I just realized that gmail had been filtering my blog comments into my spam folder, so I apologize for those of you who I haven’t responded to yet.
SXSW “featured” my podcast last week (I was like the second person to actually do it) so here it is, for your listening pleasure.
I’m headed to LA tomorrow for the iConference, where I’m participating in the Doctoral Colloquium, presenting a poster on the MySpace moral panic and sitting on an SNS panel with Fred, danah and Cliff, which I’m very happy about.
Otherwise, I plan on enjoying the 70 degree weather in LA and going to the Getty and maybe the La Brea Tar pits and definitely Aardvark’s on Melrose.
In completely different news, I am disgusted with Vista. I really enjoyed it for the first three months I used it, but now I’m seeing the cracks in the facade. The wireless networking is buggy. Explorer crashes not infrequently. There are well-known device driver conflicts that nobody’s figured out how to deal with, and it’s a terrible resource hog.
Worse, I hate Windows Genuine Advantage with a passion. I have no interest in having Microsoft “validate” whatever applications I choose to run. I am very suspicious of this as it smacks of Trustworthy Computing (which I worked on for 9 months or so): e.g. when Microsoft decides uTorrent cannot run simultaneously with WGA and blocks it, then there’s nothing you can do. The problem is that even with my totally 100% legal copy of Vista, I can’t install patches without installing WGA.
For example: there’s this bug where when I put my laptop into hibernate, about 60% of the time it crashes. This is, according to Microsoft, a “known issue” (thanks guys). On the MS support website, they claim a fix. So I go to Windows Update to get the fix. Of course, Windows Update doesn’t work in Firefox (which is exactly the kind of shit which got them under investigation for anti-trust and you would think that they would have stopped pulling it). So I open up Internet Explorer, which immediately tries to set itself as my default browser for everything (no thank you), navigate to Windows Update.. it won’t work without installing WGA. I find an alternative patch, but after it unpacks itself, it crashes. Hibernate bug still in full effect.
SO: what I’m going to do is call Sony, get them to send me a copy of my Vista disk (a) which should have come automatically with the laptop and b) which I can’t use to reinstall Vista b/c Sony packed literally like 40GB of bloatware on this laptop, including full, DRM versions of Spiderman 1 and 2), torrent Vista + SP1 (which has been released but not in an over-the-air update, wtf) + WGA crack, and use Vista to my heart’s content. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: When using legal software is MORE DIFFICULT than using illegal software, you have a problem.
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Oh my god, I just recorded the dorkiest podcast for my “I’m Internet Famous: Status in Social Media” core conversation session at SXSW Interactive (It’s SUNDAY MORNING at 11:30, people! You know you don’t have anything better to do than show up!). I’ve never done my own podcast before, and I think I should have gone FUNNER and SPARKIER. But I wrote a script and read it, using my best “enthusiastic lecturer voice.” I did loop in the backing track of “You Know I’m No Good” by Ms. Amy Winehouse in the intro.
I should have said on the podcast that I would give everyone bagels if they showed up. 11:30 on Sunday at SXSW, everyone is going to be hung over and mourning the day they were born, or at least the night before. But I’ll be up early and bright-eyed sitting expectantly at my table hoping people come give me free data for my dissertation topic.
Anyway, I used Audacity to record the podcast (my VAIO has a built in microphone, which I didn’t know, which probably means I can record directly to YouTube– ugh, the possibilities) and, like most open-source projects, the software is great but the Help files are atrocious. Someday when I am long tenured and have a lot of time on my hands, I will donate my tech writing services to my favorite open-source/free software. It’s a shame that lesser-than geeky types don’t contribute to F/OS projects as much as hardcore geeks, because UI, documentation and other non-coding efforts are just as important.
EBay is finally confronting the “revenge problem” of negative feedback: almost nobody leaves negative feedback for sellers in fear of being retaliated against. I know I’ve bought from sellers who were terribly late or uncommunicative, who deserved at best neutral feedback. Instead, I just didn’t leave any feedback at all. Unsurprisingly, sellers are super pissed and are organizing a mass boycott against this and other new policies (including some shady sounding PayPal holds).
This edges up against two common themes of online communities: ownership and transparency. Who “owns” a community? Is it the company who runs it, and who invests in infrastructure, personnel, server costs, and maintenance, or is it the users, who make the community economically viable? LiveJournal and Digg have both seen very nasty fights over this issue in the last year, with users arguing that they should have a say in community policy-making, bringing us to transparency. Like it or not, online communities are usually supported by commercial structures, which replace democracy or constitutional politics with Terms of Service. These ToS can encompass everything from limiting political discourse to copyright infringement liability, and they are always tipped in favor of the company that writes them.
This is why making claims about the internet as “democratic” space are always problematic.
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I saw an excellent talk by Joseph Reagle today. Joe’s dissertation is on Wikipedia, and he presented a chapter called “Encyclopedic Anxiety,” in which he argues that reference works “often serve as a flashpoint for larger social anxieties.” This was very timely as I am half-way through David Foster Wallace’s essay “Authority and American Usage” from Consider the Lobster, in which Wallace riffs on class and power issues in American lexicography and grammar in general.
To make a very long story very short, Wallace outlines the debate between proponents of descriptive dictionary building (dictionaries should describe how people use the language, including terms considered non-standard or “wrong” like ain’t and irregardless) and prescriptive dictionary building (dictionaries should codify and enforce the rules of standard grammar). Clearly, what’s “right” and “wrong” are social judgments that usually reflect the interests of the class of people building the dictionary. Wallace calls these people SMOOTS; they are the copy editors of the world, often disparaged as “grammar Nazis.”
Reading this essay proved two things to me.
1) I was never formally taught grammar at any of the many educational institutions I attended, and therefore am woefully ignorant AND
2) Contentious debates about participatory culture, Web 2.0, content contribution etc. are just part of a very long struggle over Who Decides the Rules, Who Decides Whether Or Not There Should Be Rules and Who Is Allowed to Bend the Rules.
Joe places Wikipedia at the end of a long debate over reference works ranging from the first edition of Britannica (which encountered controversy for its entry on midwifery, which included illustrations of a fetus and the female pelvis), to the French Enlightenment text the Encyclopedie (which caused no end of trouble including censure, confiscation, imprisonment, and the torture and execution of a young nobleman purportedly under its influence), to Webster’s Third, a version of the unabridged dictionary seen as overly permissive and dismissed as “dogma that far transcends the limits of lexicography” (source: Wikipedia’s page on Webster’s Third). But what fascinates me is this idea of descriptive vs. prescriptive.
Descriptive vs. prescriptive is a debate that extends far beyond reference works. Any time a point of view is taken, there is a normative stance associated with it. For instance, if I write for a magazine for teenage girls that includes long articles explaining plastic surgery and bikini waxing, it is very likely that I will be seen as endorsing those practices, even if the articles themselves are neutral.
In my status project, I am examining what I’m calling status affordances: software mechanisms that enable users to be ranked or placed in some sort of social hierarchy or order. These include features like MySpace’s Top 8, Yelp’s Elite status and LiveJournal’s public Friends list. Reputation mechanisms, like eBay Feedback, Amazon reviewer rankings, and Digg’s “made popular” attribution often function as status affordances as well. Most of these mechanisms aim to be descriptive: They show which reviewer has written the most reviews, or how many friends a person has. But they are also prescriptive, in that they define what a user must do to improve his or her reputation or social status. These mechanisms operationalize whatever they’re measuring, whether it’s “trustworthiness,” “usefulness” or “coolness,”, which in turn creates a metric for that feature that makes it clear what must be done to increase one’s rank.
This means that status affordances both define and prescribe intended behavior. They create a determination of “quality” for a site’s users or contributions and determine what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior. For instance, the rank and order built into Amazon’s review system encourages people to submit thousands of reviews. Shay David and Trevor Pinch (I know I’ve cited this study before, but it’s so interesting) used custom-built software to parse existing reviews and found that hundreds were exact duplicates, modified slightly for different products. This explains how top Amazon reviewers can have more than five thousand reviews, which naturally calls into question their quality. If quantity was not a reputational mechanism, this type of behavior might not happen. Thus, descriptive mechanisms prescribe how to “game” the system.
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