Monthly Archives: June 2009

PDF Talk: “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”

Two years ago this week, I wrote a controversial essay in an attempt to locate divisions that I was seeing play out between MySpace and Facebook. This week, at the Personal Democracy Forum, I revisited these ideas in a new talk:

The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online

Needless to say, this talk provoked some discussion which is why I thought it might be helpful to share it. What you have here is the crib from the talk. Comments are VERY much welcome!

xkcd meets reality

Earlier this week, xkcd posted a fantastic comic about the apocalypse happening and the dead rising to walk the earth. In the comic, mathematicians scribbled frantically and raced to Paul Erdos’ grave to get him to sign a document that is presumably co-authorship on a paper. (For the uninitiated, read about the Erdos number.)

Anyhow, I forwarded this to Henry Cohn – a mathematician friend of mine – who sent me the most hysterical email that I just had to share:

By the way, there’s no need to wait until the end times to write papers with dead mathematicians. One example of this is the paper “Higher algebraic K-theory of schemes and of derived categories” by R. W. Thomason and Thomas Trobaugh, which Thomason wrote with his deceased friend Trobaugh after Trobaugh appeared to him in a dream:

“The first author must state that his coauthor and close friend, Tom Trobaugh, quite intelligent, singularly original, and inordinately generous, killed himself consequent to endogenous depression. Ninety-four days later, in my dream, Tom’s simulacrum remarked, ‘The direct limit characterization of perfect complexes shows that they extend, just as one extends a coherent sheaf.’ Awaking with a start, I knew this idea had to be wrong, since some perfect complexes have a non-vanishing K_0 obstruction to extension. I had worked on this problem for 3 years, and saw this approach to be hopeless. But Tom’s simulacrum had been so insistent, I knew he wouldn’t let me sleep undisturbed until I had worked out the argument and could point to the gap. This work quickly led to the key results of this paper. To Tom, I could have explained why he must be listed as a coauthor.”

Understanding retweeting on Twitter

As we try to work out how Iranian citizens, activists, journalists, new media propagators, and politically conscious folks are using Twitter to converse about the Iranian election, we need to step back and think about some of the practices that are core to what’s taking place. One of these is retweeting, or the act of spreading a message along inside Twitter. Earlier this week, Scott Golder, Gilad Lotan, and I just finished a descriptive paper on retweeting as a conversational practice:

Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter

The purpose of this paper is simple. We wanted to explore retweeting as a conversational practice. In doing so, we highlight just how bloody messy retweeting is. Often, folks who are deeply embedded in the culture think that there are uniform syntax conventions, that everyone knows what they’re doing and agrees on how to do it. We found that this is blatantly untrue. When it comes to retweeting, things get messy. The 140 character constraints introduce new dynamics and people route around a potential limitation is unique ways. But this doesn’t mean that everything is honky dory. There are authorship issues and attribution issues. The fidelity of a message often gets corrupted as it spreads, revealing the ways in which retweeting has become the modern day incarnation of the “Telephone Game.”

This paper is currently under review in an academic setting, but we’re making it available for public commentary and critique. Also, given how confused folks are in the public and mainstream media, we felt that getting this out sooner rather than later might be helpful in clearing up some myths about what’s going on. Retweeting is core to information dissemination on Twitter but how it’s unfolding is more complex than many believe.

Please enjoy! And we welcome any and all feedback!

Twitter is for friends; Facebook is everybody

I was talking with a friend of mine today who is a senior at a technology-centered high school in California. Dylan Field and his friends are by no means representative of US teens but I always love his perspective on tech practices (in part cuz Dylan works for O’Reilly and really thinks deeply about these things). Noodling around, I asked him if many of his friends from his school used Twitter and his response is priceless:

Dylan: “as for twitter, we are totally not representative, but ya a lot of people use twitter. it’s funny because the way they are using it is not the way most do… they make private accounts and little sub-communities form. like cliques, basically. so they can post stuff they don’t want people on fb to see, since fb is everybody. it’s odd, because the way i see it get used with my friends is totally contradictory to what everyone is saying. people seem to think teens hate twitter because it’s totally public, but the converse is actually true. but it’s not everyone… probably 10-15% at most.”

As someone who has argued about the challenge of Twitter being public (to all who hold power over teens), I find this push-back to be extremely valuable. What Dylan is pointing out is that the issue is that Facebook is public (to everyone who matters) and Twitter can be private because of the combination of tools AND the fact that it’s not broadly popular.

My guess is that if Twitter does take off among teens and Dylan’s friends feel pressured to let peers and parents and everyone else follow them, the same problem will arise and Twitter will become public in the same sense as Facebook. This of course raises a critical question: will teens continue to be passionate about systems that become “public” (to all that matter) simply because there’s social pressure to connect to “everyone”?

gender gap in perception of computer science

“New Image for Computing” recently released a report in their first wave to understand the image of computing among youth. Funded by WGBH and ACM, this report examines both race/ethnicity and sex-based differences in perceptions of computing. What they found was that there is little race/ethnicity-based differences in how youth perceive CS but there are HUGE gender based differences in perception.

While 67% of all boys rated computer science as a “very good” or “good” career choice, only 9% of girls rated it “very good” and 17% as “good.” Digging down deeper, it is fascinating to note that there’s a gender gap between boys and girls when it comes to feeling that “being passionate about your job” is “extremely important” (F: 78%, M: 64%), “earning a high salary” is “extremely important” (F: 39%, M: 50%), and “having the power to do good and doing work that makes a difference” is “extremely important” (F: 56%, M: 47%). These all play into how these youth perceive computer science and computing-driven fields.

The summary of key findings is:

  • Most college-bound males, regardless of race/ethnicity, have a positive opinion of computing and computer science as a career or a possible major.
  • College-bound females are signi´Čücantly less interested than boys are in computing; girls associate computing with typing, math, and boredom.
  • College-bound African American and Hispanic teens, regardless of gender, are more likely than their white peers to be interested in computing, although for girls the overall interest is extremely low.
  • Teens interested in studying computer science associate computing with words like “video games,” “design,” “electronics,” “solving problems,” and “interesting.”
  • The strongest positive driver towards computer science or an openness to a career in computing is “having the power to create and discover new things.”

Computer science is still dominated by men. The computer industry is still dominated by men. In order to combat these issues, we need to get to the crux of the issue. We need to address both the perception of computing as well as the very real issues that young people raise regarding the realities of life in the computing industry. For more information, check out the full report.

(Disclosure: I am on the advisory board of New Image for Computing.)