Entries in 'Social networking' ↓

The Follower Slot Syndrome

The social messaging service Twitter, which has been called the Swiss Army Knife of online communications, has seen a few changes under the hood since the inception of the service. Among these are the hardcoded follow rule which was introduced on Twitter in late 2008. Those most hit by this rule are users who are unaware of the limits and are very generous with their follows. When I myself bumped into that limit, it gave rise to thoughts about how I use this service, what kind of value it has and how I need to follow and unfollow others.

Important stuff? No, not really. But then again it touches on some pretty important things, like our ability to speak and be heard via the online architectures we use. And that warrants some lengthy attention IMHO. I hope some influencers and “high profile” Twitter users will take note, reconsider their stand and build up their capacity to deal with larger information intakes.

The follow rule

Chances are you won’t have bumped into this limit if you’re new to Twitter, but if you follow many people, and specifically if you follow more users than follow you back (typically celebrities or other high-profile influencers), you’ll likely bump into it when you hit 2000 follows.

Before Twitter introduced this rule, following was free game. Everyone could have as many or as few followers and follows as they liked. Everything was open and one could be generous with one’s attention without fearing that one would “run out” of slots. This changed dramatically with this rule.

The basic rule is this : you can follow only +10% in excess of your number of followers after you hit 2000 follows.

Basically, if you’re followed by 2000 users, you can follow 2200 yourself. If you’re followed by 10.000 you can follow 11.000 yourself. This rule, while good-intended, has some bizarre effects when you take a closer look at it. Among other things, it raises significantly the value of the commodity on Twitter known as a follow (i.e. attention), and even more that of a mutual follow (mutual attention), i.e. someone who follows you where you follow that someone back too.

Background : “bait-following”

This rule was introduced to combat “bait-following”. This is also sometimes referred to as Twitter “spam”, but I don’t acknowledge there is such a thing as “spam” on a service like Twitter. Many users have experienced this particular obnoxious phenomenon. Some users, either by themselves or using tools which utilize the Twitter API will track you down depending on your profile description or keywords in your tweet track record and follow you. What makes them different from users who genuinely want to connect with you, is that they do this en masse, following thousands of users, in the hope that some percentage will follow back. Hence the baiting. Those who do follow back can then be exposed to the advertising or other spam-like messages such as affiliate links to products you’re really not interested in or links to services which “help” you get “more followers”.

In Twitter’s early days, it wasn’t uncommon to browse around and follow other users somewhat randomly and sometimes stumble over interesting profiles and make new genuine connections. But automated tools made it considerably easier to “exploit” the fact that most Twitter users were generally willing to follow back others who were interested in connecting with them (and maybe still are, to a large degree).

These tools and the users who employ them (I’ve experimented with some myself at one time) use Twitter as a broadcast platform. It is the same logic applied to the online medium as is daily applied to television. It doesn’t matter if you waste 99% of your audience’s time, if you can sell something to the remaining 1%. That may be enough to make it worth it. Trouble is, the 99% still think it is a waste of their time, and therefore using methods like these to “increase following” is doomed to dry out sooner or later, as most will quickly see through the scams and unfollow such scammy attempts at gaining some attention.

After the hardcoded follow rules, scammers must now unfollow all those users who don’t follow back (but this is comparatively easy with automated tools), but then they are free to repeat the stunt. In other words, this particular type of use of Twitter persists. It’s still very common, and there’s very little the hardcoded rules can do to prevent it, because basically Twitter is a very open platform which grants access to it’s data to a wide host of third-party tools (which, among other things, make it great).

Twitter misconceptions

I wouldn’t care about follow or follower numbers so much as I do here, but because I feel Twitter nurtures some misconceptions about their own tool, which will make it less valuable, to me and other users – and ultimately to Twitter too.

First, as I stated, it is hard for me to accept that the crude misuse of Twitter described above is spam. For anyone to deliver a message to someone on Twitter that someone has to follow that anyone first. So messages on Twitter are always solicited. That you have been tricked into soliciting the messages doesn’t make such messages unsolicited.

In my humble opinion, Twitter should have kept their service pure. They should have butted out. They shouldn’t have started becoming involved with determining what kind of interactions took place using their service. Twitter would have survived fine, in spite of the crude attempts to undermine it’s usefulness. They should have worked to ensure it stayed a strong platform, which could make it as reliable as a phone line, but way more powerful. Twitter is a strong versatile platform and people used it very creatively on their own, blocking users they didn’t like and following those they did like. It was brilliant.

But they did. Twitter as a company couldn’t just look quiet at the many paths it was conceived scammers went to undermine their service. Fear started to kick in, and demands came from some users that Twitter needed to regulate and filter conversations and connections. They started abolishing user accounts whose following behaviour patterns made them suspicious. And they introduced hard coded rules, with the aim to stifle that particular kind of baiting spam as described above.

Twitter has a perception of it’s own service as a stream of information, which has to be managed. Noone can manage an intake of more than 2000 followers. At least not without losing out on many messages. So the argument for such hardcoded rules goes. However, this perception is wrongheaded as an attempt to figure out how Twitter data is used. The truth is Twitter has no idea whatsoever about what creative ways users may take in the data in their streams. One user taking in a lot of information may analyze it with a piece of software Twitter knows nothing about. Another may write a tool which filters the incoming stream according to criteria Twitter wouldn’t ever understand. Fundamentally Twitter is optimized for filtering at the receiving end, as the information intake will almost always be much much larger than the outgoing information stream. What we need in other words, is not better ways to restrict access, i.e. hardcoded limits on the posting end of the information loop – but better filters at the receiving end.

Filtering the information intake

I’ve often had Facebook friends complain about the massive stream of messages from me coming their way, when I send my tweets via Ping.fm in that direction. True, some nerdy stuff in there which they could care less about, but I want to include them, not exclude them from my information circuits, that’s why I send it their way. If I know the precise recipient of a message, I will usually send a direct message or email to that person. But more often than not, there’s no direct recipient but the aim to strike a chord or strike up conversation and input, like when I write a blog post. Social messaging is sometimes referred to as microblogging, and that is perhaps a very accurate description of the way I use Twitter. I send it their way, because I hope some of it may create new connections, from where the conversation may rise. I may discover new things about my friends doing this, because I never quite know who possesses the information I seek or share my interests and concerns.

Increasingly, as recipients of large information flows, their job then is to learn how to filter what they take in (if they do not choose to block me or unfriend me because I am “too loud”). We all need to do this. We all need to learn how to filter out incoming streams, i.e. prioritize what is more important than something else. What we need to read before something else. What emails to reply to first. Etc. Increasingly, we also need to learn to code and use aggregation tools on our own as well as free licensing, if we want to be independent of the filters offered us by proprietary service providers.

A large information intake or large information stream may be overwhelming, but it has nothing to do with spam. Spam is unsolicited messages sent to a lot of people in the hope that a small percentage responds and buys something. Information streams can be managed, filtered, analyzed, put from one form into another form.

The hard-coded follow rule imposes a limit in the wrong end. To get the best possible dataset, you don’t limit the intake, you take steps to make it easier to process the intake, to make it easier to get the desired data out. Twitter has no real idea if their users have need for a small or large intake of information for their data needs. But this is not the only place where Twitter don’t _get_ Twitter. I’ve often come back to how Twitter displays a huge failure to understand the value of their own data, when they don’t allow access to the full archives of tweets. You can go back only to what corresponds to three months worth of tweets. This means that all this data cannot be retrieved, filtered, analyzed and brought to use by clever people who want to know something about social behaviour patterns, particular brands, viral effects and all other things thinkable and mentionable. Twitter has a pre-conceived notion of what Twitter is, and if users don’t use Twitter that way, they are wrong and must be corrected with hard-coded rules to use Twitter as Twitter was intended. But the truth is the versatility of Twitter has made it much larger than itself – it has outgrown it’s initial purposes by milelengths. If Twitter doesn’t get that (and the true value they can offer as a business), they risk running their service into the ground, because they don’t make it profitable.

Following back

Now, I recently provoked some debate and diagreement among some of my followers when I provocatively asked why they didn’t follow me back. Actually, the message was not really aimed at those who do follow me, but at those who don’t. By those I mean the wide host of celebrities and influencers which are known to have a large following on Twitter, but only follow a small host of people themselves. I follow a wide host of them, but hitting the 2000-follow limit forced me to re-consider a lot of them. In fact, I unfollowed at least 800 users who didn’t follow me back, in order to allow me to follow others, who do follow me.

When someone follows me and I feel they are real people who are interested in what I have to say, I usually want to follow them back. Not only as a token of courtesy and respect, but because I feel strange when talking to someone and I have no idea what they are like. I want that influx of ideas from others and I honestly don’t care so much if I manage to read _everything_ but it’s there and I can take that data, do a search, create a filtered feed and other things if I want to, when I want to. You can too, if you want to, and if you want to learn how to do it.

What stopped me from following others back? The 2000-limit and the many many users that I followed, who didn’t care to follow back. It says I can only have 200 “non-follower” users I follow, if I want to follow everyone back who follows me (and I usually do). So what provoked me is that while high profile Twitter users such as Barack Obama, Scobleizer and Guy Kawasaki follows me back, why can’t others? If they can, why can’t you?

To me not following someone back is a message saying “I don’t care what you have to say” or “You’re less important than me”. Less worthy of attention. I’m worthy enough to be in your stream, but you can’t be in mine. That is the wrong message to send out, no matter what you want to communicate using Twitter, it’s a bad way to start a conversation with anyone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being very selective about who you follow, but if you overdo it, you also risk coming off as arrogant and disrespectful, because you do not take part in the exchanges on an equal footing.

I don’t care if Obama, Guy Kawasaki or Scobles actually reads what I have to say. I care about the gesture. I care about them saying with that gesture that if you give me attention, I will give you mine back. Even if it is not true. They will not occupy one of the most valuable rare 200 slots I can allocate to only information intake. These may be reserved for others, typically high-profile users whose opinion and information is so important to me, that I don’t care if they listen to what I have to say. As a company or as most people using Twitter, you don’t want to bet on yourself being in that category. You should follow back. Why reach out (have a Twitter account) and then don’t want to listen to what people have to say? Indeed, what those few who’s already decided they want to give you their attention, have to say (if anything).

I don’t consider myself an atypical Twitter user. There are many bloggers, companies, organizations and other users who use Twitter because they have a message they want out. We want to reach other people, make connections with others who are interested in what we have to say and offer. But I just unfollowed a lot of startups and internet professionals, who didn’t take the time, were too disinterested or too lazy to follow me back. They lost what tiny piece of my attention they had. They didn’t need to. With a small gesture, they’d still be in. Would it matter? I don’t know. Nobody knows. But they’d have given a small but important gesture, which doesn’t cost them much but may – just may – give them something of value back some day.

If attention matters to you, i.e. it matters that you reach someone out there with whom your message resonates, you can’t afford to throw away the tiny bits of attention you’re afforded when you’re afforded them.

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When The Garden Walls Come Crumbling Down

Or what would happen if Facebook went GPL

In thesis no. 93 The Cluetrain Manifesto claims :

We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.

I agree. I experience these annoyances on a daily basis. Sometimes I have to really constrain myself not to let go of my temper, because I feel that our insights in many ways far precede our abilities to apply these to practical use. For instance, I cannot understand that while I do 95% of my banking via the internet, most banks do not put 95% of their ressources to work to give me as a customer the best possible online banking experience. Even less would probably do. If they just put 80% behind it, that would probably suffice. But they don’t. I am also annoyed when I have to communicate with my daughter’s doctor via an online form which permits only a limited amount of characters, largely because they do not trust email as a means of communication. In fact, I am always annoyed when people who presumably wants to communicate with me, don’t let me communicate back on equal terms. I find that arrogant. As far as possible I resist their attempts to control the way in which I should communicate with them.

The rooms in which we speak

Architectures are important. They are the ways we construct the rooms in which we speak. The “conversations” of The Cluetrain Manifesto take place within the framework of such architectures. They have names such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. Other such architectures are called things like WordPress, Joomla, MediaWiki, Firefox, RSS and GNU/Linux. They have a tremendous impact on the ways we communicate online, on the ways in which we filter our incoming information streams, and on the ways we enable new connections and enable new ideas to reach others, and enable their ideas to reach us. As important as architecture is, so more important is ownership : that we claim ownership to the tools we use. That we claim ownership to the channels and the walls that decide who will learn to know us, who will receive our message, and who will be filtered out, who will not. We decide what walls are torn down and what are built. With the web and simple tools we can, and we do.

Many of the software architectures that we employ, from the webserver and webscripting functionality of Apache and PHP to the popular self-publishing power of tools such as WordPress, are free software. I.e. built and easily adaptable by anyone who wants to adapt them for particular purposes.

Walled gardens

Other architectures are walled gardens, maintained by organizations and companies, who are not concerned about the choice of their customers. While companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google offer greatly useful applications to their customers, their services impose limits on their use. In short, they choose to remain in control. They choose not to release the source code. Not to let their users adapt the tools they’re offering to their particular purpose.

If a company such as Facebook or Twitter goes bankrupt, users will lose their data – no compensation, no anything. There’s no obvious way to retrieve data from these services, and since the code is not free, one can’t write tools to retrieve those data by oneself. While most of these services offer useful and advanced interfaces so that programmers can access their data from the outside, the service stays in control. You can’t obtain access to data they don’t want you to obtain access to. Facebook ultimately decides who they like to write applications for “their” platform. Twitter abolishes user accounts at their whim, because ultimately Twitter decides. Ultimately, Google decides to pull the plug on a GMail or YouTube account, on grounds they choose, not their customers.

These walls of proprietary ownership are the Berlin walls of today. We meet them everywhere, when we are annoyed we can’t do certain things with the tools we use. When we communicate within the confines of architectures that we do not own and do not feel comfortable with, because they disallow us to be ourselves. In the worst case, we hit them head on when we find that our account on some service has been abolished unfairly, with nothing we can say to get our data back. When a service ceases to be in business, a product ceases to be supported, or a new company policy is enforced in spite of what we feel about it.

So how are these walls going to come crumbling down?

Free software

As I do here and have often argued, the only way we can operate freely in our online environments is if and when we ourselves are able to create, adapt, control and empower the architectures that we employ. We need our software and online services to be as easily adaptable as any article on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is enabled by the clever use of a particular architecture in combination with a copyright in reverse known as “copyleft”. The GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) license ensures that every contribution to Wikipedia’s articles can be freely adapted and re-distributed by others.

Until now, free software have also relied on copyright. Similar to Wikipedia’s license, the General Public License (GPL) which is commonly used for most free software projects ensures that the code stays open and can be manipulated by anyone, no matter who distributes or sells it.

But free software need not depend on copyright. The greatest barrier to the spread of free software is that so many do not understand why it is important. Too many business executives cannot see, that it is as beneficial to them as to their customers, that they facilitate their customers’ ability to change and adapt the code. Too many organizations do not understand that releasing their source code opens up new, decentralized, flexible and less costly ways to organize their activities. And too many internet users (myself included) are too convenient with their habitual uses of proprietary online tools to question deeply and realize what’s at stake. We also find time to be a scarce good, since we also have to work to pay our bills – often inside companies led by execs who don’t “get it”.

How things look from the inside

The free software movement is “working on the outside” to bring down these walls. But on the inside, every Facebook, Google and Twitter employee is also an internet user and customer. They are people who talk using these same tools, they have other lives, they quit and start their own businesses, in short they engage in conversations where they go (or are allowed to go, by their companies). What limitations in ownership are put in place by their companies also limit their ability to deliver the best possible product, the best possible service and the best way to help solve their customer’s problems. They are equally annoyed by the corporate walls put in place beyond their control.

There are two great problems which faces the walled corporations, now and in the future :

1. They will increasingly encounter free architectures and services, which may yet perform poorly, but have much greater potential to outgrow and outperform their proprietary competitors.

2. As clever candidates everywhere discover their own ability to build and employ free architectures of their own choosing and flavour and adapt them to suit their own particular purposes, companies will find it increasingly harder to find qualified candidates to fill positions. What’s attractive in working under the command of a boss, if you can work for yourself? What’s the attraction in working for a company, whose business model is not adaptable to the open environments spreading on the web?

What if Facebook went GPL?

In closing, let me speculate aloud to show an example of the business landscape I believe will replace the walled gardens of today’s corporate environment. Among many online applications, Facebook is probably the service with which I have the most problematic relationship. There’s no doubt in my mind that Facebook does something very well : it helps facilitate connections and conversations. It helps me get in touch and stay in touch with family, friends and business contacts who wouldn’t otherwise read my blog or relate to me via other online tools. It works really great for friends you don’t see a lot on a daily basis, but still want to stay in touch with. But for all it’s merits, I hate the fact that I can’t easily search and access data in Facebook. I dislike that I can’t extract the information I need with RSS from my Facebook archives, and that I cannot play even further with the category layers, to adapt the service even further to suit my needs.

Let’s imagine that Facebook decides to go open source. Facebook releases it’s source code and invites developers to join in and contribute to the code. They still are leading the development of the core Facebook application, but also offer anyone a downloadable package, which can be freely modified and redistributed. Anyone is free to fork Facebook and set up a rival site.

What would happen then?

First, we’d fix everything that is wrong with it. We’d add RSS feeds to all the places where we’d like RSS feeds. We’d work to make what’s going on transparent, so that we could learn from it. And we’d make those changes publically available to anyone, who’d like to take a look and use them for their own purposes.

But what I think makes Facebook really brilliant as a free software package is the way it can adopt external applications within itself. Facebook as a general purpose communications platform is great and extremely adaptable. This makes it well suited as a platform for almost any corporate website. Most companies need to enable conversations across the organization, with suppliers, customers, investors, and everyone else slightly related to the company. The fact that most companies’ employees already spend a good deal of time using Facebook during work hours shouldn’t lead to abolishing and blocking Facebook from office computers, but should rather be seen as an encouragement to take this brilliant tool and give it a form of their own choosing. If Facebook was released under GPL, that would indeed be a viable option.

Adopting Facebook as a corporate platform would not only allow employees and customers to communicate on equal footing, it would also allow them to create applications for the platform, which would help adapt the package in very particular, employee- and customer-centric ways to suit the company’s purposes. That the package already has proven so scalable on a global level is a testament to it’s robustness in even the most trying of corporate environments.

But even if Facebook is not released under GPL, we’re already well on our way to build, use and sustain software like this, and many businesses do build their own social networking architectures. In fact, many CMS packages which are free software already implement features which mirror the successful features of Facebook and other social networking services. For WordPress, we already have BuddyPress, a prebundled collection of plugins which convert a WordPress installation to a fullblown social networking site.

But businesses and developers will continue to get it wrong, if they do not offer their employees, members and customers the same freedoms by releasing their source code, as they had when they chose to base their solution on free software.

In the long term, the question is, if Facebook and other proprietary businesses will still have a business model, if they do not give up control and release their code? If they do not enable the free adaptability of their software, chances are, with time, we’ll just build our own.

This post is part of the Cluetrain Manifesto 10-year Anniversary Blogging Event organized by Keith McArthur, in which 95 bloggers all write today about one of the 95 theses put forth by The Cluetrain Manifesto 10 years ago.

EDIT : The link to the CluetrainPlus10 PBwiki page works again. Here’s Keith’s latest post about the project.

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Twitter fatigue, social networks fatigue

Laura Hale has a great post on the Fan History blog (via Kaplak Stream), which deals with Twitter fatigue. Among other things, she writes :

I really wish that as Twitter exists now, that I felt like I was getting more out of my relationships that use Twitter to facilitate them. They don’t. I’m tired of trying to make the effort while feeling like I should be getting something out of it. I’m tired of people following me for no apparent reason who never communicate with me. I’m tired of the idea that I should be getting more connected with people as I feel even less connected.

I’m tired of the hype. (…) CNN talks about Twitter. FaceBook changed to look more like Twitter. News people talk about how Twitter will change how news is reported. Newspapers print Tweets. Twitter will change the world! Celebrities tweet from everywhere. Entertainment Tonight covers people who are tweeting while they are being interviewed. I get it. This is like MySpace about 2 years ago. (And we know where MySpace is going.) I kind of just want to be left alone in a world where I can use it with out everyone and their neighbor going on about how great it is. If we could get back to reporting the news instead of reporting on how people are sharing their news, I might be less tired.

In my particular case what Laura describes goes a long way to describe the love/hate relationship I have with most proprietary social networks (if in doubt, see this piece on why we don’t really like social networks). It would best be called social networks fatigue in general.

On Twitter in particular, I tire excessively of the countless outright attempts to game the system, of which this is only the latest I’ve bumped into. I like experiments and new ways to approach the Twitter API – but I dislike manipulation and being treated like a fool.

I would maintain that it is possible to use these tools to create and sustain meaningful relations, although like Laura it is probably no more than a handfull or at most a few handfulls which have come out of my personal use of Twitter. I haven’t calculated it rationally in terms of how many hours I’ve put into it, and if I did the numbers probably would not look encouraging.

But I don’t look at it in those terms. I see it more like a big learning experiment which helps me dress myself and others up for whats coming – and what will be _more_ the real thing. More peer-to-peer driven, more sharing, more caring and much more powerful (as in the Wikipedia meaning of the word). More so than say Twitter, Facebook, even Google, which are all young wild proprietary experiments trapped in the “old” economy.

I never forget the wonder of encountering Wikipedia in those early years, in 2003 and 2004. I and a few others worked on the Max Stirner article in the wiki and we built what we thought was a pretty decent encyclopedic article on Stirner. Since then, our work has been completely destroyed, mashed-up and remixed into an obscurity of an enormous and unstructured piece of writing. Great, because our work was not so sacred it couldn’t be demolished, and the lively activity on the article suggests that a lot of people find Stirner’s thinking interesting – which is great. Great, because the friendly environment and cooperative spirit which nurtured and built Wikipedia in those years laid the foundation for a global phenomenon we have yet to fully understand and appreciate. Great, because Wikipedia shocked me. It woke me up! In the Lessig meaning of those words. Sure there are problems. Lots of them. One of these minor quibbles may be, that the article which at present introduces Max Stirner to the uninitiated is not as good as the one we once wrote. But when all comes to all, it is a minor quibble. What shocked me and appeared to me as truly revolutionizing, was the power of people coming together, from different parts of the world, working together towards a meaningful goal, if just an encyclopedic article, we wanted it to be the best article it could be. And this stays with me. A lot of people these days use services such as Facebook and Twitter and marvel at the opportunities of connecting with other people. Most coming in via these online services have not learnt how to connect. They are easy targets for the “make a quick buck”-promoters who will sell their old grandma for +10.000 additional followers on Twitter.

There’s a big job in educating ourselves on how to communicate. The real power of tools like Twitter is not in the meaningless “what are you doing right now”-nonsense (except these may sometimes be good conversation-starters) but in the ability to reach someone beyond far distances, who shares your concern, your problem, your interests. Who may be able to help you. Whom you may be able to help. Not in the “shouting” and “selling your products in the face” way of “helping”. Forget the products. Help because you care. Because you share passionate common interests.

I like when I can see the person behind the connection. “It is the real you I want to see, behind the imagery”, I once described it somewhere. In that context, I spoke about the importance of crafting films with authentic messages and stories which resonate with oneself and one’s audience. But it is no less true when connecting with others using internet tools. To have something important to say, something meaningful to communicate. Something to ask. Something to think about, to be concerned about. A piece of information which makes my life richer, in the deeper sense and not the monetary sense.

We don’t always know what that is, and if we can’t write and post a message without thinking deeply about the deeper meaning of it, we would write and post a lot less. Which may be a good thing, some might say. Something which I repeatedly find very embarrassing myself, is how despite all precautions, you can’t easily hide the less flattering sides of yourself when engaging in online conversations. Some of it doesn’t look very pretty. Misspellings, impatience, frustrations, childish blabbering, pride, just plain rudeness. I’m a big fan of civil online behaviour as I am in civil offline behaviour, but still sometimes things slip out, which are less than flattering, sound a little too blunt than it was meant etc. And it doesn’t all have to be flattering. I’m also a great fan of filtering tools and I hope those who read what I have to say take note and learn how to use these to their great effect. As we’re still only learning how to handle and filter our in/out information streams, the noise levels of our online communication are inevitably rising as we try and deal with the problems of communicating with people in different contexts, on different platforms, and using different kinds of filtering tools.

Those of us who learnt how to communicate and work together building the early articles of Wikipedia, and did it the hard way, by connecting with others and discussing page up and down with complete strangers how best to do it, we’ve got a long way helping the many others coming into this world of online connectedness much less well prepared. And most importantly, whether we use crude (but working) wiki talk pages or sophisticated tools like social messaging or multi-platform microblogging, we need to make our passions shown. To help deliver the shock.

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The Scary Part of Risking Yourself on the Web

Satheesh Kumar, developer of the Yet Another Autoblogger plugin recently wrote this post on the difficulties of conveying your enthusiasm for blogging to others around you. I can relate a lot to Satheesh’s experience, as he describes it here :

I have made a lot of fruitless attempts to bring them to the world of blogging. I have offered them free blog resources, free themes, add-ons etc. But no one was interested.

I found that my school has a high page rank .gov.in website kept useless with only a few HTML files. I have asked the principal to set up blog hosting and offer free blogs to the students. It will not only develop their communication skills but inculcate a new culture in them. I have offered all helps. But none was interested ( both students, teachers, and the administration )

I have asked a lot of senior doctors with good practice and knowledge to start blogs in their favourite topics. Most of them said some unclear reasons for not blogging. One of these senior guys ( he was my teacher too ) said ” I knows how to send emails and to use orkut, but I haven’t entered complex things like blogging.” !!

I tried a lot to confess him that its simple like email and Orkut. I clarified that he can publish a blog by just sending an email to a secret email id. But no one was interested !!!

Resistance to new technology, new services and new ways of thinking is natural. We are all animals of habit, who hate unneccessary disturbances and like rhytms, customs and habits, which we have become accustomed to. It’s easy to perceive of the internet or particular phenomena related to the internet as threats best to be avoided.

On a personal level, one reason blogging is scary is because you put yourself on the line. If you write something and put it out for public consumption, you risk looking stupid, ignorant or otherwise become exposed. Most people don’t like to be exposed. They like to hide. They like to let others go first, so that they can watch from a distance and enter the new domain, once it’s been defined and secured by others.

But does this do it for the internet? I doubt there is or will be such a thing as a defined and secure internet. You have to risk it. You have to expose yourself. There’s no going away, no hiding behind others. Because the internet is about meeting other people. Some of these you already know, others you enjoy more distant relations with, and yet others you have yet to meet. You can’t hide if you want to connect with someone. It is the real you, you want to show, if you want to be taken seriously. And it is the real you, others want to connect with.

At least if you want to yield the power of this new space and learn to embrace new ways of thinking, working and communicating, you have to risk yourself, like Satheesh, myself and millions of other bloggers, twitterers, wiki editors, and other participants of the digitally networked information economy.

There’s a slight danger that the prejudices and fears about online activities such as blogs, twittering or wikis will widen the gulf between people who resist new technology and those of us who are rapidly getting sucked in and fast learning new ways.

On the other hand, I’m hoping we can do a lot to attract others to “jump in”, even though it’s uphill a long way. I find Facebook is a good place to start, so I use every opportunity to post links there for my blogposts, and to crosspost tweets to Facebook as well, in order to make people in my network curious about what’s going on in other places. Curiosity is king, I hope. But ultimately, I want people I know to leave the confines and false safety of Facebook and enjoy the full range of opportunities available to them, once they learn to embrace them. Because this, I feel, will empower them. They can be the ones who define who they are in this space, and what they’ll use this new space for.

Ultimately, resistance is futile. However, there’s nothing to be scared of. How could there be?

We’re not going to be senseless web junkies. To the contrary, what is happening is an awakening, an image often invoked by Lawrence Lessig, like in this great, thoughtful article on Lessigs talk in Dona in Qatar in 2007. We’re in the process of extending our methods and communication on a truly global scene and unprecedented scale. There are grand shifts in power taking place right now – from those who rely on the tested and tried methods and institutions of yesterday, and those who embrace and develop new methods and institutions, rooted in use of new technology and new social opportunities which arise from the clever use of new technologies. The order of the political landscape is changing. And it is changed by you and me.

Then again, this is really scary to a lot of people, especially if you insist on your old ways in spite of what’s going on. This is scary, if you do not feel anything in your heart. If you have become so accustomed to living by another man’s rules and definitions of the world. If you are not curious to learn about the world. If you’ve got enough in yourself and do not want to embrace other people. But I can’t believe that is really the case.

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Barack Obama : Technology Empowers People

We believe that real change can only come from the bottom up. And technology empowers people to come together to make that change. —Barack Obama, speech at Google, Nov. 14th 2007.

What’s at stake in this election

I believe this US presidential election is a matter of grave importance, not just to the US but perhaps even more so to the rest of the world. First, the American leadership sets an example for the world. The damages caused by the one set by the administration headed by George W. Bush is best scrutinized in Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11. We need new leadership, a new vision and new examples to be set. We need a US president who can deliver this.

Second, the American economy influences the world’s economy. When a global economic power sinks into the bottomless financial pit of a brutal war of aggression, it not only sets a bad example for other nations, including Russia and all kinds of dictatorships, it also cannot help but bode ill for the world’s economy. We need a strong US economy, or at least a US economy which is capable of dealing with the challenges facing the United States internally, in order to lift the more serious challenges we face, such as world poverty and hunger and threats to our environment posed by our lifestyle and consumption patterns.

Third, and this is where we need real leadership, and real change, is to straighten out global priorities in the way the internet is, can and will be used. In particular, the US leadership is important in what is sometimes called ‘intellectual property law’. We need to stilt the draconian IP laws enacted in the US (I’m talking about the DMCA and similar legislation, if anyone should be in doubt). We need to stop these laws from becoming even more draconian, and we need to ultimately push them back. What’s at stake is hinted at in Lawrence Lessig’s marvelous book Free Culture, but isn’t limited to the remixing of music videos and animations – it’s our problem-solving capabilities which are at stake. Our ability to make good decisions based on trustworthy information, processed and exchanged freely using the internet, on a global scale, is at stake. If the US technology sector cannot lead the way because of the draconian American IP legislation, it will be a poorer world, and the struggle to get there will be harder and fraught with greater difficulties.

Barack Obama is now following you on Twitter!

As I am not American, unfortunately I can’t vote in the US presidential election taking place tomorrow. If I could I’d have no doubts. I’d vote for Obama. Not because he necessarily stand for and will enact all the things that I hope for the world, but because I think he will enact the kind of leadership, which sets an example and will facilitate the changes we need.

I have not been following the course of Barack Obama very closely, but even from a long distance he’s been able to make an impression. All thanks to the wonderful powers of the internet, which he’s utilized in his campaign with such intelligence and vitality. It made an impression when he followed me back on Twitter. Him or his campaign staff, either way, it’s an attention to detail which impresses. Coming from someone I respected and consider of high integrity, it also made a great impression on me reading Marc Andreessen’s personal account of a meeting with Obama. What impressed me in Andreessens account is the way Obama listened rather than talked, a characteristic which I felt showed his genuine interest in the problems presented to him. And lastly, he gained great respect in my book for appearing so genuinely as himself on the Daily Show and being able to stand up to the jokes of Jon Stewart in such as relaxed manner.

Lately I’ve been reading up on Obama’s tech policies, and the one thing I note with the greatest clarity is his emphasis on what can be done in America, in order to lift not only America, but also the challenges we face globally.

Seizing the moment : Obama’s speech at Google

Obama spoke last year (November 14th 2007) at Google’s HQ in Mountain View about his technology and innovation program. Watching this video of his speech I found I learned a great deal about Obama – and not just about his views on technology. If you haven’t had a chance to see this before, please join me here :

I took some time out to transcribe Obama’s entire speech below. It’s one of those speeches which apparently is not included in any of the official lists. Most blogs quote his technology policy press release, but I find it illuminating to read the words he actually used speaking at Google, and I learned a great deal about him in the process of transcribing his words. It’s a great speech, and one that resonates greatly with me.

Full transcript of Obama’s speech

When you start to think about it, there is something improbable about this gathering. Afterall it wasn’t much more than a decade ago that Larry and Sergei got together in a dormroom as graduate students with a big idea to organize all of the world’s information into an accessible form. And at the time I was a [novice? Illinois?] state senator, doing my best to help people get a better shot at their dreams.

What we shared is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up, not the top down. That a bunch of.. that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. We shared that, and we also shared a bunch of student loans that still needed to be paid off. (laughter) And you would have found it hard to predict that Larry and Sergei would now be the co-founders of one of the most successful companies in recent history. And that I would be standing on this stage today as a candidate for president of the United States.

But this is where improbable journeys have led. This is where the moment finds us. And I’d like to say a few words about what I believe we have to do together, to seize this moment with a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency.

We know how the first chapters of the Google story have turned out. Afterall, all of you have good jobs. But we also know that the Google story is more than just being about the bottom line. It’s about seeing what we can accomplish when we believe in things that are unseen. When we take the measure of our changing times and we take action to shape them. And that’s why we’re here today. That’s why many of you decided to work here instead of somewhere else.

Technology and innovation have reshaped our economy and our lives at breathtaking speed. America’s been fighting to figure out how to tap this awesome new ressource we have. And Google’s helped to show us the way. But the story is far from over. Google’s story is far from over. The story about how we shape our changing times is far from over. What comes next depends on the choices that we make right now, at this moment, in this election.

We could see the spirit of innovation that started this company be stifled. We could see the internet divided up to the highest bidders. We could see a government that uses technology to shut people out, instead of letting them in. Tax breaks shuffled to special interests, while the next startup, the next Google can’t get a fair shot. Challenges like health care and energy that hold our country back while competition from other nations picks up. That’s one alternative.

Another alternative is for us to unlock a new future of opportunity. Together we could open up the government and invite all citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband. We could use technology to help achieve universal health care. To reach for a clean energy future. And to ensure that young Americans can compete and win in the global economy.

If America recommits itself to science and innovation then we can lead the world to a new future of productivity and prosperity.

That’s what we can do if we seize this moment. That’s the choice we face.

As president, I intend to work with you to write the next chapter in the story of American innovation. That’s part of the reason why I’m running for president of the United States.

To seize this moment we have to ensure free and full exchange of information. And that starts with an open internet. (applause) I will take a backseat to noone in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.

To seize this moment, we have to connect all of America to 21st century infrastructure. As president, I will set a goal of ensuring that every American has broadband access, no matter where you live, no matter how much money you have or don’t have. We will raise the standards for broadband speed. We will connect schools and libraries and hospitals. We will take on the special interests so that we can finally unleash the power of wireless spectrum for our safety, our security and our connectivity.

To seize this moment, we have to use technology to open up our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in our history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to the sunlight. As president, I’m gonna change that. We will put government data online in universally accessible formats. (applause) I’ll let citizens track federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbying contracts. I’ll let you participate in government forums, ask questions, in realtime, offer suggestions that will be reviewed before decisions are made. And let you comment on legislation before it is signed. And to ensure that every government agency is meeting 21st century standards, I will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer to coordinate and make certain that we are always at the forefront of technology and that we are incorporating it into every decision that we make. (applause)

And if you wanna know how I’ll govern, just look at our campaign. We received over 370.000 donations online, half of which have been under 25 dollars. Nearly 300.000 Americans have their own accounts on Barackobama.com. They’ve created thousands of grassroots groups. They’ve offered up over 15.000 policy ideas. Because we believe that real change can only come from the bottom up. And technology empowers people to come together to make that change.

Because at this moment I think we have to do more than get our house in order. The opportunity in front of us is bigger than that. Seizing this opportunity is gonna depend on more than what the government does or even what the technology sector does. It’s gonna depend on how together we harness technology to confront the biggest challenges that America faces.

Just imagine what we could do. If we commit ourselves to electronic medical records, then we can lift up the quality of health care and reduce error at dramatically lower costs. (applause) If we take on special interests and make aggressive investments in clean and renewable energy, like Google’s done with solar here in Mountain View, then we can end our addiction to oil, create millions of jobs, and save the planet in the bargain.

If we make technological literacy a fundamental part of education, then we can give our children the skills they need to compete and ensure the next generation of scientists and engineers as being educated right here in America.

We can do this, but we can’t wait. Because Silicon Valley is not the only corner of innovation in the world. If America doesn’t seize this moment, then we will face only more competition from Dubai and Dublin, from Shanghai and Mumbai. So instead of George Bush’s policy of undermining science, I intend to double federal funding for basic research and make the RND tax credit permanent. (applause) To keep the door open for the next generation of startups, I will enforce tough antitrust laws. And to ensure that America continues to attract the worlds’ best and brightest, we need comprehensive immigration reform, that strengthens permanent residence VISA’s like the H1B program.

We need to make sure that the next success story, the next Google, happens here, in America. The Google story is about what can be achieved when we cultivate new ideas and keep the playing field level for new businesses. But it’s also about not settling for what we’ve already achieved. It’s about constantly raising the barr, so that we’re more competitive, and so that we use technology to reach ever expanding horizons.

You know, the first time I was back here, in 2004, Larry showed me the image that tracks all the internet searches taking place in the world. I wrote about this in my book. I saw the Earth rotating on a flat panel monitor with the different lights for different languages marking all of the traffic on this wondrous network, a network, that didn’t even exist when almost all of us here were born. (laughter) Almost.

But what struck me wasn’t the light on that globe. It was the darkness. Most of Africa, chunks of Asia, even parts of the United States. The disconnected corners of our interconnected world. Where the promise of the 21st century is being eclipsed by peril. You and I must not settle for anything less than an America that replaces that darkness with a new light.

Because the promise and prosperity of a new economy must not be the property of the few.

It must be a force that lifts up our entire country and ultimately lifts up the entire world. (applause) We have the privilege to live in a transformational moment. A moment when an idea can change the world. A moment when technology empowers us to come together as never before, while letting each of us reach for our own individual dreams. A moment when we can finally progress and move beyond the huge challenges that have stood in the way of progress for far too long.

We can not and we must not look back and regret that we settled for anything less. And that’s why I’m asking you to join me in seizing this moment. I’m asking you to join me in changing the world. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. (drowning in standing ovations)

Interview : Break the fever of fear

Obama’s speech is followed in the video with an insightful, relaxed and entertaining on stage interview hosted by Google CEO Eric Schmidt. In this interview Obama talks very open-heartedly about why he’s running for president in the first place, and why he’s running now. He’s also asked how he will actually end the war in Iraq, if he presumably takes office. As most will know, Obama opposed the war in Iraq. This speech from 2002 against the war in Iraq is well worth another read.

Obama sums up his foreign policy with the French president Sarkozy’s words, to “be more liked”. Meaning, that if the US is more respected and recognized for it’s diplomatic efforts, it will be easier to build up trust which enables problem-solving and diplomatic solutions and harder to create mistrust against Americans. Obama will “break the fever of fear” which has been exploited by the Bush administration to instill fear and distrust :

We’re told to be afraid of terrorists, of immigrants.. and each other … Our values are distorted .. not being certain if simulated drownings are really torture… That’s not who we are, as Americans. Sometimes I’m accused of being this progressive, far-out… – I’m conservative, in the sense that I want us to get back to those values that were essential to building America.

I sincerely hope he succeeds.

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An Open Letter to LinkedIn

I’m getting increasingly pissed off by this message, which appears every time I want to add someone as a connection using LinkedIn :

Please note: You should only invite people you know. Several recipients of your invitations indicated that they don’t know you. If enough recipients indicate they don’t know you, then you will be required to enter an email address to invite classmates in the future. More info…

Tonight, I just had it. So I wrote this email to the LinkedIn Customer Services Dept., which is shared below. Wanted to share it with you here, in case they do not comply. As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of these types of closed social networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook and others. In fact, we don’t really like them, but we use them anyway, as long as they are beneficial to us and can connect us with people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. But obviously there are limits. I don’t want to be insulted, and the above message comes pretty close to feeling like an insult to my intelligence.

So I wrote this email :

from	Morten Blaabjerg 
to	cs@linkedin.com
date	Sun, Oct 19, 2008 at 9:50 PM
subject	Please remove annoying message

Dear Sir,

Can you please remove the message saying “several recipients of your invitations indicated that they don’t know you etc”… from my “Add connections” page? It is kind of annoying to see it there every time I check into that page, and there’s no imminent way I can remove it myself, it seems.

It simply spoils my good mood. If someone doesn’t remember me, is their business, and they can elect not to connect with me. I don’t care if they do not connect with me. If they don’t remember me, I can live fine without that particular connection.

But I take insult from repeatedly getting my good mood spoilt by being spoken down to like a baby every time I want to connect with someone using your service.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to remove that message, I would like to cease to use your services and have my complete account erased from your servers. And I’d like to have our LinkedIn group removed too. This stuff just gets on my nerves.

Yours Sincerely,
Morten Blaabjerg, Kaplak

Kaplak has chartered unknown waters and reached strange shores :

If LinkedIn does not comply and remove their system message from my screen, I’ll simply demand my accounts be erased and leave LinkedIn. I will also cease to recommend others to use it. I’ll focus on other networking services such as Plaxo Pulse or others, where I don’t have to be spoken down to every time I want to connect with someone. LinkedIn is useful and a fine tool, but it’s not life support.

Also, I forgot and should have given Customer Services a heads up, that I have never worked in that big company called Rubicon, which they constantly recommend I connect with employees from. I once co-edited a students’ periodical of that same name, though. It seems strange to me that LinkedIn cannot see, that these are very different entities.

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The Anthropology of YouTube

I can’t say how much I enjoyed this video of a talk by cultural anthropologist and media ecologist professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, famous for his extraordinary video on web 2.0, which gained enormous popularity in the YouTube community.

Now, in this video Wesch shares his thoughts on YouTube as a historical, social and cultural phenomenon, which is as entertaining as it is insightful, on the complete pallet of workings of the new order of the web, of which YouTube is a great example. Please enjoy :

Thanks, once again to Raymond for the tip on this video.

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To Fail Informatively

Clay Shirky on the merits of metadata

Video featuring an interview with Clay Shirky with some memorable quotes, found courtesy of Jake Mckee.

One of Shirky’s great points is, that in order to coordinate group efforts on a large scale, one needs to fail informatively, i.e. deliver the metadata to enable the user to identify which projects and tasks are worth pursuing and which are not. Answering a question by Chris Heuer on “how to connect the dots” i.e. groups working independently of each other but often on similar projects : (my emphasis)

The two modes of management we have are the micro manager [and the] grand strategic visionary. Neither of these really work with community. You need something in the middle, which is a kind of facilitation skill. Noone to guide the community, noone to let them go. And it is really, for the individual projects, that’s what you need.

For the, you know, web scale how-do-we-connect-the-dots, the only answer I’ve seen, that really works at large scale, is to work informatively, and to fail informatively.

So if you go on to Sourceforge, which is the biggest collection of open source projects in existance, three quarters of those projects are completely inert, 1 developer, no downloads ever, it’s just nothing ever happened. But on Sourceforge you can always tell what’s working and what’s not, every day. So it doesn’t matter that you’re letting people try things all over, because they can discover each other and move off “this project isn’t working but that one is”. And so you gotta give people the kind of metadata it takes to say : “This is what my organization does, what’s your organization doing, I can find it on Google, I can pull it out of an RSS feed, I can work with it”. If you give people that kind of information, then they’ll find their way to each other, and you don’t have to do anything top-down, you don’t have to do anything to restrict the grand experimentation. But you also don’t end up with lots of little pockets. The open source movement, as so often, they do that better than anyone else, but I think the rest of the world is catching up.

More on the merits of metadata in this post from last year.

Shirky also had an opportunity to expand on the previously prophesized “50 years of chaos” and what happens with the introduction into society of technologies such as the printing press and the internet :

The biggest surprise and the biggest pleasure researching the book was actually the early history of the printing press. Because it became clear, reading the various accounts of what happened between 1450 and 1650, that we didn’t move from situation A to situation B. We used to have this pre-literate world, where scribes were copying bibles by hand. All of a sudden we had science and this enormous up-welling of all kinds of publications and the catholic church was undone as a pan-European force. We didn’t go from A to B. We went from A to a long period of chaos. And only out of that chaos did B arrive. And that’s my thesis for what we’re seing now with the internet. We’re not seing an orderly transition to a new kind of society. We’re actually seeing all kinds of experiments, short term and long term. We can’t tell which ones are gonna last and which ones are gonna be blips. And in the meantime, a lot of stuff in contemporay society is just going to break. And so, things are going to get weirder, before they get saner, I think is the conclusion.

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Everybody is an Aggregator

The power of RSS feeds and automated posting

Time to write a new “real” blogpost again. I’ve got more than 50 drafts for posts in our blog WordPress backend, but it’s time to write a completely new post from scratch, one of those which sets itself apart from the rest.

This has to do with two things.

First, I read Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody this month. It’s a marvellous book, and one that should shake the foundations and organizational ideas of every organization, including companies and startups. It’s certainly a disturbing read, especially if you are busy building or defending an organization built on traditional principles such as hierarchy or filtering-before-publishing. More on this in a minute.

Second, I’ve been playing around with RSS feeds, in particular stuff such as the amazingly powerful and promising WP-o-matic plugin for WordPress. In short, what WP-o-matic (and similar plugins such as FeedWordPress) does is feed a WordPress install with posts from chosen RSS feeds. Feeds can be grouped in campaigns and customized with HTML and additional text – and if not now, the potential is there for feeds to be automatically or semi-automatically filtered too, for particular keywords or particular categories. It depends on what’s in the received RSS feeds.

There are technical quirks. Most of these plugins I believe are still in their infancy. But the effects of what this entails, are revolutionary, as far as the web is concerned, and perhaps beyond the web.

Shirky’s thesis in short, is that the way low-cost technologies accessible via the internet facilitates group coordination, makes possible new types of groups, which can very effectively organize collective action. Groups may be thick in substance, with few very connected people, or they can be large, more loosely connected groups. What matters is, that the cost of organizing whatever action the group undertakes, has dropped to be the equivalent of the accumulative spare time of the group’s participants. Wikipedia is an obvious examples of this, effectively organizing the production of a large scale effort by utilizing this ressource only. But there are countless other examples. In effect, ‘every URL is a latent community’, as it is quoted somewhere in the book. People otherwise disconnected by geography and the difficulty of knowing who’s out there and where they are, suddenly find themselves capable of creating groups which were not possible before the internet. Because there were previously no ways of undertaking the costs which this would entail. See the below video for a taste of what all this means :

Shirky’s book is uplifting in so many ways, because it shows (among many other things) how difficult these new capabilities make life for people in power everywhere, and especially those in power of dictatorships and any regime, which seeks to limit access to information and limit the organizational capabilities of groups and group action. And we’re only getting started. People everywhere in the world are discovering new things, learning and experimenting with the new opportunities. It’s happening with a speed and scope which takes away your breath. And this is f**king great.

Now, what RSS does is provide a simple way to get information from one platform into another. Typically used to feed a lot of information into a particular piece of software, a RSS Reader, such as Google’s online platform for doing so, Google Reader. It means news and stories can reach greater audiences, because everywhere everyone can direct attention towards what’s interesting in their field of interest. Feeds can also be shared, and in effect re-published, just as easily as they can be read. In Google Reader this happens simply by selecting a story one likes, and choosing “share”. The story is then re-published to a webpage of it’s own, with it’s own corresponding feed, which can then be shared with friends and others one wants to read the shared items. Not just news stories and blogposts can be shared like this – but videos, bookmarks, tweets, torrents, podcasts, etc. Everything which can be systematically presented in a simple RSS format.

There’s a lot of grey zone activity in this field of course, since re-publishing something from a feed may violate IP rights of authors, when republished to the web, for instance. Website owners who indiscriminately create traffic to their sites from other bloggers’ RSS feeds and generate income from advertising without adding any material of their own, run the risk of being called “scrapers” and generate general bad feeling from original authors.

What’s happening now is that tools such as WP-o-matic makes it beyond easy to set up a blog to automatically or semi-automatically fetch feeds, which means that the “automatic” website is moving into a domain traditionally dominated by “rich content” bloggers writing their own articles. Writing a blog or maintaining a website, for instance, is of course, a lot of hard work. If one can import information to build a rich website in minutes, or support one’s own stuff with valuable information in a very short time, it makes it a lot cheaper and easier to do this. WP-o-matic and other such plugins in other words makes it very very easy for web publishers to earn a dime on even the slightest of niche subjects.

Why is this important? Because, it gives the power back to everyone to aggregate the web’s information easily and conveniently, a power otherwise vested in the large search engine companies. I’ve previously discussed the merits of tools such as Lijit and Google Custom Search. Automated RSS posting is even more promising, as it can support almost any segment of interest. Even the slightest interest in a subject may spawn a rich site, which may draw in other interested readers, which in turn strengthens the effects Shirky is on about. A URL with an interested group of readers, large or small, is all that it takes to create a group. All that is needed to change this group from a latent group to an active one capable of coordinating the group’s actions, is communication tools such as blog comments, email, twittering or other widely accessible tools we have available. We only need the connecting points. Everyone is or has the opportunity to be an aggregator, an expert access point to connecting people, selling stuff or organizing groups for larger scale efforts.

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Why We Don’t Really Like Social Networks

I’ve sometimes experienced people who won’t accept invitations to connect with me on social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. Sometimes because they don’t know me or believe they don’t know me. “Knowing someone” is an extremely relative concept with the advent of the internet, though I can also see the grounds on which LinkedIn would want to hold on to this concept.

In other cases, people are afraid they may get spammed or get tricked into spending lots and lots of precious time on meaningless online jabbering and “click this to see who’s on your page” kind of stuff. Others, like my friend the science fiction writer Palle Juul Holm, simply hates what he calls the “americanized categories” of LinkedIn which doesn’t even allow “retired” or “literature” as categories.

To tell you the truth, I hate this too. I hate and dislike fixed categories, because they shape people’s minds in bad ways. In fact, I hate social networks. Social relations there are rarely true and meaningful relations, and I don’t want to waste my time installing useless applications which waste other people’s time. I hate to waste my time on useless crap. I like quality and I like meaningful conversations.

Yet I am a member of more than a handful social networks, and will add a lot more as we go along in Kaplak. Why? I’ll tell you why in a minute.

I have and have always had great contempt for people, institutions or societies which seek to enslave people. Be it slaves to certain kings or rulers, or slaves to certain ideas or modes of thought. The worst idea is probably the habit of believing that one can do no difference in one’s life, which one grows into, when one is not free. “The slave is not free, as long as he considers himself a slave”, to paraphrase one of my heroes, the German philosopher Max Stirner.

I believe people grow, create and live their lives best as free, empowered individuals, and that the world will be a greater place to be when as many people can be and can do so. I believe people who are free, and free to seek and find information, will be wiser people.

One of my greatest passions is tools and services, which empower individuals to create their own online architectures. Because using and building our own tools (i.e. free software) is what makes us free, knowledgeable and capable of change. With free software, i.e. software which can be freely distributed and tinkered with, we can modify the online as well as the offline digital architectures we use ourselves.

This is why I love wikis, why I love decentralized structures and p2p-based architectures, which empower individual members to exercise their influence, bandwidth, harddrive spaces and every bit and byte of their communicative and hacking capabilities to mold what they use so that it fits their needs.

The antithesis to this, of course is any “system”, which create architectures, that cannot be changed by it’s individual users. Systems which are the fruits of what Richard Stallman (visit Stallman’s personal website here) with disdain and contempt in his voice calls “proprietary software”. Facebook and LinkedIn are prime cases of such enormous systems, which are based on fixed categories and variables, which cannot be modified by users. Within this system, of course, there are lots of things which can be modified, but only after you accept the premises of say Facebook’s view of the world, which is “users”, “friends”, “pages”, “groups”, “walls”, “applications” and so on. One cannot break up and shape the architecture itself.

These systems are clearly bad, IMO, for our freedoms and capabilities of building our own architectures.

Why do I support and encourage the use of these systems then? Why do I invite others to take part in services such as these? One very important reason is that we can’t do anything, unless we’re connected. And as long as any platform gives me the opportunity to reach out and connect with others – most importantly those I want to know and who wants to know me, but don’t know about me – I will use it, as long as it’s free and doesn’t give me headaches. As long as it gives others an opportunity to reach out and communicate back, it’s a tool we may be able to use in our broader scope of things to come. It’s a tool for connecting, so that we may share and shape those much deeper and meaningful conversations – which will form more durable relations, which are beneficial to us in the long term. Which may help us break down the walls and empower more people to create their own architectures.

If we can, for instance, use the Facebook platform to promote Kaplak’s widgets and allow our users to sell products there, we’ll do it with this perspective in mind. We have a focus beyond the categories of “knowing someone” or being someone’s “friend” on social networks, which is crucial to what we do in Kaplak. It is not just about “selling things” and making money, when we try to expand on social networks. We do not dislike money or earning them, but as a company we want to add real value. Our primary capital for doing this is durable connections and ressourceful people, not money or “friends” on Facebook.

If this post resonates with you, we’d like to invite you to join our new Kaplak group on Linkedin, or alternatively, to ‘become a fan’ or group member of our Facebook group. Not just as a number in our friend count, but as someone capable of speaking back, here, there or in other contexts or platforms of your preference and choosing. As always, you’ll find us on Twitter and del.icio.us, among other places :-)

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