Category Archives: social software

podcasting: connecting directly via naming and practice

So, when podcasting first emerged and people told me that it was *the* answer to blogging, i rolled my eyes. I have zero interest in listening to random blogs. While i’m happy to scan across large quantities of text, there’s no way that i have any desire to listen to blogs or produce a podcast. None.

From the beginning, i said that i would like podcasting when NPR was podcasting, when electronic music was podcast and when it was otherwise adopted by people who know how to turn voice into an art. In theory, amateurism is interesting to me; in reality, i don’t want to listen to it.

This morning, i woke up to the word podcast coming out of NPR every few seconds. ABC is podcasting. Wow… i’m impressed. Podcasting is not that old but it has already reached mainstream news. But this actually make sense. They already produce large quantities of media ready-to-go for mobile listening. Why not just deploy it in a new way? This makes complete sense. They are doing their own TiVo for radio (and for TV). The practice is already there. While audio-bloggers have to develop a new practice, radio and TV folks have this medium down. Podcasting does what i’ve wanted Audible to do wrt radio for a while. And it is simpler and quicker.

Second, think about the value of the term “podcast.” What was the number one device sold at Christmas? iPod. The term “pod” is hip, cool and yet mainstream as hell.

I’m super super stoked that the mainstream media has taken this and ran with it – this is impressively fast adoption. There’s only one problem… how are they going to feel when we forward through the ads and NPR’s annoying requests for money? Are we going to see the same TiVo fights on podcasting? Are deals going to be made such that podcasting is limited to just the mainstream folks or iPods are created to not allow forwarding? Goddess, i hope not. As much as i have no interest in listening to any audio-blogs, by all means, let those who do relish in it.

What are the costs of mainstream adoption during the early adopter phase? What does it mean when it fits so well with a practice and yet, allows for a different form of it?

dodgeball -> google

A while back, Dennis was coming into San Francisco and i conned him into coming to Google to give a brief talk to folks there before we went back to the city for drinks. I wanted them to hear what happened when you had articulated social networks where the cost of adding people was greater than zero. I have been fascinated with Dodgeball since it was an ITP project and Clay encouraged me to give them feedback. Apparently, some business folks showed up at that meeting and negotiations began.

Today, Dodgeball announced that they are combining forces with Google. Congrats Dennis and Alex!!

The Significance of “Social Software”

This is an abstract of a paper that i would like to eventually write (although i don’t know for where). In the meantime, i thought i’d throw it up here for critique.

In 2002, Clay Shirky (re)claimed the term “social software” to encompass “all uses of software that supported interacting groups, even if the interaction was offline, e.g. Meetup, nTag, etc.” (Allen). His choice was intentional, because he felt older terms such as “groupware” were either polluted or a bad fit to address certain new technologies. Shirky crafted the term while organizing an event – the “Social Software Summit” – intended to gather like minds to talk about this kind of technology.

Although Shirky’s definition can encompass a wide array of technologies, those invited to the Summit were invested in the development of new genres of social technologies. In many ways, the term took on the scope of that community, referring only to the kinds of technologies emerging from the Summit attendees, their friends and their identified community.

The term proliferated within this community and spread on all fronts where this community regularly exercises its voice, most notably the blogosphere and various events, including the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference (Etcon). These gatherings, most notably the social software track at Etcon serve to reinforce the notion that social software primarily refers to a particular set of new technologies, often through the exclusion of research on older technologies.

Although social software events include only limited technologies, people continue to define the term broadly. Shirky often uses the succinct “stuff worth spamming” (Shirky, 10/6/2004) while Tom Coates notes that “Social Software can be loosely defined as software which supports, extends, or derives added value from, human social behaviour – message-boards, musical taste-sharing, photo-sharing, instant messaging, mailing lists, social networking” (Coates, 1/5/05).

Given the emergence of blogging over the last few years and the large audiences of many involved in the community of social software, this term and its definitional efforts have spread widely, much to the dismay – if not outrage – of some. The primary argument is that social software is simply a hyped term used by the blogosphere in order to make a phenomenon out of something that always was; there are no technological advances in social software – it’s just another term that encompasses “groupware,” “computer-mediated communication,” “social computing” and “sociable media.” Embedded in this complaint is an argument that social software is simply a political move to separate the technologists from the researchers and the elevate one set of practices over another. Shirky’s term is undoubtedly political in that it rejects other terms and, in doing so, implicitly rejects the researchers as irrelevant.

While the term social software may be contested, it is undeniable that this community has created a resurgence of interest in a particular set of sociable technologies inciting everyone from the media to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists to academics to pay attention. What is questionable, and often the source of dismissal from researchers, is whether or not the social software community has contributed any innovations or intellectual progress.

In this paper, I will explore the contributions of social software. I will argue that there have been notable technological advancements, but that their significance stems from the rapid iteration of development in ongoing tango with massive user participation. In other words, the advances of social software are neither cleanly social nor technological, but a product of both.

I will explicitly address three case studies central to the narrow scope of social software – Friendster, blogging and Flickr. I will discuss how tagging, audience management (such as ACLs) and articulated social networks are neither technological advances nor social features, but emerge as a product of collective action and network affects. While parts of these technologies have been built in research, the actual advances are impossible to construct in a laboratory due to the sociological effects necessary for maturation.

Social software represents a new generation of social technology development – a generation that is dependent on moving beyond the laboratory and into mass culture. Its manifestations are already staggering – ABC declared 2004 the Year of the Blog as blogging challenged everything from political discourse to identity production. Social networking services in the hundreds have motivated millions of people worldwide to construct and negotiate profiles and grapple directly with the social awkwardness of being more public than one thought. By allowing people to easily stumble upon the work of others, media sharing services have prompted new ways of organizing information and playing with the intention of producing media. These advancements complicate critical theoretical ideas about the nature of the public(s), the role of relationships in sharing, and the collective desire to organize information.

In this paper, I will explicate those advances and unpack their implications both for digital social life and for our shared knowledge project. I will also argue that technological research’s unwillingness to account for the advances, contributions and challenges of social software have significantly limited their own advancements. While social software’s advances must be acknowledged, I will also present some of the limitations of the current approach – namely its inability to fully understand the sociological implications of its advancements. Reflexive failures limit the potential of social software since so much of its significance comes from the interplay between the technology and the use. Herein lies a question of our responsibility as researchers – when should we simply study these emergent technologies and when she we directly involve ourselves with the iteration?

Allen, Christopher. 2004, October 13. “Tracing the Evolution of Social Software” _Life with Alacrity_.

Shirky, Clay. 2004, October 6. “Blog Explosion and Insider’s Club: Brothers in cluelessness.” _Many-to-Many_.

Coates, Tom. 2005, January 5. “An addendum to a definition of Social Software.” _Plasticbag.org_.

computers, freedom and privacy

I remember hearing about computers, freedom and privacy (CFP) years ago but deciding that i couldn’t stomache the heavy libertarian rhetoric. I didn’t like the idea of choirs preaching at each other. Interestingly, i think that the committee realized that this was happening because they decided that they needed to diversify the event, add different perspectives. I’m going to have the honor of moderating a teen panel on Friday where teens can offer their opinions on privacy issues. It should be super fun and i’m totally looking forward to it.

In general, CFP looks really interesting this year. If you’re in or around Seattle next week, you should definitely check it out.

Craigslist housing + Google Maps = brilliant

Wow, this is cool. You can choose any city that Craigslist covers, sort by price range and see all of the places for rent in the city. If you click on a bubble, you can see the details including pictures. Sooo soo cool. I wish i would’ve had this when i was surfing for housing. *This* is how visualization becomes excessively useful.

i love portland

As part Intel’s Urban Atmospheres, Chris Beckmann and Eric Paulos have been distributing matchbooks that say “i love/hate portland” on them. On the inside, there’s a message to text message your secret identity. When you do, it knows where the matches were distributed and sends you a message to indicate what you love/hate about Portland. You later get messages from other people about what they think.

So, i’m sitting in a cafe in downtown Portland writing my talk for tomorrow. It’s a pretty bougie cafe, complete with leather cozy chairs and a million types of coffee. The bathroom is covered in anarchist grafitti. There’s a note that says 50% of Portlanders arrived in the last 10 years – go back to California! Lots of comments about our president and our freedoms and whatnot.

This very crunchy early 20s kid comes in with his guitar and opens up his nice laptop, immediately commenting to my friend about his music (ah, iTunes sharing). I surf his music (since his comment is clearly meant to encourage that) – mostly small bands plus an assortment of Yes/Rush/Led Zeppelin. A girl comes in and sees him – he says he’s off to work, is she? She hasn’t worked since January; he remarks on how cool that is (i.e. escaping the man). On his way out, he picks up a thing of matches and exclaims “fucking pretentious hipsters.” I can’t help but ROFL.

I love Portland.

techno-ethics (what is “evil”?)

We can all come up with ways to justify even our worst behavior. This is why i’m always a bit wary of “don’t be evil”-esque mantras. Evil on what terms?

When i heard about WordPress’ questionable practices, i couldn’t help but sigh. I totally agree with Waxy’s request that we not engage in angry mob justice. That said, i’m very concerned that folks are justifying, defending or explaining Matt’s decision (ex: 1 2). He is a nice guy – i totally agree. And perhaps we should all be very defensive of nice guys who are friends or friend-of-friends. But he did fuck up. And he did use our collective social capital for his personal gains.

I don’t want to talk about should’ves but i want to talk about what ethics we are promoting and what happens when we drag companies/enemies through the coals for similar behavior.

There is a value in our community that transparency rules. Of course, few of us live up to that value either professionally or personally. We protect our own interests regularly. Yet, we yell and scream when others do the same… unless they are our friends. This has a name – it’s called “team face” (see Erving Goffman). Yet, when team face occurs, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ get clearly defined. It’s not such an open community when we are engaging in team face. This is an ethic that we must consider.

We all want to make a living (and some of us want to get rich). A mouse-over Erving Goffman’s name makes it very clear that i will make some small amount of money if you purchase his book. Explicit advertisements on blogs lets you know that others are making money off of this practice. I consult and i don’t tell you (my blog readers) everything that i tell certain companies. Of course, we begrudge people for this. And we lynch companies for asking users to pay for currently free things (think of the Six Apart fiasco). There is selfishness and self-interest all-around. Yet, what’s the balance?

The problem that i have with Matt’s decision is that he used community resources (reputation) to engage in a practice that i find despicable for his own gain under the justification that it would be good for the community in the long run if WordPress grew. There’s no doubt that WordPress is a great product but it’s a product built on open source and that’s why the community likes it. They like it for its transparency, for its code of honor that flies in the face of big companies. What upsets me is not that he simply engaged in selfish behavior (because we all do) but that he used the community’s reputation to do so. We had no ability to say “not in my name.” This is the “benevolent” dictatorship problem.

What’s worse is that we all pay for it. Social technology works because of social norms to be honorable. Pagerank works because most people do their best to be honest. And those who don’t are considered spammers. What does our community have to gain from any effort to usurp pagerank? I would argue that we have much to lose. Folks may not like Google’s pagerank system but do you remember what search was like 5 years ago? Google changed most of our lives and perhaps a new iteration is necessary but it should not be done through foul play. That’s a terrible way to innovate.

I think that this situation requires some deep reflection on all of our parts because i suspect that our defensive reactions make us look hypocritical as hell. What kind of community of technologists do we want to build? What ethics do we want to hold onto? Do we have collective values? How are we going to collectively encourage those ethics? How are we going to react when social contracts regarding our collective ethics are broken? I hope that we can get out of our defensiveness and really think about what this implies for all of our endeavors. We all fuck up and i’ll be the first to forgive Matt. That said, i think that we should all take this situation as a lesson and really think about and discuss what does it really mean to be ethical and socially responsible in a technological environment. Let’s learn from our mistakes and that of our peers.

Sixfoo! 660

Sixfoo! 660: “Finally, a way for social networks to stay connnected to other social networks, and meet interesting social networks like yourself.”

Look at their sample page; they mock many of the main social networks out there with fabulous photos and descriptions based on stereotypes (LJ=goths, Orkut=Brazilians, etc.). ::giggle::