social software

Socioeconomic analysis of MySpace & Facebook

From danah boyd’s “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace” (danah boyd: 24 June 2007):

When MySpace launched in 2003, it was primarily used by 20/30-somethings (just like Friendster before it). The bands began populating the site by early 2004 and throughout 2004, the average age slowly declined. It wasn’t until late 2004 that teens really started appearing en masse on MySpace and 2005 was the year that MySpace became the “in thing” for teens.

Facebook launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only site. It slowly expanded to welcome people with .edu accounts from a variety of different universities. In mid-2005, Facebook opened its doors to high school students, but it wasn’t that easy to get an account because you needed to be invited. As a result, those who were in college tended to invite those high school students that they liked. Facebook was strongly framed as the “cool” thing that college students did.

In addition to the college framing, the press coverage of MySpace as dangerous and sketchy alienated “good” kids. Facebook seemed to provide an ideal alternative. Parents weren’t nearly as terrified of Facebook because it seemed “safe” thanks to the network-driven structure.

She argues that class divisions in the United States have more to do with lifestyle and social stratification than with income. In other words, all of my anti-capitalist college friends who work in cafes and read Engels are not working class just because they make $14K a year and have no benefits. Class divisions in the United States have more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income. Not surprisingly, other demographics typically discussed in class terms are also a part of this lifestyle division. Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus “class.”

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

In order to demarcate these two groups, let’s call the first group of teens “hegemonic teens” and the second group “subaltern teens.”

Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and “so middle school.” They prefer the “clean” look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is “so lame.” What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as “glitzy” or “bling” or “fly” (or what my generation would call “phat”) by subaltern teens. Terms like “bling” come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. … That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.

I should note here that aesthetics do divide MySpace users. The look and feel that is acceptable amongst average Latino users is quite different from what you see the subculturally-identified outcasts using. Amongst the emo teens, there’s a push for simple black/white/grey backgrounds and simplistic layouts. While I’m using the term “subaltern teens” to lump together non-hegemonic teens, the lifestyle divisions amongst the subalterns are quite visible on MySpace through the aesthetic choices of the backgrounds. The aesthetics issue is also one of the forces that drives some longer-term users away from MySpace.

Teens from poorer backgrounds who are on MySpace are less likely to know people who go to universities. They are more likely to know people who are older than them, but most of their older friends, cousins, and co-workers are on MySpace. It’s the cool working class thing and it’s the dominant SNS at community colleges. These teens are more likely to be interested in activities like shows and clubs and they find out about them through MySpace. The subaltern teens who are better identified as “outsiders” in a hegemonic community tend to be very aware of Facebook. Their choice to use MySpace instead of Facebook is a rejection of the hegemonic values (and a lack of desire to hang out with the preps and jocks even online).

Class divisions in military use

A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very interesting move because the division in the military reflects the division in high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook. Facebook is extremely popular in the military, but it’s not the SNS of choice for 18-year old soldiers, a group that is primarily from poorer, less educated communities. They are using MySpace. The officers, many of whom have already received college training, are using Facebook. The military ban appears to replicate the class divisions that exist throughout the military. …

MySpace is the primary way that young soldiers communicate with their peers. When I first started tracking soldiers’ MySpace profiles, I had to take a long deep breath. Many of them were extremely pro-war, pro-guns, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, pro-killing, and xenophobic as hell. Over the last year, I’ve watched more and more profiles emerge from soldiers who aren’t quite sure what they are doing in Iraq. I don’t have the data to confirm whether or not a significant shift has occurred but it was one of those observations that just made me think. And then the ban happened. I can’t help but wonder if part of the goal is to cut off communication between current soldiers and the group that the military hopes to recruit.

Thoughts and meta thoughts

People often ask me if I’m worried about teens today. The answer is yes, but it’s not because of social network sites. With the hegemonic teens, I’m very worried about the stress that they’re under, the lack of mobility and healthy opportunities for play and socialization, and the hyper-scheduling and surveillance. I’m worried about their unrealistic expectations for becoming rich and famous, their lack of work ethic after being pampered for so long, and the lack of opportunities that many of them have to even be economically stable let alone better off than their parents. I’m worried about how locking teens indoors coupled with a fast food/junk food advertising machine has resulted in a decrease in health levels across the board which will just get messy as they are increasingly unable to afford health insurance. When it comes to ostracized teens, I’m worried about the reasons why society has ostracized them and how they will react to ongoing criticism from hegemonic peers. I cringe every time I hear of another Columbine, another Virgina Tech, another site of horror when an outcast teen lashes back at the hegemonic values of society.

I worry about the lack of opportunities available to poor teens from uneducated backgrounds. I’m worried about how Wal-Mart Nation has destroyed many of the opportunities for meaningful working class labor as these youth enter the workforce. I’m worried about what a prolonged war will mean for them. I’m worried about how they’ve been told that to succeed, they must be a famous musician or sports player. I’m worried about how gangs provide the only meaningful sense of community that many of these teens will ever know.

Given the state of what I see in all sorts of neighborhoods, I’m amazed at how well teens are coping and I think that technology has a lot to do with that. Teens are using social network sites to build community and connect with their peers. They are creating publics for socialization. And through it, they are showcasing all of the good, bad, and ugly of today’s teen life.

In the 70s, Paul Willis analyzed British working class youth and he wrote a book called Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. He argued that working class teens will reject hegemonic values because it’s the only way to continue to be a part of the community that they live in. In other words, if you don’t know that you will succeed if you make a run at jumping class, don’t bother – you’ll lose all of your friends and community in the process. His analysis has such strong resonance in American society today. I just wish I knew how to fix it.

Wikipedia, freedom, & changes in production

From Clay Shirky’s “Old Revolutions, Good; New Revolutions, Bad” (Britannica Blog: 14 June 2007):

Gorman’s theory about print – its capabilities ushered in an age very different from manuscript culture — is correct, and the same kind of shift is at work today. As with the transition from manuscripts to print, the new technologies offer virtues that did not previously exist, but are now an assumed and permanent part of our intellectual environment. When reproduction, distribution, and findability were all hard, as they were for the last five hundred years, we needed specialists to undertake those jobs, and we properly venerated them for the service they performed. Now those tasks are simpler, and the earlier roles have instead become obstacles to direct access.

Digital and networked production vastly increase three kinds of freedom: freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly. This perforce increases the freedom of anyone to say anything at any time. This freedom has led to an explosion in novel content, much of it mediocre, but freedom is like that. Critically, this expansion of freedom has not undermined any of the absolute advantages of expertise; the virtues of mastery remain as they were. What has happened is that the relative advantages of expertise are in precipitous decline. Experts the world over have been shocked to discover that they were consulted not as a direct result of their expertise, but often as a secondary effect – the apparatus of credentialing made finding experts easier than finding amateurs, even when the amateurs knew the same things as the experts.

The success of Wikipedia forces a profound question on print culture: how is information to be shared with the majority of the population? This is an especially tough question, as print culture has so manifestly failed at the transition to a world of unlimited perfect copies. Because Wikipedia’s contents are both useful and available, it has eroded the monopoly held by earlier modes of production. Other encyclopedias now have to compete for value to the user, and they are failing because their model mainly commits them to denying access and forbidding sharing. If Gorman wants more people reading Britannica, the choice lies with its management. Were they to allow users unfettered access to read and share Britannica’s content tomorrow, the only interesting question is whether their readership would rise a ten-fold or a hundred-fold.

Britannica will tell you that they don’t want to compete on universality of access or sharability, but this is the lament of the scribe who thinks that writing fast shouldn’t be part of the test. In a world where copies have become cost-free, people who expend their resources to prevent access or sharing are forgoing the principal advantages of the new tools, and this dilemma is common to every institution modeled on the scarcity and fragility of physical copies. Academic libraries, which in earlier days provided a service, have outsourced themselves as bouncers to publishers like Reed-Elsevier; their principal job, in the digital realm, is to prevent interested readers from gaining access to scholarly material.

My new book – Google Apps Deciphered – is out!

I’m really proud to announce that my 5th book is now out & available for purchase: Google Apps Deciphered: Compute in the Cloud to Streamline Your Desktop. My other books include:

(I’ve also contributed to two others: Ubuntu Hacks: Tips & Tools for Exploring, Using, and Tuning Linux and Microsoft Vista for IT Security Professionals.)

Google Apps Deciphered is a guide to setting up Google Apps, migrating to it, customizing it, and using it to improve productivity, communications, and collaboration. I walk you through each leading component of Google Apps individually, and then show my readers exactly how to make them work together for you on the Web or by integrating them with your favorite desktop apps. I provide practical insights on Google Apps programs for email, calendaring, contacts, wikis, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, video, and even Google’s new web browser Chrome. My aim was to collect together and present tips and tricks I’ve gained by using and setting up Google Apps for clients, family, and friends.

Here’s the table of contents:

  • 1: Choosing an Edition of Google Apps
  • 2: Setting Up Google Apps
  • 3: Migrating Email to Google Apps
  • 4: Migrating Contacts to Google Apps
  • 5: Migrating Calendars to Google Apps
  • 6: Managing Google Apps Services
  • 7: Setting Up Gmail
  • 8: Things to Know About Using Gmail
  • 9: Integrating Gmail with Other Software and Services
  • 10: Integrating Google Contacts with Other Software and Services
  • 11: Setting Up Google Calendar
  • 12: Things to Know About Using Google Calendar
  • 13: Integrating Google Calendar with Other Software and Services
  • 14: Things to Know About Using Google Docs
  • 15: Integrating Google Docs with Other Software and Services
  • 16: Setting Up Google Sites
  • 17: Things to Know About Using Google Sites
  • 18: Things to Know About Using Google Talk
  • 19: Things to Know About Using Start Page
  • 20: Things to Know About Using Message Security and Recovery
  • 21: Things to Know About Using Google Video
  • Appendix A: Backing Up Google Apps
  • Appendix B: Dealing with Multiple Accounts
  • Appendix C: Google Chrome: A Browser Built for Cloud Computing

If you want to know more about Google Apps and how to use it, then I know you’ll enjoy and learn from Google Apps Deciphered. You can read about and buy the book at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Google-Apps-Deciphered-Compute-Streamline/dp/0137004702) for $26.39. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact me at scott at granneman dot com.

A single medium, with a single search engine, & a single info source

From Nicholas Carr’s “All hail the information triumvirate!” (Rough Type: 22 January 2009):

Today, another year having passed, I did the searches [on Google] again. And guess what:

World War II: #1
Israel: #1
George Washington: #1
Genome: #1
Agriculture: #1
Herman Melville: #1
Internet: #1
Magna Carta: #1
Evolution: #1
Epilepsy: #1

Yes, it’s a clean sweep for Wikipedia.

The first thing to be said is: Congratulations, Wikipedians. You rule. Seriously, it’s a remarkable achievement. Who would have thought that a rag-tag band of anonymous volunteers could achieve what amounts to hegemony over the results of the most popular search engine, at least when it comes to searches for common topics.

The next thing to be said is: what we seem to have here is evidence of a fundamental failure of the Web as an information-delivery service. Three things have happened, in a blink of history’s eye: (1) a single medium, the Web, has come to dominate the storage and supply of information, (2) a single search engine, Google, has come to dominate the navigation of that medium, and (3) a single information source, Wikipedia, has come to dominate the results served up by that search engine. Even if you adore the Web, Google, and Wikipedia – and I admit there’s much to adore – you have to wonder if the transformation of the Net from a radically heterogeneous information source to a radically homogeneous one is a good thing. Is culture best served by an information triumvirate?

It’s hard to imagine that Wikipedia articles are actually the very best source of information for all of the many thousands of topics on which they now appear as the top Google search result. What’s much more likely is that the Web, through its links, and Google, through its search algorithms, have inadvertently set into motion a very strong feedback loop that amplifies popularity and, in the end, leads us all, lemminglike, down the same well-trod path – the path of least resistance. You might call this the triumph of the wisdom of the crowd. I would suggest that it would be more accurately described as the triumph of the wisdom of the mob. The former sounds benign; the latter, less so.

Social networking and “friendship”

From danah boyd’s “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites” (First Monday: December 2006)

John’s reference to “gateway Friends” concerns a specific technological affordance unique to Friendster. Because the company felt it would make the site more intimate, Friendster limits users from surfing to Profiles beyond four degrees (Friends of Friends of Friends of Friends). When people login, they can see how many Profiles are “in their network” where the network is defined by the four degrees. For users seeking to meet new people, growing this number matters. For those who wanted it to be intimate, keeping the number smaller was more important. In either case, the number of people in one’s network was perceived as directly related to the number of friends one had.

“I am happy with the number of friends I have. I can access over 26,000 profiles, which is enough for me!” — Abby

The number of Friends one has definitely affects the size of one’s network but connecting to Collectors plays a much more significant role. Because these “gateway friends” (a.k.a. social network hubs) have lots of Friends who are not connected to each other, they expand the network pretty rapidly. Thus, connecting to Collectors or connecting to people who connect to Collectors opens you up to a large network rather quickly.

While Collectors could be anyone interested in amassing many Friends, fake Profiles were developed to aid in this process. These Fakesters included characters, celebrities, objects, icons, institutions, and ideas. For example, Homer Simpson had a Profile alongside Jesus and Brown University. By connecting people with shared interests or affiliations, Fakesters supported networking between like-minded individuals. Because play and connecting were primary incentives for many Fakesters, they welcomed any and all Friends. Likewise, people who wanted access to more people connected to Fakesters. Fakesters helped centralize the network and two Fakesters — Burning Man and Ali G — reached mass popularity with over 10,000 Friends each before the Web site’s creators put an end to their collecting and deleted both accounts. This began the deletion of all Fakesters in what was eventually termed the Fakester Genocide [8].

While Friendster was irritated by fake Profiles, MySpace embraced this practice. One of MySpace’s early strategies was to provide a place for everyone who was rejected from Friendster or who didn’t want to be on a dating site [9]. Bands who had been kicked off of Friendster were some of the earliest MySpace users. Over time, movie stars, politicians, porn divas, comedians, and other celebrities joined the fray. Often, the person behind these Profiles was not the celebrity but a manager. Corporations began creating Profiles for their products and brands. While Friendster eventually began allowing such fake Profiles for a fee, MySpace never charged people for their commercial uses.

Investigating Friendship in LiveJournal, Kate Raynes-Goldie and Fono (2005) found that there was tremendous inconsistency in why people Friended others. They primarily found that Friendship stood for: content, offline facilitator, online community, trust, courtesy, declaration, or nothing. When I asked participants about their practices on Friendster and MySpace, I found very similar incentives. The most common reasons for Friendship that I heard from users [11] were:

1. Actual friends
2. Acquaintances, family members, colleagues
3. It would be socially inappropriate to say no because you know them
4. Having lots of Friends makes you look popular
5. It’s a way of indicating that you are a fan (of that person, band, product, etc.)
6. Your list of Friends reveals who you are
7. Their Profile is cool so being Friends makes you look cool
8. Collecting Friends lets you see more people (Friendster)
9. It’s the only way to see a private Profile (MySpace)
10. Being Friends lets you see someone’s bulletins and their Friends-only blog posts (MySpace)
11. You want them to see your bulletins, private Profile, private blog (MySpace)
12. You can use your Friends list to find someone later
13. It’s easier to say yes than no

These incentives account for a variety of different connections. While the first three reasons all concern people that you know, the rest can explain why people connect to a lot of people that they do not know. Most reveal how technical affordances affect people’s incentives to connect.

Raynes-Goldie and Fono (2005) also found that there is a great deal of social anxiety and drama provoked by Friending in LiveJournal (LJ). In LJ, Friendship does not require reciprocity. Anyone can list anyone else as a Friend; this articulation is public but there is no notification. The value of Friendship on LJ is deeply connected to the privacy settings and subscription processes. The norm on LJ is to read others’ entries through a “Friends page.” This page is an aggregation of all of an individual’s Friends’ posts. When someone posts an LJ entry, they have a choice as to whether the post should be public, private, Friends-only, or available to subgroups of Friends. In this way, it is necessary to be someone’s Friend to have access to Friends-only posts. To locate how the multiple and conflicting views of Friendship cause tremendous conflict and misunderstanding on LJ, Raynes-Goldie and Fono speak of “hyperfriending.” This process is quite similar to what takes place on other social network sites, but there are some differences. Because Friends-only posts are commonplace, not being someone’s Friend is a huge limitation to information access. Furthermore, because reciprocity is not structurally required, there’s a much greater social weight to recognizing someone’s Friendship and reciprocating intentionally. On MySpace and Friendster, there is little to lose by being loose with Friendship and more to gain; the perception is that there is much more to lose on LJ.

While users can scroll through their list of Friends, not all Friends are displayed on the participant’s Profile. Most social network sites display Friends in the order in which their account was created or their last login date. By implementing a “Top 8” feature, MySpace changed the social dynamics around the ordering of Friends. Initially, “Top 8” allowed users to select eight Friends to display on their Profile. More recently, that feature was changed to “Top Friends” as users have more options in how many people they could list [12]. Many users will only list people that they know and celebrities that they admire in their Top Friends, often as a way to both demarcate their identity and signal meaningful relationships with others.

There are many advantages to the Top Friends feature. It allows people to show connections that really say something about who they are. It also serves as a bookmark to the people that matter. By choosing to list the people who one visits the most frequently, simply going to one’s Profile provides a set of valuable links.

“As a kid, you used your birthday party guest list as leverage on the playground. ‘If you let me play I’ll invite you to my birthday party.’ Then, as you grew up and got your own phone, it was all about someone being on your speed dial. Well today it’s the MySpace Top 8. It’s the new dangling carrot for gaining superficial acceptance. Taking someone off your Top 8 is your new passive aggressive power play when someone pisses you off.” — Nadine

There are a handful of social norms that pervade Top 8 culture. Often, the person in the upper left (“1st” position) is a significant other, dear friend, or close family member. Reciprocity is another salient component of Top Friends dynamics. If Susan lists Mary on her Top 8, she expects Mary to reciprocate. To acknowledge this, Mary adds a Comment to Susan’s page saying, “Thanx for puttin me on ur Top 8! I put you on mine 2.” By publicly acknowledging this addition, Mary is making certain Susan’s viewers recognize Mary’s status on Susan’s list. Of course, just being in someone’s list is not always enough. As Samantha explains, “Friends get into fights because they’re not 1st on someone’s Top 8, or somebody else is before them.” While some people are ecstatic to be added, there are many more that are frustrated because they are removed or simply not listed.

The Top Friends feature requires participants to actively signal their relationship with others. Such a system makes it difficult to be vague about who matters the most, although some tried by explaining on their bulletins what theme they are using to choose their Top 8 this week: “my Sagittarius friends,” “my basketball team,” and “people whose initials are BR.” Still others relied on fake Profiles for their Top 8.

The networked nature of impressions does not only affect the viewer — this is how newcomers decided what to present in the first place. When people first joined Friendster, they took cues from the people who invited them. Three specific subcultures dominated the early adopters — bloggers, attendees of the Burning Man [14] festival, and gay men mostly living in New York. If the invitee was a Burner, their Profile would probably be filled with references to the event with images full of half-naked, costumed people running around the desert. As such, newcomers would get the impression that it was a site for Burners and they would create a Profile that displayed that facet of their identity. In decided who to invite, newcomers would perpetuate the framing by only inviting people who are part of the Burning Man subculture.

Interestingly, because of this process, Burners believed that the site was for Burners, gay men thought it was a gay dating site, and bloggers were ecstatic to have a geek socializing tool. The reason each group got this impression had to do with the way in which context was created on these systems. Rather than having the context dictated by the environment itself, context emerged through Friends networks. As a result, being socialized into Friendster meant connected to Friends that reinforced the contextual information of early adopters.

The growth of MySpace followed a similar curve. One of the key early adopter groups were hipsters living in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. They were passionate about indie rock music and many were musicians, promoters, club goers, etc. As MySpace took hold, long before any press was covering the site, MySpace took off amongst 20/30-something urban socializers, musicians, and teenagers. The latter group may not appear obvious, but teenagers are some of the most active music consumers — they follow music culture avidly, even when they are unable to see the bands play live due to age restrictions. As the site grew, the teenagers and 20/30-somethings pretty much left each other alone, although bands bridged these groups. It was not until the site was sold to News Corp. for US$580 million in the summer of 2005 that the press began covering the phenomenon. The massive press helped it grow larger, penetrating those three demographics more deeply but also attracting new populations, namely adults who are interested in teenagers (parents, teachers, pedophiles, marketers).

When context is defined by whom one Friends, and addressing multiple audiences simultaneously complicates all relationships, people must make hard choices. Joshua Meyrowitz (1985) highlights this problem in reference to television. In the early 1960s, Stokely Carmichael regularly addressed segregated black and white audiences about the values of Black Power. Depending on his audience, he used very different rhetorical styles. As his popularity grew, he began to attract media attention and was invited to speak on TV and radio. Unfortunately, this was more of a curse than a blessing because the audiences he would reach through these mediums included both black and white communities. With no way to reconcile the two different rhetorical styles, he had to choose. In choosing to maintain his roots in front of white listeners, Carmichael permanently alienated white society from the messages of Black Power.

Notes

10. Friendster originally limited users to 150 Friends. It is no accident that they chose 150, as this is the “Dunbar number.” In his research on gossip and grooming, Robin Dunbar argues that there is a cognitive limit to the number of relations that one can maintain. People can only keep gossip with 150 people at any given time (Dunbar, 1998). By capping Friends at 150, Friendster either misunderstood Dunbar or did not realize that their users were actually connecting to friends from the past with whom they are not currently engaging.

12. Eight was the maximum number of Friends that the system initially let people have. Some users figured out how to hack the system to display more Friends; there are entire bulletin boards dedicated to teaching others how to hack this. Consistently, upping the limit was the number one request that the company received. In the spring of 2006, MySpace launched an ad campaign for X-Men. In return for Friending X-Men, users were given the option to have 12, 16, 20, or 24 Friends in their Top Friends section. Millions of users did exactly that. In late June, this feature was introduced to everyone, regardless of Friending X-Men. While eight is no longer the limit, people move between calling it Top 8 or Top Friends. I will use both terms interchangeably, even when the number of Friends might be greater than eight.

Why people “friend” others on social networks

From danah boyd’s “Facebook’s ‘Privacy Trainwreck’: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama” (8 September 2006):

Why does everyone assume that Friends equals friends? Here are some of the main reasons why people friend other people on social network sites:

1. Because they are actual friends
2. To be nice to people that you barely know (like the folks in your class)
3. To keep face with people that they know but don’t care for
4. As a way of acknowledging someone you think is interesting
5. To look cool because that link has status
6. (MySpace) To keep up with someone’s blog posts, bulletins or other such bits
7. (MySpace) To circumnavigate the “private” problem that you were forced to use cuz of your parents
8. As a substitute for bookmarking or favoriting
9. Cuz it’s easier to say yes than no if you’re not sure

Cheating, security, & theft in virtual worlds and online games

From Federico Biancuzzi’s interview with security researchers Greg Hoglund & Gary McGraw, authors of Exploiting Online Games, in “Real Flaws in Virtual Worlds” (SecurityFocus: 20 December 2007):

The more I dug into online game security, the more interesting things became. There are multiple threads intersecting in our book: hackers who cheat in online games and are not detected can make tons of money selling virtual items in the middle market; the law says next to nothing about cheating in online games, so doing so is really not illegal; the kinds of technological attacks and exploits that hackers are using to cheat in online games are an interesting bellwether; software is evolving to look very much like massively distributed online games look today with thick clients and myriad time and state related security problems. [Emphasis added]

In Brazil, a criminal gang even kidnapped a star MMORPG player in order to take away his character, and its associated virtual wealth.

The really interesting thing about online game security is that the attackers are in most cases after software running on their own machine, not software running on somebody else’s box. That’s a real change. Interestingly, the laws we have developed in computer security don’t have much to say about cheating in a game or hacking software on your own PC.

My new book – Podcasting with Audacity – is out!

Audacity is universally recognized as the number one software program for creating podcasts. Hundreds of thousands of amateurs and professionals alike have created podcasts using Audacity.

Podcasting with Audacity: Creating a Podcast With Free Audio Software is designed to get you podcasting as quickly as possible. The first few chapters show you how to install Audacity, plug in your microphone, record your first podcast, and get it online as quickly as possible. The following chapters cover podcasting-specific topics, such as adding background music or conducting interviews. Finally, the remaining chapters focus on how Audacity works, with lots of tips and tricks to make complicated editing even easier.

Read an excerpt: "Edit Your Podcast" is available on the Web or download a 950 KB PDF. An unedited version of the book is available under as a wiki under a Creative Commons license at the Audacity website.

Spimes, objects trackable in space and time

From Bruce Sterling’s “Viridian Note 00459: Emerging Technology 2006” (The Viridian Design Movement: March 2006):

When it comes to remote technical eventualities, you don’t want to freeze the language too early. Instead, you need some empirical evidence on the ground, some working prototypes, something commercial, governmental, academic or military…. Otherwise you are trying to freeze an emergent technology into the shape of today’s verbal descriptions. This prejudices people. It is bad attention economics. It limits their ability to find and understand the intrinsic advantages of the technology. …

If you look at today’s potent, influential computer technologies, say, Google, you’ve got something that looks Artificially Intelligent by the visionary standards of the 1960s. Google seems to “know” most everything about you and me, big brother: Google is like Colossus the Forbin Project. But Google is not designed or presented as a thinking machine. Google is not like Ask Jeeves or Microsoft Bob, which horribly pretend to think, and wouldn’t fool a five-year-old child. Google is a search engine. It’s a linking, ranking and sorting machine. …

Even if there’s like, Boolean logic going on here, this machine has got nothing to do with any actual thinking. This machine is clearly a big card shuffler. It’s a linker, a stacker and a sorter. …

In the past, they just didn’t get certain things. For instance:

1. the digital devices people carry around with them, such as laptops, media players, camera phones, PDAs.
2. wireless and wired local and global networks that serve people in various locations as they and their objects and possessions move about the world.
3. the global Internet and its socially-generated knowledge and Web-based, on-demand social applications.

This is a new technosocial substrate. It’s not about intelligence, yet it can change our relationship with physical objects in the three-dimensional physical world. Not because it’s inside some box trying to be smart, but because it’s right out in the world with us, in our hands and pockets and laps, linking and tracking and ranking and sorting.

Doing this work, in, I think, six important ways:

1. with interactive chips, objects can be labelled with unique identity – electronic barcoding or arphids, a tag that you can mark, sort, rank and shuffle.
2. with local and precise positioning systems – geolocative systems, sorting out where you are and where things are.
3. with powerful search engines – auto-googling objects, more sorting and shuffling.
4. with cradle to cradle recycling – sustainability, transparent production, sorting and shuffling the garbage.

Then there are two other new factors in the mix.

5. 3d virtual models of objects – virtual design – cad-cam, having things present as virtual objects in the network before they become physical objects.
6. rapid prototyping of objects – fabjects, blobjects, the ability to digitally manufacture real-world objects directly or almost directly from the digital plans.

If objects had these six qualities, then people would interact with objects in an unprecedented way, a way so strange and different that we’d think about it better if this class of object had its own name. I call an object like this a “spime,” because an object like this is trackable in space and time. …

“Spimes are manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. Spimes begin and end as data. They’re virtual objects first and actual objects second.” …

“The primary advantage of an Internet of Things is that I no longer inventory my possessions inside my own head. They’re inventoried through an automagical inventory voodoo, work done far beneath my notice by a host of machines. So I no longer to bother to remember where I put things. Or where I found them. Or how much they cost. And so forth. I just ask. Then I am told with instant real-time accuracy. …

It’s [spimes] turning into what Julian Bleecker calls a “Theory Object,” which is an idea which is not just a mental idea or a word, but a cloud of associated commentary and data, that can be passed around from mouse to mouse, and linked-to. Every time I go to an event like this, the word “spime” grows as a Theory Object. A Theory Object is a concept that’s accreting attention, and generating visible, searchable, rankable, trackable trails of attention. …

What is Web 2.0?

From Bruce Sterling’s “Viridian Note 00459: Emerging Technology 2006” (The Viridian Design Movement: March 2006):

Here we’ve got the canonical Tim O’Reilly definition of Web 2.0:

“Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an ‘architecture of participation,’ and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.”

Examples of tweaking old technologies to add social aspects

From Clay Shirky’s “Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software” (Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet: 5 November 2004):

This possibility of adding novel social components to old tools presents an enormous opportunity. To take the most famous example, the Slashdot moderation system puts the ability to rate comments into the hands of the users themselves. The designers took the traditional bulletin board format — threaded posts, sorted by time — and added a quality filter. And instead of assuming that all users are alike, the Slashdot designers created a karma system, to allow them to discriminate in favor of users likely to rate comments in ways that would benefit the community. And, to police that system, they created a meta-moderation system, to solve the ‘Who will guard the guardians’ problem. …

Likewise, Craigslist took the mailing list, and added a handful of simple features with profound social effects. First, all of Craigslist is an enclosure, owned by Craig … Because he has a business incentive to make his list work, he and his staff remove posts if enough readers flag them as inappropriate. …

And, on the positive side, the addition of a “Nominate for ‘Best of Craigslist'” button in every email creates a social incentive for users to post amusing or engaging material. … The only reason you would nominate a post for ‘Best of’ is if you wanted other users to see it — if you were acting in a group context, in other words. …

Jonah Brucker-Cohen’s Bumplist stands out as an experiment in experimenting the social aspect of mailing lists. Bumplist, whose motto is “an email community for the determined”, is a mailing list for 6 people, which anyone can join. When the 7th user joins, the first is bumped and, if they want to be back on, must re-join, bumping the second user, ad infinitum. … However, it is a vivid illustration of the ways simple changes to well-understood software can produce radically different social effects.

You could easily imagine many such experiments. What would it take, for example, to design a mailing list that was flame-retardant? Once you stop regarding all users as isolated actors, a number of possibilities appear. You could institute induced lag, where, once a user contributed 5 posts in the space of an hour, a cumulative 10 minute delay would be added to each subsequent post. Every post would be delivered eventually, but it would retard the rapid-reply nature of flame wars, introducing a cooling off period for the most vociferous participants.

You could institute a kind of thread jail, where every post would include a ‘Worst of’ button, in the manner of Craigslist. Interminable, pointless threads (e.g. Which Operating System Is Objectively Best?) could be sent to thread jail if enough users voted them down. (Though users could obviously change subject headers and evade this restriction, the surprise, first noted by Julian Dibbell, is how often users respect negative communal judgment, even when they don’t respect the negative judgment of individuals. [ See Rape in Cyberspace — search for “aggressively antisocial vibes.”])

You could institute a ‘Get a room!’ feature, where any conversation that involved two users ping-ponging six or more posts (substitute other numbers to taste) would be automatically re-directed to a sub-list, limited to that pair. The material could still be archived, and so accessible to interested lurkers, but the conversation would continue without the attraction of an audience.

You could imagine a similar exercise, working on signal/noise ratios generally, and keying off the fact that there is always a most active poster on mailing lists, who posts much more often than even the second most active, and much much more often than the median poster. Oddly, the most active poster is often not even aware that they occupy this position (seeing ourselves as others see us is difficult in mediated spaces as well,) but making them aware of it often causes them to self-moderate. You can imagine flagging all posts by the most active poster, whoever that happened to be, or throttling the maximum number of posts by any user to some multiple of average posting tempo.

Clay Shirky on flaming & how to combat it

From Clay Shirky’s “Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software” (Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet: 5 November 2004):

Learning From Flame Wars

Mailing lists were the first widely available piece of social software. … Mailing lists were also the first widely analyzed virtual communities. …

Flame wars are not surprising; they are one of the most reliable features of mailing list practice. If you assume a piece of software is for what it does, rather than what its designer’s stated goals were, then mailing list software is, among other things, a tool for creating and sustaining heated argument. …

… although the environment in which a mailing list runs is computers, the environment in which a flame war runs is people. …

The user’s mental model of a word processor is of limited importance — if a word processor supports multiple columns, users can create multiple columns; if not, then not. The users’ mental model of social software, on the other hand, matters enormously. For example, ‘personal home pages’ and weblogs are very similar technically — both involve local editing and global hosting. The difference between them was mainly in the user’s conception of the activity. …

… The cumulative effect is to make maximizing individual flexibility a priority, even when that may produce conflict with the group goals.

Netiquette and Kill Files

The first general response to flaming was netiquette. Netiquette was a proposed set of behaviors that assumed that flaming was caused by (who else?) individual users. If you could explain to each user what was wrong with flaming, all users would stop.

This mostly didn’t work. The problem was simple — the people who didn’t know netiquette needed it most. They were also the people least likely to care about the opinion of others …

… Addressing the flamer directly works not because he realizes the error of his ways, but because it deprives him of an audience. Flaming is not just personal expression, it is a kind of performance, brought on in a social context.

… People behave differently in groups, and while momentarily engaging them one-on-one can have a calming effect, that is a change in social context, rather than some kind of personal conversion. …

Another standard answer to flaming has been the kill file, sometimes called a bozo filter, which is a list of posters whose comments you want filtered by the software before you see them. …

… And although people have continually observed (for thirty years now) that “if everyone just ignores user X, he will go away,” the logic of collective action makes that outcome almost impossible to orchestrate — it only takes a couple of people rising to bait to trigger a flame war, and the larger the group, the more difficult it is to enforce the discipline required of all members.

The Tragedy of the Conversational Commons

Briefly stated, the tragedy of the commons occurs when a group holds a resource, but each of the individual members has an incentive to overuse it. …

In the case of mailing lists (and, again, other shared conversational spaces), the commonly held resource is communal attention. The group as a whole has an incentive to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high and the conversation informative, even when contentious. Individual users, though, have an incentive to maximize expression of their point of view, as well as maximizing the amount of communal attention they receive. It is a deep curiosity of the human condition that people often find negative attention more satisfying than inattention, and the larger the group, the likelier someone is to act out to get that sort of attention.

However, proposed responses to flaming have consistently steered away from group-oriented solutions and towards personal ones. …

Weblog and Wiki Responses

… Weblogs are relatively flame-free because they provide little communal space. In economic parlance, weblogs solve the tragedy of the commons through enclosure, the subdividing and privatizing of common space. …

Like weblogs, wikis also avoid the tragedy of the commons, but they do so by going to the other extreme. Instead of everything being owned, nothing is. Whereas a mailing list has individual and inviolable posts but communal conversational space, in wikis, even the writing is communal. … it is actually easier to restore damage than cause it. …

Weblogs and wikis are proof that you can have broadly open discourse without suffering from hijacking by flamers, by creating a social structure that encourages or deflects certain behaviors.

1% create, 10% comment, 89% just use

From Charles Arthur’s “What is the 1% rule?” (Guardian Unlimited: 20 July 2006):

It’s an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.

It’s a meme that emerges strongly in statistics from YouTube, which in just 18 months has gone from zero to 60% of all online video viewing.

The numbers are revealing: each day there are 100 million downloads and 65,000 uploads – which as Antony Mayfield (at http://open.typepad.com/open) points out, is 1,538 downloads per upload – and 20m unique users per month.

That puts the “creator to consumer” ratio at just 0.5%, but it’s early days yet …

50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users, according to the Church of the Customer blog (http://customerevangelists.typepad.com/blog/).

Earlier metrics garnered from community sites suggested that about 80% of content was produced by 20% of the users, but the growing number of data points is creating a clearer picture of how Web 2.0 groups need to think. For instance, a site that demands too much interaction and content generation from users will see nine out of 10 people just pass by.

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo points out that much the same applies at Yahoo: in Yahoo Groups, the discussion lists, “1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups,” he noted on his blog (www.elatable.com/blog/?p=5) in February.

Just how big is YouTube?

From Reuters’s “YouTube serves up 100 mln videos a day” (16 July 2006):

YouTube, the leader in Internet video search, said on Sunday viewers have are now watching more than 100 million videos per day on its site, marking the surge in demand for its “snack-sized” video fare.

Since springing from out of nowhere late last year, YouTube has come to hold the leading position in online video with 29 percent of the U.S. multimedia entertainment market, according to the latest weekly data from Web measurement site Hitwise.

YouTube videos account for 60 percent of all videos watched online, the company said. …

In June, 2.5 billion videos were watched on YouTube, which is based in San Mateo, California and has just over 30 employees. More than 65,000 videos are now uploaded daily to YouTube, up from around 50,000 in May, the company said.

YouTube boasts nearly 20 million unique users per month, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, another Internet audience measurement firm.

How to get 1 million MySpace friends

From Nate Mook’s “Cross-Site Scripting Worm Hits MySpace” (Beta News: 13 October 2005):

One clever MySpace user looking to expand his buddy list recently figured out how to force others to become his friend, and ended up creating the first self-propagating cross-site scripting (XSS) worm. In less than 24 hours, “Samy” had amassed over 1 million friends on the popular online community.

How did Samy transcend his humble beginnings of only 73 friends to become a veritable global celebrity? The answer is a combination of XSS tricks and lax security in certain Web browsers.

First, by examining the restrictions put into place by MySpace, Samy discovered how to insert raw HTML into his user profile page. But MySpace stripped out the word “javascript” from any text, which would be needed to execute code.

With the help of Internet Explorer, Samy was able to break the word JavaScript into two lines and place script code within a Cascading Style Sheet tag.

The next step was to simply instruct the Web browser to load a MySpace URL that would automatically invite Samy as a friend, and later add him as a “hero” to the visitor’s own profile page. To do this without a user’s knowledge, the code utilized XMLHTTPRequest – a JavaScript object used in AJAX, or Web 2.0, applications such as Google Maps.

Taking the hack even further, Samy realized that he could simply insert the entire script into the visiting user’s profile, creating a replicating worm. “So if 5 people viewed my profile, that’s 5 new friends. If 5 people viewed each of their profiles, that’s 25 more new friends,” Samy explained.

It didn’t take long for friend requests to start rolling in – first in the hundreds, then thousands. By 9:30pm that night, requests topped one million and continued arriving at a rate of 1,000 every few seconds. Less than an hour later, MySpace was taken offline while the worm was removed from all user profiles.

The real vs. stated purpose of PowerPoint

From Paul Graham’s “Hiring is Obsolete” (May 2005):

For example, the stated purpose of Powerpoint is to present ideas. Its real role is to overcome people’s fear of public speaking. It allows you to give an impressive-looking talk about nothing, and it causes the audience to sit in a dark room looking at slides, instead of a bright one looking at you.

Why did it take so long for blogging to take off?

From Paul Graham’s “Hiring is Obsolete” (May 2005):

Have you ever noticed that when animals are let out of cages, they don’t always realize at first that the door’s open? Often they have to be poked with a stick to get them out. Something similar happened with blogs. People could have been publishing online in 1995, and yet blogging has only really taken off in the last couple years. In 1995 we thought only professional writers were entitled to publish their ideas, and that anyone else who did was a crank. Now publishing online is becoming so popular that everyone wants to do it, even print journalists. But blogging has not taken off recently because of any technical innovation; it just took eight years for everyone to realize the cage was open.

Notes on The Strength of Weak Ties revisited

From Mark Granovetter’s “The Strength Of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited” [Sociological Theory, Volume 1 (1983), 201-233.]:

The argument asserts that our acquaintances (weak ties) are less likely to be socially involved with one another than are our close friends (strong ties).Thus the set of people made up of any individual and his or her acquaintances comprises a low-density network (one in which many of the possible relational lines are absent) whereas the set consisting of the same individual and his or her close friends will be densely knit (many of the possible lines are present). …

The weak tie between Ego and his acquaintance, therefore, becomes not merely a trivial acquaintance tie but rather a crucial bridge between the two densely knit clumps of close friends. To the extent that the assertion of the previous paragraph is correct, these clumps would not, in fact, be connected to one another at all were it not for the existence of weak ties (SWT, p. 1363).

It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time. …

The macroscopic side of this communications argument is that social systems lacking in weak ties will be fragmented and incoherent. New ideas will spread slowly, scientific endeavors will be handicapped, and subgroups separated by race, ethnicity, geography, or other characteristics will have difficulty reaching a modus vivendi. …

In the evolution of social systems, perhaps the most important source of weak ties is the division of labor, since increasing specialization and interdependence result in a wide variety of specialized role relationships in which one knows only a small segment of the other’s personality. … the exposure to a wide variety of different viewpoints and activities is the essential prerequisite for the social construction of individualism. …

She relates this difference to Basil Bernstein’s dis- tinction between restricted and elaborated codes of communication. Restricted codes are simpler-more meanings are implicit and taken for granted as the speakers are so familiar with one another. Elaborated codes are complex and universal – more reflection is needed in organizing one’s communication “when there is more difference between those to whom the speech is addressed” (p. 256). …

At a more mundane level, I argued (SWT, pp. 1369-1373; 1974, pp. 51-62) that weak ties have a special role in a person’s opportunity for mobility-that there is a “structural tendency for those to whom one is only weakly tied to have better access to job information one does not already have. Acquaintances, as compared to close friends, are more prone to move in different circles than oneself. Those to whom one is closest are likely to have the greatest overlap in contact with those one already knows, so that the information to which they are privy is likely to be much the same as that which one already has” (1974, pp. 52-53). …

Administrative or managerial employees had a pattern very much like the one I reported: 35.5 percent using weak ties, 15.8 percent strong ones, and 48.7 percent intermediate. Professionals and office workers also were heavy users of weak ties (30.8 percent and 25.8 percent but, unlike managers, used strong ties even more frequently (51.0 and 44.4 percent). Semiprofessionals found only 13.1 percent of jobs through weak ties and blue-collar workers 19.1 percent; the former found 44.9 percent of jobs through strong ties, the latter only 19.1 percent. …

One set of results is of special interest, however. Ericksen and Yancey found that less-well-educated respondents were those most likely to use strong ties for jobs …

The argument of SWT implies that only bridging weak ties are of special value to individuals; the significance of weak ties is that they are far more likely to be bridges than are strong ties. It should follow, then, that the occupational groups making the greatest use of weak ties are those whose weak ties do connect to social circles different from one’s own. …

Consistent with this interpretation is the finding of Lin and col- leagues (1981) that weak ties have positive effects on occupational status only when they connect one to high-status individuals. For those of lower status, weak ties to those of similar low status were not especially useful, whereas those to high-status contacts were. In the latter case the status difference alone strongly suggests that the ties bridged substan- tial social distance. …

Weak ties provide people with access to information and resources beyond those available in their own social circle; but strong ties have greater motivation to be of assistance and are typically more easily available. …

Pool argues, for example, that the number of weak ties is increased by the development of the communications system, by bureaucratization, population density, and the spread of market mechanisms. Further, he suggests that average family size affects the number of weak ties, since where “primary families are large, more of the total contacts of an individual are likely to be absorbed in them” (p. 5). …

In my study of job finding, for example, I found that those whose job was found through strong ties were far more likely to have had a period of unemployment between jobs than those using weak ties (1974, p. 54). …

A number of studies indicate that poor people rely more on strong ties than do others. Ericksen and Yancey, in a study of Philadel- phia, conclude that the “structure of modern society is such that some people typically find it advantageous to maintain strong networks and we have shown that these people are more likely to be young, less well educated, and black” (1977, p. 23). …

Stack (1974) studied a black, urban American, midwestern ghetto … Stack: “Black families living in the Flats need a steady source of cooperative support to survive. They share with one another because of the urgency of their needs. . . . They trade food stamps, rent money, a TV, hats, dice, a car, a nickel here, a cigarette there, food, milk, grits, and children. . . . Kin and close friends who fall into similar economic crises know that they may share the food, dwelling, and even the few scarce luxuries of those individuals in their kin network. . . . Non-kin who live up to one another’s expectations express elaborate vows of friendship and conduct their social relations within the idiom of kinship” (1974, pp. 32-33, 40). …

At the same time, I would suggest that the heavy concentration of social energy in strong ties has the impact of fragmenting communities of the poor into encapsulated networks with poor connections between these units; individuals so encapsulated may then lose some of the advantages associated with the outreach of weak ties. This may be one more reason why poverty is self-perpetuating. Certainly programs meant to provide social services to the poor have frequently had trouble in their outreach efforts. From the network arguments advanced here, one can see that the trouble is to be expected. …

Furthermore, many cultural items never transmitted by the media are known throughout an extensive network: “Youth cultures offer excellent examples of subcultures which provide a set of communication channels external to the media. Much material which is common knowledge among young people – dirty jokes, sexual lore, aggressive humor . . . is not communicated by the adult-controlled media” (p. 9). …

What makes cultural diffusion possible, then, is the fact that small cohesive groups who are liable to share a culture are not so cohesive that they are entirely closed; rather, ideas may penetrate from other such groups via the connecting medium of weak ties. It is a seeming paradox that the effect of weak ties, in this case, is homogenization, since my emphasis has been the ability of weak ties to reach out to groups with ideas and information different from one’s own. The paradox dissolves, however, when the process is understood to occur over a period of time. The ideas that initially flow from another setting are, given regional and other variations, probably new. Homogeneous subcultures do not happen instantly but are the endpoint of diffusion processes. … Fine and Kleinman note that “culture usage consists of chosen behaviors. . . . Culture can be employed strategically and should not be conceptualized as a conditioned response. Usage of culture requires motivation and, in particular, identification with those who use the cultural items. Thus, values, norms, behaviors, and artifacts constitute a subculture only insofar as individuals see themselves as part of a collectivity whose members attribute particular meanings to these ‘objects'” (1979, pp. 12-13). …

The importance of this notion is clear. If “the innovativeness of central units is shackled by vested intellectual interests (or perspectives) then new ideas must emanate from the margins of the network” (p. 460). Furthermore, as I suggested in SWT for the case of high-risk innovations (p. 1367), Chubin points out that marginals, in science, can better afford to innovate; the innovations, if useful, are seized on by the center. …

Weimann finds also, however, that strong ties are not irrelevant in information flow-the speed of flow, credibility, and especially influence are all greater through strong ties and, in fact, “most of the influence is carried through strong ties” (1980, p. 12). He suggests a division of labor between weak and strong ties: Weak ties provide the bridges over which innovations cross the boundaries of social groups; the decision making, however, is influenced mainly by the strong-ties network in each group (p. 21). …

In the bureaucratic solution, the ties are hierarchical; in the democratic clinics, many of which have reacted against the formal model, “tena- cious ties provide a matrix of close primary group relations unifying the entire structure. These strong ties strikingly resemble patterns observed in small communities, summer camps, and Jesuit monastic orders” (p. 20). …

In their analysis Breiger and Pattison studied three types of ties in the two communities-social, community affairs, and business- professional-and found that social ties function as strong ties, that business-professional ties are weak, and that community-affairs ties are strong in relation to business ties but weak in relation to social ones (1978, pp. 222-224). …

I have not argued that all weak ties serve the functions described in SWT-only those acting as bridges between network segments. Weak ties are asserted to be important because their likelihood of being bridges is greater than (and that of strong ties less than) would be expected from their numbers alone. This does not preclude the possibility that most weak ties have no such function.

From P2P to social sharing

From Clay Shirky’s “File-sharing Goes Social“:

The RIAA has taken us on a tour of networking strategies in the last few years, by constantly changing the environment file-sharing systems operate in. In hostile environments, organisms often adapt to become less energetic but harder to kill, and so it is now. With the RIAA’s waves of legal attacks driving experimentation with decentralized file-sharing tools, file-sharing networks have progressively traded efficiency for resistance to legal attack. …

There are several activities that are both illegal and popular, and these suffer from what economists call high transaction costs. Buying marijuana involves considerably more work than buying roses, in part because every transaction involves risk for both parties, and in part because neither party can rely on the courts for redress from unfair transactions. As a result, the market for marijuana today (or NYC tattoo artists in the 1980s, or gin in the 1920s, etc) involves trusted intermediaries who broker introductions.

These intermediaries act as a kind of social Visa system; in the same way a credit card issuer has a relationship with both buyer and seller, and an incentive to see that transactions go well, an introducer in an illegal transaction has an incentive to make sure that neither side defects from the transaction. And all parties, of course, have an incentive to avoid detection. …

There are many ways to move to such membrane-bounded systems, of course, including retrofitting existing networks to allow sub-groups with controlled membership (possibly using email white-list or IM buddy-list tools); adopting any of the current peer-to-peer tools designed for secure collaboration (e.g. Groove, Shinkuro, WASTE etc); or even going to physical distribution. As Andrew Odlyzko has pointed out, sending disks through the mail can move enough bits in a 24 hour period to qualify as broadband, and there are now file-sharing networks whose members simply snail mail one another mountable drives of music. …

The disadvantage of social sharing is simple — limited membership means fewer files. The advantage is equally simple — a socially bounded system is more effective than nothing, and safer than Kazaa. …