Coming Full Circle

So, social networking is less and more than what is claimed. Both an adjunct to existing relationships and a conduit for the development of new connection. But, this still leaves unexamined what ways I might now, having admitted that dialogue in an online environment can occur, suggest to enhance the dialogical aspects of the environment in which a dialogic process may occur, leading then, one hopes, to greater and greater likelihood for dialogue to emerge.

The lesson from computer graphics and video games is that there’s an uncanny valley, where attempts to more closely model organic reality hits a valley where things are close enough but still uncanny to be not just fake but disturbingly so. There’s been many attempts to create technological environments which model some form of physical community space from Sierra’s INN and Apple’s eWorld online, to General Magic’s Magiccap interface for a PDA. These do create a sense of place for people, but they are all still very representational. Another feature of all of these attempts is that in many ways they failed to be widely adopted or sustained. However, even more importantly, these attempts to create a sense of physical space managed to create, even years later, a longing to return for many former users. This longing seems to me to be the kind of reaction I would expect to the loss of a dialogical environment, with qualitative time and space, and loss of the joys of dialogic engagement, such as re-humanization of self and others and connection to something larger than the self.

The lesson for social media is to create a sense of place, an imaginal landscape, if you will; that’s rich enough to have both determined, political, aspects but to still allow for users to engage each other vernacularly in the landscape.

Remix not Restriction

Social media is best when it allows users to remix their experiences and tools. The more determined the tools available the less able the user is in determining their own sense of belonging. Social media should not to become a walled garden where user information goes in but does not come out, like some kind of rat trap, but rather to create ways for information and engagement within the social media tool to be expressed and remixed elsewhere.

Loyalty not Lock-in

Although it may be paradoxical for companies to accept user loyalty to social media comes from being free to leave. It seems loyalty to an environment comes from deciding to be engaged in it, not out of necessity but from choice. This is a core lesson for any communal enterprise: the difference between commune and cult is a thin line of choice.

Another example of lock-in versus loyalty is if a service does not offer a way to connect profiles to the wider engagement a user has elsewhere. One simple way to do this is to offer the user a chance to link to their other engagements, through a simple URL or even more fully through importing personal RSS; or, further, the previous example of being able to remix engagement across tools and to not lock information in, forcing users to treat a tool as their primary aggregation point, as opposed to choosing to do so.

Real not Realistic

Engaging in the social network online requires re-humanizing between people. This means that, eventually, attempts to develop corporate channels online in social media will fail if they appear faceless, if they fail the “Turing Test”. So, it’s best to be real; a real person with a real personality.

Unlike previous generations like Usenet and e-mail, current social media, like Twitter, is pretty spam-free, but already people and companies are testing the water, trying to figure out how to utilize social technology to deliver their messages. Example of this testing include recent bout of Twitter follow-fests by Boing Boing, Uncrate, and a recent, seemingly successful, campaign by MacHeist to get people to advertize on MacHeist’s behalf to their own contacts. However, each of these has a personality to it, which appears to be human engagement, not merely a one way broadcast of commercial speech which is assumed to be heard. This re-humanizes these more formal connections, bringing them to a flat level of hierarchy.

Service not Slavery

Recent dust-ups online over the difference between a sense of belonging and the sense of being owned include the Facebook terms of use fiasco. That is only the most recent of many recent and historic occurrences like it.

In the previously mentioned example of Twitter follow-fests, notably, all of these involved exchanges of some kind, which is appreciably different than, say, an ad in the paper or a logo on a shopping bag; they are offering clear and immediate reciprocity to people for space in their communication web.

Space for Graffiti

Social media can be highly determined, but seems to be best when it offers even the smallest bit of undetermined space in which users can create persistent graffiti. This may be simply a tiny bit of space for a user bio, or even a link to some other online space, such as a blog or website. Services that offer personalization help to create a sense of re-humanizing the technology.

Ability to Enclave

Those online places that people still long for, such as stubbornly still active BBS communities or fully lost places like INN or eWorld, even after they’ve been gone for years, are those spaces that appear to have developed real community and maybe even dialogue.

At some level this seems to be related to both the ability of the space to provide community and autonomy. For now lost place like eWorld, there’s a sense of a shared history and place that only a few still remember, making this a rare and heightened experience. In the case of still stubbornly tenacious BBS communities, such as the still active Citadel-based Slumberland, now online and available via telnet but still very much Internet-dog-years old-school BBS technology, there’s a sense of exclusivity through survival as well as the sense of shared history and place available to only a few.

There’s the famous Yogi Berra saying, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” And there’s got to be some sense that one can filter engagements, not just for sanity but also offering a balance between community and autonomy. There’s much to be said about being able to enclave; but, moreover, a sense of being able to be alone in a crowd, to carve out a third place.

In other words, social media needs to scaffold the clubhouse, a place in the ‘Verse, where people can both include and exclude. This allows people to construct their own vernacular path through the virtual environment, a desire line for optimal, personal information routing. This is the marginal space in which real people create what I’ve called ‘understandards’ alongside standards, are the structures, processes, and channels that are ‘understood’ by those in the system; and while these are often are kept proprietary, a form of the function I call ‘enclaving’ in information space, by those sequestering power, or as mechanisms of privilege, these structures, processes and channels can also be shared building community; as in Henry Louis Gates, Jr. saying, “Collecting data is only the first step toward wisdom, but sharing data is the first step toward community.”

Like the internet, information in a social network routes around damage; it finds increasingly optimal ways, desire lines, for the horizonal relationship. it’s technology that re-humanizes. So, social media needs to enable this kind of vernacular pathing in information space, or it becomes simply a form of damage to be routed around.

One thought on “Coming Full Circle”

Comments are closed.