The purpose of this Disclosure Statement is to position what you might find on my blog. This is heavily cribbed from David Weinberger who I adore and find to be a brilliant mentor regarding all things blog.
First things first, I am not speaking on behalf of my employer (Microsoft Research) and what I say on my blog may not reflect the beliefs or interests of my employer. This is a personal blog. I say what I want and no one pays me to write this blog or say particular things in it. I am not compensated for my blog – I do not run ads, no one pays me under the table, and I don’t sell Apophenia t-shirts or coffee mugs or chachkas of any kind. I do get compensated to blog in other places, but not here; I sometimes repost content that I write for elsewhere here because I think it might be of interest (and then I identify where it was originally posted), but I do not repost everything. I don’t do favors or blog about people because they’re nice to me or say that I’m brilliant; I may blog about other people when I think their work is interesting or when I’m working with them but I also might not.
I am currently employed by Microsoft Research. In the past, I have been an employee of: Macromedia, Intel, V-Day, Tribe.net, Google, and Yahoo! I do have a continuing relationship with the Leigh Bureau who represents me in my speaking engagements.
I have advised numerous companies over the years on short-term gigs, sometimes for pay and sometimes because they’re friends of mine. Most of these relationships are between me and them but I will disclose them if I talk about them on my blog. I tend not to talk about them or their products because of conflict of interest issues.
I am currently a Fellow of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and an Associate Fellow at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society. My work at the Berkman Center is funded by the MacArthur Foundation. I previously had a fellowship at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center.
I am currently on the Board of Directors of New Media Consortium and the Board of Advisors of LiveJournal. I am also involved as an advisor to Youth Media Exchange and YPulse. I was previously an advisor to Technorati, Blyk, Gypsii, and Standard Answers.
I was on the Knight Commission for Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and am a member of the Ad Council’s Internet Safety Coalition. I co-directed the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. I am also affiliated with the Digital Media and Learning Project funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
In a few rare occasions, I do volunteer work for a company or organization, typically because the data that they provide me is invaluable. For example, I worked with the PEW Internet and American Life Project to analyze data on youth’s use of social network sites. I also continue to volunteer with V-Day, an non-profit working to end violence against women and girls.
Objects of Study
In my research, I typically study people’s practices using social media. Examples of this include: Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, etc. I intentionally do not work for these companies, but I leave myself open to working for them in the future when my project is completed. Different companies feel differently about my studying the practices that take place on their site. Friendster’s management despised my work and was regularly hostile to my findings. MySpace, on the other hand, has been nothing but supportive and has provided me with immense amounts of data over the years. The attitude of each company does not affect my decisions of what to discuss (and I’ve been known to piss off MySpace), but I never reveal data provided to me in confidence.
I have learned that it is not generally helpful to my research to berate these company’s policies or politics, even when I disagree with them. For this reason, I am sometimes silent on things that piss me off simply because a pissing war is not fruitful for the continuation of my research. That said, I never do and never will justify a company’s actions when I disagree with them and I will critique onerous decisions that I think have a strong societal cost. Whenever I praise a company that I’m studying, I mean it. Silence is a bit more of a gray zone. And when I’m critical, it’s because I want to see the company do better.
I did my undergraduate degree in computer science at Brown University, my Master’s in Sociable Media at the MIT Media Lab, and my PhD in the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley. I have spent time at Harvard and USC and regularly visit many other campuses. I’m sure that these affiliations color my judgment on some issues.
I would one day like to be a professor and I’m painfully aware that this blog has already complicated any application that I might ever write. When I speak of academic frustrations, I am very cautious about what I say and, more often than not, I typically say nothing, although I’m trying to gather nerve to speak truth to power in this area. My feelings towards academia and academic institutions are probably the most silenced aspect of my blog simply because I do not have a good sense of the consequences. The exception to this is my absolute frustration with academic Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) and locked-down journals. I feel as though these institutions need to be rethought and challenged because even if their intentions are good, the outcomes are deeply problematic. My advisor (the beloved Peter Lyman) passed away in July 2007; he was an academic activist and I try to carry his torch.
I currently – and have in the past – sat on the committees of various conferences in both professional and academic spheres. This typically involves advising the conference organizers and reviewing submissions. These include: ICWSM, YPulse, O’Reilly’s ETech Conference, SXSW-Interactive, Blogher, HICSS, Prix Ars Electronica, ACM’s CHI, AOIR, Webby Awards, BlogTalk, CSCW, ASSA, and many others.
I go to more conferences than I should. When I’m speaking at professional conferences, I rarely pay conference fees. (All speakers must pay their own way to academic conferences, but those conferences are cheap in comparison.) I usually pay my travel and hotel expenses, unless I’m doing a keynote. Those professional conferences that I still pay travel fees to attend (Blogher and SXSW for example), I do so because I genuinely believe in the conference. I am far more likely to speak for free at non-profit conferences and conferences put together by my friends; I am less-than-thrilled to speak for free at for-profit conferences because I am not there to promote a product or find clients.
Companies sometimes send me free technology; authors sometimes send me free copies of their books. Often, explicitly or implicitly, they are looking for a mention. If I like the book or object, I may indeed mention it, but I often don’t. I’m probably not going to tell you that I got a free copy. Why? Because it doesn’t matter and because it makes me feel like I’m boasting. Also, it reads funny and I get lots of free books from reviewing and friends unrelated to promotion.
Every day, I receive hundreds of requests to link to someone’s project or website. Sometimes these come in the form of PR announcement; sometimes it’s a begging request from a friend. I ignore 99% of these requests because I refuse to operate as an advertising vehicle. I only link to projects that I’m involved in or things that I think are really cool that I was not asked to promote; outside pressure to link to something tends to devalue it in my mind. When I post a link, it’s because I can personally vouch for it.
When I mention a book, I usually include a link to the book on Amazon. I make a small amount of money this way. I never mention a book for the purpose of making money. I make less than $150 a year this way.
Politics and Activism
Politics are in my blood. I’m an activist and a progressive. I used to work for V-Day, an organization working to end violence against women and girls worldwide and I now volunteer for them. I am passionate about many issues, including abortion, queer politics, environmental sustainability, open access to education, civil rights, net neutrality, and Internet civil liberties. I often post on these topics and leave room for disagreement but I rarely get into heated debates on my blog about these positions – I don’t think that it’s the appropriate place to do so. I am happy to have commenters who disagree with me.
I voted for Obama and am damn proud of it.
I anonymously donate 10% of my income to charities that I believe are doing good work. I encourage everyone else to do this as well. I also donate my speaking fees.
Many people take issue with the fact that I work for a corporation and think that this biases my judgment. Working for a company allows me to complicate my understandings of technology and society but I do not speak on behalf of my employer or past employers. I get paid to do my research. This allows me to make my research accessible and to keep doing what is useful to society. I am committed to making my research publicly accessible. Sadly, most of what is hidden from view is because I haven’t had the time to write it up. I am deeply grateful to Microsoft Research for not silencing me.
Inevitably, when it comes to my blog, I use my judgment. I am more likely to not mention a company that I am affiliated with than to promote their products. I do this out of fairness and because the bulk of my blog is dedicated to my opinions, not the opinions of organizations that hire me. Sometimes, my opinions are aligned with the espoused positions of the companies; at other times, they are not. This is just the way it goes.
All I can promise is that I will be honest with you and never write something I don’t believe in because someone is paying me as part of a relationship you don’t know about. I may be silent because of my relationships, so please don’t take silence as either approval or dissent. But I will never make shit up just to maintain good face with a company, organization, or person.