social networking


Today I was tagged in one of those Facebook things that ask you to make up an album cover based on grabbing a couple random bits of text from wikimedia and wikiquotes, and a random photo from flickr’s Explore page. I immediately wondered about the licensing issues involved, since most of the photos on flickr’s Explore page are set to “(c) all rights reserved”. 

Sure, this is just a fun bit of remixing, and no one is profiting from it, but isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that Creative Commons was invented to support? Why not make use of it? First I looked around on flickr and discovered that they allow you to find random images, interesting images, or CC-licensed images, but they don’t offer a way to use all three of these criteria at once. 

But I’m sure that it’s possible with the flickr API. A quick search led me to this blog post by Eszter Hargittai about this very same issue. She points to this handy tool by Mike Lietz, who used the flickr API to do this very thing – show a random photo from the Explore page that has a CC license. 

With more and more people using flickr as a source for reusable, remixable images, maybe they will start to provide more robust options for exploring and searching CC-licensed content.

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When things that are just under the cultural radar get covered in the “mainstream media” – like a doctor using Twitter during surgery (CNN), the uproar over the new Facebook terms of service (MSNBC), or the “25 random things” meme (NYTimes) – reactions tend to range from “Oh wow, they covered this thing I like” to “Yeah, what took them so long to catch on?”

Both of these reactions are misguided. Having worked in mainstream media for many years, I can tell you that there’s no concerted effort to cover certain things, or hold off on covering things. The “media” is made up of individual people who have a lot of space to fill, whether in print, on TV or online.

Sure, some of their stories are pitched by publicists, and some news is so important it demands to be covered. But the rest of the space is going to be filled with content about things that individual writers or editors are interested in. And these things will be covered at the time when the person happens to find out about them. That might be 6 months after you’ve already gotten sick of it, but to that journalist it’s new. 

Plus, once a subculture has been covered by some mainstream news outlets, it becomes legitimate fodder for everyone else. Here’s a meta-article on NBC LA about coverage of the “25 things” meme: 25 Things Articles Arriving as Fast as 25 Things Lists.

All I’m saying is that people should neither be insulted nor impressed when their pet activity is covered in the mainstream media. It just means that the right person discovered your niche at the right moment, and there was space to fill on the page. Enjoy the moment, but keep it in perspective.

Last night at about 2am I finally bowed to the pressure to sign up for Twitter. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I have a tendency towards, shall we say, over-analyzing. I like to deliberate, which is generally not as highly valued an approach as on-demand spontaneous displays of genius, but I’m not sure that uninhibited exposure of my every thought is the solution to that problem. (And yes, I realize that “on-demand” and “spontaneous” are, by nature, in conflict.)

There are a few other reasons that I’ve been resisting Twitter.

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I’ve been thinking lately about information overload. It’s ironic, in a way, because I’m pretty convinced that what needs to happen in order for the semantic web to take hold is for more people, sites, and organizations to expose their data. There are a lot of control issues involved – trust, security, confidentiality, copyright – but there’s also a real danger of accelerating the general movement towards digital saturation.

I haven’t used Twhirl, but apparently it prompted Erick Schonfeld to speculate about Web 3.0’s noise cancelling powers over on TechCrunch. I’ve heard it said many times that one of the goals of the semantic web is to deal with complexity. There’s definitely a need for it, and that need is only going to get more urgent as the information-providing services multiply. Bring on the intelligent information-filtering services!

I don’t know what’s been going on with the Facebook application “FunWall” in the past couple days. I got about a dozen messages forwarded from people – some of them were the same message being forwarded multiple times by the same person. Some of them consisted mainly of a semi-pornographic scribble and a message telling people to forward it and see what happens.

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A couple months ago, I wrote a post about disinformation architecture in Facebook apps. Recently I noticed that the app had been improved in some ways. For one thing, you don’t get interrupted quite as often and asked to invite your friends. When you do have the opportunity to invite friends, the “skip” button is now a lot more prominent, like so: 

Skip Button on Flixter Quiz

Unfortunately, they couldn’t leave well enough alone. (more…)

First, full disclosure: I don’t know a lot about OpenID. But I do know that there are some serious issues related to online identity. Here are two of the questions I find most pressing:

  1. How do I create a persistent identity, across all the different web services I use? This is a question of convenience. Registering for a website that I’m going to use once is kind of ridiculous. Even if I wanted to use it again, chances are I will have forgotten my password, or even that I ever registered there in the first place. I could always register again, but that isn’t useful for me, or the service provider.
  2. How do I take ownership of my personal information? This is a privacy and security question. I’m online a lot. There’s a lot of digital information about me that could be gathered up to paint an interesting picture of who I am. Ideally, I should be the person who owns that picture and controls who has access to it.

Now, I’m not saying that OpenID has solved these problems – far from it – but it has created the opportunity for people to test things out and discuss what works and what doesn’t. As far as I can tell, the first issue is being addressed more directly than the second. Still, I don’t think we’re going to have a meaningful approach to the privacy question until we get some more experience with persistent identities.

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