What Steve says

The always-insightful Steve Wright pretty much nails it in this short post on OWS (emphasis mine):

Social media does a fantastic job of creating noise and through noise you get attention. But noise has no narrative. The decentralized approach has served us brilliantly. Again, I am grateful and in awe of those in the OWS movement who have done what I do not have the courage to do myself.I believe we are rapidly approaching the time when old school Port Huron style organizing is necessary. Reading up on the early days of the last civil rights movement, it took them about 10 years to get to the catalytic moment of 1968. I think we are at our 1968 moment today but don’t have the structure underneath us.

Three keys to understanding Occupy Wall Street

I don’t have much original to say about Occupy Wall Street, other than that I find it quite fascinating on many levels.  Here are three articles from cutting-edge progressive social change organizers that I think offer important, non-obvious insights into what is really going on and what it could become.

  1. from liberty plaza, Adrienne Maree Brown
  2. Turning Occupation into Lasting Change, Tom Linzey and Jeff Reifman
  3. Occupy Wall Street is Not a Brand, Marty Kearns

Very different perspectives, but some amazing thematic resonance: opportunity, radically democratic process, networks instead of organizations, diversity (of people and ideas).  Will these seeds blossom or wither and wait for the next season of discontent?

Unplugging from the social networks

After some soul-searching, and a prod from my dear friend and inspiration role model Sam Dorman, I’ve decided to unplug myself from “web 2.0,” “the social nets” or whatever we call the rapidly-expanding tarpit of social networking sites these days.

Long story short: I’m increasingly convinced that the constant stream of tweets, status updates, Facebook wall posts and the like are causing me more cognitive harm than professional or personal benefit.   And I deeply suspect that they’re harming us as a society, too.  (See “Skinner Box?  There’s an App for that!” for more on this.)

I’m not going cold turkey from the internet.  That’s not what this is about.  I’m going to continue reading email, surfing the web, and maybe taking in a few RSS feeds, since that’s a very convenient way to follow the news.  I will continue to blog (and hope to write more in the future since I won’t be as distracted by constant consumption!)  I might even keep my Facebook account after paring it down to people who are actually real-world personal friends.  But I’m ditching Twitter, unsubscribing from most of my “professional” RSS feeds, and am going to basically pull out of the “real-time web.”  Our brains just aren’t meant to work this way, and I can feel it harming my work, my personal life, and my happiness.

“Surely you just need to manage this stuff better, Jon,” you might be thinking.  Well, maybe, but if you know me, you know that I am an extremely disciplined person and am about as far from an “addictive personality” as it gets.  Heck, I didn’t even have an internet connection at home until 2001, and then only because my wife made me!  If I am suddenly finding myself experiencing addictive behaviors with web 2.0 tools, I’m pretty sure it’s because these qualities are deeply wired into the technology, not into my personality.  Also, if you think that “technology is completely neutral, it’s just about how we use it,” then please go stop and go read “In the Absence of the Sacred” before deciding whether you really want to pursue that line of argument.

So, in short, I won’t be seeing you on Twitter or Facebook so much anymore.   But please do drop me a line, give me a call, let’s go get some coffee or a hoist a pint.  Let’s go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride.  Let’s play some music together, or cook some food.

And if you’re feeling a little stressed out by the constant chatter of your online “friends,” then I invite you to join me in easing back out and into the sunlight.  See you in the real world, person-to-person!

Is the Tipping Point Bullshit?

New research suggests the Malcom Gladwell-popularized theory of “Influentials” (or Gatekeepers) doesn’t hold water. Really interesting article in FastCompany about research Duncan Watts:

Watts, for one, didn’t think the gatekeeper model was true. It certainly didn’t match what he’d found studying networks. So he decided to test it in the real world by remounting the Milgram experiment on a massive scale. In 2001, Watts used a Web site to recruit about 61,000 people, then asked them to ferry messages to 18 targets worldwide. Sure enough, he found that Milgram was right: The average length of the chain was roughly six links. But when he examined these pathways, he found that “hubs”–highly connected people–weren’t crucial. Sure, they existed. But only 5% of the email messages passed through one of these superconnectors. The rest of the messages moved through society in much more democratic paths, zipping from one weakly connected individual to another, until they arrived at the target.

Why did Milgram get it wrong? Watts thinks it’s simply because his sample was so small–only a few dozen letters reached their mark. The dominance of the three friends could have been a statistical accident. “And since Milgram’s finding sort of made sense, nobody even bothered to redo the experiment,” Watts shrugs. But when you perform the experiment with hundreds of successfully completed letters, a different picture emerges: Influentials don’t govern person-to-person communication. We all do.

There’s a really interesting bit about how they experimented with ForwardTrack, which makes viral forwarding activity transparent to the users. It massively increased pass-along traffic. I really want to start working this into more online activism work.

Video From Our Recent Social Networks Event

Those of you who missed our recent event “Online Social Networks: Can They Power Social Change” missed a good time and a packed house with a ton of energy and enthusiasm.

Fortunately, we got a decent video of our eight 5-minute presentations, which you can watch online at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh3hlU97_wo

Warning: the video’s just under an hour, so grab a chair and get comfy. 🙂

Thanks to friend-of-ONE/Northwest Jeff Reifman for loaning us his video camera on short notice, and to Drew Bernard for jumping in as lead cinematographer.  Not quite as challenging a shoot as “Heart of Darkness” but not the easiest environment either.

How Network-Centric Warfare Failed: The Networks are Social, Not Electronic

Michael Gilbert picks up on an important piece:
How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social — Not Electronic

A couple of key ‘grafs:

The network-centric approach had worked pretty much as advertised. Even the theory’s many critics admit net-centric combat helped make an already imposing American military even more effective at locating and killing its foes. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar were broken almost instantly. But network-centric warfare, with its emphasis on fewer, faster-moving troops, turned out to be just about the last thing the US military needed when it came time to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. A small, wired force leaves generals with too few nodes on the military network to secure the peace. There aren’t enough troops to go out and find informants, build barricades, rebuild a sewage treatment plant, and patrol a marketplace.

Continue reading How Network-Centric Warfare Failed: The Networks are Social, Not Electronic

Cory Thinks Facebook Is Doomed

Science fiction writer and commentator Cory Doctorow thinks Facebook is just as doomed as its predecessors:

Keeping track of our social relationships is a serious piece of work that runs a heavy cognitive load. It’s natural to seek out some neural prosthesis for assistance in this chore. My fiancee once proposed a “social scheduling” application that would watch your phone and email and IM to figure out who your pals were and give you a little alert if too much time passed without your reaching out to say hello and keep the coals of your relationship aglow. By the time you’ve reached your forties, chances are you’re out-of-touch with more friends than you’re in-touch with: Old summer-camp chums, high-school mates, ex-spouses and their families, former co-workers, college roomies, dot-com veterans… Getting all those people back into your life is a full-time job and then some.

You’d think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It’s not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this instant, please.

It’s not just Facebook and it’s not just me. Every “social networking service” has had this problem and every user I’ve spoken to has been frustrated by it. I think that’s why these services are so volatile: why we’re so willing to flee from Friendster and into MySpace’s loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).

Photos on Facebook: some intellectual property concerns

Beth’s note about a tool for posting photos from Flickr to Facebook, and that tool’s lack of support for Creative Commons licensing got me thinking (and researching) Facebook’s terms of service. The news is not good.

Facebook’s Terms of Use state:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

According to LegalAndrew.com:

In plain English, this means you’re giving up copyright control of your material. If you upload a photo to Facebook, they can sell copies of it without paying you a cent. If you write lengthy notes (or import your blog posts!), Facebook can turn them into a book, sell a million copies, and pay you nothing.

This is incredibly disrespectful of my intellectual property rights. My photos are my photos. They’re not Facebook’s photos. I shouldn’t have to give up all my rights just to share photos with my friends on Facebook. That’s ridiculous.

For the curious: Flickr’s terms of service are much more respectful:

With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Service other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Service and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Service.

Bottom line?

I’m not going to be posting my photos to Facebook, and I would encourage others who care about intellectual property issues to do the same.

Also, I would be very careful about using a “Flickr to Facebook” tool to repost others’ photos to Facebook.

If I find a Creative Commons licensed photo on Flickr, I would clearly not have the right to repost it to a service whose TOS required granting it complete control over the the photo. If I understand correctly, the only photos from others which I might be able to safely post from Flickr to Facebook are those which are marked as being in the public domain.

Sigh. Such are the problems with walled gardens, I suppose.

Online Social Networks: Can They Power Social Change?

Right this very minute, ONE/Northwest is hosting a “brain trust” event where 60+ people are gathered to talk about online social networks and their potential for powering social change.

Here’s a liveblog of my notes:

Gideon Rosenblatt, ONE/Northwest (http://www.onenw.org) Executive Director

We are a capacity builder that helps environmental groups engage people in environmental protection.

Thanks to Aron Thompson, ONE/Northwest board member, for sponsoring.

Topic for tonight: online social networks, and how they can be used for promoting social change.

Continue reading Online Social Networks: Can They Power Social Change?

Facebook Groups would be more useful if…

… it were possible to include the contents of an RSS feed in the group.

This would make it possible to stream content from a group’s website to their Facebook group space, no extra software needed.

For example, I would really like to be able to embed the RSS feed from http://www.onenw.org/news-events in ONE/Northwest’s Facebook group page.  But I can’t.

How lame.  This would be such a quick and easy win