Friday, April 3, 2009

Screw Hitchhiking. I'm goin Twitchhiking!

For my last post on this blog I felt that this article was suiting. It’s about a man named Paul Smith who calls himself the Twitchhiker. He made it all of the way from the UK to New Zealand in under thirty days by only relying on travel and boarding donations from his Twitter network. He amassed over 5 000 pounds from this network. This idea of Twitchhiking is such a perfect amalgamation of so much of what we have learned in class. Quoting Smith,

The Twitchhiker project showed that kindness is universal, that the whole can be infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, and that social media may begin online but it will converge with the real world whenever and wherever you let it.

In just one quote Smith sums up three key theories to an understanding of citizen media. His project showed how collective intelligence, when acting with kindness, can be a great utility. Each participant contributes a small part to the whole in goodwill - it’s why Wikipedia works so well. He is the first example, aside from news and marketing agencies, of someone who willingly set out to harness the collective intelligence of Twitter towards an end goal.

His journey was only possible due to Twitter’s cross platform performance. Instead of having to hulk around a laptop in every step of the journey, Twitter donations could be received on the fly through his cell-phone. Not only do several different technologies converge to make his trip possible, but also the real world with the virtual world merge. He used Twitter to bring about real-world change.

This of course, brings hope to hitchhikers around the world. No more sore thumbs, creepy drivers and walking down a lonely road in the rain. All you need is a cell phone and a Twitter account and you can get a ride to anywhere. You are always connected to a collective of people who are willing to help you. Asking for help has never been so easy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monetizing Social Media

I came across this article the other day that talked asked people who they thought would be the first social media site to monetize. From looking at the poll and reading the comments, the results were rather varied. But one result did surprise me: the fact that the post, the poll, nor the comments even once mentioned that these sites shouldn't monetize. It seems there's an underlying assumption within the social media sphere, that to be a successful social media hub one must turn massive user participation into money. Even while writing this blog I look up and there's a tab called "monetize." This sits uneasy with me. Firstly, I tend to lean towards a utopic cyberculture perspective in which the internet is run free from corporate control. I think this is especially important because corporate control can lead to censorship. Have we not learned anything from the concentration of corporate control in the traditional mass media? Secondly, I feel that even if these sites do monetize, there will always exist a free alternative for people who don’t feel they need to pay for such services. The open -source movement has always been about internet with control; it’s likely that they would immediately start creating free alternatives. So I ask you, would you pay to use Facebook? Twitter? MySpace?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Kickflipping Media Convergence

This week in class we’ll be talking about media convergence, but my mind keeps thinking back to the whole idea of infrastructure in social media.

One of the ideas behind media convergence is that we will be using “all kinds of media in relation to one another.” This is very easy to see happening with electronics. For example, many of us watch our TV shows on our computer. Things like torrents and streaming video sites like Hulu have allowed us to watch our favourite shows online rather than on the Television itself. Or take texting - you can send me an e-mail or Facebook message that will be sent to my phone. These examples lend us the appearance that media convergence is an upward progression, that new forms of communication are built upon the infrastructure of old forms.

Another result of media convergence is that information gathering is becoming increasingly personalized. In fact, personalization is essential to successful online information sources. Not only does the nature of the web (instant access and hyperlinks to an endless amount of information) allow us to easily jump to and from any topic of potential interest, but websites are now allowing increasing control of content. On sites like Digg and Facebook you can customize what information you see and on news-sites like New York Times you can subscribe to individual sections’ RSS feeds. You can even subscribe to Google News and aggregate individualized news into one simple and clean page.

Time magazine have realized that news-gathering is becoming increasingly more personalized and in doing so are flipping on its head the idea that media convergence is an upward progression. They’re taking an idea born out of the collision between information gathering and the nature of the web (RSS Feeds) and applying it to an older form of communication...nay, an older medium - the medium of print.

Thus far, personalized news has been limited to the Internet, but Time Inc. is bringing it to the printed word with mine, a five-issue, 10-week, experimental magazine that allows readers to select five Time Warner/American Express Co. magazines that Time editors will combine into a personalized magazine with 56 possible combinations.

I’m torn between thinking that the nature of old-mass media - the top down distribution of information - is essentially conducive to print, thus rendering Time’s experiment futile, and thinking that this idea of customizable information, since the “natives” of the digital age have adapted to it, will find its way into print communication. Traditional mass-media sources have already adapted to the personalization approach; maybe they’ll take their success with customization approaches and apply it back to the mediums of communication that predate the internet. Just look at the success of TiVO and it’s hard not to see how this won’t become the norm.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Facebook the New Twitter? Nawwwww

There was a presentation last week in class on the infrastructure behind social media. I found this article rather suiting as it indirectly focused on the infrastructures behind Twitter and Facebook. As many of you have noticed, Facebook made some changes to their home page. These changes aren’t just visual - much has to do with their function. These changes are,

“meant to change how Facebook users share and follow information, creating a new home page that will show users what their networks have been up to and make those exchanges more current -- news-feeds will now update in near real time, vs. every 10 minutes.”

Wow. Talk about trying to mimic Twitter. As it turns out, this exactly what they’re trying to do, and no wonder, since news about Twitter has been abuzz lately.

“The moves are a "concerted response to the rise of Twitter as a real-time message broadcasting system that goes beyond members' personal circle of friends," wrote Erick Schonfeld on TechCrunch. "Facebook doesn't want Twitter to become the way large companies and public figures connect to fans."”

So the question is:

Will it work?

Firstly, I think anything that Facebook changes to real-time will be of benefit to them. The internet has always been about immediacy, and just as the universe will always expand, the net will get faster and faster. Social media has followed a similar pattern. If one accepts this claim then it follows that what Facebook did was adhere to a most basic function of the internet.

Although Facebook has made their site more functional by coming close to capturing the purpose of Twitter, I don’t think it will do significant harm to Twitter. The Infrastructure of Twitter is built upon a very simple notion - sharing what you’re doing with others. A result of this sharing of activity comes the sharing of self with others. Facebook, on the other hand, is firstly about sharing yourself - what you’re doing comes as a result of this. If Facebook aims to capture Twitter’s audience then I think they might be jeopardizing the focus of their site.

For example, Facebook is centralized on the internet, while Twitter expands over other mediums. Although Facebook allows people access from smart phones, Twitter can work on even the most basic phones, as its all about the 140 line question "what are you doing." Because of this, Twitter never needs to be compressed. Facebook always loses value as it shrinks to smaller mediums.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Content Analysis of Hackbloc

Upon hearing that our class had to visit Hackbloc and analyze it within the framework of social media, I took a few hours to not only look at the site itself, but also the sites it linked to. By looking at what other websites, organizations, and movements that Hackbloc supports, we can gain a good understanding of where their interests lie. First I want to give a brief description of Hackbloc from my initial observations and then use Pierre Levy’s six planks of hacker ethic as a springboard into talking about Hackbloc and the sites it links to.

By brief description I mean brief description. On Hackbloc they’re definitely not “just” hackers or just “technophiles;” they actively pursue, participate in, and disseminate information revolving around Hacktivism, which is described by Wikipedia as electronic direct action working toward social change by combining programming skills with critical thinking.

Pierre Levy’s “six planks of hacker ethic.”

1. Access to computers should be unlimited:
Although I don’t see this explicitly stated on the site, everything else they strive to promote could not be done unless computers were commonplace. In fact, this first plank of hacker ethic is outdated. Information is not only accessed through computers but all types of mobile communication devices. The real world political action tool they employ, entitled Tapatio, relies on members to use mobile devices to provide instant feedback and reports. Also, their underlying support for the open source movement is no doubt driven by this ideal.

2. All Information should be free:
They see the internet as the beacon of free information for all. This is why they actively condemn any form of censorship or control on the internet and actually help develop tools and programs so that people can keep their internet secure, private, and open to all information. The fact that they support the open source movement, on the grounds that open source software is free, solidifies their conformity to this plank of hacker ethic.

3. Mistrust authorities and promote decentralization:
One only has to look at three of the points on their “points of unity” to see their support for this goal.
- Reject all forms of domination and oppression.
- Actively confront censorship and oppression whether it occurs online or in the physical world.
- Engage in creative and traditional direct action to advance struggles for liberation.

They even state that part of their mission is to “ research, create and disseminate information, tools, and tactics that empower people to use technology in a way that is liberating.”
As you can see, the word liberation appears often on the site, as does anarchy.

4. Hackers should be judged by own prowess rather than formal organization:
As this applies specifically to “hacking” it doesn’t appear much on the site. However, while reading through several weeks of their blog posts I saw several posts that gave “hacker cred” to people who had broken into servers. The nature of a group they support, and likely participate in, called Anonymous is specifically about no “formal organization” - everyone remains completely anonymous. I wonder if there emerges an ethical dilemma among Anonymous members who want “hacker cred” for what they accomplished under the banner of Anonymous. On the one hand they support Anonymous because it emphasises security from authorities, while on the other hand much of why they enjoy hacking in the first place is for “hacker cred.”

5. One can create art and beauty on a computer:
No where on the site did I find an example of this, no matter how far I expanded the definition. In fact, judging by the design of the site I don’t think they tend to care much about art in its traditional sense. Maybe beauty is just code and I am only looking at what is on the surface of this code.

6. Computers can change lives for the better:
Again, the use of only the term computers renders this plank rather outdated, but its message still remains. I think it can be updated to say something more along the lines of "technology can change lives for the better."

In Hackbloc’s mission it states that they want to “empower people to use technology in a way that is liberating.” Everything they support from anarchy to open source software suggests that not only do most things they participate in revolve around the use of technology, but if it doesn’t they find a way to use technology to achieve their goals. For example, the support for Anarchy isn’t necessarily relegated to people who believe that technology can change the world, but Hackbloc goes ahead in promoting it - partly due to the dialectic between freedom of information and anarchy - through the use of hacking and coding, and using both to form real-life activism.

Not stemming from early hacker culture, I found several other more modern hacktivist minded views on the site.

For one, they’re nerdy/geeky. Although hackers could be said to be this to begin with, Hackbloc takes it to the next level by sharing links to sites like i09 which writes mostly about science fiction and nerd culture. There is a large subculture online that shares interests in technology, science fiction, and progressivism. This subculture dominates sites like Digg and Reddit, and Hacktivism is definitely a subculture of this subculture.

Progressivism is dominate on Hackbloc as well, which is echoed in their cosmopolitan, anti-racist, anti-xenophobic, anti-nationalist, anti-homophobic points of unity.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wild Wild Facebook

It has been a crazy week in the world of Facebook. First they release a new Terms of Service only to switch back to the old TOS after they faced a barrage of criticism over them. Then a story broke about how the relatives of dead people aren’t allowed to have their dead relatives Facebook profiles taken down. After being sent an e-mail regarding the removal of a dead person’s page, the privacy department of Facebook responded,

“Per our policy for deceased users, we have memorialized this person's account. This removes certain more sensitive information and sets privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or find the person in search. The Wall remains so that friends and family can leave posts in remembrance.”

Although I agree with the policy and think that, in most cases, it is generally good - friends can grieve by posting on the wall, the profile acts as an account of their life that will live on for friends and family to see - it’s the insensitivity of Facebook that makes a chill run down my spine. No matter the privacy statement, never is it completely all encompassing. In such a situation like this, when a relative can’t view the page because they are not yet friends and when the daughters don’t like having to look at a thumbnail picture of their dead father, Facebook should circumvent their default regulations and bring a little humanity back to a world awash with faceless corporations.

I think this particular situation is only the spear-point of a general trend towards internet sites becoming so awash with problems because of their size and their importance to the daily lives of so many people that they have to refer to corporate default positions that lack even a flicker of humanity.

My thoughts are echoed over at TechCrunch on an article about the recent Facebook TOS controversy.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

is thinking about a title about status updates

As I stumbled this afternoon I came across this interesting piece from Mark Hendrickson over at TechCrunch. He attempts to dismantle the claim that Facebook is trying to stomp out Twitter - which has come to light recently in a few other blog-posts (here and here) after Facebook made changes to further open up their platform for third-party applications. His argument is as follows:

“Facebook fails to challenge Twitter with this new platform upgrade because the two companies ultimately serve substantially different behavioral paradigms.”

A very interesting proposition, he premises this with:

“While Twitter and Facebook prompt users with eerily similar questions — Twitter asks “What are you doing?” and Facebook asks “What are you doing right now?” — their users don’t answer in the same way. By and large, Facebook users answer the question more faithfully than Twitter users. They actually provide information about what they’re currently doing,..Meanwhile, Twitter users have (by and large) decided to ignore the questioned posed for them. Instead of using the service to post real status updates — i.e. descriptions of what they’re currently doing — they use it as a public broadcasting system of sorts. It’s an efficient way for them to send out thought trinkets to an often ambiguous crowd of friends and strangers.”

From what I’ve experienced on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve come across the opposite. Both Twitter and Facebook users use the update system to post trinkets of thought more often than what they’re doing. In fact, I’ve noticed people on Twitter tweeting about what they’re currently doing more than about what’s on their mind. Now my argument is only from personal experience, but so is Hendrickson’s. Without any statistics both of our arguments have the same truth claims. So I present to you my friend’s Facebook Status’s for the past 2 hours:

is job hunting tomorrow... whatever, i didn't like it
is little wayneee little waynee little waynneeeeee.
had an amazing weekend. cannot wait for reading week!
dosen't like calculus right now.
burned 12 wheelbarrows of leaves today... and only 30% of the yard done. Whew!
Damn you Google Chrome for being such a RAM whore...we had so much potential.
is blink.
Radiohead definitely in my top 5 bands of all time. Yup!
is sleeping way too much.
is lovin the strep throat. nahht.
apparently needs to be more depressed. what? ahaha.
is listening to PandaBass in the mix.
is on a boat motherfucker and don't you forget.
is playing madden 09...of course lol.
is excited she doesn't have to smell french fries until friday. good times.
is glad there's someone constantly pushing and challenging me to be better. It's more work, but I'm better for it . )
___...No Matter What, Die Trying...___.
keeps falling down.
very impressed with Chancellor Merkel, for once.
is performing an exorcism on his dog at midnight.
There is no substance to this content.
¨her biggest strength is her lack of weakness¨ ahhahaaha...
wishes he were home with family.
is spending forever making this one stupid handout. That's my great idea for you...
is waiting for GE to come over, and is then working from 10-12! lame!

I counted 11 updates about what the person is doing, did, or will do, and I counted 13 updates that were just thoughts or quotes.

From this small and rather insignificant study we can see that the ratio between updating about what one is doing and updating about what one is thinking is similar, if not almost exact.

But I’m still slightly right about seeing more updates about what people are thinking : )