Saturday, April 18, 2009

Community 2.0 beta

What follows was originally going to be a response to this post, but it went beyond polite comment length. A snippet of Matthew Heusser's post and my thought afterwards:

"What I'm wondering is - can we use these new social media tools - facebook, (cough) myspace, twitter, instant messanger and so on - to pull together in the way that families did in the 1930's? And what would that look like, exactly?"

IMHO, modernity is aiding a kind of isolationist brand of communication that placates to our 'right' to convenience.

The family nuclear may be embroiled in a kind of diaspora, but I think the idea of community is still alive and well. What I am skeptical of, however, is the quality of community these tools create around us. If all I listen to is what Pandora thinks I like, I end up with a pretty boring selection of songs.

I also am concerned about the means by which we engage in community. To me, technology is springing up to solve a problem we created for ourselves, which really is no solution at all. The irony of me saying this while commenting on a blog for someone I've never met - is not lost on me.

Community costs us. It costs time. It costs our dreams. It costs our entitlement. It suffers when we soak in myopicism. We can expedite the salutations and introductions, but we will not create something that can profoundly affect us (and others) as it should.


Matthew said...

I assume you meant commenting on my blog. Didn't we meet at BarCamp Grand Rapids in 2007? Or do I have the wrong Zach?

Thanks for the comments, man. It keeps us thinking.

In many ways, I see these social media tools as sort of autistic - or at least aspergers syndrome. You're either my friend or you aren't.

What about the guy who was sorta friends with my old ex-girlfriend? Or that guy I used to work with ten years ago? Vs my best friend from high school? Vs my next door neighbor? Vs my family?

In the "real world" I would expose more or less of my personal life to each of these people. But what do I do when they are either on or off?

There is /lots/ of room for social media to improve. Working for a social media company myself, I suspect that's a good thing. :-)


Zach Fisher said...


First, thank you for your thoughts. I've been pondering them since I read them in their original - and now commented - form. I really appreciate you taking time to extend your thoughts to me. You certainly did not have to do it, but you did, and for that I again say thank you!

Secondly, I did intentionally say I was commenting on your post because commenting on your blog, to me, would me commenting on the entirety of your blog. I felt that "post" spoke to the level of granularity that matched my intent the best. "How pompous of me to make a comment about the sum total of someone's thoughts," I thought to myself. Maybe this is a misappropriation of the term. If it is, I apologize for my turbid distinctions.

Now, the boolean "nature" you describe in your list of issues with current social media is something I learned about the hard way. One shouldn't post about ex-fiances and name names. I did. I retracted. I learned.

The internet is a big open field with lots of tools to help people yap with no easy tools to help preserve responsibility or share empathetically. I say "easy" tools because there are tools that can be used (user groups, people networks, etc.). These can be used to clumsily virtualize our community model, but these are a bit like painting the Mona Lisa with a paint roller; it can be done but with a lot of effort and questionable result.

To me, these boolean issues speak to the issue of privacy, which is a facet of a jewel called "quality community". And quality, again to me, is measured in the value it has with someone important. If our employers tell us that a particular feature set is ultimately not important, we shuffle our efforts to things that we clarify ARE more important. So under what context is new socaal media important? Is it important because it has never been done before?

I agree that new social media is in a kind of burgeoning phase, one where it hasn't quite measured up to the intuitive interface that is real human interaction. Further, I realize human interaction can be difficult to some - you mention aspergers syndrome and autism. In that context, these can be wonderful tools for expression and interaction. But for those for whom interaction is presumably not a problem, then what IS the problem that creates the need to use them? Distance. Ok, I'll buy that. Convenience? Not so fast. We make serious error when we seek to find ways of minimizing the effort it takes to deal with people in a personal context. We exchange clarity for ambiguity. We trade body language for emoticon. These are not 1-to-1 mappings in my opinion.

I say all of this sitting atop mounds of comments and posts on Facebook with people I don't have access to normally. And in a way, a kind of community has formed. But I'll be honest: there's not a lot of substance to it. I have found ways to pray for others as I've observed their need...that's good, I think. I'm trying not to be ALL black-and-white with it.

Like McLuhan said, We shape our tool and thereafter they shape us. I am increasingly resistant to the shaping I am observing around me.

What have you observed from where you see it?

Matthew said...

hey man, send me your email address and possibly we can chat or skype more about this and/or the "data is not information" quote.

The simplest example of this is an example I use in my IS-171 class. I give them a chart with a bunch of numbers - some big, some small, some negative. It's data. You can't really grok it.

Then I show the headers - one is a number of troops, one is the date, one is the temperature - it turns out it's what happened to napolean's army in the retreat from moscow. This is information.

But it's still not very meaningful. So I show them the chart that Tufte popularized, that shows the location on a map, and the size of the force at a time by the thickness of the lines, with the date and temperature -- uh, this one:

In the information visualization literature, it's considered a classic.

The full quote is from Frank Zappa, and also includes:

"Wisdom is not Truth, Truth is not Beauty" Zappa would add "Beauty is not music, and music is ... everything!" We've adapted the quote for the discipline of information systems, but I suspect he got the end of the quote wrong. But who's the author of music? :-)

We talk a good deal in the class about how the role of an information system is to provide information for decision makers, and how summarizing, analyzing, and synthesizing data can be a valuable service.

Sound anything like software testing?