Elsewhere

Facebook Metaphors: New Spatialism

I often compare Facebook to a large and impersonal shopping mall, with a lot of noise and the cloying stink of Cinnabon and cheap candles getting deep into your sinuses. Others use other metaphors, and ex-Facebooker Dave Morin is probably influenced by the value of his stock portfolio when he recently compared Facebook to a town:

Jessica Roy,  Former Facebook Social Design Evangelist Says Facebook Model Is ‘Self-Serving, Egocentric’ via Betabeat

The discussion started with this prompt:

[by Dave Morin, the founder of Path] Facebook has built the cities, they’ve built the town squares, and they’re more of a general social network, he said. Path, on the other hand, is more like the home, as if adding each friend is filling out your dinner table.

On Twitter, Mike Karnjanaprakorn–CEO and cofounder of Skillshare–added, “If Facebook built the cities and Path is building the houses, Skillshare is building the schools.”

Mr. Miller started a discussion about this approach to design on Branch, and Mr. Morin and Mr. Karnjanaprakorn both weighed in.

“The Internet is like the Wild Wild West. But over time, you can see certain infrastructures being put in place. AOL created the roads, Facebook created the Town Square, PayPal created the bank, Twitter created the newspaper, Path is creating the home, and Skillshare is creating the school,” said Mr. Karnjanaprakorn. “We still need a sheriff.”

Mr. Morin agreed. “I think Mike hit the metaphor on the head,” he said.

But then another voice chimed in. It was the voice of Mr. Fisher, whose former title at Facebook was “Social Design Evangelist.”

“On the contrary, Facebook is NOT a town square,” he wrote. “In fact there’s little sense of community at all. It’s centered on individuals and their friends which is a very self-serving, egocentric model that does little to help people actually work together, as would a town.”

Da-yum. That’s definitely a burn coming from someone a source says wrote Facebook’s social design guidelines.

It appears Mr. Fisher is building his own version of a town square, which is probably why he doesn’t like the idea of Facebook overtaking that moniker very much. His LinkedIn lists him as the founder of Townsquared, Inc., a ”social platform that helps organizations grow niche communities.”

I am interested to learn more about Townsquared, certainly, but this seems to be nothing more than entrepreneurs caught up in metaphorical chinese checkers; all of them are trying to jump over Facebook to some better, warmer, more productive social matrix, at least conceptually.

The mall metaphor works for me because I dislike malls and spend as little time in them as possible. But malls somehow seem to be filled with people, looking in the windows, checking each other out, trying on cheap shoes, and eating bad pizza. Or maybe the suburban sprawl metaphor (from 2009):

Facebook Is The New Suburbia by Hugh McLeod

New Spatialism:  Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media via stoweboyd.com

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

As usual, when the techies start talking about online shared space, they lose their way because that haven’t actually studied urbanism, nor anthropology.

prostheticknowledge:

“Facebook Is The New Suburbia” by Hugh MacLeod (aka GapingVoid)

From May 2009 — I wrote about the need to take back the social space on the web, because the massive companies operating there/here want to own it, and by extension, own our interactions. It elicited nearly no interest at the time, but I think this is a case of being too far ahead of the curve. It might be time for a New Spatialism movement. We need to (re)occupy the web:

New Spatialism:  Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media via stoweboyd.com
Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a  rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that  tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs,  and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and  late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a  teenage girl walking a dog.
So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and  reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called  social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an  industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web  media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human  scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and  plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would  help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby  increase the growth of social capital.
New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for  being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money,  principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a  new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better  media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

In another piece:

We are confronted with a period of social media sprawl, where large  media corporations are buying up all the intersections and off ramp  properties out at the periphery of town where the highway goes by.

prostheticknowledge:

“Facebook Is The New Suburbia” by Hugh MacLeod (aka GapingVoid)

From May 2009 — I wrote about the need to take back the social space on the web, because the massive companies operating there/here want to own it, and by extension, own our interactions. It elicited nearly no interest at the time, but I think this is a case of being too far ahead of the curve. It might be time for a New Spatialism movement. We need to (re)occupy the web:

New Spatialism:  Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media via stoweboyd.com

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

In another piece:

We are confronted with a period of social media sprawl, where large media corporations are buying up all the intersections and off ramp properties out at the periphery of town where the highway goes by.

(via gracemcdunnough)

I think Nick [Denton] is eager to declare this a post-blog design as a sop to advertisers. It’s still a blog, it’s just the blog is in a narrower column.

- Anil Dash, cited by Nick Bilton in Gawker Hopes to Transform “The Blog”

Denton IS on to something, though, and Anil is missing the forest for the trees. Yes, the new Gawker will still be incorporating some of the mechanical elements of blogs, so in his eyes it’s still the same old, same old.

But Denton is moving into a era where blogging’s tools and tenor have been ingested and digested by big media, but the social dimension has not been. If anything, his new foray into New Gawker will make his property grossly less social, less involved in community, less us and more them.

That’s what he is on to. He is joining the big media companies who are hoping to stripmall the social web, to become part of the sprawl.

I have argued long and hard about the need for something like the New Urbanism Movement, so we can save the best aspects of social media before it is all razed to make way for media malls. I call this New Spatialism.

Denton is going with the other guys, who are dominated by dreams of scale and control.

I am dreaming of the next stage of the social revolution, one that continues to emerge from our connections and conversations, where we have a stake and a say, not just a ticket to sit in the audience with a box of popcorn in our lap.

The Stripmalling Of Social Media: Media Sprawl And New Spatialism

Peter Kim jumps in on the stripmalling of social media, but seems to suggest it is an inevitable sort of growing up, as opposed to an incursion by giant media companies.

Peter Kim, Must be the money

Social media is finally coming to a critical inflection point and make no mistake – it’s all about the money.

When I started blogging five years ago – early, but by no means among the earliest – the prevailing inclination among bloggers was to share and connect on an individual basis. Bloggers shared their content and built each other up by linking to each other in posts, creating blogrolls containing links to friend lists, even commented on blogs of individuals who worked for industry competitors. Corporations had presence through individuals; Bob Lutz at GM and Randy Baseler at Boeing were like the Columbus and Magellan of corporate social media.

Between 2005 – 2008, consumer adoption of social media shot up at a rapid pace. According to Forrester Social Technographics data, US online adults active in social media increased rapidly from just under 50% to 75%. Naturally, brands began to follow consumers into the medium. Early adopters were not happy. Debates between “purists” and “corporatists” began to emerge. What they didn’t realize is what Mark Cuban had called out years earlier – the social internet is a long tail ghetto where no content creator wants to be stuck.

In 2008, I left Forrester to start Dachis Group, because early on Jeff, Kate, Ellen, and I saw the potential for companies to go far beyond what had been imagined possible using social media to date – the thinking eventually crystallized as social business design. We knew that there was money to be made in “social media marketing” and “Enterprise 2.0″ – and we weren’t alone.

I’ve been observing these trends emerge as social business evolves:

  • The nature of “social” has become much less social over the past three years. It’s now increasingly private and profit driven. The bloggers I followed in the early days write blog posts much less frequently today, if at all. However, they’re still writing and thinking about the industry – they’re just doing it behind the firewall and delivering value to paying customers. […] Enjoy them while they last.
  • Companies are cashing out, performing their final tricks off of Cuban’s hypothetical vert ramp. From following the brand monitoring space, we’ve seen Cymfony, Umbria, Techrigy, and Scout Labs sell off. You’re probably more familiar with TechCrunch’s recent sale to AOL or Six Apart sold to VideoEgg. From what I hear on some of the tech deals, the companies may not be shaking the glitter off their clothes as much as pawning off whatever usable parts they’ve got left after crashing and burning.
  • Free social media sites are moving to monetize. Ning moved early and very direct. As any MBA could see, penetration pricing strategy, duh. Free doesn’t last forever, but its spectre does sell books. Dick Costolo is Twitter’s new CEO and he has one mission – to make money. […]
  • Executives are migrating to small, socially-oriented businesses. This time around it’s not limited to traditional-to-dot-com; the similarity is from public to private. Talent is leaving Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft and heading to Twitter, Zynga, and Facebook. 

Social business is businesses aspiring to apply what has been learned about social cognition on the open web, which is simply a new domain for business innovation, taking advantage of opportunities.

But what AOL and media firms are doing is something altogether different: they are scooping up social media mills — like TechCrunch — as a means of countering their faltering authority and relevance on line.

We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

Arrington and company are no dopes: they are selling out at a local maximum. The market for old school blogging networks is already past its high watermark. That form of not-particularly-social media, which looks perfectly mainstream to media giants at this point, is going to be challenged a next generation of really-social-media. Fixtures like Techmeme and upstarts like TweetMeme are mining the streams of tens of thousands, mining and curating.

TechCrunch had become less of a destination, and simply the number one source of tech posts in an increasingly fragmented world, once that seems to be ripe for the picking. I wonder when Techmeme gets acquired?

But conflating that with Twitter’s deciding that business is business is an over simplification.

Six Apart’s acquisition by an advertising company, however, comes as no surprise to anyone who had observed their fall from the forefront of blogging platforms.

Unlike Kim, I think these are a collection of relatively independent threads: yes, they are all aspects of the great transition going on, the social revolution, but I wouldn’t connect the dots between AOL buying TechCrunch, Dick Costolo becoming Twitter CEO, and The sidelining of Six Apart, and expect a picture of the future to emerge. These are just eddies in the wave.

The social revolution has at least ten more years to run. The most recent acquisitions of AOL and the history of Six Apart will fall into the shadows of time faster that we can imagine, and the influence that Techcrunch had in the ’00s will be a footnote in Wikipedia.

We are confronted with a period of social media sprawl, where large media corporations are buying up all the intersections and off ramp properties out at the periphery of town where the highway goes by.

I wrote about this in May 2009:

New Spatialism:  Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

Six Apart Acquired By VideoEgg: Old School Blogging Is Dead

Six Apart has had a strange history. Started by the starry-eyed Ben and Mena Trott, the early Six Apart (named after the number of days between the two founders’ birthdays) was like an earlier version of the WordPress story. The Movable Type publishing platform was the premier blogging platform of the mid ’00s, but the company divided its energies, building Typepad as a hosted blogging solution sort of based on Movable Type, but as an independent code base. The company also pissed off it most ardent users with an extremely inartful change in the licensing agreement, leading to the mass defection of the developer community to the then-fledgling Wordpress.

Not content with those diversion, the Six Apart team tried to grow through acquisitions, buying Loic LeMeur’s Ublog company and then LiveJournal, which was sold off years later.

Somewhere in there, they found time to squander their attention by building a fourth blogging platform, Vox, which was an attempt to fuse social networking with blogging, a sort of proto-Tumblr, but it never took off.

In recent years, Six Apart had grown into a services firm and advertising network, supporting larger publishers and dropping its efforts to grow its base of individual bloggers. This was partly a response to the dominance of Wordpress in old school blogging, and the rise of Tumblr, Posterous, and other innovative blogging solutions, but the elephant in the room has been the rise of social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, and the defection of the individual blogger to these social tools instead of blogging.

The acquisition of Six Apart by VideoEgg might represent a kind of end of the enthusiastic, communitarian era of blogging. Matt Sanchez, CEO of the combined company, which will be called Say Media, had this to say:

Mathew Ingram, Six Apart Deal With VideoEgg Marks the End of an Era

The VideoEgg CEO said that the new company would offer “content creators” of all kinds — individual bloggers, video creators, game developers and corporations — a single platform for their content and a way to build their brand through social media, but it’s clear that the point of the merger is to focus on corporations rather than the individual blogger, something Six Apart had been trying to do even before the deal was announced. SAY Media’s marketing presentation says “it’s not just about the amateurs anymore,” and that for brands, “engagement media is where your passionate customers are.”

It’s not social media, but engagement media, note: don’t want to scare off the big publishers with all that social malarkey. And, in case you are wondering, ‘it’s not just about the amateurs anymore.’

I have written a lot about media companies — who were once threatened by the rise of early social media — turning around and repurposing the tools of social media for their purposes. In several presentations and posts in recent years, I’ve made the case that we need to reconsider what the media companies are doing and out participation in it. They are creating ‘media sprawl’ — just like chain stores creating urban sprawl: 

New Spatialism: Reclaiming The Social Space In Web Media

Looking back on ten years of blogging, I think we have arrived at a turning point, where we have to reclaim the social space in web media.


Sprawl, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Ten years ago, when I started blogging, it wasn’t called blogging yet. I thought I was writing an ‘e-zine’ although it had all the characteristics of a blog: reverse chronological entries, categories, and so on.

We were like pioneers, fooling around out in the wilderness, cutting crude roads, building villages.

Relatively soon, however, this personal publishing by the fringe lunatics became big business and old media arrived. Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.

The reality is that so-called social media — even in its earlier, Birkenstock and granola days — wasn’t very social. We didn’t call it that until much later, anyway. We thought of it as personal publishing, and it adopted the basic dynamics of publishing. Most notably, there was a publisher or author and then there were readers. It seemed more egalitarian since anyone could be a publisher, but still there was a broadcast media dynamic despite the fact that anyone could argue or agree with someone else’s posts on their own blog. Then for a few years, we just called it blogging. Rhymes with slogging, because, in the final analysis, most people didn’t blog: too hard, too much work, not rewarding enough.

But the format is perfect for publishing companies, which is why the largest ‘blogs’ now are generally corporate media machinery. And as the blogosphere has become an increasingly corporate neighborhood, people are moving out.

I noticed a few years ago that comments seemed to be moving from blogs into faster paced social tools, like Facebook and then streaming apps like Twitter. (Twitter has become so popular that most of the competitors have closed shop). People are moving to where things are more social, where the author/audience divide is less sharp, and where the scale of interaction is human-sized. This is the new loft district: social networks.

Social networks are truly social, where web media isn’t, very.

Social networks are really about individuals and their personal relationships with others. So, if web media is to really become social — which it isn’t at present — we need to take what we have learned from other, more social tools, and take another run at social media.


New Urbanism, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

Umair Haque Is Another New Spatialist

Umair Haque makes an economist’s argument about the devaluation of relationships because of social media, suggesting that what is going on, here, online is not as cool as the social media gurus would have us believe. He compares this to the real estate bubble:

Umair Haque, The Social Media Bubble

On the demand side, relationship inflation creates beauty contest effects, where, just as every judge votes for the contestant they think the others will like the best, people transmit what they think others want. On the supply side, relationship inflation creates popularity contest effects, where people (and artists) strive for immediate, visceral attention-grabs — instead of making awesome stuff.

The social isn’t about beauty contests and popularity contests. They’re a distortion, a caricature of the real thing. It’s about trust, connection, and community. That’s what there’s too little of in today’s mediascape, despite all the hoopla surrounding social tools. The promise of the Internet wasn’t merely to inflate relationships, without adding depth, resonance, and meaning. It was to fundamentally rewire people, communities, civil society, business, and the state — through thicker, stronger, more meaningful relationships. That’s where the future of media lies.

I think, first off, Umair is undervaluing the utility of weak ties, which is what the socializing online largely creates. Mark Granovetter and others have shown that it is through those that we are weakly connected to that we are most likely to get a job or meet a future mate. Likewise, they are extremely important for the transmission of ideas across different social groups.

But the central point that Umair is making is that social media — or social tools in general — are not doing a great job in certain areas:

  • Making strong ties stronger — He suggests that because we are creating and expending time on a growing number of weak ties then we are diminishing our involvement with intimates. I think this is debatable. While the time I spend writing this blog or twittering could in principle be applied to talking to loved ones directly, in reality many of my closest friends read this blog and my twitter stream to remain in contact with me, at no extra cost (here I am adopting Umair’s economics jargon). This in no way weakens my strongest ties, and certainly is the wellspring of thousands of weak ties.
  • The power laws lead to popularity contests — Umair skews the logic of the power laws that underlie influence online. Yes, it is true that a small number of social media participants have exponentially greater influence than the rest, but this does not necessarily mean that what they are talking about is unimportant. It is not just Casablanca v Farmville, as he styles it. Thinkers like Larry Lessig and David Weinberger (and Umair and me, by the way) are sharpening their axes everyday, and having an impact. It isn’t all ‘10 tips for packing’ or Farmville.
  • The social revolution is bigger than this — Maybe Umair is standing too close to the SxSW hoopla, and can’t see the changes that are going on. We are being changed, as individuals, as a society, and particularly mainstream media. But the largest impacts are still ahead of us.

I do agree with the shadow of his argument though, which is the fact that social tools don’t go far enough, and certain critical areas in social theory just haven’t percolated through at all.

I wrote several posts last year based on talks I gave on this theme: see Better Social Plumbing For The Social Web, and The New Spatialism. In the second, I advanced the idea that we need the equivalent of the new urbanism movement for social tools. Based on the (flawed) metaphor that we are creating something like a shared space online, I suggested that we need to be new spatialists. Just as the new urbanism movement rejected the massive and dehumanizing architectural approaches of the ’60s and ’70s, which led to the destruction of vibrant although noisy and messy neighborhoods, and replaced them with concentration camp-like highrise tenements and inhuman urban cores designed to streamline traffic instead of walking your dog.

Maybe that’s what Umair is hinting at: our existing social tools are making some things easy, but the hard things aren’t being done at all, or at least, not enough. Maybe he’s a new spatialist, and he wants more Kivas. Me too. But there are things like Ushahidi emerging, too.

***

Here’s a very different take on this, the talk I gave several times last year, but never wrote up. The notes accompanying each slide are included, and I have only updated them a little.


What? Yet another call to action?

I am going to intentionally push a metaphor a bit too far. However, in the past, whenever I created metaphors and overdid it, it has worked out. I suggested years ago that email would die off; there is more email than ever, but a generation has grown up that distrust it, and use it only as a last resort. I had an insight in 1999 that social tools would emerge as the dominant form of communication media, as we actively sought to shape culture, and today the most important advances in the web are deeply social.

Now, I am suggesting that what we think of as social has first of all, not gone far enough: it’s really not very social at all.

Second, I am afraid that the corporate types have moved in and commoditized the little bit of social that we got right.

And lastly, I end worrying about the governance of this social space we’ve emigrated to, on the web.

I am calling for a return to the basic principles of social tools, and a movement of web denizens — designers, developers, and the lowly, lowly users — to push hard to reclaim the web.

We may have to stop thinking about this using the mercantile model — software ‘products’ that we ‘use’. Social connection on the web is nothing like buying and ‘consuming’ kleenex or ketchup. The fact that we have repurposed the concepts of buying Excel or choosing an O/S on our computers may be leading us astray when we talk about and think about social software on the Web.


Ten years ago, when I started blogging, it wasn’t called blogging yet. I thought I was writing an ‘e-zine’ although it had all the characteristics of a blog: reverse chronological entries, categories, and so on.

We were like pioneers, fooling around out in the wilderness, cutting crude roads, building villages.

Relatively soon, however, this personal publishing by the fringe lunatics became big business and old media arrived. Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.

The reality is that so-called social media — even in its earlier, Birkenstock and granola days — wasn’t very social. We didn’t call it that until much later, anyway. We thought of it as personal publishing, and it adopted the basic dynamics of publishing. Most notably, there was a publisher or author and then there were readers. It seemed more egalitarian since anyone could be a publisher, but still there was a broadcast media dynamic despite the fact that anyone could argue or agree with someone else’s posts on their own blog. Then for a few years, we just called it blogging. Rhymes with slogging, because, in the final analysis, most people didn’t blog: too hard, too much work, not rewarding enough.

And the problem may be the publishing metaphor, itself.


But the format is perfect for publishing companies, which is why the largest ‘blogs’ now are generally corporate media machinery. And as the blogosphere has become an increasingly corporate neighborhood, people are moving out.

Sprawl = developer’s decisions in the face of a zoning system based on an earlier reaility, not taking into account the impacts dowstream, and which leads to way way suboptimal results.

Developers own the land, zoning doesn’t require sidewalks: ergo, no sidewalks.

I visted Noida, a suburb of New Delhi in India. I couldn’t understand why the streets did not meet at the same height at intersections. There was very commonly a gap, filled with sand, and the streets were of different heights. Turns out the developers of different blocks were building the streets, and there is no master plan. So there is a chaotic mess, which is sort of workable, but which is a hassle for hundreds of thousands of drivers everyday.


Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

Note: this was a response to urban ‘renewal’, which led to the inhumanification of shared spaces: towering housing projects where diverse and active communities stood. And also to suburban sprawl and the rise of edge cities as many fled the ‘inner’ cities, and distanced themselves from their problems.

New urbanism is utopian because it (at is core) operates on the assumption that caring can be built into cityscapes, or dehumanizing behaviors (like ignoring the man bleeding on the sidewalk) can be avoided by getting the streets and parks right.


So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world, for ourselves.

And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

 

Deconstruction may be more important that new planned communities.

Now we are having an economic reset, and malls are being repurposed all over America. Many cities are being ‘rewilded’ where entire neighborhoods are being deconstructed and turned back into wilds, instead of block after block of abandoned residences.

(There’s real opportunities for urban food belts, too.)


I noticed a few years ago that comments seemed to be moving from blogs into faster paced social tools, like Facebook and then streaming apps like Twitter. (Twitter has become so popular that most of the competitors have closed shop). People are moving to where things are more social, where the author/audience divide is less sharp, and where the scale of interaction is human-sized. This is the new loft district: social networks.

Social networks are truly social, where web media isn’t, very.

Social networks are really about individuals and their personal relationships with others. So, if web media is to really become social — which it isn’t at present — we need to take what we have learned from other, more social tools, and take another run at social media.


The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common;
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

as Twitter has become the bedrock underlying a growing and dynamic neighborhood of the web, how will it be governed?

Side story about instant messaging interoperability — which we still don’t have. A world where Jabber — an open source standard — did not make real headway against AIM (and later Yahoo and MSN). The justice department failed at the AOL / Time Warner merger to force this. And we have all been disadvantaged as a result.

From one point of view, Twitter is an application owned and operated by Ev and his colleagues, and our use of the app is controlled by the terms of the service agreement we all checked ‘OK’ to. From this point of view, they are free to do whatever they want, and we have the freedom to take a hike if we don’t like it. Or gripe, or write a petition. But otherwise we have little recourse if in fact Twitter Inc. decides to screw up replies (the #fixreplies mess has *not* been resolved yet, by the way), or makes other changes to functionality that degrades our experience.

It may seem that we have no grounds for any sort of complaint. After all, it can be argued that we aren’t paying anything, just freeloading on their largess, and they have borne all the costs.

On the other hand, their astronomical valuations — what they are using to pull in hefty amounts of paid-in capital from investors — is directly related to our participation. Without us using Twitter, by the millions, Twitter would just be a bunch of software cogs in a cardboard box. It is our animation that makes Twitter worth a billion dollars, not just the cleverness of the developers and the openess of their APIs.

To a great extent, Twitter is ours, like the air we breathe.

So, how will Twitter be governed? As a tool owned by a company that is owned by the inventors and some wealthy investors? Or as a world in which we live, and in which we have inalienable rights?

The entertainment business tried to say they owned all art, all music, all movies. We know they are artifacts produced by our culture, which we share with the artists, and the controls that the entertainment business thought they had — copyright and DRM — have failed with the digital and web revolution.


So, here we have the same revolution, come home again. Twitter’s world — its conventions, meaning and use — is our artifact: we have built it, 140 characters at a time, just as the Twitter developers have been building the platform underneath our feet. But it is our dancing that makes the house rock, not the planks and pipes. It is us that makes Twitter alive, and not the code.

***

I hope I can persuade Umair to think of this in new spatialist terms, not just looking at it through economics. It is the extra-market aspects that are the most interesting, and ‘quiet enjoyment’ of a city is not just about what it costs to live there.

If we want social tools to be more humane, to help us to be more human, we should talk about it in the broadest possible terms, and for me that’s anthropology, not economics.

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The New Spatialism: A Talk From Reboot

The folks at Reboot have (finally) gotten around to uploading the videos from the 2009 conference. Here’s my talk on New Spatialism: Reclaiming The Social Web.

- via Reboot

More of our social interaction in moving from the primitive but relatively open and egalitarian world of the blogosphere onto a set of closed or at least controlled applications. How can we — as a community or culture — influence actions or product decisions that companies like Apple, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube are taking that could ‘enclose the commons’ and disrupt or rework the Web that we have been making?

And how can we devise a movement in the web development community that is like the New Urbanism movement of city planners and architects, that took the human being into consideration, that brought human scale and needs back into the picture?

New Spatialism: Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media

I am going to be leading a Social Media Masterclass at the Thinking Digital conference on Wednesday, as just one element of a two week trip in Europe. Last week I was in Hamburg for the Next09 conference, and Andreas Vascellari got a video of my presentation on the Open Enterprise 2009 study, and interviewed me, as well. This week, it’s Thinking Digital, Futuresonic, and Somesso, in Newcastle, Manchester, and London. Yikes.

But having a whirlwind tour with four very different presentations is an interesting experience, particularly since I get a chance to stare out the window and try to get down what I really believe on various topics.

For Thinking Digital I will be leading a two hour masterclass on social media. I opted to go with a ‘late night TV’ approach, where I am the host and I have various guests that join me one by one: Dan Lyons, JP Rangaswami, and Paul Smith. Each has the option to do some schtick for a few minutes — although most are opting to just sit down for an interview — and I am starting off with a monologue. I just wish we could have a band. After the first hour of the show we will switch to an interactive mode, where I will wander the floor with a mike, involving the attendees very directly in a give-and-take with my guests.

So I had a chance to think about what I wanted to say in my monologue to set the context for a masterclass in social media. Perhaps those attending want me to focus on the nuts-and-bolts of being a successful blogger or driving more revenue or branding your blog. I will make sure my guests and I touch on those topics later in the show, but I wanted to use my starting spot for a different purpose.

Looking back on ten years of blogging, I think we have arrived at a turning point, where we have to reclaim the social space in web media.


Sprawl, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Ten years ago, when I started blogging, it wasn’t called blogging yet. I thought I was writing an ‘e-zine’ although it had all the characteristics of a blog: reverse chronological entries, categories, and so on.

We were like pioneers, fooling around out in the wilderness, cutting crude roads, building villages.

Relatively soon, however, this personal publishing by the fringe lunatics became big business and old media arrived. Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.

The reality is that so-called social media — even in its earlier, Birkenstock and granola days — wasn’t very social. We didn’t call it that until much later, anyway. We thought of it as personal publishing, and it adopted the basic dynamics of publishing. Most notably, there was a publisher or author and then there were readers. It seemed more egalitarian since anyone could be a publisher, but still there was a broadcast media dynamic despite the fact that anyone could argue or agree with someone else’s posts on their own blog. Then for a few years, we just called it blogging. Rhymes with slogging, because, in the final analysis, most people didn’t blog: too hard, too much work, not rewarding enough.

But the format is perfect for publishing companies, which is why the largest ‘blogs’ now are generally corporate media machinery. And as the blogosphere has become an increasingly corporate neighborhood, people are moving out.

I noticed a few years ago that comments seemed to be moving from blogs into faster paced social tools, like Facebook and then streaming apps like Twitter. (Twitter has become so popular that most of the competitors have closed shop). People are moving to where things are more social, where the author/audience divide is less sharp, and where the scale of interaction is human-sized. This is the new loft district: social networks.

Social networks are truly social, where web media isn’t, very.

Social networks are really about individuals and their personal relationships with others. So, if web media is to really become social — which it isn’t at present — we need to take what we have learned from other, more social tools, and take another run at social media.


New Urbanism, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

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