Recently in social software Category

are your facebook "private messages" pre-2010 suddenly "public"?

Earlier today on Facebook, I shared a link to a blog post claiming that Facebook had made private messages pre-2010 visible on timelines, and providing detailed instructions on how to check for this.

I was skeptical, since I'd seen denials of this on prominent technology websites (and my go-to source for rumor-checking, Snopes), but out of curiosity I followed the instructions in the post:

On the right-hand column of your profile page, select the year 2010. In the box where it shoes the messages that friends posted on your wall (and now, apparently, to your inbox), select HIDE FROM TIMELINE. You will need to select each year you've been on facebook prior to 2010 and repeat this step.

Much to my surprise, I found a significant number of what I had thought were private messages from friends that were accessible to anyone with access to my timeline. This was particularly disturbing because when I first switched to the timeline view (back when you had to be a Facebook developer to do so), I thought I had gone through all of my content to look for just such a problem.

So, why did I miss these? They were hidden in that box at the top of each time period labeled "### friends posted on Liz's profile". Most of those were innocuous things like birthday greetings. But quite a few used Facebook's "wall-to-wall" posting feature.

If you're relatively new to Facebook, you may not realize that Facebook didn't implement its current email-like messaging system until 2010. Before that, it offered a "wall-to-wall" messaging option that allowed you to post a message for a friend that generally only the two of you would see. Until Timeline came on the scene, that is.

After I posted this, a significant number of very tech-savvy friends--people who, like me, have been using Facebook for more than five years (I joined in early 2005), and who work in the tech industry--weighed in to say that by following these instructions they'd also found messages they'd believed were private. (Including the estimable Robert Scoble.) That's an indication that Facebook failed BADLY here--perhaps not legally or technically, but certainly from a UI and user trust standpoint.

So yes, Facebook's denial of a privacy breach is technically accurate. But if you've been using Facebook since before 2011, I strongly encourage you to follow the directions linked above to check for problematic content. Even if you, like me, don't post private information on Facebook, your friends might not have been that careful.

I have a lot of books. Books in my office, books in my family room, books in my study, books in my basement, books on my wishlist. This is not a new thing, nor is it likely to change anytime soon. Before I was a technology professor, I was a librarian. I have an MLS from Michigan, worked for several years as a Government and Law Bibliographer at the Library of Congress, and then got my PhD in Library & Information Science from Alabama. It was the "information" part of "information technology" that drew me to my job at RIT, and I still speak regularly at library conferences.

But still. Books. Everywhere. And it can be difficult to know at any given point where a particular book I've read lives. Do I still own it? Is it in my house? My office? More importantly, can my friends check to see if I have it (and can I check to see if they have a book that I'm interested in)? Seems like a problem that could and should be solved with technology.

In fact, nearly eight years ago I reviewed a lovely Mac OS X program called Delicious Library, which allowed me to hold a book up in front of my computer's webcam and have it be looked up online and added to my library. It failed for me, though, because its ability to share that library with others was very limited, and because it was still somewhat laborious to pull books off the shelf, hold them just so in front of the webcam, and then replace them.

This week, however, some of our students started talking in Facebook about how much they'd like to be able to know what books other people in the school had--especially faculty, who are often willing to loan books from their extensive collections. I wanted an easy way to facilitate that kind of group book sharing, and it seemed that there must be a way to do that, one better than the promising but cumbersome tools I'd looked at back in 2004. Shouldn't there by now be a combination of phone-based scanning and web-based sharing that would satisfy this need more elegantly? One that would work not just for geeky librarians like me, but for anyone in our community who wanted to share their book collection? The answer is yes. And no. I've spent the past several days experimenting with three web-based personal library management sites--LibraryThing, GoodReads, and Shelfari--as well as iPhone apps for scanning in the barcodes of books. I haven't found the perfect solution--they all have a few flaws still--but I plan to go with LibraryThing for my book collection, at least for now. Here's my assessment of each of the tools, however along with some "how-to" for those who want to try it themselves. I start with the scanning tool, since it's applicable for all three sites. Then I talk about each of the library sites, including account creation/cost, ability to organize your library effectively, and privacy/sharing functionality with a focus on group sharing. All three of the sites are quite good at allowing you to view and organize your own personal collection, so I didn't focus on that in my evaluation.

Scanning Books with Red Laser

I poked around online to see if anyone had found a way to use an existing iPhone scanner app with online book sites. The answer was yes; Julie Duffy had written a nice tutorial on pairing LibraryThing with Red Laser, a free barcode scanning app for iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone. Since the tutorial was two years old, some aspects of the process have changed, so I've documented how I did this. And it turns out that you can use the same process with the other two sites, although GoodReads has an app with its own scanner.

First, I used RedLaser on my phone to scan the barcodes of my books. When you launch the app and choose "Scan", there's an option at the bottom to turn on "multi-scan," which is particularly useful if you plan on scanning a number of books, since it stays in scan mode after each successful scan. I was frankly amazed by how quickly it was able to focus on and process each barcode. I was able to scan in over 100 books in about half an hour. A few warnings--many books on my shelf had multiple barcodes, with one being focused on retail processing, and the other containing the ISBN. Make sure you scan the ISBN barcode, or the data won't import properly. The images below show both the wrong way (on the left) and the right way (on the right) to scan such a book. Beware also of barcode stickers placed over the book jacket barcode by bookstores--they use a proprietary product code, so may need to be removed for proper scanning.

Wrong Barcode Right Barcode

After you've scanned a set of books (try it with a few the first time to be sure it works), click the Done button (and if you've scanned in a lot of books, be patient--it will take a few seconds to leave the scan screen and show you your items). Then view the History (bottom left icon). You should see a list like the one on the left. Tap the button in the top right corner that says "Edit & Share," and then the "Select All" option, and you should end up with something like the list on the right.

RedLaser History RedLaser Select Items

Choose "Share" and email the list to yourself. You'll get an email listing the items you scanned, but the text of the email isn't what's useful. The URL at the top of the message is what you want. It will look something like this: (That one's from my first office bookshelf scan.) Don't worry if not all the information you want is there--the online sites I'm going to review will take the data from that URL and run the items through Amazon's database to extract everything from publication data to cover images.

Go ahead and delete those items from your history in RedLaser, so that you don't duplicate the items in your next batch of scans. Now you're ready to go to whatever site you choose for organizing your books. Here are my thoughts on the three I evaluated.


I've got a soft spot in my heart for LibraryThing (henceforth LT), because it was created way back in the early days of the social web, and has always included a focus on input from librarians and services for libraries. The downside of LT is that it retains a very web 1.0-like design and UI, and I struggled a bit at first to figure out how to accomplish the things I wanted to do. Overall, though, it wins out for me in terms of both organizing and sharing with a group. (It's also better for performing batch operations on groups of books, but that's probably only important for power users.)

Creating an Account

LT is only free for up to 200 books, which is probably plenty for most people but not nearly enough for a bookworm like me. You pick your own amount to pay for either an annual subscription or a lifetime account; suggested amounts are $10 and $25, and I kicked in the $25 for lifetime. (The site is ad-free, and I value that.) You can create the account using your Facebook or Twitter credentials, or you can create a purely local account on their system. Going with Facebook doesn't give you access to your social network, though, so other than ease of account creation there's no great advantage to using it. On the plus side, it doesn't do any annoying Facebook posts on your behalf, either.

Importing and Organizing Books

Like all three of the tools I evaluated, LT allows you to add books individually by searching for them in its database (by author, title, ISBN, etc), or by importing them from a variety of sources. To import your RedLaser list, you go to the "Add Books" tab and then select "Import Books" from the list at the bottom. You're given the option to import from a file (useful if you already have some or all of your books in another program or website), grab from a webpage, or paste a list into a text box. The RedLaser data can be added either by providing the URL you got in the email you sent yourself, or by pasting the contents of the text file included with the email. I recommend the former, since it's very quick.

LibraryThing Import Screen

Where LT really shines is in the next step, since after identifying the ISBNs in the file, it gives you the option to assign a tag to all of the imported items, and/or to place them in specific book collections. Since I wanted to keep track of where my books were, I added the tag "home" or "office" to each import. I can easily change that tag if I move a book, or add a second tag if it's a book that I have in both locations. I could also have done this with collections, and I haven't decided yet which would be better, but doing the tags was the quickest and easiest approach to start.

LibraryThing Import Options

Sharing Your Library

LT is designed primarily as a public sharing tool--by default, anyone and everyone can see your book collection. (Here's mine: You can create a private collection, but that's a bit cumbersome. Since the main purpose of using the site for me was to let colleagues, students, and friends know what books I have, that's actually a plus for me, but I know not everyone will feel that way.

At first, I wasn't very impressed with LT's group functionality, as it seems to be focused primarily on discussions rather than on a display of shared books, and the whole point of this was for colleagues and students to be able to browse my library. After playing around with it, however, I discovered that there's an option to search the libraries of all group members. There's also a "Group Zeitgeist" page that shows commonly-held books within the group. So, group search is excellent, but group browse is limited. Given a choice, I think the search is more important (but I'd love to have a richer browse function).

LibraryThing Group Search

Where LT fails, however, is in making it possible to find and connect to your friends on the site. It turns out there is a "Friend Finder," but it's buried deep inside the site, under "Edit profile and settings." You'd think that would be available from the "Connections" area of the site, but it's not.

There's also no way that I could find to share a book to Facebook or Twitter. From the LT blog I discovered that if I review a book, I can choose to post that review to Facebook--but I don't want to have to post a public review in order to share a book with my friends. Some simple "share this" links on an individual book's page would be nice, so that I could post the book info or send it to someone via email.


GoodReads (GR) is the site that the majority of my Facebook friends seem to use for tracking books their currently reading or want to recommend. It's also the only one of the three with a native iPhone app, which is a useful addition for both scanning in new items and searching your own collection. If your primary goal is to organize your own books, and do some occasional sharing via social network sites, it's probably a good choice. GR is a prettier site than LT, with better layout and typography, and a smoother user experience. That's not a huge thing, but it does matter.

Account Creation

Like LT, GR allows you to sign up with your Facebook account, or create a local-only account. I used Facebook, because of my focus on wanting to share my library data. I was prompted to add my Facebook friends, but didn't want to spam them requests, so I didn't send a request. Nonetheless, I'm able to see what they're all reading from my home screen--which I actually think is a good thing, since it reduces the amount of social network recreation necessary. If I've linked my Facebook account, it probably means I want my FB friends to be able to see my books.

Importing Books

In the left sidebar menu of GR's "My Books" section there's an "Import/Export" link, which takes you to a page that allows you to upload a file or import from a web page. These work exactly like the LT options--you can use the RedLaser link, or upload a file from another library program or site. I was able to easily export my books from LT and import them into GR, and then add a few using RedLaser as a test.

Unlike the other two sites, however, GR has its own mobile app, which has built-in scanning capability. It's nearly as fast as RedLaser, and is just as accurate. As a bonus, it shows you the book name as you scan, even in multi-item scan mode. For a casual reader, that probably makes this a great choice.

The biggest problem for me with GR's import is that there was no way to assign a tag or collection to all items in the group import. That's a huge problem when I want to be able to easily indicate that an item is either at home or at work. If I add the books individually I can provide that, and it did maintain the tagging information from the LT import file, but books scanned in via my phone and batch imported would need to be individually edited.

Sharing Your Library

GR is great at letting you share an individual book, with other users, or with a group. The problem is, it's only good at letting you share individual books, and I couldn't find any way to share a full library (or even a subset of books from my library). To share my book collection with the RIT group, I would have to individually add each book. That's a deal-breaker. There's a simple batch editing option that allows me to move books to a new virtual shelf, but no way to share them with a group. It seems like it would be an obvious thing to add group bookshelves to the shelf list, but it's not there right now. The only way to add a book to the group bookshelf is to search for it from the group bookshelf page. When adding it, you must choose "read", "to-read", or "currently reading", which leads me to believe this group function is really optimized only for book reading groups who are reading specific books together.

Like LT, once connected to Facebook GR lets you share your reviews on the site. But again, there's no easy way to post a given book to your own wall. There is a "recommend" function that allows you post the book to someone else's wall or email it, although that won't let you share to a Facebook group (which would be better for my purposes).

So, from a sharing standpoint, GR really fails for me, and between that and the lack of tagging at import I had to reluctantly abandon it as an option at this time.


Shelfari is currently owned by Amazon, which has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it already knows what books you've purchased. On the minus side...well, it already knows what books you've purchased, and you may be reluctant to continue to share ever more data about your media consumption with a vendor. Like GR, it has a more polished look-and-feel, but also suffers in the sharing department.

Account Creation

Because Shelfari (SH) is an Amazon property, you're prompted to sign in using your Amazon account. If you don't have one, you're prompted to create one. There's no way to login without an Amazon account. (If, like me, you had a Shelfari account before the Amazon takeover, it will detect matching email accounts and merge them.) There is an FB app, but it's confusing, because when you try to activate it you're told it no longer exists, but then it happily configures itself. More on that in the sharing section.

Importing Books

From any view of your SH profile, you can select the "Shelf" dropdown menu and choose "Import Books." You're given three options here--to import your Amazon purchase history (a bad choice, in my opinion, especially if like me, you regularly buy gifts for other people on Amazon), to import from a web page (which works with the RedLaser list page), or to import from a file (which works with a variety of sites and programs, and allowed me to import my library from LT).

Like GR, however, you have no option to tag or categorize the books in your import if you're bringing the books in from RedLaser. Tags are preserved if you're importing from LT, which is another reason to use tags rather than collections if you're importing your books into LT.

Sharing Your Library

SH's group functionality is very similar to GR's. You can't add a group of books--you can only add books individually to the bookshelf. On the plus side, you can add a book from your bookshelf directly to a group, but it still has to be done one book at a time, and you have to choose a designation of "We're Reading" or "We've Read" when you add it. (There's a "None" option, but it turns out that simply means "don't add it to the group.")

SH does, however, allow you share an individual book on your own wall/timeline, Twitter feed, or even your LinkedIn profile.

Once again, the lack of an easy way to share a shelf or collection of books with a group makes this not a viable option for my purposes.


There's clearly more that could be written about all of these sites, especially in terms of how the social components--reviews, ratings, presence in your friends' libraries--enhance the information available about a given book. Since this post is already over 3,000 words, however, I'll end it here. I hope you found it useful!

alone again, naturally

Last spring, when talking to a close friend at work about the end of my marriage, I said "I just didn't think that at this point in my life I'd find myself alone."

To my great surprise, her response was to laugh out loud. Seeing my baffled expression, she responded "Liz, you are the least alone person that I know. You're not going to be alone, you're going to be living independently."

Over this past year, I've come to realize how right she was. Yes, I'm living alone (most of the time, at least--I have Alex with me 50% of the time, and Lane makes occasional visits home). But I don't feel alone, not at all. In fact, living by myself has made me more social--I entertain more, I go out more, and I know that my life is full of family and friends who love and support me. Living independently, it turns out, makes me feel less alone, not more alone.

I'm also an active user of social media, and Facebook is part of my daily social life. Like me, many of the people in my life are balancing the competing demands of both family and career, and much as they might like to regularly visit with their friends their schedules make that difficult. Facebook helps to keep the connections among us alive. Five years ago, Clive Thompson wrote beautifully about how Twitter provides a kind of social "sixth sense" for its users:

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination. [...] It's almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when applied to your work life. You know who's overloaded -- better not bug Amanda today -- and who's on a roll. A buddy list isn't just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.

Facebook provides that same kind of social infrastructure, now. My interactions there with friends and family aren't a replacement for spending time in their company or talking to them on the phone. Instead, they're a way to keep connections alive when it's simply not feasible to see them or talk to them daily.

As Facebook has grown in popularity, however, it has received an increasing amount of negative attention, most recently in this week's Atlantic Magazine cover story by novelist Stephen Marche entitled "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Unsurprisingly, Marche argues that it is, and does so in emotionally compelling terms.

Happily, NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg has written a well-researched and compelling response to Marche, entitled "Facebook Isn't Making Us Lonely." He dissects Marche's article, pointing out the numerous assertions about loneliness and isolation that are refuted by current sociological and psychological research, concluding with this delightful passage:

Disconnection requires little more than shutting down your computer and smartphone. But if the connection is still on and Marche wants to forget about himself for a while, he could simply click away from Facebook and navigate over to Google, which will direct him to the research on loneliness and solitude that has been there for him all along. Used wisely, the Internet could help make his sociological arguments less isolated from reality.

Klinenberg has researched this topic extensively, and his recent book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone is at the top of my reading queue right now. It's there for both personal and professional reasons. As someone who's now part of this growing trend towards choosing to live alone, I'm interested in how I fit into the larger pattern. And as someone who studies and teaches about social media, I'm also interested in how tools like Facebook and Twitter help to strengthen social ties and increase our opportunities to connect in meaningful ways with the people we care about.

personal information ecology

I've been getting a lot of questions recently about what technology tools--both software and devices--I use for collecting, storing, and retrieving information. As someone whose academic training was in library science, this is a topic I think (and care) about a lot. And while I'm not very good at organizing my physical environment, I do a pretty good job of organizing my digital life. Here's a rundown of what I'm currently using, and for what...organized by task rather than by platform, because most of what I use is cross-platform anyways.

Much of the way I deal with information is shaped by the fact that I have two computers--a big, heavy MacBook Pro that mostly sits on my family room table, and a small, light MacBook Air that travels with me--as well as an iPhone and an iPad. (Skip the "ur a stoopid Apple fangirl comments, mkay? I use each for different reasons, I find them all useful, nearly everything I'm about to discuss will work perfectly well on PCs and Android devices, and none of that is really the point of this post.)

Note Taking

I have terrible handwriting, and stopped taking notes on paper a long time ago. I do nearly all of my note-taking on my MacBook Air. I used to put all my notes into plain text files, using BBEdit (a Mac-based ASCII text editor). But I had a hard time keeping track of them, and an even harder time accessing them from other devices.

Now I use Evernote for note-taking. I love it, for a number of reasons. First, there are clients for all of my computers and mobile devices. Second, there's a web interface that lets me access my notes from someone else's computer (or in a lab at RIT). Third, I can take photos of whiteboards and/or handwritten notes, and Evernote will do text recognition on the images. Since everything, including the images, is easily searchable, I seldom have trouble finding the notes I took on a given subject or at a specific meeting.

Even better, Evernote now seems to be integrated with my calendar on my iDevices, so when I create a new note during a time that a meeting is scheduled, it automatically names it with that meeting. That just makes me happy!

I know Evernote is useful for other things, but note-taking is pretty much all I use it for, and it's perfect for that task.

The Evernote software is free, but a premium account (which I have) will run you $5/months or $45/year. The big advantage of the premium account for me is offline access to any of your notebooks, which has been really helpful when I travel (especially overseas, where data is harder to come by). It has other perks, as well, like way more storage space, but since I use Evernote mostly for plain text notes and a handful of images, that's not a big issue for me the way the offline access is.

Saving and Sharing Things I Find Online

I was one of the earliest users of the social bookmarking site (a quick search of my archives indicates I started using it in December 2003-- good god, was it really over 8 years ago??), but after its acquisition by Yahoo my usage declined, and when it changed hands again last year I pretty much let it go. Since then, I've tried a couple of tools for online bookmarking, but hadn't really found anything that worked for me. (Including, which I had high hopes for but just didn't feel right to me.)

I loved two things about One was the ease with which I could share a set of bookmarks with others, by using a simple url that combined my username and a given tag. So, for instance, bookmarks related to the Intro to Interactive Media class (course number 295) could be referenced with The other was the fact that I could subscribe to the bookmarks of other users, and by doing that I was able to create a customized news page that showed me the links that people I was interested in were collecting. It was a great way to find new things, and keep up with what friends and colleagues cared about.

Over the past few months, I've found services that appear to address both of those needs, although not in the same system.

Pinterest is what I'm using to bookmark personal stuff--recipes, home decor and craft ideas, clothing, art, etc. It's great for an at-a-glance look at recipes or fashion, where recall is closely tied to how something looks, not what it's called. More importantly, it's what I'm using to see what other people are collecting. It's a highly visual site--everything is arranged by image, and you can't even add something that doesn't have an image or a video on the page (which is why this will never be my only bookmarking tool--there are too many things I want to save that are text only). It also suffers from a lack of tagging capability, so anything you add goes in one collection and one collection only.

Clipboard, a new service created by ex-Microsoft research exec Gary Flake, addresses my need to quickly bookmark and tag resources related to research and teaching. Unlike delicious, it actually allows me to grab a piece of the page (as large or small as I want...but not just as an image. The text and links come with it, as well, which is a really nice touch. As a result, I can find things by look as well as by text. I think this is going to become my new go-to site for organizing my work-related resources.

Finally, InstaPaper is what I use to save lengthy online text (magazine articles, long-form blog posts, etc) for reading later on a mobile device. When I'm in online browsing mode, I usually don't have the time to really immerse myself in a thoughtful text. But there are plenty of times during the day when I suddenly find myself with unexpected reading time--waiting for a doctor's appointment, sitting on an airplane, lying in bed unable to sleep. If I've saved the interesting things to read to Instapaper, I can launch the app on my iPhone or iPad and read them then. Instapaper strips out all the ads and awful formatting, and makes the text readable for even my aging eyes. There's no monthly charge for it, but I did pay for the iOS app.

Citation Management
I was an Endnote user for a very long time--I started using it for my dissertation research back in the '90s, in fact. But last year I finally switched away from Endnote, and started using Zotero for all of my citation management. What made it possible for me to make the jump to Zotero was that it allowed me to import my entire EndNote database--given that I had literally thousands of references, that was a non-trivial process.

Zotero is an open-source tool that runs inside of your browser. Until recently, it only worked with Firefox (cross-platform), but there's now a "standalone" version of Zotero, too. I haven't used the standalone version, so I'm going to talk about how the browser-based version works.

Zotero recognizes a large number of scholarly publication sites (like the ACM Digital Library, or JSTOR, or SSRN, or Google Scholar), and gives you a little icon in your URL bar that allows you to add the item to your library. If it's one of the sites it recognizes (generally one that has embedded appropriate metadata), it automatically adds all the bibliographic data to the citation for you. What's even better, though, is that it also grabs a snapshot of the item (or, in some databases, a downloaded copy of the PDF) and attaches it to the citation--so you've got easy offline access to the item at any point.

There's integration between Zotero and major word processors, just as there is with EndNote, so you can add in-text citations and a bibliography to your paper using whatever your preferred citation style is.

Zotero has some other nice features, as well--there's cloud storage, so you can sync your bookmarks to any computer you're using (and if you've got a giant library like mine, you can pay to upgrade your storage space), and there's the ability to create shared libraries that you can allow read and/or write access to for others. That works really well for collaborative research projects, or for bibliographies built by a class.

Sharing Data Across Computers
All of the tools above have the ability to allow me to access my data from any computer. But there are a lot of other files I work with on a regular basis--word processing files, spreadsheets, images, etc. For those, I use Dropbox. The free version gives you 2GB of space, but I pay for the next level up, which gives me 50GB for $99/year. It integrates into your OS (Mac or Windows), so that your Dropbox folder is simply another folder on your computer--but anything that you put into that folder gets saved to the cloud, and synced to your other devices when/if they're online. There are iOS clients, so I can access any of my files from any of my devices. And there's a web client, so I can grab a file from Dropbox from any internet-connected computer.

Because the files are stored locally as well as online, you have access even if you're not online (and even if the Dropbox server is down)--a big advantage over Google Docs, which always seems to have service outages during critical document editing periods for me!

You can also share a folder with other Dropbox users, so that any time one of you changes a file, the new version will be synced for everyone. This is great if you're working on a project with someone and don't want to be constantly emailing changed files back and forth. The downside is that you can't selectively grant read-only access to folders or files. That means if you share a folder with someone else, they could delete the contents of folder and the files would be removed from your computer, as well.


So, that's the gist of it. I've been using all of these tools (with the exception of Clipboard) for long enough now that they've become integral parts of my ecosystem. Many are "freemium" services (Evernote, Dropbox, Zotero) that I happily paid for once I realized their value to me. And the end result is that I have easy access to the information I need when I need it, despite the fact that I'm constantly moving between computers and mobile devices.

opting out of social media

Lately I've been thinking--and reading--a lot about people who choose to out of online social networking tools. The question of who chooses not to engage on sites like Facebook--and why they choose that--was posed to me by a close friend who has mostly lived his life on the opposite side of the social media spectrum from me. Where I have created an account on every system I've encountered, and very much lived my life in public through these tools over the past ten years, he has made only occasional and somewhat reluctant forays into online social spaces...and he was curious about what the causes (and consequences) of those different choices were.

I've been mulling that question over since he posed it back in the spring, and I keep seeing things pop up in blogs and news stories that relate to it. There was Alice Marwick's excellent essay ('If you don't like it, don't use it. It's that simple.' ORLY?) on the impact of opting out of Facebook when your social network is based there. And Jenna Wortham's NYTimes article on 'The Facebook Resisters' last month.

Alice talked in her article about the concept of "technology refusal," but I've found that there seems to be precious little out there in the way of research on this topic. The term itself is used in the context of other educational technologies in an essay by Steve Hodas called "Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools" from Rob Kling's 1996 collection Computerization and Controversy, but I can't find much that links that essay with anything related to current social networking sites.

It seems to me there are a lot of interesting research questions in this. What are the reasons that people choose to opt out? Does the opting out tend to be global, or specific to individual systems? (For instance, do people who opt out of Facebook also opt out of Twitter? LinkedIn? Tumblr?) Is this more about personality or cognitive type, or about context and experience? Are these fairly static stances, or changeable? And if the latter, what precipitates the change? What's the impact on an individual who opts out when their social and/or professional network opts in?

In fact, there's so much that's interesting, and so little that seems to be out there, that it's all a little overwhelming. I've started a Zotero collection on the topic of "technology refusal," and would welcome any suggestions for things to add to it. (If there's interest, I'm willing to convert it to a group library that others could add to...)

Anyone know of work currently ongoing in this space? I'd love to talk with others who are exploring it!

hacking my classes

I've just started reading the book Hacking the Academy (that's the digital, open access version of the book; a print version will be available next year). I started with the section on "Hacking Teaching," since that's something I spend a lot of time thinking about. There are a number of excellent essays there, and many of them focus on shifting the flow of information so that students are no longer passive receivers of information, but rather part of the construction and communication of knowledge.

I thought I'd share some of the classroom hacks I'm using this fall in my freshman survey class "Introduction to Interactive Media," since they're all intended to make exactly those kinds of changes in the flow of information and knowledge.

First, I've enabled the live chat function in our campus courseware (Desire2Learn). It's a very rudimentary chat system, but I encourage my students to use it during class to ask questions of each other, and of the TAs and other instructors who are also in the chat. I spend a good bit of time in the first lecture talking about appropriate behavior in real-time chat, and reminding them that (a) everything they type is associated with their RIT username, and thus is not really anonymous, and (b) the chats are archived and I do go back and read through them from time to time. This year, I ended the list of caveats with a simple admonition..."C'mon, just don't troll the class chat!" Still, having some "adult supervision" seems to make a big difference in the overall tone.

Why real-time chat? If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I've always been a big fan of conference backchannels, and this was a way to bring some of those benefits into the classroom. This class is one of the few I teach that includes a large lecture (60-90 students), and the chat encourages them to interact with each other as well as with me.

Second, in my studio sessions (30 students each), I've divided the students into groups of 5-6 and required them to use Google Docs for collaborative note-taking. RIT has its own Google Apps installation, and during our first studio session I break them up into groups, and walk them through the process of creating a docs collection, adding all the group members to it, and adding me, my TA, and my grader. I then tell them that their groups are responsible for taking notes at every class--lecture and studio--but that it's up to them how they want to divide up the work. During the quarter I'll occasionally review what they have, and will occasionally add comments or corrections; my grader will also check regularly to see if there are groups that aren't getting notes up, or whose notes are really weak, so that he can give me a heads up to review them. At the end of the quarter, I'll assign a grade for the notes, and then adjust that grade up or down based on a peer evaluation they'll do of their group members.

There are a number of good things that come out of this hack. They learn how to use collaborative editing tools, something that will be valuable to them in many project contexts. They learn how to work with a group to divide up responsibility. They have a set of notes they can rely on if they miss class, as well as when they have to work on their final project (a poster, presentation, or video detailing 20 things they learned in the course). And I have the ability to see just what they're taking away from my classes, which provides an invaluable feedback loop--far better and more constructive than any end-of-quarter evaluation form.

Third, instead of textbooks (all of our readings are online), I have students buy the iClicker that we've standardized on at RIT for in-class polling. But instead of using this for multiple-choice quizzing, I use this for things like "Choose Your Own Lecture," in which students pick which path I take through the lecture material, or for polling the students on what they thought about a required reading or video, or for letting them vote on whether we should end class early on a beautiful day and go outside. It's not perfect, but it's a way to discourage passivity.


All of these hacks are still being refined--I've made significant changes from how I used them last year, and I'm sure this year will result in more modifications. But it's already clear to me that they're improving classroom engagement--and, I hope, student learning.

early seeds of a new talk

I got an email today that might result in my giving a talk at a tech conference in London later this fall, and it forced me to start thinking about what I'd like to talk about. My conference song-and-dance tends to go in cycles, and the PTI cycle is about played out (for me, at least).

When I talk to students about how to come up with ideas for research, I encourage them to read current research in the areas they're interested in, and to look not just at the obvious "further research is needed" section at the end of most articles, but also at the things that seem to them to be missing from the approach current researchers are taking. So I took that advice myself, and did some poking around at what some of the smartest and most interesting people I know are saying in their talks these days.

One of the talks I looked at was Matt Jones' on "Immaterials." Matt's a brilliant guy, and an amazing presenter, and I find that his talks almost always send my brain spinning off on interesting tangents...and this talk was no exception. That link is to images of his slides and a text version of his talk, but here's the video:

Most of what set my mind in motion is in the first five or six minutes of the talk, specifically around the areas of sociality and what's "somewhat neglected." I think he's correct in targeting the weakness of a lot of current social software (though I think Facebook is changing that on many levels). But I also think that the bulk of social software innovation "somewhat neglects" a very significant group of potential users--and that's those of us who happen to not live in major metropolitan areas.

As an example, as a social software researcher whose academic home is in an "interactive games and media" department, I'm particularly interested in how games are beginning to extend outside the box (where the box is a screen) into our day-to-day lives. "Big Games" developers like Kevin Slavin and Jane McGonigal and Elan Lee are doing amazing things in big metropolitan areas like NYC and SF and Seattle, where there's a critical mass of technologically "hip" consumers. Software like Foursquare was originally designed for urban hipsters...people who wanted to know where the party was going on at any given point in time, so they could join it.

But what about those of us who live in the smaller spaces? The small cities, towns, villages, and even (horror of horrors) the suburbs? Those of us whose lives currently revolve more around home and family than parties and friends? In my experience, these populations have not been well served by social software and game design innovations.

While it's true that 79% of the US population is defined as living in "urban" areas, many of those urban areas are relatively small. As a resident of the Rochester, NY metropolitan area, for example, I'm counted in those statistics as an urbanite...but my experience and social environment is very different from that of a Manhattan resident.

I see populations all the time that are desperately underserved when it comes to group-forming and community-maintaining tools. K-12 schools are a great example. Most school websites that I've seen are awful...and even when they're not awful, their primary purpose is generally distributing information from the schools to the parents. There are seldom mechanisms for parents to talk to back to the school (other than through an email link to a specific teacher or administrator), let alone for parents to talk to each other.

(I got excited when I heard Matt reference a project related to K-12 schools in his talk, but from what I can tell by poking around online, it's really about data visualization rather than community building.)

Other interesting innovations that focus on local community and experiences, like GroupOn and Living Social, are also primarily focused on residents of major metro areas. (Rochester has Groupon, for example, but not Living Social--at least not yet).

There's a lot of potential for these kinds of social tools--community support tools, location augmentation tools, "life as a game board" tools--to be useful in smaller scale environments, but we need to think about how to scale them (where by scaling I mean to more different locations rather than to more people in the same locations).

So, I'm going to start fleshing all of this out, to see what kind of talk begins to emerge. It's fun to have a new talk topic to wrap my head around. :)

sparkpeople: social game mechanics applied to daily life

Over the past several years, I've been thinking a lot about the ways that game mechanics can be applied to day-to-day life-- giving the kinds of rewards that successful game environments offer, but for the "grind" of real life rather than virtual activity.

This week, I started listening to the book The Spark, by the guy who created the website, and I'm really impressed with how he designed his site to do exactly that. I'm also delighted to see how successful that implementation has been. (Generally I'm not a big fan of "change your life!" self-help books, but I found this one pretty engaging.)

If you haven't seen the site, it's worth taking a look at. It's based around a goal-setting and activity tracking model, but adds in the kind of point accumulation and leveling that can make games so addictive. It's also very focused on the social and community aspects of this process, another hallmark of good game environments.

In playing with it a bit today, I thought I'd try to accumulate points by clicking on emails I'd been sent since i first signed up a few weeks ago, and by reading some articles (which also generates points)--in Bartle's player categories, I'm a pretty typical "achiever." In the process, however, I actually ended up reading some excellent articles on "ideal" body weights (and body types), as well as watching an excellent video on how to peel, seed, and chop a tomato.

All in all, I'm very impressed--the site is useful to me both professionally (as an example of successful application of game mechanics to real-world activities), and personally (since I'm in the process of trying to lose weight and be healthier).

practicing what i teach

This fall I'm going to be teaching two large (120 student) lecture sections of our required freshman survey class "Introduction to Interactive Media." This is new for me--nearly every class I've taught at RIT over the past 13 years has been fewer than 40 students, and usually taught in a studio lab format.

I volunteered to teach the lecture sections this fall because I actually like the challenge of keeping a large group engaged in a topic. I do it all the time at conferences (or at least I try to...), but my conference style didn't translate well to a smaller classroom.

However, keeping 18-year-olds in a required engaged for two hours every week for ten weeks is a very different proposition from keeping a conference audience engaged for 45 minutes. So I've been spending some time thinking about how to best use the various social tools that I spend so much time talking about, and put them to use in the class.

I'm starting with a sanctioned "backchannel chat" for each lecture section, using the chat functionality built into our courseware (Desire2Learn). I'm going to have a TA monitor the backchannel and answer basic questions, and then have him forward to me things that should be answered/addressed in the lecture. The courseware automatically archives all the chat sessions, so I'll be able to review the sessions after class to get a sense of where I might have been unclear.

I've also set up a Facebook group for the class, which I'll encourage them to use to share relevant information, as well as to ask questions (which can be answered by other students and/or studio session instructors, not just by me).

Since I've always been intrigued by the kind of collaborative notetaking in conferences that tools like SubEthaEdit supported, I decided to investigate options that would work in a large lecture setting. Trying to get 120 students to collaboratively edit notes wouldn't be particularly helpful, but I liked the approach described last month in the Inside Higher Ed article "For One, For All." After discussing this with the instructors for the studio sessions, we've decided to break the students up into groups of five, with members of the group rotating weekly responsibilities for Google Docs notes on the lectures and the readings. We'll use those same groups for peer review of research paper drafts and Ignite presentations.

And finally, since we're not requiring them to buy any textbooks for the class (all readings will be online), I've decided instead to require the i>clicker student response system that RIT has standardized on. They can buy the clickers for less than $40 (via Amazon, at least; I doubt the bookstore price is much more), and it will allow me to do some fun in-class surveying (which, sneakily, doubles as attendance-taking).

I'm probably crazy to be trying to implement so many different social technologies in the class at once, but I'm pretty excited to see how it goes!

how itunes classifies my music

I took a look at the "Genius Mixes" feature in iTunes for the first time today, and was impressed with the way that the software grouped my music.

It created twelve different mixes:

  1. Jazz Vocals (based on Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday)
  2. Adult Alternative Pop (based on Sarah McLachlan, Colbie Caillat, Dido, Leonard Cohen)
  3. Contemporary R&B (based on Black Eyed Peas, Destiny's Child, En Vogue, Beyoncé)
  4. Classical (based on Josh Groban, Berliner Philarmoniker, Yo-Yo Ma, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields)
  5. Folk (based on Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Tracy Chapman, Christine Lavin)
  6. Vocal (based on Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Steve Tyrell)
  7. Classic R&B (based on Temptations, Prince, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & the Supremes
  8. Country (based on Dixie Chicks, The Judds, Faith Hill, Randy Travis)
  9. Folk-Rock (based on Carole King, Paul Simon, Crosby Stills & Nash, Van Morrison)
  10. Pop (based on Leona Lewis, Pink, Mieka Pauley, Seal)
  11. Electric Blues (based on Susan Tedeschi, Muddy Watters, Jonny Lang, Eric Clapton)
  12. Blues, Boogie & Southern Rock (based on Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Little Feat)

That's about the best set of genre groupings of my music I've seen, and the mixes in each category seem to go really nicely together. The named artists in each group provide an extremely accurate view of the music that I enjoy. That's a very impressive algorithm they've got going on there.

player testimonials from picture the impossible

I can't imagine that it gets any better for a game designer than watching videos like these:

Trust me, it's well worth taking fifteen minutes to watch the first five or six videos in the playlist. They do a better job than I ever could of explaining why all the time, effort, and money we put into this game was worth it.

thoughts on the spymaster twitter game

Yesterday I received a Twitter DM (direct message) from my friend and colleague Constance Steinkuehler that read "Please join me. I'd like to recruit you as a spymaster to my spy ring -". It looked a lot like spam, but I also noted that Constance and her husband both had a number of game-related tweets in their activity streams, so I clicked through out of curiosity, and signed up for the game. After less than 24 hours of play, and a lot of exploration of both the gamesite and the various responses to it around the web, I thought I'd write up my first impressions, good and bad.

First, let me preface this with the fact that I've been wishing for a long time for a way to filter out tweets from my friends that are on topics I'm uninterested in. Most often, these are tweets with hashtags relating to conferences. It's like being forced to read someone's live blogging or IRC chats for a conference that I don't care at all about. Unfortunately, the only way right now to avoid seeing them is to unsubscribe from the person, which is far too harsh a solution. It seems like a basic type of functionality, and one that I'd happily pay for in a twitter client. I mention this because almost all of the current complaints around the tech blogosphere relating to this game could be addressed with this simple feature.

If you read some of the recent rants regarding spymaster (like this TechCrunch article), you'll see that what people most object to, with good reason, is the littering of players' activity streams with automated updates about their game activities--from leveling up to purchasing new weapons. These updates are auto-generated, and look like this: "Just bought a Yarygin PYa “Grach” Pistol. #spymaster"

A near-fatal design flaw of the game is that players are rewarded with more in-game income if they increase the number of events that trigger these auto-updates in their stream. Essentially, they're being paid to spam their social network, and that's generating justifiable resentment. I asked aloud in twitter why it is that the same people who regularly flood their own streams with conference and event related tweets resent these game tweets so much, and Christy Dena pointed out that the game tweets are auto-generated using templates, rather than user-created--and she's exactly right.

Similarly, the spymaster game uses the Facebook-like approach of asking you to recruit others in your network to play the game--the interface for sending invites is almost identical to that used by Facebook games. That triggers a twitter DM to your selected followers, and that DM cannot be personalized in any way. As a result, a large number of people I invited had the same "is this spam?" reaction that I initially had.

In terms of gameplay, your strength in the game is increased by the number of twitter followers you have, and even more so by the number of those twitter followers who join the game. You gain energy over time, and can use that energy to complete tasks (although the tasks require no skill; they're essentially games of chance), which in turn earn you money and experience. You can also attempt to assassinate other spymasters in order to gain still more money and experience. That's fun for a very short period of time, but the "now what?" ennui kicks in very quickly...there's no skill involved in any of the actions, and no rewards outside of leveling up and acquiring more money.

I play these games not only because I get a kick out of them, but also because there's a lot for me to learn as a game developer about what works and what doesn't work and why. So, that being said, here are the lessons I've learned thus far from watching spymaster play out:

  1. If you're going to encourage people to send messages--public or private--in an existing social network site, you must give them the ability to personalize them. Otherwise it seems clear that most users will (quite reasonably) perceive the messages as spam rather than social updates. And rewarding users for doing more of this spam is a dangerous approach with serious long-term consequences; many people are already alienating friends and losing followers simply by accepting the default notification options in the game.
  2. Spymaster asks you join a specific directorate--US, British, or Russian--when you first login, and warns you that the choice is a permanent one. Requiring a meaningful choice at the beginning of a game is a good thing, but making it permanent and not providing information on the implications of the choice (particularly socially) is very problematic and off-putting.
  3. The game provides an activity stream on the main "dashboard" page to let you know what's happening with your spy ring, but there's no way to get information on other spymasters, compare your progress with others, etc. Without a leaderboard or comparable tool, much of the joy of competition and comparison is removed.
  4. There's not enough to do, and more importantly nothing that requires actual skill. That means that once the novelty wears off, and you get through the first few easy-to-achieve levels, there's not much to engage players. I suspect there will be precipitous drop-off in player engagement after the first 24-48 hours.
  5. While you're encouraged to recruit your friends, there's no way to see at a glance which of them have accepted your invitation, or who was already in the game. You do get DM notifications, but there's no in-game way to see your social network. That's a serious failure.
  6. On the plus side, Spymaster is utilizing Twitter's new OAuth authorization, which means you can authorize them to do these actions under your account without actually providing your login credentials, and you can also easily revoke those privileges (although you need to know to go to Twitter settings->connections to do so, something many users won't know).
  7. There are some nice touches in the UI in terms of updating and availability of tasks and resources. Nothing spectacular, but definitely some ideas worth looking at and adapting.
  8. If Spymaster does nothing else, perhaps it will finally push Twitter client developers to provide an option for masking specific hashtag posts, something that's been badly needed for a long time.

So, those are my initial thoughts on the game. My apologies to those in my Twitter followers who were aggravated by either my initial invitation or the ongoing updates.

unraveling ravelry's social software success

This is the first holiday break I can remember that doesn't seem to be rushing past me before it's even begun. I've been slowing down a lot, and indulging myself with binges in everything from baking (double chocolate walnut biscotti, my annual gift to our department office staff) to reading (I tore through Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers in a day, loving every second of it, and am also really enjoying Neal Stephenson's Anathem), and crocheting.

That last one is what leads me back to social software musings.

During my annual day-after-Christmas bargain hunting with Alex, I came across some bargain-priced sueded yarn, so I picked up a bag full of it. After I got it home, I had a hard time deciding what exactly to make with it. I tried a few patterns from books and magazines, but none seemed to work well with that particular yarn. Then I remembered Ravelry, a social site for knitters and crocheters that I'd joined this past year.

What's interesting about Ravelry is that it isn't just glorified forums--there are plenty of very active forums for crafters out there, but that's not what I was looking for. Ravelry is far more like Flickr or LibraryThing than it is like Crochetville or Craftster. That's because Ravelry is based around objects--yarn, patterns, projects, people--rather than conversations.

Like Flickr, LibraryThing, delicious, and other successful social software tools, Ravelry entices you to enter data and metadata because it's useful to you. It's helpful to enter your yarn stash into their database because once you've done it, you have quick and easy access to a list of all your available yarns--without having to dig through boxes and bags. Most serious needlecrafters have enough yarn to make that well worthwhile. And once you've done that, it's easy to add new projects that you're starting with your yarn.

But the real power comes from the aggregation of that information. After I'd entered my new yarn into my online stash, I could immediately see that there were over a thousand projects listed on Ravelry that used the same type of yarn. And following that link allowed me to further sort the projects by craft type (crochet only), by yarn color, by type of project, and more. That's what makes Ravelry so very useful to me (and the thousands of other needlecrafters using it)...the ability to pivot on different aspects of the data--the yarn, the pattern, the designer, the crafter, and more.

Ravelry pulls together a number of the factors that make social applications work:

  1. It meets the specific needs of a specific community. Facebook did this for college students, Flickr for photographers, LinkedIn for people looking for jobs or workers. If you build it, they won't come...unless you're helping them solve a specific problem.

  2. The initial hook is not the value that you're providing the community--it's the value that you're providing to yourself. Storing and re-finding your own bookmarks is the hook in delicious; being able to store, organize, and share your photos pulled people into Flickr.

  3. The value to the user grows as the community expands. This isn't true for most forum based sites, which simply don't scale well. But site that are focused on objects rather than conversations provide increasing value as they scale to more users. The successful sites scale at a reasonable pace, as well--including Ravelry, which continues to add users from its waiting list at a rate that doesn't overload their infrastructure, thus avoiding the "fail whale" problem that can lead users to decide a site isn't reliable or useful enough to invest time and energy into.

  4. The sites are well designed to pivot on critical data points that are relevant to their users. That's most likely to happen if the people building the site come from their target community of users and therefore understand the nature of the information needs. Mark Zuckerman was a college student. Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake were both photo enthusiasts. Joshua Schachter wanted a way to store his own bookmarks efficiently. And Ravelry was started by an avid knitter (Jess) and her coder boyfriend (Casey).

There are plenty of communities of interest out there that can benefit from online sites that help them connect in useful ways. The success of those sites, however, will depend on how well they get the above things right in their implentations.

friendship zero

What follows is a light-hearted parody of Ed Vielmetti's suddenly-popular "Twitter Zero" post, followed by some commentary of my own.

Disclaimer: I love my friends - I love being in the flow of the world with the comments of friends around the world triggering all sorts of warm feelings and thoughts about how lucky I am to know so many people in so many places.

For that very same reason, I'm working towards getting rid of my friends, my "friendship zero" project, where I stop being friends with everyone I know.

It's nothing personal.


Friendship Zero is inspired by a few other "zero" projects, including Ed Vielmetti's "Twitter Zero," Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" and Alan Gutierrez's "Reader Zero". The basic idea is that in systems where there is an infinite capacity for the world to send messages to get your attention, the only reasonable queue that you can leave between visits to the system is zero, because if you get behind you will never, ever, ever catch up gradually. Never. No matter how much time you put into it, there will always be more to do, and you will lose sleep over it.

What's that you say, you love your friends, why make them go away? For the same reason that I love my family (really I do) and I don't let any of them visit my house. And I love my colleagues (really I do) and spend too much of my time ignoring them.

I can't keep up. No one can keep up, actually - we look at someone shiny and say "ooh shiny" and start being friends with them because they were shiny then (and shiny once) and then suddenly you look back a week later and note to self "hm, not shiny any more, but it's a lot harder to stop paying attention to them once you're connected to them".

So, go to zero. Stop making friends, don't let them interrupt you any more. But still listen.


Friends are great for ambient awareness of things around your neighborhood, perfect actually. With a few phone calls or conversations you can see at a glance when there are parties, what television shows they're watching, who's winning what football games, when the Mormon Church is having a global conference, Girl's Night Out, you name it there's some super-cool local event that you can tap into without having much more than a few friends.

Friend friend friend friend...

I'll argue for the sake of arguing that we as human beings have a finite supply of attention for ambient awareness of friends around the world; there's only so many neurons that can fire in one moment to keep track of what's happening, and my poor aging brain has some finite ability to keep track. You make tradeoffs, you have to. And the fact that I know just a little bit too much about popular television due to my friends has to be responsible for some other deficit in my life, like not getting quite enough sleep, or not cleaning the garage (or even more to the point noticing that there are parts of it that need attention).

Or paying attention to my boys. They are little. They won't be little forever. They don't have friends, yet - yet? - though the older one was asking about connections between the kids in his class.

Attention is a precious resource. Friends are a distraction. Family is a distraction. Work is a distraction. Pretty much everyone is a distraction in the real world, either designed to capture an eyeball or rewire a neuron or to short circuit the brain to wallet function. And sometimes the only reasonable response to a thoroughly enjoyable distraction is to make a very visible, very annoying, very painful decision to skip this particular distraction and move on.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Why this particular post of Ed's is getting so much attention is beyond me. It's the kind of silly generalization that I think of as essentially curmudgeonly. It's a dismissal of an entire ecosystem because you haven't found a way to make it work well for yourself.

Here's the thing--Twitter doesn't have to be a time suck that distracts you from the things that really matter. It can be a tiny investment of time that instead connects you more deeply to the people you love who don't happen to live in your house. The choice doesn't have to be between overload and nothing. That's a false dichotomy. It's about learning how to live a balanced and healthy life both online and off.

With email, with blogs, with Twitter, with games, with real-life friendship, we have choices to make. We can choose to use them, or to let them use us. We can lose sleep over the things we missed, or we can focus instead on the things we see.

I was telling danah the other day about how I use my delicious inbox. It's my start page in Firefox, and when I launch my browser I glance at the items on the first page. Often there are interesting, useful, important things there, and it's the launch for a brief morning exploration. I miss a lot of things that people in my network bookmark because they're not on the first page, and that's totally okay. I don't lose sleep over the ones I didn't see. Instead, I'm grateful for the ones I do, since they keep me in touch with the zeitgeist of the technical world I'm most interested in. (And, in fact, that's how I saw the Twitter Zero post to begin with.)

I do the same thing with Twitter. My twitter page is the default page in my mobile phone browser. The number of people I follow is under 100, and I seldom page back through old tweets. I pop in to see what's at the top of the stack, I occasionally go to a close friend's feed to see what they're up to, but again I don't really worry at all about what I missed. I tap in for some of what Clive Thompson so beautifully termed "social propriception," I post an update or two of my own, and I move on.

Ed's post reads a bit to me like how an alcoholic might write about alcohol. "Admitted I was powerless over social media and my life had become unmanageable." Yes, there are obviously people who can't effectively manage their use of these tools and integrate them into a rich and full life. But it's important to remember that some people really can have just one glass of wine, too.

my talk at google

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm going to be giving a talk at Google next week. For the Googlers among my readers, here are the details:

Title: The Evolution of Expertise (or, "The reports of authority's death have
been greatly exaggerated")

When and Where: Friday, November 02, 2007 at 11:00 AM (60 min) in Seville, Mountain View

Abstract: Does Web 2.0 represent a triumph of the wisdom of crowds, or the
tyranny of mediocrity? The truth--as truths often do--may fall
somewhere in the middle. New tools have indeed allowed access to new
ideas, voices, and expertise. But at the same time, it has become
increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. In education,
the shift from "the sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side" has
been underway for quite some time. The same shift is happening on the
web. Experts aren't disappearing, but their roles are changing. How
can tools and infrastructure best support this shift in the role of
expertise and authority?


My understanding is that the talk will also be made available via Google Video, so you can watch it later even you're not at the Googleplex that day.

apologies in advance on twitter "friend" requests

Because I really like Twitter, and am using it as a way to keep better connected with people I already have at least somewhat strong connections with, I'm not going to be accepting friend requests from people that I don't have a relationship of some kind with already. That means, in most cases, you have to be someone I've met in real life and had a conversation with, or that I have a long history of online interaction with.

If I don't accept your request, it's not a repudiation of you personally; it's simply an acknowledgment that I don't think we're really close enough for either of us to have all that much interest in the minutiae of everyday life.

tagging vs folksonomies

Is this a reasonable statement to make?

  • Tagging is the process of adding descriptive terms to an item, without the constraint of a controlled vocabulary
  • Folksonomy is the aggregation of tags from one or more users

Yes? No? Discuss.

(Full disclosure: You're helping me prepare for a tutorial on folksonomies that I'm presenting at the CSCW conference in Banff this weekend.)

how do i love flickr? let me count the ways

I just renewed my Flickr Pro membership, which got me to thinking about how much I love Flickr.

I first used Flickr when it bore no resemblance to the service it is today--back in those early days, it was focused on real-time photo sharing and chatting in an interactive Flash-based environment. The first photo I uploaded, in December of 2003, is photo number 216 in the system--which makes it, so far as I know, the first photo uploaded by someone who didn't work for Flickr.

Three years later, I've uploaded 2,160 photos, which have garnered (as of a few moments ago) 99,914 views.


So, that list...

Flickr revitalized my interest in photography. I take more pictures because I want to share them with others.

I bought my first cameraphone because of Flickr, and now it's an essential part of my life. I use it--along with Flickr and the marvelous Shozu software--to document day-to-day details of my life. The small events that are under the bloggable radar, but important enough to remember and share.

My Flickr photos led me to long-lost family members in Brazil.

This week I'll be receiving the ten free cards from Moo that my Flickr Pro account entitled me to. The samples I ordered will include ten different sunset photos I've taken. If they're as good as everyone who's written about them says, I'm pretty sure I'll be buying lots more--for myself and as gifts.

Because of Flickr, every day I get visual updates from people I care about. I know that Eric and Nicole dressed as pirates for "Talk Like a Pirate" Day. I know that Stewart is (was?) in Taipei, that Tantek is in Tokyo, and that Jill has a new camera (ooooo....I'm so jealous! a canon digital slr is at the very top of my wish list these days). I know that Weez has the boys this weekend, that Julie took her kids to visit a salmon hatchery, and that Gina went to a wedding. And I know all that not because of lengthy emails or telephone conversations, but from the constant stream of photos from friends that I see in Bloglines.

I know there are more reasons I love Flickr, but it's lunchtime and I promised to take Alex to Panera.

what i've been working on

I've been somewhat vague about the work I've been doing at Microsoft this year, for a couple of reasons. First, much of the work was vague...I spent a lot of time talking to people, acting as consultant and catalyst, rather than creating things. Second, some of the projects I worked on were (and mostly still are) still not public knowledge.

There's one project, though, that's really my baby. I conceived it, spec'ed it, and am in the process of seeing it get built. And I've reached an agreement with MIcrosoft about the IP for this project that means I can now blog about it unfettered. So, for those wondering what I've really been working on, here it is.

It's called PULP...for "personal ubiquitous library project." (It was originally just "personal library project," but I added the "ubiquitous" so it would have an easy to remember name.) And it's the result of mashing up features from social bookmarking tools like and CiteULike and LibraryThing, personal library tools like Delicious Library and MediaMan, and mobile scanning and annotation tools like Aura.

So, why does the world need another social bookmarking/library tool? I'm not sure it does. But this one is intended to address some problems I've had with the tools listed above.

First, it's going to be an enterprise-based tool, that will be installed and managed on your own server. That's because centrally-owned and managed social bookmarking tools present a problem for people working on non-public projects. I was made aware of how much of a public trail I can leave in my bookmarks when one of my students knew about my plans to come to Seattle before my department chair did--all because he'd noticed what I was bookmarking and how I was tagging it. When I started working here at Microsoft on competitive projects, I cut way back on my use of, because I was concerned that I might give away too much of what I was working on to competitors.

Second, it's going the leverage the extreme coolness of Marc Smith's AURA project to enable SmartPhone and PocketPC-based data entry. I love that Delicious Library and MediaMan let me use a webcam to scan barcodes. But that's not useful when I'm walking through a bookstore, or visiting a friend's house. I want to be able to scan in the barcode of a book with my mobile device and add it to my collection.

Third, it will distinguish between items that I have (or have access to), and items that I'd like to have but don't. I love the idea of being able to browse a colleague's virtual bookshelf...but it's much more helpful to me if I know that these are items that s/he actually has and that I can therefore look at or borrow. That's even more helpful when I'm in a bookstore, since I'll be able to find out immediately if the book I'm considering purchasing is one that someone I work with already has a copy of.

That's all planned for the first version of the system, which I'm hoping we'll be able to deploy at RIT and MSR this fall so that we can do some research into how people use the system.

In the second version, I have a more ambitious plan. I want to develop a rich desktop client for the data that will incorporate p2p sharing, much like iTunes does for music. That way, even if my server is at RIT, and yours is at, say Yahoo, we can meet up at a conference and share items with each other. I can browse the stuff that people near me have marked as public, and I can share out items tagged for a talk I've given or a topic I'm studying. (I was delighted today when I came across this post describing how someone essentially turned iTunes into a paper-sharing tool.)

The way this is going to work from an IP and development resources standpoint is that MSR is developing the backend database for the service, and the mobile client will be based directly on the AURA client that will be made widely available in the foreseeable future. Everything that my students and I create--the UI, the web pages, the code to make the interface talk to the database--will be in the public domain. MSR is quite generously funding my students for this work, with sufficient funds for me to be able to get some great RIT students working hard on it all next year. So really, everybody wins. And I'm very grateful to Marc Smith and Turner Whitted at MSR for supporting this project, and making it possible for me and my students to continue working on it even after I return to RIT.

As we get further along in development, I'll be posting more information about the project.

scathing critique of wikipedia by jaron lanier

Today, posted an essay by Jaron Lanier entitled "Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism." Here's the abstract:

The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring. Why pay attention to it?

The problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous.

This is a must-read piece for anyone interested in social computing generally, or wikipedia in particular. Whether or not you agree with Lanier, his criticisms are worth considering.

itwf 06: diana oblinger on "educating the net generation"

Diana Oblinger, the keynote speaker today, is the VP of Educause--which has recently put out an e-book on this topic of "Educating the Net Generation," which I downloaded last week but haven't read yet... She's got quite an impressive vita, including a stint at Microsoft. And she seems like a dynamic speaker, which is great.

She says she's not going to talk about IT directly. She wants to help us understand more about the differences in today's learners. We're all products of our environment, she points out, and there are very different factors influencing the "Net Gen" (web, cell phone, IM, MP3s, online communities) than those influencing Baby Boomers and Gen X. She shows a chart shwoing the average amount of media exposure the "average person" will have by age 21. (Average starting where, I'm not sure...)

Talks about "neuroplasticity"--the brain reorganizes itself throught life. Stimulation changes brain structures, the brain changes and organizes itself based on the inputs it receives.

Who are these learners? (She notes these are generalizations, broad-brush portraits, and of course there are exceptions.) Five characteristics: digital, connected, experiential, immediate, social. (Her definitions of "connected" and "social" seem quite similar...)

Educationally, what does this mean for learning preferences? Peer-to-peer learning. Interaction and engagement (this doesn't mean "entertainment," or "easy," which seems to be how Baby Boomers perceive it). Visual and kinesthetic--images, movement, and spatial relationships are important. "Things that matter"--they want socially relevant, problem-solving contexts for learning.

(Five-minute assessment: she's great! and her slides aren't awful! Also, it appears that I'm a NetGen mind in a Baby Boomer body!)

These are also time-constrained learners. 87% of college students commute, 80% work, 35% are adult learners, 31% of enrollment increases will be in adult learners. (Wow. These are stats I hadn't heard before.) But much of what we do in education is not designed for people who are time-constrained.

She shows figure about children 6 and under consuming media. Interesting that "screen media" (which combines both TV and computers, things I see as very different) is one category, and "reading" is another. Much of what my kids do on the screen involves reading. Does reading only count if it's books? If so, I don't do much "reading" anymore.

"Interpretive flexibility"--meaning is shaped by culture, technology, our understanding of education.

Students are harbingers of social and cultural change. Back to the "connected" issue--the Internet is their primary communication tool. "Peer-to-peer"--she talks about social bookmarking! She mentions and CiteULike!! In my head, I do a happy dance!!! Wikipedia as an example of "distributed cognition." Talks about the culture clash between traditional academia and "amateur culture." (Implicit "wisdom of crowds" references--I'm currently reading that book, and have a post or two brewing on it.)

Another characteristic that's emerging is "self-service"--people are doing more for themselves, like online banking, shopping, travel arrangements. It's an obvious segue to self-service learning, as well as informal, organic, activity-based, self-activated, open-ended learning.

(Yow. I can't keep up with her.)

She talks about Flickr, and shows screen shots. (!!!) She talks about how hard it is for her to go from her inherent preference for text to multiple media. (This is forcing me to rethink my current development project, which is good but also daunting.)

Time-shifting--from TV it's a short hop to controlling other kinds of content delivery.

This is a move away from the traditional hierarchical higher ed model.

Now she's talking about MMORPGS (she calls them "alternate realities," which I find somewhat problematic). She shows numbers on amount of time spent on games, number of players, revenue for the industry. Points out the average age of an online gamer is 37.

Now she's on to participatory media and culture. Cites estimates of number of blogs, blog readers, posts per day and hour (Lark, 2005 -- don't recognize the reference).

[I am beside myself with delight that the topics I'm most passionate about are being inserted into this event, and being done so by someone who's so engaging and articulate.]

The cultural shift is towards networked, mobile, participatory. There are also different perceptions. Today's students were born after the change curve had started its dramatic upwards curve, and as a result their expectations are different--they don't expect to have 3-5 years to master a technology before a new one supplants it. (That's an important point, one I've not heard made before. Academia has so not kept up with new technology, and the idea that we can or should spend 5+ years studying the use of a technology is becoming increasingly problematic.)

These interfaces are shaping learning. She talks about Alice in Wonderland--new technologies are offering that model, the ability to "fall into" these immersive virtual environments. Cites JSB's "learning to be." Points out that we need not just immersion, but also reflection. Need to be able to take a step back and think about how it worked. That combination is very powerful.

Shows some sobering figures on US higher ed generally, challenging the "we're number one!" perception.

New critical skills for the workforce: expert thinking (identifying and solving problems for which there is no routine solution--pattern matching, metacognition), and complex communication (persuading, explaining, interpreting information; negotiating, managing, gaining trust, teaching, etc).

Key point: education is not equivalent to content. Lots of good points she's making, but I can't keep up.

If you sum up everything we know about educational research, you find that we get educational value from:
* challenging ideas and people
* active engagement with challenges
* supportive environment
* real-world activities
* social activity
* unbounded by time or place

Provides some interesting examples:

  • Allowing students to do a virtual version of a science lab before doing a real-world version, the quality of the real-world experience is greatly enhanced. Both is better than either/or.
  • Shows an archaeology class project from UBC where the students had to build a virtual fly-through of Athens.
  • Hand-held genetics game called "live long and prosper" where students move around the room "exchanging DNA" between their programs. More experiential, more interactive, more engaging.
  • MIT "Environmental Detectives" game where students work in teams to solve a hypothetical local health problem--they have to interact with the environment to accomplish this

Games are fundamentally immersive (she points out it's not just the graphics, it's the gameplay that makes them immersive and engaging).

Shows a classroom just like ours--everybody stuck behind a big monitor. Contrasts to room (apparently at NCSU) with circular tables and laptops, designed for "built pedagogy." A single focal point at the front of the room with chairs bolted facing forward--this forces a mode of teaching. Putting people at round tables says "we want you interact." (Which is why we're doing the symposium setup in rounds of 10, rather than classroom/lecture layout.)

Talks about NCSU's SCALE-UP program ("student centered activities for large enrollment undergratudate programs"). This looks fabulous! Need to read more about it.

Emphasizes the need for more informal learning spaces. NCSU again--"fly spaces" in the student center, easily configurable for small group work. Glass matters--seeing people practice their profession is fundamentally engaging (I love this about the Golisano building at RIT).

Moves on to information literacy--cognitive, ethical, and technical aspects (gives props to librarians, who've been talking about this for decades).

What do employers really want from students, in terms of learning outcomes? It's not being able to program in C++. It's the more abstract skills like communication and problem solving (how many times have we heard this from our advisory board? but this isn't completely true--often the technical skills are the baseline, and what differentiates two students with the same skills are those higher-level cognitive abilities).

Shows figures on satisfaction with web-based learning (study done at UCF); younger students are least pleased by the web-based environment. (She translates that to the young people wanting to have more social interaction, but it seems to me there's more going on there. I suspect that some of it is that the majority of the web-based course management tools are horrendously awful, and younger people have higher expectations.)

She's done. (Phew. That was an amazingly content-packed hour. I wonder how much, if any, got absorbed by the audience.)

First question--how do we convince our administrators to put in the kinds of collaborative spaces that she described? She answers that Educause is doing a lot more executive outreach to help facilitate this. They're trying hard to raise awareness of the importance, but they need face time. They've got a book coming out in August on learning space design--will have to look for that. Like the NetGen book, it will be a free e-book.


2006 msr social computing symposium

Two years ago, I was thrilled when I received an invitation to Microsoft Research's first social computing symposium. I had a wonderful time at the event, and found a lot of kindred spirits in the world of social computing research and development. I also made my first contacts with Lili Cheng and Linda Stone, who've gone on to be the best mentors anyone could ask for. Lili, who managed the social computing group at MSR (until she left to direct the user experience team for Windows Vista), was responsible for my sabbatical invitation.

Last year, with my plans to join the group over the summer well underway, I combined attendance at the second symposium with a househunting trip, and once again connected with people who amazed and inspired me.

This year, I find myself not just attending the symposium, but running it. Upon Lili's departure from MSR, followed quickly by the departure of Shelly Farnham (who'd masterfully managed the event for the past two years), Marc Smith inherited the event and asked me to run it. The event takes place May 7-9 this year, and we've narrowed the focus a bit from past years. The two areas of emphasis for this year's symposium are online "third places" and/or mobile social software. As in past years, we've split the group approximately into thirds--Microsoft & MSR, industry experts, and academics. We've also made a significant effort to bring in new names and faces; the repeat rate from past symposia is quite low (38/90 who have been to at least one of the events, only 19 who've attended both; those numbers are 23 and 9 if you look only at non-Microsoft attendees).

First, the bad news--the symposium is totally full. We keep the event small, both to foster community and to keep the cost manageable. Microsoft covers the entire cost of the event--facilities, meals, and transportation/housing costs for those presenting (and for doctoral students). Now the good news--if you weren't invited, you'll still have a chance to participate. We'll be webcasting the event live (the panels and the closing keynotes, though not the "open space" discussions.) We'll also have a live backchannel, probably IRC. (I was thinking about trying Campfire, but they've got a limit of 60 concurrent users, and with 90 participants onsite and an unknown number of external visitors, that's probably too low a cap.)

I'm working on getting a public web page up with information about the event, including the schedule and participant list--with any luck, that will be available by the end of this week, at which point I'll update this post to point to it.

This year's event wouldn't be happening if Microsoft Research wasn't maintaining its commitment to social computing and open dialogs, and if MSN/Windows Live hadn't stepped in to help support the cost of the event. Also providing some support were Channel 9 (and its new sister, on10), and MSCOM. (So you understand why the number of invitations had to be constrained, the cost of the event will end up being over $60K. Seattle's not a cheap place to throw a party.)

It's easy to hate Microsoft--there have been many reasons over the years (from business practices to blue screens of death) to do so. But it's worth giving them credit for activities like this one, which benefit the community as a whole through fostering community and collaboration. Anyone who's attended the past events will tell you this is not a marketing ploy, and that they got something of value of out of the experience.

Currently playing in iTunes: Nobody Else from the album "Los Lonely Boys" by Los Lonely Boys

edge cases and early adopters

This week was the fourth version of Microsoft' "search champ" program, and the first one where I've been heavily involved in the planning (rather than simply being an attendee). It was a great meeting, with some amazing people providing input into new product development in MSN/WindowsLive. I got see to old friends (like Cindy and Walt), and be a fangirl (hi, Merlin!).

During the wrap-up session, when Robert Scoble was talking about designing tools that would optimize everyone's syndication experience so that they, too, could read 840 feeds, I called him an "edge case." He didn't like that. Not one bit. But his defense was, to me, unconvincing.

Robert's an "edge case" to me in this context because very few people will ever have the time or the inclination--regardless of how good the tools are--to read that many sources. Robert does not because he's some freak of nature, but because he's got a job that requires him to monitor activity in the technology community. When I worked at the Library of Congress, I had a job that required me to read dozens of newspapers and magazines every single day, looking for articles related to governmental initiatives. That made me an edge case. Most people don't read dozens of news publications every day, and it's not that they want to but simply haven't found the tools to do it. It's that they don't have a need for that much diffuse information.

He felt I used the term derisively, which I didn't. He's right that edge cases often push us in new directions, and I've got a long-standing interest in liminal spaces (the fancy academic term for those in-between spaces where contexts overlap and new ways of thinking and acting often emerge). But in his reaction, he confused what I see as two very different things--edge cases and early adopters. In this case he's both. But his response focused much more on how his early adoption of new technologies--from macs to blogs--foreshadowed broader adoption. That's about being an early adopter, which is not synonymous with being an edge case.

So what's the difference? To me, an early adopter is someone who recognizes the value of a new technology or tool before it becomes widely used or accepted, and often evangelizes it to others. They recognize trends before they're trends, and are the ones who are always acquiring the latest-and-greatest technical toys. An edge case is someone who's on the extreme edge of an activity, regardless of whether they're an early adopter. Someone who reads 840 blogs is an edge case. But so is someone who reads dozens of daily newspapers, or runs 10 miles every morning. Their choices may influence our behavior--those edge cases are great at recommending things to others--but most people will be far more moderate in their behavior.

There's a story I cite a lot when I'm talking to people about diffusion of technological innovation. Back in my early days as a librarian in the 1980s, online searching didn't mean launching a web browser and going to Google. Instead, it meant connecting via dial-up to an online database and doing a searches with complex boolean operators. Librarians loved this, and decided that the whole world needed to learn the "joy of searching." It was that whole "teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime" mentality. One day at a library conference, I heard a wonderful speech by Herb White in which he scolded librarians for this mentality. "I have no joy of searching," he told the audience. "I have joy of finding!"

In that context of online searching, librarians were both edge cases and early adopters--much like Robert is with blogs and syndicated feeds. They're edge cases because they do in fact love to search as much as love to find. They find it hard to believe that not everyone would want to learn arcane search syntax in order to improve their online search experience. But they're also early adopters--they were finding things online before the web was born, and they continue to push the limits on how you can use online search tools (one of my most popular posts ever was a transcription of Mary Ellen Bates' fabulous "30 Search Tips in 40 Minutes" talk from the 2003 Internet Librarian conference).

Anyone who's looked at aggregated query logs from a search engine knows that most of the people doing online searching these days aren't masters of the boolean query. They didn't become like the edge cases. But they did follow the early adopters--just in a more limited way.

So, Robert, my point wasn't that because you're an edge case nothing you do is relevant to other users. Nor do I think being an edge case is bad (I consider myself to be one, too). But the people who follow your lead as an early adopter won't do it the way you do. They're simply not going to want or need to read 840 syndicated feeds. And to try to optimize the user experience based on the needs of edge cases isn't, I think, in anyone's best interest.

world of warcraft primer

Over the past several days, a number of friends and colleagues have asked me about getting started with World of Warcraft, so I thought I'd summarize some of the key ponts here for others who may be wondering.

You need to buy the retail box for the software in order to start playing--each box has a unique registration code necessary for creating a full account. You can borrow a friends' disks and set up a ten-day guest/trial account, but to upgrade to a full account you'll need your own retail box. List price is $49.99, but it frequently goes on sale at game and software stores for $29.99 (that's what we paid for ours). Right now, Amazon has it for $39.99. When you buy the software, you also get one free month of play included with it. If you want to continue after the first month you can pay Blizzard $14.95/month directly, or you can buy prepaid cards for 30 or 60 days of play. We've seen 60-day cards on sale for as low as $24.99.

Once you set up your account, you're asked to select a "realm" (a server, basically) to play on. Each realm is identical to the others in terms of geography and content--they're each their own self-contained virtual world, on which thousands of players interact. There are a few differences among servers. Some are more focused on player-vs-player combat (as opposed to player-vs-environment or role playing). Some are geographically focused, to deal with both language and network issues.

Once you've selected a realm, you have to create a character to play. This involves choosing a race, gender and class for your character. Your choice of race places you on one of two sides ("factions") of a global war--either the Alliance side (composed of Night Elves, Humans, Gnomes, and Dwarves), or the Horde side (composed of Orcs, Trolls, Taurens, and Undead). You can create more than one character on a server, and can also have characters on multiple servers. So, for example, on the Khadgar PvE server I have a female Night Elf Druid who is automatically an Alliance character, whereas on t he Magtheridon PvP server I have a female Troll Priest who's part of the Horde. (I chose both of those servers because people I already knew had created guilds and invited me to play with them.)

While you can interact (typically by way of fighting) with characters from an opposing faction, most social interaction on the servers is among characters in the same faction. You can only add players from your faction to your friends list, and can only group with or join a guild with players from your faction.

Many aspects of the game can be soloed--played by your character without the assistance of others. However, a number of more complex quests and activities require the skills of a variety of players, which is where groups and guilds come in. You can group with other players on an ad hoc "pickup" basis, or you can join a guild and participate in regularly organized "raids" with other members of your guild. These collaborative efforts often take several hours, and thus are typically planned in advance.

There is, of course, far more to all of it. But that's the basic landscape. If you decide to start playing, consider yourself warned--it brings out the worst obsessive-compulsive tendencies in many people, and it's easy to spend far too much time playing.

blurring boundaries between real and virtual worlds

Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled "The Horde is Evil," in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are "on the whole evil," and that this has moral implications for avatar choices:

I've advanced two controversial positions: that avatar choice is not a neutral thing from the standpoint of personal integrity, and that the Horde, in World of Warcraft, is evil. Nobody agrees, but it's been suggested that the community could chew on this a bit.

So here's my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil. But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

I don't agree with Castranova (my horde character is a Tauren, a peaceful bison-like creature that lives in a Native American-inspired cultural context), nor do many of the commenters--but the issues he brings up are powerful and interesting, and the lengthy discussion in the comments is well worth reading.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between "real life" and "game life," since I have personal and/or professional relationships with most of the people in my World of Warcraft guild, including both of my children. Castranova's argument, in which he bolsters his argument by citing his 3-year-old's reaction to his undead character, relates directly to those boundary-crossing issues.

When I was playing online on Monday, Joi said that he thought World of Warcraft was becoming the "new golf" for the technology set. I think there's some truth in that, but it brings with it all kinds of additional social pressures and complexities, of which avatar racial choices are only the beginning. I think there's some fertile ground for research in that boundary area, the crossover between the real and game worlds, and the extent to which they influence each other.

worth repeating

From Jenny Levine's blog:

The Shifted Librarian: Morning Conversation with Brent:

Brent: You're always on the computer -- you're addicted to it. What are you doing -- are you talking to someone?
Jenny: Yes, I am. And I'm not always on the computer...
Brent: Can I talk to them?
Jenny: Not right now you can't, no. And I don't think you're one to talk, Mr. I'm-Addicted-to-Instant-Messaging.
Brent: I'm not addicted. I just like talking to people.
Jenny: You know, you can talk to them on the phone, too.
Brent: Not to five people at once I can't.

I think Brent and Lane would get along really well...

corante ssa: "is business ready for social software?"

This is a panel that Stowe Boyd is leading, with Seth Goldstein and Kaliya Hamlin.

Seth says that the answer to the question of "Why now? Why is business now noticing and implementing social software solutions?" is three letters: API. Says that sites like and Flickr only got interesting/popular when developers were able to create things using the API. (Not sure I completely agree with those examples, but I agree in concept with the importance of APIs. What he's not acknowledging though, and what I think is also important, is ease of use and design simplicity.)

(This is being held in a large law school lecture room, theatre style, which is not well-suited to audience engagement. These kinds of rooms trip my "bored student" switch, and I find it much harder to stay engaged.)

Seth quotes Josh Schachter describing as "crystallized attention." (Ah...just realized that Seth's the president of

Stowe asks if we're going to see a backlash against these social, collaborative tools in the enterprise--will employers see this as "wasted time" because the ROI is less explicit? (My unspoken comment: We're already seeing that backlash with email. Also, we need research that makes that ROI more explicit--how does the organization (not just the individual) benefit from use of these tools.

Seth: We all work for Google, whether we know it or not.

Comment from Adam Greene in the audience--quotes someone as saying that "tags are about memory, not about categorization." Do you take the "folks" out of folksonomy when you impose tagging "rules."

(The backchannel discussion is becoming more interesting than the panel discussion...not because the panel is boring, but because conversation is inherently more interesting that presentation in most cases. The exceptions are speakers like David Weinberger who can really grab your focus.)

Kaliya talks about the "Hollywood model" of teams that come together for a project and then disband and go to other projects. Stowe asks how many people in the audience are working in that mode now, and a number of hands go up. In the backchannel, the question of whether this is necessarily a good thing is raised--as is the fact that key players in those Hollywood groups are unionized in order to ensure that they're compensated appropriately.

Seth talks about AttentionTrust--says it's founded on the idea that we all are entitled to a record of our own attention. Google, Amazon, etc are doing an excellent job of recording our actions and attention data; consumers haven't had good ownership of their own data. (I'm not convinced yet that these attention.xml files are much more than a way to make it easier for more companies to have more data about me...)

[I apologize to the panel for not better representing their remarks. Between jetlag and room architecture I'm having a hard time staying focused.]

corante ssa: david weinberger opening remarks

Today I'm at the Corante Symposium on Social Architecture (hereafter referred to as "SSA"), which is an interesting collection of both "the usual suspects" and some faces that are new to me. Stowe Boyd from Corante did some welcoming remarks, and then turned things over to David Weinberger.

David breaks the shit and fuck barriers in the first two minutes of his talk. His powerpoint is for shit, he's fucked because he dropped his laptop and it won't work now. (And by transcribing that, I've probably just guaranteed that this blog post will be filtered by most library computers...)

David starts by saying that we're all probably tired of explaining blogs at conferences (most of us never expected that we'd be using the term "reverse chronological order" quite so often, he says). This symposium assumes that everyone here is past the point of needing to have the technology carefully explained to them.

He says that social software is in some sense the fulfillment of the hope that the Internet could fundamentally change relationships in business contexts.

References Eleanor Rosch, and says we need to start by defining what we include within the umbrella term of social software. Tosses out a list of tools (wikis, weblogs, email, IM, etc), then asks what these things have in common?

  • they connect people to people
  • they tend to be relatively low-tech, small, bottom-up, inexpensive
  • very human, suffused with human voice

He talks about the publishers' responses to Google Print, and says the stupidity of the arguments is an indication of the fear of cultural change--"both sides are getting stupider," he says, which is the indicator of significant change. The battle he sees is between centralized, controlled information and a "wide-open" model of information that the web represents.

(My unspoken question: isn't Google Print just another form of centralized, controlled information?)

We're moving from pyramidal to hyperlinked organizations™. Social software lets us route around the hierarchy of the organization.

What does David worry about? Three things:

  1. Social software (and the net in general) has a tendency to blow apart the old ways of connecting; how are we going to reconnect?
  2. Social software allows us to localize, and form smaller and often transient groups. How do we get the knowledge out of the small group? How do we avoid getting too comfortable in our small groups? (The world isn't flat, he says, it's "lumpy," filled with clusters that form and dissolve...)
  3. Are we now forming a "new boys' network"? New groups form, and then exclude others (for the best of reasons...). Will existing patterns of exclusion persist, or will we create new ones? (e.g. those who can use IRC vs those who can't)

Criticizes the "echo chamber" label, because it turns the very basis of conversation into something negative. If you look at only one site, you'll see only one conversation, true--but most people choose to look at a variety of sites. (This is a huge challenge in building the tools--how do you avoid the Memeorandum effect on conversational spaces?)

You need some degree of sameness to enable conversation, but you need some degree of difference to even be able to approximate the truth.

multiple urls in os x address book?

Recently, it's occurred to me that I'd really love to be able to integrate my address book more with the social tools I use online. For example, Quicksilver makes it easy for me to go to a person's card in my address book and send them email, chat with them via IM, or copy their snail mail address or phone number. But what if I could, from the same screen, view their bookmarks, or their Flickr photos?

At first I was thinking that these would need to be customized fields, but then I realized that it's just an issue of adding additional URLs. Which would be simple, except that in Address Book you can't add more than one URL. That's stupid. Most of us have more than one URL that we'd like associated with us (or with others).

So, is there a plugin or hack for Address Book that allows adding additional URLs? So that QS will recognize them as launchable URLs? And if not, could someone please write one? inboxes are back!

...and there was much rejoicing.

What's a inbox, you might ask? It's a list of all the new bookmarks added by the people you subscribe to in, and all the new posts to tags that you subscribe to. Here's mine. Links on the left, subscriptions on the right.

As Joshua has pointed out to me, it's really just an aggregator. Whatever. It's my information lifeline--my sense of what the people whose "information instincts" I trust are looking at. My personalized web recommendation system. And I'm soooooo glad it's back.

Thanks, Josh! and audioscrobbler

I started to write about how I've discovered the joys of Profile Radio over on, but it drifted into musings about definition of social software, so I put it over on Many-to-Many instead.

lab for social computing at rit

Over on Many-to-Many I've made an announcement about a new Lab for Social Computing here at RIT.

"there's something big happening"

I'm taking a break from grading my students' web pages to read David Weinberger's ongoing coverage of the Harvard "Votes, Bits, and Bytes" conference. Wish I'd been at the session he wrote about this morning, organized by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon.

Ethan says that we're here today to talk about blogs as bridges, borrowing Hoder's metaphor from yesterday (blogs as windows that give you insight into someone's world, blogs as cafes where people can talk together, and blogs as bridges). There's something big happening, Ethan says.

Indeed there is.

Omar from Iraq talks about the importance of blogging as a way of routing around propaganda. Then he talks about how the open comments from around the world on his blog helped his nephew "If I visited America a year and a half ago, I would have felt llike a stranger. This time I feel like I'm with friends, and that is the greatest gift I can think of."

This is how I feel, as well. From Norway to Australia, France to Japan, Brazil to South Africa...I have friends around the world now that I would never have had without this blog to facilitate connections. I can say without a flicker of doubt that my blog is the one technological tool that has most fundamentally changed my professional life.

new blogs of note

Two new blogs added to my aggregator this week.

The first, "Bad Mother" by Ayelet Waldman, was recommended by my friend Allison. Ayelet is a published novelist, married to a Pulitzer-prize winning author, with four kids ranging from 1 to 10 years. Her blog is delightful--what's not to like about a site with an entry that begins "There are not enough drugs in the world to alleviate the horror of being home alone with four children, one of whom is completely enraptured with his father."

The second, "Hurtling" by Richard Hodkinson, is more of professional interest to me. Richard is a graduate student at USC's Annenberg School, and shares my interest in backchannels as a destabilizing communication tool.

very cool os x app for cataloging your personal media

This is brilliant.

Delicious Monster has nothing to do with the bookmarking system, but it's every bit as cool.

Run your very own library from your home or office using our impossibly simple interface. Delicious Library's digital shelves act as a visual card-catalog of your books, movies, music and video games. A scan of a barcode is all Delicious Library needs to add an item to your digital shelves, downloading tons of info from the internet like the author, release date, current value, description, and even a high-resolution picture of the cover. Import your entire library using our exclusive full-speed iSight video barcode scanner, our Flic® Wireless Laser Bar Code Scanner, or (the slow way) entering the titles by hand. Once you have all of your items in your Mac, you can browse though your digital shelves, check stuff out to friends using Apple's built-in Address Book and calendar, and find new items to read, watch, and play using Library's recommendations.

Wow. I'll definitely be trying this out this week. Stay tuned for a review. (And eat your heart out, Windows users. This is OS X Panther only...)

Update, 11/11/04

It's as good as it looks! It took only seconds to install. I clicked on the camera button, held a book's bar code in front of my iSight, and with a scanner-like beep all the information appeared in the window (and the program read the title out loud). w00t! This is so cool! I am so sending in my $40 today.

textual gratification

I met both my husbands online. The first on a DC-area BBS called TMMABBS (Terry Monks' Macintosh Apple BBS), and the second on a FidoNet echo. In both cases, I fell in love with the prose before I met the person. And also in both cases, their ability to speak as well as they wrote and to engage in verbal banter sealed the deal.

I don't know how typical that is, but after a conversation with a friend this weekend who mentioned how instrumental IM had been in the start of one of his relationships, I realized that I'm certainly not unique in having this particular weakness. There's something about well-crafted text that just does more for me than six-pack abs (not that the latter is necessarily a bad thing, mind you...).

I don't read FidoNet echos anymore, but I do read blogs--and am still as delighted by good writing there as I was when I encountered it on bbs's and mailing lists. And now I add to that tools like IM and IRC, which give me real-time textual gratification. While I'm completely uninterested in tools like Skype (I avoid most voice communication, other than face-to-face, like the plague), I love IM. I love the way it lends itself to banter, to creative exchange, to plays on words. (I'm happily married now, and so my interests and needs have shifted a bit...but just as I don't mind watching handsome actors on TV, I also enjoy watching skilled writers show off their talents.)

In my IM and IRC use I've resisted the move to increasing brevity, to the SMS-speak that's gaining such popularity among my students. There doesn't seem to be a lot of nuance in phrases like r u ok, or s^ (which my son had to teach me is shorthand for "what's up"). Yes, I let an occasional "LOL" slip into my communication, but not much more than that.

Written language has a long history in flirtation and courtship...I worry a bit that mobile culture and its focus on speed and efficiency will lead to the death of seductive prose. Although I suppose I'm simply part of a continuing stream of elders who express that kind of worry about every new technology, from typewriters to SMS. Damn. Now I feel old. <sigh>

ichat synchronicity

I had a lovely dinner last night in LA's Chinatown with Annenberg grad student Richard Hodkinson, which reminded me of how much fun it is to spend informal social time with people who share some of my intellectual passions.

When I got back to my room, I started thinking about how I was going to get to the ocean on Sunday--it would be criminal to fly to LA and see nothing but sidewalks and conference rooms. I was feeling sad that so few of my LA-based friends were in town this weekend, and that I wouldn't have someone to chat and banter with as I wandered.

Before I turned the computer off, though, I took a quick look at my buddy list, and discovered that my good friend Simon Phipps, with whom I almost never cross paths in the real world, had an iChat status line that read "Ventura, CA".

For those of you who don't know California, Ventura is just north of LA--about an hour away in light traffic. I immediately pinged Simon, and discovered that not only was he there, but that he also had all day Sunday free before flying to a business meeting on Monday. Woohoo!

So later this morning he's going to drive down to LA, pick me up at the hotel, and we're off to play at the Apple Store (I've never been to one, can you believe it?) and the shore.

To me, that's the best part of social software. Not the use of the tools themselves, but the way they facilitate opportunities in the "real world." Without IRC and AIM at the symposium, I probably wouldn't have ended up having dinner with Richard. And without the tagline on Simon's iChat account, I'd never have known that we were close enough on this trip to actually spend time together. But because of those social software tools, my trip to LA has been immeasurably enriched.

educause on educational social software

The September/October issue of Educause Review is devoted to "New Tools for Back-to-School: Blogs, Swarms, Wikis, and Games." The articles are well worth taking a look at. tools

Just found a couple of new bookmarklets for that are extremely useful.

The first is, which replaces the pop-up posting window with one that includes your tags, as well as an option to view the history for the link so that you can see how other people have tagged it before assigning your own tags. Brilliant!

Another useful tool is Tasty!, which lets you simply view the history for a link to see who's bookmarked it. If you're just curious, and don't want to bookmark it yourself, this one is nice--the rest of the time, the approach seems more useful.

this is my brain on

Kevan Davis has written a program that takes your tags and creates a visualization--items with more links are larger. I'm not entirely sure how the positioning works, but I suspect that tags that often appear together on an item are located closer together.


Pretty amazing. Such a simple idea, so elegantly implemented, and so remarkably accurate at mapping my cognitive space. (Click on the above image to get to the real-time version, which allows you to click on any of the tags in the image and go directly to my list of links in that category.)

blog networks as faculty commons

The past week has been hectic--the combination of japanese, houseguests, and pulling off a wonderful blog panel at MEA took a lot out of me. So blogging has been unsurprisingly light. However, when your houseguest is Jill Walker, and your weekend cookout guests include both Jill and Seb Paquet, it's hard not to generate some new blogging may pick up a bit as I work those out.

The blog panel at MEA was not as well attended as I'd hoped (we were towards the end of the day, alas), but it was great fun to be a part of it. If you couldn't attend, Collin Brooke did a wonderful write-up of it. Thanks, Collin!

And if nothing else, the panel provided a wonderful opportunity for the five of us to all meet each other--Jill and Seb had never met any of us before, and Alex and Clay had each only met me. The face-to-face interaction is obviously not a necessary component for collaboration and connection, or the panel never would have happened to begin with, but it certainly is a welcome and strengthening addition.

Last night Seb and Jill and I were talking about how the connections we've formed through our blogs are actually more important to us in terms of collegiality than the connections we have to people that we work with. I "know" Jill and Seb better (at least professionally) than I know most of the people in my hallway. I think this will be increasingly the case for academics--social software tools will foster and support collaborative networks that cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries, and those networks will become the important spaces in which creativity research develop. As Jill said, these social-software-supported networks have become closer to the ideal of the faculty commons than anything on a real campus has ever been.

So, what happens to research and scholarship--what happens to the current concept of a university, in fact?--when these formerly invisible colleges become not only visible, but more important than the traditional, geographically and disciplinarily (not a word, I know, but there isn't one for what I want) bound colleges we're accustomed to?

Virtuality simply isn't going to replace physicality in toto; there's too much value in physical presence. That's why Jill and Seb and Clay were all willing to trek to Rochester for this panel--it was worth the expense (in time and money) to be able to connect in a physical space. Location matters--I live where I live for many reasons unrelated to my job, and that's true for most of the people I know. So how do we blend our modes? How do we get the most out of the emerging blog commons? I don't have answers yet, just questions.

shrook problems

So, I really do like Shrook, and I even paid for my copy. However, I'm having consistent problems with it killing my Internet connection, which may mean I have to drop it in favor of another newsreader (NetNewsWire comes highly recommended).

I've never before had the experience of an application single-handedly killing my Internet connectivity, but I've been able to replicate the problem enough times that I'm quite sure it's not coincidence.

The problem occurs only when I'm viewing a site that I've set to show me web pages rather than the RSS entry--one if the features I like best about Shrook, really, so I'm loathe to just turn it off.

The process is this...I start up Shrook, it does its checking, all with no problem. I can then view entries from any of my "channels" without difficulty, until I get to one where the setting is to view web pages. More than 50% of the time (but not 100%, which is frustrating from a troubleshooting standpoint) nothing happens. No information appears in the window. And at that point, all of my other TCP/IP apps stop working. If I pull up the Network control panel in OS X, it shows me as being online with a valid IP address for 1-2 minutes after that, but then it switches to a 169.254 self-assigned IP. Attempting to renew my DHCP lease doesn't do anything; I have to restart the computer to get my connectivity back. This happens both at home and in the office, and only when I click on a Shrook entry that's been set for web page viewing.

(I'm running OS X 10.3.3 with all current software updates installed, btw.)

I figured I'd post about it in case anyone else has or had the same problem; I searched for it and couldn't find any other information about it. If you've got any ideas or solutions, please let me know!

Update, 4/26: It's getting worse; now it appears to be causing my connection to die without my even loading a web-view channel. I'll need to stop using it until an update comes out to address whatever network instability the application is introducing.

when worlds collide converge

I spent most of the day Thursday at a workshop on cyber-communities sponsored by the sociology and anthropology departments here at RIT. (It was planned in conjunction with Howard Rheingold's visit, who gave a great talk last night; Weez and I streamed it from my laptop for #joiito members, and the official archived version is already available on the RIT web site in .ram format.)

There weren't very many people at the cyber-communities workshop, unfortunately, which was primarily due to the lack of good publicity for the workshop. Even though I was speaking at it in the afternoon, I didn't realize that some really cool people were going to be giving talks, including Keith Hampton (I'm writing up his excellent talk for M2M this weekend--in the meantime, check out his site and read his papers!), and Lori Kendall (whose book, Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online, I'm going to have to get and read this summer). The only web page I could find for the workshop was a press release on the RIT news site--which seems surprising for a cyber communities activty. Why weren't "cyber tools" being used to promote this?

Part of the problem, I think, is the tendency for people who study about technology and its impact to disassociate themselves from those who study it directly. Happily, that's happening less and less at RIT--this week was a great example. On Wednesday, digital poet Loss Pequeño Glazier , founder of the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo, gave a wonderful talk on campus. He was there as part of a series of talks for a digital poetry my mom is team-teaching this year, and they've brought in a number of technology focused people (including me...) to talk to the class. The cyber-communities presentations included talks by several people from IT or technology fields, as well.

What was particularly nice about my day yesterday was that it marked the first time that my RIT world has significantly intersected with my social computing world. Having Howard and Keith on campus, going to dinner with them and colleagues from RIT, was both strange and wonderful. I've felt for the past year or so as though I've been living dual professional lives, and yesterday was the first time it felt as though the two might be converging rather than diverging.

So yesterday was wonderful, and today I woke up to a birthday with sunshine and spring air and birds chasing each other around the backyard. It's shaping up to be one of the best birthdays ever. And on that note, I'm headed outside to play!

books in the wild

So clearly I'm late to the party in discovering Bookcrossing. But it's still worth writing about, if only because of how thoroughly it has captivated both me and my kids.

I first heard about the site when Scott Heiferman, founder of Meetup, spoke about it at the Microsoft social software symposium. I was intrigued--regular meetings of people who wanted to swap books? As a bibliophile whose house is full of books I'm unlikely to read again but hate to throw away, that sounded intriguing. I took a look at the Meetup site, and even signed up for one of the meetings...and then promptly forgot about it. This morning, I got an email reminding me about the upcoming Meetup (this Tuesday at Barnes and Noble), which I ignored.

Then I took my older son to Starbucks for our weekly ritual of "private time"--which usually involves a coffee shop and a couple of books. The Starbucks closest to us has a book exchange shelf, so we grabbed a couple of books and settled in. The one my son chose was an old favorite of mine, Flowers for Algernon. It turned out to be a little too depressing for him, but before we put it down I noticed the Bookcrossing label inside the front cover. I couldn't resist taking it home with me, just so I could see how the whole thing worked.

When I got home, I pulled out my computer and typed in the BCID (Bookcrossing ID number), and up popped the information about the book I had in my hand. It had been purchased at a used bookstore in Mississauga, Ontario. The person who bought it had sent it to an online friend in Rochester, who had then left it in our local Starbucks ("released it into the wild"). When we found it, and noted that on the site, it was then listed as "caught."

The boys were fascinated by the fact that we could find out where that exact book had come from. They were even more excited by the idea that we could tag our unwanted books, "release them," and then (hopefully) track them as they made their way to new homes.

The timing is perfect, since we're in the midst of a "clean sweep" operation here--going from a study, a guest room, and a shared room for the boys to separate rooms for each of them, and the study/guest room consolidated into the room that used to be theirs. It's been a great catalyst for cleaning up and cleaning out some of our possessions, and a lot of those are books that are long overdue for new homes and new readers.

So if you find a wild book with a BCID tag in it, do the right thing--go online and record it on the site, so that my kids (or others like us) will know what happened to their formerly beloved books. And think about releasing some of your own--it's easy enough to print labels and affix them to the books. You can register each book individually (they make it easy; enter the ISBN number and they attempt to retrieve not only the bibliographic info but also the cover art), or, if you have a lot of books, you can print pre-numbered labels and let the book recipients fill in the info when they get the book.

Oh...and if you're here in Rochester, come say hi on Tuesday at the Bookcrossing Meetup. I'll be there, probably with my 9yo in tow.

eggs to spare

If you're craving an invitation to Breedster (a combination multi-player game, tamagotchi system, and social networking service in which you are a bug that can ingest, defacate, and fornicate), I have some extra eggs (which serve as invitations). Let me know.

confessions of a backchannel queen

I'm enjoying this symposium quite a bit. (For more detailed coverage of content than I'm providing, try David Weinberger or Danyel Fisher.) More than I expected to, actually. I was more than a little surprised to be invited, since most of the invitees are people who have achieved great prominence in their fields, and for good reason. They've written books, started companies, shifted opinion. On the academic side, there are people whose work has been enormously influential, people whose work I've followed and been influenced by for years, like Lee Sproull and Sherry Turkle. On the non-academic side, there are people who have written books that I love (Steven Johnson, David Weinberger), and others who have started amazingly successful companies (Scott Heiferman, Joi Ito).

As if I was feeling inadequate enough in this heady company, during the breaks and meals, people keep asking me things like "So, what are you working you on now?" Seems like a simple question, no? But I'm realizing that I don't really have a "thing" that I'm working on. What I'm best at (and I've reflected on this before) is integration and commentary. I'm great at assessing what's going on, finding the key components, and putting the pieces together into a big picture. But integration is very different from creation, and my sense was that this was mostly a gathering of creators. So I came in expecting to feel a bit out of place.

safety vs censorship

I've been thinking about filtering a lot lately. Much of that thought has been spurred by watching my kids--especially my older son--exploring social software. He's blogging now, and is reading my blog as well. He's an IM wizard, enthusiastically working with far more open conversation windows than I can manage without my brain overheating. He hangs out in Neopets, and signs online petitions to allow fan sites to post Neopet photos. He does all this wirelessly from the hand-me-down Powerbook G3 that he got for his birthday this year.

All good things, in theory. What's not to like for a parent who's as much of an Internet and social software geek as I am? Well...plenty.

microsoft social software symposium

My colleagues and students (not to mention my family) have been making pointed comments lately about my absence. And while I'm worn out from traveling, and tired of being away from home, the last few months have been a great opportunity to extend my contacts in the technical world, and get a sense of what other people are doing and thinking about in emerging technologies.

Tomorrow morning I leave at the crack of dawn for my last scheduled trip this spring--I've been invited to the Social Software Symposium that's being held by the Social Computing group at Microsoft Research (along with IBM Research and FX/Palo Alto).

There've been some complaints about the invitation-only nature of this gathering , which is understandable. There's always an inclusion/exclusion issue when you try to keep a popular activity restricted in terms of size in order to enhance the quality of interaction. I know I was bummed not to be at FooCamp, or at Clay's social software gathering a while back, but I was still glad to be able to see the ideas that emerged from both.

I am delighted to find that the symposium will be recorded, and the recordings made publicly available--and that those of us attending will be allowed/encouraged to blog and otherwise disseminate what's going on. I'll be blogging while I'm there, and hopefully using what I hear and learn to inform the things I'm working on curricularly and that I write about online (here, and there, and there).

Private note to Scott Koon: I would like to think that I don't smell only of "soap and old books," though as a librarian and a mom, I know that I probably do carry the permanent scent of both. And while I haven't met many of the people who'll be at this symposium, I know for a fact that danah boyd, Clay Shirky, and MImi Ito are all pretty far from most people's ideas of stuffy Ivory Tower academics! :)

the dam has broken


Lunch today (and the talk Ben Shneiderman is giving right now) has finally gotten me unstuck. Just posted to Many-to-Many about today's lunch with Ben, and expect to be writing more there and on misbehaving later today.

cool geographic aggregator by former student

Not long after I started teaching at RIT, I had my first overachieving student. These are the students that really make me love my job--and keep me on my toes. Ross, a freshman, was already hard at work writing his own XML parser, and had better web coding skills than most of the upperclass students I'd met.

Unfortunately, Ross didn't stay long at RIT. (And in retrospect, Ross, I feel like I should have worked harder to keep you there.) Once he'd left, I didn't hear much from him...until I started blogging. Earlier this year, he turned up in the comments of my blog, and I've been able to keep track of him a bit on his own blog, Ross Notes.

In his comment on my last entry, he mentioned LocalFeeds in a way that made me think it might be his site. A quick whois lookup confirmed it. Nice job, Ross. I'm glad to see you're still building cool things in your spare time. :)

And if you haven't seen LocalFeeds (and added yourself to it), you should. It's a great way to find weblogs in your geographic area, and let them find you. Tools like this, that begin to blend virtual and geographic communities, are wonderful additions to the social software world. bookmarks

Via Joi (and Clay), I found the new (pre-alpha) social bookmarking site.

It's quite intriguing...I like the free-form tagging it allows, and the multiple ways you can slice-and-dice the information. By list author, by keyword, by date, etc etc. I've signed up, and you can see my (still nascent) list o' links under my mamamusings username. I'm particularly intrigued by the RSS feed associated with each list of links, and am thinking about what the best way to aggregate and display these would be. I sense a need for a new application--an aggregator that collects links from the site and dumps them into a database or searchable environment.

You can subscribe to friends' linklists already, and there are some interesting social features built in--for example, the more people who have linked to a site, the darker the background for the link. What would make this better for me, however, would be for the weight to be determined only by the links of people I've chosen to subscribe to.

chronicle of higher ed article on weblogs

The November 28 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article entitled "Weblogs Come to the Classroom." (subscription required for access)

Increasingly, private life is a public matter. That seems especially true in the phenomenon known as blogging. Weblogs, or blogs, are used by scores of online memoirists, editorialists, exhibitionists, and navel gazers, who post their daily thoughts on Web sites for all to read.

Now professors are starting to incorporate blogs into courses. The potential for reaching an audience, they say, reshapes the way students approach writing assignments, journal entries, and online discussions.

The stuff about weblogs in the classroom is pretty standard fare, though it's nice to see it finally getting some coverage in the academic press. Unfortunately, it leaves out a lot of the folks in my sidebar who are using (and talking about) weblogs in classes, and doesn't mention "hub" sites like Educational Blogs and Weblogg-Ed.

There's some mention of wikis, as well, but the professor quoted (Patricia Pecoy at Furman University, who doesn't appear to have a weblog of her own...) clearly isn't aware of a lot of the already existing uses of wiki in educational contexts:

Ms. Pecoy also sees a technology that she says could soon rival blogs -- a type of online program called a "Wiki." As with a blog, users can post comments on a Wiki. But unlike a blog, anyone who uses the Wiki can edit and change any of the posted comments. Such a feature could be useful in Ms. Pecoy's class, where students could help polish and correct their peers' French, she says.

"In Hawaiian, 'wiki wiki' means 'quick,' and this is a quick way to have a collaborative writing project," she says. "No one I know of is using one yet, but that is coming down the pike next."

A Google search on "course wiki" yields quite a few hits, including a wiki page that collects links to educational wikis.

rushkoff blog

Somehow I missed that Douglas Rushkoff (a professor at NYU in the same Interactive Telecom Program where Clay Shirky teaches) has a weblog. (And has, apparently, since several months before I even started mine.)

Which reminds me that I have to get moving on my blog panel proposal for the upcoming Media Ecology conference here at RIT in June, where Rushkoff will apparently be giving a plenary presentation. It's due December 1st. Ack!

I've noticed that when I'm on the right track intellectually, everything starts to seem connected. In this case, Rushkoff is connected to Sue Barnes, a new faculty member at RIT whose interests are very close to mine. He's also connected to Clay, with whom I co-author Many-to-Many, and to Howard Rheingold, who I know through a couple of channels, and who's speaking this spring here at RIT.

All of that points to the best kind of convergence, the kind that says to me there's a critical mass of connections and content and interest to spin into something really interesting.

many-to-many moves

Many-to-Many, the group weblog on social software that I'm an author of, has switched to a new hosting service, and a brand-new MovableType backend.

If you read the site via a browser, the URL hasn't changed. But if you read it via an aggregator, the RSS feed has been relocated. There are now two flavors--an RSS 1.0 version, and an RSS 2.0 version. I'm planning to add a Pie/Echo/Atom feed, as well, but haven't quite gotten there yet.

we have met the enemy and he is us

(That's one of my favorite Pogo quotes of all time. So glad I've found a way to use it as a post title.)

Sam Ruby points to a wonderful post by Phil Ringnalda entitled "There is No They."

What Phil describes--the "small town" feel of weblogging where change is effected by "us" rather than "them"--is a big part of why I like using weblogs in classes. I'm often asked by colleagues why I don't just use the conferencing tools already available to me--the Prometheus-based courseware, the FirstClass conferencing system, etc. The reason is that when I use weblogs in a class, we become a part of the big small town that is the technical weblogging world. The example I like to use is how Shelley Powers, author of the new O'Reilly book Practical RDF, stopped by our XML class weblog to comment on students' posts when we talked about RDF and metadata.

When you know that the author of the book you're discussing may be reading your posts, and may stop by to debate with you, it has a significant impact on the tone and content of the discussion--and that influence is primarily positive.

(As I was writing this post, Anil Dash [of Six Apart] commented on my last post about TypePad. An excellent example of exactly what I'm talking about! Knowing that Anil and others in the technical development community read this blog keeps me honest in my comments and criticisms, because I know I'll be called on it if I'm out of line!)

aim bots

For a few weeks I've been playing with an AIM bot called Smarterchild, which I found via a student's blog (thanks, David!). You add it to your buddy list, and can then send it queries for evrything from movie show times to weather forecasts to dictionary definitions. It's got an "Eliza"-like natural language interface that fascinates my kids--they can't quite wrap their heads around the fact that this is a software program rather than a person, and have spent long periods of time "talking" with it. After a month of free trial use, I've decided to pony up the $9.99 for a one year subscription--it's worth it just for the quick and easy weather and movie info on my Sidekick. And I'll buy subscriptions for the kids, too, since they clearly enjoy it. (It's keyed to your screen name, so we can't share a subscription.)

Today I found a link to another intriguing AIM 'bot via David's site. This one is blogchangebot, and it notifies you via IM when a blog you're interested in is updated.

I find this intertwining of social software tools--chat, blog, wiki, email, etc--fascinating. And I suspect that services that leverage the increasingly ubiquitous IM environment are positioned in a good place right now.

step away from the podium

I started writing a lengthy discussion of today's NY Times article on network-enabled backchannels in classrooms and conferences, then decided to move it over to Many-to-Many, where I've been a bit of a slacker lately. So go there, mmkay?

do people look like their blogs?

Blogging has been slow this week because I've been at Supernova, trying to process the experience of suddenly meeting--in person--scores of people I knew only through "social software." It was a lot to take in. I was talking to my friend Elouise about it this morning, and she said it reminded her of "meeting someone at a church social whom you'd sketched in the nude." Oddly enough, that is in fact an excellent analogy. I think many people do feel as though they're exposing themselves in their blogs, and it's disconcerting for them to then to meet their audience in a real-world social context.

Shelley, for example, talks about the disjoint for her between her online persona (as shown through her weblog) and her real-world self. She speculates that

...those people who write weblogs read by spouses, kids, and employers tend to write differently then people like me who are, for all intents and purposes, obscured from view because we've kept the two worlds far apart.

I think she's probably right. For me, however, the real and virtual worlds have been "intertwingled" for so long that I'm not able to see them as separate worlds. And I suspect that for many of us, that will be increasingly the case.

There's a discussion about this same topic happening on the Emergent Democracy mailing list right now. Greg Elin had this to say:

As more technology becomes more familiar and more commonplace, the dividing line between "real" and "virtual" blurs and becomes increasingly besides the point to discuss outside of specific contexts.

And in response, Kevin Marks cited Shelley's post from above, and added this:

And the way we were blurring the line at SuperNova, with blogging and IRC ongoing throughout, and showing IRC on stage at the end (which I was watching via iChat AV...) was very intersting.

I was the person who put IRC on the screen while they talked. I did that because I wanted people at the conference to see the vibrant channel of communication that was co-existing with the real-world conference in the room. And perhaps most interesting to me about the room/channel mix was the way they impacted each other.

As I told the Supernova audience (in the less than 60 seconds that were left to me after the previous panel ran late) was that as I watched and participated in the IRC conversations during the conference, three modes of activity became apparent to me. When a dynamic, interesting speaker was talking (like, say, David Weinberger), the channel was very quiet. We were taking notes, paying attention, looking at the stage rather than the screen. When a panel presentation with some interesting topics was going on, the channel tended towards discussion of the speakers' comments, which were then augmented by comments from those not even in the room. And when a speaker failed to catch the interest of the room, rather than physically walking out, people escaped into the virtual lobby to talk about everything from socks to the plural form of the word penis. [Damn, now I've gone and tripped the filtering software again.]

Yes, the lines are blurring. Some people already find that frightening. There's a safety, a distance, that computer-mediated communication provides. For all the talk of exposing ourselves electronically, of taking risks in our blogs, the text and the screen provide a buffer, a layer of protection. But I think that for these technologies to reach their greatest potential, they have to become integrated into our real lives, not kept scrupulously separate.

So, even though it was scary and overwhelming to meet so many well-known bloggers at once--Joi Ito, Halley Suitt, Allan Karl, Simon Phipps, Ross Mayfield, Anil Dash, Mena Trott, David Weinberger, Adina Levin, Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor, Jason DeFillippo, Sarah Lai Stirland, Arnold Kling, and so many more--it was a very good thing for me, too. It helped make this world of social software more real for me, more integrated into my life, more tangible and human.

So thanks, Kevin, for making it possible for me to be there.

Update, 5:13pm
Ross points out, in the comments, the original motivation for this post's title--which I left out in my rush to post before I left the office. Yes, several people seemed quite surprised by my appearance. It seems the coffeeshop photo on my blog doesn't accurately convey my youthful, vivacious demeanor. Or something like that. However, I suspect that they found that interacting with me in person wasn't all that different from interacting online.

social software reading list

Some of my colleagues have asked for a summer reading list of books related to social software. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, just a few personal favorites. Feel free to add suggestions for additional items in the comments, or provide any other feedback on the choices.

Update, 5/29
In the comments to this entry is a trackback from Kieran Healy's blog, with some useful commentary on the above list. In writing my comments to his entry, I realized there was at least one more book I wanted to include on my list:

ridiculously easy group-forming software?

I feel a little sheepish asking this, since I seem to have been dubbed an "industry expert" in this area, but I need to find a software package (preferably free) that will support group-based communication (threaded forums, basically) and maybe document sharing for a group of faculty in my department.

I'm leaning towards a very simple solution, which is to create a group weblog with all the faculty as authors, and use simplecomments to allow either direct commenting or trackback-based commenting for those few of us who already have MT weblogs.

But what I really want is something more like Yahoo! groups, but without the ads. I have access to a server that will support most scripting and db environments, so installing something is not a problem.

Anybody know of an integrated tool that provides threaded forums, and other bells-and-whistles (calendaring, for example) that can be run locally rather than through an ad-based service?

linkedin: first impressions

You know something is happening when you get five separate requests from people you know--in a two-hour period, no less--to join a new networking service. So last night I gave in to peer pressure, and accepted the invitations to join LinkedIn, a new business-focused networking service developed by Reid Hoffman (formerly of Paypal).

I posted my first impressions over at Joi Ito's blog, but I thought I'd expand upon them a bit here.

The site has a nice look to it, and the interface is reasonably straightforward. doesn't do much for me. I'm not really a "businessperson," I suppose, and maybe I'm missing the mark here. But I dislike being asked to draw these boundaries between my "social" interactions and my "business" interactions. My relationships are more fluid than that. How do I classify my relationship to people like Joi Ito and Marc Canter and Shelley Powers? Business associates? No. We've never "conducted business." Friends? Well, sort of. As much as you can be without ever having met someone in person. Colleagues? In a virtual, distributed way, maybe. Part of my social network? Absolutely! Valuable contacts for me in professional and personal contexts? For sure.

Friendster wants to be for dating and socializing. Group-formers and business people need not apply. (And their refusal to remove the often obscene BBS posting titles from the main page is a strong indication that they want to keep it that way.) LinkedIn wants to be for serious business networkers only. None of that fraternization stuff here. Neither one gives me the environment that I really want--a way to visualize my connections to the people I have relationships to, and build on those relationships to find connections to others.

Specifically, here's what I don't like about LinkedIn.

  • I can't see people's pictures. No, this isn't a deal-breaker. But dammit, Adam's right. It's Friendster's killer app, and it's the one thing in that system that makes me go back to it again and again. At least one person has told me that this is to "discourage dating," which I find to be an unconvincing argument. We put photos of speakers on conference pages, and I doubt they get trolls for dates as a result. Context is everything.
  • I can't browse the network. Specifically, I can't see my contacts' contacts. Why would I want to do that? No, not because I'm looking for a date. I'm happily married, thankyouverymuch. Because I want to understand the nature of the social networks I'm involved in. If I'm going to share my connection info with the system, I want it to give me something back. Let me see out to at least one degree of separation.
  • The searching is seriously hampered by the fact that users can only declare themselves as part of one primary industry area. To accurately describe myself, I need to indicate higher ed and technology. And there are several areas of technology that are appropriate. Plus I'd like to throw my library science background in there. No can do. People have to pick one to search on, and I have to pick one to label myself with. That means lots and lots of people won't find each other.
  • Once I've located a person I'm interested in contacting, and initiate the connection, it starts out fine. I tested this out with two people I know--one who was already a contact (Ross Mayfield), and one who was in the system but not yet explictly my contact (Pete Kaminski). I specify what kind of contact I want with Pete. It tells me the contact has to go through Ross (until that point, I don't know how Pete and I are connected.) Ross gets email telling him I want to make this contact to Pete. If he approves it, the request goes to Pete. Pete's interested, so he says "ok." Now, here's the fatal flaw. After Pete says yes--not before--the site tells me I have upgrade to get Pete's contact information. WTF??? This guy is sitting and waiting for me to complete the contact I've initiated. If I don't do it, I look like an idiot now. But to do it, I have to give money to LinkedIn. Bad, bad model. Left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. Want to make money of the site? Fine. But don't make the most basic use of the system contingent on that money. Prove its worth to me first. Then give me a reason to want to upgrade.

Yes, I'm a curmudgeon. But I really am frustrated by this artificial categorization of my social network, and the barriers imposed by centralized systems that ask me to characterize for them the nature of my relationships, and then give me relatively little flexibility in how that information in used.

Adam Greenfield thinks there's still room for a hybrid that brings together the best of Friendster and LinkedIn (and Ryze, and...?). I'm increasingly unconvinced. The centralization is the problem. The system designers seem unable to keep themselves from imposing their view of how relationships are defined onto the users of the system. A decentralized approach would help reduce that problem. It would also address the problem of having to re-enter your personal data in every single new system, which is driving me nuts.

So I guess I'm slowly but surely being lured into the DigID discussions, which obviously impact on this whole issue of defining myself, and defining my connections. Once I get through the end of this quarter (two weeks and counting 'til the last exam is given!), I'll have to start digging a little deeper in that area.

a morning with microsoft

Well, not really just with Microsoft. But I liked the alliterative title.

This morning, I attended a breakfast sponsored by the Upstate New York Chapter of the Association of Women in Computing. They hold this breakfast annually to announce the selection of the IT Woman of the Year. Given that we have Xerox and Kodak in town, as well as the University of Rochester, and a plethora of tech-related businesses, there are a lot of amazing women in this town, and a long roster of impressive candidates for this year's award.

The winner? Our department chair, Eydie Lawson. Woohoo! It was a well-deserved honor--she's built this department from the ground up to the amazing, vibrant place it is today.

After the award ceremony, there was a keynote address by Bonnie Robertson, whose title is "Director, Partner Organizational Development, Microsoft Business Solutions." I was prepared for a morning of software evangelism, but ended up very pleasantly surprised.

Bonnie, who has a background in sociology, talked about societal trends driving innovation, and her talk set the stage perfectly for the kinds of social software curriculum development that I want our department involved in. Nothing she said was hugely groundbreaking--but she was saying it in front of the people whom I most wanted to hear it. She talked about the growing number of "faceless interactions and transactions" that we all have to deal with, and the resulting increased desire for community and connections. Swinging from high-tech to high-touch...but, eventually, to high-tech-touch. She ended by saying "How do we adapt? Foster relationships and trust using technology."

All in all, it was a lovely morning. It's not often I get to spend time around hundreds of other women in technology. And when that pleasure is combined with watching someone you admire win an award, and hearing a good speaker...well, it was an awfully nice way to start the day.

ridiculously easy group-unforming

The flip side of how easy it is for groups to form using (relatively) new social software technologies is how easy it is for them to unform--and not always in a way that the group wants.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail invitation to join a Yahoo! Group called "blogrollers." The invitation was from Dave Winer, and it was based on the fact that I'm on a small distribution list that RageBoy occasionally uses to tell friends that he's escaped his private demons for long enough to write something on his blog. Dave thought it would be fun to turn that ad-hoc group into a mailing list. I agreed, and accepted the invitation (as did about 15-20 other people whose ideas and writing I enjoy). Ridiculously easy. Straightforward merging of e-mail and web interfaces. One address in the to: field now instead of dozens. It's all good.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning the new M2M blog I was involved with on Corante--and got slapped down pretty fast by Dave--on the list and on his blog. (Don't think it counts towards my Winer number, though, since it wasn't a personal attack.)

I responded on the list (gently, I thought), and left it at that. I did so thinking it was a small group environment, and that it was part of a discussion among friends. Silly me. I forgot that Yahoo! Groups archives are available publicly (unless the moderator deliberately turns them off.) Dave posted a link to my message on his blog, effectively turning it into a public rather than private response. Ugh. Good reminder of the shifting boundaries between public and private in electronic communication. I was more upset with myself, really, for not thinking about the public nature of those archives.

A series of messages followed, with a lot of support for the value of the SSA and the new blog, and some resistance from Dave. Not an ugly debate, I thought. But there wasn't a lot of agreement from the group with Dave's position.

This morning I woke up to a list message from Dave entitled "Taking a Break":
I envisioned this list as basically a friendly place to exchange ideas among adults, away from the rudeness of XML lists. Unfortunately some of that is bound to creep in. When it does I'm going to smash it hard. I'm so tired of kid stuff. Looking to learn and share ideas. So I turned on moderation for the list, and won't approve messages for a few days, to let things quiet down.

Wow. It's the online equivalent of "I'm taking my marbles and going home." But in this case, by taking the marbles, he takes the playground right along with him. I can understand wanting to take a break...I've needed to do that plenty of times in online communities. One of the things I like about Yahoo! Groups, in fact, is that you can so easily go to "No Mail" mode when you don't want to read the messages, leaving yourself the option of reading them on the web site later if you change your mind.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm struck by the ease with which this technology allowed him to shut down everyone in the group. Enforced "break taking" for everyone. So I've taken a permanent break from that group by removing myself as a member. I'm not comfortable in an environment where the sole power can (and will) silence me--and the people I'm interested in listening to--so quickly. And I'll go back to the lengthy cc: list approach--which, though inelegant, has the power of decentralization and individual control going for it.

social software alliance

Social Software Alliance logoIt's always gratifying when meetings and discussions turn into actions and forward progress (and it happens far less often than most of us would wish).

The just-announced Social Software Alliance is an excellent example of exactly that. This group grew out of of the "Emergent Democracy" discussions that Joi Ito started a back in February, and that have grown a bit in terms of scope and focus.

The idea is to start bringing together the people who are interested in and knowledgable about social software, to start developing standards and tools in a collaborative way. There's a lot of working at cross-purposes and duplication of effort right now, I think, and this may be one answer to how to create a community of developers and researchers.

falling in with the wrong crowd?

Tom Coates writes about "social software":

I love working in it but I'm scared of the way people are talking it up and I wish people would build more brilliant things rather than talking about it. [...] It's not like it was with my other baby. Weblogging grew gradually and properly and organically through the interactions of real people. This one's being increasingly owned by the wrong people.

I suspect (well, I hope) that Tom didn't mean that last bit about the "wrong people" as a circling of the wagons among the early adopters. Who are the "right" people to be talking about all this? (I'm not sure anybody should be "owning" it, really.)

I do understand Tom's fears about the way the current discussions on "social software" (I keep using quotes because it still feels like too amorphous a concept to be a solid term just yet) reflect the pre-bubble hype about the web.

On the other hand, most of the hype I see right now is not about social software, but about weblogs. And just as the recent Pew survey shows what a small percentage of internet users currently use (or as Clay pointed out on a list I'm on, recognize that they're using) weblogs, a far smaller number of people are actually talking about social software these days. It was pretty easy to build my neighborhood list, because the arena's far from saturated with meaningful voices right now. Perhaps it's that "echo chamber" effect that makes it seem to Tom like the volume's been turned up on the discussion. But I'm not convinced.

In his earlier essay on The Excesses of Social Software, Tom wrote that "There seems to be a bizarre lack of history to the whole enterprise - a desire to claim a territory as unexplored when it's patently not."

I guess I'm not seeing the blindness to history that's worrying him. Instead, I'm seeing the opportunity for those of with knowledge of the history of (and, I might add, the research into--which is not nonexistent) CMC ("computer mediated communication") and social contexts. This is a field that I've been watching since the late 1980s. It's still a pretty small niche, but there are a reasonable number of smart people who think, write, and teach about CMC (which, "back in the day," was the term used for what's now being called social software).

The people I see most involved in the discussions right now are adding a lot to the conversations. The folks in my earlier "neighborhood" post are all having an impact on my curriculum development, for example. And the end goal of that curriculum is to turn out people who can build the "brilliant things" that Tom wants.

What we shouldn't have, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a lot of product development happening in a vacuum. Many of my students have the technical skills to build amazingly cool things. But they don't understand the context in which those things need to operate. I want them to read these conversations, I want them to participate in them. I want them to ask questions, and see the questions other people are asking. I want them to learn the history, see the mistakes and successes that have already happened. And then I want them to build the brilliant things that answer questions and solve problems.

So I hope Tom does write his promised "huge tract about social software - about the good things and the bad things." And I hope he doesn't let the fact that these conversations are becoming more visible and more participatory scare him away from the process. His voice is worth a lot.

the people in my (social software) neighborhood

In my earlier post, I accidentally attributed Matt Webb's posts on social software to Matt Jones. My bad, and I've fixed it. (Thanks, Stewart, for catching that...) It wasn't a completely ridiculous error to make, however, since both Matts are from London, and often write about social software.

So who are the people in my social software neighborhood? I recently told a colleague that I'd collect some key links for him and post them to my blog, so that's what I'm doing here. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, and I'm sure I'll leave someone out and offend them in the process. C'ést la vie. Use the comments to supplement my list if you feel the need. But if you do, I'd appreciate it if you'd also provide a brief explanation of why you think that person belongs, so that this can become a living annotated resource for those interested in the topic, okay?

Here are some of the people whose blogs and other writings I read regularly, and who have given me serious "food for thought" as I mull over the whole concept of social software and where it would fit into our graduate program.

Sébastien Paquet
Séb's blog is one of the most-linked-to sites on this topic, and for good reason. Like me, he's one of Gladwell's "mavens," someone who can be counted on to find the interesting and useful things being discussed and developed across the 'net. His focus is not just social software--he also spends a lot of time on the larger topic of "knowledge management." Interestingly, we have some faculty here in our department working on a knowledge management degree, but there haven't been many conversations with them in terms of how what they're doing relates to and could share components with the the emerging social software direction. Maybe that will start to change soon. :-)

Tom Coates
I'll be damned if I know what Tom's day job is...he doesn't say much about it in his writings. But he writes regularly on topics related to web design and online community. He wrote a great essay recently entitled "The Excesses of Social Software," in which he says "but the innovation must come with the realisation of how to fulfil a need - and to do that we have to look at how those needs have been met to date and where there's scope to bring our insights to bear."

Matt Jones
Matt's a web developer in London. Most of my web design students from last quarter know this, too, because Matt was gracious enough to share a wonderful document describing the BBC web site redesign process, which I in turn had my students read. Matt also writes about social software ideas in the context of the web. He has a great post up right now where he expands on someone else's line from a recent IA presentation: "We talk about navigating when we mean understanding." Now that's a line that will quickly make its way into my teaching!

Matt Webb
The "other" Matt is the one who is currently pulling together many of the threads and writings on social software (and, I think, adding a great deal to them himself). I like his content, though his site drives me nuts in terms of navigation.

the socialtext crowd
It's probably not fair to lump all these folks together just based on their connection to socialtext (a new company focused on the development and implementation of social software tools), but I'm doing it anyways. Let's start with Ross Mayfield. Like Séb, Ross collects and points to a wide variety of ideas and writings on social software. He also writes a good bit himself. In the post cited above, Matt Webb points specifically to this post by Ross on social networking models. Another socialtext principal, Jon Lebkowsky, provides some comments on and "deconstruction" of Ross' post. Another socialtext player weighing in on the conversation is Adina Levin. And one more name from the same crowd is Pete Kaminski, who wrote a lovely post a couple of months ago on weblogs as front porches.

Update: section added 5:11pm
the "emergent democracy" crowd
Clearly I need to put Stewart Butterfield on retainer as my fact-checker, since he's once again spotted an embarassing error. Jon Lebkowsky is not a socialtext principal, although he does provide some comments on and "deconstruction" of Ross' post. Jon is a member of the emergent democracy working group that Joi Ito put together, though, which is also how I got to know the socialtext folks...thus the confusion. :-) Good thing I'm not getting paid for this, huh? (Or am I? Hard to tell sometimes...) Several of the folks on this list have been participating in that discussion, actually. And there are a few others from that group whom I should add to this "social software" list--like George Por, Flemming Funch, and Kevin Marks.

Stewart Butterfield
Stewart--whose company, Ludicorp, is developing the MMORPG Game Neverending--is based in Vancouver. His recent post on social software was another one pointed to by Matt Webb. In it, he provides some comments on other writings on the topic, and proposes an interesting working definition of what social software is.

Andy Phelps
This is perhaps unnecessary to point out to the colleague I'm writing this for, but for the rest of you, it's worth noting that my colleague Andy Phelps has done an excellent job of pointing out the overlap between "social software" and "game development" in his new Corante blog Got Game. (A nice segue from Stewart to Andy, no? ;-)

Jill Walker
Jill's dissertation (almost done now) is on "interactive narratives," but she also writes regularly on topics related to social software. She's one of the few academics I know of who's actually published a conference paper on weblogs, and her comments are always well-written and insightful.

Alex Halavais
My "partner in crime" on the blogging/microcontent grant proposal, Alex is a professor just around the corner at SUNY Buffalo's School of Informatics. Like me, he's both a participant in social software contexts and a professor who uses social software in classes and teaches his students about it.

My super-librarian alter ego has discovered grumpygirl's real name, but I will not reveal it here. Suffice it to say that she's a very talented (and very funny) grad student in Australia who regularly provides insight into weblogs and their uses using comic-strip style conversations between herself and her friend "the questioning ant." See, for example, this, and this, and this. While not a broad look at "social software," her thoughtful commentary on the uses of weblogs are valuable to anyone looking at weblogs as an example of the genre.

Jon Udell
InfoWorld columnist Jon Udell maintains a weblog in which he talks about things like how tools like weblogs can/will change corporate cultures.

I know I'm missing people, but grading calls, and I need to answer. As I said, feel free to supplement this list in the comments section.

Damn. How could I forget the godfather of P2P and social software, Clay Shirky? In particularly, his influential essays like "Social Software and the Politics of Groups," and "Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality"?

social software - escape velocity?

Discussions about social software seem to be taking wing right now in the blogging world. From Andy's discussion of gaming and CSCW to Matt Jones' Webb's wonderful collection and summary of current ideas and posts on social software, things are buzzing.

Matt follows up today with "More Social Software Rambling," in which he says:

I like it when people say "I'm a tool guy". That means we (equals me. I'm a paradigm person myself) can take what they do, extract the attributes that made it successful, and reuse elsewhere. Some people can just create social software without thinking about it, like some people are great interior designers, or great orators, great at articulating themselves. Leaving these qualities in the hands of the people who were born with them isn't enough: that's why we teach people how to structure an argument, how to make use of rhetoric, why people go on courses for presentation skills ("What do I do with my hands?").

This relates nicely to a conversation I had today with a colleague about my social software graduate program ideas. He asked me if I envisioned the program as one that would turn out "researchers," or one that would turn out "practitioners." A reasonable question, given that my background is in information science and communications research. But my answer was unequivocal--practitioners. I want to turn out toolmakers. Our students are so well positioned to be the "tool guys" (and gals, I might add) that Matt wants to work with. But to be toolmakers in the world of social software will require that they understand the people and the contexts for which the tools will be developed. Just as the "paradigm guys" need to understand enough about the technology to be able to help architect solutions, the "tool guys" need to understand enough about the architectural context to build the right solution.

Last week, the day I heard from NSF, my co-PI walked into my office, grabbed my shoulders, and said "Can you feel it?" "What?" "This is it. This is one of those moments where everything changes." She was right. But I'm feeling it more and more these days...the networked world is changing, and it's going to have an impact on all of us. We're right at the tipping point. Heading towards escape velocity. Can you feel it?

blurring the work/play boundaries

A few months ago, I was at a cub scout meeting with my kids, sitting in the back of the room reading Emergence. The mother next to me, who had failed to bring entertainment of her own, asked me if I was reading the book "for work, or for fun?"

For a moment, I honestly couldn't answer. And in that moment, I realized how very lucky I was. That it is so difficult for me to differentiate between things done "for work" and things done "for fun" is a pretty amazing gift.

It's been more and more true lately. I'm beginning to feel a sense of being "in the groove" that I can't remember having felt in a long time. The various threads of my interests, experience, knowledge, and professional responsibilities are converging into something that seems to really matter. I'm not sure if I have a name yet for that "something." Some people are calling it "social software," which comes pretty close.

Last night, I gave a talk to our IT student organization entitled "Social Software, XML, and the Semantic Web." I talked about the relationship among those concepts, and the fact that we're still really in "primordial ooze" mode with the tools. We're in the middle of this bubbling sea of technology and communication, watching as things like weblogs and wikis and MMORPGs and emergent democracy emerge from the mix.

I looked at the room full of students I was talking to, and realized--they are the future. They are the toolmakers that we need to make the amorphous ideas real and solid. They know how to use the job isn't to teach them to code, it's to teach them why to code, to point them to the problems that need to be solved, to make sure they understand the social context in which they are working.

Over the past few days, I've been caught up in home and office responsibilities, and haven't been blogging--or reading the blogs that I usually follow. And I realized today how much I miss it. Every day my ideas and thinking are informed and enriched by the things I read online. Reading blogs isn't a luxury for me any's a necessity. It's where these ideas are emerging, where they're being shaped and discussed.

And if it also happens to be something that delights me...well, every now and then I guess the stars do align properly.

Apparently the talk was a hit with at least one student...

social software graduate studies

A colleague once told me that what you want to strive for in your academic successes is inspiring 90% admiration and 10% jealousy. My friend and blog progeny Andy Phelps has managed to accomplish that with me in less than a week of blogging.

Not only was Andy slashdotted this weekend, but it has garnered him an invitation to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference from none other than Tim O'Reilly himself.

It's Andy's focus on the "social software" aspects of gaming that drew Tim's attention, and that's exciting. We're in the process of retooling our graduate program in IT, and I'd like nothing more than for it to become the premier location for studying social software in all of its forms--not just gaming, though games certainly factor into that.

If you're reading this blog, you probably have more than passing interest in the concept of social software--since blogs are clearly a key component of this growing area of technology development and research.'s what I want to know from you, since you're probably our target audience.

First, is there a need for a graduate degree program focusing on the development and implementation of social software? I know that NYU's Tisch School of the Arts has an Interactive Telecommunications Program that already has a strong social software focus (how could it not, with Clay Shirky teaching there?). But what RIT can probably bring to the table is a stronger emphasis on backend skills and development processes.

Second, if there is a need (and/or interest) in such a program, what should it include? What would a graduate of such a program need to look like in order to be valuable in today's development world?

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