Recently in Social Networks Category

Where are your Facebook privacy settings?

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Just in case you have lost track of where all Facebook's privacy settings are hidden, the New York Times has crated an awesome infographic to shows just how well they are squirrelled away in different corners of the site. It illustrates beautifully just how difficult it has become to manage your privacy in Facebook, showing all 50 settings - which have over 170 options - spread over 10 different pages. Apparently, the company has had an emergency company-wide meeting to discuss the problem. Fingers crossed that some common sense prevails.

Is Facebook dying under the weight of its own complexity?

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I've never been a big fan of Facebook, not just because of their cavalier attitude towards their members' privacy, but also because the UI stinks. Thomas Baekdal takes a detailed and interesting look at the reason he thinks Facebook is dying. Some key excerpts:

Facebook is really big, it has a ton of features. But, it is also turning into the worst case of complexity overload the web has seen in years. There are so many inconsistencies that it is hard to believe - or even to keep track of.

And:

On top of the complexity and inconsistencies, we have a growing problem of privacy issues. Facebook has a long track record of ignoring people's privacy. As I wrote in "The First Rule of Privacy"; You are the only one, who can decide what you want to share. Facebook cannot decide that, nor can anyone else.

But, Facebook seems oblivious to this simple principle, and have started sharing personal information with 3rd party "partners" - continuing a long line of really bad decisions when it comes to privacy.

If you are on Facebook with a personal profile this is a must read. If you're on it for business reasons, you might want to read it even more closely and pay particular attention to the various privacy changes Facebook have made. And on that note, the EFF has some great advice and information about Facebook's now very confusing privacy settings and interface changes.

LinkedIn gets a little bit more social

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LinkedIn is one of those tools that I almost always showcase in my social media workshops and which often makes an appearance in the strategies I write. It's a tool that, used cleverly, can go well beyond simply allowing people to build a professional network and can help businesses form relationships too. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn has always had a bit of an old-school feel to it, which is not in itself a bad thing, but it's good to see them now providing more sophisticated functionality around sharing news items. This video explains all:

(Via Adam Tinworth)

Designing for real world social networks

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Paul Adams has a great post on how our social networks are comprised of a vast variety of people, but we mainly restrict our interactions to people we already know. Yet most social tools fail to treat these groups - our intimates and our acquaintances - differently. Paul then splits our relationships out into three types:

  • Strong ties: People we care deeply about.
  • Weak ties: People we are loosely connected to, like friends of friends.
  • Temporary ties: People we don't know, and interact with temporarily.

and goes on to examine what these groups mean for social interaction design. These insights are just as relevant to business social networks as personal ones, yet I'd wager most people designing internal tools aren't thinking in this much detail about the types of networks they are designing for.

Anyway, this is a really interesting post and well worth reading.

(Via Joshua Porter.)

Collecting behaviours

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Christian Crumlish write a too-brief post on tags as collecting behaviour and says:

Tagging and other forms of collecting are also an example of social design patterns that mimic game dynamics. Collecting objects is a core "easy fun" activity in many games, and similarly these extremely lightweight social interactions around gathering or tagging objects enable a form of self-interested behavior that creates aggregate value and potentially richer forms of engagement.

Tagging is one of those incredibly flexible ideas that can be implemented in a multitude of ways and contexts. What innovative uses of tagging and collecting behavoiurs in enterprise are you witnessing?

How Twitter makes us more productive

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Brendan Koerner writes over at Wired about How Twitter and Facebook Make Us More Productive. He says:

Last year, Nucleus Research warned that Facebook shaves 1.5 percent off total office productivity; a Morse survey estimated that on-the-job social networking costs British companies $2.2 billion a year.

But for knowledge workers charged with transforming ideas into products -- whether gadgets, code, or even Wired articles -- goofing off isn't the enemy. In fact, regularly stepping back from the project at hand can be essential to success. And social networks are particularly well suited to stoking the creative mind.

Brendan makes the point that surveys like Nucleus Research's or Morse's, assume that all Twitter/Facebook activity is wasted, but in reality it is not. He then goes on to discuss the human creative process, highlighting the "need periodic breaks to relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform -- pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking."

Regular breaks, it turns out, are important for our brains to process information and the "conceptual collisions" that occur when we see nuggets of unrelated information can prompt us to make mental connections that we otherwise would not have. Twitter and Facebook are, of course, great at exposing us to unexpected information.

I'd add two more points to explain why Twitter, used well, isn't a de facto waste of time:

Firstly, Twitter is amenable to sporadic checking, which means that users can check Twitter in otherwise dead moments, e.g. waiting for a web page to load, a file to save or a phone to be answered. Quite often I check Twitter whilst I'm waiting for my computer to do something else. What else would I do with that time? Stare at my screen and wait. So net win on the time saving there.

Secondly, Twitter saves me time by connecting me to people who have answers to my questions, including some questions I didn't know I needed to ask. I get a lot of ideas for blog posts from links that my friends post to Twitter, for example. I also often get my answers from Twitter faster than Google can manage and those answers are often higher quality and contain insight Google just can't provide.

These productivity research companies really do need to get a clue when it comes to Twitter and produce something a bit more nuanced and less scaremongery!

Social network overload?

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Are we getting swamped by social media? David Armano thinks so. I think that it's a little bit more complicated than just trying to amp up the signal in the noise and has to do with a whole bunch of issues involved in, well, just being human:

1. We're all interested in status
Actually, we're all obsessed with status whether we realise it or not. Social networks make status explicit in some way, or at least they seem to. Number of followers on Twitter is a very bad proxy for our status within the different communities we inhabit, yet we can't stop our status-obsessed brains from over-interpreting it.

2. We're all interested in success
Status and success are two sides of the same coin: If you have success you probably also have status, although it very much depends on your definitions of success and whether others share them. We often don't define success and can't recognise it when it happens, so we use apparent status as a proxy for it. If you believe that in order to prove to yourself that you are successful you also need to have high status within your community, and your community is online, then you're looking for high status there too... which means you're looking at numbers which are a proxy for a proxy. Great stuff!

3. Phatic communication is as important as informational communication
Social media makes a lot of phatic communications, i.e. that stuff you say to show the world you're not dead yet, explicit whereas we are used to them being almost unnoticeable. Those little grunts, sighs and snarfles you normally make to tell the people around you, "I'm still here" become "Making a cup of tea" on Twitter. Because we're use to the written word containing useful information we get frustrated when it contains phatic information and fail to realise just how very useful that info actually is.

4. We're completists
We evolved in a world where it was possible to know everything everyone else knew: Where to hunt, where to gather, how to cook, who's in charge. Now there is so much information in the world that we can barely learn a tiny fraction of it, yet it feels like somehow we ought to know it all. Our dopamine system rewards us for seeking and there's no end to what we can find. There is no end to the internet, so the seeking just goes on and on and on.

5. We're stretching our wetware
Armano is right that we're using tools that allow us to shatter Dunbar's Number into tiny bits, and this is causing us some problems because we are trying to treat everyone as 'friends', instead of accepting that some people are closer than others. In actual fact, then number of close friends we maintain remains at around ten, or less. It's the number of acquaintances that's booming, and we're not quite sure what the social etiquette is for our interactions with all these people we my well like but barely know.

This is problematic, to be sure. The technology is evolving faster than we are figuring out how it fits into our social natures. Manners and etiquette vary wildly between communities and society has not settled on a common ruleset. But I think a few simple guidelines can help us all:

  1. Don't try to be everywhere
  2. Don't try to know everyone
  3. Feel free to ignore content and people
  4. Don't be offended if someone ignores you or what you write
  5. Accept that your brain is not the size of a planet and you can't know everything. Yet.

Of course, all bets are off once the Singularity occurs.

Listening - Connecting - Publishing

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Chris Brogan talks about a handy framework upon which to build your social media strategy:

There are three main areas of practice for social media that your company (or you) should be thinking about: listening, connecting, publishing. From these three areas, you can build out your usage of the tools, thread your information networks to feed and be fed, and align your resources for execution. There are many varied strategies you can execute using these toolsets. There are many different tools you can consider employing for your efforts. But that's the basic structure: listening, connecting, publishing.

This framework is ostensibly about external social media usage, but these concepts are just as important internally:

  • Listen to what staff what and need, and allow staff to listen to each other
  • Provide meaningful ways for staff to connect with each other
  • Allow staff to publish information in a way that makes sense to them

Does it work that way in your company?

Does your personality influence how you use the web?

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The British Psychological Society blog highlights recent research by Leman Tosun and Timo Lajunen (requires login) into personality type and internet usage:

Using Eysenck's classic personality test, Tosun and Lajunen found that students who scored high on extraversion (agreeing with statements like 'I am very talkative') tended to use the Internet to extend their real-life relationships, whereas students who scored high on psychoticism (answering 'yes' to statements like 'does your mood often go up and down?' and 'do you like movie scenes involving violence and torture?') tended to use the Internet as a substitute for face-to-face relationships. Students who scored high on psychoticism were also likely to say that they found it easier to reveal their true selves online than face-to-face. The personality subscale of neuroticism (indicated by 'yes' answers to items like 'Do things often seem hopeless to you?) was not associated with styles of Internet use.

'Our data suggest that global personality traits may explain social Internet use to some extent,' the researchers concluded. 'In future studies, a more detailed index of social motives can be used to better understand the relation between personality and Internet use.'

I wonder how long it will take for companies that use psychometric testing to add an additional "internet user type" section...

Asymmetry: The problem with social networks

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Clive Thompson writes on his blog (and in Wired) about how social networks such as Twitter become dysfunctional when the network gets too big and, as a result, too lopsided:

When you go from having a few hundred Twitter followers to ten thousand, something unexpected happens: Social networking starts to break down.

This is a point I've been making for a long time, not really from personal experience but from observing various friends who have very high follower counts. Clive goes on:

Technically speaking, online social-networking tools ought to be great at fostering these sorts of clusters. Blogs and Twitter and Facebook are, as Internet guru John Battelle puts it, "conversational media." But when the conversation gets big enough, it shuts down. Not only do audiences feel estranged, the participants also start self-censoring. People who suddenly find themselves with really huge audiences often start writing more cautiously, like politicians.

When it comes to microfame, the worst place to be is in the middle of the pack. If someone's got 1.5 million followers on Twitter, they're one of the rare and straightforwardly famous folks online. Like a digital Oprah, they enjoy a massive audience that might even generate revenue. There's no pretense of intimacy with their audience, so there's no conversation to spoil. Meanwhile, if you have a hundred followers, you're clearly just chatting with pals. It's the middle ground -- when someone amasses, say, tens of thousands of followers -- where the social contract of social media becomes murky.

'Microfame' is a term I first heard used by Danny O'Brien at OpenTech 2005 in his keynote, Living Life in Public (available from the UKUUG site, embed coming soon!).

This was in an era before Twitter, before Facebook opened up to the world, when most people became 'internet famous' through their blog. But becoming 'microfamous' puts people at the centre of an uncomfortable social dynamic. As Danny said:

There are people out there who know something about you, but you have relatively little knowledge about them.

This becomes problematic because the microfamous rarely have the resources that the truly famous do to protect their privacy. But more importantly, it creates a disconnect, an unbalanced power relationship that we don't really have the societal experience to understand. Knowledge is, after all, power.

This relationship asymmetry has been amplified by Twitter especially. Twitter is a very good example of how poorly we understand these dynamics and how the tools that we create and use are not designed to take the microfame effect into account.

It's appears that there are a number of stages in the growing asymmetry of one's Twitter network. The first is when the majority of @ messages you receive come from people you don't know. That happened a while ago for me, probably at around the 2000 follower mark. Then @ messages from people you know get swamped by @ messages from people you don't. Finally, the @ messages to every last thing you say flood in, killing your ability to have a conversation with anyone and making it impossible to build connections.

I've not experienced those last two stages, but I've seen it happen to friends and it's not pretty. It puts them in a difficult position where the people @ing them feel put out that they don't get a personal reply, but the amount of time it would take to read and respond to every @ makes it extremely difficult.

This is the eternal problem of social networks. In order to be financially successful, social networks need to grow large. But in order to be socially successful, they need to stay small. Seemic was a good example of this. In the early days, it felt like a small, intimate community where one could upload a video and have a real conversation around it. As it grew, the conversational seeds, those first video uploads that broached a new subject, became so numerous that it was hard to find one's own, let alone the responses to it. In fact, it became so time-consuming to participate I had to give up.

With Twitter, the problem is just as much about the tools as the network itself. Twitter clients tend to be designed for people with small networks and don't deal well with asymmetry. Most tools, for example, have two ways to show @ messages: you can see @s from your friends in your timeline or see all @ messages lumped together, regardless of who they came from.

I've yet to see a tool (although clearly I've not used all Twitter clients) that gave you a third choice, to see all @s from people that you follow in a separate view. That would at least allow the Twitterer to focus on maintaining relationships with the people they have chosen to follow, whilst facilitating a dip into the faster-flowing stream of @s from the rest of Twitter whenever they wanted.

It might be tempting to dismiss this problem as one that only the cool kids suffer from, but that would be to miss the wider point. In some situations, creating small trusted networks with variably-permeable boundaries is key to creating a sustainable broader network. This is particularly of collaboration spaces, where you want to invite only key people to work with you, although that group may change from project to project.

(Now, you may think that Facebook achieves this, but it doesn't. It gives one the sense of being in a small sub-community without actually delivering on that promise - the boundaries are far too porous, and their porosity is not entirely under your control.)

We need to do a lot more thinking about this problem. It's relevant in a whole host of context - hot-desking enterprise, for example - and most social networks focus on creating broad opportunities for interaction without considering how to let people create natural boundaries where they feel comfortable.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Social Networks category.

Social Bookmarking is the previous category.

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