Content Curation: Why I'm Not Your Target Audience [en]

[fr] Je suis trop efficace avec un moteur de recherche pour être très emballée par les divers outils qui visent à organiser la masse de contenu à disposition sur le web, en temps réel ou non.

In Paris, I had a sudden flash of insight (during a conversation with somebody, as often). Most services designed to help with content curation don’t immediately appeal to me because I’m not their target audience: I’m too good at using search.

I was trying to figure out why, although I liked the idea behind PearlTrees and SmallRivers (I tried them out both briefly), part of me kept thinking they weren’t really adding anything that we couldn’t already do. Well, maybe not that exactly, but I couldn’t really see the point. For example: “PearlTrees, it’s just bookmarking with pretty visual and social stuff, right?” or “SmallRivers, we already have hyperlinks, don’t we?” — I know this is unfair to both services, and they go beyond that, but somehow, for me, it just didn’t seem worth the effort.

And that’s the key bit: not worth the effort. When I need to find something I’ve seen before, I search for it. I understand how a search engine works (well, way more than your average user, let’s say) and am pretty good at using it. I gave up using bookmarks years ago (today, I barely use delicious anymore — just look at my posting frequency there). I stick things in Evernote and Tumblr because I can search for them easily afterwards. I don’t file my e-mail, or even tag it very well in gmail — I just search when I need a mail. I don’t organize files much on my hard drive either, save for some big drawers like “client xyz”, business, personal, admin — and those are horribly messy.

I search for stuff. And to be honest, now that I’ve discovered Google Web History, I’m not sure what else I could ever ask for. It embodies an old old fantasy of mine: being able to restrict a fulltext search to pages I’ve visited in a certain timeframe. “Damn, where did I put this?” becomes a non-issue when you can use Google search over a subset of the web which contains all the pages you’ve ever loaded up in your browser. (Yeah, privacy issues, certainly.)

What about the social dimension of these curation tools? Well, I’m a blogger. I blog. When I want to share, I put stuff in my blog, or Tumblr. I’m actually starting to like PearlTrees for that, because it is a nice way of collecting and ordering links — but really, I’m not the kind of person who has a lot of patience for that kind of activity. Some people spend time keeping their bookmarks, e-mails, or files in order. I don’t — there are way too many more interesting things for me to spend my time on. So I keep things in a mess, and when I need something out of them, I search.

I think I’m just not a content curator, aside from my low-energy activities like tweeting, tumblring, and blogging.

It doesn’t mean there is no need for content curation, of the live stream or more perennial content like “proper” web pages. But just like some people are bloggers and some aren’t, I think some people are curators and some aren’t.

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Conversation in Comments vs. Conversation in Twitter [en]

[fr] Twitter n'est pas en train de tuer les conversations dans les commentaires des blogs. Le bavardage s'est déplacé dans Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook -- mais quand certains disent que la conversation y est meilleure, ils ignorent le fait qu'il y a plusieurs sortes de conversation.

Hey, another “vs.” post! It must be because I get tired quickly of people comparing apples and oranges, and saying that we’re not going to eat apples anymore because we now have oranges.

A good year and a half ago there was some talk around the fact that the conversation had moved out of blogs and into Twitter and Friendfeed.

That’s not quite true: some of the conversation has moved from blog comments into the stream. The chatter, mainly.

Just like, when comments first started appearing on weblogs (remember those times, folks?) — well, some of the conversation that was happening from blog post to blog post moved into the comments.

But there was already conversation. Blogs without comments are still blogs.

So, what has happened? The more immediate, chat-like conversation has indeed moved out of blog comments and into Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed-like services. The short one-liners. But the real value-adding comments, those that make the conversation meaningful, those that actually discuss in depth what the blogger wrote, or contribute something beyond “great post” or “load of horseshit” — those are still there in our blog comments.

I see a parallel here with the distinction I make between live-tweeting and live-blogging. I’m not anti-Twitter or anti-anything: I love Twitter, and use it for more than my fair share of chatter. But the chatter of today most often has lost its appeal tomorrow, and will not take the place of deep conversation that one can catch up with even once it has gone cold.

This, by the way, is also the root of my dislike of threaded conversations on blogs.

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Interaction Space [en]

[fr] Ce qui compte, c'est qui est dans notre "espace d'interaction", autrefois délimité par l'espace physique autour de nous. Il n'y a rien de mal à attendre le bus au téléphone avec un ami plutôt qu'en échangeant des mondanités pataudes avec les inconnus qui se trouvent à l'arrêt.

At the bus stop, I’m listening to music on my iPhone and the two other women waiting are talking on the phone, smiling, but not to each other. That’s when I understand: what’s important is who is in your “can interact” space, not who is in your physical space.

Physical co-presence used to be important because it defined who you could interact with. That is not true anymore: your interaction space is not limited to your physical space.

There’s nothing bad about being on the phone with a friend rather than exchanging awkward mundanities with strangers at the bus stop.

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Live-Blogging vs. Live-Tweeting at Conferences [en]

[fr] Live-tweeter une conférence, c'est l'équivalent d'être actif dans le backchannel IRC de la belle époque des conférences de blogs. Il n'y a rien de mal à ça, mais il ne faut pas confondre ça avec le live-blogging: en effet, passés quelques jours, semaines, mois ou même années, qui va replonger son nez dans le fouillis des tweets ou des logs IRC de telle ou telle journée? Comparez ça avec un article sur un blog, qui sera lu, relu, et encore relu -- qui conserve donc sa valeur une fois que l'excitation du temps réel est passée.

One of the things bloggers brought with them when they started attending conferences is live coverage. Unlike the traditional press, which would provide you with a summary of the proceedings the next day, bloggers would be madly photographing, taking notes, uploading, and hitting publish in the minutes following the end of a presentation.

Live-blogging was born.

(For my personal history with it, see my BlogTalk 2.0 posts (2004) about collaborative note-taking using SubEthaEdit and a wiki, and my notes of LIFT06 (2006). Real proper live-blogging had to wait until LIFT’07 and Martin Roell’s workshop on getting started with consulting (2007), however.)

Then Twitter showed up, and everybody started a-tweeting, and more particularly live-tweeting during conferences.

But live-tweeting does not replace live-blogging. It replaces the IRC backchannel, allowing people to comment on what is going on as it happens, and letting people who are not physically present take part in the fun.

(I’m not going to talk about backchannels here: they’re great, but can also have unpleasant consequences in certain situations. A whole series of blog posts could be devoted to them.)

So when bloggers at conferences neglect their blogs and spend all their time live-tweeting, they are in fact fooling around in the backchannel instead of doing what bloggers do, which is produce content which retains value months, sometimes years, after it was published.

Don’t get me wrong: live-tweeting is fine, so is participation in a more traditional IRC-based backchannel. But don’t confuse it with live-blogging.

Tweets of the moment, just like IRC conversations, tend to be great when consumed in real time. But as the days and weeks go by, they become just as pleasant to read as an IRC log. (Understand: not pleasant at all.)

So, dear bloggers, when you’re at a conference to provide coverage, do not forget who you are. Not everybody is a live-blogger, of course, and some produce very valuable writing about an event they attended once they are home and have allowed the dust to settle.

But tweeting does not replace blogging.

Do you think I got my point across, now? 😉

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A Quick Thought on Being Public [en]

[fr] Dans un monde où l'on est des personnages de plus en plus publics, s'adressant simultanément à des publics jadis séparés, on peut pour moi soit se réfugier dans la langue de bois pour ne heurter personne, soit se mettre les gens à dos en leur disant en face des choses qu'on aurait auparavant évité qu'ils entendent, soir jouer de l'équilibrisme en privilégiant l'honnêté exprimée d'une manière qui prend soin des sentiments des autres.

In these days of increasingly overlapping publics, I see three ways in which to deal with the fact that we are all becoming — to some extent — public figures, our multiple faces forced to come together as the publics they’re meant for also do:

  • go all tongue-tied and diplomatic, and dumb down your discourse so nobody can take offence or hear something they shouldn’t;
  • be an asshole, by saying things to people’s faces that one normally would keep for behind their backs;
  • walk the fine line of honesty and respect whilst expressing things in a way that cares for others’ feelings.

The third way, clearly, is the most challenging, but probably also the most rewarding from the point of view of personal growth.

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Twitter @Replies Kerfuffle: Not Just About Discovery [en]

[fr] La suppression de son flux Twitter des @replies à destination de personnes que l'on ne suit pas n'est pas un problème uniquement parce qu'elle entrave la découverte de nouvelles personnes. C'est un problème, parce que cela nous prive d'une partie (parfois importante) de ce que partagent sur Twitter ceux que nous suivons.

A day or so after my blog post alerting you to the change in the way Twitter showed you @replies from the people you are following, Twitter broke the silence with a blog post giving more detailed information on the technical reasons why they removed this functionality. (Don’t see a direct cause-and-effect phenomenon here — I’m not that influential, despite what some may believe.)

Though I appreciate their apology about the communication disaster, there are still a few open points as far as I’m concerned:

  • 97% of accounts did not use this functionality: this does not mean that they had chosen not to use it. Had the default setting been “show all @replies”, you can be sure that more than 3% of users would have been viewing all @replies
  • if I follow somebody, why would the default assumption be that I don’t want to see what they write to other people I don’t follow? Here’s what would make sense for me: default setting should be that if you follow somebody, you see all their tweets. Now, to cater for those who get frustrated by half-conversations or chatty followees (hey, you chose to follow them in the first place), allow suppression of “@replies to people I don’t follow” on a per-user basis.
  • the reason I am mad (and others too) about having @replies to people I’m not following stripped out of my stream is that it is depriving me of part of the public tweets of people I chose to follow. If I hadn’t seen @giagia’s tweet responding the @isntit on May 11th, I would have missed out all the fun around the heated “babies at conferences” debate. This isn’t about discovering a new person. This is about keeping up with stuff somebody I’m following (Gia in this case) is tweeting about, and involved in.

So, please, Twitter: don’t assume that all this is about discovering new people. It’s not. Since you removed @replies to people I’m not following from my stream, everything is more quiet, and I’m missing out on important parts of my friends’ lives.

Edit: oh, and while writing this post, I discovered that Twitter search does not go very far back in time. What next? are we going to discover that our oldest tweets have silently been removed from the database, one day?

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We Need Structured Portable Social Networks (SPSN) [en]

[fr] Nous avons besoin de réseaux sociaux que l'on peut importer/exporter d'un outil/service à l'autre. Nous avons également besoin de pouvoir structurer ces réseaux sociaux qui contiennent souvent un nombre important de personnes. Nous avons besoin de réseaux sociaux portables structurés.

Christophe Ducamp s'est lancé dans une traduction de cet article. Allez donner un coup de main ou bien en profiter, selon vos compétences! Je n'ai pas lu cette traduction, mais je suis certaine qu'elle est utile. Merci Christophe!

Scrolling through my “trash” e-mail address to report spam, I spotted (quite by chance, I have to say) a nice e-mail from Barney, who works at [Lijit](http://www.lijit.com/). Barney asked me if I had any feedback, [which I’ll give in my next post](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/08/16/lijit-feedback/), because I need to digress a bit here.

Lijit is a really fun and smart search tool which allows to [search through a person’s complete online presence](http://www.lijit.com/users/steph “See mine.”), a remedy, in a way, to the increasing [fragmentation of online identity](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/200579442) that’s bothering me so much these days. Actually, it was already bothering me quite a few months ago, when I wrote [Please Make Holes in My Buckets](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/13/please-make-holes-in-my-buckets/):

>So, here’s a hole in the buckets that I really like: I’ve seen this in many services, but the first time I saw it was on Myspace. “Let us peek in your GMail contacts, and we’ll tell you who already has an account — and let you invite the others.” When I saw that, it scared me (”OMG! Myspace sticking its nose in my e-mail!”) but I also found it really exciting. Now, it would be even better if I could say “import friends and family from Flickr” or “let me choose amongst my IM buddies”, but it’s a good start. Yes, there’s a danger: no, I don’t want to spam invitations to your service to the 450 unknown adresses you found in my contacts, thankyouverymuch. Plaxo is a way to do this (I’ve seen it criticised but I can’t precisely remember why). Facebook does it, which means that within 2 minutes you can already have friends in the network. Twitter doesn’t, which means you have to painstakingly go through your friends of friends lists to get started. I think coComment and any “friend-powered” service should allow us to import contacts like that by now. And yes, sure, privacy issues.

One thing the 2.0 world needs urgently is a way to abstract (to some extent) the social network users create for themselves from the particular *service* it is linked to. **We need portable social networks.** More than that, actually, we need **structured portable social networks** (SPSNs). I’ve already written that being able to give one’s “contact list” a structure (through “contact groups” or “buddy groups”) is vital if we want to manage privacy efficiently (in my horrendously long but — from my point of view of course — really important post “[Groups, Groupings, and Taming My Buddy List. And Twitter.](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/05/04/groups-groupings-and-taming-my-buddy-list-and-twitter/)”):

> I personally think that it is also the key to managing many privacy issues intelligently. How do I organise the people in my world? Well, of course, it’s fuzzy, shifting, changing. But if I look at my IM buddy list, I might notice that I have classified the people on it to some point: I might have “close friends”, “co-workers”, “blog friends”, “offline friends”, “IRC friends”, “girlfriends”, “ex-clients”, “boring stalkers”, “other people”, “tech support”… I might not want to make public which groups my buddies belong to, or worse, let them know (especially if I’ve put them in “boring stalkers” or “tech support” and suspect that they might have placed me in “best friends” or “love interests”… yes, human relationships can be complicated…)

> Flickr offers a half-baked version of this. […]

> A more useful way to let a user organise his contacts is simply to let him tag them. Xing does that. Unfortunately, it does not allow one to do much with the contact groups thus defined, besides displaying contacts by tag […].

In fact, we need structured social networks not only to deal with privacy issues, but also (and it’s related, if you think of it) to deal with social network fatigue that seems to be hitting many of us. I actually have been holding off writing a rather detailed post in response to [danah](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/)’s post explaining that [Facebook is loosing its context for her](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/08/10/loss_of_context.html) — something that, in my words, I would describe as “Facebook is becoming impossible to manage in a way that makes sense with my life and relationships.” Here’s what she says:

> Le sigh. I lost control over my Facebook tonight. Or rather, the context got destroyed. For months, I’ve been ignoring most friend requests. Tonight, I gave up and accepted most of them. I have been facing the precise dilemma that I write about in my articles: what constitutes a “friend”? Where’s the line? For Facebook, I had been only accepting friend requests from people that I went to school with and folks who have socialized at my house. But what about people that I enjoy talking with at conferences? What about people who so kindly read and comment on this blog? What about people I respect? What about people who appreciate my research but whom I have not yet met? I started feeling guilty as people poked me and emailed me to ask why I hadn’t accepted their friend request. My personal boundaries didn’t matter – my act of ignorance was deemed rude by those that didn’t share my social expectations.

danah boyd, loss of context for me on Facebook

I think that what danah is expressing here is one possible explanation to why people are first really excited about new social networking sites/services/tools/whatevers (YASNs) and then abandon them: at one point, or “contact list” becomes unmanageable. At the beginning, not everybody is on the YASN: just us geeky early adopters — and at the beginning, just a few of us. We have a dozen contacts or so. Then it grows: 30, 50, 60… We’re highly connected people. Like danah, many of us are somewhat public figures. From “friends of our heart”, we start getting requests from **people who are part of our network but don’t fit in *segment* we want to reserve this YASN to**. We start refusing requests, and then give in, and then a lot of the value the YASN could have for us is lost.

Unless YASNs offer us an easy way to structure our social network, this is going to happen over and over and over again. For the moment, [Pownce](http://pownce.com) and [Viddler](http://viddler.com) allow me to structure my social network. A lot of work still needs to be done in the interface department for this kind of feature. (Yes, [Twitter](http://twitter.com), I’m looking at you. You said “soon”.)

So, to summarize, we need **tools and services** which make our **social networks**

– **portable**: so that we can import and export our relationships to other people from one service to another
– **structured**: so that we can manage the huge number of relationships, of varying and very personal degrees of intimacy, that highly connected online people have.

**Update, an hour or so later:** [Kevin Marks](http://epeus.blogspot.com) points me to [social network portability](http://microformats.org/wiki/social-network-portability) on the microformats wiki. Yeah, should have done my homework, but remember, this post started out as a quick reply to an e-mail. Anyway, this is good. There is hope.

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Groups, Groupings, and Taming My Buddy List. And Twitter. [en]

[fr] Long, long billet sur la notion de "groupe" en social software et les différentes formes que peut prendre cette notion. Trop raide pour traduire ou résumer, navrée.

*Warning: very long post. Not proof-read. Hope it makes sense. Mostly dictated, so if you see funky stuff that isn’t a typo and really looks weird, try reading out loud.*

“Group” is a word which is thrown around a lot in the social software/social tools/social networking/social thingy arena. Flickr has [groups](http://www.flickr.com/help/groups/). Google has [groups](http://groups.google.com/). So does [Yahoo!](http://groups.yahoo.com/), of course. CoComment is [working on groups](http://raphaelbriner.electronlibre.com/?p=89#comment-42) (and have been for ages). Twitter is [being advised against them](http://twitter.com/missrogue/statuses/49364082) (I [second that](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/49408962)). [YouTube](http://www.youtube.com/groups_main), [Facebook](http://www.facebook.com/help.php?page=17), [Orkut](http://www.orkut.com/), [Last.fm](http://www.last.fm/help/faq/?category=Groups#1012) — “groups” seem to be a compulsory feature for any 2.0 service today. It’s very natural, too: we need to break down large communities in order to be able to function within them (see [The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes](http://www.lifewithalacrity.com/2004/03/the_dunbar_numb.html) for some thinking around this issue). Unfortunately, it’s also a result of all the 2.0 “community” buzz stuff floating around: “implement groups, and your tool/app will have communities!”

Like many overused words, “group” is actually used in different contexts to mean different things, and this brings about quite a lot of confusion. “How to implement groups” is a theme that I’ve had a few exchanges about with both the coComment and the Twitter people, and I think it’s an impossible question to answer unless we have cleared up the vocabulary a little to start with.

I would like to distinguish between three types of “groups”, which are often all called “groups”, but which have different characteristics and different uses:

– “groups” or “shared-interest groups” (“Flickr-groups”)
– “groupings” (“ad hoc assemblages of people with similar interests” — Stowe Boyd)
– “contact groups” (organising my contacts)

#### Shared-Interest Groups

This is usually what people think of when they say “group”. It is a set of people who come together to (hopefully) form a community around a shared interest. Usually, one chooses to join such groups. Belonging to the group gives you some kind of special connection to other members (which you might not know, but you now have one thing in common with), and allows you to “do things” you would not be able to do if you were outside the group. (For exemple: send a message to all the people in the group, or post a photo to a shared album.)

Typical examples of this kind of group are Yahoo! Groups or Flickr Groups. People join these groups to be able to build something, share something, or simply hang out with the other members of the group. However, if you look at the way people use this kind of group in communities which are more “social networking”-oriented, like Facebook or Orkut, you will see that they tend to not be that active *inside* the groups, but that they use them a bit like “tags” to advertise their interests. These groups are therefore not only a way of connecting with other people, but also a way of saying something about yourself. And in some communities, the latter is clearly more important.

#### Groupings

Shared-interest groups are a bit limited when it comes to making your application truly “social”, as I heard Stowe Boyd point out during his [Building Social Applications Workshop](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/07/stowe-boyd-building-social-applications/) at the LIFT conference earlier this year. Now, I’ve been through Stowe’s blog to try to serve you with a nice citation that explains exactly what he means by “groupings”, and haven’t really found anything that satisfied me. (As far as I can see, Stowe first talks about groupings in [In The Time Of “Me First”: IBM Slowr?](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/01/in_the_time_of_.html), and explains a bit more in [In The Time Of “Me-First”: Stikkit](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/01/in_the_time_of__1.html).)

Here’s the definition Stowe gives in [his workshop slideshow, slide 24](http://www.slideshare.net/stoweboyd/building-social-applications):

> Groupings: ad hoc assemblages of people with similar interests.

Stowe Boyd

As I understand it, groupings are things that “happen” rather than things that people elect to join or build. Groupings emerge within a social network because of the way people are using it. Groupings are things that occur naturally and all the time inside networks, but the tricky part will be to decide which groupings to make visible to the users and how.

The first time I really encountered this type of automatic grouping of users based on their behaviour was in Last.fm. Last.fm tells you who your “[neighbours](http://www.last.fm/help/faq/?category=User+Profiles#10113)” are, by picking out people who have similar music-listening habits as yours. So, in last FM, not only can you see [my contacts or “friends”](http://www.last.fm/user/Steph-Tara/friends/), people **I have elected to be connected to** in some way in the online world of last FM even though our musical tastes may have little in common, but you can also see [my neighbours](http://www.last.fm/user/Steph-Tara/neighbours/), people I probably do not know and definitely **have not chosen to be connected to**, but which I am inevitably connected to because we share similar musical tastes.

Isn’t this a more interesting way of interconnecting people than having them explicitly join groups saying “I like this or that artist”? CoComment also has a [neighbours feature](http://www.cocomment.com/you/community) (I like to think that I’m for something in its existence, as it was one of the first suggestions I made and pushed for about a year ago), but unfortunately you can’t see other people’s neighbours or do much with your neighbourhood. The value groupings will add to your tool or service will depend greatly on which groupings you decide to make visible to your users, what doors being part of a given grouping opens up for the user, basically, what you choose to **do** with these groupings (display them? Nice, but not enough in most cases).

With all this in mind, if you are trying to figure out “the best way to implement groups” for your application/tool /2.0 service, here is what I would recommend. Start by taking a long hard look at how your application already organises users into possible groupings. What can you make visible? What is interesting? What doors could you open to people who are inside the same grouping? What are your users going to want to do with these groupings?

Some examples of groupings could be:

– people who have listened to a particular song regularly over the last six months
– people who favourite my photographs on Flickr
– people who subscribe to a given blog
– people who have commented on a given post or blog
– people who have marked me as a contact
– people who use a given tag
– people who comment on posts or photographs tagged “cat”
– people who ordered this or that book on Amazon
– people who have been marked as a contact by somebody
– people who have joined a certain group…

As you can see, the definition of “grouping” is much wider than the definition of “group”. “Groups” are a small subset of “groupings”, which have a performative flavour, as you become part of them by the simple act of stating that you desire to be part of them.

The example before last is a little bit problematic in my sense. Most of the time, a user ends up belonging to a grouping because of the way he or she uses the system. It is your actions which make you part of a grouping. Here, you are not part of a grouping because of something you have done, but because of what somebody else has done to you (added you to her contacts). I have been hesitant for this reason to consider “being somebody’s contact” as a grouping, but if you look at it from the point of view of the social network, it is still a way in which “usage” organisers to people who are part of the network.

The existence of these “passive groupings” (from the point of view of the user who is part of the grouping) invites us to go through the looking-glass and examine what goes on from the perspective of the user creating the groupings by making his connection to other users explicit.

#### Contact Groups

I hope that we have now come to accept that networks are asymmetrical. It is not because I have marked you as a contact, that you have to mark me back as a contact too. I think that a great source of confusion is the [general use of the word “friend” in social networks](http://www.thomaspurves.com/2007/02/27/are-we-really-friends-the-trouble-with-buddy-lists-in-social-applications/). There is an emotional component in there that makes it rather difficult to say “well, you might think I’m your friend, but I don’t.” Friendship is supposed to go both ways. “Contact” is a much more neutral word, which is easily understood as meaning “you are, in some way, part of my world here.”

“In what way?” is the big question here. In what way is John part of my world? In what way am I part of his, if at all? I will leave the second of these two questions completely aside in this discussion, for I consider it to be a psychological, emotional, and relational minefield. In our offline relationships, we don’t usually get to know exactly how important we are for our friends or acquaintances, or even love interests. We are treading on eggs, here. And to make things even more delicate, different people use different words to describe the people who are part of their world. These are, in my opinion, human relational issues which are way too delicate to be formalised in a social network without a lot of serious thinking, if they are to be respectful of people’s feelings and meaningful in any way.

The first question, however, is a crucial one. I personally think that it is also the key to managing many privacy issues intelligently. How do I organise the people in my world? Well, of course, it’s fuzzy, shifting, changing. But if I look at my IM buddy list, I might notice that I have classified the people on it to some point: I might have “close friends”, “co-workers”, “blog friends”, “offline friends”, “IRC friends”, “girlfriends”, “ex-clients”, “boring stalkers”, “other people”, “tech support”… I might not want to make public which groups my buddies belong to, or worse, let them know (especially if I’ve put them in “boring stalkers” or “tech support” and suspect that they might have placed me in “best friends” or “love interests”… yes, human relationships can be complicated…)

[Flickr](http://www.flickr.com/help/contacts/) offers a half-baked version of this. I say “half-baked” because it does allow me to introduce *some* organisation in my contacts, but it is not quite satisfying. And regarding what has been said above, this classification is made public — so inevitably, there is no way that it can be satisfying to the person making the classification. It has to remain politically correct. Basically, what Flickr does is allow you to single out certain contacts as “friends” or “family”. This is tame enough, particularly given that the word “friend” has been emptied of much of its meaning by social networks which use it as a synonym for “contact”. What is interesting here is how Flickr uses this classification to help users manage privacy. I can make certain photographs visible only to my friends or my family. I can decide to allow only my contacts to comment. But this kind of control remains quite coarse, because the groups are predefined and may not map well to the way I view my social world and want to manage my privacy.

A more useful way to let a user organise his contacts is simply to let him tag them. [Xing](https://www.xing.com/) does that. Unfortunately, it does not allow one to do much with the contact groups thus defined, besides displaying contacts by tag, which is of course nice, but about as useful as making groupings visible without actually *doing* anything with them.

#### Use more precise vocabulary than “group”

Have you noticed how I’ve been using the word “groups” to speak of this way of classifying one’s contacts? Well, instant messaging software uses the word “group” (“buddy groups”, “contact groups”), and that’s what people are used to. Now, imagine the confusion if somebody says “[Twitter](http://twitter.com) needs groups”, meaning “contact groups”, and the person listening understands it as “shared-interest groups”? **These are two very different kinds of groups. They are organised differently and serve a different purpose.** See why I think we need to stop speaking about “groups” in general and be much more precise with our vocabulary?

– **Shared-interest groups** are groupings that we actively choose to be part of, they are generally public, or at the least, we know who the other members are, and the point of **being part of such a shared-interest group** is to be able to do certain things with the other members, or get to know them.
– **Contact groups** (normally) passive groupings that somebody puts us into, they are generally private, to the extent that one does not know exactly what grouping one is in, and the interest of such contact groups is mainly **for the person creating them**, who can choose to treat the people inside them differently (mainly regarding privacy).
– **Groupings**, defined by Stowe Boyd as ad hoc assemblages of people with similar interests, can actually be understood as a very generic expression, including the two previous ones, to refer to “ad hoc assemblages of people emerging through social network/software/tool usage.” When it is one’s actions which bring him/her into a grouping, we can speak of “active groupings”, and when it is another’s actions, “passive groupings”.

One could probably say that the way in which a social application implements groupings (which are made visible and how, and which actions, features, permissions or characteristics are associated to them) — shared interest groups and contact groups being two particular species of groupings — is going to play an important role in how successful it is, because groupings in general are the key through which users will interact with each other.

Maybe somebody could start working on a taxonomy of sorts for groupings? We already have active and passive, the weird performative ones that are the similar-interest groups, all the contact group stuff, but we could imagine classifying and analysing groupings by looking at what brings one into a grouping: is it interaction of some type with other users? Quantity of something? Centred around one object, or a collection of objects? Is there a time component? Does it involve reciprocity? What kind of pattern of usage is it linked to? We could go on, and on…

#### Case-study: Twitter

Even though this post has been ripening in my head (ew!) since February, the reason I am writing it today is the following twitter from [Tara Hunt](http://horsepigcow.com):

> Advising Twitter (Britt) AGAINST groups (gameable/spammable) and FOR personal lists (solves group messaging)

twitter from Tara

I have [blogged about Twitter](http://technorati.com/tag/twitter?from=climbtothestars.org) quite a few times already, spoken with the Twitter people [when I was in San Francisco](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/12/im-really-liking-san-francisco/) and sent them a bunch of feedback and ideas that I haven’t got around to blogging yet (I wonder when I will). This should make pretty obvious that I really really like this service. (So that’s the disclaimer: fangirl.)

If you’re still reading this, your head is probably full of groupings/similar-interest groups/contact groups ideas and concepts. Let’s see how they apply to Twitter. The nice thing about Twitter is that it’s a rather simple application, feature-wise (and that’s one of the things that makes it so nice). So, where are the groupings? Here are some:

– users who are friends with John
– users John is friends with (not the same grouping!)
– users John is following (still another grouping, because of the distinction twitter makes between friends/contacts and the act of “following”)
– users who are following John but he is not following (fans/stalkers, depending on how you look at it)
– users who answer John’s twitters (with @John)
– users who use the word “LIFT07” in their twitters
– …

What makes Twitter great? Well, besides the great online/offline integration through the use of mobile phones, the clean, usable interface, the great people using it and the cats in the servers, one of the things that makes Twitter Twitter (if I may say) is what it does with the grouping “users John is friends with”. Well, it’s pretty simple, in fact, and you’ll probably think I’m pointing out the obvious (but that, in my mind, simply indicates how good a job Twitter have done with it): they display all the twitters of those users in that grouping on one page. Well, yeah, I guess that was the [Obvious](http://obvious.com/) thing to do with that grouping.

Amongst the other types of groupings, one can wonder if Twitter needs to introduce similar-interest groups, or contact groups. I don’t see much of a case for the former, as Twitter is centred around people and relationships rather than the content of their interactions. Twitter is not really about what I’m saying to people. It’s about who I’m talking to. Twitter is precious because it gives me a space in which I can share a little things about my life with anybody who has decided that these little things had some value to them (and that can include non-Twitter users). Twitter it is equally precious because it provides me with a space (and this is where the “what they actually *did* with that grouping” thing comes in) through which I can stay informed of the little things in lives of others that I have decided were meaningful for me.

Which brings me to contact groups. Contact groups could have two purposes for twitter:
– privacy management
– twitter overflow management, particularly on mobile devices.

Without getting into the technicalities involved (and I’m aware they are not straightforward), let’s imagine that I can tag my Twitter contacts. This allows me to give some structure to my online world in Twitter. I can use that structure in two ways: make certain messages visible only to certain people I have chosen (privacy), receive messages on a given device only from certain people (overflow).

Tagging is the best way to create these contact groups. It leaves each user completely free to organise their world how they wish. It allows multiple classification of contacts. Keep the tags private, and personal dramas are avoided. Multiple classification requires establishing rules for when conflicting orders are given. Interfaces (web and mobile) need to be devised to tag contacts, to set message privacy (default, message by message, on/off style), and following behaviour. Not straightforward, of course, but can certainly be done.

Remains the basic question: does this kind of feature address a real need? (For me, it does.) How is it going to change Twitter if it is implemented? (If this can be predicted…) What might happen if it is not implemented? Well, you know, the usual stuff when making a decision.

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English Only: Barrier to Adoption [en]

*Foreword: this turned into a rather longer post than I had expected. The importance of language and localization online is one of my pet topics (I’ve just decided that it would be what I’d [talk about at BlogCamp](http://barcamp.ch/BlogCampSwitzerland#unAgenda), rather than teenagers and stuff), so I do tend to get carried away a little.*

I was surprised last night to realise that this wasn’t necessarily obvious — so I think it’s probably worth a blog post.

**The fact a service is in English only is a showstopper for many non-native speakers, hence a barrier to wider adoption in Europe.**

But doesn’t everybody speak English, more or less? Isn’t it the *lingua franca* of today that **everybody** speaks? It isn’t. At least not in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I’m certain there are many other places in Europe where the situation is similar.

Come and spend a little time in Lausanne, for example, and try communicating in English with the man on the street. Even if many people have done a couple of years of English at school, most have never had any use for it after that and have promptly forgotten it. German is a way more important “foreign language” around here, as it is the linguistic majority in Switzerland, and most administrative centers of big companies (and the government) are in the German-speaking part of the country (which doesn’t mean that everybody speaks German, either).

The people who are reasonably comfortable with English around here will most often be those who have taken up higher academic studies, particularly in scientific subjects (“soft” and “hard” science alike).

And if I’m the person who comes to your mind when you think “Swiss”, think again — my father is British, I was born in England, went to an English medium school and spoke English at home until I was 8, conversed regularly with English-speaking grandparents during my growing years, and never stopped reading in English: all that gave me enough of a headstart that even though my English had become very rusty at the end of my teens, I dove into the English-speaking internet with a passion, and spent an anglophone [year in India](/logbook/). So, no. I’m not your average Lausanne-living French-speaker. I’m a strange bilingual beast.

Imagine somebody whose native language is not English, even though they may theoretically know enough English to get around if you parachuted them into London. (Let’s forget about the man on the street who barely understands you when you ask where the station is.) I like to think of [my (step-)sister](http://isablog.wordpress.com/) as a good test-case (not that I want to insist on the “step-“, but it explains why she isn’t bilingual). She took up the “modern languages” path at school, which means she did German, English, and Italian during her teenage years, and ended up being quite proficient in all three (she’s pretty good with languages). She went to university after that and used some English during her studies. But since then, she honestly hasn’t had much use for the language. She’ll read my blog in English, can converse reasonably comfortably, but will tend to watch the TV series I lend her in the dubbed French version.

I’m telling you this to help paint a picture of somebody which you might (legitimately) classify as “speaks English”, but for whom it represents an extra effort. And again, I’d like to insist, my sister would be very representative of most people around here who “speak English but don’t use it regularly at work”. That is already not representative of the general population, who “did a bit of English at school but forgot it all” and can barely communicate with the lost English-speaking tourist. Oh, and forget about the teenagers: they start English at school when they’re 13, and by the time they’re 15-16 they *might* (if they are lucky) have enough knowledge of it to converse on everyday topics (again: learning German starts a few years before that, and is more important in the business world). This is the state of “speaking English” around here.

A service or tool which is not available in French faces a barrier to adoption in the *Suisse Romande* on two levels:

– first of all, there are people who simply don’t know enough English to understand what’s written on the sign-up page;
– second, there are people who would understand most of what’s on the sign-up page, but for whom it represents and extra effort.

Let’s concentrate on the second batch. An *extra effort”?! Lazy people! Think of it. All this talk about making applications more usable, about optimizing the sign-up process to make it so painless that people can do it with their eyes closed? Well, throw a page in a foreign language at most normal people and they’ll perceive it as an extra difficulty. And it may very well be the one that just makes them navigate away from the page and never come back. Same goes for using the service or application once they have signed up: it makes everything more complicated, and people anticipate that.

Let’s look at some examples.

The first example isn’t exactly about a web service or application, but it shows how important language is for the adoption of new ideas (this isn’t anything groundbreaking if you look at human history, but sometimes the web seems to forget that the world hasn’t changed that much…). Thanks for bearing with me while I ramble on.

In February 2001, I briefly mentioned [the WaSP Browser Push](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/16/to-hell-with-bad-browsers/) and realised that the French-speaking web was really [“behind” on design and web standards ressources](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/13/poor-french-web/). I also realised that although [there was interest for web standards](http://mammouthland.free.fr/weblog/2001/fevrier_01.php3), many French-speaking people couldn’t read the original English material. This encouraged me to [blog in French about it](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/24/tableaux-ou-non/), [translate Zeldman’s article](http://pompage.net/pompe/paitre/), [launching](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/03/21/faire-part/) the translation site [pompage.net](http://pompage.net/) in the process. Pompage.net, and the [associated mailing-list](http://fr.groups.yahoo.com/group/pompeurs/), followed a year or so later by [OpenWeb](http://openweb.eu.org/), eventually became a hub for the budding francophone web standards community, which is still very active to this day.

([What happened with the Swiss Blog Awards](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/04/30/about-the-swiss-blog-awards-sbaw/) is in my opinion another example of how important language issues are.)

Back to web applications proper. [Flickr](http://flickr.com) is an application I love, but I have a hard time getting people to sign up and use it, even when I’ve walked them through the lengthy Yahoo-ID process. [WordPress.com](http://fr.wordpress.com), on the other hand, exists in French, and I can now easily persuade my friends and clients to open blogs there. There is a strong [French-speaking WordPress community](http://wordpress-fr.net/) too. A few years ago, when the translation and support were not what they are now, a very nice little blogging tool named [DotClear](http://www.dotclear.net/) became hugely popular amongst francophone bloggers (and it still is!) in part because it was in French when other major blogging solutions were insufficient in that respect.

Regarding WordPress, I’d like to point out the [community-driven translation effort](http://translate.wordpress.com/) to which everybody can contribute. Such an open way of doing things has its pitfalls (like dreadful, dreadful translations which linger on the home page until somebody comes along to correct them) but overall, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. In almost no time, dozens of localized versions can be made available, maintained by those who know the language best.

Let’s look at teenagers. When [MySpace](http://myspace.com) was all that was being talked about in the US, French-speaking teenagers were going wild on [skyblog](http://skyblog.com). MySpace is catching up a bit now because it [also exists in French](http://fr.myspace.com/). [Facebook](http://www.facebook.com/)? In English, nobody here has heard of it. [Live Messenger aka MSN](http://www.windowslive.fr/messenger/default.asp)? Very much in French, [unlike ICQ](http://icq.com/), which is only used here by anglophile early adopters.

[Skype](http://skype.com/intl/fr/) and [GMail](http://gmail.com)/[GTalk](http://www.google.com/talk/intl/fr/) are really taking off here now that they are available in French.

Learning to use a new service, or just trying out the latest toy, can be challenging enough an experience for the average user without adding the extra hurdle of having to struggle with an unfamiliar language. Even though a non-localized service like Flickr may be the home to [various linguistic groups](http://www.flickr.com/groups/topic/69039/), it’s important to keep in mind that their members will tend to be the more “anglophone” of this language group, and are not representative.

**The bottom line is that even with a lot of encouragement, most local people around here are not going to use a service which doesn’t talk to them in their language.**

***9:52 Afterthought credit:***

I just realised that this article on [why startups condense in America](http://www.paulgraham.com/america.html) was the little seed planted a few days ago which finally brought me to writing this post. I haven’t read all the article, but this little part of it struck me and has been working in the background ever since:

> What sustains a startup in the beginning is the prospect of getting their initial product out. The successful ones therefore make the first version as simple as possible. In the US they usually begin by making something just for the local market.

> This works in America, because the local market is 300 million people. It wouldn’t work so well in Sweden. In a small country, a startup has a harder task: they have to sell internationally from the start.

> The EU was designed partly to simulate a single, large domestic market. The problem is that the inhabitants still speak many different languages. So a software startup in Sweden is still at a disadvantage relative to one in the US, because they have to deal with internationalization from the beginning. It’s significant that the most famous recent startup in Europe, Skype, worked on a problem that was intrinsically international.

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Power Laws, Popularity, Authority, A-Lists and the Rest… [en]

Things are colliding in my mind and slowly falling into place. A word of warning, however: contents may have settled while shipping. Here are the ingredients:

– [An “Interesting” Photograph](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/74221361/in/set-1292259/) — of mine… that’s what started it all, actually
– [Visibility is in Feedback Loops](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/02/05/visibility-is-in-feedback-loops/) — me
– [Technorati adds authority weighting](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/13/technorati-adds-authority-weighting/) — Robert Scoble
– [Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality](http://shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html) — Clay Shirky
– [The Science of Hit Songs](http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060209_hit_songs.html) — Bjorn Carey
– [Tips for joining the A list](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/14/tips-for-joining-the-a-list/) — Robert Scoble
– [Scoble on Tips For Joining The A-List](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2006/02/scoble_on_tips_.html) — Stowe Boyd
– a paragraph in [Blogs to Riches](http://newyorkmetro.com/news/media/15967/index1.html) — Clive Thompson
– plus a few random posts and conversations… (thanks Kevin Marks)

**Popularity begets popularity**

Neige et lune 13When the photograph you see here suddenly ranked number twelve in Flickr “interestingness” for the day it was taken, I got a bunch of very appreciative comments about it. But something bothered me: it’s a nice photograph, but it’s certainly not the best photograph I’ve taken. However, it was attracting all the attention. And as it was attracting attention, it was becoming more and more “Flickr-interesting”.

Then I stayed stuck on the [Wordpress.com home page](http://wordpress.com) for a couple of days, and [watched my traffic soar up and come right back down again](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/02/05/visibility-is-in-feedback-loops/). I was getting visitors because I had been labeled as “fast-growing” or whatever, not because I had suddenly become brilliant. Proof being the decrease in traffic after the peak. What’s popular becomes more popular, or stays popular, because it’s popular. At some point, just being popular is enough.

And, as I was already hinting in [my previous post on the subject](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/02/05/visibility-is-in-feedback-loops/ “Same post as the one linked right above.”), it’s normal. That’s the way things go. I found confirmation of what I suspected in this article on [hit songs](http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060209_hit_songs.html). They explain that we are more likely to say we like a song if we see that others have already said they like it. Yeah, it’s not a part of us we like looking at, but we’re influenceable. It’s human. They set up an experiment with two groups which have to rate songs. One group can see ratings of other group members, but the other cannot.

In the independent condition, participants chose which songs to listen to based solely on the names of the bands and their songs. While listening to the song, they were asked to rate it from one star (“I hate it”) to five stars (“I love it”). They were also given the option of downloading the song for keeps.

.[…]

In the social influence group, participants were provided with the same song list, but could also see how many times each song had been downloaded.

Researchers found that popular songs were popular and unpopular songs were unpopular, regardless of their quality established by the other group. They also found that as a particular songs’ popularity increased, participants selected it more often.

So, let’s say it so it’s said: it’s *normal* that the most “popular” blogs get the most visibility, links, and visitors. That happens because they’re popular. They don’t totally suck, of course, or they wouldn’t have got “popular enough” for the feedback loop to work in the first place, but they are helped in remaining popular by the fact they are popular. Which maybe puts pressure on some to keep the quality level up.

**Popularity or authority?**

Popular? Visited, linked, or some combination thereof. People hear about it, talk about it, go and see it. That’s popular. Popularity is pretty close to things you can measure, like how many visitors a site has (that’s the numbers you see in news articles), or how many incoming links it has (that’s what Technorati tracks).

But is that what we really want? People who blog clearly want recognition of some sort (otherwise, we wouldn’t take the trouble of writing in a public space), but is recognition in numbers really what we’re after? At LIFT’06, I heard Robert say that it wasn’t the *number* of readers of his blog that mattered, but *who* these people were. Is your readership going to come and leave without a word, or react, start conversations, influence the people around them? What matters is how your audience scales. But in some way, we’re still thinking about numbers, here: “how can I have the most influence?”

I think that what we’re really after isn’t recognition by numbers, because somewhere inside we know that numbers are fake. I can be hugely popular but still not feel recognized for who I am or what I’m worth or what I’m saying. I suspect that what we want to be recognized for is more along the lines of *authority* in a certain field (ie, what we write about). We want people to see that we have something valid to say. That we have ideas that are original or provocative or that help things move along. That we know what we’re talking about. That, for me, is authority. And that cannot be measured by incoming links, visitors, or even [conversational indexes](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2006/02/the_social_scal.html).

This is why I find it increasingly disturbing that [Technorati is calling (and has been calling “authority” something which is in fact much nearer to “popularity”](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/13/technorati-adds-authority-weighting/ “Read the comments.”). It gives us the impression it’s measuring what we want (authority) when in fact it’s measuring something which is maybe more superficial (linkedness-popularity) but more measurable. So we get all worked up by the A list popularity problem, and gatekeepers, and stuff like that — when in fact being in the A list probably isn’t really what most people want. It’s confusing something qualitative (authority) with something quantitative (number of links).

**Quality and visibility**

Robert wrote a post giving [tips for joining the A list](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/14/tips-for-joining-the-a-list/), and [Stowe Boyd responded with tips of his own](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2006/02/scoble_on_tips_.html), saying Robert’s were a bit superficial.

Both posts have valid tips and insights, but they run along two different lines. Robert’s post is more about “how to be more visible/become more popular” and Stowe’s is more about “being a good blogger”. Both are important. You can be a good blogger, have a good blog, but stay in the shadows more than you deserve because you’re not visible enough. And you can make yourself visible all you want, all that agitation isn’t going to bring you recognition if you don’t have “good content” (in the wide sense).

**A list thoughts**

People often think that getting mentioned in some high-traffic blog will automatically bring visibility. Not true. Robert mentioned me twice in his blog during the last week (and he actually said [really nice things](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/04/going-skiing-today/) about me), but that just made a bump in my stats. Not a huge peak with server overload and comments pouring in and hundreds of other links. Just a little bump. (And it’s not like I already have 5’000 readers anyway.) On the same day, Robert talked about [coComment](http://cocomment.com), also saying [really nice things](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/04/track-your-comments-no-matter-where-you-make-them/) , and as a result, [all hell broke loose](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/02/05/what-did-we-do/) and in a matter of hours, coComment was [all over the blogosphere](http://technorati.com/search/cocomment “See what Technorati says.”). Well, that’s because coComment is a major advancement for the blogosphere, and I’m not. It’s not being linked which is important — it’s what you are. (So, if you’re a post or a blog, whether you’re an interesting post or blog.)

Another interesting thing about most of these so-called “A list blogs” is that I barely read them (OK, I barely read any blogs, but that’s another story). The only reason I drop by on [Boing Boing](http://boingboing.net/) every now and again is because it’s “blog number one” and people talk about it all the time. It’s not on *my* A list. (Which isn’t to say it’s bad — it isn’t — it’s just not a compelling read for me.) [Robert’s blog](http://scobleizer.wordpress.com) was exactly the same for me until recently. I’m reading it now, but that’s because I met him at LIFT’06 and discovered he’s a really sweet person. I read his blog because I appreciate him as a person, and I’m generally interested in reading what people I like are writing.

Maybe I’m a weird blogger who doesn’t know how to recognize a great blog and only reads blogs of people she knows. I see this trend in my reading habits, I’ll be honest about that. I think [Random Acts of Reality](http://randomreality.blogware.com/) is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. I remember when the “A list complaining” was about [Megnut](http://www.megnut.com/), [Evhead](http://www.evhead.com/), [Kottke](http://kottke.org/) and the like, in the good ol’ [Blogger](http://blogger.com) days. None of these blogs really attracted me as a reader, their popularity put aside.

**Wrap-up**

I’m not sure many of you will have had the patience to trudge through this long, rambling post, so I’ll try to summarize things for you:

– being popular helps you stay popular; it’s a normal thing, because we tend to like what other people like; nothing wrong with that, just be aware of it;
– popularity is not authority; popularity is easy to measure, it’s quantitative; authority is qualitative; maybe we think we want popularity, but what we really want is recognition for our authority;
– being a good blogger and being a visible blogger are not the same thing, though they can work together well; different tips apply;
– a link on an A list blog is not going to drive tons of traffic your way and put you in the limelight unless you really deserve it; A list blogs aren’t necessarily fascinating for all readers — remember part of their popularity comes from being popular, so don’t fret if you don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

As a final note, I’m pretty happy where I am:

– in the [Swiss French media](/about/presse “Press appearances.”), I have what amounts to “popularity which begets popularity”, and it’s not always all that great: I often feel I get called for interviews more because my name is all over the place than because the journalist has read stuff I wrote and wants to know more about what I have to say on this or that topic;
– I’m not certain I’d like to have 20’000 readers ready to tear apart every post I made;
– I don’t think I’d like people gravitating around me in the hope I’d “out” them and bring them their well-deserved popularity;
– and I certainly wouldn’t like having resident trolls!

Thanks for reading (or skimming), and feel free to react to what I say here. I’m aware some of it is probably a little clumsy or beside the point. Show me where.

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