Social Software

August 27, 2007

Federated ID, Missing the Point

Federated Identity is a topic I've not thought about for about 3 years. In that time, we've seen the rise of open standards SAML and OpenID and the decline in corporate solutions such as Microsoft's Passport (now known as Windows Live ID) and the Liberty Alliance. In particular, a faceted ID system which can authenticate and represent me to services with my appropriately matched dataset (I have many 'sets' of data – some are appropriate for friends, but not for work, etc) was only an idea back then and until recently, the topic has been relatively quiet. With the awakening to the Social Web, the inevitable question "Why do I have to manage so many versions of myself?" that has been asked by academics like Danah Boyd and Thomas Vander Wal and addressed – if not completely – by technology solutions, such as Sxipper and Demoxi. Fundamentally, however, the problems being solved primarily concern authentication and online form filling, not the actual management of my data held by various companies and organizations online.

Some others are thinking on mapping my relationships (which isn't a new concept – FOAF has been around for years), but none are telling the story of why this is a good idea. Sure, auto form-filling is cool, it helps me get things done quicker. Mapping my relationships is a neat idea, perhaps it can help me fill my profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn quicker... but something is missing.

Five or so years on from when the Digital Identity field rose to prominence, the industry is still coming up with answers without really knowing what the problem is. What's missing is a story – a clearly defined problem to which tech solutions can be applied.

My digital identity consists of all things me. It's not just my username and password, or the fields I fill in registration forms, or just my friends and associates. It's all these things and more. It's the photos I use to represent myself. It's the things I say in online forums on on my blog and the medicines I am prescribed by my doctor. Every piece of content and metadata about me forms my digital identity.

I believe collectively we're searching for a repository for the many facets of my digital ID, constructed with an open standard. A database and application that lives on my own server with an API that allows organizations and companies to access the sets of information about me that I explicitly allow. This information doesn't get stored by these organizations or companies, because its mine. They can access it whenever they need it, but I manage it and can cut them off whenever I choose. I want my identity under my control and not in the hands of corporations and organizations who may or may not be obliged to do the right thing with it.

My ID server should be as ubiquitous as email - an inalienable right to possess. I can think of nobody else but the open source community to provide this framework, since my personal data is not for a corporation to charge me for the right to use. I wish for that community to use this idea. By putting it out there, I hope it lights a bulb in some clever open source developers head.

Posted by Ant at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2007

Map of online communities

Map of online communitites from xkcd - I laughed for, well... literally minutes over this.

Posted by Ant at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2007

Mozilla's "The Coop"

Interesting follow-on from 'Flock' - Mozilla takes on the social browser baton with The Coop.

The Coop will let users keep track of what their friends are doing online, and share new and interesting content with one or more of those friends. It will integrate with popular web services, using their existing data feeds as a transport mechanism.

Users will see their friends' faces, and by clicking on them will be able to get a list of that person's recently added Flickr photos, favourite YouTube videos, tagged websites, composed blog posts, updated Facebook status, etc. If a user wants to share something with a friend, they simply drag that thing onto their friend's face. When they receive something from a friend, that friend's face glows to get the user's attention.

Posted by Ant at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2007

Governance, Status & Accountability

The difficulty that faces any community, whether online or in our physical world, is how to govern it for the best interests of the members. There are many political structures that may be applied to a community to ensure that integrity is maintained or example, dictatorship; oligarchy; meritocracy; tribalism; feudalism and democracy (The Politics of Internet Discussion - H2G2). Anarchy is another political model that does not serve to ensure integrity, but should be mentioned as an alternate way to run (or rather, not run) a community space.

The Anarchic community has no rules or charter. There is no decreed right or wrong way to behave and all participants are equal in power. The difficulty with anarchic societies is that they are full of human nature, frequently displaying our more base and unseemly behaviors like bullying and harassment. Combined with anonymity – the absence of a true identity to which errant behavior can be traced – there is nothing to restrict community members from exploring aggression and delinquency that is not tolerated in normal society. There are no safeguards against spamming, flaming, impersonation or other bad behavior. Groups may be formed to create power and protection for members of them. Once this dynamic is observed, individuals are behooved to ally themselves with a group or be an outcast, subject to the wrath of them all. Like a post-apocalyptic gangland, eventually a few members will emerge as leaders of their packs. The criterion for their success can be any number of factors, from tenure inside the community space, to the ferocity with which they rebuke any would-be ascenders.

Dictatorship is the rule of many by one body that has absolute power to act in any way it pleases, without accountability. The subjects of a dictatorship tend to feel powerless and unappreciative of the omnipotent forces to which they are subjected – unable to take control of their own destiny. Within dictatorships, rebellion is commonplace as community members rail against authority. Because there are usually too few resources to manage this behavior sensitively, it is either dealt with severely (e.g. expulsion from the service) or ignored all together, creating an anarchic atmosphere of ‘survival of the fittest’. As there is no ownership of the space that would inspire investment by the community, it may be difficult to attain critical mass without good incentives for contribution. However, a dictatorship can be the best model for smaller communities, where member activity can be easily monitored and the dictator can be active within the community space. Problems arise when the member activity becomes too great to economically moderate it.

Oligarchy is the model of governance by a powerful few. Often justified through a notion that those ‘enlightened’ with power know what is best for the ignorant masses, succession of power is handed to those whom the powerful see fit. Oligarchy is therefore highly susceptible to cronyism and nepotism. The most powerful members of the oligarchic online community may have the power to perform crucial functions such as shutting the system down, banning users and editing or removing any content. More complex structures can be implemented in which the most powerful appoint subordinate members in a pyramid-like scheme. Subordinates may be given lesser power or privilege than their superiors. At its best, an oligarchy has a highly invested government who truly serve to create the best experience for all community members. However, like any system where the powerful appoint themselves, there is a high likelihood of the emergence of a self-serving ‘old boys club’ that is discriminatory and resists change.

Systems in which those who earn recognition are promoted to power are known as meritocracies. Online games often feature this system, enabling players to build up power over time through overcoming challenges and beating opponents. They are rewarded with capabilities that newer or less adept players do not have and build up inventories of virtual booty. However, this skill-based definition of merit does not always correlate to the average online community well. Merit may be achieved through different means and the definition of merit is for the designer of the community to determine. To inform this process, an audit of the behaviors that are desirable in the online space, such as writing content, making friendships or uploading photographs is useful. Incentivizing members by allowing them to earn privileges serves to encourage desirable behavior, however it can also lead to members attempting to sabotage or undermine the success of the powerful with a view to increasing their own.

Often when anarchy is left to its own devices, tribalism emerges from it – groups of competing tribes that are frequently oligarchies in themselves vying for influence over the community as a whole. Tribes will bring together like-minded individuals to share knowledge or just converse. Often allegiances are formed between tribes to form sympathetic factions, but the tribes themselves will retain their individual oligarchic hierarchies. Tribal society as a series of oligarchies serves the community as a whole better than a larger single oligarchy would. Should members no longer find their tribe satisfactory, they may move to another or form their own. While individual tribes are subject to the failings of any oligarchy (cronyism and conservatism), a collection of them can form a dynamic and rapidly changing social space, abundant in diversity and depth. Naturally, when competing tribes turn against one another in wars of bitter and ugly behavior, the results can be distressing and negative for all concerned. Supporting the inherent attributes of tribal systems is to the advantage of the community designer who feels that this system is an appropriate model. To do so, the individual tribe needs to be supported through facilitating oligarchic or democratic hierarchies, allowing the tribe to govern itself. For example, a set of tribal leaders must have powers such as appointing subordinates, banning members and editing or removing content within tribal confines. But above this, the overall system must provide means by which tribes can compete and make clear what it is that they are competing for.

Feudalism works on the premise that an ultimate master allows people space on their land (or web server) in return for service such as management of the space. Those delegated the space are traditionally known as Vassals, who may allow others to use the space in return for services, who may delegate further and so on. This is a popular model on the web with the most well known example being Yahoo! Yahoo’s groups are owned and hosted by Yahoo, however, they are administered by volunteers that have the ability to delegate certain functions to other members. The reason this works particularly well is because businesses that own a wide array of user communities could never possibly afford to run them all properly. The community must self-regulate to some extent in order to avoid the pitfalls of anarchy. Feudalism plays to our inherent understanding of hierarchy and is therefore readily understood by those who participate in the system.

Online democracies are truly rare on the Internet, due to the fact that web server space is rarely given to a community to do with what they please for free. Those who control the server, ultimately control the space. But there are some examples where the principle of democracy exists, such as where a popular vote may decide what content is featured, or which members should be banned. Individual aspects of control may be given to a member, such as the ability to filter content or block certain members from their view. However, there are inherent flaws to the average online community that makes a true democracy impossible. For example, without stringent verification it is difficult to ensure the same person does not assume many identities and bias the voting process. In the real world, states or counties are established to allow certain communities to vote on issues that affect them only. Online communities that wish to explore democracy need to observe these real-world issues carefully, then emulate their solutions as closely as is practical to ensure success.

With most of these political models, a person or a few persons with power are needed to manage the community space. Other than the desire for power over others, what motivates people to step up to positions of responsibility? How do you create the incentive for community members to spend time managing the community space? In some cases this may be easily solved through monetarily reimbursing them for their time, thereby essentially employing them. If your community operates with premium membership (offering some services only to those who pay for it) it may be as simple as giving members who undertake roles of responsibility a premium membership in return for their services. But payment alone may not be incentive enough to ensure long-term interest. A quasi employment system can also be exposed to exploitation unless mechanisms are built to closely monitor the unofficial employees. When first starting out, most providers do not have this advanced facility and may wish to seek other ways to police the community. It is of comfort to know then that the most common motivation for people to take responsibility for their community, is appreciation for it and the desire to protect it from defacement. Simple mechanisms for the community to police itself use a voting system, which tells the system to remove an offensive or inappropriate piece of content after a certain amount of reports. The catch here is, first a community must be perceived to be valuable i.e. populated and active, before it will attract protectors. Not many will invest in the maintenance of a ghost town. Other than policing, you need volunteers to make conversation with people, make newcomers feel welcome, restart dead message threads and generally encourage participation else the community may fail to remain active. How are you going to convince people to do that?

Looking to real-world examples, how do we encourage people to participate in society – work, spend money, govern, police etc? In the real world, free market economies are based on choice – the freedom to choose between many different opportunities. In failing economies that choice is limited. For example, a small rural town with a small economy has few educational institutions, few viable occupations for residents, less culinary variety in the supermarket, fewer choices for sexual partnership, etc. Large cities with big economies offer a proportionately larger array of choice. A good economy provides not just money for a community, but many choices of how to spend that money and how to earn it. Choice is a currency and it can be used to incentivize or reward those inclined to step into roles of responsibility just like money can. Status is attributed to the amount of choice a member has available to them.

The choices you may provide are only limited by your imagination and should be guided by what is valuable to your community, but to get the thought moving here are some examples of how you might provide greater choice to a select few within a community. Allow them to:
•Permanently or temporarily boot people out of a community space
•Officially warn people not to misbehave
•Create new topics on message boards or retire old ones
•Reward the desired behavior of other members
•Create new content or interactive areas of the service
•Have access to ‘elite’ sub-communities
•Visually alter their representation on message boards, profile or in MUDs
•Have access to purchase exclusive goods
•Have a say over future developments of the service

In addition to a greater array of choice, a member’s higher status and credence in the community may be tied to factors such as longer tenure, greater knowledge, higher frequency of use and popularity. It is in the community’s interest to showcase these, for without indicators of an individual’s status, newer members of a community won’t appreciate the hierarchy nor understand that there is status to be attained. Moreover, if you don’t show the status of a member they may not work to get it.

Administrative functions are only one of many behaviors you may wish to reward with status. In most cases, communities do not function without members communicating in various forms on message boards, on profile pages, chat etc. Communication takes the format of one-to-one (e.g. private chat & email), one-to-many (e.g. blogs) many-to-one (e.g. letters to the editor) or many-to-many (e.g. message boards). Representing the most value to a community is one-to-many communication, which by nature provides content to many viewers from just one contributor – with more contributors the proportion of value is exponential. It is one thing for a community to enable one-to-one communication between members, but alone this is not as ‘sticky’ a proposition as it might be. Having content to view (in the form of one-to-many or many-to-many communication) keeps members coming back, encourages them to contribute their own and ultimately supports critical mass. Persuading a member to make one-to-many communication is key to engaging members with the service, so you may wish to reward this behavior.

An effective way to reward the creation of content is to simply display a count of the number of contributions by a member. For example, some message board systems will display the total number of posts for a member next to their name or handle. This essentially shows all others in the community how active a contributor is and infers a status reflective of tenure or participation. By making this transparent, it also adds an incentive to the member to increase that number, thereby contributing more to the community space.

But, it is fair to question whether quantity of content is as valuable as quality. Discussions that are pages long but full of one lined glib comments, or user profiles with disconnected nonsense don’t create the best experience. The merit of a contribution can also be engineered to give a member status. How that merit is measured will be determined either by the sophistication of the software, or by the model of the community. In dictatorships, the dictator decides what is quality and what is not. In meritocracies or democracies, members of the community can rate the quality of a piece of content utilizing a voting system. When a contributor gets mostly positive responses, they can be rewarded with another visual cue like a star-rating. This works in the same way as the visual count, as it encourages more quality contributions. In very sophisticated systems, viewers can filter content by the star rating, allowing them to see only the good stuff.

Evidence of high frequency visitation to a space ensures that the community feels like it is active when people visit and is somewhat self-perpetuating in nature. High frequency guarantees that communication between people will be closer to real-time and therefore drive them to return to the space sooner. Indicating how recently a member visited also allows potential communicators to gauge how quickly they’ll likely get a reply. Frequency is most commonly displayed as a ‘last visit’ date as part of a member’s profile information. However, it is equally effective when displayed as a ‘last visitors’ roll in areas of the community space. On a cautionary note, frequency indicators can work against their intended function when latent frequency is low. In this case, it creates a feeling that the community is indeed stale and discourages people from participating, further perpetuating the inactivity. When frequency is low some community providers choose to show a generic last visit label like “longer than 1 month ago” against inactive members, rather than displaying a date that might reveal the member no longer visits the space at all.

On the flipside of status as a carrot to dangle in front of members to encourage desired behavior, it can also be used as a stick of accountability. When we earn status we are behooved to keep a hold of it. The threat of having it removed is enough to discourage us from acting in ways that would put our status at risk. We can see this in society with the most obvious form as incarceration for breaking the rules of our society. In effect, removing someone’s freedom to choose how they lead their existence is the ultimate stripping away of status. In the virtual world, the equivalent of incarceration is total removal from the community. Booting someone out is the ultimate punishment but we can also ‘fine’ people by removing other items of status they may have attained. In some communities, resetting a member’s post count amounts to the heaviest of fines – especially if it is directly tied to the amount of choices available to them. It seems like an abstract concept but when the only way to distinguish yourself as an up-standing, venerable member of the community is through the amount of posts you’ve made, stripping this away is the equivalent of being demoted at work or disgraced at the town meeting.

Posted by Ant at 09:17 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2006

Minority Report interface & a glimpse into the future

Jeff Han presented at the TED Conference (Technology Entertainment Design) an interface that comes straight out of the movie "Minority Report" - its all dynamic and notably sans-mouse & keyboard or any other third party interaction device. I was blown away at how effortlessly Jeff seemed to be able to manipulate objects directly on a screen in this demo seen here. Using more than one finger at a time you can move, resize and position objects while the things on screen react very similarly to the way they would in the physical world. I think this is a glimpse at the future here, but actually realized, not a movie fantasy. Thanks to Dak Elliot for finding this one.

Another interesting phenomenon is the spot presenting the demo done by 'Geek Brief TV' which is a video podcast. In closing the presenter mentions she'll be haning out on Second Life, a social computer game that simulates reality.

Keep up Gen X... technology and society is moving fast. In that one Geek Brief TV spot, we saw three things that are revolutionary.

  1. A professionally edited podcast. That's the type of thing that will eventually end TV as we know it.
  2. An interface that signifies the next step in seamless interfacing with technology.
  3. A presenter who will be promoting her product, essentially doing business (as many now are) in a virtual world.

I'm feeling old all of a sudden.

Posted by Ant at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2005

EPIC - Googlezon, the future of the internet

EPIC A picture of a world where the news is generated by the people and collated by Googlezon, the merger of Amazon and Google. The company which is to supercede Microsoft. Quite big thinking in this presentation and definitely worth seeing.

Posted by Ant at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2005

Emma, me, Sarah

Emma, me, Sarah
Originally uploaded by Ant!.
I just wanted to test the way that Flickr is integrating with third party vendors, such as Movable Type to create new content generating paradigms.

So, I've set up my Flickr account to talk to my blog, and I'm posting this entry through the Flickr website... about a photo that I've uploaded to flickr, that is being fed back to my blog.

This is way cool!
Posted by Ant at 05:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2005


I just read something strangely funny. This guy comes over a bit like rabid dog, but if you can giggle off the opinionated stuff (and blatant generalisations), there is a (very) small part of his article"Why your Movable Type blog must die" where you may find a truism or two. I giggled a lot.

It reminds me of a joke my father tells... What's the difference between a psychotic and a neurotic? Well, a psychotic thinks 2+2=5. Whereas a neurotic knows that 2+2=4, but it makes him mad.

Posted by Ant at 12:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

Post-modernism in branding and ethics - Capitalism attempting socialism?

The market derserves respect. The Cluetrain Manifesto may have picked up on this idea and run with it, but has anything happened to make companies change their ways? People are still banging on about user experience dictating brand success (personally I think this is a good thing) but it isn't going to gain ground so long as companies are profitable by being mediocre and bullying the customer into paying them.

Removing the wall between customer and staff is happening, albeit slowly. There's pockets of evidence, glinting like silvery mirages (and in the form of blogs, no less). I read an article about a firm who's training their staff to write blogs. The catch is, they're a PR firm, which raises suspicion that perhaps they're on the cusp of someting scary - PR folk planted into companies as bloggers.

I know that by working for a public company, I'd dare not mention anything which could reflect negatively on it, lest it affect share prices. That's why you'll never see me identify who I work for here. The risks of being too honest are well known. I wonder, are we going to see a time where all staff (especially those who blog) are trained in PR? Will the 'company line' be drummed into us all in a way which essentially forces us to act as their mouthpeice? Or will PR blogging double agents essentially erode trust in the other company blogger's word?

But these are symptomatic issues that don't address the core. Globalisation points to the problem but not because of NOLOGO fabled exploitation. Its about sheer market size. In direct marketing circles, there is a principle that essentially says "You don't have to be very successful, just successful enough". Even if 1% of 1000 people you approach buy your $20 product, you've made $200... So when you're talking about a global population of around 6.4 billion, (maybe a third of which can afford to buy anything) the scattergun marketing approach becomes very successful.

This in itself isn't that disturbing, we're pretty used to spam nowadays and are developing ways to effectively cope with it. But what happens when your whole approach to your product follows the guiding principles of scattergun marketing? Your product doesn't have to be that great for the company to survive. Its bought by pretty low percentages, but on a large scale it reaps rewards. We can see this in many big companies in the USA (software being a poignant example).

And so, we head toward the world depicted in Bladerunner where advertising bombards our senses from every perspective and society is strung loosely from sale to sale. Replicants live inside the companies, programmed to spout whatever their creators have deemed the market should think... and few people buy the cruddy products, but that doesn't matter, because few is enough.

Respect for the customer will never be something that all companies have. The Cluetrain Manifesto contains a grand and righteous mantra, but so does communism. Humans are ultimately designed to serve themselves and can't be trusted to just 'do the right thing' without an incentive. Companies, as a colony of humans, are here to make money and they won't treat customers with respect if it affects the bottom line. The company also won't allow the staff to talk freely in public forums if it affects the bottom line. We live in a capitalist (aka self-serving) society. Bless all ye who sail in her mediocrity.

Posted by Ant at 11:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 13, 2005

Blog Holocaust

There's nothing quite as nausiating as when you realise you hadn't recently backed up your website after hearing the words "complete server failure" from your trusted web host. Especially if you're a blogger... So, after I've gone through the four steps of mourning...

Denial: "oh, they surely didn't have another catastrophic crash, that only happened a few years ago. They'd have learned from the experience and protected against it..." and "Ah, not to worry, I must have backed that stuff up just the other day..."

So once the realisation set in that 6 months of blogging was indeed gone, caput, poof, disappeared for ever and ever, next came sadness "SIX MONTHS OF MY MIND, LOST!! AARRHH NOOOO, sob, sob...".

Anger came in the form of a furious letter to my web hosts, asking them why on earth they couldn't buy a simple power back up pack/surge protector from PC World... after all I could've done it for my little computer, why wouldn't they for presumably hundreds of people's websites? I wanted my money back, in no uncertain terms, especially since this had happened with them only a few years before.

Finally acceptance has arrived and it has only taken me a few weeks to get things together with another web host and get this site back up again, albeit with blog content that is now 6 months old. I've missed loads of email I'm sure but that's the least of my worries. I have to keep telling myself that the last 6 months of writing was trite rubbish anyway and all the interesting stuff is still there. There's nothing of my time in the USA, but at least I hadn't just blogged all of the IA Summit or something. Speaking of which, I have loads of notes from that conference. They'll be posted next.

Posted by Ant at 05:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 01, 2004

What's in a blog?

I've had blog paralysis lately, not feeling like I know what to write about. Nothing very interesting happening professionally, or at least nothing I can write about... just yet. Besides which, the beginning 'understanding' phases of a project are high on making plans and asking questions. Not a great deal of interesting insight to write about.

Anyway, it got me thinking about what this blog is for anyway... So, I had a look around at blogs and you've got all manner of them out there. Work only blogs, personal only blogs, blogs that are just links, blogs that are just photos, blogs that are diaries, blogs that are written to four times a day, blogs that are written to less than four times a year. So what's this blog supposed to be about? I'm asking myself. What's missing from my blog experience that has me constipated? Why don't I feel like writing?

So far I've focussed my blogging on work stuff, feeling like if this thing ever gets an audience, I don't think they'd be interested in my little old life. I also have a problem with writing about myself in a self-congratulatory, or what I feel like is an egotistical way. Rarely do my entries contain my interpretations of events, but more factual stuff, links and references that I'd find interesting to look back on. So what's the ultimate goal? Why did I start blogging? Was it to try and assert some kind of territory in the 'blogsphere'? Am I a slave to a trend? Was I trying to open a channel with the new-media boffin in me? Was this designed to try and promote myself as a user experience designer? What? This conflict is has been present from the start of this blog's life and is evident in the title.

On a fundamental level the question really is: Am I writing for me or others?

The very fact that a weblog is all connected to other people and publicly accessible makes it hard explain away as an entirely private endeavour. But it is for personal use. As such it is a list of bookmarks that I can use to support my appalling memory. But its also for public use, or should I say publicity. The work insights I try to put in The Vanity Experiment are supposed to prove that I'm thinking, pushing myself to learn new things. Expressing the things I learn is a way to capture this process, but also to illustrate that I know them. Should a potential employer look on this space, maybe they'll look more favourably on me for having some idea about me or at least what I profess to know.

So there's little of me in this space. Perhaps that's what's missing from the experience? Life isn't all about work, and my life's been too full of other good things recently to have time to write about my profession. So, starting with this entry, The Vanity Experiment is going to have a little more of me in it because life's too short to be so damn professional.

Hello world!

Posted by Ant at 09:52 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 09, 2004

Cool FOAF things

FOAF (Friend of a Friend) is ...a way to describe yourself -- your name, email address, and the people you're friends with -- using XML and RDF. This allows software to process these descriptions, perhaps as part of an automated search engine, to discover information about your and the communities of which you're a member. FOAF has the potential to drive many new interesting developments in online communities.

Plink (People Link) is like a kinda techie/underground version of Friendster and has links to cool widgets like foaf-a-matic � a javascript application that generates your very own FOAF file from a web form.

Posted by Ant at 05:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

C4 ID cards

Now, that's how you do an Identity Card. Well done Foundation 33!

Posted by Ant at 03:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 25, 2003

Media Lab Europe Human Connectedness research group

Media Lab Europe Human Connectedness research group has a plethora of interesting things going on the Social Software front.

Thanks to Matt Webb for passing this nugget on his blog.

Posted by Ant at 12:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 08, 2003

Identity Course

This paper on Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community by Judith S. Donath is a part of the course reading of an MIT course called Who we are and how we perceive ourselves and others... lots of great reading material here. Thanks to Dan Dixon for bringing this to my attention.

Posted by Ant at 01:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

Links a plenty


Ooer! Wired article "The SenSay cellular phone, still in prototype stage, keeps tabs on e-mails sent, phone calls made and the user's location. The phone also adapts to the user's environment."

RFID more privacy and identity issues here... Radio Frequency Identification - tag items with a radio chip the size of a pin head.

IA, ID & Graphic Design

Useful IA and Design Resources for sorting out work practices and process.

Deciding which usability test method to use. Nice overview of different usability methods

Found Gold on colour theory and international interpretations of it in design. Colour Matters, Symbolism of Color in different cultures. Also, Colorcom colour consultants.


The trouble with out of the Box thinking article on Ubiquity magazine site.


Grays Anatomy Online. I always loved the book, now it's online.
Posted by Ant at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Links a plenty


Ooer! Wired article "The SenSay cellular phone, still in prototype stage, keeps tabs on e-mails sent, phone calls made and the user's location. The phone also adapts to the user's environment."

RFID more privacy and identity issues here... Radio Frequency Identification - tag items with a radio chip the size of a pin head.

IA, ID & Graphic Design

Useful IA and Design Resources for sorting out work practices and process.

Deciding which usability test method to use. Nice overview of different usability methods

Found Gold on colour theory and international interpretations of it in design. Colour Matters, Symbolism of Color in different cultures. Also, Colorcom colour consultants.


The trouble with out of the Box thinking article on Ubiquity magazine site.


Grays Anatomy Online. I always loved the book, now it's online.
Posted by Ant at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2003

MSN Chat withdrawal

MSN shutting down their chatrooms is not, I suspect, because of some virtuous sense of guilt about paedophiles and children. When EVER, did you hear of Microsoft closing down a business venture for anything other than purely selfish motives?

It's my guess that there are two factors at play here. One lesser one is that running as large a chat network as MSNs, for free, is not cost effective in any way, shape or form. Users aren't moving around their site, increasing chances of a sale for an advertiser or Microsoft, when they're in a chatroom for an hour. Supporting a chat network technically, has also got to be eating a hole in their pocket... for what audience? Mostly teenagers and children who aren't going to be spending any money with Microsoft or advertisers.

Then, you've got the whole legal side. I would say, should any guardian of a paedophile victim, decide that it is the fault of the provider of the environment where grooming took place, any legal defense of that provider would be tenuous at best. Regardless of disclaimers, waivers and other legalese, a good lawyer would probably be able to successfully prosecute.

Finally and the most probable reason I can spot for this withdrawal, is to do with maintaining Microsoft's brand image. Microsoft needs to appeal to the family market as one of their fastest growing group of customers. A news report directly linking an attack on a child, with MSN's chatrooms, which were known by MSN to be used by paedophiles, would be a disasterous breach of the trust that the Microsoft brand must purvey.

It is my view that shutting down chatrooms means three things for Microsoft. 1) Less overheads. 2) Far lower risk of litigation. 3) Insurance against brand damage. Yes, I think the shut down is based on paedophiles using the MSN chat service... but not because Microsoft "care for the kids", but because as usual, they care for Microsoft.

Posted by Ant at 07:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 21, 2003

Attribution & Blog Currency

I want to document an interesting pheonomenon. When Person A 'blogs' an idea, the reader automatically assumes it is Person A's idea. This doesn't seem strange until you observe the same phenomenon when Person A attributes the idea to Person B. The reader still, even if only subconsciouly associates where they picked up that thought (or 'memes') with Person A's blog.

Case in point: These ideas that I'm presenting here in this post, are not mine. I am now attributing these ideas to both Alice Taylor and Paula le Dieu with whom I work. I have picked it up in conversations from them and am now blogging it. But, from now on when you the reader, recall this idea (if you ever do), I suggest that you will associate it with this blog (if not attribute it to it's author as well).

Furthermore, as Paula points out, if the originator of the idea's name(s) is not hyperlinked, then the impact of stating them is significantly less because they don't have a web presence. This holds true particularly in the case where the readers are more often that not, other bloggers.

I work in the web development industry, which happens to be the same place from where many bloggers and therefore readers of blogs come. The ideas presented on this blog are in large part aimed at an audience of my peers, with whom I work now, or may work with in the future. I am more likely to be known within the web community because of this blog. Therefore ideas on here are of some value, forming a currency within the circles of those readers who might visit this page.

Surely, this means that those in my industry without blogs, are at a disadvantage to those who do. Is this fair? Does that matter if nothing will change? Scholars have been doing this for eons (not to suggest that I or my peers are particularly scholarly). If an idea is not from a 'noteworthy' (literally meaning worthy of observation or notice) source who is known within the circle of alumni peers of the author, then no attribution to the conciever of an idea is usually made within a paper or publication.

This is also a child of its parent phenomenon, the 'digital divide' between the information rich and information poor and between the blogs and blog-nots.

Alice and Paula conceived this idea and pretty well all the other thoughts presented within this post after noticing that some of their ideas were being presented on blogs, by other members of their professional peer group. They don't have blogs or websites, so there's no hyperlink to more about them. Will you remember their names, or this blog?

Posted by Ant at 08:21 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

Impartial Rating

Moderation and hosting of bulletin boards is arguably what makes for a good online community. Without it, whether managed by the owner of the service or by the community itself, conversations easily degenerate into spam-fests or flame wars. It is the host, with their carrot that prompts conversations and gently fans the embers of discussion. The Moderator holds the stick and smacks those who behave in an antisocial manner through either a warning or a ban from the system. Whether it's a good model or not is a different debate. If searching for ammunition on such a discussion I recommend this article on H2G2 about the politics of online discussion.

I work for a large corporation that has many, many message boards and 'communities'. They're in a position where they editorially cannot affort to have 'nasty' people being 'nasty' in their public space as this is supposedly a place for all to enjoy. The problem with having good hosting and lots of boards is that you have to pay moderators to trawl through near all the messages to ensure there isn't any 'nastyness' either before or shortly after posts are published to the board (this is known as either 'pre moderated' or 'post moderated').

That is, unless you emply a system such as Slashdot's where, as Clay Shirky eloquently puts it ... [the] core principle, for example, is "No censorship"; anyone should be able to comment in any way on any article. Slashdot's constitution (though it is not called that) specifies only three mechanisms for handling the tension between individual freedom to post irrelevant or offensive material, and the group's desire to be able to find the interesting comments. The first is moderation, a way of convening a jury pool of members in good standing, whose function is to rank those posts by quality. The second is meta-moderation, a way of checking those moderators for bias, as a solution to the "Who will watch the watchers?" problem. And the third is karma, a way of defining who is a member in good standing. These three political concepts, lightweight as they are, allow Slashdot to grow without becoming unusable

However, there are pitfalls to the self moderating system of collaborative filtering. I can't remember who wrote about this, I wish I did so I could link to a far more erudite explaination of the self-fulfilling prophecy syndrome that befalls a self-moderated online discussion. In short, it goes something like this:

Where we have a system that allows a me to view only content that appeals to me (i.e. that other people that I 'rate' have rated said content highly) I will only ever see what I want to see, which is a self fulfilling prophecy. Now, this may seem like a good idea when thinking about filtering out spam and trolls, except when it comes to a situation where a balanced view of the world's take on an issue may be advantageous. If I'm always reading opinions that I agree with, where's the balance in that?

The Corporation cannot afford to keep plunging money into more and more moderators. Especially not when the message boards are becoming more and more popular. So, reactive moderation (a system in which posts are not checked by moderators unless a complaint is made) is phased in on certain boards where the community can be trusted. Moderation costs fall - Hooray!

But, there are still some boards where we can't rely on this system, e.g. in Kid-Safe areas, or where it is considered too legally or editorially risky to have anything defamatory on a space sponsored by The Corporation (regardless of who wrote it), even for a minute. The News site is one of these sites. It is also one of the most popular sites on the web. How do you allow discussion on a site where you can't afford to pre or post moderate? Self moderation and Collaborative filtering are the popular models talked about at the moment. But then you have to think about whether this is healthy in context to the issues raised above. Especially when we're talking about a News division that prides itself on impartiality. Surely, if I don't like someone's viewpoint, I'll rate it poorly and so will people like me. Then I'll see their comments which I agree with... and I'll be happy in my bubble thinking that the world's people all agree with me. Can you have a self moderating system that doesn't fall into this trap? I don't know. I'll let you know if we think of something.

Posted by Ant at 11:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack