Social Media Web

Guest Blog #1

Originally posted at Many-to-Many, now archived at Wayback Machine

Software developers have traditionally used one phrase when testing text output in a new programming environment — “Hello, World!” We need to devise a new form of “Hello World” when testing unfamiliar weblogging software because every weblog post we write is a form of “Hello World!” Our words are recorded and literally thrown out, bounced against the aether, hanging brightly on the page like lures to little fishies. Except the little fishies are people like me, and you. Come here fishy, fishy, fishy.

I wrote once, long ago, that sometimes you have to stop in the middle of writing a weblog post and realize exactly what you’re doing: You’re writing into this void, hoping that someone wanders by and is interested enough to stop and read what you’re saying. It’s equivalent to being in a big room full of walls, and you’re shouting at the walls and faintly you hear other people shout at their walls and every once in a while, someone hears you crying out “Hello? Hello?” and answers back. Contact!

“Hello? World? Is that you?” “Yes! Yes! I hear you! “By the way, your taste in poetry really sucks. Did you know?”

What a unique out of body experience. You can take the voice out of the body, but you can’t teach it manners.

I guess this writing, this post (a word I dislike) is my equivalent of a weblogging “Hello, World!” — a rambling, disjointed shout out on nothing in particular into the threaded void. A tap at your monitor to let you know I’m in the neighborhood and tomorrow, I’ll be by with something useful. Or not.

Social Media

Social software: Mr. Rogers’ Evil Twin

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

We’ve had problems this week trying to manage Renaissance Web discussions at Yahoo Groups. It would sometimes take hours for a reply to post, which tends to short circuit a lively discussion.

Roger Benningfield set up a JournURL Renaissance Web community and I’ve been playing around with it this morning. One very impressive community discussion forum! What I particularly like is how one can attach URLs, keywords, and annotation to each discussion item, making them more accessible with intelligent searching.

Roger has also incorporated one very interesting feature: Hot Issues. With this, if a discussion thread gets too heated, moderators can snip the thread and move it to Hot Issues for continuation. According to Roger:


I don’t believe in fighting flames with deletion, moderation, or
banning. If you’ve got a capable forum app, you don’t need that kind
of thing. My approach is to watch a discussion, and when it gets
heated, snip off the relevant thread and move it to a “Hot Issues”
section where it can proceed unabated. Arguments may get silly at
times, but trying to actively stifle them just keeps things
simmering forever. I’m a “get it out and over with” person.

So much of social software comes off sounding and acting like a badly wired Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. “Good behavior” is positively reinforced, while “bad behavior” is ignored or shunted aside, out of the light, like an unmade bed or a stack of dirty clothes. However, instead of promoting open discussion, this just results in more of the bland harmonization that is starting to typify so much of our online interactions.

Social software should adapt to all human behaviors — the good and the bad. Sometimes people get angry, and sometimes the greatest creativity can begin with this anger.

True, most likely anger just leads to more anger, and amazing feats of pettiness, but social software needs to provide the means of dealing with anger, and other so-called ‘bad’ human traits. It needs to conform to human behavior, not force artificial constraints on people’s behavior in order to conform to the software.

If a discussion gets heated, move it to a separate area, but don’t shut it down. That way, the people in the disagreement can continue, happily, angrily, and others don’t have to watch, or read.

(But what do you want to bet, others do watch, and do read. We love nothing more than to gawk at a car wreck in the making.)

I think Roger’s software is one of the most ‘socially aware’ examples of social software I’ve seen, and not because it uses lightspeed technology, or AI, or even RDF (horrors!). It’s because he’s done something I’ve seen few other social software people do — look and listen to the people who are going to use it.

Social software enthusiasts could learn from this, rather than persisting in creating a digital version of the New Age feel good self-centered hockiness that infested so much of the last few decades.

Not that I have strong opinions one way or another on this.

Social Media

Dripping with irony

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I have always wanted to use the phrase dripping with irony. It reminds me of a stack of fluffy pancakes, topped with melted butter and pure maple syrup. The soft, slightly salty slightly sweet golden butter meets and melds with the rich, woodsy syrup, flowing over the top of the stack and slowly dripping down the sides. One can’t help picking up a fork and digging in; it becomes a moral imperative.

Dripping with irony. Lovely phrase.

So I was incredibly thankful when I saw the photos from the invitation-only Social Software Summit held by Clay Shirkey. Photo after photo showing this homogeneous social gathering made up almost exclusively of white, educated, upper-middle or upper class, 30-50 year old males. Why, I bet they even come from the same areas of the United States — San Francisco, Boston, New York. Extraordinary.

Particularly when you read the writeup for the event:

CBIers Rudy Ruggles and Geoff Cohen will join approximately two-dozen shapers of the world of social software for this landmark event. As described by organizer Clay Shirky, “We are living in a golden age of social software. Only twice before have we had a period of such intense innovation in software used by interacting groups: once in the early 70s, with the invention of email itself, and again at the end of that decade with Usenet, the CB-Simulator (the precursor to irc), and MUDs. This is a third such era, with the spread of ‘writeable web’ software such as weblogs and wikis, and peer-to-peer tools such as Jabber and Groove greatly extending the ability of groups to self-organize.

“Every time social software improves, it is followed by changes in the way groups work and socialize. One consistently surprising aspect of social software is that it is impossible to predict in advance all of the social dynamics it will create. Recognizing this, the Social Software Summit seeks to bring together a small group of practitioners and theorists (~25) to share experiences in writing social software or thinking about its effects…The big bet behind the gathering is that if we get a bunch of smart people in a room and ask each other the questions we’ve been asking ourselves about building software for groups, Good Things will happen.”


Every time social software improves, it is followed by changes in the way groups work and socialize. Dripping with irony. Excuse me, but I have to go make some pancakes.

(Thanks to Scripting News for links.)