Privacy and Social Networks

ATM Privacy Area, by Cackhanded. CC via FlickrMark Ury has a great post on Privacy at his blog The Restless Mind. As I said in my comment on his Blog, I’d like to make an observation about why managing privacy (and other rules of social etiquette) is even harder than it seems.

Real social networks have actual humans as the end points in the graph. Complicated, technology independent humans. I have dozens, perhaps even hundreds of social networks I participate in, and each one has its own complex rules of etiquette and privacy, even when the membership of the network is mostly or even completely the same. In fact, it’s those rules that really define the network itself: the people I trust with my kids, the people I gossip with at work, or the group of cousins in my family that happen to be around the same age. Each of these is defined as much or more by what we do together (the “social grooming” as Robin Dunbar calls it), as by the membership, which may be mostly or even entirely the same. One reason for why these rules especially difficult to express in software is that these networks (especially the ones most established in my life) are typically multi-modal by nature. Take the network of “the people who love and care for my kids”, as an example: some are in FB, some are email-only, and some (like my Gramma) offline entirely. We humans are very typically very good at picking up on and managing these social “rules”, but often have difficulty migrating those rules to a new or unfamiliar modality of communication. As the number ways in which we can communicate with each other increases (more rapidly all the time, it seems), the harder it becomes to manage the complex social rules that govern human interactions.

Kinzin’s approach to this problem is to build what we call “Virtual Private Social Networks”. You decide on the rules and membership of the network, independent of the communications technology. This is obviously easier with smaller networks, and where the level of trust and familiarity is high, so that’s where we’ve focused ourselves. These Are My Kids lets a network of close friends and family share information about the family’s kids. The rules for privacy are set by the parents, and the invited members of the network can use (nearly) any medium they like to access the network: Facebook, email, postal mail, etc. This way, busy parents can spend their time thinking about what it is they want to say, and not worrying about how or where to say it.

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Michael on TV


Pretty lame to post this a couple of weeks late, but I’ve been busy, then I was on vacation, then I was busy again, then I forgot… you know the drill. Anyways, I was interviewed on CBC television for a story on internet privacy. Here’s a link (thanks, Frank): http://gallery.mac.com/flee1#100129.

lab logoSticking with TV Fame, Episode 140 of The Lab With Leo Laporte on G4 Tech TV in Canada includes me doing a segment with Leo, talking about designing and building applications in the era of social networking. That interview will be made available on The Lab website after it airs on television.

Teens and the Internet

The Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study of Teens and Social Media in late December, using data captured mostly in 2006 (so the stats on Facebook usage in particular are probably low). Great subtitle: “The use of social media gains a greater foothold in teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media.”

Some quick hits:

  • 64% of online teens ages 12-17 have participated in content-creating activities on the internet, up from 57% of online teens in a similar survey at the end of 2004
  • 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.

  • Girls are more likely to Blog across all age groups. 35% of online girls blog, and even younger girls (32%) blog more than older boys (18%). Boys are more likely to use YouTube, and twice as likely as girls (19% vs 10%) to be posters of video content.
  • 55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace; 47% of online teens have uploaded photos where others can see them (remember this data is from 2006).
  • Most teens restrict access to their posted photos and videos (77% say most or sometimes)– at least some of the time. Adults, somewhat surprisingly, restrict access to the same content less often (58%). Maybe they don’t know where to find the privacy settings.
  • Posted photos or videos are the launchpad for conversation. Nearly nine in ten teens who post photos online (89%) say that people comment at least sometimes on the photos they post.
  • Phones are still prominent in teen social life. What Pew calls “Multi-channel teens” layer each new communications opportunity on top of pre-existing channels. These multi-channel teens are slightly more likely to use landlines “every day” than the broader group(39%/46%), and twice as likely to use cellphones(35%/70%), IM (28%/54%), SMS (27%/60%), and send messages over social networking sites(21%/47%). The use of email is interesting: 14% vs. 22% – both very low compared to the other forms of communication.

The whole study is worth a read. It’s short, but interesting.

How to organize yourselves

This last weekend (August 23rd), I was speaking to Alumni of the McCrae Institute of International Management about the social shifts taking place today as a result of the Internet. “Groups of people can organize quickly and efficiently and make their voices heard,” I said. “The locus of control is shifting from corporations to people, with powerful implications for politics, marketing, product development.” In response, I got the obvious question: “how?” Recognizing that I took the answer to that question for granted a little, here is a short treatise on the ways groups of people (such as the McCrae Alumni) can make finding each other and getting together a little bit easier. In the end, you’ll need to have a motivated, passionate, and involved group of people to get anything done, of course. That problem hasn’t been solved with technology, at least not yet ;-).

  • Get involved in the Blogosphere. Create your own blog (typepad is good, so is wordpress. I use blogger). Find others who share your interest who blog, and comment on their blogs. Link to their blogs from your blog. Blog about their blogs. Strike up conversations. Talking, linking, and generally letting people know what you’re about and that you want to connect is how it all begins.
  • Get set up on LinkedIn. Make sure you fill out the “additional information” section at the bottom of your profile with relevant details of your interests and affiliations, and make sure your “contact settings” encourage people to contact you. Actively search for contacts, and invite people you know.
  • Find your friends on Facebook. I’m a little more wary of Facebook’s privacy policy and terms of service, but if you’re careful about not revealing non-essential information you should be fine. When you’re filling in your profile information, don’t forget to put information in the other tabs (to the right of the “basic” tab) that will make it easier for people to search for you.
  • Create or join a private or public discussion group. You can use Yahoo! Groups, Google groups, or Ning. Try to use them more than point-to-point communications like email and IM. These days, I like Pownce. …and I hear Jumpnote is going to totally kick butt when it comes out of alpha.
  • Most importantly, follow your passion: find out where people are already gathering and add your voice.

Hey Blogosphere: any other keen suggestions for a motivated and savvy, but loosely knit, group of people who are hoping to get more organized?

My first online social networking application (1982)

It was 1982, and I was calling into a music video show called “Soundproof” (1979-1983… big love out Buzz E. Miller and Dave Toddington!) on the North Shore Community Cable Channel. Ring. Ring. Ring. I was hoping to request Shrink’s “Paranoid” (anybody?), and I was waiting for the phone to pick up. They didn’t even have IVR to pick up and put you on hold, so we’d call and let it ring while we watched videos. One day, I was sitting on the couch at 1 AM, with the phone to my ear and I realized I could hear voices in between the rings. “Hello?” I said. To my surprise, somebody responded.
Dozens of us would call the request line and chat in between the rings. Can you imagine? “Oh yeah, I’m (ring) totally into Wall of (ring) Voodoo. ‘Callbox’ is the (ring) best song ever!”
Check out the article on page 8 of this old UBC student paper.
Warning: Some bad language in this video!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KNUnLaRekg

A new name for the Marketing department


Like many companies, Uniserve has a Marketing department. Today, I proposed to my colleagues we change the name of the Marketing Communications function (MarCom), to Marketing Participation (MarPa). Marketing is a conversation, and I think we need to be explicit: we are participating together with our customers in a conversation. What do you think of this?

This reminds me of a post that Ross Mayfield made a few months ago. Let’s see if I can find it (rummaging through bookmarks). Oh yes, here it is: Power Law of Participation.

“As we engage with the web, we leave behind breadcrumbs of attention. Even when we Read, our patterns are picked up in referral logs (especially with expressly designed tools, like Measure Map), creating a feedback loop. But reading alone isn’t enough to fulfill our innate desire to remix our media, consumption is active for consumers turned users.”

Consumption is active. We are what we eat. Culture is an activity.