~ Archive for Social Networks ~

Updates

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I’m doing research on a bunch of interesting things; social science is so fascinating because you’re studying human subjects and their behavior, trying to determine causality and effects by quantitative and qualitative measures. I love how interdisciplinary the area of my study is right now– dipping into psychology, technology, law, economics– and thus constantly feeling that I can’t get enough knowledge into my head. I find the social and psychological aspects most fascinating because unlike many other disciplines, there is no right or wrong; it’s all about giving your best argument. I find it’s very much like investigative reporting in journalism where you sense a phenomenon and then go digging for evidence, only that the measurements that are used are very different.

Currently, I’m doing research on social network sites, social network games, and a super-secret project related to television. I can’t go into details, which is a shame because unlike other fields, in the academic world you can’t claim something is your idea until it’s published in an acclaimed journal, instead of a puny blog like this one.

In the meantime, my multi-author game blog Play As Life is slowly gaining more readers.  It’s a slow, painful project because everyone involved is busy with their jobs. The latest post was an interview with Henk Rogers, they guy who owns the license to Tetris. It’s not as good as the other interviews on the site, but I guess that’s what happens when you try to do an email interview with someone who is already in an established name in the industry.

Ubiquitous human computing and personal connectivity

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(cross-posted on arcticpenguin)

In a recent episode of the cartoon King of the Hill, Bill– an overweight and depressed character who loves to eat– falls in love with the woman who takes his orders at the local fast food drive-in, only to find out that she is working from a call center in Arizona. He drives out from Texas to meet her, but discovers that she is a young girl who is repelled by him at first sight. Crestfallen, he comes home.

Such scenarios may even increase in the future, according to JZ. In an interview with Nokia’s Ideas Project, Z talks about “ubiquitous human computing” where an organization uses human resources like fungible resources– combining the minds of people in various locations to solve the problem at hand. He gives examples of people working at home “plugging in” to various jobs from one location.

“Our technology has outpaced our social development, and our ability to build the kinds of social and cultural structures around the new technology that tend to temper and channel its use,” he says in the interview, adding that the “cheap networks” are what make ubiquitous human computing possible.

While this collective force–one that moves Wikipedia and one which Z hopes will fuel Herdict– is certainly cost efficient, how effective is it in utilizing advanced human resources? I still believe that some kind of personal element is required to make the most of people’s abilities and is that personal connection combined with the incentive of networks that brings out true productivity. Without that personal connection, you can only reach a certain level of quality.

I’m sure that in the future, people will develop tools to make communication via technology a more personal experience, but I’m worried that before it gets to that point, people will stop wanting to make the extra effort it takes in dealing with face-to-face communications. Even now, as I work remotely– most of my assignments/conversations with Z are through email– I wonder if I am becoming less sociable, burrowing deeper into my hole of specific interests. Email communications cuts out small talk because you can get right to the point. I find that my work emails are becoming more like archived instant messages or brief tweets with less full sentences and only absolutely necessary information. Mobile computing (iPhones and Blackberrys,etc) encourage this.

On the plus side, I can dress comfortably, feel inhibited about multitasking, and not be bothered by officemates who talk loudly on the telephone or smell bad. I don’t have to wait in front of someone’s office for a 15-min. slot. I can pick my nose, fart, or belch at will. I can play computer games full screen without worrying about someone looking over my shoulder. However, I don’t know if someone’s mother is sick, if their kid was in the school play, if they have an obsession with Battlestar Galactica… or have attention disorders. Such things may not seem important and are things that may bog down productivity in the short run, but are elements that keep people connected even after the task at hand is finished. And when it comes time for the next project, they are reasons for those people to work more efficiently– a relationship that becomes more productive over time.

At the end of the day, I always seem to be coming back to the idea of sociable networking (not social networking) and craving for a way to make technology a more personal experience. I think integrating more voice and video is a step in that direction. While text is certainly rich in terms of the expanse of creative interpretation that it lends, I think sound and sight adds the degree of personal connection that can enhance relationships. Ultimately I think that touch and smell are what seal personal experiences, but hopefully we won’t invest in technology to the extent that we want those elements remotely instead of in person.

Social networking in enterprises

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Andrew McAfee of HBS was the speaker at today’s Berkman luncheon series, talking about Enterprise 2.0, which he explains as being the phenomenon in which companies incorporate “community” features into their work. He said that based on connectivity, people’s networks can be categorized into strong ties, weak ties, potential ties, no ties. Citing Mark Granovetter, he said that weak ties may be stronger because people that are strong ties will not provide anything you don’t already know. (Interesting fact: Partners and future jobs are usually found through weak ties!) He said that corporate technologies do lousy jobs of connecting weak/potential ties, which could be done through social networking tools. [One thing that he grazed over was the value of people who convert ties into actual networks, which caught my attention because I fall into that category.]

He also talked about prediction markets (which fall into the “no ties” category) and how election trends were reflected in the Iowa Electronic Markets, which people seemed to be more interested in than his talk about implementing social networking tools in companies.

He gave a fairly standard argument, although he seemed to be an extreme optimist in terms of what in-house networking could do. Although I agree that in-house social networking can build a more positive corporate (social) culture and perhaps enhance productivity to some level, I believe that only those companies that strongly control this “sharing” actually see financial benefits. Also, the more successful in-house networking that I’ve seen were in companies that built their own programs versus companies who bought tweakable solutions because features had to be continuously updated to meet increasing demands. Obviously, this was expensive, and it only worked for companies that had strong financial incentives in sharing confidential data.

One point I found very disturbing was his comment on how Twitter and Facebook can be used to exploit weak networks. I really hate people who do this; especially those who are obviously digital narcissists trying to show off. Even worse are people who use 2.0 technology for 1.0 activities, in other words, those who seek feedback but never give others feedback. If people who are really “important” don’t have the time or don’t want to make the effort of replying to others, it means that all the feedback you get is from “unimportant” people. Of course, I suppose that doesn’t matter when you’re seeking advice like whether you should eat dimsum or tacos for lunch.

As always, David Weinberger live-blogged the whole session. Guess which was my question during the Q&A!

Ranting about Twitter

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I wish Twitter had privacy settings, like Flickr. For instance, some things you only want to share with certain people and some things you want to keep to yourself. Well, you may ask, why would one need Twitter if he is just twitter for himself? Although I’m sure there are a lot of people who put a lot of thought into their tweets, but for many, they are just brief, fleeting thoughts that represent what was going through your mind at that particular time. In retrospect, some tweets may look childish or contain inappropriate content that would not have been a problem at the time of the tweet. Tweets are also very ephemeral and because they cover a train of thought, I feel like opening up one’s tweets the public makes a stronger statement about the individual than he or she would like. The lack of “private tweets” also discourages many people from being frank about their feelings online.

I am only following 15 people on Twitter- 10 of them rarely post anything- but it’s still difficult to keep up with the Twitter feeds. Then there are blogs, Flickr feeds. Facebook… (sigh)

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