From WIRED – Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter

November 9, 2009

Read this article in the print version (!) of WIRED. Excellent article about how Twitter’s creators deliberately let users define a medium and technology with great results. My favorite quote that sums up the article:

“Essentially, Twitter left a ball and a stick in a field and lurked on the sidelines as its users invented baseball.”

Article here:


“Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” by Clay Shirky

November 2, 2009

Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations

Clay Shirky opens the book with a long, detailed, and hilariously entertaining anecdote, “It takes a village to find a phone,” about the “StolenSidekick” story of late 2006. In short, a woman loses a phone in a New York City taxicab, finds out who took it after the person used the phone to send emails and pictures, and her friend Evan sets up a website drawing public attention to the situation – and the eventual return of the phone – strictly through the power of his network. This was, of course, a great example of the power of technology to bring people together for a cause with minimal effort on the part of most. But it was really a summation of the points he went on to make through the rest of his book, being:

1. Coasean economic theory

2. The power law distribution

3. The power of aggregation

Coasean economics

Yeah, I had to look up Coasean economics too. But Shirky does explain it fairly well in subsequent chapters. It basically states that the cost of creating and keeping an organization afloat revolves around transaction costs. Thus, the reason why hierarchical organizations exist is the ability to control transaction costs in regards to the division of labor. But for an organization formed and executed online, there often is no need (or desire) for a hierarchical system. In the case of the lost mobile phone, hundreds of thousands of people were organized for a common cause, and the outcome of this organization was roundly successful. Very few (and closer to zero) people had to expend any time, money, or effort to contribute to making this successful. Wherein the only person who expended any real time, money, and effort is Evan. Thus, the transaction costs for organizing a group this large were minimal. Which brings me to his next point…

Power law distribution

Have you ever heard a store manager (for example) say that 20% of his inventory drives 80% of his profits? The same is true in organizations, and much more true with the aid of technology. As in the case of the lost mobile phone, the vast majority of this group (those following and commenting on the blog, offering tips and advice) were basically inactive, offering only the support of their eyes and ears. Most likely did not comment, or commented only once. There were the few who offered tips and suggestions and research that ended up being useful. There was Evan, who did the vast majority of the work, but without the rest of the thousands of inactive or partially active users, the experiment would have failed.

Most modern organizations and networks follow the same distribution, be it Myspace or the blogosphere or whatever. The majority of the connections and content are being produced by a very small number of users, whereas there are exponentially more participants who are completely inactive. Thus, there is no way to categorize an “average” user, as the extremes on both ends will render this figure useless.


This we of course all know. Technology enables us to compile large amounts of data quickly. What’s the big deal now? As it relates to organizations, and as Shirky mentions, the sharing and exchange of ideas is central to the new model of organizations. Shirky talks about the support of a programming language like C++ – a hugely successful and powerful bit of technology with a support desk to match, versus a language called “Perl” that relied mainly on crowdsourced information and fixes from the forums with much success. Certainly this will not always be the case, but the aggregation of ideas from many different users (all with different levels of involvement of course) yielded a very successful organization of programmers. In the case of the mobile phone, the individual contributions of one person – even Evan – were meaningless, but the aggregation of many of these ideas led to the success of the organization.

Where I most agreed with Shirky was his assessment of human behavior as it relates to technology. As others have pointed out in book reports, there is a sentiment that technology is destroying the social fabric of which we are made up. I disagree, as does Shirky. Calling to mind Marshall McLuhan’s “extensions”, Shirky explains that “We adopt those tools that amplify our capabilities, and we modify our tools to improve that amplification.” (p. 187)

Another complaint specifically regarding online social networking is that online friendships and life are somehow different or less worthy than “real life”. But Shirky and I agree that there is not a great dichotomy between the online world and the offline world. “In the developed world, the experience of the average twenty-five-year-old is one of substantial overlap between online and offline friends and colleagues. The overlap is so great, in fact, that both the word and the concept of “cyberspace” have fallen into disuse. The internet augments real-world social life rather than providing an alternative to it.” (p. 196) In a prior blog post, I also discussed this topic in detail.

In regards to the web in general as it relates to traditional “one-to-many” communication, Shirky has this to say, by far my favorite quote from the book: “Now we know that the Web is not a perfect antidote to the problems of mass media, because some of those problems are human and are not amenable to technological fixes. This is bad news for that school of media criticism that has assumed that the authorities are keeping the masses down. In the weblog world there are no authorities, only masses, and yet the accumulated weight of attention continues to create the kind of imbalances we associate with traditional media.” (p. 94)

Of course, I can’t end without mentioning the modern free-publishing theme of publish-then-filter. Essentially, this is a way of crowdsourcing content, the only negative of which is a multitude of information. There are no editors to be the gatekeeper – rather, the gatekeeper is society’s general acceptance or rejection of a particular piece of content and how willing they are to pass it on to one another.

Though many parts of Here Comes Everybody delve into the business and economics of organization (and thus can get tedious), this was absolutely an enjoyable read. I wouldn’t consider it entirely useful in the sense of “this is a manual for X kind of managers to capture the future of the internet” or anything like that, but simply a more detailed explanation of how “The Times, They Are A-Changin’.”

Response – An Interview with Andrew Feenberg

October 27, 2009

In this interview with Andrew Feenberg, I took away three main themes out of the multitude of technological design points he hit.

1. User Agency, or the impact of users on design. Considering Feenberg was talking and writing about this in the 80’s, he’s obviously a pretty forward-thinking fellow. I do enjoy the seemingly contradictory assertions that design innovation is often created by hackers repurposing technologies for user-centered activities, but that “technology influences users behavior”. (p 470) I honestly don’t know how to rationalize both of these statements together, other than to assume that when a technology influences a users behavior, it is due to good design. How he fits it into the educational software category is interesting however.

2. The impact of technology on society. This is of course a larger more encompassing point. Feenberg’s example of a centralized technical instutution – Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – brings to mind how important that the current net neutrality debates are. I think that Feenberg would agree a free and open system would be more conducive to design and innovation – no hackers necessary. However, I think his criticism of the Murdoch empire may be a bit unfounded…unless of course you believe McLuhan’s claim that we as a society are helpless to the reaches of technology. I’m not advocating centralized media by any means, I just don’t believe that central ownership controls people’s every thought. On-air content, yes. But the effectiveness of this may be overblown by Feenberg.

3. Technology’s impact on education. Online education has become both a way of life for many educators and students, but also a multi-million dollar industry of educational institutions. We think of traditional institutions as communities of people, but very seldom do we consider online education as a community concept. As I mentioned in the first point, Feenberg’s ideas for online education revolved around well-designed software that, by its inherent good design, would properly influence students and communities.

Response – The Design of Everyday Things (Preface and Ch. 1)

October 26, 2009

The Design Of Everyday Things (Preface and Ch. 1)

Norman’s preface and first chapter reminds us “It could always be otherwise.” I found myself sizing up gadgets and interfaces immediately upon beginning this read. Fortunately for me, I started doing this on a great place: an airplane. Shortly thereafter, I was able to size up household gadgets, but in an unfamiliar home. The first – and most painful – example of poor design I found was in the kitchen of this home. What I thought was a built-in soap dispenser turned out to be a dispenser for scalding hot water. To me, it looked like a soap dispensing nozzle, it was located near the corner of the sink where dishwashing materials would go, and there was nothing to indicate that hot water would come out of it (red handle, “HOT”, etc.), or a visual clue as to what this contraption would do to my poor hand. Anyway, I digress.

The three ideas and topics that Norman discusses and dissects are as follows.

1. It’s not your fault.

My friend looked at me like I was nuts when I said that I blame poor design, not my ignorance, for my burned hand. But that’s because we’re not necessarily taught to believe things should just work. There has to be some kind of learning curve, otherwise the device is probably a child’s toy or not worth learning, right? The biggest shift – even in that related to new media – will be in making websites and multi-media easier to understand, consume, and produce.


2. Design principles.

Conceptual models. Often times when faced with unfamiliar machinery, or in a case like Norman’s refrigerator, it’s a way of working backwards. However, I think engineering design and user interface design are more hand-in-hand, especially when considering a conceptual model. Say I’m confused about something and I build a conceptual model in my head. More often than not, when I do eventually figure out how to use something, my conceptual model differs from what is actually inside. So perhaps poor design is the result and permutation of bad engineering?

Feedback. – Feedback is one area where I think new media has done well. The early stages of the web had blue underlined links that turned red while you clicked them and turned purple after they were clicked. This concept still exists today. (Sup Craigslist.) Aside from a slow or malfunctioning machine, feedback is prevalent in media and computer interfaces.

Constraints. – This is where applying Norman’s writing to new media gets tricky, especially when we consider how much innovation and creative design has come from the misappropriation of a medium or device.

Affordances. – Affordances are somewhat limited in the context of new media, although I suppose we could say that the nature of electronic communications affords us such things as instantaneous communication.

3. The power of observation.

Observations? Now I’m full of ‘em, as evidenced by my initial reactions to sizing up kitchen gadgets and contraptions on an airplane. The next step is figuring out how to improve upon a poor design.

Remember:  “If people keep buying poorly designed products, manufacturers and designers will think they are doing the right thing and continue as usual.”

Maybe I’m not an economist…

October 22, 2009

…but I’m still failing to see how this can drive revenue to Twitter.

In Google and Microsoft Deals, Hints of Revenue for Twitter –

The deals to make Twitter streams available to Microsoft and Google’s search engines may point to a potential new source of cash.

The lack of a revenue-driving business plan has always been my key criticism of Twitter. It seems as though this massive amount of venture capital with no plan was an unrealistic expectation. I think we all want to see Twitter become an economically viable revenue source (we can work there, woo!) but nobody has solid ideas how. I got excited because I thought this was one…but I’m not convinced.

Professional Investigation: Disciplines, courses, and technology

October 19, 2009

This is a tricky one, and I honestly don’t have an accurate response just yet.

My initial inkling back in August was skewing more towards the CDM side…user interface design specifically. However, the vast majority of basic prerequisites to CDM’s grad level courses are beyond my reach. If I’m thinking about that, then I need a different undergrad major.

In my first professional investigation of careers, my biggest hurdle was lack of technical training in regards to two areas: software and SEO/SEM experience. From our discussion last week regarding SEO/SEM, I’ll be able to attain that on my own, trying to up my page rank etc. with my blog and personal website. The NMS Web Design classes will be the foundation, and classes such as Technical Writing and similar courses geared towards proper language, design, and function of electronic media will set me on the correct path. I still want to work in advertising, but having very limited copywriting experience has hindered my attempted career shift.

The NMS/WRD faculty professional qualifications seem more in line with what I’m looking to do. I will definitely take one or two classes from the College of Communication, for example, Integrated Marketing Campaigns, but the vast majority of my work that will make me stand out as more than just another ad guy with a masters degree will be in writing and design.

Response – What value do users derive from social networking applications?

October 19, 2009

Aah, the concept of cool as explored by marketers. I may be going out on a tangent and limb here, but I think Yelp has it right. When logged in, a user can check three key distinctions on a review: Useful, Funny, and Cool. Because that’s really what this article’s findings are about, right? Applications that are considered cool and passed along are almost always useful in some way (even if that way is wasting time) and fun or funny.

At the very least, I was impressed that the authors recognized that value now is created with the exchange of time and information between customers and not always customer-to-organization as most new media theory suggests. The symmetrical values laid out in Table 2 lay out the basics of consumer-to-consumer interaction in the simplest terms. Obviously this can be broken down further by personality types, as certain kinds of people will respond differently to multiple notifications, as demonstrated by the chart.

Polar influence is more obvious in determining the sharing of an application. I.e. we all know that an app with a negative word of mouth is not going to get shared nearly as much. Uni-directional effects seem more concerned with usability than anything else. Free, easy to use, non-intrusive apps pass the uni-directional table quite well.

Personally, I’m seldom in favor of apps on Facebook. Maybe it’s a little bit of OCD coming out, but I just don’t like the clutter that sometimes occurs with installed and shared apps. Those that increase the social-ness of social media and inspire friendly competition come to mind: Scrabulous is my favorite, not surprisingly.

Response – Pew Internet Reports: Digital Footprints

October 19, 2009

Good read! I’ve followed the concept of a digital footprint, more on the side of “Personal Branding” for a while now, especially since being laid off. I was happy to see quite a few of my curiosities studied, such as actively trying to create a digital footprint or what it means to have a very common name.

The changing nature of personal information.

The fact that awareness of one’s digital footprint has risen from 22% to 47% in just five years is very telling – especially since those five years were 2002-2007. I’d imagine that with the explosion of social networking between 2007 and 2009 that this level of growth has continued in an even shorter amount of time. But we’ll get into that later.

Reading the in depth analysis of findings exposed, to me, some of the flaws not necessarily with the methodology, but rather the way in which the study was conducted and presented. For example, the second paragraph of the entire report talks about a “survey fielded one week after 9/11 found that percentage [who prefer not to be monitored at work] had dropped to 40% of adults” from 65% in 1994. While this is a significant drop, it’s definitely insinuated that this was strictly due to the 9/11 terror attacks. But without reporting data for the seven years prior, we can’t tell if this was an immediate reaction or the result of a trend. I’d imagine the truth is somewhere in between, but it’s presented as the former.

The nature of personal information is changing in the age of Web 2.0.
This header is probably the most important bit of information in this entire piece. I don’t necessarily think that there is a deterioration of privacy with the advent of new media, per se, but rather a shift in what we consider private. It’s also not necessarily that more information is out there in terms of public records – it’s that this same information is now easy to find as opposed to the “needle-in-the-haystack” approach of yesteryear.

Obvious understatement of the century: “The reputation economy creates an incentive to be more open, not less. Since internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be a part of it. Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Googleable reputation.” This is old marketing and PR knowledge, mind-numbing to any of us that have worked in the industry. Control the story about you as opposed to letting someone else do it? Yes, of course. But this does set up the distinctions of active digital footprints and passive digital footprints.

Getting back to the privacy and the shift of what is considered private data, Esther Dyson’s quote accurately describes what needs to be done to manage an entity’s active digital footprint. “We need to stop talking about privacy and start talking about control over data.” Simply put, the larger, more accurate and positive, and more reputable your active digital footprint is, the less likely it will be for a passive digital footprint to sneak up and spoil one’s overall digital footprint.

Searching for Self: “Curiouser and Curiouser”

Again, I have a slight issue with the way in which this data is presented. Since the concept of creating and managing a digital footprint has already been discussed, boldly stating that “The vast majority of self-searchers (74%) have checked up on their digital footprints only once or twice.” My thoughts: if you properly manage the information you put online (if you post regularly) or if you are one of the many people with little to no information online that needs to be managed, how often do you really need to be checking? 74% is pretty solid, and I’m sure the number has grown in the past two years.

The public personae is a different story, and I think that many of us in the New Media Studies program fit this type. Clocking in at 11% in 2007, I’d imagine this number has grown significantly higher due to 1) natural trending and 2) unemployment. My prior jobs did not require me to self-present or self-market online, and doing so would have had only a negligible effect. But – if you consider job-seeking a form of full time “employment” – that number is sure to skyrocket considering the economic collapse of 2008-2009. Those who once had no need to self-market online now must self-promote to stand out positively from the many others applying for the same gig. It’s good training for being employed though.

One in five working adults in the U.S. say their employer has policies or guidelines about self-presentation online. This brought to mind the recent firestorm regarding the Washington Post’s policy regarding their journalists’ use of Twitter, and the backlash they received. Again, this report in 2007 covered it to a decent extent, but if this were in 2009, there would have been a much larger segment. The record industry and the print journalism industry are terrific examples of those who try to smash that which they do not understand as opposed to working with it. I’d love to see a follow up on this subject.

Another testament to the legitimacy of new media is that “87% of self-searchers…say that most of what they find is accurate, up from 74%…in 2002.” As more and more people manage their digital footprints, this number will continue to rise. Of the small amount of the sample who found inaccurate information, after reading some of the examples, my opinion is that many of these inaccuracies could have been avoided.

Measuring Our Online Footprint: The trails of 2.0

I’d like to see a study done, or at least a follow up, regarding the 24% of users who say that “things they’ve written that have their name on it are available online.” My point of curiosity is that this includes blogs – many of which are anonymous, contain a pen name, or are done in sort of an alter-ego format. For example, I have a very common name (which I’ll get into later with the study). Thus, finding things I’ve written or commented on may be tricky to find – unless you use my unique handle. I wonder if this would be the case for others with common names, and what it would do to these statistics.

The concept of first degree and second degree personal information is similar to the active/passive footprint concept. Spurred by the explosion of social networking and the tagging reatures embedded within, the amount of second degree personal information continues to grow. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the current Alexa rankings for the social networking sites listed. Since 2007, Myspace has fallen to #11 (from #3), Facebook has jumped to #2 (just behind Google) and LinkedIn has surprisingly dropped to #57 (from #34 in 2007).

College-age users, according to Fred Stutzman at UNC-Chapel Hill, are best at protecting hard contact information – addresses, phone numbers, etc. But as he notes, social network security settings may lull those users into a false sense of security with other online areas. “Findability” decreases with the number of hard “anchor points” that a person has, and with the shift towards mobile untethered technology, the younger generations tend to have fewer of these.

Searching for Others: Forget the Phone Book

Well, yeah. Forgetting the phone book has been done long ago.

Searching for other people, be it a necessity, curiosity, or voyeuristic tendency, has become a key part of web culture today. But breaking down the psychology of the numbers contained within this report could get even more interesting. “Internet users under the age of 50 are much more likely to say they have used a search engine to find information online about other people.” I’d say this is mostly due to the fact that by age 50, you’ve got your life and the people around you pretty well set. I think that the 30-49 age group that leads the way in people searching is due to the parenting age, as well as the notion that they have “lived long enough to have lost track of friends and are also savvy enough to use the internet to rekindle those relationships.” Those in this age bracket are also searching for people who their children will be around – babysitters, neighbors, school administrators and teachers, etc. As I pointed out in my blog about medical searches from a prior Pew report, often times these searches are done on behalf of someone else. I’d imagine the same holds true for a people search.

Managing Identity: Approaches and Attitudes

The four types of approaches and attitudes regarding concern over information online may be shifting. Watch for a shift in this figure as digital footprints become easier to manage, possibly through user-centric software. “Among internet users who worry about their personal information, just over half (54%) say they take steps to limit the amount of personal information that is available about them.”

Of these four types, the Confident Creatives, the Concerned and Careful, the Worried by the Wayside, and the Unfazed and Inactive, I (and probably most of us here) fit into the Confident Creatives. I mean, we’re all blogging, right? Those with the know-how to create and manage a digital footprint likely take control of the information – hard information that is – available online. Of course, this is also where the concept of “personal branding” that I mentioned at the start comes into play. Most likely, this is important for a Confident Creative – and he or she will take the necessary steps to manage this properly.

The Worried by the Wayside group is surprising to me, as noted in the report. 43% of people worried about their information online used the web to find the same info about other people? Pot, kettle, black. You know the story.

Looking Ahead: Persistent Presence Online

“What’s in a name? When it comes to anonymity, unique names may – or may not – smell as sweet.” Yep. Now is when I wish I wasn’t in the “Confident Creative” group of Online Personae. Having a common name is kind of a pain. I’d love for potential employers to see my blog, or read about me, but a Google search of Brian Miller turns up a host of other people that are not me. One thing I did to increase my Googleability was to create a Google Profile – which will always show up with my picture on the first page of rankings. (At least my Twitter page pops up fourth, although if you don’t know much about me, there’s not much distinguishing it from all the other results.) Brian W. Miller, however, returns my website at the top. So if I wanted to be anonymous, it’d be pretty easy. If not – that’s my situation right now. So please, Google me and click on my stuff so it increases my page rank. Heh.

Response: Social Media Revolution

October 16, 2009

So social media is not a fad. That many millions of people can’t be wrong. And I agree.


As far as debating the merits of social media, I think the one area that is still (obviously) on everybody’s mind is The Value Of People. As this and hundreds of other YouTube videos and blog posts and articles and studies will demonstrate, the sheer numbers and growth involved with social media is a force to be reckoned with. It’s much like how venture capitalists have been constantly throwing money at Twitter, yet we still haven’t seen a recognizable business plan for generating revenue out of them. I think what we can really take away from this is that we may be nearing the end of the growth stages. Once something no longer becomes a fad and becomes part of our life, it needs to make economical sense to stay around. Will that happen? I’d say so. And I’m trying to figure out how.

Response: Remediation – Bolter and Grusin

October 12, 2009

Remediation: Understanding New Media – Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin

I’ll be honest in saying that I had a hard time wrapping my skull around this one. I have not seen Strange Days, so the virtual reality elements presented in that film and this article were a bit out there.

Simply put, the concept (and contradiction therein) of remediation is to erase all traces of media by multiplying it. As we have continually seen in GUI design, technology is more and more trying to become transparent: simply a recreation of our everyday actions.

Immediacy and hypermediacy are concepts which we are all familiar with, and that are dependent on one another. Using the example of CNN – the website and the television broadcast – we see the overlap and dependence of immediacy on hypermediacy and vice versa. (Even in 1999 when this was written.) A multi-media hypermedia website must borrow from the immediacy of a video newscast or story. Likewise, an immediate communication such as a newscast on television borrows from the hypermediacy of the web with generated computer graphics and the overall look and feel of a website.

The history of hypermediated art is interesting, since we’ve all been told that history repeats itself. “Some hypermediated art has been and remains an elite taste, but the elaborate stage productions of many rock stars are among many examples of hypermediated events that appeal to millions.” To me, it’s great to see that even ten years ago someone was thinking of hypermedia as art and dependent upon design. This sentiment has rapidly grown – hence our program. Appealing to millions with hypermediacy as an expression of art is the end goal – where we may finally be able to monetize media and design in the proper way.

It is not until the end of the piece that Bolter and Grusin really narrow the focus of their publication. The most important discussions contained before regard the concept of hypermediacy, which not only are most of us aware of, but easily recognize and accept. We even see a couple of reappearances of our friend Marshal McLuhan in regards to the “repurposing” of media. Of ways in which a medium can remediate, I think the most accurate and forward thinking is when a medium “absorb(s) the older medium entirely, so that the discontinuities between the two are minimized.” This “ensures that the older medium cannot be entirely effaced; the new medium remains dependent on the older one in acknowledged or unacknowledged ways.” As we’ve seen media evolve, for the most part, older mediums have not been entirely eclipsed, but rather remain a small part of a now larger concept. Again using the examples of video games, specifically ones which the authors refer to as “interactive films.” Though I am not a gamer, I still think that video game interfaces are currently doing the best job at recreating and repurposing media for the goal of having an “interfaceless interface” – assimilating the user into itself.