Category Archives: web2.0

Speaking about Privacy and Publicity

Yesterday I gave the opening keynote at SXSW to over 5000 people (OMG, that room was huuuuuuuge). My talk was about privacy and publicity and I spent a lot of time pushing back against the notion that “privacy is dead.” In some ways, the talk is a call to arms, an invitation for people to rethink their models of privacy so that we can collectively build a society we want to live in. As with many of my other talks, I wrote this one out so that I could share it with any of you who weren’t able to join me in Austin:

Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity

My hope is that this talk will also get you to think about these issues. I realize that this is a provocative argument and I would LOVE any and all feedback that you might be willing to share. I’m especially fond of folks who disagree with me. And I think that this topic requires some debating.

For those of you who are still in Austin, have a fantastic rest of SXSW! w00t!

ChatRoulette, from my perspective

I’ve been following ChatRoulette for a while now but haven’t been comfortable talking about it publicly. For one, it’s a hugely controversial site, one that is prompting yet-another moral panic about youth engagement online. And I hate having the role of respondent to public uproar. (I know I know…) More importantly though, I find it difficult to respond to the fears because I find it endearing. ChatRoulette reminds me a lot of the quirkiness of the Internet that I grew up with. Like when I was a teen trolling through chatrooms, ChatRoulette is filled with all sorts of weird people. And most users ignore most other users until they find someone they find interesting or compelling. While the site was designed by a teen, minors do not dominate there (although there are plenty of young adults there). And, not surprisingly, teens on the site have ZERO interest in talking to older folks – even old folks like me. It’s the strangest pairing dynamic… You can click Next and they can click Next until something gels. And even though I might want to talk to teens on the site, they have no desire to talk to me. Imagine if I was a sketchy guy. Right: no interest. Likewise, the people who most want to talk to me – a young woman – are the people that I don’t want to talk to. So on and on and on we go clicking next until there’s a possible spark. It’s a game played by flaneurs walking the digital streets.

What I like most about the site is the fact that there’s only so much you can hide. This isn’t a place where police officers can pretend to be teen girls. This isn’t a place where you feel forced to stick around; you can move on and no one will know the difference. If someone doesn’t strike your fancy, move on. And on. And on.

I love the way that it mixes things up. For most users of all ages – but especially teens – the Internet today is about socializing with people you already know. But I used to love the randomness of the Internet. I can’t tell you how formative it was for me to grow up talking to all sorts of random people online. So I feel pretty depressed every time I watch people flip out about the dangers of talking to strangers. Strangers helped me become who I was. Strangers taught me about a different world than what I knew in my small town. Strangers allowed me to see from a different perspective. Strangers introduced me to academia, gender theory, Ivy League colleges, the politics of war, etc. So I hate how we vilify all strangers as inherently bad. Did I meet some sketchballs on the Internet when I was a teen? DEFINITELY. They were weird; I moved on. And it used to be a lot harder to move on when everything was attached to an email that was paid for. So I actually think that the ChatRoulette version allows you to move on with greater ease, less guilt, and far more comfortably. Ironically – given the recent media coverage – it feels a lot safer than any site that I’ve seen that’s attached to a name or profile with connections to people or identifying information. Can youth get themselves into trouble here? Sure… like in most public places. And there are definitely youth who are playing with fire. But, once again, why go after the technology when the underlying issues should be the ones we address? Le sigh.

Anyhow, I was hemming and hawing about what to say about this and I’m still not sure what to say because, truthfully, I like the reminder of ye-olde-Internet culture. I like the fact that there are still a small percentage of folks out there looking for some amusement because they’re bored and they want to connect with randomness, folks who recognize the joy of meeting strangers in a safer space than most physical spaces where that’s possible. I realize that this creates the potential for seeing some pretty gross and/or problematic things and I certainly don’t want to dismiss that, but I’m pretty certain that teens are responding the same way that I’m responding – by clicking Next. Is that ideal? Probably not. And I’d certainly love a filter – not just for teens but for my own eyes. (Then again, I’d also like a spam filter too… Especially here on my blog. Cuz really, who of you who are reading this want to get porn ads here either?) I’m not sure that immature folks of any age (or the easily grossed out) should be on this site. But I do hope that we can create a space where teens and young adults and the rest of us can actually interact with randomness again. There’s a cost to our social isolation and I fear that we’re going to be paying it for generations to come.

So I’m still not sure what to say except that I feel this weighted sense of Le Sigh. The same mix of depression and exhaustion I felt this morning when I was playing peek-a-boo with a smily child in an airport and her parents whisked her away, glaring at me as though I was the devil incarnate. I realize that many parents think that they’re doing good by their kids when they choose to limit their exposure to the randomness of the world, but it just makes me deeply deeply sad. And so I simultaneously am amused by ChatRoulette and depressed because I realize that so many folks would prefer to keep themselves and their teens/college-aged-kids sheltered rather than giving them a way of thinking about systems like this and teaching them to walk away when things get weird. And this deserves a Le Sigh Royale.

Post translated:


ChatRoulette by Sarita Yardi

Sarita Yardi has been doing a lot of thinking about ChatRoulette these days and I wanted to share a short essay she wrote to explain ChatRoulette to the uninitiated. I think that this is a fantastic introduction for those who aren’t familiar with the site. (And I’ll follow up with my own thoughts in the next post.)


ChatRoulette is a new website that connects you face to face with Internet users around the world. When you go to the site and hit Play your webcam turns on and you’re connected to another person. Most times you’ll hit Next within a few seconds and be connected to someone else. Sometimes people stop to chat. Basically, instead of surfing the web, you’re surfing people.

ChatRoulette evokes patterns of behavior that are as old as the Internet. Our fascination with spontaneous and random forays into anonymous online interactions echo those of early text-based chatrooms and bulletin board systems in the 1990s and even earlier. Shock, boredom, play, and voyeurism characterized these early online environments as much as they do now. In ChatRoulette, there is no registration or login; staring into the bedroom of a complete stranger is fascinating and completely disconcerting.

ChatRoulette reminds me of when people said blogging was like making a private diary public. The idea of sitting in your bedroom showing your face to anyone in the world is simultaneously anonymous yet deeply revealing. This violates almost all social norms of the offline world. If someone walked up to you at a cocktail party, stared at you intensely, then simply walked away, you would feel confused and probably offended.

I was recently asked, “If a parent wanted to know if their kid should be on ChatRoulette, what would you tell them?” My experience on ChatRoulette has been about 10% sexual voyeurs, about 10% performance art (people dressed in cat costumes), and about 10% signs (show me your [x]!). There are a few older people, but the remaining majority is young people (high school and college kids) mostly just hanging out, some giggling, some looking vaguely bored. Like with anything their kids do online or offline, I would advise parents to reflect on what they consider to be socially appropriate material for their own child and to teach their kids how to weigh the costs and benefits—and risks and rewards—of any site that they decide to hang out on online.

There are a couple of quickly emerging norms on ChatRoulette:

  • Clicking Next is not only socially acceptable, but it is expected.
  • Flashing signs or stuffed animals—unless they’re particularly amusing or clever—is considered trolling. People want to be face to face with other people.
  • People wouldn’t want to see people they know.
  • It’s like window-shopping where real people are behind the window. You can look, but you can’t touch, and you can move on if you’re not interested.

There are a number of fascinating things about ChatRoulette. One is that it was written by a 17 year-old boy (Andrey Ternovskiy) who likes socializing with his friends and learned to code when he was 11. He also has an entrepreneurial spirit; he rewrote the code a few times for it to scale and he got his extended family to invest in the site so he could get more servers. In an interview with Russia Today, he says he built it so he and his friends could start doing things together online like watching movies or making things. In most contexts, we would love to hear stories of kids making cool stuff online.

Another spin is that video chat could enable kids to be more in control of their own safety than text chat. If most teens are in fact looking to chat with other teens, it is much easier for them to screen out older adults and anyone who’s doing explicitly sexual things. Imagine if we’d started with video chat 20 years ago and now, all of a sudden, we had this new “text-based chat”. We would be far more concerned because it’s so easy to deceive with text. What’s interesting is that the pervasive fears that arise with anonymous and ephemeral online interactions are actually mitigated in ChatRoulette. It’s actually *harder* to lie—it’s more difficult to lie about your age, gender, or physical features when the camera is focused directly on you.

With that said, it’s like an online Lord of the Flies, and it probably won’t last the way it is currently. There are too many unacceptable cultural and moral boundaries that are crossed—like random and unpredictable exposure to nakedness—for it to persist in its present state. This brings up interesting questions of governance. Wikipedia’s governance structure didn’t emerge in a day, nor did those of Usenet or IRC chatrooms. If ChatRoulette is more than a fad—and I suspect it is—one direction it might take is to grow and split out into categories where communities can develop roles and social norms for self-governance, like on Craigslist.

I’m not convinced that ChatRoulette is truly anonymous. The plethora of screenshots of the most outrageous (read: NSFW) and amusing webcam matchups make it possible to reveal people’s identities using facial matching algorithms or IP addresses or visual search. That’s not a criticism of ChatRoulette or a call for policing the Internet. As my adviser says “In 20 years, no one will be eligible to be president.” We’re still searching for the right balance between protecting our own privacy and being able to live out our social lives online without feeling that the rest of the world is out to get us.

Web2.0 Expo Talk: Streams of Content, Limited Attention

I prepared a new talk today for Web2.0 Expo that I wanted to share with you:

“Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media”

The talk is about the shifts in information flow thanks to new kinds of technology, focusing on some of the challenges that we face because of the shifts going on.

Unfortunately, my presentation at Web2.0 Expo sucked. The physical setup was hard and there was a live stream behind me. I knew something was wrong because folks started laughing in the audience. Unable to see anything (the audience, the stream), I found myself closing down. And so I collapsed and read the whole thing, feeling mega low on energy and barely delivering my points. Le sigh. I feel like I failed the audience so, if you were in the audience, I’m sorry. But hopefully you’ll get more out of reading the presentation than I got out of giving it.

Some thoughts on Twitter vs. Facebook Status Updates

The functional act of constructing a tweet or a status update is very similar. Produce text in roughly 140 characters or less inside a single line text box and click a button. Voila! Even the stream based ways in which the text gets consumed look awfully similar. Yet, the more I talk with people engaged in practices around Twitter and Facebook, the more I’m convinced these two things are not actually the same practice. Why? Audience.

There are two critical structural differences between Facebook and Twitter that are essential to understand before discussing the practices: 1) social graph directionality; 2) conversational mechanisms.

Facebook’s social graph is undirected. What this means is that if I want to be Friends with you on Facebook, you have to agree that we are indeed Friends. Reciprocity is an essential cultural practice in Facebook (although they are trying to rip out the functional requirement as it relates to status updates, arguably to compete with Twitter). Twitter, on the other hand, is fundamentally set up to support directionality. I can follow you without you following me. Sure, I can’t DM you in this case, but I’m still consuming your updates. Yes, yes, yes, privacy settings complicate both of these statements. But for the majority of users of each site, this is the way it goes. Stemming from this are a whole lot of social norms about who’s following who and who’s consuming who’s content. It’s pretty clear that the Celebrity will get followed without reciprocating on Twitter, but there’s also a tremendous opportunity for everyday individuals to develop a following. It’s not just the Celebrities who are following different people than the people who follow them; it’s nearly everyone (except for those who think that auto-follow bots relieve social tensions).

On Facebook, status updates are placed on one’s Wall. This allows anyone else (among those with permission) to comment on the update. This creates a conversational space as it is quite common for people to leave comments on updates. Conversely, on Twitter, to reply to someone’s tweet, one produces an at-reply on their own stream. Sure, the interlocutor can read it in their stream of at-replies, but it doesn’t actually get seen or produced on their own page. Thus, a person’s Twitter page is truly the product of their self-representation, not the amalgamation of them and their cohort.

So, practices.. how does this affect practices?

Those using Facebook are primarily concerned with connecting with those that they know (or knew in high school). The status updates are an invitation to conversation, a way of maintaining social peripheral awareness among friends and acquaintances. They’re about revealing life as it happens so as to be part of a “keeping up” community.

Arguably, Twitter began this way, if only because the geeks and bloggers who were among the early adopters were a socially cohesive group. Yet, as the site has matured, the practices have changed (and I’ve watched a whole lot of early adopters who weren’t part of the professional cohort leave). For the most visible, Twitter is a way of producing identity in a public setting. This is where you see personal branding as central to the identity production going on there. It’s still about living in public, but these folks are aware of being seen, of having an audience if you will. Twitter also enables a modern incarnation of parasocial relations. Sure, there are one-sided relationships on Facebook too, but they are far more the norm on Twitter. I can follow the details of a Celebrity’s life without them ever knowing I exist. At the same time, there’s the remote possibility of them responding which is what complicates traditional parasocial constructs. Angelina Jolie could never see me reading about her in the gossip mags and commenting on her latest escapades, but, if she were on Twitter, she could sense my watching her and see my discussion of her. That’s part of what is so delightfully tempting for Celebs.

In short, the difference between the two has to do with the brokering of status. With Facebook, the dominant norm is about people at a similar level of status interacting. On Twitter, there’s all sorts of complicated ways in which status is brokered. People are following others that they respect or worship and there’s a kind of fandom at all levels. This is what Terri Senft has long called “micro-celebrity.” Alice Marwick has been extending Terri’s ideas to think about how audience is brokered on Twitter (paper coming soon). But I think that they’re really critical. What makes Twitter work differently than Facebook has to do with the ways in which people can navigate status and power, follow people who don’t follow them, at-reply strangers and begin conversations that are fundamentally about two individuals owning their outreach as part of who they are. It’s not about entering another’s more private sphere (e.g., their Facebook profile). It’s about speaking in public with a targeted audience explicitly stated.

As you can see, I’m not quite there with my words on this just yet, but I feel the need to push back against the tendency to collapse both practices into one. How audience and status is brokered really matters and differentiates these two sites and the way people see and navigate this.

One way to really see this is when people on Twitter auto-update their Facebook (guilty as charged). The experiences and feedback on Twitter feel very different than the experiences and feedback on Facebook. On Twitter, I feel like I’m part of an ocean of people, catching certain waves and creating my own. Things whirl past and I add stuff to the mix. When I post the same messages to Facebook, I’m consistently shocked by the people who take the time to leave comments about them, to favorite them, to ask questions in response, to start a conversation. (Note: I’m terrible about using social media for conversation and so I’m a terrible respondent on Facebook.) Many of the people following me are the same, but the entire experience is different.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched a bunch of self-sorting. Folks who started out updating on Twitter and moved to Facebook and vice versa. The voices they take on don’t change that much, but they tend to find one medium or the other more appropriate for the kinds of messaging they’re doing. One or the other just “fits” better. When I ask them why, they can’t really tell me. Sometimes, they talk about people; sometimes they talk about privacy issues. But most of the time, one just clicks better for reasons they can’t fully articulate.

Different social media spaces have different norms. You may not be able to describe them, but you sure can feel them. Finding the space the clicks with you is often tricky, just as finding a voice in a new setting can be. This is not to say that one space is better than the other. I don’t believe that at all. But I do believe that Facebook and Twitter are actually quite culturally distinct and that trying to create features to bridge them won’t actually resolve the cultural differences. And boy is it fun to watch these spaces evolve.

Understanding Socio-Technical Phenomena in a Web2.0 Era

Earlier this week, I had the honor of giving a talk at the opening of the Microsoft Research New England Lab. I have uploaded a crib of that talk, entitled “Understanding Socio-Technical Phenomena in a Web2.0 Era” for anyone who is interested in what I had to say. The abstract is here:

Web2.0 signals an iteration in Internet culture, shaped by changes in technology, entrepreneurism, and social practices. Beneath the buzzwords that flutter around Web2.0, people are experiencing a radical reworking of social media. Networked public spaces that once catered to communities of interest are now being leveraged by people of all ages to connect with people they already know. Social network sites like MySpace and Facebook enable people to map out their social networks in order to create public spaces for interaction. People can use social media to vocalize their thoughts, although having a blog or video feed doesn’t guarantee having an audience. Tagging platforms allow people to find, organize and share content in entirely new ways. Mass collaborative projects like Wikipedia allow people to collectively create valuable cultural artifacts. These are but a few examples of Web2.0.

Getting to the core of technologically-mediated phenomena requires understanding the interplay between everyday practices, social structures, culture, and technology. In this talk, I will map out some of what’s currently taking place, offer a framework for understanding these phenomena, and discuss strategies for researching emergent practices.

Videos of my talk along with the other talks at the event can be found here. For those interested in computer science education (or CS in general), I strongly recommend the one by Erik Demaine (where he makes a compelling case for how computer science is everywhere). For those into design, definitely check out the talk by Bill Buxton (where he refutes the notion that everyone is a designer). Both of these talks had me giggling and smiling for hours.

I want my Olympics 2.0-style

Last night, I went to bed watching girls’ gymnastics. I found myself very irritated. There were 24 girls in the finals, but NBC focused only on those that they thought would medal. The result is that there was tremendous downtime that the announcers filled with speculation, gossip, and historical reminiscing. I was quite irritated because what I wanted was to see more gymnastics. Anyone who is at the Olympics has to be fascinating to watch – why only focus on those who are likely to medal?

Come to think of it, everything about how NBC has covered the Olympics has been abysmal. Last weekend, I was with a hardcore copyright conservative who kept arguing that people watching the opening ceremonies online were cheating NBC out of money. I countered that what these people were doing was indicating what the market wanted. Many were happy to watch the Chinese CCTV version live instead of waiting until what NBC declared to be “primetime.” Personally, I was quite annoyed with NBC starting around 5.30AM when we woke up to watch the opening ceremonies only to learn that they weren’t covering it live. So, logically, we went to NBC’s homepage to see if they were streaming it live. No. That’s where I think that NBC fucked up royally. I don’t know why they decided that the Today Show was more important than the opening ceremony, but they did. Still, there was no reason to not stream it live on their website. I would’ve happily sat through dozens of commercials to see it live. Instead, I TiVoed it and watched it sans commercials. Big win on NBC’s part, right?

What NBC has tried to do is configure its viewers. They’ve told everyone how they should watch the Olympics and are peeved when people have a different idea of how they want to watch this symbol of nationalism. Normally, the people have no choice. Yet, because of the Internet, there’s a lot of push for alternatives. Of course, personally, I’m just angry and annoyed. I can think of so many ways that NBC could’ve handled this better. What I want is Olympics 2.0.

I want an Olympics where the “best” is broadcast on TV, like now. But I also want an interactive version. Take gymnastics. I want to know on each apparatus who is up live. And I want to be able to switch between different cameras and choose my own view through the stadium so that I can watch whichever competitor I want. I want to be able to watch live, all day, on ALL sports (even judo and the other weird ones where Americans are not so present). I want interactive live and I want to be able to pull down and follow any individual Olympian or team through their events at a later point. I want the Olympics to be treated as a bunch of spliceable objects that I can remix live for my own viewing pleasure. And I want to be able to see it ALL. Is that that hard to ask for? Hell, I’d be willing to pay for such interactive watching options. And I’d certainly be willing to watch ads to see things LIVE. But boy does it annoy me to watch a “live” NBC broadcast that is already well reported on in the NYTimes.

So can I please have Olympics 2.0? And dear International Olympic Committee, please don’t sell exclusive rights to the next Olympics to an organization who is doing more to curtail and configure access than to engage the market the way that they want to be engaged. And NBC, would you stop being so antiquated and leverage new media for what it’s good for?

knol: content w/out context, collaboration, capital, or coruscation

Isaac Newton famously stated, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” This metaphor is commonly used to highlight the way that knowledge is not a single-author process. We build on what others do, explicitly and implicitly. While folks generally understand this, our culture focuses on the contributions of individuals. In the world of publishing, there is often a single author on the cover and little is known about the large and small contributions of a whole team of folks – the editors, the grad students, the reviewers, etc. (I especially love books “by” politicians where the ghost writer is never acknowledged.) More problematically, when people are measured by what they can attribute to themselves as individuals, there is pressure to either avoid collaborating with others or to steal credit. Neither of these are healthy.

I’m a big fan of collaboration and collective knowledge production and public good projects. This is one of the reasons that I love Wikipedia. Not only are Wikipedia entries the product of collective contributions, but both the small and large contributions are visible to all. Of course, contributing to Wikipedia needs to be an act of love because there are no traditional structures that reward such contributions. Wikipedia has its faults, but it is fundamentally the collaborative creation of a public good.

Google’s Knol takes an entirely opposite approach to knowledge production. Knol’s entire structure is built around single authors, control and individualism. There aren’t even mechanisms for multiple authors and the tools available for collaboration are extremely limited. “Collaboration” still assumes a primary author. Linking between knols doesn’t appear common and so there’s no network of information. They key is authorship.

Since Knol launched in beta, folks have been comparing it to Wikipedia (although some argue against this comparison). Structurally, they’re different. They value different things and different content emerges because of this. But fundamentally, they’re both about making certain bodies of knowledge publicly accessible. They just see two different ways to get there – collaborative anarchy vs. controlled individualism. Because Knol came after Wikipedia, it appears to be a response to the criticisms that Wikipedia is too open to anonymous non-experts. The implication is that Wikipedia is the dribble of the unwashed masses. These same folks praise the control-centric Knol. Yet, I think Doc is right. A knol is quickly becoming a “unit of spam” instead of a unit of knowledge. Y’see – a system that is driven by individualism quickly becomes a tool for self-promoters. (And men…)

We’re quite a few months into the Knol experiment. What I find particularly fascinating is that most of the knols that they promote on their front page are health-related, primarily by people who claim to have health-related expertise (doctors, nurses, professors) who appear to be copying/pasting from other places. Why health? What’s motivating these people to contribute? (And why are they too lazy to fix the formatting when they copy/paste from elsewhere?)

Frankly, from my POV, Knol looks like an abysmal failure. There’s no life to the content. Already articles are being forgotten and left to rot, along with a lot of other web content. There’s no common format or standards and there’s a lot more crap than gems. The incentives are all wrong and what content is emerging is limited. The expert-centric elitism is intimidating to knowledgeable folks without letters after their names and there is little reason for those of us with letters to contribute. While I don’t believe in the wisdom of a crowd of idiots, I do believe that collective creations tend to result in much better content than that which is created by an individual hermit. (Case in point: my *$#! dissertation vs. any article I’ve co-authored.)

What makes me most annoyed about Knol though is that it feels a bit icky. Wikipedia is a non-profit focused on creating a public good. Google is a for-profit entity with a lot of power in controlling where on the web people go. Knol content is produced by volunteers who contribute content for free so that Google can make money directly from ads and indirectly from search traffic. In return for ?

When are we going to learn that the Internet is really good at collective action? When are we going to learn that getting people to develop and maintain bodies of knowledge on the Internet is an art? When the incentives are all wrong (e.g., Yahoo! Answers), the result is pure crap. When are we going to learn that experts alone never produce the best content? Hell, even a high school kid can improve most articles with some simple editing.

I don’t think that Wikipedia is the end-all, be-all, but I do think that they’ve learned a lot over the years. And I think that we need to take what they’ve learned seriously and improve on it. I do think that Wikipedia could benefit from the contributions of experts and I would love to see folks think about how such contributions could be incentivized and rewarded. That said, I don’t think that experts are enough. I think that they are only one part of the puzzle. I also think that Wikipedia is limited by its own scope. I’m glad that there are other projects under the Wikimedia Foundation, but I think that there need to be more and they need to be managed in context. For example, it’s pretty clear that we need a WikiHealth. Of course, I think that this area needs to be addressed cautiously.

There are huge costs to having inaccurate information available when it comes to health. It’s one thing to get the wrong diagnosis for your computer problem and accidentally destroy your machine. It’s an entirely different reality to get the wrong diagnosis for your health problems and brick your body. You can say that people shouldn’t take advice from the Internet, but be realistic. Our insurance/health system is so broken that most people can’t afford to go to the doctors… and besides, doctors are amazingly good at being wrong. So what’s the right structure for collective knowledge production around health? And no, Google, the answer is not people who self-report as doctors writing “definitive” entries about topics.

So, if I were to evaluate Knol, I’d give it a D. Maybe a C for effort, but points off for being so arrogant. Your thoughts?

markers of status: different, and yet the same

(I was asked to respond to some of Clay Shirky’s posts on Talking Points Memo Cafe. I figured that this would be a good excuse to blog since I’ve been a bad bad bad bad blogger lately. What follows is my first blog response.)

Original Post on TPMCafe: markers of status: different, and yet the same

Speculating on social status in an age of networked participation, Clay Shirky accurately points out the ways in which metrics for status have become diversified. It is possible to gain satisfaction from achieving high status in World of Warcraft, even if popularity there is quite niche. In our ethnographic study of new media and youth culture, the Digital Youth group at Berkeley and USC also found that many youth involved in interest-driven digital practices rejected traditional status markers in preference for those that could be achieved in subcultures. Becky Herr and Mimi Ito examined different aspects of fan communities; Patricia Lange and Sonja Baumer looked at vid practices; Matteo Bittanti observed gaming culture. In all of their studies, they found diverse ways in which people marked and negotiated status, confirming Clay’s suspicion that networked participation can alter the markers of status.

Now, here’s the caveat… Just because status markers can be rearranged does not mean that they universally are. While we found tremendous examples of alternative status structures, the vast majority of youth that we studied used networked technologies to reinforce more traditional markers of status and hierarchy. While there are certainly youth who engage in a variety of geeky practices, the vast majority of youth use tools like MySpace, Facebook, instant messaging, and mobile phones to socialize with peers from school, church, and activities. The social hierarchies that exist in everyday life are replicated and reinforced online. While social categories do play a significant role in teen life, neatly defined cliques are not that normative. Still, gossip and boundary marking are part of everyday teen status struggles, online and off. In his book “Geeks, Freaks and Cool Kids,” Murray Milner Jr. suggests that teens’ particular obsession with status is because “they have so little real economic or political power” (2004:4). He argues that hanging out, dating, and mobilizing tokens of popular culture all play a central role in the development and maintenance of peer status. Just as these activities take place in school, they also take place in networked environments.

For most teens, the status that matters is that which is conferred in everyday life. Everyday friendship and dating matter more to them than the connections that they make online. This isn’t that surprising because, for as much time as teens spend online, they spend very little engaging with strangers and far more connected to people that they know. Finding interesting music videos or gross-out content online may heighten status amongst peers if this content is valued, but becoming popular with strangers online does not transfer to popularity offline. This was best explained by Dominic, a 16-year old from Seattle: “I don’t really think popularity would transfer from online to offline because you’ve got a bunch of random people you don’t know it’s not going to make a difference in real life, you know? It’s not like they’re going to come visit you or hang out with you. You’re not like a celebrity or something.”

Some of us have become celebrities online, or at least micro-celebrities. Both Clay and I have benefited tremendously by our presence online. We have achieved status through our knowledge of these spaces. Yet, we are by no means normal (in any sense of the word). I think that we’ll continue to see fantastic examples of individuals achieving status through their networked participation, but I don’t think that this will ever become mainstream. We will continue to see people achieving celebrity through online (e.g., Tila Tequila, Star Wars boy, Perez Hilton, etc.), but just as celebrity is rare offline, it will be rare online too. For those who invest massive amounts of time in particular subgenres of networked culture, we will also see tremendous achievements of status. And this will be tremendously rewarding, especially for those marginalized and ostracized people who never did and never will fit into more normative culture. But this is the marker of any good subculture. And we will continue to see new subcultures with new markers of subcultural capital. Still, my belief is that, for most people, status will continue to be about getting validated by peers in everyday life. I think that some of the ways that validation can occur is through mediated interactions, but I don’t think we’ll see fully mediated status. Of course, time will tell…

no conferences for me… no sxsw, no etech… wah.

No one seems to believe that I’m not going to SXSW or Etech or CHI or any other tech conference this spring. I was hoping to be far enough along in my dissertation to stop by each for a day or so, but it’s not going to happen. Trust me, I really really really wanna. But I’m really really really not going to any tech conferences this spring. That said, you should. Everyone else that I know is going and it’s giving me an achy breaky heart to think about all of the fun that I will miss while I continue to fester in my PJs writing my dissertation. Please, do go, listen to amazing talks, play werewolf, and ask the goddesses of late night partying to support me in finishing my dissertation so that I can join you in the fall.

(I will still be attending the iSchool conference because my committee will be there.)