also really love to understand the role that psychological, social and cultural factors play in prompting many of the bigger bloggers to stop (or drastically reduce) their blogging production. Selfishly, i’d also love someone to explain what’s going on so that i can stop reflexively blogging about reduced blogging. Of course, if someone does blog such a thing in the digital forest, would i even hear the sound?

do you love your phone?

I was floored by the amount of information y’all have about laptop options (although i’m still putzing and pawing about what to spend money on since it makes me soooo sad to think of leaving Apple). Since i learned so much from you there, i though perhaps you might also know quite a bit about phones and carriers? I am not getting rid of my Sidekick (oh no, i’m still very addicted and anxiously awaiting the new one… when??), but i do need to replace my other phone pretty badly. I was waiting on the Helio but the service plan is way outside of my price range and i don’t know anyone who has gotten one so that i could try it. My phone is currently on Sprint, but i can’t stand having to login to a service to retrieve text messages so i’m thinking of finally leaving (i’ve been on Sprint since 1997), but maybe it’s just a matter of getting the right phone? I refuse to switch to AT&T given their collaboration with NSA and my Sidekick is on T-Mobile so i don’t need another phone on that carrier (i prefer having multiple carriers so that my phone is always usable). What carrier should i be thinking of using? Are there any left? (Yeah, yeah, i know… carriers suck…) I’d really like to end up with a phone plan in the range of my current one ($50). I don’t really need web or music or anything other than lots of minutes + texts + ?mms? since i use my Sidekick for most data-related stuff. Then again, i might be motivated to try this whole use your phone as a modem thing.

What phone should i get? My goal is to have something shaped like a phone that’s designed to primary handle 1) talking; 2) texting; 3) camera (so no Treo or Crackberry). It should have a speakerphone and be shaped well enough for me to keep it between my ear and shoulder as i cock my head in weird angles to talk while my hands are busy typing/driving/eating, but it shouldn’t be so big as to feel like i’m putting a piece of toast up to my ear. A camera would probably be good since everyone tells me i’d take photos if my phone has a reasonable camera and i should at least try….

The biggest thing is that the interface should be simple and easy to use. I’ve been trying this fancy Samsung phone that Sprint sent me to beta test but i just can’t stand the interface. I am humored that i can watch The Daily Show on my phone and download random songs, but i’m more likely to just watch TV/listen to music on my iPod (especially since it’s much cheaper to do so). I am not interested in having lots more functions on my phone if it means i pay the cost in ease of use. What i love the most about my Sidekick is that the interface is intuitive and simple, not mired in hierarchies from hell. I love that i can choose to download things like Suduko but that it doesn’t make my phone any more complicated.

Do you have a phone that you just absolutely love? Are there carriers out there that aren’t impossible to negotiate? I’m looking at buying someting in early July when i return from traveling so if there’s something coming out that i should wait for, that’d be good to know. More than anything, i’m curious if anyone is actually happy with their mobile solution since i’m so far pretty disappointed. What is cool and functional?

MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (with Henry Jenkins)

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.

“Not Ready to Make Nice”

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting

I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

I know you said
Can’t you just get over it
It turned my whole world around
And I kind of like it

(The Dixie Chicks)

fantasizing about health care

This morning, i was huffing and puffing on the human hampster wheel sandwiched between two strapping gay guys who looked more like they were on the stairway to heaven. On my iPod was Steve Martin’s “Shopgirl,” filling me with drab thoughts about body image LA culture while the tele ran commercials to the daytime TV crowd about products that would help you lose weight, have beautiful skin and be happy all day long. I sighed.

And then, stumbling aimlessly around the gym looking for some way that i could remedy my back ache by working on my pecks without further injuring my elbow, i started realizing that maybe there is something good to be said about all of the psycho image culture. Maybe these body sculptors will devise tools so that i can work on individual muscle zones without further damaging the other broken ones. This week alone, i’ve added my left elbow to my wrists, neck and right knee… so now my shoulders are starting to curl over, numbing my left arm and sending shooty gifts down my left side. Lovely. Perhaps i should worship the body sculptors and pray that they will invent a magical potion to build muscle to the exact level that will support my frame so that things don’t keep falling out of whack.

And then, on cue, Barenaked Ladies came into my thoughts and i started dreaming about being uber wealthy and having real health care and having a brilliant physical therapist who would know exactly how to deal with each muscle system so that i could function even while broken as hell. Ah, dreams…

(How sad is it that my fantasy of being uber rich involves doctors and health care? And yes, i’m procrastinating writing my &%*@ quals.)

erosion of youth privacy – the local panopticon

For those who read my quote in the SF Chronicle today, i want to clarify it a bit as i think privacy and the next generation is a critical issue. I am quoted as having said:

“Teens today grow up in a state of constant surveillance where there is no privacy,” said Danah Boyd, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, who studies youth culture and online communities. “So they can’t really have an idea of it being lost. The risk of the government or a corporation coming in and looking at their MySpace site is beyond their consideration.”

This is accurate, but it’s missing the context that makes it meaningful and useful to people concerned with privacy. Teens are growing up in a constant state of surveillance because parents, teachers, school administrators and others who hold direct power over youth are surveilling them. Governments and corporations are beyond their consideration because the people who directly affect their lives have created a more encompassing panopticon than any external structure could ever do. The personal panopticon they live in (managed by people they know and see daily) is far more menacing, far more direct, far more traumatic. As a result, youth are pretty blase about their privacy in relation to government and corporate. Cuz realistically, in comparison to parents/teachers, what can they do?

Privacy folks should be worried about where privacy is going with the next generation, but the erosion is happening on the home front, not on the corporate/governmental level. Unless we figure out how to give youth privacy in their personal lives, they are not going to expect privacy in their public lives.

PC recommendations

I love Macs, but i desparately need a smaller computer. I went and visited the new 13″ today and realized that i can’t use it. It’s too big, too heavy and the keyboard is too problematic. ::sigh:: So i’m starting to look around for a PC. 🙁 My big needs are <12", <5lb, cheap and above all else, a 90% keyboard (85-95% range... 16mm... *not* full-size) that is soft touch (i.e. it clatters rather than trying to be silent). I used to have a VAIO which i loved. Does anyone have any good suggestions? I'm very sad to need to switch back, but my hands never liked the full-sized keyboard and it's really catching up to me. I'm sad that Apple won't be going smaller than 13" and i'm even sadder that i will be forced into dealing with Windows, but i really need a smaller computer. Beh. (For those who think an external keyboard is the answer, if you find me one that is 90% and lighter touch than a laptop keyboard, i'm down... but i've never seen one that is both.)

Cluster Effects and Browser Support (IE-only social software is idiotic)

The number one justification i get for Internet Explorer-only support is that 90% of the population uses it. Let’s assume that to be true (even though only 52% of this blog’s readers use IE5 or 6). This argument rests on two assumptions:

1) An individual uses IE (and ONLY IE) on all computers that they use.
2) The only browser that matters is the individual’s browser.

When users cannot use an application as they move between work and home computers, between personal and school computers, etc., they get disincentivized. Yet, that’s a minor problem compared to #2. When it comes to social software, i’m not just concerned with what browser i use, but with what browser my friends use. I may not be concerned directly, but i need them to play along too to get validated and to make it fun. I don’t want to invest time and energy into making profiles or blogs that my friends can’t access for functional reasons, especially if there are alternatives that everyone can access.

You need cluster effects for social software to work. I need to be able to convince my most exploratory friends to try it with me and i need them to get super excited about it. Once i get them going, then i can convince the rest of my friends to follow along. If i can’t convince them, then i quickly lose interest and stop trying to convince everyone else in my social world. Not only does this make it hard for me to play along, it makes it hard for my close friends that i turned on to play along. Because if i lose interest, why should they keep spreading it to their friends? Etc.

For entertainment, let’s play a probabilities games… Let’s assume an even distribution of IE use (which is not true) and random friend connections. Let’s assume the average teen has 40 AIM buddies (low), but that only 10 really matter. In other words, 10 specific people are a critical baseline for my desire to become an active participant. (Note: the self-motivation to try it about early adopters does not take into consideration whether or not my friends will play along.) There’s a 34.9% (.9^10) probability that all of my close crucial friends are on IE. Let’s say that i’m in that important 35%. For it to take hold, all of my friends need to participate and pass on the enthusiasm virally. The probability that all of my important 10 friends are also in that critical 35% is… TERRIBLE (assuming random friendship connections). As network effects take hold and interest spirals, there will be critical nodes who simply don’t participate for structural reasons. That is bad bad bad for significant growth and sustainability.

Of course, in reality, browser use is not evenly distributed, friendship networks are not random and it’s not clear exactly how many crucial people one needs to participate. (Translation: the probability game was for kicks – a real analysis would require modeling network spreads and calculating stickiness.) There are likely to be quite a few IE-only clusters, but there are also likely to be quite a few clusters where crucial nodes use Firefox/Safari. (There are also likely to be a few where there are other browsers, but frankly, these are typically the geek networks that most mainstream developers are happy to write off.)

The important thing is that when you think about browser-access, you cannot simply think in terms of “90% market” because there’s a decent probability that many of those 90% have critical connections to people who are in the 10%. You need to think in terms of clusters, not individuals, because it is clusters that will make your application work. People participate when all of their friends can.

Corporations force this through regulation software, but this is not how consumer markets work. Launching a beta of AIM Pages on IE-only is foolish at best. Sure, a lot of people will try it, but if their friends can’t play, they won’t really get into it. Meaningful activity won’t spread unless entire clusters can play along. (Trying it out by creating an account is not the same as being active.)

Getting social applications going requires a baseline…. That baseline is that everyone can play along so that there’s no structural barrier to network spread. This is why mobile shit is so hard to get off the ground. This is why getting people to download applications for social interaction is such a barrier to participation. Replicating this problem on the Internet is foolish at best. It doesn’t matter if you’re launching in beta – first impressions really do matter. If you’re targeting an audience that’s IE-only (like corporations), go for it. But if you’re trying to go after a mainstream, younger audience, you’re being idiotic if you think you can get away with not supporting Firefox or Safari. (And besides, if you’re AOL, what on earth are you doing supporting Microsoft hegemony?)

Update: Apparently, AIM Pages is supposed to support Firefox, although i was unable to really do much and i have not bothered going back nor have i had time to file a proper bug report list. Folks in the comments have had better luck. My points about IE-only still stand, although they apparently should not be directed at AIM Pages. Of course, it cannot be a good thing that i found the site so broken and buggy that i believed it did not work in Firefox at all…