Archive for the ‘Links’ Category

“Tumblr’s Killer Feature”, and the mixed blessing of comments

May 22, 2013

I’ve largely neglected this blog over the past couple of years, especially since Google Wave got canned. My time right now is mostly spent on my new startup, Querki — folks who are interested in the details should check out its development blog.

But I’m still quite interested in the topic of online conversation, and so I had to post a link to this recent article from my friend Siderea. She makes a very good argument that comments are *not* always a good thing — and that, indeed, a chunk of Tumblr’s success can be attributed to the fact that it decided to not have them.

Well worth reading and thinking about. The upshot isn’t that comments are inherently *bad*, mind you — but that the presence or absence of comments, and how they are managed in an online system, will have strong effects on how that system behaves. There are costs to comments, which aren’t obvious unless you look carefully.

Or to put it more concisely: decisions have consequences, and the decision of whether or not to include comments can have *big* consequences. So don’t make that decision casually…


October 25, 2010

This was posted recently, in the always-excellent webcomic XKCD:

And what about all the people who won't be able to join the community because they're terrible at making helpful and constructive co -- ... oh

As always when XKCD is at its best, it’s both funny and thought-provoking, and quite on-target.

Here’s the question is raises, though: what’s the comment equivalent of the Turing Test?  Is the issue “bot or not”, “spam or not?” or “helpful or not?” Most spambots would fail the test described here; would human-generated astroturf?  Is “constructive” the right measure to use, to distinguish between “should be posted” and not?  It might be — indeed, the product-placement industry is almost based on this concept, and it’s better than simply asking “Do you think this is a bot?”.  But now I find myself looking for the best word to usefully express, “should this be here or not?”

The Vexations of Text

November 28, 2009

Catching the Wave has been on hiatus this week, due to a combination of me being off at a Microsoft seminar all week and not really wanting to post while everybody’s busy with Thanksgiving.  It’ll resume next week.

In the meantime, though, I commend to you this article from siderea on LiveJournal.  She makes an excellent point that, while text is a more powerfully expressive medium for communication than it’s often given credit for, there are some essential conversational subtleties that are difficult or impossible to convey this way.

I’m curious about what people think about this, and particularly whether you think that there is any difference for up-tempo / synchronous modes of communication.  IMO she’s entirely correct for slower modes like LiveJournal, but I wonder if the extra subtleties of timing play into up-tempo.  For example, I’ve found that pauses in an IM conversation can be fraught with meaning; what other details are available there, and how much (if at all) can they help with the limitations she points out?

Filtering and Politeness

January 20, 2009

Another interesting conversation from Siderea got me thinking about the concept of “friending”, what it means and is going to mean, and the fact that filtering — currently a relatively exotic concept — is going to become crucial in the years to come.

One of Siderea’s points (more in the comments than the main post) is that, in this new social-networked world, the default is probably going to be making yourself “available” via social networks.  That is, a “normal” person will be expected to be on one or more of these networks, and moreover the social norm will be to accept friend invitations from — well, practically anybody you know in real life.  Not accepting such an invitation will be considered a bit rude.

On the one hand, I definitely see where she’s coming from: I can see this particular trend of ubiquitous friending starting up already.  It’s common to friend people you haven’t seen in twenty years, and with whom you share little in common.  And I think she’s right that, for many people, refusing a friend invitation is perceived as a deliberate rebuff.  Certainly we’ve all seen the occasional drama that ensues when someone is unfriended.

That said, I can’t imagine that this is going to continue without changes.  It just plain doesn’t work.  The reality is that, while I may not want to offend these people by refusing the invitation, I really don’t care about them very much.  I don’t mind them being around in some loose sense and paying attention to me, but I’m not going to spend attention on them and I’m not going to share my most intimate thoughts with them.

So it seems like a middle ground is needed, and that middle ground is probably filtering: putting your “friends” into different buckets.  For the LiveJournal users in the crowd, this is totally unsurprising — LJ has supported filtering for years, both in the form of custom friend groups and simply in the asymmetrical nature of the thing.  (That is, the first level of filtering is, “Sure, you can read me but I’m not going to bother reading you.”  This is quite different from Facebook, where friending is always symmetrical.)

In practice, I already do filtering via custom friend groups.  In particular, I almost never unfriend someone, due to the drama potential.  But I only have time to really follow about half of my friends on a regular basis.  So I have a filter — a custom friend group — that I actually read all the time.  When I decide I don’t care quite as much about someone, they get transferred out of this filter.  They are never slapped in the face with it, so it allows me to preserve the social niceties, but it allows me to focus my precious time and attention on the people who matter most to me.

Other services are starting to catch on, but it’s slow.  Facebook now has a concept of custom friend lists, but it’s new and support is still spotty.  Twitter lacks any such concept, but it’s notable that some of the new Twitter clients have as a major selling point the ability to layer a weak form of filtering on top of it.  I suspect that, in the long run, all social networking tools are going to have to provide filters, often rather strong filters, in order to be usable in a world where people gradually wind up with a thousand people on their “friends” list.

How much filtering do you currently do?  Do you treat your friends list as really just friends, or do you let mere acquaintances on?  Do you really read everyone you friend?  Do you manage your services differently?  (Certainly I treat LiveJournal and Facebook very differently, since I’ve found them to have different social conventions.)  Where do you see this as all going?  We’re in the middle of some big changes in how we manage our social environment, and it’s fascinating to speculate about where that’ll end up…

Cities in the Net

January 14, 2009

Some of my readers already follow Siderea’s blog, but if you don’t, I commend her recent posting, Cities in the Net, and the ensuing discussion.  It considers social networks from an architectural perspective — a very practical way to think about online community and how it relates to real-world ones…