There is a group of people that meet at a conference every year. For the past couple of years, it has been facilitated a certain set of people. This year, the conference organizers have selected someone else to facilitate the group. I know some of the people in the group. They are smart people who like to think about group processes, and recently they got into an interesting question about who owns the group.
Is the group owned by the organization that sponsors the conference? By the group facilitators? By the members of the group? What does a change in group facilitation do to the group? I thought it might be interesting and expand it a little bit.
First off, we are all members of many groups. Some are very informally organized. Others are very formally organized. There are the group of people who are reading this blog post. This group has subgroups, people who come to the site, and people who read it through some sort of feed reader. Each of these groups can be broken down into further subgroups such as what browser or what feed reader is being used, or how you found the site in the first place. These grouping are very informal. People in the group may not know one another or communicate with one another. As such, these groupings are less interesting to me, at least for this blog post.
On the other hand, on a site like MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog, people can identify themselves as readers of this blog. On MyBlogLog, I can send messages to everyone who has identified themselves as a reader of my blog. Others can see who is in the community and read their blogs. Does MyBlogLog own that group? Do I? Do the members of the group?
In a similar sort of way, there are various people that gather to watch movies together because of some shared interest. The same questions apply about whether the organizers or members own the group. Yet in this case there is another possible owner of the group, the producers of the films being viewed. I like thinking about this because it perhaps brings us closer to one of the reasons why this is an important question. Ownership and leadership of groups affects the way communications take place and perhaps more importantly, the collective thoughts that emerge out of the group.
This might seem like a lot of theoretical words right now, but it can have some pretty immediate application. As an example, I was a member of a mailing list back in 2003, of people supporting Howard Dean for President. This group also met face to face from time to time. Who owned that group? The Dean campaign? They stayed away from any aspects of ownership, particularly for campaign finance reasons. There was the person who had set up the mailing list, who from Yahoo!’s perspective owned the group. There was a woman who was very active with the face to face meetings who tried to assert some sort of ownership of the group, and then there was the group itself.
During the power struggle between a couple of the people asserting ownership, I was drawn in. There were discussions about whether or not the group owned itself, and if so, how did it handle leadership and the administrative functions of the mailing list. In the end it split into two different groups which faded away after the campaign was over.
Within political blogging today, there are many mailing lists where bloggers congregate to plan their strategies. Who owns these groups? Who owns the progressive political bloggers or ‘the netroots’? Who owns the group of people that participate in DailyKos or are going to YearlyKos?
How do these ideas affect people stepping into the blogging? I know people who have resisted posting content online because they aren’t ‘bloggers’. They aren’t part of some group. They don’t feel qualified to join the group, or they don’t want to associate with some group.
By thinking about the nature of groups, perhaps we can learn more about what is going on around us in our blogs and mailing lists.
dk2 invited me to Pownce. I’ve signed up, looked around, and so far, it looks like yet another Twitter or Jaiku. It uses Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) to run an application on your desktop. Unfortunately, AIR doesn’t run on my old NT based machine. Perhaps I’ll try it on a different machine later. Until then, I’m not sure I’m seeing that it does much. It doesn’t even seem to have RSS so that I can link it nicely to A maze of twisty little passages, all alike . If you use Pownce and can tell me what I’m missing, please do.
A week ago, Kevin Makice pointed me to Remember the Milk. It is a simple, well done task list. It integrates with netvibes, Twitter, Google Calendars, and can be accessed from your cellphone (although not by text messages, other than via Twitter, as far as I can tell). It also has an API and third party services. I don’t use task lists a lot right now, but it does look like a neat tool.
Over on Orient Lodge, I was checking various logs and found that Google was crawling over forty different pages with the path ‘browse/Office2003Blue’. The problem is that I don’t use OfficeBlue so they were all not found. I added a Deny line for Google searching the browse subdirectory. As I searched around, I found workfriendly.net. Apparently a lot of people have been using OfficeBlue on workfriendly.net to search different sites. It looks like it does proxying and strips out photographs, which might not be work friendly.
Beyond that, it appears that OfficeBlue is often used for spamming or phishing. There was a brief mention of it on Drupal.org, and I came across an anti-phishing site, http://www.phishtank.com/.
PhishTank is a collaborative clearing house for data and information about phishing on the Internet. Also, PhishTank provides an open API for developers and researchers to integrate anti-phishing data into their applications at no charge.
It looks like an interesting tool.
One final technology tidbit for this morning Alexa has finally gotten around to a Firefox Toolbar. As I’ve noted before, Alexa isn’t the most reliable ranking system. Anyone who uses it seems to have abnormally higher ratings for their own websites, which is part of the reason why I’ve been rating higher than some of the Presidential candidates. I’ve added the Alexa Firefox toolbar. So far so good.
If you read my previous post about managing online identities, you might be thinking, “Okay, I see how all of the material online is searchable, persistent and being linked together, but how are impressions really being formed online?”
At Personal Democracy Forum, Thomas Friedman quipped, “Whatever can be done online, will be done, and the question is, will it be done by you or to you?” A friend of mine suggested that instead of, or in addition to “to you” the question might be will it be done for you.
So, how are impressions formed online? Years ago, I was active in an online community where an anthropology professor would bring his students for an introduction to field work online. One year they did research on how impressions were formed online and Professor Jacobson wrote up the experience in a paper, Impression Formation in Cyberspace: Online Expectations and Offline Experiences in Text-based Virtual Communities. (I was part of the study.)
In the text-based environment, the students did not have access to pictures, so they interacted with people and hypothesized what the people would look like. They were later shown pictures of the people they interacted with. It was interesting to see how the students viewed me.
In the MyBlogLog community, there are different clues that we pick up. Everyone has an image. Often they are portraits. Yet they could be of just about anything. The choice of image says something and as I surf, I make guesses about whether or not a site is one I’ll be interested in visiting based on the image. When you click on the image, you see a bunch of tags identifying the person. Many of these are submitted by the MyBlogLog members themselves, but they can be submitted by others. The lack of tags says one thing about people. People have commented about skipping past any user that has SEO in their tags.
There is also indicate about how frequently a person uses MyBlogLog. When did they first join? When was the last time they were logged in? How many Sites do they author? How many communities are they part of? How many friends do they have, how many people have joined their blogs community? What are the messages that have been left, and what additional information has been added by the user. People have commented about skipping past any user that has over a thousand friends for similar reasons that they skip people with SEO in their tags.
Beyond all of this, there are impressions to be formed when you visit the blog itself. Is it using a default format, or has it been updated? Does the blog allow comments? How many people are commenting? Is there a blogroll? What does the blogroll say about the person? People have commented about how I have links to conservatives mixed in with my progressive links and they aren’t sure what to make of it. (I want to promote dialog and deliberation). Then, there are all the meme graphics that people have up.
All of this before we even really get to the content. That is probably worth many blog posts in and of itself. I commit the cardinal blogging sin of writing on lots of different topics. Other people are incredibly focused on a single topic.
Yesterday I received a fascinating post from Joyce Hopewell who writes about ‘astrological psychology’. She wrote:
Hi Aldon, You wrote another thought-provoking post about authority. I'd been thinking along similar lines for a while now about blogs & considering what gives a blog authenticity. Where is the author coming from? Is it place of ego or service? Are they genuinely sharing or out to impress? What kind of quality or feel does the blog have? And how do I feel about it? (that was your final question, I believe). I guess I use my eyes and senses quite a bit when I read blogs and tend either not to hang around long/or go in at more depth based on this initial, and - in the context of astrological psychology! - Jupiterian impression.
When I read that the first time, I thought ‘Jungian interpretation’ instead of ‘Jupiterian impression’. While I’m more interested in the effect of our unconscious on blogging than the effect of my date of birth, I imagine that Joyce would suggest that my date of birth shapes my unconscious. We all have our own frameworks for making sense out of what we experience. What are yours?
I’ve had some interesting discussions recently about online identities and how we manage them or fail to manage them. An example of this is that a friend of mine was taking a train home from work. He fired up his laptop and logged into Facebook. The young woman next to him said, “I can’t believe your on Facebook”. I suggested that he should have told her, “Yeah, a lot of us check out Facebook and MySpace profiles before we interview anyone.
Even people who think a lot about the searchability of persistent online data can be surprised what can be done with online data. During Gov. Dean’s campaign they explored using Friend of a Friend (FOAF) as a means of connecting supporters. People were surprised to find detailed information showing up about them in unexpected places, through the power of FOAF crawlers exploring the web.
Today, I spoke on the phone with another friend who was interested in promoting the use of open source social networks for political purposes. I walked him through some of the tools that are out there. We started at my Facebook profile. (You probably have to be a friend of mine to see much of anything there.) In it, I’ve added a social networks application that connects up with UpScoop.
UpScoop is a pretty amazing tool where you can upload your mailing list and search to see who on your mailing list is on which networks. It is very slick and amazingly powerful. Looking at my profile on UpScoop, it showed sixteen different networks I was on, including links to my profile on almost all of them.
As I explored this with my friend on the phone, we decided to follow the link to one network that was listed that I didn’t remember joining, RapLeaf. It turns out that RapLeaf is the underlying engine for UpScoop and that their goal is to provide reputation information, based on email addresses tied into various social networks. In particular they focus experiences other people have had with you as a buyer or seller on sites like eBay or CraigsList.
It looks like it will be a very powerful tool and helps drive home the importance of managing your online identity.
All that said, I have a lot of recommendations of things that I would like to see RapLeaf do. First, it would be great if they could add OpenId. There is already OpenID support in Ruby on Rails, so it should be easy to add to their site. RapLeaf is based on email identities and ties it into profiles on social networking sites. OpenID is based on website pages. The two are closely related and ideally should be linked.
Beyond that, it would be great if they could support XHTML Friends Networks (XNF). It would be a pretty simple change to add. All of the links in the social networks section of the page could simply have the rel=”me” tag and the friends at the bottom could have a rel=”friend” tag. This would facilitate tools that explore XFN.
Ideally, it would be great if the could search out blogging systems as well. For blogging systems that will reveal user information based on email address, they should be able to do this simply. However, most systems want to keep email addresses private.
To get around this many systems, including RapLeaf use an SHA1 hash as a method of checking email addresses without ever showing the email address. If systems like Drupal, Scoop, Soapblox and others would allow people to look up people by the SHA1 hash of their email address, these sites could be searched as well. Maybe I’ll add the ability to search for users by the SHA1 hash of their email address on Orient Lodge. It would be great if people added it to some other blogging systems.
There are plenty of other ways in which this could be used in politics. Anyone who is interested in this aspect should contact me offline.