Browsed by
Tag: groups

Une éloge des groupes Facebook [fr]

Une éloge des groupes Facebook [fr]

[en] An introduction to Facebook groups and why I think they are great collaborative spaces.

Ce n’est pas un secret, j’adore les groupes Facebook. J’en ai démarré plusieurs et rejoint encore d’autres.

Je n’ai pas toujours été fan. J’ai connu les vieux groupes Facebook pas pratiques du tout, et j’ai vu arriver les groupes “nouvelle version” avec le scepticisme d’une vieille routière des nouvelles fonctionnalités “qui vont changer la vie” dans les médias sociaux.

Eh bien j’avais tort. Le groupe Facebook est une formule extrêmement efficace pour échanger et collaborer en ligne, que ce soit sur des choses sérieuses ou moins sérieuses.

D’abord parce que “tout le monde est déjà sur Facebook de toute façon”, donc pas besoin de persuader les gens d’ajouter un nouveau compte à leur collection, un nouvel endroit où trainer, une nouvelle interface à maîtriser.

Facebook, on connaît, les notifications pour le groupe arrivent au milieu de toutes les autres, on pense donc à y aller, on voit quand on nous répond, on voit quand on nous interpelle. C’est efficace.

Les sujets actifs remontent en haut de la page, donc quand on revient sur le groupe, on voit tout de suite où est l’action. Partager une photo ou une vidéo est simple comme bonjour (enfin si on connaît déjà Facebook), et ça marche depuis l’ordinateur, la tablette ou le mobile.

Les groupes peuvent être ouverts (tout le monde peut en voir le contenu, comme mon groupe “petite plantes”), fermé, c’est-à-dire que tout le monde peut voir le groupe, ses membres, sa description mais non pas son contenu (comme le groupe pour indépendants Going Solo), ou secret — à moins d’y être invité, impossible de savoir que le groupe existe. Si on va sur la page du groupe sans être membre, Facebook nous dit “passez votre chemin, y’a rien à voir ici”.

En ce qui me concerne, l’essentiel de mon activité sur Facebook se passe dans des groupes.

Prochain article sur le sujet? Comment démarrer un groupe Facebook.

 

Similar Posts:

Social Tools Allow Ridiculously Easy Group-Forming [en]

Social Tools Allow Ridiculously Easy Group-Forming [en]

More notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Both markets and organisations imply costs (transaction costs in large groups, labour required to maintain organisation). There are activities which simply don’t happen, because their cost is higher than their potential value both for markets and organisations. This is where social tools step in: they lower the cost of coordinating group action, and allow new forms of activities to appear.

Stuff that we find normal in 2013: if you stage a public event, photos of it will most certainly be made publicly available (through Flickr and the like) even if you do not hire a professional photographer or mandate people to collect photos. The social tool provides a cheap way for any person taking photos of the event for their personal satisfaction to add them to a public pool that anybody can draw from, through spontaneous tagging.

Under the Coasean floor: activities that are valuable to somebody but too expensive to be taken on in an institutional way, like aggregating amateur documentation of the London transit bombings. People have always had the desire to share, and the obstacles to sharing are now gone, so it happens.

When transaction costs are high, hierarchical organisations are the least bad solution for group action. If transaction costs drop a little, large organisations can afford to become larger, and small organisations appear where there were none, because they are now “cheap enough” to put in place. But when tools arrive which make transaction costs plummet, all kinds of group action which were impossible before are now happening outside of traditional organisations, in loosely structured groups, without managerial direction or profit motive.

Group undertakings: sharing, cooperation, collective action — by order of increasing difficulty.

Cooperation is more demanding than sharing because it requires changing one’s behaviour to synchronise with others (who are also doing the same thing). Conversation is an example. This makes me think of something I wanted to say about Facebook groups: groups where all that happens is people “sharing” stuff don’t take off. Sharing doesn’t really create a sense of community like conversation does. So if one wants a community of people, one must encourage conversation, which is more difficult to achieve than simple sharing. Collaborative production (cf. wikipedia, a potluck dinner, a barn raising) is another form of cooperation, more involved than conversation.

Collective action goes a step further, ambitioning to change something in the world, creating shared responsibility by tying the group and individual identities together. Action is taken “in the name of”. This comes with a share of governance issues, especially the larger the group. The shared vision of the group needs to be strong enough to keep the group together despite the tensions arising from individual disagreement on specific decisions.

Seb Paquet: ridiculously easy group-forming. This reminds me of an O’Reilly book that I read during my year in India (I read a number of O’Reilly books there, purchased in Indian editions and therefore compatible with my student’s budget): Practical Internet Groupware. It was an eye-opener, and much of the stuff in there is still true nearly 15 years later.

Says Clay Shirky (quoting!):

Ridiculously easy group-forming matters because the desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct that has always been constrained by transaction costs. Now that group-forming has gone from hard to ridiculously easy, we are seeing an explosion of experiments with new groups and new kinds of groups.

Similar Posts:

IRC: #joiito Channel Revival (Or At Least Reunion) [en]

IRC: #joiito Channel Revival (Or At Least Reunion) [en]

[fr] Le retour du canal IRC #joiito, et quelques pensées sur ce qui différencie Twitter et Facebook (même les groupes) d'un canal IRC comme celui-ci.

So, let me tell you what happened last night. You know I’ve been reading Here Comes Everybody, right? Well, in chapter 9, Clay Shirky tells the story of #joiito — Joi Ito‘s IRC channel, that I was a regular of for years since sometime in 2003 or 2004, until Twitter emptied the channel of most of its life. Reading about it in Clay’s book reminded me what a special thing it was.

Last night, I saw that my old friend Kevin Marks was online on Facebook. Unless I’m very mistaken, Kevin is one of the numerous friends I made on #joiito, and we hadn’t chatted in ages. I wanted to tell him about my Blogging Tribe experiment, see if he was interested. We started joking about the old times (OMG Technorati!), I mentioned my reading Here Comes Everybody, the mention of #joiito, he pointed me to his blog post clarifying Jeannie Cool’s role in the channel (seems Clay had got the story wrong in the first edition of his book), which brought me to another post of Kevin’s on the bots we had running in #joiito, and on an impulse, I went to check out the channel.

Now over the last years, I’ve pretty much always been logged in to #joiito (I run irssi in screen on my server). But I stopped going. Like many others it seems, over the years Twitter became my “replacement” for IRC. I guess we all logged in less and less, and the channel population and conversation dropped below the critical mass it needed to stay truly alive. The community disbanded.

The channel never truly died, of course. There were always some of us sitting in there, and there would be sudden flare-ups of activity. But the old spirit had left the room.

Kevin followed me in, started fiddling with the bots, I found an old abandoned #joiito Facebook group. Created back in 2007, it was clearly an “old-style” Facebook group (they sucked) that was migrated to new style and emptied automatically of its members. There were three members, I invited myself in, invited a bunch of other #joiito old hands, and started pinging people to get them to drop into the channel.

In less than an hour we had a lively conversation going on in #joiito. I stayed on for a few hours, then went to bed. Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to discover close to 60 people in the Facebook group, and that the conversation on #joiito had gone on all my night, with “new old channel regulars” joining! It feels just like the old days. Seriously. It makes me very happy, because I think this IRC channel was really something precious, and I was sad it was “no more”. (Quotes because obviously, the channel never disappeared… it just died down.)

I haven’t had an IRC conversation like this in years. I’ve been very active on Twitter (slightly less now), am very active on Facebook, and really love Facebook groups. But an IRC channel like #joiito is something different.

When I asked my old friends what had “replaced” #joiito in their current online ecosystem, the general response seems to be “Twitter”, clearly. But what is missing with Twitter and Facebook (and even Path) that we are so happy to see our channel alive again?

Twitter and Facebook are centred on the network, not on the group. We are loosely joined to each other on Twitter just like we are loosely joined on IRC (I definitely am not “close” to all the channel regulars — more on that too in a bit), but the container is way bigger. On Twitter, our networks sprawl and spread until we end up (some of us) with thousands of followers. This is very different than an enclosed chatroom with less than 100 people in it.

Once we started spending more time on Twitter and Facebook, we stopped being part of the same group. We got lost in our own networks of friends, acquaintances, and contacts.

Facebook groups bring back this “community” aspect. But interaction and conversation in Facebook groups, which are built upon a message-board model, is much slower than in IRC. There is less fluff, less joking, less playing around. It’s not real-time chatting, it’s endless commenting. We’ve touted Twitter and Facebook so much as being “real-time” that we’ve forgotten where the real “real-time” is: in chatting.

IM, Facebook, and Twitter allow people to keep in touch. I’m connected to a large handful of #joiito regulars on Facebook — people I used to exchange with daily during the Golden Days. But on Facebook, we don’t talk. Our relationship is not one of one-to-one chats. Our lives on Facebook our different enough that they don’t bring us closer, but make us drift apart. We are missing our hang-out place.

You’ve seen that play out offline, certainly. You leave a club you were part of or a job. There are many people there whom you appreciate or even love, but you do not stay in touch. Once the common activity or place that brought you together in the first place is gone, there is not enough left to keep you together.

Twitter and Facebook are more lonely places to hang out online than an IRC channel, because nobody shares the same experience as you. We all have a different Twitter, a different Facebook. In an IRC channel, we all have the same lines of text scrolling before our eyes.

Is this just a reunion, or is this the revival of the #joiito IRC channel?

Only time will tell. I personally hope for a revival. I missed you guys.

Similar Posts:

My Interest in Organisations and how Social Media Fits in [en]

My Interest in Organisations and how Social Media Fits in [en]

[fr] Ce qui m'intéresse dans ces histoires d'organisations, et le lien avec les médias sociaux (du coup, aussi des infos sur mon intérêt pour ceux-ci).

I found these thoughts about organisations at the beginning of Here Comes Everybody fascinating: organisations and how they disfunction are a long-standing interest of mine, dating back to when I was a student with a part-time job at Orange. My initial interest was of course function rather than dysfunction. How does one make things happen in an organisation? What are the processes? Who knows what? It was the organisation as system that I found interesting.

Quickly, though, I bumped my head against things like processes that nobody knew of and nobody was following. Or processes that were so cumbersome that people took shortcuts. Already at the time, it seems I displayed a “user-oriented” streak, because my first impulse was to try to figure out what was so broken about those processes that people found it more costly to follow them than come up with workarounds. Or try to understand how we could tweak the processes so that they were usable. In reaction to which one manager answered “no, people must follow the processes”. I didn’t know it then, but I guess that was when I took my first step towards the door that would lead me out of the corporate world.

More recently, and I think I haven’t yet got around to blogging this, I have remembered that my initial very “cluetrainy” interest for the internet and blogging and social media really has to do with improving how people can relate to each other, access information, and communicate. The revelation I had at Lift’06 (yes, the very first Lift conference!) while listening to Robert Scoble and Hugh McLeod about how this blogging thing I loved so much was relevant to business was that it pushed business to change and humanised it. Blogging and corpepeak don’t mix well, blogging is about putting people in contact, and about listening to what is being said to you. As the Cluetrain Manifesto can be summarised: it’s about how the internet changes the way organisations interact with people, both outside and inside the organisation.

That is what rocks my boat. Not marketing on Facebook or earning revenue from your blog.

Again and again, when I talk to clients who are trying to understand what social media does and how to introduce it in their organisation, we realise that social media is the little piece of string you start pulling which unravels everything, from corporate culture to sometimes even the business model of the organisation. You cannot show the human faces of a company that treats its employees like robots. You cannot be “authentic” if you’re out there to screw people. You cannot say you’re listening if you’re not willing to actually listen.

Of course, there is the question of scale. I’ll get back to that. Personal doesn’t scale. Radical transparency or authenticity doesn’t scale. But your average organisation is so far off in the other direction…

I’ve realised that my interest lies more with organisations and forms of collaboration and group effort than with social media per se, which I see first and foremost as a tool, a means to an end, something which has changed our culture and society. I find ROWE and Agile super interesting and want to learn more about them. I have a long-standing interest in freelancing and people who “do things differently”. I’m interested in understanding how we can work and be happy, both. I’m also realising that I have more community management skills than I take credit for.

In the pile of books I brought up with me to the chalet, next to “Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do” by my friend Euan Semple and books around freelancing there is “Delivering Happiness“, the story of Zappos, and “One From Many“, the story of VISA, the “chaordic organisation” — and “Rework” (37signals) has now joined the ranks of the “have read” books in my bookshelves.

Similar Posts:

Google Groups Pain in the Neck [en]

Google Groups Pain in the Neck [en]

[fr] Google Groups trouve qu'il n'est pas raisonnable de vouloir ajouter plus d'une dizaine de personnes à la fois à une newsletter nouvellement créée.

I’ve used Google Groups to set up a [newsletter for Going Solo](http://going-solo.net/2008/04/30/going-solo-has-a-newsletter/).

[Here it is](http://groups.google.com/group/going-solo-news/), with added proof (if needed) of my hopeless lack of design sense.

When I set up the group, I did what most normal newsletter creators would do: went through my contacts to invite those who might be interested in joining. I selected 30 or so people to start with.

My action triggered a flag for review, as I might be a potential spammer:

> **Your request to invite X new members has been flagged for review by our staff.**

>In order to protect our members from unsolicited email, Google manually reviews invite requests which meet various criteria. Your request will not be reviewed unless you provide us with more information in the form below. Reviews generally take 1 – 2 business days.

>Please provide an explanation for where these new members come from and why they would want to be part of your group. Note that Google takes a very dim view of Spam. The people you invite must know you and be expecting your message. If they complain, you will be banned from our service and your group will be deleted.

Great.

Well, I wrote up an explanation, saying I was setting up this newsletter so that people could stay informed about [Going Solo](http://going-solo.net/) ([registration](http://going-solo.net/registration/) is closing soon btw), and that I was going through my address book to let people know about it.

Anything wrong with that, in your opinion? I think not, and Google obviously didn’t think there was anything wrong either, because they let my invitations go through after a few hours.

**BUT.**

Now, each time I invite even **one single person**, my request is flagged.

Google Groups: Threatening!

What a pain! I’m going to be inviting people many times a day over the next week, as I dig out e-mail addresses. And obviously, just announcing the existence of the newsletter is not enough to get people to sign up — ever heard of lower the barrier to entry? If I’m creating this newsletter, it’s because I’m finally coming to my senses (!) and realising that not everybody [follows Twitter](http://going-solo.net/twitter), [subscribes to blogs](http://going-solo.net), hangs out on [Facebook](http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=8828618221) or [upcoming](http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/407911/), and that *good ol’ e-mail* still has some good days before it when it comes to getting information out to people.

I am really annoyed at Google Groups for making this so difficult. Shouldn’t there be a way for me to get the limit “lifted” for my group, by offering proof I’m not a nasty spammer, but a businesswoman (OMG!) who is very much aware that she will very quickly use up her social capital if she spams her network with irrelevant stuff? And therefore, that I actually *need* to send out invites to a few hundred people?

Also, look at this form:

Google Groups invite members

Don’t you think that “e-mail addresses” field invites a reasonably large number of addresses?

I went through the help, and it wasn’t very encouraging, but I did learn a few useful things:

– [the “flagging limit” seems to be **10** invites at a time](http://groups.google.com/group/Managing-Your-Group/msg/034a807378fbdfd5) (talk about being unreasonably low for newsletters, bound to trigger TONS of false positives)
– you can [create a Google Groups account easily](https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount) even with a non-Gmail address (I think I had grief with this last year when I was struggling with Google Groups not wanting to send e-mail to the client I was setting up the discussion list for)
– messages from staff in the relevant threads seem to focus on [filling in the fields](http://groups.google.com/group/Managing-Your-Group/msg/d8efc2db78fc1502), which I’ve been doing, of course
– I’m not alone in thinking the [language Google uses for the warning message is a bit over the top](http://groups.google.com/group/Managing-Your-Group/browse_thread/thread/b5d34348c034b6e9), particularly given the number of false positives their low trigger limit is going to create (and the fact there is no warning that such a limit exists when you fill in the [**huge** field for e-mail addresses to invite](http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunny/2456715554/))
– [I’m not alone.](http://groups.google.com/group/Managing-Your-Group/browse_thread/thread/eca163d042772868/31512ccb7cb93d80?lnk=gst&q=)
– There doesn’t seem to be an official Google Groups blog.

So, please. If you have friends working on Google Groups, please draw their attention to this post and issue. It’s a bloody pain in the neck.

Oh yeah — and [please sign up for the newsletter](groups.google.com/group/going-solo-news/subscribe). I’m going to have trouble inviting you 😉 — [email protected] also works.

Similar Posts:

Hashtags For My Followees [en]

Hashtags For My Followees [en]

[fr] En utilisant un dièze # devant un mot dans un message Twitter, on en fait un tag (un "hashtag", pour être précis -- "hash" étant un nom du dièze). Le site hashtags.org indexe ces tags. Pour y retrouver vos tweets, suivez hashtags sur Twitter.

[Hashtags.org](http://hashtags.org/) popped up on my radar roughly a week ago, I’d say. I mentioned [hashtags](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/09/02/twitter-hashtags-a-quickie/) once already here. They’re a “user-generated” system for implementing tags into Twitter. (User-generated, here, does not mean the same as in the ugly “user-generated content (UCG)” everybody is talking about these days, but points to the fact that [hashtags were initiated by users](http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2007/08/25/groups-for-twitter-or-a-proposal-for-twitter-tag-channels/), not by the Twitter-makers — just like the @convention.)

So, what does hashtags.org do? Basically, it makes those hashtags visible. In September, Twitter introduced [tracking](http://blog.twitter.com/2007/09/tracking-twitter.html), which I realise now I haven’t mentioned here yet. Tracking allows you to “subscribe” to keywords. I personally chose to track “stephtara” and “@stephtara” so that any @replies would arrive directly on my phone as texts. I had the bad idea to track “fowa” during [the Future of Web Apps conference](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/05/my-notes-of-fowa-autumn-2007/). By break time I had 300 text messages in my inbox. Oopsie!

Hashtags.org allows you to view tweets labeled with a hashtag on a web page. Look at [#leweb3](http://hashtags.org/tag/leweb3/) for example, [#twitter](http://hashtags.org/tag/twitter/), or [#wordpress](http://hashtags.org/tag/wordpress/).

A few remarks:

– it’s not very populated yet, because you need to [follow @hashtags](http://twitter.com/hashtags) for them to track your tags; as of writing, only 132 people are — so start following!
– I’m getting 500 internal server errors when I try to look at a tag that doesn’t exist ([#lausanne](http://hashtags.org/tag/lausanne/), as of writing)
– once “everybody” starts using hashtags, it will be very useful to be able to narrow down a collection of tagged tweets to “my followees only”; imagine I’m at LeWeb3, and everybody is twittering about it: I’m not interested in getting the thousands of tweets, just those from the people I’m following
– for a long time, I’ve been a proponent of stickemtogether multi-word tags; recently, I’ve revised my ideas about them and come to realise that multi-word tags really need spaces in them, for better indexing; at the moment, you need to use “+” instead of spaces, like “#san+francisco” (unfortunately these don’t get indexed correctly, [another 500 error](http://hashtags.org/tag/san%2Bfrancisco/)); [Stowe suggests opening and closing hash](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/12/hashtagsorg.html) as an alternative, which is a bit hashy though it has its charm (“#san francisco#”).

In any case, nice to see such an initiative up and running!

Similar Posts:

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

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.

Similar Posts: