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.
Reflections on online cruelty and kindness
This morning, I read an interesting reflection on dealing with online cruelty in the New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom:
When I checked her reference, I found that Rosenbloom made an error with her citation of research, along with failing to link to it: the 2011 report on teens, kindness and cruelty on social networking sites by the Pew Research’s Internet and Life Project she cited found that a vast majority of young people (88%) had “seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social network site,” not 69%. That percentage refers to a happier statistic: “69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites.
On that count, I’m glad the author chose to end with a reflection on kindness and the psychology involved with focusing on positive comments and compliments, as opposed to the negative ones. Anyone who wants to see how a positive feedback loop works should look at how Justin Levy’s friends & networks are supporting him, or how dozens and dozens of friends, family and strangers supported me when I lost my beloved greyhound this week.
I’m not sure about the New York Times editor’s summary — that the “Web encourages bad behavior,” through anonymity and lack of consequences.
I think that what we see online reflects what humans are, as a mirror, and that what we see on social media (which is really what is discussed here, not the World Wide Web) is
1) a function of what the platforms allow, with respect to the architecture of participation, and
2) what the community norms established there are.
Compare newspapers’ online comments, YouTube comments and Twitter to what you find in the comments at Ars Technica, BoingBoing or even, dare I say it, in the blogs or public profiles I moderate. As Anil Dash has observed, the people who create and maintain online forums and platforms bear responsibility for what happens there:
It’s a surprisingly delicate balance to allow robust debate and disagreement on politics, current events, technology choices, or even sports (hello, tribalism) while guiding conversations away from cruelty, anger, or even hatred, whether we lead a classroom or an online discussion. The comments we allow to stand offline or online largely determine the culture of the class, town hall or thread they’re made within:
While people bear always responsibility for their own cruel actions or words, it’s incumbent upon those of us who host conversations or share our thoughts publicly online to try to respond with empathy, kindness and understanding where we can, and with polite but resolute moderation when others do not respond to those tactics or attack our friends and communities.
[IMAGE SOURCE: Amanda Lenhart, Pew Research Center]
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