I got myself a Twitter account

June 30, 2009

It is fashionable, and all the folks I knew had it. So I decided I too should have a Twitter account.

I picked up a large number of followers within a day. Most of them folks who are a phone call away, but never bother to call. Very politely, I decided to follow them as well.

And then silence, or a few inane messages. One of the folks I was following twittered that he was sad that Michael Jackson was dead. Another wrote that he was delighted with his new car, another twitted about his new house. Then again silence.

Have people forgotten how to converse, and seek recourse in the crypto-messages they can post on Twitter or social networking sites, from the safety of their computers or mobile phones ?

Does Internet communications provide a comfort zone that normal conversation does not ? Is it that you can release online just that little and self-serving information that you care to have others know about yourself, while all your trials, joys and limitations stay your own and private ?

Has counting the number of followers and followed become a substitute measure of social success ?

Curiously, my usual talkativeness had disappeared on Twitter. I didn’t want to broadcast my real thoughts, information on all my real activities, however banal, to the world at large. Anyways my thoughts can’t be confined to a few words or characters allowed on Twitter.

So I was silent.

The people I followed too were generally silent. There were no wise sayings, intense communications of needs and feeelings of joy, sorrow, and betrayal. Nobody twitted that he had a terrible day at work, got fired by his boss, or his girlfriend ditched him. Only silence.

Some guys twittered quite candidly that they didn’t know what to do once they were on Twitter.

Other folks followed the news channels, and the press releases agencies on Twitter. It turns out it works well as an RSS reader.

Twitter to be sure helped people communicate when in time of crisis, and helped take democracy online when regimes crushed popular movements as in Iran.

Is it that we talk freely online only for a functional purpose as in a crisis ? Is it that for the rest of the time we prefer the telephone, or the corner tea shop for a meeting with friends and a belly-full of conversation and laughter ?

Or is it silence all around, as when people have forgotten how to communicate; when most interactions are an act, a pose, an exhibition, and what we expose is an elaborate persona ?

I am still looking for an answer and to some decent Twits to and fro.

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Social networking as theater

November 6, 2007

Nothing serious actually gets discussed on social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut. The way these sites have shaped out, nay their new raison d’être, is about making members look good to their friends and peers on the site. It is less about spontaneity and more about theatre.

Sometimes what people want to show off about on social networking sites actually reflect a breakdown in social values. The Daily Mail reports that “drunkenly dancing on tables or collapsing in the street used to be a source of acute embarrassment for young women the morning after the night before. Today, they are more likely to boast about it – to the world, with pictures – on social networking sites”

The sad part of this all is that substituting Internet communities for real-life communities, drinking till you are silly, and other mad-cap behavior could in fact be reflections of a far more serious problem in society.

They could be reflecting the loneliness people feel today as traditional communities and real communication break down. People may be trying to replace real communities and long-term bonds with ephemeral communities that present less risks of failure, but at the same time a smaller chance of real strong bonds.

More than 150,000 girls have signed up to Facebook’s online forum “30 Reasons Girls Should Call It A Night”, where they openly discuss the various states of inebriation – and undress – they have found themselves in, according to the report in the Daily Mail.

Not only do girls discuss their inebriation, but have unabashedly put up their snaps in various states of drunkenness and undress on the forum.

If social networking in the physical world is about the sharing of common themes and ideas, bouncing out of new and unusual ideas, and generally trying to build community, social networking is surely and quickly emerging more as a well-choreographed spectacle, than as a genuine and spontaneous forum for social interaction. See more on this in my earlier blog titled “Orkut as theatre”.

Related article:

Orkut as theatre


Defame with impunity on Wikipedia

November 3, 2007

I agree that information should be free and free-flowing. Wikipedia was built around those principles, and around community-generated content. Unfortunately the community, or more correctly the public at large, is not as responsible as Wikipedia had expected.

Now A French judge has dismissed a defamation and privacy case against Wikipedia after ruling that the free online encyclopedia was not responsible for information introduced onto its Web site, according to this report from Reuters.

Moreover, Web site hosts are not legally bound to monitor or investigate the origin of the information they store, the Judge Emmanuel Binoche said after the online encyclopedia was sued by three French nationals over a Wikipedia article that said they were gay activists, according to the report.

Laws vary from country to country, but the overall tendency seems to be to exempt owners of community edited web-sites and social networking sites from liability for pornography or slander or other such nefarious content.

This ultra-liberal attitude when it comes to content crimes on the Internet leaves me wondering – where does that leave the individual ?

Before the arrival of online community edited news and opinion sites, the main source of potential defamation were public speeches and the newspapers, and in both cases liability for defamation is quite clear. Both the person defaming, as well as the forum which published the defamatory remarks are liable in varying degrees.

Issues of liability aside, because of the viral nature of the online medium, there is no stopping a false rumor before it starts.

Once a story is up on the net, it gets picked up by blogs, other sites, and even online newspapers. Some of them may quote the allegation, and hope to reduce liability by linking to the site from where they picked up the allegation. The upshot is that the slander is all over the place, before you can even say “ cease and desist”. By the time you have been able to identify and send a notice to the site that started it, your reputation is raked fore and aft.

In this context, the need for community edited sites and social networking sites to monitor content, and block content found objectionable is a must. Their liability should in fact be increased to make sure they acquit this responsibility. To be sure Internet companies will throw up their hands, and tell us their sites are so popular that the volume of content is more than they can filter properly.

That is a nice argument – but it is cold comfort to me if someone goes on Facebook or Wikipedia and describes me as a rapist. Sure, I can go after Facebook and Wikipedia, ask them to remove the objectionable material, identify the person who described me as a rapist, and sue him in court. But it may be all too late – the allegation is already all over the Internet.

Google has often used the analogy of the telephone to argue that the Internet service provider should be only as liable as a telephone services provider, who is not liable if a murder is plotted over the telephone. The times have changed. Two people talking on the phone, and calling me a pedophile are just two people. That is the extent of the damage. But if these two people put it out on their Orkut scrapbook or on Wikipedia, that number could jump to millions of people.

Related articles:

Internet reflects, nay amplifies social problems
Google says don’t shoot the messenger


Businesses crawling all over YouTube, Facebook

November 2, 2007

Guess who is taking a peek at your profile and activities on Facebook, Linkedin, and other social networking sites ? Businesses of course, and they are looking for you.

Social networking sites have become the top tool for hiring IT staff, according to this report in PC World.

So folks try and be careful on Facebook. Forget about being spontaneous on social networking sites, because a single loose comment could make you lose a super job offer.

There aren’t any private spaces online where you can have good, clean spontaneous fun. The corporate world has got its men on these sites. Some of them maybe reporting to your bosses

Some companies are also encouraging their staff to get on to Facebook and generally try to have fun. They believe that this interaction will strengthen bonds among company employees, provide an opportunity to recruit more people, and yes, project a super nice image of the company.

The corporate barbarians are at this gate too. When blogs became popular, and were positioned as expression that was truly spontaneous and not choreographed, companies too piggybacked on the new phenomenon.

If you thought the blogs by corporate executives would provide deep and new insights into their inner feelings, true beliefs, you were in for a big disappointment. It is corporate speak all over again, only a little more casual than a press release, and thoroughly sanitized by the company’s public relations departments.

Competitors have also started using their blogs to take shots at one another – generally the kind of stuff newspapers wouldn’t publish or you couldn’t issue a press release about.

Apart from blogs from corporate executives, which are incidentally closely harvested for news by the media, there are also blogs by folks set up corporate and other interests to defend those interests, discreetly spark of rumors etc etc.

Companies have made a beeline to video sharing sites. If it wasn’t bad enough filtering through third-rate sexy videos, bad jokes, and generally amateurish content, to get to any real nuggets on the video-sharing site, now adding to the clutter are companies who have recognized that YouTube and other sharing and networking sites are a great, and free advertising medium.

So you have video clips of Shaun White endorsing Hewlett-Packard’s Paviliion laptops, or a promotion video by Indian outsourcer, Infosys Technologies Ltd., and another from IBM.

You can’t escape those corporate signposts whether on the TV or on the highway, or online. Welcome to Web 2.0. and to the promise of communities.

Related articles:

Corrupt bloggers: part of the dark underbelly of the Internet

Finding gold on the Net is a long shot