How Much Do You Trust Your Own Network?
Some time ago, I joined Twitter as @unthinkingly, and I loved it. Then, something felt wrong, and I deleted a bunch of followers. First I went down to 200 people, then 100, then 50, and it still was somehow wrong, so I quietly slipped out the door. Nobody really complained. I think many people have experience this burnout. Twitter is kinda hard. There's just so much happening. To me, what was exciting became overwhelming. Serendipity curdled into distraction.
When I left I was incredibly relieved. I could stop listening and start kicking ass.
So, I took a break, moved away from the ever-intense San Francisco bubble, worked in Cambodia, wrote a bunch of code ... and now, hey look! I'm back on Twitter. But, just to confuse you, I've setup not one but two Twitter accounts: the old @unthinkingly is back for professional stuff, and now @cgblow for more private personal observations.
Turns out, it's such a simple and healthy solution; I don't know why more people don't do it. It's not a complicated hack or anything, you just have to use a separate email account. (A tool like Seesmic Desktop lets you stay signed into both at the same time.)
Now, please don't misundersand me: I strongly believe in living a principled, genuine life. Naive as it sounds, I try to never ever say anything that I would not say to someone's face. Life is too hard that way. I'm an incompetent liar. I don't maintain multiple personalities — I have a single, genuine and faceted personality. Just like most people I know.
Back in the Day
As an application designer, I keep spotting architectures that expect, and in some cases force, me to have a single, monolithic expression of my personality. I take offense to this because we, as humans, are all multi-faceted. We speak to our parents differently than our coworkers. We lower our voices a bit in a crowded coffee shop. We stand up straighter when we give a presentation. And, again, these are not about secrecy or duplicity, but rather, indications of maturity, and a uniquely human sophistication.
Back in the day, we did this better, probably by accident. We didn't have ways to prevent you from creating multiple accounts. We didn't really need to — there were no zombie spammers. From an application design perspective, the geography was totally different because of this difference. We had tiny little awesome communities. Your importance was judged more by what you said than how many "friends" you had.
Back in the day, you were expected to have a short pseudonym, a handle, that you could use (or not use) across any bulliten board you wanted. And on IRC in particular, you can (still!) register dozens of pseudonyms if you wanted to, and express yourself appropriately in different contexts. You can whisper, lurk and rant, all at the same time. Just like you can in real life.
In thinking this through, I realized that the most irritating thing wasn't really about the information overload thing. That's still there.
What I found on Twitter, the way I was using it, was a lack of trust. And, get this, — not other people trusting me, but me actually trusting my own network.
So, I created a test for @cgblow. In order to set the bar a little higher, and really give myself a break from some of these frustrations, I have simple, but hardcore, criteria for who I'll follow with @cgblow: I could give you the root password to my computer. In fact, I'll Twitter it right now. Done.
How much do you really trust your network? What can you say, and what is off limits because you have to say it to everyone? How does a sprawling, Facebook-style personality portal limit your experience of genuine community? How much do you trust your own network?
On Teachers Moving from Web 0.5 to Web 3.0
David Warlick posts insightfully about the uses of technology in education. Right now he seems like a pretty stressed out guy.
I'm not an educator (though I do work in education via nonprofit evaluation). And I don't get quite as excited as he does when discussing the latest crop of communication technologies.
But in one of his most recent posts on his blog 2 Cents, I am right there with him pulling out my hair. The story is kind of funny actually, in a sick way (kind of like the way it's funny when Cheney shoots a 78-year-old man).
The story is like this: Warlick presented to a large group of teachers here in North Carolina recently and polled them informally about the technologies they used.
"How many were blogging, I saw only three hands. How many read blogs? Perhaps 20. How many had listened to a podcast? Maybe ten. How many had podcasted? Zero! How many used flickr? Zero! How many knew about social bookmarks? Zero! Delicious (del.icio.us)? Zero!"
This is all really not that surprising to me. I know that two years of hype about blogging has done little to clarify its value as an fun, educational tool. And these are a particular type of hype-prone ("Web 2.0") technologies.
And yet, really, these things are exciting and useful. Teachers would love these things. They aren't just hype. I only wish teachers knew more about these great, fun technologies that kids would love. For sure, I have seen great integrations of podcasting (AKA: grassroots audio) and blogging (AKA: networked writing) into the classroom — and I have seen how serious critical thinking skills are engendered in the use of these technologies.
So I think these teachers' technological literacy is unfortunate, but I don't think it's a tragedy, as David might say at this point. I think we are just at an early stage, and we (progressive type/educational bloggers) are impatient to show off the great strides the internet has made in recent years. Or at least, that's the polite way of putting it.
But when I read the following I was a little more disturbed:
"I asked how many of them had used Gopher. About three-forths of the hands went up. This surprised me. I asked about Telnet. Again, a vast majority of the hands when up."
That's right. Gopher and Telnet are not only still on people's radar, but teachers are apparently much more familiar with these medieval implements than blogs. Why is this so difficult to catch on to? It's just writing on the internet. Where are the barriers to understanding and use coming from? I know that technological literacy and the digital divide are real complex issues, but dammit, I don't get it. Why did people stop paying attention when it got interesting? Blogging is so much more engaging and Telnet was ... just such a drag!
As David writes: "These are educators who, in the early 1990s, were on the edge. They were paying attention, recognizing an emerging revolution in information, and latching on. What happened between then and now? Why have they missed the new revolution?"
I hope that online communication will become much more mainstream this year. But for now I think that white-hot hype + cold, ivory-tower perspective of technologists has done a lot to keep powerful new communication tools out of the mainstream, locked in some elite computer lab. For now I resolve again to remember that I'm part of an extreme minority of addled programmers and gizmo fetishists. I want to do what I can to remind people that simple, free, worldwide publishing and distribution is now a reality. And for now I just hope that educators aren't teaching kids that dial-up BBS's define the world of technology.
Visualizing Community News
Mike Davidson has been working lately on an innovative (I said innovative, not trendy) online news company, Newsvine, that provides articles from mainstream media outlets. The Newsvine team is a well-respected web group, most of them formerly of Starwave, a studious anti-hype third-wave (i.e. late 1990s, post-bubble) internet company. (Here's Starwave's startup profile from a 1996 Fast Company article.) Davidson's also a major contributor to SiFR, which typophiles (that's typography, not typos) and web developers everywhere love.
The trick of Newsvine is that it comes in a really well designed interface and allows community input, both by linking and commenting. Here's an extract from a larger rundown at Solutionwatch:
One of the main frustrations of reading normal news sites for me is how they all have cluttered sites with advertisements everywhere, news mixed around, and when I find a story of interest, I can't even comment about it. Newsvine is the complete opposite and I immediately felt at home with their beautiful interface that allowed me to easily find and read what I am interested in. The design consists of a style that I feel has the unique style of its founder, Mike Davidson. The main page gives a clear overview of all the news submitted from the Associated Press and the Newsvine users, along with buttons to vote and comment on stories (more on this below). "The Wire" being news from sources like the Associated Press, ESPN, and other services. "The Vine" being user submitted content.
Personally, I'm very excited to see companies that understand my Sysiphean-Kafkaesque nightmare of flashy, obtrusive, cluttered websites like Yahoo! and all the major news outlets (see image). And of course I'm excited to see (another) community-building website that allows for the development of local folksonomies and scalable collaboration.
I would very much like to start using Newsvine in order to tag and collect news items that are relevant to my organization(s). Considering Newsvine's focus on usability and design, I think it would be a serious alternative to using something like del.ico.us to share links. Del.icio.us just has such an uber-geeky interface that is seriously off-putting to most warm-blooded nonprofit people. And of course, there are a number of other "social news sites" that are doing something similar to newsvine, including:
Digg.com, in my experience, is the best of these and has the largest user base (there are even rumors on the Digital Divide listserv from Phil Shapiro that it will soon be larger than geeky heavyweight slashdot.com. As Phil says: "Community editing of news. Community. Editing." It's a huge thing indeed.)
For an example of Newsvine's potential, look non further than this map (see image), created by Fraser Mills today. In the "tradition" of the best web applications, developers will soon have a Newsvine API (a kind of cookbook for developers, saving lots of time) into which all kinds of fun can be had, and Fraser is just a little ahead of the curve. His map represents news items according to their location. You can click on each country and get a rundown of the news in that area. I imagine that you will soon be able to sort and filter to create some impressive maps of information.
Most impressively, Davidson has written today that an API is in the works and that: "Once true location data like this makes its way into posts, wire articles, and seeds, the map will be even more useful. You'll be able to zoom in on Seattle, for instance, and get stories down to the micro-local level."
Now that would be useful.
Newsvine is still in beta and registration is limited. But based on Mike Davidson's previous work and the projects promising future for collaboration, I'm eagerly anticipating my invitation.
[This post was edited 2/7 to reflect the correction as indicated in the comments section below. Pictr.org regrets the error, as they say. I did get the invite last week. We'll see how it goes.]
People Tagging with Tagalag
If you like the idea of tagging you web pages and your books, how about tagging your people? Sounds a bit like info-tainment to me, but I felt obligated to post it because of the compelling freakiness of it all.
Tagalag is a service that lets you tag people, via their email address. It’s not a ‘tribute’ site like 43 people, because only people who know a person’s email address can add tags for that person.
If you create a profile you can add personal and geographical information about yourself.
I don’t know if Tagalag is onto a viable business model, but I like the idea of tagging people. This could become interesting as it evolves.
Read it: People Tagging with Tagalag
See also the recent surge of interest in Facebook, which about 80 percent of college kids are using. (No, really, 80 percent — I've seen other numbers that confirm this phenomenon.): Facebook Users sure are Passionate
Google Earmarks $265 Million for Charity and Social Causes
Ok, now who can write grant proposals?
From today's NYT:
Google Earmarks $265 Million for Charity and Social Causes: "Google gave the first details of how it would carry out its commitment to devote a share of its lucrative public stock offering to charity and social causes."
(Via NYT > Technology.)