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Search results for 'boyd'
22 April 2012

Whether the digital era improves society is up to its users – that’s us

Young people in an internet cafe, in Shanghai, China

Social media in particular has inexorably changed the world, driving openness and fear – but it is not beyond our control, argues Danah Boyd in a long essay for The Guardian.

“Most technology designers engage in their trade to make the world a better place. Technologists love to celebrate the amazing things that people can do with technology – bridge geography, connect communities and transform societies. Meanwhile, plenty of naysayers bemoan the changes brought on by technology, highlighting issues of distraction and attention for example. Unfortunately, this results in a battle between those with utopian and dystopian viewpoints, over who can have a more extreme perspective on technology. So where’s the middle ground?

One of my favourite maxims about the role of technology in society is called Kranzberg’s first law. He argues that “technology is neither good nor bad – nor is it neutral”. It’s irresponsible to assume that the tools being built just wander out into the world with only positive effects. Technology doesn’t determine practice, but how a system is designed does matter. How systems are used also matters, even if those uses aren’t what designers intended. For example, as social media has gone mainstream, some fascinating shifts have emerged that require reflection. Yet, even as the conversation becomes more important to have, it’s often hard to talk in a nuanced way about the role that technology is playing in shifts that are already underway.”

Read essay

21 November 2011

How much should people worry about the loss of online privacy?

Privacy
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal posted excerpts from a debate between Danah Boyd, Stewart Baker, Jeff Jarvis, and Chris Soghoian on privacy:

“Privacy in the digital age means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some people fret about the privacy controls on social networks, some worry about the companies that track their online behavior, and others are concerned about government surveillance. We asked a diverse group of panelists how much our readers should worry about the vast array of privacy threats.

Read debate summary and watch video

In preparation for the piece, the participants had to respond to a series of questions. Two of these more extensive pieces are now online: Jeff JarvisDanah Boyd.

Note Danah Boyd’s description of privacy:

“Privacy is the ability to assert control over a social situation. This requires that people have agency in their environment and that they are able to understand any given social situation so as to adjust how they present themselves and determine what information they share. Privacy violations occur when people have their agency undermined or lack relevant information in a social setting that’s needed to act or adjust accordingly. Privacy is not protected by complex privacy settings that create what Alessandro Acquisti calls “the illusion of control.” Rather, it’s protected when people are able to fully understand the social environment in which they are operating and have the protections necessary to maintain agency.”

6 August 2011

Designing for social norms (or how not to create angry mobs)

Danah Boyd
Danah Boyd thinks we need a more critical conversation about the importance of designing with social norms in mind.

“Good UX designers know that they have the power to shape certain kinds of social practices by how they design systems. And engineers often fail to give UX folks credit for the important work that they do. But designing the system itself is only a fraction of the design challenge when thinking about what unfolds. Social norms aren’t designed into the system. They don’t emerge by telling people how they should behave. And they don’t necessarily follow market logic. Social norms emerge as people – dare we say “users” – work out how a technology makes sense and fits into their lives. Social norms take hold as people bring their own personal values and beliefs to a system and help frame how future users can understand the system. And just as “first impressions matter” for social interactions, I cannot underestimate the importance of early adopters. Early adopters configure the technology in critical ways and they play a central role in shaping the social norms that surround a particular system.”

Danah Boyd is a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Read article

20 June 2011

Individual and networked privacy

Networked privacy
Danah Boyd, researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, posted the crib of her recent Personal Democracy Forum talk on networked privacy.

“Our contemporary ideas about privacy are often shaped by legal discourse that emphasizes the notion of “individual harm.” Furthermore, when we think about privacy in online contexts, the American neoliberal frame and the techno-libertarian frame once again force us to really think about the individual. In my talk at Personal Democracy Forum this year, I decided to address some of the issues of “networked privacy” precisely because I think that we need to start thinking about how privacy fits into a social context. Even with respect to the individual frame, what others say/do about us affects our privacy. And yet, more importantly, all of the issues of privacy end up having a broader set of social implications.”

Read talk

20 May 2011

Publicity and the culture of celebritization

Kiki Kannibal
Danah Boyd, researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, wrote a long post on the social factors involved in celebritization.

“As information swirls all around us, we have begun to build an attention economy where the value of a piece of content is driven by how much attention it can attract and sustain. It’s all about eyeballs, especially when advertising is involved. Countless social media consultants are swarming around Web2.0, trying to help organizations increase their status and profitability in the attention economy. But the attention economy doesn’t just affect the monetization of web properties; it’s increasingly shaping how people interact with one another.

Teens’ desire for attention is not new. Teens have always looked for attention and validation from others – parents, peers, and high-status individuals. And just as many in business argue that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, there are plenty of teens who believe that there’s no such thing as bad attention. The notion of an “attention whore” predates the internet. Likewise, the notion that a child might “act out” is recognized as being a call for attention. And it’s important to highlight that the gendered aspects of these tropes are reinforced online.

So what happens when a teen who is predisposed to seeking attention gets access to the tools of the attention economy?”

Read article

7 April 2011

Book: Sentient City

Sentient City
Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space
Edited by Mark Shepard
Paperback, 200 pages, 2011
MIT Press in copublication with the Architectural League of New York
(Amazon link)

Abstract
Our cities are “smart” and getting smarter as information processing capability is embedded throughout more and more of our urban infrastructure. Few of us object to traffic light control systems that respond to the ebbs and flows of city traffic; but we might be taken aback when discount coupons for our favorite espresso drink are beamed to our mobile phones as we walk past a Starbucks. Sentient City explores the experience of living in a city that can remember, correlate, and anticipate. Five teams of architects, artists, and technologists imagine a variety of future interactions that take place as computing leaves the desktop and spills out onto the sidewalks, streets, and public spaces of the city.

“Too Smart City” employs city furniture as enforcers: a bench ejects a sitter who sits too long, a sign displays the latest legal codes and warns passersby against transgression, and a trashcan throws back the wrong kind of trash. “Amphibious Architecture” uses underwater sensors and lights to create a human-fish-environment feedback loop; “Natural Fuse” uses a network of “electronically assisted” plants to encourage energy conservation; “Trash Track” follows smart-tagged garbage on its journey through the city’s waste-management system; and “Breakout” uses wireless technology and portable infrastructure to make the entire city a collaborative workplace.

These projects are described, documented, and illustrated by 100 images, most in color. Essays by prominent thinkers put the idea of the sentient city in theoretical context.

Case studies by David Benjamin, Soo-in Yang, and Natalie Jeremijenko; Haque Design + Research; SENSEable City Lab; David Jimison and JooYoun Paek; and Anthony Townsend, Antonina Simeti, Dana Spiegel, Laura Forlano, and Tony Bacigalupo

Essays by Martijn de Waal, Keller Easterling, Matthew Fuller, Anne Galloway, Dan Hill, Omar Khan, Saskia Sassen, Trebor Scholz, Hadas Steiner, Kazys Varnelis, and Mimi Zeiger

Mark Shepard is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Media Study at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, and an editor of the Situated Technologies pamphlet series, published by the Architecture League of New York.

(via Stowe Boyd)

2 September 2010

Why privacy is not dead

Danah Boyd
The way privacy is encoded into software doesn’t match the way we handle it in real life, writes Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd in the Technology Review.

“Each time Facebook’s privacy settings change or a technology makes personal information available to new audiences, people scream foul. Each time, their cries seem to fall on deaf ears.

The reason for this disconnect is that in a computational world, privacy is often implemented through access control. Yet privacy is not simply about controlling access. It’s about understanding a social context, having a sense of how our information is passed around by others, and sharing accordingly. As social media mature, we must rethink how we encode privacy into our systems.”

- Read article (subscription only)
- Read article (full text)

2 September 2010

A cyber-house divided

The cyber divide
Online as much as in the real world, people bunch together in mutually suspicious groups—and in both realms, peacemaking is an uphill struggle. The Economist reports in an article that quotes Danah Boyd and Ethan Zuckerman.

“A generation of digital activists had hoped that the web would connect groups separated in the real world. The internet was supposed to transcend colour, social identity and national borders. But research suggests that the internet is not so radical. People are online what they are offline: divided, and slow to build bridges.” [...]

All this argues for a cautious response to claims that e-communications abate conflict by bringing mutually suspicious people together.”

Read article

25 May 2010

Growing up online

Growning up online
In Growing Up Online, the American public affairs series FRONTLINE takes viewers inside the very public private worlds that kids are creating online, raising important questions about how the Internet is transforming childhood.

“The Internet and the digital world was something that belonged to adults, and now it’s something that really is the province of teenagers, ” says C.J. Pascoe, a postdoctoral scholar with the University of California, Berkeley’s Digital Youth Research project.

“They’re able to have a private space, even while they’re still at home. They’re able to communicate with their friends and have an entire social life outside of the purview of their parents, without actually having to leave the house.”

As more and more kids grow up online, parents are finding themselves on the outside looking in. “I remember being 11; I remember being 13; I remember being 16, and I remember having secrets,” mother of four Evan Skinner says. “But it’s really hard when it’s the other side.”

At school, teachers are trying to figure out how to reach a generation that no longer reads books or newspapers. “We can’t possibly expect the learner of today to be engrossed by someone who speaks in a monotone voice with a piece of chalk in their hand,” one school principal says.

“We almost have to be entertainers,” social studies teacher Steve Maher tells FRONTLINE. “They consume so much media. We have to cut through that cloud of information around them, cut through that media, and capture their attention.”

Fears of online predators have led teachers and parents to focus heavily on keeping kids safe online. But many children think these fears are misplaced. “My parents don’t understand that I’ve spent pretty much since second grade online,” one ninth-grader says. “I know what to avoid.”

Many Internet experts agree with the kids. “Everyone is panicking about sexual predators online. That’s what parents are afraid of; that’s what parents are paying attention to,” says Parry Aftab, an Internet security expert and executive director of WiredSafety.org. But the real concern, she says, is the trouble that kids might get into on their own. Through social networking and other Web sites, kids with eating disorders share tips about staying thin, and depressed kids can share information about the best ways to commit suicide.

Another threat is “cyberbullying,” as schoolyard taunts, insults and rumors find their way online. John Halligan‘s son Ryan was bullied for months at school and online before he ultimately hanged himself in October 2003. “I clearly made a mistake putting that computer in his room. I allowed the computer to become too much of his life,” Halligan tells FRONTLINE. “The computer and the Internet were not the cause of my son’s suicide, but I believe they helped amplify and accelerate the hurt and the pain that he was trying to deal with that started in person, in the real world.”

“You have a generation faced with a society with fundamentally different properties, thanks to the Internet,” says Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “It’s a question for us of how we teach ourselves and our children to live in a society where these properties are fundamentally a way of life. This is public life today.”

Watch programme online

2 April 2010

The impact of the Internet on institutions in the future

Imagining the Internet
The latest Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project report is out: “The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future” surveys 895 tech experts on the way that technology will change institutions (government, business, nonprofits, schools) in the next ten years.

Technology experts and stakeholders say the internet will drive more change in businesses and government agencies by 2020, making them more responsive and efficient. But there are powerful bureaucratic forces that will push back against such transformation and probably draw out the timeline. Expect continuing tension in disruptive times.

Respondents included Clay Shirky, Esther Dyson, Doc Searls, Nicholas Carr, Susan Crawford, David Clark, Jamais Cascio, Peter Norvig, Craig Newmark, Hal Varian, Howard Rheingold, Andreas Kluth, Jeff Jarvis, Andy Oram, Kevin Werbach, David Sifry, Dan Gillmor, Marc Rotenberg, Stowe Boyd, John Pike, Andrew Nachison, Anthony Townsend, Ethan Zuckerman, Tom Wolzien, Stephen Downes, Rebecca MacKinnon, Jim Warren, Sandra Brahman, Barry Wellman, Seth Finkelstein, Jerry Berman, Tiffany Shlain, and Stewart Baker.

Consult survey

26 February 2010

Streams of content, limited attention

Streams
Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research, wrote a long piece for UX Magazine on “what it means to be ‘in flow’ in an information landscape defined by networked media”, based on a talk she gave at O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Expo last November.

Her focus on alignment – rather than attention – is an idea worth exploring.

“The goal is not to be a passive consumer of information or to simply tune in when the time is right, but rather to live in a world where information is everywhere. To be peripherally aware of information as it flows by, grabbing it at the right moment when it is most relevant, valuable, entertaining, or insightful. Living with, in, and around information. Most of that information is social information, but some of it is entertainment information or news information or productive information. Being in flow with information is different than Csikszentmihalyi’s sense, as it’s not about perfect attention, but it is about a sense of alignment, of being aligned with information.”

Read full story

Also check the Economist’s Special Report on Managing Information.

23 January 2010

Ethnographic research could make Google more relevant in China

Tricia Wang
Ethnographer Tricia Wang wrote an excellent and long comment on why Google is having troubles in China:

While unfortunate that Google.CN may be shutting down, my ethnographic work in China revealed five things that aren’t being told in the current story:

  1. Many Chinese internet users don’t find Google to be very useful. Therefore, a Google withdrawal would not have any immediate impact on the daily Chinese internet user because most people search with Baidu, the reigning search engine in China.
  2. Many Chinese internet users prefer Baidu over Google because using Baidu makes them feel more “Chinese.” Baidu does an excellent job at tapping into nationalistic fervor to promote itself as being the most superior search engine for Chinese users.
  3. Chinese internet users don’t know how to get to the Google site. While they may “know” of Google, it’s a whole other matter when it comes to typing or saying Google’s name.
  4. Google is primarily used by highly educated netizens. And even these users prefer Google.COM over Google.CN.
  5. Google is not successful at reaching the mobile internet market.

[...]

It’s one thing if Google’s difficulties could just simply be attributed to government interference, and bad marketing and publicity. But that’s not the case. Their services just simply are not useful for most Chinese users. I suggest that Google dedicate itself to understanding the Chinese market in a socio-anthropological way. They should be hiring teams of Chinese and non-Chinese ethnographers, sociologists, and anthropologists to work intimately in all phases with human-computer interaction designers, programmers, and R&D managers. Google should invest in long-term fieldwork for teams to immerse themselves in a diversity of environments. While usability tests and focus groups are useful for specific phases of app development, they aren’t as useful for understanding cultural frameworks and practices because by the time an app is being tested, it already has accumulated so many cultural assumptions along the way in the design process that users are asked to test something that functions in the programmer’s world, not the user’s world.

Read full story

(via danah boyd)

10 January 2010

The false question of attention economics

/message
A few posts have emerged recently that recapitulate the well-worn arguments of attention scarcity and information overload in the real-time social web, so Stowe Boyd wrote a “short and sweet counter argument from a cognitive science/anthropology angle”.

“The framing of the argument includes the unspoken premise that once upon a time in some hypothetical past attention wasn’t scarce, we didn’t suffer from too much information, and we had all the time in the world to reason about the world, our place in it, and therefore to make wise and grounded decisions.

But my reading of human history suggests the opposite. In the pre-industrial world, business people and governments still suffered from incomplete information, and the pace of life always seemed faster than what had gone on in earlier times. [...]

There is no golden past that we have fallen from, and it is unlikely that we are going to hit finite human limits that will stop us from a larger and deeper understanding of the world in the decades ahead, because we are constantly extending culture to help reformulate how we perceive the world and our place in it.”

Read full story

10 November 2009

Book: Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media

Hanging out
Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out
Kids Living and Learning with New Media
(John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning)
An examination of young people’s everyday new media practices—including video-game playing, text-messaging, digital media production, and social media use.

Authors: Mizuko Ito, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Rachel Cody, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Heather A. Horst, Patricia G. Lange, Dilan Mahendran, Katynka Z. Martinez, C. J. Pascoe, Dan Perkel, Laura Robinson, Christo Sims and Lisa Tripp
MIT Press, November 2009, 432 pages
Table of contents and sample chaptersAmazon link

Conventional wisdom about young people’s use of digital technology often equates generational identity with technology identity: today’s teens seem constantly plugged in to video games, social networks sites, and text messaging. Yet there is little actual research that investigates the intricate dynamics of youth’s social and recreational use of digital media. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out fills this gap, reporting on an ambitious three-year ethnographic investigation into how young people are living and learning with new media in varied settings—at home, in after school programs, and in online spaces. By focusing on media practices in the everyday contexts of family and peer interaction, the book views the relationship of youth and new media not simply in terms of technology trends but situated within the broader structural conditions of childhood and the negotiations with adults that frame the experience of youth in the United States.

Integrating twenty-three different case studies—which include Harry Potter podcasting, video-game playing, music-sharing, and online romantic breakups—in a unique collaborative authorship style, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out is distinctive for its combination of in-depth description of specific group dynamics with conceptual analysis.

This book was written as a collaborative effort by members of the Digital Youth Project, a three-year research effort funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Southern California.

The project was spearheaded by Mimi Ito, a Research Scientist at the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

(via danah boyd)

30 October 2009

Nov-Dec 2009 edition of Interactions magazine online

Interactions
The November-December edition of Interactions Magazine is online and some articles are available without subscription.

Unfortunately, the main menu page doesn’t say which articles are publicly available (although without images) and which aren’t (what about ‘affordances’ in web design?), so I have selected the six that are:

interactions: social, authentic, and interdisciplinary
Jon Kolko

Catalyzing a perfect storm: mobile phone-based HIV-prevention behavioral interventions
Woodrow W. Winchester, III

Implications of user choice: the cultural logic of “MySpace or Facebook?”
danah boyd

On authenticity
Steve Portigal, Stokes Jones

When security gets in the way
Don Norman

The authenticity problem
John Kolko

A seventh one, by my business partner Michele Visciola, can be downloaded in a pre-publication version from this blog.

25 August 2009

Ideas for thought from the Symposium for the Future

Symposium for the Future
The New Media Consortium is hosting a Symposium for the Future October 27-29 that will explore actual and potential applications of technology that could impact issues of global importance over the next five years and beyond.

To generate dialog and discussion around the topic, and to help prospective proposal writers to frame their ideas about the conference themes, the organisers invited danah boyd (Microsoft Research and the Berkman Center, Harvard), Gardner Campbell (Baylor University), and Holly Willis (The Institute for Multimedia Literacy, USC), all people who have thought quite a bit about ideas behind this symposium, to craft a series of essays from three distinct perspectives on the topic.

It is easy to fall in love with technology (alternate link)
by danah boyd, researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society

“There are also no such things as “digital natives.” Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t. Most of you have a better sense of how to get information from Google than the average youth. Most of you know how to navigate privacy settings of a social media tool better than the average teen. Understanding technology requires learning.”

The stars our destination (alternate link)
by Gardner Campbell, director of the Academy for Teaching and Learning at Baylor University

“Though I know these marvelous information and communication technologies we live with every day are fraught sixteen ways from Sunday, I believe they are also a kind of poem we have written together, a film we have made together, a medium that has enabled what Clay Shirky identifies as “the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race” (Here Comes Everybody). That increase happened because we wanted it to, because we have not yet found the boundaries of our ambitions for connection and expression.”

Tactics and haptics and a future that’s now
by Holly Willis, director of academic programs at the University of Southern California‘s Institute for Multimedia Literacy

“We need to take seriously the significance of a vision of the future, not so much with regard to fantastic scenarios – the stuff of science fiction, which as we know, does play an important role in envisioning the future – but instead in terms of tangible, real-world realities. Why? Because when we talk about “the future” these days, we’re no longer thinking about a long, gently winding road disappearing into a distant horizon, but instead a window (or screen?) pushed up close against our noses. The temporal horizon has shrunk, and the future, as Bruce Sterling said recently at Reboot, is really about a transition happening right now.”

5 July 2009

The future of money

Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd, an internationally recognised authority on social applications and their impact on business, media, and society, launched a new interview series examining the future of money.

The series is sponsored in part by Neo.org, a non-profit he is working with. Because of Neo’s efforts toward defining and implementing a new digital currency, Boyd hopes that a series on the future of money might line up well, and draw some attention to Neo’s efforts.

Each interview comes with a video and a bulleted set of highlights.

Christian Nold and The Bijlmer Euro
In this interview Christian Nold, an artist, designer and educator working to develop new participatory models for communal representation, discusses his project in the Bijlmer area in South East Amsterdam, where he aimed to develop a prototype system for an alternative local currency that could support local development and work in conjunction with the Euro.

Bruce Sterling
“When you are interested in magic, you might want to talk to a witch doctor, so when I started to think about the future of money, I thought I should talk to a science fiction author. Who better? As it so happens, I know one,” writes Boyd.
Bruce was kind enough to mention me [i.e. Mark Vanderbeeken], our company and the recent KashKlash project we did with Heather Moore and the Vodafone UE Group.

Alternative currencies: Is small the new big?
This third piece reflects on the value of alternative currencies, starting with the following two questions:
1. Does an alternative currency have to be in large scale use? Is it possible for it to be a ‘success’ at small scale?
2. Do alternative currencies have to stand for something? Do they have to represent a strong position on some issue or social cause?

Intangible Money + Cell Network Banks = Secure Money
Olga Morawczynski is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh, posting some of her work on mobile banking in Africa at the CGAP (Consultive Group to Assist the Poor) website. She noted that the normal flow of fund transfers in Kenya — from the cities to rural relatives — reversed during recent violence there.

Richard Smith and the Dollar ReDe$ign Project
Richard’s deep motivation was to help restart the economy, and the means? Redesigning our money, and rebranding it, to shift our thinking and to help the little bits of paper in our pockets act as a sort of social catalyst for change. He set up the project in the form of a contest, and received dozens of truly wonderful designs.

And there is more to come still…

2 May 2009

Living and learning with social media

danah boyd
danah boyd (blog), a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was one of the featured speakers at the April 18 Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology, an annual one-day event on ways that technology can be used to enhance teaching, learning, and research.

Her talk “Living and Learning with Social Media” is now online:

“Today’s teens are growing up in a world where social media is everywhere. Regardless of whether or not they have access to these technologies or how they engage with them, there is little doubt that social media is playing a significant role in the changing landscape of American youth. [...]

Today’s teens are still more interested in their friends than their lessons. They’re still resistant to power and authority at variable levels. They still gossip, bully, flirt, joke around, and hang out. The underlying dynamics are fairly consistent. That said, technology is inflecting these practices in unique ways. And my goal here today is to talk about these inflection points.”

- Read talk
- View interview with danah boyd

25 April 2009

Keeping it real: Interaction in the real world

EU
The latest issue of Interfaces Magazine, a quarterly magazine published by Interaction, the specialist HCI group of the British Computer Society (BCS), is all devoted to interaction in the real world.

Table of contents
• View from the chair by Russell Beale
• Preparations for HCI 2009 by Alan Blackwell
• Interacting with Computers by Dianne Murray
• Completing the Circle by Stephen Boyd Davis
• Becoming simpler and smarter by Azlan Raj
• Timely interfaces to the real world by Daniel Harris
• Visioning workshops by John Knight
• A sprinkling of usability and a dash of HCI by Janet C Read, Brendan Cassidy, Lorna McKnight, Pirko Paananen
• Gesture navigation in contextual menus by Dennis Middeke and Thomas Hirt
• My PhD by Dan Lockton
• Interfaces reviews by Shailey Minocha
• The new Interfaces by David Gardiner
• Profile by Alan Blackwell

Download the “Interaction in the real world” Interfaces magazine

(via Usability News)d

10 March 2009

Social media is here to stay… now what?”

danah boyd
danah boyd, a Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, just joined Microsoft Research New England.

On 29 February, she gave her first talk at Microsoft since joining the company. This talk, entitled “Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?” was part of the annual Tech Fest where researchers from labs around the world come and share their work to the broader Microsoft community.

boyd describers her talk as “a sampler plate of my work as it applies to developers, policy makers, community managers, product designers, and other folks who work inside companies like Microsoft.”

I especially liked the final part:

“A great deal of sociality is about engaging with publics, but we take for granted certain structural aspects of those publics. Certain properties are core to social media in a combination that alters how people engage with one another. I want to discuss five properties of social media and three dynamics. These are the crux of what makes the phenomena we’re seeing so different from unmediated phenomena.

  1. Persistence. What you say sticks around. This is great for asynchronicity, not so great when everything you’ve ever said has gone down on your permanent record. The bits-wise nature of social media means that a great deal of content produced through social media is persistent by default.
     
  2. Replicability. You can copy and paste a conversation from one medium to another, adding to the persistent nature of it. This is great for being able to share information, but it is also at the crux of rumor-spreading. Worse: while you can replicate a conversation, it’s much easier to alter what’s been said than to confirm that it’s an accurate portrayal of the original conversation.
     
  3. Searchability. My mother would’ve loved to scream search into the air and figure out where I’d run off with friends. She couldn’t; I’m quite thankful. But with social media, it’s quite easy to track someone down or to find someone as a result of searching for content. Search changes the landscape, making information available at our fingertips. This is great in some circumstances, but when trying to avoid those who hold power over you, it may be less than ideal.
     
  4. Scalability. Social media scales things in new ways. Conversations that were intended for just a friend or two might spiral out of control and scale to the entire school or, if it is especially embarrassing, the whole world. Of course, just because something can scale doesn’t mean that it will. Politicians and marketers have learned this one the hard way.
     
  5. (de)locatability. With the mobile, you are dislocated from any particular point in space, but at the same time, location-based technologies make location much more relevant. This paradox means that we are simultaneously more and less connected to physical space.

Those five properties are intertwined, but their implications have to do with the ways in which they alter social dynamics. Let’s look at three different dynamics that have been reconfigured as a result of social media.

  1. Invisible Audiences. We are used to being able to assess the people around us when we’re speaking. We adjust what we’re saying to account for the audience. Social media introduces all sorts of invisible audiences. There are lurkers who are present at the moment but whom we cannot see, but there are also visitors who access our content at a later date or in a different environment than where we first produced them. As a result, we are having to present ourselves and communicate without fully understanding the potential or actual audience. The potential invisible audiences can be stifling. Of course, there’s plenty of room to put your head in the sand and pretend like those people don’t really exist.
     
  2. Collapsed Contexts. Connected to this is the collapsing of contexts. In choosing what to say when, we account for both the audience and the context more generally. Some behaviors are appropriate in one context but not another, in front of one audience but not others. Social media brings all of these contexts crashing into one another and it’s often difficult to figure out what’s appropriate, let alone what can be understood.
     
  3. Blurring of Public and Private. Finally, there’s the blurring of public and private. These distinctions are normally structured around audience and context with certain places or conversations being “public” or “private.” These distinctions are much harder to manage when you have to contend with the shifts in how the environment is organized.

All of this means that we’re forced to contend with a society in which things are being truly reconfigured. So what does this mean? As we are already starting to see, this creates all new questions about context and privacy, about our relationship to space and to the people around us.”

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