Monday, November 20, 2006

Workshop: Impact of Social Software on Society: PROWalk Event

Last Friday I participated in a BlogWalk event in Bonn. Crowing intensively weary of conferences where participants sit down on their asses making the best use of wireless Internet-connection to catch up with all the mails they missed because of the travel, I took a personal engagement to actively participate in this one.

Already for some time I've been aware of the idea of BlogWalk, but only now had a chance to have my first experience. I must say that I missed the "walking" part, we did not leave the conference venue to explore other areas. Nevertheless, mentally we did and it was interesting 3h of interactions, introductions, supporting questions, personal experiences and accounts, monologues, and post-its clued on the window (i.e. window-wiki, see the pic below).

The theme was "Impact of Social Software on Society". The discussion started from personal accounts and feelings; how information acquisition has changed in last few to 10 years. Many of us had similar experiences of following tens to hundreds of blogs through Web-feed reader, instead of reading a few authoritative newspapers and catching a number of news channels to get a different point of view on affairs.

Currently, instead of getting a "pre-filtered" view, one aggregates and filters (through friends) news, opinions, digital prints and artefacts by choosing whose blogs, what news and whose pictures/videos to aggregate and actually read. There are many different context one works in during the day (different way of working, that knowledge worker-stuff).

Overdose of all this was also discussed, how time consuming it is to filter all this information, read and mull it over, etc. Check out "continuous partial attention", but it's not only about email flows or instant messaging, it's increasingly about Web-feed loads, too! From my own point of view, just to balance out all the rants and not-so-well-formed opinions on the blogosphere, there is nothing better than reading The Economist, one of the best source of journalism. I sometime think of it as an ultimate opposite to blogs: impersonal (you have no idea of who has authored the article), although views on economics, and the world (in that order) are very pre-set, they know how to be self-critical, and so on. All this coined with a previous discussion with a pal about how he, previously an avid blog reader/writer is gonna only start reading peer-reviewed articles. Of course it was just a half jokingly said, but there is a little truth there too. We are probably soon gonna see some blog-fatigue in a way or another.

While talking about all this, we posted notes on the window with issues that we thought relevant for the BlogWalk. The following categories emerged:

1) Usage (personal level)
2) Effects and Fall-out (group level)
3) Contexts of usage (organisational/societal level)
4) Convergence (deep changes behind it all)
5) On-line interaction and/vs face to face
6) Design and evaluation of tools

"These clusters could be combined into one general narrative, starting from the personal level, moving upwards towards the group/organisational and societal level. This leads to a view on the deeper changes behind it all. At the same time from the personal level, moving downwards, we can cover social affordances and technical affordances."

One gap that was identified is how little research is actually done on social practices on how the tools and systems are used. We were discussing about many different ways of how and for what reasons people aggregate Web-feeds, for example. A cognitive point of view on this is missing, which, in a way, hinders us to see and understand the phenomena that social software can be part of in our society. Some empirical descriptions are missing, or like it was put on the wiki:

To understand the social implications we need more storytelling/ethnographic/anthropologic research that starts with the individual, in stead of just looking at the 'big numbers' and large patterns. (More stuff like by Efimova and Ben Lassoued, and my blog articles on my personal information strategy: 1, 2 and 3)

Nowadays many skeptics laugh about blogs that they have only one reader, the author, attempting to put them down. Hec, blogs are great for self-reflection, too. How needs an audience for that? If we had better understanding of a diverse ways people use these tools, we could maybe make them have a better support for all the diver ways. Which made me think of many of the read/write web tools and systems being on their perpetual beta, and whether that is a good or a bad thing. It could be good, in case the developers actually followed how people use their tools and developed them accordingly. However, it can also mean that they have no interest in supporting any new features and functions, and they just leave it hanging. Thus, better exploratory field studies and different contexts are needed to be studied, which would lead to more rigorous field and lab experiments to understand this all better.

For once again, attention metadata was discussed, on the one hand from a privacy point of view, and on the other hand, as a way to better understand how users use the wide palette of tools and systems.

1 comment:

Ton said...

Hi Riina, thanks for this write up!