Monthly Archives: September 2003

the value of press

Last night, i was on a panel at the Hillside. Afterwards, someone asked me how i managed to cram a whole lot of theory into 8 minutes. The answer was simple: the press. I’ve found that the press is one of the best bouncing boards for working through academic ideas. They ask silly questions, have totally different motives, and are so far outside of academia that everything seems new and interesting. Other academics are jaded, too involved in the details and otherwise unable to provide that fresh perspective. I’ve given up paying attention to how they might quote me, because i don’t care; i simply enjoy the conversations.

Last week, i was talking to a reporter. She asked me a question about what makes interacting with people on something like Tribe or LinkedIn different than Friendster. This prompted a little a-hah moment. Dating is all about people matching.. people meeting other people. Classifieds are all about people connecting with *information.* Say what you want about the effectiveness of meeting people online, but the Internet has certainly been successful at connecting people to information… for almost everyone. And the Internet has definitely been successful at helping mediate relationships that already exist.

Even when you break down the kinds of relationships that form on Friendster, you start to realize that Friendster is most useful as an information gathering tool. (Yeah, yeah… a people DNS.) Familiar strangers. Headhunters using it to look up people. Tracking down old friends. Information, not necessarily socialization. Of course, information about people is far more fascinating than information about random objects. But getting information about people doesn’t necessarily prompt a desire to interact with or engage them.

Must process more, but when i said it out loud, i realized that the dichotomy of people/information is a really powerful axes for reflection on these tools.

knwoledge management

Dina Mehta has an interesting entry called Social Networks and Brand Identity where she describes Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism (a combination of 6 internal & external characteristics that comprise a consumer’s reaction to a brand). It seems as though she’s doing a lot of crunching on ideas in the knowledge management space.

Most of what she focuses on are the more business-y approaches, but her entries are a reminder that i need to learn more about the academic theories underlying knowledge management (’cause that’s the type of information management that i want to be playing with).

irritated by process

While Berkeley is far more like Brown than MIT could ever dream to be, one thing drives me batty: there is way too much of the Northern California process, self analysis shit in the classroom. I just sat through 2 one-hour classes where over half of each class was devoted to process, analysis of the professors (section) or self-analysis by the professors (lecture). We’re no longer in the first week of school so i have *no* patience for this.

I’m also having a really really hard time dealing with the slowness of speech of most professors. Out of all of my professors, one of them is a New Yorker/total East Coaster. He talks as fast i do, makes no apologies for it and demands that you keep up just by his assertive manner of speaking. It’s odd how refreshing this is for me. (And added bonus is that while he can do the whole post-structuralist speak, he keeps it to a minimum instead of trying to validate his existence through incomprehensible combinations of discourse words.)

As most of my SF friends are actually natives of the East Coast, i forget how much the slow-paced, process-centric Californian tendencies drive me up the wall. I just want to plow through the material. If i don’t get something in the first round, i’d rather repeat it than think that a slow version will allow for better comprehension. That never works for me and by going slow, my mind wanders.

I think i need more sleep.

Cybersalon on Habits of the Heart

In case you want to hear me babble:

Cybersalon: Matchmaking for Love and Money, Online and Off

Some social interactions can’t be automated–yet, but technologies can
certainly help folks pursue a quicker denouement.

The founders of online and offline career and dating services will
explain how new technology and new social norms are changing the way
people find love and money at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, on
Sunday, September 21 (5:30-9PM).

Speakers include:

* Jonathan Abrams, CEO, Friendster
* danah boyd from UC Berkeley
* Julie Paiva, President, Table for Six
* Mark Pincus, CEO, Tribe
* Cynthia Typaldos, Principal, Typaldos Consulting
* Ned Engelke, Managing Director, North America, OIS/SmartFlirts

Note: for anyone who had hoped to go to this talk to heckle Jonathan instead of me, you’ll need to redirect your tomatoes as Jonathan has seemed to have bailed on the panel.

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would you pay $5?

Folks keep asking me for my honest opinion on last evening’s MIT/Stanford Venture Lab panel and i keep avoiding this, but peer pressure works so well.

First, one must dissect the purpose of people’s attendance. In theory, the goal is to see a panel of experts talk about the business issues around the “social networking space” (even if some panelists want to pretend as though there is no “space”). I may not have an MBA or any entrepeneurial experience, but i’m not so naive as to think that there is any expert on the business end of this phenomenon. Everyone is riding on theories; there are no success stories to say how this is going to work, how this is going to make money. Since everyone’s bank rides on their theories, suddenly there are experts because when you lack data, you need to back your ideas with confidence so as to encourage others to do so as well, thereby increasing your likelihood of succeeding (business is a strange world to me).

Thus, we had a panel of five people who have a lot invested in making this work, and particularly in making this work for them.

Now.. let’s look at the audience. Why on earth would you pay $30 to hear a panel of people who have a lot invested banter about something that has yet to pan out? One of the audience members answered this reflection when she turned to the audience, asked how many grad students were in the room and whether or not they would pay $5 more to get a list of who was attending. The room was filled with people who also wanted to see and be seen. Of course, to be seen, you must also be heard, so most questions were also about being seen, not reflecting on what one was hearing.

[Of course, i’m a part of this absurdist drama as well since i went to watch and analyze and to show face given that i’ve been dreadfully busy. Plus, i wanted to get a sense of what was missing in preparation for the remake of this play on Sunday.]

Unfortunately, very little of the panel got into the content of the topic. Instead, it was a pure dance that would’ve made Goffman proud. The interaction ritual between panelists was full of snide remarks and ego cutting (or soothing); it was like watching a geek version of a wrestling match… (of course, i wonder whether it was more like the WWF than a set of professional wrestlers… performed or realistic spite?) I will say that Jonathan has become much better at responding to sarcastic cuts in kind and even better at dodging the opponents.

I should note that prior to the panel’s dance, Reid gave a 20 minute talk with interesting data for those who might know the space. In the talk, he had one nugget that got me thinking. He noted that Jonathan believed that people have one social network; Reid countered that they have multiple.

Perhaps those of you who know me know that their disagreement brings up one of my buzzwords in a flash: faceted. (Yes, yes, don’t roll your eyes.) People maintain a coherent social network. The multiple contexts in which we interact create facets in our social network that we know how to maintain quite meaningfully. We certainly reach out to different people for dates than we do for jobs, but that is not a segmentation of our network into convenient chunks. Instead, we manage what is appropriate when. We don’t want to maintain multiple networks; we want to maintain one network that we can facet as we see fit. This is a trick that no one in this “space” has figured out yet. This means that we don’t always want a public network, because we’re not always willing to collapse those facets. (More to come on this topic, i’m sure…)

Anyhow, as you can see, i quite enjoyed myself, but i always do enjoy good entertainment full of outrageous actors and an interactive audience.

Oh, and in case you want to actually know more about the content, Stewart Butterfield is far more concrete than i have been.

Other versions of commentary:
Marc Canter (with shameful pictures of moi)
Ross Mayfield
CBS Marketplace

V-Day Online Organizer

I’m trying to find my replacement for V-Day. If you know of anyone in New York that’d be interested, let me know!

JOB TITLE: Online Organizer (Part-Time)


REPORTS TO: Executive Director

WORKS MOST Worldwide and College Campaign Directors, Executive Director,
CLOSELY WITH: Technology Consultants.

DESCRIPTION: The position of On-Line Organizer is classified as an exempt half-time position. In general responsibilities include: Moderate discussions on V-Day list-serves and manage broadcast messages to V-Day organizers around the world; Participate in the design and implementation of technology to support communication with and among organizers; Facilitate volunteer activities of organizers, translation services, on-line promotions and other on-line, web-based extensions of V-Day’s work; Work closely with the Directors of the College Campaign and Worldwide Campaign, and other staff on technology and communication issues; Such other tasks and duties as may be assigned.


– Manage and update and sometimes build the V-Spot (The V-Spot is the internal site for all of our organizers. It is a HTML/PHP/mySQL system)
– Manage Contractors
– Tech support for Organizers
– Create reports
– Update material on
– Manage and make certain our boxes stay up
– Serve as system administrator V-Day staff
– Envision ways in which technology can be used to enhance V-Day

An ideal candidate would have (in the order of priorities):

– Good communication skills, patience and politeness
– An interest in building community in a digital realm
– An ability to design system specs and manage outside contractors
– A ability to negotiate data on a UNIX-based system
– HTML knowledge
– PHP, mySQL knowledge
– Perl, Javascript knowledge
– A strong working knowledge of Windows and Mac OS 9/10 and PC/Mac Office is desirable
– Experience troubleshooting PC and Mac computer problems is desirable.
– Any and all other technical skills

V-Day is a virtual organization. The Coordinator works out of his/her home office which should be in or around New York City.

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frustrated with information retrieval

For the last few weeks, i’ve been trying to appreciate the information retrieval material that is being thrown my way in my classes. For those who don’t know, i’m housed in a department called “Information Management and Systems” (i.e. what happened to librarian sciences as it evolved).

I’m utterly fascinated by how people construct and maintain information, most notably *social* information. What categories do we create to relate to others? How do we construct models of social information in our heads? How do we access this?

Needless to say, this isn’t the focus of my classes, but i’m trying to overlay my goals onto the material and find some sort of appreciation for them. [My efforts remind me of my experiences with history classes in middle school. I despised history because i couldn’t make it relevant. At one point, a friend of mine told me to twist my perspective, to think of history as one giant storybook with fascinating characters. He suggested that i tried to figure out the motives and goals of the characters. Although my school focused on dates and memorization, i latched on to the material simply because i fell in love with the storybook.]

All the same, i’m finding myself utterly frustrated. All of the information retrieval work focuses on this external data, how to categorize it, create meta-data around it, access it, etc. In the process, it gets further and further removed from the structures of the mind. The goal is efficiency and the approach is often to create systems that seem most computationally logical and than to figure out how to make humans be able to access it. While these researchers acknowledge that people need to have immense skills to follow this protocol, their approaches still seem so foreign to me.

Of course, i find myself trapped to this as well. I had to critique SecureId the other day for a fellow researcher. This was a wonderful task because i’m a bit embarrassed by my naivety on that project. People are dreadful external categorizers. But, i just keep getting stuck on how bad people are at externalizing what they do so effectively internally that i cannot appreciate these attempts to do so. I need to figure out the proper “story” so that i can find this material interesting instead of just getting caught up in my irritation at their attempts.