scribblings by Paul Mison.


[Social Network] Island

chat 02:05:06
  • muttley: I remember ages ago I tried to get someone to buy an island with all of Google's money and establish a new country
  • muttley: Except Google Island would be oddly boring and no-one would socialise - except for the civil servants who would have obviously fake "fun" during mandatory periods in the very prominent yet empty common areas
  • muttley: Facebook Island would be chaotic and everyone would be out partying so much they wouldn't realise that the civil servants were rummaging through their stuff selling it to third parties
  • muttley: Everyone on Apple Island would be very good looking and most stuff would just work perfectly. Except if you ever tried to step off the path you'd be tasered. And fat people would mysteriously disappear.
  • hitherto: muttley: on Twitter Island all conversations would be mercifully short, but everyone would be yammering on about so much stuff you'd have no real idea of what was going on...
  • hitherto: The other problem with Facebook Island: there'd be a very inviting-looking landing dock for you to reach the island, but a 30% chance that it's actually mined and will blow you to smithereens when you try to land.



The Post-Delicious World

text 23:30:00

The fallout from the “sunset: Delicious” slide continues to echo around. Perhaps because bookmarks are a simple place to start, there are a few people beginning to host them locally; for example, here’s Jeremy Keith’s recent post (quoted approvingly at No More Sharecropping). Meanwhile, Phil Wilson said on Twitter that he

doesn’t really understand why people are looking to move their content into other, 3rd party, proprietary bookmarking systems.

And Les Orchard made a worthwhile post with its own summary:

Don’t depend on Delicious; host your own, pay for it elsewhere, or hope for the best. Use real-time feeds to stitch the bookmarking diaspora back together into topical aggregate indexes.

My answer is related to my post on Saturday about why I’m sticking with Delicious: the network. Tom Insam asked

what does the delicious network do that I can’t also do with an RSS reader and independent linklogs?

It’s a fair question. I’d say the main issues are UI and, more seriously, discoverability.

The Delicious network page is built for links. It shows notes nicely, and also displays tags and who posted something in a compact fashion. (The Pinboard network page does the same, to be fair.) By contrast, generic RSS readers are, well, generic. In dealing with everything from links to photos to long form text to podcasts, they have to make compromises, but for browsing links, it makes them a poor interface.¹²

The more pressing problem, to my mind, is discovery. There’s a few facets to this. Firstly, below every link, both Pinboard and Delicious allow you to see who else bookmarked it, which can be useful for finding people with a similar set of interests. Secondly, both provide a central place where you can enter someone’s nick and see if they exist.³ Thirdly, Delicious allows you to browse the network of another user, which is another route to finding people you may want to follow.

If people move to independent linklogs, how do you replicate these issues of discovery? Jeremy Keith dodges this question by syndicating his links into the framework of the centralised services, which works, but the larger challenge of a fully decentralised system that still allows the network effects seems to me to be at least an order of magnitude harder than getting people to self-host, and even that’s tricky. (After all, most people have moved to Pinboard or another hosted service, like Diigo, rather than downloading their bookmarks). 

Still, all of the most interesting problems are hard ones. I’d love to know if I’m missing people working on this (as it seems like the sort of thing Tantek Çelik, amongst others, would care about) and, if not, who else is thinking about it. That, or be told I’m overstating the problem. Anyone?

¹ The confusion in the various RSS formats over whether links should point to the final destination or the post describing the destination hasn’t helped.

² I’ve heard good things about Fever° for browsing link-heavy feeds, but I haven’t really played with it.

³ Neither Delicious nor Pinboard provides a proper “people search” feature, but they at least have a central list, which makes it far easier to build than one based on a general search engine.


Highlights From “The Viral Me”

text 04:28:06

GQ have posted an article by Devin Friedman called The Viral Me, looking at social networking through the lens of Y Combinator. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that caught my eye, for one reason or another.

Almost all the consumer products (hereafter: thingies) being built at YC are straight-up social-media products or have features meant to take advantage of what is known as the social layer of the Internet.

This — Silicon Valley in general and YC more specifically — might be the last place in America where people are this optimistic. The last place in America where people aren’t longing for a vague past when we were the shit.

My reflexive response [to] privacy fear[s] would be to pull all data whatsoever from the public sphere—erase my Facebook account, stop with the Twitter. People like Rahul have the opposite solution: Flood the social layer with information you want out there about yourself.

"You need to rapidly respond to people, and you need to know a lot about them," Rahul says. "I have a thousand and something followers on Twitter. And I’ve interacted with pretty much all of them at one point or another. Personally. I need to scale that to tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands. It’s a brand. It’s powerful!"

"You’re selling a product, so that makes sense," I say. "But don’t those tools make people who don’t have products begin to see themselves as the product?"

"That’s a good point. I believe that more people are going to work for themselves, and more people are going to do what they’re passionate about. If you love Disney characters, fuck it, go and monetize Disney characters. If you love Apple laptops, go and become an authority on that and gain a following. This wasn’t possible ten years ago. What we’re talking about is monetizing passion. Monetizing authority."

"But why is that good? Am I actually going to enjoy myself more?"

"You’ll be a bigger person. More people can appreciate who you are more often."

"Don’t you think the need to be a quote- unquote bigger person leads to unhappiness and anxiety?"

"I think it’s more likely to lead to happiness than material possessions, than the pursuit of more wealth."

"But isn’t it precisely the same as the pursuit of more wealth? It’s just replacing money with followers."

"Yes it is. But don’t reduce it to a number."

One of the founders of a YC company called (it’s FB for dead people, only more interesting) says he heard FB can already tell when you’re about to break up with someone: certain communication patterns emerge.

"There was a study done," Brian says. "They gave people video cameras. Everyone over the age of 25 would turn it outward, and everyone under the age of 25 would turn it inward. This is the first platform that captured this behavior of turning the camera inward. It created a platform for communication around that one behavior. Look at the iPhone 4. It has two cameras—they added one specifically to face inward."

Friction is what you don’t want. Friction is what keeps people from signing up for your site or downloading your app. Because it’s too expensive, because it’s too embarrassing, because it’s too difficult, because it’s difficult at all. … In a perfect world, there’d be friction if someone didn’t sign up for your thingy. Again, FB has it right: It’s frictive to not have an FB account; just ask anyone who has to explain six times a day why he doesn’t have one.

"In the best products, you put minimal amounts in," Brian says, "and you get a lot back out. Like Twitter. You follow ten people. You maybe tweet once in a while. And you get all this news content and information. You don’t have to do very much, and you get a lot back. Facebook? The same thing. You connect to your friends and, boom, you’re flooded with all this stuff."

Here’s how Rahul explains [gamification]: “The biggest trend in Web applications right now is adding game design. With the theory of game design, you want a curve like this: increasingly large payoffs at random but increasingly spaced intervals. So the first payoff is very small, and the next payoff is a little bigger, and the next one… To begin with, you get a payoff one out of five actions, then it’s one out of twenty, then it’s one out of fifty—but those intervals have to be random. That is the key to human addiction.”

Quora actually does make you feel optimistic. It’s a thingy that is meant to harness the collective knowledge of all the smart people who use the Internet and get them to answer human questions and provide nuanced human answers. Because, he says—and the man is correct on this point—the quality of information on the Internet sucks right now. (Anyone who tells you how much better the Internet made things should think about that.) Basically, he says, if you want information, you end up on Wikipedia. Quora is used by basically everyone in Silicon Valley now. All the famous people are on there, sharing high-quality information and shoring up their own online identities—their personal identities—and in the process helping the world be less dumb.

This isn’t just the place where they invent this shit; it’s the single place where the life that’s advertised is lived. Where the adoption rate, if the product is right, approaches 100 percent. Where the world has been mapped out by the inquisitive people with GPS-equipped smartphones and Foursquare, and difficult technical questions are answered by friendly experts you don’t know. (It’s hardly a coincidence that the one area of Quora that’s already fleshed out is the part about how to build thingies.)



quote 18:33:25
“ Crucially, both services specialise in transience. Both services started — and gained significant popularity — with a relatively basic feature-set. Twitter’s killer feature was that it was a conversational tool which worked across SMS and the Internet. Facebook’s killer feature was that it wasn’t as horrible as Bebo or MySpace. In neither case was proliferation of links (or sane URI design) a particularly significant concern. Twitter does have fairly sane URI design, but its front end was built in Ruby on Rails, which steers developers towards that end. Facebook’s URIs have actually had a significant overhaul in the last couple of years (but has actually made them worse: everything’s now stuffed in the fragment identifier). ”
Wibbly-wobbly socially-networky stuff by Tumbled Logic, on Facebook and Twitter. Quoted so I can come back to this later. (Open question: does Facebook actually have an archive? If you know a fragment identifier URI from, say, three years ago, is it retrievable? I know it is on Twitter.)

(Source: nevali)


Facebook vs The Book

text 10:58:47

Another day, another screaming Daily Mail front page:

Daily Mail: "Social Websites 'Harm A Child's Brain'"

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred. 

The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day.

It turns out this isn’t exactly a new position for Greenfield. This review of her book, iD (subtitled “The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century”), puts her concept plainly:

Her thesis is that a life lived vicariously in front of a screen is less enriching than one lived within the pages of a book. Children who watch TV, play computer games, rip off Wikipedia for prep and spend the few hours left to them texting their friends are going to be fundamentally altered

Also worth reading is a long interview she gave to the Independent at the time the book came out:

Young Susan experimented on her brother, too. “I bullied him,” she admits. “I made him [learn] Shakespeare […] He was three.” Three years old and reciting Macbeth? “He had no idea what he was saying. He just did what I told him. I thought it was funny.”
Greenfield was a reader as a child. So much so that her mother asked the doctor’s advice, thinking something must be wrong.

So someone who read so much she worried her parents now thinks that interacting via the screen is so harmful she’s causing others to worry, and who admits bullying - at least, toying with - her younger brother thinks that “the Facebook generation” will be self-centered and not think about other people?

Now, I’ll admit I’m probably not being fair (the phrases “ad hominem” and “straw man” spring to mind), but then, neither is the Mail. After all, as the Independent interview also says,

Greenfield is no Luddite, enthusing about the possibilities offered by nanotechnology and stressing that computer life offers “wonderful opportunities for collective creativity”. She thinks schools should develop software and systems that help pupils see their screen lives in a much wider context. She has a plan, of course, should Gordon Brown ask. “Neuroscientists, computer experts and educationalists should work closely together, bankrolled by the Government.”

This is quite a long way from “Social networking sites are evil”, but then, that’s not such an interesting headline. As for her central thesis, well, it’s not far off Rita Carter’s argument in Why Reading Matters, and it’s an argument that far better writers than myself have tried to refute, and while I can see a little truth in it, I can’t simply accept the opinion of a single scientist the way the Mail can.