The NY Times on using social software to connect the dots

Clive Thompson’s article on today’s New York Times Magazine is an interesting reflection on what social software can and cannot do to help intelligence agencies gathering and analyzing information.

Among other things, Thompson discusses two proposals submitted for the Galileo Award, a competition created by the C.I.A. to collect ideas on how to improve information sharing among American intelligence agencies. The first proposal, written by C.I.A. Calvin Andrus, proposes to use wikis and blogs to collect and share information among agencies. By allowing linking of information and ideas, previously disconnected pieces of data are shaped and structured by the dynamics of a social network.

If analysts and agents were encouraged to post personal blogs and wikis on Intelink — linking to their favorite analyst reports or the news bulletins they considered important — then mob intelligence would take over. In the traditional cold-war spy bureaucracy, an analyst’s report lived or died by the whims of the hierarchy. If he was in the right place on the totem pole, his report on Soviet missiles could be pushed up higher; if a supervisor chose to ignore it, the report essentially vanished. Blogs and wikis, in contrast, work democratically. Pieces of intel would receive attention merely because other analysts found them interesting. This grass-roots process, Andrus argued, suited the modern intelligence challenge of sifting through thousands of disparate clues: if a fact or observation struck a chord with enough analysts, it would snowball into popularity, no matter what their supervisors thought.

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Misery and delight of a virtual room of our own

A few months ago I wrote about the distinction between vision and reality of online socialization that Russell Beale made in his talk at CHI2006.

The Vision was about what’s good about the digital connected world: plenty of free information and the ability to connect with many individuals in real time. The Reality was about what’s not so good about technology: isolation, bias, and self-centeredness. “Information is selected and filtered out based on preference: we cut out what we don’t like or don’t agree with. Technology enables an ignorance society. Even when we are physically present, we are socially absent.”

Second LifeA recent post by David Wong on Pointless waste (via Karl Martino) lists seven reasons why living in this wonderful networked world makes us feel miserable. David Wong describes how technology allows us to lock ourself in our own little cozy world and progressively lose the ability to deal with the annoyances and roughness of the real world. The real worlds is not as pleasant and comfortable as our virtual worlds (Second Life, anyone?) but it’s, indeed, real.

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The power of numbers that measure (social) performance

In number games and social software, dana boyd observes how we sometimes get obsessed with numbers that represent our performance—think game scores or, in her example, increasing miles per gallon while driving an hybrid car. The effect on our behavior can be even more powerful when these measures are socially determined as for the popularity score on Consumating and—why not?—blog ranking on Technorati.

danah boyd

And then i was thinking about the people on Yahoo! Answers who spend hours every day answering questions to get high ranks … There’s no real gain from getting points but still, it’s like a mouse in a cage determined to do well just cuz they can.

The internet is giving us a sort of social nerd paradise. We can actually measure our popularity with a number that everybody can see, rather than having to rely on fuzzy and contradictory social feedback.

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Blogher06 day 1: where the women bloggers learn to build communities

BlogHer (Attending the session: So you have this crazy idea, Starting a community-based blog site with Melanie Morgan, Nancy
White
, Susannah Gardner and Lauren Gelman – blogged live by Heather Barmore)

Type of blog communities and power structures

Nancy White described three different types of communities that can be created around a blog:

  1. one blog/one blogger communities: people gather around one-blogger blog, visit the blog consistently, and leave comments;
  2. topic-centered communities: several bloggers connect by discussing a common topic, linking to each other’s blogs, and commenting each other posts (e.g., mommy bloggers, travel bloggers, food bloggers);
  3. multi-blogger communities: several bloggers contribute to the same blog.

Communities also differ in how the power is distributed among members. For example, in the one blog/one blogger community the power is usually concentrated in the hands of the blog owner. She chooses the topics and sets the tone and the rules of the discussion. (In some cases, the discussion in these type of communities has a hub-and-spoke shape, with each reader addressing the blog author rather than other readers.)

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CHI 2006: Is technology good or bad for social interaction?

One of the discussion threads at the CHI Conference examined the effects of technology on social interaction and socialization. In his talk on mobile blogging, Russell Beale (University of Birmigham, UK – blog) described two different views on the effect of technology on socialization, what he calls Vision and Reality.  The Vision–the optimistic view on … Read more…

The social life of humans and machines: How to design for the social interaction

Solitary designers, lonely geniuses, and isolated creative teams: it’s time for you to think about social interaction for your user interfaces. No, I am not talking about social software, user-created content, or Web 2.0. I am talking about any old-fashion user interface: because for us human beings any interaction is a social interaction–even when we are interacting with "a stupid machine."

We all know this: we tend to treat objects that display intelligent behavior as humans. We curse at our computers and at frustrating websites, we trust or distrust them, we talk to them, we find them cute or insufferable; we get angry, happy, frustrated, outraged, even if there is no living creature on the other side. (Well, there is always a living creature on the other side: somebody has designed and built the application. And human qualities bleed into inanimate objects very easily.)

Interfaces can persuade, make us uncomfortable, happy, or unhappy. The personality of an interface emerges by the interactions with humans: the style of the content, the choice of words, the behavior, how well it responds to our expectations and needs, and the appearance blend together to trigger our all too human feelings. Interactions between humans and machines are conversations (or arguments) in which information is exchanged, connections are made, needs are satisfied or frustrated, and relationships are built. When we design applications we need to think of them as social entities.

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