Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 12, Number 3: April 2012


Social Networks

The Social Network Scene, Part 2

More vaguely connected cites & insights on social network issues that don’t fit neatly into a subcategory. As with Part 1, these are arranged chronologically, this time starting in February 2010 and going through 2010. The connections among these pieces—well, that’s part of reading, isn’t it? I believe there are some common threads having to do with limits, excess, backing off, privacy and nonsense—but you may find other commonalities.

Chatroulette: Giving Stranger Interactions a Bad Name

I don’t think I’d mention Chatroulette at all, but Nina Simon (writing at Museum 2.0) is a thoughtful, interesting writer, and I thought it would be worth noting some of what she has to say in this March 8, 2010 post. (I’ve never used Chatroulette, just as I’ve never signed up for social networks for would-be adulterers, and for much the same reasons.)

This morning, in less than fifteen seconds, I saw live video of:

a guy on the phone, lounging in front of his computer

a guy taking a photo of me while ignoring simple questions

a guy who used a mirror effect to look like an alien

a penis

The penis was the last straw. I closed Chatroulette for the third and probably last time.

If you’ve never heard of Chatroulette, it’s “an online service that allows you to videochat with random strangers. It pairs you up automatically with other users to talk, and you can click “Next” at any time to jump to someone else (as I did to penis-guy, and as all three of the other users did to me).”

Chatroulette frustrates me. It drives me nuts that it’s being called “groundbreaking” in the realm of human-to-human interactions. Chatroulette is not groundbreaking, nor is it threatening to the social fabric of society. It’s a novelty, and a mostly depressing one at that. Chatroulette exacerbates the perception that stranger interactions are uncomfortable, weird, and often sexual in nature. It encourages people to see each other as entertainment instead of as human beings. And because users use the “Next” button so liberally--to escape gross users, to find someone interesting--the fundamental activity on Chatroulette is not chatting or connecting with strangers. It’s evaluating people. In most cases, within two seconds, you or the person with whom you are videochatting decides that the other person is not worth their time. And that means you reject or are rejected by others, multiple times each minute. What an unpleasant feeling. As New York reporter Sam Anderson put it:

I got off the ChatRoulette wheel determined never to get back on. I hadn’t felt this socially trampled since I was an overweight 12-year-old struggling to get through recess without having my shoes mocked. It was total e-visceration. If this was the future of the Internet, then the future of the Internet obviously didn’t include me.

The discussion here is interesting. What appears to frustrate Simon most is that “it doesn’t live up to its potential.” She discusses what that potential could be and possible ways to make social networking with random strangers a more positive thing.

At least one commenter tries to defend Chatroulette, but the defense rings a little hollow. As one comment says in its entirety:

Everyone I know who has tried Chatroulette has seen a penis or two in the process...

According to Wikipedia (and after some discussion on the talk page, about one out of eight Chatroulette connections results in some form of “R-rated” (or worse) behavior. I read a lot of magazines, I read a lot of books, I spend a lot of time on FriendFeed—but if one out of every eight times I started to read an article, picked up a book, or opened Friendfeed I was dealing with “R-rated” material, I’d get tired of it awfully fast. One defender says:

Somehow I doubt that Chatroulette gives stranger a bad name as there are normal conversation going on, it’s just that time is required to find a decent person who is suited to your liking.

Sorry, but no, especially not for a video-based system. This is saying “after you see enough penises and grossouts, you might find a decent person.” So not going to happen. (Chatroulette is apparently still around. I still don’t plan to try it.)

Privacy Rights

Here’s one to think about and possibly score your existing social networks on: Electronic Frontier Foundation’s A Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users, posted by Kurt Opsahl on May 19, 2010 at Deep Links. I’ll quote the three “basic privacy-protective principles that social network users should demand” in full:

#1: The Right to Informed Decision-Making

Users should have the right to a clear user interface that allows them to make informed choices about who sees their data and how it is used.

Users should be able to see readily who is entitled to access any particular piece of information about them, including other people, government officials, websites, applications, advertisers and advertising networks and services.

Whenever possible, a social network service should give users notice when the government or a private party uses legal or administrative processes to seek information about them, so that users have a meaningful opportunity to respond.

#2: The Right to Control

Social network services must ensure that users retain control over the use and disclosure of their data. A social network service should take only a limited license to use data for the purpose for which it was originally given to the provider. When the service wants to make a secondary use of the data, it must obtain explicit opt-in permission from the user. The right to control includes users’ right to decide whether their friends may authorize the service to disclose their personal information to third-party websites and applications.

Social network services must ask their users’ permission before making any change that could share new data about users, share users’ data with new categories of people, or use that data in a new way. Changes like this should be “opt-in” by default, not “opt-out,” meaning that users’ data is not shared unless a user makes an informed decision to share it. If a social network service is adding some functionality that its users really want, then it should not have to resort to unclear or misleading interfaces to get people to use it.

#3: The Right to Leave

Users giveth, and users should have the right to taketh away.

One of the most basic ways that users can protect their privacy is by leaving a social network service that does not sufficiently protect it. Therefore, a user should have the right to delete data or her entire account from a social network service. And we mean really delete. It is not enough for a service to disable access to data while continuing to store or use it. It should be permanently eliminated from the service’s servers.

Furthermore, if users decide to leave a social network service, they should be able to easily, efficiently and freely take their uploaded information away from that service and move it to a different one in a usable format. This concept, known as “data portability” or “data liberation,” is fundamental to promote competition and ensure that users truly maintain control over their information, even if they sever their relationship with a particular service.

I’m not sure I see a lot of need to comment here. How would you evaluate current social network practices against these three priciples, all of which strike me as both sound and minimal. (I’m not in full agreement with EFF all that often, so this is in itself a commentary.)

The Privacy Problem: We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us

Jump forward almost two years to this Monday, March 5, 2012 post by John Biggs at techcrunch. Biggs recounts an incident: getting a text message from a new social network, Highlight, “that will disappear once everyone digests the last of their brisket on the plane ride from SXSW” (since everyone who is anyone goes to SXSW!): “The SMS was pretty innocuous…but it included a list of 141 phone numbers.” Biggs was getting ready to assail the startup for exposing his phone number so egregiously—but he looked a little further.

Convinced that Highlight was behind this, I contacted the sender. After some discussion, it turned out that the Highlight app had sent the SMS on behalf of a PR guy a know, a person I trusted with my contact information (if trust is the right word here) and who, in a sense, did a data dump with the help of a standalone iPhone app. He selected 141 phone numbers to SMS and the app did his bidding, albeit on behalf of Highlight. Had he selected 3,000 phone numbers, I’d have a list of 3,000 free numbers right now, but he was the one who pressed the button that sent me the message, not Highlight. Highlight put the gun in the room. He pulled the trigger.

Does this make Highlight innocent? Not really. It just means there’s more than one guilty party. If an app makes it so easy to thoughtlessly expose people’s information to others, there’s a problem. The very next paragraph reveals both an issue and the kind of attitude that helps make the issue worse and worse, specifically the first clause in the first sentence [Emphasis added]:

I don’t want to go all EFF on you here, but it’s clear our privacy is being eroded by nefarious corporations that understand that we are all morons. We are more than willing to spam our friends via Facebook, Twitter, mail, and text. We’re more than willing to send our entire address book to some server in Sunnyvale. We’re totally down with offering up our real names, birth dates, and bank accounts to sites like Mint and we’ll probably upload our health records to future sites.

I’m not always in full agreement with EFF, but when it comes to privacy and erosion EFF is a pretty good place to start, not something to deride. There’s more about the supposed utility you gain by giving up privacy—and another instance of the extent to which one type of behavior is now the norm, with exceptions to be sneered at [Emphasis added}:

That’s why privacy crusaders seem so stridently out of touch: they are smarter than us, or at least they pretend to be. To be completely fair, I don’t personally mind that Highlight sends my phone number to potential strangers. After all, it’s on countless bathroom stalls already. However, when apps like this scrape contacts and then email or text them on my behalf, bad stuff can happen. People who wanted to remain hidden can be discovered, telemarketers gain a few hundred new targets, and trust is eroded. Worse, stuff like this makes me advertise junk in the name of virality.

There’s more here. I’m not sure I recommend it. But there is a point: Too many people willingly trade loads of privacy for a tiny bit of convenience—and are then bothered when that trade becomes apparent. Sooner or later, the devil does show up at the crossroads expecting a soul…

linkedin: whybother?

Cute title for kate davis’ June 2, 2010 post at virtually a librarian. I’ve had a LinkedIn account for years, making as many links as I plausibly could (and accepting any proposed link with the slightest shred of plausibility, e.g., some from library people I’ve never heard of)—and when I was out of work, tried to “work the network” for job leads. Right now, I’m thinking I should try to work the network for possible sponsors for library research—and, frankly, “whybother?” is the response that comes to mind.

Davis is no social networking luddite, not by a long shot. (She’s Australian; her spelling’s just fine.)

In theory, I get that it’s useful to have a professional network separate from personal social networks. I get it to the point where I have two Twitter accounts: a private one, where I limit followers to ‘real people’ (ie no organisations – in fact, I only follow a couple of organisations from this account, which is a hangover from The Time Before Dual Accounts) and I aim to follow everyone back; and a public account, where I do follow organisations, and tweet much more selectively, with a focus on professional topics.

Facebook has a fairly well-defined purpose for me, too: I use it to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in my friends’ lives, to vent, whinge, moan, and, most importantly, to post photos of my delicious niece and nephew in the forum where the people who want to see them will actually see them. (I have a Flickr account, and I’d much rather post all of my photos to Flickr, but my friends and family aren’t in that space.) A few days ago, I did a major round of de-friending in Facebook. It’s a yucky process—it kind of feels like poking your tongue out, saying “You’re not my friend anymore!”, and flouncing away. But I did it, because I made the decision to limit my Facebook network to people I know and actually hang out with In Real Life. I guess I just wanted to declutter. I’d probably join in the Facebook exodus, if I could just get all my friends and family onto Twitter and posting their photos on Flickr…

She gets it. She’s been blogging since July 2007: she gets that too. But when it comes to LinkedIn:

For me, it’s just a source of email alerts to “Join my network on LinkedIn”. I log in very occasionally to approve these requests, and that’s it. Am I missing something? Is there some Great Point to LinkedIn that I’m completely missing?

Nine responses. One thinks it might be more useful for IT professionals. One has been headhunted via LinkedIn and knows of others who’ve gotten better jobs thanks to LinkedIn. The long positive answer comes from…well, from somebody who was writing a book on using LinkedIn for recruiting.

So maybe LinkedIn is primarily a tool for HR to go find people? Or maybe you need to be extrovert enough to go hounding people for recommendations? How’s your LinkedIn account benefiting you? (The chief benefit at MPPOW—my penultimate place of work—is that LinkedIn was taking over office space as the shrinking staff vacated it.)

The Seven Digital Sins of Online Collaboration

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. It’s by Nicolas Holzapfel, posted June 26, 2010 at Johnny Holland—but what’s that? Going to the About page is, if anything, a bit more mysterious, apparently because it’s in a language I don’t quite understand:

Johnny originates from the need to have a place where creatives can talk and discuss in a normal, honest and pure way. A place where they can focus and learn about the issue that’s really important: interaction (in the broadest sense of the word). It’s a place where we can get inspired, dare to make mistakes and are able to feel enlighted. This place is an ideal we try to accomplish and need to fight for. It’s impossible to gain it immediately and thus the way Johnny has to present itself has to grow and change organically. At first we start with an online magazine where creatives can share their thoughts, but time will tell what’s the best format. Maybe Johnny has to be a daily event, maybe a new ice cream flavor.

In order to be successful Johnny has to stay close to his believes: the heart of Johnny. This will be the core from where all decisions will take place. If a move doesn’t match it’s not a good move… or maybe it’s a sign that Johnny has to grow. Time will tell.

Creatives? Enlighted? his believes? The key “believe” is, apparently, that interaction is “the most important part in communication.” We learn a bit later that Johnny (the editorial voice of the site?) “He will never brag about anything or be aggressive, merely honoust.” I find it bewildering, but I’m apparently not an honoust creative...

Anyway, to the article.

I’m still in awe of the essence of the Web: connection and collaboration on a previously unimaginable scale. Yet I also feel like these connections waste my time. Not because anything in old media can provide them more effectively, but because the tools that make up the social web are still in a very early stage of evolution and they create a lot of unnecessary waste. This waste is a consequence of the Seven Digital Sins.

His seven digital sins?

·         Disorder: “The absence of ordering by subject matter.” Apparently Holzapfel feels that online conversations—threads of comments and the like—should be internally organized by subject and distinguish between “unique intelligent insights and throwaway expressions of approval and opposition.” Curated comment sets—can I have that job when I grow up?

·         Clutter: “The existence of more posts than necessary.” Online discussions can be repetitive—and people can misunderstand one another, leading to multiple clarifications.

·         Reinventing the Wheel: “Failure to build on past discussions.” People aren’t willing to read all the way through long discussions, so the same discussion can happen again. What he thinks should happen: “The Internet should be a place where people can access all the knowledge and ideas surrounding a particular subject and then say something which builds on that. In other words, discussions should progress.” Well, sure, since accessing all the “knowledge and ideas surrounding a particular subject” is such a trivial task.

·         Inconsistency: “Too many competing formats within the same collaborative suite.” Here he’s talking about tools like Basecamp and Huddle (neither of which I know anything about) and the apparent choice of ways to do something within them. Ah: the next paragraph talks about how having options makes consistency more difficult. I’d almost bet money that Holzapfel uses the Mac OS and despises Windows, given his clear distaste for options.

·         Automated miscommunication: “Too little or too much information about what’s happening within the collaboration suite” Again about collaboration suites—but also things like wikis. His broader term is “social media application” and he says:

How do users know when a wiki article relevant to them has been updated? How do they know if someone has replied to a comment they’ve written? How do they know if there’s some new question or idea they should be responding to? Answering these questions satisfactorily becomes much more difficult when there are half a dozen different formats to keep track of.

·         Aimlessness: “Discussions that run off-track and waste time.” He says this is also a sin in the “offline world.” He wants discussions that are threaded and controlled in such a way that there are no digressions, no threadjacks, no wasted time.

·         Incivility: “Personal attacks which don’t make any constructive point.” He’s all for anonymity—but believes that discussion formats themselves “might serve to undermine the one-on-one personal bickering that existing formats make so easy.”

Solutions? Basically it seems to boil down to two things: The last sentence in the article, a glorious handwave, “Our progress towards genuine mass collaboration is limited only by our inability to think outside the offline mental box.”—and, oh yes, that Holzapfel is “currently focused on setting up an innovative web service for collaboration and knowledge sharing.” One that, one presumes, will solve all these problems.

The second comment on the article is amusing but clearly out of place in a site like Johnny Holland:

Disorder, clutter, redundancy, inconsistency, inaccuracy, pointlessness and rudeness. What’s needed here is professional writing, editing and design. You know, like in “old media.”

I didn’t see any useful comments. After sampling the “newest material, just for you” in the “Magazine” section—and choosing to ignore layout problems like the number of comments frequently being superimposed on the introduction to the article (well, hey, this is a site about user experience or, for the in crowd, UX, not, you know, design or grammar or readability), I realized that I really don’t speak the same language as these folks. Should be interesting to see how a conversational medium will overcome these “sins” without having full-time online editors and moderated comments, though. I won’t hold my breath.

A Bovine Quartet

Technically, it’s only 3.5 items—not all in chronological order—but they’re near and dear to my heart, given the overall theme: Calling bullshit on social media. The first one alerted me: John Dupuis “Friday Fun: Calling bullshit on social media,” posted August 13, 2010 at Confessions of a Science Librarian. That post includes links to three prior “informal, semi-serious, so-funny-it-hurts Friday Fun series on the slings and arrows of online social media/networking practices”—two of which I discussed in August 2010 when they were still current. The third one’s also a charmer—”5 Things Serious Tech People Need To Stop Tweeting“—but I’ll leave you to explore that on your own.

Dupuis calls this one “probably the most serious” of the lot, and I think that’s right. Dupuis’ post is mostly a link to and quick summary of the post discussed below, so I’ll proceed to…

Calling bullshit on social media

Scott Berkun posted this on June 30, 2009 on his eponymous blog. If Berkun had an appropriate CC license, I’d probably quote the whole thing, but he doesn’t, so I won’t. I love this second paragraph:

For starters: social media is a stupid term. Is there any anti-social media out there? Of course not. All media, by definition, is social in some way. The term interactive media, a more accurate term for what’s going on, lived out its own rise / hype / boom cycle years ago and was smartly ignored this time around—first rule of PR is never re-use a dead buzzword, even if all that you have left are stupid ones. I’ve been involved in many stupid terms, from push-technology to parental-controls, so I should know when I see one.

Can I hear an “Amen”? All media are social to some extent, and the term as used groups together things that really don’t fit together very well. Then come Berkun’s points. The boldface sentences are his points as stated (emphasis in the original). Other text is my own quick summary (although Dupuis’ may be better):

·         We have always had social networks. Well, yes, that’s what makes society possible. Digital tools change the means and may both improve and degrade such networks, but we’ve always had them. (I do use the term “social networks” but I’m not wild about that one either. I will not use the term “social media” because it’s flat-out meaningless.)

·         There has always been word of mouth, back-channel, “authentic” media tools. That should be “have” (and given that Berkun is or was making his living through book royalties, he should know better, but hey, it’s just a post), but he’s certainly right.

·         The new media does not necessarily destroy the old. It’s “do” not “does” and I’d put it more strongly: New media rarely destroy old ones. But I’ve been harping on that for considerably more than a decade, and I’m unlikely to convince digital triumphalists any more now than I did then. Neither is Berkun: People who believe the One True Way are going to believe that, regardless of evidence. His summary is as good as most here.

·         Social media consultants writing about social media have inherent biases. Ya’ think? He links to a fine (read awful) example. As he notes, “Much writing about social media is PR people writing about the importance of PR” [emphasis in the original] and tosses off some notes about, ahem, “authentic,” which is becoming a nonsense word as well.

·         Signal to Noise is always the problem. He points out that lots of people seem to believe that they’re “rewarded for publishing frequently above all else.”

·         All technologies cut both ways and social media will be no different. That’s a tough, courageous and, I suspect, true statement. Except for regarding “social media” as being either a set of technologies or something real. “For all the upsides of any invention there are downsides and it takes time to sort out what they all are. Blogs and Twitter have made self-promotion, and self-aggrandizement, acceptable in ways I’ve never seen before, and I’m guilty myself. Is it possible to write or publish without self-promotion? I don’t know anymore.” I’m not sure I do either. Be suspicious of technologies claimed to change the world. This call for necessary skepticism is amplified thoughtfully, starting with the first sentence: “The problem with the world is rarely the lack of technologies, the problem is us.”

·         Always ask “What problem am I trying to solve?” Also a good discussion.

He points to a “general purpose essay, How to detect bullshit“ and “How to call BS on a Guru.” I won’t summarize either one, but you might find them interesting—and, actually, that second one has some very good advice, including one I’d engrave in platinum if I could: “Look for admissions of mistakes and failures. Someone who never admits they are wrong is dangerous.” But gurus almost never admit they’re wrong—otherwise, they wouldn’t be gurus.

Back to the original post. I see 132 comments, but most of them are actually pingbacks, not comments. (There’s also a partial “response” linked to from the post itself; I didn’t find it particularly convincing, but I’m biased.) Remarkably, the most recent comment is from January 2012—2.5 years after the original post. Some of the comments are spam, to be sure. I was taken—not in a good way—by sean allen’s comment, which begins:

Great thoughts and commentary Scott. I’m not sure I clearly see the intent of the article. Today it is Twitter, FB, etc, tomorrow it is something else. As you know, media is just a medium for getting the message out. What ever you call this new method, (social media, new media, web 2.0, etc.), it is just a message. Money follows where people are looking and the anecdotal data supports that people are looking, living, shopping, communicating in these spaces.

Argugghargghguug. “media is just a medium for getting the message out.” First of all, an English version of that statement is clearly and demonstrably not true—even if McLuhan wasn’t 100% right (which he wasn’t), the medium does influence the message. Second, to be sure, “media is just a medium” is so wrong that I couldn’t go much further. On the other hand, “s0apy” offers a nice little joke:

Q. What’s the difference between a social media consultant and a snake?

A. You can’t get oil out of a social media consultant.

Which may lead fairly directly to this item, the heart of which is in the headline and subhead:

New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It
Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit

That’s from The Onion on May 20, 2010 and maybe that’s enough—except that the story appeared early in the life of Foursquare, leading to this opening paragraph:

While millions of young, tech-savvy professionals already use services like Facebook and Twitter to keep in constant touch with friends, a new social networking platform called Foursquare has recently taken the oh, fucking hell, can’t some other desperate news outlet cover this crap instead?

The piece goes on to quote a cofounder—directly at first, followed by “But more than that, Foursquare is an [endless string of meaningless buzzwords we just couldn’t bring ourselves to transcribe].” If only the New York Times, and maybe Wired and techcrunch and a few (thousand) others would adopt this model! The rest of the story is equally good, and possibly the best summary of the import of Foursquare I’ve seen.

Social Media Burnout

I hadn’t originally included this post—by Abigail Goben on September 2, 2010 at hedgehog librarian—in this cluster, but it’s the next up chronologically and while Goben doesn’t use the key term, she’s saying some of the same things (and, as usual, saying them well). She’s focused on the extent to which too many social networks are causing a sort of burnout for some people.

As I watched the Boing Boing live stream of the Apple announcements yesterday I heaved a reluctant sigh. Apple’s adding a social network (Ping), another level of/opportunity for following, and more interacting for those embedded in Itunes. It’s 2010, people, and I have Facebook, Friendfeed, Plurk, LinkedIn, Grooveshark, Twitter, Flickr, Last.Fm, Ravelry, JacketFlap, LibraryThing, three blogs, six email accounts, and that doesn’t count work email (2), and professional listservs (8?). Do I really want/need another social network?*

She’s seeing “an increase of retreat and honing of social media interaction. Several friends have deleted entire accounts, walked away with hands thrown in the air,” and she’s been tempted to join them. She’s thought about the situation and come to a few conclusions. Briefly:

·         We don’t always need to reinvent the where/how-to-communicate wheel.

·         Most of us need a way to filter our time spent on networks.

·         We’re running into the clutter of repetition. (Hmm. That one’s so important that I’d better post it on my blog, then repost it on Twitter, also on Facebook, also on Friendfeed…and with luck, colleagues will repost it all those places and more…)

·         We’re getting involved to the detriment of the rest of our lives. Not all of us, not all the time….

·         It’s just not coffee. (That one requires expansion: Basically, internet-based social networking really doesn’t fully replace face-to-face “positive human connection.”)

I think we’re going to see an increase of burnout until people are able to decide which one or two networks and methods of communication is the most important for them (and perhaps until companies stop asking us to register and give our opinions on every bleeding thing we ever click on). We’ll splinter off into our various little factions that will not be unlike bars with different clientele, coffee shops that have a specific appeal, and every other in person social way we divide ourselves. I also think we’re going to see people advocating more and more for an unhooked day of the week/week of the year–where we step back and take a look at people around us, rather than names on a screen.

I think she’s right—but, of course, techcrunch can’t abide backward thinking like this. As she notes, even as she was writing the post, Sarah Lacy was announcing “If You’ve Got Social Media Fatigue, UR DOIN IT WRONG.“ Lacy’s essay uses “social media” (singular, of course) way too often for comfort and uses one personal anecdote as a killer argument. (In that case, the comment stream may be as interesting as the article—but once you run into “personal brand” and all the other effluvia of, I dunno, SMO? [Social Media Optimization], it gets both predictable and tiresome.)

The Path to Dunbar?

The title of this piece, by Steven Levy on November 15, 2010 at Wired’s “Epicenter” blog, is actually “The ‘Path’ to Social Network Serenity Is Lined With 50 Friends.” I find it interesting as much for some of the comments as for the primary piece, which is about Path, a “new social service” launching in November 2010 as an iPhone app. (Ooh ooh: Not only a new social “service” but it’s only for the cool kids!) The concept starts with Robin Dunbar’s anthropological work and his claim that as a species we’re only able to handle an inner circle of 150 friends or fewer—which has come to be known as Dunbar’s Number. (I’ll provide the same link Levy did to—oh, you know where it links to. It’s actually a pretty decent summary.)

The founder of Path decided there should be a limit on a person’s connections to create “a quality network” and, based on another Dunbar theory, concluded that the real limit should be 50—that people’s personal networks are rings of greater or lesser trust or intimacy, and that 50 is a good compromise so that you’re always “sharing a moment with someone who really knows you.” Ah, but then it gets more mystical:

Instead of professional networking or cracker barrel punditry, the purpose of Path would be to capture the daily “moments” that convey joy, particularly when the recipient of those posts knows what they mean to the person expressing them. Morin’s canonical example is sharing with his favored fifty the simple fact that he may be imbibing a hot mocha. “My friends know how much I love mochas,” he says. “So my friends are happy for me.”

This leads to the third idea behind Path. The only way that Morin’s friends and family on Path will learn that he is having a mocha is via a picture snapped on his iPhone and instantly sent to his network of 50 or less.

Maybe later Path will support, you know, language—but that’s pretty clearly secondary to “expression and communication” through geotagged, time-tagged photos. Here’s Monin (the founder): “You can literally see your friend’s lives through their eyes.”

I am so not qualified to comment directly on the merits of Path itself: I don’t own an iPhone or plan to buy one, I’m not a visual person by nature (I really can’t see myself snapping instant “moments that convey joy” such as, what getting my Monday order of General’s Chicken?), I don’t think I have an inner circle of five friends and my reasonably trusted circle is inchoate but probably more than 50. But that’s me.

The very first comment is pretty much what I’d expect, from someone who is certain what the purpose of social networking is (and there can only be one purpose, right?):

Path sounds like a stupid idea. The limit of just 50 friends frankly makes no sense. This might make it a more secure and private network but the purpose of social networking is not achieved in this. I am more keen for MyCube or Diaspora to release as they sound more promising as they seem to be secure and have no limit on friends.

The second takes on the moments of joy: “seriously ... who really cares about the minutia of anyone’s lives ... even those closest to you? seems like maybe you don’t have enough really important stuff in you life to worry about if these miscellaneous details of other’s lives are getting top billing.” I’m sympathetic to that notion, but then I also find Foursquare silly. After some others, there’s another who’s really angry about the Dunbar Number:

I don’t really care what their fake psuedo-sciences say- I have 1,600 freinds on Facebook and interact with a signifigant portion of them. Many are work contacts, many are old freinds. Many are jsut random interesting people I have freinded. A 50 freind limit is a deal-breaker, not only that, but it certainly means I will NEVER try Path.

I swear that I cut-and-pasted “bsu2006”‘s comment above without alteration. Nobody seemed enchanted by the idea, although Steven Levy seems moderately enthusiastic (which, for a cheerleader like Levy, may constitute damning with faint praise).

Were is Path today? Let’s consult the fount of all wisdom. It says that there’s now an Android version, that the limit is now 150, that a user can add any other user to their own list without permission—and that the added user can’t block this. The system was apparently “relaunched” in November 2011 and had grown from 30,000 to more than 300,000 in a month. It all seems a bit mysterious to me.

“Unfriending, Unfollowing, Unsubscribing…

Less is More.” That’s the full title of this November 29, 2010 post by Louis Gray at his eponymous blog. It may be useful to note that Gray now works as a product marketing manager on Google+, but this piece was written before he joined Google. Or, to quote from his disclosure statement:

As you can anticipate, while Google and I agree on many things, my opinions don’t generally reflect the opinions of my employer, and should be considered my own. (This is especially true for posts dating prior to August 2011) [Emphasis added.]

Here’s the intro to the post:

The world of social media and networking is much too consumed with numbers, and it seems at times, we are making sacrifices of our time and energy wading through piles of noise and indirect relationships in an effort to obtain the rare connections of serendipity that bring us value.

That link is to an interesting post, although it’s one that I’ll argue is false in at least one respect:

Ask any active social media user or blogger their follower statistics or RSS subscribers, or even their usual page views per day or month, and they will know within 3-5%. Anybody who says they don’t know or don’t check is probably lying. They might modestly tell you that one number is “too high” because of one service or another, or they aren’t chasing numbers, but they know because it’s one way to measure success.

That may be true for people who think “active social media user” is a meaningful phrase, but it’s certainly not true for all active bloggers, unless you define “active” narrowly. I’m nearly certain lots of library bloggers never check their stats—and they may not even have access to them. The sentence “Anybody who says they don’t know or don’t check is probably lying” is unfortunate and implies that all bloggers are primarily interested in how many readers they have. Don’t generalize, Louis…especially not in a post where you’re decrying numbers. (That post is interesting in other ways. For example, he describes Google Buzz as “the first real valuable network to come along in a while,” which isn’t how things played out.) His closing paragraph could be interesting but I think fails right in the first sentence:

We have got to achieve more accurate ratings of influence that determine value. There is no question that value of an individual varies widely from one person’s point of view to another, but I’ve just about had it with follower numbers. How would social networks be improved if we just hid them away entirely, and stopped looking at growth or relative sizes? My value is still the same, in terms of quality, whether I have an audience of 2,000 or 20,000, especially if I have the right people. Buzz had a chance to take a high road with putting the numbers game aside, but we’re seeing the games begin already. I wonder what new network will be the first to start focusing on quality and less on quantity.

Why must “we” have “more accurate ratings of influence”? Is it really reasonable to suggest that the value of an individual has much to do with how active she is on social networks or how many followers he has? Wasn’t there the idea that social networks were, you know, social, not about ranking and measuring influence? (What a silly notion…)

Anyway, back to the November post. Gray’s refining his own approach to networks:

I’ve had it with seeing the streams where I spend a lot of time overwhelmed by strangers and off-topic behavior, and continue to take steps to improve the experience. Lately, I’ve resorted to seeing my numbers go in the reverse direction—fewer connections, fewer subscriptions and fewer services.

That’s healthy, I think, and apparently it really is a change, as Gray previously said that “to jump on the massive unfollowing trend would be a mistake.” (I wasn’t aware of a “massive unfollowing trend,” but I’m not a social media guru or even a social networking expert.) That post seems heavy on demonstration that Gray is a true insider who knows more than us peons and is so popular that he can’t afford to actually choose those who he’d follow. This later post comes very close to being an “I was wrong” admission—but he avoids such an admission.

What’s changed? Well, one thing is that Facebook’s acquisition of Friendfeed, according to Gray, “[puts] he once-vibrant community into practical mummification, making its centricity for my own activity dramatically less useful.” If your game is having ginormous networks, that’s true—but for those of us more interested in quality than in quantity, Friendfeed serves as well now as it did in August 2009, when it apparently died for Gray.

Beyond that, there are more services, and eventually he became aware of the craziness of it all. So he got rid of 1,200 Friends at Facebook, “going from 2200+ to less than 1,000” in one day. He also started unfollowing people on Twitter (the post makes sure we know Gray is an insider) and cut the number of people he followed from an absurd 14,000 to “about 2,000”—which, to my poor aged mind, is still an order of magnitude too high.

And, gasp, he decided “to unsubscribe from services that I don’t use.” He deleted some accounts. He reduced the number of RSS feeds he follows. Oh, let’s be clear: Even as of November 2010, he regarded Google Buzz as vitally important—he actually calls it, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter “practically the only games in town for centralized discussions now.” And he closes:

There’s no harm in letting people go. It’s your right to unfollow and unsubscribe. It’s their right to bring you value and deliver you a good experience so you don’t disconnect. But if you’re finding your streams a mess, take a deep breath and do something about it. I am glad I did.

It’s a useful post—and I’d like it a lot more of Gray didn’t ooze such an air of self-importance. But that’s just me. And that reminds me that I really should do a similar slicing, not because I have anywhere near the numbers, but because I’m tired of only being able to follow select subgroups of my Facebook “friends,” most of which I’ve never met and don’t know at all. The benefit of slashing, for me, would be the ability to actually follow discussions.

No Conclusion

That’s it for Part 2, taking us through 2010. I think I can do all the items I tagged during 2011 (that aren’t network-specific) in a single chunk, Part 3, if only by being more ruthless about ignoring posts. We shall see…

Meanwhile: When’s the last time you did a social network audit? Do you follow too many folks? How many of your friends do you know anything about at all? Are there networks where you can’t see what benefit you’ve ever received or given? A little downsizing rarely hurts…even if you’re not an insider with thousands upon thousands of people desperately following every word you offer.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 12, Number 3, Whole # 147, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced irregularly by Walt Crawford.

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