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.

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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.


Speaking at Defrag

November 3, 2007

I just wanted to let people know that I will be speaking at Defrag on Monday. Stop by and catch my panel about Social Networking in the Enterprise if you happen to be in Denver!


Mobile Twitter

May 5, 2007

I’ve been using Twitter both on my computer on my and phone for a while, but the user experience of the phone has been a bit rough.  One option is to turn on text messages and be interrupted by your phone every time a friend Twitters.  Another option was the use the standard web interface, which required lots of scrolling and painfully slow load times.

Now Twitter has just released m.twitter.com.  It’s very simple, clean, and easy to read on the phone.  I think I’ll like using Twitter on my phone even more with this release.

Twitter is one of those services that people either love, hate, or can’t see the point.  I’m in the “love it” camp.  It’s a great way to keep up with friends.  I like knowing what new app or gadget Josh Bancroft or Chris Messina are testing. I also get great lunch suggestions from people like Raven Zachary.  The best use of Twitter is at big events where you can learn which session, party, speaker, etc. really stinks and which ones are a must see.  At sxsw, Chris Messina organized an OpenID meetup primarily over Twitter. News also spreads quickly via Twitter, and I frequently see breaking news on Twitter before other mainstream media sources. The best part is that you get this information quickly and easily from your community of friends, acquaintances, and coworkers.


Online Community Map

May 5, 2007

Thanks to Kaliya for finding this.


Twitter

February 24, 2007

I’m probably the last person in the world to join Twitter. Raven Zachary is the one responsible for finally convincing me to join. If I know you in real life, feel free to add me as a friend.


Danah Boyd: The History and Future of Social Networking

October 29, 2006

Financial Times calls Danah Boyd “The high priestess of internet friendship”, and the title is well earned. I attended a few web 2.0 sessions with Danah (and a few evenings of Werewolf), and this women “gets” social networking better than anyone else I know.

If you want to better understand the evolution of social networking and get a sense for where it is headed, this article based on a Financial Times interview with Danah is a great place to start.