In praise of messiness and noise

Excellent talk from Euan at last year’s Lift Conference, talking about some of the daft attitudes prevalent in management and IT and how they get in the way of knowledge sharing, innovation and, in some cases the basic act of getting on with our jobs.

I love Euan’s comment in the discussion on his blog post too:

People are so much better able to cope with apparent messiness than we have been led to believe. And as you say helping them cope with messiness is better than tidying up.

How are you helping people cope with messiness?

What can a dating site teach enterprise?

I wrote earlier this month about the importance of faces in profile photos. Today I stumbled across a fascinating post about profile pictures from dating site OKCupid, via Adam Tinworth’s blog.

Christian from OKCupid gathered data from their site, analysing photos and looking at the messages that people received and sent to see if different photo styles affected how successful people were in attracting both incoming messages and replies to their outgoing messages. The results are fascinating, turning upside down some assumptions about what sort of photos would be best. Women, for example, should probably put a ‘flirty face’ on, whereas if you’re a bloke with good abs you should show them off and if your photo doesn’t show your face, make sure that it’s interesting in some other way.

Now, I’m not trying to imply that professional women should put on their flirty face when posing for their business headshot or that men should be getting their abs out for their team photo. (And I’m sure I”m not the only one to heave a sigh of relief about that.) But this study does throw up an interesting question: What do we know about the impact of different types of profile pictures in a professional setting?

I’m sure that some will say that in a professional context, photos shouldn’t matter, that we judge each other based on their abilities and actions, not on what they look like. If that were true, the world would be a much better place, but if we’re honest we’ll admit that how someone looks does affect the way we think of them. Such reactions are hardwired into our brains, and they’re not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you have good instincts.

I’m also sure that we’ve all seen corporate directly photos that are deeply unflattering. Generally speaking, when you get your company photocard done, the person taking the photo probably isn’t thinking very hard about how to make you look your best. And in some cases, the results are worse than a passport photo. Unfortunately, regardless of quality, those photos then get put onto the internal directory, whether we like it or not.

I don’t know of anyone who has studied the responses provoked by different photos in, say, LinkedIn, but I think it would make a fascinating topic of research. Are there particular types of photos – looking the camera or not, smiling or not, naturalistic or posed, for example – that make people more predisposed to think positively of the subject? And how might this affect the way we interact with people professionally?

There is no doubt that very subtle things can affect the way we think of others. In one experiment, subjects were asked to hold either a warm of cold drink for a brief time. They were then asked their opinions about the woman who gave them the drink to hold. Those who held a warm drink thought more kindly of her than those who got the cold drink. (Lesson: Never give your boss anything cold to hold!)

So, are we doing ourselves no favours by allowing poor photos of ourselves to be used in social networks and internal directories? Should businesses pay more attention to the way that they photograph and present photos of staff? Should we be allowed to provide our own? If so, what guidelines should we follow?

I know one things for sure: I need a better avatar photo because apparently “with an animal” scores worse than any other typo of photo if you’re a woman. If you’re a bloke, however, you should go and get yourself a kitten right now, because even getting your abs out is less popular than a guy with an animal. It’s probably more socially acceptable too!

links for 2010-01-23

  • Kevin: Nicholas Carr has a very smart post looking at some of the economic theory behind the New York Times' paid content plans. The idea is based on Hal Varian's concept of "versioning" for digital goods. "One prominent feature of information goods is that they have large fixed costs of production, and small variable costs of reproduction."
  • Kevin: A look at a hybrid pro-am hyperlocal project in the Czech Republic called Futuroom. Google, mobile phone company O2, Atex and investment and media group PPF. The project will work with internet cafes around the country. Journalists will work there, giving them a place to file stories but also interact with members of the public.
  • Kevin: Excellent piece on the BBC College of Journalism site. Michael Blastland writes: "Perhaps the biggest effect will be not on broadcasters or other media, but on the public, once used to thinking that data was served up by big media, now helped to see that it can be easily, colourfully obtained, with scope for interaction, at a high level of detail and relevance."

    There is a phrase sometimes heard nowadays – data-driven journalism. Is it already out of date? My question is – I admit to mischievous provocation – if you have a data-driven public with endless goodies to choose from, will you need the journalist?

  • Kevin: The New York Times digital paid content plans could create a conflict between its subscription department and its advertising deparment.
  • Kevin: Jason Schwartz warns content companies looking for a lifeline from Apple. Steve Jobs is building a "closed digital neighbourhood where Apple controls who makes money and who doesn't".
  • Kevin: Simon Waldman looks at Kodak responded to the shift to digital. He concludes:
    * There are rarely simple solutions to profound structural problems
    * Short term competitive pressures can’t be ignored, but nor can they be allowed to obscure long term strategic challenges
    * Redefining ‘what business your in’, only works if it is credible financially, as well as conceptually
    * Beware hybrid solutions that reframe disruptive forces as growth opportunities – they are often too good to be true
  • Kevin: A dynamite post by Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic looking at not only Google's struggles with Chinese cyber power but more broadly the US. The first line is a bombshell: "U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that December's mass cyber attack against 33 American companies was most likely the result of a coordinated espionage campaign endorsed by the Chinese government." Even further down in the post Ambinder talks about differences in US and China cyber security stances. He asks: "If China is so intent on stealing stuff from us, why haven't we (the US) responded?" Fascinating post. The Atlantic with Ambinder and James Fallows has been an excellent source on Google-China-US.
  • Kevin: An excellent analysis of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's address on internet freedom, coming on heels of Google's threat to quit China if it cannot operate an uncensored search engine in that country. Mark Lynch (long known for his Middle East blog Abu Aardvark) cautions of a moral hazard of suggesting that we might support internet activists. "It's great to support and encourage internet activists and protestors of all sorts. But such support can lead them to take some very risky, dangerous activities against their brutal governments, perhaps in the expectation that the United States will protect them from the consequences. Will it?"
  • Kevin: Nick Bilton of the New York Times Bits blog has an excellent look at what I've often called the "networked filter" of social media. He discusses the issue of curation and filtering. He write: Surfing the Web has become even more of a challenge as more content appears online. We are asked to navigate any number of new obstacles when finding new content: which site should I click through to read the latest earthquake news? How many blogs should I check on a daily basis? What if I miss something? Do I read the comments everywhere, too? Which social network should I update in the morning, noon or night? The list goes on.

    But we are solving the problem, through our aggregation."

  • Kevin: Whether you're pro- or anti-paid content, FT Managing Director Rob Grimshaw's comments are well worth a read. One important point in terms of online advertising that he flags up is that it shouldn't be seen in monolithic terms. "Grimshaw’s firm belief, as he has said before, is that newspapers cannot live by advertising alone.

    Citing IAB figures from last year (available at this link), he said it was paid-for search that took “by far” the bulk of the money: around 62 per cent; with 19 per cent to classified; and only 18 per cent to online advertising spend."

  • Kevin: While overall, Arnon Miskin is optimistic about Apple's upcoming media slate, he does have a word of warning for content companies. "But over the next few years, content creators and audience aggregators should be careful about how they deal with the e-readers or it could turn into primarily a bonanza for Apple, as the Kindle may be primarily a bonanza for Amazon."
  • Kevin: Kevin Rose talks about changes coming to Digg, the popular 'read-submit-vote-comment' site, as Stan Schroeder at Mashable puts it. The stories will now be displayed in a "more real-time nature". I wonder if some of these changes will mirror the Digg Labs type of visualisations that have been on the site for a while. I doubt it, but I expect it informed their thinking to some extent. Whatever the nature of the cases, it does sound like they are trying to jump on the 'real-time' web bandwagon.
  • How significant is The New York Times's decision to charge for its Web content? Very, says media gadfly Steven Brill.

Customer outreach doesn’t trump genuine change

Sucking up to disgruntled (and well-connected) customers that you’ve found on Twitter is by now a fairly well established social media CRM strategy. Trouble is, your well-connected disgruntled customer doesn’t necessarily want to be mollified. She might want to see real, tangible change, not just for her benefit but for all your other customers. Says Tara Hunt:

I don’t take bribes (#12) even when they don’t look like one. I want change. I don’t want to see change for me, I want to see change for everyone. I want banks to stop experimenting with how far they can push us before we cry ‘uncle’ on their policies and start thinking about how they can help us achieve our dreams with customer-empowering policies. I want business to invest in technology that streamlines and helps the customer experience, not technology that spies on us.

Social media marketing and word of mouth isn’t just about finding new ways to gloss over cracks and quieten down the loudest critical voices, it’s an opportunity to learn about what really doesn’t work in your business and then figure out how to fix it. Permanently. Anything less is a whitewash.

links for 2010-01-21

  • Kevin: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridget says: “It would be crazy if we were to all jump behind a pay wall and imagine that would solve things,” he told an audience at Coventry University’s journalism department, according to “He conceded that, whilst pay walls are unlikely to be erected around, it was good that journalism was ‘trying different things’.
  • Kevin: Brilliant analysis by Ken Doctor of not only MediaNews and its post-bankruptcy position but also of the US newspaper industry: "Given the harrowing last year publishers experienced – a fifth of their business has disappeared in a single year, with little likelihood of much of it coming back – 2010 feels a bit better than 2009. Yes, it’s hard to know how accurate the feeling is.

    Yes, this could be a plateau. Knocked down a couple of notches, but standing tall on solid ground, dailies could move forward. Or it could feel like a safe plateau and really be a ledge, a landing place offering temporary comfort."

  • Kevin: A good post from Martin Langeveld who spent 13 years as a publisher at MediaNews and he looks at Dean Singleton and MediaNews after its recent announcement that it would seek bankruptcy protection. It's a good overview of the recent past for MediaNews and some of the key players. Can Singleton steer MediaNews to a digital future? Based on what Martin has written, I doubt it. The group suffers from outdated systems, a view of digital as peripheral and Singleton is "not an active computer user". Not a recipe for digital success.
  • Kevin: Peter Kafa at All Things D writes: "Here’s someone else you won’t see onstage with Steve Jobs next week: Anyone from Time Inc. With good reason–the magazine company doesn’t have any tablet-ready stuff to show off yet." Good post looking at Time Inc's strategy for tablets including a nice video of the what they see as their tablet future.
  • Kevin: Alan Mutter goes deep into the numbers at MediaNews and shows how it will affect Hearst. "After plowing well over $1 billion into a decade-long effort to salvage its ill-starred purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Hearst Corp. now stands to lose another $317 million in the upcoming bankruptcy of MediaNews Group."
  • Kevin: Ken Doctor has an excellent post in which he takes a deep look at the issues surrounding the New York Times paid content strategy. He pulls out a great bit of detail in the announcement that I haven't seen highlighted elsewhere. "What does "frictionless experience across multiple platforms," in the Times release this morning, mean? I think this is one major move, if the Times can pull it off well and quickly. In the age of the smartphone, the coming tablet, and (coming a bit after that) the Internet-mediated livingroom TV monitor, readers are already coming to expect easy, and smart, access to the their content wherever, whenever."
    I've seen a demonstration of how the New York Times envisions this future, and it is one in which their content follows you seamlessly throughout your day from platform to platform. At the time, some pieces of the technology weren't widely available. However, the vision is compelling if the Times is your only source of information.
  • Kevin: Amazon has announced a new programme for its Kindle e-reader that will allow publishers to keep more revenue for some of content they release on the platform. For publishersm and authors, the Kindle hasn't been a good deal for them. They only get 7-15% of the list price for digital books. Under the new programme, they will get to keep 70%, but the deal comes with strings attacheed. "The list price for your title must be both between $2.99 to $9.99 and be 20 percent below the lowest physical book price; title also must be “offered at or below price parity with competition, including physical book prices”. The title also needs to be included in a broad set of features in the Kindle Store, e.g. text-to-speech. Finally, the title must be made available for sale “in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights”.
  • Kevin: Steve Outing writes: "A big theme for 2010 in media will be mobile smart-phones and portable digital tablets; newspaper companies better have that figured out soon. (Perhaps NY Times Digital, with its large technology development staff, is well on its way.) But the Times is still mucking around with the details of its website metered-paywall decision and needs another year? Oy!" Newspapers have to move faster he says.
  • Kevin: Fred Wilson with Union Square Ventures explains the paid content strategy for Boxee, alternate set-top box software. It's open-source software based on XBMC, and Wilson likens it to "Android for TVs", referring to Google's mobile phone OS. "content owners will be able to package and price as they wish, including pay-per-view and subscription. Content partners will have the flexibility to decide what they make available, whether it’s premium content, content from their existing library, or extras that will never make it “on air”…. Boxee will charge a small fee (i.e. lower than the 30% charged by many app stores) for transactions which we enable"
  • Kevin: Laura Oliver at writes: "Guardian News & Media is considering paid-for access to its paidContent websites.

    GNM, which bought paidContent's parent company ContentNext in 2008, is surveying readers to ascertain what price they might may for a subscription to its websites, which include digital media news sites, paidContent:UK and MocoNews."

    It is just a survey of users at this point.

  • Kevin: Thoughtful post from C.W. Anderson about paywalls in the wake of The New York Times announcement that they would go to a metered system. He writes: "The questions about newspaper paywalls, then, are more than simply economic questions. They are more than simply questions about “will the model work?” and “can we balance the ratio between clicks and advertising dollars that maximizes our paywall’s effectiveness?” There are also questions about how journalists see themselves, and whether they can live with the answers that a paywall provides."
  • Kevin: The New York Times explains its decision to move from free website to a metered system similar to the Financial Times that allows people to read a number of articles before being asked to pay. The system will be rolled out by 2011.
    Also key in the announcement, they say: "Our strategy is to build the metered model while we remain focused on making more compelling, interactive and entertaining, providing many more reasons for online audiences to visit our site and stay longer." They will be working hard this year to build their own solution.

Making the case for internal community managers

i was reading a great post on Fresh Networks about the key mistakes community managers make when it struck me: Most people are sold on the need to hire community managers for public facing communities, but how many businesses hire community managers for their own internal social networks?

Most communities rely on a small number of individuals who glue the group together socially. It’s a role that I have been discussing with many people, especially Kevin Marks, over the years. Kevin and I first met on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), in a channel where one person in particular played a key role in keeping things moving smoothly. She wasn’t chosen by the community, nor did she put herself forward to fulfil the role: it just sorta happened.

Since then, we – and many others – have been trying to find the right word for that sort of role. Whether you want to call them tummlers, geishas, animateurs or Chief Conversation Officers, these people are essential to the smooth running of a community. Kevin said in 2008 (read the whole post, it’s well worth it):

The key to [successful communities] is finding people who play the role of conversational catalyst within a group, to welcome newcomers, rein in old hands and set the tone of the conversation so that it can become a community. […]

The communities that fail, whether dying out from apathy or being overwhelmed by noise, are the ones that don’t have someone there cherishing the conversation, setting the tone, creating a space to speak, and rapidly segregating those intent on damage. The big problem with have is that we don’t have a English name for this role; they get called ‘Moderators’ (as Tom Coates thoroughly described) or ‘Community Managers’, and because when they’re doing it right you see everyone’s conversation, not their carefully crafted atmosphere, their role is often ignored.

These people are as essential in internal communities as they are in public ones, yet somehow we expect internal communities to just run themselves. It’s no wonder that so many social media projects wither on the vine: they are not getting the right social conditions to flourish.

Instead, I suspect that the tummler role is rather frowned upon in business contexts. That person who makes sure that they talk to the new users, who spends time tidying up the wiki and talking to people about how things work, who reads all the internal blogs and highlights favourite posts, is probably also the person whose jobs review says, “Spends too much time on the intranet”. The expectation is that everyone will take a share of the tummler role, that everyone is responsible for making the community work and so therefore it will. “Because we’re all professionals round here, and that’s just what professionals do.”

That is, I’m afraid, deluded bullshit. We need tummlers internally just as much as we need them in external communities. Certainly they’ll have to be much more capable diplomats and skilled in recognising and smoothing out internal political shenanigans. They’ll also have to be good coaches, helping people understand how to use the tools and why they should bother.

The payback from employing a tummler could be huge as they would be the people who’d help drive tool adoption across the business. I’m sure some will read this and think, “But this is what evangelists/champions do. We don’t need tummlers too.” I think tummlers and evangelists are very different indeed. Evangelists tend to be people who are superusers who are massively enthusiastic about the tools they are using. They often manage to persuade the people around them to use the tools too, but they don’t always have the social skills required to achieve even that. I have certainly come across “evangelists” that were so obsessive about their new favourite toy that they put people right off. They also, of course, have their own job to do. They can’t spend all their time helping others get to grips with social software.

A tummler, on the other hand, would be hired for their social skills, their ability to communicate, teach and explain, and their knowledge of the different tools and how they work. In a way, a good social media consultant acts as a tummler-by-proxy, encouraging their clients to adopt more sociable thinking patterns, but they can only do so much. A full-time tummler who only needs to focus on nurturing internal communities could achieve so much more.

I guess we’re back once again to the 20:80 rule: 20% of social media is tech, 80% is people, so focus on your people!

Christian Crumlish on Social Design Patterns

Last night I went to a great talk by Christian Crumlish about the Yahoo! Pattern Library and social design patterns. Christian has a book, co-authored by Erin Malone, out at the moment on O’Reilly, Designing Social Interfaces, from which part of this talk was drawn.

Brief history of patterns
Design patterns – concept of a pattern language originated in architecture in the 70s. Christopher Alexander wrote two books: A Pattern Language and A Timeless Way of Building. He posited that you could do architecture and could plan towns and buildings and rooms and even construction through recognising a series of patterns that were replicated the world over. Once you had discovered them you could apply them to problems. Trying to demystify architecture by recognising that there’s a syntax. Not one single pattern language, just that they had derived a particular one.

Idea didn’t take off in architecture. Alexander isn’t that well respected, but it’s taken root in other fields. CompSci picked up on idea of patterns in 80s, Design Patterns is famous book, pushed idea into dev world. Concept of wikis and design patterns in software and architecture are siblings. Ward Cunningham built Portland Pattern Repository, pattern libraries and collections often maintained in wikis, and the ideas co-evolved.

Jenifer Tidwell, proposed idea of HCI or User Interaction design patterns. Wanted to apply idea to software that involves human begins. She put together a book, Designing Interfaces, and inspired a number of UI people to think in terms of patterns, which influenced the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, launched in 2005. Internal Yahoo! library. In 2006, decided to make it available in the public at least in part.

Added rich interaction patterns. Idea is you can drop stuff into a page and get it working. Should be able to find the code for each pattern in the Yahoo code library. Not all those links exists, but they try. Crumlish now caretaker for the library and is interested in adding social patterns to it. Yahoo! makes own products and buys companies and a number of the most popular social sites, specially early ones, which are now Yahoo! did similar things in different ways. Flickr and Delicious popularised tagging as a way of letting users add metadata that’s not topdown or hierarchical, but their interfaces are different: comment or space delimiter, compound words or not. Talking a look at that aspects of user interface, compound interface elements that make a social experience. Looking for a language. Also found out you can’t solve the tag problem.

Reason why we have a pattern library is a post from Fast Company, One Company, 100 Designs. Yahoo is essentially one site, but it all looks different. It isn’t just one giant website, but there are numerous examples where things were inconsistent for no good reason, so the pattern library is trying to provide common basis for a starting point so people innovate on top of that.

Social designs, in the early days of social interface, it’s got awkwardness built in because of unfamiliarity, lack of mores, customs and habits that show people how to behave.

Saw the problem with telephones: didn’t now how to use them, didn’t think they needed them, didn’t have a model of speaking to people a big distance away from you and the uses weren’t clear. Network effect is also important – one telephone isn’t useful, you need a network of people to communicate with. Early days of blogging, joke was how do you do business with blogs? Well, how do you do it with telephones. And that’s what these social interfaces are about. You don’t teach them. [I disagree that you don’t teach people how to do business with blogs!]

We figured out how to use a telephone, and the model back in the old days is that you were calling a place and asking for a person. Idea now is that a telephone is attached to a person, so you’re always calling the person with the mobile It’s not that one model is better that the other, but it’s inherently different, which means there are habits which need to be changed. If you can be reached at any time, you need to either let that happen or set boundaries, e.g turn your phone off or not answer late at night. But these things are still being negotiated and not everything has been figured out. E.g. people shouting down the phone, being loud, and it may be that they grew up with a different type of phone, and don’t know how to use a mobile yet.

Users are entering new and unfamiliar situations and they don’t know how to act, or how to behave. So they are going to be awkward, but can try to mitigate that, try to teach people, make it harder to spam people, things like that.

Social patterns informed by the whole web, to inform Yahoo! and if they work, they release them out to teach others. Asked a lot at Barcamps, talked to people, wrote an O’Reilly book. Found overarching principles that should inform this kind of work.

Five principles
Pave the cowpaths. Look at the behaviour that’s already happening and facilitate that, rather than forcing people into behaviour you think is better. Brute force attempts to make people behave in a way that doesn’t make sense will fail. Eg Dogster. When we’re online we’re performing, the computer is between us and everyone else in the network, so we get to chose an identity and perform in a certain way. Dog owners, that’s what they are doing. They are talking about their pets, pretending to be their pets, talking mainly about themselves at one remove in a childlike and innocent voice, and people like it. But interesting thing about Dogster is that when it started it was just a photo sharing site, and one thing they noticed early on was that users were uploading photos of animals, and when you have a social component and let people add the value, it’s easy to decide that people aren’t doing what you want, but what Dogster saw was that people like putting up pictures of pets, and created site that supported that behaviour, then supported other behaviours that people like to do. If they had turned away pet lovers, they would have killed off what turned out to be a profitable business.

Talk like a person
On a social site there you’re trying to create a climate of sociability, it’s all the more important that your web copy is conversational, is human, is about how people really talk. There’s a range here, cases where you want to be more formal, or less. But don’t hide from your users the fact that there are human beings behind the site as well as in the network on the site. Set a humanistic tone. Flickr famous for having a human tone, not a faceless corporation.

How to talk like a person:
* Conversational voice
* Self-deprecating error messages (take the blame, don’t put it on the user or cryptic messages, say that you’re going to try to fix it.)
* Ask questions (creates conversational dialogue with the user, e.g. Twitter “What are you doing?”. It’s just a prompt that establishes a dialogue.)
* Your vs My (If you use Your you create a dialogue. ‘My Yahoo!’ is an asocial thing. If it’s only me, it’s like looking in my filing cabinet, it’s me and my stuff. But something that’s Your, it’s ‘who is the person saying you?’. The way your mind works is that it creates a feeling that you’re not the only person there.)
* No joking around (Tempting, when you want to be conversational, to be jokey. But it doesn’t always translate, as you know from sarcasm doesn’t always work.)

Play well with others
Embrace open standards, technologies, OS etc. What you make will plug into other people’s stuff easily, you won’t create barriers to people building on and extending your stuff. Use standards that are established. Allow the data that’s in the site to be taken off the site and displayed elsewhere, mashed up, etc. There’s almost no way to stop that, as people will scrape, so use XML, Json, microformats, so people can create value around what you’ve done. Have ways to bring data into the system. allow for portability, allow for interoperability. There are exceptions, these are just trends, things you should consider.

Learn from games
One issue is that up and coming generations of users are learning on games more often, on video games. they have high expectations for how rich, responsive and sophisticated interfaces should be. You can’t change enterprise software into a game, but there are elements of game dynamics that help people get into a flow state, and you can get into those things.

E.g. if you gave people a way to collect favourite pages, then you can let them express the collectible behaviour people like.

When you design a game, you’e not designing an end-state, you’re designing a set of rules, boundaries, tokens, a space to play in. Every time you play, it plays out a different way. Social design is more like that, less like creating a device. This is a space where people will meet and interact. People are going to finish the experience themselves. You might build the house, but they’ll decorate it. Give up control, design something that has variables that the users can control.

Game Neverending, by Ludicorp. Very much like a MUD, but had chat element, small graphics, and Ludicorp went ton to make Flickr. It was not a game, literally, but it feels like a game, you discover elements, e.g. hovering over a name to provide a drop-down. Playfulness and discovery. People make up their own games in Flickr, they make badges and award them to each other. Early users fostered game-like behaviour.

Respect the ethical dimensions
Ethics are complicated, you have to balance different goods against one another. There are ethical ramifications behind your choices. You are at least putting together people who might not be put together. You’re playing with people lives, affecting people’s lives. You have to think through the consequences of your choices.

Counter-example: Once you’ve signed up, they ask for your email address, and if you give them that and your password and say ok, then they spam your address book with a marketing message as if it’s from you. Was clear they were designing it so that users were accidentally “agreeing” to this. Plaxo did the same once. This is ethically questionable behaviour.

96 Patterns
[Nice diagram.] Patterns come in three categories, revolving around ‘social spaces’.
Self >> Activities >> Community

Three stake holders: the owner/designer, the user, the community at large. The community starts to behave like an organism.

Give people a way to represent themselves, and give them a way to customise it, claim their work, identify themselves when commenting, etc. Need to distinguish users from each other, so people can differentiate themselves from someone with same name, for e.g. Colour scheme, avatar, name – all self expression.

Four groups of patterns:

Engagement: e.g. sign-up. to be social you need people and thus they need to join.
Identity: Once they’ve joined they can create an identity.
Presence: who else is here? who else has been here? What have they done?
Reputation: your score, ranking, category, help strangers encountering you for first time understand who you are and what you do

(created flash cards based on the patterns)

User cards, mini-profile, gives basics around the person.

Social objects
Things people have a common interest in, want to discuss or find interesting. things they rally around. Early social networks didn’t have that concept, e.g. Friendster. So there was a ‘so what’ moment. You’d join, find friends “traversing the graph”, you’d add them, and then you’d collect everyone. And at some point you’d go “Ok. Now what? What do I do now?”, and there was noting to do. You could talk to them, but you could do that anyway.

Friendster wanted to have ability to gather round common interests. They created Fakester, e.g. a person like Santa, or an inanimate thing like skiing, and through that connection had created symbolic way to form identity around an object or activity. Friendster didn’t like Fakester. Not necessarily a bad thing, making people use real names has a benefit to some extent (me: not always), but they violated the Pave the Cowpaths principle, and they deleted all the Fakester accounts all at once. Massacre. Friendster had a big scaling problem in their architecture but he big decline was when they kill the Fakester off. So you need not just people but also objects, e.g. photos, or freeform objects/topics people can decide for themselves.

Give people something to do.

Collecting: which is least social, most passive or individualistic thing you can do, but it’s a starting point. E.g. favourites, bookmarks, adding to a page. Small social element there, if i collect something you made. IF i display that collection it says something about me.

Sharing: bread and butter of social network. Giving stuff to each other.

Broadcasting and publishing: sharing on a megascale. Facebook is bad at distinction between broadcast/individually targeted behaviours. Blogging seen as 1-to-many, which is why blogs don’t always foster communication and conversation.

Feedback: comments, rating, voting, favourites (again). Asking for feedback. Feedback is where you get more viral and exponential behaviour.

Communicating Comes later, after collecting, sharing etc.

Collaboration: managing, voting, editing, wikis.

Social media: Following filtering, recommendations, helping people find stuff and sort out what’s good, recent, etc.

Last three are all community. Let community elevate people and content they value. Allow people to moderate itself, within reason. Selfish reason for self-moderation – third party mod doesn’t scale, can never hire enough moderators. Have to make community responsible for quality of the content. Has to police itself, set its own rules within boundaries. Not totally hands off, have to establish clear norms, important in early days to model good behaviour, participate in the community to show people what the community should look like .But want to create mechanisms by which people can manage it for you.

Connections: Relationships, finding people, friends. Declaring a connection between people, what types of relationships you want to support, do they have to be reciprocal or can they be one way, or only one way? Can people find people or do they have to traverse the graph manually. Do you have implicit and explicit relationships. Can you algorithmically determine if people are in same groups? Can you use that info to create implicit relationships. Fans and fame, one to many relationships. What permissions and authorisations are implied by connections? Should they be announced in an activity stream? But do you announce when people stop being friends?

Community management: Rules, establish norms, manifest in your own site and show people how you expect them to behave, give people way to decide what should happen, e.g. Craigslist. Asked the community to discuss what they should charge for to make it tenable. Give people ways to collaboratively filter information. People need to be able to report abuse.

Place, Geo, Location: mapping, face-to-face meetings, calendaring, geo-behaviours. Just scratching the surface of all this. This is a growth area.

Circles of connections – pre-defined or user-defined groups for permissioning purposes.
Public conversation – e.g. Facebook walls. Curious and interesting thing, as people talk to each other who don’t know each other talking on a third person’s wall. Twitter is all public conversation.
Enable a bridge to real life events. Let people do stuff in person too.

Noticed there are certain behaviours used repeatedly that are anti-patterns. Something that seems like a good idea, but has negative consequences. Appears to solve a problem or is a shortcut, but has an aftermath.

Cargo Cult: During WWII in Pacific, US would set up landing strips to supply the troops. In natural course of things, western goods would appear on the island, and the more primitive people on the island liked these goods, but when the war ended the US left. So religious cargo cults sprang up, so war uniforms, making effigies of airplanes and towers, did what air traffic guys did, to try to draw new cargo.

In social media, good e.g. is that after Flickr, Zooomr tried to do the same thing, nicked a lot of copy, and decided the lack of an E was the big thing. Just copying without understanding why. May get the right things but may not know why, or ever understand what bring success.

Don’t break email: Lots of email notifications, but the problem is when it’s used as a one-way medium, e.g. if you have, and you may not even get a bounce message back. Trying to make people go back to the website to look at an ad, but it’s still not good to break email. Basecamp let you reply, above the line, and it’s added as a comment to the thread. You don’t have to break email. Build on existing infrastructure – work with it not against it.Don’t break users’ existing habits.

Password anti-pattern: Asking for people’s email and password so you can spam their mailbox, or even just help you get your friends list out of the email contacts list into the new social graph. But it encourages risky behaviour as you shouldn’t be giving your password away

Ex-boyfriend bug: Dodgeball discovered this, when “The ‘people you should know’ list on Facebook is actually a list of people you hate.” – Rex Sorgatz. Algorithms show people you should connect with, even though there’s a reason you may not. Algorithm doesn’t need to know who is your ex, but needs to allow you to block someone and say ‘never show me this person or tell them about me’.

Potemkin Village. Settlements in Russia, Potemkin told Catherine that settlements in Crimea were going really well, but it wasn’t, so when she insisted on visiting, he created a series of facades and shipped peasants town to town to create the lie. Don’t create forums and discussion areas and map them out. In first early days of alpha, there’s no one there, and so if there’s a lot of fora, you won’t find people so creates a barrier early on. Cure: start with very limited number of fora, even just one or two. Put everyone in the same room. Odds are your initial community is small, and they will tell you when they want more space.

[There was a short Q&A afterwards. I didn’t capture it, but Jeff Van Campen’s notes did.]

Generosity and post-scarcity economic media models: Why I love participatory culture

One of the stumbling blocks for media companies looking to create sustainable digital business models is that the economic models differ in fundamental ways from the predominant models of the 20th Century.

Look at the media models of the 20th Century, and they are all based to some extent on scarcity and monopoly. Printing presses are expensive and create an economic limit to the number of newspapers that any given market will support. Satellites are incredibly expensive. Cable television infrastructure is expensive. Scarcity leads to the development of stable, de facto monopolies. Sky dominates satellite television in the UK. Cable television providers are usually granted monopolies in all but the largest of cities. Again, in all but the largest markets, newspapers have come to enjoy a monopoly position. (It is why I find it a bit rich that media monopolies are railing against Google. Monopolists trying to use the law and courts to defend their position against a rising monopolist should be the plot for a farce. Why don’t we create a web television series?)

The internet is different because media companies don’t have monopoly control over the means of distribution. News International and Gannett don’t own the presses that power the internet. BSkyB doesn’t own the satellites. Comcast owns the last mile of copper, but much of the internet is beyond its control.

The cost of media production has also dramatically decreased allowing people to create media with motivations that are not economic, which seems insane and alien to people who make a living creating media. However, creating media and sharing it with others is key to many communities online. Note, I’m talking about people sharing the media that they create, not sharing media created by people whose motivations are economic. Why the distinction? Sharing is a loaded term to the ‘creative industries’ which they want to redefine as theft. I’m not talking about sharing their content.

For those who don’t understand the “culture of generosity” on the internet, please read Caterina Fake’s moving defence of participatory culture. Caterina was one of the co-founders of photo sharing site Flickr and launched “a collective intelligence decision making system” called Hunch last year. Drawing on examples from her own experience going back to 1994, she explains why:

people do things for reasons other than bolstering their egos and making money

That’s about as foreign as one can think to mass media culture. Not doing something for ego or money? Why bother?

I can tell you why I bother. A global culture of participation has been, for me, key in meeting one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Belonging. Originally participatory culture was something I did in my spare time because their was no place for it in my professional work, but co-creation in journalism has been one of the most richly rewarding aspects of my career.

This is a mental bookmark for a much longer post looking at the economics of post-scarcity media, something I’ve been thinking about after meeting Matt Mason, author of The Pirate’s Dilemma. I first met Matt when I chaired a discussion about his book at the RSA, and I interviewed him for the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast about piracy, copyright and remix culture. Matt said that we need more study of “post-scarcity economics”, something  not seen in real-world goods but definitely in the virtual world of digital content.

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