Category Archives: social software

social and connected individuals

Anne Galloway: In my dissertation, I discuss the prevailing tendency of “social software” to define “social” in terms of connected individuals. This privileging of individualism, I argue, not only demonstrates cultural and class biases, but also points at some of the limitations of network models of interaction. To focus on connecting individuals along the lines of shared interests and practices is indeed a type of social interaction, but it shouldn’t be confused with public value. Even when artists and designers choose to focus on the “public” dimensions of “social” software, they often resurrect the sense of public implied in the “collective,” a form of anti-structure if you will, and sometimes a remarkably insular and homogenous one at that. In many cases, “social” software involves technology “for” the people or technology “by” the people, but only rarely do the two come together. Network models are uniquely amenable to connecting and maintaining such discrete pieces in part because they manage or control the types of connections that can be made, and so public wifi networks and other open or hackable architectures are never public in the sense of being “for” and/or “by” everyone.

::bounce::cheer:: Yay!

Why Microsoft-only development is foolish business logic

Any company that focuses on Microsoft-only platforms may gain access to the vast majority of Internet users but in doing so, they also secure Microsoft hegemony.

I’m always stunned when companies who compete with Microsoft support only their platforms, only their protocols. How many companies develop only for MS operating systems, only for IE, only for Outlook? The logic is often practical: the primary target group uses MS and it costs too much to develop on multiple platforms. This should make practical economic sense, right? Wrong.

Companies keep competing on a product-by-product basis, forgetting that they need to be competing on a paradigm level. And forgetting that they need to be competing collectively, not individually. By creating a product that only works on Microsoft, you solidify Microsoft more than you compete with them. You may be competing on a product level, but in the long run, you’ve done Microsoft more good than harm and you’ve just made your competition more difficult. You’ve given people another reason to stay on Microsoft. Why? How can this possibly be good business logic?

The majority of the world _is_ using Microsoft-only. Think about everything that is pre-installed: browsers, calendar, IM, text editor, music player, … It takes a lot of effort to switch any one of those applications. And yet, when IE stopped development, people started to do so. Started. It can happen, but it’s a huge uphill battle. Anyone who has taken the scary jump to switch to Firefox or OSX should be rewarded by being loved and cherished by all in competition with Microsoft, not punished.

People always ask how Microsoft survives when their products are not nearly as good as their competitors. Most people argue monopoly, but while that plays a role, i’d argue that it’s mostly because the competitors are securing Microsoft’s position as leader, reinforcing their power within the tech industry, and giving them the ability to dictate the standards. They do so actively whenever they only support Microsoft, whenever they make it harder for users to switch.

At FOO, i was stunned to see quite a few PCs – i’m used to a Mac-only influencer crowd (although Macs still dominated). When i mocked the PC owners, i received a consistent chorus – i used to use Macs only but then i started working for XYZ big company and they don’t support Macs – i need to use Outlook, i need to use IE, VPN doesn’t work on Macs, … What killed me was the number of people who work for Yahoo and Google who said this. ::smacking forehead:: You have to be kidding me!

This week, Google launched two Windows-only properties to compete with Microsoft. Not only are they ignoring a key early adopter/influencer crowd, but they’re helping discourage mainstream users from trying non-Microsoft products. Why? And why not work together with other companies who are competing with Microsoft?

I still believe that supporting influencers is necessary, but i’m now convinced that you also need to support anyone who has taken the initiative to switch away from your competition. Furthermore, you don’t have the right to espouse open standards if you continue to only build on top of only one closed one. You need to give people choice beyond just the application at hand. Openness isn’t simply about open protocols concerning one application, but about open choice to mix and match layers through and through.

Please, if you’re building an application that is browser/OS/platform-specific, please please please think about this. Think about how your limited development focus secures hegemony of other layers that will continue to haunt your layer.

Note: this post is heavily influenced by a discussion with Ryan Shaw

FOO Camp – Are you a werewolf? Yes OR No!?!?

I had the privilege of attending FOO Camp this year and i have to admit it was an utter blast. I had the great fortune of having a partner in crime in the form of Miss Jane. She’s so amazing at inciting people to play and i’m so in awe of her so the opportunity to collaborate with her was glorious (although i’m totally intimidated by her ability to turn everything into a game). For our “demo,” we created a Zen Scavenger Hunt to explore the ideas of supergaming and social play. Jane explains the rules on her blog. In short, people are told to gather 12 objects and then we hand them a list and they have to find the objects listed amongst their twelve. Here was the list:

A problem (2 points)
A non-scalable solution to object #1 (3 points)
A scalable solution to object #1 (6 points)
A new mobile Web 2.0 platform (demo, please) (3 points)
An experiment in nanotech bioengineering gone bad (3 points)
A self-replicating machine (demo, please) (7 points)
A passenger amenity from the first commercial space flight shuttle (2 points)
A working tele-operated object (demo, please) (7 points)
A tool for collaboration (3 points)
A relic from the battle between the monkeys and the robots. (P.S. Who won?) (3 points)
Edible computing (demo, please) (6 points)
FOObarred TM Anti-Surveillance Device (4 points)

The folks who played were MAGNIFICENT. There were nanotech tooth cleaners, whiteboard wikis, edible tape… and then there was the dirty sock. Oh dear the dirty sock… Poor sock.

Also, with Jane’s instigation tendencies in full force, each night involved extended games of Werewolf. Thank goodness for play… i ended up getting to know so many people that i wouldn’t have thought to talk to otherwise. It broke clique structures and gave people a level playing game to actually get to know one another. Amazing really.

I have definitely decided that Werewolf is necessary for future events in this space. Folks in the Bay Area are going to gather to work through the best form of Werewolf for groups and i can’t wait to see how those iterations affect future conferences.

In addition to play, i did attend sessions and engage with people about ideas. I tried to go to things that i knew little about. The biotech/nanotech stuff was fascinating even though so much of it was over my head. I also went to a few where i could contribute – creating passionate users, public/private masks, taxonomies. I also had 1-1 conversations that went pretty deep. For example, Jimmy Wales and i dove deep into Wikipedia and that was completely mind-opening. That conversation alone made the entire weekend worth it to me.

I also held a session about the ways in which (real, not articulated) social networks connect to innovation and why diversity (intellectual, cultural and biological) is critical for everyone invested in technology. I’m going to work on a longer post about that one shortly. But the session was intended to get people thinking about how their social structures affect their ability to innovate. It helped motivate people to think about their own networks and how they learned from people entirely unlike them. It also created a brilliant conversation about conference organizing, bridging outside of your known relations and taking network effects seriously.


On a separate note, i want to take a moment to address the opening of this post. It was a privilege to attend FOO and i know that there are bad feelings and elitism critiques. I can truly understand both perspectives and i know that O’Reilly is trying to be transparent but that in that transparency, there are also hurt feelings and self-doubt. And this makes me sad and frustrated because i genuinely don’t know what the appropriate response is. I was uncertain as to whether or not i should document this event because some told me that it was irresponsible for me to attend an “elitist” event. But i chose to do so because good things did come of it and i wanted to record that. And i wanted to share the game that Jane and i did.

The problem with privilege is that much is gained from it. Ever since i went to college, i’ve seen the value of privilege. Politically, i’ve never believed in just tossing it away but trying to use it as an opportunity to engage with people about the core issue of privilege. This is why i did the session on networks and diversity – it let me address the topic without ranting; it let me educate and motivate people using their own self-interest as the key.

Unfortunately not everything is scalable and i don’t know how what should be done. I am very stoked that there was a second camp – BAR camp. And i definitely think there’s an interesting model in there. What would it mean for people to simultaneously organize lots of hyper diverse events? The trick would be to really mix people up – create a good balance of network cohesion and diversity. You don’t want to simply scale one event – not only because of physical space but social structure space. FOO is already too large and i know that O’Reilly is really uncertain of how to deal with success on that front. And besides, more would actually dilute the interaction. I only got to meet a fraction of people that i wished to meet because there’s a limit to the number of deep conversations possible in a short period of time. But the problem with multiple events is that people have to volunteer to organize them and engage people’s trust. That’s hard work.

Wikipedia used for viral marketing

Check out this Boing Boing post on using wikipedia for viral marketing. Of particular interest is a quote from one of their readers:

I can’t say who I am, but I do work at a company that uses Wikipedia as a key part of online marketing strategies. That includes planting of viral information in entries, modification of entries to point to new promotional sites or “leaks” embedded in entries to test diffusion of information. Wikipedia is just a more transparent version of Myspace as far as some companies are concerned. We love it (evil laugh).

::cough:: Clay! Comments???

finding fascinating flickr clusters

One of the best things about Flickr’s new clustering algorithm is that it brings out the treasure hunt desire. Surfing can go on for hours as you track down fascinating clusters amongst the bazillion photos. Ever since my night (where many hours disappeared), i forced myself to resist the temptation. But then, benchun went and pointed me to: the twister cluster:

Has anyone else found fascinating ones?

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Flickr just released interestingness. This is a fascinating way to browse photos, checking out what people are into.

There are lots of things that make a photo ‘interesting’ (or not) in the Flickr. Where the clickthroughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing. Interestingness changes over time, as more and more fantastic photos and stories are added to Flickr.

So, engage a way because your engagement affects the interestingness and there’s nothing like oohing and aweing over the pretty pictures this month.

(PS: they also released clustering so that you can check out tags based on related words. Check out all of the ones related to urban)

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instantaneous information

How did you first hear of yesterday’s tragedy in London? Where did you search for more information?

I asked random friends these questions yesterday, techies and non-techies. Given timezone differences, many of my friends woke up to the radio telling them about it. Others heard because they peruse mainstream news sites with their coffee. Over and over again, i heard people express frustration when they tried to search in Google/Yahoo for more information. There was none; it was too new. Even the BBC barely updated.

I remember this feeling from 9/11. Knowing that somewhere on blogs, there was information. Knowing that people took photos. Knowing that names of survivors and victims had to be listed somewhere. And having no place to look. When the tsunami hit, a blogspot blog became a central focus for people trying to get information. But that blog still took a couple of days. Then again, it was a different kind of horror.

What amazed me was how my technical, blogging and tech-comfortable friends converged on three sites: Technorati, Flickr and Wikipedia. (The non-technical stuck to the mainstream news and called folks.) The front page of Wikipedia linked to the article that people collectively used to provide information. On Flickr, many photos were collected into community pools, TV images were photographed, and there were press folks asking permission to use different photos. On Technorati, the front page clearly showed that everyone was searching for information on London. Technorati saw traffic spike to 45% over regular levels.

Historically (::cough::), we turned to the TV for up-to-the-minute news of major events. Yet, today, we are finding that this is not enough. We don’t simply want the packaged reports of terror on auto-repeat. We want to know the functional details and have the ability to track down loved ones, narrow in on particular aspects of the situation, and hear from people on the ground. We want real voices, not TV-ified ones. The web allows people to be present across geographical location, to communicate directly rather than through the media, to actually access each others’ experiences instanteously. Now, if only the search process was simpler…