Category Archives: friends

Strong ties, weak ties, social software and online friendship

Relationships are hard. Friendships take time to build, even if annealed in the heat of a moment. Often they’re situational, forged in school, work, church, or sporting teams, and may fade over time if not renewed regularly.

Online social networking can change that, to a certain extent, but asking people with whom you have weak ties to continually renew them asks a lot. Those with strong ties may tolerate it and continue to follow new accounts, accept requests, correct links or the like. Or even a Like. Until we have an interoperable social graph that can be saved, exported and imported between social networks, we’re wedded to our investments in sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever is coming next, whether it’s Diaspora, Foursquare, Ping or Twitcher. The relationships we build in those networks are the social ties that find, as Professor McAfee put it.

To ground that risk in recent events, my colleague in tech journalism, George Hulme, accidentally deleted his Twitter account this month and has had to ask people to follow the new one. Tough row to hoe, though all of the social capital he’s amassed means he’s already back to 583 follows and 42 lists.

People with weaker ties are unlikely to reconnect unless their interest is sufficiently strong based upon the perceived value of the reconnection. Social karma derives in part from the strength of that past relationship.

I think that’s variably true on the Web, at work or on private social networks. The value of link, follow or fan differs from network to network, as does its permanence. To stop following people on Twitter is much different than to unfriend someone or Facebook or delink on LinkedIn, for instance. In a workplace, where enterprise social software is deployed it could be a huge issue.

These technologies allow us to enrich our networks with many important weaker ties, although sometimes at the cost of investing in reinforcing the stronger ones.

In that vein, I’m looking forward to a family celebration tomorrow where the social circle is as wide as the dinner table, deep as a lifetime and the tweets come from the trees around the patio.

Here’s to being better friends.

UPDATE: Shaun Dakin shared some research in the comments from Paul Adams, a usability researcher at Google, that’s relevant. The Real Life Social Network v2.

3 Comments

Filed under friends, social bookmarking, technology

Dressing for success in Washington: Suits, shirtsleeves and shorts

Much was made of President Obama’s choice on day one of his Presidency to doff his jacket in the Oval Office. When the White House unbuttoned its formal dress code, it was a symbolic move that reflected a larger shift to more casual business attire in culture. While some may feel the President’s showed a lack of respect for the office, for many Americans, doffing the jacket in office and rolling up shirt sleeves to get to work simply reflected their own experience.

For many people after all, it’s about whether you can get the job done, not what you’re wearing when you do it. That issue came into sharp relief yesterday, when some speakers at the 140 Conference held during Digital Capital Week in the District of Columbia came under criticism for not wearing pants.

I wish I could wear shorts more often around Washington. It’s now officially moved into “absurdly hot season” and wearing a suit is miserable. That said, there’s often no way around it. This week, for instance, I wore a suit to the Center for American Progress for the Law.gov workshop, since I knew I’d be meeting John Podesta and other lawyers who put stock in that kind of professionalism. I’ve pulled my suit on to go to the ballet at the Kennedy Center, to go to Congressional testimony or to attend a landmark event on community health data at the National Academy of Sciences.

That said, I wore linen shorts, sandals and a collared shirt to the Gov 2.0 day at Digital Capital Week, since it was damn hot, and that fit my vision of summer business casual in the District. And yesterday, at the 140 Conference, I wore jeans and an untucked dress shirt, since that fit the image of the tech journalist I am these days.

Mike Schaffer, a self-described social media strategist here in DC, focused on elevating the style of online communications professionals in public. Respectfully, I think he missed the point. In every situation above, what I wore mattered but, to my audience, was beside the point.

Peter Corbett may have worn shorts and a t-shirt, as seen on the left, but, in his role, it didn’t matter. Since I know him and have respect for the work he’d done for D.C. Week, at iStrategy Labs for Apps for the Army, and other initiatives, I know what he’s done.

I also believe that the informal nature of 140 Conference requires no more of us than that we represent ourselves as ourselves and share what matters, much like, perhaps, we might approach Twitter.

Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) may have come dressed in a suit, as you might expect from a Congressman in D.C., but what he said reflected that sentiment:

“It’s about sharing who you are, rather than trying to sell what you’d like to have people believe about you.”

By focusing on what people wore instead of what they said or have done, I’m not sure Schaffer honored the hard work of the organizers, nor the quality of the experiences that, say, Justin Kownacki shared.

Kownacki, whose cargo shorts drew attention at the D.C. 140 Conference, tweeted afterwards that “I don’t believe in wardrobe labels. I judge words and actions, not packaging. I’m amused by the #140conf attendees who think my wardrobe ‘killed my credibility.’ Who knew packaging dictates truth? Wardrobes provide a shorthand by which we can exclude & ignore. Makes life easier for traditionalists & streamliners, I’m sure.”

I’ve been to dozens of tech conferences, many of which featured people dressed to the nines with little substantive tactical or strategic value.

I can frankly say, as someone who has overdressed on occasion, that sometimes wearing shorts and a hip t-shirt is absolutely the right choice.

Tools and Togs both matter

Schaffer wrote that “a carpenter is known for getting the job done, not which saw he uses.”

That’s both true and untrue. Master builders who can afford to work with Bosch or DeWalt tools do so because of the quality of the tools and the precision product they allow. It’s true that someone with lack of knowledge to use them will fare far worse that a worker without, just as a rube with an expensive composite fly rod might be outfished by a boy with a cheap piece of bamboo and string, if the young man knows where and how to apply his simple rig. What you do with the tools matters more than their quality, but don’t overlook the fact that those tools do matter.

If someone contracts with a professional videographer to create a broadcast-quality ad and she showed up with a disposable camera and a vintage iBook, what would the new client think?

Consider the building example again. Carpenters are known for building things out of wood. Getting the job done is dependent upon the general contractor who employs him or her, or the reputation of the master builder that is hired. I have some familiarity with carpentry, after working as an apprentice for 18 months in Massachusetts. In that role, I wore shorts when it was hot, Carhardt pants when it wasn’t and many layers of fleece and polypro when it was frigid. We dressed as needed to get the job done. If someone showed up on the job site improperly dressed, or without boots, a belt, gloves and a full set of tools, he couldn’t get the job done without a loan of same.

Working in digital media is no different, in the sense that what we wear what we need to to accomplish a goal, in the context of the social mores of the space we move in.

Virtually, that might mean creating a well-designed website that is standards compliant. Or developing a mobile app for a conference or service. In the social media world, it means adding an avatar, bio, link and other elements that fill out a profile before sally forth. Dressing to impress can mean many things, but in the end, it’s what you can do and have done that will matter most to your clients, customers and audience. Did I get the story right? Will the house stay sound for decades? Is this a sustainable business? Does the app work?

Given the monumental challenges that lie ahead for government officials in Washington and around the nation, I suspect many citizens would rather they focus on getting real results, narrowing budgets, passing effective legislation and developing effective regulations that address issues in the financial, technical and environmental space, rather than any wardrobe choice.

As for me, I hope I can wear shorts more often around Washington.

10 Comments

Filed under article, blogging, friends, journalism, social media, technology, Twitter

Voices from the #Gov20LA Unconference: On Innovation and #Gov20

Earlier this month, I stopped in Los Angeles to see what was happening at Goverment 2.0 LA, a hybrid of the unconference/camp and conference model organized by Alan W. Silberberg and Lovisa Williams. I’ve already shared some thoughts on what I learned about language of government 2.0, the history of disruptive innovation and the ways government adapts to technological change.

While I’m proud of those posts, one of the themes that emerged from the weekend was the importance of video for communication. I’m not at all on “video as the new text,” especially for countries with low Internet penetration or bandwidth, but there’s no denying that online video has extraordinary power in conveying messages. Just look at video of Iranian protesters on the streets of Tehran, reports from the earthquake in Haiti or the President of the United States on YouTube. Tune in to CitizenTube any minute of the day to witness that power in action.

Following are short videos from Gov2.0 LA organizers and attendees that share their takeways from the event.

Lovisa Williams

@lovisatalk talks about the goals of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Ben Berkowitz

@BenBerkowitz is the CEO of SeeClickFix.

Lewis Shepherd

@LewisShepherd discusses collaborative technology and government.

Wayne Burke

@wmburke talks about Govluv.org, on online platform for connecting to government representatives using Twitter.

Antonio Oftelie

@AntonioOftelie conducted a Government 2.0 Survey for Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Alan Webber

@AlanWebber talks about the international flavor of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Laurel Ruma

@LaurelRuma on her impressions from Day 1.

Lisa Borodkin

@LisaBorodkin on the language of Government 2.0.

Christina Gagnier

Christina @Gagnier on communicating about Government 2.0.

Justin Herman

@JustinHerman goes West Coast.

Adriel Hampton

@AdrielHampton on his impressions from Day 1.

Finally, here’s GovFresh.tv‘s video that features interviews with some of the people above and more:

2 Comments

Filed under application, blogging, friends, journalism, microsharing, research, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Twitter, video

It’s not about the numbers. It’s about the connections.

Connections
Image by Amodiovalerio Verde via Flickr

Last night, I had a surprise:  my follower count on Twitter dropped by 148 in one fell swoop.

At first, I thought it was something I had tweeted – oversharing about the Forrester tweetup, or disinterest in sharing a clip of Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor. That didn’t jibe, however, with my gut.

What was inflammatory? What had I done that resulted in a huge loss of followers? As I drifted off to sleep, I thought: how important is this, really, in the grand scheme of things?

I’ve long since learned one hallmark of netiquette on Twitter (Twittiquette, if you will) was not to talk about one’s follower numbers. (If only I could retrieve some of the replies I received back in 2007 after doing so, I’d be thrilled. No good.)

A paraphrase of most of them essentially boiled down to this: are you here to get followers or here to connect?

It didn’t take long to see where the real value was. And, more than two years later, I’m elated to look back and see how many marvelous connections I’ve made, many of which have led to friendships offline. Why is that important?

For me, that’s a a simple answer: we live in a number-obsessed culture. Thinks about how many metrics we track, filter and can recall: poll numbers, net worth, MPG, CTR, Web uniques, 0-60 in __, GPA, APR, circulation, P/E ratios, DJIA, TCO, Mbps, R/W speed…on and on.

And, naturally, for those in the social networking world,we count subscribers,  friends and followers. I’ve received far too many messages and spam promising me thousands of followers if I use this software or that service.

Honestly, they all leave me with the taste of fermented cough syrup in my mouth, with a healthy side of cod liver oil.

It’s not about the numbers: it’s about the connections.

Every follower or friend I’ve made has been through a conscious choice or organic growth. I’m proud of that. I’ve done it in what I might term the “new-fashioned way,” using much the same approach that Chris Brogan describes in his Twitter FAQ: “be helpful, share, communicate, use @replies a lot.” I tend to attribute “by @username” or “via @” nearly as much as directly @reply these days but the sense is the same.

Yesterday, I met Josh Bernoff, co-author of Groundswell. I had dinner with Shava Nerad and her beau, “Fish Fishman,” with Laurel Ruma joining in a bit later. I saw dozens of other friends from the local social media scene at two different tweetups.

I shared some groundbreaking journalism tools and advice, like best practices for journalists curating the Web. I shared messages and stories with newsies at the New York Times, Guardian, Wired, Gizmodo, Slate, The Register,The Center for Democracy & Technology and many others.

I read Stephen Baker on what may become of BusinessWeek and Bernard Lunn on creative destruction in publishing

I shared a lovely bit of science fiction made real, via the irrepressible Steve Garfield, watching the latest in augmented reality:

I reviewed my sources, notes and interviews from a conference earlier this week and wrote an article. I enjoyed a two hour workshop with my colleagues, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our journalism. I even enjoyed a late night cocktail with someone I love deeply.

In all of that, what does a dip in follower numbers mean? Not a helluva lot.

And, as it turns out, the scuttlebutt that Twitter is doing another purge of spammers and bots, a process that I recall from last year as well. My existential angst was unwarranted, my concern without merit – but the thought process and recounting it led me to was worth it.

I’m proud of my connections and my friends, of the social news network we’re all collaborating upon, and up the quality of the communication within it. I’m glad to bring it with me to Washington in a few short weeks.

The spammers can go live on whatever lower circle of digital Hades is reserved for ’em.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

1 Comment

Filed under blogging, friends, microsharing, personal, social media, technology, Twitter, video

On WBUR, social media and tweetups

I’ve now been to two tweetups at WBUR, my local NPR news station. I’ve enjoyed each immensely, meeting new people, enjoying deep discussions about the place of social media in public radio and how the delivering the news is changing.

I’d meant to write both experiences up but had necessarily pushed that effort down the list of priorities. Earlier today, I noticed that Chris Brogan had posted about the WBUR tweetup on his blog and had mentioned me. Once I was at the post, I found myself writing a long comment. Chris decided to make the comment its own post, Alex Howard on Public Radio, and published it.

Needless to say, I was surprised and deeply complimented. I’d been thinking about how social media and public radio might relate since the last tweetup; this response reflected many of those musings. Thanks for giving those thoughts a platform, Chris.

2 Comments

Filed under blogging, friends

Here’s to staying dry and warm in foul weather!

@NoOneYouKnow & @digiphile rock the hurricane pants

@NoOneYouKnow & @digiphile rock the hurricane pants

I’ve met dozens of great folks from Twitter over the years. When I cycled over to Peet’s Coffee in Harvard Square for a tweetup last year in the driving rain, I found that I wasn’t the only ‘tweep’ that liked to be visible in foul weather. Adam Zand, aka @NoOneYouKnow, brought even more color to the gathering. I don’t have many favorite pictures of myself, for whatever reason. This one was a happy exception.

1 Comment

Filed under friends, personal