Reboot9 — Stowe Boyd: Flow, a New Consciousness for a Web of Traffic [en]

*Here are my notes, unedited and possibly misleading, blah blah blah, of the Reboot9 conference.*

Stowe’s happy to be back (“reboot was the best single thing I did last year”).

We’re hearing the word “flow” a lot during this conference, used in many different ways. It’s a term that is being stretched in many different ways. Complementary, or not?

Today: flow as a new kind of consciousness. Complementary to yesterday’s “flow” in the first conference.

Stowe Boyd at reboot9

Apology: because of blogging, Stowe doesn’t write/talk anymore in a very constructed way (“this is my thesis and here are the arguments”) — so lots of fragmentary and incomplete thinking. Incompleteness: the new rhetoric?

Human? “We make our tools and they shape us.” *steph-note: cf. Stowe’s talk at last year’s Shift conference. Other note: Thomas is having to drag the Blimp off stage…* Cycles.

We’re going towards a new kind of consciousness, which will not clear up the problems we have, but we’re going to change. How are we changing? How are brains changing based on the tools we use to understand the world? What are we losing, what do we gain? How will sociality change based on using new tools that shape cultures?

There is a new consciousness evolving, different enough that it’s going to cause trouble, that a lot of people are going to say it’s bad, and that the people participating in it are doing something illegitimate. (Finger-wagging.) Developing a new moral sense: valuing certain things more highly, and certain things less highly. Hive-mind? Sniffing each other’s pheromones all day?

Will take what the naysayers are saying, and debunk their arguments.

**The juggler’s paradox**

A small number of “true” jugglers in the room. To learn to juggle, simply do it. The ball falls, and you try again. You train your neurons to do something you didn’t know how to do before. The way jugglers describe what they’re doing doesn’t help other people learn it. They don’t focus on the balls, they don’t focus on their movements. They unfocus. A learned state of consciousness.

Other example: karate. During his first karate classes, Stowe couldn’t even “see” what his sensei was doing. Like magic, because so different. Learning to see. Also, shortening the delay, the dollar bill trick. People can’t catch it. But if you do martial arts, you can — you’ve trained your brain to do something you couldn’t do before. A different state of consciousness. *steph-note: I’m not sure I’d call these things “different states of consciousness”.* Now, when Stowe sees karate, he knows the moves they’re making, he *can see*.

A lot of people have caracterised the things that happen to us in a negative way. Over-stimulation is driving us nuts. Stowe thinks we’re learning to accommodate a new world and cope with it. Also doesn’t agree with the “scarcity of attention” economy. (Davenport and Beck.) Another failed metaphor. Treating aspects of human cognition in economic or industrial terms fails miserably.

Psychology of Attention: we actually don’t know much about attention. It doesn’t reside in one place in your brain. It’s all over the place. An emergent property of a bunch of stuff that goes on in your brain. Conventional wisdom about attention is probably wrong. Steer clear of advice of best-selling business authors about what we should do with our attention.

We have witnessed a shift in the way we perceive media: not rival anymore. We used to turn on the radio and just listen. Later, became a background. TV too. People who have the TV on all day, or while they play a video game or listen to music (Stowe is anti-TV). Talking during the movies.

Flow media. We’re getting used to having a bunch of things going on at the same time (IM windows, skype calls, etc.)

ADD: inability to focus, hyperactive. Invented disease. Treated (paradoxically) with stimulants. Maybe kids shouldn’t sit still (over-diagnosing and medicating). Stowe doesn’t think we’re creating a toxic environment for our children, but the school system has not snapped into the 21st century.

Stowe strongly disagrees with Linda Stone’s Continuous Partial Attention theses. In general, CPA is a disorder, for her. Stowe thinks this kind of thinking is based on an old model of how one should deal with the world. FIFO. Stowe doesn’t believe flow is bad, it’s just a different model. It’s not about speed, it’s about remaining connected. We can’t stay head down for hours or days at a stretch when important events might be occurring that require immediate response.

The world is more like an ER than a supermarket checkout. Reverting to pre-agricultural consciousness. Hunter awareness. Scanning the savannah.

The war on flow (*steph-note: not sure I’d call this flow, again… agree with the concepts exposed here but the “label” flow bugs me*). Remaining connected is not a disease, but a new ethos, a new set of beliefs. Time as a shared space, and psychology is adapting to that. Conflicts with industrial norms: maybe the tribe is more important.

The Buddylist is the centre of the universe. Made greater by the sum of our connections. Flow is generational. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be doing 16 things at once. *steph-note: I must be rancid old-school, because I still think there is value on being able to concentrate/focus on one single thing during a stretch of time.*

If you expose kids to more language, they tend to be smarter. We’re training our neurones.

Why call it Flow? *steph-note: that’s the bit I’m curious about*

CM’s notion of flow: “being in the zone”. He’s opposed to the stuff Stowe is talking about *steph-note: not surprised, incompatible to me.* cf. definition from wikipedia. Usually not a solitary activity *steph-note: surprised… what about meditation? that’s an obvious example of flow.*

Flow changes the way time works. Four flavours of time: physics, linear (industrial), cyclic (mystical), flow (lived time).

*steph-note: Stowe says time slows down when you’re in the zone, you can see the tennis ball. But I’m not sure that’s the main characteristic, I think: that’s because you learnt to see. In flow, time passes fast.*

Social applications (Stowe’s business): social networks are how we discover meaning, belonging and insight on the world. Traffic flow is the primary dynamic of all future social apps. Tools which will allow us to unfocus and concentrate on sociality.

Pushing Dunbar’s constant. *steph-note: cf. Stefana Broadbent at LIFT… our tools allow us to manage more relationships* Can you ‘know’ and ‘care’ about more than 150 people? What is the limit with these tools?

How do we use time? a way of sharing something. **Productivity is second to connectivity.** *steph-note: perfectly agreed.* Important stuff will find its way to you many times. You can miss things (not that important to be a slave to every e-mail, every RSS feed), but your network won’t, and things will get back to you.

Flow is a state of mind. Flow is a verb.

Discussion: Stowe says we still need to focus (*steph-note: phew!*), but it’s a question of degree. It’s about how we do a lot of things which don’t necessarily *require* full focus. Change from “head down with occasional coffee breaks” to “long coffee break with a few focused interruptions”.

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Reboot9 — Jeremy Keith: Soul [en]

*Here are my notes, unedited and possibly misleading, blah blah blah, of the Reboot9 conference.*

Book: “Dragons of Eden” speculations about human intelligence. Knocking down theories one by one. We aren’t actually that unique.

Soul: huge topic, since days of old. Weighing the soul. (Weigh the person at time of death: 21 grammes. Probably water vapour, but still…)

Jeremy Keith: Soul

100 bio neurons in the human brain. But we can’t say what the number of links on the web is.

Definition of soul that Jeremy likes: “the story we tell ourselves”. Right hemisphere. Introverted consciousness: thinking about *who we are*. Maybe this is what makes us human.

Language doesn’t make us unique. Naming things in the world gives us a certain kind of power. Singing the world into existence. Naming the demon to control it.

JK’s blog: [Adactio](http://adactio.com) — then, on Flickr, del.icio.us, upcoming.org => fragmentation (not a feeling JK likes *steph-note: I don’t like it either!*). Created http://elsewhere.adactio.com to collect all these pieces of himself in one place (a bit geeky…)

Narrative. Telling the story of oneself to the world — and to oneself (introspection). Blogs posts, tweets, songs, photos, links… All these elements have timestamps. RSS. Lifestream! There is a blog about lifestreams *steph-note: URL, anybody?* Jaiku pretty good to pull all these things together.

But RSS and lifestreams are short-term. How do we get a long-term narrative? Check out [http://infovore.org/talks/](http://infovore.org/talks/).

People discarding archives: shame! Denying your past in a way. *steph-note: I agree, hate that too. Who I am in the present is the result of my past.*

We are attached to physical objects (cars, computers, mobile phones…).

Gaming is an important part of narrative (playing…).

Social networks are all walled gardens. They give access to data, but not to the relationships. Necessary to recreate all my relationships when I sign up to a new social network.

*steph-note: related post of mine is [Please Make Holes in My Buckets!](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/13/please-make-holes-in-my-buckets/)*

How can we tackle this? the rel attribute, particularly when used to describe relationships to anchors. XFN microformat.

*steph-note: problem is that the relationships are public, seems to me. related post of mine is [Groups, Groupings and Taming My Buddy List](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/05/04/groups-groupings-and-taming-my-buddy-list-and-twitter/)*

*steph-note: time for my talk is coming up, not very concentrated on the end of this one I’m afraid…*

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Pas capté Twitter? [fr]

[en] A round-up of the common arguments raised against Twitter: "the whole world doesn't find your breakfasting habits fascinating, you know," "what do you care that your friends are watching a football match" (totally missing what human relationships are about, and ambient intimacy), "it just inflates your ego" (hey! talking about oneself has nothing to do with the moralistic concept of "ego"), and even, "it's lame!"

Je crois que je vais commencer à recenser les “arguments” avancés par ceux qui ne “captent” pas Twitter (filez lire mon ancien billet si vous voulez [des explications sur Twitter](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/15/twitter-cest-quoi-explications/)):

#### 1- C’est pas intéressant! Ça vole pas haut! On s’en fout!

> Vous vous trouvez sur un yacht à Minorque? (c’est en Espagne, pas à Malte) Vous pensez que ca peut intéresser le monde entier?

*[Etienne Maujean](http://e-maujean.net/?p=30)*

> Parce que je ne vois pas l’intérêt pour l’ensemble du monde de savoir que :

> “Houla…chui fatigué !”

*[Thomas Bonnin](http://www.toile-filante.com/2007/03/18/la-vague-twitter-pour-ou-contre/)*

“les gens envoient des messages débiles pensant que ça intéresse le monde entier” — euh, non, je vous rassure, je ne crois pas que mon grapefruit au p’tit déj intéresse le monde entier; par contre, mettre cette info publiquement à disposition est le moyen le plus simple de m’assurer que les personnes que ça intéresse effectivement y ont accès (*pull* vs. *push*, vous vous souvenez?)

Au risque de me répéter (parce que c’est valable pour les blogs, et plutôt trois fois qu’une): **ce n’est pas parce qu’on publie quelque chose sur internet et que le monde entier *peut* le voir qu’on pense nécessairement que *ça va intéresser tout le monde*.**

#### 2- Savoir ce que font ses amis, ça avance à rien!

> Bon, les fans (un exemple ici) disent que ce service donne un aperçu de la journée type de vos proches. “Ah Jean-Marc regarde le match de foot? Moi aussi c’est rigolo!” Ca va loin.

*[Etienne Maujean](http://e-maujean.net/?p=30)*

Un seul exemple parce que j’ai la flemme de chercher plus loin, mais cet argument est régulièrement avancé par ceux qui visiblement n’ont pas pris le temps (vu ce qui précède, je ne vais pas jeter la pierre) de comprendre comment fonctionnent les relations humaines et l’intimité en particulier. Ce sont “les petites choses de la vie” qui font les gens proches. Et [l’intimité ambiante](http://www.disambiguity.com/ambient-intimacy/ “Article à lire impérativement.”) qu’apporte Twitter peut aider à garder vivants ou même renforcer les liens distendus par la distance (c’est moche ou poétique, à vous de choisir). Certains l’ont compris:

> Après d’immense réflexion (il n’a que les cons qui ne change pas d’avis) j’ai peut-être trouvé une utilité à Twitter : J’habite à quelques milliers de kilomètres de ma famille et amis et Twitter pourrait me permettre d’être un peu plus en contact avec eux.

*[Thomas Bonnin](http://www.toile-filante.com/2007/03/18/la-vague-twitter-pour-ou-contre/)*

Ou mieux (il a parfaitement pigé):

> Il est par contre indéniable que ce qui est présent est du contenu personnel. Je le vois surtout comme une sorte de construction permanente d’un background, une certaine manière de continuer à oxygéner l’atmosphère qui nous entoure entre deux absences.

*[Tam Kien Duong](http://cendres.net/websomathic/2007/03/23/33-twitter-la-diffeacuterence-entre-la-technique-et-lusage)*

#### 3- Parler de soi, c’est lustrer le poil de son ego.

Un splendide exemple de cette façon de penser chez Frédéric (que j’apprécie au passage, même s’il ne peut pas saquer Twitter):

> On aura beau dire, même si la principale fonction du web 2.0 semble être d’exacerber l’ego par ailleurs démesuré de ceux qui s’y affichent, certains services à première vue gadgets ont fini grâce aux mashups à trouver une certaine utilité. Jusqu’à l’arrivée de Twitter.

*[Frédéric de Villamil](http://fredericdevillamil.com/twitter-la-branlette-2-0)*

Attends… parler de soi, c’est de l’*ego*? Navrée, mais ça sent les grands relents de moralisme genre “les autres d’abord, et se mettre en avant c’est mal”. On a besoin de se raconter. C’est comme ça qu’on se construit, et qu’on construit *avec* autrui. Ce n’est pas de *l’ego*. Alors oui, Twitter c’est parler de soi — tout comme on parle de soi quand on va boire un pot avec un ami (enfin j’espère un peu quand même) ou quand on rédige une opinion personnelle sur son blog.

Donc merci, mon ego se porte très bien (et on sait d’ailleurs que toute cette histoire d’*ego* n’est qu’un faux problème, car ceux qui semblent en avoir le plus sont en fait ceux qui ont le plus de problèmes d’estime de soi — un peu de sympathie pour son prochain donc) et si raconter à ceux qui veulent l’entendre que [je cherche mon chat](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/52760052), que j’ai [trouvé un acheteur](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/60028912) pour ma voiture, ou que [je mange du grapefruit](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/25578041) pour le petit déjeuner, qu’est-ce que ça peut bien vous faire?

Version courte: c’est pas parce qu’on parle de soi qu’on a la tête qui passe plus les portes. Grumph.

D’ailleurs, on en revient, la preuve:

> La première fois que j’ai entendu parler de twitter j’ai trouvé ça simplement ridicule, comme une autre façon de se tripoter le nombril l’air de rien […] La morale de l’histoire : Ne jamais juger définitivement un outils avant de l’avoir utiliser et observer comment les autres s’en servent concrètement. Les objets ne sont seulement pas que ce qu’ils sont mais aussi ce qu’on en fait (et pas seulement non plus ce qu’on devrait en faire) !

*[Tam Kien Duong](http://cendres.net/websomathic/2007/03/23/33-twitter-la-diffeacuterence-entre-la-technique-et-lusage)*

#### 4- C’est nul! C’est naze!

Il y a aussi ceux qui n’essaient même pas vraiment d’argumenter, se contentant de clamer l’évidence que c’est vraiment trop nul, comme service:

> Tout le monde ne parle plus que de Twitter, “The service web 2.0″ à la mode… Mais c’est vraiment naze!

> J’ai testé l’application il y a quelques jours et j’ai vraiment mis du temps pour comprendre à quoi cela servait. De ce que j’en ai capté vous pouvez informer le monde et éventuellement vos amis (puisque c’est un réseau social) de ce que vous faite à l’instant T grâce à des phrases courtes (très courte même), sans image, sans liens. Le problème est que cela ne vole vraiment pas haut dans le genre “ah je suis fatigué” ou “je vais aller me coucher”, très intéressant donc.

*[Henri Labarre](http://www.2803.com/2007/03/16/twitter-un-service-tendance-vraiment-naze/)*

(Bon, on devine quand même un semblant de “ça intéresse pas le monde entier, vos conneries” et “savoir que ses amis vont se coucher ça n’apporte rien”. Je suis peut-être un peu dure en disant que c’est complètement dénué d’argumentation.)

#### Liens

Pour les râleurs, voyez:

– [Touiteur!](http://e-maujean.net/?p=30)
– [Twitter, la branlette 2.0](http://fredericdevillamil.com/twitter-la-branlette-2-0)
– [La vague Twitter, pour ou contre?](http://www.toile-filante.com/2007/03/18/la-vague-twitter-pour-ou-contre/)
– [Twitter un service “tendance” vraiment naze](http://www.2803.com/2007/03/16/twitter-un-service-tendance-vraiment-naze/) (certains [commentaires](http://www.2803.com/2007/03/16/twitter-un-service-tendance-vraiment-naze/#comments) valent aussi le détour)

Pour une critique constructive:

– [Is Twitter TOO good?](http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/is_twitter_too_.html)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#### Shared-Interest Groups

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

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

#### Groupings

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

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

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

Stowe Boyd

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

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

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

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

Some examples of groupings could be:

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

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

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

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

#### Contact Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#### Case-study: Twitter

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

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

twitter from Tara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Please Make Holes in My Buckets! [en]

[fr] Tour d'horizon de mes différents "profils" à droite et a gauche dans le paysage des outils sociaux (social tools). Il manque de la communication entre ces différents services, et mon identité en ligne s'en trouve fragmentée et lourde à gérer. Ajouter des contacts en se basant sur mon carnet d'adresses Gmail est un bon début, mais on peut aller plus loin. Importer ses livres préférés ou des éléments de CV d'un profil à l'autre, par exemple.

[Facebook](http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503315010) is [Stowe](http://stoweboyd.com/message)’s fault. [Twitter](http://twitter.com/stephtara) was because of [Euan](http://theobvious.typepad.com/). [Anne Dominique](http://annedominique.wordpress.com/) is guilty of getting me on [Xing/OpenBC](https://www.xing.com/profile/Stephanie_Booth). I can’t remember precisely for [Flickr](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny) or [LinkedIn](http://www.linkedin.com/in/sbooth) or — OMG! — [orkut](http://www.orkut.com/Profile.aspx?uid=7955153206158244373), but it was certainly somebody from [#joiito](http://joiwiki.ito.com/joiwiki/index.cgi?IrcChannel). The culprits for [Last.fm](http://www.last.fm/user/steph-tara), [DailyMotion](http://dailymotion.com/Steph) and [YouTube](http://youtube.com/profile?user=Steph “Even got there early enough to grab ‘steph’ — now I get password reminders almost everyday, great…”) have disappeared into the limbo of lost memories. [Kevin](http://epeus.blogspot.com) encouraged me to [sign up for a good dozen of blogging platforms](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/12/11/hosted-blog-platform-test-write-up/), open a [MySpace account](http://myspace.com/stephtara), and he’s probably to blame for me being on [Upcoming](http://upcoming.org/user/94465/). As for [wordpress.com](http://steph.wordpress.com), I’ll blame [Matt](http://photomatt.net) because he’s behind all that.

Granted, I’m probably the only one responsible for having [gotten into blogging](http://climbtothestars.org/about/ “Story here, abbreviated version.”) in the first place.

Let’s get back on track. My aim here is not primarily to point an accusing finger to all my devious friends who introduced me to these fun, [addictive](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/12/addicted-to-technology/), time-consuming tools (though it’s interesting to note how one forgets those things, in passing). It’s more a sort of round-up of a bunch of my “online selves”. I feel a little scattered, my friends. Here are all these buckets in which I place stuff, but there aren’t enough holes in them.

Feeds are good. Feeds allow me to have Twitter, [del.icio.us](http://del.icio.us/steph), Flickr, and even Last.fm stuff in my blog sidebar. It also allows me to connect my blogs to one another, and into Facebook. Here, though, we’re talking “content” much more than “self”.

One example I’ve already certainly talked about (but no courage to dig it out, my blog is starting to be a huge thing in which I can’t find stuff I know it contains) is contacts or buddies — the “Mine” in [Stowe’s analysis of social applications](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/07/stowe-boyd-building-social-applications/). I have buddy lists on IM and Skype, contacts on Flickr and just about every service I mentioned in this post. Of *course*, I don’t want to necessarily have the same contacts everywhere. I might love your photos on Flickr and add you as a contact, but not see any interest in adding you to my business network on LinkedIn. Some people, though — my **friends** — I’ll want to have more or less everywhere.

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

But what about all my **profile information**? I don’t want to have to dig out my favourite movies each time I sign up to a new service. Or my favourite books. Or the schools I went to. I mean, some things are reasonably stable. Why couldn’t I have all that in a central repository, once and for all, and just have all these neat social tools import the information from there? Earlier today, [David](http://galipeau.blogspot.com/) was telling me over IM that he’d like to have a central service to bring all our Facebook, LinkedIn, OpenBC/Xing, and MySpace stuff together. Or a way to publish his CV/résumé online and allow Facebook to access it to grab data from it. Good ideas, in my opinion.

I’ll mention [OpenID](http://openid.net/) here, but just in passing, because although in my dreams in used to hold the promise of this centralised repository of “all things me”, I don’t think that it’s what it has been designed for (if I get it correctly, it is identity **verification** and doesn’t have much to do with the **contents** of this identity). [Microformats](http://microformats.org) could on the other hand certainly come in handy here.

So, please, make more holes in my buckets. Importing Gmail contacts in sticking feeds here and there is nice, but not sufficient. For the moment, Facebook seems promising. But let me use Twitter for my statuses, for example, or at least include the feed somewhere (I can only include one feed, so I’ve included my [suprglu one](http://steph.suprglu.com/), but it has a huge lag and is not very satisfying). Let me put photographs in my albums directly from Flickr. Talk with the profiles I made with other similar services. Grab my school and work info from LinkedIn and OpenBC. Then make all this information you have about me available to republish how I want it (feeds, feeds, feeds! widgets! buttons! badges!) where I want it.

Also, [more granularity](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/12/you-should-twitter/). Facebook has a good helping of it: I can choose which type of information I want to see from my contacts. I can restrict certain contacts from seeing certain parts of my profile. I’d like fine control on who can see what, also by sorting my people into “buddy groups”. “Friends” and “Family” as on Flickr is just not enough. And maybe Facebook could come and present me with [Stowe-groupings](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/07/stowe-boyd-building-social-applications/) of my contacts, based on the interactions I have with them.

Share your wild ideas here if you have any.

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