January 31, 2005

I'm not egotistical, I'm monitoring my online profile

Sure, you may ego-surf every few days. But me? I keep a search running through Bloglines that lets me know when I'm mentioned. (This is Kibozing for the 21st century.)

And now a new blog has popped up. Danyel Smith, hip-hop editor and writer, is now Danyel Smith, blogger

Which means that someone, somewhere, is going to type Danyel Blog and be horribly confused.

This is what happens when very-nearly-unique names (we need not mention this person) collide.

Posted by danyelf at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2004

Not Just Any Email

The list of Most Wanted Gmail Features is a list that is, I think, meant to help gmail "catch up" to other mailers. The features listed on the site are all good and valuable things:

IMAP access
Import mail from other sources
Ability to save a draft
Ability to send HTML mail
POP3 access
Force different subjects into single conversation
Manually break up conversations

However, these all strike me as minor. They will help gmail catch up with other mailers, but they don't represent a departure.

And Gmail, to me, more than the 1 GB of space or the subtle advertising, really manages to be something kind of new. In particular, it's the first time I've had decent text search with a little bit of ranking. It's the first time I've had labels done correctly. And it's the first time that search hits come up with those labels correctly.

Maybe I'm the only person who really cares about that. But because it's those search aspects I care about, the feature list that I'd like to see for GMail (or for any other mailer) is very different.

  • Person-oriented searches. I mentioned this in a previous message, but it didn't really come through, I think. The nice folks at Google think of email as a bucket of words. But an email from jansamsmith@hotmail.com is an email from "Janet & Samuel Smith", at least in my contact book. And that means that when I search for "Janet", that email should come up. Unfortuantely, the word "Janet" doesn't actually appear in the email itself.
  • Similarly, person-oriented lists. This is an extension of the search. Why can't I pull all my interactions with Janet & Samuel? I'm sitting right here, looking at their contact book entry. And so I need to close the contact book, open the search box, and type in their email address... this should be a one-click.
  • Which means, intelligent aliases. Because myfriend@ics.uci.edu is the same guy as myfriend@uci.edu and even my@friend.com, and I'm willing to spend the five seconds it takes to tell Gmail that, if GMail promises to remember that useful fact and keep it around.

There's a start. All these are direct, heuristic, user-interface-oriented tweaks that Google could apply to Gmail that would rapidly make it substantially more powerful. Some other time we can talk about how Google (or another mail company) could apply social network analysis and collaborative filtering...

Oh, yeah. None of these are specific to gmail. I want to see them in Thunderbird, or in Outlook, or in Apple Mail....

Update Joshua points out that these aren't "minor" tweaks any more than, say, whether a car window closes is a "minor" tweak--and, indeed, I'll grant that this is true. But they are, in some crucial way, "obvious" tweaks. They are the ones that a competent mailer should have -- and that most mailers do have. What I want is mailers that start looking outside the box, and rethinking what the email task is. The much-maligned (and justifiably so) Coordinator (as discussed by Winograd and Flores in their computers and cognition work) was a novel rethinking of the email task, and for that alone is certainly notable.

Posted by danyelf at 02:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

CFP: Social Networks for Design and Analysis (CSCW 2004)

Social Networks for Design and Analysis:
Using Network Information in CSCW

A CSCW 2004 workshop:

Workshop Date: Saturday November 6, 2004 – Chicago, IL
Submission Deadline: Wednesday, September 22
Notification of Acceptance: Friday, October 1

[ Note that CSCW early registration ends on October 13. ]

Workshop web site: http://www.ischool.washington.edu/mcdonald/cscw04/


  • Shelly Farhnam, Microsoft Research
  • Danyel Fisher, Microsoft Research
  • David W. McDonald, The Information School, University of Washington

The CSCW community has a tradition of adopting social and analytical theories to understand groups and group processes as well as when designing new systems to support and augment cooperative work. Social networks have a long tradition in sociology and cultural anthropology, but are only beginning to break into the CSCW mainstream. The key notion from network analysis, that the interconnections between people can be used to understand and improve their interactions, is one that has direct implications for CSCW research. Network models have clear implications for research into communication systems, teamwork, and knowledge management.

Social networks are being used in several different ways:

  • “Social Network Analysis” – Which is the more traditional, formal, techniques of mathematical sociology and anthropology are used to analyze a population.
  • “Social networks” – The general connections that people have with each other. Examples include explicitly articulated social networks in Friendster, Orkut, or LinkedIn, which use the language and concepts of social networks.
  • Social network techniques in CSCW design – These techniques can vary from contact management, to recommendation techniques, to ways of understanding how an organization is adopting and using a new technology.

While we are particularly interested in this third stream of research, we are generally interested in understanding the broad range of social network research within CSCW. We are interested in exploring tools that both use social networks as a source of information, and that support end-user interactions with social networks.

This full-day workshop seeks participation from social scientists and system designers to address the ways in which social networks can be adapted for use in analyzing cooperation and as a framework for considering new system designs. The workshop will consider four specific topics:

  • Measurement - How are social networks being collected and measured (automatically, manually, quantitatively, qualitatively)? What do these networks actually represent? How are the networks validated? Are the measurements implicit or explicit?
  • Tools - What is the state-of-the-art for analyzing, visualizing and representing social networks? In what context are these tools useful and how can the tools be adapted to specific CSCW situations?
  • Application - Systems are embedding social networks into the fabric of system design. How can system designers distill the complexities of networks into user-oriented displays? How are social networks supported by the system, software, or architecture?
  • Evaluation - How does the use of a social network change, facilitate, or hinder users and their collaborations?

Joining the workshop

Individuals interested in participating in the workshop should submit a position paper describing work in one or more of the topic areas above and a completed workshop survey. The workshop organizers will review position papers. Authors will be notified of acceptance to the workshop on October 1st. One goal of the workshop is to nurture interdisciplinary applications of social networks that specifically consider a CSCW perspective. Attention will be paid to representing a diverse spectrum of positions. The workshop will be limited to 15 participants.
All workshop attendees should register for the CSCW conference.

Proposals should consist of

  1. A four-page position paper describing work in one or more of the workshop areas above.
  2. A completed workshop survey, which is intended to get some ideas of the broad range of skills in the community. (The survey can be found at the workshop web site, http://www.ischool.washington.edu/mcdonald/cscw04/ .)

Please submit your workshop proposal to David McDonald, dwmc@<dwmc@u.washington.edu, in PDF or Microsoft Word.

Posted by danyelf at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2004

Orkut on eBay

Orkut invites are now being sold on eBay as a way to get to Gmail:

***10 Invitations to Orkut ~ Key to Gmail Invitation***

What on earth would anyone do with 10 Orkut invitations? Even if the idea is that you could join Orkut and talk someone there (a Google employee? a gmail early adopter?) into sending you an invitation, how would the other nine identites help?

Is this a newer, more interesting form of Fakesters? Or just a quick way of making a buck? (The fact that Orkut invites don't seem to be getting bids suggests that this sell isn't working: 20 Orkut invites is going for a penny, as is one GMail account.

Posted by danyelf at 01:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Defending Hatester

My advisor, Paul Dourish was just at a conference on mobility-oriented, public social software.

He rants, humorosly, about the state of the software:

My friend Genevieve refers to a large class of mobile and ubicomp applications as "girlfriends for geeks." Basically, these are all the applications that attempt to match you to people you might have shared interests with (including shared friends) as a form of promoting social contact. The underlying premise of all of these of course is that people want to talk to each other (or, more likely, "noone talks to me" or "I don't know what to talk to people about.")

Since I find myself becoming increasingly cranky and anti-social, I find it hard to accept this premise, at least as it applies to me. So instead, I want the opposite. I want a bluetooth app for my phone that detects when there are people around me I wouldn't like, and helps me avoid them. Perhaps it can chart a route for me to escape without running into them. Perhaps it can characterise nearby spaces in terms of how much I'll hate them. Perhaps if it detects that I'm in close proximity to someone I won't like, it'll ring my phone to give me an excuse to get away ("What? Little Johnny's fallen down the well? I'll be right there!")

During the event at Intel Berkeley the other day, after a series of girlfriends-for-geeks presentations, I made a note to myself about Hatester.com, a site where you could describe who you dislike, and then find out the most disliked people, chains of dislike, degrees of reciprocity, etc. The marketing slogan would be "because the enemy of my enemy is my friend." It turns out that the domain is registered, even though there's nothing there. Oh, but I see that there is something at hatester.org....

Of course, the dislike network is extremely difficult to figure out. I suppose transitivity is "the enemy of my enemy is my enemy," and reciprocity means "I am my enemy's enemy." But chains of dislike?

Posted by danyelf at 01:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 02, 2004


Am I the only person who sees a conflict with having SIGGRAPH (August 8-12, LA) and ASA (August 13-17, SF) so very close together? I'm not sure I'll be able to attend both, and defend my dissertation, and do revisions to my dissertation, and still squeeze it all into August.

(What? You mean some sociologists aren't interested in computer graphics, and vice versa? How confusing!)

Posted by danyelf at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

danah gets funny email about friendster

danah boyd has a great marketing-survey-thing that Friendster is apparently sending out to SuperFriends. It seems they are offering four template letters, and askign the SuperFriends which they like most as the center of a new campaign.


Subject: We Still Care

We miss you. There, we said it. It feels better. So we're going to do everything we can to bring you back to Friendster, all the way up to that John Cusack boom box Say Anything bit. So before it all comes to that, just come back to Friendster. We've already made it easier for you, getting much faster and clearer as we've grown. Now, in just minutes you can find people you've been wondering about: friends from summer camp, college roommates, high school buddies, cousins, people you used to date, people you wanted to date, these people you know, and don't know, are connected to each other and what a beautifully small world it really is. Or date, or help a friend find a date. We don't care. We just want you back in our lives. And we can tell you that you want the same thing. We can see it... in your eyes. The light, the heat. Your eyes, we feel complete. See, we told you.



Oh, to make sure you keep getting these vaguely sarcastic emails, please add Friendster to your email address book now. If for no other reason than it will look cool to have Friendster in your address book.

Rockin', right? Hip, up to date, and trying way too hard. But that's danah's territory.

What I want to focus on is the interview questions at the bottom.

*Which of the two versions do you prefer? (version 1 or 2) _____

*Is the email appropriate to send to active Friendster members? (yes/no)

*Would you be likely to click the link and go to Friendster if you
received this email? (yes/no) _____

Friendster is asking its SuperFriends (who, presumably, click on the links fairly frequently) to judge whether someone else who hasn't clicked on the links for a while is likely to. These are--I think--very different populations.

*Would you be open to receiving similar emails from Friendster in the
future? (yes/no) _____

Here, Friendster is asking a user who has just gotten an unsolicited email from a service they use whether an inactive user is likely to enjoy a different unsolicited email from a service they don't use.

The mind boggles.

Posted by danyelf at 04:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

Asimov, and Simplistic Social Networks

Cory Doctrow blames Isaac Asimov's simplistic three laws of robotics for a growing societal oversimplification of social and moral issues:

Yet Asimov's reductionist approach to human interaction may be his most lasting influence. His thinking is alive and well and likely filling your inbox at this moment with come-ons asking you to identify your friends and rate their "sexiness" on a scale of one to three. Today's social networking services like Friendster and Orkut collapse the subtle continuum of friendship and trust into a blunt equation that says, "So-and-so is indeed my friend," and "I trust so-and-so to see all my other 'friends.'" These systems demand that users configure their relationships in a way that's easily modeled in software. It reflects a mechanistic view of human interaction: "If Ann likes Bob and Bob hates Cindy, then Ann hates Cindy." The idea that we can take our social interactions and code them with an Asimovian algorithm ("allow no harm, obey all orders, protect yourself") is at odds with the messy, unpredictable world. The Internet succeeds because it is nondeterministic and unpredictable: The Net's underlying TCP/IP protocol makes no quality of service guarantees and promises nothing about the route a message will take or whether it will arrive.

- Cory Doctorow, in Wired: Rise of the Machines

While I respect Cory, and enjoy his thoughtful work (such as his recent DRM rant), my instinctive reaction is to disagree--both about his characterization of Asimov, and about his characterization of social networks.

I can meaningfully disagree with his reading of Asimov: each of the stories in "I, Robot" suggests, in one way or another, that the three laws aren't nearly as simple as they seem. In "Evidence," an entity that may or may not be a robot runs for mayor of New York. He is observed to punch someone--a clear violation of the First Law, which means he must not be a robot, right? In "Liar!", a robot tries to figure out how to define "injury." And so on.

Similarly, his claim that social network services reflect a "mechanistic view" of human relationships is, I think, a little unfair. Perhaps Orkut (and Friendster, and similar) do force an odd feeling set of limitations on the world, but in that, they are doing no better (or worse) than any other operationalization of social interaction.

Look, for example, at this article on social network analysis that I picked, more or less at random.

Asking people about their interaction with others –their communications, their exchange of advice and other resources – remains the source of most sociocentric network data. When groups are small (up to 150, but usually 20-60) the researcher can list the members’ names and ask each person how well they know each other person (on a scale of 0 to 5, for example), or how often they interact with each other person (for example, once a week, once a month or never). For example, a researcher may present all students ina class with a list of all the students in the class and ask them to rate how well they know each one. (Christopher McCarty, "Social Network Analysis," 20031).

It's reductionist, but it's the source of a lot of useful data. For better or worse, a social network analyst needs to decide--at some point or another--what to do relative to a pair of people. Are they connected, for purposes of information transfer or social dependance or something? If no decisions are made, you don't get pretty pictures. Scientists constantly have to model systems (where "model" basically means "to yank out the confusing bits, leaving the parts that can be usefully operationalized.")

Essentially, you can hate Orkut for forcing a "Yes/No" (or 1-5) answer, but you risk hating the entire field of sociology at once. (There is another argument that those techniques should not be applied to online services--an argument that I largely agree with--but that doesn't seem to be what Cory is saying here.)

Which means that scientists in all fields are busily scraping away details, leaving stark and ugly systems. Newton's laws tell us very little about the color or shape--or even friction--of the object in motion. Yes, it's a messier world than that, but we can get a lot of work done by simplifying the model.

The notion that Asimov's three laws are somehow to blame for scientific oversimplication, then, becomes an odd joke. Asimov was surely influenced by the scientific desire to constrain systems to simple laws: he was trained as a scientist and earned a PhD; his work contains not only the three laws but the odd notion of Psychohistory: a deterministic set of equations that describe the actions of many people. Psychohistory is a condensed attempt to simplify all of sociology, history, anthropology, and psychology in a series of rather complex equations.

Asimov promptly spends the entire Foundation series showing various failures of the psychohistorical model: mutations the model didn't predict, systems that tumbled faster or slower than the model expected, and similar.

Perhaps a wiser critic than I might write about whether Asimov's work reflects this tension, whether there is a deeper purpose to the way he sets up models only to tear them down and poke holes in them. Cory might argue, too, that even if Asimov knew it, others don't get it, and so he would be disappointed by the application of this.

I'll simply suggest that Asimov was clearly aware of the limitations of these models.

1 From the Sage Encyclopedia of Community, Karen Christiansen and David Levinson, eds.

Posted by danyelf at 05:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

Weird email concept

Bumplist (via FullCircle)

BumpList is a mailing list aiming to re-examine the culture and rules of online email lists. BumpList only allows for a minimum amount of subscribers so that when a new person subscribes, the first person to subscribe is "bumped", or unsubscribed from the list. Once subscribed, you can only be unsubscribed if someone else subscribes and "bumps" you off. BumpList actively encourages people to participate in the list process by requiring them to subscribe repeatedly if they are bumped off. The focus of the project is to determine if by attaching simple rules to communication mediums, the method and manner of correspondences that occur as well as behaviors of connection will change over time.

Currently, BumpList is limited to six people. The statistics page shows that the top people have accumulated 100-odd days online, with 1000-odd postings each (high traffic!) and 7000 or so bumps. That's seventy per day. You show up, you post, you get bumped. You resubscribe.

I realize it's an experiment, but:
* Why do people feel it's so compelling to keep getting back on? Or have they written scripts to do so?
* How do you handle that much traffic coming through?
* Is the exclusivity of the conversatin so compelling that the content doesn't matter? I usually join communities or conversations that I have something in common with.

Posted by danyelf at 08:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 17, 2004

Technical Vocabulary

Today, giving a practice for my upcoming job talk, I presented to several colleagues who didn't know my work at all.

One of them, a social network analyst, was very confused during a few of my slides. He had me pause, explain a piece of the talk, and then explain again. Then he stopped, and nodded.

"Ah! This is the disintermediation of the intermediary in a transitive triple!"

I can't say that sequence of words had ever occurred to me.

Posted by danyelf at 06:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Abusing Network Analysis to Understand Eurovision

Last year, Kieran Healy wrote

The anonymous juries pass judgement on the cultural worth of their neighbors, which makes for indignation and outrage all round. Ireland, for instance, is well known for generously forgetting 600 years of English oppression and routinely giving the British entry a decent vote. The Brits, by contrast, rarely vote for Ireland at all, except perhaps to give it a derisory deux or trois points, which is almost worse than nothing. (This may not be true, by the way, but these prejudices are themselves an important fact about the contest.) Similarly, the Scandinavian nations have been known to do a lot of neighborly backscratching.

This year, he tested it.

Confining ourselves to a group of countries who competed during (almost) all these years, we can aggregate their voting scores into a directed graph representing their preferences for one another’s songs over the years. Given that Eurovision songs are (to a first approximation) uniformly worthless, we can assume that votes express a simple preference for one nation over another, uncomplicated by any aesthetic considerations.

Posted by danyelf at 06:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2004

More on the second degree

A week or so ago, I asked what is the second degree for?

While I haven't come to a fully satisfying answer, I do have to note that I enjoy finding out who my friends-of-friends are by virus emails.

Many virus infections grab two random names from the address book--one for "from", one for "to." Which means that--when I am the "to" name--I must be in the address book of someone who knows both me and "from".

I don't know who dfurcy-at-cc.gatek.edu is1. But I do know that someone who still has my old Berkeley address knows him. Same for 6256d8f.00690e72-at-msnotes.wustI.edu. And erthei-at-codelco.cl. Unfortunately, my mail auto-forwarding from Berkeley to UCI seems to purge the history of these comments, so I don't know who it is.

Has anyone else made any interesting discoveries off their spammer-of-a-friend links?

[1] Misspelling intentional, in order to not beseige the poor guy with spam.

Posted by danyelf at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2004

Decreasing your Erdos number for fun and profit

For the record, Paul Erdos's Fisher number is 4.

Paul Erdos ->

  1. Ernst Specker ->
  2. Karl Lieberherr ->
  3. Paul Dourish ->
  4. Danyel Fisher

(according to Paul's chart). And the number isn't likely to drop too fast from here.

If you want an Erdos number of your own (like, say, 5) you can enter an eBay auction bidding for a collaboration with Bill Tozier which would give you such a number.

Update Apparently, one co-member of a six-person poster is also a 3, reinforcing my "4" status. I'm guessing it was Kris , but I don't know, since she didn't sign her message. Nor did she include her lineage...

Posted by danyelf at 02:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2004

What is the second degree for?

In my own work, second-tie connections aren't all that useful, by and large. The statement that "my mother is two links away from my officemate" is meaningless (if you go through me) or just weird (if you don't). Either way, it might be interesting trivia ("look! among my friends, you can get to Chuck by way of Michelle!"), but I don't think it tells me much. (Indeed, on an upcoming paper, I'm writing an argument why all of my visualizations and views have changed to one-link distances.)

On the YASNS ("Yet Another Social Network Service", a danah coinage), they seem to be the point. You don't join it for your friends, you join it for -- well, because everyone else is joining it. That's a question for a different discussion

I started shopping this question around, then, at the Social Computing event. Sure, it's fun to see who are your friends of friends. But just generating a list of all of X's friends is not really a fundamentally interesting concept to me. What good can they do?

  • Interestingly, the first response was to find my own friends. I can surf my various friends' friend lists and check out which ones I missed.
  • Within an organization, it's a guide toward expertise location. "Who do I know on that team who can help me out?" "Which of my allies can get me something?" (This is part of the concept behind linkedin and spoke and ryze). That is, it's a way of seeing what my least-difficult path into part of an organization might be.
  • And, of course, within a dating context, I can troll my friends to look for the cute folks they haven't introduced me to yet.
  • I can use it as a way of finding context and clusters: this friend is associated with people from Berkeley; this friend is associated with four of my other friends.

Anything I'm missing?

Posted by danyelf at 09:19 AM | TrackBack

March 29, 2004

Three definitions of social networks

I've heard people say "Social networking" a half-dozen times this morning, each time referring to "friend of a friend" tools. David Weinberger worried that all the good social networking is behind TOS and corporate walls, which makes it hard to repurpose or analyse.

I'm noticing several different defintions of "social networks" running about, which need disambiguation. I think we're up to three different ones, for better or worse.

1. YASNS ("Yet Another Social Network Service"--a danah coinage): This is the high-publiciity form of social networks. Friendster, Orkut, Ryze. Click in your list of friends, and let them click you back.
2. Social Network Analysis. This is the academic subfield that I have been playing in for four or so years. Interview people, draw a network diagram, calculate centrality and that sort of thing.
3. Social networks for CSCW: This is the people who scoop up social network data from various sources. Largely, this is analyzing online experience and trying to get a quantitative or--more often--qualitative picture of how groups

Now, I grant that (1) may be the one that's making the headlines, making the VC money, and has six million users (on Friendster) running about shouting "social networks". And I'm pretty sure that the word has been completely taken over by a new context. But I sitll try and fight the pure fight. And sometimes I just try to find a new word for what I actually do.

(In other news, I just watched a UI change happen at Ryze. As I was sitting here, Adrian Scott tapped a little bit of PHP, hacked a script, and then uploaded it. That's kind of cool.)

Posted by danyelf at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 08, 2004

Social Networks Needn't Be Evil

A little while ago, I wrote up an entry: A Stance on Networks
In it, I argued that social networks can be useful and meaningful, not only on a large--external--scale, but on smaller, local one.

I'm reminded of this because I was recently forwarded a list of business proposals for "how social networks can be used in business." Roughly, that list looked at tasks like:

  • Find schisms between departments and groups by seeing who isn't talking to someone else
  • Figure out who has management potential by who they talk to
  • Cellular phone companies could mine logs to help sell promotions.

Don't do that to me!

All of these have in common that I don't want them done to my data--and I doubt you do, either. I really don't want a computer program sniffing through my email deciding whether I have management potential (credit reports aren't bad enough?).

Let's tenatatively call those "evil." Perhaps it's too broad a word, but I take my field seriously. And I need to justify the title of this post.

I tend to think that a good manager would already know about growing schisms--and, if not, social network analysis should be one tool of several to use when an organizational development consultant comes through to discuss how the group can develop. Rob Cross:http://gates.comm.virginia.edu/rlc3w/sna.htm , for example, is a researcher, now at UVa, who comes into groups for specific social network interventions and examinations. The idea of his discrete studies don't bother me as much as being continuously watched does.

Don't make me answer that!

There's also the Friendsters and Orkuts of the world: what danah boyd has taken to calling "publically articulated social networks." As she has articulately pointed out, using a tool like Friendster forces you to list out--in some detail--who your friends are and who you are connected to. Worse, it makes you make a bunch of binary decisions (is a friend! is not a friend!).

Personally, I'm pretty bad at those decisions, which is why my Orkut profile has a few people waiting in "can't decide" limbo. (I'm scared to log in at this point. I think it's probably offensive for me to not decide, but I have no idea what to choose.)

Update: Clay Shirky points out that Orkut is now asking you to rate "how good a friend." Great. Now I have five levels of possibly insulting someone.

This isn't so much "evil," as uncomfortable. I feel looked at, captured, in the same way that I feel when I hear about how Japanese teens have evolved conventions, wherein the cardinal sin is turning off your cell phone or running out of batteries. I like having my cell phone off!

So what use is it?

Fortunately, I think that there are positive uses. Despite the ominous title of this article, for example, Microsoft wants to know who your friends are , I think the article suggests a much more friendly notion of networks:

People are also key to the work done on computers. In both Longhorn and an upcoming version of Office for the Mac, Microsoft is using the idea of "projects"--or ad hoc groups of people and documents that change over time...

A more tech-savvy version of the handwritten list, Cheng said, would contain all the messages from each member of a person's inner circle. The list would be "zoomable"--meaning that if one really wanted a message from Bruce, but only Anne and Christopher showed up on the list, one could click between the two and get a list of all the Bs that didn't make the inner circle list.

And the Microsoft design teams are all over it. This article shows an interesting (if under-documented) interface concept.

Note the sheer number of people and little networks in this interface: there's a cluster of them in the top left corner, just hanging out; there's another little mass out there in the bottom right, in the current activitie

I like that. People hanging out in the interface. Good place for 'em, too, I say.

Posted by danyelf at 09:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 03, 2004

Networks Everywhere!

Interesting to see lots of pictures of networks in lots of contexts coming out and around.

via many-2-many Rob Cross explains social network analysis for business in a brief, but nicely illustrated manner.

via danah this cool site on tangible social networks connecting people to each other with balloons and ribbons. It's an interesting tangible network, although the images make it pretty clear that it's not really possible to actually figure out things like, "who is connected to whom."

Among other things, this being an art gallery, you probably can't touch the art. Which is too bad, because it turns out that with ribbons, it's very easy to figure out shortest-distance algorithms. To get the shortest distance from person A to person B, just grab the balloons representing A and B, and pull them apart. Then locate the really tight strings. That's the shortest path between A and B.

Posted by danyelf at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2004

Ebay, Orkut, and Feedback

It's been mentioned by a few others that Orkut invitations were, for a little while, on sale on eBay.

I decided to check again and see what the going rate is. It's down to $0.99-$2 (from $3.50-$11 in early March) with a low end of $0.01

One cent? How can anyone afford to sell an Orkut invitation for a cent? Clearly, they must be looking for something...

(Wow. It's "Bid, no pay!" That's right, it's FREE.)

... like ebay feedback.

Go to our ebay store. Click here !http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=36107&item=3661487616&ssPageName=STRK:MESSE:IT, go through the process of feedback if you believe this transaction to be to your satisfaction, and an invitation will be sent to you shortly.

That's right. Provide feedback first, get the invite afterward. The result? This seller is (as of 3/2) up to 99.4% pure, with a score of 159. Apparently, he's making up for a piece of bad feedback a year ago--and it's worked. He's gotten 154 pieces of positive feedback in just the last month!

Now, I don't mean to pick on this particular seller. I'm more interested in the general phenomenon of giving away costless stuff on ebay to jack up your feedback.

update Apparently, there's a subcommunity of "feedback exchange" types: people who sell each other very little in exhange for giving each other a good solid backslap. Does Ebay have to implement PageRank, or some similar algorithm, in order to catch cheaters?

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February 20, 2004

Mapping Networks

Am attending a talk at UCI's "Social Network Brown Bag" seminar.
Mapping Networks. George Tita, Katherine Faust.

(George gave a talk last year, if I recall correctly, on maps of social networks in Los Angeles barrios--specifically looking at how gang territory and alliances were negotiated over space. In general, he was noticing that natural barriers--like freeways and major roads--were strong demarcations of networks. Groups across these barriers were less likely to either fight or to make alliances. It occurs to me, now, that it might be interesting to look back at his data in terms of tempo--that one might look at the rhythm, or approximate frequency, of interactions in terms of distance. And look at Rick Grannis: "“The Importance of Trivial Streets: Residential Streets and Residential Segregation.” American Journal of Sociology 103: 6, 1530-1564" for a similar perspective.)

Spatial work
* Interested in variations in networks over space.
* Space matters (Tobler's first law?) in the development of social ties
* Festinger, Schachter, and Back; Butts; Huckfeldt and Baybeck.

George's field site is in Hollenbeck: heavily Latino, a little bit poor. Lots of gangs, a lot of gang-driven crime. And most families have been there for a long time.

In particular, they are interested in egocentric networks. Which makes me happy already.

Their data collection is ego-centric networks and the characteristics of the alters.. Thus, when they collected the set, they asked each person what the interactions of the alters were. ("Know each other? Don't know each other?") They also collected their addresses, and the addresses of the alters. (Take THAT, Orkut mappers.)

Fairly straight forward name generator from standard social surveys--plus the question "who are you cool with because you want to stay on their good side."

An interesting challenge: their inteview asks (among other things): Living With but Not Married; Spouse; Boyfriend/Girlfriend. In contrast to "children" and "parent." And, well, they've found that their interviewees seem to come up with--on the average--2 or 3 people: a girlfriend and a spouse, for example. They suspect this is probably a translation problem.

68% of alters live in Hollenbeck. You get up to 85% within a several mile radius of hollenbeck. (And you don't get any hits in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.)

Data! They've got (initially) cool data! Social networks (that kinda look like mine) superposed over geography. Basically, using Arcview to draw networks.

* "Loca", who had moved (by about 10 blocks) about a year ago. Still refers to her old address as her neighborhood (and thinks of her gang as has community.) But interestingly, all the social support questions came up with her new neighborhood.

* There are virtually no ties between this (Mexican) community and the slightly-west bordering (Salvadoran) community.

* "Who do you avoid" is only local people (unsurprisingly)--there's no reason to avoid people who live far away.


And so that leaves them with LOTS of future work. Euclidean distance isn't necessraily as good a measure as travel time distance, for example.

Carter Butts just suggested the idea of mapping networks against "sociological gradients." It doesn't make sense to compare geography of New York city blocks against 150 feet in Ohio: instead, one can draw a gradient of population, or of "social impendance" (the cultural distinction between the Mexican and Salvadoran communities, for example). Apparently, he did some work on a similar topic for his dissertation. (This page is one of his working papers; ignore the inccorect author.) He suggests that for many networks, this sort of gradient can account for most of the internal network structure.

Social distance and space are heavily theorized, but are often not backed up with real data. Lots of the audience is very excited about seeing distance correlated--for example--"who do you fight?" After all, you don't fight people who are VERY far away--and you don't fight people who are immediately close.

Ok, this just led us to getting the idea of tying

  • "Homicide happens in structural holes". That is, it's people who are not in the area.
  • We need homicide victims' social networks. Perhaps the egocentric network of "who shows at your funeral"?

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February 13, 2004

Abandoning Users

(I wrote this during HCIC, watching a speaker talk about a collaborative system.)

There's a certain ethical constraint on building collaborative and social systems that I've been thinking about for a while. This happens in MMPORGS, YASNS, MUDs and MOOs, email lists, and similar.

Researchers become very interested in building systems, and we study adoption a great deal: how many users can we get, how fast can we get them, and how many hours can we get them to use the system? Those are all good things: the CSCW paper that does wonderfully is the one where the speaker stands up and says, "It was more addictive then crack; we have the entire english-speaking world using it; and they never log off."

Unfortuantely, the next line is--all too often--"then we completed the six week study and turned it off. What a wonderful lesson we learned!"

It happened several times that I've seen recently: CHIPLACE, for example, was an online site for allowing the CHI community to meet up and chat. It was a success--and it was shut down after that year's experiment ended. Fortunately, it was adopted by someone else, who was able to put it up.

I know that danah has talked about this before, but I'm back to thinking about the responsibility of designers to their users. The server resource may be expensive, or require hand-management, or cost per user: issues that are inexpensive during an NSF- or organizationally-funded project, but a big deal after the project ends. (My officemate ran a MUD for part of his dissertation research; he seems to have a critical mass now. He's left it up--but there's a lingering question: he graduates this summer. What happens to his MUD then?)

I guess I feel that there's a new sort of reseach ethics here to consider. Just as a medical experiment can't abandon its users midway ("enjoy the withdrawal, folks!"), neither ought a social experiment. But the reverse is a problem, both in the medical and the social fields: "Yes, we had you for a year, we showed a significant improvement; we now end the experiment and wait a few years for FDA approval."

I sincerely don't know what to advocate here. Am I asking designers not to build social services? Not really. We learn a lot from them, and I build them myself--although I do tend to try to make them decentralized, if possible, so that users can hang onto them at the end if they want to.

And for studies that don't have that nice feature? It would be nice to be thinking from the beginning about a way that a user can adopt the system. Don't build it over your hyper-confidential technology; make it something that the community can--for a few hundred dollars--re-use and repurpose. Allow a volunteer user to come in as an administrator (as Jack does). Put up the server code online, or make it available to your users.

This is a wonderful advantage to being software people, rather than medical people. A doctor can't send people home with a lifetime supply of an experiemntal medicine--but porting a server to a desktop isn't too bad.

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February 10, 2004

A stance on networks

In the last few days, I've gotten a lot of emails about social networks. My brother, for example, just sent me a link to a New York Times article about the business aspects of networks, while a friend from the east coast sent me an article about the security aspects of networks.

I fall into neither camp.

In some sense, I feel like we've explored a lot of that space already: I played games of "who slept with whom" and "Jewish geography" long before Friendster. The computer version is cool, but not unusual to me.

Similarly, it's pretty interesting to see security analyses, but not unusual. Network analysts have been collecting data on people's networks of various sorts for years.


My own interest is in something a little more unusual. What I am asking what can knowing about my social network do for me? It's an odd question: the naive answer is "very little": I already know who my friends are, don't I?

I claim that the information is not only rich and evocative, it's meaningful, and a useful form of communication.

Networks give me a useful way of talking about stuff, and a good way of organizing data: my email archives, my file system, my buddy lists. Why should I have to manually solve contact and social organization problems when I can feed them a network, and let the applications make that information available to me appropriately?

This stance means that there are certain things that just don't really interest me. I understand that my software project--with very little tweaking--might be used by a crazed manager ("you! you should talk to Bob more!") or a thoughtful consultant.

But that's not the part of the space I think needs to be explored. There are plenty of people out there to talk to the security folks. There's fewer of us, I think, who just want to make information visible to the people who use it each day.

Social Networks: Will Users Pay to Get Friends? [Feb 9, 2004]

But as the popularity of such sites has taken off, the big question for investors in new technologies is whether social networking sites can ever make a lot of money by connecting friends of friends in mini-networks of trust, whether for dating, business or maintaining acquaintances. For many, the buzz over social networking sounds a lot like vintage Internet hyperbole from the late 1990's.

A Social Network Analysis of the Iranian Government
[November, 2001]


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January 31, 2004

Everything is Beta

zephoria asks, what is beta in the context of social software?

This isn't a limitation only of social software, of course: the game world experiences the same phenomenon (as Christopher Allen points out).

A few years ago, Gina Neff and David Stark wrote an essay: Permanently Beta: Responsive Organization in the Internet Era.

In it, they argue that the continuing cycle of beta software is a new way of running organizations, ones that have a built-in feedback cycle between users and organizations.

But one of the side effects of this responsive organization is that it stays responsive: that the organization and the products within are never "finished", are always co-evolving with their environment--are, in other words, always in Beta.

"Friendster Beta", as one might read the title page, is simply declaring that status on its front page.

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January 30, 2004

Denouncing social software

Denounce, a parody site, is all over social software this week:
Friendster Secretly Shares Member Information with Government
Amazon Launches New Social Network Called "Pricekut"
And if we're really into ranting about visible networks, danah boyd's apophenia has some thoughts on just why she (and so many others) doesn't like Orkut in particular.

UPDATE: I'm pretty sure that Christopher Allen is all over this topic ("So you don't have to"). Follow his and danah's links to get there from here...

Insecurity at Orkut

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January 29, 2004

The Genre of Imaginary Girlfriends

We're been talking about the notion of genre in class recently. Genres--as understood within the online interaction world--is a way of looking at the regularities of the ways that people interact:

Genre shifts the focus from issues such as the nature and degree of relationship among "community members", to the purpose of the communication, its regularities of form and substance, and the institutional, social, and technological forces which underlie those regularities.
Tom Erickson, Social Interaction on the Net: Virtual Community as Participatory Genre

Now BoingBoing talks about the imaginary girlfriend phenomenon on Ebay... and I was startled to realize that it's a genre.

Here. Check a few imaginary girlfriend auctions and virtual girlfriend auctions out:

Do you want to make your ex girlfriend Jealous, ... Fool them with an Imaginary Girlfriend. ... I'll be whatever you'd like me to be. I'm a 19 year old college student. I'm 5'3, and 110lbs. Help me to pay my student loans, DEBT and rent. In return I will pretend to be your girlfriend/friend/pen pal for 1 month. You can e-mail me as much as you want, and chat with me on MSN and Yahoo IM. You will recieve 4 mailed letters; one per week, scented especially for you. When our 30 days have expired simply break it off and tell your friends I was crushed. You can dump me how ever you want, I will even write you a letter begging for you back .... You will recieve a letter once a week, and a Special Valentines day card to show off to your friends, or leave out so that ex may find it. If the bidding excedes $50 you will recieve 3 glossy Pictures of me to show your friends. If the bidding excedes $100 dollars, you will recieve a pair of my sexiest underwear scented with my favorite purfume. If the bidding excedes $150, I will send you some "special" photoes of me and a cam session online. If you would like another 30 Days, Price can be discussed via email, as I will not block your address from my email. Happy bidding.
ashley_thm: Let me be your Imaginary Girlfriend/Pen Pal

There seems to be a few interesting aspects. One is that there is a broad consensus on what you get from an imaginary girlfriend: a personal gift, a letter or two, a racy photo and a nice photo, and emails for one or two months, concluding with a tearful note begging you to take them back.

There are also small variations between them: some often phone conversations, others don't; some offer IM access, others don't.

What interests me, though, is that an economist might comment on how the market is converging on something--but in my mind, what's happening is that the genre is stabilizing.

Before recently, no one in history had ever tried to sell a short-term virtual girlfriend, as far as I know; the ebay members are now in the process of deciding what to call it ("fantasy girlfriend" and "virtual girlfriend" are other choices, and both have hits), deciding how much to charge, and precisely what services to offer.

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Social networking backlash...

Wired has an article talking about how
Social Nets [are] Not Making Friends: it seems that people are getting irritated at all the various requests.

Which is my quiet explanation to the several folks who have tried to convince me to join Orkut.

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Blogs in the Epistolary Tradition

(Reprinted from Metablog)

There are a couple of interesting technological recurrences that are worth discussing. One of them is literary form of the epistolary tradition. (Which is also in keeping with my usual attempts to explore the non-exceptionalism of new media.)

  • The Letter is the classic written form, and makes for useful, archivable records of someone's writing.
  • The Email message which has--for some--all but replaced the letter. (This is slightly unfair to email: the letter had, perhaps, been rather ill for some time earlier: ever since affordable long-distance telephone calls inexpensively outsped letters, the letter may have become a method to relay some sorts of thoughts, but certainly had lost much of its salience; email, then, partially rescued and re-filled that particular gap.)
  • The Blog, in which the email message is magnified outward, allowing pretty much anyone to write pretty much anything once again.

I'm not the first to tie email to the epistolary tradition: see essays like "Email and Epistolary technologies: Presence, Intimacy, Disembodiment" for--I think--fruitful discussions of how people literarily concieve of themselves within letters. It would be easy and interesting to tie many of the ideas in this article into blogs--indeed, blogs are sometimes more nakedly confessional than the essay discusses.

At the same time, there was a parallel tradition of persons sharing their opinions publically:

  • (17th century) The Leaflet and Broadsheet--and here I'm thinking of Samuel Johnson's Rambler and Idler, for example--in which people who had something to say went about giving out prints, and those who were interested paid a small amount to get it.
  • (18th century) The Newspaper, a descendant of the Leaflet, in which many different ideas were co-arranged as to create a single source for gaining knowledge about new events. (Both the notion of "all the news" and "objective" were later inserted; they are not fundamental to the medium.)
  • (late 20th century) The Usenet post which--disregarding the conversational aspects--was, in many of the same ways, a forum for just-about-anyone to say just-about-anything to just-about-anyone. To be sure, you had to have a separate NNTP reader, and there's no question that HTML has made blogging more popular than other forms might have been.

I would suggest that these forms are both important to get at the gist of how a blog functions as a series of literary persona.

Posted by danyelf at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Writing is a social activity

"It is indeed not easy for any man to write upon literature or common life so as not to make himself known to those with whom he familiarly converses, and who are acquainted with his track of study, his favourite topicks, his peculiar notions, and his habitual phrases." Samuel Johnson: Addison (Lives of the Poets)

(from the Samuel Johnson archive)

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