Same Issue, Different Worlds

May 22nd, 2008

There has been a dust-up in certain corners of the Internet recently over Twitter’s alleged failure to deal appropriately with interpersonal conduct on the site. The relevant tweets have been removed, so none of the facts are easily verifiable. To summarize the story quickly, though:

*social media consultant Ariel Walden complained to Twitter that she was being stalked and harassed on Twitter by a specific user.

*Twitter declined to take action several times over several months, citing a desire not to filter content appearing on the platform, and also saying that the alleged conduct did not, in Twitter’s mind, violate the site’s Terms of Use.

*Twitter recently made several public comments on the matter, including one to say that it is reviewing its Terms of Use to more clearly say that it will not actively monitor content.

I spent a little time looking at this and came away interested much more in the issue as a study of human behavior than anything else. Specifically, comments on Twitter’s official blog post contain nothing but glowing praise for Twitter’s approach. In contrast, the thread on Twitter’s support forum is filled with nothing but condemnation of the company. Literally in each case- the comments are 100% pro-Twitter in one venue, and 100% pro-Walden in the other.

Is there a point to this? Possibly not, except that even within Twitter, finding “community” depends on how you turn the coin- look to the official outlet and find Twitter diehard supporters; look to the support forums and find a completely different view. Fascinating.

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Reblog from carpeaqua – Your Twitter is not your blog is not your Tumblr is not your FriendFeed

April 10th, 2008

This is a smart manifesto of sorts on how to use multiple social media platforms well.  With multiple places to post content (blog, Twitter, Tumblog, etc.) it’s very easy to end up re-listing the same content in multiple spots, but that tends to dilute the individuality of each outlet.

When I started exploring social media in earnest I really wanted everything to tie together, but there is no need.  The offline pieces of my life don’t naturally tie themeselves together offline, so I shouldn’t try to force them together online.  Thanks carpeaqua.

carpeaqua – Your Twitter is not your blog is not your Tumblr is not your FriendFeed

My Tumblog imports all of this blog’s posts as links, so I am breaking one of the rules here.  I should take out that reblog link. This blog works better for the work side of my life and the other one for personal interests: music, cycling and occasionally a dash of yoga, skiing or something else.  I think I’ll keep it that way.

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Just When I’d Concluded that Twitter is Utterly Banal (Not that there is anything wrong with that)

March 31st, 2008

Moira Gunn’s Tech Nation podcast covers a lot of ground and has some great interviews. One of the most interesting I have heard in a long time was with NYU professor Clay Shirky, who wrote a recent book on social media.

The best part of the interview was where he talked about the use of social web tools for political purposes. Starting with a reminder that Chinese students used fax machines in 1989 to obtain Western reports on the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown, he went on to discuss several examples of social media being used to record things that matter to the world- as opposed to everyday events that matter to specific individuals. My favorites:

* A flash mob convened in October Square, Minsk, Belarus in May 2006 (in Belarussian(?) with lots of pictures) to eat ice cream. Mass gatherings in October Square are illegal and security forces monitor the same social networks as the activists, so plainclothes police were ready and arrested a number of participants. Photos document the entire episode, including the arrests.

*Twitter used by Egyptian activists to let the community know their whereabouts, esp. whether they have been arrested. Shirky pointed out that when the fact of a person’s arrest is widely known, the likelihood that the person will be seen again increases dramatically. In this case, Alaa was able to Twitter the circumstances of his detention from his mobile phone.

Shirky opines that tools like Twitter and SMS mean that connectivity is an all-or-nothing proposition for repressive governments. I don’t think he has it quite right- China and other countries manage to screen web sites effectively. The point is well taken, though- lightweight communication tools can find ways through the walls. This is really inspirational stuff.

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What Happens Online When a Person Dies in Real Life

March 24th, 2008

This post is a little macabre. It is also personal and I am having trouble sorting through my feelings in a coherent way, but need to get a few thoughts out of my head regardless. Apologies in advance.

A friend died suddenly and tragically two weeks ago. His friends and family organized (and continue to organize) a number of real-world events to celebrate his life and to say goodbye. This is about what happens in the virtual world.

Matt had a Linkedin and a Facebook account. The accounts are free, of course, so presumably they will stay up unless/until someone figures out how to get his passwords, log in and remove the accounts.

I don’t know why anyone would want to do this any time soon. Friends have left messages on Matt’s Facebook wall and turned the page into a memorial of sorts. His Linkedin page is more sterile, predictably, and stands as a record of his work life. People could leave messages of some sort (post-mortem recommendations, perhaps?), but no one does.

I find it comforting to visit his Facebook page once in a while and see a reminder of Matt the way he recorded his life unfolding. There is a memorial blog as well where people can leave comments for/about him and that is also a really nice thing, but it is about him. His own pages are him.

Writing this has produced a lot more tears than I expected. Facebook is “a social utility that connects you with the people around you”. It is also designed to be transient and ever-changing as the page owner’s life unfolds. When the person isn’t around any more his life-record freezes, but the connection continues as friends stop by, leave messages, tag him in their photos, etc. It is extremely poignant.

Maybe someday someone will decide that the Facebook page has served its purpose and remove it. For now, though, it is a way for Matt’s friends to reach out to him any time and remember him the way he wanted to be remembered. It helps.

So long Matt.

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Tumblr, Grr – But Hey There’s a Nice Bit of Code

February 9th, 2008

I started playing with Tumblr a little while ago. My page is here. It is a short-form blogging platform that is great for posting music, photos, videos, etc. It is decidedly techy, though.

The site offers a variety of “themes” to choose from, and also give users total freedom to edit the HTML. This is nice if you actually know HTML because it lets you add all kinds of features like search boxes, comment systems, feedburner integration, etc. Changing default themes, however, wipes out any custom code.

I know- as the proverbial saying goes- just enough HTML to get myself in trouble, and no CSS or javascripting whatsoever. I have tried out most of the themes I have found, which means that when I factor in all the theme changes and the back-to-defaults after I break the page with faulty code, I have now re-added comments, a Lijit search box and a Feedburner feed to my tumblog approximately 9,472 times.

I’m pretty good at it by now- or at least if I can find good directions I can follow them easily. I’m lost as soon as I get off the map, though.

Fortunately, I am now reasonably happy with my page and I am resolved to stop messing with it. Then again, I like the way Bijan Sabet does his comments integration. Wish I could figure out how to copy that . . .

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You Got Your Plaxo in my Facebook!

January 15th, 2008

VentureBeat reported that Facebook is set to buy Plaxo and speculates that the latter company’s huge database of email addresses and its technology for syncing contacts across platforms could be driving factors. That sounds like a reasonable idea, and it might be just as likely that any acquisition is a preemptive one to keep Plaxo’s technology from being snapped up by another social network.

Whatever the reasons, and assuming there is any truth to the rumor it sounds like a great idea. I have accounts on Plaxo and Facebook and check them both almost daily. I’ve realized they are nearly complete opposites: Facebook has a wealth of “stuff” happening with all the various applications my friends use, but it’s a roach motel- data goes in but has a hard time getting out.

Plaxo, on the other hand, is a completely open list of many more of my contacts, but with nothing much happening. I get news feed updates showing my friends’ Twitter and blog posts, updated contact information and birthdays, but that’s about it. Nothing original.

A merger that combined Plaxo’s openness with Facebook’s usefulness could be interesting somewhere down the line. I (along with probably just about everyone else) would love to check out new social websites from time to time without having to re-invent my social graph on every one just to make it useful. If Facebook could Plaxo-sync-invite my friends into applications that live outside of Facebook (I gave up on Tumblr after about 15 minutes because I didn’t know anyone else on it)- now that would be neat.

P.S.   I’d be pleased if Plaxo’s current or future management made it a little more difficult to send “connect with me” invitations. I realized recently that I accidentally spammed every single person in my address book- including all the people I met once and don’t really know- with an invitation.  Sorry about that.

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The SoCal Fires are Going to Drive Twitter Mainstream (a Little)

October 23rd, 2007

I was in college when the first Gulf War happened, and I remember the school setting up a TV to show the round-the-clock (a new concept then) coverage on the upstart CNN network. People more media-savvy than I credit CNN’s rise in esteem and viewership to that coverage.

The fires tearing through Southern California are relevant to a much smaller population, to be sure, and I doubt Twitter will benefit to even 1% the same degree in absolute terms. However, many people- and media outlets- that previously dismissed it as a toy or a distraction are going to start paying attention because it is actually a convenient vehicle for distributing news in disaster environments. It is:

*Lightweight. It works nicely even on a mobile browser. No TV or computer required from the sending or receiving ends.
*Easy to update. It’s type-and-go. No setting up cameras or preparing to broadcast.
*Easy to aggregate. Tracking makes it possible to pull in tweets from lots of sources on the same subject.
*And perhaps most important, short (or “pithy” if you prefer). The problem with reporting disasters is that there usually isn’t much to report from minute-to-minute. Twitter lets networks broadcast tidbits as they become available.

Imagine if the news crawl at the bottom of a network broadcast was actually a Twitter feed. They serve basically the same purpose, and then there would be a place to find the crawl text one missed because one was watching the top part of the TV screen.

I’m not saying Twitter is suddenly going to be on everyone’s lips everywhere, just that people are going to realize it can be a really useful adjunct to other media distribution systems.

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