glocalization talk at Etech

Last week, i gave a talk at O’Reilly’s Etech on how large-scale digital communities can handle the tensions between global information networks and local interaction and culture. I’ve uploaded the crib for those who are interested in reading the talk: “G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide”.

This talk was written for designers and business folks working in social tech. I talk about the significance of culture and its role in online communities. I go through some of the successful qualities of Craiglist, Flickr and MySpace to lay out a critical practice: design through embedded observation. I then discuss a few issues that are playing out on tech and social levels.

Anyhow, enjoy! And let me know what you think!

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14 thoughts on “glocalization talk at Etech

  1. Carlo

    Have you ever considered recording your talks and turning them into a podcast? I think it’d be cool to listen to them on my way to work.

  2. Leon Cych

    Fascinating talk and thank you for posting it because I couldn’t get to San Diego.

    Fascinating because of several factors – you mention scale – I’d say it was more to do with scope – how you scope out design for community. How certain distribution can be scoped out and back to the local and familiar but allow for interaction between communities.

    The underlying concepts in your talk are particularly relevant in the UK schools system at the present time. The UK government is about to roll out a procurement tender for Learning Platforms or Virtual Learning Environments whereby they hope to “deliver” learning. The Open Source community would like to have a place at the table because their products – especially the constructivist model of social software Moodle which encompasses everything you describe about passionate users is a tried and tested model of educational community building but it might not meet the requirements. In this case passionate educationalists who have designed these systems to enable learners to construct their own knowledge together with enablers/ facilitators are being built out by outmoded and inflexible protocols – these are not malicious just looking through one lens and not another. The Web 2.0 phenomenon has yet to hit here and already it is being regulated away under the guise of “standards”.

    But the main concerns of the govt are that rules, regulations, interoperabilities and MIS systems should rule the procurement conditions – this is a CYA mentality (cover your being the first two words …) – where’s the build for communites and good schools do do that best.

    The concerns of communities of users will not feature in design of commercial VLEs – it is the equivalent of building a beautiful door but providing no key.

    The procurement conditions are essentially commercial in nature and the models for bringing together communities will fail – it’s obvious – because the model is more of a build for a repostiory and delivery system rather than a dynamic community of learners passionate about their take on the world…Just as the metadata systms previously built were for search and find not for discover, share and explore…

    Only Nesta Futurelab talk about design for learning in the UK and there are parallels in the research there:

    Sorry to hijack this into the realm of education but it seems the issues are the same and it is a fascinating topic.

  3. B

    Once again great text, witty and clear, written with an English I (i?) envy—loved to read you.

    “My hope is that there are new fascinating communities emerging as we speak!”

    Well, I mentioned a Friendster-like in a previous comment: they copied everything, including the mistakes; most of my contacts & friends are quite unhappy, and I ran across a team who wanted to launch a competing service, with a much more community-oriented style. I sent them your ideas, and look forward to stepping in the project.

    About your text, it is far less American-centered that previous reads: you leave us with arguments both in favor an all-culture encompassing approach and your staying in a domain you understand; after you replied me (in a comment) that your work was specifically about national aspects, I am a bit confused—but that is just a better pretext to go through your text again.

    I appreciate that you insisted on the role and the required involvement of a central founding figure—but maybe there was a bias in choosing the three services where this person was so important: does Digg needs Diggnation to remain the arch-dude-geek site? Maybe. Is Yahoo! not so successful because of the lack of visibility of the founders? Not so. Ethnography isn’t about statistics, but having a checklist might help you in enlightening precisely what kind of site need a welcoming founder.

    About the extreme talk, and the various and contradictory cultural aspects of a lingua (to adapt to the realities of the group, ostracise it by being cryptic, play on the irony of being different) you open a great topic: once again, some structure might help. Your text is very legible in the most literary sense, and bullet-pointing is not what you want—but I had the feeling you could have the different degrees explained together. By listing them, you might come to the conclusion that each aspect is deduced from the previous one in a chronological fashion (first a new word for a local reality, than special speech because a reason for misunderstanding and exclusion, and in the end, irony resolves the case, before being accused of being a ‘lame joke’, i.e. irrelevant). Maybe you already wrote about all that, and just wanted to emphasize on the local aspect, in from of a crowd of project developpers.

    And for the sake of a corpus being exact (and translation being a approximation), I would rather write:
    – “Nigrinho” (“Little negro”);
    – “Little negro” (“Nigrinho”).

    And I am not a podcast person, but earing you would certainly be of additional understanding value.

  4. lawrence coburn

    Good stuff.

    The fragmentation that you describe that occurs when an online community grows past its core group can be really painful, and I’m not sure it can be solved through design.

    For example, a sub-community built around evangelical beliefs is likely to be offended by the culture, language, expression forms, and discussion that goes on in a sub-community built around hip hop. And vice versa.

    There is no easy way (that I’m aware of) to ease the pain of this inevitable fragmentation stage. For example, do you build walls between the various sub-communities to hide that which is offensive to each respective group? Do you educate people that the same rules, the same standards don’t apply from sub-community to sub-community, and rely on context? Or do you create absolute rules that apply site wide? Making rules that depend on context is very difficult to automate, and can be confusing to new users.

    Building walls (unless they were there from the beginning), means that at some point you will be dramatically reducing access for your members, who were probably used to seeing what was happening site wide. Taking stuff away (priviliges, tools, etc) from an active community can be disastrous.

    Enforcing different rules in different contexts raises calls of favoritism.

    I’m not sure what the answer is – but I do know that your community will not blow up (in a good way), until you allow fragmentation.

    My sense is that Danah’s approach is best – be aware of the divisions between your sub-communities, have trusted people on the ground so to speak within each community, and use as much human judgment as economically feasible.

    I’d also recommend having tools at the individual level that allow them to “opt out” from that which they find offensive – filters, privacy settings, message blocks, etc.

    If anyone knows of more resources in this area of “fragmentation of social networks”, I’d really appreciate a link.

  5. zephoria

    Carlo – i can’t deal with my voice and do not like talking into computers so i couldn’t even imagine dealing with podcasting.

  6. Jan Schmidt

    Great presentation; I especially liked your thoughts on the interdependence of software development and the ‘communities of practice’ (in a general sense of people sharing the ways to use a certain software). The same way social relations and rules (norms/expectations/values) are (re)produced in social action, software/code is (re)produced by both users and developers.

  7. Jay Fienberg

    Great observations and recommendations.

    I wanted to suggest something about “embedded observation”: it’s hard for it to stay about observation as much as it can become about being embedded. Maybe this is a feature of the “scale” problem you desribe, e.g., it’s a scale of time rather than size.

    IMHO, it can be advantageous to both have embedded observers take a break, and/or to introduce “outside” observers into the mix with those embedded. (And, by outside, I mean more like freshly embedded rather than long-term embedded.)

    Both of these arrangements can be horrible if the dynamics are wrong or the goals are abstract business-based rather than visceral community-based, but, in general principle, it can create a greater diversity of vantage points from which to see and appreciate what’s going on.

  8. Peter Childs

    Fascinating! The most detailed synthesis of the interaction between users and developers that I’ve seen – and a guide to anyone thinking of developing a ‘sticky’ online experience – whether an explicit community where users interact, or a passive one where users ‘share’ experience in the broadcast sense.

    What I find interesting is to consider how these issues change as the community is intentionally constrained by geography. While they appear to be communities of specific interest – geography shapes interest at the broadest levels even when layered with some shared experience. Cultural diversity also exists – though is moderated by a level of common experience.

    Will members of these communities behave like Stanley Milgram’s “familiar strangers” where the online world and is the new environment that breaks the barriers? Can that process be helped, and if it can would users want it?

    It seems to me that as the number of people familiar with online communities increases the necessity to cater to the world to reach critical decreases – and the opportunity for the online to enhance ones experience of place increases.

  9. Juan

    Our group is in the process of building the foundation for what will be a new online community. It turns out your conclusions map well to some of the fundamental principles we have set for the project. A full account of this can be read in the post Tools for the global citizen.

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