the (anti)social graph

So much goodness in this article, but this kind of jumped out at me…

Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers – that’s the social graph.

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It’s as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends (and staffing it, of course, with that Mormon bartender).

We’re used to talking about how disturbing this in the context of privacy, but it’s worth pointing out how weirdly unsocial it is, too. How are you supposed to feel at home when you know a place is full of one-way mirrors?

We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage – we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action. Even if you have faith in their good intentions, you feel misgivings about stepping into the elaborate shrine they’ve built to document your entire online life.

Open data advocates tell us the answer is to reclaim this obsessive dossier for ourselves, so we can decide where to store it. But this misses the point of how stifling it is to have such a permanent record in the first place. Who does that kind of thing and calls it social?

(emphasis mine)

The whole Reclaim project has been about withdrawing from the hosted social networks in an attempt to control how things are presented while also short-circuiting the tracking and analytics that are sold to marketeers.

Since I’ve been posting all of my stuff here, instead of Out There, it’s definitely felt less social. I can’t see a “social graph” of who reads what I write, or sees what I post, or +1s stuff, etc… And, since I don’t run any web analytics on my site (aside from truly rudimentary apache log crunching), I don’t even have a rough idea of how many people read/see/etc… what I do.

If it’s less “social” (if tapping into a corporately-monotized social graph makes it social), it’s also feeling more… valuable? meaningful? It’s become less about metrics (impact, readers, page views, etc…) and more about… Well, I don’t know, really… I’m seeing my site, and the stuff I do here, more as documentation. A living documentary project, rather than an obsessive collection of synthetic “friendships”. That’s an interesting angle I hadn’t considered when I started my version of the Reclaim project

(other posts on the same article, by John Gruber and Stephen Downes)

my social network pause button

Merlin Mann wrote a great post called “Social Networks: The Case for a Social Network Pause Button“, where he suggests we need a few more states of engagement with social network applications as a way to manage the deluge of data.

I’ve got a better solution. Walk away. Do something else. Here’s my social network pause button, and it’s extremely effective:

motion

It pauses everything. No inbox. No RSS. No IM. No friend requests. No followers. No super-pokes. No zombie bites. No updates. No is… Nothing but me, my bike, and the wind.

Jen has her own system.

Don’t we all have Pause Buttons already? We just need to use them. We’re all in control of our engagement with these tools, we just need to realize that, and exercise our own control to our own levels of comfort.

on the danger of twitter

Twitter has been bugging me for some time now. No, not the single-digit uptime. No, not the constant “Down for Updates” notices. No, not the slow unresponsive website and throttled API.

I just realized that Twitter is actually dangerous. Harmful. Damaging.

It has changed the way that I think, but not for the better. I find I am thinking more superficially when I’m active in Twitter. I think in shorter 140 character bursts. With little to no depth.

Now, Twitter is a really amazing environment – it’s been by FAR the most powerful social amplifier I’ve used. I’ve felt closer to the people that I care about online because I’ve been let in to their every day lives, just as they have been let into mine.

Although the things that get posted to Twitter are mostly banal and boring details of every day life, that is one of the things that makes it so addictive. So powerful. It’s not a “content managing system”, nor is it “publishing” – it’s a way to reinforce a personal connection. Every time I read an update by someone that I care about, I think about that person – if only for a second – and my sense of connection is strengthened.

But, I fear that the strengthened social connections are not worth the cost borne in superficial thinking. Being more closely connected is an extremely valuable thing – and Twitter is somehow able to make my connections to people online feel almost tangible, almost real – but not at the cost of shallow thinking.

When I catch myself offline, in the mountains with my family, wondering what people are posting to Twitter, and how I would describe what I’m doing in 140 characters, it’s become damaging. Distracting. Dangerous.

I’m not going to sign off of Twitter. I am going to try to experience it differently. Without the Twitter Tab constantly open and refreshed. Without any Twitter apps on my iPod. I don’t want to lose the sense of connectedness, but I need to repair and restore my ability to think more deeply.

visualizing the Network

I’ve been prepping some resources to use during the Faculty Technology Days session on Social Networking tomorrow. How to best show what the Network is? What do the connections between people look like? Then, this morning, I see a post by Clarence Fisher describing Tweetwheel. It’s a cool little web application for generating a display of the people in the Twitter Network for a given account. Here’s mine:

Very cool.

sharecropping clarification

I should probably clarify a couple of things about what I was trying to say about social networks as sharecropping activities.

First, I am not trying to suggest that hosted services are inherently bad – I think it’s great that services like WordPress.com and Edublogs are available – and they are not sharecropping. Hosted services can be great – they let people easily post their content, and a well designed and managed hosted service doesn’t infringe on a person’s digital identity, nor on their ownership of the content they publish.

Applications like Facebook, where content is absorbed and ownership is stripped through the process, are sharecropping.

Second, it’s not (all) about advertising. There are ads on lots of good services – they have to pay the bills for offering a free service somehow – but there’s a line that has to be drawn. If a service is overly advertised, or the ads are intrusive, then it’s just not cool (in my opinion, of course). Saying a service is evil because they try to make money is just wrong. As long as it’s done with taste, isn’t invasive, and isn’t directly messing with a person’s content (i.e., inserting ads in the content itself, etc…) then it’s likely OK. But it’s a personal thing.

The easiest way to see if something is worth contributing to is by asking the question “who benefits by my using this service?” If it’s not clear, or the primary beneficiary is the service provider, then it’s probably not a good place to be, and is possibly running under the sharecropping model. Actually, that’s a good question to ask when dealing with anything – who benefits? why are they doing this?

Examples of 3 hosted services that are NOT sharecroppers:

  • Flickr (it’s free, but they benefit primarily by Pro subscriptions)
  • WordPress.com (it’s free, but they make their money on paid upgrades)
  • Edublogs.com (it’s free, but they also sell upgrades and services)

on social network sharecropping

Heather posted something this morning that’s had me thinking about this pretty much all day.

Occasionally, Tim Bray talks about “sharecropping” as related to the world of open source vs. proprietary software and APIs.

What‘s a Sharecropper?· I found a good definition at InterAction Design:

“A farmer who works a farm owned by someone else. The owner provides the land, seed, and tools exchange for part of the crops and goods produced on the farm.”

It’s a lousy position to be in, because you’re never going to make much, and if the land’s owner finds something better to do with the land, you’re history.

Now, we’re all furiously publishing reams of content into various social network applications and services. We post updates to Twitter. We write on walls in Facebook (or, more likely, just play Scrabulous). We post photos to Flickr. We put videos on Google Video, YouTube, and now Flickr.

Tractor SilhouetteWhile all of these activities are valued, and contribute to the sense of online community, they are basically the activities of a sharecropper. Tilling the landowner’s field, toiling in the landowner’s soil, until, eventually, the landowner reaps the rewards.

I think it’s important to own your own land. It’s important to publish content in a way that you, and only you, can control. I think it’s important to be able to decide what you publish, how you publish, and what can be done with that. Even if you’re not publishing content in the traditional sense, the data generated by your activities has meaning. Google mines your subscriptions in Google Reader, as well as your searches. Flickr tracks whose photos you fave, and where you comment.

Publishing content into a third party proprietary application is nothing more than sharecropping. You don’t truly own what you are doing, and you are not the primary beneficiary of your actions.

Heritage Park - 13This isn’t to say that there aren’t benefits to sharecropping. There are typically more people in a third party community service than would be active in an individually-operated one. The community-critical-mass issue could be solved through effective use of loosely joined individual services – I could post photos to my blog, or to Gallery2, and others could comment or reuse at will. I could post stuff to my blog, and others can use it at will. Part of this would require some more robust digital identity management stuff – if we’re using potentially hundreds of individually run services, we’re not going to create accounts on each. Something like OpenID could help here.

The other benefit of sharecropping is that, on a third-party system, you typically don’t have to worry about infrastructure. It could be argued (as I seem to do on a daily basis) that the infrastructure is trivial to manage now. Anyone (ANYONE!) can set up a server account, and use one-click installs to run any of a long list of great applications, for less than $10/month. Infrastructure is not the limiting factor any more.

Now, with that said, I’m going to go check Flickr for new photos from my contacts, and then check Twitter to see what my friends are up to. Then, I’ll fire up Google Reader to see what they’re doing on their own land.

Update: It also strikes me that compelling students to publish content into institutional repositories and course management systems is tantamount to forced sharecropping. We need to do better by our students than to guide them toward embracing sharecropping as the preferred expression of digital identity.

my network (via Facebook)

I found a link to Nexus in my reader this morning thanks to a post from Information Aesthetics, and decided to check it out. It’s an app for Facebook that graphs out a member’s network, indicating connections and clusters. Here’s my network:

Facebook Nexus Detail

Moving the mouse over any dot within the Nexus app highlights that person, and their connections. It’s pretty easy to see things like the University of Calgary folks (the lines of dots in the middle), the Northern Voice folks (on the left side, mostly), family members and old high school friends (the unconnected mini-networks outside the main circle).

It’s an interesting application, but is restricted to just the “friends” you’ve made in Facebook. I’d love to see something that takes this and adds the Google connections from TouchGraph, my network in del.icio.us, contacts on Flickr, subscriptions in Google Reader, etc… Tie that in with some kind of meaningful online identity system like OpenID, and we’ll start to see some pretty meaningful ways to organize and navigate our online networks.

Eduglu and the aggregate social tag cloud

I’ve been monkeying with a Drupal site that looks like it could fulfill most (even all?) of the mythical Eduglu concept – a website that aggregates all feeds published by students in a class/department/institution, and helps contextualize them in the various groups/cohorts/courses each student participates in. It’s getting really close – it can currently suck in all kinds of feeds, auto-tagging items, and even lets students create their own groups and associate feeds with them. There are issues, to be sure, mostly with respect to honouring the original tags in the aggregated items, and with taking advantage of the social rating system added to the website, but it’s so close I can taste it.

At the moment, there are almost 1200 items aggregated from feeds published by 19 users. It’s only been running for a week, so that’s not a bad start…

One added bonus of using Drupal for this, is that I can drop the Tagadelic module into place to generate a tag cloud representing all aggregated items’ tags. Here’s the tag cloud from the current prototype site:

Eduglu Tag Cloud

Just seeing that aggregate cloud makes me smile. I’ll have to work on things like adding a group-only tag cloud, and maybe a tag with date parameters (which could be REALLY useful to build a movie displaying the shifts in tag weights over the course of a semester or year…)

As an aside, I’m pretty sure that this is the first post that I’ve added to all of the main categories of my blog: General, Work, and Fun. I’m pretty sure there’s something to that…

Blogging vs. Social Networking

I've been posting to my blog far less frequently than ever before, in the entire history of this blog. Why is that? I'm still busy doing stuff. I'm still active in all the same places. The only shift lately is that I've also been much more active in social networking sites, specifically Twitter and Facebook.

Now, both Twitter and Facebook are essentially social networking systems. They are about forming and building connections between people, rather than publishing content. So, that shouldn't have an impact on my posts here.

The only thing I can think of is some kind of defusing effect that activity on social networking sites may have – I post there, and it satisfies the social component of posting here. Posting here doesn't affect posting there.

So, I'm starting to think about the relationship between social networking and blogging. They're definitely related, partially overlapping activities, but they also have their own subtle difference. Blogging is (for me) about personal knowledge management. Capturing the content and context of what I'm doing. Social networking is about context more than anything. Which looks at first blush to be purely banality. And yet, it affects me on a deeper level.

I was in Vancouver for an "eCOP" pathfinding meeting, and found that I flipped open the MacBookPro during breaks. What did I check first? It wasn't email. It wasn't my blog (or blog stats, or blog referrals). It was Twitter. I felt more connected to my distributed community of edubloggers (and others) because they're always there with me, no matter where I am. That's powerful stuff. Now, how to better make sense of that? Or does making sense of it suck the soul out of it?

I've been posting to my blog far less frequently than ever before, in the entire history of this blog. Why is that? I'm still busy doing stuff. I'm still active in all the same places. The only shift lately is that I've also been much more active in social networking sites, specifically Twitter and Facebook.

Now, both Twitter and Facebook are essentially social networking systems. They are about forming and building connections between people, rather than publishing content. So, that shouldn't have an impact on my posts here.

The only thing I can think of is some kind of defusing effect that activity on social networking sites may have – I post there, and it satisfies the social component of posting here. Posting here doesn't affect posting there.

So, I'm starting to think about the relationship between social networking and blogging. They're definitely related, partially overlapping activities, but they also have their own subtle difference. Blogging is (for me) about personal knowledge management. Capturing the content and context of what I'm doing. Social networking is about context more than anything. Which looks at first blush to be purely banality. And yet, it affects me on a deeper level.

I was in Vancouver for an "eCOP" pathfinding meeting, and found that I flipped open the MacBookPro during breaks. What did I check first? It wasn't email. It wasn't my blog (or blog stats, or blog referrals). It was Twitter. I felt more connected to my distributed community of edubloggers (and others) because they're always there with me, no matter where I am. That's powerful stuff. Now, how to better make sense of that? Or does making sense of it suck the soul out of it?