Social Networks

Entries related to social networks, group psychology, anthropology, and really any of the social sciences.

Thinking About Conversations.

This afternoon, I read a blog post by David Weinberg, Are all good conversations echo chambers?. He was discussing a blog post by Bora Zivkovic, Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all. They are both very good blog posts, well worth the read.

David spends a bit of time at the end of his post talking about theories of communication. In particular, David says

I presume that such a theory would include the notion... that conversations have aims, and that when a conversation is open to the entire world … those aims should be explicitly stated

When I talk to people about social media, I often talk about the aim. When doing social media for an organization, it is important to stay on task and make sure that the communications are inline with the organizations mission. Another key aspect to talk about is audience. Who are you communicating with? This includes understanding the motivations and abilities of your interlocutors.

On the other hand, I often talk about social media as a conversation at a party, or perhaps even at the office. It is one of the reasons I like tweets about what people had for breakfast. When I run into a friend, whether it be at work, at a conference, or wherever, I don't start off immediately with the topic I want to discuss. If I see David tomorrow, I'll probably start off by talking about how it's been a long time since I've seen him. Ask how things are going, maybe tell him a little bit about what has been going on in my life, before getting around to discussing his latest blog post.

Now you could say that part of the aim of such repartee is to strengthen rapport be the the participants. That is an aim of the beginning of a conversation. Yet it illustrates that the aim of a conversation may be very broad based and fluid.

Likewise, what is the aim of discussions around the dinner table? At the Hynes household discussions can be very wide-ranging. The aim of the discussions are perhaps primarily about having fun and enjoying one another's company. But there can be subservient aims, like learning something new or stimulating creativity.

I think this may fit into the research that Bora is writing about. The tone of the discussion in comments communicates the emerging aim of the comments. It may be for the sheer joy of flaming or troll baiting. It may be for the joy of learning something new or sparking creativity. Depending on how the comments are approached, the emerging aim may end up being closely in line with the aim of the person who wrote the blog post or vastly divergent.

With this, I want to come back to David's concern about echo chambers. It is why I've been talking about the roles of learning and creativity. Echo chambers seem to reinforce already established views as opposed to being an opportunity for learning or creativity. I'm not sure I know exactly what produces creativity, but it has always seemed to come from when very different ideas collide. We have some wonderful collisions like this around the dinner table, but I've rarely seen such collisions in echo chambers.

Will these ideas collide with those of David or Bora in any interesting way? That would be wonderful. If not, the simple joy of reconnecting virtually with some old friends might be a sufficient aim.

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The Second Screen

I don't watch a lot of television. If I do watch television, it is likely to be something on the Roku, most likely something from Netflix. I haven't yet watched 'House of Cards' on Netflix, but I'm hearing good stuff about it. It is interesting to see changes in who is producing video content.

When I do watch television, I like to do it as a social event and I've tweeted about various shows for years. Now, there are a growing number of 'second screen' apps and websites. I installed Zeebox on my phone quite a while ago, but have never ended up using it. Today, I tried to use it during the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, but without any success.

The other day, I got an invitation to Tweet.TV Initially, I didn't find Animal Planet, but that was because it had me defaulting to some television system in Pennsylvania. When I configured it to my local cable company, Animal planet came up and I started tweeting about Puppy Bowl.

Tweet.TV has gamification. You score points for connecting, tweeting, etc. You can use these points to pick up deals or freebies, similar to Klout Perks. So far, none of the perks have really caught my attention.

So, as we approach the big game, we'll see what social media tools I'll use for my second screen. What are you using as a second screen during the big game?

Understanding Social Media

It's been about half a century since Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media and a lot has changed since then. The need to understand media, and especially social media, has grown considerably since then.

As the Social Media Manager for a non-profit health care organization, I often speak at conferences about social media. Besides my role in non-profits, I also talk about social media from the perspective of a politician and a citizen journalist.

Recently, I spoke about how I like to use social media when I'm at conferences. Typically, I try to take notes at the conference using Twitter. I need to refine the thought down to less than 140 characters. Sometimes, this can be a challenge. Sometimes, people might not get what I'm tweeting, without the context of the surrounding tweets. People need to learn more about context, especially for tweets, where additional context can often be found in the hashtags used in the tweets.

When I mentioned this at one event I was at, people said they felt uncomfortable doing that because others might think they were busy doing things online and not paying attention. As a social media manager, I don't often run into that problem, but it is a common misconception.

Just because a person is writing something on their computer, perhaps via Facebook or Twitter, doesn't mean they aren't paying attention. If they are using social media as a means of taking and sharing notes, they may be paying much more attention than others who are just sitting casually at the meeting.

Another aspect of social media note taking is that it is conversational. It is like being able to take notes and see other people's notes at the same time. It can produce brief interchanges that further enhance the understanding of the topic being discussed. I recently ran into this as I was taking notes via social media of the hearings in Hartford about Newtown.

State Senator Beth Bye posted about a nuanced statement from DMHAS Commissioner Patricia Rehmer about outpatient commitment and forced medication. A few different people commented on different aspects of this and I believe everyone came out better informed as a result.

Yet this style of note taking and communications may be unfamiliar to some. Some people may have a mistaken impression that Facebook is just for games or talking about parties. What is worse, some people may try to capitalize on this misimpression to cast aspersions on others. This is perhaps most likely by those who do not want a serious discussion about the issues our country faces and simply want to force their opinions on others.

Such people may, in fact, use social media to distort, and to try to get traditional media sources to spread the distortion.

This appears to be the case of opponents of gun control legislation that Sen. Bye has introduced. Perhaps it backfired on them because the broadcast that NBC had showed a gun control opponent who was not at the hearing criticizing Sen. Bye for being at the hearing and using Facebook to communicate with constituents about the hearing. It helped paint the gun control opponents as uninformed. Fortunately for those opposing gun control, NBC ended their segment with a gun control opponent who was at the hearing and who lauded Sen. Bye for her efforts to keep people informed.

Over the coming years, I expect to see more and more legislators using social media to communicate with the constituents, especially during hearings. Sen. Bye and several other Connecticut legislators provide a good example of how this can be done to improve civil discourse. Of course, during this time, there are bound to be more issues like this one and we all need to spend more time understanding social media.

We All Live in a Science Fiction Novel

I am writing this on a laptop computer. Here, in the twenty first century, this seems pretty normal, but I thought, how would I have described a laptop computer to my grandfather, who never lived to see one. It would sound like science fiction.

It is like a small metallic briefcase, except when I open it up, it is not empty except for the papers, books, and maybe a slide rule inside. The top part of the inside of the brief case is like a large piece of glass, lit up from behind. On this glass are words and images. With the right commands, I can make pictures I've taken appear on the piece of glass. I can make movies play. There is a small black dot above the glass. It is a camera lens, and I can take a picture as well, which can then be displayed on the glass.

On the lower half of the metallic briefcase, there are two very small gratings. Behind these are speaks,so I can hear the sound of the movies. I can also listen to music or other recordings with the sound coming out of these speakers. On the left side is a small hole where I can insert a small metal plug, with wires than lead up to headphones. These are not like the headphones that bomber pilots used in World War II. They are very small fitting into each ear, instead of encompassing the ear. That way, I can listen to the sounds without disturbing people near me.

Between the two speakers in the lower half of the metal brief case are the keys of a typewriter. Yet unlike the typical arrangement in cascading rows, the keys are all flat, next to one another. The normal letters and numbers are on the keys, but there are special keys with just symbols on them or with abbreviations like 'esc', 'fn', and 'alt'. These keys, together with the normal letters and numbers can be used for writing, the way I am doing now, or for entering the commands that control what is displayed on the piece of glass, or sounds out of the speakers.

Below the keys is a small piece of metal. By moving my fingers around the piece of metal, I can also control the computer. There is a symbol that displays on the glass. As I move my fingers on the piece of metal, the symbol moves around the glass until it is positioned over the section of glass I desire.

Then, there are other things, hidden in this metallic briefcase. There is a battery so it works even when it isn't plugged in. There is a radio. This radio is different from the one you listen to music or the ballgame on. It is used for the briefcase to communicate with others computers around the world. Not only does it receive information, it sends it out as well. Other computers listen for this information, and then send back appropriate information as a response. In face, the pictures, movies or sounds are often information send back over this radio.

It would be more than my grandfather could take in, and the discussion might change to other topics. He might notice a strange small green light flashing from the dog's collar. Inside of the small black box on the dog's collar would be another radio. This one would only receive very simple information. With a different device, I could send messages to the dog's collar making the collar make beeping sounds to call or warn the dog, and if the dog didn't respond, I could send a message that would cause the dog to experience a small amount of pain, an electrical shock. Yes, a device to remotely control the dog.

It is all like science fiction. He might wonder where people ever got such ideas. That, I would say, is a great question. I might point out to him that even his life would seem like science fiction to those a generation or two earlier. Messages sent through the air, like smoke signals that people couldn't see. The ability to capture the reflection on a lake or mirror, and make it permanent in a photograph. Carriages that could be moved around without a horse pulling them.

Last night, my dreams were filled with three dimensional printers. Printing has come a long way from the strike of a key on a ribbon full of ink to make the typed word. It has come along way from the strange smelling mimeographs that my kids have no memory of. It has come a long way from the typesetters craft.

Now, a nozzle sprays rapidly drying ink on a piece of paper, or puts some black dust on the paper that gets stuck to it by a charge from a laser. We take laser printers for granted in our offices and sometimes in our homes. What if, instead of printing on paper, we could print one piece of plastic on top of another to make a three dimensional object? What if we could this with clays, metals, or even wood product? How about with food or living cells? It isn't really all that far away.

And so, if we can pull ourselves away from the gladiators, the bread and circuses, and the entertainments of today, what can we imagine?

Yes, we all live in science fiction novels. Are we up to the task of hero or heroine in these novels? How are we adapting our lives to the constant sources of information and entertainment, to being able to easily get in touch with many people from around the world in an instant? How is all of this changing us? Perhaps most importantly, how is this helping us bring about the next science fiction novels?

Social Media Saturday

Have you ever wondered what a social media manager does during a cold winter Saturday? Well, it's not a lot different from any other day. Sure, I don't drive to the office, but I do much of my work online. Today, I checked several different email accounts, including my work accounts. I helped revise a presentation for the company I work at and kept an eye on different social media accounts, both personal and professional.

To a certain extent, social media managers are expected to be connected 24/7. Yeah, there are times I put down my smartphone and close my laptop, but they are rare. Even during my off hours, I find ways to establish stronger connections with others involved in social media.

This weekend is [x]Pendapalooza on Empire Avenue. Empire Avenue is a game where you buy stock in other people involved in social media. The value of their stock changes based on their interactions on Empire Avenue and other social media sites. [x]Pendapalooza is a twenty-four hour social media stock buying frenzy. I have been saving up for [x]Pendapalooza over the past few days, and made a lot of stock purchases this morning.

Then, I did one of my Saturday, mostly offline, rituals. I went to the dump, or, more accurately, the transfer station. After I tossed by garbage in one bin and my recycling in another, I checked in on Foursquare. Yes, I'm still the Mayor of the Woodbridge Transfer Station.

I did get a chance to take a nap. Ever since the death of my mother, I've been pretty worn down. Afterwards, I dealt with some of the issues around my mother's estate and checked in a little more on social media. I had dinner, and did more work for the office. I think I'm mostly caught up now, so I'm taking time to write. I'm back in the groove of writing every day, and I think I'm making progress improving my writing, but there are days that the blank page remains a challenge, or when I go back and read over what I've written, it just doesn't sing. Sometimes it is because inspiration has not visited. Other times, it is because I've spent so much time writing other things, that I don't have the energy to work on my blog.

It is quite now. It is cold and dark outside. Kim, Fiona and our dog Wesley are out on a mission, and it is quiet her;, the only sound being that of the furnace and the grandfather clock when it chimes the quarter hour.

Writing can be a nice repose. Now, I'll search for more inspiration, new ideas to write about and to improve my writing. Then, there will be a little more family time followed soon enough by more sleep.

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