Free Idea: Use ChaCha’s structure for disaster relief

On the drive up to Seattle a few weeks ago, Cindy and Sarah Dopp and I were playing with ChaCha and wondering how they make money. Around here we all go “What’s your business model” right away… and then snicker.

So I think I might just have figured it out. Do it for free for a bit with your VC money and show how it works. Then, sell “Enterprise ChaCha” or something like it, to a big institution. (I was looking at Indiana University‘s page about it.) You’d sell the structure and the setup, and the institution creates its own number (and password or validation system) and pools its own experts. So, sell it to Exxon or something for its corporate librarians and geologists. Or to the military, obviously. Here is the military’s answer to its perpetual search for AI. “Human assisted search”.

Anyway, this could also work for disaster relief, because it’s ideal for situations that change very rapidly. I was looking at Jon’s empty wiki and thinking, well aside from all the problems with the whole idea of that, which I won’t go into, might a Twitter feed be better? I thought of myself on the 2nd floor of the Astrodome after Katrina, gathering and putting out information that was extremely up to date, and how quickly things changed on the ground. Would I want a wiki for it? (I tried. It is hopeless without a core of people already trained to use one and to work together with one.) Maybe I wouldn’t want one. Maybe a feed would be better. Page back through the “2nd floor astrodome” Twitter feed and see what’s up. Combine many different channels of all the people at various stations in the Astrodome and you’d know who says what is true, right in the moment.

But even better — a private setup for a ChaCha-like thing. You get 100 people together to monitor and answer questions and you would have an instant backup, fit for the general of an army. Or fit for a reporter on the ground in a rough situation. I think of how I combed google news all day long for the Back to Iraq guy back in like 2003 and emailed him updates on whatever was going on or being bombed in the area near him. How much better, if he could have called a phone number like ChaCha’s, and tapped into a network of people like me. Someone would have texted him back the information he wanted within minutes. And if there were sort of a combination of Ning and ChaCha, you’d be able to set up your own information broker network and invite people to join it.

The Red Cross should be using this (okay, maybe in 20 years if they can get it together that fast). But, I offer the idea up to whatever nonprofits or disaster relief workers can use it.

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Folk logic computing for every gadget

Midnight blogging! I was thinking of all the science fiction about smart houses, like Smart House (Kate Wilhelm) or Remains (Mark Tiedemann). I don’t want to talk to my house, and I don’t want it to be a master controller of Everything in my living environment. Instead I want all my household gadgets to be more like my Chumby. I don’t want to freaking “program” my VCR or my coffeemaker. I want to swipe the widgets that my friends hack up. A couple of years ago I talked at the first Barcamp about social networks and trusting small areas of expertise. But now I think that idea will be played out better through folk logic. My co-housing mate obsesses on automatic control of our houses’ heating and so I bought a fairly cheap gadget with the most annoying user interface ever and now can never control the damned heat level of my house without consulting a 10 page user manual and going bleep bleep bleep oh whoops hell beep beep beep damn oh I give up, and then it reverts to how it was 12 hours later anyway. Screw that. The damn thing should run linux, like everything else should, and then I could log in to it and tell it to use Max’s program which he had the patience to set up. Likewise, I don’t care enough about TV to even mess with Tivo. (Count the number of media players in the world that right now are flashing 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.) I would rather just copy my friend Laura’s setup because I am likely to like anything she likes; we have the same taste in many areas, as you can see from our LibraryThing profiles. There are areas where I put in a lot of time and have tons of expertise, so my friends or fans would rip whatever widgety things I hacked up.

I can’t quite imagine how or why we would program our fridges or bread machines or coffee makers but they sure as hell have oddly sophisticated computer chips in them already, and someone will think of something good. So why not — my coffee maker should be truly “programmable” and have some kind of open source layer so that people can write stuff for it.

Everything computery should be hackable. I’m not going to have the time to hack everything, but someone in my social network will.

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Organizing BarCampBlock

Here’s a few notes on my experience with planning BarCampBlock.

A few weeks beforehand we expected around 100-300 people. We had emails from around 5 different office locations in Palo Alto letting us know we could use the space. We could not block off the street because the permit process from the city was expensive, time consuming (requiring months of work and meetings). Also, some of us felt that blocking off the street was unnecessary or would not help us have more room for speakers and sessions. Two weeks before the event we started kicking into high gear. Chris was designing the gear for the event and ordering it, Tara was working to do the maps and signage and registration info packets, I was going physically to all our locations to talk with the BarCamp hosts about what the event would be like and what we would require. Ross, Chris, and Tara did the fundraising. Chris was extremely good at knowing everyone and knowing who to ask for what. Tara Anderson did a considerable amount of the shopping and equipment rental. Ross spread publicity far and wide and used his personal mojo to get people excited about the event. For promotion, I put the event on Facebook, Upcoming, and of course we all contributed to the wiki. But it was Ross, Chris, and Tara who had the social capital to pull a lot of people to the event, and then once a few Internet Famous people like Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble signed up on the wiki and blogged about it, we knew a ton of people would come. (Though I did promotion and outreach, my own social pull runs to more like 50 people, not in the hundreds; this was interesting to think about.) I also had a private wiki page with phone numbers and contact information for everyone involved with the planning; a large amount of people since we had increasing amounts of locations and volunteers. Gathering that information was a lot of work. Mostly, I thought ahead to what would be required to make a comfortable, useable, useful space for participants. And I thought about who would need to know what information to make that happen.

About this sort of logistics. As a military history buff I would say that it is a bit like being a general. You can look at a map, but nothing substitutes for going to a location, looking around, and envisioning crowds. What will they need? How will the landscape change with extra people in it? People need a constant supply of food and drink, and they generate a constant stream of rubbish. They need seats, surfaces, light, and shade. They need small private spaces and large gathering spaces. They need bathrooms and a lot of toilet paper. They need information; thus they need maps, signs, fliers, arrows and other geographical orientation tools. Though BarCamp and other unconferences and temporary implementations of anarchy are about the distribution of authority, people need to know who to go to for information or help. In a role playing game for example (another collaborative activity that is oddly relevant here) I am great at worldbuilding, at creating a feeling of solidity. For any discussion (as with a classroom) we need whiteboards or paper up on the walls, and projectors are nice; blank paper scattered about was also useful. Just as Sam Gamgee mutters constantly in Lord of the Rings about the usefulness of rope, I mutter about tape. Duct tape! Blue painters’ tape! Clear packing tape on giant rolls with metal teeth! It is great to have all kind of tape and just salt every space with it; I also carried several kinds of tape around with me in my backpack. With giant post-its, tape, and several kinds of marker, I was able to change the lay of the land when that was needed, with a minimum of fuss.

I loved how smoothly registration went, and the unloading of all the materials at the last minute. I also loved the wireless team, the guys from Meraki and Etheric and Griffon Walker who does IT and network for Socialtext, and Cliff who totally rocked but whose last name I did not know. So many people pitched in to help, and they worked incredibly hard. I really do love that feeling, which I often had at the big housing co-op I lived at for years. Burning Man has spread that idea very well among my generation. For me it comes from being a commune-loving freak at heart. I enjoy reading socialist poetry about the beauty of wheelbarrows, and I like to do hard satisfying work while other people are also working.

What did we do well?

– We provided good space and structure.
– We distributed power, authority, and responsibility.
– We didn’t micromanage or overstructure. There was a large amount of freedom and unstructured space and time.
– We encouraged people to have good habits of thinking for themselves and finding things out and stepping up to be active participants.
– We reached out to many people to invite them to the event.
– We brought many people into doing the work; volunteers!
– We listened to people, what they needed and wanted, and their priorities.
– We raised a large amount of money at the last minute; thanks, sponsors!
– We connected many creative, intelligent people who might not otherwise have gone to a tech conference and spoken to each other.

Volunteers on Saturday were incredible. I particularly want to thank Sarah Dopp and Hilary who works out of Citizen Space. Sarah is someone I knew I could rely on to do anything; given a sketchy description of a situation and a possible solution and pointers to tools, she takes charge, thinks through details, and gets everything done. Hilary headed up quite a lot of moving trash around; early in the day I pointed out we could put boxes of trash bags next to each trash can, and asked her to rope people into doing trash patrol every couple of hours, and to pass off that job to someone else once she got sick of it; it happened throughout the day like magic. Adina Levin and many more people asked what needed to be done and then just pitched in and did a ton of work. I appreciated their intelligence and hard work.

I was happy about a moment where there was a problem; we had mistakenly put the Searchspark conference rooms – three of them – onto the schedule in the afternoon, when their space needed to close at 2pm. But luckily, the Echosign and Riviera spaces were almost completely empty for the afternoon. So I sent people to put up signs at Searchspark, and told everyone around me to look at the names on that block of time for the schedule and find the people involved and tell them if possible; and then I moved the sticky notes from one block of space to the other and crossed out the original time slots. I made sure that sessions in rooms with projectors went into new rooms that had projectors. As far as I know, this caused only minor confusion and hassle, and the sessions went smoothly.

The inclusion of children. We might have more kids today; it was just 2 or 3 on Saturday. I like for children at a conference to be around and visible, not stashed away somewhere remote. It worked well to have a room full of unstructured creative toys & comic books. With more kids, we would need to pull in more volunteers and have a schedule. I think this is quite doable. Infants and toddlers are much more difficult and would need more space for there to be noise.

The vibe. The vibe was good. It was mellow and friendly and not snooty or cliquey. It wasn’t frantic. Instead I felt people were relaxed and curious, thinking and talking. That made me really happy!

Flexibility and adaptability were our main virtues as organizers. I think to situations I have been in, and events I’ve headed up. I can say that Chris and Tara are people I like to have at my back. They have lots of practical common sense as well as vision, and they work very hard when push comes to shove, which I respect a lot.

What could we have improved on?

– Less party focus. I was not in agreement about the usefulness and value of the Blue Chalk space for sessions and DemoCamp, and was dubious of the need for the party. During planning phase, I was a bit of a party pooper. I fought to make sure the main BarCamp rooms remained focused on talks and discussions sessions, not on social space and beer. On the other hand, serving beer outside in the courtyard would bring us into various difficulties I did not want to deal with. I would prefer for BarCamps to be BYOB. Big parties in a nightclub are so 1999 dot com boom. And, most geeks of the BarCamp type would prefer to sit around talking, with laptops at the ready, rather than being at a loud party with music. (See what I mean about my being a wet blanket for parties!) Ross likes a party, and Tara Anderson likes to organize a party, so we clashed somewhat on this.

– More advance planning. If we had done more logistic work and ordering of the schwag a few weeks before, it would have been cheaper. On the other hand, if we’d done it all a few weeks before, we would only have ordered 200 of everything rather than 500-100 of everything. So, our leaving things to the last minute may in this case have helped.

– Earlier setup. Since it is a somewhat nomadic conference and has to spring suddenly out of nowhere and disappear again, it has to happen fast. But, I would have liked to have more physical prep, and equipment and supplies, on the ground in our HQ, a few days earlier. Even one extra day of prep would have been good — I can’t physically pull an all-nighter, so have to plan work in advance; I think many people were up till 3am on Friday night doing the prep work. Yet even with out that advance time for setup, everything still got set up on time! And the event went smoothly on Saturday.

– Nailing down the details on the “camp” part of the evening. We didn’t organize this, and we didn’t know who, if anyone, was planning to sleep over in the Socialtext offices. A day or two before the event, I realized this, and tried to get a person to commit to stay and keep the office open at least late if not all night. But that person did not materialize; in retrospect I should have put out this call on the wiki as soon as I knew it might be a problem. Since I went home early, and did not hand off my office key, I don’t know what happened in the evening!

– Trash logistics. I worry that we did not do recycling very well, and that we could have done trash and recycling more responsibly, planning to haul it and dispose of it rather than filling up the dumpster space for our community, and possibly inconveniencing our neighbors.

– More advance notice to neighbors. I did flyers and email through the property management company and condo association for the residential neighbors on our block. But I thought of this and did it last minute (when it became clear we had a 1000 person event not a 100 person event.)

For all the people I promised to have a Real Talk with later, please take me up on it. Email me or call me next week, and let’s have lunch or coffee or you could come by the co-working Palo Alto office and we’ll conspire.

Thank you to everyone who came to BarCampBlock. YOU ROCK!!!!

A next-to-last note. I had no problem handling this event from a wheelchair (and often, with some responsibility for one or more children). At this conference, less people bothered to ask me about my wheelchair or about disability issues. (Hard core geeks: “What? your mere physical shell has a minor modification? Why would I even notice, let alone comment on it?”) Mostly, people had good wheelchair manners, and did not bump into me excessively or do the more obnoxious things like ask me if I’m dying or degenerating, or start pushing my chair around or leaning on it; thanks, geeks.

Also, a final note. Clean up your trash! 😎

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"Community" needs women, badly!

Sometimes you just have to laugh. Apparently this conference, “Community Next“, has been missing all the years of discussion in blogging and tech communities about gender diversity. Maybe it’s too technical of a conference and women tend to go for the more “soft” skills like communities and social engineering and marketing? Oh wait, that’s what the conference is about. Um! Maybe there aren’t any women in tech who do community work? Or who know anything about viral marketing and web 2.0? Maybe they’re not famous and notable enough, or don’t know how to speak? Golly. Where are the women!?

Seriously, I looked at this speaker list and conference description and started laughing really hard. So many nice guys that I like and respect, but here, they dropped the ball.

Again.

Maybe danah was rly rly busy so they just didn’t know who else there was to ask!

Or maybe if they put some pink in that web site design and a link to shopping, some of the wimminz might show up. (/sarcasm)

If there aren’t women talking, I get turned right off of going.

On the other hand, some of those guys are kind of hot. Maybe they will wear their best really tight witty Threadless tshirts and make it worth my while to show up. Hawt!

(/really ending sarcasm now)

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Social Media Consensus Workshop, Liveblogged

I fell into this by accident because it was (surprise) happening in my office — Socialtext’s nascent co-working space, which is still under construction. So this morning I met Bronwen and Jim from Social Media Consensus. Other people: Stowe Boyd, JD Lasica, Britt Bravo, Pim Techamuanvivit from Chez Pim, Tom Foremski, Vincent Lauria, Sara Olsen, Eszter Hargittai, Julia French, and others.

Our first exercise was run by Pim. We split into small groups to look at a non profit site and react to it by brainstorming a list of words, then focusing down those lists and reactions. Sites were Global Voices, Change.org, Gimp Parade.

Notes on Global Voices, discussion led by Eszter.

* Noble goal and great idea, poor design and implementation
* hasn’t quite taken off or had an impact
* low Google/Technorati rank. They’re not even registered on Technorati
* navigation and having to scroll past the giant tag cloud; confusing

My own reaction to GV is very different; I think of it as useful and it comes up all the time for me when I’m looking for blogs and news (in English) from Latin America. I also think of it as a beginning, a small but extremely important start, in facilitating representation of voices from many different countries.

Stowe adds that it has unclear goals. Manifesto makes it sound like it’s around activism. Bronwen’s perception is that they influence NGOs like Amnesty International. Sara Olsen points out that the concept of free speech is culturally biased. Stowe tells a story about people’s reactions to his tshirt that says “Stamp out free speech”.

Other keywords: free speech, discovery, not interactive or intuitive.

Julia points out that the expectation of interaction is fairly new. Stowe says we require and need conversation, interaction, that the lack of it is as bad as it gets.

Notes on change.org

I was in this group. We had a very positive impression of change.org, with keywords like belief, people, community, identity, activism, progressive. I signed up for the site as we were talking. It was very clear what it was, what it was for, and how to use it. It is activism focused but also very personal and it’s possible to differentiate many voices. (Or maybe Britt and JD and Pim and I are all the most optimistic fluffy-bunny optimists of the group today?!)

People are made of ideas, and ideas are made of people. We can move back and forth very seamlessly.

What if Global Voices could work this way? It would be scalable, expandable.

Notes on Gimp Parade

Critique of presentation and style. Based on Blogger. Enormous amount of information, difficult to navigate. Hard to access and tell what we were looking at. Bronwen explained what the site and blog and carnival are about.

What we want to see: the site representing its value, its status and value in its own community, its readers, who they are and what they think. The content is great, provocative, dynamic, emotive, genuine, authentic, has a real voice. Stylistically it’s handicapped by being bland. Notes about subcultural immersion: you can drop in from outside that subculture and learn about it. Would anyone google and land on this site? Maybe not, you might come to it from links in from others in the community. When you hit that page, as an outsider who landed there from a google search, you would have no idea what it’s about. Moving to better technology than Blogger and its About page capabilities would help. A question: is it looking bland in some ways because it’s trying to be accessible to machine readers, etc? Is it really accessible that way?

Bronwen points out that people with disabilities are hugely more likely to blog than other categories of people. Re-forming identity online. (So true, and for me, disability drove me very hard into online identity, in the early 90s and then later when I was increasingly mobility-impaired, using a wheelchair and limited by pain and exhaustion.) Bronwen also brings up some disabled bloggers who left online communities because of the pressure of being tokenized and put in a position of always “representing” and losing their ability to have personal conversations.

Notes on Netsquared, led by Sam Perry

Positive aspects:
Negative: What is it? What are they doing? Not clear enough. We came up with verbs. Verbose. Confusing. Made our minds close. Remixing – two columns confusing. The sponsor validation is good but didn’t link in to the rest of it. Where are they leading us to? Uninviting. Stopped us. Impasse. Hidden.

Rounded corners, we love rounded corners. Mission statement too fuzzy. We know what they’re trying to do, but the site doesn’t say that! Trying to do something social, but not getting there. We’re professing to be social and have a social nature, but the tools aren’t there. Stuck. If you know someone who’s tied into it, you get it, but if not, you won’t get it. The sitemap is good. Julia mentions being authentic and authenticity, and that’s not happening here. It’s hard to add yourself. The site is pretty though. Stowe adds that the DNS is misconfigured. You can’t comment or add yourself or interact with it at all without registering. We want more visual, more people, more photos and video.

****

What I’m noticing here is that the sites we’re talking about, other than change.org, are not social networks, and we want them to be. We all in this room seem to believe that social networks are inviting, welcoming, intuitive, and powerful.

***
After lunch: I missed some of the discussion, and had to be in and out of the meeting unfortunately, but these words were recorded on sticky notes:
usability, aesthetic, design, entertainment, accessibility, political, change, ego-feeding, constructive, progressive, community, global, international, action, people, beliefs, interactive, discovery, people (again) informative, activism, empowering, impact, identity, discovery, ideas, sustainability, sustainable business model. Combining all this up: impact — joining people, campagning against/for, affecting change, bringing attention to something, activation point rather than tipping point, engagement—- policy critical/cognitive, analytic, social impact. The point of these lists of words and the discussion around them is to figure out what things need to be measurable and measured for SMC’s indexes.

Eszter points out there’s decades of research into points of social change. Polls and getting background information on people, which is tricky to do when you have aggregate data on the web, there isn’t standard data form for social scientists. This is crucial for measuring social issues and representing everyone, not just elite groups. (***fangirls Eszter***) (***invites Eszter to come speak for Wiki Wednesday***)

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SXSWi: Attention panel

Notes on “Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation”.

Christian Crumlish, Ted Nadeau, Mary Hodder, Kaliya Hamlin, George Kelly

Christian Crumlish talked about how new cell phones are. Etiquette still developing. How much of your attention can I have? Establish level of communication or mode of being present and paying attention. Maximize or optimize your presence. Let’s take a look at Plazes. Trazes, history of where you’ve been. “I finally gave in, last night, and I’m on Twitter”. Tribute to Leslie Harpold David Howard, who documented changing his name. (Me and the woman next to me snort a little bit… It becomes way important and interesting when men do it…) Porn search expose. People who have a separate computer for browsing porn. Cognitive dissonance on iChat as Thomas Vanderwal chatted to someone who was listening to his podcast. Unmasking digital identities. Attention spying on yourself.

Kaliya’s talking about OpenID. Namespaces are on the rise. Often people have 100 identities and that’s growing fast. Instead of us getting a different identity from every company we deal with, WE should tell the different companies and websites who we are. OpenID, inames, and LID all cooperating to have one login box instead of competing with each other, with the Yadis protocol, an XML-XRDS document. sxip also joined this protocol. Kaliya explains the

(I signed up with myopenid.com a while back. And at last week’s hackathon, a developer at Socialtext implemented OpenID in our wiki software.)

Ted Nadeau says our non-monetary assets are: Identity, Attention, Intention, Influence, Reputation. (In addition to Str Dex Int Wis Con Cha.)

He explains his identity in brief. Your reputation appears different to different viewers. You are not the authority on your own reputation. Systems based on reputation. EigenTrust. Whuffie. Karma. Opinity. None are compelling to Ted. Conceptual models – Pythia’s Framework for building reputation systems. “a ubiquitous, spontaneous, and highly efficient mechanism of social control”. It’s good to know. It’s useful. It’s good to know if someone’s scary when they’re drunk. Shame can be useful socially. Big reputations – corporations, wwf wrestling personalities. Polytheistic gods – Zeus, Ganesh. Films, soap operas, consistency. Big, consistent, shared. Bigger entities like nations. eBay, LinkedIn, WoW, Amazon, academia’s citation indexes (Hirsch number), Google pagerank. Problems: Reputation theft, damage, loss, stuck, Identity first, reputation later. ‘Sybil’ attack, karma-whoring. Call to action: Deepen the conversation. Implement Reputation systems.

Mary Hodder is amazed that Ted can be funny this early in the morning. She’ll explain a bit of background for academic views of attention, but then will talk about them from a user specific perspective. Systems collect data on you. IM data, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the meta data. Your google searches, too; maybe somewhere in the back of your mind you know they’re collecting information on you. It doesn’t seem that consequential, but it’s incredibly consequential. There’s an attention economy built on top of everything we do. Gestures. A gesture is a vote of confidence. The Attention Trust asserts that you own a copy of your information. You own a copy of your attention stream. The Attention Trust built a recorder. Citation of McCarthy and red scare. He said that certain behaviors were not common and therefore were outside the social norm. WE’re engaging in the social norms. If the government can subpoena the clickstreams for Microsoft or Yahoo then they’re segmenting a section of the population away from everyone else and saying they’re not normal. If only the Yahoos, Googles (and governments!) of the world have that attention pool, then that gives them too much power. If all our attention information is public then it’s more difficult for the government to make false claims.

I agree strongly with Mary Hodder. Public pools of information are a protection against abuse by powerful entities. They aren’t a perfect protection, but they give us all a chance.

George Kelly is talking about Mapping Persoality Visibility. Johari charts.

You know, I saw people doing this on LiveJournal last year but never followed the link. It’s like a slam book (a concept I learned from the Judy Blume book Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. I thought it fascinating but never could get anyone to agree to try it.) Good, now I can try it: Johari window for Liz Henry.

Questions: The idea of a single repository where all this stuff goes is a problem. We have multiple identities and shifting identities over time. A blog means it’s too much in one place. (Lizzie ?? “prematurely grey” might be her old blog. Ah. Liz Burr.)
Christian: I don’t know. There are a lot of us that have multiple identities and then are merging them back together or splitting them apart.
Ted Nadeau: Working for companies. Integrating their identity moving forward. Youth maybe is more intuitively able to see that we’re one person not many. Identity, and maintaining and coalescing an integrated identity.

Wow, I dig all the stuff Ted has been saying.

Kaliya: People in this room have a unique opportunity to help with this problem. The physical world translating into the logical world and back. Things that have friction in RL now have zero friction online. Work on increasing identity friction. That will help. (Did I get this backwards? Kaliya will you explain that more somewhere online where I can read and link to it? You just blew my mind but I don’t think I understood.)

Mary Hodder talking about the “wearing my work clothes to bed” or “bikini at the bank” concept. Yes! Be able to move between multiple online identities. (That would increase friction rather than having all your online stuff and real life stuff be together in one repository.)

Well, we’ve been talking about that and having 4 different personas which are easy to switch between, since the first barcamp at least, but I haven’t seen it happen yet in any software or web platform. People still respond to this idea with “But you can just log out and back in again with a different name.” No. Not to the 20 places online that are all tied together and that I use together.

?? who works for Alternet and Jim Hightower etc. What people are putting out there about me or others. Firms googling potential candidates and not hiring them. Jill at Feministe. Her picture etc. up there and some conservative guys ranking her, etc as if she’s some kind of internet slut. But law firms will be looking at her and she’s afraid it will hurt her career. Unfortunate response was

Mary HOdder: Law school class, some guy playing tetris during a lecture. Video shot of it and put up on Dabble. He wanted it taken down.

Kaliya: It’s improper to make judgements about someone’s personal life and work places will need to learn that. If they judge people on their personal life they are going to lose good people. Creating social norms is important. Something bad happens to me now in email? I blog it. We have a personal platform to out bad behavior.

Christian Crumlish: We’re in a wild west phase and we’re waiting for that to mature…

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Fictional layer on social networks

Here’s a fabulous idea! On social network profiles, there will be space for one’s fictional alter egos. In other words, my profile on orkut or friendster or tribe or even LinkedIn should include my past role-playing game character information. One could suck in data from one’s Everquest or World of Warcraft or MUD characters, and manually put in data about tabletop rpgs.
It’s important, because who you like to pretend you are is important. Among role-playing gamers I certainly know people who think about the patterns in their game-playing, and who consciously use the characters to vary their real life persona, to experiment with ways of being, as well as to play to their real life characteristics and strengths.

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Paying attention as an art form

In thinking about the ways that value is created (including literary value, or imaginary ideas like money) I arrived at some thoughts about the ways people pay attention to each other on the Internet. If you want to pay attention to someone on the Internet, thanks to social software and blogging and rss and things like Twitter and wikis, there’s a lot of ways to do that, to navigate attention & identity individually and collectively, and to let that be seen in varying degrees. In fact, paying attention to people with people can be done with amazing artistry and skill.

People need complex systems so that they can pay attention to each other indirectly and obliquely through all being attentive to something else they have in common. That thing has to be complicated enough to be worth attention. It might be social justice or the good life or gossip or religion or who is the most popular celebrity and why or who wins the Superbowl and how; or seduction or courtly etiquette or art criticism. Functionally and socially those things are all equivalent. Paying attention is better, the better the quality of the synthesis achieved. Software making is heady as any collective endeavor is because it’s about people paying enough attention to the same thing to make the thing happen and a creation of any sort is a logical synthesis of ideas & their practice (it is maybe a result of synthesis on one level but on another it is the synthesis.)

I come to this idea also as I think about how much I want to teach my college composition students about the pleasures of thought that arrives at synthesis. I’ve also gotten here because my partner just laughed at me and shook his head with disgust when I squeaked “Oooo, I’ve just reached twitterlibrium!”

Also because it’s late at night, I had an overstimulating and hyperproductive day, and can’t stop thinking to the point where I fool myself into thinking I’m Barthes or something and can write things like “Praxis is synthesis! Art is the collective attention stream!” and feel profound… without any acid.

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Some amusing ideas around Twitter

Part of the fun of Twitter is in making up stupid words with tw*tt- as the prefix. Make up the ludicrous dot-com word and the idea will follow. I am very fond of words that have sprung into being like “multiblogular,” “polyblogular,” “hyperblogulating”, “twitterlibrium“, “computerbating” or “wikibating” and now “twitterbating”. The -bating suffix is particularly interesting because it carries all sorts of associations of feelings and irony around the activity. Perhaps a slight tinge of guilt and discomfort or uncertainty towards the degree to which one is engaging with people (or no people) online rather than “real life” (which of course we must put irony quotes around because talking to people over the net is real life just as much as talking face to face.)

While I was driving to San Jose the other morning I was considering twitterzines – what would they be? I think a way of creating sophisticated “favorites” lists or sets. Twittidors would drag and drop other people’s tweets onto interestingly-themed twitterzines; they might turn out like poems or tiny magazines or scrapbooks made of snippets of other people’s lives. Being able to look at or collect tweets based on keyword would be nice, but then adding in a human editorial function would be nifty. One’s amazing words of wisdom about chicken tacos or the future or toenail-painting at sunset could then be collected by others… and perhaps you get props of some kind for the mention or for being anthologized (twitthologized? ugh!)

The timeline concept could be pushed way further & with tons of possibly pointless data so that you could look at your own or other people’s distributions of twittering – Does one tend to tweet at particular times, like during commute… at dinner… Or what? And with particular keywords associated? Just as various events have been highlighted on Twitter (Macworld, etc – and imagine the mass twitterbating that’s about to happen at SXSWi; it’ll be nuts) We could mark up or tag important moments. Like being able to collect what people were tweeting during the Superbowl. I don’t give a fuck about the Superbowl and in fact don’t know who played or won, but maybe other events would give nifty information to… someone. My mind hovers between thinking of historians and advertisers… but probably it would be the dilettantes who look.

Dragging & dropping would be a nice concept. Rather than batch editing (Okay I’m assuming anyone ever bothers… But they might… ) you could drag and drop your (or someone else’s) twitters onto a tag or into a collection (the twitterzine – which again would be a bit like a Flickr set.)

A probably easy & fun Twitter extension: A mood index or indicator that depended on various factors. On contemplating my own collection of tweets I am heavy on the “fabulous” “Yummy” “yay” and the gazillion exclamation points. Clearly my mood index would tend towards the “Give this woman Ritalin, stat” end of things. The mood index could be as simple as good mood / bad mood but I suspect that more complex would be more fun. The lists of keywords indicating mood, or the connections between word and mood could be built collaboratively, and I think keywords would be a fine way to do it (Unless there is someone out there typing “Yay, I’m fabulously pissed off and want to kill myself, omgponies!!!”) This could be pushed even further into, what’s that test that people get so obsessed with? The one where I’m like ENTJ or something? That thing. You could associate keywords or patterns or data with various of the qualities and then predict.

One could look at patterns of whether groups of friends or followers tend to twitter in clumps. For example, if after Tara Hunt twitters about her day, half her friends obliquely respond by twittering about their day, that could turn out to be interesting information. An algorithm like… the # of followers you have, in relation to how many of them tend to twitter within a certain time period after you twitter. That might be pointless because it would lead to a level of self-consciousness and avoidance of posting immediately in response to someone or else – the other direction – gaming it deliberately. On the other hand that might be amusing as well.

Twitter is lovely for flirting and webstalking – you can see what your crush is up to or obliquely let them know as well without directly communicating or possibly intruding on their day with an IM or email. So what many dating sites haven’t achieved, Twitter does perfectly without intending it. Flirting is all about plausible deniability and Twitter offers that very nicely. I’d like to hear some cool twitter-flirting true confessions from people…

Anyway, I picture this sort of stuff being built on top of Twitter, much like the nifty and addictive little apps people build for LiveJournal. Like LiveJournal, Twitter is *fun*… And people want to play with it and poke and and mess around, which could turn out to be productive in unpredictable ways.

I shouldn’t say this, but given the level of eye-rolling some people exhibit over “those people obsessed with Twitter” with the implications of pointless narcissim & wankeriness… I’m surprised no one has made the obvious tasteless parody: Twatter.

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Trivium, twittering, gregarious behavior


twittering
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Some rambling thoughts on twitteration, or twitteritude:

Twitter is fun. It’s a microblogging site; your entries are strictly limited to just a couple of lines of text. You can friend people and get their twitters on a web page, on IM, or on your cell phone. Sign up, watch the public stream go by, friend people who strike you as interesting.

Now you have 10 imaginary friends, tamagotchi who need feeding, your loneliness is assuaged, and you feel important and hip and cool as you’re standing in line or sitting in a boring meeting and you get texted on your cell. Shallow me! And shallow you if you like it. You must not be very important. You must not be busy enough. Listen to the mean ol’ grinches who love to hate Twitter! Broadcasting the trivium of your day! It’s almost like social conversation, gossip, small talk. It’s almost like the glue that holds relationships and people together. It’s not important enough to blog. It asserts the importants of daily life. It forces the compression of your own evaluation of your life into two lines a day. Are you twittering too much, to people who already have too much of an information feed, and they’ll drop you?

The more in-the-corners and unimportant you are, the more fun and important a twitter or a myspace becomes.

Maybe it isn’t a productivity tool. Or, with more focus, with groups and channels, it could be made into one. Why slam it for being what it is? Why not take the idea and run with it, tinker with it?

I had a strange moment at Writers With Drinks, when I was introduced to a guy named Yoz and realized 10 minutes later why his name sounded familiar, the sort of thing that used to happen from orkut or friendster, a familiar moment to anyone on a social network. It was because he’s the last person on the friends-badge list of a bunch of people I “know” on Twitter.

I appreciate social media’s enabling of fun webstalking, of course.

But that’s not even the interesting part.

It’s the potential for literary forms to evolve with technology. I see particular people who have immense Twitter charisma, who are more interesting in that venue than they are on their blogs or in conversation. Shouldn’t that be okay? If we are abandoning objective standards for quality, then it’s good to look at what’s good in all media. It is pointless to bemoan the fact that people like to do stupid things. Instead, look at the mass of stupid things and pick out the best of, according to the standards of that community and not just according to the standards of dominant culture or dominant literary forms. It is possible that the great internettian novel is being written right now on Twitter, or will be written next year.

Or we’ll get a bunch of poets on there and do renga. No, wait, I forgot, that might interrupt my productivity! Chatting, fun, and art: bad for productivity… of course…

It isn’t useful for some people, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something interesting going on under their radar.

If everyone in a nursing home right now had phones with Twitter, or something twitter-like and the knowhow to use it, think how cool that would be. Loneliness is not to be sneered at. I bet we all know several lonely people who would like some imaginary tamagotchi twitter-friends. Surely, soon, we will have better two-way social networking appliances than phones, laptops, or crackberries, easier to use, easier to type on, marketed towards the senior niche. And then the great internettian novel will be written by a 95 year old former kindergarten art teacher in Modesto.

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