Tag Archives: Internet culture

Watching TV With The Community

image

Been watching the veep debates on Livestation, which has an interesting feature: a live chat connected to the program with some LiveStation folks guiding the discussion.

It works pretty well: It’s great to be able to watch TV with a bunch of other people, though I had one eye on that chat, and one eye on some Skype, Google Talk, twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed chat windows too.

This makes all sorts of sense, and I commend Livestation for doing this kind of thing. The IRC format is a bit old school; it would be nice to see something beyond the noisy chat format. Or, even better, being able to drag our other communities into the window to watch together.

But that’s down the road. This is a good way to share information—live and visual—and I think this is an exciting way forward.

Update: Livestation points out that the chat is directly connected to Al Jazeera via Russell Merryman, Head of New Media, who was feeding comments through to the studio to guide the post-debate discussion.

links for 2008-09-21

User Determined Computing

I’m not sure it’s a new phenomenon, but Accenture reckons it is: employees are more tech savvy than the companies they work for and are demanding their workplace catches up.

A new study by Accenture to be released next week (no link available yet; based on a PR pitch that mentions no embargo) will say that until recently all the most advancted networks and communication devices were at the office. Now they’re at home. The company calls it “user-determined computing”:

Today, home technology has outpaced enterprise technology, leaving employees frustrated by the inadequacy of the technology they use at work.  As a result, employees are demanding more because of their ever-increasing familiarity and comfort level with technology. It’s an emerging phenomenon Accenture has called “user-determined computing.”

The global study of more than 300 Chief Information Officers (CIOs) will argue that “executive and technology leaders are undertaking superficial improvements in their information technology systems rather than making fundamental changes to meet the growing demands of users.” The research will show that the high performing companies are those that are deploying the new technologies.

So far so good (and until we see the report that’s all we’ve got for detail.) I’d argue that this disconnect has existed for years and only been exacerbated by the rise of Web 2.0. But I’m a little less sure of Accenture’s argument when it says that it has launched an internal initiative of its own — what it’s rather lamely calling “Collaboration 2.0”, which involves

rolling out enhanced search capabilities, high-definition and desktop video conferencing solutions, unified messaging, and people pages (similar to personal pages on social networking sites).

A good enough start, I guess, but hardly an office revolution. And I think the term “user-determined” is misleading; it sounds as if users actually have a say in what computers, communications and software they use. Even Accenture’s own Collaboration 2.0 doesn’t sound as if that’s the case. “User-influenced”, maybe.

What do I think? I believe that most companies’ internal software systems need a major more radical overhaul — of five media companies I have had dealings with recently, one still uses the same editing software it had in place more than 10 years ago, another uses a system that has no major changes to its interface since the early 1990s, and another uses DOS WordStar.

I believe that companies need to be more flexible about how/where/when their workers work. The when and where is being addressed with telecommuting and flexible hours. But I also think that workers should be free to use everything that Web 2.0 has to offer — collaboration tools like stuff from 37Signals, Google Apps, Skype, their own hardware, whatever it takes. I know there are security and legal issues involved, but, let’s face it, what worker doesn’t use their own instant messaging program, log into Gmail on their office computer and other “illegal” moves inside the enterprise?

It’s time to let the worker work as s/he wants. If Accenture has spotted anything, it’s probably that the most productive workers are independent workers — those who set up their own systems so they’re not dependent on and held back by their employer. If that’s true, then the logical conclusion is that those employees are probably not employees anymore, but have struck out on their own either as consultants, freelancers or hitched their wagons to smaller, leaner and more flexible startups.

PS I wasn’t hugely impressed with Accenture’s own website, which didn’t comply with the most basic standards of Web 2.0. For one thing, it’s Flash-based, with no options for a quicker loading, HTML version. And the Flash doesn’t load quickly:

image

Secondly, a pop-up window greets you on your immediate arrival requesting your participation in a survey:

image

Not a good start.

LOL? Not If You’re Dating By SMS

Technology can be a dangerous place for relationships. You’ve really got to know your lingo. And stay up to date with it. From this morning’s Sunday Jakarta Post (afraid this piece is not available online, but the Web site is here), which always has an amusing column at the bottom of the first page, we read of “Miss Twinky’s” difficulties with men who seem to have lost the art of chivalrous behavior. She was introduced by SMS to a guy who maintained a dialog via the medium, right up until he invited her for a date:

It was not much of a surprise that our first date would be at the movies but the real shock came from his last SMS that day; “You can choose the movie and venue. I’ll pick up the bill or do you want to share it? LOL” (Lots of love.)

I was stunned. I didn’t know how to reply and lost all interest to meet or get to know him.

And there the relationship ended. And with good reason. What kind of sleazeball would try to split the bill on a first date? Only, hang on a minute. Does LOL really mean “Lots of love”?  For those whose familiarity of acronyms predates the Internet, it may well mean that. But for regular users of Instant Messaging, or even SMS, it doesn’t. It means “Laugh out loud”. I suspect the writer might have been trying to tackle the problem of whether it’s chivalrous or patronizing to pick up the tab on a date before it happened, by making a joke. Of course he may not have been, but I think he might be granted the benefit of the doubt.

Another budding relationship crashing onto the rocks of technology.

Well, actually, strictly speaking, neither of us might be right. Chances are he meant what I think he meant: Wikipedia has it usually meaning Laugh out loud, though it does acknowledge its meaning as “lots of love” predates the Internet. There are other possibilities, though: The Wikipedia page on LOL lists “laughing out loud” at the top, and puts “lots of love” a seemingly lowly seventh, after a Loyal Orange Lodge, Lloret de Mar, Lands of Lore, Legend of Legaia and Love of Life, a soap opera. So it is conceivable our misunderstood and maligned Lothario might have been referring to two games, a soap opera, a coastal town in Catalonia or a Protestant fraternal organization.

And that’s just the start. The Free Dictionary lists 62 of different meanings of LOL (I think. You count), so he could have been making a reference to the Ladies of Lallybroch (a good name for a brothel, but in fact a community for fans of Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series), Lawyers on Line (a wild bunch, I should imagine), Lewd Obscene Language (which should definitely rule him out for future dates), Longitudinal Output Level (ditto, for reasons of boredom), Love of Literacy (a worthy goal, but not necessarily something to bring up on the first date), or Lower Operating Limit (this at least has potential, if we’re talking alcohol levels).

If I were Miss Twinky I would drag his number out of the trash and start finding out what this guy really meant, or might have meant. At least the conversation would make a more interesting date than a movie. And we, more broadly, should learn a lesson from Miss Twinky’s discomfort. Acronyms and smileys do not travel well between people who do not yet understand or know each other. So they should be avoided. (I’ve always added three periods to my instant messaging and SMS messages, thinking they conveyed a sense of flowing conversation, softening any possible statement so it did not look like I was trying to have the final word. Turns out my Canadian friend thought I was being sarcastic. We’re still friends, but only after exceeding our Lower Operating Limits at Bugils several times.)

A lesson, then: We should vow not to allow an acronym, a smiley or period marks to come between us, and we should give the benefit of the doubt if we are not completely confident of their meaning. (Google is a good place to start educating ourselves.) And for Miss Twinky, I hope that maybe you’ll give your mysterious acronymizing date a second chance.

Female? In a Chatroom? Get Out While You Can

We probably didn’t need an academic study to tell us this, but the figures are still quite surprising: The University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering has, in a study released today, found that chat room participants with female usernames received 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous usernames:

Female usernames, on average, received 163 malicious private messages a day in the study, conducted by Michel Cukier, assistant professor in the Center for Risk and Reliability in the Clark School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and an affiliate of the university’s Institute for Systems Research, and sophomore computer engineering student Robert Meyer.

First off, I have several questions. What is a School of Engineering doing in a study like this? Isn’t this more of a sociology, or anthropology type research project? Secondly, what were a couple of fellas doing impersonating females in chatrooms? And, more importantly, what names did they use? Thirdly, 163 sounds a lot. How long were they online for?

The study, the press release says, “focused on internet relay chat or IRC chat rooms, which are among the most popular chat services but offer widely varying levels of user security. The researchers logged into various chatrooms under female, male and ambiguous usernames, counted the number of times they were contacted and tracked the contents of those messages. Their results will be published in the proceedings of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers International (IEEE) Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN ’06) in June.” Now I’m really curious. Ambiguous? Sean? Stacey? Bob?

Seriously, though, this kind of thing is pretty awful. But it’s not new. I did my own bit of sleuthing back in 1997 pretending to be a female in some chatroom or other and was approached by more men, or people claiming to be men, than a nun at a bishops’ convention. I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better. And, as the study points out, this kind of thing is by no means reserved for adults. Their advice: use ambiguous or gender-nonspecific names when you register, and be alert. If you need any good pseudonyms for this kind of thing, I’m collecting fake spam names here.

Skype Me And A Return To Innocence

Great piece today in The New York Times: ‘Internet Phone Service Creating Chatty Network’ on the openness of Skype users using the SkypeMe function to chat, and be chatted to, by strangers with only a nice chat in mind:

Skype users report unsolicited contacts every day, and contrary to such experiences with phone and e-mail, the calls are often welcomed.

As the author Ethan Todras-Whitehill points out, it’s like putting the clock back but with better features:

It felt like the early days of AOL, another environment in which people contacted others randomly. But voice brings to life the other person in a way that typing cannot, like hearing Mr. Einkamerer laugh at my jokes. The instant-messaging environment is anonymous; with voice, you cannot hide from the other person.

Must confess I haven’t done it, but I think I’ll try. During the short window when it won’t be abused by sleazeballs, marketers and scammers, it might be a nice way to meet interesting new folks.

The Idea of Availability

I can’t remember who I was talking about this to but, stuck at the airport Starbucks again I thought I’d blog my thoughts while they’re not too addled by caffeine.

I have Skype, I have Packet8, I have GPRS, I have landlines, I have Instant Messaging. So why is IM the smartest of the bunch? Because it knows when I’m available, and it tells anyone I want the same information. If I’m not online, then I’m not available on IM, so there’s not much point in reaching me. Telephones don’t have this feature: Users have no way of telling whether the person they’re calling is available (or where they are, or any of that kind of information). Why not?

Of course it’s not just a question of being online, but being ‘available’ in the sense of wanting to accept calls.
Skype also has this feature because it doubles as a chat program, but that illustrates the complexities of these different tools. Do I want to accept calls from people I’m happy to IM with? (Say it’s 6 am where I am, do I really want to talk business with someone in their afternoon timezone, or do I always want to chat to my niece in the middle of the day?

Tricky questions, but I’d like to hear from folk who are working on this concept of communication. How do we offer both the caller and the called great leverage over communications without further invading privacy, or introducing new layers of social mores?

First off I’d like to see VoIP allow, if it doesn’t already, services that enable users of the same service to see whether other users are near their phone (if they permit this information to be available). Maybe this kind of thing already exists?

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]

Social Technology vs Antisocial Technology

After chatting with Jerry Michalski, a great guy and a keen supporter of social software, I was given to thinking. This is what I thought: I know other people use the term, and I haven’t read everything they’ve written, but I feel the world of technology can be divided between ‘social technology’ and ‘antisocial technology’.

To me social technology is technology that brings people together. Antisocial technology tears them, or keeps them, or encourages them to be, apart. An example: A phone brings people together because it connects them (unless the person is dialing a recorded message, I guess, but even that’s a form of social interaction). An example of antisocial technology: Earphones. They squeeze out the environment and make it much less likely the wearer will interact.

So how well does this distinction work? And is it useful? Well, one complaint about computers is that they tend not to bring people together. But is that true anymore? Email, chat, blogging, Wikis, online gaming, all create interaction. But is that enough? Are these interactions improvements in quality, or just quantity? The answer, to me, would determine whether the technology is social or anti-social. (Antisocial is defined as either meaning ‘shunning contact with others’ or ‘unwilling or unable to conform to normal standards of social behavior’.)

Jerry, if I’m recalling our conversation correctly, made a distinction between social software and productivity software (Office, all that kind of thing). He pointed out we’ve been obsessed with the latter for so long, whereas now we’re beginning to explore social software, such as networking sites, Wikis, chat etc. I think that’s an excellent way of looking at things. Productivity software is great for helping us write that memo, that report, that novel. But it doesn’t help us ‘socialize’ it, as Indonesians have a habit of saying. By that I mean it doesn’t push the end-product out into the world so it bumps into other people, other ideas, other cultures. To that extent productivity always meant ‘personal productivity’ and while it helped a lot of folk, it also helped cement the idea that sitting at a computer is a solitary, introverted and antisocial activity. (Ignoring for a moment the ‘team productivity’ component, which still keeps ideas within an established, i.e. not a social, group — the team.)

Looking at things away from the computer, I can easily see an argument that it’s not the technology that’s social or antisocial, it’s how you use it. True, up to a point: SMS is a great way to communicate with people, so it’s social technology, right? Not if you’re doing your texting while your bored, disgruntled and ignored spouse is sitting opposite you in a restaurant. An MP3 player is not a social technology, because it seals you in from the outside world. But not if you find yourself sharing what you’re listening to with strangers, building connections where they didn’t exist. So there are grey areas.

But I see the distinction as good enough to survive this nitpicking. WiFi is a great social technology, as is VoIP. Both allow people to communicate with other people in cheap, efficient ways. These technologies are likely to be truly revolutionary because of this, and that is most clearly visible from where I am sitting right now: a place like Indonesia, where the infrastructure is lousy, the phone companies expensive and slow to deploy new lines, and people yearning for a cheaper, better way to learn, share, work and meet new people. Viva social technology.

Excecutive Blogging – Drivel And Spin, or Pure Message?

Fascinating interview in BusinessWeek Online with Jonathan Schwartz, president and chief operating officer of Sun and recent blogging convert.

Six weeks into blogging, and he believes evey executive should have one. “It’ll be no more mandatory that they have blogs than that they have a phone and an e-mail account,” BW quotes Schwartz as saying. “If they don’t, they’re going to look foolish.”

Executive blogs, what we should perhaps called xlogs, could eventually grab a lion’s share of the Internet audience, BW quotes Chris Charron of tech consultancy Forrester Research as saying. The idea: you reach your audience more directly, you don’t have to give dozens of interviews which are edited down to fit the journalist’s whim, deadline, agenda or angle, and you still can hit the links before lunch. Says Schwartz: “I’d rather be driving the dialogue than be run over by it.”

Interesting, and good news. So long as one or two things don’t happen. First, executives musn’t shout down other employees who also have blogs. If corporate blogging just becomes a replica of the corporate hierarchy it and we are doomed. And, secondly, in defence of my profession, I don’t think that executives should start dismissing interview requests by referring journalists to what they’ve written on their blogs. Journalists now have more background to read, but blogging shouldn’t make it harder for them to get access.

That’s because journalists will never write what executives think they should write. If they do, they probably aren’t doing their job. Their stories may not exactly reflect the message the exec wants to get out, but that’s because journalists are being paid to think for themselves. In fact, I sometimes wonder why execs and PR types waste their breath spinning away in an interview, while we twiddle our pencils waiting for them to answer the question. Xlogging, at its best, could be the raw vision of the company, conveyed to the end user. At its worst, it’s going be miles of drivel and spin, and readers are going to be begging for journalists to come back and filter it out for them.

The Ugly Instant Messenger

I’m a big fan of Trillian, the IM aggregator, but I had to download and install AIM, AOL’s Instant Messenger last night for an abortive video conference. Sheesh, what a monster it is (AIM, not the conference). Do AOL and the other biggies still not get it?

For sure, Trillian is something of a parasite. It piggybacks other free instant chat services and makes money off them. But it does it very, very well: The Trillian interface, whatever the skin you put on it, is a masterpiece of simplicity, understatement and intuitiveness. Compare it with AIM or ICQ (both owned by AOL) which are behemoths, and, in the case of ICQ, an embarrassingly bloated caricature of the old Elvis Presley. (ICQ is now available in a ‘Lite’ version which supposedly sheds most of the rubbish, but it’s still ugly.)  

What’s more, AIM is intrusive. It loads on start-up without asking; it loads (painfully slowly) an ad-window, and it leaves icons trailing like empty beer cans behind a truck. I had to look closely at the contact window past all the ads and hernia-inducing graphics to find out who was an online buddy and who was an ad. Yuck.

I know these guys need to make money. But they don’t have to hoodwink users and bombard them with rubbish to do it. And they have all their priorities skewed anyway. Instead of trying to load these programs with silly extras and ads, they should be working on interoperability: The business model will start to come once all these services can hook up with each other. For now I’m sticking with Trillian, knowing I can talk to anyone I want in the same list. After a while you don’t even notice which service they’re using. How about that for branding?