Monthly Archives: January 2004

why Orkut makes people insecure

I was talking to a friend about my Orkut rant. Orkut really bothered him and he was trying to tease out why. He knew that it bothered him more than Friendster and it wasn’t simply because it was Google. In fact, he really likes Google.

As far as he could tease out, it bothered him mostly because the YASNS phenomenon has been around for a year at this point. Many of the weaknesses have been publicly discussed, particularly around Friendster. “Google had the opportunity to learn from Friendster and the other YASNSes, solving their known issues, but instead they released a tool that was broken in exactly the same way as its ancestors. This doesn’t advance the art, it doesn’t provide new value to users, and, because of Google’s popularity and credibility, it foists the YASNS problems (like the Economy of Bullshit and the social awkwardnesses) on an even larger user-base. Friendster had the excuse that they were breaking new ground and discovering new problems. What’s Google’s excuse?”

Of course, he’s not the only one uncertain about Orkut. Chris articulates his insecurity based on his feelings of being disrespected..

banned from Orkut?

I keep hearing about folks who have been kicked off or “jailed” from Orkut. I’d love to hear more about this. Who all is getting banned? Why? Are you given explanations? What happens when you try to fight?

what is beta in the context of social software?

What does the term ‘beta’ mean in social software? It’s become an ongoing joke since Friendster is *still* in beta. From my, admittedly limited, experience in software dev, alpha releases were almost always internal, hugely buggy releases. Betas were distributed to a small, reliable group of people meant to give constructive feedback. Of course things are buggy in alpha/beta, but rarely is any software project ever truly complete. Bugs are always found and new versions are released.

The weird thing about social software is that systems are distributed publicly as beta. Thousands (if not millions) of users appear on beta systems. Most of them are not trying to give feedback, but they do push the social and technological limits of the technology. Lessons are to be learned. Of course, lessons are to be learned in software ALWAYS, regardless of the labels.

I find it quite disconcerting that people want to label their distributions “beta” for over a year because it hasn’t been perfected, because new versions are coming out. This, to me, seems like an abuse of the term beta. New versions always come out. Is beta simply an excuse?

What does beta mean in the context of social software? Should we forgive technological imperfections? What about social consequences? What about apparent design decisions that seem to persist?

[This message is in part in response to this rant on why we should be lenient on Orkut because of its alpha status.]

I am really uncomfortable with public distributions of software being labeled as beta (or alpha), particularly when the population joining it is not aware of it being truly an alpha/beta. For example, would it be OK to completely scrap the data inputted because it is an alpha/beta? Are structures really going to change that much when it is in the hands of the public?

Genevieve on mobile culture

Genevieve Bell is one of my favorite researchers. Today, she spoke at Stanford and you can listen to her talk.

In June of 2002, Malaysian newsstands carried the latest issue of “Mobile Stuff” — a magazine geared toward Malaysia” growing population of mobile phone subscribers. On the cover, two young Malay men in clothing that suggests more LA hood and less KL suburbs, hold out their mobile phones to the camera beneath the banner headline “Real Men Use SMS.” Six months later, billboards in Shanghai carried the image of a woman’s shapely calves and ankles, bound with black patent leather ankle straps; positioned beneath one strap is her mobile phone. Beyond their utility as a technology of information exchange, mobile phones it appears have inserted themselves into the cultural fabric of societies across the world. Using comparative cases from Asia, this talk explores how mobile phones, and their various accoutrements, have become key symbolic markers of identities. I argue that mobile phones, rather than facilitating an idealized universal communication, actually contribute to the re-inscription of local particularity and cultural difference as dimensions of a larger political economy of value. Making sense of the different ways that cell phones are articulating with daily life provides an important perspective on the ways in which cultural patterns affect technology use.

orkut pissyness, round 2

Wanna see a big phat privacy hole on Orkut? Go to messages. Click compose. Click “friends and friends of friends.” Click next. Copy & paste all of your friends and their friends’ email addresses.

Oh, but don’t worry, you can’t delete either your account, your photos or any of your friends! (update: i am wrong about friends.. see comments) So, do you really trust the friends of those friends who keep adding everyone and their mother to the network?

Don’t worry, when everyone gets the hang of it, you’ll get to deal with your Orkut inbox because everyone in any community you’re in, or any friends of friends can send you messages there. As if you didn’t get enough virus mail this week.

Note for those who explicitly emailed me to ask why i’m particularly cranky about Orkut, why not other sites… 1) I am notoriously critical of all of the YASNS sites; 2) i made the reference to Jar Jar for a reason…. when you hope something is going to be really good because you have respect for the company behind it and the creation comes out to be insulting to the core, you can’t help but walking out of the theatre feeling sick to your stomache. Sure, i realize that it’s alpha. But there are enough shitty YASNS out there for Google to join in and insult us through privacy violations, a dreadful ToS, non-functional software and poorly thought out social consequences.

Update: Chris posted a response from Orkut in the comments. They say that it is not a privacy hole because only the names of your friends that make their email addresses available are shown. On one hand, it is really good to hear that this is a known and intentional approach. On the other, this is not the perception that i would imagine people would have when they see that long list. This is a good example of actual privacy vs. perceived privacy. While one might think that users should just get it, this is an example where the owner should really be better about explaining what’s going on and giving people an option to opt-out.

Speaking of which, can i opt out of the friends-of-friends sending messages to me?

venting my contempt for orkut

As i write this, it’s down again. But that doesn’t mean that i haven’t been thinking about it. And dear god, everyone and their mother has written about it. At the bottom of this rant, i’ve included some of the ones that have been making me think (and i’ve been reading a *lot*).

OK… so my take on Orkut.

1) What the hell is up with the elitist approach to invitation? That’s just outright insulting and an attempt to pre-configure the masses through what the technorati are doing. Social networks are not just a product of technologists. Everyone has a social network and what they do with it is quite diverse. To demand that they behave by the norms of technologists is horrifying.

2) Are trustworthy, cool, and sexy the only ways that i might classify my friends? (Even Orkut lists a lot more in his definition of self.) And since when can i rate the people that i know based on this kind of metric?

And goddamnit CONTEXT CONTEXT CONTEXT. Cool as a techy? Cool as a party kid? Trustworthy along what fucking axes?

3) Explain to me why one must be a friend to be a fan of someone? The role of fan is inherently a power differential, not an equalizer. (Don’t get me wrong: on Orkut, there’s definitely pressure to reciprocate.) The people that i’m a fan of are not my friends; they’re idols; they’re people that i read on the interweb but do not know.

It is sooo weird to read which of my friends are a fan of me. Does that mean that the rest are only following social custom in linking to me? Does that mean that they don’t really respect me? [Or does it mean, like it means to me, that it’s too bloody weird to consider checking off that fan bit?]

And worse… i can see who is a fan of others. This means that i can check on my friends and figure out that they’re using the fan feature… just not on me. Hello, socially awkward.

4) What’s up with the popular crowd hierarchy both in visual and Friends/Communities listing? Have we not learned that this motivates bad behavior?

5) Hell, haven’t we learned ANYTHING? We still have articulation. But worse, now that everyone is paying attention to this, the network isn’t growing naturally. You jump on. Fast. And connect to everyone you recognize. WTF? And what the hell are you supposed to DO once you get on the damn thing?

6) And boy is it irritating that everything is broken. I know it’s an alpha, but it’s too popular to withstand the interest. Can’t change picture on certain parts. Can’t delete account. Can’t get rid of picture. And what’s up with the regular crashes?

7) And then there are the Terms that show contempt for academics. There’s a blanket ban on robots, collecting information, reverse engineering, and other “unauthorized” use (hello, fair use). You can’t even link from the damn thing (i.e. i can’t identify myself outside of the constraints of Orkut… like on my own site or identifying a research project in which i’d like people to participate. Thus, i can’t use a social networking tool to fucking social network). Of course, there’s not much appreciation for anyone else either. THEY OWN EVERYTHING YOU POST!!! You CAN’T OPT OUT! Complete registration only.

And don’t worry… they can modify the ToS without any notice.

I’m sure more rants are to follow. But in the meantime, tell me why i’m wrong. Cause i’m cranky and disappointed. Everyone’s all excited because it’s Google. But i feel like i just met Jar Jar.


Boris – traffic stat comparisons of Orkut vs. other sites

Anne on why she deleted her account. [Also, i want to read the link to the failure of social networks, but they’ve reached their bandwidth limit. Stupid fucking ISP.]

Jill on the patchwork view of one’s network

Jay on a fantastic metaphor, paralleling Orkut with a hotel lobby or cruise ship

Foe Romeo on a social network ideal

Anti-Mega on why Orkut lacks innovation

David on the politics of the ToS wrt ownership of identity

Marc Canter on being banned from Orkut

Wired on Social Nets Not Making Friends

Liz – an Orkut analysis

Ross on why Orkut doesn’t work for him

Weinberger on the problems with the expectation to increase nodes

Clay on the Orkut craze

Dina on her blog as her social network (and why Orkut)

Update: additional references

Jeremy on why Google needs Orkut

Lee – another good rant on Orkut

Mary on building a social network site in 24 hours… on privacy… and on collecting baseball cards

Halley on Orkut invitation frustration

on compliments (musings)

I am notoriously bad at receiving (and giving) explicit verbal compliments. After two days of awkward compliment situations, i started thinking about the structure of compliments in the worlds in which i run.

This first obvious parallel is to Mauss’s “The Gift.” When a gift is given, it is socially impolite, if not offensive, to fail to receive it. Furthermore, to continue the relationship, the receiver is expected to reciprocate. The gifting pattern is affected by a variety of other things, including temporal rhythms and expected magnitude of gift.

Compliments are much the same way. My failure to receive compliments creates an awkward social situation because it sounds rude. Thus, my blushing and being squeamish to indicate my inability to properly receive said compliment lets me get away with a lot.

From here, it’s important to consider two different structures of compliments. First, if the complimenter has power over the recipient, the compliment is meant to empower the receiver and not necessarily be reciprocated. It’s a status compliment that makes the complimenter feel really good giving and often makes the receiver glow. My undergrad advisor had an amazing ability to do this. He’d say something simple like “good job” and i’d float for days.

Then there are the compliments amongst equals. Quite often, reciprocation is necessary, but it’s not appropriate to mimic the recently given compliment. [Think “i love you” “ditto.” Eventually, the “i love you” gets annoyed at the “ditto” and doesn’t take hir seriously.] Immediate reciprocation is not appropriate in this kind of relationship, but what is the appropriate temporal element? This is particularly tricky because often compliments are put forward to be reassured. For example, the “i love you” really wants to hear the same in return. Of course, s/he wants to be reassured now while simultaneously suggesting that the other person should initiate that same set of compliments later.

Hmm… perhaps another angle because this makes me think about what we compliment people on. When we, as an expert, compliment a novice on their movement towards our expertise, this is a really uplifting compliment (i.e. my old advisor). Yet, in the “i love you” example, we’re complimenting based on purported shared emotions. Perhaps that’s a bad example. Consider its cousin “you’re beautiful.” How often do people say “you’re beautiful” to hear the same in return? I think back to the middle school world where the less fashionable girls say to the cool ones “wow, you’re beautiful.” Of course, the cool girls might say “Thanks” or “I know.” But what would it do to the situation if the cool girl returned the compliment?

How often do we compliment others based on what we need to hear ourselves? Did this magnify the awkwardness of the reciprocation process? There’s a certain level of falseness if the cool girl reciprocates and tells the less fashionable one that she’s beautiful. Given the structure of how the compliment occurred, it seems false, not genuine to reciprocate.

Furthermore, i think it’s weird that we compliment primarily on our weaknesses in equal relationships given that there is a certain obvious awkwardness. Say the cool girl is far less confident about her intelligence than her looks. Assuming not a complete separation of status, if the less fashionable girl complimented the cool one on her question in class, this is far more likely to make everyone feel better. And reciprocation is not really necessary if that’s the giver’s strong suit. Of course, does complimenting via our strengths end up creating a different level of insult amidst equals?