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Posts Tagged ‘social networks’

During our Dreamfish Lab meeting last week, Peter (Kaminski) suggested several cool titles for me and Paul (Loper) to read about complementary economy. Fascinating subject. I want to learn all there is to know about these very old, and also very new ways to capture transactions. There is only one problem. Books scare me now. They really do.

Ever since I discovered blogs, and Facebook, and Twitter, I have slowly, but surely moved away from books. My excuse: I have no time. There is always a new post to write, or read, or comment on, and stuff to tweet about. And when I need an answer, I go on Twitter or Linkedin, or to the  Google Search box. 

The thought of reading a book fills me with angst. I am not sure I am up to the task, anymore. The last time, was Obama‘s Dreams From my Father. But that was easy reading. My mind has become accustomed to quick scanning, quite a different gymnastic from sustained attention. 

I did a bit of research on “Internet culture”, “reading”, brain”, on Google . . . And came up with links to several blog articles. I am not alone apparently. The Internet generation is at risk of turning stupid, according to some researchers. Maryanne Wolf, from Tufts University,  devotes a whole chapter on the topic, in her book, Proust and the Squid: the Story and the Science of the Reading Brain.  Of course, I did not read the book. Instead, I read an article about the book, to get the main idea. 

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Once upon a time, I met Tiffany Von Emmel on Twitter. A few tweets and meetings later, I am playing with her and the rest of the  Dreamfish team. Tiff’s got a great blog about women, and coworking, and social innovation, and the future of work. I like what she had to say today:

Women are talking… Tara Hunt wrote a blog post about the future of work involving this pattern of bridge-crossing domains. I heartfully agree. The future of work is all about transforming the box into networks.

For most of my professional life, I have struggled with THE BOX. I am sure many of you, men and women, can relate:

- Long hours spent in soul-less offices – Apologizing for my endless curiosity – Trying hard to be ‘professional’ – Wearing a suit – Juggling being a parent and working – Pleasing the bosses, and acting like one – Clocking it – Ignoring my body’s plea for a mid-day gym break – Working on meaningless, ‘important’ projects – Worrying about results first, people second – Feeling boxed in – Dreaming of a different life – 

Even more oppressing than the outside box, was the box inside, that part of me inherited from an old men’s world, that shrunk my feminine self:

Bye Bye Box
Bye Bye Box

Recently the box has given way to a more supple container, one that conforms to all of myself, and let me BE, at work, at home, out in the world. Fittingly, I changed my Linkedin profile to make room for my new liberation, proudly opening with a ‘Don’t try to squeeze me into a box. I won’t fit.’

Others are taking notice, and starting to react accordingly. Being themselves, and playing with me. I can’t tell you how good it feels. 

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Thanks to Peter Kim for putting out his great survey of Social Media Predictions 2009. One unintended learning from the survey, at least for me, was this list, and what it means for social media:

Fifteen big names in social media – including Peter Kim -, and only two of them women.

I can understand women being underrepresented in older, more traditional fields such as engineering, or government, but social media? This feels like deja vu. I noticed a similar trend in the field of green and sustainability, prompting me to ask the question, ‘Where are the Women in the Green Stratosphere?’

Men appear to be especially good at appropriating spaces, even ones they don’t particularly care for as a whole. Again the cooking analogy applies. While women represents the majority of the home cooks, and do most of the daily cooking, cooking celebrities, the chefs with five star restaurants, big cooking shows and books galore, tend to be men. Same with social media. From 2008 Rapleaf study:

When it comes to social media, women are at the forefront. At Rapleaf we conducted a study of 13.2 million people and how they’re using social media. While the trends indicate both sexes are using social media in huge numbers, our findings show that women far outpace the men.

Not surprising, given that women are inherently inclined to being more social than men. It’s part of our DNA, and a well documented fact. Women will continue to thrive in both online and physical social networks. I just wish we took a more deliberate role in the shaping of social media. Women have things to say, that are different from men, and that can contribute to a richer picture.

This post is the first in a series I will be writing on social media. My humble attempt at adding another feminine voice to the social media chorus . . .

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I got a sneak preview of Scientific American‘s Earth 3.0 special issue on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Progress’. Mostly great stuff, with the exception of one article, that prompted me to write this rebuttal.

In ‘Learning from the Internet’, Robert M. Metcalfe, venture capitalist and Internet pioneer,  expands on the dangerous idea that, 

I don’t think for a moment that we’re going to conserve our way out of the energy crisis. Internet history shows that prosperity depends on abundant bandwidth. Prosperity (gross domestic product, per capita) is proportional to energy use. We are not going to lower per capita consumptionof energy in the U.S. We are going to enable the rest of the world to be as prosperous by using not less but more energy. We need to make energy cheap, clean and therefore abundant – really abundant, for a really long time. 

Sounds familiar? This is the same kind of thinking endorsed in an earlier McKinsey study, and also to a lesser extent, by Al Gore in his Moon Shot Challenge speech.

Makes me mad. The average citizen is already confused enough. The last thing we need is more tenors in green tech and green biz to lull us into thinking that technology will get us out of our mess. Besides, I do not see what climate change has to do with the Internet. 

We need to get out of this pervasive either-or thinking. Energy conservation and new energy technologies are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are meant to work together. One without the other will not work. It’s a matter of simple maths, and of mitigating our risks, in the unlikely event that technology does not deliver on all its promises. 

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Love how blogging works! Today, Jonathan Melhuish left a comment on my Climate Camp post. I clicked on his name, and landed on his personal blog. Then noticed his professional blog. There, I discovered Jon’s latest post on Bodder, his new mobile social network. Stopped on his Wikipedia link on ‘network effect’ and really got into this part:

A more natural strategy is to build a system that has enough value without network effects - underlined by me -, at least to early adopters. Then, as the number of users increases, the system becomes even more valuable and is able to attract a wider user base. Joshua Schachter has explained that he built Del.icio.us along these lines – he built an online system where he could keep bookmarks for himself, such that even if no other user joined, it would still be valuable to him.[2] It was relatively easy to build up a user base from zero because early adopters found enough value in the system outside of the network aspects.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? On line, I am not social just for the sake of being social. There needs to be something in it for me. Videos on YouTube, insiders’ info on Twitter, objective book reviews on Amazon, a place to show my stuff on Facebook, bookmark storage on del.icio.us, interesting stories on diggs, etc. In other words, there needs to be something worthwhile spreading in order for the network effect to take place. 

Also digged this comment at the bottom of the post, from other Bodder‘s co-founder, Simon Hammond:

The main lesson for me was probably that the technical engineering is relatively straightforward compared to the social engineering - underlined by me - In other words, it’s not enough to merely provide a nice platform and interface. You have to account for social factors - underlined by me - as well. Few people will try something completely off their own bat – they need to be personally introduced to it. At heart, we are still apes and we learn by copying. Getting the visible endorsement of the group leaders is probably essential to getting group adoption. Think Scoble/TechCrunch and Twitter.

Embedded in Simon’s comment are two very important points. First is the need to not just push a technology, but also to take into account the psychological aspect of ‘the user’ and also the community. I have noticed lots of social networks get started by developers with no understanding or appreciation of that essential dimension of any social venture. Second is the need for the nascent network to receive the validation of one or several recognized or credible leaders. I know I always look for the personal story behind any new network. Who started it? What are thought leaders saying on Twitter? When cuil came out a few weeks ago, it only took a few negative tweets from the few social media gurus I follow, and a quick, unsatisfactory trial, for me to ban it from my toolbox. We are very much like cockroaches in that respect!

Thanks Jonathan, thanks Simon, for teaching me a few things about social networks . . .

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In “Green, a Dead End for Social Networks?”, I continue to question the legitimacy of green social networks, even going as far as suggesting that they be abandoned altogether. Instead I propose a non direct approach to go around the ‘nice to have, but don’t need’ problem of green social media in general. One example could be a site that helps people manage their personal resources more effectively as food and gas prices continue to rise. Conservation and efficiency measures would obviously be featured prominently on such a site, but always first as a way to maximize personal resources, and only secondarily as feel-good green measures.

Another alternative is to treat green as what it is, a qualifier for all aspects of people’s lives. This is in sync with growing green narrative: green economy, green revolution, green jobs, green media, green homes, green cars, green living, etc. It is also aligned with the psychology of most people, for whom green is only a secondary benefit. Using that logic, it makes sense to not have separate green social networks, but instead green applications that come as a layer on top of existing mainstream networks. Imagine if you had the option of going green on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Craigslist, eBay . . . seamlessly, at your discretion?

At the heart of both approaches, “roundabout green network”, and “green layered network”, is the recognition of green as a global necessity of the highest order, to be reconciled with the fact that it is only a secondary benefit on the personal level.

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Microsoft just released the results from its massive research on’Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant Messaging Network. Two researchers, Jure Lesckovec, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Eric Horvitz, from Microsoft, analyzed 30 billion conversations among 240 million users of Microsoft instant messaging, in search for significant patterns.   Their findings have far reaching implications for social networks in general, and more specifically, green mass persuasion initiatives:

1. The world IS a small-world:

Kevin Beacon‘s 6 degrees of separation theory was confirmed, with a slight correction. Microsoft research found that the average degree of separation between any two  random individuals, is actually closer to seven. This further validates the LinkedIn model, beyond business and professional search applications. 

2. People communicate more with others who are like them:

From the report: ‘We found strong influences of homophily in activities, where people with similar characteristics tend to communicate more, with the exception of gender, where we found that cross-gender conversations are both more frequent and of longer duration than conversations with users of the same reported gender.’ A confirmation of what you and I know from our daily interactions. Humans tend to hang out with people who are like them, in terms of interests, and demographics. The more virtual networks facilitate such connections, the more likely they are to succeed. Think Facebook with its educated college crowd, or lesser known Patients Like Me.  

Next comes the question of how to apply these findings to existing and future social networks. To date so called green social networks have failed to generate substantial and enduring followings. Maybe this will shape a new wave of networks, more effective and in touch with the reality of the people. 

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These past two weeks spent traveling in France and Italy convinced me even more about the role of culture and society in shaping individual behaviors. Most interesting was to observe how both I and Prad adapted our behaviors to fit the different customs in each country. Prad, who usually protests vigorously the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke back home, thought nothing of taking strolls on the smoke-filled Parisian sidewalks. In Italy, we quickly learned to conform to the practice of drinking bottled water at the restaurants. Two examples of the power of social norms, relative to individual environmental choices.

This raises the question of how to bring changes in normative behaviors, that will support sustainable lifestyles, across cultures. According to Horne, “New norms are thought to emerge when costs of compliance with existing norms become too high relative to the rewards“. Montgomery weighs concerns of costly normative actions against concerns of morality or social opinion. Though unlikely to change their behavior when norms become costly, individuals will praise those willing to do so; after a few have tested the waters, a domino effect of individuals who harbor less fear of social sanction will follow. If these innovators receive social approval, individuals will continue to participate in new strategies in order to gain recognition. Christakis‘s research similarly points to the social nature of behavioral changes.

On the green front, several trends are emerging that should give us hope. First, is the growing acceptance of the idea of green as universally cool and no longer the claim of a few treehuggers. The social sanction for behaviors such as biking, recycling, carpooling, using mass transit, recycling, to name just a few, has tipped towards the positive. Concurrently, rising gas and energy prices, are making it harder and harder for people to maintain their old behaviors. SUVs, boats, superfluous driving no longer make sense for the majority of Americans. Other adaptive behaviors are stirring, as in urban gardening, and driving more slowly.

Because time is of the essence, we would do well to consider strategies to accelerate this movement:

First, are opinion changing strategies, including all mass media and communication campaigns. Every green drop counts. What I write here in this blog. What you write, either in your own blog, or as a commenter on others’ blogs. What you say in casual conversations to your friends and coworkers. What you ask from your elected representative. What you communicate through your example, as in here and here. What the “we” and the “Together” people do. What Barack Obama, and other leaders declare is important. What the New York Times, and the rest of the press put on their front page. What Arianna Huffington chooses to promote. It all matters.

Second, are cost raising strategies, in relative terms, either through the offering of new, lower cost options, or the raising of the costs of existing options, whether volitional or not. Rising gas and energy prices are an example of the latter. And so are various forms of carbon tax. Smart technologies such as more fuel efficient cars or home energy efficiency solutions work on the other end, through the promise of higher financial rewards, and social acceptance.

Third are direct behavior shaping strategies such as evolved from Pierre Chandon‘s research. Chandon‘s study, ‘When Does the Past Repeat Itself? The Role of Self-Prediction and Norms.‘ tells us that ‘by predicting our behavior, we can actually reinforce good habits and break bad ones‘, a sophisticated twist on the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. What this means for our problem, is that by asking people such simple questions as ‘Do you bike, do you carpool, how often and how long do you walk, do you turn off your lights, do you hang your clothes to dry, do you eat fresh food?’ chances are it will increase the likelihood of them engaging in these behaviors. Conversely, by not mentioning other negative behaviors such as driving, using dryer, eating processed food, etc, they will be less inclined to perpetuate those. 

This is just the beginning of a long list. My main point is, thought leaders on climate change and other global environmental issues with a human factor component, need to spend more time exploring such behavior shaping strategies, based on the available body of research on normative behaviors.

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It happened last night, as I was getting dinner ready. Guests were coming in an hour, and the chocolate dessert was not even made, and I had run out of sugar. What to do? The thought of driving four blocks to the nearby grocery store felt sacrilegious. Biking or walking were my next options, but then I didn’t feel I could afford to spend the extra few minutes. In desperation, the brilliant revelation came to me, that I did not have to go very far. How about running across the street to our neighbors’ house? Sure enough, a few minutes later, I was back with the prized sugar. And the satisfaction of having caught up with Steve and the kids.

That’s when it hit me. How alienated I have become from the physical community called my neighborhood. Things that were second nature to my grandparents, such as neighbors helping each other out, are no longer part of my DNA. Wiped out, by a lifestyle that promotes self-reliance at all costs and diverts much of our socializing urges into virtual networks, such as Twitter.

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Green social networks are popping all over the place. This morning, I got word from Meryn, of yet another one, and another one. Frankly, I have stopped keeping track. They want us to become engaged, and to change our behaviors, fast. They claim to have all kind of tools to help us accomplish the impossible. How come then, I am not more enthused? I, out of all people, who spend so much time on the topic, should be an easy sell.

Here is what I think is missing from all these sites. A lack of understanding of basic psychology, and of the way real people change their behaviors. I do not decide ‘I want to be green’, and ask for someone to whip me into shape. Actually, I may, but the truth is, that kind of intention is not sustainable. I do not need to add yet another thing on my already long to-do list. I want solutions to my everyday problems, as in more convenient, cheaper, smarter.

Social networks I really dig:

How about you? What is your favorite social network? What are your primary motivations for joining? How do you feel about virtual versus ‘real’ networks?

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