Qwitted Qwitter After Less Than 24 Hours [en]

[fr] Qwitter, un service qui vous dit quand on cesse de vous suivre sur Twitter. Très peu pour moi -- je viens de le désactiver après moins de 24 heures de service. Non pas que je ne "supporte" pas l'idée qu'on puisse cesser de me suivre (bon dieu non, c'est plutôt que je ne saisis pas ce que 1500 personnes y trouvent à recevoir quotidiennement mes mises à jour) -- mais simplement parce que j'évite d'ajouter à ma vie déjà suffisamment angoissée des sources de "négativité", comme la consommation d'indices de marchés boursiers ou de nouvelles télévisées ou non. (Il y a les gens qui ont des "problèmes d'angoisse", comme on dit, et il y a les autres. Ces derniers ont bien de la chance, et qu'ils s'abstiennent de commentaires simplistes, de grâce.)

I thought I’d try out Qwitter. Not that I’m that obsessed with who stops following me, but I thought it could be interesting to see when my Twitter behaviour made followers drop me.

Well, less than 24 hours later (and after only 2 people qwitting on me), I have decided to turn it off.

Of course, I know people unfollow me. But getting this kind of news in my inbox generates just about the same kind of “downs” as checking the stock market every 10 minutes (instead of once in a blue moon or even once a day) and watching the news on TV (instead of avoiding unnecessary focus on all the wrongs in this world).

So, no thank you, Qwitter. There are enough sources of anxiety in my life without me adding them just for fun.

“Anxiety” is a big word here of course — I mean, who cares about people unfollowing them on Twitter — but still, who has never felt the tiniest pang at losing something they had (or thought they had)? It’s quite clear from research out there (check out Predictably Irrational for example) that being given $1 and then having to hand it back leaves one slightly more unhappy than if one never had that dollar in hand in first place.

Of course, I could filter all the Qwitter e-mails into a folder and check on them only when I want to know when such-and-such stopped following me. But is it really worth the trouble?

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Other People's Problems [en]

[fr] Je pense qu'une des raisons pour lesquelles il est plus facile de trouver des solutions aux problèmes des autres est que nous avons moins d'informations à disposition pour essayer de choisir "la meilleure solution".

A few days ago I had a sudden insight. And yes, amongst other things, I blame Fooled by Randomness.

We all know that it’s easier to solve other people’s problems than one’s own.

And we also know that being away from home with no computer access makes it easier to relax and do other things. Or working in the office instead of at home means you are not “tempted” by home stuff while you should be working. That basically, being in a context where you physically have less options reduces stress.

I just realised that it’s similar for with problems. One of the things Taleb insists on in Fooled by Randomness is that more information does not mean you make a better decision. More information is bound to get you fooled by randomness.

So, two things here:

  • less choice means less stress
  • less information can mean better decisions

I think that both come into play in a way when dealing with other people’s problems. You have less data about the issue than the person who is stuck in the problem. That makes it easier for you to take a decision about it (or give advice), because you aren’t burdened by tons of possibly useless data that you still try to process.

Makes sense?

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About Not Reading [en]

[fr] Je me suis rendu compte tout dernièrement à quel point il est facile de répondre à une question sans l'avoir lue en entier, de commenter sur un billet de blog sans avoir cliqué sur le lien. FriendFeed pousse un peu à ça, avec sa manie de lister des titres de billets sur lesquels on peut commenter (je prétends pas avoir une meilleure solution).

Récemment, je demandais à mon entourage leur avis sur une question de workshops avant ou après Going Solo (j'en parlerai ailleurs plus en détail, ce n'est pas le propos de ce billet), et j'ai été étonnée de la quantité de réponses qui semblaient indiquer que mon interlocuteur n'avait en fait pas lu le lien que je lui avais donné.

Je ne vais pas jeter la pierre, je me rends régulièrement coupable du même raccourci (commenter sans avoir lu) même si j'essaie vraiment de me limiter. Ça me rappelle les Mythologiques de Lévi-Strauss, qu'on cite à tout va mais que personne n'a en fait lues en entier...

I’m guilty too. I sometimes read the title of a blog post, or a few sentences of an article, and comment on it.

It struck me recently how common this practice is, and also how it impairs communication. It’s the shortcut, the bet we make that we guessed or assumed correctly, the easy way out. Communication with no parasites requires work, and patience.

These last two days I’ve been trying to make up my mind about whether to place workshops *before* or *after* the main day of conferences for [Going Solo](http://going-solo.net). It’s a tricky problem which I don’t want to start discussing right now (I’m going to blog about the issues I face more precisely on the Going Solo blog shortly).

So, I chatted with people, Twittered about it, got into e-mail conversations, and decided to sum up some of my thoughts in a [Tumblr entry](http://steph.tumblr.com/post/37831000/workshops-before-or-after), which allowed me to simply point people there and ask them what their thoughts were.

And I was amazed at how many people didn’t actually respond to my point of concern (“are there any economical/sales/marketing reasons for putting a workshop before a conference, if there are other good reasons to place it after”) because the title, visible in the URL, led them to believe it was a simpler question: http://steph.tumblr.com/post/37831000/workshops-before-or-after.

Now, I’m guilty as much as they are. I took a shortcut too by blogging my thoughts and giving them a link, rather than engaging with each of them personally from ground zero.

But setting aside the question or workshops (which I’ll expound in another post), it did serve as an enlighting reminder that people (me included) do not always read what they react to.

It reminds me of one of my university teachers who told us the following story. When he was doing his PhD, he started trudging through the four volumes of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologiques. For those who are not familiar with Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques is his master work and is oft-cited in many disciplines of the academic world. Well, as he was stumbling upon some particularly nasty passages, he started asking collegues and professors what they had thought of them. And to his surprise, he realised that *nobody he could find had actually read through the four volumes*. Everyone was talking about this work, but nobody had actually read it in its entirety.

Isn’t that incredible?

Well, not so incredible if you think of it — at least not in the academic world. And obviously, not in the blog world either.

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Reading the Ofcon Report on Social Networking: Stats, Stranger Danger, Perceived Risk [en]

[fr] Le Daily Mail remet ça aujourd'hui, abasourdi de découvrir que les adolescents rencontrent "offline" des étrangers d'internet. Il va donc falloir que j'écrive le fameux billet auquel j'ai fait allusion dernièrement, mais avant cela, je suis en train de lire le rapport sur lequel se basent ces articles alarmés et bien-pensants.

Ce billet contient quelques commentaires sur la situation en général, ainsi que mes notes de lecture -- citations et commentaires -- du début de ce rapport de l'Ofcon.

I don’t know if I’ll get around to writing about the [teen cleavage scare](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/04/02/daily-mail-shocked-by-teen-cleavage/) before the story goes completely cold, but in my endeavour to offer a balanced criticism of what’s going on here, I’m currently reading the [Ofcon Social Networking Report which was released on April 2](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/02_04_08_ofcom.pdf) and prompted this new wave of [“think of the children” media coverage](http://strange.corante.com/archives/2007/07/26/think_of_the_children_yes_but_also_think_about_the_journalism.php). The Daily Mail is at it today again, with the stunning and alarming news that [teenagers are meeting “strangers” from the internet offline](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=557349&in_page_id=1770) (big surprise). I find it heartening, though, that the five reader comments to this article as of writing are completely sensible in playing down the “dangers” regularly touted by the press and the authorities.

Here are the running notes of my reading of this report. I might as well publish them as I’m reading. Clearly, the report seems way more balanced than the Daily Mail coverage (are we surprised?) which contains lots of figures taken out of context. However, there is still stuff that bothers me — less the actual results of the research (which are facts, so they’re good) than the way some of them are presented and the interpretations a superficial look at them might lead one to make (like, sorry to say, much of the mainstream press).

Here we go.

> Social networking sites also have
some potential pitfalls to negotiate, such as the unintended consequences of publicly posting
sensitive personal information, confusion over privacy settings, and contact with people one
doesn’t know.

Ofcon SN Report, page 1

Good start, I think that the issues raise here make sense. However, I would put “contact with people one doesn’t know” in “potential pitfalls”. (More about this lower down.)

> Ofcom research shows that just over one fifth (22%) of adult internet users aged 16+ and
almost half (49%) of children aged 8-17 who use the internet have set up their own profile on
a social networking site. For adults, the likelihood of setting up a profile is highest among
16-24 year olds (54%) and decreases with age.

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

This is to show that SNs are more popular amongst younger age groups. It makes sense to say that half of 8-17 year olds have a profile on SN site to compare it with the 22% of 16+ internet users or the 54% of 16-24 year olds. Bear in mind that these are *percentages of internet users* — they do not include those who do not go online.

However, saying “OMG one out of two 8-17 year olds has a profile on a SN site” in the context of “being at risk from paedophiles” is really not very interesting. Behaviour of 8 year olds and 17 year olds online cannot be compared at all in that respect. You can imagine a 16 year old voluntarily meeting up to have sex with an older love interest met on the internet. Not an 8 year old. In most statistics, however, both fall into the category of “paedophilia” when the law gets involved.

> 27% of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites say that they have a profile on a site

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

I’d like to draw you attention on the fact that this is 27% of 8-11 year olds **who are aware of social networking sites**.

> Unless otherwise stated, this report uses the term ‘children’ to include all young people aged 8-17.

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

I don’t like this at all, because as stated above, particularly when it comes to concerns about safety one *cannot* simply lump that agegroup into a practical “children”, which plays well with “child abuse”. In the US, cases of “statutory rape” which might very well have been consensual end up inflating the statistics on “children falling victim to sexual predators online”.

> Although contact lists on sites talk about ’friends’, social networking sites stretch the
traditional meaning of ‘friends’ to mean anyone with whom a user has an online connection.
Therefore the term can include people who the user has never actually met or spoken to.
Unlike offline (or ‘real world’) friendship, online friendships and connections are also
displayed in a public and visible way via friend lists.
> The public display of friend lists means that users often share their personal details online
with people they may not know at all well. These details include religion, political views,
sexuality and date of birth that in the offline world a person might only share only with close
friends.
> While communication with known contacts was the most popular social
networking activity, 17 % of adults used their profile to communicate with
people they do not know. This increases among younger adults.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

Right. This is problematic too. And it’s not just the report’s fault. The use of “friend” to signify contact contributes to making the whole issue of “online friendship” totally inpenetrable to those who are not immersed in online culture. The use of “know” is also very problematic, as it tends to be understood that you can only “know” somebody offline. Let’s try to clarify.

First, it’s possible to build relationships and friendships (even loves!) online. Just like in pre-internet days you could develop a friendship with a pen-pal, or kindle a nascent romance through letters, you can get to know somebody through text messages, IM, blog postings, presence streams, Skype chats and calls, or even mailing-list and newsgroup postings. I hope that it will soon be obvious to everybody that it is possible to “know” somebody without actually having met them offline.

So, there is a difference between “friends” that “you know” and “SN friends aka contacts” which you might in truth not really know. But you can see how the vocabulary can be misleading here.

I’d like to take the occasion to point out one other thing that bothers me here: the idea that contact with “strangers” or “people one does not know” is a thing worth pointing out. So, OK, 17% of adults in the survey, communicated with people they “didn’t know”. I imagine that this is “didn’t know” in the “offline person”‘s worldview, meaning somebody that had never been met physically (maybe the study gives more details about that). But even if it is “didn’t know” as in “complete stranger” — still, why does it have to be pointed out? Do we have statistics on how many “strangers” we communicate with offline each week?

It seems to me that *because this is on the internet*, strangers are perceived as a potential threat, in comparison to people we already know. As far as abuse goes, in the huge, overwhelming, undisputed majority of cases, the abuser was known (and even well known) to the victim. Most child sexual abuse is commited by people in the family or very close social circle.

I had hoped that in support of what I’m writing just now, I would be able to state that “stranger danger” was behind us. Sadly, a quick [search on Google](http://www.google.com/search?q=%22stranger+danger%22) shows that I’m wrong — it’s still very much present. I did, however, find [this column which offers a very critical view of how much danger strangers actually do represent for kids](http://www.parentkidsright.com/pt-strangerdanger2.html) and the harmful effects of “stranger danger”. Another nice find was this [Families for Freedom Child Safety Bulletin](http://www.ipce.info/ipceweb/Library/families_for_freedom.htm), by a group who seems to share the same concerns I do over the general scaremongering around children.

> Among those who reported talking to people they didn’t know, there were significant
variations in age, but those who talked to people they didn’t know were significantly more
likely to be aged 16-24 (22% of those with a social networking page or profile) than 25-34
(7% of those with a profile). In our qualitative sample, several people reported using sites in
this way to look for romantic interests.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

Meeting “online people” offline is more common amongst the younger age group, which is honestly not a surprise. At 34, I sometimes feel kind of like a dinosaur when it comes to internet use, in the sense that many of my offline friends (younger than me) would never dream of meeting somebody from “The Internets”. 16-24s are clearly digital natives, and as such, I would expect them to be living in a world where “online” and “offline” are distinctions which do not mean much anymore (as they do not mean much to me and many of the other “online people” of my generation or older).

> The majority of comments in our qualitative sample were positive about social networking. A
few users did mention negative aspects to social networking, and these included annoyance
at others using sites for self-promotion, parties organised online getting out of hand, and
online bullying.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

This is interesting! Real life experience from real people with social networks. Spam, party-crashing and bullying (I’ll have much more to say about this last point later on, but in summary, address the bullying problem at the source and offline, and don’t blame the tool) are mentioned as problems. Unwanted sexual sollicitations or roaming sexual predators do not seem to be part of the online experience of the people interviewed in this study. Strangely, this fits with my experience of the internet, and that of almost everybody I know. (Just like major annoyances in life for most people, thankfully, are not sexual harrassment — though it might be for some, and that really sucks.)

> The people who use social networking sites see them as a fun and easy leisure activity.
Although the subject of much discussion in the media, in Ofcom’s qualitative research
privacy and safety issues on social networking sites did not emerge as ‘top of mind’ for most
users. In discussion, and after prompting, some users in the qualitative study did think of
some privacy and safety issues, although on the whole they were unconcerned about them.
> In addition, our qualitative study found that all users, even those who were confident with
ICT found the settings on most of the major social networking sites difficult to understand
and manipulate.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7-8

This is really interesting too. But how do you understand it? I read: “It’s not that dangerous, actually, if those people use SN sites regularly without being too concerned, and the media are making a lot of fuss for nothing.” (Ask people about what comes to mind about driving a car — one of our regular dangerous activities — and I bet you more people than in that study will come up with safety issues; chances are we’ve all been involved in a car crash at some point, or know somebody who has.) Another way of reading it could be “OMG, even with all the effort the media are putting into raising awareness about these problems, people are still as naive and ignorant! They are in danger!”. What will the media choose to understand?

The study points out the fact that privacy settings are hard to understand and manipulate, and I find this very true. In doubt or ignorance, most people will “not touch” the defaults, which are generally too open. I say “too open” with respect to privacy in the wide sense, not in the “keep us safe from creeps” sense.

This brings me to a comment I left earlier on [an article on ComMetrics about what makes campaigns against online pedophiles fail](http://commetrics.com/?p=29). It’s an interesting article, but as I explain in the comment, I think it misses an important point:

>There is a bigger issue here — which I try to explain each time I get a chance, to the point I’m starting to feel hoarse.

>Maybe the message is not the right one? The campaign, as well as your article, takes as a starting point that “adults posing as kids” are the threat that chatrooms pose to our children.

>Research shows that this is not a widespread risk. It also shows that there is no correlation between handing out personal information online and the risk of falling victim to a sexual predator. Yet our campaigns continue to be built on the false assumptions that not handing out personal information will keep a kid “safe”, and that there is danger in the shape of people lying about their identity, in the first place.

>There is a disconnect between the language the campaigns speak and what they advocate (you point that out well in your article, I think), and the experience kids and teenagers have of life online (“they talk to strangers all the time, and nothing bad happens; they meet people from online, and they are exactly who they said they were; hence, all this “safety” information is BS”). But there is also a larger disconnect, which is that the danger these campaigns claim to address is not well understood. Check out the 5th quote in the long article I wrote on the subject at the time of the MySpace PR stunt about deleting “sex offenders'” profiles.

>I will blog more about this, but wanted to point this out here first.

Yes, I will blog more about this. I think this post of notes and thoughts is long enough, and it’s time for me to think about sleeping or putting a new bandage on my scraped knee. Before I see you in a few days for the next bout of Ofcon Report reading and commentating, however, I’ll leave you with the quote I reference in the comment above (it can’t hurt to publish it again):

Now, on the case of internet sex crimes against kids, I’m concerned
that we’re already off to a bad start here. The public and the
professional impression about what’s going on in these kinds of
crimes is not in sync with the reality, at least so far as we can
ascertain it on the basis of research that we’ve done. And this
research has really been based on some large national studies of
cases coming to the attention of law enforcement as well as to large
national surveys of youth.

If you think about what the public impression is about this crime,
it’s really that we have these internet pedophiles who’ve moved
from the playground into your living room through the internet
connection, who are targeting young children by pretending to be
other children who are lying about their ages and their identities and
their motives, who are tricking kids into disclosing personal
information about themselves or harvesting that information from
blogs or websites or social networking sites. Then armed with this
information, these criminals stalk children. They abduct them.
They rape them, or even worse.

But actually, the research in the cases that we’ve gleaned from
actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different
reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online
sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers.
There’s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from – a
representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the
child under the age of 13.

In the predominant sex crime scenario, doesn’t involve violence,
stranger molesters posing online as other children in order to set up
an abduction or assault. Only five percent of these cases actually
involved violence. Only three percent involved an abduction. It’s
also interesting that deception does not seem to be a major factor.
Only five percent of the offenders concealed the fact that they were
adults from their victims. Eighty percent were quite explicit about
their sexual intentions with the youth that they were communicating
with.

So these are not mostly violence sex crimes, but they are criminal
seductions that take advantage of teenage, common teenage
vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of
conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance,
adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to
encounters that the teams know are sexual in nature with people who
are considerably older than themselves.

So for example, Jenna – this is a pretty typical case – 13-year-old
girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had
the screen name “Evil Girl.” There she met a guy who, after a
number of conversations, admitted he was 45. He flattered her, gave
– sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And
eventually, he drove across several states to meet her for sex on
several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her
company, she was reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement
authorities.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

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A Theory About Freelancers in the Internet Industry [en]

[fr] Une petite théorie à moi qui tente d'expliquer pourquoi l'industrie du web attire tant d'indépendants. En deux mots, c'est une industrie qui bouge très vite, donc les grandes entreprises, plus inertes que les individus, manquent de postes adaptés aux nouvelles compétences qui se développent. (Vous connaissez beaucoup de grandes boîtes qui ont des postes dédiés au "social media", ou qui engagent des "experts en blogs et disciplines associées"?)

De plus, ces indépendants sont souvent autodidactes: la formation, elle aussi, a inévitablement un temps de retard sur les nouveaux développements qui ont lieu au sein de la culture numérique. On se met à son compte non pas parce qu'on a des compétences extraordinaires côté business ou management, mais parce qu'on sait faire des choses pour lesquelles il y a un marché, et qu'on est attiré par la liberté qu'offre une telle "formule".

*This is some copy I wrote a while back, and which I wasn’t quite happy about. I’m publishing it here, however, because it contains a little theory of mine about why there are so many soloists in the internet industry. Reactions welcome on [the Going Solo blog](http://going-solo.net/2008/03/30/a-theory-about-freelancers-in-the-internet-industry/), where it was initially posted. Reminder: today is the last day of March, and [Early Bird prices for Going Solo](http://going-solo.net/registration/) end at midnight, GMT+1 — that’s in a few hours.*

The internet industry generates an important number of freelancing professionals. There are two reasons to this, both related to how fast the world of technology is evolving.

First, formal education inevitably tends to lag behind cutting-edge developments. Though this is true for any industry, it is of particular consequence for a very fast-moving one like the web. The most skillful people in such an industry are often passionate amateurs, who at some point decide to turn their passion into a full-time job.

Second, large companies suffer from the same kind of inertia as education. Many highly competent professionals feel frustrated by the fact that the institution for which they work is not yet ready to take full advantage of what they could offer, and as a result, can be tempted by the more stimulating prospect of going solo and freelancing—or setting up their own business.

The fact that education and corporations move more slowly than pioneers is something which is inherent to their nature. To some extent, it is a problem we must try to act upon, but mainly, it is simply the way things are.

Many freelancers find themselves in this business because of a passion for what they get paid to do. Unfortunately, having great skills in an area there is some demand for is not sufficient to sustain a successful freelancing career. One also needs to be good at dealing with the business side of things: setting rates, finding the right clients, defining what has to offer in the current state of the market, dealing with accounting, taxes, and various laws, as well as managing to find a sense of balance in a life which is very different from a 9-5 with a clear distinction between work and non-work, holidays, and a regular paycheck at the end of the month.

Most freelancers go solo because they are good at doing something that people are willing to pay for, and attracted by the freedom of being one’s own boss and the perspective of possible lucrative earnings. Business skills are not usually paid much attention to until they are suddenly needed, although they are what will determine how successful one can be in the long run. At that point, it’s common for the soloist to feel lost and isolated.

[Going Solo is a one-day event](http://going-solo.net) that was designed to address this issue. We will gather 150 soloists and small business owners around a core group of speakers who are experienced freelancers and will share their knowledge on a variety of business topics. We also want to give freelancers an occasion to come in direct contact with others like them and build a European community where they can support each other.

*Cross-posted from [the Going Solo blog](http://going-solo.net/2008/03/30/a-theory-about-freelancers-in-the-internet-industry/).*

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Conference Experience Evolution and The Paradox of Choice [en]

[fr] Mes réflexions sur l'expérience vécue lors de conférences comme LIFT08, LeWeb3, SXSW, BlogTalk, à la lumière de ma lecture du livre The Paradox of Choice. Surcharge cognitive et sociale, trop de décisions à prendre. Evolution également, entre les premières conférences où je ne connaissais presque personne, et où l'accent était mis sur "faire de nouvelles connaissances", et les dernières conférences, où je me rends compte que je ne peux pas passer du temps (ni même parfois dire bonjour) à toutes les personnes que je connais déjà.

There’s a lot going on in my head these days, and unfortunately I’ve been too [busy/exhausted](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/25/stalling/) (that damn anaemia is still around, fwiw) to blog about it. Since a week or so before LIFT08, actually, I feel like I’ve been desperately running behind the train, and the distance between my hand and the handlebar that will allow me to climb back on is just increasing.

One book I’ve been reading these last weeks (months?) is [The Paradox of Choice](http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005688). If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes to order it now. It’s turning out to be a really important book for me, on the one hand for understanding a few things about how the world we live in functions and affects us in the areas of freedom, responsibility, and of course, choice — and on the other hand for understanding myself.

I suffer a lot from having too many options to choose from: I’m really bad at being a “satisficer” in certain areas (somebody who will be satisfied with an option as long as it meets certain criteria) as opposed to being a “maximizer” — wanting the *best* option available. In particular in my professional life and my intellectual pursuits, each choice is agonizing, because my brain wirings keep me very focused on everything I’m possibly missing out upon each time I pick a particular option over others. I do my best to tone this tendency down, of course, but it’s there.

There’s a lot I could comment upon in relation to this book and all it is helping me understand (it delves deep into the mechanisms of choice, and that’s fascinating), but suffice to say right now that it’s colouring a lot of my thinking in general these days.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is conferences. Obviously, as a [conference organizer](http://going-far.com/) ([Going Solo](http://going-solo.net/) early bird price ends soon, by the way!), it’s on my mind, but I’ve also been attending quite a few conferences recently and reflecting of how my experience of these events has evolved (due to [“burn-out”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/06/too-many-people/), increased [network and public profile](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/11/from-lift06-to-lift08/), and maybe other factors).

For online people like me, conferences are an occasion to see their usually scattered network of relations (friends or business contacts) coalesce in one single geographical location over the space of a few days. It can be very exciting, especially when you get to meet many of these people offline for the first time, but it can also be overwhelming. During my first conferences, I also got to know a lot of new people. People I wasn’t interactive with online. People who “grew” (ew) my network. People I liked and decided I wanted to stay in touch with. People who were interesting business contacts.

As conferences went by, I would find myself in a crowd of more and more people I already knew and appreciated and wanted to spend time with. I think [FOWA](http://futureofwebapps.com/) last November was a breaking point for me — I realized that it was impossible for me to catch up with all “my people” there in the space of two short days. It was quite distressing to realize this, actually.

A few weeks after that, I was in Berlin for [Web2.0Expo](http://climbtothestars.org/tags/web2expo/). A bit burnt, I took things way more lightly. Attended a few sessions. Didn’t even show up on certain mornings. Hung out with people I met there. Didn’t try to blog all the sessions I attended. It went much better.

Conferences are hard. There is a lot of intellectual stimulation (sessions and conversations), and a lot of social stimulation too. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I already feel life is simply too full of interesting things and people. In my everyday life, I struggle with the feeling that there is “too much out there” for me to “deal” or “cope” with — and a conference just concentrates this feeling over 2-3 days. Lots of fascinating (hopefully) sessions to attend. Great corridor conversations. Old friends to catch up with. New friends to make. Business contacts to touch base with. Dinners, lunches and parties. Take photos, blog, video the sessions or interview fellow attendees. To do all that well, you’d need to be superhuman.

I had two “different” conference experiences during these last six months, and they were LeWeb4 and LIFT08. Both times, I attended the conference with a rather clear [business objective](http://going-solo.net). It was tiring, but less overwhelming, because I’d decided in advance what I was in for. LeWeb4 (LeWeb3 actually, 2nd edition — don’t ask me why) actually turned out better than LIFT08 for me, because I simply didn’t attend any sessions (aside from half of [JP](http://confusedofcalcutta.com/)’s). At LIFT08, I had a press pass, so I did feel pressure to live-blog — and also, it’s my “home conference”, and I really like their programme. I was also [giving a speech](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/07/lift08-my-going-solo-open-stage-speech/), so, although this conference experience “went well”, it was [overwhelming](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/11/my-lift08-recap/).

So, what am I learning about conferences? They’re “too much”. So, you have to go to them knowing you’ll miss out (which brings us back to what The Paradox of Choice is about). The more connected you are, the more socially unmanageable it’s going to be. People you won’t see. Not saying goodbye. Not spending as much time as you wanted with certain people, but in exchange spending more time with others. So, I’ve come to accept that. I don’t know who I’m going to be able to catch up with. I know I won’t be able to catch up with everyone. I do my best not to plan — and if there is a small number of people (1, 2, 3) that I really want to see, I make plans with them, and that’s it.

The sessions are also “too much”. You can’t sit in sessions for the whole day, take notes, blog about them (or whatever you do) and then do the same thing the next day. Well, you can, but chances are your brain will fry at some point. I know that I can’t do it for two days in a row. At [SXSW](http://2008.sxsw.com/interactive/), I decided at one point to officially give up on attending sessions. I felt bad, because there were lots of them which sounded interesting, and lots of people I wanted to hear, but I also felt relieved because all of a sudden the pressure of making choices had been removed. If I happened to be hanging out with people who went to a panel, or if I stumbled into one — well, good. But I wasn’t going to make decisions about them other than on the spur of the moment. That worked out pretty well.

I did the same for the parties. Too much choice => I refuse to agonize on decisions before the last moment. All open. Go with the flow.

So, bottom-line: very little planning, lots of improvisation, and setting low expectations about doing precise stuff or hanging out with precise people.

To change the subject a little, I noticed at LIFT08 how at one point, there seems to be a physiological limit to taking in new people (certainly some relation to the [Dunbar number](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number) department). At LIFT08, I was just so socialed out (or over-socialized), between running around promoting Going Solo and being the object of some attention after my speech ([watch video](http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8270350768335569204)), that I realized at some point that I was doing horrible things like:

– trying to hand out moo cards twice to people I actually already knew (in this case, it was [Robert](http://scobleizer.com/)) in the space of a few minutes
– asking people for their name 3 times in a row
– forgetting I’d talked to people, even when they took the trouble to remind me what we had talked about a few hours before
– and of course, totally not recognizing anybody I’d been introduced to recently or at a previous conference

In this kind of situation, you can do two things. “Fake it”, as in “oh, hi! how’s business, blah blah blah” and hope that the person will drop enough info to help you out, or just fake it till the end. To be honest, I hate the idea of doing that, and I can’t bring myself to do it (plus, I’m sure I’d be quite bad at it). So, I prefer the second option, which is being honest. I apologize for not recognizing people (mention that I’m [hopeless with faces](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/12/14/badges-at-conferences/) — people who know me can attest), explain that I’m over-socialized and have simply been meeting and interacting with too many people. In my experience, this approach works out fine.

There’s also a lot to be said about “micro-fame” — the first couple of conferences I went to, the number of people I “didn’t really know” who were interested in talking to me (as in “walked up to me to introduce themselves”) was close to zero. Today, people show up out of nowhere, know me, want to speak to me. Friends want to introduce me to people they know (which is good, by the way!) My first conferences involved a lot of just meeting a nice person or two, and hanging out with them for the whole conference. This is more difficult today (except maybe at small conferences like BlogTalk) because I just know too many people (or too many people know me).

There also seems to be a subculture of highly-travelled, highly-conferenced people I’m suddenly finding myself part of — and I’m sure it would be worth taking a closer look to what’s going on here (hmm… [a conference](http://going-far.com), maybe?)

I’ll stop here, after dumping these thoughts in this not-very-organized post. It felt good to write all this down. If you have comments or thoughts, agree or disagree, experiences to share — my comments and trackbacks are yours to use.

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Come to LIFT'08 [en]

[fr] Si vous ne pensiez pas aller à LIFT dans deux semaines, j'aimerais vous encourager à vous inscrire pour nous y rejoindre.

J'avoue qu'une des raisons que j'entends souvent de la part de gens qui me disent ne pas y aller, c'est le prix. Un peu plus qu'un iPhone, et moins qu'un vol à destination de San Francisco (à plus forte raison, meilleur marché également que deux grandes conférences technologiques ayant récemment eu lieu en Europe: Web2.0Expo et LeWeb3).

LIFT est un événement extraordinaire. 3 journées dont une de workshops, la fondue, deux événements supplémentaires gratuits (venture night et sustainable dev), ainsi que la fête -- et vous repartirez proprement "liftés". LIFT est une conférence qui change la vie des gens. Elle est au carrefour des questions de société et de la technologie, d'une pertinence incontestable par rapport aux problématiques de notre temps.

J'explique dans cet article plus en détail pourquoi je vous encourage absolument à venir à LIFT (il est encore temps). C'est un investissement qui sera largement récompensé. Quel que soit le domaine dans lequel vous travaillez, prendre 3 jours sur l'année pour s'informer à la source sur les problématiques de notre société liées à la technologie n'est pas un luxe.

The [LIFT Conference](http://liftconference.com) is taking place in just two weeks from now in Geneva.

If you’re free on those dates and haven’t considered attending, I’d like to encourage you to [register](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-registration) and come and join us. It’s really worthwhile. And if [the price tag](http://www.liftconference.com/pricing-students-etc-etc#comment-15) is making you hesitate, think again. Here’s what’s included in your registration fee for this three-day event:

– a full day of [workshops](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-workshops)
– [two days of conference](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-program-thursday-friday) (more about that below)
– nice buffet lunches (upgraded since last year!), [fondue](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-program-thursday-friday#fondue) evening, open bar [party](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-program-thursday-friday#fondue)
– [venture night](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-venture-night) and [sustainable dev](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-program-thursday-friday#wattwatt) sessions
– [lots of WiFi](http://www.liftconference.com/wifi-ugrade)

So, here we are. 850 CHF (that’s $781.50, 530.80€ or £396.30 [as of today](http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert.cgi)) for three days. Even though it is a sizeable chunk of money for many people (I’m not talking about you lucky ones who get sent to great events like LIFT by their employers), it’s not that expensive, when you think of it (just a little perspective):

– an iPhone: 399€
– the MacBook Air: $1799
– LeWeb3 (Paris): over 1000€
– Web2.0Expo (Berlin): over 1000€
– a cheap flight to San Francisco: $800 (you spend only 2 days on the plane, and it’s way less fun)

Now, as that is out of the way, let’s get to the meat. Why is LIFT worth so much more than what you pay for it? I’d like to add my two cents to [what the organizers already say](http://www.liftconference.com/12-reasons-come-lift):

– **new speakers:** the LIFT team goes to great lengths to introduce speakers that you haven’t already heard at all the other conferences you go to. I’m told it’s becoming a habit for other conference organizers to do their “speaker shopping” at LIFT. (Insider scoop, from Laurent himself: Eric Favre, the inventor of Nespresso, is one of the latest confirmed additions to the speaker list.)
– **great talk quality:** heard of [TED Talks](http://www.ted.com/talks)? They gather the best speakers around the world, and last year, started including talks from partner conferences. [LIFT is one of the four events](http://blog.ted.com/2007/11/talks_from_part.php) they chose to select talks from.
– **at the crossroads of Life and Technology:** this, I think, I the top reason I really love LIFT. It’s about technology, but it’s also about people, society, and the world we live in. It lacks the dryness of the all-tech conference. It’s visionary. It blows your mind and lifts you up. It changed my life, and I’m not the only one.
– **non-commercial:** though I’m not against profit ([Going Solo](http://going-solo.net) is, after all, a [commercial event](http://going-far.com/2007/11/13/im-starting-a-company/ “A little background.”)), the fact LIFT is a non-profit labour of love does reflect in the overall atmosphere and quality of the event. No pitches or sponsors on stage. It’s about ideas and about us. It’s friendly and welcoming and human.
– **more than the stage:** LIFT is about what happens during breaks, in corridors and doorways. Yes, the most value one gets out of an event is generally in networking. LIFT has however taken this awareness a step further, investing a lot in [LIFT+](http://www.liftconference.com/2007/lift+/), activities and exhibits that populate the “in-between” spaces.

I hope it’s obvious from what I’m describing: LIFT is truly an event beyond all others. It’s well-organized and touches topics which are over-important for understanding the world we live in: technology has taken an increasing place in our society (all societies, actually), and this is a chance for geeks and “humanists” both to take a few steps back and think about the “big picture”.

Still not 100% sure you want to [register](http://www.liftconference.com/lift08-registration)?

If you’re used to the conference circuit: LIFT will be a welcome change from what you’re used to.
If you don’t usually go to conferences: if you go to one event this year, it should be LIFT. (Well, you should give Going Solo a go too, but it’s [a rather different kind of conference](http://going-solo.net/2007/12/14/announcing-going-solo/).)

If you are attending, it’s still time to spread a bit of [link love](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/01/22/going-solo-venues-open-stage-and-link-love/) for LIFT — have you done it yet?

I’m looking forward to seeing you there. I’m part of the [electronic media crowd](http://www.liftconference.com/electronic-media-crowd), though, so if you see me [live-blogging](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/08/01/on-liveblogging/) like mad, don’t be [offended](http://blog.nicolamattina.it/?p=536) if I’m [not very chatty](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/06/too-many-people/).

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Inbox to Zero in no Time [en]

[fr] Un moyen radical (et quasi instantané) pour atteindre le fameux et très convoité inbox zero.

So, having trouble keeping your inbox count down? Piling up in the hundreds, the thousands, even? I have a totally foolproof method to bring your inbox count down to [the coveted zero](http://www.43folders.com/izero). It’s been tested in GMail, but I’m sure it works in other e-mail clients too.

The best part of it is how fast it works. The result is guaranteed.

Are you ready for it? Just follow these two simple steps:

– click on “Select All”
– press the “Archive” button

There! You’re done! Inbox to zero in now time at all. It works — or you can have your money back.

Now, for the slightly more serious part.

I really did this, this summer if I remember correctly, during a conference. I mean, I wasn’t going to go through all that piled up e-mail anyway. Most of the e-mails were obsolete — when stuff is really important, people e-mail again, and again, or call you, or tweet you, or catch you on IRC or at an event.

Once your inbox actually is at zero, it’s much easier to keep it to zero. Archive without mercy. Answer easy stuff as soon as you see it (I do that to the point some people have told me my e-mails have become a bit curt, so I’m trying to add a bit of cream in again — but the basic principle remains: do it now). My inbox sometimes goes up to 40 or 50 if I stay away from the computer, but then I bring it back down again, over a few days. If I haven’t seen zero in some time, it’s time to deal with those two things lying at the bottom of my inbox for the last 10 days — or decide that I won’t, and archive them.

Sometimes, I feel I can’t keep up anymore, or don’t want to “deal”, so I archive.

Does that sound like I’m mistreating my e-mail? Sure. But so is letting it pile up in your inbox for weeks, months, and years.

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Being Lifter 20: I'm the "Star" Networker! [en]

[fr] Après LIFT l'an dernier, un questionnaire a été soumis au participants dans le but de déterminer quel impact la conférence avait eu sur leur réseau. J'y ai répondu, avec 27 autres personnes (un assez petit échantillon, à mon avis). Il se trouve que je suis la "super-réseauteuse" de l'étude. Quelques remarques.

Eleven months ago, I [participated and encouraged you to participate in a survey](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/16/lift07-social-networking-map-experiment/) which aimed to map social networking between participants of the [LIFT’07 conference](http://2007.liftconference.com/). As I was browsing around after submitting my [workshop proposal](http://www.liftconference.com/get-started-blogging), I saw that [the report based on that survey](http://intelligentmeasurement.wordpress.com/2008/01/14/conference-evaluation-and-network-mapping/) had been published. On the LIFT site, you can see [screenshots of the graphs](http://www.liftconference.com/lift-will-double-your-network) (yes, this is what I call a “social graph”!) before and after the conference.

Go and look.

LIFT'07 Network Mapping Report

Notice the node somewhat to the left, that seems to be connected to a whole bunch of people? Yeah, that’s me. I’m “lifter 20”. How do I know? Well, not hard to guess — I have a rather atypical profile compared to the other people who took the survey.

So, as the “star” networker in this story, I do have a few thoughts/comments on some of the conclusions drawn from the survey. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s very interesting, and that we need this kind of research (and more of it!) but as [Glenn](http://intelligentmeasurement.files.wordpress.com) says himself in the [1Mb PDF report](http://intelligentmeasurement.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/lift07_networkmapping_report_owlre_final1.pdf), it’s important to bear in mind the limitations of this study. (All the quotes in this blog post are taken form the PDF, unless I say otherwise.)

> The limitations of this study needs to be understood before considering the findings: This
study maps networks from the point of view of the 28 participants. Consequently, it is
only a partial map of the networks established at LIFT07.

In this study, I’m the “star” networker: the person with the most connections before and after the conference.

> Before the conference, participant Lifter20 had the largest network (59 attendees)
which was increased by 25 attendees after the conference.

Bearing that in mind, I would personally have removed myself from the “average” calculations (I don’t think that was done), because I’m too a-typical compared to the other people in the survey. Typically, I would find it interesting to be given figures with extremes removed here:

> There was a large range in the size of the individual networks before LIFT07 (from 0 to
59) and a smaller range in the number of people added to networks after the conference
(from 0 to 28). However, on average, participants had seven people in their network
before LIFT07 and added nine more people after the conference – leading to the
conclusion that people at least doubled their network by attending LIFT07.

As mentioned earlier, 28 people took the survey. I know I’m not the most networked person at LIFT. In my “network of red nodes” (people not in the survey) there are people like [Robert Scoble](http://scobleizer.com), Stowe Boyd, or Laurent Haug — who clearly did not take the survey, or I wouldn’t be the “star networker” here. So, they are a little red node somewhere in the graph. Which makes me take the following remark with a big grain of salt:

> Before the conference, several “red” attendees (i.e. those attendees nominated as
part of the network of the 28 participants) were significant relay nodes in the network
receiving considerable incoming links – notably the red node to the right of Lifter 12
and the red node to the left of Lifter 16. In both cases, the number of links to these
nodes increased after the conference.

What’s missing here is that these red nodes might very well be super networkers like Stowe or Robert. The fact they receive significant incoming links would then take a different meaning: only a very small part of their role in the global LIFT networking ecosystem is visible. (Yes, the study here only talks about a small part of this ecosystem, but it’s worth repeating.)

I think that most heavy networkers are not very likely to fill in such a survey. The more people you know, the more time it takes. I’m easily a bit obsessive, and I think this kind of study is really interesting, so I took the trouble to do it — but I’m sure many people with a smaller network than mine didn’t even consider doing it because it’s “too much work”. I suspect participation in such a survey is skewed towards people with smaller networks (“sure, I just know 5-10 people, I’ll quickly fill it in”).

Here’s a comment about the ratio of new contacts made during LIFT’07:

> For example, the “star” networker, Lifter20 has a ratio of 1:0.4. In
other words, for every third person in her existing network, she met one new person.
Whereas, Lifter18 had the highest ratio of 1:7. In other words, for every person in her
existing network, she met seven new people.

I think it’s important to note that, as I said in [my previous post about this experiment](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/16/lift07-social-networking-map-experiment/), knowing many people from the LIFT community beforehand, the increase in my network (proportionally) was bound to be less impressive, than, say, when I came to LIFT’06 two years ago (I basically knew 3 people before going: Anne Dominique, Laurent, Marc-Olivier — and maybe Roberto… and walked out with *a ton* of new people). I’m sure [Dunbar’s number](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number) kicks in somewhere too, and I would expect that the more people you know initially, the lower your ratio of new contacts should be.

On page 8 of the survey there is a list of participants and the number of before/after contacts they entered in the survey. So, if you took the survey and have a rough idea of how many people you knew before LIFT, and how many you met there, you should be able to identify who you are.

This is interesting:

> The “star” networker, Lifter 20 had seven links to other participants before LIFT07
which grew to ten after the conference, giving her the most central position in the
network of participants.

So, basically, 10 people I know took the survey — out of 28 total. I know I blogged about the survey and actively encouraged people in my network to take it. This would skew the sample, of course, making it closer to “my network at LIFT”. If we know each other and you took the survey, can you identify which number you are? it would be interesting to put faces on the numbers to interpret the data (for me, in any case, as I know the people). For example, if you’re a person I brought to LIFT, chances are your “new connections” will overlap mine quite a bit — more than if you came to LIFT independently.

A chapter of the report is devoted to the “star” networker (in other words, little me).

> Interestingly, many of the
people that she connected to, both before and after LIFT07, were not part of the
networks of the other 27 participants of the study, indicating a certain isolation of parts of
her network.

> […]

> Before the conference, a significant number of contacts (35) of Lifter20 had no
connections with any of the other 27 participants of the study.

> After the conference, a number of contacts (14) made by Lifter20 had no connections
with any of the other 27 participants of the study.

The first remark be turned the other way: maybe all these “unconnected” people are actually quite connected within the “global LIFT network”, and it is the *sample* of 28 people who answered the survey which have isolated networks. Of course, isolation is a relative notion, but the way things are phrased here makes it look like I have an isolated network… which I don’t really believe to be the case — a great part of my network is actually very interconnected, only it doesn’t show in the graph because the people in question did not take the survey. Friend Wheel for Stephanie Booth - Facebook Friend Relationships My friend wheel (see screenshot) from Facebook gives a better impression of what it looks like. (No, no, I’m not taking this personally! I’m not.)

> Lifter20 shares a number of contacts with one other participant (Lifter13 – the blue
node horizontally to the right in the “after” diagram).

Who is Lifter 13? (14 before, met 7 at LIFT’07) Somebody I knew before LIFT’07. I’m curious.

I’d also love to know who Lifter 18 (the “booster” networker) and Lifter 11 (the “clique” networker) were, though the graph indicates I know neither.

In conclusion, I’d say this is a really interesting study, but the anonymized data would gain to be interpreted in the light of who the actual people were and what their networks were like. I think it would allow to evaluate where this kind of analysis works well and works less well.

I think 28 people is a rather small sample for such a study — it’s a pity more people didn’t participate in the survey. How could we motivate people to participate? I think one of the issues, mainly, is that people don’t *get* anything directly out of participating. So… maybe some goodie incentive for doing it, next time? Also, I remember the interface was a bit raw. What I did is go through the participant list and type the names. It’s almost impossible to just think back at “so, who did I meet at LIFT this year?” — either you’re going to take a stack of business cards your brought home, or you’re going to go through a list and see what names ring a bell.

Maybe the survey organisation could take that into account. Provide participants in the survey with a (searchable, ajaxy) list of attendees with checkboxes. Then you could add smart stuff to help out like Dopplr’s “travellers you may know” (based on a “contacts of your contacts” algorithm).

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Reading The Black Swan [en]

[fr] Notes de lecture de "The Black Swan", sur l'impact des événements hautement improbables.

One of the things I did yesterday during my time offline was read a sizeable chunk of [The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable](http://www.amazon.com/Black-Swan-Impact-Highly-Improbable/dp/1400063515) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

It’s a fascinating read. (Thanks again to Adam Hill for saying I should read it.) I just find myself a little frustrated that I can’t effortlessly copy-paste quotes from the book into a text file or [my Tumblr](http://steph.tumblr.com) as I read. (And no, I wouldn’t want to be reading this online. I like books. They just lack a few features. Like searchability, too.)

Anyway, I’ve been [twittering away](http://twitter.com/stephtara) while I read, and here are a few things I noted. These are not exact quotes, but paraphrases. Consider them “reading notes.” (And then a few me-quotes, hehe…).

– oh, [one quote](http://steph.tumblr.com/post/15618111) I did copy to [Tumblr](http://steph.tumblr.com) (check it, if you’re lucky, you might find more quotes!)
– Finding Taleb’s concepts of Mediocristan and Extremistan fascinating and insightful.
– Probably in Extremistan: number of contacts, length of relationships? Not sure.
– High-impact, low-probability events (Black Swans) are by nature unpredictable. Now apply that to the predator problem.
– We confuse ‘no evidence of possible Black Swans’ with ‘evidence of no possible Black Swans’ and tend to remember the latter.
– ‘No evidence of disease’ often interpreted as ‘Evidence of no disease’, for example.
– Taleb: in testing for a hypothesis, we tend to look for confirmation and ignore what would invalidate it.
– Interesting: higher dopamine = greater vulnerability to pattern recognition (less suspension of disbelief)
– So… Seems we overestimate probability of black swans when we talk about them. Terrorism, predators, plane crashes… And ignore others.
– Anecdotes sway us more than abstract statistical information. (Taleb)
– That explains why personal recommendations have so much influence on our decisions. Anecdotes, rather than more abstract facts or stats. (That’s from me, not him.)
– Journalists according to Taleb: ‘industrial producers of the distortion’

**Update:** [Anne Zelenka wrote a blog post](http://www.annezelenka.com/2007/10/tell-me-a-story-but-tell-me-the-truth) taking the last and, unfortunately, quite incomplete citation as a starting-point. Check [my clarification comment on her blog](http://www.annezelenka.com/2007/10/tell-me-a-story-but-tell-me-the-truth#comment-1713). And here’s [the complete quote](http://steph.tumblr.com/post/15691134):

> Remarkably, historians and other scholars in the humanities who need to understand silent evidence the most do not seem to have a name for it (and I looked hard). As for journalists, fuhgedaboutdit! They are industrial producers of the distortion. (p. 102)

**Update 2:** Anne edited her post to take into account my comment and our subsequent discussion. Thanks!

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