Why One Social Network Just Turned Off Followers And Hashtags

Storehouse, a sharing app for photo-driven stories, has reversed its decision to embrace social networking of the coarser kind and has created a more intimate and intentional focus on real circles of friends – no feeds, no followers, no hashtags: basically, almost none of the trappings of network-oriented or, especially, set-oriented social media. It has done this in an attempt to diminish the Matthew Effects, echo chambers and filter bubbles of  typical social media sites, where a single individual shouts out what they had for breakfast to thousands or even millions of followers without differentiation, pandering to the perceived interests of the crowd rather than engaging in a more human and intentionally focused exchange. As the founder, Kawano puts it:

“The reality is, you look at your camera roll, and the things that are in there [prove] people are multidimensional, and you don’t have a single set of frames that match up with [everyone else’s tastes],” Kawano says. Storehouse 2.0 wants to support these aspects of your personality across your social sphere. “I’ll share the food photos with friends I know will appreciate the food stuff, and photos with my kids, I’ll share that with family and friends who care about my kids.”

It’s an obvious thing to try to do. This is exactly what we have tried to do with the Landing, with its fine-grained per-post permissions and circles (thanks to its use of Elgg, which normally calls such things ‘collections’), and our own additions of context switching tabs, pinboards and customizable widgets that allow individuals and groups to present not just differently filtered content but differently presented content to different people. The posts you see of mine on the Landing are different from those seen by others and, if you visit my profile, you will see a different facade depending on who you are.  Elgg collections came long before others of their ilk, but they are very similar indeed to what Google has tried to do with its circles and Diaspora tried to do with its aspects. It’s not unrelated to the less embedded and less flexible lists used by Twitter and Facebook. Kawano’s use of the word ‘frames’ suggests a similar inspiration to what has informed our own work, grounded in the work of Erwing Goffman.

The notion that we are all single-dimensional self-publicists all the time is embedded deeply into the business model of Facebook, most of its competitors and most of its predecessors: they feed on narcissism. In fact, they rely on that to make money and drive it relentlessly. But they are exploiting some very limited aspects of what makes human relationships special, to the exclusion of richer, more personal engagement. There are plenty of things that can and should be shared with a large crowd, there is value in self-organized networks where popular things bubble up and memes spread, and there is a huge amount of value to be had from things like tags, that make it easy to discover and learn from one another in lots of different ways. Such networks are rich in learning and great for sustaining weak connections. But these are far from the only communications that matter and they tend to be the least meaningful and salient. It all depends on context and nuance is very important.

The big trouble with our system on the Landing, and others like it (including Storehouse and Google Plus) is that, unless you are logged into the system, it doesn’t know you from Adam. We need open, distributed protocols for this, not centralized vaults that lock us in to the whims and capabilities of companies that are in the business of making money from their role as connectors or that are simply constrained by the toolsets they rely on. On the Landing we actively try to avoid lock-in and have less than no interest in exploiting our users – it’s all about openness and control – but you still need to have an account to use it or see anything apart from public posts like this one. It’s a very serious constraint.

There are solutions that do not rely on everyone having a Facebook account (subject to the whims and invasions of Facebook), but their future is currently looking very bleak. I’m sad that OpenID, OAuth and OpenSocial are struggling to survive, mainly thanks to the onslaught from Facebook and its peers, because these were really hopeful standards that promised a lot, especially in conjunction with smart open architectures like Backplane or applications like OneSocialWeb or Diaspora. The Landing would be so much more useful if anyone – at least among its users – could selectively share anything with anyone, not just either the whole public or subsets of other Landing users.

Even if we can fix these issues, there remain some big complexities. The Landing is very capable of highly nuanced ways of presenting different facades but, the more choices we give, the harder it becomes to make them – soft technologies are hard to use, hard technologies are easy. Our most flexible tool – the Pinboard – takes a huge amount of effort and a learning curve to even produce the simplest of pages. The more rigid we make it the less nuanced it can be, but the simpler it is to understand and use. Managing circles and permissions is not a trivial task. Even Google Plus – a great design – fails to solve this problem. I will be interested to see how StoreHouse copes with this.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3051250/why-one-social-network-just-turned-off-followers-and-hashtags

After Internet.org Backlash, Facebook Opens Portal To Court More Operators

Techcrunch article by Jon Russell on how Facebook is pretending (very badly, like one unpracticed in the art) to be nice by opening up its Internet.org branch to a few more developers.

In case you are not familiar with this bit of exploitation of the poor, the claimed ‘public service’ aspect of Internet.org is that it gets people online who would otherwise be unable to afford it, specifically in the third world, by making access to (some) online services free of data charges. I’d have to agree, that sounds nice enough, and that’s certainly the spin Zuckerberg puts on it. The evil side of it is that it is essentially a portal to Facebook and a few hand-filtered other sites, not the Internet as we know it, it is immensely destructive to net neutrality, and is nothing more than a bare-faced attempt to make money out of people that have too little of it, and to hook them into Facebook’s all-consuming centralized people farm. Zuckerberg is allegedly proud of the fact that around half of the millions that have signed up thus far have moved on to paid plans that actually do allow access to the Internet – likely the reason for the (otherwise odd) inclusion of Google Search in the original small lineup of options, inasmuch as non-approved sites come with a warning that users need to buy the real thing now. Of course, by that time, they are already Facebook sign-ups too, which is what this is really about. This is much the same tactic used by drug dealers seeking new customers by giving out samples and it similarly immoral. It is absurd to suggest, as Zuckerberg apparently does, that allowing a few more people to develop for the platform and suggesting that they in turn allow access to further sites (as long as they conform to Facebook’s conditions)  makes it in any way more open. It is coercing companies into using the app using much the same techniques it applies to building people’s social networks. A filtered internet via a Facebook-controlled app is not the free (as in speech) and open Internet and, ultimately, the most notable beneficiary is Facebook, though it is certainly doing the partner operators no harm either. The choice of domain name is cynical in the extreme – I’d admire the chutzpah if it were not so ugly. My respect goes to the many Indian companies that are pulling out in protest at its shameless destruction of net neutrality and greedy marketing under the false banner of philanthropy.

Address of the bookmark: http://techcrunch.com/2015/07/27/facebook-internet-org-one/

Protocols Instead Of Platforms: Rethinking Reddit, Twitter, Moderation And Free Speech | Techdirt

Reddit logoInteresting article on the rights of companies to moderate posts, following the recent Reddit furore that, in microcosm, raises a bunch of questions about the future of the social net itself. The distinction between freedom of speech and the rights of hosts to do whatever they goddam please – legal constraints permitting – is a fair and obvious one to make.

The author’s suggestion is to decentralize social media systems (specifically Twitter and Reddit though, by extension, others are implicated) by providing standards/protocols that could be implemented by multiple platforms, allowing the development of an ecosystem where different sites operate different moderation policies but, from an end-user perspective, being no more difficult to use than email.

The general idea behind this is older than the Internet. Of course, there already exist many systems that post via proprietary APIs to multiple places, from WordPress plugins to Known, not to mention those ubiquitous ‘share’ buttons found everywhere, such as at the bottom of this page. But, more saliently, email (SMTP), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Jabber (XMPP), Usenet news (NNTP) are prototypical and hugely successful examples of exactly this kind of thing. In fact, NNTP is so close to Reddit’s pattern in form and intent that I don’t see why it could not be re-used, perhaps augmented to allow smarter ratings (not difficult within the existing standard). Famously, Twitter’s choice of character limit is entirely down to fitting a whole Tweet, including metadata, into a single SMS message, so that is already essentially done. However standards are not often in the interests of companies seeking lock-in and a competitive edge. Most notably, though they very much want to encourage posting in as many ways as possible, they very much want control of the viewing environment, as the gradual removal of RSS from prominent commercial sites like Twitter and Facebook shows in spades. I think that’s where a standard like this would run into difficulties getting off the ground. That and Metcalfe’s Law: people go where people go, and network value grows proportionally to the square of the number of users of a system (or far more than that, if Reed’s Law holds). Only a truly distributed system ubiquitously used system could avoid that problem. Such a thing has been suggested for Reddit and may yet arrive.

As long as we are in thrall to a few large centralized commercial companies and their platforms – the Stacks, as Bruce Sterling calls them – it ain’t going to work. Though an incomplete, buggy and over-complex implementation played a role, proprietary interest is essentially what has virtually killed OpenSocial, despite being a brilliant idea that was much along these lines but more open, and despite having virtually every large Internet company on board, bar one. Sadly, that one was the single most avaricious, amoral, parasitic company on the Web. Almost single-handedly, Facebook managed to virtually destroy the best thing that might have happened to the social web, that could have made it a genuine web rather than a bunch of centralized islands. It’s still out there, under the auspices of the W3C, but it doesn’t seem to be showing much sign of growth or deployment.

Facebook front pageFacebook has even bigger and worser ambitions. It is now, cynically and under the false pretense of opening access to third world countries, after the Internet itself. I hope the company soon crashes and burns as fast as it rose to prominence – this is theoretically possible, because the same cascades that created it can almost as rapidly destroy it, as the once-huge MySpace and Digg discovered to their cost. Sadly, it is run by very smart people that totally get networks and how to exploit them, and that has no ethical qualms to limit its growth (though it does have some ethical principles about some things, such as open source development – its business model is evil, but not all of its practices). It has so far staunchly resisted attack, notwithstanding its drop in popularity in established markets and a long history of truly stunning breaches of trust.

Do boycott Facebook if you can. If you need a reason, other than that you are contributing to the destruction of the open web by using it, remember that it tracks you hundreds of times in a single browsing session and, flaunting all semblance of ethical behaviour, it attempts to track you even if you opt out from allowing that. You are its product. Sadly, with its acquisition of companies like Instagram and Whatsapp, even if we can kill the primary platform, the infection is deep. But, as Reed’s Law shows, though each new user increases its value, every user that leaves Facebook or even that simply ignores it reduces its value by an identically exponential amount. Your vote counts!

Address of the bookmark: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150717/11191531671/protocols-instead-platforms-rethinking-reddit-twitter-moderation-free-speech.shtml

Super-private social network launched to take on Facebook with support of Anonymous

The first question that emerges for a free, encrypted, ad-free, unsurveilled, intentionally private, celebrating anonymity, social networking site and mobile app like this is ‘How does it make enough money to support itself’? The answer appears to be a freemium model – you pay to use the API more than a basic amount, for storage, and a premium service. I am a little concerned that the terms and conditions seem to give the site owners free access and perpetual rights to use any public content. I don’t see why a creative commons licence could not have been applied, especially given the claimed open nature of the thing. None the less, this is a good step in the right direction, though I have to wonder whether it is really sustainable. A lot depends on its open source software: if content and identity can be distributed further and not limited to this one site, this could be a really interesting alternative to other systems based on a similar business model like WordPress and Known.

The software on which it runs is allegedly open source and available via https://www.minds.org/#/ – unfortunately, though, almost all of it, apart from a mobile client, is disappointingly listed as ‘coming soon’. Definitely one to watch, assuming the server software is to be open-sourced. It will be interesting to compare it with Elgg – the site itself seems slicker than most Elgg installations but .

Address of the bookmark: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/superprivate-social-network-launched-to-take-on-facebook-with-support-of-anonymous-10325307.html

Open access: beyond the journal

Interesting and thoughtful argument from Savage Minds mainly comparing the access models of two well-known anthropology journals, one of which has gone open and seems to be doing fine, the other of which is in dire straits and that almost certainly needs to open up, but for which it may be too late. I like two quotes in particular. The first is from the American Anthropologist’s editorial, explaining the difficulties they are in:

If you think that making money by giving away content is a bad idea, you should see what happens when the AAA tries to make money selling it. To put it kindly, our reader-pays model has never worked very well. Getting over our misconceptions about open access requires getting over misconceptions of the success of our existing publishing program. The choice we are facing is not that of an unworkable ideal versus a working system. It is the choice between a future system which may work and an existing system which we know does not.”

The second is from the author of the article:

CollabraOpen Library of the HumanitiesKnowledge Unlatched, and SciELO — blur the distinction between journal, platform, and community the same way Duke Ellington blurred the boundary between composer, performer, and conductor.”

I like that notion of blurring and believe that this is definitely the way to go. We are greatly in need of new models for the sharing, review, and discussion of academic works because the old ones make no sense any more. They are expensive, untimely, exclusionary and altogether over-populous. There have been many attempts to build dedicated platforms for that kind of thing over they years (one of my favourites being the early open peer-reviewing tools of JIME in the late 1990s, now a much more conventional journal, to its loss). But perhaps one of the most intriguing approaches of all comes not from academic presses but from the world of student newspapers. This article reports on a student newspaper shifting entirely into the (commercial but free) social media of Medium and Twitter, getting rid of the notion of a published newspaper altogether but still retaining some kind of coherent identity. I don’t love the notion of using these proprietary platforms one bit, though it makes a lot of sense for cash-strapped journalists trying to reach and interact with a broad readership, especially of students. Even so, there might be more manageable and more open, persistent ways (eg. syndicating from a platform like WordPress or Known). But I do like the purity of this approach and the general idea is liberating.

It might be too radical an idea for academia to embrace at the moment but I see no reason at all that a reliable curatorial team, with some of the benefits of editorial control, posting exclusively to social media, might not entirely replace the formal journal, for both process and product. It already happens to an extent, including through blogs (I have cited many), though it would still be a brave academic that chose to cite only from social media sources, at least for most papers and research reports. But what if those sources had the credibility of a journal editorial team behind them and were recognized in similar ways, with the added benefit of the innate peer review social media enables?  We could go further than that and use a web of trust to assert validity and authority of posts – again, that already occurs to some extent and there are venerable protocols and standards that could be re-used or further developed for that, from open badges to PGP, from trackbacks to WebMention. We are reaching the point where subtle distinctions between social media posts are fully realizable – they are not all one uniform stream of equally reliable content – where identity can be fairly reliably asserted, and where such an ‘unjournal’ could be entirely distributed, much like a Connectivist MOOC. Maybe more so: there is no reason there should even be a ‘base’ site to aggregate it all, as long as trust and identity were well established. It might even be unnecessary to have a name, though a hashtag would probably be worth using.

I wonder what the APA format for such a thing might be?

Address of the bookmark: http://savageminds.org/2015/05/27/open-access-what-cultural-anthropology-gets-right-and-american-anthropologist-gets-wrong/

Automated Collaborative Filtering and Semantic Transports – draft 0.72

I had to look up this article by the late Sasha Chislenko for a paper I was reviewing today, and I am delighted that it is still available at its original URL, though Chislenko himself died in 2000. I’ve bookmarked the page on systems dating back to 1997 but I don’t think I’ve ever done so on this site, so here it is, still open to the world. Chislenko was writing in public way before it was fashionable and, I think, probably before the first blogs – this is still and, sadly, will always be a work in progress.

This particular page was one of a handful of articles that deeply influenced my early research and set me on a course I’m still pursuing to this day. Back in 1997, as I started my PhD, I had conceived of and started to build a web-based tagging and bookmark sharing system to gather learner-generated recommendations of resources and people so that the crowd could teach itself. It seemed like a common sense idea but I was not aware of anything else like it (this was long before del.icio.us and Slashdot was just a babe in arms), so I was looking for related work and then I found this. It depressed me a little that my idea was not quite as novel as I had hoped, but this article knocked me for six then and it continues to impress me now. It’s still great reading, though many of the suggestions and hopes/fears expressed in it are so commonplace that we seldom give them a second thought any more.

This, along with a special issue of ACM Communications released the same year, was my first introduction to collaborative filtering, the technology that would soon sit behind Amazon and, later, everything from Google Search to Netflix and eBay. It gave a name to what I was doing and to the system I was building, which was consequently christened ‘CoFIND’  (Collaborative Filter in N-Dimensions). 

Chislenko was a visionary who foresaw many of the developments over the past couple of decades and, as importantly, understood many of their potential consequences.  More of his work is available at http://www.lucifer.com/~sasha/articles/ – just a small sample of his astonishing range, most of it incomplete notes and random ideas, but packed with inspiration and surprisingly accurate prediction. He died far too young.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.lucifer.com/~sasha/articles/ACF.html

BOOK: Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media

About the Book

Within the rapidly expanding field of educational technology, learners and educators must confront a seemingly overwhelming selection of tools designed to deliver and facilitate both online and blended learning. Many of these tools assume that learning is configured and delivered in closed contexts, through learning management systems (LMS). However, while traditional “classroom” learning is by no means obsolete, networked learning is in the ascendant. A foundational method in online and blended education, as well as the most common means of informal and self-directed learning, networked learning is rapidly becoming the dominant mode of teaching as well as learning.

In Teaching Crowds, Dron and Anderson introduce a new model for understanding and exploiting the pedagogical potential of Web-based technologies, one that rests on connections — on networks and collectives — rather than on separations. Recognizing that online learning both demands and affords new models of teaching and learning, the authors show how learners can engage with social media platforms to create an unbounded field of emergent connections. These connections empower learners, allowing them to draw from one another’s expertise to formulate and fulfill their own educational goals. In an increasingly networked world, developing such skills will, they argue, better prepare students to become self-directed, lifelong learners.

 

Address of the bookmark: http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120235

Transactional distance and new media literacies

Moore’s theory of transactional distance describes the communications and psychological gulf between learner and teacher in a distance education setting. The theory was formulated in a correspondence era of distance learning and matured in an era where discussion forums and virtual learning environments reduced transactional distance in a closed-group setting that enabled interactions akin to those in a traditional classroom. In recent years the growth of social networking and social interest sites has led to social forms that fit less easily in these traditional formal models of teaching and learning. When the “teacher” is distributed through the network or is an anonymous agent in a set or is an emergent actor formed by collective intelligence, transactional distance becomes a more complex variable. Evolved social literacies are mutated by new social forms and require us to establish new or modified ways of thinking about learning and teaching. In this missive we explore the notion of transactional distance and the kinds of social literacy that are required for or that emerge from network, set, and collective modes of social engagement. We discuss issues such as preferential attachment, confirmation bias, and trust and describe social literacies needed to cope with them.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/IJLM_a_00104#.VEwtAYcfTEI

Political Polarization & Media Habits | Pew Research Center's Journalism Project

The Pew Research Center is responsible for some of the most fascinating and well-conducted research about America and Americans today. In this study, they looked at the relationships between political learnings (conservative vs liberal) and media. It is packed with fascinating details: a lot of the media have picked up on the rather limited range of news channels consumed by those with strong conservative leanings, the polarized trust of many news outlets, and so on. This is not surprising because anything that makes claims about you or your competitors will likely excite interest. But what most fascinates me is the way that social media (Facebook in particular, the generality and ubiquity of which tends to make it a more popular source for news than most other social media, at least in general) contribute to the polarizing effect. Notably, Conservatives tend to see fewer dissenting voices among their feeds. This is not surprising because, though self-reportedly more likely to come across dissenting views,  liberals show a greater tendency to defriend people who express conservative views. The self-organizing network effect caused by this double whammy makes for some dangerous filter bubbles, especially if the main alternative sources of news for American conservatives then appear to be Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

The trust spectrum is interesting, especially at the extremes. Buzzfeed is trusted by no one, while the Wall Street Journal is trusted by all four of its remaining subscribers. I’d say that it is mighty useful to have a news source that you absolutely do not trust: there’s nothing better to hone your critical faculties. It is most dangerous to trust any media source because it dulls sensibility to stuff and nonsense. At least when you expect limited reliability you are aware of alternative perspectives and the possibility that you are hearing lies, filtered truths and biases.

One of the benefits of old fashioned newspapers, even those with notable biases, is that serendipity always played a role when reading them. Now, with the best of intentions, we get more of the news we explicitly want. When we visit pages, we tend to get recommendations for more of the same (the Landing is ‘guilty’ of this too – we offer recommended content that may be similar whenever you view a page). This is great if you are a learner investigating a topic, not so great if you are hoping to get a well-rounded view of the world. I’m pleased that some people are taking heed of these problems and, rather than reinforcing filter bubbles, they are deliberately bursting them. The Random App (Apple only, sadly) is a good example of a concerted approach to this, mixing random stuff with things that we explicitly express an interest in. We need more of this. It is possible to restore a bit of sane diversity manually: for instance, I get a lot of my news via Pulse, which I have configured with well over 100 feeds, some of which are chosen because they match my interests and leanings, but a lot of which are chosen precisely because they don’t. Crowds are brilliant to learn from if and only if they are sufficiently diverse. 

 

Address of the bookmark: http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/

Dining with an overweight person makes you eat more

It looks like one mechanism for the already observed spread of obesity through social networks may be extremely simple: people tend to eat more when dining with people who are fatter. Thanks to an ingeniously simple experimental design, this paper shows that it’s not due to any difference in the fatter people’s behaviour. It’s solely due to their size. Interesting.

The study deliberately used eating companions for the study, making this a clear network effect in which people are influenced by those with whom they share a reciprocal connection. I’d be intrigued to discover whether it would make any difference if the fatter people (wearing body prostheses) were simply strangers sitting in the same restaurant, not eating together. I’d hypothesise that the effect would still show up, probably more weakly, but that it might be proportional to the number of people who appeared to be obese. In fact, I am guessing it would probably be more complex than that: for instance, that we might be more influenced by those that we thought were more like us or that we took more of a shine to. If so, this would be more of a set than a network effect. It would be not unlike flocking behaviour in birds: until quite recently it was thought that birds flocked due to a simple network effect that spread from neighbour to neighbour but, as it turns out, they are simply counting the birds nearby that are behaving in a particular way, and going with the majority. Memes may work the same way.

This is about as far from intentional communication as it can get – it’s not even a behaviour that is being copied here but some imagined and possibly inaccurate belief about someone’s past behaviour – and yet the effects may be quite profound and, spread through a society, might have massive large scale effects that spread over into many different aspects of many people’s lives, affecting everything from population health to the economy. It’s one of the reasons that schools and universities are a good idea, quite apart from, and independently of, any intentional teaching that might or might not be having an effect. When you see people around you behaving in a particular way, you are more likely to behave similarly. If it seems normal to be actively learning, there’s a much greater chance that you will do so too. Behaviours (even imagined ones) are highly infectious.

Address of the bookmark: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/2014/09/22/dining-overweight-person-makes-others-eat/