Monthly Archives: September 2003

am i a suicide girl?

Now, i get a lot of odd messages on Friendster, which often humor me. Since i know way too many people on the damn site, many people think i’m collecting friends and ask me to add them. I ignore these, but they make me smile.

Actually, i rarely respond to anyone who writes me on Friendster (no time..), but i utterly love reading what people write. In the last few weeks, a new trend in requests has emerged in my personal account: i keep getting messages from people asking for my suicide girl page, asking if i am a suicide girl, asking for my porn site, etc. At first, this was a bit startling (although i have to admit that i was secretly honored since i adore the Suicide Girls).

For those who don’t know, most of the Suicide Girls are “Pin-up Punk Rock and Goth Girls” (a.k.a. a really hot soft porn site for the younger funkier market). Many Suicide Girls and other women with sites are on Friendster because 1) it’s fun; 2) they can connect with their friends; 3) it helps them connect with more people who may be interested in their site. [It’s important to note that many of the Girls neither advertise their site nor their identity as a Girl.]

Browsing through such women’s portraits, i realized something. Many of them have collections of friends that consist of young punkster friends and older white businessmen…. So do i. Interesting.

[Not so private note…. Clay – your identity play is fucking with my identity play.]

the idiot savant

Abe’s latest reflections on Friendster are fantastic. He iconifies Jonathan as an idiot savant, accidentally stumbling on brilliance.

[Side note: the notion of Friendster as the product of an idiot savant makes me deliciously happy as my dear friend used to pound a mantra in my head during college: don’t attribute to maliciousness what you can attribute to stupidity. Perhaps a rephrasing is due… Don’t attribute to brilliance what you can attribute to luck.]

In his entry, Abe argues that Friendster’s success is going to be hard to top, that its growth must be analyzed and that much of it can be attributed to Friendster’s simple no-nonsense style. He does directly attack my point about Friendster fading, which makes me think that i need to readdress it since i still believe in it, but also believe in what he is saying.

The problem with Friendster (in its current incarnation) is that it has little motivation for people to return, manage their network or otherwise keep coming back after the fun wears off. Unless Friendster figures out how to address these problems, it will fade. To do so, Friendster needs to evolve beyond a dating-only model, which seems unlikely. That is why i see Friendster as fading and others emerging. Of course, an alternate course would be that Friendster figures out that it cannot squeeze a square peg into a round hole and adjust its model. Somehow, the savant part of Abe’s conception is dropped here.

I *definitely* agree that conversion is dreadfully impossible. But i also believe that conversion implies that the best model is to maintain an articulated network. I think that’s going to continue to be problematic and i think that the next evolution of these networks will have to address that head-on. That said, i also know that the dating model does not appeal to everyone and that there is an age cut-off on Friendster that allows for a larger market than Friendster currently addresses. I definitely think Friendster will be around in a year, but i don’t think it will be the same tool. I think that it will be a dating site with limited appeal and a lot of folks who had “been there, done that.”

Of course, i’m speculating like the next person and will enjoy being proven wrong.

codifying relationships

Liz is pondering the issues around explicitly codifying relationships and i couldn’t agree more with her musings. In a state of confusion about how to label people, we often just give up. This isn’t just something that happens online. How often do i try to express my relationship to someone and get all confused. One word certainly doesn’t clarify those complications, but i still find myself making up a closest approximation, but not one that i would write down in stone. Also, given the rich relationships that i have with people, i often adjust my description of my relationship with a person depending on the audience.

Let me flesh this out with some examples. The most obvious is the newly dating couple who hasn’t really determined what their relationship is. So, what’s the likelihood that one is to exuberantly tell her best friend about her new girlfriend? Probably high – there’s a bit of bragging enthusiasm / want of support. What’s the probability of her telling her mom about her new girlfriend? Probably low – she doesn’t want to have to deal with the yes, mom, another one.. no this one’s different conversation. Same relationship but with problems codifying it.

Also, codification assumes that our terms are consistent and imply the same thing. Does friend mean the same thing to everyone? Certainly not. I have quite a few friends who i’ve learned that “friend” means anyone that they’ve met. Some codes have a definite meaning, but the implications are not given. For example, she is my mom. Well, in my case, my mom and i are pretty good friends, engage with each other for advice, etc. My mom is also my friend, but the ‘mom’ label trumps the friend label. Yet, the implications of a mother/daughter relationship are not consistent and thus one cannot assume much by simply hearing that relationship.

Liz is also dead-on when she asks what the point of codification is when we have that model internally anyhow. For most people, there is none. What’s the value? Doesn’t it cause more social trauma than it does any good? Don’t get me wrong – i’m constantly explicitly codifying information, but i don’t think that this is normal behavior. [I am, afterall, an academic whose eccentricity is just part of the process.]

Finally, i appreciate Liz’s pointers to my commentary on sex and self-monitoring. Marginalized populations are constantly trying to account for how they are being perceived, if they are getting information across as intended and adjusting what they say accordingly. They don’t have the privilege to just be whoever whenever whereever. They must determine the appropriate information at the appropriate time. Sex is just one axis in which this plays a part. The most blatant example for people is around gay identity. If you’re gay and you lack the privilege of class (overeducation counts here), what’s the likelihood that you will pronounce your sexual preference as you go for a job? Is this deception or simply trying to be unclear about your identity for your own protection? Self-monitoring. You determine the social situation and adjust accordingly. That same person is not going to hide his identity when he’s at a gay bar.

Cybersalon on Habits of the Heart

Here’s another gathering for the interested. (I will be on this panel, offering quite a different perspective – i suspect – than is normally presented.)

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

Continue reading

my iPod killer app

When i got my Mac, it came with an iPod for a few extra dollars (ah, student discounts). Since my computer two computers ago crashed with all of my MP3s, i haven’t bothered to re-rip them. I listen almost exclusively to online radio when i’m listening to music off of my computer. Thus, i couldn’t think of a reason for why i might want an iPod, but for $30, why not?

So, i scratched the darn thing before i even figured out how to use it. I didn’t have a single MP3 to put on it and i certainly didn’t want to go through the process of ripping my CDs again. So i procrastinated. Eventually, someone was telling me of an amazing Infected Mushroom live set. This finally motivated me to download Limewire and track down a bunch of live DJ sets from Israel. Thus, my iPod quickly turned into my little reminder of when i had enough of a life to go dancing.

Well, i was reading a friend’s blog today and s/he mentioned listening to NPR recordings via Having missed every “This American Life” for god only knows how long, i was curious. In i wandered, where i found the perfect little gift for my iPod. Not only did they have copies of NPR reels, but they have tons and tons of books on tape. And not the kind of books on tape that i’ve grown accustomed to renting at trucker stops (how much Louis L’Amour must one read.. i’m still damning my 5th grade history teacher for that one). No, they had a copy of most of the “to be read soon” books on my for fun bookshelf. What finally convinced me was realizing that Eric Schlosser is reading his own books! Since “Reefer Madness” is high on that list, i decided it was a must do.

I’ve found my iPod killer app…

Friendster as neocortical prosthetic…

Multiple people have responded to my 150 person limit post with arguments about how the web should help increase our ability to connect and expand this number (most notably Tom Coates’ Friendster as neocortical prosthetic…).

Tom’s right in that those who perceive our brains as a computer see technology as an opportunity for augmentation, parallel processing style. This is where i fundamentally believe that humanity matters. Keeping up social relations is not simply about remembering everyone you’ve met or having a structure to keep track of them. It is also about having the time and ability to manage those relationships, keep information flowing, etc. Social networks are not simply about people that you can store to use as appropriate. Thus, i don’t fundamentally believe that an augmented version of your network will give you the tools necessary to maintain more meaningful contacts.

Of course, i’d love to be proven wrong.

[Direct note to Tom’s post: i’m not actually trying to justify why i’m not an anomaly; i’m trying to express why the numbers don’t make sense in the context of an articulated social network that spans time.]