[Air-l] Facebook protests

Martin Garthwaite marting at gmail.com
Thu Sep 7 08:00:48 PDT 2006


Nancy,

I have just completed my MSc in New Media, Information and Society at LSE
and am currently working at the BBC is Radio and Music Interactive; I have
had a meeting with last.fm guys. Not surprisingly the CTO is very young as
are most of his team, they developed the idea whilst at university. We
absolutely love what they are doing!

So they are computer scientists, not social scientists. This is a very
important distinction, what you have described is a classic example of
unintended consequences  / social shaping of technology. These guys only
have their perspective through which to try and understand what it is their
users want, but they are not social scientists. If only they and other
social networking sites had a trained social scientist on staff!

I feel extremely fortunate in that in my undergrad degree I trained as a
computer scientist and my postgrad as a social scientist - I feel very well
equipped to see both view points, the biggest problem is that scientist are
very binary, they really don't like fuzziness

We have done an interesting experiment with last.fm, we set up user accounts
for our radio stations and pump in the songs played in real time, this has
generated some very surprising findings; one of our radio stations is
currently a very good predictor of future pop music trends. I find
last.fmvery very interesting, but these guys are still working out how
they will
make money.

On 9/7/06, Nancy Baym <nbaym at ku.edu> wrote:
>
> >
> >While we might call users naive for not understanding how 'privacy'
> >works on the internet, we might also call the designers behind Facebook
> >naive for not understanding how privacy works in the social world.
> >--
>
>
> This raises a point for me that I have been thinking about a lot in
> the last several months as another social networking site where I
> spend time (last.fm) introduced some fairly large changes that were
> done, apparently, with no systematic understanding of how its users
> use the site, what they do and don't like, etc. (in one thread, one
> of their developers described their process of studying their
> million+ users as reading the emails they get, reading the forums,
> and imagining themselves as new users, all methods which make the
> social scientist in me SCREAM for better data on which to make
> decisions). It's not a question of privacy in this case, and though
> some last.fm users are unhappy, they have not been crying out in
> protest to the same extent that facebook users seem to be, but I find
> my own interest in the site lessened, and see the amount of
> interesting peer-activity on the site dropping since the changes.
>
> What I find interesting, and frankly rather upsetting, and cannot yet
> fully articulate (help fellow listers!) is that we (speaking here as
> a user) get invested in these sites. We use them to build identities,
> to create connections, to network, for whatever purposes. We spend a
> lot of time there and we get invested through time, social
> connections, and affect. And then the developers get a new idea and
> suddenly we all have to live with it or leave. To use the front lawn
> metaphor, it's as though they decide that actually the streets
> shouldn't be on a grid pattern, they should all be cul-de-sacs and if
> you didn't want to live on a cul-de-sac, well, move to a new town.
> Who were you to think you had any say in city planning?
>
> As these sites become more and more integral to everyday experience,
> it seems the developers have more and more of an obligation to
> understand and their users, and to incorporate their concerns into
> the design before making big changes, and to give people options for
> managing problematic elements of the changes they decide to make
> anyhow (in the facebook case, turning off the minifeed for your own
> profile).
>
> There seems to be a real difference between the ethical and practical
> obligations to users in these "web2" sites and the way that
> businesses have related to their customers in the past. As I say,
> this is not something I've worked through, but design and
> development, customer service, public relations, and community
> relations all seem to merge in new ways.
>
> Does anyone have more thought-through ways to think about what I'm
> trying to get at here?
>
> Nancy
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-- 
Martin Garthwaite

+447957 764819
+4420 7871 9656 (Skypein - call me and wherever in the world I am I'll
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