Joho the BlogMarch 2004 - Joho the Blog

March 30, 2004

[msc] Tuesday morning

Some excellent presentations on the panel I’m on. But it’s tough to be on a panel and blog at the same time, so please pardon my sketchiness…

Pam Meyer gives a fascinating talk on her research into online dating services: What men and women think the other sex is lying about (status, weight), how extremely weak the links are (few people have met their online friends in the real world, trust is low). She says that online social networks have low entry and exit costs; how can loyalty be increased?

Scott Heiferman of talks about the relationship of online and real world groups. Surprisingly, nline communities were among the first to use MeetUp.

Michael Cornfield takes a hard-nosed look at what the Net is good for in political campaigns. He defines “good for” as contributing towards garnering 50% + 1 of the vote in an election. He downplays the importance of using the Net for community building (the hippie stuff I like). He suggests that the national parties put up wikis so we the people can make a virtual party platform, that the debates ought to accept online questions that we have voted for, and that we set up a mechanism for monitoring what topics are actually being talked about online.

I talk about how the growth of messy, ambiguous, tacit relationships is required for engagement in political campaigns.

Now we head into a series of 20-min presentations.

Mimi Ito gives a great talk on the social networks that spring up around mobile phones in Japan. It’s a phenomenology of these networks, supporting the case the social software tools need to be simple so there’s room for small factors to trigger great emergence. (In response to a question about getting better input devices for phones, she says in Japan you can get keypad inputs for your PC.)

Rael Dornfeast talks about how new mobile technology allows us to be present to others in a bewildering variety of ways. He plays on Linda Stone’s phrase: Continuous (mobile) partial attention. Rael wants things like being notified when he’s waiting in public when there’s someone nearby who shares many of the same names in their address book. He says that we should consider not just writing for the Web. “You’r saying you’re most social when you’re sitting in front of your monitor.” (Great talk.)

Shelley Farnham of Microsoft Research talks about the social goals of social software: To have meaningful relationships with friends. Research shows that we use technology primarily to interact with our friends, not strangers. Similarity and proximity are strong determinants of friendship. Proximity is a huge predictor of friendship. The number of people we send email to correlates with how involved we feel we are with our community. She talks about intricate ways the real and virtual worlds interact. She refers to a>project she’s working on.

After lunch, danah boyd leads off. She talks about how she has been trying to make sense of artificial social networks, including how they try to “configure their users.” She uses Friendster as her example. Your home page is a representation of self. [I’d say it’s a presentation of self.] Gay men and Burning Man participants really picked up on Friendster because they’re “urban tribes” with shared interests and co-located. She says that half of Friendster lives in Asia. Each of these sub-populations create their own social norms. We create different facets of our selves for our different environments. Friendster gives you an environment for presenting a self not tied to specific task or context. E.g., a 26-year-old teacher signed up for Friendster as part of her Burning Man group. Nothing in her profile indicated she was a Burning Man person, but her friends had Burning Man-specific info in their profiles. Her students found her group of links and made assumptions about her own behavior.

People are upset about fakesters, she says. But fakesters are political actions. They want to do something that Friendster doesn’t let them do, including put up a profile to find fellow alumni or to provide pseudonymity. Publicly articulated social networks are a new architecture that creates new social dynamics, danah concludes. Great stuff. (I’ve just picked a couple of ideas.)



Liz Lawley has a great blog entry about the importance of backchannel IRC conversations. We’re on the back-backchannel here at the Microsoft conference and it’s been a very interesting phenomena because of the cultural schisms its surfacing. (Can you surface a schism?)


[msc] Monday afternoon

[Sketchy, semi-random notes from an afternoon of 20-min presentations, with much much much backchannel chat]

Warren Sack gives his twenty minute presentation. Social computing addresses two questions: 1. How can the insights of social science be applied to design better software? 2. How can software be designed to address social problems? He talks about a software prototype that does a “translation map“: “The Translation Map is a prototype system designed to facilitate collaborative translations and geographically-based messaging” (from the site).

Now Warren asks if software should be evaluated in terms of social capital? Are there private, public and social capital? Nah, it’d be better to think about this in terms of space. When you introduce a new technology, it redistributes the private, public and social space.

Q: (Clay) Danny O’Brien says that on the Net we have public and secret speech, but not private speech…

Paul Resnick talks about reputation systems: A system that aggregates and distributes info about what people have done in the past so people can make decisions about what to do in the future. He’s done a study that has some preliminary results: A sense of uniqueness leads to more ratings, and people respond to challenges to create more ratings.

He talks about eBay. About 1 in 100 transactions gets a negative feedback. But we don’t know if that reflects the actual rate of satisfaction. His lab studies show that reputation leads to more trust and trustworthiness, but long-term partners is even better. We know from eBay that having a positive reputation brings in about 8% more money, in his study. Reputations are useful when interacting with strangers, but aren’t so important if you already know the person because your experience will trump what others say. Short histories create the best incentives but long term tell you the most about the person. (Paul’s research confirms what we suspected.)

Susan Herring talks about “Weblog as Genre.” Her group randomly sampled blogs from They looked at the producers, purpose and structure of the blogs. They coded 44 features and quantified the results: Adult males produce blogs that are filters, while women and young people do more personal journals. 50% of blogs didn’t have links to anyone else. The average blog had 6.5 links out. The blogosphere is densely interconnected: The average degrees of separation of the blogs in the sample was 3.8.

Jonathan Grudin talks on “IM and Blogs in Work Environments.” IM he says will be the predominant form of information exchange in business. He says that IM is playing much of the role that email did in 1984. Business is hot on IM, he says, which is different from email 20 yrs ago. In one project, he interviewed 20 people in the Puget Sound. He found they’re technically adept but don’t now much about blogs. In another study, they looked at 400 early adopters of a new IM client at Microsoft. Managers and older users use it differently. Technophobia and switching costs are dropping. Socially, you can IM down but not up, which is maybe why the managers like it.

Steve Whittaker writes about “Designing for Informal Communication and Social Organization.” How do we manage complex social orders? Animals like fixed roles. Apes like dominance orders. The social view says that there are two aspects to being human: Social representation and informal communication. But what is informal communication? His research, within one domain, shows that it takes place between two people, impromptu, and lasts about 2 mins. They looked at ContactMap and tried to build a complex social representation of who communicates with whom by analyzing email. People liked its graphical view of the social net. ContactMap worked better than email for some particular social tasks. But there are issues around scaling.

Wade Cunningham talks about wikis, which he pretty much invented. He says that if wikis and blogs had been invented first, maybe we wouldn’t have had email. He says that wikis generally aren’t trashed, so maybe people are good. Clay quotes Wattenberg and someone who said that the cost of trashing a wiki is higher than the cost of repairing it, so that’s why they generally aren’t trashed.

Elizabeth Churchill talks on “Social Computing and Lightweight Collaboration.” She shows a video of Sticky Chats, chats that attach to portions of a document. Looks useful. Another project, the Plasma Poster, uses a large screen as a public board by which distributed groups can post shared info, leave msgs, etc.

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March 29, 2004

[msc] Microsoft Social Computing

I’m at a small conference on social networks put on by Microsoft Research.

During the brief intros, I make a fool of myself early on, getting it over early. I say that social networks worry me because they are based on explicit declarations of relationship, and because they’re putting valuable relationships behind proprietary walls. Well, it turns out that “social network” means something different to the academics; I meant “artificial social networks” like Friendster. Much of the room must have been puzzled.

Scott Heiferman of MeetUp gave the opening talk. Excellent, but I’ve blogged it a couple of times before.

Now a panel starts.

Ze Frank, who has an ultra amusing site (see The Alphabet, for example), is being arch and funny about social networks. “Where’s the status on line? Where are the velvet ropes?”

Joi denies that social networking tools necessarily diminish social lives and/or spirits. Blogs, he says, is publishing, but IRC is “hanging out.” Changes in presence are events, and people should be able to know about those events. Social software like Friendster filter this: Who do you want to know about your presence, and at what level of detail? Cellphones give you presence, location and mobility, none of which we’ve had in computers, and that makes a big difference.

Tim O’Reilly: We’re in the early stages of building an operating system for the Internet as a platform. We need an architecture of participation. He’s excited about Microsoft Wallop because it tries to find the existing implict data about relationships. We should be creating loose confederations that allow us to query distributed personal/social info (with the proper privacy and permissioning, of course). “We need to reinvent the user control of social networks using an end-to-end architecture…” [Right on!]

Clay‘s 10-minute talk is called “The subject of this talk is not explicit.” He wants to talk about an early mistake social network software is making. Orkut made it one-click easy to make someone a friend. The number of friends went through the roof but the network no longer reflected reality. So, they added a second click: How much of a friend? I don’t need this data; Orkut needs it to create a visible and formal model of the network. But how valuable is a formal model? There’s nothing Orkut can extract from a photo of a face that’s as interesting as what we get from it in an instant. The most important information is implicit.

So, Clay says, what led Orkut to make these wrong decisions? What is Orkut thinking? 1. It thinks that what people are doing when they think about social situations is a form of computation. This is like AI’s mistake. 2. And Orkut also assumes that, when asked, people can express they rules explicitly…but that’s false. [Loved the talk. These are topics I’ve been writing/thinking about, and Clay puts it all so well.]

Steve Johnson says his first two books argued against the idea that the Net consists of little echo chambers. Instead, think of it as a place in which strangers interact and new things emerge. Emergence refers to Jane Jacbob’s view of cities. [I’ve been reading Death and Life…a fantastic book.] He’s afraid that the new social networks are “neutering” these adventurous places. And now people — Joi, for example — are talking about the software social networks overlaying real places. He’d like to use Amazon’s Search Inside facility to search inside his own library, or the libraries of people one or two degrees away. Then he talks against the echo chamber idea: The Net is an echo chamber compared to what, he asks incredulously? TV? Even if you just follow bloggers in your general universe of interests, you’re still following links out to more diverse ideas than ever before. He points out that the criticism used to be that the Net was nothing but flame wars. Now the criticism is that it’s echo chambers. But, he worries, we are creating these social network tools in order to decrease our contact with others. [Jeez, is he good!]

Q: So, is FOAF bad, Clay?

A: No, FOAF encodes links. The degree to which you have to express a full, formal relationship will inhibit its adoption.


Politically correct sign languages

The Telegraph in the UK has a story about agitation against some of the British Sign Language gestures. (Thanks to danah for the link)


Hyenas on leashes

Joi just pointed the backchannel at the Microsoft conference I’m at to Boing Boing’s photo of hyenas. All around the table, the jaws of those of us connected to IRC are dropping.


Patriotic response

I just learned from David Silver that in 2002 the White House declared Sept. 11 as “Patriot Day.” Why do I find this distasteful?

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Google Ads and Evil

Businessweek writes about Google’s refusing to run ads from an environmental group…

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Ghost Town

Talk about eerie. Elena rides her motorcycle through Chernobyl, equipped with a camera and dosemeter. (Thanks to Joi, with whom I got to hang out with last night, for the link)


March 28, 2004

Allowed Aloud

AKMA has had the best idea of the significant interval: Since Larry Lessig allows anyone to record the audio of his book, Free Culture, for non-commercial purposes, why don’t a bunch of us each record a chapter?

Within a couple of days — before Amazon could get me my copy — almost all of it’s been done. You can get the list of links on AKMA’s site.

Too cool.


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