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August 25, 2014

Have social networks replaced groups?

Maxim Weinstein responded in an email to my post about what the social structure of the Internet looked like before Facebook, making the insightful point that Facebook meets the four criteria Clay Shirky listed for social software in his 2003 keynote at eTech. Here are the four with Max’s comments appended:

1. Provide for persistent identities so that reputations can accrue. These identities can of course be pseudonyms.
2. Provide a way for members’ good work to be recognized. < "Like" buttons, sharing
3. Put in some barriers to participation so that the interactions become high-value. < have to accept friend requests
4. As the site’s scale increases, enable forking, clustering, useful fragmentation. < pages

Max goes on to note some nuances. But his comment, plus a discussion yesterday with Andrew Preater, a library technologist at the Imperial College of London, made me think how little progress we’ve in fact made in supporting groups on the Net.

For example, Clay’s post from 2003 marvels at a “broadband conversation” in which the participants communicated simultaneously by conference call, through a wiki, and through a chat, each from a different source. Since 2003, there are now services that bundle together these different modalities: Skype and Google Hangouts both let a group talk, video, chat, and share documents. (Google Docs are functionally wikis, except without the draft>compile>post process.) So, that’s progress…although there is always a loss when disparate services get tightly bundled.

What’s missing is the concept of a group. As my 2003 post said, members of a group know they’re members of a group with some persistence. Skype and Hangouts let people get together, but there are no tools there for enabling that configuration of people to persist beyond the session. Groups are important because they enable social ties to thicken, which means they’re especially useful now to mitigate the Brownian motion of sociality on the Internet.

Likewise, Facebook, Google Groups, Twitter, and the other dominant forms of “social software” (to use the term from 2003) are amazing at building social networks. At those sites you can jump into borderless networks, connecting to everyone else by some degree. That’s pretty awesome. But those sites do not have a much of a concept of a group. A group requires some form of membership, which entails some form of non-membership. Usually the membership process and the walls that that process forms are visible and explicit. This isn’t to say that groups have to have a selection committee and charge dues. A group can be widely open. But the members need to be able to say “Yeah, I’m part of that group,” even if that means only “I regularly participate in that open discussion over there.” A group is a real thing, more than the enumeration of its members. If all the members leave, we have to be able to say, “There’s no one in that group any more. Too bad.”

If the walls around the group don’t include and exclude the same people for each member, then it’s a network, not a group. Not all of your friends are my friends and vice versa. But everyone in the Chess Club is in the Chess Club. The Chess Club is a group. Your friends and my friends on Facebook are part of a social network. Not that’s there anything wrong with that.

Now, I realize in saying this I am merely expressing my Old Fartdom. “Why, in my day, there were groups and not all these little networks of people with their twittering and their facial books.” The evidence for this is the generational divide on email. Email remains my most important social software for all the reasons that The Kids have moved to Facebook: email goes to the people I choose, is slower, results in semantically sequential threads of call-and-response, and is archived. But I especially like email because mailing lists are crucial to my social and intellectual life. I have been on some for over twenty years. Most of what I know about the Internet comes from the lists I’m on. I’ve reconnected with some of my academic philosophical roots via a mailing list. Mailing lists are so important to me because they are online groups.

So it’s entirely possible, in fact it’s probable, that the Internet has not made a lot of progress supporting groups because our culture no longer values groups. We’ve gone from Bowling Alone to Twitch Bowls 300. Old-timers like me — even as we celebrate the rise of networks — should be permitted a tear to dampen our dry, furrowed skin.

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March 22, 2014

Keynote annoyances (and some pleasures)

There are some good things about the new version of Keynote. For example, the Alpha function (i.e., smart erase) now shows you the color you’re Alpha-ing. The Light Table shows you hidden slides without making you click out to another view. The Presenters’ View shows you the animations that your audience is seeing. Plus there are some spiffy new slide transitions that no one should ever, ever use. But there are missed opportunities, such as still not providing a timeline for path animations.

And then there are things that are just plain annoying.

The following is just what I noticed while trying it out on a presentation I’m giving tomorrow:

  • The main palette is now always attached to the window. You can’t get it to float.

  • To see the effect of an animation or slide transition you have to click on a preview button after the first time. “Auto preview” would be a useful option setting.

  • The quick formatting bar is gone. I find that particularly irksome since it means lots more mouse travel and clicking if you want to adjust the font, font-size, color, and background color of some text you just entered

  • When you click on “Animate” with an unanimated object selected it makes you click again to see the list of animations.

  • In the box that lists the order of animations, there is no visual difference between an animation that happens after or with the previous one. [MINUTES LATER: I just noticed that when an animation comes after another, there's a thin line between them.]

  • In that same box I have no figured out the logic of what’s draggable and what isn’t. Bug or weird-ass feature?

  • There is no longer a popup of frequently-used font sizes, so you have to type font sizes in every time.

  • I’ve found no way to tell my Mac not to open my old Keynote files with the new version. That’s some aggressive, user-hostile marketing, Apple!

Overall, with the new updates, I’ll probably be switching to this new version. But it annoys me when an upgrade downgrades functionality

 


By the way, I was unable to find in the documentation what the little symbols in the corners of the slide thumbnails mean. As far as I can tell, three circles in the lower left means there are animated objects on the slide. A triangle in the lower right means you’ve applied a slide transition. A box in the upper right of the thumbnail means there’s a box in the upper right of the thumbnail. Nothing in the upper left means sailors’ delight.

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January 23, 2014

The Flu

I am just emerging from what I will call “the flu,” even though I have no idea what it was, but to call it “a cold” would be to disrespect it. Flu, suh!

I am, of course, a delicate flower (i.e., a man) so I lay on my back and moaned for several days. Today I am upright and moaning, so that’s progress. (BTW, yes, I did get a flu shot this fall. Thanks for nothing, Evolution via Natural Selection!)

Just to catch you up, not that you need to know, but I started coming down with The Flu on our plane ride home from London through which my wife and I walked for several days. Saturday night we had a Bloggers’ Dinner, which was tremendous fun, although physical space being what it was, the socializing was unevenly distributed. But it was great to see people I know through blogging and hadn’t seen for years, and to meet some new people I hadn’t seen in all my years.

The purpose for our trip was to participate in a meeting at the Cambridge University CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities) about a new program they’re developing in digital humanities. I got to spend a day with an awesome set of people. More later.

From there we went to London for the weekend. London was great fun and I would tell you about it, but I feel an approach of the vapors and now must sleep for 3.5 hours.

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November 3, 2013

This mnemonic does not mnemon

I fall forward far more often than I fall back.

I can’t remember the last time I sprang forward or sprang back.

Worst. Mnemonic. Ever.

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April 30, 2013

I’m tired of your attitude

I remember well the first time I heard the word “attitude” used to mean “negative attitude.” It was shortly after John Lennon had been killed. I was in a mall and the poster shop was selling some crappy Lennon memorial posters at jacked up prices. I was devoted to Lennon, and muttered something about it being opportunism. “You got an attitude,” the clerk said, sneering. “I don’t need your attitude.”

I was tempted to say, “Yes, I have an attitude. We all have attitudes.” But I knew what he meant.

Likewise, nowadays I hear weather forecasters predicting that there will be “some weather moving in.” No, there’s always weather. They mean “severe weather” or maybe just “noticeable weather.” I do sometimes correct them, but since they’re on tv, it hasn’t yet had an effect. Except on my wife who finds it charming every time I do it, or so I choose to believe.

This is far from the first time a quality has been taken as denoting a particular value when used unadorned. “He has a temperature.” “You’ve got a reputation.””He’s in a mood.” I suppose you could even put “a person of color” into that category. So, it happens.

But that won’t stop me from whining about it.

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April 28, 2013

When a new hard drive won’t accept a Mac OS

In my continuing series “How to Be an Idiot,” here’s what not to do when installing a new hard drive into your MacBook Pro.

I started off right. I had everything prepared: a new 500gB hybrid drive, a fresh Time Machine backup, and an 8gB USB stick with the Mac Mountain Lion installer on it. I still managed to fail maybe 20 times over the course of two days booting from everything I could find, re-installing Lion onto the stick, backing up from Time Machine, etc. The closest I came was when I installed off the repair partition over a backup drive. The Mac started up its install process, but got stopped with a message that said that Apple was unable to confirm that my computer is authorized for an OS install. At least, that’s what I think it meant; it’s not a very clear message, and, no I didn’t write it down :(

This made me think that the problem was that I was trying to install the wrong version, although I was pretty durn sure that I had upgraded to Mountain Lion a few weeks earlier, having resisted the blandishments of Lion. Maybe Apple was confused, although I couldn’t see why. I installed the prior version of the OS on my USB drive. Nope.

And now for the answer. And it’s not going to make me look smart, that I promise you.

You see, kids, for Apple to verify my machine, it has to get onto the Internet. It turns out that if during the install process you give your Mac a choice of wifi hotspots to connect to, it picks an open one without asking for your say-so. As a result, it happened to pick a hotspot that requires a login on a web site, but there’s no browser available during the install process. Once I pointed the Mac to another hotspot, it was able to connect and authorize my machine, enabling the installation to proceed.

Sure it was dumb of me. But it’s also dumb of Apple to give us an error message that says that it’s unable to authorize, rather than that it was unable connect. (I also didn’t see a relevant message in the Installer log, but I may have missed it.)

Fortunately, each of the things I tried took a relatively long time to fail, so I was able to get a lot done while trying. Still, the moment of victory was definitely a forehead-slapper for me.

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January 29, 2013

What I missed without my mobile phone

I’ve just spent almost two weeks without a mobile phone as mine was being repaired. I’m glad to have it back.

But why? What did I actually miss? Obviously, the following list is quite idiosyncratic â?? e.g., I don’t do a lot of texting â?? but here goes:

  • Making outbound utility phone calls. I don’t do a lot of socializing on the phone, but it’s nice to be able to check in on plans for the evening, etc.

  • Emergency call availability. I travelled for three days during my Mobile Hiatus, and asked a friend at a conference if I could give my wife her number in case of an emergency.

  • Google Maps for navigating. I was back to printing out a map and, mainly, annoying any competent adult near me.

  • Interstitial amusement. Waiting for the bus, I can read on my mobile, whereas reading a paper book or magazine while wearing gloves only works if you don’t ever have to change the page.

  • Bus location-finder. Given the way Boston buses cluster, getting to a stop 30 seconds late can make a 20 minute difference.

Things I did not miss:

  • Any of the dumb games. I like games. But other than my obligatory time with Angry Birds back when they were still angry and not just mildly pissed off, none have stuck with me.

  • Interstitial email. It’ll wait until I’m off the bus.

  • Weather reports. It’s a once-a-day thing for me, and my various work computers are fully weather report capable.

  • The time. I have a watch. And an alarm clock that actually wakes me up.

  • Typing on a tiny keyboard, although the slidy virtual keyboard built in to the Samsung Galaxy S III is pretty good, and Google’s speech-to-text is kind of awesome.

  • Misplacing my phone four times a day, although others might claim that that is not strictly the phone’s fault.

And you?

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May 20, 2012

Lion fixed my SuperDrive. (Alternative title: Snow Leopard broke my SuperDrive)

Yesterday Disk Utility told me to restart my Mac from a boot disk and run the disk repair function (= Disk Utility). Fine. Except I was unable to boot from any of my three Mac boot disks (including the original) whether they were in my laptop’s SuperDrive (= Apple’s plain old DVD drive) or in a USB-connected DVD drive. The system would notice the DVD when asked to look for boot devices (= hold down the Option key when starting up), but froze after I clicked on the DVD (= no change in the screen after 30 mins).

So, what the hell, I installed Lion, which I had been hoping to avoid (= my pathetic resistance to Apple’s creeping Big Brotherism). Thanks to the generosity of Guillaume Gète, I downloaded Lion DiskMaker, followed the simple instructions (= re-downloaded Lion, all part of Apple’s makings things hard by making them easy program), and now have a Lion boot disk. I was able to boot from it and fix my hard drive.

The whole episode was so reminiscent of why I left Windows (= Windows 7 looks pretty good these days).

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November 8, 2011

Warm Birthday Wishes to [your_name_here]

It used to be that on my birthday I’d get untouched-by-humans birthday wishes from my dentist’s firm and perhaps a local car company and real estate agent. Now I get them from sites I once age-verified for (gaming sites, not porn, fellas), a Prius forum, a diabetes forum, and — one level of abstraction up — from Xing itself.

If these groups are going to issue pro forma birthday wishes, I think they ought to be required to hire someone who has to sit there and actually think warmly about each person before pressing the “send” button.

And then, as a special birthday present, keep your stupid marketing messages to yourself.

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November 2, 2011

The hotel with no metadata

I’m staying at a “boutique” hotel in NYC that is so trendy that it has not only dressed its beautiful young staff in black, it has removed as much metadata as it can. There’s no sign outside. There are no pointers to the elevators on the room floors. The hotel floors in the elevator are poorly designated, so that two in our party ended up on a service floor, wandering looking for a way back into the public space of the hotel. The common areas are so underlit that I had to find a precious lamp to stand next to so that the person I was waiting for could find me. The room keycards are white and unmarked, without any indication therefore of which end goes in the lock.

Skipping metadata has always been a sign of mastery or in-ness. It’s like playing a fretless guitar. But hotels are for strangers and first-timers. I need me my metadata!


BTW, I think the hotel’s name is the Hudson, but it’s really not easy to tell.

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