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November 9, 2011

“Social” isn’t
Posted by Patrick at 08:06 PM * 98 comments

It’s hard to read a post like this how-to for deploying Google Plus badges without wincing, once you’ve read Maciej Ceglowski’s brilliant demolition of “social networking” theory, “The Social Graph is Neither.” Just saying. From Ceglowski’s piece:

There’s no way to take a time-out from our social life and describe it to a computer without social consequences. At the very least, the fact that I have an exquisitely maintained and categorized contact list telegraphs the fact that I’m the kind of schlub who would spend hours gardening a contact list, instead of going out and being an awesome guy. The social graph wants to turn us back into third graders, laboriously spelling out just who is our fifth-best-friend. But there’s a reason we stopped doing that kind of thing in third grade!

You might almost think that the whole scheme had been cooked up by a bunch of hyperintelligent but hopelessly socially naive people, and you would not be wrong. Asking computer nerds to design social software is a little bit like hiring a Mormon bartender. Our industry abounds in people for whom social interaction has always been more of a puzzle to be reverse-engineered than a good time to be had, and the result is these vaguely Martian protocols. […]

We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage—we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action. Even if you have faith in their good intentions, you feel misgivings about stepping into the elaborate shrine they’ve built to document your entire online life.

Open data advocates tell us the answer is to reclaim this obsessive dossier for ourselves, so we can decide where to store it. But this misses the point of how stifling it is to have such a permanent record in the first place. Who does that kind of thing and calls it social?

I suspect that years from now we’ll look back in wonder on that period when people talked about “social” as if it were something that can be sprayed onto a site like an aerosol, or bolted onto its side as an afterthought. And when people truly believed that if they boned up on all the latest-and-greatest ways to perform the incantations of liking, +1-ing, branding and circling, they’d be blessed and enriched by multi-zillion-dollar corporations. The way we look back four hundred years and say “Tulips? What was that about?”

This is also pertinent.

Comments on "Social" isn't:
#1 ::: MichaelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 08:39 PM:

Maybe a propensity to use social media is the new meaning of "socialist" and explains why so many people call Obama a socialist. Nahhhhh....

#2 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 08:43 PM:

Maciej Ceglowski's other blog, Idle words, is well worth reading as well. He's a master of the long form blog post.

(I'd link, but its a total pain doing it on the iPad. Google works though)

#3 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 08:53 PM:

I got it from Agnes, Agnes got it from Jim,
We all agree that it was Marie who first gave it to him...

#4 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 09:18 PM:

I just hope that one day we will look back in amusement on the days when it was believed that "getting out in the fresh air" was somehow morally superior to, as well as more "mature" than, cultivating a wide and rich variety of friendships via one's computer. I know that isn't what this article is actually saying, but it's fairly clearly the subtext of the piece(s) quoted, if not of the entire article; being a nerd is unhealthy and we should all go to a football game and down a few beers or something.

The problem with social networking is not with the users, but with those who try to manipulate the phenomenon for their profit, and end up dictating the shape of something whose purpose they have misunderstood. If anyone has forgotten how to be human, maybe it's they. Unfortunately, since any user-generated network which succeeds is ultimately engulfed and becomes another product, I don't see a way round this.

#5 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 09:43 PM:

Zander @4 -- I happen to read the linked post as saying just about exactly what your second paragraph says, and not at all the first. And I think that's part of Patrick's point as well, made more strongly at other times.

#6 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 10:01 PM:

I could never quite put my finger on why I wasn't into social networking--this here is pretty much it.

#7 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 10:46 PM:

I thought you liked Google Plus (at least better than Facebook). Do you still?

#8 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 11:00 PM:

Overall this demolition of “social networking” theory is brilliant like a punch in the face. The concept was not cooked up by "hopelessly socially naive people". Sure they were geeks, but they (we) were and are highly social geeks. As soon as any advance in communications technology happened it was quickly appropriated for discussing science fiction. Social networking reeks of the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #3 (Friendship Before All), #4 (Friendship Is Transitive), and #5 (Friends Do Everything Together). but that's a long way from sociopathy.

#9 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 11:10 PM:

Jenny @ 6 - I know at least part of the reason I gave up on FaceBook was simply that 99% of the time, I didn't use it. So why maintain an account?

Twitter I'll keep, because my Twitter account I occasionally use (very occasionally, mostly for participating in online activist stuff, and even there it gets repetitive after about the first five minutes). LiveJournal I keep up an account with (free account - I stopped giving them money and eyeball time when it became clear any group of sanctimonious nitwits who threatened an advertising boycott had more clout than actual users did), mostly for purposes of being able to comment on other people's accounts, and being able to use it as an OpenID site. Dreamwidth I give money to, as well as new content, because their stuff is good and I actually use it. InsaneJournal gets crossposted content, and I'll use it to keep track of a few friends who aren't on DW.

Most of the time, I'm more interested in what people are actually saying, or what I'm actually reading than who they're friends with. I don't see many ads online, because Firefox with Adblock Plus and NoScript applied makes fairly certain that the advertising networks can't actually post anything that'll reach my computer. If I'm enabling Javascript I'll be enabling it domain by domain, and leaving out the known advertising domains. If I can't see anything on the site without enabling the advertising, then I conclude there's nothing of interest available.

I've yet to be proved wrong in this.

#10 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 11:13 PM:

I think I agree with the point, but not the headline banner "Social isn't." The G+ badge system (and all the web-page flaggery that came before it) *is* social. Not social like having a conversation, but social like putting on a lapel button or a t-shirt. This is part of maciej's point: these electronic button-pushing rituals, straitened and flattened as they are, *are* social actions, because they have public effect. And sometimes we want to play that game.

This can then go off two different deep ends. Primus, someone tries to generalize the game to a domain where it doesn't fit. (Because, I am geek; give me a hammer, and I will overgeneralize and overabstract it into a grand theory of hammeration.) And secundus, the game expands in my life until it's out of balance, because I play what's put before me.

(Tertius is the backlash of righteous rejection and wrath, which I don't accuse this thread or that post of, but it is a component of these discussions. I see it in my own eye. There are plenty of scumbags to point at; and any player big enough to point at is itself a complex entity containing the full spectrum from silicon-tower geek to long-clawed marketer.)

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 11:39 PM:

Erik, #7: Google+ started out looking much better than Facebook. Then they shot themselves in the foot over the issue of "real names only", an error from which they have not yet recovered, nor AFAIK even started to back down. (Facebook also supposedly has a "real names only" policy, but there's no pretense of enforcement -- hell, I've got Miles Vorkosigan on my friendslist over there! G+, however, has been summarily deleting people's accounts over it.) Until this changes, my account there is only a placeholder.

My current view of social networks in general is that they are like cats. You can't control them, but you can make them respect some limits. I don't give them a lot of information about myself, and I refuse to use "features" that seem to have a poor return-for-cost ratio (which means, for the most part, exactly the data-mining applications). If they don't like it... what are they going to do, kick me off?

#12 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 11:40 PM:

Further thoughts on why I didn't use Facebook -

At the time I first gave in and got a Facebook account, I'd shifted back to Western Australia from the ACT, and I was in the process of shifting from LiveJournal to InsaneJournal as my primary blogging site (it was sometime after the whole "strikethrough" mess). I initially got involved with Facebook as a way of staying in touch with friends who weren't on either of those journalling sites - but I soon discovered that firstly, the people who were on Facebook from my previous employers weren't really the people I was interested in maintaining contact with (by and large it was the revhead guys with whom I had approximately zero in common), and secondly, even if I had been interested in remaining in contact with them, there wasn't much I could do in order to maintain the contact.

I'm a multi-line comment person. I expound at length. I am NEVER going to be at my best when faced with a tiny little 300-character field to limit myself to (which is part of why I'm so rarely on Twitter). I'm also well aware I'm the kind of person who could bore for Australia should I be allowed to get going (which is part of why I prefer online journalling sites like Dreamwidth - I can at least put most of my rambling below a cut marker so I'm not boring the fscking pants off all and sundry). Facebook, quite frankly, encouraged the side of me which could bore for Australia at world champion levels (do you really want to hear about what I'm doing every day? Trust me when I say I don't think you do... my life is dull). So, rather than becoming That Poster (the one who keeps posting the multiple daily updates of underwhelming dullness about everything they're not doing at present) I'd generally stay away.

Okay, some of the games were fun, in a small way. But not that much fun. Even from the start, I was well aware that those little Facebook games were primarily a way of extracting money from me. At the time, I was largely playing Dark Age of Camelot as an MMO. I figured I was doing all the pay-for-play gaming I was going to do, and I didn't see the point in paying a premium (this was back before the $A was trading on near parity with the $US) just to be able to spend a bit more time playing pointless point-and-click (or filling in a gazillion surveys to obtain the same end).

Basically, at least part of the reason I drifted away from Facebook, and eventually wound up closing down my Facebook account, was Facebook didn't offer me anything I was interested in that I couldn't get in a more interesting format elsewhere.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2011, 11:48 PM:

Twitter and Flickr are the only "presences" I have on the web.

What I resent most about Facebook: More and more web sites are using it to authenticate comments or participation. I really, really resent that.

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 02:50 AM:

TomB @8

That's a good point, but it ignores the corporate takeover. Which corporation controls and sells NNTP?

And not just corporations. The cops and the politicos have been trying for years, and maybe they are succeeding at last.

And I am seeing, too often, American news media telling their lies, and expecting those prompted to comment to have Facebook accounts. "You may think this is wrong, but we know who you are," say the faceless ones.

I'm not sure that the mechanistic social structures of such as Facebook are any good in themselves. It's not the pattern of behaviour of an healthy adult (say the American psychologists who have only studied Americans), but they have been subverted, and that subversion, for whatever the motive, has become unexceptional.

Here in Europe, the political haggling is going on over a new EU Directive on Data Protection. One of the cards on the table is that companies trading with EU residents over the Internet will be subject to the laws that are passed to implement the Directive. It'll take four or five years to work through all the processes to a national law, and will that particular element even make it into the Directive?

There's a multi-retailer loyalty card in the UK called "Nectar", which lets you earn points by making web searches through their toolbar. Easy money? How much do you want people to know what you search the web for? $_SEARCH_ENGINE has to know, and Google for one are hurting their own reputation with some of their other choices, but how many people do you want to let at the raw data, instead of a statistical aggregation?

There are things the moderators here can see. I trust them with that data. It's something personal, a real social network that we are all part of.

Can I trust a faceless tech at Google in the same way? No name, no face, and seeing me as one of a billion labels in a database?

#15 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 03:09 AM:

Stefan@13: there's a UK company who has lost my business because they now require Farcebook authentication. I've emailed their customer services, but as they obviously now regard Farcebook advertisers as their customer rather than hoi polloi who might wish to buy their goods, I don't think it'll make the slightest difference.

#16 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 03:46 AM:

Maciej's piece is brilliant, if a little disingenuous:

The funny thing is, no one's really hiding the secret of how to make awesome online communities. Give people something cool to do and a way to talk to each other, moderate a little bit, and your job is done

Hugely understates the level of tummling that is needed to make a community cohere. I do think that twitter has stumbled on a way for this to work at scale with much less moderation needed.
I posted my own response Our brains make the social graph real

#17 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 03:49 AM:

Adding to the clumsy creepiness, the google page you linked includes an ad for the hotel I am currently staying in. I wonder why the hotel would pay for that?

#18 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 09:34 AM:

I noticed that the article didn't talk about Twitter at all (except in a very quick aside).

While Twitter has had its problems, and some of the not-so-useful changes it's made recently do seem to be driven by the need to make money and compete with Facebook, overall it seems to me to work much better for real people than the major "social" networks like Facebook and Google+ (neither of which I've signed up for), at least for folks who are comfortable with the short-message medium.

Compared to the other big networks, Twitter isn't nosy (it doesn't demand any personal information from you other than an email address for maintaining the account); it makes it reasonably clear that everything you do there is public, instead of "kind-of-private-looking-but-not-really"; its let users shape how the service gets used (the RT and hashtag conventions were user-driven, for instance); and it gives them a fairly broad latitude to decide what they want to pay attention to and how.

It's not perfect. I don't like the sponsored tweets it's started to insert into the stream, or the way it's been clamping down on third-party clients, or its recent replacement of a nice concise "what the people I follow have been retweeting" stream with a much noisier Facebook-like "activity" stream. But it still seems to be letting real conversation, rather than marketing, be the primary drivers of the system. I hope they don't lose that as they try to get more profitable.

#19 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 10:30 AM:

TomB @ 8 ...
Overall this demolition of “social networking” theory is brilliant like a punch in the face. The concept was not cooked up by "hopelessly socially naive people". Sure they were geeks, but they (we) were and are highly social geeks. As soon as any advance in communications technology happened it was quickly appropriated for discussing science fiction. Social networking reeks of the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #3 (Friendship Before All), #4 (Friendship Is Transitive), and #5 (Friends Do Everything Together). but that's a long way from sociopathy.

I think you're missing the point :)

Alan Perlis infamously said that "A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God." -- in other words, trying to reproduce exceedingly complex, dynamic, interactive systems is, at best, exceedingly challenging.

Thinking that it's possible to reduce the richness of social interaction to a few million lines of code, and a codified structure is, really, at best hopelessly socially naive, and quite characteristic of groups of people that prefer (and frequently expect) to have well understood guidelines for social interactions (the Geek Social Fallacies that you mention are a perfectly good example of this).

There's also a fair difference between "socially naive" and "not social" :)

#20 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 10:30 AM:

I keep saying, “It’s earlier than you think.
One of the most important sentences is near the end: Right now the social networking sites occupy a similar position to CompuServe, Prodigy, or AOL in the mid 90's. A couple of weeks ago, MySpace sold for 5% of it's price six years ago . . .
We are in a very early stage of beginning to use this stuff. Within a couple of years, our wearable phones will tally it all for us, and we won't need the current clumsy, tedious, manual interfaces. We can track our webs of social connections directly. (That's less than the tip of the iceberg of what we'll be doing with all this info stuff, of course, but it's the point under discussion.)

Try my benchmark thought experiment. Imagine an 18-year old high school senior, and zir relationships with electronic info tech. Now subtract four years, to an eighth grader, and maybe eight more, to a fourth grader. On the one hand, when they get to senior high school, clearly they will be in different electronic worlds from the current one. Likewise, the current senior's world was very different from the current one four and eight years ago.
Now add four years, for a college senior, and four more for a 25-year old. Their electro-data worlds at the same ages are again very different.

So when some survey comes out about how the futures of our successors are being warped because things will always be the way they were a couple of days ago, roll your eyes or horse laugh, but please don't waste any more time or thought than that.

#21 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 10:37 AM:

Lee @ 11, they've said they'll have an official pseudonym policy in place soon, but I've seen no evidence of that. What I have seen, though, is zero stories about peoples accounts being shut down for having names that weren't real enough since that announcement was made. I suspect if you claimed your name was something egregiously offensive you might still get yanked, but I was hearing complaints from people near daily up until that point, and not one since. Effectively, they seem to be enforcing FB-style, now, which I think most people find acceptable.

I also think G+ is handling the introduction of Pages for commercial entities in the right way, with a lot of caution and safeguards in place for how those entities can interact with consumers. Apparently it's not the easiest thing to administrate, at this point, but I have confidence they'll get that working better, as well.

I think any comparison that compares using social networking services to not using social networking services is, frankly, missing the point. It's much like comparing using cell phones to not using them. It's an irrelevant and inconceivable idea to most people. And so I look at what my options are, and I see that G+ unambiguously lets me own my own content and photos, I see that it is responding to feedback about privacy concerns as well as functional issues in a way that no other service working in this space seems to do...and so, for now at least, that's where you'll find me.

#22 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 11:03 AM:

Patrick said

people talked about “social” as if it were something that can be sprayed onto a site like an aerosol,

We've seen this before. "Interactive" gets sprayed all over nearly everything that's intended to be seen, heard, or read by a human being. It's just another bit of marketing-speak, translated into English as "awesome", or "rather interesting" depending on your dialect and level of excitement, and translated into symbolic logic as "{}" (the null set of meanings).

"Social networking" is neither a cultural phenomenon nor a technological discipline. It's a business model. The effects it has on culture and technological development are second order at best, not intended by the implementors, and not of much interest to them except as they affect the business. And that's why "social networking" isn't really social: it isn't intended to be in the first place.

I suspect that the fact that social networking is at best a skeleton version of social interaction is a good thing from the point of view of the businesses that run it. More complexity would cost more (and more useful social effect would cost far more in research and careful design), and might not be as effective at capturing users. This is similar IMO to the cognitive analysis of the Angry Birds game that concludes the game is just simple enough to lead gamers in, and just complex enough to be engaging to the them over a long period.

#23 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 12:12 PM:

xeger @19: Thinking that it's possible to reduce the richness of social interaction to a few million lines of code...

But are the developers of social network systems really thinking that? The challenge with social networking is to make something useful and simple enough people will actually use it. Contact lists are there because people need them. I used to maintain an address book. Remember those? A paper book and you have to write in it and update entries whenever someone moves? I have more contacts now and I spend a lot less time maintaining them because they are in various social networks where I can just contact them. And yet even that isn't simple enough for the vast majority of users. I get where Ceglowski is coming from. Contact lists are not a good model for everything. The next big thing is social networks will just analyze how people interact online and figure out their contacts and circles for them. I don't like it but it seems inevitable.

Dave Bell @14: Of course. Corporations and cops and politicos are their own social networks, just not online, and just not run for the likes of you and me. It's a real concern.

I believe Ceglowski on his own experiences of certain developers with grandiose and maybe naive ideas. But the idea that socially naive geeks are getting rich by manipulating the behavior of hundreds of millions of people just doesn't add up. Anyone who successfully builds a multi-billion dollar corporation and stays at the top of it is not socially naive.

#24 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 01:28 PM:

I'd like to point to Maciej's more positive take on a very different social network (though he doesn't describe it in exactly those words) that has been built out of an assortment of otherwise-unrelated tools and websites (now including Maciej's

#25 ::: Ken ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 01:51 PM:

I remember seeing The Social Network in the theater, and during the first restaurant date scene whispering to one of my friends, "I'm counting diagnostics." The seal was the line "Wait, you're angry. I'm sorry." - delivered brilliantly to suggest that this canned response had been learned intellectually, without the emotional understanding of why it was necessary.

After the movie it occurred to me that many social networking systems are designed by, and for, people who think all relationships fit into one of the ten categories available through a pull-down menu.

#26 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 04:55 PM:

Jeremy #24 the loosely coupled blogging style model described there is what works well, and what the social standards he is mocking are building on. Better to have distributed standards than a single site defining it for us all.

#27 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 05:11 PM:

A possible solution to the problems with current social network monoliths lies in Diaspora. It is a open source distributed social network where you literally control your own data.

Each user has their own "pod" that links to others in the network. From what I understand, the users can control what data is revealed to others in Diaspora(I don't know the level of granularity but I bet it would be pretty fine).

Their website is here and they have a Wikipedia entry as well.

#28 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 07:37 PM:

A belated reply to Lee@11:

Facebooks' executives, particularly Mark and Randi Zuckerberg, have spoken a lot in public about how "real names" defines the character they want for Facebook. And it's not entirely hot air. Facebook has and will enforce the "real names" policy at least when violations are directly brought to their attention --- being "fake" is one of the things that you can report a user for, and they do get suspended for it.. One prominent case is the Chinese dissident who was going on Facebook by his long-time pen name "Michael Anti", and lost his account because of it.

So, the policy in effect is that Facebook won't go on a G+-style witch hunt for pseudonymous accounts, but they will shut them down if they come to public attention or generate complaints. Which is to say that the policy in practice doesn't prevent pseudonymous use, so much as hide it. And it's effective enough that Facebook themselves may have no good way of knowing how much pseudonymous usage there is. (Of course, anyone who can't find pseudonymous usage of Facebook hasn't looked very hard. Maybe Zuck hasn't --- or maybe his private view of the matter is less black-and-white than his public statements.)

Meanwhile, as regards Google+ pseudonyms, they may have backed off on enforcement, but I had a brief chat last weekend with someone who got bounced months ago for using a nickname that was mysteriously not to their taste, and he hasn't yet been reinstated. (The nickname in question is used by just about everyone, including coworkers and family, so it should have been good by Google's stated criteria, but the criteria they've been applying in practice have been more capricious and more strict.)

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 08:28 PM:

I don't trust any of the social networking sites. What's called the "social graph" is more accurately described as a permanent and unbreakable system for identifying an individual via their interests, social ties, personal history, and other contextual information that doesn't change when you get a new account and username.

Even if you're closemouthed about your personal data, your mother and your sister and your best friend from high school aren't, and they link to you, so you're nailed. In fact, you're nailed even if you don't have an account, if enough other people mention you.

(Short cartoon version: your stepmother breeds and shows dachshunds; your brother's an evangelical fundamentalist who won't shut up about it, ever; all the friends you made during your college years went to Antioch; your wife's family is third-generation Navy; your kid has a distinctive problem with dairy products; and first thing every morning, you check your complete set of bookmarked sites about the Swedish folk music revival. Once someone collects that constellation off (say) Facebook, there's a limit to how anonymous you can ever be again, because there's nothing in that list you're going to jettison.)

I see the "tell us who your friends are" business model as a significant threat because I believe that somewhere out there, illegally acquiring and crossbreeding databases of private information about individuals is becoming an industrial process. Social-graph-derived contextual identification would make it much easier to string together different records and tie them to a specific individual. It makes the intrusion far more intrusive.

I fear this situation will become irreparable before it becomes a felt problem.

Stefan Jones @13:

Twitter and Flickr are the only "presences" I have on the web.

What I resent most about Facebook: More and more web sites are using it to authenticate comments or participation. I really, really resent that.

So do I -- and one of the sites I've noticed doing it should really, really know better.

If the government had announced a program to tie a single identifier to every person, and make participation on the internet contingent on using that identifier, they'd have fought like crazy to defeat it. They'd have written texts about how to circumvent it. They'd have argued, over and over again, that the government isn't sufficiently infallible to have that kind of power.

What happened instead was that the identifier got tied to Facebook, Twitter, and Google -- whereupon they embraced and required it, even though they know that Facebook is the Web 2.0 equivalent of the Florida political establishment.


Dave Bell @14:

There are things the moderators here can see. I trust them with that data. It's something personal, a real social network that we are all part of.
Abi did heroic behind-the-scenes work on this year's Dysfunctional Family Day thread, making sure that people who re-used pseudonyms from previous years had their old messages listed in "show all by" for that pseudonym, but not their messages posted under their usual identity. I was ashamed that that angle hadn't occurred to me before Abi started doing it. I should have thought of that.

"View all by" is important because it's a comprehensive identity for who someone is on Making Light. Heresiarch is Heresiarch. Ajay is Ajay. TexAnne is TexAnne. We know who they are. It lacks nothing.

Kevin Marks @17:

Adding to the clumsy creepiness, the google page you linked includes an ad for the hotel I am currently staying in. I wonder why the hotel would pay for that?
When you find out, let me know. I'm constantly being shown ads for commercial sites where I've already bought something.

Bruce Cohen @22, I'm sure it's wrong of me, but I think of social networking sites as LJ or blogging for people who don't like to write.

TomB @23:

the idea that socially naive geeks are getting rich by manipulating the behavior of hundreds of millions of people just doesn't add up.
I don't think it's impossible. You can build sites and software without having to make small talk with the users. Zillions of cool kids bought Brian Wilson's music.

My objection is (imo) more basic. This is Making Light: true geek from true geek, begotten not made, and what we're doing is talking about how much we dislike Facebook.

Rob Thornton @27: You do know that my explicit policy is that I don't delete comments on ML unless it's a genuine emergency? It's not that I don't believe people own their own words; I do. Thing is, I believe ML's conversations are morally the joint property of all the participants. I won't let individuals arbitrarily chop holes in a conversation that belongs to everyone who was there. (Unless it's an emergency.)

I'm seeing more and more people who think they should be able to have their participation in a public conversation deleted on request. By me, it's a violation of the whole idea of shared conversation.

#30 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 09:25 PM:

Teresa #29:

At least part of the problem is that computronium is opaque. No matter how pretty or accessible the user interface, users never really know what's going on under the hood, because that interface is just the surface of a mass of Turing-complete and NP-complete computer code. This is not something that most people understand, precisely most people don't understand computers well enough to be scared of them. To most people, computers are magic, and in magic, you use whatever seems to work.

So how do you know that, say, Thunderbird isn't Bcc:'ing your E-mail to the NSA, or even that Minesweeper won't wipe your hard disk? Ultimately, we authenticate programs through the human social network (which in this context includes the legal system). We all know people who play Minesweeper or use Thunderbird for E-mail; we haven't heard of anyone who's been bitten by them. So, how do we know that Facebook won't sell your identity on the cheap, or that Google won't suddenly decide to nuke all your E-mails and other work? Well actually....

The answer to "how could geeks make a social networking program" is, you don't need to be good at social stuff to be functional. Socially inept people figuratively bump into stuff and step on people's toes, but that usually doesn't get them lynched, or even locked up. Similarly, a program purporting to make a social network doesn't have to capture all the nuances of human interaction -- it just needs to cover enough that people can work around the parts it doesn't cover. Of course, there can be long-term consequences to the flaws, or to human adaptation to those flaws... but humans in general (especially en masse) are really bad at managing long-term consequences. (Q.v. toxic waste sites, misguided laws, speculation bubbles, and so forth.) And that's what makes the current situation so dangerous....

#31 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 09:26 PM:

Bruce Cohen at #22:
"And that's why "social networking" isn't really social: it isn't intended to be in the first place."

"Social Networking" is to "Social" as "Night Club" is to "Club"?

#32 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 11:05 PM:

David Harmon@29: "The answer to "how could geeks make a social networking program" is, you don't need to be good at social stuff to be functional."

Can I restate that neutrally as "A model doesn't have to be perfect to be useful"?

#33 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:09 AM:

I had an account on Facebook at one point. We're going on 2 years since I killed it, and it's not coming back.

G+ I am uncomfortable with; even if they've done something about nymfail (and I'm not confident about that), they already know too much about me and I don't like the idea of setting up a public profile.

So here I am, and true to my 'nym I'm most active on IRC — but the main reason isn't that I prefer the older tech, but that said tech isn't owned by a corporation that doesn't see users as much as it sees data to sell. (And I try to keep an eye on Freenode; I can imagine someone trying to buy PDPC out with similar aims, although I don't think there's much chance of their succeeding. For now, at least.)

#34 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:17 AM:

I feel like I'm using an entirely different Internet than everyone else commenting in this thread. I also feel like I'm tired and headachy and probably missing something really obvious to everyone else. But the "programmers are socially naive and just don't get it" meme really doesn't work for me. I know way too many socially adept programmers to find it really credible, and it sounds a lot like an excuse not to really engage in meaningful critique -- of course social networking isn't perfect; it's corrupted by marketing and in the relatively early stages of incremental improvement, so why not take that on directly, rather than attacking the developers for not being "socially adjusted" enough?

Also, I really don't follow how social networking "isn't." The "one-liner" social networking sites are like over-the-fence garden chatter -- small talk, with a smattering of christmas newsletter reporting. They reaffirm connections between people via casual, small, social interactions that help create social mortar. Like hallway conversations in offices, or the kind of periodic exchanges you have when you're in the same room with someone else but engaged in separate activities. It doesn't replace long, heartfelt 2am conversations over cookie dough and hot chocolate; the technological niche for that is met by telephone and lifeblogs, to my way of thinking. But it's still social, in that it is a vehicle by which people connect with each other and exchange views and information about their lives, even though it isn't the right vehicle for major, life-changing conversations.

Where am I coming at this sideways?

#35 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 03:27 AM:

I've got various things that I'd like to contribute to this conversation, many of which would require both careful thought - of which I'm currently incapable, having recently made, and even more recently imbibed from, some thus inspired Essence of Maroon - and time, which I have less of than I'd like right now - to express adequately.

That said, since the topic of 'real names' has been brought up by Lee @ 11 and Charles Dodgson up , I thought some people here might be amused to discover that 'Eustace Phenackertiban' has a Facebook account (or did at the point at which I accidentally typed his name into the wrong search-bar). I haven't checked whether he's also on Twitter or Google Plus. Nor have I searched for his Next of Kin.

Frankly, this gives me the willies.

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 04:04 AM:

Facebook has a Eustace? This could get interesting.

#37 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 07:33 AM:

Andrew Plotkin #32, KayTei #34, calling me out for stereotyping: Indeed... but besides resembling that stereotype myself, I'm responding to a claim that has itself been brought up repeatedly... and Zuckerberg's own resemblance to that stereotype pops up both in the Facebook Commemorative Movie, and in responses to some of his own public statements.

#38 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:31 AM:

re 34: Kaytei, I don't think you're coming at Facebook, at any rate, wrong at all. The main difference is Terminal-Induced Personality Disorder, something that those of us who've been computer-talking from the early days, recognize at once. TIPD is what allows people to say things in Facebook that they wouldn't generally feel comfortable saying over the fence, like all the political one-liners that infest my Facebook feed. The main thing that all the social cripples plaguing comp. sci. contribute to this is that they tend to act that way in person, and that they often don't notice that they're on the receiving end of it, or rather that they can't tell the difference between that and normal social interaction. OTOH I tend to look on Facebook as a kind of performance art, so I tend to restrict posting to it things that I think will amuse other people. I don't post political opinions, as a rule, because I find other people's repetition of these shibboleths tedious. And I don't post every little detail of my life because, frankly, I find it tedious; I can't imagine why anyone but a fannish/voyeur sort would want to know.

Something that surprises me, because it is obviously important, is that none of the people talking about this ever user the word "introvert". Social media are obviously a godsend to extroverts; to introverts, I think far less so.

#39 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:50 AM:

TNH at #29: Sorry, but I did not request a deletion. I thought that post was pretty nifty myself. If you want to discuss this via other channels, feel free to contact me via email.

#40 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:08 AM:

Counterpoint to C. Wingate @38:

"Real names" policies are sometimes justified by saying that they add a level of accountability which makes it more like the kind of real-world interaction you describe. I've even seen it listed as an advantage of Facebook's comment system (as seen lately at various blogs) over others. I'm not I saw it working that way on the SFWA forums, the few times I dipped a toe in there, but, well... whatever. I'm not sure real names were required there, but p(eople were using them and behaving... rather badly while identified. As, I guess, often happens in real life.)

(Sidelight: Facebook does a lot beyond "real names" to police their system. There's a research paper titled "Facebook Immune System", which describes some technical aspects. Briefly, there are at least three kinds of research-grade technical black magic needed to run the support systems for Facebook's Rule 34 squad. This is a major technical effort, and Zuck would almost certainly have the people involved doing something else if he didn't need it to stay ahead of the griefers.

Now, it's no surprise that the "real names" policy isn't, by itself, adequate to police the system if you already know that, as implemented, it doesn't actually require use of real names. But some people are that naive...)

#41 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:20 AM:

C. Wingate @38: Actually, as a gregarious introvert, I find social networks a veritable godsend. Needing to try to track multiple threads of conversation in person, and not let my mind wander while someone's speaking, and remember to look at the right parts of people's faces (but not too long!) and say responsive things at the right intervals and all the body language fussing that comes with dealing with people IRL... My god, it's exhausting.

But I can watch a Twitter feed go by, and feel connected to people who are telling me little interesting things about their lives, without anyone getting upset because I don't specifically respond in a constructive manner to any given mention. And I can take my time to construct my response, and fiddle and edit, and if I'm just plain tired of dealing with people, that's okay; the conversation will still be there tomorrow.

But then, I tend to classify blogs (at least those with comments turned on) as "social media" as well.

#42 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:53 AM:

Fade Manley (41): My sentiments exactly. You phrased it much better than I would have.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:46 AM:

Rob Thornton @39:

I think you're slightly misinterpreting the reason Teresa was talking about deletion.

Back at comment 27, you said:
It is a open source distributed social network where you *literally* control your own data.

Teresa @29 was responding to that when she made this comment:
You do know that my explicit policy is that I don't delete comments on ML unless it's a genuine emergency? It's not that I don't believe people own their own words; I do. Thing is, I believe ML's conversations are morally the joint property of all the participants. I won't let individuals arbitrarily chop holes in a conversation that belongs to everyone who was there.

My rubric:
The issue of "controlling your own data" often shades into "controlling the subsequent fate of your words, once posted". We have certainly had people on Making Light—not you—ask us to take down things they had previously posted in conversations, at least partly on the basis that they had revealed information that they would rather remain private.

The problem with doing that is that their comments had become part of a shared conversation. We at Making Light contend that the ownership of the conversation as a whole, which rests with all of the participants, trumps the individual's right to control their own data once it's been posted here.

#44 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 12:43 PM:

abi @43: This is something that comes up irregularly in the (private) community I moderate online--people will ask that posts be removed, often after they have generated a fair bit of conversation.

Generally, we (the moderators) try our best to talk them out of this. We believe that removing something that is part of a shared conversation is disruptive both to the conversation and the community. Usually, we succeed.

One time we did remove two of someone's posts in a single thread entirely because the poster felt that the messages had inadvertently provided enough information to allow the person's employer to be identified and was worried about what might happen if someone saw this employee complaining (gently) about the workplace online. This despite the fact that the person was posting in a private, members-only space (with the understanding that privacy means something different on the web).

We discussed simply editing out the references but the poster was adamant, so in the end we removed the posts. We replaced them with moderator messages explaining that the messages had been removed at the request of the original poster.

It's still gnawing at us, a couple of months later. We understand why the OP was concerned, but removing those messages stole a lot of context from the conversation, and it died almost immediately thereafter.

#45 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:15 PM:

I keep my "real life" and my "online life" strictly separated, mostly because I'm not "Bill Thompson", and I can't hide in the 'net under my real name.

Yes, I know it's a "door lock" level of security, but that's all I need - my prospective employer doesn't need to see what I do online when searching me pre-interview. Neither does U.S. Customs, nor do the clients I'm flying into the U.S. to assist. I don't need someone I've given a bad ruling to at the bridge table griefing all my online people. And I certainly don't need one of my schoolmates, whose life may just have gone badly this week, finding the old punching bag and deciding to have another go. Will it happen? Of course not. But you know...

Therefore, G+, which is explicitly trying to make that connection "forever" "for their actual clients" (which are *not* the users), is a no, no never, go for me. It helps that I have *no* interest, and no time, for all this social networking garbage. If I want someone to know what I'm doing, I'll tell them. If someone wants to know what I'm doing, they can ask.

The idea of "liveblogging your day" that Twitter envelops is So Wrong there aren't words for it, and I sure don't feel like voyeuring anybody else's day.

I'm an introvert - an outgoing one, to be sure, but still an introvert. And I really like the idea of being able to do something socially unacceptable and not pay for it 5 years later. And I'm a professional paranoid.

So put me in the anti-"social networking" camp, firmly and with both feet. I'd even go so far as to say "anti-social networking".

Re: the hotel ad: it's one way of *guaranteeing* that you aren't seeing a competitor's ad on their page. I'd see companies being willing to pay for that, even if they know "advertising to the people who have already bought your stuff" is a bit tacky. After all, there's entire channels on every hotel's TV dedicated to advertising the hotel you're currently in.

#46 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:22 PM:

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden :

(Short cartoon version: your stepmother breeds and shows dachshunds; your brother's an evangelical fundamentalist who won't shut up about it, ever; all the friends you made during your college years went to Antioch; your wife's family is third-generation Navy; your kid has a distinctive problem with dairy products; and first thing every morning, you check your complete set of bookmarked sites about the Swedish folk music revival. Once someone collects that constellation off (say) Facebook, there's a limit to how anonymous you can ever be again, because there's nothing in that list you're going to jettison.)

I believe it took much less than that to track down James Tiptree.

Bruce Cohen @22, I'm sure it's wrong of me, but I think of social networking sites as LJ or blogging for people who don't like to write.

I think of LiveJournal as a place for people who like to write, but who don't want to run blogs.


How can you have a big social network that doesn't require full-time work by highly skilled people and isn't a huge temptation for governments and corporations to datamine?

#47 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 03:38 PM:

C. Wingate @ 38

Hm. I like to think I'm not exactly a newbie, or naive myself. And I agree that there are people who say things online that it somewhat startles me they are willing to commit to posterity. But I think you are underestimating the extent to which people "change" on the Internet. I don't leave politics behind, when I quit facebook; I got an entire degree in the subject, because it was such an inseparable part of my drive and identity, and that is a true thing regardless of the setting in which I find myself. My activist friends don't get less active when they leave facebook; my hypersexualized friends don't stop being raunchy and/or suggestive; my teacher friends don't stop caring passionately about their students and the state of the educational system. Those of us who are cautious remain cautious; those of us who can't be bothered with worrying about it, don't. Those of us who care about the same issues discuss them; those of us who don't care about the same issues find other conversations to get involved in, much like any social gathering.

But I don't really see any of my friends acting out of character, online or off. I think people are scandalized, because once written, social media are effectively forever; but that's not about it being something you wouldn't say over the garden gate -- it's about it being something you wouldn't write in an e-mail to your boss. That's a different level of social scrutiny than has previously been required in casual discourse, and I think it's not surprising that people who think they've kept their lives segmented don't always rigidly adhere to that rule (or acknowledge it at all, if they think they've taken adequate precautions).

#48 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 04:27 PM:

I guess the easy one to understand is "I go the bar after work on Friday to hang with friends and say things that I can't say at work. If I'm saying them on Facebook - or if I or someone else "tweets" my lovely pithy comment (even out of context, if the context is obvious if you're in the know) about Client X or Cow-orker Y, then now, I've said it at work. So where do I go to "shoot the shit" or "decompress" from being "in public" now?

Please note: my current work, there's very little I can't say there if I need to - and many of the comments are just in the bar for "this is unofficial, right?" with my same cow-orkers - who certainly don't forget when we're back in the office. For that I'm very grateful. For that, I know I'm very much in the minority of companies.

We're all Hollywood Celebrities in small-scale, and online social media can be the People Magazine of our small-scale Hollywood. I'm not sure I'm willing to be People-magazine no-private-life famous for Hollywood-scale cash; I'm damn sure I'm not willing for what I'm being paid.

#49 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 04:35 PM:

Theresa #29 - yes, thank you for explaining it better than I - a certain forum I post on, founded in the wake of a curly haired fuehrer (some people might get the reference) and his book, was getting along fine. But then one of the long term members got a bigger media exposure and for some reason I still am uncertain about, he managed to persuade the moderators/ owner to delete all his posts!
As a way of covering up his rather dull past of arguing with possibly wrong people on the internet when he was taking off into a shiny new part time career online, I'm sure it suited him, but it totally destroyed many older conversations/ arguments and basically annoyed people, even easy going me. But I just couldn't say what was wrong about it.

#50 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 07:48 PM:

re 35/36: Could someone please explain 'Eustace Phenackertiban'?

#51 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:08 PM:

Eustaces are a made-up ghost that accompany humans in an Eric Frank Russell's story -- the example the protagonist talks about is his own Eustace, Eustace Phenackertiban. an amusing name to pick for a pseudonym, indeed.

#52 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:54 PM:

Stefan Jones @13: What I resent most about Facebook: More and more web sites are using it to authenticate comments or participation. I really, really resent that.

Hear hear.

I just ran into that yesterday. A guy I wanted to connect with has his page on Facebook (with a different domain name; I wasn't aware FB was hosting domains these days, too, which is another class of worry. Or maybe I'm just overinterpreting what I'm seeing. ANYway...)

Now, to be fair, his page claims to allow OpenID login via a couple of other services I have IDs on. But neither of them worked. "FB is unable to connect yada yada. Please try again later." My more paranoid mind suggests that FB is hoping that by impeding OpenID login, I would eventually just get frustrated and register with FB. I find it especially irritating that the thought actually crossed my mind. (But then I recalled all the discussion here, and the feeling passed.)

I did eventually find a direct email address for him. (in the most blindingly obvious spot, which was, of course, the last place I thought to look.) But:

Harry Payne @15: there's a UK company who has lost my business because they now require Farcebook authentication.

May I suggest that you repost your comment here with the company's name stated in the clear. I've heard rumors that net-invested companies occassionally have filters out for online mentions, which do occassionally motivate behavioral adjustment if it's made clear that they're losing sales. But, as

they obviously now regard Farcebook advertisers as their customer rather than hoi polloi who might wish to buy their goods

This motivation may not apply in this case. OTOH, if enough explicit discussion of this aspect of the company's user interface begins to erode eyeball counts, maybe it would have at least a slight effect after all.

(Offering the benefit of the doubt: It could be that the company's web interface was built by somebody who's online experience is primarily centered around FB, who is therefore naive of the rest of the web, and/or the company is too cheap to shell out for a non-FB-hosted user interface. It's not inconconceivable—though perhaps not likely—that they're simply unconscious of the target population that they're losing. Or maybe that population is too small to matter, which just goes back to your original point. ::sigh::)

John Mark Ockerbloom @18: it's been clamping down on third-party clients

This reminds me of a question that's been hovering in my mind for a while: is it possible to pipe Twitter streams into some sort of more, well, Making Light-like format? Three things frustrate me about Twitter: I'm not allowed to access it at work; when I do access it from home (which I rarely do because:), it only displays the most recent day or two of results, which means that I've missed whole weeks of conversation because I forget to access it because it's arduous, and three, scrolling backward in time is arduous anyway. Oh yeah, and four, it's last-first, and I much prefer the first-first sequence that ML uses.

Any suggestions?

Neil in Chicago @20: when some survey comes out about how the futures of our successors are being warped because things will always be the way they were a couple of days ago, roll your eyes or horse laugh

Don't need the thought experiment. Just yesterday, I ran into a situation where I was not connected, and I needed to know/do something (forget the particulars), and was acutely conscious of my impairment. Shorter me: the future is here, and it has stuck.

#53 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:19 PM:

"I love living in the future." (I just hope FB isn't it.)

#54 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:12 PM:

On Facebook's pseudonym dis-allowance, I have a friend who is not allowed to use his real name because FB apparently thinks it's fictional. It's "Muzik"—which gives nothing away, since he had to change it to register. The part that's annoying is that such interference automatically makes the whole point of Facebook—that point being the getting back in contact with people—exponentially more difficult. You can't search on a friend's name if you don't know what he had to change it to.

I don't know when my paranoia about the written word started, but it was pre-online for me. I didn't like the idea of writing a diary lest someone find something incriminating*. So I figure if I put it on Facebook, I'm broadcasting to the world.

The fact that my mother's been putting family photos online since 1994 may have something to do with this. ;)

*NB for people worrying about dysfunctional families & privacy: I never had my privacy invaded. I was just oddly paranoid about it.

#55 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:26 PM:

This is an interesting point: "Documenting my huge crush on Matt in an XML snippet might faithfully reflect the state of the world, but it also broadcasts a strong signal about me to others, and above all to Matt. The essence of a crush is that it's furtive, so by declaring it in this open (but weirdly passive) way I've turned it into something different and now, dammit, I have to go back and edit my FOAF file again."

Defining a social relationship is a social act, which then alters the social relationship, which then requires redefining, ad infinitum. The model of the thing becomes part of the thing it's trying to model: the output becomes an input and the whole thing goes non-linear.

There's a point I want to make here about how this is one of the things that makes community moderation so tricky: the rule enforcement happens in the same space as the game, which makes enforcement a sub-instance of the same game, and how this means that whatever was disruptive (for the community)/rewarding (for the griefer) still has those same qualities. But it's not quite there.

#56 ::: kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 09:38 AM:

Jacque, 52,
Re: twitter in a nicer format:
I use Thunderbird on my desktop as an RSS reader, and I subscribe to people's twitter feeds as RSS feeds. They've tried to obfuscate how to do that, but they haven't ripped it out altogether. Subscribe like so:

where "nnnnnnnnnnnn" is the person's username.

Thunderbird is great because it automatically archives everything I've ever read locally. [Note potential security risk.] The UI for feed reading is pretty weak sauce, but I haven't experimented with the new "intermingled messages" views on more recent versions, that might fix things.

Now, if someone would just make an app that would let me read my desktop thunderbird account remotely on my iphone, I'd be all set and never need google reader again.

Note also that twitter's new url shortener does redirects through twitter itself, so they know what you click on. Obnoxious.

#57 ::: kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 09:40 AM:

abi, TNH, et al.
Ah, I seem to be held for moderation. I believe it is because it has a url pattern for how to extract RSS feeds from Twitter.

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 09:47 AM:

kimiko @57:

Yep. Released.

#59 ::: kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 09:56 AM:

Thank you very much!

#60 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 11:30 AM:

Expectations of privacy and comfort with pseudonyms can vary a lot. For example, I gather LiveJournal was early on colonized by fanfic and slash writers, who have good reasons to maintain their anonymity and that this set the culture there, but by the time I encountered it I already had something like a quarter century of presence in fandom under my own name. So realizing that lots of people I either knew or had at least encountered through fandom were using pseudonyms on LJ but that I had no idea who they were meant I slowly backed away and never went back. The idea of arguing with people I had prior history with without knowing who they were really squicked me, I'm afraid. I don't like being at that sort of conversational disadvantage.

Having said which, I never got a Facebook account because the amount of personal info you were required or encouraged to reveal seemed intrusive to me. When G+ appeared I looked into it and checked out their registration requirements. When they said they needed my cellphone number I said to myself "No you f'king don't," and didn't register.

#61 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 11:51 AM:

Google keeps trying to get me to give them my phone number. They don't need it that badly, just for GMail.

#62 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Erik Nelson @ 31:

"Social Networking" is to "Social" as "Social Disease" is to "Social".

praisegod barebones @ 35:

But Willies are our friends (just not Slick Willy).

#63 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 01:07 PM:

For years I have gotten e-mail notifications that so-and-so-nobody-I-know has friended me on FB or MS -- while I do not have and never have had an account on either. They are auto-filtered by the e-mail program into spam.

Love, C.

#64 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 02:22 PM:

Bruce Cohen @62 "Social Networking" is to "Social" as "Social Disease" is to "Social".

Sexually Transmitted Networking? Apparently I've been using facebook all wrong!

#65 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 04:37 PM:

C. Wingate @ 35: Sorry about that. I considered putting in a link, but assumed without checking1 = that a quick Google would probably provide sufficient enlightenment. Anyway, Tom Whitmore's right: the novel was published in the UK as 'Next of Kin' and in the US (I believe) as 'The Space Willies'. But there's a further catch (at least in the version I read) - namely that the whole text is preceded by a preface attributed to a being called Eustace Postlethwaite, which claims that the whole novel has been 'ghost-written by the author's next of kin, or perhaps kin-written by his next of ghost.'

David Harmon@37: I'd understood KayTei@34's point slightly differently - not so much chiding for use of the stereotype as suggesting that the existence of stereotype-conforming individuals may not really explain the phenomenon here (and that its a piece of mystification, to boot).

KayTei: If that was what you were getting at, then I think I agree. There are at least some cases, where 'Geeks don't get it' doesn't explain what's going on. I think that Google Plus's Real Names policy is a case in point.

(Longish elaboration of this claim follows - I hope it doesn't bend this comments thread too far out of shape.)

As you know Bob, and as almost everyone on the Internet has probably noticed, there's been a bunch
of women coming out in the last week or so and talking about harassment and abuse they've received after expressing their views on the Internet . As far as I'm aware, none of them have suggested that a Real Names policy is the way forward.I can think of at least two reasons for this, both of which are fairly easy to understand, and which I think have been mentioned repeatedly. The first is that a considerable part of the harassment comes via email and a Real Names policy for email just isn't going to happen (and I think its fairly easy for people to see why it wouldn't be a good thing.) And the second is that if you're being harassed and abused online, you're not likely to regard a policy which makes it harder for women to express controversial views without running the risk of having that kind of on-line harassment spill over into real-life harassment.

Despite this, I seem to be seeing the idea that 'Real Names Only' on the internet is the solution to this problem being suggested quite a lot. It feels rather as though Google (and perhaps others) has seen an opportunity to use people's perfectly genuine sense that we have to do something about this to push an idea which has got very little to do with responding to the needs of those facing but harassment, but which does suit Google's business model very well. 'Geeks just don't get it' (or 'Google just doesn't get it') seems like a very useful meme to have around if one wants cover when called for pushing this kind of non-solution solution.

(I'm also beginning to feel that Google is using the fact that Google plus is being perceived as as a non-evil version of Facebook as cover for doing one or two things that are some way from being non-evil. That may simply be a case of attributing malice where incompetence would be sufficient, but I'm not sure.)

1. Offog Peaslake Barebones, is, technically speaking an Offcat, but that's a detail.

#66 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 11:14 PM:

Speaking of women, "real names", and Facebook, there's this.

Briefly, Facebook just briefly suspended a bunch of accounts ("a very small percentage", they say, meaning thousands at least), predominantly female, for identifying themselves in ways that a misfiring robot somehow deemed "inauthentic". The affected accounts got the full Google-plus treatment, including a demand for government-issued ID as a condition of reinstatement, though Facebook has backed off that and tried to undo the damage themselves. (Well, for most of them, at least.)

#67 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 07:05 AM:

I do wish I'd come across this in time to link to it in my last comment.

#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 07:12 AM:

Charlie Dodgson @ 68: It's only on a second read of that article that my brain's woken up enough to ask what could have been going on there that meant that it was predominantly women's accounts that were affected. (The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is women with different family names from that of someone that FB knows them to be married to. But that seems a ridiculously dumb thing for them to trip up over.) Is there something obvious that I'm missing?

#69 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 09:52 AM:

praisegod barebones (68): On reading that article, I immediately started wishing there were some examples (problematic!) or some idea of the pattern of names involved. Having two last names, maybe? A lot of my married friends on Facebook put their maiden name as a middle name so that people from their school days could find/recognize them.

My sister deleted her Facebook account last year after FB started insisting that she use a "real" email address. The one she had given them was the one she uses all the time. She has an alternate address, but refused to give in to their pressure. My theory is that they had sent her a message that bounced for some reason, so they decided that her address wasn't live.

#70 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 11:00 AM:

Re: Facebook's "inauthenticity" problems: what we really know for sure is that most of the people who complained about the bogus cancellations were female. But assuming that's representative of who got hit:

To start with the obvious, some kind of an enforcement robot there was almost certainly misbehaving --- most likely part of the "Facebook Immune System" squad of attack robots that I mentioned earlier. If we assume that's what it was, it's worth noting that machine learning is one of the key components of that technology suite. So, it's conceivable that some glitch in a learning rule, or overgeneralization from a small population, led to some such thing going sorcerer's apprentice.

(Facebook isn't known for using techniques from the research literature, but this is an exception --- the technology that goes into policing Facebook is much more esoteric than what they use to just render the web pages. Which, by itself, is a reflection of how well "real names" really does work to constrain behavior by itself --- if it worked that way, they wouldn't have needed to build this other thing.)

#71 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 12:00 PM:

Facebook - the place where you deleting material means only you can't see it.

All these things are why I don't do fb and why I haven't set up a google+ account either.

That more and more sites insist on an fb log-in for participation means I have less excuse to waste time.

Love, C.

#72 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 06:46 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @29: I'm seeing more and more people who think they should be able to have their participation in a public conversation deleted on request. By me, it's a violation of the whole idea of shared conversation.

Not only that, but this policy, as I believe you've stated before, explicitly encourages people to be really careful that they actually mean what they say and are willing to commit to it because it really becomes "deathless prose."

(I'm behind on the thread; someone else will have doubtless said this better above.)

#73 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 06:53 PM:

David Harmon @30: So how do you know that, say, Thunderbird isn't Bcc:'ing your E-mail to the NSA, or even that Minesweeper won't wipe your hard disk?

I heard a rumor some while ago that one of the early free email services (the name of which is, or course, eluding me at the moment—mid-late 90s vintage*) was specifically set up by one of the alphabet soup agencies to use the computers connected by users as a component of the cluster they were employing to analyze national security data. I don't recall if permission for that usage was set out in the service's Terms of Use.


* Yargh. This is going to drive me nuts until I remember it. Hotmail is what keeps coming to mind, but I don't think that's what it was.

#74 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 07:07 PM:

Jacque, was it Juno?

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 07:19 PM:

Re Google (Gmail) and cellphone #s -- it wouldn't do them any good anyhow, as we have texting disabled on our cellphones. We have an odd dislike of paying for spam. ("Odd" because this doesn't seem to bother anyone else, which I simply do not understand.)

#76 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 07:28 PM:

Mycroft W @45: I keep my "real life" and my "online life" strictly separated, mostly because I'm not "Bill Thompson", and I can't hide in the 'net under my real name.

Tangentially to your point, this reminds me of an annecdote I heard last week. Acquaintance A reported watching a video taken by Acquaintance B of some mild silliness B was perpetrating at Sturgis. Watching the video, however, A happened to notice someone happily dancing away in the background, clad only in a big smile and pasties. With some shock, A realized that the dancer was Acquaintance C (someone unknown to B).

When relating this story, A was very careful to be vague about the parties in question, but I have a strong suspicion I know who C was.

#77 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 03:16 AM:

#65 Google's alleged 'Real Names' policy isn't one. It's an 'American-looking Names' policy more akin to the call centre policies mocked in Outsourced, designed to make you pass as normal. They really need to stop it.

#78 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 08:18 AM:

Jacque @76

That sounds like a character in one of my stories, a 1920s biker chick. I shall have to get back to it after I get NaNoWriMo out of the way.

#79 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Facebook "real name" policy in effect again: Salman Rushdie can't use his name

#80 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 01:42 PM:

This Salman Rushdie?

#81 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 01:52 PM:

I wonder how they got Jane Austen and Franz Kafka past the "real names" policy (or are they communicating with the Chicago vote now?).

#82 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 03:42 PM:

re 80: Apparently not. I'm guessing the latter is a fan page.

#83 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 04:42 PM:

Hmm. You're right. But this isn't.

(I'm fairly sure it's genuine, as I have - rather bizzarely - a facebook friend in common with him - someone I was at school with back in the day, and who is now a literary journalist. A few months back FB was suggesting that I send friendship invitations to all sorts of well-known authors, and Rushdie was one of them.)

#84 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 06:26 PM:

praisegod #83: Rushdie reports via C.Wingate's link, that Facebook has "buckled" and restored the account's proper name.

#85 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 07:08 PM:

Facebook never let me use my actual real legal name, the way I actually really spell it; and ignored my attempts to get hold of a Real Person to approve it.

This is why I'm on Facebook as "Nicole J. Le Boeuf-Little". As it turns out, my parents are accustomed to inserting the space in "Le Boeuf", but I don't, and I resent having to do so because (I presume) Facebook thought it UNPOSSIBLE that a real actual last name might have Three Capital Letters.

I keep an FB mainly because it makes me easier to find by friends and acquaintances who seem unaware of the rest of the internet. But the couple of times that I know of that friends couldn't find me there because of my having to alter my accustomed spelling of my last name, they knew enough to look me up on Google, find, and email me.

And that's my FB "real name" story.

I have been disinclined to join G+ since abi's and Martin's quarrel with the service. Nothing else I've heard about it since, not even the awesome things, has reversed my position.

I do like Twitter. It's wonderful for those times when I experience something I'd have loved to tell my friends about, but my friends are not on hand to tell. It also gives me an opportunity to experience national things with others of like interests -- I love watching the hashtag #Saints while I'm watching football, for instance. Which got me following @The_Gambit among other area media, so now I sorta kinda keep up on hometown doings at a distance. And so forth and so on. Twitter has been useful.

[Brain dump ends. Exit Niki stage right, scrambling over to bus stop.]

#86 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 07:31 PM:

Hmmm ... so Facebook and G+ would not, as a matter of policy, accept the Judeochristian god for an account, because no knows (or can know) Her real name? I'm tempted to open an account in the name of A. Elohainu just to see what happens.

#87 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 12:12 AM:

If it's an Arthur C. Clarke story, the universe comes to an end.

#88 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 03:42 AM:

Praisegod barebones @ 65

Thank you. That's really a good statement of where I was coming from. (I had meant to respond similarly to David's earlier comment earlier, but I was babywhelmed before I could figure out quite the right way to explain it, and then I forgot that I hadn't hit post. Ooops.)

#89 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 09:16 AM:

KayTei #88: Thanks for clarifying. I don't have much time before I head for work, but I'll note that in Facebook's particular case, Zuckerman doesn't have the excuse of marketing, because he's in charge of the company. Even in other companies such as Google, scapegoating marketing makes an all-too-convenient excuse for the executives who are responsible for corporate policy. The initial problems of G+ (Much like the various AmazonFails) might be blamed on shortsightedness, but their ongoing failure to deal with the issues... that's another story.

#90 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 09:27 AM:

Jacque #73: Wouldn't surprise me a bit. The thing is, we may not like what the spy agencies do (or trust their loyalties), but the thing is, infiltration and subversion really is their job.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 01:14 PM:

David Harmon @ 89:

In the modern paradigm of corporate operation, marketing is the fundamental aspect of a company that distinguishes it from all others (everything else can be outsourced to other entities that don't need to know anything about the purpose or value of the company's products and services). So, by definition, the CEO is responsible for marketing policy and direction. They just like to have some one else to blame when they screw it up.

At this late date in the evolution of capitalism I can't figure out what skills a CEO brings to a corporation other than the ability to negotiate a large exit package and bonuses that don't depend on success.

#92 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 01:25 PM:

Bruce Cohen STM @91 -- It depends a lot on the CEO. I don't think anyone would say that that had been Steve Jobs' primary usefulness (or purpose) at Apple, for example.

Chairing a Worldcon isn't quite the same, but it's got some similarities: and the primary function of an executive there is to set the tone for how the convention runs. Different Worldcons feel very different, and a lot of that is related to the personality of the chair. It's hard to describe just how this happens; I know from experience that it does.

#93 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 01:38 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 91: At this late date in the evolution of capitalism I can't figure out what skills a CEO brings to a corporation other than the ability to negotiate a large exit package and bonuses that don't depend on success.

Political connections. Personal alliances. The nous not to meddle with work he does not understand. The chutzpah to thereupon claim the fruits of all the work he is not interfering with, as the unique product of his own ineffable genius.

This is a libertarian talking; and its not being able to come up with anything better, is one of many closely-related reasons why it can no longer also call itself a capitalist without laughing like a drain...

#94 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 06:15 PM:

Tom, #92: Steve Jobs built Apple, from the ground up. Bill Gates did the same with Microsoft. How many of the other CEOs of Fortune 500 companies can say the same thing? Most of them are just hitching a ride on the inertia of someone else's successful effort.

#95 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 10:36 PM:

Bruce Cohen #91: What you're calling "the modern paradigm" is more like "the modern corruption". The fundamental purpose of a CEO is to provide leadership -- setting not just the tone, but the basic goals, policies, and even personality of the corporation -- which is why they're also supposed to be taking ultimate responsibility for the companies successes and failures.

Failing in those roles falls squarely in the same bucket as the MBAs who place immediate profit above all else... which inexorably leads to stripping the company, because that gives a quicker return than actually investing resources toward a longer-term goal.

#96 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2011, 12:14 PM:

David Harmon @ 95:

Yes, I'm thinking that the MBA methodology is the "modern paradigm". Sorry, I was trying to be sarcastic, and it probably didn't come across very well. I see much of modern business and economics as corrupt, from the "Austerian" school and the freshwater economists, and definitely including the shark-behavior "capitalism" of Friedman and Greenspan, to the MBA schools and the "old boy" networks of corporate boards. And a lot of that is not just a corruption of good ideas, but the institution of corrupt ideas.

#97 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2011, 01:45 PM:

Bruce Cohen #96: Total agreement here. To cross threads, that new censorship bill is more of the same -- they're trying to destroy whatever they can't control.

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