Monthly Archives: November 2006

social network site history

When i started tracking social network sites, i didn’t think that i would be studying them. I did a *terrible* job at keeping a timeline and now, i realize, this is important information to have on hand. I’m currently in the process of trying to go backwards and capture critical dates and i need your help. I know a lot of you have a lot of this information and can probably help me (and thus help everyone else interested in this arena).

I have created a simple pbwiki at (password yasns) where i’m starting to make a timeline. Can you please add what you know to it? Pretty please with a cherry on top? A lot of this information is scattered all over the web and in people’s heads and it’d be great to get it documented in a centralized source. (I know that there is some info on Wikipedia but it’s not complete; as appropriate, i will transfer information back in their format.) Note: i didn’t include citations because i often don’t have them but if you have them, they’d be very very welcome.

Please let others know about this if you think they might have information to add. Thank you kindly for your time.

(PS: i have a new academic paper coming out shortly. Stay tuned.)

Prop 83 blocked in court

For those of you who didn’t obsessively watch the election results last nite, Prop 83 (the flawed sex offender one) passed 70/30. This is not at all surprising although what really gets my goat is the number of people who voted for it who didn’t realize what it did. Every time i’d bring up 83 with people, they’d tell me they were all for it. So i’d tell them what all it would do and show them the fine print. They were horrified. I’ve managed to convince everyone i’ve talked with to vote against it (except the people at the CyberSafety event who believe that anything to stop sex offenders even if you kill the baby in the process is AOK). This drives me crazy because it’s a classic example of ill-informed voters hurting everyone.

So, while i was really hoping that my message might have gotten out about 83, i knew that it was going to pass and i was prepared for that disappointment. I wasn’t prepared for the immediate blockage of 83 by the courts: “U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, ruling on a lawsuit filed here early Wednesday, said the measure ‘is punitive by design and effect’ and likely unconstitutional.” I really hope that this means that it might not go into effect because the law is so problematic and costly. It might also mean that, if it works its way up the courts, it might be blocked in other states. ::bounce::

Still, the problem stands: voters don’t read the fine print when it comes to propositions. This means that many other propositions can pass if worded in a way to capitalize on people’s fears. That REALLY upsets me and i’d like to know what to do about it.

So, all and all, it was a decent night. We have the House. Rumsfield resigned. We may get the Senate (but even if we don’t, Cheney has to be the tie-breaker which is *fascinating*). Of course, we still have the Terminator terminating education in California. And far far far too many states banned gay marriage. And the reality is that no one voted _for_ the Democrats but _against_ the Republicans which means that we really shouldn’t be celebrating per say. On the plus side, more people seemed to have come out to vote than have in a long long time. And it looks like a lot of young people came out too. But i still can’t call that a victory because more does not mean close to all.

I’m also disturbed about something else. I watched election returns until it was clear no more info on Virginia or Montana was coming in last night. I couldn’t help but think about how close the last few elections have been and how much money is being made off of election coverage. I remember being horrified when i realized that there’s fine print at the end of Reality TV shows saying that the producers have input over who gets kicked out. In short, they make sure that the results are rigged so that people want to watch the show. The last few elections have felt like that – uber close elections meant to make people like me obsessively watch TV coverage all night, nearly memorizing all of the ads (i will definitely see Bobby on Thanksgiving). Please please please tell me these close calls aren’t scripted. I really couldn’t handle that.

what i mean when i say “email is dead” in reference to teens

When i was a child, i used to get super excited when the postman came. Although i almost never got anything, those handful of letters from penpals were such joyous gifts. Email was the same at first – even the pyramid schemes and bizarro forwards were a reason to celebrate. “You’ve got mail!” Today, snail mail is full of bills and email is full of spam and expectations. Joy comes through IM or SMS or MySpace. At least for now.

Lately, i’ve gotten into some trouble for saying that email is dead with young people so i wanted to do some clarification.

Do young people have email accounts? Yes. Do they login to them semi-regularly? Yes. Do they use it as their primary form of asynchronous communication for talking with their friends? No.

Academics have been noting that young people’s social and emotional energies have been moving from email to IM. Consider for example Steven Thorne’s 2003 article “Artifacts and Cultures-of-Use in Intercultural Communication.” This article shows a cross-language penpal experiment. Those who used email (as assigned) got very little out of the relationship but a segment of participants switched to IM with their penpal, resulting in a much better connection. In examining this, he finds that this is because IM is the primary site of sociable communication for young people. It is where teens prefer to go to socialize.

Many of you (dear readers) receive your bills via email now. Does this mean that you’ve stopped checking snail mail? No. That said, what kind of emotional attachment do you have towards your mailbox? You probably love when your Netflix disks arrive or when you get that neat package from Amazon, but is snail mail all that exciting now? If you couldn’t check your snail mail for a day or two, would you be emotionally distraught? Most of you probably twitch when you can’t get to your email. Why? There are many more important, interesting, juicy things there that feel timely and important.

Now, let’s talk about youth. They have email accounts. They get homework assignments sent there. Xanga tells them that their friends have updated their pages. Attachments (a.k.a. digital Netflix/Amazon packages) get sent there. Companies try to spam them there (a.k.a. junk mail). Sifting through the crap, they might get a neat penpal letter or a friend might have sent them something to read but, by and large, there’s not a lot of emotional investment over email.

That said, take away their AIM or MySpace or SMS or whatever their primary form of asynchronous messaging with their friends is and they will start twitching and moan about how you’ve ruined their life. And you have. Because you’ve taken away their access to their friends, their access to the thing that matters most to them. It’s like me taking away your access to blogs and email and being forced to stay at the office just because you showed up late for work.

I’m part of the generation caught between email and IM where IM feels more natural but most of the folks just a little older than me refuse to use IM so i’m stuck dealing with email. Today’s teens are stuck between IM, MySpace/Facebook, and SMS. There’s another transition going on which is why there’s no clean one place. IM replaced email for quite a few years but now things are in flux again. Still, no matter what, email is not regaining beloved ground.

Email is not gone but it is dead in the sense that it is no longer a site of deep emotional passion. People still have accounts, just like they still have mailboxes. But their place for sociable communication is elsewhere.

voting issues, take n

Remember when i said that i couldn’t vote in LA? I filed a complaint with the city about my inability to vote. I then learned that a bunch of my friends were in a similar position so i was unbelievably pissed. Luckily, i called up the nice San Francisco people and got them to emergency me an absentee and was all prepared to vote in SF. Then, late last nite, i got a call from some government official telling me that she had heard about my problem and had looked into it. She told me that i was now registered in LA and should have no problem voting. I asked if an absentee ballot was going to be rushed my way (since i’m in DC next Tuesday). She said that they had no record of me filing permanent absentee and that i had to remember to check the box. I said that i knew this and had done so on all three of my registration forms. She told me to hold on and i heard muttering and shuffling of papers in the background. I was then informed that she had my application right there and i had indeed checked permanent absentee and that she was extremely sorry. She explained that i couldn’t get an absentee ballot on time but that i could go to Culver City City Hall and vote touchscreen. She gave me detailed information and told me to call her back directly if i ran into any problem. I asked her if i could have my friends call her and she said yes.

I immediately called my friends and told them to contact her. K did so right away – i had pressured her into registering (“for her own good”) and so, when she finally decided to register, she wasn’t pleased that she never got anything back once she did. She called up the lady this morning who immediately recognized my name and took care of K, making sure she too could vote. While this is all fine and well (and i’m glad that i can vote and i’m glad that K can vote), i’m not too thrilled that there seems to be many mistakes in the registration process. How many people aren’t registered because of such oopses? Why do we even have to register? Why can’t we automatically be registered simply by being citizens? ::grumble:: And we wonder why people don’t vote.

Anyhow, i went to City Hall to vote. At first, i was pretty humored. There were people of all ages and backgrounds standing on line to do their civic duty. When i got to the front, i asked if i could use a paper ballot; they looked at me like i was the devil and told me that this was a touchscreen only station. I decided i should suck it up and figure out how this touchscreen shit works so i didn’t argue. But OMG do i not feel secure about my vote. I went in and there was a big Diebold machine laughing at me. I was given a card that i had to put into the machine so that i could click a bunch of buttons on a screen and “submit” my vote. Did it count? I have no idea. I’m not even a technophobe and i don’t trust that damn thing. One of the things that i love about voting in SF is that i have to tear off this piece of paper at the top of my ballot; that confirms my vote and i can always go back with it and say, find my vote. I’m one of those crazy people who even keeps her pieces of paper until well after the election. When i cast my ballot in SF, i get to see the machine read it and the number go up – i can always see how many people voted before me. Here in LA? I have no idea. And i’m sooo not confident about the database behind that thing. I asked if i could get a receipt for my voting and the people looked at me once again like i had horns. They said that it counted, that it was all in the computer. (Damn techno-fetishism.) I made a less-than-thrilled face. One guy say and said, here, take this and handed me a sticker. Rather than simply saying that i voted, this sticker has the gall to say “I voted touchscreen.”


For the record, i want to state that no matter how fucked up this process is (and it’s MAJORLY fucked up), it’s critical that you get out and vote and fight for others’ right to vote. Our ancestors fought to make this country a democracy. Lives were lost so that all men could vote, regardless of the color of their skin. The fight for women’s suffrage was long and hard. Still, today, there are many around the world who don’t have the privileges that we take for granted when it comes to voting. Regardless of what you believe, if you are an American, you have a civic and social responsibility to get out and vote on Tuesday. Furthermore, you have a responsibility to make certain that every citizen in this country can vote and be counted. Freedom means nothing if you aren’t willing to fight for others’ right to vote or if you aren’t willing to get off your ass and vote yourself. Vote on November 7. Be counted, be heard.

i love my country
by which i mean
i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right
Ani Difranco

my voting slate

I held a proposition party last night. For those who are not familiar with this, it’s an event where i gather American friends to discuss the different propositions in California so that we can all be collectively informed. I’ve found that i often don’t agree with the suggestions of major organizations but that i’m very politically opinionated. By bringing my friends together, we can split the research and educate each other. Plus, it’s a good excuse for some wine.

I’ve decided to post my intended ballot here. If you violently disagree with something that i’ve listed, please comment and explain why (i’m happy to be convinced to vote otherwise). For those who tend to just vote whatever someone else says, you’re welcome to use this. ::grin:: Although i’ve done the research for Los Angeles, i have to vote in San Francisco due to *#$&! voter registration fuckups. Thus, i’m including the propositions in both cities.

State Propositions:

  • Proposition 1A: NO. Transportation Funding Protection. While money is needed for transportation projects, the uses here are too narrowly defined. Legislators should make decisions about the best allocation of these resources; they have more information than we do.
  • Proposition 1B: NO. Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act. This is too focused on freeways, suburban sprawl, and moral panics; there is too little focus on public transit for such an expensive bond. Plus, it’s a bond measure.
  • Proposition 1C: YES. Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund. While this is a bond measure, it focuses on low-income groups that desperately need housing help (battered women, disabled, senior citizens) and there’s no other good way that these groups will be helped.
  • Proposition 1D: YES. Kindergarten-University Public Education. Again, sucks to be a bond but schools are in desperate need of repair and damn thee Prop 13.
  • Proposition 1E: Yes. Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention. Again, more sucking on the bond part but we also know that the federal government is not going to repair CA levees and while this doesn’t solve the problem, it definitely helps. Not great, but better than nothing.
  • Proposition 83: NO NO NO NO NO NO NO…. FUCKING HELL NO! Sex Offenders. ::grumble::
  • Proposition 84: ? Water Quality, Safety and Supply. I don’t know where to go on this – it helps central valley in the near-term but is unsustainable.
  • Proposition 85: NO GAAAAH NO NO NO NO NO… BAD BAD BAD! Anti-Choice, Anti-Youth Waiting Period and Parental Notification. I can’t believe this is up again. On top of all of the fucked up aspects of this legislation, one key side effect is that it will drastically increase parental child abuse. Bad bad bad.
  • Proposition 86: YES. Tax on Cigarettes. While i don’t like how this tax will be leveraged primarily on poor people who addictions, i do support cig taxes that channel their money into medical programs instead of advertising programs. I also think that a drastically huge tax will shock some people into quitting.
  • Proposition 87: YES. Alternative Energy. While the market will force companies into thinking about alternative energy, this will help fund more basic research. I wish we could tax foreign oil too but that’s a federal issue.
  • Proposition 88: NO. Education Funding. It breaks my heart to say no to this but it’s too vague to be useful.
  • Proposition 89: YES. Political Campaigns, Public Financing. I’m all down with limiting corporations and taxing them when it comes to their power over political campaigns.
  • Proposition 90: NO. Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property. This is a false eminent domain issue that would give developers far too much control over environmental and other local initiatives about what is best for a town.

San Francisco:

  • Proposition A: Yes. School Bonds. I hate bond but damn thee Prop 13. Plus, all reports say that this has been working since the pass of the original bond measure.
  • Proposition B: ?. Telecommuting for Board of Supervisors. I don’t get it – it seems pointless and a waste of a proposition.
  • Proposition C: Yes. Salaries of Top City Officials. Seems appropriate.
  • Proposition D: Yes. Privacy of Personal Information. Duh – don’t sell personal info just cuz you have access.
  • Proposition E: ?. Downtown Parking Tax. It’d be great to lower cars but i’m not sure how this will be spent or who this will hurt.
  • Proposition F: Yes. Paid Sick Leave Requirement. Quality of life issue – when are we going to learn from Europe?
  • Proposition G: ?. Limitations on Chain Stores. On one hand, i hate chain store takeover of SF; on the other, i’m not sure if this is the best thing for people given that many people can’t afford boutiques and the indie restaurants that pop up. I’m leaning yes because of my poshy views but i don’t know if this is the best approach.
  • Proposition H: Yes. Relocation Expenses for No Fault Tenant Eviction. Helps those who are required to move cuz it’s god-awfully hard to do in SF as a poor person; especially helps seniors.
  • Proposition I: ?. Make the Mayor Meet with City Council “On The Record.” I love transparency but this is a catfight proposition concerning Gavin and i’m not sure this is the way to do this.
  • Proposition J: YES. Impeach Bush/Cheney. Policy statement….
  • Proposition K: ?. Seniors and Disabled Housing Protections. Always good to do, but there’s not much substance.

Los Angeles:

  • Proposition H: ?. Affordable Housing Bond. On one hand, want to help people who cannot afford to buy houses but it’s a huge bond and it doesn’t address the root causes of lack of housing. Leaning yes but feel icky since the building developers love it.
  • Proposition J: Yes. Regional Fire Stations. Helps correct a dumb problem with Prop F from a while ago.
  • Proposition R: No. Councilmember Term Limits. While i’m not convinced that term limits are the best thing, i hate anti-term limit propositions written by the people affected by them. I would’ve been more inclined if this didn’t count for anyone currently in the council out of principle. Plus, i hate that there are all of these ethical bits tacked on to make people vote for it; that’s illegal.

Anyhow, this is my general take after doing some research. Any thoughts or suggestions? I should note that i have no qualms about not voting on a proposition that i don’t have a good yes/no about. It took me a long time to learn that this is not a scan-tron and that it’s AOK to choose not to vote on a particular measure. It takes some undoing given my academic tendencies to think that there has to be an answer but i’m finally OK with it.

Finally, please please please vote NO NO NO NO NO on Propositions 83 and 85. And then vote NO again. And convince everyone you know to vote NO. Please. ::grumble::grumble::grumble:: stupid propositions.

applying to graduate school

Academia has patterns and one of the ways that i know that it is November is that i’m getting lots of email from friends thinking of going to graduate school and from people who want to apply to the School of Information. Although i’ve been in school for forever, i’m not an expert on applying to graduate school but i do have some thoughts…

While i offer some suggestions below, i’d really like to do a call out to professors and graduate students who might have advice about applying to graduate school. Please suggest things in the comments. I know that applying to graduate school provokes all sorts of anxieties in people and i’d love to offer some guidance collectively if possible.

Anyhow, here are my top 4 rules:

Rule #1: Apply to potential advisors, not to programs. Sure, a PhD from CalTech looks uber swanky on your resume but if you aren’t that interested in what you’re researching and you have a poor rapport with your advisor, the likelihood of you dropping out is HIGH. In most programs (particularly engineering and sciences), your advisor is *EVERYTHING*. This is the person who will direct much of your research, the person who will fight to get you through the program, the person who will make you feel guilty about spending too much time blogging, the person who will foot your bills, and the person whose love you desperately need when you think the world sucks. You better love your advisor or you will be miserable.

So, when searching for schools, look for advisors who write like you want to write, who do the kind of work you wish to do, who generally are the kind of people you want to be. Try contacting them but don’t be discouraged if they don’t respond; many are too busy to field messages from potential students. If you can’t get in touch with them, try contacting their students. In both cases, write a BRIEF message about who you are, why you want to study with that person/in that lab, what you think you can offer. Do your research before contacting a prof – know what they’ve written, what they’re studying, and why. Compliment them (all academics are suckers for compliments) but don’t get too sickeningly sweet. Make sure you’re concise and that your email is well written but not stiff as a board. Give them something to respond to (translation: ask a question). The best questions include the future of their research, what motivates their research, an intelligent question about their findings, etc. This should be in addition to a question about what the prof is looking for in new students. While the adage is that there are no dumb questions, this simply is not true. Dumb questions, complimentary emails with no hooks, begging and pleading… these won’t garner responses. Don’t expect to start a conversation.

If the professor agrees to meet with you, show up on time and engage them about their research. If you didn’t do your research before, you better have by this point. Bring with you a paper including a brief bio of you and a very short abstract of what you want to do in graduate school. It can’t hurt to include a small, simple, elegant (i’d recommend black & white) photo on that page so that they can keep names/faces together (cuz the scattered professor stereotype exists for a reason). If you did meet with the prof, follow up via email and perhaps include similar information so that they’ll recall you via search when they’re looking at applications.

Note: in many programs, professors choose students so if they remember you and like you, that will be a plus for your application. Having a professor on your side is a good thing for getting in but it’s also key if you want to be happy once there.

Oh, and helpful hint: don’t apply to professors who have retired or gone to a different program. Websites are good first guidelines but you really need to talk to someone to find out the state of the school at the moment. Hell, at the very least, call the secretary for the department. I feel really badly every time someone contacts me saying they’ve applied to work for my advisor at Berkeley; he retired.

Rule #2: Programs are not generic. It’s amazing the number of people who apply to programs en masse and have no idea what they’re applying to. It’s really obvious in the application. When you write an application for graduate school, make sure it’s tailored for that program. Why are you applying THERE? Make sure to situate yourself within the broader program – what can you offer, why do you think you should be there, why do you think this is a good program? Work this stuff into your essay – make it really clear that THIS is the program for you. Reference professors explicitly, complimenting their work. This will help them understand where you think you belong within the program.

Before applying to a program, read the fine print. How much coursework will you have to do? What kind of requirements should you expect? How does the program do funding? Know what you’re getting into before you apply and make sure that’s soaked in and part of your application. For example, if it’s a program with two years of solid coursework, don’t write that you’re done with coursework and can’t wait to focus on research.

Rule #3: Interdisciplinary programs are not the lazy way out. In many ways, the borders of disciplinary programs are far more sane than interdisciplinary ones. To do well at an interdisciplinary place, you can’t just be sorta ok at a bunch of things – you actually have to dive deep and get really knowledgeable about a bunch of things. In many ways, it can be a lot more work and at the same time, you’ll never really succeed at being an expert at anything (which others will kindly remind you of constantly).

Don’t choose an interdisciplinary program because you can’t make your mind up about what you want to study. This is the *worst* reason to go to graduate school, especially to go to interdisciplinary programs. You need to have a vague idea of what you want to study and why. If you just want to be in graduate school, you’re better off at a disciplinary place (although i think that that motivation is still terrible there). At an interdisciplinary place, you’re always going to be making your own path, fighting for what you think it important, etc.

At the same time, don’t go to a traditional disciplinary place if you want to do interdisciplinary work really badly. It’s quite possible to stick to a discipline until after your PhD is over (and this will make it a lot easier to get jobs) but if you think you’re going to be doing an interdisciplinary dissertation, don’t expect a disciplinary place to support you unless you’ve built a relationship with an advisor. I’ve watched many sad graduate students push for interdisciplinary work in a disciplinary program and bloody their heads from the repeated bashing against the immovable wall that is academic bureaucracy.

Rule #4: Read Piled Higher and Deeper. Phd Comics is a fantastic procrastination tool for all graduate students and a reality check for all wannabe graduate students. Its depiction of graduate school is far better than any that i know. And it will make you laugh and laugh and laugh until you cry.


Graduate school is all-encompassing. You will not have a life for years. Nor will you have money or sanity. So if you’re going to go for a PhD, do so because you love what you want to study and getting that PhD will make your life easier. Passion and maschoism are the only things that will get you through this academic hazing ritual. No matter what, you have to figure out how to make the process sane and positive for yourself. It doesn’t come easy but you can figure out how to make it enjoyable; i certainly have. But it takes a lot of hard work. And a good anti-depressant.

Anyhow, i’ll try to offer more advice if i think of any, but in the meantime, i’d love to hear what others suggest….