Results tagged “socialsoftware”


July 19, 2012

My brilliant friend Caterina Fake wrote about the Fear of Missing Out last year, and the FOMO meme took instant hold amongst those of us who love the digital life. We're keenly aware that our constant connection to those who are doing things that are exciting, engaging or novel can make us feel let down with our humble circumstances.

But Caterina's piece came at a fortunate time in my life, just a little over a month after my son Malcolm was born. When I read Caterina's piece, I'd been mostly offline for more than a month, and during that time had barely checked in on anything online, and seldom even left the house. It was wonderful.

So the FOMO lament didn't particularly resonate with me; I wasn't missing anything. I hadn't realized that I was not only not in fear, but actually in a state of joy, until talking to a recent NYC transplant the other day.

New York City, Just Like I Pictured It

When people move to New York City, I tend to give them a few bits of advice that I learned the hard way in my first few years living in the city. There are the usual truisms about using public transit and how to save money and getting the most out of our public spaces. But inevitably, I tell people: You're going to miss stuff. On any given day, in New York City, there's an event going on that would be the best event of the year back in your hometown. And most of the time, you're not going to be there.

You miss a wonderful event or a really special moment because you're too broke to go, or because you couldn't get tickets in time. You stay home because you weren't going to know anybody there, or because you were going to know everybody there. You stay home in case she calls, or in case he shows up. You get halfway to the party but turn around because you're underdressed or overdressed or still hung over or because you have to work in the morning.

Sometimes, you don't go to that amazing event because you're just going to stay home and read a book or watch TV or flick away idly at your phone, only realizing you've missed the moment when it's already too late. And then, when you get old and wonderfully, contentedly boring like me, you stay home because you'd rather be there for bathtime and bedtime with the baby than, well, anywhere else in the world.

This is the Joy of Missing Out.

Missing Peace

There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping. Anyone who knows me know that there are few events I care about more than going to a Prince concert, even after doing so more than a dozen times in my life. And the night my wife went into labor, just a few hours before we left for the hospital, Prince was in concert at Madison Square Garden, site of one of my favorite of his shows ever. Needless to say, we missed the show. It was joyous.

So often, we point the finger at our technologies for creating the fears, the insecurities, the tensions that arise in our social lives as they get increasingly run by social software. But if tech is to blame for our feelings (and I'm not sure I want to concede that point), then certainly we can make apps and sites and software that makes us joyously celebrate for the good time that our friends and loved ones and even complete strangers are having when they go about living their lives.

I've been to amazing events. I still am fortunate enough to get to attend moments and celebrations that are an incredible privilege to witness. But increasingly, my default answer to invitations is "no". No, I'm not going to go. And when well-intentioned hosts inevitably point out "You're going to regret not coming!" I won't say it out loud, but I'll probably think, "No, I really won't."

Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I'm willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone. I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well. That's a joyful thing.

Consider Twitter

February 14, 2007

Twitter The sign of success in social software is when your community does something you didn't expect.

It's easy to be cynical about new sites, especially when one is trying to maintain some healthy skepticism. But sometimes you have to let that critical impulse down just long enough to be optimistic. That brings me to Twitter.

I was all set to hate, or at least scoff at, Twitter when it launched, especially because it was called "twttr" and it just seemed to me like "West Coast Dodgeball". (Dodgeball started here in New York City, and at least for me, caught on with my New York friends in a way that never quite happened on the west coast, even after Google acquired the company.) In a way, it's unfortunate that I have ended up liking Twitter, because I had a bunch of better titles in mind for this post if i hadn't. (See the table below.)

twttr's old logoIf you haven't tried it, Twitter is a simple service that lets you send simple status update messages to your friends via SMS, IM, or a very basic web interface. Those messages are then sent to everyone who follows your updates, using any of the communications methods available. Simply put, it's a buddy list or reply-to-all form of group communication for media which didn't really have them. And Twitter lowers the threshold of participation to being just a straightforward prompted text area. That simplicity echoes the updating interface for some of the best applications, such as the original (circa 2000) Blogger posting box. A lot of my favorite sites today have similar features that prompt for participation, like Vox's Question of the Day or the similar feature on Serious Eats.

Twitter messages are also persistent. The persistence of casual conversations has been key to the adoption of blogging. It's a response to the frustrating sense of impermanence that permeates most communication that takes place via email, IM, or SMS, and Twitter honors that need for a sense of history in the things we say to each other.

Plus, Twitter lets you use whatever medium is most convenient, like all good social apps. I've learned a bit about connecting the web, SMS and IM from LiveJournal's experience with LJ Talk, and the djabberd platform that powers it. Put simply, if your social network doesn't work when you're not sitting in front of your computer, your social network doesn't work.

This idea of adding persistence to instant messaging and status messages is extremely powerful, whether it's LiveJournal's celebrated "current mood" status, or the BuddyGopher service, which was an extraordinarily prescient service that provided a bot which would log all of your buddies' away messages. The service became a casualty of AOL's (now largely remedied) closed IM platform., but today, AOL itself even provides some views of this kind of IM status data on the AIM site.

That sort of platform or media flexibility pays dividends; I still never use Twitter via SMS, only via IM and the web, but it works seamlessly for me and all my friends who are on SMS. I wouldn't have become a user if the technology had limited me to texting on my phone. That's part of the measure of Twitter's success: An unexpected use.

And I think we'll see more of that kind of unanticipated creativity going forward. Already, lots of people on my friends list are using "@username" to direct personal Twitter messages to one another -- essentially sending individual IMs over a public medium to someone who might well be using IM on the other end. I wouldn't have predicted that, and I bet it's only a matter of time until Twitter lets you convert @username messages into its own D USERNAME syntax.

If I hadn't liked Twitter:

  • Wither Twitter?
  • Reconsider Twitter
  • I'm a Twitter quitter
  • Twitter, Please.

And this highlights a key point -- good social media platforms are profoundly adaptive. The platform behind the technology was originally built for a different purpose. That's true of many of the greatest social network applications; Just as Pyra begat Blogger and Game Neverending begat Flickr, a lot of the infrastructure for Odeo helped create Twitter.

Finally, Twitter seems like it's a product borne of passion, and I can see all day every day it's made by a team that actually uses the service extensively. That's important, and helped inspire some of my fondness for the service. It definitely helped me overcome my initial skepticism. Fortunately, I had the chance to tell Ev and some of members of his team in person that their site is one of the few new services to come along that actually feels new.

And of course, as we've progressed from updating entire web pages to just updating blog posts to now entering one-line updates on Twitter, the only logical next step is for us to move on to just updating emoticons. :)

Some related posts:

In this case I'm referring back to wanting meaningful technology because I know the criticism of Twitter is "I don't need more random messages popping up on my phone." But I use Twitter like I use Vox, to keep track of friends and family whom I can't check in with constantly, to give me a sense of shared placed with people who are geographically distant. And that's something I alluded to in my earlier post:

[T]he most important things are the things that we arrogantly want to dismiss as trivia. In every aspect of life, the most profound things are so common that if they don't affect someone you love or care about, they can seem meaningless.

What I'd like to see is technology being used in service of helping me share and record those moments. And I'd like to see technology be used to help create those moments.

Still sounds like a good goal to me.

Alright, Kids.

August 4, 2006

Fancy Cheese is Good You want links? You got links.

  • Seth Stevenson defends the word "sucks" in Slate. This seems relevant to me because my keynote at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference last week was callled Trying Not To Suck and because I used to get in trouble with my dad when I was a kid and said something sucked
  • On the entitlement of fandom addresses the fundamental issue of people who try to kill the things they love. This an especially pronounced trait amongst crowds or groups of fans.
  • Just randomly, this old Salon story about the acquisition and death of Webrings by Yahoo came up in a conversation today. I always loved reading Katharine Mieszkowski's stories back then.
  • What's wrong with Social Software? Part one, part two, and part three. Greg Knauss is so smart I'm surprised The Man hasn't had him killed.
  • I do a lot of public speaking, so I tend to be pretty critical of presentations. ("Steve Jobs is a fantastic presenter, but do people really find smugness that appealing?") However, I'm comfortable in saying this presentation a few months ago by Intel CEO Paul Otellini is just plain grim. If he's not a natural presenter, why not get someone who is? If he's excited about it, why doesn't it show? This stuff matters!
  • We will unleash a swarm of 480 million tiny satellites to blanket the globe in a coppery ring of surveillance! Bwa ha ha ha! Except it actually happened. Project West Ford makes the looneys seem sane.
  • Beaver Cheese, Cheese Reviews. Reviewing all 43 cheese from Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch, and a number of other cheese as well. I also admire "Cheese Reviews is still in it's vestigial stages. But it is envisioned as ultimately being a full featured cheese portal and community." I love cheese, and I love the web.

The Interesting Economy

October 25, 2005

Like many great social software applications, Flickr began its life as something else. Flickr was built on a platform for a game called Game Neverending, which had a lot of great features including an in-game economy based on exchanging various totems that had different relative values. There was really only a barter economy, which left the "innate" value of any individual item to be pretty opaque.

Today, Flickr has interestingness, which is a measure of some combination of how many times a picture has been viewed, how many comments it has, how many times it's been tagged or marked as a favorite, and some other special sauce. I suppose revealing the exact mix would encourage even more people to game the system, but the fact that it's not disclosed has led to a number of attempts to reverse-engineer the system. I doubt any of them are/will be successful (Flickr can update/evolve fast enough to change the algorithm if they figure it out) but that's probably going to be an ongoing dialogue.

When I think of things getting gamed, I think of Clay Shirky saying "social software is stuff that gets spammed". So maybe economies are things that get gamed.

What I'm wondering is, how is Flickr's interestingness different than the economy in Game Neverending? Than Second Life? (Or in Evercrack or Neverwinter or any of the other gaming platforms.) Is interestingness its own reward? Why don't I get to level up or power up when I create something interesting?

More to the point, the in-game economies of these games translate pretty cleanly into real-world cash, with eBay amplifying the efficiency of the currency conversion. And interestingness in other online media (like blogs) is rewarded by cash in a pretty straightforward way; I can sign up for TypePad, check a box to enable text ads, and pay for my account or point the proceeds to my PayPal account when I start getting lots of visitors.

But interestingness in Flickr doesn't pay. At least not yet. Non-pro users are seeing ads around my photos, but Yahoo's not sharing the wealth with me, even though I've created a draw. Flickr's plenty open, they're doing the right thing by any measure of the web as we saw it a year ago, or two years ago. Today, though, openness around value exchange is as important as openness around data exchange.

So does that mean the right answer for cashing in on my interesting work is to ask for a penny from Yahoo? Or does it mean I should just make an automated script that grabs my interesting photos and posts them to my TypePad blog so that I can put ads on them?