April 25th & 26th
287 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
(h/t Sarah Judd Welch)
This is an important aspect on human society, but how does it relate to the observations from the discussions around the wisdom of crowds?
Actually, Shirky is conflating some things here. We should parse our how people connect through social networks and how ‘democracies’ work. I am going to have to read the whole thing and get back to you.
Nick Carr takes a swipe at business book authors who talk about what’s going on with the web as a revolution while at the same time suggesting that conventional business might be able to eke some coin out of it, too. This juxtaposition of thoughts supposedly invalidates the claim that it’s a revolution. The books in question — Steve Berlin Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, Tapscott’s Macrowikinomics and What’s Yours Is Mine by Botsman and Rogers — fail because of this self-defeating contradiction, or so he argues:
Nicholas Carr, The unrevolution
What most characterizes today’s web revolutionaries is their rigorously apolitical and ahistorical perspectives - their fear of actually being revolutionary. To them, the technological upheaval of the web ends in a reinforcement of the status quo. There’s nothing wrong with that view, I suppose - these are all writers who court business audiences - but their writings do testify to just how far we’ve come from the idealism of the early days of cyberspace, when online communities were proudly uncommercial and the free exchanges of the web stood in opposition to what John Perry Barlow dismissively termed “the Industrial World.” By encouraging us to think of sharing as “collaborative consumption” and of our intellectual capacities as “cognitive surplus,” the technologies of the web now look like they will have, as their ultimate legacy, the spread of market forces into the most intimate spheres of human activity.
This is an echo of Malcolm Gladwell’s recent unartful protest against the social revolution online (see Weak Ties And revolutions (With A Little ‘R’)), where he bellyflopped by arguing that real revolutions don’t tweet, instead they have central committees handing down diktats, and anything that doesn’t walk and talk like his favorite examples of revolutions, aren’t.
But Carr tries to pull off an appeal to hypocrisy. He makes the case that a cadre of authors (Steven Berlin Johnson, Clay Shirky, Tapscott, and many others) have argued that there are large extra-market motivations for people’s participation in open web movements: many are not in it for the money. So, when a web advocate mentions that plain vanilla capitalist interest can also be served by the web revolution, Carr implies that this is inconsistent with their first assertion in some way, and therefore the entire edifice of the argument is illogical, and ipso facto, the notion that this is a revolution, upsetting the status quo, falls on it’s face.
This is like saying that kittens born in an oven are muffins, however.
Carr’s argument is specious, and we can all go back to reading the morning paper or walking the dog. Just because some capitalists can benefit from Linux, crowdsourcing, or the existence of the blogosphere doesn’t mean that nothing new and different is happening online.
Perhaps this is just another proof of The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, dreamed up by Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski: there is a limitless supply of arguments for any viewpoint. Those who want to believe what’s going on online is just reheated leftovers will never stop their finger wagging.
27 September 2010:
Malcolm Gladwell wants to pop the bubble surround social media’s supposed role in capital ‘R’ Revolutions, as in the #iranelections.
I think the real story is in lower case ‘r’ revolutions, but here’s his core thesis:
Malcolm Gladwell, Twitter, Facebook, and social activism
The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations. “Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change. “You are the best hope for us all,” James K. Glassman, a former senior State Department official, told a crowd of cyber activists at a recent conference sponsored by Facebook, A. T. & T., Howcast, MTV, and Google. Sites like Facebook, Glassman said, “give the U.S. a significant competitive advantage over terrorists. Some time ago, I said that Al Qaeda was ‘eating our lunch on the Internet.’ That is no longer the case. Al Qaeda is stuck in Web 1.0. The Internet is now about interactivity and conversation.”
These are strong, and puzzling, claims. Why does it matter who is eating whose lunch on the Internet? Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all? As for Moldova’s so-called Twitter Revolution, Evgeny Morozov, a scholar at Stanford who has been the most persistent of digital evangelism’s critics, points out that Twitter had scant internal significance in Moldova, a country where very few Twitter accounts exist. Nor does it seem to have been a revolution, not least because the protests—as Anne Applebaum suggested in the Washington Post—may well have been a bit of stagecraft cooked up by the government. (In a country paranoid about Romanian revanchism, the protesters flew a Romanian flag over the Parliament building.) In the Iranian case, meanwhile, the people tweeting about the demonstrations were almost all in the West. “It is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right,” Golnaz Esfandiari wrote, this past summer, in Foreign Policy. “Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.” The cadre of prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, who championed the role of social media in Iran, Esfandiari continued, misunderstood the situation. “Western journalists who couldn’t reach—or didn’t bother reaching?—people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets post with tag #iranelection,” she wrote. “Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.”
Some of this grandiosity is to be expected. Innovators tend to be solipsists. They often want to cram every stray fact and experience into their new model. As the historian Robert Darnton has written, “The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past—even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet.” But there is something else at work here, in the outsized enthusiasm for social media. Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.
Luckily, Gladwell is here to help us remember what activism is (wink). He lays some solid research into the top-down command-and-control of the Montgomery bus boycott, and contrasts that with the weak ties inherent in online social networks, and concludes — perhaps a bit too hastily — that social tools can’t possibly be instrumental in revolutions like the civil rights movement, which was based on a top-down organization:
The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
Well, they haven’t in the past, perhaps in part because these tools have only existed for a few years. Certainly, Martin Luther King and the civil rights leaders didn’t have them as an option.
His other anecdotes — pulled from Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody — are not serious counter examples: they are tales about people looking for their lost cell phones, or trying to get bone marrow donors: not anything revolutionary.
Ultimately his piece relies on the reader: if you buy his argument, he’s made his case. But I believe that we will have to wait for deeper research into the shape and arc of today’s revolutions, which increasingly are likely to be diffused, like networks, and relying on weak ties.
Consider the use of cell phone minutes as a currency in Kenya as a means of getting around high banking charges. This is a revolution for the poor people there, and is linked to social networks connected by cell phones. This became critically important when the country was wracked by violence in 2008, and it became dangerous to carry money and nearly impossible to send it to relatives.
And an example of a little r revolution, more close to home: the Tea Partiers. Yes, I know there are some fat cats bank rolling some aspects of the Tea Party, but mostly it looks like a grass roots revolution that is remaking (or unmaking?) the GOP. Leaving aside their agenda, its evident that weak tie networks, supported by social tools online, are at the core of that movement’s startling rise to prominence, without a central command-and-control structure. In fact, it looks a lot like his characterization of the Palestine Liberation Organization:
The Palestine Liberation Organization originated as a network, and the international-relations scholars Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Calvert Jones argue in a recent essay in International Security that this is why it ran into such trouble as it grew: “Structural features typical of networks—the absence of central authority, the unchecked autonomy of rival groups, and the inability to arbitrate quarrels through formal mechanisms—made the P.L.O. excessively vulnerable to outside manipulation and internal strife.”
Given my personal political views, I hope that the Tea Party movement suffers the problems of starting out as a network, but looked at dispassionately, their internal lack of a top-down control structure hasn’t stopped their impact on the American political system.
I think Gladwell needs to look at the little r revolutions going on all around us, like the urban food movement, Grameen-style microloan systems, and others. This is where social tools will change the world, one weak tie at a time.
Update 2 October 2010
It looks like people finally had their copies of the New Yorker delivered, like David Weinberger who agrees with my use of the Tea Party as an example of recent small ‘r’ revolutionary activities via social tools:
Gladwell is right, in my view, to debunk the over-enthusiastic belief that the Net would sweep away all traditional institutions that stand in the way of the great populist uprising.
He is also right to debunk the notion that the Net would replace all traditional forms of governance and organization.
At this point, however, those are strawpeople. Find me someone who believes that these days.
The more plausible belief is that for the most entrenched of institutions, the Net has an effect by changing the ecology around them. So, citizen journalism has not obviated the need for professional journalism and traditional news media. Rather, a new symbiotic ecology (hmm, mixing metaphors) has arisen. Likewise, amateur scientists have not replaced professional scientists and their institutions, but the new ecology allows for the interaction of everyone with an interest, and this is changing how science is done, how it is evaluated, and how it has an effect. Likewise, the Dean campaign — and every national campaign after it — understood that it was not enough to have a social network, but that that network must be moved to take action out in the real streets of America.
Likewise, I venture that few believe that Facebook or Twitter on their own is going to bring about revolutionary political change. But that doesn’t mean that political change is unaffected by them. As the Tea Party looks like it’s rolling to victory in 2010, try to imagine that it could exist much less succeed without social media. It also needed money from Big Interests, the attention of mainstream media, and non-Net communication channels. But, who is arguing otherwise? The ecology has changed.
And also Leo Mirani of the Guardian, who uses the Kashmir crisis as a counterexample to Gladwell’s dismissals:
in claiming that all social networks are good for is “helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teenage girls”, Gladwell ignores the true significance of social media, which lies in their ability to rapidly spread information about alternative points of view that might otherwise never reach a large audience. Gladwell quotes Golnaz Esfandiari in Foreign Policy as asking why “no one seemed to wonder why people trying to co-ordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi”. The answer, as supplied by a friend from Tehran in June last year, is simple: “We need to be seen and heard by the world, we need all the support we can get. If the governments [of the west] refuse to accept the new government, it’s gonna be meaningful for the movement, somehow.”
A more recent example is Kashmir, where this summer’s protests gained widespread media coverage both in India and internationally. But Kashmir has been protesting for 20 years, with some of the biggest demonstrations occurring in 2008. What changed this year is that urban, middle-class India, traditionally uninterested in news from Kashmir except when we’re at war with Pakistan, was for the first time able to see and hear the other side of the story. Facebook users in India rose from 0.7 million in summer 2008, to 3 million in 2009, to 13 million today.
On Twitter, it is possible to follow journalists tweeting live from Srinagar. On Facebook, it is hard to avoid mentions of Kashmir or links to articles on websites you wouldn’t otherwise have heard of. YouTube is littered with videos of protests in Kashmir. And when clips of human rights violations are taken down, Facebook is where you find new links.
The mainstream press in India, like its middle-class readers, is nationalistic and unquestioning on the subject of Kashmir. Allegations of human rights abuses are rarely reported, let alone investigated. But this year, even the Times of India, purveyor of “sunshine news”, published a report claiming that for the first time, more civilians in Kashmir had been killed by the Indian state than by militants.
"We seem to have forgotten what activism is," writes Gladwell. If activism is defined only as taking direct action and protesting on the streets, he might be right. But if activism extends to changing the minds of people, to making populations aware of what their governments are doing in their name, to influencing opinion across the world, then the revolution will be indeed be tweeted.
update 2 October 2010
Today, in New York, I heard Clay Shirky talk two times — midday at the Betaworks monthly Brown Bag Lunch, and this evening at the New York Tech Meetup — on the same topic. He is extrapolating in very interesting ways from the research of social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler on the social dimension buried in the data of the Framingham Heart Study.
In a nutshell, it turns out that the activities of the ‘third neighborhood’ influence you in ways you may be completely unaware of. These are people that you do not know, but are (dis)connected to you by two removes: the friends of your friends’ friends. Christakis and Fowler found that obesity, smoking, and many other medical factors strongly correlated with the prevalence of corresponding activities in these large social scenes:
- Clive Thompson, Are Your Friends Making You Fat?
Christakis knew about the Framingham Heart Study and arranged a visit to the town to learn more. The study seemed promising: he knew it had been underway for more than 50 years and had followed more than 15,000 people, spanning three generations, so in theory, at least, it could offer a crucial moving picture. But how to track social connections? During his visit, Christakis asked one of the coordinators of the study how she and her colleagues were able to stay in contact with so many people for so long. What happened if a family moved away? The woman reached under her desk and pulled out a green sheet. It was a form that staff members used to collect information from every participant each time they came in to be examined — and it asked them to list all their family and at least one of their friends. “They asked you, ‘Who is your spouse, who are your children, who are your parents, who are your siblings, where do they live, who is your doctor, where do you work, where do you live, who is a close friend who would know where to find you in four years if we can’t find you?” Christakis said. “And they were writing all this stuff down.” He felt a jolt of excitement: he and Fowler could use these thousands of green forms to manually reconstruct the social ties of Framingham — who knew whom, going back decades.
Over the next few years, Christakis and Fowler managed a team that painstakingly sifted through the records. When they were done, they had a map of how 5,124 subjects were connected, tracing a web of 53,228 ties between friends and family and work colleagues. Next they analyzed the data, beginning with tracking patterns of how and when Framingham residents became obese. Soon they had created an animated diagram of the entire social network, with each resident represented on their computer screens as a dot that grew bigger or smaller as he or she gained or lost weight over 32 years, from 1971 to 2003. When they ran the animation, they could see that obesity broke out in clusters. People weren’t just getting fatter randomly. Groups of people would become obese together, while other groupings would remain slender or even lose weight.
And the social effect appeared to be quite powerful. When a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. Even more astonishing to Christakis and Fowler was the fact that the effect didn’t stop there. In fact, it appeared to skip links. A Framingham resident was roughly 20 percent more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend became obese — even if the connecting friend didn’t put on a single pound. Indeed, a person’s risk of obesity went up about 10 percent even if a friend of a friend of a friend gained weight.
“People are connected, and so their health is connected,” Christakis and Fowler concluded when they summarized their findings in a July 2007 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, the first time the prestigious journal published a study of how social networks affect health. Or as Christakis and Fowler put it in “Connected,” their coming book on their findings: “You may not know him personally, but your friend’s husband’s co-worker can make you fat. And your sister’s friend’s boyfriend can make you thin.
Obesity was only the beginning. Over the next year, the sociologist and the political scientist continued to analyze the Framingham data, finding more and more examples of contagious behavior. Smoking, they discovered, also appeared to spread socially — in fact, a friend taking up smoking increased your chance of lighting up by 36 percent, and if you had a three-degrees-removed friend who started smoking, you were 11 percent more likely to do the same. Drinking spread socially, as did happiness and even loneliness. And in each case one’s individual influence stretched out three degrees before it faded out. They termed this the “three degrees of influence” rule about human behavior: We are tied not just to those around us, but to others in a web that stretches farther than we know.
This research brings to mind the obsrvation of Blaise Pascal, “The heart has its reasons that the mind knows not.” It appears that negative behaviors like overeating and smoking are in some hidden way transmitted through our social networks, even when we are not in contact with those others who are influencing us. Likewise, it turns out that happiness is spread in a similarly diffuse and oblique fashion.
Getting back to Clay: he wonders what this means for the way that modern social tools work, like Twitter, for example.
In social tools, we are each the center of our own universe, and we are connected to our friends (who are each the center of their own universes, too). We are aware that our friends have friends we don’t know (or are aware of in the most insubstantial of ways). And these friends of friends likewise have friends, which are unknown to us as well.
But despite their anonymity and distance from us, they are influencing us, as Christakis and Fowler showed. But out tools, like Twitter, don’t allow us to deal with this mass of people — which is likely to be on the order of a million people, plus or minus — in any way at all. It is not addressible, or searchable, or filterable. I can’t find out what TV my social scene is watching, or what music they like, or how they voted in the last election.
Shirky points out that it is easy to find out what my friends are doing, or what the world as a whole is doing, but what the world is doing is fairly ‘bland’ as he puts it. The world’s combined interests lead to the dropping out of all the odd and eclectic, and you are left with Lady Gaga and Obama. BIg surprise.
But my social scene — the group that actually influences my thinking, moods, and buying behavior — in completely untapped and untappable by out tools today.
However, its clear that it could be tapped: just as in the Framingham Heart Study. It’s possible (and not even very technically challening) to create the swirling, dynamic, and ever-changing opinions and activities of your one million closest ‘friends’, only a few hundred that you know well and perhaps a few thousand that you ‘know of’. We are all surrounded by ‘dark matter’, the next ring in the social cosmology out past those you know and the friends of those you know: a million people exerting an invisible influence on those that influence those that influence you. If that group is down on smoking, you will be getting social cues to not smoke. If they are crazy about Korean food, you will be served kim chi at dinner parties. If they are into country and western music, you will find yourself shopping for cowboy boots with your cousin.
Shirky clearly states that he doesn’t know where this will lead, even if he is right. But I think that it is obvious that we would like to explicit see and measure the influences in our unverse (each in their own overlapping universes), so on a personal level this may be a tremendous adjunct to the filtering, amplifying, and serendipity that we all want social tools to help us with. And perhaps just as much as a possible driver of technical experimentation in this sector, companies would like to know how influence is channeled and how it impacts individuals. The underbelly of this is exactly that: that marketers would like to tap into this social juju, and influence us through social ties that we can’t even touch directly.
But it is always the brightest light that casts the darkest shadow.
It comes as no surprise that there is value — and power — in identifying the wellspring of our desires and the foundation of our apsirations. Social scenes may turn out to be the crux of this transitive and reflexive influence that we exchange in ten thousand ways, every day. If it turns out that our place in the world — our position in an invisble sphere of one million almost friends of ours — defines strongly who we are, what we love, and who we hate, would we be surprised? Not me.
This may be just the face of tribalism, proven through scientific observation. I am choosing to use the term ‘social scene’ though, because tribalism has so many connotations and associations that could take us off the track. Also, it was Brian Eno that coined the term ‘scenius’ to represent the positive side of a social scene:
via Kevin Kelly, quoting Brian Eno
Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.
We are a result of the accumulated sum of influences that are being tallied behind our backs, and behind the backs of all those that we know. Apparently, we are impacted by a hidden calculus in which we are the integral of the specturm of influences on all those we hold dear.
The Bantu people have a saying “Through people we become human,” and ever aspect of our identity and psychology is shaped by the cultural milieu in which we are part. I have said for years, “I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections,’ alluding in a recursive way to these hidden network dynamics. And of course we want better tools to bring these indistinct and indirect forces into high relief. Clay is right about that.
Over at Groundhog Day, David Rogers demonstrates that he is pretty bitter. He lumps me together with Clay Shirky and Doc Searls (which I am ok with) as fringe lunatic types who seem to think that the Internet can do good things. Yes, I think so.
[from Competing Messages: What Matters?]
[editorial: Apparently Doc called David up and asked if he wanted to work on Vendor Relationship Management, which sparked his screed.]
I pretty much can’t stand the internet anymore. At least, the things it seems to be doing to people, or the way it causes people to think.
The beret-wearing, continuous partial attention blowhard, Stowe Boyd, embraces Marshall McLuhan’s view that we make our tools and then our tools shape us. And I think that’s true. But like all visionaries and advocates who try to sell their expertise and insight to those discerning enough to recognize the clarity of their vision and the keenness of their insight, they never think past the end of their nose.
[It’s a cap on backwards, not a beret.]
We created the automobile, and the automobile changed our culture and civilization far more than one might have anticipated from such a simple artifact. Where were the advocates who foretold the rise of suburbs, the traffic jam, carbon emissions, forty to fifty thousand deaths every year? Where were the visionaries who offered the insight into the changes in our architecture, or the stress of a daily two-hour commute?
And all those things are, of course, merely peripheral changes. Changes to how we do things, not what we do. But, of course, many people seem to believe that how we do things is “everything.” As in, “This changes everything.” (Pant, pant.) Or “the world.” Did the automobile “change the world?” I’m not so sure.
[Um… David… I am not advocating an automobile-based society. Oh, I guess it’s some kind of analogy. But could you please thread it together for me? I am suggesting that exactly the sort of thing you talk about happens. For example, the rise of cell phones has changed social relations. There is good and bad involved, depending on your viewpoint.]
Then there’s that internet sage, Clay Shirky, with his pithy analysis of the criticism of the whole “Web 2.0” phenomenon - “Old Revolutions, Good; New Revolutions, Bad” with his illuminating insight that, “This improved ability to find both content and people is one of the core virtues of our age.” One wonders how much of a “virtuous” age ours may be, when “finding content and people” is considered a virtue. Shirky also illuminated the “virtues” of youth in another piece, because “old” people have “cemented past experience into knowledge.” Thus, old people have cement in their heads. Must be why we “nod off” so often.
[Um… David… what’s wrong with finding content and people? You lost me. And, the fact that youth has virtues does not mean that being old is bad.]
The thing about Boyd and Shirky is that they’re competitors in an economic environment. The new and the novel is their raw material, and they produce “analysis” that “explains” the new and the novel to “the rest of us.” Naturally, to make the new and the novel more appealing, better able to seize and hold your attention, it has to be “good,” maybe even “virtuous.” So competition distorts how some choose to perceive change.
Of course, change is inevitable, and maybe it’s neither good nor bad, or perhaps it’s almost certainly both. But if someone speaks up and criticizes the visionaries and their products, well then they’re labeled trolls, and thus, not to be taken seriously. They’re harshing our buzz, man.
[I missed the slight of hand where Clay and I become competitors. I have always thought of Clay as a collaborator in a very loose sense: we are often talking about the same things in a similar way. He made ‘social software’ a well understood concept; and in 1999 I introduced the term ‘social tools’ — we have been pushing at similar ideas. But I don’t view it as a competition, and I doubt he does either.
Nor do I think that I am explaining to the ‘rest of us’ — I am involved in a line of public inquiry, and the interaction I have with the community involved in that discussion is the single most important source of insight and inspiraiton I have encountered.
But I agree with you about trolls. There are people out there who are the enemies of the future (as Virginia Postrel styled it in her book of the same name), and they need to be outed whenever possible.]
Competition. We live in a competitive environment. I think it’s a consequence of the law of natural selection. Various groups of our species compete in different ways. Most seem to be competing economically, in the commercial sphere. Others are competing in the political sphere. Although violence plays a role in both spheres. We can’t seem to escape from competition. It’s in our genes.
Doc wondered if I might be willing to help or contribute somehow to the conversation about vendor relationship management. I told him I was skeptical. I think anything that facilitates commercial interactions, does so at the expense of social ones. It’s not that I regard all companies as “evil,” though most of them are far from “virtuous.” As I explained to him, even if all companies were “good,” they still must compete with one another for our time and attention. And the universe of competing commercial entities seems to grow without limit; and they are all learning organisms, so they adapt to changes in their environment, and exploit anything that can give them a commercial advantage.
I’ve explained here many times, and did so again to Doc in conversation, that the notion of “authority” is an important one, one that requires a clear understanding. But because we live in a competitive, increasingly commercial society, important ideas are exploited and distorted to try and achieve a competitive advantage. I again pointed to Technorati as an example, and their claim to being “the recognized authority” on something, while simultaneously - and on a totally different page - disclaiming any responsibility for relying on that “authority.” It totally guts the notion of authority, all for the sake of Technorati looking a little more competitive.
We should all be offended, but we aren’t. We say, “It’s just marketing.”
And then we market ourselves into unnecessary wars, and we wonder how we got here.
None of this VRM, or Web 2.0 bullshit is important. It’s all crap. You and I have a certain amount of time here in this life. “Changing the world,” isn’t why we’re here. That’s just a line of shit they feed you, so that your time and attention and energy are devoted to serving the needs of the competing entities. We aren’t consumers, we are the consumed.
I don’t believe that wanting to change the world means capitulating to commercial interests. I don’t believe that its a line of shit we are being fed, or that I am creating a line of shit when I advocate social applications or other Web 2.0 advances.
Everyone has to decide what is important for themselves, David. Of course, authoritative voices like Doc, Clay, and, yes, me might point the way to certain technologies or tools that we believe are positive, that enlarge life or make it more rich. And I believe your mean-spirited attack on the revolution we are involved in puts you into the category of troll for me.tags: david+rogers, web+2.0, clay+shirky, doc+searls, never+feed+the+trolls, virginia+postrel, the+future+and+its+enemies, social+tools, its+not+a+beret+its+a+cap+on+backwards
ETech has turned into one of those events — like many others — where the real value for me is coming from the myriad conversations in the hallways. Not to detract from the presentations, per se, but that’s seems to be where the real deal is for me, here.
A few highlights from 8 March 2006:
I found refuge in the hallways, since the ETech format is highly structured, and the sessions were all jammed. Most of the sessions had people sitting in the aisles and leaning against the walls. I was also surprised — it’s my first ETech — at the depressing ratio of women to men. Perhaps its inevitable that a conference that is constantly referring to its audience as the “alpha geeks” would be so skewed, but it’s still annoying to me. I am not suggesting some nefarious scheme here, to marginalize women or something, just that the whole tone of the show is hyper geeky. As a complement to that — because geeks are as conservative as cats — the structure is a series of parallel tracks just crammed with techno-goodness: technologists with a never-ending parade of powerpoints. Very little organized socialization — not even a defined IRC backchannel! My recommendation would be to go single track, and drop 2/3 of the sessions, and open up the schedule for more loose stuff: but O’Reilly is probably delivering exactly what the alpha geeks want.
Clay Shirky has nailed a manifesto on the door, here at the High Church of Technocracy at ETech. In a nutshell, his thesis is that we have a moral responsibility — those of us whose purpose is the development of social technologies — to explore the social contract between the users and owners of online interaction. More importantly, he calls us to a higher goal: to discover the most productive patterns for group self-moderation so that social tools can not only ‘work’ in a technological sense, but so that we can craft techniques that shape culture into positive channels. He argues that human society, as a whole, needs us to get this right, since we are in essence the experimental wing of political philosophy. His contention is that if we don’t get this right, meaning developing a Rosseau-like social contract where the rights of the individual are upheld, then we may be surrendering the future to Hobbesian tyrannies, both online and everywhere else.
I found it particularly funny that Clay used Dave Winer’s unilateral conversion of an once open mailing list into a centralized, moderated mailing list (which led to quite a howling by the members of the group) as the prototypical example of freedom devolving into tyranny.
Clay has asked us to become involved in the specification of the pattern language of moderation, which is the necessary precondition for deep understanding of the future social contract as realized in the pervasive social architecture now emerging.
To get involved, check out the wiki, which Clay says has reached the Alan Kay point — good enough to begin arguing about it — at http://social.itp.nyu.edu/shirky/wiki.
[originally published at Get Real, 22 August 2004]
Clay reprises my recent comments about Multiply and its email invitations, and does a very good job of making my argument more clear than I did, I think.
I’m more pessimistic than he; I believe that Multiply join messages are spam. Now spam has the “I know it when I see it” problem, so to talk carefully about it requires a specified definition. Here’s mine — spam is unsolicited mail, sent without regard to the particular identity of the recipient, and outside the context of an existing relationship.
Anyone sending me mail because I am on a list I haven’t asked to be on; without having a reason to think that I, in particular, would want this mail; and without us already knowing one another, is spamming me. In particular, ads sent to me as a member of a category, no matter how targeted, count, in this definition, as spam. You could be advertising a new brand of gin specially brewed for Brooklyn-dwelling Python hackers who like bagpipe music and that mail would still be spam.
If you adopt this definition, even just for the sake of argument, it’s pretty clear that Multiply fails the first and second tests. I did not ask for mail from them, and they are not sending me mail because they know me — they simply have my address on a list furnished by my friends. […] I think where Stowe and I may disagree is in point #3: do I have an existing relationship with the sender of the mail?
This is, I admit, a judgement call, and to re-phrase what I think Stowe is saying, Multiply is operating in good faith as a proxy for its users. My friends have furnished my address to Multiply, and authorized the service to contact me on their behalf. Thus the incessant messages from Multiply should be thought of as coming from my friends, and not from Multiply itself.
I hope I have characterized Stowe’s view correctly; in any case, I think Multiply fails this test as well, because I think they are engaged in a new form of targeted marketing. Jon Lebkowsky’s farewell to Multiply message includes this observation: “…next thing you know, Multiply was spamming all my Orkut contacts with a brainless marketing letter supposedly written by yours truly, only I didn’t see it until someone said no, no way, and noted the cheerful Muzak inanity of the message sent in my name.”
Clay has exactly defined the boundary cases in the ethical quagmire we are struggling with here:
I am totally opposed to parties spamming through SNAs as in case #1, and just as opposed to SNAs that meet case #2. I stated that SNAs try to make legitimate invitation of known contacts by email easy, to increase the acceptability of use. Clay argues that social connectedness should come at a slower rate, at a higher cost:
I think the growth of Friendster, one user at a time, undermines this notion, but however hard it makes it, that is a good amount of hard. Getting rapid growth one user at a time is difficult because it is supposed to be difficult. Social systems are, by definition, inefficient, and attempts to make them high throughput end up destroying them.
This last comment can be interpreted almost as a condemnation of the teflon slick feel of social networking applications, across the board, and I think gets into the guts of the problem: when social networking applications are targeted toward supporting human scale (not mass database) social networking for appropriate (non spam) purposes within the context of existing social (not commercial) relationships, things are fine. When you stray outside of any of those modifiers, it’s immoral, wrong, and possibly illegal under the CAN Spam Act.
Finally, Clay doesn’t hold with my push for a code of ethics that all should accord with (along the lines of what Duncan Work at LinkedIn recently pushed in his “Bill of Rights”), arguing for a more Darwinian solution, where the malefactors will just die off. I don’t know; I think the idea has legs, so I am going to try to boil down a short list of “do’s and don’ts” for SNAs, and promulgate it as the Ten Commandments of SNAs.
For example, Clay suggests that every email invitation from an SNA should include an explicit and easily discovered opt-out button. I strongly agree. The SNAs may want to qualify it in various ways (opt-out only for invitations from the specific sender; for a specific period of time; or for all invitations, ever), but there should be a way to opt-out, both at the SNA’s website and in every email invitation or other communication.
The Ten Commandments of Social Networking Applications (Part 1):
Well, that’s a start. Other recommendations are cheerfully accepted.