Tag Archives: social_media

I friend dead people – Are social media mature enough to cope with bereavement?

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Estimated reading time 4–7 minutes

This is a very personal post about topics in which I am not an expert, so I welcome comments and suggestions.

When “like” and “lol” don’t help

In February, a young man I had never met died in sad circumstances. He was a friend of a friend and I was supposed to meet him on the day he died. Completely coincidentally, within a fortnight I myself lost a dear friend, someone I had known for over 20 years.

The closeness in timing has thrown out sharp contrasts in the way that these deaths have reverberated around my social media worlds (obviously the real world impacts have been huge, but I am not going to discuss those here).

In many ways, dealing with the death of my own friend on social media has been easier. Being well known to her family and her circle of closest friends has meant that I have felt able to post messages of condolence and remembrance as I instinctively know what is appropriate, and I know that most of the people reading them will know me. It has been strange to see her name pop up as a “friend available on chat” when I know any activity in her account must be one of her family members logging in to maintain the page. Yesterday was her birthday, and the reminders in my calendar and the little birthday gift “event reminder” were bittersweet, but not unwelcome. I think of her and her family often, and do not want to forget.

Just after she died, I received a message through a social media site from someone I had never met or even heard of, who had been a schoolfriend of hers long ago, asking what had happened to our mutual friend, and I felt comfortable in answering. It helped me to talk about her with this stranger. I even flattered myself that I was doing some good, in that they clearly felt awkward about contacting her family directly while I was able to act as an “information resource” meaning the family and closest friends could focus on their own grieving.

I friend dead people

In contrast, how to cope with the loss of an almost-friend on social media has been strange and unnerving. One social media application has tactlessly and repeatedly suggested him as a friend, noting how many friends we had (have?) in common. Somehow I didn’t have the heart to click on “ignore”. I realise now I should have done just that, because I was anguished when I accidentally clicked on “confirm”. I worried that his friends and relatives might see my “friend request” and be distressed by it. Maybe they would never spot the noitification, maybe they would assume it was sent at a time before his death – just another reminder of what might have been, maybe they would even be comforted by the continuation of these distant social interactions with almost-strangers. (I immediately emailed the site in question asking them to retrieve my suggestion, but received no reply.)

My uncertainty about the appropriate “social media etiquette” was no doubt increased rather than diminished by our social distance. I do not know his family and friends well enough to mention this casually in passing, to express that this had been a mistake and was not intended to distress, or even to know what sort of people they are and whether this is the sort of thing that might upset them. However, it is exactly these sort of loose “one degree of separation” relationships that online social media foster and this incident struck me as illustrating how inadequate such media are when interactions need to go beyond chirruping about the weather, saying a website is cool, or asking whether or not someone wants to go to a party.

Digital memorials

My friend’s social media pages have slipped into being a form of digital memorial, but this also raises new issues. There have been stories in the press of “trolls” deliberately desecrating memorial pages in an online equivalent of upturning flowers left on a grave or kicking over and spraying graffiti on a headstone (e.g. http://gawker.com/5868503/why-people-troll-dead-kids-on-facebook). The only way to deal with this seems to be to remove the page, which is a shame and in a way seems to mean the bullies have won. It also highlights a strange transition from personal to public. Our graveyards are either public spaces that the authorities monitor and maintain or privately curated grounds. I have previously thought of my social media pages as more like a private garden – people may peer over the wall, but it is essentially “my” space to maintain. People are starting to think more and more about their digital legacies (the British Computer Society recently held an event on this theme).

There are already “digital memorial” companies offering guarantees of “permanent” archiving and access to sites (e.g. Much Loved). Other sites offer memorial pages that allow people to make donations to charity, but presumably these are not expected to remain in place forever.

However, these sites are aimed at those who remain setting up the sites, not taking over the sites that belonged to their loved ones. The value of someone’s posts and pages changes dramatically when they become precious memories, and not just ephemeral chatter. If we (or our loved ones) want our own sites to go on after us, do we need to bequeath our passwords to trusted friends or family? How does that affect our contracts with hosts and service providers? What rights do families have to “reclaim” the pages and content if there is no such bequest? How would disputes over inheritance of such sites be decided? What recourse do we have if the site owner decides to shut down and delete the content or simply loses it?

It seems to me that such issues have the potential to cause far more distress than the strangenesses we encounter when automated reminders and friend suggestions behave as if we are all immortal.

Wave goodbye to Twitter and Facebook?

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< 1 minute

Is Google Wave a Twitter Killer? heralds the new kid soon to be on the block. Facebook seem to fall into the “so over” category a while back, and now Twitter has hit the mainstream, clearly it is next to go.

Google Wave: Five Things You Must Know says a bit more about what Wave will do.

The combination of easy transfer of time-invested work – such as carefully written documents – with instant communication should appeal to businesses but will present some records management challenges, I’m sure. I can’t decide whether we need social media coalescence – just give me everything in one place – or clearer fragmentation – Wave for work, Facebook for family, etc. to help with information overload.

UPDATE: Amplified clip on Wave.

Social media taxonomy

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< 1 minute

It seems that everyone’s social networks are getting out of hand and the heart of the web 2.0 world now needs a bit of old fashioned tidying up. From hierarchies of “friends” to classic categorisations by topic, it’s time to start applying good old taxonomical principles to your social media:

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Mashable/~3/0EWPlJVKNSE/

http://www.orsiso.com/aboutus.html.

The Social Life of Information

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Estimated reading time 3–5 minutes

The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid is an info classic. It’s one of those delightful books that manages to be very erudite, cover a huge range of theory, but reads effortlessly and even had me laughing out loud from time to time. (My favourite anecdote was that BT’s answer to homeworkers’ sense of isolation was to pipe a soundtrack of canned background noise and chatter into their offices!)

Essentially, the book argues that information and information technology cannot be separated from its social context and ignoring the human factors in technology adoption and use leads to fundamental misunderstandings of what it can and does do. This may mean overestimating the potential of information technology to change pre-existing institutions and practices, on both a personal and collective scale, and underestimating the ability of people to adapt technology to suit their ends rather than those envisaged by the technologists.

The authors argue that many “infoenthusiasts” miss subtleties of communication, such as the implicit social negotiations that take place in face-to-face conversations or the social meanings conveyed by a document printed on high quality paper or a book with expensive leather binding. Such nuances are easily lost when the words from such communications are removed from their original context and placed in a new environment – such as an electronic database.

Similarly, although personalisation is often touted as a great advance – you can have your own uniquley customised version of a website or a newspaper – such personalisation diminishes the power of the information source to act as a binding-point for a community. If we all have different versions of the newspaper, then we can’t assume we share common knowledge of the same stories. We then have to put additional work into reconnecting and recreating our knowledge communities, so the benefits of personalisation do not come without costs.

The importance of negotiation, collaboration, and improvisation is argued to be highly significant but extremely hard to build into automated systems. The social nature of language and the complexities of learning how to be a member of a community of practice, including knowing when to break or bend rules, are also essential to how human beings operate but extremely difficult to replicate in technological systems.

The theme of balance runs throughout the book – for example between the need to control processes while allowing freedom for innovation in companies or between the need for communication amongst companies and the need to protect intellectual property (knowledge in companies was often either seen as too “sticky” – hard to transfer and use – or too “leaky” – flowing too easily to competitors). At an institutional level, balance is needed between the importance of stability for building trust and openness to evolution (the perception of the value of a degree is bound up with the established reputation of an educational institution).

I found this very interesting, as my brother has been trying to persuade me that Daoism with its emphasis on things moving gradually from one state to another is a more productive way at looking at complex systems than the Aristotelian view that something can be in one category, or its opposite, but never both at once. (Here is a sisterly plug for an article he has written on the application of Daoist ideas to environmentalism). It also fits in with the idea of balancing the stability of an ordered taxonomy with the fast-flowing nature of folksonomies and of finding a way of using social media to support rather than compete with more formalised knowledge management practice. Brown and Duguid say: “For all the advantages of fluidity, we should not forget that fixity still has its charms. Most of us prefer the checks we receive and the contracts we write to remain stable”, which seems particularly apt given the global credit crisis!

Obama and Facebook, Surowiecki and crowds, social media and the Panopticon

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Estimated reading time 2–3 minutes

Following on from my post the other day, it occurred to me that Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon is a bit like social media. We enforce a social norm not through pressure but through constant mutual observation.

This post on the election of Obama and the Facebook effect seems to be a different slant on the same idea: Unit Structures – Regarding the Facebook Effect. Fred Stutzman claims “Social Networks like Facebook reveal our lives to one another in novel and interesting ways. I’m able to friend you and watch your life pass by in a News Feed. Because of the pragmatics of daily life I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with that information otherwise. A side effect of this is that I’m also influenced by you – your decisions about the information you share or the identity you create…Obama was not elected because of a “Facebook Effect.” No, what happened is that the internet helped us pull the veil back on one another.”

Stutzman sees this as a positive “moderating” effect, but it seems rather like the “dark side” of social media discussed by James Surowiecki in The turning point for social media | Video on TED.com. Surowiecki argues that the “wisdom of crowds” only works when the members of the crowd think as independently as possible, but that when you join a network or group, you begin to lose some of that independence. The network influences what seems to be important (“groupthink”) and independent thought can actually suffer as a result. He uses the analogy of ants who get trapped in a “circular mill” where they just follow each other round and round in a circle until they die. This is the “dark side” of social media, which contrasts with the positive power of distributed intelligence.

So, although it is good to share, if we watch each other too assiduously, we risk losing the individuality and independence that made us intelligent in the first place. We may be social creatures, but it does us good to be a little bit anti-social too!

Privacy is Dead. Long Live Privacy?

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Estimated reading time 3–4 minutes

Battle of Ideas: Privacy is Dead. Long Live Privacy? is a long video but well worth watching (it is divided into sections so doesn’t have to be seen in one go). The description says: “For many of us, divulging intimate details of our private lives via social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook has become the norm. But information and communication technologies have also facilitated surveillance and data gathering by government and big businesses. While in some contexts we seem so ready to give up our privacy, in others we seem increasingly anxious to protect it.”

The debate was hosted by the Institute of Ideas and features six excellent speakers who talk about designing technology so that it doesn’t violate privacy, the social and political debates – or lack thereof – around notions of what is public and what is private, and the effects of social media and new technology.

I found this very interesting as bridging a couple of themes that have been on my mind after hearing a talk by Matthew of 6consulting – a social media monitoring and engagement company. Firstly, the blurring of the lines between private and public in online spaces, which was also raised in relation to the national web archiving initiatives by the British Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF -which I wrote about in October) and secondly the idea that social media are taking over from traditional knowledge management. It has all left me wondering if social media will eat itself. It makes me think of science fiction stories about telepathy driving everyone crazy because actually knowing what people are thinking about you all the time is a nightmare!

I am a frequent user of social and real world networks and am also happy to have an online presence that is a public “performed” persona. However, I also like to have spaces where I can try out new and possibly crazy ideas in the company of friends without worrying that every off the wall idea is going to be preserved for ever more. I don’t want the world to see me “in rehearsal”, so does that mean I shouldn’t use social media spaces to experiment with ideas? If so, I can only try out ideas with the people I am geographically close to, which again seems to undermine part of the wonderful global connectivity of the online space. Closed, private networks, where we invite only people we can trust, get round this, but then you lose the power and appeal of the mass open networks.

So, how does this relate to taxonomies? Jeffrey Rosen talks about surveillance cameras being used as a tool for “classification and exclusion” of people – e.g. you are categorised as a shoplifter, so you are banned from the city centre, which links to Bowker and Star’s work on the politics of catgorisation of people in Sorting Things Out. I think that as knowledge workers, we are perhaps more aware than others of the potential uses and abuses of personal data and so we should be contributing to the debate on what information should be collected, classified, archived, and destroyed.

Social Media vs. Knowledge Management

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Estimated reading time 1–2 minutes

I was drawn to Venkat’s post on the Enterprise 2.0 blog via What Ralph Knows. Venkat suggests that Knowledge Management and Social Media are in conflict, with younger people preferring an anarchic, organic approach to building knowledge repositories, while older people prefer highly planned structures, and Generation X (of which I am one) remain neutral. I’m always a bit suspicious of generational divisions, as there are plenty of older innovators and young reactionaries, but I must admit I take a “best of both worlds” approach – so I conform to my generational stereotype!

I think the “battle” mirrors the taxonomy/folksonomy debate and experts I’ve asked about this suggest that the best way is to find a synergy. It all depends on the context, what is being organised, and what is needed. So social media are obviously great for certain things, but I’d hate to trust the company’s financial records to a bunch of accountants who said – “oh we don’t bother sorting and storing our files – if we need to prove your tax payments we’ll just stick a post on a forum and see if anyone still has the figures….”