Colin Walker

on social media, tech, blogging and the internet.

Whose stuff is it anyway?

SharingI started thinking about how we use certain social media services a couple of months ago and Alexander reinforced the path my thoughts were taking.

More recently, Allen Stern stated on FriendFeed “i think sharing on google reader is finished – the value for so many sharers has continued to drop from my perspective” which garnered a number of contrary responses.

The real issue as I see it is that the value offered by various services has not been lessened rather it has been altered since the emergence of mashups with data from multiple services all feeding in to each other.

Isolation

Prior to aggregation services such as FriendFeed we looked at other services in isolation and everything had a set perceived value; you knew exactly what you were getting from your RSS reader or your social networking service.

Now we have aggregation and lifestreaming and it is becoming less clear where the boundaries of any function begin and end.

Distinctions

Lifestreaming is an over used term and is often employed when we really mean aggregation. Lifestreaming is traditionally more a Truman Show type experience (literally your life streamed) rather than aggregation which is the collection of your actions on different services in to one location, but what exactly is our stuff? Is our stream a record of our actions or a share of the content of others?

Are there now distinctions between sharing, aggregation, social bookmarking and the like or have they all merged in to one process? When are you just bookmarking as opposed to sharing? As Alexander said: it’s about your intention but, with the way services like FriendFeed operate, is intention enough?

The social contract

I discussed before about the implied social contract of blogging which has caused a number of arguments over exactly what bloggers owe their audiences and perhaps we should be asking if an implied social contract should extend to the way we utilise sharing and aggregation services.

One aspect of FriendFeed, as an example, causes a big divide in opinion and that is the way in which it handles multiple instances of the same item.

Consider the following scenario:

  • User A has their Google Reader and Delicious streams fed in to FriendFeed
  • User B has their StumbleUpon and Social Median streams fed in to FriendFeed
  • User A shares a specific item in Google Reader and also bookmarks that item in Delicious
  • User B stumbles the same item and also clips it on Social Median

Two users have between them now created four instances of the same item within FriendFeed and other users will create further duplication upon sharing the same item.

Is this enabling a wider audience to discuss the same item leading to wider ranges of opinion or is it leading to a fragmentation of the conversation and cluttering peoples streams with useless duplicates?

Intention

With isolated services out intention was clear – we would bookmark something for our own reference or share an item to our link blog but now just about any action we perform becomes a ‘share’ if we have our online activities aggregated. This leads to a number of new questions:

  • do we share things differently based on where we know the share will be seen?
  • does our potential audience affect the actions we take on our subscribed services?
  • should we be tailoring our behaviour to our online environment and the community that we are a part of?

Prevously, a single action would have one consequence but with aggregation thrown in to the mix we set off a chain of events. A bookmark or a Digg is no longer just that, it also becomes a share which contributes to the duplication on our aggregation services so should we be asking ourselves whether we need to perform the initial act based on our environment or whether we actually need to have these streams aggregated in the first place?

If a number of our ‘friends’ have shared an item and it already has multiple conversation threads do we hold back so as not to muddy the waters or do we go ahead with the share to boost the item up the rankings of a particular service (ReadBurner for Google Reader shares for example) but at the risk of clogging up our streams with further duplicates?

Is this a conflict of interests? Should we help an item gain more exposure or should we accede to the implied social contract and not clutter the streams of those subscribed to our updates?

Social dilemma or over-analysing?

What do you think?

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Image by Andy Woo.

September 8, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | | 5 Comments

Are we too demanding?

It never ceases to amaze me how demanding we can be as IT users and early adopters; to put a twist to the Queen lyric we want it all and we want it now!

We have gone beyond just having an opinion and have all become armchair experts in just about everything – it’s no longer just reserved for sports fans thinking they can manage their team better than the “incompetent muppet” standing on the sidelines.

We feel that we can design things and suggest features better than those getting paid to do the job. In some cases users do have valid points and companies have used customer suggestions to improve their products but we should never lose sight of the fact that we are just one person and the designers and developers are catering for the needs of millions. What might be right for you may not be right for some (hmm, wasn’t that in the Different Strokes theme song?)

So, when a new product gets released in beta when does helpful, constructive criticism go too far and border of the realms of being over demanding?

Take Google Chrome for example.

Now I’m not going to remark on the feature set or the pros and cons of the fledgling browser as many others have already done that and better than I could (although I must admit that I like where Google are coming from) but I would like to comment on the reactions and expectations that are being thrown around the web.

Yes, this is Google and we should expect big things – in some respects I think we already have them, but we must never lose sight of the fact that Chrome is just a first beta; it’s an artists sketch before committing to getting the brushes dirty.

The first beta of Chrome has laid the foundations and put down some very good groundwork which will be fleshed out and perfected over the course of development so statements like “Chrome Not Ready For Enterprise” are pointless.

Of course it’s not and no-one should be suggesting otherwise.

Chrome will not be ready for enterprise for quite a while and will not be considered for enterprise use for even longer – at least in any enterprise with any integrity and a decent IT infrastructure. There are many more factors at play that just the features built in to the browser.

An enterprise environment will have procedures in place to test and approve any new software prior to deployment – beta software will never be considered. Not only do you have potential security or data corruption issues but you must also consider the reputation of your company. How would it look if you were connecting to third party services to access and manipulate sensitive data using an incomplete product? Not only would you tarnish your reputation but you would most likely be kicked off the service.

All we are saying…

Give Chrome a chance. Give any new product or service that comes out as beta a chance and stop making ridiculous demands of something which is, by definition, just a work in progress. This is what beta is all about regardless of who is behind it.

First look reviews and constructive criticism should be encouraged but outlandish statements and ridiculous demands get us nowhere.

A public beta is just the external face of a project and there will be a lot more going on behind the scenes both in terms of advancements of the technology involved and where the project is heading. As I have mentioned in the past, just because a company hasn’t said they will be doing X, Y or Z doesn’t mean it isn’t already on the table; you don’t want to give away all your secrets too early. You may not be able to deliver on all your promises (remember the Longhorn saga) so under promise and over deliver but, more importantly, you don’t want to give too much of a heads up to the competition.

September 5, 2008 Posted by | Betas | | 5 Comments

Lessons learnt or common sense?

So, I took most of August out and distanced myself from social media and blogging – it seemed a good time to do it as I had some other stuff going on (a mini cruise to Amsterdam and a weeks holiday).

I had an occasional glance at FriendFeed but only very rarely and Google Reader went begging – there are thousands of unread items I need to wade through/mark as read and a number of feeds that I will most likely unsubscribe from.

Before I start anything here I’d first like to say thanks to Mark and Hutch for thinking of me while I was away, it’s always nice to know that out of site isn’t always out of mind.

Have I learnt any lessons from my time away or is it all really common sense? Let’s have a look.

Who needs social media?

What did we do before we had what we currently think of as social media? We found other things to occupy ourselves, and that’s exactly what I did during last month.

As a family we have started playing World of Warcraft so that’s good to eat up a few hours and it also helped that the UK domestic football (soccer) season has started again so that provides something else to keep me occupied.

Do I need social media? No, and to be honest I haven’t really been missing it as I have been spending more time with my family in the ‘real’ world.

Social media, just like anything else, is habit forming – we can create our own addictions by getting, and wanting to stay, involved. Conversely, distancing ourselves from something for long enough reduces the craving until you can quit. Will power is needed and having a distraction is very beneficial.

Common sense. The above can apply to just about anything and not just social media.

Who needs blogging?

I have had no inclination to blog during my time away and have had to force myself to write this; do I feel I owe it to myself to summarise what happened, or owe it to you the reader? Why should we owe anyone anything?

Blogging is a tough mistress and we often put undue pressure on ourselves. Whether it is because we feel that our readers have invested their trust in us by subscribing to the feeds so we feel compelled to explain ourselves I don’t know but we are always our own worst critics when. let’s face it, most others couldn’t care less. For every social media blogger who disappears there are dozens more to take up the mantle – this is not an area that will dry up anytime soon.

Hutch remarked that if you are having problems blogging then you should return to what interests you but it can be worse than that: what do you do when the blogging process itself doesn’t interest you? You just have to step back like I did and wait for the enthusiam to return. I think I’ll be waiting for a little while longer yet.

Addiction

I’m the kind of person who becomes addicted to things very easily but I also have a very low boredom threshold. If I’m not kept interested then even the strongest addiction doesn’t stand a chance (alcohol and gambling in my past can attest to this) so I need to keep myself challenged in order to thrive.

We’ll have to see what happens over the coming weeks.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 9 Comments