March 30, 2004
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 MeetUp.org 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 http://research.microsoft.com/scg/#projects>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.)