Monthly Archives: October 2005

long tail camp and web2.0 humor

Long-Tail Camp will start on November 11, 2005 at a location of your choosing. Just show up and start talking about the long-tail of whatever. There might not be a lot of people paying attention or even showing up but hey, it’s the long tail, what can you expect? We’re certain that Long-Tail Camp will be a huge success and expect it will be over in about 10-12 years, depending on the exact parameters of the distribution…

ROFL. I love geek humor. Oh, and while you’re at it, go Roll Yo Own Web2.0 Company that will guarantee VC attention. Mine is Blinkoious and we create a greasemonkey extension for bookmarks via bittorrent. (There’s also a good one for tag-based dating via bittorrent – Blinodidoo!)

(Tx Barb)

designing for life stages

People often ask me why designing for teens or older folks is different, why age matters. There are many different ways to slice up age and life stage. Mooshing together various theories, i have my own hypothesis about three critical life stages in Western culture that affect a lot of our social technologies. The first is identity formation; the second is contributive participation in society; the third is reflection and storytelling.

Identity formation

When youth are coming into a sense of self, they move away from the home and look to the social world to build a socio-culturally situated identity. In other words, they engage in the public in order to make sense of social boundaries/norms and to develop a sense of self in relation to the broader social context. Youth go to the public to see and be seen and they negotiate a presentation of self depending on the reactions of peers and adults. Public performance is about getting those reactions in order to make sense of the world.

A main role of things like MySpace and Facebook is to produce a public sphere in order for youth to negotiate their peers and learn about the social world. People often ask me why teens don’t just go out in a physical public. Simply put, they can’t. We live in a culture of fear where most parents won’t allow their children to go anywhere without supervision. Youth no longer have access to the streets or even neighborhood gathering spots. They are always in controlled locations where the norms are strictly dictated by adults – this is not a public sphere in which teens can make sense of sociability. Thus, they create their own. (Note: the production of a public and its implications is the cornerstone of my dissertation.)

Peer groups are critical to identity development and the technologically-enabled always-on culture supports that process, especially when the bulk of youth’s lives are spent having to play by adult rules with only 3-minute passing time for sociability. This process typically starts in the pre-teen years and goes strong through high school and into post-high school years with a fading of core identity development occurring mostly in the mid-20s.

Contributive Participant in Society

And then we become adults. The bulk of adult-hood is evaluated based on contribution to society, participation, what you can create and do. It’s about being a good citizen, laborer, parent. It’s about the act of doing things. Your identity gets wrapped up in how you contribute to society (“So, what do you do?”). We ask youth about their hobbies and friends; we ask adults about their jobs and children. When we speak, we think that we have to produce information, be relevant, be efficient, be contributive. (And people wonder why growing up sucks.)

Nowhere is this shift more apparent than blogging land. While youth are doing identity production in terms of sociability, adults are creating new tasks for themselves – documenting, informing, conversing. It’s all wrapped up in being part of the conversation, not in simply figuring out who you are.

Reflection and Storytelling

There comes a point when people stop thinking that they need to give give give. They’re done and they want to reflect and share and just be. Older people are proud of what they did do and they tell stories. They share with their children and grandchildren and they find utter joy in watching them grow up. They talk about their children and grandchildren to friends with proud voices, sharing the joys of their stories. Older folks are no longer invested in working and being productive citizens. It’s more a matter of life maintenance and reflection.

While storytelling is the cornerstone of most social technologies, little has been done to engage them with the technologies or to make it relevant to them in a direct way. While youth are motivated to repurpose adults’ tools for their own needs, older citizens have no investment in such repurposing. The way that it’s always been done is just fine.

Note: This does not mean that older folks are not being productive, just that they’re not invested in producing for a broader society in the same way as the mid-range folks. For example, there is a lot of genealogy work done (and it’s a big use of technology), but it’s mostly about fitting one’s life story into a larger narrative. Hobbies pick up (from knitting to gardening to traveling). It is not that life is over – priorities just change.

Design Issues

Admittedly, this description is very coarse and not fleshed out (::cough:: wait for the dissertation!) but i still think it’s relevant for design. How do these groups think about the public differently? How do they engage with information and sociability differently? Their practices differ because their needs and goals differ. What would it mean to design with life stages in mind?

Of course, some folks are definitely thinking about this problem. I was ecstatic when i read Mena note that “it’s not just about ease of use: I want to make a product that my mom actually wants to use.” Mena’s dead-on. It takes understanding the social practices and needs of a given group. It doesn’t matter if it’s usable if it’s not relevant.

(For those wondering about my dissertation, i’m working on the proposal… but this entry is a good teaser.)

Facebook and MySpace used as site of mourning/memory

Yesterday, Christine Dao (a junior at Berkeley) died in a fatal car crash. As an act of mourning, her friends wrote her dozens of comments on her Facebook Profile and MySpace Profile. These Profiles serves both as a site of mourning and a site of memory, showing Christine’s life and the love of her friends.

Christine your vigil tonite was beautiful; it’s amazing to see how many lives you touched. I’m still reeling from it all…we miss you. — Scott

Hey Chrisitne…you alway had a energetic personality, always smiling…you were one of the few that were always there for me….im going to misss you sooo much!!! rest in peace.. — Jeff

Hey Beautiful!!! I can’t imagine what happened but only to know that no matter what you will never be forgotten. The memories we’ve shared would only be cherished and we will always miss you my kid…Rest In Peace…see you when I get there…. — Pao

There is no good way to mourn the loss of someone young, but what fascinates me about these messages on Christine’s Profiles is that they are all written to her but visible for everyone to see. A persistent, public signal of mourning. Her friends are speaking _to_ her, not about her.

Her actual Profile is unchanged even though it looks so alive. Her photos show her in action and her interests include statements like “love going to Cal Football games. laughing. finding cool people who i can laugh with. cracking jokes. getting jokes cracked on me. music-ing. rsf-ing (need a work out plan like Kanye West). taking long walks. my hoes. having FUN!”

What does it mean to write persistent comments for the dead? Is it a sign of respect, of public remembrance? I hope so. Rest in peace Christine.

friendster is *finally* going to charge

Word on the street (a.k.a. trusted friends) is that Friendster is finally going to charge by the end of the year. The current version will be available to “elite” users who pay what sounds like $5 a month. There will be a minimalist version available for free. ::sigh::

It’s kinda ironic given that some of the folks i know are slowly starting to play again but definitely not enough to pay that kinda money since they’re not looking to get laid. They just think that the stalking aspect is kinda fun and playful. I guess the gay boys might pay. But who else? Who’s still using it that addictively?

pre-election party

One of my favorite things to do each year is to throw a pre-election party where friends gather to discuss different candidates and propositions (because we live in California). It’s a good excuse to hang out with friends, drink some wine and inform each other about the upcoming election. Each person takes a candidate or a proposition and researches the pros/cons and which organizations/people are supporting or opposing them/it. I’m a strong believer that every citizen in this country has a responsibility to inform themselves and vote.

Last night, i threw one such party and we had a blast discussing all of the wacky Schwarzenegger propositions. It’s a scary election in California because it’s a special propositions election and i fear that a lot of people won’t turn out to vote. If you live in California, please plan on voting on November 8 – there are some serious measures that could have long-term impact and i fear that many won’t turn out.

Here are a few that i’d like to highlight:

NO on Proposition 73 (Parental notification for minors seeking an abortion) – this is another horrifying move by the Republican party to engage in anti-choice tactics by peeling away freedoms. It is a condescending ageist proposition framed as protectionist.

NO on Proposition 75 (Public union dues) – this is an anti-union proposition intended to weaken unions by adding bureaucratic layers under the guise of giving union members choice (which they already have). Unions are the one group who can stand up to big business and vested interests want to stop them.

NO on Proposition 78; YES on Proposition 79 (Prescription drug discounts) – these are competing propositions with the former being backed by the pharms and the latter being backed by every consumer group. Prop 79 requires pharms to help offset costs for low-income citizens in order to do business in California. 78 looks good, but there is nothing that mandates participation by pharms and could end up costing California millions of dollars to set up nothing.

if i had a billion dollars

At a recent glitzy conference, a venture capitalist asked me what company i’d create if he funded me. I thought the question odd but it got me thinking. Lately, i’ve met a lot of genuinely rich people and a friend of mine pointed out that the only thing you can do with that kind of money is buy a private jet. Gross. So it made me think… what would i create? I know it wouldn’t be a tech company…

As a kid, did you ever dream of designing a country? Or a city? Or an island? Well, i did. As i got older, i got more practical. I want to design my own university.

I’m fascinated by university structures. How architecture affects the ways in which people interact and learn, the ways in which collegiate social networks affect long term development of ideas, the ways in which disciplinarity divides, the incentives for teaching and research, the problems with competition for scarce funds, the relationship between formal and informal learning for students, etc.

The problem is that i’m not interested in fixing a broken university – i want to start over. (Yes, i realize the problems with this desire…) But, i want to give people a reason to want to learn, give professors a reason to want to teach/research. I want to create a brand from scratch, truly design a system from the bottom up. Wouldn’t that be fun?

my Friendster publications

Various folks have been asking me about my Friendster publications and i thought i’d do a simple round-up for anyone who is trying to learn about Friendster. Below are directly relevant papers and their abstracts (or a brief excerpt); full citations can be found on my papers page. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

“None of this is Real: Networked Participation in Friendster” by danah boyd – currently in review (email for a copy), ethnographic analysis of Friendster, Fakesters, and digital social play

Excerpt from introduction: Using ethnographic and observational data, this paper analyzes the emergence of Friendster, looking at the structural aspects that affected participation in early adopter populations. How did Friendster become a topic of conversation amongst disparate communities? What form does participation take and how does it evolve as people join? How do people negotiate awkward social situations and collapsed social contexts? What is the role of play in the development of norms? How do people recalibrate social structure? By incorporating social networks in a community site, Friendster introduces a mechanism for juxtaposing global and proximate social contexts. It is this juxtaposition that is at the root of many new forms of social software, from social bookmarking services like to photo sharing services like Flickr. Capturing proximate social contexts and pre-existing social networks are core to the development of these new technologies. Friendster is not an answer to the network question, but an experiment in capture and exposure of proximate relations in a global Internet environment. While Friendster is not nearly now as popular as in its heyday, the lessons learned through people’s exploration of it are increasingly critical to the development of new social technologies. As a case study, this paper seeks to reveal those lessons in a manner useful to future development.

Profiles as Conversation: Networked Identity Performance on Friendster by danah boyd and Jeffrey Heer – 2006 HICSS paper on how Friendster Profiles become sites of conversation

Abstract: Profiles have become a common mechanism for presenting one’s identity online. With the popularity of online social networking services such as, Profiles have been extended to include explicitly social information such as articulated “Friend” relationships and Testimonials. With such Profiles, users do not just depict themselves, but help shape the representation of others on the system. In this paper, we will discuss how the performance of social identity and relationships shifted the Profile from being a static representation of self to a communicative body in conversation with the other represented bodies. We draw on data gathered through ethnography and reaffirmed through data collection and visualization to analyze the communicative aspects of Profiles within the Friendster service. We focus on the role of Profiles in context creation and interpretation, negotiating unknown audiences, and initiating conversations. Additionally, we explore the shift from conversation to static representation, as active Profiles fossilize into recorded traces.

Vizster: Visualizing Online Social Networks by Jeffrey Heer and danah boyd – a 2005 InfoVis paper about visualizing Friendster data (including arguments about using visualization in ethnography and recognizing the value of play in visualization)

Recent years have witnessed the dramatic popularity of online social networking services, in which millions of members publicly articulate mutual “friendship” relations. Guided by ethnographic research of these online communities, we have designed and implemented a visualization system for playful end-user exploration and navigation of large-scale online social networks. Our design builds upon familiar node-link network layouts to contribute techniques for exploring connectivity in large graph structures, supporting visual search and analysis, and automatically identifying and visualizing community structures. Both public installation and controlled studies of the system provide evidence of the system’s usability, capacity for facilidiscovery, and potential for fun and engaged social activity.

Public Displays of Connection by Judith Donath and danah boyd – a 2004 BT Journal article on how people publicly perform their social relations

Abstract: Participants in social network sites create self-descriptive profiles that include their links to other members, creating a visible network of connections – the ostensible purpose of these sites is to use this network to make friends, dates, and business connections. In this paper we explore the social implications of the public display of one’s social network. Why do people display their social connections in everyday life, and why do they do so in these networking sites? What do people learn about another’s identity through the signal of network display? How does this display facilitate connections, and how does it change the costs and benefits of making and brokering such connections compared to traditional means? The paper includes several design recommendations for future networking sites.

Friendster and Publicly Articulated Social Networks by danah boyd – a 2004 short CHI paper staking out what Friendster is.

Abstract: This paper presents ethnographic fieldwork on Friendster, an online dating site utilizing social networks to encourage friend-of-friend connections. I discuss how Friendster applies social theory, how users react to the site, and the tensions that emerge between creator and users when the latter fails to conform to the expectations of the former. By offering this ethnographic piece as an example, I suggest how the HCI community should consider the co-evolution of the social community and the underlying technology.

“you can’t blog this”

So, i’ve gotten used to friends telling me that i can’t blog something. And teachers. Professors always stare me down and say that i can’t blog something that they said. Of course, every time someone says i can’t blog something my ears perk and up. The weird thing is that the vast majority of times that they make that precursor, i wouldn’t have blogged it anyhow. It’s something personal, something vulnerable. And i’m just not that mean.

Today, i got that statement from a reporter. She didn’t want me to blog our conversation until after the article comes out. Baroo? I found this request startling. I probably wouldn’t have blogged the conversation because the vast majority of what i said i’ve said here plenty before. But now there’s a temptation. What does it mean that mainstream media wants to control my ability to speak for myself rather than through them? The threat there is that they won’t quote me. That is less of a concern to me than my horror that they would think this is wise. I want the right to control my voice, especially given media’s tendency to misquote. Why should i wait to react to their article? Why shouldn’t i make it clear what i believe i said right after i said it? It’s not like the journalist is only talking to me. My hope is that the journalist is doing synthesis. My role is to provide a particular voice so why can’t i make it clear what my voice is ahead of time?

Of course, what stops me from fleshing things out here and naming names is that i actually like the reporter concerned and have spoken to her before and enjoyed the conversations and what she writes. I don’t want to embarrass her. But i am horrified that this is considered acceptable in mainstream media. Perhaps i should make it explicit and clear that i won’t talk to reporters who want to control my blogging?

articles on tagging (help?)

I’m working on a literature review of tagging for a class. I am particularly interested in the collective action and cultural convergence aspects work.

I’ve been traipsing through various articles and blog entries on the topic and i’m wondering if folks know of good pieces that i’ve missed. I’m looking for articles that analyze tagging either through data, through situated comparisons or through philosophical hammering. They don’t have to be academic, but they do have to contribute something new. I’m not looking for how-tos or discussions of particular services. I’m also trying to focus on unique viewpoints as opposed to round-ups.

I would also be stoked if anyone knows of any information management literature on the cultural underpinnings of keywords and indexing or anything involving collective action and librarianship in metadata. How do differences across libraries or across countries get resolved?

Below is what i have so far. Any additions would be *very* much appreciated (and i promise to post what i write).