Monthly Archives: July 2005

i came, i went…

So, Blogher was a complete and utter trip. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. I have to admit that i was totally overwhelmed by the level of energy that so many people had – i totally crashed last night as a result. I spent the bulk of my day hearing the voices of different types of bloggers – the hiphop bloggers, the teen bloggers, the academic bloggers, the mommy bloggers. I had _no_ idea how many mommy bloggers were out there or the struggles with voice that they experience. That alone made the entire conference worth it for me.

Things got a little strange for me at the end. I was supposed to introduce the keynote speaker, Caterina Fake (Flickr). Caterina was supposed to speak about Yahoo! and what they’re doing in the social media space. (Yahoo! was a featured sponsor of the conference and the keynote position was given to them; they nominated Caterina to speak.) Due to an unexpected family crisis, she wasn’t able to come at the last minute. So, instead of introducing her, i ended up doing a brief ad-hoc explanation of why i am consulting for the Yahoo! Research Labs-Berkeley, briefly explaining Jeff Weiner’s FUSE model – Find, Use, Share, Expand (see Supernova notes and Weiner interviews ). I do genuinely believe that Jeff gets it and i love his model so i was happy to represent his mission, but it felt a little strange to be speaking as an insider when i just got my contractor badge 3 days ago. So trippy.

The point is… i was there.. it was fun… and i’m really really bad at writing up notes about what actually happened. Mostly, i had really good conversations and it was really invigorating to hear different perspectives and have conversations that i haven’t had over and over again.

(And now, i’m in a strange hotel in the middle of Michigan where i’m going to have to miraculously remember matrix algebra before tomorrow so as to not embarrass myself in front of a professor that i admire. ::gulp::)

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@ Blogher

I’m at Blogher, which is a trip. Of course, the first thing you notice is how people greet each other – hugs, kisses, screams, joy. There’s no feathers flailing, chests puffing. I smiled – i’m so used to the boys’ world. I decided to sit back and watch the boys who are attending. The ones who usually have the most colorful feathers are sitting back, shoulders hunched, listening, trying. I remember what it was like when i first went to etech – i didn’t know how to talk to anyone. I knew no one and i felt like such an outsider. I was afraid of looking stupid. I wonder if they feel that way here.

I have to admit that the beginning conversation really got to me. There’s definitely a lot of frustration and anger here, frustration over the purported authority of the men in blogging, anger over the validation that the mass media gives them. So there was a lot of airing that negativity. That’s hard to hear.

Some of it, unfortunately, was lacking facts. One issue came up over the fact that women don’t network. Well, that’s bullshit. Actually, women are traditionally the maintainers of domestic social networks. They tend to network more than men. The gender difference concerns the style of networking. Men are more likely to gather many weak ties; women tend to work hard to maintain strong ties. Each have their value. But when it comes to technology like Technorati, there is a validation of weak ties over strong ties. Or more actually, there’s an assumption that all ties are created equal, which inadvertently validates the weak ties over the strong ties.

My argument here is that we need to pay attention to the network structures. If folks are angry about their position in some purported hierarchy, they need to understand how the hierarchy works. And then change it. I’m not interested in having separate networks; i’m interested in making certain that people understand the gender bias they build into the network and that it represents a diversity of perspectives, is flexible to deal with a diversity of social structures.

Anyhow, it’s a fascinating place to be. I’m not going to be good about blogging this conference so definitely watch the links on Blogher.

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what everyone should know about blog depression

Over at The Nonist, there’s a public service announcement concerning blog depression. To address this, jmorrison created an educational PDF to help you deal with depression.

To give you a sense, the first page asks what blog depression is. Some symptoms include:

  • Loss of pleasure in the internet
  • Feelings of sadness, disappointment, anger, self loathing, hopelessness, dimentia
  • Passive aggressive moaning and a steady lengthening of the interval between posts

Definitely take a look at it – i’m super curious what others think of this.

if a backchannel exists in the woods….

I’m sitting in a cafe trying very hard to frame blogs in Ong’s terms and ignore the conversation next to me but i can’t. A woman is loudly talking, using her hands for emphasis; the man next to her is leaning in and nodding and uh-huhing, saying confirming statements every few minutes. They’ve been talking this way for a long time. She’s analyzing another woman, critiquing her view of the world, her actions, her attitudes. She’s looking for validation, offering stories to keep this guy paying attention.

Finally, wrapped up in their conversation, i IM to Barb about it; she’s sitting right next to me, pretending to blog but mostly chewing on her pen. I find myself analyzing her analyzing this other woman. Barb notes “you realize – we’re the backchannel for their conversation.” And we both laugh. My conception of backchannels is so biased by the primary discussion around it, whereby backchannels are a second front channel, a known presence of people with computers. Do they know that we are their backchannel, the meta on their meta? What does it mean that a perspective on their conversation is being recorded for posterity, only they will never know it. Or will they? What happens when strangers recognize digital records of their physical traces? Ah, secondary orality. I’m fascinated by moments when people don’t realize the bridge between the digital and the physical. My techno world is far too always techno. You know anything can and will be blogged. But the rest of the world doesn’t.

As Barb notes, “it’s no different from any other meta-gossip.” So what does it mean to blog about it, to meta meta it, to meta it beyond any realization of gossip? There’s a koan in here somewhere.

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fandango – never good to go

First off, fuck Fandango for not working on my Sidekick. But given that failure, i figured i’d try 1-800-FANDANGO. It’s all voice commands. So the first time, i screw up the voice system by answering the driver’s question instead of Fandango’s question and it got so confused that i hung up to start over. Second time, i told it i wanted to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” instead of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the IMAX Experience” and it wouldn’t let me back out to correct it and it got very irritated with me for wanting times that weren’t available for the regular theatre. Fine. On try three, after answering something like 14 questions through voice (or through my keypad when possible), i reached the “would you like to confirm?” part. I said yes. It told me it could not understand me. I told it yes more emphatically with as much enunciation as i could muster. It told me it did not understand me. I screamed yes into the phone and it told me it couldn’t understand me and that i should try back later. AND THEN IT HUNG UP.

First, yes is the answer to a binary question. Why can i not enter the answer into my keypad? Second, let’s be honest, voice recognition software sucks ass. At least Sprint lets me scream agent before i make a voodoo doll out of Claire. And while not everyone is on the texting bandwagon, why not at least allow that option? I can bank money that i could SMS my request much more efficiently than articulate it to some broken Eliza. Or at least let me key my responses when you can’t understand me. Nothing makes me want to use your service less than to have you hang up on me.

Fandango drives me absolutely insane because it’s one of those applications that should _just work_. Black box style. Especially if you’re a monopoly on the Metreon. What i really want is to be able to attach my mobile number to my Fandango account, which has my credit card stored. I want to be able to send a text to request movie time information. And then i want to be able to order my movie tickets by SMS and receive a confirmation on my phone, charged to my account. Is that so hard?

(PS: with tickets purchased by a friend, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the IMAX was utterly disturbing. In that “i kinda feel gross but i kinda like it” kinda way.) I just wish i could figure out who Willy Wonka reminds me of. Someone from my Media Lab days.

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social networks and drug networks

Rule #1 for studying social culture: pay attention to the sex and drugs.

When it was reported that Orkut is being used as a drug networking tool in Brazil, my immediate response was duh.

I have interviewed subjects who distributed cocaine in Baltimore via Friendster. (To my knowledge, they were never caught which makes it different than the situation with Orkut.) Other subjects have told me ways to find drugs on and MySpace. Obviously, i am not willing to disclose how or who. But this is definitely not unique to Orkut nor to social networking in general. For example, in college, people used to buy drugs on eBay.

Give people the ability to distribute information and they will distribute drugs. Tis just as obvious as if you give people access to attractive people, they will date. So, i find it very entertaining that people get up in arms about this.

issues in quotation and citation

I know that i should love human subjects boards, but i have to admit that they are my least favorite aspect of doing research. My biggest complaint is that they do not understand the dynamics of doing research online. Thus, i’ve spent far too much time discussing what it means to be an ethical researcher of online material. One issue that always emerges concerns citations. As a researcher, you are required to respect the confidentiality of your subjects always. Yet, when you are quoting online material, you can easily throw the quote into Google and find the original source, revealing the person behind the quote (or at least their handle).

While this topic is frequently discussed in conversations about ethical research, it is clearly not a lesson that everyone has learned. In The New Nanny Diaries Are Online, the author thinks that she is being discrete, referencing her nanny anonymously. By throwing the quotes into Google, you can find the nanny’s blog. This is particularly interesting because it gives the nanny a chance to respond in her own words.

This is an interesting dynamic and one that i’m curious about in the context of research. What would it mean if subjects of research could respond to the analysis of their practices? Historically, anthropologists did not make their analyses available to subjects because it was assumed that the subjects could not understand the analysis. Personally, i’ve always been of the mindset that publications should be explicitly made available to all subjects. Yet, i have taken the elitist position that i know more and while i should listen to disagreements, i should still publish what i wrote if i still believe it after the disagreements. What would it mean to bring the subject more actively into the conversation, letting them out themselves as they see fit? What if the subjects want to be referenced explicitly so that they _can_ refute my claims?

(Based on Alex Halavais)

some transparency

In an effort to be transparent, i feel the need to note that i resigned from Google today. I very much love Google and Blogger but i reached the point where my talents and their needs no longer aligned in productive ways. I can’t say i won’t be back, but for now, it doesn’t make sense. That said, i will really miss everyone there.

I have also decided to accept a temporary consulting gig with the Yahoo Research Labs Berkeley to work alongside my friend and co-teacher Marc Davis.

Before anyone gets all conspiracy on me, this decision is not in spite of Google. I still love Google, but i feel as though i am better off consulting for a research lab right now and the direction of Yahoo’s is 100% in line with my interests (and hell, most of my department is there). It also makes more sense for me to take project-based consulting gigs than to broadly advise within a company.

For better or worse, i’ve never been good at loving a company and hating its competitors. I strongly believe that there are strengths and weaknesses to both companies and that their products make sense for different populations. I prefer the meta-structural perspective to the cult perspective. So i can’t say that i suddenly hate Google and love Yahoo – i respect them both and i see them as very different.

So, even though i’m sad to be leaving Google, i am excited to work on entirely new problems and think about entirely different populations’ needs.

I am also excited to see a tech company that makes sociable products create a research division meant to understand social issues. For good reason, more and more companies are hiring anthropologists and sociologists. Because there is very little known about social/tech, these internal social scientists can help address problems specific to the company; when it comes to social technologies, developing an innovative algorithm means nothing if you don’t get the social issues right. I wish more tech companies would realize that they need social research more than technology research these days.

Anyhow, as always, i won’t discuss internal affairs on this blog, but i believe in reflexivity and i believe that it is responsible to be transparent about who puts food on my table so that my biases are known.

Privacy is a Privilege

Hey, all of you privacy fanatics, take a look around. Ever stop to wonder why most of you are straight, white and male? It’s kinda obvious if you stop to think about it. Repeat after me: privacy is a privilege. Not a right. Look at the first four letters of those two words: “priv-“. Duh. They come from the same root.

When i saw this comment on one of my posts, i wanted to scream: “Everyone has an absolute right to privacy and marketers have an absolute right to (attempt to) generate revenue with those who step out of their privacy and into the public domain.”

Historically, private space came about with the onset of public space. There is no right to privacy historically or now. Private space is also not guaranteed to be a safe space. Look at issues around domestic abuse. There’s a reason that the law got involved in domestic issues – a woman is not a man’s property in either public or private space and society has a duty to protect her regardless.

Guess what? Just as we have a duty in society to protect people in private space, we have a duty to protect them in public space. We don’t allow people to violate each other when they walk out into the street simply because they chose to step out there. Why should we let institutions do so? What gives marketers some special privilege to determine how people can be psychologically manipulated in society?

The topic at hand has to do with youth. What youth have private space? Sure, your children might have their own bedroom with a lockable door and their own computer. How common do you really think this is? Youth are traditionally a population devoid of any privacy freedoms whatsoever. They have no private space. They move into the public arena to be relieved from the ways in which their parents or school authorities can dictate their mobility and communication. This is not an invitation to manipulation by marketers.

I’m tired of engaging in arguments about privacy with anyone who has not read Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Please read it and after finishing, read Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics. Dammit, if privacy is important to you, read these and then let’s talk. But don’t tell me about the right to privacy until you understand the historical trajectory of privacy and think about how marginalized populations. It’s not so utopian cut and dry; privacy is a privilege that many people in this world would die to have.

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