Archive for the ‘sxd’ Category

Twitter has been named the virtual water cooler, and Facebook is the place for friends – mainly from years gone by. Most of the discourse and interest around these tools has been concentrated on how they exaggerate and perhaps enhance sociality. People get connected to long lost friends, or contacts with similar interests. The question then becomes, is the mediated nature of these tools really beneficial to all? Perhaps the folks that have been pontificating about the benefits are introverted techno-geeks, who feel comfortable with mediated interaction. The key here lies in the aspect of introversion, which by definition means that it is a person that gets energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people. What is a better outlet than social tools for an introvert, who gets to be alone and yet “around” others?

So, how do these tools actually affect an extrovert? Here is Megan Grocki’s very insightful personal perspective on the use of social tool as an extrovert:

I have always loved meeting people.  As far back as my memory goes, I can recall crossing rooms to introduce myself to someone I didn’t know yet, asking their name, smiling, trying to make them feel welcome, learning more about them.  Occasionally I would feel a pang of nervousness but for the most part meeting new people has always been effortless.

When in the midst of a group, I can quite literally feel myself feeding off the energy of others.  After I’ve had a conversation with a friend or colleague I feel like I’ve just been plugged in and am more powerful and geared up than before, and the longer I go without human interaction, the more vacant I feel.

Hands-down the best part of being on twitter is getting to actually meet the people behind the avatars, in person, for a real conversation, and a truly human exchange.  I enjoy the anticipation of getting to meet someone new, which is why I beg, borrow and steal to get to conferences!

Then why am I much more apprehensive about my social interactions online?

Social interactions online often create a much higher level of anxiety. Despite it being called social media or social networking, participating can be fairly lonely for my fellow extroverts.  My interactions with others online occur from the isolation of my computer. And blogging, feels even less comfortable for me.  Not because I am apprehensive about my writing abilities, but because it feels like such an isolating activity, done from the solitude of my computer.  When I am engaged in a “real” conversation with someone, I feel much more myself than when I am alone with my thoughts, staring at a blank screen and trying to generate something, (anything!) with a keyboard as my only tool.

I will never be able to truly know how terrifying in-person social interactions can be to a “shy” person or convey to them the energy I get from meeting new people in social situations.  However I have been thinking a lot about my own social experiences and why some of them seem so difficult for me, but come easily to those who I would consider shy.  In my (unscientific) observation, these people seem to gain the same energy or strength from being alone with their thoughts (and then sharing them afterward) as I do when I am discussing, connecting and bouncing ideas off of others.  My natural tendency when I have a problem to solve is to find someone to talk about it with, toss around possible solutions, and feel connected with others, rather than to experience the seclusion of my own thoughts.

In the spirit of authenticity and vulnerability, I also care way too much about what people think.  What if I write a blog post and no one reads it?  What if 300 people post flaming comments saying I am an idiot?  I may be a gifted networker, social butterfly, whatever… but I am scared shitless to write (and gasp! promote) a blog.  I frequently advise my friends, co-workers and family to take risks, go for it!  I have been known to say things like “what do you have to lose?” and “what are you waiting for?” when in truth I too am paralyzed in fear.  WTF, Meg?

I am hoping that years from now I will look back at this post and chuckle.  I hope that I keep trying to swim out there, out beyond the scary white breakers of the online social scene and come into my own.  I hope that I can start writing more about my thoughts for the purpose of my personal and professional growth and fulfillment, and care just a little less about what someone else might think.

So the next time someone pontificates about the social enhancement of these tools, perhaps we should all stop and recognize that there two perspectives.


I am a regular Twitter user (@azollers), and I truly love the service because it connects me to a wide range of interesting people in my field. I feel a stronger connection to the UX community because of Twitter, and so leave my profile open to allow anyone to discover and follow me.

My biggest frustration with Twitter, however, is the proliferation of spammers in the form of bots, porn, and “social media marketers”. Not only do these profiles provide me with little value, I do not wish to be personally or professionally associated with them. My first defense against spam followers are the Twitter email notifications, which, when they actually work let me know who has followed me. These notification bring me no end of frustration because of their complete lack of information to help me make a decision regarding the legitimacy/credibility/interest of the person following me.

Twitter Email Notification

Twitter Email Notification

The current notification only provides the following information:

  • username
  • # of followers
  • # of tweets
  • # following
  • the link to the profile
  • link to block the person

Although the ratio of # of followers to # following is often a good indicator regarding the person – with a fairly equal ratio indicating that the person is not a spammer – it is not enough information. I am constantly forced to click on the link to visit the profile to get a better impression – and often accidently end up clicking the block link, because of poor readability.

The email notification would actually be much more useful if they contained the following information:

  • The bio
  • The full text of 2-3 most recent tweets
  • Contacts we have in common
  • Clear links to follow and block the person

Twitter already has all of this information and surfacing it would certainly help me make a reasonable decision about the individual. Whenever I am forced to view an individual’s profile, I always look at the bio first followed by their most recent tweets, RT, and mentions. If I could have this information up front, it would save me a lot of time and frustration, and actually make the email notifications valuable.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to recreate my liveblog of the WWW07 Tagging Workshop. So I will just provide the links to all the great papers presented there. Another big thank you goes out to Scott Golder and Frank Smadja for organizing a wonderful workshop.

9am: Network Properties of Folksonomies

9:30am: Tag-Cloud Drawing: Algorithms for Cloud Visualization

10am: Semkey: A Semantic Collaborative Tagging System

10:30am:  Emerging Motivations for Tagging: Expression, Performance and Activism (my paper, the presentation was very well received!)

11am: Applying Collaborative Tagging to E-Learning

11:30am: Learning User Profiles from Tagging Data and Leveraging them for Personal(ized) Information Access

12pm: Towards federated Web2.0 sites: the FolkDesk approach

After the formal presentations, we had a very informal break-out session where we mostly talked about my suggestion, which was “Beyond-text, utilizing multimedia for tagging”, we also extended our talk into tagging real-space and possible motivations for doing so. There was some great input from Mor Naaman, who works at Yahoo! Research Berkley, and is responsible for the great TagMaps application.

My main take-away from the workshop was the discovery that there have actually been no user studies conducted on tagging, and so I have decided that part of my dissertation will definitely include user studies, specifically looking at the motivations for tagging across different systems (ie not only ones that are specifically designed for organization such as Flickr).

I also took some great pictures of Banff, which was an amazingly beautiful location. I honestly did not want to leave. You can view some of my pictures here:

Banff 2007

Here is a great analysis by one of my professors about Virginia Tech shooting:

Media Spectacle and the “Massacre at Virginia Tech” by Douglas Kellner

In class we also talked about how many members of Facebook changed their profiles pictures to this ribbon shown below. In fact, many VT student and alum profiles still contain this picture.

Once time passed, people were not sure of the appropriate etiquette as it regards online inteaction. How much time needs to pass before “it’s ok” to revert back to a normal profile picture, or is acceptable to post silly wall messages, and be happy in general. Additionally, some of the slain student’s profiles became “virtual memorials”, see the USA today piece for further details. One of the most interesting aspects of the memorialized profiles was that many people still posted messages directly to the slain person. Is this the virtual way of dealing with grief? Finally, here is an interesting blog post by an individual who lost a brother in an accident, and still visits his MySpace page.

I just came back from North Carolina, after two amazing days at a symposium. The wiki (with session notes) for the symposium can be found here:

I kind of want to list my take-away’s from the meeting:

Social Tagging

According to Thomas Vander Wal:

  • a tag is a simple data/metada applied to an object
  • the act of tagging is done by the person consuming the information vs the producers of the information.
  • tagging is mainly about re-findability
  • according to neilson assessment, only .5% of the web are tagging

So then my question is, is social tagging mainly about re-findability? Other people at the meeting suggested that perhaps the social aspects of tagging are about sense-making, community building, gaining new ideas, norm-shaping.

Fred Stuztman brought up an interesting point, how do we get novice users to understand how to tag so that they can find the object later? The problem is that people are in a new mental/cognitive space when they are trying to find information versus when they are saving it, so it is not always easy to recall the thought patterns that you had when you stored and tagged the object when you are trying to retrieve it. My suggestion: perhaps additional contextual cues can be added to the object to help in trigger memory?

Other possible research questions that arose out of the meeting which I found to be interesting include:

  • How do tags function?
  • How do they help people find things and make-sense of things?
  • How do tagging practices change over time? How can we discover this methodologically?
  • What is the effectiveness of tags? How do we measure effectiveness?
  • What practices/people/professions are privileged by a textual tagging system? Who is represented in the system?
  • What can tagging practices say about the community of users? How can tags bring about community?
  • Do the tags that are least frequently used provide the most interesting information about the individual?
  • How are people using tags in non-standard ways?

Personally, I would like to see how tags/tagging habits are creating community, how tags are being used in novel ways (activism, expression, identity formation), and how the design of the system itself is privileges, defines, and limits the types of interaction that takes place.

Finally, Zeynap made an interesting point when she said that social tagging systems are at the intersection of the social and informational. I personally want to study what occurs at that intersection, and the role of tagging in that dynamic.

Social Network Sites

Andrea Forte brought up a very interesting point, which basically sums up much of the discussion about SNS. She said that social tagging is about openess, letting go of the (vocabulary) control, its about emergence. While SNS are about constraints – constraining natural social interaction within a bounded space. So we need to think about the design of the site or context of design (what the site was originally intended for), and how the uses of the site differ from the context of design. Additionally, values are being build into software by designers of the systems. How do these values shape sociality?

Other people raised the following interesting quetions:

  • Why are SNS sites closed off? Why can’t you add a MySpace friend to Facebook?
  • What is the nature of the artifacts created by SNS?
  • What is the definition of an SNS site? What does it look like?
  • How are people exploring identities in these communities?
  • How do expectations differ from online/offline communities? What are the costs?

We also spoke a great deal about the social tensions that arise from the design of the sites, such as the “Top 8” on MySpace, as well as the very ambiguous use of the word “friend” to describe connections. Social connections in real life are much more subtle and mutli-dimensional than the explicit, flat-space of SNS sites, how can the sites be designed to reflect that? Can the subtle differences be reflected at all? Should they even be? What does this mean for a person’s identity formation?

Fred also had an incredibly interesting insight: When we create profiles on SNS sites, are we actually tagging ourselves? (I am still chewing on this one, its mind blowing!)

Alice Marwick and I spoke about the fact that there hasn’t been much research done on the emotional/affective aspects of the SNS sites. The sites do create a great deal of social tension and emotional responses, and research (ethnographic of course) needs to be conducted to understand this very important link for people to SNS.

Also, I would like to mention something that myself and Fred talked about briefly, which is the tension between the commercial aspects of the SNS sites and the users. The site developers can implement or restrict any type of interaction, however their entire business model depends on user-generated content, so then there is perhaps a tension between what the developers think the users want and the actual user needs. This was exemplified by the Facebook news-feeds which upset many users of the systems. This type of tension is also exemplary of the work that I have recently been doing on activism, my adviser Dr. Leah Lievrouw calls it the cycle of co-opation. The users create the content that makes the site valuable, the corporations co-opt it (buy it) and perhaps modify it, the users en masse co-opt the system to fight against the corporate agenda.

Finally, I think the one aspect that we did not talk about at the meeting was a theoretical framework for researching the social sites. I personally feel that social construction and social epistemology would be a good start. I will certainly try to further (start?) the theoretical discussion through my academic work/publications (which I will be writing during my winter break).

Thanks again to Fred for a fantastic meeting!

There were several really great articles today in the New Scientists talking about social networking sites, as well as a nifty short story. I would recommend this read to anyone interested in the topic. Here are the articles as listed on their website, they will be freely accessibly for one week:

This is your space – Discover how social networking evolved, how it works and how it is already revolutionising the way we live, socialise and work

The end of privacy? – You wouldn’t tell a stranger on the bus about your sexual habits, so why do people reveal this stuff on websites available to everyone? Will their openness return to haunt them?

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Google – A short story by Bruce Sterling

The internet could be so much better – Social networking websites like MySpace or YouTube owe everything to the genius of Ted Nelson, who invented hypertext in the 1960s

Give it a try – Feeling left out of the social networking revolution? There are many ways you can get involved, so take a look

Here is an article that describes how employers look up information on undergraduates on social networking sites. I guess data on Facebook is not as private as some undergraduates believe. However, it makes me question how ethical it is for employers to go "snooping" around on people, and then not hire them because of their personal lives which have no reflection on their professional abilities. If the private lives of many employees were investigated, I am sure lots of unsavory information could be uncovered. Perhaps the fact that this information is "public" or at least semi-public, the employers feel justified in looking around for it.

Then again, the Pentagon has begun data mining the sites as well. Lovely. As if phone surveillance was not enough.

It’s an interview that discusses the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). Its very interesting:

Title: Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?

This personal essay speaks about the differences between Friendster and MySpace. “If you want to understand the differences, you need to understand the history, the decisions that were made, and how these decisions affected practice.”

I am going to be attending the Annual Sunbelt Social Networking Conference this year from April 25-30. Its in Vancouver this year, so I get to visit someplace new :) Here is my abstract:

The World Wide Web is filled with unreliable information, unscrupulous merchants, and malicious attacks. As a response, an increasing number of commercial websites have set up reputation systems in order to aid customers in evaluating products and services, as well as increase trust in the company. This paper proposes that we leverage an individual’s social network to extend beyond localized and branded reputation systems in the evaluation of website authenticity and reliability. This paper will present historical data from early print culture to demonstrate that people have formerly relied on social networks to negotiate saturated and uncertain information environments. Unreliable information was evaluated through the transfer of trust inherent in personal networks to entities outside of the network. Furthermore, current research findings indicate that individuals continue to rely on trust transfer via social networks for information evaluation in complex environments such as the Internet. Drawing on historical experience, this paper will discuss how social networks can be leveraged to create a more trustworthy and reliable environment in the new print medium, the Internet.

Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

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