'Oral histories that are completely fabricated have value.'

April 16th, 2014

Talking to The Verge in the wake of the publication of her book It's Complicated, danah boyd talks a lot of sense about how people interact online:

People seem very afraid of their kids creating different identities on different social networks. Why are teens doing this, and should their parents be concerned?

No, in fact, this is one of the weird oddities about Facebook. Let's go back to Usenet. People had multiple nicks, they had a field day with this. They would use these multiple "identities" to put forward different facets of who they were. It wasn't to say that they were trying to be separate individuals. Who you are sitting with me today in this professional role with a shared understanding of social media is different than how you talk to your mom. She may not understand the same things you and I are talking about. At the same time, if you were talking about your past, I'd have none of it and your mother would have a lot of it. This is this moment where you think about how you present yourself differently in these different contexts, not because you're hiding, but because you're putting forward what's relevant there.

The idea of real names being the thing that leads you – that's not actually what leads us in the physical space. We lead with our bodies. We adjust how we present our bodies by situation. We dress differently, we sit differently, we emote differently. [...]

Call me nostalgic, but I'm always pleased to see references to Usenet. We might not have called it 'social media',1 but there's a lot to be learned from the experience of all those people back before the web was even a thing, having thousands of shared social spaces to navigate. Of course Usenet also blessed us with Canter and Siegel, but that was part of the learning curve too.

  1. And in fairness it wasn't quite the same beast as MySpace or Twitter or Facebook – but mostly in respects that were for the better. A choice of flexible, powerful third party client software running on a variety of platforms. No single centralised authority policing the discussions – especially outside the Big 8 hierarchy. The best online discussions I ever had or saw happened on Usenet. Also some of the biggest flamewars, but that's what killfiles and scorefiles were for.

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Who needs the NSA?

January 27th, 2014

What a brand knows…

The question is, would your privacy fare much better if you were logging in to Google+ or Twitter instead? And if so, would that be because those networks were being less intrusive on a point of principle, or just because they haven't yet persuaded you to hand over quite as much information about yourself?1

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

  1. Your social network's customers, don't forget, being not you the user but the marketing executives who want your details to help them sell things to you.

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Data does not include domestic crying…

December 2nd, 2013

Quantified Breakup applies a little data analysis to the aftermath of the end of a relationship. Like these infographics about the Public Display of Emotions:

Every day we function within parameters. We do our jobs. We do our chores. We chit chat with the person who sells us groceries. We function very admirably.

But when something disruptive happens in our lives – a breakup or maybe even a serious family emergency – we sometimes can't help but let it all out. And I don't just mean at home. Sometimes, you kinda have to stop functioning and ball your eyes out in public. [...]

Commiserations with other people about breakups seemed to reveal that I was not alone in expressing emotions like this! I've had women shrieking with joy as they told me about the therapeutic effects of crying publicly.

Here's a quick breakdown of public crying I recall from emails, texts and conversations (I started jotting down data for this in mid-October. Data does not include domestic crying):

Public Displays of Emotion

Even as we read this, a software developer somewhere who has seen that post is working on a project called BreakupBuddy,1 an app designed to pull all this data together in a single place. Grabbing your location and the details of what you're listening to is the easy bit: the trickier part is providing a slick but flexible user interface so you can tag parts of the day according to your mood and behaviour. An in-app purchase buys the GetHappy module, which reacts to your mood changes by suggesting a cheery soundtrack, accompanied by pictures from your photostream of happier times. (If the facial recognition/tagging allows it to identify and avoid pictures of That Cheating Bastard, so much the better!) And of course, every status update gets posted to the social network of your choice, because like the lady said, public displays of emotion can be cathartic.23

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. Yes, the name needs a bit of work.
  2. I have a horrible feeling that if I searched the App Store there are probably three apps already there that aim to fill this need.
  3. OK, I couldn't resist: a quick search found this and this, neither of which quite seems to fit the bill. Perhaps there's a genuine gap in the market here.

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Olivia and her friends weren't wrong when they thought she'd become suddenly famous. Her audience just wasn't human.

November 26th, 2013

Shantal Roddam (@Allieqtzm) was a typical example of one of her new followers. Shantal was a "Friendly beer fan" from Butte. She was following:

@ESPN, the world's leading sports brand;
@MarsPhoenix, a long-dead robot on Mars;
@ReutersScience, the news organization;
@KingJames, Lebron James, the NBA star;
@AlexisMadrigal, your faithful correspondent;
and Olivia, a high school student in San Diego.

By 8:25pm, Olivia could announce, "I have hit 3,000 everyone 3,000 porn stars."

Alexis Madrigal's article trying to answer the question Why Did 9,000 Porny Spambots Descend on This San Diego High Schooler? serves as both an introduction for non-techies to the world of Twitter spambots and a reminder of the extent to which the language and practices of social media would be unintelligible to an average reader from twenty years ago.

It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.

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Subject: Re: 'Became a zombie' Life Event

November 22nd, 2013

Benjamin Rosenbaum has posted a sharp, blackly amusing short story about how Facebook's users and software developers would react to a zombie plague breaking out, called Feature Development for Social Networking.

Nice work, even though you just know this story isn't destined to end well for any of the characters.

[Via Subtraction.com]

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Thinking of The Children

November 3rd, 2013

danah boyd on why it's a good idea that Facebook have started providing 13-17 year old users with a way to decide on a post-by-post basis whether their content can be circulated publicly, rather than always being restricted to their Facebook friends only as is the case at present:

One of the most crucial aspects of coming of age is learning how to navigate public life. The teenage years are precisely when people transition from being a child to being an adult. There is no magic serum that teens can drink on their 18th birthday to immediately mature and understand the world around them. Instead, adolescents must be exposed to – and allowed to participate in – public life while surrounded by adults who can help them navigate complex situations with grace. They must learn to be a part of society, and to do so, they must be allowed to participate.

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Aliens

August 21st, 2013

The other day I came across UX designer Fred Nerby's mock up of his idea for a new look for Facebook.

Fred Nerby's Facebook concept

There's a lot more to it than that one screenshot, so I urge you to click on the link or the image to see the full presentation. It's neat and unquestionably it showcases one way to look at what 1.15 billion people want from a social network.1

I can't help looking at it and thinking that I'm never, ever going to want a Facebook account, because these people just aren't the same species as me.2 The thing is, this vision of the world seems to demand that everyone is constantly performing, living their lives on camera and incessantly telling anyone who'll listen about how awesome a time they're having and how fabulous their round of drinks looked when the light caught the glasses just so, and everyone seems to have a gallery of pictures of themselves looking smiley and sexy and fabulous. Doesn't all that performing for the camera just get a bit exhausting after a while?

Also, I assume that this is a proposal for some future version of Facebook that offers a paid-subscription option, because there's not an ad in sight and young Zuckerberg isn't going to be able to pay for all those servers without some source of income.3

  1. Or at any rate, what some people want and some people simply have to use if they want to remain in touch with some of their less IT literate friends and relations, whereas others moved to Facebook once they found there was nobody they knew left on MySpace and they don't want the hassle of moving to the next big thing and re-establishing their social graph all over again. Then there are all the spammers and scammers and people who don't use the site any more but never got round to deleting their account. Whatever: any way you look at the numbers, rather a lot of people use Facebook.
  2. Ignore the fact that the designer has populated his site with a bunch of youngish, attractive friends whose lives are filled with visits to picturesque locations: that's just a matter of showing his design in the best possible light.
  3. Unless of course this is a future where the NSA has taken to funding Facebook directly, because why go to the time and trouble to spy on people's online communications when they'll give out so much information about their whereabouts, their plans and their social circle gratis.

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Bigge Data

June 10th, 2013

Kieran Healy on Using Metadata to find Paul Revere:

London, 1772.

I have been asked by my superiors to give a brief demonstration of the surprising effectiveness of even the simplest techniques of the new-fangled Social Networke Analysis in the pursuit of those who would seek to undermine the liberty enjoyed by His Majesty's subjects. This is in connection with the discussion of the role of "metadata" in certain recent events and the assurances of various respectable parties that the government was merely "sifting through this so-called metadata" and that the "information acquired does not include the content of any communications". I will show how we can use this "metadata" to find key persons involved in terrorist groups operating within the Colonies at the present time. I shall also endeavour to show how these methods work in what might be called a relational manner. [...]

Great stuff.

[Via Crooked Timber]

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I know that on November 12 2015 at 3:45:41, @justinbieber is going to say 'I'm so, so, sorry.' Why? I have no idea.

May 28th, 2013

A Twitter bug report pivots into a spooky little science fiction story:

Subject: Twitter API returning results that do not respect arrow of time.

This will take some explaining.

It started as an afternoon hacking project with your Twitter API. [...]

[Via nielsenhayden.com Sidelights]

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'I put the glasses back on, and took off my pants.'

May 17th, 2013

Google's Larry Page bids us Welcome to Google Island (as related by Wired's Mat Honan):

"I hope my nudity doesn't bother you. We're completely committed to openness here. Search history. Health data. Your genetic blueprint. One way to express this is by removing clothes to foster experimentation. It's something I learned at Burning Man," he said. "Here, drink this. You're slightly dehydrated, and your blood sugar is low. This is a blend of water, electrolytes, and glucose."

I was taken aback. "How did you…" I began, but he was already answering me before I could finish my question.

"As soon as you hit Google's territorial waters, you came under our jurisdiction, our terms of service. Our laws – or lack thereof – apply here. By boarding our self-driving boat you granted us the right to all feedback you provide during your journey. This includes the chemical composition of your sweat. Remember when I said at I/O that maybe we should set aside some small part of the world where people could experiment freely and examine the effects? I wasn't speaking theoretically. This place exists. We built it." [...]

[Via Marco.org]

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The Facebook World

April 27th, 2013

Stephen Wolfram has been playing round with data about his users' Facebook networks:

More than a million people have now used our Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. And as part of our latest update, in addition to collecting some anonymized statistics, we launched a Data Donor program that allows people to contribute detailed data to us for research purposes.

A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing all this data. [...]

We'd always planned to use the data we collect to enhance our Personal Analytics system. But I couldn't resist also trying to do some basic science with it. I've always been interested in people and the trajectories of their lives. But I've never been able to combine that with my interest in science. Until now. And it's been quite a thrill over the past few weeks to see the results we've been able to get. Sometimes confirming impressions I've had; sometimes showing things I never would have guessed.

Wolfram's post is long and yet is clearly just scratching the surface of what can be done with the heaps of data Facebook's customers create as they use the network. It'll be interesting to see what changes in these patterns another five or ten years of Facebook being a mainstream product will bring.

Of course, it's worth remembering that there's almost certainly not a word of Wolfram's findings that would come as any surprise to Facebook themselves. Or their advertisers customers.

[Via Flowing Data]

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Mars 3 Nil, Mars 1

April 13th, 2013

Emily Lakdawalla has posted a fascinating account, translated from the Russian original, of how a group of space enthusiasts combed images of the surface of Mars. Their aim: to find the Mars 3 lander that managed to transmit radio signals for 14 seconds back on 2 December 1971 before falling silent.

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Not Facebook's fault (again)

March 1st, 2013

Is Facebook Destroying the American College Experience? asks danah boyd, referring to prospective students looking up their classmates on Facebook and trying to establish links to those who share a common interest:

At first blush, this seems like a win for students. Going off to college can be a scary proposition, full of uncertainty, particularly about social matters. Why not get a head start building friends from the safety of your parent's house?

What most students (and parents) fail to realize is that the success of the American college system has less to do with the quality of the formal education than it does with the social engineering project that is quietly enacted behind the scenes each year. Roommates are structured to connect incoming students with students of different backgrounds. Dorms are organized to cross-breed the cultural diversity that exists on campus. Early campus activities are designed to help people encounter people who's approach to the world is different than theirs.

To be fair to Facebook1 – as danah boyd notes later in her post – this isn't in any sense a Facebook problem: the site just happens to be the tool students are curently using to do this pre-college reconnaissance. The trick to curbing this habit is going to lie in persuading students of the benefits of mixing with people they might not normally choose to rub shoulders with.

  1. Again. Twice in a fortnight; is this turning into a trend?

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Friendly credit

February 17th, 2013

The Economist reports on how some lenders are starting to take a long, hard look at your presence on social networks before deciding whether to lend you money:

Grabbing whatever data you can makes obvious sense in emerging markets where credit bureaus are underdeveloped. But it works in the rich world, too, where younger people and immigrants often have no credit histories. Bureaus themselves are now using everything from court records and rent payments to utility and phone bills. And a range of start-ups are also busily exploring alternative data.

Some firms piece together scores by analysing applicants' online social networks. Professional contacts on LinkedIn are especially revealing of an applicant's "character and capacity" to repay, says Navin Bathija, the founder of Neo, a start-up that assesses the creditworthiness of car-loan applicants. Neo's software helps determine if applicants' claimed jobs are real by looking, with permission, at the number and nature of LinkedIn connections to co-workers. It also estimates how quickly laid-off employees will land a new job by rating their contacts at other employers.

As statistics accumulate, algorithms get better at spotting correlations in the data. Applicants who type only in lower-case letters, or entirely in upper case, are less likely to repay loans, other factors being equal, says Douglas Merrill, founder of ZestFinance, an American online lender whose default rate is roughly 40% lower than that of a typical payday lender. Neo's efforts to improve accuracy include recording borrowers' Facebook data: Mr Bathija reckons that within a year there will be enough evidence to determine if making racist comments on Facebook is correlated with a lack of creditworthiness.

[...]

The article goes on to note that (for the time being) the established high street banks are watching these developments from the sidelines. Wary of the potential for bad publicity over invading customers' privacy, or just waiting to see evidence that this approach actually produces useful results for the various startups trialling this approach?

For once, this isn't a social media/invasion of privacy story in which the likes of Facebook are the bad guys: given that these startups are 'seeking permission' from the applicant, it's akin to those odd occasions where a potential employer wants to access an applicant's social networking activities in order to see if their life away from work includes anything that might embarrass the company. Reprehensible and dumb, but not something in which Facebook are complicit.

In other words, it probably won't take off on a large scale, but it'll as sure as hell prove rough for unlucky applicants who made the mistake of having Friended the odd acquaintance from school or college or a past job who has fallen on hard times.

[Via Rough Type]

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No one drew a single vagina

December 1st, 2012

When Nintendo developed a version of the Wii's social network for western users, they encountered a small problem. The thing is, the Miiverse allowed users to send one another drawings as well as textual messages, which presented certain … challenges:

Kurisu: [...] We anticipated that some users would [...] take to drawing penises.

Everyone: (laughs)

Kurisu: Well, it's true. It seems to be more of a phenomenon found in the west.

Motoyama: Yes, we never had such a problem with our Hatena services. But, when we brought Hatena Flipnote to the West, we were caught off-guard by the amount of penises drawn by people.

Kurisu: So the team and I had to come up with a way to create a system that auto-detects those types of pictures.

Kato: Kurisu-san suggested we study different types of penises in order to create figure out the relative shape and size people would draw. We spent a week doing that before we realized that we should have been looking at drawings of penises rather than real-life pictures. (laughs) We were very embarrassed about that.

Kurisu: My judgement on these types of situations is poor. (laughs)

[Via currybetdotnet]

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KJT

August 5th, 2012

I do like the self-deprecating tagline used on Twitter by one of Britain's other heptathletes, Katarina Johnson-Thompson:

Chronically indecisive so I've adopted two surnames & the heptathlon.

[Via The Observer]

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80 points

June 7th, 2012

How much would you like to bet that within the next five years some junior minister – be they Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour – will be announcing that they want to explore the possibility of introducing a 'voluntary' system modelled after the one currently being adopted by China's domestic equivalent of Twitter to deal with antisocial behaviour online:

Sina Weibo users each will now receive 80 points to begin with, and this can be boosted to a full 100 points by those who provide their official government-issued identification numbers (like Social Security numbers in the U.S.) and link to a cellphone account.

Spreading falsehoods will lead to deductions in points, among other penalties. Spreading an untruth to 100 other users will result in a deduction of two points. Spreading it to 100-1,000 other users will result in a deduction of five points, as well as a week's suspension of the account. Spreading it to more than 1,000 other users will result in a deduction of 10 points, as well as a 15-day suspension of the account.

Once the point total falls below 60, the user is flagged as "low-credit." A loss of all points will result in an account's closure.

Be sure to read the full linked article, so you can understand how slippery the concept of a 'falsehood' is.1

[Via The Null Device]

  1. For the record, I'm slightly leery of the notion of linking to a 'news source' whose most-read story at the moment is Vampire Skeletons Discovered In Bulgaria With Iron Rods Pierced Through Chests – it's like the Daily Mail's Sidebar of Shame crossed with the Huffington Post! However, the story has been doing the rounds over the last few days and it seems that the basic facts are indeed as related in the article I've linked to.

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OAuth is your future

May 14th, 2012

OAuth is your future. What a cheerful thought.

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@textinstagram

April 26th, 2012

Text-Only Instagram serves as a sort of companion piece to yesterday's Descriptive Camera, Descriptive Friends post.

[Via jwz]

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Descriptive Camera, Descriptive Friends

April 25th, 2012

The Descriptive Camera takes what the concept of metadata about images to a new level, making use of cameras and Amazon's Mechanical Turk:

As we amass an incredible amount of photos, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage our collections. Imagine if descriptive metadata about each photo could be appended to the image on the fly – information about who is in each photo, what they're doing, and their environment could become incredibly useful in being able to search, filter, and cross-reference our photo collections. Of course, we don't yet have the technology that makes this a practical proposition, but the Descriptive Camera explores these possibilities. [...]

Having said that, isn't at least some part of the Descriptive Camera's functionality being undertaken – albeit for very different reasons – by Facebook users who go round tagging one another's photos? Isn't every Facebook 'friend' potentially a stand-in in for the Mechanical Turk, busily identifying who's who in their friends' photographs?

[Via kottke.org]

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