Monthly Archives: October 2007

change of plans wrt Facebook… please forgive me

A few months ago, I publicly declared a loss of context with respect to Facebook. I gave up and accepted people that I knew from the interweb, those who have been so kind to me, and many others that aren’t part of my intimate social circles. Unfortunately, this messed up some other things and due to a personal situation, I’ve decided to rescind on this.

One of the problems with SNSs is that it’s all about the networks, not the individuals. By opening up the doors with my Facebook, I exposed many of my friends and colleagues to unwanted observation by people that they didn’t know and people that I couldn’t vouch for. I don’t want my visibility to affect my friends.

The worst part about this is that I need to now make “cuts.” There’s nothing more horrible than having to classify “real” friends and not. And I’m going to fuck up. To make this somewhat better, I decided to take the advice of previous commenters and make a more “public” Facebook profile that will be visible to anyone who is interested. I will also accept friend requests there from people that I want to get to know. Right now that profile is pretty empty, but I will fix it shortly. I’ll actually play with Apps on the new profile while I’ve been ignoring and rejecting them mostly on my other profile.

I apologize to those that I offend in this process, but I need to do this to be a good friend to those that I care dearly about. Please forgive me for cutting you – I don’t mean harm by this but I need to separate those who I know through my professional life from those who are part of my personal worlds. If you want to friend me on Facebook, please friend this profile.

Also, I still don’t respond to FB email so please don’t write me there. I can barely keep up with one queue so I refuse to add others to the situation.

innovative TV ads

For quite some time now, TV channels have bemoaned services like TiVo for allowing viewers to skip over ads. I think that the TV stations are barking up the wrong tree. More importantly, I think that they’re out of touch with viewers.

One of the fascinating things about teens and advertising is that they don’t mind it. In fact, ads have come to signal “free” and so when teens see ads on websites, they assume that the service will continue to be free and that creates a sense of relief. Their complaint is not that ads are there, but that they are rarely relevant let alone interesting.

TV ads are the boringist. I have to admit that I watch them profusely in hotels and airport lounges because they are so fascinatingly bad. I have to imagine that people are trying to think up new TV ads, but do they bother for anything other than the Super Bowl? We all know that there are plenty of people who tune into the Super Bowl just to watch the ads. And there are certainly ads that people lurve and fans put them on YouTube. But most of them are le awful, especially those for political candidates and Save The XYZ causes.

For a long time now, I’ve been waiting for an ad that is directed at the TiVo crowd. Forget the 30-second forward people, there are still plenty who just use the 2X fast forward button. What if an ad only made sense using TiVo’s slowed-down, frame skipping view? Wouldn’t that be a trip? Rather than bitching about viewers, why not use the medium to play with them? Make something that they *want* to watch, are humored to watch? Am I asking too much when I ask TV stations to innovate?

Maybe a politician with a sense of creativity will try out a new tactic for reaching audiences through traditional media (cuz we all know that it’s still the primary mechanism for reaching mass audiences)? OK, maybe I’m dreaming. But how fun would it be to create an ad that can be viewed at different speeds with different messages? ::giggle::

innovation’s social externalities

In business, the economic concept of “externalities” has tremendous salience. In short, an externality is a cost that a third party must bear due to the actions of others. For example, air pollution is considered an externality of manufacturing. In theory, as protectors of the public good, reasonable governments should regulate corporate externalities through imposed taxes. (In reality…) More and more, discussion of environment externalities is a core part of business.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about another type of externalities: social externalities. In other words, effects on social life caused by policy, cultural, or business decisions. In many ways, social externalities are quite like environmental externalities – the effects are often latent. As such, the offending parties are long since gone and the solution is not to turn back to the clock but to find a new way to move forward.

Technology often creates unexpected social externalities. Take, for example, the air conditioner. Anyone who has witnessed a summer in the deep south can attest to the value of an air conditioner. In the last couple of years, I’ve heard lots of people talk about the environmental costs of air conditioning yet I almost never hear people talk about the social cost of air conditioning. It used to be too damn hot to sit around inside all day long so people used to sit on their stoop or anywhere where they might catch a breeze. They used to sit in social spaces. I remember summers on the east coast where those who couldn’t afford A/C spent hot summer days at the movie theater or any public place with A/C that they could find. Affordable A/C means a collapse of certain types of social community space.

Of course, policy can cause just as many social externalities as technology. Consider the implementation of compulsory high school in the U.S. and Europe. While we can certainly say now that schooling is a good thing (even if we devised schooling for imperial, colonial, and corporate purposes), we often fail to consider the externality of age segregation and what that has meant for so many aspects of civic and social life. We consciously devised a system that would stall growing up and now demonize children for not maturing. What a mess!

A different innovation to consider would be the automobile. Once again, we can talk about the environmental impact of modern day horses. When it comes to social externalities, we also have a decent understanding of how the automobile created suburbia. Yet, how would we think about evaluating the social costs of the invention of the automobile? There doesn’t seem to be any agreed-upon way to measure “social good” or “public happiness” or any of those other squishy community concepts (thus, the debate around “Bowling Alone”). Unless I’m mistaken, there don’t seem to be that many economists trying to work out ways of measuring social externalities (other than violence or other externalities that can then be regulated through law).

I’m concerned that our contemporary business narratives of progress often fail to reflect on the social externalities caused by innovations and organizational shifts. Of course, this is not about techno-determinism or fear mongering. We do that all too well. Propagandized mythical headlines like “Violent games make kids kill” are not what I’m talking about. I’m more interested in work like Mimi Ito and her colleagues’ studies on how youth’s lives are reorganized by the mobile phone and how not being easily accessible means being written out of social life. STS scholars and other academics are definitely researching how innovation and structure affect broader social life, but this work often fails to get out in the public. More problematically, it seems to me that business and the public think that progress is a one-directional path to the future and that we’re on that train. Why are we so invested in innovating anything that can be innovated, regardless of the consequences?

What would it take to get people to reflect on the social externalities of innovations and public policy? To consider history and reflect on what the costs might be of a particular innovation? Now that we’re curbing some of our “brilliant” ideas because we understand the economic externalities, might we reconsider some of the things we do for what the longterm social externalities might be? Of course, part of being young and innovative is to not think about externalities… I’m definitely getting old.

shopping, shopping

I’m back in LA. No more traveling, no more conferences. It is now time to sit down and write that dissertation. Of course, that requires getting the ducks lined up. I did 6 months worth of bills yesterday. Today, i started doing some comparison shopping. What I’m realizing is that I’m a bad shopper. I hate choice and I hate making decisions. It’s bad enough with clothes (which I don’t buy) and it’s much worse with gadgets.

My Sidekick is dying. Do I get the new Sidekick or do I switch to a Helio Ocean? Or ?? All I want is a damn good keyboard with a fantabulous interface for AIM and a relatively cheap plan that is data friendly. (Pah to the iPhone.)

I need a new car. Do I go for cute and get a Mini, go for the environment and get a Prius, go for practical and get a Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, or Scion? Or is there something else that I should get if I want: small, fuel efficient, relatively cheap, and sunroof?

How on earth do people make these decisions? I started websurfing and it was like entering an infinite loop of information with opinions in every which direction. I went to the car lots and stores and it was just overwhelming because I don’t like when people try to sell stuff to me (tis why I walk out of most clothing stores). How do people make decisions about what to buy? Oh right… friends. Shit. So, yo opinionated/knowledgeable friends: What car should I get? What phone should I get? Help me consume so that I can hibernate in LA and write. Tehehe.

Choose Your Own Ethnography

For this year’s Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) conference, I put together a paper reflecting on my methodological choices in pursuing an understanding of how youth engage with networked publics. In it, I try to lay out my decisions, my successes, and my failures. This paper is written in loving memory of my advisor Peter Lyman.

“Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of (Un)Mediated Life”


LOLCat Bible = infinite entertainment

I’ve been traveling constantly for over five weeks now. Whenever I’m feeling annoyed, I open up my Sidekick and stare at the LOLcat Bible for a few minutes.

“Teh Ceiling Cat giv me cheezburger, teh Ceiling Cat takded mah cheezburger awai. I stil laiks teh Ceiling Cat.” — Job 1:20

I don’t know why this gives me infinite amounts of pleasure, but it really does. There’s something absolutely amazing about webfolk engaged in a collective action project to translate the bible into cat pidgin. I can’t work out whether or not these webfolk are religious, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them grew up Christian and know the bible well but aren’t practicing (many practicing folks see this as denigrating the bible, although most of my friends just think it’s damn funny).

I’m really hoping that a linguist out there will look into this phenomenon. One of the primary language sources that most linguists use to analyze languages is the bible. Missionaries went around the world translating the bible into all sorts of local languages so it’s the only source text that exists in most languages. So here we have a collective action project where webfolk somehow know the grammar of cat pidgin. But what exactly are all of those rules? How does this collective action linguistic move resemble or differ from other pidgins and creoles? I just think it’d be a fun project to linguistically suss out how this phenomenon took shape.

In the meantime, I’m happy just to read and giggle.

“Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat waz invisible, An he maded the skiez An da Urf, but he no eated it.” — Genesis 1:1

Update: Apparently, there’s a bunch of linguistic analysis. And, hackers have created LOLCat.NET

my role in a marketer’s dream

This morning, I spoke on a panel at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. The day before, a guy from Unilever gave a presentation on what happens when users take up your content and spread it all across the web. He was invited to be on the panel at the last moment because of a cancellation and because his presentation was so well received wrt Web 2.0. Right before we go on, I’m informed that the guy from Unilever was talking about the Dove Evolution campaign that was spread all over YouTube.

This is the moment where I went white.

Y’see… I played a role in that. I saw the Dove Evolution ad and wanted it to be spread around, especially to the anti-violence against women folks that I was connected to through V-Day and the teens who I was talking with. I was pissed off that it wasn’t on YouTube or in any embeddable format (at the time it wasn’t findable, but since, it appears as though people did post it before me). I knew it needed to be embeddable to be spreadable. So, with the help of some tech-savvy friends, I scraped the Flash video from the Unilever site and uploaded it to YouTube. And then I posted it to MySpace. And then I posted it to other video sharing sites. And then I sent it to a bunch of friends. And then I blogged about it. I knew it was interesting and spreadable and wanted it to reach certain audiences. So I scraped and uploaded and blogged. And I gave copies of the scraped version to others to upload in case someone tried to take it down.

I wasn’t the sole contributor to its proliferation on the web. Other versions had more views and bigger blogs posted links to various versions. Every few months, I would get a letter from someone asking if they could use the video for this that or the other. Lately, people had been writing to me as though I was the producer of that commercial and I always responded that I was not. Collectively, this ad was viewed as important and because of this, various folks got involved in spreading it. Myself included. Beyond that, I didn’t think about it.

It seems as though this “phenomenon” was a big deal to Unilever, an event that made them realize the power of Web2.0 and spreadable content. While I had been worrying about C&Ds as a result of reposting it, they were struck speechless by the spread and were all in favor of it. In other words, they were doing exactly what a company should be doing when something they put out there becomes a user phenomenon. And, somehow, I was doing exactly what a good “fan” should do, even though I had never thought of it that way. I tend not to analyze my own habits, but sure enough, I was helping fulfill a marketer’s dream. Only it never dawned on me cuz I was busy observing others’ activities. Oh, the irony.

Continuous City: Berkeley play involving SNSs

If you’re in the Bay Area, go check out Continuous City, a funky play at Berkeley concerning what it means to live in a networked society (with various references to social network sites). I would if I were in town.

CONTINUOUS CITY is a meditation on how contemporary experiences of location and dislocation stretch us to the maximum as our “networked” selves occupy multiple locations. We want to examine not only how we see what’s happening in the world, but how we deliver it to an audience-using “real world” events to include “real world” people.

SHOW: Continuous City: Excerpts from a Work-in-Progress by The Builders Association, created with students from UC Berkeley. Admission is $14/10/8. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at Performances at 8pm on October 5, 6, & 13 and 2pm on October 7 & 14.

read those contracts!

Much to my chagrin, most people do not seem to read the contracts that they sign. More horrifyingly, I’m watching as corporate lawyers increasingly introduce clauses that are manipulative at best, legal gag orders more often. I realize that most people don’t read click-through agreements, but I would strongly encourage everyone to at least read employment contracts and NDAs, even the ones that look like click-throughs when you show up at a company to visit a friend for lunch.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to be an advisor to a project at a company that I will not name. The company is a large, public, profitable company with hundreds (maybe thousands) of employees, many assets, and way too many lawyers. The project sounded quite interesting so I read the contract. I would be obliged to attend regular meetings (?at my own expense – it wasn’t clear?). There would be no cash or stock compensation. Yet, the kicker was this clause:

“In order to protect Company’s Proprietary Information, Board Member agrees that Board Member shall not, while serving as a Board Member, perform any consulting or other services substantially similar to the Services for any company whose business or proposed business in any way involves products or services which could reasonably be determined to be competitive with the products or services or proposed products or services of Company. In the event Board Member has any question about whether a particular project would violate this provision, before undertaking the project Board Member shall seek a determination in writing from Company, which shall be binding.”

In other words, they want me to work for free and agree to not consult for or advise any other company that is any way competitive with them in any aspect of their business. Given this company’s assets, that would basically mean that I could not consult with any company whatsoever. You have got to be kidding me.

So, I wrote them a polite note asking for clarification on this clause. Perhaps they just meant that they didn’t want me to do work in any way that would conflict with just that specific project? They told me that I should seek private legal counsel to analyze the contract because they cannot give legal advice. So now they want me to pay a lawyer to interpret a contract so that I can work for free as an advisor while not being able to work for anyone else in the industry? Needless to say, I said no thank you.

My other favorite contract moment came when I was on a panel with Cory (the master of contract rebuttal). The contract was insidious. Amongst many other problems with that contract, they claimed rights over any IP that I would introduce during my talk and made us legally and financially liable for all sorts of things. Needless to say, Cory and I both refused to do the event until they amended the contract. Their response was that no speaker had ever refused that contract before. ::jaw on floor::

We have become an immensely litigious society. As a result, lawyers shove contracts down our throats left right and center. Most people are not trained to interpret these so they are expected to hire lawyers to do so. (Not so bad for the legal profession, eh?) This really upsets me. Are there ways that average people can learn to interpret contracts and push back at them? I’ve gotten better at it after having read so many of them, but I don’t think most people know. I also think it’s important that people learn to reject contracts. I reject most NDAs. I won’t sign them because they are usually so broad that they put me at risk in every direction. I can’t imagine journalists sign them, do they?

I vote that there should be a “stupid contracts” equivalent of Chilling Effects because I think that these contracts are also chilling participation of all sorts.

In the meantime, I’d like to encourage everyone to read those nasty contracts. And stand up for your rights. Don’t just sign them. And don’t just assume that they won’t actually enforce them. That’s not a good standard to set. This is particularly critical for academics and others who subsist on freelance work and the intellectual output they produce. And if you’re a company, think about the nasty contracts you’re imposing on people. Does your legal team need to be that psycho? My hope is that if people start reading and refusing, companies will rethink their policies. But it all starts with reading the damn thing.