Monthly Archives: November 2006

how do hotels work?

Sitting in a hotel last night, i started wondering… They have all these signs that say that for environmental reasons, they won’t wash your towel unless you ask. But does it really matter that much? I probably don’t want to know how frequently they wash the bedspread, but i assume that they wash the sheets after each person. I wonder how long people stay in a hotel continuously on average; i’m doing an amazing job of 1 night here and 1 night there.

Back to washing.. do they wash the towels that are still folded? Do they wash the robe if it’s still on the hanger? What about the little bathroom supplies? If you unwrapped the soap and used it, they clearly don’t give it to someone else. But where does it go? Trash? (I personally took the rest of my soap from last night because it was far nicer than the cheap stuff i have at home and i figured they weren’t going to reuse my used soap.) What happens to stuff as it ages? Do they throw away less-than-perfect bedspreads? Or what about the furniture as it rips? (I’m thinking fantsy schmantzy hotels here not Motel 8 which doesn’t care about the rips.)

For all the time that i spend in hotels, i realize that i have no idea how they work…

::gulp:: oh shit.

So, a while back, Nicole Ellison and i got this brilliant idea ::cough::choke:: to put together a special issue of JCMC (a fantastic journal in our field) when we were plotting about a workshop for an upcoming conference (announcement on that soon). Based on our guesstimate, we figured that we could find six solid articles on social network sites and that it would help everyone to have them published. We sent a CFP around, hoping for the best. Yesterday was the deadline for proposals and we are faced with a reality that is beyond anything either of us could’ve imagined. We received over 100 submissions from researchers around the world doing amazing work on a wide variety of related topics. I’m sitting here, drowning in proposals, mouth wide open. I had *no* idea that this much work was going on in this space. None. Completely shocked. And then it dawned on me… No matter what i do, i’m faced with the reality of having to reject fantastic, solid research.

::eyes wide:: I have to admit that i’m speechless. Shocked dumb.

At some point, i’m going to have to wake up from this stupor and connect with Nicole so that we can start evaluating the proposals. God, this is terrifying. When we decided to do this, i never thought about what it would mean to _reject_ people whose work should be published. ::shudder:: I’ve had to reject people before but not like this; usually, i have to reject stuff under blind review that isn’t ready for prime time. This week, i’m going to have to reject work that is ready and good. I’m also sad because i was hoping to give lots of productive feedback, but there’s no way that’s possible now. I feel terrible about this.

I also need to start plotting again… There needs to be another way to get more of this work out there. And i want to figure out ways to connect all of these researchers since there’s so much overlap. (And the answer is not create my own journal… that would _kill_ me.) For those of you academics out there, what are other related journals that we can encourage people to submit to? I *hate* that we’re going to have to reject so many people’s rocking work so i want to at least provide alternative venue suggestions.

For those of you non-academics, i’m sure this seems all weird but publishing is the core of what we do. And people really want to publish in good journals with work that’ll complement what they are doing. Special issues that are on your topic are the best thing in the world because it means collaborating with your peers who understand what weird work you’re doing. This is also one of the major drives to put together a special issue. You don’t get a lot of credit for doing it, but you get to see all of the cool relevant work in your area, engage with scholars of like minds, and learn from them. I know it’s weird but i really love this stuff and it’s moments like this when i’m simultaneously overwhelmed/terrified and utterly psyched.

(To all of you who submitted who are reading this, my sincerest thank you for contributing. This is going to be a very competitive issue that i think will be valuable for all of us. I’m really psyched even if i’m completely overwhelmed this morning.)

announcing two new academic papers

I am pleased to announce that a paper i wrote a while back is part of a cool collection of papers in Reconstruction’s Special Issue on Theories/Practice of Blogging (edited by Michael Benton and Lauren Elkin). My piece – “A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium” – argues that blogging needs to be looked at as a practice on top of a medium, not simply a CMC genre.

Not to jump the gun or anything, but another piece of mine will go live next week in First Monday in a special issue on “Identity and Identification in the Networked World” (edited by Tim Schneider and Michael Zimmer). That one, entitled “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites” examines the Friending practices that are so common in social network sites. I suspect that this piece might be quite valuable to those of you who are looking at MySpace and going why on earth do people have 9000 friends??? Stay tuned on First Monday for that one!

making net neutrality relevant

Discussions concerning network neutrality have been occurring in the blogosphere for years now. Yet, at family events like Thanksgiving, i’m reminded of how incomprehensible this issue is to most educated people in this country. I’m curious if others out there are having difficulty explaining this issue (and its significance) to their parents, cousins, and other relatives who think email is a recent invention? What tactics have you taken?

Here’s the best explanation i could muster:

Y’know how when you look at videos online, it’s kinda slow? What if that slowness was intentional to dissuade you from watching those videos? I don’t mean to get all conspiracy theory on you, but what if the cable company thought that the people putting the video up online were cutting into their main business so they choose to slow it down? What if they made it easier for you to acquire content that people paid them to serve to you? In other words, what if the network wasn’t neutral? If you think of this in terms of freeways, what if the rich people were allowed to go faster than the poor people simply because they paid more taxes?

The reason that the Internet is so revolutionary is because (theoretically) anyone can get on that information highway, add information and consume others’ information. While the Internet has not been the great equalizer that everyone wants, it’s really important that the structure is as open as possible so that things can grow.

All around us, market forces are disrupting innovation and access. You know how you hear about neat things that phones do in other countries? The reason your phone doesn’t do that is because people like me can’t add things onto the phone without the permission of the telephone carriers (like Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.). This is because the mobile phone network isn’t neutral. As a result, innovation is majorly hampered and in regions where there aren’t these restrictions, development of new ideas is flourishing.

There are lots of ways to look at net neutrality. From one POV, you can see it as unpatriotic. It is destroying America’s ability to innovate (although, from a global market perspective, you might not care or from a anti-innovation perspective, this might be a good thing). Another POV is that it’s simply not fair (although you might not care about fairness and would prefer that the rich get richer). Another POV is that it closes access to information and makes certain that a few people control what information you get (again, if you’re on a certain side of that equation, you might relish this).

But how do you make net neutrality something that people like my mother want to stand up and fight for? While i’m stoked that this war is going to be Goliath vs. Goliath (Google vs. the cables/carriers), i still think that educated people should understand what is going on. But i don’t think that they do. And i don’t think that our rhetoric around net neutrality makes any sense to them. How would you fix this?

restructuring my life

Remember me flipping out a few weeks back? I decided i should listen to some of you and try to put some structure into my life. Thankfully, some fantastic people decided to help me out. I want to take a moment to announce some of the changes that will (hopefully) make it possible for me to be more productive and more engaged (and ideally more active here).

First, i went and gots me an agent who thinks i talk real goot. ::blush:: Thanks to Wes Neff at Leigh Bureau, i will again be available for professional speaking gigs. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to engage with people from a variety of different industries about the significance of social media. (Plus, the fangirl in me can’t believe that i’m on the same bureau as Malcolm Gladwell. ::drool::)

Second, Jonathan Aronson over at the Annenberg Center has agreed with most of you that i desperately need a research assistant/admin to help me manage what i’m doing. Together, we’re looking for a USC undergraduate who thinks this social media stuff is kinda cool and wants to get paid to help out. (If you know any, let me know!)

Finally, i’ve restructured my relationship with Yahoo! such that i will no longer be a resident social media researcher but will continue to consult for them on social media projects. This will hopefully give me more flexibility to work on my youth research projects.

My hope is that by springtime, i will be speeding along quite dandily, getting some publications out and otherwise producing what has been building up in my head for quite some time. This is also all in preparation for the dissertation writing phase which you will be painfully subjected to for the next 18 months or so as i prepare to draft a book about all of this goobly gook. If all goes well, i will have three additional letters to my name by spring 2008.

Anyhow, thank you to all who have been supportive (and continue to be supportive) and to your very deeply appreciated suggestions. I really do appreciate it immensely. I’m still struggling in what it means to be a grown-up and balance has never been one of my strengths. But i’m trying… i think good things can come out of a more balanced danah. Tehe.

UCLA Police Taser a Student

Police officers at UCLA abuse their power by repeatedly taser one of their students. ::shudder:: Students videotape the entire incident, requesting identification from police who refuse to provide it. This makes me sick. Welcome to a police state.

For more information, see Blake Ross’s detailed post. Also, the LA Times covers the students’ protest and the efforts by UCLA to calm the furor by ordering an outside probe.

Bush appoints guy to destroy the program he heads

You have got to be kidding me. “The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as ‘demeaning to women.'” — Washington Post

How can this be legal? Unfortunately, there’s no recourse because Congress doesn’t have any power to do anything. How can something like this be fixed? Gahhhh!

Keroack’s outfit deceives women about other issues as well. It uses a combination of dubious statistics and scripture to attack the efficacy of condoms and the very idea of safe sex. “God requires those who know Him to remain pure until marriage – no sex, in fact, not even a hint of sexual immorality,” it says. “Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman to reflect Christ and His bride, the church.” — Michelle Goldberg

God this breaks my heart. So much for thinking that Bush would play nice with the Democrats.

(Tx Randy)

dear corporate marketer

Dear corporate marketer – i am not humored that you wish to use my blog to up your pagerank. I’m not stupid. It’s obvious you’re posting pithy comments debasing competitors on lots of highly trafficked entries with your URL and the search terms you wish to associate with your company.. I have left your pithy comments but changed the URLs to the company you debased. Even though you’re a real company, you’ve acquired the honor of being on the list of spammers which means any posting with your URL (real or not) will be junked. Congratulations!

Thank you. The Management.


PS… To my fellow social software bloggers – keep your eye out for new social network sites that wish to up their pagerank by writing pithy commenting on blogs. Teens get to MySpace/Facebook through Google; thus, not surprisingly, competitors are trying to get highly ranked there. Personally, i hate being used for SEO and i particularly hate when people try to do SEO by writing lame comments on blogs. Major pet peeve.

a massage in Venice

Coming home from USC on Thursday, i thought my arm was going to fall off. The pain eminating from my back was brutal and i could barely see for the headache that it produced. I didn’t know any massage therapists in LA but i had seen a place or two on Lincoln that advertised massage. As i drove past one of them, i caught the number in neon and called it. A ?Korean? woman answered and i asked if they had availability. She asked when and i said 10 minutes and she said sure. When i entered the building, my headache was wrecking me so i pretty much ignored a lot of obvious signs. Being stared at. The gate between the front room and back room. Having to pay upfront. The price being surprisingly high for non-shishi massage joint. Being asked on the form if i was single or married. Being asked if i wanted to take a shower. Being escorted to a room without getting to meet the massage therapist first.

I lied down under the sheet. The massage therapist started massaging me over the sheet which is odd but ::shrug:: i couldn’t be picking in the pain i was in. I’m trying to explain to her that my shoulder wants to fall off; she doesn’t speak much English but i point and she digs in so i just relax. She pounds away at it. Not the world’s best (or frankly trained) massage, but ::shrug:: Anything would make that knot better and she had the pressure thing down. Plus, she did a bunch of it with her heels using the handle bars on the ceiling. At one point, she asks me if i want a front massage too. Uhh… i stumble. Then she asks me if i’m Christian. At this point, i realize why my presence was so odd. I respond quickly with a YES! to the Christian question and proceeded to blush crimson into the massage table. I continued to play stupid and she continued to work out my dreadful knot from hell (successfully) until the hour was up.

When she finished and i got dressed, there was a lot of awkwardness but i just continued to bumble around and tipped her (well). She was very thankful and made it very very clear that i’m welcome back whenever. I said thank you and blushed and left.

I can’t help but wonder what actually goes on there. I was telling this story to some friends and one of them pointed me to this SF Chronicle series on sex trafficking and i wanted to die. I really hope that the nice woman who got rid of that knot doesn’t have to go through days like the story depicts.

social network sites: my definition

I would like to offer my working definition of “social network sites” per confusion over my request for a timeline.

A “social network site” is a category of websites with profiles, semi-persistent public commentary on the profile, and a traversable publicly articulated social network displayed in relation to the profile.

To clarify:

  1. Profile. A profile includes an identifiable handle (either the person’s name or nick), information about that person (e.g. age, sex, location, interests, etc.). Most profiles also include a photograph and information about last login. Profiles have unique URLs that can be visited directly.
  2. Traversable, publicly articulated social network. Participants have the ability to list other profiles as “friends” or “contacts” or some equivalent. This generates a social network graph which may be directed (“attention network” type of social network where friendship does not have to be confirmed) or undirected (where the other person must accept friendship). This articulated social network is displayed on an individual’s profile for all other users to view. Each node contains a link to the profile of the other person so that individuals can traverse the network through friends of friends of friends….
  3. Semi-persistent public comments. Participants can leave comments (or testimonials, guestbook messages, etc.) on others’ profiles for everyone to see. These comments are semi-persistent in that they are not ephemeral but they may disappear over some period of time or upon removal. These comments are typically reverse-chronological in display. Because of these comments, profiles are a combination of an individuals’ self-expression and what others say about that individual.

This definition includes all of the obvious sites that i talk about as social network sites: MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Cyworld, Mixi, Orkut, etc. Some of the obvious players like LinkedIn are barely social network sites because of their efforts to privatize the articulated social network but, given that it’s possible, I count them (just like i count MySpace even when the users turn their profiles private).

There are sites that primarily fit into other categories but contain all of the features of social network sites. This is particularly common with sites that were once a different type of community site but have added new features. BlackPlanet, AsianAvenue, MiGente, QQ, and Xanga all fit into this bucket. I typically include LiveJournal as a social network site but it is sorta an edge-cases because they do not allow you to comment on people’s profiles. They do however allow you to publicly comment on the blog entries. For this reason, Dodgeball is also a problem – there are no comments whatsoever. In many ways, i do not consider Dodgeball a social network site, but i do consider it a mobile social network tool which is why i often lump it into this cluster of things.

Of course, things are getting trickier every day. I’m half-inclined to qualify the definition to say that the profile and articulated social network are the centralizing feature of these sites because there are tons of sites that have profiles and social network site features as a peripheral components of their service but where the primary focus is elsewhere. Examples of this include: YouTube, Flickr, Last.FM, 43Things, Meetup, Vox, Crushspot, etc. (Dating sites are probably the most tricky because they are very profile-centric but the social network is peripheral.) But, on the other hand, most of these sites grew out of this phenomenon. So, for the sake of argument, i leave room to include them but also consider them edge cases.

At the same time, it’s critical to point out what social network sites are most definitely NOT. They are NOT the same as all sites that support social networks or all sites that allow people to engage in social networking. Your mobile phone, your email, your instant message client… these all support the articulation of social networks (addressbooks) but they do not let you publicly display them in relation to a profile for others to traverse. MUDs/MOOs, BBSes, chatrooms, bulletin boards, mailing lists, MMORPGS… these all allow you to meet new people and make friends but they are not social network sites.

This is part of why i get really antsy when people talk about this category as “social networks” or “social networking” or “social networking sites.” I think that this is leading to all sorts of confusion about what is and what is not in the category. These alternative categories are far far far too broad and all too often i hear people talking about everything that allows you to talk to anyone in any way as one of these sites (this is the mistake that DOPA makes for example).

While it’s great to talk about all of these things as part of a broader “social software” or “social media” phenomenon, there are also good reasons to have a label to address a subset of these sites that are permitting very particular practices. This allows academics, politicians, technologists, educators, and others discuss how structural shifts are prompting different kinds of behaviors. (What happens when people publicly articulate their relationships? How do these systems change the rules of virality because the network is visible? Etc.) Because of this, i don’t want the slippage to be too great because people are using terrible terms or because people want their site to fit into the category of what’s currently cool.

Of course, like most categories, there are huge issues around the edges and there’s never a clean way to construct boundaries. (To understand the challenges, read Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.) Just think of the category “game” and try to come up with a comfortable definition and boundary for that. Still, there are things that are most definitely not games. An apple is not a game. Sure, it can be used in a game but it is not inherently a game. Not all sites that allow people to engage in social activity are social network sites and it is ridiculous to try to shove them all there simply because there’s a lot of marketing money to be made (yet i realize that this is often the reason why people do try). For this reason, i really want to stake out “social network sites” as a category that has meaningful properties even if the edges are a little fuzzy. There is still meaningful family resemblance and more central prototypes than others. I really want to focus on making sense of what’s happening with this category by focusing primarily on the prototypes and less on the edge cases.

Anyhow, this is a work in progress but i wanted to write some of this down since i seem to be getting into lots of fights via email about this.