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Archive for January, 2010

More on Bragging

January 31, 2010 2 comments

Thanks for the great comments! I started to write a reply comment, but it grew into more of a post:

Of course “no bragging, no whining” is overstating for simplicity.  A fairer statement would be “think carefully before saying something that might be perceived as bragging or whining.”

I do think sharing successes is a good thing…. But when possible, it’s nicer when someone else does it for you. So for example I tweeted about what an awesome keynote Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg gave at WikiSym (and I meant it–they rule!) I’d rather it be that way than F & M tweeting about it themselves. (Which they didn’t, for the record.)

I started following Neil Gaiman @neilhimself on Twitter coincidentally just before he won the Newbury Award. His first genuine excitement at winning made my day–it was wonderful, even if he was telling us all about it himself. But in the weeks following, he had a surge of fame and constant high-profile interviews, and his lack of any humility about it soured the whole thing rapidly. Unfollowing him felt like getting a grain of sand out of my eye. I don’t know if it’s safe to refollow these days… I haven’t dared to look.  OK, I completely forgive him for getting a bit full on himself immediately after a major life accomplishment. But you see the broader point–bragging is delicate business.

Categories: Twitter

Finding a Voice on Twitter

January 29, 2010 10 comments

I’m not sure I’ve quite found my voice on Twitter yet. What kinds of things should I say? Who am I talking to, and why am I doing this anyway?  I did start off with two rules:

Amy’s Two Golden Rules of Twitter

  1. No bragging
  2. No whining

I find these help. I’m always tempted to make that cynical little quip about one of the aggravations of every day life. The “why does the toast always fall buttered-side down” sort of remark–but about traffic or iPhones or absurdities of academia. But you don’t want to hear that, do you?  And I don’t think you want to hear about my latest keynote address or million-dollar grant either.  (See?  You’re bristling cause I just said that.) Of course it’s a judgment call, and sharing big things is important. But most of the littler ups and downs might better be left untweeted.

I started off with a private Twitter account. But then as I got requests to follow me, I didn’t know who to approve and who to deny or why. So I finally made my main Twitter account public, and opened a private one for close personal friends. My rule for the private account is: must have been at my wedding.  Or at least invited and had a good excuse for not showing. I have precisely four private followers. And I honestly don’t say much there–a few cute things my kids do now and then.

For the public feed, I mostly just comment on things in my field. I’m assuming this is mostly a professional presence. I comment on funny things happening on Wikipedia, or pass on the cool link my grad student sent me (with credit, of course). I’m always tempted to talk about hobbies (like NFL football, or investing), but I don’t want the whole thing to be too random for people who are following me because they’re interested in social computing research. I suppose I should work in a personal comment now and then. I like the way Nancy Baym has a mostly professional Twitter feed, but shares enough personal stuff that you feel like you know her. I haven’t figured out how to do that well yet.

That’s my strategy–so far. I’m sure it’ll continue to change.  One unsettling thing about life in the land of Twitter is that I sometimes find myself searching for clever things to tweet as I go through my day. It’s almost like I’m back in the Adams House dining hall in college, hanging out with my clever friends, and using all my brain cycles to find the hip/witty thing to say. I’m not sure this is healthy–it feels like regressing.  Erving Goffman would say that we are all always performing.  It’s just that now we’re doing it more consciously.

So is Twitter a fad? Part of me hopes so. More likely, it will persist–but how we all use it will evolve over time. Evolve so much that we’ll look back on tweets from the last decade and cringe. With new software layers on top of the basic functionality, and more evolved genres of Twitter use that become implicitly understood within different social groups.

I assigned Twitter for online communities class yesterday. My students all agreed on two things: First, Twitter is not one thing but is used in different ways by different people.  Second, what it is will continue to evolve.  No one has quite figured it out yet.

Categories: Twitter

Amy’s Prediction: In 20 Years No One Will Be Qualified to Be President

January 22, 2010 2 comments

Today’s teens are pouring their most personal thoughts onto the Internet. They flirt, they gossip, they angst, they brag about being naughty–just like we did when we were teens. Except the problem is, the Internet is a surprisingly persistent medium.

An old joke says that taking information off the Internet is like taking pee out of a pool. Sure you deleted it, but did the server keep a backup?  There’s likely a backup on Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive, http://archive.org. Before you decided to delete it, did a friend save a copy? When you post information online, you lose control of it.

Teens say the most amazing things. My friends and I had a great deal of fun, and I’m relieved to say it’s all forgotten or at least not documented in my own words or photos. (If I appear doing anything unseemly  in Anne Mini‘s new novel, I can simply deny it!) If all of our coming-of age angst was saved for posterity, I’d be appalled.  I think most people look back on their teen and young adult years that way. At least I hope they do.

What happens when young adult antics are archived? The thought gives one pause. Will the bride data mine the groom before the wedding (or vice versa)? Will the colleague with an axe to grind dig up ancient history to use as a weapon? Are we entering a new age of harassment by ancient history, a golden age of blackmail?

I suspect that most teen and young adult antics will stay obscure, and if they’re uncovered folks will mostly just laugh and reminisce. But there’s one special category of people who may not get away so easy: public figures. Actors, musicians, and athletes can probably survive the scrutiny. But what about politicians? We still elected Bill Clinton, because he said he “didn’t inhale.” What happens when the future political candidate is inhaling on camera, memorialized for posterity?

I see a few possible outcomes. One is that teens over time will learn to be more careful with their personal information.This I think is inevitable. Which leads us to the prospect that we will have one lost generation of potential future politicians–the generation who didn’t yet know to be careful about their personal information online. Like the donut hole in medicare coverage, we’ll have a lost zone between those too old to have been online much and those young enough to know to be at least a bit careful.

Another  potential outcome is that we as a culture will learn to be more tolerant of what people do in their personal lives, especially as youth. Europeans tend to be somewhat more tolerant already–to draw a clearer line between personal and professional behavior. Americans are plagued by an endearing notion of “Character”–that what we do in our personal lives speaks to our fitness for professional tasks. When complete lives are increasingly archived, we may need to step back from that ideal and let our leaders be human.

Categories: privacy, social computing

The Next Bison

January 20, 2010 1 comment

In 2006, we took our then two-year-old son to dinner at Ted’s Montana Grill, a restaurant that specializes in bison burgers and has pictures of bison on the walls. Looking around, he asked, “What sound does a bison make?” I told him I really didn’t know, but when we got home I opened up YouTube and searched for “sound of a bison.” And the first hit was exactly that:

Could you have predicted this would be possible? I know I couldn’t have. I remember as a grad student chatting with my advisor, Mitchel Resnick, about whether it would ever be possible to search for an arbitrary word on the web and get a meaningful result. We both agreed that was silly–no way! Of course this was around 1992–we were discussing NCSA Mosaic. So maybe we can be forgiven for being short-sighted. If being able to do a meaningful search for anything on the web is surprising, being able to search for anything (like bison) on YouTube is even more so. Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia have reached a critical mass of content that make them truly useful.

The Next Bison is the next big thing made possible by the Internet that will be transformative. That will make us sit back and shake our heads and laugh.

These thoughts began as a short workshop paper Understanding the Internet’s Present, and Values-Based Design of its Future I wrote for the workshop on Technology-Mediated Social Participation organized by Pete Pirolli, Jenny Preece, and Ben Shneiderman at PARC in December 2009. My day-to-day thoughts here are guaranteed to be more mundane. But I hope something bigger may emerge. Small facts speak to large issues, winks to epistemology, bison to user-generated content and the next big thing.

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