Social Networks, Relationships, and “Friends”

December 1, 2007

I’ve been hearing quite a bit of discussion lately about how our relationships and the concept of “friends” are evolving as more people spend increasing amounts of time interacting with social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

In a post on the New York Times today, Alex Wright claims that

THE growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Second Life has thrust many of us into a new world where we make “friends” with people we barely know, scrawl messages on each other’s walls and project our identities using totem-like visual symbols.

The more time we spend “talking” online, the less time we spend, well, talking. And as we stretch the definition of a friend to encompass people we may never actually meet, will the strength of our real-world friendships grow diluted as we immerse ourselves in a lattice of hyperlinked “friends”?

Still, the sheer popularity of social networking seems to suggest that for many, these environments strike a deep, perhaps even primal chord. “They fulfill our need to be recognized as human beings, and as members of a community,” Dr. Strate says. “We all want to be told: You exist.”

(Quote from Alex Wright in the New York Times)

This implication that online interactions are somehow wrong and less valuable than face to face interactions bothers me a bit. Maybe my use of social networks is less typical due to my relatively frequent travel to conferences, but I find that I can keep in touch with people who I may only see a few times a year through these networks. It isn’t unusual for me to spend a significant amount of time with a few people during the week of a conference and then not see them for another 6 months until we run into each other at some other conference. Through Twitter and Facebook, we can keep in touch and continue to learn and keep up with each others’ current projects (work and personal). This helps us pick back up where we left off, but with insight into what each of us has been doing over the past 6 months.

I limit my Twitter feed (which is private) to people that I personally know, which allows me to Twitter more freely about where I am and what I’m doing. With Facebook, I am a little more open, accepting not only people who I know in the physical world, but also people where I have some online connection. Both of these services help me make stronger connections to the people that I know. I learn about local and remote tech events that my friends are attending and share information about community events that I am organizing. I get together with these people (the ones living or traveling in the Portland area) regularly for lunches, dinners, events, werewolf games, drinks, and more. I also learn quite a bit from these people through shared links, stories, posts, and ideas increasing my personal and work productivity as a direct result of the online interactions. I tend to think that I have stronger relationships as a result of these services, not weaker ones. These people are part of a broader community, and our participation in this online community is no less valuable because some of the interactions occur online.

I think that many people see these interactions happening online in social networks and assume that these are replacing our other interactions. In many cases, and in my case, my online interactions in social networks do not replace physical interactions with real people, they simply provide a way to augment the relationships I have with my friends.

Related Fast Wonder Posts:


Everyone’s a Peer. Live with it.

November 18, 2007

I stole the title of this post from the last two sentences in But Miss, they’re not listening to me, a blog post by JP Rangaswami on Confused of Calcutta.

In his post, JP describes a world where hierarchical command and control structures are being displaced by more democratized networked environments. The days of expert speakers who talk at us while we take notes and passively absorb the information with little or no opportunity for discussion are gradually disappearing.

This post resonated with me and helps to describe my recent thinking about conferences and speaking engagements. I’m finding that I rarely enjoy giving formal presentations where I yammer on and on with a slide deck while people listen to me talk. In these presentations, I don’t get much real time feedback from the audience other than the occasional non-verbal cue (nodding in agreement vs. nodding off, for example), and I learn little or nothing during these presentations.

In contrast, my favorite speaking environment usually happens at unconferences (BarCamp, etc.) where I can lead a lively discussion about a topic of interest by kicking it off with 5-10 minutes of my ideas on the topic and moving quickly to a facilitation role where many people contribute to the discussion. Since each person comes into the discussion with different experiences and diverse views, I learn as much or more from the other people participating as they learn from me.

Panels fall somewhere in the middle depending on the structure. I despise panels where the moderator asks too many questions or where each panel member essentially gives a mini-presentation with little time for audience questions. On the other hand, my favorite panels are similar to my unconference speaking style with a couple of minutes of discussion at the beginning, but opening it up to audience questions no later than in the first 10-15 minutes of the panel. The audience questions help target the discussion to topics that are interesting to the audience, but even more important is what you can learn from the questions being asked. Questions give so much insight into what people are thinking about the topic and what is important to the audience. My Social Networking panel at Defrag was a good example of one that moved into audience questions early, and I think it benefited greatly by the participation.

JP says in his post:

It’s a new world out there. We can’t go around saying “But Miss, they’re not listening to me”. We have to earn the respect of our peers. But remember, in a networked society, everyone is a peer. Your professors. Your children. Your subordinates. Your bosses.

Everyone’s a peer.

Live with it.

(Quote from Confused of Calcutta)

We each come into a discussion with unique and diverse ideas, and we learn by listening and sharing ideas with our peers aka everyone.


Related Fast Wonder Posts:


Macs, Twitter, Social Networks, and more at Defrag

November 9, 2007

I am always a little skeptical about new conferences. Until you arrive, you really don’t quite know what you will find. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Defrag Conference. In general, there seemed to be a high percentage of really smart people who “get it” in attendance, and I have had some very interesting discussions.

While getting ready for the keynote to start, I noticed that mac users made up almost all of the audience (90%??). I also noticed quite a few screens displaying Twitter and Facebook throughout the conference. I sat next to a group of people from NC State who told me about a Facebook Scrabulous tournament they were participating in that had been organized entirely over Twitter. This was definitely a web 2.0 / social networking savvy crowd. I also saw at least one Facebook group started as a result of the conference.

I was on a panel about Social Networking in the Enterprise along with Charles Armstrong and Aaron Fulkerson. It was very well attended (I’m guessing 100-150 people?), and people seemed to enjoy it. I talked mostly about Social Productivity, which is similar to social networking, but it is framed in a way that is more relevant to the enterprise.

David Weinberger’s talk, The Rise of the Implicit, had some very interesting ideas about how information is taking shape as we web 2.0 technologies evolve. You can read his entire outline of the talk, but a few of his ideas were particularly interesting to me. He talked about how the web transcends the information age by taking what is typically dry, dull information and bringing life to it through the context that eventually surrounds it. Facebook, for example, starts with the creation of a profile with very dry, dull information (name, birth date, location, etc.), but it becomes valuable as the additional context around it builds and takes on a life of its own through participation of friends, applications used, status, groups joined, and more. My take on this idea is that it is another example of how collaboration and community are really one of the defining characteristics of the current web. It isn’t about the basic information; it is about how that information evolves as you collaborate with your community of friends and build context around the information.

The Social Intelligence panel with Jerry Michalski; JB Holston, Newsgator; JP Rangaswami, BT Global Services; and Joshua Schachter, Yahoo! (founded delicious) had some interesting discussions. JP talked about an idea that has been near and dear to my heart lately: the gaming of online systems (like reputation systems). He said that transparency thwarts the gaming of online systems and fosters collaboration, while putting too many measures in place to prevent gaming stifles collaboration. Other community members will gang up on the gamers when they see the behavior helping to self-correct the issues within the community. I have been saying something very similar, so it was great to hear it reinforced. JP also said that his father had 1 job, he’ll have about 7, his son will have about 7 at the same time, which is a really interesting way of looking at employment. I also think that it is absolutely true. I can’t count the number of young people I know who are involved in multiple ventures (jobs) simultaneously. I think the traditional model of a 9-5 “job” is hopelessly out of date, particularly for technology workers, while the freelancer / consultant model is becoming much more prevalent.

We had 2 open spaces sessions at the event. As an organizer of events like BarCamp, I came into it thinking that an hour for a single open spaces session would be a miserable failure. I was right and wrong. The open spaces session on Monday was amazing, and I was absolutely wrong about it not working. More than a dozen sessions were proposed, and people were very engaged in the open spaces breakouts. The ClosedPrivate movement started as one of those sessions. However, by Tuesday when most of us were hopelessly behind on email / blogging / etc., the open spaces sessions did not work particularly well. I think that less than half of the participants were engaged while the rest (me included) used the time to catch up on work. The moral of the story: having open spaces sessions can work as a small part of a traditional conference; however, you have to do them early in the program while people are still fresh.

Dick Hardt gave a really entertaining presentation on Defragging Identity with hundreds of slides in 12 minutes, which makes it really difficult to summarize! One of the key concepts included how predicting future behavior based on past behavior can break down in the digital world as online behavior becomes fragmented. People have multiple logins, many identities, reputations (eBay), etc. that are highly fragmented. We need to defrag this behavior, bind it based on a common identifier (like openid) across sites, and aggregate our identities while still having multiple personas. The key is that we each control those identities so that all the stuff we do across all sites can be aggregated together. I’m a huge advocate of OpenID and would love to see it evolve in a way that allows me to carry more information along with me (profile data, friends, reputations, etc.)

Doc Searls talked mostly about Vendor Relationship Management (see Harvard’s project VRM) with the idea that the market is built for you, the consumers, by the vendors. Here’s one quote (approximate) from Doc, “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings.” He asked the question, what if managing worked the other way around – we managed our relationships with producers / vendors; what if we were in charge of our preferences across whole markets?

Andrew McAfee presented on the topic of Defrag and Enterprise 2.0 with the idea that the concept of ties provides a foundation for conceptualizing value, tech selection, drawing borders around tools, adoption & exploitation. New tools are not going to make all ties equal, but tools will facilitate tie creation & migration. His blog on the topic of Enterprise 2.0 sums it up better than I ever could.

All in all, I met cool people, had great conversations, and came away with new ideas to ponder. It was well worth the time spent to attend. I would strongly recommend attending next year if you get the chance.


Ignite Portland Recap

October 27, 2007

We had a fantastic time at Ignite Portland, and the event exceeded all of our expectations. What we initially thought would be an event with 150 people became an event of nearly 300. We were concerned that we would hit the 297 person fire code limit and need to turn people away at the door, but in the end everyone was admitted to the event, and we hit the fire code limit nearly exactly (277 people registered in our system + ~20 people from Wieden+Kennedy = 297)

The presentations were amazing; it wasn’t too crowded; and I got to meet a bunch of new people!

Key learnings for the next event:

  • Less white wine, more beer and water
  • More time for networking (maybe 14 presentations, instead of 18 to free up some time)
  • Need a larger space (something holding closer to 500) to minimize the risk of turning people away

I think these are all fairly minor issues for our first Ignite Portland event. A huge thanks to co-organizers Todd Kenefsky, Raven Zachary, and Josh Bancroft, and thanks to all of the many volunteers and sponsors for the event. We look forward to doing another one in Jan / Feb! We will be posting more information about future events on the Ignite Portland site along with video and presentations from this event.

There are nearly 200 pictures posted to Flickr already under the igniteportland tag. For complete coverage of the event with links to many other blogs discussing the event, visit Silicon Florist. Rick has done an amazing job of aggregating the event news!

Related Fast Wonder posts:


Want to see me speak at SXSW?

August 20, 2007

SXSW has released their annual panel picker application. I submitted 2 sessions:

If either of these sessions sound interesting to you, please cast your vote for them.

If you plan on attending sxsw, I encourage you to vote for the sessions that you find interesting. I love conferences that give us, as participants, the ability to participate in the selection process.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I will also be part of the “Hottest Babes in Open Source” panel with Silona Bonewald, Tara Hunt & Erica O’Grady (if it makes it through the panel picking process!)


Art of Community Video

August 2, 2007

For anyone who missed the Art of Community panel at OSCON, we were able to get the entire session on video. I’ve posted it to the Jivespace Developer Podcasts and Video Blog.

“Danese Cooper and I put together a community panel at OSCON discussing the art of building and maintaining successful communities. The panel included (from left to right): Danese Cooper (Moderating), Jimmy Wales, Dawn Foster, Sulamita Garcia, Whurley, Karl Fogel, and Brian Behlendorf.” (Quoted from: Jivespace Blog)


OSCON Report

July 27, 2007

I had a great time at OSCON this year. A few highlights:

As usual, the real value was in the hallway conversations, shared meals, and other informal discussions with really smart people.

I will be posting video of our Art of Community panel (thanks to Drew Scott for wielding the camera!) and some footage from Beeforge on the Jivespace Video Podcast blog over the next week or 2.