Navigating Online Cultures

I’ve had a tongue-in-cheek post-in-waiting for a while now that would look at traits I notice in online cultures as a way of understanding whether or not a particular service is for you or your library.    It had been percolating, percolating, percolating. . . and then I read Greg Schwartz’s post on Managing His Own Social Network.   In it, he describes how he offers a quiz to people who request being his “friend” because he does not want people in his network that do not want to converse with him.   I appreciate this trait alot.   I met Greg at CIL and you can immediately tell that he does not take interpersonal contact lightly.   He is all the positive aspects of extroversion personified.    I don’t blame him for expecting dialogues from his online friends.   I approach things a little differently, because I am more than happy to have people lurk around in the social networking world (so long as there is no spam).   Like any or all things interpersonal, there’s alot of discretion that happens within and without social networks.   The only way to tell if something is going to work is to try it out.   Or is there. . . ?  

One of the things I’ve decided is very important is to understand a bit of the culture of an online space.  I thought, “If we can look at a few features, measure them on specific scales, and then align them with our own personalities — then maybe we can have a tool to see if the service works for the organization.”    Well, as a tester, I have 12 things that could be assessed on a social site to give a flavor of what does or does not work for individuals or organizations.   For added fun, I gave them goofy names.

Here they are:

Friendsliness  

  • Friendliness would refer to the extent that a service expects you to collect friends as badges on a profile.   MySpace and Facebook would score high on this as they practically force you to expand your network into outerspace.   Twitter, surprisingly, would not rate as high — you can follow, but it really is more on your own terms.  The “friend” aspect of Del.icio.us and Flickr really focuses more on whether an individual likes the content than it does on whether there is a social connection between two or more individuals. 

Ratingsliness

  • How much does ratings matter to a social site?    For sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Amazon, it’s just about everything.   Del.icio.us, by comparison, is much less Ratings friendly.   Delicious doesn’t care if people think something is cool — they merely want to know how many people bookmarked it.

Folksonomics

  • How important are tags in the service?  LibraryThing and Delicious score high.   Facebook scores low.

Hiveability

  • Hiveability would describe the extent to which a readership needs engagement, discussion and even outright flamewars to remain successful.   I would pit Wikipedia and the Blogosphere high on this scale.

“You Ness”

  • “you” ness would refer to the extent our narcissistic desire to show people our whims factors into the web service.   YouTube is the obvious example, but Flickr applies as well.

Collabability

  • Different from hiveability in that it merely opens doors to encourage more than one user to act on a project at the same time, Google Documents, PbWiki would score higher on this than, say, Wikipedia because they provide easy answers to specific collaboration problems.   One would not want to say “let’s go on Wikipedia to work on a project!”

Anonymanimousness

  • Does it matter to the web service that you use your real name for your identity?   This is an interesting one.   For example, Twitter does not force you to use your real name, but I think it matters alot whether or not you do.   Facebook requires it.   Del.icio.us actually makes it pretty hard to make your identity known.

Dumbanomics

  • This is not intended to be an insult at all.   How friendly and/or forgiving is the service to newbies?   Is there an expectation of lurkership, or can people just go ahead and be dumbasses in spite of themselves?    The easy-to-use Google and Yahoo! products are definitely high scorers for being accessible to just about anyone.   Metafilter would score lower — not because they are unfriendly to newbies, but because they work hard to ensure that the content appearing on the site is relatively asshat-free.

Graphicality

  • Some services depend on graphics more than others.    This should be fairly easy, but Flash/Gaming sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate would score high.   Text-based social sites like Twitter and delicious would score lower.

Contribattitude

  • How much does the site depend on the contributions of users?   Blogger and WordPress are high on this, of course.   Let’s put BoingBoing.net on this one as a second tier, because user comments often add a lot to what they have to say.   Miniclip, the gaming site, doesn’t score high, because if all the reviews on the site were gone, you’d still have the games to play.

Carrotomics

  • Does the site provide something of values in return for your participation?   The classic examples are Second Life and World of Warcraft.  The more you play, the more points, money, levels or whatever you score adding to your prestige.   Your average blog gets attention through usage stats, but that’s not the same — those stats exist anyway, not a “carrot” provided by the service.

Noseyamourousness

  • To what extent does the service enable the nosey online user to peek into the lives of others.   I won’t link them, but porn sites would be an obvious qualifier.   YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and MySpace all appeal to the nosier side of human behavior as well.

That’s my 12 for now.   Even as I write this, I could go on with more examples.   For instance, how tolerant is a service of profanity?   What are the privacy settings and TOS like?  Add your own, please!  

I also think some of my suggestions could be grouped together to make a more tidy unit of measure.   Let me know if you have any ideas.

I think it would be a good thing to look through this list and see what would match library culture the best.   What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Navigating Online Cultures

  1. Great stuff, Ryan.

    One quick comment: Does Facebook really require you to use your name? Doesn’t seem like it. I have at least one “friend” both in Twitter and in Facebook whose name I don’t actually know. It’s difficult to reconcile that with my current philosophies on this stuff, but she does engage the conversation and I don’t really want to unfriend someone for a decision that I made. I’m not sure I’d allow that moving forward though.

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  2. You know, Greg. . . I’m not really absolutely positively sure that Facebook requires your real name. I’ve never encountered a nicknamed person myself though.

    I suppose I could go check.

    That said, the culture is pretty much “real name”-ish though. Thanks for the correction.

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  3. Facebook terms of use:

    http://www.facebook.com/terms.php

    Excerpted therefrom:

    In addition, you agree not to use the Service or the Site to:
    . . .
    # register for more than one User account, register for a User account on behalf of an individual other than yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of any group or entity;
    # impersonate any person or entity, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent yourself, your age or your affiliation with any person or entity;

    So I don’t see anything about True Names, so long as you don’t set up an account for Michael Gorman or something. (Hmmmm…)

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  4. How’s about “Imashination,” a measure of how easy is it to get data out with API or feeds.

    “Peekaboondoggle” (aka “the Twitter factor), the tendency for the site to go up and down or throw errors without notice.

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